Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Alan Kumamoto Interview
Narrator: Alan Kumamoto
Interviewer: Brian Niiya
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: February 7, 2019
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-464

<Begin Segment 1>

BN: It's February 7, 2019, and we're here this morning to interview Alan Kumamoto. The interviewer is Brian Niiya, and on the camera is Dana Hoshide, and we're going to jump right in. And as we often do with the interviews, I'm going to start by asking you about your family, starting with your dad.

AK: Well, the Kumamotos, my grandfather Kumamoto, actually, because he was the Issei, he came to the U.S. directly to Tropico. Tropico is basically Glendale. And he was a farmer, so he wanted to continue farming, and he found that the ground was rocky and not so good, it was arid out here, so you needed water and so forth. So he eventually moved to Little Tokyo, and he established Hiroshima Ya, which was a boarding house. And so usually on the weekends, many of the Japanese that were farming and so forth were the workers, would come to Little Tokyo. Little Tokyo was the only safe place, or the only place you could go, all the restrictive covenants and things. So it was both for survival, so you could live and eat and do things that would be in the, quote, "Japanese way," as well as good life. Because you could gamble, and you could party and you could drink and all that with your colleagues. So Hiroshima Ya was the center for many of the people, because Hiroshima Prefecture was one of the major prefectures from Japan for Japanese to come. So that was my grandfather.

BN: And what was his name?

AK: You would ask that, huh? I'll have to find that. (Narr. note: Tamakichi and his wife Minako.)

BN: And was he from Hiroshima himself?

AK: Oh, yeah, (Sakamachi, Aki-gun-, Hiroshima). In fact, last summer we went and visited the tanpo and the grave, the visiting of the grave is the big deal. And so we went to the farmhouse that his oldest brother had. And the oldest brother had this... wow, it's how long now? It was the family house, and then they had a tanpo up in the hills, and it's a co-op now. And basically what happened was my father inherited the house because the oldest brother only had a daughter. So going down in succession, my grandfather, who was the youngest, he said, since he has my dad, my dad should have the house. And my dad said, "What do I want a house in Japan for? I'll never really go there," and everything. And besides, the older brother had a daughter. So one of the things that happens in Japan is her husband assumes the Kumamoto name so that he can inherit the house. So the house remained in the name of the, I guess, his son-in-law. That was the rite of passage, so that's that interesting story. So we had a house in Japan, I guess, momentarily as a thought. And they're re-renovating it right now, because that husband and wife, who would be my aunt and uncle, basically, they only have a daughter, and they don't have any children, so the question is, what happens? As the laws in Japan change so that she can inherit the house when my uncle passes away, because my aunt passed away a couple of years ago. And the Hiroshima Kenjinkai, I guess, keeps in touch with them, Sakamachi in Aki-gun, which is the, I guess the county of the city, there's a lot of people from this area who live there, or who came from there anyway, but that's my grandfather. My father then becomes part of the Olivers group, which is the social as well as the athletic group. And he goes into Lincoln High School, and then he goes to USC and becomes a pharmacist. And you couldn't find work outside the Japanese community, so he worked for various pharmacies in Little Tokyo. Now where Mitsuru Grill (on First Street) is, that used to be Kyoto Drug Store. And so the counter there used to be the actual counter, food counter, in the drugstore, so there are some fond memories there of that.

BN: So what year did he get his pharmacy degree?

AK: It was in the '30s, (1934).

BN: So he was kind of established in Little Tokyo for a few years?

AK: Well, because he was a kid running around in Little Tokyo, all the people would know him, it was a small community. We lived on the other side of Alameda where the Water & Power (facility) is, it's called arts district now, I call it the historic Little Tokyo because I was born there and so forth. But he would be always in Little Tokyo, which would be a couple of blocks away. Little Tokyo was huge at the time, it went down to where the 10 freeway would even be, down south, and to the river, and then out this way. And remember, all the train stations were on the L.A. River, this was before Union Station (in 1939).. So we hear stories about when President so-and-so came, they would go to the (Santa Fe) train station and see him, because he would be at the back of the observation car waving to the people.

BN: So in the '30s, he worked for various...

AK: He worked for various Japanese...

BN: Drug stores, pharmacies, all within Little Tokyo?

AK: Right.

BN: Or this large area.

AK: Right. But the concentration was along First Street, Second Street. My grandfather, (my mother's father), he became, my grandfather Suski became a medical doctor, and he had a place where Parker Center, the police station used to be. Because when they built Parker Center, they wiped out the whole block. That's where the Rafu used to be and so forth, and Jackson used to come where Union Church is, or East West Players over there, that section was totally different. So the whole block along First Street, along Los Angeles Street Temple and what's now known as (Judge John) Aiso, which was San Pedro, that looked like what the north side of First Street was, just all individual low buildings, various establishments of one type or another.

BN: And then before we leave your father's family, you were mentioning that your grandfather, his father, was involved with the Nishi Hongwanji.

AK: That tie to the family. The Kumamoto side of the family are the Buddhists, the Suski side, which is my mom's side, are the Catholics. And both of them helped build, if you will, the Buddhist community as well as the Catholic community. So we would go bouncing back and forth. Interestingly enough, when we ended up with my children, my two sons were raised during the weekday as Catholics, because they went to Catholic high school. But during the weekends, they were part of the YBA, the Young Buddhist Association, as well as because they played basketball. So they got involved that way, and because they were in Pasadena Bruins, they would be sponsored, if you will, by the Buddhist church in Pasadena. So they were weekend Buddhists and weekday Catholics.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

BN: And then now let's switch to your mother's side.

AK: Okay. Well, my mother's side, my grandmother was from Kyoto, anyway, they end up in Tokyo, and the main thing with them was they were converted to Catholicism in Japan by the missionaries. They came through Angel Island in San Francisco, and he was working as a photographer helping to touch up photos and different things like that. He, after the earthquake, they decided to move across the bay to the Oakland side, because of all the fires. And then he was afraid of the various diseases that were taking place, so he moved his children, he moved himself and his family down to Los Angeles where he decided to open up a photography store in order to make ends meet, because he had seven children. He also worked for the Rafu Shimpo and helped to translate a lot of the Japanese stories into English. And eventually his daughter, my aunt Louise, became the first English editor, but he was always doing the translations because he was very friendly with the Komais and so forth.

BN: And then just for the record, what was his name?

AK: Well, he went by Peter Marie, P.M. Suski. He eventually, in 1913, went to USC and became a medical doctor. And he was more of a scholar, he was more of a researcher, so he wrote books on kanji, he studied Chinese, various languages. The medical things were in German.

BN: And then were he and your grandmother already married in Japan, so they came?

AK: Uh-huh.

BN: And then was he already able to speak English, or did he already learn English?

AK: He learned English already, so he was pretty versatile.

BN: Became a very prominent person these days.

AK: Well, but the issue was he was more of a scholar, so he was more of a recluse, so he wasn't an outgoing kind of person, and he didn't want to waste his time, so to speak, because he'd rather do discovery. So there's some things that my aunt Louise, I think she was probably the closest in terms of following him and so forth. He, Dr. Suski, was the one instrumental in helping to bring the Maryknoll order of Catholic priest, and that religious order, to Los Angeles. They were looking for a priest to hear confessions in Japanese and do services and so forth. And so the only order that was available or wanted to do this was the Maryknoll order of Irish Catholic priests. So they came, they had an office or headquarters in the U.S. in New York. So they sent some missionaries, so we were a missionary -- [coughs] -- excuse me. This is World War II, this is from the camps (in the U.S.).

BN: From the dust?

AK: The dust and the dirt, well, basically it's the scarring of the bronchial tubes, and then when the mucus comes up, it gets stuck because it just doesn't flow through. So we're trying to figure out different ways. Anyways, one of the things about P.M. Suski is that he then got involved with Maryknoll and he was one of the committee that brought priests and so forth. And Maryknoll itself, at the time, it was sanctioned by the archdiocese, but it was its own entity. Legally, it owned its own property and so forth. So until later on, when World War II broke out, there's a story that says that the priest there said they would cooperate and so forth, and during that time, they would help the Japanese. But one of the things that they did was they said they would turn over their property to the archdiocese as long as they had permission to minister to the parishioners who were in the camps. So it was sort of an interesting exchange that took place there that most people don't know about.

BN: Did they not send a priest to minister to the Japanese in the various camps?

AK: Well, a lot of times they would be local, like we were in Heart Mountain in Wyoming, and the priest from Powell, the Caucasian priest would come. But the Japanese priest would come to visit, and so it would be a big occasion so many times a year or whatever, for the person, I guess, to take the train to come and so forth. And then that would always be a Japanese-speaking priest, so people would enjoy that and so forth.

BN: Now, where was your mother in the birth order of the seven?

AK: Let's see. One, two, three... one passed away and then my mom, and then Clara. So it would be Julia, Louise, Margaret, my mom, Flora, and then you had, I guess, the two boys. Let's see, I missed one of them, Clara, I don't think I mentioned Clara. And the, because it's Clara, then it becomes Joe and then Elmer. So Joe was the oldest son, and Elmer was the youngest. Elmer moves from Los Angeles to Indio, California, and he and his brother-in-law get into various businesses and so forth. But the Sekemi family that he married into, were basically farmers out there, so they owned massive pieces of land.

BN: And then I have to ask you, Suski obviously is an unusual name. Do you know the origin of how that came about?

AK: It used to be Suzuki, and then my grandfather said he's in the U.S. and Angel Island, and then he just shortened it. Usually at the time, with the person, I guess, registering person, couldn't pronounce it or whatever he or she would butcher the name. And that would be the name that ended up on the rolls.

BN: So the obvious question is, how does your Buddhist father and your Catholic mother, how do they meet and eventually get married?

AK: Everybody was... if you look at the schematic of where they grew up, my dad actually grew up around the corner. And on the street where my mom lived, which was a block away from where my dad lived, there was the local little school, the grammar school, there was a Japanese school and so forth, so everything was all within a few block area. And they would meet each other because all the kids hung out together.

BN: And were they the same age?

AK: My mom was a little older, actually, by around two months.

BN: So pretty much the same.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

BN: And just to make sure we have it on the record, you mentioned your mother's name was Flora, your father was...

AK: It was Masakatsu, and so a lot of people called him "Match," he was called "Match-san, Match-san," or "Match." So when he was at Lincoln High School, one of the teachers called him Frank, he couldn't pronounce Masakatsu, too hard. And his friends would all call him "Match," so when he was in the army and everything, they all called him "Match," but he was actually Frank M. Kumamoto.

BN: Did Frank become his legal name?

AK: That was the name he used all the time. I don't know if it was legally changed, but it was the one that he used. I think by default, it became his legal name.

BN: So they kind of knew each other growing up, because they're growing up in the same area.

AK: Right, and all the kids hung out together. So the Olivers was a group. Miss Oliver was a teacher at that school that's there, Amelia Street School. And so she would have after school sessions where she would teach them manners. So that these Japanese kids would learn how to sit properly which fork to use, how to politely say hello. [Coughs] This isn't usually that bad, I don't know what happened. It did clear through. Miss Oliver, there was a book called The Olivers, and she organized them by different age groups. So there were the Midgets and the Pee Wees, the Seniors.

BN: So your dad was, must have been, was he in the original Olivers group, because he's about that age?

AK: He was older, yeah.

BN: Just the Olivers.

AK: Right. And then because he was this kid who would run around and so forth, they all knew who he was. And then my mom was, I would say she was more the shy type, probably, compared to my dad. He was more outgoing.

BN: Given the different religions, was there any, kind of, opposition from the family or anything?

AK: Well, the Suski family was very active at Maryknoll, and the Kumamotos were active over at the Buddhist church with the building campaign or the banquets and all that type of stuff, and there didn't seem to be any conflict, it was before my time, as far as I know. I mean, as a little kid, I would go to both sides. Usually, when I was quite young, I would go with my mom to Sunday service because of the Catholics. We would occasionally go to events that would take place, funerals, weddings, that type of thing, at the Buddhist church or the different Obon, some of the different festivals. But there didn't seem to be any conflict, there was just a separation, and so forth.

BN: You were kind of comfortably raised to do both ways?

AK: Right. And then what happened was after World War II, when we came out here to settle and open up the Suski house, my grandfather's house, we were way out. In those days, you'd have to leave Little Tokyo, you'd have to climb the big mountain over here called Bunker Hill where all the mansions were, and go down the hill, and go up another hill and so forth. Which, right now is maybe three miles, two miles, but it was a far distance. And this was the Bonnie Brae House that my grandfather built. And so when we opened it up, they enroll me in the Union Avenue grade school. However, I was supposed to go into first grade, and the school burned. So I was sent to the parochial school down the street, Our Lady of Loretto, and so that was the grade school, and that was the local church. So my mom eventually became one of the secretaries, or the receptionist over there. And so I went eight years at Our Lady of Loretto Catholic school as one of the few Japanese. Everybody assumed that I would go to Maryknoll because Maryknoll eventually opened up a school and had activities and things over there. But I think one of the things... so from there, what happened was in my eighth grade, my eighth grade teacher said to me, "Why don't you apply to Loyola High School?" which is a private Jesuit Catholic school on Venice Boulevard. She said, "No one has ever gotten in from here." So I took the entrance exams, placed fiftieth or something, and got in. So that became that transition from a grade school that was Catholic to continue on with a Jesuit education, Catholic education. And then my sons went there, and one of our grandsons went there. So we became like a lot of the Caucasian families who have generations of people who go to that particular school, private school.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

BN: And then we'll get back to that later, but I wanted to kind of go back to right before the war. So your parents get married, your dad's working as a pharmacist right before the war, where did they live?

AK: In the same area.

BN: But the same general Little Tokyo, broad Little Tokyo area?

AK: No, but within a couple blocks.

BN: Okay. And then you were born in 1940, I assume you were the first?

AK: I'm the only son for the Kumamotos.

BN: First and last.

AK: Well, I have two sons, and there's two grandsons in terms of our, quote, "lineage."

BN: In your immediate family. And then, of course, war comes, they're rounded up...

AK: Go to Santa Anita.

BN: Santa Anita.

AK: In fact, the irony is, where the bus is, where you take it to Santa Anita, is in front of Nishi, where the temple that my grandfather helped build, and that's where they stored some of the stuff, some of the goods and things, but they were just down the street.

BN: Do you have any... I mean, you're a toddler, I guess, at that time. Do you have memories of Santa Anita and/or Heart Mountain?

AK: Not so much of Santa Anita. We go to Santa Anita, it's muddy and all this kind of stuff, but I'm two, so the memories are fleeting. The one thing that I do remember, in a sense, is the trip from Santa Anita to Heart Mountain, Wyoming, because it was on the train. And we were all in cars, train cars, that were all packed, the window shades were pulled down because they didn't want people to know who was in there, etcetera, etcetera, and they didn't want us to look out. And they had armed guards in between the trains, and it was hot. So my recollection is I was in some kind of uncomfortable place, and they said, "Oh, yeah you cried all the way. You cried and cried and cried, and in fact, your dad had to take you out of the car to that space in between," but the guards kept pushing him back in because they thought maybe he was going to jump with his kid. So that's the earliest recollection that I have, which isn't much, but they describe a lot of the surroundings and things that took place. And then with the pictures and things you see the trains and so forth. So we were one of the first groups to arrive in Heart Mountain. And because my grandfather was a doctor and my father was a pharmacist, they both worked at the hospital. So our barracks and so forth were closest to the hospital, etcetera. And my understanding is my grandfather had his own area so he could do research. So my uncle... not my uncle, but my cousin Dennis, the oldest of the nephews, he actually used to go from school up to the hospital. And my grandfather used to, liked Dennis because he wanted to learn more about science, so we got him a telescope and all these other things, so that was his study area. But again, my grandfather wasn't a real talkative, kind of, outgoing person. But if it was research, if it was science, if it was any of these things, he would be ready to talk.

BN: Did the whole extended family all go to Heart Mountain?

AK: Right. So from the Suski side, with the exception... okay, so Julia and Bob Kuwahara, the Disney artist, they were there. And, in fact, in one of the War Relocation Authority pictures, where they wanted the family coming, Bob, Julia, Denis and Miki, the four in the family, are shown walking into an empty barrack with their overcoat on and so forth. So that's their claim to photographic fame as far as the War Relocation Authority.

BN: Didn't Bob do a comic strip after the war named after the...

AK: Miki. Miki's legal name is Michelle, but we all knew him as Miki. I mean, I was Chico, he was Miki, that type of thing. Bob worked for Disney on Hyperion at the very beginning, helped with that "Steamboat Willie" and some of these other movies and things. They wanted him to go to MGM with Hanna-Barbera, I think he was there for a little bit before the war broke out. He built a house in the Larchmont area because it was closer to MGM and so forth, Culver City. And the house got firebombed before they moved in, so "No Japs Allowed" kind of thing. So that was too far out.

BN: What year would that have been?

AK: Oh, it was just before the war, just around the same time. So they went to Heart Mountain, they had their own unit and so forth, so that's why I grew up with Miki, because we're one year apart, he's one year younger than I am, Denis was a few years older. Then when you go to Louise, Louise was there, my mom obviously and dad were there, in fact, our unit was at the very end, and the larger unit had other Suskis, my grandfather, mom and Louise. Joe and Susie were married, and so he had a place there. So it's Clara, who married a Joe Yoshimura, so they were in, I think, Poston or someplace, in Arizona. Because he grew up in Glendale, Arizona, that's where some of his family ties were, in so forth, farming. So they were moved out to the reservations out there. And then Elmer, because he was living in the Coachella valley, was also in one of the Poston or Gila camps, I believe. So we didn't have everybody, but we had the majority.

BN: And then what about your Kumamoto grandfather?

AK: So the Kumamotos, so there's my dad, but there were two sisters. In fact, his youngest sister is still alive, and she's turning to be a hundred and two, three, something like that. After a hundred, you lose count. So Kimiko, who was a widower, was in Heart Mountain with her son, only son. They moved to Chicago. The Masudas were there, that was Toshiko's, the youngest daughter, and they moved, I don't know where they moved, they moved out of camp. I think they moved to Chicago for a while, too. And then most of the Suskis, they moved out to Chicago. Because my uncle Joe was U.S. Army, Military Intelligence Service, and my dad was, too.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

BN: At Heart Mountain, do you have memories of going to school or activities there?

AK: Yeah, I was pre-school, so that's why my cousin Miki and I would hang out. Everybody remembers the fact that we had a wagon, because you could order through Sears and Roebuck, and the wagon, you can make it what you want, you could make it... because it had those side rails on it and so forth, you could pull each other around on that. You could turn it upside down and stand on it like a boat or something. So there were different things that we would do like that. We would crawl underneath the barracks and hide and things. I would remember episodic things like the fire. One of the barracks was burning, and everybody's yelling and screaming, you could see the black smoke and so forth. Or standing on an anthill, and all of a sudden the ants are crawling up me and biting me. So those are the memories that I have.

BN: Then you mentioned your dad and grandfather worked in the hospital, did your mom work at Heart Mountain?

AK: You know, of the girls who had different things, I mean, Clara was the Nisei Week queen, my mom was the sewer, she used to be a seamstress and went to L.A. Trade School, to Tech, to learn sewing. So she sewed a lot of clothes and everything for people, drapes or whatever. In fact, if you go to Heart Mountain, Wyoming, to the exhibit there, the Americanized costume that this Issei couple was wearing, is the costume or the dress and so forth that my grandfather sewed. He was quite a character -- this is the Suski one -- he used to be a seamstress of sorts, so he would make a coat or...

BN: You're talking about Dr. Suski?

AK: Suski.

BN: In addition to all the other stuff he did.

AK: Yeah, he needed to stay busy, and he needed to stay creative. After the war, or not after the war, but even before the war, he used to service the Mexican community because if it wasn't Japanese or Mexican, people wouldn't see you. So he learned Spanish. He doesn't accept money, I mean, if you can't afford to pay, that's fine. So he would bring home a chicken, or he would bring home groceries, raw products kind of thing. So that was sort of the things that were going on and bartering and things like that. But he would be the pretty active in some of these other things. But he wasn't a club joiner like Kumamoto side. So you had the Kumamoto side contrasted with the more industrious, wanting to be productive.

BN: Sounds like most of the Suskis kind of had this artistic bent.

AK: Yeah, in fact, well, Elmer, the one in Indio, his biggest hobby was golf. Maybe it's from the Olivers, maybe it's sports and things like that, but he was quite a fixture in the Imperial Valley -- or not Imperial, Coachella Valley, because that's where all the golf courses and all the golf tournaments here. And he was active with the Lions and some of these other service organizations.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

BN: So Heart Mountain, then what happens with your dad in terms of leaving?

AK: So he leaves, he joins the Military Intelligence, so he goes off for training, so does my uncle Joe. And then they are on that, one of the group that are going to the war area when the war ends. So my uncle's ship, Uncle Joe, his ship gets diverted and goes, and he's there with the signing of the peace treaty with MacArthur, and then they go directly into Tokyo. But my dad's ship gets diverted to Korea, so there's still fighting going on. So Military Intelligence is broken into two kinds of factions. I think one is called CIC, (Counterintelligence Corps) and CID or something, Criminal Investigation Division, and I don't know what the other terms are. But so one of them is going up and interpreting and translating up in the hills, and you use a loudspeaker and so forth, "The war is over, come out, surrender," kind of thing, which isn't as safe as it sounds. And the other one is criminal intelligence which is black market. So it's fellow U.S. GIs selling cigarettes or contraband at one time or another. So he was a little bit of both. But I know one of the things, there were two things. One, they didn't wear any rank, so you didn't know if the person next to you was an officer or what you were. And so the Caucasian guys in the MIS were all FBI or some kind of, with a law enforcement background. And so I know that one day, when he was wearing his stripes, they said, "Oh, you're only a sergeant or something like that," because everybody else was an officer. And there was an incident where they were supposed to go and yell at these people that the war was over, and he told them... they weren't issued firearms, so he said, "You know, all of you guys have guns, I don't have a gun. It's pretty stupid for me to up there and start yelling at these guys, and then they start shooting and you guys are running away, and I'm just standing there." So the lieutenant just pulled out his .45 and handed him his .45. And he turned around to his assistant and said, "I lost my weapon, get me another." Those are sort of the incidences that we hear stories about.

BN: And then when you were at Heart Mountain, did you remember him leaving?

AK: Well, he would come back in uniform.

BN: While he was training in Minnesota?

AK: Before they would go overseas, maybe once or twice, so we have photos and that type of thing. When he was there as a pharmacist, for my birthday, they would have ice cream, so he would bring ice cream, then they would bury it in the snow until it was the right time, but I would look through the window when he was coming back. So I knew where it was.

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<Begin Segment 7>

BN: And then what happens now with you and your mother in terms of leaving camp?

AK: So there's nowhere to go, so we decide to go to Chicago, but we stay in camp and we take one of the last trains. So we take one of the last trains from Heart Mountain to Chicago, and that's sort of an interesting contrast because I'm four or five. So there's a lot of GIs riding the trains, so here's this little Japanese kids, and the soldiers were, they're playing with me. So I'm sitting on their duffel bags and all that kind of stuff, you're in a concentration camp, and here you are playing with GIs who had just come back from the Pacific, that are trying to get back to the Midwest or some of these other places. So it's this sort of irony kind of thing.

BN: And then why Chicago?

AK: Well, because everybody else was there, Clara and Joe Y. had gone there so that he could go chick sexing in Iowa and some of the Midwest area. My grandma was living there. The apartment house had another room downstairs on the first floor, and so it was just a bedroom. And then upstairs, the second floor or third floor is where Clara had a family unit. And so when you enter, there'd be a bedroom off to the side, and then there would be a living room, kitchen, and then another bedroom. So Grandma would be up there, and then Louise was downstairs. So everybody was in that same apartment.

BN: So you had a, kind of a ready, set place to go when you left?

AK: Right. And then our neighbors and our friends and people from the Olivers, they were in that same, quote, "neighborhood." It was a walk, but you'd go down to the main street over here and so forth. We were forty-five blocks south of the downtown, so the south side.

BN: Was there a cluster of other Japanese in that area?

AK: Yes. They weren't right in our building, but they were down, scattered. Because down there would be the Walgreens and it would be the movie house and some of these other things, we were in more of a neighborhood-neighborhood of apartment houses, brownstones. And we were so many blocks away from the lake. So there was the L, the Elevated, and then on the other side would be the lake. We would have a good time trying to get to the lake and so forth. Then you take the Elevated, which was close, and you'd go downtown. So like my aunt, Kimiko, my father's sister, older sister, she would be working in a department store downtown, and Louise would be working down there. When Joe was discharged, they lived in Chicago for a while. And then when my dad was discharged, we were still living there, so everybody would use that next year, approximately, to sort of get their feet under them. And then we decided that we would get a car, so they went to Detroit to get, pick the car up and drive back to Chicago. And then that's the car that my mom and dad and I rode across the U.S. to get to Los Angeles.

BN: Route 66?

AK: Yeah. And we would go to, actually, we went a little further north because we went to Denver, because my grandfather was there. My grandfather refused to go back to the West Coast.

BN: This is which one?

AK: Suski.

BN: The Suski group.

AK: The Kumamoto one went to Chicago, and then moves to Los Angeles with my aunt. By then, my aunt and my grandfather are living together, so to speak.

BN: And then you'd mentioned you kind of grew up with Miki in camp, but their family...

AK: Okay, then they moved from there to New York to Larchmont. He gets a job, Bob gets a job with Terrytoons, Heckle and Jeckle and Mighty Mouse. And they have a studio in Terrytown, which is, you have basically in that northern, north of New York, you've got the white suburbs, and I say white because that's where IBM is, that's where Terrytoons is, and some of these other studios and things like that. It's just north of downtown, but not in downtown, or not in Manhattan.

BN: So was their family in Chicago first?

AK: No, they went directly.

BN: Okay, they went directly to Larchmont. So you really didn't grow up with Miki after camp?

AK: We would visit. I think, let's see, '45, in 1945 is when we were coming back to Los Angeles. But I think in '49, we went to visit them in Larchmont, that area.

BN: So how long were you and your mom in Chicago, then?

AK: Oh, just a year or so, couple years.

BN: While your dad deployed?

AK: Well, because he had to... so he stayed, so he went to Korea, and he stayed so that he could go to Japan and then go around Japan and visit some of the relatives and try to find how the relatives are doing. Joe, meantime, went with MacArthur, so this is a bit of trivia, too, he was part of the team that wrote the Japanese constitution, modeled after the U.S. Constitution. So how do you translate certain words, or concepts, basically, in English to Japanese? They just don't necessarily fit. And NHK, when they were reviewing the whole constitution, and people were questioning the pacifists' attitude in the constitution, wanted to interview my uncle Joe, but he was part of the American team and then there was the Japanese team and all the politics.

BN: Did your mom work while you were in Chicago?

AK: No, not that I recall.

BN: And then, if you're there for a year or so, you must have gone to school there?

AK: No.

BN: You didn't?

AK: No. And I was sick as a kid, and I would have been, like, kindergarten, so you don't have to go to kindergarten. That's why, when we came back, I was supposed to go to first grade. And I think I waited a little bit.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

BN: So then when your dad comes back...

AK: That's when he works in an air conditioning place and earns some money.

BN: This is in Chicago first?

AK: In Chicago to get enough money to buy the car to get us to Los Angeles to open the house in that timeframe.

BN: Now, when you say "open the house," did you already own a house?

AK: it was my grandfather's house.

BN: So this is the one on Linda Lee that you were mentioning?

AK: Bonnie Brae.

BN: I'm sorry, Bonnie Brae.

AK: And it was so, I guess they had neighbors or somebody to watch it, and then we had to... after Joe and them came, we added rooms and things like that, because my grandfather was coming from Denver, he decided he'd move there. So we wanted to make sure the garage was converted to his library and this study, and the back of that was the bedrooms for my grandfather and mother, and that was that wing. My uncle Joe always worked, well, at that time, in the produce market, so he would bring home bookkeeping after they closed the market, so that they would have the billing and the payments and all that type of thing. So he worked for Trio Produce for many years, and they had a couple people and all that. So he was in one of the other rooms. Then in the front room was where they had their bedroom, and then we were in the back on another bedroom with a kitchen in between.

BN: So who was the first to return?

AK: We were.

BN: So your family was the first to go back.

AK: Right.

BN: You were the ones that kind of...

AK: We opened it up, basically opened it up.

BN: So there wasn't anyone living there at the time.

AK: And then, so Little Tokyo became closer, there's a Beverly Boulevard bus that would take you to downtown and so forth, so it was pretty convenient. It wasn't next to Little Tokyo, but it was close enough. And Maryknoll was there, Nishi was there. And my mom and dad get into mainstream things, and they get into community things. So as an example, my mom was part of a garden club that Chief Parker, Police Chief Parker was part of. She liked it, she would be active with the Chinese groups or whatever. And so she was active with Catholic stuff that was mainstream. But still she would be active with the Little Tokyo side. So that's what, there was a plan. My dad becomes the first non-white bowling association president, L.A. Bowling Association. And he was proud because he used to go to the National Bowling Congress every year and get a new pin. He would not just be part of the American Legion, he would not be just part of the different politics of the Little Tokyo community, but he would also be in the mainstream. He had a hard time, when we came back, he had to work for many of his schoolmates who opened up pharmacies, but didn't have a relief pharmacist, or didn't trust even your store to anybody. So they would be working seven days a week and all that type of thing. And so when they needed a relief person, they said, "Here's the keys," and they'd leave, take a couple of days off or something. So my dad, I know, was bouncing around, he finally found work at Thrifty Drug Store. And the unions and all that type of thing, so he was active with Thrifty and the unions, and he never wanted to be a store manager, "Just do my nine to five kind of thing. The unions will protect me or take care of me. And I could go bowling, I could go fishing, I could go golfing," so he did all those kinds of activities.

BN: So at the time, was it because he was Japanese that he had a hard time getting, like a mainstream pharmacy?

AK: Oh, yeah.

BN: So was he one of the first hired by a mainstream company?

AK: Yeah. Those kinds of things. Because this is 1945, so 1946, 1947.

BN: Did he stay at... once he was working for Thrifty, did he stay at --

AK: He stayed at Thrifty's until he retired.

BN: Was it a particular Thrifty's or did he move around?

AK: No, no, they moved around.

BN: Because there were many Thrifty's.

AK: Right, right. Well, it was a chain store. And you get seniority in the store or whatever. And then because you're the head pharmacist there, the management would want him to become a manager, because he'd see the manager having to go there if there was a leak on the roof, open it up, if there was a robbery or whatever, and then he'd have to open it and close it and whatever, so he said he just wanted to do his profession.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

BN: And did your mom work?

AK: So my mom actually ended up working at the parish church, at Our Lady of Loretto, so she became the receptionist. And then from there she went to Holy Family Adoptions as well as St. Anne's Hospital. So she followed the Catholic employment route, so to speak, that's where the contacts were, saying, "Oh, do you know anybody who can do the bookkeeping over here?" So that's what she was...

BN: And then you went to the school?

AK: I was at that school. So she was across the street at the parish church, and then she could take off after school. So that would be the hours that I was basically in school. And we were, like, three blocks away from the school.

BN: Did you remain in the house?

AK: Well, so when we moved out, it was, like, '53 that we moved out. So that was, like, seventh grade, so I had to go from Silver Lake to Bonnie Brae, over to Our Lady of Loretto, which is on Union and Belmont, it's near Belmont High School. And so (my parents' driving and my bike) would be my main mode of transportation.

BN: That's a long way to ride.

AK: Yeah, it's a little bit of a ride.

BN: But you were in the Bonnie Brae house for a good amount of time, six years?

AK: Oh, yeah, First through sixth grade or something like that. But when I graduated, I graduated out of Silver Lake. It would take quite a while to get there, but my folks would drive me, so that was the usual way. And then afterwards you'd try and figure out how to get home.

BN: And I assume the school is largely white?

AK: Yeah, and parts of the neighborhood around there is mixed, there's a black area and then there's a Latino area, and then it's mainly white. Belmont was, had a Wah Ching gang, the Black Wands over there, and those were a lot of the immigrant Japanese who were, I befriended some of them later. Because they knew I went to Our Lady of Loretto. So Belmont High School was a place where we'd jump the fence to play football on Saturdays, so it was close.

BN: Were you involved in, like, NAU or...

AK: No, I didn't do that type of thing. I did judo at Hollywood Dojo for a while when I got a little older. But I had health issues with asthma and some of those other things. I wasn't so much of a sports person, I'd participate.

BN: Boy Scouts?

AK: Yeah, a little bit of Boy Scouts and so forth, but again, in the local community, not in the Japanese community. So I was always bridging the Japanese and the non-Japanese.

BN: Do you think that was like a conscious thing your parents were trying to do for you?

AK: No, I think they just left it up to me. There were things at Maryknoll, but they were sort of more cliquish. It seemed like if you weren't Japanese a hundred percent of the time and everything, and everything seemed petty over there. Because you would see another side when you're in the non-Japanese side. When I went to Loyola University, I was in a fraternity and all that type of thing. But when I went to SC for grad school because I was three generations SC, the clique, the Japanese clique, seemed so petty. They're trying to figure out what's the latest color polo shirt you're gonna get. What kind of car are you going to get? And it's like competition, that's not that interesting to me, so there's that contrast and comparison. On the other hand, I (helped) start the Asian (American) Study Center at UCLA, I was part of that team, or at USC I started the Asian (American) support group, which became the Alumni Association. So I did that at Loyola High School and some of these other places. So I do see the need for ethnic grouping of one type or another, where there's some different kind of support. But on the other hand, it's not mainstream.

BN: Did your parents send you to Japanese language school?

AK: No. The language schools, I never had an interest in that. And then our side of the family, I don't think, we weren't interested in that.

BN: I think your Suski grandfather was famous for not sending his kids to language was very, very unusual.

AK: Right.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

BN: Do you have memories of what Little Tokyo was like growing up in the '40s and the '50s, because you're outside, you're still pretty close.

AK: Yeah. I mean, we would probably be in Little Tokyo three, four times a week at least. I mean, if not on Sunday, and then you hang out afterwards, you go to the barber there, you'd eat there three, four evenings. My dad would be in clubs or different groups like that, so whether it's church related or temple related, there would be some kind of activity or whatever, and my mom was active. So, I mean, it was a safe place, safer place, you remember the Texaco gas station, the doctor, you'd go to the doctor. Although many of the doctors I had were Caucasian doctors, so you'd be someplace else on Wilshire Boulevard, but there would always be the Japanese or the Japanese end. So Little Tokyo was just a regular ongoing routine. If you're down at Maryknoll, after service or whatever, you might go eat out there, or you might go shopping down there. In those days, a lot of the Japanese foods, they didn't have in the regular grocery, so the only grocery store you could go would be a Japanese one like in Little Tokyo. So Iida Market or some of these other places, they catered to the Japanese. I guess I was more Americanized so I wouldn't have to buy Japanese stuff at the Japanese stores in terms of clothing and costumes of one type or another. But there were those things that were available, the gift stores and so forth.

BN: Did your family have like a favorite restaurant where she always would go?

AK: The famous one in Little Tokyo is Far East, that was Chinese-run, Chinese family. We knew across the street, Lem's Cafe, because we knew Betty Lem and the family. So my mom knew that family because they lived near Silver Lake, too. And so we'd go there and eat maybe once a week, once every other week or something. And then for the banquets there would be San Kow Low or some of these upstairs big rooms kind of thing. And one of the mothers, or one of the women was married to, she was Japanese, would be married to the Chinese guy who owned the place. So that was a mixed thing, and that one, you couldn't get things that Anzen Hardware has, because Maehara-san would have these different instruments that you can only get in Japan, he would be importing these things. Or you'd see a mousetrap, it'd be a Japanese mousetrap. So there are things like that, or flowers and flower arrangements and things like that, the ikebana groups. The Sun building and some of these other places had some of the cultural teachers or you would go there. There was, on Weller Street over here, there was a restaurant, but it was catering American food, but they would have, like, shumai and things like that on occasions. So you would have these shumai specials and things that everybody would go to on Friday, because everybody knew that Friday was shumai special day. So you have a hard time trying to get in. So food was the thing. But after the war, like on Second Street and so forth, there were a lot of SROs. And during World War II, this became a black area, so there were still single blacks and some of these other guys living around here. So you'd sort of avoid certain hotels or certain areas, some of which because you didn't have anything in common, more than anything else. So I think that was sort of a dividing thing. But I'd go down First Street or Second Street or Third Street and you'd see some of the places. Little Tokyo at the time wasn't that large, the commercial area and so forth. It was a place to go.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

BN: Now, you moved to Silver Lake, but you're still going for a while to Our Lady of Loretto. And then you finish there, and then from there...

AK: Loyola High School. So again, I'm one of the first Japanese to go there. Then after that, a lot of the kids from Maryknoll start to go there. When I was there, we could count maybe four or five Japanese Americans. So you learn what the white Caucasian families, some of the corporate, some of the movie stars' kids. When I was there, Tony Hope, Bob Hope's kid was there, John Wayne's kid Patrick was there, and then people like the head of Otis Elevators was there, because after he left, he worked for his uncle, that type of thing, became CEO. So, I mean, there's different places and things that you see. I remember my junior or senior prom, you go up to someplace in the Larchmont area, or Beverly Hills or Brentwood, and you go to these mansions, somebody opens the door you don't know whether to shake their hands or not, you don't know what to say. Is that the butler or is that the father? Who is that? And what do you do, you look around, and these are the homes that you see in the movies kind of thing. You don't always walk around in that many square feet, that type of thing. So that was quite an experience. I wasn't going there every day, so would be on these different occasions.

BN: Were you accepted as just another student by the largely white student body? Was there discrimination?

AK: Yes and no. I mean, my counselor wanted me to become a landscape architect, that's a glorified gardener. That's because I seemed to like the outdoors, I seemed to be good with my hands or whatever.

BN: They probably didn't have a chick sexing program.

AK: Right. And so one of the things that happened was I didn't even know, what is a landscape architect? I know architects landscape. So I went in the main library here has a tower, and you go to the tower, and you go to one of these sections, and there's two books at the time on Japanese gardens. And that was the landscape architect section.


AK: So we were back in terms of postwar.

BN: Right. I think we were talking about Loyola High School and being rooted to landscape architecture.

AK: And, you know, it's a question of whether or not you feel really accepted. I mean, the immediate friends I had were minority friends. When I was a sophomore, a person from Hawaii came up, and he was part Japanese and Korean, and he tried to pick a fight with me to see if I was truly sticking up for my Asian heritage kind of thing, and I don't need that.

BN: Did you go to, like, dances, football games, that kind of, the normal high school activities?

AK: And you take out another Asian girl, or Latino or some minority person, you hang out with some of the white girls because Loyola's all boys. So there'd be the all-girls schools, hang out and so forth, and usually I'd have a Japanese American girlfriend. What was interesting in growing up in Silver Lake and in the middle, I wasn't labeled Eastside or Westside. If you're labeled Westside, you're more African American and then you have that African American carriage and tone. If you're from the Eastside, you look like a Latino gangster with that kind of accent and so forth. And so I couldn't be pegged as either Eastside or Westside, because I wasn't either. So I'd hang out with the Dorsey kids or the L.A. High kids, or the Roosevelt and Garfield kids. In fact, a lot of the Maryknoll kids would be from the Eastside, let's say, Boyle Heights, we'd go further away.

BN: At that time, were there kids from Gardena, South Bay, or was later?

AK: There were, but it was more distant, more rare. The distance, I think, depends on whether or not the freeway was there.

BN: Yeah. The big migration probably was a little bit later than when you were growing up. Still semi rural back then.

AK: Well, and then remember that Venice, Westside, San Fernando Valley, the southeast, there'd be these different communities there. So the only reason why you'd go down to Gardena all that way would be because of a dance, some kind of social of some type or another. That's saying your car will get you there. So I didn't hang out too much down that far, although we had relatives from Joe Suski's wife's side who basically grew up in Watts. So there was different experiences like that, where the Miyoshis and so forth we would know. And they had their own small business and everything. Or like the Masudas, when they came back, they had a cleaners in the Eastside closer to Garfield. My cousin Donald, older sisters, my dad's older sister's son, only child, went to Garfield, then to Occidental College in football. So there's different episodic things, again, and what happened with my grandfather Kumamoto is he had a stroke and so he was pretty bedridden. And so you have the Masudas down the street in the main thoroughfare, you've got Narike, Mrs. Narike working at Barker Brothers department store downtown, just like she had done in Chicago. And she's taking care of the grandfather, the grandfather's living with her along with her son. And my dad, on the weekends, we would go and we'd spend the weekend giving relief for that aunt. So there was a routine like that that would take us out of certain areas and into that area which was mainly Latino. But there weren't that many Japanese Americans. On the other hand, around Fourth Street Cleaners, there was a group called Go For Broke, and Go For Broke was this youth group, youth "gang" and so we were working with that. Yellow Brotherhood is on the Westside, Mike Yamaki and Victor Shibata, and they were people that were working with the Westside group. So we sort of had ties into both of those. Ford Richard and some of these others like in Gardena, we didn't really do anything. When my daughter was playing basketball, CYC basketball, we'd go visit San Fernando Valley, so we'd see the community center out there. And then when we're trying to get so and so elected for such and such, we could go out there and try to get some kind of community support. That was sort of the political activity that draws. But this is more recent, let's say, after 2000, everything before then was, or maybe even less than 2000, in the '90s. But it's more recent than a lot of these other things that have taken place, relatively speaking.

BN: So back in the '50s, you're at Loyola, I'm wondering, did your parents ever talk about camp when you were growing up or even afterwards?

AK: Well, we knew we were in Heart Mountain, we had pictures, we had "reunions," so I think my folks went to every reunion that took place. And then I don't think they were ever part of the organizing committee that I can recall, but I remember even going to one or two, and at the time, a thousand people kind of thing, because there were a lot of folks.

BN: But the reunions were much later, right? We're talking in the '80s, '70s and '80s?

AK: I would say, yeah.

BN: I'm just wondering, because earlier than that, because many Nisei didn't talk about it in the '50s and '60s.

AK: Well, I would say somewhat, and the somewhat is my mom had white friends who stored different things for her. So we would go to visit Esther Brown down in Escondido, and she'd still have a few boxes of Mom's stuff, and those would all be from World War II. And so it would come up to some extent, but there wasn't long discussions about it, mainly what happened. She said she'd take care of it.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

BN: So then you graduated from Loyola High School.

AK: Go out to Loyola U.

BN: Where is Loyola U? Is that...

AK: It's LMU.

BN: LMU now, okay. I wasn't sure about that, okay.

AK: Well, I went there, I could have gone to SC. I went to SC for grad school, I was also accepted at Marquette, but I didn't want to go where it was that cold and far, so I went to USC. But at Loyola, I was what they call a dayhop, you commute. And if you think about it, that's forty-five minutes of...

BN: Because you're still living in Silver Lake.

AK: Still living in Silver Lake. No freeways, or limited freeways, but there were ways of getting there. So that was a boarder school, so if your board, everybody hangs out together and so forth. So you had to make your own friends. So one of the things you do is you join a fraternity, and so I was in Alpha Delta Gamma, which also had Pat Wayne again and some of these other folks. So I learned what it was like. The thing that gave me a little bit of cache was because I had been taking judo and everything, some of the bullying and things like that. When we were pledging, one of the guys jumped me and I flipped him, he turned white, whiter. And I said, "Don't do that." Then one of these guys -- and I was going to use a curse word that starts with an 'A' -- he came from, he transferred from Denver, Regis College, to Loyola, and he thought he was a big shot. And he kept pushing, pushing, pushing, so I finally just stood up to him and I said, "Let's go behind the gym," and he said, "Yeah." Then as we're walking over there, he said, "Well, what are you thinking?" And I said, "Well, I don't know whether to let you hurt me or I should just kill you." He said, "What?" I said, "Well, because I know self-defense, I can't control myself beyond a certain point if I think I'm in imminent danger, I might have to respond." Because this guy was supposed to be this boxing champ and everything. He said, "Let's think about this later." So after that, he backed off. Like I told those other guys, I said, somebody coming up, and coming like that to me, it's probably okay. But somebody coming from a blind side, all of a sudden you just sort of react and turn, and you find the person on the ground. I was holding him so that he wouldn't hurt himself. You should see the shock on his face, he was one of my fellow pledges, and he was a big guy. But what happened when I was there was Paul Maruyama was an Olympic guy, and he was going to be in the Olympics. And so he wanted to have, there wasn't any place for him to train, so he wanted to spar with different people, so he started a judo club. But he made me sort of like his second, which meant that I have to do the slaughter line. And the slaughter line is you start with the weakest person, and you go to the strongest person, and I'm the guy that's got to beat all these people just to prove that I have what it takes. So we would do this two or three times a week, and these guys are big. But you learn chokeholds and you learn different things. So I wasn't very good, but I survived.

BN: Better than them.

AK: Yeah.

BN: What did you study at Loyola?

AK: Sociology.

BN: Did you have an idea of what you wanted to be?

AK: Well, I started premed, and then I switched to sociology probably in my second year, that type of thing, because of the sciences and some of those other things. And then I did pretty well in my junior and senior year with the sociology professor, so I went from Loyola to USC.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

BN: And then at some point, right around here, you start to get involved with JACS?

AK: Okay. So what happens is, in my senior year of high school, there's a group called HICO, H-I-C-O, which is High School-College. And so the concept is college students putting on a weekend conference for high school kids, and why? To encourage them to go to college. So you're trying to reach junior high -- not junior high -- juniors in high school, because when do you start applying for college? So we were finding a lot of high school kids were not going on to college, even though we're the "model minority." So anyway, Marumoto, Bill Marumoto from Orange County, who was student body president of Whittier and became alumni director down there, he and some of his colleagues, the same guys, they organized this. So I had been going on for a couple of years, two or three years, so I participated in it one year, and then what you do is you pass it on. So it was a simple formula, you arrive Friday night, sort of a mixer, Saturday morning you have some of these sessions, and then in the afternoon you have some sessions, you have a dance or something in the evening, and then Sunday morning you have another session, and you leave. Well, these are these Christian conference grounds and places like that, they could accommodate a hundred people. So the first ones are usually around school and things, careers, what are some of the careers. So you bring up Nisei who are doctors and different professionals, and what does it take to get into those careers? So the morning is careers, the afternoon is social issues, dating, relationship with your parents, any of these kinds of hot topics. And then Sunday morning is you usually have religious services or spiritual services or broader issues, social issues, social justice issues.

So it's a long way of saying that one of the following years, I became the chair. So what you do is a previous chair appoints you, says, "Why don't you do this for next year?" And then you select your own committee from usually the committee that's there, you can get those people and recruit others. And so that's how that cycle goes. So that was my introduction back into an all-Asian or Japanese, essentially Japanese activity with kids from all over, not just one location. So the Eastside, the Westside, Gardena, all of these, San Fernando, all of these people are coming together. So I did that, and that's how I met my wife. And some of these things like that, then my uncle Joe was, he was chair of the board of the Shonien. And the Shonien was a children's orphanage that started before World War II, and these kids, a lot of them weren't what you would think of as really orphans. They were kids of parents who were working in the fields during the weekday, so they didn't have any means to take care of them when they got sick or certain age and so forth. So there was this children's home, and there's a whole history of that, and then this is before World War II. During World War II, in Manzanar, there was a Children's Village, which was a village within the camps, which was isolated, and there's all kinds of stories about that that we can get into. And anyway, they had kids from four or five different, quote, orphanages. Anyway, Shonien, after World War II, starts to get smaller and smaller.

And JACS is Japanese American Community Services, forms to continue the legacy of the Shonien. And in this case, it's postwar, World War II, the Little Tokyo area has war brides, Japanese women who married GIs, black, white, whatever, and are abandoned or leave them or feel abused or whatever the situation. So this JACS is formed, Harry Kitano at UCLA, his friend in Northern Cal, Mike Suzuki becomes the director, he has a master's in social work out of Berkeley. And he and Harry and another person, Jerry Enomoto from JACL were all classmates. So here comes Mike Suzuki who heads this group up. The board is consisting of community leaders, so I'm a junior leader. So they make me a member of the board, but not a full board member. So that's my history with that, and I'm still on there, I've been chair of the board and so forth. And eventually what happens is they provide social services to the gang kids, to the war brides, and other, whatever, social service needs are, and there have been trained social workers at one point or another who have helped to, if you will, minister to those folks. Eventually that property up on the hill, on Redcliffe in Silver Lake, close to where I grew up, we put it up for sale and it sold to Boys Republic, that's the one where... what's the guy's name who was in Bullitt? Steve McQueen. Well, he grew up in Boys Republic, some people may know of Boys Republic. Well, the neighborhood and the Japanese surrounding, get in an uproar, so JACS goes underground, and JACS exists even to this day. Right now it's more of a gifting organization in the sense that it regrants money to the community organizations that are doing services, so it's not a direct service like it used to be, but it's giving small grants. And Cecilia Nakamura, who used to be a dancer of sorts, she left her estate and put some money in there, so there's an arts component. And then Joanne, or whatever her new name is...

BN: Nobuko.

AK: ...receives a certain amount of that automatically, because she helped to care for Cecilia, who was a family friend. And then we just got another grant from a hardware store owner, who gave it to several organizations, so there's still sort of a social welfare need in the community that's somewhat hidden. I guess the question is, what is Japanese or who is Japanese? And it's not just who is Japanese, but does a Japanese American exist? Because our grandchildren, my grandchildren, are all mixed race. So after my generation side, there's no such thing as a "pure Japanese." So I asked my grandkid, six of us went to Japan, and I said, "What do you call yourselves?" because he runs track and everything, and he hangs out with these mixed race people. He says, "Well, we're Asians." And I said, "Well, what's common?" "Rice." Okay, so there's some food that's common and so forth. Language isn't, culture is different, all this kind of thing. So I guess we've now come of age where we can use a broader terminology to say this is the inclusive term that we're using. But this whole Japanese thing is, I think, switching and changing. But JACS as an organization caters to at least providing some service out there to someone who's partially, if you will, Japanese.

BN: So have you been involved continuously for like sixty years?

AK: Yeah. I mean, sometimes it goes up, and ebbs and flows and so forth.

BN: One thing I forgot to ask you, also about this time, about the time you graduated, there was the kind of notorious shooting in Little Tokyo, I was wondering if you remember that.

AK: I don't remember that. What was it, when?

BN: I thought it was '58, '59. It was a Sansei honor student who was caught in gang crossfire and killed in Little Tokyo, and that spurred a development of JA and some other organizations at the time.

AK: There's all kinds of things that aren't spoken about that happened. You talk about the pool hall, the Taul building pool hall downstairs, the prostitution that was occurring at the Miyako, which was the California Bank and Trust building now, the Kajima building. That's where JACS was doing social work, so there was a lot of different things like that. There was a lot of gambling and things. The north side of First Street, they have basements all along there, so they were gambling and things, all kinds of interesting things going on.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

BN: So after Loyola, you pretty much went straight to USC?

AK: Well, since I didn't go to Marquette, I decided to stay here. The main thing that was going on was I was looking for work, because I was still living at home and I wanted to not have to pay out, pay out, pay out, and that was mainly coming from my folks. So I talked to a friend of ours who was at American Honda. I also applied -- and I don't know how I found out about this, but a position with Mitsui and Company limited, and there was another position, too, but there was just what was going on and so forth. The one that I looked at at Honda, they had just filled. The one at Mitsui and Company was interesting because a Caucasian guy was running it, and it was our U.S. foreign aid policy being translated in terms of monies that the U.S. government would loan to the government, let's say in India, Pakistan at the time, and they would then re-grant that money, but everybody's getting interest, to employers in those countries. These companies would buy steel, but the condition is you have to buy U.S. steel. So it was, yeah, we're loaning, giving foreign aid to these neighbors who are then making money off of their companies, but they have to buy U.S. products. So I'm working for a Japanese company that's stationed in Tokyo or headquartered in Tokyo, out of an office in Los Angeles where this office should actually be in New York because it's closer on the East Coast to Bethlehem Steel, Amco, any of these guys, U.S. Steel. So anyway, I get this job, and the guy who used to run the program is training me. So it was pretty straightforward for two years, I was doing it, millions of dollars. Mitsui would have representatives in these countries who are looking for customers. We would not be able to purchase the products at the price that these people are willing to pay and so forth, so we'd have to buy in bulk, and then we'd have to think about the shipping. So it was an intricate process, it was twenty-four hours because when they're sleeping, we're awake, and we have a three hour time difference with the potential seller. So it was interesting. But this was the time of the Kennedy shooting, so I remember being in that office when Kennedy got shot, and these Japanese people didn't know what to do. So we all went to the general manager's house and so forth.

But doing this, we did a lot of interesting things, and I had steamships in harbors burning up, I had people abandoning ship and having strikes or caught in a typhoon, steel that's rusting, so we have these claims and everything. Some of them are ruses, others are ways that you do business. There were companies on the East Coast that would sell you the steel at your full market rate, but actually give you a deal. So you would get a third party to send you a check, this third party check would equal the amount of the difference between the market rates, there's all kinds of shenanigans going on. So this is the time of the Telex, so everything is like teletype, and so you would print up these tapes, and then they'd run these tapes through the machine. Otherwise, if you talked on the phone, or you tried to communicate on the keyboard, it would cost lots of money, but it was fun.

I would be at meetings with my manager, general manager, because I was co-chair of a town hall section on trade or something, so he would see me there, and they couldn't figure me out because, "You're a Sansei, you don't really speak Japanese, you're maybe the hope that we have for our young people in Japan doing business and all this kind of stuff, we're watching you play golf very well, you don't do this, you don't do that." So it was an interesting experience with a Japanese corporation.

BN: And how long did you do that?

AK: Couple of years. And I had an assistant general manager who was, again, a jerk. One of the episodes that's interesting, around a year out or so, was he came in, called me to his office, everybody in a big room with all the desks and everything, and they knew he was furious. So he was there to fire me, to bawl me out and do all this kind of stuff. I told him, I did this, I did that, and I did that, "I quit." And he turned around and he said, "No, I'm going to give you a second chance." And the people in the room later, they laughed. And they said, "It's haji for him. He'd be embarrassed if the person he hired failed. So for you to say you quit or leave, brings shame on him more than on you." So they laughed, and we got sort of along after that, but he couldn't figure this out. And the fact that I'm going to the same meeting with this general manager, and I'm the backup, or second in charge to the event that's taking place, where's the separation?

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

BN: I wanted to talk about your time at JACL.

AK: Yeah, so what happens is remember that HICO? HICO gets a reputation within the national youth serving because Intermountain Plains, Salt Lake, that whole area, Midwest, East Coast, a lot of those, Northern Cal, Pacific Northwest, they don't have Junior JACL chapters, but they have youth groups. So not real formed, but loose. Because kids are following their conventions or conferences, so they have an activity when the regions get together. So the only group in Southern California is HICO. I mean, that's the only semi-organized activity that JACL can recognize. So we get together, and so the leaders, because some of these are more formal, Midwest, Northern Cal are more formal, they have a structure. And so we get together -- this is all volunteer -- and by then, I'm maybe JACL chapter president or something, I'm a member of Hollywood and all that kind of stuff. So the National Youth Director position is created, somebody hired part time, or part of their responsibility. And so this position opens up for National Youth Director, and since I had been meeting with this group, and because I didn't want to go to jail because of all the price fixing and all this other stuff, I said, maybe I'll apply for it. So it was a drop in salary, all this kind of stuff, but what they did was they gave me car insurance. But I had one of these funny little squatty cars, and it's called the Porsche, and a lot of people didn't know what it was, number one, or what the value of it was. So I remember Clarence Nishizu and some of these other guys would be at district meetings and things, and I'd drive up with my little tin can and they'd say, "Oh, that's a nice cute little car." He'd have a Cadillac or something. His car was like five thousand, mine was like seven thousand for a little funny thing. So the insurance, likewise, was more expensive on my car than even his. And most people would be driving Fords or Chevys or something else. So that's why I took it.

BN: I hope you still have that car. [Laughs]

AK: Oh, we went through several.

BN: Because those models are pretty valuable now.

AK: That was a '63, '64, 356 C, and what I did was I traded it in just before I got married in '65, to get a 911, the first Carrera. And my wife never forgave me.

BN: So what year was it then that you started at JACL as the youth director?

AK: '63. Maybe '64.

BN: Okay, somewhere in there. So that position didn't exist before, right?

AK: It existed on paper, and there was a person who preceded me, but he didn't last very long. So my job as National Youth Director was two things. Sort of formalize a national youth organization, and the second thing was to take care of the services scholarship, oratorical contests, the speech and the writing. So that was my job. It took me a couple of years to get everything fairly well done, but one of the key things I did -- and Jerry Enomoto was one of these -- I created a National Youth Commission. And these are... okay, so for each chapter you have an adult youth advisor. Those youth advisors sit together at the regional level and have a district or a regional person, and you have a national. So these people then sit on the boards, so I don't have to plead my case, because I've got peer people, adults, members, who are on the boards pleading for the youth, and everybody would support you, but then if I came in and I said, "I need this and this," it wouldn't work. So Ray Uno was the National Youth Commissioner, he became national JACL president, Jerry Enomoto was my National Youth Commissioner. So anyway, there was a meaning to the madness. And they'd give him a position on the board. That was one of the major strategies, we put together a constitution and all that kind of stuff, they have to go out and start to populate the chapters or whatever you want to call them.

BN: Did you work out of an office in Little Tokyo?

AK: Yeah. So all my conditions of hiring have been Los Angeles, whether it's international, national or local, I always wanted to have a local office. So in this case, there was a regional office here, so I said, "I'll work out of the regional office, you don't have to pay for moving me to San Francisco," I didn't want to work out of the San Francisco office anyway.

BN: Who was the regional director?

AK: That's what I was trying to think of, who that person would be.

BN: Was it Tats Kushima, or was that later?

AK: That was... this is '63. I know Jeff Matsui was the one that I was closest to.

BN: But he was later.

AK: Yeah, but this is the time that he was also there, because he had to be there between the '60s and 1970. Because we also started the Lunch Bunch, we also started other activities.

BN: So he was already there?

AK: I think he, almost simultaneously. There was a little gap, but I don't remember who preceded who.

BN: So who else was in that office, then, with you?

AK: Well, so it was Jeff Matsui and myself who were the principals, and then next door was Harry Honda and the Kamayatsus with the Pacific Citizen and so forth. So we had a little cozy group, so that's why I wrote for the Pacific Citizen and everything.

BN: Yeah, I was going to ask you about that, because Densho has actually digitized the entire run of the Pacific Citizen up to, I think up 'til about 2000. So I was wondering if you would talk a little bit about that, just because people are going to be now accessing that, to provide a little context about what you were trying to do.

AK: Yes, so part of that effort was, again, during that five-year framework, was to try to stimulate conversation about youth activities, and it's like staring at a blank wall, you don't get any real feedback. But weekly, religiously you'd write an article about youth, and hopefully it reaches people. You get feedback in strange ways, because you ask for feedback, you never get it, but you're at some event or something and, "Oh, read your article on such-and-such." So it wasn't anything to put fire under people, but at least keep them informed, get 'em active and so forth. A lot of times it was what was going on, but we needed some kind of mechanism to get information out, so that became another vehicle for that kind of thing.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

BN: When you say "youth," how was the organization defining youth at that time? Like what age range?

AK: High school would be the norm, but junior high might be the lowest level. I would say maybe seventeen, eighteen, to twenty-two. Our leadership consisted of kids in their mid-twenties, that type of thing. So Ross Urano was pretty old, Russ Obama was pretty old, they were in their twenties.

BN: So demographically this is really the baby boom.

AK: Yeah.

BN: You guys are a little bit, just a few years older than them.

AK: Yeah. So it was interesting because, as a, quote, "adult," you would hang out with the adults for certain functions and things, but you would be with the kids for some other things. So if there was a youth dance and so forth, you might be at an activity until midnight, but you would go to the adult after-party that somebody was having in their hotel room where they had ochazuke and things, and you would be able to fit in, or 1000 Club Wingding or some of these other events that were taking place. So you would bridge both. You wouldn't be able to drink with the kids, but you could drink with the adults later, kind of thing. And then when you circled back, you find the rowdier kids hanging out yet, and so forth, being at places they shouldn't be and things like that. So you had this funny balancing act. But that's why the National Youth Commission helped in having some of these other advisors. Although there were shenanigans going on there, too. It was just an interesting time. It was also during that time that I was going around with Joe Grant Masaoka, and he was talking about the History Project, and I was talking about youth. So we did a tour, a couple of tours, where we would go to several cities, and he would have the adults for a while, I would have the kids, but we'd swap so that we would use our time, and whatever number of people we'd be somewhere. So that's how we got acquainted really well. And then he's the one that recommended me or suggested that I be part of that, forming the Study Center at UCLA. So it all sort of jives and things. During the five years that I was National Youth Director, one of the things that happens is... because it was '65 to '70, that was the timeframe that I was National Youth Director. Because during that time, I hired Hayashi... minister's son from Portland to be my intern. So I got monies for additional support. Then I divided that money, my salary plus that, and I was able to create two positions, one for services and one for the youth. So I hired Victor Shibata to be the services guy... no, not the services, but the organization guy, and he was Yellow Brotherhood, and Ron Wakabayashi to be the other half. So we had two split roles, and that was what happened afterwards. Then I was giving them mentorship, mentoring, and that all ended in 1970.

So when I left, I think I left maybe formally in '68 or '69, but my contract was up at the national convention in '70, so I still had a role with JACL when the murders took place in Chicago, because I had been the youth director up until that point. So when we came back to the hotel, because we were at one Hilton for the banquet, and we came back to the other Hilton, the Palmer House, and that was where the murder took place. So the police were there, and the reporters were trying to break the police barriers. And I remember distinctly that this one reporter was with this police captain, he said, "I'm with him." I said, "No, you're a reporter." And at that time, all the kids were in the telephone booths at the hotel making calls home, and so forth, and this guy was trying to listen in what was going on. So the person who backed me up was Norm Mineta, because he was there at the convention. Anyway, there was a lot of chaos and things like that, and that was my ending for my formal career with JACL.

BN: On that note...

AK: Yeah. So you talk about milestones or something that is so significant.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

BN: One thing I always wondered, because looking at JACL, you have, at the end of the '60s, this influx of younger people. How was the interaction or the relationship, kind of, with the so-called old guard? Because I feel like some of the newer people wanted to go places that the older group were a little uncomfortable with.

AK: Right. We made it so it was bad politics if you didn't support youth. I mean, that was the general rule. So the fact that we had advocates within the board, and we had all these advisors for each one of these chapters, we also got youth to be on those boards. And I didn't want just one, I wanted at least two. So I said, "None of this, you remember Noah's Ark? In Noah's Ark it's two by two, so you always want at least a couple of kids, otherwise they're not going to feel supported. And then we had the youth advisor, so you really had three people on these boards as part of the conversation, so that helped. Now, I didn't care about some of the back room bickering, I just wanted the formal stuff. So we had to strategize, so it was all part of planning. How do you beat somebody at this game, and part of it is figuring out what is that system, how does the system operate? There's three things: what's the organization and structure, how is it organized and structured? Okay, so we got to look at the budget process and planning process. Are there any formal procedures or processes that we need to look at? And then, three, who are the people? So we had some grouchy old guys and things like that, that we had to either neutralize or at least have them keep their mouth shut. They could bicker in the back of the room, but when it became the formal time for the vote, no one ever turned down the youth. So we made it part of the culture to support the youth.

BN: And I didn't know about, that you knew Joe Grant and had some involvement, so I wanted to ask you a little bit about that When you went on these trips, were those the times when he was actually collecting stuff and doing interviews, or was that a different kind of thing?

AK: I don't remember if he actually did a lot of interviews and things.

BN: He interviewed many Issei, that's in the UCLA collection now.

AK: Right. Our trips were mainly to inform people in different parts of the country what the project was, and to get them more engaged with that. So it was to identify more who those people should be that he could contact and communicate with.

BN: So maybe afterwards he went back and did the collecting and interviewing?

AK: Yes, that's how I saw it. I mean if there was an occasional interview and so forth, I don't remember that. Because we were just moving on, moving on, and we were trying to personalize it, we were trying to target certain places. So I remember being in Detroit or someplace.

BN: And then... well, actually, I should ask you, before we leave JACL, what, for you, were the best things about working for JACL and the worst?

AK: I didn't know how vehement people are in terms of their hatred towards JACL. I mean, I wanted to be involved with that organization because, to me, it was an organized group that impacted the lives of a lot of JAs, Japanese Americans. So for me, this was a formalized way of going and seeing how this organization operates or who they Nisei are, what are they like? I'm in Los Angeles, they keep saying that HICO and some of these other things, "Oh, that's West Coast," "That's Los Angeles." I mean, people still say that, right? That L.A. is different. The ocean keeps coming in and out, in and out, "that's why you guys keep changing your mind. We're solid people, we do this, we do that." So I got to see Salt Lake, I got to see both the Mormon side and the non-Mormon side, I got to go to the Midwest, I got to meet some of the so-called "leaders," and that was part of the effort, too, is to meet the leadership, the so-called leadership, at least with this organization. And this organization is recognized by the mainstream. Now, the extent to which it's accepted within the community, is one side, but how well is it accepted with the mainstream? It has to have some weight. Because it could be effective within the mainstream, and we're not just living within the community all the time. So that was my grand experiment, to increase my knowledge base about an organization that impacted the lives of many, many people during the war, too, and after. And I saw it as that civil rights group, that line of defense, in case of something happening. Did I agree with everybody? Did I agree with Chiz Satow and some of her ways of handling things in terms of funding and things like that? No. That's okay, we figured a way of getting to Mas, and he was the director, even though she was his wife and she was the boss. So we always told him, "We work for you."

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

BN: So actually, we only have another few minutes, so we may have to revisit, continue later. But maybe... maybe if you could quickly tell us what you did after JACL.

AK: Okay. So I'm still volunteering, so my combination is always volunteer and work. So I helped to start the National Youth Project Using Minibikes. So we go back to American Honda and figure that we can get some minibikes. Well, the guy laughs at me, the same guy that was going to hire me. So we start this Youth Project for junior high kids across the nation, still exists today, and it's for "delinquent kids," or those labeled delinquents, but it has to have a mix of "good kids" so it doesn't get negatively labeled. So anyway, I started to work for the national board of YMCAs with Honda and with the federal government grants. So we did that for five years. Didn't want to be a career-wide person, so I helped to run the organization with Fred Hoshiyama. I was an assistant director. Then I worked myself out of that job, so I worked for The Grantsmanship Center writing -- not writing grants, but teaching how to write grants. So it was also during that time, because I had done the NYPUM activities, I knew how to raise funds, so that's what I was teaching. But I knew how to raise federal money, government money, as well as private money. So that was that combination.

So I did that, and then I decided that -- this is getting to be in the '80s -- that I needed to think about working again in a nonprofit. So I went and took over the Southern California Center for Non-Profit Management, and that center is what they call a management support organization that helps nonprofits improve their ability to deliver services. So I did that for five years, and during that time, since they couldn't pay me what I needed, they gave me that time to be able to earn money. So we did all this good stuff. My board members were all the people from downtown, they were the corporations and philanthropists and all this kind of stuff. So we had that going, and after five years, I was able to work a couple of contracts, and one was with the state of California for a program called Partnership for Change, trying to make the public libraries more attentive and active with those populations that surround them. So the local library, working with Latinos, African American, American Indian, Asian American, those were the target populations. So for five years, we serviced that. But I did that under Kumamoto Associates, so I joined with my wife, and she became the... what happened was our attorney was a woman, I have to mention that, so she said on the papers, 50-50, partnership's 50-50. I said, "No." I said, "I think somebody needs to make the decisions when it comes time. We can always negotiate, but somebody has to be able to have the choice." So Joanne took 70 percent, or 60 percent, something like that. So she became the head of our partnership. Her boss, this other guy, was laughing because he said, "If you guys get a divorce, she gets half of your thirty and you get half of her seventy, and that becomes 50-50." So we laugh about that. So we've been doing that since 1989, so we just have for-profit, nonprofit, and whoever pays us. We enjoy that.

BN: I have some other things I want to ask you, but we may have to continue another time. And then I'll take a look at Karen's interview, too, because I think she may address some of those things, too. But for now at least, thank you very much, Alan, for taking the time.

AK: Sorry about the coughing.

BN: No, no, this was fascinating. Thank you.

AK: Okay, great.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.