Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Amy Iwasaki Mass Interview
Narrator: Amy Iwasaki Mass
Interviewer: Brian Niiya
Location: Emeryville, California
Date: March 12, 2019
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-470-3

<Begin Segment 3>

BN: Did you have to go to Japanese school?

AM: Yes.

BN: Before the war?

AM: Before the war I went to the Japanese school after school, so that was only first grade that I went. But then after the war, I took the streetcar and the bus to Boyle Heights and went to Japanese school on Saturday.

BN: That's a good distance, isn't it?

AM: It is, but it didn't seem that bad. The only thing that was embarrassing is when my mother would make nigiri and toast it in the oven with shoyu, and it had a very strong smell, and I was very aware of it on the bus.

BN: You had mentioned that, I guess, both your parents were pretty active in that community with different types of endeavors. Can you talk a little about that?

AM: Right. My father was active in kenjinkai, and I was mostly aware of it because they had annual picnics. So they had a stage set up and they had speakers and entertainment, and they had games for kids and picnic lunches for everybody. He was also active in supporting the judo and the Japanese school. And I'm not sure, possibly the produce dealers may have had some kind of association. He's often in pictures in, like there was, a few years back, I found out that there was a neighborhood pamphlet that had the kind of businesses advertised and they activities, and he was in a number of the pictures. And my mother was active in the church, and she did flower arrangement and studied with a woman, Mrs. Homma, and went back to Japan later to get her Japanese degree in that, and she taught flower arrangement, too. She was active also with the Japanese school, and the Issei ladies were active in the PTA when they had bazaars at, like, Virgil junior high, they were the chow mein crew. So, yeah, they were active in the Japanese community. I feel now, in the Bay Area, I live in El Cerrito, and we have Yaoyasan, which is a store run by people from Japan -- they've been here for years -- and Tokyo Fish, it's run by Nisei, no, Sansei. And we had the basketball teams and all those things, I feel like I'm back in my old neighborhood.

BN: And then what elementary school did you go to?

AM: I went to Dayton Heights School, which was right next door to me, and catty-corner from Tak Hoshizaki.

BN: Now, your siblings were quite a bit older, and I'm guessing the elder two even had graduated high school by the time of the war.

AM: Right. My brother Nails and my sister Fumi had graduated from high school and were attending UCLA at the time of Pearl Harbor. And Shogo got his, graduated from high school at the first graduating class at Heart Mountain. And all three of them were part of the Nisei student relocation program, Shogo went to the University of Tulsa and Nails and Fumi went to Park College in Missouri.

BN: I'm going to come back and ask you about that. So did you see a lot of them, or were you, because of the age gap, were you almost like an only child in some ways?

AM: Yeah, maybe in a way. I had special privileges because of being the youngest. For example, whenever I'm at Starbucks, I'm very grateful that my older siblings insisted I have an American name, Amy, they didn't have them, and that's made my life easier. They were also very concerned about my doing well in school, so they would check my compositions in junior high school and advise me on what kind of courses to take and activities to be in in high school in order to go to a good college, and so they were very helpful in those ways.

BN: Although having an English name, you missed out on getting one of those Nisei nicknames like Nails. [Laughs] Let's see, I wanted to ask you one more thing before we got to the war, but I lost my...

AM: Oh, let me, excuse me, one thing about my relationship with my older sibs, when I came back from camp and went to Virgil junior high school, because I was in the fifth grade when we got back, there were actually people who remembered my siblings, and I think there were a couple at Belmont, so that was nice, because they had positive memories.

BN: And then what was your housing situation? Did they rent the house, own the house?

AM: They owned the house. My sister had various illnesses from when she was born, so her childhood, Nails remembers spending many hours in the waiting room at Children's Hospital in Hollywood. And so they bought a house not far from the hospital, and back in those days, as you know, my father was not able to buy, so he bought the house in my brothers' names. And that meant we lived there before the war, and when we had to go to camp, the people who lived in the house in back of us facing Madison rather than Westmoreland, they were an older couple and they rented our house. We were not friends with them or anything, but we knew who they were and they did fine paying rent and taking care of it. Then when we came back, I'm sure they didn't like having to move because there was a housing shortage. But they moved, and a lot of our things, I think, were saved by saving it at the house rather than having to store it. Like cars and stuff we had to store, but not a lot of our furniture and things.

BN: So it sounds like your parents were relatively well-off in terms of being able to own a house and cars.

AM: Right.

BN: Was that your perception?

AM: Yes, we were very comfortable. My mother told me once, she said, "I'll never go to a sale again," I guess that's what she used to do when she was raising my siblings.

BN: And then did you have, since your father was in business with his relatives, did you have extended family, cousins and so forth?

AM: Yes. Both of my uncles lived across the street from me, and my female cousins, one was born a year after me and the other one two years after me. And each of them had three younger brothers, so steps. And my father always loved babies, and there was always a baby on his lap, and everybody in our family loves babies. In fact, this morning I was at Kaiser in the neonatal unit, I go every Friday. We're called cuddlers, I hold babies in neonatal ICUs there.

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