Densho Digital Repository

Densho Visual History Collection

Title: Flora Ninomiya Interview

Narrator: Flora Ninomiya

Interviewer: Virginia Yamada

Location: Emeryville, California

Date: March 13, 2019

Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-473

<Begin Segment 1>

VY: Okay. Today is Wednesday, March 13, 2019, and we're here in Emeryville, California, with Flora Ninomiya. Dana Hoshide is our videographer, and my name is Virginia Yamada. So, Flora, thank you for joining us today for this interview.

FN: It's fine, I'm glad to be here.

VY: Good. Let's begin by having you tell us when you were born and what name you were given at birth.

FN: Well, I was born on April the 8th, 1935, and my name is Flora Ayako Ninomiya.

VY: And where were you born?

FN: I was born in Richmond, California.

VY: And do you have any siblings?

FN: I have five siblings. Well, I had five siblings. I have a sister, Alice, who's the oldest, I have a sister, Martha, who has passed away, I'm the third, my brother David was the fourth, and he has passed away also. I have a sister, Ann Koda, who lives in San Jose, and I have a final sister, Mary Garroway, who was born in the concentration camp in Amache, and she has also passed away. So I have two siblings.

VY: Okay. And then, so, what year was your oldest sister, Alice, born?

FN: Alice was born in 1933.

VY: Okay, and how about your youngest sister? When was she born?

FN: She was born in 1944.

VY: Okay, so roughly in the span of about twelve, eleven, twelve years, your parents had five children.

FN: Five children. No, six children.

VY: Six children, okay. And okay, all of them were probably born in Richmond except for your youngest sister.

FN: That's correct.

VY: And it sounds like everybody stayed in this area.

FN: Well, actually, my youngest sister, Mary, when she went away to school, she left Richmond and she went to school in New York. And so she married someone that she met at Cornell, and so she never really came back to live in Richmond, she lived in Washington, D.C.

VY: I see. And how about everybody else?

FN: Everybody else pretty much stayed in the Bay Area.

VY: How long has your family been in Richmond?

FN: My grandfather moved to Richmond in 1913, and he was in a partnership with two other people in 1913. So our family has been there for over a century.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

VY: Okay, well, let's talk about those early days. What do you know about your grandparents on your mother's side, and when did they come to America?

FN: My mother's family came from Wakayama, Japan, and I'm not sure exactly when they came to the United States, but my mother was born in Stockton in 1906. She was the oldest in the family.

VY: Do you remember what your grandparents' names were on your mother's side?

FN: You know, I just did not ever know them, because they died before I was born, and I did not ever know them. You know, in those days, many people came as farmers. And I say that, there were two groups of farmers, there were farmers that owned property, and there were farmers who did not own property who worked for their friends or family, the relatives. So those farmers, those fifty percent, roughly, of farmers that had no land, they were different from the people that owned the land, they were more like migrant farmers. And I think that's what happened to my grandparents, because both of them died before they were in their fifties. So they must have had a very, very difficult time. And my mother never talked about it, so I really don't understand what it was like, but you know, when you're a migrant farmer, it's different from having your land and your home and your family all together. I think it was very, very difficult for them, I think they were very, very poor, and they had a hard time.

VY: Okay, I see. Let's see, how about your mom? What was her name?

FN: My mother's name was Hayane, and she had no second name, she was just known as Hayane.

VY: Do you know anything about her early life before she met your father?

FN: Well, I know that they moved a lot. They were living in Stockton when she was first born, and they must have lived in Stockton quite a while, because all of her younger siblings were born in Stockton. But they moved to a place called Livingston, California, which is very close to Stockton, and they were living there for quite a while also, and that's where they both passed away.

VY: Oh, that's where her parents passed away?

FN: Her parents passed away.

VY: I see. How many siblings did your mom have?

FN: My mother had three siblings, she was the oldest, she had a brother who was born in 1909, she had a sister, and I don't know when she was born, but she was younger. And then she had a youngest brother, and I would say that he was probably born in about 1920. And I still have connections with all of my first cousins, so that's good.

VY: That's amazing. So you had an aunt and uncle on your mother's side?

FN: I had an aunt and two uncles.

VY: An aunt and two uncles.

FN: Two uncles, yeah.

VY: And did you know them very well?

FN: Well, when we were growing up, our family was very close. But most of them lived in either Stockton or Livingston, so we would get together, and it was a really fun time when our families got together, but it was hard in those days because everybody was working hard.

VY: Okay.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

VY: And how about your grandparents on your father's side? When did they come to America?

FN: I'm not sure when my grandfather, my father's father, came to the United States, but it must have been in the very early 1900s.

VY: And do you know why he decided to come to, did he come to Richmond?

FN: He did not come to Richmond, he came to Berkeley, California. And I think that he came here to pursue a better life. I think that his name was Jiro, which means, "second son." And I know that, for him, there was no possibility of owning land in Japan, and so he had to leave the family, and I think that's the reason he came. Before he had come, though, my grandmother on my father's side had passed away. So he left my father with his relatives, and he came on his own to the United States. But I don't know how long my grandfather was here before he sent for my father. See, we didn't talk about those things, I don't really know. And it's not that difficult, I guess I should find out. But, you know, there aren't people to ask now.

VY: I know, that's unfortunate, isn't it?

FN: It is.

VY: Okay, so your father, your grandfather came here on his own, and then what about your grandmother, where was she?

FM: My grandmother on my father's side had died in Japan. And so my father was the only son, and he left him with relatives, with one of his aunts, and my father was left in Japan. My grandfather came to the United States.

VY: Okay, so then what did your grandfather do after he went to Berkeley?

FM: He went to Berkeley and I think he lived in boarding homes with other Japanese families, and I think he did a wide variety of jobs. I know one job he did was, one of his friends from Japan that was from the same prefecture that he was with, had a furniture factory, I know that he worked there, the name was Akagi. And I think that he made a lot of connections through our church, because the Akagi family still is a member of our church. So I have connections with the grandson.

VY: So you still know the grandson?

FM: Yes.

VY: Okay, and then how about after that? What ultimately did your father end up, your grandfather end up doing?

FM: So I think in 1913, he had saved enough money, and then he moved to Richmond to be a part of this partnership. And then in 1917, he took over the whole operation, and he bought out his partners. So in 1917, he established the nursery on his own.

VY: So he bought his partners out?

FM: Right, he bought his partners out.

VY: So it was a hundred percent his nursery.

FM: Right. Well, I'm sure he had to get a mortgage, but I don't know how he did those things in those days, but he had a lot of help from his fellow Japanese in the Richmond, El Cerrito area. Because everybody, I think, tried to help each other out as much as they could.

VY: Were there a lot of other Japanese American nursery families in that area?

FM: There were, and they were all in the same business, they all had greenhouses, they had small plots of land, and they were somewhat rural. They did have a lot of help from each other, so I think that helped him a lot.

VY: Did they all grow the same kinds of flowers?

FM: No, there were a variety of flowers. And also, since it's expensive to construct greenhouses, in the spring and summer months, they would also have outdoor crops, so they did a variety of things. But my grandfather was always interested in growing roses, so that was what he specialized in. And so there were, I don't know exactly how many total nurseries there were, but at the start of World War II, there were twenty families in the Richmond, El Cerrito area.

VY: Wow, okay, that's a lot.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

VY: And then when did your father, well, how about your father, when did he come over?

FM: So my father came to join my grandfather in Berkeley when he completed middle school in Japan. And so when he came, of course, he could speak no English, and he boarded with his family, and he repeated middle school. So in Berkeley he went through three years of middle school at a school called Willard junior high school, which is still there. Then he went to Berkeley High School, he graduated from Berkeley High School. So I think he gradually became proficient in English, and then he enrolled at the University of California. And so he was very fortunate because he came so young, most Issei, when they came to the United States, had to immediately start working and try to provide for themselves and also to help their families. So he was very lucky because my grandfather was there to help him. And so my father made a lot of friends during that time that he was going to school, and all his friends were Nisei. And he still, to this day, I mean, to the last of his days, he said those years that he was going to school in Berkeley were some of the best years of his life. He just really loved his friends and having his comrades to be with. And, of course, in the summertime, he would have to go and work in the fields and in the orchards to help harvest different crops. But I think even the Niseis did this, and so I think that he said it was really a great time for him. Just really enjoyed those school years in Berkeley.

VY: I see. So, and in the summer, he worked in the family nursery?

FN: No, he would go out and try to earn a lot of money to further go to school.

VY: And so backing up just a little bit, so when he came here, he was probably how old?

FN: Well, I would say he's probably thirteen or fourteen.

VY: And he came by himself?

FN: He came alone, but he had a place to come to, because his father was here.

VY: He made the journey from Japan to America.

FN: Right, by himself. See, and we never talked about these experiences, it's too late.

VY: Okay, so it sounds like your father really enjoyed his time at Berkeley. What did he study?

FN: He studied mechanical engineering. He was in the class of 1928.

VY: And what did he do after he graduated? Was he able to find a job in mechanical engineering?

FN: No, he could not find a job. So that's when he joined my grandfather and moved to Richmond and just immersed himself in building the nursery.

VY: Why do you think he was not able to find a job?

FN: Well, there was so much discrimination then, and it was impossible to, even though you were a good student and you had your degree, was very, very difficult to find jobs. One of his best friends that he had a lifetime friendship with was a Nisei from San Francisco, and his name was Mr. Takahashi. And he went to Japan as a Nisei to work as a mechanical engineer. And he had great difficulty, because even though he spoke Japanese, I don't think he was really literate, so he had to learn how to speak good Japanese, he had to learn how to read and write, and so I think he had a very difficult time. But he eventually became a Japanese citizen, and he had a very successful career, because he would come back to the United States to do business for his big Japanese company, and he would always stop and visit with us.

VY: Okay, so he and your father stayed in touch over the years?

FN: No, they lost touch during the war years. But when it became possible for Mr. Takahashi to come to the United States to do company business, he always stayed with us.

VY: I see. So then when did your parents meet?

FN: My parents met through our church friends. In those days, the church was part of the social community also, not just church. And so they met through friends of my father, and I don't know who the other friend was, but they met through the Yanagisawas, they were members of our church, and we still are really good friends. In fact, since I had no grandmother, Mrs. Yanagisawa was the person that I consider as one of our real grandmothers, because she always took care of us.

VY: So do you know how old your parents were when they got married?

FN: You're asking embarrassing questions, I don't know.

VY: That's okay, I think a lot of us don't know that answer, actually.

FN: Because I'm not sure exactly what year they got married. It was in the early 1930s, but I really don't know.

VY: That's okay. Do you know what your mom was doing before she got married?

FN: I don't know what she was doing. She was not able to go to college, I know that.

VY: She was not able to go to college?

FN: She graduated from Livingston High School, she did not go to college.

VY: Do you think she wanted to go to college?

FN: Well, I don't think she ever thought about going to college.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

VY: So tell me a little bit more about the family nursery at that time, if you know anything about it.

FN: Well, it was very, very small. There were very, very few employees, you did the work yourself. And if you were able to hire somebody, it was usually a Japanese from Japan, immigrant, and so you would provide housing for them and you would try to pay them as well as you could. And I don't think the pay was that good, but it was more like, the relationship with your employers were more like friends rather than employee-employer relationship. And sometimes the employees would be relatives, so they were people that you were close with. Usually from the same prefecture, so I think... but I think it was really, really hard, because it was the time of the depression by the early 1930s, and it was very, very difficult, I'm sure, for everyone.

VY: So do you remember working -- I mean, you were very little -- but do you remember working or playing in the nursery when you were a kid?

FN: Well, we had very few neighbors close by, so our family kids were the kids we played with. We didn't have a lot of friends, 'cause we were out in the country. So we did have some close by neighbors, and I still try to see the ones that are still here, we try to get together. But I've lost so many of my friends now, so I don't get to see too many people. But we still do have some Niseis that are still living in the Richmond area, and I try to visit them.

VY: Were there other nursery families that were not Japanese American in your area?

FN: The one person that we really are very close friends with is the Francis Aebi family, they lived right across the street from us, they were close to us in age, so we've been friends. Francis Aebi was the person who took care of our property during World War II, and he was a very meticulous kind of person. And he always did things very, very well, very, very carefully, and so during the time that he took care of our nursery, he did a really good job, and it was Francis Aebi, Sr., who made it possible for our family to return to Richmond.

VY: Okay, we'll talk about more of that...

FN: Later. But he was the only person. But we do have friends that were in our area, and they were mostly Portuguese and Italians, and so those children were the same age as us, we'd go to school on the school bus together, and so those people were really good friends. But those people have left Richmond, are not really close by, so we don't have contact with them like we do with our fellow Nisei friends, and also the Aebis, because we're so close to the Aebi family, that we still kept contact with him. But I don't see our other friends that we went to school with.

VY: So at that time, what was your family growing at the nursery?

FN: We were growing mostly roses in the greenhouse, and in the spring and early summer, we also grew sweet peas in lath houses. And when they came out, our job was to pick the sweet peas and put them in bunches to prepare them for the flower market, and then my father would go to the market and sell them.

VY: How old were you at that time, when you did things like that?

FN: Well, my oldest sister, who's three years older than I am, would be about ten, eleven, and I was six, seven.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

VY: So you said you would take it to the market, is that the San Francisco Flower Market?

FN: Flower market.

VY: Do you want to talk about that and tell us what you know about the history there?

FN: Well, the San Francisco Flower Market was started by the Issei, and they've already celebrated, way long time ago, the hundred years of the San Francisco Flower Market. But they had three markets, the Italian market, the Chinese market, and the Japanese market. And so my father was in the, he sold our product in the San Francisco Flower Market, and people came from the different areas like the Hayward, San Leandro area. Also from South Bay, Mountain View, from as far as San Jose. And in those days, it was a big job to come into the flower market, because we didn't have good highways, so it was a long trip. And you had to get in early in the morning to have your product ready, so you would get up at, like, three o'clock in the morning to be in the market by three o'clock. You would get up at three o'clock in the morning to have your product ready and go to the market, and be ready to sell your product by six o'clock in the morning So they had a long journey, had a long day, and I really don't know how many people had their stands in the flower market. Maybe a hundred different nursery people. But it was, for them, it was a very social time, too, to get together with fellow Japanese flower growers, and also to sell to their customers. So it was a very thriving place. They would start at six, and the bell would ring, and all the buyers would come rushing in to buy their flowers because they wanted to get the best flowers for the shops, and it really was fun. We would ask our father to take us to the market when it was summertime and we would try to go and help him, and it was exciting. To us, it was exciting. It was very, very good. And there were, also, Japanese retail florists, so my father just would not sell to Caucasians, but he would also sell to the Japanese florists.

VY: Yeah, so who were the primary customers at the flower market?

FN: The primary customers were the large retail shops all over the East Bay area, and also San Francisco, the Bay Area, this whole area that we were in.

VY: I see. So your family and other nurseries, they would pack up their flowers, bring them into San Francisco to sell at the flower market, and then a lot of them would end up back in the East Bay with other shops.

FN: Right.

VY: And how did you prepare the flowers? They're so delicate, right? How did you prepare them for such a long journey?

FN: Well, the flowers would be put according to varieties, it would be bunched in a certain part depending on what the crop was. Like chrysanthemums were treated differently from carnations and roses in the Richmond area, their primary greenhouse crop were roses and carnations. And about half of the families, so, say, ten of the families in our area were carnation growers, and then the other half were rose growers. And most families did not grow two crops, most families specialized in growing one crop. And then if they had outdoor crops, then there would be all kinds of different seed crops, like I said, sweet peas or snapdragons, different kinds of cut flowers that are suitable for retail selling.

VY: Was one flower more hearty than the other to kind of survive the traveling better?

FN: Well, I think that roses are pretty hardy. I think that carnations are pretty hardy, chrysanthemums are very hardy. And in those days, before the war, most everything was sold locally. But, of course, that all changed after the war when we had much better transportation and things really, really changed in the late '50s and early '60s when freight on jet airplanes started and that just really changed the industry in California. Because when those big jets came in, we could get our crop across the United States in five hours. And so we could be in markets like in Chicago, where there were a large population of people, we could get into places like New York, Washington, with the jet planes, and that really changed the floral industry in California when that happened.

VY: Okay, that's great. Let's talk more about that a little bit later, too. Okay, so are there any other memories you have of this time before the war that you can think of?

FN: Well, for me, it was a time of not having worries, because no matter what our problems were, our parents didn't talk about it. And so I really did not, I think that our childhood was quite happy, and our parents tried to do what they could do for us, so I think that our early lives were very, very happy for all of us.

VY: Okay.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

VY: And then, in 1941, on December 7th, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. How old were you at that time, and what happened to your family after that?

FN: I was six and a half years old when that happened, so I really, it didn't make an impact on me, and I didn't really understand. I know my grandfather was very, very agitated, because he thought that this was just a very, very stupid thing for Japan to do. Said, "Don't the Japanese realize what a big country this is?" The United States is nothing like Japan, a small island country with many, many people. The United States is so big and so vast and has such a huge population compared to Japan," he thought it was just absolutely stupid, I know that. My parents didn't say too much, they didn't say too much.

VY: What kinds of things did they have to do to prepare to leave? How did they deal with their nursery?

FN: Well, Richmond, at the time, was already constructing the Liberty ships in Richmond, so Richmond was considered a war zone in that it was, it could have been targeted to be bombed. It was not a safe place, the United States government thought. And so in order to protect the shipbuilding industry, the United States government said to the Isseis living in Richmond, they would have to leave the area. So in early February of 1942, the Isseis already had to prepare to leave their nurseries to their children to have them operated. Well, my parents didn't have children that were old enough to do this. But anyway, they did prepare, and my mother's family was living in Livingston, so we were going to move to Livingston in early February. And the day that we were leaving for Livingston, my father was arrested by the FBI. He was not an American citizen, and he was arrested by the FBI. So we children had been sent to Livingston early that day, and when my mother came with my younger sister, she was a wreck because she didn't know what was happening to my father, and we had all this turmoil of having to move to Livingston. But anyway, we did move to Livingston, and she had no idea where he was taken, but we're following the government order to leave Richmond for Isseis. So we move, and we started school in Livingston, but it was already February, we were living in the country. I don't know what had happened to my father, communication was not very good. But anyway, we were in Livingston, but my mother did have her relatives to help her with her family. And then, finally, my mother heard that my father would be sent to a place called Bismarck, North Dakota, and so he went there, and we went into a temporary camp, and then we were sent to Colorado with the people from Livingston.

VY: What was the temporary camp that you were sent to?

FN: We went to the county fairgrounds in Merced, California.

VY: Do you remember what that was like?

FN: I just don't remember. I know it must have been very chaotic with all those people, and I didn't really know the people that we were with. Fortunately, I was young enough that I don't remember all that chaos. And then my two other younger siblings, they have no recall, because my younger sister, Ann, was only six months old, and my brother was like three. So they don't remember, they had no recall.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

VY: Okay, so then you ended up in Colorado, who was there with you?

FN: So we had a relatively large family, so in our barrack we had two apartments, and my grandfather, my mother, and then there were five children. So my mother had a lot to handle.

VY: How about your mother's siblings? Did they have to go to a camp?

FN: They also went to camp, but her siblings were all living in Stockton, and so they went to separate camps. Her brother, who was right below her, he had graduated from Cal, and was Phi Beta Kappa at Cal, and he wanted to become a doctor. And so he applied to UCSF, but he could not get in. And so he tried different places, and he was accepted to a small school in, I think it's Lincoln, Nebraska, Creighton, and he went to medical school there. And so right before the war, he had graduated, and he didn't want to return to Livingston because he wanted to go to a bigger community. So he went back to Stockton, and he established his practice there. He was just getting started, and the war started. So my uncle and his brother, the brother was still unmarried, and the sister, who was married, all went to Rohwer in Arkansas. He went with the people of Stockton to Rohwer.

VY: So your mother's family went to Rohwer, and...

FN: She went to Livingston.

VY: She went to Livingston and then Amache.

FN: Right, so we were not in the same camp.

VY: Not in the same camp. So the only family support your mom had in camp was with, from your grandfather?

FN: My grandfather, and also her relatives. Her relatives were very close to her, and there were two families, the Okudas and the Kimuras, and they were both cousins of hers, so they helped a lot.

VY: I see, they were in the same camp.

FN: Right. So we were with them.

VY: Did they also have children?

FN: Oh, yes.

VY: Do you remember playing with them?

FN: Well, they were a little bit older than we were, but they were friends of ours. And they've remained friends always. In fact, I see Esther Okuda, she was in El Cerrito, and we go to the same church. I still see her, she is in her nineties, I think she is ninety-seven. And we still get together, we have a group of older women who are craftspeople. In fact, today, I had to leave early from church because we had our craft group, and Esther came and she made cards, gift cards. So we're still very close.

VY: That's great, you've stayed in touch all these years.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

VY: Do you have very many memories of Amache?

FN: Well, for me it was a fun time, because we had lots of friends in camp. We had school, and I thought that our schooling was really very good, all of our classmates were Japanese. And you know, since Japanese do value education, I think that we got good schooling. Our teachers were mainly people brought in by the camp administration, they came voluntarily to teach us. And I thought that school was fun, I enjoyed going to school in camp, I enjoyed being with my friends. In fact, when it came time for us to leave camp, I knew that I would be missing all my friends and all the things that all the playtime that we had together. When I came back, school was not difficult because we had, I thought, pretty good schooling. But since that time, I have heard that the people that have gone to the high schools in the camps and had graduated from the high school, their schooling was not as good as ours, the lower grades. Because their teachers, many of them were really not that competent. And so one of my friends told me that her husband, when he came back, it was difficult for him to keep up with the students at the university, because he was not prepared. Like say you're taking a chemistry class, he didn't, he felt that he was not prepared to enter camp, so he had a hard time. But for me, I thought that we got a really good education in school when we were in camp.

And then I hear a lot of complaints from the older Niseis about the food that we had, but you know what? I just can't complain about the food because I never felt that we were hungry. Our camps were not like the camps that were in Europe. Our camps were for us, and I think that we were okay. I think that, since we had so many farmers in our camp, and I read someplace that in Amache, the camp had five thousand acres under cultivation because there were so many farmers that could do this farming. So I think that we did have okay food. But, see, what I hear from the older Niseis is, it was terrible. And even in our video that we made for Rosie the Riveter, Tom Oishi says, "Oh, the food was terrible." He went on and on.

VY: Is he older?

FN: He was older. And I think that the medical care was all right, because the administration brought in medical people, they brought in pharmacists and nurses and all that. But I know that it was difficult for the doctors because the medical supplies were hard to get because of the war. And I know that there were deaths in the camp. But by and large, the population within the camp, the Niseis were all very young, the Isseis were getting older, but they were still in pretty good physical health. But I think that it could have been difficult if you couldn't get medication or you couldn't do the right operation for somebody who was very, very sick, that there's bound to be people being lost within the camp. And if you had lost a parent in the camp, I would be very, very unhappy and angry that the government had us in a place where they should not have had us, and people died as a result of not getting medical care or something.

VY: And your mom, she gave birth in camp, right?

FN: Yes.

VY: Do you remember that?

FN: I remember my father finally joining us after about two and a half years. And I remember him coming back, and we hadn't seen each other, we hadn't communicated with him for so long, that he was kind of a stranger. But it was kind of, I'm sure, a weird situation for all of us to have him come back and finally join us. It was hard; it was hard for my mother. Well, both of my parents.

VY: Did you remember your father when you saw him again?

FN: I didn't remember him, I didn't remember him. And so here's this stranger that comes, it took a while, it took us a while. So I think that we were kind of uncomfortable.

VY: And what was your relationship like with your grandfather when you were in camp?

FN: Well, it's because of my grandfather that we can speak a little bit of Japanese, because he used to always tell us fairy tales in Japanese, so we heard all those stories when we were children. We were close to him. But my grandfather was not a healthy man, he had physical problems like arthritis and rheumatism, and so he could not, when he became older, he could not work. And so that made it very, very difficult for him, and so he had a hard time. Nursery work does involve a lot of physical work. You do have to do quite a bit of physical work, so that made it very difficult for him. And we tried to help as much as we could, so I think that farmers and people that are in agriculture like us, tend to be healthier because we did have to do physical work. It's good for you. So that's very, very good. So I think we tried to work as hard as we could when we came back from camp. We children in our family were all still in school, so we still had to go to school, and by that time, my father had built the nursery enough that we did have people working for us, so that helped.

VY: I want to talk about that more, too. Let's go back to camp just a little bit, okay? When you were in camp, what kind of relationship do you think your mom and your grandfather had? Because this was actually your father's father, right?

FN: Right, my father's father.

VY: Did they have a good relationship?

FN: Well, I think that they had a good relationship. My mother, being an American citizen, took an active part in running the nursery. My mother, since she was an American, had the ownership of the nursery in her name.

VY: Was this before?

FN: Before the war. She was also the person who handled all the billing, and all the financial side of the nursery because she was the one that signed all the checks. And so, in our family, that really made a difference, that she was an American, because she had certain rights that other Japanese families did not have. They had to use their young children as owners of their property, or people that had the financial power over the business that they had. So my mother always worked hard in the nursery, she always knew exactly how the financial situation of the nursery was. So that was really important to my father.

VY: Okay, so it sounds like she was very important.

FN: She was, she was. My mother really was quite a woman. But you know, I would say, all of the nursery mothers in Richmond, they were all quite active in the operation of their nursery. I say that the men took care of the sales by going to the flower market. You know, when you're in agriculture, your work starts when the sun comes up. The men are at the flower market, the women have to get the work started on the nursery, so the women in the nursery families actually ran the operations because the men would be gone. And by the time they came home, mid-morning or at noontime, they had already done a full day's work. And they went to the bank and banked their income, they would do the shopping for the nursery, they would do the household shopping like the groceries, then they would come home. They needed a nap, so by then, it's mid-daytime, and so the women in the nursery business really had to work hard. Every single family, those women in Richmond and El Cerrito, they were all remarkable, I would say.

VY: So it really was teamwork, everybody in the family was very important to keep things working.

FN: Yes, yes.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

VY: Okay, so we'll finish up with Amache, is there anything else you remember in there? Any adults that made an impression on you?

FN: Well, it was very interesting because here you have this population of Japanese, all Japanese, and there were all kinds of Japanese. And so in our block, we happened to have a very remarkable person, his name was Mr. Koda. And when you say Koda, immediately, every Japanese thinks about the Koda family that raised rice. Well, Mr. Koda, an Issei from Japan, was in our block, and he was our block manager. And he had an expensive rice-growing operation in central California before the war, was one of the biggest rice farms in the state of California. And the family is still running this farm, the rice farm. And it's now in the third generation that they're here in California. But Mr. Koda started this operation in central California. But from what I understand about his story, is that he didn't first start growing rice, he started other businesses. But they weren't always very successful, and finally he started growing rice, and it became a huge operation before the war. And, like I say, his family is still in the business, and they're doing different things. They're doing one thing that I think is really interesting, they grow sweet rice, and sweet rice is rice that we use to make our mochi for Christmas, you know what mochi is? But one thing that they've also done is they make mochi powder, and you could see that all over the United States in these one-pound boxes, and they're sold all over the United States, the Koda sweet rice flour. So I think that's a remarkable thing. And then also, Mr. Koda was very, very progressive. Before the war, he hired, I think they're from Japan, geneticists who came and hybridized different kinds of rice, and he found a rice that was particularly suitable to this area, and he was very successful because of that, being one of the first ones to make a special rice. And the family, I think, is still working on hybridizing... I mean, he knew, even though he was an Issei, that there was room for improvement, and he did a lot of things for the rice industry that is remarkable.

There was another family that is from Livingston, and her name was Pat Suzuki, and she was always interested in singing and dancing, and she's always performing. And she went on to make her living as a performer, and I know that was not easy. And that family is still, her family is still living in Livingston, but Pat Suzuki became a star on Broadway, which is, I think, remarkable for somebody of my generation. I would never think of going into the arts. I mean, artists have a hard time making a living, especially if you're Asian, it's very, very difficult. So I think those two people kind of stand out in my mind.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

VY: Okay, Flora, so when did your family leave Amache?

FN: We left Amache when school ended in 1945. We left camp, and it was June, and we all got on the train. And there was a special train for us, we were all leaving camp, because I think everybody wanted to wait 'til school was out, and then the families could return. So we left in the middle of June, and we got on the Santa Fe train. You know, I don't remember the process of getting to the train station and boarding the train, but I know that the train was very, very crowded. I know that it was very, very hot. In those days, there was no air conditioning, of course. And then I remember different stops. I remember our train stopped completely in Barstow, California. And if you don't think that day wasn't hot, it was terrifically hot. And I think that the reason that was stopped is that part of the people went on to some other place, so the train was dismantled, and we had to wait for an engine to come. But after what was hours and hours of waiting in the hot train, we finally started moving and the train came to Richmond, California, which was the end of the line for the Santa Fe tracks. So when we got off the train, it was there that Mr. Francis Aebi came to take our family home.

VY: He met you at the train station?

FN: He met us at the train station, he knew exactly when we would be there, so he met us. So he's the one that took us home. And Richmond was a very small town, so we were able to go directly home to our house in our nursery.

VY: Do you know how your family kept in touch with him while they were...

FN: Our family kept in touch with the Aebis through mail, and so we would write letters back and forth. But you know, Mr. Aebi had to work so hard, he took care of our nursery. Well, of course, our nursery, and also the Kawais who were right next to us, and the Sugihara family. So he took care of four nurseries all during the war.

VY: All by himself? Did he have any help?

FN: He had very little help, but he did have help. And I know that it was a struggle, I know that his children -- and they were young, too, at that time. But they had to help, especially during the summers, but they had to help after school and work to help the family. And I know that Mr. Aebi had to do certain things, like in order to get gas rations, he had to remove some of his plants from the greenhouse, and he grew tomatoes so that he could get things like tires for his equipment and also gasoline. Because farmers had special privileges, and he knew that that was the only way that he could survive. So Mr. Aebi was very, very clever, and he was very hardworking, very, very meticulous kind of man. So everything that he did, did very, very well after he studied what the situation could be, and he just was able to get through this war experience. And one thing I'll have to say about Mr. Aebi is that he did this quietly, he didn't expect anything in return, and he did this because he felt that this was the right thing to do. He was truly a man, I think, of conscience, and to this day, his children are just the same. And it's truly remarkable, because I know the feeling that there was in parts of the community, but to him, he always showed that he could make his decisions correctly.

VY: Was Mr. Aebi, was he first generation or second generation, where's his family from?

FN: He told me a story once that... we used to go to meetings a lot together, so we'd just sit and talk. Mrs. Aebi would be there, too, and sometimes his son, Francis, because they were all involved in the nursery business, he told me a story. In World War I, when he was still going to school in Berkeley, he realized that his family was speaking in Swiss. So his mother was Swiss, Mr. Aebi was born in Berkeley, I think Berkeley, and so he was a first generation, I mean, he was a second generation. He told his mother that, "We have to speak English from now on, because our neighbors will think that we are foreigners. They will think that we're not Americans." So he realized, when he was very, very young, and I know this was when he was still probably in grammar school or middle school that he realized this. And so when World War II started, I think it resonated in his mind that this was happening to Japanese and Japanese Americans, I think he realized that, and I'm thankful that he did.

VY: Okay, so he took care of your nursery and other people's nurseries, as well as his own during the world war.

FN: And he also helped pay for our property taxes, because we could not pay property taxes because we had no income coming in.

VY: So how did that work? How did he help you pay for your property taxes?

FN: Well, when you own property, you have to pay property taxes. And it's not just homes, but when you have other properties like a farm, property taxes have to be paid to the county. So realizing this, he was able to pay our property taxes. And I tell this to our people, that in Solano County, there were one hundred Japanese farmers in Solano County. And of those families, less than ten percent of those families were able to return, and one of the reasons is that they could not pay their property taxes. And the thing is that the properties that these farmers had in Solano County, which is right next to Contra Costa County, those properties were large, they were mostly orchardists, they had their homes on their property, and since they were larger pieces of property, they had a lot of equipment on their property, those things were all lost because they could not pay their property taxes. And what made their property really valuable was that when you have an orchard, it's not like truck farming where you plant seeds every season, you get a crop if you treat your plants reasonably well. So those orchards were very, very valuable in Solano County. And the Japanese in 1945, most of those people could not return to Solano County because they had not paid their property taxes. Also, for us, we had a mortgage on our property. And you know, as children, we had no idea that this had happened. And even as an adult, I really did not know this story. There was a mortgage on our property, and this mortgage was held by the Mechanics Bank, a small, local family-owned bank. And many of the other Japanese families did have mortgages with the Mechanics Bank. And I would not say all of the families had mortgages, because by the time World War II started, most of the families had been in Richmond a long time, so some of the families had paid off their mortgage. But most of the mortgage were held by the Mechanics Bank.

VY: Did your family have a mortgage?

FN: Yes, it was held at the Mechanics Bank, and the owner of that bank was Mr. Edward Downer. And he quietly kept all of our mortgages that he had. He did not call any of the mortgage, he could have done that, very easily done. You don't pay the mortgage, you lose the property. He quietly held the mortgage, and he made it possible for all his families to return. Of the twenty families that were in Richmond, all of the families returned, and the one family that did not return had their mortgage in another bank. So, to me, that tells a powerful story of another person who helped us when we really needed the help. I don't know how many people would do this today to help a group of people that are in need, Mr. Downer did not talk to his family about holding the mortgages for all these Japanese families. I know that he did not because Edward Downer III, who is my age, didn't hear this story until he was an adult. And so I'm really thankful for both Mr. Downer and Mr. Aebi, because those two men made it possible for my family to return to Richmond. And I don't know about the Kawai family that was next to us, I don't know about the Sugihara family. But we all did return, I don't know if they had a mortgage, but I know that their property taxes were paid. Remarkable, isn't it?

VY: That is remarkable.

FN: And I think that Richmond was a good place to be from.

VY: Yeah, it sounds like it.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

VY: Do you know anything about what happened to the Solano families? If only ten percent of the families returned, what happened to the orchards?

FN: They were taken over by the bank either selling their properties if they had a mortgage, or the county itself could sell property. And since the property is valuable, greenhouses require a lot of work, but orchards, you have a potential crop. And so if you treat the plants reasonably well, by pruning or whatever farmers do, fertilizing, controlling insects, well, I think you will be assured of a crop. And so especially during wartime, when it's so critical to have production from agriculture, they think that so many of those farms were lost. And so if you were wanting to return to your farm to your farm, it was gone because it was already sold to somebody else. Those people, those farmers had to find another place to live, I think many of them moved to the cities. I think by then, many of them had aged to the point where they could no longer work, I really don't know what happened to those families, they just lost their property.

VY: It sounds like that must have really changed the face of the orchard industry in that area.

FN: I'm sure it did; I'm sure it did. Because many of those farmers changed during that time, many of those farmers. And that happened throughout California in other farmers.

VY: Did other farmers take over the orchards?

FN: I think so, I think so. Or people could come in and buy the farm or get another mortgage from the bank and continue the farm. I think that happened in many places throughout California.

VY: So it sounds like in Richmond, it was a little bit different.

FN: Richmond, I think, really was a different place. And there are other communities that were like Richmond, but I don't think that was the norm. And it's really tragic, because from what I understand, half of the Japanese population at the time of going into the camps, were farmers. Half of the people. And so in certain communities, the population changed after the war because the farms were loss. And then the farmers that did come back, many of them did have difficult times because there was a lot of anger, of the Japanese coming back, they were blamed for the war still. And I think that many people in the farms did have a hard time returning. It was difficult.

VY: Did you ever experience anything like that when you were growing up or even as a young adult?

FN: You know, that's why I think I'm so lucky. When we started going back to school, I entered the fifth grade and we were welcomed. My teacher in kindergarten was now the principal of the school, and she really welcomed me. And so I really feel I was lucky, and I was fortunate. School was easy for me when I returned, but I will admit that when people found out that I had been in a prison camp, and they would ask me about it, I just didn't talk about it, and I wouldn't talk about it. It was something that was so negative, the idea of being sent away, and the idea of not being American, that idea that the government felt toward the Japanese Americans, I didn't want to talk about it, so I didn't, I just kept quiet. And I'd say, it wasn't so bad, and that was it, I would not talk about it. It's hard.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

VY: Do you think your friends and other adults understood what happened and what you went through?

FN: I really don't know, I've never thought about that, if people understood. But truthfully, I'd say that it was really the Isseis and the older Niseis that really suffered. The children were really not told, they were experiencing what was happening, but they just accepted it and did not really think about it as much as it affected the Isseis and the older Niseis. It was very, very difficult. My mother's siblings, none of them returned to California.

VY: Where did they go?

FN: Well, my uncle, by then, he was a doctor, so he had worked a little bit in Stockton, but he had to leave. And so he went into the camps and he treated the Japanese, and one thing he did say is that there was a good experience for him being a young doctor. He got a lot of patients that he could work with, I mean, that he could help, so it was a good experience, he got a lot of experience. But you know, when it came time to leave the camps, the government encouraged people to leave the camps. But in order to leave the camps, you had to get a sponsor to prove that you wouldn't be indigent, and you had to find a job. And so in order to leave the camps, my uncle got a job in the state of Missouri in the state prison system, so he got a sponsor. And so he really wanted to get out of camp, so he took that job. And then he moved to Jefferson City, Missouri, which is where the state prison is, it's right in the middle of the city. He started to establish his own private practice, and he sent for his family so that they were with him, and he bought himself a motorcycle, and he would make housecalls, isn't that something? And my uncle was very charismatic, and he was also a good doctor. And so without too much trouble, he was able to start a practice in Jefferson City, and so this family has lived in Jefferson City, and my cousin became a doctor, and he also lived in Jefferson City. But my uncle passed away, and my cousin is now retired, so he lives in Springfield, Missouri. So his family is all living in Missouri. And all of my first cousins live in other states. My uncle's brother, my other uncle, he settled in Kansas City, Missouri, and he has three children, and one son became a dentist, and he lives in Kansas City. His daughter, my other cousin, became a dental hygienist, and she lived in Kansas City. And their brother became an engineer, and he worked for General Motors in Detroit. And so this last summer, I went to visit my cousin in Detroit, and he and his wife, we all drove 1,600 miles, and we made this trip from Detroit all the way to Arkansas, and then we swung around and came into Missouri and we visited our cousins. So we had a really good time, took two weeks. And we visited different museums because I really am into museums, and we just had a lot of fun.

VY: Sounds like a great trip.

FN: It is. And one of my cousins that used to live in Jefferson City, his daughter has a huge house in Springfield, so all these other cousins came, and we spent about four days together at her house.

VY: That's so interesting. So your mom's siblings, after the war, none of them came back to California?

FN: None of them came back to California. But we're still very close to our cousins, because I think it was really important to our family to remain close. So when we went to Springfield to the cousin's daughter's house, we were all supposed to be there, but one cousin couldn't make it because her husband became sick. And so she couldn't come, but she lives in Virginia. It's nice to live in mid-America, it's very different from California.

VY: How is it different?

FN: Well, there were a lot of small towns, and there's still a lot of community there. And all of my first cousins are married to non-Japanese, so they don't have a lot of Japanese friends like I do. Most of my closest friends are Japanese American because we have a community, and we do a lot of things together, and we have our community organizations like Japanese museums, we have the senior programs, we have two different, well, several programs that I participate in. So most of my friends are Japanese American. So it's really interesting to have our family get-togethers because we're so diverse now.

VY: Do you think people in the Midwest have as much of an understanding of what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II?

FN: Well, I know that my cousins do, because they know what happened to their parents. And two of my cousins were born in California, so they really feel the injustice that was done to us. But all of my first cousins understand how it was for their parents and for their grandparents, they know. And we still do have a family reunion that we participate in. We've been meeting for, like, almost fifty years now. And all of my first cousins do not come every year, but they have been to our family reunions. So that's a good thing. Family reunions are really important to us because since we're not all in California, we don't get together always every year, but my first cousins try to come to California when we have our family reunions here in California. So what else could we talk about?

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

<Begin Segment 14>

VY: Well, let's talk about life after the war and what it was like for your nursery business and your family. What was it like for you growing up in the nursery, and did you work in the nursery as you were growing up?

FN: Yeah, we all worked in the nursery, even if it was just very, very kind of menial work. Like in order to sell flowers, we would have to open up newspaper to wrap the flowers in, so that was a job that you do as a child, so everybody was participating. And I would say that there were three in our family that stayed in the business, and we were partners, my brother, and my sister Martha and myself. And I did go to school, and I did go on to take, study horticulture. I went to Berkeley for two years, and I transferred to UCLA where the horticulture department was, so I took all the basic courses like entomology and soils and plant nutrition. I was usually the only girl in the class, but the professors we had were, they really wanted me to stay in the business, so they encouraged me. Like our agricultural economics professor, he was really curious whether I would stay in the business or not.

VY: Why do you think that was?

FN: Because I was the only girl in the class, only woman in the class. And so they really encouraged us. And then my two horticulture professors were from Cornell, and they had both just gotten out of the armed services and gotten their PhDs, and they made it a point to connect with my father so that they would know what kind of person he was. And they were both encouraging, and so we would go on field trips with the class, and I'd be the only woman in the car, but we had a lot of fun. And I still see a few of my friends that I went to college with, we do see each other once in a while. My brother went to Ohio State, which was one of the leading horticulture universities. And in those days, there weren't too many people that went from California all the way to Ohio State. And at that time, things were still really hard for my father because he was just still building up the nursery. And so my brother used to go to school on the Greyhound bus. And you could take a whole half a trunk for free on the Greyhound bus, so he filled up his trunk and he would send it off, and then he would stay there, and then all during the time that he was at Ohio State, he worked in the greenhouses as a student to make income so that he could support himself partly. And then in the summertime, he would pack up his trunk and come all the way back again, so he did that.

VY: What about your sister? Did she also study horticulture?

FN: No, my sister was a nurse, so she went to UCSF and she studied nursing. But when we started our nursery, my mother had died when we were just forming our partnership, so she came home. And my sister Martha ran the packing shed, and she also took care of the books. So she took my mother's job.

VY: This was the same sister that went to school to become a nurse?

FN: Yes. Martha became a nurse but she... so we were the only nursery that had a regular licensed nurse. And she never went back into nursing, she stayed on the nursery until we closed the nursery.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

VY: Okay, but it sounds like you and your brother had always intended to come back and work in the nursery, is that right?

FN: Right, yeah. But we needed somebody to really take care of the books, and neither my brother and I, we were not interested in that.

VY: Your mother had done that before.

FN: Yeah, my mother had done that. And it was a time, when we came into the business, of great expansion.

VY: So when was this?

FN: Well, my brother graduated in 1960, I graduated in 1957. And so the '60s started the real big expansion. And my father had stopped going to the flower market, we had decided that we should just specialize in growing, and we would not do the selling ourselves. So we joined a group, and this was led by Yoshimi Shibata of the Shibata brothers in Mount Eden. And so we became a part of a group of ten nursery people. And this also included Mr. Aebi. And so we all started expanding our nursery at that time, and we started another nursery in Salinas, and we were encouraged by Shimi. And so I would say that the two people that influenced me, my brother and I the most, were Mr. Aebi and Shimi Shibata, Yoshimi Shibata, and his brother Jerry Shibata. Because Jerry and Shimi encouraged us to start this operation in Salinas. So my brother's job was to go back and forth between Richmond and Salinas, he would spend three days in Salinas, and then four days in Richmond. And then his wife's job was to drive them. Because our traffic is so bad that he would do most of his commuting at night.

VY: So even in the '60s, the traffic was pretty bad.

FN: Yes, it was bad. And then David had other responsibilities, because we wanted him -- and also Shimi encouraged him to participate within the community. So I stayed in Richmond, and my job was to do the growing and the greenhouse, and David would oversee the whole nursery business, and then also he had to volunteer for the community, both in the floral industry and within the community.

VY: How long was that drive between Richmond and Salinas?

FN: Well, it's a hundred miles from door to door, and it would take about two hours. But in traffic, you never knew how long it would take, it could be three hours, four hours. So that commute was done at night.

VY: And so what kind of volunteer duties did your brother do in the community?

FN: Well, within the community, he volunteered for the Boy Scouts, he volunteered for the Y, he belonged to several different groups like the Rotary Club in Richmond, he also was active at the San Francisco Optimists, because he didn't have a lot of Japanese friends. And so it was through the Optimists, his friends in the Optimists, that he met his wife. She was a San Francisco girl, and she lived in Japantown, and so it was quite a shock for her when she married him, and to come and live on the nursery, and then also be involved in this, building Salinas. So everybody had to contribute something.

VY: It sounds like if you marry into a nursery family, you have to expect to work. [Laughs]

FN: Right, yeah. And so as far as the flower business, my brother was, he was the president of the California Flower Market in San Francisco. And after my brother passed away, my sister-in-law was appointed to be on the board of the San Francisco Flower Market, and she was first woman in the whole history of the flower market to be on the California Flower Market board, and she has been the only woman on the flower market board, there's never been another woman appointed. So that's really something.

VY: It is.

FN: And then he was also president of the California Florist Association, the California Floral Council, he was president of a national flower growing association called Roses Incorporated, and this was greenhouse flower growers. And that was really good for him, and there are other associations in other countries, and so the Roses Incorporated group made a lot of field trips to other countries like Europe, and to Japan, and we were able to meet other professional flower growers. So I really enjoyed those trips, because those are the first times that... you know, flower growers are always really busy, and those are the first times that you could meet your fellow flower growers in other countries, and also just relax. And whenever we went on those trips, they always took us to historical places to visit. So on a trip to, we went to Israel once, and there are so many ancient places to visit there. In Europe we could see castles and monuments and museums, so we just didn't see... but the most important part of these trips was the fellowship we had with the flower growers of other countries. It's really something that, I really cherish those memories.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

VY: When you met all these different people from different countries, other flower growers, did you notice similarities or differences between you all?

FN: Well, there were similarities and there were differences. In foreign countries, the growing has been longer than in the United States, growing in greenhouses. So there's many family histories, since they have been doing this longer than us, they have done a lot of hybridizing. We have our own hybridizing in the United States, but they have more history to it. And then like in Holland, where the horticulture business is really, really important to their country, it's a smaller country, and they're really more technologically advanced than we were. So on these trips it really made us think of how we had to keep improving, and how we had to make changes. So I think that contributed a lot to the advancement that we made here.

VY: So what kind of changes did you make over the years?

FN: Well, in Holland, they made a lot of mechanical equipment, and we used their grading system, so we bought some of their machines, they were really into using computers to control things like temperature and humidity more than we were, so that made us start working on that.

VY: When was this?

FN: This was in the 1970s. So it really opened our eyes. Their buildings were, they used a lot more newer buildings, and they tried to, controlling temperatures because fuel is so much more expensive in Europe. So they would put heat curtains in the greenhouse, and at night, they would try to control loss of heat by using curtains. And so that was very interesting, and so we started going into technology like that. So we learned from them, and we did use some of their equipment, but we tried to build our own equipment here in the United States. So it helped us, the travel. And I think that was really, really important.

VY: Do you think there's any growing practices that American flowers used that some of the people in the other countries utilized? I know they were probably doing it earlier.

FN: Well, Mr. Aebi was... we have always watered plants in a greenhouse using a hose, and gradually it became drip system and all those different systems. And so Mr. Aebi was always interested in nutrition of plants, so he was always conducting nutrition studies. And so he decided that he was going to build an automatic fuel injection system, and so he started working on this by using equipment that, like pumps. So he really worked on this system, and all of the growers that would come to visit would want to go visit him to see what his newest project was and what he was working on. He was very innovative, and being the kind of person he was, there were no secrets. He was always willing to share whatever thing he had tried, whatever equipment he had tried, whatever pump he had tried, whatever he had tried, he was always willing to share his latest technology with anybody that would knock on his door. He did not keep secrets. And so I know that he was respected throughout the industry, because he would often speak at conventions that the rose growers would have, and I remember Shimi Shibata distinctly saying, "There are no secrets here, because we're always sharing our latest ideas, our latest innovations." And Shimi encouraged that, too. And Shimi was very innovative, because he was one of the first persons that thought that we should keep better records on production, how we were doing as far as income. And so he hired a professor from Ohio State to come to California, his name was Ray Hasek, and he came to work for Shimi, and he started taking this data. And all of our growers within our system, there were ten growers, we would share this information to know which varieties were good varieties to grow, which varieties sold the best, which varieties we had to discard because they were not in favor. And so these records really helped us to keep moving forward. And Shimi was one of the first to go into the IBM system when they had cards, and everything would have to be punched in on cards, he was really an innovator, and just well-respected. So Ray Hasek is, our businesses have all closed, to Ray Hasek is at the university now, but of course he's retired now, and he went to the university and worked in the university at Davis in the horticulture department there, and I still see him.

VY: You still see him?

FN: I still see him.

VY: It sounds like the cut flower community was very supportive of each other, the different nurseries.

FN: Well, I think that what made the Japanese so successful in whatever endeavor they did is they share and they try to help each other out. And not every group of people that immigrated to the United States felt that way, not everybody tried to support each other, but by and large, I think that the Japanese community tried to help each other out. And especially if you came from the same prefecture or you were a relative, you really tried, no matter what endeavor they went into, they tried to help each other out, and that makes a difference. And I think it followed into the second generation, because as the Niseis became older, they formed their social organizations like bowling clubs, or they started baseball teams and basketball leagues for their children, and then they all, those kids grew up together. And so those organizations still get together today, and people that have children still have their children participating in these organizations. And I know that they were successful because now, the leagues have people from all groups. The Chinese are there, there are Filipinos in these organizations, and the senior programs, they have all kinds of people. And that's happening in our churches also, we're having people, all kinds of, trying to become part of our community.

VY: Bringing more people into the community.

FN: Right, into our community.

VY: Do you think that the way that the cut flower community shared information about growing practices and that sort of thing, do you think that was typical of other nurseries or growers that grew different things, like container plants or that had orchards? Do you think they had similar practices, were they supportive of each other?

FN: I think they tried to support each other, but they were quite competitive. Like within the other fields of nursery, like if you were in potted plants, (potted) plant growers have a different way of selling, they don't go to a market. What they do is they deliver. And so it's very competitive there, I think it's not easy. I guess it does depend. But we did, we no longer operate our nursery, and we did lease our property in Salinas to a (potted) plant grower, and even within the (potted) plant business, it has been difficult to continue because of the competition. It's hard, it's hard for me to give a real answer.

VY: Yeah, I understand.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

VY: What was it like for you to be a woman in this industry?

FN: Well, I used to go to growers' meetings and be the only woman there. But everybody was very kind to me. [Laughs] But I felt that I had to go to growers' meetings because I have to support my industry. So no matter what, I would show up. You know, a person like Shimi Shibata, he wanted you to always have the information. And so whenever there would be a trip to a foreign country, he says, "Flora, you go, and he encouraged me to go." And then we saw this competition coming from Central and South America, and he organized, he knew that he couldn't take a large group of people, so he only had his growers that were with him go on these trips, and I went on every single one of those trips with them. We would be a small group, like five or six people, and we would all go together. And so that's when I first went to South America with Shimi, and I was the only woman there. But I do speak a little bit of Spanish since most of our employees are Mexican. And so Shimi wanted me to be there, because he knew that I could communicate with our fellow growers in other countries like that. So he wanted me to be there.

VY: What part of South America did you go to?

FN: We made a trip to Colombia, we made a trip to Ecuador, made another trip to Colombia, two trips to Colombia and went to Ecuador.

VY: So there was competition coming from those areas in the cut flower business?

FN: Right. And these farms that we saw in South America, they were very, very large, much larger than the farms that we had here. We could see the numbers growing, and the USDA, the Department of Agriculture, started publishing every week the quantities that were coming in, and we could see that the numbers were going up very rapidly. Because in the South American countries, they really thought that growing cut flowers and sending them to the United States was a really viable thing to develop their economy, and so they were well supported by the government. And our government, for some reason, was behind supporting these South American countries because they felt that if they could help the economies develop in South America, that this would help curtail part of this problem that the United States was having with the drug industry. They thought that if flower growing could be developed and encouraged, that drugs would be less of a problem. And so they encouraged the governments of South America to encourage their people, and what the governments of South America did was they, I feel, subsidized shipping of the air shipping into the United States, and I think that the United States government did not increase or pursue tariffs, and we could not compete. And my brother told me that when, in a product, if you get twenty-five percent of the market coming in from a foreign country, you've lost control of the price you could charge for your product. And so this happened first to the carnation business. Colombia was the leading country of sending carnations to the United States, and carnations were very well suited to growing in Colombia, so they took over the market, and we had the flower growers that were growing carnations in California, they started quickly switching over to roses. And then in Ecuador, Ecuador was a warmer country, so they were growing roses there, and that rapidly increased. And so California could no longer compete, and we could not send our flowers to, back east and compete. And so then we started to try to sell in the state of California and more locally, but there were just too many growers, absolutely too many square feet of greenhouses in California. So gradually the greenhouses came down, and then the South Americans really took over.

VY: So at this time, the industry, your industry, was already shipping cut flowers across the country, across the United States?

FN: That was our main market. Because we had become so large as far as the quantity of greenhouses we had in California. So what we did was we made it difficult for the local growers that were back east.

VY: Were you shipping out of the country at all?

FN: No, we were not shipping out of the country. It's very difficult to ship out of the United States to other countries.

VY: Why is that?

FN: Well, there's tariffs... I mean, where would we ship to? What country could take our flowers? I mean, we had vast amounts of production in California. So this took down a whole group of industries. It affected our suppliers, like the people we bought fertilizer from? It affected the plant hybridizers who would hybridize plants specifically for greenhouse growing. It would affect the people that grew plants for us. There were a lot of industries that lost... I don't know if you've ever heard of Jackson & Perkins, but that's a very old rose growing company. And they grew roses for gardens, but a big part of their industry was hybridizing for greenhouse growers. Well, that is all gone. In fact, the Jackson & Perkins, J&P, that hybridizing company, it exists, but it's not a California company anymore. It grows garden varieties, but it's nothing like what it used to be. And the hybridizer that grew the new varieties for greenhouse varieties, he has no job. It's closed, that part of the business is closed. So with the loss of our nursery business, cut flowers, there are very few cut flowers left in the state of California. There is an industry, mostly in the South, but it's nothing compared to what it used to be when we were a big shipping state to ship out of.

VY: Where do most cut flowers come from today?

FN: Well, like I said, we do have an industry in California still, but it's very small compared to what it used to... most of our flowers come from Central and South America.

VY: Did the U.S. government ever offer any support to the local growers?

FN: No, they were always supporting imported flowers. They were not supporting, we did not have support from the United States government. And you know, the rules that we had to follow for our (employees), for anything that we used to put on the plants, like insecticides or anything, fungicides, we all had to follow the rules of the state of California in the United States. But you know, the flowers that are coming in from foreign countries, we have no idea what they're using, we have no idea how they're growing the plants, but that's the way it is now. We can't exist with the rules that the government has. And also, even within the (potted) plant business, in any form of agriculture in California is becoming increasingly difficult to find workers. Workers are not going into agriculture, so more and more, everything will have to be mechanized.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

VY: Talk a little bit about that over time, how that has changed, specifically for your nurseries. The different kinds of workers that you had working for you, your employees, compared to people working in the family for you?

FN: Well, all of our workers that we had were mostly Mexican, and they were immigrants, and they had large families and they came to have a steady income, and to improve their lives from what they had come from. But you know what? I feel that most immigrants would not come to the United States if their conditions were better in their country. They only come seeking a better life. And so the children of our employees, they all went to local schools, speaking English, of course, they're bilingual. But the children of our employees, they've done very, very well. And many of them have gone to universities and become professionals, and so each generation will keep improving on their ability to earn income because they're becoming better educated, they're becoming better trained. And besides, their children are Americans, so they're going to do very, very well, I think. One thing that still bothers me today is that even though I'm an American citizen, people still look on me as an immigrant. And I have never lived in Japan, I've never gone to school in Japan, so I cannot read and write, but people still think of me as an immigrant. And so people have to stop and think when they're talking to people. Well, no matter who you are, you have to respect people, but it's really, really strange, especially since I'm Asian, that people still think of me as an immigrant, and I'm not an immigrant.

VY: What would you say to people that still think that way?

FN: Well, when people ask me, "When did you come to the United States, and how come you could speak English?" I just tell them, "I'm an American. I've never lived in Japan, I've visited Japan, never lived in Japan. And I respect the country for all the culture, all the development, but I'm an American."

VY: Do you tell people that your family has been here for more than a hundred years?

FN: Well, I do tell them that, I do tell them that. And I'm not really third-generation, but I am an American, and I want to be sure that people understand that. I think that, like I said, people would not immigrate to the United States if this were not the country where you could really develop yourself, improve on your family situation, you become a citizen if you're born here. I think that's really helpful, I think it's helpful.

VY: What do you think about people that are trying to immigrate today, and they experiences they're going through?

FN: Well, I think that it's difficult to come to the United States to live, because you really have to understand the country. I think that it's... people think that, some people think that they don't have to work hard to do well in the United States, but I know that's not true. I think that it's just really a place of opportunity, but you have to be ready to, you have to be prepared to seize your opportunities. The people that have done well have been trained or have worked hard and studied hard. And so we should have people come to this country that are immigrating, because we need people; we need people. And I think that we need to welcome immigrants to this country, I truly believe that. But you're not going to get a free ride, you have to work for it. Does that answer your question?

VY: Yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 19>

VY: So let's talk about how long you worked in the nursery business, and when did you retire?

FN: I retired... I worked in the nursery business after I graduated from school, I came home, and I started working and I worked for forty-two years, and we closed the nursery, the actual growing operation, in 1999. But we still have some things that we have to manage, because we have our property still in Salinas, that we do not operate. And so I do go down to Salinas every once in a while just to look at the property. I do go to check out the property, I go also to visit my friends in Salinas, because Francis Aebi, Jr., is still living in Salinas, and he's also retired. And then my other friends that are in the nursery business. But in the last few years, I have lost quite a few of my friends, which is very, very sad, but I will try to keep doing what I can. And my work that I do within the community keeps me very busy every day, so I'll try to keep doing those things.

VY: So did very many children of nursery families go into the business as well?

FN: Well, many of them did, not all of them. And I still see the children of Shimi Shibata, because they were active in the nursery business. And Robert Shibata still has a wholesale business in San Jose, but I have not seen him recently, but I'll have to go visit him. And Shimi's widow is living still, and I have not seen her, but I see her daughter, Naomi Shibata, because she does volunteer work within the community, and so we run into each other once in a while. But the people that are my contemporaries that started working with me, they all retired, and most of their children did not go into the business, I would say.

VY: So are there very many Richmond-area nurseries left?

FN: There are a few left in Richmond, but none are being operated by their families. If they're still there, they're leased out, but it's very, very few, very, very few. And most of the greenhouses are not, they're taken down. We took down our greenhouses about ten years ago. This last year we sold our property, so we don't own property in Richmond anymore. So I had to leave the nursery and we have a house, it's still in Richmond, that's still close by. So after we closed the nursery, I still had a little greenhouse on the nursery, but I don't have that greenhouse this year anymore, so I'm not going to go to the greenhouse anymore. It's been, my little test greenhouse has been taken down. So I used to grow roses in my little greenhouse, but I don't do that anymore. Our property is gone.

VY: And what has happened to that?

FN: Well, they took down, we took down all of the greenhouses and left a few service buildings up, but our house and everything is now, the ground is bare. And so the property is, I don't know exactly what they'll do with the property, I think it will become an industrial kind of complex. I'm not sure, I can't say.

VY: Is there a lot of development in that area?

FN: Not yet, not yet. It's, this sale has just happened recently, so they're just cleaning up the property right now, and I don't know what will happen.

VY: Was it hard to do that, to sell the nursery and take the greenhouses down?

FN: Well, to me, in a way, it was. Because I'm the third generation, and I feel like somehow I let my grandfather down. Because he worked so hard, he just started with a small piece of property, and we did build it up, but in a way, I feel very sad. But you know, being practical -- and you have to be practical -- it's impossible to grow floral crops in Contra Costa County with the situation that we have today. It's practically impossible. But you know, recently, I was in front of my house on the nursery, and I saw a truck go by. And they had these structures, trusses. Do you know what a truss is? They had trusses on, and they were greenhouse trusses. So I followed this truck, and it stopped right down the end of Brookside Drive, and they dropped off these trusses. So every few weeks I would drive by and see what they were doing, putting up greenhouses, and we had just taken down this enormous number of square footage of greenhouses, and our neighbors. And I finally decided that they must be putting in greenhouses for marijuana.

VY: That's the new industry.

FN: It's the new industry. But it's just a small operation, it's nothing compared to what we were doing. It's kind of crazy to me. So we will see what the future will hold for the next generations to come that follow us.

VY: Well, okay, so when you look back on the experience of you and your family in camp and what they went through to keep their business going after the war, what do you want people to know today? What do you want them to come away with?

FN: I want people to know that no matter what happened to the Japanese and Japanese Americans, they still believed in America, they still knew that it's, life is not easy, things don't always work out, but you have to have this samurai spirit within you. You have to keep this idea that you will succeed, and you have to keep moving on, no matter what kind of hardships you face, you have to do that. I think that that's what we learned from our parents, because that's what they did, and our grandparents, that's what they did.

VY: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us today before we end?

FN: Well, I want to say thank you for this opportunity. I want to say that I didn't speak out all during my adult life, and I just realize now how important it is to share the Japanese experience with my fellow Americans, because I think that our story could be repeated again. And I think that we have to be able to tell our children that you must be ready to speak up and help the new immigrants. We must be able to speak up and support those who are marginalized by our government, and if you don't, then America will not move forward. Thank you.

VY: Thank you, Flora, thank you.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.