Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Frank T. Sata Interview I
Narrator: Frank T. Sata
Interviewers: Brian Niiya (primary); Bryan Takeda (secondary)
Location: Pasadena, California
Date: March 28, 2022
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-499

<Begin Segment 1>

BN: Okay, all right. So we're here in Pasadena, California, it's March 28, 2022, and we're here to interview Frank T. Sata. My name is Brian Niiya and I'll be interviewing Frank with Bryan Takeda, so there's two Brians here, the videographer is Yuka Murakami. And we're going to get started with Bryan Takeda, starting with the early life of Frank. So take it away.

BT: Thank you.


BT: So, Frank, let us know a little bit about yourself by first telling us when were you born, where, and a little bit about your parents.

FS: Born March 20, 1933. My father was from Kagoshima, Japan. My mother was born in Oakland, and stayed here until she returned to Japan for going to school in Japan. I believe she was being groomed to marry my father in Japan because she studied the fine arts of Japan, koto and things like that. My father, being from Kagoshima, had a very strong personality, and I think influenced my mother in how I should be raised. So it made a clear impact on my life in that I think he's responsible for naming me Franklin, and it's the same year that Roosevelt was inaugurated. And then my middle name is Tadakuni because, as I learned in time, only four or five years ago, that our family traces back to the Shimazu clan, and we were given the name Sata. So that's a result of maybe quality of persistence that perhaps I learned from my father. And I made an effort to discover my roots, which I did. The Sata name comes from the southernmost tip of Kagoshima island, and that's an area called Cape Sata. So that gives us the, only a few years ago, I was fortunate to find my roots.

BT: Where were you born? What city were you born in?

FS: Okay, I was born in Los Angeles, and I believe on the west side somewhere, I'm not sure.

BT: And then you mentioned that your mom was kind of groomed to join the Sata family. Did they know each other, did those families know each other prior? Was it an arrangement marriage?

FS: Well, my grandfather on my mother's side was an educator. He had a school, he was the principal of a school, I believe, a women's school. And he married this student, my grandmother, and I don't know exactly the timing of that, but apparently, that was a no-no. So he had to come over here, and so that's one of the reasons my mother was born here. And we believe that the family, my grandfather on my mother's side, needed to borrow money. Because my father's side grandmother and family were better established, you might say, because they were descendants of the Shimazu clan. And it's my understanding that they might have loaned some money to my mother's family, so that she could have been a dowry to my father.

BT: I see.

FS: Because (my mother) was fifteen years younger, and she was born in Kumamoto, Japan, but still the same island of Kyushu, of course. [Narr. note: She was called back to Japan for high school.]

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

BT: So, actually, I want to go back a little bit. What was your mom and dad's name?

FS: My dad's name is Tadanao Sata, because he had James Tadanao Sata in this country, and I'm not sure whether he picked up the name after he came here or before when he was on the boat. He came to study art, so he didn't come in a typical way. He was raised in a very proper situation, I don't know that much about his early life in that matter because I only learned later that he came after his mother died, who was a single parent. It turned out that my father's side parents, well, the whole journey, there's so much more about my father that I only learned five years ago. My mother...

BT: What was her name?

FS: I lost track of what I was thinking there. [Laughs]

BT: What was your mother's name?

FS: Oh, her name was Yoshie Seki, S-E-K-I. So she only had that name, Yoshie Seki.

BT: All right. So my question is, after you were born in Los Angeles, what are some of your earliest recollections as a child? What do you remember, and if you can place yourself, where you were?

FS: Well, I had to discover, actually, some of this through hearsay or perhaps through friends and family. It appears that when I was a baby, an infant, that my mother might have decided to leave. And so I heard that I might have been at an orphanage at Maryknoll. I have no record of it, and I haven't bothered to check. So my recollection is that I kind of went from Maryknoll to several places. My father being also a photographer, I have a pretty good record of my journey. But there was a little split early on after I was a toddler, that there aren't photographs of myself. So it seems to substantiate that situation, that she went away for about half a year or whatever. Being she was younger, and so I didn't think she came expecting to be married to an artist, and that could have been part of the big issue, and you're sent across to marry somebody and that person comes from a high family, ranking family, and she just, I don't think, could deal with that, initially. And I was told that she came back because (I) didn't recognize (her).


BT: So you mentioned that your mom had returned to Japan for a period of time. And you must have been just a very young baby at that time, is that right?

FS: (No.) She returned before she got married.

BT: Oh, I see.

FS: (Yoshie) returned (to Japan) when she was about, my guess is maybe twelve or so, or ten, I know she had a hard time because I think her parents left her when she went to Japan, and so there was a lot of insecurity in her life.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

BT: When... so do you recall anything after Maryknoll, after that time?

FS: Well, my dad, as I say, came as an artist, and I didn't realize, sort of the background of the mother. He didn't... I also didn't know that that he didn't know his father, because his father died before he was born. So this was only five years ago that I learned that type of a story. So he was raised by a single mother who happened to journey most of, all of Japan, from middle of Japan to Hokkaido to the southern tip of Kagoshima to Okinawa. Because my father's sister was placed in a boarding school in Naha later on. And the mother... well, there's something very substantial to his story, and then his choice to leave Japan only after his mother died, same year, and to come to (the U.S.) study art. So there was nothing more than that, and he didn't have a family here to receive him. So he had to deal with racism and everything by himself.

BT: When you started school, do you remember that time when you first started school?

FS: Only by pictures, I think. I don't have a picture of the school, but we lived in Boyle Heights and sort of worked our way from there to the west side, Olympic area, where it's now more Koreatown, that type of area. And we moved quite a bit because my dad... I think, well, as I said, because he studied, he came to study western art, he didn't deal with money, he didn't feel he needed money. So until he got married, and I was born, he didn't make the effort to work like most people did. And it was, you know, we moved quite a few times. So my only recollection is that, from various schools, and from one school to another, so I didn't really have permanent friends in school. And then as we went to final, before camp, was Hobart Boulevard. So I remember that school because I was a little bit older, I was about seven or eight.

BT: So since you, it sounds like you moved school often, and it was difficult for you to make permanent, long-term friendships with students and so forth, so how did you use your time? What did you do to occupy your time? I mean, it's not like you went next door to play sports with your neighbor or those kind of things?

FS: Well, I did learn, I did learn early on how to make friends, short-term friends. So I had, well, of course, when I was very young, five or six, it probably didn't matter a whole lot because I had my parents. But I think the, as I went to different schools, I always had some friends. I went to Japanese school as well, so I had... that was constant. I mean, not for a long time, but anyway... so I had a few family friends that I grew up with. And yeah, it was that kind of thing. It was just a few family friends that I was very close to.

BT: What Japanese school did you go to?

FS: Daini Gakuen.

BT: Daini?

FS: Yeah, Daini Gakuen.

BT: Do you remember where that was?

FS: Yeah, right near Hobart, I believe. Hobart or Harvard, one of those. Because my dad couldn't drive. See, we didn't have a car. That's the other thing, we always took the streetcar. My dad had an accident about the time he got married. He always had a car when he came so that he can travel and photograph, but he had an accident, he never told me about it, he had a fairly strong limp. When he came as a youngster before he got married, he played a lot of tennis. Well, he played tennis in Japan as well, so he had a tennis racquet when he was, like, three years old, we have photographs of that. So his love was for sports and art.

BT: Did you play tennis at school through junior high, high school?

FS: Who?

BT: You.

FS: [Laughs] Yeah, I played quite a bit of tennis. Actually, the journey where we ended up at Westridge, there was a tennis court there. My dad taught me tennis, and he had a limp, but he knew how to teach me, and I played quite a bit, and then I integrated the Valley Hunt Club up the street, because it was kind of an elitist club. And I was able to learn tennis on that court, too.

BT: Tell us how you got to Pasadena, to Westridge, from Los Angeles. How did that happen?

FS: Not from Los Angeles to Westridge, but it came from after camp.

BT: After camp, okay, right, right.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

BT: Well, so then let's go back to when you were about nine years old, right? That's when the war started. What was your recollection then? Were you aware of what was happening in the world at that time?

FS: Yeah. Actually, I was eight. I just turned nine when I went to camp, in camp. My recollection, because I was an only child and the way my parents raised me, we were close to a drugstore. I used to go to the drugstore and hang out and read comic books. So I'm not a reader, because my parents made sure I had a good education early on in Japanese, but they assumed, as many parents do, that the public schools would teach me English. Well, as it turns out, they didn't do a very good job of teaching me English, so I read very little. And as I grew up, and even after I got out of camp, which we'll get into, I used... but I want to refer to the comic book because I used comic books as the basis of my book report. They were classic comics, and they had these stories that I remembered. And so I could kind of fake it, I didn't have to write a whole lot. I was able to draw my way through.

BT: Did you have a favorite comic book, a favorite, yeah, comic that you liked?

FS: Yeah. One that I never forgot was the one that, Les Miserables, Jean Valjean, and even the musical, everything about that. I first learned that, and I remember from the comic book.

BT: What was it about Les Miserables that attracted you?

FS: Well, the, you know, running through the sewers and all this stuff, I think it's just the fighting. I don't know, somehow, isn't that the right word? Jean Valjean or something like that? Anyway, I just remember vividly that story.

BT: So do you think that early experience laid any foundation or groundwork for you, for your interest, you know, your professional interests later in life? Do you think... what do you think that all might have had, what effect that might have had on your career?

FS: I think... well, I never had any problem making friends. My father always instilled in me a need to study hard and play hard. He grew up that way, he played tennis, he studied, he read. But he didn't realize that I wasn't reading English books. And so I was a poor reader, in fact, the most reading I did is in the last ten years, trying to understand my father's story about the samurai and all that. I think... it has nothing to do with my career. I think what happened even in my career, my father always instilled in me pride. I've never had to apologize for being Japanese, that came with me. And I'm named after Franklin, that's American, so that's probably the most important thing that could happen, is that no matter where I went, I was aware of my identity. I really had friends of all colors.

BT: Well, with a name like Franklin as a first name, and then your middle name being Tadanao...

FS: Tadakuni.

BT: Tadakuni, yeah, you were always reminded of that.

FS: But I think people called me Frank. Later on, there was a little bit of desire to be called Frank because I thought "Franklin" was sissy, and that's the only reason. It didn't sound like a jock, you know, I loved to play sports.

BT: Franklin's a cool name, actually. [Laughs]

FS: Well, it's all okay now, but in my period it wasn't.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

BT: Okay. So I'm curious, what is your recollection when the war started?

BN: Actually, can I...

BT: Yeah, you could, please.

BN: ...a couple things before that. I know your father was an art photographer, but when you were growing up, what did he do for a living? Was he able to make money from his photography or did he have other types of jobs?

FS: No. When he had to make money, he started working with the people like Kimura and Iwata in Little Tokyo. He was good friends with all of them, of course, and Toyo was a good friend. But he was very adamant in my mind of not... he wouldn't want to do a photo studio. Those kind of things, he didn't want to be establishment, he was more serious about pursuing art.

BN: He felt that was too commercial?

FS: Yeah. And I could understand that, that's something, if you're deeply into the arts, you feel. So his relationship with all those people, I think it was out of respect. They all knew him by first name, you know, they were always welcoming him there. And he did work for Iwata part-time down in the basement, doing the fine printing work.

BN: This is Jack Iwata?

FS: Yeah.

BN: The photographer.

FS: And then I know he used to go to hang out at Kimura's too, so that was his...

BN: His work?

FS: Yeah, his work. And then he did work at a grocery store, but I think when he injured himself, it limited... and we always lived near the P Car, so he could take the train to J-Town. So that was about it, limited to what he could... public transportation.

BN: And then your mother was Kibei, basically, right?

FS: Yeah.

BN: Was she more comfortable in Japanese?

FS: Oh, all Japanese. I may as well have had Issei parents.

BN: So you spoke Japanese at home?

FS: Yeah, that's all I spoke. And she, as I say, when she came back, I think, from being away and realizing that I didn't recognize her... my dad, I think my dad made sure that I was raised the way he was raised by his own mother, a very strong Japanese samurai type of early childhood. Actually, I saved The Last Samurai, there was parts in there that I kept that DVD because I wanted my grandkids to see it, and there were pieces there that reflected my early beginning. I mean, the irony is it's America, right? But I can feel a connection with some of them.

BN: And then besides your dad's connections with other photographers, was your family involved in other kinds of community things like a church or kenjinkai or Japanese associations or anything like that?

FS: Not really. I don't recall any. See, my dad, I think, started the photo-kai. He was a starter, he was a leader, he started the tennis club. Okay, other people might have, you know, the recollection of being part of that beginning and things, but I just, my direct understanding from what he told me, he was pretty instrumental in that. Because he came with that strong quality. Yeah, it's hard to say. There were only two men that sort of always followed him. They would visit us even after camp, and it was as though they honored his position in Japan or whatever. This was two Japanese men. The others were friends, they had family and friends, and of course the photographer friends. But there were two individuals that I think they might have been single, but they used to come and they would talk for a long time, have a little wine. My dad wasn't a heavy drinker, but that's how... my recollection. And they always did a lot, even after my father was injured and I was a young child, one of the gentlemen would drive us to every place that my father would have driven us. To the mountains, to the snow, to the beach, too, everywhere. So I had a very ideal beginning in life, very strong support. You know, because I was the only one. Some people says, "Well, you're spoiled," well, there's a lot of ways to define that word. It was rich, it was a very rich... I had music, I had art, I had culture, I had strong understanding of it. I was only confused at the beginning, the American side took a little longer to sink in.

BN: Did you... I mean, it was fairly unusual for a Nisei to be an only child at that time. Did you wish that you had brothers and sisters?

FS: No, I don't think so. I don't think so. You know, my wife makes that comment, too. She was an only child but through a second marriage, she had siblings. I think I gained a lot of independence and strength from being an only child from my perspective. There's nothing I didn't have, and my life has been that way. In other words, lack of wants if that makes any sense.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

BN: Okay, so yeah, we can now go to the war.

BT: So, yeah, my question was, what was your first recollection about America and Japan going to war? What do you remember about that time, that moment?

FS: For some strange reason, I think I heard it on the radio at that corner drugstore while reading comic books. It's... yeah, I could understand, obviously, what was going on on the radio. But I didn't understand the meaning of war. I knew something happened, but I recall listening to some of that on the radio.

BT: Do you remember when you got home, what happened?

FS: Not necessarily. Because I don't know that my parents talked about it that much. I was raised sort of in a protected manner, so no, there was never any discussion of that type of thing.

BT: So when it came time to move out, do you remember them asking you to pack up some things? Were there ever any personal items that you made sure that you took with you?

FS: Not necessarily. I think they made it easy for me; I think they put what they could, my mother, again, protected me in a way. I never thought anything was so unusual. In other words, to just end up with three suitcases, that type of thing. My father did things that I wasn't aware of, meaning he apparently buried the sword under the house that we were renting. Because we never had owned anything, right, because what we owned, of course, they had to get rid of. There was a piano, there was a very nice record player, artwork, his artwork. But beyond that, no, the transition was not that traumatic, if you will. It's only when one reflects, you know, the older one gets. And the age I am now, there's a lot of reflection on that period. But I was, again, maybe being the only kid, it wasn't that hectic. They didn't include me in the trauma of getting rid of things or anything. And, again, even there, I think my mother had to be mostly affected most, because for her, the contrast from Japan to an art world is very...

BT: So did you sense anything from your parents about that? Did you maybe realize that this was a terrible thing that was going on?

FS: No. I think it was, for me, it was only... well, we have to go down to St. Mary's church where we picked up a bus. And I'm looking at it from my perspective, not in hindsight. This is just, as a youngster, my feeling... nothing seemed so abnormal, if you will. Because all the people who were going were all Japanese like me, right? So I don't want to make a big... I mean, now, at my age, I can certainly say a lot of things about it, but I think we've heard those stories before. And my story is not of trauma, it was the way it was supposed to be. And so it's just a bus ride, then go to Santa Anita, and not like some of the guys that say, "Oh, the first thing I saw is the guard tower and the bayonets and all that," but it was just driving in the bus and going down into there.

BT: So what did you think?

BN: Before that, though, where were you living at the time? Were you in the Koreatown area?

FS: Yeah, Olympic. Near Olympic and Harvard.

BN: And then I wanted to just go back. With your father's artwork, do you know what happened to that?

FS: No. I don't know what happened because it isn't 'til after he's gone that I have this box of fine art, photographs. And then I knew he was doing, trying to do some painting, learning Western art when we came back. But as far as the artwork that he had at that time, I don't know what else he might have had, I think. I know that we had records and things, but I think those are gone, or were at that time.

BT: As a kendoist myself, I'm curious, did you ever recover the katana?

FS: No.

BT: No?

FS: I think he buried it.

BN: Might still be there.

FS: No, I think someone...

BN: Dug it up?

FS: I don't even know if that house is... it was a duplex.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

BT: So you got on a bus, right, from St. Mary's?

FS: Yeah.

BT: And then bus took you to Santa Anita? So what do you recall about stepping off the bus? Did you think you were going to the horse races or something?

FS: Well, I think, honestly, it just, like I say, for me it was a normal procedure that we were routed by... and I'm sure the soldiers were there. I can address the soldiers later in that Santa Anita experience, but the initial one was, I'm sure there must have been soldiers around us as we went in on the bus. But I don't recall that, I just recall being led to the horse stable. And that's when, fortunately, for me, my father drew a sketch of that first night. And it seemed... well, my being there, it was not a shock. I was raised to be, I don't know if that's how samurais are raised, but I was raised to do, you know, my parents, they were told that we have to make, fill up our mattress with hay, I recall the pile of hay and all that. And, of course, I did it properly. My father, he did place the cots in which he made this sketch of that in the horse stable, side by side, and I'm in the middle. Well, that didn't seem so traumatic for me. It wasn't an ah-ha moment, it was still my parents.

BT: Do you recall any conversations between your mom and your dad during that time? Obviously it had to be traumatic for your mom.

FS: You know, my parents never wanted me to hear things that were traumatic. They clearly kept that to themselves. They might have whispered between them, but I'm one of those that tried to listen in to conversation. But that was never... they just totally protected me as a child. They influenced me that way, because that's why I got into early education during my career, too. Because there is something about that, how parents can protect your child. And, of course, the Mexican border, people like Satsuki will make an effort to connect parents to children.

BT: That's Satsuki Ina, right?

FS: Yes.

BN: Did your parents have jobs at Santa Anita?

FS: I think, yeah. But my dad never told me about those things. I did discover a letter that was from the postmaster. He was smart enough to get recommendations so that he would have a letter that would show that, to the next place, wherever she went. But I didn't know what he was doing, I just recall finding that letter. He must have been part of the postal system.

BN: And then as kind of an artist, did he make furniture or other kinds of things for your stable?

FS: Well, yeah. Of course, during the journey that we did, they started. But at Santa Anita, if we're still at Santa Anita, I don't think he did anything, but made some sketches. And he did do the carving of Seabiscuit, I believe it was, the statue in front of Santa Anita, and he did that, I know, on the end of an apple box that he found. He had a... I don't know if he had, a lot of them had carving tools there. I still have the set that has four different tools. And he did have a knife, a small knife, and it was a lot to take. So that's still with me, because I think I might have used it as a kid, too. And I did make a little... because my dad did these kinds of things, I made a little, like a plaque, about a three-inch plaque, about three inches by one inch, and I think I put on there "Santa Anita."

BN: You still have all of these, right?

FS: I think I still have that.

BN: How big is the Seabiscuit carving?

FS: How what?

BN: How big?

FS: Oh, it's, you know, the crate, apple box crate.

BN: Apple, uh-huh.

FS: Yeah, so he just took the end because that's soft wood. I'm pretty sure that's what it was. I don't have it, my daughter stole it because she rode horses.

BN: So it's still in the family.

FS: Yeah, still in the family.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

BT: What did you do every day?

FS: At Santa Anita?

BT: At Santa Anita. As a, what, nine-year-old? What do you do?

FS: Yeah, they had activities in that showed movies. I remember sitting in the grandstand looking at some, I think, at that time, Deanna Durbin movies. Patriotic songs by Kate Smith was it, that used to sing God Bless America, that kind of stuff. That's where they were making also the camouflage nets. So remember that type of thing. And then we had an end unit in the barrack, when we were moved from the horse stable to the barrack. And that's when I first saw the military, because I never knew anything or saw the guns or things. But they had a riot there at Santa Anita, and being on the end track, end unit, these military trucks, half tracks or something where they had the guns mounted on the back, they were coming, rolling by. And I used to sit there at the window in the end unit, because my bunkbed was against the wall right there. It was only a room about ten feet by twenty feet or whatever, big enough for three bunkbeds and three suitcases, of course. So I could watch from the window, side window as the main guns, trucks, military people went by. That's my real recollection of the military.

BN: So just to get this clear, while you were at Santa Anita, you moved from the stable to the barrack area.

FS: Yeah, they were still building the barracks, I believe.

BN: Okay. So as they finished the barracks, your family moved. The barracks were on the parking lot outside, right?

FS: Right. And I think my dad's sketches kind of show how close we were to the stadium. That gave me a good idea.

BN: From your perspective, was that significantly better than being in the stable?

FS: [Laughs] A nine-year-old's perspective? Yeah. I guess, well, it's got to be better in that there wasn't a smell. Yeah, because I remember the smell of the horse stable very much so. In fact, I didn't know anything about that smell until later in my life when my daughter introduced me to it. But yeah, it's clearly... but again, in a way, the parents can provide security in which all of those things are almost insignificant. I hate to say it was that way, but I had no trauma or connection to that, I just have a lot of thoughts about it later in life.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

BT: Yeah, no, I'm just trying to think if there's any other questions about Santa Anita and getting... I don't know how long exactly you were there at Santa Anita, but then after Santa Anita, you were transferred to another camp.

FS: Yeah, to Jerome, Arkansas. Yeah. What's interesting is I don't know how much parents have to do with it, but I never lost any school years. For all the moving we did, then even through camp, and then outside of camp, and then the journey after camp, I never lost any school years, you know. For all the schools I've been at, I was able to complete my schooling and get out of high school when I was still sixteen or just turning seventeen.

BT: Well, what was school like in camp?

FS: Well, in camp I don't remember a lot about schools. Again, I would place that on the ability of teachers. It obviously wasn't stimulating enough for me to take away a whole lot.

BT: Do you remember what it was like in the classroom? What were the classrooms like?

FS: Not really. [Laughs]

BT: Was it in another barrack?

FS: Yeah, yeah, of course they were in barracks.

BT: Were you in there with other same age classmates or was it a mixed class?

FS: Well, as we go out, I don't remember the schooling in Santa Anita. But I do recall going to school in Jerome and also in Gila. But the school itself, I don't have a whole lot of takeaway, other than I know I did the Pledge of Allegiance every morning very properly. And well, right before Santa Anita, right when the war started, another discovery I made later in life was the report card of my last teacher at Hobart elementary school, where she put many things as being unsatisfactory. Now, I was a perfect model student, and I never did anything that would make me unsatisfactory, but I do have a record of that report card, which I found rather astonishing.

BT: Why?

BN: Yeah, what was going on?

FS: Well, I don't know, maybe she didn't like "Japs," right?

BT: Do you know if any other Japanese American students had a similar report card?

FS: No, I don't know that people save things like me, you know. My parents always saved everything. That's kind of a bad habit, but...

BT: It's good in this case.

FS: ...things that are written I saved. I fortunately saved that.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

BN: Okay. So in Jerome, did your parents have jobs at Jerome, or do you know what they were up to?

FS: Yeah, well, I guess everybody takes a train trip to Jerome, so there's nothing there. But the camp experience, I think my father... well, maybe both my parents worked in the kitchen. I'm pretty sure my mother did, and I think my father did, too. Because they used to always take portraits of the people together that were in the kitchen. That's my only recollection of the work. My father did do a lot of drawing when he was in Jerome, so he obviously made an effort to get out there when he could.

BN: He's just drawing scenes of what's going on in the camp?

FS: Yeah. I put most of those in the book, too, but the full collection is in Arkansas, Butler Center. He did a lot of charcoal, kind of watercolor combinations. I think he tried to depict some of the activities, the men sitting around doing mah jong or sho, or whatever they were playing together.

BN: Was he able to exhibit those?

FS: Exhibit?

BN: Yeah, I know there were camp art shows.

FS: Yeah, actually, Butler Center, they almost do a show every year. And then this last year, or year before, they took one of his, the autumn leaves picture which is on the cover, and they made a full banner back there at Butler Center.

BN: At the time? While the camp was in operation? Because at some camps they did have art shows even at the time.

FS: Oh, yeah. Well, I don't know if he did any exhibiting or anything in camp. I'm not aware of it. They did have an art show in Gila, but we're talking about Jerome right now, Arkansas, so I don't recall anything. I remember, the one thing I recall for me is I did take judo, and there were judo classes because I have a picture of it. That and football, I first learned how to do football.


BN: You were talking about judo. Was this like a formal class that was offered at Jerome?

FS: Yeah, I think so. I think there was a lot of formality. I'm not sure of all the martial arts, I don't know whether they had kendo and things like that. But I just remember judo because it was a portrait. I wasn't an expert.

BN: Then you also mentioned before that you picked up your love of music and big band music, right, while you were... was that at Jerome, or was that at Gila?

FS: That was in Gila.

BN: Gila, okay. Did you have any... because Jerome is largely Fresno people and L.A. people. Did you have a recollection of that or did you get to know kids from outside of L.A.? Was there a difference?

FS: Yeah. We never talked about areas... I guess I wasn't old enough to be a kind of, I don't want to say gang, but you know, where you kind of hung out with your types. We hung out with our friends, but they were friends I grew up with.

BN: So they were L.A. people?

FS: Yeah, they were L.A. people. I made friends, but more in Jerome, we were... I'm not sure why in Jerome. I don't recall a whole lot of friends other than the ones I knew. Our block was mostly L.A. people.

BN: So a lot of the people in the blocks were people that you knew from your neighborhood at home?

FS: Yeah. Well, not a lot, but several.

BN: Anything else you want to... okay. And then from there, Jerome closes early and then your family goes to Gila?

FS: Right.

BN: What were noticeable differences between the two camps from your perspective?

FS: Well, see, the major difference is the weather. And again, the trauma for my mother, from L.A. to Santa Anita and then to the snow country and the freezing cold, the only system of heating was a potbelly stove, that type of thing that I'm sure you're aware of. But anyway, the weather difference I even noticed even as a kid because it was icy and things like that, snow. Wet, everything was always wet. And the difference between a camp like Jerome and Gila is different kinds of reptiles, snakes, lots of snakes in Jerome. And then Jerome had a lot of chiggers, I guess, things that kind of get a, bite you all the time. Some of the new things I learned as a kid were the fireflies. I never knew what the heck those things were. They were all over Jerome. Yeah, the extreme weather... I learned how to play a little football back there in Jerome, only because my mother made shoulder pads for me and she made it out of Bull Durham tobacco bags. The guys, all the Issei used to smoke and so they rolled their own tobacco and they were in these little bags. I don't know if young people know what they look like, but they were bags about this big. And so my mother filled it up with some things on us or whatever, made these shoulder pads, and I could wear it under my t-shirt and I felt big. That was quite a psychological thing, because I know what it's like to wear shoulder pads even as a teen, later as a teen, and boy, you feel like you're a big man. [Laughs]

BN: So that was a real learning experience for me in Jerome. Was that more informal just pickup games or was this like an actual league with a schedule?

FS: I don't remember. I think they most have organized a little bit.

BN: Because you're only like ten?

FS: But I...

BN: This is, you're playing tackle football?

FS: Must have been, to a degree.

BN: Because you're only like ten years older.

FS: We were still pretty young then. So I think it's just activity.

BT: That was on a dirt field, too.

FS: Yeah, but, you know. [Laughs]

BT: That hurts.

FS: No, no, you're no big enough to hurt anybody yet. I wasn't even close to a hundred pounds, or eighty pounds or whatever. I was a pretty small, skinny guy.

BN: So you're what, in the years you're in camp, you're going to, what, like fourth, fifth grade, sixth grade, in that area?

FS: Let's see. I guess sixth grade.

BN: You're eight when you go in, or nine, I guess. You turned nine in '42. So that's probably third or fourth grade? Something like that. Four, five, six, maybe.

FS: Five, six, yeah. But I know when I got out of camp, I was in the eighth grade, I remember that.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

BN: Okay, so you must have been five, six, seven in camp. When you got out -- we'll get back to this in a minute -- but did you feel like once you started going to school again after camp that you were able to keep up? That you got a good enough education that you were able to just continue on fairly well?

FS: Yeah. Well, for me, I had drawing skills. And I always managed to use that impress my teacher. I liked to draw cartoons, so even when I got out and I had excellent penmanship, because I had, in Japanese school, learned how to do Japanese calligraphy that way, and that trained me to have excellent penmanship. And when I got out, that teacher was teaching penmanship as well as English and other things. So she used to put my things up as an example of what good penmanship is. That was... I think I must have had that capability, obviously, in camp, too, but I don't know that it impressed the teachers in camp at all. Because I don't recall anything except the "Star Spangled Banner" and the Pledge of Allegiance.

BN: Were you like a good student in the schools in camp?

FS: I must have been, because I was never reprimanded. [Laughs]

BN: Got good grades?

FS: Well, I don't recall. See, I don't have any of those report cards from camp, so I don't know what the heck they gave me, just a plus or minus, or you know, good boy. Yeah, camp is totally different. I saved my autograph books because it reminds me how much I kept leaving places. You know, I have, "Goodbye," "Goodbye," "Be a good boy," from older kids who would say, "Be a good boy," that kind of stuff. Yeah, the camp experience in the schools, apparently no one really turned me on to anything. I have an only recent acquaintance that's now becoming... because he's four years older and he was in Rohwer, and he learned how to, he wanted to be an architect in Rohwer because the teacher made triangle things out of, apparently out of cardboard and things like that. But I didn't know what the heck an architect was, so it's a whole different... I'm not sure how I was motivated to do anything other than allowed to have a good time. We were free in camp, as you know, because our parents were working and kids couldn't go anywhere to get in trouble. So that's sort of a typical camp story of guys hanging out together and playing games, things like that. The only difference between, from camp, for me, from Arkansas to Gila is the kind of games we played, where we created a lot of things. Which is a good learning experience for me, with bottlecaps and all that stuff. But in Gila it was mostly marbles and things like that, education. Same thing in Gila... well, because I was older, I did make some friends in Gila.

BN: Yeah, because by Gila, you're twelve by the time camp is shutting down. Did you... I don't want to call them gangs, but did you have like a, yeah, a clique or a group of friends?

FS: Well, just a couple of friends who went to camp with us and all that, lifetime friends. But beyond that, what happened in Gila is that because I was an only boy, only child, I got befriended by high school kids. And they would invite me, the boys and girls, teenagers that were into big band and they were, had their little club room. I don't think they were having dance movies, dances there, but they would let me hang out with them and listen to all the big band music. And the irony of that is one of the guys, later in life, took me under... he was a student body active guy in eleventh grade and his brother was about two years younger, and he was also outgoing and a student body something. And the older brother remembered me forty years later when we happened to be on the same cruise. And he came up to me and, you know, we started talking. He knew who I was, and that's the darndest thing because, you know, that's how they took me under their wings. I was a cute guy and kid, young kid, only kid. Well, I have a very warm recollection of being a part of that group.

BN: And you still kind of enjoy that music, right?

FS: Well, I enjoy music, period. Yeah, but big band sound of Glenn Miller and all that stuff, it probably has a little deep root for a twelve year old.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

BN: And then your family ends up staying almost 'til the very end, right?

FS: Yeah.

BN: Do you remember any sort of discussion about where you were going to go or was there the thought of going to the Midwest or other parts of the country, or anything like that?

FS: No, I was never a part of any discussion with my parents. And we were, if my understanding, we were some of the last families to leave because my father, he had no money. He had nothing to come home to, had no property. And he apparently refused to go out until they found them a job. So that's how we ended up in Phoenix. He also wanted to make sure I could get my schooling. And so I think I might have been a little bit late into my class but it worked out.

BN: So when you say he wouldn't leave until they got him a job, so it was through the WRA that they arranged for his job interview?

FS: I don't know it was arranged. They were one of the richest families in Phoenix. They had a large department store. They really, yeah, I think they took my parents on the cheap, you know, they really got 'em both to work for hardly anything.

BN: So they were like caretakers, domestic work.

FS: Well, my father had to do the outside yard, garden lawn, which is huge, with a push mower. So I remember that because he didn't have a good leg, he had a bad leg, and he had to push this lawnmower in the 120-degree heat in Phoenix. So that was another learning lesson for me. Again, being young, I was allowed to go in the swimming pool that they, kind of rich people had. And my mother, we had a little older house in the back that we lived in, and all she got for her work was that we had a kitchen area, I believe, a living room, small living room. She was given an electric... or maybe she had to buy it. All she had was an electric stove, twelve by twelve with a coil, that was what she had to cook with. So that was the first experience out of camp.

BN: Did you have to help out with anything in this estate?

FS: No, I can sit in the pool. In fact, I think the daughter was maybe about my age, and she was allowed to swim with me. That was a shock. [Laughs] I hadn't known any Caucasian girls, especially a twelve-year old.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

BN: And then you said that you started eighth grade in Phoenix?

FS: In Phoenix, yeah.

BN: What do you remember about that?

FS: Well, I remember the school. I went on a bus, there was a bus line right next to us. They had a large estate and, I think, politically connected to the bus lines were right there, it's convenient. What I recall, I have pictures from our class. There were people of color, but not blacks. I think a couple of Native Americans, maybe a Latino kid, I'm not sure. But that was sort of basically white kids. It was a little more integrated where I wasn't the only person, person of color. So I guess I didn't feel any discomfort. It is quite a change for me physically, when you think about camp, and nothing but Asian kids, right, and then to go there being the only Asian kid in the whole school. But there were Native American kids, I believe.

BN: Do you remember the name of the school?

FS: Yeah, Madison. And it's a grammar school.

BN: Was it a fairly... were most of the other kids also from fairly wealthy families or was it pretty mixed?

FS: No, I think they were just a community, a general public school, that area.

BN: Like did the daughter of the...

FS: Oh, she didn't go there.

BN: I don't know where she went.

FS: I don't know if it's anything but private schools and that stuff.

BN: Were you, this is right after the war, were you treated, did you face any kind of racial anti-Japanese stuff at that point?

FS: No, I didn't have anything that was traumatic. I think the fact that I, again, my penmanship, she actually made me somebody. I probably had more connection with that aspect of growing than I did in camp. I don't think... I was just one of thirty, twenty kids in the classroom in camp. But then when I got to Madison grammar school, I felt a little more special, I guess. Because I had some skills, I couldn't write a composition or anything, I had to use my comic book memory. But that's...

BN: Did you do sports or other things there?

FS: Not there.

BN: Not in Phoenix?

FS: No. I don't recall the... I don't even know if they had programs, physical ed. programs.

BN: And then I know you mentioned you were the only Asian in the school, but were there other Japanese families anywhere in the area or were you just, it was just your family?

FS: I think there was one, but I don't know. At that time, it seemed like my father made a connection because I think they had a nursery, but then we didn't have a car. My father didn't drive, so we were pretty much stuck on the estate there. So, yeah, we couldn't really connect, and any Japanese family that we might have known, I would think that they were in the same situation there, working harder, starting a business, whatever. So there wasn't many interaction that I remember.

BT: I have a question. So all during this time, do you recall any connection or communication with Japan during that time? I mean, you guys, you were in Phoenix, no other Japanese around. And even during the camp time, do you recall any type of communicating between your parents and Japan, anything like that? Or did you not know what was going on?

FS: Yeah. I don't think... you know, they didn't raise me in a way that they got me involved with any of that. I do know my mother always had this problem with her parents being in Japan and worrying about them and that kind of stuff. But I know later on we'll talk about that, but at that time in Phoenix, no, my dad never made anything, either in Japanese or English. Well, he didn't like to speak English even though he could, he did understand it. There was nothing that would remind me of being from Japan. I mean, I was comfortable with what I was and how I was raised in being Japanese. So I didn't... I don't recall ever a discussion about that. They might have had some because of the concern of the war and so forth. My dad would not be typical either because he didn't know his father and his mother died, and he wanted to be a Western artist. So I don't think he's anything like a lot of the Isseis.

BN: So he didn't have really strong ties to Japan like a lot of people?

FS: Well, he did and he didn't, and we'll talk about the one he did later. But yeah, he had no reason because it didn't exist here. He was part of the community. When there'd be parties, he would sing, things like that. Then my mother did shigin later, quite a bit of that. I guess she did it before the war, too. I had forgotten she had that aspect of training, because I used to dance to that with a sword. Yeah, that is in my roots.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

BN: So you're in Phoenix basically for just a year, right?

FS: What was that?

BN: In Phoenix, you were in Phoenix for just the one year?

FS: Yeah.

BN: So what happens after that?

FS: Well, I think they, because my conclusion is -- or my impression, they never told me -- is that they were paid so little, and I think they decided they were going to try to save as much money for bus fare from Phoenix to Guadalupe, and I'll bring up that reason. But anyway, because we ate a lot of spam like so many people out of camp, I think that would suggest that the pay was so poor, and, of course, she didn't have the cooking facility. Of course, I thought nothing of it because I love spam. [Laughs] It's like a staple for me. But I think at that time it was one of the least expensive products that Japanese Americans could buy after the war. But as soon as the school year, my dad had already, I think, made a decision there's just no future there. And they scraped enough money to, for a bus ride, Greyhound bus ride to Guadalupe.

BN: Why Guadalupe? What was the connection?

FS: Well, my mother's brother was, I think he lived in Guadalupe, but he was married there and he had three children there. I don't know the connection they had with this place that we were moving to in Guadalupe. Our first move, though, from Phoenix back to Guadalupe was to the Buddhist church, back to camp kind of stuff because they had to stack chairs and things and hang curtains to separate the other family that was also there in the church. So, so me, that again was another traumatic transition for my mother back into that compartment, that type of thing, you know, you separate by using a sheet.


BN: So how long were you in the Buddhist church (�), and then where did you go from there?

FS: Well, this is, okay, Guadalupe just had one street, right, basically. The church was a little bit off, located just away by itself. So I'm not sure whether it was pretty quickly, we moved to this... well, it's kind of like a real cheap hotel, if you can imagine. Guadalupe is a farming town and nothing but... and the building was a tin shed, corrugated tin on the outside, and the roof was corrugated tin. But the front had a commercial plaster kind of facade, and it had a door in the center so the hotel, you go through the center and there's little rooms on each side of this hallway going to the end, to the exit place. And if you can visualize a small room that were one-nighters, that's pretty small in Guadalupe farming towns. One-nighters for a lot of different reasons, too. I remember a guy that was kind of nice to me that stopped a few times, yeah, he had a motorcycle and probably brought some friends in there for one night. So it was... my room, for example, there was maybe... it was smaller than camp because it was the size of a cot, and in front of the cot was maybe a space about three by three at the most. And my parents bought me a phonograph right away that I could put at the foot of my bed. And the side of the cot was just maybe a foot or two, just a couple of feet. So maybe a room about five by eight or six, five by seven. So then the shower was fairly close. The shower was on the other side, which is about the size of three by three or if that big. But it had a window at the top so that it ventilates, I remember that. That was my area. My parents had a little room a little further back, I think. And then the front part of this building was where my dad and mother tried to make a living by having a short order... you can't call it a restaurant, it had maybe seating for eight people or something like that. Small counter with a table or two. And my mother, somehow they got a plate where you can fry hamburgers, that kind of thing, and my dad did the maintenance on the place or cleaned it up and served. And my mother did the cooking. Oh, and then they served beer, so that was another reason my father wanted to leave, because he didn't like the fact that I was growing up in this little space, restaurant, having to serve beer. Because all the guys, farmhands and people that came to have a hamburger or something, they could have a beer. So that lasted not even a year.

BN: Then this would have been, you're going to ninth grade there?

FS: I was ninth grade. And at that time, they were busing from Guadalupe to Santa Maria High School. So I took the bus every morning and started Santa Maria High School in the ninth grade. So you could see how my education is jumping around quite a bit, but nothing that was traumatic in that way.

BN: But you're having to make all new friends again?

FS: Yeah, but that was pretty easy.

BN: You're used to it by now.

FS: Still is. [Laughs]

BN: What was the demographics of Santa Maria High?

FS: My recollection is it was mostly white, I don't know. I really don't remember because you spend most of your day, you drive, riding a bus both ways, that's quite a bit of time just on the bus. I think there were a few Filipino people, or might have been some Mexicans. I recall having some friends who were both. But not close friends because, short term friends. I don't recall the demographics. I was raised in a way that I guess I don't see color the same way that a lot of people do. It doesn't occur to me. It did later for a different reason, but at that time, no.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

BN: And then you said you were there for less than a year.

FS: Yeah. Actually, when I finished the ninth grade, there was a summer before we left. And I'm getting older... well, not that old, but teenager, thirteen, I guess. And I wanted to make some money, so my father let me work on the farm. There was a lot of flower farms. And so I had a summer in which I experienced working with, I guess people call it stoop labor. You bent over, going up and down the field. And that was very important for me. My education is that way. My whole life has been that way. it was the kind of questions these guys... you know, they were all, must have been in their twenties, and they had friends or girlfriends or family in Mexico, I think, all of them. And all they would do all day long, whenever we have a break, because you work, you go up and down the rows and you can't talk to each other much because you're bent over working. And when we'd have a break, they'd always ask me about my mother, what she looked like. She would have been a young woman, and they were more sexual questions type of thing. And that short summer made me realize what the life of a lot of these Mexican people that were coming here, working in the field, and it made me very conscious of the movement that started by... I forgot the gentleman's name. I knew it vividly... you know, the farm movement.

BN: Cesar Chavez.

FS: Chavez movement, yeah, very sensitive to that. But you know, the irony of that whole thing -- I think it's the perfect time to bring it up -- is that I also worked close to, because of Marian, to a farm people that came back from World War II. And Marian's cousins, they're all farm people up north in Lodi area. And her cousin's husband, who I really admired and liked, he was a air conditioning businessman, he had his own business. But when I brought up the Chavez kind of thing, he told me something that I won't forget. He says, "Look, we came out of camp and we had to make a living with these people." So his feeling of the Cesar Chavez movement wasn't quite as... he had a different perspective as a Nisei coming out of camp. Because they were like tools of their survival. And you know, I've never thought of it from that perspective because I was always more... I don't want to say rebellious, but maybe I am. I was very empathetic to that movement, just like to the American, Native American Movement and all of these kinds of things, or civil rights, whatever. It sort of surprised me, it never occurred to me. And I could understand what that might have meant to him to have these people that you depended on becoming rebellious if you want to call it that. That wasn't the intent of Chavez, he was just trying to improve the conditions. So these were all learning experiences for me.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

BN: So from Guadalupe, then, where does your family go?

FS: Well, so from Guadalupe we came to Pasadena, to Westridge school, just down the street, which is about as elitist you could find at that time. It was founded with that in mind. And my father... well, Tak Kawagoe came after us in a pickup truck because of the furniture we had, which I forgot to mention, is the furniture my father made in Gila. He made a chest of drawers and he made a small table, so that was all we had. Now I had a phonograph player and then three suitcases. So from the back of a pickup truck, as a youngster, I loved it. First time I got to ride in the back in the open air of a pickup truck with our furnishings. So we ended up at Westridge school where apparently Tak was doing the gardening for a while. And he got my dad a job as a custodian, and that's where I grew up. It's the first home, actually, when you think about it, for the three of us as a family, it's the first real home. We lived there quite a few years.

BN: So for those of us, I'm totally not familiar with the school. So it's kind of an elite girls' school?

FS: Yeah. It was founded by this woman, Ranney, and there was a house on the campus called Ranney House, but it's a very, at that time, I don't know how many students they have. They did have all the... I think from about fourth grade through high school. And Pasadena had, it was located on Orange Grove, which is called "Millionaire's Road," the Wrigley House is still here, and a few others, but not many. Very rich people that came to Pasadena in summertime because of the weather. They mostly were from the Midwest. I'll mention later, but which was close to Westridge school, to give you an idea of that street, she came only in the summertime originally and they built this big mansion right up the hill. And that's kind of the origin of Pasadena, very wealthy, on Orange Grove. And Westridge school is right on Orange Grove, and started by this woman who happens -- I just recently learned -- to have been an architect. And worked for Greene and Greene, another elitist part of Pasadena. But yeah, you name it, they went there. A very good friend of mine later, she graduated, she's the same age as I am, graduated high school there in 1950. And she was the daughter of the importer giant that brought in all the dolls. A lot of girls would know the dolls, I forgot the name of the family, her maiden name. Dakin, D-A-K-I-N, and that was on every stuffed animal you could find, you'd see the word "Dakin." They had a big office on the bay in northern California. But her parents tragically died in a plane crash. But they were very humanitarian type people. So Sue Dakin, who's still a very good friend, she moved to Portland. But she actually ran for president using her own funds. And I forgot whether it was '80s, forgot what campaign, she wrote a book about it, Artist for President, something like that. So she graduated in 1950, which is the year I would have graduated. I learned later that Mrs. Irvine of Irvine Ranch also was a student about that time. So you get an idea of some of the, there were more people of upper wealth there.

BN: So what was it like then? Because you're a teenage boy living on this campus of a girls' school? What was that experience like?

FS: Well for me, and my dad, too, I think my mother takes the burden of everything. But it was everything. I mean, I had a playground all to myself with acres of things to play, tennis courts, basketball hoop. And I'm there alone, and it's all mine all weekend, or after school, too.

BN: So it wasn't a boarding school, then?

FS: So.

BN: So the weekends it's empty.

FS: No, it was mine, I had the campus. And it was... I don't know what else I can say. I knew my place, if that makes sense. We're Asians, we weren't... my parents didn't have to tell me, I think I knew that I could watch from upstairs, my bedroom upstairs, or avoid mixing if you will, which I did until I became better at tennis. Then lo and behold, my tennis coach, who was coach at Westridge school, was also the coach of the Valley Hunt Club which is the other elite club of Pasadena. So it introduced me to a lot of things in Pasadena, if you will, and hierarchy.

BN: And then where did you go to school?

FS: Well, from there I went back to junior high school because we were on a different system, so I was in the tenth grade at McKinley junior high. In my tenth grade class, Bobby Uchida happened to be president, he happened to be in camp in my class at Gila. And Bobby is an old Pasadena family, so I connected with him pretty quickly and a few other guys in Southern California. So I went to McKinley and I fit in there fairly easily. Of course, there I could play sports. Yeah, I was carefree and my parents spoiled me again by buying me a motor scooter or motorbike, a whizzer motorbike. I was this dude, this Japanese dude that had this scooter or bike with a motor on it, when the other guys had regular bikes. It allowed me to get around, and also allowed me to, I guess, be kind of a novelty hotshot, huh? Because I became pretty good at different sports and I could mix with all the guys.

BN: Your parents must have been, were they making fairly decent money then if they were able to...

FS: My parents?

BN: Yeah.

FS: I don't know how much money they were making. I think they were making enough certainly to save a little to buy me...

BN: The house is provided, right?

FS: Yeah, the house was provided, but they --

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

BN: You're at McKinley, and then from there you go on to high school, right?

FS: Yeah, McKinley is tenth grade. That's probably the most important year for me. And we still have tenth grade reunion. Can you imagine? They're going to have a last one maybe this year, going to try it. There's a guy that, that's how it's kind of a special time for a lot of people, so we were having all these friends that's... of course, they all knew Bobby, because he was president of the school. But yeah, we might have one more. But now it's broadened out into anybody, McKinley people. But it's kind of a special school.

BN: What was special about it that year?

FS: Well, for me it was special in that I could play sports and learn to play a little baseball and basketball and a little bit of football, B football. I guess you could do everything, and I think there were some, one or two teachers, maybe, I think there was a French teacher there that I liked, just a few things like that. It was a unique situation of coming down from a high school, which you were a nobody. I was a freshman in which they, Santa Maria High School didn't have very good counseling or anything. Not that I had a whole lot of counseling at McKinley, I think. I was comfortable talking to teachers, a few teachers, things like that. So yeah, for me, that probably was a very critical year.

BN: And then from there you went on to...

FS: To Pasadena High School, which was four years. It was high school and college. But the pivotal thing for there is, see, that's 1949, and my mother bought me a new car. So I had this black Chevrolet '49 Fleet Line, I think they call it. And with what little money I saved working side jobs, gardener, helper, things like that, I put pipes on it, it's like the Gardena car club thing. You know, lowered the car, all these things. So I'm an eleventh grader going to a four-year campus that has a national Rose Bowl football team, that kind of stuff, and I'm... the football players are looking at me. So they knew that these were guys that were stars of the national Rose Bowl championship, so they knew who I was. So you might say it was kind of an interesting transition when I got that car. Of course, I had a, there was a carrot with it in that I had to drive my parents everywhere. So it had a purpose, obviously.

BN: Just picturing your Issei parents riding your lowered car...

FS: Well, that's only when I went in the army. My mother had to learn to drive with pipes. [Laughs] I made sure they were loud pipes so the girls would turn around. Girls like my wife never looked at those things, the irony of it. Anyway...

BN: Was that unusual? Were you the only guy to have a car in that grade?

FS: A shiny black car on the PCC campus, yeah. There was one other guy who had a lot of money, he was on the football team, his name was Hirohata, Bob Hirohata. And he had a customized car because his father had an insurance company, I believe, but at those times, the car was a big thing. So one of the more famous car people, I think they were called Barris car company.

BN: Chuck Barris.

FS: They chopped the Mercury that he had, that kind of stuff? Well, that's... but he was a football player, so he was already known, but he didn't have a black shiny car that I kept shining. I was his equal. [Laughs]

BN: It was George Barris. Chuck Barris was the game show host. And then you mentioned also you were in these Japanese social clubs, too?

FS: Yeah. I think that might have happened after high school, like PCC. What also, because of the car, I became a fairly decent tennis player from Westridge and the car allowed me to interact with people like John Van de Kamp who is prominent in the city. And now we understand the former mayor's wife wants to honor his house, a substantial historic place. And here I knew him before her because she didn't come here until 1971, I found out. But anyway, I used to pick up John to play tennis, so he knew me from... and the irony if it is he lived right next door to Pacific Oaks children's school where I got involved, because his mother had a house right adjacent to it. And my first girlfriend was a schoolgirl there, so I parked in front of that house for many evenings way back. So PCC was, I had moderate success as a tennis player, so I played on the high school team, then I played on the City College team. But, see, in those days, it wasn't the macho sport, so I always kind of had reluctant, I depended more on my car to be part of the football crowd. I didn't realize people knew I played tennis there, but I found out later a few girls knew I played tennis. I said, oh my, I missed my calling. [Laughs] But I did play varsity tennis.

BN: At this time, when you were in high school, did you have a sense of what you wanted to do or what you wanted to...

FS: Well, have fun.

BN: Or thinking about the future?

FS: Well, I knew I had to work, but I don't think I was thinking career or anything. Because I did a lot of different kinds of things part time. That didn't happen 'til I went in the military, grew up a little. Not a lot, just a little. [Laughs]

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

BN: And then you graduated what year? What year did you graduate?

FS: Well, okay. My whole recollection of graduation, because I marched through that, something "land of glory," three times in the Rose Bowl. Can you imagine? Junior high school I graduated there, and we did the same thing. High school I graduated in the Rose Bowl, same thing. And then community college I graduated in the Rose Bowl, same thing. So kind of tired of that. [Laughs] Yeah, I can relate to the Rose Bowl.

BT: What year was that, though, when you graduated?

FS: Oh, I graduated in 1952 from community college. High school was 1950.

BN: And then from there you went to Berkeley just for a year and then you went into the army, right?

FS: Right. I think the transition, I guess I knew the word architect only because I think one of the guys was a tennis player ahead of me and he became, he was a pretty good tennis player at PCC, I think, but he was a year or two ahead of me. And then he went to college, and I don't remember where. Might have been SC, but became an architect. So I knew about the field. And the tragedy, of course, too, is that he was a designer for a big company in Los Angeles and he committed suicide. So I don't know that whole story. I only knew him as a tennis player. So at PCC, I think they knew I had drawing skills. I guess I did okay in math, that was the old stereotype of somebody goes into the field. And so I guess I was sort of persuaded to continue that field. And that's how I ended up going to Berkeley, because I couldn't afford USC. And of course, my mother was happy I was going to go to college, yeah, all that. But I had that nice black car that I could go to Berkeley, and she let me have the car up there. I could be big man on campus of the Japanese side, Euclid Hall at Berkeley, and become part of that world up there.

BT: By that time, your mom was able to drive?

FS: I don't know if she was driving, I don't think so, no, no. I think she went back to her method of suffering for her son. Yeah, there's a lot I owe my parents, I think, obviously. And I'm very aware of that. And on that subject, some of my anger is based on the fact that it took two people to sacrifice their lives even though I was the glue. You see, that's the irony of this whole thing of their marriage fifteen years apart, and not really one that was developed out of love. It was created so that there could be an offspring, and it turned out to be a male which, of course, from the one side, the samurai side, is fit. And my mother was trained in a way that she could perform her duties. Yeah, so I had, it was still the... maybe it took me longer to grow up because of that. I was always encouraged to pursue a degree like Asians are, but allowed to still be free. And it was another experience up there. Because I made a lot of good friends in that one year that I was there. Euclid Hall, it was a special place, and a lot of successful stories out of that group.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

BN: Well, actually, I want to get, return to this. But before we go there, I wanted to go back to PCC and I'm interested in the Nisei clubs and stuff. Can you tell us a little more about that?

FS: Okay, you mean about the club?

BN: Yeah.

FS: Okay, the Stags. I was one of the early ones, part of it, because they were all my friends.


BN: They were called the Stags?

FS: Right. And maybe rightly so, a lot of the guys were shy. I don't know how the name came about, but it seemed fitting because quite a few of the guys didn't get married or anything. I don't know... it might all be because they were a similar age in camp and a lot of those kinds of things.

BN: Was it a PCC thing, were these all students at PCC?

FS: Yes, it started primarily. It continued... the gentleman that founded it, I call him that. He's a year younger than I, and I knew him from way back. My mother was close to his mother. But he and Richard Toshima... Ko Yamaguchi and Richard Toshima founded the Stags, essentially. And we were all, we had a basketball team just one or two years, so we had a uniform before that. But then we had jackets that said "Stags" in script on the back. It was meant to be also a social club. It gave a lot of the guys courage to meet girls, because not all were outgoing if you will. So it was also an excuse to go collectively to a dance at Normandy or Boyle Heights to where they had all these Nisei dances. And you'd go together in a few cars and things like that. So it was a gang unlike the Yellow Brotherhood on the Crenshaw side. It was more a gang that, of nice boys. We had not... totally different from what you would think of as a gang, it was more a social club is what it was, and a lot of the interaction was with other girls' social clubs.

BN: So you didn't have any fighting or anything like that?

FS: No, no.

BN: Were there affiliated girls' clubs?

FS: Yeah, Pasadena had a few. Well, I'm sure Bryan could remember all of them, or maybe did enough research on it. But there were girls' clubs. I recall a couple of clubs that were older than myself, because there were other men's clubs that were older.

BN: And then were the clubs like, you're all about the same age, and then was there another version of the club of younger kids?

FS: Yeah, both ways, both ways. There were probably two, I call it layers, because you can't call it a generation or anything, it was just layers of club a little bit older. So ones that, I think, first came out of camp, might have had, maybe there were more clubs based on recreation and socializing. I mean, there were two major churches at that time, but still, I don't think that provided all the interaction between all the young people.

BN: And then was everybody Nisei? There were no non-Japanese?

FS: No, it was all Nisei, all Japanese American. Pasadena was pretty segregated, I think. Maybe, you think back in hindsight, could be both ways, too, because we kept our place, if you will. But I think it evolved naturally, where it took my kids' generation, it's totally different. No sensitivity to it. Like my boy's, my older boy's friends, they were part of the establishment of the high schools and things, they were the power players of their high school. We were nobody other than football players or fancy car.

BN: And then did you still keep in touch with these guys?

FS: Yeah, the Stags, because of the fellow Ko Yamaguchi that started it, he had a very successful import business and he made sure that there were reunions. He belongs to the West Covina country club, and he would have a yearly, where he would invite everybody there, things like that. So we're still in touch, but now that we're older, people are dying off. But I don't know if there will be any more because COVID kind of ended that. But we were even meeting once a month with a small group of regulars. We're very tight in different ways, we're all different, and different careers, whatever.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

BN: And then I wanted to actually now go back to Berkeley. I'm not familiar with Euclid Hall, the significance of that.

FS: Oh, well, it's very well-known. [Laughs] Euclid Hall is strictly a men's hall at University of California Berkeley. And I forgot how many people it housed, but my guess would be at least a couple dozen. But it was, in a way,� a social club, too, if you want to call it that. We had dances there at Euclid Hall. It was a boarding place for Japanese, primarily. And it functioned as a social center, too, so it's sort of known that way. But it produced some fairly successful people. I only had a year there, too, made several close friends.

BN: So was it already established by the time you went there?

FS: Yeah.

BN: Is it a postwar thing or did it exist even before?

FS: It might have existed before. I've forgotten the history. Yeah, we even had a reunion in the '50s -- or I don't know when the last reunion was. But I think it was one of those places that brought together many of us guys.

BT: So it was established only for Asians?

FS: For Japanese.

BT: For Japanese?

FS: It was Japanese food, we had a Japanese cook there that was paid for by our costs, and there was a house, what do they call that? Older guy that was responsible and then he had an assistant. The assistant was a guy that was active in the Buddhist church up here, I forgot his name now. One of the... at least when I was there. And it was very tight-knit. Well, people like Bob Suzuki, who became president of Cal Poly, he's a product of Euclid Hall.

BT: So that was established, obviously, to segregate Japanese Americans from the rest of...

FS: I think to provide a home base, so it must have been from before the war. I don't recall exactly. I think the building was owned by the Japanese community, I mean, it was bought for that purpose. There wasn't too many housing options that was kind of the place to go to.

BN: And it was all, this was all men, right?

FS: Yeah, all men.

BN: Was there an equivalent for women?

FS: Any what?

BN: Was there an equivalent thing for the women students?

FS: Well, there was a place around the corner which many of the Asian women, I know Marian's sister stayed. I forgot the name of the hall, but it was a hall in which many women... I don't know if it was primarily for Japanese girls or not, but it was very close to campus, one block from the edge of the campus and very convenient.

BN: And you were only there for a year, you said, right?

FS: Yeah.

BN: Was that a matter of the education side?

FS: Well, okay. I went there to go to college, right, for the first time. I mean, I didn't think of PCC as a college. I was accepted, I had the units and things. Fortunately, I had things like calculus at PCC, I didn't have to take it again at Cal where it would have been tough. I think... well, I left in a way. At that time, the Vietnam War was pretty --

BN: Korean.

FS: The Korean War was hot and heavy. And we used to talk about that. Some of my friends, we played a lot of basketball. We won a championship up north with our basketball team, it was called San Lorenzo Seraphs, and Harry Kawahara, who was now down here, it was his family that sponsored it. Kind of forgot where I was going with that whole thing. Harry was at Euclid and some of the other basketball guys. One of the guys actually, he and I played ball together and we went into, we used to talk into the night about the war, we were struggling with whether to join or to get drafted or that kind of stuff. He ended up being a bird colonel, lifetime, in the military. I think for me what happened is the school of architecture weighed heavy. It was called the Beaux Arts School at that time, and it had to do with European architecture. I couldn't fit, I couldn't relate to the Gothic and all the different Greek stuff that we had to learn and memorize. And all we did at school was to measure all that stuff on campus that had all these European details and things, and then we'd have to draw it and spend all night drawing these things in what we called stippling. We used to use a pen, that was part of the discipline of being an architect. You keep putting little dots to make shapes and forms until your eyes go blind. And they put a microscope, a magnifying thing on there and see how perfect the dot is with the ink, and you get graded on that. Anyway, I didn't fit, and it wasn't my calling to be, to pursue that type of stuff. So I think for me to leave, which was, I think I left about a month or less before the fiscal year, we had those options, and then allowed the draft to take me, and I was drafted into the army. So the Berkeley Beaux Arts school was not my calling. When I look back at the book that we had to read and try to memorize, because architectural history is part of the seven part exam we take as licensed architects. And at that time that I was going to take my exam, it was still using that stuff, all the great cathedrals of Europe. Not being a bookworm type of guy, that was a little bit beyond me. I mean, I didn't fail, but I didn't enjoy it, it wasn't my fit.

BN: And then you were drafted right after that?

FS: I was drafted, yeah, that summer.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.