Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Sue Takimoto Okabe Interview
Narrator: Sue Takimoto Okabe
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: December 3, 1999
Densho ID: denshovh-osue-01

<Begin Segment 1>

AI: Today is December 3, 1999, and I'm here at the Densho offices with Sue Takimoto Okabe. And my name is Alice Ito. I'm the interviewer. And our videographer is Dana Hoshide. Sue, I'd like to start off just by asking you about your family background. Maybe you could tell us about your father, his name, a little bit about his family background in Japan?

SO: I don't know much about his family background. His name is William Komaichi Takimoto. And he's from Hiroshima, I believe Asa-gun, Kuchi Tamura, I believe. He came here when he was fourteen. So gee, had he lived, he would have been about a hundred and -- it's over a hundred years ago. He would have been 114, something like that.

AI: Do you happen to know why he came over or about when that was?

SO: Well, he's the eldest of the family. And it was mostly adventure and wanting to know about the new country. But he came, I believe, with Reverend Okazaki...

AI: Oh, is that right?

SO: ...who was a Christian minister.

AI: Yes, very well-known.

SO: And I -- oh, his son, he had a son named Bob Okazaki --

AI: Right.

SO: -- I met in Los Angeles.

AI: Oh. And, and what -- do you happen to know what your family's, father's family, did in Japan?

SO: I really don't recall exactly. They had a kaki farm, but they were not farmers. They owned property. Later on, I don't think it was during his time that they did have, they manufactured furniture. But I don't remember exactly what they did at the time he left. He was the eldest. They weren't too happy about it.

AI: Well, I -- and at the age of fourteen, that's relatively young.

SO: Uh-huh, he had finished school in some level. And that's when he decided to venture out. But he was told to return back to Japan to, to marry the eldest daughter of a relative, who happens to be my mother.

AI: And what's, what was her name?

SO: Tagawa, Masuko Tagawa.

AI: Do you happen to know about when that was, when they married?

SO: She -- after she finished jogakkou so that would make it around, what? Eighteen? Seventeen? I think she finished jogakkou around that time.

AI: She was about that age?

SO: Uh-huh.

AI: And, about when was, was that? Would that have been in the 1920s that they got married or --

SO: Yeah, that would be right around 1921 maybe, '20.

AI: And then did she come to the U.S...

SO: Yes.

AI: ...soon after that?

SO: Yes. Immediately.

AI: Right after that with your dad. Happen to know where they settled when they came over?

SO: Yakima.

AI: Yakima.

SO: Just briefly. My eldest sister was born there. And then they moved to Tacoma.

AI: And speaking of your sisters, did you have any other sisters or brothers?

SO: I have another sister below her. Kay is my oldest sister. And then a year and a half later Michi was born in Tacoma.

AI: And what about with you, when were you born?

SO: I was born in Tacoma in 1928.

AI: And then what -- did you grow up there in Tacoma?

SO: Until I was four, I believe, and then we moved to Seattle.

AI: I see.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

AI: Well, can you tell me a little bit about what you remember of your early memories in Seattle as you were a young child?

SO: The grocery store. We had a grocery store. On one side -- we had a small grocery store first, and we moved across the street to a large one. And that was on the corner of 8th and Marion.

AI: And did you live near there?

SO: We lived there because we, it was also an apartment house. The downstairs was -- it was duple -- a duplex, actually. And we rented one side, and we lived upstairs of the grocery on the other side.

AI: Did you and your sisters work in the store?

SO: Well, yeah, I guess you could call it work. Not really.

AI: Helping out?

SO: Uh-huh.

AI: And now, what about school? Your, you were living there in the downtown area?

SO: Central School.

AI: Central School. What was that like at that time, the elementary school? Were you one of some few Nihonjin or were there a large group...

SO: No. Central School at that time was 1st through 12th. Or was it 1st through -- yeah. One through twelve, I believe. Frank Henderson was the principal. And there were many Japanese there, many. It was -- I remember mostly all Japanese. And it was wonderful until it closed down. And then we were -- where did we go? Pacific School. We went to Pacific, and then later to Washington.

AI: Right.

SO: So it was, it was wonderful.

AI: Well, now, when you were going to elementary school, was it at a very early age that you began singing and had an interest in music?

SO: I don't know how it started, but I started singing around six or seven. And then, yeah, my sister, Michi, was studying piano. Kay had quit. And Michi was quite a musician. She was quite a pianist. And she just told my mother that if I'm going to sing in front of people, that I should take lessons. And so I started studying.

AI: Well, was that unusual at that time?

SO: I didn't think so. I mean, as a child you only know what your immediate family is doing. I thought everybody did.

AI: And what about your folks? Did your mother or father sing also or were they musical?

SO: My father was, studied utai, which is the singing that is with the Noh theater, with Mr. Beppu here in Seattle. And he studied -- even prior to that he had studied utai and shakuhachi. It's more the classical music. And I don't know where they learned it, but both my parents could play the piano somewhat, and my mother was a fairly good singer. But they were mostly interested in the classics.

AI: When you say classics, did you mean, is that Japanese classics...

SO: Both.

AI: ...western or --

SO: Both. Japanese classics and the western classics.

AI: So that's interesting to me because I didn't realize that there were many Issei who were familiar with western classics or encouraged their children to, to know them or learn them.

SO: Gee, I don't know, to tell you the truth. I really don't know.

AI: But you -- that was what you grew up with...

SO: Uh-huh.

AI: your home.

SO: Uh-huh.

AI: Well, could you tell me a little bit more about how your music studies progressed as you were a child?

SO: Well, let's see. We, we took lesson -- I took lessons from Gail Baskerville because she happened to be teaching at Central School. And then my sister went on to a more prominent teacher, Gene Fizet. I remember that. Then later when my sister was at Broadway High School, Einer Lindbloom, who was the music teacher, heard me and sent me to his friend, who was Lela Bell by -- she had studios by the University of Washington. And I was the only child she took. Most of them were high school and above.

AI: Right.

SO: So I started studying with Ms. Bell.

AI: At about, about how old were you when you were studying with her?

SO: Nine, I think.

AI: And were you already --

SO: I had already studied about a year or so, couple of years with Gail Baskerville.

AI: And at that age were you already performing and doing some public performances, community?

SO: Mostly at the Buddhist Church, and gee, I don't know. They would tell me, show up somewhere and sing this, and I'd do it.

AI: Was that your parents who would mainly arrange your singing?

SO: I think so. I think it was my mom. And then Michi would accompany me, my sister. But I didn't think anything of it.

AI: Any highlights from those memories of some of those community events?

SO: T.R. Goto and the Lotus Engeikai at the Nippon Kan. I remember those.

AI: What was that like?

SO: And the Japan Day at -- you had Playland before the war?

AI: That's right.

SO: I remember singing there 'cause I got free rides.

AI: Oh.

SO: They gave us tickets. And I used to love the roller coaster, so I used to sit in, without getting off, just pass them the ticket. I remember that. And I remember singing at the convention center for the JACL National Convention. I remember going to Fife, Tacoma, Bainbridge Island. I remember that too, for some program. I don't know.

AI: What was it like for you to be a child and to be out on stage like that? Was it exciting? Was it scary?

SO: Uh-uh. No.

AI: No?

SO: It was scary. I used to -- excuse me, but I used to throw up before. I still do to this day.

AI: So --

SO: I still do.

AI: So in a way, it was kind of taxing for you?

SO: Well, it's something -- I don't know. In, in my memory you were told to do something, you just did it. You didn't question it. It didn't dawn on me to question. And it wasn't made a special event. No one fussed over it. It was a very normal thing in our house. Nobody made it an issue. My sister and I just did it.

AI: So it sounds like it was one of a number of typical activities for you and your sister?

SO: Pretty much.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

AI: Tell me, what were some of the other activities you had as a child? You mentioned the Buddhist Church. Were, was your family members at the church?

SO: My father and mother were active in Tacoma. And I don't know if it was the business or what, but they stopped attending church here in Seattle. And my sisters -- gee, I don't recall their going to any church except the neighborhood. I think it was Presbyterian. I'm the only one that wanted to go to a Buddhist Church, and I wanted to go to Japanese school. I wanted to be with other Japanese. So I chose to go to Japanese school. And I chose to go to Bukkyoukai.

AI: Why was that?

SO: I have no idea.

AI: There were so many kids who complained about having to go to Japanese school. But for you it sounded like it was --

SO: I begged.

AI: You really wanted to.

SO: I begged. Uh-huh. I enjoyed it, too.

AI: What did you enjoy about it?

SO: Being the among the Japanese kids. That's why I loved camp.

AI: Was it, was that in comparison with being with hakujin kids? Was that --

SO: I guess. I don't -- we weren't isolated. We had Japanese neighbors. There weren't -- there were a few my age, not a whole lot. But we were not isolated. But I really don't know. My sisters thought I was odd.

AI: Well, and speaking of Japanese language school, how did you communicate with your mother and father? Was it mostly in Japanese or --

SO: In English. All English.

AI: And they both spoke English?

SO: Yes.

AI: Well --

SO: My dad had studied, he had gone to high school, night school. And my mom had had some. And he was, he was very, totally, until the day he died, he spoke English to us.

AI: So that was really the everyday language for you was English?

SO: Definitely.

AI: And the Japanese was something secondary that you picked up in Japanese school.

SO: No. Mom would speak a little Japanese, but we would respond in English.

AI: Well, I was wondering, were there any particular values that your parents emphasized to you? I know you mentioned that you were raised to do as you were told and to follow directions of your parents and your elders. Can you recall anything else that you learned or that was taught to you or emphasized?

SO: Education. Decidedly education. For instance, even the singing, you don't perform without studying. And although we were all girls, we were expected to go to college.

AI: Is that right?

SO: Uh-huh.

AI: Well, that sounds like it was a little bit out of the average for families at that time.

SO: Well, my sister, Michi, was only sixteen, but she was already attending University of Washington when the war came. And my oldest sister was in Los Angeles to attend college. And she was brought back before evacuation.

AI: Oh my. So it, it was clearly expected that you would all go, and even as a child you --

SO: Oh, yes. My dad said you weren't finished until you're out of college.

AI: I see.

SO: Not high school, college.

AI: Anything else that you recall that they emphasized?

SO: Not really.

AI: Not really?

SO: No. Nothing that stands out.

AI: Well, could you tell me a little bit as you're leading up to 1940, 1941, you were about age eleven, twelve?

SO: Uh-huh.

AI: What would a typical day in your life be like?

SO: Gee.

AI: You were in junior high school?

SO: Yeah. Well, we -- I started Broadway High School right after the war. So we were at Washington Junior High. And it was just a routine, attending school. After school would be Japanese school. We went to Japanese school every day. And then walking home. And then practicing and studying, doing our homework. Saturdays was, the entire day was taking lessons. Sundays was pretty much do what you want kind of a day.

AI: Your day off.

SO: Uh-huh.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

AI: Well, now, tell me what happened in December, in 1941, when Pearl Harbor was -- ?

SO: Oh, Pearl Harbor Day?

AI: Yeah.

SO: December 7th?

AI: What were you doing?

SO: My sister, Michi, and I went to Portland with the Mikados of Swing, which was a band led by Koichi Hayashi, Art Hayashi, to perform at a Japanese community program down there for two days, Saturday, Sunday. And that was the day the war came. And I don't know exactly what happened, but we couldn't cross the border without -- they asked, I believe, for citizenship papers. And nobody had even a birth certificate. I had never seen mine. The band stayed at Yuki Sato, who is now Yuki Lee, she lives in Los Angeles. Her mother was odori no oshousan. And a lot of the band members, according to Yuki, stayed at their house. We went to a, a distant relative named Nimi, who lived in Portland. And I have no recollection how it finally became possible for us to come back home, but we did within a short time, a day or two. But I do remember that day because we were in, all in Portland performing.

AI: Did you have any sense of what was happening or...

SO: Oh, no.

AI: ...what was going on?

SO: No, none at all, until we got back.

AI: And, and then what did you find out?

SO: Then our grocery customers, the store customers, the Reinharts, who used to help us a lot, he was a judge. And she used to, she was musically trained. She gave me a lot of her old songs to learn. Which I did.

AI: Mrs. Reinhart?

SO: Uh-huh. And Martha -- they decided not to favor us with their business. And there were others, but there were still some like Betty Taylor, I remember, and others who did stay with us. It was, it was touch-and-go there. The business did suffer, I believe.

AI: So even at your age, you could see what was happening?

SO: Oh, yeah. Even among my friends. There were a couple that I used to be very close to who suddenly didn't speak to you anymore. And then there were others like Ruby Bright, who would come by every day. And she never did before. So yeah, you definitely knew. It was almost like choosing up sides. It was rather sad. It was rather sad because I saw my -- the disappointment in my parents' eyes you know, customers they had thought were friends suddenly becoming unavailable.

AI: What about for you, treatment from teachers or --

SO: At Broadway, I didn't notice that much. As I said, we had just entered in February, so and then we were -- January? January. I can't remember the semester change. We were mid-term. And then the evacuation came so...

AI: Tell me about how you found out you were going to be evacuated out?

SO: My dad just told us that we had to get rid of everything. So he stored a lot of things in the basement. And we were told, being girls, that we could only take what we could carry. So my mom decided on what should be taken, and she wanted to take her sewing machine. So that took care of my dad carrying one. And then we had to all carry whatever else we could manage.

AI: Do you remember anything about that process, deciding what to take?

SO: The only thing I remember is that we seldom wore slacks, and suddenly Mom bought slacks for us and T-shirts.

AI: So for the first time you were not wearing dresses?

SO: Uh-huh. That I remember.

AI: Right.

SO: Because that was out of the ordinary for us, 'cause we had no idea actually where we were going.

AI: How was that like for you, that not knowing what was happening?

SO: Actually, for me personally, I didn't think much about it. I just worried more about where my friends or the people I knew might go. I think we tend to be a little selfish at that age. I know my sister, Michi, who is four and a half years older than I am, was very disillusioned. As I said, she was sixteen, going -- just starting University of Washington. And she, she was very disillusioned. She and my dad had some argument. And I know my dad said, "What do you think of your gov -- wonderful government now?" I remember that. Michi still remembers that. That's one of the things we agree on.

AI: I see.

SO: Our recollection is the same.

AI: So your father was very disappointed in the government...

SO: Yes. Yes.

AI: ...and Michi was also. And then your -- did you say that your oldest sister Kay was returned from Los Angeles?

SO: She came back from Los Angeles.

AI: So your whole family was together?

SO: Uh-huh.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

AI: And what do you recall about the day that you actually left home?

SO: My mom getting upset is all I remember. She was sick pretty much throughout Puyallup. She did not adjust well.

AI: Well, when you got down there, what did you see at Puyallup?

SO: Oh, boy. [Laughs] Nothing that you could ever imagine, the hastily erected barracks that's inside the racetrack, the ovals. That's where we were. And then we did see some of the grandstands, underneath the grandstands, which were animal stalls. And actually we were very lucky that we weren't in there.

AI: Right.

SO: But those -- to eat, the lining up for the mess halls. Yeah, Mom wasn't very good at that. It was, it was a lifestyle that she had, had a great deal of difficulty adjusting, if ever she did adjust. I'm not sure that she ever did. I think she did maybe later somewhat.

AI: It must have been very difficult.

SO: My dad was more flexible.

AI: Well, for, for both of your parents. They had, had their own business which they had had to leave and -- was that, was your building that you lived in --

SO: We owned it, and it was in the name of the Nimis, who were citizens. So we kept the building throughout the war.

AI: But still, having to close up and leave everything must have been very difficult for them.

SO: Uh-huh. I'm sure it was. I'm sure it was.

AI: Well, what else stands out in your mind about Puyallup while you were there?

SO: Well, it's our -- from junior high school, Washington Junior High School, Miss Sondegaard was our gym teacher. And of all things, she brought -- I don't know why -- she brought some records of square dancing. So my friends and I were teaching that at -- Puyallup was divided into areas, A, B, C, D, I think. I think we were in D. But I remember taking a group into another area, doing the square dance.

AI: Is that right?

SO: Uh-huh. And I sang in our area. I didn't go outside to sing to the other areas.

AI: On what occasions would you sing?

SO: They had a big assembly kind of a hall because Area D was the main one. And the Mikados of Swing, what guys were in that particular area, did practice. And Michi played with them for a while. And I think it was Mother's Day, I sang. Yeah. I think, I'm pretty sure it was Mother's Day.

AI: So there was a kind of a program on Mother's Day?

SO: Uh-huh. I can't recall who did it or why or anything, but yes, because I do remember singing in Puyallup.

AI: And was there any kind of, of school or any kind of structured --

SO: Oh, no. None at all.

AI: So as a child you were much freer, your time was much more open?

SO: Yeah. My friend who lived across the way, he lives in Kent now, Frank Nakagawa and I used to just fool around and watch the older kids dance and learn how to dance.

AI: Well --

SO: We had not much to do, to be honest. We got into a lot of mischief.

AI: Well, and then did you have any idea what was going to happen next? What was going to happen to you?

SO: None. No. No, because that's what my mother got kind of ill over, was the thought of, are we staying there permanently? For how long? Where are we going, if not? And then the train ride to Minidoka.

AI: What was that like?

SO: That was pretty bad 'cause they had the curtains down. And it was dark for quite a ways. No one knew where we were going. My sister, Kay, remembers some of it. I don't recall some of her recollections. She remembers seeing people, but I don't. The only thing I remember is that they had an open window, and I had my elbow in the window. It came down, I didn't break anything, but I was bruised pretty badly. So I had a hard time carrying the things when we got off. That's the only, only memory I have. But I do -- I was shocked when we got to Minidoka. The stuffing of the mattresses, the straw. It was -- it's almost like, you expect me to sleep in that? Or sleep on that? That was a shock. I remember that.

AI: And were you all together with your whole family, there also?

SO: Yes. Yes. We were in Block 17. That I remember.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

AI: What were some of the differences there between Minidoka and Puyallup?

SO: Oh, the structure of the camp itself. Instead of A, B, C, D, you had this huge compound. So the Seattle people were no longer separated. And the, the blocks were set up by sec -- within section -- they had sections, and then they had blocks. There was a little bit more thought to the construction of the camps. And the mess hall and the laundry room.

But as I said, it depends on your age. I think most of us who were thirteen, it didn't matter a whole lot one way or another. We just started looking out to make friends. And you really don't even ask what your older siblings felt or anything. I didn't pay much attention to my parents 'cause for the first time, they sort of left us alone. We were not as closely supervised. They were not as, if you might, strict with us, about, "Where are you going? Who are you going to be with? How long? What are you doing?" There were no questions. So there was a great deal of freedom, sudden freedom. And any early teenager will tell you, that's, that's something that dreams are made of.

AI: Well, do you recall what were some of the things you did with all that freedom of that time?

SO: We just roamed around bothering people. [Laughs] Frank Nakagawa, Sab Kanemitsu, Tomio Hamasaki, and I, the four of us, we just... yeah, we messed around a lot. And then I became very good friends with girls in our block and the next block who are still in Seattle, Kazzi Suzuki and Susie Shimizu, who passed away. Naoko Anzai, Tahagi.

AI: And then at some point a school started up and you had classes?

SO: Yes. Yes, the schools eventually started up. I don't even recall when. And that's when there was a music teacher named Erlin Erlinson. He was a chorale teacher. And he told the principal that I could sing. And then Mr. Light started to arrange for me to sing at luncheons and dinners outside the camp.

AI: And Mr. Light was the principal?

SO: Uh-huh. Jerome Light, I believe. Jerome T. Light, I believe his name was.

AI: So tell me about some of these situations where you would go outside the camp?

SO: For the most part, they were pretty nice. Twin Falls was nice. Blackfoot was pretty nice. The farthest that I recall, Idaho Falls, I had a little trouble. Boise was kind of far, and I had trouble there, where the people would yell, "Why -- what is she doing here?" or "What's the Jap doing here?"

AI: What kind of a, an event would that be where you -- in Boise? Were you going to a --

SO: I don't know. It was mostly like Lions or Rotary or -- I remember things like that. They had emblems.

AI: And then how did that end up, that, that time in Boise where people were not too welcoming?

SO: In performing, you learn two things: There is no room for vanity, if you're going to perform. And the other thing is, have no expectations from the audience. So I was -- I learned early that you, you can ignore it. It hurts, but you don't show it. And you could ignore it.

AI: So even at that young age, you went on with your performance?

SO: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. You learn that almost from day one of taking lessons in singing, that actually, you don't count. It's what you're delivering that counts.

AI: Well, can you tell me a little bit more about some of these trips outside the camp? Who would take you? Were you often going --

SO: You know, there was trucks. They wen -- we went by truck couple times. We went by car once. I have no idea who was driving. I have no recollection who was driving.

AI: Did you ever go with your parents or was -- ?

SO: No, never.

AI: And so it --

SO: Just Mich. Mich played.

AI: Just Mich and you. And what adult would go along with you? Someone from --

SO: Well, whoever the hakujin was that was assigned.

AI: Was it sometimes your teacher?

SO: Uh-uh.

AI: No.

SO: No, never the teacher. Mr. Light went with us once to Twin Falls. We went to Twin Falls about three times. Once Mr. Light went with us. But other than that, no. I really didn't pay any attention.

AI: Well, you've said a little bit about the difficulties of those trips. Was there any positive side?

SO: Oh, yes. They were warm and friendly. For the most part, they were very, very kind. And the food was good compared to camp.

AI: What do you remember of those times?

SO: Fried chicken. Really good fried chicken with gravy.

AI: So that would be something you'd never have in camp?

SO: Not that well made. [Laughs] I'm sure we had fried chicken. I'm sure. But I remember the, the gravy and things. And I remember scalloped potatoes. But for the most part, I would say they were very, very cordial, which is surprisingly in Idaho. When you -- when I look back... it's not an area of our country that's conducive to minorities.

AI: Right. I would think that very few people in Idaho had much experience with Japanese Americans at that time.

SO: Decidedly, not. I don't think anyone did. But they were, for the most part, they were quite warm and very cordial.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

AI: Well, now, about how long were you in Minidoka?

SO: Oh, very short time. Let's see -- 'cause we left in April of '43 for Denver.

AI: Now, how did that happen? Can you tell me a little bit about that? Because not all families were allowed to leave.

SO: As I understand it from my dad, my mother's younger brother in Los Angeles, who's a Kibei-Nisei, had chosen not to be evacuated, and went to Denver. And they had forwarded some money to him to buy property in Denver. And he bought an apartment house. And as long as he had proof of, of an immediate relative, of a place to stay, the government, for some reason, we were the first family as a family unit, allowed us to go. And that was primarily because my mother felt I was not attending school properly. I wasn't in school most of the time. And she wanted me to go to a regular school in Denver and get a proper education. She thought all that side-tracking was not good for me. My sisters were both out of high school. So this is why we went to Denver.

AI: Can you tell me a little bit about what that was like, leaving camp and taking the trip to Denver?

SO: I didn't want to go because I enjoyed camp so much and I liked my friends. And oh, yeah, I was having such a good time in camp. But yeah, we went to Denver. And the first summer I went to summer school, there was only one summer school at East High School. And that's when I met Justin Walter Brierley, who was a, a typing teacher at that time and also an attorney. And he told my parents that because of Restrictive Covenant Act in Denver, we were only allowed to live in certain areas, and that Manual was the only high school I would be able to attend. So, he took -- he became my legal guardian so that I could attend East High School, which he considered was a better school for some reason. And it probably was a better school. But it was about 3,000 student body. And I think there were three Asians my first year.

And gee, I have a mental block on the dean of women, her name. Did not find it too exciting that I had been, not adopted, but because of the guardianship -- Mr. Brierley taught at East High School as well as practiced law. And she would call me in regularly. Originally -- it started out once a month. Later it became weekly. And, and she would always say, "Frances, why, why don't you go to Manual where all your Jap friends are? Why don't you transfer to Manual?" But the, the students were pretty good. They had sororities, believe it or not, in high school. And I, I joined one called Thalia. They had a dance band. And I sang classically, but I did sing with them. Although the dean of girls did try to stop me, though. And the guys in the band said they would not appear on the program if I didn't sing with them. I remember it was Begin the Beguine.

AI: So it sounds like you had trouble from this dean.

SO: From the dean, and there was a history teacher. Olander, Mr. Olander. He was, he was pretty nasty too. But for the most part, it was pretty good.

AI: And your friends and the other students, it sounds like they stood up for you. They stood by you.

SO: Yeah. But it was not, it was not a happy environment to be going to school. I didn't like it.

AI: And could you tell me a little bit more about your family's relationship with Mr. Brierley? How did, how did he know your family?

SO: He just met me from the typing class. And then he wanted to know more about the evacuation. And he came to our house, talked to both my parents, and he started -- he was quite prominent in Denver. And so he brought a judge and a minister to prove that he was upstanding. And he went through quite a bit to, to verify his stature in the community. And then, I didn't live with him. In the summer sometimes I did, later. We became very close later.

AI: But it sounds like he convinced your parents that he really had your interest...

SO: Yes, he did.

AI: heart.

SO: He did. He decidedly did.

AI: Do you know whether he assisted any other students this way?

SO: Not students, no. But he had other wards, yes. He had -- at that time, there was another young lady who was in her twenties, that she would come and visit.

AI: It sounds like he may have made a key difference in your time there?

SO: Well, yes, he did. Because it was through him I started to study law because he was a lawyer. He did not -- he wasn't thrilled about my music. But I was attending -- at the same time I was going to music school, Lamont School of Music, under the University of Denver, two, three days a week. My sister, Michi, got me into that school. So I was going to school three evenings a week.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

AI: So you were in high school?

SO: In addition to high school.

AI: High school during the day. Three evenings a week at Lamont School of Music. Oh, my. And so what, what in your mind, what you were thinking at that time? Here you are in high school, you're studying music seriously?

SO: I was thinking, what did I do to deserve this bad luck? [Laughs] I thought I was being picked on because I thought once a week was sufficient. I've never taken lessons three times a week, just once a week.

AI: So whose decision was it to go, that you would go three --

SO: Oh, the school wouldn't allow a high school girl to -- well, in the first place, only fifty non-college students were allowed into the music school. And that was the minimum requirement because you had to study, not just voice, but you had to study what they call languages. So, you learn how to sing in very -- well, primarily Italian and German.

AI: So, it sounds like you were --

SO: And harmony.

AI: -- you were part of an exceptional group of high school students who were accepted into the school of music?

SO: More or less.

AI: And at that time, did you have any thought that you would continue, that you would actually develop a career in music?

SO: Never. My mother's always told all three of us, you never, never make a living at music. Never. She said it's an avocation. She said, "Never make a living at it."

AI: And how did you feel personally?

SO: I didn't care one way or another.

AI: So even --

SO: It's something you -- I've done most of my life. So I thought most kids took lessons.

AI: And even though your mother was insistent that it was an avocation, it was still a very serious avocation.

SO: No, because like in anything in our family, if you're going to do it, you better know what you're doing, and you better learn it. You don't get up and just do it. So it's, it was a natural process.

AI: I see.

SO: So whether you sing in church or you sing in, at a luncheon, or -- it doesn't matter. If you're going to get up and do it, we weren't allowed to do it at all if you didn't learn something basic.

AI: So that was just the way that you did things in your family?

SO: Uh-huh. Uh-huh.

AI: Can you tell me a little bit more about your high school time there in Denver? And then what happened to -- things changed, and your family decided to make a change?

SO: A change?

AI: A move?

SO: Well, no, in high school, I kept ditching. Sluggy, Hatsumi Akiyama, was living, working house girl there. So, and it was near the high school, so I used to ditch a lot and go over to see Sluggy. She's from Portland. She passed away here in Seattle. And then she and, later on he became her husband. He was living at our apartment, Manago Fujino. Pachuke, Pachuke was adopted later by our family. They decided to go to Spokane. So I decided to run away from Denver, and I ran back into camp.

AI: Oh, is that right?

SO: I think that was '44 or '45. Yeah. I'm probably the only person who ran away from home into camp.

AI: Well, tell me, tell me about what you did, where you went, and how you did it.

SO: I had a hard time at the administration getting in. And although they were very, very distant relatives, I lied, and I said they were my uncle and my cousins, the Nimis. So Kazu, Kaz Nimi and his wife, Chika, came to the administration center, and fortunately backed me up. They had no room to, for me to stay because they had two children. And then Naoko, Naoko Takagi, was telling me that there was an open unit in a barrack in her block, in 19. So I went over there and stayed. My mom finally figured out where I was, or maybe Kazu called her. Maybe Kazu Nii-san let her know. But she came to camp to get me.

AI: And, then what happened?

SO: She told me never tell anybody what I did. [Laughs]

AI: Oh, my.

SO: I know.

AI: What an adventure.

SO: It was. It was. Mr. Brierley was there waiting for me. He arranged for Mom to go back.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

AI: Well, now tell me, I, I wonder if I understood this right, that while you were in Denver, you were also recruited to perform with the USO?

SO: They -- somebody came to Lamont School of Music and singled out this young guy and myself to join the USO group. And my teacher and Miss Hurst thought it was a good idea, especially in my position, being Japanese. And I thought nothing of it until that one war bond rally, people would start to yell, "Get the Jap off the stage," or no, it was, "Get the Chink off the stage." And then the other one was, "Send the Jap back." And it happened in Wyoming too, I think. Was it Casper or Cheyenne? One of with, one of the "C" Wyomings, there was some yelling. But for the most part, the, the troupe was much older. I was the only minority, not just minority -- minor in the group.

AI: So you were the only minor and the only minority?

SO: Yeah. And the chaperones were pretty good. But yeah, there were incidences of yelling. The -- I would say the majority of the GIs were pretty good.

AI: What was it like performing with a troupe like that?

SO: Boring because you can't -- they -- being a minor, they wouldn't allow me to socialize. So you're sitting in the back by yourself, reading, and the chaperone is equally bored being with you. It was very boring. It was not exciting. It was not -- people would say, "How exciting." No. You travel by bus because there was gas rationing. And it was very, very boring. It takes time out from a weekend. It's generally weekend runs. So your weekend is shot. But like I said, it comes from that training of you, you just do what you're told.

AI: What would you typically perform at some of these USO programs?

SO: The House I Live In was really pretty popular. Some of, some of the GIs that recognized me from other USO centers would ask for that. Begin the Beguine was also popular. Say a Prayer for the Boys Over There. It Might As Well Be Spring. It was either extremely lighthearted or patriotic. One extreme to the other.

AI: And, were you backed by a band?

SO: No, a professional pianist. And then once in a while, they would have a combo. But that was for the bigger ones. It was not for the small towns. The small towns was usually piano and that's all.

AI: It sounds like going out from Denver, you traveled really widely on some of these tours.

SO: Well, it was Wyoming, throughout Colorado. And I remember Nebraska once, once only that I recall. But you have to remember that that's rural country, so they didn't have too many USOs. They were pretty well set. There weren't too many big cities.

AI: Right.

SO: So it wasn't that we traveled much. There was only so many places you could travel to that had a USO. But the war bond rallies were held like at Daniels and Fisher Department Store outside, things like that, which is now the May Company, I think.

AI: Well, during this time did -- was this also when you went out to Chicago, or did this come later?

SO: I -- my sisters were working in Chicago.

AI: They had left Denver?

SO: Uh-huh. But then, this was only to visit the -- I went later by myself. That was after we went back to -- we moved to Los Angeles because my father wanted to live where there was more sunshine.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

AI: Well, now tell me when the war ended, what happened? Were you in Denver at that time when the war ended?

SO: Uh-huh. Mr. Brierley was in charge of the Central City Opera House, which was revived after -- that was the first opera season after the war had started. So I was assisting him. And my dad and Michi -- Michi had come back from Chicago, and my sister, Kay, still lived in Chicago. So Michi and Daddy went to Seattle, came here, sold the property.

AI: The old grocery store?

SO: Uh-huh, and the apartment building. And decided to look for a place as they traveled south by train. And settled at the end of the run, which was Los Angeles. And Mom and I stayed in Denver. And then Daddy came back to get Mom, and she went. I came here to visit my girlfriend, Sluggy.

AI: In Seattle?

SO: In Seattle, uh-huh.

AI: So you had some time to visit?

SO: Uh-huh. Fool around a bit. And then went down to join them.

AI: Where in Los Angeles did your parents settle?

SO: They bought a hotel right down in downtown Los Angeles. And then they had a house, bought a house on the west side which was another story because they had just lifted restrictive covenant in that area through the efforts of black movie stars -- Rochester, Hattie McDaniels, and King Cole, Nat King Cole. They lived in that area called Sugar Hill. And the Fukutos and we were the first Japanese into Sugar Hill. So that, that was another whole ballgame. The Fukutos still live there.

AI: Will you tell me a little bit about that? It must have been in some ways isolating. You were in a completely new city, you were in a neighborhood that had just opened up to minorities?

SO: Well, I was going -- I was finishing up high school -- actually, Los Angeles has such a transportation problem, that you don't communicate with neighbors a whole lot. And, and then they sna -- snafued my records at Poly High, so I wound up cross-town at Belmont High School anyway. And no, you don't have time to make friends. But what I discovered was the JACL office, Sam Ishikawa was -- no, no. Tats Kushida. Who was there? We decided, whoever was there, that somebody had to take care of the social aspect of the returning Niseis. And Los Angeles was known for clubs. They had clubs of ten girls or twelve girls in the here and eight here. They had so many clubs. So we started a club service bureau, Mary Ishikawa and Teri Kuwata and I. And it became an information bureau. Where can you hold dances? Which halls will allow you? Some places won't take Japanese. How much does it cost? What activities are going on, and at what church? We just ran the Club Service Bureau for about three, four years, and also Christmas Cheer we started, to help the people who were seeking public assistance at the LA County Bureau of Public Assistance. And they were all Japanese families at that time.

AI: What was the atmosphere for Japanese families coming in? This was still right after the war wasn't it?

SO: Immediately after? It was very, very difficult to get jobs because a lot of places would not hire the Japanese, like the, I shouldn't say this, but Triple-A didn't. Many places didn't. But the gas company started, and the government, of course, the civil service. Yeah, it was pretty tough.

AI: So the club service bureau that, that you started up was really important because there were so many places that might not accept --

SO: Uh-huh. And then it was just more or less to keep some kind of communication going.

AI: Since the Japanese people were so spread out?

SO: They were scattered -- well, it's not that they were spread out in those days as much as Los Angeles is so vast. So if you say Seinan, that's west side. Now there's West Los Angeles on top of west side. It's only west side in one area. East side could include Boyle Heights and Monterey Park. But it's, it's so -- the mileage. It's so far apart. And as I say, the public transportation, which was better in those days than it is today, was sorely lacking. But we did have street cars. We did have buses then back in the '40s.

AI: And could you tell me, how did your parents make this adjustment to Los Angeles? It sounds like your father jumped right into business once again?

SO: Yeah. Well, he, he didn't run the hotel. He went to work as a dishwasher, was it? No, salad man at Lowry's, at a fashionable La Brea restaurant because he was pretty old by then. Mom never worked. So no, they had no trouble adjusting, I would say. He, he joined the Utaikai, but they didn't go to church, so and then from being a Buddhist, during Denver, I had been attending a Protestant church, and I became an Episcopalian. So I started going to Saint Mary's, but I still helped the Buddhist church with the choir in Los Angeles, too.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

AI: Let's see, when we left off, you were telling a little bit about Los Angeles right after the war and about your parents. And I wanted to ask, your parents being from the Hiroshima area, was that a, difficult for them, that, the bombing of, of Hiroshima?

SO: Not really. It didn't affect them insofar as the victims went, except for my mom's best friend who lives here in Seattle, Mrs. Fuji. One of her sons was a victim of the bomb. And the other one, I think his name is Min, Minoru san, I think he's back here. But they were, I think they were classmates at the jogakkou. I'm sure. She was ikebana -- she's an ikebana teacher, or used to be.

AI: Did your father say anything about -- did he have any comment about the ending of the war or the bombs, that you recall?

SO: No. He was resigned to the fact that Japan was going to lose a long time before the end. And for a while he would say, "They're not going to give up. They're not going to give up." And then he made some flip comment like, "It's about time."

AI: Well, it was finally over.

SO: Uh-huh.

SO: But no, they had no problems.

AI: Well, now, this was in 1945, and you were still finishing high school. Is that right?

SO: Uh-huh. Belmont.

AI: And so tell me about the, the getting back into high school?

SO: Oh, it was great. It was mostly all Chinese -- not all. A lot of Chinese there. Had a great time. And there were -- Yuki Sato was at that school. There were other Japanese in that area. Belmont was more toward the downtown, I guess north downtown of Los Angeles. And as I said, they jammed up my credits, so -- my record -- so I had to go across town. But I had a good time there. I only went there one semester, and I finished.

AI: And at this time, did you also continue your music studies?

SO: Uh-huh. I went to the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music. That was a Saturday, Sunday thing. I went on weekends.

AI: And then tell me what happened next. You went on to college?

SO: I started UCLA. And then, with the understanding that I would transfer to SC 'cause UCLA, to me, was more attractive because it was so huge. And SC was close by, but it was very small. But I had told my mom that I would transfer, which I did.

AI: Your mother wanted you to go to, to SC?

SO: Well, yeah because it's close. Uh-huh. It was right close to our home.

AI: And so did you stay at home...

SO: Oh, yes.

AI: ...and commute to college?

SO: It's very close. It was only about a mile away from where we lived.

AI: Oh, yes. Well, tell me what, what was that like, entering college?

SO: Oh, it was a blast. It was a lot of fun. It's -- there weren't that many Japanese, but there were, there were enough. And I had a friend, Grace Wada, who had also studied voice at Lamont. And she had also attended LA Conservatory while she was attending another high school. And we both wound up at SC under the same teacher. So we studied voice, gee, she started Lamont in '44, so from 1944, we studied pretty much under the same teachers.

AI: How interesting. So you really had kind of a, a friend, a colleague through those years.

SO: Yes, and her older sister was a pianist, as mine was.

AI: Now, what were your two older sisters doing at this time?

SO: They were in Chicago.

AI: They were still in Chicago. And did they stay there?

SO: No. Michi came back. I take that back. Michi was here. Kay stayed there until, when did she come back? In the '50s. '50, I think she came back around '52. Yeah. Around the time I got married. Michi got married here, I mean in Los Angeles, I'm sorry.

AI: Well, now, as you were going to college, did you have anything in mind as far as what you wanted to do, what you wanted to be after graduation?

SO: Not at all. But I studied pre-law. I took a lot of courses for pre-law.

AI: So that influence of Mr. Brierley's --

SO: Mr. Brierley's. Yeah, it was just automatic when you sign up for classes.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

AI: And at this time, you were still treating music as your avocation?

SO: Yes 'cause they -- if you're not a music major at SC, they allow you to take certain things if you qualify. You have to audition. You have to go through a panel of teachers or professors. And I did. And I qualified, so they allowed me to study with Mrs. Wil -- Lillian Wilson, who was a private teacher, too. And they allowed me to take courses in teaching voice.

AI: Were, did you have any thought that you might teach music at some point?

SO: Not then. Not then.

AI: And were you performing at this time while you were in college?

SO: Oh, yes. When the Nisei Veterans Association had approached me, and a lot of the GIs who had died were returning. And I did all the funeral services, the memorial services pretty much.

AI: So that was --

SO: Constantly. So I was, I was performing a lot in the Japanese community too.

AI: So you must have been quite visible at that time. There, there must have been so many services.

SO: Oh, we used to have sometimes three a day, yeah. Yes, 'cause that would, they would take place in the Japanese town because there was the Union church and the Buddhist church, and they had Koyasan Temple and the Nishi. And so yeah, it was, it was quite, it was quite a time then. And the NVA was the only organization at that time. Later they had a lot more.

AI: Well, now, as you were continuing on in college, were you dating at that time, had a social life? What was --

SO: Oh, yeah.

AI: You had mentioned that there were quite a few social activities and dances. And can you tell a little bit about what social life was like in the community?

SO: It was pretty, pretty fun that they had dances almost weekly. And I used to date Tets Besho, who just passed away this summer. Now, he and I met when I was recording Japanese songs -- this is immediately after the war, and he had a dance band. And some of his friends, like Bruce Kaji, who started the museum, he was a trumpeter. He was in there. And it was the Kokusai Recording Company. And we recorded Japanese tunes because we couldn't get the records from Japan. It was short-lived. And we met and I used to date him. We wound up fifty-something years later still very, very good, very dear friends. We worked together at Chinatown as recently as, just before he became ill. The social life was great after World War II in Los Angeles.

AI: Sounds very lively.

SO: Very much so. And then people had to start buying cars so you can get around. And they had the church affairs, the beach parties. It was a lot of fun.

AI: Well now tell me then, when did you graduate, and then you, did you get married soon after that or --

SO: Technically, I never checked into graduation until many, many years later. I had found out that I had, I had a degree in English, and I could have had couple of others if I -- I just kept going. I just kept going, even after I got married, I kept going to college, to SC. I didn't stop until, I think, my daughter was born.

AI: So you, you really continued your --

SO: I enjoyed school.

AI: -- your education.

SO: Whatever interested me, I studied. And I had a good time. I liked school.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

AI: And when did you get married?

SO: In '52.

AI: And can you tell me about your kids, children?

SO: Yeah. I have a son, Randy, he was born in '54 and, on Christmas Day. And he's a businessman now. He's vice president of Toy Biz. And he's in charge of manufacturing, designing, distributing kites: stunt kites, regular kites, all kinds of kites. He comes to Seattle or this area, I think he deals with Costco. He travels quite a bit. The company is based in New York, and he works out of Santa Monica. And my daughter was born two years later. Lisa is a professional musician. And I'm here because she's the music director of a Jive Bomber's Christmas.

AI: That's right. Tell me a little bit about -- did you encourage both your kids to go into music or to, just to enjoy music as they were growing up?

SO: No. I taught them piano, both of them. And Lisa was more of a natural musician, so to speak, although she was slower getting started. Randy started early, but typically a boy, he didn't want to continue. So it's up to him, if he didn't want to continue. I didn't push in his instance. Now Lisa didn't start 'till she was nine. But she was very adept. You could tell. She got so good that I had her study with other teachers. But she's primarily a flautist. That's her major, and that's her strength. And she went to the USC Preparatory School of Music throughout her childhood. And then she went to Domingues Hills, Cal State because her teacher from, the professor of flute from SC, transferred to Domingues. But she's, she makes her living as a accompanist, music director, chorale conductor. She does some composing, arranging.

AI: Well, now tell me --

SO: Whatever.

AI: When, when the kids were very small, where were you living at that time?

SO: Long Beach.

AI: Long Beach?

SO: Uh-huh. And until, yeah. Until a couple years after I was divorced, we lived in Long Beach.

AI: Now, when did the divorce happen?

SO: '58.

AI: And at that time, it still was not that common.

SO: No, it was not at all.

AI: What did you have -- what were you going through at that time?

SO: Oh, well, Long Beach is a very small community. And I was teaching school and teaching piano. And I lost quite a few Japanese piano students when I got divorced. I guess they felt I was not going to be a good influence. And then I had no -- I was receiving no child support. So one day, gee, this was Mary, she's from Seattle. Mary Minado, Mary Amano, formerly, a pianist, took me to a nightclub. And we were fooling around, and I started singing. And the guy asked if I wanted to work. So that was in the back of my head.

And later Tets Besho, my old boyfriend who was still single, came around with his musician friends, one of them just recently passed away in Oregon. Later -- in those days, they were making a living, but they were not famous. Later on Leroy Vinegar became extremely famous as a bass, jazz bass man. He's the one that told me to sing in the speaking voice that I use. I have a low voice. I'm a high soprano, trained. And he's the one that said, "Sing the way you talk, and I'll get you some gigs." And the few times that he came over we would mess around, and true to his word, he got me some gigs.

And the gentleman that Mary introduced me to who owned the Chinese restaurant called and wanted to -- he asked again if I wanted to work. And I thought, okay. Summertime, teachers don't -- it was not year-round. I would take the job. Somebody saw me, reported me to the Long Beach Board. And believe it or not, they didn't have unions. I got fired. So that's when I decided I needed to make a living that doesn't take me away from my children. So I went into nightclub, as long as I didn't have to go on until 9:30. And the Los Angeles laws are 'til 2:00 a.m., so I could put them to sleep and go to work, and come back and they don't know I'm gone.

AI: Wow. What a routine. That sounds like a really, quite a routine that you had there.

SO: Kept it up for ten years.

AI: Yeah. And also, such a big departure from your, your training and your classical repertoire.

SO: You pretty much do anything if you have a couple of kids to, to raise. And it's either that or go home. And my dad advised me not to come home. He said, "You're welcome, but stick it out," which I did.

AI: So he really encouraged you to --

SO: So I was able to raise my kids, buy a house, and somehow make it, with, with the performing.

AI: That must have taken a lot of energy. And what --

SO: Yes, it did.

AI: How, how difficult was it at that time? Again --

SO: It was very difficult because I'm learning songs that I never sang and learning a style I never did. So it pretty much filled my days of, of researching, studying, buying fake-books, learning things. And the other warning another great musician told me was that never imitate. He said, "Never copycat. So don't listen to tapes. Don't listen to records. Do it on your own." He says, "You have enough knowledge to set your own tempos and your own changes, chord changes." So I never listened to tapes or recordings or anything. I learned mostly on my own. But it, it does take discipline. You have to allot X-numbers of minutes per day away from the kids to do whatever you got to do. You got two kids to raise, I'll guarantee you, you can do it.

AI: What were some of the main challenges as you were going through these years of working and raising your kids and doing what you needed to do?

SO: Oh, there was some -- when I first moved to Gardena, and even Long Beach I guess, there's some prejudice, would you say, or how the community looks upon you. You're not quite as wholesome, would you say, suddenly, if you are divorced. You become less so, if you start working in nightclubs or lounges. It was, it was felt. It was rumored. You learn to ignore it. You learn to let it be. And there's no -- you can't explain it. And I felt I owed no explanation to anyone to justify where I was in life. It's my choice. It was my decision, and it was my problem. So there were, there was some sensing out there of disapproval.

AI: Well, community attitudes at those times were quite different than they are now, in some ways.

SO: In some ways. I don't think you're going to get a whole lot of approval today either, depending on how big you make it. But for the everyday musician, it's the year-round jobs that you go for, the stability. It's less glamorous, but it's the continuity of holding a job. Like I had one for five years, same place, same house, six years, I guess. Sometimes you leave it for a better offer, but you come back. You leave with the understanding that you can come back. But it's, it's bread-and-butter work. And it's not glamorous. It's hard work.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

AI: Tell me, did you, did you ever have any jobs that you, that were more of the glamorous type?

SO: Yeah. The Flower Drum one. The show I did for Long Beach Civic Light Opera, which is a large organization. It's a professional organization. And a full orchestra. And thirty-five, I think they used about thirty-five pieces of the Long Beach Symphony guys. And that was, that was because I was filling in for somebody that they released.

AI: For which role?

SO: I starred in it, Linda Low. But I didn't audition. They came to where I was working, the director, the music director, the director, the choreographer. They all came. I had no idea that's what they were doing. But the pay was good, and the experience was wonderful. And the place I was working released me for that time. And that's when I went to Chicago too. From that show, Mona Matoba at Nakanoya offered me a pretty good deal over in Chicago.

AI: So --

SO: That was the second time I went.

AI: What, what did you do when you were in Chicago that time?

SO: Supper club. And then they have later hour license, like 4 o'clock. So after the supper club, which was 12:30, I connected 1:00 to 4:00 with another jazz club.

AI: Oh, my.

SO: So it became a lucrative stay for the summer.

AI: Then you returned back home?

SO: Uh-huh, to Long Beach.

AI: Oh, my. Well, any other highlights or things that stand out in your mind about that period of your life as you were working and singing, performing?

SO: Not really, 'cause...

AI: Raising your kids?

SO: It's just a job. And then the kids' activities increase. And I was very fortunate to be able to remarry.

AI: And when did that happen?

SO: Gee, thirty-one years ago. Or is it thirty-two? Thirty-one, something like that. But he, he just said, "One job." He didn't care which one, but one job, either teach school, teach music privately, or work in clubs. I chose to teach privately, because I was doing all three.

AI: And did you stay in Gardena after remarrying?

SO: Uh-huh, we're still there.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

AI: You know, I'd like to ask a little bit more about, as you were raising your kids. Did you tell them much about the war years or the camp experience?

SO: Constantly. All the time.

AI: From a young age?

SO: Oh, yes. Not too young because they wouldn't understand. But certainly when they were school age. Oh, yes.

AI: What kinds of things did you tell them?

SO: How much fun I had. Also the, the fact that being a citizen was not always a hundred percent fool-proof protection from the government. Like the Korean War, I think that's when we, we started seriously discussing with my son -- when my son went to Long Beach State, he took an Asian Studies class. And he did tell me he was the only one who raised his hand when they asked, "How many of you know about evacuation in the camps?"

AI: Is that right?

SO: Uh-huh.

AI: The only one.

SO: But he was, he was pretty knowledgeable because he knew most of the camps, where they were located. Yes. Decidedly so. I think my sisters, too.

AI: And then -- what now, Lisa also, it sounds like she took in quite a bit of the information.

SO: She's very interested in anything to do with family history. So she's constantly asking things. And she tries to sort out chronologically the happenings in the family. She used to talk to my dad a lot, and my mom.

AI: Now, let's see, I think you've mentioned in an earlier conversation about your dad, that when the redress activities were starting up, he had an interest in that?

SO: He just told me, I didn't know it, but he said there were four gentlemen in the Seattle area who were starting it. And that he says, any amount of money should go to them to get it going. And it doesn't matter when or how much, but he said, "We've got something coming." He didn't mention the apology so much, as he just went, "How much?" And he did contribute way back. But he didn't live to get the redress.

AI: That's sad. But it sounds like he was a very firm believer about this.

SO: Oh, he was very much for it. Very much. My dad was also a very loving, affectionate, fun man.

AI: How about yourself, when you finally received your apology and your redress? How, what was your reaction?

SO: Actually, not a whole lot, except $20,000 never hurt, is how I felt. To be really honest, no. 'Cause apologies don't really have that kind of meaning that many years later. Granted, it's overdue. Highly overdue. And the amount is tremendous, when you figure out everybody that was receiving it. But when you think about the losses of the Isseis, it's minuscule. But I'll take it anytime.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

AI: Now, I think you had mentioned that also in our earlier conversation that you got involved in some civic work. Will you tell me a little bit about that?

SO: Oh, yeah, back in -- I started in '74, I think, Mas Fukai, who was a Nisei Gardenan, decided to run for city council. And I had had a little smattering of experience in Long Beach with the Republican Women's... and we shirt-tailed it. He was the first councilman to win an election without the card club support. And he also worked for Supervisor Kenny Hahn as a field deputy, the Asian drug program. And then later he rose to become chief deputy to Kenny Hahn. And he remained the city councilman until last year, when he retired because he had a stroke four years ago.

But through him, I learned how to organize campaigns, fundraisings, and follow through mostly on consti -- constituents' requests and needs. So, and that's all voluntary. He used to fire me constantly, but I used to tell him he's got to pay me first. But he was quite a guy. He is quite a guy. He's probably known as almost a non-politician kind of a political leader. He's a doer. He doesn't talk. He, he gets things done. He's a diamond in the rough. And through him and my other personal friends from immediately after the war -- I mentioned Helen Kawagoe. I met her at Nishi Honganji, when we were both teenagers. I was going to Belmont. She was going to Pasadena High. And she is now city clerk of Carson, and she's also the National JACL President. But we grew up together. I met Paul Bannai when I was about eighteen. And it just so happened my personal friends who needed help, I helped. I am not politically active in, as in politics, per se. It's just, I help my friends.

AI: So it's the personal relationships that drew you in?

SO: Totally.

AI: You know I -- it sounds like you've remained very active, not only in the civic arena, but also with music, that you've continued your teaching.

SO: I'm still teaching, twenty hours.

AI: Then now, can you tell me a little bit more about how your daughter got involved with the Jive Bomber's Christmas? How that production --

SO: Well, that was just another show at the time she accepted it. She has worked with the East-West Theater for, oh, my goodness, fifteen years, maybe, with Scott Nagatani. She was partners with Scott. Scott is the musical director of East-West, and Lisa has done musical directing for East-West as well. And she does other musical directing or accompanying. So this was just another job. And somehow, the cast and the crew just gelled beautifully together, and they really, sincerely believe in the show. They really feel they're relating a semi-historical story --

AI: Could you say a little bit about the story and why you think --

SO: Well, the premise is that it's in some unknown camp, and the, the girl's brother goes off to war. And he's this, kind of the camp leader or gets things going or starts things rolling. And she promises the brother that she'll carry on or whatever. And it's purely fiction, but it's like a talent show/dance in camp that's assembled together. But it's, it's a marvelous cast. And they, as I said, believe in what they're doing. And it's been highly successful throughout California. We just had a day to raise money to come here, kind of last minute, they threw together a show at the community center in Gardena last Sunday. And in two weeks' time, it was sell-out again. And the year before it was sell-out. Almost everywhere they've gone it's been sold out.

AI: Well -- and now was it through Lisa that you got involved in joining in --

SO: No, it was Mike.

AI: Can you tell me a little bit about what Mike did and how he recruited you --

SO: Mike Hagiwara's father is Mike Senior. His uncle is Abe Hagiwara. He has an another uncle, Pat, who lives here in Seattle. They're formerly from Alaska via Seattle. And I sang at his Uncle Abe and Esther's wedding when I was a youngster. And I also helped him in Chicago at the Chicago Resettlers. And I have the greatest admiration and respect for the Hagiwara's. Mike looks just like his dad. But Mike wanted to come here so badly. And he rather procrastinated to the last minute. So I jumped in to help him. And then as kind of an afterthought, I offered to come up with them to open the show. So it just kind of happened. [Laughs]

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

AI: Well, now, this isn't the only community performing that you've been doing during the last decade or so. You were also involved with, I think, the Larry Honda Quartet concerts?

SO: Okay. Yeah. Larry accompanies me. What happened was the Japan -- JACCC, the Japanese American cultural center down there, I arranged for a program for Day of Remembrance. And one of the singers failed at the last minute. So Meg Imamoto, who's a, a dear friend, young lady, was kind of stuck, and I, I filled in. And that started it. Then Joyce Nako, who's quite a writer, wonderful writer, wrote a piece called "Manzanar Canteen." And so I helped on that one with Tets Besho. Tets played with both of them. Then Glen Horiuchi was on that program, and he asked if I'd work with him. I didn't work with Glen, but what wound up was Glen recommended me to Larry Honda's group. And Larry Honda's bass player is, was one of our teachers when I ran a music store, my daughter and I. So through Jeff Takiguchi, I started working -- I liked the Honda Trio, what they were doing. And I started working with them at San Fernando Valley Concert Series for three years, and then also in Fresno for three years. So I came back out of retirement, so to speak, in '91, I think. And I think Seattle's going to end it. I'm pretty sure. It's getting harder as you get older.

AI: Well, now, you also have -- even if you do, are slowing down with your live performances, you also have a production that you're involved with, the Music to Remember? Can you tell me about that?

SO: Oh, Jeff and, Jeff is the motivator behind it. Jeff Takiguchi is a University of Hawaii music graduate, a bass player. He actually majored in voice. And he was the music director for music -- the initial Music to Remember, the first one. And he and Lisa decided to produce a CD. And the soloists are old-time Niseis, Tets Besho from Heart Mountain, Mary Nomura, who was known as the "Songbird of Manzanar." Now, we didn't -- we used Mas Hamasu, who is a Hawaiian, but we did not use him on the CD. Chickie Ishihara-White, who was from, I think, Enumclaw, Eatonville? She came -- she didn't come down. Jeff came up to Portland, and she met them there to record. Then he got a 22-piece professional orchestra to back us, so we don't sound so bad. And we brought the CDs to sell. But we started to sell them at the second Music to Remember at the Normandy Club in Gardena. We had a two-day show. The VFW, the Gardena Nisei VFW Post in -- star -- helped us with the CD and that particular concert. And Frank Kawana and the Yamasa Company helped us tremendously with that.

AI: Sounds like it was quite an effort.

SO: Yeah. We're close to breaking even. We're not quite there, but we're close.

AI: Congratulations.

SO: Oh, thank you. 'Cause none of us got paid. [Laughs] The musicians did, and the recording company and the engineers, but the kids haven't. And the soloists haven't. But we will get there, I hope.

AI: Well, gosh, is there anything that we've left out, anything else that you'd like to mention?

SO: No, but it's good to be back in Seattle, rain and all.

AI: Well, thank you very much for spending this time.

SO: I thank you for your interest.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.