Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Kunio Otani Interview
Narrator: Kunio Otani
Interviewers: Alice Ito (primary), Rebecca Walls (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: May 31, 1998
Densho ID: denshovh-okunio-01

<Begin Segment 1>

AI: Well, I guess we'll start out way from the beginning and ask you some questions about your folks. And could you just tell us your parents' names and where they came from in Japan?

KO: Well my father's name was Kunito Otani. And my name is Kunio, so I guess maybe they got my name from his, I don't know. My mother's name was Rise Sone. And they were both from Hiroshima, I'm sure. I don't know too much about what they were doing back in Japan. And in fact I don't remember too much about what they went through in their early years here, because I never paid that much attention to what was going on. 'Course, I was pretty young then too, when we were growing up. That's kind of hazy. Except that I do know that my mother came over here in 1920, and I assume she was a picture bride, 'cause I haven't heard differently. But, my father had been here several years earlier. And how much earlier, I don't know. He actually had a life before he married my mother. From this early experience that he had in this country, he somehow became involved with a Caucasian lady, which is something we don't talk about very much. But -- whether they were married or not, I don't know, but from that relationship, there were a couple of kids. And we've looked for them, trying to get together with them, but we've never been successful in doing that.

AI: No luck?

KO: No luck.

AI: So was your father quite a bit older than your mother?

KO: Definitely. Yeah, quite a bit. See, he died in '63 and he was about sixty-three years old then. And my mother... well, let's see, it was '63, yeah. He died in '63 and he was about sixty-three years old.

AI: And then, when were you born?

KO: In 1921, July 31st. And I was born in the city of Seattle. And I was, according to my mother, I was born at some lady's home. She was a midwife, as many, many children were brought into the world by midwives back in those days.

AI: So do you know if your folks were living in Seattle at that time? Or have any idea what they were doing?

KO: I have no idea. Now, he may have, we may have been living elsewhere, and just happened to come into Seattle before the birth. So, I really, I can't tell you too much about that.

AI: And then, what about your other brothers and your sister? When -- who are they and when were they born?

KO: Well, I have my brother Shig, he was born in Chehalis, and my brother Hod, who was also born in Chehalis. Left out my sister, she's gonna' kill me for that, but she was born in Chehalis also, and she's next to me. And my brother Ray was born in Raymond, Washington. And he was named after the city.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

AI: Well, what are some of the first memories that you have of growing up? What home do you remember first?

KO: Well, I remember that my dad worked in the lumber camp, where a group of Japanese were hired to work in the sawmill. This was down near Chehalis in a town called Gurrier, Washington. I looked for it on the map the other day, and it's, I never, I couldn't find it. But, it's close to Onalaska, Washington, which was in the news recently because they had a little problem with a shooting there among the kids.

AI: I guess there are a lot of those old sawmill towns that don't really exist anymore.

KO: That's correct. And I don't know how they were hired, or whether they were under contract, or whether they ran the mill until the lumber ran out. But, eventually people moved on from there.

AI: So, do you recall anything about what life was like there? Or just some vague memories?

KO: I have some vague memories about living in a house that was, I think there were several families living practically side by side. And I remember some incidents from way back. I can remember in the wintertime the snows were... quite thick. Or heavy, heavy snow, and we used to catch birds by setting up a box, and putting food under the box, and then having a stick with string on it. I remember that, and I don't know why I remember that. And then I can also remember another time where kite flying was a big thing. And gosh, I, at one time I think we must have had miles of string out. And that's one of my memories of my early childhood, in Gurrier particularly. And of course, while we were there, I started school. And it was a one-room school with very few students. And I can remember that it was quite overwhelming to get into a situation where we were away from the Japanese... home life. Community, I guess you would say.

AI: Were there a couple of you? Several of you, Japanese kids along with the...

KO: Right, we did -- there were several.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

AI: And, do you remember, when you started school, did you understand English?

KO: Well that was the thing that amazes me even today when I think about it. How did we... how were we able to get along when actually, we'd been around Japanese people for all the years that we were growing up, to the point where we could go to school. And I don't ever remember having a difficulty getting along in school. It amazes me that, that we learned English to the extent that it wasn't a problem.

AI: Well, especially because you were the oldest child, and I would imagine that being the first child, your parents probably spoke a lot of Japanese to you.

KO: That's right. But my father knew quite a bit of English. And it could be that I picked up enough English from him that we were able to get by. But, but...

AI: But was Japanese your main language at home?

KO: I think it was. It must have been. Because my mother didn't know very much English at that time, because she just had come, just come over from Japan. But it is, it just, it is one of the things that amazes me. And I hear talk these days that they want to make English the language of the United States, feeling that the immigrants would, are having difficulty, or would have difficulty learning English. But my feeling is that if we could learn English, anybody could learn English if they put their mind to it.

AI: Well, now then, as you were growing up in Gurrier -- and it sounds like you were part of this, kind of a Japanese camp, that was part of a larger sawmill community -- did you know at that time that, realize the difference between you as a Japanese family, and the Caucasian families?

KO: Well, I'm sure we did, although I don't know when we became aware of it or how it was approached. But we just took it as, that's the way it was, and never thought too much about it.

AI: Right, 'cause as you say, you were, pretty much had a separate life until you had to start school, and then you were face to face with this other group.

KO: That's right.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

KO: Then my dad, he took us through many cities in Southwest Washington, trying to find his pot of gold or whatever he was looking for. But he was a renegade, and he had his own ideas, and thoughts, and hopes, I think; and a lot of times I felt that he didn't consider the family too much.

AI: So as he was searching around for something that would work for him, or trying to follow his dream, you were all carted along with him.

KO: That's right. I think we were just, I don't know that he really thought about what he was doing to the family life. But, he was probably trying to find a life that he could take care of us the best he could, and that's the way it worked.

AI: Well, what was the next home that you really remember?

KO: Well, I think... I can remember vaguely living in Hoquiam, Washington, and going to school there. And then we ended up at Copalis Crossing near Copalis Beach, and going to school there. But in each of those places I can remember always making friends, and getting along with Caucasian friends. 'Course there were other Japanese there too, but in Hoquiam we were alone there. We were living among Caucasian families. I can't remember where we ever had a problem of any kind. Then we finally ended up in Raymond, Washington, where I went to school, and spent the longest period there of my youth.

AI: And what took your family to Raymond? And what did your dad end up doing there?

KO: Well, Raymond was a lumbering town, as well as fishing and oysters, and things like that. But my dad, I think it was always his dream of becoming a exporter of lumber to Japan. So he was going, starting a business. And I'm sure some of 'em collapsed, so he'd go work for a sawmill for awhile, and then he'd come back and try it again, and then he'd end up working somewhere out in the woods, cutting down logs and things like that. And then he'd start another business, and then he'd be back to working in the lumber mill again. And that's where he was, what he was doing when we were evacuated.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

AI: Well, could you say a little about what your home and the town looked like, of Raymond? About what years were those that you were living in Raymond? Were you in high school at that point, or before high school?

KO: Well, it was the, I went through part of grade school, and junior high and high school there.

AI: What did the town look like at that time?

KO: Well, it doesn't look much different today. It's just a small town, and -- lumbering town -- and...

AI: Any major landmarks?

KO: Well, I'm sure there must have been, but to me, it was just another small seaport town. And, had a, I think Raymond itself has a very interesting history as far as lumbering and fishing goes. In fact, there's a Pacific County Historical Society which is trying to keep some of these things alive, and collecting all the different stories from different people to keep the history of the, that area alive for... history, I guess.

AI: Right. Well, and then, let's see, you were saying that in some of these places, you were the only Japanese family around. Then, that was the case in Raymond, too?

KO: That's correct. Although there were a few people, Japanese people, living in these outlying cities, we were the only one in Raymond itself. And I think, now that I look back at it I guess, being the fact that we were the only ones, it's kind of amazing that we got along as well as we did. And I have only pleasant memories of Raymond, and how nice the people were. And I've got to say that everywhere we went, the teachers were always kind.

AI: So, you never had any problems with being singled out, or experiencing prejudice like some people did?

KO: No, I'm sure... well, it could be that since we were aware of the differences that we tried to stay out of the situations that might create a problem. Now, I don't know if that's the fact or not, but there's probably some truth in that. But on the whole, I can't feel that we ran into any bad situations.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

AI: Well, now, being that you were kind of isolated there, and it would take a special trip to get together with any of the other Japanese families, was there anything that your mom or dad did to try and kind of encourage you to stay Japanese in some way? To -- did they emphasize any kind of values or customs, or talk to you at all about being Nihonjin, or what that meant?

KO: Well, yes, I'm sure that they tried to instill in us some... things about the Japanese culture. And, I don't know whether we were very good students about that or not. I think it was difficult for them too, because my dad, he was working all the time, and my mother was trying to keep the household together. And I think she went through a lot during those years, knowing what the situation was that we went through. So, I...

AI: Any kind of lessons stand out in your mind? Like, I know some people received lectures, something like, "Well, because you're Nihonjin you should do this, or you shouldn't do that." Or, "You've got to remember this or that."

KO: Well I'm, I'm sure there was a lot, some of that. 'Course, I think whether it was what they said or not we all tried hard to be good students. And we were successful sometimes. [Laughs]

AI: Did they emphasize any particular kind of religious upbringing, or religious values or practice?

KO: No, not really. My mother was a Buddhist -- in fact part of her family became Buddhist ministers in Japan. But my dad, I don't know what his religion might have been. As I said, he was a renegade with his own ideas. But one of the things that happened, was that some of my friends were Presbyterian, and they brought me into their church. And so I remain a Presbyterian today.

AI: So at an early age, you kind of joined up with some friends, and got familiar with their church.

KO: That's right.

AI: Do you think there was anything that stuck with you from your mother's Buddhism? Or is that something that is pretty distant for you?

KO: No, I can't say particularly that there was anything that sticks out in my mind. But, having nowhere to go to go to services or anything like that, I'm sure that whatever religious feelings she felt or observed, she did it on her own.

AI: Mhmm. Well, what about other kinds of Japanese holidays or celebrations? Did you do anything either with your own family, or with the other families around? Say, New Year's, or Boy's Day?

KO: Well, I think the biggest holiday that I can remember, that we observed with other people, was the Fourth of July. And back in those days, you didn't have the restrictions on the fireworks. This family in Aberdeen would always bring fireworks of all kinds over. And it's a wonder we didn't burn the town down, because we were shooting those roman candles off all over the place. But yeah, that's one of the things I remember. And then I'm sure that we would get together with some of the other families during some of the other holidays. You know, back in those days, life was pretty simple, so if you got together for a dinner or a luncheon, that was a big deal.

AI: Right. Well, now Fourth of July, that's pretty much a -- that's your red, white and blue American holiday. Did you ever feel, I mean, did you always feel totally American, or did you kind of feel like sometimes, "Yeah, I'm American, and well, I'm Japanese, and well..."

KO: Well, I don't think I ever felt that I was a Japanese to the extent that I had any loyalty to Japan. Naturally when you're in school and they're teaching you things about America, and how... the history of America and things like that, I think it would only be natural to grow up as Americans. Although, some people might find that a little difficult. But I... being alone in that community, I think it made a lot of difference in the way we thought over other Japanese.

AI: Right.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

AI: Well, I wanted to ask you a little bit about what life was like for you when you were in your high school years. And if you could just describe what a typical day might be like -- like when you first got up in the morning, what was your routine? And a little bit about what your high school was like, and some of your activities.

KO: Well, I think -- it's hard to remember back that long, but I was always involved in, with the newspapers and sports. 'Course I was too small to play any sports with the big boys, but there were teams that we formed among ourselves. I think our school day was probably just typical. 'Course we got involved in politics a little bit. I think I remember ending up as student body president, which was... [Laughs] I don't know how that happened, either. But, yeah, there was... I think it's just a typical American high school situation.

AI: So you were in student body politics a little bit, you were working on the school newspaper.

KO: That's correct.

AI: And what were some of your favorite sports? What were you most active in?

KO: I liked tennis. 'Course back in those days, unlike now, you had to create your own entertainment. So, we would form teams and (compete) with different parts of the city. Kept ourselves pretty well occupied, and I can't remember too often being bored with life back in those days, like I hear kids say nowadays, "Gee, I'm bored. I don't have anything to do." And it just amazes me that people can't find things to keep themselves busy.

AI: Because you always had plenty to do.

KO: That's right. I had always had things to do with friends. I guess I was lucky that I had good friends. And they would, we would always do things together, and if they happened to go on a picnic, they would take me along, and my brothers, my sister. Things were, I think for those days, it was a good school life for me.

AI: Pretty happy it sounds like, and not really, sounds like not too many worries?

KO: Well, I think the main worry was wondering what my dad was doin'. [Laughs] Yeah, because he was one of these people who, if he had any money in his pocket, he had to do something with it. [Laughs]

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

AI: Well, can you tell me a little bit about his successful times in business? What he was doing at that time when you were in high school?

KO: Well, I think what success he had was that he was able to run a business for awhile. But, like a lot of people without real formal education of any kind -- he must have come over here when he was a young kid -- he just could not hack running a business. So, I don't think you could say that what he did was successful in any way. We're just thankful that he was able to take care of us during those years. That's --

AI: He made a living.

KO: That's right.

AI: And did he continue mainly doing export business, during the time you were in high school? Was that...

KO: Well that was part of it. But as I said, he would have things going for awhile, and then he'd -- he could always find a job, because he was so... knew a lot about the lumbering business. And so, he was never out of work, but...

AI: Sometimes he had to piece things together.

KO: That's right. There was some lean times, too. As there were for many people back in those days.

AI: So when he did do his exporting business, was that connected to the lumber business also? Was he exporting lumber, or trees or...?

KO: Yeah, just lumber. Yeah, just logs.

AI: Logs?

KO: Yes. Yeah, he'd go out and buy logs, and then bring 'em in and load 'em onto the ships that would come into Raymond.

AI: And was that mostly exporting to Japan? Or other countries as well?

KO: That's right, exporting to Japan. 'Course, what happened was that just in that period before the war, things got pretty sticky. So, he just couldn't stay in that business. And so he was, as I said, he was ended up working in a lumberyard. I mean, in a sawmill.

AI: Right, because apparently there were quite a few restrictions being put on business with Japan.

KO: That's right.

AI: Even in the time before the war really started.

KO: That's correct. Yeah. There were things going on, and we as youngsters probably weren't aware of it; but it did affect the trade.

AI: So he didn't really talk to you about the business, or bring you into that.

KO: Not really. He's another fellow who, like many of us, keep things to themselves, and did not open up to the family. I kind of wish he had've, and maybe I could have helped him some, but...

AI: But at the time, you really weren't involved in the business with him.

KO: Definitely not.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

AI: Well now, you graduated, and what were you doing after graduation?

KO: Well, after graduation, you're always wondering what you're gonna' do, but I had to do something to make some money, so I ended up working in a machine shop. And I worked there for two or three years before evacuation. And if we hadn't evacuated, maybe I would have become a machinist by now, I don't know. But it's always interesting to kind of speculate what might have happened if the war hadn't come along, and we had the evacuation and all those things happening.

AI: Right. Well now, what do you recall about the day that Pearl Harbor was bombed? December 7th.

KO: Well, I can remember going down to a service station that we always hung around. And, I wasn't aware that anything had happened. And this fellow said something like, "Well, what do you think? About the bombing and all?" And I said, "What bombing?" And so he kind of filled me in.

Then, when I went to work -- I think this was on a Sunday, as I recall, December 7th -- went to work Monday, and my boss said to me, "Well you know, this war isn't gonna' last two weeks." Because a lot of people at that time had a feeling that Japan was not very strong, or very capable of turning out warships and things like that, that were any good. Because, I think part of that was a result of Japan shipping over to this country at that time, all those tinny looking toys that were, that wouldn't hold up. And, so I think they felt that Japan was not capable of sustaining a long war. And, well that didn't turn out to be true.

AI: Right. Well, it must have been a shock to you. Do you recall any thoughts or feelings, or reactions of your own when you found out that the bombing had happened?

KO: Well, it certainly, I, being Japanese, I was a little worried about what might happen. But one of the strange stories is that, they were forming wardens to patrol the area at night, the lights were off and everything. But I was approached by some neighbors to become the warden for our area and I thought, "Gosh oh Friday. They must have felt that I was not a danger to anybody." And, I think that was quite unique.

AI: They must have seen you as a fine upstanding citizen that they could trust.

KO: Well, I don't know. Or they needed somebody to do the job. [Laughs] But I declined, because I didn't want to be out there by myself walking around, because you just don't know what kind of situation you'd run into. But I thought it was kind of unusual that they would, at least, ask me.

AI: And especially since Raymond was a port city that had the international trade with Japan. And what about your folks, do you recall them talking at all about some of their concerns, or their thinking?

KO: No, I can't recall what their thinking was. But, I'm sure they were pretty upset and perhaps somewhat frightened too, wondering what was going to happen.

AI: And they must have had some links with their own relatives back in Japan, or maybe... well, maybe not. Do you know whether...?

KO: No, I don't think so. We had very little communication with the people in Japan.

Rebecca Walls: How did your father have the export business with Japan? Did he have some links just through business ties?

KO: Just through business ties. But here again, since he did not consult with us or tell us too much about his business, I don't know how that all came about. It just... it just happened. As far as I know.

RW: You mentioned once before that he was in business with his brother over there, and that they did work together for a little while, but then that didn't work out?

KO: Oh that was, his brother, he and his brother worked in Gurrier. And, like in many cases, the two brothers never got along. [Laughs] I think when Gurrier closed up, or whatever happened to the place, (his) brother went back to Japan, and he became quite wealthy back there. But they never, hardly communicated at all. That's unfortunate I think, but that's the way it goes sometimes.

AI: Well now, in this period after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, it sounds like some people were pretty confident that the war was going to be over very soon. And it sound like you really didn't experience any kind of negative reaction from your neighbors, or other townspeople in this period?

KO: No, I can only remember one kid saying something, every time I happened to pass by or something. Outside of that, never had any real problem.

AI: So you didn't feel like, most people, they weren't blaming you or your family?

KO: Well, hopefully not. But yeah, I didn't feel that they were. Why that would be, I don't know. 'Course maybe it was just because I stayed close to the people I knew, and the people who knew me. That makes quite a difference.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

AI: And then, how did you find out that you were gonna' be forced to leave? About the evacuation?

KO: Well, I can't recall exactly how that happened. But, I know that we were all forced to take a physical before we were going to be able to leave. And that kind of struck me as being kind of funny, because we're gonna' have to leave whether we're sick or not. But I guess they didn't want a situation where we might have had some contagious disease that we might carry into camp.

AI: Do you remember when that was? What month that was, that you were having to prepare to go?

KO: No, I really don't. But I do recall that this train came through town, and people came to see us off, and we got on the train, and that was the start of our evacuation. But there was something else that happened before then too; we were told to pack everything, all of our belongings -- which wasn't much -- and that they would store 'em someplace or send 'em to us. Wherever they were stored, we got most of it back, unlike some people I think that lost things that were packed up. Where they stored 'em, I have no idea. But I remember going through this process of trying to pack everything that you owned, and then trying to determine what to take with you. Because I think you were only allowed maybe a couple suitcases or something like that. I'm not sure about that.

AI: Do you remember what you ended up taking? Some of the things that you decided on?

KO: No, I don't. Except, I must've taken my tennis racket, because I ended up with that down there. [Laughs] It must have been important to me. Well, outside of clothing and things like that, there wasn't a heck of a lot to pack anyway, as I recall.

AI: Right. And, do you remember much about what you were told about -- or were you told anything about where you were going, or how long you were gonna' be there, or anything?

KO: No, we really weren't. I don't know if we were aware that we were going into Tule Lake or not. But we were, as the train went from Raymond down south, they stopped at various points and picked up additional people. But I don't remember a heck of a lot about that train ride.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

AI: And I think you were saying in an earlier conversation, that you were among the first to go to Tule Lake?

KO: That's right. We came into Tule Lake when none of the barracks were done, and in fact there were very few barracks up. We moved into a barrack that had no partition to the top. From the top down to the level of the side of the roof. It was like one big family moving into these barracks. With no privacy at all. And no furniture, just some beds, some cots.

AI: So you had one room with some cots in it, and then that was for your parents, and all of your brothers, and...?

KO: Yeah, I think there might have been two rooms. I think they determined how many rooms you got by the size of your family. And I think, I think we had two rooms, I'm pretty sure we did. One of the oddities of the experience down there is that we ended up being, living next to a family from Kelso, Washington, and over the years, we've become fast friends and we are good friends to this day. Being raised in a situation where there were no other Japanese families, I never really had any close Japanese friends; they were all Caucasians. So this new experience for me to make Japanese friends. Although I probably didn't think too much about it, it was just something that happened.

AI: But it must have also been somewhat strange for you, coming from such a small town, into a camp where at first you were among the first people there, but eventually it got to be quite a huge place.

KO: That's right. I don't know how many people finally ended up there, but it was in the thousands, and...

AI: I think it was over 10,000 at some point.

KO: Yeah, uh huh.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

KO: And that was quite an experience too, quite a period of adjustment for me, in that I'm not used to being around that many people, and all Japanese too. So there was a period of adjustment that I think I myself, and probably my brothers and sister had to make, too.

AI: Did you ever have any conversations with your brothers and sister about the situation you were in, or what was happening to you and your family or...?

KO: No, I don't recall anything of that kind. We, I don't know, you always found something to do. And there were new people coming in, new friends being made, and you were trying to help set up your living quarters the best you can. My dad happened to be a fairly good carpenter, and... you know in the end, there were many, many talented people moving into these relocation centers, and I think that's why they were able to establish a city with hospitals and police force and all these other agencies that make a city work.

AI: Just like any other town?

KO: That's right. But I don't know if there was any time in history where such a situation occurred, where people, whether you were doctors, lawyers or just a common guy, would all end up in the same place. Having to make a life for yourself there.

AI: Right. What were, do you recall any of your feelings about being stuck there? Especially after you -- I mean, in the early period when you were adjusting and finding yourself, that you had actually been forced to go? Recall any of that?

KO: Well, I think it was a kind of a bitter pill to swallow in some ways. Because, you'd gone to school and you'd brought up to be an American, so-called. And as Americans, you had certain rights, and certainly that was when they decided without any recourse that you as an American citizen had to go into these camps. That was kind of hard to cope with.

Although, in thinking back, you sometimes wonder if actually that wasn't... not too unwise, because if we'd been there in that city and all these other Japanese in these other cities too, when the war got, had been dragging along and things were getting awful bitter, whether things might not have happened, that might have not been too pleasant. In the end maybe it all worked out. Certainly, the way it worked out for us, we have no complaints. Because we had actually nothing to go back to, anyway.

AI: So when you left Raymond, your father's business had...

KO: Already been gone.

AI: ...already been going down.

KO: Yes, that's right.

AI: Did -- you didn't own property there?

KO: No, we didn't. As I said, [Laughs] he never believed in, I guess, establishing too many roots. Probably feeling that, "Maybe tomorrow I'll be moving somewhere else."

RW: What were people's reactions from the town when you were leaving? Did they resist at all, or want you to stay?

KO: Well, I think it was nice that several people did come down to see us off, saying how sorry it was all happening. And so, I think it was a nice town at that time. I don't know if it's the same today.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

AI: Well, going back to what Tule Lake was like as a camp, as kind of a community in a way. You got a job. And you were saying, just like any other town, there were all kind of jobs. Not everyone worked, and people didn't have to work. But, how did you get involved with your job? How did that come about?

KO: I really can't remember, but I think that they... I think they had a bulletin or something going around that they were looking for people to do certain kinds of work. That may have been the way that I became involved with the paper there. Once I got involved in that, working for the newspaper, I just didn't seem to have enough time to do much of anything else.

AI: So it became something that you really enjoyed?

KO: That's right. And met a lot of new friends, and people that I still am friends with today.

AI: Well now, I -- you and I had looked at some of the old copies of the Tulean Dispatch, and I saw that for quite awhile there, you were the sports editor. Could you tell us a little bit about some of the sports that, how they started up there, and anything you recall about when you were covering the sports? What kind of -- were sports really big in camp?

KO: Well, yes, because people needed to have some type of recreation, and certainly sports is a big thing. And in fact, I think the administration of the camps encouraged people getting involved in sports, feeling that they had to have something for the people to do while they were in camp. And so, as soon as we got in there, I think one of the first things that happens naturally is, being kids, you're looking for games to play. And so, I think baseball was probably the first thing -- softball or baseball, or whatever you want to call it. People started playing and then they, as these people came in from different areas, you'd play against the teams from Sacramento, or wherever it might be. And Salem, and...

AI: So teams were organized around groups of people from various areas?

KO: As a rule. As a rule, they were. But at the same time, like our newspaper, we formed our own basketball team and I think we had a softball team, too. So, sports was certainly an important part of the people's lives and there was some fierce competition going on among the teams. It's amazing that there was -- every block had an open area between the barracks. And I think practically in every block they made a basketball court right out in the open, and that's where people played; they didn't have a gym. Eventually when the schools were built, we had a gym, but I think most of the games were played on dirt surfaces outdoors.

AI: Wow.

KO: Yeah, I remember baseball games drawing huge crowds, and they'd have P.A. systems, and the whole ball of wax. So they were well organized.

AI: Well, it looked like, from the way the coverage looked in the newspaper, looked like it was very serious and that the competition was pretty heavy.

KO: That's right. And it's amazing that -- well, unlike nowadays, where people get mad at each other and go after each other, though I don't ever recall anything like that happening. It was important to compete. And to try to do your best to win.

AI: Well, now I know that this was very big for the guys but -- also the fellows, but what about the girls and women, did...?

KO: Well, I think the girls kind of weren't quite as competitive as the men. And I think back in those days, there weren't too many people that, girls that played basketball. Although they formed a girls' softball and basketball teams. In track, I don't know if they had any women competing in track. I don't, I don't... I think back and, I hate to keep repeating, "those days," but I don't think they did too much competing in track, the women.

AI: Well, let's see. I also wanted to ask you, you mentioned that you brought your tennis racket, and did you end up playing tennis there, in camp?

KO: Oh yeah, that's right, we did. I think there was an area that was part of an old -- I shouldn't say old, it was a warehouse that was never completed. Had the cement surface as I recall, and so we drew the lines and I don't know where the nets came from, but we somehow ended up with balls and rackets. So we had enough people involved to hold little tournaments and things like that, which was probably pretty unusual for that kind of a situation. 'Course nobody ever had a golf course there, so nobody played golf. [Laughs]

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

RW: ...kind of goes back to times earlier, but, as being the eldest, what was your responsibility with your family before and actually during camp? Did you have some?

KO: Well, I think traditionally, the Japanese have always felt that the eldest son should take responsibility more so than the others. And since my dad died pretty young, that mantle kind of fell on me. But only God knows if I fulfilled my job or not, and how successful I was. I think it's an added burden to the eldest son, if you took that proposition seriously. And certainly I think that was one of the things that is part of my memory, and whether they told me over and over again or not, I don't know; or they just emphasized it, or it just happened; I'm not sure.

RW: Did you have responsibilities for looking after your siblings?

KO: Well I tried to, and in fact after we got back I did try to help 'em along, going to school and one thing and another. So I wasn't able to do some of the things that I would've liked to do myself, trying to see that I was taking care of them the best I could. And as I say, who knows how well, how good of a job I did.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

AI: Well for now, I wanted to go back to where we were before the break. And you were talking a little bit about the sports and things that you had covered as the sports editor, and some of the sports you were involved in. Was there anything else that came to mind about the sports or the recreational activities? Things that were going on that you, that stands out in your mind?

KO: Well, I think dancing became a big recreation, because all you needed was a record player and a few people. And so it was an activity that most of the young people got involved in. And going to a dance was a big thing. So, if you were a Romeo, you could lead a good life in camp and become famous for being a good dancer or whatever.

But, it's great that there were many relationships made during those days that resulted in marriage. Life went on in camp and people fell in love, got married, and had kids. And it kind of strikes me as being a little unusual when I hear people say, "I was born in camp." To realize that those things were going on. It makes you believe that there was some sort of a normal life going on during the period we were in the relocation centers.

AI: That no matter how strange it was, and how, in some ways how abnormal it was, in other ways, things did continue.

KO: Were quite normal, yes. One of the other activities that we touched upon here a moment ago, was that there were many, many talent shows; and people who were even halfway considered as talented would get up and sing. But there were some very, very good acts that these various people could perform; there were dancers, jugglers. It's really amazing how diversified the lives of the Japanese people were, despite their sameness. So, life was quite interesting. As much as you can have life interesting, in a concentrated situation like that.

AI: Well, now most of these activities that we were just mentioning were mainly the activities of the Nisei. What was going on with the Issei, with people like your parents? Were they...?

KO: Well, they were, I think they were involved in playing Go, and they had their own little games and places where they could get together with their friends. I'm not sure, but I think making home brew might have been a project that many were involved in, too. [Laughs] Because certainly as a group, I think the older Japanese men in particular were, liked to have their liquor. 'Course part of that is because they didn't have too many other things to do. There were pretty well... there were very few places they felt comfortable going because of the language barrier, and so they had to make their own recreation. And I think drinking and having a good time with your friends was a big pastime.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

AI: Well I think that's, in some ways that's a hard thing, especially for the Japanese American, especially for the Nisei generation, that so many folks had in their families emphasized, "Don't talk about yourself." And, "Stay in the background, don't be bragging about what you've done." And I think that stays with you a long time.

KO: Right.

AI: So even a situation like this, where we really need to hear all of that, you still feel a little...

KO: Yeah, a little self-conscious about it. And the other part is, that you wonder if your story is worth telling. That's the other part of it. 'Course, I guess only history will tell if it was worth the telling or not.

AI: Well, I think that's one of the beauties of this kind of oral history, as it's called, because finally people are recognizing that we really do need to have the everyday person's life as part of the historical record. 'Cause if we only have what happened to the rich and famous, that's not a true picture, either.

RW: It's distorted.

KO: That's right. And certainly the, having gone through the evacuation is an experience that, as we said before, that no other American will ever go through again, I'm quite certain. And that's -- the evacuation and the war is becoming a distant memory now. Especially WWII, where there are very few survivors now. Maybe people, unless they study it, will not appreciate what went on during those periods.

AI: Right.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

AI: Well we want to kind of go back again, pick up where we left off. And I was about to ask you a bit about what a change it must have been for your mother, coming into camp. Because, here she had been -- her time in the U.S. it sounds like she was pretty much isolated from other Japanese women, and now suddenly she's in a place where people speak her language, she's one of many. Did you have a sense of what that was like for her?

KO: Well, unfortunately, we were all too involved with our own problems, but I'm sure that it must have been a welcome situation for her to have other people to talk to, and who had similar experiences as herself. And having the normal chitchat that most ladies have, which she missed during the times that we were in all of these cities that we were the only Japanese family, and we'd only occasionally get together with other Japanese families.

AI: Well, as you point out, people did quickly become really busy with their own interests and concerns in camp. And I was just wondering what some of your brothers and sister were doing at this time?

KO: Well, most of 'em were going to school, my brothers particularly, but my sis was working in, I think she was working in the recreation department. I won't swear to that, but I think she was. And so she had her thing to do. And my dad ended up being a cook in our block kitchen.

AI: And your brothers were still in high school?

KO: That's right. I think my brother Shig might've graduated from Heart Mountain, where we ended up eventually.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

AI: Well, I wanted to ask you about sometime in 1943 -- I think it was early in the spring of 1943, in Tule Lake -- the questionnaire came out. That was, I think the... well, there was a questionnaire for men who were thinking of volunteering for service, and there was also another one that was called, the actual title was "Application for Leave Clearance." But I think people just remember it as the questionnaires that had the so-called "loyalty questions" on 'em. And I was just wondering what you remembered of that, if anything?

KO: Well I vaguely remember when that situation came up. And I think that most of us were pretty aware of what the questions were going to be. And so there were big arguments among the residents as to, "Which way should we answer those questions?" I think they were hard choices to make for some families. Except for myself, it wasn't too much of a problem; I knew which way I was gonna' go.

But the more interesting question I think is, when did the government or the army decide to take Japanese Americans in -- when we were in camp -- and, why? Why did they suddenly decide that they would let us join the army even if it was in segregated companies? And part of that answer might be that, while I was taking basic training, the group of men that came in after our group were, I don't believe were as physically fit or as young as the group that we were in. And so it could be that maybe there was a manpower shortage developing, and -- that's only my thought, that here there was a pool of men available in camp and... but I never thought about that until we started discussing the situation as to why, after taking us into camp, that all of a sudden they decided that they would take us into the army. 'Cause certainly they're not going to take any disloyal people into the army if they are aware of it.

But yes, that "no, no" question created a lot of controversy. And many people answered "no, no" to both questions because of family, and... but it's amazing, that number of people who did decide to say "yes" to service in the country, and to the country, and were willing to serve. But I think most did not answer the second part of the question "yes," which was: "Would you go fight Japan?" And I think it's understandable why you'd be reluctant to put your neck in a situation where you could be mistaken for the enemy. But, the government nevertheless had a lot of people working in Military Intelligence, where the Niseis were very helpful.

AI: Right. Well I was wondering, for yourself, you said that you knew which way you were going to answer, and which way you were going to go.


AI: Okay, let's see, where were we? Oh yes: I was about to ask you if you'd had any conversations with your folks or with your brothers and sister about the questions, or your decision.

KO: No. Well, I think my brothers were too young to discuss anything like that. And I think... I think that my parents pretty much left it to me to make my own decisions as to which way to go. But, I felt that my dad had quite a bit of loyalty to this country -- more so than Japan, having spent more years here than in Japan. Although I think he was proud of the Japanese heritage, and felt that you had to honor that heritage. But certainly not to the extent that you would be disloyal to the United States. In fact, I think that he was probably one of the Isseis who were more inclined to support the United States.

AI: Well, I was wondering also, in thinking about this time, if you had any close friends or co-workers who had to make a difficult decision, who might have had to decide another way?

KO: You know, oddly enough, I don't recall any of my close friends at that time having made any other decisions than the one that I made. Although, I know there were people who did go the other way. I don't know why it is that I really was not close to people that had to make that other choice.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

AI: And at the time when, as you say, the government did reverse itself and decide to start taking volunteers from among the Japanese Americans, do you remember what your reaction was when you first heard that that was possible?

KO: Gosh, I don't remember my exact reaction, however, I did have some misgivings of going into the army and leaving my, the family there. I think that was the biggest concern that I had. But, having, you had to have some faith in the United States, if you were even go to say, "yes." I think I felt that the government would take care of them. Which they did.

AI: Right. So, especially as the oldest son, you felt a responsibility for your family. And that must have entered into your feeling about, "What might happen to them if I were gone."

KO: I think that was my biggest concern, as to what was gonna' happen to them. I wasn't particularly worried about myself, but that was a concern because I knew they had nothing to go back to, and life would be difficult.

AI: Right.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

AI: Well now, as this process continued on, of the answering the "loyalty questions" and so forth, at some point, it became known that Tule Lake would become the so-called "segregation camp" for the so-called "disloyals."

KO: That's right.

AI: When did you hear about this? Or what did you first find out about this?

KO: Well I think being on the newspaper, I became aware that Tule Lake was being considered as a place where they were going to place people who had loyalties toward Japan, or that they were not comfortable having them live in the normal camps.

AI: Or as we said earlier, people who were perfectly loyal but, had to make a hard choice, for some reason had to answer, "no."

KO: That's right. And I really felt for those people, because I'm sure they were doing what their families dictated. But, when the situation came up, there were big meetings in camp and a lot of rabble-rousing, and people had block meetings and tried to -- they wanted to put up some united front against moving, and against showing any loyalty to the States. And so, I think a lot of ill feeling was created during that period, and whether they linger to this day or not, I don't know. But, it made it tough for the younger people. I think the people who were making most of the noise were older people, and you just sat back and listened. And you had your mind made up beforehand anyways. But it was a trying period.

AI: So it sounds like some of these, the older people were quite angry.

KO: They were. I don't know if it was the case in every block, but we had a couple people that were just dead set against cooperating with the government in any way. So they were asking to be placed in Tule Lake, or some segregation center that they were establishing.

RW: They didn't want to be a part of...? I mean, is that something more to do with the fact that they wanted to answer "no," did they just not want to be a part?

KO: Well... I think at some point, you had to make a decision whether you were going to be supportive of the United States, or not. I believe that's the way it went, I... you know, back in those days, I was not too aware of the politics of the whole thing. That's just my opinion.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

AI: As this coming and going started happening, as I understand it, kind of group by group, people were moved from Tule Lake, out to the other camps. People who had answered "yes" on the questions were moved out, and other people who had answered "no" were moved from the other camps into Tule Lake. What did that do to the nature of the camp?

KO: Well, I remember -- just going back a little bit -- that, having worked on the paper, that I remember this fellow coming in one day and says, "The ax has fallen, Tule Lake will be a segregation center." Or whatever they wanted to phrase it at that time. And so, boy, your mind starts churning right and left wondering what was going to happen, because here we were going into another unknown. And then there was a mad scramble among the people trying to get to certain camps. And they were pulling strings every way they could to see if they could get into the camps where some of their friends or relatives happened to be. I don't know how all this was sorted out, but one day we were on the train, moving, and ended up at Heart Mountain, along with some other people.

AI: Now you were among the last to leave Tule Lake? Is that right?

KO: Correct.

AI: Because I remember you were listed as the last editor for the Tulean Dispatch.

KO: That's right.

AI: What are some of your final memories of Tule Lake before you left?

KO: Well, it was difficult saying goodbye to all the friends that you'd made over the years. I think that was the most difficult part, because you were moving with family and they were with you, so at least you had that comfort. Some of the friendships, it was tough. I guess that's, fortunately, not too many people had to go through that experience. But I don't know how many percent of the people left there or how many percent stayed.

AI: Now, being one of the last, among the last to leave Tule Lake as it was becoming the so-called "segregation center," there must have been quite an increase in the number of people there, the proportion of people who were possibly anti-American, or so-called pro-Japanese. Did you yourself experience any kind of harassment from these people?

KO: No, not really, but I heard there were, in certain areas, there were problems among certain groups of people. So, camp life became somewhat abnormal. I... here again, I think I mentioned before in talking to you that, I often wondered what life was like after we left, because that's kind of a hidden chapter in the, in this Japanese story of the evacuations. Someday maybe we'll know more, and maybe there's more out there than I am aware of.

AI: Right.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

AI: But in any case, as you say, one day your time came to leave, and you and your family got on the train, and did you -- you knew at that point you were going to Heart Mountain? Is that right?

KO: That's right. We knew where we were going. Yes.

AI: And, recall anything about the trip going down there?

KO: Not really. But I remember... If I remember correctly, Heart Mountain was kind of a cold place in the wintertime. It was, we spent a cold, cold winter there. I did, anyway, before I went in the army.

AI: Because let's see, you left Tule Lake in the fall? Was that...?

KO: I think it was fall.

AI: Fall.

KO: Yeah, and that's, cold weather's just coming on. And I think it was a little different than winters in Tule Lake. As I remember it, anyway.

AI: Well of course in Wyoming, winter comes on earlier than...

KO: Yes, and I think we were up kinda' high, altitude-wise. So, it was, those winters were quite severe, I thought.

AI: What was your first impression when you got to Heart Mountain?

KO: I have no first impressions. All I remember is eventually getting a job on the paper there, and going to work. And trying to get acquainted with more new neighbors, because all of the friends didn't, all of your block didn't move together into one area; although, some of the people did -- that we knew -- did move into Heart Mountain. And so, at least we had a base of friendship there, unlike going into Tule Lake.

AI: So you had a few friends that, you came in together. But in another way, you had to start over again.

KO: That's correct.

AI: A whole new camp.

KO: That's right. In looking back over all of these moves that we made, I sometimes believe that we were able to handle these movements more than perhaps some other people, because we'd done so much moving around when we were youngsters. And we learned to try to adapt quickly, and perhaps that helped us in adjusting to all the moves that we had to make.

AI: Some of your earlier experiences kinda' came in handy in a way.

KO: Yeah, I would say that it did. Because I can't remember where it was really a problem, getting adjusted.

AI: What were the surroundings at Heart Mountain like, in comparison to Tule Lake? Just the way it looked, and the way it felt.

KO: I think it was more hilly, more -- a little more barren, if that's possible. The thing that happened, is that here the people were trying to raise their own food, and raising vegetables and things out in that barren land and making it work. I thought that was quite an accomplishment. But, there's not too much about that life that I can remember clearly. It's -- things were, being a young man, things were moving along, and we had other things to think about.

AI: Right.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

AI: Well now, you mentioned that you were, eventually joined the newspaper staff there also. Was that very similar? Was the work quite similar, or in what ways was it different from...?

KO: Well it was different because, in Tule Lake we had a newspaper that we printed the old-fashioned way with the mimeograph. And so we'd type up these stencils, and we'd put the stencil on the mimeograph, and here we'd have the mimeographer pumping these papers out right and left, and then we'd have to staple them together. Where at Heart Mountain, they actually had a newspaper there that they had printed in Cody, Wyoming. So that part was quite different. I thought maybe the Heart Mountain staff was a little older, and a probably a little better organized, I don't know.

AI: You recall any stories in particular that you covered in Heart Mountain?

KO: I really don't. Since I was in the Heart Mountain only a few months -- it seems like only a few months -- before I left, I don't have too many memories of Heart Mountain itself that I can recall clearly at this point.

AI: Right. Well, that was also a time when, I guess there was quite a bit of controversy over some of the Heart Mountain fellows, who had decided to resist the draft until they had their citizenship rights cleared up. Did you know any of those fellows, or hear anything about what had happened to them?

KO: No, I couldn't add any light on that. I was totally un -- not too aware of it.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

AI: Now, let's see, you were drafted in September of 1944?

KO: Yes.

AI: Yes, because that was what was on your...

KO: Right.

AI: And I was wondering what you felt, when you found out you were drafted?

KO: Well, I felt kinda' lost, and wondering how I was gonna' handle it or be able to handle it. Although, there were other people going in with me at the same time. It was kinda' scary experience, I felt, because first of all, you didn't know how you as a group, as a race, would be greeted by the soldiers who were processing you in these camps -- I mean, in the forts that you went to to get inducted. But I must say, the army handled the situation pretty well, no matter where we went. So it was not much of a problem. But I was more concerned about my size being a handicap to [Laughs] being able to handle the things that had to be done.

AI: Well now, when you got into basic training, what did you find out about that, as far as your size? Was it a big handicap?

KO: It was to a degree, because you had to carry all this heavy equipment. But, it created a problem for the army because we were in, taking basic with other groups.

AI: It wasn't segregated?

KO: It was not segregated totally, although we went in as a kind of a segregated unit. But we took basic with other people, and Cauca -- well I don't know if you'd say "other Caucasians" or what, but -- when you're marching, you got me on one end, and maybe a 6' 6" guy on the other end, and we're marching at the same cadence, [Laughs] and so no matter how you do it, the steps are not gonna' come out right. So, I think it must have been quite a sight to see this going on. But outside of that, I can't see where it created too much of a problem. I must say the army did a good job of handling the situation and making it as easy as possible for everybody.

AI: Now let's see, you were, you had your basic training in Texas...

KO: Yeah, Fort Logan.

AI: Anything that stands out about that experience, or being there in Texas?

KO: Not really. You were so busy day and night, that you didn't have much time to think. And the only thing I remember about it is it was in, during some part of the basic training, it was hot and humid and I wasn't used to that kind of weather. And I think that wore on me more than anything.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

AI: And then after that, let's see, where were you taken after that?

KO: Well eventually, I went to Fort Meade, Maryland to ship out. But I was held back in Camp Hood for awhile and did not ship out with the others that came in. And...

AI: And that was because?

KO: Well, somebody felt that I would make a good cook. Which I didn't like, I found out in a hurry. And so, I decided that I'd like to move on. So I ended up in Fort Meade, and joined some other Nisei recruits there who were gonna' go overseas. And I think while we were there, the war ended. So we were wondering what was going to happen to us, but the army had a program in place where they were going to replace the people who'd been there in combat, in Europe, with new people. And so, we were shipped over there as part of that group.

AI: Now I think you mentioned that one of your brothers had gone into the service a little bit earlier?

KO: He went in the same time as I did, but he shipped out when he normally should've; and so he ended up in combat with the 522nd. When I went to Europe eventually, I was able to meet him a couple times.

AI: And had you heard anything from him as far as how that combat had gone, or what he had gone through?

KO: He didn't discuss it too much. But I'm sure he's got his own experiences to tell. All I know is that it affected his hearing quite a bit, because he was in the antitank battalion. And it's still, it's a problem somewhat to this day. And I think he's lost his sense of smell too, somehow, during the time he was in the army.

AI: Now how was it that you were able to meet up with him in Germany?

KO: Well, we kept in touch by letter, and so when I got over there, I started a little correspondence. See, the thing that happened, was I ended up in Germany in a place called Schwabacher. [Schwabach] And they had their reinforcement depot there, where the people coming in would be processed and the people going back to the States would be processed. And they looked through my records and I think they noted that I could do a little typing and things like that, so I ended up as a company clerk there for a person who was leaving. And so I just stayed there for the time I was in Europe.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

KO: But I just have a memory about how... going over to Germany, that I thought was kind of unusual. One of the things was that we shipped out of New York, and the night before we left, the people -- I think there were quite a few Hawaiians on the boat that day -- they had a nice evening of singing, and all that kind of stuff that people enjoyed. And I thought a lot about it because I wrote home to the paper about that. And then, the other moving experience I had at that time was going past the Statue of Liberty; and I was wondering then, would I ever see it again. Fortunately, I was able to come back, and it was a welcome sight. But we shipped out on the Queen Mary, which was turned into a troop ship at that time, which, you know, it's a big pleasure boat.

AI: That was one of the big luxury liners, wasn't it?

KO: That's right, it was the biggest, one of the biggest of the time. And we had Bob Hope and Jerry Colona, those people were going to Europe to entertain the troops. And they put on a program for us. That part was interesting, the other part was I got seasick, so I didn't enjoy the two things very much. [Laughs] Oh, I was sicker than a dog all the way across.

But we ended up in -- I'm just reflecting back -- we ended up in Gerk, Scotland. And we were put on trains, in boxcars -- I don't know how many to a boxcar -- and we were railroaded through Scotland to South Hampton, England. But on our way through, going to South Hampton, England, to ship oversea, over to Europe, we'd stop at these cities, and the ladies of the city would have food prepared for us so that we'd have something to eat. And they kept looking in the boxcar and saying, "What are you people anyway?" [Laughs] And I can remember the people saying, "We're Japanese Americans," and they'd say; "Oh no, you can't be. You wouldn't be fightin' for the United States." But they thought we were Indians or something else. That was one of the memories that I thought was quite different than most people would experience.

AI: Isn't that something. Right.

KO: So, we went from South Hampton to Le Havre, France, where we saw the port all torn up and then eventually went to Schwabacher, [Schwabach] where I spent my time. That's digressing a little bit, but I thought it was kind of interesting.

AI: It is interesting. Well, and I'm wondering, did you have other kinds of reactions like that from other townspeople that you met while you were in the service?

KO: No, but that one really stands out.

AI: That was the most striking.

KO: Because, they did not believe that we could be of Japanese descent. They wouldn't believe it. It's just -- and the ladies were very, very nice. 'Course some of the food they prepared was kinda' bland. [Laughs] But they beat, it beats army food anyway.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

AI: Well, I think I recall in an earlier conversation, that you had mentioned that you went to the Nuremberg trials. For a day?

KO: Yes, for one day.

AI: What was that like? What caused you to go? Why did you...?

KO: Well, they gave all the people stationed in Germany a chance to go to the trials one day, if they wanted to, which I took advantage of. So I saw Goebel and Himmler and all of those people on trial. We were quite a ways away from the trial itself. They had sections set up where they had little earpieces that you could put in to follow what was going on, because a lot of it was in German. And we spent, I don't know, three or four hours there. But, it's like most trials, a lot of boring stuff going on. But I thought that was kind of interesting that we were able to see those people who were involved with the German Army.

AI: Right. Well, gosh, it sounds like you had a number of interesting things that you went through while you were in the service. Anything else that you recall that happened, that stands out for you before you were ultimately discharged?

KO: Well, not really. Here again, we were involved in sports there, and I played on a team with other -- we weren't all Japanese you know, because the people working in that reinforcement depot were Japanese and Caucasians, and whatever else there happened to be. I think the other interesting experience that I had was when I left Germany, we, three of us got permission to take a jeep from Germany; I was the only Japanese, there was two other Caucasian fellows. And we took a jeep through Germany, and saw the Autobahn as it was blown up in places so we had to make side tours. And we had to spend a night in a German home, because it was a overnight trip. And I recall that we had a trailer full of supplies, including these K-rations that had cigarettes in 'em. And they said, "Why, here," the German people that we were staying with said, "Well, there's a place down this road here you can park your trailer, and we'll lock it up. But when we got to South -- where we, I think it was South Hampton we went back to to ship out, but anyway, they'd opened up all of the K-rations, taken all the cigarettes out of all these packages and had it all packed back neatly, to the point where we couldn't tell that they'd been touched. Cigarettes were a great barter item in, during the war years, and you could get anything you wanted if you had enough cigarettes.

AI: Just like money. Or maybe better than money.

KO: Yes, it was better than money. It was better than money.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

AI: Well, looking back on your service, was it meaningful to you?

KO: Oh I think so, and I met a lot of good people in the service. I don't know, I must have been lucky that I, wherever I went, I was able to meet people that I got along with, and had a great time because of it; that life didn't become a bore. I can remember one instance where this lieutenant kind of took a liking to me, and every night, you know they'd have assembled all these people together and they'd have to report if everybody was present and all that stuff. So, he had me, have those sergeants report to me before I reported to the... [Laughs] And I, I think, I didn't want to do it, but he insisted I do it. So... I think it must have been a strange sight for those people to report and salute toward me, and I'd salute back and then I'd salute the lieutenant saying, "All, the company is all present and all accounted for." That thing kind of stands out in my memory as one of the stranger things that have happened to me.

AI: Right, being put in that position.

KO: That's right. And being Japanese, and being as small as I was -- I bet it must have been strange.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 29>

AI: Well now you were discharged at the end of July, in 1946. So you were in the service almost two years. And in the meantime, what had happened to your family, your folks who were back in Heart Mountain?

KO: Well they had eventually left Heart Mountain, and since we had nowhere to go, nowhere to, or nothing to go back to in Raymond, they decided for whatever reason to settle in Seattle. I wasn't in on any of what went on during that time because I think they felt that I had enough problems anyway. And so, they were one of the many people that ended up in the old Japanese Language School. And from there, moving to an apartment not too far away, where we stayed for many, many years.

AI: So when you were discharged, what happened? You were discharged while you were there, in Germany?

KO: No, I came to Fort Lewis.

AI: Oh.

KO: And was discharged out of Fort Lewis. And, I came home and as I mentioned before, it was a tough experience coming into a big city from a small town. So I was a lost soul for several months, and didn't know what to do. And yet I had family obligations too, and that kinda' got to me a little bit. But, eventually -- and I knew I had to go to work -- so I did a little gardening. And eventually had a chance to go to Columbia Greenhouse with my brother, to work down there. That's an old time greenhouse business that had been established years and years. And so when -- they had a fair amount to come back to. And they were running their business quite successfully. And we stayed there about ten years.

AI: Right, so Columbia Greenhouses was a major business from prewar. They came back, reestablished, and then you and your brother were both hired there?

KO: That's right.

AI: About when was that?

KO: Oh, that had to have been... '46 or '47. Yes.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 30>

AI: And at that time, was your father still alive, or...

KO: He was still alive, but his health was failing. And in those days, people sixty years old were considered pretty old. And I think all that boozing and running around that he did finally caught up with him. I hate to say that about my dad, but it was the truth. So, he ended up having an operation, and eventually dying because he was a poor patient. He wouldn't do what they told him to do. That's part of his being a hard-headed individual.

AI: Right. So when he passed away, that pretty much left you as the head of the family then.

KO: That's correct. Uh huh. So, life went on from there, and then we worked at Columbia for ten years or so, and decided that that was as far as we could go there. So we decided to take a fling, and see if we could do it on our own.

AI: Well now, along the way there -- before we get into that part of your work life -- becoming the head of the family, and your father being gone, that must have changed your responsibilities again. And, was just wondering, it seems like you were, in the traditional sense you were left with the responsibility for your mother.

KO: That's right. And that is the last thing my dad told me, asked me to do before he died. He said, "Promise me you'll take care of my mother." [Cries]

<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 31>

AI: That must have been a very difficult time in your life.

KO: It was. I'm sorry about that. I find out that as I get older, I get more emotional. And that's crazy; you're supposed to get tougher, as you get older. But, that's what happened.

AI: And, your mother is still with you.

KO: Correct.

AI: And how old is she now?

KO: Ninety-eight, and my dad has been gone over fifty years. So our family structure has stayed pretty much the same all that time. And all of the rest of the family are together. And, we're still good family.

AI: Right. So, now your family structure is that, you and your mother still living together, is that right?

KO: That's correct.

AI: You're close here, on this property.

KO: Right.

AI: And your sister is close by with...

KO: Yeah, she's retired, and she's taking care of my mother most, during the daytime, and at night I am at home with her. Yes. It's a good thing that we have a caregiver like my sis to take care of her, because the other option would be to put her in a nursing home or something like that. And I don't know that she would last too long in a situation like that, because she's stated many times that she doesn't want to -- first of all, if she gets real bad, she doesn't want to go to the hospital, she'd just as soon die at home. So, I'm sure the thought of going into a nursing home wasn't too appealing either. So, fortunately we've been able to take care of the situation up 'til now. But, only time will tell what will happen from here.

AI: Well it seems like you took your father's request very seriously, and...

KO: Well one way or another I did, I guess. But I don't know whether it crossed my mind that that was the thing I had to do, but it ended up that I did spend a lifetime taking care of my mother, practically.

AI: Now, you didn't marry, and you don't have children of your own. But did you at one time consider marriage?

KO: Well, I think many times when you're younger, you wished that you could. But as I said, I was rather a shy person, and I did not relate with women too well. I think, I don't know, maybe it was just me. But that's something, something we'll never know.

AI: And you had many family responsibilities already.

KO: Well, I did have a lot. But now they're, my brothers and sister are taking care of themselves. I'm just a figurehead, head of the household. [Laughs]

<End Segment 31> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 32>

AI: Well, kind of looking back on that whole portion of your life -- and especially the incarceration -- I was wondering, what do you think were some of the worst of the long-term effects?

KO: Well, I don't know. There were a lot a families being broken up because of the evacuation, and I think there were cases where friends became enemies, having to make different choices. Perhaps that and the disruption of the lives of many, many people is certainly, was a problem. But, I think it's surprising how well the people coming back adjusted to the situation and went on with their lives, and have made successes of themselves.

AI: For you, anything in particularly negative?

KO: Not particularly negative, but I wished that I had been a little more capable of handling some of the situations as they came up, like coming to a big city, and being able to cope with it a little better than I did. But, we all have our shortcomings, and I think that's one of mine; that I wasn't able to make some adjustments that would have made life a little different.

AI: Any, again, thinking back, any positive outcomes from the incarceration and the war years?

KO: Well, I think having made the friends during those times, and having to make a stand as to whether you're loyal or disloyal or whatever to the United States, I think in the end that made a lot of difference to not only myself, but to the Nisei people in particular, I think. Helped 'em certainly when they came back that... I didn't see combat, but certainly the people that saw combat had made it easier for themselves, and other people too. No matter what you say, I think that Niseis owe a debt of gratitude to those... people who served their country during a pretty tough time.

<End Segment 32> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 33>

AI: Well, now taking a leap forward in time: in the '70s, the redress movement started up, and was quite active here in Seattle. As I understand it, when that first started up, some people weren't too sure about whether it was even a good idea.

KO: Well, that's right. And I was one of 'em who felt that maybe the time wasn't right, or possibly in my mind I felt that, maybe there was never a right time to ask for redress.

AI: Because?

KO: Well, I was afraid that it would create a lot of negative feeling. But actually, I think it became just an incidental memory, after it all took place. Because you never hear it mentioned, except when there are other minorities trying to get some redress, for different reasons. So I give those people who went ahead with the project a lotta credit, for having the fortitude to tackle what I thought was a tough problem, I'm sure it was. They had to convince the Congress to pass the laws. And it's amazing that they had the kind of clout they did, that they did get it passed through.

AI: Well, then it was quite a long time before it really happened. When yours came in the mail with the letter, what was your reaction?

KO: Well, I wasn't gonna' send it back. [Laughs] That's for sure. But I, well, we knew it was coming, and you just hoped that the things didn't get fouled up to the point where you weren't gonna' get your redress. But I think a lot of good came out of it, the money that they received. Because it all went back into the economy, I'm sure, because everybody had places where they could use the money. Unlike my mother, who put it in the bank, and kept it there. [Laughs] It was put back into circulation, and in the grand scheme of things, it was a minimal amount of money for the government. But it was a good gesture I think.

AI: Well, your mother's one of the few Issei still alive to receive her redress. Did she say anything about it, about what, how she felt? Or did she have any comment on it?

KO: Not that I recall. I think she was willing to accept it, just like everybody else.

AI: Before we move on, any other thought that you have about this period of time? About the incarceration, or war years, or anything that you think should be remembered? Or passed on?

KO: Well, I think it's, in a few years, it's just gonna' be a minor detail in the history of this country. But I think it's a important detail because, as I mentioned before, it shows you what can happen to even a citizen of a country during war time. And especially if you're a identifiable minority. That's never going to go away, as long as you live. I think we've proven that we're as loyal, or as good a citizens as anybody. And I think that's something to be proud of.

<End Segment 33> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 34>

RW: There were a couple of questions that we wanted to ask that relate, before you get into your business for the greenhouse. And the question we wanted to ask was about the paper, when you were working in Tule Lake, and you started to mention about the process of putting that paper together. Alice was mentioning that it was a daily paper. So, tell me a little more about that process, and how quick your deadlines came, and walk me through putting that paper together.

KO: Well, we all had our assignments at the beginning of the day, and we scrambled around to get these stories and come back and type 'em up as fast as we could. But of course, in sports we had an advantage, in that the stories were happening perhaps the day before, so we had a chance to get back and put the story together. And the tough part was that, trying to make all of the stories fit the space you had. So, some of the stories that you had written would get chopped down because of space limitations, and the deadline you had to meet to get the paper out on time.

There were a lot of talented people on the newspaper. Good artists, and good reporters, and people were able to dig up a lot of information. So, I thought it, just putting a staff together cold, that they did a real nice job of getting a good mix of people who could do the job. I think on the whole, every, they got all the information out that the people needed to know. I don't recall an instance where somebody said, "Hey, you didn't cover this situation."

RW: And then when you were talking about it being manually put together -- explain how that worked.

KO: Well, you type it up, and you'd have to kind of space it out and type it so it would fit a certain column. And you'd have three columns to a sheet of paper. And you'd try, paste it all together and fill up the page, fill up the lines. Then the typist would take this sheet of paper, and type her stories on this stencil. And she'd have to type it so the, that there were three columns, and that all of the columns were -- somewhat even, anyway. We tried to make 'em totally even, there's a way to do that. But it was done quickly, because we did it over and over again. Then, after we put the stories in, naturally you left room for your headlines, and then the artists would go in and use a stencil or a stylus and put the headlines in. And if you needed a drawing, the artist would put the drawings in. And so, it was a production. But, nowadays, it's so simple to put something like that together with the computers and things, that it is really odd to think back that things were different in those days.

<End Segment 34> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 35>

RW: I'm gonna bring you back to the period when you first started getting into the greenhouse business, and you returned to Seattle, after serving in the war. And I wanted to ask you more about what the employment atmosphere was like in Seattle when you first returned?

KO: It was pretty limited. And as an example, my brother wanted to become an electrician. And he couldn't get into the union at all. And probably his only out was to learn from another Japanese electrician, so he never, never followed that up. But, that's how the situation was. In fact, one of the people at church had a father who was a college graduate, and he was doing janitors' work to support his family. So, that's how tough it was then, and I hope the people -- Niseis, or Isseis, or Sanseis -- nowadays appreciate how far this thing has gone, and what Niseis in particular had to put up with. And, I'm sure there are many incidences like that. But, it was tough, and tight, and so a lot of people ended up working in hotels, and doing gardening, which I did. 'Course, those who went to school, I think it was a different story. I think that... I can't recall that they had too much of a problem there.

RW: Do you think -- did you try to look for work doing journalism, since you'd had some experience doing that?

KO: No, I was -- I didn't know anybody who was, [Laughs] where I could go. Because, as I said, I was totally lost here for awhile. I'm probably still lost, but that's... [Laughs]

RW: I don't think so. When you're saying that you couldn't find anyone, were you looking for a Japanese mentor, or someone that was already in the field, to connect with?

KO: Well, I don't think I made that much of an effort. I was just trying to find something. To get started.

RW: So you started working, doing some gardening?

KO: Yeah.

RW: And then your brother began working for Columbia Greenhouse?

KO: Yes, and he worked for the arboretum for awhile too. And then he went over to Columbia. And in that business, there's always work. Because you just never quite have enough help. And so, I ended up over there, too.

<End Segment 35> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 36>

RW: Tell me about what you remember from your first days working in the business.

KO: Well, back in those days, things were quite primitive. And all you needed was a shovel and a wheelbarrow, and you could be in business. So, if you needed dirt, you just went out in the field, and dug just plain old, any kind of dirt you could find, and bring it into the house, greenhouse, and use it for potting or whatever else. And I can remember times when we used to have pretty severe winters here, the ground would be frozen down about two or three feet; and we'd have to take a pick axe and go out there and break up that soil, and haul it in, and thaw it out before we could use it. But, things have changed now but those are some of my early memories of the greenhouse business. And at that time, there were quite a few cut flowers and vegetables being grown in the greenhouse, too. Cucumbers, and -- particularly cucumbers I think, and maybe some tomatoes. But there a lot of cut flowers were being grown in the greenhouses and out in the fields, because they weren't importing very much stuff from California, other places. Unlike now, there's no cut flower business to speak of around here, because it's all imported from different countries, not only the states, but different countries. But, yeah, things were pretty old fashioned in those times, and things are different now.

RW: And you're saying that, the greenhouse business, you can always use extra hands. Your workdays must have been pretty long then, when you were working...

KO: Well, we tried, I think they tried to keep it down. But six day was, I think was a pretty normal work week. And generally, in the greenhouse business, there's no overtime either; and I hear that even today, some of the places don't even pay overtime, although I don't see how they can get away with it.

RW: What was the most challenging for you when you were working in the greenhouse?

KO: Well, trying to find my niche, I think. I wanted to contribute, and seeing where I could fit in and help the company was -- and try to help myself too, along the way -- I think that was the big challenge. I ended up in sales, and I seemed to be able to handle that a little better than I could some of the heavier work. So, that became my job in the greenhouse.

RW: What did you enjoy about sales work?

KO: Well, mainly, meeting the customers, and doing a good job of selecting plants. At that time, the driver picked out the plants, loaded 'em in the truck, and delivered 'em to town. I think doin' a good job there, and trying to learn the names of all these different plants that you were hauling around. That was interesting, yes.

<End Segment 36> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 37>

RW: What was the customer base like for the Columbia Greenhouse at that time?

KO: Well, they were, had some ten cents stores that they sold to, some florists and nurseries. They had a fairly good customer base established by the time we got there. But, early on, when people first came back from camp, they were selling most of the material that was being grown through wholesale houses, and they were located downtown. And they were shut out of some of those wholesale houses. But, you know, there's always a maverick, wherever you go. And this one fellow ran a wholesale house, and he started letting the Japanese go in there. And when the others found out, I think, that nothing bad was gonna' happen, that... they opened up their places also. But it was tough for the people who first came back. No question about it.

RW: Do you remember what his name was?

KO: You mean the fellow?

RW: Uh-huh.

KO: Yeah, George Huserick. Yeah. He stuck around for a long time. He was really never quite successful as a wholesale house operator, but he was a pretty decent fellow, and he was good at making things from wire. And so he used to make wire baskets, and hangers, and that's what he ended up doin' after he got out of the wholesale greenhouse business. But certainly they owe him a debt of gratitude for opening the doors for Japanese.

<End Segment 37> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 38>

AI: I think a lot of people don't really have a very good idea of who are the main customers for a greenhouse business. So, you were mentioning that the wholesale houses would be a primary customer. Could you explain a little bit about who the primary customers would be?

KO: Well, the primary function of the wholesale house was to take the material being grown from all these greenhouses, and selling to retail customers at a... and they took their percentage, which was 20 percent, I think, or 15 percent at that time. But over the years, the growers always felt that the wholesale house was giving them the short end. So eventually, a lot of the growers started to go out on their own, selling their own merchandise. I don't know if it was simply because of the way they felt the wholesale houses were treating 'em or they felt that they had more opportunity going out and selling it on the open market themselves. But, if you talk to some of the Japanese growers that was in, that started in this area years before the war... you know what they used to do is, they'd cut the flowers during the day, and the next day they would bottle these flowers up and hop on a bus, or a trolley, or whatever they had, go into town and walk from florist to florist [Laughs] trying to sell their merchandise. It wasn't just the Japanese who did that. Swansons over here in Ballard, he was mentioning that his father also used to do the same. So that part wasn't unusual, but it's kinda' a far cry from what's happened these days, with having trucks and everything to take it down yourselves. But the thought of having to go down from door to door selling what you had, and if you had quite a few left by the end of the day you were at the mercy of the buyer, because you had to get rid of it. That's how far this business has changed I think, and for the good.

<End Segment 38> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 39>

RW: Thinking about your transition from the Columbia Greenhouse to your own business. When did you and your brother Shig start entertaining the idea that you might want to do something on your own?

KO: Well, I think that when we started feeling that if we had our own place, we would do things differently, [Laughs] and I think that's certainly something that happens to people working in any area or industry. That's when we were, started thinking that maybe, maybe we oughta try it our way, and see if it works. And one thing led to another, and here we are today.

RW: Did you start saving for a business, or did you put the word out, or -- ?

KO: We put the word out, but saving was pretty tough on what we were making. So, it was just dumb luck and blind faith, that we got started. We had a lot of luck, or we wouldn't have made it. In the ten years that we'd been in the business, we had built up a fair amount of good will. So there were people willing to help us, not monetarily, but with advice, and plants, and things like that. So, that helped us to get started. But looking back at it now, it was a miracle that we survived even a few months.

RW: I have a question about maybe some of your father's blood trickling down into you and your brother, in that he really tried to go for his own business. And so did the two of you.

KO: Right. Yeah, I think there was a little of that in us. Maybe trying to be a little different, and seeing if we could do it on our own. In fact, I think that we were one of the few greenhouse businesses in the area that started, that the business was started from scratch and was not taken over, that wasn't being taken over by, from your parents or something like that. Which at the time, we didn't worry about, but when you think about it, it was quite a step. Lucky that we made it I think. If we did make it.

RW: You're here today. [Laughs]

KO: Yes.

RW: Still goin' strong.

<End Segment 39> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 40>

RW: Talking about how you first started to hear about Greenwood Greenhouses. This site here?

KO: Yes, well, we knew this place was in the area, and we'd heard that the gentleman who was running it was getting quite ill. So he wanted to get rid of the business. And then I heard later, perhaps from you, that there were other people who wanted to just buy the land. But he didn't want to sell a business that he'd built up over all these years to a developer, or whoever. And he wanted someone in the greenhouse business; and he knew us by reputation, from having worked at Columbia. And when we approached him, he readily agreed that he would be willing to take a chance on us. And that's how we got started.

RW: Do you remember what your agreement was with him, if you didn't have a lot of funds gathered, how did you decide what would happen with the transfer of the land?

KO: Well, we... of course at that time, I won't even mention how much we paid for the place. But, we agreed to pay so much a year. Which was a very minimal amount in today's terms, but at that time, it seemed like an awful lot. And I think we made every payment except one year, when we couldn't make it, and he let us go that time. So, here again, we had help along the way. But we got him paid off in the time that we agreed to.

RW: And that family's name?

KO: Nishimuras.

RW: The Nishimuras. The information that I had gathered was that, in the 1950s, this space here, this site, Greenwood Greenhouses, was targeted to be open space for the neighborhood, since this neighborhood has traditionally been under served. And the city of Seattle was very interested in purchasing the property from the Nishimuras. And that, they indeed did not want to sell the property to the city, and wanted the business to continue. So the connection with you and your brother, I think was very timely, and also it turned out to be a positive situation for both families.

KO: Yes, I think so. At least it worked out well for us. Unfortunately for Mr. Nishimura, he was not able to enjoy much of his retirement because he was quite ill. And part of that was due to being in this business and probably applying chemicals -- back in those days, you did not have all the protective equipment. And the other part was that he was sleeping in the boiler room in the winter, with an oil burner or a coal burner, whatever the case may be. If it was, when they had coal, he had to feed that fire, and he was breathing those fumes all those years, and it eventually caught up with him. But that's the part that I feel bad about, that he really wasn't able to enjoy his retirement.

AI: Well, just a little clarification again, for people who don't know -- I guess that the reason why there would be a coal or oil burning situation there, is that he would have to be stoking it day and night, because you would need the heat for the greenhouses. Is that correct?

KO: That's correct.

AI: And that's how the greenhouse was heated in those days.

KO: That's right. It was heated by steam or hot water, whichever system you had. And in the wintertime, with the temperatures getting down to freezing or below, you had to keep some kind of a heat in the greenhouse continually.

<End Segment 40> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 41>

RW: Okay... let's see. I wanted to get your impressions of what this property looked like when you first started your business here. Do you remember what was here? And what it looked like?

KO: Yes. Columbia Greenhouse kept their property up quite well, in comparison to a lot of places. And when we saw this place, we could see that we had too many projects to do at one time. And so we had to kind of set our priorities as to how we were going to take care of this problem of rebuilding all of the old houses that were on the property. So we virtually rebuilt this entire range. A range is what they call greenhouses, a group of greenhouses. So we spent as much time rebuilding, as we did running the business. That took its toll, because that was taking away from whatever profits we were able to make. Just rebuilding alone took all of the capital that we could get per year. But, we made it.

RW: What were some of the plants that you began propagating here and selling? What your first crops that you were...

KO: Well, as I recall, the first crop were cut mums. When we take a look at the outside, I'll point out some areas where these cut flowers were being grown. And we'd have fields of cut flowers, and we'd have to go out and cut 'em, whether it's raining, or freezing, or sun shining; and bundled 'em up and box 'em or can 'em up, and take 'em down to the wholesale house. Then we grew poinsettias some, and started in growing a few lilies and geraniums. At that time, everybody grew a little bit of everything. It's a little more -- well, it's a little different now, in that people try to keep away from just getting into everything. It just can't be done.

RW: When were, or what were some of your first customers that you established?

KO: Well, that's kind of a sticky point, because I had all of these contacts that I had established working with Columbia and I think I stepped on their toes, going out to talking to these people. And I got, we got some of 'em too. And naturally, you're not gonna' get 'em all, but the other part was that, since the wholesale house were your primary outlet, we had good relationships with the wholesale houses. And so we were able to get started that way.

RW: And also, Seattle was growing at that time, since 1958. So it was probably a good time for you to be starting off a new business and building the business, with the population growth as well.

KO: Well, I think, I'm sure that helped. Because there was a need for more and more plants. And there still is a need for more plants. I don't know if we're ever going to get caught up to the point where there's going to be a saturation. But that has happened in other areas.

<End Segment 41> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 42>

AI: You had mentioned that you and your brother had some ideas of ways that you wanted to do things differently. What were some of the things that you did differently?

KO: Well, I think it was primarily in the growing area where we felt that we would have liked to try something else. Back in those days, you didn't have these seminars, and meetings where people would get together and exchange information; although it wasn't shortly -- it started to pick up about that time, so everybody had a pretty good idea of what could be done. But, I think that was the main thing -- what to grow and how to grow it. We let the selling take care of itself. And over the years we established a pretty good customer base.

RW: What were some of the different plants that you grew, that the Columbia Greenhouses didn't offer?

KO: Oh, I don't think we grew hardly anything any different. As I said earlier, everybody was growing everything, and gosh, I can't think of a crop that we didn't try. Although we didn't try cucumbers or tomatoes.

RW: Okay. You were talking about the main tools that you used? When you were at Columbia Greenhouses, did that start to change in that time period, when you started your business?

KO: Yes, definitely. People could start affording tractors and buying soil from other sources, a lot of new equipment that you could use to help your business. And carts to put, move plants on. So there were a lot of things going on. And right now, it's quite sophisticated, I would say, compared to what it was back in those days.

RW: You were growing inside the greenhouses and also outside?

KO: Correct. But eventually, cut flowers became out of date because they were shipping plants in from California, and cheaper. So, we quit growing cut flowers.

RW: Phased that out?

KO: Phased it out, and started in with other things.

<End Segment 42> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 43>

RW: Describe some of the hard times of your business. When you first got started, and then through growth years.

KO: Well, I think the hardest part was, we didn't know what we were doing. Because, not having ever run a business before, we didn't know what was involved. But, I will say this, that back in those days, it was a lot simpler to run a business. You didn't have the government, and the state, and the city, with all of these regulations and forms that you have to spend time filling out. And then the main thing was to make enough money to pay your bills. And that was your number one concern. And even labor-wise, you didn't have to withhold social security, medical and... life was a lot simpler running a business back then, and I don't think you needed to be too smart to run a business, as long as you had enough capital. Which, I don't know how we survived, but that's another story.

RW: You'd mentioned before, that there is always someone there to help you when you need it, when you get in, stuck into a hard time. Are there some other people that you'd like to mention, that have helped you along the way?

KO: Well, not particularly. I, I think... there were different people that did little things that helped us along. But certainly nobody stands out that I can mention. But we're thankful for all the people that did come forward to help us when they could. I'm, well, you could list among those people the jobbers that were buying stuff from -- you know, if things got a little tough, they would let us, let it go until we could get on our feet to pay 'em off. So, yeah, I think certainly that's an important part of the, what help we got.

RW: Wanted to ask you a little bit about your experience with the non-minorities in the same business. Did you have a lot of competition? Was that ever a problem or...

KO: Well, there's always competition. But, I think as you mentioned a little earlier, there was -- the area was growing, so if you could put the material out, there was a place to sell it. The big problem was trying to establish a price. That was always a problem, and it still is. At one time, we were hoping that this flower organization could set prices so that everybody would get the same price. But what happened is, the moment you set a price, your competitors down there, selling 10 cents less, or 15 cents less. So that never really panned out. I don't know if that will ever work. But that was a big problem, trying to establish market price.

<End Segment 43> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 44>

RW: Wanted to ask you about the location, being here in the north end of the city, in Greenwood. What was the community like here for Japanese Americans? Was there a community, and...?

KO: Well, there were a few other greenhouses around in the area when we first got here in '58. But eventually, they were all bought out for residences and commercial buildings. And so, it wasn't too many years before we were about the only ones in this area; where at one time, I understand there were quite a few Japanese farms and greenhouses in the area. I think at one time the Japanese were the dominant group of growers, of greenhouse operators. But that's certainly changed now.

RW: Talk about some of the changes to now. What is the business like today?

KO: Well, today, it's -- first of all in running a business, it's highly... you have to spend too much time in the office. The other part is that you have to be careful about labor. And labor is always, has been a problem for us, being in the city, where our competitors, being out in the farm areas, they seem to have a... more of a available labor pool. But we've been lucky here again, that somebody would always drop in when we were lookin' for someone but... I lost my train of thought. What was the question? [Laughs]

RW: I'll bring you back to that actually. I had kind of jumped, so I'm not surprised.

<End Segment 44> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 45>

RW: I'm gonna' bring you back a little bit to your relationship with your brother. How've you worked out a successful partnership for working together?

KO: Well, we both have a little bit of our dad in our system and so, there've been times when things got rather hectic but, we were always able to get over it and move on. Whether the situation was always resolved to anyone's satisfaction or not, I don't know. But we made it forty years, and I think that says something.

RW: Forty years.

KO: Yeah.

RW: What relationship do you have with different roles within the business? Do you still do sales?

KO: Yes, I do sales and my brother does the growing, primarily. And we have my niece, who's in the business now, who's, can do both. So perhaps someday, she'll take over the business.

RW: Talk about other family members that have been involved in the business as well.

KO: Well, we've got a nephew in the business, and another, Shig has another son in the business. My mother, when she was able, used to come over here on Saturdays, and pull weeds and do all kinds of things we didn't want her to do. [Laughs] But, after awhile she got to the point where it was tough for her to get over here. But those, that's the extent of the family. Although, I will say that over the years, we've asked different family members to help us at certain times, and they've always been willing to do so, and they still do it to this day if we need help. So that's something that we're fortunate we can fall back on.

RW: Sounds like you have a very tight family network.

KO: Well yeah, we're a small family, and we're very tight, yes. And I think it's, that's something that I'm really, really, really thankful for.

RW: Your brother Hod started his greenhouse business in Renton, correct?

KO: Well, it was in Bellevue, actually. When he first got started, he took over a place and ran it for awhile. It was right near Alice's parents place. I don't know if you remember that greenhouse. It was right across the street from the Overlake Golf Course; and I can't even remember the name of it now. But it was owned by M. L. Davies, I think. And he worked for him for awhile, and then this other place came up and Davies bought that place. And he just -- M. L., he was in the produce business, and decided that he didn't like the greenhouse business too much because, too much work for a little profit. So my brother had a chance to buy the greenhouse, and that's how he got started. And, the greenhouse still operating today.

<End Segment 45> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 46>

RW: Wanted to ask you a little bit about your growth years. You were running the Greenwood site, and what led to the expansion, to...?

KO: Well, we felt it was, we had more business than we could handle out of this location, so it was either we relocate and expand, or try to take over an existing greenhouse. And yeah, things for some reason have fallen into place for us along the way. This other place became available and they were, here again, quite willing to take a chance on us. We've been there about fifteen or eighteen years. So we're running two places as well as my brother's place now.

RW: So a total of three greenhouse sites?

KO: That's correct.

RW: And the other place that you purchased from the family?

KO: From the Iwasakis. And that -- Mr. Iwasaki, he was another hard-headed like my dad. He practically ran that place like it was his kingdom or something. But anyway, he lived to be about ninety-eight years old. He wanted to keep that place also -- as a going greenhouse because he had quite a bit of land there, and I'm sure he could have gotten rid of it. But we happened to be there at the right time, and worked out for us. We just have one payment to make on that place and that's ours. [Laughs]

RW: Wow. And that's in Renton?

KO: Skyway area of Renton.

RW: Skyway area? And the name of that?

KO: Bryn Mawr Greenhouse.

RW: And then Hod, your brother's place is...?

KO: Valley View.

RW: Valley View. Okay. So all together, how much greenhouse space do you think you control?

KO: Well I would say 70 or 80,000 square feet. Whatever that comes out to in acres. And then we have some open land, too. But in the grand scheme of things, that's just an average size operation. It's bigger than some, and quite a bit smaller than some of the bigger places that have gone in recently. And that size is beginning to hurt us a little bit, because we can't go out after those big mass market customers. And so, we have to work hard to maintain our niche in the industry. So far I think we're okay, but who knows how long that's going to be.

AI: Could you say a little bit more about what your niche is these days? What is it that kind of sets you apart.

KO: Well we have people who are willing to pay a little more for quality plants. And that's something that, well that's one of the things that we wanted to try to do, going back to what was happening -- not that Columbia was growing inferior plants, but we felt that if we tried harder we could grow better material. And because of it, we've been able to hold our customer base through thick and thin. But whether that's going to be enough to sustain us from now on is the big question. Because, one of our customers is a chain that is growing by leaps and bounds. And while we can only handle part of the business now, it's getting smaller and smaller because we are too small to supply them. It's maybe the way that a lot of small businesses go -- we're just gonna' be aced out someday. Hopefully not, but we'll see.

RW: Big change from family-run businesses to corporate style business.

KO: That's right. There are big, big, big operations in the area now, and some of it came from other parts of the country buying in.

<End Segment 46> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 47>

RW: Wanted to ask you about when you decided to purchase your homes, right here next to the site.

KO: Well, that was a tough, kind of a tough problem in that this one home that we wanted to purchase for Shig on the corner of the property here, we thought they were asking a terrible price for it. But as it turns out, it was a bargain. Then I was looking for a place, and like I mentioned, things keep happening, and this fellow happened to want to move out and go into another house. So the real estate man came over here and said, "Would you like to take over this house?" So that's how we ended up with the two houses on the property.

RW: Were you looking for something very close to the property?

KO: Well definitely. We feel that you can't run this business from a distance. You have, somebody has to be here. And being partners, it made it a lot easier with both of us here.

RW: What is your work schedule like? How many days a week? What are your hours?

KO: Normally -- I've cut down on my work now -- but normally, get out here about 7:30, and seeing... opening up and seeing that everything's going in the right directions; get your orders lined up for the day. And the people start coming in, and they pick the orders, and we determine how they're gonna' go out. My brother manages the crew, so he's out there telling them what to do. And I'm in here answering the telephone, and sending out faxes, letters, and filling out all the forms. And the day seems to go sailing by but we put in, I imagine, seventy or eighty hours a week even now, because we work on the weekends.

It's something you have to love to do, I think, to put in those kind of hours. And I think it's hurt us, in some ways, socially. We probably could have been enjoying life a little more, but we're hoping that time will come.

RW: Having your mother close by too, since the two of you do live together, must have been helpful to be so close to the site. Where your residence was, and the business.

KO: That's definitely the case. And, as I might have mentioned before, I'm... feel a little sad that my father wasn't around long enough to see some of what happened. It's, that's always in the back of my mind, that I wish he'd been able to see how things turned out. Which wasn't totally bad, I guess.

<End Segment 47> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 48>

RW: I think about now is when we'd like to break and start to walk around a little bit. I did want to mention just a little bit about maybe the future of this site, and the fact that the city of Seattle is now interested in purchasing the property...

KO: Correct.

RW: ...once again. And that you're considering consolidating your business, so that you would have some more leisure time and be able to cut back a little more on the business.

KO: That's right. We're at the age now where I think we deserve a little time off. [Laughs] Yes, I have a meeting with the Park Department at two o'clock tomorrow, in fact. Not I, but we do. We're really getting down to the nitty gritty now so, either it's going to happen, or not happen, shortly. We'll soon see. Then that will tell the future of this place, and our business.

RW: Do you have some wishes for what you'd like to see happen to this site, if it was to transfer to the city and become public open space?

KO: Well, I think we're quite happy about the fact that the city is interested in keeping this an open space. Because we'd hate to see -- not that it's bad -- just a bunch of homes built right over the property. And if it's, if they can develop an area where people can come and enjoy themselves, especially the youngsters, I think we'd have a good feeling about that.

RW: Would you like to see some of the greenhouse structures be reused in anyway?

KO: Well, if it could be worked out, and you could get a project going that would maintain the greenhouses and keep it from being vandalized, I think there's a good opportunity to show people how, what a greenhouse is and how plants are grown. But, that'll be somebody else's decision, not ours.

<End Segment 48> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 49>

[Walking around the Greenwood Greenhouse site]

RW: Tell us a little bit about the season right now that you're growing in, and what you're growing, and what we see here in the greenhouse.

KO: Well we're at the tail end of our spring season, which runs from April through June. Once we get into June, the spring business kinda' slows down, and that's why you see a lot of empty benches here. So I, I'll just show you what we have left, and if there are any questions along the way, just feel free to ask.

Right now, what you see in here are outdoor spring plants, that -- petunias and salvias basically -- that we sell in four inch pots. This house was totally covered with hanging baskets earlier, but so you can see we're down to just a few now. And as soon as the material is sold out of here, we'll be cleaning up, getting ready for Christmas; for poinsettias. And it's a neverending cycle. So, I think we can move on from here.

Let's see. Let's go down below here a minute. As you can see, there's not too much in these houses. And they'll, they'll be out of here shortly, most of the plants anyway.

RW: What are you growing in here?

KO: These are seedlings that we transplant. The ladies transplant into the flats, and we sell as bedding plants. Just for a moment, I'll show you what I was talking about in the way of machinery. Years ago we used to broadcast seeds into a flat. Now we have this machine that will take your different size seeds, and put 'em into these so-called waffles, and the machine is supposed to drop only one seed per hole, and... there was some -- it doesn't always work that way, but it's taken a lot of hand work out of it. When you broadcast seed into a flat, you had to dig 'em out by hand and separate them. This way, we have a dislodger that comes by and dislodges these little plants in these little holes here, and so the ladies, all they have to do is just pick 'em up, and put 'em into these flats, and we put them on the bench, and grow 'em on.

RW: And that was all done by hand? It used to be done by hand?

KO: It used to be all done by hand. And I'll show you, I'll explain something else that was being done by hand at one time, too. Which tells you some of the things that have improved. Now, all of these greenhouses that we're going through now, we rebuilt them totally. They were all wooden rafters at one time, and we put steel gutters in, and put aluminum rafters in. So that was part of the work that we were going through after we got here initially.

But, I was going to explain that the ladies transplant the plants into these flats. And at one time, the plants were planted directly into flats; and so you could go to the store -- and, say you wanted three plants -- they'd take a trowel and dig it out for you, for six plants. But now, we have a standard number of plants that go into a container, and that's the way you're being forced to buy. However, I think your quality has improved immeasurably, because you don't have to disturb the roots when you buy the plants to put in your garden.

<End Segment 49> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 50>

KO: These here, this is cucumber. These, we seed 'em directly by hand; the machine will not handle the seed for the cucumbers, and some of the other things. And the only herb we grow is basil, and... we seed those directly also into the container.

RW: What other vegetables do you grow?

KO: Oh, gosh, we grow everything from brussel sprouts, zucchinis, lettuce, cauliflower. Here's another piece of equipment that washes the trays that we use for seedlings. These have all been washed. And you run the water in there and put 'em through the machine, they come out nice and clean, hopefully.

And this area here is a holding area for bedding plants that we want to take out of the greenhouse. It's not heated. And this is a brand new structure and it replaces a structure that went down in the snowstorm of 1996. They're made so that you can roll up the sides, get a good air movement. And... if it gets below freezing, you have a little problem, but at this time of the year, I think we're pretty safe. Right now it's primarily tomatoes, and there's a few impatiens way down at the end.

RW: So you would use this as a cooling off?

KO: That's right, hardening area. At one time, this was one of the areas where we used to grow mums. Nothing but chrysanthemums right on the ground.

<End Segment 50> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 51>

RW: So tell me, at your high season... you said that you're seeing a lot of empty benches right now. Do you fill up the entire space?

KO: For -- with poinsettias?

RW: With whatever season you're in.

KO: Oh, yes, we fill it all up. In fact when Christmas comes, this whole range will be nothing but poinsettias. This is how we put the flats on the bench, ready for the ladies to plant. They have automatic transplanters now, which we can't afford. So they're trying to take a lot of the hand labor out of this business.

RW: How many people do you employ?

KO: All told, about twenty five.

RW: Is that spread out between the three sites?

KO: Yeah, between the three sites. We've been lucky, in that we've had a good stable crew where we haven't had to scrounge around for help too much. But this is the tail end, as I mentioned before, of our crop. Certainly not much to see here, so we'll go on.

This is an example of what a seed flat looks like after the seeds have been put in and they've grown to the point that they can be transplanted. And we have a, as I mentioned, a dislodger that knocks these things right out; you just pick 'em up and put 'em into the flats as quickly as you can. Kinda' rather tedious work, and we're fortunate that the women are able to do it, although [Laughs] there're probably some men who could do it too.

We'll go over here, and, we'll glance in this greenhouse just a moment. This is where we plant our baskets and our hanging baskets. Those are made from moss. And we only make a limited number of those baskets, but we could sell any amount that we could grow, of these moss baskets; but they're too much trouble. So we just grow a limited amount.

RW: Are they difficult to grow?

KO: They're difficult to plant. Because you gotta put the moss in, then you put the dirt in, and then you have to punch holes in the moss and put the plants into the holes. In fact, one of our girls got bursitis in her arm from punching the holes into the moss to put the plants in.

RW: But there's a high demand?

KO: Oh, big demand for it. They're hard to deliver too, which is another reason we don't grow too much.

RW: Must go for a pretty penny then.

KO: Oh yeah, we have to get a good price for them, no question. And you see a lot of this material on racks here. And most of that material that you see on racks around here, are grown in one of our two other locations, and they're brought up here and sold. We sell only out of this location here, so that we can avoid a lot of confusion.

<End Segment 51> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 52>

RW: Tell us about this area.

KO: This area was also at one time, nothing but chrysanthemums when we first got here. And, when we quit growing, we made these cold frames. I think we were one of the first ones in the area to make a frame of this size with heat inside so that in case it gets extra cold, we can turn the heat on. But now, they're converting over to those new houses that we just saw over on the other side. If you look back in the corner there, you'll see some posts in the air that -- where we had some greenhouses up, and they fell down in the snow storm in 1996, right around Christmas time. It's hard to imagine how much pressure snow can create. It looks like it's a lot of fun when you have a lot, but for the greenhouse industry, it's a real pain. We had houses go down here, and houses go down over at our two other locations. And we also had, oh, about 1,500 panes of glass break out of these greenhouses. And I think we're still trying to recover from that snowstorm. It was quite damaging to a lot of us.

RW: What do you use that space for now?

KO: Oh it's a hardening off space. We use this open area about ten months out of the year. In the spring, all of these cold frames are full of bulbs that we force for Valentine's Day. Ideally, the bulbs are supposed to be forced in coolers. But, I think we're one of the few who still do it the old way, and cool the bulbs off out here. And of course to a layman, cooling doesn't mean a heck of a lot. But bulbs have to be pre-cooled a certain amount, if you want 'em to bloom at a certain time. And we want them to come in before Valentine's Day and that's why we go through this pre-cooling process.

<End Segment 52> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 53>

KO: Well, let's go on down here, and...

RW: Point out where your brother lives.

KO: Oh he lives in that house right over there in the corner.

RW: The green top. And then where do you live?

KO: I live right over there. Behind the trees. Everything that, all -- when we get an order, we have people go out and pick 'em out, pick the orders out on these racks. They're on carts. And they're unloaded here, and then they are put into the truck by forklift.

RW: When did you purchase the trucks?

KO: Quite awhile ago, they're older trucks now. I think the newest one we got is about (1980). We're trying to keep 'em all going until we get out of here. [Laughs]

And I'll show you quickly how we handle soil. We buy all of our soil premixed and there's, it's artificial soil, there's no soil in the mix itself. It's a mixture of sand, and pumice, and peat, and... we buy it from a company down in Sumner. We have a truck dump it here and we push it back in there. Then we take our tractor and fill that bin, right here, and it runs it through this conveyor here. It eliminates a lot of the sticks and stones that might be in there. And then it drops it down into this hopper here, and then we run the containers through the machine. And there's -- we have one person loading it on one end and another person catching it at this end. It runs about 700 flats an hour through there. That doesn't sound like a heck of a lot but when you're trying to catch 700 flats in one hour on this end, it's a real chore. It takes some strong bodies to do that.

RW: You have quite an amount of equipment now.

KO: That's, you know, that's what I mean -- before, when we first started here, we had maybe two shovels and a couple of wheelbarrows. But in time, we've accumulated all this equipment. And we probably should have more, but it's getting to the point where the costs are prohibitive. And... only if we make a lot of money can we afford to buy some of the newer equipment.

<End Segment 53> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 54>

RW: Tell me the distance that you deliver your flowers to. How far north, how far south?

KO: Well we go as far north as Mount Vernon, Marysville. And we go into the Bellevue area, Mercer Island. And out to Tacoma, into the Kent area. And we go up to Port Angeles with a truckload once a week. We have several customers within a half hour's ride from here. So we cover a pretty wide area. Because of the traffic, the deliveries are getting slower and slower. And that's also increasing your costs of being, staying in business, but I don't know how you're gonna' beat that.

And that pretty well covers our greenhouse area here. I just want to point out that when we first got here, all we had was this set of houses right in front of us here, that we can see going down this aisle. And they were all wooden houses ready to fall down. The benches inside were ready to fall down. So we rebuilt the whole thing, and added those three houses in the back; and I think we've covered just about every inch of this area available for production.

RW: What will you miss most about this site?

KO: Well it's the convenience of delivery, one, but the other thing is that we have some nice neighbors surrounding the greenhouses; never caused us any problems, where other people had lots of problems. And I think those are the two things that I'll miss the most. But certainly being in this area is, delivery is a lot more convenient in reaching all of these different areas that we go to. But that's not gonna' get any better, and we're just gonna' have to learn to live with that. And maybe that's somebody else's problem too, not mine. [Laughs]

RW: I did bring some old photos. I don't know if you're interested in looking at those, and maybe even filming --

ME: Okay, Alice.

AI: Today is May 31st, 1998. We've been speaking with Mr. Kunio Otani, here at Greenwood Greenhouses. 602 North 87th, Seattle, Washington. And interviewers have been Rebecca Walls, and myself, Alice Ito. Matt Emery is the videographer. Thanks Mr. Otani.

ME: Great.

KO: Oh, you're welcome. I hope it all worked out. Reasonably well, anyway.

<End Segment 54> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 55>

Photo descriptions

Photo 1

ME: Okay. So what do we have here?

KO: Well this is an early picture of the Greenhouse site. And as you can see, there is a lot of room on each side of the greenhouses so, in some of these open spaces, we now have greenhouses. However, I'd like to point out that at one time there used to be quite a bit more topsoil on the property. But during the war, when this property was turned over to a caretaker, he took and bulldozed all the good topsoil off of the property and sold it. So when the, Mr. Nishimura came back, he had to buy new soil and put in new growing areas so he could start growing his mums again.

RW: That photo was 1938.

KO: This was in 1938? That's quite awhile ago, that's... what? Sixty years ago?

Photo 2

KO: This picture shows the greenhouses a few years later, and as you can see, they've added some more greenhouses. But if you'll note the size of the greenhouses, especially the peak of the roof, they're very low to the ground. Unlike the newer structures where the roof line is considerably higher, giving you more air space in the greenhouse for better air movement. And also, if you'll look at the picture closely, I don't see any way that they were venting the greenhouse, unless they had some fans drawing the air out at one end. But it must have been hard or difficult to operate out of a greenhouse of that size, because it would get so warm in the summer.

RW: That's 1941. And also in that picture, you can see the Interurban trolley line.

KO: Oh yes, I didn't notice that before, but the Interurban trolley ran right through part of this property. And in fact at one time, we had a gentleman come through here filming our property, because he was trying to follow the Interurban from town all the way up into Everett.

Photo 3

KO: Here's a picture of a home that I'm living in at present. This photo shows, was taken in 1906. So it goes back many, many years. Many changes have been made to the structure over the years. It's kind of unrecognizable now, although if you look closely, you can generally follow the lines of the building.

RW: It was built in 1906, but the photo is 1938.

KO: 1938 photo.

Photo 4

KO: This photo shows part of the structures that were on the building when we first came here. The open shed that you see to the left was a place that we used to bring our mums, that were grown in the field right in front of the structure. We thought it was quite an unsightly building so we knocked both of these down shortly after we got here. And I think this had, it was still up in 1958 when he came. So this must have been a photo taken after 1958.

Photo 5

KO: This photo was taken in 1956, and it show the structures before we arrived on the scene in 1958. You cannot get this same picture now because we put taller bushes and trees around the greenhouse to screen it off from the streets, and to give us a little more privacy and protection. That tall chimney is still up but I think it's been lowered somewhat from the pictures that you see here.

RW: What was the chimney used for?

KO: Oh that's for the boilers. The chimney was used for the boilers that were underground.

Photo 6

KO: Here's a picture from 1966. The two greenhouses that you see in the background were put up after we came here and were not part of the original greenhouses. The frames that you see in the foreground of the picture are cold frames that we put up in the field, after we stopped growing mums. Think that's about all I can say about that.

Photo 7

ME: So what is this a picture of?

KO: This is a picture of our crew and it goes back, I imagine, twenty or twenty-five years. Oddly enough, several of the people in the picture are still with us -- I mean, of the workers -- and there are several members of our family there too; including the dog in the front. So we're happy that we kept this picture to remind us of some of the people who worked here and helped us in our business.

...Gee whiz, it's really amazing that you can narrow it down to that extent; oh my gosh.

Photo 8

ME: And who is this?

KO: This is a picture of my mother; everybody calls her "Grandma." This photo goes back maybe twenty years when she was able to come out to the greenhouse, and pull all the weeds and sweep up the greenhouse even though we told her to stay home. People have been telling me for many, many years that my grandmother was rather attractive, and over the years, I should say just recently, I've kind of become --

Photo 9

KO: That's my brother's wife Mary, holding one of our poinsettias.

Photo 10

KO: Christmas we hold a company party, and I get elected to be, to, elected to play Santa Claus every year. And behind that beard, there's just me.

Photo 11

ME: Upper right-hand corner?

KO: That's another picture of myself working in poinsettias. That's before the poinsettia bloomed.

Photo 12

KO: Here is another picture of myself showing, or with poinsettias that we grow and that's the scene that you'll see here at Christmas time. The whole, all of our houses are filled with poinsettias and most of them are red --

<End Segment 55> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.