Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Shosuke Sasaki Interview
Narrator: Shosuke Sasaki
Interviewers: Frank Abe (primary), Stephen Fugita (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: May 18, 1997
Densho ID: denshovh-sshosuke-01

<Begin Segment 1>

FA: It's May 18, 1997, we're at the Kenny Retirement Home in West Seattle, talking with Shosuke Sasaki. And Shosuke, I just want to say how, that you look just as good as you did when I first met you twenty years ago. [Laughs]

SS: I wish I felt that good.

FA: Well you look great, Shosuke. Tell me where were you born, when were you born and what was your family... tell me about your family.

SS: Well, I was born in Japan. Do you want the address and the location?

FA: The ken.

SS: Oh, the ken. Yamaguchi-ken. And Yoshiki-gun, and the name of the village was Ajisu.

FA: What's your birthday?

SS: March 26, 1912.

FA: And what are your parents' names?

SS: My parents?

FA: Yes. Father and mother.

SS: Oh. My father's name was Tamenosuke and my mother's name was Moto. That's their first names.

FA: How many brothers and sisters do you have?

SS: Well, I have living, only my sister.

FA: What's her name?

SS: Umeko Araki.

FA: What class was your father and mother from?

SS: Well, we were from the samurai class.

FA: Can you tell me a little bit about that?

SS: Yes. The, as you know, in Japan, they had a number of classes. Of course the top class was the Emperor and the, his relatives and nobility. We never ranked anywhere close to that. But we were sort of... the American dictionaries sometimes refer to us as being the lesser members of Japan's lesser nobility.

FA: I know you're very proud of being from samurai class. Why are you so proud of that?

SS: Well, if it hadn't been for the samurai class, Japan might have been taken over as a colony by the United States or England or any of the other powers. But the people of, the countries of Europe and the Unites States essentially, they're all of European decent except for the Native American, so-called Indians. The... when Millard Fillmore sent Perry, to, to open up Japan, his attitude toward the Japanese and its government was one of utter and total contempt. And they would have probably enjoyed mistreating us harshly right from the beginning if they could have gotten away with it. But they were probably restrained from taking that attitude of treating us as animals or semi-animals because of Japan's experience with the European countries before that time. So the, certainly the Americans, their attitude was based on ignorance. Of course it was one of total contempt and they would have acted accordingly if it hadn't have been for the warning they received from other countries that had relations with Japan many years prior to that. Like, for instance, the Portuguese and the Dutch. They must, the American government must have been warned by them not to take that total contemptuous attitude toward the Japanese if you want anything ever settled.

FA: How did you come to, how did your family come to immigrate to America?

SS: Well, my father was a graduate of Japan's first merchant marines school. And because of that, he learned English there. So he was always -- well, as far as I remember -- bilingual. He could read, write and speak in both English and Japanese. Which I found to be a great advantage to me as a boy growing up. My father did not hesitate to correct me on my English more than once. And he read, he bought and read books written in both Japanese and -- written in either Japanese or English and, maybe I could mention here that my father's best friend in that little town where I lived for the first four and a half years of my life in this country in a little town of Pomeroy. It's in the southeastern corner of Washington State. My father decided to live there because his friend Edwin W. Gibson urged him to come to that town.

FA: Why?

SS: Well, for one thing. They were, since my father was bilingual, my father read the same books, same magazines that his friend Edwin Gibson read. Edwin, I called him Ed, I should have called him Uncle Ed, really. In Japanese, I would have called him Ojisan, you know, Uncle. But in this country, my parents never thought of the fact that I wasn't being as polite as I should be. And this Edwin Gibson was probably one of the best-educated men I ever knew. He never had a chance or went to college, but as I grew older and started reading on my own, I realized the extent to which Ed Gibson had educated himself by just endless reading. His home was practically a library. The living room was, had bookshelves on all four walls.

FA: What books do you recall reading when you were in Pomeroy as a child?

SS: Well these were children's books that he and his brothers read when they were young.

FA: What books, do you recall?

SS: Well, they were, I don't remember the names of these books. But I know that my sister and I had free access to all the books in his house and Ed was not only a scholar, he was a born teacher.

SF: When did you come to the United States? What year?

SS: Came to this country in 1919, the year World War I ended. And I might add that I didn't come by steerage. We came first-class.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

FA: What do you recall of your childhood? How old were you in Pomeroy? And, how old were you then?

SS: Well, I was seven.

FA: What do you recall of being seven years old in Southeastern Washington State where you were probably the... you were the only Japanese family.

SS: Yeah, the one and only Japanese family in that area.

FA: What was that like?

SS: Well, we were looked upon like we were, I suppose, you go to a zoo or something and you see a pink elephant or something different. That's the way we were looked at. We were just total curiosity.

FA: How about conflict? Fights?

SS: Oh, conflict, well that started at an early age. I was taught never to, to leave an insult unchallenged.

FA: Really?

SS: Oh yes. And the use of the Jap, the word "Jap" was quite prevalent there and if anybody called me a Jap, I immediately objected and very often I ended up in a fistfight. I used to come home with bloody noses. And at that time, I had some defect in my nose or something and the slightest tap on my nose and the thing would start to bleed. And I don't know how many times I came home with a bloody nose until my father said, one day he said, "We've got to stop this. You're getting a frequent nosebleed like this." So then he showed me a judo hold. And I remember he made me practice that for a whole month. Every day after I came home from school. And after a month, he said, "Well, okay. You know how to throw a man now." So I used that on the kids and that ended the getting into these fistfights, which I was always at a disadvantage because I was always the smallest kid in the class. I didn't have the reach, nor the weight. And I remember the one advantage of being so darn small was while I was in those fights in those days when I used to end up with my nose bleeding, it usually scared the kids that I was fighting with from trying to continue the fight. That always... they used to burn me up. I'd tell the, shout to the kids, "Come back here, I'm not through fighting yet." [Laughs]

FA: I'm surprised, Shosuke. You know, the stereotype is that the Japanese would try and avoid fights, try and... I'm surprised your father would not have told you to avoid trouble.

SS: No. See, my father was a graduate of the Merchant Marines school in Japan. And his family -- he was adopted into the Sasaki family later -- his family was not samurai. They came from the... they were shoya. That meant the head of the village or the town and it meant being, in effect, the mayor of the town. The mayor of the town in the feudal period, his main job was seeing that the rice crop was taken in and properly taxed.

FA: So your father taught you to never let an insult go unchallenged.

SS: Yeah, and when he came... I remember my mother used to tell me, how when after they were married and came back, he left the family and my mother was back in Japan. We lived in one of the best houses in the town on a hill overlooking the whole village and socially, I think we were about the top or right up there with one or two other families that were considered equal class.

FA: In Japan.

SS: In Japan, yes.

FA: Was it hard for him to come to Pomeroy, Washington and be a curiosity? Be the only Japanese family in town?

SS: Well, no. My mother felt the loneliness. And that's another thing, she never bothered to learn English, either. And it benefited me, in fact, it kept my Japanese up to a level higher than it would have been if I'd been allowed to use English at home.

FA: How could you tell your mother was lonely?

SS: Well, she often spoke of Japan, but I could tell she was lonely because if we had any Japanese visitors, she was really happy to speak Japanese with some people that she could speak Japanese with.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

FA: Quick question, what line of work was your father in, in Pomeroy?

SS: In Pomeroy when we came in 1919, he was operating a restaurant.

FA: What was the name of the restaurant?

SS: I think it was called the Pomeroy Restaurant, I'm not sure.

FA: What did you serve?

SS: Regular American food.

FA: Not Japanese food?

SS: No, not Japanese.

FA: Did you cook in the restaurant, did you help out?

SS: Well, I used to help wash dishes sometimes when they were really busy. Otherwise...

FA: How did the clientele treat you and treat your father?

SS: Oh, they, they treated us all right.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

[Ed. Note: Due to technical difficulties, the video is missing during the interviewer's first question.]

SF: Shosuke, I was going to ask you, why did your dad leave Japan from a relatively privileged position to come to a distant place like Pomeroy and become a restaurant operator?

SS: Well, that, he was working on -- after he graduated school -- he was working on a transpacific ship. In those days they were sailing ships and he had come... the ship, unfortunately, was captained by a fellow who must have been a double for Captain Bligh. And my father had made a friend with other members, with another man on the, working on the same boat and both of them agreed that they would not make a return trip on a ship run by this captain.

FA: They jumped ship.

SS: They jumped ship. Vancouver, B.C. And my father, my father's friend left, it was night when they left sometime when it was dark and my father had urged this friend to go first and wait at the end of the dock and my father would then meet him there. Well, as his friend left the boat, the plank on which the, which he was using to get up on the dock clattered and that sound, it made such a sound that my father was afraid that someone would come and check. So he did not cross onto the dock immediately. He waited for a while to see if anyone would come to investigate. When no one did, why, then he got on the, got up on the dock and walked to the end of the dock where he was supposed to, this other man was supposed to meet him. Well, when he got there, there was no friend there. And my father said he looked around and called out in a low voice. He called his friend's name, no response. And he was quite beside himself with what he should do under the circumstances and then he realized that if he stood around at the end of the that dock much longer, dawn would break, in which case he could easily be picked up taken back to the ship. So he said if he was going to be successful in making the break from the ship, he'd have to do it while it was still dark. So he decided to give up waiting, looking for his friend and I guess he must have gone into the woods. There were trees there in those days. And he... oh yes, the first thing he made for himself was a drinking tube made from a small branch of an Elder tree which he split into half and then scraped out the pith inside and then he tied the two halves together with a string and made a drinking tube out of it.

FA: A drinking tube for what?

SS: What?

FA: A drinking tube for what?

SS: Drinking water from the streams.

FA: To suck like a straw.

SS: Yes. He made the equivalent of a straw and he used that to drink from streams and he crossed the, he came down across the border. And of course in those days the border wasn't manned or anything and you could walk across any border you pleased and then he crossed. I don't know how he did it in those days, but he must have found some kind of a road or a path going across the Cascades. And one day while it was still fairly dark, he suddenly tripped over an animal and he said he, that was one of the biggest shocks he ever received in his life. He thought he had tripped over a wild animal or something. But it turned out the animal he tripped over was a cow that was lying there. [Laughs] And then he also realized that there must be human beings near here. And he found his way to a farmhouse and asked the farmer if the farmer knew where there were any other Japanese. And the farmer pointed out that there was a Japanese railroad repair crew somewhere in a certain direction and he followed the instructions and he went and he got, came to where this group of Japanese were working on the railroad. They were the repair crew. Well, when he met the rest of the crew, he said that the other people working on that repair crew were extremely glad to have him join them as one of their co-workers. For one thing, he was the only one there who could read, write and speak both English and Japanese. And they were based apparently in Spokane and so he was kept quite busy acting as interpreter, translator and especially writing return addresses on envelopes of letters that other members of the crew wrote to Japan.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

FA: Just to complete the story, Shosuke, how did he meet Ed Gibson later?

SS: Ed Gibson? No, he met Ed while he was in Spokane. And Ed's mother, wait a minute... yeah, he met Ed in Spokane. Whether he, no, I guess he... he opened up a restaurant or something in Spokane.

FA: Your father did?

SS: Yeah. And he was quite successful at that time.

FA: And then he sent for you after that?

SS: Yeah. Then he went back to Japan and I think he had...

FA: So your father had two restaurants?

SS: No, no. He had only one, in Spokane.

FA: Oh, yeah.

SS: And anyway, he was quite successful at that time, there's a demand for -- he had all the customers he could handle and he made enough, he had enough money saved so that he could take a trip to Japan. And in those days, anybody working in America was envied. It was about, like... well, certainly there was a lot more money easily made in this country in those days.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

FA: Okay. So you're in Pomeroy, the Pomeroy Cafe. What caused your family to move to Seattle?

SS: That was the death of my father.

FA: What year?

SS: In 1924.

FA: What caused it?

SS: My father died of a hemorrhage of the lungs. Very suddenly and very unexpectedly. I'll never forget that morning when someone came to -- I was in the sixth grade then and someone came to let me and my sister know that we were "wanted at home," as they put it. And my mother tended to be on the frail side and she... well, not infrequently, wasn't feeling well, and so when this notice came that morning, my sister and I decided that it must be our mother had gotten sick. And the biggest shock in my life was returning home and discovering that my father had died. Until that time, living in Pomeroy was almost like living in Heaven. I had both parents. I was happy with both and I had nothing to worry about. But with the death of my father and then I was suddenly burdened with the question of how we were going to make a living. I remember at that time I had $62 in the Postal Savings Bank and I knew my mother would need at least that. So that was the first thing I did, was to go to the post office and withdraw the $62 and bring it home and give it to my mother. And from then on, I had, I didn't have any personal money of my own. It was always family money.

FA: And you were ten or eleven years old.

SS: I was only eleven.

FA: What was your first step towards providing for your family?

SS: Well, that came a little later. A couple of... let's see. We moved to Seattle because that's the only place my mother would be able to find work. She didn't speak any English. She had to be in a Japanese community and also a great help to us at that time was the Furuya empire, which eventually ended up bankrupt. But Mr. Furuya and my father had become friends quite early. And they used to help each other out if they were short of change and so forth. And Mr. Furuya was often criticized by people that didn't know him, who borrowed money from him and so forth. That period after we moved... oh, yes. We moved from Seattle or rather from Pomeroy to Seattle because Seattle was where Mr. Furuya and his stores were. He had, he owned one department store and he had a couple of branches, one in Tacoma I remember, and he had a branch in Portland. In those days, Furuya was the richest man in the Japanese community at that time. And he and my father had been quite close as friends and Mr. Furuya later owned a couple of banks and several stores. Mr. Furuya had started out as a tailor. That's something he learned in this country and my father often used to laugh at how poorly those suits were made. And fortunately, Mrs. Furuya was an educated woman. A schoolteacher and she and my mother got along quite, very well, I'd say. And Mrs. Furuya came from a samurai family. I don't know what Furuya really was, what his... strange, that question never occurred to me. But Furuya was the richest man in the, among the Japanese of that day, in and around the Seattle area.

FA: So what did you do and what did your mother do?

SS: Well, my mother's first job was to help at the homes of Issei women who had just given birth.

FA: Midwife.

SS: No, not a midwife. She went in as a servant in that household. My mother hated the job because she herself had been waited on by servants in her home where she was born and in the home where we lived in Japan while we were there. And here my mother had to change places with servants, really, just to stay alive for us and the family. I had an older brother who, we were hoping... my older brother was nine years older than I was. And he picked up the English language quite easily. And he soon got a job as a buyer for a vegetable wholesale dealer on Western Avenue.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

FA: And what did you do?

SS: Well, I, in those days I went to school. Grammar school. I was in the sxith grade then.

FA: What school?

SS: Central School. That was right in the middle of town. It was on Madison Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenue.

FA: It's gone now.

SS: It's totally gone. That whole area is now occupied by I-5.

FA: Do you recall your first address?

SS: Yes. First address that -- well, after we found a place, was 811 1/2 Spruce Street. We were on the second floor, that's why that half.

FA: And did you move around? Did you have other addresses?

SS: Oh, yes. I have a list of those addresses. I must have moved at least forty times.

FA: Why so often?

SS: Well, because we got into the apartment house and rooming house business and we got into that quite, well, again through Furuyas. The Furuya bank had taken over possession of an apartment building because they were, the persons owning the, or operating that building had not kept up the agreed upon payments and the bank had to take over that building. And the bank came to my mother and to me and asked us if we would take over the management of that apartment building. That was on Seventeenth and Yesler. In those days, Yesler had a cable car.

FA: Really?

SS: Yeah. And the cable car ran all the way from downtown, Third Avenue, and it ran over the hills, up until... well, it reached practically, it was at Lake Washington.

FA: And you went to Central School and then what middle school did you go to?

SS: Well, Central School, I graduated Central and then I went to Broadway High School.

FA: What did you study there? What caught your interest at Broadway High School?

SS: Well, that was... as long as I lived in a certain area, I had to go to Broadway. There wasn't any choice.

FA: No, of course. But in your studies there, what most interested you in your studies?

SS: Oh, at Broadway, I enjoyed the shop courses. Auto repair, electrical house wiring, things like that.

FA: Why?

SS: Well, somehow hooking up copper wires and running electricity through, I enjoyed doing that. Also, those days, radio was just coming into popular demand and I had learned how to make a crystal set. And I don't know how many salt containers with Morton salt, we used, wind so many coil, so many times on that thing and put taps on it so I could tune the thing to the right station and tuning was very rude, those crystal sets of those days, but I had no difficulty mastering the art of producing crystal sets. It required no intelligence, but at least I could follow instructions.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

FA: You were an Issei who spoke English at Broadway High School. Were there other Issei like you at Broadway High School at that time, or did you socialize more with the Nisei who spoke English?

SS: Well, I guess the friends with whom I played in those days were practically all Nisei.

FA: Were they the same age as you?

SS: Yeah. Quite a few of them were going to that grammar school, and then later on when I went to Broadway, and...

FA: Who were your friends at Broadway High School? Any names you recall?

SS: Let's see... there was a Japanese doctor that lived in that same block that we lived on when we were living on 811 1/2 Spruce Street and most of the houses on that block were occupied by Japanese. And there was a Japanese doctor there and he had a house on the corner, I remember. The doctor lived in the best place right on the corner of Yesler Way and Eighth Avenue. And I made friends with the boys and the girls from the Japanese family who lived in that block and adjacent blocks. There was a fair Japanese settlement there.

FA: Were you friends with Bill Hosokawa at Broadway High School?

SS: No, I never became friends with Bill.

FA: James Omura?

SS: Omura? No. My best friend that, when I lived there, was the son of the doctor. He was a born gentleman. His father obviously had come from samurai class. The father was quite successful. He had two cars, I remember, a Pierce Arrow and a Buick.

FA: Did you date girls?

SS: No, no. In those days I didn't have enough money to take anybody anywhere.

FA: Did you read the Japanese American Courier newspaper?

SS: I guess at that time when I first went there I was only about seven years old -- wait a minute, I was more than seven, I was older than that. I was already eleven. Four and a half years. No, I never dated girls simply because I didn't have any change to spend and I didn't have any suitable clothes to wear to go anywhere.

SF: Did you play sports in high school?

SS: No. The only sport that ever interested me was judo and it had a very practical purpose.

SF: What sticks in your mind about growing up essentially an Issei at Broadway High School? What did you guys do and how was life in general?

SS: Well, at Broadway, I did well. I was an honor student always. I had no difficulty at school.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

SF: So you planned on going to college right after graduating, or what was...

SS: Well, I wanted -- yes. Well, after I graduated Broadway, I went to enter the engineering school at the University of Washington. And in the middle of April I remember, of the first semester, I started developing night sweats and I started to cough, so I had to go to the school infirmary and they checked it out and told me that I had spots in my lungs and that their advice was that I drop out of school and go out in the country somewhere, where the air would be better and regain my health before continuing school. And so we... at that time, my mother and I, my mother and sister and I, the three of us, we were running a hotel on Jackson Street. Boy, that was tough because we actually had to be on duty, well, at least one of us had to be on duty 24 hours. And I was, I had become ill and my mother was complaining that the work was too hard for her, her back was bothering her because when she made and changed the sheets and so forth on the beds -- those beds in those days were very, very heavy and they had to be moved before she could change the linen. And my mother wasn't feeling well and then they found out that my sister had pleurisy. So we discussed the whole thing with the family doctor and he said, "Why don't you just give up what you're doing, you're only killing yourself with all the work, and move out to the country." So that's what we decided to do. Fortunately because of our connection or friendship with the Furuya family, some of the employees of Furuya, they said they could move us out to Bainbridge, so it didn't cost anything to move, except for the boat fare. And we went out to Bainbridge, I remember, without even knowing where we would be staying that night. And fortunately there was a farmer on Bainbridge. He was just shifting. He had given up his strawberry farm lease in one location and he had just landed a place in Winslow because he wanted to run a farm connected with that area. And we asked that farmer. The farmer, eventually he moved from Winslow to near the southern end of Bainbridge Island and that day, we, both families moved. He moved what he had from there, he moved up to the Winslow house and we moved into the house on the southern end of Bainbridge which, which he had operated that farm.

FA: What year was this, Shosuke?

SS: This was 1932, I'm pretty sure. That was the year the Furuya Bank failed.

FA: Really?

SS: Yeah, we lost our entire savings. And fortunately when we moved to this other farm that this farmer was giving up so that he could move to the new farm in Winslow that... oh yeah. See, this farmer had five acres of land there where we moved to, that was on the shore. And that faced south. And it was on top of a bluff and the road was immediately below that bluff and then 20 or 30 feet beyond that road, that was the end of the Bainbridge Island and we had to... we used to go down there to get clams. That was part of our food supply. We, the farmer had left all the vegetables that he had planted there, so we availed ourselves of what continued to grow. And he had quite a variety of vegetables, including even things like asparagus. And he left his 5-acre strawberry farm intact. So we had strawberries there whenever the season came around.

FA: Quick impression, quick answer. How did you like your life on Bainbridge?

SS: I enjoyed it. The relief from having to run that damned hotel on Jackson Street, that was one thing. And that southern end of Bainbridge, we had the most beautiful spot on Bainbridge you will find. Our house, the farmhouse we lived in faced south. Then the moon would come from the opposite shore. And the Bremerton ferries and also the navy ships used to come through that narrow channel and on a moonlight night, that was one of the most beautiful scenes I have seen anywhere in my life. And I consider it a great favor of God, really, to have placed me there to enjoy those beautiful moonlight nights there.

FA: Did you regain your health?

SS: In time. Oh yeah. We were there a little over a year.

FA: What caused you to leave?

SS: Huh?

FA: What caused you to leave?

SS: Well, because we had to get back to Seattle and get a hold of a rooming house or something where we could have a place to stay and have income. And remember the rooming house that we -- of course, as you know, we couldn't buy land -- whatever we got, those days, we had to, we had to lease the land, the building or whatever.

SF: You couldn't stay on the strawberry farm and grow strawberries and sell those?

SS: No, no. We weren't built for that kind of backbreaking work.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

FA: Around this time, mid-30s, you saw the rise of the old social, of the Nisei in Seattle and you saw them organizing the Japanese Progressive League, Progressive Citizens League, the Japanese American Citizens League...

SS: I didn't... I paid almost no attention to the Japanese American Citizens League. It was weak. About all it ever did was organize dances. Nothing serious. For me, I was determined that I was going to spend my spare time doing something other than just dancing. I never learned to dance and I haven't to this day. Naturally I wasn't very popular with the girls. They considered me just a bookworm.

FA: Did you go back to engineering at the University of Washington?

SS: Well, I went back eventually, but not to engineering. There must have been five or six Japanese when I started the engineering school at the UW. Of that five or six students, only one graduated as an engineer and all the rest of them either dropped out or changed courses.

FA: So what did you go back to?

SS: So, and so there was no employment available for Nisei engineers those days. And so I decided to take, major in business. Figured that I could use that myself.

FA: At that time, I know you were also watching the rise of tensions with Japan.

SS: Oh, yes. Yeah.

FA: Did that concern you?

SS: Oh, yes. It worried me very much.

FA: What did you see and why did it worry you?

SS: Well, I knew that if a war broke out, there would be no mercy shown to the Japanese in the United States. And my father -- when he was still living -- that was one of the things he used to worry. He said, "If there is a war imminent between the United States and Japan," he said, "I think the family should move down to Mexico. At least you won't be murdered by mobs."

FA: He felt that?

SS: He felt that, yeah.

FA: At that time, you saw the Jimmy Sakamoto and the Japanese American Citizens League in Seattle continue organizing to profess their patriotism and Americanism.

SS: Yeah, yeah.

FA: They were no longer organizing dances by that time, 1939.

SS: No, they were still organizing dances.

FA: Really?

SS: Yeah. That's what I remember, the only activity of the JACL. It permitted Nisei to meet Nisei of marriageable age and that was a way of letting them see members of the opposite sex.

FA: Even as late as mid-1941, you weren't aware of them organizing to profess patriotism, wave the flag?

SS: They started doing that after the, about the time the war began.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

FA: Where were you when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor?

SS: Well then, I was in Seattle at that time. I remember that morning I was playing golf on the Jefferson Golf Course and I didn't know the war had started. I started around 7 o'clock that morning Seattle time and I got home around 1 o'clock in the afternoon. First time my mother told me. She said, "Shosuke, senso hajimemattayo."

FA: "War has broken out."

SS: Yeah, war has broken -- we were expecting it. And that, that was a cruel period where the U.S. was throwing every possible impediment into the economic success of the Japanese, both based in Japan and the Japanese here.

FA: I know you believe that the U.S. provoked war with Japan.

SS: Oh, that's absolutely no question. That's a fact of history. The U.S. was doing everything possible to provoke a war. They wanted, the U.S. wanted to get into the European war and the pacifist feeling in this country was so strong that they pulled the most successful trick in forcing Japan into a position where she had to strike first.

FA: And how did the U.S. do that?

SS: Well, the U.S. cut off all trade and most of all, the thing that forced Japan to strike Pearl Harbor, was the U.S. also got China, Holland and other countries that might have supplied her with oil, she had them cut all trade with Japan. So when she struck Pearl Harbor, Japan had only forty days of oil left. And for the relative weakness of Japan, well, the United States was rich. Japan knew good and well that they couldn't replace their losses. And I remember in those days, I used to read Japanese and English, Japanese newspapers, so I knew exactly how the Japanese felt. And the Japanese were practically on their knees begging Uncle Sam to ease up because they knew they couldn't win a war because of Japan's lack of resources and Yamamoto knew that. He said, "The first year I'll run wild with our Navy, but after the first year, the losses will start to hurt." That's exactly what happened.


FA: Shosuke, when your mother told you that, "Shosuke, war has broken out." How did she tell you? Was she crying, was she shaking?

SS: No, she wasn't shaking. Oh no, my mother was a, she was a proud samurai daughter.

FA: How did she tell you?

SS: Well, she just, when I came in she just, "Shosuke, senso ga hajimemattayo." You know, when she said that, I knew what had happened.

FA: And how did you react?

SS: I reacted with pride. I thought, well, Japan has, the United States has been insulting Japan in every possible way and the Japanese have decided to stop accepting American insults every day like that. And I thought my feeling was one of pride. I knew that Japan didn't have a Chinaman's chance of winning. But at least she would be going down fighting.

FA: If you reacted with pride, Shosuke, the U.S. government interned all Japanese Americans because of suspicions about their loyalty...

SS: Well, what do you expect when I had only a Japanese citizenship? I was born and brought up there during the youngest years and I did not expect Japan to win the war. I felt that economically, she was so overmatched by American resources that Japan would lose the war unless they could come to some kind of a negotiated settlement. That was the thing I was hoping and praying for.

FA: But if you were proud Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, wasn't then, the U.S. government right to incarcerate you?

SS: No, no.

FA: Why not?

SS: Because I would not have been able to... I would not have done anything to harm this country.

SF: You went to "Camp Harmony."

SS: Yeah.

SF: If you were an Issei, why didn't you get to sent to a Department of Justice internment camp like the other Isseis were sent to?

SS: Well, because I was relatively young yet. I was actually the youngest of the Issei, really.

FA: He was also not named on the lists that the Department of Justice had when they had the round-up for the Issei and only the community leaders of the Issei were picked up and interned in Department of Justice camps.

SS: Also, the, I had a reputation in Seattle of being a law-abiding boy that was very loyal and helpful to his mother.

FA: How old were you at the time of Pearl Harbor?

SS: Well, let's see... thirty. That was '42, wasn't it?

FA: 1941.

SS: '41. Well, I was born in 1912. So I was twenty-nine or thirty.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

FA: After Pearl Harbor, the JACL in Seattle, under leadership of Jimmy Sakamoto, organized to profess their loyalty. Meetings were held, flags were waved. What did you think of all that? You saw that, didn't you?

SS: Oh, I saw that, yeah.

FA: What did you -- first of all, what did you see?

SS: Well, I certainly never was willing to renounce my Japanese citizenship at that time. Particularly since I couldn't get, that was the only citizenship I had. If I had to renounce it in order to stay on good terms with the JACL, I would have had to, in effect, renounce my Japanese citizenship.

FA: Did you feel the JACL was asking you to renounce your Japanese citizenship?

SS: That, that was one of the things that caused so much trouble in the camp when they started to separate the so-called "loyal" from the so-called "disloyal." [Inaudible]

FA: Let's go back to Seattle after Pearl Harbor. What did you think of all of the rallies and organizing and press releases they were putting out?

SS: Well, we, they were trying to ingratiate themselves with the American press. And the American press, I think that's one of the, I hope someday that story will be written up how the American press... until that so-called Japanese... the anti-Japanese agitation really didn't exist at the time of Pearl Harbor, and didn't show up in the American press until at least two or three months later, the anti-Japanese agitation. That was something that was, that the American press was encouraged to do, engage in that anti-Japanese propaganda. And I think, I hope that history will remember that the American press helped to put innocent people into those concentration camps.

FA: As the press got hotter, the public cries for evacuation of all Japanese on the West Coast grew.

SS: No, that wasn't the public that was asking for that. That was something cooked up by the press.

FA: As the cries in the press for evacuation of Japanese grew, what did you think of that?

SS: Well, I knew that somebody was agitating, trying to get us out of there because they wanted to take whatever property we had.

FA: How did you feel about that?

SS: Well, naturally I didn't like it. But I knew that that's what was being done. There was nothing I could do about it. I remember once when a particularly nasty article appeared, an anti-Japanese article appeared in the Times, I felt outraged and I wrote a letter pointing out all of the errors in this anti-Japanese articles that had been appearing, and I rebutted their stupid claims. But after about a week, the letter was returned to me by... I've forgotten who. Anyway, the Times had told them that they will not publish anything pro-Japanese.

SF: What were the main economic groups who were pushing the press to be so anti-Japanese?

SS: Well, there were the American farmers, of course, who were competing with the Japanese, wanted to get rid of the Japanese farmers as competitors. And there were others who wanted to get a hold of whatever real estate the Japanese were operating, even under lease. Boy, those days, everywhere you turned in the press the Japanese were always depicted as crooks, liars, people out to harm the U.S. if they had a chance, so forth.

FA: So around that time, were you aware that in Seattle Jimmy Sakamoto was advocating cooperation with this pending evacuation -- as it was called -- in order to prove our loyalty?

SS: Yeah, yeah. I knew Jimmy Sakamoto was doing that.

FA: And what did you think of it at that time?

SS: Well, under the circumstances, they were only trying to rebut the fact that the American press as a whole had already created this ill, the picture of Japan and the Japanese as being untrustworthy, double crossing foreigners who could never really become American. And that was reinforced because of the laws at that time, which...

FA: Shosuke, if Jimmy Sakamoto and others were advocating that we cooperate, and that we go cheerfully into the camps, that that was a sign of our loyalty.

SS: Yeah, yeah.

FA: Did you... at that time, did you think that was a good idea?

SS: No, I didn't go along with that at all, because what was being proposed was a rape of all our economic rights.

FA: So what did you, how did you feel, how did you react when you saw the notices, the exclusion order?

SS: Well, I realized I had no choice except to, if they told me to assemble at a certain spot where they could pick me up and take me to Puyallup on the day that they specified. I had to follow those orders, either that, or find myself in jail.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

FA: What were your thoughts on the day that you actually had to move out? Pack your suitcase, go to the assembly, assembly point?

SS: Well, I wasn't in a state of shock or anything. I said, "Well, this is something they've been building up to for years." They finally succeeded in stripping us -- the Japanese community -- of whatever property it had.

FA: You took a bus from Seattle down to Puyallup fairgrounds.

SS: No, no we didn't. They told us to assemble on certain corners in the -- so-called International District today -- and people who lived in certain houses or had certain addresses and those people who had certain addresses were told to assemble on the corner of such and such street, which we did. We had to take our... oh yes, we could take with us only what we could carry.

FA: And how were you transported to Puyallup?

SS: Well, they supplied us with buses to get us to Puyallup. I remember one of my friends was sitting next to me on the bus and he was a communist. Nisei communist. And I remember he knew my sympathy. I made no secret of the fact that I was loyal to Japan. I never claimed that I was disloyal to Japan. And when we, I remember we were riding on that bus to the concentration camp and this friend of mine -- Dyke Miyagawa was his name -- He was a very active leader among the Cannery Workers Union. He was one of those who led that. And Dyke was well aware of my sympathy toward Japan in those days. I felt Japan was being forced into an impossible situation by the U.S. who was trying to make an issue of the so-called "Japanese problem" in this country. And I remember... oh yeah, well, we were loaded, we had to get on the, we had to wait at certain street corners. And I remember my sister at that time, her second child had been born two or three months previous to the actual evacuation. And oh yes... that morning where we had to wait at that corner, it was raining. And my sister had not expected rain and they were wearing straw hats and the rain was coming through the straw and the children were getting rather wet. And that was a Sunday, I remember. And I didn't know about this incident until some time after it had happened, after it happened. But, when my, that area down there where they told us to assemble, that was full of whorehouses. It was full of houses of prostitution.

FA: Whorehouses?

SS: Yeah. That was Weller, Seventh and Weller or something like that.

FA: [Laughs] The heart of Chinatown today.

SS: What?

FA: That's the heart of Chinatown today.

SS: Yeah, it is. But that was the heart of the whorehouse district down there. And I remember my... it was only later that I heard about this. I guess my sister, it never occurred to her to tell... it was a few years later that my sister told me what happened to her children. They were all on that same area as I was. Mother and I were standing in a certain place and they told us to be there. We got on the bus. It came to pick us up and -- this was the part that I didn't know about until a couple of years later -- the madam of the whorehouse, that was closest to where my sister and her husband and her children were standing, felt sorry for them because they were getting wet in the rain, and she came out and said, "Bring your children inside so they won't get wet." And my sister and her husband, they went inside just to shelter from the rain. And so I asked my sister, "Did you ever do anything to thank that madam for that kindness?" She said, "Well, we certainly tried." She said, "After we were able to get back to Seattle, the first thing we did was go to that place and ask for that woman that was running that place." And they didn't know where she had gone. But it seemed to me that on a Sunday with all these white Christians in churches singing hymns and so forth, the only woman who acted like a Christian or a human being, was that madam that offered that shelter to my sister and her children.

FA: Was she hakujin, Caucasian, the madam?

SS: I don't remember. I don't remember. She might have been black. She might have been.... I never, it never occurred to me to ask that question.

FA: This prostitution district, was it Nisei women, or...?

SS: No, there was no Nisei or Japanese in that business at all.

FA: So either white or black.

SS: Either white or black, yeah. But they never did locate the woman. I think she probably was white. If she'd been black, they would have, my sister would have remembered that.

FA: The bus ride to Puyallup, riding with Dyke Miyagawa. You told Dyke you were loyal to Japan. Dyke knew you were loyal to Japan. What was Dyke's comment to you on the bus riding to Puyallup?

SS: Oh, when we looked from a distance, I saw all the posts erected for the barbed wire.

FA: As you approached.

SS: As we approached and I turned to Dyke, and I saw the barbed wire from quite a distance and I turned to Dyke and I said, "That's barbed wire, I'll bet." And he said, "No, they wouldn't do anything like that to us." Well, it was right to the very end, he was supporting the commie party line. Strangely enough, when we were pushing our redress thing, I got a letter from Dyke, quite unexpectedly. And he said he approved of our efforts to get redress and wished us success and he wanted to see me again and talk about the old times. But he died before that took place. It was only two or three months after that letter, that I read that he had died. But Dyke was an honest person and one of the few Nisei of that day that I still remember with respect and a true wish that he had not died then.

FA: You were not surprised, were you, to see barbed wire being erected?

SS: No, I wasn't. I expected it. And Dyke wasn't willing to see that.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

FA: When you arrived at the camp, what conditions did you find at Puyallup?

SS: Puyallup? It had rained that day. And so the main streets of that concentration camp were seas of mud. I expected something like that so I wore my heavy weather, waterproof boots. I was glad I had those boots, because other people went in there wearing just oxfords. They sure got their shoes filled with mud in short order.

FA: You were housed in the grandstands that night?

SS: No, not in the grandstands. We were housed in Area A, which was the parking lot.

FA: Describe the building you were housed in.

SS: They were sheds. The partitions between the sections only went up to as high as 7 feet and above all that was the ceiling. And so if any child was not feeling well and would awaken during the night and start crying for water or whatever, it kept everybody else in that shed from sleeping. I remember there was one child who had a peculiar cry, I remember. It sounded, that sound reminded me of perhaps some woman, some unhappy woman who was, who was sobbing. That's the way... that crying, it was a baby who was crying, but the noise she was making was, reminded me of some unhappy woman who was sobbing.

FA: And how did you feel?

SS: Naturally, nobody who lived in that particular shed was happy to hear that child. It almost drove everybody crazy.

FA: In general, how did you feel about your first days there, being put in a shed?

SS: Well, for one thing they didn't have proper toilet facilities, all they had was a pit dug. And the toilet seats were, was just a board with holes in there. And so the place, the stench was overwhelming. No real preparations had been made. In time, after about a week, maybe it was two weeks, grass started to grow up between the cracks in the boards that were on the floor.

FA: In those first days and weeks, what did you see about how people would organize themselves? Who would become leaders? Who would be the followers inside the camp?

SS: Well, there wasn't any real leadership. Of course, there was the JACL group. Well, some of the more sensible ones and I remained personally on friendly terms. Others I just looked upon in total scorn. I wouldn't talk to them anymore. In those days, the first few days, my God. They put us... they had, there was no space between the floor and the lumber. They put the lumber, wood boards flat on the floor and as I said, the grass started growing up in-between the cracks and the knotholes. And the food that we got was practically one hundred percent starch. For breakfast we had, well, they used to give us toast. And for lunch, they probably gave us noodles and for supper they probably gave us boiled potatoes, something like that. No vegetables, no meat. And that lasted for just about a month. And I remember in going there, my mother had the foresight to take a package of radishes, radish seeds. And when we got there, that's the first thing she did, she buried those seeds just outside the door, the wall. And in one month, those things had become radishes. And I had also brought with me a fairly large bottle of shoyu. I remember we went one morning after they started serving rice -- oh, yes, they did give us rice once in a while -- and when they had the rice, my mother and I, we'd take our dishes and get the rice ration and then bring it back to our room and dig up those radishes that had grown up and we'd take it to the washroom and wash the dirt off and then we'd pour the soy sauce on them and eat that with the rice. Boy, better tasting vegetable I've never ever eaten in my life.

FA: What job or position did you take in the Puyallup?

SS: In Puyallup, well, the Nisei being unaccustomed to office work, all of them wanted a desk job. And I thought it ridiculous that they should want, all would. So they had a surplus of volunteers for desk jobs. Probably the first time in their lives some of the Nisei ever worked at a desk. Most of them were doing stoop labor and so forth. And... the... you will have to excuse me. My mind has gone blank.

FA: What job did you volunteer for?

SS: Oh. I didn't volunteer for a job. It was ridiculous to me to volunteer for a desk job and so I decided to spend my time brushing up on my Japanese. I had taken a number of Japanese textbooks, readers and history books and so forth, and dictionaries into camp. Oh yes. These JACL idiots, they decided to make that illegal for anyone to have or to be reading Japanese books. I thought, "Holy smokes." That rule no doubt was originated by the Nisei of JACL. And every time they would come out with some other equally stupid rule, I just instinctively realized that that was coming from JACL sources. I disobeyed them, of course.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

SS: Well in the first place, I felt that the name, "Camp Harmony," was ridiculous.

FA: Why?

SS: There was no harmony in there. Everybody that had any brains was disgusted with being put in there. And they were particularly disgusted with the JACL self-appointed leadership. The government having appointed the JACL to be our spokesman. No vote was ever taken on such a thing and as far as I could see, everything the JACL stood for, or was for, I was against.

FA: You were against professing loyalty to America?

SS: I thought under the circumstances, it's ridiculous. After all, if the common sense standpoint was that we should remain loyal to any government no matter how outrageously and unfairly it treated its citizens. Being loyal to such a government was a betrayal of American principles on which this country was founded in the first place. But that never seemed to get through to the JACL.

FA: How did you see -- in Camp Harmony, how did you see them asserting leadership inside the camp?

SS: Well, they were the ones who were telling the government what to do. Those people. The white officials in Puyallup were certainly not the best educated or the most sensitive kind of human being. They were gasoline station operators and people on that operating level.


FA: How about the JACL leaders inside camp? Jimmy Sakamoto was a newspaper publisher. How about some of the others?

SS: Well, Jimmy Sakamoto, which was the publisher of the only paper. He did that probably because he was blind. See, what they do? Oh, in camp they started... you had to be careful in what you said. One by one, they were ordered by the WRA, the War Relocation Authority. The WRA issued orders to the Nisei lawyers and one by one, they were shipped to other camps. So that the only Nisei lawyer left in camp was Sakamoto's buddy and pal, Clarence Arai. Although later, that couple, I heard, disagreed between themselves. I don't know the details of that.

FA: But they shipped out Kenji Ito. They shipped out Tom Masuda?

SS: That's right.

SF: Where did all these lawyers go? Where were they sent?

SS: They were sent to other camps.

FA: And why do you think that happened?

SS: Huh?

FA: Why do you think that happened?

SS: Well, what they wanted to do was to give Clarence Arai the monopoly of the trade from the Seattle group. I'm sure that was a deal cooked up between Sakamoto and his friend Clarence Arai. I remember years later I discussed that matter with Bill Mimbu who was one of those who was shipped out under the same type of rules. And I know Bill Mimbu certainly didn't feel very friendly toward either Sakamoto or...

FA: Inside Camp Harmony, what was Jimmy Sakamoto's role?

SS: He was supposed to be... well, I don't think he had an official role, but he used to go up to the administration office, offices every morning and presumably the W -- oh, wait a minute. He did that when we were in... he had, the offices were in Puyallup. We were all on the same level. But anyway, the thing was set up to be profitable for Sakamoto. And also, to prevent any lawsuits being instituted against them by the other evacuees in camp.

FA: So he had a position of leadership inside the camp.

SS: He had the monopoly on the legal business.

FA: Clarence Arai did?

SS: Clarence Arai, yeah. All the other lawyers were shipped to other camps.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

FA: You tell a story about some people approaching you regarding...

FA: Oh, yes. That was sometime, sometime in, I guess it was in May. One Issei friend of mine came up to me one day and said, "Do you realize that there is a group of people in camp who have already selected a headstone for Sakamoto's grave?" And I said, "No, I didn't know that." "Well, these people are fed up with the mismanagement of this place and if Sakamoto continues to run it, they are determined to kill him." And they asked me what I thought of that. And I said, "Well, I couldn't blame them if they did, but whether that would really do us any good or not, would be another thing." And then this friend said, "These people want your help." And I said, "Me? What can I do?" "Well, they need somebody like you who they could really trust to speak up in their defense after we have murdered Sakamoto." And I said, "Well, wait a minute here. If you want me to join your group, but I'm in Area A, Sakamoto is in Area C, how can I be of any help to kill him?" And they told me, "Well, we don't expect you to participate in the actual killing. No, what we want is to have somebody we trust like you, to speak on our behalf to explain to the court why we had to kill Sakamoto." Well, I wasn't about to give them a glib answer that time. Lives of people were involved. So I told him, "Well, I can't answer you right now. Give me a night to think it over." So that night I went home and I did not mention that discussion to anybody, not even my sister or my mother because any leak would have meant trouble for a lot of people involved and the failure of what these men were really planning to do.


FA: Lives were at stake, and you didn't want to tell, you didn't want to tell anyone.

SS: I didn't want to tell anyone. I couldn't take a risk of having that leak out. It was tremendous amount of trouble. So the next morning this man showed up and said, "Well, what's your decision?"


FA: So the next morning...

SS: So the next morning the man came to me and I told him, "Well, I am certainly not against your attacking Sakamoto, but I would rather approach the problem a little more differently." I said, "As you know, the WCCA has already announced that we will be moved from here to an interior part of the West. That they were going to build permanent camps for us that would be more comfortable and would be permanent for the duration of the war." And I said, "Apparently, that something will happen within another two or three months at the longest. So my suggestion would be that we hold off taking any action until we get to the other camp. And when we get there, the first thing that we'll call is a meeting of representatives from each block and have them decide on selecting five or six or maybe seven, seven people who would form a committee to negotiate with the heads of the new place." And I said, "We should call that meeting just as soon as we get over there." And they agreed to that. And so when we got over to Minidoka -- I guess they moved us in one day -- and within two or three days we had that meeting in camp. All the blocks in the camp. And two men. And there it was decided that we should make our protests known to the leaders of the, the heads of the camp over in Minidoka, and that after we -- and all our other complaints that we have, and after we have presented our position to them, give them a little time if they ask for it before any action is done, taken place. So then they agreed to that. And I guess we... they moved us in one day. And within three days of our move we had a meeting and anyone, and we decided that anyone could be chosen to be a member of that group who chose to come to these discussions and so we got... I think it was the next Monday or maybe the next Tuesday after we had been moved to Minidoka. That... oh yes. And before then when we had these meetings, they had selected a committee to represent to people of Minidoka and that we would go up and try to talk with them and present our complaints. And that's what we did. We had two men from each block show up that morning. And they chose a committee of six or seven -- I've forgotten how many -- to be members of this committee and we went up, walked up to the offices and we said we wanted to talk to the three heads of the camp. That was Stafford, Schafer and Townshend. And we told them who we were and they never, this was brand-new to them. They didn't know about our having met, more or less secretly. And they, at first they hesitated. They said, "We need to have a meeting of our own. So if you'll excuse us, we're going into the next room and decide whether it would be proper for us to speak to you as representing the people of the camp." And they took a few minutes there and then they came out. They weren't there too long and they said, "All right. We'll accept you as representing the people of this camp as of now. So you can tell us whatever it was you..." So, oh yes, one thing, they made that decision and we had chosen the oldest man in our group to be our spokesman and he was an Issei who spoke English very well. In fact, he had a hakujin wife, I understand. And so when we went in there and they said they would accept us as representing the camp, we turned the thing over to this old man and told him, "You can tell them." Well, this idiot. First thing he did for all practical purposes was get down on his hands and knees on the floor and go around licking the boots and shoes of each of those white officers that were in there. Disgusting. And he started that pitch and then I broke in, I said, "Look, this isn't what we came here for. We have complaints to make." And so, in effect, I just took over the speaker's job. And I told them bluntly that, "We were here today for just, for two primary reasons. One, we don't have any fuel. And people are cold in the mornings when they get up and if fuel continues to be denied to us, there is going to be people getting seriously ill. And number two, we said, "We want you to stop listening to advice from JACL." I said, "If neither of these things that we request are corrected, there will be very serious trouble in this camp." And that's all I said.

FA: And Stafford's reaction was?

SS: They didn't answer. They didn't answer. They said, "Well, you presented your statements to us. We listened to you and we'll decide what we do next."

FA: And what did the camp administration do?

SS: Well, we got, we got coal within about four or five days and I didn't know that, how we got that coal. Then Stafford told us that they had, he had done everything he could trying to locate coal, but the government had made no provisions for supplying fuel for that camp. So then later, oh yes. This I discovered when Frank Chin and Henry Miyatake and I went to see Townshend. We found he was living in Sequim so we went over there and had a meeting with Townshend. Townshend was one of the more decent guys in the camp. I thought basically his heart was in the right place. It was a hell of a job.

FA: And what did you learn?

SS: Well, we learned there that, learned how we got the coal there so fast. Stafford realized that there would be trouble if something wasn't done on either, both accounts. So he went around calling for, trying to find a loose coal car somewhere that had, that he could get, and he couldn't get any money out of the government so he decided to pay for it out of his own pocket. Now that's something I didn't know then. And for that I will raise Stafford's rating up a few points.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

FA: How about the second complaint, listening to the JACL?

SS: Well, they, didn't promise one way or the other.

FA: How did they act after that?

SS: Well, they didn't seem to be insisting on their right to listen to Sakamoto. We told them that that would cause trouble. That there would be very, very serious trouble. I meant people would be murdered. And so I think they realized the problem so I had friends check with the people who were working in the office and from them, we learned that Sakamoto had stopped going up there, then we knew that his advice had been rejected. Because otherwise he had been going up there every day.

FA: There is something you're not telling me. In Camp Harmony, ordinarily law abiding Nisei were contemplating murder of one of their own kind.

SS: Yeah. Well, wait a minute. Not Nisei now. The man who spoke to me about murder was an Issei.

FA: Japanese Americans, Issei and Nisei. What was it that they felt so strongly about that they were considering murdering one of their own?

SS: Well, they were fed up with the way the camp was being run. None of our complaints were being listened to and it was getting cold. We needed that, number one. And we were hearing no rumors of any coal being ordered or being expected and it was really cold that early September, I remember. And I was, in fact I was really afraid that if this kept up, there would be a lot of illnesses break out in camp and the JACL would be blamed for that.

FA: If you had to go to court, if Sakamato were murdered and you did go to court, what would you have told the court? How would you have excused murder, how would you have justified it?

SS: I'd say under the circumstances, our requests were being ignored and that meant the lives of people who might get sick. If it gets cold enough, we'd all be sick.

SF: How did you know that Sakamoto was tied to these particular things like not getting enough fuel and things of that sort?

SS: Well, they blamed him. He probably did nothing to obstruct the delivery of coal. But on the other hand, if you were supposed to be the spokesman, the chosen spokesman by the WRA, then it was the fault of the government not to correct that situation.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

FA: Real quickly. Minidoka. You talk about Minidoka now. What was your reaction when you arrived at Minidoka, Idaho? It's a bigger camp. Ten thousand people there.

SS: Yeah, well, eventually there were about 10,000 there. When we went there, I don't think they were, the first time we were put in there, there was about 7,000 there.

FA: What was your first reaction when you saw it?

SS: Oh, I wasn't surprised. I expected a desert area. And that's what it was. No green trees, dry. There was plenty of rattlesnakes and sagebrush.

FA: Living conditions, barracks?

SS: Barracks were better than the ones we had in Puyallup, at least. We didn't have grass growing up from, through the floor.

FA: Food?

SS: The food was better, definitely.

FA: Camp leadership?

SS: Well, at least we didn't see the... oh yeah. And Sakamoto had been told to stay away from the office area. So we heard from the people who worked in those offices that Sakamoto was no longer visible there in the mornings or any other time of the day. So, I saw no need for going along with the proposed murder.

FA: Loyalty oath.

SS: Huh?

FA: The loyalty oath, 1943.

SS: Oh, the loyalty oath. That was ridiculous. That was something proposed by the JACL in my guess, in my opinion. Nobody else would have cooked up anything that stupid.

FA: Why was it stupid?

SS: Huh?

FA: Why was it stupid? The loyalty oath?

SS: Well, they were asking -- in my case -- they were asking the Issei to renounce their loyalty to the only country whose citizenship they had. And I was in the same boat with the other Issei and I made no secret of the fact that I was going to say, "no." I was going to be one of the "no-no" boys.

FA: Did you, in fact, answer, "no-no"?

SS: No, I didn't have to. Because the day before I was supposed to go up for that kind of a questioning, they changed the rules. They dropped that stupid question. So if they hadn't, hadn't done that, who knows, maybe I would have gone to Japan.

SF: Didn't they change that question the day before that you went up?

SS: Yeah. "Do you renounce any loyalty to Japan," or something, or the government of Japan.

SF: The government of Japan.

SS: Yeah, the government of Japan.

SF: And so they...

SS: I refused to say, "I do." I refused to go along with that. I was not about to become a man without a country.

SF: But how did they change that question so that you didn't have to answer it?

SS: Oh, they eliminated that question completely.

SF: So you, so then you were officially kind of... just the question that asked about serving in the military, you answered that, "yes"?

SS: I didn't have to answer that because I was a Japanese alien.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

FA: At Minidoka, did you meet Min Yasui?

SS: Oh, yes. I had occasion to meet him.

FA: What did you know about him at that time?

SS: Oh, well, he was, he took it on himself to go to my, the home of my friend, George Fujinaka who lives in, lived in, now still lives in Portland, Oregon. And this Yasui... George wasn't home when Yasui showed up and when George got home, he learned from his parents that Yasui had, had shown up and he had... let's see. Oh yeah, Yasui had told George's parents that, "You know Japan is losing the war." The aim was to try to get George to cease his resistance to being drafted.

FA: George was a draft resister?

SS: Oh, yeah. He had written them a number of letters -- some of which I helped him compose -- defying the government. George, his was a conditional refusal. He said, "I will serve like any other American if you will treat me exactly like any other American with all the rights that they have to live wherever they please and I want that rule applied to not only me, but to my parents. If you're willing to meet these conditions, I am, I will serve like any other American citizen. But when I'm deprived of essential rights as citizen, I will not go."

FA: So Min went to his parents' barracks?

SS: Huh?

FA: Min Yasui went to his parents' barracks?

SS: Yeah, yeah.

FA: At Minidoka and told them what?

SS: Told them that Japan, that, "Japan is losing this war and doing what your son is doing today is a mistake," or something to that effect.

FA: Now, Min Yasui had already tested the curfew laws. And had gained quite a following at Minidoka.

SS: Yeah, yeah. But he lost that. So we considered him as a guy playing both sides of the street.

FA: Can you elaborate on that?

SS: Well, at the time the war began and he tested the, he violated the curfew laws. This one wasn't, wasn't exactly the same, but roughly the same thing. It was submitting to unreasonable government demands without giving George rights, full rights as a citizen and George, his stand was, "Give me all the rights that any other citizen has in my position and I will submit to the draft."

FA: Did you ever talk to Min Yasui in Minidoka?

SS: No, I never talked to him.

FA: Were you aware of the civil liberties league in Minidoka that sprang up in Min Yasui's defense?

SS: At Minidoka? No, I had never heard of it. How powerful was that? I didn't even know it existed.

FA: It was small.

SS: Very small.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

FA: Okay. How did you come to leave camp and resettle?

SS: Well, I could tell by the way the war was going that Japan was losing and some of those late stages of the war -- Japan's claims of having sunk so many American battleships -- we knew that was just hogwash. I also knew that the government had decided to close the camps down and that if I wanted to find a job, I'll probably have a better chance of finding a job before the war ended than after the war ended when there would be a surplus of former GIs that would be looking for jobs. And so I saw no further reason for not going out and finding myself as good a job as I could find under the circumstances.

FA: So how did you find a job?

SS: Oh, Well, I went to Philadelphia first. Stayed there for a week and found three or four companies that were willing to see me or to interview me, but not a single job offer.

FA: This was in what year? 1944 or '45? Before the closing of the camps?

SS: Yeah, it was before the closing. It was in 1944 when I left camp.

FA: 1944.

SS: Yeah, December.

FA: December. Philadelphia, no job, where did you apply, a business?

SS: Well, the WRA had job-seeking or offices in different cities, hoping to help the Nisei find employment there. And in Philadelphia there was no opening for people like me.

FA: Where did you try next?

SS: Well, I decided, after I stayed in Philadelphia for a week without a single offer, I decided I might as well go to New York.

FA: Why?

SS: Because there was nothing available in...

FA: But why not Cleveland? Why New York?

SS: Well, I hoped eventually to get back to the West Coast. And if I went out to New York and found nothing, it means I would just pay so much more freight to get myself shipped back to the West Coast area.

FA: So what did you find in New York?

SS: Well, that's when I ran into a person I met for the first time. My God, his name has even slipped my mind. It will come back eventually.

FA: A hakujin?

SS: Yes. Bussing. That was his name. He had, he had taught at Columbia and while he was at Columbia, he had become friendly with a guy named Langston who was the treasurer of Standard and Poor's and Langston told him that there was a job open at Standard and Poor's and for me to apply. I was really happy when I heard about that. The personnel officer, who made the final decision to hire me, so forth, he was quite pleased going over my school record and so forth. He assured me that I would be properly treated and so forth and given the same opportunities. Well, I was just glad to get any kind of a job. Particularly in the field for which I had studied. I majored at the University of Washington in public finance.

FA: So what job did you get?

SS: So they offered me a job as a statistician. Naturally, I was happy to get it. And oh yes, they said, "You will be hired if you pass our examination." So I showed up the next morning to take the examination and I passed the examination without any trouble. It was easy. They told me, they asked me, "What are you doing today?" after I had taken the test and they told me I had passed it. And I told them, "Well, I guess I'll go home." They said, "Wait a minute, you mean to say you are going from here and you won't be working for the rest of the day?" He said, "You can start working as of now." [Laughs]

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

FA: How long did you work at Standard and Poor's?

SS: Over twenty years.

FA: And what progression did you...?

SS: Well I didn't get any progression and I didn't learn that until later. That this same treasurer who had gotten me, told the War Relocation Authority about this vacant, this position that was available. He was the guy that was standing in my way for the rest of the time I was with Standard and Poor's. He was just plain racially prejudiced. He told me bluntly. He said, "Look, if we make you a full-fledged analyst, that will give you the right to go out and interview corporation managements." He said, "We cannot have a Japanese representing Standard and Poor's to interview other corporation leaders." And I found that out the day I had resigned.

FA: Really?

SS: Yes. I had handed in my resignation and I was leaving and I just wanted to go up and talk with the guy and try to get the truth of who was blocking my, my advancement. But looking back over it, I still made the right decision sticking with Standard and Poor's and not just walking out that same day. Because later they gave me an extra piece of work, for which I wasn't paid extra, but the man who for a number of years had taken care of the annual crop of new students applying for jobs at Standard, this guy -- he, let's see -- anyway, this man died very suddenly and unexpectedly. They needed someone to fill his place and they told me they were giving me that extra job. It was just another extra job. It was my job to decide which of the new crop we would keep. And I had no trouble doing that. And one of the men who was under me at that time had joined the company, he wanted to... oh, yes. When he joined Standard and Poor's he had just recently gotten married and his wife was expecting a child and he needed the job in the worst possible way. And he was so tense that I used to correct his papers. His hand would shake sometimes. And I felt very sorry for him. I said, "Look, don't be so tense, relax." I said, "You're not on the list of fellows to be fired. So far I'd say you've done well, so you can forget about being fired from Standard and Poor's." And boy, he really loosened up. And about a year or two later, he found a job he liked better, paying... Standard and Poor's pay was not good. And he, so he went to a place on Wall Street and one day I got a call from him and he said... before he left Standard and Poor's, he came up to thank me. He said, "You're the only guy in this company that ever went out of his way to try to make life easier for me." He said, "Don't think I'll ever forget it." And he repaid that promise by calling me up this one day and asking me if I would consider leaving Standard and Poor's. I said, "I sure would, depending on what they would offer." And he said, "Well, why don't you come down and talk to my boss?" So I got a new job at this brokerage house. Before I went there, I had the place checked out by my broker through whom I had been trading for the past twenty years or more. And that broker made a check on the reputation of the company that was offering me this job and he told me that as far as he could determine, that company had a perfectly clean record, reputation as far as the law is concerned.

FA: What was the name of the brokerage house?

SS: A.L. Stamm and Company. They're not in existence anymore.

FA: A.L.

SS: A.L. A-period-L-period Stamm, that's S-T-A, double M. S-T-A-M-M and Company. What I didn't know was that the A.L. Stamm and Company had just computerized their operations and the man they brought in to computerize the thing didn't know what he was doing. As a result, in a few more weeks the rumors began to fly in the company that our accounts were fouled up. And oh, yes, they said that the stock exchange had issued a statement, an order to the A.L. Stamm and Company that until their accounts were straightened, they could do no more advertising for new customers. And some of our best salesmen and otherwise well-qualified men started to leave the company. And some of these guys asked me to go with them, said this company as far as we knew was headed for the rocks. "Why don't you join us?" Well, I was stumped because the guy that got me that job there in the first place, Irwin, he was determined to stay with A.L. Stamm and Company. He said, "Well, they'll work their way out of it somehow." So I was, I was stymied. And then one day, one of the men who had accepted a job in Denver -- I had become friends with by that time -- he had come back from Denver, he had found a new job out there and had come back to clean out his desk. So I went up to this friend and I congratulated on him, congratulated him on finding a new job in a clean town like Denver where the air was clean and he looked up and he says, "Hey, would you consider moving to Denver?" "Yeah, it depends entirely on what they would offer me." He said, "Well, I'll talk to our executive VP about that." About four or five days later I got a letter from this guy offering me a job there. Much better pay than what I was getting at Standard.

FA: Did you go?

SS: Yeah, I decided to go.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

FA: Before you left New York City, you took on the newspapers for the use of their word "Jap." Why did you do that and how did you do that?

SS: Well, after I had been with Standard and Poor's, about two or three months after I joined Standard and Poor's, the idea of becoming a union member to me wasn't appealing at first. And I complained about that to the personnel officer and he said, "Well I can understand how you feel, but on the other hand, having a union here has benefited our employees. They've gotten better pay." So anyway, later on, Standard and Poor's... I was going to go, I had made up my mind I would go to accept that job in Denver and I'd been... I had a lady friend for several years there and she was, she had cancer. She had cancer seven years earlier and seven years had passed since that first outbreak of cancer was declared either cured or was stopped and so I got her to... I was hoping that after seven years and very often in cancer if it's been dead for that long, they consider it cured. And I said well, I told her that I was, I wanted her to go with me when I went to Denver. I wanted her to marry me and come with me to Denver. And the, this girl...

FA: What was her name, Shosuke?

FA: Huh?

FA: What was her name?

SS: Oh, the girl who married me, her name was Yori, her first name was Yori. She had been widowed once. Her husband had died of tuberculosis. She, we became good friends and one of the nicest things was she spoke Japanese quite well and she could get along well with my mother. So I told her about my job offer from Denver and that I didn't want to go there alone. I just didn't want to see her behind and me in Denver if her ailment ever came back. I wanted to be there so I could at least go see her once a day. So I begged her to marry me and join me in Denver, or go with me. And she talked it over with her sisters and she finally made up her mind and accepted. And the day we were married, this girl... God, I can't remember her name. Anyway...

FA: Well, Yori accepted your proposal.

FA: Huh?

FA: Yori accepted your proposal.

SS: Well, she did. She finally did. She finally accepted. Her sisters and others had suggested or told her that she should accept my proposal and she agreed. The day we were married, we had a wedding dinner and the person who came to that dinner was this girl... geez, my mind is not working right.

FA: Well, her name doesn't matter.

SS: Anyway, she's with us here today. She's, she had been born only a few days before and her mother and father and had brought her and he had accepted a new job, an engineering job in Schenectady or somewhere like that, and anyway, this, the baby that had just been born a few days earlier, she's now fully grown and married, and damn, her name was...

FA: [Addressing another person in the room] Is that your mother?

SS: Wait a minute. Your...

FA: This is Laura Akagi.

SS: Wait a minute.

Female Voice: I don't think my parents were at your wedding.

FA: Well, Shosuke.

SS: Well anyway, this baby is living here in New York, she got married about half a year or a year ago, something like that.

FA: So Shosuke, you and your wife were married in New York and you moved to Denver.

SS: That's right.

FA: How many years did you spend in Denver?

SS: Three days short of one year. Her cancer came back. She was... she came from a big family. She spoke Japanese well, got along very well with my mother, which was important, and she was, I look back on her as a saint. She was. She never spoke ill of anyone. She was always kind to people she could help. I have never known anyone as kind as she was and as well-liked as she was. So, I regard the almost one year as a great privilege and a gift from God. If when I die and she's still available, I'd marry her again, any day. But, that's about all I can say.

FA: Where did you go after Denver? From Denver, where did you go?

SS: From Denver, Yori died while I was in Denver. And then I lived, I lived in Denver for a total of four or five years altogether.

FA: What caused you to leave?

SS: Huh?

FA: Why did you leave?

SS: I got so lonely.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

FA: Where did you go?

SS: I came back to Seattle to be near my sister and her family and that's when I first met Henry Miyatake.

FA: Were you retired by this time?

SS: Yeah, when I came back to Seattle I had retired.

FA: You met Henry. Henry had this great idea? What do you recall, what can you recall of your first meeting with Henry?

SS: Gosh, I don't know. But anyway, he was quite enthusiastic about doing something about getting some money from the government for our imprisonment. And I was glad to see Henry doing that. That someone was doing it. Because I know the kind of work that involved. Because as you know, the use of the word "Jap" -- I was the one that did the most to stop that - and I knew how much effort that took.

FA: Why were you glad that Henry was proposing reparations from the government?

SS: Well, because I figured somebody has got to start it and he was quite a bit younger then, than he is today. Henry had the drive, he had the determination. He was going to do something about it. So when Henry explained that to me -- I went to a JACL meeting one day, I remember. That was the first time I went back to a JACL meeting.

FA: This was about 1974 or 1975?

SS: About 1970, I guess, I came back.

FA: 1970, wow.

SS: And he was, he was all steamed up. He wanted to do something out it. And that day, the first time I went back to JACL, I looked up on the wall and on the wall and they had pasted a big copy of the disgusting article by...

FA: S.I. Hayakawa?

SS: Not S.I. Hayakawa. The guy who likes to call himself Mr. Moses.

FA: Mike Masaoka.

SS: Mike Masaoka. Right. Mike Masaoka's JACL creed. That was right on the wall there and that disgusted me and so I stood up and I asked all the people who were there, I said, "This thing up here disgusts me. I want to tear it off the wall." I said, "Are there any people here who would object to that being done?" And no hands went up, so I went up and I torn the damn thing off the wall.

FA: No, Shosuke, you didn't. [Laughs]

SS: [Laughs] Yeah, I did.

FA: What did you object to in the JACL creed?

SS: That is the most disgusting confession or declaration of inferiority that I've ever seen and absolutely no reason whatsoever to make such a statement as a human being. You're equal to everybody else in this country, at least in theory, so why not stick with that? And that JACL creed, my God. If you...

FA: J stands for Justice, A stands for Americanism, C stands for citizenship, L stands for loyalty.

SS: Well, I'll tell you. For me that stands for another thing -- the JACL -- I consider that a perfect name for 'Jackal.' So I've called them the 'Jackals' ever since. JACL.

FA: Well, so you made a big splash at your first JACL meeting. How, what did Henry then ask you to do for the redress campaign? What role did you come to play with the redress?

SS: Well, it just... it sort of automatically fell to my role to write what we had to put down in print. And so when I, when Henry told me what he wanted to do, I said, "I think you should do that, Henry," and I said, "I'll help you." And I've long looked at that as being essentially Henry's idea and that I was really trying to help him. And the way I look at it to this day. If he hadn't been so steamed up and willing to do something about it and I knew he needed help: I was the only one available around there who had any writing experience. In the years I worked for Standard and Poor's, I was in a job called re-write analyst. In effect, I was an editor of that service, but I was never really paid for it. But it gave me, I did get an unexpected plus. I got to know all the analysts.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

FA: You wrote a document. Did you write this: "An Appeal for Action to Obtain Redress for the World War II Incarceration."

SS: That's right. That's right. That's what kicked off that thing. Kicked off the whole thing.

FA: I brought a copy.

SS: Oh, thank you.

FA: Why don't you go ahead and read that little paragraph near the bottom that I, at the bottom of the first page. I've highlighted that... the yellow highlight there. Can you read that for me?

SS: Oh, the yellow? "By custom and tradition, any American who has been injured as a result of false accusations is expected to bring those responsible into court and obtain a judgment clearing his name and awarding him monetary damages from the offending parties. Failure by the slandered or libeled person to take legal action against his accusers is often regarded by the public as an indication that the charges are true."

FA: Strong words for the time.

SS: For the time. And I think that's one of the sentences that kicked the JACL in the butt where they deserved to be kicked.

FA: What was the reaction when this statement was circulated among all JACL chapters?

SS: There wasn't any real opposition to it.

FA: Really?

SS: No, there wasn't. Not that I remember. I would have remembered it had there been any open opposition. Oh yes, some weak-kneed statements were being issued at that time. Yeah, people like Marutani.

FA: Bill Marutani...?

SS: Yeah. One other thing that I should bring up is that I, I was... [pauses] darn, my mind has disconnected again.

FA: Well you and Henry sent out copies of this Appeal for Action and a video -- an audio tape.

SS: Audio tape, that's right. That audio tape idea was Henry's.

FA: Because, as I recall, he felt people wouldn't read the statement so he wanted it played.

SS: That's right. Yeah, at the meetings. And it was played at some meetings, including the New York chapter. And one reason they probably played it is because I was quite active in the New York JACL and I had quite a few friends over there.

FA: Do you think that the rank and file Japanese American was a little... you said there was no reaction at the time. No reaction at all? Was there apprehension or...

SS: No, there was some opposition to my position, weak-kneed opposition to it. But after all, I had stated the truth as I saw it and there was no way they could rebut what I had written. I know some didn't like it, I'm sure. But that, that stuck in the craw of a lot of the JACL old-timers.

FA: Before I met you at the first Day of Remembrance, did you feel the issue was going anywhere? Resolutions were passed at successive JACL national conventions.

SS: Oh yes, those were being totally ignored.

FA: 1974, 1976.

SS: Yeah, they were being ignored by the JACL leadership those days.

FA: Even though the successive conventions had passed these resolutions calling for redress?

SS: That's right. They still sat on their hind ends and did nothing.

FA: How did you feel about that?

SS: Well, naturally that disgusted me. I didn't keep all the papers that I wrote...

FA: We have them.

SS: You have them?

FA: We have them.

SS: Oh, okay. [Laughs]

FA: With the Day of Remembrance, there was a lot of attention then paid to the issue, people started talking about it.

SS: That's right. That was...

FA: The issue was brought more to the national forefront, Congressman Mike Lowry introduced a bill in Congress that was...

SS: I wrote the bill, original bill.

FA: Tell me about that.

SS: That I gave to Lowry.

FA: Mike Lowry.

SS: Yeah, I wrote the original bill, it was changed quite a bit and you know how long it took before we got anything and in between we gradually increased the amount. We first started out at $15,000 plus so much a day and later on we stepped it up until -- had they gone through with our last suggested amount, they would have gotten $30,000 instead of the $20,000. But reducing that to $20,000 I think that was just a JACL trick, Sakamoto. Not Sakamoto, but...

FA: Masaoka.

SS: Masaoka. Yeah.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

SS: Oh yes, and this is something which I should mention. The... [pauses]

FA: Well, Shosuke, the Lowry bill was tabled in favor of a congressional study.

SS: Yeah, that was a deliberate delaying tactic by Masaoka. I think most people who use their common sense on that, would have felt as I did that we should go right ahead with it. To heck with that delaying. That delayed it by two years, you know. At least two years.

FA: Well the redress commission hearings were held in 1981, the bill wasn't signed by President Reagan until 1988.

SS: Yeah. But it was delayed from time to time, by delaying tactics introduced by Masaoka.

FA: Well, the argument was that they needed the foundation laid for public understanding and public education on the issue. So the commission...

SS: That was Masaoka plea for his bit of delaying that thing. I was almost going crazy those days because the Issei were dying off rapidly. I knew that if they delayed it any more, they would be, they would be dead. They wouldn't be around to collect redress and my fears proved to be true. I'll never forgive Masaoka.

FA: When President Reagan finally signed the bill in 1988, August, what were your thoughts?

SS: I thought he signed it too late. Far too late. Too many people had died in between. And that was all Masaoka's idea.

SF: Let's go back a bit. After the war, you went to New York and you got involved with the JACL in New York City?

SS: Yeah.

FA: How did you feel about that, since you were so critical of their role during the war to be involved in the JACL after the war?

SS: That was the only organization in existence, Japanese American. And if I had known more about how their minds worked, I would never have appealed to them. I thought they might have some use since they were widely recognized as a Japanese American organization. But it turned out, with Masaoka there, he was out to slow it down as far as he possibly could. That's the way he struck me.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

FA: Getting back to New York again. When you were in New York, you wrote a pamphlet called "How to Attack the Newspaper Use of the Word 'Jap.'" And you wrote a long sample case history of how to do it. Can you tell us, just in brief, how did you get, why did you launch that campaign in New York and how did you get them to stop using the word "Jap" in newspapers?

SS: Well, I got -- at Standard and Poor's was one unit, a Newspaper Guild unit representing the Standard and Poor's group. In time they came, they asked me if I would serve as an alternate delegate to the monthly meeting of the guild organization, representing the guild. And when they asked me if I would become an alternate delegate, I said, "Well, might as well." So I did. And when I went to those meetings as an alternate delegate, I learned that the guild had a provision already enacted stating themselves to be against the use of derogatory epithets in American publications. So I asked them, "How about the word 'Jap'? It's not in the prohibited list," and they said, "Well, I guess that's because we never thought about it. Nobody asked." So I said, "Well I'm asking right now that that be on the..." [Laughs] They took it up with the next guild executive committee meeting and they put the word "Jap" there on the proscribed list. And not only that, they thought that was such a good idea, that they volunteered to bring it up at the national guild convention that was being held in the autumn of that year in Portland and so they revised my original proposal a little bit. No real substantive change and they presented it with the backing of the Standard and Poor's unit and they passed the thing applying on a national basis. And that's what really did the trick. That piece of news got into practically every newspaper in the country.

FA: Really?

SS: Yeah.

FA: It was the first?

SS: First time any organization had come out in open opposition to the use of the word "Jap."

FA: In print.

SS: Yeah.

FA: Did the papers stop right away?

SS: Not all. There was paper that continued right almost up to the end. That was the paper by, that was owned by Dorothy Schiff. She was the publisher of the New York, I think they used to call it the Post. And let's see... [Flipping through document.]

FA: Well, it's all in there, I'm sure.

SS: Yeah, yeah. Oh yes. And that same time, prior to that time I had put on this campaign against the newspaper, dictionary definitions of the word "Jap," you know. So they couldn't use that as a crutch to defend its use. You've got that letter in here.

FA: Yes.

SS: So, I remember I went to the bookstore and I copied out all the latest definitions in the latest dictionaries.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

FA: Shosuke, do you have any final thoughts about your life?

SS: About what?

FA: About your life. You've had a long and full life.

SS: Well in a way, I suppose. I might add that my failure to get the promotions that they promised me when I first joined the company, I don't regret that too much because I was able to make money in the market. And I remember some of these guys that were promoted over me. They didn't last too long with Standard and Poor's and the others who knew that I was being bypassed felt sorry for me. And so they used to give me what information they had on certain, on some stocks and they'd tell me all they had available in an effort to help me. And I was able to pick up that information and use it to my own advantage.

FA: Terrific. I have one final question I want to ask you. I interviewed Mike Masaoka in 1988, and I told him about your criticisms of the JACL and not standing up for the rights of American citizens. And he said, "Oh, I know all about Shosuke. But you know, Shosuke and all those guys like him, they weren't there when I was. Making the decisions, taking the responsibility, looking out for the welfare of the majority of Japanese Americans, so Shosuke can take his potshots, but you know, he wasn't there."

SS: No, I wasn't. Because I know how thoroughly detested they were by the Issei when I was in camp. Well, they were on the point of murdering the guy if we hadn't been moved.

FA: So...

SS: I still blame Masaoka and his group. Another thing which I haven't discussed before is the article that appeared in either Harper's or Atlantic Monthly in the autumn of 1941, '41 I guess it was.

FA: Karl Ringle?

SS: Huh?

FA: Karl, "The Japanese Question."

SS: Yeah. Do you have, do know where I can get a copy of that article?

FA: Sure. I'll make you a copy.

SS: The one that appeared in the Harper's or...

FA: Written by Karl Ringle.

SS: I don't even remember the name. But I'd like very much because in there, there is a statement. A flat statement saying that it was the understanding of the author of that article that the JACL, the national leadership of the JACL came mostly from the eta class.

FA: You mean the untouchables.

SS: Yeah, the untouchables of Japan. And the more I think of that article, the more correct those statements were.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

FA: There is one other thing you wanted to talk about, Shosuke, and that was the Issei who returned to Seattle after the camps.

SS: Yeah.

FA: You wanted to tell me about the fellow who jumped off the bridge. Do you want to just go ahead and tell that real quickly?

SS: Yeah. His name was Mr. Aoki. He had two sons and a daughter and I was a friend of both the sons. They're all dead now. Mr. Aoki ran, well, he must have been under a lease. He couldn't have owned a building in those days. But he, he was... Mr. Aoki, as you know, was the only person I know of that jumped off of a bridge and ended his life that way. He came from the samurai class and that influence was evident in the way he carried himself and the way he behaved. He was respected by everyone that knew him and I thought the method he chose to end his own suffering and to show his contempt for what the government had done to him was quite honorable and appropriate under the circumstances and I respect him for it. And I think that kind of pride, where he would not allow himself to go on his knees to ask for relief and chose death instead, that is a pride and an attitude I think is admirable. If more Americans had that same spirit, this country would not be in the mess it's now in.

FA: Just to give for background, he was in need because, why was he in need of relief?

SS: Well, he had lost his lease on that building. The business.


SF: Looking back at your whole life in terms of the war and in terms of the evacuation and incarceration, the settlement and all that. Would you have done anything differently in retrospect now that you kind of look at the whole picture or not?

SS: Well, maybe I should have been even stronger in my denunciations of the JACL. To this day, I would like to see that organization disbanded. I'd like to see them make a public apology to the entire Japanese community for misleading others into taking such a soft-kneed attitude toward the various injustices that were inflicted on us during World War II. They should have protested at every turn. Instead the JACL blocked any kind of protest... [Interruption] Hosokawa's, I should say, Hosokawa's father is the guy that was looked upon with suspicion by the Issei. He was involved in a collapse of a brokerage firm that was run by Bill Hosokawa's father. Hosokawa's father had been in partnership with an Issei who suddenly absconded with all the money that was held in trust by him for his brokerage customers. And Hosokawa, his statement was, "I don't know what he did with that money." He claimed total ignorance. And most Japanese, the older people in the Japanese community, they didn't believe him. They couldn't have worked together all that many years and been totally ignorant of the situation.

FA: Of course, that's just speculation.

SS: Of course, that's pure speculation, but that was the rumor.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 29>

FA: One last question. You said at Minidoka there was not a lot of conflict at the camp of Minidoka, and you had a theory as to why that was. Why do you think there was not a lot of conflict at Minidoka?

SS: Oh. At Minidoka. Well, that was because we had, when we had that meeting, as soon as we got to Minidoka and we had that meeting where we selected the group, a representative group to talk with the people running the camp. That's when we told them that if there would be serious trouble at Minidoka unless the JACL quit accepting ideas and things like that from the JACL.

FA: So you feel that because they listened to you that avoided the conflict?

SS: That avoided that resentment.

FA: But yet there was draft resistance at Heart Mountain, we know about now. But there was not draft resistance, at least, not a great number of draft resisters at Minidoka. We had an organized resistance at Heart Mountain.

SS: Yeah, yeah.

FA: Were you aware of that resistance at that time?

SS: Oh yes, yes. In fact, the guy, one of the leaders of that resistance was my brother-in-law's best friend.

FA: Who was that? Who was the leader?

SS: Minoru...

FA: Tamesa.

SS: Tamesa, yeah.

FA: Really?

SS: Yeah. He was one of the hard core center.

FA: Did you know him personally?

SS: I knew him personally. I didn't go around with him like I did with some of my other friends, but I knew him. After all, he and my brother-in-law, Toru, who married my sister, Toru and Minoru were best friends.

FA: Very briefly, what was your opinion of the draft resistance at Heart Mountain at that time? What did you think of that?

SS: I was in favor of the resistance. I was glad they were resisting. And I think Minoru Tamesa, he died unexpectedly and had he lived, he would, his name would probably be better remembered. It should be remembered. The man was totally honest.

FA: How did you learn of the resistance at Heart Mountain while you were in Minidoka? Was there any newspapers or how did you...

SS: Oh yeah. There were reports in the Rafu Shimpo and so forth about the opposition growing.

FA: You mean, the Rocky Shimpo.

SS: The Rocky Shimpo.

FA: And you got the Rocky Shimpo at Minidoka?

SS: Oh yes. Yeah. That was the only Japanese language newspaper that carried any news. Yeah, the Rocky Shimpo has always been square in any of these issues certainly. They felt very much like I felt.

FA: Well, I want to thank you for your time, Shosuke. Pleasure talking to you.

SS: Thank you.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.