Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Ayame Tsutakawa - Mayumi Tsutakawa - Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn - Yayoi Tsutakawa-Chinn Interview
Narrator: Ayame Tsutakawa, Mayumi Tsutakawa, Kenzan Tsutakawa-Chinn, Yayoi Tsutakawa-Chinn
Interviewer: Tracy Lai
Location: Klamath Falls, Oregon
Date: July 3, 1998
Densho ID: denshovh-tayame_g-01

<Begin Segment 1>

TL: -- July 3, 1998. We're at the Tule Lake Pilgrimage at the Oregon Institute of Technology. This is Tracy Lai, and I'm interviewing Kenzan, Ayame, Mayumi, and Yayoi Tsutakawa [Ed. note: Kenzan and Yayoi's last name is Tsutakawa-Chinn]. The focus of our conversation is their intergenerational response to this pilgrimage, and how that helps them understand their own family history, Japanese American community, and identity. I'd like to start with Mrs. Tsutakawa. Ayame, I understand you were interned at Tule Lake, and I'm wondering if you've ever revisited this area since the time you were interned?

AT: No, not at all. Not once. After we were released from here, I have not returned.

TL: Okay. As we drove into the area, did anything about the plants and the weather conditions remind you of when you were here as a young woman?

AT: I don't know about the weather or the plants, but I have some very happy memory about this place. My late husband, George, came here and met me for the first time. So it's sort of a significant (place)...

TL: Well, for Mayumi and Kenzan and Yayoi, I'm wondering how you're reacting to being on this pilgrimage and meeting all these other people who have different connections to this camp.

KT: Oh, me first? This is, it's a pretty interesting experience. And so, in some levels, I really don't have a lot of connection with some of the old people here, and in some ways I have too much. I don't know whether I'm ever gonna realize what it was like to live here for that many years, but... yeah, I haven't really developed any thoughts about it yet.

TL: Well, this is only the second -- well, really the first full day, 'cause we spent all day getting here before. What about you, Mayumi?

MT: Well, I think that it's hard for us to connect the historical photos and the videos we've seen to the place, and the actual, the actuality of the experience. You can see a lot of, you can read books and you can see a lot of movies about what it was like, but I think it's just -- and you can visit the actual site where a barracks stood and you can see the mountains. But I think that it's meeting the people who are here that's really the embodiment of the experience. Because we can't know, if we haven't been here, but the, sort of the conglomeration of talking with all these different people, and just sort of feeling that mutual experience through all of their memories, that's kind of the important part for me, I think.

TL: Yayoi?

YT: I have to agree with her, and also that it still does mean a lot to me to come here and look at the barracks and look at the sights. It does make a little bit of connection to the videos or the books, but in, a lot of it is the people, also, though.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

TL: Is there anything that you've seen that changes how you think about memories that your grandmother has shared with you? I guess this is a question for Kenzan and Yayoi. [Interruption] Kenzan, you mentioned before that coming here has, in some ways, it might feel a little distant or abstract or hard to relate to, but in other ways, that there's just too much. And I'm wondering if you could elaborate on that?

KT: Well, it strikes pretty close to home now, because, you know, I was standing in the place of the old camp, and I was there for a while. And I didn't, it's all green now. And it's, they moved the barracks. But I mean you look around and it is really a pretty forlorn place, and it's pretty... you know. You look at those pictures and you could think about how just desolate and dusty the place would've been without all the sage and whatever. That's just, it's really, it's really sad that they had to go through that, but at the same time, I was there about thirty minutes. Thirty minutes isn't a long time in the whole scheme of things. And I don't, it's really hard to realize something completely until it's actually done. I mean it's easy to conceptualize things, but that's not where it should hit you. And it was just kind of strange, the whole experience, that it was, I can, I knew it was happening so, well, but not really thinking about it.

Yeah, I think... I don't know. It says something about the people who are here and just humans in general that we do a lot of things and we get put into a lot of places, but really a lot of people only remember the good parts. And I think that was... you know, I went down to that panel discussion and they, the three panelists really only remember... you know, I guess they probably remember all the hardships and all that, but they don't really share it. And that's kind of, I guess that's more of a private thing. So in that sense, I probably won't get to know that part. But maybe it's not something I should know.

TL: Does this make you think about yourself differently as a Japanese American?

AT: Is that question to me?

KT: No.

AT: Kenzan.

KT: No, it doesn't. This was always around, but it's materialized. It was always part of family history and all that, but now it's kind of become material. And I'm not sure that, it doesn't really... yeah.

TL: Yayoi, I'm wondering if visiting the barracks and that stockade, I'm wondering if just like standing there in the sun has added to or in some way changed the memories and stories you'd already been hearing as you grew up?

YT: A little bit, yeah. To actually see it and be in a space, or not a space, but just the building or what-not that people would have to be forced to live in or be in. And I suppose it has changed a little bit, but not majorly.

TL: As you hear bits and pieces of conversations, either yourself with other pilgrimage participants, or just overhearing them talking among themselves, does it give you a different context for this history of the camps?

YT: Yeah. Because if you hear a person that was interned talking to a person that hasn't or another person, then you -- and they talk about their experiences or whatever -- then you understand, hearing from the person and not just out of the book, about that.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

TL: Ayame, what are you thinking about, being here with your daughter and your grandchildren?

AT: I'm glad that my daughter and grandchildren came. And I have been talking about this for long time, now and then. But I think they really -- after seeing the place -- maybe understand a little bit more what happened. So I'm glad they came out with me.

TL: Mayumi, how does this change your view of your mother and father?

MT: Well, I don't think it changes my view of my mother and father. But it might, might help a little bit my understanding of the situation that they, in which they met. I mean I still think they're the same people, or I still think about them in the same way. But I was going to say I think the situation is very strange. Because just to hear that there were 18,000 people in the middle of nowhere, really, it's almost like sort of a science fiction thing, where, like on the X-Files, these people come over a hill and then they see this great big scientific installation. Well, in this case, Tule Lake became one of the biggest cities in this whole area, out of nowhere, and that's the strangeness of it. So just to think that all these normal human beings, doing their normal human things, were doing that in the middle of nowhere in a completely contrived and artificial situation. It does place kind of a question on how their lives would have been had it not happened. It's a curious thing, really. And we'll never know what their lives would have been like. But it just gives us a better understanding of what their lives were like then.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

TL: When we were on the bus we -- well, and in the program for the pilgrimage -- we learned something about how the organizing committee evolved over time, because this hasn't happened all the time. And there's been a lot of people who have thought it was, well... discouraged actually, discouraged people doing such things. Why come to this place where there aren't many physical landmarks, and so forth? And yet people have persisted in both wanting to come and, of course, in putting this kind of thing together. So I'm kind of wondering from your perspective as an extended family, what your thoughts are as far as continuing this kind of an effort to experience history and promote history in this kind of way?

AT: Is that question to me?

TL: It's kind of to the group, so the question is, what your thoughts are about this form, this pilgrimage, as a form of preserving community history, transmitting community history?

AT: Well, I think history is a very important thing. You can think that, "Well, it happened, so what?" But I think it's very important for Japanese Americans to know and keep in history book or video, whatever, so that generations later could reflect on it. So I think it is important.

MT: For myself, I'm not sure if I would come back here again. But I think it, it makes me really interested to experience firsthand other locations or places where history happened. For example, when I went to Japan when I was young, and I visited the places where my mom and my dad had lived, it was really important. And I hope that my children both do that, go to both Japan and to China to find out where their relatives lived and where important things in history took place. Because being in the place, there's no substitute really, for being in the place and that way learning history.

YT: I think this was a great program, and I think that maybe I wouldn't come back in consecutive years, but maybe in five years or something come back, and maybe I'd understand some things that I don't understand now, I might understand more. But I think this is great, that people took the time to, taken the time to set this up.

KT: I think, like any history, the whole thing will become kind of conceptual with time and a little bit diluted, just because the people who were there will... won't be here. And the whole thing will become part of history. And you'll have it, it's place in history like everything else. And I think these pilgrimages will be very important while the people who were there are still alive, and the fact that they have stories to tell. Because those are probably most important, like it was said earlier, just that those really don't have any, anything else that can compare to them, and that they, when that ceases to happen, when the story-telling and all that ceases to happen, that --


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

<Begin Segment 5>

TL: I'm wondering if, if you had expectations coming to the pilgrimage, and if you did, what were they? So if any one of you had any expectations, anything you wanted to find out, something you wanted to see, something that you expected to happen. And of course, it's not over yet, but just so far.

YT: I didn't really. I just didn't have any expectations.

TL: Okay.

MT: I didn't have any expectations, either. I just thought I'd meet a lot of nice people, but I didn't know that it would be this fun. I mean this is, it's really fun to talk to all these people from different places, and because you have some, something in common, there's a little linkage as to why you're here, and so it's really easy talk to people and meet them. And suddenly you're talking to someone that you have something in common with.

TL: Ayame?

AT: Yes. I had mixed feelings about coming here to Tule Lake, because George passed away last December, and I met George here at Tule Lake. He was at MIS Language School, but he came to visit his sister's family. And since my father and Mr. Moriguchi was good friend, so they invited our family, and I met George for the first time. And this locket that I was wearing today is... I put these pictures together. It's a picture of George and I, and he took the picture right in front of the barracks. So it's kind of, I think I'll just keep this and wear it occasionally, or just look at it, and remembering coming to Tule Lake again.

MT: Do you think that he would have enjoyed coming back here?

AT: Oh, I think so.

TL: Kenzan.

KT: I didn't have a lot of expectations. I expected to go to Tule Lake. I expected to meet a lot of people, some of which were interned here. And I expected to hear their stories. So far, it's met all my expectations.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

TL: Sometimes people come looking for certain pieces of their history or pieces of a picture that they haven't been able to find. Sometimes they're looking for people, sometimes they're just looking for something. Sometimes they can't even put their finger on it, but they just know that maybe something will happen when they get here. So that was partly why I was asking. I'm wondering if the experience is causing you to think of other questions that you might have for each other, whether it's about the camp, specifically, what you went through, Ayame, or just questions about what you're feeling or thinking about as a result of being here.

KT: I don't have any yet, but I'm sure they will come up with time, you know, small questions.

MT: So Mom, did you, did you find the geography really striking? Was it just as you remembered it -- the Abalone Hill and the Castle Rock? Did it just look just like it...?

AT: Well, landscape was exactly what I expected to see. But the barracks are all gone. And I'm rather disappointed that I didn't see any barracks, except the one removed. But I'm glad now that I came. And I'll go back and put it all in my journal, my feelings.

MT: One of the questions that I was thinking about when Yayoi was talking was wondering what you thought of what children your age were doing when they were in the camps. I mean could you imagine someone, a girl your age, twelve years old, and what her life would be like compared to yours as it is now?

YT: I think it would definitely be much different, trying to live without all the luxuries that I take for granted nowadays. Just having to go through that and dealing with not having those.

MT: You mean like a clothes washer or a...?

YT: Yeah, or...

MT: Books anytime you want to go to the library...

YT: Yeah. Just being so isolated from everything else.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

TL: I think a lot of scholars writing about the camps are still pondering what's the effect on the various generations. How has being interned been reflected in, like your experience Mayumi, in the way that you're raised, the way that you see yourself, and how then might that be reflected in Kenzan and Yayoi's experience? And I mean it's an open question, but one that we're interested in what you think about.

MT: Well, they say that because of historical and governmental acts, that Japanese Americans have very defined characteristics in each generation: the first, the second, and third. But I think that my father defied that thinking, and he felt that he was a person of the world, and a real humanitarian and a scholar. And he had real deep spiritual feelings based on different cultures of the world. So I think that it's up to individuals. Like you hear that families were not close during the camps, and then you hear about other families that were very close. Like I think my mom's family was very close, because they took the time to build a little kitchen, and so they ate together every night, and so on. So it's really, it really comes down to the individuals involved and the particular family story. And I think it's hard to generalize about cultural characteristics of a race or a generation.

TL: Any other comments on this? How this affects generations, or not?

KT: Well, it'll affect generations as long as it's remembered. That's given. And I think that... I mean while I keep saying that it's not my history, personally, that it is, it is family history. And I do, I do think about it from time to time. And I do understand that it was... well, the obvious fact that my grandparents met at the camp, I mean that's one thing. But also the fact that they went through hardship, I mean a lot of hardship. And it really defined their character and probably defined how they raised their kids, and therefore, how their kids raised their kids, and on and on down the line. And I think it kind of gives reason or method to the madness, if you want to, just because it was... it was such a... probably a short time, and as these people get older, the time gets, the section of their, the percentage of their life gets shorter, but it really... probably they remembered a lot more in this time frame than a lot, a lot of time.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

TL: Well, I think how we or how people choose to remember events, I think that that's a major part of how history gets shaped, because there are so many choices that are made about memory. So that's kind of my closing question here, and that is: what you think you'll take away. What kind of feeling or memory, if you will, or emotion that you will be leaving with from this pilgrimage?

AT: I hope that this sort of thing will never happen again to any race. And my experience, and my family experience, I think, is valuable. I think they'll learn something from, but it's not something you want to go through again. There must be other ways to learn.

YT: I think that it's a bad, it was a horrible thing that happened, but at the same time, I'll take away a better feeling than I've already had in the past. I mean there's probably a lot of things that I haven't heard that weren't too pleasant, but just that all these people are talking about how much fun they had or good things that happened. And I think that it's had a more positive impact on me than, or more positive -- I have more positive feelings about it than I used to.

TL: What do you think you might tell a classmate about this pilgrimage, especially if they were Japanese American, too?

YT: That it was a great experience to go experience the whole thing. And I definitely have been learning more about it.

MT: I hope there are more good books for younger readers. I hope that's coming about, because it's such an important educational area that's not covered enough. I personally will take away the feeling of warmth and connections with other individuals from other places. I hope they do publish a big list of addresses and e-mail addresses, so that we can keep in contact. For example, people in Portland, we hardly ever get a chance to talk with them. And here's a perfect entree to further conversation. There's no reason why we couldn't get to know them better. And I just, I'm real happy that this opportunity came about and it was good timing for us.

KT: What am I going to come away with? I am definitely going to come away with just the sense of what happened. And just a little more, it'll help me to internalize it and think about it because, just because I was there. It will definitely help. And I will think about it. And overall, it will be, I think it's definitely a positive experience for anyone who can understand it. I mean there's definitely kids in here, they're running around, they're having fun, and they don't know quite, they know, but I think people who are old enough to understand it really do come away with a sense of... I don't know, the place, it seems so calm now. The valley, the lake that just, it seemed pretty calm in what it was now. And that was, that's part of it -- is it's just hard to imagine 18,000 people in that, in that lake bed where the total population is under 500. I'm definitely glad I came. And it's something that I will treasure and remember.

TL: Thank you. Thank you very much.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

TL: We want a shot of the locket.

SH: Okay. Put it down on the table there.

[Talking in the background, Ayame Tsutakawa displaying the locket.]

SH: Yeah. So how old is that -- is that locket new, but the pictures are old? Or is the locket old?

AT: The locket's old, too. George gave me this.

SH: Oh.

MT: The locket?

TL: The locket?

AT: Yes. It didn't have any pictures in it. I have two.

MT: Oh, okay.

AT: So for this pilgrimage, I wanted him to come, too. So I, I forgot I was wearing it.

MT: That's good.

TL: Is there anything anybody else wants to say?

KT: No, not right now.

MT: Oh, just that I hope that the kids write about this experience in some way, sometime -- a letter to someone or a journal entry or an article or something like that. Of course, I can't promise that I will, myself. [Laughs] But I hope that they will.

TL: Well, thank you very much. I really appreciate your time and your thoughts.

AT: Thank you very much.

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