Densho Digital Archive
Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community Collection
Title: Taketo Omoto Interview
Narrator: Taketo Omoto
Interviewer: Frank Kitamoto
Location: Bainbridge Island, Washington
Date: October 22, 2006
Densho ID: denshovh-otaketo-01

[Ed. note: Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

FK: I'd like you to introduce yourself and tell me about your parents, as much as you can about your parents.

TO: I'm Taketo Omoto, call me Tak. My parents... mother died, mother and father both died. My father died in 1931 and my mother about 19-, in the '80s.

FK: So, when were you born and where were you born?

TO: I was born in, it used to be Bainbridge Island, but now it's Winslow, Washington. September, September 20, 1917. [Ed. note: Narrator probably has this reversed. It used to be Winslow and is now the city of Bainbridge Island.]

FK: 1917. Is, are you... how many children in your family, then?

TO: I have three children.

FK: Uh-huh. And as far as your siblings, how many brothers, how many sisters?

TO: Only one brother left right now. My oldest brother passed away a few years back.

FK: And so you have another brother and another sister?

TO: No, I don't. They are both deceased.

FK: Okay. And so you were second in the family? Chronologically you were...

TO: I was second.

FK: Second in the family, okay. Now, do you know why your grandparents came to United States?

TO: No, my grandparents weren't here.

FK: I mean your, I'm sorry, your parents... why your parents came?

TO: My parents?

FK: Yeah.

TO: Well, come over here and earn some money and then go back. You know, they figured, they come from Yamaguchi-ken... mostly farmers or that type of people, encouraged them to go overseas. They figured on working here a few years and then going back, but they never realized their dream. My father never did go back, and Mother went back once, on the ship.

FK: So, you were, you were really young then when your father passed away.

TO: Yeah, my father was... thirteen years old, I believe, and my younger sister died same month, about a month later, same, same year.


FK: So, if your father died when you were quite young...

TO: Yes.

FK: What type of a hardship did that place on your family then?

TO: Well, it was... it was tough, my mother being a widow. But I lived in Wing Point and quite a few people helped us, especially Mr. Burrow, he owned the Seattle Hardware. He, he helped us, you know, my brother have, have a job until he graduated from high school. And we had other jobs around there that the Wing Point people, they're, they are mostly summer home, they're rich people. They, we had, when we were young we used to go there and do yard work or split wood, things like that.

FK: So did your, did your mother work or did she spend all her time taking care of the kids?

TO: Yeah, Mother had to work. She did housework for a number of those people in Wing Point. And she did other odd jobs.

FK: So, did your, did your father purchase that property then?

TO: No, at that time, where the Wing Point golf course is now, when Father had a farm there, you know, he couldn't... the first generation couldn't own home then. So this Mr. Burrow helped. He was kind of sharecropping, I mean, he had the fruit trees there, and my father picked the fruit and shipped them off. I don't know what the arrangements were, but we lived there until they took over the golf course.

FK: So did your family eventually acquire that property?

TO: No, we couldn't live there. And we, we... my father bought a home over there in Madrona, where my sister-in-law lives now. And my father worked many years to pay back this lady, a Norwegian woman, Jones, she made a payment on this house. And my father worked many years. He went early in the morning, cleaned up the clinker from the coal fire. He'd stoke the fire, and fill the... get the house warmed up for these people. He did that for many years to kinda pay off the debt.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

FK: So, so growing up in that area, then, did you have a lot of Caucasian friends or did you... what did you do as far as growing up in that area?

TO: Yeah, we had a lot of Caucasian friends. But I remember we worked, we knew the Wing Point people. I remember this Johnson family we used to hang around with. I don't know why, but they wouldn't let him use that Wing Point dock. We were able to use that Wing Point dock. It was kind of a private... we went fishing there and everything, but, they kept everybody else off. So...

FK: Well, what was it like going to school on the island, then?

TO: We walked every day, rain or shine. It was quite a ways from where we lived. Oh, I don't know, three or four miles. But, they didn't have school buses then; later on we had school buses. We walked, walked part of the way, up to Amblin's corner there. From there we took a bus.

FK: So where, where was the grade school on the island that you went to?

TO: Oh, we went to Winslow High School. We used to, later on it was called Lincoln, I believe. We went to there through sixth grade.

FK: That's, that's where the Winslow Green is now, is that, is that right?

TO: Yes, I believe so.

FK: Okay. Then was the high school already built, then, at that time?

TO: Uh, no. There was a Winslow High School there, too, same time, they were different grades from first grade on up to high school upstairs. I remember the older boys there, they were that upper level. And the Antoncichs and, 'specially Antoncichs, they lived in Wing Point, and they owned a grocery store. Yeah, we knew those... I remember their boys, and John Nakata was there as an upper classman.

FK: And as far as socially or activities at schools, were there, were there any things that you participated in?

TO: No, I wasn't that type of a guy. [Laughs] Well, there was a few minor thing, but that's about it.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

FK: Okay. Now, during the war, when the Second World War started, where were you at that time?

TO: I was workin' in a wholesale greenhouse in, in Seattle. That's when, I worked there ever since couple, one year I guess. Then I got my draft notice and my brother and two other Niseis were first drafted... Okazaki boys, Nishi and Yamashita, they were drafted in, I believe, February or January, I mean, when the draft started. Then I got drafted in June of that year, '41. So we were the only two brother I know of who drafted that early, before the war.

FK: So you were drafted before Pearl Harbor?

TO: Yeah, June '41.

FK: So, how, how was your, your feelings about going in the service?

TO: Well, at that time, there was... war wasn't going on. You figured it was six months. You figured you get it over with. That never happened. We were gettin' paid twenty-one dollars a month.

FK: And what happened when Pearl Harbor happened? Did anything happen to you as...

TO: Yeah, I was... after we left Fort Lewis where the induction center, I was stationed in Vancouver Barracks, Washington. They had a Barnes General Hospital there. And we... I was on night duty and I got off that morning. You know, they didn't have much radio or anything, and I heard all this commotion, you know, "Japs had bombed Pearl Harbor" and all that. "Let's start with him. Lets kill 'em all." That kind of thing. But, it was... it didn't bother me, but sometime when they get drunk, they... I was afraid they might harm me. But I never was harmed in any way.

FK: Now, I understand that on some of the trips they put restrictions on them because they were of Japanese descent. Did that happen to you, too?

TO: Yeah, we were restricted on the post for a short time. They had soldiers patrolling the streets and everything. In January, we were transferred -- there was four of us Niseis -- transferred to Fort Snelling, Minnesota, for our own safety. There was eighteen, eighteen of us. Others were from the engineering, Vancouver Barracks engineering battalion. And at that time they were, they were all kind of a stranger to people in Minneapolis, they were real nice. They didn't know who we were and stuff. Maybe we were prisoners of war, you know. So, they were real nice and people, when we go on the street, they stand and ask us what we were or something. That kind of thing. But I really enjoyed the people in Minneapolis there. Right there, you know, their war wasn't like out in the Pacific Coast or... they didn't talk about it much.

FK: Now, in Fort Snelling, did they give you any special training, or did you...

TO: No, I was there only a short time because it was induction, it wasn't MIS training at that time. And, I was then transferred to Camp Trotter, Missouri, right near the Arkansas/Missouri borders, in the southern part of Missouri and I was fortunate enough to get into the surgery, medical technician. And I stayed there 'til, you know, end of the war, over two and a half years.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

FK: Now, you said, you said your, your older brother was also drafted at the same time?

TO: Yeah. No, he was earlier...

FK: Oh, before...

TO: Before, earlier. We were all put in the medics at that time. And my brother, he went to Fort, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and he stayed there for the rest of the war along with the Okazaki boys and Mas Yamashita. We were all there.

FK: Now, was your younger brother, end up in the service, too?

TO: Yeah, my... the other brother too, Mas. He, he served in the 442, overseas. My younger brother, Sada, he, I don't know when he got drafted, maybe '45. He went to MIS, and then he went to occupation in Japan and Korea.

FK: So, there were... were there four of you in the war?

TO: Yes, there was four of us in the army.

FK: Now, while you were in the army, what was happening with your mother then?

TO: Well, I didn't know where they went, when I went to Minnesota. So I contacted Red Cross and they told me there, they looked it up. You know, at that time they're... I guess they were in, on a train to Manzanar, or at Manzanar, or somethin'. They finally got to me, back to me, and told me where my mother was, mother and two brothers. I, I was kinda worried where they were. But seemed...

FK: So, did, did your mother stay in camp when all four of you were in the army then?

TO: Yes, my mother stayed all that time. She didn't, she transferred to Minidoka when there... you know, people wanted to go.

FK: So, did you ever try to visit your mom in...

TO: Yes, I tried to visit earlier, but, you know, they wouldn't let us go. So I visited my brother, brother in Texas, you know, he was in the service. It was kind of a shock then, you know. There was two fountain, "colored" and "white." You didn't know which fountain to drink water in or go into the restroom. So I went to where it says "white," but it was okay.

FK: Now, how how did you... how were you able to get into camp to visit your mother, then? Was it hard to do, or...

TO: What was that?

FK: How did you, how were you able to get into camp to visit your mother, then?

TO: Well, later on, when it opened up... you know, I was in station hospital in Camp Trotter, and they had... people who wanted to visit a certain area, we signed up and if there was a patient to be discharged we kinda took 'em along, I mean, watched him over and discharge him. One went to Grandview, Washington, and I took one to Walla Walla because he had tuberculosis, I think. And from there I took a short leave to Minidoka to visit.

FK: So, so what did you, what did you think when you got to Minidoka and went into Minidoka? Did you have any thoughts or feelings about finding your mother there?

TO: No, you know, I had only a short stay there en route, so, we just see my mother. I was happy. I didn't get to do much there, but, I noticed the condition there. I think it wasn't type of the... part of the day that was miserable, but it was a pretty clear day. And I just enjoyed my visit and then went back. I went there twice, I believe. Different times escorted a prison-, I mean, a patient home.

FK: Now, so did you already own your place that you, your family lived?

TO: Yes.

FK: And who, and who looked after your home when you were gone then?

TO: Do you remember Jack Marshall? He was, kinda took care of the place. There was a Puerto Rican family livin' in it. And so when I came back one time... just kinda surprised them, you know, visited them. And bunch of kids there, lookin' down there, you know, they never seen us people. [Laughs] They pointing out, "There's a Jap" or something like that, there.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

FK: Now, now, when you got out of the service, what did you, what did you do?

TO: Well, we went to... we hung around home, 'til met people calling us do some odd jobs in Wing Point, people we knew, and I was wondering what to do. And then, well, I decided to go back to wholesale greenhouse and raise flowers and things.


FK: So, so when your mom went to camp then, your two, your two younger brothers were still home, though. Is that right?

TO: Well, at that time, yeah. I think they went out earlier, from camp. My second brother, he went to Chicago, and my younger brother went to Oberlin, Ohio, college.

FK: Okay. So you, you went into the greenhouse business. And how long did you stay with that?

TO: Oh, I don't know, twelve, fifteen years or somethin' like that.

FK: Was that in Seattle or was that...

TO: Yeah, Seattle. Yeah, I was a kind of a foreman there. Then I went to Boeing four years, until they shut down the SSD, I was workin' on supersonic. They shut it down and then took a few months off, and then I went to work for City of Seattle in the water department.

FK: Now, so you were actually never in Manzanar or Minidoka, then, except to visit then?

TO: No, not as a resident. [Laughs]

FK: Yeah. So, so did you have any feelings about your, your family having to be there while you were in the service?

TO: No, because back there, we didn't hear hardly very much about the evacuation, you know, among the people. Well, one time they had an orientation there and somebody asked, you know, "What do you think of all the Japanese being evacuated from West Coast?" And the instructor said, "Well, if somebody murders somebody in a hotel, you gotta arrest the whole people in the whole, whole hotel." It didn't make sense to me, but they didn't think much about the, you know, evacuation. There wasn't much in the news there.

FK: Now, so when did you come back to the island right after the...

TO: Yeah, it was 19'... I got discharged in November of '45, and I went to Chicago and L.A. on the way home. Then I stayed there, at home, a short time, helped my brother fix up the home. And then decided to work for some... went back to greenhouse.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

FK: Now, I noticed that you had done an interview with one of your grandchildren, and how was that for you?

TO: Oh, well, she wanted to know all about... I don't know. I did couple of interviews, I don't know which, which one are you referring... one of 'em wanted to know during the Depression and one my army service and all that. So, she was the one that's a senior in high school, and it went off pretty good, I thought. She got a good, good grade on it, she said. [Laughs]

FK: So what did you tell her about the Depression?

TO: Oh, I told her about people selling apples on the street, nickel, nickel apiece. And I remember telling her about the Hoovertown in Pioneer Square, down there. You know, during the Depression they had cardboard shacks there. Yeah, that was very vivid to me.

FK: How did, how did that period of time affect your family?

TO: Well, it was tough for us, my mother being a widow. But we were able to get, you know, small jobs. Before, you know, mostly people had mostly wooden stove, wood stoves, and you know, little pieces, we'd split 'em, split the wood for these people. And do odd jobs, cut the grass and things like that.

FK: Now, if there was, you know, anything from your life that you would want to tell future generations, what would, what would that be?

TO: What was... what was that?

FK: If there's anything from your past experience or your life that you would like future generations to know about, what would that be?

TO: Well, I think you should be able to... they have more opportunity now, so I think I'd tell 'em to, you know, be honest. They always told me, parents, "Don't shame your family," things like that. But children nowadays are different, they have their own way of thinking. It just went in one ear and came out the other, I guess.

FK: Well, how do you feel about this memorial we're doing on the island?

TO: Well, you know, I wasn't exactly involved in the evacuation; it doesn't affect me that much, really. But I went to the dedication, I thought it was pretty impressive. I didn't think I would be involved in it because I was gone before the evacuation, so I didn't face all that hardship. And other than what people tell me or read about, to me, it was... I have no desire to go visit those reunions on the camp, things like that. But I went sometimes, just from curiosity.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

FK: Now one of the things I remember someone talking about was having dinners or something for people that were gonna go into the service. Did that happen with you, too?

TO: Oh, yeah. I remember my own, my brother, they had a community, Japanese community... there was four Japanese that... my brother and Okazaki, and Yamashita, and Nishi. They all... I wasn't drafted then but I went to them. You know, the Isseis get up, you know, made a speech, "Don't shame your family. Do your best, gaman," you know, things like that. I remember my brother, brother gave a speech thanking them. But when I went, I was only one, I was, I left from Seattle on the Kalakala. Early in the morning, went to Port Orchard. From there I got, went to induction center.

FK: That, those sending away parties and things, were they held in the... where were they held?

TO: In the Japanese Hall there, in... I don't know, Grow Avenue or somethin'. Remember that?

FK: Yeah.

TO: Yeah, they... that was held there. But it wasn't for me. I was the only one that went by myself.

FK: Do you remember anything about the Japanese Hall as far as how that happened, or...

TO: Japanese what?

FK: The Japanese Hall. Do you remember anything about that?

TO: Yeah, I remember my father workin' on it. All the community got together and built it. Mr. Chihara, he was the lead carpenter, and I remember they dug a well there for Ohtaki, Mrs. Ohtaki. She was a Sunday school -- I mean not Sunday, Japanese school teacher. And we, whole community helped to get the building going.

FK: Now I know, I know transportation wasn't that easy in those days, but did Japanese families socialize together or get together to do things?

TO: Yeah. They had things at the Japanese Hall, shibai, you know, plays. And I remember they come, people from Japan coming showing these war movies. At that time, Japan invaded China, they showed a picture of, movies, they called it, you know, in war in China. That, I guess, I think they were hinting that we should go back, you know. Go back to Japan, your mother country, and help fight, I guess. They were kind of propaganda, I thought.

FK: Did that move you to do anything? [Laughs]

TO: Well, it's... I didn't think much of it, you know. I thought it was propaganda, mostly. You know, "You should go back to your mother country," or something like that.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

FK: So as far as retirement now, what type of things are you involved with?

TO: Well, I have been involved in Keiro nursing home. I served there twelve years as chairman of the facility committee. And I had church, Japanese Baptist Church, I was a property there, many years. And in between, I did, you know, helping people. I think we brought onto ourselves somebody every year. And I had a few talent that I thought people recognized and I were to... take care of it.

FK: Is there, is there anything else you would like to tell us about as far as your experiences on the island as a Bainbridge Island Japanese Islander, or anything about your life you'd like to follow up with?

TO: Well, I found out, you know, in the army, that in the Midwest, people were more friendly. I thought they were nice. They never encountered a Japanese before, I guess. Especially in Missouri where I was staying for many years, it's kinda hillbilly people there. And they don't... they didn't associate us with the enemy or anything. I was treated real well. In the operating room I was pretty fortunate to, you know, be second in command there during the, assisted in the operation and everything. And that's about the only thing. It was really something that I didn't experience before. I never traveled out of, other than in Seattle. And on Bainbridge... as far as Bainbridge, I hadn't been here, livin' on the island, so other than what I hear from other people, I've noticed it's grown considerably and people were gettin' Japanese community involved in more, more the community than before.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

Male voice: I have a question. I don't know if this... if there's anything to this or not, but since you were in the military when war broke out, how did the military take that? Was there panic, or did you, did you feel that they were on top of the situation? You know, suddenly they were confronted with a big war and they weren't really prepared for it. Did you get a sense of that at all?

TO: No. Well, I found one thing. There's some people who are sympathetic to us, especially I ran across a conscientious objector, and what's that... oh, that...

FK: Quakers?

TO: I can't think of the organization. Anyway... some church. What is that one that comes around door to door?

FK: Seventh Day Adventist?

TO: Yeah, met some of those people and they're real nice. They say, "How are you?" and taking, "How are you doin'?" But those, I never met any who were violent or anything.

FK: Was it, was it kinda scary, though, when people were, would get drunk or drink too much and say those kind of things?

TO: Yeah. Sometime you, you're pretty, had to be really careful. You know, you don't antagonize them. But most of 'em were real good. Well, I kinda enjoyed what I did, you know, in the army. Broadened my horizon a little bit, meet different kind of people. I worked in the -- Vancouver Barracks -- I worked in the Section Eight, they called it. They're... people had mental problem, we used to call them nuthouses. They usually have big guys there because some of the residents, they got pretty, pretty violent. They had mostly big guys so they could handle them. Scary sometime when they get violent, start throwing things around.

FK: So did most of the people that you worked with in the hospital, were they people that were coming out of the war, or...

TO: No. Well, later on, they're people, veterans, come back from Guadalcanal. You know, they come back with hay fever and things like that. I mean, not hay fever, that mosquito...

FK: Malaria.

TO: Malaria, yeah. Well, it was a signal corps training center. So we got lotta of... in those days they didn't have a radio communication. They had to climb poles, string wires, so you get a lot of fractures. People climbing up the poles and breakin' their legs and arms. It's kind of orthopedic type of a hospital there.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.