Densho Digital Archive
Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community Collection
Title: Kay Sakai Nakao Interview
Narrator: Kay Sakai Nakao
Interviewer: Debra Grindeland
Location: Bainbridge Island, Washington
Date: February 25, 2006
Densho ID: denshovh-nkazuko-01

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

<Begin Segment 1>

DG: Okay, Kay, we're just, I'm going to start right at the period right before the war. And if you could tell me, just to start off with, about you and your immediate family at that time.

DG: Well, when the war broke out, we were living in a farmhouse where the Ordway School is now. That used to be all Sakai farm. And so we built that house in 1936, so it wasn't that old in 1942 when we evacuated. So it was kind of hard to part with our new home, your safe haven. So we just, I don't know, we were heartbroken, but what can you say? It happened, we had to do what we had to do. So there were five girls and one brother, Mom and Dad, there were eight of us. So, well, it was hard to believe that we all had to go, being American citizen. And at first we thought probably our parents would be going. And then the government decided "Jap is a Jap" so the citizens and everybody needed to go. So it was a heartbreaker to uproot and go where you didn't even know where you were going. They never told us where we were going, if it's gonna be hot or if it's gonna be cold or anything, which sort of -- I don't know how the others felt, but I felt like I was kind of up in the air and I couldn't come down on earth to get my feet on earth, to really feel sort of secure. I don't know if that's the word, right word to use, but you're just left kinda dangling, wondering.

DG: So can you describe -- let's go back even before the order came, but to Pearl Harbor. Do you remember where you were that day and how you heard the news of the bombing?

KN: Yes. I don't know why I was on the bicycle going down Madison Avenue, Sunday morning. I'm quite sure it was Sunday morning. And my Caucasian friends came out and said something about, "There's the war," or something about Pearl Harbor, but that didn't mean a thing to me. I didn't know where Pearl Harbor was. And I knew Japan was so far away, non-reachable. And then I went home, turned around, went home and we listened to the radio. And then it was real. Until then I wasn't too sure.

DG: And do you remember what your reactions were, or, and your parents?

KN: Well, my parents were very, very shocked, and they thought that was a very bad move on the Japan part. They were speaking in Japanese, so you know, I was understanding what they were trying to say, and they really felt bad about it. Because they always felt like they were American citizens, children being educated in America, and they never wanted to go back to Japan. So they felt bad about the whole situation. And in fact, my dad -- I didn't know this until it happened -- that he went and turned in his life insurance policy and bought liberty bonds at that time. He wanted to help the American cause, you know. So I thought that was good of him to do that.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

DG: And how, can you describe the reaction or your relationship with your Caucasian friends?

KN: Oh, they were shocked, too. I was out of school already. But they were shocked and they were... they were normal, they were friendly. I'm sure they were very sympathetic. Probably they understood our feelings at that point. But at that point we didn't go back and forth anymore, because after the war broke out, there was curfew. We had to stay within our boundaries, and not to be out after six o'clock and all that kind of a thing. And we were afraid, too, to get away from our property, we didn't know what was going to happen. We didn't know what the reaction will be with the public, the community.

DG: So what was the mood like on Bainbridge Island ? Were you able to still gather a general feeling, or were you still just...

KN: You mean at that point?

DG: At that time, yes.

KN: Oh, at that point we were so wrapped up in our own business of getting things settled, sold, stored, because we were ordered to leave. So we weren't thinking about much else, at least I wasn't. Because we had to get everything all sort of squared away. And for one thing, we were so busy destroying everything that was Japanese. We, my dad says, "Get rid of everything," so we just burned things, buried things, broke things up, did everything to get rid of all the things that Grandma sent from Hiroshima, you know, for Boys' Day and Girls' Day they have all these nice things. And so we had a lot of things for five of us girls. But everything was completely destroyed. The only thing that was saved was my Japanese doll and a Japanese kimono that was stored in a trunk; fortunately they were in a trunk. But the other things were all around the house, so it was easy to get at and so they were all destroyed, which I feel very badly right now -- I mean, now that they were all destroyed and we can no longer enjoy.

DG: How did you feel then?

KN: I was scared. I, I hated to get rid of all the stuff that Grandma sent me, but then again, it was too Japanese, and so we just had to destroy them.

DG: Wow. And so let's go now to, you talked a little bit already about when the order was posted. After the order went up, the exclusion order that you, and you knew you had to leave -- actually, at that point, what was your reaction to the order? Were you surprised, or had you anticipated this?

KN: Well, in a way, yes and no. Because we felt we were American citizens, that we shouldn't have to go, and in my mind, I was thinking, well, parents will go and we will have to run the farm. Then when the order came that we all had to go, then just forgot about everything and just got ready.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

DG: Can you take me through the process, that week you had, that short week, of what, what things did you do during that week?

KN: Oh, it was kind of a chaos. 'Cause in just one week, you had to get somebody to run your farm, store some of your things for you, and sell something if you wanted to, and destroy everything that, you know, Japanese. And so it was chaotic, but with six children helping, doing everything, it, it got done.

DG: And how did you feel about the security of the things you did leave behind?

KN: Oh, we had a number of bedrooms in this new house, and so one bedroom was used as a storage, whatever we couldn't bring, you know, like trunk-full of things, and all your beddings for the eight of us. And on the farm, usually, Mom and Dad always -- well, not usually, most always -- bought things in big bulks 'cause there were eight of us. And so in a year's time they would buy thirteen sacks of rice, hundred pounds each, and a big sack of sugar, flour, and cases of milk, cases of salmon, case of abalone and all that kind of a thing. And of course we hadn't used all those things, so... and coffee. And so we stored some of those things up there. And in those days, you know, you didn't have very strong locks or anything, you trusted everybody and anything, so we weren't worried about anything getting lost. But we did have a renter that decided she's gonna peek in there, I guess, and kind of helped herself to some of the cotton things, you know, like sheets and towels and things like that, because you couldn't get those kinds of things during the war. Because the, all the cotton things were used for army, cleaning their machinery and whatever else they had to do, that's what we were told. So anyway, and then all that extra food that was stored, lots of it was gone, yeah. But that's how it goes.

DG: And is that where your kimono and doll were stored?

KN: In the trunk, and everything else was piled high on top of that, so that room was just piled high with stuff. And like the carpeting and some of tables we had, you know, nice tables and stuff, our Caucasian friends stored it for us, which was very nice, and couches and chairs and stuff.

DG: And now you've stored your things away, and how did you decide what things to take with you?

KN: We had no choice -- one suitcase apiece. Dad went to town and bought eight suitcases, we all had one suitcase apiece. And so we put in whatever we felt like we needed, and we really didn't know what we needed. We needed a change of clothes, of course, and some few important things we felt, each one felt that was important to him or her, we put in our suitcase. And we wore a lot of clothes. [Laughs] It was a beautiful day in March, and my goodness, I had my wool suit on, and wool coat on, and my hat on and good shoes. [Laughs] And where were we going? We didn't know. And we had probably, I don't know how much underneath we had on.

DG: So you wore extra clothes to help carry?

KN: Yeah, uh-huh, because you couldn't put in the, great big overcoat in the suitcase, because they'll take up all the room, and our suitcases weren't that big. They were medium, probably.

DG: One other thing that happened during that period was, actually, even before that period, were the FBI round-ups. Do you remember much from that?

KN: Yes. The FBI round-up -- well, of course, Dad was clearing land, so we had dynamite. And when they saw my mother's Buddhist shrine, a great big one, they thought Dad had a shortwave set in there. So anyway, Dad was taken just overnight at Fort Ward, and he was released. But some of the other folks were not released for some reason, I don't know.

DG: And at that time, what was your relationship with Sam?

KN: Oh, if you're familiar with the island, we lived on the east side of high school and Sam and his family had a farm on the west side of high school, which is now Commodore West and Commodore Lane. He had 60 acres there. But we sold it before we came home. We didn't feel like we wanted to farm, and it was hard to get the farm back again comfortably, so we sold out.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

DG: And okay, so let's move ahead to March 30th, the day you had to leave the island. And as much detail as you can remember, I would love to have you just take me step by step through waking up that morning and what happened all the way to arriving the next day.

KN: I don't know if we slept very much or not, knowing we're gonna be leaving the next day. And I can't even remember eating or anything. All I can remember of that day is after we got dressed -- and I'm sure we had breakfast -- our friends came, Caucasian friends, classmates, and we hugged each other and cried. And oh, it was hard. They felt so badly for us. And then after it was all over, I don't know what time it was, a big army convoy truck came and took different families, you know, on the truck, because we were not able to bring the car down to the Taylor Avenue -- nobody to bring it back or anything -- so the car was left at home, and we all rode on the convoy truck to Taylor Avenue. Then some of the schoolkids came, friends came down to say goodbye. Some of them even skipped school, and they were told not to, but they did, to say goodbye and see us leave. And as the ferry -- it was a separate ferry, we could not go on the ferry that the usual commuters went on, we went from Taylor Avenue. And it, I can't even describe the feeling as the ferry departed, and you got farther and farther away from the island. Oh... it's hard to describe that feeling, it was so lonely, because usually when you go someplace, you know where you're going, but we didn't know, so it just made it worse.

And then after we arrived in Seattle, all these people on the viaduct and near the train track. Lots of people were curious, and there were lots of friends, I'm sure, and relatives of the Bainbridge Islanders. But the place was packed with people. First time such a thing ever happened, so I'm sure that many people were very curious. And then we boarded the train, and the windows were all black curtains down, so you know, all that train ride, we couldn't even enjoy the scenery because we had to keep the, like a blackout, just keep it, the black curtains down. They kept saying, "It's for your safety."

DG: Did you know at any point on this journey where you were headed?

KN: Nope, not at all. We were on the train until we got to someplace in California, I can't remember exactly where we transferred to a bus, because the train will not, couldn't go any further, no tracks. So we all transferred, and I don't know how many busloads. Then as we kept going, it got warmer and warmer and warmer. And we still didn't know where we were at. And I could see from the, from the front, the window, where the bus, you know, the bus driver has to see. Through there I could see, way out yonder in the desert, all these barracks, and some men without their shirts on 'cause it was so hot. And they're brown, I didn't even know they were Japanese, they were so brown. And you could see the heat waves. And I said to the person sitting next to me, I says, "Oh, I'm sure glad I don't live in a place like that." And what do you know? After a while -- I don't know how long it took after I said that -- the bus turned right in there. And I'm telling you, my heart sank down to my toes. I was just devastated. I said, "Oh, this desert." Because, you know, when you go from this island where you have the water, the mountains and the green trees and everything, and then you're in the desert and the heat and just all those desert plants, oh, couldn't even describe it. Then they gave us this bag and said we had to fill it up for a mattress with straws. Of course, we had the army cots and then army khaki blanket and all this stuff.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

DG: So, Kay, I'd like to go back, too, and just kind of hear about your thoughts and feelings of you and your family. Did you know -- you didn't know where you were going, but how did you feel about what might, how you might be treated, what was going to happen to you? Did you know?

KN: No. We didn't even know where we were going, to the Arctic or the desert or in-between. Nobody said anything. We were just leaving, period. So we just sort of went along without any argument. You know the Japanese saying: you obey, you mind, don't rock the boat. So that's how everything went. Just, we had no inkling. And I don't know where I got this idea that, well, we'll be gone six months. And of course, we were gone three-and-a-half years. So, our young life wasted.

DG: And did you have any feeling for your future?

KN: No, we didn't even think about anything like that, I don't think. I didn't, and I was twenty-two at the time, you know.

DG: Were you concerned for your safety or your well-being?

KN: In a way, yes. Well, the government always says, "It's for your safety." As somebody remarked, well, if that's the case, why do they, the guards up on the tower in camps, got the gun pointing inwards and not outwards? So, I don't think you really thought about those things very much. We were just sort of in a daze, confused. Couldn't even rationalize.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

DG: And what can you remember from the first days of camp, getting settled and that sort of thing?

KN: Oh, as you know, we only -- well, we had the cots and just the oil heater. Because in the evenings in desert it gets real cold, extreme. So we got oil every day for our heaters and that's what we used. And then of course we had to go to, they had a latrine, so we had to go out there to, you know, the toilets, and brush our teeth and wash our face and everything, and the shower was there. Yeah, the shower was connected, yeah. And then, of course, the laundry room was separate.

So there was absolutely no privacy, and we had to -- because all, everyone in the family was just in this one big room, one unit, and we had no tables or chairs or anything. My dad went out and scrounged around for scrap lumber, and he made a bench... crude, but it was a bench, and a table, had four legs, so it worked. And of course, all our toiletries, we just put it between the two by fours, which was showing, there was no insulation, no inside wall or anything, it's just one wall with all this two by fours showing. So we just put everything on the ledge, because there was no closet or anything, just one room, unit.

And then, of course, housecleaning was easy. When you had the dust storm and everything, you know, you just put whatever is on the floor on the bed, and just run a hose through it and it all just goes down to the sand again. But later on, they put linoleum down for us, so then we didn't, you know, we couldn't use the hose to clean the room. But it worked.

DG: So what else can you tell me about camp life, those, the first early times in Manzanar? Like food and facilities?

KN: Oh, yeah, we all went to the mess hall and you know, the institutional food is, it's hard to cook for big mass. And so when you think about it now, we shouldn't have complained, but we did. And we all got, we all lined up for all the meals. And then as time went on, we learned that, "Oh, the Block 9 cook is real good," they used the same things, but it depends on the cook how things turned out, right? So we used to stop there, some of us that went to work, 'cause I, I went to Block 44 to the hospital to work. I was working, I got a job at the Public Health Department, so on the way back, for dinner, we'd stop at Block 9 instead of coming home to Block 3. Well, later on, they sent out a notice saying, "Everybody that belong in your block, eat in your own mess hall." So, but sometimes, we didn't obey that, we just snuck in.

DG: Can you give me a sense of how big it -- this is Manzanar?

KN: Yeah, this is Manzanar. Ten thousand people in one square mile, and, well, you know, when I worked in the hospital, the nurses would come to work and said they had one barrack for people that were very, very disturbed. And some mornings she'll come and say, "Oh, they were just climbing the walls." Well, you know, all this thing just made them just go out of their minds. And I don't know how many were there, really, but just what the nurse had said, I just remember. And of course, there was murder and suicide even, like any other community. So, after a while it just became a community. And eventually, well, the young people were playing baseball and everything out in the firebreak, and they had a recreation hall where they could go play games or dance or whatever, and they tried make it as normal as possible.

Because we were there only eleven months and then we were transferred to Minidoka, we requested. So most of us transferred to Minidoka, in Idaho. But at that point, I was not in Minidoka too long, because after I got married in March, then we went out to a ranch, Idaho ranch to work. My husband was working at a, almost three thousand acre ranch because all the Caucasian boys were in the service and they didn't have enough help. So the Japanese boys from the camp went out to work, and I was cooking for about five or six guys, hungry guys. And we had a ration book, and so you know, you just couldn't buy a lot of things. If you used up your ration, that was it. You do without or do whatever else you could without it. And so it was a challenge, education at the same time. And of course, my husband's boss's family, they were just so wonderful. Oh, gosh, they were so wonderful. We were still friends until they passed away. So it was a wonderful feeling, they were so great, so supportive.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

DG: Can you tell me more about the time you worked in the clinic in Manzanar?

KN: Well, the clinic, it's one big room, you know, Public Health Department, and they had long tables and then all these secretaries, stenographers, everybody sitting all in a row with a typewriter. And I was a typist clerk along with all the rest of them. And then we had more advanced stenographers that were for doctors, they were on the other, at the other table. But we were all in this one big room. And all these Issei food handlers. they work in the kitchen or wherever else, handling food, they had to come for their physical. And so this Nisei doctor is trying to communicate with an Issei lady or a man, and they are not communicating. And I'm sitting there, I'm working, but I hear them and they're struggling. So what do I do? Not minding my own business, I get up and go over there, because you know, they had a little cubbyhole-like place over there. And so I started asking this lady questions, and then I think the doctor really felt relieved that some questions will be answered properly. And so from then on, every time they had the food handlers' exam, or whatever you call it, then I just went to help them out.

DG: Translating.

KN: Yeah. And my Japanese wasn't that good, but at least I guess it was sort of understandable. It was better than the Nisei one.

DG: And where did you learn Japanese?

KN: Well, I went to Japanese school and I went through eighth grade. I wished I studied harder, but I played harder than I studied. But I could speak enough that I could get by, so that was fortunate. Being the oldest in the family, you always speak Japanese to your parents, right? So when I went to American school, it was Greek to me, I couldn't speak English. So it was good and bad.

DG: And you mentioned before about one of the nurses talking to you about, it sounds like a psychiatric ward?

KN: Well, I think this evacuation probably affected a lot of people. So yeah, you could call it that, but they were in this one barrack, and I think different nurses stayed there to do their duty. But I didn't question too much when she said, "They were just climbing the walls this morning," or something, then I knew how bad it was.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

DG: And let's see, there was... I wanted to ask you about the move from Manzanar to Minidoka. Why did you choose or ask to be moved?

KN: Well, the California people were more sophisticated, and you know, we were just country bumpkins. So we felt like we needed to be closer to more of the Puget Sound area people, Seattle folks, so this is why. And some of the kids were getting very, younger kids, were getting very uncontrollable, so it worked out okay. But there were a few families that did not go.

DG: But as a community, many...

KN: Yes, yes, uh-huh. And they were good, they transferred us as we requested.

DG: And how was Minidoka when you arrived?

KN: It was different. It was cold in the winter. Oh, my goodness, it was cold. When our Bruce was born and then, in December, and the water tower, you know how the water leaks a little bit? The icicles hanging there were dangerous weapons -- they were huge. That's how cold it was in Idaho in the winter. So we used to come in camp during the winter, then we'd go back when the weather got better, and we'd stay out on the ranch. So we were in and out.

DG: And you talked about Bruce, and so he, you were pregnant and gave birth to him in Minidoka?

KN: We got engaged in Manzanar, got married in camp -- well, not in camp exactly -- we got a permit to go out to Twin Falls and got married, then we came in. That was in March.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

DG: Can you tell me about leaving the camp to get married?

KN: Yes. Let's see, we came down to the administration building on the convoy truck, army truck again, and then from there we caught the bus to Twin Falls. And then, see, we never called anybody to marry us or anything, so we had to go around looking for somebody to marry us. And we were going to the Justice of Peace, because you didn't have big weddings in camp. Well, he was gone for some reason, so we were walking around, then we saw this Presbyterian church. So we went in and then Sam asked if the minister could marry us, and they said yes. And so Sam's sister and sister-in-law went with us and they were the witness, and we got married by a Presbyterian minister, which was very nice.

And then we had a permit to stay one night in Twin Falls, so of course we went out to eat, and we all had fried chicken dinner. Was that ever a treat -- that tasted so good -- I cannot forget that, because after eating the camp food, you know, that was a treat. And then my, Sam's sister and sister-in-law came back, and we stayed, and then we came back the next day. So then we went out to the ranch, I don't know how soon after, but we had our own unit.

DG: Now, to leave camp, this I guess is going back even farther. There was a "loyalty questionnaire" as I understand it, that you had to answer first?

KN: Oh, you mean "yes"...

DG: The, yes...

KN: Yeah, I don't, I don't know when that took place, but we had no problem going in and out. You just get a permit and you go out, and Sam had to go to work, so it was not difficult at all.

DG: And how were you treated in Twin Falls when you went out go get married?

KN: Fine. No problem, however, when the fellows that worked on the ranch, the Japanese boys and Sam were gonna get a haircut, and so this town of Burley, where the boss lived, 'cause his wife was running a boarding house, then he commuted to a ranch in Declo, which was, like, about fourteen miles. Anyway, he took the fellows to Burley, little town of Burley to get a haircut, and on the window it says, "Don't Cut Japs' Hair." So the boss went in, and this is the barber that always cut the boss's hair. "What do you mean by that?" And then the guy says, "Just what it says." "All right, you're not cuttin' my hair, either," and he walked out, that's it. That's how good he was, so wonderful, he was always rooting for the guys.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

DG: Do you remember the "loyalty questionnaire," having any discussion on that?

KN: No, I don't, I don't. I can't even remember if I saw it. Maybe I did, but maybe they had it while we were out, I don't know.

DG: Can you tell me about being pregnant in Minidoka with...

KN: Oh. It is so hot there, and I am not walking or anything too much, just doing my housework, and I could barely move around. And, of course, Bruce got bigger and bigger, and I was, really, I had so many problems, I couldn't even sleep at night, the fan going, I'm tossing here and there, and I couldn't sleep. I was so sick, too. So now -- and I had a hard time with him, so I always remark that I'm glad he turned out well. Otherwise, I would have shot him. [Laughs] It was so hard with him. Well, you know, they say the first one is always hard, long labor and everything, but everything went okay.

DG: And this was in Minidoka, or were you on the ranch?

KN: Out on the ranch.

DG: This was on the ranch?

KN: Yes.

DG: So you had him at the ranch?

DG: No, I came in because winter, no work, so we came in. And so I had him at the Minidoka hospital.

DG: And what was that like? What were the conditions like?

KN: Terrible. In fact, I was screaming and groaning and moaning so loud, the director of nursing, she had a cape on, she came strutting in, and she said, "Shut up," to me, when I was suffering. I thought, "Oh, my gosh." But anyway, we had doctors there, the camp doctors, so at least I lived. [Laughs]

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

DG: Now, you had a brother, Paul, who joined the army?

KN: Yeah, he was in the Military Intelligence.

DG: And when did he join the army?

KN: He joined, he worked at the ranch with Sam and other fellows, and he and two other fellows, they volunteered. So he went to MIS, and learning Japanese is very difficult. He even went to Japanese school, but of course I'm sure he was not conscientious either, you know. After high, I mean, after going to American school, then after school you go to Japanese school, it's hard. And we didn't think we were gonna be using Japanese or anything, so I'm sure that he wasn't that conscientious, he may have been, though. So when he went to MIS, and they say, "Lights out," at a certain time, and the way I understood it, he said he had to go to the latrine and do some of his studies, because lights-out in the barracks. And eventually, I think he just kind of overdid it and eventually he didn't go overseas because he got a spot on his lung, so then he was in the hospital.

DG: And do you remember how your parents felt about having a son in the military while they were in a concentration camp?

KN: I don't believe they objected. You know, if he had to go, he had to go. I'm sure it was hard for some fellows to think that the parents and the family and everybody's in camp, and he's going to fight for the country that put the parents and everybody in camp. Which reminds me, a friend told me when, after all the evacuation was almost completed, they were transferring all these orphans from L.A. to the camp -- orphans, mind you -- young orphans, and they're being bussed to Manzanar. And, you know, it's kind of a long trip and they get bored. So I understand the one girl got up and she led everybody singing "God Bless America." How about that? When I heard that, oh, I choked up and my tears ran. Innocent kids, you know, singing "God Bless America" when they were being transported to internment camp. That was sad to hear.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

DG: Do you remember, while you were in camp and while you were, during the war, even, and you were going back and forth to the ranch and such, how did you feel about the government at that time?

KN: Well, at that time, I didn't feel bitter or anything, because I felt that the government knows best, they know what they're doing. So... but now -- [laughs] -- put my thinking caps on, and things are different.

DG: How do you feel now?

KN: You can't believe everything you hear and read or see, even, sometimes. So you have to draw your own conclusions and don't let anybody tell you this or that.

DG: Do you have anything else you want to share to me, memories about concentration camp and the war, during the war, before we move on?

KN: Is there something you'd like to ask?

DG: You know, I guess... I have children myself, so what was it like have a, raise a baby after you had Bruce?

KN: Oh, it wasn't hard. I love children; I love kids. In fact, before the war, I used to go to Hayashidas' every Sunday practically, and I would spoil Tomi and Hisa. I would just carry them all the time, that's how much I loved them. And so one day their mommy says, "When you come on Sunday and spoil them, I have a hard time doing my laundry on Monday!" So she says, "Come on Monday and take of them." [Laughs] But that's how much I love children -- I could just spoil every one of 'em.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

DG: All right, so let's move ahead now, and the war has ended and the camps are closing. What happened at that point with you and Sam and Bruce?

KN: Oh, the camps closing, so we packed up all our things and picked up his mom and dad, because my parents came home first. And when they came home, the renter will not move out. She would just not budge. And, of course, Mom and Dad are not able to speak English well enough to have her move along. So they came home and they lived in the basement and on the, the farmhouse, we had the outdoor access to the basement. So that's where they lived, in the basement, trying to get her out, but she wouldn't budge. So Dad started cooking up lots of stuff, you know, when you cook fish in soy sauce, in those days, nobody liked teriyaki sauce, but now they all love it? Well, they cooked, kept cooking stuff like that all the time, and I guess it got pretty bad. 'Cause you know how all the, everything rises, and she finally left without any problem, no arguments or anything. She says, I think she said, "This is it; can't take it anymore." [Laughs] So no problem.

DG: So, what was the condition of your house and your farm?

KN: Well, the farm was just shot, but it was a different person taking care of the farm, my folks' farm. But Sam's farm, he let the manager know that we were coming back, but he became very difficult about turning it back to us. So we thought, well, instead of having problems, ill feelings and trouble later, let's just sell out. So that's what he did, sold. And we were out of farming -- no more farming. So we came home, we picked up his mom and dad, and the five of us drove home on the car that my brother left us when he went in the service. And then we came home and stayed with my parents until we were able to find a place to buy or rent. And we really looked around a lot, but we couldn't find a place big enough for all of us, you know, Sam and I and Bruce, and then his mother and dad. But eventually we did find a place. Took a lot of patience and looking around.

But in between, in between buying, we heard about a farm that an oral surgeon in Tacoma had, so he wanted somebody to run it. So we went there and it was very nice. It's in Puyallup, on River Road, and we ran, we worked on the farm for a while, from April 'til September, and all of a sudden he notified us he sold the place, just like that. So we had to pack up, come back again to my parents' place. And I don't know how long we were there, but eventually we found a place to rent. So we rented for a while, then we eventually bought a place, where we're living right now.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

DG: And so what was the mood like when you returned to Bainbridge Island? What were the, what was it like to get reacquainted with friends?

KN: You know, we kind of, kind of kept quiet. I don't know why, I just kept looking over my shoulder. I don't know why I did that. Not that anybody threatened us or anything, but something in me just made me want to always look over my shoulder, make sure that everything's okay. And I had no reason to do that, but I did that. And I remember so well doing it. But they were just wonderful. Let's see, we came back in 1945, and in 1948, we organized our orthopedic group, the Nisei group, and then we all intermingled with the Caucasians and everybody else, and everything went well. Yeah, it was almost like we didn't have a war, or that we weren't gone. Everything was just fine, and everything's been fine ever since. And have to say, Bainbridge Island is a wonderful place to live, I tell you.

DG: So can you compare how you felt living here, how it was to live here before the war and after, because you said you looked over your shoulder a lot when you came back, but it wasn't like that before?

KN: No, it wasn't like that before, but I think because of the war, and that we were gone, that something just made me think that maybe somebody might do something or follow me or something, I don't know. To this day, I don't know why I did it. But we were very, we got along with the community, but after the war, it just got better. We were so close. And even now, most of my real good friends are Caucasians. We go back and forth, and it's wonderful.

DG: Do you remember how it was in Seattle, when you ever traveled to Seattle, was it a different atmosphere there?

KN: Oh, one time I traveled to Seattle, sometime after the war broke out, I think it was, or there was tension between America and Japan. And I was in a restaurant in the International District, and there was a Caucasian fellow and he came up to me and says, "Well, you Chinese" are something, so it was okay, he didn't think I was Japanese. Otherwise, he might have gave it to me, I don't know. [Laughs]

DG: Did you experience any other discrimination or prejudices?

KN: No, never. At least I never felt it or I've never seen it or heard, since we've been back. It's just been great.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

DG: And I'm curious to hear about your belongings that were stored in the room while you were gone, and especially your kimono and your doll.

KN: It's, I donated that to the Sakai School because I'm getting up in years, and they want to borrow it every year for this "Leaving the Island," "Leaving Our Island" program. And I told them that they should find a place for it, because who knows? I'm eighty-six after all. So if they could keep it and the doll is in a case over there, and the kimono is hanging in a glass case, and the corsage that my mother made out of shells is in -- I had it framed for our aunt, and when she passed away I took it back and I donated it to Sakai School.

DG: What was the corsage for?

KN: She just made it, she made a lot of things. In fact, Dad made a tansu, chest of drawers, before Bruce was born, first grandchild, you know. So oh, he got this lumber and everything and he made a tansu. And Bruce took it home to California and he still has it.

DG: Where was that made?

KN: Minidoka, yes. And my mother crocheted a poodle and it's so cute, it's all in a frame and Bruce has that. She said that was for Bruce.

DG: So is that what your parents did in camp? They did a lot of crafts?

KN: Yes, yes, my mother did a lot, and Dad did lots of woodwork. He loved it.

DG: Let me see if there's anything else. And what, do you remember what it was like for your younger sisters to return? They went back into the schools here, when you, after the war.

KN: Yeah, my youngest sister went back to school here. However, my other sisters graduated from Manzanar, I think, and then they went back to the Midwest, Minnesota, so they were there. My youngest sister, my youngest sister and the next one, I think, one above her, they were the only ones that came back with the folks, I believe. And then after my brother was discharged from the hospital, he returned, then he went to Seattle U. and he did farming, and the folks farmed with him, and everything went okay.

DG: What was your brother in the hospital for?

KN: Well, he had a spot on his lung.

DG: Oh, that, okay.

KN: Yeah, uh-huh.

DG: So somewhat, your family was separated after the war then, because you had sisters in the Midwest?

KN: Oh, yeah, uh-huh.

DG: How did your parents feel about that?

KN: No, they didn't feel bad or anything. They just thought that was a good opportunity, you know. They wanted to go out and see the world and do something different.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

DG: How about today, looking back on that time, and I guess now we're building this memorial, how do you feel about the memorial that's being worked on and built?

KN: Well, I think it's a wonderful thing. Like, you know, internment, some people say, "Drop it, don't bring it up, forget about it, it's done." But if we don't keep talking about it, it could happen to some other people. So even at school, when they do this program of "Leaving Our Island" that's what they say: you've got to talk about it or it could happen again.

So I think this memorial is a wonderful thing to, for the future, present and the future, for everybody to learn. Because how many years ago, we went to Bremerton School, when we took our photo exhibit, and we answered a lot of questions for the students. And then after it was all over, teachers were gathered in this one room and said, "We didn't know anything about it, we have learned with the students." Well, they're younger teachers, you know, so naturally they never had anything in the books or anything. It was just sort of swept under the rug.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

DG: How do you feel when you go visit the schools and talk to the schoolchildren? What is that like for you?

KN: It was okay. They ask really intelligent questions. And I was telling one of the teachers, when we went a couple weeks ago to Sakai School, I said, "Instead of us telling them everything from beginning to end, it's better for the students to ask us questions, then they'll learn what they are most interested in and curious about." And I told the teachers, they do ask such smart, intelligent questions, some of the things that we didn't even think about until we were seniors in high school. They're just so well-read and they understand so much. And the world is small, too, so with TV and everything, you know.


DG: So can you tell me more? I'm so impressed that you, you go and visit the schools and take so much time today to talk about this and share more about that experience, visiting schoolchildren today.

KN: Yeah, we all do it. You know, like Hisa goes, and even Lilly, Lilly... well, we go in, we answer questions in groups. So the sixth grade classes learn before they get to high school. So we just take care of the sixth graders, and I think there are about five or six classes.

DG: Can you think of any of those insightful questions that were asked? [Laughs] What were some of the questions that impressed you from the sixth graders?

KN: Oh, there are so many. I don't know if I could even remember, there are so many good questions. Except when Frank mentioned, one of the kids asked, "Now, why did you guys bomb America?" [Laughs] You know, just because he's Japanese, and questions like that, that was kinda weird, but I've never had, we've never had questions like that. Yeah, they're very smart.

DG: And you talked about some people saying that this topic has been talked about too much, and that it should be done with. Why do you feel they feel that way?

KN: Well, it's not the Caucasians that said that, it's the Japanese people that said it. And so I had to explain... somebody said, "Oh, are they are doing it again at school, Sakai School?" And I said, "Yes." I wondered at one time why they were doing it every year, but I could understand it now, you have to let the students know that it happened, that it should not happen again, so they should be well-informed, educated, so they could prevent something like this from happening again. So, I have to explain that to some Japanese people that bring the subject up, "Why are you doing this so much?" Well, this is why: it's very educational. It seems like it's so repetitious, but it is very educational. And the way the world is now going, you just never know. We hope it never happens to anybody again.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

DG: And so for the memorial, what sorts of messages or things would you like the memorial to stand for?


KN: That everybody should be well-educated on this internment issue. And make sure that something like this never happens again to anybody. And you know, there was no trial or anything. It was just, "Okay, you're Japs, you're going," that's it. So I can understand why Minoru Yasui, Gordon Hirabayashi, they protested, and they didn't go to camp. I can understand that. They were so well-educated, they know what was really right or wrong. You're just not going to do it just because the government said you have to do it. So it's good that the students are really learning. And in fact, one student said, "Oh, there's a person walking out of history." You know, we're walking around. [Laughs] Usually when you study history, you're talking, or learning about all the dead people. But to them, we're still walking around, going to the grocery store and it's kind of amazing to them.

KN: So, it's kind of good that it's not something so far off. It's, they could feel connected, that they understand the issues and situation more because we are the ones that went through it and we are the ones that are talking to them and answering their questions. So I think they're more interested and they're more attentive.

DG: So the memorial on Bainbridge is going to be a very unique memorial.

KN: I think so, yes, very unique.


KN: You know, we started out from Taylor Avenue, that was our departing point. Then we went to Manzanar, then we were transferred to Minidoka, and back home again. So it's like a full circle. And Manzanar camp is on the national historic registry, and I think Minidoka is or will be. And so it all ties in together, so it's very unique. Others have not gone through that.

DG: And how will Bainbridge, the memorial here on Bainbridge be different from the ones at Minidoka and Manzanar? Do you have a feel for that?

KN: You know, I don't know how it will differ, I really don't know. I heard about the Manzanar, how they have worked on it, and it's... I don't know how to say it, because I have not seen it, I have just heard about it. That they do have pilgrimages and they have people visiting there all the time. So I hope that the Bainbridge one will be as unique and educational and interesting to all those that will attend.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

DG: Now, have you been on a pilgrimage to one of the camps yet, have you ever returned?

KN: No, I've been to Minidoka twice, but then at that time, when we visited our boss's daughter-in -law and she took us around, and there was nothing going on, except I noticed that some of the farmers' homes were like "U" shaped, "L" shaped -- and this friend said those are the camp buildings, barracks, that the farmers got and they insulated and they made it into homes. This is why it's like "U" shaped, "L" shaped and long and whatever. And so it made it a nice farmhouse for lots of the farmers.

DG: What was it like for you to return, do you remember?

KN: It was different, because no more barracks or nothing, except the brick entry... what is it? Guardhouse or whatever you call it, was there, and I think that was kind of broken down. I mean, not torn down, but over the years how bricks and everything, stones kind of disintegrate. But I'm sure that eventually they will fix that and the Minidoka, former camp site will be another historic site, I believe. I think they're working on it.

DG: Now, one thing I see unique about the memorial here on Bainbridge is we are trying to gather the personal stories such as yours. And so how do you feel about the importance of you sharing not only the facts of what happened, but your stories and your emotions and your thoughts?

KN: How do I feel about it?

DG: Yes, how can you explain the importance of that?

KN: Oh, how would I explain that now? Because, since it's been a long time, and you know how some of your feelings sort of goes vague, I mean, you're not... well, like if you're angry or anger is no longer intense. But I don't mind sharing my stories and my feelings. It's very educational and people should know from some of us how it was like when we had to leave our home.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

DG: So on that note, I'm going to also, I'd like to hear more about what life was like for you before the war, and so maybe we could start off with what sort of things you did for fun, before the war, before you had to leave.

KN: Oh, before the war. Well, we lived on the farm so we didn't have much time for fun. When you have a big farm, we all go out and work and then... we work -- well, we go to school and then we work after school and summers and spring vacation, whatever, we help out on the farm. And the only day off we have is Sundays, from the farm. However, there's lots to do: washing, ironing, cleaning house and all this kind of a thing that we all did, we all shared in, to help Mom. Because it was hard, she couldn't do everything herself. So, and then for fun -- well, we did have get-togethers. We had Boys Club, Girls Club, so we had gatherings and we had parties, dances, and it worked out fine. So we weren't really deprived, and we went to movies at the Lynwood Center

DG: Where did most of these social gatherings occur?

KN: Mostly at the Japanese Hall. The Boys' Club or the Girls' Club, parties or whatever, and then they have a basketball hoop there, so everything happened at the Japanese Hall, this great big hall. Everything took place there, funerals, weddings, whatever.

DG: And this was all the Japanese community...

KN: Yes, yes, right. And when the Japanese movies came, everybody piled in their cars. And even if you understood it or not, you went with the family.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

DG: How about church? Did your family attend church?

KN: Mom went to Buddhist church, and we went to Congregational church, and Dad was Baptist. So we have all kinds in our family, right now. And Catholics, converted Catholics.

DG: Do you have any memories of attending church, from when you were little, even?

KN: Yes, and I was naughty, naughty. My mother -- it was hard in those days to give you nickels and pennies and dimes. And she used to give me five pennies, and the grocery store was down the street from the church, the Congregational church. The Loveridges had the store. So we start out early Sunday morning and go down to the store first to spend a penny or two instead of putting in the collection basket, and we'd buy licorice whip or whatever. So now, at this point in life, I am always feeling guilty, so I make sure I write a nice check for the church.

DG: So your Mom didn't know her pennies were going to buy licorice?

KN: No, she didn't know that I spent the one or two pennies from the offering, you know, and I just put the balance in the basket. And I still remember that so well, and I, really, even now at this age, I feel guilty. And this is what kids do, right, when you're growing up. But I tell myself that, well, you do it generously now for what you have done, your licorice sin. [Laughs]

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

DG: And you were the oldest in your family, so can you tell me what responsibilities you had on the farm?

KN: Lots of responsibilities, yes. In fact, after I graduated, I wanted to go to business school, and my parents said, "Well, we need some help on the farm, because they were hiring help in those days, even though the pay wasn't that great to hire somebody. They didn't have all that kind of money to pay out. So after graduation, I helped on the farm for four years, then the war broke out. See, I was eighteen when I graduated, four years on the farm, I was twenty-two.

DG: And what responsibilities did you have in terms of your younger brothers and sisters, or what sort of chores did you have to do?

KN: Oh, we all had chores, you know, bring in the wood, chop kindling, pile the wood, and then we worked on the farm a lot, so yeah, we had all kinds of chores. And I've never regretted that, because I'm not afraid to work. Just, I could do anything.

DG: And did you, since you were the oldest and you had a, your youngest sister, did you have responsibilities for child care as well?

KN: Yes, I was ten when my baby sister was born, who is a nurse now. I hated to come home from school because Mom would have all her diapers soaking in the washtub outside in the cold water. And that was my chore: wash her diapers. So I kid her about that -- at ten years old, mind you. Well, you do whatever you have to do, right? And so now that she's a nurse, I remind her, "It's your turn now. If something happens to me, you have to look after me." [Laughs] I kid her about it.

DG: Wow. Any other memories from growing up? Even from when you were a youngster...

KN: No, we used to have lots of fun, lots of fights.

DG: So you had a good life?

KN: No regrets. Everything always works out, doesn't it? We worked hard, but it was okay. It was something we had to do, so we just did it.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

DG: Let me ask you a little bit about Sam. We're kind of skipping around here, but I do know, can you tell me about Sam's family right around the war was declared, and the FBI round-ups, did that affect his family?

KN: I don't think they took his dad, I'm not too sure. By then -- see, he's the youngest of eight kids, so he was home with the folks. So, of course, what was hard was when he sold the farm, all that acreage, his new home, because they built in 1941, and they were in there only six months when the war broke out. And so when we sold -- by that time, I was married, when we sold -- he sold the farm equipment, the new house, furnishings, everything for... when you think about it now, it was very, very, very reasonable and cheap.

DG: And I think you answered this a little bit before, but what was his, why did he have to do that?

KN: Oh, because it was hard to get the farm back. The manager was making it very hard for us to get it back. So instead of having lots of problems and having fights and everything, we thought it's better to sell, so this is why we sold.

DG: And was it Sam's... Sam had older brothers, though, at this time. Were they all grown and gone?

KN: Yeah, he had an older brother that was married to a lady from Silverdale. They had an oyster farm and a farm. So he was away from home, so Sam was the one that was taking care of the parents.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

DG: We're trying to get an idea of Bainbridge Island community specifically before the war and after. How did your Caucasian friends react to having to say goodbye to you and what was happening to you? Do you remember conversations you had?

KN: Oh, yeah. They were very, they were very upset and sad. They couldn't believe we had to leave. Yeah, so they cried and they hugged us, and wished us luck. They didn't know where we were going so it was even hard for them, too.

DG: Were you able to keep in touch during the war?

KN: Yes, we kept in touch, uh-huh.

DG: And so what was it like to return, even though you'd been away for four-and-a-half years?

KN: Oh, it felt good to return, but you just wondered how were they going to all react. And this one, one lady, she grew up with a Japanese family at Port Blakely, and she used to go to the dances and parties with this Japanese family. But when the war broke out she just turned. And she felt bad about it later, though, she says she just kind of followed the mass hysteria, she got wrapped up in it.

DG: Were there other instances like that that you can recall?

KN: No, that's about the only one that I can recall, who was such a good friend, and all of a sudden turned, but then turned back again. So it was okay, you know. When things like that happen so fast and unexpectedly, well, you know, people get caught up.

DG: So elsewhere in the country, even in Seattle, it was more difficult, it seems. Can you explain maybe why it was, you had such good relations with people on Bainbridge before and after the war?

KN: I don't know. I really don't know why, but we just, we just got along. And of course, Walt Woodward was just so wonderful. He, in his Review every week he had something in there about the people, the evacuees, if they went out to work, or went to school back East, or got married or whatever, to kind of keep the Bainbridge Island community informed. So I don't think they were totally disconnected, they were in a way connected through the Review.

DG: And how about you? While you were in camps, were you able to keep connected the same way, to what was going on here on Bainbridge?

KN: Yeah, finally when we started to get the Review, it was okay. Until then we couldn't get any newspaper, letters were blacked-out in the beginning. So everything went okay, though.

DG: So what was that like for you to receive the Review?

KN: It was always, you just looked forward to it, just looked forward to it to see what was going on. Because after all, Bainbridge was our home, and we didn't know anything else.

DG: So there was no question... or how -- not everybody returned to Bainbridge after the war.

KN: That's right, that's right. Many people, they went back East or Midwest and they stayed. But what kept me going on the farm, on the ranch was I knew one day I was gonna come back, and that kept me going. So in this cottage that we were in, the farm cottage, we didn't have curtains, we had a table and couple of chairs, we sat on apple boxes or orange crates, in those days they were wooden, not paper, cardboard, like now. So that's what we used, because we didn't want to buy any furniture or anything or dress up the windows with curtains and everything else, because we knew we were gonna come back eventually. So we just did with whatever we had, and it worked out okay, you know, like you're roughing it. [Laughs]

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.