Densho Digital Archive
Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community Collection
Title: Sadayoshi Omoto Interview
Narrator: Sadayoshi Omoto
Interviewer: Frank Kitamoto
Location: Bainbridge Island, Washington
Date: June 15, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-osadayoshi-01

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

<Begin Segment 1>

FK: Sada, I'm interested in what you can tell me about your parents as far as coming to the island, or coming to the United States. What do you, what do you know about that?

SO: Well, probably very little, Frank. All I know is my mother and father came over around 1913 or thereabouts, somewhere in that area. Prior to that, my mother's two brothers had come here to work, and then they went back and my mother and dad apparently got married, and they came over. I remember one thing, and maybe very little, about their coming here. I remember seeing a passport, or some kind of document that said they were then able to resettle in this, or settle in this country. I haven't seen it since, so I don't know whether it exists or not. That was the only bit of evidence that seemed to suggest to me that they voluntarily wanted to come here. I think one of the questions asked was why did they come here. I think, like so many other immigrants, they want to make a decent living and then to get to better things, so I don't think their motivation was any different. I can remember one time in school, grade school, must be junior high, the teacher asked us to write about our, this very question you're talking about, and when I went home and talked to my mother, I said, why did you come here? She gave me an answer, said, no, we don't talk about, because it said money, and that wasn't the purpose of why they were trying to settle here. It might've been the real reason, but they didn't want to say it publically that they came here to earn money. So that, that's about what I can remember about that early time. Obviously, the matter of what happened when I was then born in 1922 is a different story altogether. There's this big gap where I don't know very much about my family, other than, most recently, I have a cousin who sent me a letter, first in basic Japanese and also in English, cousin I never heard of before who, apparently, is going through some genealogical studies and said, like, "I'm your cousin." But I hadn't kept contact with him since, so I really don't know. His Japanese, his English is probably worse than my Japanese. [Laughs]

FK: Now, did your parents, when they came over here, did they, where did they settle when they first came here?

SO: Well, do you know the Wing Point Golf Course?

FK: Uh-huh.

SO: I can't remember what hole it is, but it's one that runs along the road. It was a house, which was on, I guess it must be about, I don't know, what used to be seventh or eighth hole probably. And they settled it, settled there temporarily, because soon thereafter they moved to the current home, which, I think, is one of the surviving older homes. And it's kind of interesting, Frank, that you asked that question, because a couple of non Japanese, as we say, were instrumental in having my family acquire property. At that point, remember, the only way you can acquire property is through some other citizen, and obviously my older brothers were then born, so they were legal citizens. But there are two families, Caucasian families, Magdha Jones, I think her name is, M-A-G-D-H-A Jones, who, my dad used to work for them, like the old fashioned furnaces, he would go down early in the morning, set it up so the house would be warm and so forth. And I think, if my memory is right, I was probably about, I don't know, six or seven then. I remember she, that is Mrs. Jones, took pictures of the family, and the only extant photos that I know of when I'm that young, but also the few images in which my father is present, because my dad died in '31, I think it was. So obviously, that, those photographs are, they mean a lot to me because that's part of my, not only did my dad die, but my sister died soon thereafter, so that the family was smaller. But I think Mrs. Jones must've interceded some way in order to run through the paperwork to get this piece of property.

Another family by name of Ansen S. Burwell, B-U-R-W-E-L-L, and I think they were also helpful, because they afforded my dad work in their summer home, which is down by Hollydock someplace -- I can't find it anymore -- but I can remember when my dad died, rather traditionally, the Japanese families would have a big photo taken of all those who were present so that they can then send back to Japan saying this is So-and-So's funeral. Well, in that large photo is one white person. That's Ansen S. Burwell, who came here for the funeral service. So then there were people who, when you asked a question, I guess the first question was, why did they settle here? Our family was somewhat different. We did not have a strawberry patch in, to, for our livelihood. More than anything else, we, my dad worked for the Burwell's and the Jones, and then we followed suit, we meaning my brothers, we start working, mowing the lawn, raking leaves, you name it, that's what we did. But insofar as the, unlike other families, we did not have strawberries, where the other families had strawberries and so therefore the kids had to work on the farm. I didn't have to work on a farm. I worked for the Joneses and other people, mowing lawns and so forth. So that's how we got... maybe a long, long answer to a short question. [Laughs]

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

FK: Tell me more about your family, your siblings and your brothers and your sisters.

SO: Well, some of this I can only recall by hearsay. When my family came over they did not settle directly on the island. They lived in Seattle, and I think, and I could be mistaken, I think they had a laundry. I'm not sure, 'cause I wasn't born yet. But there was also an older sister who died somewhat in, I think in infancy. I don't know anything beyond that, but my oldest brother was born in Seattle, Sets, so that, and it must've been no more than maybe five or six years that we then moved to the island. But I think part of the move to the island, as you probably well know, reestablishes the ties of the Japanese kenjinkai, or the prefectural ties that they have to one another, because they were, obviously, the prefectural ties of the Yamaguchi-ken already on there, like the Nakadas, the Takemotos, and they tend to support one another, like a more, like a Communist way, I guess. [Laughs] In a way, you help them out, they help you out. So that, I think that was probably the reason my family moved here, and I don't know the circumstances of the, getting into the real estate, but I'm guessing that had to happen, that is, the ownership of property going back to my two oldest brothers and my sister at that point, so that they then settled, or resettled in the, on the island. Even today, when you go past the Wing Point Golf Course there are remnants, there used to be remnants of the, little clump of trees. That's where the house was. I can remember when I was probably very young, the remains of what looks like a pioneer house, a pretty rundown house, that many of the Japanese, I think, moved into coming to this island, and they may have come as workers or what have you, but they would then live in the house, which at one point was inhabited by the Caucasians, so we had that, when you talk to Yuki -- maybe I shouldn't mention it, but the Kadayamas also had a piece of property and they were in the greenhouse business, and that wasn't very far from, again, the golf course area. So that's about as much as I know about what they did and so forth.

FK: Tell me about your brothers.

SO: Well, in 1942 I had four, three brothers, Sets, the oldest, who died several years ago and I'd forgotten already; Takiro, who's three years younger than Sets, who lives in Seattle at age ninety; I had another brother, Masakatsu, who was about a year and a half older than I, than I am, who, I guess, I don't mean he was a renegade, but he took off to Chicago during the time of the evacuation, lived, settled in Chicago, and ultimately died in Chicago. And then I come fourth in the line of the brothers. I mentioned my sister who died, I think, in the same year as my dad's death. It's a little fuzzy there, but she drowned, and you can imagine Wing Point as it was in the earlier days, had a big bulkhead, which, to prevent washing away of the earth, the soil, and she didn't appear at one point -- when I say appear, she was to meet her other girlfriends, classmates, for swimming, and I think Yuki might've been a member of that group, I don't know -- but, but my sister, Kani, or Kako, never made it home, and so there was a kind of a massive search for her, my sister. Got to a point where at the very last, after several days, I can remember some of the discussion about going to the packing sheds to look and see if maybe she had fallen asleep and so forth, but towards the end of what would've been her last days John Nakada, Masaki, was going to go to Seattle to see what kind of assistance a bloodhound would provide for those searching for my sister. As John was about to get onto the ferry at Wing Point, they looked over and they saw some body washed up on the shore, and that was my sister. And I can remember one other thing that just, I don't know whether it's traditional or not, but I remember as a child, with regards to this particular incident, the women, several of them, bathing my sister in a tub, and I then guessed it might have been related to a more traditional cleansing of some sort. I don't know beyond that, but anyway, I remember that scene because it was so graphic and stowed in my memory, a round tub, the body, the other women bathing her.

But when you asked about my brothers, Sets spent his whole lifetime doing yard work, and there are a couple of families, I think, that have, for which, for whom he worked for several generations, and I wish I could think of the name. I'll think of it in a minute. And he, like so many others, never wanted to go beyond high school, and so that he was kind of committed to working, but in a very interesting way he got, realized that -- when my dad died Sets must've been about seventeen, and he had then had to take the burden of providing for the family. My mother did occasional work and did housework. She also worked on the strawberry plant. What she did was make these little wooden, used to be wooden boxes -- now they make 'em out of plastic -- and these boxes would be stamped where there's a staple, and every, I think, winter, sometime in the winter, they, various women would get together and they would have this, like a sewing bee of some sort, making these little wooden boxes, nice little boxes. But so Sets spent most, virtually all his life working as a gardener, and he think he, he was, I think, highly respected by his peers. He was, Sets was great at bonsai, which I don't have absolutely any talent for, but he has, he had a beautiful, and still, Yuki still has some of the bonsai. Takiro was, and still is, becoming second in line, probably, his contact with us was a little different. He would play with us, us meaning my two brothers, my, Masakatsu and myself, he would play with us. Sets would never seem to have time to play with us. Being the eldest, he had to do something, obviously, to earn a living and provide food for the table.

So then Takiro had, there's one interesting little thing that he has. Back in the olden days, when newspapers would carry images of people and so forth, Takiro was interested in sports and whenever a ballplayer would have his picture in the paper he would clip it out, and he had a little notebook in which he had positioned the images that appeared in newspapers in their proper playing position. So that was kind of, I kind of admired him for making that funny notebook. It since has disappeared, so we have no way of knowing what it was all about. Now, Masakatsu, otherwise known locally as Bear, was the big guy. He was heavy, and he was encouraged to play football. My mother insisted no, and she stood by that no, and that caused some tension, I think, between my brother and my mother because, obviously, when your parent says you don't play football, you don't play football. My mother said, "You can play baseball or basketball, but not football." And to back that up she said there's always the chance of injury, and I think there were enough injuries to maybe lend credence to that kind of concern, so that, you go ahead and flip ahead to the time of incarceration, my brother not only left for Chicago, but he eventually married in Chicago, so that changed the whole turn of life. My mother, I think, maybe may have gotten out there once or twice after she, after, after a certain kind of period in which she and my brother were not really on speaking terms. So those are my three brothers.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

FK: Now, when you went to, in your youth on the island, what did you do for fun, what did you do, did you play mostly with Japanese kids, or how did that work, and where did you go to school?

SO: Well, somewhere, and when I think of it, growing up on the island was a very fun time, peaceful time. I didn't have any worries. I can remember a couple of cases just lying down on my back looking at the skies and the sun and so forth, which you don't have today, but it was kind of fun growing up. And in our neighborhood was a Johnson family of, at that point that they had two, no, they had two kids who were about our ages, that is, Mas and myself, Torlef and Carl. Carl is still living, I believe. Torlef died in the war. But we grew up with them, but in a kind of interesting way in hindsight, as in for many years that we lived next to the Johnsons, I don't mean closely, but close enough, as neighbors, I think I got, was in their house once and maybe shows, again, where the Japanese, like myself, Japanese Americans maybe were reluctant to go into the house of our neighbors, Caucasian neighbors, or maybe we weren't invited. I don't know which way it goes, but I remember being in the Johnson house once. But we played outside. Now, when I say play, there are a lot of, lot of things we played back, going back to the golf course, the Johnson boys and myself, we'd get a football, toss it around, play on... that was kind of fun thing. It didn't cost us anything.

And then out of this I have a funny recollection. My mother said at one point that the neighbors, the Medallions who used to live on the edge of the golf course, that they were funny. They were different, I guess. I never could figure it out. What she meant was that they were Catholics, and obviously it was a different situation, and so we weren't encouraged to play football on Sundays in that golf course because it would then be upsetting to the, to the Caucasians who'd be observing us playing around on Sunday rather than attending Sunday school or what have you. So that they, I've forgotten my, what I was gonna mention here, but you asked about playing. We'd play on the golf course, and then later on when we got about grade school age,, I can remember playing baseball with a lot of, like Jerry Nakata and others who would then come and play a little bit of baseball. It's, that's about all the kind of activities we took part in. During the weekdays we'd have to do work, working in splitting, splitting wood, raking leaves, and it's, even to this day I'm surprised that I didn't get hurt working or what have you, sometimes getting awfully close to danger point. You know, sometimes you're raking leaves, you get too close to the edge of the bank. I had weird thoughts of that. [Laughs]

FK: So where did you go to school, then, on the island?

SO: I started at the old Lincoln grade school. It became Lincoln, I should say. And I, you mentioned earlier this get-together that we had. There were seven of us, and the other seven, one of the, Harold brought the photographs of, compiled the photographs of the whole school group, and it's kind of interesting if you look at it and realize that probably, and I'm gonna say, I didn't take head count, but I would say maybe twenty-five, thirty percent were Japanese. And that's the nature of the settlement of the Winslow area, because we, at that point, were involved with simply walking to school. Later on the grade schools were consolidated and we had kids from the north part of the island, the southern part of the island all coming together, but that didn't happen immediately, at the point that I'm at school. I can remember every single schoolteacher I had in grade school, and some of them happy moments, some of them unhappy moments.

I can remember my first grade teacher was Miss Danielson, who was a miss because at that point teachers could not be married. And a lot of funny things happened around that time, and I can remember in third grade I had a teacher by name of Thelma Westley, who was a rather buxom blonde, and I guess I was doing something that I shouldn't be doing and she scolded me and said she wanted to see me after class. At this point, remember, Lincoln School, the old school, used to be kind of interesting because they had a wooden fire escape on the outside and when Thelma Westley excused the rest of the class and kept me in, she wanted to either spank me or do something. I'm not sure what, but in the meantime, my buddies are sitting on the fire escape laughing and looking in, and so I'm, again, embarrassed again. But then there's another incident, which I think is maybe a little bit funny in a way. In the fourth grade Thelma Reed, who was, oh, I guess, again, somewhat buxom, and we would, one day our class was going to go to visit a farm because, to see what a farm looks like -- and not a Japanese farm, but the Book farm, which was down on the corner of whatever street that is now -- and we then at that point had two privies, or excuse me, not privies, but outdoor bathroom facilities, one for girls and one for boys. So like so many kids, went to the bathroom and, and before I knew it Thelma Westley, Thelma Reed came, saw me in there and grabbed me and turned me, and here I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing in the bathroom, so somewhat embarrassing, but she was that type of person. She would just simply say, okay, you kids get out, get lined up to go to the farm. But anyway, that's one of those embarrassing moments. [Laughs]

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

FK: Well, it sounds like you had a really close group of kids class-wise and things. Was, did high school then start at, what, eighth grade then, or, Bainbridge High School?

SO: It was, I think it was the junior high first, and I think high school was for the... I can't remember. It was kind of in that funny transition with schools that we had a junior high of two grades, and again, you look at the number of Japanese on there, Japanese American, there were quite a few. I also was a smart aleck and made inappropriate remarks. I remember one point in the seventh grade we would have what they call, like a field day, clean up day in the spring, and you brought, you raked the field and took out the trash and everything else, and when that announcement was made in the gym class I happened to be in, John Snyder, who was the then teacher and principal, announced that there would be this campus day or whatever it was called, and I, like a smart aleck, said what am I supposed to do, bring a tractor or something? There was, and one of those things that you shouldn't be saying, but somehow I said it. But, and then there's another incident which, which I think may picture the Japanese community a little clearer. When I was about seven I got, I was ill and stay, had to stay out of school for a half year or so, and when I went back to school, the teacher, Mabel Binny, announced to the class that -- I was kind of acting up -- she said, "Just don't mind him. He's been sick." And I think I kicked her in the shin. I'm not sure, but what the interesting thing was, in a matter of a couple of days, my mother knew about that incident, and my mother was quite wise. She said to me, "We don't do those things," and that was the end of it, rather than coming down hard and whatever, and I think that might've been, to some extent, a Japanese feature. I'm not sure, but it was kind of, I recall those bad moments along with some of the good moments.

FK: Tell me about high school.

SO: Oh, well, high school was one in which, I think, I learned a lot. I can remember, for whatever reason, maybe this class was too easy, it was a science class that we all had to take in the seventh grade and I can remember at one point Mr. Morley, the teacher, wanted to explain to the class that I was a smart kid and I was getting nothing but A's, every single test was perfect, and he wanted me to explain to the others how I was doing this. And luckily, at that point the periods changed or what have you, so I didn't have to go through the business of saying, "I know this because I'm a smart kid," which is a totally different matter. But it was during high school that I established a long standing relationship with one of the teachers, Catherine Ellison, who, with whom I had never had a class, but she was the class advisor, and I was the president in several cases, and I could remember talking with Catherine Ellison about what to do, and she's the one who encouraged me, like go to school. I had another who told me, "Don't take up art because you're not gonna make a living." [Laughs] I'm not sure how, whether it's sunk in my mind or not, but I've, did that.

So when I think back to high school there's some, some good relationships, but I was never the athlete that some others were. I was lucky to even get on the second or third team or whatever, so that I didn't have that kind of relationship. I had more the, my relationship with Catherine Ellison and others who would encourage me in a slightly different way. They didn't say, hey, football is everything or basketball is everything, so that my -- incidentally, too, the principal, Roy Dennis, was one of our great supporters, and I often try to picture Roy Dennis. He is a guy from Montana originally, I think, who came to this little island and with a whole mouthful of strange sounding names. You know, how do you explain this, like Tsukasa, how, how easily can you explain to someone else what this name is, and all the Kinoshita's, Nishimori, all these names must've sounded strange for someone from Montana who comes out here and teaches, was then, later became the principal. But he was a big, lanky seventh grade teacher I had, and I think a lot of these incidents stand out for me because I think this is the way we should be treated, "we" meaning not only the Japanese Americans, but everyone. Deal with them as people. Respect them for what they believe and don't go around making it unhealthy for people to survive in, in the setting.

So that high school, for me, was a fun time. As I said, I was class officer, so that... and now, remember, our class is not very large, like forty or fifty, and of that group, in that setting, I should say, the Japanese Americans were well represented, not only myself, but like Mits Katayama, Keto Okazaki, we were pretty much co-integrated in terms of our, the respect given to us by our fellow classmates, and that to me meant a whole lot. As we finally get through the incarceration, so forth, those are the lessons that I learned. And I can remember, I think, in high school, that's right, there was a, the annual commencement speech setting, and we were talking about certain topics which were given to us. We didn't manufacture them. But I can remember one of the things that I was involved in was the role of national defense, and now remember, this is 1940, '41, thereabouts, and so timely, I think that topic was so timely that it, even though I didn't know what I was talking about, I read the particular scheme because that's what the teachers had said to do so that we were getting conscious of the war situation, impending, even though we weren't reading the latest newspaper accounts, so that moving into the time of the incarceration and so forth, it was something that, I guess, was so, it was bound to happen, I think.

I think at a later point, Frank, and maybe you'll find this... right after the war began, I was then at that point attending the University of Washington as a freshman, and I was commuting. And one day, which was probably soon after the, soon after the war started, we had to show our citizenship papers, which we didn't have, obviously, other than saying, you had to have proof of birth or your birth certificate. As I was ready to get on the boat, I was stopped by George Freeman, who was one of my classmates at one point, and said I couldn't go on. And that point what do I do? The ferry, it's getting later in the fall and getting dark. You know who came to my rescue? Frank Kitamoto, Sr. He had then at that point a jewelry store in Seattle, and he said to me, come with him, that he had relatives or friends, and so for the first night I stayed in the, I don't know who it was, all I know is that was a good thing. Otherwise, what would I, what was I going to do? But, and during that course of the night, I could remember the, whatever you call them, people who were saying lights out because of the threat of war, and I can remember one person who was making the rounds saying, turn off those lights, which happened to be at your, I guess it must be, what, your dad's place? No, a relative of some sort, I think. But so that's what, what I remember about things like that, that maybe in retrospect mean a lot more to me than they did at that point.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

FK: Now, you'd, obviously you decided you want to go beyond just high school, and when you went to the UW, was there a specific thing you were interested in doing since they told you not to go into art? Was there a...

SO: I guess when I think of all those different stages that I went through, some of it was pure accident, and I can remember that I was finishing somewhat my graduate studies, the question, what do you do next? And one of the things that I feel quite happy about is being accepted by the others, other non Japanese, let's say, in positions, seeking positions or being asked for, the interaction, and I feel pretty good about that because I did it. I don't think it was any magic in my part, but just a matter of maybe how one presents oneself and that there's at the end, call it a reward, but a completion of a cycle that you began. And so when you mentioned about not going into art, maybe I've come, circled around a couple of times. I got into art history, in which it doesn't involve my making of art, but it was teaching of the art history as a cultural thing, and I enjoyed that part of it because it allowed me -- and this is the curious thing -- it allowed me to deal with my Japanese-ness. I didn't, I had maybe one course in Japanese art, or Asian art, but I became more interested in it, even to the point of finally teaching towards the end of my teaching career, about the evacuation, then called, of the art that was then created within the confines of the, of the camps, as well as the making of art beyond that, and that's what's happening now. I think we're getting more and more interest in people, the young Sanseis, Yonseis who now make art, but it's an art that they did not experience. It's their kind of collective recollection, or someone told them about this, so that the playing rules are different, I think. Yet, and I remember soon after I could retire, ten some odd years ago, I said to myself, I want to make something that is going to be an expression of this incarceration. And so I made a series of little paintings, one leaving the island, one coming home, one we did in the camps and so forth, kind of a conglomeration of things that I experienced. I wanted to put that down before it got away from me, because it's too easy to say, oh well, someone else did it, and I still have that. It's not gonna be a great piece of art, but it's kind of a document of what I viewed. I can remember one little image that I captured, and that is we all went on the ferry, and you know, when you board a ferry at the automobile level, that opening is huge. I mean, it looks, it makes you feel that tall, and that to me suggested that our future wasn't going to be very bright, as some kind of doomsday type thing, but I'm interpreting all this only because I've thought about these things, and there's nothing magic about what I've said or information people have been, talked about these things for ages. But anyway, so I did finally get, made the full circle of going to art and then upon completion of my working years I went back and I still do some art even today, but my audience is different. Most of the people with whom I now make art are people who, like myself, worked in a field, may or may not have been related to the art field, but they made things, and we kind of get together once a week and we talk to each other about the art. It has nothing to do with other things, but we have fun at it.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

FK: Now, going back to '42, did you, did you have any inkling at all about this happening, of us being forced off the island and sent to camps? Did you have any inkling about that happening before that actually happened?

SO: Did I have any idea that it might happen?

FK: Yeah.

SO: No, I don't think so. I think we were all too naive in a way, that is, my age group, then about eighteen, nineteen. I have often wondered, Frank, had we had a large body of adult Nisei -- by adult Nisei I mean those in their thirties and forties -- who would've been in a better position to look at what's happening and maybe to provide some guidance for those of us who were younger who knew very little about what was happening, sometimes I wish if we could ever do it, recreate that particular moment and say, the Nisei stood up and said, "No, we won't go," whereas we played the other game of what we were told -- and this now comes to the Japanese American Citizens League -- that is, if you don't cooperate, I mean, the message was do what is, what you're being told to do because somebody else knows better than you do, and then denying all of the things that had followed since. So that when you ask whether I had an inkling, no, other than immediately after Pearl Harbor -- this is the kind of question we get frequently, how did our neighbors react? Individually, and a couple of the families would, came to us and said, "We know you're loyal, but I can't vouch for the others on the island." Somewhere along there, either we totally, "we" meaning the Niseis, we didn't do our job properly. Maybe we should've had a whole mass of Caucasians saying, these are loyal people, but we didn't, so we all went peacefully because we were told what we should be doing. And I'm sure there's no way we can prove or disprove it, but it's something, an interesting thought, at least for me.

FK: Now, when the FBI came to the island, I think it was sometime in early February, did that affect your family at all, when they started rounding up --

SO: I'm sorry?

FK: When the FBI came to the island, did that affect your family at all, as far as when they rounded up some Issei?

SO: Well, that was a kind of strange thing. At that, on that day when the roundup occurred I was, went to the University of Washington, so I was commuting. I wasn't home, but my brother was. And I have to admire the FBI in a strange sort of way. They apparently swooped down and hit every single family so that we couldn't communicate with one another if we had the ability to do that. And I can remember, and I still have one of the documents that the FBI left with my family. They took a, what used to be that little do it yourself radio kits -- Allied Radio Company would make these, send these kits out and so forth, and the FBI said this is, like contraband. You... so they took that. It was not even halfway completed. It happened to be my oldest brother's hobby that he was doing this, but that's all the FBI did was, in terms of our family, because my dad had died so that there was no adult male other than my older brother. That was the only, as to who it really is handling this particular situation. I know in other families, and this is where, I think, numbers get pretty, all skewed up, the adult males who were the primary movers of the community were removed to detention camps, but many of them also were returned rather quickly. They weren't for the duration. But they, since we didn't have any, in my family, any adult male -- my two oldest brothers were then in the Service so that my brother, older brother, Masakatsu, was the one who apparently was in the decision making role, but it didn't affect us as it affected some other families in which the fathers, the absent fathers created a hardship on those still remaining. In my situation, I started with non father 'cause my dad wasn't there anymore, older brothers were gone, both in the service, and so we had to assume whatever responsibility. The only thing I can recall is we rented our house for twenty-five dollars a month, but we didn't, but it was an exceptional situation because our neighbors said, "Oh, we'll take care of your house." They said, "Our nephew is going to be renting, we'll rent to him because every day going to the shipyards to do the work and so forth," so that the matter of what happened, or how we were able to respond to that, it was no threat to us, no threat to me. I, at that point, peacefully went like everyone else did, thinking this was the better, or lesser evils, or what have you, and it was... so I guess I, maybe I didn't answer your question. [Laughs]

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

FK: No, that's... yeah, tell me more about that day, the day that we left. What do you, what do you remember about the day that we left on the ferry?

SO: About leaving?

FK: Yeah. Did they come around to your house and pick you up, or did you go to the dock yourself?

SO: As far as I know, they came and picked us up because we didn't have transportation to get down to the ferry dock. In fact, there's a couple of images, I think, that show clearly that the army trucks were the way we were then taken down to, down to the ferry. I think in terms of individuals, the soldiers, the servicemen who were connected with guarding us were very decent. In other words, these were probably kids from Brooklyn, elsewhere, who knew nothing about the Japanese, and here they were given the task of, quote, "guarding us." I'm not sure whether we were going to escape or whether... what we're gonna do, what were we gonna do, escape, ran away and they'd come after you with a gun and everything else? Because these soldiers had arms, but no, I think that matter of the actual removal was something, I think, which you all took at, maybe it wasn't too bad. If you look at some of the old photographs, the women especially are well dressed, as, like in the Sunday best. I thought, oh my God, this, when I think of it now, people being sent off to some unknown place dressed up like that? I mean, you got to be out of your mind. But this is the way it happened because nobody told us. I know that all these instructions that were given to people living on Bainbridge Island, you take this, this, and this, but we never knew where we were going. I can remember the train ride down, which wasn't too bad. We had Pullman service, and the soldiers were quite friendly. There was no animosity in terms of saying, you know, "you dirty Japs" and all that. It was, it was a whole different situation. But once we got down to -- and this kind of leads into the other bit -- we went to L.A. and then were transferred to buses, and the conditions of the bus to get to Manzanar is the part that most people play up as being a hardship. Well, it was hotter than the dickens, and you're not gonna get air conditioned buses at that point. Maybe the government had other business they wanted to attend to, so that the, so that part of the actual move to camp wasn't, in my mind, a hardship as such. I mean, after all, you got well operating buses. I think other communities had different experiences, even in case of Puyallup and others, where the hardships were rather evident. Only hardship I can think of in the move, when we first moved to Manzanar was that, put straw in your, as a mattress, but that corrected soon thereafter. A lot of other things were corrected, too. I can remember people talking about canned spinach. Well, you're trying to feed a town of ten thousand people, ultimately how do you do it? The army was concerned enough with feeding its own troops, now we've got this group of hundred and ten thousand people we have to take care of, which they did. And so that when the spinach episode, that was one thing that affected the Manzanar people because, well, to this day I still don't like spinach. [Laughs] But it's, we didn't have the traditional rice and so forth, though that came, that came later, but it took the government a certain amount of time to resettle.

When I think of it in broad picture, you set up instant town of ten thousand people, you got to provide all the services, health services, food services, fire protection, police protection, and that's amazing what could have, what did happen in a relatively short time. To have those facilities in place to take care of ten thousand people in camps and to provide any and all needs. That's where I kind of got lulled into, maybe not lulled, but into a position where working as an internee was something I kind of took very positively. I can remember seeing, on the first or second day in camp, a little sign posted saying: "Wanted, somebody to take some food to, to the people who were, who needed the food," and this was a case of my having to go through mess hall, get a selection of food to take to one of the barracks which housed kids and parents who were, had measles, and so I was told not to touch anything, but just give the food and then take the pans and so forth back to the mess hall. That's when I became somewhat more interested in the kind of service that maybe I was doing unknowingly, that is, they needed help. Then at one point I think I said to myself, "I want to be a doctor," which never happened, but that was one of my, one of my thoughts at that point, because I liked doing that kind of work because I then felt in some sort of way that this was being of service to the Japanese. Sure, everyone had to do some kind of work, and I don't think the matter of hardship as such should be a factor. Now, it's true, no one liked to work for fourteen dollars a month or what have you, and no one likes to do some of this dirty work, but someone had to do it. And then you get a town of, and each of the camps had ten thousand, so then you're talking a community of ten thousand, most people wanted to work. They didn't want to sit, sit around, so that there's a kind of motivation to say, I want to do something. I want to learn something. I want to do something. And so that, I think about what would be, or is considered to be a hardship. It's hardship under what kind of definition? Because I was able to take this food to kids who had measles, was that a hardship? I can remember, you and I can probably remember, at this point, let's see, Don Nakata is how old? He would've been about seven or...

FK: Yeah.

SO: He and his brother both came down with measles, and I was the male orderly who would serve, give them the food and so forth. And we had changed considerably, but I can remember Don and Bobby, I don't know whether, oh no, I don't think Wayne ever contracted measles, but I'm not sure.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

FK: So as far as everyday life in camp, then, what was that like for you? You were doing these, this job, but as far as everyday life there, what, how was that for you?

SO: You mean life in the center?

FK: Yeah, in Manzanar.

SO: Well, I guess it was kind of interesting. I mean, I'm sure sociologists would tell you this, but the Bainbridge Island group of twenty-two hundred some odd was kind of fish out of water because they didn't really mix with the California population. And I can remember some derogatory terms, some yogore, you know like they were the zoot suit kids, and we were the nice guys, goodie goodie two shoes. That's the way, I think, we presented ourselves because, I think, we, our upbringing on the island probably determined how we were going to respond to our neighbors. There's nothing wrong with those neighbors. I mean, my gosh, they were living next door to you, and they didn't go out and kill anybody, anything like that. But I think our own perception was inaccurate. And showed... I wonder what would've happened if we had embraced the California population and said, "we're in this together," rather than seeing ourselves as maybe somewhat apart. But I can remember then, when the island group moved to Idaho, I'm sure it was a totally different picture, because the California zoot suiters weren't around and now the, there was no blame kind of business. I don't know what it was, but it was an interesting time. But so in addition to working, I, in terms of my own personal work, worked in a hospital, which is newly built and so forth, and there I think I not only my own kind of relationship with some of the people who, within my work, because to me that was a whole new world that was opened up to me. I could remember when I finished high school teachers would always ask, "What do you want to do?" Oh, I want to do, work as an accountant someplace, and that was my vision, but it was totally incorrect, but that's that's what I was thinking about. So all that kind of passed by, and the camp experience was something that later on I took advantage of, because having worked in a concentration, incarceration camp, I was able to get positions or work and so forth. So there's a plus side to being cooped up and told what to do.

FK: Did you keep in touch with people back on the island at all when you were in the camp?

SO: As a matter of fact, historically I was one of the, one of the editors of the Review when Paul Ohtaki went to, on furlough for sugar beet farming, he asked me if I would fill in for him, which I did for about, I think two or three months, reporting what's happening. But the funny part is I can't really recall anything about what I did to do that. Paul asked me one time whether I, we're talking about this project that he was involved in, I said, "Paul, I don't know. I don't remember." Because I don't really remember what I did to produce the thing that appeared in print, so obviously I had something to do with it, but I can't really remember the little details of that, so that, anyway, that's...

FK: Were you able to keep in contact at all with any of your high school classmates or your teachers while you were there?

SO: You mean have I kept in contact?

FK: No, during that period of time, was there, were you able to keep in contact with any of your students or friends?

SO: Oh yeah. I think I pretty much kept in touch with Catherine Ellison, the teacher who was trying to encourage me to go on and so forth, and I remember also writing -- excuse me, the flip side is equally true. There are articles, excuse me, letters to the editor that our high school friends wrote on our behalf to point out many of the errors that were being circulated in terms of who, what we were about. In answer to your question about did I keep in touch, yes, to a limited extent. When I say limited, our lives changed and, for example, you ask about keeping in touch, when we all went into the service you had a different group with whom to keep in touch. Your high school friends maybe were not that critical because you established relationships with other of the people who were interned in the centers. I can remember when this occurs. I'm sure everyone can tell you, you become familiar with girls and the girls become your friends and you write to them because they were willing to write to you, and it's a whole different situation.


FK: Okay. You were mentioning that, as far as contact, it was mostly through the Review, but you did have some contact with some of your, your friends and things, too. Was there, did you actually correspond with them or write letters back to the island?

SO: Did I?

FK: Yeah.

SO: Yes, I wrote a couple letters to the editor, and at that point maybe I awakened to some of the legal aspects, and I said we haven't done anything wrong, why are you doing this? That was kind of, some of what I wanted to say.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

FK: Now, you did end up in the service. Were you drafted, or what, how did...

SO: Yeah.

FK: You didn't volunteer, huh? [Laughs] Okay.

SO: Well, that, that phase of my life is a little, got a certain funny thing to it. I was going to school at that point, Oberlin College in Ohio, and when the draft notice came up I took my physical and so forth, and I can remember going into the dean's office sometime during that early period and said I was gonna be drafted, and the dean looked at me, said I owed him whatever amount of money I had to pay for that short, fairly short duration in which I was going, attending school in second semester. I said, no, that's not correct, because I'm exempt from any kind of financial liability for my situation because I am, I am prevented from going to school, and therefore I should be, that shouldn't bother me. But in a kind of strange way, after the war I was going to school, one day I noticed I got a letter from the college saying that I didn't have to take the requisite foreign language that I was then studying, studying Spanish, because they had given me credit for the weeks of training at the military internal language school in Japanese, and they said that sufficed in terms of the college's requirement, so I didn't have to take a second or third year of Spanish and got away with what was then my limited Japanese.

FK: So, so when you were drafted and eventually ended up in MIS, Military Intelligence Service --

SO: Right.

FK: -- well, tell me something about that, about going through that program.

SO: I think it was a very rigorous program, but I think they had very, had limited field of people that they could call upon. First of all, the Niseis were miserably poor in Japanese, and the Kibeis, trained in Japan, they were miserably in English. I had a teacher who could barely speak English who knew Japanese, and I could barely speak Japanese, and here we're in this classroom. It was a rigorous program, but I think they should've had a better control of the material they had. But at one point I think Fort Snelling had three thousand students in this program, and I, it was simply just a matter of voluntarily saying yes, I will study. There was no other way by which they could test you or give you any kind of reading of your skills. The one that had been publicized had been in Southeast Asia when some of the war was going on there, of incidents in which one was asked to be a translator or interpreter, I eventually ended up in Korea long before the Korean War, and what was I doing? I was putting in time so I could get out, but one of the limited things we had to do was to interpret for the military officers who wanted to go shopping, and that was kind of the postwar use of language people. I know there were, there were those soldiers, the language people, who secured pretty good positions because Japan was badly in need of people who could speak both languages in the postwar period. It wasn't all just in the wartime, but it's true, what we learned in this school was military language, not civil language, and if you get trained saying your name, rank, and serial number, you can't very well go out and start talking about the market situation or things like that, so then everyone said we were in the wrong place and the wrong time, I guess. But no, the military, I've never really looked at or studied what my performance was about, but I certainly was not the top one in Japanese. It was a case where, in fact, it's kind of interesting, where I live now in Leland, Michigan, there's a Caucasian fellow who, I think, was in the same group that I was at that point, but here's the interesting thing: this friend of mine was, happened to be born in Germany and lived in Japan, so he was quite fluent in Japanese, but he was taking the language cycle to become one of our potential military service, the leaders of our group, but even to this day his Japanese, I think, is beautiful. I mean, he knows Japanese. By contrast, I don't know Japanese. [Laughs]

FK: Now as I'm -- [clears throat] excuse me -- it sounded like all four of you ended up in the service.

SO: Right, my two oldest brothers, Sets ended up as a part of a service unit, that is, Stateside service. He never went beyond someplace in Texas, Camp Wolters, and he was connected with, like, being a clerk or what have you for the service. Takiro ended up in Camp Carter, Missouri, in the medical unit, and he became, I guess like an assistant to the ear nose throat business doctors. And Mas went abroad with the 442nd and he was, I think, over for a fairly short period of time and either he did or he got hurt in a very minor sort of way on his arm somewhere. He never told me exactly how it happened, but he hinted at -- and this may be partially true -- it was like a self inflicted wound that would not harm him but would allow him to be, return stateside. At that point I think he had two kids. That, I could be totally wrong, but even to his last days he never told me about that. He was saying, well, it happened. Oh, I know why, at one point he said, while he was in the hospital, they came around to award him the Purple Heart and he violently rejected it, because he told me about that, so that much I know is true, so that there had to be a reason, maybe... and then when you asked about the four of us, well, obviously I come at the end of the line and got in the language unit, did very little use of the language. I guess at the time of entering the service I was pretty much saying, maybe, very positive about our role, that is, I'm gonna go out there and do my job and, by golly, no one's gonna stop me and wave the little red and white flag. But I think the other part of the military service is I was able to see my relatives, my uncles, couple uncles who were still living at that point. One of my cousins took me around into Japan -- this is long before, soon after the atomic bomb, but long before Japan became on its own feet, so it was pretty primitive. And I can remember talking with some of my friends and relatives of the effects of the atomic bomb, but I knew nothing about it. In fact, I can remember when we heard of the news of the atomic, dropping of the bomb, it happened when we were, my particular ship was heading for Hawaii, so we were halfway between the States and Hawaii. We talked about this bomb and they didn't know what to call it. I think it's called genshi bakudan. I don't know what it means, but they had to invent a new word to take care of, method of warfare that wasn't around.

FK: Do you have any feelings about the bomb, the atomic bomb?

SO: Do I have any feelings about it?

FK: Yeah, as far as it happening?

SO: Well, I... yes, I do, in fact. I think for the number of lives that were lost as a result of the bomb, and I know the counterargument is the number of lives that were saved, but you ask the first question, why was this even necessary? If people are gonna act like this, doesn't sit well with the people who are involved in making the decisions, because it raises the first question, why do we even have to have this war? Because we dropped the bomb, we won. I'm not quite sure if the war is won/lost situation like a baseball game, 'cause I think -- maybe this is where I can editorialize somewhat -- one of the questions you asked, Frank, earlier, or maybe in your sheet, was, had to do with what kind of lessons have we taught our youngsters. In this, in this time, have they learned anything? Have we learned anything? And I like to think the bottom line is we have to respect one another, and my own experience is that the things I went through is no different than what a lot of other people have gone through. How we ended up is a different story. Some of us ended up in whatever shape or form, some of us really took advantage of it, some of us maybe didn't. And if we can teach all our kids, both Japanese and, as we say, non Japanese, that you have to respect the other person, respect them for their views, their politics, their, whatever it is, give them the right to that kind of positive thinking. Then we won't have all this business of wars that occur, unfortunately, all too frequently.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

FK: I'd like to hear more about your journey from, going to Oberlin to ending up in the other colleges, and how you ended up is, where you ended up professionally.

SO: Let me, let me kind of give you the up to date story first.

FK: Alright.

SO: Just recently the University of Washington had a special ceremony that dealt with the Niseis who were then going to school, in 1942, and the university granted an honorary degree, and I happened to be one of them. But I didn't get to the ceremony, but the university felt it was important enough to recognize what had happened, and I think it was a beautiful gesture on the part of the University of Washington. Now, how I got there is kind of an interesting tale of which I don't have all the answers. After working for a brief period in the summertime I had applied to Oberlin, and I guess, no, I guess that working comes later, but I had applied to Oberlin and a lot of other schools for no real apparent reason. I can remember at one point I was accepted at the University of Wyoming, and what did I know about the University of Wyoming? Nothing. But this is one way to get out of camp, is to go to school, but then that also entails one other thing, money. I mean, what kind of funding did I have to support myself to pay the tuition and living cost and so forth? But I was crazy enough to say I wanted to go to school. This is where the funny little bit comes into play. I don't know, to this day, how I happened to get to Oberlin, which is a private school in Ohio. When I say I don't know how I got there, you simply don't apply to school and then you're in because you have to have the source of funding and things like that, but any, at any rate, I got into Oberlin and then I was in school for about a quarter and a, no, two semesters maybe, thereabouts, and then the draft came, so then I was out of the picture. But then after I finished school -- excuse me, after I finished my time in the service, I went back and finished my degree and went for my graduate degrees, first at Michigan State and a Master's degree, and then a PhD in art history at Ohio State. And I did, I took the direction I did only because it was available. I mean, I didn't have any private funding that could send me through school ad infinitum. It was, no, that was it. So that then, after four years of graduate study, you do the obvious thing, and that is start writing letters to, "Dear Sir, I am a new applicant," and so forth, so forth. I did that, and eventually I did secure a position in a school in Illinois, and then from that I moved into others, it was Bradley, then I moved to Wayne State in Detroit, and then finally to Michigan State where I spent the last thirty years of my teaching, at Michigan State. But I, in all this, one thought still stays with me, and that's my high school teacher, Catherine Ellison, who told me, when she encouraged me to go to school, she said, "On your way you're gonna meet a lot of people. Try to get along with the best of them, and don't let, don't deal with the others." It was a little message that I carried with me, saying the people are gonna be different that I meet and deal with only those with whom you have good relationships. That has, I think, helped me in terms of my wandering through the world of academe.

FK: So when you retired, what, what position did you have?

SO: Huh?

FK: When you retired, what position did you have when you retired at Michigan State?

SO: Professor. Professor Emeritus, which is a way of the university's, the Emeritus is not an automatic thing. It has to be awarded on behalf of the university, but I think ninety-nine times out of a hundred you're going to score well in terms of this award, because it is a title that you have a right to, all the rights and privileges and so forth that they talk about. I, when I think of it, if I had to do that phase of my life over again, I would maybe select an Asian field as my specialty. Instead I've ended up being a specialist in American art, and my reason for American art was, first of all, there was funding available, secondly, people, at the point that I was going to school, would say --


SO: But anyway, the matter of, what was I talking about, my going to school?

FK: Uh-huh, about going in American studies instead of Asian studies.

SO: Oh, part of it was because of a real nuts and bolts situation. At the point that I was going to school, it was rather traditional that, if you're in art history, you go and study and European art because that's where all the, quote, "great art" is. Well, I took a slightly different view, for survival more than anything else. I said, why must one go to Europe? Why can't one study the art that's here yet undiscovered? And since that time, more and more people have gotten into American art. I ended up teaching American art and Asian art, and it, if I had to do it over again, I would think I would try to combine these two in a more meaningful way so that I would more fully understand Asian art as well as American art. I think I ended up, in fact, I can remember when I took a, took the position at Michigan State, the condition was I'd teach the course in beginning Asian art, and it was kind of the, what we'd call a minor in the field, but for me, I had to work like the devil to at least deal with that, which I did. And I enjoyed that part, and I think in many ways it reminds me of an incident that I took, that took place when I was an undergraduate. This was a course in watercolor in which the instructor, who was actually born in China but not Chinese, looked over my shoulder and said, "That looks very Japanese-y." And at that point I didn't whether to interpret that as a positive or a negative, and I think I took it as a positive, because for him to say, there's something there that I see that's in you that maybe you can produce an art form in another setting. So then that made me feel pretty good, rather than thinking of this as someone saying, hey, that's "Jap art" or something like that. It was one of those things, actually, I can still recall that.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

FK: If I asked you if there was a legacy or a message that was important to you to get out to other people as far as your experiences with life, what would that be?

SO: You mean my, which part are we...

FK: Well, I have a sense, I have a sense from what you've said so far that there's, that it's really important to you that you touch other people and leave some messages for them as far as the things you've gone through and what you'd like to see what happening, what's happened. So I was wondering if you had anything that, philosophically, you'd like to say as far as, to future generations or people that are here now.

SO: Well, I think you're doing a part of it right now, Frank. That is, your leadership in terms of the Japanese American community, I think, is well needed. If you weren't occupying the president's role, I think the organization would suffer, because I think in terms of, maybe it goes back to what I said just a moment ago, to be able to remain in contact allows groups of people to work collectively rather than working by oneself in a laboratory. That is, I think the direction of the Japanese American community, as I have understood it somewhat from afar, is something, I think, that needs to be told to everyone. You may or may not know that Jerry and I kept a fairly close contact, and Jerry would let me know all the things that were happening, mentioning names I hadn't heard of before, but if that -- and Jerry was good in terms of telling others what it was to be what he was, and he didn't try to make a big deal out of it. In fact, at one point, I can remember very early on Jerry telling me he'd been the president of the organization for twenty years and because no one wanted to take the job. This was long before your time, but anyway, and then there's another small incident that's connected with Jerry. Jerry's daughter, Kathy, I think her name is, went to the University of Washington, and Jerry's the one who told me about this special program that -- excuse me, not program, but special, the degree that the university was going to award -- and he called and asked me, said, didn't I go to University of Washington? I said yes, and he said, well, this is happening. Those of us in the Midwest, we get very little news of this kind because there's not the Japanese population to warrant, probably, even those couple of lines. Although there is one interesting tidbit to this; my son, one of my sons, Lorne, who was in the news business, and he's down in Tampa, Florida, he said they got this notice of this happening at the University of Washington on the newspaper line, so at least someone read, else, besides the Northwest people, read about it. But the people in the Midwest, far as I know, it never happened. [Laughs]

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

FK: Now, I understand that at one of your high school class get-togethers you mentioned to the, your classmates something about how they felt about it when you guys left. Can you tell me about that?

SO: I'm not quite sure whether this is gonna be answer, answer or not, but I've often wondered, Frank, we see the Japanese side, maybe we see, maybe we don't see enough of the other side. Are we drawing conclusions about our peers, or the classmates, that are incorrect or correct? Maybe they should be asked what they saw and what they felt, but I, but the... here's an interesting position, you and I have grown up in this world and we've read about the incarceration and so forth in every possible angle you think of, and it's still going on. How do we know that in 2008, as we're sitting here, are we really accurately depicting what was, what happened, or are we looking at it as a conglomerate of readings that we've gone through? Which one is the true one? You know, are we saying, in fact, I often wonder whether we say things that we want to hear other people say which may or may not be true. Now, I think I'm, I don't want to be the, to see it as a negative, but maybe we need to examine that a little bit better, 'cause at this, at our ages we know a lot more than we did in 1942. And if we're trying to recapture 1942, are we using the right tools? Are we, I mean, how is this coming about? So those are the things I think about, and especially when you think of the, our classmates, are they also in the same fix, saying, well, we're gonna have to say this because we know our buddies are Japanese, or are they gonna say, well, I'm not quite sure? I don't think it makes a whole lot of difference, but it occurs to me that maybe sometimes thinking about this might help future generations so that we get -- we can't turn the clock back to 1942, but we know things happened, and we know it happened because the people are living today, yourself, myself, others. We know it happened because it happened. I mean, we don't need any further proof. But the motivation is what, I think, becomes important, and it goes back to, maybe, what the Japanese American Citizens League said at the time of the evacuation, you better go now because in the end we'll have better relationships, but was the price that we paid, was it really the equivalent? That twenty thousand dollars is nothing but a drop in the bucket, but it, I understand that this country operates on dollars and cents and maybe that's the way they kind of cleanse themselves and said, "Oh, we treated these Japanese fairly, now get off my back." [Laughs]

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

SO: But anyway, no, but I'll go down take a look at the memorial because I think the memorial should be an emotional experience. It ought to really, as an art form, cause one to think about what happened, not the question of how many were on the boat or not on the boat, or how many were, not that kind of statistical analysis, but more than that, as you approach it, does it create in you a different sense of being? I can think of the one in Portland, which has these huge steps and images, it's too pictorial in a way, but I like the idea because it allows for everyone who walks by there, of these various incidents in the lives of the Nisei. It doesn't have to be like that, but it happened to be one of the, I think, better ones that people can relate to, and maybe in the case of the, our situation, and the memorial, you and, I think, everyone else connected with it would want to make it demand attention, saying, like, "I am here, this is what happened, now get with it." It can't be too peaceful so that it begins to lose its intent. It should be good enough for today. It should be good enough the day after tomorrow. The same experience ought to be in the minds of those who see it. Now, I happen to be far removed physically from this and this place, but this place means a lot to me. But, but anyway, the memorial, as I understand it, includes not only the names, but other images, which may, in some ways, be a conglomeration of the Iwo Jima image in Washington or others that begin to become so concrete that it tells a story, because that's what the story that you want to deal with here. You want to deal with people who come ten years later saying, what's that? Oh, that's a monument. Monument to what? See, are, are we talking about some grand, glorious unknown field that we've discovered or what? Maybe it's more simple. Maybe it's simply a matter of allowing people to incorporate this into their thinking, so I think that there's, I'll let you know about the, about the memorial because it's been going on for I don't know how many years.

FK: Yeah.

SO: But it's also a good end. It's better to wait and be deliberative about your decision, rather than making a snap judgment and then it loses its luster, because there is, see, nothing like this has happened in the scale that it's happened and this is the opportunity to tell everyone what it's all about. And I think that's what we're about.

FK: Okay. Is there anything else you'd like to add or say before you...

SO: [Laughs] Well, maybe I'll, maybe I'll save some for the end first. I'd just like to thank the, this'll be a meaningful monument to everyone, and it just happened to be based on the Japanese. It's only incidental. It could happen to anyone, and I think the important thing is that we at least respect, and I guess that, at least for me, that's kind of a key word, respect one another and make it meaningful. Don't just say, oh yeah, we paid them off, it's a free world. Because it simply then denies the meaning of what we're about.


FK: It sounds like one of the things we want to do with the memorial is make it really relevant to today, so are there any things along that line that you, it sounds like that's exactly what you're talking about, so is there anything else you'd like to add to that?

SO: Well, I guess I have admire and look at these little kids, and I mean little kids like you were a little kid, about Don's age, in camp, and your siblings and other relatives, I think one of the more interesting -- this is a kind of isolated thing I think of -- soon after the war ended I happened to come back here, to the island, and I remember rather distinctly when the old Bainbridge Gardens was in operation, and there were a lot of little kids like yourself, probably seven- or eight-year-olds. I thought to myself, these are kids who just love life. There's some kind of exuberance about what they were about as they were crawling around, pumping gas or what have you, I don't know what it was, but I, that little scene is something that for me said this is the young generation. We have to at least listen to their voice. Now, unfortunately, when I see it in reverse, if we were more active as Niseis, maybe that's the kind of lesson we should preach to the, to our youngsters. I know I said earlier that if you had had a package of Niseis who had a broad range of experiences and were able to combat the actual incarceration, I think that's true, but also we need the young blood. The young ones are the ones who carry it on. At my position, as a Nisei, I'm probably getting fewer and fewer in number, and so that, somebody has to take over, and I just see this as an opportunity, and I'm glad that the memorial is coming to be. I know that's one thing that Jerry really loved, and that is the fruition of the, of the monument, and I hope that they get rid of the creosote plants soon enough so we can do it. [Laughs]

FK: Good. Thank you.

SO: You're welcome.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.