Densho Digital Archive
Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community Collection
Title: Yukiko Katayama Omoto Interview
Narrator: Yukiko Katayama Omoto
Interviewer: Joyce Nishimura
Location: Bainbridge Island, Washington
Date: June 15, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-oyukiko-01

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

<Begin Segment 1>

JN: Okay. Let's start off and get, warm up, and telling me about your family, who your parents were, what were their names, and where they were born.

YO: What if I don't know where they were born?

JN: Then just tell us everything you can remember about your family, your parents and their names. When they, when did they come to the United States?

YO: That's one thing that I couldn't find.

JN: That's okay. Well, tell us, tell us their names and where they lived on the island.

YO: Well, I could tell where they came from. You want my dad or my mother first? It doesn't make any difference?

JN: Doesn't.

YO: Okay, Isosaburo Katayama, that was my father. He came from Mine-gun, Yamaguchi-ken. And my mother was from Yamaguchi-ken, but I don't know what part. And I really don't know when they came because I couldn't find the record. My dad went to Hawaii first before he came to the United States. You want to know when they got married?

JN: Yeah, what kind of, what kind of work did he do when he came here?

YO: He always had a, like a vegetable farm. That was in Eagledale. That's what he started off with. He had a greenhouse very first, and then he had a vegetable farm in Eagledale, and then a strawberry farm towards the end. That's all, that's about all I know.

JN: Tell us about your mother and how they got, how they met and how they got, when they got married.

YO: I don't remember when they got married, but I know they were married in a Methodist church in Seattle, so they probably knew each other when they were in Japan, or the family knew each other. So I'm not sure where my mother was born because we went to Japan, but we didn't find out where my mother was born, but we met my dad's relatives in Yamaguchi and Hokkaido. That's where his families were. And I don't know what else.

JN: Tell me about your siblings and, your brothers and sisters, and where they were born.

YO: My youngest were, youngest brother was born in Wing Point, where the golf course is now. My brother and sisters were, my oldest sister was born in Fletchers Bay, Island Center, and the rest of 'em, I think, were born in Port Blakely, like I was.

JN: What were their names?

YO: My sister Mei, Meiko, and my brother Yoshio, and then my sister Toshiko, myself, and then Masaro, and Mitsuo, and Shiro.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

JN: Can you tell us a little bit about what life was like on Bainbridge when you were growing up?

YO: When? I mean, real early or...

JN: Anytime you have stories about. Anything.

YO: When we were living down the Point, we... them days they didn't have cars like we do now. Well, we had to hike up the hill. The hill was just like it is now, and on Sundays, to go to Sunday school, we used to ride on the, a milkman used to come every Sunday -- well, we used to ride on his buggy up the hill. [Laughs] And then he went the other direction while we cut off on the top of the hill to go to church, but I don't remember how we came home. All I know is we took that right up the hill. And then that's the way you went to school, too, when we were down in Wing Point, but most of the people, the kids like us, we walked, we had a shortcut through the Robinwood, 'cause there were all woods. Now there's homes, but there's a lot of shortcuts that we can take to go to school. Then, after we moved to Winslow, you were right there where the Scott Real Estate is now, so it wasn't bad at all because it was short walks. But them days it was real nice because we didn't have stoplights or anything, no, not very many cars, so we used to walk to school every day. I think them, they had, downtown had telephone companies and garages and drugstores, grocery stores and stuff, just like there is now. Some of the stores are still there.

JN: Where was your school?

YO: Lincoln School. That's where the, where is that, the green? Yeah, that's where the Lincoln School was. Then the church is right across the street where it is now. We had, first and second grades used to go to the church. That's where they had the school. The high school, after seventh grade, they had the school, the regular, that's in the greens now. And then high school courses, when we went to high school we went to Bainbridge High School where it is now. But we did more walking than anything else. [Laughs]

JN: Tell me a little bit about school. What kind of things did you do in school? What did you like? What did you not?

YO: Gee, that's a long time ago. I think them days it was, school was different. I mean, of course it wasn't only one class, it was about two or three classes at one time. It's too far back. I can't remember too much. [Laughs]

JN: Can you remember about what you did for leisure, what you did for fun when you were growing up?

YO: Yeah, we played around a lot, 'cause even if we did play around a lot, we couldn't, we did a lot of walking, and my friends were pretty close by. We didn't have to walk too far. We used to walk down to the, where I'm living now, there was a daughter there that was same age as I was, and we, I used to go down to that YWCA and we used to, they had tennis courts and places where we could play down on the beach. And there was a family down there that had two girls. I can't seem to remember their names, but they were the, they were the caretakers down there, so they used to come up when we used to go down there and play, play down in the, in that YWCA, play ping pong or tennis or... anyway, we, I think we weren't very good about it. [Laughs] We used to sneak down there and then sneak back up. But I would still say it was the good old days. We were able to do whatever we wanted to.

JN: Did your family have a farm then, or a greenhouse? Did you have to work there?

YO: No, that's the time that we, we had a farm because we moved to, down Winslow. When we were down at the greenhouse we were quite small, so we had plenty of place to roam, to play around. There wasn't very many, what you call it, homes around, so we could really play out in the, what do you call, farmland or whatever it is, so it wasn't cleared or anything.

JN: Lots of ways to just have fun when you have open land.

YO: Yeah, that's true.

JN: Then what did your parents do when you moved to Winslow?

YO: We had a strawberry farm then. We had a greenhouse down at the, down Wing Point. When we moved to Winslow we had farms.

JN: Did you have to work on the farms?

YO: Did we? Yes. We started early.

JN: Do you remember what was, what were some of the community events you did, or church events that you can remember in Winslow?

YO: I can't remember.

JN: Can you tell us a little bit about working on the farm, what it was like? Did you do that in the afternoon after work, or how did you...

YO: Working on the farm, we were going to school, though. We used, when we used to come home in the afternoon, if we had time we had to go out in the field, prune weeds or whatever we had to do. And holidays, of course, we had to work too. [Laughs]

JN: Did your father have a lot of workers to help on the farm? Was it a big farm?

YO: Well, not too large. Yeah, we had a few Filipinos helping.

JN: Okay.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

JN: Think back on December 7, (1941), Pearl Harbor day. What do you remember about that day? Where were you? How did it feel?

YO: We were home. No, that's when, that's before we left. I don't remember too much on that one.

JN: The day that you, in the news, the radios were saying that Pearl Harbor was attacked, you don't remember anything much? How old were you? Okay. Do you remember how your family reacted, or was your family, your parents, nervous?

YO: No. Not to me they weren't. There was somebody visiting, I think, that they, and they didn't seem to be worried or anything.

JN: And life was pretty much the same? You didn't feel that school was different or that people treated you differently?

YO: No, they were all the same. There's no difference on the island.

JN: Do you remember anything about the FBI roundups? Did anybody come to your house?

YO: Yes, they, that's when they'd start pickin' us up. They came around and they took my dad, but they brought him home the next day, so, well, he was the only one, I mean, in our family, that was taken.

JN: Where were you when that happened?

YO: I was home. We were packing rhubarb. That's, that was in the winter because there are plenty of rhubarb. No, but they asked him what he had in his barn and he told 'em he had some dynamite, and that's why they took him in. But then they brought him home the next day.

JN: Do you remember how your family reacted to all this going on?

YO: They didn't seem, to me, I guess maybe I didn't notice much, but to me, they didn't say anything to us or...

JN: Do you remember what your reaction was to, or your family's reaction to the order saying that you had to leave the island? Do you remember that day when people were saying that you will have to leave to go to concentration camps?

YO: No, we just gathered up what we were supposed to and then, my parents didn't say anything. I mean, they didn't say anything.

JN: They're probably just trying to protect you.

YO: I don't, I don't know. I mean, we were old enough to know what we were doing.

JN: What were you doing at that time? Were you, were you still in school, or you were out of school?

YO: No, I was going to, started a new sewing school. See, I was going to a Japanese sewing school. I was gonna go to the American sewing school where they had tailoring and all that, but I didn't get a chance to do that. So I was going to sewing school before that, but it was taught by a Japanese lady.

JN: Was that on the island?

YO: No, in Seattle.

JN: So did you live in Seattle?

YO: No, I commuted.

Off camera: Ask, ask her how she felt when she couldn't go to sewing school.

JN: How did you feel when you couldn't go to the sewing school, when you were working up to the American sewing school? How did you feel?

YO: I, if you knew we couldn't go, well, I didn't feel that, that... I don't know. I didn't have no feeling, bad feeling about it or anything.

JN: Did you, were you able to go back to it later on?

YO: No. That was when we, just before evacuation, so no. So I went to tailoring school in camp.

JN: You must be a good seamstress.

YO: No, I'm not. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 4>

JN: Do you remember when you were preparing to leave, what was it like in your family in that week's time when you were having to leave your, leave everything, leave your strawberry farm and get ready to go? How, can you describe how that time was?

YO: I don't know, we just picked up our things that we were supposed to, and of course we asked our neighbors to come and live at the house, and they were more than willing to do that, so we really had good neighbors. Even when I came back for a visit, they came to see me.

JN: Who are your neighbors?

YO: They were the Caves, lived right across the street from us. And they were Miss Jemma, who was real good to us, they were, anyway, all our neighbors were real good to us.

JN: So did any, who took care of your house then, and your farm?

YO: One of the neighbors, they were missionaries and they were renting a house across the street from us, and my brother went over to ask them if they wouldn't mind living in our house, so they came over and took care of our place. They had a difficult time because they said somebody would come up, 'cause we're so close to the ferry, they would ask 'em, "they're not coming back," so they wanted to take the things from the house, but no, they did nothing, so they locked up the, our garage 'cause they'd put things, all the tools and things in there, and so we were really thankful that, they had a hard time just watching the place, I think.

JN: That was really good on their part. Did you have people running the farm, the strawberry farm then?

YO: Yes. Well, my brother had charge of that, so he had asked people, or he'd, I think he, yeah, he asked one of the Filipinos to take over. That was a year that was very good strawberries, this first year or two, so we were sorry we had to leave that.

JN: Then when you came back, then did you get your farm and your home back?

YO: Oh, yes.

JN: Okay. Leaving Bainbridge Island, the day you had to leave, if you can remember what it was like, what are your memories of March 30, 19 --

YO: Nothing. It's blank. [Laughs] I don't seem to remember even gettin' on a train. I saw the pictures of it, but then...

JN: That's significant. Is, how do you feel about not remember anything about that day?

YO: It's fine. I mean, to me, I think nothing of it.

JN: Do you, do you remember going to Manzanar, arriving there?

YO: I'm not sure.

JN: What do you remember about Manzanar at all?

YO: Well, first when we went down I think we were more scared than anything because we were on the first block, right next to the gate, I mean, where the, and certain times at night we can hear people going over there, and so I think we were more scared than anything.

JN: Did you, all of your brothers -- you had lots of brothers and sisters -- did they all feel the same? Or did you, have you talked about it?

YO: I don't think we ever talked about it.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

JN: Okay, do you have any stories that you can remember about Manzanar, or even Minidoka, like who you hung out with, what kind of things you did there, anything at all?

YO: Manzanar, I know I went to sewing school, I mean tailoring school. That was interesting. Well, in Idaho, since I was with a school I was, I used to hear a lot of things from what was happening on the island, so at least I knew what was going on. The teachers used to come over to the, to Bainbridge High School and then they'd come back and tell us what's happening. So that was interesting to know.

JN: Tell us a little bit about your tailor school in Manzanar. What was it like, how many people were there, what, what did you learn there? Just kind of tell us.

YO: That's something that if you don't keep it up you forget, a lot of measuring and making patterns. That's hard, difficult, so I never kept it up.

JN: But you remember going to the school and learning how to do all that kind of stuff?

YO: Uh-huh, but I don't think I can do it anymore.

JN: Did you sew after that, though, like after, or during camp time? Did you, were you able to sew?

YO: No, because we're not, weren't able to get the materials as you wanted to, so no, I didn't do any sewing in Manzanar. I helped the teacher out and that was all.

JN: Do you remember how many people were in that school? Were they all camp people?

YO: Oh yeah, they're all camp people.

JN: Do you remember, you were out of school at that time when you went to camp, is that right?

YO: Uh-huh.

JN: So who did you hang out with at camp? Did you have Bainbridge friends that you did things together?

YO: Yeah, Bainbridge friends. But then as we got acquainted with the camp people, whatever I was doing, well, I went with those people.

JN: Did you have fun doing, like meeting new people and having...

YO: Yeah, different. [Laughs] Of course, they speak different too, but they were nice, real nice people.

JN: Do you have any adventures? What did you do?

YO: We used to, in the afternoons when we had breaks, I used to help with the children's lunch, so dietician, as dietician, so when we had breaks in the afternoon we used to go down the river and just, just walk around and talk to have fun.

JN: At least you had more time to just enjoy and you didn't have to work then, when you're in camp.

YO: No, we had to work.

JN: Did you do anything outside of camp, like to go to work?

YO: One time I think we went out for, out to Burley doing housework. I think we were out for about a couple of months or so. I'm not sure.

JN: Is this in Idaho?

YO: This is in Idaho.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

JN: Can you tell us more about just how different it was in camp, in Manzanar or Minidoka, compared to Bainbridge Island? What was, what, how was it similar, how was it different?

YO: Well, I don't want to say different. Well, you'd, you're with a different type of people. I mean, a lot of, we're, in camp we're all Japanese, but when you're, when I was out I was with all Americans all the time. So I don't, I don't know different. [Laughs] At least I don't remember the difference.

JN: Did you think, you mentioned that the people in California were different and they talked different --

YO: They, the ones that I knew spoke a lot of Japanese, more than English, so that's a different, I mean, it's harder to answer back in Japanese than in English 'cause we weren't used to it.

JN: Do you remember how people felt about being in camp, the friends that you hung out with? Were they angry or was there --

YO: No, none of 'em were. Far as, far as I know, none of 'em were.

JN: Do you remember any stories about people sneaking out of camp to go fishing?

YO: I think one of my neighbors were doing that.

JN: Tell us about that.

YO: I don't know, but that's heard, but I'd never seen him do it.

JN: Do you know what the story was about, even if you didn't see them do it? What were they, what did they talk about?

YO: They'd just say that certain people went down fishing and caught some fish, and that's it. I mean, they didn't say anything else about it.

JN: Did you or your family read the Bainbridge Review?

YO: I did, yes.

JN: How did that feel, and how, what --

YO: Well, I knew --

JN: -- what was your interest -- I'm sorry.

YO: Oh, excuse me. Well, I knew more about it because the teacher would come back and tell us everything that was written on the paper, and they told us that it was just certain people that was writing those things and it wasn't everybody, the old timers. It was just the new people that was coming in trying not to let the Japanese come back. So I knew it wasn't true when, when they went over to Bainbridge High, I mean to the school, and they came back and told us what really happened.

JN: What was, what was happening?

YO: The one person was making all the trouble. They were having meetings in Bainbridge, and they came back and told us there was just, it wasn't an old timer. It was someone new that came in and wanted to keep the Japanese from coming back to the island.

JN: So the teachers, because you read about it in the paper and then the teacher came and told, came and told you that --

YO: No, it's because I was working with this teacher and she, she heard all about it when they had school meetings, I guess. That's when she told me what was really happening on the island.

JN: What kind of things did you like about reading the Review, besides knowing some of the controversy or the discussion that was going on?

YO: I just wanted to see, read the things that was happening. I mean, if someone we, we knew, but I don't remember. 'Course, my friend used to write to me, too.

JN: So you pretty much tried to stay connected, anyway, with things.

YO: Oh, yes.

JN: What about your brothers and your sisters? Were they kind of interested in what was going on, too?

YO: I don't know. I never bothered to ask, and they never used, never said anything. Well, at least I don't remember what they've said.

JN: Okay. What do you remember about filling out the "loyalty questionnaire"?

YO: I don't remember a thing. I don't remember, I don't remember filling that out.

JN: Did your, do you remember your parents filling it out or anything?

YO: No.

JN: Do you have anything else you want to say about Minidoka or Manzanar? Do you remember any little stories that might be interesting for people to hear about, like some of the things you did or an event or an incident that occurred in Manzanar or Minidoka, or just a story.

YO: No, I don't, or either it's out of my mind.

JN: It's out of your mind.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

JN: Okay. After the war, what did your family do?

YO: They came back to farm.

JN: And do you remember what it was like? Were you nervous about coming back?

YO: No. No, I came back in May, just for a visit, and they all welcomed us back, so I didn't have no hard feeling.

JN: What, and you kind of mentioned this, the condition of your farm and your house, how, how was that?

YO: They were fine.

JN: Everything?

YO: Everything was fine.

JN: And the same family that took care of it, they just said welcome back and they let you back into your house?

YO: Uh-huh.

JN: You're lucky.

YO: It was sad, though, the husband had passed on and she was doing it all by herself. She, 'course, we helped her move, but I was sorry to see her go.

JN: Did she have a hard time keeping it up?

YO: Well, she said it was hard because the people would come from the ferry and try to tell 'em that they're not coming back and try to get some furniture and things.

JN: What happened to, maybe this is later, what happened to your family's greenhouse? The greenhouse, tell me a little bit about that. Does, was that just when you were really young?

YO: Yeah. It's a long time ago, I think when both of my brothers were born, and that was in 1922, '21 and two, I think. Well, that was when we were quite young, so a fun time. [Laughs]

JN: And that's when you had the greenhouse?

YO: Uh-huh.

JN: Did your parents sell it then, before they moved to Winslow to have the strawberry farm?

YO: I don't know if they did or not, because it, maybe the, someone must've taken it over.

JN: But not your family. It was...

YO: No, no, he gave it up.

JN: How do you feel your life changed because you went through this experience of going to camp and not being able to do some of the things that you might've, might've been able to do before camp? Do you feel, how do you feel your life could have been or did, if it changed at all?

YO: I don't feel nothing.

JN: You don't worry about it.

YO: No, just forgot about it or out of my mind, actually. [Laughs]

JN: You just must be easygoing. Whatever happens, you adjust.

YO: I don't know.

JN: Besides the fact that your neighbors were really good to you and saved your home and your farm, how did other non Japanese people in the community treat your family and you as you were in those postwar days? Did you ever feel that people were suspicious of you or didn't like you because you were Japanese?

YO: We, I never felt that way.

JN: Do you feel that you, when you raise your own children, that having gone to camp and in the war situation and all, what happened has made a difference in how you raised your children or how you live your life?

YO: I don't think so. Nothing has changed.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

JN: Today, when you think about it, do you have any thoughts about, about why you don't think it made any difference, or if you, you just kind of, just so you could survive and deal with it, or why you think you didn't make it an issue or you just kind of... do you think about why that might've been or have any thoughts about just what happened? [YO shakes head] What do you think about the memorial that we're making?

YO: I think it's nice.

JN: Because?

YO: I don't know.

JN: What would you like it to say? What would you like the memorial to be about?

YO: You mean that...

JN: The Bainbridge memorial at the site. Have you seen that site?

YO: I've been, I've been there.

JN: What do you, why do you think that's important? Or do you think that's important?

YO: Well, I can't say either way.

JN: Do you have any wishes as to what, what you'd like to have in there?

YO: No.

JN: There's gonna be, it's a national park now, and so there's gonna be people coming from all over the country and we're gonna, it's gonna be treated like, as, like a national park with visitors that come that might not even have known that this happened. Is that, what do you think they should know about, about what happened to you? Do you think that it's important that they know about this?

YO: To me, no.

JN: It doesn't matter.

YO: It doesn't, to me it doesn't matter that much.

JN: When we're talking, do you have anything else that might have, might, you might've remembered as you were talking about any of, anything about those years?

YO: I don't think so.

JN: When did you move? You've lived here and Sets was from here, right? He also was from the island?

YO: Uh-huh.

JN: Okay, and you've lived here pretty much all your adult life.

YO: I was born here.

JN: You were born here and stayed here throughout your life pretty much.

YO: Uh-huh.

JN: So your, your children were born here, were raised here?

YO: Yes.

JN: How many children do you have?

YO: Just one.

JN: Just, okay. Do you have any more...

Off camera: No. I think that's all. I think you've covered it well.

JN: Okay. Well, thank you. This is...

YO: You're welcome.

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