Densho Digital Archive
Emiko and Chizuko Omori Collection
Title: Frank Miyamoto Interview
Narrator: Frank Miyamoto
Interviewers: Chizu Omori (primary), Emiko Omori (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: September 28, 1992
Densho ID: denshovh-mfrank-05

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

<Begin Segment 1>

FM: And my name in Japanese is called Shotaro. And the reason it's Shotaro is that Sho is taken from the Taisho Emperor. And the reason I'm called Frank is that when I was a kid, starting with kindergarten, I guess it was, the name Shotaro got murdered by my hakujin friends.

CO: That's always the case... when you can't pronounce these Japanese names.

FM: And my sisters decided that I had to have an English equivalent or some American name and the American equivalent of Shotaro, which means "honest first boy," was Frank. [Laughs] So there you are. And I've gone by Frank ever since.


CO: Professor Miyamoto, I know that you've played a special role in the course of the internment of Japanese Americans. But beyond that, even before that took place, I know that you did a special study of the community, Japanese American community in Seattle for your master's thesis at the University of Washington, which makes you particularly knowledgeable, I think, about life of the Japanese Americans, at least in Seattle and the Northwest in general. So, could you tell us your background and how you came to write this, this really groundbreaking piece of study?

FM: There are so many things that come to mind when you raise a question like that that I'm not sure just exactly how I should approach the answer, but briefly, when I went to college, I started in engineering, mainly because my father, my father knew that my interest was in literature and in humanities but he suggested that for a Japanese American -- a Nisei -- a field like English or literature or humanities, without specific goals was likely to be extremely hazardous as an occupational endeavor and therefore that I should go into something a little more concrete or something with a harder potential to it. And engineering is what I chose. By the time I got to college, my father had died and we had gotten into the Depression. And a year or two after I had started college, I had to drop out for financial reasons, and in the interim I made up my mind that engineering, after all, was not for me, that I should pursue something closer to my original interest in the humanities. Having gotten into that area, I found what might be called a "white angel," a person who took an interest in me, a person of the majority group, namely Dr. Jesse Steiner, who was Chairman of the Department of Sociology. And he encouraged me to pursue the field of sociology and by the time I graduated then, he made it possible for me to get a graduate scholarship in the department of sociology at the University of Washington. And encouraged me to pursue a study of the Japanese community, which I had offered as a possible thesis topic.

CO: I've read the study, and it's remarkably thorough, I think.

FM: Well, let me comment on that, briefly if I may. I think I became interested in doing a study of the Japanese community at least for two reasons. One, I'd grown up outside the Japanese community on Beacon Hill, which had only three Japanese families in those days, and with white school associates. But because my father had his business in the Japanese community, we also had a firm foot in the Japanese community. I was also required to attend the Japanese language school as part of my upbringing, the thought being that without a Japanese language background... or rather that having the Japanese language background would be an advantage in pursuing any career I might choose. So I had this connection with the Japanese community as well, for these reasons. Now, this situation gave rise to an interest in what the Japanese community was like because of contrasts I could see, as well as the similarities, but particularly the contrasts I could see between the Japanese community on the one hand and the white American community. I think that background situation contributed to my interest in the subject.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1992, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

CO: I remember you were once telling me about when you were a child, a boy, you were a newspaper... and you delivered newspapers, and you used to run around delivering Japanese... were they in Japanese, these newspapers?

FM: Oh yes, this is, again my father's business connection in the community was the basis for this Japanese newspaper delivery job. His friend was the publisher of the North American... Great Northern Daily. And he, my father asked this man if he could find a little job for me and the little job I got was delivering newspapers in the downtown area of Seattle. So by virtue of delivering all the way from Yesler Way up to Bell, the Bell Street area, I got to know the downtown area of Seattle and its Japanese offices and shops and the like better than I possibly might have...

CO: So you had a pretty intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the community.

FM: Yes, I did, in various respects.

CO: How would you characterize this Japanese American community, prewar?

FM: It was an outward-looking community, much more than the Chinese, and that is a complicated story that I won't get into. But on the other hand, because of the discriminatory background in the West Coast situation, and the prejudices and so on, it was also, the Japanese community was also a strongly inward-looking community. That is, the opportunities outside the community were relatively limited except for what the Issei immigrants were able to make, shape out of the situation. And for that reason, I would say, the inward-looking tendency was in a sense more prominent than the outward one. What I refer to as the Issei making, taking, or creating opportunities for themselves in the American society refers to this: namely that in the business area, the Japanese very early got into small shop ownership, private entrepreneurial activity, especially in such fields as hotel management or hotel ownership, restaurants, grocery, dry cleaning and this sort of thing. And the reason why this became a source of Japanese employment was that when the immigrants from Japan were arriving, these were the kinds of facilities which the Japanese immigrants required, namely places to stay, places to eat, cleaning and laundry facilities and the like, and having gotten into this area, then it became apparent to the immigrant Japanese that they could branch out into, or expand out into marginal areas of the larger community in these occupations, and that's what they did. Now, the other reason why the Japanese got into this activity was that their background gave them a certain competitive advantage which the other people might not have had, namely the fact that the Japanese families could become involved in hotel operation or the restaurant operation or grocery sales and the like. And the labor being relatively cheap, considering this kind of connection, it made it possible for the Japanese to compete very successfully in these small enterprises in a fashion in which they would not have if they did not have this kind of disposition in their background.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1992, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

CO: What do you remember happening when Pearl Harbor took place? In your own family...

FM: Yes. I was, at this point... let me back up. I had gone to the University of Chicago for my doctoral work and having completed the study phase of my doctorate, I came back to Seattle with an appointment, a very minor appointment on the faculty in the Department of Sociology. And therefore I was teaching sociology at the point when the outbreak of war occurs. Sunday morning of December 7, a memorable date and day, I can recall sitting at my desk getting ready for the next day's lecture, when -- and listening to the New York Philharmonic on the radio -- when this interruption occurs announcing some kind of major disturbance in Pearl Harbor and the like. And very rapidly, the story unfolds about the Pearl Harbor attack of the Japanese planes. So my first reaction was, "My God, what is going to happen here?" And the immediate next question was, "How will the students react when I see them in the morning?" The surprising thing to me -- or perhaps not so surprising as somewhat astonishing thing to me -- was that the students were very considerate of my situation and when I started off rather stiffly perhaps on my morning lecture, they showed facially, or by other reactions that they were supportive of me, and that was, of course, very gratifying. And after the class, there were more than, there was more than one student who came up to express his sympathy and concern for me in the situation.


CO: But do you remember how the community reacted? I'm talking about the Japanese American community...

EO: And yourself. How did you feel when you heard the, you were listening to the radio...

FM: How did I feel about... well, I suppose the effect of something like that is numbing so it's a little hard to recall exactly how I felt about the situation except for this kind of shock and numbness, in a sense. But I'm afraid I reacted to it both as a person and as a sociologist, which is rather typical of my reaction to any critical situation I encounter. As a sociologist, I wondered, "Now, how will the Japanese people react to this kind of situation?" and I began to make analyses of what their reactions may be. Personally, I, my concern was, given the ambiguity of the Japanese American situation on the West Coast, what is going to happen to us? And that kind of concern was the immediate foremost reaction. The day following, or within the day following, there were a couple things which happened which I recall vividly. One, the FBI proceeded to pick up Issei residents of the community. And I had again, ambivalent feelings about this because of what I felt was probably the unfairness of many of these raids. And on the other hand, the feeling that it was generally a necessary part of a situation of this kind where the federal government doesn't know what to do with the immigrant population given the circumstances of war. The other thing that happened was that President Roosevelt's speech to Congress, the "Stab in the Back" address, and again, I suppose I reacted with a certain ambivalence. Namely, this, the Pearl Harbor attack was indeed a most unfortunate way to launch an attack upon the U.S. and at the same time that I get the feeling... but if they are to start a war, as the Japanese gave every indication that they might, how else would they, should they do it except by what Roosevelt calls a "stab in the back"? So this kind of ambivalence, I think, pursues me throughout this period of the early phase of the war.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1992, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

CO: So, tell us about how you got involved in the J.E.R.S. study and what it involved for you.

FM: By the time of... by the late January/early February, when it became apparent that the evacuation was a real possibility -- oh, no, as a matter of fact, it was somewhat later than that. After the evacuation had been declared a military necessity, my wife and I briefly considered the possibility that we should evacuate voluntarily to the Midwest where I had friends, in Chicago particularly. On the other hand, immediately there was the feeling also that we should stick with our families because of the uncertainties involved in such a thing as the evacuation, that we would not want to leave them, and the latter was the thought that ultimately prevailed. In the middle of this kind of uncertainty, I had a telephone call from Dorothy Swaine Thomas of the University of California at Berkeley, Professor of Sociology there, whom I did not know personally but who was well-acquainted with members of the faculty at the University at Washington. And she called to ask if I would be interested in participating in a project studying the projected evacuation and the forced migration of the Japanese minority from the West Coast through the evacuation process. And she raised the question as to whether I would be interested in joining her staff. After quick discussion of this matter, my wife and I decided that it would be of interest for me to do so, to participate. She then proposed that in order to participate, I should seek a fellowship with the Rockefeller Foundation called the Social Science Research Council because that would help provide the means for me to participate in this project. And having gotten that fellowship, I then became a part of Dorothy Thomas's project.

CO: So you began this project at Puyallup?

FM: Well, no. Not strictly. We were evacuated, as were all the Seattle area people to Puyallup. And that, too, was a harrowing experience. More, perhaps more personally difficult to take than almost any other part of the whole evacuation process.

CO: In what way?

FM: Let me finish with the other question and then I'll get back to that. The, but, having been evacuated to Puyallup, Dorothy Thomas got in touch with me to say that she wanted all members of the project at the Tule Lake relocation center in northern California rather than my going on with the Seattle people to the Minidoka center because she needed to be close to her research staff and Tule Lake was the closest center to Berkeley. And therefore the whole project, at least initially, was located in the Tule Lake center, rather than somewhere else, mainly for the convenience of Dorothy Thomas.

As to the question of what my feelings were about Puyallup, I said that it was the most difficult experience I had during the war, partly because it was the immediate first experience following evacuation, and also because the Puyallup -- the assembly centers, of which Puyallup was one, were much more tentative, temporary arrangements than the relocation centers, which ultim-, later we went to. And therefore they were -- and also because the federal government was totally unprepared to undertake such a thing as an evacuation and a detention of the Japanese population -- the Puyallup center, or these assembly centers, were very poorly managed, makeshift affairs and very difficult to live within for a great variety of reasons. So my initial reaction to being forced to ride in buses which had screens lowered on them so that the outer public would not look at us, the feeling of being forced to leave a community in which I'd grown up, these kinds of feelings depressed me extensively, made me very unhappy because of the kinds of feeling of being unfairly, unjustly, considered disloyal. This sort of thing affected me very seriously. And then to go to, arrive at the Puyallup center, where we were forced to live under, in the dank and dark circumstances under the fairgrounds, in Puyallup was, I must say, an extremely difficult thing to put up with.

CO: People were fairly demoralized...

FM: Oh, I think they were extremely demoralized, by and large. For example, the toilets were inadequate. You had to line up in order to use the toilets, which is obviously a very difficult thing. Showers and facilities of this kind, laundry, were totally inadequate. The so-called apartments that we were housed in were simply very flimsy walls put up under the single lights in the dark areas under the fairgrounds. And my wife describes one funny experience in which she says she noticed that a, on one of the walls, a knot fell out of the wall on our side so she picked it up and put it back, fitted it back in the hole, and a finger came in from the other side to help put the knot back into the wall. These kinds of funny things tell you, however, that the walls were paper-thin, so to speak, and that people were living side by side, almost in pig-pen kinds of situations. There are even funnier stories about how people vied for horse stalls in Tanforan where it was status-building to have a stall that was formerly occupied by Whirlaway or some outstanding horse rather than some inferior one that others were assigned to.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1992, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

CO: So, you began your participation in this study in Tule Lake.

FM: Yes, and again, I could go into many stories about, in this connection. For one thing, we had to be moved from Puyallup to Tule Lake and in making that move, it was necessary for the government to assign a police officer to my wife and myself since we were simply a single pair being moved totally out of the context of the general mass migration that was being carried out. We were placed in a regular Pullman, a regular railroad car, along with other passengers, but the police officer, who was as uncomfortable as we were, would, was sitting opposite us through this one-night stint in which we had to ride down to Klamath Falls in southern Oregon, from which we were to go to Tule Lake in California.

There were funny incidents occur, which occur on this trip that I might tell you about. We asked the police officer if we could go to the dining room to have dinner, and he initially wanted us to have a box lunch at the seat we were in, but we were riding a coach and he thought we should stay there. But we preferred the dining hall -- dining car, if we could, and he relented. So we went and were seated and presently the dining car people assigned two other white people opposite us. They struck me as being what I call Southern colonel and his wife. They were from Kentucky, I think. And we got into a pleasant enough conversation but the awkwardness was in trying to hide from the fact that there was a, this evacuation story in our background, which we didn't want to get into, and they were questioning us about one thing or another, in the way that polite strangers will. And my decision was that the way in which I would deal with the situation, to take on the role of my Chinese friend, who, in sociology, C.K. Chang, who was from China and who had a very lively personality about him... and I put, took myself, put myself in the role of C.K. Chang and how he might respond to these questions which this couple was addressing to us. My wife, then catching, having caught on to what I was doing, had to listen as she could through the rattle of the cars and so on, to what I was saying and she played along with this role. We thought it was kind of funny that we would have to do this sort of thing, but it was less complicated and --


<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1992, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

CO: Professor Miyamoto, tell us about this study and what you did in the study.

FM: The study was organized by Dorothy Swaine Thomas at the University of California in Berkeley, mainly because she had a student, Tomotsu Shibutani, who is now a professor at the University of California in Santa Barbara in the sociology department. Shibutani was at that time a student in her class, and I think she also had some other students like Jim Sakoda, who went into psychology, and Charles Kikuchi. In any event, these students of hers became interested in the reaction of the Japanese right after the outbreak of war in Pearl Harbor. Shibutani, for example, asked Thomas if being in her class, he asked if she might, he might write a term paper on the subject, which she encouraged. And once he got into this thing and sought Thomas's advice on the kind of research he was doing, she herself became interested in the possibility of doing a study of this subject. The reason she got into it, I would say, is because she is a migration, she was a migration specialist, a demographer, well-known in the country for her work on, for example, Swedish migration. And she saw the evacuation -- which at this point had become a very real possibility -- as a situation of migration and she saw it as a possible topic for her research. Thomas was a, not only a prominent, but fairly powerful person in the field, social science field, with strong connections with the Rockefeller Foundation in New York. And she therefore got ready financial support for this project which she proposed to them. She was able to get some of the most prominent social scientists on the Berkeley campus to join her in undertaking this project, and therefore launched the project almost as the evacuation became a reality and began to develop. It was at this point that I got into it, as did several others from the Berkeley campus, as members of the research staff.

The main staff was gathered at the Tule Lake center, which is in northern California, because as I said, it was close to Berkeley and she could most readily supervise it there. And there was a question from the outset as to how she would deal with this kind of project inasmuch as the situation was totally unlike that, the situation of doing a study within a detention center was totally unlike that of any other research that was familiar to us. And her inclination was to simply start in without a clear definition of problem or method as most studies would have required, and rather start in and look for what in fact would prove to be the most important problems, study the situation in general, and develop the project as it went along rather than to do it the other way -- define a problem and then so on and develop a project on paper before going into the field. So when the group of us assembled at Tule Lake and I became acquainted with my new colleagues at the center, we agreed that we should maintain a kind of daily journal of our activities and observations and Dorothy Thomas then wanted us to ship in to her these daily accounts, kind of diary, so that she would be able to sense what was developing in the center as we observed it. From the daily accounts, she then led to a question of our developing a summary report of the main features of the community structure, such as the employment structure, the political structure, and so on... of the community. And then fill in the daily life activities, which seemed to take place within this organizational feature of the Tule Lake Center.

The project was handicapped throughout by a number of problems. First, it was a large community, 14,000 or more people in one place, in one center. People who were having to make adjustments totally new and unforeseen by them and therefore who were not structured in their behavior as they might have been within their own communities. And people who were not only upset by what had been imposed on them but who were extremely suspicious of anyone who would come in and try to investigate them in these circumstances. And therefore who were reluctant, in a sense, to participate in anything like a social science research field study in the usual way. So, from the outset, Dorothy Thomas had problems in organizing the study and we had problems in carrying out our interviews. But as I have indicated, the study was not so much planned as that it grew out of the kinds of observations which we made and the kinds of events which tended to develop with, within the center.

CO: So what did develop that you felt were worth...?

FM: The main developments were -- the main focus of the study, came to be the protest that emerged, at least at Tule Lake, within the evacuee population at the, what they felt was the kind of mistreatment to which they were being subjected, both by the evacuation and by the project administration. And ultimately then, the studies of the evacuation resettlement study came to focus on the political issues which developed between the evacuees and the administration over innumerable problems which existed within the centers. As you might imagine, there were many, many problems in the centers for the reason which I have mentioned.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1992, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

FM: As I said, we came to focus on the protest activity that developed at the Tule Lake relocation center because that was obviously the major concern among all evacuees within a couple of months of their arrival at the center. In a period when we first got there, the center had barely opened, and people were coming in in daily groups of about five hundred from the assembly centers, and very soon there developed problems about the hot water boilers breaking down in many of the blocks. Apparently these hot water boilers had not been properly tested for usage under the conditions of the center. And very soon then the boilers were breaking down in all the blocks... people were unable to bathe or launder and the like, and as you can imagine this led then to a great deal of concern on their part about this everyday requirement of life. And very soon thereafter, food became a source of concern to the evacuees and this then was for a time a focus of their protest.

But the initial reactions of the evacuees were disorganized. That is to say, they were rather unorganized; there was no mobilized protest. But by the second month -- no, third month we were there, people began to get organized in their reaction and the, perhaps the most striking thing that initially happened which started the mobilization was a wildcat strike of the farming group at Tule Lake. This strike occurred on, as I vividly remember, August 15th, Friday morning, because the evacuee workers on the farm, who were being transported from the center to the farm area, which was outside the center... they would load up fourteen, fifteen trucks and then ship the, transport the workers out. Because the farmers who gathered at the dispatching station suddenly began to murmur and then have severe... became involved in a sharp protest about the kind of food they were getting in the morning. The declaration that was, "We had only tea and toast this morning and a farmer cannot work on that kind of breakfast." And this outcry from Block 6 then was picked up by workers from Block 14 and down the line and presently you had a wildcat strike suddenly emerging at the scene.

Incidentally, as I indicated previously, my role in the center was a dual one. I was a participant as an evacuee but also I was an observer. And much of what we did, that is, people like Shibutani and Sakura and I, did at the center was to carry on observations of events which were occurring. And on this particular morning when the farm strike developed, Shibutani came and banged on my door and told me that something was up, we should hurry over to see what was taking place, and he told me that his friend, Najima, who was in the farm crew and had told him about the strike developing, had also warned that we should not come out there looking like sore thumbs sticking up by virtue of not fitting into the group. So I put on what I thought were my work clothes to mingle in this mob and later I was told that I still looked like a researcher with my nose into other people's business. In any event, the strike developed over the food issue and immediately it became apparent that there were so-called "agitators" in the community who were ready to pick up this kind of an opportunity and make the most of the demands which they felt they had to impose upon the administration for their shortcomings.

The farm strike, which occurred on that occasion, lasted over the weekend and because it was a wildcat strike and was not well-organized, it didn't last very long. But as far as my interest in the sociological study of what I call collective behavior goes, I learned more from that kind of an incident than I ever learned from books. It was a most illuminating experience to see people suddenly join together in protest and then break up simply because they were not sufficiently organized in order to maintain their protest. The details of that event are such that I can't go into it in a short situation like this, but you had people shouting, "We are citizens of imperial Japan," and this sort of thing on the one hand, and the larger masses of people feeling that that kind of.... these, the main issue had to do with the kind of clothing, the lack of food, the lack of work clothing, to work out in the farms and the like... so there were mixtures of feelings and attitudes expressed in all these protests that emerged at this time. I should add that from that strike of the, August 15, there then transpired in the next month or month-and-a-half, ten major revolts within the community. And these incidents, which entailed the entire community -- 14,000 or more people, 15,000 people -- laid the basis, ultimately, for the kind of reaction which developed in the later history of Tule Lake in much more significant protest activity.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1992, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

CO: So, tell us about the questionnaire that was introduced into the camp.

FM: As I said, the series of protests of late summer 1942 at the Tule Lake relocation center, set the stage for the later reaction which was to develop among the evacuees in February of 1943. The protest of 1943 came about because of a program that was initially introduced by the WRA, that came to be known as the registration program. This program called for the recruiting of Japanese Americans -- Nisei males -- to what was called the Nisei combat unit. And the reason why this Nisei combat unit idea emerged was that the WRA earlier had -- the WRA is the War Relocation Authority -- had earlier decided that the centers, these detention centers were not a good place for evacuees to be retained. That the whole detention program, as a matter of fact, was not a good idea. And therefore that the evacuees should be removed from the centers and dispersed out into the communities at large as rapidly as possible. In short, the WRA had decided very early that the centers should be closed down as rapidly as they could be. This meant that the evacuees -- all evacuees, Issei, Nisei, families -- should be transported out of the restricted zone into communities which could, would accept them and this meant moving the evacuees into the Midwest, to the East Coast, to the South and elsewhere. What the, the WRA did not initially, initially anticipate or understand fully was the tremendous resistance that developed within the evacuee population against this move. The need, or the demand of the evacuees, was to be returned to their former homes in California, Washington and elsewhere on the Pacific coast. They did not want to be shipped out to areas which were totally strange to them and which they did not desire to go to.

CO: So what do you attribute the WRA's misreading of the situation to?

FM: I think the misreading came from, the misreading came from perfectly good intent, so to speak. The thought was, "We don't want to keep these people in detention centers," which the directors particularly of the War Relocation Authority thought of as really very much like internment centers, like prisons, this was not a place that these people who were innocent of anything except the suspicion that they might be dangerous to the security of the country... these were not places for them to be. This was the kind of intent I think the WRA had, but the misreading then comes from not adequately understanding what the sentiment among the Japanese evacuees would be in response to such a resettlement program. The, the desire of the bulk of the evacuees was to be returned to the homes and the communities from which they had been uprooted and they were not willing to be transported eastward. Not only that... this whole problem touched on a basic feeling among evacuees concerning their trust or distrust of white people, the federal government, and of the entire structure that had been involved in the evac-, their evacuation from the West Coast. Having been forced out of their communities, the question was: How shall we look upon these people who've forced us out of our communities? Can we trust them? Should look on them with distrust? And as you might imagine, a large percentage of the people thought that they should not readily trust people who would do what they had done to them. So this then... so the mis-, the misreading that the WRA got involved in was in not fully appreciating what would be the kind of sentiment, attitudes, that would underlie a proposal such as that they should, the evacuees might be moved out of the centers and put in communities in the Midwest or elsewhere.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1992, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

CO: So, tell us about the registration.

FM: Yes, the, I'm sorry, I had missed the, I forgot about the whole intent of your question. The registration was brought on then to screen the people before giving them, releasing them from the centers. The evacuation had been carried out because of what was thought to be the uncertainty of, concerning the loyalty of this population. And therefore it was felt that before releasing the population, some kind of, some kind of measure needed to be taken of what in fact would be their loyalty or disloyalty if they were out free in the communities. The WRA directors felt there was no real issue involved here. That the evacuees were a, not really a security risk and that therefore they could freely release them as soon as people put their names on the necessary papers. But the proposal which was made, then, of registering the population so as to carry out this release and clearance of the population turned out to be a very much less suitably planned undertaking than the WRA and the army had anticipated. The other thing that happened was that a proposal to, to... discontinue the Nisei, male Nisei's temporary hold-up on their...

CO: Their draft status?

FM: Yeah, draft status. That something should be done about that.


FM: In my point of view, the registration question or program began with the WRA's concern to remove the detention aspect of the evacuation. That is, get the evacuees out of the relocation centers. At the same time, however, the JACL and the army, military, were concerned to change the draft status of the Japanese American males who had been put on a status of not suitable for selective service after the evacuation, but it was felt that this was not a desirable status for the Japanese Americans and therefore that a renewal of their status as selective service inductees was desirable. And it was this aim that became, that was also introduced into the registration. As a result therefore, two kinds of questions were raised with all -- it was decided to introduce this registration program in which there were two kinds of questions. One, a question having to do with the loyalty of the Japanese population and their suitability therefore for release into the American communities without any doubts concerning their security risk status as members of the resident populations. And secondly, a question about the willingness of Japanese Americans to participate as inductees into the military. In fact, because the JACL particularly was interested in having a Nisei combat unit formed, totally of all Japanese American soldiers, the question was raised as to whether the Japanese Americans in the centers, the eligible Nisei population, would be willing to volunteer for service in such a combat unit. And this then became part of the two-fold question that was raised of all evacuees eighteen years of age and older in the centers. Unfortunately, the program with, because, partly because it was complicated but also because it was hurriedly put together, the program of registration was carried out in a fashion that raised all kinds of questions in the minds of evacuees. In the first place, there was the issue as to why one should as a, an American citizen declare that he had no, declare that he had no loyalty to the Emperor, Emperor of Japan inasmuch as one didn't, never had such a loyalty before.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1992, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

CO: ...start with the development of factions and kind of describe the leadership.

FM: As I said, in the late summer of 1942, there were a series of protest actions and revolts which developed at the Tule Lake center. What became very apparent in that period of revolt was that there were quite varied reactions within the population to the situation which they faced. There was, for example, the protest about the inadequacy of the food. But some people then wanted, so to speak, to bring the WRA down in their protest whereas others simply wanted to have better food brought in and looked upon it more in a utilitarian sense. What was revealed by this difference of attitude was that in a sense, in a sense of the degree of trust or distrust that the members of the population showed towards the administration, towards white people, towards the federal government, and the severity of the protest, or the radicalness of the protest then turned on the degree to which one trusted or distrusted the governing population, the governing group.

As might be imagined, the JACL was at the far end of the accommodationist side. They wanted to accommodate with, to the authorities as much as possible, whereas those who were called the radicals and the agitators were at the opposite pole; they were in many instances almost, almost outspoken supporters of the Japanese military and of the Japanese national government. In many respects it was not unreasonable that one -- not many respects, but in some respects -- it was not unreasonable that one should feel that way, take a very strong anti-American attitude in view of the kind of treatment to which the Japanese minority population had been subjected. But the expressions which came out at that time reflected feelings -- very fundamental feelings, it seems to me, within the population -- and reflected variation then in the kind of attitude which people took towards the evacuation, towards the center situation, and the like.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1992, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

I would say that the primary variation occurred on the basis of generation, to begin with. Issei, the immigrant population, the immigrant generation of Japanese, felt somewhat differently from the Nisei. The Nisei being American citizens on the whole felt themselves, and American-trained, felt themselves attached to the American country, to the American scene in a way that perhaps the Issei did not. The Issei, on the other hand, having been a population that was excluded from citizenship, had been discriminated in many ways throughout their experiences, were much less trustful of the white people, of the American government, than were the Nisei. The Nisei, on the other hand, were divided into two sub-groups. One, those who were called the Kibei, who returned from Japan, who had as a group received a fair amount of training within the Japanese system and whose, who had come, had returned to the United States following more or less degree of training and instruction in Japanese ways. The Kibei reacted in many instances much more radically in their protest against the American government than did the Nisei, who showed a much more ambivalent attitude towards the whole situation.

However, it was not simply a generational division that made the difference in the kind of reaction that was exhibited in these protest actions. I think fundamentally, the issue came back to one which I mentioned before. Namely, the degree of trust or distrust, which the person, whether of Issei, Kibei, or Nisei generation, felt towards the white people, towards the federal government. And this degree of trust or distrust in turn, it seems to me, hinged very much upon the prewar experiences which these people, of whatever generation, had had with the larger society, with the American people, and the like.

In Tule Lake, for example, where we were, there was a fairly large contingent of evacuees who had been forced out of their homes in the Sacramento valley. Now Sacramento valley, it seems to me, was historically a very unusual place... unusual, or at least from a sociological point of view, a very interesting place for, in trying to understand the Japanese American, Japanese immigrant and American population. It was a place where historically in California there was probably more anti-Japanese agitation directed against the Japanese minority than anywhere else. But this was particularly true in the rural areas of Sacramento valley, in places like Walnut Grove, Florin, Isleton, and the like, whereas in the city of Sacramento, many of the residents were participants in the state government of California, were workers for the state government and the like, and attitudes were, therefore were rather distinctly different. In the rural areas of California, of Sacramento valley, the residents were, in many instances, were segregated into total Japanese communities, islands within the larger society, which were almost totally Japanese. And this was not so much a voluntary action as that the segregation practices in the larger community forced people to remove themselves into these ghettos which were distinctly different from the larger society. Ichihashi, the well-known social scientist who wrote perhaps the classic work on the Japanese Americans, or Japanese in the United States, in 1930, said of those Sacramento valley communities, that they were in many respects more Japanese than the Japanese villages in Japan. That if you wanted to see reproductions of Meiji Japan, Japanese life, you should find them in Walnut Grove rather than in Kumamoto or some other place where things had moved along. The point I'm making is that discrimination, segregation, prejudice, had a profound effect on the kinds of backgrounds which people experienced as immigrant Japanese here in the United States. And one of the findings that came out in our study was that the California Japanese, California in the broad, were by and large more likely to respond with a quote, "disloyal reaction," end of quote, than were the Northwestern Japanese. That is the Japanese Americans or Japanese minority from the Pacific Northwest. That is a very broad generalization and of course one has to take account of the tremendous amount of variation that occurs within each population, but nevertheless the point is to be made, that on the average, the Japanese minority from the Pacific Northwest were inclined to be more trustful of the white population, the federal government and the like than on the average was true of Californians. And of the Californians, particularly in Tule Lake, those who were most distrustful were those from the rural part of Sacramento valley.

CO: So how did this play out in the registration situation?


FM: So, the question is, what difference did it make in the evacuee population as to what kind of background they came from? And the point I'm trying to establish is that the degree of trust or distrust towards the white people, federal government, the WRA, the administration to which they were being subjected, hinged very substantially in my mind, at least on a probability basis, on the degree of discriminatory, prejudicial experiences they had had prior to the outbreak of war, prior to their evacuation. And this is perhaps not different from common sense but I think it's a point that is frequently overlooked. That people vary a great deal, immigrant populations vary a great deal, in the kind of experiences to which they're subjected. Some are subjected to more prejudice and discrimination and segregation -- segregation is perhaps the key issue -- than are others and that this then makes a great difference in the kind of reaction they will show to something like the evacuation.

Okay, what effect did this have on the registration? The effect was... those who were most distrustful, those who came from those kinds of backgrounds where they had been most discriminated against, subject to most prejudice, were the ones who were the most distrustful of the registration program, which called for their declaration of loyalty. And those who were less distrustful, although not really happy about the registration, nevertheless generally tended to go along with the idea that it was necessary to answer "yes" if they were to express their basic sentiment correctly, and that they would do so. Now then, this led, as you know, to the decision on the part of the federal government and the WRA to, to differentiate the population which responded "yes-yes" and therefore declared their loyalty to the United States, from those who answered "no-no" on the questionnaires and therefore presumably were the "disloyal" population. The term "disloyal" is extremely unfortunate because it does not... disloyalty is a category that was created as a reaction to the registration program and does not by any means necessarily mean disloyalty in the more abstract sense that we understand the term. Nevertheless, using the term "disloyal" for those who answered "no-no," one would have to say that this group of people tended to involve more of the Kibei than the Nisei generally, more of the Issei than of Nisei, more of the rural people than the urban and the like, mainly because it was this class of population that had been subjected to more of the segregation and discrimination than had the other people, other groups.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1992, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

Incidentally, to cast a further light on the problem of what is meant by loyalty or disloyalty here, it is of interest to bear on the difference between Kibei and the Nisei generally on this question. Kibei, by and large, were more likely to have answered "no-no" than either the Issei or the Nisei. And the question is, "Why?" Well, they were, had been subjected to, they had been given Japanese training by virtue of their residence in Japan, and that was a factor. But perhaps more importantly for this issue was this fact: that the Kibei were in general a population who felt, who felt themselves not only mistreated by the white, the American population by the communities at large but were also, they felt, discriminated against by, so to speak, their own people, by their Issei parents and even more so by the Nisei colleagues or peers, who seemed to ignore them, discriminate against them in social and other relations within the... so you see, such a thing as loyalty or disloyalty can be also a very personal matter of, "What kind of discrimination did I suffer not only from my country or from a larger population but also from my friends or my peers and cohorts of like kind to which I might have been associated?"

CO: So how did you personally feel around this?

FM: My reaction was that as an American I would... well, for one thing, I was in that category of people who had, whose experiences were such that I felt myself more or less totally disconnected from Japan in this situation and totally connected with America and there was no choice for me but to answer "yes-yes" in the circumstance. And having arrived at that judgment and my wife similarly, then in the camp the issue arose as to which way I would declare myself. And this became an issue, a personal issue, because, particularly the Kibei leaders, but also a very large number of the population in Tule Lake, felt that it was, this was a circumstance in which the entire population should declare themselves against the government, answer "no-no" straight down the line as a reflection of their attitude, their protest against the evacuation. But this is something that I did not want to do and a large majority of the Nisei did not want to do and this then led to a circumstance of a very sharp break between the people who wanted to have, to respond "no-no" and those who wanted to respond "yes-yes."

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 1992, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

CO: So how did this manifest itself?

FM: You mean the...

CO: What happened?

FM: You mean the conflict between the "no-no" and the "yes-yes"?

CO: Yeah, in what shapes did this conflict show...?

FM: Well, we had these, we had these matters discussed in block meetings and the chairman of our block was a Kibei, a friend of mine... let me back up a minute. The issues were being discussed in the blocks by council representatives to the community council and the council representatives in each block were people who had been elected and who then were represented in the council in the so-called legislative body of the community, the community council. Now this chairman of our, the representative in our block, was a Kibei who as it happened, however, did not favor the characteristic view of a Kibei that they should take a strong anti-administration stance on this issue. He felt that people should be allowed to make their own decisions in their own way, which is the point of view which I wanted to have reflected, of course. But having taken that point of view, then there was a strong protest from the residents of the community -- of the block, particularly Kibei members of the block and some, many of the Issei who felt that a very strong declaration should be made of "no" against the federal government and the WRA on the question. My personal view was that I was not going to respond "no-no" to any such questionnaire and I therefore backed the, publicly, the chairman of the meeting, the council representative in our block, and when I did so, I heard a Kibei fellow whom I happened to know, vaguely, state something like this: "Let's take this guy and sack him." He used a Japanese expression, "throw a sack over him, and throw him in the ditch." And my mother, who was sitting not too far away, heard this fellow make this kind of statement. Later in the evening she came to our house -- to our apartment, so-called -- with a hot pan of water in one hand and a hat needle in the other and she came to defend her son from an attack by these Kibei. This was the kind of situation we found ourselves ultimately in...

CO: Were there many attacks? Do you remember?

FM: There were some attacks, yes. People who got battered by 2 x 4s and this sort of thing. So it was not totally out of the question that this sort of attack might happen. My, one of my friends had a much more stressful situation, prepared his whole apartment so that he'd be ready for an attack. He had a big carving sword under his bed, and this sort of thing, to defend himself, if attacked. So my reaction --

CO: So it was tense.

FM: Extremely tense at some points. And many people felt themselves very thoroughly threatened by... on both sides they felt themselves threatened. And the intensity of the reaction against people like myself was reflected in -- was a reflection of the fact that people felt they were threatened by the federal government with being forced to get out of the community centers, thrown to the wolves, so to speak, without means of support and that was why they were reacting as severely as they were. On the other side, people like myself didn't want to get caught in the situation of having to do something we didn't want to do, and so we felt threatened.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 1992, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

CO: Tell us about your observer status in all this.

FM: Well, the observer status puts one, as an evacuee, in an ambiguous situation. That is, we were involved in the evacuation because we were what were called evacuees, people who did not have the qualifications for remaining at freedom on the West Coast, and therefore were members of the evacuee status and we have to behave that way within the centers. At the same time, Dorothy Thomas and the project required of us that we be observers of what was going on in the center. And observers, one had as observers, one has to behave in a different way, or think differently about the situation, and we're in a different situation than with the rest of the evacuees, and that then put us in a kind of a dual status as residents of the community. By and large, I think I functioned and perceived things and was mentally structured more as an observer than as an evacuee. I suppose in the back of mind I had no question as to where I stood in all of this, ever, but then I was more interested in how people were behaving, how they were reacting, and what they possibly might have been feeling. I was doing that as an observer and trying to understand it more so than trying to analyze my own feelings about the whole situation.

CO: So, describe the atmosphere of the camps during this registration process.

FM: The camp was torn clearly by the issue that was now before them. Those who felt that they were seriously threatened by the program of evacuation -- I mean, of resettlement, that is of being forced to leave the confines of the camp, for many were frightening and a real threat. And also, the many families in which there were sons who were of draftable status, in many cases they felt that the sons were perhaps among their primary means of future support, whatever might happen subsequent to the, their lives in the centers. There was a serious feeling of threat among the population of that kind. On the other side, people like ourselves, were threatened by having to forgo the freedom of, that is we were threatened with the possibility that we might have to forgo making a judgment or a decision that would be in line with our own desires. If as some people declared, everybody in the camp should declare "no-no" and show our feeling of protest against the country and so on in that way, if that kind of policy were followed down the line, then those of us who did not agree with that sentiment couldn't be free to act as we wanted to. And this was a serious threat. So the community became divided on, between these two polar sentiments and feelings. And there was in every block and even in some families, sharp conflict between those who stood for, wanted to do one thing as against the other.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 1992, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

CO: So, could you tell us something about the segregation policy?

FM: Yes. The, subsequent to the registration, the WRA and other groups came to the conclusion that a separation had to be made between, of those who were "yes-yes" respondents from those who were "no-nos." I think this kind of attitude had developed very early in the centers. For example, at Poston, as you know, there was this conflict that occurred between the so-called agitators and radicals and on the other side the JACL-ers and those who were for more accommodative action policy towards the administration. And some of the people, not only was there the conflict, but some of the people, particularly on the accommodative end, got beaten up and, or were seriously threatened. And the same thing happened at Manzanar at the time of the Manzanar riot. In short, there arose a good deal of feeling, both on the part of the WRA administration, as well as among JACL leaders that the only way to deal with the situation of radicals was to segregate them, put them in a separate camp, so they would not create problems for those who did not want to behave as these radicals did. Incidentally, throughout this discussion, we should think of "agitators" and "radicals" and so on in quotes because it's a very complicated problem to define these categories. In any event, one could foresee from this kind of background, that a policy would eventually emerge that called for the separation, segregation, of those who were the so-called "radicals" -- "troublemakers" was another term that was used -- from the rest of the population. And therefore, a segregation policy came into being and it was decided that Tule Lake, which had the largest percentage of those who had responded "no-no," should be made the segregation center, established as that, and that those who were "no-no" respondents in the other centers should also be moved to Tule Lake so that there would then be a single center of those who were "no-no" respondents. And this then came to be known as the segregation center.

CO: But you had left by then.

FM: I had left by then because it seemed to me, and to the study, apparent that we were no longer functional as researchers in the relocation center.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 1992, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

CO: But you... so, tell us about life after leaving.

FM: Well, we left the center to go to Chicago because Dorothy Thomas felt that there was another aspect to this study which needed to be followed. The study was from the origin, called The Evacuation and Resettlement Study. And "resettlement" meant the further migration of the population. In our case, it meant the movement of people from the centers to places like Chicago. Therefore, when it was decided that it was not any longer appropriate for us to try to carry on research in the centers, Dorothy Thomas agreed that we should be moved to Chicago to follow up on the resettlement program that was being carried out there. As far as I was concerned, Chicago was an old territory for me, having done my graduate work in, at the University of Chicago, so it was not a striking experience to me to be moved there. But for many others, I think it was quite a new experience to be sent to a place like Chicago or other Midwestern and Eastern areas. And one could tell various kinds of stories of people experiencing this situation anew, but I'm not sure how I can be selective in telling such stories.

CO: You continued working with...

FM: Yes, I continued working for the Evacuation and Resettlement Study. Following up now, the history, the story of these evacuees as they tried to adjust themselves to the life in their new communities, wherever they might, might go.

CO: So, what did your work consist of?

FM: We tried to carry out interviews and so on of people who had moved to Chicago and there was then a series of life histories which we were instructed to gather from the residents in the Chicago area. Charlie Kikuchi, who was part of our office and of our staff in Chicago, was perhaps the most effective of the people doing this work of collecting life histories. And his material was brought together subsequently by Dorothy Thomas in a book entitled, The Salvage, which was the other part of the story, compared to what happened to the people who were left in the segregation centers.

CO: And then there was one other book, by TenBroek.

FM: Oh, yes.

CO: But you were not connected to that?

FM: No, I did not have anything directly to do with that. In fact, I would, in my personal view I've always felt that Morton Grodzins's book, Americans Betrayed, was also a part of the product of the Evacuation and Resettlement Study. But as you know, a sharp disagreement arose between Grodzins and Thomas over that book and therefore it was never made a part of the E.R.S.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 1992, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.