Densho Digital Archive
Emiko and Chizuko Omori Collection
Title: Hisaye Yamamoto Interview
Narrator: Hisaye Yamamoto
Interviewers: Chizu Omori (primary); Emiko Omori (secondary)
Location: San Francisco, California
Date: March 21, 1994
Densho ID: denshovh-yhisaye-01-0009

<Begin Segment 9>

EO: You were asked once to write a series, a serial, a mystery for the newspaper. And can you just describe it? That wasn't, wasn't it a bit subverting... subversive?

HY: Well, I don't think so.


EO: Well, I guess the reason I wanted to know kind of how this paper came about is, it wasn't, it didn't come out of the constituency...

HY: Well, every camp had to have its means of getting information to the residents so every camp had its newspaper. And reports officers were hired to kind of guide the publication of these newspapers.

EO: What do you mean "guide the publication"?

HY: Well, we, we weren't trusted to do anything by ourselves, you know. Every department had a WRA representative there to oversee the department.

EO: So there were these newspapers that had these names like Manzanar Free Press, but this wasn't the case in reality?

HY: Well, I wouldn't say so. I mean, you put a bunch of people in camp and let 'em print a newspaper and it's going to be understood that it's got to be... what? Nothing subversive, anyway.

EO: What would be considered subversive?

HY: Well, if somebody wanted to predict that Japan was going to win the war, we wouldn't print that, you know. Or criticize the administration too much.

CO: Well, we'll get back to this around registration. But I just wanted to go back to the time that you wrote that, the serial about "Poston Rides the Rails."

HY: Oh, Susumu Matsumoto was the English section editor and he was always telling me what to write, so he suggested I write a murder mystery in serial form, so I had never done anything like that before but I would write it one installment at a time. And that's the way it turned out in the ending. So I didn't know from one installment to the next what I was going to write. But I decided to put it aboard the train bringing us to Poston because that was my most recent experience, and have a murder take place on the train, and be resolved, I guess, before they got into camp. But, it's nothing serious, I mean, you know, it was just off the top of my mind.


CO: Well, I read that story, and I would say that you were talking about a somewhat subversive topic. So, I know that frequently writers will hide their feelings in some other form. How did you come up with this idea of who gets murdered on this train?

HY: It just sounded plausible, so... it's my first and only murder mystery.

CO: Okay, well, let's back up. Who, tell us who gets murdered.

HY: Do I even remember?

CO: Do you want us to remind you?

HY: I think it was a man that gets murdered, right? Yeah.

CO: For what reason?

HY: Oh, because he had gone around informing on people and getting 'em picked up by the FBI to get in good with the government himself. Not that these people had done anything wrong. So who was guilty? Was it a woman? I think a woman turned out to be the murderer.

CO: Yes, a woman did turn out to be the murderer. But did you, just recalling, did you have anything else in mind besides it being plausible?

HY: No, no, it was just pure entertainment. I wasn't -- unless it was unconscious, I wasn't being political at all.

CO: But the concept of informers is political.

HY: Well, that did... later on, that was the basis for a riot in our -- not a riot, but a strike, in our camp. Because they had arrested some people who had allegedly beat up a man who, who was an informer, I guess. Getting people picked up by the FBI and stuff. But I didn't know about that at the time I wrote the story.

CO: Were you aware of informers in the community?

HY: No, I don't think so. No, I just plucked it out of the air, I guess.

CO: You were not aware that at that time it's alleged that some members of the JACL were informers?

HY: No -- yeah, I found out that in very recent times with stuff like the Lim Report. But at the time I wrote the story I had no inkling.

CO: Did you have a reaction to that story?

HY: Now?

CO: Then.

HY: Yeah, well, like with any other mystery, a person or two was asking me, "Come on, come on, finish the story; I want to know what happens next." So, that's about all the reaction I got. Nothing political.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1994, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.