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

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

<Begin Segment 1>

CO: Hisaye, where were you born and when were you born?

HY: I was born in Redondo Beach, California, in 1921.

CO: And what did your family do?

HY: My folks were immigrants from Kumamoto-ken in Japan, and they were truck farmers, or truck gardeners, as they're called. And we grew mostly strawberries and tomatoes.

CO: And tell me about your schooling.

HY: Oh, let's see. We went to Japanese school most of the time, but --


HY: Okay, I went to kindergarten at South School in Redondo Beach, and we were, I was in about the fourth grade and we went to Japanese school in Redondo Beach. Redondo Beach Japanese School. And then we moved inland to Downey, California, and we went to... let's see. I went to Alameda -- yeah, my brothers and I went to Alameda grammar school. I had four brothers, and they were all younger. I was the oldest, and we went to Alameda grammar school, and then the year of the earthquake, 1933, the Long Beach Earthquake, I was already in junior high, I guess, and my brothers were still in grammar school. And I remember the Downey Junior High, which was on the same property as the senior high, being covered with scaffolding for repairs.


HY: My folks came from this... it wasn't a, Kumamoto was a province, so the smaller area was called Shimomashiki-gun. And the village was called Tomochimachi. And evidently, according to Yuji Ichioka's book, Kumamotos were very -- Kumamoto kenjin people were actively recruited for farm help in the United -- in California, so there was quite a few people from there. And we would have the -- when we were kids, we would have these village and prefecture get-togethers, picnics, big picnics, and there would be a lot of people there. And within the past few years, I read that people like George Yoshinaga came from exactly the same place, and I wonder who else, you know? [Laughs] Like Lawson Inada, the poet, I think one of his parents is from Kumamoto, his father, probably. And so we constitute quite a bit of the Japanese population in the United States.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1994, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

CO: Tell us about this place that you were, right before the war.

HY: Oh, well, we moved around a lot because, because of California's alien land law that didn't permit Japanese to own property. And so most of the time, we rented, leased for about two years, like most of the people that my folks knew. And we would generally move around in these little communities, you know, set up little colonies so we, from Redondo Beach we moved to Downey, and from Downey to Artesia, I think it was. And then to Norwalk, and then before the war, we wound up in Oceanside. And there were about twenty fam-, Japanese families there, growing mostly strawberries, but there was one family that grew flowers, and another family that specialized in celery. And most people grew strawberries and tomatoes and zucchini. And that was fertile land there because it was on Santa Margarita Rancho, and a little area called Stuart Mesa. And the first thing they did was all get together -- everybody lived in unpainted wooden houses, some better than others. But the first thing they did was get together and build this fine Japanese school on top of the hill. And it's a beautiful place because you could see the ocean, and it was really a bucolic area then. But as soon as we were evacuated from there, it became Camp Pendleton, and if we had been paying attention, we would have remembered the engineer corps that was billeted in town coming up the dirt road to do surveying in the hills back of the farms, and huge loads of pipe that were stacked up here and there, you know, if you walked around on the mesa. And they'd been planning that all along, I suppose, so maybe one of the reasons Japanese had to go was because we occupied strategic land like that.

CO: Did it have a name?

HY: Yeah, well, they called in "Kumamoto Mura" because so many of the people, farmers, were from Kumamoto. Like your own parents and Matsumoto-san, and the Noguchis, I think, and the Takegumas, they were, they were all from Kumamoto.

CO: How was it doing economically?

HY: I think fine, because that was virgin land and Japanese agricultural people would come down to see how we were managing to produce -- not me, but the farmers there -- were managing to produce such beautiful strawberries and, yeah, economically, it was an up-and-coming project.

CO: How would you characterize the Japanese immigrant colonies and society and such, prewar?

HY: What do you mean, "characterize"?

CO: Well, you know, your impressions of like the social organization and --

HY: Oh. Well, we were pretty insular. You know, like my aunt, she lived in Orange County, but she managed to get along over fifty years without learning much English. And, well, like my folks, they studied English when they first got here, and so they knew a little more than some people. And then, of course, some people studied it intensively, and they spoke English quite well. But mostly, we stayed with other Japanese and traded with other Japanese. You know, like we would go to Little Tokyo for functions, and the Japanese school was the center for some functions, and there were Japanese pastors of churches. And there was no need to go out among the white community, which didn't accept us that much anyway.

CO: I know you were interested in writing, like, before the war. Tell us about kind of like, like creative activity that...

HY: Oh, well, the Issei, they contributed to the newspapers with their poetry, their haiku and senryu and tanka. And by the time I was fourteen, I started writing for the Kashu Mainichi, and after a few years, they gave me my own -- they let my write my own column. And the Kashu Mainichi, especially, had this feature page where they encouraged all kinds of contributions and you could write about pretty much anything you wanted to. And so I was still doing that before the war started.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1994, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

EO: Can we go back? What got, what got you interested in writing?

HY: Well, I loved to read, starting out with the Red Fairy Book and the Blue Fairy Book and the Tanglewood Tales and, I remember, one of my favorite things in school was having the teacher read to us. And I recall Wizard of Oz, and Dr. Doolittle and stuff like that. And I just loved it. I would check out as many books as they'd let me, so I guess I thought writing was it, you know, writing books, so...

CO: When did you start?

HY: Fourteen, when I started getting published in the Japanese American press.

CO: And were you published from the beginning?

HY: Yeah, well, they printed anything you wrote. And a lot of the USC journalism grad-, graduates, they couldn't get jobs in the white press, so they became editors of the Japanese American press. And I remember people like Kenny Murase, who's a respected Sociology professor now, being one of the columnists for the Kashu Mainichi, and Toyo Suyemoto, who still writes poetry, publishing her early work in the Japanese American press. And people like Dr. Yasuo Sasaki, and Mary Oyama Mitwer, who recently passed away, and her brother Joe Oyama, and Lilly Oyama, she was more of an artist, but that family was kind of a literary dynasty in the early Nisei journalism. And Ruth Kurata, who was the editor of the... who was the feature editor of the Japanese American Kashu Mainichi, and her husband... what was his name? Boy, my memory is going. But anyway, he, he would write under names like "Les Harakiri," you know. [Laughs] A pun, and -- oh yeah. His name was Tomomasa Yamazaki. And he died as a result of the action in the South Pacific. He was on a plane that crashed, or something like that.

CO: Did your parents... what did they think?

HY: Oh, my mother encouraged me, my father wasn't that much for women getting educated, but they all tolerated it. I mean, it wasn't that important a deal, getting -- [laughs] -- sending things to the Japanese American press.

CO: [Inaudible]

HY: Well, looking back, yeah, it's very valuable as a record of Japanese American society and interests and... yeah. But at the time, when, it was just something you did like a hobby.

CO: It sounds like there was a lot of creative ferment at the time.

HY: Oh, yeah, uh-huh. I think like in the papers in Seattle, and San Francisco, and maybe even New York and... I don't know about Chicago then, but yeah, quite a few of the people who, that still write started out writing for those newspapers, you know.

CO: Well, I think that's what we're talking about -- kind of the role that it played encouraging...

HY: It did, yeah, because they pretty much printed anything the Nisei wanted to write. And the early poets, yeah. But accepted people like John Okada and Toshio Mori never did write for the Japanese American press 'til later, you know, they were asked for contributions. Or Toshio Mori was.


HY: Oh, yeah, my mother wrote senryu and she encouraged me. And one day -- well, I've written about this -- but she found me writing, scribbling a story on either, was it butcher paper or wrapping paper and she said, "What are you doing?" and I said, "I'm writing a story." And she said, "Well, if you're going to be a writer, you'll have to live on a hill where it's cool -- or a cool wind blows." Because I used to really be what they call atsugami, you know, couldn't take the heat very much, and I'd drip all summer. And so that was her advice to me. So now I do live on a hill, but -- [laughs] -- it's pretty smoggy most of the time.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1994, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

CO: Okay, so what, what were you doing and how old were you when the war broke out? And do you remember that day?

HY: Oh, yeah. I heard it on the radio early in the morning and I went to tell my father and his friend, our neighbor, Matsumoto-san. And they didn't believe me, you know, what does a girl know, you know. This is just something I'm just, I must have misheard or something. And later on they became aware that it really did happen, you know. And my father came and said, "Japan and the U.S. are at war." And I said, "I already told you." [Laughs] So that's how much my word was taken in those days. And I was already, what, nineteen -- no, I was already twenty, I think. Yeah, I think so. 'Cause that happened in December and we were evacuated in May. Yeah, I was already twenty. And that's how much they took my word for things. [Laughs]

CO: Had you ever been to Japan?

HY: No. My aunt went two or three times, I remember, but my father never went back and my mother never went back.

CO: Did they ever talk about returning to Japan?

HY: Well, I guess when people like from their village, they all intended to make a pile and go back, you know. But very few did because once your children start going to school and becoming American, how can you do that, you know? The children probably wouldn't want to go. There were a few that did. But one I remember was a childless couple that went. And there were a few that sent their kids back for a little education. They would come back speaking mainly Japanese and those were the Kibei. And so it took them a while to adjust.

CO: You were not a dual citizen?

HY: Yeah, when I was born, the plan was that I'd go back to Japan with my grandfather, so what they told me was that my birth was registered at the Japanese consulate and there was no need for me to, you know, be registered here as being born or anything. So that kind of haunted me. And I don't know whether it was before or after my grandfather left without me that I would have this nightmare where I'd be in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and I wouldn't know whether to go to Japan or come back to California. You know, I felt like I was... and the water would be rising higher and higher. [Laughs] And, but I don't know if that was because I missed my grandfather or if I was afraid of going back with him. I can't place it in time. And finally when war was declared, I thought I'd better find out for sure what my status was. So I wrote to the county recorder and the midwife had registered my birth. So there I was, an American citizen after all.

CO: Do you have, have siblings?

HY: What?

CO: Siblings.

HY: Oh, yeah. Well, I have two brothers living now. The brother just under me joined, volunteered for the 442nd and he was killed in Italy in 1944.

CO: That's jumping ahead. Let's go back to evacuation. We should establish just the fact that she had brothers early on. So we can get to your brothers --

HY: I think I already mentioned them, right? Yeah, that I was the oldest. I had four brothers. One died in infancy, and the youngest...

CO: I know that your mother died...


HY: My mother died on September 1, 1939, the day that Hitler marched into Poland. That's the way I, I remember it. So that was two tragic events.

CO: So that changed your family situation.

HY: Oh, yeah... my father couldn't, it was a family farm, so he couldn't very well carry on by himself, so that's when he went down to Oceanside and he worked for the Matsumotos and then the Matsumotos helped us build a house and gave him some land so he could start growing strawberries again.

CO: Okay, what do you recall about the atmosphere after Pearl Harbor?

HY: Well, there was a lot of consternation. And we dug a hole and we were burying things that might connect us to Japan like Japanese magazines. And I remember my youngest brother, Yuk, burying his kendo uniform and stick, you know, in that big hole that was dug. And might as well not have bothered because -- [laughs] -- we had to go to Arizona anyway.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1994, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

CO: Tell us what the JACL is, first, or what you remember that it was.

HY: Well, I didn't have that much connection with the JACL, which is an acronym for the Japanese American Citizens League. But I remember that there must have been members in, in that community because one of the young ladies came over and asked me to sign a petition which was going to be sent to the president of the United States. And this stated that we would, we were willingly going to camp as part of our contribution to the war effort. And when she told me, asked me to sign it, I said, "No, I'm not going to sign such a thing." You know, I was really indignant. But then she kind of recoiled because you don't talk to your fellow Nisei that way, you know. I mean, you're supposed to get along with them, so I don't know whether I was sorry I offended her and signed it anyway or not. But I hope I didn't, you know. [Laughs] And I don't know who else on the mesa signed it, but...

CO: Well, then it was becoming clear that something was going to happen to all of us.

HY: Oh, yeah. Well, this was after the evacuation orders were posted, I believe.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1994, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

CO: So how did you prepare for internment?

HY: Oh, well, the second-hand dealer in town came around to buy up stuff. And also people that had heard that there might be bargains available. So we pretty much sold everything that was sellable, including a beat-up typewriter. I didn't know I would have been allowed to take it, you know, but they told us just what we could carry in our hands, so a lot of stuff we left behind. And I don't know... Mr. Zanheiser stored quite a bit of stuff so that I have my old scrapbook and my mother's dishes and stuff like that.

CO: Okay, what about the actual physical move?

HY: Oh, well the train evidently came up from San Diego where they had picked up the people from the San Diego area and Imperial Valley and El Centro and places like that. They all gathered in San Diego and then they came up the coast to Oceanside where there were MPs on the train guarding us. I guess they were ready to shoot us if we tried to make a break for it or anything. And I remember the people came down from as far north as Laguna Beach because the Shimizus lived in Laguna Beach and they drove their, down in their beautiful car. And I don't know, I guess a friend was supposed to pick it up or whatever, I don't know. And here we all trooped onto the trains and I guess they gave us lunches, box lunches, on the way. But I don't know if anybody really knew where we were headed, because I sure didn't. And we wound up in Parker, Arizona. And from there we got on buses -- this was already nightfall -- and that took us into camp, you know. And in the middle of the night there's all this sand piled up all over the place and the barracks, they haven't finished building them, all of them yet, so there's lumber here and there. And I just wanted to get to a bathroom. I was really suffering. [Laughs] And I finally made my way through the sand dunes and found the latrine. And you know... and then we had to all go in this big mess hall, which had been turned into a kind of registration center and be fingerprinted and be given typhoid shots. And it was hot already. It was May, but it was already really hot in the middle of the night. And then we got assigned to our barracks. And we had to fill our own mattress ticking with straw so we could sleep that night. And nothing very pleasant, I remember.

CO: Wow. So what were your feelings?

HY: I don't know, I guess kind of numb. You just did what you were supposed to do because you couldn't believe this was all happening. You know, I guess that's the way the people in the European concentration camps did too, you know.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1994, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

CO: So describe the camp scene, pretty much at the very beginning.

HY: Oh, let's see. Well, there was sand everywhere. And it was very hot. And we located our friends and neighbors within the same block and I remember sleeping a lot because of the heat and then you would get up. I would go to maybe your barracks and kind of zonk out there and go to your aunt's and zonk out there and go to Toshiko-san's and zonk out there. And every time you'd get up, there's just a, your imprint, the sweat imprint on the sheet, you know. And it took a while just getting adjusted to the weather, I think. And then Jeannie and I, my next door neighbor, got acquainted and we decided we'd go to work in the mess hall as waitresses. We didn't know what else to do. And what did your dad do?

CO: Well he was originally a cook.

HY: Yeah, my father went in as a cook, too.

CO: But he didn't really know anything about cooking. I mean --

HY: Neither did my father, but they just needed help.

CO: Work, yeah, uh-huh. And I just remember the food being pretty bad. Do you recall?

HY: Oh, yeah. Lots of curried mutton stew, I remember. After a while you got to like it. [Laughs] If there was enough curry in it. And let's see... after a while I think the farm started producing, producing grains and... oh, the Arizona grapefruit was good. It was so sweet you could peel it and eat it. But otherwise I don't remember much about the food.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1994, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

CO: So tell us about this little newspaper that got started up.

HY: Oh, the Poston Chronicle? It was originally called the Press, Poston, the Press Bulletin, under this reports officer named Norris James, and it was mimeographed in one of the barracks. And later on we, we were able to print it with a printing press, but that didn't last long and then we went back to mimeographing. And by then they had been building the school buildings, the administration buildings and the classrooms out of adobe that volunteer groups went out there to bake, make, and bake in the sun. And we built a kind of newspaper office out of the adobe, too. We were in the larger section, in the Japanese section, which would painstakingly stencil the news. It was nearby, you know, right in the same building.

CO: So how often would this paper come out?

HY: You know, I don't remember whether it was... I don't think it was every day or twice a week or weekly or what. It must have been weekly; there wasn't that much news.

CO: How did you get the job?

HY: Oh, Jeannie and I walked over there. And I guess they didn't chase us away, so we just stayed around and then later Wakako Nakamura, now Yamauchi, came with Hannah and George Okamoto, I think, as cartoonists, you know. And they did illustrations for the paper.

CO: Was this a paying job?

HY: Well, everybody, the professionals, like the doctors, got nineteen dollars a month and everybody, most everybody else got sixteen dollars a month, you know, whether you were cooking or nursing. No, no, wait a minute. The hospital was different. And then the apprentices got twelve dollars. And when everybody found out that hospital workers got nineteen dollars a month, everybody started to gravitate over there. So Wakako was working as a dental assistant and Jeannie became a nurse's aide and I was doing receptionist in the hospital just for that nineteen, three extra dollars. Well, there was stuff to buy. You know, the Sears & Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs would come in by the truckloads and I'm sure they did millions of dollars worth of business in all the relocation centers. And Spiegel, which wasn't that elegant a store then.

EO: So, excuse me, so I just want to get straight about the origins of this newspaper. This was started by a white person?

HY: No, no, well, he was the reports officer. And each camp had its own reports officer and newspaper. And later on, the name of the Press Bulletin was changed to the Poston Chronicle. And it went through all kinds of phases. Like getting mimeographed and then printed and then towards the end it was multilists. You know, the typists print the, type out the multilist sheets and then they go through kind of like a mimeographing machine.

EO: And the reports officer is who?

HY: Well, in the beginning it was Norris James. And then later on it was a woman called Pauline Bates Brown, who had worked for the Arizona Republic, I guess.

EO: When you -- what is a reports officer?

HY: Well, they were in charge of anything that was printed within the camp. And then they had to send reports to Washington, too, I believe.

EO: So this was run by the reports officer?

HY: No, she was there, like, in the end she was there like a kind of advisor so we wouldn't print anything that Washington would frown on, I guess. Well, we pretty much knew the rules so we didn't write stories that would be subversive or anything like that.

EO: So what were the rules?

HY: Patriotism, patriotism. That was the rule. And then little stories like new library books. And how was the guayule project getting along, and places to relocate to and stuff like that. Well, it was information that was valuable to the residents.

EO: Would you call it censorship?

HY: Oh, yeah. Sure.

EO: I mean, did you have, was the press free to speak its mind --

HY: Well, like the Manzanar press called itself the Manzanar Free Press. But I doubt it, you know.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1994, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<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.

<Begin Segment 10>

CO: Okay, let's go back to this policy speech that was made by the camp director.

HY: Oh, Wade Head was our project director and I think there was more than one block in attendance at that meeting at the mess hall. And the thing I remember him saying is that we would have to prepare ourselves to stay as long as five years. And you could just feel this discouragement sweeping over the crowd. But it turned out that we didn't have to stay that long. Let's see, we went in '42 and by '45 everybody was out, right? November? Yeah, that's when they chased the last people out. Even helped them find housing.

CO: So, give us your take on the mood of the people.

HY: Oh, bitter, bleak... I was pretty bitter myself. You know, because this went against everything we were taught in school that Americans did. Putting us away like that without even benefit of trial. And taking our property or making us sell it at a loss. Disrupting our whole lives. So I was really bitter, but then like my friendship with Wakako, maybe it wouldn't have been as sustaining as it has been without our sharing the camp experience, you know, and met a lot of people in camp that you wouldn't have met otherwise. So with that I don't know whether it never should have happened. [Laughs] Maybe it's something that had to happen.

CO: Really?

HY: I'm just saying that right now. Maybe when I think about it, I will say, "What did I say that for?" [Laughs] But that's how warmly I feel about the friendships that were made there.


EO: What, what kinds of activities do you recall? Did you have good times? Bad times?

HY: Well, we were young and... well, we went to the weekly movies together. And Wakako and Jeannie and I especially, we were kind of exhibitionists and we'd go around in these colorful, colorful kneesocks and our peacoats and khaki jackets from World War I and kind of set ourselves apart from everybody else, you know. [Laughs] Well, I remember things that were kind of fun, but the whole reason for our being there was so wrong that it was kind of a way to pass the time, I guess, 'til we got out, if ever. And they had talent shows, so we'd go to talent shows and I remember your little cousin Ray being such a big hit with his "Manuela Boy." [Laughs] Yeah, uh-huh. So there were fun things. And the young guys would play baseball and basketball, and I don't know what else.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1994, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

EO: Did you notice any changes in your parents?

HY: Well, my mother had passed away before. But... yeah, well, not my father particularly, but other -- in the mess hall, we were first assigned to family tables but gradually the young people started eating with other young, their friends. And looking back, you can gradually see that the parents were kind of losing their control over their children and so that by the time we got out of camp, it was the younger generation generally taking over the leadership of the family, you know. And the parents following their advice. Although you were a very young family, so I guess you didn't do that.

EO: Did you know our parents pretty well?

HY: Yeah, we lived right near, near them. I was over there all the time listening to your Japanese records. And Chizie, I remember being over quite a bit.

EO: Did you see any changes in our dad?

HY: No, he was always pretty capable, I think. I never sensed this... he was younger, too. A younger man and he's Kibei, right? Or Japan-born and English-speaking. So he was a kind of leader amongst the Issei, so no, I didn't notice that in your father at all.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1994, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

CO: Well, we're very interested in the registration situation. Because all things point to it as being a great watershed in the life of the community. You know, the decisions that people had to make. So give us your recollections of that period.

HY: Well, I know it caused a lot of soul-searching and all that but I was just thinking of getting out, so I answered "yes-yes" like most of my friends. But among young men who probably would have been the ones called up if they answered "yes-yes," it occasioned... a lot of, well, a lot of 'em answered "no-no," because they didn't feel that under the circumstances they could serve in the armed forces, you know. And maybe if I was a guy I would have done the same thing. I hope so.

EO: Do you recall how it got introduced? And did your newspaper have anything to do with that?

HY: I don't think so. There was no... I don't think there was any advice given through the newspaper.

EO: There was no editorializing about it?

HY: I don't recall.

CO: How was it handled? I mean, like, I see copies of it now where it's typewritten in but I'm assuming that most people didn't have typewriters.

HY: No, uh-uh. No, of course not.

CO: So did you go someplace to fill it out?

HY: I don't even remember that, unless they were handed out by the block manager or something and we took it back to him and he sent 'em in. I don't remember.

EO: What about in your family? Did everyone answer "yes-yes"?

HY: Well, let's see. I don't know if the kids had to.

EO: Seventeen, huh?

HY: Yeah. So that would have meant just Johnny and me and my father. The other two were too young.

EO: Did you have any family discussions?

HY: Not that I recall. And my brother was the type that volunteered anyway, you know.

CO: Well, tell us more about Johnny.


HY: Johnny was supposed to graduate from Oceanside Carlsbad High School and so was Wakako and all the other Japanese kids who were seniors. But with the evacuation orders, they were given their diplomas early because we were leaving in May, and they didn't get to graduate with the rest of the class. What else did you want to know about? Johnny?

CO: What kind of a person was he?

HY: Oh, he was a hard worker, he helped out in the fields, and he was athletic, he was interested in sports. And he had a friend, a white friend that he admired a lot and he would talk about him all the time. And what this fellow wrote in his annual broke my heart because it said something like -- I can't remember the exact wording -- but how Johnny, for being a Japanese, was a pretty good kid, you know. And that would have really rankled if somebody said that to me. But he just took it in the spirit it was given, I guess, whatever spirit that was. And he didn't take offense at it. But I, it gets me mad to this day thinking that, thinking about such a... such a friend, I guess.

CO: Do you know how he came to volunteer for the 442nd?

HY: Well, he was in, he had gone out to top sugar beets with a bunch of other young men because I guess the U.S. manpower commission put as many young people in the war-related industries, and a lot of men had gone off to war. So they were recruiting in the camps for people that could go up to places like Colorado and top sugar beets. Because sugar was rationed then and I guess sugar beets were a valuable crop. And after the, that season was over, he went to Denver with a bunch of other fellows. And I guess jobs weren't that easy to come by, either, in Denver. So first he was working as a dishwasher in a Catholic seminary for boys. And then he was handling eggs. And then that's about the time he wrote us and told us he had volunteered for the 442nd. And I didn't like the idea at all, but you know, I can't lead his life for him. And so I don't think he was in basic training very long and then they sent him overseas, and that's when he got killed, very early in the Italian campaign. And he was nineteen.


HY: Well, people were gradually leaving, so... and then my friends, Wakako left, and Jeannie left, they both went to Chicago, I believe. So I went to the leave office and I decided I would get the most out of the government that I possibly could. Also I liked New England from reading American literature, so it had a lot of connotations for me. So I talked my brothers into going to Massachusetts. And generally was okay as far as Chicago because quite a few people he knew were with us. But when we got, had to transfer to the New England train, most of the people stayed in Chicago or in the middle west. And we were going on to Massachusetts. He wasn't very happy. But we arrived in Boston, I think the relocation office was in the post office building. And I finally got to see an ocean again from one of the windows -- the Atlantic Ocean -- and I really missed the ocean. Because Oceanside, you had it there every day. And they took us to Springfield, Massachusetts, where I was a cook for this woman who inherited the Absorbine Junior factory. And Yuk got to go to a youth camp, so he had a lot of fun. And we had been there only about a month and a half when we got the news that Johnny had died in Italy. So we all went back to camp because my father asked us to come back. I guess he felt the family shriveling and he wanted us all right there with him. So we went back and went back to California as soon as California opened up.

CO: But what about the loss of your brother and how did it affect you?

HY: I don't know. Numb, I guess. I mean, it was really a bad time. It was something that I haven't gotten over yet. Because about 1990, I guess, we were able to go and visit him, his burying place in Italy, you know, at the U.S. military cemetery. I can't go on. [Laughs] Like they say on Saturday Night Live, "Talk amongst yourselves." Well, anyway, it was just like it just happened, you know.

CO: Your father heard about this when he was in camp?

HY: Huh?

CO: Your father heard about it when he was in camp?

HY: Well, he got the telegram, yeah.

CO: It must have been very devastating to him.

HY: Uh-huh.


CO: So, tell me how you feel about the 442nd.

HY: Well, we are repeatedly told that if it weren't for the sacrifices of the 442nd that we wouldn't have been allowed to go back to California as soon as we were. But I don't... since what was done to us was wrong in the first place, I don't see that they should have had to do that to prove anything. I don't know how many of 'em feel that they did it to prove a point.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 1994, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

CO: What was it like after you came back to California?

HY: Oh, we stayed at the Evergreen hostel, which was set up to sort of ease our way back into society. And I was lucky to find a house in Boyle Heights, a rental. And so -- also, while I was still at the hostel, I think I found a job with the Los Angeles Tribune, a black weekly, and started working right away. So I guess we were on the lucky side. Because there were piles of people that came to stay with us at one time or another while they were trying to get situated. And Little Tokyo was Brownsville during the war, and gradually the Japanese came back, and I guess a lot of 'em owned the buildings there so they were able to re-establish their businesses and I don't know where the blacks moved to. But gradually Little Tokyo was no longer Brownsville. I recall that Mary Oyama Mitwer had rented her family, family's home to Chester Himes, the Negro novelist, during the war. And he dedicated his book called If He Hollers Let Him Go to the Mitwer kids, or one of the sons, anyway. So I thought that was interesting.

CO: How, how was... I mean, how were you received by the population in Los Angeles?

HY: Okay, I guess. I didn't notice that much hostility. The landlady was happy to rent to us, and she was a Mexican woman, Mexican American woman. And she lives in Oceanside, by the way, retired after her husband died and she re-married and that husband died, too. And oh, going to work on the streetcar and back again, I didn't notice any, anything overt. I definitely did notice a lot of hostility towards the blacks that had come in during the war for war jobs and stuff. So there were probably a lot of people that hated our guts, but I didn't come across any. My father met this man who, a Mexican man, that had been drinking and threatened to stab him because his son had died in the war in the South Pacific or something. And my father told him that he had lost a son, too, and that Japanese and Mexicans had always been great friends, etcetera. And so the man changed his mind about killing Papa -- [laughs] -- so he talked his, talked his way out of that situation.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 1994, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

CO: After all these years, how do you think the internment affected you, yourself, and then the community in general?

HY: Oh, I think it's something we'll never get over even with redress. Because it was so traumatic that a lot of Nisei families were... the Sansei kids were never told of such things and the Sansei kids had to learn through other channels that this had been done to the Japanese Americans during the war. And David Mura, himself, was surprised to find out about it. And his, I think his folks refused to talk about it, so he found out through an aunt what had happened. And so it's been handed down from, that trauma has been handed down from generation to generation.

CO: How do you think it manifests?

HY: Like you making this documentary, for instance. [Laughs] It's a very, it's something that never really happened to any other racial group, you know, to be removed like that en masse. And the Supreme Court has never declared it was unconstitutional. They refused to hear cases that would have made them decide that.


CO: When you say "really traumatic," could you be a little bit more specific about what you think was done to us?

HY: Well, we were found guilty without trial, and we were forced to give up our property and our associations, everything in the Western Defense Command. And put in these really bleak places where we were buffeted by sandstorms and heat and really uncomfortable living conditions. And I think there were very sensitive, I mean, sensitive people that did kill themselves because of it. And lot suffered depressions and like I noticed that when I watched a documentary on Estelle Ishigo, like, her husband just lost all his spirit so that when he came out, he wasn't much good for anything, you know. They kept living in the trailer that the government had found for them to live in. So it... and then this Tule Lake internment caused a lot of havoc, broke up families. Well, it did so much damage that people were forced to live -- it was bad enough living in an internment center without being segregated like that.

CO: All this creativity that had been going on before the war, it sort of never revived, did it? The writing...

HY: Oh, yeah. I think the people that were writing before continued to write. Well, it didn't go in the same direction. But I think people continued to write for the camp newspapers and a book like John Okada's No-No Boy came out of it. And what else am I thinking of? Some of Toshio Mori's short stories are based on the, his time in camp. Also Hiroshi Kashiwagi's plays and Momoko Iko's and Wakako Yamaguchi's -- a lot of literature came out of that experience, I would say. So... and then Lawson Inada's poems before the war, that includes his childhood memories of camp. No, our literature probably would have been very different without the camps.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 1994, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

CO: Tell me about -- did you have aspirations of being a writer when you were nineteen?

HY: Oh, yeah, because I was, when I was fourteen, that's when I started writing for the Japanese American newspapers. And in Oceanside, I was busy writing and getting rejection slips. Going to the library, bringing back piles of books to read. Yeah, that's always been my ambition.

CO: What kind of a writer?

HY: Serious writer, I guess. But the stories that I've had published, I was just writing about the things I knew, so now I'm called a pioneer in Japanese American literature. [Laughs]


CO: When you say serious, novels?

HY: No, no, not novels, just short stories. Well, with housework and everything and bringing up kids, I've never had even the desire to write a novel. Maybe jot down poems and short pieces.

CO: Did your camp experience enhance that desire or change it?

HY: No, it just, the writing desires remained pretty steady from the time I started. And even now, I guess it's just a compulsion or habit, I still, whenever I can, I get to, I still have a few ideas that I want to work on. [Laughs]

CO: Well, since before the camps there was this sort of nurturing situation. Now, had that continued, can you imagine where you would be today? Or, because after the camps, the nurturing situation didn't seem to be...

HY: I don't know. I guess the Japanese American press would have continued publishing and I would have continued to write for them. Which is mostly what I've done anyway since the war, you know.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 1994, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

CO: What do you think the effects were on your father?

HY: Let's see...

CO: What became of him afterwards?

HY: Well, he went out with friends to a cannery in Utah and he had been cooking in the camps. And from there he came back and since we were no longer farming, he wasn't the one in charge anymore. So he went to work as a janitor down in Little Tokyo for a while. And then he was working in Pasadena as a dishwasher for a while at a Chinese restaurant. And then he, I don't know how he got to Las Vegas, but he got a job in a Chinese restaurant in Las Vegas washing dishes. And I've sort of based one of the short stories on his experiences there. And well, it was ideal for him, I mean, he loved gambling, like a lot of Asian men. And he was there eight years, didn't save a penny. He was having a lot of fun, too, I guess, on his off time. But he got sick and came home to die.

CO: Well, these jobs that he had after camp, I mean, would they have been different if there had been no camp?

HY: I'm sure he would have kept on farming. You know, with the boys to help him. I don't know if the boys would have kept on farming with more education, but...

CO: Did, did he gamble before the camps?

HY: Oh yeah, now and then. Yeah.

CO: Was there gambling in the camps?

HY: No, but well, I won't -- [laughs] -- I won't say where, but he did gamble before, too, whenever he could.

CO: You didn't detect gambling in camp?

HY: I don't know. I guess not. No, it wasn't permitted, I suppose. But I wouldn't be surprised if it did go on.

CO: You told me about one bad habit that you picked up in camp that you still have.

HY: Which one? Oh, no, I was smoking before I went to camp.

CO: Who learned? Wakako?

HY: Yeah, from me. Other kids, other women picked it up from me, I think. But she's quit. I was really sorry about that, but... you know, you didn't -- no, no. About them imitating me and smoking. But we didn't have all that publicity about lung cancer and everything when I was going to school. It was just a sophisticated thing to be doing.

CO: Do you still have dreams of camp?

HY: Never. Not that I can recall.

CO: Do you have dreams of your brother?

HY: Not that I can -- I dream, I remember very little of my dreams if I do dream.

CO: And nothing as vivid as the one with your grandfather.

HY: No, uh-uh, not since my childhood.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 1994, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

CO: Are you angry or bitter?

HY: Oh, yeah, I have a lot of anger inside me, I know. Because I get it out in my writing, too, I think.

CO: What about everybody else? Do you think they're still angry, too?

HY: I don't think I'll ever get over being angry about the internment, no. Because under the proper circumstances, tears still come to my eyes, you know.

CO: Do you talk about it with your children?

HY: Yeah, I've talked to them about it. They know all about it. I mean, they can't imagine, you know.

CO: Who can?

HY: But in school some of 'em have done papers on it.

CO: Do you have any questions?

Male voice: I have one.

CO: Oh, okay.

Male voice: Is there someone for you to be angry at or some group?

HY: No, it's, it's what was done to us, I guess. But I see that stuff like that has gone along, gone on throughout man's recorded history, so it's just a general anger, I guess, about injustice. Does that answer your question, or no? Because I think the Holocaust was a far more greater wrong, you know.

CO: You sound just like another writer I read.

HY: Is that? Who?

CO: Jeanne Oishi, said it wasn't bad enough. I don't think that's a fair comparison.

HY: No, because this happened in the United States, you know, whereas we have a Bill of Rights, which was totally ignored in our case.

Female voice: Is there anything that you think that people should be more active about?

HY: More active?

Female voice: Being more of an activist in some areas?

HY: Oh, no, I'm not much for telling people what to do. I barely do things myself. [Laughs]

Female voice: Or something that, what the lesson is for the future?

HY: The lesson? Well, I don't have that much faith in human nature improving because we're all so wrapped up in our, well, like what's going on in the, Washington these days and all over the world, so... Like Ivor Winter said, there would have to be a new type of man for things to change.

CO: Or woman.

HY: Or woman. Well... [laughs]

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 1994, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.