Densho Digital Archive
Emiko and Chizuko Omori Collection
Title: Jimmie Omura Interview
Narrator: Jimmie Omura
Interviewer: Chizu Omori (primary); Emiko Omori (secondary)
Location: San Francisco, California
Date: March 21, 1994
Densho ID: denshovh-ojimmie-01

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

<Begin Segment 1>

CO: Well, let's just start from the beginning here, because your, actually, your family would be considered the first to come over practically, one of the first pioneers.

JO: Yes, they were pioneers. My father came to this country in 1887. He was a stowaway. And my mother came over in 1907 during the Gentleman's Agreement period.

CO: Do you know anything about your father's stowaway experience?

JO: Well, yes. He showed up one day in, on the waterfronts of Nagasaki. He had already cased the ships and he knew one of the American ships was just waiting for the morning tide. When it was very late that night, he boarded the ship up the regular gangway when everyone was sleeping and hid on top of the deck. Of course, he was discovered when the ship was on the high seas and taken to the captain. He was, the captain was a very compassionate sort of person and assigned him as captain's boy. That's how he came to America.

CO: How old was he and do you have any idea of why he did this?

JO: He -- yes, he was sixteen years old and just about ready to go into the Japanese army. He was born in the rural village of Katsusa, which is toward the end, southern end of Shimobara peninsula. And people from the rural district were against the Japanese conscription law. So many of the people who came to the United States, whether they say it or not, came to escape the military.

CO: So he's now discovered. Could they have shipped him back? How did he finally make it over here?

JO: Well, I imagine they could have shipped him back into Honolulu because the ship pulled in there. But I think that they allowed him to, the captain allowed him to come to San Francisco. San Francisco at that time was the only port on the Pacific coast.

CO: Hmm. Seattle wasn't in existence?

JO: Huh?

CO: Seattle wasn't...?

JO: No, there was no ship to Seattle or no Canadian port, either.

CO: And what did he do after he got here?

JO: That is the mystery. [Laughs] Because for the next nineteen years we have no record of him. Although we know that he's been here and there and everywhere and he was well-known in the Pacific Northwest. But that period is lost except what I can gather from bits and pieces and from my own memory.

CO: And when did you come into the picture?

JO: I was born the 27th of November, 1912, in the rural village of Winslow. Well, it was a township at that time, and today it's the principal city on the island. And I was the third son of my mother and father.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

CO: So your family had settled, and what were they doing?

JO: My father was a meat market butcher, but by the time I was born he had changed, I guess you could say he was promoted to foreman of the Winslow shipbuilding and dry dock company. I was born on the 27th day of November, 1912, and they tell me I was born in a storm, you know. [Laughs] So I've always had this problem where they say that according to the elements I would be, well, have a rough time in life, you know. And I did. But I was the first of the family to be born under the care of a practicing surgeon. At that time the frontier west had very few doctors. And I think the reason for that was my father was a foreman at the ship-building company.

CO: And then, what was the United States like around that time?

JO: What?

CO: What was the United States like in terms of Japanese Americans at that time?

JO: Well, Bainbridge Island had a peculiar sort of society where the Japanese and the white people lived together but separately. In other words, it was like a separatist society similar to Quebec. And because the Japanese had pioneered the growing of strawberries, which replaced the lumber business on the island, there was a certain amount of tolerance that they, they left us alone, but you could feel the tenseness underneath. Prior to that, Port Blakely was the main, primary city, and Japanese were treated very badly there. They threw stones at schoolchildren, threw stones at domestics going to work. But by, but by the time I came along, that was all underground. But there was this feeling, this tense feeling, you could feel it in the school. You'd go to school -- no white people would, white children would speak to you or, or associate with you. So it was, the prejudice was very strong at that time.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

CO: What was your father like, as a father?

JO: We didn't see our father very much, because he knew, how he learned it we don't know, but he learned English, and he could speak and write English. And as a result he was the liaison between the white community and the Japanese growers. And as a result of which, why, many people came to our home but they would always drag him off on some business or whatever. And we saw very little of him.

CO: Was he strict?

JO: Huh?

CO: Was he strict or lenient?

JO: No, he wasn't mean. He comes from, from the Meiji generation of Japan, so naturally the immigrants are rather strict. They have certain ideas and they cling to it. They, that's one thing, they couldn't conform to, well, let's say the Niseis' American standards.

CO: What is that?

JO: Well, the Nisei were learning English and learning the American style of doing things and thinking and everything else and the Issei couldn't accommodate themselves to that. Certain things of it they couldn't accommodate.

CO: Can you name some specifics?

JO: Well, I could give you one example of the Issei thinking and that is whenever a Japanese, whenever a Nisei or Japanese did anything against the white community, whether it was minor or not, they were banished from the island, regardless of how young or how old they were.

CO: Banished by whom?

JO: By the community. Japanese community.

CO: Is that old Meiji custom, or is that...

JO: Yeah, it's, it's an old Meiji custom.

CO: Did that happen often?

JO: No, it didn't happen often because the young folks, anyway, knew about it so they tried not to get into scrapes like that.

CO: What was the economic condition of the Japanese community?

JO: Well, the, this is a strange thing. The Japanese started the growing of strawberries on the island and as a result, the Bodell company established a strawberry cannery where they made jams, jellies and things like that and shipped the rest to market, at Pike's market. And, and eventually there was over 200 white people working in, in the cannery. But no Japanese could apply and get a job.

CO: But the Japanese grew the strawberries.

JO: That's right. Sort of unjust.

CO: But were the Japanese faring all right economically?

JO: Well, they managed to scrape by because they were paid by the season. The company paid them $1,200, which is not much today, but at that time $1,200 was a lot of money.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

CO: Now to get back to the custom of banishment which came from Japan, can you give us an example of...?

JO: Well, yes, my eldest brother went with two schoolmates, white schoolmates, to a farm. They say it was on the other end of the island, I don't exactly know where. And they raided the white farmer's vegetable garden. And he got caught while the two white boys got away. And my father went to see what he could do when he was in jail. We didn't see him or hear about him for the next... about five months. And then we heard that he was working as a water boy in the Cascade. And we gather from that that he had been banished because we knew the custom of banishment on the island because of other incidents. And that he had been...


CO: He's been caught after playing this prank, and he's in jail.

JO: I thought it was a prank. [Laughs] And we never, he never came home. And my father, being an old line Meiji man, would never tell us what happened to him. In other words, that was the custom, we were never told anything. And, and five months later, my next brother learned that he was working as a water boy on a railroad in the Cascades. And we gathered from that that he had been banished from home. Because banishment was a custom we were all well aware of.

CO: How old was he?

JO: Huh?

CO: How old was he?

JO: He was eleven years old.

CO: Did he ever, did he ever get... did he ever return? Was he ever taken back by the family?

JO: No, he was never taken back by the family but he did visit the following Easter. And during the vacation, I got into a scrape with him and I got shot by him and he was banished for good from home.

CO: You were shot by him?

JO: Yes, I was shot, accidentally. Well, I was shot in the side and wound up in the Seattle General Hospital. And the surgeon told me that if it had gone through -- it was halfway through the rib -- if it had gone through, it would have hit my lung and goodbye. But the bullet had been stopped by the rib.

CO: Now, are you still in touch with him?

JO: No, last time I saw him was in 1935 at a small railroad stop in the Cascade, and he wouldn't speak to me. And I think that's because he probably blamed me for his banishment. And I'm the one who was injured. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 5>

CO: Well, now what about your leaving?

JO: I left the family in 1926, early 1926, when I was thirteen years old. But I had obtained a job, you wouldn't believe it. [Laughs] I, I hardly believe it myself. But when I went into the contractor's office I thought they would consider me too young. But lo and behold, he assigned me to Ketchikan, Alaska, to work in the salmon canneries.

CO: How long did you do that?

JO: I was on a six-month contract, and then when I returned, I went to Anacortes and worked until the season ended in Puget Sound.


CO: I just want to step back quickly, just to clarify something in the banishment. That was just pranks against white people?

JO: Right.

CO: You could commit a prank against a Japanese.

JO: Yeah, you could do most things against another Japanese, but that was okay as long as you didn't do it against a white person.

CO: Were there Indians on Bainbridge Island?

JO: Indians? There were no Indians on the island. That was a long time ago. That was when the Snoqualmie Indians got driven out of Bainbridge Island, just like the Japanese were in '42.

CO: In the canneries, were there other boys your age working?

JO: Yes. My friend got a job there but I couldn't get a job. I was turned down. They told me that when, when I felt that they were ignoring me, two of us went to the cannery to apply for a job. I asked him, "What about me?" And he says, "You can get all sorts of jobs on the farm." He says, "What they need is a lot of pickers." That's how he felt.

CO: Your schooling. What kind of school... can I ask... why did you leave at thirteen?

JO: Well, Bainbridge Island, being as it was very discriminatory, there was no opportunity. I felt that, I didn't think that there was a green field beyond the horizon, I never thought that. But I thought that life couldn't be any worse than what I was experiencing on the island.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

CO: What did your parents think about your leaving at thirteen?

JO: They didn't know anything about it. I just walked out.

CO: So, tell us the circumstances of your leaving. How did you leave?

JO: Just, just left.

CO: You didn't tell anyone?

JO: Just my next brother.

CO: Is this just the way your family was?

JO: Family was only my father then. So, we just didn't tell him.

CO: What had happened to your mother?

JO: Well, my, when I was six years old, my mother suffered a childbirth disease. And in 1919, she was taken to Japan with the three youngest children and our family was divided and broken up.

CO: Childhood disease? Or childbirth?

JO: Childbirth.

CO: Childbirth disease?

JO: [Inaudible], something.

CO: Fever.

JO: Fever, yes. Incurable.

CO: So she was in Japan.

JO: She was in, she, she went to Nagasaki where she was born and stayed with her sister. Her sister took care of her while she was sick, and then she passed away in '33, I think. So our, so our life got broken up.

CO: So were you going to school on Bainbridge Island?

JO: Yes, yes. I was in the seventh grade at the time.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

CO: Okay, so let me get this straight. So you have some family at this point in Japan.

JO: Yes.

CO: Can you just run it down for me?

JO: Well, the, my mother, my mother was taken -- [interruption] -- I was six years old.

CO: When she left. But so when you're, just tell me where everybody is now at the age of thirteen.

JO: Age of thirteen, my youngest brother and my two sisters were with my -- were not with my mother, was with a grandmother in Katsusa, Japan, and my mother was with a sister in Nagasaki. And the three of us were given that choice by my father whether we would want to accompany them to Japan. And when he said to us, we thought about it, and while we were thinking he suddenly said, "If you go, go with us, you can never come back." And right away I popped up and says, "I want to stay here." And my brother agreed with it. So the three of us, three eldest brothers stayed in the United States.

CO: Have you ever seen your siblings then in Japan?

JO: No.

CO: Have you been back to Japan?

JO: No.

CO: Or ever went to Japan, I guess you'd... okay, so now you're going to. Okay, did we get the, your education? Let's start with that again. About your education.

JO: Well, I went to seventh grade before I left Bainbridge Island. And I continued my education in Pocatello, Idaho. And I came back one year to Bainbridge, one term, and then I went to Broadway High School where I graduated, in Seattle.

CO: Now at this time you're just all by yourself?

JO: Yes.

CO: And how are you supporting yourself?

JO: Well, I worked as a schoolboy. And on top of that, people helped me. Not Japanese, but hakujin people helped me.

CO: Being a schoolboy meaning?

JO: You know, you work in homes, do some odd jobs and they give you board and room.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

EO: When did you begin writing?

JO: Well, that's an odd thing. [Laughs] I wasn't interested, interested in writing. But one day we were called to a general assembly at the school. This was in Pocatello, Idaho. And towards the end of his state of the school report, the principal announced that we were going to have a student newspaper. And the next thing I knew, he named me as editor of that paper. Now I had no writing experience. So what happened was that I don't have this talent for writing fairy tales, you know, or anything like that, fictional stuff. So, so I just scratched my head to see what I could do about putting out a paper. We had no advisor even, so you were all on your own. And the inspiration came to me, that I had read a little blue book, you know, about the lost continent of Atlantis. So I thought if it interested me so much, it must surely interest the other students, so I published a portion of it. Ten days later, I was called to the office. And the principal -- he was by himself then -- and he says to me after hemming and hawing around, standing by the front window. He finally asked me, "Did you write that story?" And I said, "No." And he says, "Who wrote it?" And then he asked me, he says, "Where did you get it?" So I told him, "I have this little blue book and I took it out of that." And he says, "That's plagiarism." He says, "You can't publish something somebody else wrote." Now I didn't know what plagiarism was, but when he said you can't publish that somebody else wrote, well, I understood that, see. And then he said to me after thinking it over, he says, "I want you to write the next story." No, I can't write those stories, really. I never had no experience. So, so when the next edition came, why, I decided well, I had read a lot about Zane Gray and Western stories in my youth, and I says, "Why don't I write about a wild horse and put that wild horse into Montana? This certainly can't be plagiarism because we don't have that kind of story." So, so I wrote that and published it. That's how I got my start. [Laughs]

CO: Did you enjoy that?

JO: No, not that particular thing. But, see, the following year I transferred back one term to Bainbridge Island. And in the spring of that year, I was named journalism delegate to the State of Washington Student Leaders conference. And I think you could say that that set me off, sort of.

CO: So did you graduate?

JO: Oh yes, I graduated. I graduated and I was recommended to the University of Washington and the assistant dean, a man Sid Spears came to recruit me to the university, but this was the depths of the Great Depression and the wages I could learn, earn in the summertime in the canneries had dropped so drastically that I didn't have the necessary finances to go to university.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

CO: So you did eventually work in the canneries?

JO: I worked seven years.

CO: But when you went up there when you were thirteen, you couldn't get a job in a cannery?

JO: Yes, I got a job. I was the... well, I was on night shift making can tops on a machine.

CO: Somehow I got confused because you went up with a friend, you said.

JO: No, I went by myself.

CO: That was a different job.

JO: Yeah, the friend...

CO: That was local.

JO: That was local, right.

CO: What was Alaska like at that time? Do you have any memories of Alaska?

JO: Well, everybody thinks it's a beautiful country and everything else, and so did I at the time. And what we saw a great deal of was these great granite cliffs, you know. And lots and lots of forest land. Spruces and pines and things like that. It's a rough country.

CO: Can you tell us about, sort of, the cannery life. Like, who worked there?

JO: Well, the crew I went up with were, there were about forty Issei. Among them was a couple of Koreans. And then there were also forty, roughly forty Filipino crew. These weren't the only crews, because around June, when the schoolboys came out, they would come up to supplement labor.

CO: What did you do?

JO: Well, at first I made the can tops at Ketchikan, but later on I became a [inaudible], they call [inaudible] butcher. The highest semi-skilled job that a cannery worker can aspire to.

CO: Was there a machine called the "iron chink"?

JO: I ran it.

CO: Tell me what that is, and can you just name it for me?

JO: The butchering -- when they call, speak of "butchers," there are two butchers. Two [inaudible] butchers. One butcher will cut the heads of the salmon, which will flip over to a table. And the other butcher will insert the tail into a large circular rotating, well, I guess, something like a drum, you know. And that machine will take it up, slice the belly and throw out the intestine stuff. And then it goes to the wash fish, who will, generally who are natives, and they clean out remainders of the intestines, stuff like that.

CO: What's the name of this machine?

JO: Which one?

CO: The "iron chink"?

JO: That's the "iron chink." They used to call it "iron chink" because before they invented the machine, the Chinese did the job. And then when the Chinese got displaced by technology, the technology was called "iron chink."

CO: So you worked there in the summers?

JO: Yes.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

CO: Okay, so now you've graduated and you couldn't go to the University of Washington. So what did you do?

JO: Well, I went, I went back up to Alaska and then as soon as I came back I took a bus, Greyhound bus to Los Angeles, and the following day I was an editor of a vernacular newspaper.

CO: What kind of paper was it?

JO: It was New Japanese-American News, which was a spin-off of the Japanese-American News, San Francisco. But just at that time, in 1932, the Japanese-American News had a big strike and they had to sell the Los Angeles branch.

CO: To whom? Who did they sell it to?

JO: You have me there. No, another Japanese, yes.

CO: What kind of paper was it?

JO: It's very similar to the paper you see, the Hokubei Mainichi or Rafu Shimpo.

CO: As editor, what were you interested in? What kind of news?

JO: Well, that was my first real interest in Nisei journalism. And it surprised me because my education in journalism was that it was a sort of a... well, what can I say? I... I can't think of the word, but a job that calls for reporters going out and digging out news and stuff like that. And the Nisei journalism was nothing like that. It was sedentary, you know, you just sit in the office and wait for the news to come in, and if you don't have enough news you clip out of the hakujin papers, you know and reduce it and stuff like that. And that, that didn't sit very well with me, but the Japanese-American News was a morning paper. So I could go out, I could cover boxing, football at the Memorial Coliseum, the Pacific Coast League, and everything else. So we had the advantage on the other Little Tokyo papers.

CO: When you say the next day you got a job, I mean, how, how was it you were hired just like that?

JO: Yeah, well, when I arrived in Little Tokyo, I happened to go the Iwaki drugstore. They have a lunch counter there, and I decided I better eat before I hunt around for lodging. And when I finished and was going to leave, we couldn't leave, because right at that time, all these people who worked in stores and office buildings were jamming the streets, you know, the streets were jammed. So I was just standing there, waiting for it to clear, when I heard my name called. And to my surprise, a couple boys that I knew, Kibei boys, in Alaska, had, were snaking through the crowd toward me. And they decided to take me up to their hotel and let me stay there that night. And they told me they were working for a newspaper, picking types, the Japanese types. And said that there was an opening at that newspaper for English editor and why don't I apply? So next morning I went to apply and was, got the job.

CO: Did you have any staff at all?

JO: No, I didn't have any staff; just myself. In those days, most of the English sections were understaffed.

CO: Okay, so now they're going to sell the newspaper so you don't have a job, is that it? Is that how you lose your job there, because they sell the newspaper?

JO: No, that was before my time. When I came on, why, I quit in February. And...

CO: Okay. So how long were you on that?

JO: Well, from October to February of '34. 1933 to 1934.

CO: What did you do next?

JO: Well, I went to Hollywood for a while and while I was there, about two weeks later I came out for a little, let's say, well, you miss your own kind. So I came out from, from Hollywood one Saturday night and some people that were organizing or reorganizing the Progressive News suggested that I quit and come into Little Tokyo. And I said I couldn't do that without a job or a place to stay. And they promised me they could solve that problem for me, which they did. And they got me jobs on the fruit stands, etcetera, various parts of the city. And the Progressive News was having such a hard time getting started, that finally got a job. These two Kibei boys I had previously recommended them to a job on San Pedro Street, and they decided they wanted to quit and go into the country [inaudible] or someplace like that. And they told me to replace them at this particular place, which I did, and I got fired after about two months. [Laughs] But just after I got fired, why, another friend from Seattle, his father was a commission merchant in the Ninth Street Market, and he suggested I could get a job there. And I got a job with another commission merchant and worked there. But the southern California heat bothered me. You know, I'm from a cooler climate like Seattle. And physically it was wearing me down. So I decided to come back to Seattle. But I had run into this fellow, Jofu Fuji, he was one of these wandering journalists. And he said, he asked me to stop in San Francisco at the New World Daily because a mutual friend was the editor there. So I finally agreed and I stopped in San Francisco and I was hired as English editor.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

CO: Okay, so let's go back to when you were born.

JO: I'm still born.

CO: Let's go back to your just being born.

JO: Okay. Well, after the, I was born in this sort of a mansion-like doctor's place and residence, I was taken to a bay house which stood on a bluff overlooking the inland crescent of Eagle Harbor. Around that, around the house was a large fenced area, ten acres. And there was a big huge grim-looking barn at the north end and the harbor was at the south end. And to the west was a deep gulch. The strawberry canyon was on the other side of that gulch, but in a pile of timbers so you couldn't see it. And to the west was nothing but pasture land, fenced in. And we were, from the harbor, we were a quarter mile to the... what do you call it? The arterial, the, from, that ran, the main arterial that ran through the island to Port Blakeley.

When I was young, my fath-, my mother was, was our chief center of focus and she used to tell me and my brothers stories about old Japan. She had this Japanese paperback and she would read from it and then translate the story into English for us. One night she told us a story about an obake, or ghost story, Japanese ghost story, about how a beautiful woman went into a roadside inn and changed or transformed into a jaguar or tiger and then pounced upon passersby and chewed them up. When she regained her natural form again, she came out of that roadside inn dressed like a human being and left the inn unaware of what she had done. Toward the end of that story, my mother told me a ghost story that related to a weeping willow that stood at the southeast corner of our front yard right down by the harbor. She said that when the moon is full, a ghost will descend from that tree and walk around the yard. The next morning I went to the edge of the bluff and I looked down at that tree but, of course, it was daylight then and I couldn't feature a ghost coming out of that tree.

We had, there's one thing we didn't have, we had everything else, all the amenities except a telephone. To compensate for that, we had a courier come every other day. The courier was a white person. And he would always pass by us when he went to the house with a message and we always played down by the floating boathouse. So one day I, a few days later I asked him, "Is that tree haunted?" He looked at that tree seriously for a long time and then he turned back and said, "Yes, that tree is haunted." Then he told us of an odd story, that a long time before Winslow was Winslow it was formerly called Madrone. That there was a bad man out on the point. And this bad man had done something very bad so that the whole town of Madrone went after him. They finally caught him on the field above from our property. And he said someone remembered to bring a rope. So they dragged this man down to the weeping willow tree and hung the man.

Well, that was the story, but there's a sequel to it. In, we didn't like our guardian in Seattle, when my father took my mother and the children to Japan. So we, so my eldest brother ran away. He was caught by the police but when he was brought back, he threatened to run away again. So they decided to take us back to our home on Bainbridge Island so we wouldn't run away. But when we got to our home, we refused to go because the guardians were inside. And we stayed outside, were playing jacks or some other kind of game on the front lawn. And after a long time, I drew back 'cause I was getting tired and looked out toward the harbor. And I saw an object. Couldn't make out the object, but it was like a round sort of an object that was moving very slowly toward the boathouse on the harbor path. And from it seems to be some type of a flame emitting. And I said, "What's that?" So my brothers stopped playing and they looked, too. And we watched it until it started to come up the cliff road, when it was about a third of the way, I recognized the object as a tall white man, his face, there was no face, it was featureless, it was just an outline. And we couldn't understand the bulge, there was a big bulge like this along his side, right side, but when he came halfway up the cliff road, we made out that bulge as a small woman and she seemed to be merged to the chest of this man. And around both of them was wrapped a white sheet-like thing that shone in the night. And true enough, there was flame coming out of the chest of this tall man. When this, when we saw that, we got scared and made a rush for the door, you know. Ordinarily, the front door, we never locked the front door, but this was a guardian, so he locked the front door. When we got to the front door, why, it was locked. So we began banging on the door to get in. And then I turned around and watched this apparition come up while my brothers banged on the door and cried and shouted. And just as the two figures came abreast of the veranda, the door opened and we just fell right into the front door, picked ourselves up and scurried upstairs to our room. And a few minutes later, I got a hold of myself and said, "Let's go the back window and see if we could catch a sight of the thing again." There was no answer so I turned around and my brothers were still trembling so I went by myself to the window and, of course, we couldn't see anything. There was no sight of this ghost, but you can bet your life that three pairs of eyes saw that apparition and you can't say that it was a childhood fantasy.

CO: But your mother had told you...

JO: The story. She told the story, confirmed by the courier, which was, who was hakujin, and it actually happened.

CO: About the hanging?

JO: Yes, yes. That actually...

CO: So she had seen the ghost?

JO: She never, I couldn't tell you that, whether she saw it herself or not. But she knew the story and she told it to us. Now, you have to remember that this courier did tell me what the man did out on the point, but because of the many years, I've forgotten what it was.

CO: You mean the bad thing that he did?

JO: Yes, that's right.

CO: Have you ever seen another ghost?

JO: Well, I've never seen another ghost, but I've read about, was it Amityville terrors and I know about Bridie Murphy and the UFOs and things like that, and I think there might be something to it.

CO: Great story.

JO: You have remember, too, that because in my time, you'd be laughed at if I told this story. So we never told it. We never told it until I told it to Frank Chin at a oral history, and then at Fullerton State at, also at an oral history. You're, this is the third, third time, I guess. So you could believe it or not. [Laughs]

CO: Believe it or not. Okay, so, we'll now pick up where we left off, which is, you had gone down to Los Angeles and then you came back. You were passing through. So let's just pick up, let's, where, how you came to get a job, the next job on the New World Daily.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

CO: All right, so let's pick up where, how you got this, the job on the New World Daily.

JO: When I arrived at the New World Daily, this friend was long gone. And a fellow named Yasuo Sasaki was the editor. And he was scheduled to leave in two weeks for, to continue his studies at Cincinnati University in biochemistry. So he suggested that I take over after him. And immediately set about getting me a job there, the machinery, and as a result, I was hired. And I'm two weeks ahead of time so I went on to Seattle and then spent a vacation and came back and assumed the job.

CO: So this was not a job as a reporter?

JO: As an editor. I've never been a reporter.

CO: Now, somewhere along the way here, the Japanese American Citizens League is...

JO: You're coming to it, eventually.

EO: Okay. What kind of newspaper was the New World Daily?

JO: New World Daily was, again, a lot like any vernacular newspaper, similar to the Hokubei Mainichi and the Rafu Shimpo.

EO: You were the sole...

JO: Oh, I had an assistant this time. [Laughs]

EO: Were you interested in sort of political or other issues at the time?

JO: I was interested in all sorts of issues.


CO: What year is this?

JO: 19-, August, 1934. In my opinion, my tenure at the New World Daily during this period, I would consider San Francisco as the golden age of Nisei journalism. Nowhere else has rivalry been so strong between the three newspapers. And, of course, the New World Daily was right in the middle of everything. [Laughs] One day, I think it was somewhere around October, I wrote an essay on leadership. It was titled, "Leadership." And I was thinking in general terms. At that time, the Japanese American Citizens League had meant nothing to me. It meant very little to the Japanese American society. And however, when I wrote this editorial, I got a quick response from the national JACL, which was centered in San Francisco. And they didn't like it. They thought that I was targeting them and criticizing their leadership. I wasn't aware of this, but the third bi-annual convention of the Japanese American Citizens League was held in SoCo, or San Francisco, as you call it. It was SoCo to us, SoCo Town. And at that convention, I became aware of the fact that the JACL had attempted to pass a resolution to censure, not censor, but to censure the New World Daily for criticizing the JACL. That censure died on the floor. But as a result of which, Tokie Slocum named me, came over and named me as his confidante in the campaign for Oriental citizenship. Afterwards I thought it over and the fact that the JACL had attempted to pass a censure movement against me bothered me a great deal. So I decided to look into the JACL to find out what really made it tick. And as a result of which, I determined that the organization was a political organization. Now that started another brouhaha in that the national JACL sent Tomotsu Moriyama to Walnut Grove, California, and proclaimed the JACL is not a political organization. They also sent Walter Tsukamoto to southeastern Idaho, an intermountain district, on the same mission. That debate lasted to the middle of December of 1935 when Saburo Kido confronted me and said that I was right. That the JACL had made a mistake. That they really meant non-partisan, not non-political. And I took his statement on face value, thinking that he would alert other members of the JACL leadership to the fact. But unfortunately, he just kept it to himself, apparently. So that even as late as 1942, January 1942, a Sacramento newspaper reporter wrote -- this was a hakujin, not a Japanese paper -- wrote that the JACL was non-political. Also at the 1942 Tolan hearing, Masaoka made a statement that the JACL was not political, and when quizzed by the chair he admitted that he had made a mistake, that he meant non-partisan. So that those incident points out to me that Saburo Kido did not send the message down the line. About this time, in early February of 1935 we got into another confrontation...


CO: So, do you know why?

JO: Yes, I know why.

CO: Why did they pick on this issue?

JO: Well, because when I assessed the JACL, I pointed out to them that because they were handling the Takahashi's fishing case in Monterey, they were taking care of the San Pedro fishermen's union in Sacramento, they were pushing for the campaign for Oriental veterans and they sent a observer to Washington, D.C. to view the Cable Act amendment, all of them represented to me that they were a political organization, and for that reason I called them a political organization, which they came back and said they were not.

CO: Why do you think this angered them?

JO: Well, I can't speak for them, because in my opinion, my opinion at that time was that the leaders of the Japanese American Citizen League were a bunch of confused people. That they didn't know what their goals were or what their policy was. And that they jumped from one end to the other, and this is one of the things, that they didn't know they were political organiz-, they couldn't assess it themselves.

CO: Who were they?

JO: Saburo Kido, Mike Masaoka, all the top leaders of the JACL. Walter Tsukamoto.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

CO: Just in general for our audience, can you describe this organization?

JO: The Japanese American Citizens League was formed in Seattle in 1930. And at the time, they were a fraternal organization. It was not open to every Nisei. And they, because they selected, hand-selected the membership and they only selected big shots like Nisei professionals or scions of business or agriculture, they got this reputation as a elite organization. And at the time all this blew up, the JACL was recognized as simply a social organization because they were known to sponsor, every biennium, a big social dance at extravagant sites like the Seattle Yacht Club or the Biltmore in Los Angeles. And this was all being done when the bulk of the Japanese Americans were suffering the Great Depression.

CO: Nevertheless, they were taking on some other involvements, active in some of these cases, as you say.

JO: Well, they weren't directly. We're coming to that, but they weren't directly. Because when the Nye-Lea bill for Oriental veterans was passed, they never recognized the men who campaigned for it: Tokie Slocum. In fact, they didn't recognize him until I think around 1970 or so. Because Tokie Slocum himself was critical of the JACL and of course, he had made me his confidante and they didn't like that either.

CO: Tell us about Tokie Slocum.

JO: Tokie Slocum was a yobiyosei, born in Japan, brought over when he was a child to North Dakota. And a family, a white family named Slocum adopted him and he grew up thinking that he was 100 percent American. He was a stocky sort of a person, he was blunt, that was, talked rough. I don't think anyone today could stand him, the way he spoke about the Japanese. He didn't call them Japanese, he called them "Japs;" you, me, the rest of us. But it bothered me a great deal in the beginning, but later on I began to rationalize that he did this in order to shame the white, biased officials and congressmen. He did obtain the goodwill of the American Legion which was bitterly anti-Japanese at that time and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. And they supported the drive for Oriental veterans of the first world war. You have to remember that after the first great war, the United States had promised to give immigrant Japanese who fought with them their citizenship rights.


CO: explain this whole thing about World War I.

JO: Well, the United States government had promised the Japanese who entered the World War on their side, when the war was over, they would be granted citizenship. The United States kept that promise, but the Supreme Court shot it down. And as a result, the World War I veterans couldn't get their citizenship. Now, some did get their citizenship before the Supreme Court ruled against it. And so they maintained their citizenship. But all future ones couldn't get their citizenship. And the Nye-Lea bill, in, passed in 1935, which Tokie Slocum worked to obtain, which was presumably a JACL measure, which the JACL did not support financially, granted citizenship to all Oriental veterans, numbering some 700.

Now we come to the point of our second brouhaha, which was on the Oriental Veterans Citizenship Act. And because I was very closely identified with Tokie Slocum, I editorially wrote that the Japanese American Citizens League did not financially support the measure. The national JACL issued a report indicating these people who contributed to the fund and said that, "We have supported the measure financially." I looked through the names, every name, where Oriental veterans who were contributing their money to the fund, there was not one penny from the JACL. So I took the position that the Japanese American Citizen League was not backing Tokie Slocum in the campaign for Oriental veterans. This, of course, caused a big commotion because, and continued this confrontation with the JACL. They did not respond to my accusation that they had, line by line that these were veterans contributing. They did not respond to that.

CO: So what was the aftermath of that?

JO: It merely increased the tension between myself and the national JACL.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

CO: So, tell us about your political views at this point. It sounds like you were already pretty aware.

JO: Well, because I beat around the bush and all from Ketchikan to Pocatello, Idaho, back to Seattle. And I was an avid reader, and I was impressed -- one of the things that later will come out is I was impressed by two men, two British authors, Bertram Russell and Robert G. Ingersoll. In 1927, they were headlined in almost every newspaper. They were very controversial. Their ideas were controversial. But they stood up against all the criticisms leveled against them. And I was impressed by that fact and they would stand by their own principle against all odds. And later on you'll see that I also stood by my principles against everybody.

EO: Okay, by say 1936-37, wasn't it becoming apparent that there was tension between Japan and the United States?

JO: Oh yes, because in 1937 we had the Nanking affair, you know. And I was out of newspaper at that time, 1937, but I knew about what was happening. And, of course, you know, there was charges against the Japanese that, of all this rape and stuff going, "Rape of Nanking," and the Chinese, doing, the Japanese accusing the Chinese of "Rape of Nanking," and all this stuff was going on at this time. And there was the Panay affair about the same time, and many other affairs. But going back a little ways, not too far, but in 1935, we had what they call the "Mayor for Rossi" campaign in San Francisco.

CO: "Rossi for Mayor."

JO: Yeah, "Rossi for Mayor." Now this committee was the first political organization in the United States. It was sponsored by all the big shots of the JACL. And, of course, there was a newspaper, were also on the preparation committee. So the event was held...

CO: This was the first political campaign by the JACL.

JO: By the Nisei. First, first ever held by people of Japanese descent. And it was held at the Kimmon Hall here in San Francisco. The night of the event, there were only four people there, all four members of the committee. There was myself, Curtis Otani, Iwao Kawakami, and Tomotsu Moriyama, who was the chairman. The speakers, four speakers came, and they waited forty-five minutes and no one showed up; no one else showed up. The sponsor being all Saburo Kido, Tokutaro Hayashi and all the big wheels. None of them showed up. It was disaster. But if you happen to run into a letter from Tomotsu Moriyama to Jimmy Sakamoto in the Sakamoto papers in the University of Washington, he brags how wonderful this political campaign was, how wonderful the meeting went off, and all that, which was all lies. In other words, what they were doing is that the leaders were lying to each other. Things that never happened.

CO: I just want to get this straight now. This was a JACL-sponsored event?

JO: Yes.

CO: And you were...

JO: On a committee. I was a newspaperman, I was on the committee.

CO: For Rossi.

JO: For Rossi.

CO: And no one came, not even the JACL...

JO: Leaders. Not even the sponsors.

CO: Why were they, why were you sponsoring? This was an Italian American.

JO: Yeah. Why they were sponsoring? You're asking the wrong person why did, the sponsors didn't show up. You have to ask them. [Laughs]

CO: Was there any explanation about this?

JO: There's no explanation; no one said anything. But I ran across this letter in the archives at the University of Washington, which we knew that the leaders were lying to each other anyway, but then it confirmed, you know, because there is that letter.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

CO: So, how long did you continue in your editor's position with the newspaper?

JO: Well, the newspaper merged with the Hokubei Asahi at that time, which was strongly pro-JACL. And the merged paper was known as the New World Sun. I remained with that until mid-January of 1936 and then I quit. Well, the reason I quit -- and I think you should ask the question, "Why did I quit?" [Laughs] There was a reason. And that is that in the New Year's edition, a op-ed letter appeared in the paper in which it criticized the newspaper because of my performance or whatever, my editorship on the paper. Then about the middle of January, we received a letter from Stockton by a fellow named Okomoto. Now this criticism letter was signed by a fellow named Okomoto, Tom Okomoto, Stockton. But there was an actual Tom Okomoto living in Stockton. And he complained that all his friends were ostracizing him because of this criticism letter. And for one thing, Stockton area was, you could say, fairly pro-myself. So that naturally this criticism hurt this one fellow so he wrote in and asked for an apology from the, from the newspaper and asked that they state that he did not write it, write that letter. As a result of which we concluded that this was a manufactured letter and the editors of the... Japanese editors, editorial board which had combined with the Hokubei editorial board, I went to the New World Daily editorial staff, and they suggested that I talk to the publisher, that the publisher was a fair man and he would do the right thing. The publisher was a former publisher of the New World Daily. So I met with him at his apartment and he listened to my story. And when I had finished, he didn't say anything for a while and then he told me, "Why don't you sue the paper?" That's his paper. He said, "Why don't you sue?" In other words, he was going to condone this practice. I was so disgusted I went back to the editors of the New World Daily and told them that as far as I'm concerned I don't work for a publisher of this sort. So I quit. And they promised that they would call a staff meeting, full staff meeting, and thrash the issue out. And I was in Seattle at the time. And two weeks later, they surely called a staff meeting. And it was a humdinger, the report was a humdinger. You could ask Howard Imaseki, who's in this city. The English editorial staff was completely, more or less completely, changed. In other words, Howard was demoted; he continued on for about a year or so and then he left. When he left, not a single member of the original staff remained. They all left, all fired or something.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

CO: Here, just again, maybe clarify, get a little bit more of your relationship to JACL, is this one here in 1943 or about.

JO: These all tie in. Because Hokubei was very strongly pro-JACL, all tie in. And Saburo Kido was writing for the Hokubei Asahi editorials.

CO: No, I understand... this is just to kind of jump ahead to cover some of these other things to get into the camps here, but here, this was about 1943 when the JACL filed a charge against you?

JO: Oh, '43? Well, that was a charge, yes.

CO: Oh, I'm sorry. That's really jumping ahead.

JO: Yeah. Yeah, we skipped a lot.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

CO: Can we get up to when the war started? Let's start there then, to move us into the camps.

JO: Where do you want to start? There's all sorts of starting points.

CO: Okay, all right. Well, where were you when the war started? Where were you located and what were you doing?

JO: I was in San Francisco, I was publishing the magazine, Current Life. I was also working at the flower market; I was a buyer and head shipping clerk for [inaudible] company. That's about all.

CO: Describe your magazine to us.

JO: The magazine, I had this idea that the Nisei could best obtain upward mobility if they worked from the top down rather than from the bottom up because working from the bottom up as we had been, we were in competition with so many laboring people. And it was the laboring people who were holding us down. So I thought that by educating the literatis and the people in the, officials at the universities and the institutions, organization, that they, we would have this trickle-down theory that could educate their people and eventually their people would be the ordinary people. So on that basis, we started this monthly magazine because no one was doing anything for the Japanese Americans, we were all stuck in the mud. And we began and we had phenomenal success for a new publication. Mostly you would say a new publication is going to have a tough time. Not us. We were accepted almost immediately by many educational systems in the United States, by the public libraries, by the Library of Congress, and we were already going into Canada, Hawaii, Japan. So we were becoming an international magazine. In the magazine were articles by, literary works by Nisei. We also spotlighted Nisei endeavors and there were articles by people like Terry McWilliams who wrote for it. And we had William Saroyan look it over, who praised us for it. We had Common Grounds editor also praise us for it. The newspapers of the time, not only the Japanese vernacular newspaper, but the metropolitan papers were awfully kind to us. The Chronicle ran pictures of us. Mayor Rossi cut a birthday cake, which his picture was taken. The Herald in Los Angeles wrote about us. And we were on our way, I thought, when the war struck.

CO: Where were you December 7th -- he's getting there -- okay, tell us about when the war started for you.

JO: Well, I was out in Daly City picking up orders because I placed orders with the growers, then go out and pick it up and bring it back and then I'd do the packing on Sundays. On Sundays, I'm the only person on duty. And we have about seven to nine boxes to ship by southern railway to Texas and Louisiana and places like that.

CO: You're talking about flowers?

JO: Yeah. And coming back, I noticed that Bayshore Drive was awfully deserted. And I wondered why, and while I was wondering I came down Market Street, and Market Street was deserted. And by the time I got to the warehouse, I was pretty well puzzled but I heard news hawks, two news hawks shouting, "Extras," but I couldn't make out what they were saying. And I was standing outside the alley listening but I couldn't catch, he was coming closer to the shop, but then he veered off on Mission Street and we lost him. About three o'clock, a railway express man comes to pick up boxes, came around, but this was a person I didn't know. And I asked him about the extra. And he says he'll go see. He never came back. Then about close to six o'clock, I was pretty near finished when the regular express crew came about five or six, and I knew these people and I asked them what it was all about and they says, "We are at war, Jimmie," he says. That's the first time I knew about Pearl Harbor.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

CO: I know that you testified before the Tolan Committee. How, how was it that you were one of the people who was called to testify?

JO: Well, Mike Masaoka testified and there was a great deal of criticism by the chair, by the panel, because he wouldn't testify sitting down like all the rest. It was protocol for all the witnesses to sit down and testify. And he wouldn't do that. He stood with arm akimbo, feet straddled, his fingers pointing to emphasize a point, or waving. And all that bothered the committee. I wasn't supposed to testify. I had no intention of testifying because I thought it was an exercise in futility because two days before, or on 19th the presidential proclamation came down. And you couldn't do anything about that. No, no committee in the world could do anything once the president said this or that. So I thought it was useless and I was asked if I would testify and I says, I thought it was not worth it. At 4:15, my boss called from the office and said that I was wanted by the congressional committee and I better hop to it. And said there was a courier waiting for me at the office. So when I went there, the courier happened to be my managing editor. And after about ten minutes' briefing, I was told that I was supposed to be at the hearing at 5 pm. We never made it at 5 pm, going from Halway Street to the, next door to the veterans building -- I mean, opera house, the veterans building, it was too far away. And besides we were running into these people going home, so the streets were jammed. But when I arrived at the veterans building, I could see by the clock on the city hall tower across the street, it was nine minutes past. Probably took me another minute to get to the auditorium. And I was the last witness at that committee hearing. So I was asked -- actually, I was asked to speak in, let's say, opposition to Masaoka. In the meantime, in the meantime, the committee had read a letter from a student, what they said, they think. It was an anonymous letter from a student in East Bay, which denounced the JACL as representing the Japanese American society. And those two factors influenced them to call me in to testify. The reason I was selected is because I was the most outspoken critic of the JACL.

CO: Could you paraphrase what you said before the committee?


JO: I opposed the eviction of the Japanese Americans from the West Coast, and I opposed the collaboration policy of the JACL. And I asked the committee to rule upon the loyalty of the Japanese Americans in their own domicile here on the West Coast. One of the most famous statements taken from that testimony is the following: "Has the gestapo come to America? Have we not risen in righteous anger at Hitler's mistreatment of the Jews? Then is it not incongruous that citizens, Americans of Japanese ancestry, should also be similarly treated and persecuted?" Mistreated and persecuted. That has been quoted in many books. And at the time I went before the Tolan committee, I felt that a multitude of Nisei would go up and oppose the eviction. But because not a single Nisei spoke against the government, this stands out historically today.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 1994, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

CO: Let's get to the evacuation now. Okay, so tell us when you heard the evacuation order coming down.

JO: Well, when the evacuation order came down, as you all know, the presidential proclamation did not stipulate evacuation. But proclamation number one of General DeWitt did. And however, when the president -- E.O. 9066 came down, more or less, our future was sealed.

CO: And what did you do then?

JO: On the last day of the movement out of the area, I piled up everything, all my personal belongings, and drove out of the area. I was still in Military Area number two, but I was on the move and was not bothered. And I drove to Denver, where we had already established an office.

CO: Who is "we"?

JO: My business manager went ahead and procured a house, or an office, and refurbished it as best she could.


CO: Okay, tell us, when you went to Denver and that you... to resume publication of this...

JO: We attempted to resume publication of Current Life, but it wasn't long before we learned that the Argonaut Press in San Francisco had seized our materials. As a result, why, the publication was dead.

CO: What did you do then?

JO: In place of the publication, a lot of refugees came to the office because we were an office. And I listened to their stories about how difficult it was to obtain work, any kind of work. And I decided to, and I decided to start a placement bureau for them. And we had a contact with the governor's office, which also provided us with prospects. We had a motorcycle cop who also brought prospects of work. But because there were more offers than people to fill it, I went down to Amache and signed up people for jobs. Most of these jobs were domestic work and the owners specified what type of a person they desired. As a result, we had to go down and interview the evacuees. We charged no fee for this because we thought that the eviction of Japanese from the West Coast was a racial crisis and that we all should pull the oars together. I guess I was an idealist in those times.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 1994, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

CO: When did you join the Rocky Shimpo?

JO: That didn't come until January of 1944. I was at that time employed in war work. And I had to get permission so I did not assume the job. I was offered a job on the 13th as editor of the Rocky Shimpo and as public relations director for the Japanese publishing company, which sponsored the Rocky Shimpo. I actually assumed duties about a week after the passage of the re-institution of the draft.

CO: So when did you start getting interested in some of these cases?

JO: Well, our, my first interest wasn't in the draft. At the time, there was no action on it anyway. But we had this anti-alien land proposal, which was before the Colorado legislature and I went up to the legislature. I had a invitation from the speaker of the house and I contacted some lawmakers and opposed the passage of an anti-alien land law in Colorado. The lower house passed the measure but the senate killed it, and as a result, the proponents took it before the general election which was turned down by the voters of the state of Colorado.

CO: When did you first start hearing about the draft resistance in camp?

JO: I didn't hear anything about draft resistance particularly except in a general way when five individuals from Amache refused to go to their induction. And in the process, they made some outlandish statement that they were disloyal to the United States. Of course, I didn't believe that they were disloyal, that they were just frustrated. And about the same time, thirty at Minidoka opted to renunciate, I guess, their citizenship in protest. And I didn't think that was a proper way to go about their grievances. So on February 28th I wrote the editorial, "Let Us Not Be Rash." It was carefully written and I hope I sent the proper message. It became the most scrutinized, most analyzed, most debated editorial of World War II. We have evidence that it was brought up before various branches of the government and that they all drew their own conclusion. The Justice Department in the name of Tom C. Clark wrote his own conclusion and on the basis of which, it was supposed to be used in a conspiracy trial in Cheyenne. Mr. Clark, Mr. Clark was the individual that selected the Japanese American Citizens League as the sole representative of the Japanese in America.

CO: So when did you start getting these, start noticing those really resisting from Heart Mountain?

JO: Heart Mountain didn't enter the picture for the reason that they had organized against the loyalty questionnaire the year before. And there were matters that were still simmering at the time. They were probably the last group to enter the draft picture. On Friday of the week that I published the first editorial, I was approached by a representative of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee. And as a result, on Monday I wrote a second editorial announcing the formation of the Fair Play Committee and what their purpose and their goals were.


CO: When you say you were approached, did an individual approach you?

JO: Obviously.

CO: Who?

JO: You want me to give the name?

CO: Well, I'd like to know who.

JO: Okay, Sylvia Toshiyuki, who was an Anglo married to a Japanese.

CO: Okay, so she approached you and...

JO: ...and presented me with a sheaf of documents all written by Kiyoshi Okamoto. It's the first time I ever knew there was an organization in Heart Mountain. And after reading it, thoroughly digesting it, I approved of the method they were using to seek constitutional remedies and subsequently I editorially supported the organization. It was the same principle on which I was criticizing the JACL and the national government.

CO: So, tell us about what happened after you published the editorial.

JO: Well, before these editorials ever came up -- I'm going backwards -- I was turned in, let's say, by the JACL in the person of Joe Grant Matsuoka, who was a regional director of the Denver JACL. The complaint to the United States attorney was that I had improperly registered my selective registration in 1940. As a result, they thoroughly investigated me, going to Seattle, going to San Francisco. In San Francisco -- they couldn't get hardly anything out of Seattle -- but in San Francisco, every Caucasian people that knew me gave me the highest recommendation. And the San Francisco FBI ruled that, well, ruled me a white paper; white paper meaning clean. And as a result, the case was dropped by the United States attorney.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 1994, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

CO: When did you first find out that the stuff was getting you into real trouble?

JO: Who?

CO: No, you know, when did, like, the Justice Department approach you about all this?

JO: Well, I was... it's a strange thing, you know. I was in the Carol's Malt Shop, and two detectives came in, locked the door, and one approached me. He wouldn't touch me, but he, because he was so close, you know, I drew back. And as I was drawing back, I finally wound up in one of the back booths. And there's a telephone above my head, and I tried, I tried to reach it to call an attorney. But he wouldn't allow me to touch it. You know, by waving his hand above it. And he never touched me, actually, but he obstructed me. And this went on from 9 o'clock to about 11 o'clock. And he wouldn't let me speak to anyone. And finally he asked me for my social -- my selective service card.

CO: Did they take you someplace?

JO: Well, I'm coming to that.

CO: You spent two hours in this malt shop?

JO: Yeah, and when they first came in, they had said there was a pro-Japanese statement made in this establishment. And I said, "But I wasn't there." They says, "I know that." Then they kept pressing me. Then they asked me to show my selective service card, which I did, and they says that that was not my name on the card. And about 11 o'clock, or a little after 11 o'clock, he called the United States attorney. And then he allowed me, I guess, he was told to allow me a phone call, so allowed me a phone call, and I called an attorney. In the meantime, the attorney called the United States attorney. This is after 11 at night. And the United States attorney said that if I would agree to show up at his office in the morning at 8 o'clock, he'd call the dogs off, you know. So I agreed. The next morning we went to the, his office and after a little preliminary argument, why, I gave him where I was born, etc. where I worked. After that he let me go and started an investigation by the FBI. And then the Los -- San Francisco FBI did not send their official declaration clearing me until November, at which time the United States attorney refused to press charges. The reason for all of this was that, see, I was born Yutaka Matsumoto, but I'm known as Jimmie Omura. And I had signed my selective service as Jimmie Omura. But in 1943 when I felt the hot breath of the JACL on my back, I had it legally changed. So that by the time this matter was brought up I was legally changed Matsumoto Omura.

CO: When did you feel the effects of the editorials that you'd been publishing? Started to get you into trouble, didn't it?

JO: Well, I knew that taking the position was a hot one, you know. But I thought it -- it was something that I believed in and I didn't believe that Japanese Americans should kowtow to the government. Their basic rights were being challenged. And I think that when your basic right is being challenged, you should stand up and be counted.

CO: So what actually happened? You were arrested?

JO: Well, I wasn't immediately arrested. I knew at the time I was writing the editorials that there were many organizations after my skin, including the Y-, mostly the Christian group, the YWCA. A national officer came to Denver University and said, "We've got to stop Jimmie Omura from writing those editorials." She wrote that into the latter part of her speech. At the time, we were aware that the government was trying to have me indicted. But they had been trying to indict me from before anyway, before the Fair Play Committee. They were trying to indict me -- they had a case called James Omura and the Rocky Shimpo. Which got combined with Okamoto et. al. in the conspiracy case. So I was always aware, and I knew we were treading dangerous ground, but I felt that we were just skimming the edges, not, not actually going beyond what you call sedition. When we felt this, I had the publisher contact the WRA to ask them their opinion whether the editorials in the Rocky Shimpo was seditious. They all said it bordered on sedition but was not sedition. In the meantime, the JACL was howling about sedition, and the Justice Department was talking about sedition, so that you could pretty well assume that the JACL and the Justice Department were pretty well tied together. The JACL was the first to mention sedition.


<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 1994, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

CO: So, tell us about the trial. So, let's see, I wanted to get to the arrest. How did that happen?

JO: Well, it was a coincidence that I woke up that Friday, very early in the morning at 4:30 planning to finish my work and then take my show dog somewhere up in the mountain valley for a run. Then -- this is still dark, and I'm sure it was before 6 o'clock, they said it was 6 o'clock -- that there was a knock on the door. And I opened the door wondering who would be knocking on my door at this odd hour of the morning. And there was a man standing there who identified himself as an FBI agent. And he said the people behind him are also FBI agents. It turned out there was one other FBI agent and two marshals. And he says, he read the... because it was dark, one of the men behind him shone a flashlight on a piece of paper this man held up and he read to me the indictment on the conspiracy charge and told me that I was under arrest. He went through everything in the boxes, all my possessions, trying to find documents. And, of course, the FBI would give you an index of what they took later on. And it also said that while they were inspecting my things they ran across this paper from the district court legally changing my name.

And they took me down to the marshal's office, fingerprinted me and sent me up to the top floor where they have holding cages. And I was placed in one of those single cages that stands by itself. There were two like that. And they wouldn't allow me to contact anyone. I asked repeatedly for opportunity to make one phone call. They refused that. About one o'clock they took me out and took me to the municipal building where I was more or less brought before the commissioner. We couldn't tell exactly what was going on because I was sitting in the middle of the courtroom. And the front half of that courtroom was in darkness, whereas where I was sitting was in full sunlight. After a long conversation with someone to his right, the men straightened out -- I couldn't see him distinctly, and he asked me, he says, "Mr. Omura," he said, "Do you know what you are charged with?" So I said, "Yes." And that was it. We never knew, he never gave the decision, or anything. I was taken back to my cell in the marshal's office. Twenty minutes later I was taken out again and spirited to Cheyenne and placed in solitary.


CO: So you were just saying how the arrests were coordinated.

JO: Yes, the arrest was all coordinated. The boys at Tule Lake, that is Sam Horino and Okamoto and the fellows at Heart Mountain and myself in Denver, so that we wouldn't get together and notify each other. This is in the documents requested by the prosecution.

CO: So what happens now that you're in solitary confinement? Were you ever able to get a lawyer?

JO: Yes. I, well, my lawyer didn't come up to see me until the following Friday, which meant something like seven, about twelve or thirteen days, and I'm in solitary confinement all this time. And when he did come I mentioned it to him and he says, he says, "You take that up with our Wyoming attorney when he comes Monday." That sort of riled me, because this is my primary attorney. He doesn't care that I'm in solitary, not allowed anything. Now don't forget, I'm not allowed anything except cigarette. That's what they told me. I didn't have a towel, I didn't have anything to write on, anything to read, and it burned me up. [Laughs] When my Wyoming attorney came the following Monday morning, that's the 18th day, actually, he was real disturbed, real angry. He went immediately into the sheriff's office and lodged a complaint. But nothing happened immediately. It was the next afternoon before I was moved in with the rest of the Fair Play Committee in the east block.

CO: Was that the first time you met them?

JO: That's the first time I met them.

CO: Then, did you talk? What happened?

JO: Well, they greeted me. They knew who I was so they greeted me. And the man who took me into tow was Paul Nakadate. And I had a bunk right under him. And they were allowed paper and pencil and stuff like that. So he loaned me a pad and a pencil. Mine were all taken away. I don't know what happened to them. Never saw it again. But anyway, I went to the other end of the block where Okamoto was and the moment I came over, he got out, he was lying down in his bunk, but he jumped up and sat down on it. And the first thing that he said to me was that he was the first man to ask for reparation. He's telling that to me and I already have on record that I had asked for reparation long before him. And I said to him, "You know, I don't believe that's true," I says to him. "That there may be many people we never heard of who may have asked for reparation." I said, "I don't know this," I said, "You don't know that. So you're not the first." That sort of threw him off. He got back into his bunk and that was the end of the interview. I never got another word out of him.

CO: Did you meet Frank Emi then?

JO: Yes, I met Frank Emi when I first came in, but he wasn't there long because he got bailed out. So I didn't get to know him well.

CO: Were you up for bail?

JO: We couldn't get bail. We were in a dither about trying to get bail. No bonding place in Denver would touch a draft case, so it wasn't until Wirin, that's the Fair Play Committee's lawyer, contacted Cooper of the Arizona bail-bond agency in Phoenix, that Mr. Cooper came and bailed me out toward the end of September. I'd been in there since July 20th.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 1994, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

CO: So what happened at the trial? And when was the trial?

JO: The trial began on October 23, 1944. And lasted 'til November 2, 1944. The Fair Play Committee members, seven of them, testified first. I testified last.

CO: I understand that you were under a separate -- you had a separate... didn't you move for a separate trial?

JO: We moved for separate trial twice. And both times it was denied. The second time it was denied, my Wyoming attorney was the secretary of the Wyoming bar association. And it was his opinion that the judge had violated the ethics of his commission. And he explained to me that if there are evidence in my favor just as strong as the evidence produced by the prosecution, that he should declare... what do you call that verdict? Well, anyway, the verdict from the bench and let me go. Which he did not. Now after the trial, the judge told my attorney -- now this is what my attorney told me -- that the judge had said to him that if the jury had convicted me, he would have sustained it although he knew that it would be overturned by a higher court. So my goose was cooked if I had a judge decide the case.

CO: You had a jury trial?

JO: I had a jury trial.

CO: And what was the outcome?

JO: I was acquitted on the charges of the government.

CO: And then what happened after that?

JO: Well, after that, naturally I'm flat broke by now. So I went back to Denver, moved in from Lakewood where I lived, into Denver.


JO: I, I didn't, I was in the same courtroom, but I didn't say goodbye to them because I was pretty well shook up about the Fair Play Committee.

CO: What did you think of them?

JO: Well, you see there were a couple of incidents leading up to the trial and I, we decided to forget about them and go our own way.

CO: So you had a... it was not a convivial get-together?

JO: No, no.

CO: They didn't appreciate the fact that you'd been supporting them?

JO: I don't know what they really thought. I only know what happened.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 1994, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

CO: Well now, getting back to where... let's go now to after the trial, when you were flat broke, moved to Denver.

JO: I was flat broke, yes. So I moved into Denver and naturally went out looking for a job so I could replenish my depleted finances. But wherever I went, I was dogged by the Nisei. I would get the job -- except for the first one -- I did get the job. But by 4:30 or 5 o'clock I would get a telephone call telling me that, "We have three fellows or five fellows or any number of people working for us, and a few things are running pretty high against you. You'd better not show up at 8 in the morning." So I had a hard time finding a job. In fact, it took me three months.

CO: Did you continue in the newspaper business?

JO: No.

CO: What did you do?

JO: Well, I was pretty well-acquainted with the city so I was looking for a chauffeur's job. And after three months I finally did find a job driving a truck. And at that time, people were going back to California. And this one Nisei girl in the office told me, just hours before she was to be picked up, that the first Nisei girl that worked there that had quit the day after I was hired, had gone into the manager's office and told them all about me. Not affirmatively, negatively. But to the credit of the management, they never let on that they knew. They always treated me 100 percent.

CO: This was a Japanese?

JO: No, not a Japanese. Japanese worked there, but not Japanese boss.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 1994, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

CO: How are you feeling today about all this?

JO: Well, subsequently I learned that through contact -- I was in a bowling league so I had contact -- that the attitude and the feeling was tense every time we bowled against another team, nobody spoke to me, actually. And it became so bad that I decided I'd give up bowling. Then a well-known Issei woman told me one night that she had contact with many Issei in the community and they all asking me to shut up. Well, didn't say it in those words, but that's what it amounted to. And she said to me that, "You tried so hard," she says, "and the people don't appreciate it. So don't do anymore."

How do I feel about it? In 1987, I finally communicated with my sister in Japan. Up to that time we didn't know if she was a victim of the atom bomb or not. And I don't read Japanese and she don't read English. Therefore, the letter was in Japanese and I would have to have that translated. So at first I had the minister at the Buddhist church translate it for me. The second time I went there, he told me he can't do it no more. He treated me, at first he was very jovial, very friendly. The second time, he didn't even smile; he was grim-looking. If I asked a question, he says, told me to let him finish the letter. And at the end he says he can't do it anymore. So I called up the Methodist bishop who was a Japanese from near here from the Pacific School of Religion. I didn't know him, but I had a very good friend who was close to him. He wasn't in but his wife, who is a Korean, recommended her minister, Christian minister, Methodist. And they did the honors the next time. And they gave me a pep talk, you know, they said that this was volunteered by them, that they recall my name, when I was editor in San Francisco and he was in Sacramento. And he gave me this pep talk about he doesn't care what his congregation says, anybody in his congregation said. He's, he's his own man, he's gonna do the thing that he thought was right and all that sort of stuff, you know. Now, all of this was volunteered to me. And then next time I called him, he says he can't do it for me anymore. So, but he says he'll recommend his, the lady who does the flower arrangement in the church. And she did it for me. And I was supposed to send her my response, which I did, to her home. And she didn't, there was no answer. And I included a photo. So after a considerable length of time, I told her that if she wasn't going to do it, to return the material back to me. There was no answer. So I called up the Christian minister and asked him to do something about it. There was no answer. So the problem is that I had to find someone in California who would do it for me and I did find someone here in Oakland. So if you ask me what I feel toward the Japanese in Denver, I have no use for 'em. I feel sorry for 'em, but I don't want to associate with them, and we don't.

CO: What about the Japanese American community in general?

JO: That's what I mean. The Japanese American community in general, you'll never see me down there. You haven't seen me for many, many years. Maybe a decade or more. I don't attend any of their festivities.

CO: And how do you feel about not ever becoming, being a journalist again?

JO: Well, I wasn't a journalist to start with. I sort of got pushed into it. I didn't have the tongue for writing that some people like Larry Tajiri has. He could pound out things with you talking or me talking around him. And he could hear what we're saying, even, and respond to it in-between. I couldn't do that. I was one of these guys who had to struggle to write an editorial because you think deeply and think about what the words meant and all that and what effect it would have. So it wasn't easy to write an editorial.

CO: And how do you feel about the American government?

JO: Well, as far as the American government is concerned, they already know my opinion because the FBI, the Justice Department ruled that I was loyal to the United States but not always agree with government policy. And I think that's a tribute to me.

CO: If you had it to do again, would you have done something differently?

JO: I would have done better. I think I pulled my punches on the JACL and the government too much. 'Cause I wasn't actually out to slay the dragon, I was just stating a point.


CO: Jimmie, do you have anything else that you'd like to add?

JO: Well, yes, I hope that in the not too distant future that the Japanese American society will be able to come together again. I don't like this gulf between those who are opposed to the JACL and the JACL. I'm not for the JACL because I believe in my heart that the JACL betrayed the Japanese American society. But I think our ethnic society must come together and work together.

CO: Has it been hard on you?

JO: I would like to say one other thing: that those years were tough. But I think I have received my reward in the good people who have opened the doors, invited me in, have entertained me and have done many good things for me.

CO: Jimmie, tell us about your book you're working on?

JO: I've been working on that book for ten years and I hope I'm close to finishing it. But I'm not one to gloss over what happened. So if it's ever written, you would know exactly what the document shows and what I personally know and how I feel toward the entire episode.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 1994, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.