Densho Digital Archive
Emiko and Chizuko Omori Collection
Title: Shosuke Sasaki Interview
Narrator: Shosuke Sasaki
Interviewers: Chizu Omori (primary), Emiko Omori (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: September 28, 1992
Densho ID: denshovh-sshosuke-02-0006

<Begin Segment 6>

EO: Well, so, once the evacuation order came down, tell us what happened to you then.

SS: Well...

EO: What was your feeling of that evacuation order since nothing was going on here that warranted it? When did you first hear about it?

SS: Oh, they started talking about that early in, early in January, I think. That the government was definitely planning to move us, or talking about it. The, our greatest disappointment was, or my greatest disappointment -- and I think most of the Issei that I knew felt the same way -- was the absolute failure of the Japanese American Citizens League to do anything trying to counter that move to put us in prisons. And I think that is a point that deserves greater scrutiny. I remember late in 1941, this is before the war began, in the autumn of '41, one of the, the better magazines of this country, it was either in the Harper's or The Atlantic Monthly, carried an article about the Japanese in this country. And the author of that article wrote in it, said it was that it was his understanding that the -- oh yes, this article on the whole was rather, was favorable toward the Japanese living here. But he included in that statement that it was his understanding that the leaders of the Japanese American Citizens League mostly came from, were descendants of Japan's eta class. Now the eta, class, they're called burakumin today because they object to the use of the word eta. But this class was the bottom of Japan's social scale. And this is a class that has existed for centuries in Japan. And its origins are lost in the mists of history, so to speak. But it's generally agreed and believed that most, that the eta class arose as a result of the kind of work that the ancestors of these, of these people performed in Japan for just literally centuries, many, many centuries. Going, they go back to record as early as the 10th century, l0th, 11th century.

CO: Do you believe that these JACL leaders were descendants?

SS: Oh yes, you see, these are the people who were engaged in the disposal of, well, human bodies, the gravediggers, those who, also those who took care of the butchering of animals, the people who collected feed for, to feed the falcons owned by members of the upper classes, and leather workers. Anything, any kind of work that had to do with the disposal of animal or human bodies was considered polluting according to the Japanese Shinto teachings. Shinto is a religion that places heavy emphasis on ritual purity. And anyone who made a living by handling the bodies of animals or human beings who were dead was considered to have been polluted. Now on top of that, when Buddhism was introduced into Japan, Buddhism taught that the needless taking of life in any form was a sin, and so that included butchers and so forth. So that, the introduction of Buddhism did nothing to improve the status of the, the eta class.

EO: So tell us about the assembly center. [Addressing someone off camera] Oh, wait a minute, want me to go back? [Addressing SS] So what would that have to do with the behavior of the JACL?

SS: Oh, well now, that's it.

EO: Yes.

SS: That's what I wanted to get back to. The eta, being placed at the very bottom of the economic and social scale, at one time they were, some of them were economically fairly well-off, particularly the leather workers. Leather was necessary, particularly during Japan's feudal period, in making armor and for use in harnesses and saddles and things like that. But when the Tokugawa period began around the, around the year 1600, shortly after the great Battle of Sekigahara, Japan was, became at peace. War, large scale warfare ended with the Battle of Sekigahara in the year 1600, and so there was no longer this great need for leather workers. And so these leather workers became in effect unemployed, and very poor, just like the rest of the, the eta class. And they survived, I suppose, primarily by being very humble. And my mother, I remember, remembered them in her childhood as being primarily vendors of, itinerary -- not itinerary -- itinerant vendors of small household items, patent medicines, and things like that. And she used to remark on how, how humble these people were when they would come to sell their wares, and, even when it was raining when they would come, she would invite them to come into the house, and they would always refuse. And then I, it was after I read the book called Japan's Invisible Race by, written by a Japanese anthropologist, I think, and an American anthropologist. Japan's Invisible Race. That book may still be available in paperback. But that really opened my eyes. It's rather a comprehensive history of how the eta class rose, and how they --

CO: So how's the connection? I mean, leadership of JACL...

SS: Well, the thing is, see, the response of the JACL to this evacuation proposal was one of wholeheartedly embracing the thing as evidence of our so-called loyalty to this country. And I found, I found that shocking. It was completely alien to the way I was brought up, and the way the Issei felt that I knew. And that kind of response of 200 percent submission to U.S. demands, no matter how outrageous, could have been done only by people who had absolutely no self-respect, no feeling of any, having any rights whatever. And it was this -- I think the U.S. government must have been aware of what they were doing when they picked the JACL to be the only surviving Japanese organization. They put all the other Japanese organizations out of commission by taking all their leaders, most of the Japanese organizations were led by Issei -- first generation -- they picked them all off the first week after Pearl Harbor and put them in Justice Department concentration camps. That meant the Japanese communities throughout the country, especially on the West Coast, were left leaderless. And they picked the JACL to represent us, to be our spokesmen. Well, the JACL never had that authority. No vote was ever taken giving them the authority to represent the Japanese in this country. Well, the Japanese community was left leaderless, the JACL leaders were more than eager to take up the role of representing us, so-called, and that's the way it's, it's continued up to now, and that's why the JACL was so dead-set against any kind of, any move, legally or otherwise, to challenge what the U.S. government was about to do and was doing to us. I think that deserves to be analyzed and studied and I wish some third-generation Japanese scholars would really dig into that. It's just humanly not normal to take the attitude that the JACL leaders of that day took unless their backgrounds were such that they were, they had absolutely no self-respect, felt that they had no social position, and had no right to insist on any rights.

CO: So tell us about them in Puyallup.

SS: Well, when we went to the camps, all the, the JACL, of course, had appointed its own members to be the, the leaders of the Japanese community. And they could have challenged the, everything that the government did to us, starting with the curfew. But the JACL put its foot down and said, "No. Under no circumstances will we challenge the government." They told the Japanese community, "You people, as proof of your loyalty, you submit." And that's not human. And it's not only that, it's un-American. I wish the Dies Committee had been chaired by someone more intelligent than Congressman Dies. Because for, they called it the Un-American Activities Committee. Remember? Well, the JACL would have been a perfect subject for them to examine, because the activities of the JACL was definitely un-American. America was founded with the idea of resistance to unwarranted government action. And the U.S. betrayed that principle on which this country was founded, not only the U.S. but also the JACL members who welcomed that type of thing, or seemed to welcome it.

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