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

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

<Begin Segment 1>

CO: So, Shosuke, tell us about your childhood and the prewar days and life as it was before the war.

SS: Well, my, I was born in the southwestern corner, almost, of the main island of Japan -- Honshu. The family whose name I bear, Sasakis, were of the samurai class and they were, they were teachers, they were Confucian scholars and teachers. And my, my mother comes from, came from an old samurai family of Hagi, that's the castle town of our clan, known as Choshu in Japan. It's called Yamaguchi-ken today. My father was from a family of commoners, really. He was of the, he came from the shoya class. The shoya were the, served as the mayors or the heads of the villages. He was not of samurai descent. Further back, my family includes people who were, other than my father's side... see, he was adopted into the Sasaki family. And the Sasaki family itself got its name, Sasaki, when a young samurai scholar from Nagasaki was shipwrecked near where I was later born, in a storm in 1832, in a terrific typhoon that struck on that, that year, 1832. He escaped with his life and was able to get ashore. And he was on his way, by ship, to the port of Hyogo, which is now right by, going to where Kobe is. And the purpose of his trip to, on that ship was to get up to Kyoto where a meeting was scheduled to take place, consisting of young scholars from various parts of Japan who were concerned with the fact that Japan had been allowed to become practically defenseless by the Tokugawa government. And this first man, who later took the name Sasaki, he came from a family in Nagasaki, who were the samurai class and who served as interpreters, translators, of the, for the government of the Isaga clan.

CO: So, how did your family happen to come to the United States?

SS: Well, they came here because my father was a graduate of Japan's first merchant marine school. And I, I believe that that merchant, that merchant marine school later served as the nucleus of the Japanese naval academy. My father graduated from the merchant marine school and worked on trans-Pacific ships, and, as well as ships going down south. I remember he told me of the days when he used to go on the ships going towards Singapore and the southern part. How extremely warm and hot and humid it was and how the ships of those days -- they were sailing ships, made of lumber that hadn't been properly aged, really -- and how in that tropical heat, the pitch would come out from the boards on the decks. And how the shoes therefore stuck to the decks. And they, they soon learned to dispense with their shoes on board in going around the ship.

Well, he was on a trans-Pacific ship going to Vancouver, British Columbia. And unfortunately, the man who was the captain of that ship, I suppose could best be described as a Captain Bligh type. And my father decided he wasn't going, going to make the return trip on a ship that was commanded by this man. So he, he and a friend decided to jump ship one evening. And his friend left the ship first with the understanding that he would wait at the end of the dock for him but when he walked across the plank from the ship to the dock, the plank made some, made a clattering noise and so my father said he waited until, to make sure that there was no one else who was, would be awakened by that sound and then he quietly went on board, onto the dock. And when he got to the end of the dock where his friend was supposed to be waiting, there was no one there. And he waited for quite a while, calling his name out -- not too loud -- but no answer, and he finally decided that if he waited much longer, the dawn would be breaking and it might cause him trouble. So he went ahead, and eventually he came across the border and went, got into Eastern Washington. And he told me how he used to drink from the streams. He said he found an elderberry bush and broke off one of its branches and found that the, that he could split it and clear the pith out from the center and then combine the two halves together again and he used that as a drinking tube.

And the first job he found was on a Japanese railroad repair crew. And he said the other members of that railroad repair crew welcomed him as an addition to their group because he was the only one among them who could read, write, and speak English. My father, before starting to work, after he graduated the merchant marine school, he spent a year in Kyoto studying English from a British tutor. And so he was able to, he was bilingual in the real sense of the word. He kept dictionaries with him throughout his life and he got me into the habit of using dictionaries as a boy. And his... anyway, he was bilingual in the true sense of the word. He could read, write and speak in both languages, something which I have never been able to do... I can't do it to this day. But at the peak of my ability in Japanese -- that was back around the time the war began, I was going to Japanese language evening school. At that time I had gotten to the point where I could read Japanese newspapers and magazines without much trouble, but particularly since the death of my mother back in 1972, I've spent twenty years now -- no, it wasn't 1972, it was 1970 that she died. Since then, I have had almost no one to speak Japanese with and therefore my speaking Japanese has gone down practically to, almost to zero. I'm ashamed to admit it.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

EO: So you were in Japan with your dad here.

SS: My father was in this, remained in this country. He went back after he was, he had established himself economically here, he went back to Japan and married his... he did not intend really to stay in this country too long. He wanted to make enough money to go back. And that, that desire was common among all, practically all immigrants to this country, regardless of where they came from, they looked upon the United States as a place where they could make enough money to save it up and then return to their own homes eventually. Of course, most of them failed to realize on that dream. My father failed, too. He died quite unexpectedly when I was eleven and the, the death of my father put an end to my childhood right then and there. From the age of eleven I had to, I could never get, put out of my mind completely like a child normally would, any consideration of economic worry. That was, that was a part of my life from there on. My father at one time had a fair amount of money, but several years before we came, he had, some of his investments had unexpectedly turned sour and so at the time he left, or the time he died, he left us only with five or six thousand dollars. Not enough to go back to Japan to live on. And our relatives in Japan told us to come back, they'd take care of us. But my mother said, "Oh, no. We're not going back to be dependent on the charity of relatives." So despite the fact that my mother knew absolutely no English then and never did throughout her life, we stuck it out and fortunately things turned out so that things gradually got easier.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

EO: So, what was Seattle like before the war?

SS: Well, now, let me tell you something about where I lived in this country when I first came. My father was, had a restaurant in the southeastern corner of the state of Washington, in a little county seat town of Pomeroy. And that town, my sister and I were the first Japanese children the people of that town had ever seen. And I will always remember that town and its people and particularly the Gibson family, who were my father's best friends. There was love and affection. They, Ed Gibson was the county auditor at that time. I should have called him Uncle Ed, really, but since my mother and my father called him Ed, I just called him Ed -- [laughs] -- and never realized I should have addressed him as Uncle Ed. But his, his mother, Ed Gibson was widowed, his mother, his father had died some years long past. His mother had come across on a wagon train on the old Oregon Trail and she was, as you know, people who were able to become a part of a wagon train have their own prairie schooner and so forth from the East or the Midwest. Those people had to be of at least solid middle-class economic status in order to afford that trip -- the cost of the equipment, horses and so forth was too high for people of the lower economic levels to afford.


SS: What made it, made it so great for my sister and me to spend the first four and a half years of our life there was the fact that we were, being children, the first Japanese children that had ever lived there. The people of the town generally just took us to their heart, you might say. The first Fourth of July -- we got there in May, 8th... let's see, we came to this country in May 8th and shortly thereafter, within a few days we were in Pomeroy. Well, that first Fourth of July that I spent in this country, the town, people there asked my parents to clothe my sister and me in our Japanese clothes. And they gave us, made each of us hold an American flag and we led that Fourth of July parade down the, down Main Street. And I think we did that the following year, and then after that, of course, the novelty of it wore off and we were growing up so we never appeared in that Fourth of July parade anymore. But still, the people there treated us in many ways better than they did their own children. The, when, when the town built its first swimming pool, public swimming pool, they somehow gave my sister and me free season tickets for admission to that pool. I think we're the only ones that got such tickets.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

CO: So in Seattle, so you moved to Seattle. And, so, describe the Japanese community in Seattle.

SS: Seattle was like going from -- it may sound extreme -- but the move from Pomeroy to Seattle, of course, that was right after my father died, too. So it includes the loss of my father and the loss of all my friends in Pomeroy, and it was probably the greatest shock that I ever, that I ever had to go through. I remember my sister and I felt very unhappy at that time. And I found that the Japanese in Seattle were very clannish. Since we had spent four and a half years in Pomeroy, we spoke English with a different accent from the Japanese that had been brought up in the Japanese section of Seattle. And many of the Nisei seemed to regard us with, as if we were outsiders who weren't quite equal to them. And we felt insulted, really, and we felt very lonely, I remember. In fact, the, the feeling of being an outsider never really left me until after I had finished college.

CO: You went to...

SS: I went to the University of Washington. And my education was interrupted by six years, during the '30s when the Furuya Bank, in which we had our money, failed back in 1930, '31. At that time we were living out on Bainbridge. We had gone out to Bainbridge in order to regain our health. After my father died, we eventually got into the apartment house and small hotel business, but those days the Japanese could not buy or own real estate.

CO: How did they have the hotels and such?

SS: Well, we had, we all, we ran them under leases. We got three- or five-year leases and at that time, the country was in a depression. Banks and real estate establishments had had a lot of real estate that they couldn't unload. They needed someone to run them. And so it gave the Japanese a chance to get into that business. At the time, the... anyway, when the bank failed and I couldn't go back to school, I didn't get back to school until 1937. I was in a hurry to get out so I took more hours than normal in some cases and also went to summer school and I finished up in '39. When I got out, I found that there was absolutely no work for me anywhere other than whatever work I could do around the apartment house that I was running. I feel sorry for the young people of today having difficulty finding work as compared with the ease with which such work was available up to the last few months. For us, anyone of Japanese descent, it was just a solid wall of prejudice. And there was absolutely no chance of getting any work. I remember when I first decided to major in banking and investments, in finance... it was called banking and finance. The man who was to be my faculty advisor sent me a note saying that he wanted to talk with me so I went to see him. And he, I became friends with... well, he became a good friend of mine, I should say. Anyway, his, the first thing he said to me, he said, "Do you realize that you're the first Japanese ever to sign up as a major for this subject?" And I said, "No, I didn't know that." He said, "Do you also realize that when you graduate, you're not going to be able to find work?" I said, "Yes, I'm aware of that." He said, "Then why are you taking the course?" I told him that I had known men who at some time in their life had a fair amount of money and yet who happened to end their lives almost flat broke. I said that, "As of now I'm running an apartment building with a lease and I can make my living that way." I wanted to take this course because if and when I ever came into money, I wanted to know how to hold onto it. And I remember Mr. Dakin, my faculty advisor, smiled when I said that. He said, "All right, you can take the course."

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

<Begin Segment 5>

CO: So, when December 7th came, what happened to you and how did you feel?

SS: Well, December 7th I was out on the Jefferson golf course. I didn't know that the war had... we were out there from the morning, eight o'clock, seven or eight, something like that. And I didn't get home until one o'clock. And as soon as I came home, my mother told me, "The war has begun."

CO: I'm sorry. Could you tell me that again? Where were you on...

SS: On the golf course out here. The Jefferson golf course, right near here. I was there with three other friends. None of us were aware that the start of war had begun until we got home, about one o'clock. And at that time, that war was preceded by the United States... the United States was extremely eager to get into that war. She did everything possible to provoke Japan into doing something that would give the United States an excuse to start the war. I think that World War II was something that was totally unnecessary. Japan was practically on her knees begging for some kind of agreement so that that we could escape war. And the United States, the attitude of the United States was to get Japan into a war, that they would have no difficulty disposing of Japan as an adversary, and then that would enable the U.S. to get into the European war with both feet. The only thing that, that didn't go according to the expectations of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration was the devastation caused to the American navy at Pearl Harbor. They never, it never occurred to them that they'd find that their fleet had been sunk. And, of course, that was a great blow to the ego of most Americans and so that, that was a racial war fought for racial reasons with intense fury. And I think within the last twenty or thirty years at least, there have been quite a number of books that have documented that war and is, the fact that it was basically racist by the United States trying to put a non-white nation down or in what they figured was in, was "in their place," as they would put it.

CO: Well, so...

SS: The...

CO: Then you went to Jefferson, and then what happened? You got home now...

SS: Well, I got home, my sister came over with her first-born child. And I can't say that I was too worried of, the war had started. And none of us really worried too much. We figured, well, whatever happens happens. I remember my father, when he was living, he used to tell us, "If a war should begin, go to Mexico." That, "If you stay in this country, you could be mobbed and hanged." I remember when the war first began, the local newspapers were very sane about it. They ran editorials urging the people of Seattle not to take, take the war out against the Japanese residents in this country because they had nothing to do with the starting of the war, and so forth. And so the first, first month, four or five weeks, everything seemed reasonably, well, what could you expect? You know, no, at least in Seattle I didn't know of any assaults on the Japanese by mobs or even by individuals. Though I understand in California that wasn't quite a, quite that peaceful. The, the atmosphere began to become nasty only after the newspapers, the press, began whipping it up with a anti-Japanese slant. If the newspapers had not done that, maybe that evacuation would have been un-, well, it was totally unnecessary in the first place, but it might have been avoided. But that's one of the big complaints I have of the, of the American press, is that it's essentially irresponsible. What they put in the news and print, you know, they'll put in headlines, is done primarily to attract readers or subscribers so it can increase the readership, the subscription list of the newspaper, and that is what determines the profits of the newspaper. The greater the number of subscribers they have, the more they can charge per square inch of advertising space.

CO: Anyway, at that time, then, what happened in the community?

SS: Nothing, really. There were no anti-Japanese riots or anything. And then it was, they had the Tolan Committee hearings, the congressional committee hearings and so forth. And it was in reporting those, and then the remarks made by the politicians whipping up anti-Japanese feeling, that eventually made that, our imprisonment, our uprooting and imprisonment, a possibility. Had it not been for the irresponsibility of the American press in inflaming public opinion -- which really didn't need to be inflamed -- we probably would have escaped being put into prison like we were.

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

<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.

<Begin Segment 7>

CO: So, tell us about the assembly center and then Minidoka.

SS: Well, the assembly center was the worst, was worse than Minidoka. Minidoka was, was better. The assembly center was really crudely constructed. They had no provision for, in that wet climate, you know what the Seattle climate is like. And after tearing up the ground and everything to construct those barracks, well, the ground was nothing but plain mud. And after rain you just walked through a sea of mud. That's what it was when we first went there. And the food that we got was, for the first several days, for the first week or so, all we got was starch. I think for breakfast we had white bread and also at that time we got, we had no butter and no milk. We had white bread for breakfast, and I guess we had noodles for lunch, and maybe potatoes for dinner. Or something like that. It was totally without any protein. And in order to get milk, you had to have a doctor's certificate saying that you had to have milk. Oh yes, they told us that we weren't supposed to, we were supposed to keep five feet away from the fences, which were barbed wire. And I was in Area, Area A; across the street was Area B. And one night some people, they heard a rifle shot. And it wasn't in our, our... but the next day we found out what had happened. A cow had wandered too near the fence and the guard from the guard tower thought it was a Japanese trying to escape, so he shot the cow.


SS: Well, in, in going to the camp, one of the things I did -- which I don't know if anyone else did the same thing -- I expected to be in a barbed wire enclosure, and it turned out to be that way. But the thing that worried me was how they would treat us there. And I wanted to be able to get out of camp if necessary, if treatment was as bad as it might have been. And so as we left home, I remember one of the last thing I grabbed out of the toolbox was a pair of wire cutters, put it in my pocket and went. And I had occasion to use those wire cutters only once. When, after the, in Minidoka, they had bits of insulation, Celotex, bits of it, piled up in a pile on the other side of the barbed wire fence that they had us in, you see. And I wanted to go and get those pieces of Celotex to insulate a part of the barrack, the quarters that they had us in. Well, I thought, well, the best thing to do is to get out there and bring that inside the wire. Well, I tried crawling through that barbed wire and I got caught on it once or twice and I said, "Well, the heck with it," and I took the pliers out and I snapped it. Well, that was an unexpected surprise. All that barbed wire was taut, and so when I snapped it, then the thing goes, "boing," like that -- [laughs] -- loud sound. And I thought, "Oh my gosh," and the first thing I did was to go flat on my stomach so they couldn't see me because of the sagebrush. And I thought someone might show up, so I lay there for a while, and nobody seemed to notice, so I got up and went through the barbed wire fence, this time with considerable ease, and brought most of that inside the wire, which I could take back to my apartment. Well, that was the first, that was the only time I ever used that barbed wire -- that clipper.

And the other time that I broke one of the regulations was that winter. My, they were feeding us mutton as protein. My mother couldn't eat it. Many Japanese couldn't. They wouldn't eat. The smell of it just nauseated them. So I decided, "Well, gee, if my mother's not going to eat any protein, she might not be able to survive this." So I remember one day after, after lunch, I got out an old flour sack and put it in my pocket. I had also heard the preceding day that the guard at one of the gates across the irrigation ditch that served as a moat on one side of the camp, that because of the extremely cold weather, the guard was no longer there, you see. So I thought I'd better take advantage of that, so I just took the flour sack with me and walked about four miles from camp to the nearest town or village, through the sagebrush and the snow on the ground, and I loaded up with all the canned tuna and canned salmon that I could get and came back with it. That, I also made it a point to get back before 5 o'clock because they took a body count at that time, every day in the evening. So as long as I wasn't missed at lunch and as long as they didn't miss me at the body count, nobody knew. But I would say that's about, about the only two times that I violated the rules.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

SS: But it was later on, after I got to Minidoka, they had us... they were paying us, what? Twelve dollars for manual labor, fifteen or sixteen dollars for clerical work, and nineteen dollars if you were a doctor or something of that sort. So when I looked at the list of jobs that would be available, I decided I'd stick strictly to physical labor. And the job I tried to get at camp was that of can-smasher. In those days they were trying to save iron and the empty cans, somebody had to smash them and pack them in boxes to be recycled. Anyway, I applied for that job but there were too many people ahead of me. I had no chance. So they wanted me to get in and do some clerical work. I preferred to stay home and read. But eventually I decided to take physical labor, so I applied for the, on the ditch, the ditch repair crew and we used to get up in the morning and the camp engineer would lead the group of us out to the irrigation ditch. And I used to go down, all of us would get out of the truck and go down to the, to the bottom of the ditch and follow the engineer's instructions on what we were supposed to do there for that day. Well, it was mid-winter, the temperature was down around, what, oftentimes below zero, and we had all the pickaxes and shovels there but the ground was frozen solid. There wasn't anything we could do. And in time the engineer got tired of watching us, so he'd get back in his truck, and then he'd get cold there. And so pretty soon we'd hear him start his car up and his car would leave. So one of our group there would climb the banks of the canal and get up and when he saw that engineer's car go around the bend, he'd signal us. Then we just dumped all our tools and clambered up the side of the bank and the first thing we did was to gather sagebrush around, dead sagebrush, and build a fire, warm ourselves. I always brought a book with me there to read, so I had something to read all the time. And the other guys on the irrigation crew, therefore gave me a nickname: Professor. And so the other fellows warmed themselves around the fire and played, played cards, I sat there and just read. Well, this continued day after day. The engineer would show up to take us out in the morning and he'd say, "Gee whiz. This is the same as I saw here yesterday. What happened? What'd you guys do?" "Well, there's nothing we can do. That ground is frozen solid. See if you can do anything with the pickaxe yourself, if you don't believe us." I remember I spent a month just going out there. Every day.

CO: Tell us who Jimmy Sakamoto was.

SS: Well, Jimmy Sakamoto was... for one thing, he never went to college as far as I know. He was a professional boxer. He lost his vision by injuries he sustained in the ring. And then he decided to... well, he got into this publishing business. He owned the Courier, as they called it. And for a long time, that, since the JACL began in Seattle, that Courier was sort of the, the official JACL paper. It was the forerunner of that pathetic Citizen that we have today. But Jimmy... I don't know what to say about the man except that he was completely in agreement with anything the government was willing to do to us. He started, he and the other leaders of that day started that policy and Masaoka now, of course, now that he's dead, but when Masaoka really joined the JACL it was only... he was brought into the JACL only less than a year before the war began. And when the war began, he was just considered a sort of an assistant to the real big shots, the organization, like Sakamoto, Clarence Arai, and some of the others, a few from California. But the response of the JACL was a bitter disappointment to the Issei. They felt that they had been completely just abandoned.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

SS: I did a few more things that were against the rules at Minidoka. One of the things that... well, eventually I gave up this ditch-digging crew job because they said they wanted me to start a, a rationing office in the camp, rationing of shoes and things came into effect. And so they had to have some way of issuing ration, shoe ration tickets to the people of the camp in order for them to buy shoes. And one of my friends came over and asked me to do that and I, I wasn't particularly eager. But he said, "Look, this has to be done and you probably could do it as well or better than most of the other guys that might. Well, why not as a service to the community here in the camp, why don't you do it for us?" So with that, I said okay. So I helped, I set up the rationing office. They gave me a day to go into the nearest large town, which was the headquarters of the local ration office. And I went there to see how they, how they ran the thing. It was simple, no trouble. And so I ran that ration office for a while. We had to issue ration tickets also to people who were leaving camp. And by that time the government had decided they wanted to get us out of the camp as soon as they could, and a lot of people were leaving and we wanted... said, "These people who wanted to go out, and want to buy meat and things like that, they need cards, so they want you to issue those cards here." So I arranged to have that done. That was simple. The, I did that ration office thing for a while, for several months, I guess.

And then one of my friends, Takeo Nogaki, who was a friend of mine from before the war, he had been one of the leaders in getting the co-op established in camp. See, when we went into those camps, the government made no provisions for any stores. So we had no place to buy toothpicks or shoelaces or anything like that, or toothpaste. And we asked the government to supply us, or give us a PX canteen like the army units had, and the government refused flatly. Said, "No, they sell things at a discount and if we sold things at a discount to you, the newspapers would say that we were pampering you Japs. So anything sold in this store, in this camp will be at prices same as prevailing on the outside of the store." And they said, "We're thinking of giving a concession to some of the local merchants living in this area." Well, we didn't, we didn't agree to that and so the other choice they gave us was to set up our own co-op and the co-op had to charge the regular prevailing prices for anything. The savings came in the form of rebates to those who had saved their purchase receipts at the end of the year.

Well, that, the board of directors at that time consisted entirely of Issei, first-generation Japanese. And the government wanted the minutes of those board meetings taken, put down in English so it had to be someone who was, could understand what was going on in Japanese and put the thing down in English. Well, Takeo was well-qualified for that so he did that for the time he was there. And then he was always having disputes with the camp administrator. And he got so much in the hair of the camp, the head of the camp, Stafford, that Stafford got him a job in New Jersey and shipped him off. Well, then they needed a replacement for Takeo. So, apparently I was about the only one left in camp who could do what Takeo was doing, so I agreed I would do that for a while. And, well, when I got in there, I discovered a few things that really made me hit the ceiling. One was the fact that... see, when they built those camps they made no provisions for any stores. So the spaces that we had to use for the co-op was in the so-called recreation unit that they built. In other words, an empty barrack that they built, one for each, each block. And so we asked to use those because they weren't being used. Well, they said, "Well, you can use 'em, but you gotta pay rent." Well, I didn't know about this, and after I became, my title was Executive Secretary to the Board of Directors, and so anything that had to do with the Board of Directors, they had to come through me, and vice versa. And they... oh, yes. They, I didn't know about that, the fact that we were paying rent on that until after I had taken over the Office of the Executive Secretary and I received a bill from the War Relocation Authority for so much money for rent. And I said, "Rent? Holy smoke. In this concentration camp, you mean they're charging us rent?" Boy, I was really, really angry and they said, "Well, quiet down. We had a big fight over this when we started the camp and we fought it all we could and there was nothing we could do. The orders came from Washington, D.C. The WRA administration and the camp have to follow those rules." So, I said alright, agreed to it. I had to... I couldn't hold the check back.

Well, one day, I remember a fellow who was a, who came to my office and said he was a government auditor. He says, "I'm in here auditing your, the camp. And I'm here auditing the books of the co-op. And I want you to show me where these units are which you're using as stores." And I said, "Okay." And he said, "Well, you come and get in my car." I didn't have a car in camp, of course. So he took me to these barracks where, this empty barrack that was being used as a store. And he had a tape measure -- 50 or 60 foot tape measure, you know. He gave me the one that had the ball on it, well, he held on to the end of the thing. So I went backwards. And he said, "According to my books, this is, this says 50 feet. Is that correct?" And I looked at it and said, "No. This is only 45 feet." Well, it was actually 50 feet. [Laughs] So he says, "Oh, okay." And so he scribbles out the 50 feet there and corrects it to 45 feet. So I made him do that on each one of the buildings that he measured. And I didn't stay long enough to really examine the ultimate result of that reduction. I don't know if it really did any good, that cheating.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

CO: Do you remember the registration period in Minidoka?

SS: Oh yes, yes. Well, in my case, I was all set to go to, go to Tule Lake. And those questions that they asked me were such that I would have had, in effect, to renounce my allegiance to Japan. I had only Japanese citizenship. If I had agreed to those statements, the desired response to those stupid questions they had, I would have been giving up my Japanese citizenship. I was all set to go. But fortunately, they changed the question one day before I had to show up and sign that thing. So by the time, the day I showed up, the only question they asked was: "If released, will you promise not to do anything to impede the American war effort?" And that I was willing to sign.

CO: So that, in Minidoka, that was the question that was asked of the Issei.

SS: Of the Issei after a certain date. The day before I went up, up to answer those questions, they changed the thing one day before. Otherwise I might have been sent to Tule Lake. Then there... see, there are some other things there that were stupid. I know, later on, after the war was, after I left camp, and I became friendly with one of the former employees of the War Relo-, WRA who worked in camp, he left camp about the time I did. He was sent out to Philadelphia; I got to know him fairly well. And he told me, he said, "You know, you're rated by the WRA as really one of the obstinate hard-heads among the Japanese in camp." And I said, "Well, I'll admit it. I am a hard-head." And he... [pauses] Oh, yes. One of the things that irritated the administration, they wanted me to agree to a system so that the Japanese who were imprisoned in those camps could be hired as household maids and servants in camp. And they said that there were a fair number of WRA people who were living in camp, inside there. And these people, they said some of them needed household help. And they were already getting this help by paying the internees for whatever work they were doing for them. But they wanted the thing... but this kind of employment was not technically covered by government rules. And they wanted the thing legal, so they wanted the co-op to establish a system whereby these people could, could get their help through the co-op. And they were going to pay the co-op the prevailing, going rate of pay for servants of that type in and around that area. And the people who did the work were going to be paid only the regular pay, like twelve dollars a month or something like that. And the difference would be a profit for the co-op that would be returned to all the people with the distribution of profits for the year. Well, that just struck me as being ridiculous and totally wrong. If these people were willing to work for doing that kind of miserable work, they were entitled to every nickel they could get. And I wasn't going to participate in reducing their income so it could be spread to other people. And even more, I felt that we were in that camp on a racial basis. And that I would not cooperate with a system which, in which they were using Japanese prisoners in that camp as personal servants. I wanted nothing to do with handling that kind of money. And so long as I was there, I remember I stopped it.

EO: When --

SS: Yes, go ahead.

EO: You said that you had an opportunity to go out to a store, that meant that you actually could have escaped.

SS: Yes, yes, I could have escaped.

EO: Why didn't you?

SS: Well, for one thing, I had a mother to take care of in camp. That was my number one responsibility. I couldn't abandon her, leaving her inside, going out. They would have found me sooner or later anyway, if I had obtained work and was, and started sending money to my mother.

EO: Did you think about it?

SS: Oh yes, I thought about it. I could have sneaked out of there, I suppose. But my main concern was that I shared my responsibility of taking care of an aging mother. If I were completely alone, single, I might have tried that. But whether that would have been successful or not, I don't know. Being Japanese, you're spotted wherever you go. I suppose if I had gone directly to a place like New York where there were people of all kinds, all races and skin colors, I might have been able to get by. But not around a place like Idaho.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

EO: Did you stay there until the end of the war?

SS: No. I left in 1944, December. December 15, 1944. And I left partly because this fellow I got to know, that worked for the WRA, his name was Dan Chapman. That was one of his assignments when he was in -- he was not in camp very long, but one of his assignments was to try to persuade the people who were there to go east. See, we weren't allowed to go back to the West Coast at that time. And I had a number of conversations with Dan in camp and he told me that I would find that the attitude toward Japanese in New York, on the East Coast as a whole would be far better than anything I'd experienced in the West Coast. And I knew the camp was, would be closed eventually. The, I didn't think Japan could last much longer because she had nothing left to fight on. Her navy was practically all destroyed and she had almost no source of fuel, oil or anything of that sort. So I, I couldn't see how Japan could continue. And I felt that if I stayed there until the war officially ended and with all the GIs being released from army duty, that I might find it difficult finding any kind of employment. So, in December of '45, I talked it over -- well, before that, of course, I talked it over with my sister and my brother-in-law who were still in camp, and with my mother, of course, and we decided that I should get out looking for work. So that's what I did. I went from there to Philadelphia, and looked for work there for about a couple of weeks. And that's where I ran into this friend, Dan Chapman. He had been let go from the camp and told to go out to the Philadelphia office to help with the, process the people who were being relocated out there. And later, after two weeks, when I found nothing in Philadelphia, I decided to go to New York. That was around January 1st, I think. December 31st or January 1, 1945. And after two weeks of searching in New York, I landed a job as a statistician at Standard and Poor's Corporation. I found getting that job was rather simple. Of course, it was, it was done through the help of people who were trying to find work for us. Also the WRA had set up, set up an employment office in New York in the Empire State Building.

EO: So, did you have to go through a second questionnaire to get out? Did you have a leave clearance questionnaire?

SS: Probably did. I don't remember. Whatever it was, it was nothing I had any hesitation in signing. I think there again, they had this question, "If released, do you promise not to do anything to impede the war effort?" And I was willing to promise that. Let's see... what was, a few other things.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

SS: Well, I guess this was around June, must have been mid-June 1942. We were in Puyallup at that time. And one of my friends came to me and said, "There are a group of Issei who are planning to murder Sakamoto. What do you think of it? They want, they would like to have you join, join them." I said, "Well, just a minute, now. Sakamoto is in Area C. I'm in Area A. How can I participate in the murder of Sakamoto? Physically it's impossible." They said, "Well, don't worry about that. We'll take care of the actual killing." So they, and I said, "What do they want me to do as a part of their group?" And they said, "Well, we want you to be our spokesman. After we kill him, we're going to turn ourselves in. And we want somebody that will speak, defend us, on our behalf." And I said, "Well, let me think that over. I'll give you the answer tomorrow." So I went back and this, I did not tell my mother or anybody. This was totally secret. And the next morning he came over and said, "What's your decision?" And I said, "Well, you and I know that this camp is only temporary." I said, "Let's, I think any murder of Sakamoto ought to be postponed until after we've gotten to this new camp they're going to send us. And at that camp, we can try to, I would suggest that we talk with the administrators of that camp. And after that meeting, if the JACL continues to be the main advisor to the policies of the government," then I said, "I'll join you." And he said, "Well, that's sensible. I'll convey your reply to our group and see you later." Well, later he came back and said that they were willing to abide by that. So the whole thing was postponed until after we got to Minidoka.

So after we got to Minidoka, it was early in September, we found that there was no fuel and the temperatures had begun to drop. And in that, it's about a 3000-foot elevation there. And so it was getting bitterly cold in the mornings. Old people were beginning to complain, people with children and so forth were worried that the children would catch cold, etcetera. The... so we had, number one, there was a need for an immediate fuel supply to keep us from freezing to death in that camp. And number two was our wish to let the camp administrators know that we didn't think much of JACL leadership. And so we had a camp-wide meeting. We had asked that two men be sent from each, each camp, or each block. There were about forty blocks, something like that. To come to... we were in Block 36, so we had them come up to Block 36 to the mess hall one evening. And two people from each block showed up, two men, and we discussed what was, what we were planning to do. And they selected a group of about five or six men, I've forgotten the exact number, to be the spokesmen. And so, see, that might have been on a Friday or Saturday evening.

Anyway, the next, the next business day -- I guess it must have been a Monday -- those of us that had been appointed to represent the camp, we went together down to the administration building and asked to see Stafford, the head of the camp, and his main assistants there. And the three were there in their office, it was already Monday morning. And so they said, "Well, what assurance do we have in talking with you that you represent the people in the camp?" And we said, "Well, we have nothing concrete to show you but we have something to tell you that's very important. And I think it would be to your own interest to listen to what we have to say." And so they said, "Well, we're going to caucus." And so they went into another room and a few minutes they came back also, said, "All right. We will, we will talk with you." And in that, the two points were, the two points were, one, we needed fuel immediately. And the other was that if that, the JACL was acting without any proper authorization from us -- they'd been picked by the government -- that we, that if the... oh yes. And that serious trouble at Puyallup, the camp we were in before, had been postponed only because we were being put in this new, new camp. And I said, "If you people that run this camp follow the JACL advice like they did back in Puyallup, there's going to be very serious trouble." And the others of the group, except, let's see, except one guy, the guy who, that meeting had selected to be our official spokesman, who was, he was an Issei, the oldest guy there. And at that, at that preparatory meeting that we had before, why, he was shouting how he was going to tell these white administrators off and all that. And so we thought he meant what he said. Well, when we got up there, he started almost literally getting down on his hands and knees and licking their shoes. It was equivalent of that. Not a single strong word of protest or objection. So, I immediately got up and brushed him aside. And so did some others, two or three others got up and started speaking out on what we had come there for. The danger of continuing to use the JACL as the main source of advice. And fortunately, the... oh yes. And up until that time Sakamoto had been going up every morning to the administration building. But after that meeting, he was obviously told, "We don't, don't come up here." So his daily trip came to an end. We heard that from other people, that he was no longer going up. And probably because of that, Minidoka was the most peaceful camp of all ten.

EO: When you were, these plans were being made in Puyallup, was there that much hatred for the JACL?

SS: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. The Issei were just, they were just... they loathed the JACL so-called leaders. They held them in absolute and total contempt. They felt that they had been betrayed.

CO: Transferred over to Minidoka, too?

SS: Huh?

CO: In Minidoka also?

SS: Oh, yes. Well, the idea, the reputation of the JACL had well been established in the, at Puyallup, you see. And so when we had this gathering of two men from each, each block, that meeting in our block, there was not a single word of objection to what we were planning to do. I remember this friend of mine, he wrote a petition for the, to the Minidoka camp administrators. He wrote it in Japanese. And I translated it for him into English and at that meeting, his Japanese petition and my translation were both read to the group, both were approved, and those of us who were part of that delegation were all picked at that meeting. Every member of that del-, let's see, there was one fellow that might have been a Nisei, but if he was, he was an older one. I've never been sure as to whether he was a real Issei or whether he was an old Nisei.

EO: So, had you really contemplated participating?

SS: Oh, yes, oh, yes. I wasn't making an empty promise. I was, I was perfectly willing to get blood on my hands if necessary to get rid of a false leader for the Japanese community. Someone who had been appointed by the American government. We had nothing to do with the selection.

EO: 'Cause there was trouble in other camps, and the JACL seemed somewhat...

SS: Oh, yes. There was a lot of trouble in many of the other camps. The JACL, usually the JACL was the cause of it. But the Issei attitude was certainly far from humble submission to U.S. government dictation. They acted like human beings.

EO: Now, there was an incident in Minidoka where an old man was killed, shot...

CO: No, I don't think it was Minidoka.

SS: No, I don't think so. No, no.

CO: It was Topaz.

EO: Oh, Topaz. Yeah, it was Topaz.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

EO: Do you have any happy memories or funny ones? Did you have a good time at all?

SS: Hmm... oh, yes. I had a few happy moments there. And it wasn't in camp; it was when I was outside of camp. I forgot to tell you, the, this job of executive secretary of the co-op, the, so long as the... well, there were some Issei who were, who were eager for power, who in normal life were practically, never had very much power, and yet were most eager to sit in a position where they felt they had authority. And the Board of Directors, I felt was not quite as responsible as they should have been. I, they, at one meeting, they, somebody introduced a motion to give, to make a fellow president of the co-op. And they also, they... I knew that I could not work with this guy they picked as president. I had no respect for his character. He was a power-hungry person, I thought. Maybe you should not put this on the tape. I could be sued for this by his offspring. But at any rate, he was obviously power-hungry, and I felt I couldn't work with him. And so I decided to resign from that job at that post. And they, they appointed as my replacement another Issei who was a close friend of this guy who was appointed president. And the two of them, therefore, took over in effect, the effective control of the co-op. And I remember one of the first things they did was to... when I was running that, in there, and same with my predecessor Takeo, we didn't spend any money for furniture at all. Whatever tables and chairs we had were made from leftover lumber from the construction of the camp. Or we were using orange crates and things like that for chairs. And these two fellows who took over, I remember, one of the first things they did was go into the neighboring town of Twin Falls and buy each of them a huge mahogany desk and a swivel chair, an executive swivel chair.

And meantime, I was, I had, as soon as I quit that job, I had friends in the fire department who wanted me to come and join them at the fire department. I'd worked with the fire department for a little, a few months before that, so I knew them. Anyway, they said they'd be happy to have me back at the fire department again, so I joined them. Well, one of the reasons I joined the fire department was, as a fireman you went on duty for 24 hours, you slept at the fire station. So in that 24 hours you put in three days of work, you see. So by going 24 hours, I had two days free, and I got the same pay, so I was much better off with the fire department. The, on those fire department trips, I had a few times when I was really, I really felt happy because I saw places I would never have seen otherwise. Fire struck, most of those fires in the summer were light-, struck, started by lightning. And being wartime, the interior department office and neighboring large town, Twin Falls, they didn't have enough men to put on a fire line. So they used to come into camp and ask us to volunteer to engage in firefighting. And for doing that, we got fifty cents an hour. And on top of that, they liked our work so much they said, "You're the best firefighting crews we have ever had." So they gave us a merit raise of 10 cents an hour. [Laughs] The high point of the day was, if it was a one-day trip, on the way home, they would stop at the town close to camp and let us loose so we could go into stores and buy whatever we wanted. Those stores were fully stocked. Now, in the co-op stores in camp, we were always short of merchandise. We were a new store, of obviously short duration, as long as the... and we knew, so the wholesalers were reluctant to sell us very much. So we used to use those firefighting trips as an opportunity to get out and do some shopping for ourselves. I enjoyed that. And on top of that, it was where these fires struck. They struck in some of the strangest places out in the desert. And on one trip, which I was not with them, I was on duty, and these fellows... the fire started near a hot spring, and when the fellows got out there, the fire had died down by itself and the boys had a grand time taking a bath in those hot spring waters. [Laughs] And a few occasions like that, I remember one night, we slept beside... we had to camp overnight. 'Cause it was late when we got there, and we slept beside a small brook. And from that brook, I had the most wonderful view of the moon that I have ever experienced in my life out in the desert.

EO: Did you go to any of the social events? Didn't they have dances?

SS: Oh yes, they had dances and so forth in camp once in while. But...

EO: Movies?

SS: Oh, yes. They had movies. And another thing, in this fire department, they had me as, in charge of fire prevention. And one of my duties, I had the title of Assistant Fire Chief, and one of my duties was to check on those movies on the nights that they were being shown to make sure that these movies, so-called movie theater which was the so-called recreation halls, you know... too many people tended to jam into those places. And it was my job to go there and tell those people to get out of the aisles and so forth so that in case of fire or something there wouldn't be a major jam. So, well, that was pleasant. I used to go there and I would watch the movie. I'd get hooked watching the thing. But I always made it a point -- I was quite conscientious about that -- to pay my fare. And I remember the ticket collectors said, they said, "Look, you're a fireman. You're here on an official job." "Yes, but watching the movie is not a part of my official job, and I watched the movie and enjoyed it so you take this money." And I used to give them the money.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

CO: Well, how do you feel about the internment at this, you know, fifty years later?

SS: All I can say is that it should never have happened, and I regret that it did. But since it did happen, I'm glad I went in camp with those people. Most people looked, well, for one thing, there were, that broke up a lot of families, because the husbands were separated from their wives, you know. And these wives, they wanted somebody back, because they were having a hard time controlling the kids and so forth in camp, so they were trying to get their husbands back. Well, these wives would sometimes write letters, petition letters, in Japanese. And since I was about the only one that they knew who was able to do that, I used to translate, translate those into English. And I had a typewriter that I had sent from Seattle one time, so I used to type up their letters. But they, and of course I was glad to do it. I refused to accept any money whatever for that kind of thing. And one or two of the women later, they, they brought me a dish of cookies that they had gotten from somewhere. But an occasional half a dozen cookies or so was about all the compensation I ever got from doing that. Even then I told them it was not necessary to bring things like that to me. But later I found out that in some of the other camps, some of the JACL bigwigs were charging these women for translating those letters or writing letters for them. They were charging from forty to fifty dollars a letter. And I thought, well, if under those circumstances those bums were willing to take that kind of money away from these poor women, they deserved to be beaten up.

CO: Were these letters helpful, do you know?

SS: Now, that I do not know. I remember one of the letters that I wrote was a letter for the wife of our Buddhist minister. And this was a letter that was signed by all the members of the church. And later, when I came back to Seattle, I went to see the minister, and I remember he thanked me for having written the letter and petition that led to his release. But whether the other letters worked, I never even asked. I didn't know who these men were, and these wives were total strangers to me.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

EO: How did you feel when the war ended?

SS: Well, since it ended in the total defeat of Japan, I guess I must have looked pretty somber that day. Because where I was working, several friends of mine, particularly those of Italian or German descent, they came up to me to express their sympathy. I thanked them. [Pauses] No, that was a totally useless, needless war. It was just to vent American racial spite on a people who'd refused to knuckle under completely to U.S. demands. I look upon the war with China as largely something indicated... certainly the prolongation of that war in China was something very much desired by the U.S. government, because all that did was to weaken Japan. And I think today, much of the troubles in the Far East... well, this, this kind of troublemaking is something that's been done by all countries to each other. England was a past master at this. That's how they got the name perfide Albion, in order to weaken the strength of any nations that might be possible adversaries of the British government. It was a part of British government policy to foster trouble between other nations. And I'm sure the United States was following the same thing.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

CO: I know this is a question that's not on this, but were you aware of the informing, the gathering of information in the community prewar?

SS: No.

CO: How about during the camps?

SS: I remember, oh yes, right after the war began, the FBI, they came to see me twice. And he was probing for any information of the, my knowledge of any information, concerning the resident Japanese in this country who might be dangerous to this country or might be a spy or something like that. Of course, I didn't know of any such person. I did know one man who was an assistant naval attache in Washington, in Washington, D.C. He was living in New York for a few months. And I didn't know him before, but one of my friends who knew him came to me and said that he, this man needed, wanted to study English while he was here so they thought I'd make a good teacher for him, and would I accept the job. So I said, "Well, I'll do that." I remember he was there maybe three or four months. I used to go to his place once a week, and have him read from the newspaper and so forth. But an assistant naval attache, or a military, army attache, those men are, in a sense, they're official spies. Some people would regard them as that. But they're not... I didn't think of it those days. He was just a naval attache. But certainly no, I was never made privy to any secrets that they might have known.

EO: So you were not aware that in each camp there were groups that were collecting information specifically for, say, the WRA group out of UC Berkeley.

SS: Oh, yes. Well, I knew that there were so-called sociologists in camp and they were there to pick up bits of information, probably to help in the pacification of the camp in case of any uprisings, but none of them ever took me into their confidence or asked me for any information. I just regarded them as harmless scholars who were in there probably to promote themselves to a higher degree and a higher position in the schools they were connected with. I saw no harm in that.

EO: Did you lose family in Japan?

SS: Pardon?

EO: Did you lose family in Japan?

SS: No, because our entire family had moved to this country back in 1919. My uncles and aunts were... well, I had one, one aunt, but she died about two years after we came. All my grandparents were gone, and my, no other uncles or aunts existed, as I remember.

EO: So, are you a citizen?

SS: Yes, I took out American citizenship.

EO: When?

SS: That was in '52. No, not '52, '54. I could have become a citizen in '52 but I didn't rush to sign up for that. And I might not have ever taken it up had it not been for the fact that my friends, with whom I ate lunch every day and worked with every day at Standard and Poor's, they knew that had, I was not an American citizen. And when they asked why, I said, "Well, look. Your government has officially stated that I'm not good enough to become an American citizen." And they said, they said, "Well, now, the way is open now, why don't you take out citizenship?" Well, I had no particular reason, reason to take up citizenship. I just let it drag. Then eventually these fellows kept bringing up the subject so frequently that I... certainly I had no hostile intentions toward this country, and, but I couldn't see any particular benefit from taking out citizenship except owning land. And I didn't own any land and I had no intention of owning land and I was working for Standard and Poor's Corporation, enough to live on. So I kept pushing it off. Until these fellows finally started asking me questions which, I realized that since it's the custom in this country for people who come from abroad to eventually take out American citizenship and be able to vote, that since I would have to live the rest of my life in this country anyway, that I might just as well get it. But still, I'd been brought up to be proud of my Japanese citizenship.

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