Densho Digital Archive
Emiko and Chizuko Omori Collection
Title: Jim Hirabayashi Interview
Narrator: Jim Hirabayashi
Interviewers: Chizu Omori (primary), Emiko Omori (secondary)
Location: San Francisco, California
Date: October 2, 1992
Densho ID: denshovh-hjim-01

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

<Begin Segment 1>

CO: It's always sort of easier to start from the beginning. Tell us about your prewar life and where you were living and something about --

JH: Well, I was born in a little village called Thomas, Washington, which is between Seattle and Tacoma. Grew up in a small truck gardening farm. We had about eight acres. Grew vegetables like peas and carrots and celery, broccoli, tomatoes, things like that. That's where I was... I was born in a house that my father built on a piece of land that he and his friends acquired. There was a group of a small Christian sect, by the name of mukyokai. Mukyokai means non-church. And this non-church movement was started in Japan by a early Christian by the name of Uchimura Kanzo. Uchimura Kanzo came over to the States in the late 1800s and attended places like Amherst Theological Seminary, was converted to Christianity, but he didn't like the hierarchy in the church. So that he went back to Japan to start what's called the non-church movement. And it was one of his disciples that ended up in my parents' village. So that when they decided to come to America, they all went to learn English from this disciple by the name of Iguchi. And he must have taught them English and converted them to Christianity. So that this group is, doesn't have any priests, no hierarchy. The people just get together and do the service themselves. So I don't think it's any accident that my brother Gordon eventually becomes a Quaker, because the Quakers are quite similar. That's the kind of setting that I grew up in. And we attended the local public schools, the grade school. And then, after eight years of grade school in the village of Thomas, we all went to Auburn Junior High School. Auburn is the nearest town where there's a local high school.

CO: Were these vegetables sold at the Pike Place Market, by any chance?

JH: Well, we have to go back a little further than that. When my father first migrated to America in 1907, he initially worked in the railroads. And then he eventually drifted into Seattle. And they, he and his friends started farming at a place called Pontiac, is the way they pronounced it. Pontiac. And Pontiac later was to become the Sand Point Naval Station, I don't know what it is now, but it's on the edge of Lake Washington. And my father talks about in the early days, where they would load up the horse and wagon with vegetables and then take about an hour or so to get into Pike Market to sell. Later on, I've seen pictures of Mr. Katsuno, who was my father's friend. He had a truck, and this must have been back in the, around 1920 or so. And he used to drive, once they got cars, so that's what I remember them saying about Pike's market. I guess it started somewheres before that. I'm not sure when it started.

CO: You went to Auburn...

JH: I went to Auburn Junior High School and then attended the senior high school in my sophomore year. And it was at the end of the sophomore year that we were interned.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

EO: Okay, so we're going to go back to Pearl Harbor.

JH: Well, okay, let me see now. When -- let me see -- when I was in about the sixth or seventh grade or so, we bought a grocery store right across the valley. It was only two or three miles from where the farm was so that we didn't move out of the community. And then my mother ran the grocery store, you know, it was like a dairy, you had to be there all the time, open all years, all days of the year. And, but my father kept working in farming. He started to work for a large farm owner in the neighborhood. And my mother ran the store with the help of us kids. And at that time, I think is when, just about that time, a little, few years after that, is when I started to go to the junior high school in the nearby town of Auburn. And then it was in the, in the sophomore year, at the end of the sophomore year, it was 1941, and that's when the war started. Now, if I can go back then and talk about the land...

EO: Why don't we continue... so what happened? What were you doing?

JH: Well, as I recall, it was on a Sunday, Sunday morning. So that, you know, it was a great shock to hear that. I guess at that time, I mostly worried about what would happen the next day when we had to go to school. And as a matter of fact, I don't remember too much of what happened. We were in an area where there were quite a few Japanese; as a matter of fact, my grade school class was over 50 percent Japanese Americans. And when we went to high school, of course, the percentage wasn't as great. But there was a considerable number and we had friends, and some of us as usual, the Niseis played sports so that we had a lot of friends. And so as I recall, it was more a situation of embarrassment than anything else when we attended the school.

EO: But did you... you were how old?

JH: I was fifteen at the time.

EO: At the age of fifteen, did you feel that it was your, some responsibility? I mean, like, didn't you feel, I mean... okay, two questions. Can you remember what you were doing when you heard the news? And then, your own immediate reaction, would that have been, "I'm Japanese so I'm responsible"? Or we're just at war?

JH: Well, I think it was more not an issue of was I responsible for this or not, but when we were growing up, of course, there's no question in my mind about my identity. There was racism practiced, so that we were made aware of the fact that we were Japanese Americans. And then we weren't, I guess, it was because the war had been going along between China and Japan, and then all the propaganda had Japan in a negative role. So that it was a question of us being identified with Japan was very clear in my mind, that we were Japanese. But I don't remember feeling particularly guilty; I just felt that we would be going into a period where we were going to have a rough time because of the way in which Japan was being perceived and the fact that the Americans didn't make any distinction between Japanese Americans and Japanese.

CO: And your parents' attitude? Do you have any memories?

JH: Well, I don't remember... of course when you're fifteen, you don't discuss a lot of politics with your parents. I think because they were never allowed to become citizens and things like that, their identity was fairly strong with Japan. And so I think in our case, you know, our parents would transmit the values, the Japanese values, and tell us that it was important to remember that you're Japanese, but I don't think, I don't ever recall them plying Japanese politics on us.

EO: Do you remember what you were doing when you heard the news?

JH: I can't remember. We must have been, you know, it was a day in which we would have opened the grocery store anyway. So that I must have been helping around the grocery store in the morning when it occurred.

EO: So then, your next thing was going to school on Monday. What happened?

JH: Well, I don't recall exactly what happened. I just remember that, you know, we knew that nothing good would be coming out of the fact that a war had started, and so that we went to school with some trepidation. But I don't recall any particular incidences at school that was one way or another. Everybody knew, of course, but nobody made such a particular issue out of it so that I don't recall anything particularly happening when I went to school.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

CO: Tell us about the Issei, prewar, at least in Seattle or that area.

JH: Yeah, I don't remember too much of Seattle. Again, being about fifteen and before that, we rarely went into Seattle. I think it's only about 20-25 miles, but in those days, that took considerably longer. And it was always, to take a day off of work to go into town was something that we rarely did. So that it was a big occasion. We had some relatives in Seattle, and so I remember going in once in a while to visit my uncle, aunt and cousin, cousins, particularly the ones that had a hotel on First Avenue. And so on occasion we'd go and visit them, but otherwise, we didn't know the people in Seattle at all. Gordon, and my brother, Ed, were older so that by then they were relating to people in Seattle. Gordon, of course, was going to the university and Ed, who was in high school, I think they would have basketball games and things like that in town. So my connections were really in the rural area and with the people in the community.

As far as Isseis are concerned, I guess the main thing I remember except for my parents and the friends that lived right close to the, our farm, the times that we would see them would be on special occasions, like a kenjinkai picnic. Or we would have affairs at the local Japanese school. I don't know where the term comes from but we used to call it "Tip School." And it's the Japanese language school that we used to go to right after finishing regular school. So about 2 or 3 o'clock or so we would walk from our grade school over to the Japanese school that the community people had sponsored and had put together. They would hire young men from Japan to teach the school. And so we would have language school affairs. Every once in a while they would put on an annual event that the parents were invited to and we'd put on skits and things like that. Other than that, my connection with the Issei around with, was with my parents. I guess you would call it a church group. They said it was a small mukyokai gathering that would get together in each other's houses on Sundays, read the scripture and things like that. As I recall, there were many more Buddhists in the community rather than Christians, particularly this particular small sect. So that I don't remember very many just regular Christians, you know. My father later on became a Methodist but in those days all I remember is these small groups of families getting together on Sundays to do their scriptures and things like that.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

CO: I thought now we would go to the land case. So tell us about this important case.

JH: Yeah, well, the State of Washington passed an alien land law which prevented Isseis from purchasing land. I think on the face of it they had said that no one who, I guess, people who were not citizens could not purchase land. And inasmuch as the Isseis were not allowed to become citizens, the law was aimed at them. Initially, the alien land law was passed in the state of California in 1913. And then subsequent to that, I think the other states passed similar laws because they didn't want Isseis coming from California into their states. So that most of the western states passed an alien land law. And before that happened, however, or about the time that they were considering the legislation, my father and his friends, who belonged to this mukyokai, or non-church movement, there were about four families that got together and purchased about 50 acres of land in the village of Thomas. This land was swamp land. And I remember that even in my day they were building drainage ditches, they were dynamiting stumps off of the land. So they purchased about 50 acres of this land and then they cleared it and year by year, the four families built houses on their sections of the land. And then, about that time -- oh, I know, I think maybe the law was in effect and what had happened was that to purchase the land, they bought it in the name of the eldest child, a woman by the name of Aiko Tatsuno. She was about nine or so, and because she was underage, they had appointed the wife of a returned missionary from Japan -- a Mrs. Nora Murphy -- as her legal guardian. And they purchased the land in her name.

And then it was about 1920 or so, there was, what I understand, the enterprising prosecuting attorney of King County, who, I think he had his eye on the governorship. Began to use land cases as a means to build up some notoriety. And they had, he had prosecuted a lot of Issei farmers. And in this particular case, he argued that these farmers that established the White River Gardens, had used subterfuge in order to acquire the property. And unfortunately, they were advised by the returned missionary, Reverend Murphy, who advocated telling the truth, and therefore giving them a disadvantage in court. And their property, and the houses that they built on it were confiscated. And so they had to turn around and lease the land and the house from the State, who had confiscated the property.

I didn't know about this until I was a graduate student. This was after the war, probably 1950 or so, that I did a study of, comparative study of Japanese adapting to Hawaii, South America and the state of Washington. And in this comparative study, I heard about this thesis that a Japanese student from Tokyo had written in 1925 and so I went into the archives to find the thesis. And while I was looking through the thesis, I suddenly found a picture of my father. And there were these whole series of land cases. And I was shocked because this is the first time I'd ever heard about it. So I was furious and I went home and asked my father, says, "What about this? What is all this?" you know. And he just shrugged his shoulders, and said, "Shikata ga nai." And that was the end of it. So this is, you know, how I found out about this particular situation. The house still exists that my father built. I have a picture of him standing by the house when it was initially built. And subsequently, it was a couple of years ago, I went to visit the area and we stopped by the house and there was an apple tree, right by the house, it was full of apples... a tree that my father had planted way back then. And so I went up to the house, knocked on the door, and I says, "Could I have a few apples from the tree?" And I explained why I wanted it. And then I carried it back down to California to share with my brother. Apples, the King apple is a special variety, I guess. You don't hear of that, but it reminded us of our childhood.

EO: Can we back up... I get a little confused at the beginning of the story. About... okay, the acquisition of land, list the order of things. If the land law, alien land law was in effect, it was around that because I've been thinking about this nine-year-old girl. Could you just sort of start from there?

JH: Well, as I said, in 1913 was when the State of California passed the initial alien land law. That was the first one, I think, in the States. And then the other states subsequently passed similar legislation. Because they were afraid of Californians coming up and purchasing land in the state, in their own states.

EO: Let's just start that one again, and say what that law, what the alien... so just...

JH: Oh. The alien land law states that citizens -- I mean, people who are not intending to become citizens of the United States cannot purchase land. The law states that people who are ineligible to citizenship cannot purchase land. Now, there's a prior U.S. law that prevented Asians from naturalizing. So that the alien land law, although it doesn't specify that it's against Asians, in effect was against Asians. So in 1790 was, was when the Congress passed a law that people who were Asians could not become naturalized citizens. And at that time, it included also blacks. Subsequently, I think probably during the Civil War times, that was repealed, but the Asian section of it stayed. And that wasn't repealed until 1952, I believe. So that the land law is specifically so that Asians could not purchase land. Now, the Isseis were very enterprising, because as soon as a law came in, they figured out ways of getting around it. And so one of the ways they used was to form companies, land companies, and have it fronted by (Caucasians).

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

<Begin Segment 5>

JH: Yeah, well, because there wasn't the regular political conversations in the home, besides having, when you're growing up you don't have the vocabulary or the interest to be talking about political things, we rarely had discussions of that sort. It's only after I had done research in Japan that I had the vocabulary to do discussions at a certain level in politics and religion that I was able to talk to my father about such things. But that didn't occur until my interests were focusing in on that. So that it was after the strike at San Francisco State, the third world push, and my shifting over to Ethnic Studies that I became interested in, specifically in talking to my, my father about the early days.

So it was one Christmas, fairly close to 1970, around 1970, that I spent the entire Christmas vacation with him. And so I decided to tape record all the conversations we had. Now, he was dying of cancer at the time and I think he knew that he had not many years left. He had gone to the holy land on a trip with other Isseis, and I think at that time he was in his mid-seventies and he was about median age. There are some Isseis that are up to ninety years old that went on that trip. Now, on the return -- this was a church-sponsored trip. And on the return from that trip, he got sick in New York and thought that it was something he ate, so he didn't do anything about it. When he got home, he kept being sick, so they finally had a check-up and found out that he had cancer. So during that Christmas holidays, I went up, I knew that I wouldn't have too much in the way of chances of talking to him, so that I wanted to record everything. And because he knew he was going he wanted me to have information. And so sometimes he would say, "Is that thing on?" referring to the tape recorder, and then he would tell me things. Sometimes he would say, "Turn that on because I want to read something," and he would pick out something he had written in 1914 or so, and he'd read it into the tape. So that I have about ten to twelve hours of tape locked up that I took back in 1970. And when I listen to the tapes now, because I've forgotten the conversation, it's like hearing the conversation anew. And because things were done really systematically, I had only really only one question I was going to ask him, and that was, "What's the first thing in your life you can remember?" And from then on, I only interrupted to ask for clarification. I didn't want to pose questions that would change his frame of reference. I wanted the story from his perspective. So I have those tapes now, which I'm still in the process of translating and typing out for the rest of the family. So at that time, he told me a lot of things about his religious philosophy and his political orientation, and I not only discovered new things about him, but I corrected things that I had always assumed were true turned out to be not true. So it was a very interesting kind of conversation. Let me see, we were talking about the alien land law...

EO: Did he tell you about that case during that time?

JH: Well, by then I had already done, asked specifically before about the case and I had done a lot of reading, so that I'm not sure... I'd have to go and review the tapes to see if he...

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

<Begin Segment 6>

CO: Actually, we were talking about ways that people got around those laws.

JH: Yes, the fact that the Isseis were very astute about their position in this country and about the racism that was here, so that whenever laws were enacted against them -- and there were many -- they devised a variety of ways to get out of the law or to contest the law. And so the device of buying the land in the name of their Nisei children was one way they're getting around the alien land law. In my parents' case, the, the eldest child, this was in 19'... it was a little before 1920, I believe, that the eldest child was still a minor and this is why they appointed a legal guardian for her who was an American, and then purchased the name in her land -- purchased the land in her name. And that was what the county prosecutor was contesting, that it was only subterfuge to get around the law and he was successful in the case of my parents' land. But there were, there were people that contested the naturalization law as well, the most famous case was the Ozawa case. He was a man from, an Issei, but he went to the University of California. And he was probably the most acculturated, assimilated of the Issei, and he contested the 1790 law, but lost. And so...

EO: Japanese cases were taken to the Supreme Court.

JH: It was taken to the Supreme Court.

EO: Yes. We just wanted to get back and have both, to say your families. Because again, he got... to go back. They appealed that decision.

JH: Yes, it was appealed through the, I suppose it went through the State Supreme Court. I don't recollect now, I'd have to look up the record. But it did eventually go up to the United States Supreme Court and where, the ruling was upheld in about 1926, I believe it was. 1925 or 1926.

EO: This is your family's case. Ozawa was...

JH: This is the family's case.

EO: Ozawa was earlier.

JH: Ozawa...

EO: 1924.

JH: Yeah, something like 1924, yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

JH: But in this situation about the Issei, it's not only legal things, but if you look at their, the innovations in agriculture and all the kind of enterprises that they got into, and also the adaptation and culture. For example, one of the important institutions that eased the adaptation of the Isseis into American life was the kenjinkai or the prefectural associations. Now, these prefectural associations did not exist in Japan. They're like saying a California club, we don't have such a thing as a California club here, but if we were to immigrate to some other foreign country and all the Californians got together, then that's what the prefectural associations were. So these prefectural associations, which were social, mutually economic and political organization, or they had political aspects about them, were purely Issei inventions to adapt to the conditions here in America. And as a matter of fact, we talk about continuity of family and everything else, but the structure of the family most certainly changed. In Japan, you have long family traditions. The eldest son of the family brings the wife into the household and maintains continuity of the family line through the generations, the eldest son of the eldest son, also brings in the wife, and that's how you maintain the family line. Well, when the Isseis migrated over here, of course, they established families anew. And so Sylvia Yanagimachi, Yanagisako, I guess. Or Sylvia Yanagisako, did her Ph.D dissertation on families there in the Seattle area, and she says that any butsudan -- Buddhist altar -- in the family home that she's ever looked into only goes back one generation. It goes back to the Isseis and that's it. You don't have the family, continuity of the family line. So that the family structure changes when, when the Japanese establish their new families in their new communities.

And I remember a situation that I was told about in the Seattle -- in the Thomas area. There was a very rich man who owned a packing house in the community. He was very important. And when his eldest son was to get married, the Japanese consulate and a prominent minister in town decided to talk this man into having a wedding that wasn't so expensive. It was during the Depression days, and they thought that the communities ought not put on such an elaborate display and so they talked that man into having a very simple reception with finger food and things like that. Well, the guests came to the wedding with very expensive gifts because he was an important man. And they came hungry, expecting to be fed. And so when they just got the finger food, they had to go to the restaurant themselves to eat. And there was so much gossip in the community that he had to invite them back in a couple of weeks to have the wedding ceremony. Well, there's a very strong community organization, and the wedding ceremony represented the community coming together for an event. So that try as they might to establish a new tradition, it didn't work. But the, if you do an investigation of who comes to these weddings, you'll find out that indeed the tradition has changed. In the village where I studied village life in Japan, it's just the head of the household that's invited to a wedding. And the people that come to the wedding, they're either related through kinship, through the relatives' households, or the important neighborhood households. So indeed, the friends of the couple that are getting married, aren't invited. It's only the head of the household, their fathers that are invited to these weddings. So the younger people are usually in the kitchen preparing the food and things like this. And every once in a while, they stick their head out to tease the couple. Now, a marriage in Japan joins two families together. It's not individuals that get joined, joined together. But if you look at who comes to the wedding in America, in a Japanese American wedding, it's not just the heads of the households that come, they come as family groups. And it's not just kin and neighborhood, but it's people that came over in the boat together with the Issei, the ones that are in your kenjinkai, and even Caucasians come. So it's the important people of the new Japanese American community that are attending the wedding. And for that reason, ritual is an important factor in maintaining community identity. And so the banquet has changed from the original structure to represent what's important in the Japanese American community here. So all of this is important innovation, and it's the creation of a new Japanese American community that's not like the one in Japan, and it's not like American communities; it's a new community. Would you like a object? Material object? Remember I told you earlier about the kimono.


JH: Well, in other words, what was happening in family structure in shifting from Japan to America was that it went from a very linear structure to a very nuclear one, so that you didn't have the family traditions over here. Now, this, of course, had consequences in camp.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

JH: But let me start from saying that most of the people in this, in Seattle proper filled up the Puyallup Assembly Center so that everybody outside of the Seattle proper area had to go somewhere else. And so people from Tacoma and people from Yakima and people from the outlying areas, Bellevue even, ended up in the Pinedale Assembly Center, which is very near Fresno. In those days it was out in the country. I remember that there were fig trees outside the fence. And we went to the town of Auburn and we were loaded onto trains and I had never been on a train in my life. And here we were into real old cars, and we traveled overnight through Grants Pass and down to Fresno and then we were taken to the camp. I remember going over Grants Pass -- we were kind of cold, so that I borrowed a baby blanket from my aunt so that I could sleep during the night. And being kids, we sat together in groups and fooled around. Every time we went through a tunnel, for example, we would do things to other people. I remember painting mustaches on my friends' faces while they were sleeping while we were going through tunnels, things like that, we just fooled around as kids.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

JH: And what I remember mostly about the Pinedale Assembly Center was that we couldn't, we didn't have any money, no way of earning money at first, and so we had to beg money from our parents, whatever little they had. And I remember my mother giving me fifty cents to go and buy something at the canteen. Then soon we had the opportunity to find work in the camp so that I remember my first job was washing dishes for eight dollars a month. And the rest of the time we sort of ran around in gangs. Because of my very strict Christian upbringing, of course, we weren't allowed to smoke or drink or anything else. We weren't even allowed to play cards because cards was connected to gambling and things like that. So I didn't learn how to play cards until I went into camp. Learned how to play rummy and pinochle and things like that. Then it got so that I was not going home except at night. Now, the barracks in Pinedale, the walls went up only to the rafters. And there was no ceiling so you could hear all the other families right down the entire length of the barracks. And I depended upon that to keep my mother from reprimanding me whenever I got into trouble. So I would just come in late at night whenever I felt like coming back home to sleep. You had to do that because that's the only place you could sleep. And then one time, my mother figured that I was getting out of control, so without further adieu, she gave me hell and all the neighbors heard, but that was the way it was. And she was trying to maintain her control.

Other than that, the main thing I remember is playing ball. So we organized baseball leagues, and my friends and I spent a lot of time playing ball. We -- after about three months or so in the assembly center, we got back onto the train and were shipped up to Tule Lake, California, where the permanent camp was being set up. And there I just remember fooling around a lot in gangs. I got a job working with the building crew. The barracks were not finished in Tule so that there was a lot of sheet rock piled up in big piles. And our job was to pile the sheet rock onto trucks which would take 'em to the individual barracks. And my friends and I would hide in the piles of sheet rock and play cards, and things like that, fool around. And we again started out doing sports activities, so there were sports teams, leagues, according to ages and so on. Well, my friends and I were also interested in track so we were wanting to fix up a pole vaulting pole and a standard for doing pole vaulting. So we went to the local, they were building a big building, to, I think they were going to make a camouflage factory there, so they had lumber. So we waited until noontime when all the workers are laid off -- I mean, were eating, and then we stole a long piece of 2 x 4 and my friend and I grabbed this 2 x 4 and jumped into an empty irrigation ditch and we were walking away when he dropped his end and I says, "What's the matter?" And he says, "The guard saw us." And I says, "Well, so what? Grab your end and let's go." And he says, "But he blew his whistle." And I says, "What?" And we dropped the 2 x 4 and we ran off. But we went off, we went back later on when the workers were there and got even a longer piece and the workers didn't care so we got our equipment and we built our pole vault pole and standards and we did things like that.

And at night, what we would do is just for entertainment was to hassle the girls and we knew that they would have to go to the bathroom in the evening. So that what we'd do is get some black gum and we'd chew gum and we'd blacken out some of our teeth. And we'd put towels under our sweaters to make us look like real husky hoodlums and wear a hat and we'd go creeping around the corner and scare the girls. We did things like that to entertain ourselves.

Then pretty soon school started. And the school, of course, we didn't have regular teachers, we didn't have enough chairs, we were sitting on the floors, no blackboards, no paper, no books, nothing. And so I remember taking a typing class and I never saw a typewriter. And what we did was we drew circles onto a piece of paper and practiced typing that way. Then soon the school was shut down so the students could help harvest potatoes in a local area. And about then, I figured going to school was useless. And some of my parents' friends were signing on doing contract labor in Idaho. So while my parents went up to attend the trial of my brother up in Seattle, I left with some of my father's friends to go to work in Idaho. I skipped school for a year and worked on a farm. And we, soon after my brother's trial ended, my father joined me and then we stayed throughout the winter. And then the subsequent year, in the spring, my mother and younger sister and younger brother joined us in Idaho. Then the subsequent year, I went to my junior year in a town called Weiser in Idaho.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

JH: Yeah, I guess when I was growing up I had a reputation of being sort of mischievous, I guess. I remember one time visiting up in Seattle when there was a reunion, and this Mr. Katsuno, who I said is still alive in Keiro home at 108 years of age. This must have been when he was maybe closer to 98 or so. We went to this reunion and I said, "Well, Mr. Katsuno, I'm James," when I saw him at the reunion. And he looked at me and he says, "Oh, that itazura no ko. That mischievous kid." I remember being told that when I was young, I'd go over to his place, and walk on his hotbed frames and I'd turn on the spigot to his gas tank that he stored for, that had gas for his tractor, I'd turn the spigot on and leave it on and things like this. So that they would say, "Here he comes, here he comes." And I had that kind of a reputation. But when I was in camp, in the first place, the family had already changed a little bit in view of the fact that Gordon was no longer with us inasmuch as he did not go with the family to the camp. Then, soon, my older, next older brother, Ed, signed a contract out into, to go out to do farm work out in Ogden, Utah. And he didn't last too long on the farm. He moved into Salt Lake City to work in a restaurant. And then with the help of the Quakers and the student relocation program, he got admitted to Guilford College, which is a Quaker College in North Carolina. And so he was soon gone. Then soon after that, my brother's trial started in Seattle, so that the deputies came down and took my parents up to Seattle to attend the trial. And during their absence is when I left for Idaho to work in farm work myself. So that the family sort of disintegrated almost immediately upon entering camp. And as I said, I no longer ate with my parents; I ate with my peers. And so I spent most of my time outside of the family circle. And did a lot of things that I didn't normally do and wouldn't have done had the family stayed together. So, and then when we went out to Idaho, it was myself with my father's friends for a while, and then just my father and myself during the winter before the, what was left of the family came back together. And then after a couple of years... yeah, in two years in Idaho, we moved up to Spokane. And that was at the very end of the war so that I attended John Rogers High School and graduated from there in Spokane in 1945 right before the end of the war.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

CO: I'm sure your family understood Gordon's stand and all. Do you recall at all how your family felt about Gordon's position?

JH: Yeah, subsequently I learned that there was considerable discussion between Gordon and my parents on him taking his stand. But all of this is subsequent to the event, and since I was, well, actually, I guess when the war started, I may have been fourteen because I was fifteen at the time of internment. And when you're that age, there was no discussion that I can recall, no family counselor or anything like that. I think Gordon discussed all these things with my parents and that was it. I don't recall anything that brought me into the conversation. Did you want me to talk about that? Well, Gordon, of course, was concerned about what would happen to the family if he were to take his stand. And this is something that he discussed with his roommate quite a bit, a fellow named Bill Makino. And Makino was also considering taking a stand as well. But he was the only son and his parents were elderly so they decided that maybe he should go along with the parents. And since my next brother Ed was a senior in high school, that I think he just graduated that year. So Gordon felt that the family would have enough support from my brother Ed so that he could take his stand. And I think my mother, particularly, didn't want him to do so, do what he was planning to do because she was worried about what would happen to him. But I think his convictions were strong enough that he had to do what he intended to do.

EO: What was that?

JH: To refuse to be interned. And so what Gordon did was, at first, he was obeying the curfew law. And then when he noticed that his other friends weren't having to abide by curfew, he decided not to pay any attention to it. And then he helped the people pack up their goods, he was working with the Quakers then. And when everybody was gone, he just reported to the local FBI office and said he's not going, and gave his reasons. They tried to talk him out of it. Tried to... and Gordon felt sympathetic and said, "Well, if you really want me..." the officer, the army officer who was in charge of internment in that Seattle area said, "Well everybody else is 100 percent and I'm the only area that isn't 100 percent because of you." And Gordon felt sorry for him, he says, "Well, all you have to do is get somebody, your husky people here, pick me up and drive me down to Puyallup and put me inside the fence." And the fellow says, well, he couldn't really do that so that was just a kind of a sideline during his discussion with the army.

And so he was jailed in the King County jail. During the trial, some interesting things happened. They wanted my parents up there for the trial and so they sent the deputies down to Tule Lake, picked them up and drove them up. My brother's friends wanted to take them in, but it was Military Zone A, so they wouldn't allow that. And they put my father in the same cell with my brother. My brother was sitting there one evening and the guard comes up and says, "There's someone to see you," and he looks up and it's my father. And so they stayed together. And, of course, my father probably would have preferred that anyway. And there was a problem about my brother -- my mother. So they put my mother in women's jail, and she was horrified, of course, having this proper Christian upbringing, to be incarcerated with prostitutes, murderers and whatever, thieves. And she was in the rec. room one day, and playing the piano. My mother is more or less self-taught on the piano. She, I just remember from the days growing up that there was this big square grand piano in the parlor. And she learned to play two kinds of songs: hymns for the services and Stephen Foster songs. So she started playing Stephen Foster songs in the rec. room and all the women gathered around and sang and they kept making her play over and over again, singing with tears coming down their eyes. And then the first time Gordon saw her was during the trial. She came in from a side door. And he said that she looked like she had stepped out of a beauty parlor. What had happened is all the women pooled their resources and fixed her up. And so that's why she looked like she had just stepped out of a beauty parlor. And after that incident I guess my mother changed her mind about women in prison considerably.

All they needed, my parents -- my mother never was called to testify. My father was merely called to testify to the fact that indeed that this was his son Gordon, 'cause they wanted to establish the fact that he's Japanese American who was of Japanese ancestry and who refused to be interned. And, of course, my father had problems understanding English, and since there was no one else around, Gordon became the court interpreter, which is kind of ironic. But anyway, those are the kinds of things that happened.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

JH: Of course, for me, I guess most of my life I was busy trying to assimilate. I guess I knew that full assimilation probably wasn't possible given the circumstances, but this is the only life I know, this is the only place I know. So that I was bent on becoming as assimilated as possible. You know, growing up in those days, all the movie stars were white models. All the baseball stars, the sports stars are white. So that I guess maybe I was following in my older brother's footsteps, to go to school, to find some profession and to make my way in life. There didn't seem to be any hesitation in my mind about going to college. Gordon had gone to college, and I know that a lot of my peers that I grew up with, that were interned with me, stayed being farmers. And, but I went off to college and of course, like most Niseis being influenced by parents, we were thinking of going into medicine or dentistry or engineering or something like that where we'd have some sort of income. And so when I went to the University of Washington, I signed up for a pre-med course. But before I even started, I was influenced by one of my older brother Gordon's friends into just freelancing instead of going into -- because she knew that I didn't necessarily want to go into a pre-med program. It's just that I was doing what I was told. So I went into a pre-major program and just kept taking all kinds of courses in the humanities and the arts and, as well as the sciences. And finally ending up about junior year not having a major. And of course, you can't graduate out of university without a major so that I started looking around for majors. And about that time, I went out on an archaeological dig, and I liked the fellows, I liked the subject area. And so I decided to go into anthropology.


JH: But archaeology was too much like farm work, so I didn't go into archaeology. And I became a social anthropologist. And then I got a scholarship to go to University of Tokyo, so I went to University of Tokyo and that's when I did my field work. Then I came back and I got accepted into the Ph.D program at Harvard, so that that's where I went to finish up my Ph.D. And then I took a job at San Francisco State. And that was in 1960 and that's essentially the only job I ever had because I stayed there until I retired some thirty years later. But during the period that I was at San Francisco State, there was this Ethnic Studies strike which I joined. And subsequently I shifted into Ethnic Studies. And this changed my attitude towards ethnicity. When I joined the San Francisco State staff, I was the second Nisei to teach, become a teacher there. Professor Hayakawa was the first Japanese. And so in as late as 1960, there were only two Japanese Americans on the staff at San Francisco State. And then in 1970, the strike started and then I shifted over to Ethnic Studies which changed my attitude towards ethnicity and being Japanese American. And ever since then, I've shifted my focus of attention onto Japanese American culture and society and I'll probably be doing that until I die.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

CO: And so you are, are you aware of the internment as having a profound effect on us?

JH: Yes, subsequently, of course, I know that the internment experience has really changed the nature of the Japanese American community and family. And there are a lot of things about internment, of course, now I understand that racism as an ideology is something that's just a part of American society from the time the republic was established. Because I feel that the colonists came over at the time of western colonial expansion over the world when all of the colonial empires were being established. And with that kind of mentality, the colonists came over and saw the Indians here and classified them as savages and expropriated their land. And the blacks and the Asians and the Mexicans and the Filipinos and everybody else that have, third world has come, subsequently has been suffering the same treatment. And I see the same treatment being extended to the more recent immigrants from, for example, Southeast Asia. So that I don't think that things have really changed, basically, when we consider that the Isseis who came over were never able to achieve citizenship. And then all the anti-Asian legislation that was passed means that what happened during the internment was just a part of the same process.

And when we see that the things like, even after the strike at San Francisco State, I think probably there aren't more than a dozen Japanese Americans on campus even now as faculty. I ended up as being the undergraduate dean, but when I left, I think I was probably the only Asian American in the administration. And here is a school that must have about a third Asian American students. A half are ethnic. And I doubt whether we have more than 10 percent ethnic faculty. So that I just see that there's a kind of an implicit ideology of racism still existing and things haven't changed all that much.

One of the things -- talking about the internment experience -- one of the things that really blows my mind, it's a kind of an irony of ironies where you have a situation where you have Niseis volunteering for the U.S. army out of a concentration camp, into segregated units to fight for democracy. That's really mind-blowing. And when you take into consideration that they're doing this to prove their loyalty, which is something, which is a birthright; it's a birthright of citizenship. To have to go to the extent of having to prove your loyalty by going through this process from an internment camp, is really something. And I think this is something that America in general ought to be thinking about and looking into.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

CO: Since the war, the Japanese American communities have come back to the coastal areas. How do you think they're different from the prewar communities?

JH: Well, of course, the situation has changed quite a bit. I think that the community is changing. I think that you have much more of a continuity of certain kinds of patterns, prewar patterns, that did exist initially after the war, but things have changed quite a bit. And the Sanseis have gone down different paths. But I think that the things that have happened recently show that the community is not disappearing. It's changing, but it's not disappearing. There are certain kinds of things that I think the Sanseis, particularly the ones that have taken Asian American Studies in the colleges and things like that, they begin to re-look at the traditional patterns. This doesn't mean that they're going back to exactly the traditional forms, but they're doing things that are comfortable, though some of the things that are, that have been aspects of the community in the past have been re-interpreted and exist now.

CO: Also, do you have any thoughts on the fact of the silence in the Japanese American community about the internment for many years?


CO: One of the things that I have noticed is that the community itself, the members, have been relatively silent about the internment experience.

JH: Well, yes, I think, I think the Sanseis think that we're somehow ashamed of what happened and so we're quite, the Niseis are quite silent about that. I've never felt that myself. And so one of the reasons I haven't talked very much about the internment was because my kids never, never asked and it's something that you just don't sit your kids down and say, "Well, I want you to hear about what happened to me in the past." But when my son was going to Sonoma State, for his senior thesis he wrote on the internment and did a series of interviews with the Nisei, and at that time I talked freely to him. And I don't feel any kind of shame or reluctance or anything like that connected with speaking of the camps itself. I don't know how other people feel, but anyway...

EO: It might just, to follow up, might just be age, because people's experiences were different.

JH: Sure, sure.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

EO: So, I just wanted to follow up on the family structure in the camps, this whole Issei/Nisei thing. We never finished that. How the administration, how the power shifted.

JH: Oh yeah, well, several things happened right about the time of the war, I guess. The Issei, Isseis were still more or less in control of the communities. They were still maybe in their fifties and sixties, somewheres around there. So the normal transition from the Issei generation to the Nisei generation wouldn't have taken place until a little bit after the time. And of course, there are organizations like the JACL. I think JACL was established around 1930. And so they were beginning to come to the fore, but I think the average age of the Niseis were still under twenty at the time of the war. So that the transition of power in the communities hadn't shifted to the Nisei generation. In the first place, right subsequent to the beginning of the war, there's a sweep by the FBI to take the community leaders off into special internment camps. So they were gone. But when everyone was shifted off into the internment centers, there was an issue about who's going to be in charge of the self-governing part. I think the plan of the authorities was to try to get the camps to be operating as much as possible under a self-governing plan except that the total power, of course, was never given to the members of the internees. So that the authorities, I'm sure, felt that the threat was greater from the Japanese-speaking internees and so they wanted the power shifted to the Niseis, especially the Niseis that were cooperating with the camp authorities. So that this set up a lot of tension within camp. And, of course, the Kibeis had a role in this. We should make a distinction between the Isseis and the Kibeis, 'cause the Kibeis were educated in Japan during the military ascendency so that their attitudes would be, political attitudes would be somewhat different from the Isseis, and most certainly different from the Niseis. So that it was a kind of artificial situation in which power was changed and it had, I think, very serious consequences in the way that the community operated in the camps. And so when things like the loyalty questionnaire came up, it really drove further cleavages and sharper cleavages into the community that was already, been under severe pressure.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

EO: Just a last thing is, you're, you're aware of all those studies that took place?

JH: Yes.

EO: Do you have any thoughts about those? Were they good, were they bad, or useful?

JH: Well, in retrospect, the various kinds of studies, my... of course, there were some studies done at the behest of the government, their community analysts. And then there were other studies like the Japanese evacuation and relocation studies that was done by the University of California, which was somewhat autonomous from the internment authorities, from the WRA. But to me, all of these studies suffer by virtue of having a dominant society framework. For example -- I mean, what I mean by this is that the kind of social sciences we learned in the universities are basically a Western social science. It rests on certain kinds of assumptions that have been developed over the years in the, in Western social science. So that to me, all of these studies bear a certain kind of bias, a dominant society bias. I think this is why it's so important for the development of ethnic studies, which challenges some of the basic assumptions. So that now we can re-look at the experience to re-interpret those kinds of experience from the perspective of those who went through the experience.

EO: That's what we're trying to do here. One of the things, the assimilationist thing, you know, you said that that's bias... could you just make a statement about that? You know, people come from the position that everyone can assimilate. Isn't that in your paper?

JH: Uh, I guess I'm not catching the trend that you're trying to...

EO: I think it was something that you wrote that I read was that one of the biases of social science, and basing, looking inward, that everyone can in fact be in the melting pot.

JH: Well, that's... yeah. I guess in certain times, it was thought that the United States, all the immigrant groups that are coming into the United States would eventually assimilate into the dominant society norms. And I don't think that this is happening because there are cultural differences throughout the United States on a variety of grounds, some are regional differences, some are class differences, and some are ethnic differences. And these don't seem to be disappearing so that we're becoming a one, kind of a homogenous society.

CO: Besides the fact that some are not allowed to assimilate.

JH: Well, that's true. There are a variety of reasons for this existing. But for me, I think it's very important that I recognize and appreciate the kind of cultural background that I come from. My parents are not white middle-class people. My parents came from Japan, and they socialized me, they raised me, with the kind of values that they thought were very important. So that for me to really understand myself, I have to understand where they were coming from and how that relates to me. And unless I understand that, instead of assimilating, I think I will never discover who I am or what I'm doing here.

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