Densho Digital Archive
Friends of Manzanar Collection
Title: Kenji Suematsu Interview
Narrator: Kenji Suematsu
Interviewer: Sharon Yamato
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: April 19, 2012
Densho ID: denshovh-skenji-01

<Begin Segment 1>

SY: Today's date is April 19, 2012. We're at the Nishi or Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Church in, Buddhist Temple, I'm sorry, in Los Angeles, California, and we're talking to Kenji Suematsu. My name is Sharon Yamato, and Tani Ikeda is on camera. So Kenji, can we please start with you telling me when and where you were born?

KS: I was born in Brawley, California, and on April 29, 1934. And what my recollection of my, what my mother said, I don't know for a fact, she wanted to pull the date one day past the 28th for a few hours so it would be the 29th, which was Tennoheika's birthday. And that's the only --

SY: Whose birthday? Whose birthday?

KS: Tennoheika, Japan's emperor. That's a significant piece, story that my mother had always, I guess, instilled in me at the time. It's just, to me, it doesn't matter when you were born, but in those time periods, you always try to relate to somebody that's famous. And it's just a matter of an hour or so, or whatever the time period, so now I'm officially 29th of April. [Laughs]

SY: Interesting. And your, your mother and father, at the time, maybe you could just tell me a little bit, as much as you know about where they came from, how they came to the United States?

KS: As I know, I mean, I don't recall for an actual fact, but just hearsay story from over the period of time, my father came into the United States as an immigrant, though I don't know how he entered, but I am assuming that, and jokingly we used to say "wetback," going across the borders from Mexico. And he had established farming down in the Imperial Valley, Coachella Valley, that area. And as I understand it, my father, their parents, his parents and the parents of my mother had gotten together and it was an arranged marriage with the first daughter to be born from that family, so there is a gap of some twenty some odd years between my father and my mother. And she was, during the course of the time that he was here farming and trying to make a living and things, my mother was sent when she was, what, twenty-one, twenty-two, something like that, by herself from Japan to the United States to be with my father.

SY: And so they were both from the same area of Japan?

KS: No. My father was born in Gifu, as I understand. His whole family is in Gifu. They're quite influential people in Japan. But my mother comes from Yamaguchi or something like that, in Japan, which is another town. And I don't know how they, how the relationship is, why she was involved with the arrangement, but it is what it is. [Laughs]

SY: But you do know it was arranged.

KS: It was arranged, yes.

SY: So that's something that, did they talk about it? Or it's just...

KS: It was bits and pieces of conversation over the years. You kind of put it together, and that part, as far as being arranged, it was pretty obvious at that time. And my father, as a hearsay, he did have a girlfriend here and he was, he preferred to, would have married this other gal, but then they had a family obligation to follow through with the arrangement, whatever it was. So I guess in that sense, he had to give up his love life. [Laughs]

SY: Sacrifice. So did he stay in touch with his family, then? Do you know, like back in Gifu?

KS: He, as far as I know, I know my mother and my father did communicate with their, their...

SY: Respective --

KS: People back in Japan. I don't know how often, but I see letters coming in and going out, so I assume that they had constant connections. And we used to send photographs and packages and et cetera to Japan, coffee and that kind of thing, that I was aware of.

SY: Interesting.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

SY: And as far as you know, your father's reason for coming here, are you aware of any particular reason?

KS: Well, the reason I got from my father was that he was able, he thought he was gonna be able to make a better living. In Japan, well, the thing that they comment was that Japan is so filled with people, there isn't any open land to really start something new. So they, a lot of the, some of the, shall we say, kids ventured out outside of Japan to make a new life for themselves.

SY: And farming was something he knew?

KS: Farming was something he knew.

SY: From the family.

KS: 'Cause he, in Gifu the family is farmers, basically. Though they're influential, they practically control the town in Gifu, they're sheriffs and mayors and all that, and I think the basic family is farmers in that general region.

SY: And the, and did he have siblings, then, that he left behind?

KS: He left siblings behind, brothers and sisters and cousins and uncles. I see photographs of them periodically, but I couldn't identify. The only one that I know that has gone back from here is my sister, and visited and stayed with the family for a week or so at a time.

SY: So now, as far as your, the order of your family, you were the firstborn, correct?

KS: I wasn't exactly the firstborn. The firstborn was a sister that died at birth, and that child, I think, I don't know the exact age or time period, but I assume that she was not much more than a year, year and a half between her birth and my coming. And then I was born, then my brother two years later, or almost two years later, then my sister almost two years later. Then there was another sister that was born, and she died at birth. And I know my father was trying to do the delivery on that one because we, at that time, did not have funds to get a doctor, or we were too far out in the field to call a doctor for an emergency, and in the course of trying to give, make child birth, the child died at birth time. So that, I was conscious then, I was enough, I remember that scene.

SY: So watching as that happened.

KS: I didn't watch the delivery itself, but I watched all the blood and all this other, washing of the child and all that sort of thing. But at that time it, it just, it was just the subject matter I was looking at.

SY: So your father, then, probably worked as, for someone else doing the farming?

KS: Mainly he was a, the head of the farm. I mean, he leased the land and he ran the farm, and he had hired Mexican hands to do the, a lot of the field work, and my mother was doing part of the field work as well because he didn't have the kind of financial ability to really do the job. He did the best he could to pay and worked to hire hands, and because it was limited funds, my mother was also part of the hired hands to do the planting and fixing and picking. And I remember having the tomato packing shed where the tomatoes were brought in down the chute, and we would stand at the end of the chute, munch away at the damaged and all that stuff while the other hands were packing the tomatoes into tomato boxes.

SY: So he kind of supervised?

KS: He, basically yeah, head of the farm. He was the supervisor of the farm.

SY: And you and your brother, did you work too?

KS: We were too young. We were like four, three or four years old. [Laughs]

SY: So how did he end up, did he at some point leave that, leave Brawley?

KS: He moved around in the Brawley, Coachella Valley, Imperial Valley and that general area, all throughout that southern area, then the last incident was shortly after the third, the last baby was born. As I recall, this was coming towards the end of that farm, I mean the season, and he was in a position, as I understood later, that he couldn't lease or start another farm at that time because this, it was just at the outbreak of the war, or near that. And we saw these B-38s and stuff flying through and buzzing the area and all that. But my father, I guess through whatever was going on at that particular time, couldn't lease anymore land and start another farm. This is the reason he went to Costa Mesa to a friend of, friend of ours, my father's, house that, he had a little house on the cliff of, at Costa Mesa just looking down over the beach. And that's where, we moved there and about a few weeks, a few months -- I don't know the time period -- is when my father disappeared that night and then my mother had a breakdown that day, or that night or the following day. And the people that owned the property there had gathered up, meaning my mother and my, the siblings, and he made arrangements to drop us off at, as I understood now, it was in North Hollywood or Hollywood area, there was a Shonien there, Japanese orphanage. He dropped us off there, and then I don't know whatever happened to my mother, but they tell me later that she was taken to the San Bernardino or that area's sanitarium, and that's where she stayed.

SY: Let's back up just a little, because you were in Costa Mesa only a few months, your father was working at that time as a farmer?

KS: No, he was at interim. He just closed out the farm that he finished, shall we say, delivering his produce and stuff.

SY: Last...

KS: And that was the last of that.

SY: And because he had a friend in Costa Mesa...

KS: He had a friend, had a place to go to, to sit out the situation, trying to get organized to see what he can do next, is when the war situation, I guess, was playing a part, him being able to progress into whatever he needed to do. And they just picked him up at night. I understand that it was sometime, midnight. It was obviously after we went to bed, 'cause when we get up he wasn't there. [Laughs]

SY: And you had no idea what happened to him?

KS: I didn't, we didn't have any idea what happened to him. When he dropped, when they dropped us off at the orphanage, we still didn't know what was going on. Then we, then Mother disappeared. And not, I mean, these people couldn't explain to a child what we're doing to your parents. We were just taken to the orphanage and, "You're gonna be here for a while." So the, and best we can understand.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

SY: So do you remember, though, when the war broke out, when Pearl Harbor was bombed? Is that a memory that you have?

KS: Not at all. The, this is a situation that I am, I'm well aware of, that as kids of that age we were very ignorant of anything that's going on in our surroundings. It was, our world was within a few feet of us. What we saw, we knew. What we didn't see, we didn't know absolutely nothing about. It sounds rather naive to anticipate anything or know anything, and why we were going to the orphanage and what was going on. There was a comment. We were in a class at Costa Mesa, I remember only one day, as we looked up and saw these B-38s flying over. I have no recollection the relationship of that versus what was going on, it's just an event. But we attended that class maybe a few days, and that's about all I can remember.

SY: And you don't remember your parents being concerned or talking?

KS: No.

SY: So what precipitated your mother's breakdown was your father leaving, then? Do you feel that that was the...

KS: My assumption at the time... when my father disappeared, the following morning she was in a panic to go someplace, get someplace. She had me sit behind the steering wheel of the car that we did have and gave me the car keys, ignition keys, and, "Get the car started so we can get going." [Laughs]

SY: And you were how old?

KS: I was maybe six years old. Five years old, six years old, something like that. And then she's starting the car with the, so I realize now that the gear shift was in first gear, which means when you start the car the engine just, I mean the car kept creeping forward. And I think that's about the time that the friends from that house came over and says, "We better take care of the situation here, before you kill yourselves."

SY: And your whole family, your brother and your sister and you and your mother, were all in the car when that happened?

KS: I assume so. You know, I don't know. I don't remember. I know I was in the car, I know it was starting, I know it was creeping forward, and my mother was sitting there in a panic of some sort. But I don't know what happened, whether the other two kids were there or not.

SY: So from your own perspective, though, was it, were you feeling panicky at that time?

KS: Here again, it's one of those situations. I wasn't panicked in a sense of panic, I just didn't know what was going on. She says do this, and so I do it.

SY: Right.

KS: Ignorant. [Laughs]

SY: No, no. Maybe naive.

KS: Naive is part of it.

SY: Yeah.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

SY: So then you ended up at the Shonien. Do you, I mean, I'm sure you, can you talk a little bit about what Shonien is?

KS: I can talk about it 'cause I had some very fun times in the Shonien. In fact, when we first got there they kind of briefly broke us in as to what is going to be, "This is going to be your bed and we'll get you up in the morning. You wash up and we have breakfast," and all this sort of thing. And there's a, there was an auditorium like place attached to that. And my recollection of meeting one of the kids that was there, and I had a very fond memory of this child, but she was, she was an invalid. She had something wrong with her legs, I guess a polio like condition, but she was a very pleasant person. And she came and says hello and all the, we chit chat and all that. She was very friendly and just kind of helped us get into the situation of being part of the, part of this group. And I only saw her maybe one or two, I can't remember, a short period of time, and then I never seen her again after we went into Manzanar. 'Cause she wasn't exactly Japanese in a sense of being Japanese. She was probably a mix or something, so she didn't go with the Manzanar group, as far as I can determine.

SY: So when, did the entire, so not the entire Shonien group went to Manzanar. It was just a...

KS: 'Cause that was, they had a mixture of kids. There were ainokos and all Japanese people that, in this same circumstance I was in, plus I imagine there were other Japanese mix people that were abandoned, that they were there. They went, but I wasn't conscious about them. I mean, I didn't recall intermingling with them in Manzanar's orphanage either, though I imagine some of them were ainokos. But then, like I said, like you said, I'm very naive about people. I was just getting to know, or associated with a few of 'em. You know, Japanese people are not very open and warm to begin with. They don't take in things very easily. [Laughs] And we had a bunch of girls that were up in the mid-teens and that kind, and that's about all I remember. But we didn't associate with those people while I was at the Shonien. It was an exposure of maybe, as far as my mind and time period's concerned, like just a few weeks.

SY: So do you remember what your life was like there? Did you get up and play?

KS: Well, I know I've had my problems, but we got up and mischief, I had some mischiefs and I got away with it, but then I know I had some incidents with not being able to get up or finding the bathroom, that kind of thing. It's all new.

SY: Right.

KS: But other than that, those things stuck in my mind. And I probably got in mischief in scraping a screen with some kind of chalk or something like that and getting away with that, or at least they couldn't, they didn't pin it on my, anyway.

SY: And the people who were in charge, were they, do you remember who they were?

KS: I know one, I don't... there was a lady there that was very affectionate and very helpful in many ways, and she probably inspired me to kind of hang together, so to speak. And she followed us, I think, if can remember correctly, she followed us all the way to the, Manzanar, and she was part of the group there. But I don't recall what happened to her, and I didn't stay in touch with the adult side, other than, "Oh hey, I ran into..." in, during one of our reunions. And I recall him sitting and reading the book at the time, and all this stuff, every night. And there was this gentleman called John -- I only know him by John -- who had heels or soles about three inches thick 'cause he was, so I found out later, reading a book, that he was polio, that was what it was. And I remember him hobbling and having a difficult walking, but he was a very nice gentleman. And him and, the two of 'em that kind of supervised the kids, our age kids, I recall -- those are the only ones that I do recall -- but I've had my relationship with other kids, and that's where some of it still stuck, the agitation that they would have, 'cause they didn't accept new people either.

SY: So it was mainly --

KS: So I would say a family of, there was a family of brothers there and they ranged from young teens to I think about the same age as my brother, about four or five of 'em. And the older one, you can't say bully, but it's, he took kind of advantage of the fact that they were older. "You do this." And you, they give you a nickname, and I hated that nickname for...

SY: We won't make you tell us what it is, then.

KS: I, it probably wouldn't be a very good thing to do, but I run into some of these people here in First Street and all that stuff, and every now and then I hear it, "Hey." The name, I was called Gopher, and the reason of it, I don't know specifically the reason for it, but in terminology, as I understand today, Gopher means "go do this, go do that." Gopher. But in my mind it was the other kind of gopher, the one that digs in the ground. [Laughs]

SY: Didn't like that, huh?

KS: I didn't like that.

SY: So it sounds like, then, the thing that you disliked the most might've been the conflict with the other kids.

KS: Yeah. So I guess that influenced the fact that I don't associate with the, my community, so to speak. I don't go to the Manzanar thing every year. I drive by there, I go by there going fishing and stuff like that. I stop by Manzanar, but on my own, and talk to the ranch rangers there and all that. We chit chat and I describe some of the things that were around Manzanar that they weren't aware of, and I says, "Yeah, when we were here," after we'd gone there it was just a barren land. There wasn't even a fence there. It was just three barracks, the mess hall, the girls, and the children's, younger group, and then our, and then there was the, I think it was a pear orchard, adjoining that. So they, it's all become part of the historical thing that they're trying to rebuild and they're trying to get the pear orchard to come up again. And I says, well, that's interesting. 'Cause that was something we, I remember in the orphanage, a punishment for going to the orchard and picking fruits out of there and eating that. They says, "You're not supposed to do that. You come over here." And says, "You're going, I'm gonna give you castor oil," a spoonful of castor oil. I hated that. [Laughs]

SY: So the people in charge actually, it was punishment, they...

KS: It was a punishment. The castor oil was a punishment. Though I had some of the other kids, they also got in there, but they loved castor oil so it didn't bother them. [Laughs]

SY: So did you, do you remember being close to your brother during this time?

KS: I didn't see them. I didn't see my sister, and we didn't associate with the younger, we didn't mix with the younger portion of the Children's. There were the diapered ones, and there was the two-, three- or four-year-olds, or two- or three-year-olds, and then there was the four year old, that small group, and then we were in the five, six, seven year old grouping, and then there were the preteens and teens.

SY: And did you have a sense that all of these kids were without parents?

KS: You know, I never consciously even thought about it. We were there, that's all I know. We were there, and some of the kids were easy to get along with and the other kids were a little bossy and difficult to relate to.

SY: So was it a more strict environment than your own home, growing up with your mother and father?

KS: Well, it would be a more controlled environment than what we had at home because both my father and mother were out in the farm fields, and so essentially we grew up on our own. We do what we wanted because there was no supervision.

SY: And here there was.

KS: And there, there was. You had to get up a certain time, you wear the certain clothes "that we lay out for you." And when you go to the mess hall, things that I remember, when we go to the mess hall we sit at this one bench table, arranged kids on that side and kids on this side, and because it was a Christian structure -- and I wasn't aware of this -- we pray for, grace for the meals and all that sort of thing. And we were asked to, that we eat everything that's on the plate. And I said, that was not a problem with me. In fact, when they had certain dishes, like okra, large percentage of the kids didn't like okra and I loved it, so I didn't have a problem. And we did have other problems that, following directions, sit upright, bring your food up to your dish, I mean your mouth, don't stoop over and eat. They come back with a needle and, ooh. [Laughs]

SY: Really?

KS: Yeah, get you to sit up straight. Posture, important posture. I mean, the needle was just a, just enough so you feel it, you just kind of jump, to remind you, sit up straight, bring the food up to your mouth, don't slosh it around your mouth like that. I mean, those things we never encountered at home because that's normal. And then I remember one day when we had fresh oranges, and she gave instructions, "Okay, you can peel the oranges and take the orange out after we finish here." I took, peel the oranges, the juice got on my hand, I [licks hand]. "You eat that orange here." Very strict in that sense that you follow directions.

SY: Very interesting.

KS: But you know, it's an amazing thing that table manners, that was the first time I was introduced to table manners, and it was the first time I was introduced to being correctly postured and all this stuff about what you do when you're eating, the etiquette of eating. And it had stayed with me. I mean, it enters my mind all the time I sit down, so it did have some good in it. [Laughs]

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

SY: So do you actually remember the transition from Shonien to Manzanar, how you got there?

KS: That part there I wasn't fully aware, other than that, in fact, I don't even recall the long bus trip that was supposedly -- I know we gathered what little we had, got in the bus, and took this long trip into the middle of the desert. I'm not conscious of all that time period of being in the bus, and I'm not even conscious of getting there and then having, being able to see the barracks for the first time. It doesn't, it didn't stay with me.

SY: Do you remember your quarters though, what your quarters were like?

KS: Yeah, I remember the quarters. I remember, I don't remember which bed it was, but then I remember, I can pinpoint the room. The barrack is full of, full length of the barrack. I was standing on maybe four or five feet of height from the ground where the first floor was, and the one section of the barrack on the one end is one whole room with a little room, private room for the supervisor, I mean this [inaudible] supervisor. And then the central area, there was the bathroom section. They had the showers, both, two stalls, big showers, and stalls and sinks for... and then the other room section was for the teenagers, and we had this hallway in between. And I think there was, the bathroom was on one side, so I imagine, now that I'm thinking about it, possibly there was two other supervisors' rooms or quarters there.

SY: On the other side.

KS: Yeah, on the other side, down the, down the way. So like, much like the military barracks at that time, as far as pattern's concerned.

SY: But it was very self-enclosed. In other words, you didn't have outdoor bathrooms like the rest.

KS: No, it was enclosed.

SY: So it was part of the barracks, the bathrooms.

KS: Yeah. Well, for kids they needed that. I mean, otherwise the, like Block 18 and all these others, they had a whole series of buildings and maybe five, four or five individual apartment-like rooms in this one hundred foot barrack, and it had one faucet, as far as I can recall, they had one faucet in the corner of the barrack outside, which froze over during the cold weather. But in the middle of that you had, I think it was minimum three or maybe four small barracks. One was the showers for the males, next one was the showers and bathroom stuff for females, and then the next one was the, as I can recall, was the laundry room and the furnace room for the hot water supply. Now, far down at the other end of the barracks it was, one barrack was reserved for, like a playroom, not for, I mean for the normal people that were out in the barracks.

SY: You're talking about the general population, not so much...

KS: Right. And then among the grouping of these barracks were set up a double barrack, double buildings, which was mess, central mess hall. So all the people'd come there for the...

SY: But in the Children's Village --

KS: The kitchen, we had the, our quarters, then we had the children's quarters, and then we had the adults, I mean the senior, the storage area for the food and the kitchen area and then the dining, for all the kids, go to the one dining room area.

SY: And there was, so there was really no intermingling with the people in the regular barracks.

KS: No. It was an isolated area.

SY: And so you only --

KS: If we, we weren't even allowed to go outside the border of the orphanage. Otherwise, kids'd disappear. [Laughs]

SY: And was it fenced off?

KS: It wasn't necessarily fenced off. There's just imaginary fencing, says, "Don't go beyond this line here." [Laughs]

SY: Did it make you want --

KS: The pear orchard is also off limits, so we...

SY: Did you sneak out?

KS: We'd sneak out a little bit, but at that time we weren't that adventuresome to go, nowhere to go, really.

SY: Yeah.

KS: And they keep telling us, says, "Don't go near the fence or they'll shoot you there."

SY: Really? They actually told you that?

KS: But we were far enough from the fence, it would've been a long walk to get there.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

SY: And do you remember the, how many kids your age that you would, like who you would play with?

KS: We had, I would say, maybe twenty or thirty or so. I really don't remember. I didn't associate with all of 'em. I didn't get to know much of 'em, many of 'em. I did get to know a few of the family people that, related to the area that we came from.

SY: That, while you were in the Children's Village?

KS: 'Cause they were also, they lived in the Los, I mean downtown, Japanese-town area, being picked up from there, and that was one group that I was in there with. And there were other people that I got to know somewhat. We, not a close relationship, just got to know who they were and we did a few things, but we never stayed together as friends.

SY: But you remember playing with one another?

KS: Yeah, we played. We played. The teenagers would get to provide activity and stuff like that, and I know the management there would get these teenagers to get together. They says, "We're gonna build a wooden fence around this area. Go get the, get logs and stuff and build up fences. And we want a fence in this central, between the mess hall and the Children's, to make a little safe area for crawling children." So they could keep the lawn in there and keep it bordered. And I remember them, I don't know where they got it, but I know about two miles outside the camp there was a stream there and they had birch trees, and what we made the fence with was from the birch trunk. And I thought... it was nice, it's white, it's clean and all that. There's no place that you can get hurt. But the thing is, the way they joined the thing and stuick it in the ground, after a short period of time that thing started to root and grow, so we have a growing fence. [Laughs]

SY: That's very funny.

KS: Yeah, I thought that was funny.

SY: You remember that, that's really good.

KS: That was, to me it was very humorous, in the sense that here they're getting wood and they're sticking it in the ground, and it actually rooted in the ground and it started having fresh branches and leaves come and growing out of this thing. [Laughs]

SY: So did you actually all go to the same, did you all go to school? Was there a school there?

KS: Yes, the school was usually a walk outside of the Shonien area. There was some, they had grade schools located at certain barracks. Certain teachers were occupying one of the rooms in one of the blocks, and one of the rooms is, maybe first and second grade is here, so forth, so on. And so these kids, like us, we, I don't remember how many blocks we had to walk to get to one of the classes. I remember my teacher's name was Mrs. Sandwich. I remember to this day. Periodically, I did check how she was doing and all that, but I never really contacted her after that.

SY: Now, was that, was that the teacher that just taught kids that were from the orphanage area? Or did she teach --

KS: No, she teached --

SY: She taught --

KS: -- children from the, that block area, wherever the...

SY: So you intermingled with --

KS: We intermingled, as children we intermingled.

SY: In school. So what was that like? Was that something that you...

KS: It was interesting. It was new to me because, I mean, intermingling with children was not a common thing in my life, anyway, at that time. It was all sort of new, and I thought, well, interesting people. Some people were very interesting and that I wish I got to know them a little bit better, but now that I think about it...

SY: But did they ask you, or did you talk about the fact that you were --

KS: Well, they, I remember one asked me, he said, "How old are you?" And I says, "You know, I really don't know." [Laughs] "When's your birthday?" "I don't know that either."

SY: And how about the fact that you came from this orphanage area, did they, it didn't bother...

KS: It was never, probably they knew. Probably they knew, but it was never asked of us.

SY: So you never felt --

KS: Never asked of me, anyway.

SY: And so you didn't necessarily feel different.

KS: No.

SY: You really sort of, just like one of the...

KS: One of the kids in the class, and you learned what you can.

SY: And then you went back.

KS: And went back. From that standpoint, we were somewhat obedient of the requirements of you going to class, "Come back here and have, be here ready for dinner. And go wash up and change your clothes in the morning, and this is where you get your clothes." [Laughs]

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

SY: So that was pretty much your life, then, going to school, coming home, eating, and then going to sleep?

KS: Well, we played out in the yard, out in the yard for a few hours and stuff. And there were times when, like when it snowed we were making these huge snowballs and stuff. And then they got the wise idea, the teenagers got a group together and just, "We're gonna make this igloo." [Laughs] So right in the middle of this backyard where it was fenced in, between barracks one and two of these three buildings, start piling up snow, rolling the snow, making this ball as big as possible, and start laying 'em out and then on top of, and had it enclosed. That igloo stayed there for quite a while.

SY: So there was really, kids of all ages kind of played together.

KS: Yeah, they did.

SY: You didn't --

KS: Up to a certain point. And I recall the teenagers would be a little more adventuresome and knowledgeable in doing certain things, and at night we'd see bats coming around by the hundreds, and they would fashion, they would get sticks and fashion a boomerang. And they says, "Alright, here comes one." And they would throw, you would throw these makeshift boomerangs and you manage to get one or two of those bats coming down. [Laughs]

SY: Wow.

KS: So we didn't, we did participate in that sense, and we had also a, if I can recall, like a basketball hoop on one end and a yard. They'd play just rough basketball type game.

SY: But nothing, like, organized.

KS: Nothing, no official game. Nothing official game or... I don't recall. I imagine they had other games that they played, but I was never involved with 'em because I'm not, wasn't a game oriented person. And I was always kind of kept to myself, anyway. And then I recall the teenagers trying to, they started to spread out a little bit further, get a little more adventuresome. And just outside of the Shonien, or Children's Village area, it was fenced in, then you had the orchards here, and then you had this little bit of an open area there. And they got some shovels and stuff and they start digging a trench, huge trench around a small area there. This is just outside of the Children's Village. And to me, it was quite deep, the trench, and they had, like an island in the middle. What they were gonna do is gonna create this huge trench, fill it with water, and they have this island in the middle. [Laughs] And have a raft to go back and forth on it. Well, I know it took them, it's taken days to dig this thing with shovels. Everybody's out there digging away. And one morning they go out there and the thing got filled up with water, underground water. The stream just filled that thing. And that stayed like that, with water in it, for I don't know, god, a long, for a long time. In my mind, it was a long time. And it got pretty raunchy, the water, 'cause it was stagnant water. And you couldn't get to the island unless you had a little raft to get there. [Laughs]

SY: It was big enough that you could get, you could actually take a raft and...

KS: Well, it was a short, I mean, you couldn't jump there, but you had to have something to get it over there.

SY: And was that okay with the people who ran the orphanage?

KS: Well, it was no, as far as I know, there was no complaints on it.

SY: That is...

KS: I had, was cautioned about it. Says, "You..." there was a trench out there like this, they said, "Do you know what that thing was out in the orphanage?" I says, "Yeah. That was a playground that we were creating." [Laughs]

SY: So the older ones were pretty clever.

KS: They had to have something to do I think. [Laughs]

SY: That's amazing. You really, and I admire the fact that you have those childhood memories too, that you, the things that you did.

KS: Those are things that are, was the more pleasant side. We had, I had my first exposure to Christmas, I found out what it was and all that sort of thing. And I think John or one of them had explained what Christmas was. Since I come from a Buddhist family background, this is totally new. And gifts giving was a first experience for me in the orphanage, and I think we had two occasions of gift giving situations that came up. At least the second time I was more aware of it. And of course, Children's, I mean, the adults were trying to get the younger kids more involved, physically involved in stuff, and boxing was one of 'em. And I just, I'm not a boxer, but I did the best I could and I wasn't very good at it. And I wasn't very happy with it either, getting beaten up. [Laughs]

SY: So you have a lot of kind of pleasant memories.

KS: Well, I have pleasant memory in the sense that I got to have some relationship with other people other than my brother.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

SY: And do you remember, I mean, can you think about the unpleasant things?

KS: Well, the unpleasant was, like I said, I hated to be called Gopher, and that was, that would always turn me off completely. Just couldn't stand it. [Laughs]

SY: So it all had to do with other kids, pretty much.

KS: It had to do with the other kids.

SY: Not so much supervision or...

KS: Well, supervision, we had pleasant side on supervision, that one lady. Again, I said I can remember her but I don't remember her name or anything else. She, to me, was like having a second mother. And I recall her, the feeling of her being around, but I don't recall, I wish I knew, remember and followed up on keeping, maintaining a memory of who they actually were and the names and all that. I didn't. I was ignorant in that sense and never followed up on a lot of 'em. Some of it was inadvertently I ran into 'em after camp, in downtown First Street here, and those kids were there at the orphanage and they happened to have their family here also. We run into them and there was inadvertently association there, which wasn't very happy at some times either. It was a carryover from Manzanar. [Laughs]

SY: And at the time, do you remember thinking, "I wonder what's happened to my mother and father?"

KS: I consciously don't remember that. And there was word that my father was, was back in camp, and we never were really curious enough to find out where. And over a little period of time, we found out he was at Block 2 in such and such room, and we got permission, brother and I got permission to walk that distance to Block 2 and locate him. And we visited one day, and then I guess in about two, a week or two later we visited again. But it was fascinating. My father had made, out of wood, a, what we call a truck with a bed on the back, with a fence, wood fence and all, and he made the engine. He was taken pride, he says, "You can turn the wheel and see the pistons go." And all out of wood, and the doors open, the steering wheel turns and all that. I mean, he, it was, in that situation it was quite an intricate toy, so to speak. But you couldn't use it as a toy 'cause it will break down. And then another project he was doing over this period of time, he made a replica of his house in Japan, with the sliding panels and all that and the storage for the sliding panels. It was a two story house and the tile, the roof tiles, every little piece was cut out on, from black tar paper. At least I think it was black tar paper. And I thought, god, it's, it was beautiful. It's his home, all the sliding panels, inside, you look inside the house, you see all the rooms in there, and you could see where all the shoji and the things go in to make the room. And I thought, the thing is, at that time I didn't value that. And when we got out of camp that was one of the few, couple or few things that came with us out of camp. But it was a headache 'cause there was no room for that kind of thing. And we were at, when we finally had to leave Gardena and we came back to First Street to the Toyo Hotel, it was still with us. And I said, "Somewhere along the line this is gettin' in our way." When we finally moved to Crocker Street, it was an old house that we rented, my father rented, and in the attic, it was just an empty attic, open space between the roof and the ceiling, so we stuck it all up in there, out of the way. And we never retrieved it. And I think about it to this day, says, "That's a shame to let that thing go." 'Cause when they, when we moved out of Crocker Street, after we, the buildings were torn down, along with everything that was in there.

SY: What a shame. But he showed this to you when you visited him.

KS: Yes. He was, he was proud of it. I mean, it was detail-ish, everything was in fine, minute detail of his actual home. I assume it was his home. And all the roof tiles and everything, you would, he took pride in the fact that all these things, everything worked.

SY: Wow. Talented, he's very talented. So this was one of the two times both your brother, your sister and you actually got to see --

KS: I don't recall if my sister went, 'cause she was still pretty young. My brother by that time was about, about five years old. So we were taking a slow trip. [Laughs]

SY: And he didn't explain, did your father explain, was he not good at explaining what was happening?

KS: You know, we had, we never got into depth of any kind of conversation. We had a, we became a situation with a language barrier. It was more dominant at that time, as we were associating with the orphanage kids, no Japanese was even spoken, so we had lost hearing a lot of that. Because back in the farm we didn't communicate all that much either, so as we grew up, unfortunately, the conversation never got in any particular depth as to what was going on. It's more or less just say hi and good morning. "I'm hungry." [Laughs]

SY: So he never really learned English.

KS: No. My mother, one of few words, that's about it. My father probably knew a little more English than my mother, which wasn't very much at all. And so they really didn't acquire the English language, and there was no way we can communicate.

SY: So you did find out later what happened to your father when he was picked up? Did you find out?

KS: No. I never conversed, I never conversed with him on that, 'cause there was no point. I can't converse with him, I couldn't converse with him. When I did get, when I got married at later years, and I don't recall if my father was still alive... I don't recall if my father was still alive when I married this woman that was very versed in Japanese. So she was able to communicate, get a lot of the story out of the family that I wasn't able to. But she passed away too, so it was, what she told me, what he related, I kind of vaguely remember, but it wasn't an important factor. It was just an added piece of some point of interest.

SY: So, but you did at some point find out that he, it was in fact the FBI that picked him up that night?

KS: Well, that was not coming from this conversation. There was a conversation long later, much, much later, and between my brother and sister, we kind of talked and kind of briefly said, "This is what happened." 'Cause he had more details on that event than I did, and then he kind of filled in.

SY: I see. So no firsthand, it was just through your brother, who maybe found out, he didn't really say how he found out?

KS: No, I never asked, I never questioned it. It was not a fact of highly importance to us, in a sense that it was an event that took place and that's it.

SY: You were kids.

KS: I was a kid.

SY: Yeah, yeah.

KS: It wasn't important.

SY: Right.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

SY: So ultimately, though, did you end up living with your father in camp?

KS: Yeah. From the orphanage, I think the last year, probably the last year or year and a half or so, Father was assigned a family quarters and which, then the orphanage released us into his custody and we stayed with him. He continued to do some camp work, like building the auditorium. That is something I'm very aware of. And I don't know whether it's several months or, several months later my wife was, I mean my mother was brought to the camp and released to my father at that point, and I guess from there we moved, as far as I can recall, we only moved one more time, to Block 18, which was the last place that we, I remember before the camp closed.

SY: So I know it's probably hard in sense of time, but you were in the orphanage, do you have any idea how long that was that you were there?

KS: I figure, I mean, my time is so messed up, I don't recall exactly the length of time, but I would figure close to a year, or somewhere in that vicinity.

SY: And then lived with your father alone for another few months before your mother arrived?

KS: Yeah.

SY: And then when your mother arrived, you were all in one room, all five of you?

KS: One room.

SY: And was that, what was that like, being reunited with your parents?

KS: I really don't know. Right offhand, I can't even, I can't even give you an impression because I remember just dusty place and it was cold, and there wasn't much in the way of comfort 'cause you had just a cot and a few blankets and all that sort of thing. It wasn't exactly a homey situation, and the relationship that my mother and my father and I had, or was exposed to at that time, since they were gone at a vital point of our growing up period, and when this, when the thing was cut by having them disappear, it never came back together as far as my mind is concerned. So we never joined as a family. We were just five bodies in a common room.

SY: And you did pretty much everything on your own still.

KS: Yeah.

SY: So was there, and there was never any discussion about what happened?

KS: No. Like I said...

SY: The language.

KS: The language barrier was become more dominant. And I don't think he had it in him to even explain, 'cause he was embarrassed of whatever happened and he did not delve into anything of where he was, where we went, what happened or anything like that. So he would just, wanted to make sure that, I don't even know if he was conscious of whether the comfort was of any concern on his part, but I know he, as a father he probably was. But as children, we just lived day to day and, "Yeah, we're cold. Yeah, we're this, that." Dust, the dust didn't bother us. We looked down in the floor and see the ground on the bottom. [Laughs]

SY: And the conditions, did you notice, did you feel like, "Oh, this is way different than what it was like when we --"

KS: No, we never made a comparison. I mean, I didn't make a comparison.

SY: It was still a barracks.

KS: It was just a barracks, another place to live, and one other place to sleep. [Laughs]

SY: And then how was it, you obviously had to change schools, then, too? Or did you go, end up going to the same school?

KS: I think we went, I really don't recall, but I think we went to the same school and the same Miss Sandwich was still, that's the only teacher I recall there. It was the same teacher, so --

SY: So you had the same friends and saw the same people.

KS: Yeah.

SY: So you didn't really feel any kind of big --

KS: I didn't feel the separation or anything.

SY: -- big difference between...

KS: No. In fact, we, I wasn't even conscious of the separation at all. I would, yeah, I was there at the orphanage, yeah, I was there at the Block 18 and stuff, but it, there was no, shall we say, this is another chapter. It didn't have that situation.

SY: And how about eating? Did you eat with your friends?

KS: We ate in the common mess hall.

SY: And you, with your friends as opposed to your parents?

KS: Well, we, I imagine we ate with our parents. We didn't separate from the parents, going wandering off to other areas.

SY: And your sister rejoined you too. She was pretty young, right?

KS: Yeah. I, like I said, I didn't pay attention to her, so I don't have no idea. [Laughs] She didn't exist.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

SY: Okay. We're talking about how you felt -- it was interesting how you felt about being reunited with your parents, and it was just another, another day in your life, right?

TI: Another day. "Who's this woman?" [Laughs]

SY: And your parents didn't have any kind of emotional attachment, reaction?

TI: Well that's another side that I'm aware of today, but at that time I was not aware of it. But there was a great depth of emotional feeling of my mother towards me, in a sense that, later on in the years I found out what, why my sister and my brother had complained about me and felt jealous of my mother and the fact that they don't exist when I'm there. And when there's, when she's serving tea or, hot tea or cookies or something, she would serve it to me, my tea, and then that's it. They'd just sit out there and not have anything. But I'm not aware of this until later in years when I was reminded, "Hey, this is what happened." And I said, and I tried to tell my mother, which there's a barrier there. This is what I'm saying about conversation. My mother is, had a mental situation in which you couldn't explain logic, that if you're going to have guests here, my guests, or your family here, everybody needs to be treated evenly. You serve tea to me, you serve tea to the others and stuff like that. I try, in my way I've tried to explain it to her. It doesn't, it doesn't register. After many years, it doesn't register. But they tell me, "Yeah, Mom loves you more than everybody."

SY: They notice. They noticed it and you didn't. Now, when your mother returned though, did you notice her behavior being different? Like obviously you saw when she, before she left.

KS: If you remember, I said we were raised on a farm, we were basically growing up ourselves. We had no influence or, let's say, directions from our parents, maybe except for being reprimanded for something that we did obviously it was wrong, like me spreading rice all over the ceiling to try and amuse my brother, to make him laugh, freshly cooked rice. [Laughs] She repeated that story several times, and that's why I remember it.

SY: But, so not, you didn't have a relationship with her, so you didn't notice any kind of change in her behavior?

KS: No, I didn't notice a change. There was, there was no difference between that period, during the period of time at the orphanage, and during the time when she came to join us as a family unit. In fact, thereafter many years there was always this non-bonding relationship, as far as from this side to that. Now, my mother may have felt otherwise and she indicated, she didn't indicate it, but her behavior indicated that I come first when something's to be served. And my father was, I guess you could call it a sho ga nai kind of thing. You know, "She is what she is." [Laughs] She can't cook, she can't sew, she can't do anything, and my father was cooking, my father was sewing, my father was doing all the things. She just can't, she just couldn't grasp how to do things. I tried to show her how to cook the fish properly, and I'd buy fresh fish from the going, mobile market or whatever you call 'em, and try to make this nice dish and I showed her how to do it. Turned the fire up and I get a black piece of fish. [Laugh] But you know, it's a frustration of lacking, lacking the correct response, try to correct situation, and it's...

SY: But as far as you know, though, she wasn't getting treated?

KS: She wasn't getting treated late, in her later years, and she wasn't getting treated after she got, came into camp. And whatever she went through, we, I got little bits and pieces of stories from them, from other people that were kind of aware of it or were from our... I don't recall where the stories came from, but there're little bits and pieces of it. And that's what I was piecing together, and it's just like, well, they took, experimented on her with electrical shock, electric shock, and what we wound up with was a, what we wound up with.

SY: I see. And did you ever find out what her diagnosis was?

KS: No, never looked into it. Like I said, our conversation was very shallow. We'd never go into depth of anything in a family situation. And my father never talked about it.

SY: I see.

KS: So we never dug into it. [Laughs]

SY: Maybe better.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

SY: So by the time you all got together again, then was it about how long do you think, that the family unit was together?

KS: After, in camp?

SY: In camp.

KS: I would say roughly, maybe less than a year or somewhere in that period. I don't know the length of time.

SY: So it was a good, but it was a good length of time at least.

KS: Well, it was several months, or at least... and it could've been easily well into a year, but then I can't say for, I can't say for sure. I just, like I said, it existed in the relationship as to how long it had, was there. I know it wasn't two seasons 'cause it didn't snow and then it was...

SY: That's a good way to know.

KS: So we had wandered off as children, after the regulations in camp were relaxed. We had gone out the gates and we walked out maybe two, three miles outside of camp to some of these other locations, like the creek and stuff, and we used to go out there and play. But there wasn't much activity that we can do. We used, I walked around the cemetery area and walked around the hospital area, not in, on the property but up and around that area. That's the extent of our wandering around as kids.

SY: And did you end up staying close with the people at the orphanage, the kids at the orphanage? Or did you just separate?

KS: We never went back. I mean, I never went back to build up any kind of relationship with them because we didn't have that kind of a relationship to begin with. It was nothing urgent to have us go, for me to go back and try to renew or try to befriend, needed their friendship to do whatever we were gonna do, 'cause it was not, nothing of that kind built up.

SY: And as far as the kids outside the, in the regular population?

KS: Same thing.

SY: Same thing, you weren't very close.

KS: Yeah, they were there in the class we saw them, we say hi and that's it. You don't, we don't go to their house, we don't see their parents.

SY: But when you went to, like, do all these, go over to the creek or do things like that, were there other --

KS: Usually by ourselves.

SY: You and your brother.

KS: Yeah, my, me and my brother. And I don't recall if there was anybody else that we had gone with. I think there were maybe two or three other persons, but I don't recall who they were. We just kind of go as a group independently.

SY: So you weren't involved, like in, I don't know, you were still pretty young, so they didn't have too many boys groups or clubs or...

KS: No. Usually, if, we usually, the ones that I know, like in the orphanage, there's a little clique, about maybe four, five of 'em that always stuck together, and then there's the family unit that sticks together, brothers. And then there's some loose, independent people that is not quite part of the group and not quite our group. They were just kind of independent like we were and not really tied in with anybody, and we never made friends. We never really united to do anything. They went their way, we went our way. We never looked back. [Laughs]

SY: And your father was working. Was your mother working too? Did she get a job while you were in camp?

KS: Not that I know of. She was more of a, she was not an independent, resourceful person, and she had problems even after we got out of camp. She was, she tried. Best as she could, she tried, but she had her problems.

SY: And your dad, during camp, was, he did this carpentry kind of work and he worked, he worked on the auditorium.

KS: Yes.

SY: So that was, I mean, specifically, that was, did he do the construction?

KS: It was, it was a major construction job, to build up an auditorium for the high school, school that was located in that area, for place to graduate, place to do all this stuff. I guess with the anticipation that the camp was gonna be there forever. [Laughs] That building still exists. In fact, that's where the museum is in Manzanar, that building.

SY: That's right.

KS: Yeah, we used to drive by, I says, "Yeah, my dad at least was, had his hand in building that thing." [Laughs]

SY: And do you remember when they first talked about the fact that maybe you'd be leaving camp?

KS: There was no conversation that I am aware of. There was something said about it, that we're gonna have to go back and we have to pay taxes for food and all this other stuff, that kind of thing. But there was no real set thing that, well, we're gonna have to move away from here in the next two, three weeks or next two, three months or whatever. It was not that urgency.

SY: And your father and mother, did they have friends now that they had developed?

KS: They had, yes, they had friends in Manzanar. They developed some friends that related to them after they'd gotten out. I guess they're the ones that kind of helped him get some footing out there and made contacts with, like this Chinese farmer, so that he would have a place to go. And unfortunately that failed after a short period of time, and the friends helped him out. As to what they did, financially or otherwise, I don't know. It's just that we existed in one house and then moved to another house, managed somehow. And then my father got a job at Fukui Mortuary sometime later on as a, what do you call it, sort of a maintenance person, just do general housecleaning and repairs and stuff like that, which was within the scope of what he was able to do.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

SY: So I think we need to back up just a little, 'cause when you actually did leave camp, that's when you went, that's when your father went to work with this Chinese farmer?

KS: Yeah.

SY: And that was --

KS: Took the family with him and we stayed at one of the farmhouses, and we were there, we thought we'd have a place to stay and all that, and we were moved in with, I think, another family, another Japanese family. We... and that's when --

SY: And this was in what area?

KS: Well, they had, as I understood, there was one house, wood structure house, and I don't know how many bedrooms were in there and I don't remember if there was a shed or some other facility, just outside, and I remember outside of that house was the tub with the heater, firewood tub for hot water.

SY: Ofuro kind of.

KS: Yeah, the old type. [Laughs]

SY: And that was some, that was the first place you went to after camp, then?

KS: Yeah, that's the first place I'm aware of.

SY: And it was, where was it?

KS: In Gardena.

SY: So you went straight from --

KS: And Gardena was all farm fields. At one time used to have, celery fields is what it was. You put these little new celeries in there and they go along and plant 'em all. That's what he was doing. And because the wet and all that, his rheumatoid arthritis or whatever it was really hit him real bad. He became almost invalid on that.

SY: In his, in his legs mainly?

KS: In his legs, yeah.

SY: So his hands were okay, but his...

KS: I think his hands were okay, but it was mainly in his legs. He couldn't walk.

SY: So that prevented him from...

KS: That ended his, yeah, presented a problem. And here he's already pretty old, and to do farm work was even worse in his condition. And my mother was not resourceful in a sense for herself. She had to be directed all the time, and my father wasn't there she can't do nothing. So there was no choice, I guess, from my father's point of view. It was to go back, move to L.A. if we can get, find a place to stay, and be on welfare so they can at least eat.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

SY: And this place that you stayed, can you describe what that was?

KS: It's right down, it's right down here, Toyo Hotel.

SY: Still there?

KS: It's where the police department --

SY: It's still there?

KS: No, the police department is there now, but that whole block used to have Toyo Hotel and they had a market downstairs, they had another, I don't remember whether it was another hotel towards the corner, towards San Pedro, then there was another little store, building there. That whole block was a lot of little buildings. And I think the, near Spring Street side of the block is, seems to me it was like a little, what do you call, industrial building. It was not a hotel, but it was some kind of industrial, like a warehouse type building. That whole section was completely wiped out and the police department was placed there.

SY: So the Toyo Hotel was one of a few hotels.

KS: One of several places.

SY: And mostly Japanese Americans lived in these hotels?

KS: Yeah, lot of the Japanese that came off that area, came back to that area, they had owned the hotels, they had owned markets and all that stuff, which was given to the blacks to take over, all that sort of thing.

SY: During the war.

KS: During the war. And I understood that one of the families that had a hotel down there are the people that we got to know each other later, later in life. And he, from the Toyo Hotel situation is when all this other events took place, but going from there, from the Toyo Hotel, coming across Amelia, I mean Alameda to about three blocks this side, right about in this area is where the grammar school was, and we had, walked that distance from Toyo Hotel to that school until I graduated that school. Course, they moved us up, they moved me up because my school records were constantly lost with all the moving I had, so I was behind maybe one or two years. So they kept moving me up and then after I graduated there and I went to Lafayette, Lafayette Junior High School, they moved me up a couple of grades there from ninth grade to tenth grade, and then they skipped and I graduated from there to Roosevelt High School.

SY: So you really didn't know exactly how old...

KS: No, I didn't. I mean, it was not a conscious thing even when I was growing up. Birthday was unknown, age was unknown, and we never had a birthday. In fact, it wasn't until... well, somebody did tell us, parents or somebody told us, "This is your birthday." But it was several years later, after I went to high school, 'cause I needed a birth certificate and that's when I got and I looked at it, says, "Oh, that's when I was born." And then my mother tells me about this date of the birthday. It was about an hour or two, he asked, begged the doctor to move it to the 29th. And I said, "Why?" She says, "Tennoheika was born on 29th." [Laughs]

SY: So getting back to, 'cause I think it's fascinating that you all grew up in this hotel, the five of you lived in, in this. Do you, can you kind of describe what that?

KS: Yeah, that was...

SY: How many families lived here?

KS: Well, there was two floors, and --

SY: Just two floors.

KS: -- and I think each hotel room occupied a family.

SY: It must've been a fairly good size room.

KS: They're not any much bigger than the normal hotel rooms of today. I mean, they were reasonable bigger than the, where you just have a bed and a quarters. There a little bit more room in there and you could probably barely squeeze two beds and a cot in there, that kind of situation.

SY: And no kitchen. Or was there a kitchenette?

KS: No kitchen, no kitchenette. I mean, it had a little bench there with some kind of -- I don't know whether we did any cooking. Yeah, he did, he must've done some cooking there. Yes, I remember him doing some cooking there 'cause we took, we got the water from the central sink, bathroom sink and all that sort of thing. Wash the dishes in there and all that. So it was a central cleaning situation, and you brought your rice pot and whatever they were using to cook to the room and do it on little stoves.

SY: So that, but at the time did you think, "Well, this is kind of tough"?

KS: No. I never had any comparisons, so we never had a comparison saying that this is tough, this is --

SY: Was it smaller than the barracks room, though? Was it...

KS: It's about the same size.

SY: About the same size, so you're used to it.

KS: We were used to it already. We were already in tight quarters in there, with five, except we had a little bit older kids at this point.

SY: Right.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

SY: So the, at that time your father was, he was still ill?

KS: He was ill. He was not employable at that time, so he had, totally lived off of the social security. I mean, not security, welfare at that time. I don't know how long it was, probably enough that I graduated from there, out of, and was in Lafayette Junior High School, so it must've been better part of three years, two or three years anyway.

SY: And do you remember what he did during the day?

KS: I have no idea.

SY: When he was home, 'cause he wasn't --

KS: Well, I imagine he was, he had developed some friends there in the hotel. I recall on weekends this gentlemen called Tsuboi, they used to go fishing. And they used to take the Red Car and go all the way to San Pedro and fish there all day and then come home, and they would have pompanos. [Laughs]

SY: Nice. You would cook it?

KS: He would cook it. They would cook it and we would eat it, yeah. So that was one fresh meal that we would have.

SY: Nice. And your mother, what was she doing?

KS: Jeez, I really don't know.

SY: Can't remember.

KS: I can't remember.

SY: Yeah. Didn't she get a job at some point?

KS: Yes, she did get a job at the cannery in San Pedro, and she stayed there for, at a hotel I guess, while she worked daily there for several, the cannery season. And she would come back and then she would work at a local restaurant here as a waitress, the best she could. And as far as I know, I mean, she, I know she complained a lot. [Laughs]

SY: And did you feel like it was a struggle? I mean, was it a struggle for you to, in terms of the fact that you had a hard time getting food or getting...

KS: I don't recall it having, having a problem getting food. I mean, it wasn't where we were noticeably starving or anything. We had food. It's the condition, we had no comparison to having a better condition to compare it against, so it was the circumstances of what we had. We tried to do the best we can with what we had. And we listened to the radio and that kind of thing, and that's about all the entertainment we had. As far as getting around in this general area, there was no place to really go.

SY: What, I remember, well, I remember you told me something about what you recovered from, when you went into camp, your, there were certain things that your father owned, right, certain property?

KS: My father had, as far as my recollection, as far as your common household stuff, utensils and all that stuff, I know she had, he had a refrigerator, or icebox. He had a car. As far as the bureaus and tables and all that sort of thing, I have no idea what we had in actuality. I mean, they could've been a table that existed in that ranch house, so it could've been a tablet that... whatever the situation. But I know the refrigerator was ours, and as far as the car, that was ours. As far as clothing and some of the other household equipment and pots and pans and stuff, when we came out of camp none of that, other than the refrigerator, I don't know where he got, he contacted a friend of ours that was supposedly watching the refrigerator for us, he managed to get that back. And as far as all the rest of the stuff, it was nonexistent.

SY: So the car --

KS: The warehouse or wherever they had stuck it, nothing was left.

SY: And the car you think he might have sold? Or did you...

KS: I have no idea.

SY: 'Cause that was a car that they drove, you drove --

KS: No, I, yeah, the car I attempted to drive.

SY: Right, exactly.

KS: But the gentleman that, my father's friend -- I'm assuming that he was a friend -- he was a Christian man with a finger missing or something like that, but he always carried a Bible with him. And that's what I, I mean, that's how I relate him too, and he's the one that took care of us, who drove us to the, these various things and took care of the situation there. I've never seen him after that and I've never talked to him about it.

SY: But you managed to keep this icebox that, did you have it then at the hotel?

KS: Yeah, I think we had it at the Toyo Hotel. I'm guessing. I don't, 'cause like I say, I didn't pay attention to it that much and it wasn't until way later, I'm not sure whether we even had it at Crocker Street. I'm pretty sure we did have it at Crocker Street, and he had, I know he got his Singer sewing machine, the foot pedal one, Singer sewing machine, and this is at Crocker Street when he was doing his sewing for the kabuki costumes for here and churches, I mean show activities down here. They would come to him.

SY: So he learned, he taught himself how to sew?

KS: I think he did, but then I don't know if he already had a background in sewing to begin with, 'cause he was sewing, cooking and doing the woodwork, carpentry work and stuff like that. And I don't know to what extent, what other abilities he had.

SY: But he did have, he was talented in...

KS: He was talented in his way, yes. He was very, in fact, I think my brother and I both picked up a lot of that.

SY: Working with your hands?

KS: Working with your hands and using ingenuity to calculate new things and put it together with.

SY: Make things, build things. Wow. So he, so you did have, in this hotel then, you, it was sort of you had to furnish it yourself as well.

KS: Right.

SY: So you had the icebox, you had radio, so you did have...

KS: A few things, but I don't, that radio probably was something that he picked up for two, three dollars or something like that. It couldn't have been, 'cause it wasn't a fancy radio. It was just enough to make a noise. [Laughs]

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

SY: So when you went to school, and was there a separation between the kids who lived in these hotels and other kids? Or was it all...

KS: Not necessarily. The relationship with the other kids in the hotel was sort of nonexistent, I'll put it that way. We never related as friends. Just because we lived in the same hotel we were all facing, to a degree, an embarrassing situation as far as, we had nothing to show off. So I recall the, couple of the older kids had some relations, or tried to develop some relationship with some of the girls that lived in the hotel, I mean a family of some girls. There was joking going on, but that's over my head. [Laughs]

SY: It didn't bother you, or did you have feelings like, "Oh, I'm living in this hotel and..."

KS: In the depth of things, there was nothing to brag about, so that's, it's what it is and there was nothing you could do to brag about it, and you can't... you know, says, "Yeah, I live in a hotel." Big deal.

SY: But did you make friends at school that were living in...

KS: We, I guess this is where the past relationship or non-relationship has influenced my involvement in society as not really making any outward relationship with anybody that I have dealt with. I have my own problems, you have yours, I don't need to mix the two kind of deal. I help you out, that's the extent of it. Let's go. You go that way, I go this way.

SY: So kind of like you were always a loner.

KS: I'm always a loner.

SY: And you grew up that way.

KS: I grew up that way. That's the only way I know how to handle myself.

SY: Interesting. So it started way, way young.

KS: It is a, that's why I said the influence you have between the ages of, let's say, three or four years old to about eight or nine years old, that influence in there is extremely important of what you develop into at a later life. If you're socially quite active at those ages you will continue to be socially active, but if you're in an isolated situation totally, like we were, you maintain that isolation throughout, you will stretch out and do what is necessary to get the, get a cooperation going, but that's the extent of it. You don't get emotionally tied up with them. That's the reason I never go out, like people go out and have games and have a social event and always have it year after year after year, month after month, I can't do that. I'll do it this one day, I enjoy it one day. I won't do it the next year if I don't feel up to it. [Laughs]

SY: That's understandable. So is your brother like that too?

KS: Yeah.

SY: You're very much alike that way.

KS: Well, we both grew up in the same conditions, so basically...

SY: Sure.

KS: And he had, I guess he had a little more awareness of, self-consciousness as to his position in society and what he is faced with in society and the fact that he can't go out and buy whatever he wanted 'cause he didn't have the money. He says, and I remember him saying before I went to the army, says, "I refuse to ever be poor again." And that was his motivation to continue on with the education and everything, so forth, so on, and get as high in a position as he can.

SY: I see. So when, at the time you graduated from high school, so you spent, you were still living in that hotel?

KS: I was living in... no, when I graduated from high school, when I graduated from Lafayette, I mean junior high school, I was living in a hotel. I went to Roosevelt High School and I was still in that hotel. Take the bus -- or let me think, let me think clearly. I was in a hotel, I went to Crocker Street, it's from Crocker Street I graduated Lafayette Junior High School, and from there I went to Roosevelt High School.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

SY: So you, so from the hotel you went to live on Crocker Street, and you were still in junior high school.

KS: Yeah.

SY: And that was, where exactly was that and what kind of --

KS: Crocker Street?

SY: Yeah.

KS: I mean, Crocker Street's only Third or Fourth Street.

SY: Still kind of on the outskirts of Little Tokyo.

KS: Yes, just on the other side of Fourth Street on Little Tokyo.

SY: And it was a...

KS: It was in a low industrial area, lot of, there was low rent hotels there, couple of hotels there -- some of the Japanese people were living there, I knew them, or got to know them briefly -- and then there were several little individual, individual family homes, run down individual family homes, and we occupied one. I think there was two or three others in that block. Then there was the Los Angeles Aluminum Die-casting Company, which occupied one area there, right next to that house. And I don't remember what was on the other side of the...

SY: So it was more or less a house in the middle of all these buildings.

KS: Right.

SY: And it was a, what, two bedroom, three bedroom?

KS: Let's see, had a laundry room, the kitchenette, bathroom area, and one, two, three, I think it was four bedrooms there.

SY: So that must've been, felt like a mansion, huh?

KS: Felt like a mansion. I mean, it was a lot better than what we had over there, though it was not, the condition, the quality of the building itself was not all that good. I think it was a two story building, so there was another family living downstairs.

SY: And your father managed to afford to move and rent this house? That's basically, that's what he did?

KS: Uh-huh.

SY: And then it gave you more space to --

KS: Gave more space and gave us a more prestigious position. [Laughs] One step above. But he's, he was trying and he was getting, gaining enough mobility and being able to do some stuff. And then he was, I don't know where he acquired the ability to sew and do the kabuki costumes and stuff, but then he used to bang away at that sewing machine, and people would come over and occasionally he would make custom dresses and custom clothing. I remember him measuring for size and all that. And like I said, I don't know where he acquired that, but he used to use that little sewing machine and used to go at it.

SY: That's very --

KS: But that was good for him because he didn't have to stay on his feet all that long, and he was able to do some decent work. I mean, it wasn't high class work, but it was decent work. And for costume, I don't know how much he charged for those things, but they're quite, quite elaborate in certain aspects. But I never asked him how much he makes for those, or how much does he charge for those things.

SY: And did you get to go to the kabuki when they performed?

KS: I used to go down there and I used to help as a sound man, little boy helping with the sound, take the microphones out there, hook up the wires and all that. And the gentleman that used to do the sound equipment, he used to have a barbershop right on Second Street, right off of San Pedro. I used to go get my hair cut there. This is at a later age, but when he was, when I was young he took me in as an apprentice, just kind of help around, keep me busy.

SY: So you got to see some of the shows.

KS: I got to see some kabuki and stuff like that. In fact, I was on some stage shows myself, so... [Laughs]

SY: Wow. And then in the meantime, your mother was doing okay, not...

KS: She was, shall we say, staying out of trouble. [Laughs] I mean, as far as the family stuff was concerned, she was wandering out on other things, but that's another story.

SY: And your, were you still very close to your brother and not so much your --

KS: Well, we lived in the same house. That's about the extent of it. And my brother, he was doing, I had spent some money to get television, radio and television training materials, and they got a little bit over my head and he took on and started ordering the knowledge that I was trying to go after. And so he became an electronics engineer, and in the meantime I was just rooting around trying this and trying that. Worked at the dime store -- we had a dime store down here on First Street -- as a stock boy and that kind of thing, and trying to just make a few bucks. And after I graduated from high school I didn't see any future where I can really start doing something, so I decided I'll join the army, stay there for three years. That way it'll help my parents, not having to support me, and maybe I can help financially a little bit. So I spent almost two years in the army at that time.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

SY: And how did that, I mean, what was the experience when you first went in? Where did you end up going first off when you joined the army?

KS: Well, when I first signed up --

SY: And it was what, it was during way, any particular --

KS: Korean War.

SY: Korean War, so it was --

KS: I went from the office here to join, get driven up to Fort Ord, California. And I enlisted, I was indoctrinated into the army there, took the basic, started the basic training there, until I had one of the furloughs. We came down, visited L.A., and one guy, got so late that we started rushing back to Fort Ord and I got into an accident, and in the course of the accident I lost my glasses and all that. I didn't continue on, I wasn't able to finish the basic training. I was reassigned to Fort Hunter Liggett, which is right outside of Camp Roberts. They do their final sixteen week training in Camp Roberts because it's, the terrain there is so wild and stuff. And my job was to do just training aids, paint training aids.

SY: So you actually didn't have to complete basic training, then.

KS: I didn't complete basic training.

SY: So then you wouldn't have to go to Korea.

KS: No, I didn't have to go to Korea.

SY: And that was kind of a lucky break?

KS: Well, it was lucky in one aspect. I never even considered it as being lucky, but it was just a situation that took place in that I was unfortunately involved in an accident which caused, one of the guys had a broken, collar bone broken in the accident, and I never heard or seen him again. But I just worked out the three years, do the best I can in the three years, and I was assigned to camera school back in New Jersey from, under Fort Hunter Liggett. And there was a story there too about the master sergeant that was there, but he liked me so he signed me up and got me out of the facility.

SY: Into camera school. Now, was there a reason that...

KS: Photo school?

SY: Yeah.

KS: Yeah, there was a, reason is that the photo, I mean the technical training, or the training materials I was painting, we were trying to develop a photo shop there. But in order to have somebody operate the photo shop we need somebody with a military, what they call specialty number on their credentials, and so he sent me to school in order to get the credential.

SY: Why you? Were you interested in...

KS: Well, I had, photo was one of my hobbies, that's why. [Laughs]

SY: So you took pictures and he knew that.

KS: And I took pictures and I did all that on my own, but then the sergeant says, "If we had a photo lab here, then you could run the photo lab." But in the course of that situation an incident took place between the master sergeant and the, whatever happened. And I got into trouble there because the commander's driver breaking into our facility down in an isolated area where we had the training material, and I was accused of breaking in and reassigning -- they were gonna court martial me and all this stuff. And then the sergeant says, "Got to get you out of here." He signed me up, got me out of there right away.

SY: Wow.

KS: That's before the...

SY: That's interesting, so you kind of had a, a trouble. [Laughs]

KS: I had inadvertent troubles that, no thanks to me, but then... but I had, there were friends that I developed, kind of friends that I had developed that was very influential.

SY: Helped you.

KS: And they'd seen what I was able to do, what I was capable of doing, and they helped me along. And I've had, I've had that kind of people in my life throughout my career. There was a camera store called Lloyd's Camera Exchange here in North Hollywood -- I mean Hollywood -- and we got along great. He was a Jewish business owner and we got along great. And when I went to try to develop a business on my own, doing lens service work and all that sort of thing, he helped me out by being able to, for me to buy something that I need, a lens or something like that, and he would carry it with my credit even if I didn't have the money to pay for it. Said, "You'll pay for it. You'll be okay." And he did that for me for years. And I had another one that I developed a great deal of friendship with, and he was the owner of the industrial parts, machinery equipment business down in Riverside. I says, "I need to buy a lathe." It's a machine. "I need to buy a lathe so I can do this." He says, "Well, get this one here and we'll put it on your ticket, and pay when you can." These are the kind of people that I, that helped me out. Even if I was an isolationist, but I made a great deal of friendship with people like that and I kept my loyalty to them as much as I could.

SY: No kidding.

KS: And that's what, that's what actually kept me going. I've had contacts like that throughout different business relationships, and that's where a lot of my reputation also is built on too, in the fact that I do my best to try to give you the best piece of equipment that I can create. And whatever goes wrong with it, I'll fix it. [Laughs]

SY: That's great.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

SY: So when you went, okay, so from the, that little incident you had, he sent you to New Jersey and so you got more training.

KS: I got my photo training there, and I was there, the photo training classes lasted, I think, about two months, and then I, when I came back they immediately reassigned me from Fort Hunter Liggett to Fort Ord to photo lab. They says Hunter Liggett doesn't have a photo lab, so they says, "You go to the Fort Ord official photo lab there." So I went there, I sat at the desk doing all this other stuff, going out on assignments, taking pictures during, they had a case called equipment testing off the shore of, what is that, Fort Ord and, it's not Oceanside. What's that... anyway, this community, the shoreline there, they have a tremendous water break and they were testing this piece of equipment called super duck, and the cutter was to go out on the, beyond the break, and for me to take pictures of super duck going out into the ocean and then take the same pictures coming, for the duck to come in. I said okay, that's, that'll be good. And we had a motion picture camera up on the bank, capturing the same test from the motion picture standpoint. And so my assignment was to go and stand there with a camera on the cutter's going like this [moves hand up and down]. I says, "What you guys eating all these saltine crackers for?" Said, "Well, that keeps their stomach settled." "Ah." Said, "Give me some." [Laughs] Anyway, we stand there, the ocean's going up and down, we're taking pictures as the ducks come, the duck is coming out, and back and forth, back and forth. About five o'clock in the evening when the sun is about going down they says, "This is gonna be the last one." And then from the shoreline I could see all these officers going, yeah, take the last trip out. I says, "This is gonna be fun on this one." So I'm taking pictures, the motion pictures also got their camera running, this thing is coming in and these waves are getting bigger. He hit the first wave coming in and hit it, starts to slide over, and the second wave hit him right broadside and that thing just rolled and rolled and rolled in the ocean. And we're getting pictures from the bank and he's getting pictures over there, and all we see is, and they're seeing the film and sees all these officers' heads bobbing out of the water. [Laughs] And that poor super duck sat out there for months and months and months, and they tried, the engineers tried to get it out and everybody else tried to get it out. They had the marines out there, the scuba crew out there with the cable and the tow trucks and everything, trying to get it out. I think about half a year or three quarters of a year later, there was a captain or some officer that says, "They're just not doing anything right." He went out there by himself. I don't know how he managed it, but he got the cable out there and got the thing anchored and hauled it out.

So that was an interesting thing, but from there, from the Fort Ord, that was about several months I used all my techniques of photo, photography, cargo planes and all that sort of thing. I used all the background I learned in school. And then about thirteen months before my discharge period they said, "We need a guy to go up to Alaska to replace a guy that's getting discharged. You're going." [Laughs] I said okay. I mean, I only had thirteen months to go. I went up there and no longer did I unpack my bag and I was in the first meeting in the session there, he says, "The person that's getting discharged is our camera repairman, so we actually need a camera repairman. We don't need another cameraman." Said, "You go." I went back to New Jersey. It was still summer out there, so it was okay. So I went back to New Jersey, took another two months of camera repair training, came back, and that's about the time when the weather starts to get cold. And I spent the whole winter up there taking pictures of army testing equipment, uniforms, guns, whatnot, and sixty below to seventy below zero. My job was to keep the cameras working and recording all the tests.

SY: So you really learned a lot there.

KS: I learned on the, on the...

SY: On the job.

KS: An actual, actual doing things. And I had fun. I mean, I looked at it as having fun and gaining knowledge and experimenting with things that I've already basically learned, to apply it to more advanced stuff. And when they were taking pictures of, I mean when they were testing the howitzer, it's a 105 howitzer, the bullet is about this big, and inside the barrel it has a landing groove to make it spin. Our picture, I had to take pictures of the landing groove to show that it doesn't crack when it's shooting at sixty below zero, that when they fire something that these landing grooves don't crack or chip or things like that, 'cause that can blow up the barrel. So he says, the sergeant says, "Well, how you gonna go about doing that?" I said, "Well, that's easy enough. Give me a piece of cardboard." [Laughs] So I made a little bracket, cut out a cardboard that holds a photo lamp, and put a disc on the front end with a very small slit so the light can leak off to the side, and says, "Now run this down to the breach end, and you stand up..." was it a breach end or the upper end? No, "You stand on the muzzle end, and you stand down at the breach and hold onto the cable and pull the lamp down at this pace, one, two, very slowly." It's what we call light paning. You leave the camera up there with the shutter open, and as it comes out the light that, a little bit of light leaking out lights up the edges and it keeps going down, down, down until you reach the end of the barrel, then you shut off the camera. It worked out beautifully. [Laughs]

SY: That's amazing.

KS: So these are, these are the things I was having fun with, enjoyed. And we had also radiation test scopes. All the other test organizations, they use to write a report for this scope had used their technical illustrator to illustrate the scope, the scale on it, and where the needle was. We did one better. We took the actual scope and the actual, and took a photograph of the actual retical and where the needle was, and that showed up in parenthesis and I got a report back later, somebody wrote a comment back later, says, "Your report," our report, "was the only report that was photographed." All the rest are done by the drafting department. [Laughs]

SY: Wow. That's great. So you had a, just a natural ability to do these things.

KS: That's, that's part of how we grew up. Use what you got, learn how to get the most out of it.

SY: Interesting. Yeah, because when you don't have a lot, right, you...

KS: When you don't have nothing, you learn to do something with nothing. I mean, going back, this is where my father's talent was too. We didn't have toys like everybody else when we were growing, when we were four years old, five years old, nothing to really play with. And we had these, he had these canned sardines -- you remember they'd come in an oval, sort of an oval shaped can? -- we'd get two of those, after you eat the sardines you get two of those, put a little block in the middle, and put a little cab on the back, and you got a tractor. That's what we played with. [Laughs]

SY: Wow. Creative, though. Very creative, your father was very creative too.

KS: But see, that's part of knowledge, that, what you observe and what you learn to do yourself.

SY: Right, right.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

SY: So in the meantime, while you're in the army those three years, really on your own, then your father is, and mother, what were they doing?

KS: My father was still working for the mortuary at the time, I think, and my mother, she was doing housecleaning and that kind of, whatever she could pick up and do. And after I graduated from high -- well, I was in the army, so from there, they had moved from this house in Riverside, east L.A., to a location on Washington and, I forgot what street. It's just on this side of Vermont, I believe, Washington and Vermont area.

SY: Sort of mid L.A.

KS: Bought a home, I think they bought a home. And he says, and my father -- it's a statement I guess a lot of fathers make -- says, "This is the house I'm gonna die in." That's the house he died in. Anyway, but he moved there and it was at that house where he passed away in the early part of the years, and then my mother passed away there in that house, I think while I was still in the, I'm not sure whether I was still in the army or, I'm, yeah, I was still in the army when my mother passed away. My brother took care of all the arrangements and everything else.

SY: So real shortly, within the same time period almost. Several years in between?

KS: I think it was several years between my father's passing away and my mother's passing away. I just don't have the exact time period. My, my wife wrote, written it down a card here, but I probably can give you that later.

SY: You know, I didn't ask you, and it's probably late to do so, but what was your father's full name and your mother's full name?

KS: My mother, my father's was Eijiro, E-I-J-I-R-O, Suematsu. And I don't know if he had a middle name, but my mother's was Miyuki Yamauchi.

SY: Yamauchi. So she was from Yamauchi?

KS: She was from, I don't know if she was, she was born in Hawaii but I don't know specifically where, and she shortly went, I mean, then she went to Japan to be raised by her parents or somebody in Japan. And that's vaguely all I know. I know she spent some time in China when she was a little bit older, but what the actual story is, I do not know.

SY: And when they, and just thinking because they both obviously had a very hard life, right? I mean, your... and was there any talk after camp you can recall as you were getting older, of them talking about that experience of having to go to camp?

KS: No. Like I said, after camp and, right around camp and after camp, the communication, you might say the end of the book was there. There was no more...

SY: So even as you got older, you still --

KS: As we got older, as I got older I had less and less communication and I had, shall we say, some problems with my sister in that, where I had a relationship with her after two hours of spending time with her, the immediate thing that would come out, say, "You don't know nothing. You didn't educated. You don't have this." Finally my first wife says, "That's it. No more. That's it. We don't talk to you no more." So during the course of time that my first wife was alive, we never talked to her again. [Laughs] We had it up to here.

SY: But your, your parents never learned enough English to --

KS: No.

SY: Never. So they were really on their own. Your father was really industrious, though.

KS: He was industrious in his way, but the thing is, had he learned English I think he would've gone a lot longer. But I have, I guess emotionally I have only one thing that I feel bad about, and the fact that as much as he struggled and as much as he tried to do on business situation, he had one thing going against him. He had no knowledge of how to run a business, and unfortunately I have picked up that too. I have no knowledge of how to run a business. [Laughs] Otherwise, I'd be in a better position now than I would, I am now. All this reputation don't mean a thing when you don't have any money to go with it.

SY: So he, that was his drawback. But he managed to make enough to buy a house.

KS: Yes.

SY: And so he really came from nothing, having nothing, right?

KS: Well, he took a step and he came up to about here, and we had still a long ways to go. I'm about in that same position right now, and my time period is coming to a near end.

SY: Well, he had a family, two, three kids to support.

KS: Yeah, he had a family. Well, the thing is, you can say one thing. Out of his raising these kids, all three, including myself to a degree, have surpassed where he is, or was. My brother accomplished all the education he can get and he accomplished a position that when he retired, he retired with at least a million bucks, whatever value he's got there. I don't know what it is. I never asked him. My sister owns a business building and several other things, so she's financially well in that position. I'm the only one that's basically, at the moment, financially struggling. Though I'm not struggling to the point where I'm flat broke, but I can't go out, I got to be careful what I'm spending.

SY: And I never did ask you also your brother and your sister's names, their...

KS: My brother is Takashi Herbert Suyematsu. His is Y-E. And my sister is Kazue Suyematsu, Y-E. They accuse me that I don't want to have anything to do with them is the reason I drop my Y on my... I says, "Look, I had no choice about that one. The government made me drop it."

SY: That's how your name is spelled differently.

KS: Uh-huh.

SY: And do you also have a middle name that's --

KS: No, I don't.

SY: You're the only one who doesn't have... and your parents named your brother and sister with the full...

KS: I'm not sure whether my father named my brother with a middle name. I think it had to do with the doctor that delivered him. And I, if my guess is right, they probably, the doctor's name was Herbert. [Laughs] But at the point I'm at, I have no idea, though my brother prefers to be called Herbert than Takashi. So when you call him, says, "Is this Herbert?" [Laughs]

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

KS: Well, going back, the time period after graduation from high school, went into the military and then throughout the military career, took you up to the, past the point where I was going through camera repair school. And during the time I was in the Alaska photo lab, working out of there, I made a relationship, or gotten to be friends with a couple of people there, and one of the persons there was a gentleman that worked at Golden Enterprises here in North Hollywood. So he says, "When you get your discharge, come down. If you intend, if you need a job, come and see me," kind of deal. So it's, basically that's what I did. I came down, when I got discharged out of Seattle I came down and talked to, his name was Grant Locks and he introduced me to the president of the company and I got hired on there for camera refurbishing and that kind of work, sort of a trainee thing, level. And I stayed there for some several years, learning to just work. And I had some incidences in the local community there while I was trying to get established, trying to find a rental, place to rent and all that sort of thing, and seeking out apartments and all that. And I ran into a lady down there and there was a facility open, but she wouldn't rent it to me, and I said, "Oh, you're still fighting the second World War." [Laughs] But anyway, that was just a --

SY: Was that true? I mean, was it really racial, you think?

KS: It was racial, strictly. And I made a comment to her, I says, "You're still fighting the second World War." And I just left it there and looked for another apartment to see if I could find one. I did one find one Ventura Boulevard, but I stayed there.

SY: Do you remember other incidences like that when you came back from...

KS: No, that was the only strong incident of that kind that I've run into that kind of irked me. But I imagine there were others, for reasons, the reason that I'm a Japanese that I wouldn't be accepted or whatever the situation, but I never dug into it. I never put myself in a position where I was confronted.

SY: But you thought about it.

KS: I thought about it, yes. We all thought about it.

SY: And was it something you thought about only after the war?

KS: Basically... well, we were in the army, that was not a thought in our, in the situation. We made buddies and all that. I had made very good, close buddies in the army and all that, and our relationship was different. Yeah, they may be Jewish, they may be Latter Day Saints or whatever their situation's still there, we're fighting, buddies. And there was no, there was no feeling of, "Yeah, you're this or you're that." We were in the same spot, we're in the same place, we're gonna have to depend on each other on certain circumstances, and so we, that's how it was. And throughout the military situation it's always you either make friends or you don't, and you either do things for, because you like them or they ask you to do it so you do it. Like when I was up in Alaska, there was the base that I was on, the had a little fire department and the fire chief's wife was involved with a community thing about making a little stage show of some sort. They needed a background painted, she came and talked to my, the shop, I mean the commander of the photo lab, says, "Can I get permission to use him to do the artwork for the backdrop?" [Laughs]

SY: She knew you were artistic.

KS: Well, she saw many of these cartoon posters I made for the bowling ball teams, each bowling ball team had a logo, like with a cartoon character, like in our case, we were the photo shop so we had the photo bug, an actual photo bug with a bowling ball. And the tankers had a tanker doing the thing, and I just went down the line. Each of our organizations was called either tanker, photo lab, or artillery, or whatever department they were in. So I would make a cartoon character of whatever the, to identify their team, so to speak, and she latched onto that and she needed some Paris, France type, archways representing whatever they were doing. So I did get called on in that sense to do some of those little things.

But back in, when I got back to North Hollywood and got, picked up the job there and started doing camera repair, camera refurbishing. What we did is taking aerial, surplus aerial cameras, stripping it down, replating everything, repainting everything, and then fixing everything up and colubate it, calibrate it and everything else, so they'd resell it as a new camera. So that went on for several years on my part, but then I started slowly shifting into optical, manipulating optical and acquiring, like the engraving machine, learning how to, being able to manipulate that on my own and do all kinds of stuff beyond what they were doing. And after I'd gotten a reasonable background in optics and stuff, I developed a good interest in optics, and I says, "There's less people in optics than there are in mechanics." I says, "That'd be a field I would love to get into." So from there, I left to a company called Thompson Optical. That's down, a little bit south of L.A., or south of Japanese Town. And between that and my, I'm trying to support myself, so I worked for a bank company in the camera department, sales. So I got to work on both ends on that. And I developed a method and I tried to understand all the aspects of lens testing and all that stuff, 'cause they were doing manufacturing, my job was to test the lenses. So I acquired a knowledge on that firsthand and learned also the intricacies of some of the machinery and coding machines and stuff on my own. I was just nosy. I'm being nosy. [Laughs] Get to know all I can. And certain operations there, they needed an extra machinist or needed an extra engraver or something like that, I would be the one to be able to do that. In fact, I had gotten myself into trouble; here again, the plant manager would figure out in long, multiple sheets the process of how to do the engraving, to enlarge this, to do this, each step by step, and I said, "Jesus Christ, that's a long ways to do this." So I went to the scrap bin, picked up a large sheet of aluminum, calculated out what size the original letters needed to be in order to reduce it down to one common size. Each letter, each line had to be of a certain size, so you multiply that to whatever and make a master template of it. Now I could put that one part on there, clamp it down, put my master in the correct position, pick my corners up, and just go through and engrave it, and it'd take about three minutes. Go through the whole thing. Whereas the other way, it may take three days. He was so upset. He says, "I spent hours laying out this..." He says, "I calculate all my work so that the job takes X amount of time." Said, "You spoiled it by saying that this sixteen hour job now only takes three minutes." [Laughs]

SY: You made it more efficient.

KS: Tough. [Laughs]

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

SY: Now, did you, were you actually, while you were, was this stuff that was just coming to you on your own? You didn't have, did you go to school? Did you have people...

KS: Some of it, no, this, that kind of thing, I worked it out myself on my own. Some things, little technical things, like later on in years I took night classes on specific items, like drafting, I would take a course in night high school and take a course in drafting alone so I can learn the basics of using the graphing instruments and doing the, how to lay out all kinds of patterns. And I went to college classes for specific information about optics or specific information of whatever I was, wanted to find out about. And in the meantime, I did a lot of my own experimenting while I was doing service work, and I did, I made up little test jigs and test instrumentation and all that stuff to see for myself what it does. So now when I was doing servicing on zoom lenses for, it's this Ingenieur zoom lenses, which is a French-made zoom lens, and I hadn't got, I had gotten to know the intricacies of the optical components and what is critical and what is not. So when I do the repair, I knew exactly what to do with it. I could take a Canon zoom lenses, when the Oscar came in, I took this Canon zoom lens, which is three hundred, it's a long lens like this, and they had a lever type control like this for zooming and for focus. It's an awkward thing. It's not possible to use it on motion picture. And my job was -- to get back to slightly, a bit earlier than that, is Century Precision was known as a schlock house. I mean, they put out cheap junk; it lasted about ten days and it would break apart. My associate, Peter Rippich, got hired on over there. His specific job was to raise their image, and Century contacted me 'cause I was competing with him with other products. They contacted me, said, "What we need you to do is create some products in our, what we call the program, the 2000 Series program, to lift the image of Century Precision to a professional level." "Well, if I do that there's several things you're gonna have to, you're obligated to follow as far as my agreement. One is, when I set up tolerance, you follow it, and when I set up a procedure and I get all these machines to be done, you follow it." That kind of thing, in order to control the quality that's going out the door, and they agreed to it. And they says -- and also, "In the machine shop, I need somebody that can work with me, that will hold the kind of tolerance and quality work that the machine needs to put out." So I had a guy that was quitting, I called him and I says, "You worked with me before at another company." I says, "I need you here." I says, "What can we do to agree, for you to agree to stay here with me for whatever period of time we need?"

Anyway, they come to an agreement. Fine, he worked as, he worked with me directly. And we developed, hand by hand, this conversion of the 150 to 600 zoom lens. Instead of the lever and thing, all that was thrown out and then we put in the normal cam controls and all this other stuff. And on the inside, I changed the support mechanism in there so they would stay straight and not weave like this. And all these things I did on this barrel, put it together -- it took about a year going back and forth and all this stuff, getting all that together -- and we finally got it completed. We had the first prototype put together, we sent it out for evaluation to other cinematographers, let 'em try it out. They raved about it. They liked it and all that. But when you look at the time, they're not used to having something take a long time to make, so when you stop and bring it down to how many hours it took, and if you put in a hundred and seventy hours, hundred and seventy dollars an hour and all that, that piece of equipment, when new, when you get it from Canon, is like fifteen thousand dollars. By the time we got through with it, it was a brand new different configuration of lens, I says, "They'd have to sell it for thirty-six thousand dollars, something like that." And they held it for almost a year. They couldn't make up their mind to sell it. Finally, Peter and I says, "Look, just get it out there, put a tag on it, and let 'em work with it." Within a few months, there were so many calls for it they couldn't keep up. I says, "You know, the philosophy in this industry is that they spend millions and millions of dollars to shoot a scene. They can't afford to have a fifty dollar lens break down in the middle of that scene 'cause it'll cost them a million dollars plus all your rental time. So thirty-six thousand dollars to them is nothing if it's guaranteed to work properly." [Laughs] And Century had lived on that product and they made over millions of dollars on it, and during the course of that time, because it was compared against three other versions from different companies and they awarded this one -- actually, they awarded all of 'em for technical achievement, but they notified, notified us that this lens here, by all tests and everything else, met all the aspects of quality and everything else. Images stay steady when it zooms, it stays in focus when it's in zoom, and all that stuff. That's not something that the others -- and that lens, that thing, it went to a rental house in, they bought the, one of the first, second or third one that Century put out, to Thailand or one of those backcountries over there, in a rental house. That thing was running for fifteen years without any service, with no, nothing. They'd just rent it, rent it, rent it. We finally got that lens back; they asked us, "Can you rebuild the lens?" I says, "Well, how often did you service it?" "We never serviced it." [Laughs] "You ran it for fifteen years renting it with no service?" I says, "You don't even do that with a Mercedes."

SY: Wow.

KS: But anyway, we got it back, we rebuilt it, we refurbished and replaced all the worn out parts, and it was, came out to the value of thirty-seven thousand dollars. It was like almost buying a brand new lens, but you got a brand new lens and returned, and now you can go another fifteen years. [Laughs]

SY: So that's the lens that actually was honored...

KS: Mechanical...

SY: Achievement?

KS: Achievement. The Oscar was given to, as mechanical achievements.

SY: And that, it was just that particular lens, that particular mechanism that was --

KS: No, no, not the mechanism, the whole lens.

SY: The whole lens.

KS: Yeah, the whole lens.

SY: So that was honored for its, 'cause it was the first of its kind as well.

KS: First of its kind.

SY: As well as it was so...

KS: Well, it proved out to be, this is long after, but it proved out to be --

SY: Durable.

KS: Durable. [Laughs] That was one of the historical parts of my reputation, that most of my lenses were either very easy to service or was durable, and it stayed put. Like we had the Kenji Series lens, a customer bought and he was up at the Himalayas for a week or more, up in the snow and very cold weather, he said, he wrote back and says, "That lens worked beautifully all throughout this, all this cold weather and everything else. Not a hitch." [Laughs] 'Cause they have problems with that, cold weather, everything attracts, grease gets hard, just... these lenses don't --

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

SY: Talk, go back a little bit and talk about the Kenji lens, 'cause that's the one that you had to test in, with the force?

KS: Yes. That's that lens right there.

SY: And people approached you to develop a lens that did what? I mean, how'd it originate? How did the notion --

KS: Well, this lens, this lens here was just a contractual thing that we were deciding to put out. I was originally designing the original lenses for the Red Dot Com Company. They put out the first video camera for seventeen thousand dollars. They needed lenses for it, and they wanted to have the lens in the same price range as the camera. So I took a contract with them to develop a set of lenses for them. They had five lenses in the set that I designed, but he wanted certain, he wanted a certain look on his lens. He always had more color to it, this, that, and it looked like a football when he got through with it. That's what I call it, a football lens. [Laughs] And he wanted it to look like a Cooke lens on top of that, the windows and all this other thing, that's where the Cooke appearance comes in. He wanted it real fat in appearance so that, he says, "If you look at this fat lens and if you look at this skinny lens, which one looks like more expensive?" He says, "Well, if you talk to the average person, the fat lens looks more expensive," so that's what he wanted. So fine, we gave it to him. We were hoping to get a contract to manufacture the lenses for him, but he took the contract and he went to Tamron and had them manufacture it, throwing us out. So several months later we decided we'll put out our own set, but it will be different from the set that he's got. There's things that we can improve upon always. [Laughs] And up to that point we had this whole set, and we even got his okay. We had only come to one agreement, we can only sell a hundred sets a year. And we can only sell the first set after he introduced the first set on his part. I said, "That's not a problem, 'cause we're gonna hand fit these. They're gonna, each individually by hand. Hundred sets will be pretty tough for us to go beyond that."

And everything was working fine, except rumors start getting that this lens is far superior to the lens he's got, and he didn't like that. And then on this, on top of that, you start getting all these different optical reports on the extensive testing of these lenses compared to his. His was mechanically weak, 'cause Tamron is not a high class camera manufacturer, lens manufacturer. They were second, third rated, and they'd do only thing in mass production, make a hundred of 'em, slap 'em all together. [Laughs] And that shows up, especially among the professionals. And we excused that situation, but then when this boss of this company decided to put out what he called the Razor version, which is a conversion of the back to a Canon fitting camera. There was the lens, we just take them out, put a Canon camera, I mean mount it on there and alter it slightly all the way back in the lens, and call it a Razor. That would be different than he contract of putting out a hundred sets of these, which means it leaves them free to put out another brand. It could be the same lens but another brand with a different shape and different application, different camera, but he didn't like that. He didn't, wasn't notified. And we told 'em, "You should notify him that we're gonna do this." But he didn't notify them, so the minute he introduced it, Red Dot Com sued him, thinking that he's broken his contract. By that time we only had maybe thirty lenses sold out there. We never met the hundred yet, but with the Razor he thought we were selling thousands already, and that's on the basis on that rumor that he heard is why he's suing them.

SY: I see. That's still going on, then?

KS: That's still going on.

SY: Wow. But now you have, with your name, the series with your name on it, is that something separate? Is that, that lens series, that Kenji Suematsu...

KS: The Kenji Series is separate from the one that Red has. We're, the whole, one of the obligations that we had, we had not, we could not commit or even indicate that we were involved with their lens sets, design or otherwise or anything. But anyway, they're looking at, in the industry that we were in, anyway, looking at somebody else's make, just by the pattern of that make they can identify who did it. You know that.

SY: Interesting. So that kind, but it's such an intricate kind of knowledge that you have, that somehow you developed over the years, obviously had some training and experience. But was that something, as a young kid did you, were you, like, inventive as a young child like that, coming up with things?

KS: I was resourceful. I mean, not to the extent that I am now, but within the limits of that time period, yes.

SY: And you made, did you make your own toys, other than the ones your father...

KS: In some, in some cases, yes, I did make my own whatever, jigs or rigs or things that I wanted. I do that now, even today, when I'm making up test equipment. I make it, I carve it out of wood or whatever it is to give me the fundamentals of it, to see how it works. I also have now, like in the last several years I had, I have papier mache knowledge, clay and wire mesh and whatnot, and I utilize all this in molding objects, making objects. Like my grandchild does hockey and every birthday I used to make what I would call a Christmas envelope, but it's a, what do you call it, a unique piece of equipment that he has to figure out how to open it. It would have little tricks to open it up and all that sort of thing, and on top of that I may have a papier mache, clay combination model of him playing hockey, and he would, that kind of thing. I was gonna bring some photographs, but, show you what I use wire frame and all the papier mache and clay and all that, put it all together and figure out, make a box to do all these little tricky things. And I says that the challenge is for me to make it complex enough that it'll take him several minutes to open it up. And it went on year after year after year, and I says, "I give up." [Laughs] And I did the same, I do the same for the granddaughter. On her birthday, she has this dog, they have three dogs and she loved this one dog, and the dog, when you look at a blank dog with blank, no brains, it has no expression, no nothing. There's just nothing there. But she loves that dog, and I says, well, and she says, "Don't make my box with the secret locks in it. I'd just be..." she's not into puzzles. I said fine, okay. So I made a clock with a dog, that dog's face. I took a photo portrait of that dog and I made a papier mache face of that dog and painted it and put little bones for the numbers of things, and then she had a name tag with the dog's name on it, and this clock had one of these swinging things, I made the name tag thing on that with its name on it. [Laughs]

SY: Wow, you could probably sell a few of those. [Laughs]

KS: Well, the thing is, they take a great deal of care and I didn't realize it meant that much to them, 'cause when they had this fire going on up in Anaheim Hills over there in Corona, or just past, other side of Corona, they were told to evacuate, take all your belongings, take what you want. Those kids just grabbed everything I made for them and that's the only thing they took with 'em, and I thought, "Jesus, that is something saying a lot of what they consider valuable to them." [Laughs]

SY: Very much so. I, that's really amazing.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

SY: Now, but I'm still trying to get back to, you must've done this kind of stuff when you were young, right? I mean, that was something that you must've, or it was a talent that you had. I mean, do you, because you didn't have that many possessions, right?

KS: No, I didn't have that many possessions, but I was always curious. And when you... of course, at that time there was limited, I'll say advanced knowledge of what the equipment was doing that you're curious about, but as the years went by, that was the key interest of learning as much as I can about how the camera works or how a motor works or how this does or how's the crystal radio thing work, you know? And you start to experiment for yourself, try to get a base knowledge on all these things. And one of the things that I had taken into myself as a basis of knowledge, if you can learn the fundamentals -- just like photography, you learn the fundamentals of all these little things, and you take the fundamentals and go to, like, taking a picture of the Canon barrel and getting all that, or you could take one light and take a picture of the auditorium just with that one light. These, but you do the fundamentals; you know that the light has so much exposure and if you move that light along at a certain rate the camera will never pick it up, but it would light up the wall that you're taking a picture of and expose it. So you expand from there. Everything I do is an expansion from the basics of, I have acquired.

SY: Do you feel like any of this you learned in school? Like did you pick up things in your education somewhere along the way that gave you...

KS: Not really. [Laughs] I had a very difficult time in education. Either I didn't quite grasp the instructor or they'd go through it too rapid. And I do that today, going through AutoCAD and all this stuff, attending class and they zip through that thing in four or five chapters, and I go out of that room spinning and not really knowing what happened, what's going on there. That's the reason I have a difficulty with that. But I have to sit down and analyze each segment. If I can just grasp the one questioned area that I may have that doesn't cover it in the conversation or doesn't cover it there, then I'm stuck with the rest of the stuff 'cause my mind is here. I'm trying to analyze what's there and everybody's already gone on to chapter three, and I'm still trying to figure this one out.

SY: Were you, what kind of student were you, then? I mean, like --

KS: I would say I wasn't a very good student. I mean, I got my A's and B's and stuff, but there were times I got my D's too, when I had an instructor I could not grasp.

SY: Did you notice anything different about going to school in camp versus going to school --

KS: The camp situation, I don't recall a thing that went in the class, I really don't.

SY: You remember just the name of the teacher.

KS: I just remember the name of the teacher, and I remember some bad incidents that took place, what the kids were doing to her and all that sort of thing. Like you know the teacher wearing a skirt and standing by the bench, and the other kid crawling under the bench and looking up her skirt, says, "You got black hair." [Laughs] She's a blonde. Says, "You got black hair."

SY: So you were always kind of a little rascally, all --

KS: Well I wasn't doing that.

SY: [Laughs] You remember it, though.

KS: I remember it.

SY: So there was not, you didn't feel like the competition was, was bad in camp? Or did it just not matter to you, your education?

KS: It didn't matter to me.

SY: Didn't really make an impression on you, never...

KS: That kind of thing and what went on in the class at that time, it didn't leave any impression on me. And when I was going through, let's say, even when I was at the farm, going through the Japanese school for, with this Japanese teacher that was there, I don't recall anything that took place within the class. I just know that I was there and going through a Japanese school and obviously I was learning hiragana and katakana and all that sort of thing. But I don't recall, it was too short a period, there was nothing that stayed with me. The only incident I could tell you that relates to that teacher is that I ran into, or we ran into that teacher here in L.A. several years later, long after the camp, and his family over here. We did have a short, brief encounter with each other, and got to know him a little bit more. And his son and his daughter and all that, I got to know them a little bit better too. 'Cause we, back then there was only, the kids were only, what, three, four, five years old, somewhere around there.

SY: But you hadn't remembered that. That's pretty amazing. And your, and like, do you have any feelings now about what that experience, as you look back on that whole camp experience, do you have --

KS: The camp experience?

SY: Yeah, do you have any feelings that it somehow either helped or, or hindered you in any way?

KS: As far as that goes, no. I have, right now I have no feelings as to whether the incident with the camp, what took place there, what I learned there... the only thing I can say as far as, as a whole picture, and this is something because I didn't have that training at home, and that is the table manners at the orphanage. That stuck in my head. [Laughs]

SY: That's good. That's very good.

KS: So it was one good thing that came out of there. [Laughs]

SY: Yeah. And how about, do you have any sense of what it did for your parents, what it did to your parents? Whether it was --

KS: It had no, as far as my point of view, it really had no effect or no, has no relationship to anything that took place, and it's almost like two different worlds. They weren't aware of what was going on there, and there's no connection there, absolutely. So we left one image, went to another image and we lived out that image, but there was not relationship between these two. In fact, there was no relationship of even reestablishing any contact between parent and them to find out how my, how the kids were at the time they were growing up. So there was no, there's no, as far as I know, there's no connection there. So there was no interest, as far as I know, there was no interest of what took place with my kids there at the orphanage.

SY: But your parents in particular, thinking back to where, what the effect it had on your own parents, do you feel that there was any?

KS: I imagine there was some effect on them, but I don't know. I never discussed it. We never discussed it and they never...

SY: You never sensed anything?

KS: No, there's no negative or other thing. They see the logic of what had taken place based on the explanation they gave them, that yeah, there were some Japanese that were enemies of the, enemies of the United States, and they can't pinpoint it. And then our question was, "Why would a three year old Japanese be a danger to the United States? Just because he's got a drop of Japanese blood?" I says, "Boy, the Japanese blood must have an awful strong situation going on there, the American people would be afraid of an infant."

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

SY: And the, and you mentioned that you get the, you don't really get involved with these reunions, but you have been to some of the reunions with the Children's Village?

KS: I went to one. And this was one of the first ones that was arranged, of people from the orphanage and the, some of the supervisors that were there, that we got together for a luncheon type of deal, just get together and get, reestablish...

SY: It was more social.

KS: Yeah, social.

SY: No, no discussion of...

KS: Not really. We had personal discussions between those that I could remember them doing anything. The others were like total strangers to me. I, yeah, they probably were there, but I wasn't even conscious of them there.

SY: And your, your brother and sister, you never talked to them about it? Or do you ever talk to them about... not really? Their, their memories are totally separate from yours.

KS: Their memory's totally separate from mine. In fact what they were accustomed to and what their knowledge is as to what took place in the course of the last thirty or forty years, it's probably like three separate books. What I remember as I remember it is totally different from what my brother remembers of the same particular time period, and it's probably totally different from what my sister remembers. So we may crisscross certain areas, common, like Crocker Street Hotel, or Crocker Street house, and the Washington and Vermont area home, and the home over in East L.A., and the Toyo Hotel. I don't know how much of them they would remember any of these things, but my memory is, what, two years...

SY: Older.

KS: Older than theirs.

SY: But it really, in terms of a camp, you have a fairly vivid memory of it.

KS: A certain time, little certain incidences, I have a very vivid memory. In fact, one of the things that, when I was first assigned into the living quarters area, and I wasn't happy with the pants that they issued me, it was a bright maroon color pants, and I said, "Jeez, I don't wear that kind of color." But in the orphanage situation you have no choice. You wear what they, whatever clothes they have that will fit you that you wear. You don't have a choice of wearing something fancy.

SY: And that was something that they did, basically, is they just gave you clothes --

KS: Yeah, they have a certain number of clothes and they have a certain number of certain sizes. They know you were this size here and they give you that, and you wear that.

SY: And so when you left the orphanage, did you take things with you?

KS: I don't remember. I don't even remember what, how my father and mother actually got any additional clothing for us while we lived in, as an independent, as an independent family. I didn't, it never even came to our thoughts. But then I know that that red pants never showed up again. [Laughs]

SY: Would you say, though, that possessions are not all that important to you, even now?

KS: The, there are certain things that are important, but in general, like clothing and some of the material things like that, it's a transitional thing. You need it for today, tomorrow, and if you have, it's not a situation, "I have to have it thirty years from now." I can work with it, I can wear it, and if it looks like it's worn or torn, it can go in the trashcan or it can go to Salvation Army. I have no attachment to those, some of those things. Though I have memories of certain articles that I had gotten, it's not that it's a life and death situation, I have to keep it. But I like to keep it if it's there. If it's not there, I'm not gonna cry over it.

SY: But the things you make are probably more important than --

KS: No, they're not.

SY: Really?

KS: I give them to those children, and I figure, I expected them to tear it up in order to get into the box. [Laughs] It's like an envelope. It's just what it is, it's like an envelope. Yeah, I'm tickled that they would, they treasure it as they do, and so from that standpoint, yes, I appreciate the fact that they do treasure it 'cause it was several hours, several days, and sometimes several weeks of making that thing. And it only takes 'em five minutes to open it up, you know. [Laughs] But I had my fun. I had my joy in making it. I created special tools to make it, I created special methods of making it, and I did, I did that kind of thing. I implemented some special ideas that I had into it. You don't need to know; it's just to my own satisfaction that I created something to make something to do something, it went together, it worked. And then once it's out of my hands, it's out of my hands.

SY: That's great. That's really great.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

SY: Now tell me your, you have how many children?

KS: I had one. She passed away at the age of nineteen. I have a stepdaughter right now, and I enjoy her relationship very much.

SY: And she --

KS: She's from her first marriage. She was a daughter of the first marriage from her, from her first marriage.

SY: And they're the ones that, she's the one that has the two, the children that you've given...

KS: Yeah, she's the one that had the one child with me, but that child's the one that passed away. She has her original daughter, which, she's, we still see each other quite often.

SY: And she has the children, the grandchildren, your grandchildren?

KS: No, no. The, she's childless and she's not married, so she has a, I don't know how I can put this thing where it won't get out into the public too much, but her father has a certain genetic condition that she didn't want to have other children because of it. So she refused to have children.

SY: Yeah.

KS: So she refused to get married. [Laughs] I imagine she will, but then she just won't be in a position where she can't, she will want to have children.

SY: I see.

KS: She, she relates to children very well. She can, she can create a soccer game with a bunch of hoodlums out there in Perris area, get them to work like a team and socialize like a real team, and she has that command, ability.

SY: That's great.

KS: I used to help her out with that out there in Perris, but those kids, I mean, you leave them on their own, probably every one of 'em would be in prison right now. But then when she got them under her hands, her control, and formed this team and all that stuff, they work like a charm. They respect her like a charm. They think she walks on water, and I says, "Oh, great. That's good." [Laughs]

SY: That is nice. And your, I mean, do you see in them anything that you... or are there things that you see in your, in your own...

KS: Among the grandchildren, they're my current wife's kids and their offspring are all grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

SY: I see, so they're not, they're not blood necessarily.

KS: No, I'm not blood related to any of the children in that group.

SY: I see. Okay.

KS: Kay, which is the only one that I'm indirectly related because I'm married to her mother, and she's the only one that, she did pick up on some things that I do and she kicks it back at me at times. She says, "Well, you're a fine one to tell me about working around the clock and all this sort of thing," and says, "I'm doing exactly what you do." I said, "Well, don't do what I do. Do what I tell you to do." [Laughs]

SY: So that's what you do. You're a workaholic, huh?

KS: I'm a workaholic. I don't, I mean, I don't work all night every night, but I do occasionally when I've got something going. I may work around the clock and I crash, and then I may sleep all day and go back and start all over, continue on. [Laughs] And my daughter, that daughter is also a workaholic in that sense. She's, if you want to make an appointment, luncheon appointment with her, I have to notify her four months ahead of time 'cause she's got to find a space in her book. "Oh, here's a space." [Laughs]

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

SY: But it is interesting 'cause family's, is family always been important to you? I mean, were...

KS: The relationship in the family is always been important to me. It's just that it only involves myself and my immediate. I don't go, I don't go too far outside of that.

SY: But you, but the same is definitely true for your father, mother and... when...

KS: This, you know, this is probably a guilt situation, but I know the fallback, I mean, I know the emptiness that my father, my mother, all that, and my brother and sister, we don't have the kind of open relationship as normal families do.

SY: But you've managed to stick together.

KS: I have within me, that feeling is very important, but I couldn't develop it with these people. So now I have my current wife and have her children and I have all their grandchildren and so forth and so on down the line. Though I'm not overly involved with them, I appreciate them being around, I would do what I can, but it's not something I'm really obligated to do all the time. And there is a little space between how I treat my brothers and sisters and how my feeling, how much of it is real, or how much of it is duty. And in a case with my one, first wife's daughter -- she's also Japanese too -- but then I have a great deal of affection for her, but she's the only one. I have affection for my daughter that passed away. She was the only one, but that was the only blood relation I had outside. Now, I don't know, to be honest with you, just how far I would go with anything other than the immediate family that I have.

SY: But that is, you can say that about your own father and mother, even though you weren't close they managed to keep the family together.

KS: My father was responsible for keeping the family together 'cause there were times when I questioned my, questioned his, my father. And, "How can you put up with a mother like this? Other people have divorced just like that."

SY: So it was important to him.

KS: It was important to him. And I guess if you want to have an honest, clean judgment of personality, you consider what he has put up with, what he has, and what his loyalty is. Then you have to admire the man for being loyal to what he has committed himself to.

SY: Right. I mean, that, it sounds like you kind of picked up on that.

KS: I did pick up on that, and I don't condemn him for what he was doing. And it's just that there's two levels to that. I can appreciate his efforts and I can appreciate everything he had done, I can appreciate everything he has tried to do to his best ability. And considering where my mother was up here [touches head] and what her ability is, of what she can do on a daily level and all the, what do you call it, circumstances in which she surrounded herself mentally and what was supposedly taking place around her -- which is an imaginary thing as far as we were concerned because it didn't make sense -- so it became a problem. She was a problem and it became a situation that my father was handling that problem the best he could without throwing her out.

SY: Really? And did, do you ever think back to those years in the, when you were in the orphanage and your parents weren't there? I mean, at the time it didn't seem to affect you, but when you look back at it now, do you feel like it had some effect on you and the kind of person you are?

KS: Well, on the surface it had absolutely nothing there, and on the subsurface it still had absolutely nothing there. There's nothing that I can go down and says, or have a feeling that there had been some influence someplace. There's nothing, nothing there that I can put a feeling on and says, "Oh, this took place and, yeah, this is what probably, why I do this now." There is nothing of that kind, in my whole... you can go like this and cut out all that past, since there was nothing there that you're taking away from what I do now.

SY: Very interesting. Yeah.

KS: At least that's my feeling.

SY: Right. No, that's important. Wow. That is really, I mean, considering anybody else who looks at it might thing that must've been hard, but it's really, you've really managed to...

KS: It's keeping each page, and once you turn the page you don't remember what's on the other pages. There's today, you read today, and you might remember tomorrow, or yesterday, and then once that page has gone beyond three or four pages, it becomes a new incident. And whatever took place in the past, unless it's a serious thing or something, memorable thing, that event that took place at that particular point, that memory may stay with you over a longer period of time, but the pages just, everything goes with it. I mean, I can go back, I'll probably, during the course of the conversation I have little incidences in my three or four year old situation, or five, probably five even up to, yeah, it would have to go five and four and three, I'd have little spotty incidences there that I can flash, there's a flash in memory that took place. But it's nothing important that took place. Other than one incident that I was told that my, either, I don't know, maybe actual sequence of the story, but we had a little tool shed -- you know on the farm fields you have tools left in there -- there was a hoe sitting on the ground. My brother dropped and fell off and landed across his nose on the hoe, so he cut it. Children have a tendency to do this, to get hurt themselves so they don't -- I jumped off that thing and did the same thing, broke my nose up in here. And I think if you go back you'll see a scar here, and my brother also has a scar there. [Laughs] But that's an incident that was brought to my attention some years ago, and I remember it, and it explains what the scar came from. And there was another incident that took place that -- in the old days the back door of the car used to open this way, not this way. And we were coming back, as I understand, from Los Angeles or some town back to the farm house, and my brother opened the door and got thrown out the car. And I was accused of pushing him out the car. I remember that. 'Course, he got his toys and all that sort of thing, appease the situation. But it was an incident, incident that I was sitting in the back and he opened the door, and he flew out the door and I got accused of pushing him out the door. [Laughs]

SY: And those are things you remember, of course. Yeah.

KS: Yeah, you would remember that.

SY: Yeah, that's right. But it's not like it has, you don't associate it with anything that happened to you today, but you remember that incident on its own. Interesting. Wow. You have a wonderful memory, though, honestly.

KS: Well, I don't consider that good memory because it's so spotty. I mean, there's a lot of incidences prior to and going to and all that, and if I go along, I don't know who the friends were that my father took us to. And they had elaborate toys and we used to admire the kids riding these little trucks and all that kind of thing, with wheels on it. I mean, we admired all that stuff, but then it's, these are probably well-to-do family and they had these nice, fancy toys, and we go home to our little tractor. [Laughs]

SY: That's really, the fact that you remember it is pretty amazing.

KS: Well, that wasn't necessarily, I just recalled it 'cause it ties in pretty close to that incident, being thrown out the car. That time period.

SY: Well, you were also very, very young. That was probably prewar, living on the farm.

KS: Yeah.

SY: Yeah, so you were not even --

KS: Right around four years old, three, four and five, somewhere around that little age group. We used to walk around the farm on our own, my brother and I. We'd take, walk around the field and all that sort of thing, and play around the irrigation ditches. There was one irrigation ditch that we used to go to and catch crawdads, get a piece of bacon and a string, and take it home, boil it. [Laughs]

SY: Wow. Yeah, young boys do interesting things. So and you, when you were, when you used to walk around Manzanar outside, when you would kind of explore, it was, is that, there was a fishing area, right?

KS: There was. We weren't, I wasn't conscious about fishing. Probably was too young for that, but I recall later on, where the, there was a gentleman that went out the camp and went up the Mount Williamson area. Apparently there's some lakes up there. Now I know there are many lakes up there, and we go fishing that direction too. But there was an irrigation, not irrigation, there was a reservoir pond just outside the fence line, about... [looks off camera] is she about dead? [Laughs]

SY: The, you remember the...

KS: There was an irrigation, I mean, not irrigation but there was a reservoir pond just outside, just on the other side of the hospital, maybe about five hundred yards. And there was a pond there and a water reservoir, and I seem to think and remember that, because the creek was coming down from the mountains and that, there would be trout or fish in there.

SY: Wow.

KS: But I didn't, I didn't see it, so I don't know. I related that lake or that reservoir with that flood that we had in our ditch digging. [Laughs]

SY: Right, right.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

SY: Okay, so let's kind of sum it up.

KS: Well, we basically stopped at the, well, the Thompson Optical situation, and then from there continued on to a company called, good lord, I can't remember that one. But anyway, it was an old German gentleman that was an engineer. He created, was doing some machining, and he needed a machinist that knew, understood optics, so he hired me to be in charge of his little machine shop, which was one man. [Laughs] We created what we called a scope to calibrate the television sensors, distance, see mount distances so we can measure the exact distance of it. And that went on to, let's see, from there, I spent maybe a year and a half or two years there with that company, creating or doing my own machining and putting these instruments together. Now, as far as asking me where'd I learn how to do all this machining stuff, that's things that I've been gradually acquiring working at Thompson Optical and stuff, when I have an opportunity to run the machine and get a little coaching or figure out myself how to go about doing all that. So I've acquired enough know how to go ahead and do a production type of deal, and from there I went to... I forget. There was a rental house that wanted to open up an optical plant over in Romoland -- that's in Riverside, near Hemet -- and he hired me to do service tech for him. But then the next day he says, "I want you to go to Romoland and supervise the optical porch there. I have a couple of Japanese optical manufacturers working on the machines there. I want you to work with them as an interpreter." [Laughs] I just said, "Oh, god." Here, my Japanese is not that good, but I was an interpreter anyway. So I spent about two years, a year or two years there, getting that all set up, and the owner of that company -- they were partners -- both of 'em, at least one of 'em used to play around with some women out there and all that stuff, and things financially started to dwindle down. I got laid off, went to work for a transformer manufacturing company for a short period of time. I didn't know nothing about electronics, that much anyway. And from there I start picking up work out of L.A., to do lens repair work, and so I continued on with that and I eventually established a business of my own, working out of Romoland, out of my house.


KS: Well, going from this Thompson -- I mean, not Thompson Optical but this German fellow's (zolomatics) business there in North Hollywood -- I went to a company called... what was that, Leonetti's? It was two companies involved in the middle of my transition but one was a rental house, and I created, in that rental house, a series of, our first introduction of what we call super high speed lenses for motion picture work. What I had done is taken the Nikon 50 millimeter, 50mmF102 and the 35 millimeter and their 28 and one other, 85 millimeter, they were the fastest of these series that they had on the still. Stripped all the mechanics off it and mounted it in a Mitchell BNC type camera -- it's a standard professional motion picture camera, which I made these lenses work in it -- and I had produced like fifteen sets for this, for this company. And they went out in the field for rental because it was a rare situation for motion picture people to go out there with a motion picture camera without all these lights, to shoot everything with available light, and that was quite an achievement as far as being able to do that. And so after the completion of the fifteen sets they felt that they need anymore, so they, I went back to Romoland and I start, started going back to servicing to keep survival. But at the same time, here's where this Jewish person helped me out a lot, being able to buy sufficient Nikon lenses to start making my own version of another high speed set of BNC lenses. And I started making, piece by piece, a set and sold those individually, as a personal, besides repairing lenses and stuff. And that went on into making several sets for Mitchell Camera Corporation, which is the principal camera. They wanted lenses to fit on their cameras. Fine, said this'll work fine.

And we went from there, and then this company called Leonetti's called me in to work for them, and he was interested in manufacturing his own camera, so he also asked me to design a lens to fit their camera. I said, "Okay, I'll do that. I'll draw that up and go ahead and fabricate it." And the problem was, the engineer they had that was making the camera was not a real good engineer. Consequently, there was a lot of problems and he made constant changes, which means all the lenses I made didn't fit the camera 'cause he made those changes too without notifying us. And finally, about a year after that, after all these failures and stuff, the owner of Leonetti's, Frank Leonetti, he asked me, he says, "I want you to take over the shop, manufacturing shop. Let's get this camera fixed. Do what it takes to get it fixed." And I looked at it, and when you make something you draw a center line. Film goes straight down; film will not go like this [makes crooked line]. It's impossible. And that was the first thing I corrected, and I started correcting the claw movement and everything else. I calculated all this thing out and says, "It needs to be here," this and all that, and we made up the first ten cameras I sold for Leonetti's, with all these little changes and corrections, and made up a set of lenses to go with it. And that was based on similar, not a Nikon lens, but on Zeiss contact lenses, similar structure. And from there, Leonetti went out, sort of went out of business 'cause he was, he himself was competing against Panavision. It's a big, big organization.

So in the meantime, I was back in my little shop at Romoland, doing my own servicing and all this stuff, and this is when Century got interested and would I help them with a product. And this is when all these relationships started there. After Century was finished, this Unique Optics picked me up after I was laid off over there, being too old to work over there, and so the first project that they asked me to do, so Peter asked me, says, "Would you make up these digital series lenses for, design a set for Red Com, Red Dot Com?" And I said, "Okay, we'll do that and hopefully we'll get a production order for it so that we can start making some money." That's when that turned sour. He got the design, he paid us for design, but he took off and went to Tamron to get them to manufacture it. So we went and Leonetti, Unique Optics, formulators, we can produce our own. We are friends with the optical designer. We can buy the lenses independently, attach to their order and we get a pricing and all that, so we went ahead and did that, completed that. In the meantime, he had another client that says, "Can you design a lens that'll withstand a hundred Gs?" I don't know what a hundred Gs is, but we'll give it a shot. [Laughs] Anyway, about four to six months later I designed one, we made up a prototype to see if it will work, and it worked fine. We made ten units and sent them out for distribution for testing. And like I said, I explained the one that went to Ford, test facilities there to run it through the hundred G test since their lab was completed, it was successful there. Nothing happened to it. Every stage focus, everything was clean and everything else is good. And slowly the lenses were going out for small jobs, and one of the jobs it went out on was a launching of the nine rocket unit off of the coast here in California. Because they weren't sure if it exploded how far that was gonna go, they were told to get back, way back, like a couple of miles, and we had this camera set up. It was supposed to launch at like nine o'clock or eight o'clock in the morning, but by the time they got around to shooting it, without warning they shot it off at like twelve or one o'clock in the afternoon. The sun was already up on that side facing the camera people. So you had all these cameras ready to record, and when that launch thing, the smoke, set fire, set the switch, get it going, they shot, they recorded, and our lens in our camera did the same recording. And when they showed it to the security people, make sure that we didn't get anything vital. They showed the image, the rocket was like that [indicates very small] on the, on the image plane, so when they went home they magnified that four hundred times or something to that effect. And they were able to see every rocket rivets, or rivet and all the, and the umbilical cord coming off. That's what they wanted. That's what they needed. Sent the copy of the four hundred time image back to them, says, and they told them, "This is exactly what we needed. And you're the only guys that got it." All the rest of 'em, because the sun was hitting the glass, it blanked out. Ours got, ours captured it. And they says, and that led to other things, and then finally NASA got a hold of the unit. They put in the Ares rocket to run the tests on it. Two Ares rocket crashes, it survived both of them, and then it went into the third one, and 'cause the first two, it recorded everything that was taking place, they finally analyzed what was going wrong and then when they went into the third one it was corrected, so it was able to chute, parachute down. And we got a compliment from NASA, which they rarely do, about, telling us that, "The lens unit you guys supplied us operated flawlessly," and says, "I just wish the electronics would do as well." [Laughs] And that was, that was my whole thing.

SY: Very nice.

KS: I take a great deal of pride on that one thing 'cause it was an unknown going in, it was an unknown going in the process, and then here, after it's all done, that it succeeded in every aspect of it.

SY: So it was a matter of withstanding that force and the clarity of the picture.

KS: Yeah. Yeah, the lens was, because in remounting the lens you had to pay attention to the optical air spacing, the centering and all this when you're doing all the mechanical construction of it. That's the same thing with the zoom lens. All that was paying attention to.

SY: Wow.

KS: But that comes from not just being know how, but using logic and common sense. When you have a straight line going through, you can't have that line alter.

SY: Wow. Very nice. And so you, now this, the, your company, or the, you still are involved with the optic...

KS: I'm still involved with the optics. Right now we're doing a specialty, micro cameras with 3D.

SY: Wow.

KS: Or mini, small miniature cameras they can put on a helmet so they can, for racecars and for road, off road thing. They want to capture all that on 3D.

SY: Wow.

KS: So they want to have good images for professional imagery, for television and stuff like that, which means we have, I have to upgrade what is out there and make sure the alignments and everything meets what I think should be in a way of 3D imagery. Otherwise, you're gonna have a lot of people with headaches and vomiting 'cause the images aren't matched.

SY: So you're still working twenty-four hours, huh?

KS: Well, no, I'm not working twenty-four hours right now. Working, I get up around four or five sometimes and I go on through 'til noon to work on my roses and stuff. I was gonna take, bring you pictures of the roses. My whole field is roses from the backyard, and I have orchids on the one, in the porch, and I have irises going in there. Then I have artichokes and tomatoes growing on the side, and I got peaches and figs and oranges growing in the backyard, back into the yard. And I have grapefruit, tangerine and oranges on the side of the house.

SY: So you learned a little farming along the way.

KS: Well, I have five containers of starts of figs, new figs. And I do that just for entertainment, see if I can do that. [Laughs] I mean, most of the plants in there are cuts, I mean cuttings, other than roses. Then some of the other stuff, they were either there or I bought small cans. And I have a front hedge full of, it's all rosemary, so I have my herbs there and whenever I need a rosemary I just go out there and...

SY: Well, you are very talented. [Laughs]

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.