Densho Digital Archive
Friends of Manzanar Collection
Title: Mas Okui Interview
Narrator: Mas Okui
Interviewer: Martha Nakagawa
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: April 25, 2012
Densho ID: denshovh-omas-01-0020

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MN: Well then let me ask you about something you did do, is you as a kid went hunting in the Manzanar area a lot.

MO: Well, yeah, because we had the slingshots, and we had the marbles, and so we'd go bird hunting. And shot some doves, a robin, we cooked 'em, too. Shot one pheasant. The thing about the marble -- and when you have a slingshot it's really accurate. Yeah, my little friends and I would go out there. Yeah, we were good at that.

MN: You also had a little, I guess like a little zoo?

MO: No, no. The Yamauchi twins had the zoo, and we'd go out and we would trap things. And so we would get chipmunks, we would get squirrels, and then we would build these cages with wire and they would have that wheel in there, and you put the chipmunk in there. And then later on we'd catch -- which was rare -- we had, in Manzanar we had a snake called the blue racer and the red racer which are very rare snakes in that area. And you can tell the blue racer 'cause it's blue, and the red racer's red. We had rattlesnakes, we had scorpions, kangaroo rats. Kangaroo rats were very cute. We had magpies, yeah. The Yamauchi twins had a magpie, and they cut the tongue, and it could say bad words in Japanese. [Laughs] Yeah, I remember that.

MN: How about like movies? Did you go to the movies at Manzanar?

MO: Yeah, we went to the outdoor movies in the summertime. They would show the same movies over every night, but that's where we went in the summertime. It was just something to do. I don't remember any of the films... oh, they showed one of the Bing Crosby films, I can't remember which one it was. The one they showed the most was because the churches were very active in obtaining the films was the King of Kings, the silent movie King of Kings. So I must have seen that a dozen times.

MN: You also remember Ansel Adams coming to Manzanar.

MO: Yeah, yeah. When I first saw him, he frightened me, because I thought he was the ugliest man I'd ever seen. He had this long kind of crooked nose, and evil eyes, and he reminded me of when we were children we'd read those Japanese books, and the villains in all the Japanese books is an oni or ogre, and he looked just like an oni because Japanese books made them look like white people. And so I remember kind of following him around, because my father was an avid photographer, and so I'd follow him around. And to this day, I know he took my picture, but I haven't been able to find it anywhere. I went to the National Archives in Annapolis and looked through all of his stuff, and my picture wasn't there. But all the pictures from Born Free and Equal are there. And many of those people I knew.

MN: Let me ask you about the holidays at Manzanar. What do you remember of Christmas at Manzanar?

MO: The only Christmas I've ever remembered was Christmas 1942. We thought we wouldn't have a Christmas, and all the kids were told to go the rec. hall. Block 27 they had a tree and they had presents underneath. And this one guy had this Santa Claus, the beard was made out of cotton or something. And they gave us presents. And this was 1942, it was the only year that I remember what I got. It was a coloring book and a little metal tray where you put water in it. It was from a... what was his name? I'll think of it. It was from Dubuque, Iowa, some kid in Dubuque, Iowa. Or Dubuque, Iowa... you know, I'm a sight-reader, so Dubuque.

MN: Now sugar was rationed at that time. Did you boys and the kids get any...

MO: They had sugar in the camps, and I think maybe they put it on the table. Because occasionally they would make hot chocolate for us, and they would make it with that powered milk, and I think they put sugar in it. What they had on the table was soy sauce -- later on -- salt and pepper, and apple butter, that was on all the tables. And it's unpleasant, but I still like apple butter. It's kind of hard to find in the markets. Just kind of dirty brown applesauce that's a little sweet.

MN: What was oshogatsu like in Manzanar?

MO: I don't remember, I don't remember. I don't remember that we had we had anything special.

MN: Now because you lived in the Block 27 area which is close to the Children's Village, did you have a lot of contact with the kids there?

MO: No, but we would see them all the time. I'd see Dennis Bambauer out there all the time. I could never understand why this white kid was in Manzanar. And what I envied about the people at the orphanage, Children's Village or the Shonien, was that they had indoor plumbing, and they had their own mess hall. I thought, "Man, that's neat." Because a little kid, you wake up in the middle of the night, you have to go to the chamber pot and it's dark. But they had flush toilets inside.

MN: Now about twenty year ago, you were on the TV program 60 Minutes with Morley Safer talking about Children's Village. What was that experience like?

MO: Well, Dennis Bambauer and I were both on it. It was nice meeting Morley, because Morley and I are the same age. And Morley, part of the warmup, was talking to me, he said, "I can't conceive of what it would be like for a person like me growing up in" -- as he pronounced it -- "Long Island." And he was a Jewish kid from Long Island, right? "And we knew nothing of this." And what surprised me was in our breaks he would take a cigarette and smoke. I'm not a smoker, and at eighty, he's still thriving, and he's probably still smoking. I don't know what he's doing, but I watched the tribute to Mike Wallace, but I've always had a nice place in my heart for him. He's just a terrific news guy, and Morley's talking about him. I know those guys on 60 Minutes, they're all part of my upbringing. But it was an interesting segment, because we talked for well over an hour.

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