<Begin Segment 1>
MN: Okay. Today is April 25, 2012, Wednesday. We will be interviewing Mas Okui at the Nishi Hongwanji Temple, and we have Tani Ikeda on the video, and I will be interviewing, my name is Martha Nakagawa. So Mas, I wanted to start with your father. What was your father's name?
MO: My father was Jiro Okui, but he went by James. He adopted an American name.
MN: Do you know when he adopted that name?
MO: No, he always had it, he always signs his name James Jiro or James Jiro Okui.
MN: Do you know how he came with that name?
MO: I don't know. You see, in a Japanese family, you don't ask. [Laughs] It's trickle-down. You never ask your father questions, you just listen to him.
MN: Which prefecture was he from?
MO: He's from Hiroshima.
MN: Can you share a little bit about your father's early years, like when did he come to the U.S. and where did he land?
MO: He arrived in 1913, and as far as I know, he landed in Seattle. And there he worked as a schoolboy. He had been sponsored by a Mr. Awamura, and Mr. Awamura was, I think he was a samurai. He'd come to this country to make his fortune. Unfortunately he didn't make it, so he never went back to Japan. And then he went to school here, graduated from high school, and then went to Washington State College, which is now Washington State University. He graduated from there with a degree in mathematics. And following that, he worked for a Japanese bank in Seattle, and then the Depression came along. I think... anyway, 1928, he married my mother. My mother was born in San Francisco, her family was from Hiroshima.
MN: What was your mother's name?
MO: Oh, my mother's name was Yaeko, and to her Caucasian friends she was Mary.
MN: And her maiden name is?
MN: And do you know how she got the name Mary?
MO: [Laughs] I have no idea. I remember my father saying I should have an English name. He said, "You should be Marshall." I said, "I don't want to be Marshall." You can call me Massuo or Masuo, but most people simply call me Mas.
MN: So you never felt pressure to adopt an English name? Like a lot of people were, kids your generation did adopt English names.
MO: I think many of them were given English names at the time they were born. It's all part of trying to be assimilated, I think. That we knew when we were growing up that we would be considered Japanese. We always knew that. And so it's not surprising that people would discriminate against us. The unfortunate part about it is back in the '30s, you didn't say anything about it. Today, if someone says something to me about it, well, when I was younger, just would hit him. [Laughs] But at my time in life you don't do that.
MN: Let me go back to your mother. You said she was born here in the United States. Where was she born?
MO: Her birth certificate says San Francisco, but I know she lived in Dinuba, and her father died in a farm accident when she was ten, at which time my grandmother took the younger children to Japan. So her two sisters and her brother were Kibei. And she stayed with the Mayeda family and finished school, and then married my father when she was eighteen.
MN: Now your maternal grandmother is kind of, you had an interesting story about her, too, about where she landed, I think you said Vancouver?
MO: Yeah. She came to the U.S., and in my discussions with her, they were supposed to go to Souko, which is Japanese for "San Francisco," and Rafu is Japanese for "Los Angeles." Shiatoru, I guess, was "Seattle," Shiatoru. Anyway, to this day, I don't know how she got to Dinuba where my grandfather lived. I don't know. I don't think she knows, or she did not understand how she got there. Or maybe they met in San Francisco, but all I know is she was a "picture bride."
MN: And somehow she got from Vancouver without speaking any English...
MO: Yeah. Well, you figure people got on the boat, and they're coming here. And all of them kind of hang out together simply because they don't speak English, and they all dressed in traditional Japanese clothes. Some of the pictures I look at are rather, I don't know if "disheartening" is the word. Because you look at the uncertainty in their faces, or maybe I interpret the uncertainty in their faces. Because they haven't met their husbands, and then you hear the stories of some of the men who would show, send pictures of them ten years earlier, or they would go into town and stand next to a nice automobile in front of a nice house and have their pictures taken, and that picture would be sent to Japan. And maybe it didn't wash exactly as they had hoped, but they made the most of it. You rarely heard of women running away, but they did. They did. But they made the best of it.
<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 2>
MN: And so your mother and father got married. In total, how many children did your parents have?
MO: They had six.
MN: And then where are you in the...
MO: I'm second.
MN: And what year were you born?
MN: When you and then your oldest brother were born, where was your family living?
MO: When I was born, we were living in Glendale, but I was born at a midwife on the corner of Boyle and First Street. Kato-san, she was a midwife and her father was a barber, so we would come to Little Tokyo to Kato-san simply to get our hair cut. And you've got to remember, San Fernando Valley Japanese people, we didn't really have a community. We were dispersed throughout the area. So if we wanted to deal with things that were Japanese, we came to Little Tokyo, or Nihonmachi as we always referred to it.
MN: So when you came down to the Nihonmachi, was that sort of a treat for you?
MO: Yeah, yeah, it was a treat, because we could eat dinner out. My father liked to go to Lem's restaurant, which was right next to the movie theater, the Linda Lee movie theater, kind of walked down a few steps, went in there. Yeah, that was neat.
MN: And that was all on First Street?
MO: We're all on First Street, yeah.
MN: So you were born in the J-town area, a sambasan, but your family lived in Glendale. What were they doing in Glendale?
MO: They were working with Three Star Produce, the Hasuike family. And they both, I don't know exactly where they were working at the time. Later on, my father worked at the fruit stand on the corner of Sonora and San Fernando Road, at a market called Grand Central Market, which was directly across the street from Grand Central airport.
MN: So going back to your Glendale days, your family didn't stay there very long before they moved to Burbank, is that right?
MO: To my recollection, they might have moved to Burbank when I was maybe two or a big younger. Because my earliest recollection is my paternal grandfather came here with my step-grandmother. She's the one that urged my father to come to the U.S., to get an education. And he was the eldest son, so normally he wouldn't have come. But I remember my grandfather -- this is the earliest recollection I have of my life. I'm getting spanked, and I'm getting spanked because we're down on San Fernando Road, and there's an ice machine there. And I crawl into the, there's a chute that the ice comes down and I crawl in there just like a dog or something. [Laughs] And I remember getting spanked for that. I might have been three years old. All I know is that I think they returned to Japan when I was maybe three, maybe four years old, because up until that time I didn't speak English, I spoke Japanese. And both my mother and father worked for Three Star Produce. Later on I met one of the Hasuike kids, Bob, who did the Manzanar scale model.
MN: So I guess your paternal grandparents didn't stay in the United States, they were just visiting your family.
MO: Yeah, yeah, that's true. As far as I remember, they had no intention of staying here.
<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 3>
MN: So let's get into your Burbank years. Share with us what part of Burbank your family moved into.
MO: We lived on San Jose Street. We rented a house there, and it was between San Fernando Road and Third Street. If you go there now, there's an Ikea store there that sits right on, they did away with, it was San Jose Street, and they built that mall complex there. So either the Sport Chalet or the Ikea store is sitting right where we lived.
MN: Was Burbank a segregated city?
MO: Yeah. We could not... from San Fernando Road, it was uphill, towards the hills. And no Asians could live above Glenoaks Boulevard, which would have been the equivalent of Fourth Street. And if you were Mexican, you had to live on Front Street, which is, it was right next to the railroad tracks. And I remember I had a friend Ray Carbahal, and they lived there, and they were all little wooden frame houses, and they all faced towards the railroad track. And the street was not paved, and they had no sidewalk. To my recollection, probably, it was the only street that didn't have that. Today the freeway goes through that area. Yeah, I-5 goes right through that area.
MN: And then did Burbank and Glendale, did they not allow African Americans to live there?
MO: I assume so, because there were no African Americans living there. If you lived in Glendale, you had to live, there was a street they called Flower Street where the Hasuikes lived. And so they, it seemed that nearly all of them lived below San Fernando Road. No one lived above San Fernando Road, even in Glendale, except the Toda family. And the Toda family had a little store, a market, yeah, I guess you could call it a market, on Verdugo Road, and I had their grandchildren as students. Kind of weird.
MN: Now your parents are working at the Three Star Produce, but your father is a Washington State graduate, he's probably very bilingual. He didn't, couldn't find jobs that would use his bilingual abilities?
MO: There were no jobs. Jobs... you got to remember, this is the Depression. 1930s, if you had a job, the whole idea was you had to have a job. I don't know if he ever tried to get another job or not. He then became a gardener, and my mom says he became a gardener for the first time, we had adequate money. But we lived right poorly. But we never went hungry, we always had clothes, but they had patches on them. Shoes were, always had sharkskin toes so it wouldn't get holes in the toes, and constantly being resoled. Socks had darning patches in them.
MN: Did you put cardboard in your shoes also?
MO: No, no. We always got new soles, took 'em to the shoe store and they put new soles on them. But we only had one pair of shoes.
MN: But that was common with the people you grew up with, right, the kids?
MO: Oh, yeah. One thing, when you're a kid, you never went barefoot, because being barefoot was a sign of being poor. See, in Hawaii it was different, but on the mainland, you didn't want to be viewed as being poor. We were, but...
<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 4>
MN: Okay, let me ask you about your education. You mentioned earlier that the first language you were speaking was Japanese?
MN: So when you started grammar school, was that a problem, understanding?
MO: I don't remember. I think I understood enough. I remember my kindergarten teacher was Miss Cup, and I remember she was kind of a tall, angular, blond-haired lady that had long earrings, or what I thought of as long. And she was very kind to us. Actually, as I think back, I think all of them were kind to us.
MN: And then the grammar school that you attended, what was the name of the grammar school?
MO: We started in kindergarten at Burbank Elementary School, which was on the corner of San Fernando Road and Magnolia. Then after the fourth grade, they closed the school, and it became the board of education. So then we had to go up the hill to Ralph Waldo Emerson elementary school, and that's where the wealthier people lived. So we would always go kind of in convoy because we didn't know what to expect up there. Because we had the poor kids from, Mexican kids, the Okies, poor "white trash." Yeah, that's who we were. Those were my friends. [Laughs]
MN: So staying at the Burbank Elementary School, how did you get along with the other students?
MO: I didn't feel any differently than they did. But it seems that I always did really well in school. Except in the fourth grade, Mrs. Clayton, "Mean Mrs. Clayton" would send me out of the room every day, and my job was to go to the office and crank the mimeograph machine. To this day, I remember three cranks for one piece of paper.
MN: I'm going to ask you about her later on, because she was kind of prominent right before the war, too. But let me ask you about your Japanese school. Which Japanese school did you go to?
MO: We went to the one in North Hollywood. It was on a street called Whitnall Highway, and later on, when we came back after the war, it was a lodge house for, it was a fraternal organization known as the Eagles. They're sort of like the Elks and the Oddfellows. But it was a wooden frame building and really dusty. Seemed like they were always sprinkling water in the place.
MN: So is this building still in existence?
MO: I don't know. I haven't been by there. It was in existence for quite some time after the war. And all I remember, it was right near the high tension power lines.
MN: And then at Japanese school, did you go to every day or just Saturdays?
MO: Just Saturdays.
MN: And each Saturday before you started the classes, did you have to do something outside?
MO: Oh, yeah, you'd have to line up and bow to the emperor.
MN: And did the principal give you some sort of speech?
MO: Sometimes, sometimes. But we always had to stand at attention, kiotsuke, "stand at attention," rei, you had to bow, and then you'd go in the classroom and you had to sit up in the classroom. And when you recite it, you had to stand up. I still remember, he always made us hold the book out like this when you read from it, with straight arms. I always thought that was rather silly. [Laughs] But that's the way they did it. I was not a good student in Japanese school. It just didn't appeal to me. But the good part was hanging with all of your friends on Saturday.
MN: So if you got punished, how did they punish you?
MO: If you weren't paying attention, or doing something the teacher didn't like, all the Japanese books were soft covered, and he would roll it up and make a wand out of it, come and whack you across the head with it. It would hurt. I remember it hurt. And we had these twins in my class, one used to sit with me, and the other one, the "good" one, would sit up in front. [Laughs] To this day, it's beyond me. I tried to understand how twins worked, and I read books on twins, but when the bad kid got hit, the other one would cry. I never understood that. We must have been nine years old, eight years old at the time. But we were, I guess the best term is itazurabo. [Laughs] Yeah, I think that's what we were. Probably that's correct.
MN: Did you have to, like, learn the Kimigayo?
MO: Yeah, we had to sing that.
MN: On what occasion did you sing that?
MO: I don't know, maybe once or twice a year. But then I think back, it might have had to do with the emperor's birthday. It might have, but I'm not sure. I'm just not exactly sure. I think it... yeah, because even when I hear it today, it's very evocative. Beautiful piece of music, written by a Westerner.
MN: How did you feel about having to go to Japanese school when your other non-Nikkei friends didn't have to go?
MO: It was just part of our lives. We didn't like going, but it was part of our lives. You know, your father tells you, especially when the teacher picks you up, you can't ditch.
<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 5>
MN: Now, did your parents enroll you in kendo or judo?
MO: We took judo, and I didn't like it because I wasn't very strong. And it seemed like for a year all I did was practice landing on my back. It seems that's where it was. I didn't like it. And then when we went to Manzanar, I took kendo, which I liked because you could hit people with a stick. It was fun.
MN: So when you went to Manzanar, did they make the stick or they brought those in?
MO: They brought those in because they were, they were made of bamboo and they looked like they came from Japan. Because you had kendo organizations here in Little Tokyo, and we had the Buddhist church there. I think the Nishi Hongwanji was there, and they had programs. And then we had the Maryknoll brothers, which was just down the street from here, or no, maybe across the street. Wherever it was, it was in this general neighborhood. And they had a church there. So you had the Catholic church presence, and I'm not sure of the Protestant church, because we avoided going to those places. We didn't have to go, we didn't go.
MN: Let me go back to your prewar years and ask you a little bit more about judo. Who was your judo sensei?
MO: Seigo Murakami. He was honored later on by the emperor of Japan, he was, I think a tenth degree in black belt. His sons were my age, and when he stopped, they did it, and now their sons are running the same dojo in San Fernando. But they were in North Hollywood, and there was one in San Fernando as well. And then following our return, we had a community center in Arleta or Pacoima, and they conduct judo lessons there. but I never took judo lessons there.
MN: Well, you know, before the war, usually the judo dojos were next to the Japanese school. But where was your judo...
MO: No, no, it was right in the Japanese school. We'd just unroll the mats, that's why it was so dusty. It would make me sneeze. Maybe I had a, probably had some kind of an allergy at the time. Back in those days, we didn't know what that word meant.
MN: So when you were taking judo, did you go to different dojos to compete?
MO: I tried to avoid that because I was so bad at it.
MN: How long did you take judo?
MO: Less than a year. Persuaded my father that it was not good for me to do that.
MN: Let me ask you about the Japanese movies. Like before the war, did your parents take you to see Japanese movies?
MO: You mean here in town, in Little Tokyo?
MN: Here in town or over there in San Fernando Valley?
MO: I don't recall going to Japanese movie in Little Tokyo. We might have, but I don't recall. Every so often on Saturdays at Nihongakkou they would have movies. And so people in the community would come, and it was part of the... I guess, a social gathering. It was always fun, nigiyaka, that's what it was. And I think -- and I'd see my little friends and we'd romp around, and all the mats were rolled up, we'd jump up on the mats and you know, we're kids.
MN: Did you understand the movie that was being shown?
MO: No. But we loved those chanbara movies, even if we didn't understand it. And I would ask my father, "How come we don't understand it?" See, we didn't understand Japanese that well. But he would, I remember him saying, "It's Osaka dialect." And apparently it's a different dialect than some other places. I'm not too familiar with Japanese dialect. All I know is that Hiroshima dialect is very countrified, and if you use Hiroshima dialect in Japan, people will kind of look at you somewhat askance. But it's not as bad as the people from the shady side. So I met a person from some prefecture over there, Tottori Prefecture, Tottori ken. And his Japanese was really different. Not that I understand Japanese that well.
MN: Of course, they always make fun of Kagoshima, too. That's like a whole different language, I understand.
MO: Each... these enclaves throughout the country, they didn't have any correspondence with one another for centuries, they had no written language. So, yeah.
<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 6>
MN: Now I want to ask you a little bit about the neighborhood you grew up in. It sounded like a very diverse neighborhood. Did you end up, did you learn Spanish from your friends?
MO: You learned street Spanish; you learned the bad words, those are the first words you learn. But most of the people... let's see, on our block, across the street were houses. And we were the only house on our side of the street, and there was an apartment building next to us. And then next to the apartment building was the elementary school, Luther Burbank Elementary. And they had, across the street they had a date tree. It was kind of interesting when they got ripe, a palm tree, I guess. It was one of these big, fat, ugly palms. But, and then behind, just across the alley was an Italian family, and then Mr. Hurd, who owned the Richfield Station, lived behind us. And then next to the... what was the Italian people's name? Delcorcio, Delcorcio, that's right, was the market, Smith's Market. We would go there on Thanksgiving, and they would bring in live turkeys and they needed people to pluck the feathers and give us, I can't remember, maybe four cents for each turkey. Anyway, in a day we could make maybe fifteen cents, which was a lot of money. Because the bookie next door used to pay me twenty-five cents a week for working for him.
MN: Share with us that story.
MO: Well, the bookie's name was George Sheleen, and he was from Minnesota, and he was an incredibly foul-mouthed person. And I can never forget, he never bothered learning our names. And we were all, there were three of us, three kids at that time, we're all "Little Jimmies." My father went by Jimmy, I guess. Little Jimmy. And my job was to go into his apartment once a day and take his trash out and burn it in the backyard incinerator. And then every so often I'd take my wagon down to the liquor store, which was just down the block, and they would put a case of beer in there, and I would pull it back up to his place in the apartment. And then sometimes I'd take care of his dog. I think it was a black cocker spaniel, I think that's what it was. Yeah it was, but they were all Rocky, and he'd always get 'em when they were a year old. If one died, he'd go out and get another one. And he would always buy a Cadillac. And then Rocky would live in the backseat. He'd take the seat out and Rocky would stay in the backseat. And I don't know if he bought a new car every year, but he always had a nice car, I mean, much nicer than what we had.
So when you're a kid, you're always looking for something where you can make money. And if you can't make money, then you worked for barter. For instance, we would, in the apartment buildings, they had garages in the back. And one of the garages was rented by the Good Humor ice cream company. And in those days, the ice cream carts were pedicabs. They would pump 'em on a bicycle, and they had this thing in front with dry ice, and they would come in at the end of the day and then have to clean them. And we would go over and help them clean them, and they would give us all the broken bars, which was a treat in the summertime. And then on San Fernando Road, which might have been 150 yards, there was a Burbank Chicken Pie factory, and we could always smell that in our house. We went down there and helped them clean up, did some job, they would give us the broken pies or the ones that were leftover, I can't remember whether they were broken or not. And then sometimes my friends and I would go... where was that? I think that company's still there called Martino Pies, and they would make fruit pies. And if you went down there, and they would make these little ones, just like the bread place. I'm trying to think what the name... it wasn't Weber's, I think it was called Langendorf. They make little bread loaves about six inches by three inches, and you could buy those. And the best part was that they were warm. But it seemed like my mother always bought day-old bread, because sometimes our bread had green spots on it, and so you'd pick off the green spots. But we were poor, and that's simply how things were. We didn't know any differently. We were poor. No one ever said we were poor, but we were poor.
MN: But did you understand that you were poor?
MO: I understood we didn't have things, especially once... I remember when I went to Emerson, there was a kid my class, name was Carlos Ling, L-I-N-G, sounded like a Chinese name, but it wasn't. And his father was the editor of the local newspaper. And one day we were eating lunch, and he had funny-looking bread. And he gave me part of his sandwich and it tasted differently than what we were accustomed to. And I remember asking him, "This bread's different." He said, "Well, our maid bakes it." Wow, you got a maid. [Laughs] You know, mothers of my parents, of my friends were maids, and that's what they did. But they had a maid. So the exposure was quite different in school there than it was at Luther Burbank. They dressed a lot better, and they were all white. Until we came, the school was all white.
MN: Was there a problem then when Burbank school closed and now there's all these...
MO: I don't remember if there was a problem. There might have been a problem. There might have been parents who didn't want their kids to go to school with the "riff raff," that might have been. I think there might have been some anxiety by some of our parents who had to walk up the hill. Basically it was six blocks or so to walk to that school. It's just one of those things. It's all part of growing up.
<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 7>
MN: Let me ask you, going back to how you were making money, you mentioned you had rabbits. Did you make money selling rabbits?
MO: No, they were our pets. Because we had these rabbits that were our pets, and then one day the dog next door, couple of doors away, came and killed one of our rabbits. Although we had them in hutches, for some reason a rabbit got killed. And in exchange for that, they gave us one of their dogs, a puppy. They were wire haired terriers, and we had one we called Ginger. Ginger, Crackers, and Pepper. I think Crackers was the mother. Anyway, that became our dog. Not a great dog, but he was our dog.
MN: So you didn't sell the rabbits, or you didn't eat the rabbits either?
MO: Well, we ate rabbits, but the only time we ate rabbits was, the mailman was Mr. Woolham, raised rabbits. And if I went up to help him kill and skin them -- he would kill them, but I would skin them -- then I would get a couple of rabbits to take home. And we didn't think anything of it; it was food. Today, people would consider that inhumane, but I assume people who would consider eating meat inhumane are all vegetarians. I hope they are. Because all those animals had to be killed that you're eating.
MN: Well, since we're talking about food, can you share with us what kind of food your mother made at home?
MO: Well, it's kind of hard to say, because my mother was, she had to work all the time. And so I don't think she ever became a really good cook. I remember meals where -- we always had rice, and the treat with rice was when you got down to the bottom of the part, she would pour tea in there, the koge part, and then you had chazuke with this really tasty rice. She would make stew, we'd always have it over rice, that was good. She would make okazu, but that wasn't... it was okay. [Laughs] I remember once in a while we would have Campbell's beef soup, and she'd heat up the rice in a bowl and just pour that over it, and that was pretty good. I always thought that was good, but you're a kid; you don't know anything differently.
MN: How often did you eat meat at that time?
MO: We had a fish man come around, so we had fish once a week at least. You know, I don't remember how much meat we ate. I know we ate a lot of hamburger, 'cause that was really cheap in those days. But I don't recall how much meat we ate. I don't recall eating a lot of chicken because chickens were expensive. Because they weren't cut up, you bought the whole chicken.
MN: So you didn't keep chickens on your own and then kill your own chicken?
MO: No, no. All we had were the rabbits, and they were our pets.
MN: And then you know when the fish peddler came around, did he also sell, like, tofu and konnyaku?
MO: I don't remember, because I never went out there. I know we had tofu, and I presume that's where we got it, but I don't recall.
MN: Now you were sharing with us a little earlier about how you were earning money. What did you do with the money?
MO: Well, if you went to the Saturday matinee -- because you got to remember, in the summertime, we didn't go to Japanese school -- if you went to the Saturday matinee, you got two movies, a cartoon, a newsreel, and a serial, sort of corny serial, Flash Gordon, things like that. And the movie was ten cents. And then I had fifteen cents leftover, instead of buying stuff in the movie, there was a little restaurant called Wimpy's about a block from the theater. You can go in there and get a hamburger and a Coke for fifteen cents. Of course, we didn't tip anyone; we were little kids. And I think one of the things that bothered me a lot was, I guess it might have been 1940 or 1941, they put a tax on movies, so you had to pay eleven cents. That really screwed up my budget. [Laughs] Yeah, eleven cents. Because even when we went to church, we just put pennies in the offering, 'cause we didn't have money. A nickel was a lot of money to put in the offering.
MN: And then you mentioned that your parents were working at this produce stand. When you were growing up, did you have to go and help out there?
MO: No, no. Occasionally we would walk to the one in Glendale, it was about a mile and a half away. You'd walk right along San Fernando Road. What I remember is that we always walked by Bob's Big Boy. There was one right there in Burbank, and how good it would smell. We could never afford to buy one of those. I think that was the second one that was built. I think the first one started in Glendale. Anyway, it was right there on San Fernando, Bob's Big Boy, and it was there even until maybe the 1950s or '60s. But it wasn't the famous one that's in Toluca Lake where all the cars go. And Jay Leno goes there, shows off his fancy car. No, no, this was not a drive-in, it was a walk-up.
MN: And then is this the one that you mentioned there was the airport across the ways?
MO: Yeah. My father worked at Grand Central Market. There was an airport across the street, it was called Grand Central Air Terminal. And at that time it was one of the main terminals in California. You got to remember, they were little planes, prop driven, flying was hazardous. There was no LAX. They had a field down near Imperial Highway, close to where Hawthorne is now, there was an airfield there. And then there was one in a place called Walteria, which is now Torrance. But the -- oh, and then there was a little private airfield in Pacoima called White's Aeropark, I think it was called. But it was mostly private planes.
<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 8>
MN: Let me ask you a little bit about whether or not you took music lessons. Did you play a musical instrument?
MO: Yeah, I hated that; violin. I hated it. My father thought we'd be the next Jascha Heifetz. I took it for about two months, and then we got sent to the camps and I left my violin behind. Because people make fun of you. "Oh, you got machine gun in there?" Bam, you'd hit 'em with the violin case. [Laughs] Yeah, I didn't like it. But my brother got quite good, he played in the Manzanar symphony orchestra. But I didn't care for that. Then they said out to learn the accordion, and looked at that, that thing's heavy, I don't want to learn that. [Laughs]
MN: So I guess it was your dad's idea to start having you take these kind of lessons?
MO: My dad liked classical music. We had one of these, we used to call it Victrola, big wooden thing that had a lid on it, and you had to turn the crank. And he would listen to classical music. And he met a guy in Burbank, his name was Henry Schumann-Heink, and I think he became one of his gardening customers about 1940 or thereabouts. And his mother was the famous opera singer Madame Schumann-Heink. She was really famous in the '20s, and you can look at some classical records and you'd hear her voice. So we had a lot of Madame Schumann-Heink, but I didn't understand what she was singing. All I knew was I'd turn the crank. [Laughs] you know, you remember some strange things about your childhood.
MN: Your parents, they had planned to send you to Japan but you didn't go?
MO: No, no, my father wanted me to go to Japan. I learned this later from my mother, and apparently I used to get in trouble because my mother used to tell me, "Your father used to always want to give you yaito and I wouldn't let him." Because I was a mischievous, apparently mischievous kid, just had a lot of energy. And he wanted to send me to Japan, according to my mother, to learn discipline, and my mother wouldn't hear of it. So I'm thankful, Mom. Because then I would have been a Kibei, and being Kibei is a difficult thing in this world.
MN: Let me ask a little bit about the holidays. Did kids, before the war, did they observe, like, Halloween?
MO: Yeah, yeah. We went around. Actually, we took a pillowcase with us, that's what we did. And a lot of people would give us things they made, cookies and cupcakes, because they were cheaper to do than buying candy and giving it to us, yeah. And then the only thing we'd have was a mask, and then you get a sheet, you know, whole sheet and put it over us. We didn't buy costumes; we couldn't afford them. But yeah, we had Halloween. And we always went up to where the rich people lived. [Laughs] People in our neighborhood didn't have a lot of good stuff now that I think about that.
MN: How about, like, Christmas?
MO: Yeah, we always got presents for Christmas. And I don't remember when I was kid what we got except we got a used bicycle, might have been 1939, 1940, somewhere in there. But the three of us had this used bicycle. And that was a treasured thing because you don't have bicycles. And I don't know where my father got it, but we'd work on it and fix it up and made certain that it ran properly, fix the flats all the time. I remember going down to Pep Boys and buying this little tire patching kit. If the inner tube got a hole in it, you could patch it up.
MN: Were your parents Christians?
MN: Do you know how they became Christians?
MO: I think my father became a Christian when he was in college, or he might have become a Christian when he was a houseboy. All I know is that he was never a Buddhist. My mother was a Christian, although she grew up in the Buddhist community in Dinuba. But they might have had a Christian church there. Because there were certain communities in California, Japanese immigrants were Christians, and that included places like Livingston. That's where my sister-in-law is from. But that was a Christian community, Yamato Colony.
MN: So when you were growing up, was Christmas a really big thing?
MO: No, no. It's never been a big thing for us, even as an adult. When my kids were little it was a big thing for them, but Christmas is just another day. It's another day where you have to go out and get things you don't want, and buy things that maybe people don't want. The last Christmas was really neat because we had it at my niece's house, and everyone had to bring a gift that had been advertised on television. [Laughs] So you go to some of the stores like Sears and some of the other places, and they have a whole table full of this stuff. It's easy to buy; it's all twenty bucks. And, yeah. Stuff we got, we'll never use. They got something to chop stuff with.
MN: So if your parents are Christian, did you have to go to, like, Sunday school?
MO: Yeah, we went to First Baptist Church. Yeah, we got Baptized there. Yeah, we went to Sunday school, we went there because they had a Y group there, and the Y group would go and, they would take us to the Glendale Y which had a swimming pool, and it was a segregated Y but they let us swim in there. They didn't let the Mexican kids into that Y. But, see, the Mexican members were Catholic, and you don't have a YWCA in the Catholic churches. Yeah, when I think about it... yeah, I guess a sizeable amount of our social activity came through the church, because it's the only time we could go places. They'd load us in a truck and take us to the baseball game. I remember seeing games at Gilmore Field, minor league, and they were the Hollywood Stars. And then Wrigley Field, the Los Angeles Angels, and they would take us in an open stake bed. We'd all be in the back, which you can't do today, but in those days, that's what we did. They'd take us to -- I remember we went to the fights at Hollywood Legion Stadium, I thought that was pretty neat. I'd never seen a boxing match before. Oh, I had -- I'm sorry, I take that back. Because when we were little, we would go down Victory, and there was a place called Jefferies Barn. And Jim Jefferies owned that. He had been Heavyweight Champion of the World before the black champion... what was his name?
MN: Muhammad Ali?
MO: No, no, way back there.
MN: Way before.
MO: Yeah, yeah. Anyway, we would sneak in there because part of it had a tent, and one day we got caught, and Mr. Jefferies said, "You guys can stay here, but you got to help clean up." So after the fights, we had to pick up all the trash on the floor. And so any time we went down there, we could watch the fights free if we agreed to stay after and help him clean up. Yeah, he was a big, big guy. He was just a huge guy, Jim Jefferies of Jefferies Barn. And it had been an old barn that was converted into an arena, small arena for boxing.
MN: So you were talking about, we were talking about Sunday school, but I wanted to ask you about your New Year's. How did you celebrate New Year's before the war?
MO: We used to go to Mr. Awamura's, and he lived in the Virgil district, and he, to the best of my knowledge, was our godfather. He had been the person who sponsored my father to come to this country. And so it was always, Mrs. Awamura was always... what a nice lady. She'd been a teacher in Japan, and he had been samurai, so they always were very proper. And he always let us play cards. He had these little cards, not the regular sized ones, but the little ones, and he would let us play with those, and sometimes let us play with his dog. But he lived in what's called the Virgil district, or what they now, younger people refer to as J-flats. But he lived on Westmoreland and I remember his house well. But we frequently visited with them.
MN: The cards that you're talking about, was that Hanafuda?
MO: No, no, just regular American playing cards, yeah. They were smaller, but no, we didn't play with the Hana cards. We didn't understand the pictures.
MN: And then you were sharing about visiting the Sakaguchi family in North Hollywood?
MO: Yeah, they had a truck farm, and his father and my father were friends. And occasionally we would go there, and I'd always ask my father if we could leave before it got dark. Because before I got in the car, I always had to go to the bathroom, and I hated that place 'cause they had an outhouse. And I always figured I'd get bitten on my pecker or something like that. [Laughs] I hated that outhouse. But you've got to remember, this is 1930s. The farms didn't have a sewage system. Many of them, well, most of them had running water. I think all of them had running water, because San Fernando Valley had water. But yeah, that was a place I didn't care for. And that's a remarkable family.
<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 9>
MN: Now, you had all the memories about going to White Point also. Can you share those memories?
MO: White's Point was -- we always called it White Point, but it's actually White's Point -- and that was sort of the Japanese beach. And on bad days, we'd see raw sewage floating around. On good days, you could look at the tidal pools, and it was fun. It was fun. Because you got to go to the ocean, you got to play in the water. I don't recall how frequently we went, maybe three or four times. Certainly not more than that. But it was where the Japanese community went on weekends, and usually it was a Sunday or Saturday. Because a lot of the farmers didn't take Sunday off because Sunday night was market, they had to go to market, deliver the produce. Yeah, they now pronounce it "praduce," but we always called it produce.
MN: Can you share with us who Mrs. Ely was?
MO: Mrs. Ely was one of my high school teachers, she was an English teacher. And we always suspected that she'd just been let out of the insane asylum. And I had her for only one semester. And one of the guys I grew up with, the family was a prominent family in San Fernando, Meduno family, they owned a beer franchise, and they were all football players. And Vito was not a good student, actually he was less than mediocre, he was actually dumb. [Laughs] But in those days, at the end of the semester, you went up to the teacher's desk and you handed them your report card and they'd sign it. [Laughs] And Vito would go up there and he'd have tears in his eyes. "Miss Ely, you got to give me a passing grade. My father will beat me, I won't be able to play football." And the rest of us, we'd really try not to laugh. [Laughs] And it was so funny, and finally she would be in tears and she'd be signing it, and Vito would get a D. But the other times, I had... Fanny Crow was my English teacher, and she was a really good English teacher. But for some reason, when I first went to San Fernando, it was in the middle of a semester.
MN: This was after the war years, right?
MN: This is after the war?
MO: After the war, yeah.
MN: Wait, let me ask you a little bit about Emerson then, Miss Clayton, let me ask you about Miss Clayton.
MO: Oh, "Mean Mrs. Clayton"?
MN: Yeah, tell us about her.
MO: Oh, Mean Mrs. Clayton was my fourth grade teacher, and she would always send me out of the room every day to go to the office to run the mimeograph machine which had to crank three times to get one piece of paper through. And I used to think, one day I asked my mother later on, "How come she sent me?" She says, "You'd get finished with your work so quickly, that you would create problems." I said, "I don't remember creating problems." [Laughs] Anyway, that's Mean Mrs. Clayton, she was my fourth grade teacher. And then when they closed our school we go to Ralph Waldo Emerson up the hill. Get into the classroom in fifth grade, and there she is. Mean Mrs. Clayton is now my fifth grade teacher. And so I'm telling all my friends that we had Mean Mrs. Clayton, I think they had two fifth grade classes. Because I remember my friend Marlon, he was from Oklahoma, and Ray, were not in my class. They were in the other class, which may have been the class of lower achievers, I don't know. Recently I was looking at the picture of my fifth grade class. And the Chinese kid's not in there, he must have been absent that day.
But, yeah, and then my recollection of Mean Mrs. Clayton was that after the war broke out and we were told that we had to go to Manzanar, and the day before we left she called me up to the front of the room and she wanted the class to say goodbye to me and me to say goodbye to the class. And she gave me a book. It was Huckleberry Finn. I still have that book somewhere. Then she kissed me. The most embarrassing moment of my life, absolutely. Japanese parents didn't kiss their kids in those days. I had a hard time overcoming that, because I remember people I knew in the class would kind of make fun of me. "He's teacher's pet," that sort of thing. And then later on, I guess I must have been, after I got out of the army and I went and visited her. She wasn't that old, but she was so happy to see me. But she remembered me from that time.
<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 10>
MN: So let's get into the war years. What were you doing on that Sunday, December 7, 1941?
MO: I think we were playing outside, or maybe we were playing in the front room. We were doing something, and then we heard that on the radio. And the radio was in the living room, and it was the strangest thing because we didn't understand what it meant. And I remember looking at my parents, and my father was very stoic, but my mother was, appeared to be shocked, something she didn't always show. And we didn't know what to do. And then, I don't know if it was a Monday or Tuesday, but these guys in suits and ties and hats came into our house, and they took the shortwave receiver. And my father had cameras, and then we had Awamura-san's sword that they took. And I can't remember what else... they took a .22 rifle that we had, and probably some other things, but those are the things that I remember. But we, I think that's when I started becoming afraid. I'm not sure, because there were very few things I was afraid of, even to this day. But there was, maybe it was uncertainty. Then my father was saying that he couldn't drive a certain distance from the house anymore. And we couldn't go to Little Tokyo anymore.
MN: So the, I guess the FBI came into your house and they confiscated some stuff.
MO: Yeah, I think they were the FBI, I assume so, because they had some suits on.
MN: How did things change at your school?
MO: Well, the Chinese in my class, Maurice, I started to hit him all the time. Well, not all the time, but I just kind of bullied him around. And he came to school one day and he had this sign around his neck that said, "I am Chinese." And I noticed there was a different attitude towards me. I didn't get to play on the same teams that I used to play on at recess. I was a reasonably good athlete, so I used to get picked first, and later on I'd get picked last. I still played with the same people on the playground, but there's a noticeable change. And I didn't understand what it was at the time. Now I know, but not at the time.
MN: Then all these Japanese American families started to bring luggage to your house. Why?
MO: That was in April. Because we were less than a block away from where we had to get on the buses for Manzanar. The only federal government building other than the post office was the social security office, and that's where we had to assemble. That was two and a half blocks away from our house. So people would bring their stuff to our house, and suddenly we had this house full of nimotsu that belonged to other people. You know, when you're a little kid you kind of complain about it. And I remember lots of people during that time coming to talk to my father. And part of it had to do with my father being proficient in English. And people would always come over to our house with papers and documents. And we'd heard that Mr. Murakami, Murakami-sensei, had been arrested. He was the judo instructor, and our Japanese school teacher had been arrested. And I used to think, "How come my father didn't get arrested?" And later on I learned that nowhere was he an officer in any organization, nowhere. But had he been, he might have been a treasurer or something in an organization, he would have gotten arrested, and they would have locked him up because he was fluent in English. He would be viewed maybe as an uppity person or whatever they viewed them as. But it was what existed.
MN: Did you understand when your parents -- how did you learn that you had to go into this thing called camp?
MO: My mother told us we were going to camp, and said, "We've got to buy some clothes for you." I remember going to Karl's shoe store, she bought us some boots. We never had boots before. And then she knitted us some caps, because my mother always knitted, and she knitted us some mittens. And we got a hat that had flaps on it. And so for the first time, we had two pairs of shoes. And I thought, oh, well, we're going to camp, because with the church we'd gone to Y camp, we'd gone to Catalina Island to Camp Fox and one other place up in the mountains, I can't remember where it was. But yeah, so to us, it was going to be a brand new adventure. And at that time my mother was pregnant, so it was, she didn't know what was going to happen. Later on, she would talk about that time to me, not to other people, and how filled with anxiety she was, that she didn't know what was gonna happen with the baby, and what was gonna happen to us, whether we could ever get an education in this country. It was just one of those things.
MN: Now yourself, how did you pack?
MO: Well, we were told what we could take. We had to take bedding, and we had to take utensils. Those were the mandatory items. And my mother put out a sheet, and she said, "Put everything in there that you can carry and we'll bundle it up. And so we put our things in there, and then we put our family number on the outside in India ink and then tied the knots. I can't remember, maybe it was three feet by three feet, I don't remember how big it was. All I know is that's what we had because we didn't have suitcases. And each of us, my two brothers, my father and I, maybe my father had a suitcase, I'm not sure. But that was, it was a hard time in our lives. I think the worst part was the uncertainty, because I'm certain that there were people who believed that we were gonna be executed. And I asked my mother about that once, if she ever thought about that, and she thought about it, but she thought it wouldn't happen. But she thought about it.
MN: What did you have to do with your dogs and your rabbits?
MO: I don't know what we did with our rabbits. Our dog, we gave away. We gave Ginger away, and we gave Fluffy away to some people that were across the vacant lot over on Cypress Street. They took Ginger and Fluffy. I didn't miss Ginger that much, because Ginger was, he was just a rascally dog. He'd bite people. But the cat was really tough. We had found this kitten, we were up at Stough Park I guess it's called, up in the mountains, Mountain Avenue, and we found this kitten with the tail cut off. We brought it home, and because it was so fluffy, we called it Fluffy. And that cat got bigger and bigger and meaner and meaner. It wasn't mean to any of us, but it was mean to the other dogs. And one day I saw this cat was actually on the back of a dog, claws dug into the dog, the dog was running, the cat was on it. Might have been ten, twelve years later, and we had this cat book. And we come to this one page, and I see Fluffy. And Fluffy wasn't a cat, Fluffy was a Manx. But we just thought she was a big cat. We didn't know any better. You know, when you're a kid growing up in Burbank, what do you know about Manx? It's a breed that comes from the Isle of Man in the English Channel. But apparently it was a very valuable cat; we just found it, and finders keepers.
<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 11>
MN: Now, when you were going into camp, do you remember the month or the day that you went in?
MO: It was the end of April, yeah, probably this time of the month, seventy years ago. I don't know the exact date. Bo keeps telling me what day it was, and I keep forgetting. But, see, they went on the same day, all the people in the San Fernando Valley went on the same day. We had a caravan of buses. And what they had were these red buses that were operated by the Pacific Electric Company, that's what we got loaded on. And then there were a couple of buses from Asbury Rapid Transit, which was the bus company that went from San Fernando downtown. We were in a Pacific Electric bus. I remember the people that came from West L.A. were on Santa Monica Bus Line buses. They had no bathrooms or anything, they were really just regular transit buses. Yeah, it was not comfortable. People told me that they made us close the shades, but I don't remember that. All I know is that we were lonely because our mother didn't come with us. She had been sent to the prison ward at County Hospital awaiting the birth of my brother. So my father and two brothers went.
MN: Did any of your non-Nikkei friends come and say goodbye?
MN: How did that make you feel?
MO: I'm trying to think how it made me feel. I guess I was glad that they were there to say goodbye, but there weren't many of them. Many of them said goodbye to me in school. It was a day in the midweek that we had to get on the buses. I don't remember exactly what day it was. Later on I went to the Burbank public library, and there was a lady there that was very helpful, and let me look at the archives of the Burbank Daily Review. And nowhere is there an article about our being shipped out. And then I looked at the L.A. Times and they had a couple things about, that there'd be people who would be sent away who were Japanese Americans, but there was no specific date that I could discern.
MN: So you're gathering at this social security building.
MO: On the outside, yeah. There were soldiers with helmets and rifles.
MN: How did you feel towards the soldiers?
MO: Well, you have a certain amount of fear, because they had rifles. I don't know if they were loaded. They might have been, they might not have been, but they were in uniform. And I remember distinctly them having the leggings on. They had leggings, and they had those little tin hats they used in World War I, and they were big. But other than that, we just got on the buses. I don't remember much about the trip other than I had to take a pee and couldn't, because there was no place to stop. Eventually we had one stop, and later on I learned that was the Little Lake Hotel. All I remember is that where we stopped, there were a lot of cobblestones on the side of the building. And there were only two places that had those cobblestones, one is in Soledad Canyon, there's a restaurant there that has those big stream boulders along the side. And then the Little Lake Hotel, which is no longer there.
MN: So mostly likely you stopped at the Little Lake Hotel.
MO: That's what Bo tells me.
<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 12>
MN: Around what time did you arrive at Manzanar?
MO: It was almost dusk. The reason I remember that is I was watching a movie, Schindler's List, and the train is going in, is leaving, that he's protecting his people, and these people are standing on the siding and they're looking, and it's absolutely quiet. Suddenly, that's what happened when we arrived at Manzanar. People were lined up and we're coming in, and it was absolutely quiet. Then we were assigned to Block 17 and we had to go out and get our mattress cover filled with straw. And in our room, instead of having the regular army cots, we had hospital cots, so they were higher. And it bothered me, because I always had this notion that I was going to fall out of the bed. And then later on after they completed the camp, then my mother arrived and we moved to Block 27 where the Florin people were.
MN: Now, when you were, you got there, did you have to make the mattress that they put hay in?
MO: No, straw.
MN: Straw. Did you have any allergic reactions to that?
MO: Yeah, yeah, my nose ran. And we didn't have Kleenex in those days, so we had handkerchiefs. I remember my handkerchief always being wet. That's the way it was. Almost no one uses handkerchiefs now, we consider that unsanitary. But it was what we had.
MN: How did you sleep that first night?
MO: You know, I don't remember. I know I didn't fall out of bed, but I don't remember.
MN: Do you remember what you did the next morning?
MO: We were told that we had to go to the mess hall to eat. I don't remember what that meal was like. I know there was something to eat, and everyone was quiet. You don't know anyone. And since we weren't part of that group that came from Stockton and Sacramento, I remember it was either that first week or so, we asked someone where they were from, and they said they were from French Camp. I'd never heard of a place like French Camp. Well, it's one of the Delta communities. And then we learned they come from Florin, they come from Stockton, and they come from Sacramento.
MN: This is when you were in Block 17 or Block...
MN: The Block 17 was earlier, right?
MO: Yeah, yeah. And we were in with the group from West L.A. in Venice, a family that was from Venice.
<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 13>
MN: Can you share with us, like when you were still in Block 17 in the earlier years, like in the mess hall, what kind of plates were you issued?
MO: We weren't issued plates, we were issued army mess kits, two-part aluminum things. And if you fixed it just right, the handle would work, if you didn't fix it just right, the food would fall on the ground. And then they would give us a mess cup, an aluminum mess cup, and we'd get water or tea in that. You could always tell the people who had the cup that was undesirable, 'cause they always had a blister on their bottom lip. 'Cause there was one cup that had a heavy lip around it, and when you put tea in it, it got really hot, whereas one just had kind of a pressed edge. And when you drank from the one that had the heavy lip around it, it would burn the bottom of your lip. People were always trying to get rid of those and get something better that wouldn't do that. But the food was uniformly bad, because cooks didn't know how to cook it. They didn't know what we liked. Things like boiled cabbage, boiled potatoes, that's not stuff that we were accustomed to eating. And they had mutton -- god, I hate mutton. Can't even eat lamb anymore. Well, I never could eat lamb.
MN: What about the... can you share with us what kind of fish they served at Manzanar?
MO: The fish was what's called dried cod. It's caught in the North Atlantic and it's cut into squares about, oh, maybe four inches by four inches, and it's salted and dried. Basically it's used to feed the poor people of Southern Europe and North Africa. And for us, they thought we were fish eaters, they'll serve it to us, but they're dried. So what they would do in the mess hall is they would hydrate them. And when you hydrate dried fish, it's got this horrible smell to it. And at first we couldn't eat it because of the smell, but after a while you get used to eating it. It wasn't that bad, but the smell was bad. And because when you smell real fishy fish... real fish doesn't smell. Fresh fish doesn't smell, or I think it doesn't. It's only when it gets old or when you cook it, and say you put it in a frying pan, you'll get the smell, it's that oil.
MN: Was rice served from the very beginning?
MO: No, no. We got potatoes and cabbage instead. I don't know when they started serving rice. California was a big rice-producing state, so there was no reason we didn't have it.
MN: How often did they serve meat?
MO: I really couldn't say, 'cause I don't remember.
MN: Now if you were served eggs, what kind of eggs were you served?
MO: Initially we got powdered eggs, and they were awful. There's no way you can make them taste good. And they were usually served with potatoes, what we might call home fries today. But they didn't fry them, they just stick 'em in the oven and baked 'em.
MN: You shared the story about why you didn't eat the potatoes, too much potatoes in Manzanar?
MO: Oh, initially. One day I was in the mess hall and this cook was bringing out this tray of potatoes, and there was a dead cockroach that had been cooked in there. Now, I don't know how they stored those potatoes, but they all had to be cut up and placed in there before they stuck 'em in the oven, and the cockroach might have gotten there before. Anyway, I still remember that cockroach, a big black ugly thing. And there weren't a lot of cockroaches there... or maybe it was a stinkbug, but I don't know, it was a big black bug. Because we had a lot of stinkbugs around. And I had difficulty eating potatoes for a while. And then hunger takes the place of distaste.
MN: Do you want to share with us what you... you ate a lot of boiled potatoes and cabbages in the beginning and it gave you a lot of bodily functions?
MO: Yeah, it used to give us gas.
MN: You did something with the --
MO: Oh, yeah. The older guys would tell us if you put a match there, it'll burn with a blue flame. So my partners and I took this littler kid and we made him eat a lot of cabbage. And then when it came time to pass gas, we put a match there to find out whether it actually burned, and it does. It does. It's rather interesting. But you know, you always persecute some little kid. I don't think any of my friends wanted to volunteer.
MN: What about milk? Did you kids, were you given powdered milk or fresh milk?
MO: We got powdered milk, but it was god-awful. The fresh milk was reserved for the infants, maybe some of the mothers, I'm not quite sure, but we never got fresh milk.
MN: How about like, things like pancakes?
MO: Yeah, we had pancakes. I remember the pancakes, because what they did is they had molasses. And what they did was they diluted the molasses and used that as syrup. And it doesn't taste the same as maple syrup, but that's what they had. And then they had margarine, they had margarine with that. I don't think we ever got butter. I know the Caucasian mess hall served butter, but I don't think we ever got butter.
MN: I know after the war a lot of Japanese American families ate Spam. Was that something that was served in camp?
MO: You know, I got that call, and I don't recall. Because you got to remember, Spam was a Hawaiian thing. You figure the highest per capita consumption of Spam is where the U.S. Navy presence was. So Guam has the highest per capita consumption of Spam, but also Hawaii, which is second. And they become very creative with this Spam, they have Spam musubi and they season it with teriyaki sauce or whatever you season it with. And I remember she asked me, "Do you have Spam musubi?" and I said, "No, that's a Hawaii thing.
MN: So you don't recall eating Spam in camp?
MO: We might have, but I don't recall. We might have... I know we had Vienna sausage, which was bad. I don't care what you do with it, it's bad. Especially if you're used to good hot dogs.
MN: Now did the quality of the food change once the Manzanar farm started?
MO: Yeah, we got more produce, and we got fresh tomatoes. I remember they had salads. Yeah, we just had more produce.
<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 14>
MN: Let me ask you a little bit about the public bathroom situation. Did that bother you?
MO: No, no, that didn't bother me. I know it bothered my mother. She would go really late at night to take a shower. It didn't bother me because my little brother always had to take the chamber pot out. No, it was kind of fun to get in there with your friends and get wet towels and snap at each other.
MN: You know when you were still living in Block 17, they were still constructing the rest of the camp. So did they have the shower system set up when you first got into camp?
MO: Yeah, we had the regular...
MO: Yeah, in the men's latrine, we had the regular showers there.
MN: So you didn't have to, like, take a bath, improvise a bath?
MO: Well, when we went to Block 27, because they'd run out of water, hot water, we would bathe in the laundry room, because they had the double laundry tubs. We would bathe there, because there was hot water there all the time. And I remember there was a little girl that used to... we'd only see her from just the eyes up, she would kind of peek, and we were going to beat her up. But you can't go chasing someone when you don't have any clothes on. [Laughs] We never knew who that was. It happened several times. But you know, when you're a kid, it's just being a kid. You run around half-naked anyway.
MN: So when you were bathing, what kind of soap did you use to bathe with in the beginning?
MO: They had brown soap. Today they market it as Fels-Naptha, it's a very harsh soap, and it was used for laundry. And then later on we got Ivory soap, I think it was Ivory soap. But, see, my problem was I always had chapped skin. Your hands were chapped, face was always chapped, because it was so dry up there. Yeah, I think it was Ivory soap. We never had any perfumed soaps, unless you ordered them from a catalog. And then you always carried your soap; you didn't leave it there, you carried your soap to the shower just like you carried your toilet paper to the latrine. Yeah, that's what it was.
MN: When you went to go bathe, what kind of shoes would you wear?
MO: We wore geta. They make 'em from a two-by-four. Next door to us, Mr. Kyosai lived, and he had been a carpenter. He made all kinds of furniture. And one of the things we used to do is we'd go out at night, my friends and I, and we'd get wood for Mr. Kyosai. It was just lying there, so we just brought it back and gave it to him, and he would make tables and chairs and that sort of thing. The hard part was getting nails. Nails were hard to come by.
MN: But you found them anyways?
MO: I don't know where he got the nails, because we never found any nails. Because it's dark. [Laughs]
MN: How about zori? Did you have zoris?
MO: Yeah, yeah. I'd forgotten we had zoris, but they were made out of rags. They were braided and then kind of rolled around and sewn together. Yeah, yeah, we had those.
MN: And then where did you wear the zoris?
MN: Inside the barracks?
MO: Yeah, yeah, you don't wear 'em outside.
MN: Then you mentioned that your, was it your little brother that had to take the chamber pot?
MO: Yeah. My mother or he took it.
MN: And who cleaned it?
MO: Well, one of them did. Because I never, my older brother and I never took the chamber pot, the chamba, never. We know what it was, but we never... it was considered low-class work. [Laughs] Actually you didn't want to be seen carrying it, but you had to. Someone had to do it.
MN: Now, you were a very kind of curious kid. You crawled over the length of the rafters?
MO: Yeah, one time I did that when we first moved in. Because when we first arrived, there was no furniture other than the beds. And there was the oil operated stove, and the walls only went up eight feet. And they had a beam that traversed the entire length, and you could crawl on that beam and look down on everyone, and they'd catch you and they'd yell at you, they're gonna beat you up or whatever. But it's just something that you do. Well, anyway, that we did, or I did.
<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 15>
MN: So, now, when you got to Manzanar, you lived in Block 17, how long did you live there?
MO: I think we lived there maybe a month or so. Because when we moved to the other area, that's when my mother came, when we were Block 27.
MN: So why did you move to Block 27?
MO: Because there were two families in that one apartment, and since my mother was coming, we needed to have more room.
MN: Now was Block 17 built better than --
MO: No, they were all the same. Everything was the same.
MN: And then do you remember when your mother rejoined the family?
MO: No, but it had to be sometime in May or June.
MN: She had the new baby with her?
MO: Yeah, yeah.
MN: And was the baby okay?
MO: No, the baby had, my mother said when she got Yukio, there was a big dent in his heads, and she didn't know whether that was done deliberately or whether forceps were used. But as a result of that, he had cerebral palsy. And the sentiment against Japanese at that time doesn't preclude the notion that someone did that deliberately.
MN: Now your mother was very busy with this new baby and she's got a bunch of kids, but did she have time to work at Manzanar?
MO: There was a time when she worked part time as a waitress in the mess hall. I don't remember when that was, but I know she did it part time.
MN: Now what about your father? Was he able to work at Manzanar?
MO: Not initially because he was not a citizen. Initially only citizens could get jobs. And later on, he got a job at the shoyu factory.
MN: Now, the shoyu that was made at Manzanar, was it only...
MO: It's my understanding that some of it was shipped to the other camps, but I'm not sure.
MN: You mentioned that you saw your father gain weight at camp?
MO: Yeah, yeah, he gained weight. Yeah, he had a belly on him. Partly because he didn't have to work hard. Especially if you have no job at all, you first arrive there, what do you do? You sit and talk to your friends, you eat three meals a day. It was pretty much, you'd see that in a lot of the Isseis because they did hard labor. Now suddenly they go to Manzanar and they don't do that anymore.
MN: What did you see your father do in his free time?
MO: Oh, he learned shigin. He met Mr. Tsuruta of Seicho no Ie, and he started meditating Seicho no Ie, and he became a convert to Seicho no Ie, which still has a church in Gardena. My older brother belongs to that group, he and his wife.
MN: Did you say he also, you earlier mentioned you did shuuji?
MO: Yeah, yeah. Because there was not a lot you could do there. There wasn't much you can do. You had to do something to occupy your time, so they would make some of the kids take shuuji, and these were the very Japanese-type families because you couldn't study Japanese in Manzanar. They teach French, Spanish, they teach English, but no Japanese. So the only place that would teach you Japanese was when you went to the shuuji classes because they were conducted in Japanese, and you were learning to write the Chinese characters, which are pronounced in Japanese. It didn't make much sense to me. And to this day, it still doesn't make much sense.
MN: Now when you were at Manzanar, did your family ever have any outside visitors?
MO: Yeah. We had, our minister from the First Baptist Church, Dr. Long, came to visit us twice. And then a family that lived in Big Pine, the Peach family, they lived in Burbank and had moved to Big Pine maybe in 1941 or so, and they came to visit us once in the camp. And later on, the son Donald, who was my older brother's age, eventually became head sheriff for Inyo County.
MN: How did it feel to have outside visitors?
MO: It was kind of interesting. What we didn't understand is why they couldn't eat with us. They had to eat in the Caucasian mess hall, and they had to pay for their meals. What bothered me later on was when we were doing the project for the Historic Site at Manzanar, was that people in the Owens Valley would come up to us and say, "You ate better than we did." And I would ask them, "Where did you eat?" They said, "We ate in the Caucasian mess hall." And my response was, "Their food was better than ours." Because I remember once this one cook... 'cause I had a job there towards the end of the camp washing pots and pans, and they were arguing about this piece of meat that they were gonna cook. And since I'd taken French, they were talking about filet mignon and I knew what it was, or I thought I knew what it was, and they wanted the cooks to bake it. So they baked it, and one of the chefs, a tall skinny guy, I can't remember his name, but he cut off a piece on the end of it, gave me a piece of it. And I didn't like steak because all we had when we were kids was round steak, chewed and chewed and chewed, and it wasn't very good.
<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 16>
MO: I don't remember what month school started, because I was in fifth grade. But we went to a, we had a class in fifth grade, and we had this blond teacher, her name was Miss Golden. And she would hit us once in a while. And what bothered us is that one of her... her boyfriend that was a military policeman would sit in the back of the room. I don't know what they were doing because she wouldn't allow us to turn around. And then I remember my mother telling me that we would be pulled out of that class and sent to a special class called "Special Sixth." And we were told that there were too many kids in our class, and so they took about twenty-five of us or maybe thirty of us and put us in classrooms. And we were not in Block 16. 'Can't remember what block... see, the elementary school was in 16. We were sent to another place, and we were supposed to study sixth and seventh grade in one year, presumably because we were more capable. And so I never went to seventh grade. So I finished high school when I was sixteen as a result of that. And when I think back, that was not a good idea, because I was always younger than everyone else.
MN: Now when school started at Manzanar, did you have desks?
MO: We had benches. That's all we had were benches. And the benches, we kind of sat on benches, and being a little kid, it was okay. And then the walls were plasterboard, or what we'd call drywall today. And I remember they painted it black so they could put chalk on it. And it was hard to see. I can remember -- we had no books, so the teacher would say, "You got to pretend," this is this, this is that. I remember we were having a science thing and he was trying to tell us what a Bunsen burner was. We had no idea what a Bunsen burner was. Later on I knew what it was, but he was trying to explain to us that you could boil water and have ice in the same test tube. And so he was saying, "Let's pretend this is a Bunsen burner, this is a flask," and he would kind of draw a picture, but you couldn't tell. But that's the way it was. And then there was a day we received the first books, we had these boxes. I'd always been an avid reader, and I'd read so much I'd get headaches sometimes. I remember my mother, when I was nine, took me to an optometrist to get me glasses. I had to wear glasses when I was nine for corrective vision. And we got these books, and they were all damaged books from L.A. City Schools. And we were part of the L.A. City School system, because there was no way Inyo County could take care of us. So there were all these books, and you know, you eventually open it and turn the page and it has something about, that you don't want to read. Turn the page, 130, 204, finally you get to that last page and there's some comment about your sexual activity or what you're going to do to yourself, or whether or not your parents were married. [Laughs] You know how kids write in books. But anyway, they were treasured books even though they were... they were all discarded from L.A. City Schools.
MN: So your teachers in Special Sixth, were they all Caucasians, or did you have --
MO: No, we had Mrs. Abel. She and her husband, Mr. Abel became my eighth grade history teacher. But Mrs. Abel, Mr. and Mrs. Abel were friends, they were Quakers. And so we had a variety of teachers there. We had people who came from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, we had people who were physically disabled, we had, some of the teachers were internees, because I remember for part of my fifth grade I had Mrs. Nakamura. We had conscientious objectors as teachers. Yeah, that's what I was told. I don't recall if I ever had one. But I look back, and I had good teachers. The teacher I liked the best was Mr. Rogers, who was our French teacher. And he had a withered arm. He had a withered arm, and he had a portable typewriter. And sometimes in class while we were doing things, he would type. I was just absolutely entranced with watching a guy with one (arm) type as fast as he could. He had to return, do the keyboard... but he was really a neat teacher because not only did he teach us French, he taught us French geography, French cuisine, French history, he would tell us stories about himself. He was just a fascinating man. But he had this withered arm.
MN: Now the Special Sixth kids, where did they eat lunch?
MO: We ate at the mess hall that was there. We didn't have go to back to the... well, let's see. I can't remember in high school whether we went back to the mess hall. Yeah, I think we went back to our mess halls. We had an hour for lunch, or maybe an hour and a half. And so, but the Special Sixth, we ate at the local mess hall. And I keep thinking that we were in Block 12, but I can't remember. But we ate at that mess hall. I know the elementary school kids ate at Block 16, 'cause that's where the school was.
MN: And then you were talking about you loved to read. Now, was the Manzanar library near the Special Sixth classes?
MO: Yeah, it wasn't too far from there. But the thing is, you can go to the library and check out books. Even when we were kids in Burbank, Mrs. Lipton would save books for us, stack 'em up, take a wagon up there. She always let us have more books than we were entitled to.
MN: Were there any Japanese books in the Manzanar library?
MO: If there were, I didn't know about it, because I didn't read Japanese.
MN: What kind of books did you check out at the Manzanar library?
MO: Whatever they had there. I remember the first time I ever read Roughing It, I was at Manzanar, and today that's probably, of all the books I've ever read, my favorite. It's a Mark Twain book, when he came here to the West. It's this incredibly funny, funny book, an analysis of human character.
MN: So it's getting dark and you're reading, you love to read books and you have to do your homework. Where did you get the light to do all the work?
MO: Well, initially, if you're in the barrack, you had one naked light bulb hanging from the center there. Later on, they put extension cords in, and the problem with that was that if too much power was being used -- if someone used a hot plate, it would blow out the fuse. So what was surprising, they put the penny in there, that more of those barracks, I don't think any of those barracks ever caught on fire. Or maybe they did, but I didn't know about it. And what they would do is they would put a penny in the fuse box, because they just had that one circuit for the entire barrack. But we would read mostly during the day, and it was too expensive to read with a flashlight at night because batteries were very precious. Yeah, and I would read in the morning. It was just something I did; I've done it all my life.
<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 17>
MN: So you're just a child in Manzanar, and what did you see the Issei, the older Issei doing all day?
MO: I remember, I don't know what all of 'em did, but I remember this one man, and we had locust trees in Manzanar. They had been there before we moved there, and some of them were cut, and they would cut a wedge piece and they had this beautifully sculpted outer edge, but they were very hard. And they would use 'em for ikebana, the flower arranging, and they would put the vases on there. I remember this one man just sitting there, hours on end, the piece of sandpaper, and just rubbing it. And I looked at them and I said, "Why?" And then in retrospect, I understood he had nothing else to do. How much can you read? How many Japanese language books are available to us in the camps? My father would read in Japanese, he would read in English. The thing was, for kids, it was pretty good because we had a toy loan center, and you could go there and you could borrow toys, and you could check 'em out just like a library.
MN: What other things did you see the Issei making from the woods?
MO: I remember this one man, he had a toothbrush, and I guess he had some chemical, I think it was acetone or something. But he was able to bend the toothbrush, and then glue other pieces of toothbrush onto it and make rings. We have some of those at Inyo County Museum of the Eastern Sierra, where I used to do a lot of work. But some of those rings there, and they would make maybe pieces of jewelry, they would glue the toothbrush handles together and they would make things like that. You saw a lot of people knitting. My mother knitted a lot, because you could send away to Montgomery Ward or Sears. But Montgomery Ward was a big catalog, people, that we would buy stuff from. And there was another place in Chicago called Spiegel. These catalogs were priceless to people because I know the girls would keep looking and looking and looking at the dresses that were for sale. And then they'd get their mothers to sew those dresses for them. For a kid like me, I don't think I had a store-bought shirt until after we left Manzanar, because my mother made our shirts. We were poor.
MN: Now, December 1942, Manzanar had a riot. Where were you when the rioting happened?
MO: We were in Block 27, but we heard about this thing. And this is like a fight in a junior high school play yard where everyone there will converge on the fight. Well, we were going to Manzanar, we must have been, from 27 we were just past the outdoor theater when we heard these pop-pops, pop-pop-pop. I don't remember how many there were, but it seemed like four or five, pop-pop-pop. And we didn't know what they were. And when we arrived there, we were told that someone had been shot. And then we later learned that two of them had been killed, and they'd been shot in the back. And then Dr. Goto, who was the head doctor there, was told that he should sign that they were, on the death certificate, that they were shot from the front. And he refused, and suddenly he was gone. And his wife stayed, Dr. Kusayanagi.
MN: Oh, she stayed? I thought they both left for...
MO: Well, maybe she did leave, yeah. I'll have to talk to Bo about that, because his brother was a medical student. His brother was at Marquette medical school.
MN: Yeah, I think they got sent to Topaz, is my understanding.
MO: They were sent somewhere, yeah.
MN: Let me ask you something a little lighter. You were really good with marbles.
MO: Oh, yeah. I was the marble champ of my block. I had a whole lug box full of marbles.
MN: Did you bring those marbles in with you?
MO: No, I won them from other people. And you could order them mail order. Yeah, we had marbles.
MN: Do you still have those marbles?
MO: No, no. Half of 'em I probably shot birds with 'em. Surprising thing was, we were dedicating the guardhouse at Manzanar, and I was to give a talk. And in my talk I said, "There's something wrong, there are two things wrong with the guardhouse. One is the ladder doesn't come all the way down, which is for obvious safety reasons, and the other is that it has windows in it." And then it dawned on me. Slingshots, we'd make these slingshots, we'd find pieces of wood that were y-shaped, we'd take inner tubes and tie a string around it and get a little tongue from a shoe and make the pocket, and we shot the windows out of 'em. This is after the MPs left. And in talking to my friend Bill Michael, who was the director of the museum in Independence, and he's still my friend today, he lives up in Mono County where he's the chief librarian. But it's... you don't remember everything until suddenly, it's like a word that you hear, and suddenly you remember where maybe you first heard that word. But it's not part of your conscious, it's somewhere in the subconscious. Well, a lot of things that happened in Manzanar, because I think all of us to a certain extent were in prison there, have repressed feelings, and we don't talk about it. It's like my parents, it was "kampu" or "senso no mae," or "senso no ato." That's how they referred to before the war, after the war.
And we hear that over and over, even when I was a teacher in Gardena High, I used to run the Asian Studies program, and the term paper was to interview someone who was an immigrant from Asia, older Asian person who lived through a historical event. And we had six hundred Japanese American kids in that high school, and they said they wanted to interview their parents about being in the camps. They would come to me and say, "They won't talk to us about it." I said, "Ask your grandparents." "They don't want to talk to us about it." And part of it, to this day I'm convinced that what putting us in those prison camps did to us was it made us feel ashamed of being ashamed of being Japanese. And I can ask anyone, and I will ask point blank, "Did that camp experience make you feel ashamed of being Japanese?" Because from the time we were little, my father told me, "You must be proud of being Japanese." And suddenly we're prisoners. And why are we prisoners? The psychology of it, and it's got to be really bad for the Kibei, really bad.
MN: So how did you resolve this as a child? I mean, your dad is telling you, "You have to be proud of your Japanese," but you're in camp, in a prison camp, because you're Japanese.
MN: So how did you resolve that in your head?
MO: You really don't. You just... my father always told me that there are things you can change and things you can't change. And the things you can't change, there's nothing you can do, shikata ga nai. But there are things that you can do things about, and basically you don't take on any battles that you don't have a chance of winning, and that's been pretty much the story of my life. You don't joust at windmills. It's not what one does, because you don't have a chance. But I remember when I started college and I was a journalism major, and a prof told me one day, says, "You know, Okui, you write really well. You'll probably be a great journalist, but you'll never get work." He says, "There's only one Japanese American journalist in the United States." This is 1949. So that's how life is.
<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 18>
MN: Let me go back to your camp years and talk about when you were a kid there. Where did kids like you hang out at Manzanar?
MO: Well, we played basketball all the time, we played a lot of baseball. And we played basketball because we had a basketball court in the open area of our block. There was a dirt basketball floor and we had just wooden posts with a backboard and a hoop. We never had nets. And we'd go over to Bairs Creek and we'd play in Bairs Creek trying to catch fish, which we were never very successful at. Or we'd go out to Merritt Park... I remember one time we were out just southeast of Merritt Park and they had these huge cottonwood trees. And we persuaded one of our little friends to steal some cigarettes. And he couldn't steal cigarettes, so he brought this, stole from his grandfather this bag of Bull Durham. And Bull Durham is, you know, you have the paper and you got to roll it up. So we roll it up, and we didn't want to be caught, so three of us were up there in the cottonwood trees, we were sitting on the big branches, sitting out there. We made these cigarettes and we'd light 'em up and we'd smoke 'em and cough. Anyway, I got dizzy and I fell out of that tree. And I'm thinking, "God, this is really dumb. This stuff doesn't even taste good." [Laughs] Or we'd watch other people. And what's always interesting was to watch older couples. Because one of the places they went was out to Merritt Park. And there were two things that people in Manzanar always talked about. One, the wind, and two, the lack of privacy. And here we are, little kids always hanging around, and trying to romance your babe, and you're twenty-two, twenty-three years old. And these kids are around watching all the time. [Laughs] It was all of us. But what we did, we played a lot of sports. That was something that was inexpensive. I remember we had a basketball where the leather had actually worn off, flapped off the ball, and all we had was the rubber interior because we played on this dirt.
MN: Who was your basketball coach?
MO: Shig... what was his name? Shig Ogata, Shig Ogata.
MN: And then when did you always practice?
MO: It seemed we did it in the middle of the afternoon, maybe after lunch. And I remember Shig because my parents went to a wedding, because he married... what was her name? Lived over on Sonora. Anyway, it was a Japanese family, and they got married so that they wouldn't be separated and sent to the camps. Because you got evacuated according to the area in which you lived. So they got married, and then I remember it didn't dawn on me 'til later, but I remember on more than one occasion, we're out there playing, it's really hot, hundred and five degrees. And he would say such things as, "Oh, I got to go take a nap." He was a newlywed guy. You could stand outside any barrack and you could hear everything that was going on in that barrack. You know, there was a little piece of wood covered by a sheet of tarpaper. The good part was, we never got scolded and punished by my father. [Laughs] You know how the Japanese system works, if your kids are bad, you're not a good parent. And they're bad because you had to scold them. So we never got scolded, or if we did, it was very quiet. We never got hit. Yeah, when you're a kid, it's... we had a good time. All my friends and I, we had a good time.
MN: So why were you boys practicing so, during the hot time of the day? Why not practice later in the day?
MO: Oh, that's because the big guys get it later in the day. It's like a kid growing up in San Fernando, we'd go to the park to play baseball, you're not very good, you play earlier, you get better, you play later. It has to do with the heat.
MN: What was the name of your basketball team?
MO: We were called the Zero Babes, because the Stockton people called their team the Zeroes, and they were really good.
MN: And you're with the Stockton?
MO: Yeah, we're with the Stockton-Sacramento group. But the best part was they always beat the San Pedro team, the Yogores, they always beat 'em. And afterwards there would always be a fight, 'cause the Yogores were bad losers. But they weren't very good.
MN: So because you're with the Stockton group, and they're always beating the Yogores and Terminal Islanders, did the Terminal Islanders come after you?
MO: No, they wouldn't come to our block, but we would never go through their block. Say, for instance, I wanted to go to Bairs Creek to play. Where Manzanar is located, you have to go all the way up to the Western edge where the barbed wire is, walk along the rope past the golf course and finally get there because you didn't want to go through Block 9 and 10, because that was the direct route, 5, 9, direct route to Bairs Creek. I always take this circuitous route to get there and when we came back because they wanted to beat us up, because we were the Stockton people.
MN: I mean, how do you describe a typical Terminal Islander youth? Were they any different from all the other kids?
MO: Yeah, they used a different language. They used, their Japanese was a patois that was hard to explain. And they ran around barefoot. We could never understand that, because to us, barefoot was poor. Plus, that sand was really hot. And if you're not careful, you'll get blisters on your feet.
MN: Do you remember the Bainbridge Island group, and do you remember them leaving because of the Terminal Islanders?
MO: There was one family that stayed, I think their name was Hayashi, they were in Block 3. I think they were from Bainbridge Island. I saw him recently, Jackson or Jack, maybe ten years ago. And he was a classmate of mine. But their complaint was they always got beaten up by the San Pedro people. And suddenly they weren't there anymore, and suddenly the Terminal Island people moved into Block 3. It was my understanding they were sent to Idaho, to Minidoka. I don't know if that's for certain, but that's my understanding. And it's the only instance other than the forced transfer to Tule Lake where a group of people moved from one camp to the other. That's historically accurate.
MN: Now, when you were over at Bairs Creek which runs through, I guess part of it runs through Manzanar?
MO: Yeah, yeah, through the southwest corner.
<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 19>
MN: Can you share with us like that story of the MP who used to watch you boys?
MO: Oh, yeah, yeah. I told that story in the Manzanar Fishing Club. We used to go over there, and we'd have this string with a traditional safety pin, and there were worms there, and you could put the worm on there, but the worm was, and we'd try to catch... we never caught anything. And so what we would do is we would put rocks across the stream in sort of a weir, and occasionally there'd be a fish in there and we'd chase it around 'til we caught it with our hands. And we knew that someone had been shot because they'd gotten too close to the fence, and I can't recall who that was. I know in the back of my mind what the circumstances were, but I don't remember who it was. And we would see the MPs patrolling outside the fence. And we're playing in the creek, and we're afraid of the MPs because they have a rifle, and we know that there's this dead zone area that we're not supposed to be in. it was a zone that indicated a certain distance from the barbed wire. And it's true of all prison camps where they have a dead zone. So we don't know whether Bairs Creek is in the dead zone, but we're playing in the stream. It's a nice place to play, and it was kind of in a gully there and you'd play. If you're really careful you can sneak up through the creek and go under the fence, but we didn't do that, because we always thought we'd get shot.
And then one day, this MP motions to us, and I'm there, so I walk over there, and I don't know what he wants and he tosses us his bag over the fence, brown paper bag, and in it are these little frames. And they had fishing line wrapped around them, and they have a hook on it. And they're called, later on I learned they're called drop lines, and I remember using them out them on the barge out in Santa Monica where you had a drop line. I wish I had kept those. But they were fashioned out of wood and it was a frame where there was a green string around it. We never caught any fish with it, but later on in life, when I was doing military service and you'd see newsreels of World War II, the American soldiers are going through an area and all these kids were following 'em, and the soldiers are saving the orange wedges from their C-rations and giving 'em to the kids, chewing gum, giving 'em to the kids. And maybe that's what happened. He saw what we were doing and went out of his way, it was an act of kindness.
MN: Now later on, when you buys were able to go outside of camp, you witnessed something very unpleasant at Shepherd's Creek... a little boy broke out...
MO: Oh, yeah, yeah. Nob. In those days, a lot of the people would smear their bodies with Vicks, you know, the decongestant, because the water was so cold, they thought it would keep them warmer when you went swimming in Shepherd's Creek. And I remember this one guy... was it Nob or was it Cal Maruki? Anyway, one of the older guys dived in there, and the moment he came out he had this horrible case of hives all over his body, and he had trouble breathing. We didn't know what to do. Yeah, we thought he was going to die, he was kind of choking. And I don't know if it was the Vicks or the cold water, I suspect it might have been the Vicks. But yeah, that really scared us. 'Cause, see, we could walk out there at that time. They had no guards there at the north entrance, and you could just walk along a dirt road and go all the way out to Shepherd's Creek. And there was that one area below the reservoir where you could swim, they had kind of a check dam down there, that's what we would do.
MN: Is it at Manzanar that you started to have a love for fishing? 'Cause you're like Mr. Fly Fisherman.
MO: I don't know if I... I certainly didn't have any success. After we left the camp, my uncle was an avid deep sea fisherman, and he would take me out to the barge in the evenings, because you could go out and fish from the barge, and it was cheaper to fish from the barge at night than it was during the day. And when I was in high school, we used to go up to Tujunga Canyon and we'd catch trout up there. And so we'd make it a point of going up there or to Frenchman's Flat, which was on Highway 99 at that time, and you could catch trout and bring 'em home. And then we heard that if you go up to the Sierras, there's more fish, so we started going to the Sierras and harvesting fish. I remember my father used to like these little ones about six inches long, he said, "You got to keep all those." Bring 'em home and my mother would make tempura out of it, cut 'em up and eat it, bones and all we would eat. We'd cut off the head and the tail and fins. Yeah, yeah, that became something we did all the time.
MN: Now while you were in Manzanar, one of the camp prisoners who snuck out go to fishing, he never made it back.
MO: Yeah, that was Mr. Matsumura. They didn't include that story in the Manzanar Fishing Club. I think they might include that on the DVD as an outtake, and they asked me for historical advice on the film, and I said, "Why don't you put that in there?" And they wanted to cut it down in terms of minutes, and that's maybe a three to four-minute episode. And so they cut it out, but the story was that he and friends were up there, and they decided to come back. And he decided either to fish some more, or apparently he was an artist, to do some artwork, and they had a whiteout. And they came back, and he didn't come back. What I remember about that incident was that his son Wahoo, or Isao, was a classmate of mine. And they were gonna send out a search party, or maybe... yeah, send out the search party. So we were there while they were getting it ready to go, and all I remember is that they never found it. It's my understanding that some hikers at a later time, maybe in the late '40s, found his body, and apparently he had fallen or died of exposure. But conditions up there were just brutal, because they're up there about ten thousand feet. Yeah, I still remember Wahoo, he had tears in his eyes.
MN: Since we're talking about death right now, you know, the Manzanar cemetery is very iconic now. Did you know people who died and who were buried there at that time?
MO: No, no, because we never went to a funeral. I don't recall... maybe my parents did, but I didn't. Because the funerals were held in the churches, which were Barrack 15, and they're really small. And then when we had the auditorium built, they held the funerals there. No, no, I don't think I knew anyone there.
MN: Do you remember seeing the ireito being built, the cenotaph?
MO: I remember parts of it, but that's it. It just didn't... it was not something that concerned me.
<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 20>
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.
<Begin Segment 21>
MN: Now in August 1945 when Japan surrendered, you were still in Manzanar. How did you hear the news that war was over?
MO: We were told by people that the war was over. And we really didn't attach much significance to it, or I didn't. I know some of the people whose sons had gone off with the MIS or 442, they were relieved that they were... because 442 was already on its way back. And I remember reading that book, The Misfits of Company K, what an incredible book that is. [Laughs] Story that's never been told, but that is just a magnificent book.
MN: All the troublemakers, huh?
MO: Well, they didn't have anything to do, so they made trouble.
MN: Now, your father left Manzanar first. Do you remember what month or day he left?
MO: No, he probably left in September. And he went to stay with Dr. Long, our minister. They were going to get us a place to stay and whatever it was, and fortunately they created that trailer camp in Burbank, so we had two trailers in that trailer camp. So we had at least a place to stay, and during that time we went to Burbank High School for just a couple months.
MN: Now, can you compare the... what was the living condition like in these trailer parks?
MO: Oh, better than in Manzanar, because we had two of 'em for our family. And my parents and the two little kids stayed in one, and the three of us stayed in the other trailer. It was nice.
MN: But was it like Manzanar because, did you still have to go outside to go to the bathrooms?
MO: Yeah, there was a public restroom. Yeah, it was a public restroom, but the sense of privacy was... everyone was in the same boat. We had our own little place, the three of us.
MN: Now, who was the majority that lived in this Burbank trailer park? Was it all returning Japanese American people from Manzanar?
MO: Just about. No, no, there were people from Heart Mountain there. But, see, they had several of them throughout there. They had one in Lomita and one in Long Beach, somewhere out near El Monte or somewhere like that. And these were just temporary housing until we got the place. For instance, my wife lived in Sawtelle and they stayed in the Buddhist church, they had it partitioned off. Yeah, yeah. It was just part of our lives. We had to stay somewhere.
MN: Now I've heard complaints of people who were living at the Burbank trailer park, had at least one person tell me that it was so loud it was hard to sleep. Lockheed was doing a lot of...
MO: Well, yeah, well, the airplanes were taking off. When you get right next to Lockheed, you're right across from Hollywood Way from the Lockheed air terminal, so it was noisy. But that's, that went with the territory.
MN: It's kind of ironic that Japanese Americans were suspect, and then now you're next to a defense...
MO: Well, I remember our family friends... I'll think of their last name. But they had a truck farm right there at Five Points, which is where Victory and Burbank... I keep thinking Satsuma, but that's not right. They had a truck farm there and they were ousted. My brother and I used to sell magazines at the Lockheed where the workers came out, Liberty magazines, and we were told that we couldn't sell magazines there. But that's the way it was.
MN: And which high school did you attend?
MO: At that time we went to Burbank High School.
MN: How would you compare the education at Burbank High School to Manzanar High?
MO: It's hard to say because I wasn't at Burbank very long, maybe two months. I remember Mrs. Vaughn was my English teacher, and she'd always comment on my work in the class. But she's the only one I remember from Burbank. Well, Mr. Trainer was my geometry teacher.
MN: What kind of comments did Mrs. Vaughn give you?
MO: She would say, "You really write well," as though people that looked like me are not supposed to write English well.
MN: Did she know you were in a camp?
MO: Yeah, they all knew that.
MN: Were most of the kids at Burbank High School from camp, from Manzanar?
MO: I don't know, but a lot of them were. A lot of them were. Because the people who moved back there were largely the people who had lived in San Fernando Valley previously, and all of us went to Manzanar.
MN: Now you said you didn't stay in Burbank High very long. How long were you there?
MO: Maybe a couple of months. No, I didn't finish that semester, because we were going to San Fernando. And it was an entirely different environment in San Fernando because half the school was Mexican, whereas Burbank was nearly entirely white.
<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 22>
MN: Now, what year did you graduate from San Fernando High School?
MN: And then from there you went to college?
MO: Yeah, went to L.A. City College, Cal State L.A.
MN: Almost became a journalist?
MO: And did graduate work at SC and Cal State L.A.
MN: And then you were drafted into the army, what year were you drafted?
MN: And when you were drafted, the Korean War was --
MO: Yeah, it was on.
MN: The cease fire had not been..
MO: No, no, that wasn't until July, and that's just when I finished my basic training. What a relief. [Laughs]
MN: Now you spoke some Japanese, so were you sent to Korea?
MO: No, no. They weren't going to send me to Korea because two of my brothers were there. The strange part about it was when I got to Fort Ord, the first lieutenant was, the personnel officer was a person I knew. He was, he'd been student body president at San Fernando High School, and he and my brother were in the same class, my older brother. And I remember telling him, "How do I get out of going to Korea?" He said, "Well, you go to a service school," so I signed up for about ten of 'em. [Laughs] And then the war ends and he calls me in and says to me, Lieutenant Supernaugh says, "You're going to Fort Benning." I said, "What do you mean I'm going to Fort Benning?" He says, "You're going to Fort Benning." [Laughs] I said, "The war's over." He said, "You got to go to service school. I'm going to give you three choices." I said, "What are the three." He said, "You're going to go to jump school to become a paratrooper." I said, "I don't want to do that." "You're going to OCS and become an officer," that's another year. "I don't want to do that." He says, "Well, you can go to weapons training school." I said, "What's the advantage of that?" He said, "Well, you become PFC when you get out." So I said, "Yeah, that's what I'll do." So it worked out well for me because when I got to Europe I got a real plush job with the Seventh Army NCO Academy.
MN: And then when you were in Germany, you met a lot of Japanese Americans from Hawaii?
MO: Oh, yeah. All they wanted to do was drink and fight. [Laughs] That's all they wanted to do, drink and fight. The bad part is that one of the guys looked just like me. We could have passed as brothers. So people wanted to fight me because -- [Laughs] -- fight with Kazuo. I still remember that. But we were the same size, six feet tall, skinny, and all Japanese look alike. [Laughs]
MN: Did you get along with the Hawaii boys? I mean --
MO: Yeah, yeah. They would tell me, You're different than most of the kotonks." He says, "You talk to us like regular people. You used to talk to us." And this something I noticed after Hawaii people came here, say, in the '50s and '60s, and Nisei people wouldn't have a lot of dialogue with them unless they were neighbors. And then when they got to know one another, it changed.
MN: Do you want to share with us why you don't drink anymore?
MO: I just had a serious accident and I almost died because we'd been drinking.
MN: So when were you honorably discharged from the army?
MO: I got out of active service in April of 1953, but I didn't get my honorable discharge until 1955. That's what it says on my discharge papers, because I had to spend time in the reserves. So I spent two years in the reserve. And upon completion of that, they gave me an honorable discharge. But, see, at the time we left, we just got separation.
<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 23>
MN: So you came back, you got married, can you share with us a story how you couldn't find housing?
MO: Yeah, we got married in 1956, and I was going to get a job at Berendo junior high. And I hadn't gotten the job yet but we'd gotten married, and I was supposed to get the job in September. So we looked for apartments in the neighborhood, and we'd knock on doors and people would say, "We don't rent to Japs." Some would be kind, "Sorry, we can't rent to you," and thirteen places until we found a place to stay. So we lived on Ninth and Hoover, which is kind of a nice neighborhood because they had a little market run by some Japanese people there, the Westmorland Market. And the good part was we'd buy some meat there and they'd tell us how to cook it, they'd explain to us how it should be cooked. So it was nice.
MN: But how did it feel, because you just served in the U.S. Army, and you just returned, and now, just because you have a Japanese face, you're being discriminated against.
MO: The thing was, we expected it. We just, that's the way our lives were. We expected this system of discrimination. I remember when I first became a teacher and I was offered a job in Alhambra. And when I interviewed for the job, I don't remember, some person in the school administration says, "We want you because we need to have an Asian teacher," and this was before large numbers of Asians moved there. And there were only six, seven districts that would hire me because of my race at that time, and I opted for L.A. because they paid better. There benefits were -- well, they had no benefits, but it was a large school district, and it was considered the best school district in the U.S. at that time. Which it no longer is, but at that time it was. So I took a job with them for four hundred and five dollars a month, four thousand fifty a year is what I got paid. But it was... you work. You don't think of... all I know that in Los Angeles, if you're a minority teacher, they sent you to a minority school. They didn't send you to San Fernando Valley. I had worked there one year as a long-term substitute in North Hollywood High. And it was not a comfortable place to teach.
MO: Everyone's white, and I don't belong.
MN: When you started with the L.A. Unified School District, how many Asian American men were teachers?
MO: Oh, when I went to Foshay, instead of going to Berendo I went to Foshay, and there were five Japanese American, one Chinese American teacher at that school, but it was predominately a black school. And I was very fortunate to go to that school because I had two of the best mentors that I've ever had in teaching. And we had a girls vice principal there who was the best administrator I've ever come across. Because she gave all the new teachers that first year one day off each semester. And on that day off you went and watched six other teachers work. Yeah, she would pay for the substitute to do that. Never heard of any other administrator doing that. And when she went to Chatsworth High School, she asked if I'd like to come there. I'm not moving out to the valley. [Laughs] I'd be the only non-white face on the staff. Didn't want that.
<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 24>
MN: Let me ask you about your time at Gardena High. When did you start teaching at Gardena High School?
MO: I went there in '63 and left in '75.
MN: When you started at Gardena High, were there any other Asian American teachers there?
MO: No, no. They had one Mexican American who taught Spanish.
MN: And then earlier you had shared with us how you started this Asian American Studies class.
MO: Yeah, yeah.
MN: Did you have any push back from the other teachers?
MO: Well, you got to remember, I'm the union rep. [Laughs] I'm the union rep, no one's going to give me any shit.
MN: So how did you go about, like, getting reading materials?
MO: A lot of it you had to create. Yeah, you had to create.
MN: Now where did you say you got your reading material for these kids?
MO: Well, initially we just had pamphlets. I had to scrounge up some pamphlets. The good part about it was that the head of the social studies for all of Los Angeles was my company commander in the reserve, and he and his nephew and I had gone to college together. But he would scrounge up stuff and get money, and I started out, and I love teaching elective classes because you make up your own course to study, you go at a very leisurely pace. For instance, I taught a California history class, kids today that took that class said that's the best class they ever took. But it was also my favorite class. It's a great class to teach because the history of California is just fascinating. But yeah, I decided that we should have an Asian Studies class, so it was about the Chinese, the Japanese and Koreans. And there weren't many Koreans at that time in the U.S., and we get a lot of non-Asians in the class.
MN: I was kind of just assuming most of your students were Asians who took this class.
MO: No, no. Some would take it because I was the teacher, and others would take it because they had nothing better to do.
MN: You also got involved in this drug program.
MO: Yeah, it was called Come Together. In the late '60s there were seven Japanese American kids who overdosed on drugs, and there was a thought that we ought to do something about that, and the school was unwilling to do anything about it. And luckily we had an individual that worked for the city government named Carl Nobuyuki, and he said, "We got to do something." So we formed this group called Come Together, which was... we knew nothing about drugs, but we were going to offer counseling, or a situation in which we could talk with people about that. Eventually Warren Furutani became part of that group. Assemblyman Warren Furutani -- he's a former student of mine, by the way. And so I've known Warren not only as a high school student, but all throughout his rather tumultuous career as a member of the board and all kinds of things. And I knew his father Jack. Jack was a bit radical. [Laughs]
MN: Now, this Come Together program, how was the Japanese American community in general dealing with the drug problems?
MO: They weren't. It was denial. "My kid didn't die of an overdose of drugs," "My kid didn't commit suicide." Yeah, that's what it was. But that's typical. You can follow that pattern in any community, but in the Japanese community it was well-defined.
MN: I think even in the obituaries in the Rafu they didn't say "drug overdose."
MO: I don't think in any obituary they do that. I mean, not one that's written by the mortuary. Maybe the news columnist is writing an obituary, they're gonna say this rock star died of a drug overdose.
MN: Did this Come Together program eventually become the Asian American Drug Abuse program?
MO: It might have, because since we pretty much resolved the issue about drugs, although drugs were prevalent in high schools at that time and probably still are. But they didn't need my presence there. They would call on me occasionally to come and talk to a group. And then in '75 my wife got transferred to San Fernando so we moved.
MN: Can you share with us your experience serving on the L.A. Unified Book Committee?
MO: Well, Bob Kiskadden was head of the social studies, and as I say, my commanding officer in reserves. And so I get a lot of these perks. Hey, social studies teachers are going here, "Mas, you want to come?" We took trips to various places. And then, "How'd you like to get out of class every so often?" Because I worked downtown for a while and I'd see 'em there. And I didn't like working downtown. Bill Johnson was a friend of mine who was the superintendent, and he'd ask me to work downtown, and I hated working down there. It seemed like everyone was just so worried about their jobs. And it would revolt me because Bill Johnson loved brown suits, and suddenly everyone down there wore a brown suit. The hierarchy in public education is abominable. And here I'm the union guy, and I see all of this crap, and it's really perturbing me. Well, it's more than perturbing. So anyway, I get on the Book Committee, and we're going through all the books that are offered, the publishers have sent them. And I'm looking through this American government, they have two pages on what happened to us, and it's supposed to be taught in every government class. But it's also the last unit that's supposed to be taught. So a lot of people take American government, the teacher never gets there. But our story is there, pictures are there. The three Supreme Court cases are covered. And I look at the history books, and none of them have what happened to me during World War II. And I'm discussing it with my colleagues that are on this book selection committee, and we decided we're not going to order any books this year. L.A. Unified, big book purchaser. So this one little person, me, next year I'm on the Book Committee, all these books, lo and behold, every one of them has my story of what happened to us in the history books. And that pleased me because we often hear that one person can make a difference, but we don't always personally experience it. Probably that's one of the things that my life -- eventually someone would have done it. It's not that it wasn't going to be done, but it eventually was going to be done. We did that with Black History Month and all that.
<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 25>
MN: Let me ask you a little bit about your public speaking experiences, 'cause you are Mr. Manzanar, and a lot of people have heard you speak. What was the impetus that started you start talking? Because most of our community never talked about camp.
MO: Well, I used to teach it in my classes. And it was a two-day unit. My history classes would be two-day or California history would be two-day. And I know some of my former students would say to me, "That is the thing I remember most about that class." I would hope they would remember other things. And people would ask me to talk to groups, and I didn't know if it was worth my while to do it, but I started doing it. And then, especially when I retired, I did volunteer work at the Japanese American National Museum for ten years. And as part of it, I would do only the guided tours, and then as I did the guided tours, certain schools would ask that I be their guide when they came next year. And they would ask me, "Can you come out to our school and talk to the students?" And I did that, and I found that some people would want me to come just to take up a period. And I decided that, "If your class hasn't studied about what happened to me before I get there, I'm not coming."
And I still do speaking engagements -- I love junior high school kids, because that was my age. But in Thousand Oaks, one of the required books that are acceptable for the eighth grade classes is Farewell to Manzanar. And this one teacher no longer is there, but every year I would go to her class. And the way that worked out, how that started was my son has a friend whose kid was in middle school or junior high school. And they showed that clip in, that I did for 60 Minutes, somehow the teacher had a copy of it. And a kid raises his hand and tells the teacher, "I know that guy." [Laughs] And his dad calls me up, and I said, "What is it about?" He said, "My kid's in a bind." I said, "What do you mean your kid's in a bind?" He says, "He told his class that you would come and talk to them." [Laughs] It's a long story. But anyway, I get there, and his kid is waiting for me in the office, and he walks with me, then he introduces me. He's the big shot. That night, I get a call from his dad and he says, "You were a huge success." I said, "What do you mean?" He said his kid came home and said it's the first time that class has sat quiet for forty minutes. Because I didn't have anything to show them other than, say, the picture, the panoramic view of Manzanar and the evacuation order. So he and my son share Clipper tickets, so maybe one out of every three games -- I go to maybe four games -- and maybe one of those games, the kid is there. Well, the kids has graduated from USC already.
So then I get the invite, and then some other community groups in Ventura County hear about this, and they invite me, but then I charge an honorarium to adult groups. And so I've done maybe five or six different groups in Ventura County, the adults and then the money I donate to Friends of Manzanar. But it has to do with the distance. I will not travel into town to do a talk. It's just... I hate driving the freeways.
MN: But you talked to the Teachers Union before the Manzanar pilgrimage.
MO: Yeah, but that's what I've been doing for years. That's all part of it. Because I do the bus tour, and people like the bus tour because I talk about everything on Highway 395. So it works out. It's just something I do. And I will do the teacher thing as long as I physically can. But I'm eighty now, I don't know how many more years.
MN: Why is it so important for you to share your, share this history?
MO: Well, part of it has to do with those kids coming back to me on their term paper saying that, "My parents won't talk about it." And if we teach the teachers to teach about it, then in a small way we can get the story across. And especially at the beginning, because I used to do this tour for San Fernando Valley JACL before that. And what I found is that when you do it for the JACL group, you're preaching to the choir because these people are products of the camps. The good part is I give the microphone to people on the bus and let them talk about their experiences, which I learned from. The rewarding part is that when I used to do the long walking tours, there would be people who had been in the camps who would ask if they come with me. And then I would give them the microphone and let them talk. And there are new stories. There were 120,000 people in those camps, so at one time there were 120,000 stories. Now there may be 50,000. And my younger brother, who was born there, he does talks on the experience, but he doesn't remember. So before each talk he calls me, and he reads his talk over to me, and I suggest a few ins and outs here. And now he doesn't call me anymore because he's... and he's a good public speaker, but he lives in the Bay Area, and he's president of the Castro Valley school board. So it's something that I do, and I know I'm good at it. So it's better for someone who does it well to do it than someone who does it poorly. Because you want to get the message across. And it'll be... I'll do that 'til I can't do it anymore. And I physically am slowing down. People say, "Well, how do you go fly fishing?" It just takes me a little longer to get there and little longer to get back from the stream, that's all. It just takes me longer, that's all. But I still do it, and I still teach fly fishing.
MN: Now within the Japanese American community, we have this ongoing debate about terminology, and you don't use the word "evacuation," you don't use the word "concentration camp."
MO: I use the word "evacuation" in the sense of explaining it. Because evacuation means simply moving a person from the place of peril and danger to a place of safety, and that isn't what happened to us. It's like on the evacuation order it says "all persons both alien and non-alien alike." Well, what's a "non-alien"? It's a citizen for Christssake. I'm a citizen. And then a War Relocation Center, it's not "relocation," it's a prison camp. And then the semantics of "concentration camp," you talk to Jewish Americans, and I've talked to Jewish American communities, and I simply tell 'em, "I use the word 'prison camp' because then I don't have to deal with the semantic argument." What they had in Europe were slave labor death camps. That's what they were. But they choose to call them concentration camps. Well, why don't you call them what they are? And the Jewish community still insists on calling them concentration camps. Damn, they were death camps. They were slave labor camps. But with the older people, they wanted to still refer to them as War Relocation Camps, and then the museum decided that they should use the term "concentration camp." And I don't want to get into any semantic discussions, I just call them prison camp. If it walks like a prison, acts like a prison, damn it, it's a prison. And no one has a question about a prison camp. The problem with "prison camp" is that if it's a prison camp, legally, in the eyes of the Selective Service Administration, our guys should never have been drafted.
<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 26>
MN: Now you've been really active with Manzanar. Are you happy with how the Manzanar National Park Service --
MO: Absolutely. With how they did -- but again, we had a say-so about everything. I figured it took three editions to get the movie right. And the one thing I insisted on in the movie, no interviews. I don't want to see anyone's face on that screen. All I want to hear is voiceovers and pictures of what happened to us. Because what kills a documentary, as good as Ken Burns' Civil War is, who wants to listen to Shelby Foote over and over and over again and have to look at him? And then they can show pictures, but that's the way Ken Burns does it. He's got to have someone who's academically postured to speak on behalf of that topic, and I don't like it. Even the Manzanar Fishing Club, they listened to me. They'll have the person talking, and they'll fade into a voice over. And I like that. And they did a really good job, Chris Ohlman who did the exhibits happens to be the son-in-law of one of our UTLA people. So we had a lot to say about that. And he would call me, I'd go down and look at his shop and he'd say, "What do you think about this?" And he had a great sensitivity for them. And when they put up the exhibit, I was going, "How are you going to get all those names up there?" And they came up with that creative screen. There are some areas in there, but that's okay, that's okay. And they didn't make all the exhibits busy like they have at the Japanese American museum. It's a sore point with me. They didn't ask. It's a modern museum, why didn't they do it in a modern way where you have theme, something to support it, you have theme, something to support it? All the new museums are that way. I've seen the one at, the Nubian Museum at Aswan, what a great museum that is. New Japanese museums, the one on Shikoku that was designed by I.M. Pei, great, great museum. You see the forest right in front of you. You don't have to identify all the trees, you just see it. But no one ever asked me, and I'm a museum rat. [Laughs]
<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 27>
MN: Okay, Mas, I've asked my questions. Anything else you want to add? Anything about redress or any other issue we haven't covered?
MO: No, redress was a good thing. The thing I like about redress is the Norman Mineta story. Now, you know that one, right? Where Norm was a prisoner at Heart Mountain and was a Boy Scout. Now, Norm and I are the same age, so I know Norm. Anyway, I'd met him when he was an insurance agent, all right? So he is a Boy Scout, and they have some kind of activity with a white Boy Scout troop in Cody. And then he gets elected eventually, after being mayor of San Jose, gets elected to Congress. And in order to become a representative, you have to go to school, you have to take classes. And he arrives there, and lo and behold, Wayne Simpson's there. Alan. Wayne is a friend of mine. Alan Simpson's there, and he's long-lost friends. And when it comes time for H.R. 442, who leads it in the Senate? Alan Simpson. And what's so remarkable about the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 is that for the first time in the history of the U.S. Congress, Strom Thurmond voted for a law that had civil liberties in it. That's remarkable.
MN: He was against all the African American --
MO: Oh, yeah. He voted for that. And so that's a remarkable achievement. And to this day, if Norm is to be remembered for anything, that's what he's to be remembered for. And when I last saw him I said, "You made me really proud. After 9/11, you got on national television and you said, 'These are our American neighbors, not terrorists. They may be Arab Americans, but they're not terrorists.'" Because no one spoke out for us. That's actually maybe one of the proudest days of my life. Because he's a person I know.
MN: But did you ever think redress was even possible when they started talking about it in the '70s and '80s?
MO: They asked me to testify, and I told them I wouldn't because it was one of these shikata ga nai things. [Laughs] I really thought that nothing would come of it; I really did. What pleased me was when the thing started going through, is that one of my former students was an attorney on it, Karen Watai. And Dale Minami, both from Gardena High. And I knew Dale's father, and I knew Neil, his older brother, that they served as pro bono attorneys on that. And five years ago, Karen was reading... what's that book about that teacher in Long Beach? Writing teacher where she published all the journals of her kids in class? They made a movie with Hilary Swank in it, she got the academy award for that, or maybe not made it. I'll think of it. Anyway, I went to speak to that group. John... I can't remember the Chinese guy's name, but he was a software guy in Orange County that decided that he would contribute money to the schools, but only if he could control the money. So he gave the money to this teacher and decided that he would have an all-day symposium, they would go to the Museum of Tolerance, he would take them to dinner at the Marriott in Century City. It'll come to me. Anyway, Hilary Swank was the teacher in there.
Anyway, I get interviewed for that, and the kids write it. And I'm with all the junior high school kids because they have read Farewell to Manzanar. So all the time I'm with them, and I'm at dinner with them, and this one kid writes, "This was one of the best days of my life. I met Mas Okui." And so he proceeds to write about it. Well, Karen's an attorney in New York, and she's reading this, and she sees my name. She says, "Oh, there can't be two people." So she calls her friends, because she was one of my AP History students. And they decide that they're gonna honor six teachers from Gardena and six teachers from Perry at the Cherry Stone. And so they invite me and I figured, oh, it's just a thing. Anyway, each teacher gets introduced by someone he had as a student. I had Lance Izumi, I don't know if you know Lance, he's the speech writer for George Peukwajian. And when he was in my history class, he was the only Republican I had in there, so he was my whipping boy. [Laughs] And he has his lawyer tie on, shirt on, suspenders, and he has this all rehearsed. He says, "I remember Mr. Okui because there wasn't a day that went by that he wouldn't persecute me because I was a Republican," which wasn't true. [Laughs] And then he proceeds to take off his shirt, his tie, suspenders and shirt, and he had someone inscribe whip marks on his back. That was funny. That was rewarding because there were so many teachers from Gardena High that I had a lot of respect for, and I knew a lot of the teachers at Perry, and these were people I had respect for. It was just nice that you had these ten kids, or twelve kids, that decided to honor specific teachers. It was a nice afternoon. And the mayor of Gardena was there, Nakano, what's his first name?
MN: Ken Nakaoka? Don Deere?
MO: No, no, after Don Deere, Japanese guy. Nakano, wasn't it? Lance Nakano?
MN: I don't remember now.
MO: Yeah. Well, anyway, he's mayor of Gardena. And it was a nice day. Nice day.
MN: I've heard very good things about you from other people who have been your students.
MO: Well, I used to browbeat them. I took no prisoners, it was the Rule of Three. Anytime you messed up the third time, parents got a call. The call always started, "You don't send your kid to school to not do what's expected, and I need your help." That's how I talked to them, "I need your help."
MN: And you always got the most canned foods.
MO: Oh, yeah, because I'd tell them about my birthday, I mean, our Christmas.
MN: At Manzanar?
MO: Yeah. Anytime we had food drives, especially at Canoga Park when I was there, because you had a lot of Hispanic kids there, and a lot of them were poor. But yeah, just got all these canned goods. I never tell anyone how I conned these kids into giving canned goods. But that's all part of it. Teaching is a con job. If all teachers understood that you've got to con these kids into learning... as long as you can con 'em, it works.
MN: Okay, Mas, thank you very much.
MO: I'm finished.
<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.