Densho Digital Archive
Friends of Manzanar Collection
Title: Bill Watanabe Interview
Narrator: Bill Watanabe
Interviewer: Sharon Yamato
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: February 8, 2012
Densho ID: denshovh-wbill-01-0019

<Begin Segment 19>

SY: You told an interesting story, I think, about them burying some things before the war and then going back to the property.

BW: Yeah, this fellow I mentioned, George Ikeda, he designed a bathhouse on the farm, on the Montague farm, and he built this Japanese bathhouse 'cause you know they liked to take hot baths after working. And this is what my older brother told me, he goes, George Ikeda designed and built this piping so that the pipes were on the top of the roof and they zigzagged back and forth like this, and then through heat expansion from the sun, the water would circulate, and so by the time in the evening you had hot water that required very little, they had a, he had built a way to stoke a fire under there to get it to the right temperature, but he said it was, like, already hot. You didn't have to start with cold water. So I thought, gosh, that's amazing. I mean, he never went to school or anything. He just built this. And this is back in the '30s, a solar heated Japanese bath.

And then I also remember that -- and I remember seeing this because this is right after the war -- he built some wheelbarrows to, you put flowers or whatever you had to carry around the farm on these wheelbarrows, and he built the wheelbarrows that had suspension springs on the wheels so that when you hit a bump the flowers don't go flying. And it would, it would absorb the shock and stuff like that, so my brother was saying, I mean, people would pay a lot of money to get a wheelbarrow like this. Things like that, so he was such an inventive person. And he had cameras 'cause he was into photography, and I've seen some of the pictures he took, beautiful black and white photos, and he was a member of the Japanese Photography Club. So he had probably three or four or five very nice cameras. You were not allowed to bring a camera to camp. He also had, apparently, some guns, rifles or something. [Laughs] And so, of course, you couldn't bring a rifle to camp, so Mr. Ikeda and my two older brothers decided that they should bury these expensive cameras and these guns. And he also had this radio equipment, short, you know the shortwave radio. And so they marched off ten paces to the east and twenty paces to the west, something like that, they had a map of where they're gonna bury it. So they dug a big hole, they buried all this stuff, and then after the war they came back and they marched off the ten paces and then twenty paces, and they could never find it. They dug and they dug and they dug. So they figure either someone came and took it, or they just marched in the wrong direction or something. But he said they dug for days but never found 'em.

SY: That's really an amazing story. They, did he, did George Ikeda end up going to Manzanar with you?

BW: Good question. I don't know where he ended up going.

SY: But you, you knew him after the war?

BW: Yes. So yeah, he got married and became a gardener.

SY: Never invented anything that made him millions.

BW: No, that's just it, when I think about his life. If he had the opportunities that we have and I had, I think he could've been quite a creative person. But he got married and he had two, three daughters and became a gardener, and that's what he did for the rest of his life. But I remember his oldest daughter lived with us for about a year or two, when I was about five, I think.

SY: So they were very close and really, he was a very close family friend.

BW: Yes. His wife had TB, and so -- this must've been around 1948, '49, something like that -- and so she had to go to a sanatorium, place to recuperate, and so Mr. Ikeda couldn't take care of the daughters 'cause he had to work, so my parents took care of her for about a year or two while the mother recuperated. So I didn't know why she was living with us at the time. I just remember that she was. [Laughs] So we grew up for one or two years living together, and then it was much later I found out the reason why is because the mother was sick.

SY: But as far as you know, both of, both he and his wife were in a camp somewhere, other, might've been Manzanar, might've been somewhere else.

BW: Right, yeah. I don't know how he met his wife. But I do remember she'd come and visit us after the daughter moved back and after she was out, and she was always so self-conscious about touching anything.


SY: I'm still a little curious about the whole issue of your mother renouncing her citizenship and how she got it back, but do you know anything about that?

BW: I don't. I don't know how she got it back.

SY: But as far as you know, they didn't have any problem moving back to L.A.? There was never any talk about going, about getting their, getting her citizenship back?

BW: Yeah, I'd like to try to find out, was she part of the cases that was advocated by, I forgot the name of the attorney --

SY: Wayne Collins.

BW: Collins, yeah -- or not. I don't know.

SY: But did your uncles ever get their citizenship back? Well, were they actual citizens? Were they born here, her two brothers?

BW: Yeah, they were all citizens. I presume they, the two older ones must've renounced.

SY: And the one that came back?

BW: And the one that came back, he, they might have gotten their citizenship back. Densaku probably never pursued it because he never came back, but Jiukichi may have pursued it to get it back. But I'm not sure. I should ask my cousins, see if they know.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.