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

<Begin Segment 1>

SY: We're in Centenary United Methodist Church in Los Angeles. The date is February 8, 2012. I'm Sharon Yamato, and Tani Ikeda is on camera. So Bill, we're gonna with a very basic question. Can you just tell us your full name, and when and where you were born?

BW: My name, Yoshiyuki Watanabe, and I was born at Manzanar, California, January the 5th, 1944.

SY: So then the obvious question is, I, since I referred to you as Bill, where did that come from?

BW: Well, I had a younger brother who was a year and a half younger than me, so my parents named him Yoshimichi, and being born Americans, Yoshiyuki, Yoshimichi, I mean, they're long, they're foreign-sounding, so I shortened my name to Yosh and my younger brother shortened his name to Yosh. And so his friends called him Yosh, and my friends called me Yosh, but it was confusing at home, as well as, people would call us and ask for Yosh. And so my brother and I thought, well, why don't we pick American names to distinguish ourselves, so we eventually (settled) on him picking Bob and I picked Bill, which still sounded kind of similar, so it was still confusing for some people 'cause they would call me Bob and call him Bill. [Laughs] So we should've picked George and Henry or something. Anyway, so I became known as Bill over time.

SY: And your, you never thought of the word, of the name William. It was always Bill?

BW: Yes.

SY: Since you named yourself.

BW: We were only six or seven years old at the time, so I didn't even know about William.

SY: Interesting. So your parents, then, were Japanese-speaking, so if you could tell us a little bit more about their family? Or maybe we start with your father, talk a little bit about where he, where he came from in Japan and how he came to this country.

BW: Well, my father, he -- I guess it was called a yobiyose -- he came to this country in 1920 at the age of sixteen, from Fukushima, Japan. And so his family were farmers, and my grandfather, his father, was already here. I don't know when he arrived here in America, but my guess is probably around 1900, 1910. And so my father joined my grandfather here in California, and apparently for a number of years they worked together. They were migrant farm workers, and I heard they worked farms from Seattle all the way down to Imperial Valley, depending on the weather and crops that were kind of coming online. So they did that for a while, then my father and my grandfather moved to Utah and they did some work in Utah and things like that, so they were moving around, taking jobs where they could take it, and worked in all kinds of different things. Apparently my grandfather ran a movie theater in Salt Lake City. My father was a houseboy for a while in Utah, but he also said he worked in the copper mines in Utah, Kennecott copper mines. So that's what they did.

SY: Quite a few things that... so your grandfather obviously came here when he was young -- well, he already had a family in Japan, then, by the time he came here.

BW: Yes, my grandfather had two sons. I don't know why my father was named Rokuro, because the "roku" is six and the "ro" is a suffix for male kids, but he was the number one son. I mean, it didn't make any sense. My father didn't know why he was named Rokuro either, except maybe they thought it was good luck or something. But he was the number one son, and then he had a younger brother.

SY: And his younger brother stayed in Japan?

BW: His younger brother stayed in Japan, and eventually my, his younger brother took over the family farm and everything else. My father chose to stay here and to give up his rights to the farm.

SY: So do you know anything about the family back in Japan that he left?

BW: Well, I did visit them when I went to Japan, but I don't know a whole lot. They were farmers, and they still have the farm, so they're pretty much tied to the land. Although the farmers today over there can be quite rich because of the land that they own. But my grandfather, there were stories that I heard that he ultimately partnered with some friends to invent or build a gold-mining sluice machine, which could filter dirt and look for gold. I'm not sure, I guess it was in California somewhere, and this must've been around like 1915 or something like that. But eventually other competitors kind of took them out of the business, and so my grandfather lost a lot of money in this investment and so he was quite disappointed and then went back to Japan.

SY: And your grandmother, did she stay in Japan when your grandfather came over?

BW: Yes. I, on my father's side, I don't recall that my grandmother ever came.

SY: And your grandfather's name, full name was?

BW: I don't know my grandfather's first name.

SY: You, you never met your grandfather, then?

BW: No.

SY: And obviously...

BW: I never met either of my grandfathers.

SY: And so when he came, is it the assumption that when your grandfather came it was to -- or maybe I shouldn't even give you a suggestion -- what, why...

BW: Why did he come?

SY: Do you have any idea why he came?

BW: To make money, I suppose. I mean, the, chase the dream of making money and eventually going back to Japan as a wealthy person, or at least having raised enough money to take care of the family.

SY: And he had siblings, do you think?

BW: You know, I don't know that.

SY: So your father, then, obviously came to meet with his father when he came. That was...

BW: Right, so my father came here, as I mentioned, when he was sixteen, and then his father returned to Japan a few years after my father came. So they were together for a few years, and then his father went back to Japan and then my father chose to stay.

SY: So now, did he live, so he was raised, then, probably, by your grandmother, your father? 'Til the age of sixteen.

BW: Yeah, I'm not sure when my grandfather left Japan and how old my father was at the time. Since his younger brother was born, I would have to assume perhaps it was after my uncle, my father's younger brother, was born. But I would assume his mother raised them, since the father was absent.

SY: And your father's full name, then, was?

BW: Rokuro Watanabe.

SY: Watanabe. And his younger brother's name, full name?

BW: You know, I'm sure I have it somewhere, but I don't remember.

SY: I think it's, yes, I think it's in here somewhere too.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

SY: So then I guess maybe we can use that same time period and talk a little bit about your mother and where she came from in Japan.

BW: Well, my mother was born in Long Beach, California, so my mother's parents came to California, I would imagine around 1910. And they were both, mother, my grandfather came and I guess my grandmother joined him a little bit after that, and then my mother is second oldest. The oldest was probably born about 1912, in California.

SY: And she, your mother's name again, can you give your mother's full name?

BW: So my mother's name is Katsuye Furuyama, Katsuye Furuyama.

SY: And her family was from what part of Japan?

BW: From Fukushima.

SY: Fukushima, so they were both, so your father's family was from...

BW: Fukushima.

SY: So they...

BW: They lived about, maybe twenty miles apart in Fukushima.

SY: And did their families know each other?

BW: I don't think so.

SY: There was no connection.

BW: No, they were both into farming and both from Fukushima.

SY: And do you know why her parents came here originally?

BW: To farm and make money.

SY: And do you know much about that, the grandparents on that side, like how they met, what their background was?

BW: No, I don't know how they met.

SY: So you just know that your mother was born here and they had already had an older child born here, in Long Beach.

BW: Right. They were farming in Long Beach by that time. And the flower, Japanese Flower Growers Association was forming around that same time, so I have a photo of my grandparents and -- on the Furuyama side -- with the mother, my grandmother holding my mother when she was just born, so this must, photo must've been taken around 1914. And then her older brother standing, and he must've been about two years old, and it was listed in the Japanese Flower Growers Association annual booklet. And that was just forming around that same time, so they were into the early flower growing business in Signal Hill and Long Beach.

SY: So that's where your mother was born, then, in that Signal Hill area?

BW: Right.

SY: Do you know if she was born in a, at home or in a hospital?

BW: I don't know. All I know is, my mother said that my grandfather neglected to register her birth with the county, so I would imagine maybe that meant she was not born in a hospital, maybe a midwife or something. So my mother was, would joke that she has two birthdays, when she was actually born and then when it was actually registered, which is like eight months apart.

SY: So you always celebrated two birthdays for her?

BW: So she would always joke that it was her birthday twice a year. [Laughs] Yeah.

SY: And can you talk a little bit about that Japanese flower market and the early beginnings of it, if, whatever you know about that?

BW: Yeah, so I'd heard that they were farming in Signal Hill, and of course, back then farming was still, flower farming was still kind of a growing business -- growing business, that's kind of funny. Anyway, it was still kind of expanding and people were trying different kinds of things, what's marketable. And so my grandfather had tried all kinds of different flowers, which could be grown, which could be sold, that kind of thing, and so they grew all kinds of different flowers and then they would take it to the downtown flower market. And an interesting story is, apparently, right where their farm is where, is where the Signal Hill oil boom took place, and so my mother clearly remembered that one day these people were building derricks right next to their farm. She didn't know what it was; it was just these tall things. And then as time passed, one day everything was covered in oil and it was a gusher, and so she remembers that the whole, everywhere around was covered in oil, including their flowers. So apparently their farm was kind of wiped out. They didn't have any rights, so they essentially packed up and left and moved back to Japan.

SY: That's what, what prompted them to go back?

BW: That's what I understand. They couldn't farm, really, with the oil, and they didn't own the land. They were leasing it. Of course, Japanese couldn't own land back then, anyway, which is too bad 'cause if they had owned the land I'd be rich right now. [Laughs]

<End Segment 2> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

SY: So the, so when you said they went back, it was your mother and your older brother?

BW: It was my mother, her older brother, and another younger, two other younger brothers, so by the time they went back to Japan I think there were four kids.

SY: So it was, do you know --

BW: Or maybe five, five kids.

SY: -- roughly when that was that they returned to Japan?

BW: Around 1921 is what I kind of heard. And so even though my mother would've been like seven years old, she, they never sent to her to school. Number one, they thought, well, she's a girl, and number two, they probably would be going back to Japan soon, that was sort of their plan. So they decided, well, why send her to school? We're not staying anyway. So she never went to school, unfortunately, and she never learned English. However, her older brother, and I think her two or three younger brothers, were sent to school, grammar school, so they went to, like, first grade or kindergarten and they learned some English, which they retained throughout their lives. But my mother never learned English.

SY: So when you say she never went to school, then her whole life she never attended school?

BW: Well, except in Japan.

SY: So she only went to school in Japan.

BW: Right.

SY: When she went back with, with...

BW: Right. So even though she's a Kibei Nisei, she's really more Issei because she lived on the farm and then went to Japan and went to Japanese school, so she was fully Issei.

SY: And her life in Japan was, how long did they end up staying in Japan?

BW: Well, so she stayed 'til the age of eighteen, so if she went at age seven she spent eleven years there. But she, I think she essentially went from grammar school and graduated high school at the age of eighteen.

SY: So your grandparents really were intent upon settling back in Japan.

BW: I guess. That was, that was their plan.

SY: That was, and they, and I assume that they ended up staying there.

BW: So they ended up staying there. My grandfather died before I met him, but I did meet my grandmother on my mother's side one time, when she came to visit us, around the 1960s, I believe.

SY: So she led a long life.

BW: She did, yeah.

SY: And your, and your mother, then... well, I don't want to skip too much, but so your grandparents then went back to farming in Japan.

BW: Yes.

SY: And the business that they had here was just completely demolished, I guess?

BW: Well, they couldn't own anything, so it was basically farms that they leased, so they either ended their lease or sold, gave it up and went back.

SY: And the, that oil issue, was that, that was really the thing that precipitated it?

BW: That's what I heard. And apparently the farm... my parents used to raise chickens and things like that, and they would find chickens missing. I mean, hundreds of construction workers are all over, and they were building oil there everywhere, and whoever owned the land, I'm sure, sold out to get more oil. I read that, like, by 1925, '26, Signal Hill was the richest oil producing field in the entire world, for about ten years. I mean, they were producing so much oil out of Signal Hill, so farming was not, was not gonna last there. And if you see a picture of Signal Hill back in the 1920s, that's what it is, nothing but oil derricks, hundreds and hundreds of them.

SY: So you probably have no idea why they chose Signal Hill? Was it just --

BW: Well, there were other Japanese farmers farming there. So it was, it was kind of hilly like this, but it was wide open. There was hardly anybody living there at the time. And so if you look at the, kind of the address rolls of the farmers back then, there were other Japanese farmers already who had preceded my grandparents in farming in Signal Hill.

SY: And as far as you know, were they all sort of forced to leave because of this oil?

BW: You know, I would imagine so. Again, if you look at the pictures of Signal Hill, there were no farms. [Laughs] After a while it was nothing but oil wells.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

SY: So the, but it's interesting that they were into the flower business so early, and the flower market, do you know anything about the formation of the flower market? Were they involved in that, the Japanese...

BW: I don't know how actively they were involved, but they were members, from what I could tell, early members. My understanding -- and I'm not a historian so I may be wrong on this -- but the Japanese flower market got started first, so there were many, many Japanese flower growers all throughout southern California and so they needed a central market from which they could market and sell their flowers, and so they formed, I think, the Southern California Flower Market Association. And there were hundreds of farmers, and so they all put in money and they owned shares. My understanding is a few years later -- and this was strictly for Japanese flower growers -- the non-Japanese flower growers formed their own market called, I think theirs was called the Los Angeles Flower Market. And they, and so they, the Japanese flower market was on Wall Street or something, here in downtown, and then right across the street the L.A. Flower Market formed and built, so they were kind of like right across the street from each other. And one was Japanese, the other was everybody else. I'm told it wasn't like animosity. It was... [laughs] people trying to sell their flowers.

SY: So did, but in the Southern California Flower Market, they restricted it to just Japanese Americans who were, or Japanese farmers?

BW: You know, I don't know if it was restricted, but everybody was Japanese and they probably spoke Japanese. So that's why the non-Japanese formed their own market, to have their own place where they could come and sell. But I don't think they said, you know, "They're terrible, they're racist." They just said, "Well, we got to do that too." So I'm saying all this stuff not really knowing for sure, but I've never read that there was animosity or anything. And then when I was a kid, back in the '50s, I did go to the flower market, the Southern California Flower, Japanese flower market, and everybody was Japanese. By that time they were mostly Nisei and some, maybe some older Sansei, selling flowers. It was kind of neat. There were hundreds of stalls and people selling flowers. And then you go across the street -- and of course, I didn't know what was going on at the time, I was too young to understand the history of it -- but you go across the street and everybody else was selling their flowers. And so the buyers, they would go to here, and then cross the street, go there, buy this, and then go back, and so it was basically one big central flower market, but it was two separate histories. But unless you were looking for it, you may not even notice the difference.

SY: Because it never retained the name Southern California Japanese Flower Market?

BW: I don't know if Japanese was in there.

SY: Ever?

BW: I think it was Southern California Flower Growers Association or something like that.

SY: So, and to this day, it still exists.

BW: Yes.

SY: Only it's not, not limited to just Japanese flower growers. Or is it still?

BW: I don't know. But they had shares, and that share allowed you to have a stall. And then you could transfer those shares, so I think my grandfather sold his share to somebody else, the Endo family or something, and -- I should follow this through -- and then when my father wanted to get into the flower business there was some kind of a connection between my Furuyama grandfather and then my father taking over some from somebody who got his share from, you know. So it was....

SY: So you actually had to --

BW: I'm sure there was kind of these ties there back then.

SY: -- buy shares, and it wasn't, it was...

BW: There were a limited number of stalls, so if you wanted to sell there you had to somehow get a stall.

SY: So the, when they left to go back to Japan, then they had to give all that up as well, pretty much.

BW: Yes. I don't know what they did with it.

SY: And I think you mentioned, the crop that they ended up, what was, so they started out growing, do you know what they started out growing and what kind of flowers they ended up growing?

BW: You know, I wrote it down, but I can't remember. But I remember, like marigolds and larkspurs or things like that that I'm not that familiar with. When I was a kid, though, the family had pretty much settled on three main flowers, chrysanthemums, carnations and anemones, and that's basically what we grew.

SY: When you were kid much later. This was...

BW: Yeah, like a teenager. But when I was younger we also grew asters and snapdragons, stalk. But like I said, in that, 'cause I remember we were working on those flowers, but by the time I was a teenager that's all we grew, were chrysanthemums, carnations and anemones.

SY: Cut flowers, then.

BW: Yeah. I think those sold the best and our family knew how to grow them, so that's all we did.

SY: I did, I did read in here that your grandfather, I think they raised violets, which is...

BW: Violets, yeah.

SY: Violets, because they're not necessarily cut flowers.

BW: No, I don't know how you would actually market that or farm that on a mass basis. [Laughs]

SY: But that was what they --

BW: But he tried all kinds of things is what I heard.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

SY: So they all went back to Japan, and so how is it that your mother ended up coming back to America?

BW: Well, so she then grew up in Japan, and my father, he came here at sixteen. And so when he turned twenty-eight or so --which would've been, let's see, he was born in 1904, so by twenty-eight, that would've been 1932 -- he wanted to get married, but in 1924 no Japanese, in fact, no Asian, could come back or could move to America because of the Alien Exclusion Act. So apparently he asked a friend to act as sort of a, what do they call 'em, baishakunin, to be like a go-between and look for a potential wife in his hometown of Fukushima. And so this friend went around to different farming families, and he had to look for an American-born woman who would be willing to be a "picture bride" and move to America to marry my father, and so he ultimately came across my mother's family. So my mother heard that there's a guy that was lookin' around for a potential bride, so they asked my mother if she would be interested and so, of course, you have to kind of check out the family and everything, so they told my mother, he's been living in America, he comes from a good family, no insanity or drunkenness and stuff, and so would she like to go to America and marry this guy. And so my mother said she wasn't too crazy about the idea, actually -- I think, who would be? I mean, if you're happy there, why would you want to do that? [Laughs] But she was eighteen, she just graduated high school, and so her, some of her friends had heard that my mother had gotten an offer of marriage from an American, I mean from a Japanese in America, and so her friends said, "Oh, Katsuye, you're so lucky. You can go to America and live in America," Hollywood or whatever. And so she hadn't thought about it in those terms, and so as she thought more about it, she said maybe, maybe that's not so bad, or maybe it'd be kind of exciting. I don't know. She never actually told me what made her change her mind, but she did mention these conversations she had. And so then she decided she would say yes. I don't think she was unhappy; I think she just decided this was a great opportunity.

SY: So did she actually have memories of living in America?

BW: When she was younger?

SY: When she was very young.

BW: Well, she remembered the oil wells and the derricks and living on the farm in Signal Hill, yes.

SY: And so she had some inkling of what it was going to be and that, do you think that factored in her decision to come again, come back to America?

BW: Yeah, I mean, life was not easy, so to her America, the America that she knew was not an easy life. But again, as time went on, I think people began to see a different picture of America and so America became a very glamorous place, especially like southern California, I think. So her friends, who, I think all, many of them, if they had a chance, would've loved the opportunity to come to America, were kind of envious of her, and she didn't realize that. So I think that kind of changed her mind about, maybe this is a good opportunity.

SY: You mentioned that your father was looking specifically for an American-born woman, was that because of the law then?

BW: Yes. Otherwise, they couldn't get here.

SY: So "picture brides" who came, who had not been in America, that was before that?

BW: Before 1924.

SY: So he specifically, that must've been difficult to find someone like your mother.

BW: That would've been my guess. I mean, it's not a big pool.

SY: And the people that she, had she heard stories about other "picture brides"? You mentioned that there might have been some unpleasant experiences that women had.

BW: Yeah, I had heard that she had heard stories of women who married men that weren't very nice, but not necessarily in America. I mean, back then you didn't get to go out on dates and fall in love and go see a movie. It was pretty much arranged for you, so even though I think families tried to do the best for their kids, sometimes they hook up with someone who's not very nice. So apparently she had heard, say about a friend, who married a man who wasn't very nice, so, I mean, that was a concern. You know, you go to America and you marry a guy and what if he's not very nice? But the family had heard, Rokuro Watanabe, he's hardworking, good family... they said he's not very tall. [Laughs] My mother happened to be kind of tall. But they said he was a good man, so I think you have to, she had to take that, that maybe, okay, that's the scoop.

SY: And as far as you know, there was no objection on the part of her family to sending their daughter all the way back to America?

BW: Yeah, my mother said it was her choice.

SY: They gave it, they allowed her to make that choice.

BW: Yes.

SY: And so did she come all by herself back to...

BW: So they had a wedding ceremony before she left, so my father was in absentia, I guess. [Laughs]

SY: Was that common?

BW: I can't quite picture it.

SY: I know, was that common, to have a wedding ceremony with no groom?

BW: Well, I don't know, I suppose there were enough "picture brides" that maybe there was some kind of customary thing you do, but, so there was a ceremony. And my mother was eighteen at the time, and she was escorted by her younger brother, who was about sixteen at the time. His name was Tomiji, and he was one of those that was born also in Long Beach and he spoke a little English because he did get to go to school for a year or two, so the two of them came together.

SY: And do you know why they chose her younger brother to come with her?

BW: I think just to escort her, and he wanted the opportunity to live in America, I guess. So I have a picture of the two of them visiting Honolulu, where my father's aunt lived, so there was a communication, apparently, before my mother left Japan that she's gonna be going to Honolulu. So my, apparently my father must've told her, "I have relatives there. Why don't you go visit them?" So she visited my father's aunt in Honolulu for a day or so, and then from there, I think they came to Long Beach or San Pedro I think.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

SY: So your father, then, was farming that, the Long Beach area when your mother arrived?

BW: Yeah, so my father was working for some Japanese farmers in southern California. It may not have been one farm, but he was working for some farmers. And so when my mother arrived in Long Beach she said that he and a couple of friends came to the port and picked up my uncle and my mother, and took her to their apartment.

SY: And in the meantime, with your father, between the time that he came to this country, can you backtrack a little and tell us, I know you said that he went, really traveled all over Utah, other places, so how long do you think he had been in that, in the farming business in Long Beach by this time, by the time your mother came?

BW: You know, I'm not sure when my grandfather left, but I would imagine my father was here farming five years or so, something like that.

SY: And your grandfather left, did you say how your, what happened to your grandfather?

BW: Well, like I said, my grandfather was involved in this inventing of the gold sluicing machine, and so he went bankrupt. Apparently it was, from what my older brother told me about what he had heard, the machine worked quite well and they were thinking they're gonna get rich, and this other company wanted to buy their machine, invention, which they refused, and so this other company, a bigger company, came up with their own and essentially put my grandfather's company out of business. And so the business fell apart, but there were a lot of debts, and so I guess my grandfather had a difficult time trying to pay back the debt and went back to Japan kind of a broken, disappointed person. I guess at one point you're thinking, "We're gonna make millions on this machine," and then all of a sudden it's like you're out of business. So he went back, and then my father stayed and I believe he, it must've been a few years at least where my father was basically farming by himself, working on different farms for different Japanese farmers.

SY: So he, this invention, as far as you know, that was sort of in the, when they were traveling around? And then they ended up...

BW: Must've been out in the...

SY: Countryside.

BW: Countryside somewhere.

SY: The old mining area.

BW: Yeah, in the old mining areas where they were looking for gold.

SY: So your grandfather was quite inventive.

BW: Yeah, the stories I've heard is he was inventive, he was a responsible person, and apparently some of his partners flew the coop and they just took off, and he was sort of left holding the bag.

SY: So he never came back to the United States after that?

BW: He never came back. He worked for a few years to try to pay back his debts, and then he eventually went back to Japan. And I believe he died around 1936, and my understanding is he died of cancer. So my father went back to Japan in 1936 to see his father before he died.

SY: And your father's siblings, did he, where were they during all this? Or did he have --

BW: Well, he had one younger brother, and he basically stayed on the farm.

SY: Stayed on the farm in Japan, back in Japan. So he never came to the United States?

BW: Never.

SY: And did your, as far as you know, did your father have contact with him?

BW: They must've sent letters 'cause my father found out that my grandfather was ill, and so he did go back to Japan.

SY: But you never met your uncle on your father's side. That would be your only uncle, on your father's side.

BW: Well, I did meet him 'cause I went to Japan in 1967, '68, stayed at his house. I met him several times before he died.

SY: So, but as far as contact with him, family contact with him, was...

BW: Prior to meeting him, I didn't know anything about him.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

SY: So back to your mother's family, which was quite a bit larger, right? She had quite a few siblings.

BW: Right.

SY: Can you give us an idea of how, well, if you remember her siblings.

BW: Yeah, so she came to get married. That was in 1932, and then my oldest brother, Kinichi, was born in 1934, and then at that time my father had rented an apartment, I understood, in Hollywood. I think there were a number of Japanese living in a certain part of Hollywood. I wish I knew what street or, it'd be nice, but... and so he --

SY: Was it considered Hollywood then? It wasn't, it was...

BW: Oh yeah, the movie making business was --

SY: Big.

BW: -- big at the time. And so my mother said it was a nice, small apartment and that my father had cleaned it up and made it very nice for his new bride, and so she said she has very pleasant memories of moving in. And then my father said --

SY: Did she talk about the whole experience of having met him for the first time or what that was like?

BW: Not in great detail, but I think she did notice that she was, like, three inches taller than he was. [Laughs] But when they picked her and my uncle up at the port they did another ceremony. They went to a person's house, and there was a Buddhist priest who did a second ceremony. Basically, I guess... I don't know, I guess that was a custom. So they did that and then they had a little party, small party of maybe five or six people, and then they went to their apartment. And then my father told my mother, "It's not gonna be easy, so take it easy for a couple of weeks and get established." And so she appreciated that. She felt he was very kind and understanding. And so he went to work every day and then came back, but my father used to say while they were living in Hollywood he could actually -- like they'd be making Charlie Chaplin movies right there on the sidewalk where they lived -- literally look out the window, and there, they're making a movie right there. And so my father, for a long time he would mimic Charlie Chaplin's motions 'cause he would watch them making movies right there, so I guess that made it kind of fun.

SY: So he had sort of a sense of humor, your father.

BW: Yeah, I think so.

SY: And how would you --

BW: Well, actually, both my father and my mother. On the Furuyama side they were very, I mean, everyone was a crackup. I mean, they were constantly making jokes and laughing, real loud laughs. On my father's side, not so much.

SY: Your mother actually came from a really large family.

BW: Pretty large, yeah.

SY: Do you know how --

BW: I think there must've been seven of 'em.

SY: Seven of them.

BW: I'm guessing. I can't remember.

SY: She was the second?

BW: Yeah, so there's Jiukichi, and then my mother, and then Tomiji, Tomio, Tomiye, and Miyeko, so six, there were six of them. No, Densaku, seven. I forgot Densaku.

SY: Densaku's the one that came with her, right? That, when she left Japan, he's the younger brother that came with her?

BW: No, it was Tomiji.

SY: So...

BW: Tomiji might be older than Densaku. I can't, they're pretty close.

SY: And what happened to Tomiji when, did he move into the apartment with your mother?

BW: No. So when they came here he was living with a Japanese farmer, so he became a hired hand on a farm, I believe in the Valley somewhere.

SY: And your father in Hollywood, the business, again, was farming?

BW: Farming. Every day he would go to a farm, the farm, and work and come back.

SY: So they lived in an apartment, but he worked off the, he worked for someone else on a farm.

BW: Right, right. And then eventually they heard about a Japanese farmer in the San Fernando Valley who wanted to go back to Japan. No, excuse me, about a Japanese farmer who needed help. So my father and my mother went and lived on that farm in the Valley, and so they worked there for a year or two, and then that farmer decided to go back to Japan, and so my father bought the business from that person.

SY: He was able to buy, buy a, I guess, a business, as opposed to land and...

BW: Yeah, he couldn't buy the land, but he bought the business, which included the stall at the flower market and which allowed him to sell his stuff.

SY: That might have been connected to your, your mother's...

BW: Yeah, so this farmer that my father ended up with was a friend of the farmer who took over the old Furuyama farm or something like that. It was some kind of a connection like that. I didn't quite get it all.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

SY: So he was able to open the stall, so he was by then growing flowers as well.

BW: So by then he, yeah, he was growing flowers on his own. He had his own farm, leased farm. And so this must've been around, late 1930s, I guess, where my mother and my father now had their own farming business.

SY: And the house, they had a house on the farm, then, they lived on?

BW: There must've been a house on the farm that they lived in.

SY: And how soon did they start having kids?

BW: Right away, because my, they were married in '32, my oldest brother was born in '34, and my next oldest brother was born in '36. And then I had another brother born in '38, Takeshi.

SY: And the two older brothers were named...

BW: So my oldest brother is Kinichi, and my next oldest brother was Kinjiro, which is not uncommon, but again, my oldest brother is named Ken to his friends and my second oldest brother is named to Ken to his friends, so it was kind of confusing. [Laughs] I don't know, I guess they just got stuck in... but my third brother was Takeshi.

SY: And he didn't have a nickname?

BW: No. [Laughs]

SY: He wasn't Tak? [Laughs]

BW: Yeah.

SY: And then there was you, and then following you, were there younger siblings?

BW: So after me, I had a younger brother, Yoshimichi. Yeah, so, but then the war broke out in '41, '42, and Takeshi died in camp, so I never met him.

SY: And you tell the story about how he was ill before you went to camp, Takeshi. I mean the story of how he died, is that...

BW: Yeah, it was something that I kind of pieced together over decades because my parents never really talked about it. But what I, well, for a long time my, Takeshi, we went to Manzanar in February of '42 -- he was four -- and then he died around September of '42, so he was in camp for like six months when he died. And growing up I would, every now and then I wondered how did he die, what did he die of, and my parents never gave a complete answer. They would always say, "Well, he was sick and he didn't get well and he died." Or, you know, it was dusty and it was bad conditions, and the food, and so he got weaker and weaker and he died. So I accepted that for many, many years, and then one day -- I think this must have been told to me after my father died, by my mother, so this must've been, like, in the 1990s -- so my mother said one day, she goes, "I've never talked about this, but when Takeshi was maybe about three or four, he had apparently eaten some poison insecticide that we used," that the family would use to spray flowers to keep off the bugs. And so she said, yeah, my father was carrying Takeshi, was rushing, and he said he must've eaten some of the insecticide, 'cause back then kids would just play wherever they want to play. So they rushed him to the hospital, and, but my mother said he was, like, unconscious and limp, and by the time he got to the hospital he had kind of perked up. And then the doctor checked him over and he seemed to be okay. It's kind of odd, where he just went from unconscious to kind of perking up. And then, but my, so my mother didn't think much about that, they were just glad he was okay. Then when they went to camp, as he was getting sicker and sicker, they would take him to the hospital and eventually he was confined to the hospital. So the doctor one day asked my mother, "He's not getting better. He seems to be having, there's something wrong with his heart." And so she said, he asked her, "Did he ever, like, eat poison or anything like that?" So she told him what had happened, but she said, "Well, I don't want you ever to tell" my dad what happened. So it's a secret. She kept it secret. So I presume that was the reason, but I didn't know it 'til fifty years later.

SY: So your older brothers -- and they were how much older than you?

BW: Well, my oldest brother's ten years older, and my second oldest is eight years older.

SY: And as far as you know, they were born before camp, in the, in...

BW: In the San Fernando Valley.

SY: In the San Fernando, on this farm that your parents took over from... was there another place that they lived in between the time they originally moved?

BW: Well, they seem to have had a couple of farms. They had a farm in what was called Shadow Hills, near Sunland. And then there was another farm on, near Laurel Canyon and, and... I forgot the cross street. In Pacoima.

SY: I think it started with an M. That was the, that was the farm that they lived on when they were sent to camp?

BW: No. These were some farms that they had before they moved to Montague Street.

SY: Montague's the one I was thinking of.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

BW: Then by that time my uncle Tomiji had married and he had a farm, and my other uncle Tomio, he was working, he was single and working on the farm. And then, yeah, I guess it was, I guess it was those two families.

SY: So Tomiji, then, started working with your parents?

BW: Yeah, so they had farms and these farms had farm houses and they lived there. And eventually my father leased the farm on Montague Street in Pacoima from the Meichtry family, and then my father built two houses and a packing shed on the property. And I believe he finished, they build this brand new, two homes and a packing shed, around 1940, '41, and he said he bought a brand new truck to take the flowers to the market, so they were doing, actually, pretty well in the business. And my uncle Tomio had moved in, and he also had several other Japanese workers who lived in the second house. It was like a bachelors' quarters for the farm workers.

SY: And Tomio had come after, so on your mother's, on your mother's side of the family, so she originally came with her younger brother, and then another brother came?

BW: Right. And then eventually Densaku came, and then Ju, Jiukichi came, the oldest. And so I actually have a picture of the farm in Sunland -- I believe it's the farm in Sunland -- where Densaku, Jiukichi, Tomio, Tomiji, and my parents were all standing in the fields. So they're all there now, by that time.

SY: And that was taken when, do you think?

BW: Probably around the late '30s or early '40s. I think my oldest brother must've been about four or five at the time.

SY: So is it assumed that, because your father was doing okay, that the other members of your mother's family came over?

BW: I think so. They probably could use the work, or the help, so they were all there.

SY: And the, and do you have any idea why they moved from farm to farm? Why they ended up in...

BW: My guess is maybe the leases were up or they needed a bigger space. I'm not sure why they did move. And I'm not sure how much they actually did move, but, 'cause each of the different farms might've been farmed by different uncles. But I just saw them with these different families, and I do know my parents didn't move to Montague 'til about 1939 or '40.

SY: And as far as you know, is that the biggest farm that they had...

BW: Size-wise, I'm not sure.

SY: And it, do you have any idea how large it was, the one that they left when camp started?

BW: I don't, I don't... you know, flowers don't take a huge amount of land, so in the, like the three or four farms that I grew up being on, I think the average size might be like five or six acres, so it's not big.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

SY: And who, can you talk a little bit about the man that they leased the land from, the, this last farm?

BW: They, he's the most familiar, that is, I'm most familiar with, so it's, I don't know his first name, but his name was Mr. Meichtry. And I don't recall ever actually meeting the guy, but I probably did, I just don't remember. And so he apparently was growing something on his own, boysenberries or something, so he had his own farm, and so there was another piece of property that he owned along Montague Street. And his farm was, I think, facing Terra Bella. No, no, I forgot the next block. So my parents leased that farm, which I'm told was not really good for farming because there were so many rocks. It was a very rocky piece of dirt, but my older brother said for months they did nothing but clear out the rocks, taking truckloads and truckloads. And they bought or rented this huge flatbed, and I remember he was saying it had big airplane tires so it could carry all these heavy rocks. And so day after day after day, they would load this thing with rocks and then haul it off and dump it somewhere. But eventually the, they got it where they could farm on it.

SY: Amazing. And the, I assume at this point it was a, it was pretty much a family business, so your, everybody in the family worked.

BW: Yeah. Well yeah, everyone, including my uncle Tomio, who was there, and several of the other friends, friends from Fukushima who had come to help work on the farm. So there were maybe five men at that time.

SY: And this man who owned the property, did he have a relationship with your parents?

BW: Only that they seemed to have had a good, friendly relationship. And so my father built his home and then the next, another residence, and then the packing shed, and so when the war broke out... actually, my family had thought about moving to Utah or moving away from the coast. They actually bought, I think they bought, like, a trailer to live in, and they were going to just pack up and move eastward. They had heard about other families doing that, but they couldn't quite get everything together until they were no longer allowed to move, so they had bought this trailer so then they ended up having to sell the trailer. But Mr. Meichtry apparently said, "Well, let me buy the houses that you built, and I'll keep the farm and, after the war is over, you come back and I'll sell the houses back to you and you can pick up where you left off." So that, to me, means they had a good relationship, and I understand this Meichtry fellow was quite a man. I mean, my mother said when he died he had the, one of the biggest funerals they'd ever seen.

SY: So in other words, you were allowed to actually own a home even though you were on leased land.

BW: Right, 'cause my father paid for the home and had it built himself.

SY: And you, do you have any idea how much he, Mr. Meichtry paid for the home?

BW: A few thousand dollars. I don't remember, I don't know what the figure is. My brother might know. So my father had money. I don't know what he did with it, but Meichtry paid him for the homes and the packing shed.

SY: And assuming that there was a great deal of trust between your father and this... so this arrangement probably had came after they found out that they didn't, they couldn't move to Utah?

BW: Yeah, so there was a lot of talk going on between my parents and my uncles about what they should do, and a lot of rumors, hearing from other Japanese farmers what's going on. And of course, some of the leaders had gotten picked up by the FBI, hauled away, so there were a lot of, there was a lot of concern and, "What should we do?"

SY: And this is, this is, these are stories that you heard from your mother, about this? Or from your brothers?

BW: My mother and my older brothers, yeah.

SY: Remembering. And did your mother talk about her, what she was going through, what was going through her mind, how she felt about this, this whole notion... in fact, did she talk about her, did they talk about what happened on the day that Pearl Harbor was bombed?

BW: They did a little bit. I think it was on a Sunday, right? And I guess they were working that day, and they said a Japanese friend of theirs who was a salesman -- I think he was like a fertilizer salesman or something -- came by the house. And this fellow happened to be bilingual and told them, "Hey, you better, you better watch out. War has been declared because of the bombing of Pearl Harbor." And of course, my parents are going, "What? What is this?" [Laughs] And then one of the workers that my father had, he was a man named George Ikeda, and this fellow, George Ikeda, he was quite an inventive person, so he -- in fact, I know if George Ikeda had a chance to college, he probably would've been a genius engineer or something, he was so, so inventive. But he had a shortwave radio set, and so that night, when they had heard that there was this bombing, he was able to tune in, and he was listening to, I guess, broadcasts all the way from Japan about what was going on. And so they're all sitting around the radio and trying to hear information, confirm that there is this war going on. And so my mother kind of vividly told me about that one scene where they're all sitting around this shortwave radio set -- I think it was a Ham radio set -- and trying to hear broadcasts all the way from Japan. So that...

SY: So they were concerned enough that they were, everybody was gathered around.

BW: Right, right.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

SY: -- the, where your parents were when Pearl Harbor was bombed. And so did your mother talk about what happened after this event, this Sunday?

BW: Well, so they did talk about relocating, and then they instituted a curfew and then they didn't allow people to leave, so those plans were sort of dashed. I'm not sure when they got the notice, but a few months later, it must've been around maybe March or something of '42, they were told to report -- and I think they, they went to a bus depot, I believe in Burbank somewhere, and from there they went to Manzanar. And Mrs. Meichtry was the one who drove them to Burbank and took them to the bus depot.

SY: And as far as you know, what happened between the time that they declared this curfew, as far as your father's business went, and the time that they were actually told to leave?

BW: Yeah, so Japanese were not allowed to drive after the curfew, or during the curfew, and so my father had no way of taking the flowers to the flower market. So fortunately, because the other uncles, Tomiji and Jiukichi, they had trucks too, to take their flowers to the market, so they took my father's flowers to the market and so that way the business was able to keep going. But there were those kinds of problems that they had to deal with during the curfew period.

SY: And do you know whatever happened to the trucks and to the equipment?

BW: They had to sell them. It's typical, I think, where you had to try to liquidate whatever you had. And my mother told me an interesting story of during the curfew, that Kinjiro got sick and so he was coughing one night, so my mother turned on the lights to see what was wrong and try to help him, and they apparently had patrols walking around. During the curfew you couldn't turn on your lights, and so someone knocks on the door and says, "Your lights are on. You should turn it off." And so my mother said, thought it was kind of scary to, number one, having people monitor, but number two, she was angry that she couldn't take care of her kid. I thought, yeah, it's hard for us growing up to imagine a time like that, but... yeah, so that was, that was the curfew period. And then I guess that must've lasted, but it was after my parents left for Manzanar. That wasn't an issue.

SY: So this, these little stories that your mother told you came much later, right? Like for example, that story, she told after, way after camp was over, when she was...

BW: Yeah, I mean, it's not like my mother sat down and told stories, although she was quite loquacious and loved to talk and she would talk on and on, but she never, like, initiated it. And I believe the story about my brother came from my older brother. He told me that.

SY: Your, and in the meantime, was your father one who shared any of this history with you?

BW: Not much. My father didn't say too much. I didn't really ask him either. I should have, but he died in 1990 and a lot of things I didn't really ask until much later.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

SY: And, and... let's see, so I'm trying to think, the, the whole family, then, ended up going to Manzanar? In other words, the extended family, the uncles, and, and...

BW: I'm a little sketchy about that. I think a couple of my uncles ended up in Manzanar. Tomiji went to Arizona, one of the camps in Arizona. He was living with his wife on a farm in the Long Beach area, so -- Santa Ana, Long Beach, something like that -- and so those people were sent to another camp, and so he wasn't with the rest of the family. But I do believe that Manzanar, I think most of the Furuyamas and my parents were there.

SY: And was there any concern on your mother's part, as far as you know, about splitting up the family like that, about her brother going to a different camp?

BW: Actually, the Tomiji family, there apparently was a little bit of a rift between his wife and my mother and the other women on the Furuyama side, and so I think they were okay with them being in another camp. [Laughs] Or maybe they chose that.

SY: And as far as they knew, though, there was no problem keeping your family together?

BW: Yeah, the rest of the family was together. When I say rift, it wasn't like they were, there was animosity. It's just, they're closer to some than others and so that's what happened. I think they pretty much stuck together in Manzanar and they, I think they all went to Tule Lake together too.

SY: All the brothers, all your mother's brothers.

BW: Yeah, and their families.

SY: And just, and your father, just your father. He didn't have any other family.

BW: Right. Except my, the youngest uncle, Furuyama uncle, he was drafted into the army.

SY: So the whole notion of being sent to a camp, did your mother talk about that much, what that was for her, how she felt about that?

BW: No, not too much. Hardly anything.

SY: So it wasn't a subject that was discussed, or wasn't a subject that she had any kind of negative feelings about?

BW: No.

SY: It was just --

BW: Not 'til much later when I had the, finally, awareness to ask her questions and I thought, "Hey, I should try to get more info so I can hear this while she's still alive." Yeah, which is my fault. I should've done it sooner, both my father and my mother. You know, they were typical. I think the only time they ever talked about camp was sort of as an identifier, like, "Oh, did you know So-and-So who was in Block 22?" That kind of thing. Once they finished that part, then they never talked about life in camp as far as I knew, but my Japanese wasn't that good, so they may have talked about it and I just didn't know. But I never picked up on that.

SY: But didn't you actually go back to Manzanar with your mother?

BW: I did. So we used to go fishing up in the Sierras every year, and we'd drive by Manzanar and so every now and then they would tell a story perhaps. And then I think at least on one occasion, we stopped at Manzanar, went to the cemetery. We took photos. That was both my mother and my father. I have pictures of our camper and the cemetery there. And then after my father died I would take my mother up to the Sierras to go fishing, and one time we stopped and we walked around a bit. My mother had an amazing memory, and she could remember details and things very, very well. So we walked around, I'd say a couple of hours, and she would recall all kinds of stories and identify what was there. Even though this is probably by the '90s, 1990s, everything was different, she could still pretty much place the whole camp scene by just standing and looking. She told me this one story that I still find kind of hard to believe, but I don't think she'd lie to me. She would say it would get very windy, and I said, "Well, how windy was it?" [Laughs] And she would say, she told me this story, like you had to line up to go into the mess hall and so, but the wind would blow, and the wind would blow so hard that all kinds of things would come blowing across and so you had to keep your eye into the wind because who knows, tumbleweeds and all these things. And she said even rocks would be blown by the wind, and they're rolling like this along the ground and if they hit you in the ankle or the foot it would hurt. And so she said you would watch and if a rock is rolling, you had to jump up and let it roll past you, come down, so she said people would, in line you could see them jumping up and down like this to keep the rocks from hitting their legs. I thought, that's pretty windy. [Laughs] I can't imagine the wind blowing rocks along the ground. But I thought, yeah, that's a good story. That's windy.

SY: Did she actually work while she was in camp? Was she...

BW: I suppose so, but I don't know what she did.

SY: And you don't know, then, what your father did?

BW: I did hear he worked on the garbage detail. And I'm sure he did more than that, but the reason why that was kind of interesting is we used to go fishing up in the High Sierras because he was fishing while he was in camp. And the garbage detail got to leave camp to dump the garbage somewhere out in the foothills, and towards, maybe after '42, around, by '43, things started to relax a bit and so the guys would go out, dump the garbage and then spend the rest of the day fishing up in the streams there. And so according to my father, it was like, the garbage detail got bigger and bigger, so as the truck is going outside people are literally jumping onto the truck holding their fishing poles to go out and fish for the day. And apparently the guards, there were guards who went with them. They figured they're not hurting anything, no one's ever ran away, so they basically were very cool about it. And so the guys would fish and then I guess they might catch something, but then they would all come back and they would cook up the trout and eat it. So he, I think, developed a pretty keen interest in fishing, so after the war ended we went to Mammoth and fished up there every year.

SY: So he, did he take you back to the places where he fished when he was in Manzanar?

BW: I'm sure he did, because we used to fish in the streams near Manzanar and I'm sure some of them were places that he remembers fishing. He never told stories or anything.

SY: So he, were, did he take you other places besides that area? Or was that solely the place he liked to fish?

BW: Well, when I was younger we did a lot of stream fishing in the foothills near the Manzanar area. There's a lot of little streams and we would fish for hours in those streams. I can't remember the names of them, but we would drive, park, fish the stream, and then pack up, drive to the next one, park and fish the stream again. But after a while we would also go to other lakes further away, like June Lake and Mammoth Lakes, which I'm sure he never went to during the camps. And lake fishing, of course, to me is more fun than stream fishing. So we did that for many, many years, became his real love and hobby.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

SY: So do you remember when you first heard any mention of Manzanar when, your earliest recollection of there being any talk about... I mean, when you went to these streams to fish, there was never any conversation about, or was there any conversation about Manzanar?

BW: No. I mean, I'm sure they talked about it, but I was too young to kind of put it all together as to what they were talking about.

SY: And so do you remember when you first recall hearing about the camps?

BW: No, I don't actually. But I do know, like when I was about eight, my father and my uncle Tomiji took me and my cousin, one of my cousins who was my age, the four of us, fishing up at Crowley Lake. And I do remember as we're sitting and sleeping in the back, 'cause we left like three in the morning or something, and so as we were, as they were driving, I remember hearing my father and my uncle talking and I'm sure it was about Manzanar, and they were talking about people and things that happened. So I had this awareness that they're talking about something serious between them 'cause usually they're laughing and that kind of thing, but I had no idea what it was, but it sounded scary to me. [Laughs] It sounded kind of scary and I remember thinking, "Where are we going and what are they talking about?" But I wish I had a tape recorder.

SY: So you did, so your brothers were at an age in camp where they might remember some things?

BW: Yes. My oldest brother would've been eight when he went to Manzanar, and my younger brother, well, younger older brother would've been six, and Takeshi was four, so they do have recollections. But even when I ask them for recollections, they're not very...

SY: Forthcoming?

BW: Forthgiving, yeah, forthcoming about things. And I think it's a Nisei phenomenon. They just don't seem to talk much about it.

SY: And your, so obviously being born at Manzanar, is that actually on your birth certificate?

BW: Yes, yes.

SY: So it's Manzanar, California?

BW: I can't remember what it says, but it might say Inyo County or something like that. I don't remember if it says Manzanar on there or not.

SY: So that was something that you were aware of at a young age, that that was the place you were born? Or do you, do you...

BW: Only, yeah, from my parents, that I was born in Manzanar. I don't remember how old I was when I first heard that.

SY: And your mother must've told you how that, I mean, you were the only one of your siblings born in camp? Were you the only one of your siblings?

BW: No. So I was born in '44, and then my younger brother was born in Tule Lake. But growing up, I didn't know the difference between Manzanar and Tule Lake. I just knew that I was born, my brother used to say, "Yeah, you were born near Mount Whitney, and I was born near Mount Shasta." I thought, yeah, that's right, but I don't know why. They were just words and names.

SY: So did your mother ever tell you about the experience of having a child, having actually gone through pregnancy and delivering in a camp?

BW: No. No, I don't even know how they had sex in camp.

SY: [Laughs] You never asked her, huh?

BW: I mean, my two older brothers were there and there was like four to a barrack.

SY: So she talked to you about the living arrangements, like how she, how many in one room and, and I assume her brothers were in a different...

BW: Yeah, not too much.

SY: So you don't know much about that, but you knew that they were in a certain, she pointed out the block?

BW: Yeah, she pointed out the block. My brothers remember the block number and everything, and what I remember significantly is we lived, when we first went to Manzanar, I wasn't born yet, but we were assigned a certain block near the entrance, and so we were moved to another block for two reasons. Number one, they wanted that block for the administrators and so they moved out, I guess, families. But also, my brother Takeshi was sick and so my mother wanted to be closer to the hospital, because she was already having to go to the doctor quite frequently. So apparently Block 27 was just a few barracks from the camp hospital, so we were there for the rest of the time we were in Manzanar.

SY: So you were, so right next to the hospital, then. Right close?

BW: As I recall, it was like maybe two barracks away from the hospital. So my mother, she said she would go to visit -- well, after a while Takeshi was hospital bound where he had to stay there. So, I mean, she told me years later that it was the saddest thing. He would say, "I wanna go home." Of course, home was only a few barracks away. And she goes, "No, you can't."

SY: So was she allowed to stay with him?

BW: She could visit during the day. And she told me this one story where it was windy, and so apparently when the wind got so bad it was dangerous to be walking around, so they restricted you to your barrack. So one day she was restricted and she couldn't go to the hospital, and she was telling me that she's crying.

SY: So they were restricted, actually? It must've been that bad that they couldn't be, couldn't walk around.

BW: Yeah, again, I guess if the wind's blowing that hard it could be dangerous, could get hit by something. So she said there was a time where she couldn't go visit her son, and she felt bad.

SY: And you were born a few years after -- or no, very shortly after Takeshi passed?

BW: He died, I think it was around September of '42, I was born in January of '44.

SY: So it was over a year later. And did she tell you anything, I recall her talking a little bit about the hospital incident when you were born.

BW: Yeah, I've seen the movie, what was it, Farewell to Manzanar or something? I can't remember, but I've heard about this incident where there was, I guess some people who were accusing other people of either spying for the government or pilfering food from the kitchen, but something was creating a conflict and controversy. Or it may have been a pro-JACL, anti-JACL. It was some commotion going on, so one group was basically accusing the other of doing something and attacking them, and I remember this, according to the film or the story, this one guy was just running for his life from these other Japanese who were trying to get him. So the camp administrators hid him in the hospital and then these people were looking for the guy, and so they essentially buried him under some mattresses in a room. And then, but so I knew that that incident had happened, and one day my mother was telling me that after she had given birth to me she was recuperating in the room, and she says, "Yeah, while I was there, after I had given birth, some kind of a commotion in the hallway," she goes, "there was all these people running around, running around. And the nurse said, 'Oh, we have to hide someone under mattresses 'cause they're after him' or something like that." "My gosh, you were there when that happened?" [Laughs] Of course, my mother didn't know what was going on, but the way she described what she heard and saw fit perfectly with the image that I remember seeing on this film about this guy having to run away for his life, so I thought that was an interesting tidbit.

SY: And your mother was not really involved, she didn't make any kind of subjective statement about the, the whole idea of there being some sort of, whatever, revolt?

BW: No.

SY: No. She just, just the facts.

BW: She never actually said what was, it was all about. She just, she didn't know what was going on, I mean why it was going on. She knew there was this commotion and all these things, and apparently one of the nurses said, "We have to try to help this man 'cause otherwise he will, he might be beaten up."

SY: And your mother really told wonderful stories about, about camp. I mean, she had little, there are, like, all these wonderful little anecdotes. Are there others that you can...

BW: Yeah, like I said, she had an amazing memory. I just wish I'd recorded more of it.

SY: But yeah, did we miss one that I might've looked, overlooked? Yeah, you did talk about the, yeah, the fishing that your father did, that was something that you obviously learned much later. So your mother never talked about that. Did she talk about eating, food, things that ate? I mean, the trout must've been a treat.

BW: Yeah, those everyday mundane things, I don't recall them ever talking too much about it. She did mention that, I guess that first Christmas, Mr. Meichtry drove to Manzanar and brought some gifts and food, and I remember she mentioned that he brought, I think it was fried chicken and that kind of thing, so compared to the camp food, she said something like it was really good, homemade cooking. And then my father asked Mr. Meichtry if he could bring some furniture, 'cause they had left behind, I guess, whatever furniture they had in the house. I don't know whether they sold everything, but there apparently was still some furniture, and so Mr. Meichtry agreed to bring, I think some chairs and a small table, little things like that that weren't in the barracks. So he apparently made several trips, and then on a subsequent trip brought some furniture back.

SY: Yeah, obviously a very nice man.

BW: Yeah.

SY: What was, I mean, did she, did she talk about him in any kind of way as being somewhat closer than other people to the family?

BW: Not really. She never really described him except that he did these things.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

SY: So at some point, then, your parents decided that they, well, I guess when the "loyalty questionnaire" came up, did he get, was that...

BW: Yeah, see, if I had the presence of mind back then, like, "Tell me about how you came to this decision." But I just didn't do it, so I missed that opportunity. I don't know how they came to the decision, so I can speculate kind of what I think might have happened, but bits and pieces that I heard from, like my parents and from what my brothers heard... they made a decision to go back to Japan. And I don't know why. I think everyone's pondering, what's the future gonna be like. Here we are, sitting in camp, our rights have been taken away, lost property, lost everything. Do we stay or do we go somewhere else? And my mother mentioned one time that they had entertained the possibility of once the war is over, maybe they should move to South America. There are Japanese farmers down there. Then she mentioned that my father had looked into possibly moving to the Philippines because there were Japanese farmers there, but eventually, at any rate, leaving America. So I don't know if it was the "loyalty questionnaire" that prompted them to have to say "no-no," or whether they had already made up their minds, but I presume they said "no-no" to the "loyalty questionnaire." And then my mother had to renounce her citizenship, so all of that kind of came together, I think must've been around the latter part of 1943. And so my uncles, Densaku and Jiukichi, were pro Japan, so they must've said "no-no." And then my other uncle, my youngest uncle, Tomio, was drafted into the 442nd around that time. So our whole family and the Furuyamas went to Tule Lake. Tomiji was living in Arizona, so I don't know if he was a "no-no" or not, but I don't know too much about what his family did. And then Tomio was, went to camp, I mean army camp somewhere.

SY: And he was ultimately sent overseas, Tomio?

BW: Well, he would've been. He, I think he might've been in MIS eventually 'cause he, I think he was part of the translation thing. But he, during basic training he got hurt. He was, fell out of a tree or something, smashed his ankle, irreparably crushed his ankle somehow, and so he limped the rest of his life and he never served beyond that.

SY: And as far as you know, he was released and came back to rejoin the family at some point?

BW: Yeah, so after the war ended... he must've left the army and then rejoined the family, and then got married.

SY: So when they made this decision, when your parents made this decision, however it came about, did they have any idea what was going to happen to them? Did they know that they were, that was the ultimate goal, was to go back to Japan?

BW: Right. So I presume they knew that eventually they would go to Tule Lake, I guess.

SY: So Tule Lake was something that people were aware there was a camp where people were sent?

BW: I'm sure they must've heard through the grapevine that that's what would happen, yeah.

SY: And they were prepared to take all of, all of you at that point to...

BW: Right. So my mother gave me a very graphic picture 'cause she said they left Manzanar around, she said I was only like a month or two old, so it must've been around like March of '44. And she said -- it was a dark and stormy night kind of thing. [Laughs] They left Manzanar and went to Independence, and then they caught a train, and she said it was, like, snowing so heavily. And so they boarded the train, and because she had me as an infant, they let her sleep in a Pullman room that had the fold-down bed, and so she said, "Yeah, I was kind of lucky because I was nursing you, and so I had my own room, I had my own bed," whereas all the guys, which would've been my father and my two older brothers, essentially had to sleep where they're sitting kind of thing. They're sitting in the regular chair. And so she's kind of laughing to herself, "Yeah, I had a nice, nice and warm, nice bed." But she said it snowed all the way to Tule Lake, and then they got off the train at Tule Lake and checked in there.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

SY: So that train ride for her, as far as you can recall her talking about, was fairly pleasant. I mean, it was not unpleasant in the sense that --

BW: It was pleasant for her. I'm sure for the guys it was not fun.

SY: And even though she was nursing at the time, I assume that they were being fed enough that she could -- 'cause it was a long ride.

BW: It was a long ride. She, I, she didn't mention about eating or the food, but she did mention that there was a nice bed, sheets, blankets, nice and warm. The Pullman, I guess the Pullman lounge cars were quite nice. [Laughs]

SY: And, and so it was she, your father, the three, three of you, the three sons, and then --

BW: Two sons.

SY: Two sons?

BW: My two older brothers.

SY: Your two older brothers, well, and you, so that would be three.

BW: And me, yes.

SY: And then the two uncles, your two uncles were on the same train?

BW: Well, I don't know about my uncles.

SY: But you know that they eventually ended up in Tule Lake.

BW: But they eventually ended up in Tule Lake.

SY: So does she have, did your mother have as vivid memories of Tule Lake as she did of Manzanar?

BW: I did ask her a few questions about Tule Lake, and so she did tell me that my two uncles were very pro Japan, fanatics. She said they would wear the hachimakis around their head and carry the banners, you know. And she said the oldest brother, Jiukichi, was very adamant that Japan was winning the war, they're going to win the war, they should go back to Japan and everything would be great. And of course news was, reliable news might've been difficult, so some people probably heard reports that Japan is doing well, gonna win, all propaganda, but other people knew what was really going on and saying it's not that way, they're losing the war, and probably they didn't want to believe it. But there were demonstrations going on to show support for Japan, and according to my mother my two uncles were heavily into that pro-Japan faction.

SY: So indicating that perhaps she was not as pro-Japan as her brothers?

BW: I don't think my father and my mother were part of that at all, from what she said. And so I asked my mother, I do remember asking her, "So what did you think about the two uncles doing all that?" And she just said, "Bakarashii." She thought it was foolishness. But whether she felt that at the time, I don't know, but it sounded like they're fanatics and that's not her. And as I mentioned, my other uncle was in the army, U.S. Army, so I think she was perhaps kind of caught in the middle.

SY: And did they have family in Japan? Was that one, was that a motivating factor for them to go back?

BW: It was. My oldest uncle was the number one son and so he had some family obligations to go back, which I believe he felt. That kind of meshed with his own, maybe, feelings that Japan is gonna win, and so he and Densaku did go back to Japan.

SY: And did they end up staying there? Or what was, what happened to them?

BW: Well, so I don't know exactly when they went back to Japan.

SY: Yeah, were they taken --

BW: Maybe '45, '46.

SY: So the war was still going on when they went back.

BW: I don't know. They might have gone after the war ended. So Densaku went back and never returned to the U.S., although he did come back for a short visit. I remember he spent about a month with us one summer, maybe back in the '60s, because they were going through some hard times in Japan. So he came to the U.S. He worked for a summer and got some money and went back. But Jiukichi, he returned to the U.S. around 1958, so after about thirteen years, and he then stayed and never went back.

SY: And were your, was your mother in contact with him during this period when they went back to Japan?

BW: They sent letters, and after the war ended I remember my mother sending many, many food and clothing packages to Japan. Apparently when I, my brother was born in June of 1945, I mean, there must've been people preparing to go back to Japan, so my mother, again, she's in the hospital, she gave birth to my brother, and then in August, beginning of August, the war ends. So at some point they decided not to go to Japan. And my mother said that they got a letter from Japan, I think perhaps just after the war ended, so I'm guessing maybe around August, saying, "Don't come. If you can stay, don't come to Japan. It's terrible. People are starving, there's not enough food." I mean, the whole country was devastated, and whether that was an eye opener or not, they got this letter saying, "If you can stay, don't come because it's terrible here." So that might have been kind of like the clincher, and so they were able to stay, although it took a while for my mother to get her citizenship back.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

SY: And when you say they were able to stay, do you know what the formality was to allow them to stay even though they had...

BW: I don't, except I think around August or, let's see, the war ended in August, so maybe around September or October, my father left camp and returned to L.A. to look for a place to live. And then my two older brothers left Tule Lake right after Christmas, and they came to L.A. with family friends, or a family that were friends of my parents. So they, then when they came to L.A. they hooked up with my father, but my father couldn't house them. So apparently my father was living somewhere in the Valley and so my two older brothers stayed for a month or two at Koyasan Temple in Little Tokyo, where they, the temple had put out cots or beds for hundreds and hundreds of people returning back to L.A. And then eventually my two older brothers got back together with my father, while my mother and myself and my younger brother were still at Tule Lake.

SY: So she was there with two babies, basically.

BW: She was there with two babies, and I think after Christmas probably most of the people had left Tule Lake.

SY: And the whole experience of having, being completely separated from her family --

BW: Yeah, it must've been a hard time.

SY: But the decision, in other words, your father leaving first, was, that was a decision that he made based on trying to restart a life here.

BW: Right.

SY: And do your brothers remember this Koyasan, staying at Koyasan at all?

BW: I'm sure they do. They're the ones who told me about that. I did not learn that until about two years ago. [Laughs] So I thought, "What? You stayed at Koyasan Temple?" They go, "Oh yeah, for a short time."

SY: I mean, in a sense they were orphaned, really, because their parents weren't there too.

BW: Right, right. They were, how old were they? Let's see, they must've been like twelve.

SY: And Koyasan, then, took care of younger kids as well. They didn't just take in families. They took in children.

BW: Right. But they came back with the Akita family, and they were good friends of my parents. And actually, Miss, the Akita family had a daughter who eventually married my uncle Tomio, so she became my aunt, so they were, they were kind of close.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

SY: And your, and your father ended up doing what when he came back? Where was he when he came back?

BW: I don't exactly know where he lived or stayed. According to my older brother, he came back with a friend and they were able to find a place to live, but not a place where the family could live. And so somewhere, maybe around, at the end of '45, beginning of '46, they, in order to find a place to live they came up with this kind of ingenious plan. My uncle and my father heard that the Red Line was selling some of their trolleys at auction, so my father -- of course, my father did have money from the sale of the house, I presume, so they bought two trolleys and somehow got them delivered to a place in Sun Valley, and so they stripped the trolley cars of the seats and then put in beds and a makeshift kitchen. And then I guess there was an outhouse, so they had no real bathroom except for the outhouse, which wasn't even an outhouse. As I recall -- no, it was an outhouse, but they had no bathroom, a bath. So they took baths at night when no one could see, in the back. [Laughs] So according to my brother, that, they had a tub, but they would only take a bath at night when it's dark. But so they lived there for, apparently, like close to a year, and the health department essentially found that they're living in a trolley and said, "You can't live here," and they kicked 'em out. But I think the timing of it turned out where they were finally able to move back into the Meichtry homes that they had. Mr. Meichtry had rented it out to another family during the war, and again, you can't just kick somebody out, so it took a while to get that family out so that my parents and the family could move back in. But I think the timing of it all kind of worked out.

SY: And this idea of this trolley, was that completely original? No one else was doing anything like that?

BW: I never heard of anybody else doing something like that. I sure wish I had a picture.

SY: The, because the, where they parked it, was that, do you know exactly where that was?

BW: My brothers probably know, but they said it was somewhere in Sun Valley. We did have a farm in Sun Valley at one time, so it could've been near where that Sun Valley farm was.

SY: Was, were there trailer parks in Sun Valley, do you know?

BW: There was a trailer park in Sun Valley right on, I think it was Glenoaks Boulevard.

SY: And Japanese were, resettled there?

BW: Yeah, they, the Sun Valley Japanese Community Center is still there, and the trailer park was located about a block away from where the community center is now.

SY: So the, there was a, I guess a constant Japanese community in that area that sort of came back to the same place after the war, then?

BW: Right. I don't know how big the trailer park was, but there might have been as many as a hundred trailers, I guess. So it was quite a concentration of Japanese families, and so they had a Japanese school there, and I went to that Japanese school for a while.

SY: And the farm that they eventually went back to, that, was that close to Sun Valley, in the proximity?

BW: It's maybe about two or three miles away.

SY: So it was very close. So the Japanese farmers who farmed in that area, which is, I guess, considered San Fernando Valley?

BW: Uh-huh.

SY: They chose, do you know why, I mean, was it because there were so many Japanese that were there, or why they chose that particular area to farm?

BW: Well, there were kind of pockets of Japanese farmers throughout southern California, like the West Side and South Bay and Long Beach. So the San Fernando Valley was one part where there were, I don't know, maybe a few hundred Japanese families all farming in the Valley, flowers as well as produce and things like that.

SY: Was it amenable to farming, that area?

BW: It was. The Valley back then was a lot of citrus groves and horse ranches and farms.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

SY: But your, your parents never really got to own property there?

BW: Well, so they were leasing the property from the Meichtry family, and then in 1952 they purchased their first land in Granada Hills, on Woodley.

SY: And that, at that time it was legal for your father to purchase?

BW: Right. Actually, my uncle, Tomio, he could've purchased it sooner, I believe, 'cause he was a U.S. citizen, so I don't know why they didn't. At the time that my father leased the property from the Meichtrys, Tomio was still a young man. He was probably like twenty years old. So maybe they didn't feel comfortable putting it in his name or whatever, but from '45 to, say, '52 Tomio moved in. He got married to Mrs. Akita's daughter, and so they moved into that second house on Montague, so we lived side by side for a while. And so the Tomio Furuyama family and the Watanabe family farmed that Montague Street farm for eight years, and then in 1952 they bought the property in Granada Hills on Woodley and built two houses, one house for the Watanabe family and one house for the Furuyama family. By that time he had about two kids already, but this was a pretty big farm, something like twenty-five acres, which is pretty good size piece of land, and it was fortunate because Granada Hills was booming at the time. So we only lived there about three years, and I remember very clearly when we moved in, that whole area was alfalfa and they were growing hay and there were horse ranches, there were lemon and grapefruit groves all around, and I used to run around barefoot chasing after pheasants and quail. It was almost like Tom Sawyer kind of thing. And in three years we were totally surrounded by tract homes, if you can believe that. [Laughs] And the ranches were gone, the citrus groves were gone, everything was gone. We were surrounded by tract homes, and of course, the value of the land quadrupled or whatever and so they sold the farm and they bought another farm in Lakeview Terrace.

SY: Lakeview Terrace being how close to Granada Hills?

BW: Four or five miles, towards Sylmar. It wasn't called Lakeview Terrace. Might've been called Sylmar back then. Lakeview Terrace was sort of a new community that was created. But by that time they were doing quite well.

SY: So they were able to buy a fairly large, another large piece of...

BW: No, they bought a smaller piece of property. They really didn't need twenty-five acres.

SY: Wow. So it just was a growing business by then.

BW: It was, and they did probably very well by the real estate as much as they did by the farming. So when they moved to Lakeview Terrace, that was only about a five or six acre farm. Again, they built two brand new houses for the Furuyama and Watanabe, and then they farmed that land. And by that time Jiukichi came back from Japan, and so my parents and uncles helped them to get settled in a farm near, right near us in Lakeview Terrace. And then Tomiji, who had always been separate during the war, and like I said, we weren't quite as close, so he always had a separate farm, separate house. [Laughs] But they always did things together, like they sold the flowers together and they would help each other. Like when I was about eleven, we took our first family vacation, and so when our side took a vacation Tomiji would help to watch the plants and water it and everything, and when he took a vacation we would do the same. So there was that kind of teamwork, but again, they chose to live separately. And then, but Densaku never came back. So by that time we had, Jiukichi had a farm, my father and Tomio shared the farm, and Tomiji had a separate farm, and so they formed kind of a company selling flowers. And because we had, like, three separate farms, when you put it all together we could come up with a lot of flowers, so occasionally we would get big sales. I remember, I must've been about twelve, a call came in saying for the Rose Parade they needed something like a hundred thousand chrysanthemums or carnations or something, must've been carnations. And so we, everybody -- I was eleven and I was out there picking flowers -- and anything that looked like a flower, we're picking it, and so packed it up and sent it off to fill the order.

SY: Yeah, big business. Very interesting. What was the name of this collective? Did it have a name, the flower company?

BW: I don't know. My uncle Tomio was kind of like the businessman for the family. He was very shrewd, very smart guy, and of course he was bilingual, and so he was the one who took the flowers every night, I mean every, I think it was about three times a week, not every night, to the market. So he had very odd hours. He would, he would take the flowers around midnight and then sell all night long, and then by six AM, if you do well, you're sold out. And then he'd have breakfast and then sleep the rest of the day to catch up again.

SY: You mentioned he was bilingual. Your father never really learned how to speak English even though he was dealing with the flower market?

BW: He could, he actually could understand English fairly well and spoke some limited English, but not enough to be comfortable or to be fluent. So he preferred to and often did speak just Japanese.

SY: So after the war your father was still active enough that he, he felt able to go back into farming.

BW: Oh yeah. Let's see, in 1945 he would've been forty-one years old, so he was still pretty young.

SY: And that was, I mean, at some point your parents decided not to go back to Japan, so farming was something that they knew. I mean, is that, do you know, I guess, why they chose to go, come back to the same place, go back into the same work?

BW: Well, before the war, in a relatively short time he did very well. I mean, he had enough money to build these two houses and the packing shed. They'd just bought a brand new truck. So I think he was doing pretty well, and if it hadn't been for the war, who knows, you know? Again, I might be rich. [Laughs] But anyway, so I'm sure he felt that...

SY: He could do well.

BW: It was a good business. Yeah, it was a good business. And my mother told me that while they were still in camp they went to talk to a kind of respected elder, and it was this respected elder who kind of said, "You know, you could go to some other country, Brazil or wherever, but even though it's bad here you can do pretty well. And so you should, you should think about staying." And I think if my father thought about, yeah, he actually did pretty well before the war, and so even though it's bad, even though got taken to camp, once it's over, maybe staying is the best choice. So at some point that was what they decided. And it proved to be true. I mean, again, right after the war -- and of course, my parents are fortunate that Mr. Meichtry was an honest man, and so they picked up pretty much where they left off. And like I said, by 1952 they had enough money to buy twenty-five acres outright, plus build two houses.

SY: We sort of left your mother in camp, when your father came and your brothers ended up at Koyasan. So she was there with the two children, two babies really, and did she ever talk about that period of time when she was still left by herself?

BW: No, she never did. I never asked her. I should have.

SY: And so she ultimately was able, somehow, to get back to, reunite with your father.

BW: Around March of 1946 she apparently got clearance to leave, so my uncle Tomio and my father -- actually, my father bought a car.

SY: After the war.

BW: After the war. There weren't many, actually, people who could afford to buy a car, but he had money and so, from the house, I guess. I don't know how he bought the house back, but anyway, so he had enough money so he bought a car. And my uncle and my father drove back to Tule Lake from southern California and picked up my mother and me and my brother, and then we all came back.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<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.

<Begin Segment 20>

SY: So your, your earliest memory, then, now that you're a young child, after the war, do you have an inkling of what your earliest childhood memory is, like where you were, what, obviously growing up on a farm?

BW: Right. Those are my earliest memories.

SY: Do you remember preschool kind of?

BW: Yeah.

SY: Can you put an age to it?

BW: I must've been like three. I mean, I remember, I hate to say this, but I remember eating dirt, like taking dirt and saying, "I wonder what it tastes like," putting it in my mouth. [Laughs] I remember that very clearly. And then I remember pooping in my pants, kind of like, "Oh, that feels terrible." I hate to think I did that when I was seven or something. I'm assuming I was before preschool. And I do remember playing with my younger brother, in the dirt playing with rocks and bits of wood and that kind of thing, 'cause in the farm you have lots of places to play, lots of dirt to play around in.

SY: So did your mother ever characterize you as a young boy, what you were like?

BW: Well yeah, bratty kid. [Laughs]

SY: Bratty as in...

BW: I actually remember an incident breastfeeding. I think my mother must have breastfed me pretty late 'cause I can remember riding in the car, in the backseat, and my mother breastfed me. I don't know how old I was.

SY: Let's hope you were not too old.

BW: Yeah, I hope I wasn't like seven years old.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

SY: And so you pretty much were fairly close to your younger brother growing up?

BW: Yeah. We would fight every now and then, but we were very close.

SY: More so than to your older brothers?

BW: I was close to my older brothers too, but they were like eight and ten years older. So actually I related with my older brothers than I did with my parents. They were, my older brothers were almost like surrogate parents in some ways 'cause they watched out for us and did things for us, helped us.

SY: And did they speak Japanese? Did, were they fairly fluent?

BW: Their Japanese was fairly good 'cause they had to speak to my parents in Japanese. My Japanese, and my younger brother too, I mean, we never developed the language skills too much because we avoided speaking to my parents and would rather interact with our brothers.

SY: So it was kind of a division based on war almost, because prewar your older brothers were really speaking more Japanese, and postwar -- even though you had your parents who didn't speak English still, right?

BW: Right.

SY: -- you really only spoke English. And how was your Japanese? What was your Japanese like?

BW: Well, they sent us to Japanese school every Saturday, but we resisted learning. But I did learn kana, katakana, hiragana, maybe about fifty kanji, but for ten years of Japanese school wasn't much to show for it. [Laughs] So my interaction with my parents is, it was at such a rudimentary level, like, oyahou, sayounara, tabemashou, that kind of thing. But we couldn't really get into feelings and, "What's your opinion about this or that?"

SY: And your, the Japanese school was from when to when? I mean, where, how old were you when you started going to Japanese school?

BW: I must've been about six. I went to Sun Valley Japanese Language School for a couple of years. And then we moved from Montague to Granada Hills and the San Fernando Japanese language school was closer, so my parents put us into the San Fernando Japanese school. So I was going every Saturday until I graduated high school.

SY: And was it only, I mean, the kids that you went to Japanese school, what was that experience like, being sort of segregated, all the Japanese kids going to Japanese school as opposed to regular school? How, do you remember feeling a sense of being...

BW: Yeah, it was like plus and a minus. We lamented having to go to school on a Saturday. We felt deprived, like, "Why do our American friends, they get Saturday and Sunday off, but we have to go to school on Saturday?" That seemed unfair, but at the same time, a number of my lifelong friends were made in Japanese school. It certainly was an acculturating kind of a thing where, even though you're resisting it, you're still picking up the culture in some ways. And so one of my good friends is a classmate that I sat next to for many, many years, so we became very close, where I could say one word and he would finish it, or he would start a sentence and I would finish it kind of thing.

SY: Were you aware that it was only Japanese kids as opposed to...

BW: Yeah. By that, by the time of my moving to, say, San Fernando Japanese Language School, yeah, I pretty much knew what it was for. It was kind of like you had your, during the week you had your school, which is public school so it's not Japanese, and in fact, you're very much aware you're not like the rest of 'em, you're not white. Although I did hang around as much as possible with my Japanese American friends, but I had other friends too. Then on Saturday I had Japanese school, so that was kind of like my Japanese school friends, then on Sunday I went to church at the local Japanese Christian church and so I had those friends, so kind of like three sets of friends, school friends, Japanese school friends, and church school friends.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

SY: Speaking of that, your parents sent you to a Christian church even though they were Buddhist?

BW: Right.

SY: Was that, do you know how, what went into that decision?

BW: Well, when we were on Montague, right after the war, there was a Holiness Church only about a block away that was starting up, and so they invited, talked to my parents and invited me and my brother to -- well, actually all four of us, my two older brothers and myself and my younger brother -- to go to this church Sunday school. So we, there was only like seven kids and we were, like, half of that. So that's, my parents felt church is better than no church, so even though they were Buddhist, there was no Buddhist church in the area at the time back then, so they went ahead and sent us to the Christian church. And actually, my brother Bob and I and my oldest brother Kinichi, we've all been part of the Christian Church ever since.

SY: And the, and did your parents go to church with you?

BW: No.

SY: So it was just, and, but did they continue practicing Buddhism at all?

BW: Well, no. There was no Buddhist church in the Valley until maybe -- well, if there was I didn't know about it -- until maybe about the 1960s or so. My father was kind of irreligious, or areligious, he told me it's a bunch of hokey, but to him it was family tradition. He firmly believed that he should be Zen, belongs to the Zen church 'cause that's what his family always belonged to. My mother was more religious, and she actually was invited to go to the Christian church and she was interested in going, but my father told her, "You can't go. You're part of this family, this family is Zen Buddhism. That's where you should be." So he felt very strongly. Even though he never went to church himself, he didn't believe this stuff, he said, "This stuff is phony, they're all a bunch of charlatans," when my mother said she'd like to go to the Christian church, he said, "If you go, we're divorcing. I'm gonna divorce you." So that's how strongly he felt about it.

SY: And yet he didn't feel as strong with his kids, about your, about the kids.

BW: Yeah. Again, he didn't feel that strongly about us, but his wife, he refused to allow her to go.

SY: So growing up in the Valley, other Japanese families, did you feel because it was after the war that there was, did you feel more comfortable being around other Japanese? Or did you notice that there was a difference, that you felt more comfortable among...

BW: Yeah, I felt equally comfortable in all three spheres, although I did notice that my Japanese school friends who went to the Buddhist church were a little more tighter amongst themselves, and I felt a little bit excluded 'cause I think I was one of the only, very few who went to the Christian church who went to Japanese school.

SY: So the Japanese school was primarily Buddhist?

BW: Most of the kids went to Buddhist church, yeah. But being comfortable, I felt comfortable with my school friends, Japanese school friends, church school friends.

SY: And they were, this Japanese school, I mean, you were encouraged, it was a mandatory thing. Your parents really insisted on you going to Japanese school, right?

BW: Yeah, they did. So my friend Dick and I, we used to commiserate, like, "Why are we being punished like this?" We thought, "We're too young to have stored up all this bachi." We felt like it was punishment for something we did in an earlier life or something. But yeah, it's like, we said there's only one reason why we keep going to Japanese school: we want to eat. [Laughs] Our families would kick us out if we disobeyed them.

SY: It was that, that fervent.

BW: So we didn't stand up to them 'cause we wanted to keep eating. [Laughs]

SY: And your older brothers, did they, they all went? And you...

BW: My older brothers went until, I don't think they finished. Somehow they dropped out, maybe 'cause they were kind of working on the farm or something, I don't know.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

SY: And can you describe what regular school was like, I mean, maybe compare and contrast what regular school was like versus Japanese school?

BW: Well, regular school was fine. I enjoyed regular school. I was a very shy kind of kid, so I had a hard time adjusting because I didn't, no one prepared me to know what to expect, so I remember vividly my first day in school. I mean, it was frightening. I didn't know what to do. So my parents didn't tell me, my older brothers didn't tell me, so I was totally lost. But after that initial experience, I didn't experience any animosity or prejudice or negative feelings. Everyone seemed pretty accepting.

SY: Was there a language issue? Because you only spoke Japanese at home, was it uncomfortable? I mean, how, how did you learn English?

BW: I was told, like in kindergarten and first grade, I hadn't developed much of my language skills yet and so apparently my first grade teacher wrote a note to my parents saying I should be tested 'cause I might have, I might be, what do they call it, retarded, that kind of thing. So my uncle Tomio actually went to the school to explain that, "He hasn't grown up in an English-speaking environment, so he's not retarded, but he's got to pick it up yet." So apparently the teachers were quite understanding, and you pick it up fairly quickly, so as far as I can tell, by first, second grade I was fine.

SY: Do you remember it being difficult in your own mind?

BW: No, not language wise. I just remember it being difficult, not knowing what to do. Like recess, everybody ran out the door and I thought, "What's recess?" [Laughs] I didn't know, I didn't know what was going on. And then I remember in kindergarten, playing with the blocks, but I never played with blocks and I never played with any of those toys, so when the teacher said, "It's recess time, you can play," I had no knowledge of how to play with any of those things. So it was that kind of an experience that I remember most. It's just in a foreign world and not knowing what to do.

SY: Growing up on the farm, was that, do you think it was because you were Japanese American or because you were, you grew up on a farm that you didn't have that --

BW: Yeah, growing up on the farm and my parents had no Western knowledge of ways.

SY: So it was a combination. So in some sense, Japanese school should've been more comfortable, but it, but it wasn't, huh?

BW: Well, it wasn't uncomfortable. Yeah.

SY: It just felt like punishment.

BW: [Laughs] Yeah, it was like, "We could be playing somewhere. Instead we're sitting here."

SY: So did you get off the hook as far as working on the farm when you were young?

BW: We did, I admit it. My two older brothers used to say, "You know, you have it so easy 'cause we had to, we had to work," ever since they were young. And I believe it. They probably had to work like adults since they were, like, twelve years old. Me, me and my younger brother, like after school, we didn't have to work, whereas my two older brothers, they had to put in a couple hours of work on the farm. And then on, I think on Saturdays they worked too, whereas I didn't have to work. I went to Japanese school and we just had it easy. And then during the summers, my brothers had to show up at seven a.m., 'cause that's when everybody started work. Me and my brother, we'd show up around nine and no one said anything, and my brothers would go, looking at us with disdain, like, "You guys have it so easy. You should've been here at seven a.m. They made us be here at seven a.m." I go, "Okay." I admit it. [Laughs] So yeah, we had it easy, and I mean, we did have to work, but I know they were much softer on us than with my two older brothers. But when I compare my growing up experience with my daughter, I feel the same way. She's got it so easy. She's never had to put in, like a ten hour day, working under the hot sun. Even though I did it easier than my older brothers, still, growing up on a farm and working on a farm, it does give you, what would you say, a sense of character. It's something to work 'til your bones and fingers and legs ache and, yeah, stuff like that.

SY: And your mother stayed home, primarily?

BW: No, my mother, she would prepare breakfast, clean up, she'd work in the fields maybe from about nine to four. She'd come back early, make lunch, and then, and then the two mothers, my aunt Terry and my mother, she would also make a morning snack and an afternoon snack for the workers, and then come back around four to make dinner. So she did full housekeeping, preparing meals, and put in maybe five hours in the fields. And then when we had flowers to pack and bunch, we might be working 'til seven or eight, nine o'clock at night.

SY: And when you got home from school, was she out in the fields, or was she --

BW: Most of the time she'd be out in the fields. So my brothers, my brother and I, as kids we would watch TV and make ourselves sandwiches and play games and stuff.

SY: You were pretty much on your own, in some ways.

BW: We were, yeah. Latchkey, I suppose, to some extent. [Laughs] But we knew they were on the farm. It's not like they were, we didn't know where they were, so it wasn't like we were alone, but we were alone in the house.

SY: So how, so at a young age, your parents, were they strict with you? Were they, just left you alone? Did they, how would you characterize, what...

BW: Yeah, it's kind of an odd sense of discipline 'cause I don't remember them being, like, really strict. But at the same time, I know they inculcated in us a sense of respecting what they said. I never got spanked, although my father kicked me once. [Laughs] 'Cause I came home late and I must've been kind of sassy, but -- and actually, he was a short man, and I could've run away, but I didn't. I let him kick me. [Laughs] And he had heavy farm boots on. And then I remember one time my mother punched me. She would make these knuckles and she, pow pow, she hit me in the chest several times, but that happened only once in my life that I can remember. But we were basically obedient. Maybe my two older brothers might've kind of put that into us, that, that's how they were. They were very obedient, and whatever my father said, that's the way it was.

SY: And you, and even though you were younger, you weren't, you weren't different in the sense that you were...

BW: We weren't rebellious or anything. We were lazy, but we weren't rebellious. [Laughs] And then Kinjiro, my second oldest brother, he, he wanted to get away, so as soon as he graduated high school he joined the Air Force and left, left home. But the rest of us, we were quite happy at home, I think. My parents were not overbearing, they were not strict, but we knew, we would toe the line. We never did anything rebellious as far as I knew.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

SY: And once you got accustomed to going to school, going to the, from your elementary school onward, did you enjoy it? Did you, were you a good student? Were you...

BW: I was a pretty good student. I did okay in school. Japanese school, we didn't, just played around.

SY: In general, would you say that the Japanese kids were better students?

BW: I would say so. I almost had a, kind of a sense of racial superiority going to the Japanese school 'cause this classmate was student body president at her junior high school, this guy was student body president at his high school, this person was this, valedictorian, this person over here, salutatorian. So I was kind of thinking very ethnocentrically, like, "Wow, we must be pretty smart." And I was doing okay. And my friend Dick who I sat next to, he became student body president. So without really being conscious, I think there was a little bit of a superiority -- so when I went to college, I can still remember thinking, "You know, I used to think we Japanese were smart, but these Jewish people are really smart." [Laughs] But I realized it's not that they're smarter, they, they have good work habits. But at the time I thought, yeah, Japanese was smart.

SY: And you were still a minority in the, in the regular school? You were still...

BW: Yeah, pretty much. My junior high, there were only three non-whites. There weren't even Mexicans there then. This is 1957, '58, '56, '57, and there were only three Japanese students. There were no Chinese, no Filipinos, I don't remember seeing any Mexicans, almost all white. And most of the white were Jewish back then.

SY: So all these kids that went to Japanese school, they were, they were in different schools. They, this Japanese school pulled from --

BW: Yeah, my friend Dick, he went to San Fernando High School, and most of my classmates in Japanese school went to San Fernando. I, because I lived in Granada Hills on a farm, I went to Northridge Junior High. And it turns out there were three of us, and Sam Kihara was student body president. [Laughs] So I did kind of feel like, "Oh yeah, we're good." But it was interesting too, Northridge Junior High, I felt like a foreign exchange student. I was so different. And so other people noticed me because I was different, so I became very popular, actually, without even trying. They remembered me, my name, kind of like a foreign exchange student. So in a way it was a, kind of a positive experience 'cause I was really shy and that helped me to kind of come out a little bit, I think.

SY: Do, I mean, did you really have a concept of what a foreign exchange student was like then? Or did you just feel different?

BW: No, not at the time. As I think back, that's kind of how I felt.

SY: And like, so did you, were you in student government? Did you do that kind of thing?

BW: No.

SY: You just, just were fairly popular.

BW: I think I knew half the school within one year, yeah. They were very friendly, so it was nice.

SY: And what high school did you go to? What high school did you end up going to?

BW: So then, see, I went to Northridge Junior High, and then I, we moved to Lakeview Terrace, so then I finished up at Pacoima Junior High. And then Pacoima Junior High at that time, though, was a racially mixed junior high school, so there were Latinos, there were blacks, there were mostly Japanese and majority white, but it was very racially mixed. Most schools back then weren't. It was either white or black, and the rest of us kind of filled in. And so when I moved from Northridge Junior High, which was all white, ninety-nine percent white and heavily Jewish with very Jewish names, Weinstein and Baumgartner and all these names, then I moved to Pacoima Junior and we had Smith and Mendoza, so I thought, "There's something different here." [Laughs] Couldn't quite put my finger on it. But so it was nice being there and seeing the diversity and kind of experiencing that diversity, although there were some racial tensions too. Then graduating there, I went to San Fernando High School.

SY: So what was the experience like, though, moving in the middle of your junior high school? Was that traumatic in any way? Was it, you had to make a whole new set of friends, was it...

BW: It was traumatic, but -- I shouldn't say it was traumatic -- it was different. The whole school experience was different. And again, when I went to Northridge Junior High, I had no idea what junior high was all about. I didn't know you went to separate classes. [Laughs] No one told me, or maybe I was just oblivious and I wasn't listening. I remember going to my first class, found it, sat down there, and then everybody left. I thought, "Where are they going?" And then the teacher had to explain to me, "Okay, you're supposed to go to different classes for each hour." So she says, "Your second class is in this room." "Is that how it works?" So, but that was, after that I felt quite comfortable. So moving to Pacoima, my cousin was there and he kind of took me under his wing, so he helped me a lot. So it was nice to have my cousin, so we were together for two years.

SY: And your younger brother came with you as well?

BW: And then my younger brother started at Pacoima Junior High. My younger brother was quite outgoing, so he was very active in student government and stuff.

SY: And your, you were a fairly, what kind of student were you? Were you...

BW: I was probably, I might've been, like, in the upper ten percent, but I wasn't a star. And I was very shy.

SY: And how about sports? Were you involved in sports?

BW: Sports, I was attracted to gymnastics, so I did gymnastics in junior high. And I did gymnastics in high school.

SY: Were, did your parents encourage sports at home, or was that something --

BW: No. But my older brothers did. My older brothers put a horizontal bar in the backyard. They also put in a basketball court, which I think most kids would love to have had their own court, but we never played. [Laughs] So I never got good at basketball. But I liked the horizontal bar, so I did that and did that in junior high. And I found out I was pretty good at it, so it was kind of fun.

SY: So your, what other kinds of extracurricular things were you involved in? Did you, what did you do after school? Do you end up working on the farm?

BW: No, only during the summers. We didn't have to work on the farm. So we did gymnastics, and so my parents allowed us to stay after school and they would pick us up, like around five o'clock.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

SY: And then, and then you ended up going to what high school?

BW: San Fernando High School. So I was reunited with some of my Japanese school friends who went to San Fernando Junior, they went to San Fernando High School. So that was fun. I instantly had like thirty Japanese American friends that I knew from Japanese school there, and so I was quite happy going to school.

SY: Did you find yourself socializing more with the other Japanese Americans than you did...

BW: Yes. We kind of ate lunch together, did things together.

SY: So you were very comfortable with your Japanese American friends, as opposed to... or was there a difference? Did you feel a difference?

BW: I was very comfortable and they were my friends of choice, but I also had some non-Japanese friends. One of my best friends was Frank Jones, he's a half black, half Latino fellow, and we still keep in touch. There was a Caucasian girl. Her name was Weaver, so Watanabe and Weaver, we always, or often, got seated next to each other, so we became very good friends. And it was around that time that I kind of became aware of my own racism about myself.

SY: And what was that, what was that about? How did that...

BW: Well, it's kind of, you're growing up, you don't really think about it, but I remember my friend Frank Jones, he invited me to a party at his house and I found myself not wanting to go. And so I said no, then, but then I thought, "Why don't I want to go? He's one of my best friends." We used, we were together every day. And I, as I thought about it and thought about it, I realized I didn't feel comfortable going into a house with a bunch of black folks and Latino folks, 'cause his father was black, his mother was Hispanic. So I don't know if it was racism or just being uncomfortable being in this different culture, but I didn't want to go, and I felt bad. I thought, "He's my friend, I should go." So I realized there's this complex that I had in me. And then my friend Melody Weaver, I remember one time she put her hand on my arm and I pulled my arm away, 'cause when I saw her white hand -- and my arm was dark 'cause we did work in the fields sometimes and I would get tanned during the summers, so I'd be pretty dark -- but I was afraid she would see how white she was and how dark I was and she would not want to touch me. It was kind of weird 'cause she was already touching me, 'cause she's a very friendly, outgoing person. I never felt anything from her, but I did. I didn't want her touch to me. I was afraid she'd see how white she was compared to me. And I thought, "Why would I feel that way?" And then I realized I elevated whiteness versus darkness, and white was good but dark was not, and when that struck me I thought, oh my gosh, I'm just, I'm just so, I couldn't believe that's how I felt.

SY: Do you remember any of those conversations at home that dealt with race?

BW: No, although my father felt Japanese were the best people on earth. [Laughs] He really felt that.

SY: In fact, maybe conversation's the wrong word, but was there feeling, I mean, did you, was there any kind of feeling that there were, there was a hierarchy of race, races?

BW: We didn't interact as the family with much people, many people outside of Japanese and whites. But I do remember one time there was a Filipino man who, he might've been a salesman or doing something, but he got into a big argument with my uncle. And we were all in the, I remember, I can still remember, we're all in the shed, packing shed, packing the flowers, and my uncle told this Filipino man, "We don't like you and if you don't leave I'm gonna get my gun and shoot you." Which you don't hear every day, but my uncle, he was a soldier and he was a very tough man. I wouldn't mess with him. But I thought, well, I felt sorry for this guy who was treated this way, but, and my uncle made some kind of anti-Filipino slur. I don't remember what he said. So there was this sense Japanese were the best, everybody else was not as good, but it never came out that overtly. That's the only instance I can think of where they said something against another ethnic person.

SY: So your, there were not other workers on the farm who were not Japanese? They were all, pretty much everybody who worked on the farm, on your family farm?

BW: We hired a lot of Mexican laborers from the labor camps.

SY: But no interaction with them other than in the fields?

BW: No.

SY: And there was never a sense of, "We're better than they are"?

BW: You know, they might have felt it, but it wasn't overt. I mean, my parents, I think, treated them pretty well.

SY: And you never felt it?

BW: I never felt it. In fact, I always felt like, "Gosh, they're so hardworking. I can't keep up with them." [Laughs] So in some ways I felt like, yeah, they're such hardworking people.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

SY: And your parents', your family farm, then, continued their relationship with the Southern California Flower Market? That was their main source of income, going to the flower market?

BW: Right.

SY: So was there, did you feel that you guys had a strong tie to this downtown -- 'cause it was located in downtown, right? So how did that work? Did your father go there every day? Did he still travel by, bring his stuff by truck?

BW: No, my father didn't. After the war it was all done by my uncle Tomio, and I think my other uncles may have driven their own trucks into the market. But my father didn't do that, so it was just my uncle Tomio, so he would come into the flower market, so he had a pretty set routine. But my parents did come to Little Tokyo at least once a month, drive in and do some shopping, we would eat at a restaurant maybe, then go home.

SY: So you remember Little Tokyo fairly vividly as a young boy.

BW: Yeah, right.

SY: And do you remember how you felt about it? What was it like?

BW: I remember one of my early recollections, there's a few times I can remember seeing streetcars and so they were going up and down First Street, and people would wait for them right in the middle of the street. There would be a small island. I thought, wow, 'cause in the valley you never saw anything like that. And then I remember one time my father and I were walking down the sidewalk, and there was a black fellow standing on the side of the sidewalk and then my father all of sudden grabbed my hand and started running off. And I wasn't sure what was going on, but he said something about, have to be careful or something. 'Cause back then there were a lot of blacks living in Little Tokyo.

SY: So it was kind of a city experience for you.

BW: City or seedy?

SY: [Laughs] Both.

BW: [Laughs] It was a little seedy in the city. And the city was definitely different from the farm.

SY: Did you feel a closeness to Little Tokyo? Was it someplace you wanted to go, you enjoyed going to?

BW: It was always like an adventure, something different. My father would get a haircut at the barbershop here, so we, my brother and I, of course we'd get bored and we're running around and stuff, but it was right here on San Pedro Street in the Firm Building, which Little Tokyo Service Center now owns. But we would go there and he'd get a haircut, and he would talk to his friends. The barber, they'd known each other for many, many years. So that kind of thing, and then go shopping at the Asahi Shoe Store or pick up a shirt there or something, then go to the grocery store and pick up food. And then it'd be dark and have dinner somewhere, then we'd make our way back home. So that was probably at least a monthly trip.

SY: And so very, kind of pleasant memories of that whole time. I mean, was it, it was a sense of, did you feel a sense of community with, when you went there, Little Tokyo being all Japanese?

BW: I think so, yeah. A sense of community, and it became quite comfortable.

SY: Okay.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

SY: And then San Fernando High School was, was primarily mixed racially?

BW: San Fernando High School was also one of the few high schools that was racially and ethnically mixed, and I thought it was a great experience. It was still fifty percent white, but there were maybe ten percent black, ten percent Latino, ten percent others. That doesn't add up, does it? [Laughs] But, and some Japanese, very few, there were a few Filipinos. I don't know of any Chinese.

SY: But Japanese were a minority, though.

BW: Japanese were a definite minority.

SY: So you...

BW: But again, amongst the leadership, though...

SY: Same situation. And your friends were primarily, mostly Japanese Americans, as opposed to... I mean, you had other friends, but were they mostly Japanese Americans?

BW: Right.

SY: You, so did feel more connected to the Japanese Americans?

BW: Yeah, I would say so.

SY: And then when you, when you graduated high school, did your parents encourage you to go on to college?

BW: No. They never said anything or did anything. When I was in the first grade I remember my mother looked at my report card, and I had one A and that was in reading. Everything else was like Bs, and everything was Satisfactory, nothing Excellent, as I recall. And so I remember my mother said, "Hey, you got an A in reading. That's the most important." I don't know if she actually meant that, but so I felt, okay, that's good. It was kind of funny. She never, she was not a "tiger mom" or anything. She...

SY: Generally positive with you.

BW: Generally positive. She did compare me with my cousin, Ken, who was the same age as me. She might've said something like, "Yeah, he didn't get an A in reading," or something. [Laughs] But basically they left us to decide for ourselves. My oldest brother, Kinichi, he went to UCLA, so he kind of set the, I think he set the mode for... and Kinjiro went into the Air Force, so he, he went a different way. But when I was growing up I thought, yeah, well, Kinichi's doing fine, I think I'll go to college too, but that was my decision. My parents never said anything.

SY: And did you find it difficult, going, getting, going from high school to college?

BW: Not, not... back then, California, going to college was the, what would you call it? That was the golden age. It was free. Free college, can you imagine that? And anybody could join, kind of. It's like they didn't turn anybody away, as far as I know. I mean, UCLA, okay, it wasn't automatic, but state college, practically anybody could go.

SY: And that's where you end up going?

BW: Well, yeah, I thought about going to UCLA like my brother, but somebody said, one of my teachers said, "Well, you can go to UCLA, but at UCLA you could be one of two hundred students." And then Cal State Northridge had just opened up. He goes, "You might want to go to Cal State Northridge 'cause there they have a class, average class size is like twenty-five." So I have to say, I was quite naive and kind of lazy. I never bothered to really check it out, so I thought, okay, state college. [Laughs] So I went to Northridge.

SY: And your parents didn't have anything, any say in it? They didn't have anything to do with...

BW: Not a word.

SY: With the proximity or...

BW: Nothing. They never said anything.

SY: So you could've gone to Harvard and that would've been fine with them, or somewhere far away?

BW: Yeah, or I could've not gone to college at all and I don't think they would've said anything. Just don't be a bum. I think bottom line, don't be a bum.

SY: They didn't care whether you went into the family business or not?

BW: Well, I think if we had, if I had said, "You know, I really want to go into the family business," I think they would've been happy about that, but they never said I needed to.

SY: It was doing fine without you, huh?

BW: Well, it was doing fine, and it was like...

SY: Were there other cousins, younger people that were interested in it?

BW: None of them were interested in it.

SY: So it was all still that --

BW: So after the kids grew up, eventually the farm ended. They sold it and that was it.

SY: And so your father and mother ended up selling, at what point in their lives?

BW: So around 1965 my father turned sixty-two so he decided to retire early, and so he sold his share of the farm. And so he retired at age sixty-two, and he did very well.

SY: And stayed, did they move into a different house?

BW: He did. So we had the farm -- this is in Lakeview Terrace -- and then the partnership had bought the farm and built the two houses, so he sold, or yeah, he sold his share of the farm and the house and took that, bought another house in Lakeview Terrace, and that's where they lived until he died.

SY: And you were already, were you still in college?

BW: By that time I was in college, yeah.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

SY: So did you live with your parents this whole time while you were in college?

BW: So I lived with my parents throughout the time I was at Northridge, and so in '65 I was a junior, so I moved with them to the other house. It was a big three-bedroom house, so it was just the two of them and me and my brother. Then my brother passed away in 1968, but he had already moved out. He decided to go to UCLA, so he was living at UCLA and then he was going back East, so he was already gone. So just the three of us in the house.

SY: And how did your brother pass away? He was fairly young.

BW: He was fairly young. He decided he wanted to be a minister, Christian minister, so he finished UCLA and then was going to Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. So he was over there and then while he was there -- and then while he was there I was in Japan, actually, for a year.

SY: That was after you graduated from Cal State Northridge?

BW: Yeah. So I took a job up in Sunnyvale, doing, I was a mechanical engineer. That's what I graduated in. Took a job, then from Sunnyvale, after working there a couple years, I decided to spend a year in Japan to try to learn the language that I didn't learn while I was going to Japanese school. But during the meantime he went to seminary, and then he met this young lady in seminary and she lived in upstate New York, and so during Easter break he and his friend, they went boating, and there was a boating accident and both of them drowned in the lake. So that was '68, so he was twenty-three at the time, not quite twenty-three.

SY: So do you remember the impact that that had on your family when your...

BW: Yeah. Everyone was, well, at that age where I could really see and understand better, reading people's feelings from what, their face and body language, so everyone was quite impacted. And even my uncle Tomio, who, like I said, the guy is a tough guy, but even he was crying when he came to pick me up at the airport. It's kind of funny, when I heard my brother died I was in Japan, and so I didn't cry. I mean, I, at first they couldn't find the body, so there's this feeling like, "Well maybe he's still alive. Maybe he got out and he's wandering around somewhere." You're thinking all these irrational thoughts 'cause they couldn't find the body, neither body. They're both gone. Found out later the body sinks until it starts to get bloated and, but because the water was so cold -- this was in April and the water was still ice cold -- the body stayed at the bottom for a long time, months. But anyway, so you're thinking, "Maybe he's still alive. We don't know he's dead." So I was kind of blase in one sense, although my father, he was in Japan at the time so we flew back together, and he was very quiet. And then when I saw my uncle crying I thought, "Oh my gosh, this is serious." I mean, this, I never saw him cry.

SY: And your mother, your mother's reaction? Was there something...

BW: Yeah, she was sad. And so my, my father and I flew to New York, upstate New York to the lake, to help look for the body, so we spent a week there, what they call dredging the lake.

SY: Difficult time.

BW: Yeah, but it gives you something to do.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 29>

SY: So this is a time in your life when you were sort of re-exploring your Japanese, Japanese-ness?

BW: Yeah, so in 1968...

SY: You graduated from college in...

BW: Graduated from college in January of '66, and I took a job with Lockheed Missiles in Sunnyvale. I was working up there and a friend of mine there told me, "Hey, you know they have this, Cal State has this language program where you can live abroad for one year and learn a language." And so I heard about that and I thought that sounds great, spend a year, like in Japan, and try to learn the language, learn about Japan, visit some of the folks in the old country. All of that was very attractive to me, and I thought this would be an opportunity to be able to learn the language so I can talk to my parents. I'm, by that time I was like twenty-three, and I thought, "You know, I really want to communicate better with my parents." So that was really what motivated me to do that, so I applied and was able to get accepted into the program. And so in September of '67 lived in Tokyo for about nine months.

SY: And that was not a difficult, was that a difficult decision given the fact that you're already working in a...

BW: So I quit my job at Lockheed.

SY: That was a very conscious...

BW: It was very conscious, but one of the backdrops to that was the Vietnam War was going on, and I don't know if you remember, but they were drafting people and they assigned people a lottery draft number, draft lottery number based on your birthdate. And my birthday, I think I had the number one hundred and forty or something like that, which was pretty sure. If you were three hundred and sixty you probably wouldn't get picked, but I had a number that was very likely to get picked earlier on, so when I was working for Lockheed I had a defense deferment because Lockheed was a defense contractor. So the government had decided that you're more important building missiles than being drafted into the army. Well, when I heard about this study abroad program, did I want that bad enough to quit Lockheed? 'Cause once I quit Lockheed, then I'm eligible for the draft, which was not attractive to me, I have to say. But I decided I want to do this, so I went to Japan, lived there for a year, and then when I came back I became eligible for the draft.

SY: So they let you go through a whole year with, or nine months, however long you were in Japan, and you weren't, you were not bothered by the draft at that point?

BW: Yeah, because I didn't actually quit. I took a leave from Lockheed. But I knew I wasn't gonna go back. In fact, after one month of working as an engineer, I realized I'm not a good engineer and I just did it 'cause I couldn't think of what else to do. But I knew I was not a good engineer and I would never be a good engineer. I could be, at best, a mediocre engineer, but that was not attractive to me. [Laughs] So I knew I wasn't gonna come back.

SY: It was a course of study, though, right? You knew, I mean, it was, you had to, like, study to become an engineer in a very specific way.

BW: Yeah, I had to work like a dog.

SY: And that was not, was that difficult for you?

BW: It was. Even in my senior year it wasn't coming naturally to me and I was struggling. So that helped me to realize, maybe this isn't the field for you. And then when I graduated and I was working in the job, I was so lost and I wasn't adept at it and I needed, I was constantly asking for help from my peers and supervisors. When I compared myself I thought, "You know, I don't think I could be that good."

SY: But there was something that drove you to do this. Was that, it really was because there was nothing --

BW: Practicality. In 1967 the space race was going on and technology was booming in southern California, so it was like, you'll always have a job. You have an engineering degree, you'll always have a job. [Laughs] If you look at it today it's like, it's all gone, but back then there were tons of jobs for engineers. So I just felt like no matter what I do, the engineering degree will always be there to help. But when the war broke out in Vietnam and then they started the draft, that's when I first realized I'm not really fully in control of my life. The government wants to grab me. I thought, "Gosh, I'm not in control like I thought." I thought I could just blithely, I'll quit and I'll look for another job, whatever. But I couldn't do that. There were consequences.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 30>

SY: But you ended up, I mean, the conscious decision to go to Japan, that was very...

BW: I felt very strongly that this was an experience I wanted to have. Part of it was existential, I think. I wanted to experience Japan. I wanted to learn the culture, learn the language, and be outside of America. So I felt that was more important than other things.

SY: Really focused on it. And what was it like?

BW: It was probably one of the best years of my life. I saved up enough money that I didn't have to worry about money, and I was very frugal when I was working at Lockheed. So I saved up enough money, and so I spent nine months essentially going to class and taking trips and trying to really experience Japan and Tokyo back in the '60s, which was quite an interesting era of Japan as it was just coming out and starting to very well in the world after the war. And experiencing Japan as a Japanese American, I remember one experience landing at Haneda Airport and I'm looking out the window, and this may seem funny, but to me it's so, I don't know, one of those moments, but I'm looking out the window and everybody on the ground running around are Japanese, of course. And I thought, look at that, this whole airport is being run by Japanese. And I thought, "Now, why is that so remarkable?" Well, I've never seen anything like that. Everything in America was run by whites. Airports, important functions, white people did that. And I thought, "Here's a country run by Japanese. They look just like me." And again, I realized how racist that I'd grown up, thinking that Japanese people couldn't do that. I'll never forget that, looking out the window and seeing these Japanese people are running this big airport. How amazing. How amazing that that should be amazing.

SY: So you actually did learn the language, then?

BW: I did. I probably learned, like maybe a thousand kanji, and I became quite conversant. But I knew I wasn't Japanese, so it helped confirm my being Japanese American. But like I say, it was great fun. Kind of interesting -- well, go ahead.

SY: Go ahead, no, no.

BW: I was gonna say, there was a group of us, about sixty Americans, all a part of the international division, so we ran around and did a lot of stuff, so some of my best friends were, like, Caucasian women, and I thought it was kind of ironic that I developed a very close relationship with a Caucasian woman in Japan, an American, whereas while I was in America I never, like, dated a white girl. So I thought, how strange life is. [Laughs]

<End Segment 30> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 31>

SY: So now that you've experienced being a Japanese American in Japan, and as a semi-adult, still kind of a young person, but did you have any reflection about, about camp at this point? Like do you, did you feel, I mean, did camp somehow have an impact on your life at this point? Or did it come later? Or did it ever come at all? Did you ever feel that camp had some sort of... the fact that your parents were in camp.

BW: Well, I'm not sure whether it happened right around the point when I was in Japan or had just come back from Japan, but I did notice that when I was growing up I was very shy and many of my Japanese American friends were on the quieter side, maybe reflective. But we didn't make trouble, we didn't act out. Many of my friends were leaders, but they were always very in control. However, when I saw the people in Japan, the college students, they were very different from me. I was kind of controlled, subdued, quiet. They were boisterous, noisy, gettin' drunk, and all kind of -- and I realized, "Why are they so different from me and many of my friends?" And then I began to realize that we're a minority in America and we went to camps. We were treated differently. And I remember my parents saying, "Don't make trouble, 'cause if you make trouble bad things can happen to you." And so we kind of learned -- or I did, anyway, and I think many of my friends did -- that you don't make trouble. You try to stay under the radar. And seeing how Japanese people were made me realize it wasn't being Japanese that made us quiet, it was being Japanese American. 'Cause the people in Japan, people in Hawaii, and even people in Gardena, they don't act the same way as those of us who grew up in the Valley, I don't think. So I think that was one impact, and I thought about camp. Camp was an experience where it's better to stay under the radar. So it was an opportunity to rethink that kind of an experience.

SY: Did it, was it important to you at that point, learning Japanese, to talk to your mother about camp? Or was it, did that come later?

BW: It came later because then I knew I at least could converse with her about stuff, and my father. So it was nice, coming back from Japan and being able to talk to them in Japanese.

<End Segment 31> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 32>

SY: I'm sorry that we can't talk more about your, from your Japanese experience to the present, which is massive, but in your role today as the head of the Little Tokyo Service Center, which is, in a word -- well, maybe you should describe it in a sentence. Can you?

BW: Well, today I think the Service Center is probably the biggest and the most active social service or community service program in southern California, at least for the Japanese American community, but even for the overall Asian American community.

SY: And your being Japanese American, was that, was that a, sort of a thing that prompted you to form the, to become involved and to really help, really start the Little Tokyo Service Center?

BW: Well, some of it was providential. I think I kind of feel like I got placed where I got placed providentially. But I think also growing up and coming to Little Tokyo, I did feel an affinity to Little Tokyo, and then having gone to Japan to study the language somewhat, I felt like I can use my language skills. I had gotten my Masters in Social Work by that time, so I could use my social work degree and experience, and so that, to me, was a coming together of maybe where I could best serve the community. And I think my Christian faith, too, was always about serving the community, helping people. So all of that was kind of a nice fit for my life experience, I think, up to that time.

SY: And did the fact that your parents, your family was in camp, did that have any bearing, was that something that was any kind of motivating factor for you in terms of forming a social service organization?

BW: Not so much directly. I mean, we certainly dealt with people who were devastated by the camps, but not, it was not like an overriding thing. Every now and then you would read about, Mr. So-and-So ever since camp has, became an alcoholic or has been depressed or that kind of thing, but that was not the rule. That was more occasional.

SY: But as far as you personally, was it a motivating factor? Did you feel like, "It's important for me to help others," or did camp have any lessons for you in terms of what your parents went through?

BW: Well, I think it was more kind of a side thing, but it was a clear message that we have to help ourselves. Camp was this clear example that you have to watch out for yourself and you have to take care of your own community.

SY: So when did you first become interested in sort of learning more about your family history? What was, when did that happen?

BW: I think it was just a personal quest. This was before, like, Roots came out, where you want to learn about your heritage, so to me it was more of a personal quest. I knew there were relatives I'd never met. I wanted to learn where the old country was, Fukushima, and where my parents grew up. So I think personal curiosity and wanting to make some connections in my own life about my family's past. Which I did. As soon as I got to Waseda, during our first break I made it a point to go visit my relatives in Fukushima and spent a number of days there visiting them.

SY: So we're really, I know we're skipping a lot, but again, when you started this organization, when you really almost, I mean, you were given this position, one, you were the only, you were basically a one person office at the time.

BW: Right.

SY: And you've developed it into this very, very thriving organization.

BW: Yeah, who would've thunk? [Laughs]

<End Segment 32> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 33>

SY: Do you think that there was anything learned from camp that maybe... I mean, it's sort of asking you, how did you become the person you are? What are all the different factors that went into who you are, and your goals?

BW: Yeah, well, you rarely ever think about a question like that, but I think everything I've talked about in terms of my family upbringing, growing up in a Japanese family, on the farm, going to Japanese school and having the set of friends that I did, did mold me in terms of the foundation of the person that I am. But at the same time, I think my Christian faith, and I do strongly believe in providence and sort of God's will and that kind of thing, so I felt very strongly that I learned some Japanese and became a social worker, and I wanted to serve in the community and Little Tokyo is where I should be. So I had such a strong conviction of that that I felt like I could launch out, even though -- so when I was hired onto the Little Tokyo Service Center, we had no budget, no money, we had no office, no staff, but we did have a board of directors, a group of people who felt like this was a vision they wanted to support. And I felt very strongly, like this is where I should be, I think this is what God has willed, and because of that I was confident that it would be taken care of. So if I didn't have that confidence I probably would've chickened out. I thought, "What am I doing? I'm married, I got a kid. We shouldn't be doing this." But --

SY: Also coming from a place, though, of being a minority in a society that once looked down upon Japanese Americans, did you feel that that, did you feel that internal struggle at all in terms of the work that you set out to do?

BW: No, I think it was, I felt like a person's life, meaning in life is really the kind of service that they can do in the community and changing the world for the better. I felt that then, as I do now, so I think that was the primary motivation. So my context, you can't change the whole world, you can't improve the whole world, but you can work on a piece of that. And so I felt very strongly that my piece of that is Little Tokyo, the JA community, and doing what I can there.

SY: And this notion of service really came to you through your, through your Christianity, you think?

BW: Uh-huh.

SY: So that was really the thing that prompted it. And that, was there a turning point in your life, do you think?

BW: The turning point probably was the commune experience, having lived in an Asian American Christian commune, and that was basically one of our perspectives, community service.

SY: So that would lead us to part two, to talk about the, that experience, which we don't, unfortunately, have time to do today.

BW: Yeah, that was quite an experience. [Laughs]

SY: Yeah, I don't think we have, I don't think we have time. So... and really, I do want to go into it in more detail because that, that would be important.

BW: Yeah. Okay.

SY: I think that's an important history. But in brief, you were, this was after you came back from Japan?

BW: Right. I came back in 1968 and, and got involved with a minister who eventually founded the commune, and I was his number one guy, you might say.

<End Segment 33> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.