Densho Digital Archive
gayle k. yamada Collection
Title: Barry Saiki Interview
Narrator: Barry Saiki
Interviewer: gayle k. yamada
Location: El Macero, California
Date: October 20, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-sbarry-01-0003

<Begin Segment 3>

gky: Something else you'd talked about was the train, taking the train. Can you just tell me a little bit about being on that first train?

BS: Okay. Now, we had 2,000 troops on the train, and gradually it took about six hours to debark all of these troops. And a group of officers that I came with, about thirty, we were the last to get off the ship. And we got on the truck and went toward the railroad station. As soon as we left the pier area back in Yokohama, there was nothing. Everything was flat. The only thing you saw was maybe an empty safe, you know, or a power line pole, and then the truck drove to the railroad station, and we got on our train. It was eight o'clock at night, and we were told we reached Zama in four hours. Well, Zama was only about 30 miles from Yokohama. Anyway, the train started to move and went about forty-five minutes, and it stopped. All of a sudden, out of the darkness, maybe fifty to a hundred women came, and they all had paper in their hands and they were all saying "shigaretto, kyandi." And the GIs would open the window and they were trading cigarettes and candy for the paper. And everybody was doing it. Anyway, the train started to move in the other direction. They had switched tracks. Well, I was the only Nisei on that train. So one of the soldiers came back and he said, "Lieutenant, sir, could you tell me if this is good money?" And he handed me two bills. It was a 50-cent note. And I said, "What did you get for this, get this with?" Anyway, he said, "I sold a pack of cigarettes and I got a hundred yen." And I said, "I'm sorry, but this isn't a hundred yen, this is a 50-cent note." A GI had never seen a small change note, so when they saw the 50 paper, they thought it was a yen. Everybody on the train had bought, had gotten one yen for their pack of cigarettes. So I said, "You know, you bought the cigarettes on the troop ship; it was six cents a pack. The yen is now worth fifteen to one, so you've got exactly six and two thirds cents." So everybody on the train made two-thirds of a cent in their first black market deal.

And then we made the second stop. This time, none of the soldiers would take the 50-cent note. But they were still trading. There was a woman standing outside my window with a child on her back. So I said to the woman, you know, "Don't you, aren't you afraid to be here when there's a lot of troops in the middle of the night?" And she says, "No, we do this all the time. We know the train's going to stop over here, and we come here to black market." Said, "Could you sell me something?" And I said -- you know, we were all CIC officers -- I said, "No, I can't sell you anything, but maybe I'll give you something." So I gave her a bar of soap. And she beamed and smiled, and said, "Oh, this bar of soap, I can take it to the black market tomorrow, and sell it for twenty yen, and that's enough to feed the family." That's what they were doing; they were out there to do black market in order to feed the family. That's what hundreds of women...

gky: That's sad.

BS: Yes.


gky: You told me before about going to eat in the MIS hall...

BS: Uh-huh.

gky: ...and people going through the trash. Can you tell me a little about that again?

BS: Okay. Anyway, the story continues on the train. The second time what they brought back was a note that looked like real money, but I knew it wasn't. So I called the Japanese car-boy and asked him, "Is this any good?" And he looked at me and smiled, and he said, "No, no." He says, "I'm sorry, Lieutenant, but that's a Japanese war bond. All those war bonds are invalid now." Okay. It turns out they also changed for something else. This time they got regular ten yen notes. It looked authentic. I asked the car-boy again, he says, "I'm sorry, Lieutenant, that's no good either. They just converted the notes last week; you have to have a stamp on there." So everybody on the train was cheated three times. On the fourth stop, they finally got the money they wanted. So everybody got an education about the Japanese currency system in the four-hour trip.

gky: Did you find it interesting, or odd, or what was your reaction to the fact that the Japanese were, I guess, trying to cheat the Americans?

BS: Well, I was kind of disappointed at first, but then I realized why on the following day. The next morning, all of our officers were sleeping in the barracks, you know, school, a converted classroom, they had cots in there. And we took our mess kit and went out to the mess hall to eat. Now this is March of 1946. It's a good seven months after the war had ended, okay. And we went in there, we got potato, powdered egg, bread, and sausage, cup of coffee, and we ate our breakfast. I ate about half of it, and I went to the -- there were four cans there. One, you dump your waste into one can, second, you rinse it, the third can, the hot water, you soak your mess kit, and you do it a second time, and that's how you clean your mess equipment. But as I was dumping my omelet into this garbage full of brown sludge, this kid standing there grabbed the omelet, and put it in his mouth and ate it. And I thought to myself, "Gee whiz, what a kook." I walked out to the back side, and I was going to smoke a cigarette. And I see about twenty women standing about 25, 30 feet away, and they all had one of these gallon cans with wire strung to make a bucket. And I was curious. So I went back to the trash can and asked the young fellow, "What are those women doing out there?" And he said, "They're waiting until the mess is finished." "And then what happens?" "Then they get the leftovers." And I said, "That's good. I'm glad the army is going to give them leftovers." "No, it's not what you're thinking about," he says. "You see this," there was this brown sludge. "They can come in and scoop one can of that sludge, and then take it home." And I thought, "Gee whiz." So I went back and then I went up to the ladies and I said, "What are you ladies going to do with the sludge you pick up?" She said, "We take it home and we cook it boiling hot, and then we eat it." And then I realized how desperate the conditions in Japan were. They were eating our garbage.

gky: How did that make you feel?

BS: It kind of -- I didn't think it was that bad until I saw that. In fact, another two, three months later, I even saw -- I went up to Nikko, which is a resort area, and there were a couple of kids get a bag. And they were poking around on the ground and picking up something and putting it in the bag. So I went down and asked the kids, "What are you doing?" He said, "We're picking up grass." I said, "What are you going to do with the grass?" "Well, we're going to take it home, and my mother is going to put it and mix it with some rice, and make zousui and gonna eat that." And that is what they were doing. So that is how desperate the situation was in Japan in postwar following its defeat.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright &copy; 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.