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-01-0004

<Begin Segment 4>

gky: What do you think made the change in Japanese people? Today, they're considered fairly industrious people; they would be shocked to hear they were going through your garbage cans.

BS: They even had fights over who gets the garbage can of the army post, two villages, each wanted to claim their share of the garbage.

gky: I guess it's just hard for me to understand.

BS: It is.

gky: And also, not only that, but just being back in that time. Can you sort of paint a picture for me about what it felt like, what it smelled like?

BS: Well, you know, you can sympathize, but you can't sympathize for everybody because what was happening to that society is it was survival. Every family was getting rid of everything non-edible to buy edible things. I'll give you another example. Outside of our -- see, I stayed at a place called Norton Hall which was the living quarters for CIC. It was right across from the moat, the imperial moat. So one day, I went down to the moat to watch these Japanese, and they fishing. They had a pole and they were fishing. But they weren't catching anything. Maybe some of them would catch a small fish about that size. And so there was a man sitting there, and I said to the man, "Why do you fish when you always get these small fishes?" He says, "Well, I come over here not because I want the fish. Because I already did my fishing right after the war ended. After the war, all of the moats were filled with many fish. Before the war, if you walked by that moat and you stopped, you were immediately arrested by the Japanese police. After the war, we could walk over there and that's when we fished. We caught all the big fish and everybody in this neighborhood survived because of the fish that was in the imperial moat." So that shows you the degree of starvation that existed, okay.

Then in the summer of 1946, a friend of mine, the two of us, we had some candy, butterballs and stuff in our rucksack. We heard there were hundreds of orphans at Ueno Park. So he and I went there, and he was from Texas. Anyway, we were walking down. Pretty soon, fifteen or twenty kids are trailing us, and one of them talking to the other. "Hey, I wonder if he speaks Japanese?" And the other guy says, "No, I don't think so. He just looks Oriental." So I turned around and said, "Yeah, I speak Japanese." "Oh, it couldn't be. How could the Japanese wear an American uniform?" And I said, "Okay, line up." And I opened the rucksack and I started passing out butterballs. There were about thirty or forty to begin with, it grew to a hundred, hundred twenty-five. I ran out of butterballs. So there was a peddler there selling some grape sucrose. So I bought some and I divided that, and then I left. But there must have been at least a couple of hundred orphans hanging around in Ueno Park. That is how the conditions were. You can sympathize, but there is a degree; what can you do?

gky: Yeah, but it still would make me very sad. The people who were from the country my parents were from, who looked just like I look, were in that state of degradation.

BS: That's right. I mean, morality was shot.

gky: What do you think built it back up?

BS: Well, I'll tell you, when food became sufficient, then they realized, they went back to the old concept of ethics. The school also began to teach it.

gky: Did you see very many food shortages, like with specifically, with rice, or sugar?

BS: Uh-huh.

gky: Or what kind of things did you do, or could you do about that?

BS: Well, you know, actually, the Japanese government was told to prevent black marketing of rice, but when people are starving, they will take -- they will do anything. So they'll go out to the country and they will take anything. Like for instance, maybe a suit, an overcoat, and they go to the farmer, and they offer the farmer an overcoat for five pounds of rice, or something like that. And then they would bring it back to the city. But the police would check the stations to see what they were doing, if they were carrying a large quantity of food, they stopped them, and accused them of black marketing, and they will confiscate it. So they had to do some sort of control, but they allow a little bit to go through because otherwise, the people will starve.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright &copy; 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.