Densho Digital Archive
Japanese American Film Preservation Project Collection
Title: Eiichi Edward Sakauye Interview II
Narrator: Eiichi Edward Sakauye
Interviewer: Wendy Hanamura
Location: San Jose, California
Date: May 14, 2005
Densho ID: denshovh-seiichi-03

[Ed. note: Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

WH: So, let's start with your filmmaking and photography. When did you start becoming interested in taking pictures?

ES: Well, when I was a youngster going to grammar school, a lot of boys after school had fun playing in the schoolgrounds or going home and playing with the neighbors. But the way I was raised, my dad needed every help that I can give him. So one of the promises he made, that he'll get me a camera and, "You can take pictures and record whatever you may do, and that'll be in the family album as long as you live." And I became interested in pictures because there were cameramen from Japan taking pictures of the Issei, what they were doing. So I thought, "Well, I can have a camera and take pictures, too, and have a little fun." So that's what started me to doing it. But my dad was, folks didn't have enough money to buy a camera, so they had saved S&H stamp, and they turned in the S&H stamp to get a folding camera, which was a Goodwin, little Goodwin camera, and that's how I started.

WH: And what were the first things you started taking pictures of with that little fold-up Goodwin camera?

ES: Well, there was no special interest. I had no, nothing in mind that I wanted to make plate pictures in or tell the story in, I just snapped it and took it, and have it developed and that's what it turned out to be. And I felt very good about it, so it just kept on going.

WH: Now, eventually, eventually you must have learned how to develop and print your own photographs.

ES: Well, that was in my college days at San Jose Teachers College, when the class, as an elective, offered photography class. And I started taking that, but it was only one-term course, so only thing you learn is just take pictures, develop pictures, and print pictures. So that didn't complete what I wanted to do, so I started taking night course. And when I started to take night course, I took night course at University of California Berkeley, Douglas Anderson. And I enjoyed that very much, then I ran into another instructor, a World War I veteran. He had told me how to take pictures through a buttonhole, overcoat buttonhole, what he did in World War I. So that's how I became quite interested, and from there on, on and off, I took pictures with my Goodwin camera. But as I progressed, that wasn't good enough, so I saved enough money through my allowance that I bought a folding camera and I bought a Recomar cut film camera, because you can do a lot of things with a cut film camera that you can't do with a folding camera. So that's how I started, little by little, I started developing my own, I found out that I didn't know enough about chemistry, because I had to be very careful with my temperature of my solution, also about the purity of the water. So I began to use distilled water, and being careful about temperature of my developing, and gradually I improved myself. But I became visiting partner with my dad, and that delayed my photography hobby. But I enjoyed it very much because I myself can enjoy it without any help from the outside.

WH: Now, how old were you when you first got that first S&H green stamp camera?

ES: I think I was around fourteen, sixteen.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2005 Densho and The Japanese American Film Preservation Project. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

WH: Tell me about how you started taking movies.

ES: Taking what?

WH: Movies.

ES: Movie? Somebody had a movie camera, and he projected it, and I got thrilled because here I'm taking still picture and all it's, do is still, not moving at all, and here a fellow showed me his moving picture, and they're active and just life in it. So that's how I started having an extra camera, movie camera, and that was two years, just about two years before World War II.

ES: Now, when World War II came and you had to evacuate San Jose, what did you do with all your cameras?

ES: Well, the proclamation order said that all persons of Japanese ancestry has to turn in the cameras and other things. So instead of turning the camera in, I had a good friend that's just graduated high school, and I thought I'd give it to him or loan it to him, because I didn't want to turn it in. I worked hard for the camera and I didn't want to turn it in. So he took it in for me, but wartime he got so busy he didn't use the camera. So when I was able to get, use a camera, I wrote to him again and asked him if he can send me the camera. So that's what he did, I just, the way I packed it and gave it to him, that's the way I got it. So in that package I had some cut film, roll film, and some chemicals and some printing papers, so I was able to do things immediately. But I immediately ran out, because taking picture here, taking picture there, you know how fast it goes. So I began to wondering behind barbed wire fence, what can I do? And they had some Caucasian personnel that commutes daily to camp, and I asked them, "Can you get me certain size film?" And he said, "Well, I'll look." So I wanted 120 and 620. Well, he bought all he can find of 620 and 120, and I borrowed money from my brothers and sisters and my dad to pay for them, because nineteen dollars a month, $3.75 extra that I'm working, doesn't pay very much. So gradually I got the courage to ask my folks for a little bit more, and the folks willingly loaned some more money because they said, "Well, that's a good hobby and I want you to pursue it."

WH: This was in which internment camp?

ES: At Heart Mountain Relocation Center.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2005 Densho and The Japanese American Film Preservation Project. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

WH: Now, how did you, of all people, get permission to start taking movies within the camp?

ES: Well, you know the order, Western Defense Command order and the relocation center orders said all persons of Japanese ancestry had to turn in all the photographic material and so forth. And so I had nothing. Let's see, I lost the track of what I was going to...

WH: You had nothing in camp, and then someone sent it to you. Oh, you must have asked somebody.

ES: I began to get interested, how long am I gonna be in camp? I see so many activities and things, I wish I could record it. And so I asked the project director, Guy Robertson, one day, and he told me, "What do you want?" I says, "Well, you know, Mr. Robertson, I've been in just a hobby amateur photographer, and I had to turn my camera, and I'd like to have my camera back to record some of the history and activities of the camp." He says, "I cannot give you an answer, so I'll get the answer from the War Relocation Authority and get back to you." So immediately, he got in touch with War Relocation Authority, and next day I got a report, says, "You may have your camera and photographic equipment." So I asked this fellow that I bestowed my camera equipment to, in Milpitas here, and he sent it to me just the way I packed it, so I knew just what I had. Then I started taking pictures, but soon I ran out of films, cut or roll. Then I began to scratch my head, what can I do? I asked the Caucasian personnel that commutes to get me some, some film, 620, 120, because the size of the spool is the only difference between those two films. So they bought me few, but he says, "That's all I can get. There's no tourist trade that goes through this highway here, so they don't carry any more films." So I began to think and, well, I can use my cut film, but I could do the same thing with my roll film, make that roll film twelve exposures to twenty-four exposures by changing this back, a number. So I had 620, 120 backs, changed, different numbers. So when you look through that little eyepiece, you could see the number. And then I began to take, instead of twelve pictures, twenty-four pictures. But still, I can't get enough films. So I cut that once more, and that made it twice as more, which made it a slender picture, rectangular picture. Well, certain pictures would do, but certain pictures are too rectangular so I couldn't do anything. So I got a hold of a Penn camera in New York City through, saw an ad in the photography magazine, I was subscribing to Popular Photography at that time, and I had all the issues sent to me wherever I am. So I saw the Penn camera, the equipment, so I wrote to them and I finally got films and papers and chemicals. So that kept me going, but I ran out of money quickly, because my low salary.

WH: So let's, tell me, how much was a roll of movie film, 8 mm movie film back then?

ES: I had a Eastman Kodak magazine camera, which either, through the cartridge, it can take black and white or color. And I forgot, I, this is -- I'm guessing now -- I think it cost me around five dollars and fifty cents.

WH: So in terms of today's standards, let's say, let's just say you made, oh, three thousand dollars a month. You made nineteen dollars a month back then, right?

ES: Uh-huh.

WH: So you were going to spend, oh, about a sixth of your wage just on one canister of film. Very, in today's terms, that might be something like...

ES: Well...

WH: ...quite a bit.

ES: In internment, you have lodging and food provided for you, so you, what expenses you got. So I spent all my money in films and film chemicals.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2005 Densho and The Japanese American Film Preservation Project. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

WH: Right now, we're in the re-creation of an internment camp barracks at the San Jose Japanese American Museum. How does this size room compare with your room at Heart Mountain?

ES: The unit we had was an end barrack, it was 16 x 20, with one potbelly stove, and one ceiling light, that's all there was. And the floors were like this or worse, because the cold draft would come from the bottom.

WH: How did you do your photography at conditions like this at Heart Mountain?

ES: Well, the windows, we had to look for cardboards, and that was Celotex boards that they lined up the inside, and we went to look for those in the scrap pile, and my brother worked in the, in the woodwork shop, so putting those together, we closed up the windows to make a darkroom.

WH: How about developing your film?

ES: Developing film is a very hard situation, 'cause in the winter, the temperature outside goes thirty below zero. Normally in the winter, it's twelve below zero, and summer is, highs is eighty degrees there. In the winter months, when it's cold outside, it's difficult to keep the chemical temperatures where they should be. And in the winter months when it's thirty below zero, we have no running water in our barracks, so we go to the latrine or washroom to get a bucket of water. The bucket we used was not plastic like today, but it was a galvanized bucket, so that wasn't very good for chemical use. Anyway, that's all we had. So I would go to the washroom, pick up a bucket of water, and at that temperature, thirty below zero or twelve below zero, the top of the bucket would be ice by the time I get to my barrack. So we got the potbelly stove going, so we put it on, just a stove like this behind your back, and warm up the water. But we got to be very careful, we don't want it too hot or too cold. It should be around, as I recall, between sixty-five and sixty-eight degrees, so we watched carefully, and then we dissolve our chemical in there. And that made our developing solution. Then our, we had to, after developing, we had to affix it, and we can't use ice-cold water. Again, we have to have normal temperature water. And that kept us busy all the time, carefully trying to meet the needs of proper development. Then some of the high-speed film is a little different, see, so we had to watch out what we're doing.

WH: Tell me a little bit, Mr. Sakauye, about what you decided you wanted to film inside the Heart Mountain camp.

ES: Well, when camera privileges opened up in Heart Mountain, after I got my permission to have a camera in the camp, many of the evacuees had experience in photography and so forth, so they agreed to take pictures. And I didn't know any of 'em except a couple of 'em, and we joined our hands together and go to different spots in the camp and take different views. And everybody, always first thing is take family pictures, friends' pictures, but I had different point of view. I've been a historian all my life, preserving history of certain area or certain things. So I began to take pictures of activities in the camp, and nobody else did. Reason I found out nobody else did is because after the camp closed, the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles got together all the amateur photographers of various camps, and I was the only one that took pictures of activities of camp. Others took personal pictures, relatives' pictures, only Rohwer and Jerome, Arkansas, had a picture of women splitting wood. The reason for that is there was no other activities. You had to have split wood to keep the fireplace going.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2005 Densho and The Japanese American Film Preservation Project. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

WH: You know, when you think about the films that you took, ice skating and swimming and Obon odori and baseball and hiking and trips to..

ES: Arts and crafts.

WH: ...arts and crafts, what do you think the message is in your films?

ES: Messages?

WH: Uh-huh.

ES: Well, you know, it goes back a little to our bylaws, which are Japanese American-operated. In the bylaws, it doesn't say anything that you're not supposed to do, taking pictures and so forth. But bylaws tells you how you should run a government behind barbed-wire fence. So after reading the bylaws, as the chairman of the block managers, I felt that we can do a lot of things and still be within the rules and regulations of the camp itself. And there's no, nothing against having activities, community activities. So that's where the community activities grew up, from weightlifting to swimming and baseball, skating, all that.

WH: You wanted to keep the kids out of trouble?

ES: Yeah. Otherwise they had no special, no guided activities, and we on the community activities set up a program where we can have these youngsters, after-school programs, or in Little League baseball, or something to keep 'em busy, out of trouble. We had judicial systems there because we wanted to see that people are directed in the right way, and our police department was aware of many things that may happen, so I think as a whole, we had a very good camp bylaws or constitutions among the evacuees.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2005 Densho and The Japanese American Film Preservation Project. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

WH: Now, you held a lot of different jobs, I've heard you mention throughout this interview.

ES: Yes, I didn't want to just sit all day long. First job, I got a job as timekeeper, so I'd go out and see who reported to work and if they reported or not. When they finished their job, I'd report whether they... coming home, checked them out. But that was nothing to me, because that's what I don't like. I like to be active in something more useful, and something that will help me to enjoy it. So I turned down that job, then I got to be a postal clerk, then I got to be a postal master of substations, and then I participated in the community agriculture meetings, and that's where I became interested in seeing different crops grow in the camp because what I saw in the commissary is not the first-grade quality. I see great big squashes come in, and vegetables are kind of dried up and that's due to transportation and so forth. We're not eating first-quality produce or fruit. So I became very interested in agriculture. But not knowing the country, not knowing the climate or anything about this area, it was very difficult for me to try to fit in this. But after serving on the committee for a while, and I got the cooperation of the farmers, and -- I mean, the farmers-to-be in camp, and the Issei farmers. Of course, the younger farmers were helping their dads and their brother while they were in California, Oregon and Washington. But when, after they were uprooted, they had no farm to take care of. So naturally, they didn't care about, much about farming. But the Isseis, they had nothing else to do, so they became interested in growing daikon and nappa for our own use, which we would, never would have. And that made, created interest, so we got our heads together and we got, a soil agronomist, we got a chemist, we got seedsmen, and we got mechanics, and all fields of endeavor together to help us to create a successful farming community in a community that we didn't know a thing about what could be done and what cannot be done.


ES: ...successful, we got our heads together, and I'm glad that each and every one of us were able to put some input to make this agriculture a success. Otherwise, we only had 109 growing days, and if we don't make a success, why, we can grow the crops and may not be able to harvest. But we were able to grow the crops to the help of the students as well as the Issei members to help harvest the crop, to take care of the crop, we were very successful.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2005 Densho and The Japanese American Film Preservation Project. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

WH: You were just mentioning that you were in Santa Anita Assembly Center before going to Heart Mountain. And there you had a unique job, didn't you, with the Terminal Island cars?

ES: Yes.

WH: Tell me about that.

ES: Well, in Santa Anita Assembly Center, I was appointed to be Caucasian personnel shuttle bus driver, taking personnel from the outer gate to the inner gate every day from eight to eight. But that... it made is possible to contact or get information what was going on outside of the center. And... now I lost track what your...

WH: So you used to go and look in the trunks of...

ES: Oh, yes. So I got this job as a custodian for Terminal Island people, and I don't know how I got this job, but I was appointed as a custodian. So as September came by, it got pretty chilly in the horse stables as well as in the barracks, so they wanted warmer clothing. So they asked the administrator if they can get in and go through their luggage and trunks to get warmer clothing. So I was appointed to do that, and they would give me the keys and they'd tell me what I want, they wanted, so I would get them out of the trunks. And you'd be surprised what, they had put everything they can put together and carried them on their cars, just like from Oklahoma dust bowl, tied 'em on their cars, came to Santa Anita center. Anyway, amongst the goods they had, they had cameras, knives, everything you could think of, 'cause they hurriedly put it together -- they only had twenty-four hour notice. But that time I had itchy fingers to borrow one of those cameras and take a picture through the buttonhole like my, one of my teachers told me. But I was trusted with this responsible job, so therefore I kind of said I shouldn't disobey my duties.

WH: So tempting...

ES: Awful tempting.

WH: 'Cause you wanted to take photographs so much.

ES: Yes. If I can get a hold of film, but still I would have difficulties, because all the mails and stuff were censored at Santa Anita Assembly Center. So anyway, I would get it out just by chance, by sending it to home and have it developed that way. But I was really tempted, I was just eager to do it. But I said, "Well, I'm given this responsible job," and I felt quite obedient to my job, that's why I didn't do anything.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2005 Densho and The Japanese American Film Preservation Project. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

WH: You showed us some film of the agriculture that you helped to get started in Wyoming, and before that, had there been much farming in that area?

ES: No, I haven't. I have never farmed the area, I don't know anything about climate, anything about soil, anything about insects or what you gotta combat. But we had information from nearby Japanese farmers, Mr. Endo, and Wasugi, were two farmers that came into camp and gave us some information.

WH: So you were able to make crops grow in desolate prairie?

ES: Yes, due to these Yakima people who are, who started farming in a similar condition, gave us a lot of information as what we can expect from this, this area.

WH: On your film, we saw these beautiful crops of corn, you said a freeze came in and ruined the whole thing.

ES: Yes.

WH: How did you feel that morning when you woke up and saw that?

ES: Well, the Caucasian personnel commuted from Cody to camp, and that morning freeze and he came by and the officer says, "The crop is gone." I wondered what happened, what he means. And he says, "This freeze this morning destroyed everything. But it can be salvaged for mess hall purpose, immediate use." So we picked some for the mess hall, but the mess hall cooks found out that they were bitter because of frostbitten, so that was the end of that huge beautiful crop. Not a single worm in the entire field. Here we grow one corn in the backyard, there's about half-a-dozen worms on it. Where they come from? [Laughs]

WH: After the war was over, you went back to Cody once, right?

ES: Yes.

WH: And met a woman, what did she say to you?

ES: She said, "Wait a minute." I was getting out of the car, I thought I did something wrong. No, she says, "You fellows did a wonderful thing here and opened our eyes as to what we can grow here." So it made me feel good, you know, to see a native Cody people think that we have done something to the community.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2005 Densho and The Japanese American Film Preservation Project. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

WH: What were you proudest of in your two-and-a-half years or three-and-a-half years in camp?

ES: What was...

WH: What were you proudest of?

ES: Proudest of?

WH: Well, only thing I could say I'm very proud of that people were very kind to me, were willing to listen to me, and I got to places where I normally wouldn't have gotten otherwise. They were very compassionate, and we were very compassionate to them. You know, in here, you come to a railroad track and you see a cross sign. One line says, "Railroad Crossing," other says, "Stop, Look, Listen." I always think of that when I used to go to the Japanese school, come to cross the railroad track, and these passenger trains, they go pretty fast. So I stopped my bicycle, get off and watch both ways, then I cross the track. Well, my father and mother told me, "When you come to railroad tracks, stop and look, listen, don't just drive over." So that, when I started to talk to various people that I don't know anything about their history or their, or their background, I just stopped and just listened to 'em, then I have my opinion, then I opened my mouth, ready to be shot down, or -- [laughs] -- or criticized. And I learned from that a lot, because as I said before, these evacuees were from different parts of Japan, and different parts of Pacific Coast states, they farmed differently. So you had to find out how they farmed, what they grew, and the variety they grew. There's a lot of information you gotta get before you can sit down and say, this is the type of seed we need, this is only a hundred growing days, and how are we gonna grow these vegetables? We worked hard on these programs and what to do, and these Issei people were very helpful and they were very willing to take on these jobs. So we had these people from Wapato, Washington, make these hot frames and planted those varieties, and that's the reason why we were so successful.

WH: Kind of the cooperation, hard work.

ES: Right.

WH: And that's what you were proudest of.

ES: So we had cooperation, and not only the residents of Heart Mountain, but even the cooperation of the administrators, Caucasian administrators. First, when we went in there, we had quite a number of change in different departments in the administration, because they could not get along with us. And I'm glad they couldn't, and they're out of our way. But the later-on administrators, they got smart. They knew we were not dumb people. We have maybe just as much if not... education as they have. So they start listening to us. One of the personnel in agriculture, they wouldn't listen to us, so they bought a bunch of small equipment, and they wanted us to farm and grow crops. We knew, we farmers grew in California, Oregon, Washington, and parts of Arizona, we knew these little garden tractors wouldn't do, because it's virgin land, never been developed, got great big anthills and sagebrush, you got to clear it out in short time and prepare the ground to grow these crops. So as far as agriculture department, evacuees' department, just struck. Then we watched these high school kids playing with these small tractors. They had a ball of a time creating dust and going back and forth racing each other. They saw that through the windows, and they didn't say anything, "Just go ahead and order what you need." So we ordered equipment from California agents and got them there in time and cleared this land, made it beautiful land, it certainly opened their eyes to that. And it showed them that we're not just dumb people, in other words, we have experience and we can do it.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2005 Densho and The Japanese American Film Preservation Project. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

WH: Now, when you came back from camp, didn't someone famous from CBS contact you? Tell me about that.

ES: Yes.

WH: What happened?

ES: I think at that particular time, they wanted to borrow my film.

WH: It was who? Walter...

ES: Walter Cronkite was the first one to ask me as soon as I returned home in January after camp was open -- I mean, coast was open to all persons of Japanese ancestry. And somehow or other, he found out that I returned with films taken in camp, and he wanted to see 'em so badly. Well, we had a number of long conversations, because I only knew him on the broadcasting station. I enjoyed his program, but never made a deal of any nature with him, or talked directly with him. So after a short conversation, time to time, I finally decided I'd loan it to him. So when he got the film, he looked at it and says, "You fellows had a beautiful time, wonderful time, vacation." I says, "You looked at the bright side only. Look at the other side, and the other side is gloomy. We were uprooted from home, we were put in this desolate place in a barrack like this, in a small room, and we lost all our business. We had nothing but what we could carry, our life was just destroyed." "So," he says, "I'll show the other side." So he made the picture, "Pride and Shame," and that picture told the story of we evacuees behind the barbed wire fence.

WH: What, can you describe for me what Walter Cronkite did not see, the other side? You know, in your film it would be easy to look and see all of the fun dances and games.

ES: Yeah, dances, and the crops growing.

WH: What did we not see in that film?

ES: You did not see our inner feelings, our inner losses, what we were uprooted from. And the life in camp was nothing but dreary. In other words, we can get up in the morning and have breakfast, lunch and dinner, but what can we do? There's no occupation or anything that they can do, or anything they can look forward to. To our friends it's really sad. They worked hard and had families sending them to school. They're uprooted from school, no proper education, no books or writing material. And speaking of no books and writing material, I can tell you a case in Santa Anita. Santa Anita, as I was the Caucasian shuttle bus driver, I picked up people, personnel that worked in the administration, the lower-class people, because the upper class went on their own car. I think purely the reason for that was that lower-class people were liable to smuggle drugs in and marijuana and liquor, so they weren't able to come in by their own car, so they had to ride my shuttle to get in. Anyway, one day I went to the outer gate, here's Maryknoll sister, and she told me, "What can I do for you people?" And I began to think, well, I visited a number of these little classrooms in the downstairs of the Santa Anita racetrack grandstand, and the teachers are scribbling on the concrete wall to teach these little kids, because they were operating, I mean, uprooted in the middle of school, and they got no textbooks, no pencil, tablet to write on. Just the teachers scribbling on the concrete wall, it gets hard, and I felt sorry for these future generation persons of Japanese ancestry. So the next day, I went to pick up and here comes Maryknoll sister again, they had bundles of stuff, and gosh, I just cried in tears to see that some people really understand and would like to help us. To this day, I think a great deal of the Maryknoll sister and how the Christian or the Methodist, or Maryknoll's Catholic people have helped us to keep the spirit up and help us.

That is one of the most prized thing of my life, that there are people who are, think of us, and we're able to return. That is true in, right in the Santa Clara Valley. We belong to several co-ops, they never canceled our membership, we belong to several organizations, they never canceled our membership, and I kept corresponding, and when I returned fifteen days before the coast was opened, they opened their arms to us. Even the professor at San Jose State had a party for me, returning.

WH: What did he say?

ES: Pardon?

WH: What did he say when he had a party for you?

ES: Well, I couldn't say very much, I was just so delighted to have people understand and welcome us, because they're teaching our youngsters the Constitution of the United States, and the rights of the American citizen. Here we in the United States are conglomerate of people who are of different background. They're a conglomerate of people who have not applied citizenship, but they can get citizenship. But we, our fathers and mothers and grandfathers and grandmothers, they wanted to become American citizens, but there are laws against becoming American citizens. They wanted to hold property, but they had alien property laws here. They want, their relations want to immigrate to the United States. The immigration law of 1924 prevented them from coming in, and that's why we were hurt terribly, persons of Japanese ancestry. But we Yonsei or Gosei don't understand, and that's why I'd like to see them learn a little bit of history of our parents, grandfather, grandmother, grandparents and so forth, how they suffered, so that we can succeed. Now we have succeeded. By having Japanese ancestry in city, county, state, federal government, and that made a great difference.

WH: When you came back --

ES: Great, great difference.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2005 Densho and The Japanese American Film Preservation Project. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

WH: When you came back from the camp, were there any incidents of people targeting you or being mean to you?

ES: Repeat the question again?

WH: Was there any backlash against you when you came back from...

ES: There was one person, which we became friends before evacuation, but you can tell by his breath he's been at the bar. And he ordered me out to my home, and I said, "I have just as much a right as you are," and that was, a year later, he saw me on the road, and he ordered me to stop. So I had to look twice, who was ordering me to stop, it was this fellow. He said, "I want to apologize." I says, "You're too darn late."

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2005 Densho and The Japanese American Film Preservation Project. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

WH: You didn't stop farming after you left Heart Mountain. You continued to farm here in the Santa Clara Valley?

ES: Well, we had our own farm, in other words, we owned the farm. My father's, being an alien of Japanese ancestry, but he bought the property before the law against Japanese buying property in 1913, he bought it in 1907. He came, immigrated to California in 1900.

WH: So how much property did you have after?

ES: Well, we owned our own property, about 50 acres. But after coming back, we had 175 acres to farm.

WH: And how long did you farm that 175 acres?

ES: Well, we farmed 'til the government had decided that cyclamen, we cannot use cyclamen no longer as sweetening, put the sweetening in our canning fruit. So all that year's growth and delivering, harvesting, we didn't get one cent. So we went bankrupt; all the pear growers went bankrupt. Then three years later, the government declared that cyclamen is all right, perfectly right to use. So what can you do? You're broke, you're gone.

WH: What year was that that you went bankrupt and lost some of your land?

ES: I believe it was 1948 or something, '48 or '50.

WH: So were you able to hang onto some of your land?

ES: Yes, we were able to hang onto our land because it was all paid for. But the farmers who didn't, had mortgage, they just couldn't keep up their payments, they were taken away, and lost it.

WH: So you didn't lose your land, but others did?

ES: Now, I didn't, we didn't lose our own land.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2005 Densho and The Japanese American Film Preservation Project. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

WH: You know, maybe a hundred years from now, people will take a disk, probably, and put it in a computer and see your films and hear your stories and see these pictures you took with this precious film in 1943. What do you hope they learn a hundred years from now?

ES: Well, you say a hundred years ago. Now, looking back to history, a hundred years back, how much history we know a hundred years ago when this German C-Z-A-R enacts, was in power, and there were other countries that were in power...

WH: You mean around 1905, that time, a hundred years ago?

ES: I wouldn't, I have never seen any history that I could pinpoint, 1905. So what I am afraid of is that this history, without museum and other publication, will die out. I don't think it should die out, but it will. What I think amongst the persons of Japanese ancestry, the Sansei, Yonsei, and Gosei, due to intermarriage and so forth, they wouldn't think about their grand-, great-grandfather's experience and what they came to. So even now, we Niseis don't know too much about the Civil War in the United States. I'm afraid that's going to happen. But like museum here, I believe a picture is worth a hundred words, yeah, a hundred words. Just like in Hiroshima, that Hiroshima bombing that, exhibit they have there, it's in pictures and actual material. That'll last for a long time. But just hearsay and so forth, it just dries out, and that's what I'm afraid.

WH: So you're afraid that a hundred years from now, the Japanese American internment during World War II will just be a footnote in history that very few people know about?

ES: Right.

WH: And the descendants of those who were interned, the Gosei and the Rokusei, they'll be so distanced from their own history that it won't have any meaning for them. But that maybe the power of the images will still speak for themselves.

ES: Well, I think if they knew a little bit about, or can see it firsthand, and, of course, today they animate the photographs. [Laughs] But pictures don't lie, and I think the pictures tell a story, which a lot of times a thousands words won't tell. So I hope that as I am thinking that the history of persons of Japanese who immigrated to United States, or immigrated to South America, shall never die. I don't know what you think, Wendy, but I think shouldn't die. But like I said before, due to intermarriage and so forth, it may die out quicker than I think.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2005 Densho and The Japanese American Film Preservation Project. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

WH: You did a lot of interesting jobs, including one as a weather monitor. Tell us about that, your job in camp?

ES: Well, weather job was held by someone, I can't remember now, but he had relocated. So that department, weather monitoring came under the agriculture department head. So they asked me to, if I would be interested in doing it. I had never done that before and it would be interesting to me that along with the ag. job that I have, to take that position. So that's how I started, so every day at four o'clock and after, I would go out there in my little station and check the temperature, high and low of the day, any precipitation. If there is a precipitation in the little can on the outside, which is, snowed, and that snow and it's cold temperature, it doesn't melt. So on a Sunday, the administration building where I have my little cubbyhole, has no heater, it's closed. But I can get in there to keep my records there. So I would go out there and one snowy, late afternoon and pick up my little canister which was filled with snow, fluffy snow. So I had to melt that to bring it to liquid to show how much moisture. But I'm not gonna hold that with my hands and melt that snow. It's plenty cold enough without it. So I stuck it in my coat like this, and it takes a long time to melt. Finally I get it melted, then I measure how much precipitation we had. That was one of the coldest jobs. When it's hot and clear day, I had high and low temperature and no precipitation or anything, so it was easy. It was the winter months that was very hard.

WH: I bet you hated those days when it snowed and you had to warm the water up against your body to measure the moisture. What about those little huts that you had in the fields? What were those for? You know, when you were in the agriculture superintendent, there's these little buildings? What was that, that for?

ES: Oh, little hut. Each foreman had a little hut whereby they could get shelter in the thunderstorm. We had frequent thunderstorm and if you were caught in a thunder in there, boy, it just blows your ears off. And then all of a sudden it just pours, then it's gone, sunshine again. Well, other sections are just clear and dry, so those thunder clouds just keep moving around. So when it pours, it pours, and these little huts keep 'em out of the rain, from getting wet.

WH: Was it ever dangerous to be out in those thunderstorms?

ES: Pardon?

WH: Was it dangerous to be out in those thunderstorms?

ES: Some people say that, but I never heard from people that have been hit by lightning, so I really don't know. But it is scary; it's just so loud that it's just scary, you don't want to be caught in there.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2005 Densho and The Japanese American Film Preservation Project. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

WH: You know what I was wondering about, Mr. Sakauye? You're a young, handsome young man about thirty-three years old in camp.

ES: Uh-huh.

WH: Why didn't you get married?

ES: Well, you know, before evacuation, you know how Isseis worked? Isseis would want their daughters to marry certain persons, and certain fathers want to get that gal for sister-in-law. Well, you know how Isseis lived? They lived in a group with family all together. They themselves, when they come from Japan, they had no family; they were single, and they have never been bothered by a woman or anyone else. And never had any family disputes or anything, so they don't understand that. But when we Niseis marry into someone's family, either the man goes to there as yoshi, or the girl comes to your house. If it comes to one's house, you got two of 'em in the kitchen, and that's where the quarrel begins. And I've been old enough to visit various families, and their daughters married So-and-so, and they have quarrels, and they come home. And to hear sad story like that wasn't satisfactory to me, and besides, I had, we're five of us, and that means two more brothers and two sisters, well, then my mother and dad. That many ladies in the kitchen is bound to blow up, according to my observation. 'Cause across the creek from us, there are thirty-two families, and there are families that say, "My daughter should marry So-and-so," and they got married all right, but overnight, they blew up, they marked the furniture and get back to home again. But I seen that, and besides, I'm a young man yet, and I got no money. It takes money to, you know, live together, and lot of 'em that married early depended upon their in-laws for money, and I wanted to be independent, so I didn't marry. And the only way that would, I would marry is I have a separate home away from in-laws and so forth. Not that I don't like my in-laws, but there's always trouble, from my observation.

WH: I see. So you wanted to be established before you, you got married?

ES: Yes. I wanted to be established and I wanted to establish my own family, my own money, and Isseis those days, you're all in a family group, the family plots together. But no, I wanted to be independent. So that was in the back of my mind, and two years before evacuation, we used to grow produce, and this produce buyer from Seattle, Washington, used to come down just to check what we grow and see the country here, I guess. So he told my folks about his boss's daughter, very bright and very active. So I began to check in a little more, and I found out that when the war broke out, she was in Japan. So I had a lot of chance to get married here, but I just didn't like the idea of she living here with me or I living in with her family, so I just left it go. The more I left it go, the more I thought about this girl. And her brother was serving in the United States army, and I found out where he was stationed, got in touch with him, start talking to him, and I found out he's a very nice person. So I asked him about his side of the family and said that, "My sister's still in Japan. She is now graduated with honors from Tsuda College, and she's teaching there. She's teaching English." Then a year later I heard she had English class in Kobe College, then as time went on I heard she was a translator for General MacArthur at Kobe. Well, during that time, through the Red Cross, I corresponded with her, but we corresponded with no love words or anything like that, just common sense that, how she's getting along, what living in Japan is like. And I always said what's living in the United States and what I went though. And finally she says, "I'm sure that my job's not going to last very long, and I want to come back to the States." I says, "Sure. I believe you're doing the right thing coming back to the States." So she decided to come back, and she worked, worked in a home in Palo Alto for a while and she found out where I was living. And she found out what a jerk I was, and we'd been going together for a year and she decided that we should get together. So that's how we got together, then I called her folks, all went back to Japan and called her folks, and she came back here and lived, lived with son together, but they lived in an apartment in L.A.

So that was my first marriage, but after a number of years, twenty-five years, she contracted blood cancer and it went pretty fast. They had Stanford doctor, but one night in the hospital, it was the night of the school board meeting, so she knew that I was supposed to be at the board meeting, so she says to me, "You better go." I said, "No, I want to be with you." She says, "You better go. I'll see you tomorrow morning." That morning never came, so I never can forget about her, what she has done for me in way of de he sa ho, the manner, Japanese manner and customs. And I do thank her for the kind expression and things that she said to me. Because I believe persons in Japan are very polite, they bow their heads and don't call them by first name like they do in the States where it's very harsh. They say, even Sensei So-and-so, or Mrs. So-and-so, very polite. They don't call 'em by first name and forget the rest.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2005 Densho and The Japanese American Film Preservation Project. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

WH: I wanted to talk a little bit about Ben Kuroki if you don't mind.

ES: Okay.

WH: We know from history that, you know, in the backdrop of Heart Mountain there was the whole resisters and kind of a lot of emotion around whether to go serve or not. What was it like to have this kind of, supposedly war hero come into the midst of all of that?

ES: Well, I was block chairman at the time, and they asked me the question, "What is your opinion after answering those questionnaires?" And I says to 'em, "It's very difficult. I myself was put in a difficult position. I am American citizen by birth, but I was not given the privilege or exercise my rights as an American citizen, only a short time after I was twenty-one years of age. Now they take away all my rights, and also deprived of my parents, many things, so I cannot tell you what you should, stand you should take. All I can say, let conscience be your guide, because your experience and my experience and suffering that we'd gone through, parents had gone through, was entirely different. If you feel as I do, or if you feel as somebody else do, that's your feeling. I'm not going to tell you what you should do." So I said, "My motto is 'let conscience be your guide.'"

WH: So that's what you would say to people when they came and said, "How shall I, what shall I do, 'yes-yes' or 'no-no'?"

ES: Yeah.

WH: Were you worried as a block manager when Ben Kuroki came that there would be riots?

ES: Yes, but there was no riot. Absolutely no riot when Ben Kuroki came. You can see from my pictures that he was welcome. Look at all the youngsters marching in the band. If there was a riot, then I'd been one of the persons that get criticized right away, being chairman of block manager.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2005 Densho and The Japanese American Film Preservation Project. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

WH: Are there any other questions you'd like to ask?

ES: Another thing, along with that, after I came back from Frisco, examination of Denver, Colorado, I was asked to volunteer for Tooele ordinance depot to see what it's like, and see if some evacuees would work there. So I spent a couple days with the colonel there -- can't think of the colonel's name now -- and he spent a, treated me royally, I went to all the facilities, all the storage bunkers underground, and what the job was paying, and came back to camp and I thought they're gonna really beat me up. And I went to each mess hall, each block, and told them what I saw and what they're offering, and I never been bothered. Afterwards, I learned quite a number of them volunteered to work over there.

WH: So sometimes your job made you a little fearful about people beating you up or calling you inu or something like that, but you still did it, and you never had any problems?

ES: No, I never had any problems. Like I said before, stop, look, listen. If I shot my mouth off the first time I hear it, I'll be slapped down just as fast. That's what I found out all through my life.

WH: But if you stop, look and listen, you'll be okay?

ES: Yeah.

WH: I see.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2005 Densho and The Japanese American Film Preservation Project. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

Emiko Omori: I'm just curious, I, I developed film and stuff on my own, you know, when I was learning photography, and I can't imagine processing motion picture film. Did you do that? Did you process motion picture film, or did you send that to Eastman Kodak?

ES: Eastman Kodak is the only one that made magazine, 8 mm.

WH: But did you develop your own 8 mm?

ES: No, no. That time, I was free to do so. I was free to take pictures so I could send it to any photograph developers, but at that time, magazine film was addressed to Eastman Kodak in Rochester, New York.

WH: So you didn't have to develop your own movie pictures?

ES: No.

WH: Oh, I see.

ES: I had no facility to do that.

WH: I see.

CO: And you were telling us that you didn't have a light meter? Tell us, like, how you'd go out. So here's an event going on, what would you do?

ES: Pardon? I didn't...

CO: You didn't have a light meter, so what would you do?

ES: No, I didn't have no light meter. I just judged by experience, because after you take a few pictures, you knew the condition, light condition or dust bowl or things like that, so you tried to compensate for that. But the problem is not only that, the film, you know, the film speed, that's what you got to watch out for.

CO: But I noticed, like with your footage, did you have a tripod? I mean, it's very steady and it's also...

ES: Lot of time I would lean against buildings or put it on the end of a hoe or shovel or something to lean against. And like movies, I can't put so many seconds for one scene, because I only can put so many scenes in that picture, fit to it, and I want to get the most out of it. So my pictures come and go quick, come and go, see? So I had to hold it steady. So I leaned against or put it on top of something, that's what I always did. But times like on the truck bed or on the front seat of the truck, through the windshield, I couldn't do anything but just hold it.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2005 Densho and The Japanese American Film Preservation Project. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

CO: There were some meetings and things around the anti-draft, was there not?

ES: Oh, there were a group of people, anti-feelings. They were a committee group, I think Heart Mountain was one of the early ones that formed a committee group. But I didn't participate because I, they knew my stand, and they got a few of 'em, but we didn't have no riot or anything.

CO: And did you feel that you were recording something historic? Did you feel that what you were doing was going to be important and it was for history, or did you just do it for fun?

ES: Well, I thought when I said, "Let conscience be your guide," I thought it was neutral stand and everybody has some conscience, why they object or approve. And let them guide for themselves, because some of the parents have one son in service, and the other son won't go, so if parents is influence or what, I don't know, but I think each individual to his own, and that should be.

WH: I think what Emiko was asking was, when you were taking your movies, did you think, "Oh, I'm taking a piece of history"? Or did you just do it 'cause it was fun?

ES: No, history.

WH: Can you tell me about that?

ES: Well, I've been collector, collecting books, collecting because ever since I started taking pictures, and I always wanted a collection, and that's how I started. And the reason I wanted more collection at that time, 'cause I feel, far as I know, the history learned in school, well, never will repeat again. So I figured, well, this will never repeat again, and I can tell my children if I have children or grandchildren or leave some history behind. Because it certainly hurt all persons of Japanese ancestry on the Pacific Coast. And never in my knowledge of history, such a thing did a occur to any group or any other group, different ethnic group.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2005 Densho and The Japanese American Film Preservation Project. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

WH: There's this one thing you told me months ago about the bumblebees and the butterflies and the little kids who were born in camp? Tell me that one more time.

ES: Well, you know, in Heart Mountain, we had the only flower garden. And it had bumblebees come in, and butterflies come in later. I don't know how they found out, but they were there. And these little kids come around, you know how they like to touch flowers and things. I said, "Watch out, there's bumblebee, it'll sting you." And then they wondered why I said that to them. And the butterfly comes along, the butterfly comes to suck the sugar from this pollen and so forth. We tell them how the butterfly lays its egg and it pupates to a worm, and from the worm, it comes to a butterfly. And these kids were quite interested. So the kids come from all parts of the camp and come to see us.

WH: Had they ever seen anything like that before in their lives?

ES: Well, you know, they're youngsters, just growing up, and I don't think they'd been exposed to nature.

WH: I think what you told me before was that the young ones born in camp had never seen a butterfly before.

ES: Yeah, there's some never seem 'em. I think they were city dwellers, so never seen 'em.

WH: I see.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2005 Densho and The Japanese American Film Preservation Project. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

CO: You just told us a story -- let me just see how much time we have, oh, it'll just be if it makes it or not -- when we were, during a break when you said how the FBI came and they were looking for cameras and things, so they didn't find your camera when they came to search your house?

ES: Well, I already had turned them in. But what they were looking for, I do not know, because we're loyal, my dad and mother were loyal residents, paid their taxes, bill, never encouraged any crime or anything. They came in search and wanted their identification, they wouldn't tell me, they shoved me behind the door, went through the house, and I wanted, as an American citizen over twenty-one years of age, I wanted to know what their mission was, and I had every right to ask them, according to my education. That's why I pursued it further with the county sheriff and FBI. But I was, my folks told me that we should move to inland someplace, but I am an American citizen and I'm going to stay here. So that's why we, Dad and I had a little quarrel. But after we got to the camp, he apologized what he said and done to me, and he wanted to come home, kept wanting to come home. So I'd been working hard to come home, and I did come home fifteen days before the coast was opened.

WH: Were you the first one back?

ES: I was the first one back in San Jose. There's another good friend of mine, just down in Cupertino. So I toured San Jose Japantown; some were boarded up and some were, had stolen goods, second-hand store.

WH: Who took care of your farmland?

ES: My farmland? My neighbor, who was a veteran of World War I, my dad and mother, when I was a little kid, took care of his mother while he went to work. And so when he was called to service to go to Ireland, and he was just worried sick, "What are we going to do with my mother?" And he has a half brother, half brother works in the railroad in Santa Clara, and he goes by there, so in the morning, he would put her up in the night, would put her in bed. So for a short seven months, I think it was, the war was over. So when he came back, he was so happy to see his mother again, and he remembered that, and when 9066 evacuation orders came, probably then he knew that we had to go. And he says, "I'll do anything I can for you, but I only can take part of the ranch for you." And we said, "We'll let, like to have you help us." So he did; he kept inventory of everything, we didn't know, we didn't lose a single hoe. And we had a horse there, and a dog. My dad liked horses, so when the evacuees had a horse, that's a beautiful Belgian horse, and my dad just couldn't see that dog, I mean, horse destroyed, so he brought it over to our place, and this German Caucasian friend, neighbor, said, "I'll take care," because those days, anything you farmed was, used horses, see? So my worker, four workers were, took over the truck crop farm, and used the horse there. And we kept the horse, and when we came back, my dad went to the horse first thing. Before that, when I came back at first, the dog wouldn't bark. So I knocked, when I knocked on the door, so Mr. Seely came to the door and, "Just a minute, the dog didn't bark." He looked at me and, "Oh, no wonder." [Laughs]

WH: So your parents took care of his mother?

ES: Yes.

WH: Okay. Good, good.

ES: So one deed leads to the other.

WH: Right.

ES: So that's the Boy Scout motto.

WH: Uh-huh.

ES: Do unto others as you would like to do to you.


ES: When I packed my suitcase, there was restrictions as to what I can take. But in being a Boy Scout, I just had the pocket knife. And the blade shouldn't be over three inches long as I was told at the Wartime Civil Control Administration where I registered. So they were taking all the knives away from people, but I stuck it in and when I arrived at Santa Anita, they opened the suitcase and found the knife, they were just going to take it out. I said, "I'm a Boy Scout and I need the knife to carve and open letters and things." They just put it in, closed the lid, "Go."

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2005 Densho and The Japanese American Film Preservation Project. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

WH: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us before we stop?

ES: Well, after all these years of my life, I have never read, heard of anything like this where persons of Japanese ancestry has experienced. And I always thought, all the experiences I have gone through, that history of persons of Japanese ancestry should be preserved for a long time to come, that's the reason why I'm very much interested in this museum. And persons who are eager to preserve this type of history, I think we can do better, one better in preserving this history by having different museums, L.A. museum, San Jose, Chicago, and San Diego, is it, has a museum. Portland, Oregon, has a museum, and all these relocation centers being preserved as a historical spot, but only a few of them can do much because they haven't got the backing and resources of materials all gone.

WH: So that's why you've put a lot of your heart and soul into this museum.

ES: Right.

WH: Well, thank you. Thanks very much.

ES: Okay, I thank you and I hope that history will be preserved.

EO: Those images you've got are just fabulous.

ES: Pardon?

WH: Those images that you captured are just wonderful. You help us all remember.

ES: Yeah, I can't forget our Isseis. After you talk to the Isseis, kawaiso. They come up so far, raise their children, and they had to be turned into the concentration camp. Not only that, the Isseis that were old, old and feeble, ill, had no relative or anyone to look after, talk to. They were brought over here on the last train from Heart Mountain into Santa Clara County Hospital, and I visited them a couple of times because I felt so sorry for them. But they were laying in beds and just open their mouth and, you know, they can't talk much. Oh, it's just a terrible condition. If they had some relatives or some yoroin, old peoples, Japanese old home, would have been much more pleasant if they passed away. But when I think of those people, there's lots and lots of history, how Japanese ancestors came to the United States and survived and brought up their children and sent 'em to school, educate them. They didn't think about their own self, selfishly, they thought about their children and the future of their children. So I'm greatly interested in preserving the history of Japanese.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2005 Densho and The Japanese American Film Preservation Project. All Rights Reserved.