Densho Digital Archive
Japanese American Film Preservation Project Collection
Title: Dave Tatsuno Interview II
Narrator: Dave Tatsuno
Interviewer: Wendy Hanamura
Location: San Jose, California
Date: May 17, 2005
Densho ID: denshovh-tdave-03

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

<Begin Segment 1>

WH: Let's start again by having you tell me your real name and the day you were born...

DT: Yeah. Well, actually, my name is not Dave Tatsuno. It's Masaharu Tatsuno, and the name was given to me by my parents, and strangely, I was born in Japan on March the 31st. And then later, there's a birth certificate, City of San Francisco, August of that year. And I found my father's diary for 1913. You turn the pages, March the 31st, "Masaharu born." So I was born on March the 31st in Japan.

WH: 1913?

DT: Yeah, 1913. Very unusual story, you know, when you think of it. And then the birth certificate, that is, the... on the birth certificate, yes, it says, on the back of it, "admitted to San Francisco" in such and such a date, signed immigration officer. That's the funny part, I can't understand. You see?

WH: But this was so you could become an American citizen?

DT: Yeah, but it's strange, isn't it? The whole thing, and as I said, my name "Masaharu Tatsuno," I changed to Dave Tatsuno when I was running for student body president at Hamilton junior high school in San Francisco. And I was a low ninth and high ninth senior in junior high school, and when I ran for president, the young man, a Chinese friend named LeRoy Wong, was making posters for me, "Masaharu Tatsuno," said, "Your name is too long. Don't you have an American name?" "Well, wait until tomorrow, I'll get you one." So that night I thought about "John Tatsuno," "Bob Tatsuno," "Dave Tatsuno." "Hey, that sounds good, Dave Tatsuno." So I went back the next morning and I told LeRoy, "LeRoy, I got the name. Put Dave Tatsuno on." So he put it on all the posters, and I won the presidency. I still have one poster here, from that time.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

WH: So you have been kind of a historian, keeping things and documenting things for a long time?

DT: Well, that's because, you see, during the evacuation, people lost everything. They burned them, or else was, like I remember helping the evacuees come back to California, they would ask me, they're still in Topaz, Utah, they said, "Please go to our home to check on my property." And I go there, nothing left, the garage is empty, except for snapshots, albums, all over the floor, because people didn't want that. And I saw all that, you see, and I had to write to them in Topaz and tell them. I said, "I'm sorry, but I got to your, that house where you had things stored, that's what happened." But in my case, everything was stored at the government warehouse because the people that rented our home, the couple, had broken in and was selling some things. And we had things stored in the rear bedroom, my fathers, the garage is filled with our store merch-, not merchandise -- we didn't have too much merchandise, but Japanese merchandise wouldn't sell at that, after Pearl Harbor. So we kept them, naturally, we had to keep them. We couldn't get rid of them. And so after the war when we opened, the Japanese merchandise became very valuable, because you didn't have Japanese merchandise, you see. But there were all kinds of stories.

So anyway, this couple, I had rented the house to them, I was desperate to go to Tanforan Racetrack. Now, what are you going to do with the house? And then this couple comes, very well-dressed, they said, "We'll rent it from you. Thirty dollars a month." So we rented the house and they were in there. And the first week, they come to Tanforan with a gallon of hot chicken soup, of all things, as a gift. I said, "Gee, my golly, they came all the way from San Francisco, ten miles." Two weeks later they come in again, and brought something else as a gift. And I said, "Gee, these are nice people," and they'd stand in the grandstand, look at all the barracks and they said, "Gee, I sure feel sorry for you Japanese people." These are nice people. So when the announcement was made that there was a possibility of, "Those of you who have property in the Bay Area to go back there with a guard to inspect it." I said, "Oh, I don't have to go. These are nice people." No, I'd like to eat some chow mein at the King Inn restaurant on Post Street in San Francisco and I signed up. To make the whole story short, when I got there, I found out they had broken in, broken into the back room, they had broken into the basement, they even drove our car to Los Angeles. And I didn't know that 'til later, when I found out they had two adopted young people, and they said, "We drove your car to Los Angeles, all the way." So when I went to see it, it was still jacked up, and I looked at the mileage, and there's two thousand more miles on it. I said, "That's funny. Oh well, maybe I forgot." But then the confession by these two young people who wanted to get out of the, the people, they didn't care for them. So they said, confessed it: "Yeah, we drove the car to Los Angeles and back, two thousand miles."

So all -- so that's why, how we found out, and this couple... so when we found out -- well, the first day when we went there, found out, it was four or five o'clock and have to go back to Tanforan. Guard is with us, so we said, "Oh, have to go back." I couldn't sleep that night, thinking all that happening in our home. So I got in touch with the man in charge of the basic clothing service, I was working, helping, and I told him about it and he said, "You know," he phoned up the camp director. Said, "Davis, don't you think this is a special case?" See, the next day was supposed to go to Utah. "Don't you think this is a special case? You should let Tatsuno go out and check on their property." And so the camp director gave us the permission, so we went out again, and this time I took my younger sister to identify some of the... and when we got there, oh, they were surprised. They didn't think we would come out again, and we almost had a hand-to-hand combat. I was telling her, "Say, this stand, the curtain, that's ours. It was inside." And I drew the curtain and there was a revolver, a gun there. So I took the gun and I was going to give it to the guard, because it was getting hot. And he saw me and he grabbed my hand, and we had a hand-to-hand combat. [Laughs] And they got the gun away and I had to give it to the guard. I said, "You better hang onto this, things are getting too hot." So all kinds of stories like that, you see, that happened. So finally, we couldn't just chase them right out. But oh, they called the army in, Major Sanitelli, came, and then the Federal Reserve Bank came, and we had all kinds of people coming. So by that time they were cowed, and the army put the things back into the back and they sealed it, but they had to still give them one month notice to get out, you see. And so that's what happened. [Laughs] All kinds of stories, you know?

WH: So after they left in a month, were you able to rent it again?

JO: Yeah, so we rented it to a Caleb Foote. He was a conscientious objector, and he was doing work with young people, so he rented it to young people staying at home, and he stayed there, too, with his wife, Hope. Hope Foote. They were here for dinner after the war, and he became a professor at Cal later, but I kind of lost track of him. He was a tall, handsome fellow, a CO, conscientious objector.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

WH: So Dave, tell me how you started to take movies.

DT: Oh, very interesting story. I lost my best friend, Shig Koba, twenty-five years old, on May the 11th of (1936). He died of bacterial endocarditis of the heart. Twenty-five years old, just had finished Cal two years before. And about a month after he passed away, I was at the home of Alice's cousin, Dr. Henry M. Takahashi, optometrist. And he showed us, he had a movie camera, and he showed a movie of Shig, the fellow, and I, walking at a conference. I said, "Gee, Shig is gone two months, and look at both of us walking together." Gosh, movie's a wonderful thing. So I went on and bought the cheapest Eastman Kodak camera, thirty-two dollars at that time. It's in my diary. See, I've been keeping a diary since 1924, all the way through 'til now. And so, in Japan, little kids are keeping nikki, diary, and I got started at 1924, I got a box full of diaries, you see. But that's what happened. And so I went and bought this camera for thirty-two dollars. Now, thirty-two dollars doesn't seem like anything, but Cal at that time was twenty-six dollars for one semester. So you can imagine what that thirty-two dollar was. And so that's how I got the movie camera, and I started taking movies. And like during the war, you're not supposed to have cameras, right? And to turn into the police department. And I said, I had a very good Caucasian friend named Lee Mullas in Oakland. "Hey, Lee" -- Methodist -- "I'm going to lend you my movie and still camera. Why don't you use it? If I don't have it, I don't have to turn it in." So he had it.

WH: You still have that camera?

DT: Here's the camera.

WH: Can you show it to us?

DT: Yeah.

WH: Show us your camera and how it worked.

DT: Look at that. [Holds up camera.] 8-mm Bell and Howell. Look at that.

WH: How do you load that?

JO: See? And so this was the camera that I took all that, you see. He had the, so he had that camera, and so anyway, I'm out in the desert one day, later, and the project, the director of the co-operative, the government man, very nice fellow, Walter Honderick, I was standing next to him, and all of a sudden he has a camera, and he was taking shots. I said, "Gee, Walt, I'd give my right arm to have my camera here now," exactly what I said. And normally it's against the law. What could he say? "Too bad." You know what he said? "Dave, where is your camera?" I told him, "I didn't turn it in to the police department. It's in Oakland with a friend of mine." He says, "Why don't you write to him and have it sent to me?" To him. One day, he comes to my barrack with a camera, and he says, "Dave, be careful. Don't take it near the fence where the guards are." But what happened? No film. What good is a camera without film? Again, a strange thing happened. I was a buyer for the co-op dry goods store, I traveled twenty thousand miles around the United States on three trips. Eleven trips to Salt Lake City buying. I go to Chicago, and there's a big Bass Camera Company. I walk in there, they sell me three or four rolls of colored film; not black and white, color. And people say, "Wow, you got into color?" I said, "Yeah, color came out in '39." So they sell me three or four rolls of colored film, and they don't ask me any questions. It was in Chicago, and there aren't any, too many Japanese Americans. And then what happened? I come back and I take these shots, and I wasn't taking it to be a spy, I was just taking shots for a hobby. And so after I came back, now how to have it processed? It had to be processed in Los Angeles; how to get it there? Well, my younger brother was on a student relocation at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. And so I would get the camera, the film, somebody going out and giving it to him, he mails it to Los Angeles, it goes back to him at the university, he gives it to somebody coming in. So now I have my little film, see? But I can't see it. Then what happened? Strange. We had, government had stored all our things in a government warehouse, and one day, my wife says, "We don't know how long we'll be here. I'd like to get my little portable sewing machine out of that warehouse." So I write to a Caucasian friend, Joe Gibbs: "Hey, Joe, go to the government warehouse and arrange to have that sewing machine sent." He saw the projector, and he threw it in. So when we got the sewing machine, the projector came. Ah, so we were able to see that film in the barrack. I even showed it to some of my WRA friends. But, you know, I mean, crazy story. Should have never happened, but that happened, you see?

And then, how after that, how... well, let's see. Well, anyway, this direct -- oh, and then how it was made into a video. One Nisei woman in New York came and said, "Gee, Dave, I hear you have this shot of Topaz. Can I take it to Boston, to the top outfit, and have it made into video?" I said, "Oh," I was afraid because I lost some film before doing things like that, but I relented. She took it there and she had it made into video, but no sound. Just a video picture. Well, then after that, the San Francisco... let's see. What college was it now? You know, your mind... but anyway, one Nisei fellow, who works at the photo lab in the college, De Anza College, he said, "Dave, why don't you bring your film, we could put sound in?" So I narrated the sound without any rehearsal, I've been doing it all the time. So it sounds awkward at places, but the sound went into the thing and so we had a sound copy of Topaz.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

WH: Now, when you were shooting this film, did you think it was for history's sake? I mean, what was, what was your thought?

DT: No, it was very, very simple; it was just a hobby. See, I started taking movies way back, you see, it was when that friend died, and I've taken underwater video now for twenty-five, twenty-five years I was underwater video, taking video, of sharks and all that. And it was just a hobby; nothing professional about it. And people said, "Why don't you show it on TV?" I said, "Oh, it doesn't matter. I'm just doing it for a hobby, for fun." Nothing.

WH: Does it surprise you that it's come to have historic significance?

DT: Well, I could imagine why, because of the fact that it was taken secretly behind the barbed wire, when it was not supposed to. And it was not edited, I mean, no one told us, told me what to take, I took, anything I took, you see. But, of course, having done it secretly, I couldn't take open shots too much. Well, you know, very intimate shots.

WH: Now, did you have a light meter? I mean, your exposure looks very good.

DT: No, no, no light meter. Just amateur movie-making.

WH: How many reels total did you take?

DT: Pardon?

WH: How many movie reels total?

DT: Well, you see, in Topaz, as I said, I only have one hour, about an hour, that's all. But others I have taken, I took the camera back east when I was on a buying trip, and I remember taking pictures in Philadelphia and Chicago, saw my friends and all that. And I was taking a chance because at that time, one Nisei taking pictures from a bridge in, out there, was caught taking pictures, snapshots. And here I was taking movies, but I was lucky. No one stopped me, and it was kind of a miracle story when you think of it. And it even happened, if I didn't get the camera in the first place, nothing would have happened.

WH: Some of those shots are very evocative, like the half-Italian, half-Japanese young women, they look so lonely out there. Were they accepted by the rest of the evacuees?

DT: No, no, they were very nice children. Very nice kids, and they got along well with everybody. Oh yeah, there was no discrimination against the Italian Japanese.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

WH: How was it for your father being in camp?

DT: Well, there's a difference. These are Issei, and they went through hardships, you see. And they also knew that the war with Japan, there's nothing much you can say. So his philosophy was to do the best you can, grin and bear it, and that was what he told us. So that my philosophy was, sure you can, so many people, he says, waste time, bitch, bitch, bitch, that doesn't do any good. It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. So with that philosophy, I carried it out, and look, I traveled twenty thousand miles around the United States, I made friends in Wisconsin, I made friends in Salt Lake City, they came to visit us here after the war. The couple from Salt Lake City, the wholesale store, and I took them to Monterey, I have a movie of it, of outing. And then the couple from Wisconsin came all the way here to visit us after the war. I mean, ordinarily things like that wouldn't happen. But you see, you make it happen.

WH: You must be happy to have those films of your oldest son, too.

DT: Oh, Sheldon, the one that passed away? Yeah, I took quite a bit of shot of him, of Sheldon, from his first coming out of the hospital, St. Francis Hospital in San Francisco, a little baby, and then when he was, until he was, until he passed away, I have shots of that. Yeah, he was a wonderful boy, very intelligent. Big eyes, long eyelashes, he was a good boy. And then the thing is, his name was Sheldon. After we lost him, we prayed for another boy. Well, we got another boy -- any kind of boy would do. It doesn't have to be as smart as he was, any dumb boy would do. We get a son and named him Sheridan instead of Sheldon, he goes to Yale and Harvard. Now, see? I said, any dumb boy would do, and he goes to Yale and Harvard. He lost his wife, you know, over a year ago. Yeah, it was very sad, and he has one daughter, only child, now just turned eighteen, I believe, going to college. But I hope he meets somebody real nice, because at the age of fifty-three or four, he can't stay alone.

WH: You've been very fortunate to have Alice with you all these years, huh?

DT: Yeah. I told them it's about time I changed. [Laughs]

WH: How long have you two been married?

DT: Oh, sixty-something years now, since 1938.

WH: In your film, you said, "Oh, there I am in Salt Lake City carrying the box that I used to hide my camera."

DT: Right, right.

WH: Tell me about that.

DT: Well, that was a little shoebox, Mrs. Day's baby shoes that we used to sell, you see, in our store in San Francisco and later in camp. And I put the camera, this camera, right in that little box, and I carried around that way, you see. Didn't look like a camera.

WH: What do you hope your film is used for in the future?

DT: I don't know. That's up to the people to decide. I have no control over that. All I'm glad is that I had the opportunity, unusual, to take that picture as a hobby; not for historical purposes. And I just took it merely as a hobby. And now, if it's valuable because it was taken secretly, behind the barbed wires, let them use it. That's my feeling.

WH: To share it?

DT: Yeah, show it. And I think fifty years from now, hundred years from now, they look at it and they say, "Gee, this is taken fifty years ago, hundred years ago, behind the barbed wire, by a Japanese American evacuee," might be interesting.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

WH: So Dave, you taught high school for many years behind barbed wire.

DT: Not many years, no. I just, one semester.

WH: One semester?

DT: Because I was manager of the camp store for two-and-a-half years. And then I quit that position because I went out to help my brother-in-law, who was an architect, run a ranch in Springville, Utah. And so I helped him for about three months, you know, we did all the spraying and all the things, he had all kinds of fruit and all that.


DT: When I became chairman of the Youth World Committee at the San Jose YMCA, the chairman preceding me was a professor, Dr. George Brunset at San Jose State. And I felt quite humbled by the thing, and I told the committee of twelve person at lunch there that, "I'm dedicating this service in memory of the son I lost, as a living memorial." And believe it or not, that ended up on flying a quarter of a million miles for the YMCA. I never offered, but they said, "Dave, will you go?" "Will you come?" And so I was in Geneva, Switzerland, for the World Meeting, I was at that World Meeting in Tokyo, Japan, I was back east so many times, you know, back, back and forth. I did all that. It's, when you think about it, gee, how did that all happen? But as a living memorial, it happened.

WH: What, why didn't you ever leave camp? You and Alice probably could have gone and worked in Salt Lake City or Chicago.

DT: Yeah, I think we could have, but, you see, I had my father, and my father was near eighty, and it was hard to relocate with an old person. And I looked around, I looked around Wisconsin, Sheboygan and all, but I didn't see anything. And I applied for some position at department stores, but they wouldn't hire you. So it just went on until finally I said, "Oh, we have the home, we have the house in San Francisco," so we said, "We might as well go back." So that's what happened. But because of the family I stayed. If I was single or with my wife and I, we would have jumped out, but with my elderly father there, figured that might as well stay until we got back.

WH: Now, what did you try to teach your, your students that semester you taught at Topaz high school?

DT: Well, I enjoyed the teaching. I gave them much of my philosophy, too, you know. And so it was very interesting. Strange, I wonder, I didn't have my public speaking material from Cal at all. How did I teach so many of the things about public speaking, but I did. And I'm wondering to this day, what did I actually use as material? But it was fun. My largest class was thirty students, smallest class was about fifteen or something. But five classes, hundred and, 120 students in total, all seniors in high school.


WH: To what do you attribute all these good coincidences?

DT: Well, God works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform, I say. It's not me, you see, it's something beyond yourself. Like for example, in Rome, I'm taking movies as usual, and I'm at the Trevi fountain. Trevi fountain is not a round fountain; it's a big fountain against a big building. And to get that in my scope, I had to go across the street, run up the stairs, to get the whole thing in. And just as I finished taking it, another tourist comes up with a camera and says, "You got a good angle there." And he spoke English, so I said, "Where are you from?" He says, "San Jose." And of all things, I said, "What do you do?" He said, "I work for General Electric, and I make a tour of Europe now." "You work for General Electric? I have a very good friend who works for General Electric, in my church, Methodist Church." And I gave the name and he said, "I head five engineers, he's one of my five Engineers." So I come back and I tell him the story, and we have a little conference at church. Luncheon, I'm sitting there, and a tall Caucasian fellow comes and sits in front of me. I said, "What do you do?" He said, "I work for General Electric." "Oh, General Electric," I tell the story. When I told him the story, he says, "Oh, I'm one of the five engineers, too." Can you imagine? [Laughs]

WH: You were saying earlier, Dave, that you try to impart some of your philosophy to those kids in Topaz. What, tell me, what is that philosophy?

DT: I'm not sure what I said, but some of the thought that I had, like it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, so easy to be, to curse the darkness about evacuation, about being kicked out and all that. No. Light a candle. So here I am, busy, running all over the United States buying for the store, you see. I taught Sunday school, I taught public speaking. In other words, accentuate the positive. Negative doesn't get you anyplace.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

WH: Was there a Christmas letter that you sent out?

DT: Oh, I sent out a Christmas letter every Christmas. Every Christmas. I have, I have a whole folder full of my Christmas letters.

WH: Was there one in particular called "The Star Sleeps Tonight"?

DT: Yeah, that's in there. That's one of the letters in there.

WH: Can you describe it to me?

DT: Well, I just talked about the war outside the camp, and I'm in camp, see, and the snow falling, and I talked about the, some of the feeling I had at that time. I have that, all my Christmas letters in a folder.


WH: Go ahead and read what you had written in 1943.

DT: "This is Christmas 1943. Outside of the drab barracks stretching monotonously into the distance, snow is falling like little soft feathers, white flakes waft downward from the sullen skies. The desert wilderness so arid and so desolate, becomes suddenly covered with a magic mantle of glistening white, delivering a white Christmas. Inside the seemingly lifeless barracks, children are happily playing with gifts sent from loving but unknown friends scattered all over the United States. Here's a little doll sent from a Sunday school class in Iowa. The family next door has received a dozen eggs from one of the Sunday school class in Salt Lake City. A little tot clutches joyfully at parts of a Tinker Toy sent from another little tot in Falwell, Massachusetts. Here is a stationery from a seventeen-year-old girl in Ohio, and already a thank-you letter is being written with it by a grateful Nisei lass of the same age, a correspondence which may ripen into a lifelong friendship. In another barrack apartment, a frail widowed mother watches with dewy tears of thankfulness as her nine-year-old daughter eagerly opens a beautifully wrapped gift from Kansas City, and nearby, a smiling youngster is sprawled on the near floor by the GI stove, excitedly coloring his crayon book sent by the community church of nearby Provo. Multiply these Christmas scenes a thousand times, for such touching scenes took place in almost every barrack of the ten War Relocation Centers scattered throughout the United States. No, this isn't an ordinary year, there's a war on. The world is engulfed in a fiery holocaust of bloodshed, hate and hysteria. Men the world over are destroying each other. Violence and cruelty are the rule and not exceptions. Be kind, one to another, seems a hollow teaching. But out in the cold and silent desert, the star still shines tonight. The star of Bethlehem still shines two thousand years after, through the Christ-like love of Christians, all of America. Peace on earth seems a mockery, but goodwill to men exists because of these people who follow Christ unselfishly giving and sharing. Truly inside and outside the barracks, a white Christmas." And that's this one here.

WH: Do you remember writing that, Dave?

DT: Oh, I remember. Yeah, I do. [Laughs] But these are all, every Christmas I wrote a different one, see.

WH: And who would you send these to?

DT: Well, to my friends, but I'm eliminating Christmas card now, you know, just about. Let's see, at ninety-two, I figured, I've done it.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

WH: Dave, here's one more thing I found from your 1967 Christmas letter that I'd like you to read. It has the original dramatic reading from the Topaz high school Christmas play.

DT: [Laughs]

WH: Tell me what you're reading.

DT: Let's see... well, I won't read the whole thing. Let's see. Well, "On this Yuletide, always a time of reflection and meditation, as we look back a quarter of a century, may we share a few thoughts from those strange evacuation days. In Topaz War Relocation Authority Center, we began an original dramatic reading for the Topaz high school Christmas program. This is Christmas. Here in the barren desert of central Utah, though the whole world is ablaze with the fiery holocaust of war, here it is quiet, it is peaceful. Silent is the night. In the silence of this Christmastime, we're forced to think, to reminisce, to ponder about tomorrow, shouted in the misty veil of the future. Yes, we meditate on the significance of this day, of today, and recall in memory the thundering events of the past. Some of the excerpts from the reading 'Christmas 1942', our first Christmas, a Topaz high school girl reminisces. And this Christmas was one of the best Christmas that some of us had. Materially it lacked many things, but spiritually it was more than we ever had. After the pageant, went caroling. It was cold and chilly, but we sang. We felt something inside our hearts as we sang, and we really got the true spirit of Christmas, of Christmas. One teenage lass looking back, pens, 'Life was difficult, but we certainly got some rich experiences in Topaz. In spite of the hardship endured there, as developed in us a deeper understanding of human values and a love of common things.' A senior student writes, 'Let not misfortune bind you strong, for loved ones you have lost, that barracks rafters ring with song, for Christmas always comes.'"

WH: Could you just read that middle one about the lass that pens? Pick it up from there.


DT: "One teenage lass, looking back, pens, 'Life was difficult, but we certainly got some rich experiences in Topaz. In spite of the hardship endured there, there has developed in us a deeper understanding of human values and a love for common things.'"

WH: Why don't you just read to the end.

DT: "A senior student writes, 'Let not misfortune bind you strong, though loved ones you have lost. That barrack rafters ring with song, for Christmas always comes.'" This is from in here, huh? Was it in there?

WH: So, Dave, having gone through the Christmases in the barren desert of Utah, how do you think it changed the way you looked at the rest of your life?

DT: Well, I think we tried to live life with the philosophy of making the best of everything, and we've done that all along. You know, we lost our son, the evacuation, you see, all that, there are difficulties, but you overcome with your philosophy of doing the best you can under the circumstance. And I think the main thing is to be grateful for all the things you've received in life, all the friends, parents, and all our dear ones, we've received so much, that we can't be selfish.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

WH: Are there other stories that you recall vividly from those camp days?

DT: Well, I guess... I think it came out before, but it's about one Nobu Kajiwara, who was a Nisei from the Oakland Methodist Church. And while in Topaz, when they called, asked for volunteers, he said he wanted to volunteer. And the parents said, "Why, Nobu, you're the only son. Wait for the draft; don't go." But he said, "No, I have to go, because I just feel that I should do it." And so he volunteered, and sadly, he was killed at the crossing of the Volturno River in Italy with the 442. The 442 was the most highly decorated outfit in the U.S. Army of that size, and after he died, in Topaz, the mother was still in camp, in Topaz. The project, assistant project director and his wife, Gladys and Roscoe Bell, Gladys wanted to go to visit the mother. And she thought, well, she hesitated, but she went to see Mrs. Kajiwara. And when she saw Mrs. Kajiwara, she said, "I'm so sorry that you lost your son, and he was your only son." And Mrs. Kajiwara said, "You know, other mothers have lost their son, some their only son. Why should I be any different?" What a story. You see? All kinds of stories.

WH: How did your brother come to be in the, in the army?

DT: Oh, he was drafted. He was, he was a student at University of Utah, and then the draft called him, and he was going as a replacement as the 442 Combat Team in Italy when the war ended. And so he was in Japan with the counterintelligence corps, and I think he had an interesting experience in Japan, visiting relatives, too.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

WH: How did you first meet Dorothea Lange?

DT: Dorothea Lange, she came, she was taking pictures for the, for a documentary. And just before we were to be evacuated, she came to our home, and Alice met her and saw her. Then after that, she came, we met her again in, I guess, in camp. And then after the war, we got -- her husband was a professor of economics, Dr. Taylor.


DT: Yeah, she came and photographed my wife in the kitchen on the Buchanan Street house before evacuation, then after that it was about, during the evacuation, and then after the war, they invited Professor Taylor, her husband, who was my professor in econ, economics. And so they invited us for dinner there at the home in Berkeley, my kids all went, too, you know. And then we had them here for a sukiyaki dinner one night. Caleb Foote, the fellow that rented our home during the war, he was a Fellowship of Reconciliation fellow, conscientious objector. But he was a professor later at Cal, and hope, I haven't seen him for ages now. And then we had another couple, a professor at San Jose State, here that night, to, with this wife, Dorothy. I remember that.

WH: Did you ever see Dorothea Lange's photographs of you and your wife?

DT: Well, I don't recall her taking both of us together. I think it was my wife cooking in the kitchen or something, and I don't, I'm not sure.

WH: So you, perhaps you've never seen those images.

DT: Yeah, maybe not. But there's so many things that have happened, that we don't keep track of everything. So, if I was more of a historian, I guess I would, but been too busy. You know, I traveled not only 200,000 miles for the Y, but we had an RV until two years ago. Went to seven of 'em, four trailers and three RVs, and we drove to all the way, all around the United States with our dog, who was at that time, couldn't see anything, through twenty-six states and Canada, in an RV.

WH: And I hear you like to dive, too.

DT: And then we did diving. Besides that, twenty-six trips overseas diving. So can you imagine, all the things, and trying to run the store? [Laughs] But life is what you make it.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

WH: How was it when you came back to San Francisco?

DT: Yes.

WH: Tell me what it was like getting started again.

DT: Well, it was, the town was black. The blacks had moved into the Japantowns, so it was all black. Nighttime, noise until midnight and all that. But the people, the blacks were very friendly to us, and then the people, other people like, I went to the wholesalers, oh, they were glad to see me. They were all nice, all very nice, they all felt sorry that the whole thing happened. So I found very little bitterness.

WH: Did you reopen your store?

DT: Yes, I opened the store in 1946, July the 15th. And until then, for one year, I helped evacuees.

WH: How did you help them?

DT: Oh, I spoke at the University of California, I spoke a San Francisco State, I met all the trains coming in, I took them to jobs, I got lists a mile long of all the things I did. Hundred and -- maybe more than a hundred-something, I have a binder full of the things I did for them. Then I finally... not a nervous breakdown, but I had a, kind of a physical run-down, and I figured, well, I helped the evacuees for over a year, so that was enough, and I terminated it. Then I decided to reopen my San Francisco store, and in July the 15th of 1946, we reopened the store. And you know, we couldn't find a location, 'cause we had a store on the corner which was leased, and someone else was in there. We had a, we had a three-story residence next door, and somebody said, "Dave, why don't you jack the whole house up and put a store inside?" I said, "Can you do that?" An Issei carpenter, Mr. Honda. He says, "Oh, you can do that." "How much will it cost?" "About two thousand dollars." [Laughs] At that time, it cost us six thousand, but we lived upstairs while the house was being lifted. And so we reopened the store on the July the 15th of 1946.

WH: What was the address of your store?

DT: 1625, same as our home. Yeah, and then --

WH: 1625...

DT: 1625 Buchanan. Yeah. And then it happened that was July, then the following July, just when we were going to celebrate our first anniversary, our son died. Tonsil operation. Seven-year-old boy, happy, and I took him to the Stanford hospital at that time, and bang. Oh, that really hit us, and we couldn't stay in San Francisco. So we moved to San Jose, and we came around looking at Japantown here, small Japantown, that's how we got started. And opened the store here in '48. See, '46, '47 he died, '48 we opened the store, and we lived in the back of the store for three years until my brother-in-law said, architect said, "Why don't you enlarge the store?" Well, we had to get out, we had to look for a house. We came around here and "For Sale" sign by the owner, as I told you. And built, house was built for five kids, and we had five kids. So we got together on that, you see, and we got in here. So it was one circumstance after another, and very interesting. Then flying a quarter million miles for the Y all over the place. Then I did diving, scuba diving, too, diving in Hawaii, diving in... diving in the Caribbean Sea off of Mexico. Sharks around. I'll have to show you some sharks.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

WH: You know, you have such a positive outlook, and yet, when you were growing up, you had a very hard childhood, didn't you?

DT: Oh, yeah. You know, people think that Nichibei Bussan, that store in San Francisco, that I had it easy. But you know what happened? You see, when I was a young boy, my dad brought me, left the family in Japan, and brought me back alone to San Francisco. And my guardian was a man who managed our San Francisco store, he was a drunkard. Drank morning, noon and night. And can you imagine, at the age of thirteen, I was eating in a corner restaurant every night with a meal ticket. Until finally, the man drank the store dry, no more meal tickets. So then I went to the corner grocery store, Hosier Company, and I said, "Until my parents come back from Japan, can I charge?" Well, that went on for a month or so, and they had to turn me down. So then, and then I used to cook my own meals, at the age of thirteen. I was making tofu-yu and sukiyaki, and hamburger and all that at the age of thirteen. So I know how to cook, you see. Other, other people my age, they don't know how to cook, but I did all that. And miso shiru and all that, I used to make myself, at thirteen, fourteen. Well, anyway, they turned me down, and then I was, in the meantime I joined the Y. I became very active in the YMCA, and Fred Koba, the Y's secretary heard about my dinner situation and said, "You come to my house and eat." So I ate, I went to his house and his mother fed me every night for about a month until my father came back from Japan. So it was quite a story, you know.

WH: How did you, your mother kind of abandoned?

DT: Yeah, my mother ran off with four, ran off leaving four children behind. Can you imagine that?

WH: How old were you then?

DT: Well, at that time I was twelve, thirteen, and I had come to America. My father left me alone here with a guardian that was drunk, see. And he went back. So sad story when you think of it, huh?

WH: And yet you never became embittered? You've had a very positive outlook.

DT: Well, that's because I joined the Y. See, I joined the YMCA, and they made me leader of the boy's club when I was only fourteen, young boy. He knew that, the Y's secretary, Fred Koba, knew about my life, and so he said, "Dave, I want you to be assistant leader at fourteen." His brother was a leader, Shig Koba, who died, and I became a leader, and I was a leader for five years until I went to camp. So a lot of the little boys I had in my club at the Y, they're dying off right now, you see. So that was quite a spell in my life, you know. Then I became active in the Y because of that. And then I was, finally I became president of the YMCA for five states. Then I went to the world meeting of the YMCA in Geneva, Switzerland, and Japan.

WH: You seem to have a knack for turning misfortune into good fortune.

DT: Well, I think it was training, your philosophy. Instead of looking negatively at life, you accentuate the positive. And because you suffered so much, even at young days, you know, when you can't be eating at a meal ticket at a restaurant at the age of thirteen every night, that's not very happy. But, you see, you accentuate the positive, and you become better for it.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

WH: What made you go back to Topaz in 1955? I would think you wouldn't want to see that place again.

DT: Oh, no. I think we went back three times to Topaz. The last one was about three years ago, when my son came here from Sun Valley, Idaho. We picked up our motor home and went to Sun Valley, and went to visit his son at the university in Colorado. And on the way, we stopped at Topaz one night and looked at the place. New monument. Other, the nice other monument they destroyed, so they put a new flat monument. So I have a video of that.

WH: What brought you back in 1955?

DT: Well, I think it was curiosity with my family, just to look at the place.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

WH: We saw those long lines of people waiting for, for hard-to-get dry goods at your store. I was wondering what kinds of things did they want so much that were so hard to get?

DT: Oh, basic items. Underwear and clothing. It was a dry goods, dry goods operation, you see. So men would want Jockey shorts and socks and...

WH: And those things were in short supply, huh?

DT: Huh?

WH: Those things were in short supply?

DT: Oh, short supply. You had to beg, borrow and steal to get some of those things in those days. You can't realize it now, but wartime shortage, you see. And so for me to go out and try to buy, buy things, and now if I was a big firm out here that they knew, they did their business with all the time, that's nothing. But here we were just out in the desert. After the war, we're not going to be there. Why should they want to sell us merchandise when they can hardly supply their regular customers? And we had to go there, bow our heads and tell them we're behind the barbed wire, Japanese Americans, and then tell them the sad story of evacuation, and that we had a store in San Francisco, we had to close it down because of the war. We're living in a barrack behind the barbed wire in the desert of Utah. And then they start feeling sorry for you. You work on their sympathy. "Well, if that's the case, we'll give you a bolt of this material," and that's how we got started. And on our third trip, we bought fifty thousand dollars worth of goods, which was a lot of money in those days. And oh, we ran. We ran all over Chicago, ran to St. Louis and Denver, Kansas City, to get that merchandise.

WH: How much did you earn as general manager of the co-op?

DT: Nineteen dollars.

WH: And how much was color 8-mm film?

DT: Gee, I don't remember now. [Laughs] I really don't remember now, but it wasn't cheap. But we're lucky to get it, even. Now, you can't get it. And then I was lucky that I was able to get color. Black and white you could look at but it doesn't look good. Regular black and white movies. But color, oh, it stands out, you see. You saw the, you saw my Topaz movie? Yeah. I was lucky. Lot, lot of it is, should have never happened. The man getting my camera for me, that's unheard of. He's a government man; it's against the law, he gets it for me. But you see, human relationship. And they like you, they want to help you out. All kinds of experiences.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

WH: Tell me how you met Alice.

DT: Oh. [Laughs] Well, you know, we were very active in the Christian conference movement, and so... well, actually, I met her because her brother Tom was going to Cal, older brother. And through her -- through him, I met her, and she was very popular because a lot of fellows there at that time. But one, one time, we had a Christian conference every year, and I was chairman of the registration committee, and I had twelve women as my registrar, and she was one of my registrars. And so after the conference was over, I wrote 'em a thank-you letter, and she wrote back to me. So that's, "Dear Dave, if I may call you, be bold enough to call you by your first name..." you know, I still have the letter. I still have all her letters. And so that's how it happened.

WH: How did you know she was the one for you? She's awfully pretty.

DT: Well, she was very likable, attractive, and then she went to Armstrong business college and I went to Cal. And so I used to pick her up during lunchtime at Armstrong business college for lunch on the campus, and we would eat sandwiches on the campus together. Things like that. It was a real romance. She laughs about it now, but I took her to all the Cal dances. And I had two left feet, you know. I wasn't a good dancer, but I still took her to all the Cal dances. And she was always a very, very sweet person, very nice person.

WH: How many years have you been married?

DT: I believe since 1938, so I believe it's about sixty-six years. About time for a change, don't you think? [Laughs]

WH: And how many children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren?

DT: Well, we had six children, but the oldest one, Sheldon, a very bright boy -- I'm not saying because he was my son -- but he had beautiful eyes, big, long eyelashes, and he was loved by everybody. Everybody in camp knew him, I don't know why. But Sheldon, called him Shelly. And we took him to tonsil operation, Stanford hospital, and never came back. And that really hurt us to the quick. And I know the doctor who operated was a doctor who I knew very well at the YMCA. He was chairman of the board of the Japanese Y, Dr. Kitagawa. And when he came and rang the bell to tell us, I opened the door and I saw his face and I can tell something happened. And that was tough for him. But then we got a place in Colma, at the cemetery, and we found a little cherry tree growing there. And so we had a little stone made. The cherry tree is still there; that was 1947. In fact, we were looking at it the other day, my oldest, my second son came and we cleaned up the place this last week. The cherry tree is still growing there, the little one. And then the stone is there. Eventually we'll be there, too, you see. But we've always lived with one foot in heaven. So we're different from the other people. We don't think in terms of just material things, material praise or reputation, it doesn't mean anything. One foot in heaven, so you can do anything you want. We have a different philosophy of life. So all the things I've done, all the deep diving I've done, I'm down 125 feet down, you know, and sharks swimming around us. Oh, you should see some of the sharks. I should show you that.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

WH: Do you remember what kind of film you used?

DT: What kind of film I used? Oh, Eastman Kodak, Kodachrome.

WH: 8-mm?

DT: 8-mm.

WH: And, you know, when we look at your films today, even sixty years later, they're so professionally done. Steady, and you have a nice sense of pacing and wide shot, close-up. Where did you learn how to do that?

DT: Well... [laughs] you learn by experience. When I started in 1936, there was too much of this. [Moves camera laterally back and forth.] Wild, you know, and you wonder, why did you move the camera. That's one thing you have to learn, is hold the camera steady and let the action move, not the camera, but you know, you don't know that. At the beginning, oh, you're doing a lot of this. You shouldn't have done that, you see. But that's one thing that a cameraman must learn first, elementary, that you hold the camera steady and the action moves, not the camera. But you don't think of that. You get all excited.

WH: And there's no film in there right now, is there?

DT: Oh, no.

WH: Can you open it up and show us how you would put the film in?

DT: Oh, yeah. You just... [demonstrates loading film.] This is the... see, it only takes a half a spool, and then you turn it over to the other side and take the other half.

WH: How long, how many minutes on that one spool?

DT: Well, this is... well, actually, the whole, the whole film that you take is about... gee, it's only a few minutes.

WH: So you had to be economical, the way you shot.

DT: Oh, you have to be. You have to be. You don't have all the luxury of having a lot of film. But yeah, many a time... and you put the other, you put the other side here, go through here, and you turn it around and take the other side.

WH: Can you kind of hold it up to the camera so we can see the inside of it? What's the name of your camera?

DT: Bell and Howell. Famous company, Bell and Howell.

WH: Do you remember how much you paid for this camera?

DT: Oh, yeah. Seventy-five dollars. I paid Dr. Henry Takahashi, Alice's cousin, who's an optometrist in San Francisco, he got this for me. I paid him seventy-five dollars. That's a lot of money in those days.

WH: What year?

DT: Yeah.

WH: What year was that?

DT: Well, that must have been about... gee, when was it? 1936, '37, '38, around there. This was a good camera, though. As I said, it's gone underwater, bag first, and then in the other housing, you see. But I've got other cameras now that I use underwater. I've done some crazy things, like jumping into the water and forgetting to put the seal in, and I went in and the water goes in. That happened, too. I drowned, I guess, couple of cameras that way.

WH: [Addressing cameraman] Was there something you wanted to ask?

Male voice: Yeah, I wanted to know about whether the shoebox was just a way of carrying the camera, or whether he actually had a hole in it that he took pictures through.

DT: I didn't quite catch that.

WH: You know that baby shoebox that you held?

DT: Yeah, yeah, right.

WH: Did you just hide it in there, or did you have a hole in there and you would take pictures in there?

DT: Oh, no, no. I just hid it in there, and opened the cover and take it out and I shot it.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

WH: Why do you think that government man let you have that camera?

DT: Well, first of all, he was a very nice fellow, Walter Honderick, and then also, he was a movie man himself, and he knew, being a movie man, that I would like to have some movie shots of my family. So that's how he got the camera for me, not to take secret shots of everything. So, in fact, he cautioned me, he said, "Dave, be careful. Don't take it near the fence where the guards are." But he was taking an awful chance, but he just felt that he wanted to help me out. I was lucky. Ordinarily it would never happen, because the average person would have said, well, it's against the law, he's a government official, I can't do anything for him. It's against the law. But he... and I showed, I showed him when he was dying in Oregon at his home, my movie. And he was dying of cancer, I think, and I was taking a trip up to Oregon and Washington, I stopped by and I showed him.

WH: What did he say?

DT: Well, it's hard to say what he said now, but he was deeply appreciative, surprised, and to think that he had helped me. It was against the law to help me, but he did. He was a wonderful man, Walter Hundrick. And his wife was the second wife in Oregon, and she was a wonderful person, a nurse, wonderful person. Oh, we met lots of wonderful people.


WH: So you never moved up to a 16-mm?

DT: Never did, no.

WH: Show me how you would look through it.

DT: That's right here, very small. [Demonstrates looking through camera.] It's hard to see through now. Very compact, very solid. They did a good job of making this camera. Yeah, I was very, very fortunate to have this camera. Without it, you wouldn't have Topaz.

WH: Do you think you could still take movies with that camera today?

DT: Well, no more film. You don't have film like that anymore. The twenty-five foot spool and you turn it over, you can't get them today, it's obsolete. So this is obsolete. Great camera, though.

WH: Dave, thank you very much.

DT: I enjoyed it. I enjoy all these experiences, you know. To me, it's sharing a part of your life, something that happened, and I was fortunate enough to have gone through some of those experiences. Other people, many people didn't have experience like I did. And so I'm just glad to share it with them.

WH: We sure appreciate it.

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