Densho Digital Archive
Preserving California's Japantowns Collection
Title: Sat Kuwamoto Interview
Narrator: Sat Kuwamoto
Interviewers: Jill Shiraki (primary); Tom Ikeda (secondary)
Location: Fresno, California
Date: March 9, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-ksat-01

<Begin Segment 1>

JS: Today is March 9, 2010, and we are in Fresno interviewing Satoshi Kuwamoto. And I'm Jill Shiraki, Tom Ikeda is also co-interviewing, and Dana Hoshide is doing our camerawork. Okay. So Satoshi, can you tell us when and where you were born?

SK: I was born in Fresno, just a few blocks from where you, oh, about two blocks from the present church. And let's see now.

JS: Can you describe that, what that block was like?

SK: Yes. Ventura and E Street. There... well, a midwife delivered us, delivered me. So let's see now...

JS: Do you remember the name of the midwife?

SK: Yeah. Well, Mrs. Eda, and let me see. What happened is, there's a brand new highway... I can't remember how long ago, maybe fifteen years ago, fifteen, twenty years ago, the highway went through. And before then, it's just a residential section. And as I remember, we had streetcars going, I mean, downtown, and we, I remember...

TI: And Sat, before we go on to there, just to give us a context, when were you born? Just so we know kind of --

SK: Oh, February 25, 1922. Maybe it's easier for you to ask questions and I'll answer it.

TI: Yeah, why don't we do that.

JS: Okay. Can you tell us the names of your parents and when they came to the U.S.?

SK: Well, my parents, my father's name was Shuichi Kuwamoto, and then my mother has three sisters. I mean, all three sisters were in Fresno, I mean, they were in the city of, two of the sisters were in Visalia. But when, later on, when they came to Fresno, all three sisters were in the same town, we were here. So...

JS: What was your mother's name?

SK: Last name is Nakata, Tomiko Nakata. Maiden name.

JS: So let's start with your father. Do you know when he came to the U.S. and where he was from in Japan?

SK: Almost everyone here came from Hiroshima. And I... well, it was a small town. It was a community where I knew everyone in town, their home, where they lived, I can just about name every house in the, West Fresno. And the community was divided in several ways. We had the German community, the Armenian community. The Armenian were on the other side of the tracks, but everyone else was, the Italian community, just on the, they lived on the west side of Fresno.

TI: Sat, I want to go back and ask, you mentioned how all the Japanese were from Hiroshima?

SK: Yes.

TI: Why was that? What caused all the people from Hiroshima, or for Fresno people to be from Hiroshima?

SK: Oh, the majority of the people, let's put it that way. There were some people from Wakayama, and... or was it Okayama? Wakayama, I think.

TI: And were the people from Hiroshima mostly farmers, or how would you describe the people that came to Fresno?

SK: Well, as I remember, it'd be my, I don't know what the parents were like, but later on, I knew who they were. All the kids I played with were, well, I mean, the same age. I used to run around West Fresno. And then... let's see now.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2010 Densho and Preserving California's Japantowns. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

JS: So can you, who were some of your friends? Can you name them? Are they mostly Japanese?

SK: All Japanese.

JS: All Japanese.

SK: See, in the old days, the Japanese, if you lived on one block, almost every family that I know of, we went from house to house through the backyard. I mean, everybody had a fence to the neighbor, and you would go to the neighbor's by opening the fence and go to your neighbor. And I can go one block through the backyard of every, every family that lived on the block, and that's the way it went. [Laughs]

JS: What kind of activities did you do when you got together with your friends and you visited?

SK: I can't remember, but we were mostly running around in the, well, I guess the base was a church. The Christian church was on the corner, and on the same block with the Buddhist church. I guess you've seen that. But, and then, as I remember, even when I was a little, first, running around, they call it Chinatown. But let's see, we had a tennis court, the one Christian church had a tennis court, and the Buddhist church had a tennis court. Well, we had just about everything. We had a playground, real large, I mean... and then the kids used to play football or, like I was telling my, during my party, I was telling... well, let me see. [Laughs]

JS: So did you play sports?

SK: Oh, yes. I mean, that's what the kids all did.

JS: Uh-huh, ran around.

SK: And we want to, let's say, people want to be sports athletes. And then I'll tell you a funny incident before I start. Let's see. I was telling how good athlete my grandchildrens are. They were excellent -- they still are -- ballplayers, softball and ballplayers. And my friend said, he says they may be good athletes, but I didn't have anything to do with it, he says. That's how it started. He said he didn't know where their talents come from, but it sure didn't come from me. That was how it started. He said, I was one of the worst athlete he'd ever known. Absolutely worst. And he emphasized it, of course, too. But at that...

TI: But it sounded like sports was a big part. And I've looked at the, where the Buddhist church was, and then where the Christian church was, and then they have those big fields in the back. Were there competitions between the Christians and the Buddhists, like, ball games and things like that?

SK: No, no. They had their own thing. There were enough, almost all the kids were Buddhist, anyway. And we played football, we had a big, big yard to play in, and we had enough kids running around. We played among ourselves, and they, like Japanese school, Nihongakkou, below the Buddhist church, there's classrooms, and that's where we went after school. And the Christian church had a separate, separate church or school ground, I guess, in, oh, about half a block or a block away. And that's where they were. Don't know if they had their Japanese school there or not. We used to play with each other, but, you know, I can't remember if they went to, whether they had their own Japanese school. But, let me see now...

TI: Well, going back to the sports, were there organized sports leagues, like a baseball league where people would have teams and then they would play, like a schedule, something like that?

SK: No. We just played among ourselves, usually before Japanese school started. We would leave grammar school possibly at three o'clock, then we go to, we have about an hour or two before went to classes. And then after class, during the springtime, we just played 'til we all went home.

JS: So you were out all day until it got dark?

SK: Or the kids were out.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2010 Densho and Preserving California's Japantowns. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

JS: So you went to Lincoln?

SK: Lincoln school. And that's where all the kids went.

JS: So how many in your class at Lincoln, how many Japanese were in your class?

SK: Well, all the schools, I mean, every... well, like the German kids from, I mean, that lived on the west side, they all went to Lincoln school. And there's a German kid that told me about something that happened in kindergarten, what I did, and heck, I can't even remember what happened yesterday. But he can remember that far back, he says. I don't believe that. Anyway...

JS: What did he tell you about? Can't remember?

SK: I know, but I don't want to say anything. [Laughs] There were, oh, children of Basque parents, and all three daughters were in my same class. They suddenly, all of a sudden they weren't there. I mean, maybe about first grade, they sort of disappeared. And I didn't know 'til just recently what had happened to them. But the family had moved out to Madera, and I just found out, just about a month or so ago, when they... I don't know how they got in the paper. And all three daughters, they must have been triplets. Otherwise, they wouldn't let the three different ages, age group in my class. But let's see, what else? Well, another funny incident about the Lincoln school, my neighbor across the street, she used to teach... oh, she's of Italian descent. But I knew she was teaching school. But until about, oh, a month ago, she was teaching at the same school I went to. [Laughs]

TI: Sat, going back to your, like, your class, how many in your class were Japanese? Like was it about as many whites as Japanese?

SK: Oh, yeah. It was just a small majority. I mean, in each class, there were some Japanese. But the group was, we were just maybe about a quarter.

JS: So what were the other groups? So you said German, Chinese?

SK: Chinese.

JS: Chinese.

SK: And let's see...

JS: Basque.

SK: Well, just that one family.

JS: Just that family? Italian?

SK: And some Italians, and not many... I mean, it just depended on what part of the city you came from. But I think they, they came from Russia. They were German descent, but they used to call 'em Russians. I mean, they came from Russia.

JS: So were they, they lived in the residential area as well?

SK: Oh, yeah. We lived, we were all together then. So I maybe jumped a little bit forward right now. When we went to the... when we came back to Fresno after our time in the relocation center, most of these kids that I grew up with, they were part of, they had all the good jobs with the city.

TI: We'll get back to that, I'm curious. But you know, earlier you mentioned how your friends were Japanese. Did your friends and you ever play with the other boys?

SK: Oh, sure.

TI: What kind of, how would you play with them? What kind of games would...

SK: I mean, we had... after the classes, I can't remember. But going to school, we played with each other. All of us played with each other.

TI: And what would you do? When you say "play with each other," what kind of games would guys play?

SK: Well, softball, or most any game. Oh, there were some... I just knew, there were only about two or three Mexican family. And now it's different, but in those days, there were only two or three families that I knew. And some of them turned out to be pretty good, I mean, they became judges and so forth. They were pretty high up.

JS: Were there African Americans?

SK: Huh?

JS: Were there African American in West Fresno before the war, or later?

SK: I'm sorry, I just didn't...

JS: Oh. Were there any blacks in the neighborhood?

SK: No.

JS: No? Not before the war?

SK: Oh, maybe one family, possibly two. They lived, there were very few. One was a plumber, and in fact, his son, he went to Japanese school, I don't know how long, very short time. Let's see now...

TI: That's interesting, I've never heard... so the son of the, you said the black plumber went to Japanese school?

SK: Yes.

TI: So why did he go to Japanese school?

SK: I don't know. I don't know why he was there, but he was there. Very short time. There used to be... her name was... I guess she's not here, so I'll mention her name. Belabach. That's Slavonian, I guess. Anyway, she grew up with a Japanese family. She could talk in Japanese just like any other Japanese kid.

TI: So she grew up in the neighborhood and just did all that.

SK: Yes.

JS: And did she attend Japanese school as well?

SK: No.

JS: No? Just from being around the families.

SK: Just being, yeah.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2010 Densho and Preserving California's Japantowns. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

JS: So can you tell me a little bit about your father and your uncle and...

SK: Well, I'll tell you a little bit about my family's background.

JS: Okay.

SK: My... in Hiroshima, my father was one of the, one of the younger kids. And the oldest brother came to Fresno, but anyway, before that, my grandfather's younger brother came to the United States back in approximately 1898, and went to Sacramento, that was the hometown. I mean, that's our background. He went to Hawaii first, and then soon afterward, came to Sacramento, and they started a store over there. And I guess my father's older brother later came to the United States, and they lived in Sacramento. And about 1910, they, my uncle came to Fresno and opened the store here. And I guess it was a grocery store.

JS: Aki store?

SK: Yes.

JS: Do you know why your uncle decided to come to Fresno from Sacramento?

SK: I really don't know why, but I have relatives over there. My father's first cousin was from... I mean, they live in Sacramento. And if you're from that area or know something about them, their name was Kataoka. And if you know a little bit of San Francisco, his brother ran the hotel. And I don't know if you remember those stories, I mean, those... when I say Aki Hotel in San Francisco, everybody seems to know them. But I remember going over there during my early age. But I used to play with kids from Sacramento, I mean, they were... in a way, they were related. And...

TI: Sat, can we go back to your, so your uncle came to Fresno about 1910?

SK: 1910.

TI: When did your father come to...

SK: Oh, much later. He was the youngest of his family, so I guess he must have been here approximately 1920, so it was quite a bit later.

TI: So while his father, while your grandfather was in the United States, your father was being raised in Japan?

SK: Oh, yes.

TI: And then he came over later around 1920 to follow his older brother?

SK: Well, I guess you naturally would... well, if you were... you know that he'd seek his own brother. But he had... let's see now. They all seem to brag about their background, everybody. But I don't know how, whether they're telling the truth or not. But let me see now. He's been to university in Japan, my father did. Waseda, uh-huh. And my mother was the youngest of the, all her brothers and sister. They did pretty well. I think her oldest brother probably helped her grow up, maybe was like a father to her, 'cause the oldest must be about twenty, twenty-five years older. But she was the youngest in the group, I mean, of all the sisters, and then two other sisters, like I said, were in America then, I mean, later. They were here a few years before she did, and I think it was quite a coincidence that it happened the way it did, I mean, to have all three sisters living in the same town.

TI: But can you explain how your mother met your father?

SK: Well, I'm sure it's a baishakunin deal.

TI: But this was done in Japan?

SK: Oh, yes, uh-huh.

TI: Okay, so let me see if I can summarize this. So your father was born and raised and educated in Japan, went to Waseda, and he married your mother probably through arranged marriage. Your mother was the youngest...

SK: Of three sisters. But like I say, he... let's see now. He was able to... I don't know if he ever graduated or not, but he attended the university out there. So he did get quite a bit of an education, even when, in his younger days, he went to... let's see, Commercial College of Fresno. He can speak as well as I can in English.

TI: That'd be really unusual for a Nisei. So why did he leave Japan? He's well-educated, I'm sure there must have been opportunities for him in Japan.

SK: Oh, I don't know. Maybe he wanted to see his brother. But I really don't know why they came over here. I know it's arranged marriage, but my mother's sisters were here, and his brother was here. I don't know why he would come.

JS: Uh-huh, land of opportunity.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2010 Densho and Preserving California's Japantowns. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

JS: So your uncle was in Sacramento, and tell us about the name Aki. Earlier you were telling me what that represents.

SK: Well, Aki stands for Aki-gun, which is... what is it, county? One of the areas where they came from. That's where the name Aki came from.

JS: So your uncle started Aki store in Sacramento, and then moved to Fresno, opened the store about --

SK: No, not my uncle, but his uncle.

JS: Oh, his uncle.

SK: Yeah. So...

JS: Oh, I see. Your great-uncle.

SK: Yeah. I mean, my grandfather's younger brother. He came to Sacramento, and the day, I mean, I wondered where the name came from, but I didn't ask around when I was a little kid or child. He, all the Aki you hear about is from Aki-gun in Japan where they came from. So that's how it started, although we did have family by the name of Aki, their background, but their actual name was Aki.

JS: So your uncle, your great uncle, started the business in Sacramento, and then your father's older brother came to work for him.

SK: Well, he was in Sacramento, I'm sure. He came to California, I don't know when. But anyway, he sort of separated, then came down to Fresno.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2010 Densho and Preserving California's Japantowns. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

JS: So tell us about your family. You're the oldest son?

SK: I'm the oldest son, uh-huh. And I went to grammar school in Fresno, and I just played around. I'm never good at school, I mean, I played all the time. And I never studied school, never... it didn't occur to me to even study. [Laughs] But I did attend Fresno State.

JS: So you...

SK: It was rather hard. I really had a hard time with, you know, I later went to, when we went to the camp, it took about two years for me to just get settled. And then I did go to college out in the Midwest from there.

TI: Okay, Sat, we'll get to that later. Let's go back before the war, ask more questions.

JS: So you went to Lincoln School, and then you went to Edison?

SK: Yes.

JS: And then high school, right? You graduated in...

SK: From Fresno High School, 1940. Midterm graduate.

JS: And after that you went to Fresno State?

SK: Yes.

JS: Okay. They're having some graduation recognition for Nisei.

SK: Somebody noticed my name, that I attended Fresno State, they're gonna give me some sort of a...

JS: Honorary degree?

SK: Some kind of a degree, I guess.

JS: Uh-huh. Are you going to attend the ceremony?

SK: I don't know if I will or not.

JS: That's a nice honor. So what do you remember about Edison or Fresno High, those schools?

SK: Oh, since it seems to be an all-black school, but at the time, when I went to Edison, it was an all-white school. There was only one kid who was black descent in the whole school. But almost everybody, everyone on the west side went to Edison, and like I say, if you live on the other side of the track, there were other schools in town. Like for instance Armenians, they lived on the other side of the track, so they went to Roosevelt High School, which was on the east side of town. And Fresno High School was north, some of the... lot of the people that grew up in the country, which is, oh, maybe the center of town, even higher density. I mean, they had truck farming at that time. So instead of the, somebody got a fortune from some people, when Fresno was growing up. I don't know the real details anyway, so I don't want to say anything which I really don't know of.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2010 Densho and Preserving California's Japantowns. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

JS: So when you went to... when did you start helping at the store?

SK: Well, like everyone else, I mean, every family, if you had a business, ever since I can remember, I was over there. So naturally you're gonna help out, so like everyone else did. Let me tell you a little bit about the store. I think they moved once before from another location. From what they tell me, it was, they first located in part of Italian town, and then I don't know when, but they did move the store right in West Fresno. And let me give you a little background of the West Fresno, about the Japanese. Almost every Japanese family that I know of were in the food business, or restaurant. That was, as I remember, there was a packing house, and it's still there. And I didn't know whether it was called the California Packing Corporation or not, but anyway, that's the basis of West Fresno. And maybe I can go into detail about that. There were jobs in the country where... I mean, there were any number of packing house jobs. And the Japanese people were primarily, as I know it, they were in the restaurant business. And every, every house, every business that I know of, so-called Chinatown in Fresno, where Japanese ownership. There were so many restaurants, there was, almost every other house was a restaurant. And then I can only remember about two or three Chinese shops, pretty good shopping, Chinatown, but mostly they were mostly Japanese stores.

JS: So what restaurants do you remember? Just a few?

SK: Well, I don't know the names, but I know the folks...

JS: Uh-huh.

SK: Well, let's see. One was Takata, Mr. Takata and his wife.

JS: Did they serve Japanese food or American food?

SK: No, American, mostly American food. Very few Japanese food. In fact, I just know of one, but that came quite a bit later. I mean, I was almost grown up. But almost every family... let's see now. One of the girls' folks' restaurant, I mean, she just died recently, was named Hamaguchi. And let's see if I can remember some of the names.

JS: So who would come and eat at the restaurant? The people that worked at the packing house?

SK: Well, I don't know why there were a lot of people in... very busy place in this... well, there were a lot of businesses in downtown, too, but I just can't remember... there were some Japanese on the, let's say, the railroad track ran through the center of town, and there were some Japanese, three that I know right now, near the main street. Watanabe was one of the names, and Hamanaka, Sahara, and those were the three that I remember. Then I can go... let's see, the other way. Let's see.

JS: Can you describe Aki store? What kind of goods you sold?

SK: It's just an old, old-time grocery store, really old-time. I can remember prices, too. For instance, cigarettes were selling for fifteen cents, and Bull Durham, I don't know if you remember or not, but it was only five cents. If you're a pipe smoker, you can buy a can of pipe tobacco for, I think, fifteen or sixteen cents. I guess the good old days. [Laughs]

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2010 Densho and Preserving California's Japantowns. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

JS: So who were the customers that came to Aki? Mostly the...

SK: Most everybody in the...

JS: Japanese?

SK: Oh, Japanese, Chinese, Mexicans. Mostly... well, they were all immigrants anyway, let's put it that way.

JS: So you sold cigarette and tobacco, and also groceries?

SK: Well, yes.

JS: Groceries and other things? Ice cream?

SK: No, no ice cream.

JS: No ice cream?

SK: But a little meat, as I can remember. There were really some bargains. Before I forget, I want to mention some of the things that happened. There was... I mean, let's say there's a China Alley, Fagan's Alley, and then that was through Japanese town. Fagan Avenue was through Japanese town. And then to show you what kind of bargain it was, there was a family by the name of Yokota. They made tofu, and they used to cost five cents for one, three for a dime. You can buy three...

JS: Blocks of tofu?

SK: Uh-huh, for a dime. And then there was another store right down, if you went down half a block to Kern Street, which is in front of the church. There was another, another shop, and I'm sure some... I wonder where some of the kids went to. But anyway, they had another, we had two shops that made tofu. And...

JS: And where would people buy the Japanese food?

SK: Mostly, I hope they bought from us. [Laughs]

JS: So you sold a lot of Japanese food product.

SK: Oh, yes.

JS: Uh-huh, rice and shoyu.

SK: Oh, yes, uh-huh, all those. There were, another store named Henmi, and Kamikawa, and that was the big one. And in fact, my friend -- I'm going to jump a little bit now -- I'm on the board of Woodward Park here in town, where there's a Japanese garden. And I had made friends with some people, one was a banker who was an excellent writer. I mean, he'd write the things about different things. And I had to show 'em where some Japanese people lived, 'cause he wrote about the early days, and we went to a Chinese family. I got some history through him, and he's no longer here, but he really was an excellent writer.

JS: And he wrote for the newspaper?

SK: Huh?

JS: He was a newspaper reporter?

SK: No, no. He's a banker.

JS: Oh, banker.

SK: Yeah. I guess he was, he worked in the bank. And...

TI: Sat, I have a question. You talked a little bit about Chinatown, how most of the restaurants and stores were Japanese. Why was it called Chinatown? Why not Nihonmachi or something where... if it was mostly Japanese, why Chinatown?

SK: Oh, I'd say about, at least seventy-five percent, I'm just thinking out the percentage right on top of my head. It was always called Chinatown. I don't know why. When they refer to the west side, that was Chinatown to the rest of town. And... let's see. I just know of very few Chinese. They were my friends, too, but I remember, except for they had big butcher shops, couple butcher shops. And I'm sure there are lottery houses, I knew, but I never knew about lottery anyway, but, 'til quite a bit later.

TI: But within the Japanese community, did you all call it Chinatown, or were there, did you guys ever call the neighborhood something else?

SK: No, we probably called it Chinatown.

TI: And did, was there ever discussions amongst of the Japanese leaders maybe to try to rename it to something else?

SK: No.

TI: So they were fine with just calling it Chinatown?

SK: Yeah. Everybody knows where Chinatown is, too. [Laughs] But that was it. I'm sure they were involved in lot of, in lottery, as I think back. But that was Chinatown, but all the stores were Japanese. You could go from one block to the other, I mean, go around the block, and there'd be mostly Japanese stores, except for maybe a couple of large Chinese-run businesses.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2010 Densho and Preserving California's Japantowns. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

JS: So tell me about Aki Hardware. When did that store open?

SK: No, that was my father's, Kern Street, which was, they started, he started out in, I don't know when. I don't know dates or anything. But he had a store right on Kern Street, which is the same street that the church is on. And, let's see, he, about the middle of the block there, he started over there. And I can't even give you any details about that, because I can't remember. But he, I guess he ran one of the stores, and then his brother ran the Aki, I mean, the store, the grocery store, up another block, Tulare Street.

JS: So the Aki store was on Tulare, but Aki Hardware was on Kern Street.

SK: Right. I don't even know whether they, it was called Aki Hardware or not.

JS: Oh.

SK: But all I know is that I see, looking through my old photo album, his picture's there, but I don't even know what it was called or anything. I just can't recall.

JS: So when, earlier you said you, since you were young, you would help at the store, the family business?

SK: Oh, like everyone in the family, I mean, everyone helped their parents.

JS: So what types of jobs would you do to help?

SK: Well, I was hanging around, I guess. I just, I was always there, let's say. I don't know if I did any work. [Laughs]

JS: So did you have any other part-time jobs when you were going to school?

SK: No. We used to... well, in the summertime, you can go, there were people picking fruit. And if you didn't do anything like that, you were alone in the city by yourself, not doing anything. And some of my friends were going out to the country to make, earn some money. It wasn't too much, we were paid twenty-five cents an hour then. So it must have been lower than before, before I can remember. But if you didn't do anything, I mean, you didn't go out. In the summertime, you just hung around the house or something.

JS: So would you go with your friends to pick fruit, then?

SK: Yes, I did, uh-huh.

JS: And where would you go to pick fruit? Just outside of Fresno?

SK: I don't even know where we went.

JS: Outside of Fresno?

SK: Outside of Fresno.

JS: Uh-huh. So what would you, what type of fruit? Is it peach?

SK: Peach, probably pear. I've been there picking, not pear, but what was that now? I can't even, well, it must have been peach.

JS: Peach or apricot?

SK: Not apricot, no. Nectarine, I think. Yeah, it was nectarine, I think, I remember, one year.

JS: So when did you, your first wife, when did you get married?

SK: Oh, let's see now. Oh, probably 1950.

JS: Oh, okay, so after the war.

SK: After the war.

JS: Okay. Okay.

SK: She was my neighbor, one of my neighbors in camp.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2010 Densho and Preserving California's Japantowns. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: I guess one question, how about entertainment? When you think of the Chinatown, you have the Japanese community, were there, what would people do for entertainment?

SK: Gee, I can't remember, but there were two movie houses in West Fresno, plus the Japanese, Japanese Hall. So I don't think we can even afford to go to the movie anyway. But I've been to a movie, I don't know how much it cost then, maybe five cents, I don't know. But... let's see now. They were on the next, second house away from our store. But I remember being in some of the theater, and then around the block... are you interviewing Nori Masuda?

JS: Yes.

SK: Okay. He's the next door. Where he stayed was the theater. And I don't know if he'd recognize, he was at my birthday party, but I didn't know if he recognized one of the women. She's Mexican descent, she used to take tickets over there. And let's see now... oh, then, another Japanese name, now that I recall, it's called Yoshioka, another restaurant. And let's see now.

JS: The theater, was that Ryan's Theater?

SK: Ryan's Theater was run by a Japanese family.

JS: Oh. Do you remember what Japanese family, the name?

SK: Yeah, Nishioka.

JS: And that was the one...

SK: Well, Ryan's came from a man that owned all the properties around there. It was a Ryan's Theater, Ryan's Auditorium, the Western Hotel, which was above our store, and as a little kid, my father used to take us to the Ryan's Auditorium, the old building. It's a boxing and wrestling, that's what they had when we went. My father loved wrestling, he watched wrestling. And it was usually on the weekends, and sometimes we went along. We tagged along. My brother was a real wrestling fan. But anyway...

TI: And when you say wrestling, what kind of wrestling are we talking about?

SK: The kind you see...

TI: On TV right now?

SK: Yeah. It's a fake.

TI: Fake, yeah. Okay. [Laughs]

SK: And one of the stars, well, Japanese, in camp, he was my neighbor, too. He was, I think, one of the wrestlers.

TI: And were the other wrestlers Japanese?

SK: No.

TI: Or it was all mixed, different races?

SK: No, they're usually white. But for some reason, he was there. [Laughs] And nicest guy, too. But I really got to know him real good, which was in camp, next door.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2010 Densho and Preserving California's Japantowns. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: Okay, so Sat, we're going to start with the second hour. And I'm going to start the second part, December 7, 1941. So this was the Sunday when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Do you remember that day?

SK: Yes. But 1941, I must have been how old? I know I was going to Fresno State, and for some reason, I was in the store when I heard about it. And it was something that they were talking about on the radio, this was before television, anyway. But let me see... when you're not interested, you're just walking through, when something like that happens, really, you really don't know what's going on. I didn't think too much of it then except that I heard that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor. And it was, I was more aware of what happened the next day when I went back to school. I was a student at Fresno State, and when I went over there, that's when everything started to buzz. We, I went to the auditorium over there, 'cause that's... we gathered that one day when the President declared war, I mean, with Japan. And I... that's when I was really aware of the situation. But they talked about... I mean, they were talking about the bombs.

TI: And so when you went, when you heard the president declare war on Japan, what were you thinking if you became more aware of what happened? What were some of your thoughts?

SK: Well, I can't really remember, but I'm sure the excitement, I mean, people in there, over there, I'm sure we talked about it. I just can't recall much about my feelings or anything. But I remember being in the auditorium when they declared war on Japan. And then a little bit later on, about the boat, or battleship being all together and everything, and about the court-martial or anything. But that never... well, I wasn't there, so I really don't know. Oh, let's see.

TI: Well, going to your, so after that day, when you returned home and back to Chinatown, back to the community, was there much discussion or talk going on about what was happening?

SK: There must have been, but I just can't remember that. I mean, during my life, that was fairly recent. But there's some things I just can't recall or remember.

TI: Yeah, how about things like, do you recall any arrests happening in the community? Like the FBI coming through or police coming through the community or asking questions?

SK: No, let me tell you something about that. The first thing we had... you, did anyone, am I the first one on this? There was this, we had a man in Fresno, Issei, who came to the United States. I mean, he was the man that they all, old family friend. The day it happened, or even the next day, he was the, sort of a spokesman or advisor to a lot of people in town, and his name was S.G. Sakamoto, old family friend. And what he did was send a telegram to President Roosevelt saying that our community was behind him, and that I remember. And you'd be surprised how few people went to, were picked up by the FBI. Very few. Anyway, I guess he must have been a pretty bright guy, too.

TI: So that's interesting. So Mr. Sakamoto sent a telegram to --

SK: To President Roosevelt, I mean, to the White House.

TI: And this was, like, right after December 7th?

SK: Right, yeah.

TI: And what he did was, he said, "The Japanese in Fresno are loyal to America"?

SK: Yeah. And if you go to these different community, you'll find that very, very few Japanese from our areas were in camp. Just the... oh, I think they picked the Buddhist ministers, and they have, they have no idea what went on.

TI: So this Mr. Sakamoto who was one of the community leaders, he was Issei, he was not picked up by the FBI?

SK: No, of course not. [Laughs]

JS: So Mr. Sakamoto, he was the head of the Japanese business association, was he?

SK: No, he was just the community, man in our community who probably... well, he came here as a, I mean, he was an old family friend. He told me he came here when he was sixteen years old. And he can speak English as well as anyone else, although most of the Japanese people couldn't speak. But that was what happened, anyway. The, I know that the minister, I mean, the Buddhist church, the reverend was picked up, and they started to get... all these people, I think they started with the churches. And they had, I think they didn't know anything about what went on. 'Cause if you think about it, if you were, if you're in Japan, you're not gonna trust anybody over here. But anyway, the only one that I know of that was picked up from our area were ministers. And let's see, what else happened?

TI: Well, so let me ask you, how about the reaction of non-Japanese to the community? Was there any incidences or events that happened with, say, the other communities?

SK: Well, I've heard of, well, very few incidents. I heard more about the incident after we got back, people getting shot at after we came back to Fresno. But during that time, I just can't recall. I don't think... so surprising, I don't think any of the people reacted like they did after the war.

TI: Well, how about, now, you're at Fresno State College, did anything change for you at school?

SK: No, I don't think so.

TI: So you finished the semester or the quarter...

SK: No, I didn't get through. About, when they started talking about evacuation and everything, I just quit, rolled out.

JS: Did any of the teachers, did your teacher talk to you or any advice?

SK: No, no one did.

JS: Not at the college.

SK: No.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2010 Densho and Preserving California's Japantowns. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: Now, was it, when you started hearing news from places like Los Angeles where they're removing people, like from Terminal Island and things like this, did you guys hear about that in Fresno?

SK: I heard about it, but I vaguely remember those incidents. But I did hear about it.

TI: Now, did people in Fresno think that their community would have to leave also, or did they think it was just going to be the coast people? Was there a sense about that?

SK: No. They were, they weren't too much, but I guess it was more in the newspapers. I know the newspapers were pretty ugly, the things they said. And let's see now...

TI: But I'm wondering in terms of, it soon became apparent that communities right on the coast by the ocean were gonna be removed, but Fresno was hundreds of miles from the coast. Was there a sense that maybe Fresno would not have to leave?

SK: No. No, what happened was we went to the assembly center, and Fresno County was divided in half. I mean, there's a street, Belmont Avenue, that was the boundary. Everybody living east of, east of... what did I say now?

TI: Belmont?

SK: Belmont Avenue was... let's see now. They didn't go to assembly center. You were first evacuated to a fairground.

JS: Fresno fairground?

SK: Fresno fairground, uh-huh. And everybody that lived on the other side of...

TI: Of Belmont?

SK: Belmont, like my wife, for instance, they lived in Sanger, and they didn't go to assembly center, they don't know what it looks like. They were later removed to either Poston or Gila, Gila River.

TI: Oh, so let me make sure I understand this. So if you lived on the west side of Belmont, you were put into the Fresno Assembly Center.

SK: Well, mostly, let's see. You go toward the middle of town, there's, Belmont Avenue goes right through town from the west side. But as you go toward east town, Belmont Avenue turns to the left, and you have your east and west boundary. That was one of the boundaries, everybody living on, east of the Belmont Avenue would be, well, first, they weren't involved into, in this assembly center. And I don't know what the boundary line was, how they divided the whole thing, 'cause people from Hanford, which is a little bit, which is on the west side, they were there.

TI: So the people on the east side, though, they weren't removed until later.

SK: Later.

TI: But, and this line, this boundary is, I guess it seemed somewhat arbitrary in terms of...

SK: Well, I don't know what the boundary, how they did it. But I know that, I remember seeing some people just before we left for the assembly center. Like S.G., I remember saying goodbye to him by Belmont Avenue, and he went to Poston. Although he lived in the city, but somehow he was a pretty bright guy. [Laughs] He's, I said goodbye to him by Belmont Avenue, which went, which was the east and west dividing line for me.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2010 Densho and Preserving California's Japantowns. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: Well, when your family got the notice that they would have to leave, what happened in terms of the stores?

SK: We had a sale to get rid of most everything there. But we had a Italian neighbor, drugstore. It's called International Drug. Well, anyway, they were old family friends, too. I mean, they were there ever since I can remember. But they said they would hold the merchandise, whatever was left, and keep it for us. And they were kind enough to hold it someplace, I don't know where. Most of our store, store goods were kept in their basement.

TI: Oh, so these neighbors stored the merchandise that would keep, and then kind of watched the property for you?

SK: Oh, yes.

TI: Did you ever hear any conversations or have conversations with them about that and why they did it?

SK: No. I mean, my folks are not here, so I don't remember, but they were kind enough to take all the merchandise.

JS: What was the family's name?

SK: Isnardi. He was... a very wealthy family now. I mean, his son, I just read recently that his son gave a hundred grand to the city just the past few months.

TI: Now were other Japanese stores able to do similar things in terms of having neighbors?

SK: I don't know. I'm just concerned about our family. I didn't know what they did.

TI: So your family had two stores. They had the, kind of the grocery store...

SK: No, I forgot to tell you that in the early days, our neighbor was a Japanese, I guess you would call it sukiyaki house. Nozu, N-O-Z-U, that was name of this restaurant. They moved down toward the end of the block, and my father was able to have both stores. It was a general merchandise store, hardware and all the groceries. They were... so Sunday used to be a big business. The rest of the town were closed for business, but in those days, only business open, only stores that were open were in Chinatown, so-called Chinatown. And I remember when the war was declared, there was people in the store. It didn't create that much incident. I mean, I don't remember. I remember being in the store, but I just can't remember if anything happened. But...

TI: Okay, so let me sort of make sure I understand. So it sounds like the stores, originally there were two stores, but they merged into one and became a general merchandise store. And what's interesting is in Fresno, most stores were closed on Sundays, but in Chinatown the stores were open.

SK: Open.

TI: So that was a busy day for you.

SK: For most of the businesses.

TI: And how did business change after December 7th? After that Sunday...

SK: Well, I don't know about other families, but I can only tell you about what happened here. But they must have disposed of all their merchandise, and I'm sure we had a lot of sales there. I really don't know how they got rid of their merchandise, but when we went to the assembly center, which was a fairground, that's where we met. But the funny part of it is, the people I grew up with, I never did see anybody. There was just too many people.

TI: This is at the Fresno fairgrounds.

SK: Yeah.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2010 Densho and Preserving California's Japantowns. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: So let's go a little bit back to your family. So it's your mother, father, and you have a brother and sister? Can you tell me the names of your brother and sister?

SK: Oh, my brother's name was Yasuyuki. And...

TI: And how much younger was he than you?

SK: Two years.

TI: Okay, so you're the oldest.

SK: I'm the oldest.

TI: Then your younger brother, two years younger.

SK: Yeah, he passed away years ago. And my sister was called Teruko.

TI: And how much younger was she than you?

SK: Another two years.

TI: Okay, so there's two years apart.

SK: So I'm six years older than she is, maybe a little more.

TI: Six years or four years?

SK: Six years.

TI: Six years, okay.

SK: Oh, let's see now. Every two years, she'd be four years.

TI: Four years, okay. So as a family, when you went to the Fresno Assembly Center, it's your parents and then brother and sister, so there are five of you that go to the assembly center?

SK: No. And my, I told you he had an older, my father had an older brother? Well, his wife, she was in Japan for a little while and came back to Fresno. And she was here, and that's why we went to Gila River rather than to Jerome, Arkansas, where most of the Japanese from Fresno went to. They were evacuated from Fresno Assembly Center to Jerome, Arkansas. And the reason why our family didn't go is that somehow we, he got the doctor, my father got the doctor to claim that the cold weather would be harmful to my aunt.

TI: Okay.

SK: So that's how we, I ended up in Gila.

TI: Okay, so there were six of you then. There was three children, your parents, and then your aunt together. And so when you went to Fresno, describe your living conditions. What was your room like at Fresno?

SK: Oh, we had a very good house. Every Japanese family, I know most of 'em on our block, they all lived in a big home, big house. And a lot of rooms.

TI: So this is at the fairgrounds? No, this is your house in Chinatown?

SK: Yeah.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2010 Densho and Preserving California's Japantowns. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

JS: Can you describe the house?

TI: Yeah, describe the house.

JS: So this is the one near the Danish creamery, where the site is, that street.

SK: Let's see. We had a four-bedroom home, and I'm sure... well, the family next door had two bedroom, and the one next door to him was two, and then the corner house, which was, one of my childhood friends' home, I don't know how many they had. They must have had three bedroom. But anyway, we all lived in a large home.

JS: Did your aunt live with you, too, or it was just your family?

SK: No, my aunt lived with me.

JS: Okay. So did you have your own room or you shared with your brother?

SK: I think we shared.

JS: Can we go back to, remember when I came to your house and we were looking at the big photo of the 25th anniversary of Aki? Can you tell us about that?

SK: Well, I was gonna look at some of the pictures before I came, but I couldn't see. [Laughs] But actually, that picture was the 25th anniversary of the start of the store.

JS: Aki store.

SK: So that must have been about 1935. So I'm just gonna say 1910 was the day they had a store here, and twenty-five years later, so I guess that must have been about 1935.

JS: Uh-huh. And so it looked like you had a picnic at the Italian ballpark?

SK: Uh-huh.

JS: And how many people were there? It's a large photo.

SK: Oh, it must have been the whole city.

JS: So it wasn't just the workers, you just invited lots of friends and neighbors?

SK: All the customers.

JS: All the customers?

SK: That's why I wanted to look at it before I came over here, to see if I could recognize... I know who they are. I know just about everybody in town, anyway.

JS: Uh-huh. It's just a big, big store and a big celebration.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2010 Densho and Preserving California's Japantowns. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: Okay, so let's go back to the Fresno Assembly Center at the fairgrounds. So when the six of you went to the fairgrounds, what were your living conditions like at Fresno?

SK: Well, I'm sure it's better than Santa Anita. But, well, it's like a regular barracks that we had in Gila. The, it was a long barrack, I mean, they was right close to each other. I mean, we're, I don't know what separated us, must be some wallboard. And let's see, one, two, three, maybe four, four or five down the block. But I spent my assembly center time working in a kitchen as a pantry clerk, and I was never at home so I don't know what the rest of... except my immediate neighbors, I can't remember even seeing some of my friends that I grew up with.

TI: That's right, you said it was so large, so many people there, you weren't able to even see your friends?

SK: In fact, I don't even know where my uncle lived. I don't think I even went to see him. [Laughs]

TI: What are some memories of the Fresno Assembly Center? You said you worked as a pantry clerk, what are just some memories that you have?

SK: Lots of fun.

TI: So describe, what made it fun?

SK: Well, you... let's see now. I, being a pantry clerk, you're in charge of the food and all. So I guess I must have had good food to eat, and I was back in the kitchen. I don't know, forgot what my duties were. [Laughs] But anyway, that's our pantry, you might say. I mean, it was where all the people lined up to have their food, breakfast and the three meals. So I happened to be, I never knew anyone from Hanford then, but I happened to be with a group from Hanford. Everybody from Hanford lived in our block, and so on and so forth. I mean, in other words, another, the next door neighbor would be from, possibly, East Fresno or someplace. Not East Fresno, but West Fresno, and so on and so forth. We lived on the other side of the fairground. We were divided by a street called Butler Avenue, and we lived on the other side of the street, which I know little of, 'cause I didn't spend any time there. But let's see now. For a young man, or young people, really fun time. [Laughs]

TI: Because you were, I think, about nineteen years old.

SK: Yeah. Really good time.

TI: So you're nineteen, and so when you're not working as the pantry clerk, what were some activities you did at the assembly center? Do you remember anything?

SK: Oh, I remember coming home and my neighbor, I didn't know them as a child, but they were, they had a newspaper in town. And she's really well-known in Fresno. She was a dancer, and I don't know what else now. Well, anyway, I remember seeing a group outside their home. Lot of young people a little older than myself, but they played bridge every night. And I used to know how to play bridge by watching 'em. But since that time, I've just forgotten completely, and I couldn't even tell you how they play or anything. But at that time, I knew how they played just by watching.

TI: So lots of card playing, watching. When you were at the Fresno fairgrounds, did any of your non-Japanese friends visit during this time?

SK: No, you couldn't visit inside the camp, but on certain day, I used to be a Boy Scout at one time, and my scoutmaster used to come. And he came to see me once, as I remember. Not me, but the group that... let's see. We had a lot of members, and I remember sitting and talking to him at the entrance to the assembly center.

TI: And so describe, who was the scoutmaster?

SK: Oh, he was a... at that time, he was one of the general managers of the Safeway stores.

TI: And so he was a white scoutmaster?

SK: Yes.

TI: And, but his troop were mostly Japanese?

SK: All Japanese.

TI: And so he came down to see you?

SK: Yeah.

TI: Do you remember what he said to you guys?

SK: Huh?

TI: Do you remember what he said to you, or any memories of --

SK: No, I just... no, he just came to see us, you know. Like I can't remember the conversation or anything, but he did come to see us, though.

TI: Good. Anyone else that you recall that came to see you or your family?

SK: No.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2010 Densho and Preserving California's Japantowns. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: Okay, so earlier you mentioned how, because your aunt, her health wasn't that good, that you didn't go to Jerome, Arkansas, but instead you went to Gila River.

SK: Uh-huh.

TI: So describe that, going to Gila River. What was that like?

SK: Oh, that was out in the desert, just outside of Phoenix. And let me see, I remember taking the... we were on the train going over there, and we landed late at night, and we went into our barrack. It was just like Fresno Assembly Center except that they were off the ground, the barracks were off the ground. At Fresno, the floor was right off the ground, right off the kitchen... I mean, right off the fairground. How do I describe that now? Well, over at Gila, we had steps where we walked up three or four steps into our barrack.

TI: So there was a space between the floor and the ground?

SK: Right.

TI: And why do you think they had that?

SK: I don't know. I really don't know. But anyway, that was a big difference. Instead of sleeping on the ground, we... instead of sleeping on the tar or the floor, we were about three foot, our floor was a wooden floor.

TI: And so describe Gila River. What are some memories from Gila River for you?

SK: Well, another fun time, too. Well, yeah, I shouldn't maybe say it, but my father was... I grew up in a family, gambling was just forbidden. No gambling at all. So when I got to Gila River, you know, I thought I'd like to be a pantry clerk, 'cause I had a pretty good time there. But we were one of the people that went to camp real late, and we were on the edge of the whole community there. One part of the... we're on the edge of the community, and I looked for something to do, and I couldn't find the kind of job that I wanted. I ended up working in a furniture warehouse quite a bit away, quite far away. And you were forbidden to take any kind of a die for anything. But one kid wanted to impress me, I guess. He had a knife, oh, about that long, pocket knife, and just to cut a little string, he opened it, and then he cut it. I guess he was showing off or something, but I later learned in the hardware business, that was a fruit knife, wouldn't cut anything. You could cut cantaloupes and watermelon with it, but that's about all it would do. [Laughs] Anyway, turned out to be one of the nicest guys that I know.

TI: So this was a co-worker in the furniture warehouse that you had. So furniture warehouse, what, describe that. I mean, who's the furniture for?

SK: Oh, well, we were in charge of furnishing the furniture for the incoming schoolteachers to teach the schoolkids, and the incoming personnel. Like if you were one of the officers or whatever you were in charge of, you know, Caucasian? That's what the furniture was there for, to supply their own barrack. They really had good furniture and everything.

TI: Well, yeah, so I'm curious. How did that furniture compare with what was in your room?

SK: Well, just a regular house furniture.

TI: So they had regular house furniture.

SK: Right.

TI: And what did you have in your room when you got there?

SK: Well, we didn't have hardly anything except what you built, you know, yourself. And let's see now... nothing like that kind of regular furniture you have now.

TI: So going back to the furniture for the... so I'm guessing this is for the WRA staff and schoolteachers, so what are some examples of the furniture that they got in their rooms?

SK: Well, regular furniture like you have in your home.

TI: So tables, chairs...

SK: Tables, chairs, dresser. I'll show you how, I'll tell you what the day was like. You go in early in the morning, the day started from eight o'clock in the morning. And I remember the foreman of our group was a man from Turlock. I can't even recall his name now. And the first thing after we take roll call, he'd say, "Who wants to work today?" Nobody. [Laughs] Nobody volunteered except there were two young guys like me, who should know a little better, but anyway... I put up my hand, and another kid from the coast put up his hand and we would do, take the furniture to the barrack where they lived. And so we loaded up the, some of the furniture, and we drove the car and we went over there and just, just took the... [laughs] I have to laugh about those days. Anyway, after our job was done taking the furnitures over there, we'd come back to this warehouse, and then we used our, the rest of the furniture. I mean, this house was full of furniture now. But we had a clubhouse there, and that's... I can hardly speak. [Laughs]

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2010 Densho and Preserving California's Japantowns. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: 'Cause it sounds like, so it was like a, so you guys had all this furniture, and these, how many, about how many men were there working?

SK: Oh, I can't remember, maybe about forty of 'em.

TI: And only two of you were doing the work? [Laughs] So it sounds like there were lots of men but not much work to do.

SK: Yeah. We used to, we used the rest of the furniture... we had a clubhouse over there.

TI: So you kind of arranged, you just used the furniture for yourself, you guys had tables and chairs.

SK: Yeah, played poker all day, from eight to five. [Laughs]

TI: And so you didn't have to work very hard, but then you learned how to gamble, I guess.

SK: Oh, yeah. It's hard to be in an environment like that. I used to watch, I must have watched for two or three weeks. You can't... you can't...


TI: Okay, so we're back on camera.

SK: Okay.

TI: And so you just told us about your job. So besides your job, what other things did you do outside your job at Gila River?

SK: Gambling. [Laughs]

TI: So you gambled, and then what about just being around your parents? I mean, you're nineteen years old, and up to then, you probably did things around going home for meals and things like this?

SK: No. I don't know where we ate, but we didn't go back to the home, home kitchen. But what we did, I don't even remember we had a kitchen close by. I know we didn't go back home to eat. We...

TI: So you would eat maybe more around where you worked?

SK: Yeah, we gambled eight to five.

JS: So you never left the warehouse, clubhouse.

SK: We must have been eating someplace close by, I can't remember. Somehow I just can't remember where we had lunch. But in the morning and we had breakfast, we'd go get to work, and then you'd go home for supper. For lunch, I don't know. I can't remember.

TI: Well, in the evenings, what would you do? So after you finished work and you then ate dinner...

SK: Well, you visited your friends. And all we did... [laughs] all we did was play more poker.

TI: Wow. So you played a lot of cards when you were in Gila River.

SK: Boy, if my folks knew what I was doing, I'd never hear the rest of it.

TI: Now, how about your younger brother and younger sister? What were they doing in Gila River?

SK: Oh, my sister was still going to high school yet. So she was, had to go to school like everyone else. My brother landed a job as a... not an office manager, but... well, he took care of the block manager, I guess, assistant block manager, I guess. He didn't do anything.

TI: So there were lots of jobs, but then these jobs weren't very hard, many of them.

SK: Oh, there's not many.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2010 Densho and Preserving California's Japantowns. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: Okay. So any other memories in terms of...

SK: Oh, my father went out to get a job, and the crew was a Caucasian. He quit the first day. He says he couldn't stand listening to a "two-year-old," like he says, giving orders. And everybody there was brighter than, smarter than the man in charge. So he never worked either, for I don't know how many years, three years? But I remember him saying he's not gonna go to work and take orders from somebody, you know.

TI: And so what did your father do with his time in camp?

SK: Nothing. He didn't do anything. I don't think he had a decent job, or didn't even look for one.

TI: And so did he just stay in the barrack, or where would he go?

SK: I'm sure they had fun talking to friends.

JS: So when you think about your life before camp, you know, you had stores to run, and kind of, they were very busy, the Issei, your father, your uncle. And then in camp, they had nothing to do. How did that affect them, do you think?

SK: I think the... well, if they had to do it over again, they don't have to throw us in there to be volunteers to go. That's what I think. Then I'll be first in line to be, to go to camp. They all had a good time, let's put it that way.

JS: It was a break, huh?

SK: Huh? And then if you worked hard during the Depression bringing up your kids, this was the first time they really had time to relax and enjoy themselves.

TI: Now, after several months at, in Gila River, the administration wanted adults...

SK: Oh. Well, during the, what broke our crew up was, at that time, they wanted, they started this camouflage factory. You've heard of that, huh? Well, anyway, they, the crew, a lot of people were just broke, and they wanted to make some money. The whole gang, the whole gang group, rather, it just broke up, many of 'em went to work for money. I didn't, I was too lazy.

TI: So let me make sure I understand this. This was a camouflage net, sort of, operation that they were paying much better wages.

SK: Better wages.

TI: And so this was kind of a commercial organization that was allowed to...

SK: Well, I don't know who ran that thing, but that was where they earned the money from... I mean, regular wages that people were earning outside. So many people went to work for wages, I guess.

TI: So many of the men that were doing the furniture warehouse went on and worked there.

SK: Some did, lot of 'em did.

TI: But you decided to not do that, you stayed...

SK: I was just too lazy. I was doing all right, too.

TI: But after several months --

SK: I went to, became a receptionist for a hospital. And it was further away, even further away. But we, I was just calling out names for a patient to see the doctors, and I would see who would be next, and people would wait in the waiting room. And anyway, that's what I did. The only thing was my reputation must have gotten ahead of me, I mean, because there was this lab where they, lab room where I guess... they must have been out of college. Pretty bright guys, I guess, except they didn't know how to gamble. They want to roll some dice, and I guess they thought I knew how to play dice, but I cleaned 'em out. [Laughs]

TI: So you learned a lot when you...

SK: I took, I took a lot of money from them. I missed supper a few times because they wouldn't let me leave. It'd be so late, I'd, so late that when I got home, the kitchen was closed. So several nights, I didn't get anything to eat.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2010 Densho and Preserving California's Japantowns. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

TI: Yeah, so another question I have is, after a while, the administration came out with these questionnaires for people to fill out in terms of their loyalty, they're trying to determine loyalty. Do you remember that and what that was like?

SK: Yes.

TI: So what was that like for you to see this questionnaire?

SK: Well, you had to answer whether you're loyal to the U.S. or whether you're a "no-no" man or "yes-yes." Two questions that they were asked. And everybody, I guess, were asked the same question, and there was quite a bit of people, I don't know whether they were angry or not, but some people were angry for being kept in camp. And they were, I don't know. At the same time, they were trying to kick the people out of, to go outside of camp, that I remember. But anyway, they were asked the question to, whether you're loyal to the U.S., or will you fight against them? That's a stupid thing to ask anyway, to say whether you'd uprise against the government. That's a crazy question for them to ask. But anyway, there was quite a bit of commotion at that time. And let's see...

TI: And so how did you answer those questions?

SK: Oh, "yes-yes." What else would you say?

TI: But then you say there was commotion.

SK: I mean, there was a lot of people that, I don't where the thing came, but, I mean, why they said "no-no," like, that's a stupid question to ask anyway. When they ask you, "Would you fight?" I mean, what did... I can't even remember what the question was. But anyway...

TI: Yeah, there were two questions. Question 27 essentially asked, "Are you willing to fight for the U.S. Army," and question 28 is, "Are you, will you forswear any allegiance to the Japanese emperor?" were the two.

SK: Oh, was that the question?

TI: Yeah, those were the two questions, primarily.

SK: Well, that's a pretty stupid question. I mean, they shouldn't ask... would you ask your enemy that kind of question? I mean, when you're put into camp, I think only one answer anyway. Should be "yes-yes."

TI: And yet there were people in camp, when you say the "commotion," who were advocating people to say "no-no."

SK: Oh, they were young, not young as much as... maybe a few of the Issei might have said something, but I don't even know who those people were. But those are some of the questions that were asked. I'm saying that the government was foolish to even ask the people to ask those questions when you're, you're already in prison as some of the people would think.

JS: So a lot of people answered "no-no" or "yes-no" because of that? Because they were really upset that they...

TI: I think so. I think just being put in camp is what angered 'em.

JS: Right.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2010 Densho and Preserving California's Japantowns. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

TI: So tell me, any other thoughts or memories about Gila River before we move on?

SK: Oh, well, Mrs. Roosevelt, she visited us. In fact, I shook her hand. I guess he, she... I think she was a very nice lady, but I didn't think much of the President. I shouldn't say that. This is on camera, isn't it?

TI: [Laughs] I think that's okay. Other Niseis have said the same thing. But describe the circumstances that you met Eleanor Roosevelt. How did you meet her?

SK: I don't know. I was a receptionist in our, at the hospital, and she suddenly, as far as I can remember, she suddenly came in, or she was visiting. And she was there, I just, I think she's just there. I remember shaking her hand. But I... that's all I remember. There wasn't any, anybody with any high official or anyone really visiting, visiting us, but she was one of the ones, one of the people that actually came there.

TI: Did she say anything to the people there while...

SK: No, she was just... why she came, I don't know.

TI: And what was your reaction when you, when you saw her?

SK: No, I didn't think anything... I didn't think anything of it.

TI: Weren't you surprised see the, the wife of the President?

SK: Oh, yes, uh-huh. One day she was there. I've been in a lot of places, but I never saw anyone that... anyway, she was really active in going around the country, I guess.

TI: Okay. Any other memories or thoughts about Gila River?

SK: Oh, we were in a corner of the, we were one of the last ones in that Gila River from Fresno. And we had, you've heard of Zenimura, the ballplayer? Well, we had the ballpark right in our backyard. Right next to our backyard, we had ballgame, we were watching ballgames every night. Who else was there? Some of the Japanese stars were there from our area, pitcher and a few others. So... oh, and then the people from, we were in the group with Guadalupe and that group of people from the coast. They were ballplayers, they were all good ballplayers. And we watched a baseball game almost every night, as I remember.

TI: And how many people would watch these games?

SK: Oh, there was nothing else to do. There was quite a bit of people. I'm just gonna have to... oh, I'd guess maybe a hundred, just guessing.

JS: Earlier you were talking about someone from Fresno who was a wrestler and you knew him in camp?

SK: Oh, my neighbor? He was one of the early, early stars. I mean, he... let's see. I remember seeing him in the ring with some of the people. Wrestler, I don't know where he got the skill, but he's got quite a skill, too. But, and the community went to see him, they wanted to see him beat somebody. You heard the movie King Kong? Well, I don't know what year that was, but there used to be a fellow by the name of King Kong Ted Cox. And he was one of the wrestlers, and I don't know whether he was the other man or not, but I remember going, going with my father to see one of those wrestling matches on the weekend. And you should have been in there, been real sick with all the smoke. Everybody smoked in those days. One of the... I mean, just nothing but smoke. And in those days, I don't think they knew it was a fake. [Laughs]

JS: What was the name of your neighbor who was the wrestler, who was the wrestler? What was his name?

SK: Hamanaka.

TI: Did he have a name inside the ring that he went by?

SK: No.

TI: Just Hamanaka? That's good. That's an interesting story. Anything else Gila River?

SK: Well, at night, we'd visit each other. Again, we played poker, nothing else to do. Some of the conversation as we, as I went, going to work, there was a family from Monterey, those two boys worked in our warehouse, too. And I don't know what they did, but the conversation was, "How much did you win last night?" "How much did your mother win?" Four in the family, and I think they played poker with each other. [Laughs]

TI: Now, what would you do? You mentioned earlier how with dice you would win money from the people at the hospital and places like that. What would you do with the money?

SK: I don't know. I know I had, well, maybe I went to school after that, and I must have had some money. 'Course, I wasn't broke. [Laughs]

TI: Now, did your, did your parents ever find out about all your gambling?

SK: No.

TI: So how did you keep it away from them? 'Cause they were just doing their own thing and you did your own thing?

SK: Well, I never did anything like that at home, never gambled at home except at a friend's place. I don't think my father even bought one bakape, they called it. Then I don't think he ever bought a ticket or anything. He's one of those guys that never did gamble.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2010 Densho and Preserving California's Japantowns. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

TI: Okay. So I'm going to now move on. So from Gila River, how did your family leave Gila River? Under what circumstances?

SK: They never left. They never left camp. I did, but they stayed 'til the very...

JS: It was closed?

SK: Yeah.

TI: So you left earlier, so where did you go?

SK: I went to a school in Missouri.

TI: And so how did that come about? How did you choose Missouri?

SK: Why? I don't know why. But after a few years of just staying over there, really nothing to do, and a lot of people were leaving, leaving the center go to east someplace. And, well, two years of doing nothing, why, I decided I'd better maybe go to school. So I was able to leave Gila River to go to school, go to college.

TI: And which college was this?

SK: Missouri School of Mines. The only, it was the only engineering school in the Midwest. I mean, a lot of colleges would have all those, whatever you study for, I mean, whether it's engineering or whatever was into college themselves. But in Missouri, The School of Mines was all engineers. If you wanted to be part of the University of Missouri, that was, if you wanted to be a chemical engineer or mechanical or whatever you want to be, that's where you went.

TI: And what kind of engineer did you want to be?

SK: Well, I thought maybe, I thought this was easy engineering, so I went in for geological engineering. At that time, if I went another year, I could be any, any kind of engineer. 'Cause basically, when you start, everything is the same. For about two and a half years, you take the same, same course. And one of the, one of the courses as I remember, I mean, you either got an A or an F. And I don't... I'm sure I got an F the very first time I tried it. They'll give you the map of the United States, then you fill in the, where California would be or Washington, wherever. And it's awful hard. You think it's easy, but you try it some time. Well, if the kind of grade that you got was, either if you got 'em all right it's an A, and if you miss one, it's an F. And right now it might be a little too, little harder, 'cause there's two additional states now. You'd be surprised how many people don't know where Alaska is.

TI: That's good.

SK: Or Hawaii. [Laughs]

TI: So how long were you at the Missouri School of Mines?

SK: Oh, maybe two and a half years.

TI: And then, and then what happened after that?

SK: Well, I went for a job interview. It was the easiest school to... very easy compared to Fresno State at that time. But maybe I matured in about two years. But let's see now. Where were we now?

TI: So you said after two years at the Missouri School of Mines...

SK: Oh, well, to interview for a job after graduation, and the first job offer I got was to travel, a lot of traveling. It was for a hundred fifty dollars a month, and to travel from Texas to Alaska. And if I worked overtime, you might, I might have made two hundred dollars. Anyway, I decided that was enough for me. After all that work, I decided maybe I needed more, little more work. So I went to the University of Minnesota to get my master's degree. I don't know if I should put that down in there. I mean, anyway, I only... I went there right after graduation, and we went fishing up in the lakes up there. I don't know you need, needed a license to fish, but I didn't have one. But I fished up there and I couldn't get anything. But I made some friends up there, and later, he, the man came and visited me back home. And I have a picture of him, and I just can't recall his name anymore.

TI: And who was this man?

SK: But anyway, I know, I only know about the coaches. I mean, this, I remember the coach would be Bernie Beerman and one of the star was a freshman, incoming freshman name Leo Nomalini. I don't know if you've ever heard of him or not. But he was one of my, one of the stars there. Lot of my friends, they don't even know I was going to school anyway.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2010 Densho and Preserving California's Japantowns. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

TI: Okay, so this was all at the University of Minnesota when you were getting your master's degree.

SK: Uh-huh.

TI: So, what --

SK: No, I didn't -- I hate to say that, 'cause I didn't even stay there. I didn't even go to classes...

TI: Okay, so you weren't even there.

SK: Just maybe three weeks or so.

TI: And what happened? Why didn't you...

SK: Well, my father, after he came home, he was ill. And he said to go to school in California. He just, he was so ill that he needed someone to come help open up a shop.

TI: Back in Fresno...

SK: Yeah. Then that's when I quit to go home to help him, and I got a telegram that same day that he passed away. And I came back home, and I'm sort of stuck at home. But I did make some use out of my education.

TI: Oh, so this is -- so let me make sure I understand. So you came back to Fresno originally thinking that you would...

SK: Stay for a year or two.

TI: And attend school --

SK: Help him get started.

TI: -- maybe around there and help things get started. But because your father died, you --

SK: The same day I got the...

TI: Then the responsibility fell on your shoulders to take over the business.

SK: Right.

TI: And so you never went back to school because of that.

SK: No.

TI: I see. So tell me what business you took over. What, it was just the general merchandising store?

SK: Just general merchandise.

TI: And describe that. What was it like starting that up in Fresno, and what was Fresno like after the war?

SK: Well, I mean, we went to... I started the store in another, another part of town, I mean, another street, Kern Street, which is the same block as the church over there, too, just sort of guide you. I'm sure my wife, if she were here, she'd be angry for saying all these things. [Laughs]

TI: No, no, this is good.

JS: But it must have been quite a shock to come home, and your father had just died.

SK: Right.

JS: You didn't get to see him.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2010 Densho and Preserving California's Japantowns. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

JS: That was, what was that like, do you remember what it was like when you came home?

SK: No. I just... I mean, my brother was in the same boat, too. I mean, he was still a student over there at college.

JS: Which college was your brother --

SK: I mean, he was with me at Missouri School of Mines. That was not his liking, but anyway, he did graduate from there.

TI: Earlier you said you were able to use some of your schooling in the business. How did your education help you run the store?

SK: Well, no. What happened was that after graduation, my brother had, he always liked selling, natural-born salesman. He liked working, oh, we started thinking about import and exporting and things like that. And he was, lived in San Francisco for a while. Oh, he went back to the University of California and got a degree over there, too, in business. And he really liked selling. At one time, he was selling for a Chinese company as a salesman. And let's see, what else?

TI: So here you have your background and your brother's background, so what did the two of you do with that?

SK: Well, later on, we bought... in Fresno, we have, for keeping cool, we have these evaporated coolers. And those people that I was buying those pads from, and my brother used to go back and forth. He found out that that fellow was ready to retire, so that's how we bought the place. And he took over, we had two things. I ran the store, and he ran the manufacturing of aspen pads, and that's how we got started. That's how we got started in the... that's how I ended up in the Midwest. We decided that it was best to have manufacturing at the source where all the trees, aspen trees were. So we went to Gallup, New Mexico, and we opened a manufacturing plant over there. That's why I know of Hershey Miyamoto, 'cause he was there in that town. Slightly, 'cause I don't think he'll remember who I was.

TI: And Hershey Miyamoto was a war hero, he was a Medal of Honor...

SK: He was then, he was already a hero then. But he won't recognize me, anyway.

TI: So you were, so you used your engineering background to help start this manufacturing, or run this manufacturing company?

SK: Well, that's how I got into more work out in the Midwest. We had an operation where we manufactured, and I had a... oh, distribution center in Amarillo, Texas. And then I had another operation in Buckeye, Arizona, which is just south of Phoenix. Anyway, that's how I got to the... and that was a lot of traveling in those days.

JS: So both you and your brother were overseeing the manufacturing and distribution?

SK: Right. I mean, at first, you know, we're trying to operate the place, and I might even have had, still own it if... it kept me away from home a lot of the time. And my, during the latter years, I did most of the traveling because my brother came down with Parkinson's disease, and he had to stay at home and couldn't travel as much. But we had somebody take over the manufacturing. And actually, the best... I didn't know it then, but I know now that the best man to run, to be a CEO of a company is someone that most everybody would call names, or call him a bastard or something. [Laughs]

TI: Someone that's really hard-nosed, someone tough.

SK: Right.

TI: I see.

SK: And we had a man like that. I didn't know it then, but I know now that I may still have had it if I kept it.

TI: And finally, what happened to the manufacturing company? Did you sell it eventually?

SK: I finally sold it. It'd be years later, I mean, I sold it. But I spent a lot of time away, like almost twenty hours sometimes, going to these different places.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2010 Densho and Preserving California's Japantowns. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

TI: I'm going to shift gears a little bit and go back to Fresno. I want to talk about how Fresno changed after the war. Can you tell...

SK: Oh. Well, a lot of Japanese people didn't, you know, after being away, what, two years? Roughly two years, Japantown, you might say, just a few people that came back to the same, back to, back in the restaurant business. Just half the people, handful of people. And let me see now. There were not, that's when all the restaurants disappeared, anyway. But the packing house was still there. And some of these Chinese, I mean, we started out as being all Japanese, but lot of Japanese, I mean, a lot of Chinese people had opened their shops in the meantime while we were gone. And so Chinatown actually became Chinatown.

TI: Oh, that's interesting. Earlier you also mentioned how when people came back to Fresno, there was sometimes difficult, like anti-Japanese feelings?

SK: Oh. I remember that when they came back, I've heard of people getting shot at by, by somebody. They never could find out, but how would you like to be out in the country someplace, and somebody would take a shot at you? Fortunately, nobody got killed or anything. Nobody even got shot at -- I mean, not even shot. But they were shot at, let's say. There was a lot, well, a few incidents like that.

TI: Okay. Earlier you also talked about how many of the friends you grew up with that were not Japanese, they...

SK: Oh, when we came back, they all had the best jobs in town. Some of the police department and all the kids that used to be in the delinquent school, they were either cops or something else. We used to call that B Street College. I mean, it was on B Street, and the reform school was on, was a college. [Laughs]

TI: So reform school you called B Street College?

SK: B Street.

TI: Yeah, B Street College. Interesting.

SK: B like A, B, C.

TI: Right, right. Interesting. But it sounds like, so what you saw was you and the others, the Japanese that were gone for a few years, when you came back, it was almost like you were behind, that your friends were able to get all these good jobs and everything while the Japanese were gone?

SK: Well, then, like the Chinatown, talking about all the shops were in Chinese hand, too.

TI: And so how well did the Japanese community recover from the war years?

SK: I don't know. They did pretty well, I guess. I just remember just a few shops now, but they must have done pretty well. 'Cause I don't, I didn't hear of anyone complaining. It's just that since we went to Gila, and the other people went to Jerome, Arkansas, I just don't know what happened to the rest of the people that I grew up with.

TI: Okay.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2010 Densho and Preserving California's Japantowns. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

TI: And earlier you also mentioned how you met your wife in Gila River, or she was a neighbor at Gila River?

SK: Oh, yes.

TI: Can you talk about how you started dating your wife?

SK: Well, I just knew her. And she was a bright girl, too. And they went to Arkansas, I mean, Iowa to college then. And I just happened to know them. So I'll have to even tell you some stories about my business and how things were, then I can go back to her. But when I got back, we had a place, a business on Kern Street again, further away from the street, I mean, where the church is. And it was, again, it was sort of general merchandise store that my father had, couldn't get back the old location, and he found a new location. And it never occurred to me then that parking was a problem. And by that time, the war was over, so I needed, I heard that, I mean, I looked around and found a lot of places had a, sort of a loading zone where it sort of looked like a free parking to me. So I had to ask our family friend S.G. Sakamoto, "How do you get a loading zone?" You know what he told me? It's really funny. He said, "Just get a gallon of paint and just paint it."

TI: Just paint the street?

SK: Yeah, and that's what we did. The first loading zone I got, I just... my brother and I just got a gallon of yellow paint and painted the whole sidewalk from one end of the store to the other end. And some of my friends that retired from the job, so I don't think, I don't think they can do anything for me, I mean, the place is gone anyway. What happened was that after a few months, the paint crew from the city came and repainted that whole sidewalk for me. And then every few months, they'd come back and painted the sidewalk again. I mean, I always had a good loading zone. [Laughs]

TI: That's a good story. [Laughs] And you said you were gonna tell a story and then talk about your wife again?

SK: Oh. No, let me go just a little bit further then. During the job, I mean... this is what they did, the old days. I had a, we had a, not a hardware store, it was a combination of everything, you know, little place. And there was a man that used to give me a pretty bad time over everything, inspector, health inspector. And he'd come along and tell me to do this or do that. I really had a bad time with it, so I had to go ask Mr. Sakamoto for advice. And you know what he told me? He said, "Oh, just give him ten buck and you can get rid of him." So I tried to give him ten buck, and he wouldn't take it. Actually, I was sitting next to a judge the other day. He's much younger than I am, but they can't do anything anyway. But let's see... oh, the funny part is my daughter heard about it, and she says, "That's a bribe." [Laughs]

TI: [Laughs] Yeah.

SK: So I... there's another one. Well, I'm going to skip one about the electrical inspector, but there was a, there was this Monty Pearson, the ex-New York Yankee pitcher, star player, first-class. He was a health inspector, and he used to give me a bad time. But you got to see, you have to know what the location was like. But he'd give me a bad time, but I got to see my World, first World Series because of him. And I don't know how he... he told me, when I get to New York, go to the workers' entrance, I mean, helpers' entrance, or players' entrance, I think it was. And they'll be some tickets waiting for me. And I guess he either wrote this fellow a letter, or I don't even know who the Yankee that he called up was. But anyway, for a long time, I used to think the Yankees are a cheap club, that workers had to work to, after their retirement. But anyway, I did get to see my first World Series because of him. And the reason for why I said that was that this, the wife was living in -- my future wife, let's say at that time -- they were living in Cleveland. And that's where I used to go. Gave me a chance to see Cleveland and my first ballgame, first football game. And we went to a football game, and in those days, I guess it's not like it used to be. It's like, it's unlike what it is, like it is now. You can hardly get tickets or anything. Anyway, we went to see the first football game, and that's the first time, first and last time I've been to either the World Series or the football game. It was the Chicago Cardinals and the Cleveland Rams, I guess.

TI: And so it was through your work connections that got you to the first World Series and then the football game, which then connected you with your first wife.

SK: Yeah. Well, I was traveling back and forth. I mean, I went back and visited her, and we got the relationship started again.

TI: And can you tell me what year you got married?

SK: I don't even know that. 1950, I think.

TI: 1950, and then I just want to kind of go through this. And then you had two daughters and a son?

SK: Yeah.

TI: Okay. And then unfortunately, your first wife... and then before I go on, what was your first wife's name?

SK: Emi.

TI: And what was her maiden name?

SK: Harada.

TI: Harada. And unfortunately, she died...

SK: Oh, in '63 while my kids were very young. They were in grade school.

TI: And what did she, she die of?

SK: Cancer.

TI: And then you got married again in 1968?

SK: Sixty-five years after that... yeah, '68.

TI: And who did you marry?

SK: A girl from Sanger. I knew her from childhood, anyway, family friend.

TI: And what was, what was her name?

SK: Mizuki.

TI: Okay, Sachi Mizuki.

SK: Right. I mean, I met up with her again quite a bit later, but I knew her when... well, she was a child then. 'Cause I'm quite a bit older.

TI: [Addressing JS] So we're coming up to noon, and I wanted to see if you had any other questions.

SK: Is it that time already?

TI: Yeah, so Sat, we've gone a lot longer than we thought, and so I'm going to end the interview now. Your wife is waiting for you downstairs. So thank you so much for the time. This was excellent.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2010 Densho and Preserving California's Japantowns. All Rights Reserved.