Densho Digital Archive
Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann Collection
Title: Bill Shishima Interview
Narrator: Bill Shishima
Interviewer: Raechel Donahue
Location: California
Date: 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-sbill-02-0002

<Begin Segment 2>

RD: Now, do you remember where you were when you heard about the outbreak of the war for America?

BS: Yes. On December 7th, that Sunday, I was at downtown Broadway at a movie house. And after we came out, about two or three o'clock, noticed the headlines: "Japs Bombed Pearl Harbor." That meant nothing to me because I didn't know what, or where Pearl Harbor was, but I sure found out later.

RD: Yeah, and probably "Japs" either. You hadn't been called that, had you?

BS: Not really, because I went to an all-Japanese school and my Hispanic friends took me as one of their friends.

RD: And so then after that, so what did your parents say? Do you remember what happened when you went home?

BS: Not really. I really don't remember them discussing anything other than at school we found out that eventually we're gonna have to be moved. So all of us classmates, after school, we walked down to downtown Broadway, had our pictures taken, small, 1x1 pictures, and we shared our pictures. In fact, I still have that today.

RD: You mean you had them taken yourselves? You did that?

BS: Yes. No, we went to a studio on Broadway and had individual pictures taken. I forgot how many, maybe forty pictures of each other, and we passed it and exchanged pictures.

RD: Wow. But it wasn't something the government made you do.

BS: No, no, just the kids at school said, "Let's do that."

RD: Wow. Wasn't that expensive?

BS: I don't recall how much it was, but I think I had a regular allowance that would have been able to afford it.

RD: Yeah, the same as a comic book, probably.

BS: Yes. Well, no, that one we just read.

RD: Okay, so then, after a while passes, then you find out that you're going to be taken away.

BS: Yes.

RD: Do you remember how that happened in your house?

BS: No, but after I found out that General John DeWitt, commander of the Western forces, issued a hundred and eight of these so-called exclusion orders, and my family lived on the outskirts of Little Tokyo, so we had to adhere to Exclusion Order 33, which was dated May the 3rd, 1942, and we had to report to this local church on May the 9th, 1942. So we had, shall we say, one week's notice to report there.

RD: And you had to do what in that week?

BS: Well, my parents did not own the grocery store, nor the hotel, but they leased it, because they were ineligible to own property here in California since they were aliens. So they had to find buyers for the grocery store and the hotel, so they, actually, they gave it away, and a Chinese family purchased the store from my dad.

RD: Was the Chinese family friends of yours?

BS: No, they were just strangers, but they were looking for a good deal, and that's what they got, a good deal. So my dad was very bitter that he had to give up his grocery store and hotel business.

RD: Were you able to sell anything... so you sold the inventory of the store and of the hotel like that?

BS: We had to sell everything, yes, or give it away. I know he couldn't sell the truck, so he gave the truck to the buyers of the grocery store.

RD: And do you remember what you took with you?

BS: Not really. Just minimal clothing, that's all I can really recall.

RD: Did you have, when you were a little kid, did you have like a radio or flashlight or anything like that that you weren't allowed to bring?

BS: No. I had a camera, but we couldn't bring that. And my pet was a bird, since we lived in the hotel, my only pet was a bird, so we couldn't bring that either.

RD: Well, you went to school with a lot of Japanese kids. Did they have to leave their pets behind?

BS: Yes. No one was allowed to bring their pets, so that was a little bit heartbreaking.

RD: Do you remember any of them, the other kids that you knew?

BS: Some of them, yes, they had to leave their dogs or cats at home, so they had to actually give it away so someone could take care of it.

RD: Oh, that's so awful. I'm such a dog and cat person, and I can't take it. So where did you go first?

BS: Well, we reported to this local church, which at that time was called Union Church of Los Angeles, on 120 South San Pedro Street. So we reported there before noon of May the 9th.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2010 Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann and Densho. All Rights Reserved.