Densho Digital Archive
Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann Collection
Title: Shig Yabu Interview
Narrator: Shig Yabu
Interviewer: Raechel Donahue
Location: Camarillo, California
Date: 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-yshig-02-0002

<Begin Segment 2>

RD: Okay, now, do you remember the day that you were told you were going to camp?

SY: Well, the actual... it was probably a week or two when they told us that we're going to be leaving. And we met at the Buchanan YMCA, and they gave us an ID card, tag, rather. And they put us on the bus and we went to a train station. And we were really excited because, to get on a train, that was a treat. And we were supposed to go to Tanforan Racetrack, which was called Tanforan assembly camp. And when we got to near Millbrae, we could see Tanforan. So we assumed that the train was going to backtrack, because it was going so slow in entering Tanforan. But it kept going faster and faster, and pretty soon someone said, "I think we're going to the desert." And I remember seeing postcards in drugstores and whatnot, and I pictured Long Beach where they had the Miss California pageant, I remember seeing the palm trees of Palm Springs. I remember seeing the lights of Hollywood, so it sounded like a very glamorous trip. And, of course, they had the shades down so we couldn't see out, and I remember.

RD: But when did they put the shades down? Because you saw it.

SY: Just before we left, but we could peek out. The kids, we were not worried about the rules and regulations. And I remember when we were going by Santa Maria, the most fearful disease at that time was poliomyelitis. And so I remember my mother telling me, "Get under the cover and get plenty of rest because you don't want to catch polio, because you'll become crippled." Then we entered, we came to the Pomona assembly camp which is now the Pomona fairgrounds. And immediately we got out, the military police were searching all the luggage, and it was a real long, drawn-out deal. Five hundred fifty from the Bay Area went to Pomona. But the people knew that this particular train came from San Francisco or Bay Area. So I told my parents I'm going to look around because I was kind of wondering, "What is this all about?" Well, fourteen or fifteen or sixteen kids came up to me and the first one said to me, "Hey, you're from Frisco." I'd never heard of Frisco. I have now, but at that time, and being from a big city, we were very polite and courteous. I corrected him by saying, "No, I'm from San Francisco." Another guy said, "No, you're from Fog City." Again, I'd never heard of Fog City, so I corrected him, saying I'm from San Francisco. Well, I knew I was going to enter my first fight, because the little ones were kicking me and punching me and so forth. So I lied. I said, "Well, I don't mind fighting one at a time, but to fight fifteen or sixteen, that's impossible." So the biggest, huskiest kid said, "Yeah, you're right. You're taking me on." So he took me into the shower stall, and I looked at the floor, and I said, "Hey, look." I said, "We're both going to get dirty, look at the ground." He looked at it and he says, "You know, you're right." So they ushered me to a barrack, maybe half a block or a block away, and I said to myself, "That was really stupid of me. Now I could yell bloody murder and nobody could hear me." Well, the leader and I went in the middle of the room, and the windows were all closed, all the people were making sure I couldn't escape. So just the two of us in the middle of the room, and he grabbed my shirt, twisted it, and I noticed how strong he was. And he asked me, "Do you know how to do judo?" I said, "No." He said, "Good, we're going to do judo." Well, it turned out that my mother's cousin was living with us since 1939. He was what they called a Kibei, which means his mother and father was living in Seattle, Washington, but they both passed away, so he went to Japan to live. And he didn't like it in Japan, so he came to live with us. Well, fortunately, he was a black belt expert in judo. So he used to toss me around, and he really didn't like people like us, Americans, because he thought we were very wise. Well, fortunately, when this fellow, this leader, was going to do what they call a koshinage, which means a hip roll. So he was doing it in sequence, one, two. And just as, when he was ready to flip me, the third one he was going to flip me, I grabbed his head and went down. And I held on for dear life, and it seemed like it was an hour, but I'm sure it wasn't. But he pretended he was, he couldn't breathe, he was suffocating. And then later on, I was holding on because I didn't want to get hit or beaten up. And he whispered to me and he says, "I give up." So I let go and I said, "Sure," because I didn't want to fight the other kids. And then he jumped on me and he said, "You give up." I said, "Sure." But all throughout Pomona assembly camp and throughout Heart Mountain, whenever I saw him, although I was scared of him, I pretended I wasn't scared of him. And I flexed my muscle and I pretended any time, if you're willing to fight, I'm willing to fight. But in reality, I'm glad he didn't fight. [Laughs]

RD: Wow, that was great luck. Okay, so what was your first impression when you got into the holding camp?

SY: The Heart Mountain?

RD: No, no, first into Pomona.

SY: Oh. It was extremely hot, and my friend, Akira Yoshimura, he changed his name to Aki Yoshimura. And ironically, he was born in San Francisco and he was born on the same day as I was, June 13, 1932. So we would walk and walk around visiting people, hoping to find people from San Francisco. And one of the things we noticed was a lot of the men were carving beautiful birds and painting them. I don't know for what reason, but they would paint them. And I remember one person, and I have never seen one after that, they got a toothbrush, on the end part, and cut it and made geta. Geta is a wooden slipper, wooden slipper, and very tiny. I'm sure if you use it for a bracelet or for your ears, earrings or whatnot, and made little hearts, and I was really impressed with that. And I've never seen one anywhere exhibited on that. I wish I could see that.

RD: I mean, did... you had barracks there, too?

SY: Yes. We had nine people living in this particular one room, very small room, and we slept on the floor but they gave us, like a sheet, like a great big pillow, and we stuffed it with hay and we slept on that. And we had two families living there. And adults were always complaining about the heat, because the people from San Francisco couldn't stand the warm weather.

RD: We fade when it's over seventy. You know, it's a heat wave. It sounds like you knew that there was a difference between the camps -- how did you know that there were all these different places, like for instance, somebody said, "I think we're going to the desert."

SY: Well, when you see Tanforan miles and miles away, somebody assumed that we were going down south. And anywhere beyond San Jose and beyond is hot. So I think it was not a question of desert, it was a question of heat that they were referring to.

RD: And so then you were there, do you remember how long you were there? Do you know how long you were there?

SY: We were there about four months.

RD: That's a long time. But nothing ever got better there, right?

SY: Well, the one thing I remember, that we lined up in the mess hall, especially in the afternoon. Long lines, they would run out of a certain type of food, so the cooks had to make something else. And every once in a while you see somebody fainting, then an ambulance would come and pick that person up. But it didn't happen just once, it happened quite often. Especially with the seniors, because they wore a sweater and they wore a top coat, a suit. And whereas we just wore the lightest thing, so that we won't be real hot.

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