Densho Digital Archive
Steven Okazaki Collection
Title: Jim Kajiwara - Sox Kitashima Interview
Narrators: Jim Kajiwara, Sox Kitashima
Location: San Francisco, California
Date: December 11, 1983
Densho ID: denshovh-kjim_g-01-0001

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Q: Sox, could start by telling us how old you were and what your feelings were about the evacuation?

SK: Well, I was in a car at the time I heard the announcement of Pearl Harbor, and I was really shocked. The first thing my mother said was, "Oh, this is terrible." But I never ever thought that I'd be put into a camp or anything. But we all went home and I think we all reacted differently, you know, in our quiet ways we were wondering what's gonna really happen to us, or what kind of, you know, effect it would have on our white friends. And it was some time, we had a little time before we had to evacuate, so we did, went around and did our things as usual, go to work and do the usual things. But you just sort of felt a little different, you know, you felt a little small. You were careful what you did or said. But it was sort of uncomfortable.

Q: Jim, can you start by saying how old you were at the time?

JK: Yeah, I was about twenty-six years old, and when I first heard about Pearl Harbor, a friend and I were having lunch at a Chinese restaurant and they were also saying, talking Chinese, Cantonese, and they were saying, "Yat pun toi." Well, Yat pun toi means "Japanese" in Cantonese. So I was telling my friends, "God, are they talking about us?" And then I kind of listened while I was eating and they weren't talking about us. So then when we left the restaurant, and were on our way home on Grand Avenue, my... Grand Avenue is the street where there's a lot of Chinese and Japanese stores. Back in those days we had a lot of Japanese stores between from Bush Street all the way up to Sacramento Street. So going back at the corner of Sacramento and Grand Avenue, a girl says, "Japan bombed Pearl Harbor." I said, "Oh, you're kidding." Says, "Yeah, that's true." So then I went back to our store and he went back to his store and I told Mother that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. And says. "Oh no, that's impossible. I mean, they're not that foolish." So then we went, she went to lunch and we went about our duty, Dad and I did, and when Mother came back from lunch she says, "Japan did bomb Pearl Harbor. We heard it over the radio." So we said, "Well, we'd better close the store up and go back home and see how things are at home. At that time we lived on the corner of Bush and Buchannan.

And so we drove home and about a block away, which would be Laguna, we were stopped. And I

looked out of the window and I says, "What's wrong?" Says, "Are you Japanese?" I said, "Yeah, I'm Japanese American." And he said, "Where do you live?" I said, "Well, I live a block away on Bush and Buchanan." And they were military police and the regular police department. So we went on through. So that evening we listened to the news and heard all about how Pearl Harbor was bombed and how many people were lost.

And so the next day, Monday morning, we went back and opened up our shop. There wasn't much doing there, but the shop was under my name, being Japanese American, because Dad had changed it about a year ago. And then we did our business normally, but then we got, pretty soon people started turning over the merchandise and said, "Oh, made in Japan." And says, "You know, the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor." I said, "Yeah, but then, I'm an American citizen." Well, we operated for about a week, then someone came in and says, "Who owns this store?" And I said, "I do." He said, "Well, maybe you'd better close because things are kind of rough." And then our American friends phoned us and they said they were sorry to hear about this. We closed for about three or four days, then we were able to reopen. Then the stores that were owned by nationals, they were, had a, the Federal Department of Treasury stay at the cash register because they want to make sure that all the cash that was brought from, due to the sales weren't sent back to Japan. Whereas in my case, I'm an American citizen, so we were able to operate the store normally. But things really got bad, I mean, people harassing us, and calling us "Japs," and I had, I just keep on explaining that I'm an American. And then when Executive Order 9066 came out, we were really shocked to hear about going into camp. And we were supposed to get married on April the 2nd, and... no, yeah, April the 2nd, my wife and I. She lived in another district but she was going to another camp which was Santa Anita. Whereas the San Francisco people were going to Tanforan. So my wife and I hurried up and we got married. And then we both went to Tanforan together which was April the 29th. And we went into those horse stalls, and I had my family all around me. So my wife was saying that maybe if it weren't for this evacuation order maybe we wouldn't have got married. [Laughs] Still be engaged, she says that kind of laughingly.

And then we spent about, oh, I'd say about six months in Tanforan before we got shipped out to Topaz, Utah. So we've been married April 2, 1942, and we have three boys, two boys and one girl in our married life then. But the children were born, my oldest son was born in Topaz, then we relocated from Topaz to Detroit and my second son was born there. Then we relocated back to San Francisco and that's where my daughter was born in San Francisco, so there were three different states that the children were born in. So that's, but then things were a little rough when we did come back to San Francisco because they were still Japanese, regardless of being American. The employment forms were written out "nationality" and we had to write "Japanese Americans." But then still we had that, still racism in San Francisco and that was back in 1946. So we had to just clean house, do menial jobs. And I walked the streets many a days finding jobs, doing day jobs like Japanese houseboy type of jobs, until things got a little bit better and the public realized that the 442 boys had done so well over in Europe and the Military Intelligence boys had done so well in the military secret service and also over in China, Burma, and India, Japanese Americans were there as interpreters. So, gradually, as those things came out, things did get a little bit better for us.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.