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-01-0003

<Begin Segment 3>

Q: Jim, could you give me your feelings, do you feel any, briefly, any bitterness, any shame, do you feel looking back?

JK: Looking back it was a hell of an experience for a young married couple to go through that, and I hope and pray that nothing like this would ever happen to any minority group here in the United States. And my experience was really something else. Spending our honeymoon in a horse stable and then when they opened up Topaz I volunteered because... the reason why I volunteered, 'cause I wanted to have an apartment of my own or a barrack room of my own. So then I went on ahead and my wife and my, rest of my family, my mother, father, sister and grandmother came later on. Then my wife and I were able to have our own little privacy. But then as the months went by and my wife got pregnant and we had our boy, so we had to move to another place. So we were all in a section of the barracks where it'd be three persons or more. Then my mother-in-law came from Santa Anita so she lived with us. So there's three adults and one little baby in one little room and I had to scrounge around and make little furniture and sort of a crib-like, for the baby. It was tough. But then, it was an experience. But we, us Japanese Americans want to go forward, we can't look back too much. But we do cherish some of those happy times and some of those experiences we do have we like to share that with the other younger third generation and let them know that that is a loaded gun, that evacuation thing. And being an American citizen is really important, but let's don't forget our Japanese ethnic background.

SK: I think the hardest and most traumatic part of going into camp was living at Tanforan --

JK: Yeah, that was really bad.

SK: -- and going there. Some of the people lived in new barracks that were in the infield of the tracks, but the outer areas were all the stables and all they did was whitewash the insides and you even had horsehair tails, hair on the walls, you know, because it was so rough. And you know how the stables are, they're broken into two sections and it's very small, I wouldn't know... how big would you say?

JK: Just enough room for two... well, in my case, there was just enough room for two army cots and just little walking space 'cause that's where the horses was in.

SK: Yeah, see, my youngest brother and my mother and I, we stayed in the inside section of that, so we had very little room to move 'cause that means three cots in there. My two older brothers in the front. But it was very difficult for me to try to even change clothes with all my brothers around and no room to do anything. When we first got there we had to fill the mattress ticks with hay. And you know, when you fill the ticks, the hay seems so fluffy that you think, oh, this is plenty, and you take it home and you just sleep one night and it's down to a pancake again, you know. A lot of people got hay fever from having to be on the hay and things like that. So there was all kinds of problems. And the stables are open on the top, and there may about ten on one side and there's an opposite side but you can, if anybody stayed up late you saw all the lights, and if there was any arguments or people coughing or...

JK: Snoring.

SK: You could hear everything, 'cause it's just open up on top. Of course, where we were, we were at the further end so they didn't have a latrine for us then. So we had to walk about... I say about a good two blocks to get to one. So it was terrible if you had to ever go at night. We were afraid to be walking around at night because the guard is right there and I was near the guard tower. So if he thought you were getting up and trying to escape or something, you know, he might take a pop at you. [Laughs] So those were some of the things that were very trying. And not having the proper sanitary, you know, equipment, and laundry was poor, too, because you had to get up real early in the morning, like five o'clock, if you wanted to get one of the tubs to scrub. If you wanted to use ironing board, too, it was just a long lineup to do this. So when I was in Tanforan I didn't work because I was so busying just trying to get the laundry done for the family. But when I went to Topaz I worked, but I didn't work at all in Tanforan.

JK: How about... I remember when we first went in there we had to eat at the main mess.

SK: Oh.

JK: Remember your experience?

SK: When I got in there, seem I came from Centerville, which is now known as Fremont, and most of the city people were all in there, we were one of the last ones to come in. When we got in, the first thing we know we were being searched for any kind of weapon, and opened up our suitcases, searched us. And then they told us to go and line up for our mess down at the, under the grandstand. They were serving meals there

JK: That was the main mess.

SK: It was there, and oh, I was really... I mean, I just cried, you know.

JK: Because that, when we first went in there we had what we called the main mess. Then as the months went by, then each section had a mess hall of their own. And that's the time when, well, they had to find out who, who knows how to cook, who knows how to do this, and who know how to do that. Once they got that all straightened out, then we had our own Japanese cooks, cook our mess, so we had to, each person had their own pet dish, their cup, spoon, knife and fork. And our wives sewed a little bag and we carried those. Then we all lined up. Then the mess hall will open up and then we all sat down. We had our little dinner and then we come out, and we had to wash our own dishes and stuff. and then we'd go back to camp. But if you wanted to buy a little snack or something after dinner, well, you didn't have it unless someone brought it to you, during visiting day. Then later on they opened up a canteen.

SK: But they were just bare necessities there.

JK: Yeah, just bare necessities.

SK: But you're happy to even get a box of Kleenex if you could buy it, you know. Or a candy bar just felt like you were a millionaire, buying a candy bar. [Laughs]

JK: Yeah, right. People would line up, and the canteen would have just so much and then after that it would be all, no cigarettes, no candies or whatever.

SK: My first meal when I got to Tanforan was a couple of, you know, discolored cold cuts and overcooked... what is that?

JK: What was that, rice?

SK: No, it's a vegetable. I can't think of it right now. But anyway, it was terrible. My bread was moldy, you know. And I don't know, it just wouldn't go down my throat. I was really upset about that. And then from there on they told us where our quarters were going to be and that was another shock, you know. [Laughs]

JK: Yeah, right.

SK: To go over there into an open area and nothing but an empty cot there and having to go out and get your own mattress with hay. It was really terrible.

JK: Yeah, like, like Nobu and I, we got to our place and then we had the horse barracks, the horse stables turned into a barrack. So I had my family live around us, my mother, dad, and my sister and grandmother. Then we had this little enclosure where the horse stuck his head out, that little Dutch door, and that's where we lived. But then I sat down and I said, this is certainly something else for an American citizen. Then later on I went on to the grandstand and I looked over the camp, and it really made me sick when I think of all these other people outside we can see from the grandstand going up and down El Camino and here I am. They're American citizens, here I'm an American citizen, but I just happen to have a Japanese face. And it kind of made me cry when I thought about those, all those things. 'Cause I've never been to Japan and I didn't know anything about Japanese and that, that was really an experience right there.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.