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

<Begin Segment 1>

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.

<Begin Segment 2>

Q: Sox, could you talk about your feelings now, looking back. What do you feel about having gone through the camps?

SK: How do I feel about it today? Well, I certainly wouldn't want this to happen to my son, because maybe some people when they were small, they enjoyed it, they had a good time, they had a lot of friends to play with every day. But with the grownups, you know, in camp, almost every month there was some rumor about what's going to happen to us. So we were always worried, you know, what's going to happen. They're gonna separate you from loyal and disloyal, that type of thing was going on all the time. And it wasn't all good. And you know, you're so restricted to things, we don't have all the comforts we would normally have, and as the time goes -- I was in camp for three years and four months -- and as time goes on, you know, you get kind of weary of all the kind of disadvantages you have and inconveniences.

But after I got out of camp, I didn't have too much trouble finding a job because my supervisor in camp had written me a good recommendation. So I worked for the War Relocation Authority when I got back, which is part of the camp system. And so I stayed on until they had to close, 'cause they were all just temporary wartime agencies, so after that closed I went into another agency. But didn't have any discrimination as far as civil service work was concerned. But did work with some people at work that never saw a Japanese person before that came from Massachusetts or something like that. And they kept asking me, "My, your eyes aren't slanted and your teeth isn't buck teeth," and all that, "And you don't wear glasses," and things like that. And they found out we were just like anybody else, you know. They treated me all right, I didn't have too much problems resettling.

But when I got out of camp, we had to stay in what they call hostels and the Buddhist church was one of the hostels, most of the churches were. And I married in camp, so when we got out, my husband and I had to sleep in the balcony of the Buddhist church gymnasium. And all the couples were sort of separated by army blankets. But the Health Department came and said that we couldn't live this way. And all the bachelors were on the main floor of the gymnasium and we were, the married couples were all upstairs. So then they switched me to the projection room of the gymnasium, and I stayed there for a couple of nights and then they said no windows to the outside, so it's not healthy and I had to get out again. So my husband had to go and sleep down on the floor, and I had to share a room with a couple other families and their children, so we were really all cramped in there. But people could eat there at the hostel if they wanted to, but my sister had found a little place for herself. So at that time we were still on food stamps, so I gave them my food stamp and I paid my share and I ate meals with my sister and friends until we found a place. But these are some of the things that we had to go through. A lot of people had it rougher than I did because they had small children. But we didn't have any children then so we did all right.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<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.

<Begin Segment 4>

SK: I think that when we went to Topaz, we had a different feeling because we felt that since they were moving us again, this is gonna be a little more permanent, so you know, our feelings had changed.

JK: Remember the time, like when we were going to Topaz, we all boarded a bus and then we got on the train and the train, the blinds were, the shades were set down, military police with machine guns. Every time we'd pull into a station, all the blinds went down. We had an old-fashioned train with a pot-bellied stove. And horse, horsehair stuffings.

SK: They took out everything they had. [Laughs]

JK: Yeah, and we were all cold and then... what else? Well, we had to sleep there. We had to sleep right in our seats. Going to the, to the lavatory, the girls were kind of separated and they were followed and the men were followed. I don't know, I felt like a criminal at that time, being, going into those johns where people will follow you. And then finally we got to Topaz and then this one horse town. Then we went to Camp Topaz and there was that big open area out on the lake, it was a former lake bed, so the lake was severe, and so it was so much alkaline. Remember that, Sox?

SK: Like when I got off the bus, and just to step down already, it was like a puff of smoke. That's how dusty it was, and it was white, and the barracks had masonite floors, so the women would all take rags and really polish it up and it would be, look nice, some people oiled it and everything. But soon as we had a little dust storm, you know, those buildings were made by, with raw materials.

JK: With tarpaper on the side.

KL: So after they start to shrink, the boards would shrink, then there's a lot of gap . And so every time we had a dust storm, the whole place just got white, your floor. Masonite floors got white, so you're forever with a bucket and a cloth, wiping away, wiping away. Well, we don't have too much cloth and things to even use for a mop or anything because we were only allowed to take in what we could carry in your two hands. So you had two suitcases, your bedding and your change of clothes and things and your, you know, toothbrush and things, your personal effects. You don't have too much to take in. You couldn't afford to be throwing away rags, you needed everything.

JK: Yeah, and then after the sheetrock, then they started putting sheetrock walls up along our walls and that, that made it, gave us a little more privacy plus it made it a little airtight.

SK: It took a lot of work.

JK: But then when we went, when we go to bed at nights when we do have a dust storm, we have to put our sheet over our faces so we wouldn't breathe all that. So a lot of the old folks, remember, they got sick on that dust storm, and I think some of them may have passed away, too.

SK: A lot of illnesses came out of that dust.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.