Densho Digital Archive
Topaz Museum Collection
Title: Grace F. Oshita Interview
Narrator: Grace F. Oshita
Interviewer: Megan Asaka
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
Date: June 4, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-ograce-01

<Begin Segment 1>

MA: So today is June 4, 2008, I'm here with Grace Oshita, and we're in Salt Lake City Utah. I'm Megan Asaka, and the videographer today is Dana Hoshide. So, Grace, thanks so much for doing this interview.

GO: I was reminded the other day when they awarded me, that I talked for forty years, so I should remember something.

MA: This is gonna be great, thank you. So I just wanted to start off by asking you, when were you born?

GO: January 2, 1925.

MA: And where were you born?

GO: San Francisco, Lane Hospital, it's still there, I think. They don't call it Lane anymore... Pacific, California Pacific Medical Center. My son is an M.D. there.

MA: And what was your name at birth?

GO: Grace Fumiko Fujimoto.

MA: So I wanted to ask a little bit about your father. What was his name?

GO: His name was, given name by his friends was Eddie, Edward, and then Kanta, K-A-N-T-A, Fujimoto.


MA: So where was your father from in Japan?

GO: Okayama. My grandparents came first. It must have been after the San Francisco earthquake, because they never spoke about it, and so I figured it must have been 1910 or after. So fortunately, they weren't affected by it.

MA: So your grandparents came first, and then sent for your father later?

GO: Yes, uh-huh.

MA: Okay. When your grandparents came over, what type of work did they, were they involved in?

GO: Let's see. I have snapshots of a little storefront, and one side is a grocery store, middle is a bathhouse, and something else. It was a tiny, tiny, business. In other words, I guess they wanted the privacy of a bathroom, which the hotel didn't have. One per floor, probably.

MA: And this was in San Francisco Japantown?

GO: Well, there was no Japantown, it was a, actually, one street down, down the hill from Chinatown, which was... is that Powell Street or was that... I think it was Powell Street. Anyway, many Japanese lived in that area until, somewhat centralized area, I don't know who decided to move in there, but quite a few lived in the Bush Street, Buchanan and Bush Street area.

MA: About how old was your father when he came over to the U.S.?

GO: He finished his, all his formal education, including, I imagine, they used to call it kotoshogyo, in other words, would it be high school or college ranking, commercial college.

MA: Okay, so he finished that, and then after he was done with his education, came over?

GO: Uh-huh. And then the sister, older sister, graduated from teachers college.

MA: Did she also come over to the U.S.?

GO: Yes, together.

MA: And what about your mother, your biological mother? When did she come over?

GO: A few years later, my grandparents went to Japan to, quote, to "select" her and be introduced to her, and brought her back as their son's wife. I don't know how they made it. [Laughs] That was their way, I guess.

MA: And your mother, you told me on the phone that she passed away when you were young?

GO: Yes. She was in poor health, and my grandparents were always busy running the businesses: a huge grocery store in Japantown, and then the factory in the industrial areas. So she was sent back to Japan, and first of all, she was staying with my dad's cousins, but one letter that I have, one of the last letters says, "I'm sorry, but I can't stay with them any longer. I'm going to move to my sister's, in with my sister."

MA: I see, so she went back to Japan?

GO: Well, not, this was, I don't know, a number of years after.

MA: And how old were you when that happened?

GO: My grandma always said, "Well you haven't seen your mother since you were about three years old."

MA: And your father remarried, is that right?

GO: Yes, not until just before the war, 1940.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

MA: So I'd like to talk about your childhood, and if you could describe the neighborhood that you grew up in, in San Francisco.

GO: It was a so-called Japantown, there were many Japanese families living on my street and around my street. Couple of blocks down, there was a Japantown where they had restaurants, a pharmacy, a regular drugstore, all Japanese-speaking. And it spread quite a few blocks where many Japanese... a few blocks away, there was a Catholic, Japanese Catholic church, and another old church was sold to a Zen Buddhist church. There was a Nichiren church, which was just in a home. But the Buddhist temple was quite well-established.

MA: Was your family Buddhist?

GO: Yes, uh-huh.

MA: Can you describe the house or the building that you, that you grew up in?

GO: Uh-huh. It was the usual three-story flat, and the first story was the owner, and then the second story was our... and we never associated with anybody unless it happened to be a friend from church. Even if we lived next door or across the street, we weren't friends, period. Too busy for that.

MA: So at that point, you had mentioned earlier the factory. Your family had started a miso factory, is that right?

GO: Yes. And they also had a grocery store in Japantown. In other words, it would have been located across the street from Japan Center, I don't know whether you know San Francisco.

MA: No, what's Japan Center?

GO: That's the hub of the Japanese cultural area, this one block, maybe it's half a block, had restaurants and theater. I don't remember too much about... bookstore, Kinokuniya is always where Japanese bookstores are. So we always went there to have Japanese food. I tell my son, "We'll meet you," because the Lane Hospital that he worked at is only a couple blocks up the street.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

MA: I'm curious about the miso factory. What was the name of that company?

GO: Just Fujimoto Company.

MA: And was that started by your grandparents?

GO: Uh-huh. I don't know how he got the recipe, or he must have knew somebody, known somebody in Japan to give it to him. And it's never been changed, it's the old-fashioned way of making the activated rice first. And that activated rice is all you needed to make sake. And that was the main ingredient, plus boiled soybeans and salt and whatever. Then they laid it, left it for a few months, and it would be ready.

MA: And especially when you were growing up, I mean, how many people worked at this factory? How big was it?

GO: Oh, it wasn't that big. I would say including traveling salesman and office worker, maybe barely ten at any time. My grandmother was in and out, as soon as she sent me off to school, she would walk up the hill to the cable car and ride downtown, and then she'd be home by the time I got home. I never, never went home to an empty house.

MA: Your grandmother was always there?

GO: Yes.

MA: And what was your father's role at that time in the company?

GO: He took over the office work. My grandfather was still alive when he came back and married my mother. I don't know too much about their married life. I take it that it wasn't that simple, you know, to try to get acquainted with a total stranger as a wife and husband.

MA: And during that time when you were sort of young, who were the main customers for the miso factory?

GO: All Japanese.

MA: Was it just in San Francisco or all along the West Coast did they sell to...

GO: There was another miso company in Los Angeles, and I believe one in Seattle. Now, I don't know how large the Seattle one was, but my dad, miso was always shipped out, anyway. First the rural, people in the rural area would buy it by the hundred-pound barrels, and the most common household, it would even be a ten- or twenty-pound wooden tub.

MA: I see, so he would kind of sell it in bulk.

GO: That's right, and then later on, they used cardboard and plastic containers, one pound, two pounds, five, ten.

MA: Was there a delivery service that would take the miso around?

GO: No, it would be just, well, there was a city salesman who would, uh-huh. But most of it was just mailed out, shipped out.

MA: And the workers that worked there, were they mostly Japanese Americans?

GO: Yes, they were.

MA: Nisei?

GO: First it was Issei.

MA: Isseis?

GO: Uh-huh. And then gradually Nisei -- oh, right after the war when they were reestablishing the company, the young people coming out of there moving back from camp life didn't have a job, so if they were friends of friends or something, my dad used to accommodate them, offer jobs to them. There were also Filipino worker, I think there were three or four Filipino workers.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

MA: Going back a little bit to your childhood, what kind of, when you were a young child, what kind of activities or hobbies were you involved in, or what did you do for fun?

GO: School took care of the whole day because my folks and grandparents and so forth, they were so busy that I'd go to the Buddhist temple kindergarten and nursery school, kindergarten, and there was a Caucasian teacher to take care of the English part. I spent a lot of time at the Buddhist temple, in other words. Even after I started regular grade school, there was always Japanese language school to go to after, and sometimes when we were preparing for a recital or something, I'd go after that to my music lesson, koto and shamisen.

MA: When did you start getting involved with koto and shamisen?

GO: My father went to a shakuhachi school in Japan, and he was an expert shakuhachi player. I've never heard anybody sound so mellow as his shakuhachi playing. In those days, you couldn't buy an empty tape or whatever -- it wasn't tape, it was a round, what is it? Anyway, and they couldn't record it, really, until quite recently. So I never did have a recording made of his playing. I regret it very much.

MA: It sounds like your father maybe encouraged you to play, encouraged music?

GO: He, I was learning piano when I was very young, and then one day he said, "Would you like to learn koto and shamisen because you might like it. Because you sing along with it and love to sing." I just said, "Yes," and I've been playing ever since.

MA: Where did you take lessons? Was it in the temple?

GO: No, her home.

MA: Oh, I see. So you had an instructor, and you would go to her home to practice?

GO: Oh, yes. There were several koto and shamisen teachers in San Francisco.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

MA: So I was curious about your elementary school. What elementary school did you attend?

GO: Raphael Weill.

MA: And where was that located? Was that near your house?

GO: Just a couple of blocks down the... let's see, it might be four. San Francisco one direction is very short blocks, they're kind of oval -- not oval, rectangular. The road to, the street that went to, directly to the grade school were the short streets. So even if you call, I walked five blocks, it really was probably two longer blocks.

MA: And were the students in your school mostly Niseis or Japanese American?

GO: Yes, I should have brought a picture. Yes, it's, I would say it was more than fifty percent Japanese in class.

MA: What about your teachers? Were they also Japanese American or did you have Caucasian teachers?

GO: It's all Caucasian. In those days, we didn't have any Japanese or other nationality teaching. I mean, there was no black teacher, of course, I just don't remember any foreign-looking teachers. It was just all white teachers.

MA: How was the relationship between your Caucasian teachers and the students? Was it how would you characterize the relationships that you had with your teachers?

GO: Very good. I don't know whether you realize that in the old days, the students give teachers Christmas presents, and you see how Japanese would be, "Oh, this is for your teacher," so it had to be special and so forth. And so that was one reason maybe we were treated so well. But then also, we studied, too. We were serious about work in this, classroom work. And we were quite often chosen to do favors for the teacher while the rest of the class is doing book work. Of course, we could keep up, too, I guess, right along with them. And of course, like I said, it was just, just at the end of Japantown, so many of the students were Japanese that it was almost like our school.

MA: How involved were your parents in the Japanese American community events or activities?

GO: Nil. I mean, language barrier, of course, but Japantown meant Japantown, almost every other house was occupied by Japanese families.

MA: Were there festivals and picnics that --

GO: Entertainment, yes. The graduation, they called it graduation exercises, and there was a once-a-year performance and a play. My having a loud voice, I could be heard to the back of the auditorium, so they gave me good parts. [Laughs] I got out of book learning for a long time.

MA: So you mentioned that you were very active in the Buddhist temple. Can you describe the temple a little bit, what it looked like and the people that were there?

GO: I'm sure you've been to Buddhist temples now, very similar. It was very similar to that. I don't know, originally I think it was built or at least renovated to conform with what a temple chapel would look like and so forth. It was very similar to all the Buddhist temples of the present-day.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

MA: So moving on a little bit to your high school experience, what was the high school that you attended? What was the name of that school?

GO: I went to Commerce High. I did that because I knew that there was a school that taught anything about business that you could learn. I mean, there was a salesmanship class, I'm just trying to think, merchandising, anything that's commercial, you didn't have to go to a junior college. I mean, that was a school that taught everything, shorthand, specialty in shorthand. That's what I was taking, but I really didn't need that because nobody would ever dictate a letter to me. [Laughs] I'd have to write it, I knew what my father was saying in the letter in Japanese, so I just had to translate it into English.

MA: So did you choose to go to Commerce High or were you kind of sent there, did everyone go, or did you choose to go there because you were interested in some of the classes?

GO: Yes, I think I did, uh-huh. 'Cause like I said, I never asked to go to college, nor did my parents suggest it. I think they knew about the school, that I was planning to go.

MA: Did you have an interest in being involved in the miso business in your factory?

GO: Well, there was always a job in the office for a "secretary," quote. And so I knew that I would have a job there.

MA: When you were younger, did you ever work, like maybe after school or anything in the business?

GO: No, I was too busy, dancing lesson, music lessons, I was just a spoiled brat. [Laughs]

MA: In high school then, I'm curious about your, the sort of racial composition of your high school. Was it still predominately Japanese American?

GO: And Chinese. Now, this was, I don't know whether you know San Francisco's Van Ness Avenue where they sell all the car sales, businesses on that wide street. And it was, the Japanese had moved West of Van Ness before, the Chinatown is east of Van Ness. And so it, I don't know how and who started it, but little by little, there were more Japanese in that area.

MA: What was the relationship like between the two communities, the Chinese American and Japanese American?

GO: Actually, they were separate, entirely separate. Because to begin with, Chinese people, they had established their little town way before the Japanese did. And it was already an enterprising community there.

MA: So there was no social interaction or anything like that?

GO: No. I, mixed marriages or mixed, even relationships, boyfriend/girlfriend relationship was usually strictly your own, "stick to your own people."

MA: Who were some of your good friends in high school? What did you all do for fun?

GO: Well, you know, the schooldays were so long that there wasn't any time for anything but going to school, at least on weekdays. 'Cause it's one after the other: American school, Japanese school, and I went to music lesson every day, too, see. And we just, music was taught by rote, in other words, she'll play and sing part of a piece and then I'd learn just that part and then I'd go back and... I didn't even practice at home because every day lessons, it's just like practicing. So there again, I didn't have to spend extra time. That's the way she taught it, and we never used a music book, it was all memorized.

MA: So you took the music through high school, then, so a long time?

GO: Yes, when I started high school, though, I only went once a week Saturday reviewing. That's about all that I did.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

MA: So I wanted to talk about Pearl Harbor, the day that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. What are your memories about that day and first hearing about Pearl Harbor?

GO: It was just an ordinary Sunday morning, and we went to church, and this church was going on, and the speaker or the reverend was interrupted by one of the other lay teachers or reverends. And whispered something in his ears, and then the reverend came out and announced that Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese and, "I think we should all go home now." So that was the only thing that they said, so we all hurried home.

MA: What was the feeling like in your family or even in the, in the temple at that point? Was it, were people scared?

GO: Well, I imagine. I certainly was, I didn't know what was going to happen the next day in high school. But no, it so happened that that Monday was first period first and then homeroom, not homeroom first. And this first period teacher spoke about it and said, "This is our school, and we have lots to learn, and nothing's going to change. And so just remember that, it's just going to go on the same as before." And I was so relieved and happy, I just couldn't keep my tears back, and I started crying and she took me out of the room and soothed me out in the hallway. The next affair was the declaration of war, that was broadcast in the auditorium. But practically everything went smoothly, just as usual.

MA: So it sounds like the teachers were supportive of the Japanese American students?

GO: Yes, uh-huh.

MA: What about the other non-Japanese American students? Was there any trouble with them, or how did they respond to this?

GO: They were so much in the minority, and the Japanese just dominated the whole school, that you had to go along. I mean, it would have been like if Hawaiian Niseis were interned, there would not be a Hawaii. So being a majority, I think, kept the problem minimum.

MA: What were your, your parents' reactions to this news and to Pearl Harbor and the war and everything?

GO: Of course, my dad, my parents, they subscribed to Japanese newspaper, and so they were informed. And he would talk about it sometimes, and he says, "Well, I don't know what happened," but he always mentioned, "This is America. They won't treat you badly," all the way through the time that the FBI came and took him, arrested him separately. It wasn't the first day of Pearl Harbor, but gosh, I can't remember when, maybe about February. And gradually -- not gradually -- my mother had to step in and become the miso boss, you know. And so since it's something that could be kept and had a long shelf life, if it, if it didn't, well, it was made wrong or a recipe was altered too much or something. And so as long as they stuck to the original recipe, it worked out fine.

MA: So at this point, going back, then, a little bit, your father had remarried your stepmother, right? And that was, you said, 1940?

GO: Let's see. No, actually, it must have been, it must have been soon after my grandparents went and married her to him. I have a wedding picture without my father. My grandparents are in their best kimono or whatever, but my father's missing, and that was the family marriage picture

MA: And your stepmother, what was her name?

GO: My stepmother's name is Rae Shizue Nakamoto.

MA: And was she, was she born in the U.S.?

GO: Yes, uh-huh. They were not a whole generation older than us, but still, like my mom and I, we kept saying, "You and I are only seventeen years' difference." And so that's about what the age difference was. In other words, I think her family probably came to the United States a lot earlier, sooner.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

MA: So you mentioned your father was picked up by the FBI. Can you talk about that day or that evening that that happened?

GO: That wasn't the first day, the day of Pearl Harbor. The day of Pearl Harbor, we were so happy because he and his business friends went to the mountains, the Sierra Nevada mountains to trout fish, trout fishing. And so they enjoyed the whole day and came home. And the only time that they realized something was wrong was when they were stopped at the, before the Bay Bridge, and I guess talked to, or anyway... the police talked to them, and then they were released to drive home over the bridge.

MA: And that was the day of Pearl Harbor?

GO: Yes. But so many Japanese fathers, heads of families, also community leaders had been arrested from the first day, day of Pearl Harbor, and so forth and so on, through months, it just continued. And so my father had a suitcase packed and ready, and it was... I think I remembered it as either Lincoln's birthday, it was February -- or Washington's birthday, one of those Sundays that they came. And very... respectful, soft spoken. And like I say, he was ready, but my grandmother was so nervous because, see, my mom would take over most of the chores, but still, she was... she realized that it was going to be on her shoulders to run the miso company. So she went, I think, to learn and so forth. So she took over and closed the company just in time. And they drove up, a car salesman and she drove up in a fairly new car, and that's when she came to Kimon Hall to register for evacuation that day, May first.

MA: And this was your, your grandmother or your mother?

GO: Yes, my grandmother was -- no, my grandmother didn't speak English. Well, she had to empty, pack and empty the whole house, flat, because it was rented. Those who owned their own home could, went through the same thing by locking one room or a basement, so that they won't have to store it anywhere else, which meant that they lost everything. So many just helped themselves, 'cause there was no one to bother them. So we've heard about those incidents.

MA: So when your father was taken away by the FBI, did they communicate to you where he was going, or were you kind of left in the dark about where he was?

GO: No. Apparently, there was some communication among the wives, we called them "evacuation widows" or whatever, however it was called, let's see. It wasn't "evacuation," it was more... well, "enemy alien," I guess, widows, or something like that. And telephone calls were coming from all over and telling us that the next day, they were going to be shipped out somewhere, and so go early to the immigration office down in south San Francisco. And we did, my mother drove us out, and there were a lot of buses, and they were, most of, some of them were already moving on, and we just yelled from where we saw a bus full of men, and then went on to look for my dad, but we missed him. And then another bus came along, and there was this Mr. Yamashita, a very good friend from Salinas, and he pointed back, no, forward, yeah, forward, "You're dad's gone already." So we missed seeing him. And the first letter my father wrote to us, he did say -- it was at a Japanese language class that this teacher says, "You know, you are all Japanese, and you should call your mother and father okaasan and otousan," so I said, "Well, Otousan, I'm gonna call you Otousan from today." And so nobody called their father otousan, you know, "Papa," "Mama" and so forth, and later on, "Daddy." But I decided to call him Otousan, and I was the only one yelling, "Otousan," and he said, "I heard your voice, Grace, I heard you." But he had already been on a bus ahead, moving on, so we missed him. And we didn't hear from them until they were able to write letters. There was a backlog, so I think it took longer than usual. Missing a letter was, or correspondence -- letters were the only communication, only news that you really want to read and want to know about family, want to know what the community is doing and so forth, and so they lived for letters.

And so my mother was busy operating the business during the day, and late at night she was writing long letters to him in detail. But she was always a person who spoke her mind. If she wanted something done, a favor, she'll ask. And I thought, "Gee, that's the way to do it, she has the right way." We were fortunate to have a mom like her. But it was hard on my grandmother because she had to get everything ready to be warehoused, actually. And you can't just leave it in the drawers, either, you had to box it or whatever. And she had that chore of... and throwing old utensils away, our cooking equipment, pots and pans, some of the old ones, and she cried one day and started throwing it into a big garbage can, saying, "I can't take it any longer." When my mother came home, she soothed her and says, "What do you think I'm doing? I'm taking care of the whole miso company and trying to close it in time for the evacuation, that's why I can't help you. I'll send some fellows here to do some packing for you," so that's what she used to do, was send a couple of the boys and help her.

And she would, until it was maybe a couple of weeks, when we found out we were going to be moved out on May 1, '42. May 1st, I remember May 1st. Other days I forgot, but anyway, I remembered two girlfriends coming to see me off, and that was one Chinese girl and one Caucasian girl. And it was a pretty sad day to think that maybe we'll never see San Francisco again, is the feeling I got. What would I do, what would we do if they shipped us... well, quote, "back to Japan"? But my father just kept telling us, "Don't worry, you will be treated fairly."

MA: Was that something that people thought at the time, was that you were gonna go back to Japan, possibly?

GO: Well, there was that fear, 'cause we had no word in what we could do or what we wanted to do. It was either, "You do it or else." That was the feeling we had. But in order to go anywhere, I mean, we wouldn't want to go without my father. In other words, wherever he was being sent, that's where we would go, was our intentions. We always said that we have to be back in one family.

MA: So at that point, you were a senior in high school?

GO: Uh-huh.

MA: And what was, I mean, being forced to leave school and all of that, how was that and what was your feeling at the time?

GO: When we were sent to Tanforan, we were so, up to that point we were so busy, there was so much to take care of, and then poor Grandma, but she was one of those who, a hard worker, and she would keep going. And she said, "You continue your education, your school, until you can't go anymore. And so that's what we did. I think, I might have quit school two weeks before. Our date of evacuation was -- and "evacuation" is the wrong word -- I wasn't hurt... and we're being sent to somewhere "safer." Anyway, that's what, I guess, kept us going, my dad's last words of, "Don't worry, don't worry, this is America." It was true, nobody was really mistreated, very few, except those who caused the problem.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

MA: So that day, May 1, 1942, can you describe that day? Where did you go to meet the buses?

GO: Did I have my album?

MA: You can, you can just tell me.

GO: There were people -- no, she was befriended by a Mr. Gray, who helped businesspeople do just what my mother's doing, trying to finish her business, in other words, closing the store, emptying it completely. And so she got it done. And the last minute, within an hour or something of the time we boarded the bus, she came running in and had just sold our car to the car dealer, and he drove her to Kimon Gakuen, and that's how much she had to take care of. And I remember one more thing is May, May 1st, so April 30th, that night, we slept on the floor so that we could just roll it up and then take our bedding with us, anyway. Everything but the mattress, you know.

MA: And where did you meet that, that day?

GO: Kimon Hall. And then a few weeks, a few blocks down Japantown was the YMCA, and you were told if you lived between this address and so forth, you congregate over there, and all the signing, pre-registering and everything was done in the same spot so you wouldn't get confused. Ours was always the Kimon Hall, so we knew where we were to congregate.

MA: And you went to meet a bus, or there was buses there?

GO: Yes, buses.

MA: At that point, did you know where you were headed?

GO: I think it had been announced. It had to have been, 'cause it was so close, anyway. But when we got there, the huge hall, I guess it used to be used for betting and to buy the tickets, so-called, and such. But my mother, again, when she found one of our big huge boxes with the family name and number on it, she stopped the truck driver and said, "I have my mother-in-law who can't walk as far as, to the barracks or wherever. It was actually a horse stable. So the truck driver said, "Okay," and just accommodated us.

MA: And this was at Tanforan, I'm sorry.

GO: We were surprised.

MA: At Tanforan?

GO: Yes, several days, maybe a couple weeks after we were there, my mother went every day to the administrative office to ask how, when she could see her mother in the San Mateo Hospital now. Every Japanese had to be moved out of San Francisco, especially I found out recently, they considered anybody with one-sixteenth Japanese blood is a Japanese. And so I couldn't even figure out who I might know that has only one-sixteenth Japanese blood. But somebody was mentioning that.

MA: So your mother, Ray's mother, you said was in the hospital in San Mateo?

GO: Yes. She was diagnosed to have terminal cancer, I think it was early in the year already, and so my mom had written a letter to -- I wish I could read fast enough, Japanese fast enough, but I can't -- and it's so interesting, all the letters back and forth, and how agonizing and lonely it was for my dad not to be able to receive a letter for a whole week, no letter at all for a whole week and things like that.

MA: And so your mother went to the administration to try to get her mother moved?

GO: Yes, to the, she didn't need any other care except to keep her pain down, and she was just waiting for her day. That was all, so just to keep her comfortable. And that meant to be close to the family, her sons' family, her daughter's family, and my mom and I. So we got, they found an empty stall close by, and she and her mother and her father slept there and stayed there.

MA: Okay, so she eventually was moved to be with family in Tanforan.

GO: Yeah, just one day, without notice or anything, ambulance drove up, and here she got off, and we were so surprised because we didn't know whether she could walk or what, but she did get off the... and I don't know whether she was just in her bathrobe or, hospital bathrobe or what, but that's where she died. But she died in peace because she was with family, and we were so thankful for that.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

MA: So going back a little bit to arriving in Tanforan, what were your first impressions of your first day at Tanforan? What was going through your mind when you arrived?

GO: Okay, as soon as you got off, got in line, and they gave you this, "unbutton your blouse," or whatever, and they listened to our hearts, just a general physical, brief physical. And what else did they do? It didn't take very long because that whole downstairs was, I mean, it just made lines to register. And we had a family number given to us, I think ours was 14801 or 14201 or something like that. But everything was, had that number on it and then our name on it, so we knew that our, some of our things were on this truck. And my mother went up to the driver and said, "My mother-in-law, she can't walk, my mother either." No, no, her mother was already in the hospital, but they transferred her from a San Francisco hospital to a San Mateo hospital. It was so "dangerous," they had to be all moved out of San Francisco, whether they're terminal cancer patient or who. It was an utter, I don't know, non-thinking... so anyway, she was moved here and there, but at the end, at least she was with family.

MA: So in Tanforan, what was your living conditions like?

GO: Okay, now, the horse stables are, it's back-to-back. In other words, there's no window in the back side of the apartment, and so it was just divided big enough for a horse, and there was, the front part where you walk, covered walk, they made a second room. So we had an inside room without windows, and a front room with a door and a window, and one light hanging from the ceiling, and no furniture whatsoever, except a bed. At least we had a regular steel or whatever it is, metal spring bed, and we were supposed to get a mattress for that, and just our luck, they ran out of mattresses. And so they told us, "Well, over there, there's some ticks, mattress ticks, so fill that up with straw," whatever they're providing us with. And that night, or for about a week, we had to sleep on that. And it added to the aroma, everything else, the hay, the hay smell and everything. And so everybody was so busy that until everybody was moved in, we had our suitcases in our room, and sat down on that empty steel bed, we sat there. And that was the first time that we heard everybody crying, up and down, because there was space, they didn't close up the rooms clear to the ceiling, or put a ceiling on. So you could hear somebody crying, and that's the way we all felt. Up until now, I mean, we could do what we needed to do, wanted to do, whatever, but now, it was all under command, you do this and you do that, and we didn't know how to think for ourselves. That was sad because all we can think of is my father not being there. And we didn't know, "Well, suppose he's sent first? Then what do we do?" Sure, we'd go after, follow, but I don't know how the, we didn't know how the -- this is wartime, I mean, Japan was desperate, too. So we were wondering if we would be accepted, hardly, maybe if they lived in the country, at least they have some food that they'd grow.

MA: Oh, this was thinking that, at that point, your father might be sent back to Japan?

GO: Yeah, that's right. And some -- not that they were sent, they opted to go, they signed up to go to, back to Japan.

MA: Right, some did.

GO: Yeah. For that exchange program, so that their prisoners, some of them, ambassadors, those people, had to be back home, too, so it was an exchange program.


MA: So I had a question about your, back at Tanforan, how did you occupy your days during that time? What did you do, sort of, on a daily basis?

GO: Okay, everybody had a job, because most jobs were evacuees taking over, you see, whether it be mess hall or office or almost a nothing job. I mean, they had jobs, and so that was taken care of. It was the little kids, college students and college graduates noticed they're just running around doing nothing. And so they begged the administrative officers to please start the school. And so they hurriedly did that, and of course, at that point, it was all Niseis teaching.

MA: Did you attend school in Tanforan?

GO: I was, yes, I was still a senior, and I got... no, the Tanforan classes were, didn't count, I think. We had to do the whole one year of high school, senior high, my senior year at Topaz. But there, too, most teachers were, I have pictures of teachers, and you could tell that they were young teachers. But they did wonderfully.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

MA: Okay, so we were talking about your experiences at Tanforan. And I wanted to talk about Topaz now. And can you talk about the day that you left for, for Topaz and what that was like?

GO: We were loaded onto any car, you know, train cars as they could find, and naturally, the old ones were the only ones available for us. And some, somebody mentioned, "Yes, we had candle lights or gas lights," or something like that, you know. At least ours was a regular electric light that they had on the... but still, it was an old, old thing. I did write on my first letter, I said what made me feel sad was that this might be the last time I'll even see the skyline of San Francisco, never knowing where would we, where would we go next, would we end in Japan? Never knew. So the unknown was the worst, I think. We couldn't do anything about it, so we just went on.

MA: So you arrived in Topaz, and that was around, that was still in 1942.

GO: Yes, uh-huh. And I can't remember whether it was quite November, no, it wasn't that cold, I don't think. But Utah could have a variety of, you know, I mean, hots and colds, and mellow, I mean, very mild winter and severe winter, you couldn't tell what to expect.

MA: So when you arrived in Topaz, what, what were you thinking at that point, when you got off the train and were there?

GO: Well, wherever you looked, it was just sandy, it was almost like... it wasn't sand, it was like dust, fine dust that just blew all over. And it would come into, through each cracks, or window, well, just not fitting right, so that was hard. I think my grandma was cleaning the... well, everybody was cleaning, sweeping, whatever, all the time because all this dust would come in. That was the main subject of the whole camp was how dusty it was.

MA: And what were your living conditions like in Topaz?

GO: There were twelve barracks divided into six living quarters. For, small one at the end for two people or two or three people, that's what my grandma and my mom and I had. And then the second one would be the largest, and they would accommodate up to six people. And so that was the next one, and then the one in the center were two square, big enough for four people, and so at least we were separated by families. I didn't realize it, or did you know that some camps had to share rooms with several families, you know. If you only had two and there were so many couples, I thought that was terrible. It was the first time I had heard about that. But a Japanese lady had mentioned it to me and I said, "Well, you're the first one who ever mentioned that," because I said, "We didn't have to live with strangers," and says, "Total strangers," they would just say, "It needs two more bed in here," and it's a great big room, and you're just taking one corner or something. I couldn't believe that that happened. At least we had separate rooms for a family.

MA: So your, your barrack and your living situation, was it, how many, was it just one big room?

GO: Everybody's barracks, I mean, room was one big room. If you had twelve kids, well, you'd get... see, our outside door, because of the severe winter we could have, it's always, there's always an outside door and a small foyer, you know, and then it divided into one, it would be C and D or A and B. And that was so that we would have a double door, and that helped. And I always wondered, "Why do they have this scraper?" There was a piece of metal standing up and holding its, and right by the door, and it turned out to be that you're supposed to scrape your mud off your feet before you entered, and we sure used it. The slightest damp little bit of rain or something, boy, that, it would stick to our shoes and raise havoc.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

MA: So you were a, you were mentioning that you were a high school senior at that point. And when did you start school again? You went to Topaz high school?

GO: Uh-huh, so I can't remember when it started, but it didn't take too, too long. But there was only one high school, and I don't know whether that high school took a whole block or not, but at least we had a room to ourselves. Tanforan it was different. We sat in the bleachers... "This is your high tenth grade or low eleventh grade, here's your senior class." That's how that... but at least the teachers endured it, I mean, they kept the school going until they were ready to ship us out to Topaz.

MA: So in Topaz, did each class have its own room or barracks?

GO: That was easily altered because, you know, you take the one wall and then it'll be a double room. Or else, like I said, I think the small end barracks, I mean, rooms in Topaz was maybe a little wider than from that point to that point, but, well, I guess it was a little longer, though. Maybe a little bit longer. Because we could set the bed facing this way, see.

MA: So what types of classes did they offer in Topaz?

GO: Well, as far as I know -- and I didn't take these unusual classes, it was just all basic or any commercial classes they offered. But there was always somebody who was willing to teach it, and I don't know... well, oh, in fact, I have a yearbook that you could see, and it would show that there were quite a few teachers and quite a few Nisei teachers also, to take over certain subjects.

MA: And then you must have, did you have a graduation ceremony, as you were a senior?

GO: Oh yes. Well, I took home ec. -- I mean, I didn't have too many credits, all I needed was English and core, the core classes to complete my senior year, and so I didn't have to take a lot of classes. But just for, to spend the time, I took cooking and home ec. The poor teacher, she had to stoke up the stove with coal and wood just like we did for our heating. So she was a young teacher, and she was just about in tears because she's never had to stoke a fire and stove before, and she had to do that before she could teach cooking. But the teachers were really nice, I mean, they really were. And in fact, we mentioned once, "Gee, I haven't had a waffle for a long time. I wish you had brought a waffle iron." And a couple of the Caucasian teachers would say, "I have some, I brought mine," and somebody else said they did. And so they organized a waffle party at their apartment, and we enjoyed that. 'Cause later on, I became a secretary. As soon as I graduated, I became secretary to the elementary school principal, Wanda Robertson, and she was a wonderful teacher to me, actually.

MA: She was the elementary school principal?

GO: Yes, uh-huh.

MA: And you were her secretary?

GO: Uh-huh. There was only a, just one staff. You know, I mean, me and the principal, period. And so when she was not around, I was acting like a principal, you know, telling the boy who didn't mind the teacher, "Well, you better do this or else." [Laughs]

MA: I'm curious about Ms. Robertson and where she came from and why she was teaching in Topaz, why she chose to come to Topaz?

GO: We were thinking later on, after we knew her and all, that she was working for her doctorate. So, 'cause we didn't call her Dr. Robertson when she came, but I think in her books and all, I think she mentioned that she was a PhD now, or something. But she was nice, too, she was a little stricter than the other teachers, but very nice.

MA: What was your stepmother doing in terms of work? Was she working in Topaz?

GO: Uh-huh, she was a, there was a block manager that took care of the different physical needs or any complaints or whatever, and she was his secretary. So every block had an assistant, so she was assistant block manager.

MA: And your grandmother at that point, how was, how was she doing? Was she working or just...

GO: Oh, she had plenty of work, because it was just washboard laundry room, and she had, she did all the wash, there was space to hang up the clothes inside and had lines because of winter weather. But in our, most of the people had lines in their barracks, too, so they could hang up things to dry.

MA: So she was busy with housework and taking care of everything?

GO: Yeah. There was always housework and dusting all the time, constant.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

MA: So I wanted to talk about your father. At this point he was in Fort Lincoln, right? North Dakota?

GO: Uh-huh. And then he was moved soon after to Livingston.

MA: Louisiana?

GO: Louisiana, uh-huh. There was a Japanese photographer, professional photographer in Louisiana, it was where Camp Livingston was, and so they had a business of taking soldiers' pictures to send home and all that. And I know my husband's kid brother, when he graduated high school, asked for a job, and he was hired by this lady, the mother was operating a floral shop. They were fortunate enough to go out and work for her. When my mother -- and soon after they settled in Tanforan... or was it Topaz? I don't think, no, I don't think she went to visit my dad until we moved to Topaz, I think. And they did give her a pass to see him.

MA: In Louisiana?

GO: Yes, once in, once or twice in Louisiana, the camp there, and that's when she stayed with Mrs. Kohara. And let's see... another time, my father and a group of other men who had families in Topaz came to visit us, you know, and so they allowed that. They had to pay their own way, plus pay, divide the cost of the guard. It was just one guard, that's all. I don't think they had more than one guard.

MA: Oh, so they had to pay their, their fee to get to where they were going. What kind of, was there some sort of security clearance that she had to get to be able to leave? Do you know how that worked?

GO: They do check, what they call a "loyalty check" and all that, they had to pass that before... and it turned out to be that there was a whole camp registration on this "loyalty," so that they would, if it was, well, it was, the war was turning now and they could see that it might end sooner than expected, so they decided to register everybody in camp so they'd be ready. And sometimes, it caused friction.

MA: Right, you were talking about the so-called "loyalty questionnaire," right.

GO: Uh-huh. Well, like I said, it was very few problems, but that was one time.

MA: So your father then was, you know, being transferred from camp to camp. Was he eventually released and able to join you?

GO: Okay, "release" meant he was paroled to Topaz just to join us.

MA: Okay, so he was paroled to Topaz.

GO: Uh-huh. So I assume that most of the internees were sent back, joined their family.

MA: And were you, did he just kind of show up one day, or were you, did you know that he was going through this paroling process and he would come back to Topaz?

GO: Well, they don't give you a lot of time, you know. Maybe his letter and he came at the same time, I can't remember. But it wasn't a preparation for his arrival and all that, we didn't know for sure.

MA: How did it feel to see him again after so long?

GO: Oh, it was wonderful. And the thing is, he says, "I have been doing nothing." I think some of the men got together and they were operating a breakfast business, in other words, fried eggs, and they didn't get that, we never did either. So they would have coffee and toast and whatever, but he talked about serving and washing dishes and doing whatever, I'm one of the boys now, and so they didn't ever do hard work, they're not allowed to. See, government is not allowed to work them. So they just assumed that the people would enjoy having coffee, I mean, regular fried eggs and bacon breakfast, so I know he was doing that for a while, helping out. And so, and then, and then requests came in for golf clubs so they could practice. [Laughs] Balls and golf clubs. So we were glad that he was enjoying it, except when the letters didn't get there in time, and he sounded so desperate, just imagine, wow.

MA: So when he came back, or when he arrived in Topaz, did you notice, was he different at all? Had he changed in that time when he was away?

GO: No. Well, since he was with just men, you know, it might have changed him, but I guess he was working with his friends, anyway, so that didn't bother him that much. He came and I know he was swinging on the bar. You know, in Japan -- well, I guess here, too, they not only used double bars, but the single, you know, the one you could twirl all the way around, I think he was one of them that, I guess the whole school does it. You don't see too much of that in the American school, I guess because of accidents and things like that, they worry about. But in Japan, I think that was included. And so the boy who lived next door to us liked my dad, and there was a camp area, which was one-mile square, and then there was a huge area that was fenced in, and you could walk out there. It's a regular, you know, what they call desert around here, has sagebrush, it isn't just a sand dunes, but people walked out in that area and found maybe a small tree or something, or just starting up, and they would bring that home and make it into a vase or something. Men would do that, well, or women helped them, too. But they found something artistic to do, and it was wonderful.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

MA: Did your father work in camp, in Topaz?

GO: No, no, he didn't. I know he was doing the bar -- I don't know what they call it, the single bar, anyway, and tried to build his body up a little bit so that he could work inside the factory. Says, "Now, I can't afford to just sit in the office, I have to be one of the boys, too, eliminate one job that I have to pay out." So that's what he did for, it took about a year to plan everything. They didn't go out just to find a place, I think they just took a chance and there were so many wanting to just come out of the camps and be out of the camps, that Utah was... well, especially Salt Lake area, Salt Lake and Ogden area, they were saying, "No more, no more, please," you know. They had to first go somewhere else, and then they found a Japanese family who operates a hotel in Cameron, Wyoming, and they took them in. And they helped whatever they could, you know, kitchen or restaurant or whatever, to pay their way.

MA: This is your father and your mother? Did they leave camp early to do this?

GO: Yes.

MA: So were you still with your grandmother in Topaz?

GO: No, we were... yeah, we were left behind. And so was, let's see, the brother's family and the brother-in-law's family, they were still, just the menfolks went out. When my, my parents are ready for them, at least they knew where the factory was going to be and so forth.

MA: I see. So your parents went out sort of a little bit earlier to try to establish something.

GO: Uh-huh. And then they couldn't come to Salt Lake immediately, directly, so there again, they had to spend a little time in Wyoming. And so this family that owned this hotel gave them at least a room, they worked for their room.

MA: How long were they in Wyoming?

GO: Not very long, not very long. I think maybe a minimum length of time, maybe there is a, there was a rule that said you had to stay in one, wherever you go out, to stay there at least a month or something like that. And it wasn't too long, anyway, 'cause they needed to find a place in Salt Lake, so they were fortunate that they did. And it was just the right size, it wasn't too big for them. And in the miso business, you have to have a hot room, a real moist, hot room where they activate the rice in order to make the rice to make the sake, actually. And then that's what they mix it with, soybeans and salt and whatever else that goes in there to make the miso.

MA: So going back a little bit to your, your parents initially couldn't come into Salt Lake City, is that right? Because the governor or whoever said they didn't want any more Japanese Americans coming into the state.

GO: That's right.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

MA: So you were, then, in Topaz with your grandmother for a while. I had a, I was curious if you, I know there was a couple incidences in Topaz with guards and, you know, internees who were shot at from the guards. Do you remember those times and what happened with that?

GO: Just that once, and this older man, I think he was in his sixties, was walking his dog and got too close to the fence, and the guard probably yelled something at him, but he didn't hear. So he put his hands up and didn't say anything, but he kept walking. And so I guess the soldier felt like he was threatened. He was up in the tower, as far as I remember.

MA: What were some of the reactions in the camp to that incident?

GO: Well, it was a mixed feeling. We didn't have the... in San Francisco, we didn't have as many Kibeis and rabble-rousers as down south, southern California, and so it just quieted down. And I guess the newspaper, the newspaper, Weekly, is it, must have reported it in detail so that people would know exactly what happened.

MA: While you were in Topaz, were you able to go out into the town ever?

GO: Yes.

MA: Into Delta?

GO: Yes. Delta is not a big town, but at least it had a fairly well-stored or... for a small town, and then of course they accommodate us by getting things that we might want more of. Of course, my mother used to come out to Salt Lake a lot.

MA: How were you treated by the townspeople in Delta when you would visit, when you would go out to visit in Delta?

GO: I remember the first time we went, we couldn't go to a restaurant, they wouldn't allow us, they didn't want Japanese customers. Some of them had... I don't remember. For the first fall -- no, not the first fall, but the second fall of our stay in Utah, an enterprising family decided to take... it's not a bus ride, we had to ride on the dirty old cattle car, you know, cattle truck, and so we took our GI blanket and sat on the floor, and they would take us to Oak City Canyon, I guess in that area, it was one of the nicest. And since we had the mountains, we also had the beautiful red leaves and we spent a whole day there. They provided us with a chicken, fried chicken lunch, fried chicken and potato and jello and so forth, and it was only for a dollar per person. Of course, when you're earning only eight dollars or twelve dollars a month with family, you can't afford that, and so many didn't go. But I remember we went on two trips, and it was just wonderful, just felt like we came to heaven from hell. But it was really beautiful. And so I thought, "Well, they must trust us now." 'Cause, you know, there might have been walkaways or whatever.

MA: So are there any other memories or thoughts you'd like to share about your time in Topaz?

GO: Only that my husband's family wasn't there. They went with a Sacramento bunch to somewhere else. Oh, they ended up in Arkansas, I remember. But the cousin, the girl, was being sent to a mental hospital in Provo, the state mental hospital in Provo, and the brothers came over one day and said, "She's gonna be moved, I wonder if Grace can ride with her." So anyway, she was very quiet anyway, but I did ride to take her to the hospital there. And eventually she was moved to -- when the family was moved to California -- they sent her to another facility, I think it was in Stockton or somewhere, and she eventually died there.

MA: What had had happened to her in camp?

GO: Well, she was very quiet, never made real good friends. She was a nice person, but she just couldn't handle all that closeness to everything and everybody. You know, when we first went to Topaz, I went into the restroom, and there was no partition between seats in the women's side. I think there was an elbow-high, and when we sat, we could still talk to our neighbors, and there was no door or curtain or anything in front. But boy, a lot of people must have complained, because sure enough, they sent carpenters to at least build it up a bit, and then put curtain on the...

MA: Yeah, a real lack of privacy.

GO: That's right.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

MA: So at this point, your parents were in Wyoming for a while and then they moved, moved to Salt Lake City. And did you go join them at that point, when they arrived in Salt Lake City? Towards the end of camp and end of the war?

GO: No, no, I didn't. I didn't go out until we were, they were ready to have us move out of Topaz. And so, yes, I don't remember going out there, because they were busy trying to make their hot rooms and their facilities to become a, to have a miso business, 'cause this was a manufacturing business, it wasn't just buying and storing, you know.

MA: I see. So they were preparing for their, for the miso business all that time.

GO: Uh-huh.

MA: Can you talk about when, about leaving Topaz and arriving in Salt Lake City and what that was like?

GO: Well, we moved into a house, old, old house, but it was a fairly good-looking house, I was glad, and it was on the west side of town and didn't have to worry about our neighbors, keeping up with the neighbors. And it was close enough to the factory that one car would do, you know. [Laughs] If my mom wanted to have the car one day, well, she'll just take my dad to the office and so forth. The other workers found somebody to drive them, I guess.

MA: What was the west side like? Can you describe that, that neighborhood in Salt Lake City?

GO: You know, it didn't look that bad, nor was it deteriorated in that, and it still had the wide streets. [Laughs] In front of our house, anyway, it was really wide. Let's see, I already graduated Topaz, I had a Topaz diploma, so I didn't have to go to school here.

MA: And what type of, of work did you, did you do?

GO: I always helped my dad with his bookkeeping. And I noticed, "Gee, the Japanese way is just like the American way," you know. It didn't change anything at all. Maybe in Japan they started teaching the universal so-called "American way."

<End Segment 16> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

MA: Can you talk a little bit about the, the miso business that your parents reestablished in Salt Lake City? Was the name still Fujimoto Company?

GO: Uh-huh.

MA: And how did they, was their stuff still in San Francisco? Did they have to go back there?

GO: Yeah, they had to have everything shipped here. See, the final grinding of the cooked soybeans and the activated rice as such... so that was done with, like a hamburger machine, a huge... and stored in huge 400-pound barrels and kept for several months before they sold it. It had to be aged anyway. Sometimes if you keep it too long, it goes darker and darker, but then taste might changed a little bit, but it's still miso flavored. Some people like to use that to pickle vegetables and make tsukemono.

MA: Who were the customers for the, for your company? Was it the Japanese Americans in Salt Lake City, mainly?

GO: All over, 'cause New York, east didn't have any, Chicago didn't have any factories, so it was all over.

MA: Oh, that's interesting, so they were able to expand a little bit more.

GO: Uh-huh. And they probably knew about our miso company, too.

MA: Who were the, were the workers in the, in your company? You mentioned earlier that a lot of Nisei men who came out of camp initially worked there.

GO: Uh-huh, and younger Isseis. My mother's sister's husband always worked in Salt Lake, anyway, he worked for the miso company until they moved to San Francisco one more time to take care of the property there, the Nakamoto family had two sets of, there were two buildings where they used each floor not for one family, but like a hotel, 'cause that's what they needed, is more of the single room type places. And it was, you know, part of Japantown.

MA: In general, how did you feel you were accepted by the Salt Lake City Japanese American community coming from Topaz?

GO: Well, there weren't any, a huge number of Japanese living in this area, so I didn't feel any different. Of course, it was a new area for us, so there might have been a little feeling of, "Oh dear, these people are, don't know anything," or something like that, but it was fine.

MA: Were there many families who came from Topaz like yours, Japanese American families that settled in Salt Lake City?

GO: No, not many. That's why I'm sitting here today. [Laughs]

MA: So most, it seems, went back to the West Coast.

GO: Yes, uh-huh. See, my dad decided that it would be, the loss would be, for staying here instead of moving to California, would be the prepaid freight they would offer, he would offer. And, but I guess it didn't make that much difference, there was a miso company in L.A. already, and I'm sure there was one in Seattle. But San Francisco only had one, my dad's.

MA: How was the business in Salt Lake City compared to maybe in San Francisco before the war? 'Cause I feel like it was smart for your dad to establish in Salt Lake City because he could have, he could sell, then, to people on the East Coast or maybe the Midwest. Did you notice a difference in terms of the business volume?

GO: Well, I really don't know. I think my dad prepaid all freights so that it would be easier to order from his company and any other. And being that far, it wouldn't make any difference whether you're ordering from Seattle or L.A. or San Francisco, anyway.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

MA: What were your impressions of Salt Lake City, especially the Japanese American community? I mean, you were coming from San Francisco. What were some differences that you noticed?

GO: Oh, let's see. Well, I think at my age I didn't think of that much difference, being so different. Nisei were still Nisei, the Isseis still stuck to their ways. But it wasn't that huge a difference.

MA: Were you able to continue your koto and shamisen?

GO: Not that much, because there was no teacher here. And so it would be pieces that I liked, which I remembered, and which had a lot of songs in it, instead of just the plain, like the Rokudan, the six-step one, it sounds the same to me. But, well, you sure forget it, unless it's pieces that you participated in entertaining others, you know, on the stage, then you'd practice a lot just to play the one piece. And so those are the pieces you remember, and very few of the others. I understand my teacher did die a few years ago at the age of hundred and four.

MA: Wow.

GO: Yeah, I think the musicians live long. [Laughs] You know what I do when I can't sleep? I practice the piece just by playing it, by saying it, singing it.

MA: And that helps you relax?

GO: Like the playing, old koto, ten ton shan, you know, I just play the whole piece and then I'm ready to go to bed, sleep, and I can, usually.

MA: Going back a little bit to Salt Lake City, how were you, how were you treated by the Caucasian community in Salt Lake City, especially when you first arrived?

GO: Of course, I didn't know anybody, we didn't know anybody, so nothing ever happened, or we hardly got acquainted with... and with the wide streets, you don't cross those streets every day to say hello to your friends, you see, it isn't like that. So I think especially the west side was that way when we were living on the west side. But working for my dad was really an advantage because my mom will say, "There's a big sale, let's go." And so it's my mom telling me to go. [Laughs] So I'd go there, I'd go shopping rather than sit in the office. Besides, it's mostly correspondence, anyway.

MA: Your job was a lot of correspondence?

GO: Well, I wasn't writing letters, my dad was writing letters because they're Japanese-speaking grocerymen, you know. And so it was easy for me.

MA: Was your mother involved at that point in company? Did she help out your dad with the company?

GO: No, no, she wasn't helping at all. She was home with plenty to do. But she was quite a seamstress, that's what she trained to be, and she worked for a Caucasian lady who had quite a business in San Francisco, and she got friendly with her sister, too, her sister was just the opposite from the, her boss, because she was a schoolteacher. And her boss was always getting acquainted with people who were famous, or sewing for an actress or something like that. Her sister was strictly a schoolteacher, but then when evacuation time came, she took her dog, my mother's dog, and in detail, she would write how much she struggles to go up the steps now, she's getting old, and little Queenie is doing fine, but she's slowing down, all about her getting sick and then dying. She really took good care of her.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

MA: How did your mother enjoy Salt Lake City, or how was her transition to living in a, in a new place that you noticed?

GO: Well, I think she's a big city woman, you know, she took over the business, but at least she could continue the way it was, there was nothing to change, and just keep using the same recipe and so forth. Packaging was changed and that was good 'cause it cost less to put it in a paper box than to put it in a... well... and of course, people didn't use that much miso because of the younger generation coming up.

MA: So your mother took over, when was that? When did she take over the business?

GO: Let's see. My father died in a fishing accident, actually... by golly, I forgot when, when he died. I know it was April... I don't think she was married to him for ten years.

MA: So maybe in the '50s?

GO: Yes, probably. Boy, I used to at least remember days of birth and death, but not anymore. [Laughs]

MA: So your mother took over the business after your father passed away.

GO: Yes. There again, there wasn't any change. The ingredients are same, and they used to buy it by the railroad car loads full, see, when soybeans was mature enough, she would, they would buy it in carloads, and they would do the same thing with the rice. 'Cause said something about, yes, the kind of miso we use is three times as much rice as there are soybeans in there. And, see, that's the activated rice, that has the yeast or whatever, that it creates, to make the miso ripen.

MA: Your mother sounds like a pretty amazing woman, able to take over the business and run it successfully.

GO: Yes, she was. I remember young Hirano -- what's his first name? Our young reverend, he mentioned what a modern lady she was, that he had never seen another Nisei, Japanese lady, wear a, not a fur coat, but fur trim coat as much as she did or something like that, you know. And the type of clothes that she wore, she could buy a cheap oversized suit because of the material she liked, and redo it to fit her, things like that.

MA: So she always looked very sophisticated.

GO: That's right. Always just immaculate. Of course, San Francisco people were always that way, hat and, hat and gloves, that's what you need in your wardrobe.

MA: Were the styles different in Salt Lake City, fashion-wise?

GO: I don't know. The department stores had different departments that... but she sewed a lot, too. She used to sew me a coat twice a year until one day she says, "Well, Grace, you're big enough now that you can make your own." "Uh-oh," I thought. [Laughs] But professional anything, doing anything, they're so fast, they don't think for a long time, thinking, "This should be this way." They go, boom, "It's done." But she used to make coats for my grandma and her mother. Her mother was always bent over like this, and she was getting tinier and tinier. But she always had a coat that fits her well.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

MA: Okay, so I wanted to ask you about your husband and how you met him.

GO: My, my husband's mother, and my mom Rae's mother are cousins, first cousins. And so we used to take a short jaunt up to Sacramento, they lived in Woodland, a town next to Sacramento, and visit with them. Let's see. First, I think it started out with his father working at the local hospital, which is quite well-known to other doctors all over. They used to have, apparently, very good doctors there, the whole hospital was known to be a good one. And so when the two brothers graduated high school, they gave them a job also. And I think if they had the funds... well, there again, I better not say, 'cause it'll be written. [Laughs]

MA: And what's your husband's name?

GO: Ben Chimato, C-H-I-M-A-T-O. He says, "Not Tomato, Chimato." [Laughs]

MA: So you knew him then, it sounds like, from when you were, when you were young.

GO: Yes, uh-huh. So, you know, the ten-year-old, I used to look up to him and think, "Wow." [Laughs]

MA: And when did you reconnect with him? Was that in Salt Lake City?

GO: Yes, uh-huh, the family didn't have anybody to, you know, closer than my mother's family, and like I said, Mother's, were cousins, so...

MA: And tell me about your, your kids, their names and...

GO: Oh, Allen Ken Oshita is a doctor. Let's see, diagnostic radiologist (...), so that's his title, anyway. And he works out of San Francisco Pacific Medical Center, I think. So he's doing fine. He married a girl from Hawaii, and they have two adopted children. Let's see, the daughter, Jennifer is maybe twenty-two and lives in L.A., she's trying to get a teaching certificate, she was telling me the other night when she called me. She's sweet, I like her. (And Jonathan is his son. I also have a daughter, Lynne Fumiye Doi, who lives here in Salt Lake City. She and her husband have two daughters, Shelley and Jamie).


MA: And so you had one son?

GO: Yes, uh-huh. And he's... he's, what did I say? My son's a doctor in the San Francisco hospital, and he's been there ever since he finished everything, you know how they have to do residency and the internship and this and that and the other. Well, they kept him at Stanford to do everything, he didn't have to move around. So he was very fortunate. So he lives in San Mateo, he says only forty-five minutes from door to door, job and the other hospital and his home. So it is a hospital in San Francisco. I asked him if he was busy and he said, "Yes," and being a radiologist, when he told me that he had eye problem, I thought, "My goodness, he'll lose his career," I mean, job. And he came through that, and he's taking it a little slower than before. But it's the old building that was torn down to make this new one. I was born at this Lane Hospital, but it isn't Lane anymore.

MA: That's kind of neat that your son is working in that same area.

GO: Yeah, he's working there yet. So he hasn't had to move to change jobs, or even to, as much as students have to go to different... to establish their name or something, but he didn't have to do that.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

MA: So what happened to the, your miso business? Your mother took it over when your father passed away, and how long did, was it in business for?

GO: She was doing fine, but she was getting tired, really tired. And just at that moment, I mean, it's her good luck, I guess, a Japanese company -- well, there were several Japanese miso companies in L.A. area now, or here and there, I guess. I don't know whether there's one in Seattle or not, but this representative came and said they're from this -- I can't remember the name -- miso company that they had established in Los Angeles. And, "Is there any possibility that you might want to sell your brand, recipe to us?" And my mother was just, all ready to just trash everything, forget it all, see, because she was getting up there and she just wanted to take it easy anymore. And so it was just an opportune time that the Japanese company came and bought the business. So it just continues with the brand that -- it's a green container, labeling, and on one side there's a Japanese woman. She's supposedly mixing the... not mixing, it's actually mashing the cooked soybeans and rice together. And you know how Japanese have that brown bowl that has, it's very rough on the inside, and when they want to... they don't call it mashing, what do they call it? They take that stick and smooth it down.

MA: Right, right.

GO: Well, that's what the old fashioned homemade miso is, bowl is used for, but anymore... well, we do put it through what they call a hamburger machine, 'cause they like, especially the rice part, to be all mashed up, you know, rather than be hard-cored.

MA: So the logo, you were saying, on the packaging, had this picture of a woman doing that?

GO: Yeah, on the back, uh-huh.

MA: On the back.

GO: Yeah, it always had it on the back, and then the front has that kanemasa. "Kane" is that half a square on the outside, and "masa" is... well, "masa," one way of reading it is "correct," it's "right" or "correct." So in other words, this business is a square, I mean, I think that's... but anyway, it comes from, or he had, Grandfather got it from a relative. Maybe it was, maybe it was one of his, or another brother, I think it was all brothers. I don't even know how many brothers they had in the Fujimoto family. [Laughs]

MA: That's great, though, that they were able to keep the, you know, that same look...

GO: Yes.

MA: ...when they took over, when the Japanese company took over.

GO: Uh-huh. They do use the label and the original red, orangey-red and green label colors. They don't call it Fujimoto anymore, I think they use that logo, kanemasa yet, but they don't even call it kanemasa, it's just miso.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

MA: So I wanted to ask you about, in the 1980s, the government gave redress for, to the Japanese American community for the incarceration during World War II. And what are your thoughts about receiving redress and the formal apology and the check and all of that?

GO: It is truly American way, isn't it? I think if you were living anywhere else, it wouldn't have happened. I mean, I really think that sincerely, and I think, well, I'm proud to be an American for them to be able to bow their heads and apologize. No matter who it is, if they did wrong.

MA: So you're also very active in talking with young people especially about your experiences in Topaz and about the internment experience. Can you talk a little bit about how you started doing that and talking to schools?

GO: When my son was taking AP English, his young teacher knew about it, and assigned my son to write on it and study it and write on it, and also have me come and speak to the class. That was the very first time that I spoke, when he was a senior in high school. I'm proud to say that my son is a merit, merit scholar.

MA: That's wonderful.

GO: Well, he didn't, he didn't have to study or do anything. Whatever we didn't know, we'd say, "Ask Allen." [Laughs]

<End Segment 22> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

MA: So, what motivates you? I mean, you've been doing this, talking with schools, for forty years plus now. What motivates you to do that?

GO: Well, I didn't get any pay, you know, nobody paid me to do it really, ever. Once in a while there'll be a lunch connected with it, but heck, I mean... [laughs]. But I figured, "They need to know." Bad or good, it's the American way, and that people need to know that it won't happen again. But I don't think they knew the Japanese people to begin with.

MA: What are some responses that kids usually have to your presentation? Do you find that they already know about the internment?

GO: Of course, the young people don't know anything. And the more remote the area is, nobody knows anything, 'cause it didn't come out in the paper that much and you never read it in a book, either, unless you buy the specific story of evacuation. And then I feel funny after learning what "evacuate" means, to people who are suffering and then they're transferred to a safe place. Well, I thought, "Whoever started calling us evacuees and so forth?" I guess make it sound better.

MA: Yeah, the language is...

GO: But usually, the reaction is, "I didn't know about it." That's what, mostly hear, most often.

MA: So then it's great that you're able to do this, because how else would people know? Some people would never know if it weren't for your presentations.

GO: Well, that's true. And then I know like... what's his name? Who have you interviewed already?

MA: Ted?

GO: Ted?

MA: Nagata.

GO: Nagata. But he was a little kid. It's what he heard or what he's read. And in my case, it's nothing but what I've experienced. It's personal experience and that's all. So maybe nobody else will think about talking about it because they don't know my experience either, even if they went through it. So it's true that the more the better, because they had other reasons to feel bad about it, with the hardship on them.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

MA: So, are there any other thoughts that you'd like to share about anything, or any memories that you would like to share or anything at all?

GO: Let's see... I know the afterthought of moving out here, and I went to visit a friend, or anyway, my relatives were still there. And so I could stay in their apartment, and the kids are growing up and having fun. But I felt so proud that I could come in as a U.S. citizen, you know, anymore, not just a camp resident. Because I'm sure it took some hardship on everybody to make these moves. Every time they move, they had a problem. And you don't know whether it would have been person-to-person neighbor, or you don't know whether it'd be some remote people that you don't care about, you don't care whether they do it or not. But very little bad happened. I live across the street from my very best friend, Caucasian best friend, is a Mormon, and we just don't talk about, "What's your religion?" and Mormons like to. "What's your religion?" They would, that would be the first thing they would ask. In fact, when we moved there, the Mormon church sends out missionaries all over the world. And so those who have been in Japan would like to speak to me in Japanese. [Laughs] I thought, "Well, I'm not that good." I do speak Japanese -- I mean, I'm pretty fluent because my grandmother used to take me to a Japanese movie every week. The Japanese school used to contract movie producers to show it in their auditorium, and that was only a few steps away, so that was my life. It's just a real different Nisei life. It was almost like being a three-quarter Japanese because of my cultural difference and Japanese things I learned, including tea ceremony and setting flowers. There I learned how to not get my feet all asleep. You know what to do? Just change your thumb, I mean, big toe, pile it one on top of the other, and then just change it once in a while, and it makes a world of difference if ever you have to sit on your feet. [Laughs] And to think that she was a wonderful English-speaking Nisei, I can't believe it. I don't even know whether... well, she had to have trained in Japan, 'cause she knows so much.

MA: Is this your mother?

GO: No, this tea ceremony teacher that I had. My dentist's wife. She was the perpetual Raphael Weill Elementary School PTA president, 'cause there was nobody who was qualified to be one. Not only among the Japanese, but people who lived around there. There were some blacks, some probably Filipinos, but practically old-time whites. So unless you were in the same class and such, you didn't become friends. But I was surprised when this Chinese girl and this Caucasian girl came to the Kimon Hall to bid me goodbye. That was really touching.

MA: So are there any messages that you want to give to, maybe, future generations or people who will watch this interview?

GO: One thing maybe young people may not like to hear it over and over, you know, Japanese are otonashii. How do you say... otonashii, very mellow. My English is bad. [Laughs] Sometimes I think, "I wish I could speak both in Japanese and English and go back and forth all the time." [Laughs] 'Cause I forget one word and I know it in English, or another one in Japanese. Perhaps speaking your mind is good at times, but there is a place, there is a time for it. And if you are innocent of something that they're accusing you for, they will soon learn, the government or whoever, will soon learn that they are wrong and that we were right. They need not have to, they didn't have to put us in camps. But of course, maybe we were safe that way. In the long run, there were very few bad experiences that came out of it. So maybe our patience is what won the battle. And people know more about us, too. Of course, there are so many yet who don't know what it was all about.

MA: Great. Well, thank you so much for this interview. It's wonderful. I learned a lot, so thank you very much.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.