Densho Digital Archive
Topaz Museum Collection
Title: Norman I. Hirose Interview
Narrator: Norman I. Hirose
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Emeryville, California
Date: July 31, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-hnorman-01-0032

<Begin Segment 32>

TI: So what did the men do during their free time?

NH: They just... Saturdays I played go and shogi with some of the men, so they played that. And there was a guy who was in the next bed or the next-next bed, he was a cook. And I don't know where he got his stuff, but somehow, he got all this stuff together and he would cook in his little, little area, and we all sort of made space for him, and he would make noodles, udon, which was pretty good. It's amazing, I don't know where -- I don't know where people get their stuff, but they sure can scrounge around and find stuff.

TI: So some people cooked, some people played go, what other activities did you observe?

NH: Well, that's about all -- well, of course, that's all I would -- oh, and then there was hanafuda.

TI: So card games.

NH: Yeah, the card game. And I would imagine, I don't know, but I think some money changed hands. I don't know what they, I don't know how they earned any money, though. I really don't. You know, that's funny, I know so little about what other people were doing.

TI: And, but you spent a lot of time at the clinic, so you got to know Dr. Tanaka pretty well? You spent a lot of time with him?

NH: Oh, yeah, Dr. Tanaka. And there was another doctor, Shimabukuro, I think, was his name. He was from Texas. What's way down south of Texas?

TI: Boy, I don't know Texas that well. I don't know. Houston was...

NH: Santa something?

TI: San Antonio?

NH: San Antonio, yeah. I think he was from down that way somewhere.

TI: And so did you ever have interesting discussions with the doctors about how they saw things and why they were picked up and what their...

NH: You know, I asked the doctor, "How come you're here?" He says, "They just came and got me." [Laughs] So I said, "Oh, okay," and I thought, "Well, better not pursue these topics too much, otherwise it'd be too personal."

TI: So a lot of times people just didn't probe very much because...

NH: No. I mean, I tended not to. I guess if I were like my sister, my sister's the other way around. She keeps digging and digging and digging.

TI: But, but in general, the men that were at Santa Fe and other Department of Justice camps were the community leaders before the war.

NH: Yes, I'm sure they were.

TI: And so did you notice, did they seem a little more distinguished or anything different than what you would see in Topaz?

NH: No. Well, you could tell, these, this guy is a leader. I mean, I sort of sensed it, and the other guys were okay, okay, let him have his say. And then, but I think in some cases, like the Peruvians, there's just no sense in it at all, just didn't have any meaning. They could have been leaders of some Japanese group that was going to overthrow the government of Peru, but I just couldn't think of them as being that. And how they selected these people to be interned is a guess on the part of whatever it was that came around. Were they FBI, or whatever they were, they came around to Hawaii and San Francisco and Los Angeles.

TI: What I've read from, like, the Japanese Peruvians, I mean, they were, many of them were picked up for a potential "hostage exchange."

NH: Oh, is that right?

TI: Or prisoner exchange with Japan, so they wanted bodies, essentially.

NH: That might be true.

TI: Any, any interesting stories about the Hawaiians?

NH: Yeah, some Hawaiians, they said, they, "don't know why they picked me up. I didn't do anything." [Laughs] And that's all I know. And they don't know either, you know. And how they were selected is something that's beyond me. Except they knew certain people were president of this organization or president of, say, the Fukuoka kenjinkai or something, or this guy was the president of Fukuoka kenjinkai, this guy was the president of the Wakayama kenjinkai. So maybe those kind of people, they'd find out, but other than that, I don't know how they figured it out.

TI: You mentioned that there were some men in Santa Fe that you could sense they were leaders. So were there, could you recall any of the names of some of the informal leaders?

NH: No. I don't know, I just sensed, you know how you sensed these people are, are leaders of your class or your group.

TI: That people just look to them to...

NH: Yeah, they looked to them.

TI: So any other memories of Santa Fe that I haven't asked about? [Laughs] I'm trying to think what else I can ask about Santa Fe.

NH: Not really. Like I say, mostly were, most of them were Isseis. Some, there was a couple of young, young people, a little bit older than myself, and they were Niseis. There was this one guy who says, "What am I gonna do when I get home?" "Where is home?" "I want to go home to Santa Barbara," or wherever it was, Los Angeles. He says, "My wife is at home." I said, "Oh, you have a wife?" "Yeah, and two children." Two children he had. I said, "Why are you here?" "I don't know." He didn't know. He didn't know why he was there. And he was not from Peru, he was from California, and he didn't know why he was there.

TI: And when he said, "I'm not sure what I'm gonna do when I get back home," what was he talking about? Was it just like in terms of working?

NH: Working and finding a place to, finding a place to stay, finding a place for his family. I mean, this is what I assume he was talking about, and things like that. "God, how am I going to get myself all put back together again?"

<End Segment 32> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.