Densho Digital Archive
Topaz Museum Collection
Title: Bob Utsumi Interview
Narrator: Bob Utsumi
Interviewer: Megan Asaka
Location: Emeryville, California
Date: July 31, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-ubob-01-0012

<Begin Segment 12>

MA: Okay, so you then went to Topaz in September of '42.

BU: Right.

MA: And can you describe, you know, the conditions when you arrived there, the landscape?

BU: Oh, yeah. That... we got off the train at... well, let me just go back a little bit on the train ride. Our group, or our family, was, was the exception. I don't know how we lucked out, but we lucked out 'cause we were, got on the Pullman, and we were able to eat in the dining car. And to this day, nobody believes us if it weren't for my mother writing kind of a diary letter to my aunt who was still back in Tanforan, and she wrote this all down. So, but we were able to break down our little cubicle and sleep in bunkbeds. So I could say we were very, very, we just lucked out. And I remember my mom writing back and she said, gee, she didn't know how much to tip the porters. And later on, years later, one of my classmates ran into a couple porters here in Oakland, and the porter was shocked that the Japanese would tip 'em on their (way to) prison, you know, ride as prisoners. And he was just, just shocked about that.

So anyway, we got to Topaz, and we're met by the advance party, and they gave us a handout and said, "Welcome to Topaz." Says, to the north is a certain, certain mountains, to the west, the Drum Mountains, to the east is the Wasatch Mountains, to the south is the Sevier Mountains. Now, what do you envision? Don't you envision a valley? Okay, so we take this bus ride out there on these dirt, dusty roads, finally get to Topaz, which was built on a dry lake bed, and these mountains are barely visible on the horizon, except the Drum Mountains, they were, to the west, they were pretty close. They were about five miles. But I guess we'd call it prison humor. But anyway, we get there, get off the bus, and step into dust, more like flour, because the dry lake bed, when they broke the crust of the dry lake bed, it didn't turn into broken dirt, it breaks down into, like, flour, so fine. And we were walking in ankle-deep, knee-deep dust all the way to our quarters, and then get there and we had a couple inches of dust on it. And everybody had to sweep their unit out. And at that time, all you saw was the outside wall with the two-by-four studs, because that's all that, that's as far as they got. Later on, they gave us sheet rock to put the inside walls up ourselves. But that was hot and dusty, windy. And all, just dust, lot of dust. But being young kids, we just started playing, you know. Being athletic, we had played football in that dust, tackle football, was thirteen yet, and just played football, six-man football, or seven-man, whatever. (Narr. note: Incidentally, Goro Suzuki, who playedJack Soo of the Barney Miller television show, and was in the Broadway and Las Vegas productions of The Flower Drum Song, was our coach of the Goro Suzuki Midgets football team.) And again, breakfast with the guys, and meals with all the kids. And eventually, somewhere along the line, Mom was, well, Mom had been working as a waitress in the mess hall, and, but she would bring the food home and doctor it up, and the family of five would have our meal right in the quarters. And so she did do that, she kept the family, you know, at least one meal a day.

MA: I see. So your whole family ate together for dinner.

BU: Yeah. So one, one meal a day, and then breakfast and lunch, we're with our buddies and schoolmates and whatever.

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