Densho Digital Archive
Twin Cities JACL Collection
Title: Sally Sudo Interview
Narrator: Sally Sudo
Interviewer: Steve Ozone
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Date: October 12, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-ssally-01

[Ed. note: Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

SO: We're with Sally Sudo, the interviewee, and I'm Steve Ozone and Bill Kubota is the videographer. October 12, 2009. Okay, Sally, where and when were you born?

SS: I was born in December of 1935 in Seattle, Washington. And I was actually born Shigeyo Ohno, but I can never remember ever having used that name "Shigeyo." And I was trying to remember how I got to be called Sally. And I asked my older brothers and sisters and they really didn't know, so I have a feeling that it was probably my kindergarten teacher that gave me that name. All I know is that the name Shigeo... My mother had a favorite actress in Japan and her name was Shigeko, but that actress died, so she changed the ending to Shigeyo, Y-O. And I never liked that name because it I always thought it sounded like a man's name. You know, there are men in Japan called Shigeo, and to me it was too close to being a man's name. So I was never fond of that name anyway, but all my life I've been called Sally.

SO: Because ordinarily, yeah, it should be something with "-ko".

SS: Yes, "-Ko" right.

SO: What was your mother's name?

SS: My mother's name was Saki, her maiden name was Hazemoto, and she was the younger of two girls in their family. There were eleven years between her older sister and herself.

SO: Where was she from?

SS: She's from Shikoku, Ehime-ken, and the name of the town is Yawatahama and it's a town on the west coast of the island of Shikoku. Not too far from the capital city of Matsuyama. Both my parents, my mom and dad, are both from that same town.

SO: What was your father's name?

SS: My father was Yosaji Ohno. And he was born in 1881 and came to the States at the age of eighteen in 1899. He came with a couple of his cousins and he was actually the oldest boy in his family, so it's rather unusual that he was allowed to leave his family and emigrate like he did, but my understanding is that they really needed some kind of outside income so that they could preserve their family farm. Their family was into growing mikans, you know, the mandarin oranges, and they had mikan groves in Yawatahama, and there they grow the mikans on the side of mountains, so it's all terraced land. And I, in fact, went to visit there about ten years ago and learned from my cousin that it was my father's -- I think it was a great uncle -- was one of the early pioneers that brought the actual mikan seeds from China to Japan and started, helped start that industry. And if you know anything about mikans, they say that the best tasting eating mikans come from that region of Shikoku -- Ehime-ken, right.


SO: And then what did he do when he came over here?

SS: When he first came here he worked as a houseboy for a Caucasian family to learn the language, and then being a houseboy he learned how to cook. So he spent most of his life in Seattle as a cook. At one time he and his cousin owned a... I suppose it would be like a diner, not really a restaurant but kind of a small eating place where most of the people who wanted Japanese food would go and eat.

SO: Did he meet your mother here?

SS: No, actually, my mother is his second wife, because his first wife died of a stroke at quite a young age, I think she was in her late twenties. And my mother is a cousin of that first wife and so on one of his trips back to Japan they arranged this marriage for him with my mother and so they got married in 1915, and actually there's a fourteen-year difference in their age. He was thirty-four and she was only twenty when they got married.

SO: And so she's from Shikoku?

SS: She's also from Yawatahama, Shikoku, right, from the same town. And they had their first child when they were living in Japan and that would be my oldest sister, Takiko. When she was fourteen months old, the story is that my mother put her down for a nap and then she and my dad left to return to America, and then when Takiko woke up from her nap she was walking all over the house crying for her mother. And she left her of course in the care of her sister, so it would be Takiko's aunt, and my mother's sister had been married for quite a few years by then but she was childless. So she left Takiko in her care.

SO: And she lived in Japan?

SS: And she was born and raised in Japan. She never found out until she was in junior high school that she actually had this family in America and that the person she thought was her mother was really her aunt.

SO: When did she finally meet her?

SS: I met her for the first time when Takiko was fifty years old in 1968.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

SO: Okay, what do you remember about your mother?

SS: Well, I remember that she had to spend all of her day in taking care of the house and the kids. I come from a large family, there were ten of us born here in the United States, and so it was either doing laundry or preparing meals, it seems like we hardly finished with one meal before she was making preparations for the next meal. And the fact that my father really did not have much of an income with his job, it was always a struggle for them and in fact they always intended to go back to Japan to bring Takiko back here, but they just never had the means to do it. So I do remember that she just seemed to work all the time and really never had much time for herself. One of the things that she was always concerned about was anything that we would do she would always say to us, "Well, what are the neighbors going to think?" She was always so concerned with saving our reputation or what have you, I think that's a typical Japanese trait. And you know, she always expected us to do well in school. She never praised us for doing well, she just expected it.

SO: Which is also Japanese?

SS: I suppose that's, yes.

SO: So she was the disciplinarian?

SS: I would say she was the disciplinarian, yes, because she was always the stay-at-home mom.

SO: What was your father like?

SS: Well, there again, now I just remember him working all the time. The fact that he was already fifty-four years old when I was born, because I'm next to the youngest of all these children, I feel like I never really had that kind of father and daughter relationship with him. I think some of my older brothers had more of that because I know he used to take them to baseball games and things like that. But by the time I came along, there wasn't much of that.

SO: What are the age ranges of your siblings?

SS: Well, actually there's a twenty year age range from the oldest to the youngest. Takiko, being the oldest, was born in 1918 and my brother Henry, who was the youngest in the family, he was born in 1938 and I was born in 1935, so I'm next to the youngest. This is a family of seven girls and four boys.

SO: How many of them are still alive?

SS: So, there are four girls and one boy still living. Five of us.

SO: And they live in the Midwest?

SS: I have a sister who lives here in the Twin Cities, otherwise I have a sister in Seattle and one in California. And then of course there's myself and then my brother lives in California. So those are the five of us that are still living.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

SO: So you grew up in Seattle?

SS: Yes, actually, I lived there until I was age... I had just turned six when Pearl Harbor was bombed.

SO: Do you remember anything in the years before Pearl Harbor?

SS: The only thing I remember was... I do remember a little bit about going to kindergarten. You know, I was one of these kids who had separation anxiety I guess you would call it, very clingy to their mom, and I remember my mom taking me to kindergarten and my not wanting her to leave and the teacher having to gently draw me into the classroom and allowing my mother to slip out. I was always very shy in school. I know that we went to a school that was close to our home, it was within walking distance, and I do remember the principal of that school. But other than that, I don't have too many other memories about Seattle itself, except the fact that we did live in an area that, well, I guess it would be sort of like a Japanese ghetto. It was actually very close to the downtown area that they call the International District now. And during my six years in Seattle we lived in two different houses, they were rented properties and neither one of those houses are standing any longer because they've been torn down for the freeways. But I know that we lived in very much a Japanese community where my mom could do the shopping in Japanese or take us to doctors and not have any problems with the language. But there were also some Italians and Germans in our neighborhood, as well.

SO: So World War II or Pearl Harbor happened. You were six years old.

SS: Right.

SO: So, you were too young to probably think about things like that.

SS: No, I certainly didn't comprehend the enormity of what was happening. All I knew was that people were very much afraid of what was going to happen, there were a lot of rumors. My brother Tom, who was fourteen at the time, was at the movie theater at the time, this was on a Sunday morning, and they stopped the film, he told us, and then all of a sudden at the bottom of the screen came this scrawl saying, "All military personnel report to your bases now." So he thought, "Oh my goodness, something must have happened." And then when he got out into the lobby he heard people saying, "Oh, Pearl Harbor has been bombed." And then some people started pointing at him saying, "There's a Jap, let's get him." And so he ran all the way home from the theater just terrified thinking that people were going to beat him up or something terrible was going to happen. So there were lots of incidents of discrimination and unpleasant things happening to people.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

SO: What do you remember about getting ready before you went to the assembly center?

SS: All I know is we were told that we could bring two suitcases each with us, and our family had very little luggage in the way of suitcases, and you can imagine with ten children, our folks had to go out and buy a lot of that stuff and then they were also told that we should bring eating utensils and trays for eating in the cafeterias, and so my mom went out and bought these, like cookie sheets, only with a little lip, I guess they are like jelly roll trays. That's what we used. We brought those with us to camp. I can still remember the suitcases, they were sort of like aluminum suitcases. I remember we all got assigned a family number, and one of my sisters was in charge of writing numbers on all these tags that we put on all the suitcases. And besides that we had these big sort of like army duffel bags to stuff our bed linens in. And just getting all that stuff together, and then one of the few things that my mom had that was worth anything to her was her set of Japanese Girl's Day dolls, and she gave them to the principal of our elementary school, 'cause she didn't know what else to do with them. I know my parents threw away or burned a lot of things that connected them to Japan, because they didn't want to be caught with anything. They were so worried that if the FBI came calling on us they might be found suspicious, you know, for having certain things written in the Japanese language. And so they got rid of things like that.

SO: Did they give things to neighbors?

SS: Not that I know of. I think the few things that we had that were worth saving, I understand that we stored at the local Japanese Baptist church, because they opened up that church gymnasium for families that wanted to store their things there. But during the war, all of that was lost, so we didn't really have anything at all. And we didn't own our own home, we didn't have a car. We really didn't have a lot of things of value anyway.

SO: What was the name of the assembly site?

SS: Well, the first one we were sent to was in Puyallup, Washington, which was where they held the Western Washington State Fair and it would be south of Seattle. I know that we were bused to that location. And they divided that assembly center into four areas and our area was one of the parking lots where they had put up some buildings for each of us and we were housed there. I remember when we first got there, getting these large sort of like flour sack kind of bags and then told to fill them up with straw from the straw pile because that was going to be our mattress. And I do remember things like getting all of our vaccinations, you know, getting shots against contagious diseases. So I know that we were sent there, I believe it was April or May of 1942, and we were there until late August before we were moved out. One of the things I remember about being there was on one of the weekends, the principal of our elementary school came to the gate, outside the barbed wires, and she had all these boxes of candy bars, and she had tears running down our cheeks and she was handing out these bars to the kids that she recognized from her school.

SO: I want to back up. Did your father own a car?

SS: No, we did not own a car.

SO: So you never went anywhere?

SS: No, only by public transportation. The only place I know we really went for any kind of trip was one of his cousins owned this strawberry farm in Bremerton, Washington, and you had to take the ferry to go there and that was kind of the only kind of trip that the family went on.

SO: I would think taking ten kids...

SS: Yes, right. Not easy, that's right. [Laughs]

<End Segment 4> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

SO: Okay. Did you say that you were in more than one assembly center?

SS: No, we were in Puyallup and then from there we got moved to the permanent internment camps.

SO: In Minidoka?

SS: Right, to Minidoka, Idaho.

SO: What do you remember about being there?

SS: Well, all I remember is being on a train for quite a long time. I know it was a little more than a day that we were on a train. I remember the armed guards at the end of each car with guns, and just having like little box lunches to eat. Other than that, just when we got there it was really hot and sandy and just dirt all over the place. Nothing green.

SO: So by that time you were seven?

SS: I turned seven in December of 1942 so I was six when we were moved to these different places and then I turned seven. They didn't start school until November of that year, so pretty much I was out of school from March of '42 until November.

SO: When you were in camp and school hadn't started yet, what was the day like?

SS: Well, it was just playing with other kids all the time. I mean, there were lots and lots of kids around. Of course we hardly had any equipment, but we would just make up our own games. We would get empty cans from the mess hall and play things like Kick the Can, which is like volleyball -- not volleyball, but kickball, when you would kick the can and run around the bases. Other things that you didn't need much for, like, you know, hopscotch and red rover, red rover, things like that.

SO: And were you still doing, did you have to do chores?

SS: I didn't have to do any chores. Well, I used to help my mother once in a while with the laundry, 'cause that was almost like a daily chore with all these kids. And there was a common laundry room called the sanitation building, and so there were just the washtubs with these scrub boards, and you did all the laundry by hand. So I can remember just helping her wash the small things like socks or handkerchiefs, things like that. But other than that we were just free to play all the time. There was nothing to do in the rooms because we had nothing but a bed to sleep on. So that's how we spent our time.

SO: Including your older sisters?

SS: Well, anyone who was already out of school was put to work. So in that case, it that was my three older siblings. My brother Fred who was the oldest boy in the family, he was put to work in the warehouse, just helping organize supplies for the camp and things like that. Then my older sister Marian, she was twenty-two when we went into Minidoka, she was assigned to help as an assistant at a sort of nursery school kind of setting. And then my sister Amy, she did clerical work, like in the administrative offices, but the rest of us were all school age, so we were not assigned to work. My father was put to work and he was just kind of doing like janitorial kind of jobs.

SO: He was never a cook?

SS: No. As far as I know he never cooked in camp. Although what they tried to do was they tried to make use of the professions you had before you were in the camp, but he did not have to cook.

SO: So what was it like once school started?

SS: Well, once school started, they set aside a whole block for... actually in our camp there were two elementary schools because our camp consisted of 44 blocks so it was quite spread out. And had elementary school sort of like in each half of the camp and the one I went to was called Hunt. And in the beginning I know we didn't have much in the way of supplies. Because I was there in first, second and third grade, I can remember kind of sitting on the floor gathered around the teacher kind of thing, and I know later on we had sort of like picnic-style benches to sit on but all of the teachers I had in camp were Caucasian and I wasn't sure whether they were bused in and lived outside the camp or whether they actually had rooms for them inside the camp.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

SO: Did you finish third grade?

SS: Yes, right.

SO: And then were you released right after that?

SS: Well, we actually left in the summer of 1945, so when I moved to Minnesota I was here in August, so I was ready to start fourth grade in September when school started. So I didn't miss out on any schooling. Our schools pretty much stayed open in camp until June, you know, the normal time.

SO: And then how did you end up in Minnesota?

SS: Well, I actually had, some of my older siblings out already here. What happened was that my oldest brother Fred was the first one who, as soon as they opened up the volunteer system for the military, he was one of the early ones to volunteer to serve in the military. And they sent him to Salt Lake City for his physical but he didn't pass the physical, and so he didn't want to go back to camp, so what he did was he found a job in Salt Lake City as a bellhop at one of the hotels, and he was working there in Salt Lake while the rest of us were in the camp. Well, then the next one to volunteer was my brother Joe and he graduated, he was in the first graduating class of Hunt High School, and he volunteered right out of high school, not so much out of patriotism but because he just wanted to get out of the camps. And he qualified for the MIS, you know, they gave him the Japanese language test and so then he got shipped to Fort... well, at that time it was actually Camp Savage, you know, they weren't at Fort Snelling yet. He went to Savage and he was there being trained in the MIS, and while he was there he contacted my brother Fred in Salt Lake City and he said, "You know, I think you might enjoy living here, and there's a school called the Dunwoody Institute. Why don't I see what we can do about getting you into that school so that you can learn a trade and do something else with your life instead of being a bellhop all your life?" So then he got my brother Fred here, and once my brother Fred was here, because he wasn't in the military and he was just working here, then he was able to send for my sister Amy and she came here and she worked as a stenographer at Fort Snelling. And then he sent for my brother Tom. Now Tom was still in high school, but he refused to go to school while we were in Minidoka, so Fred said, "If you're not going to go to school, come on out here and we'll get you into school here." So they sent for Tom who worked as a houseboy for a family around Lake Calhoun. And then he went to West High School. So there were four of my siblings already here when the war ended, and my parents had no idea what to do afterwards. They had nothing to go back to in Seattle and so my brother Fred said, "I'll see if I can find a house for us," and he actually borrowed money from his employer to put a down payment on a house for us. And then he sent us a picture of the house and we thought it was just beautiful. As soon as we could make arrangements, then it was three days after Japan surrendered, August 18th, that we boarded the trains to come out here to Minneapolis.

SO: So then the whole family ended up out here?

SS: Yes. Actually, by that time, my oldest sister Marian got married while she was in the camp and she had a child, and so even she and her husband and the child came to Minneapolis and we all lived in this big house that Fred found for us in South Minneapolis.

SO: Okay. And then did your whole family stay? They didn't all stay in Minnesota?

SS: No, Marian and her husband and child were the first to leave. Her husband Isamu just couldn't take the cold winters here and so he found a job back in Seattle, so their family moved back to Seattle and they've lived there ever since. But the rest of us really stayed on until we either got married or went off to school or for some other reason left the city, but a good many of us grew up here. So I was here from fourth grade and all the way through the University of Minnesota.

SO: What did your father do?

SS: He went to work first at the Curtis Hotel, which used to be one of the big downtown hotels, and they worked in their kitchen. But he really struggled with that job because his English was just not that good. In Seattle he could get by because we were in this Japanese community, but here it was just a struggle for him and so he ended up being sort of like, doing a janitor's job at St. Mary's Hospital which is now Fairview University Hospital. It's down over there off of Riverside Avenue, and he did that for many years. But I would say of everybody in our family, for my father, that whole internment experience was really devastating. Because when you think that he had been in this country from 1899 and the war didn't start until 1941, I mean, that's forty years of living as a respectable immigrant, I mean, he only had his green card because he wasn't allowed to be a citizen. But he always obeyed the law and never got into any trouble, and then to lose everything like he did. And then he also felt like he was no longer the head of the family. The fact that more and more he had to rely on his own sons because of the language barrier and the fact that he couldn't earn the proper income to provide for us all. That really my brother Fred almost took over the role of being the fatherly figure in the family.

SO: Did your parents become citizens?

SS: My mother did. My father never did. But as soon as they were eligible in 1953 my mother went to those civics classes and she took the test and she became a citizen.

SO: Why didn't your father? Was he still alive?

SS: Yes, he was still living. I just think that he was, probably he was bitter still and then he probably felt like, "Is there any use to becoming a citizen at this point?" By the time we got out of the camp and we moved here, he was already sixty-four years old, so you picture someone at that age, when you should be getting ready to retire, having lost everything, having to work and try to build up something again, he was very discouraged.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

SO: So you went to school and continued on through high school?

SS: Yes.

SO: As you're growing up, did you experience racism?

SS: Yes, actually, when we first moved into this house that we lived in South Minneapolis, we were the only Japanese family for several miles around, I'm sure. I know a boy through all the schools -- grade school, junior high school, high school, we were always the only Japanese in the schools. And so it wasn't, it was just a matter of days when we started getting hate mail saying, you know, "We don't want any Japs in the neighborhood. Get out or else," kind of threatening letters. They were kind of frightening to me, I mean, you never knew how serious these people were. So we weren't exactly welcomed with open arms.

SO: Did anybody come to your defense?

SS: Yes, and the fact that at our house was directly across the street from a church, and people in that church kind of took our family under their wing. And especially the neighbor that lived directly across from us who was a member of that church, he used to come over all the time and do things like, well, he was an amateur filmmaker and so he was making these 8-millimeter films of our family and then he would have us go on walks around the neighborhood, he would kind of lead all of us and tell us that we could hold out heads up high, we didn't have to be ashamed of anything, and just walk around with us.

SO: So all of your friends were Caucasian.

SS: Yes, so then the friends I made here from grade school on were all Caucasian friends, yes.

SO: Where did you go to high school?

SS: I went to Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis.

SO: At that time, what was the racial mix?

SS: In Roosevelt High School I would say a very small minority, mostly white Caucasian. As I said, our family was the only Asian family there. I remember only one African American in my class. Other than that, a lot of Scandinavians, Norwegian, Swedish -- a lot of Andersons, Olsens, Johnsons, names like that. I know it's very different now, but that's the way it was when we went to school there.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

SO: So you graduated from high school and what did you do from there?

SS: I went to the University of Minnesota.

SO: Your major?

SS: I majored in education, elementary education.

SO: So there must have been more of an international flavor at college.

SS: Yes, although, the fact that, because of our family resources, I always had to live at home so I really never experienced that kind of college life. And besides that I worked my way through school, so I worked like twenty-five hours a week and took a full course of classes. In fact, I went through the four year course at the university in three years. So I was taking twenty, twenty-one credits a quarter, which is a lot. So as far as campus life and experiencing those kinds of things, very little. The only good thing that came out of it was that's where I met my future husband, was at the University of Minnesota.

SO: How did you get to school?

SS: I used to take the bus, or my brother Tom who was teaching in a Minneapolis school at that time used to drop us off on the way to school. There was another girlfriend of mine from high school that lived a block away, and the two us used to ride together to go to the university.

SO: So you met your husband at the university. How did that happen?

SS: Well, he was actually there as an exchange student. Now my husband was born and raised in Tokyo and so he had this whole other experience of living the war as a Japanese while I was living the war as a Japanese American. And his family lived right in Tokyo. His father was a butcher and owned his own meat shop, and so they had property and everything, which they lost during the war because they couldn't pay the taxes on it. But when World War II started he was in junior high school and he tells me stories about, for instance, being at a baseball game, in the stadium, during Jimmy Doolittle's raid on Tokyo. He said the sky just blackened with the number of planes that came overhead. He said it was like watching the 4th of July fireworks. I mean, just bombs dropping here and there, and all these explosions and actually his house was also hit and they had these bucket brigades where they would pass the bucket of water to the next person until it got to the point of the fire and kept doing that and put the fire out. During the worst of the bombings in Japan, the rest of his family moved into the country. But because my husband had just gotten, had passed the test to enter one of the better high schools in Tokyo, he stayed behind and they had him live with a neighbor so that he could go on to this high school that he had passed the entrance examination for. And so he lived in Tokyo during the worst of it, and he not only finished high school... and there they actually used high school students for military drills and things and made them work in the factories that were making products to use in the war, so he did that as well and actually went on to the university there as well, majored in economics. But after graduating from university, he couldn't get a job in his field, so he ended up working as an ambulance driver for the U.S. military. And he said that it was quite an experience. As they would pick up people that were injured and if it was a Japanese person they had to go to a different hospital than the U.S. military personnel who go the better hospitals to go to. And it was through meeting one of these soldiers that befriended him, the soldier asked him if he was interested in coming to the States, and would he interested in coming to school here. Now he already had his university degree from Japan but he jumped on that opportunity. And came here to the States and he earned another degree in Business Administration here.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

SO: I want to back up on this a little here. So you spoke to your parents here in Japanese?

SS: Yes. You know, the strange thing is that we were very limited in the kind of Japanese we could speak, it was very childlike. And so we never got into any kind of in-depth conversations with our parents, because there was always that language barrier, which seems kind of strange when they are your own parents and you're a child, but we could carry on conversations with our own brothers and sisters in-depth, but not with our own parents. So with our parents it was all the, just the menial kinds of things that you would say just to get through the day but not sit down discussions of any kind.

SO: Did they send you to Japanese school in Seattle?

SS: I wasn't old enough. I think you had to be in second or third grade to start Japanese school, but all my other siblings went to Japanese school.

SO: That's too bad. So, you missed out.

SS: Well, the fact that later in my life I lived in Japan, so when I came back I was as least able to converse with my mother much more freely. And my dad didn't live much longer. I was only there in Japan for about three years and then he passed away so I never had the chance to sit down and really talk to him that much. But my mother I could converse with much more.

SO: How well? Oh, but so you husband also spoke English?

SS: Yes, but he also, of course, Japanese was his first language, so he was very bilingual.

SO: Was it difficult for you to learn when you were living in Japan?

SS: Yes, it was. The fact that, first of all, because my parents were from Shikoku and I didn't realize that there was a dialect and when I lived in Japan it was in the Tokyo and Yokohama area. And of course, there, the Japanese was very standardized Japanese so when I would say things that I remembered learning from my parents, it wasn't the proper Japanese. And so it was a problem especially because everyone, just by looking at me thought I should be able to speak Japanese perfectly and I couldn't. In fact, when I first went to Japan, my husband had gone on ahead because of his job, and so then I came on later with, at that time we had two children. I remember landing in Tokyo, at that time it was Haneda Airport, and for the first time in my life I look out and the whole room is just crowded with people who were Japanese and every other person I looked at I thought, oh that must be my husband, and of course it wasn't him. It was the strangest feeling because when you grew up in Minnesota, at that time, if you saw another Asian face it was usually someone you knew. So I land there and he wasn't there to meet us because he was tied up in a meeting on his job. And I'm wondering what to do, here I am with these two kids, no Japanese money, and so I went up to somebody and I asked them about using the telephone because I knew what hotel he was staying at and they looked at me and gave me this funny look and they said to me, "What part of the country are you from that you don't even know how to use the telephone?" [Laughs] So I was always getting insulted like that.

SO: How did you, did you take lessons?

SS: Yes, I actually studied with a tutor and I... If I had known we were going to stay in Japan as long as we were, I would have really done it properly, but we went one of these two to three year assignments and ended up staying there seventeen years. I would have really planned it so that I would have gotten that full Japanese language education if I knew we were going to be there that long. But I just started out first learning conversation and not concentrating that much on the reading and the writing. and by the time I realized, one year turned into the next and the next, that I really should try to learn the language a little better. I got as far as what is considered a third grade education in Japan. [Laughs]

SO: What about the kids?

SS: Well, of my three sons, the youngest one is the most fluent, because he was actually born in Tokyo. And he lives and works there now, and he's very bilingual. But my kids always went to international schools or the American School in Japan, and so they had all their education in English, and they would take Japanese as a foreign language. Their friends were always other Americans, children of other businessmen, because most Japanese families didn't send their children to international school or the American School in Japan. So once in a while they would have a friend who spoke Japanese but most of their friends spoke English. Of course, all of their Japanese cousins spoke only Japanese, so that was always kind of a problem when we got together with the relatives in Japan.

SO: So you were there for seventeen years?

SS: Right, from 1967 until 1984.

SO: Okay.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

SO: And then did your husband get another job, or did he get transferred?

SS: No, actually what happened is he died in 1983 while we were there. It was a very sudden thing. He actually died of a brain aneurism. So he was lying on the couch of our living room watching the Yomiuri Giants play baseball on TV and the next thing you knew he was dead. It was just such a shock. Because all he had complained about when he came home from work was that he had a headache. And he said it was in the back of his, at the base of his head and I said, "Well that's a strange place to be having a headache. You'd better check in with a doctor," the next day and the next day never came. So it was just a real sudden shock .

SO: And what did you do after that?

SS: Well, I stayed on for an extra year because I really didn't -- by that time we had been in Japan for so long I didn't even know where to go back to in the States. And of the three boys, the older two were already back in the States going to college. Paul, my youngest one, was ten when he lost his dad, and so Paul and I were in Tokyo and I was teaching at an international school so I have a job, and we lived in a company house because --

SO: What were you teaching?

SS: I was teaching elementary school. I had at that time, I think it was a third grade class in Tokyo at an international girls' school. The company said that we could stay on in the house as long as we needed to, until I could make other arrangements, so we were living there without paying any rent or anything. And everyone said, "Don't make any major decisions while you're still grieving because you're probably going to do something wrong." So I kind of took my time and I told my son Paul, "We're going to stay here at least a year." I actually would have liked him to have the advantage of staying on through high school in Japan because it was so good for my older two boys, they really got a good education. But when my boys came over from college and they said to me, "Mom you can't stay on here. Look at how far apart we are and we can't afford to come back and forth like this. And we'll never get to see Paul or you." So they convinced me that I'd better start working on getting myself back here. So before I moved back to Minnesota I actually went to visit my other siblings who lived in different parts of the United States. I went to Seattle, I went to Upland, California, I went to New Orleans where another brother was living at that time and kind of scouted out other places, but I decided that Minnesota would be the best place because I had, at that time I think it was three or four siblings living here, and at that time I knew I was going to need family support. So I decided to move back here.

SO: And were your other two sons going to school here?

SS: One was just graduating from Macalester College, the oldest one was just finishing up his Master's at Columbia University in New York. So they were almost through school, thank god, because otherwise paying all that college tuition would have been something.

SO: Did you go through culture shock?

SS: I certainly went through culture shock coming back here. I think that you don't realize until you've been away from America how life is so different from, especially from Japan. I just found people here to be very open and frank and almost brusque in a way, whereas in Japan they're overly polite and very conscious of making sure that you're comfortable and that you fit in the group and all these kinds of things. But yes, I would say it was a culture shock.

SO: And how did you make that transition? Did you find a job?

SS: Yes, I didn't have any trouble at all finding a teaching job because I still had my teaching certification. I taught school here before we went to Japan so it was easy to get back into teaching here, and other than that, you know, you just had to jump in. I just had to get up and go every day because I knew that my youngest son depended on it.

SO: Where did you teach?

SS: I ended up teaching for the Minneapolis Public Schools and I taught at Ramsey International Fine Arts Center, which is a K-8 school. So in the beginning I taught in the elementary school and just had either third or fourth grade, but later in my career I specialized in teaching math, more to the middle school students.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

SO: How long did you work for the Minneapolis Public Schools?

SS: I worked for them until 1995. I came back here in 1984, so that's eleven years there and then I had worked for them two years before I went to Japan so thirteen years in all is what I worked for them. But even after I finished in the classroom I got called back to do some work in the, what they called the Research and Evaluation and Assessment Department where they did a lot of the testing, and they would send me out to different schools to do different kinds of tests with different classrooms. And I organized what they called the... I think it's called the NAEP Test -- the National Assessment of Educational Progress -- the one that's mandated by Congress. And I went to eight or ten schools in the district to test for that and then towards the end I ended up helping Edison High School with all the tests that have to do with the No Child Left Behind Law. So I did a lot of part-time work for them up until two years ago. So quite a few years after I finished working in the classroom.

SO: Was that full-time?

SS: Well, no, it was part-time. It was always seasonal work because the testing season is only several months out of the year.

SO: And during your time as a teacher and when you were testing, you must have seen a big change in the students.

SS: Oh very much so. I saw changes taking place of course during my own final years of teaching, especially with the student population, how it was really changing -- much more diverse, much more students of color. Of course in the inner city we have easily 35, 40 percent, and in some schools 75, 85 percent students of color. We saw the wave of immigration of the Southeast Asian families and then the Hmong families and then lately the African families, like from Somalia or other regions of Africa. So it wasn't unusual for our students to have maybe sixteen to twenty different languages being spoken at home. And the kids would come to school and have to use English. But in a way I was used to that because the international school that I taught in in Tokyo had students from sixty different countries. Because many of them were children of embassy families or of course their fathers were there for business or working for different companies. So it was something that I enjoyed and I was used to that.

SO: Did you ever have any problems in the classroom because you were Japanese American?

SS: I never sensed any kind of problem in the fact that I was Japanese. Not at all.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

SO: You know what we didn't do was when you were looking for an apartment...

SS: Right, so... yes. This was before I was going to get married in 1958, I was trying to help us find a place to live and so looking through the classified ads in the newspaper I would pick out certain ones and go and take a look at them and every time I showed up and they answered the door, they would tell me that no, the apartment's already taken and this happened over and over again and I thought that was so strange. So finally on one of them I called back and asked about that apartment again, and they said, "Oh, yes, it's available." So then I knew something funny was happening and I remember mentioning it to my brother Fred and he was just really angry. He said, "To think that here you are teaching in the schools and you're still getting that kind of treatment. So he went with me to this place that had turned me down and the woman who was in charge of doing the rentals, she said that it was her son who was a lawyer who owned the building and it really wasn't so much because of me, but they were afraid of what the other renters would think. And therefore, they didn't want to cause any trouble and they wouldn't rent to me. So when that happened, then what we ended up doing is we put an ad in the paper ourselves and we said, "Nisei couple looking for apartment to rent." And then we waited for the calls to come and that way we found a duplex for ourselves to live in.

SO: I'm kind of surprised that people would know what that meant.

SS: I think we said, "Niseis" but maybe we said, "Japanese American." I can't remember what term we used. We may have used, "Japanese American couple looking for a place to..." Yeah.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

SO: When did you start going around the schools to talk about the relocation?

SS: I actually started doing that quite soon after I retired from the classroom. During the years that I was teaching, there were a number of opportunities right in my own building where a Social Studies teacher was teaching about that topic and they would ask me to come into their classroom. It was always a little hard to do because you had to find somebody else that would watch your class for you while you did this other thing, so it never really worked out that well, but I did it a couple of times when I was still teaching and then after that I started going around more and more because I got involved with the JACL and they formed this education committee and from that they had a speakers bureau. My brother Tom was another one who did a lot of that kind of speaking. So between Tom and myself, and there were two or three others, we did the bulk of it. In those days the schools used to have a publication called The Community Resources, where a teacher could look to find information of outside resource people on different topics and we would always be listed as someone who could come and talk about the internment or our experiences during World War II, but now with the lack of funds they don't have publications like that anymore and more or less now it's just word of mouth. So the ones I go to now are the one where they keep calling me back year after year and I've spoken to their classes before.

SO: What kind of a reaction do you get from the kids?

SS: I was surprised that there were students who actually would challenge me and say, "That didn't happen in America" and "I never heard about that."

SO: Was there a certain period of time when that happened?

SS: I would say when I first started going out talking, that happened more. But now it seems that they're getting more of it in their schools and they're more aware of it, but I was surprised that there were those at the beginning who thought I was making up a story. But I could understand that because, really, I think if you lived on the West Coast you are very aware of what happened, but here in the Midwest people wouldn't be as aware. In fact, I was kind of stunned that one of my medical doctors I went to, when he was just getting acquainted with me and he was getting my background, and I told him about the fact that I was in an internment camp, he said to me, "Oh yes, we had one of those here." I said, "No, we didn't." He said, "Yes, at Fort Snelling." And I said, "Those were American boys serving in the military," and he thought they were Japanese prisoners of war. And this is a highly educated person. It's just amazing.

SO: What about the kids that did believe it?

SS: The ones that did know something about it, either it was often through their parents or some other way that they heard about it, not so much from studying about it in school. And then after talks, often the teacher would have them write comments and letters to me to thank me and so forth. And I would often get comments from the students and they would apologize. "I'm so sorry that this happened to you and our country should have never done anything like that and I'm surprised that you're not as bitter as I think you should be," and comments like that.

SO: Was the JACL here active as far as redress?

SS: I know too much about their activities during redress because I wasn't... during that time I was still living in Japan. I think the redress movement started in the '70s and I think a lot of it started on the West Coast if I'm not wrong?

SO: Yes.

SS: And by then we had Sanseis who were lawyers or people serving in Congress and so that helped our cause, but I am not too familiar with what happened here. All I know is that, I know that Sam Honda was one of the active citizens here, I know he was quite involved in the redress, but I think he was living in Chicago at that time and not here in the Twin Cities, so I'm not quite sure what happened here.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

SO: Is there anything else that you wanted to talk about?

SS: I wanted to talk a little more about when I lived in Japan, the fact that when we moved there in 1967, for the first time this sister who I had never met and she introduced herself and she said --

SO: How did she find you?

SS: She must have heard from my mother that I was living in Tokyo, and so we made arrangements... we were going to go down there on a family trip, because at that time she lived in Kyushu, so it would be a like a good thousand miles away, certainly on a different island. So my younger brother Henry was a civilian working with the Department of Defense. He was an ammunitions inspector, so he happened to be in Japan at the same time. So Henry and I, along with my husband and our kids, decided that we were going to take this trip to meet my sister. And I hadn't seen any pictures of her or anything, so I wasn't sure how all this was going to work, but I told her when we were going to arrive so when we got off the train in her town of Nobeoka in Kyushu, I looked up and down the platform and here I saw this lady running towards us and she was the spitting image of my mother and I thought, oh my gosh. I mean, you could tell right away she was an Ohno and she was just so happy to see us. She took us right to her house. She and her husband were rice merchants. They had a rice store. In those days the Japanese government controlled how rice was sold, so unless you had a specialized rice store, you couldn't buy rice. You couldn't go to the supermarket and just buy rice. And so that was their business, and so we went to their home which was above the rice store and she had this huge spread that she had ordered, you know, all this catered food -- lobster tail and sashimi and tempura and all this mounds of food, and everybody from her family as well as other relatives that she taught I should know sitting around this big table. And I remember just tears coming down her eyes, the fact that she was finally able to meet somebody from our family.

And my brother then, from then on, he decided he was going to save up enough money so that he could send her back to the States. And it took him a couple of years, but she was able to come in 1970 for the first time, and that was fifty-two years since my parents had seen her. And it even made an article in the Star Tribune, you know, about this fifty-two years separation, how this ocean separated this family. And she came, and by then my father was quite ill, in fact, while she was here he passed away. So she came and was able to see him. She stayed through the funeral and everything. I asked her how she felt about this fact that here was this whole other family living in the States, and she told me that she was very bitter when she found out about it, because as I told you before, she didn't know until she was in junior high school. When her aunt finally told her, "I'm not your real mother. You have this whole other family in America." She lived through all this bombing in Japan during the war. Their town of Nobeoka had an Asahi Chemical plant so they were bombed frequently. By then she was married and had little children, she said she had to run into the river with a child on her back and one on each arm and just wade out into the middle of the river to escape the bombings. And then she comes here and by Japanese standards, American houses, you know, to them it's like living in a mansion. And she sees the way that everybody is living and she just can't get over it. She thinks that everybody is multimillionaires or something, just by comparison. So she really said that for a long time she had a hard time forgiving her parents about this whole thing, but all in all she made three trips to the States. The first time was when my brother sent her the ticket so she could come. And then she came two other times, and this was after my parents were no longer living and I took her out to the cemetery. The Japanese custom is to pour a bottle of sake over the gravestone and everything. Then she stood there in front of their graves and she read this letter saying that she was going to forgive them for leaving her behind, that she finally had it in her heart to forgive them, so I think she really struggled a lot.

SO: Did she end up meeting the rest of the...

SS: Yes. In fact, because she came here to Minnesota, then my other siblings who lived on the West Coast came here so that they could all meet her. And we had a big reunion.

SO: When you were in Japan, what was it like being in Japan, being a Japanese American in Japan, because it wasn't... you were there was the '60s, so it wasn't a real long time after the war. What was that like?

SS: Well, the hardest part for me was the fact that I wasn't fluent in the language, because they expected me to be, looking at me. And so just finding my way around and having to stop and ask questions, I would always get these strange looks or really sarcastic comments, so it wasn't pleasant for me in the beginning at all. But I think due to my husband's job, because he was really the general manager for a branch company that was based here, headquartered in Minnesota, and he opened the Japanese branch for them, we were able to live according to American standards in Japan, and I would say that probably those seventeen years I spent in Japan were some of the best years of my life, just the fact that I was able to raise my children in that kind of a culture and I was able to study a lot of the arts and crafts as a hobby, and I just had a wonderful experience living in Japan, after I got over that initial thing of looking like a Japanese but not really being Japanese -- they call it an American in disguise.

SO: So it was more that you didn't know the language, than that you were an American?

SS: Well, also the fact that I didn't act... the Japanese have certain picture of how you should act if you're in a certain position or what have you, and I was much more frank and straightforward, probably more so than I should have been, I didn't have all these little niceties that they have in the use of the language and things. So I'm sure I was always making a lot of faux pas but anyway I did have a good life there.

SO: And the company didn't show you those things?

SS: No, because we were the first ones to go there for the company, we were the first family to go there.

SO: What else should we talk about?

SS: Well, I guess that's it, huh?

BK: Why do you need to tell the schoolkids about your experience? What motivates you?

SS: What motivates me to go and tell about... well, I think this is a chapter in American history that's often overlooked. And there's so little of it in the textbooks and I think it's important for students to understand exactly what happened so something like this never happens again. That's my main motivation, is for them to understand how easily a person's civil rights can be taken away if we're not careful.

BK: It's just that some people don't like to talk about these things and other people are really good at it. Maybe because you were a little younger?

SS: I think that must have a lot to do with it. You know, I don't have a lot of bitter memories about camp because of my age. I think my older brothers and sisters were quite bitter about the whole experience. But I just think that you're six, seven or eight you just go along with what your family is going to do, and the fact that we were all able to stay together as a family in camp was a good thing.

SO: Your mom was that age?

BK: She was a little older. She was in Manzanar. She had a good time.

SS: Oh, she was in Manzanar. She had a good time?

BK: That's what she always says. We couldn't believe it. It's like you were saying, there were no worries.

SS: Right. Well, and for the first time in my mother's life, she was busy all the time with all these kids, she kind of had a little time to herself. It was probably the only time that she was ever able to pursue any kind of hobbies because she didn't have to worry about cooking or doing much cleaning, she had the laundry to do, but really as far as preparing meals or any of that stuff, she didn't have to do.

SO: What did she do?

SS: She did, in camp she learned a lot of tailoring, so crafting patterns and sewing. She also did flower arranging. She took an interest in the calligraphy, you know, writing with brushes and things. So she had her hobbies that she liked to do.

SO: And then what happened after camp?

SS: When we moved her to Minnesota, she was busy again just with her family because two of us were still in grade school, my youngest brother and I were still in grade school and then I had some other siblings that were still in junior high or high school yet. She was busy. She really didn't have much leisure time until we were grown enough, and then she joined the Japanese Twin Cities Independent Church and found her little circle of friends there, and had more of a social life after that. But up until then she was very much of a homebody.

SO: Having ten kids will do that.

SS: Right.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.