Densho Digital Archive
Twin Cities JACL Collection
Title: Isao East Oshima Interview
Narrator: Isao East Oshima
Interviewer: Megan Asaka
Location: Bloomington, Minnesota
Date: June 17, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-oisao-01

<Begin Segment 1>

MA: Okay, so today is June 17, 2009, and today I'll be interviewing Isao East Oshima. We're in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I'm Megan Asaka, the interviewer, and our cameraperson is Dana Hoshide. So East, thank you for coming to do this interview.

IO: Well, glad to do it.

MA: I wanted to start by asking where you were born.

IO: I was born in Berkeley, California, April 20, 1921.

MA: And how did you get your nickname, East?

IO: Well, lot of, several people, the "Isao," got from "Isao, "East." That's how it come about.

MA: And it just stuck with you your whole life?

IO: People just called me East and I went with East. First it was Ease and then it became East.

MA: And a little bit about your father. What was his name and where was he from in Japan?

IO: Oh, his name was, he was Tadao Okuda. And the reason he said Okuda, that's his name, he's a family of ten children, and he's the fourth one in the family. And the tradition in Japan is that the man, if he's not the oldest, takes the name of the wife if the wife is only girls in the family. So there were no boys to carry on the name, so that's how it come about, Oshima.

MA: And do you know where he was from in Japan?

IO: He was from Tango, Kyoto, Japan. I found that the Kyoto is prefecture as well as city. I didn't know that, you know. Here I thought I was going to go to the city of Kyoto when I went to visit, and heck, we go out in the country in a train for about four or five hours, out to Tango, which is on the other side of the, it's over there by the Sea of China.

MA: What did his family do? What type of work?

IO: Well, his father was a big landowner, and they had, I don't know how much acreage they had, but they had a lot of sharecroppers. And, of course, their family was fairly well, so all the boys were going to college. Of course, Japan had a compulsory military training, so he got a deferment to go to college. But when they did that, they had to pay room and board to the government when they went to the service after they finished college. And he went to college in Tokyo, Japan. And that's where my mother comes in. He had room and board at her place. Her parents had a place for him to stay, room and board, and he went to the college there. So that's the story there, how they met.

MA: And how did they end up in the United States?

IO: And then my father came to the U.S. about 1915, I guess, during World War I. And he came as a student with a college degree, he said he wanted to get more advanced college education in the U.S. Only instead of doing that, he started to work. He said he could get easy money, he thought. [Laughs] So that's what he did. And he went different parts of southern California first, and then he somehow ended up in northern California, up in Oakland or that area, Berkeley area. And he was working at mostly nurseries where they raised roses. So he was in that business, flower, all the time.

MA: And did your mother work as well?

IO: Well, my mother came in 1920, on the last ship from Asia as far as immigration to the U.S., 'cause the U.S. immigration law, they passed a law saying there were no Asians going to be allowed in the U.S.

MA: Right, the Immigration Act, yeah.

IO: So she came on the last boat in 1920.

MA: And were they married in Japan first?

IO: That I don't know. But all I know is that he took the name of Oshima after she got here, I think.

MA: And that was your mother's name.

IO: Yeah, that was my mother's name, Motoko Oshima. She was the only girl, surviving girl in her family of three children. So the others died when they were fairly young, her sisters.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

MA: And how many children were in your family?

IO: I had three brothers and three sisters. Well, there were four brothers and three sisters. One brother died after a couple weeks. I don't remember it too much.

MA: So there were seven of you that lived to --

IO: And I'm the oldest.

MA: You're the oldest, okay. And what is the difference in years between you and the youngest sibling?

IO: Well, let's see. My youngest is a brother, and he's about sixty-nine and I'm eighty-eight, so... [laughs]

MA: So whatever that is. [Laughs] Nineteen years?

IO: Yeah, uh-huh.

MA: Wow. So okay, so there were seven of you, four boys and three girls.

IO: But the one died right away, within two weeks (...) --

MA: Oh, okay, so there were six of you.

IO: So basically three brothers and three sisters.

MA: Three boys, three girls. And you were the oldest.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

MA: And you told me before that your family moved around a lot?

IO: Yes, 'cause I was born in Berkeley, and by the time I was about three years old, I think we moved to Elmhurst district of Oakland, California. And I don't remember, but I guess I started kindergarten there. But within a few years, we moved to San Lorenzo, then in a few years we went to, I think it was Mountain View... no, Mount Eden. Mount Eden, and then... let's see, where was it? I forgot. San Leandro, then ended up in Redwood City, California, and that's where I kind of remember things. 'Cause when we moved there, I was in the sixth grade. I went to Jefferson grammar school there in Redwood City, California.

MA: And what are some of your memories of Redwood City?

IO: Well, I went through the sixth grade and then graduated to intermediate school, was in McKinley, went to seventh and eighth grade there. Then the high school was across the street, Sequoia High School and went through the ninth and tenth grade and I went out for basketball, track, enjoyed myself those years.

MA: So why did your family move around so much?

IO: Well, my father was changing jobs all the time. And then after my tenth grade, my father switched again and we moved to Mountain View, California. And there, so I went to the eleventh grade there, well, it's the first half. The second half, my father in December says, "You're gonna have to quit school and help," because of the Depression. It was 1938, things were real bad. So I quit and went to work.

MA: And this was when you were in eleventh grade in Mountain View?

IO: Mountain View, yeah.

MA: So was your --

IO: So then we moved to San Leandro again and my father was working in, again, nursery there raising flowers. In the meantime, I got a job in Emeryville, California, just, suburb of Oakland, and I got a job at the Gardner Electric Company. And I was kind of a helper, cleaning tanks and stuff. They made large commercial transformers. And I was working there when the, Pearl Harbor came along.

MA: Well, let's talk about, a little bit more about your father. So he was switching jobs quite frequently.

IO: Yeah.

MA: Was this, was he involved in the nursery business this whole time?

IO: Pardon me?

MA: Was he involved in the nursery business this whole growing up?

IO: Well, just working. He had an opportunity in Redwood City, California, to buy a flower business, but he didn't do it. Lot of 'em had, in Redwood City, California, were raising chrysanthemums, and a lot of 'em had that kind of business. My father had a chance to buy into one, but he just turned it down and he continued to work at different places, and then primarily the roses.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

MA: In Redwood City, was there a large Japanese population?

IO: There was a fair amount, not real large. I can't remember, maybe a hundred, maybe, I don't know whether there was that many or not.

MA: But in your school there were other Nisei students?

IO: Yeah. There was a few, like in high school, there were a few Niseis, maybe, in the whole school of about, I don't know, maybe a thousand kids. There must have been maybe twenty-five, thirty Niseis.

MA: And you said that in high school you were interested in athletics and sports?

IO: Yeah, basketball, track.

MA: Did you ever attend Japanese language school?

IO: My father mentioned it, but he said, "If you're interested, I'm gonna teach you. I don't want to send you to school." [Laughs] And I said, "No thank you either way." So I didn't get involved. And I had problems communicating with my parents because of that.

MA: Because they spoke Japanese?

IO: They spoke primarily Japanese. My father could read English but couldn't speak it as well as he could read it.

MA: And your mother also spoke just Japanese?

IO: Oh, my mother couldn't read or write anything, you know. Just totally lost as far as English.

MA: So you said that you... okay, so the Depression happened in the late 1930s, the Great Depression.

IO: Yeah, uh-huh.

MA: And how did that, what are your memories of the Depression and how that affected people and your family?

IO: Well, I don't remember too much about it. I remember that I used to go, after I quit the job, I used to go down, Oakland down there, Union Hall, and try to get a job. But I didn't realize it at that time, that was a strong Communist Party, that Union Hall was, the Longshoreman area, you know. And I couldn't believe it. After, years later, I got to thinking, "Gee, I would have been a Communist if I'd have stuck around there." [Laughs] Anyway, I didn't do it, so I ended up with that electric company. In fact, when the war came along, we had some damaged parts from the, transformers from some destroyers that were damaged in Pearl Harbor, and we were repairing 'em there. And they asked, when the evacuation, saying, "Do you think you can stay?" And I said, "As far as I know, there's no exception." Otherwise I could have stayed there and worked, as far as working there.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

MA: Well, let's talk about Pearl Harbor and that day. What do you remember of that day?

IO: It was a Sunday, I got home, I don't know where it was, but I heard the radio and all that, I couldn't believe it. But just total shock, that's all I can remember. Then after that, we kind of stayed home, you know. Other than that, I don't remember too much about it.

MA: And you were in Emeryville.

IO: Huh?

MA: You were in Emeryville at that point? You were in Oakland?

IO: Yes, I was in east, I mean, west Oakland. That had, we were living next door to a African American. Of course, there were, a lot of west Oakland was African American, lot of 'em. And so there was no bad feelings or anything there. I don't recall a few times when maybe somebody made some remarks, but overall, I don't recall too many incidents.

MA: You mean after Pearl Harbor?

IO: Yeah.

MA: I'm curious about the west, you said you lived in west Oakland?

IO: West Oakland, yeah.

MA: West Oakland. And that was a primarily African American neighborhood?

IO: Lot of it was, yeah.

MA: Were there other Niseis that lived in that neighborhood as well?

IO: Not immediate area, but I think they did live in west Oakland.

MA: And the relationships between the African Americans and Niseis?

IO: I don't, I didn't do too much either way, you know. So I kind of kept to myself, more or less, those days.

MA: So how did your father and mother react to Pearl Harbor?

IO: I don't remember.

MA: Was your father targeted by the FBI after?

IO: Oh, well, let's see. Yeah, when we were in Oakland, the FBI came over to our place. But the thing was, they knew more about me than I knew myself. [Laughs] I couldn't believe it. But they just talked to us a little bit and then left, that's it.

MA: What types of questions did they ask you?

IO: That I can't even remember. I don't know. But I know that they didn't stay too long, and they didn't take my father or anything, and I didn't go anywhere. I just stayed home, that's all.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

MA: And how did you first hear about the removal, that you were gonna be sent to camps?

IO: Huh?

MA: How did you first hear about the camps, that you would be sent away?

IO: Well, we saw 'em on the posts, the telephone poles, about the order that we had to be at a certain spot, certain day. And then they told us what we can have, carry, but we didn't have very much to take.

MA: What happened with your house and your possessions?

IO: There was a, we were renting the house. And then we stored the stuff to the family next door, the black family that we kind of got friendly with. And that's all I remember. But we didn't get anything back, you know, it was all gone.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

MA: And you went from Oakland to Tanforan?

IO: Tanforan racetrack, we ended up with two horse stalls, you know, stalls that were whitewashed, the walls didn't even go up to the ceiling. They were partial walls.

MA: And this was two horse stalls for your whole family?

IO: Yeah, two horse stalls for the...

MA: Which was your parents and six children.

IO: Seven kids.

MA: Seven kids.

IO: Yeah. And we had to put up with it. And while there, I kind of worked in the kitchen a little bit, helped them. They had mess halls several places and also public toilets and bathrooms. That was about it. I can't remember too much about it. I've forgotten most of that. But I know that was around in May of '42, 1942. And in September we got notice that we were gonna move out to Topaz, Utah. We were one of the earlier ones. 'Cause Topaz had forty-two blocks, and we were on Block 14. And each row was, seven blocks to each row, so there was six rows. And each block had a mess hall, central mess halls, and toilet and shower facilities. But we were early, so half the things weren't even completed. They didn't even have toilet seats on the toilet. It was a big room with a whole bunch of toilets, no seat, nothing. No walls, nothing. Just bare toilet, that's it. I can't remember about the shower room, but that was bare, too, just bare shower. And then we had to, when we got to the room, it was just a bare room with beds, that's it. And then they had these mattress things you had to fill with straw, so we had to take them and go fill 'em up with straws. And we got two rooms there, the two larger rooms since there were nine of us all together.

MA: What was the weather like in Utah?

IO: Oh, it was kind of colder than what we were used to in California, in Utah there in the wintertime. And the wind used to blow, and they used to have a lot of, I remember a lot of whirlwinds there, the dust would be flying all over. And of course there were army barracks that we were staying in, and they, tarpaper on the outside and lot of cracks so the wind would come in and the sand would blow in. And in time, we kind of fixed it up a little bit, little by little. And what I recall is that I used to spend a lot of time on a different block. Block 12 is where I used to spend a lot of my time.

MA: What did you do on Block 12?

IO: Well, we used to, there used to be a rec. hall, they called it. We used to play cards, and we used to play bridge all the time. In fact, Lucy's brother-in-law I remember real well from camp. I remember, well, I remember her husband, too, but I knew his brother better. Other than that, little while later they started having some jobs to try to organize the camp. And they had a public works department, and I applied and I got a job there, eighteen dollars a month, I think it was, pay. [Laughs] They had three pay scales, I think, fifteen, eighteen, and twenty-one.

MA: What did you do for the public works department?

IO: I think I did drafting. I did some drafting when I was in high school, so that's where that come about. And then, of course, in 1943, the government decided they wanted to try to get rid of some of the people in camp, so they said you could leave if you get job, they posted jobs other than the West Coast. And my sister, May, I think it was around January or December, I'm not sure, January of '42, no, '43. She took a job at St. Paul as housework. Then a few weeks later, my other sister Yuri decided that she was gonna go. So... Yuri's the older sister, and so they both went to St. Paul. So then I got to thinking, well, maybe I'll... so I was looking around at the jobs that were posted. And then I finally, in the first part of May, I took that job in Cleveland. So it was May 30th, I was on a train. I recall that because in Cheyenne, there was snow on the ground.

MA: And this was 1943?

IO: Yeah, 1943.

MA: What did you have to do to leave? Did you have to fill out a form or be cleared by the camp?

IO: I don't remember that. I know that I applied for the job and they wrote that down and I think they told us where to stay, our living accommodations. That's how I ended up in that hotel, Erie Hotel annex, which was on the edge of downtown Cleveland. And there were, they had many Niseis from various camps. I don't recall anybody from Topaz, I think most of 'em were from, and then from Arizona. And let's see, that's where I went to that foundry, and when they saw me, they said I was too small for the job, so I took that, they offered the apprenticeship.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

MA: So, oh, just backing up a little bit, when you arrived to Cleveland, what did you think of the city? What were your first impressions of...

IO: I don't remember that. All I know is that, gee, it's a strange place to be. But I didn't have any bad incidents, that's the one thing I remember, no incidents.

MA: And you were staying with a group of Nisei men, right?

IO: Yeah, at this hotel, then we moved over to the frat house, which was further out in a residential area, more, which was kind of a nice place to stay.

MA: When you moved to the frat house, was there any opposition to you guys moving there?

IO: No, there was nothing, nothing that I recall. There was no, just ordinary moving into a place, that's all it was.

MA: And then you said you started working at the foundry.

IO: Yeah. And, of course, the foundry was primarily African Americans, so they didn't pay attention to me. In fact, I had a hard time understanding them with their southern accent, 'cause a lot of 'em were from the deep South. And I couldn't pick up a lot of their accent. But they were all nice, they were. So that went on 'til September when the Labor Day weekend, I decided I was going to come to the Twin Cities and visit my sisters. Well, I stayed and didn't go back.

MA: So going back to Cleveland, what type of work did you do at the foundry?

IO: I was repairing patterns for the foundry. And when they get all nicked up, we try to fix 'em up and then they'll use it again instead of trying to make a new pattern, we just fixed the old ones. But I never did get a chance to learn how to make patterns, 'cause the pattern-maker was never around.

MA: And you said the pattern-maker was Caucasian?

IO: Yes, they were all Caucasians in that department, no African Americans.

MA: So it seemed like it was sort of divided.

IO: Yeah, and then the maintenance department was the same thing. Maintenance department was all Caucasians, and I think they had three Niseis but no African Americans there.

MA: What were the African American workers doing? What department --

IO: Primarily the heavy work in the foundry where they shoveled sand. In those days, they didn't have it mechanized, they had just the shovel and sand, and they were shoveling sand all day long and packing 'em down. And they had about ten percent white people, but that was it. They must have had, oh, 125 or 150 employees in the company there.

MA: Was there a union? Were you all unionized?

IO: There were... I'm not sure, I can't remember that. I wasn't there long enough to really find out too much about it.

MA: Was there, like, what did you do in Cleveland for fun, like after work? Was there a Nisei hangout?

IO: Just went to the movies, went out and ate, went to, Cleveland had a Major League ball club, so we went to see the Major League baseball games. First time in a Major League game there. So that's what we did. Somehow, I remember some of the guys knew some of the Nisei women in town, and they used to get dates with them. And then one of the guys got me a blind date one day. [Laughs] But I don't remember too much about that. That was about that, one time deal.

MA: And your parents were still in Topaz at the time?

IO: Yeah, they were in the camp. So ended up, when I came to Twin Cities, and then shortly, my brother John, he was about sixteen years old, I guess. And he came to Twin Cities, but he didn't know that I was here. I took the bus, I was at the train depot, I guess, 'cause my sister said he was coming. So I met him, and he was shocked to see me there instead of his sisters. But he was happy. But he said he didn't have any problem on the train coming into town, no incidents. He was a sixteen-year-old Nisei kid. Then, yeah, he stayed with me, I guess. Then he went to West High School, which is no longer there now, but that's where he went. And then, shortly, my other brother Ron, he came. He's two years younger than John. And he also came to town and somehow, I can't remember what he did as far as housing, but he ended up, he ended up going to West High School, too. So they both graduated from West High School. Then, of course, Uncle Sam said they wanted to close the camps, came along. That was in 1946 or so, in that area.

MA: '45, '46?

IO: '45, yeah. And there's a place, they had a place called a hostel, house, for people that came from camp, and that's where they stayed. My youngest sister and my youngest brother and my parents, so there were four of 'em. And I forgot how long they stayed there. In the meantime, I was trying to find a place.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

MA: And, I'm sorry, you came to the Twin Cities because your sisters were there? What type of work were they doing?

IO: Housework.

MA: They were doing housework?

IO: Uh-huh. And, of course, there were a lot of Niseis here because of Camp Savage. Camp Savage was that language, Japanese language school that eventually moved to Fort Snelling. To back up a little, I remember when I was working, that Thermo King, where I got the job, and I got a call to go to the draft, so I had to go for the physical. So I told the company that I think I'm going to be long gone, because I'm going to pass and go in right away. Well, it happened I didn't pass the physical and I was back to work the next day. So they had hired a guy but they said, "Well, he's back," so I ended up with the job I had. And he ended up as my helper. [Laughs] He came back from the service, that Caucasian fellow there.

MA: At the time, did you want to, how did you feel about not passing the physical? Were you relieved or upset?

IO: Well, I just kind of felt like I got left out. All the other Niseis that I knew were going, and I wasn't going, I was staying behind. And back when we first, I came there, I stayed at the YMCA, 'cause they used to have rooms for boys when they came to town. And especially this farming community, there were a lot of 'em that came in from the farm to the city and that's where they had had a... and I stayed there for a while. And several Niseis there were, then we were kind of looking to see if we could find another place to go, and we found this rooming house. And there were several of us together. There were, let's see, four of us. I can't remember all the names of the people, but one was Sally Sudo's brother, Fred. And there was a George Kawaguchi from Seattle, and I can't remember who the others were. But there was four of us, they had room and board, and we stayed there for a while. And then somehow when my parents came, we started looking for a place, so that's when I bought that house for nothing down and sixty-five dollars a month payment.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

MA: So let's back up a little bit. Where did you, did you start working at...

IO: U.S. Thermal Control Company.

MA: Thermo King?

IO: Yeah. Well, first I had a couple other jobs, but I didn't like them and I didn't stay. And then I got this call from, it was originally U.S. Thermal Control Company, and they had an ad in the paper for, they wanted people for the assembly line. Only I went in there and applied, I says, "I see an ad in the paper for assembly line, but I don't want to be in the assembly line. I'd like to be in the stockroom or something like that." And the guy said, "Well, we'll let you know." That's when I got the call, message, when I got back to the rooming house to report to work the next day. So there I started, October of 1943. And I worked there 'til I retired May 1, 1986.

MA: So you spent your whole career there.

IO: But I kept moving as far as a job. I recall one time as a shipping clerk, the main shipping clerk, and we had to make bomb racks for P-38 planes, and they had to be in Scotland at a certain time because they were getting ready for D-Day, the invasion of Europe. And I was the last person to check those, see all the markings were correct on the box and everything before they left, and we didn't go home until about three o'clock in the morning that day. They said they had to catch the railcars to get to the East Coast to catch the ship to go to Scotland. So that's what we did. I recall another time we were making some portable refrigerators for the Marine Corps, and again, that time, we worked 'til about three in the morning getting them ready. That Thermo King, Thermal Control, at the time of the war, they were doing some war work. Then after that, they went back to their primary job of making, let's see, called it transport... yeah, transport control, temperature control equipment, which meant they could refrigerate or they could also heat in the wintertime.

MA: This was for, for trucks, right?

IO: Yeah, they were primarily for trucks. They were the largest manufacturer in the world today.

MA: When you were working during the war years at Thermo King, were there still, were the workers African American and white divided, the same way in Cleveland?

IO: There were no African Americans. They were all white at that time there, and I was the only non-white when I first started. Then as a few other Niseis came, there were... one, two, there was three of us, I guess. One who came the year after I did, and I think a few of 'em came a year or two after that. At one time I was the only one. I was the first non-Caucasian employee of that. But that was a Jewish company, see, Jewish-owned. And there again is a story about that company. They started out on a golf course one hot summer day. This original founder of the company was playing golf with his buddy who was in the trucking business. And in the middle of it, phone call, the guy come around and announces they got an emergency phone call for Werner. His name was, my boss was Numero, but Werner. He says, "What's wrong?" He says, oh, he went and got the phone and came back, he says, "We lost another load of chickens today going to Chicago," a hot summer day. So they were talking, and then pretty soon his boss said -- I mean, Numero told him, "Would you try something if I come up with something for your truck? You know, they got refrigerators for houses, why not one for a truck?" So he came back and told his chief engineer, who was a self-educated African American. On top of that, African American, he only had a formal education up to eighth grade. And Numero came back and asked him and he said, "Well, we'll see what we can do." And about ten days later he came up with something, and Werner Transportation tried it, and that was the beginning of the company, really. That was in 1938.

MA: Are they still around, this company?

IO: Huh?

MA: Is the company still around?

IO: Well, they merged with, they were bought out with Westinghouse, and then Westinghouse sold it to Ingersoll-Rand now, so they're a big corporation.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

MA: So when your parents left camp and came to the Twin Cities, most of your family was in the Twin Cities after the war?

IO: Right, yeah. Well, the two sisters didn't. They were... let's see. One was -- oh, I guess both of 'em are married, got married somewhere along the line there, 'cause they didn't, they didn't live with us. My brothers and the one sister did, youngest sister.

MA: But no one went back to California after the war?

IO: No, no. And during that time, before they came, when I was working, I used to go out with the guys from work, you know, they were all Caucasians, and we used to, on Fridays, on payday, they used to go to a bar. And I never had any incidents, and then a few years later, of course, I, other than work, the entertainment was I went to the YMCA and the YWCA 'cause they used to have organized classes, and they used to have folk dancing, ballroom dancing, and square dancing. So I used to go, and all the people were Caucasian, and they were really nice. I didn't see any African Americans or any other Asians. And I enjoyed it. And as a result, I learned how to dance.

MA: Which became an interest of yours, right? You became quite a dancer?

IO: Yeah, so I used to go to (...) all these ballrooms and what they called old-time dancing versus modern ballroom are a little different. If you know what old-time is, like polkas and schottisches and waltzes, that's kind of, it's old-time. So I started doing that, and I went to all these different ballrooms, Prom Ballroom, the Bel Rey Ballroom, Majestic Ballroom, Medina Ballroom, American House, Shlief's Little City, and never had any incidents. I was surprised, you know. In fact, one time, I took a date and I went to what they called town of Glencoe, Minnesota, which is about thirty, forty miles west, a small farming community. And here's an Asian coming in with a Caucasian girl, the ballroom, they were all farmers there, and I thought, "Oh, there might be some incident." Not a thing. I couldn't believe it. And anyway, it was in 1957 when I was in the Prom Ballroom, that's where I met my wife Carmel for the first time. She was here with her older sister to get a prom dress for her high school graduation at the time. [Laughs] She was a senior in high school. And then I never, I never gave it too much thought, I dated her once, she came to the city after that. But actually, it was 1966 when I started really dating Carmel.

MA: Oh, I see. You met her in '57.

IO: Yeah, at the Prom Ballroom. I danced with her, you know. I asked her for a dance and got it. But that was another thing. I thought I'd get refused with a lot of people. Very seldom got -- well, once in a while I got refused, but overall, I mean, the Caucasian fellows got refused, too, you know, so it didn't bother me too much, as long as I... in fact, most of 'em really wanted to dance with me. And ended up, was it 1959, the Prom Ballroom usually has an annual polka contest, dance contest. In 1959, Marilyn Holberg and I used to dance a lot, and we won first place in the polka. [Laughs] Then a few years later, I used to dance with another girl, Charlene, and we used to -- the Aquatennial Summer Fest that they had in the Twin Cities, Minneapolis, they used to have dance contests. And she and I, we used to enter, we entered polkas, schottisches, waltzes, all of that. We ended up getting about third a couple of times, I guess. But no, no racial remarks or anything. That was one of the things that really surprised me. But overall, I suppose, during all that time, if I'd walk on the streets or something, once in a while, somebody might holler "Jap" or something like that, but I just ignored it. There wasn't very many, altogether, I'd say maybe half a dozen in ten, fifteen year period.

MA: Did the Niseis have their own dancing facility, their own ballroom?

IO: Well, during the war, the YWCA used to have dances for the soldiers that were at Camp Savage, and the Niseis used to come in for that. But I didn't attend those, so I don't know what, how many were there. But there were quite many, lot of Niseis at Camp Savage, then they moved over to Fort Snelling. But they originated in Camp Savage.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

MA: Was there like a Japantown in Twin Cities?

IO: No, no.

MA: No Japantown?

IO: No, there weren't that many here. So even today, there aren't that many.

MA: Did a lot of people move away after the war?

IO: I'm not sure. Some did, I guess, but I wasn't, I never even gave it any thought. In fact, I wouldn't trade Minnesota for California, no way, right now even. 'Cause when Carmel and I, we got married, it was a small farming community in Wisconsin, about two or three hundred people town, I think, they were small dairy farmers.

MA: Is this her family, was dairy farmers?

IO: Yes, my wife, Carmel. And she, when I first met her, I asked her where she was from, and she said, "Exile, Wisconsin." I said, "Oh, she's pulling my leg, Exile, Wisconsin?" And there really is a town, Exile, Wisconsin. And we got married in Arkansas, Wisconsin, the church in Arkansas, Wisconsin. And then the reception was in Eau Galle, and then the dance was in Bay City, Wisconsin. And the only Asians who were there were my immediate family, relatives, that's it. The rest were all Caucasians.

MA: How did people feel about your marriage, being an interracial marriage?

IO: Nobody gave it too much thought.


MA: What year did you marry Carmel?

IO: 1967 -- no, '67, yeah. Yeah, 1967, we've been married forty-one years.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

MA: So let's talk about your, the housing situation and how you moved to a house and there was protests --

IO: Well, once we decided to move to Vincent Avenue, I guess, that was the one that, the final one.

MA: And this was in 1958?

IO: '58. And I don't recall hearing any derogatory remarks or anything. But next door, the policeman, never spoke. I spoke to him, he didn't say anything. The wife used to say hello, and they had two daughters. But overall, never really talked. But the couple on the south side we got to know fairly well. And then, of course, the people in the north eventually moved, and there were several different families, and there, it was all changed completely. And then as far as across the street, never had any problems with any of 'em.

MA: So when did the protests start about your protests in the neighborhood?

IO: Oh, well, when I first, when we first moved in, I mean, before we moved in, when we first put our money, earnest money down on Vincent Avenue address, right away, I was out of town, and my brothers got many nasty phone calls telling 'em we shouldn't move in. Told them we'd be sorry if we moved in. And they were primarily saying that we would bring down the value of their property, that was one of their biggest arguments they had, of any minority moving in the area. And that area we moved in was no, there were no minority people in that area, that district. That was the preferred area as far as Minneapolis. And as a result, they were trying to keep it that way. They thought, anyway. But when I was moving in, across the alley was the salesman that I dealt with. And he's immediately behind the house that I was buying. And he told me, "Gee, I wished I'd have been home, I didn't know it, I was out of town." He could have stopped all the arguments and protests they had. But it happened that the man down on the far end of the block was an employee of W.C.C.O. Television, one of the big television stations in the Twin Cities. And he didn't like the idea (...), I heard that he had arguments with those people that objected, then he got the thing on television so it hit the whole Twin Cities area and we heard all about it. And from what I heard, he continually kept telling 'em that, "You shouldn't be doing things like that," that, "There will be no property loss." And then, of course, we did finally buy it, and then after we moved in, we had no problems. Even the neighborhood kids were helping us when we were moving in.

MA: I see. So the protests came when you were thinking about moving, or you had already bought the house, but you hadn't moved in yet?

IO: Pardon me?

MA: So the protests were right when you...

IO: Oh, after I put the money down, not before. Well, of course, they heard about the other place first, 'cause I was buying, I put money on the one on Newton Avenue. And of course, there, I understand the next door neighbor's wife was hysterical when they heard that a Nisei was gonna buy the house, that's what I heard. And, of course, he was (...) the assistant treasurer (...) at Northwest Bank. And as a result, I heard that many people withdrew their money from Northwest, which kind of surprised me, but that's what they did.

MA: So the first house on Newton Avenue...

IO: The first, yeah. And the second house is the one that I ended up buying, the Vincent Avenue.

MA: So what happened with the Newton Avenue house? Did you just forget about the whole thing?

IO: Yeah, we just cancelled the earnest money, purchase agreement, and the real estate man said, "That's fine." In fact, it's the same real estate man that took me to the second house, which we closed on.

MA: And the, it was published in the newspaper, right?

IO: Yeah, correct, besides being on television. And they asked us to go on television and talk, too, but we didn't. But some of the protestors did go on television and talk. But we decided that wasn't the way to go.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

MA: How common was it in the Twin Cities to have that happen at the time?

IO: Well, I don't know about Niseis, but I know that African Americans were having a lot of problems with it at the same time the incident happened. So the story in the paper's kind of jumbled up between the black family having a problem and I was having a problem. And as a result, I don't know. All I know is that there was a lot of confusion between the two stories, I think.

MA: Where did the Niseis live? Did they all live in one area, one neighborhood?

IO: Not that I know. They were all scattered, all in the Twin Cities area. But there were a fair amount in St. Louis Park, I guess. But I don't think they were all bunched up together, they're all scattered.

MA: After the newspaper published the story about your house, were most people sympathetic to you?

IO: Pardon me?

MA: Were most people sympathetic, the public?

IO: Yeah, 'cause there were a lot of letters to the editor writing about the pros for my side of the story, actually, instead of saying that they shouldn't sell it, they should sell it, they said. In fact, there were people who wrote in and said, "I'd be glad to have 'em as my next door neighbor."

MA: And after you moved into the Vincent Avenue house, you had no problems?

IO: No problem at all. We just didn't talk to 'em, that's all, and they didn't talk to us. In fact, they wouldn't talk. I tried to talk to 'em, but they wouldn't talk. They just ignored me. So I decided that I'll just forget about them, and never had a problem.

MA: And the man who was the agitator, worked with your brother, is that right?

IO: Yeah. But never talked to him, he wouldn't talk at all. His wife wouldn't for a long time, but then later on, later years, she did talk. But not, I mean, just casual conversation, not close like my next door neighbor on the south side, we were pretty close.

MA: And who was living with you? Was it your siblings or your parents?

IO: Oh, well, in Vincent Avenue, my father was already passed away, so my mother, my brother Ron, and my brother Don and myself, the rest were all gone. In fact, the rest of 'em were all married, yeah.

MA: When did your father pass away?

IO: 1952. I'm not sure exactly how, all I know is that he was on the way home, coming home from Japan on the ship. He either fell off or he jumped off, I don't know. I had no idea.

MA: But somehow he, it was during that trip, that boat ride?

IO: Trip coming back from Japan. All I know is the ship gave us a letter saying he disappeared, that's all.

MA: What was he doing in Japan?

IO: Visiting relatives. So he was already in his seventies, I don't know, seventy-eight, seventy-nine, I don't know exactly how old he was. But he went there and visited some of his relatives, and on the way back, that was it, disappeared.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

MA: So tell me about your job at Thermo King. You ended up becoming a buyer, is that right?

IO: Yeah, lead buyer. We spent millions of dollars buying all kinds of commercial equipment and parts of engines, 'cause they were, the units were run by an engine. And we first started with (...) a gasoline engine, and then ended up with a diesel engine. And there were a lot of material that had to be bought. So I was doing that.

MA: And how long did you work as a buyer? Was that...

IO: Oh, well, let's see. I must have been a buyer for thirty years, maybe. I'm not sure, I can't remember. But I know that the company was real small when I started, and it grew to be a large company. 'Cause I think when I left, they were doing a billion dollar business. And then when I was working there, they were doing good if they could do a half a million dollar business. [Laughs]

MA: So you saw the company change a lot in those years.

IO: Oh, yes, a lot. Really grew.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

MA: How did you feel about the redress, the government apology and the reparations payments for the internment?

IO: Well, I just thought, well... I was surprised that we ever got it. That was one of the things, I never expected to get it. I thought it was something that was impossible that we'd ever get something like that. And when they passed it, I just said, "Well, we'll take it." [Laughs]

MA: Was your mother alive at that point?

IO: Yes. Yeah, 'cause my mother passed away, it was 1996 or so. She lived to be ninety-six years old. 'Course, the last few years, she was in a nursing home. But they were good to her in the nursing home, considering that she couldn't communicate.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

MA: So how have, you've lived in Twin Cities now for fifty years, and how have you seen the city change over time?

IO: Oh, big change. It's grown to a big city where when I first came here, I looked around, (...) all you see is Caucasians, you don't see any black or you don't see any Asians, and now I see 'em all over. [Laughs] But when I first came -- but there was one area where there was, African Americans were congregated more or less, in that one area. But it never used to seem like, in the areas that I was living, even in the last, let's see, started probably in the last ten years or so, that you started to see African Americans in that area, and Asians. And I used to go downtown, I looked around, I'm the only Asian around, and no minority even. That was kind of like isolated or something, I felt like sometimes. But everyone was nice to me, at least my experience.

MA: And now it seems like there's a lot of Southeast Asians who've immigrated to Minnesota?

IO: Yes, lot of, awful lot of 'em. There's more of them than any other. In fact, the company I worked for has a lot of Southeast Asians working for them now, as well as people from India. Not many American Indians, but the Indians from, the Southeast Asian Indians.

MA: Yeah, so it seems like a lot of changes with people in Minnesota.

IO: Oh, yeah, really. In fact, you could even go out of town, a lot of these smaller towns now, you see Asians. Because a lot of 'em had adopted Korean babies, so you see these smaller towns, a lot of Korean adoptions. I was surprised that so many of these small towns that adopted Koreans.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

MA: Well, is there anything else you'd like to talk about?

IO: Well, about the only thing I could say is nowadays, we have family gatherings, either my side or my wife's side, and usually about twenty to thirty people get together. 'Cause we have no children, so this is all, just nephews and nieces, only all the nephews and nieces on my side of the family are all growing up. In fact, one nephew's son was a professional hockey player for about six years. He just had to retire 'cause of injuries. Now he's going back to college. [Laughs]

MA: This is on your side?

IO: Yeah, my side, and he's about six-feet-two. Well, he's half Japanese and half Caucasian. In fact, there's, I got three brothers and myself, so there's four boys, three of us have Caucasian wives. Only one brother has a Nisei wife, and she's passed away. He's in his eighties now, he went back to work after his wife died. [Laughs]

MA: And do your brothers still live in the area?

IO: Well, no, one brother lives here, and one sister, the youngest sister lives here, and I got a brother in Lynwood, Washington, and a brother in Morristown, New Jersey, and a sister in Newton, Massachusetts. And as far as our family, the only one that's passed away is my sister Yuri, she used to live in the suburb here, Burnsville. She's been gone at least, it was in the late '90s, I can't remember exactly. And her husband also is passed away, so they're both gone. But on my side of the family, two brothers are now, yeah, one is, Ron is eighty, and John is about eighty-two, eighty-three, and I'm eighty-eight. Then my sister May is eighty-five, I guess. So then my sister here in town, she's about seventy-six, seventy-five or seventy-six. And then the youngest brother's about, not quite seventy, maybe sixty-nine or seventy, I can't remember. [Laughs]

MA: Well, it sounds like you have quite a large family still.

IO: Yeah. So I guess we look forward to the holiday gatherings, and we've enjoyed it. And since I sold my house and we moved into a condo, and it's now 1997 when I moved into a condo. And so I sit and watch people mow the lawn and shovel snow, I don't have to do that anymore. And I go, five days a week I go to the YMCA and work out and have a good time. [Laughs] [Interruption] When I went, after I got married, after I married Carmel, we went mostly for modern ballroom dancing, didn't do the old-time that much. She was more into that than I was. I used to dance up to five days a week, old-time dancing. I used to go alone or else go with some Caucasian fellows that I knew. Then, of course, you make the rounds and you know a lot of the same people are making all the rounds anyway, so you see 'em all. So that's about all I can say, I guess.

MA: Great. Well, is there anything else before we finish up?

IO: I just... don't think there is.

MA: Okay. Well, thank you so much.

IO: Oh, well, this was a lot easier than I thought. [Laughs]

MA: [Laughs] Well, good, it was very enjoyable.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.