Densho Digital Archive
Twin Cities JACL Collection
Title: George M. Yoshino Interview
Narrator: George M. Yoshino
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Bloomington, Minnesota
Date: June 17, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-ygeorge_3-01

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: First, today's Wednesday, June 17, 2009, and we're in Minneapolis, and we have George Yoshino. But also in the room, on camera, we have Dana Hoshide. And I'm the interviewer, Tom Ikeda, and then also observing we have Steve Ozone from the Twin Cities JACL. And so, George, thank you for coming. And I wanted... the first question was I wanted to find, or ask you, when were you born?

GY: February the 25th, 1921.

TI: So this makes you eighty-eight years old?

GY: Yeah, an old man now.

TI: Okay, eighty-eight, and that's a special year. Did you have a, like a special birthday on your eighty-eighth birthday?

GY: No, no, nothing special.

TI: And George, can you tell me where you were born?

GY: Bellevue, Washington.

TI: And was that in a house or a medical facility?

GY: House, yeah. They had midwives then. [Laughs] The midwife was Shimomura, I forgot her first name, but she was from Seattle. She used to come up, come to the house. That's after myself, my brothers and sisters.

TI: Well, that's interesting. Shimomura, she's the grandmother of Roger Shimomura, who is a pretty well-known artist. And he did a whole series of paintings based on his grandmother's diary. So you were delivered by a fairly well-known person.

GY: Yeah.

TI: And what was the name given to you when you were born?

GY: Masao.

TI: And was there, like, a middle name?

GY: No, no.

TI: Let's talk about your father first. What was your father's name?

GY: His name was Toyoji.

TI: Toyoji, was it a family name?

GY: Yoshino.

TI: Okay, that's right. Toyoji Yoshino. And can you tell me where he was from?

GY: Tokyo.

TI: Oh, that's interesting.

GY: Tokyo, yeah.

TI: And what did his family do?

GY: [Laughs] I don't know.

TI: Do you know anything about his family? Did he have any brothers or sisters?

GY: Well, I know he was the youngest of the brothers, that's why he immigrated to the United States. Because as far as inheritance go, it always went to (...) the oldest person. He had no prospective interest in coming to him. That's what I understood.

TI: And do you know about when he came to America?

GY: Oh, about 1908 or something like that. Before the First World War.

TI: And where did he go when he first came to America?

GY: Beg your pardon?

TI: Where did he go in America?

GY: Bellevue, I think. According to the history that I read, it doesn't say where he went before. All I know is he came there. He could have worked in a lumberyard or railroad or something, but it doesn't say nothing like that. So the only thing I see is he came and joined the others, cleared some land and farmed, that's about all I can say.

TI: And do you know what kind of farming he did in Bellevue?

GY: Well, it was vegetable farms, strawberries, peas, lettuce and such, for the local market. By local market I mean Seattle, you know, the big city.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: And how did he meet your mother?

GY: That one's a big question. I don't know. I never asked because... it's funny, he's from the city. Well, she's from way out in Saitama-ken, the farmers. So how they met, or it could have been introduced, you know, but I never did ask. So I wouldn't know.

TI: Now, do you know where they got married, whether it was in Japan or Bellevue?

GY: I imagine it was Japan, because she came over in the '20s, I guess, 1919 or something like that, I don't know.

TI: Okay, and when they got to Bellevue, how many children did they have?

GY: None.

TI: Okay, but then after they were in Bellevue they had you, so...

GY: Yeah, I'm the biggest one.

TI: You're the biggest one, and how many other siblings?

GY: Three of 'em.

TI: And can you tell me their names?

GY: The next one to me was Kenji, the next one was Hikaru, and the next one is Shizu, a girl.

TI: So three boys and one girl?

GY: Yeah.

TI: And what was the age difference between you and Kenji?

GY: Four... two years. Two years' difference.

TI: Okay, and then between Kenji and Hikaru?

GY: Two years.

TI: Two years. And then Hikaru and Shizu?

GY: Two years.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: And can you describe to me kind of where in Bellevue you lived?

GY: Well, to begin with, Bellevue is a big territory. So we lived in a place called Peterson Hill, actually, it's a hill, and on the bottom part of it, that's where they farmed. And from there, we went to another neighborhood called Midlakes, that was up on the hill. It was all dry farming there, we didn't irrigate or nothing, it was all dry farming. But the first farm we were irrigating water from a creek. Them days you stole it. Nowadays, you can't do that because the DNR would be right after you. But them days, you dammed up the creek and pump water.

TI: And tell me, so you would actually block the creek, it would kind of fill up, and you would literally just pump the water into the fields?

GY: It's electric -- or not electric, gas pump, water pump. And we had pipes out in the field, had sprinklers and so on. You need to farm, to irrigate, you got out in the morning and started the gas pump.

TI: And back then, was that okay to do or was that kind of, you weren't supposed to do that either?

GY: No. Them days, there was a lot of things. You can cut lumber and use it for firewood, nobody said anything. Nowadays, you can't do that. Fish, you could fish trout in a stream any time of the year you wanted to. Not anymore. Them things were... growing up, yeah.

TI: And what are some other things besides fishing and farming that you did as a kid that maybe people don't do now?

GY: No, you can't do it now. You know, it's just the law, that's all.

TI: Right, but are there other things that, what are some other things you did as a kid?

GY: Well, we walked to school. I mean, I think, sitting here and looking at the school and everything, I think we walked two or three miles. Rain, snow or sleet, we did it. Compared to nowadays, that bus almost comes to your house. We never had such a luxury like that. But my first bike was in '38 or something like that.

TI: And describe to me the Bellevue community. I mean, what kind of a community was it like now? Because now, it's a major metropolitan area.

GY: Yeah.

TI: But I'm wondering, what was it like when you were growing up?

GY: Well, Bellevue itself was located next to the water, it was Lake Washington. And it was a town by itself. And from there, it spread out into the suburbs, different villages. So we had, oh, three or four different places where the Japanese people farmed. Usually where I was, at Peterson Hill, we had about five or six farmers right down the row. They farmed about, oh, ten acres each, and they come to a place called Midlakes, and the same thing happened there. There was a row of Japanese people, there's about eight or so in there. And then they were scattered all over different neighborhoods. So if you put it together, it's not Bellevue, it's all combined together. So Bellevue itself was a town, and we had a place called Midlakes, there was a railroad going through there. So we built, they built a shipping shed where we loaded the boxcars, or not... the refrigerator cars. But them days, refrigeration was ice, you know, they blew ice on top of the lettuce or whatever, and they shipped it to Chicago. On the way, they had to re-ice it, so the re-icing things, I had a hand in that after I got out of internment camp because I worked on the railroad. And we stored ice in sheds during the summertime -- during the wintertime.

TI: And so that was a way to keep the produce as fresh as possible as it would go to these major places...

GY: Yeah, like lettuce and peas and stuff, they shipped it to Chicago. But the local product, like strawberries, you can't ship that. It went to the local market... tough work.

TI: When you talk about all the Japanese Bellevue families, now, did they own the land or were they leasing the land?

GY: Some of 'em, most of 'em owned it, according to the report that I have. But my dad didn't buy it right away, he was renting, I think. Toward the end there, I don't know how he got it, but we had a stand-in and used his name. And later on, it was transferred to me.

TI: So was this the lease or the land?

GY: Lease, that was lease yeah.

TI: Because back then, even the Isseis couldn't lease the land? They had to have either a Nisei or...

GY: A local-born person do it. So I don't know how ours came about, but I know that the guy that stood in, he used to be what you call a middleman selling produce in Seattle. And I know he signed the paperwork, then later on he transferred it over to me. But it was something else. I mean, somehow, according to the report I had, lot them purchased their land. But I couldn't figure that out because it was restricted, you know, them days. But according to a report, they even, lot of 'em purchased theirs.

TI: Yeah, the alien land laws prevented the Isseis from buying and leasing land. But I think a Nisei, once they were of age, could...

GY: Yeah, even before the age, they just put her name in there, you know. That's about all they can do.

TI: So you're right, a lot of them used what are called middlemen or surrogates to...

GY: Yeah, yeah.

TI: or lease the land.

GY: Yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: Can you describe the house that you grew up in, what that was like?

GY: House was, well, regular house, only it wasn't, didn't have no indoor plumbing or anything like that. But otherwise it was your living room, dining room, bedroom, separated. Of course, all I know is we had electricity later on, but before that, we had kerosene lamps. [Laughs]

TI: To you that may seem normal, but to the people who watch this tape will think, "Well, George didn't have electricity or indoor plumbing." That was a long time ago. So like just water for cooking, was that brought in? Did you have a pump of some kind?

GY: Yeah. Each family had a well, dug into there and add a well. Either had a pump or drop a bucket in there and pull it up. Tough work.

TI: And so growing up, were there certain chores that you had around the house?

GY: Oh, we did everything. Go out there and feed the cows or whatever, we did it. I mean, nobody was assigned to it, you know. It was all growing up.

TI: So when you think about, kind of, growing up, say you're maybe ten, eleven years old, what would be a typical day for you? Like would you have to do chores before school? I just want to get a flavor of what that...

GY: That part, I don't think we did anything before going to school, maybe feed the chickens or something. But aside from that, I can't remember that. I just get up and go.

TI: How about breakfast, did you have breakfast before you went to school?

GY: Yeah, miso shiru and something like that, I guess. [Laughs] No, we had toast and eggs and stuff. We had our own chickens, only thing we had to buy was milk. We got along.

TI: And then would your mother wake up and make breakfast for you?

GY: Oh, yeah.

TI: And then when you went to school, did you bring a sack lunch?

GY: Yeah, sack lunch, yeah. Carry it with you.

TI: And then after school, what would you do after school?

GY: After school you come home and do whatever work we had to do. I mean, something around the house or out on the farm. It was during the harvest season, naturally we were out in the field. But during the spring, nothing blooming, just played around, you know. That's about it.

TI: Now, you mentioned how the produce that the farms produced was for the Seattle market. Did you ever take food for produce to Seattle?

GY: No. We had a -- well, some of these, some of 'em did because they had their own trucks. My family didn't have a truck, so we had a guy come in and take it in. He had to take it to the produce house or the commission house and they would sell it for us. That's about it.

TI: Now, do you recall how that was done? Was that done by consignment or did that person buy the produce from your dad?

GY: Take it to this guy, he'll sell it for you. And I don't know how much commission he took, but he'll send the balance to you. He'll take his commission, I don't know what, five percent, two percent, I couldn't tell you that.

TI: And then what happens to the food that he couldn't sell? If you brought lettuce or peas and couldn't sell it in Seattle, what would happen to the food?

GY: That part... actually, I don't know. I think they got rid of it cheap or something, you know. But, well, if the farmers brought it in themselves, they had a stand, and they sold it from there. But like us guys, we just shipped it and depended on him to get rid of it. I imagine he got rid of it, cut the price or something. What else are you gonna do? [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: So I'm curious, growing up in Bellevue, did you ever get over to Seattle very much?

GY: Oh, yeah, I got over to Seattle. Took the ferry across from a place called Medina into Seattle, Yesler Place, and from there we took a cable car and went downtown.

TI: And what would be the occasion to go to Seattle?

GY: I don't know, shopping, funerals, weddings, that's about it. I don't know. I liked to go to funerals and weddings, because we always went to it, they always had Chinese food, and represented the family.

TI: Now, when you would go and get the Chinese food, would it be at a Chinese restaurant?

GY: Yeah, Chinese. Different from now. Now, you don't find a restaurant very often, buffet, that's all you have. But them days, we went to a restaurant, Chinese restaurant, and had a feast. It was good.

TI: Now, do you remember any of the names of the restaurants that you would go to?

GY: No, I don't know.

TI: Okay, I was just curious.

GY: I don't know. There was a couple of them downtown, I don't know, Kinka Low or something like that, I don't know. Gyokoken or something like that. That's about all I could tell you, I don't know.

TI: Now, when you went to Seattle, there was a large Japanese community in Seattle. How would you compare the sort of Seattle Japanese community to the Bellevue Japanese community? Were there differences between the two?

GY: Well, I don't think there was too much difference. The kids, Nisei kids went to school. And of course, in town, they went to Japanese school after the English school. So in the country, we only went to Japanese school class on Saturdays. But as far as speaking the Japanese language, I don't think we did it between ourselves. With the folks, yes, but not the young people together. We were out there carousing around, it'd be all in English, not Japanese. That's the difference from what it was today. Today is different.

TI: How so? Why is it different?

GY: Well, the immigrants, this is today, the young people talk amongst themselves all the time. We didn't do that. We stuck to English only. Of course, when we were home, we talked Japanese for the parents. But nowadays it's different.

TI: Well, let's talk about your case because you were the oldest, and I'm imagining that you learned Japanese first at home, that your parents taught you Japanese?

GY: Well, as far as learning goes, you just, you pick it up, you know, just like anything else.

TI: But when you were first being raised, did your parents talk in Japanese or English to you?

GY: Japanese. Japanese all the time.

TI: And so when you went to school the first day, did you know any English?

GY: Oh, yeah. Because as kids we were talking with the neighbors and everything else. So we knew English, and that's what we spoke.

TI: And so around, like, the dinner table, when you had Kenji, Hikaru, Shizu and then your parents? What language would you talk in?

GY: Japanese, yeah.

TI: Okay, so at the home you talked Japanese, but outside with your friends you talked English.

GY: English, yeah.

TI: And you mentioned earlier how in the city, the kids had to go to Japanese language school every day, but in the country, only Saturdays. Why was that? Why didn't you go every day?

GY: Because we only had a clubhouse, and the instructors came from Seattle.

TI: Okay, so the same instructors that were doing every day in Seattle...

GY: Probably, yes.

TI: ...on Saturdays they would come to Bellevue and other places. That makes sense. You mentioned clubhouse, what was the clubhouse?

GY: Clubhouse was the, they built it. The Japanese people in Bellevue and that vicinity got together and built a great big building where we held school, shows, movies shown there, everything there. It was just a place where we come together. Picnics, all the same place.

TI: And so you had picnics, and this is also where the Japanese language classes...

GY: Yeah, yeah. We had judo classes there and everything, kendo classes, a little at a time.

TI: It sounds like a wonderful, kind of, childhood experience. How about with other races? Did you mingle with other non-Japanese in Bellevue?

GY: Well, yeah. Most of the time was during school. But aside from that, ordinary living, I don't think we mingled with them that much, you know. In school, yes. But amongst ourselves or within the community it would be just Japanese, that's all.

TI: But in general, when you look at Bellevue, how would you say the race relationships were between the whites and the Japanese?

GY: I think they were okay. I had no trouble, no. No trouble at all. But after Pearl Harbor, yeah, that's something else. But before that, I don't think we were called "Japs" or anything like that, not that I remember. They could have called us that, but I don't remember that much.

TI: Okay.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: There are a couple of events that happened in Bellevue that I just wanted to ask about. One is the annual strawberry festival. Bellevue is known for their strawberry festival, and I was wondering if you recalled the strawberry festival?

GY: No, I don't. All I know, they sold strawberries there, and they had parades and stuff like that. But I don't remember too much of it now.

TI: Okay, so that wasn't a big deal for you. How about another big event before the war, you talked about taking the ferry from Medina to Leschi or Yesler. And then right before the war, they opened up the floating bridge. Do you recall going across the floating bridge?

GY: No, because we didn't have no mobile transportation. Those are people that have their own cars, they crossed over. But us guys doesn't have any automobile or anything, we just took the ferry, that's all. That was all right.

TI: So even with the bridge, people still took the ferry?

GY: For a while, yes. For a while, yeah.

TI: And that's because of the streetcars and everything.

GY: Yeah. When they discontinued that, I don't know what year they discontinued it, to tell you the truth

TI: Now, did you have a sense that in those really early years when they opened up the floating bridge, did Bellevue change at all with the floating bridge?

GY: Well, I suppose it did. But to what extent, I couldn't tell you that. But it did save transportation going back and forth on the ferry, otherwise you could drive over there by yourself, you know. So it was all right.

TI: Any other childhood memories of Bellevue? It's such a, kind of interesting place to grow up, there was the lake and the woods, you have the farms, do you have any fond memories?

GY: As far as memories go, there isn't too much to talk about. We used to go to a place called -- at least I did, a place called Midlakes neighborhood. There was a lake there, so we used to build our own raft and push ourselves out there and fish a little bit. That's about it. Aside from that, we just stuck around home.

TI: So let's talk about your parents a little bit. Did they do very much socializing?

GY: No, they didn't. They didn't do too much. I don't think anybody did too much socializing. Maybe New Year's Day or something they'll go to different homes and stuff like that. What you call mochitsuki, couple of families get together and make those rice cakes.

TI: Well, so how would they do that? For the... I'm guessing they pounded it, but like the usu...

GY: Oh, yeah, the usu was made of a trunk of a tree. One time my dad carved one out and they had the wood mallets with a handle on it, bang, bang, bang.

TI: Now, when your dad carved out a tree trunk kind of thing, how would he do that? Because I'm always amazed at how smooth things are.

GY: To tell you the truth, that part I don't know. But I know he did it because it was our stuff. [Laughs]

TI: And when you did the mochi pounding, you mentioned like other families would join in?

GY: Yeah. And they had these, the steamer, you know, they put the rice in the steamer and steam it up. And after that, they started pounding it. It was a chore, they make those mochi.

TI: Okay, good.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: I want to ask about your dad. Did your dad get very involved in any community affairs like meetings with the community or anything like that?

GY: Well, toward the end there, just before the war, he got involved a little bit, that's when they yanked him in.

TI: Yeah, that's why I was kind of following, or was gonna follow up later on about the FBI picking him up, and that's why I wanted to get a sense of how involved he was with community.

GY: When the war broke out in '41, he was elected into the... what do you call... cooperative association. And I don't know how, but anyway, he was the fourth one to be pulled in. There was three of 'em, right after the bomb fell, couple weeks later they pulled in four of 'em, or three of 'em. Yabuki, Matsuoka, Tsushima, there was three of 'em, and my dad was the fourth one. They came and took him away.

TI: Do you remember them coming to your house?

GY: Yeah.

TI: So tell me how they did that.

GY: Well, three of 'em came in, three FBI men. And their purpose was to take him in. And all the men searched the house, looked through all the magazines, stuff like that. And then they said they were taking him to the immigration office of Seattle, so they took him.

TI: And while this was happening, what were you and the others doing?

GY: Well, we just watched. What else are you going to do, just watched.

TI: Now at this point, you had already graduated from high school.

GY: Yeah, I was already...

TI: You're the eldest son, did you at any point have to kind of translate or explain things to your parents in terms of what's going on?

GY: Well, they expected that. Because the other people had already gone in, and there was a Japanese publication paper that came out saying all that stuff. So they expected it. And my mother says, "All right, you guys are American citizens, don't worry about us. We'll take whatever punishment that they hand out. That's about it.

TI: But your mother said that thinking that nothing would happen to you as an American citizen.

GY: Yeah. "You guys are American citizens, you stick with that." Because what they do as parents, she said, "Don't worry about it, we'll take it." That's how our family went.

TI: I'm going to come back to the beginning of the war a little bit later, but I wanted to go back now to your, kind of your school experiences. Can you tell me what elementary school you went to?

GY: Well, school was... I don't know. As far as I'm concerned, there was nothing different, grade school and high school. I didn't play any sports, but I was involved in baseball at one time, but not a heck of a lot. That was about, well, that was about it. Studied.

TI: So which high school did you go to?

GY: Bellevue Union High School. That was in 1940 when I got out.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: And then after you graduate from high school, what did you do?

GY: That's the question. I don't know, when we graduated, what were we gonna do? We were gonna go to university or we were gonna work on the farm or what, shop? We didn't know what we were gonna do, at least I didn't know. So I worked here and there, and in 1940 when I got out, I worked at the home, then I worked some other farms. I ended up on an oyster farm up north, and I didn't like that. So in '41...

TI: Can I ask you more about the oyster farm? So up north, where, which oyster farm?

GY: Well, it was up, it was toward Bellingham way. And the farm was owned by Japanese people. It was out in the bay. And to harvest that, you took a tugboat or whatever you want to call it and drag the barge, and waited for the tide to go all the way out, and just like ground then, you picked up the oysters.

TI: So you would bring a barge out, wait for low tide so the barge would then just sit on the...

GY: Yeah, then you pitched it on top of the barge.

TI: And then you would climb off the barge and you would then pitch the oysters on?

GY: Yeah. When you finished certain territory, you had to wait 'til the water came in, comes back in to float the thing up.

TI: And then the barge would then bring the barge...

GY: Yeah, into the shed, to a packing shed. Yeah, hold it there and then you're going to sell it by the whole or take it out, take the inside out. It was okay, but I couldn't see that in the wintertime.

TI: Now, the Japanese are known for really growing the oyster business in the Northwest. Were there quite a few Japanese out there in that bay?

GY: That part I couldn't tell you. All I know is I went to this one family, and he's the one that hired me. I had to go out there and try it. 'Cause he says, "If it works out, you'll have to take the tugboat out there," and stuff like that, and I didn't think I would like to do that. [Laughs]

TI: So you tried a few times after that, you said it wasn't for you.

GY: Yeah. One day they said, "We're going to go out to thin, thin the oysters." "Thin the oysters? What are you going to do?" "Thin 'em out." I found out the oysters grow in (clusters) like this. So you had to break 'em apart so they'll grow large. I didn't know that. So we were out there, and we walked out. Quite a ways out, maybe a mile, two miles out, and he left me out there and he showed me what to do. He said, "When the water starts to come in, just walk home." By the time I got home, the water was up to my waist. [Laughs]

TI: So you didn't walk fast enough. [Laughs]

GY: Yeah. Well, it was an experience, that's all I can say.

TI: And how would you compare oyster farming with regular farming? Why was that, was that harder, or just different?

GY: Oh, it's just different. You got one crop and that's oysters. And I don't know where they got the seed, that part I don't know. All I know is when I got out, there was clusters of oysters like this.

TI: And do you know how he sold his oysters? When you brought up with the barge and the packing shed, where do the oysters go from there?

GY: They had a group in there that shelled it. It's in the, when they shelled it, oysters itself went out to market.

TI: Okay, thank you for doing that. I always wanted to ask somebody about the oyster farming.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: And so you said you did some other jobs, too. So other than oyster farming, what else did you do?

GY: (...) When I came back, (I) went to work, lots of us, Isseis, Niseis, worked on a holly farm. Holly farm, you got the holly trees. We were trimming the trees to make wreaths. Young people were out there trimming the things, and the Issei people were in the shed making your wreaths. That's when they came running out and said, "Pearl Harbor was bombed." So I don't know, maybe I said, "Where is that?" Who knew where Pearl Harbor was? [Laughs] That was it. From then on, it's curfew and stuff like that.

TI: So going back to the holly farming when you hear about Pearl Harbor, do you recall the reaction of the people around you and what people said?

GY: Well, we were sort of surprised, the young people were, because who knew anything like that was gonna happen? Nobody knew. But so it happened, so we just took it as a gift, took it as it came, yeah. But it affected everybody in different ways. Most of the businesspeople even in Seattle, they had quite a time there. But I suppose the farmers were the same thing. For the farmers in Bellevue, we had our crops in, I mean, we had our peas in and the strawberries are coming up, and we had to leave in May. So we sold it, they sold it to somebody that might buy it dirt cheap, you know.

TI: You're talking about the fields with all the strawberries almost ready to be harvested, you would sell that.

GY: And we sold the peas, peas were in a row that was coming up. And we transplanted from greenhouse plants to the outside that were ready to go. And we put 'em out because we were told, "If you plow 'em under, you'll be charged for espionage," and stuff like that. So the order came out that way. So we kept on doing it.

TI: So you have to explain this to me again. So they said if you don't keep farming, essentially, you'll be charged with espionage?

GY: Yeah. If you destroyed it, if you destroyed it.

TI: And this is your own work. This is your work...

GY: Yeah.

TI: And they said if you don't, if you don't keep doing it...

GY: Yeah, so we all farmed it. I think most of the farmers just kept on going and got rid of it somehow.

TI: But then it's kind of ironic, too, because then they took you away before you were able to harvest everything.

GY: Oh, yeah, it was before that.

TI: And so you had to then sell it.

GY: Yeah.

TI: So who would take over the farm? Like your farm, who took over the farm?

GY: Well, we sold it to one man, the crop and all, for I don't know how much it was. He took it and what he did with it, I don't know. I even sold him the horse that I had.

TI: So was this someone that was local or did someone come from a different area?

GY: Local, local. Most of us were all local. Even in Seattle, I think the merchants sold to somebody that knew somebody else or something like that. Or some of 'em took a licking, I think. That can't be helped. I think people in Bainbridge, they suffered quite a bit, the farmers out there. That's how it goes.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: Yeah, so now going back to the FBI picking up men, you said first they picked up the three initially. Do you recall what you and the other people in the community thought when they picked up, I think you said the Matsuoka and (Yabuki Tsushima).

GY: Yeah, they were the leaders of the community. And why they would pick them up, I still don't know. Nobody was charged with anything, but they picked 'em up. As far as my dad goes, I don't know why.

TI: Yeah, that's what I'm curious... so when they started doing that, were people fearful or were they confused, mad?

GY: Oh, yeah. Whoever -- they didn't panic. Whoever was the head of an organization, I think they took it for granted that maybe they'll get pulled in. From the community there was four from our...

TI: Now, when they were taking your father away, did your father say anything to you -- because you were the oldest son and you were there -- about taking care of the family or anything like that?

GY: No, he didn't. We just took it for granted that, "You guys carry on."

TI: So any reactions from your younger brothers like Kenji or Hikaru about what should be done or anything like that?

GY: They were very... we were still young, yet. So we just carried on, that's all. That's about it.

TI: But all the decisions in terms of selling the horse and the crops, did that fall on your shoulders?

GY: Mine and my mother's, yeah. Them were the days. Well, the Sanseis, maybe some of the younger Niseis, maybe they didn't feel it as much as the older ones did, you know. But it's history now. We just talk about it like I'm talking about it right now.

TI: Okay, before we move away from Bellevue, I just want to go back and ask you about whether or not, did you go to church back then before...

GY: Yeah. When we were kids growing up, we went to Sunday school and stuff like that. But our denomination, I can't tell you what it is, I think it was congregational church where we went, and we go by attendance. At that time, they gave us different kind of pins, colored pins, to denote our constant attendance. [Laughs] From there, where did we go? Oh, we went to, turned to Baptists, Baptist ministers and stuff came out to Bellevue, and they had a little get-together. Then in camp, we went to Tule Lake. At that time, church was all mixed up, 'cause all different denominations were there in Tule.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: Okay, so before we go to Tule, let's now talk about, how did people find out that they were going to be removed from the Bellevue area?

GY: Well, at that big proclamation that Roosevelt issued. I forgot what it was, 1099 or something like that.

TI: Executive Order 9066?

GY: Yeah.

TI: But then, so he issued that proclamation, but then they went from community to community. So in Bellevue, how did people in Bellevue find out when they were going to leave? Do you remember?

GY: That part I don't know. I think there was an order coming out, but all I know is we got orders to go, they named a date and they picked us up.

TI: And so where did they pick you up in Bellevue?

GY: Well, they had a gathering place, I think it was in Kirkland or someplace, railroad siding, and we all went there. You had your friends take you, or we had a transportation man come and pick us up and went there, whatever we can carry on our back.

TI: When you say "transportation man," what was he? Like a government official went around...

GY: No, he's a local trucker that used to take our produce to Seattle. He came out and took us there.

TI: Now, during this time, we just touched upon it earlier, you said after Pearl Harbor was when, perhaps, there was more racial tension between the whites and the...

GY: Yeah, yeah.

TI: Do you recall any incident or recall anyone saying anything?

GY: No. As far as incidents go, I don't think we had any. It was real quiet. Of course, we had a curfew on us, we couldn't go out after certain hour at night. Aside from that, we got catcalls once in a while, that's about it.

TI: How about acts of kindness? Did anyone ever go out of their way to, perhaps, help you or other Japanese in Bellevue?

GY: Oh, I don't think there was any violence or anything like that.

TI: Well, maybe not violence, but what about kindness? People doing something, a favor...

GY: Oh, yeah. Whatever we knew, whoever we knew in the community, yeah. They always, what else can they do? They didn't talk bad to us or anything like that, not that I know.

TI: But did you see anyone go out of their way to be nice to you because of what was happening?

GY: Oh, no, not necessarily. Not necessarily. But we had no harm come to us, you know. No vocal or physical violence, nothing like that.

TI: So let's go back to Kirkland when you're going to get on the train. Do you at this point know where you were going to go?

GY: To tell you the truth, I don't know, but we ended up in Fresno. [Laughs] That was hot.

TI: Well, first, describe Kirkland. Who was at Kirkland when... was it just Japanese or were some of your neighbors there?

GY: Japanese and we had soldiers standing with guns, standing guard. That's it.

TI: And so how did you feel about that when you saw them with guns?

GY: Well, kind of disappointing, you know. But being young, I don't think we felt it very much. We just had to go and go, that's about all. Of course, there were hard feelings there, but still, we had no riots or anything like that. Just took it as it came.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: Okay, so now you go from the Pacific Northwest, Bellevue, and then you're taken to the Pinedale Assembly Center in Fresno.

GY: Yeah.

TI: So describe what Pinedale was like when you got there.

GY: Well, Pinedale, we found it was real hot and dry. Of course, when we got there, we were kids. I mean, I don't know how you would say it, but I think, camp, barracks are barracks, three or four families to a barrack, you know. Outside biffy, sit eight across or something like that. That was hot. I mean, we only stayed there only two months. And whatever happened, we helped out in the kitchen and stuff like that. Of course, I didn't help in the kitchen. I don't know how I got it, but I got a deal where I worked in the post office and delivered mail to different people. And from there, we went to Tule.

TI: But staying with Pinedale, do you recall, like, where people came from, the different cities or places at Pinedale?

GY: Pinedale, I think it was from the Northwest, but the outside of Seattle. Seattle people went to another assembly center, from there they went, came to Tule Lake. So most of the time we were all split up, but otherwise, I think it was all quiet, take it as it comes.

TI: Okay.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: So from Pinedale, which was hot, then you go to Tule Lake. What was Tule Lake like? What were your first impressions of Tule Lake?

GY: Tule Lake? Well, as far as temperature goes, it wasn't much cooler. It was a bigger, bigger camp. It was about the same feeling, only different location.

TI: And at Tule Lake, you have people from different parts of the country, like a lot of people from California. So what were your impressions of these different communities that you came in contact with?

GY: Oh, I don't know. I don't think there was too much difference. I had no trouble with anybody as far as that goes. I don't think anybody did. So that's how it went.

TI: And so what, did you have a job at Tule Lake?

GY: Tule Lake, that's something else. When we applied for a job, I applied for a job, there's three classifications. Beginners, professional and so on and so forth. So I went there, I gave a big song and dance that I knew everything about woodworking. 'Cause we had to make chairs and stuff for the dining hall and stuff like that, so I thought, "Okay, I'll go get a job there." And I told 'em everything I knew, power machining and everything. And the sticker was I told 'em I always know what a wood stretcher was. There is no such thing. But because I had experience in high school, that I was making a pair of skis, and I cut the board too short. So the guy (told the instructor to tell me) to go to the lumberyard and get a board stretcher." So I started to go, they laughed like hell. It was just a joke. So I told the recruiter at camp that I knew all about a wood stretcher. So I got a job at nineteen dollars an hour -- nineteen dollars a month. [Laughs]

TI: So because you kind of knew the wood stretcher was a joke?

GY: Yeah.

TI: Then he knew that you knew enough about, about woodworking.

GY: Yeah, that's what I told him. So I got the job, but I never did work in the shop. 'Cause in the meantime, we were allowed to go out to work on the farm, which I did. So I never did work in the carpentry shop.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: Okay, so before we go to the farm work, how was your family adjusting to Tule Lake?

GY: Well, we adjusted okay, I think. Of course, we all lived in one big room, had our meals at our community mess hall, and that's about it.

TI: And what about communication with your father? Was there any communication that you were aware of?

GY: No communication. From, when they took him to Seattle, I saw him once. I took him some clothing, and they moved him. They moved 'em all to Missoula, Montana. From Montana they moved him to New Mexico. All that time, I didn't see him at all. He must have written Japanese letters to my mom once or twice, but that's it. And then I don't know what he was held up for or nothing. All I heard that they had all kinds of records of him going to Japan to pick up his wife. Where he stayed and how much money he took and stuff like that. But aside from that, I don't know what they held him for. I don't think they held any of 'em for any particular thing, just trying to round 'em up, that's all.

TI: And so was your father in these Department of Justice camps all the way through the war, or was he ever reunited with...

GY: He came back to Minidoka, Idaho, camp in '43, 1943.

TI: Okay. So it sounds like when they did the "loyalty oath" and then they moved people around, your family went from Tule Lake to Minidoka?

GY: Yeah. I didn't go to Minidoka myself, I never did stay there. I was outside, I was working outside.

TI: Now, because you worked outside, I'm curious, did you have to fill out that "loyalty questionnaire?"

GY: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, that was before I even moved out.

TI: And so what was your reaction when you saw this questionnaire to fill out?

GY: Well, the thing that hits you is, "Why are they asking us this kind of questions when they brought us here anyway?" Some of 'em objected to that, and I think most of us signed, okay, we will protect the United States and bear arms and stuff like that. But big deal. [Laughs]

TI: Do you recall ever talking to anyone about how to answer the questions? Did anyone try to approach you and tell you what you should do or not do?

GY: Oh, yeah, the talk was there, but I don't think nothing happened. I think most of us Niseis, I think we signed the thing "yes-yes" and we got out of there. We had to get out. Some of the Kibeis maybe had different thinking, so they must have held on. So, okay.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: Okay, so George, we're going to start the second half of the interview. The first part we talked about your life growing up in Bellevue and then going to Pinedale, Tule Lake. And you talked about filling out the questionnaire, and then you said after that you went out and did some farm, farm work? So why don't you describe that. How did you find out about doing farm work?

GY: Well, that part, I don't know how we found out, but the word got around that if you wanted to go out to work, you could go. The first one I went to is in Idaho someplace. I don't where it was, Pocatello or something in Idaho. And went to do beet thinning, thinning beets. Never heard of that before, you know. There'd be about six inches between each plant, and you see a double one, you got to pull that out. Oh, it was backbreaking, you stoop over all the time. And it was hard because you'd go out as a group, four or five or whatever, and you can't slough off, you know, because you're going to get paid in one lump sum and you've got to divide that evenly. So that was the hard part. But anyway, did that, and we harvested lettuce in the wintertime.

TI: Well, going back to that first one, so you're with a group of four or five, how did they determine groups? Who did you know who you were gonna work with?

GY: Well, the farmers come to this camp and picked us up and we would go with him. And we'll finish harvesting or doing something on his farm.

TI: But did you get to choose who you went with? Like did you go as a group?

GY: We went as a -- well, myself, I came out as a group from camp, we stuck together. There was four or five of us. So the farmer come to pick us up and we'd work on his farm.

TI: Now, how did you choose the four or five of you, though? Did you know each other?

GY: Just friends, just friends. [Laughs]

TI: Were they friends from Bellevue or from Tule Lake?

GY: Yeah, from Bellevue mostly. Something to do, I guess.

TI: And so because of that, you chose, did you guys think about who would be good workers when you chose the group? Like, "George is a good worker, so we'll have him come"? Is that...

GY: No. Says, "You want to come? You want to come? Come and join us," that's all.

TI: Now, and why did you guys want to do this? I mean, why work backbreaking work versus staying in camp?

GY: Well, I don't think any of us knew how backbreaking it was. It was just to get out of camp and make some money, that's about all. That's the way I felt, so we went. And after that, sure, we went back to camp and we had a chance to come back out again. I ended up on the railroad, working for the railroad, I myself did. The rest of the group was all scattered together.

TI: Yeah, that's kind of interesting because after Pearl Harbor, the railroads fired all the Japanese workers.

GY: That's true.

TI: Because they said they were a security risk and the railroads were strategic. And so you're telling me that the railroad hired you?

GY: Yeah.

TI: So explain that.

GY: That's the funny part of it. They fired 'em all after the war broke out, now they're going to recruit us. So I ended up at Milwaukee Road, and who do you think the foreman was? An Issei man, an old railroad man. But he had an assistant also with him, which was a Caucasian. That was the difference, the two of 'em working together. It was fun.

TI: And so when they had a Caucasian assistant, so the Issei would know how to do everything and the Caucasian would just watch the Issei?

GY: [Laughs] Yeah, that's how it was, just a figurehead, that's all.

TI: So this is the first time I've heard about this. So they hired people to work on the railroad. And you're working with the Milwaukee?

GY: Yeah, Milwaukee Road, yeah.

TI: And so what kind of work did you do?

GY: Oh, trackage. I mean, we kept the tracks in repair. That's where I got my social security card. [Laughs]

TI: Because, doing railroad work.

GY: Yeah.

TI: Because this was the first time you were working with a big company.

GY: Right, yeah.

TI: And so how did you like railroad work?

GY: It was fun. I knew nothing about it, you know. I don't think any of us knew anything about it. When we got out there, it was cold, and the first job that we went on, off to, was working in a tunnel, wintertime. I never swung a mallet, steel-headed mallet and hit the spike. Man, you miss the spike and it goes sparking around, flying around, it was something else. It was fun. There was quite a few of us, maybe twenty-five, thirty of us. And we lived in a boxcar where it was all equipped with bunks, we had a main kitchen, and we ate there.

TI: And these were all Japanese?

GY: Yeah, Nisei kids, you know.

TI: That's interesting. And you mentioned earlier about doing the ice to keep the produce cold. Was that during this time, too?

GY: Yeah, that was one of the jobs out on the track. And the ice came from around here, great big blocks of ice in the boxcar. We unloaded that and stuck 'em in a storage shed and put sawdust on top of it so it wouldn't thaw out. And later on I found out they used that ice for re-icing the refrigerator cars coming through.

TI: And so ice around here, so from the lakes they would cut out these big chunks of ice and load them into these railroad cars?

GY: But I didn't know that for a long time. [Laughs] We work for cheap, sixty-two cents.

TI: So when you say for cheap, was that the going rate. Did other railroad workers...

GY: I suppose. [Laughs] So you worked at night, you got time and a half. So it wasn't too bad. It was a lot of fun.

TI: And when you made all this money, what did you do with the money?

GY: Gosh, I don't know what I did with mine. [Laughs]

TI: Or did, would you guys do things like gambling and drinking when you're on the road?

GY: Probably some did, but I don't know what happened to us. I don't think we gambled or anything like that. We kept to ourselves. That was a nice experience, that's all there is to it. Nowadays, even if I talk to somebody from Montana, says, "I don't know what town that is." [Laughs]

TI: 'Cause you were on the rails for all those little towns, you would go...

GY: Well, worked between a place called Deer Lodge and Three Forks. Three Forks is on the eastern end, and Deer Lodge, Montana, over there on the western end. Between there, that was the territory that we patrolled, repaired the tracks. If the train jumps the track, it gets all damaged, we had to straighten it out and stuff like that. It was all right.

TI: And so how long did you do this?

GY: Well, I think I did about six months or something like that.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: And then what did you do after that?

GY: I got drafted, I volunteered here.

TI: So you volunteered or were drafted, which one?

GY: I volunteered.

TI: Okay, you volunteered.

GY: I was ready for the draft, and so I volunteered.

TI: And why did you do that? If you knew you were getting drafted, why did you volunteer?

GY: Because I went back to camp when my brother was also drafted, going to be drafted, and I said, "Okay, you go one way and I'll go the other way. I'll go to the language school 'cause I know a little more of that." So that's where we went. He went and joined the 442 and I came up here with the MIS.

TI: So why was it important to you that you go one way and he goes the other way?

GY: We don't want to get both popped off. No use both of us getting killed, so he'd go one way and I'll go the other way.

TI: Oh, so you thought that would improve your chances of at least one person surviving.

GY: Yeah. My third brother, my other brother, I don't know what happened to him, but he ended up in Japan with me. But he didn't stay there very long, he got sick and he transferred back to the States. That's how it went.

TI: So when you volunteered, how did you get picked for the MIS?

GY: That's what I volunteered for, the MIS.

TI: When they did that, did they give you any tests to test your Japanese?

GY: We didn't get tested until we came to Fort (Snelling in Minnesota).

TI: And do you remember what the test was?

GY: No, I don't. All I know is I didn't know as much as the test. [Laughs] I thought I knew quite a bit, okay, so they tested us. Wrong. I didn't know that much.

TI: Because oftentimes you were going up against, like, men who had been educated in Japan, so they knew a lot more Japanese or had been to Japan. And you had just done Japanese language school on Saturdays.

GY: Oh, yeah. As far as Japanese language, speaking to the population over there, just ordinary speaking. I mean, you didn't know technical terms or anything. But here, a translator or interpreter like in a court case, that's something else. You had to know what you're talking about. That dropped into, for guys that knew quite a bit more. Like me, I'm run of the mill. In Tokyo, sure, I was supposed to be an interpreter, I went out on an interpreting job once. And I met with an officer, we looked for housing, Western-style housing for the officers. That was it. That was it, the only thing I did. Before that, I was in charge of a typing unit, a native women typing... documenting written things from the trials and stuff like that. They had to be typewritten. So that's the first time I saw a Japanese typewriter. You pick one character up, brought it over, and bang. Put it back... [laughs].

TI: That seems like a little, pretty slow. [Laughs]

GY: Yeah, it was like this, you know.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: Let's go back to your training. So after Fort Douglas, where did you go?

GY: Okay. When we came here from Fort Douglas, I guess it was, Utah, we came here in August and went to basic training in Alabama for two months, two or three months. Then we came back here just before Thanksgiving the same year, (...) '44. Then we started our training, language school. So we'd start in the morning and end up at night, weekends we had free, so I ended up at the University of Minnesota campus, I joined a bunch of students there. The reason I did that, because my brother was here first, and he went to some government training center which broke up. He had some friends at the university and I went there. I followed him through... after that, after he left, I went there all by myself on weekends.

TI: Oh, so because of your brother and his connections, he introduced you to people that you...

GY: Yeah.

TI: So would you bring other guys from the MIS to University of Minnesota?

GY: Oh, that part I don't know. I know one man that was there that was in the group, he's still here. I forgot his name. You know Somekawa, Carl Somekawa? He's a CPA man. He's still alive, and he was there when I was knocking around. They were nice days.

TI: Any memories from the training that you want to share, like any stories?

GY: Training, there wasn't much to talk about. It was writing and reading, that's about it as far as recitation or anything that you had to do yourself, I don't think we did anything like that. It was all memory work.

TI: And how difficult was the training?

GY: It wasn't too hard, it wasn't too stiff. They told you to do this and this. You learned it, retained it, or forgot about it.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: And so how long did the training take?

GY: Well, we came here in '44, and we left in August of '45.

TI: So August '45, that's the end of the war.

GY: The bomb was already dropped. We were ready to move, move in. From what I understood, we were getting ready for the push up from the Philippines up into Tokyo area. But the bomb fell, and that was it. The bomb fell before we even got out of Fort Snelling. I went home and I said, "The bomb fell," and my mother, she said, "Oh, mujoukenko fuku, yeah."

TI: So what does that mean?

GY: Japanese, yeah. She knew all about it. Yeah, so from here, we went to Presidio, from there we went to Honolulu, from there we went to Manila. That's where we stayed for a while.

TI: So I want to ask about your reaction when you learned about the bomb. 'Cause here you were training to possibly do this push up from the Philippines, and people surmised that it was going to be a very bloody fight when you took Japan. But then the bomb was dropped, which ended the war. So I was just wondering what your feelings were during this time about the bomb.

GY: Well, I don't think we thought too much about it, it just ended. The war ended just like it did in Europe. And I think we were, most of us were relieved, the fact that we don't have to do any fighting ourselves. That was about it. I think it was a quiet trip. And when we got to the Philippines, they put us through another test. And the ones that were real sharp, they went to the crime trials in Tokyo, the rest of us, we just bummed along. [Laughs]

TI: And so talk about your work. You talked about that one trip to interpret for that officer about housing, and then the clerical pool.

GY: That, I tell you the truth, when they assigned me that, I didn't care to go. You gotta go to two different houses, look around, ask a bunch of questions. And end up telling 'em what's going to happen. The ultimate goal of our questioning was to confiscate the house. So I didn't like that. I did the best I could. When I came back, they had issued advancement. And us guys out on the road, we didn't get it.

TI: Oh, so your fellow soldiers were all promoted while you were gone?

GY: Yeah, us guys on the road, we didn't get promoted. So I squawked. They said, "The table of organization's already full. You have to wait 'til the next time." [Laughs]

TI: Yeah, it doesn't seem very fair that because you were out, that others got promoted.

GY: Oh, that was something else. So what, you know. So I waited around, waited around. I got my promotion just before I left.

TI: And what was your promotion to?

GY: It was a sergeant technician. [Laughs] I don't know how long I held that, maybe a couple months.

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

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: And what were some of your memories from Japan during the occupation that kind of stand out for you?

GY: Well, as far as occupation goes, I think we did well and we kept the people informed and talked to 'em. We didn't push 'em around or anything like that, no. So every day, we lived every day just like they did. So it was fine, I mean, I enjoyed it.

TI: And during the occupation, how important was it to have Japanese Americans who could speak the language? How important was that for the United States?

GY: I think that was important to keep... what do you call 'em? Peace, not peace, but trying to show 'em what to do and changing their government, which they did change it all the way around. It was just mostly communication, trying to pass on your ideas if they ask. Nobody asked me anything. So I got along fine.

TI: Do you think it helped that you had a Japanese face compared to maybe a Caucasian who spoke Japanese?

GY: Oh, yes, oh, yes. They trusted us more than they would a Caucasian man. Because their vocabulary was altogether different. I mean, their accent and stuff was altogether different. And as far their fighting each other, fighting the whites, you know. So I think we were accepted pretty well. At least I think I did pretty well.

TI: And how did it feel for you to go to Japan and be around all these Japanese people? Did it feel comforting or foreign?

GY: Oh, yeah. It was just like living every day. We didn't feel any different, at least, I didn't feel any different. So we can pick up the girls in the street if you wanted to, go to a restaurant any place you wanted to. We weren't refused anything if you wanted to do something. So it was helpful that you knew and you looked like them also, you know. Only trouble I had -- I didn't exactly have the trouble, I think I prevented something. I got on a streetcar once, and I had a Caucasian motorman. And he'd take that thing and speed it around, so I went out there and asked him, I said, "Look, we don't want to both die here. Why don't you just give it back to the engineer and let us two go away?" And he said, "Okay." So we both got off, he went one way and I went the other way.

TI: And so this Caucasian, was he a soldier?

GY: Yeah, he was kind of drunk.

TI: Okay, kind of drunk, and so he took over the streetcar.

GY: Yeah, yeah. He pushed the engineer out of the streetcar, he's a streetcar operator, he said. He pushed him off, and he took control of it.

TI: And there were other people, civilians, on there?

GY: Yeah, people on there.

TI: And so you just went up there and...

GY: Yeah, let's just get out of here. [Laughs] So it was okay. That's the only thing I had. Of course, during the days, sometimes we went to Ueno Park terminal, train terminal. And the people that was trying to get on, it was so full, you had to push 'em in there, help load up, you know. That was quite an experience, pushing people into the car to take, get in to go where they're gonna go. It was interesting. And one guy, I went out, see, I met a girl in their family and they had to go get rice on the farm. So they asked me to go to, if I would help. So I took 'em out there, and I brought rice back myself. I don't know how many pounds it was. And they sat in the reserved section just like I did, which was okay. I brought back their rice for 'em. [Laughs]

TI: When you talk about rice and bringing that back, how difficult was it for people to get food?

GY: I don't think it was very difficult, just so they had a source. But these people had their own farm out there, so they went there to get their rice and they asked me to bring some of it back for them, which I did. I mean, nothing for me to do, over the weekend or something.

TI: And how about the rebuilding of Tokyo during this time? Because it was pretty devastated during the war.

GY: Yeah, it was devastated, yes. When we came over, unloaded in Yokohama and took the train, and you could see where all the buildings are down. It was firebombed, you know, it was all burned down. It was kind of sad. But some parts, it's still standing. Like my folks, our relatives, their place was still standing. It was so sad to look at all the stuff that burned down. And I thought they were gonna maybe build it with maybe a little space to walk. No, wrong. They built it right up to where they put in the sidewalk. [Laughs]

TI: Because land was at such a premium, they tried to get every inch that they could.

GY: Right, right.

TI: You mentioned relatives, did you meet any of your relatives when you were in Japan?

GY: Oh, yeah. I met my mother's side first, and they came to see me. And they were surprised that I talked Japanese language so well. [Laughs] Some of it was mixed up, but I get along with them. Then I went out to the farm and stayed there overnight once. Once is all. I got bedbugs all over me, I mean, marking all over my back, I said, "I'm not going to come back here anymore. I'll take the last train home if I have to." So that's the last time I went. [Laughs] They came to town to see me. So we got along okay. As for my father's side, I met one cousin because he used to come to the States. He was a chemical engineer or something, he used to come. So I met him and his family. But I didn't get to know 'em very well, the family, you know. Because he went one way and I was always doing something else. But that was about it. But it was treated okay. We had a lot of fun.

TI: Okay, good. And so how long were you in Japan?

GY: I was there from '45 to '47, December of '47.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

TI: So let's talk about going back to the States. So December '47, this is during, kind of, almost the holiday period? And I think you told me earlier that you actually came back right around Christmas Eve.

GY: Yeah.

TI: So why don't you describe going back?

GY: I don't know, it was something that we looked forward to, but I was lucky. I left Japan on an airplane and I came to Hawaii on an airplane. From there, I came back on an airplane to San Francisco. So I beat some of the guys home, and I was discharged in California. And when we were discharged, they said, "Your destination?" because they paid part of it, you know. So I said, "Bellevue, Washington." Actually, I should have said St. Paul. I made the mistake and I was paid to Seattle. So the time to leave Seattle to come to St. Paul, I didn't have no ticket.

TI: Well, let's go back. You said Bellevue because that's where your hometown was.

GY: Yeah, yeah.

TI: Where were your parents?

GY: St. Paul.

TI: So why were they in St. Paul?

GY: Well, that's where they relocated from Tule Lake. So I was going to come back here. At the same time, a guy that was going to Chicago, he was going to stay in Bellevue, so he gave me his ticket. So it didn't cost me anything, came from Seattle... but I didn't go to St. Paul. I unloaded in Minneapolis. But like a fool, I should have went on to St. Paul, but I knew Minneapolis better than I knew St. Paul, so I took a streetcar to St. Paul, knock on the door, "Mom, I'm home." [Laughs]

TI: So they were surprised, they didn't know that you were coming?

GY: Yeah.

TI: And this was Christmas Eve that you came home.

GY: Yeah.

TI: And about what time did you make it?

GY: I don't know, ten, twelve o'clock, I guess, I don't know what time it was. All I know, I got home.

TI: And so describe that meeting when your mom unexpectedly opens the door and sees you. What was that like?

GY: [Laughs] I don't know. She was glad that I got there, I guess.

TI: And you were probably tired and relieved to finally get home, too, and find them.

GY: Right. My brother was already home, he was living there.

TI: So explain why your parents relocated to St. Paul and not Bellevue.

GY: They came here because my sister came here, government education deal. She was going to be a nurse, and she was enrolled in St. Johns Hospital at Redwing. So she was on there, and my folks were over in St. Paul. So the times I'd go over to St. Paul, to Fort Snelling back and forth, that was it.

TI: Now, did your parents ever return to Bellevue?

GY: No, no. From St. Paul they went to Chicago, that's where they passed away. After I got married, they said they were gonna go to Chicago to live with my sister until they passed away.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

TI: So now you're out of the army, you're in St. Paul, what do you do next?

GY: St. Paul, okay, I went to a business school after I got out, and I took up accounting, and I worked different places. First I started working at a wholesale TV place, then from there, I went to a co-op, a cooperative, oil co-op at a service station, repair service. And I stayed there for a couple, three years, I think. That's where I learned the background to the co-op fundamentals. And the credit union movement, I got to know that, which helped me later on, being an organizer of the credit union. From there, I went to a wholesale meat house. I learned all about the meat cutting business.

TI: Now, when you would go to these jobs or these different places, were you working as an accountant?

GY: Yeah.

TI: Okay.

GY: All the time, yeah.

TI: So you weren't out there necessarily on the floor, you were actually doing the books and learning the business through the financial side.

GY: Right. Then from the meat place, I got kind of tired there, so I thought, well, I'll change someplace else, and I went to an employment agency and they assigned me to a furniture store up here in Minneapolis. I ended up there in '52 or '53. Then that's when I went and met my wife, future wife-to-be, and we worked there 1955, we closed the shop, and both of us went to another wholesale house where we handled furniture. We represented Bassett Furniture Industries, and I stayed there for thirty-nine years.

TI: And what was your role there?

GY: My role there was to keep the accounting going. I had, in and out of merchandise warehouse inventory stuff, and I oversaw a couple of shipping clerks, that was it. And my wife took care of the orders and customers coming in, and we stayed there thirty-nine years.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

TI: So let me ask you a little about your wife a little bit. You met first in the '50s at this other furniture store, and then when that closed down, both of you went to this other one. At that point, were you dating, or how was it that you both went to the same store?

GY: We worked there from '55 'til '60, 1960 when we got married. (...) "Okay, we'll get married." So I went home, I told my mother, she says, "What nationality?" I said, "Greek." She didn't know what Greek was. So I had to tell her where it was on the map, said, "Girisha." "Okay." [Laughs] That was it.

TI: And how was your mother with you marrying a Greek woman?

GY: Well, she said, "Whenever you find somebody, just go ahead and get married. Don't bother with us." So I got married, and they attended the wedding and everything else at the church and everything. I didn't know what I was getting into. "Greek Orthodox, what's that?"

TI: Well, tell me how... what was it about your wife that you decided to start dating her?

GY: I don't know. It's just the two of us working there all the time. She was doing the selling and telephone answering and stuff like that and I was doing all the accounting work. I don't know, just came about.

TI: So I'm curious, when you got married, what kind of wedding or church ceremony did you have?

GY: Orthodox, Orthodox service. As far as that goes, the Orthodox, mainline church is the same. I mean, they pull it from the same book. Maybe they interpret it different, but it's the same meaning.

TI: Now, for you to marry a Greek Orthodox woman, did you have to go through any training or special meetings?

GY: There was a bunch of us going through a training, other couples. We went to, I don't know how many nights we went. The minister talked to us and stuff like that.

TI: And I'm curious how many other Japanese American men were in the Greek Orthodox church? Or were there any?

GY: That was something else. [Laughs] I think, to tell you the truth, I was the first Nisei to intermarry different nationality. And I didn't think nothing of it, but what the other people thought, I don't know. So I didn't have to be baptized because I was already baptized in the mainline church, so I didn't have to be baptized into the church at all. Some of the others did. So I muscled in there, and I was introduced to different people. The Issei group, Issei people, I thought I was going to get a bunch of racial deals, but no.

TI: When you say Issei, you mean like the Greek, the Greek immigrant?

GY: Yeah, just like our Issei parents.

TI: Okay, so like the Greek Issei.

GY: So when I came back from the honeymoon, I went to church with her, and the older people, some of 'em, community leaders, they asked me if I would usher. So I says to my wife, "They asked me to usher." She said, "Go ahead." So ever since then, I did different kinds of ushering and keeping their financial things and stuff like that. Even today, I stand at the front door every Sunday, so they know who I am. And the rest of the ushers, they have name tags. Last Sunday somebody asked me, "How come you have no name tag?" I said, "I don't need it. I think everybody knows who I am." [Laughs]

TI: So even though you're not Greek, you're like a fixture at the Greek Orthodox...

GY: Yeah, right.

TI: The Nisei --

GY: The funny thing is, now, currently, we have a Greek priest married to a Chinese lady. So I said to him when he first joined the, came to the church, I said, "Father Sean, I think we're all mixed up." He said, "That's great." [Laughs]

TI: Oh, that's a good story. So it sounds like the Greek community has been very accepting.

GY: Oh, yeah. When I joined up, everybody came to me and said, "Will you join this?" So I joined the American Legion. American Legion, there are some Issei veterans there, the World War II veterans, they'd all be in there.

TI: When you say Issei veterans, you mean like Issei Greek or...

GY: Issei Greeks.

TI: Issei Greeks, okay.

GY: World War I.

TI: And what did the Greeks, their first generation, do they have a name for their first generation, the Greeks?

GY: No, I don't think so. I didn't hear nothing else.

TI: So I'm curious, when you think of the Japanese Issei and then the first-generation Greeks, do you see similarities?

GY: Oh, yeah.

TI: Like what would be some similarities?

GY: [Laughs] You help out the family to get going. That's what I hear all the time. I mean, most of 'em were merchants, restaurants or something like that. And the kids that I got to know, they were Nisei people, and they'd tell me about how they had to help out this farm or shop, stuff like that, which was similar to us working on the farm when we were growing up, the merchants in Seattle trying to keep their end going. It was the same thing. As far as background like that, it's a similarity.

TI: And so when you think of the, in some ways, the Japanese, Japanese American story, it really is kind of like an immigrant story. That other races, other groups had similar experiences?

GY: Yeah, that's about it. It was all the same. I mean, I didn't have no difficulty or anything, no difficulty at all. They brought me in, stuck me in there, "You do this." Fine. And the World War II guys, well, they were all for you, you know. So I ended up pretty good. I kept their... one guy asked me to do accounting work for the church, which I did. I did it for about five, six years, until they come to computers, then I nixed that. [Laughs]

TI: Well, I'm curious, you talked about how accepting the Greek community was of you. How accepting was the Japanese community of your wife?

GY: Fine. They accepted her right away. She was a person that talked to anybody, and she got along real fine with everybody, and I think everybody liked her also. So she got along fine.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

TI: And so after the war, did you and your wife get involved in any Japanese community organizations and events?

GY: Oh, yeah.

TI: What were some of them that you got involved in?

GY: I don't know. I did most of it, she didn't do too much. She accompanied me all the time, but as far as holding office or anything like that, I didn't see anything.

TI: But what were some of the organizations that you got involved in?

GY: Well, we started out, like I said, I had experience in the co-op and stuff like that. That one there, when one of the members thought we should maybe, the JACL should have a credit union, I said, "Sure, okay, let's have one." 'Cause I knew the workings of it. So we formed it.

TI: Oh, so you helped form the JACL Credit Union?

GY: Yeah, I was there from the first time they started talking about it. And I'm a charter member. We don't have the credit union anymore, but I was a charter member, number 7. [Laughs] The rest of 'em are all gone. So it worked out pretty good.

TI: So I'm curious, what was the thinking behind starting a credit union with the JACL? Why was that a...

GY: I don't know. One man, he thought about it, he says, "Well, help each other." We'll chip in some money and help each other, whoever needs money. That's how it started.

TI: So it was kind of like a Japanese American community bank in some ways? That people would have their money held by the credit union, and the credit union would then loan to other Japanese Americans?

GY: Yeah. So we started up pretty good. If we had to go out and get a loan ourselves, the organization had to go get a loan ourselves from the headquarters and loan it out to the Nisei members. Aside from that, I think they all paid in. We're doing all right. I mean, I don't, I don't think we had any bad debts when I turned it over to the central, National JACL took over. So I don't think we had any debts.

TI: So I'm curious, did credit unions make quite a bit of money? Does that make money, the credit union? Because it's just like a bank.

GY: Oh, yeah, it was just like a bank only you had control of it, that's all.

TI: And now the credit union is owned by the National JACL? Okay, I didn't know that. That's interesting. And that's interesting, and you helped start that.

GY: Yeah.

TI: 'Cause I think, I still see it around with the advertisements and stuff, and I think I've read or heard that it's still quite successful.

GY: Oh, yeah. I mean, well, the National JACL credit union is the millions, you know. I think they're still doing okay. They advertised it same as we used to do, "Get your loans here, buy cars," and stuff like that. So I think they're doing okay. Up to this last year, they came from Salt Lake, and we had our annual meeting, so that's about it. And from here on out, I don't know what's going to happen. I ask 'em, "What happened to the reserve we had?" [Laughs]

TI: Well, I think all the banks, hopefully they didn't get hurt too much this last financial, this financial crunch. So George, I'm going through my list of questions, I finished all the questions I have, and wondered is there anything else that you wanted to talk about that I didn't ask about or cover?

GY: No, I haven't got anything else, I mean, as far as living in the community, I think Helen and I both did okay. 'Cause she was outgoing to start with, so she got along with everybody. Even selling furniture, sold to some Japanese people, and I think we did okay. (Narr. note: My wife passed away just after our forty-sixth anniversary.)

<End Segment 23> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

TI: So I have a, kind of a question, this might be hard to answer. When you watch the Japanese community, you saw it Bellevue in its growth, and now the Twin Cities, what do you think is going to be the future of the Japanese community?

GY: Well, I think it's gonna break up. Unless the Sanseis, Yonseis, Goseis keep it going, I think it's going to be all chop suey society, all mixed up. Because you can't help that. The atmosphere is that way, that marriage between, intermarriage between nationalities and everything is all gung ho. So I think it'll be okay.

TI: And so do you think that's a good thing, that community just, like, it's all mixed up?

GY: Oh, yeah. I think it's a good thing, yeah. At least we get to know each other, you know. 'Cause a lot of Niseis, their offspring, they don't marry within the Japanese circle anymore, they're all out. Even my own brother, they're all married to Caucasians. So that's the going thing.

TI: When you think about what happened during World War II to Japanese and Japanese Americans, is there something that as a country we can learn from that? Going forward in terms of that experience...

GY: I think everybody, whoever knows about it, I think they're advancing forward. All the hatred and stuff is still there, but not against the Orientals as much as it is with the Middle Eastern people. But I think that'll drop off also. I think it's okay.

TI: So you think as long as people can learn and remember that, then it'll get better.

GY: Yeah, I think so.

TI: Good. Well, so George, thank you so much. This was really enjoyable.

GY: So I'm doing okay.

TI: You did okay. So thank you very much.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.