Densho Digital Archive
Frank Abe Collection
Title: Yosh Kuromiya Interview
Narrator: Yosh Kuromiya
Interviewers: Frank Abe (primary); Frank Chin (secondary)
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: August 15 & 16, 1993
Densho ID: denshovh-kyosh-01

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

<Begin Segment 1>

FA: Okay, Yosh, when you went to trial, what was suggested to you as a means of confusing the government?

YK: Well, as I recall, the attorney, Menin, suggested that if the prosecution couldn't identify us, that they couldn't prosecute. And that in order to thwart identification, that perhaps if we cut our hair or did something of that nature, that this would frustrate the prosecution's attempt to identify us, and therefore have to give up the prosecution.

FA: Yosh, do you recall -- and can you repeat for me -- what your attorney said, Menin said to you?

YK: I couldn't. I don't know the exact terms, but, as I recall, the suggestion did come from him initially, and of course, my reaction was that, one of disappointment in that if our own attorney didn't feel that we had a case, then we, the handwriting was on the wall. We really didn't have much to go on.

FC: Did you get a short haircut?

YK: No.

FC: Why?

YK: There was a handful of us that didn't think it was a good idea. We really couldn't see the point in avoiding identification, or to obstruct the process in any way, because we were there to raise the issue, not to evade it.

FA: Let me ask you one more time, Yosh, just to be more comfortable. Tell me, could you tell me just again, what was the suggestion? Who made the suggestion, and what was the suggestion made to confuse the government? Just start from the beginning.

YK: I'm not sure whether Menin did specifically suggest that we cut our hair. I don't know, if not from him, how it came about. But I know that, as I recall, that was the purpose for the mass haircutting.

FA: You were taken to the jail in Cheyenne.

YK: Yes.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1993, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

FA: You were... first of all, before all this happened, you knew, you had heard Min Yasui.

YK: Yeah.

FA: What did you think of Min Yasui? How did you regard him?

YK: I had him in relatively high regard because of what he had done previously. I was really surprised when he appeared there with Joe Masaoka. And for a while I didn't -- I was a little confused as to what the purpose of this was, so I was willing to listen to him. But as it turned out, it was merely an attempt to dissuade us from what we were doing, and make us feel as though we were doing a disservice to our, our own people.

FA: What kind of room was it, Yosh? Do you recall that? Describe what kind of room it was.

YK: I don't recall exactly. It was a rather... seems to me it was a rather smallish room, and it was quite bare.

FA: What did Min Yasui say to you?

YK: I don't know specifically, I don't recall what he said. But in effect, it was to try to make us see where we had been misadvised and that we didn't really have a case and we were wasting our time.

FC: What did Min Yasui do previously to win your admiration? Why did you respect him?

YK: Oh, his case against the government, challenging the... was it the evacuation?

FC: The curfew.

YK: The curfew.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1993, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

FC: Who was Min Yasui? Why, what did you admire him?

YK: Min Yasui challenged the government on the legality of the curfew law by violating that law and establishing a test case. I felt that we were doing pretty much the same thing.

FA: And how did you feel when he came to you and tried to talk you out of your own test case, your own protest?

YK: I was rather confused as to where his position really was. I didn't know whether this was somebody I could trust or not. So I had these mixed emotions about it. However, in the course of our interview, it became quite apparent what his purpose was and I lost respect for the person.

FA: What did Min Yasui do to make you lose respect for him?


YK: His line of questioning made it quite apparent that he didn't approve of what we were doing, that we were making a terrible mistake, and at the same time, not only for our own sake, but at the same time, doing a great disservice to our own community

FA: Well, this is a man who you respected, you admired, and he's telling you you're making a big mistake. You must have listened to him.

YK: Well, this is why I was confused. I didn't see that much difference in what he was doing, or what he had done in challenging a law which he thought was unjustified and we were essentially doing the same thing.

FA: What offer did Min Yasui make to you in his interview?

YK: I don't know whether it came directly from Min Yasui or between Min Yasui and Joe Grant Masaoka. But they suggested that they would speak to the authorities and see to it that our offense was cancelled out and that we would be reinstated and, if we would give up our position.

FA: And Yosh, how did you feel about that?

YK: There was no way that we, that I would change my mind.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1993, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

FA: The family. How did your -- what was the concern of the, your parents, about what you did?

YK: I know my dad was a hundred percent behind me. I had no real concern about him and his apprehensions, although I'm sure he had some apprehensions about my welfare. My mother, on the other hand, like a normal mother, was concerned and at one point even begged me to consider being like the rest of the guys and just go along and don't make waves. [Laughs] But I just attributed that to her concern for my doing something untraditional and that to her, represented a real threat.

FA: What were some of the concerns that your father and your mother said to you about your safety or what might happen? Did they say something, anything like that?

YK: No, they didn't really say, other than what I just related. They didn't say anything to really discourage me.

FA: Were they worried about what their neighbors were going to think?

YK: They didn't show it, but I was worried about that. I was concerned about that, especially after the trial.

FA: What happened... did you face -- what happened to you after, after the trial, in terms of how the rest of the Japanese American community treated you?

YK: Well, I certainly had some doubts, not that I didn't expect that kind of a negative outcome. When it's set down right in front of you, then, of course, all of a sudden, the reality of the situation seems to zap right in. And I was concerned about my parents having to live with this now that it's down in black and white, that we were convicted, and that we were doing jail time. And knowing the closed nature of the Japanese community, I did have a lot of concern for how they were holding up to this.

FC: How old were you when you...

YK: I had just turned twenty-one in the Cheyenne jail, just before the trial.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1993, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

FA: In brief, Yosh, why did you resist?

YK: I didn't feel there was really a choice. That as an American citizen, that we all had an obligation, a responsibility, to publicize or to raise the issue of the incarceration, the evacuation at whatever opportunity we had. This certainly presented an opportunity, one that if we were to overlook it at this point, and we virtually accept the evacuation as a normal condition.

FA: Why, why protest? Why resist in that way that puts you at risk of going to prison or being shot, or going to prison for fifty years?

YK: Somebody had to say somethin'.

FC: You were willing. You were willing to go to jail for fifty years.

YK: Or whatever... we didn't expect fifty years, but that wasn't outside the realm of possibility, or to be even shot, for that matter.

FA: "Somebody had to do it."

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1993, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

FA: The Japanese American Citizens League was considered to be representative of your community. Why didn't you, why couldn't you rely on them to do it?

YK: Well, I guess I had my doubts about the JACL previous to, even before the draft issue came up because of their, the way in which the evacuation issue itself was handled. Of course, there was a lot of rumors about JACL involvement, but I don't think that the rumors themselves was the issue that created my skepticism. But what they were saying, even at that time, in particular through the Heart Mountain Sentinel, the kind of positions that they were taking, I couldn't agree with.

FA: What did you think about the JA-, the Japanese American Citizens League? Before the war, the outbreak of war, at the time of incarceration, what did you think? How'd you regard them?

YK: Well, I guess my opinion of the JACL was basically that they were self-serving, and they had a different agenda than the welfare of the people.

FA: They came out and tried to get the resisters locked up. They came out and argued for your prosecution. What'd you think about that? How'd you feel?

YK: Betrayed.

FA: How?

YK: Well, our own people. Of course, that sense of betrayal again reflects back to their actions in the whole evacuation issue from the very inception when there was only rumors about evacuation, and to discover that they... well, in my opinion, were co-conspirators in this whole thing, ostensibly for the welfare of the Japanese people themselves. But it was beginning to become more and more obvious that, as I say, they had a different agenda. Especially their apparent willingness to sacrifice our parents, who were not citizens by technical barriers, in favor of the Niseis, Nisei citizens.

FA: The JACL and the Heart Mountain Sentinel both accused the resisters of being delinquents, draft-dodgers, draft evaders and delinquents. What did you think about that? How did you feel?

YK: Well, if we really were those adjectives, it wouldn't have been necessary for them to say so. The mere fact that they're saying so would seem to appear suspicious.

FA: Logic tells us that. When you read those the first time in the Sentinel, how did you, how did it make you feel in your gut?

YK: I don't, I don't know that it really bothered me that much. I didn't, by that time, I hadn't expected anything better from them.

FC: Did you read Jimmie Omura's Rocky Shimpo? Did you read the Rocky Shimpo?

YK: Only after my attention was drawn to it. And this came about probably after I had already made my decision. I was very impressed with his stand. Although, although his editorials appeared sympathetic, on the other hand, he didn't seem to be a hundred percent for us, either. As a matter of fact, I think he specifically warned us of the pitfalls, that technically we would be guilty. So again, we weren't that shocked when the final verdict did come down.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1993, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

FA: There were a number of ways to evade the draft, some of them were pretty amusing. Can you tell me, like we talked about before, what were some of the more -- well, what were some of the ways that some of the guys tried to dodge the draft without protesting?

YK: Well, I think one of the more popular methods was to drink a lot of shoyu and presumably, that raises the blood pressure so that they could never pass the physical.

FA: Why didn't you do that?

YK: As I said before, we saw this as an opportunity to raise the issue; not to just get out of the draft just to save our own necks. I was certainly somewhat disappointed that my number came up in the initial stages of this whole thing, so I was, I was picked. I was certainly hopin' it would happen to somebody else instead of me, but since I was called, I could see no other choice, but felt that at least I have an opportunity to state the case.

FA: At the trial, when the conviction came down, how'd you feel about the verdict?

YK: Of course I was downhearted, because there was a very slim ray of hope that if we were exonerated, then, of course, that would make great strides in the publicity alone of that, setting a precedent would pretty much take care of a lot of this. Of course, it wouldn't conclude the issue completely, but it would certainly help.

FC: Was it worth it? Look at the last fifty years...

YK: Oh, yes, very much so. Not knowing it at the time, in retrospect, I think it's one of the more decent things I did in my life.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1993, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

FA: Yosh Kuromiya, what was one of the ways that you found to pass the time in camp?

YK: Oh, I did a little sketching. Mostly spontaneous pencil sketching, no big thing. [Interruption] Well, I don't know if it was really in order to pass the time. I was, I was interested in sketching. I mean, that was my way of communicating with my environment, to be in touch with my environment. So could you pose the question a little differently?

FA: You just did. Why did you draw sketches in camp, Yosh?

YK: Well, as I say, it was my way of relating to my environment, and accepting it as my home.

FC: What did you sketch?


YK: Well, I sketched the different landscape elements. The mountain itself, of course, which had a kind of symbolic meaning, a sense of place, identity, and the barracks, and sometimes some of the activities that went on around the barracks.

FA: One of the sketches shows some four men, boys, sitting around something.

YK: Yeah, those were some of my friends that were just having a rap session, sitting around a -- I think it was a raised vegetable garden that one of the neighbors was growing.

FA: One of the nice pictures, of course, has Heart Mountain in the middle. And when you drew that sketch, what -- when you looked at the mountains you were sketching, how did they make you feel?

YK: I don't know how to put that in, in more poetic terms, but the mountain itself symbolized something. It was a, it's a rather unique landmark, and I did several sketches of the mountain itself from different angles, from around the camp vicinity, of course, and under different conditions: wintertime, summertime. And I don't know... as I say, I think there's some symbolic value there. I hadn't really analyzed it.

FC: Do you think the mountain was beautiful?

YK: Yeah, very definitely.

FA: Say something -- can you say that?

YK: Yeah, I thought it was a thing of beauty and that maybe it was the only sanity that I was experiencing at the time. There was something permanent about it and something that... all-knowing. Like it had been there a long time, and we were just passing through, and in time it would all blow over.


FA: Your sketches, what materials, what mediums did you work with?

YK: Basically just pencil sketches. I tried a little bit of watercolor except that I discovered in the wintertime, the water would tend to freeze and I couldn't get anything finished, as one of the drawings will indicate. But pencil sketches primarily, simply because the materials were easy to come by, paper and pencil.

FA: How did you acquire the materials? And start your answer by saying, "I got the..."

YK: I think I got most of the materials probably through the Montgomery Ward catalog. I might have taken a couple of sketchpads in with me initially, before camp, that is.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1993, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

[Yosh Kuromiya's artwork of Heart Mountain incarceration camp, Wyoming]

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1993, 2005 Frank Abe and Densho. All Rights Reserved.