Densho Digital Archive
Japanese American Museum of San Jose Collection
Title: James Sakamoto Interview
Narrator: James Sakamoto
Interviewer: Ann Muto
Location: San Jose, California
Date: October 18, 2004
Densho ID: denshovh-sjames-01

<Begin Segment 1>

AM: This is an interview with James Sakamoto, retired owner of the Sakamoto Barbershop, at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, 535 North Fifth Street, San Jose, California, on October 18, 2004. The interview, conducted by Ann Muto, is part of a visual history project called "Lasting Stories: The Resettlement of San Jose Japantown," a collaborative between JAMsj and the Densho project of Seattle, Washington.


Thank you, Mr. Sakamoto, for participating in this interview today. As mentioned, we will be discussing your life's history with a focus on the post-World War II resettlement era, and the Japantown retail business which you used to own, Sakamoto Barber. We will begin with some background information about your family before World War II. When did your parents come to the United States?

JS: My father came in 1907, and my mother, I really don't know when she came, but they settled, he came to San Francisco and they did a lot of work at the (Santa Cruz) Mountains, lumberjack, doing anything. And he ran a boardinghouse here in Japantown in 1916 to 1919, before he went to sugar beets, contracting, and lost all his money, and he had to go sharecropping in Mayfield, California, that's by Palo Alto. And that's about it, then he farmed all around the Alviso area, all the years of 1930s, '20s, '30s, '40s. Part of '40s.

AM: Okay. Yeah, so he did a lot of farming as well, after the boarding house.

JS: Yeah, he, yeah, he, that's all he did. Yeah, farmed.

AM: Okay. And which prefecture or ken --

JS: Kumamoto.

AM: Both of them?

JS: Yeah, both of 'em came from Kumamoto.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

AM: Okay. And they were in farming in Alviso around the '30s or '40s?

JS: They were from the '30s, yeah, early '30s, and then that's about it, to the wartime, yeah.

AM: Right, in 1942...

JS: Yeah, that's --

AM: ...your family decided to move?

JS: Well, see, that's when we got the notice to evacuate, and if you went to Zone 2, we didn't have to go to camp. So that's what my dad did; he sold all our farm equipment for five hundred dollars to the neighbor, and hired a semi, and we went to the islands in Stockton, which is Zone 2.

AM: Okay. We're gonna talk about that more specifically, but we're gonna go back to a little bit more about your parents...

JS: Uh-huh.

AM: ...okay, right now? Now, you talked about your dad working, running a boarding house, and then he contracted laborers for Spreckels, and then a good amount of the time, he ended up being a farmer in this area.

JS: Yeah.

AM: And your mother did...?

JS: Housework, yeah. I mean, just home, she had too many kids. [Laughs]

AM: Okay, and how would you describe your parents' financial situation?

JS: It wasn't that good, no.

AM: Didn't earn a lot of money.

JS: They, like a lot of other families, it was the same. They had a lot of problems.

AM: Uh-huh. What language did your parents use when they talked with you?

JS: Well, mostly Japanese, but partly English, but -- [laughs] -- not too good.

AM: And then when you spoke back to them?

JS: Well, you got the mixed, mixed languages.

AM: And you mentioned you went to Japanese school.

JS: We went to, after grammar school in Alviso, we had to go to Japanese school across the street. Boy, hated that. Didn't learn anything, but we had to go.

AM: Well, you did what your parents said, I guess.

JS: Yeah, that's what...

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

AM: And how was your family involved in the Japanese community?

JS: Well, they have the, usually most groups have their ken, and that's the, we're kind of clannish. Kumamoto, Fukuoka, Hiroshima, they all had different kens, that they stayed together.

AM: And what kind of things did they do together?

JS: They had picnics every summer, things like that.

AM: One of the things you said you enjoyed as a kid was going and seeing shibai?

JS: Yeah, well, that's...

AM: Can you tell me about that?

JS: That's, that was a community affair here at the hall, and they had shows going on, shibais going on.

AM: And shibai is like a --

JS: Well, it was actors, and they had the regular theater there, so that's where they used to come and enjoy part of their... and then they had, at the, (Asahi) baseball ground over here, and they all, everybody used to come on Saturdays, quit work and come into town, come to the ballgame.

AM: They took a day off?

JS: So that was a day off, yeah.

AM: Was that the Asahi baseball...?

JS: Yeah, that was the old Asahi ballpark, and that was years and years ago.

AM: Okay, and you talked about your parents didn't have much interaction with the larger, non-Japanese community.

JS: No, no, they didn't, now.

AM: And why, why do you think that was?

JS: Well, because I think the language barrier, and at that time, Isseis weren't accepted as much as now. They had a hard time.

AM: And... oh, I'm sorry.

JS: Well, because at that time, they were not considered citizens anyway.

AM: And for many of them, they couldn't become citizens.

JS: They couldn't be anyway, but, yeah.

AM: So how did you get along with your parents as a kid?

JS: Well, we, like any other, bad boy. [Laughs]

AM: Yeah, well, what happened to make you think you were a "bad boy"?

JS: No, no. It was all right. We just, we didn't conform to our folks' things. At least I didn't.

AM: Uh-huh. Kind of mischievous, you might say?

JS: That's about it, yeah.

AM: Did you get inspired by some of your friends, or were they your own ideas?

JS: [Laughs] No, no, we got along pretty good.

AM: Okay, we're gonna talk more about you, where you were born and when you were born.

JS: Yeah, I was, well, I don't, I remember... I don't remember that far back, but I was born in Mayfield, California, which is by Palo Alto now. Then grew up in Alviso, went to Alviso school.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

AM: Okay, and just to go back, what was your birthday?

JS: April 18, 1924. Yeah, that makes me eighty years old today. [Laughs]

AM: Oh, yeah. Well, you don't look eighty, I tell you.

JS: I feel it.

AM: You said you don't know a lot about your parents' education, but could you tell us about your education? You were starting to tell us about that.

JS: Well, I went to Alviso grammar school, and went to Santa Clara High School. And just my graduation year, the war, we got sent to camp. So in April, I, we moved to Stockton, and actually, the school sent us our diploma through the mail.

AM: So you never ended up going to --

JS: So I ended up now without a graduation, no. They sent our diploma through the mail.

AM: But you never had to go to school in Stockton, then.

JS: No, no.

AM: And the high school you went to was Santa Clara High School?

JS: Santa Clara High, uh-huh.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

AM: And you said you didn't have jobs outside your home, tell me what you did to help out the family. You had different chores?

JS: Well, we had to work on our farm, that's about it in those days. That's all there was, farm work.

AM: But you had some specific chores that you had to do. You talked about...

JS: Yeah, well, when you're a little kid, you're bath man, you had to get the bath ready, ofuro. They called it bath.

AM: And tell us a little bit more about the ofuro and what you had to do, 'cause that's...

JS: Well, it used to be every family had furo outside.

AM: That's a bath, right?

JS: The bathhouse, and you had to get your brush and wood or whatever you'd find, and every night you heat it up, and that's, that's your job, when you're a kid. And that was my job.

AM: You also talked about when you're eight years old, you had a cooking task to do. What was that?

JS: Yeah, well, I had to make rice when we were on the farm. And in those days, it was made, rice was made in a kind of a hibachi-like thing, you know. And that's, it used to be pretty good.

AM: So it was like, more like, almost like barbequing the rice?

JS: No, no, it's a big pot on the, with...

AM: Charcoal grill?

JS: Well, wood.

AM: Wood grill?

JS: Yeah, and that's, that was my job when I was a kid. That part I remember.

AM: Okay, and then as far as group activities that you participated in?

JS: Well, mostly, mostly it was judo and basketball, but not good at anything anyway, but we tried.

AM: You had fun playing with your friends.

JS: Yeah, yeah.

AM: You mentioned a Mr. Uchida? Uchida?

JS: Yeah, Yosh Uchida was, well, Mr. Tanimoto was our first teacher in Alviso, then Yosh was, Uchida was a student here at San Jose State College, and he used to teach us judo here at the Buddhist church, and that's...

AM: That was judo, and then the basketball, you were in some kind of club?

JS: Yeah, we belonged to the Nitto Club, yeah.

AM: Okay, and was your participation limited to Japanese American groups, or did you have other things?

JS: No, just in high school, too, a little bit.

AM: Some clubs in high school?

JS: Basketball and wrestling in high school.

AM: Oh, in high school?

JS: Yeah.

AM: Okay, good. And before your family was evacuated, what did you want to be or to become when you grew up?

JS: Well, anything but a farmer, that's about it. [Laughs]

AM: And, and the reason you didn't want to be a farmer was...?

JS: Oh, I hated farm work. That was hard work.

AM: You knew a lot about it because you had to participate and help out.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

AM: Okay, now we're gonna move on to the events during World War II.

JS: Uh-huh.

AM: And before your family decided to move to Area 2, you had an experience with the FBI in high school?

JS: Yeah, well, FBI came to Santa Clara High School and called me into the principal's office and they asked me questions about my brother-in-law in Japan. He was in the Japanese army, and my brother was in the American army here at Fort Lewis, Washington. And they all asked questions about, everything about home and everything. And they went, they were tough. They were real tough. [Laughs]

AM: And I asked you, did you have to go into that room all by yourself, like you said?

JS: Yeah, well, there was a vice-principal sitting there, and the two FBI men.

AM: And, yeah, and they questioned you, but they questioned other members of the family?

JS: They questioned my sister at grammar school.

AM: Wow.

JS: And my brother and my father out in the farm, yeah. So, yeah.

AM: And they, telling the same story, I guess.

JS: Yeah, you know --

AM: You didn't get sent anywhere. [Laughs]

JS: Yeah.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

AM: Okay, and you talked a little bit about your family when they left Alviso, and what they, what it was like with their farm and their equipment and things like that. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

JS: Well, he, we only had about, what, that two weeks or so, so he went to the neighbor's and he bought our equipment for five hundred dollars, our farm equipment, which... and that was about it. We loaded everything on a truck that we could take with us, and we had to leave a lot of it behind, but couldn't help it then, because we had to get out.

AM: And you said the crops that you had put into the ground, you just had to...

JS: Yeah, we had lettuce, peas growing. We just left everything there.

AM: Do you --

JS: I don't know who took over.

AM: -- what happened with that?

JS: No.

AM: Okay, your family moved to Stockton in an attempt to avoid the evacuation, but how did the family feel when they were evacuated anyway, even though they did move?

JS: Well, they, I guess they couldn't, everybody was in the same boat, and couldn't help it, so they went along with what everybody said. So I think it was hard on them, but what could they do? You have the military there.

AM: Kind of accepted that's what was gonna happen.

JS: Yeah, you accepted it, yeah, uh-huh.

AM: Yeah. And then were, were all the members of your family evacuated together? You mentioned your brother --

JS: No, well, my oldest brother was in the army, and the rest of us, we were all evacuated to, yeah, the islands there, together.

AM: Okay.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

AM: Which assembly center were they sent to?

JS: We were in the Stockton Assembly Center.

AM: And that was in...

JS: That was the Stockton Fairgrounds that...

AM: Right.

JS: ...that's where they built all these barracks in the horse stables there.

AM: Were they still building those when your family moved in?

JS: No, well, they, they just, that's all it was, was cement floors and tarpaper barracks, that's about it. Nothing, nothing on top, it was wide open on top, so you could hear all the way down. It was only, the top was all open.

AM: Right. So the wall went up so high, but then everything else, the rafters were open.

JS: Only so high, yeah, you could hear everybody on the other end.

AM: And that was in April of 1942?

JS: April of... no, April of 1942, yeah.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

AM: And now, why did you leave the assembly center in August 1942, before your family left?

JS: We, it was, that was... we, first we volunteered for advance crew to set up the camp in Rohwer, Arkansas, and there was about 155 of us that went to Arkansas then the -- only one block was made yet when we got to Arkansas.

AM: And so you helped do what kinds of jobs?

JS: Well, we had to get the people coming in from the other camps, we had to house 'em, haul 'em into their barracks, give 'em their blankets and feed 'em, and that's it. That was our job for, 'til the camp filled up.

AM: What was it like when you got to Arkansas?

JS: Well, we had five days and five nights on the train, and one night, one day they let us off in the middle of the desert, they set up the machine guns and we went out, stretched our legs. But when we got, and every time we got through a city or installation, military installation, we had to pull down our shades in the car, then when we got to the deep south, then we could open our windows, so it was kind of interesting because all along the railroad, the black people, we'd talk to 'em and they says, "What are you, Indians?" Says, "No," says, "Then you must be Mexicans." Then we tell 'em, "Well, no, we're Japanese, and we're getting sent to the camps back in Arkansas." And they said, "My, God bless you all," and they were real sorry for us.

AM: So they --

JS: And it was really experience. Then when we got to the camps, the people, the Caucasian people running the camps, they were surprised that we all spoke English, so they didn't expect people that spoke English there, so that, so they were real surprised, so they talked to us for hours and hours about our experience.

AM: When you were on the train, was that when you encountered the --

JS: What was that?

AM: -- African American woman? Was that that trip or a different trip?

JS: Yeah, well, that was when I left camp.

AM: Okay, we'll talk about that later, then. Okay, and, so when you got to Rohwer, can you tell us what... you said it was kind of swampy?

JS: Well, we had a lot of mosquitoes, we had to sleep with mosquito netting at first, because it had a lot of swampland, and block by block, they were building the camps, and they had the Arkie workers there building block by block. And then the camp starts filling up with people from Santa Anita first, that group came in first.

AM: Okay. How did you feel... I'm sorry. Describe what it was like, you talked about the people coming into the, from the trains and distributing food, and you also told me about some incidents that happened when you were in camp that, was that --

JS: Well, yeah, we had a survey group of five people that went out to survey the outskirts of the camp, and this Arkie hunter out there, he thought they were escaped prisoners, and he shot some of 'em, but they really, they ran and it was shotgun so they didn't get hurt that bad, but it was, it was quite an experience at that time.

AM: So at, sometimes they let you out of the enclosure, but --

JS: Yeah, in fact, the guard on the boxcar there, he told us, "Go behind the car so we don't see you," so we went out through the back fence and went out to the woods. All it was was swampland and woods.

AM: When did the rest of your family get to Rohwer?

JS: They came in, I think about August, September, about September, I think it was. I really don't remember when they came in.

AM: Okay, but they came later, after...

JS: They came later, uh-huh.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

AM: And then once again, you left the camp before the rest of your family.

JS: Yeah, uh-huh.

AM: And when was that?

JS: I left there in April when I turned nineteen. I turned, I went to Denver, Colorado. Well, actually, it was Lafayette, Colorado, on the farm where we got, FBI gave us a clearance to go, so we went out to Lafayette and sponsored by a farmer to work on the farm. But that didn't last long. [Laughs]

AM: Yeah, well, to go back a little bit to your, the clearance that you got. Was that the same thing as the, what we call now, the "loyalty questions" or the questionnaire?

JS: No, no. That was --

AM: This is different?

JS: -- that was if you're cleared by the FBI -- I guess it must be tied in with that, too. But if you were cleared, why, you could leave camp. And if you had a sponsor, you could leave camp.

AM: And you had both of those, the clearance and the sponsor that was the people on the farm there.

JS: Yeah, had to sponsor you, uh-huh.

AM: Okay, and the permission to leave, that was permanent or temporary?

JS: That was permanent, yeah.

AM: So you didn't have to go back to camp.

JS: No, we didn't have to go back to camp, no.

AM: And so you don't remember filling out the "loyalty questionnaire"?

JS: I remember filling out, yes.

AM: You do remember?

JS: It was "yes-yes," "no-no," but being we had a brother in the army, you couldn't very well say, "no-no," so we all went "yes-yes."

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

AM: Okay. Let's talk a bit more about the work that you did in Colorado. You first went to a farm and did what kind of work?

JS: We went to a farm, and yeah, worked for twenty-five cents an hour. [Laughs] And that was it. I mean, one day we threw down our hoe in the middle of the field and took a bus into Denver.

AM: How many of you did that?

JS: Two of us, yeah. And we went to Denver and went to the Denver Ice Company, we heard they were hiring, so he says, "If you go to work right now we'll give you sixty-five cents an hour." So we took the job, we didn't have any gloves, no galoshes, and we had to go chop ice about ten stories up. [Laughs] And that was, it was miserable.

AM: But at least you got sixty-five cents an hour. [Laughs]

JS: We got sixty-five cents an hour, yeah.

AM: And where else did you live and work before you were drafted?

JS: After I got hurt there at the ice company, I worked delivering produce at the market there.

AM: Okay. And did you move to Cleveland?

JS: Yeah, then I went to camp to visit my folks, then to Cleveland, Ohio, and that's where I worked in the factory for a while, then I got drafted there in Cleveland.

AM: And as you said, you had a permanent clearance. So once you left camp, you could go different places --

JS: Yeah, you could go, you'd go any --

AM: -- come back.

JS: -- except the West Coast. You couldn't come to the West Coast.

AM: Okay. And in 1944, you were drafted.

JS: Yes, uh-huh.

AM: And how many years were you in the service?

JS: I was in Germany for one year before I came back, and I came back to Chicago, because I was married then and my wife was there, so I had to come back to Chicago.

AM: That's right. Now, just talking a little bit about your family's financial losses because of the evacuation, can you tell us kind of the things you felt happened because, financially?

JS: Well, it was very hard on the parents. I mean, they had nothing when they got out to camp. They went to Utah to work and that's where they ended up then before they came back to California.

AM: And during -- so you said they went to camp without anything, and they didn't have any financial resources in camp, really?

JS: No, no.

AM: Okay.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

AM: Now we're gonna move on to the period we call the resettlement, you know, period --

JS: Uh-huh.

AM: -- which is after World War II. And we'll talk a little bit about your parents first and then we'll talk more about your business and things. But when did your parents return to Santa Clara Valley from Utah?

JS: I think they came back... let's see. 194-,... let's see now. '46 or, yeah, 1946, I think it was.

AM: And what did your parents -- well, we talked about this. Your parents didn't have much of anything when they returned.

JS: No, they had nothing. Absolutely nothing. They came and sharecropped, yeah, uh-huh.

AM: And sharecropping was possible because --

JS: Strawberry, strawberry.

AM: -- they gave 'em, yeah, the owners would give 'em the land to work, and some of the equipment, and some of the seeds or plants or something?

JS: Yeah. You shared the... what you call it? The --

AM: The profits?

JS: Well, it was strawberry. Yeah, the profits, uh-huh.

AM: In 1946, when you were discharged, you had talked about going back to Chicago and you stayed there a little bit. What kind of work did you do there?

JS: Well, I ended up cooking for my father-in-law that had a restaurant there. [Laughs] And that wasn't too good, but it couldn't be helped, I guess.

AM: It was something to do, right? And then when you came back to the Santa Clara Valley, it was only you and your daughter.

JS: Yeah.

AM: And tell me when that was.

JS: That was 1948 I came back to California, and to my parents' farm.

AM: Right. And your daughter was how old, then?

JS: She was two-and-a-half.

AM: And how did you travel?

JS: We came by train to, I went from Chicago to Denver, stayed there for one week with these people that I knew before, and then came back to California.

AM: Right. And you told me about, you weren't very happy on train. You had motion sickness?

JS: No, no, I was, I was carsick all the way through. But these people on the train took care of my daughter for me, so it was pretty nice. They were real nice.

AM: Okay. And your parents were in the Santa Clara Valley and they were living on a farm, then, and sharecropping, and that's where you went to stay when you got here?

JS: Yes, uh-huh.

AM: Okay. And how much money did you have when you came here?

JS: Nothing. [Laughs]

AM: Boy. And so you started to work. What kind of work did you do?

JS: Well, I stayed on the farm, and then took odd jobs all around.

AM: And you did some truck driving, I think, too.

JS: Yes, uh-huh. I drove a truck.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

AM: And then you made a decision about going to school in 1950, was it?

JS: Yeah, in 1950, I got the GI Bill, and you know that I went to school. Barbering was about the... well, you could get into a business, it had less schooling, so I went to barber school.

AM: And you told me it was like nine months of schooling?

JS: Nine months of barbering, and then supposed to be a year-and-a-half of apprenticeship, but it takes more than a year-and-a-half, really.

AM: Did you seriously consider any other kind of work?

JS: Not then, no. No, that was about it.

AM: Some of your siblings went to college. I think your oldest brother, and then some brothers younger than you. Why was it possible for them to go, but you and the brothers closest in age to you didn't go?

JS: Well, we had, the oldest brother was in the army, so he went, while he was in the army, he went to college, too, I guess. Then the youngest brothers, why, they were, they were young, so they had the chance to go after we got back. Yeah.

AM: And how did you feel about not being able to go to college at that time?

JS: Well, couldn't help it then. I mean, I didn't like school anyway. [Laughs]

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

AM: Okay, now let's talk about your years of apprenticeship. You said it's usually a year-and-a-half, but it ends up being longer. You were kind of --

JS: Yeah, well, apprenticeship is very hard. I mean, for barbers, you, you really, you don't learn anything in school. And there was a time when I was apprenticing, and a farmer brought in three of his migrant workers, and that's all I... he told me in Spanish, "poquito," which means "little bit." I thought it meant "lot," so I gave him a butch haircut, and he started, tears came to his eyes. [Laughs]

AM: [Laughs] That was a surprise, huh?

JS: That was when I learned a little Spanish. [Laughs]

AM: Oh, that's a great story. And in 1951 you started with Clark Takeda?

JS: Yes, I started with Clark Takeda, uh-huh.

AM: And what, what kind of work, how long did that last with Clark?

JS: I was there for three years, uh-huh.

AM: And how was apprenticeship different from when you opened your barbershop, your own shop?

JS: Well, apprenticeship is tough because you don't have your customers at that time. You know, because they know you're, you're new. And you'd rather sit in an old-timer's chair than a new-timer's chair. That's how it goes.

AM: And as far as how much money you earned as an apprentice?

JS: You don't earn too much money in apprenticeship 'til you get your trade, your customers built up. Then it got to be pretty easy.

AM: And when did you start your own shop, then?

JS: Well, that was something I, I had a wreck in 1953, and I couldn't work, then I was out of job. Then Mr. Kohei Kogura from Kogura company, he told me, "Jimmy, I'll open up your barbershop for you." He was building a new building, and he put in, he told the carpenters, "Put a shop in there." So they put a wall in there, and he gave me a barbershop with forty-five dollars a month rent. He paid all my utilities, and that's how he started me off in business. He was real, real great for me.

AM: How did you get to know him?

JS: Well, you know, right there in town, he was only a block away from the barbershop so... but he was very, very good to me. Very good.

AM: Did he have other businesses? You said he was --

JS: No, he had the appliance store and his regular gift shop.

AM: And so your shop ended up being behind the...

JS: Well, my shop was right next to his appliance, see, he made an appliance store there, so it was kind of a, it was just a last-minute for him to build.

AM: Well, it sounds like he really wanted to help you out there.

JS: Yeah, he, he really wanted to help me out, and it was very, very nice.

AM: And that was probably, is that the reason you ended up having your shop in Japantown?

JS: Yeah, I stayed there and I had, well, I had my trade from before, so it kind of helped.

AM: So the clients that you --

JS: The clients I had before, so they were real loyal.

AM: And was there anyone else that helped you, either Japanese American or non-Japanese American?

JS: Well, the people that I think helped me out the most was in Denver. The Hashimoto family that took me in, under their wings when I was nineteen, and kept me, kept me on the straight and narrow, you know. Because at that time, there was a lot of kids out of camp running around. And they watched over me pretty nice.

AM: So kind of included you in their family in a way?

JS: Yeah, they had a restaurant there, uh-huh.

AM: Oh, so that was great.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

AM: Now, getting back to your own barber shop, what was a typical day like in your shop?

JS: Well, barbering is, at that time, was, you have mostly farmers, and it was, the hours are long at that time, but then we got down to where, little more educated and started cutting our hours down. And in between I had, my back room, I had my friends come in, we used to play cards in-between customers. And that was a lot of fun.

AM: Some of the card games you played, you told me were...

JS: Yeah, we played rummy, poker, whatever. Hana.

AM: So, yeah, and then you talk about your Saturday night poker games, so it wasn't just during the week you played poker, huh?

JS: No. Every Saturday, we played poker every Saturday.

AM: How many guys?

JS: We still do. [Laughs]

AM: Oh, you still do? In the same place?

JS: Yeah. Yeah, it's all empty now, but the old place there, we still play cards on Saturdays.

AM: So you have your table and your chairs and your chips, and...

JS: Yeah, yeah, and a kitchen.

AM: And a kitchen. So you eat as well? Wow. Okay, and who are the friends that still play with you? Are they the same friends?

JS: Well, there's not too many left. We have new ones coming in, but the old-timers all kind of passed up now, passed away.

AM: And how do the new recruits get into your game?

JS: Well, they come in and they --

AM: Are they friends of friends?

JS: -- somebody brings somebody in and that's how it goes.

AM: Okay. Just to get back to how many hours you worked, when you worked with Clark, you worked, like, longer --

JS: Oh yeah, we worked long hours, because we had a, we didn't have a closing hour. And we worked 'til they, they quit coming. And in fact, lot of the people used to go to movies and come back and get a haircut after. That was about eleven o'clock at night. So we worked late.

AM: And then when you started your own shop, you had more reasonable hours, you said.

JS: Yeah, reasonable hours, uh-huh.

AM: Okay, did you have any other workers working for you?

JS: No, I had a one-man shop.

AM: And was there ever a time you thought about expanding or getting more chairs?

JS: No.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

AM: Okay, what kind of interaction did you have with non-Japanese Americans in running your business?

JS: Well, my trade was about, I would say half-and-half. Had, I had quite a bit of customers from the police department, they used to come in, and it was nice. They were real, real nice.

AM: So that was at the beginning, there were about half Japanese Americans and half...

JS: Yeah, well, at the beginning, it was mostly Japanese, then it got to be more, so it used to be about half-and-half.

AM: Did you try to appeal to non-Japanese clients?

JS: No, it's all word-of-mouth. Barbering is mostly word-of-mouth.

AM: And you talked about new customers were generational, family members.

JS: Yeah, oh, I've had grandparents, great-grandparents, they had kids, then the little kids, so about four generations ended up that way.

AM: So what, if anything, did you do to build up your business, or to try to get more customers?

JS: Well, not really, I mean, you know, it's all, barbering's all word-of-mouth. That's about it.

AM: Well, it's also comfort level. If they feel comfortable with you, it's like when I get my hair cut.

JS: Oh yeah, yeah. That's, and they get to be like your friends. That's how it is.

AM: What was different about dealing with Japanese American customers as compared to non-Japanese or white customers?

JS: Well, there was no, really no difference, but it was easier to cut Caucasian hair than Japanese hair.

AM: Why is that?

JS: Because Japanese hair is black and white and so stiff, and your blending is the main thing. Like Caucasian hair, it's lighter hair, so it blends in easy. But Japanese hair, you kind of get butchered sometimes. [Laughs]

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

AM: You talked about expectations, too. Japanese Americans had a certain expectation when they came to get their hair cut as far as how much they were gonna pay. And did they expect to pay more or less?

JS: No, they, Japantown was always less. It, our haircuts were less, and that's why these younger barbers right now, they don't come to Japantown, they all go out.

AM: And you talked about how your customers tipped you. Was there any kind of difference between...

JS: Well, some don't, some do. It's not, it's not what you have to, it's just what you feel like doing. That's why...

AM: And it didn't break down between Japanese Americans did a certain way and --

JS: No, no. There's no breakdown, just how they feel.

AM: Now if some of your customers had businesses, or had service businesses, did you use their services and feel like you should or anything like that?

JS: Well, yeah, you, you kind of work together, uh-huh.

AM: And you mentioned that the Issei and Nisei felt more comfortable coming to Japantown. What do you think contributed to their feeling of being comfortable?

JS: Well, I think in any case, Japanese Americans, they felt more comfortable among Japanese Americans at the time.

AM: Because of what --

JS: Now, yeah, at that time, it was kind of, the comfort level was with your own kind at the time, I thought.

AM: Right. And how much do you think the fear of discrimination played in their feeling uncomfortable outside of Japantown?

JS: Well, anybody that went through the evacuation, they, they would, they know what it's like, because when you go back east, it's a lot different, too. And the people are different, the Coast was a lot different.

AM: And how they reacted to you was different.

JS: Yeah, to you, uh-huh.

AM: Let's see... oh, how much did you charge for haircuts when you first started?

JS: It was a dollar.

AM: And when you closed?

JS: When I ended up, it was ten dollars when I finished. It was quite a difference.

AM: But everything else started costing more, too.

JS: But that's, that's still cheap. [Laughs]

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

AM: How would you describe the monetary rewards of being a barber?

JS: Well, at least it's a living. It's a comfortable living, that's about it. I mean, you're never gonna get rich, but...

AM: And what would you say were the most important factors that kept you being a barber, and kept you staying in Japantown? What were the important factors?

JS: Well, that's about the only thing I knew at the time, and it was comfortable living, and that's what kept me there.

AM: Well, you talked about meeting a lot of people, nice people, good people.

JS: You meet lots of people, yes, uh-huh.

AM: And, and then you ended up doing things with them, activities.

JS: Yes.

AM: They kind of became your friends, too?

JS: Yeah. Well, you know, when you're barbering, why, everybody's your friend. I mean, that's the way it is with barbering. You get to know a lot of people, and you consider them all your friends.

AM: What were some of the things outside of poker that you did with these...

JS: [Laughs] Well, we did a lot of fishing. We did a lot of fishing.

AM: Okay, and in your -- well, we're talking about leisure time again. Who were the people you spent time with? Mostly your customers?

JS: Yeah, mostly, mostly the customers. It's the same people, and as you get older, why, it's all retired people.

AM: What are some of the stories that come to mind when you think of those good times when you were having, going places with these people, doing things with these people, and listening to stories? Do you remember any good stories you could tell us?

JS: Not, not really. I mean, not out of the ordinary.

AM: Okay. And did you ever seriously think of selling your business or doing something different?

JS: No, I never, never thought about that. After you're in it for so many years, you can't change. It's pretty hard.

AM: And how many years altogether would you say you...

JS: I, it was barber for forty-two years.

AM: Forty-two.

JS: Yeah, uh-huh.

AM: You told me that making a living was a huge focus for you. How do you think it affected your desire to get more education?

JS: About what?

AM: Did, you had to think about making money and making a living. Did that affect your thoughts about going to school at all?

JS: Not really, no. That was, anything besides farm work, that was the main thing.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

AM: And over the years you experienced some discrimination. Could you describe those situations? We'll talk about before camp, you told me about that.

JS: Well, when they led us, marched us down the, from the camp to the train, all the way around, I remember the white people along the sidewalk, "Damn Japs," and everything else going to the train. And funny thing, though, when we got to the camps, and when I got released to Little Rock, I went to the toilet, and I didn't know it was "black" and "white," but I went to the "black" toilet and I came out and the policeman, he gave me holy heck because I wasn't supposed to go in the "black" toilet. Here I just got out of camp, and then, then we got to the train, and a black lady got on our same car. And they put a curtain between us and her, because all of a sudden we're "white." And it was, that part there was a little, little odd.

AM: And then during the war, there were things about jobs...

JS: Yeah, I went to, when I got to Denver, I went to Railway Express, and they says, "You Japanese or Chinese?" I said, "Japanese." Says, "Nope." And then in the theater in Longmont, Colorado, we went, went to a movie and we had to go to the top, to the upstairs balcony. They won't let us sit in the bottom, and it was, it was... that's the kind of discrimination at that time.

AM: And in Cleveland, you saw some signs in the barbershops?

JS: Yeah, oh yeah. There's shops says, "Free shaves to Japs."

AM: And you had to explain that to me. What did that mean?

JS: Yeah, there were signs like that all over.

AM: And that meant what?

JS: [Laughs] I don't know, but that's, it was pretty odd that... it was kind of sad, but at that time, that's still the way that people felt, huh?

AM: Yeah, and, see, I didn't, I still, I hadn't, didn't understand what that meant. You told me that meant they were gonna cut your throat. Is that...

JS: [Laughs] "Free shave," that's what they wanted.

AM: Oh, okay. And then outside of camp, you talked about the curtain, and when you, in some ways you were considered white, and in other ways you were considered black.

JS: Yeah, well, that's the thing. In the South, when we were in Arkansas after camp, we were considered white. And here we just left the camps and we're, all of a sudden we're white people.

AM: Okay.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

AM: What are your strongest memories of resettlement after the war and getting started?

JS: Well, I think what really was, thing was, we could do anything after, and back east, at least we could work in the factories, which was a lot easier than what we were doing. So those were the things that we learned, that you could, you had chance to do anything you wanted after you got out of camp.

AM: And... so when you talk about things opening up for the Nisei, or second-generation, mostly in terms of work?

JS: Yeah, and... yeah. It opened up a lot of, lot of lives to do anything you wanted to do after you, after you got out of camp.

AM: And what would you say were the most difficult hurdles that you had to overcome?

JS: Trying to make a living. That's, after camp, yeah, that was, that was the hardest part.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

AM: And now we're going to talk a little bit about Japantown. There were some businesses like yours that started right after the war, and then they didn't make it. They're not, they didn't last very long. Do you have any ideas why that was the case?

JS: No. Well, most of 'em did well.

AM: For a while.

JS: Yeah, and well, a lot of real old-timers there, but most of your businesses after I started was restaurant, Japanese people came in from Japan and opened up restaurants. And now we have lot, lot of restaurant from Japantown.

AM: Not too much else, huh?

JS: No, no barbershops, but that's how it turned out, because the Sanseis don't have to come to Japantown any more. They, to get haircuts, or they just come to eat, and that's about it.

AM: Yeah. They can get other services in other places in the valley.

JS: No, no, that's why Japantown is just restaurants, and a couple of the old-timers left.

AM: And what would you, what have been the greatest rewards of having a business in Japantown?

JS: Well, the people. You meet a lot of good people, and I like my work; I enjoyed it.

AM: And you said you had really great, loyal customers.

JS: Yeah, I had good customers all the way through, uh-huh.

AM: And on the other side of the question, what have been the greatest difficulties of having a business in Japantown?

JS: The wages. You're always less than your competitors on the outside.

AM: And now, looking back, knowing what you do now, would you choose to run the same kind of business in Japantown, or would you do something different?

JS: I think I would go out of Japantown to do some other kind of work.

AM: Do you have any thoughts about what kind of work that might have been?

JS: Anything that pays your retirement. [Laughs]

AM: Certain other things become important, then, doesn't it?

JS: Other things, yeah, uh-huh.

AM: And then what do you think the future holds for Japantown businesses?

JS: Well, there's not much doing anymore in Japantown, that's the thing. That's all we have now is people come for the restaurants, but then their outlying areas, they have a lot of Japanese restaurants coming up, too. So it's going to be tough, I think. And then every other, like these gift stores, they're opening up all over. So it's gonna be tough to stay in Japantown, I think it is.

AM: Yes. Okay, those are my questions for you, is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your life or your business that I didn't have, that I didn't ask you about?

JS: Not really, it was kind of not interesting life, but it's a living.

AM: It sounded like it was a very full life.

JS: Yeah.

AM: With all your friends.

JS: It was, it was a lot of fun.

AM: Okay, well, thank you, Mr. Sakamoto, for helping the museum pursue its mission to collect and preserve Japanese American history in the Santa Clara Valley. Your contributions will, contribution will help future generations to understand and appreciate the role of Japanese Americans in California's history. So thank you again.

JS: Thank you.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

[Exterior shots of the Sakamoto Barbershop in San Jose, California]

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.