Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: George Yano Interview
Narrator: George Yano
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda, Steve Fugita
Location: San Jose, California
Date: December 1, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-ygeorge_4-01

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: So today's Wednesday, December 1, 2010, we're in San Jose at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose. And on camera we have Dana Hoshide, and co-interviewing is Steve Fugita, I'm Tom Ikeda. And this interview is being conducted for the Densho visual history project. And today we have George Yano. So, George, I'm going to first just start, and can you tell me, what was the name given to you at birth?

GY: Well, my first name is George, probably after George Washington like all the other Sansei or Nisei kids. My middle name is Hideo, and Yano.

TI: So Hideo, tell me about the name and where that came from.

GY: Okay. Hideo, Hide, which is the same one in Hideyoshi, is a name used in our family. My grandfather's older brother, who was the first son, was named Yoshihide. And then it jumped, and my, I guess it's my cousin or second cousin, is Hidemi. And it's the same Hide. But since I was born during the war, and my grandmother had some influence, she decided to put Hide, hi no de, which is the rising sun, "hero of the rising sun." I had to live with that name when I had to explain it in Japan, and people got a kick out of it. But yeah, Hideo for me is "hero of the rising sun." But the sun, and de, "coming out," and hiro, "you."

TI: And you said your grandmother had influence over naming you. Was your grandmother living with the family when you were born?

GY: Yes, yes. During the time -- I was born in Colorado, they all evacuated to Colorado, and she was pretty strong, influential. My grandfather, like most people, Issei men, were quiet, didn't say much, and when they spoke it was something important. But a lot of the influence, I think, was on the grandmother's side.

TI: And do you have any stories or sense of her in terms of being, like, pro-Japan during the war, living in Colorado?

GY: No. I don't, but I've heard that after the war, she wanted to go back to Japan. Because the family lost almost everything during the war, and so going back to Japan, my grandfather has family there. We're all from the same village in Japan, and she thought it would be better to go back. But that's when Grandfather spoke one of his few words, and said, "No." [Laughs] And so we stayed.

TI: Okay, interesting story.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: When and where were you born?

GY: I was born in Fort Lupton, Colorado, July 6, 1942. And my birth certificate says Keenesburg, rural Keenesburg. But I was born in a maternity home in Fort Lupton.

TI: Good, okay, and we'll get to that later in terms of how your family got to Fort Lupton, but we'll talk about that. Before we go there, let's just talk a little bit more about your father's family and that history. So, boy, I'm not sure where you want to start, whether it's with your grandfather or your great-grandfather, but why don't you kind of explain how the family, what they were doing in Japan and how they got to the United States.

GY: Well, like all Japanese families, if you go up to the grave, there's like twenty stones or however many for each generation. And if you're not the first son, it goes to another grave and you start all over again. But we're from Ehime prefecture, and Yawatahama city, in a small village called Maajiro. And unusually large numbers of immigrants came from Maajiro and Anai, which is another village next to Maajiro. And it's been documented in Japan as well about how these people emigrated. And Ehime didn't allow emigration. It's sparsely populated, so they tried to keep everyone there. But as you know, emigration started in Hiroshima people, because they were already used to going out to work. Because when Mitsui changed to automatic, what do you call it, textile machinery, it put a lot of people out of work. So those people used to go to other prefectures to work and return. And as it evolved to where Hawaii, there was an exclusion of Chinese, so they tried to bring in Portuguese people. And at one of the meetings the governor of Hawaii or something and Mitsui, some of the trading company people, and the plantation owners in Hawaii said, "Hey, we need labor." And they got together and said, "Hey, how about Japan?" And Mitsui and these people had connections with Hiroshima, and I guess near Yokohama, they had two locations. But anyway, that whole story is all documented in history books. But we think what happened was our area is very close to Hiroshima. It's just across the Inland Sea. And so leaflets that they distributed in Hiroshima came across, and people found out about it and then they tried to find ways. And most people that first went, came to America, came with the groups from Hiroshima. And then they didn't come in like the Europeans all by themselves on Ellis Island, they usually came in to Seattle, went to one of the boarding houses or the hotels, and they were picked, put into little groups and told to go here, there, mining was one, agriculture was another, wherever there was labor needed.

TI: Logging was available...

GY: Logging was another one. So you got people out in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, California, all over the West Coast. But anyway, that's how the original... my grandfather's uncle was already here when my grandfather came in 1903, and they probably came in that way. My grandfather was, he had a permit to leave Ehime to study horticulture. So he came the regular way, so his ship came all the way, right into San Francisco, and then he connected up with his uncle, so he was in Coyote. His uncle was in Coyote, and he ended up with, it's either Southern Pacific or Union Pacific, whichever goes to Coyote. And as I hear the story, he was mostly a guard at one of the bridges. People, bandits used to knock down bridges, stop trains and rob them in this area back then. This is early 1900s. And anyway, he came over that way and spent his three years, I guess, to pay for the ship and that. And then after, after that, he worked for a person named McDonald. But is that more...

TI: Yeah, let's talk about Mr. McDonald, because that's a fascinating story. But before we go there, the name of your grandfather?

GY: Kameo Yano.

TI: Okay. So he comes to the United States around 1903?

GY: 1903.

TI: He's around nineteen years old?

GY: Yes, yes.

TI: Okay, and then three years, Coyote, and then after that, so three years probably because he's on some kind of contract, do you think?

GY: I think so, yeah.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: Okay, so contract, and then he goes to work for Mr. John McDonald. So tell me about that.

GY: Yeah, John J. McDonald, again, through Chinese exclusion, a lot of these people that required laborers, especially something that's a lot of detailed work, hired Portuguese at one point. And then Japanese were the next ones available, because Japanese started coming in. And when my grandfather finished whatever it was with the railroad, he got a job with John J. McDonald right in Milpitas right where Ranch 99 is now, was McDonald's farm. He had a seed and fertilizer company. My grandfather ended up there. They had a little orchard there, and during the winters I guess my grandfather grew some vegetables between the trees like a lot of other people did. And over the years, that's 1906, and I think McDonald died in the late 1920s, I can't remember exactly. But it's in that report that I wrote. And during that time, he treated my grandfather like his son. My grandfather worked well, I guess, and so one of the things that happened, I think, going into our family background, is McDonald's, he's in the mausoleum up there at Oak Hill up on top. And his casket is up there. And when I took my daughter -- she was interested because she's never heard this part of it like anybody else. So sort of looked into it...

TI: And tell me why the mausoleum is so interesting. So you went up there, why did you go up there?

GY: Well, he's there. John J. McDonald's... it's in there. And we have always gone on Memorial Day or at least once a year, even the time from my grandmother, go up there and give flowers.

TI: Now, for you, growing up as a child, what did you think about going up to this mausoleum to put flowers at this white man's...

GY: I didn't think much of it, although I've heard of McDonald, my sister's named after her, her name was Elizabeth, I guess, but she went by Bessie, Bessie McDonald. And one of the things, early things I remember is after the 1950s, probably or late 1940s, we went to a rest home in Woodside where Mrs. McDonald was. And you know, in those days, Japanese never hugged or showed affection at all. And my grandmother was from the country. She'd never hugged anybody. But when we went there, Mrs. McDonald came out and my grandmother gave her a big hug. I couldn't believe it. My grandfather stayed in the car. And there was a real encounter with McDonald. And I didn't know much about it at the time.

TI: So let's go back a little bit more, because I want to understand what your grandfather, yeah, what your grandfather and Mr. McDonald, like what kind of work did your grandfather do for Mr. McDonald?

GY: Well, he was doing the labor and the farming and managing after they got people, managing the farm. Over the years, they worked so well together, and when the Santa Clara Valley was becoming populated, back in the 1920s, a lot of the agriculture moved to the central valley. And Mr. McDonald even said, asked my grandfather if he would take over the McDonald operations in the central valley, someplace in Stockton. And my grandfather went out there, and it was hot, mosquito-infested, and he just couldn't take it, and dusty. And so he told Mr. McDonald that no, he can't go there. And most of the people were over here in San Jose. So McDonald ended up going to Stockton and running a bigger operation there. They used more fertilizer and sprays and seeds over there. But I think they had a very close relationship.

TI: So your dad stayed back and then ran all the operations in the same...

GY: My grandfather, yeah.

TI: Your grandfather, in the San Jose area?

GY: Yeah.

TI: So that was an indication of how much, how well and how much he trusted your grandfather.

GY: Oh, yeah. And he used to give my grandfather his old car. Like my grandfather used to drive around a Cadillac. When I talk to the old people, he was driving a Cadillac that McDonald gave him. So it was, McDonald treated him very well. I think he was British and an immigrant.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: Now, you mentioned Bessie, so Mr. McDonald was married to Bessie McDonald?

GY: Elizabeth, yeah.

TI: Yeah, Elizabeth McDonald. So tell me a little bit about her now.

GY: She, that encounter in Woodside is the only time I ever saw her. She was, she worked for the city or the county here in San Jose, and well, because of that, because of what she knew and they trusted her, was one of the reasons my grandfather and his fellow farmers in this company decided to evacuate, 'cause she told them that it was gonna happen. Most people couldn't believe it, it's America. Why would you be sent to camps from your home? Didn't do anything wrong.

TI: Oh, so she had some kind of early warning or sense that the Japanese were gonna be removed from the area, so passed the information on to your family so that they would, could leave during that voluntary period.

GY: Yes, that's what... yeah, that's what I was told.

TI: Got it, okay. So tell me a little bit more. So she's a social worker in San Jose...

GY: Yeah, and how my grandfather met a lot of people in San Jose is anytime that she needed to talk to a family, a Japanese family, she'd ask him to come along to interpret. And he wasn't very good at English either, but he could communicate. So that's how he got to know a lot of people and probably how he got into farming with other, other Japanese. 'Cause in those days, as I understand it, the Japanese sort of hung out among themselves and, secondly, with people from their own prefecture. So the people from Hiroshima would be together, the people from Kumamoto would be together, Miye people sort of did things together. And Ehime, there weren't too many people. And I think how he got to know these other groups and work with them is through Mrs. McDonald.

TI: So I'm curious, so she's going out and talking to different families. Do you know what capacity? Was it around social services?

GY: I would think so. I would think social services.

TI: And do you have a sense of what kind of issues that she might be dealing with with these families?

GY: No, I wish I knew. I wish I would have asked. But that's one of the things that's just passed because all those people are gone. No, I don't. At the time, I just heard, "What'd she do?" "Oh, she was a social worker," or she worked for the, either the county or the city, and I've heard both.

TI: Yeah, that'd be fascinating, because in places like Seattle, you hear so much about kind of the community taking care of themselves, and it'd be interesting to have understood what she was doing and how she was trying to help.

GY: That would be interesting. What problems were being encountered, where she had to go out there and talk.

TI: The story you mentioned of your grandmother hugging this woman, so what was the relationship between your grandmother and her? I mean, did they do things together?

GY: Yes. My grandmother came over in 1913. And so from 1913 on, she was there at the McDonald farm. And yeah, I really don't know too much about that period, but it was like one family.

TI: So possibly she was doing maybe some domestic help, that kind of, maybe, relationship?

GY: Oh, no, my grandmother was helping out in, yeah, could have been. Could have been domestic, and also out on the farms, too, doing things. Because in a seed company, there's some tedious work as well, pollinating and things like that.

TI: Now, so you mentioned, so Mr. McDonald is running the operations of the farm in Stockton.

GY: That's later on. That's in the 1920s. Before, it was all in Milpitas.

TI: Okay, 1920s.

GY: Right.

TI: Okay... good, okay.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: But there's something that happened when, in the 1920s, when Mr. McDonald died.

GY: Yes.

TI: Tell me what happened, this is interesting to me.

GY: Well, as a... I was just told, I don't have any documentation or anything, but Mr. McDonald lived in Stockton, and Mr. and Mrs. McDonald didn't really live together or see each other. And the son was a real, quite spoiled as I hear. So Mr. McDonald, when he passed away, his will had it that my grandfather would inherit his operations or farm or whatever it was. And I don't know for what reason, but my grandfather gave that, he said he can't do it and gave it back to Mrs. McDonald. And it could have been because foreigners couldn't own land, so it was impossible, but there could have been ways. But the irony of all this is that once he did that and she got the property, she sold it. So what he was doing, all of it was gone. And so he rented the adjacent farm to do some agriculture.

TI: Do you know, when she sold it, did she give your grandfather anything?

GY: Token amount?

TI: Anything to help them out? Because essentially, when she sold it, he was out of everything. Out of a job...

GY: No, I don't. I wish I would have asked my grandfather or my grandmother. But, you know, Isseis didn't talk to children that much. We were invisible. So a lot of this came from my grandmother and my mom, and friends of my grandfather.

TI: But there was one thing that you were, you witnessed. When you talked about your grandmother going to visit Mrs. McDonald, you said that the grandmother went out there and gave her a hug, but you also said the grandfather stayed in the car. And so they drive all the way up there, and he didn't come out of the car to greet her in any way?

GY: Good point. You know, we were like eight years old or whatever.

TI: But you didn't, did you notice him saying anything, or his demeanor or anything?

GY: No, he never talked to us very much. And he didn't, like men of that era, they didn't say much. Few words.

TI: Yeah, I just thought that it was interesting that he...

GY: Yeah, there could have been reason there.

TI: ...that he, maybe he would at least come out and...

GY: Yeah, at least he could have come out and said, "Hello." Yeah, he did not. He stayed in the car with us. And it wasn't in the days when a parent had, or someone had to be in the car with a child, didn't matter.

TI: Yeah. Oh, interesting. Because essentially he potentially had all this land and everything to have done something with, and he just gave it to the...

GY: Yeah, he never mentioned it himself, and others mentioned that happening. And you know, I think the whole war thing, he lost everything at the war, because he was on rented land, hundreds of acres of peas, and it was all gone. Their equipment had to be sold, they put a whole bunch of stuff in the barn. I guess there was still, it was either on the farm that he was working on, there was a barn and a couple of houses. And they put a lot of what they wanted to keep in those barns, in that barn.

SF: And Mr. McDonald died...

GY: I don't know. I've got it in my, in those notes. I think it was like 1929 or around there.

SF: So I'm just kind of wondering, Santa Clara County, the district attorney didn't enforce the land laws that strictly.

GY: Oh, really?

SF: That's what I understand. So I'm just kind of wondering...

GY: Yeah, see, that was a second thought of mine. When I heard that that happened, my grandfather gave it back, I thought maybe it was because he couldn't own it anyway, but there might have been a way. But he just couldn't leave her without it. And Mr. McDonald was, he was, I guess he was a pretty strong-minded person. And yeah, they didn't live together, so there could have been other things.

TI: But going back to the story you mentioned in terms of the mausoleum, ever since Mr. McDonald died, it seemed like your family had feelings for him, I mean, in terms of taking him flowers on Memorial Day...

GY: Yeah, my grandmother insisted. So yeah, there was that feeling, that he's a guy that helped them survive in America.

TI: Okay, good. Good story about your grandfather.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: Your grandmother, I forgot to ask, I mean, what was your grandmother's name? In fact, her maiden name all the way back to Japan.

GY: Her maiden name's Abe, and Hisa. I heard that her first name was Tsuru. And, in fact, when we go back to Japan, some of her old -- well, they're not there now -- but the older people used to call her Tsuru. And, but her name was changed to Hisa, and I don't know why, maybe to come here or something. But in that area, there's lots of Abes and Yanos and Kiyohara. And so there's many Abes, but in our area, many of the Abes are relatives.

TI: Okay. And how did your grandfather and grandmother meet?

GY: They are from the same village. It's just like with my mom as well, my grandmother's parents probably said, the parents probably said, "Let's have them get married." And so it was decided. The kids really didn't have a say. So when they told my grandmother, "You're going to America, marry Kameo," the families are... in fact, my grandfather's older brother's wife was an Abe as well. So there was these connections. And she was told to come 1913, and there's a really great story that went with my grandmother, the same year, around May of that year, a group of fifteen fishermen from the village, the next village, got a flat-bottom fishing vessel and sailed it from Majiro or this Ehime village to... well, they were trying to get to Watsonville. Because three of the people of the fifteen had worked in America, made money, went back to Japan, they said, "Okay, let's do it again." And when they wanted to come back, there was a Gentleman's Agreement, exclude by 1913, they couldn't so they bought a fishing vessel. Fifteen of 'em went out, and my grandmother was about to come over to marry my grandfather. And one night when it was dark they came over to her house and said, "We can't talk about it, but we're gonna be leaving for America. When we get there, yoroshiku," take care. So that whole thing happened. And then she was held in Kobe for an eye infection or anything. Back in those days, they... and then when she came, she was held in Angel Island until my grandfather came to pick her up. And my grandfather didn't go to the post office every day. So he didn't go on -- when he got the notice that she's here, he was so excited he ran all the way home, which from Milpitas to where Ranch 99 is, maybe it's only a couple miles. But he ran all the way home and got in his vehicle and went up to pick her up. But she had to wait there, and she was, she told us that she was on the verge of just saying, "Forget it, I'm going back." 'Cause maybe being shipped back is better than waiting for this irresponsible guy to come together. Funny story happened that time.

TI: But then what happened to those thirteen people on the fishing? Did they make it to...

GY: They made it. They made it, and this year, the governor of Ehime prefecture and two mayors and a delegation of, oh, how many were there? There might have been sixty people came. We had a reception up in San Francisco, and they all went up to Point Arena where we built a monument dedicated to those fifteen men, and there's a bronze engraved plaque on there, and the people of Point Arena take really good care of it. Yeah, it's amazing.

TI: Well, it's quite a feat of seamanship to come across on such a...

GY: Yeah, they came across with a compass and water. They said, what they call kannomizu, which is cold weather water, doesn't spoil. So they kept cold winter water, and they put it on, and set sail with rice and everything. And I think in Wakayama or Mie, out there, they stopped once to get provisions, and then they stopped on one of the islands off of Tokyo, and then after that it was go. A compass and just few provisions, flat-bottom boat. But what happened is that the Japanese Current just brought 'em right in. If you did that on a raft, you'd end up in the same place. But they didn't know that, so they thought they had to navigate their way over.

TI: Oh, so partly it was luck. They hit the Japanese Current and just...

GY: Yeah, luck. At the time, other people had been doing this. And there was another ship that was successful, thirteen people. And also, there were people from British Columbia taking a short ride over to try to get into California, because of that Gentleman's Agreement. This is around 1913. But there was a Japanese documentary, an hour documentary made on it, they came over, and I was involved with the filming and all of that, and it was...

TI: But on the other hand, you could view it, I mean, they were essentially illegal immigrants. [Laughs]

GY: That's right. So they were captured, and they said, "You guys did something really special," they gave 'em a big dinner, and the Japanese American group here raised some funds to pay the penalty, fines and all of that and some money to take home, and they were sent back in a ship.

TI: Oh, they were sent back?

GY: They were only here for a few days.

TI: [Laughs] Oh, so they weren't allowed to stay.

GY: No, they were captured. I mean, Point Arena. But the first people that helped them in Point Arena were the Pomo Indians, there was a tribe up there. And when they made landing, and it's hard to find a place to land up there, it's pretty rough. They went up and they found a cornfield, and going through there, this is even written in books. The Pomo Indians took them in and fed them, and then they split up into three groups. But you know they're gonna stand out. And they got captured and sent back.

TI: That's a good story. I've never heard that story. That's a good one. Okay, so back to your grandmother, so your grandfather finally gets there before she leaves to Japan, and then they come back to the San Jose area.

GY: Right.

TI: Okay. And that's around 1913?

GY: 1913, yeah, she came.

TI: And so she's about ten years younger than your grandfather.

GY: Yes, nine or ten, that's correct.

TI: Okay.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: At this point, let's go to your mother's family. And in the same way, talk about how they came to the United States.

GY: Okay. I don't know how he came, but my mother's grandfather...

TI: So this is your great grandfather.

GY: My great grandfather was here at one point. And I think the great grandfather and Kameo Yano did things together, same village. And there was a story about -- and I heard it back in Japan as well -- that they'd go chopping oak trees up toward Mt. Hamilton for wood, and then they'd sell it in the valley here. That was allowed in those days. And they, my grandfather killed a wildcat and sent the fur back to Japan to show them what he had done. And the people in Japan were worried even more, thinking that he's in a very dangerous place. There's wildcats and things roaming around. But yeah, anyway, my mom's grandfather was here, and he, they'd stay for a while and go back to Japan, because they make a lot of money in America. Even if they made less than most Americans, by the time they got back to Japan, it was a lot of money. And he'd stay, and then my grandfather and grandmother came about that time, maybe in the 1913 or whatever. I don't know if I've researched that, I better ask my mom. Keep it, put it down in writing. But my grandfather Kameo and my grandmother's family did a lot of things over here, and they're from the same village. So... yeah. Anyway, I got to write down all these things about my mom, too, because it's pretty interesting. 'Cause they were living in Alviso and there's a name of a lady that lived in Alviso at the time, who had the farm that they worked on. And one time, they were getting nori, seaweed, up in Pescadero, and a lady came up and said, "Are you related to Haruno Ii?" which was my grandmother. And she says, "That's my mother." And the lady said, "You look just exactly like her." And anyway, it was just a coincidence that they were doing nori and the lady was there. It's in one of the stories, I think it's in that one that I wrote. I've got her name down there. But anyway, because they knew each other, they wanted my dad and my mom to get married.

TI: Again, because the familiarity with the family and knowing everything.

GY: Right, right.

TI: Okay. And your great grandfather was Ichisaburo Ii? Ichisaburo? I think that's what I have in my notes.

GY: Oh, okay, yeah.

TI: And then your grandfather was...

GY: Fukutaro.

TI: Fukutaro.

GY: That's right, that's right.

TI: And your grandmother.

GY: Haruno.

TI: Okay.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: So, good, we talked about your father's side and mother's side, and so let's talk about, now, your father. What was your father's name?

GY: Toshikazu. Toshikazu. But he went by Tom here.

TI: And about when was he born, do you know?

GY: 1920.

TI: Okay. And your mother's name?

GY: Mutsuko Ii. I-I.

TI: And do you know about when she was born?

GY: 1926.

TI: And where was your mother born?

GY: San Jose.

TI: And your father was born?

GY: In Yawatahama, Japan.

TI: Okay, so how was it that your -- okay, got it. So let's talk a little bit about your father first in terms of... so he's born 1920, tell me a little bit about his background in terms of...

GY: Okay. Anyway, my father was born in Japan to actually Kameo Yano's younger sister. And she died when he was just a baby, and he was, he lived in Kameo Yano's house with the ladies, Kameo's sister-in-law and niece, they're very close to us. And when he was, in 1923 or so, there was a Japanese exclusion, not just a Gentleman's Agreement. So my grandfather couldn't bring anybody from Japan unless he did it then. So he decided that he's gonna go back and adopt my dad. And so he went by himself. My grandmother didn't go, she watched the farm and brought my dad back.

TI: Okay. So when your dad was like three or four years old...

GY: Three years old, barely.

TI: Three years old, Kameo, your grandfather, adopted Toshikazu, your father, and then brought him to the United States, okay. So 1923, and they're in, I guess...

GY: They lived in Milpitas.

TI: Milpitas.

GY: They had farms in Milpitas, Overfelt, the Overfelt, there was a brother and sister named Overfelt, and they weren't married, and Overfelt High School, that land, a lot of that land my grandfather rented back in those days. And Edenville, toward where IBM is. So he probably lived in Milpitas, that's where the main house was, in Milpitas.

TI: Okay.

GY: But you know the story, the reason why there were so many farms is they started in Milpitas. And a lot of Japanese farmers were in Milipitas-Alviso. When they got into sweet peas, and they found some good varieties of sweet peas, the sweet peas grown toward IBM, south San Jose, were sweeter because it's hotter there. And also, in Milpitas they also tried prunes, but they couldn't compete with the prunes from the west side because it's warmer, Saratoga, Cupertino.

TI: So it's sweeter over there.

GY: Sweeter here. So they pulled all their trees and went to vegetables and other things. But, so they had to move around, I think to have different things to be competitive.

TI: Okay, good. Anything about your, so let's just go through your father's life. So as a young child, he's in the United States, like in terms of schooling and things...

GY: Yeah. He went to school in San Jose, graduated from San Jose High School, went all the way through school.

TI: So given that he came at such a young age, and the time he came, did most people think he was just a Nisei?

GY: Yeah, I think so. Because once he started going to school, he spoke English. I'm sure that until he went to school, he didn't speak much English. Like myself, I spoke a hybrid, Japanese and English. First grade -- I didn't go to kindergarten -- and when I was put in there, I didn't know my ABCs or anything like that, or the Pledge of Allegiance. I think you sort of, it takes a couple of years. I know I didn't really, I wasn't comfortable with reading until I was, like, in the second grade, I couldn't. And so he probably did the same thing, and a lot of the Japanese did that.

TI: Well, in your case, both parents spoke English, so who raised you as a child?

GY: Well, my mom spoke Japanese mostly, because she was, she was born in San Jose, but she went back to Japan with her parents when she was nine months old. And she went all the way through what they called girl's school, which is like the equivalent of, you graduate like when you're fifteen, fourteen or fifteen. And that was the extent of education for ladies back in Japan in those days. So she spoke Japanese. My dad spoke English, but at home, Japanese.

TI: Okay.

GY: And my... it would be my dad's cousin, another one of Kameo's sister's son, came out here, too, and that's Yoshio Sasaki over there.

TI: Okay. So let me make sure I got all this. You have a very complicated family.

GY: Yeah. [Laughs]

TI: So your father was born in Japan, but he came as a young boy, and so he essentially grew up kind of like a Nisei and spoke English. Your mother was born in San Jose, but then at nine months --

GY: They went back.

TI: -- goes to Japan and is raised as Japanese and speaks Japanese. Okay.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: So why don't we get to the point, how did your parents meet?

GY: Well, it wasn't a meeting, it was an arrangement. My grandparents, both sides, who knew each other very well and did, they were in America together, said, "We're gonna have Toshikazu and Mutsuko get married." And they were supposed to get married later, but this was 1941, and even though Pearl Harbor might have been a surprise to many, it seemed like a lot of people knew something was happening. And so he went, my dad and family went back in March or so of 1941, they got married on April 1st, and then they came back here on either the last or second to the last ship that was coming to America. They had to make that ship. So people knew what was happening. Even the ships weren't allowed to be coming into America anymore. And I don't know the details on that, but that's what I heard. It's that they made either the last or second to the last ship to be allowed to come back to America.

TI: So do you know who in your family had the foresight to say, "We got to do this now," in terms of March 1941?

GY: Well, I don't.

TI: Is it like Kameo or...

GY: Well, Kameo was told, and it could have been Mrs. McDonald again, I don't know. But Kameo was told, and that year, 1923, I guess, was a lean year. So he only had so much money. So my grandmother said, "He said he's gonna go back." So he left her a few bucks and said, "If you have any problems, we have some relatives, go borrow from them or whatever, I'll be back." And he took off. And he brought Dad back. And meanwhile, during that trip, my grandmother was harvesting mushrooms on the pasture around the farm. And she made enough money to save, I think she said a hundred dollars or something. It's in my report. But she came out on the positive end by working, by harvesting wild mushrooms.

TI: So she did okay with your grandfather gone.

GY: [Laughs] All by herself.

TI: Interesting.

GY: But she said one of the things that happened was there was a drought, and the well went dry. So she had to carry water from an adjacent farm to theirs, I think, for cuttings. They were doing cuttings, and she had to do that. She said her shoulder swelled up by carrying the water over, stuff like that.

TI: So your father and mother married in 1941, arranged marriage. I guess in Japan that would be common...

GY: Common, yeah. Everybody's, probably over 90 percent was arranged. There was very, in those days, very few what they called "love marriages."

TI: But your dad was kind of, essentially, raised as a Nisei, and so in the U.S. it wasn't as common to have arranged marriages at this period. Did you ever hear your dad talking about that and how he felt about an arranged marriage?

GY: No, no. Because I think back then, even though you're Nisei, unless you were in one of the groups -- and I think a lot of the groups were around different communities or prefectural groups -- that you're not really into it. And he was on the farm most of the time. Like with Yoshio, who was also educated in Japan, and other relatives who came and were working on the farm. So he might have grown up sort of Nisei, but more of a hybrid type Japanese and Nisei.

TI: Interesting, okay.

SF: What was your sense of how common the arranged marriages were among the Nisei, say, in San Jose?

GY: I think in Japan that was the way it was done. Marriages were arranged. I don't know. Among, like on my wife's side, the parents, they started dating, going to dances, it was more of the, quote, "Nisei life." So it was probably rare. It was probably rare when you think about it. But in my grandfather's side, it was, I guess they said, "You're gonna marry such and such," and there was no argument. And my mother was only, when she was married, she was only fifteen, 'cause they had to hurry it. And she was just told, and she just accepted. And we've got pictures of the wedding and all of that. And when she left her village in Yawatahama to, I guess they left by ship to go around to go to Kobe, she said, I said, "Geez, how'd you feel?" She said, "Oh, nothing." It was like they were told to do it, that's what they're gonna do. So there was no choice or regrets or anything like that. [Laughs]

TI: So your mother comes as fifteen years old, did she ever tell you what, how she felt about that, when she came back to America and what was that like?

GY: Yeah, well, some. She was very well taken care of. Ms. Overfelt, she was a schoolteacher, taught her manners, how to cook, and she had, it was like a mother-child relationship. Mrs. Overfelt was helping her as much as she could, she'd like to maintain that relationship. My grandfather was renting Overfelt land at that time. But the war split it all up, but she used to send presents to my mom, Christmas presents and things like that. So, but she didn't live... I wouldn't think that, she was already married, so she doesn't know the Japanese American life at that time, what was happening in San Jose or the surrounding areas, 'cause it was mostly family.

TI: Because I'm thinking, for your mother to have come from Japan at this time period, there'd be so few people coming from Japan at that time. And so it was just kind of a... not necessarily, I mean, it'd just be kind of a rare situation.

GY: Yeah. When you think about it --

TI: I mean, not many peers to really talk with.

GY: It was more common, say, a generation before, twenty years before, twenty or thirty years before, because most of those were arranged marriages. Lot of the Isseis were arranged.

TI: And all before 1924, kind of. And so it's almost like you're right, so like twenty years earlier, it was common, but your mother's experience is not as common.

GY: No. But it was like time warp. The older people decided, so it was decided that she would marry Toshikazu. And in those days, they said yes, no second thoughts. [Laughs]

TI: Now, did your parents ever talk about December 7, 1941, and what happened on that day to either one of them?

GY: No. I mean, it was probably a shock to every Japanese American or Japanese, but one of the things I missed so far.

SF: How do you think your parents felt about America and Japan, your mom and dad?

GY: I don't know. They, like my grandmother was pro-Japan, my grandfather was pro-America. And I think they just lived the circumstances of the time and there were, they were probably in an environment that really didn't nurture those kinds of feelings. The younger people didn't have much say, so they probably just followed along. Yes, I don't know. I wish I would have had this interview before, then I could have asked them.

TI: [Laughs] Asked all these questions.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: So let's start the second segment, George. And where we kind of left it was right after the war had broken out, December 7, 1941. Earlier you had mentioned that there was a possibility that Mrs. McDonald had somehow let your family know that there was gonna be a removal and that maybe they should get out of the area. So let's kind of pick it up there again in terms of that time period. So tell me what you know about that.

GY: Well, I only heard that story. And it could have been my mom or someone that I was asking at the time I was doing the research, but they mentioned Mrs. McDonald giving advice that, "This is for real, it's gonna happen. So you either leave or you're going to be going to camp soon." Something of that nature. So many people were already preparing. All the members of the farm, the pea shipping company that my grandfather was involved with called Hato Pea shipping company, were ready to leave. And Tanases were in that group. I'd have to look at some of the notes, but, yeah.

TI: But what kind of arrangements were they able to make? So even if you wanted to leave, you had to have some place to go to and something to do. What kind of arrangements...

GY: None. They, there was some kind of an advertisement in either the Nichibei or Hokubei Mainichi, and it was something to the effect that, "If you get to Salt Lake City, look up this number," and it was sort of endorsed by the JACL, "and we will find work for you." And it just so happened that that was sort of a scam to get people in. It was a labor contractor in Salt Lake City who wanted to get the people, so when they got to Salt Lake City, there was nothing. And it just so happened that the Great Western Sugar Company was looking for farmers, and there was a Japanese guy, name is in the report, that was in that company. And also, there was another sugar company called the Pacific Sugar Company or something, in Watsonville. And they were the same company. And I think it's a guy named Matsumoto. From there, they found, in Colorado. So anyway, there was some form of communication, and a lot of the people that got to Salt Lake City went into that, went to Colorado and Wyoming where the Great Western Sugar Company was looking for farmers, people that could manage farms. So there was no plan, they just took out as much money as they could. And good thing because afterwards, they were only allowed to take out a hundred dollars a month. But, yeah, it was just, "We've got to go."

SF: The basis of the group was people who worked at Hato Pea or their friends, or were they relatives?

GY: Yeah. It was Hato Pea, and relatives, and then people who knew, had like Watanabes from Mountain View, three brothers, they evacuated at the same time. They weren't involved with Hato Pea, but they asked if they could join because they knew someone. Someone knew somebody, so that one caravan went. There were people that wanted to go, but as I mentioned in the report, General DeWitt changed the rules. It was supposed to be the end of March, he moved it up a few days and into a weekend. And so it must have been really hard for anyone to go, and other people may have moved, voluntarily evacuated, if it wasn't for that. It was just overnight. They had that day's notice to prepare, most of the trucks were already ready, they dumped whatever they could on the trucks, got together in the morning of the 28th, I think it was, or 29th, and took off to get out of the military zone before a certain time.

SF: In your research, did you run into other people who left as individuals or families? Or were there other groups that you heard about?

GY: There must have been other groups, because there were a lot of people from the San Jose area that moved to Colorado. And I never researched this, but I heard that a guy that, in Mountain View, that used to do sports, was Sambo Sugimoto's family, were in Colorado. My mom may know. Maybe that's something that I should look into to try to get some more information on the people that went voluntarily. And some just went to Salt Lake City, ended up there, but lived outside the camps. No, but I really haven't researched that. And a lot of those people are going, too.

TI: So the notice said, "Get to Salt Lake City and then we'll find you work," your family went to Colorado. I'm curious, did the influence of Governor Carr in terms of going to Colorado, did that ever come up in terms of the governor and his willingness to have people come to Colorado or anything like that?

GY: No. I've never heard that part of it, but the Zimblemans and the community over there, there's a German community, and the Zimblemans had been forced out of the East Coast by discrimination and that during the First World War. I don't know if it was something more than that, but they moved to Colorado at the time of the First World War. So they sympathized with the Japanese Americans.

TI: Because they were of German ancestry?

GY: German ancestry, and there were people of Italian ancestry there as well. Although I don't know if in 1941 the Italians were in the war. But yeah, lot of Italian farmers and German farmers in the Colorado area.

TI: And they were generally sympathetic?

GY: They were generally sympathetic, yeah. I mentioned in the report that they had a gathering, they formed the neighbors, and this was just on the spot. The group arrived, and some people went to meet them, and I think Zimbleman, one of Zimbleman's sons, when they said, "What are we gonna do? Now, we didn't have anything like that in the paper, we weren't looking for help," but they said, "Hey, these guys are here and they've got skills, we've got to do something." And they first were put into any kind of housing, like many families in one house and then those German ranchers put up, built homes, cottages for the families.

SF: So would you guess that the Germans, community there was well-organized in the sense of families tied together, and so the Zimblemans contacted them because of this kind of network?

GY: Probably. It's a small community. This is Keenesburg. Keenesburg is smaller than Fort Lupton, it's a small community, they probably knew each other, the community knew each other, the people in the community. I don't know that there was a concerted or understood effort to help the Japanese. I think the Japanese Americans just appeared, so there was a need to do both sugar beets and cattle ranching. So this is just guessing on my part.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: Any stories from your, that you recall from your parents about this period of time in terms of what life was like, the work, anything that you can share?

GY: Yeah, that's, you mean after they got to Colorado? I intended to start on that and I better do it before, before all these people pass away. But what happened was, in addition to the sugar beet effort, there was lots of that. The small farms, truck farms in the area, owned by either German or Italian people, took in families. Like my relatives, the Sasakis, went to a family, the Mines worked for another family. They originally started at Zimbleman. Everybody was there. And then as the war, time progressed, it passed, they went off on their own. And, in fact, my dad liked... well, it's not electronics, but radio and those kinds of things. So he worked in a radio shop in Denver later on. And my grandparents moved to Fort Lupton, there was a Japanese community there. And so, but initially, during that period when they didn't know what was happening, it was the people of that area that really came through and helped out.

TI: And how about the prewar Japanese community in Fort Lupton? So there was a farming community of Japanese there that has been established. How much connection was there with that group?

GY: Well, in our case, we knew one of the families over there. And I guess those people were the ones who went to the mines in Wyoming and Colorado, the Isseis, the first generation. So their offsprings were there in Colorado and Wyoming and those places. They were aware of that, and also in Denver, the Buddhist church, I mentioned that in my report, too, but the reverend there, the Bonsan, helped this whole evacuation, voluntary evacuation quite a bit by housing people and giving them support, feeding them. And I think he was honored for that. But yeah, there was awareness.

SF: So the Japanese in the Colorado and Utah, they were always helpful. You never had any instances of where they were fearful of a lot of Japanese coming in, therefore were kind of riling up the locals maybe or something like that?

GY: I never heard of that. My memories -- of course, I left there when I was three, so they're very vague -- but there was a family, Furukawa, they had a store that was close to my grandfather, the house that they had rented. And they made tofu and other, they had a little store there, and she seemed like an aunt. One story is that I went over there one time and -- I don't remember -- and told her that my grandmother didn't have any money, but she wanted to have some tofu. And so, of course, Mrs. Furukawa came to my grandmother and said, "Geez, what's going on?" "Oh, that little guy," you know. I don't know the whole thing. But they were that close. They were helpful, and we still make Mrs. Furukawa's kuri manju, she had a recipe. [Laughs]

TI: That's good. Now, was there ever any thought from the family to maybe stay in the Denver or Fort Lupton area rather than coming back?

GY: Yeah, and I think most of the people that decided to stay, it wasn't that easy to just, again, just give everything up and come back and start anew. Or you had to have some money to get back. And a lot of people that we know stayed in Colorado a year or two later than the end of the war because they just couldn't do it. And then they eventually came back. The weather is pretty severe over there. It's colder and hotter, I think.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: Okay. So I'm going to shift gears a little bit and now talk about your -- 'cause this is when you come into the picture. You were born in Fort Lupton, spent a few years there, and then you now return with the family back to the Milpitas area.

GY: Right.

TI: So let's kind of pick up your life. I mean, something you said earlier when we were talking about your name, how as a child, you spoke Japanese, you communicated in Japanese. And so what are some of your early childhood memories?

GY: Well, they came back, my grandfather had built two houses on Overfelt's land, and one of the houses was still available. And I don't think my grandfather would mind my saying this, but... and he had intended to release the Overfelt land. But by the time he got back, someone else who returned earlier had already signed up with Overfelt, so he lost that land, or the ability to rent that land. And I remember being in those houses, I was about four, maybe four or five. And it was a typical, probably a typical Japanese farmhouse. As you enter, it was, I think it was either still dirt or concrete or something, bottom, and you had to step up and remove your shoes to do that. My grandfather was playing go, and when his friends came, that's what they did. I remember that. And I think a lot of people my age also remember these other things of that era, the tins of potato chips. People would buy potato chips in round tins. They'd hold 'em for a long time, so they were almost rancid by the time you eat them. And I didn't think they were very good, but if someone came, they brought out the tin, opened it, put it back in there, and left it for a long time. And then we moved to -- my mom and dad and my brother and I -- were moved to Takeda Farms back in the 1940s sometime in Milpitas. And we were there close to the Oyamas and a lot of other families that were returning from these evacuations. And those were things that I used to... Richard, who's my age, and I used to always get in trouble because we'd be playing in the sandboxes, which were really made for cuttings, we'd be disturbing that. But it's just little bits and pieces. I don't remember too much. I remember ice cream, 'cause my grandfather used to come to Japantown from Milpitas. And at Butcher's Corner there in Milipitas, it's the corner of, I think, Main and... right there, the main intersection, there was a bar. And my grandfather would go in there, and I guess they had ice cream there, and he'd come out with ice cream cones. And it was very rare when that happened, but every time we went by that, we'd look and hope that he would stop. [Laughs]

TI: So let's talk about starting school, because you had talked about how, up until school age, you spoke Japanese. What was it like going to school?

GY: Oh. I can't remember all the details, but it must have been tough. Because I went right into first grade. My brother was a year younger, he went into kindergarten. And when I went to first grade, everybody knew the alphabet, the Pledge of Allegiance, how to speak English. And so I think it was pretty tough for my brother and I, but I can't remember. I mean, I can't remember any suffering. I remember going to school, my teacher, Mrs. Grecko, was a very strict teacher, kept all the bullies at bay. And I couldn't read. I couldn't read until I was in the second grade sometime, and so it's one of those, like an immigrant family. And my parents are farming so they weren't able to -- like other farming families -- able to spend a lot of time with the kids and teach them ABCs or the Pledge of Allegiance or songs and things. But that was tough, because I couldn't understand how these people knew how to do the Pledge of Allegiance right away. And alphabet, that was so foreign. And they all knew each other from kindergarten, small school, McKinley school in Sunnyvale. It went from kindergarten all the way to eighth grade. But it was, that was afterwards, after the second grade and I got to know people, it was a good experience growing up in Sunnyvale.

TI: But how was it before the second grade, or before you could really speak English well, how did your classmates treat you?

GY: Not bad at all. I was never bullied, I was never picked on. Mrs. Grecko treated me like everybody else. It was just that I couldn't do what they could do. They could read, they could do all the things that kids learn in kindergarten. But yeah, it wasn't a bad experience. I don't remember it as a bad experience, it's just that I didn't know what was happening.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: As you're growing up, in terms of connections with Japan, you talked about your grandmother being more pro-Japan, your mother had obviously strong connections to Japan. What kind of communication was going on in the latter part of the '40s, early '50s, between your family in Japan?

GY: Well, my grandmother didn't believe Japan lost. And so she wanted to go back. There's family back there in the village, so she wanted to go back.

TI: So let me ask, so this is right after the war, your grandmother didn't think Japan lost?

GY: Right.

TI: And so at what point did she understand that Japan lost?

GY: I don't know. It was probably when it was obvious, but my grandfather put his foot down and said, "No, no way," I guess. And so the whole group stayed. There was one family that went back to their home in Yawatahama, which is in Ehime, because they still had, the parents lived there. But no, it wasn't gonna happen. So I don't think she, she said what she thought, and that was it.

SF: Can you give a good guess as to what year that took place, that decision was?

GY: That was right after the war, as I understand it.

SF: So '45?

GY: Yeah, '45, '46, when the decision, I guess a lot of families went through that. A lot of families that had sort of strong ties with Japan probably had that same decision-making.

SF: Did your family send a lot of money or clothes and food, all of that?

GY: Yes. I heard that, a lot of that, and sugar and commodities. So once it got there, they could be converted to money or something. And I just remember sugar, but there were commodities that they sent back in bulk so that the families in, the family in Japan could survive.

SF: Did your parents see that as burdensome at times? I remember my parents, they would do it, but my father would always grouse, "They're asking for more money," and, "they're asking us for more stuff."

GY: Oh. No... well, I don't recall that. It's probably, they probably just wanted to do whatever they can. And it was tough for the families. It's just, in 1945, for all Japanese Americans it had to be tough starting from scratch, everybody. And some people had land, which helped, but it was still tough. So people did what they could. And in the case of my grandfather, it's his brother who's the head of his family, so they tried to do as much as they could. And I could remember the shipments, big shipments of sugar and chocolates, coffee, those kinds of things. And from Japan we'd get shipments, too. And it would be dried squid, and what else? Small what they call iriko, small fish, dried fish that's used for seasoning. And rock sugar -- everybody probably had the same experience -- rock sugar on strings. And in our case, the area cultures pearls. So we'd get jars of pearls, and I don't know what happens to those. But we weren't sophisticated enough to send it to a jeweler and say, "Geez, what would this be worth?" And I don't know what happened to them. But it would be jars of pearls. [Laughs] Probably the rejects.

TI: And how about visits? After the war, in terms of family members visiting Japan or members from Japan visiting America? Did that happen?

GY: Yes. Well, my grandparents went back... I don't know if there was a period when you couldn't go back if you weren't an American citizen. My grandfather got his, he was naturalized later, I think in the 1950s. But as soon as he could go back, he went back to see how things were back there. First time we went back, it was just myself and my youngest brother, my mom and my grandfather, was in 1961. And by that time, it wasn't too bad. It was still dark, and the food was, food was not like we know it, 'cause it was still coming out of the war struggles. And the odor, because there was no sewage system. And you go walking in cities or villages, there was an awful odor all the time. And I remember that. But that was a good trip. You got to know the relatives over there. And we did some touring, we went to Kyoto, Tokyo. Well, we're sort of lucky we have a wealthy relative over there whose father was part of starting one of the railways in Tokyo. He had a Cadillac at the time. This is 1961 when Japan wasn't out of it yet. So that part of it is good. And when I went back, I saw him a lot. But with that and the travels, it was an experience, but yeah, we did that.

TI: Now, were you able to keep up your Japanese language skills?

GY: No, no. As you may know, our Japanese here was from our Issei grandparents, is Meiji-era. The language changed a lot, and the key words were English. You, "Car ni nore." The "car" was in English. Even worse than that, it'd be all mixed up. So when I went there, I went back in 1965 to work for a Japanese company. And they'd be laughing because I'd use these words that were ancient, 'cause the people came during the Meiji era, and the younger people were Taisho era. And they just came out of serfdom with the Tokugawas and all that. So they used to laugh. But it took me six months before I can even, I can even hear what they're saying. It's spoken so much faster than my grandparents. And they didn't use the key English words.

TI: That's good.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: So George, I kind of went through, kind of the areas that I wanted to, I mean, in terms of the history. Is there anything else you want to talk -- I mean, I want to kind of shift to the reasons why you do as much research as you do in this area. But before I go there, is there any other historical things you want to talk about, about the family or anything?

GY: Not that I could think of.

SF: We didn't cover the actual trip. Maybe we could ask George to...

TI: Oh, sure, okay.

SF: Can you kind of hit the highlights of the trip, actual...

GY: The evacuation?

SF: Yeah, actually from San Jose to...

GY: Well, again, I got the information from others. I wasn't born yet. And it's in that report that I gave you a copy of. But it's, it was frantic the day that they started preparation and heard that it had to happen. And in our family, (Sam) Tanase was a student at San Jose State, fluent in English, knew what was happening. So he was the one that sort of got the word out to our, the other families that it's gonna happen, and we've got to leave tomorrow. So I don't know what time that was, but I'm sure they worked through the night to get packed and then left in the morning. 'Cause they gathered, they left at nine o'clock. They must have had several gathering places, 'cause some people say it was at the Buddhist church here, and some people say that it was at my, at Kameo's ranch. But that all happened at nine o'clock or so, according to my dad's diary. He kept short notes on each day. About nine o'clock they left. And the preparation, I mentioned that my grandmother wanted to have rice and sugar or some key things that they didn't want, some people didn't want to carry, but she wanted. And the thing about, we're always carrying water around, there's water all over. And I said, "What did you do about water?" "Geez, we didn't even think about that. We can't even recall thinking about it," but they probably had, like, tea in thermoses or something. And I said, "What about food? What preparation?" They made the usual onigiri and few okazu and packed it like a picnic. And they put it in the cars and took off. So when I think of it now, it's geez, that's right, that's what you could do. At first when I think, "What are you gonna do about food? What about water? Where do you stop for toilets and stuff like that?" And they managed all that, seventeen vehicles. So in hindsight, it might have been, it happened, but if you tried to preplan it, it'd probably be a nightmare.

SF: Do you think that they thought about going in smaller groups because that might be lower-key or whatever you want to call it?

GY: Well, I guess they had until a certain time to be past Highway 99. And it seemed like everybody wanted to go together. And so they decided meet and then caravan over, so they, I guess they stood out. But in a couple of cases it seemed like even the highway patrol helped them move along. Yeah it's hard to imagine in those old vehicles.

SF: What kind of discrimination did they bump into along the way?

GY: The only one that I heard is after Salt Lake City, they're going on their way to Colorado, I think, Keenesburg. And going through Laramie... was it Laramie? One of the towns in Wyoming, they heard the caravan is coming. So there was a lot of people along the road in town that were saying, "Japs," and, "Get out," or something. And they couldn't find housing there, so they had to find it someplace further out, a hotel, motel. But that's the only one I heard. Otherwise, back in those days, it was probably not like today anyway. So people were probably used to some discrimination. But blatant discrimination, that was the only one I heard of.

TI: There's one good story about one of the kids being left behind?

GY: Yeah.

TI: Tell me that story.

GY: That was May, May Watanabe. And she told the story that, yeah, everybody decided to have breakfast. The whole Watanabe family had breakfast at this coffee shop or restaurant, and they only had so much time to do that before the caravan took off again. And in the rush -- and I don't know how many brothers and sisters she has, but there were many. She was left there, and she didn't know what to do, she said. But they came back for her. [Laughs]

TI: [Laughs] That's probably a kid's worst nightmare. You know, they always kind of take, I mean, with my kids, you always say, "Hurry up, we're gonna leave you behind," and then to actually be left behind. Anything else that just stands out in terms of your report or anything about the trip?

GY: It's like, even though it was this horrible trip that they had to make, each sort of went on its own way, like Jimmy Shimizu, who's in here, he tagged along way behind, they had to wait for him up on top of the Sierras, probably freezing temperatures, and he's coming along and he finally gets there, and so it wasn't like you're in the military and you had to march along. They probably even lost sight of each other at certain points, signals and things. But they made it there, it's amazing. And the one story about Tanase leaving his money at the motel. They had to take money out of the bank, cash, probably lots of money, so that it wouldn't be stolen, he hid it under the mattress at the night in Elko, and when he got up he forgot to pick it up, so they had to go back after it, stuff like that. And it was still there. So they got it, got back, and because of that, now, Chester Tanase, that's the son, Mr. Tanase's son, and my dad, went back. And Chester was usually the guy that spoke, translated for Kameo and others, Mrs. Tanase being another key person. But because they had gone back, Jimmy Shimizu was the translator. He's in L.A. So he knew what conversations happened in Salt Lake City. Jimmy Shimizu was the only guy that knew. And I just lucked into that when I called him. And he's pretty rough, he was a truck driver, so he's pretty rough-speaking, as you could sense in there. But that was, that was very lucky. And being able to know, because we had all thought that the JACL and the Zimbleman family... one of the stories was that the Zimbleman family sort of felt like helping, 'cause they had gone through this same thing and sympathized, and they made this offer: "If any of you need work, come to our ranch." Well, that wasn't so, otherwise, they would have had tens of thousands -- not tens of thousands, but hundreds of people there, 'cause there were a lot of people that evacuated. But the contact point was in Salt Lake City. And so the people, a lot of people went to Salt Lake City, and then they found out that it wasn't the case, it was a labor contractor.

TI: Do you know if there were any repercussions to that labor contractor for doing that? I mean, was there any, did anything happen to him?

GY: No. You know, he was doing his business, he was doing his work, I guess. And what Jimmy says is that Tanase and my grandfather put out a lot of money to get the, his efforts, and got nothing in return. But I think Jimmy Shimizu is still alive. I haven't talked to him in a long time, but his wife passed away recently, about a year ago, I guess.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: So, George, the question I have is, I mean, to put this all together takes a lot of work. I mean, the research, the, contacting people, following up, long phone calls, so why? Why are you doing that?

GY: Well, it's... once they're gone, the story that they have, whoever it is, is gone. And you're never gonna get it back. And I started realizing that after I interviewed my grandmother. I didn't interview my grandfather, 'cause, of course, they didn't really speak to kids. And I talked to my grandmother for three evenings at my house, and got the story of how it was in Japan, what happened, maybe part of the McDonald story was there. But anyway, I was glad because soon after that, she passed away, and it would have all been gone. Like the common way that people had utensils or food in old Japan is each person had a little box. And in the box was a chawan, a dish, and chopsticks that was yours. And so when it was time to eat, they took out that little box, took out the utensils, and at the end, a lot of them -- this is the old zen way -- they just put tea on everything, sort of swirled it around, drank it, and that was the extent of the washing. And I didn't know that. But then you see it now in some of the old Japanese movies where people would take out this box and have their dinner. But things like that. And the way they cooked, like cooking with dashi, shoyu, sake and stuff like that. Think, oh, god, that's really hard. But the way she said it, it's like your frying pan. We didn't have frying pans, we didn't have oil, so we just had to use water. So they put water and shoyu and some other stuff in there and they put the fish in. And it's just a different way to cook. Instead of thinking it like New Year's dinner and how did they make this delicious fish?

TI: It's every day.

GY: Yeah. It's their way of frying it. They didn't have the frying pan. But anyway, that part I've got in one of those also, but that, and I wanted to leave it, once it's gone, it's gone, so I wanted to leave it for my brothers and sisters and my family, so I started to put it down in writing. And in trying to get information on different things like the pea company, that was at a funeral, and Chester Tanase was there. And I said, "Hey, there's this pea company that you guys were involved with, parents. Do you remember the name of it? There's no record." Says, "Oh, yeah, it was the Hato Pea Company. Such-and-such and such-and-such, and many of the big farmers in San Jose were involved at one time or another in this company." That became -- and then on the evacuation side of it, asked him, "Where did you guys meet up?" Well, he had this recollection, and that, and Kay Tanase, she recalled meeting by the hardware store in downtown Milpitas, so that must have been the final point, and they took off from there. But anyway, getting all of this together, I just wanted to put it down in writing so that someone later could also have it.

TI: It also sounds like there's some joy involved, too.

GY: Oh, yeah, once you get into it it's fascinating. In doing this and talking to people, and then once you get another bit of information you could go on another path and try to put it together. And mine's not finished, I don't even have all the names in there. And when you do this kind of research, sometimes something later on says, "No, that's not the way it happened," so you have to correct it. Well, it's not really polished to that extent. But just getting it down in writing, even if it's not in the final form, I felt that important. So I've been doing a lot of those, even just on my episodes in China and stuff like that. So that if one of my great-grandchildren, for example, says, "Geez, I wonder what he did," they'd have that part of the story.

SF: It would be great if you and a ghostwriter or something could put all this together when you get all the stuff together and then share it with the wider community.

GY: Yeah.

SF: It certainly will be a good thing, like, for the bookstore.

GY: Yeah. I think, you know, it gives some of the details on the first generation, like in the case of Kameo, what they, how they lived. And you know, during the 1920s and '30s when he had the big farm and stuff. He used to support the Zebras, and his picture is in front of the old Hiro's Golf Shop and stuff like that. And once they're established, it must have been a lot of fun. But at the beginning, like the first three years, at the railroad, one time he had a severe flu that almost killed him then. And that might -- you don't know what causes Alzheimer's, but at the end he had either Alzheimer's or Parkinson's. And they said sometimes a severe case of influenza or fever causes that. That could have happened. And those, when they first started, I don't know what they ate, I never had time to talk to my grandfather, "Did you have three meals a day?" But when you read the stories, it's not so. These people, in the history books, those crews went out there, the railroad crews, and they'd throw down a slab of bacon and a bag of flour. The hakujins knew how to cook it. They'd fry up the bacon and make biscuits or something, have bacon and biscuits or whatever. Japanese didn't know. And what they were doing is they were trying to save the bacon and sell it to the hakujins. So they have a little bit more money, and they'd send it back to Japan. So they were making what they called dango jiru, some kind of skimpy soup with dough from the flour, and they were going blind. No Vitamin C and stuff. So one of the stories I say is that they made, the old Isseis made this stuff called "tomato jiru." It's tomato and bacon from the bacon that they used to get, and they'd cook it up and pour it over rice. And that gave you the Vitamin C and all the nutrition, and kept them from going blind. Some of those things that happened which were not glorious and fun, I wish I could get more of that, but those people are all gone.

TI: But I agree with Steve that you should write a book. You have a lot of information that's really, and it's good information. It's really kind of unique and interesting content.

GY: Yeah, thank you.

TI: Well, so I'm done with my questions. Anything final?

SF: No, I think that covers everything.

GY: Good.

TI: Well, George, thank you so much.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.