Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Iwao Peter Sano Interview
Narrator: Iwao Peter Sano
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda, Steve Fugita
Location: San Jose, California
Date: November 30, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-siwao-01

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: Okay, so Peter, the way we start this is I just explain where we are and what the date is. So today is November 30, 2010, we're at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, and on camera is Dana Hoshide, and also interviewing is Steve Fugita. My name is Tom Ikeda, and we're with Iwao Peter Sano doing an interview for the Densho project. And so, Peter, I'm going to just start at the very beginning. Can you tell me the name that was given to you at birth?

IS: Iwao. But that was, the whole family just kept calling me that. And when I went to kindergarten, my father told the teacher it was "Iwao Peter Sano," and on my lunchbag I remember he wrote "Peter." And I took that, but because of what... I don't know, but I was always called Iwao at home. So I never used that English "Peter." And I don't know if it was recorded in my birth certificate either. I think it was Iwao Sano. So all through my school days in the United States, I always went by Iwao. And I got so used to it, the first day of school with a new teacher, I was always prepared to correct the teacher when he or she called my name, because they always, they never said it right, and I had to correct them. And the only time I remember was my freshman year in high school, my algebra teacher, I was all prepared, and here she says, "Iwao." And I was really taken by surprise. But of all my years going to school, she was the only one who was able to pronounce it correctly. And then... can I continue?

TI: Yes, please.

IS: Then when I went to Japan, of course, it was always Iwao, and being adopted, it was Iwao Suzuki. But when I came back from Siberia and went to work for the occupation, it was my boss, Mr. Judge, says, "Don't you have an English name?" And I said, "Yeah, but I've never used it." And he said, "What is it? What was it?" And I said, "Peter." So he called me that, and then I've always gone by Peter working for the occupation. And then, so my spouse -- well, they called me "Pete" instead of Peter. And then, so my spouse still calls me Pete. In our family, she's the only one that does that, and then all my friends which are related through work or church, I go by Peter. And when I had to become a U.S. citizen again and had to register, I put that "Peter" in there. So my, legally it is Iwao Peter Sano now.

TI: Oh, so it's interesting. So you can almost tell by what people address you by, kind of, who they are or where they are in your, the family, old friend, professional acquaintance. So if I'm walking down the street with you and someone says, "Hi, Peter," then it's probably someone that was postwar, maybe professional career.

IS: Exactly, yes.

TI: Versus if someone said, "Iwao," then you'd say, well, that might be family or someone that knew you before the war.

IS: Yes, exactly.

TI: In terms of... do you do anything with Japanese American organizations right now?

IS: No. Well, I used to go, when I came back to the United States in '52, I was going to a Japanese Methodist church in Palo Alto. And then in '55 I got married, and we went there just for about three, four years.

TI: So at that place, what did they call you? Was it Peter or Iwao?

IS: It was sort of mixed, but there was more Iwao.

TI: [Laughs] That's interesting.

IS: And then my spouse -- this was a Methodist church -- and then my spouse was Baptized in the Presbyterian church when she was a foreign student in San Francisco. So then we had a very good friend that was attending the Presbyterian church in Palo Alto, and he's the one that invited us to come and join their church. So we've been going there since 1960.

TI: Now, if you were meet another, say, a Nisei today, and they asked you your name, which one would you use, Peter or Iwao?

IS: I would use Peter because it's most often what I hear now, yes. And for instance... well, the person who wrote, he's a hakujin, but he's a historian, Stanley Faulk, I think. And he's the one that wrote something on there, but his name is not given. It's under Nisei Veterans Association or something in Maryland. So he had a good, a Nisei friend in the service, and he retired, and because of his family, he moved out to California after retiring, and lives in what they call the Hyatt... on Stanford campus retirement home, a very nice retirement place, but he lives there now. He goes to the old church that I used to go to, a Japanese church where everybody calls, knows me by Iwao, but he calls me Peter because of this, how he met me. He met me actually through somebody who knows me as Peter, so he calls me Peter.

TI: It just interests me how, especially for Niseis in terms of having a Japanese name and sort of an English name and how it goes back and forth. But when your father, kindergarten, he wrote "Peter" and told the teacher your name was Peter, why didn't that stick then? I mean, oftentimes, that's when it changes right then, but you kept Iwao. How did that happen?

IS: Maybe this shouldn't go on the record, but Peter was, you thought of, you know, it had that...

TI: Right, okay. So you didn't like that name back then.

IS: Yeah. [Laughs] So I'm the one who stopped it right there. Right there meaning even though my father even put that, I still remember, on my lunch bag, Peter, I never used that.

TI: And did your father ever say anything to you about why, "Doushite?" "Why not Peter?"

IS: No, he didn't. I mean, it wasn't that big of a deal, I guess, it never came up. And because everybody else in the family, like my older brother, he was born on March the 17th, St. Patrick's Day, so he was named Patrick, too, but he had a Japanese name, but he always went by that, Tetsuro. And the Niseis called him "Tet," T-E-T. But he did switch, after he started college, he went to "Patrick." And among most people... it's real old people in Brawley that would remember him by Tet. But everybody else knows him by Patrick or Pat. And he goes by that also. And my other siblings, Florence, that's the daughter younger than me, and Belle, and then Roy, they all have Japanese names, too. It's Florence Fujiko, Belle Emiko, and Roy Isao.

TI: But they used their, mostly their English names?

IS: Yes.

TI: And you were really the only one who used...

IS: I'm the only one, yes.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: So tell me when and where you were born.

IS: Okay, in Brawley, California. And I usually, it's not necessary, but I say, "Brawley, Imperial Valley, California," and I have to point out where Imperial Valley is, and tell 'em it's 25 miles from the Mexican border.

TI: And it's because most people don't know where Brawley is and that's why you say "Imperial Valley"?

IS: Yes.

TI: And so that's where, and then when were you born?

IS: And that was June 9, 1924.

TI: Good, okay. You mentioned him a little bit, we talked a little bit about your father giving you your name. But what was your father's name and where was he from?

IS: It's Ichizo... I don't have to spell that. Ichizo Sano, and he was born in Shizuoka prefecture, right at the foot of Mount Fuji.

TI: And tell me what your father's family did for work.

IS: They were farmers and I think he had one older brother, and therefore he had to leave Japan. And Shizuoka is, it's not like a farming place, I mean, it's a typical Japanese farming place, rice paddies are very small. And so when he became of age to have to work, he didn't, he couldn't inherit any of the land, and so he had to move. And I guess that's when he decided to come to the United States. I don't know exactly, I should have checked up on that. But I don't know how old he was, but I guess he was in his very early twenties.

TI: Yeah, in your book I think you said about twenty-one, the year was about 1905?

IS: That's when he arrived in Mexico, yes, in Vera Cruz on this, it was a freighter. He got on a freighter, I don't know if it was by choice or that was the only boat that was just left, and he was able to get on. I think he got a job on the boat to work, and he came to, he came to Vera Cruz in Mexico, and he got off there.

TI: And so do you think that was by plan that he was gonna get off at Vera Cruz, or do you think he just decided to jump off the ship at that point?

IS: That I don't know. I often think about that. I just heard that he landed and that's where he got off, and that's all he ever told me. And my older brother might know a little more about it, But that is where he got off. And his goal was to come to the United States, so right away he started walking. And it took him two years, working and, working and walking. He did odd farm work, and I thought something like even in a mine, some kind of a mine, he did some work, too. But it took him two years, and in 1907, I don't know the month, but he was able to cross the border at El Paso, Texas.

TI: When... I heard about this, so your father essentially walked from Vera Cruz to Los Angeles, two years, and to do that, he would work these odd jobs to get enough money to keep going. It struck me as being a very persistent or tenacious person to be able to follow through.

IS: Yes, my brother sort of write, I think he introduces it in the book, but yes, and let's see. He walks to El Paso, and from there he takes a train. I mean, when we were kids we called them hobo, they jump on the train and, well, that was in the '30s they started using that kind of word, "hobo." But just like that, that's the way he got to Los Angeles, not on a passenger train, but jumping on a freight train and finally was able to come to Los Angeles.

TI: I'm curious, when did you find out about your father doing this? Was this as a boy he told you?

IS: Yeah, as we were growing up, we heard bits and pieces about that. And I guess, actually, my brother, after I had left for Japan, I think my brother became a little, he was in his last year in high school, so he did, during the summer, he did a lot of work with my father preparing for the crop. And he was able to talk a lot more with my father, it seems. So he knows more about it than I do, but we did hear bits about his life in Japan.

TI: Okay, good.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: So he... 1907 he makes it to Los Angeles.

IS: Yes.

TI: So what happens next?

IS: And there, the way I hear the story is in the paper, so it must have been the Rafu Shimpo even in those days. He saw this ad in the paper where they were recruiting or looking for laborers. And he goes, so relying on that, he goes to Imperial Valley and finds a job with another Issei man. And I think in just one or two sentence, my brother writes that in book, that they work in the field, and the first year was real bad, but after that, things started turning, I mean, they had good crop and he was able to save some money.

TI: Because eventually, in Brawley, he starts leasing larger tracts of land.

IS: Yes. And when I knew, when I was living there, my father would -- there were a couple of big companies that had headquarters like in Cleveland, Ohio. But my father worked for a company called Gerard company, and I think that was back in the Midwest, too, was the main company. And they hired, they always had a Japanese working, and they had some hakujin bosses there. And then the Japanese Issei, and then it was that farmer, that Japanese responsibility to find a Mexican foreman. And then that foreman then had a responsibility of recruiting other laborers. So like the cantaloupe crop -- maybe I'm jumping, but --

TI: No, that's okay, but let me ask you this. So the role of the Japanese was to be the go-between between the white person and the Mexican?

IS: Mexican, yes.

TI: Why Japanese? Why would the Japanese play that role?

IS: I don't know. It just... I never thought...

TI: But was that common, though? That was kind of a common...

IS: Yes, like, Gerard company, my brother would know, but there were probably like close to a dozen people like my father, Issei farmer, and had that same setup, where they would have one or two Mexican foremen, then in a busy time they would probably have a hundred laborers under that. And they were all single men, the Mexicans were all single men, and then the foreman usually was a married Mexican, and his wife would do all the cooking and was able to charge the laborers for the food, for feeding them.

TI: Now, when this was happening, was this a time before Issei women were around? Or were there also Issei women?

IS: There were, yes. My mother was already there, and yes, all of the Isseis were married.

TI: And how would the Japanese communicate with the Mexicans? Would it be through Spanish? I mean, I was thinking about the language, I mean, what language would you use?

IS: Yes, lot of 'em spoke, probably their Spanish was as good as their English, which was not very good. So it was Spanish, yes. Well, because my father, I think, knew more, because of his two years of walking and dealing with Japanese without any English or Japanese, 'cause he was all by himself, and the only other people were Spanish-speaking Mexicans. So he spoke Spanish quite well.

TI: So in some ways, he was trilingual. He'd have a little English, Spanish, and Japanese.

IS: Yes, because his boss were hakujin. I can use "hakujin"?

TI: Yeah, you can use "hakujin." [Laughs] I understand hakujin. Well, interesting. So going back to, he's in the Imperial Valley as a laborer, and he starts making money, then what happens next?

IS: Well, he did farming, but he also raised cattle. Not a big herd, but he did have... and I don't know if it was milk or just cattle, but he did well with that. And then he did well with strawberry. And like when I grew up, Imperial Valley, it didn't have any more -- I think I'm correct -- it was all melon, cantaloupes, watermelon, and honeydew. And then sugar beets sort of started coming in, but they didn't have, like in Watsonville area, like strawberries. I don't remember that, but I remember hearing from my father that when he raised strawberries for I don't know how many years, about three years or five years, he did very well with strawberries, too. So I think in some way he was lucky. And even during the Depression, I still remember 1934, that was still the, toward the end of Depression. But yeah, I remember he bought a new car, and then my mother went to Japan. I never, those things didn't... whether or I was not interested or I didn't think of those things, but I still remember the Mexican, one of the Mexican laborers talking to me, saying, "Oh, your father did real well. Look, he bought a new car and the family went to Japan." Things like that didn't click with me at that, at that age. But anyway, I still remember, and then when I think about it now, 1934, that's when Roosevelt just came in, Depression was just barely over or something. So I guess what the Mexican said was true. People were having hard time.

And I still remember growing up at that time when it was, they called it migrant workers, and those people who came, they used to call them Okies, coming from Oklahoma, dust bowl, and Imperial Valley had a lot of those people just like the, Steinbeck's story. And I remember there was a railroad running in one of the ranch where my father was working, I guess they were thrown off or jumped off or whatever, they came and the guy came walking to our house and he said he hadn't eaten anything for, you know, all day and yesterday or something like that. And he went to get some food from my mother, and then I went in and I told my mother, "That guy said he didn't eat for two days," or something. And I said, "I'd like to give him more bread." I remember going in there and getting a whole loaf of bread and running after him and giving it to him. But it was that type of time was like that.

TI: So let's... so one question that occurred to me, back to your father doing really well, I mean, able to buy a car. And as he did better and better, do you know if there was ever any thought or talk of maybe just going back to Japan and, yeah, back to Japan?

IS: Well, I want to get that straight, too, but it wasn't always good. He was still a farmer, and there were some successful Isseis, too. I know there was one family that was very successful. But I don't think my father, after he got married, so he came to the United States, he came to Mexico and United States, then he went back to get married and came, and he never went back again. My mother went back before the war, was that two times or something? Yeah, twice I think it was. But I think my, her mother, my grandmother told me, when I went to, came to Japan, saying something like, "Boy, three years is a long time in the United States." Because I think when he married, he told his mother-in-law, my father told his mother-in-law that they would come back in three years. But I don't... I never asked him, but I don't think he ever thought... that was not in his plans or hope, to return.

TI: That's interesting. But somehow your father kind of told your mother's parents that, "Just give me three years, and after three years we'll come back."

IS: They'll come back, yes. But so maybe my mother always wanted to come back because there was some talk like 1940 they were going, there was talk of having '36, the Olympics were, some Olympic was in Berlin. Then 1940 was scheduled for Japan, I think, early, and they, my mother sort of hinted that that would be a good time to go to Japan. I was already... it was only planned or scheduled that I would be sent to Japan, my older brother would be out of high school, so they were free to leave him in the States, and the rest of the family, I think my mother sort of had that kind of dream in 1940 to go back to Japan.

TI: Interesting.

IS: But I don't think my father ever planned.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: Well, let's talk a little bit about your mother. So what was her name and where was she from?

IS: Tsuta Suzuki was her name, and she was from Yamanashi. And Yamanashi prefecture is neighbor to Shizuoka, and actually, not only neighbor, but she was in the southern part of Yamanashi prefecture, and my father was in the northern. So it was a different prefecture, but they were only about two towns apart. They were very close. So when they had a marriage arranged, there was some contact there. And then she... after she finished, I imagine it was just elementary school, but then she went into nurse training. And so when she was, the miai, you know what miai is? Where they meet to get married, the arranged marriage, I think she was a nurse at that time. Because I've seen pictures of her dressed like a nurse. And so it was a typical miai, miai kekkon, they called it, where it was all arranged, and that's how they met.

TI: Good. And tell me about your mother's family. What kind of work did they do?

IS: Oh. My mother, my mother's father, my grandfather, died very early. I don't know what age, but my Japanese father had to be sent away when he was still like, when he just barely finished elementary school, I think, he was sent to Osaka to work. And so I didn't hear too much about my mother and her brother growing up together.

TI: And like your father was the second oldest, was your mother, on your mother, did she have an older brother or younger brother?

IS: That's a older brother.

TI: Older brother.

IS: Yes. And that's my Japanese father.

TI: Right, that's the one you later on went to go live with.

IS: Yes.

TI: Okay. So let's go back to your father is in the Imperial Valley, at some point he goes back to Japan, meets your mother through an arranged marriage, and then they get married and then they come back to the Imperial Valley, your mother thought maybe for three years, but much longer. And about when... so this is about 1916?

IS: Yes, I think that's right.

TI: Okay, good. At that point, in 1916, where was your father in terms of his farm? Did he have the dairy farm at this time, or did that come later?

IS: No, I think he already had it at that time. That must have lasted a few years, when he had the dairy, because when he went to Japan, I was told by his, my uncle, that's his brother, that he looked at the foot of Mount Fuji and mentioned something like, "Gee, what a nice place to raise cattle." [Laughs] He mentioned that. So he must have started that before he even went to Japan, raising cattle. And then... and I don't know how long he was... and I think my brother mentions that among the family, he's one of the first Japanese cowboy in the United States.

TI: Yeah, I saw that. But he was somewhat successful, because he went from 80 acres, later on to about 160 acres?

IS: Well, yes, had to lease that. They couldn't buy land. And then another thing that always I remember is that, being that he was lucky, or had a good crop, was in Imperial Valley, that's when cars started coming out, too. And like my mother was able to drive the old Model T. But my father, before that, had a Dodge, they called it a Dodge Brother car. And he said it was the only Dodge car in the Imperial Valley or something, and it was... so that he did well on farming, and he was able to afford a Dodge. So he did well before we came along, it seemed.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: Let's talk a little bit about your siblings, because they all are part of the whole story. So you mentioned earlier you had two older brothers, Yosh, Yoshiro, and George?

IS: Yes, Yoshito.

TI: Yoshito.

IS: Yoshito, he was the firstborn, and he's the one that drowns. I think I explained that in the book, he's the one that drowned. And then the next one, George, is the one that had that accident. And I write about that, too, where he drinks lye. My mother was in the hospital in Los Angeles and I guess she was getting well, so my father was going to go to Los Angeles to go after her and bring her back home. And some other Issei neighbor was going to look after him, took him there. And this woman was making konnyaku, and I don't know the process, but they use lye to make konnyaku. And he thought it was water and drank that and burned his throat. And, of course, he didn't die. That's my first, my mother's first trip to Japan is to take him, because the doctors here said they couldn't do anything for him. So my mother decides to take him, or her relatives in Japan said, "Why don't you bring him to Japan? Maybe we could, Japanese doctors could do something for him." So she goes with him. But by that time she's pregnant with the second, the third child, which was born while she's in Japan.

TI: So this is your older sister?

IS: Yes. And then she was born in Japan, and then the doctors in Japan finally say they can't help George either, so she has to come back to the United States. It was all, I guess, it was all arranged. And so she comes back, and they persuade her to leave Yoneko, the baby, because it would be difficult to try to go back on the ship with this child that has this accident and a new baby. So I guess her plan was to go back again soon to bring her back. But that didn't happen. She grows up in Japan. That's the third child.

TI: So that's the third, so the oldest one drowns, George has an accident, and then your older sister is in Japan.

IS: Is born and stuck in Japan. And then, then Patrick is born, he's 1922. And then I come next, 1924. And then there's... I have a sister, Ruth, who, when I'm, what, two years or three years old, I guess, she comes down with meningitis and dies overnight. And then after her, 1928 is Florence, my sister Florence, and then 1930 is Belle, another sister. And then 1931, Roy.

TI: And so there's, at home, there are five of you. So it's Patrick and you who are the two, like, older brothers, and then you have three younger ones, Florence, Belle, and Roy.

IS: Yes.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: Let's talk about your childhood in Brawley. What was that, what were some memories of Brawley growing up?

IS: It's not a... it's something very minor, but it's mentioned in the book where I stop on a nail. But I remember it, and I remember we put in the book. We, I say "we" because my spouse, although she's Japan-born, she's the one that did all the editing and everything. So she helped me write a lot of it, and she puts it in about I step on a nail, and my father comes into the room because I can't sleep because it hurts. And he carries me outside, and it must have been not cold winter but warmer weather, and he takes me outside and he looks at the stars. And he used to like stars, and we used to have, I still remember we used to have two or three telescopes that he used to look through, and he would explain the stars, which I don't even remember what he was teaching me, but he would point out what the stars were. And then another thing I remember about childhood is we used to go on vacations every summer.

TI: But before we do that, so he took you out because you couldn't sleep and it was hurting, and so he would just carry you and then just talk with you and just talk about the stars?

IS: Yes.

TI: So he was probably trying to take your mind off the...

IS: I guess so, yes.

TI: And just trying to comfort you in some way? Okay. And then another story?

IS: And another... Imperial Valley had what they called a geological... different things. Like they used to be, I don't know what they were, but in Imperial Valley there was, they called it Chocolate Drops, where they were, out in the desert, there would be this dark-colored mounds that, they're sort of like Hershey's Kisses, but high. Must have been like, oh, a hundred feet or so high, things like that. And then near the Salton Sea they had what they called the Mudpots, where there was... it was bubbling. It's not quite like...

TI: Oh, like the old geyser?

IS: Yeah, not like that, but...

TI: But still it's the underground heat.

IS: Right, exactly. And I remember he used to take us to those places on Sunday afternoon a lot, and then this was before we did things with friends, I guess. We still had to have the parents look after us, so he used to, on Sunday afternoon after church, he would go out to places like that. And that used to, I used to enjoy those things. And then as we got older, he used to always go to the mountains when, during vacation. But when we were getting older and we had, we were, started having our own ideas where we should go, we always went to the ocean. And for about a month, you can't do any farming or anything, and it became very hot in Imperial Valley, so not only us, most of the Japanese families did abandon their living in Imperial Valley and go to places like San Pedro, Terminal Island, or San Diego, Ocean Beach, Mission Beach. There we spent our summers.

TI: And when you say hot, do you recall how warm it got when you were a kid?

IS: Well, we used to say 120, I mean, I don't think it actually happened, but they would say like you could crack an egg on the highway, on the pavement, you could cook it. But it was dry heat, so like 120, but you get in the shade, and if there's a little breeze, you could survive. And jumping far ahead, I don't mention that in the book, but the coldest I saw in Siberia, I didn't actually see it, but on a night shift, when I was working in the coal mine, night shift meaning, what's the one from four to twelve?

TI: Like graveyard?

IS: Graveyard shift. So at twelve o'clock midnight, you're over, and then we would change our, what we were wearing to go back to the camp. And I remember on one of those shifts, coming through the gate, the prisoner next to me said, "Oh, it's minus-63," and that's centigrade. [Laughs] And then when you figure that, that's almost like minus-80. And so I thought, and I have mentioned that to people, that I've been in temperatures 200 degrees different. 120 to minus-80. [Laughs]

TI: That's pretty impressive.

IS: But, so it was hot, and no farming. All the crop is the cantaloupe crop. I don't remember any of the other things like strawberry or having cattle. That I don't even remember. But the cantaloupe crop I remember, and that was over, like, Fourth of July it would all be over. So from there 'til September, when the new school year used to start, you had a couple of months there. And we would usually spend a month away from home by the ocean.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: So talk about that month away from home at the ocean. Was it a time of just like vacation, or were you working, or what was that like?

IS: No. I think we all, just time to play. And I never corrected it, but I mentioned that we used to go to church school and that was true. In Terminal Island, there was a temple, Buddhist temple, and there was a Christian church. And the Christian church didn't have like church summer school. And we did go there, not that regularly, and I don't know why it got in the book. I guess my spouse, when she wrote it, like she heard something, that we did attend something and she almost, when she read it, it almost sounded like we went for a week or two week quite regularly. It wasn't like that. My parents did go to their church-related studies, but we children didn't, younger people didn't go there regularly.

TI: So what would you do then? What was your...

IS: Well, in the morning, because all these other Niseis from Brawley that we knew back home, would also be up there. So we'd gather at a place and play cards or checkers or something like that in the morning, go home to eat lunch. Then we'd go to the beach to go swimming. Then after we'd come back from that, we'd even go fishing. And then nighttime we'd gather again to play cards and things like that. It was really a fun play time.

TI: And the adults, what would they do during the day?

IS: Pretty much the same thing. They visited with each other, and... what was I going to say? Oh. Like, yeah, I was really jumping, but I can imagine what happened when the Japanese Americans were put into camps. I think the parents had, some parents had difficult time controlling the kids in that way. I mean, here they were, your friends are right there, your neighbors, and to control that, I kind of felt like the fuinki, what is it? The atmosphere or the conditions are so geared towards playing. Because that certainly was. Nowadays, I see our grandkids, summertime is not playtime, and gosh, they have all these summer school. [Laughs]

TI: Oh, that's interesting.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: So let's go back to Brawley during the school year. Tell me about school in Brawley.

IS: I guess, you know, it wasn't that much in, at elementary school, we used to call it grammar school. But in high school, I remember I only went one year to high school, but at lunchtime, sitting on the grass, the Niseis would all gather and be among themselves. And of course the class, depending on what subject you took, you went into the class. And it wasn't that... I'm trying to say that at lunchtime, they gathered together, and then we went to Japanese school on Saturday, and then to the church, Sunday school and church on Sunday. And there was a Buddhist temple there, and I think they had the same setup there, too, where they had their Japanese classes on Saturday and had their worship service on Sunday. And so I think most of the Japanese went to either the Christian church or the Buddhist temple. And because of that and because of the fact that their, the parents were acquainted and friends, I think Japanese, on their own, sort of stuck together.

SF: Peter, was there any formal or informal segregation in the school system itself?

IS: There was in Imperial Valley. It's mentioned in the book, too, that there was a literally a Eastside school across the track, and I remember we lived in the country, so the bus came to pick us up. And it would stop at Barberworth grammar school, that was the elementary school I went to, and all the hakujin and Japanese would get off at that school, and that bus would then go over to this Eastside school where they were mainly Mexicans, and they were dropped off. And then in the evening time, we would all line up to get on the bus, and you knew where your bus would come, so you lined up here. And then the bus went and picked up the Mexican schoolchildren, brought them over, they would all get off the bus, get on the back of the line and they get on the bus. So it was segregated. But the high school was not segregated, but then farmers, I never mentioned this, but cantaloupe crops were usually only about two years, three years at the most, then that field would, you can't grow cantaloupe year after year. And I don't know, maybe, I can't tell you any more than that, but the way I remember it, so every three years, my father had to move. And he worked for Gerard company, so Gerard had their own big ranch, or they would lease the place and tell my father, "Okay, go over here." So we had to change school, too, sometimes, if you are in the same district. And I went to school in Westmorland, then they called it North End School, and then Brawley. I went to those different elementary schools.

SF: Why didn't the Japanese get paired up with the whites? Why wouldn't the system say all the people of color should go --

IS: Yeah. My mother I remember telling us this, said -- my brother was the oldest and he was 1922. And there were older Niseis in Imperial Valley or wherever, Brawley. And I remember my mother saying more than once, said, you know, when so and so's children, like the Okuma's family had older children, and when they, when it was going to be decided, "Where do we send these Japanese kids now coming up," that they had to be very careful because they wanted them to be sent to the hakujin school. So they had to make sure that they behaved well and dressed best they can so that they couldn't say, "Well, we don't want that kind of kids in our school," so they won't be pushed aside because of things like that. Did I answer your question? Yeah, so there was a time -- and by the time we were going, it was already decided that the Japanese would be going to the Barberworth school instead of the, whatever the Eastside school was. But those parents of older Niseis in Brawley had that kind of decision-making time, and we were very careful to make sure you did the proper thing. That's what I like, I mentioned in the book, my mother, used to mention that my mother used to say that we were guests in this country. I think things like that, she didn't experience that school situation, but she knew of that and thought that we have to be careful because we're, we're guests here.

SF: Do you think that that was the common view of most Isseis, that they had to look good in that way --

IS: I think so. I don't think, I don't think we were exceptional, "we" meaning the Sanos were exception. And another thing I mentioned is she wrote on their, in the book as Department of Motor Vehicles because they're the ones that issued the license. But the way I remember, it was a police department that issued the license when we were growing up. And I mentioned that there was this Nisei who was our age, I don't know why, but at that time, I think the drivers license had on there your nationality or something, and it had "Jap" on there. And so this guy, it was rumored that he went back to the police station and said, "Hey, put a period on here or spell it out." [Laughs] And we sort of talked about that. We were sort of impressed with what he was doing.

TI: That was pretty unusual for someone to challenge authority like the police.

IS: Yes. It's... so I think, I think many of us enryo. You know what enryo means? And when I first, when I returned and got married, I came and I lived in my parents', in East Palo Alto they had a place. And then we decided we'd go out and rent the apartment or something. And I still remember in the Palo Alto newspaper, saw an ad, "Apartment for rent" or something, and I remember going there. And then when I rang the doorbell, the landlady came out and she said, "Oh, I wouldn't mind, but you know I have other tenants, and I think they wouldn't like another Japanese moving in here." And I still remember my response to that. It was, "To hell with them. Let them leave. If they don't like it, they can go out, but you have an empty space, I want to go in." That should have been my approach, but no, I was far from that. I sort of gave her an excuse myself. I found out that it was an apartment upstairs, and I said, "Oh, that's okay, we have a piano and it'd be hard taking the piano up there." So I made excuse for her for not renting it to us. So I don't know, that was maybe because I had just come from Japan, and I don't think I could see my kids responding that way.

TI: But you saw that same attitude at Brawley, too.

IS: Yes.

TI: In terms of not confronting the police and things like that.

IS: Yeah. And then, yeah, I never experienced it, but I remember on the boat going to Japan in 1939, other Nisei was talking about the discrimination. Not all the time, but once in a while when that subject came, would come up, I remember somebody saying something like, "Yeah, I've had that experience," they said they go up to buy a movie ticket, and they said the woman there would just shake her head like that and she, I didn't know what was wrong, so I pushed 'em over toward her and she kept she shaking her head. She said, "No, I can't sell to you." And they accepted that and walked back, you know.

TI: And in that case, how did, what did that make you feel like? I mean, how did you feel?

IS: Well, I didn't experience that ticket thing, but you mean at this not having the apartment?

TI: Yeah, saying not the apartment.

IS: Well, I guess I made that excuse for her, so I must have said, "Well, I am Japanese, she doesn't want to rent to me, so that's it."

SF: Do you think overall, Japanese Americans in general, having that kind of way of dealing with the discrimination, that that's kind of paid off? Was it a good strategy, so to speak, or not such a good strategy?

IS: It was rocking the boat. Could you say it that way? You don't want to rock the boat. I don't know how I would do today, and I don't remember doing anything about it, but I remember when my daughter, who's now forty-seven or something, and when she was going to elementary school, there was that Japan and the whale issue. And she said a friend of hers, or a classmate of hers started blaming her. She came home and said, "So and so in my class said I was killing the whale." And I guess she didn't like that, because she didn't think she had anything to do with it. But I didn't bring that up either, I didn't go to the school and say, "My daughter had this kind of experience, so can you do something about that? She's American."

TI: But what did you tell your daughter when she came back and told you that? She's probably upset, do you recall what you told her?

IS: No, I don't recall what I did. I know what I didn't do, but I don't know. Because she went to Norway when she was in, spent one summer in Norway when she was in, just started high school or something. And I think she said, I think Norway does something with whales, too, and she said she had to argue with them about that. And she was taking the United States' position about Norway doing something wrong with whales. But I don't remember how I took.

TI: Okay, good.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: Okay, so Peter, we're going to start the second session. And kind of where we left it off, the first session was you were in high school, I think your first year of high school, and this is around 1939. And so this is a time when your life made a big change, and I want to talk first about how that change came about in terms of you being the one to go to Japan. So can you talk about why you went to Japan?

IS: Yes. The book says, I think in the introduction part, my brother said 1937, but actually it's 1934, I think, when my mother went back to Japan to bring Yoneko, my sister, to the United States. I think at that time, her brother asked her to give one of her sons. And at that time, so in 1934, I think, I was told that in the future I was gonna go to Japan as a youshi, and I started preparing for that at that time. And my parents used to have this devotional time every evening, and they read a couple of chapters from the Bible, sing couple of hymns, and then pray. And I was told at that time that I should join them, that I should read a chapter, one chapter of the Bible, and I got extra allowance for that. And that was because, I guess, my mother wanted to try to make me become more Christian because I was going to go to a non-Christian family.

TI: And how did it make you feel to know that back in 1934, when you first heard that, you must have been eleven years old or so, that you were gonna go to Japan? What did that mean to you?

IS: Well, that's a question I'm asked quite often. And I guess I just thought it was, well, my duty to do that because here was an uncle and an aunt that had no child, and this was, and my mother was the closest to that family, and blood-wise, we were all connected and that was my duty. So I didn't, I really didn't object to that. And then like some friends pointed out, well, one thing, it was a wealthy uncle, "That made it easy for you, I'll bet." And my brother sort of touches on that, and that probably was. Of course, it turned out that I, that relationship didn't work out. But I remember one of the first book reading I did after that book came out, that was in Palo Alto, that question was asked. And then one Nisei responded to that after I talked. He says, "Well, why do you think all the Niseis went so quietly to the camp?" I said, "That was, you know, they listened to what authorities say." He sort of was answering for me, this person in the audience. And I said, "I guess that is another way of looking at it."

TI: Interesting. So when you knew, though, so 1934, when you heard that you were gonna go to Japan, did you start in some ways preparing? Like Japanese language or other things to make sure that you would be ready?

IS: No more than reading the Bible, yeah. Because I used to go to the Japanese school every Saturday, but I didn't say, "Well, other kids aren't studying, but I'd better." I didn't think that way. And so it turned out that when I went, when I finally arrived in Japan, a few weeks after I arrived, they said, "You've got to start studying now." And the tutor that they hired, and my parents talked it over and they said, "You know, he said he's been going to Japanese school, but we better just forget about it and start from Book 1." And I don't know if you're familiar, but they had Maki no Ichi, book one was, "Saita saita sakura ga saita." [Laughs] Just like, "I am a boy," or, "This is my dog." It was that type of thing, I was fifteen years old and reading that type of book.

TI: And before we talk more about Japan, I want to go back in terms of the decision that you were the one to go to Japan. Why not Patrick, for instance?

IS: Okay. That really came up the first time. When I went to Japan, we were not registered. The Sano family, my father did not register us, so we had no record of existing in Japan. So first, what we had to do was Sano had to register, register me. But if they had registered only me, then I couldn't be adopted because I'm the only son. But if they, if they registered me and my, and Roy, then I couldn't be given away because I would be the oldest. So they had to register at least Pat, and then me. And what they did, though, my Japanese father and my father's uncle, when they went to the village office in Shizuoka, they said, "Gee, if we're gonna have to register two," they have to register Pat, then me, then I could be adopted. They said, "Well, if we're gonna register those two, let's register all the rest," so they did. I answered your question?

TI: Yeah, so I guess the reason that Pat wasn't...

IS: Couldn't, because he was the oldest.

TI: He was the oldest.

IS: Yes.

TI: I see, okay.

IS: And going into -- it's not necessary maybe -- but if it's a woman, the oldest, if the family only has girls, the oldest daughter has to take over the family, so she can't marry out. But a woman can retire, so to speak. She can say, "I give my right to take over that family to my younger sister," then she could get married. But a male, the oldest, has to die. That person has to take that family.

SF: In 1935 and '36, '37, '38, when you were getting ready to go to Japan, did you have any thoughts about how Japan was developing politically, and did any of that come up, or was that just too, I mean, you were just a youngster then, so... what was your thinking about Japan as a nation and what was going on in the world about that?

IS: No. I knew about the war in China, and about the Manchurian war, yeah. I knew that, but I didn't have any... I wasn't rooting for them or against them or anything. And one thing I remember was, one thing they did in those days, they gathered or collected tinfoil and rolled 'em up, and I don't know where they took that, but they did send that to Japan. And then I remember, our family had this red book about that big and about that thick, and it had all pictures in it, and it was all about Manchuria when Japan took Manchuria, set up this puppet government. And I remember, I think somebody from Japan came and spoke at the temple and at the church, and my parents went to that meeting. And this speaker must have come from the government, and he sold this book. And I remember looking at those pictures, and it must have been Japan's explanation of what was going on, and it must be very, very pro-government of Japan.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: You know, so going back to Japan, so you talked a little bit about the language, and starting back with Book 1 and you're getting a tutor to help you, what are some other examples of you adapting to the culture? What else did you have to learn how to do?

IS: Well, I must have gone in very smoothly, because my Japanese parents, my mother especially mentioned this, that they were very much concerned about my, what I would eat. And I had lot of dislike when I was growing up at home. I remember not eating, not wanting to eat certain things, and telling my mother, "I don't like that." But I guess I enryoed a lot, because as a guest, you don't say, "I can't eat that." And I guess I acted that way, because I ate everything. And I remember soon after I arrived, she said, "Boy, that was one thing we were really concerned about, what are we gonna feed him here in the country?" And I ate everything. And I guess I did, because I sort of enryoed.

TI: And how about, like, school? How was it adapting to school?

IS: Oh, then I, mainly I studied, I arrived in July, I think it was July in '39, and I stayed at Yamanashi in the country 'til the end of the year. Then when the New Year started, they decided that I would try to get into this high school, they call it chugakkou, in Japan in Tokyo. And it was a Buddhist school. They had made arrangement, so right after New Year, they sent me to Tokyo. And I was going to go to the vice-principal's home, they arranged it so I was going to live there. But that family had just adopted a girl, so they said it's not a family, so it would be hard if I moved in there. So they asked his assistant teacher, who was also a Buddhist priest, but he was, he taught Japanese language, that was his subject that he taught at that same chugakkou. And his name was Hashimoto-sensei. I was put there, and he was a good teacher. And he never forced me, but he made it clear that he had the responsibility and he was gonna teach me. So I studied there 'til March, and then... I guess, I guess I studied hard, and I took, it was sort of a formality I'm sure, but I took the entrance exam and they accepted me in second grade. And, of course, I had no problem with English or Math, Algebra it was at that time in second grade, because it was almost like a review. But, so I never really studied, like, Japanese geography, so I'm not good at geography of Japan. [Laughs] Because all those things were covered in, mainly in elementary school, which I didn't go.

TI: And how about your classmates? How did they treat you? I mean, coming from America, did they treat you any differently?

IS: They did, some did. And you know, I often wonder what it was, because when I hear other people's experience, it's not, it's a little different. But one thing, maybe I was boarding at a teacher's home and my classmates knew that, so maybe that was, could have been a plus. It certainly wasn't a minus. Anyway, so they didn't pick on me that way. But they would compare things, I still remember, this was before the war. They were having some kind of a big parade and things, and one class was going on, right overhead in Tokyo, flew all this formation of military planes. And we all, the teacher let us run out to the window and look up at the sky and see this airplane flying. And I still remember one of my classmates turning around and said, "Hey, how about that?" You know, because -- [coughs] excuse me -- "More than you guys have." And then another incident -- excuse me [drinks water] -- I remember going, this is after the war had already started, we went out to like a, they called it army depot, where they have a lot of drum can, fifty gallon cans of fuel piled up, and it was our work to move those around or something. And one of the student telling me, "Hey, how about that? Look at all the gasoline we have. We're well-prepared for fighting your country."

TI: How about -- before the war, when you were amongst your classmates, was there ever, or anyone else, a curiosity about America, and did people ever ask you what America was like? Do you recall anything like that?

IS: No, I don't recall anything like that. But just because I was different, like in the English class or something, things would come up, "Hey, next time when we have to raise our hand, make sure you raise your hand and then we'll do the same if it's some other subject." They planned it that way. But I didn't get too much of that. And that's the same thing after I was even drafted -- I'm jumping ahead -- but I don't think I was, I hear where a lot of Niseis had it rough, they say, and the school I went to, they had two other Niseis, two brothers who were older than me, but that was all. And I mentioned maybe I had, this being boarded in a teacher's home had something to do with it. But I don't know. I wasn't treated that differently.

TI: How about you? What were your impressions? Coming from America, growing up to fifteen, and now being in a Japanese system with Japanese classmates, the students, how were Japanese different than, say, Americans, your classmates?

IS: Well, it was all boys, so that was, of course, different. And you know, it was a real strict school. If you had your trousers made by the school tailor, they didn't have, we didn't have pockets. And if you bought your trousers somewhere else, you had to sew that. And then, of course, we couldn't go to see any movie by ourselves, you have to go with a parent or something, somebody older. And you couldn't go into a coffee shop or even a restaurant by yourself. Did I say movie? You couldn't go see a movie, you had to go with a parent or somebody older.

TI: But how about things like maybe just the personalities of Americans versus Japanese? Did you notice anything different in terms of how they would maybe joke around or interact? Was there anything that you can sort of pinpoint?

IS: Well, those, I guess in that way, because I was at a teacher's home, I think I was a little more confined or controlled.

TI: So removed from a lot of that, that just, classmate.

IS: And yeah, there was no dating or anything like that.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: When your classmate, there was that incident where the planes flew in formation, and your classmate pointed to you and said, "What do you think of that?" I mean, you were kind of an airplane buff, I mean, you knew planes and what they looked like, probably knew American planes, too. So when your classmate said that, do you recall what you thought? Because you saw the Japanese planes, but what were you thinking when he said that?

IS: I don't know if I felt at that time, but I mentioned about it. If I was in the United States, I was not 100 percent American. And when something like comparing would come up, I would be a foreigner. I'm not 100 percent American like Leonard in my book. I guess I felt like an outsider in Japan, or that I should try harder to be more like a Japanese. And I think I, maybe that was the most thing that came up more often, like I'm not treated like a Japanese, what can I do? I should try harder to be more... and I think in a way, maybe not even realized that I was feeling that way. I think I did finally act that way, too. Because I think I mentioned it, but let me explain this. When I was there, the teacher got a draft notice. Of course, he wasn't accepted, so it turned out okay. But I still remember his other teacher came to tell him, "Good luck." But what I heard one teacher say was, "Gee, I don't know how, if I should congratulate you or tell you, 'Gee, too bad you got this notice.'" That's the way he really felt. But I thought to myself, "Wow, what does he mean? It's nothing but good opportunity to serve your country. Why can't he see that there's no two ways about it?" I remember questioning that to myself when I heard that.

So here's one incident. When we were going, when I was going to Japan in 1939, there was a lot of Niseis. But there was one guy who was about a year older than me who was from Japan, came to United States, he went to high school or something, and he was going back. And I used to, at that time, I remember feeling when I saw him on the boat together with other Niseis, I said, "God, in some ways, that guy is more American than us." Now, I think the opposite happened to me. When I went to Japan, being loyal to your country was always pounded into you. And I think I heard that more loudly and clearly than somebody who grew up with that from childhood.

TI: That's really interesting. So it was almost like when you went to Japan, you worked harder at being Japanese and hearing these things, and in the same way, when this Japanese came to the United States, he really worked hard to be American and that's really...

IS: Yeah. And, you know, you're in high school, but gee, there's this freedom. I mean, it's okay for you to date, go see a movie, and he really went to the other side and became more like that than what was ordinary, I think. And so when I, you know, like I don't know if I should talk about the military part, but when we were told about one of our thing was to carry a bomb and dive under the place, I didn't question that.

TI: Interesting.

IS: But I don't think... well, if you were a older person, or if I was older, maybe if I was married and had a family, maybe I would have had some second thoughts. But boy, I think I took that, I mean, there was no two ways.

TI: That's interesting. Any questions?

SF: I was just struck by the similarity maybe that you could apply that same thinking to the, like the 442 and believing that they were so, great soldiers for America in a way, right? Because they had to kind of be, prove...

TI: But would you say that it's because they're American or Japanese?

SF: Because they were Japanese and would have to prove, they were super-sensitive about their American-ness, so they had to... I'm sorry, sensitive about their Japanese-ness, so they had to prove their American-ness.

IS: Oh, I never thought of that, but I can hear you.

TI: Interesting.

IS: Well, one thing, I guess somewhere I thought everybody felt that way, too, I think, I thought. And when I look back now, I don't... that every Japanese soldier was willing to become a suicide bomber that they use today, or kamikaze pilot. But now, I don't think it was like that.

TI: So back then you thought everyone would have, but now you think that probably wasn't the case?

IS: Yes.

TI: Interesting.

IS: So I didn't think I was an exception. All my buddies had the same feelings as the way I felt.

TI: It may be something where I have to get a better understanding, or just ask, is, so when you went to Japan when you were fifteen and then entered the military, at that point, you thought you were always gonna be Japanese or stay in Japan.

IS: Right.

TI: There wasn't this thought -- as I see you and talk with you, I think of you in San Jose, in America for a long time. But back then, you thought Japan was your home, and that's what, and your country, and that's where you were gonna stay.

IS: Yes.

TI: So it is kind of a shift for me to be in that situation. So you were just trying to embrace everything Japanese to get you there as quickly as possible in terms of this being your home.

IS: Yes.

TI: Okay, good.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: So let's move on to entering the military. So at this point you're still, you're still thought of as American citizen, aren't you? Don't you have, at this point, dual citizenship?

IS: I had dual citizenship, yes. I didn't do anything about my American citizenship. When I was, before I was adopted, I took out Japanese. I was registered and became a Japanese citizen, but I didn't do anything with my, I didn't renounce it or anything.

TI: So I'm curious, did the military ever question, or were they concerned about your American citizenship in terms of bringing you into the military? Because many of the men they drafted at that time, they had to fight against the Americans, so I'm wondering if that ever came up.

IS: No, it didn't. The only time that I can definitely remember, very clearly remember, is that first day I arrived in Manchuria. That night I was the last one to be interviewed, and this guy said that, "You have to prove yourself because of your background, that you would have to work double hard to be a Japanese soldier."

TI: And how did you feel about that when you heard that?

IS: Well, if anything, I guess I told them... I guess I just felt that he's telling me something I know. I didn't question it or I didn't say, "Oh, that's the first time I ever heard of that."

SF: When you were assigned to Manchuria, did all the Niseis get assigned someplace away from the Americans who were fighting?

IS: No. And I think you asked me about the number, but this book, like I was reading it before, and this guy comes up with the figure of three thousand, that there were three thousand Japanese, Niseis in the Japanese military at that time. And it tells how he comes up with that figure, and it sort of makes sense. Number of Niseis, how many of those are male, and because of their age, he comes down to, he says, he figures something like three thousand were in the Japanese military between 1941 and '45.

SF: So you could just as well have ended up fighting in American... wherever. There was no official policy like the Americans had in World War II, sending them to Europe or something.

IS: No, no, they weren't. That's right. That's a good point. No, they didn't. There was this guy that used to live, he went to Hawaii, but there was this colonel here in San Jose, he had a, he went to Hiroshima, and he came back to the United States little before the war. He had --

SF: Harry Fukuhara?

IS: Yeah, I think he had a brother in the service in Japan, then he had another brother that was sent to the Pacific, I think.

TI: Did you ever, at this time, think about the possibility of fighting Americans, and how did you feel about that?

IS: I guess now, I don't know if it's now or then, but now I feel like, I must have felt lucky if I thought about that, that I landed in Manchuria rather than in the Pacific. And because there was always the possibility of fighting, though. Because either with the Russians or the Allies in the Pacific, and I guess I felt like it would be easier fighting the Russians, not because of where they were militarily or anything, just the fact that I would not be fighting American. I might have thought something along that line. I can't say very -- oh, I was definitely real happy that I was, landed here.

SF: Did the war, well, you were at the tail end of the war, when you were in Japan during the war, what was your sense of how the war was going to play out, who was going to win, and that, and...

IS: I really didn't think Japan was losing, yeah. Once, when I was in Tokyo, I still remember, had somebody from Brawley, he was a bit older than me, but he used to work for the general headquarters, to listen to the U.S. broadcasts. And I remember we had a common friend, and he would visit this family in Tokyo, and I would, not that often, but sometimes I visited them. And I remember hearing from the missus that Oliver used to say, "I don't know who's winning the war, because during the day I read the Japanese paper, listen to the Japanese radio, and at nighttime I listen to the Allied broadcast, and both sides are winning, depending on what you're listening to. So you don't know who's winning." But I never heard the other side. Even when Saipan fell, I thought, "Gee, what a typical Japanese thing, men and women and children were jumping off the cliff rather than being captured by the Americans." That's all I heard. And the Alaskan, Attu and Kiska, those islands, all the naval battles from Midway on, you read about it now, and that's when Japan was losing already. Yeah, even when the Philippines or Guadalcanal and all that was being lost, I never heard anything.

TI: So you just never heard reports of the fall of these places.

IS: Yeah.

TI: But this one gentleman -- I just want to follow up -- Oliver from Brawley, so was he a Nisei?

IS: Yeah, he was a Nisei.

TI: Okay, another Nisei that you knew, he was... and I'm curious, did you run across any other Niseis in the military during this time? You mentioned earlier, this book said there were three, about three thousand. I'm just curious if you ran across them.

IS: No, I didn't meet anyone. And according to this Dr. Stephan of the University of Hawaii, according to his book, he said he came up with, I think he counted, he was able to track down thirty Niseis who were in Siberia from Manchuria. But I didn't see anybody.

TI: And were you on that list? Was he able, were you counted as one of the thirty?

IS: Yeah. Well, yeah, because this guy who wrote that for the Japanese veterans thing, he's a good friend of this Professor Stephan, and he gave him my book, and so I think that's why he listed me. Because I was, in this article, I'm listed as Iwao Peter Sano, and there was no Iwao Peter Sano in the Japanese military, it was Suzuki, Iwao Suzuki. [Laughs]

TI: Oh, that's good, yeah. [Laughs] Interesting, okay. So, Steve, any more questions before we move on?

SF: Just to kind of follow up that question about the lack of information flow to Japan to people in general about what was really happening in the war, did anyone have any sense of the Americans were gonna invade Japan at the end of 1945? Or how was that gonna play out?

IS: Yeah, I think so because... well, I was drafted into the service in March of '45, and actually, I was in Tokyo from March 1 to March 7, and March 10 was when they had that big air raid in Tokyo. I think they estimate that one in a (hundred) thousand died, civilians died in that air raid. But I think in Japan they were saying that after Okinawa, they were going to come to Kyushu and then to the Kanto area also. And by that time, I wasn't there. And I remember seeing B-29s flying overhead, because before I went into the service, I was in Yamanashi. But according to my spouse, she said they were all prepared for landing in Kanto, because she was living in Tokyo. And interesting thing, none of her relatives died because of the bomb or anything, living right there in Tokyo. She said that they were prepared to fight with bamboo spears. [Laughs]

TI: In those war years, how about just hardships for people in terms of food or other resources? Was that something that you saw in terms of people sacrificing during the war years?

IS: Yes. Everything was rationed, and, see, I was in the country for about eight months before I was drafted. I was just waiting to get my notice, and I was living in the country. So in spite of the shortage, you still weren't hungry, I mean, you had enough to eat. But I... when I was drafted and I went to Tokyo, and I still remember, I was full because I had just arrived. And I remember I had some rice leftover and I was going to toss that out, and some old soldier said, "Hey, what are you going to do with that?" And I said, "I'm just going to toss that," and he said, "Don't do that," and he just grabbed it like that and ate it. So I started seeing that. That's the first time I actually seeing somebody willing to eat somebody else's leftover like that.

And then I don't think I wrote about that one, but then once when we went into the shelter, I'd hear somebody eating some corn. And my buddies said, "Hey, that guy's eating that horse..." this was a, they had horses at this military installation in Tokyo where I was for one week. And he said, "That guy's eating some horse feed that he stole." And, but I did experience that after I went to Manchuria, too, that I was willing to eat, it was like a dandelion.

TI: Good.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: So I'm going to keep moving along so we can get through some of this. And so I'm going to jump ahead a little bit to... so we're in Manchuria, and why don't you talk a little bit about what you did in Manchuria in terms of the training and other things?

IS: I had just finished basic training, that was all the time I had, because March, the war was over.

TI: Like August?

IS: August. But one thing I definitely remember, I saw this when I was still in Tokyo yet. We were just waiting to get inoculations and things like that, no training when we were one week in Tokyo. And we saw these other soldiers training, and they were tossing something like hand grenades or something on a long stick tied, and they're going through the motions. And then the soldier, the officer who came from Manchuria to gather us and take us there, he was saying, "Boy, you guys aren't going to go through that kind of training." He said, "You'll learn how to carry bombs and dive under the tank with the bomb." And sure enough, when we arrived in Manchuria, we did that, we carried this box. It was about a, almost ten inches square or something, made out of wood, with two handles on it. And it had a, something sticking out from the bottom, and it had a rope around it that you put over your neck. And the idea was to -- as you dove under the tank, you stretch your hand, and that would trigger. That was one trigger, when you stretch that rope, it made the bomb explode. Another thing was that thing sticking out at the bottom, when it hit the ground, those two things would explode the bomb. And, of course, it had nothing but sand in it when we trained, but we trained with different kind of formation and how to dive with that box under the tank. And I remember the officer saying, "You know that the Russians have a lot of tanks, but," he says, "you know how many soldiers we have. So if one soldier can put out one tank, that would be more, more soldiers. We have more soldiers than they have tanks. So just, your responsibility is to take out one tank." And without even thinking, I accepted that. So when I read about these... what do they call them?

TI: Suicide bombers?

IS: Suicide bombers, I think about that, that's what we were. And that's what the air corps did in Japan, too.

TI: The kamikaze?

IS: Kamikaze, yeah.

TI: And so going back to the suicide bombers, do you kind of understand how they would do that today? I mean, is that kind of... like what would, what would it take to be a suicide bomber today, do you think?

IS: Yeah, I guess... I don't know what age those people are, the suicide bombers in the Middle East right now, and if they have a family. But say like my experience, I have no family, I wasn't married, I didn't have a wife, I didn't have a child. So I think it would have been different if I was married and did have a family. I mean, you start thinking about your family, "What's gonna happen if I die?" But if you, say a soldier's goal is to defeat your enemy, then if you can't put out one tank with one body, or like these Middle East bombers, if one bomb can take out more than one person which is, you know, like seventeen or twenty, then... I don't know. I don't question that. I can say I sort of understand that.

TI: But when you were training, were there other soldiers that had families? Maybe they were married and had a child or children. Did you get a sense that they were more hesitant, or did the army do anything in terms of saying, "Okay, so you have a family so you won't do this and we're doing more of the ones who were single"?

IS: Yeah. Well, see, the training, when I did that kind of training with that bomb and the tank, they were all recruits just like myself. That's all there were there. And I don't know... I didn't even question that because I'm thinking now, "Gee, I wonder about that officer who told us to do those things. What was he going to do?" Yeah. [Laughs] I don't remember. He must have been somebody that was older and had a family.

TI: Were you aware of the army ever using this tactic? Did they ever use this technique?

IS: About the bomb?

TI: Yeah, with tanks.

IS: It was all rumors, but I did hear after the surrender that they did do that. And then I heard both sides. They said they dove under there, but they said those tanks had all the armaments below them, too, because of the land mines, so that they just sort of lifted it up and kept on going. I heard that, and then I heard rumors on the other side, yeah, they were able to take out tanks. I don't know which.

TI: But it was a technique that was used, whether or not it was effective or not...

IS: And then like the, and the pilots, I guess they did damage as far as I can see or read about the Japanese.

TI: Okay.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: So back to Manchuria, so you are going through training, and then what happens when you're done with training?

IS: Oh, when it was over? I had signed up for Officers Training Corps, then right towards the end, we took a test and stuff, and I guess it was all a formality. Everybody who applied for it was accepted, I think. And there were about a hundred of us who were brought together. And we left... this town is called Hailar, it's only about a hundred miles from the border, the Soviets, and we went up through this mountain range to do this training. And that only lasted one week. I think that's when Japan, I mean, the Soviets entered the war, after that one week, because we only trained in the officers' training program for just about one week. And then all of a sudden it was called off. And we were sent back to our own unit, which were also up in the mountains. They were digging trenches or caves, to put, they said, guns in. I mentioned about that briefly --

TI: Right, artillery guns, or big guns.

IS: Yes, yes. But we didn't have any guns.

TI: Because all the guns were sent to the Pacific.

IS: Yes. Well, I heard later that a lot of 'em did go to the Pacific, but a lot of them were sent to Kyushu, getting ready for the landing. They said a lot of soldiers from Manchuria did come to Kyushu, were sent to Kyushu in preparation for the Allies landing. That's what I read or heard.

TI: But then about this time was when the war ended?

IS: Yes. We were up in the mountain about... they came in, what, eight days later, Japan surrendered, after Soviets entered the war. And after they entered, Hiroshima... yeah, Hiroshima happened, bombed, then the Nagasaki was bombed, then two days after that is when Japan surrendered.

TI: And so describe the surrender process. What happened?

IS: Well, we didn't even know about it. We were up... but when I put things back together and go back and say, "Gee, what happened then?" We were up in the hills digging trenches in caves, and then that afternoon, somebody says, "Hey, look down there in the valley." They see a Soviet tank. And the officer looking through their binoculars said, "Yeah, that's a Soviet tank," and said they're on a reconnaissance or something. And they said, "Well, probably tomorrow we'll get into battle." I don't even remember, I had a rifle, I think, and I don't know if I even had ammunition for that. But anyway, so that night they said, "Well, tomorrow probably we'll get into some kind of fight." So they sort of had a little party. That's the first time I drank beer, because there was no water, no tea, no nothing, but there was beer. [Laughs] That was the first time I had had alcohol. And I said, "Wow, this thing tastes good. What am I missing?" I thought to myself. But anyway, then we went to sleep, and in the middle of the night, they wake us up. And I think what happened was when, that day is when they had the broadcast, the Emperor's broadcast was that day. So actually, the war was over already, but, of course, we didn't know that.

And then, high in the mountains, we walked down, and like in middle of the night, they wake us up and we start walking. And then we arrive at this village. And then we all lay down and sleep, those who can. And I go to sleep, and then daybreak, a train comes in. And then that's... we were all told to scatter and get on any train, they're freight train with all the refugees on it, woman and children and a few men. And then the train moves, stops at a station, moves, stopped. At one of those stations where it stopped, I get off. And then one the... I'm standing close by, but there's a civilian who has a big sword, and he has a rifle. And he talks about hearing the Emperor's broadcast, and something about surrender. That's the first time. But it's something so far-fetched to a Japanese or a Japanese soldier, that Japan wouldn't surrender. I mean, we'd all be dead if Japan was going to surrender. So I jumped back on the train and I said, "Hey, some civilian was talking like this." And he gets angry, he says, "That can't be." Then, that evening, we were all told to get off that train. And I guess these women civilians, refugees on the train, probably are people from northern part of Manchuria who were evacuating, so they must have heard something, too. But nobody on the train -- at least I don't hear any talk about the broadcast, other than what I just heard from that one civilian.

And then we arrive, and we walk to a, from the station we walked to a place that was sort of a convalescent set-up for, there's a big hospital close by, and they said, "This is a place where soldiers who are recovered somewhat can do some other outside work like farming, to do some farmwork for exercise." And that's where we stopped that night. And then the next day, we're told to gather, and we take our rifle and go to this hospital. And that's where we're told to, they say, they don't say "surrender," they said, "return." They called it buki hennou, which is, "buki" is "weapons," and "hennou" is to return. And if it was the other way around, you would say, "Surrender your weapon," but the Japanese, they're doing it so it's not surrender, it's returning. Anyway, so they called it buki hennou, and we throw our rifle in and I said, "Gee, what a funny thing." And then we walk into the building and then I see papers scattered all over and some marked "top secret," or "very secret," like that. And I say, "What a mess. What's this all about?" And still, it doesn't dawn on me that Japan had lost the war. Even after I threw my weapon away, we're told to "return" our weapons. Because otherwise we wouldn't be here, you know. We had to be fighting. And then that night, that evening, we're told to gather because we're gonna start marching again to this big town that's close by, Chichiharu, which is a big town, big city. And then we walk and I see these scenes about, there's one where a cart is on fire. And there's this burning, and we come close to that. And it's, well, it's all chaotic, you see things like that. And then there's, I see some, he's not Japanese, but a Manchurian man that's been [makes slashing motion] with a sword and he's dead, his body's lying there. And then, finally, we keep on marching that night, and then when daybreak come, Soviet big trucks and amphibious landing crafts, they pass us by, and the Russian soldiers waving at us. See that, and still nobody mentions that Japan lost. Or nobody says, "We must have lost," or anything like that.

TI: But at this point, are you, do you suspect that that's what has happened? Even though it's not said --

IS: No.

TI: Because here you have no weapons, the Russians who are your enemies drive by in trucks with all of their weapons, I mean, so what are you thinking?

IS: [Laughs] That's a good question. I just can't imagine that we lost. Can't think, can't believe it, because we're alive. We're supposed to fight 'til we die. And then we finally reach the town, it's a big city, Chichiharu is a big city. And then, you know, then the gates are open and we walk in, and then they close the gate. And then I guess I say in the book, and I guess that's when we sort of start saying something must have happened, that Japan must have lost. And then I hear gunshots at nighttime, and we spent one week there and then leave.

TI: And then that's when you get on the train.

IS: Train, yes.

TI: And then you have this pretty dramatic passage in the book where you're all waiting to see which way the train will turn.

IS: Yes.

TI: Because if you turn left, that means you're going back...

IS: South.

TI: South towards Japan.

IS: Yes.

TI: If you turn right, then you're going to Siberia.

IS: North, yeah. Or we're going the wrong direction.

TI: Or the wrong direction, away from Japan.

IS: Away from home, yeah. 'Cause we all think that we're gonna go back to Pusan to southern Manchuria, through Manchuria and then into Korea and to Pusan.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: At any point -- because in your book you talk about the thousand days in Siberia, and there's so much there that we're not going to be able to cover during this interview. But one thing that, as I read the book, and what I wondered, if... the war is over. If you ever considered letting people know that you were born in America, and if that would have changed anything in terms of getting you out faster, or getting the Americans involved in any way. Did you ever think of that?

IS: No. When something like that, the first time it comes up is when I, in Siberia. And then we have to fill out a paper, I mean, it's not a form or anything, they give you a piece of paper and said, "Write your personal history, where you were born, when you were born, where you lived, what happened, and then what happened in the military." Just to write those things down. And I, to this day I wonder what made this sergeant say that, but I was on the bunk underneath getting ready to ride out, and that guy yelled at me and said, "Hey, Suzuki," he says, "don't write that you were born in America." He said, "Just write it like you were born in Japan, then went to school wherever you did, write the rest of it, only change that part." And I don't know what made that guy say that. And so I did that, and I didn't even question it. I said, "Well, he said that, I'll do that." Not, "why," or anything. I just did what he told me. And then things happened there, people, other people know that I was a little different --

TI: But going back to that sergeant doing that, now thinking back, why, why do you think he did that? Was it to protect you?

IS: Yeah. I think... I don't know what kind of training he had or why, what made him do that, because I heard... here's what the, many years later, when I was trying to come back to the United States -- I don't know if I mentioned that in my book -- but the Nisei who interrogates me, after I signed a lot of papers to come back to the United States and I write down people they can interview to see who I am, and U.S. citizens. I write their name down and they interview these people. And it took a long time, many months, and finally I get called in. And this Nisei who then questions me, he says, "When did the Russians find out that you were a Nisei?" And I said, "I don't understand what you mean." He said, "I think what happened was" -- and then he said, "Well, here's what happened." He says, and he said, "You came back early." I said, "Yeah, I had malaria so they sent me back." But he said, "Well, here's what happened: the Russians found out you were American-born, so they pulled you out and said, 'Look. You were born in the United States, so you probably know English.'" This is the Russians would say that. And then, "So they said, 'Look here's what we'll do: we'll send you back to Japan, and when you go back to Japan, because you know English, we want you to go work for the occupation. And when they, when the occupation go to democratize the Japanese, said, just here and there, slip in some negative things about the United States, and that really the Soviet Union system is better. Now, that's the bargain. If you're willing to do that, we'll send you back.'"

TI: So that's what the Nisei thought.

IS: That's what he... yes.

TI: So that he was trying to get you to say that.

IS: Yeah, to say.

TI: Or he was kind of interrogating you, "Okay, so this is," so he was trying to, or trying to infer that because you got back sooner, you made some bargain with the Soviets.

IS: Yes. And that was a bargain. And he said, "And the Soviets said, 'Look. We're watching you. We got people in Japan who are, who will be watching you, and our bargain is we'll let you go back early. But if you don't carry your part of the bargain, then something bad can happen to you.'" Said, "That's what they told you, and you were willing to do that." I did come back early. 1948, I came back, and '49, '50 is when the really big push happened. Most of 'em came back then, and of course there was other, maybe ten years later or something, where some people got stuck.

TI: But what did you think? So this Nisei is questioning you, and he says, okay, so this is what he thinks. What was your reaction to that?

IS: So I said, "No, nothing like that ever happened," I said. I said, "I tried to hide it at one time," but I said, "many people later knew about me." I said, and then I write about the people who knew, who were in headquarters and knew about that. And he said, "Well, just like you, there was another Nisei from Texas who came back early. And he kept denying that that was what happened," but he says he finally made him take a, whatever you call it, the lie detector test. And he said, "He failed every time," but he says, "he wanted to go back to the United States," and he said, "Just based on that, we could not keep him here. But what's happening now is we let him go back to the United States, but he has an FBI watching him all the time." He said, "If you don't come clean, that's what's going to happen to you." He said, "We can't keep you here, but when you get back to the United States, you're gonna be watched, so you might as well come clean now."

TI: And so what did you think when you heard all this?

IS: I said, "I'm willing to take the test now if you want to test me." I said, I'm willing to take a test," and it dropped at that.

TI: And I'm curious, the interrogation with the Nisei, was it conducted in Japanese or English?

IS: English. And then, well, it's a real coincidence, maybe, but he says, "Oh, you're from Brawley. Who do you know from Brawley?" he said. "Do you remember any friends from Brawley?" I said, "Gosh, I was born and raised there," so I said, "maybe you can mention some names. Are you from Brawley or Imperial Valley?" He said, "No, I'm from L.A." But he says, "Yeah, I know, I used to go duck hunting in Salton Sea." And he said it was the Shiomichi family. And I said, "Oh, yeah, I know the Shiomichi family." I said, "They used to farm right next to my father." And I said, "There was Tok and Joe and Edna." And he said, "Oh, you know them?" And he said, "You know what happened? Joe was killed in Italy," and that's the first time I heard that. But then this guy, so we did have a common friend. [Laughs] If that made any difference or not, I don't know. After coming back, I met this Tok in Los Angeles, and I met Edna, too, and I know Joe died. But there was that coincidence.

TI: And what was the reaction of the Nisei or other Niseis when they found out that you were a Nisei but served in the Japanese army and then Siberia? When they found that out, what kind of reaction did you see?

IS: Where?

TI: Like in Japan. Like say the first person who interrogated you, was he surprised that you were a Nisei?

IS: Oh, no. That's the only time I ever had any check like that. There were other people who, when they landed at Maizuru from Siberia, all the officers were pulled out, four more officers, Japanese, and then some sergeants, and then some soldiers, too, were pulled out to be questioned. But I wasn't pulled out. So I never had that experience, and that's the only time, when I tried to come back to the United States, I was questioned. And so, yeah, while I was working for the occupation, I had, there were some Niseis who were occupation personnel, civilians, they called them DACs, Department of Army Civilians. There were some like that working. And yes, I never, I didn't particularly broadcast it or try to hide it, but yeah, that I was in Siberia. Some knew about it. Like my bosses all knew that, the hakujins knew that.

TI: But it just seemed, it's kind of like... and maybe by then, the Nisei, he had heard of others, but the fact that he grew up in L.A., you were Brawley, you knew the same person, and yet you fought for the Japanese, he fought for the Americans, just how kind of ironic or happenstance that it could be that you would sort of grow up in a fairly similar way, and yet fight on different sides.

IS: I don't know. I never experienced that, or I never heard anything like that, especially if I or some other, if a Nisei found out that, oh, here's another Japanese American who stayed in Japan and fought us in the Pacific, I don't know. I don't think... I don't think, I can't think of it creating... of course, today, more and more, I can see something, it's not an issue. Because sixty years ago, seventy years ago. But even at that time, I never thought of that.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: Okay, so Peter, we're going to go into the third part. And unfortunately, we don't have the time for you to talk about the thousand days in Siberia, but your book does a wonderful job of covering it. And so I'm just going to touch upon a couple things, because I read the book. And in it, you talk a lot about the suffering, mainly through hunger. And not so much, you didn't recount very much in terms of any ill treatment by the Soviet soldiers, but you did mention that you felt that the Soviets treated the Japanese prisoners differently than the German prisoners. Can you talk a little bit about that and the differences?

IS: Yes. Interesting because when I wrote that, actually what happened is I submit the manuscript all over, and then finally Nebraska took it. And they kind of told me what goes on. They took it, and then the editorial board sort of talk about it and they said, "Yeah, maybe we can publish this. This might sell." So then they have a list of, quote, "experts" that they have review the book and see what they would think, and they have standard question. And interesting thing, they sent me the question and response that two of them did, and I write about, I think I mentioned that Japanese prisoner were treated better than the Germans. And one of the comment was, "Well, it's only natural that that would happen, and I think that's true." But then, interesting thing happened. One, a guy here in San Jose had a cousin in Yokohama who went through that experience. He wasn't a Nisei, he was a Japanese-Japanese. But, so when he found out that I was going to go to visit Tokyo, he says, "I'll call my cousin, and it would be good if you'd visit him in Yokohama," which I did. And he told me this: he said what he saw there, he was there a year longer than I was, I think. But he said, "Here's what I saw." He said, "We would come back from work, and then we're so tired we would like to rest." But he said, "What I saw was German prisoners going home and getting all washed up, changing clothes and going out in town." And he said -- I can believe this -- "there were very few young Russian men, because a lot had died in the invasion from the Germans. So they lacked that man companionship, so they were very happy to see young German, although they were prisoners, in town. So they had a real good time that way." That he told me, this Japanese. And I don't doubt that. He probably saw that. And what I saw and heard was what I write about, where this poor German was saying, "We're hopeless. We're gonna spend the rest of our life here. We never think we'll ever get to go home." That's true, too. That's what I saw and that's what I heard.

Then what happened is some woman from, I think it was Ohio, I loaned that book out, and I wasn't able to get it back yet. But she read my book and said, "I wrote a book about my grandparents who were living in Germany." And she said, "My grandfather was captured by the Soviets in Poland, and he was taken to Siberia. And I interviewed them both and wrote a book about what the Germans went through in World War II." And what he tells her was he observed Japanese prisoners when he was in Siberia, and he said, "Boy, they were treated rough. Way more bad than the way we were treated." And I'm sure that's true. He observed that, and I don't see why he would not say that if that didn't happen. So all of those things are true. It depends on where you were and when it was. And I think you can't say, "It was this way." To a certain degree, all of those are true, I'm sure.

TI: And so when you take that all, because you wrote your book first, and then you got this new information...

IS: Right.

TI: ...what do you think now? If you were to be asked, "Okay, so compare the treatment of the Japanese prisoners with the German prisoners," how would you answer now?

IS: I guess I would say that what I saw was like this or what I heard was like this. But these can very well be true. It could have happened like this because of certain things, and because, and in the time, I'm sure, like even in, when I was working in the factory, I remember some Russian women almost spit out the word, "Stalin," because... and a fellow prisoner said, "You know what happened? They had to, they were in Europe, they were not in Siberia. They lived in Europe somewhere, and I guess they had to evacuate and they can't get back. So they're not happy living in Siberia." So there were people like that. Everybody just didn't praise Stalin.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: So this may get, help me understand this next question. So when you surrendered, the war was over, and yet you spent a thousand days, almost three years in Siberia in a work camp. Why so long? Why, why weren't you released back to Japan right after the war was over, or soon after, but rather three years of hard labor? What was going on?

IS: The way I understand it was, I read a book where they said the Japanese headquarters in Manchuria for the Kwantung army, they invited the Russians. They said things like, "You suffered a lot, you don't have manpower, labor, you need labor. Take our men. Not only our solider, but you could take our civilians, too." They said some higher-up in the Kwantung army offered them to do that. And that's sort of hard to believe, but I don't think so. I think that could have very well happened. And another thing they say, I've read, was that the Soviets wanted Hokkaido, too. And Truman was way against that, I guess MacArthur was, too. They wouldn't let the soldier come, what do they call that, sovereign? Half of that was Japan and then this was the Soviet, they took all of that, and that's all they gave them. But they wanted Hokkaido, and I guess Stalin said, "Well, if we can't get Hokkaido, we'll get something," and he got labor.

TI: But in both cases, it was like you were just pawns, just kind of there in terms of almost a negotiation.

IS: But then there is, I hear, because from your university, there's a lawyer there, he's from Switzerland. And he worked for the International Red Cross. And early on, he went to Japan after Japan's surrender, and he worked on, with a group of Japanese, to get compensation for Japanese who were prisoners in Siberia. And he worked real hard, so I met him... oh, well, I won't even get into that detail, but real roundabout way I was able to get in touch with him. And he said, "Oh, if you go to Japan, I want you to meet somebody," and he gave me some business cards. And when I went to Japan I met this group that for all these many year, working on that, getting compensation for ex-prisoners. But according to that, I was told that Allied prisoners, if the Dutch captured Japanese soldier and made him work, they didn't pay them. Or if they didn't pay them, they gave 'em paper saying, "This so-and-so worked so many days as a prisoner." And they brought that paper back to Japan, and the Japanese government paid them. But the Soviets didn't do anything like that. But finally, couple of months ago, I think the Japanese government is giving out some money now to people who came back in 1947, I guess, was the latest, earliest to those who spent maybe ten years there.

SF: Is there a historical or sort of documented evidence of Japanese government making this deal to, in a sense, negotiate you guys away?

IS: There are some books on that, yes. There was one guy who went to, he was a prisoner, and then for some reason he became, had real close contact with the Kremlin. And they invited him to come over and go through their archives, library of things, and he comes, he wrote a book on that. And he died here, oh, about five years ago, I guess. And some problem arose, his wife wanted to take over something that he was doing. But he, this guy has a real big... and I remember talking to a history professor at Berkeley, and he was familiar with this. He's a hakujin guy with a Japanese wife in Berkeley. But he's, he does a lot of translation of Japanese books. He's not like me, he reads and everything, Japanese. But he mentioned, I had a book, and he says, "Oh, you got this book." He says, "I went through this, and yes, this guy is really an enemy of the Japanese government."

SF: Did the Japanese people ever show resentment of Japan's, their government for having put all the soldiers through this?

IS: No. You know, it wasn't 'til very recently. I wasn't aware of this, but this part I know. When I was in Japan, the next year, when people came back, they were really brainwashed. And at Maizuru port, when their families came to welcome them back, they ignored them and a lot of 'em went to Tokyo to sign up with the Communist party and stuff like that. But that didn't last. That kind of pro-Communist thing didn't last too long, but I heard that a lot of repatriates had a hard time getting jobs, too, because of things like that. And I wasn't aware of that when I was in Japan. But they said lot of ex-prisoners suffered.

SF: Sort of blaming the victim in a sense.

IS: Yeah.

TI: Good.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: I'm going to now make a big leap here, because I want to kind of tie up a kind of, to find out what happened to your family back in the United States. Because when you're fifteen, right before the war started, or a couple years before the war started, you came to Japan. And during all this period, you never saw your parents and your siblings. So during the war, what happened to your family in the United States?

IS: My father was active in the Methodist church, and they had what they called the Nihonjinkai. It's a Japanese Association type, and all... they had liaison with the Buddhist temple and the Christian churches. And anytime they wanted to have some kind of a all-Japanese affair, this Nihonjinkai would plan it and they would get the word out to the Buddhist, through the Buddhist temple, through the Christian church. That pretty much covered all the Japanese. Well, my father was always a representative from the Christian church to this Nihonjinkai. So his name was on the "bad" list. Plus the fact he had a son in Japan, plus, he had a son-in-law, that's my sister's husband, who was military age, and right after the Executive Order came out, the FBIs came out to the ranch and they pick him up. And they go through, we had our little storage shed, and they went through there, and I think they took some pictures and stuff from there. But, so they, early on, he's taken to Bismarck. That's not the ten camps, that's what they call the...

TI: Department of Justice.

IS: Yeah, Department of Justice camp, they're like that, and Crystal City, I guess. But he goes there and then I mentioned about it, about my picture in a school uniform, the guy questioned him, tells him that, "You have a son in the military," and he says, "No, he's too young yet." But they pull out this picture and said, "Now can you deny it?" And then, but he was active in the church --

TI: And just to follow up, the picture was you in a school uniform.

IS: Yes.

TI: Not a military uniform.

IS: No. But then there was this Dr. Smith who used to be, they called him the superintendent of the, in the Methodist church, he's like a Bishop, I guess. And those days, they call it provisional conference, they were segregated. The Methodist church had a branch for the Japanese church within their, the whole body. And Dr. Smith used to head that because he spoke perfect Japanese and everything. But, and my father knew him real well. And he came to visit Bismarck, and he was there. And my father told him about me and the problem he's having about having a son in the military. And so I think he said, "I can't meet with the guy now, but soon as I get back, I'll write a letter and see what we can do." And I think, because of that kind of thing, he helped him out. And he was able to leave that camp after a few months and join the rest of the family in Poston.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: So meanwhile, your mother and your other siblings went to...

IS: Poston, yes. And Pat did, too, although he left camp and went to, by coincidence, the University of Nebraska. [Laughs] But you know, in Brawley, the next farmer was Kikuchi. They had two daughters, then three boys. And the two daughters were the oldest, and then three boys. Three boys, two of them younger than me and one was older than me. But they were murdered in December of '45 -- yeah, '41, the month the war, Pearl Harbor. And they think the Filipinos, they said, they're in the paper, at that time would say what the Japanese were doing in the Philippines, I guess. And they were next-door neighbors. So my father and mother had to go with buckets, and they were murdered right in their house. And the children were there -- or the oldest daughter was at Berkeley, I guess, and they never resolved that. But why I bring that up is I think my mother almost welcomed being taken to camp or something. Because here she was, my father not there, they were living, he was there when the murder happened, but after, they took him away, just with three younger ones, that would have been scary for her.

TI: Because your mother...

IS: She never said that, but when I think about what happened, I think.

TI: When you came back and heard about what happened to your family, any thoughts about that? What did you think when you came back and heard that your father went to a Department of Justice camp, that your family went to Poston?

IS: Well, my... I heard more from my sister. And I mentioned that, she mentioned that Dad used to say how lucky you are to be born in this country when you have all the opportunity and everything. But she said that, "He never said how lucky you are or anything," anything positive. She said, "He didn't say anything negative, but he never said that again, that you were lucky you were born in this country."

TI: Oh, interesting. So he did change.

IS: Yeah. And the Isseis were able to get citizenship. I don't know, I never asked them, but my father and mother never applied for that. I don't know -- you know, like you're a kid and you want, you want a cookie, and you ask and ask and ask, and you never get it. So finally they said, "Okay, here's some," and they said, "No, I don't want it now." [Laughs]

TI: How did they feel about you getting your U.S. citizenship? So here you were Japanese, did they ever talk to you about being a U.S. citizen?

IS: No. I think they were happy that I came back. I never really talked to them, but according to my brother, what he writes, too. I guess they really felt sorry to go through that kind of a deal, giving me up for a youshi.

SF: Going back a bit, in terms of your relationship with your Japanese mom and dad and your uncles, how did that relationship develop up to the end where you left Japan?

IS: Oh. According to my mother, my sister in Japan, she said, "I think when they came to visit you when you were leaving," he came up from Yokohama -- he was very successful in his business. Although he did it all on his own. In fact, when I went to Japan, they still had two people working in the house. But when they were in Osaka, they had five people working, two men, to take care of the outside yard, and three maids in the house. And there were only two adults, but they had three maids in the house. So that way he was real successful. But I think, you know, one is I blame myself, because he was real Japanese. I mean, he would never show a tear, or he would never say... he was the man of the house, and that was... boy, my spouse is really against that. She said, "I don't know how people can live in Japan." [Laughs] But I guess I never lived with them that much, really. And when I did I was so busy studying before I went to Tokyo. Then once I went to Tokyo, I did come back for vacation. But the teacher said, "This summer vacation, you should really catch up, I mean, do your study." And he said, "Go back just for a week at the most, and come back to Tokyo and study." So I really never lived with them, so I never got that kind of close relationship.

TI: But in your book, you did seem to have some regret that you, before you came back to the United States, that you didn't go to visit him, I guess, personally. That you just came back to the United States and...

IS: Yes, I did, but, well, not that incident. It's just that I'm sorry that I couldn't talk to them more about how I felt, and my... since I got married, I met my, my Japanese father had died, but my Japanese mother was still around and I visited her three times in Tokyo. But it was a real, just a formal greetings. We didn't talk about anything, really. It wasn't a good relationship at all.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

TI: When you think about your life -- this is kind of my final question -- what do you take away from all this in terms of your life and all of the twists and turns and all the things that happened to you, I mean, when you think about your life, what's important to you?

IS: I think I'm a lucky guy of what I went through. I think it could have turned out much, I mean, looking at the other side, going to Japan, it didn't work out, but there were a lot of good things that happened. Being in Siberia, I think I suffered a lot, but I had some real good help. And especially when I read other's experience, I really think I was almost like made up to have somebody in the personnel office look after me like that, sending me to the places where he thought I would have it easier than if he had sent me to... or if I was appointed to go somewhere else. So I feel I was lucky. And things have worked out good for me after coming back, too. That experience of having friends where, to get involved in those social issues or things about, like the Vietnam War. I think when I went to De Anza College here and talked, I think I said the wrong thing about supporting the anti-war movement. Because I think there was a lot of Vietnam children who had come from Vietnam, their parents. So I think I should have said that in a different way.

TI: Which kind of gives me my final-final question, but so you became active. I mean, you became active against the war, the Vietnam War. Which I would not have suspected, given your life and how prior to that, you sort of accepted things. You accepted going to Japan when called there to be your uncle's adopted son, you accepted going into the Japanese army, you accepted even Siberia, but you didn't accept the Vietnam War. What's the difference?

IS: I think I give credit to friends at this church I went to. There was one man, Robert MacAfee Brown, he was, he taught at Union Seminary in New York, and then he came out to Stanford. That's when I really met him. And he's the one that, he was a Christian, but his Christianity was not... well, it's like I just got back from Europe and went to these nice cathedrals, had these stained glass windows and things. And they showed Jesus with a golden crown or something. This Robert MacAfee Brown wasn't like that. I think he would show Jesus toiling or helping somebody in trouble, and not somebody wearing a golden crown. He was that type of guy. And I think he had a lot to do with being involved in that kind of thing. And he died here just a week after, week before 9/11. And we have a lot of speakers. I go to some events where we have a theologian come and talk, but I don't know. I'm beginning to see more of that talk being like these beautiful stained glass window and not like Robert MacAfee Brown, somebody who went to jail for civil rights in the south and things like that.

TI: So it was the influence of this man, your friend, that really encouraged you to do this.

IS: Yes.

TI: Steve, any final questions? Okay, so Peter, we're gonna end the interview there. Thank you so much. This was really a great interview.

IS: Well, thank you.

TI: Thank you very much.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.