Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Toyoko Okumura Interview
Narrator: Toyoko Okumura
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Denver, Colorado
Date: July 6, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-otoyoko-01

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

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: Okay, so today is July 6, 2008, we're in Denver, Colorado, and we're, this is the last day of the Japanese American National Museum's national conference. And in the room we have, on camera, Dana Hoshide, and I'm the interviewer, Tom Ikeda.

TO: Tom, what was your name?

TI: Tom Ikeda.

TO: Ikeda, oh, I see.

TI: And so let me start by asking the question, where and when were you born?

TO: I was born in Gardena, California, date would be October the 14th, 1916.

TI: And what was the name given to you at birth?

TO: Toyoko. Oh, wait a minute. Toyo, T-O-Y-O. Not "ko."

TI: Oh, so it was just Toyo, just Toyo.

TO: Yes.

TI: And last name?

TO: Okumura.

TI: So let me first ask you about your father. Can you tell me where your father was born?

TO: This is back in Japan, it's Miye-ken.

TI: And what was your father's name?

TO: Oh, Seisuke, S-E-I-S-U-K-E.

TI: And do you know what kind of work his family did in Japan?

TO: It was, let me see, my great grandfather, I guess. He contacted Korea, and they were getting abalones from Korea, and they made dried, dried abalone, and exported it to China.

TI: Oh, that's interesting. So he's already, like an international trader. He would get abalone from Korea, they would dry it in Japan, and then he would export it to China for sale.

TO: Uh-huh. But they had to take these divers, Japanese women, from this little village where my folks are from.

TI: And do you know why they didn't, did they sell the abalone in Japan also, or was it always --

TO: Oh, yes, they did, yes.

TI: But they always dried it first?

TO: Yes. Oh, it's delicious.

TI: It sounds really good.

TO: Yeah, like gum, you know, chewing gum. It's very, very good.

TI: Now, do you know why your father left Japan to come to the United States?

TO: Oh, he wanted to be a doctor, so after he graduated from high school in Japan, then he came over. Yeah, this was in 19, I think it's 1907.

TI: And why come to the United States to be a doctor?

TO: Well, he had an uncle, Takeuchis, and so he could help him out.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: And so in 1907 when he came to the United States, what did he do?

TO: He was a schoolboy, what do you call, worked for an American home at first, and tried to learn his English.

TI: And then what did he do?

TO: And then he lived with his uncle Takeuchis.

TI: And where was this? Where he live? Where did the uncle live?

TO: In Dominguez Hill.

TI: Okay. And so after being a schoolboy for a while, what did he do?

TO: He went back and helped, Takeuchis had a farm, so he worked with him. But he was not a farmer, so he had a very difficult time, he told me. [Laughs] He never farmed in Japan.

TI: So how long did he farm?

TO: Oh, it was quite a few years.

TI: Okay, so even though you said he wasn't much of a farmer, he farmed a long time.

TO: And then he opened up a tofu factory in Gardena.

TI: Okay. Do you know about what year he did this?

TO: I don't know just when it was.

TI: Like was this after, after you were born?

TO: Yeah, it was after, but I can't remember just when. About 1923, I think, around 1923.

TI: And so at that point, he stopped farming and did the tofu factory. How did your father meet your mother?

TO: In Japan, they were married in Japan.

TI: And so was this before he came?

TO: Oh, yes, before he came.

TI: Okay, so let's talk a little bit about your mother. What was her name?

TO: T-O-M-E, Tome. Maiden name's Takeuchi.

TI: And do you know what her family, what kind of work her family did in Japan?

TO: They did the diving for abalones, they were shipping it to China.

TI: Okay, so they were, so is it kind of like a lot of families in that village did the same kind of work?

TO: That's, well, farm was very, the land was not suitable for farms, so there was not too many farms up there.


TI: So do you know about when your mother and father got married? You said your father came in 1907, so they got married before then?

TO: Before that, yes. A few months before, I guess.

TI: And so your father came over first, or did both --

TO: Yes, that's right. And my mother came about five years later.

TI: And so for a few years, they were both farmers, then, they farmed.

TO: Yes, they did.

TI: Good. So do you have any brothers and sisters?

TO: Yes. Well, my sister just recently passed away, and I have a brother in Seattle, Washington.

TI: So can you, can you tell me your brothers and sisters kind of in birth order? Like who was the oldest?

TO: Oh, Masako, and she was born 1914. And I'm next.

TI: So Toyo in 1916.

TO: '16. And then my sister Miye, 1919, and then my brother Osamu, 1925.

TI: 1925. And so four of you.

TO: Yes, that's right.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: So I now want to kind of just talk a little bit about Gardena when you were growing up. What are some memories that you have of Gardena when you were growing up?

TO: Well, we had that tofu plant, and on the back of it was a wide area where we used to play baseball, I remember that. Really a tomboy, used to climb trees. [Laughs]

TI: So was that unusual, for women to play baseball?

TO: No, not exactly. Neighbor's kids... not all, but a few girls were playing.

TI: And when you say baseball, so it was hardball?

TO: No, it was one of these... what do you call those?

TI: Softball?

TO: Softball, yes.

TI: So it was a bigger one that they pitched underhand?

TO: Uh-huh, that's right.

TI: Okay, so baseball, you said you climbed trees, what are some other things that you did?

TO: Well, let's see. We used to walk to school, I remember, in elementary school. And in high school, Gardena High School, I started driving at fourteen so they gave me permission to drive, special. So I drove and gathered all the neighbor's kids, about five of us.

TI: Wow, that's interesting. So at fourteen, they would trust you to drive...

TO: Just to go to school.

TI: To go to school, but to also drive the other kids in the...

TO: Yeah. I don't know if that was permissible, but we did it. I mean, I did it.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: So tell me a little bit about the Japanese community. How many other Japanese families were living around you?

TO: Oh, lot of them were, had small farms.

TI: And so did, were there ever kind of like Japanese events like...

TO: Oh, we had Japanese Buddhist church in Gardena.

TI: So did you have like an annual Obon dance, things like that?

TO: Yes, we did.

TI: So describe that. What was that like? Like, how many people, and what was it like?

TO: Oh, there was quite a few, hundreds of people would get together. Not only Japanese, Americans liked to join in.

TI: Oh, so even back then, way back then...

TO: Yeah, they, yes.

TI: That's exciting. Are they kind of similar to the Obon dances today?

TO: Yes, it is.

TI: And so people were dressed up in yukata.

TO: Yes, that's right. We had it in Gardena, but a lot of times we'd go to L.A., to East First Street.

TI: How about things like Japanese school? Did you have Japanese school?

TO: Oh, yes, we did, uh-huh.

TI: And so describe that. What was Japanese school like?

TO: Ours was more of a private, for a while. My mother had about fifteen children around the neighborhood at our house, and then they, the Buddhist, Zen Shuji in L.A., decided to send one of the priests over to teach us once a week, Saturday, from nine o'clock until twelve.

TI: And did you enjoy Japanese school?

TO: Yes, I did, uh-huh. Yes.

TI: And so you strike me as probably a good student?

TO: [Laughs] I don't know about good student.

TI: And then how about the Buddhist ceremonies? How, did you have, like, Buddhist church, that every Sunday you would get together? Can you describe that, how that worked?

TO: I guess I was about four or five years old, and they'd come around picking us up in a Model T, remember the Model T Ford? They would pick us up, and then bring us back. This was Gardena Buddhist Church.

TI: And when you think about that Model T Ford, how many people would climb on top of the Model T Ford to go to the Buddhist church?

TO: Four... about five of us.

TI: But someone would drive, pick you up, bring you to church.

TO: Yes, that's right, uh-huh.

TI: And they would just keep doing that.

TO: Every Saturday.

TI: And when everyone was at the Gardena Buddhist Church, how many people would be there?

TO: Oh, I think about fifty.

TI: Good.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: So now I want to ask about school a little bit. So what elementary school did you go to?

TO: What was it? McKinley. McKinley elementary school.

TI: And describe your, the makeup of the class in terms of races. Were there other Japanese in class, or was it white? Can you explain the...

TO: I think there were probably about four or five of us, out of, let's see now... probably about twenty first graders.

TI: And do you remember what, and then what high school did you go to?

TO: Oh, Gardena. Gardena High School.

TI: And explain to me that that was like, and the same thing in terms of how many Japanese were at Gardena High School?

TO: Let's see, our class, I think we had about fifteen.

TI: Fifteen out of maybe how many people?

TO: Let's see, how many? Couple hundred, I think.

TI: And then what were some activities you did in high school?

TO: After school?

TI: Yeah.

TO: After school we used to play volleyball or speedball.

TI: So what year did you graduate from high school?

TO: Summer of '34.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: Okay, so 1934, and what did you do after you graduated from high school?

TO: I went out to work for a restaurant for a while, and my dad decided to farm, an old farm, so I came back to help them out. That was hard. [Laughs] I wasn't used to that.

TI: So why did your dad decide to do a little farm now that he had his tofu factory?

TO: Well, he got sick, what do you call it? Pleurisy? He was laid out for a couple years, and so it was very for our folks.

TI: And so did he sell the tofu factory?

TO: Yes, he sold it.

TI: So what was, when you think about these days on the small farm, what was kind of like a typical day for you? When you think about the, waking up in the morning, what would you do and what was the day like, and then what was the night like?

TO: It was, you'd get up and try to help out on the farm.

TI: And how early in the morning?

TO: About six o'clock. There wasn't too much to do except work, work, that's it. [Laughs] I had a crippled sister, for one, my older sister. So I had to take care of her at the same time.

TI: And when you say, "work, work," what kind of work, or what kind of farming did...

TO: Well, it was raising cauliflower and cabbage. A little bit of, patch of strawberries. And then after maybe five years, then the war, we went into camp.

TI: But before we get there, I'm thinking, so at the end of the work day on the farm, like how long would you work 'til? So you started, you woke up around six and you started working, at what point were you finished with...

TO: About four o'clock.

TI: And then everyone would then come in and eat? Or what would you do next?

TO: Mother would teach me how to cook, of course, so it was a lot of cooking.

TI: And then after dinner, at night, what would you do?

TO: Gosh, there wasn't much to do at those days. You know, we didn't have TVs, so listened to music is about all.

TI: Do you remember playing any, any kind of games?

TO: No, no, I can't.

TI: And would you do this seven days a week or would weekends be different? Like Saturday, Sunday?

TO: Sundays, every Sunday the girls would get together, we'd go over to our friends' place, or they would come over to our place.

TI: And so when you got together with your girlfriends, what kind of things would you do?

TO: Nothing much, we just kind of gossiped. [Laughs]

TI: So during this time, was there much dating going on between girls and boys?

TO: Not much. Our parents were very strict, you know. Girls were supposed to stay home.

TI: Good.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: So let's move to December 7, 1941. Where were you when you heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor?

TO: At home.

TI: And so tell me how you heard about it and what happened.

TO: Oh, it was really shocking. We never believed that Japan would, you know... so we just stuck to our radio and listened to what was coming, what was going on. And then, let's see, well, a week later when Dad was, the FBI came over, and he was sent to Santa Fe, New Mexico, 'cause he was one of the leaders, he was teaching judo.

TI: And so what were you, what did you think when the FBI came and picked up your father?

TO: There's not too much to think, I was, we were so afraid. My mother didn't know, so she started burning all the documents and told us we probably had to burn up all the photos that we had.

TI: I'm sorry, was this your mother that was saying this?

TO: Yes, uh-huh. Well, my dad was gone then, already. And we never knew where he was or what he was doing.

TI: And so what you said was so they, after they picked up your father, you weren't sure where they took him or what was going to happen.

TO: No, we sure didn't.

TI: So it was later on that you found out that he was in Santa Fe.

TO: All the letters that we got were censored, of course, and we couldn't read it, I mean, it was just cut up so much.

TI: Do you recall how long it took before you got the first letter from your father?

TO: It was probably about a couple weeks later, found out where he was.

TI: And at that time, was he at Santa Fe?

TO: Yes.

TI: During this time, how was it for your mother? What was she like during this time? Was it hard for her?

TO: Yes, it was, 'cause she doesn't speak English to start with. So more or less, I was an interpreter-like.

TI: Did you ever get a chance to just talk to her about what was happening and what she was feeling or thinking, or could you tell by talking with her or watching her?

TO: No, not too much.

TI: And so during this time, how would you run the farm without your father?

TO: My mother was really a hard worker. She led us. Somehow, we made out.

TI: During this time, when you talked to your friends about what was happening or what might have happened, do you remember any of those conversations?

TO: I guess not. I don't remember just, whatever came to our mind, so I can't remember just what we had said about...

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: Were there any kind of events or incidences with other people during this time? Were there any, like, white friends or something that said anything to you about, about the war?

TO: You mean discrimination?

TI: Yeah, discrimination, anything like that?

TO: No, I didn't go through that, but my brother had a little difficulty. So he was taking judo, and just, and his classmates or something, they get into some argument. My brother said that he would just go out there and drag them all to the grass someplace up around the schoolyard and just hold 'em and one by one, I guess. [Laughs] It was so easy for him to do that, he said.

TI: Oh, so let me make sure I understand this. So there was a group of boys that sort of challenged him.

TO: Yeah, that's right. Him and his Japanese friends.

TI: And so they, they challenged them and then went outside on the grass, and your brother, because he was really good in judo, fought them one at a time.

TO: Yeah.

TI: And then after that, did he have any more problems?

TO: No, he didn't. In fact, one of 'em was an Olympic runner, I forgot his name. It started with a Z. He was one of the Olympic athletes, can't think of his name.

TI: So this is Osamu that you're talking about.

TO: Yes, uh-huh.

TI: So he was about, almost ten years younger than you.

TO: That's right.

TI: So he was still in high school at this time?

TO: That's right. See, now, I graduated in '34 and the war started in '41, wasn't it?

TI: So he probably would have been... he would have graduated in '43, so he's, yeah, probably about a sophomore.

TO: Yeah, about fifteen, sixteen, I think it was.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: Well, then eventually, you got orders that you had to leave.

TO: Evacuate, yeah.

TI: So can you explain what happened to the family when that happened, when you got the notices?

TO: Oh, we just left everything there, there was nothing we can do about it. There's a lot of Americans come over and they want their refrigerators and have all these kitchen equipments and things like that. We just didn't have time to negotiate anything, we just kind of gave 'em away. Didn't know whether we would be able to come back to our home or not.

TI: And so these people that would come, were they people that you knew? Were they like neighbors or friends?

TO: No, they were not.

TI: And so you ended up just giving them stuff?

TO: Well, some of them were nice enough to give us a few dollars for it.

TI: When you saw that happening, how did you feel about that?

TO: Most of, what I felt, I'm a dog lover, and we had two dogs and we had to leave that dog going to Santa Anita. And that dog followed us for about a mile. I don't know what happened to those two dogs, it was a German shepherd. That was kind of sad, to leave the dog behind. In the meantime, my dad was already gone, so our family, my sister, my brother, the four of us... there was, oh, we drove to L.A., and then we had to leave our car there. At that time, I was driving, so I left the car there, I don't know what happened to the car. And then we were taken by bus to Santa Anita racetrack. Then we stayed there about six months, then we were shipped over to Jerome, Arkansas.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: So when you went to Santa Anita, can you describe kind of your first impressions of what you saw at Santa Anita?

TO: Well, it was... I thought it was beautiful, the garden, I mean, the grass and all that. And we were led to this stable, and there was nothing there. They just had an asphalt floor, and oh, it smelled terrible. Then we, not whole family, my mother and sister, three of us... I think, oh, brother, too, one little stall. And we had to sleep, the first night, we had to sleep on the floor, cement. And they gave us, not a mattress exactly, but it was a bag, and we had to fill it with hay or whatever that was piled there. Told us to make a mattress out of it, so that's what we had. And a blanket for each of us. Then they gave us a cot later, about seven days later.

TI: Can you remember what you were thinking or feeling, especially those first couple nights, first sleeping on the hard floor, then later on on these bags of hay? What were you thinking when this happened?

TO: I thought we were coming to the end. Just lost all hope, you know. Things were just dark.

TI: Yeah, that must have been really, really difficult.

TO: It wasn't easy.

TI: And talk about sort of the activities in Santa Anita. There were lots of people there at this time, so how were people organized during this time?

TO: Well, we were all given different work, and I was what they call a... oh, what would they call that now? Milk mother, I guess, taking care of the babies' formula. And they were distributing canned food for the children.

TI: And so where would you go, would you go to the various...

TO: There was a big gym, or not a gym... well, more like a gym. The horses were, it was like a big hall, and there was, that's where we took shower also, and that's where we got together and did a few things. When we first went, got in there to Santa Anita, they didn't have any food. So we went to what they call the Blue mess hall, we were the first one to, to get in there, so they were not prepared for us. No food, of course, first day they gave us old bread and milk, and so we were supposed to, they gave us a dish, told us to soak that bread into milk, mix it up and that was our food.

TI: Wow. So that first day was really, must have been really difficult. So you slept on the hard ground, and for food they gave you old, hard bread and milk, and you would just have to soak it and eat that.

TO: They had a, what they call a mess hall, so there were about forty in each mess hall.

TI: And what about things like the shower facilities and things like that?

TO: Oh, it was in one, for one block, I guess, there was a separate, well, in the center, more or less, of the... we called it, it was Block 10 where we were. And so it was a shower and toilet facilities there. For the whole forty people, there were about -- [coughs] excuse me -- probably three showers. We all had to get in line to take showers.

TI: So at Santa Anita, what was the most difficult part of being there for you?

TO: Well... getting in from the farm and not knowing anybody. We got all mixed up -- I mean, our neighbors were not in our block, you know. They tried to mix it all up so that wouldn't be no... you know, get-togethers. They were afraid of us, I guess, that we would do something, a riot. So they just split us all around the whole Santa Anita area. So our neighbors, we seldom see them.

TI: So it was hard not to be able to see your neighbors, your friends.

TO: Friends, yes. It was, that was difficult.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: So pretty soon, after Santa Anita, you were there for, what, several months. And then, then where did you go?

TO: Oh, we were shipped to Jerome, Arkansas.

TI: Can you, can you describe for me the trip from Santa Anita to Jerome? Because here you're in California going all the way to Arkansas, so that's a long ways.

TO: Yes, it was.

TI: How did you get there?

TO: Well, by train, of course. They had these train that, they were shipping these enlisted men -- well, I guess, these soldiers, I guess. So we were on the same train.

TI: So this train, you're saying, is a long train, some of the cars were filled with soldiers.

TO: That's right.

TI: And then others were from, the people from Santa Anita going to Jerome.

TO: That's right.

TI: So how, can you recall how long the trip was?

TO: Five days.

TI: And what was that like? Was that a hard trip? How would you describe the trip?

TO: Well, we had to sleep sitting, of course, you know, on a train. And we wouldn't see outside, of course, it was all, the blinds were drawn. And then the MPs weren't around, so we would open that, they didn't want to show us where we were going.

TI: Now, did you know where you were going?

TO: No, uh-uh.

TI: And for food, what did they give you for food?

TO: Oh, they had one car, these GIs were cooking for us. And so we get in line, they had one car, tables, so we were able to all take turns eating in this dining car.

TI: And so eventually, you get to Jerome. Can you describe what you saw when you first got off that train?

TO: Well, there was a cotton field, and those black women that were picking cotton, they were very friendly, and they just waved, were yelling, saying, "Welcome to Arkansas." It was really nice. They were all colored people.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: And when you got to the camp, what was that like?

TO: I thought it was, it was not bad. It rained a lot in Arkansas, so it was about ten steps up, you know, they had the steps. But the first night there, it just poured. And so in order to get a, they had a mess hall, and it was only about ten feet away, but we had to get on a rowboat to get over to the mess hall. [Laughs]

TI: So it was kind of like having a river between the, your barracks and the mess hall?

TO: Yeah, because of that rain.

TI: That's, that's funny. And so it was more like a, just a hard rain? It was kind of almost like a flash flood type of thing?

TO: Thunder, lightning. It was terrible. [Laughs]

TI: So you weren't used to that kind of rain.

TO: No.

TI: And what were your living quarters like at Jerome?

TO: It was just one room like this, you know. No partition, nothing. And then these single beds, cots.

TI: And so when you were in Jerome, what kind of work did you do in Jerome?

TO: Well, I was taking care of the infants' milk, formulas.

TI: Okay, so it's kind of the same job you had in Santa Anita.

TO: Yeah, that's...

TI: And so when you did that, did you bring the formula, the milk, to the mothers in their barracks, or you just did it at the mess hall?

TO: At the mess hall, and there was a refrigerator there especially for these mothers, so they could come in and get their formulas and baby food. And, of course, during the day, we did that.

TI: And so how many babies were, were there? When you say you had to do this, I mean, was there...

TO: There weren't too many. Probably about twelve, fifteen.

TI: And when you, when you saw the mothers and gave them milk, how was it for them raising a baby in these kind of circumstances?

TO: It was hard for them, but they were very thankful that they were receiving the formulas, food for the babies.

TI: Yeah, so to have someone like you to help them with the milk was appreciated.

TO: Yes. I think the Japanese on the whole, everything, they were very thankful. It seemed like they didn't have any grudge against the U.S.

TI: Tell me, how was the food at Jerome?

TO: It was very good.

TI: So better than Santa Anita?

TO: Oh, a lot better. Oh, yes. We had a good cook, so that was, it was really nice.

TI: Describe some of the meals that you can remember, that you enjoyed at Jerome.

TO: Oh, we had meat, of course, and fish, vegetables, it was nice. The food was... and, of course, the director, I still remember his name, Taylor. Mr. Taylor. He really organized that place very well.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: So after a while, the government sent out these questionnaires to all the families and people, the adults. Essentially it was to help them, or try to figure out loyalty to the United States. Do you remember when that happened? Or not the date, but do you recall when the government just did that?

TO: Oh, yes.

TI: So what happened with you and your family when you got these, these questionnaires?

TO: I really don't remember just what it was. It was a loyalty... or whether you want to go back to Japan, that was one of the questions. And my dad wanted to go back, so all of us had to fill it in according to what he had to say.

TI: So how did that, what did you think about that, when your father said, "We want to go back to Japan," how did you feel? Because you were a U.S. citizen.

TO: That's right.

TI: And you were in your twenties, so what were you thinking when your dad wanted to do that?

TO: Thing was, always felt that I had to take care of my crippled sister. And so I'd go along with her.

TI: And when your sister was "crippled," how was she crippled?

TO: Oh, we had a caretaker, a distant relative of ours who couldn't work, and he came and lived with us, taking care of my sister when she was a baby. She was a year and a half, and it was raining outside, and this relative of ours went someplace and got drunk, came over, and picked up my sister, and went outside and dropped her right in the muddy water. And from that day on, the doctor couldn't do anything for her. She had a real high fever. So we thought that she wasn't gonna live, and about ten days, she was unconscious for about ten days. And then she perked up again, but she had convulsion all that time. But somehow, she lived to be sixty-three.

TI: And so when you say "crippled," is it her legs?

TO: Half of her, like a stroke.

TI: Okay. So half her body was sort of paralyzed.

TO: Yes, right side.

TI: And so going back, so you felt, in terms of your father wanted you to go to Japan, you mentioned you wanted to be there to help your crippled sister.

TO: That's right.

TI: And so that meant staying with the family?

TO: Uh-huh.

TI: How about your, your younger brother? What, how was, what did he think?

TO: He didn't have too much to say, really. But see, he was about twelve, fourteen, I guess.

TI: So after your family made that decision, then what happened? What was the next thing that happened?

TO: We had to all pack and go.

TI: So describe that. Did you go with other families or separately? Can you describe...

TO: Our relatives were all there, too, so we all, well, they all gathered us and took us over to the railroad station.

TI: And did you know where you were going to go?

TO: No.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: Before we talk about this next place you went to, can you tell me a little bit about your father and what kind of person he was? If you were to describe him, what was he like?

TO: He was a person that always loved to help others. I think my dad helped about twenty families from Japan. They didn't have any place to go, they'd come over our place, stayed with us, and then Dad would find a job for them.

TI: And was he kind of a talkative person, or was he a quiet person?

TO: No, he wasn't...

TI: He must have been a strong person, as a judo instructor, he must have had this presence.

TO: Yes, and he was very liked by... I don't know how he'd get in touch with the banks, and they were all willing to help him. So that's why he was able to help the other Japanese that came over, financially, that is. We didn't have the money, but the bank, you know, they trusted him, so he was able to help the others.

TI: And so when your father wanted to go back to Japan, why do you think he wanted to go back to Japan?

TO: Well, he was into Santa Fe, New Mexico, after... let's see, now, after we left Santa Anita. We were separated, and he thought that he would have to go back to Japan.

TI: Okay.

TO: Gonna be sent, you know, back.

TI: Yeah, so I actually forgot that. So your father, did he rejoin you in Jerome, or was he still in Santa Fe?

TO: No, he was in, no, he went with us to Jerome, not from Santa Anita, that's right. It was Jerome, he was sent to New Mexico. It wasn't...

TI: So let me make sure I understand this. So earlier, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a week later, the FBI came and picked him up, and then they brought him to Santa Fe?

TO: No. Then he was able to join us at Santa Anita.

TI: Okay, so they released him to Santa Anita, and then he traveled with you to Jerome.

TO: That's right.

TI: And then from Jerome, they decided to send him back to Santa Fe?

TO: That's right.

TI: Do you know why they, they did that?

TO: Well, being a leader of the Japanese, I guess.

TI: So even within Jerome, he was viewed as a leader?

TO: More or less, yeah.

TI: And they decided, for some reason, to... because already he's in a camp, I mean, he's under guard at Jerome.

TO: Yes.

TI: And they decided to remove him to Santa Fe. Were there, were there kind of events where, where there was either fights or arguments that your father was involved with that led to this?

TO: No. I'm sorry, but I didn't -- it was not in Jerome that he was sent to New Mexico, it was in Tule Lake. And when we got there, there was some young boys...

TI: Okay, good. Okay, so it wasn't Jerome, so he went from Jerome to Tule Lake.

TO: To Tule Lake, yeah.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: Okay, so let's talk about that. So your father wanted to go back to Japan, and so what the government did was they now put you back on trains, you're in Arkansas, and you're now going to Tule Lake, back to California. And so you're now back to Tule Lake, and before we talk about the other stuff, first, tell me what was it like when you first got to Tule Lake. Can you recall the process to get into the camp? What was that like?

TO: It was really cold, it was in winter, January, I think it was. It was real icy, and a lot of people got off the train and this armed truck picked us up. In the meantime, they slipped and got hurt, I got hurt, too, at the time. And then we were sent to one of those barracks. But we were together at that time, and then I guess it was about three, four months later, they picked up, the Japanese were, in the morning, we would all get up and do exercise outside. And they thought that was something that we were trying to get all the Japanese together and start up a riot or something. So my dad was one of, they thought he was one of the leaders, and able to do things like that, so they picked him up and sent him.

TI: So in the morning, he was one of the men who would wake up early and do the exercises in the morning? Because, probably because of his judo training, he might have helped lead some of the exercises.

TO: So he got whatever, whoever wanted to join would go out to the open field and do these exercise.

TI: Do you ever recall seeing your father do this? Did you go out there, too?

TO: Oh, I did. I went out there.

TI: So describe, like, what did you...

TO: Oh, just a regular... like we have in school, that type. It's nothing different.

TI: So describe how many...

TO: We're running, first, of course, they, take an exercise, and then we would run around the block.

TI: And so about how many of you were doing this?

TO: About forty-five. Forty, forty-five.

TI: Forty to forty-five.

TO: Uh-huh.

TI: And so you had women and men doing this? And age-wise, was it like, youngest, what would be the youngest and the oldest?

TO: Teenagers into the twenties.

TI: And do you remember how early in the morning you had to wake up and do this?

TO: Six o'clock. [Laughs]

TI: And so your younger brother did this also, Isamu?

TO: Yes, uh-huh.

TI: And then what role did your father have? Because he was over twenty, I mean, what did he do? Your father, during, at six o'clock in the morning, what was your father doing?

TO: Well, he was out there, too, doing some exercise.

TI: So would he do it with your group or another group?

TO: No, no, just a group. It's not really... something you have in school, just the regular exercises. Stretch and tone.

TI: And how would they explain to you, or describe to you why it was important to do these exercises in the morning?

TO: Well, they thought that just living in our barracks doing nothing, they thought that that would be a good idea to have exercise.

TI: And do you remember whose idea it was that everyone should exercise? Was this something that was happening when you first got there, or did it happen a little bit later on?

TO: Later on, yes, we decided that people just stuck in their barracks, not doing anything.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: So, so they pick up your father and bring him to Santa Fe, or to leave Tule Lake. How did they do that? Did they come to your barrack? Can you remember or tell me, describe how...

TO: It was early in the morning, four o'clock, I remember. They came and picked... I think there were about fifteen or so. My neighbor, he was with the 442nd, but he was what they called Kibei Nisei. They picked him up, too. There were about four or five boys in block that were picked up and sent to the same place, Santa Fe.

TI: What did the camp administration say? What reason did they give for picking up these, these men?

TO: I guess they were afraid that they have a group and start a riot, or against U.S. government.

TI: I'm looking at my notes, I'm trying to find... what was your father's first name again?

TO: Seisuke, S-E-I-S-U-K-E.

TI: Seisuke Okumura, okay. And so what was that like for you, your mother, when they took your father away?

TO: We just didn't know what was going to happen. My mother, of course, was in hysterics. It was very hard for all of us, of course. And then we never heard from him for months, and then -- oh, my brother was picked up at that same time, also. And so about a month later, they couldn't send us any letters, or they did send us a letter, but it was all censored, so we couldn't read what was what. So my brother, when he was sent over, I guess he was fifteen, sixteen, maybe, kind of skilled, he likes to do things with his hands. So he made a Japanese slipper and in between the sole, he had the letter in there, told us where he was and what they were doing. That's how we got... 'cause they were able to send packages. We were able to send package over there, too, so in those packages, he was clever enough to put that letter in there so it wouldn't be censored.

TI: And do you know what that letter, that hidden letter said?

TO: Where he was, and that he was doing all right.

TI: And so it said he was, that's when you found out he was in Santa Fe?

TO: My brother was in North Dakota, Bismarck. And then found out my dad was in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

TI: So they had separated your brother and your father. You may not be able to answer this, but I'm curious. Your younger brother was a U.S. citizen, and Bismarck is a Department of Justice camp for, internment camp for "enemy aliens." It's not clear to me how they put him into this camp.

TO: I have no idea. But you know, when we all got on to go back to Japan, my mother and my sister, three of us, three days later, I found out my brother was on that same ship, and Dad was on the same ship. One was from Santa Fe, my brother was from Bismarck, North Dakota, so we all got together three days later after we left the port.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: And can you describe that reunion for me, how, so you found out your father and your brother were on. So how did the family get together?

TO: They broadcast each one, saying that our dad was on the same ship, and my brother was on the same ship, and that they were going to, certain hours, we were able to meet them. We were all separated on the ship also.

TI: So when they gave you the time that you could meet, you would go to a certain place?

TO: No, they came right into our, where we were in the barracks -- not barracks, the place where we were.

TI: So can you describe what it was like to finally see your father and brother after all this time?

TO: First thing, I knew my mother was the one that was, well, she was happy to find that they were in good shape. And twelve days on the ship, but they were able to come and see us every, about five o'clock in the afternoon, they would see us. We were not able to go to their place, it was separated.

TI: Because I'm thinking, so it was your father was at Santa Fe, your brother was at Bismarck, you, your mother and your sister were at Tule Lake. While you were making preparations to go to Japan, you didn't know if you were gonna see your father and brother. So that must have been a confusing, difficult time.

TO: Yes, it was, uh-huh.

TI: And your, but your mother and you and your sister still wanted to go to Japan, because you thought that's where you might see them?

TO: Yeah. We heard from Dad that he was going, signed up for all of us to return, so eventually we thought that we would get together in Japan.

TI: Going back to Tule Lake, so after your brother and your father were removed, how did the other people in camp treat you and your mother during this time? I mean, were they supportive?

TO: Yeah, very supportive, very.

TI: So can you describe how that was? How did they support you?

TO: Well, they were very friendly, they came over, lot of the mess hall people would, special food that they would cook for us. We were able to go to the mess hall, but that same time, my sister was crippled. We weren't allowed to have our meal in our barracks.

TI: And so the mess hall people would cook you extra special or special food?

TO: Well, nothing special, but was able to, instead of going to the mess hall each time.

TI: Would they ever talk about your father or brother, to be supportive about that? Did they ever talk about it?

TO: They didn't say too much about it.

TI: Do you remember the name of the ship that took you to Japan?

TO: SS Gordon.

TI: And do you know about the date that you left?

TO: Date that we left is January... no, let me see. It was the day after Christmas we were shipped from Tule Lake over to Portland, Oregon, on a train.

TI: And so in Portland you boarded the Gordon. Do you remember, like, what year this was?

TO: '46.

TI: Okay, '46, so the war was over, and so you're now on the SS Gordon, you said about twelve days?

TO: That's right.

TI: And then at 5 p.m., you'd have these brief meetings with your father and brother. Were there any other memories you have about the journey or the trip over from Portland to Japan?

TO: Oh, lot of 'em got seasick, of course, it was terrible. And luckily I never got seasick, so I was taking care of all these people. [Laughs]

TI: What was the mood on the ship of the people as they were going across to Japan?

TO: Japanese people are very quiet. They don't say too much. So just ordinary conversation was it. Only thing is, "What's gonna happen after we get there?" Whether we're going to be able to see our relatives or wherever to meet us there at the port. And anxiety was more or less...

TI: Do you recall what you thought, what did you expect when you on the ship? Before you got to Japan, what were your expectations of what you would see when you got to Japan?

TO: Well, I had a sister, three years younger, who was adopted by our uncle. So she was in Japan.

TI: Oh, so this is Miye?

TO: Miye, yes. Well, I didn't know they were in South Pacific. They were in the pearl business, Mikimoto Pearl. And so I thought they were in Japan and they were gonna see us there at the port, but they came later after we got there.

TI: But as you were traveling, so you thought you would see your sister.

TO: Uh-huh.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: What else? What other expectations did you have when you were traveling to Japan?

TO: Wasn't very much. I was engaged at that time.

TI: And who were you engaged to?

TO: Roy Fujita.

TI: So explain that. So when did you get engaged?

TO: Well, in the camp we just exchanged rings and that was it.

TI: And which camp was this, Tule Lake?

TO: Tule Lake, yes.

TI: So you're, you exchange rings, you're engaged. Where, as you went to Japan, where was Roy?

TO: I thought he was there on the same ship, but he was not.

TI: Okay, so his family was also, he was planning to also go back to Japan.

TO: Uh-huh. Oh, he was what they called Kibei Nisei, and he didn't have any family in the United States. His family were all in Japan.

TI: And so what happened to Roy? If he wasn't on the ship, where did he go?

TO: He was in Hiroshima, his folks were, and I think it was about two weeks later, his uncle came over to the country where we were and said that they wanted to cancel the engagement because his mother wanted him to marry, the older son was killed in China, and his wife was left, so they, mother wanted him to marry his brother's wife. So he came to explain what the situation was. And that was it.

TI: Did you ever talk to Roy ever after that?

TO: No.

TI: So you never saw him.

TO: No, I never have seen him. That was the end.

TI: And when the uncle came over, did he talk to your father or to you about this?

TO: He talked to my dad, not me. He didn't say anything to me.

TI: How did your dad tell you? I mean, that must have been a hard thing for him to do.

TO: Uh-huh. He had to look after his mother. And his brother's wife was really a nice person, evidently, and they wanted to keep her there, you know, instead of letting her go. So they asked Roy to marry her. It was just something, they just couldn't get out of it.

TI: And that must have been very difficult for you to hear that news.

TO: Well, it was, but nothing you can do about it.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: So your family's now in Japan. So what did you do? What did your father and mother and now your sister, your brother and you, what did you do?

TO: Well, I worked for the military. That was the first thing, we landed in Yokosuka, they wanted all of us to work for the U.S. Army. But we said we wanted to go back to the country to see our, where our folks were from, and we'd let them know later, after we get back to Tokyo, if we ever do. Well, the second day we arrived out in the country, we got cable after cable asking us to help them.

TI: So I want to understand this. So you land, how did you know that they wanted you to work for the military?

TO: Oh, they came, the U.S. Army people, right there waiting for us. "Do you speak English?" and that's the first thing they asked.

TI: And so you went there, you talked with them, and they want to offer you a job. So you go to, you say first you want to go to the country, and while you're there, they're sending you cables to come and work.

TO: Yeah.

TI: It seems almost ironic, I mean, here you left the United States, to leave the United States, and here now they're recruiting you to work for the U.S. military.

TO: That's right. [Laughs]

TI: So you get these cables, and then what happens?

TO: So there was a Japanese company called Nikyogumi, it's a construction company. And I had a relative there, and he wanted me to work there. So I had two jobs when I got into Tokyo, working for Nikyogumi and for the army, also.

TI: And were you the only family member doing this work, or did your brother, your brother was probably too young, still.

TO: Yeah. But he did come into Tokyo, and he was working for the army also.

TI: But that probably was a big help to the family, that you can get two jobs in Tokyo, and then you could send your money back to the family to help them.

TO: Yeah, that's right.

TI: And what did your mother and father and your older sister do in the country?

TO: Well, my sister was a cripple, you know, so she couldn't do too much. My dad was trying to organize the, they call it the mura where my dad was from. They want democracy, so that's what, he had to explain what democracy was, he had to go to school and give a speech. So he was busy from one school to the other, wanted him to talk about United States, what kind of life it was and what democracy is, things like that.

TI: Now, was your father at all bitter about the United States? I mean, here they had put them in all these camps, and picked up and did this to his family. And here he's now talking about democracy.

TO: Well, when he was in United States, in the camp, they had some of the same questions. Mr. Best, I remember he was the director of the Tule Lake, and he says, "What do you think of going back to Japan?" He says, well this is forty years, he's never been back, since he left Japan, and he wants to go and see what his relatives are like, then he probably would return to the United States. Maybe he got a VIP treatment in Tule Lake. They always sent him a staff car, pick him up, and take him over to give some information.

TI: This was your father?

TO: Yeah, my dad.

TI: So he had this relationship with the camp director, that he knew them?

TO: Didn't know him, but somehow, Mr. Best called him and then got friendly with them.

TI: So I'm trying to understand, so why did this happen again, do you think? Do you think it's because your father was like a leader, perhaps? Is that why?

TO: That's right. Japanese Association, and then judo.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

TI: So let's talk about your life. I mean, what were your impressions of Japan? I mean, here you're in Tokyo, two jobs, what did you see? What was Tokyo like then?

TO: I thought I was dreaming. I thought for sure I'd be back in the United States. I never could actually feel that I was in Japan at that time. I just felt, "Oh, I hope this is a dream." [Laughs] I wanted to go back to the United States.

TI: And you wanted to go back because why? What was Tokyo like that made you want to go back?

TO: Well, for one, we don't speak too much Japanese, I wasn't that fluent in Japanese. It was difficult.

TI: And what was --

TO: Well, Japanese on the whole, they were nice to us, but at the same time, it was, to carry on or be sociable with Japanese was very difficult.

TI: Did you, you mentioned you worked for the military, so you worked closely with a lot of U.S. soldiers also?

TO: That's right.

TI: Now, did you work at all with any of the Niseis that were, like the MIS?

TO: No, I didn't at that time. I was living in a place called Den Chofu, and they had procured lot of the Japanese nice homes for the U.S. dependents. So that's my, that was my work, as a secretary.

TI: Okay, so helping to coordinate all that.

TO: Yes. Working with the Japanese contractors.

TI: So that was what you did for the U.S. military, and then you had this other job also?

TO: Also Japanese.

TI: And so what was that -- was it a similar type of work, or...

TO: No, it was just making out some documents, they want me to type it out for them.

TI: And what was it like? So you worked both for the U.S. And then for the Japanese, what was the differences in terms of working styles?

TO: Well, they knew I was from America, so they treated me real good, I mean, Japanese on the whole. But toward Japanese girls, I'm sure they don't treat like they were treating me.

TI: So it just so happened, you probably didn't realize it, but when you went to Japan, your English abilities was in high demand. I mean, it was really valued that you had an education, could speak, and you were somewhat bilingual, too, you could speak Japanese and English.

TO: That's right, uh-huh.

TI: So that was really valuable.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

TI: So how long were you in Japan?

TO: Forty-one years.

TI: Forty-one years. So what, so explain why -- and did your father and mother, did they stay in Japan all this time?

TO: That's right. My dad passed away when he was... let's see, how old was he? He lived to be seventy-nine. My mother lived to be a hundred, you see. So I stuck with her and my crippled sister, so I couldn't return to the United States. I did return for vacation off and on, and just took care of my crippled sister.

TI: And so, so eventually your sister died.

TO: In Japan, yeah.

TI: And your mother died? And then after that, is that when you decided to come back to the United States?

TO: That's right. And she used to say, says, "Mother's living too long, that's why you have to stay here." And she says, she always says, "I'm living too long." She was in good health.

TI: That's fortunate that she was able to live such a long life. And during this time when she was living, though, these forty-one years, did you always think you would come back to the United States?

TO: Oh, she always mentioned it. "Once Mama dies," she would say, "you go back to the United States, because that's your country."

TI: During those forty-one years, did you ever visit the United States?

TO: Oh yes, uh-huh.

TI: So you came back and saw friends.

TO: About five times I came back and forth.

TI: So you, in those forty-one years, saw a lot of change in Japan.

TO: Oh, yes.

TI: I'm thinking you actually got there...

TO: Right after the war.

TI: ...after the war, and then even through their, eventually their boom years, too, in the '80s. So describe, what were the biggest changes you saw in Japan?

TO: In five years, it was amazing how Japan could turn from a torn country into a modern... everything was coming up, buildings. In about five years, Japan was right on their own feet.

TI: So by the mid-'50s, kind of in '55 or so, they were already back on their feet?

TO: Uh-huh, that's right.

TI: And then from then, it kept changing, too. It just kept growing.

TO: That's right. Japanese are hard workers. [Laughs]

TI: Now, when people found out that you were Nisei, that you were a U.S. citizen, born and pretty much raised in the United States, how did people react to that?

TO: They envied me because I could speak the language, English. [Laughs] "Oh, you're so lucky," they said.

TI: And during this forty-one years, did you have that same job, or did you have different jobs?

TO: I was first working for the American army for about five years. But then our relatives all went in pearl business, so I got to pearls, selling pearls. That was really great. I mean, people, American people all wanted pearls, so that's how I started. When I talk about pearls, then they said, "Why don't you start a pearl business instead of working for the army?" So I said, "Well, that's a good idea, I'm going to do that," and I did.

TI: And so when you say pearl business, so it was like retail, selling to primarily Americans?

TO: That's right.

TI: Like Tokyo? Is that where you did this?

TO: No, army, I mean, different base.

TI: Oh, to army bases.

TO: Uh-huh.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

TI: So you, after your mother died, you decided to come back to the United States.

TO: Uh-huh.

TI: How did you decide where to live? Is this when you came to Denver?

TO: No, California.

TI: Okay, so you went to California.

TO: And I had a brother in Pasadena, so that's where I came first.

TI: So when you came back to the United States, did it seem different when you came back to live? I mean, did it seem different than when you...

TO: When I first came over, I noticed that the Niseis... I was old at that time, too, but not realizing. And I'd see these Nisei boys on First Street, I says, "Well, gosh, you still have Isseis living around here," you know. And found out they were all Nisei, they were speaking English. [Laughs]

TI: Oh, so the Niseis looked like the Isseis to you.

TO: Isseis, yeah, they did.

TI: That's funny. Any other changes? Like Little Tokyo, how did that seem different to you?

TO: Oh, I thought that was great.

TI: What part was great? What did you like?

TO: Well, all the food there, of course, Japanese food for one. And spoke Japanese, lot of Isseis still there.

TI: And so what year did you come? Was it like... forty-one years, so about late '80s?

TO: '85.

TI: '85. That's good.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

TI: Eventually, you moved to Denver. Why, why Colorado?

TO: Oh, there's the 20th Street Cafe, the owner was Okuno, very close relative of ours. She had cancer, Mrs. Okuno had cancer. She was... she was in her early eighties, and she called me from here asking me if I could help her out, 'cause she had cancer, and she knew I'd drive. So she says I could take her to the hospital for her treatment and things like that. I said, "Oh, I'll be more than happy," to take care of her. So that's how I came to live with her nine years, and then she passed away.

TI: And how was Denver different than, say, Los Angeles?

TO: Well, I'd been here before that, too, in between.

TI: So you were pretty familiar with Denver.

TO: Yes, uh-huh.

TI: And how do you like Denver?

TO: Love it.

TI: And what is it about Denver that you love?

TO: Oh, people are very friendly, helpful. No discrimination, I never noticed anything like that here.

TI: Good.

TO: You still have that in California, I think, little bit left. What do you think?

TI: I think it's in pockets everywhere. I think when you're in the cities, for me, it feels like there's less. But if you move into the outlying areas, sometimes, I think I see more of it. So like in a place like Denver, I think maybe it's not as much, but then if you maybe just drive an hour outside into the smaller communities, there might...

TO: They wouldn't know.

TI: Perhaps not seen as many. This is, this has been wonderful. I've learned so much.

TO: Oh, have you?

TI: Yeah, your experience is pretty unique. Is there anything else that I haven't asked you that you'd like to share, like a good story that I didn't ask about? Is there anything else?

TO: Well, I spoke a little Japanese, and then being, I had to work as a dietitian at the hospital, I would visit some of these Issei ladies and with a little Japanese, I was able to carry on a conversation. They just loved it. They would always wait for me to make a visit. That was nice, nice feeling, that it made them happy. And I tried to fix a meal that they would like.

TI: And when you talked with these Isseis, how would you describe their lives? It must have been, I think, I wonder how difficult it was for the Issei generation. Because I never spoke Japanese, so I never really could communicate with my Issei grandparents. So I was wondering, what did they think about the United States and their, sort of, reasons for coming, and did they ever talk about that?

TO: Well, they thought America was a land of opportunity, so that I think that's where they... my great grandfather, he has friends in Tokyo in the foreign office, so that's what started in our area. And he sent about twenty families over to the L.A. area, and that started immigration.

TI: Well, Toyo, thank you so much. This has been, I hope it's been okay for you, but this has been really, really a lot of fun for me just chatting with you. So thank you.

TO: You're welcome.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.