Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Lily Kajiwara Interview
Narrator: Lily Kajiwara
Interviewer: Richard Potashin
Location: Portland, Oregon
Date: July 24, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-klily-01-0011

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RP: You had some interesting opportunities to do things that happened in camp. One of them was learning how to dance?

LK: I learned to dance. You know, the dances were important. There was a lot of free time. You know, we didn't have to cook, we didn't have to clean house, because there was one room, so there was lots of free time. So I was nineteen and twenty, and so the big thing was to socialize with your group, and the big thing was to learn to dance. And so every weekend we'd look forward to, every block had their dances. So it was really pleasurable, I loved to dance. We learned many of the steps, and so that was our social life.

RP: Were dances held in the mess halls?

LK: Yeah. We had, somebody would bring in some records and we'd play the songs over and over again.


RP: This is a continuation of an oral history interview with Lily. And Lily, we were just talking about some of the activities that you participated in in camp, and we were talking about the dances that became very important to you. Were there other activities, any sports that you were involved with in camp?

LK: Well, I do remember I went to some... they had some classes, and I went to some, I do remember going to some classes. I think... I think probably the socializing was our most important thing for us. I did make lots of friends because it was easy to make friends, lots of people my same age. And as far as that's concerned, I have friends that I still remember.

RP: You grew up on the farm and you were kind of isolated there.

LK: Yes.

RP: And now suddenly you're in a camp with nine thousand people. Did the world kind of open up for you?

LK: Yes. It was a complete eye-opener for me. Living in Corbett where there's only our small community of Japanese friends, and then all of a sudden you go into a place where there's thousands of similar Japanese my own age. It was a complete eye-opener, and it was nice to be able to have friends of the same background and same interests. And so, yeah, that part was great.

RP: You mentioned that your brothers played sports in camp, and also go?

LK: Yeah. My little brother is a real whiz, and he would, in the mess hall they called it where they ate, they all had go set up, and he would play all the older men. And he was, what, six, seven? He teaches math now, he's a math whiz. My other brothers, they're good baseball players, so they played a lot of baseball. I don't remember playing sports in camp.

RP: And your mother used to go to poetry sessions? You mentioned she was a really great haiku poet.

LK: Yes, my mother is very good.

RP: Vic was telling us that her haikus were published?

LK: Yeah. I don't think during the, when we were in camps she could send it to Japan, but after she, before and after, she sent her poems to Japan, and many were published, hundreds were published.

RP: And so she would have written haiku in Minidoka.

LK: In camp, but we don't know what happened to them.

RP: Do you have any vivid memories of the mess halls and eating?

LK: Yes, I do. I have memories of it, there's long tables, and it's actually a bench, is what it is, no chairs, I mean, it's a bench. And the kitchen's on one end, and you go with your tray and pick up the food and find a place to sit. And my mom always wanted us together, but we never sat with our families. My dad would sit with his men and my mother, well, my mother had to bring food to my sister who couldn't make it, so she would take the food and go to eat in the room, but I would eat with my girlfriends. My brothers would all eat with their friends. So there was no family dinner.

RP: So did you... was the family kind of split up a little bit.

LK: There was no, yeah, each went their own way.

RP: How about one of the most embarrassing and humiliating aspects of living in these camps was the latrines.

LK: That's not a pleasant place. I think at first they didn't have partitions, but I think some enterprising person put up some partitions. So I think we eventually got partitions, but it was wide open. And the showers, I think, were open also. I just know that it was not a pleasant place.

RP: Did you... did you leave the camp and go into Twin Falls for any reason at all?

LK: Uh-huh. We were allowed a pass to go to Twin Falls. This was probably not the first year, but the second and third year, I think we were allowed. So I remember going to Twin Falls. Sometimes people would come from outside and visit, and then we could go out. I remember going to a movie with my cousin that came to visit us. He lived in northern Idaho or something, he came to Minidoka to visit and he wanted to take us to a movie, so we went to Twin Falls to see a movie. But passes were allowed. Not the first year, I don't think, but after a year or so. So I remember going to Twin Falls, yes. Took a bus, and get a pass and go. I remember going shopping a couple of times.

RP: How did that feel?

LK: I think okay. But I never thought about leaving, I mean, we went right back to camp again. My cousin would take off and go back to where he was, and I'd go right back to the camp and never thought of leaving it.

RP: Did you go out on any furloughs to harvest?

LK: I didn't, but my father and my brothers did. But I didn't, because I was working in the schools, too.

RP: So you had your family there and you also had your uncle's family as well, Tom and Tomiko.

LK: Uh-huh. And I had other cousins, too. My cousins from Tacoma were there, too, and I had other relatives there, too. My aunt was there. The whole family was there in the camp.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.