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

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

<Begin Segment 1>

RP: This is an oral history for the Manzanar National Historic Site. This afternoon we're talking with Lily, your last name, how do you pronounce that?

LK: Kajiwara.

RP: Kajiwara. Lily Kajiwara. Our interview is taking place at the Marriott Residence Inn at the Portland airport. The date of our interview is July 24, 2010. The interviewer is Richard Potashin, the videographer is Mark Hatchmann, and we'll be discussing Lily's experience incarcerated in the Portland Assembly Center and then later at Minidoka camp as well. And with particular emphasis on her experiences as a teacher in the camp. Our interview will be archived in the Park's library, and Lily, do I have your permission to go ahead and conduct our interview?

LK: Yes.

RP: Thank you very much. I know this is a little difficult for you, but we'll try to make it as comfortable as possible. First of all, we want to start at the very, very beginning, and that's... can you give us your birthdate and where you were born?

LK: July 26, 1924. So in other words, my birthday will be in a couple of days.

RP: And what was your given name at birth?

LK: It's Ririko Sakurai. The first name is Ririko.

RP: Can you spell that for us?

LK: It's Japanese, it's R-I-R-I-K-O.

RP: And do you know what that means in Japanese?

LK: No, but my grandfather named me. I have no idea what it means. And the last name is Sakurai.

RP: That's from the Japanese word for "cherry"?

LK: Cherry.

RP: I think Dick explained yesterday as a well as a spring of water?

LK: Yeah, sakura, "i" is the well. Sakura is the cherry tree, and the i is the well.

RP: Do you know if you were born at the family farm?

LK: No, I was born in Portland. My parents lived in Portland at the time they were, I was born. We didn't move out to the farm 'til later.

RP: Can you share with us a little bit of your, what you know of your family background?

LK: Yes. My grandfather came to the United States probably in the very late 1890s or early 1900s, because my mother was born in Portland in 1905. Now my father came when he was fifteen, but he came to join his father who was already here. My father was educated in Japan until fifteen, he lived with his grandparents because his mother had died, but his father was already in the United States. He came to join him when he finished school, I think he was fifteen when he came.

RP: And what was his father's name?

LK: My grandfather? I think it was Sakurai Mankichi, I think, I'm not positive.

RP: And what was your father's grandfather doing in the United States?

LK: He was working on the railroads.

RP: Like many Issei.

LK: Yeah.

RP: Hard labor.

LK: I think they worked at Union Pacific, I think, because my grandfather's brother was in Montana and he died while working for the... he was hit by a tree or something, and they had, he died. So they were in Montana working for the railroad.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

RP: Now, you had some early memories about your grandfather having a business.

LK: Yes, that's my maternal grandfather, the Takeuchi part, my mother's maiden name. He had a barber shop at Fourth and Davis in Nihonmachi. And as far as I can remember, he always had that, so when I was a child, we lived in Portland 'til I was about three or four, I think, when they moved out to the country. But we would come in periodically, maybe once a month or so, and my grandfather would give us haircuts and give us money to go to the candy store. And my grandfather and step grandmother had a house on the east side, so we would cross the Steel Bridge, and that used to be really scary because the Steel Bridge has grids, and you could see down below. So I remember that. But also at the barber shop on Fourth and Davis, they had a little apartment in the back where he had a little kitchen and a little bed, because he and his wife, my stepmother, worked many long hours. And so they would go back and eat or take a nap or something when they have no customers. So we would go back in the back room and play in the back room when he was busy. But he had two barber chairs, and the men would come in and get a haircut and a shave, and we got to play around that, too.

RP: Those are special precious moments to have with your grandparents.

LK: I remember my grandfather was a very, he was sort of heavy-set, he was kind of jovial, happy. But the thing I remember most about him was when we lived out on the farm now, when he moved out to Troutdale, he would come on Sundays in a Model T or a Model A, and he's always have something with him. And we'd look forward to having him come out, because he always bought goodies when he came out to see us.

RP: And how long did he have that barber shop?

LK: Well, he went back to Japan, we don't know exactly when, but I think in the middle '30s. Because I think I was about maybe eight, nine, ten years old when he went back to Japan.

RP: And he stayed there the rest of his life?

LK: He stayed there. My mother went back to see him once, to visit him once after we came back from camp. She and her sister and brother went back to visit him. But she would always send him care packages. He loved MJB coffee, and he wanted MJB coffee, I remember that, and she'd always have a care package and the sugar, because he loved his coffee.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

RP: And where did the family live in Portland?

LK: The grandfather?

RP: Your family.

LK: I'm not sure, because like I say, we moved out to Troutdale when I was, before I started school, so I don't know where we lived. But I do know that my dad and mom, at first, my dad worked for the railroad, my mother worked for the newspaper. She would be a typesetter, you know, where they pick up the kanjis to put the word together. But after a few years, I remember my mother telling me that they would go out into the country to work together, and I would have to go with them, of course, and worked out in the farm. And then I think my father's father, the Sakurai, had a farm in Troutdale, which he gave to my dad. Said, "It's about time you settle down," I think that's maybe that's what I said, I don't know. But he said that they had a farm out there that he would give to my dad and mother. That's how they got the farm in Troutdale, part of it. And then my dad bought part of it, too. The initial one was he got some land from his father.

RP: What are your earliest memories about the farm?

LK: Not very much. I don't really remember too much about the farm. I remember the house and the acreage, and I remember going to school some. But my memories of the farm, I don't have too much. We used to play out in, we had a big field in front, and we used to play after the harvest season was over, we would be given the freedom to play out in the farm. We played baseball or kickball or everything out in the field. And I remember working and helping my dad do whatever we can, pick berries. I do also remember that my mother was sickly a lot, so I had to help in the house a lot and I took care of my brothers and sister. I was the oldest. But the memories are not all bad. There were some probably happy times. We got to play as children, but I do remember helping my mom a lot, too.

RP: With the chores?

LK: Yes, yes.

RP: So you picked strawberries?

LK: Yes.

RP: How did those strawberries taste?

LK: Wonderful. Compared to what we have now, the strawberries in those days were a more delicate strawberry, I think. They weren't market quality kind, you know, where they're kind of hard. These were soft and tasty, so yeah, they were good strawberries.

RP: Large or small?

LK: Yeah, small, or large.

RP: So you would, would you put 'em in small boxes?

LK: Yes. We would get them ready for market, but sometimes when we had people come and help us pick. They would go to the cannery, and the difference between a cannery berry and a market berry was the market ones you left the stems on, whereas the cannery ones you'd have to take the stems of, the little stem on the thing, you'd take the stem off it, those were going to the cannery. So a lot of people that we hired, we sent them to the cannery because they were not as easy on the berries, and they would kind of smash them a little bit because they were soft and so they would go to the cannery.

RP: Was there a cannery nearby?

LK: Yes, there was a cannery in Gresham.

RP: So you would hire extra labor.

LK: Uh-huh, to pick berries.

RP: And who would those people be? Were they local people?

LK: Yeah, most of them were local people, I think. My dad always had a, what he called a hired man. We had a little shed-like thing where they would live. Usually had one or two, they were usually maybe Filipinos maybe, or fellow Japanese, elderly -- not elderly, but a single man, and they came to work around the farm because my dad couldn't do it all. And my mother never worked on the farm.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

RP: What do you remember most about your mother?

LK: You mean before the war or after?

RP: Before the war.

LK: Before? I remember, like I say, she was sick a lot. But my mother was a very creative woman. She wrote poetry, haiku, she was very good at it. But the thing I remember was that she was sick. I think the farmland was too much for her maybe, or maybe having too many children, I don't know, but she was sick a lot. In fact, one year, I think it was sixth grade, I didn't go to school for most of the year because I had to help. Because I have a handicapped sister, and I had to help with her, and my mother was ill.

RP: Your mother also had a musical background, too.

LK: Yes, she played the koto, and she also had a shamisen. I don't remember if she really played it. I think her life was more children and work and being ill, I don't remember her playing. Although she wanted to teach me how to play the koto.

RP: And how did you feel about that?

LK: I didn't want to learn to play the koto.

RP: Why?

LK: I'd rather play the piano. I didn't want to have anything to do with the koto. [Laughs] Of course, in hindsight, I think that was a mistake, I should have learned to play the koto. But I didn't want to learn anything that had Japanese connotations.

RP: You wanted to express your Americanism.

LK: Yeah, I wanted to be Americanized, I wanted to play the piano. [Laughs]

RP: What were some of the values that your parents instilled in you or tried to instill in you when you were growing up?

LK: Well, I think maybe that, of course, they always stress education. We always did our homework, more than prepared. My uncle, Tomiko's father, had given us a set of the Book of Knowledge, which was a multi-volume set, and that was our pride and joy. We enjoyed looking at it, we read it from cover to cover almost. Of course, this was before television, and the long winter days, we would read the Book of Knowledge. So we always liked to read, and the county had a bookmobile that came around, and we used to always go to the bookmobile, and we'd always have books to read. So I think we, I think one of the things they stressed was education. Also, I think they stressed family, you know, helping each other was important, especially I'm the oldest, so I always try to help my younger brothers and sisters. So family was important.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

RP: Did you have a community in your area?

LK: There were only a few Japanese in our community. But in the neighboring community of Gresham, there were quite a few. And they had organizations, sometimes we would go, but they had picnics. I remember going to some, not often. And they had a Buddhist temple branch, I think, which sometimes they would show movies there or things, and so we would go to them. But in our neighborhood where we were, there were only about five or six Japanese families. And we were all very friendly with each other and they would get together, but it was a small, really a small community. But there were enough of us that we'd sometimes get together. I remember one of the families, we took trips to the coast together, and one time I remember we went up around Mt. Hood together on the back of a truck, you know, all of us children in the back. So it was sort of a close-knit, small community. But like in the school system, there were one or two Japanese in each class, that's all. I think there was two of us in my class, two Japanese, and the rest were all Caucasian.

RP: So you grew up predominately with Caucasians.

LK: Yeah. Although I don't remember having friends, Caucasian friends, come over to the house, for instance. It was usually just the two or three neighbor Japanese families that we played with, and even at school, I do remember having a couple of Caucasian friends, but nothing like, you know, when they come over, stay overnight or anything like that, we never did socialize to that extent.

RP: Did you have any early experiences with prejudice in your community or in Gresham?

LK: You know, I don't know. Because I don't know... I always felt maybe different in school. I never really felt a part, you know. Because in a small community like Troutdale -- well, it's actually Corbett. Most of them went to a Christian church, and they were all talking about what they had done at church or something, and we didn't belong to them. And so I always did feel, maybe feel a little different, and never felt really like I was part of their group. I don't know if that's prejudice or... I do know that, I knew that I was different. But I don't know if anybody ever called me a bad name or anything, I don't remember, actually.

RP: And speaking of, you mentioned religion, Christian issues, did you belong to a Buddhist temple?

LK: My parents belonged to the Buddhist temple, but I don't remember except once in a while going to the branch in Gresham. I don't remember faithfully going to a church, we never went every Sunday, for instance, no. But we always kind of knew that we were Buddhists.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

RP: And what schools did you attend?

LK: Corbett. Corbett grade school and Corbett high school.

RP: And what were your interests in school?

LK: You know, we were always interested in sports, our family. But in those days, girls, we didn't, there was no girls teams at school, although I do remember playing basketball with the girls. We played old fashioned basketball, half court basketball in those days. I do remember the one year I was elected an officer of one of the classes. So I guess I was socially okay although I don't think I was ever any leader in grade school or high school. But I was a good student, I did study a lot, and I did have good rapport with the teachers, because I did like to study.

RP: Were there, did your parents expect you to go to college, or did you have aspirations to go to college?

LK: Yes. I think they always expected all of us to go to college, and they just kind of expected me to go to college. That last year, though, from about, after 1941 to '42, I don't think my parents talked about my going to college although I kind of expected to. And I did apply for a scholarship, and if I remember correctly, I think I was going to be awarded it or something until I knew I wasn't going to go to college because we were going somewhere else. Because from about February, we knew we were going, not going to be around.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

RP: You're a high school student, did you keep up with what was going on in the world as well...

LK: Yes. We took the Oregonian, we faithfully read the Oregonian every morning. We kept up. But when they asked me about what did I think about December 7th, I don't recall that... they asked me if it was a surprise, I don't remember. I don't remember, I remember my dad saying something about Japan is... because my dad read the newspaper, he read the Japanese newspaper, and he read that. My dad was current, very current. My dad was very into current events, too, so they were talking about it. But it didn't really affect us, I don't think. I never thought about it, what would be happening.

RP: How about the next day or the next week?

LK: You know, I don't recall that anything was that different. Like I say, until the FBI came to our house, and all of a sudden, it just seemed like... and then I was the one that had to read all these things that came in the mail or posters that went around to read that we were not allowed to go out at night, you were not allowed to do this. And then it really hit home that we could not go to a basketball game at night, for instance, because we couldn't leave the house after six or eight or whatever it was. And then the FBI came and ransacked our house, and I thought, well, this is really, something is really happening here.

RP: Were you home at that time when they came?

LK: Yes, I was home.

RP: Do you remember... can you kind of lead us through what happened when they came?

LK: When they came, my dad was out working and they told me to get my dad. So I went to get my dad, and while they were, when I was gone to get my dad, they had gone through the house and threw everything off the shelf, opened the drawers, pulled everything out, threw 'em on the floor. And when they left, it was a shambles. See, we were already told beforehand by posters or something that we were not to have... so my parents, I don't know what they did. They didn't really have very much, but my mother had lots of Japanese things. So they looked through everything, but they didn't take my dad away, so evidently everything was okay. But it was sort of a frightening day.

RP: How many FBI men were there?

LK: I think there were two that came. I think it was two.

RP: So you went to get your father and then you both returned back to the house.

LK: Uh-huh, my mother was home.

RP: Your mother was home. And did they question your dad at all?

LK: Yes, they must have, but I don't remember any of the questions. Because I had to be the interpreter, you know, but I don't remember any of the questions. And I don't remember them taking anything with them, so evidently we didn't have anything that they wanted.

RP: Yeah, that's... your memory of things were happening and it's hard to believe, it seems like the walls were moving in closer and closer.

LK: It became serious.

RP: So when you finally learned that you were being excluded from your community, it wasn't a huge surprise, was it?

LK: Well, you know, I don't know. Because I think to the very end, I don't think we... I think they thought somehow it was going to be resolved. My dad did sell his things because they were told... so he did sell his things and he kind of made up his mind. But to the very end he worked on the farm, had the strawberries ready to be harvested, he worked 'til the very end. He didn't just say give up and, well, just let it be then. So somehow he felt that maybe it was going to be resolved, and he was optimistic that nothing was going to happen. But I don't remember what I felt.

RP: Did you have a thought, did you ever think this would happen to you?

LK: Go to the...

RP: Go to the camp?

LK: I don't remember. I don't remember.

RP: Was he able to harvest his strawberry crop?

LK: No, we left it in prime condition, intact for the neighbors, who volunteered to look after our place for us.

RP: How did you prepare for leaving? Did you sell items?

LK: I think my dad sold the truck, and we had a car, and we sold the car, but the stipulation that they would take us to the point where we were supposed to meet the bus. I think we sold some things in the house. I remember my mom putting everything in the back room that she wanted to keep, and then just left the rest. I don't remember her selling very many things.

RP: What do you remember taking with you?

LK: Well, we were told just to take what we could carry, of course, but I think he put our clothes in it, and might have taken a blanket, but we didn't take anything besides, none of our personal things. We each had a small suitcase, my dad had to go buy these little cardboard suitcases, and we each took a suitcase. But I don't have any of my memorabilia from my childhood because it was all left behind. And when we went back, nothing was there.

RP: And your mother left her koto and shamisen?

LK: Yes, yes. She left all her, I remember she had a drawer full of linens, real linens, and her wedding things that she had gotten, we left everything.

RP: Now, did you have, since you were the oldest child, did you have some responsibilities at this particular time that you had to take care of certain things?

LK: Well, I had to do all the interpreting, and I had to read all the things that we had to read. Because my dad... although he could talk, but he didn't understand legalese. And so yeah, I was responsible. And then there were, I had a handicapped sister, and I also had a little brother and sister so that I had to go help with my handicapped sister because my mother had my little sister who was only two, I think. And so I had a lot of family responsibilities.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

RP: Do you recall the day that you left the farm?

LK: No. No, I vaguely remember riding in the car at some point, but that's about all I remember.

RP: And where did you go?

LK: We went to the Portland Assembly Center, which is in North Portland. It was the livestock exposition building.

RP: Had you ever been there before?

LK: No. Oh, I had. When we were in high school we had a field trip one day, and they had a rodeo. And we had gone to see, the class had gone to see a rodeo, and I remember going there because it was a livestock building.

RP: So what were your first impressions where you saw where you were going to be living?

LK: You know, that's one of the things that I don't remember. I don't remember... it just sort of blank.

RP: Do you remember barbed wire fences or guard towers?

LK: No. Well, I've seen pictures of the buildings, and so I think, yeah, that's the place we went to. But as far as recollection of it.

RP: I've seen photographs of the building. It looked like you were all housed under one large roof in barracks?

LK: Well, it was one large room with partitions. And the partitions were probably six, seven feet, you know. But it was open on the top, so we can hear everybody. And I do remember there was only the one women's bathroom at the end of the building, and a long ways away to the bathroom. And my mom was really worried that my sister and brother, who were, I think, two and four or five, would get lost. Because living in the country where they were free to run wherever they wanted to run to, all of a sudden in this one room with all these little partitions, they would not be able to find their way home again.

RP: Like a maze.

LK: So we all a number, though.

RP: Do you remember your family number?

LK: No. It's somewhere, but I couldn't tell you right now.

RP: Some of the other memories that some folks have is about the stench from the animals that...

LK: It was hot. Every time I see the temperature go up in the hundreds, I always think of that time. And to this day, I think, they hit a record, and to this day, the time we were in there was one of the hottest in Oregon history. I think it was 104 or 105 or something. And I do remember it was hot.

RP: There was no escape for you.

LK: No escape. You could go outside, but then you eventually have to get back in again. You could go out to the yard, but it's still hot outside, too.

RP: I just wanted to back up a little bit because the day that you actually arrived at the Portland Assembly Center was supposed to be the day that you graduated?

LK: That I what?

RP: Supposed to be the day that you graduated.

LK: Oh, from high school. I don't remember. I think that graduation was the furthest from my mind. There was other things.

RP: Do you recall your last few days at school?

LK: No. No, I don't. I don't remember saying goodbye to anybody or picking up my books, I don't remember the last day.

RP: Did you ever receive your diploma in the mail?

LK: Not that I know of. I know I graduated because I went back to college and I had to have my transcripts. And I sent for them, and they went directly to the school, so evidently I did graduate. [Laughs]

RP: Did any of your, did your parents work at the Portland Assembly Center while they were there?

LK: Yes, I think my dad did. I didn't.

RP: Do you recall at all what you did with the time that you were there?

LK: No. I think those are lost days.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

RP: Then you were sent to Minidoka. Do you remember anything about the trip to Minidoka?

LK: No, but it was long. I think all of us were sick, you know. We all have a tendency to get carsick, and the enclosure and the heat and the motion, I probably was carsick. It was a long trip, and we didn't know where we were going, so it was even longer.

RP: And so what do you remember when you first arrived at Minidoka? What struck you the most about...

LK: I do kind of remember finally arriving at, seeing the barracks. And I thought it was bleak, there were no trees, thought, my goodness, where are we? But it was desolate looking. I'm not real sure, but I think I was told that I had to go with my sister, because my sister being handicapped, was sent to another, to the hospital I think to be examined maybe, or evaluated. So I had to go with her. And so my parents and my other brothers and sisters went to check in. But I was separated from them. But eventually we did, I did find them, but the transportation was like army convoy trucks. They had no buses there, that was the bus system of these trucks. And I don't remember how we got there, but eventually I did find my parents. But I thought we were separated for good for a while, but we were not. And my experiences with the hospital are not pleasant, because I had to go with my sister two or three times. And it was not a hospital, it was another barrack, is what it was. And my sister was not happy.

RP: Your sister had...

LK: Cerebral palsy.

RP: So those were, yeah, the early days of Minidoka before the regular hospital.

LK: It was, I think there was maybe a main hospital, but I think it was all volunteer. I think they were volunteer nurses and a few doctors. But it was primitive conditions for them, too.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

RP: So tell us, when did you, the circumstances surrounding your being sort of drafted into the teacher corps.

LK: I don't know how I was chosen, I think I was chosen, because I did not apply or volunteer. But I somehow was told to report to the school system and assigned to a teacher, to help the teacher. And I never intended to be a teacher, and it was not a profession that I was interested in, but when they tell you that you're to report to work there, you do. So I did report to work there, and I was assigned to a classroom.

RP: Do you remember the teacher that you worked with?

LK: No. I kind of vaguely remember her face, but I don't remember her name.

RP: And what were your duties as a, kind of an assistant teacher?

LK: Yes, I was like a teacher's assistant, go around and help people correct their papers, see that they were working on what they were supposed to be doing. But the thing is that the first year, in the middle of the term, the teacher resigned. And so school, they had no way of hiring another person, I guess. So they assigned two of us to take over the class for the rest of the year. And so we did. I don't know which subjects I was assigned, but I do remember one thing is that music was one of the things I was assigned to. And we had no instruments or anything, so I would sing a song to the class and they would imitate me. So I remember one of the songs was "Bonnie Lass from Scotland," and I would sing the song to them and they would try to copy what I was singing. That was music lesson. I had no lesson plans, I didn't know any, what a lesson plan was, I don't think.

RP: You got very little training.

LK: I had absolutely no training. I think the most important thing was to keep order in the class.

RP: Can you share with us what the, what the classrooms looked like, how they were equipped?

LK: Well, there were desks and there were books. I mean, I think they were all donated by maybe some agency, but we had desks and books. And pencils and paper, I think, they were all donated because I don't remember people not having any. And like English, they would have an English book, they'd start from a certain page, and that would be our lesson for the day and I would go around to see that everyone was doing their lesson.

RP: And was it the second year when the Caucasian teacher quit?

LK: I think it was the first year.

RP: Then what happened?

LK: Then I think that the second year I got to help with our teacher. But I remember one of the years, again, they didn't have enough teachers. So again another teacher and I were assigned to a class. So I remember one whole year of a class. And some of the students still remember and tease me a lot, because they say, "Well, she used to be my teacher." And, in fact, four or five of them here in Portland, every time I see them they're teasing me that I was their teacher.

RP: Who was the other teacher that you worked with, the other Japanese American teacher?

LK: That I worked with? Her name was Hannah Ikeda, she was a lady from Seattle. And I do remember two or three of the others, I think we all had to work kind of together. And two or three of them from Seattle, I still remember their names. And when I see the picture I recognize them. I think most of them were probably not, they were probably gone by now. The one girl in Portland, Nobi Ochiai, she's passed away, but she worked in the school except I never worked with her, but I worked with the three from Seattle.

RP: How much were you paid?

LK: I was paid a professional salary. It was nineteen dollars for a professional, and sixteen dollars for a laborer. But we were considered professionals, so I got paid nineteen dollars. A month. [Laughs]

RP: Not an hour. Did you have contact with some of the camp staff, the other Caucasian teachers at all?

LK: Yes, uh-huh.

RP: How was the relationship between the Caucasians and...

LK: I think all the teachers were nice people and they really were there to help. And I remember the principal, Mr. Kleindoff, I remember him. And he was very supportive, and they did try to help us as best they could. So I have good memories of the staff that worked there. It was not a big staff, but they were all helpful.

RP: And now, there were two elementary schools at Minidoka. Which one did you work at?

LK: I worked at Stafford, which was in the Portland-Seattle end. Minidoka was, most of the people from Seattle/Tacoma were in one, it was shaped like a, kind of like this way, and most of the Seattle people were this way. Portland people were on this end. I think they filled it up first. The Seattle people were there first, and then as they brought people in they filled in, and so we were kind of on one end. And I was with the Portland-Seattle people. And that was the school next to where the Seattle people lived.

RP: How far was it from your barrack?

LK: Where I lived? See, I lived in 42 and the school was in 34, I think. It was only about six, seven barracks. Not barracks, sections. So I don't know if I rode the convoy to school there to work or walked, but it was walking distance.

RP: You talked about some of the administrators like the principal. Did you socialize with any of the WRA staff at all?

LK: No.

RP: You weren't invited to any functions?

LK: No. I don't remember. I don't remember ever going to a picnic or a lunch or anything, no. They might have, but I don't remember.

RP: And how were the kids that you worked with?

LK: Well, I always say, I learned a very important lesson in teaching, is that you decide early on which students will be the most helpful to you to maintain discipline. So I learned to associate myself, I mean, I made special effort to the most rowdy boys in the class, and made friends with them. And so I think we had a reasonable class. It was not chaos in the class, because these boys -- and I can remember some of their names, too -- but they felt maybe protective of me or sorry for me. But anyhow, they became more friends. Not friends in the sense that I socialized with them or anything, but I kind of picked them out, and so they became very protective of me. And so when the class became really rowdy or something, they would stand up and say, "No, this is not the time to be doing this." So I think that kept my sanity, because the children, they were uprooted from their homes. Their parents were, had a hard time keeping the family together, the children were out playing together all the time. So they became, I think, not as disciplined as they should be. They were more free, in other words, to run around. And so when they came to school, they had a hard time settling down. But I think, I don't remember having a lot of discipline problems in my class.

RP: How many kids would you have in the class?

LK: I think there were maybe about thirty, around thirty.

RP: Were there other challenges that this experience presented to you that you had to deal with?

LK: Yes, yes. I'm sure there were challenges. Because in the end, I decided I did not want to be a teacher. So evidently there were challenges, and it was not a pleasant time for me.

RP: You said you thought you taught fourth grade and sixth grade?

LK: Kindergarten. Those three classes I either taught or helped.

RP: What was the most rewarding and most difficult?

LK: It's all kind of one big...

RP: Mass?

LK: I can't say that the little ones are easier than the older ones. I can't say.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

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.

<Begin Segment 12>

RP: So when did you leave Minidoka?

LK: You know, what year did the war end? Is it '45? It was September of '45 then. I went with my uncle, which is Tomiko's father and mother, to New York City. Instead of going... my father and mother and the rest of the family came back to Oregon, but I wanted to go to New York City, so I went with them. And they, we went by train.

RP: And why New York City?

LK: Because that's where my uncle had a job, working in a grocery store, I think, or managing a grocery store. So he was going there, so I decided to go with them.

RP: How'd your parents feel about that?

LK: I didn't think that they objected. I think they felt that I could do what I was probably, I was twenty-one, maybe.

RP: What was New York like for you?

LK: I don't recall too much, but I do remember that I... some connection, maybe the church or something, somebody sponsored us. And they found me a place to live with a Jewish family. He was a dentist, had a little boy, I think he was three or four, and I was sort of his nanny. And I took him to the playground and took him, and when they went out at night I stayed in because I got room and board. But I also got to go out to work part time.

RP: Where was that?

LK: It was some little factory where we put things together. And so I worked part time at this little factory. Then in the afternoon I'd go back to my, take care of the little boy, and I used to sleep at night over there, because the doctor, dentist and his wife had a busy social life. They would go out a lot, and so they needed a babysitter at night, so that was my job there. But I got room and board.

RP: Did you get a chance to do any socializing as well?

LK: Yes. My aunt, who also went with us, not Tomiko but another aunt, Reiko, she's not married. So on weekends we would go into the, New York City, we made all the shows, we stood in line to watch all these, Frank Sinatra or whatever. We would go to all these shows, and so we had a great time. So we have a lot of pictures of going to the theater. And I did meet some other people when I was in New York at that time, but I only stayed about maybe a year in New York, then I came back to Oregon. My mother said it was time I got some education, so she told me that if I came back, they would send me to business school. So I came back and went to Becky Walker, which is a business school, and learned secretarial skills, typing, shorthand and things. Then I got a job as a secretary.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

RP: Tell us about... the rest of the family returned to Troutdale. And what type of response did they receive when they got there?

LK: My parents owned a home in Troutdale, home, and took more than twenty acres of land. But when my dad went back to see about the house and the land, one of the neighbors came out and told him that he didn't want to have them come back. So when my dad and my brother discussed it, and they decided that, well... and my brothers really didn't want to be farmers, they were all into academic life, so they wouldn't have been able to help my dad. But anyhow, because of this man saying they didn't want him back, and the condition of the house and he had nothing, so he decided to sell it. So they sold it to all the neighbors and then settled in Portland instead, and my dad became a gardener and worked in Portland, then my brothers went on to college.

RP: Did your family receive any support or assistance from any organizations?

LK: Yes, I do think the Methodist church was very helpful. I think at one time they even housed some people that came back, you know, the best they could. But I remember they helped, and the bank, First National Bank, Mr. McNaughton, was very helpful with my dad, helped him buy a truck, and just generally was a wonderful help to the Japanese community. So the two, I think those two things, I think, helped. Because when he came back, they had nothing. I don't know if they had any money, they had no car or place to live. So the church, I think, the Methodist church, I think, was really helpful to the Japanese community, and I think my dad and mom got help from them.

RP: And what was resettling back into the community like for you?

LK: Well, settling back into the community was, I never went back to my original community. We lived in Vanport, which is the housing project. And so it's not resettling, it's starting over, is what it is. So it was different from a farm to Minidoka to a housing project, it's all different, very different. And soon as I came back, I started business school, and when I finished business school, I got a job. So it was a complete city life. It was a hundred percent different from farm life. But I had the camp in between where I met a lot of Japanese people, so it was not a hundred percent different. But city life was so much different than country life.

RP: And you got married along the way?

LK: Yes, I got married and had a child. I was working for Hulman, which was a transport company. And then I started back to school, college, and when my daughter was born, instead of going back to work, I decided to go back to school. And my husband was a hundred percent okay with that.

RP: And did your husband also have a camp experience, too?

LK: No. My husband was born and raised in Colorado. They didn't go to camp, but he was in the service. He was drafted, and he served in Italy with the 442nd, but he was a replacement person, he was not in the original group, he was younger than that. But he was in Italy and served with the 442nd, the Japanese infantry group.

RP: He came out of the war unscathed as far as...

LK: Excuse me?

RP: He came out of the war unscathed?

LK: Yeah, he didn't see any action. Because he was there after the main action was all over.

RP: Can you share the story about... that you basically worked to put all your brothers and sisters through college.

LK: Yes. It was always important to my folks, family, that the boys go to college. And so I worked very hard to help my brothers Dick and George, the next two in line, go to college. And I lived at home and worked really hard, tried to save as much money as we can. My brother Dick went to Reed College, which was expensive, my brother George became a doctor and he went to medical school. And so I feel that it's important that they have a profession, and my mother and dad felt the same way, and I went right along with it.

RP: That was one of the values that you shared early on in the interview that all the family members help each other out.

LK: Uh-huh, that's true.

RP: Then your younger brother helped you out.

LK: My younger brother, when he finished school, he said, "It's your turn." So he paid my tuition and my books, and so I went back to school and graduated in 1975. And I was in my late '40s.

RP: And you graduated in what major?

LK: I got a degree in anthropology, because I wanted a degree with multiple disciplines. So I took classes in almost everything I could think of, from music to art to mathematics, psychology, and ended up with a degree in anthropology.

RP: You also were involved, you took some library science classes?

LK: Yes, I took library science classes because I was always interested in libraries. But Oregon doesn't have a graduate library program, but they do have, for elementary teachers they have library classes. So I took classes at Portland State in library, so yes.

RP: And you were fortunate enough to sit by a woman on a bus that changed your life.

LK: Yes. It was in the early part of my last year in school. I happened to be writing the bus and I sat next to a lady and she noticed I was carrying some books, so she said -- and I was in my late '40s. She said, "Are you a student at Portland State?" And I said yes. I said, "Well, I'm about to graduate this spring." And she said, "Well, what are you going to do when you graduate?" and I said, "I might like to work in a library." And it so happened that she was a librarian at Portland State. Asked me if I wanted to work at Portland State Library, and I said, "Of course." She told me to go take a test with the state, which I did, and got on the list. She happened to have an opening, and so when I went to interview with her, I got the job. So I worked in her... she was head of acquisitions, so I worked in acquisitions for a year and a half, then I transferred to the science library and got the opportunity to work with the public, and worked in the reference, and also was head of the student employees, so I trained students to work in the library. I thoroughly enjoyed my job there.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

RP: In the early '80s and later on into the '90s, there was a movement to obtain redress and reparations for Japanese Americans who had been incarcerated during World War II. First of all, were you involved in that process?

LK: No. I was never a member of the JACL, and so I read about it and I knew about it, but I was never actively involved in it. But I did know about it because I was teased many times at work, because several people knew about it and they said, "Well, you're going to get twenty thousand dollars." And when I got my twenty thousand dollars, I had to show it to them that, yes, I did get twenty thousand dollars. But I was teased about it unmercifully. But I'm sorry to say I was not involved in any of the background of that, but I was a recipient.

RP: How did you feel about the official apology?

LK: Well, I think it was great. I'm only sorry that my mother didn't get twenty thousand, and my mother was the one that I think had the most, the hardest time. She had to... well, she did have a hard time, because her family just kind of disintegrated. And then she had these two little ones with her, and then she had my handicapped sister with her. It was not an easy time for my mother. Now my dad, on the other hand, was very resilient. He took everything in stride. He never said a word that this was wrong or anything, there's this saying shikata ga nai, you know, he said, well, this is the way it is and he accepts it. He lost everything, his farm, all he'd worked for, and he changed occupations when he was midstream in life, started over again, he was very successful as a gardener, he won many awards as a gardener. So he just made a completely different life for himself and he lived to be ninety-seven. So I hand it to my dad, he did, he was very intelligent. He knew when things happened that there's nothing he could do about it and just go on with your life, which is good. He never felt angry about the war.

RP: How about yourself? How did you feel later?

LK: It changed my life, it really changed my life. I would have had a completely different life if it had not been for the war. Of all things, I think if I had, if it had not happened, I think I would still be on a farm, I would not have had the experiences that I had. I might have gone to college maybe, but I don't know, maybe not. I would have gotten married early in life and had children and been living on the farm. But I do know these experiences that I had after being sent to Minidoka and going to New York completely changed my life. I wouldn't say a hundred percent better, but it changed my life.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

RP: Have you attended any reunions or pilgrimages?

LK: No. I was not interested in it at all until a few years ago, of going to any... I just completely had blocked out all of my memories of that. And until, like I say, I made that little presentation at the Corbett Historical Society, I never even talked about it. I don't think... my family never talked about it.

RP: And you never talked to your kids about it either?

LK: No, I don't think my daughter is interested in it.

RP: So tell us a little bit about what brought you out of your shell. You said you had this presentation or this program, there was a gentleman who kind of moved you in that direction.

LK: Yes, uh-huh, Mr. Misheran. I had known him not that many years, but he called me and asked me to make a presentation to the Corbett Historical Society. I had never been back to Corbett since we left, and I thought, well, maybe it's a good time for me to show the people of Corbett that I am still alive, that I had never gone to any reunions, high school reunions, grade school reunions, but I thought, well, that I have had a different life than what I had there, and so I thought I would tell them my story of where I had been, what I had done. And so I thought, well, okay. So I went to the historical society and made a presentation, and that was not so bad. So gradually I decided, I worked at the legacy center as a docent, and then I started working there in the library, and it kind of brought me out and I think that that was a turning point, that I made that presentation. And I did see a couple of people at the historical society that was at Corbett High School. And since then I have gone to a class reunion.

RP: And when would that have been?

LK: And that was three years ago, and maybe there was about fifteen of us, we had a class of about thirty, so about half the people. Well, they were not all classmates, there were wives or husbands, a couple of children. But I have gone to a reunion. So I think I've kind of made peace with the town of Corbett. [Laughs]

RP: What advice or insights would you share with young people? If you were going to share anything about your experiences during the wartime and after with people, younger generations, ten, twenty, thirty years from now, what would you tell them?

LK: Well, mostly young people today, a majority of them don't care. They don't want to hear what I have to say, really. But the ones that, are some that care, some that are really interested. So I would say that... I'm a Nisei, what the Niseis went through was important because the way we conducted ourselves, the way we accepted what the government told us to do, and the way we became model citizens, they say, is important because I think it led to how they are accepted. And I think the Japanese people are accepted as people who are hardworking, educated, good citizens, and I think it's because of the way we treated the situation. So I think it's important that they know some of what we went through. Of course, now I have a niece who always tells me, she says, "Auntie, just get on with it. Okay, just get on with it." But I think we have left them a history of how we acted and how we handled the situation, which I think is... even if I say it myself, I think it's to be commended that we handled ourselves well, I think.

RP: Do you think it could happen again in America for any group?

LK: Probably not to the extent that it happened to us, because I don't think anyone would go into a camp for a three years.

RP: Willingly?

LK: Willingly, because I think nowadays people would just not do that, and there would be enough opposition or resistance that I don't think it could happen in that sense. Although there is always going to be some kind of discrimination, you know, that's the way it is, I think. But we went and stayed there for three years, and I can't see a young person now willingly staying there for three years.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

RP: One more question going back to Minidoka, Lily. Do you remember a gentleman, he was, I think Sergeant Ben Kuroki? He was a very special individual, he had never gone to camp before, he was raised in Nebraska. He had these special experiences in a B-24 crew, and he was brought in to Heart Mountain and Minidoka, I think, as kind of an effort to recruit young Niseis into the military service, and there was some controversy about his visits to the camp. Do you remember seeing them or hearing about that?

LK: I do not. I do know that, I've read that he came into Minidoka. I don't remember... I didn't go to see him. I don't remember my brothers who were, they were not military age, but they were young men, I don't think they went to see him. I don't remember anybody talking about it, but I know who you mean, because I've read about it. But I have no idea, I didn't go to see him. Although a lot of military people came to camp. Camp Savage where the young men were training to be interpreters, many of them got their furloughs, they would come to visit their families. Or a lot of the soldiers from Hawaii who were stationed at Camp Savage would come to Minidoka to visit. And so we would see military people in camp, in fact, they used to come to the dances. But I have no recollection of meeting or hearing about Ben Kuroki in camp.

RP: The other question relates the "loyalty questionnaire" which was, in some of the camps, very divisive in dividing families and the whole camp. And so you were about nineteen or twenty when you went to Minidoka, so you had to answer that questionnaire.

LK: We had no discussion in our family about it, we just, automatically just, father, mother, everyone just said "yes." It didn't seem to be a problem in our family.

RP: Do you remember it being a problem for other families?

LK: I do remember that they had meetings in the mess halls. People came around, but my dad never came and said, "Let's talk about it," or anything. It was not discussed in our family that I remember. And it was not... even my brothers, I don't know if they even thought about it. We just answered "yes," I think. [Laughs]

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

RP: Finally, early on in the interview you were talking about some of the experiences you had, not necessarily prejudice, but feeling that you were different, you were kind of not a part of. Was there a time later on in your life where you actually felt a part of the culture, mainstream?

LK: You mean the Japanese culture or the Caucasian culture?

RP: I guess both.

LK: Both? Well, in camp, there was no problem, because we were all the same. But when I came out and started working, there was a lot of discrimination. But as the years went on, when I first came out, for instance, I went into a Carl's shoe store and they told me that they wouldn't sell me any shoes. So we know that Carl's shoe store, they didn't... I walked in with my girlfriend and immediately the clerk says, "We don't sell to." So I know that happened. But also I had to go on and as years went on, things became a little easier. Now, when I worked at Portland State, for instance, no one, they would talk about Asian people, and once in a while I would say, "Hey, wait a minute. I'm Asian." They said, "Oh, we never thought about you as being Asian," you know. So I became part of the group. I was the only Asian there, of course. So it became, I became more mainstream eventually. Although periodically there's a little feeling that you are different, but with my immediate friends at Portland State, for instance, I was just part of them. They never thought of me as anything but one of them.

RP: But earlier you were mentioning how you didn't want to play the koto because it was Japanese and you didn't want to, you wanted to run from anything that was Japanese. Was there a time in your life where you were open to embracing your culture?

LK: Yes, yes. Recently, I like everything Japanese. I'm studying the Japanese language with Tomiko, and I like Japanese movies, and I'm proud to be of Japanese ancestry. But when I was talking about not wanting to play the koto was when I was still, it was before the war, and I didn't want to be associated with playing the koto, that I would rather play the piano.

RP: Did you ever get to play the piano?

LK: I did learn. I did learn, after we came back and we bought an upright piano, and we have a piano now. And I did learn, not well, but I did learn a little bit. I can't play it like a lot of people can, but I can play a few notes.

RP: Lily, is there any other stories or reminisces that you'd like to share that we haven't touched on that you think are important?

LK: No, I think you have covered about all. Thank you very much for talking to me.

RP: Thank you for talking to us.

LK: I appreciate it.

RP: On behalf of Mark and myself and the National Park Service, we really appreciate your time.

LK: Thank you. Thank you, I appreciate your coming, too.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.