Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: George Yoshinaga Interview
Narrator: George Yoshinaga
Interviewer: Alisa Lynch
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
Date: August 10, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-ygeorge_5-01-0018

<Begin Segment 18>

AL: So when you heard that the war was over, where were you?

GY: I was on a ship.

AL: Do you remember the name of the ship?

GY: The name of the ship? The Pacific something, there was a Pacific in there and there were four other Niseis with me, and when they altered our ship we landed in Yokohama. That was an experience too, we were standing on the deck and the Japanese workers off the ship, they would look up and they'd see us and they didn't know what to think. They see four Japanese faces on a U.S. vessel.

AL: What was it like seeing Japan for the first time?

GY: Well, not really having studied about Japan it was kind of like a new experience visiting on a vacation 'cause the war is over and there was nothing to do really. The first couple of months we just lived in our tents and it was that time of the year, autumn, it was raining. And then since the war ended those people that were working on the supply ships, they got into the black market business and they started giving, selling it to the Japanese. So a lot of times we still had to eat what they call K rations and C rations 'cause we didn't have any supplies to cook meals.

AL: And what were you... once you got the working over there, what were you doing?

GY: I was, because of my horrible Japanese, I just was doing what the other CIC agents were doing, nothing to do with language.

AL: So what would that be, like what was a typical day like?

GY: Well, we were mostly we were rounding up people suspected of being war criminals, that after the war, take them to trial. So one of our jobs was seeking them out and arresting them.

AL: What was that like?

GY: Well, in some sense it was humorous, in others it was kind of very disappointing to me. Because even though I was, as I say, American Japanese, I had different attitude towards the prisoners that were captured.

AL: In what way?

GY: Well, like they would look at us and wonder... 'cause a lot of Japanese in Japan weren't aware of such a thing as Japanese Americans, you know, so they were more curious about what's this guy? He's supposed to be Japanese? And that's why I was going one time when I thought about writing a book, the most common phrase I used to hear in Japanese was, "Anata Nihonjin desu ka," which is you know, "Are you really Japanese?"

AL: Right. And what would you say?

GY: I have a lot of notes if I was younger I'd probably write because no one ever really wrote about the Japanese Americans and the occupation of Japan. And everywhere I went people that never understood or knew about the Japanese Americans they were really astounded that there were Japanese Americans.

AL: Maybe you could put it in your column if you're not going to write a book, I mean, I don't know, people might not want to subscribe if you're not talking about Vegas and your bad jokes. But I think it would be really important to get that you know, to get that story out.

GY: Yeah, you'd be surprised, when I talk about that now to some people they laugh, they don't believe me. Like I remember this one family that when they found out I was Japanese they would invite me to their home and almost daily they'd come over and say come over and have Japanese meals. And then later on I found out they had a daughter, they wanted me to marry her so she could go to America. I found that out and I laughed. [Laughs]

AL: How did you communicate with your poor Japanese?

GY: Well, most of the people that wanted to communicate with me were interested in English. So with my lousy Japanese and their not too bad English we were able to.

AL: How would you describe the condition of Japan immediately after the war in the places you saw?

GY: That's another thing no one ever touches on, it was horrible. Like in Tokyo we'd go in the subway station there's bodies around 'cause people weren't getting food. And I remember I used to go to the PX and buy candy bars and pass it out to the kids. And those are the kind of things I thought should be written about you know. We talk about occupation but no one ever talks about that phase of the occupation.

AL: Who do you think is... like when you were there and encountering the people in Japan and you look at, obviously you're American, American people, you're there seeing the Japanese people, and yet for three and a half, right, three and a half years we're fighting each other trying to kill each other. What were your feelings about, or what are your feelings about the war and who do you hold responsible in, I mean, maybe not individuals but just when you look at World War II knowing Japanese people, knowing American people.

GY: The thing that... it's probably been advertised but the most common talk when I was in service especially when I joined the Counterintelligence Corps was that Franklin Roosevelt needed an excuse for America to get into war 'cause even though the war was going on in Europe, we weren't involved. So the most prominent talk during that era was that he almost forced Japan to do what they did. Because I have a newspaper, I don't know, I could show you but one week before Pearl Harbor was bombed in the Star-Bulletin the headline was something to do with Japan threatening to attack America. And so I kept that paper, it's at home. And if newspapers are going to write a story like that it couldn't have been a total surprise. And then when I because being in the military I said, "How could we ignore a whole Japanese fleet headed toward Hawaii, you know, and call it a surprise attack?" And I think that if that was touched on more, the anti-Japanese hostility towards Japanese Americans wouldn't have been that bad, you know. That it wasn't really a sneak attack.

AL: It's interesting actually that you say that because a lot of the people who politically may not agree with some of the things that you write or say, I think share that viewpoint that it wasn't such a surprise.

GY: Yeah, having been in the CIC convinced me more that how can... I just can't picture that. A whole armada of Japanese carriers loaded with fighter planes headed toward America, even though we don't have the technology today about tracking down things like this, we certainly should have known that.

AL: What had you heard about Japanese soldiers and Japanese military before the war?

GY: Well that they'd rather cut their stomach and die for their country. That's why I thought that even though they're a small country, they would be a formidable opponent if we ever went to war with them.

AL: Did you have, when you were in Japan, did you have anybody asking you... you said the people were curious about you being Japanese American, did you have anybody who looked at you sort of as a traitor for being part of the occupation?

GY: Well, this may sound kind of amusing to you but lot of people, because I was a little larger than the average at that time, today there's Niseis, Sansei kids are all six foot but I used to pass a lot for non-Japanese. Even the American GIs, they used to think I was Eskimo or Indian, American Indian. In fact, the first time I was assigned to a unit they used to call me Blanket Ass, that's the name they gave to the American Indians. [Laughs] And so I used to get a chuckle out of that, but then they started to realize I was Japanese and the fact that I didn't speak Japanese compounded that about me not being Japanese, being of some other ethnic group.

AL: So it's kind of interesting because the Americans put you in camp because they don't think you're American and then the Japanese don't think you're Japanese. So where does that leave you?

GY: [Laughs]

AL: The Eskimos aren't claiming you.

GY: When I took the job in Japan in '62, boy, it was an adventure, the Japanese company that I worked at. I had so much humorous incidents that I could write a book about it.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright &copy; 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.