Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Kaz Yamamoto
Narrator: Kaz Yamamoto
Interviewer: Richard Potashin
Location: Santa Monica, California
Date: January 20, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-ykaz-01-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

RP: This an oral history for the Manzanar National Historic Site. And this morning we're talking with Kaz Yamamoto. Kaz lives at 2405 22nd Street in Santa Monica, California. The date of our interview is January 20, 2011. Videographer is Kirk Peterson, our interviewer is Richard Potashin. And we'll be talking with Kaz about his experiences at the Manzanar War Relocation Center as well as his life growing up here in Santa Monica.

KY: Uh-huh.

RP: And coming back here after some time in Chicago. Our interview will be archived in the Park's library. And Kaz, do I have permission to go ahead and record our interview?

KY: What was that?

RP: Do I have permission from you to go ahead and record our interview?

KY: Yeah, sure.

RP: Okay. Thank you very much for spending some time with us and sharing your personal stories with us.

KY: Uh-huh.

RP: I'd like to start first off in asking you to give us your birth date and where you were born.

KY: I was born March 18, 1924. And I was born in Sanger, California, which is Fresno, Fresno County. That's where I was born. That's where most of my family, my brothers and my last, my youngest sister's the only one that was born in Santa Monica. Rest of us were born in Sanger, California, which is in Fresno County.

RP: And can you give us your given name at birth?

KY: It's the same as it is now, Kazuyuki.

RP: And spell that for us?

KY: K-A-Z-U-Y-U-K-I.

RP: Okay. Did you ever have an English name?

KY: No.

RP: Uh-huh. And tell us a little bit about your parents, Kaz. Maybe you can mention their names and where they came from in Japan?

KY: My father and mother were born in Wakayama-ken, Japan. And my father came to America very early, you know, as compared to a lot of the other Japanese parents. He came real early. I don't know exactly how early it was. But, he came alone and he worked in, for a company that was tied up in what would that be? In... well, I was gonna say, the railroads, but that's pretty close. And they would go from one county or state to another. But he lived up north more, you know, towards Montana. But he worked for the railroad company and I don't know whether the work was agricultural or what, but a lot of the Japanese men worked for a company like that. Well, my father and his friend got tired of that, going, living in these cold place like Montana. So they said, "Hey, let's quit this place and let's hitchhike back to Southern California." They used to go different places and when they got closer to Southern California, that's when they quit and hitchhiked, you know. And they hitchhiked to Fresno, California, where they knew there were some Japanese people and they worked on the farms then. Because they were more used to doing agricultural work, you know. So that's what they did. They, my father and his friend, they hitchhiked to Fresno and found work. And then after a while, after years of working in the farm, they said, "Let's go back to Japan and find a wife." And so the, both of 'em, went back to Japan to find a wife and that's how he married my mother. And they went back to Fresno and they worked, but they got tired of that weather up there too. You know, it's, it becomes very hot, I guess. And the weather had a lot to do with their moving from Fresno to Santa Monica. And that's what they did, you know. I always say Santa Monica is paradise compared to these other places. It's never too hot in the summertime and never snows here. So this was the ideal place to live. And so my father came here and then he, his friends told him, "Why don't you become a gardener?" So he decided to become a gardener. And that's what he did until the war.

RP: What was his name?

KY: Denjiro.

RP: D-E-N-J-I-R-O?

KY: ... J-I-R-O, Denjiro.

RP: Okay. And did he marry your mother in Japan and then bring her back?

KY: Uh-huh, yeah, yeah. I guess he must have told her a lot of fancy stories about... and she probably thought he was, he was rich because he had a coat and he had a vest and he had a watch, you know. And to the outside person he looked like he was pretty wealthy, you know. But that was the only a ruse. He wasn't that rich or anything like that. He didn't tell her what a hard work he was doing on, out on the farm. So he kind of fooled her and believing what he was doing. And so she married him and they moved to Fresno. From Japan they went to Fresno. And she soon tired of that kind of work and my father too so... and he had a car at that time. It's hard to believe that he had a car that early but he must have made enough money to buy a car. And so he decided to come to Southern California. And so he had a friend in Lomita? Lomita, California. So he drove to Lomita, California, and probably did some farming there, you know, strawberry farming, whatever they, he did. But he soon tired of that and he had friends in Santa Monica. So they moved again to Santa Monica from there. And we've been here ever since. He found, he found a route for gardening and that's what he did.

RP: Your mother's name?

KY: Koto. K-O-T-O. It's actually O-K-O-T-O, Okoto. Yeah.

RP: Do you know the meaning of your name?

KY: Huh?

RP: In Japanese?

KY: My name?

RP: Yeah.

KY: It's actually "luck." First... Kazuo is number one, meaning the firstborn. And Uki is luck, it means luck.

RP: You, do you feel like you've had that in your life?

KY: I think I have. I was lucky to marry my wife. [Laughs]

<End Segment 1> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.