Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Toshiko Aiboshi Interview
Narrator: Toshiko Aiboshi
Interviewer: Richard Potashin
Location: Culver City, California
Date: January 20, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-atoshiko-01-0004

<Begin Segment 4>

RP: Did most of the Seinan community end up in Santa Anita?

TA: Yes. So that was a community that stayed intact.

RP: Even, even when you left Santa Anita and went to --

TA: And when we left, we, kind of en masse, moved, were moved to Amache, Colorado. And then in Amache, where we went by train, I think we just sat upright the whole time. And then when we, I think we had gone through Arizona some time, and there was supposed to be a big city or something, so they pulled all the shades down. They did not want us to look out. We had no idea where we were, and I don't know whether it was for our protection or for the protection of the other people, because certainly we were not violent people. We would not have shot at them or anything of that sort. And so we finally got to Colorado, and then I think we were trucked in or something, over to the camp area. And we were very fortunate in a way, that our community block that we were assigned to were from the Seinan area, for the most part. There were a few who were non Seinan people, but for the most part they were, and so at least we already knew some of the people and there was a kind of a community feeling about our block. We were one of the nice, nicer blocks in that respect, because I know that some people were moved to areas where they knew no one.

RP: Made a big difference.

TA: Yes.

RP: Tosh, before we go on, I wanted to just step back a little to talking about Santa Anita. When you talked earlier with me you mentioned that you were aware of the camouflage net factory at Santa Anita?

TA: The which?

RP: The camouflage net factory.

TA: Oh yes, because when we had the grandstand we were assigned to sit on the right side because all the left side was taken up by the nets. And people had to wear these things over their noses because that burlap was just frayed, and they were making all the camouflage nets. And I remember thinking it was incongruous that we who are "enemies" had to make camouflage nets for the U.S. Army, or whatever they were going to be. But I think, I don't know if they were paid or if they were ordered to do this, but it kept some people occupied. But we were thirteen, so in some ways we had no responsibility. We had to, just went to school. And at that point I didn't really know a whole lot of people. Being an only child and reading most of the time, I didn't know a whole lot of people, so I went to visit the Yoshimunes.

RP: The other thing you shared with me is that you felt, because you had grown up mostly with Caucasian folks, that you felt much more comfortable with Caucasians and suddenly you're put into Santa Anita and nothing but Japanese faces all the way.

TA: Yes, it was quite different. And it, I didn't notice it so much in Santa Anita, but I did notice it when we went to Amache because that was a totally different thing, because in the Santa Anita situation it was mostly people from our area and most of them children, if, those that we knew spoke English to one another. And I can remember playing jacks with people before the war and things like that, and we never spoke Japanese to one another. We always spoke English. And so when we went to Amache that was quite different in terms of school, but after we got there, as I say, we were very fortunate in that we were intact as a community. And so I was in block 8-K and assigned to 11-A with my mother, so there was the two of us. And right across the street, the little pathway, the next barrack on 12-A were the Yoshimunes, so it was like family being together. So that part was nice.

RP: Did you have any initial impressions about Amache when you first arrived there, just the look of it?

TA: It was so desolate. I had never, ever been in a country situation, and there was nothing but dirt. No, it just, I said, "Where are we?" If you're in Los Angeles, even in those days it was a city, and so I'd never, ever gone to the country. The only time we ever went to anyplace it was to the beach, and so we were not used to a rural community and we said, "Where are we? They have stuck us into, I don't know." [Laughs] And, "Are we going to stay here forever? Is this, how long is this going to last?" We had no idea. We had no idea whether we were gonna food, we had no idea where we're gonna sleep. It was, and if you, at least we got our suitcases. And I can't remember how we got delivered to the, to our area. It was bleak at the, at best. And so when we went to the barrack there was nothing in there except a stove, and we said, "What is that?" We had never, ever seen a stove like that. And I says, "How does it work?" And nobody knew. [Laughs] And they said, "Oh, you'll be getting charcoal." And we said, "What's charcoal?" [Laughs] To make fire, and we had no idea. It was, and I can't remember how they assigned us beds or whatever, so there were the two of us, my mother and me.

RP: Did you have another couple or family in the same room as you?

TA: No.

RP: Just you and your mom.

TA: Because it was, the two end rooms were for two people, and the middle rooms were for larger families, so they said, depending on the size of your family unit, you were assigned to that.


RP: So you eventually recovered from the shock of, of this --

TA: Yes. Then they said there were twelve barracks, six on each side, with the mess hall -- we never heard the term mess hall before. [Laughs] Apparently that was a military term for where you ate. And then there was the restroom area with the laundry, and the restrooms had no walls between the toilets and neither did the showers, and I'd never taken a shower before in my life because I'd always taken a bath. And all they had were showers, and that was really very embarrassing, to have to take a bath, or take a shower with other people looking. And so everybody tried not to look at each other, but it was very un-private, where we were very private as a culture, and I think anybody would feel uncomfortable in that circumstance. But then we had lined up for food and somehow, I don't remember how they managed to cook the food to begin with, but I'd never lined up for food before. And then, but I can remember one meal, and they had squid, and this, there was this one squid on this plate, and I said, "What in the world is that?" [Laughs] And some people said, "Oh, that's squid." And I said, "What is that?" But I must say that they always had, I think there was always apple butter on the table, so you could always eat, I don't know whether it was bread and apple butter, but I have never, ever eaten apple butter after the war. [Laughs] It just was not, it reminded me of camp. We had no idea what apple butter was to begin with.

RP: You're not alone. There's a lot of folks who never will touch that.

TA: I'm sure everybody says that.

RP: Just about everybody says, "I'll never touch it."

TA: But we were fortunate in that the head cook of our block was a very excellent cook, and he, so other people tried to come to our block to eat. But the sad thing for him was that he had four sons and I think three of them had volunteered to be in the army, and during that time they all died. And we knew who they were because they had the stars in the windows. And so the fourth one wanted to go to the army as well, volunteer, and they said, "No, you're the only son left." And he said, "No, I must go because I want to prove my patriotism." And it turned out that all four of them died, and that was very sad. So, but anyway, they started a school of sorts at the, after a while, and it was at one block and everybody walked. I don't, I guess we must've just managed to wear what we had all the time and use the laundry facilities, where we were used to having a washing machine, and had to wash all these clothes by hand, and that was not, that was totally alien to us, especially to do sheets and things like that. But with the scrap lumber the men put up clothes lines, and so they were able to do that. They also made beds. They made cupboards. And so I think the, Mr. Yoshimune had made it for us, my mother and me, because neither of us had any carpentry skills or anything of that sort.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.