Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Madelon Arai Yamamoto Interview
Narrator: Madelon Arai Yamamoto
Interviewer: Richard Potashin
Location: Independence, California
Date: May 6, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-ymadelon-01-0010

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MY: But many afternoons, he would spend just working around the fish pond. In the winter months, sometimes it would get so cold that it would just ice over, but yet the fish seemed to survive. Maybe there was enough algae under there to keep them going.

RP: Besides the carp, were there other fish that --

MY: Perch and minnows. And he said the minnows were there to eat the larvae or whatever, but there were minnows galore in there.

RP: Now, did you ever eat any of the fish from the pond?

MY: No, no, no. My father said it wouldn't taste good. [Laughs] I don't think carp are good for fish, and the perch, they weren't too big. They're only about so big.

RP: It was mostly just for the pleasure, enjoyment of watching.

MY: Yes, and then we trained the carp to come up to us to eat, 'cause whenever we'd throw one fish, earthworm down there, they would just come up to us, just like the regular carp do. Yeah, that was fun to do.

RP: Eat right out of your hand?

MY: No, not that much. We'd just throw 'em in. If you would throw one in and then one carp found it, then six or seven other carp would come to get their food.

RP: Do you remember how large these carp got?

MY: Some were as big as, long as nine to twelve inches. They got pretty big. Yeah. Well, they had no enemies there. [Laughs] Anything there in the pond was theirs. And they loved to rub their backs against the side of the concrete wall. Then we had an island in the center for the little tunnel, and they would swim through it all the time. We could see them do that. And they wouldn't come too much to the shallow end. They would like the deeper water. I mean, 'cause the shallow end where he had his hammock, it was only about six to eight inches deep. The minnows would come up to there, but they would go, the carp would go just to the deeper end. It's a wonderful life for children because, I mentioned to someone that we never had to worry about any youngster falling in. They all respected that it was a pond, it was a place of beauty to see and watch, and not a play place, and not a single person fell in. Except a young adult. When it froze over he thought that the ice could support him and he said, "I'm gonna walk across it." And I looked at him, I said, "It's not gonna support you." I said, "It's not frozen all the way through." [Laughs] 'Cause in the center it was only about half an inch. He says, "Oh, I can make it." Plunk. He went down, and no one helped him out. He had to get himself out because he was old enough to know better.

RP: So how deep at the deepest point?

MY: I think four feet. Yeah, three and a half, four feet. Well, my father just didn't want to make it too deep 'cause he was conscious of the safety factor too for children, but as I said, many children came by to see it, many adults, and never had any problems with anyone. There was never anyone trying to fish there to get the carp. [Laughs] It was a place of beauty.

RP: Right. And so it really was sort of a magnet for folks from the block there.

MY: And I think it sort of cooled down, just our own little area, with that area of water there. And right next to it was a huge crabapple tree, and I'm sorry to hear that it's not there, 'cause my father had a hammock there and he would, he had it up very high. None of us could get up to it, but he could get into it and he would rest there every day, when the weather, weather permitting.

RP: Now, you weren't very far from Merritt Park, which was the large kind of community park garden at Manzanar.

MY: It was like, we're four, only about six barracks away.

RP: Six barracks away, and what do you recall about Merritt Park? Did you go there and play?

MY: Yes. In a way, it was a little bit formal. It wasn't a place where they had, like, a sandbox or anything, but we could go there and sit. They had beautiful benches right next to the flowers. And in the springtime it was especially beautiful, but I don't remember too many, quote, special festivals or anything being held there. But it was a place where people would go to enjoy themselves.

RP: Did you walk across those bridges?

MY: Yes, yes. I walked on every single one. [Laughs] Whether I was supposed to or not, I know I went across all the bridges there. And it was just, it was so different from the rest of the camp. The rest of the camp was just flat, all sandy, and here was a green oasis.

RP: Little bit of hills and elevation.

MY: Yeah.

RP: In your, in Block 33, were there any other gardens or ponds that...

MY: Not that I'm aware of.

RP: Just your dad's.

MY: I went through the whole place, and it, we were the last ones to arrive because 33, 34, 35, 36, and that was the last. Because they started occupying from Block 1 all the way through. I know, maybe blocks one and two were the administrative barracks.

RP: What happened to the fish when you left the camp?

MY: I don't know. My father left in July or August of 1945, and he knew that the war was almost over and he knew that he had to establish himself or find a job in the Los Angeles area. And his brother had left ahead of time, the one that was interned first, and my uncle had enough financial resources that he didn't have to sell his home. He was able to find a neighbor that he trusted to live in the home, and he was able to maintain payments, whatever. But he was very fortunate to have such wonderful friends on the outside. And so my aunt and uncle came out and left camp before I came out, so they went back to East Third Street and opened up their home, and then my father went and stayed with them and advertised for gardening jobs, and that how he started his second career.

RP: So he became a gardener.

MY: And then the whole family couldn't come out because they could not house everyone. They could take my father but not four little ones and my mother. [Laughs] And so that's what happened, and so when, after my father left we still fed the fish, and then I left in August and then my mother came out in November because that's when they closed Manzanar, I believe. And I don't know what she did with the carp. All I know is that she said she left it filled with water, and I don't know if she gave the carp to anybody, but then I'm trying to be logical. Who would take the carp unless they had a pond? You know, in Lone Pine or Independence, I don't know. But so that was, I think she just left it as is.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.