Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Robert Katsuto Fujioka Interview
Narrator: Robert Katsuto Fujioka
Interviewer: Kristen Luetkemeier
Location: Santa Ana, California
Date: June 20, 2012
Densho ID: denshovh-frobert-01

<Begin Segment 1>

KL: This is Kristen Luetkemeier of Manzanar National Historic Site. I'm here at Video Resources Studio in Santa Ana, California, interviewing Robert Fujioka. It's June 20, 2012, and we'll be talking today about Robert's childhood in Los Angeles before World War II, his time in Manzanar, his relocation to the Midwest, his time in the army, and then his career and family life after the war, and whatever else comes up. And with us are Ashley Nottingham, she's the videographer, and some of the staff members of Video Resources are also in the room, and Mary Fujioka is also here with us, Robert's wife. So before we start, do I have your permission to conduct the interview and to make it public in Manzanar's library?

RF: Yes, you do.

KL: Okay. Well, thank you very much. I also have some of the writing that you've done about your life, and so I'm going to be looking at that to ask questions. And you talked some about your parents and your grandparents, so I wonder if you can tell us about your parents and your grandparents.

RF: My father was from Fukuoka which is on the island of Kyushu, and he came as a teenager to the United States in 1906. He landed in San Francisco just at the time of the great earthquake. He didn't tell us very much about his experiences then, but I know that he did quite a variety of things, to the point where he even learned to master the art of cooking. Although he did not have that as a career until after relocation. And he and Mom relocated to the east, and they were domestics. My father did the cooking, and my mother did the housekeeping chores. And surprisingly, my dad was a real good cook of gourmet foods, not necessarily Japanese. In fact, I don't think he even liked Japanese food, from what I recall.

KL: Maybe he took cooking to learn other styles. [Laughs] He studied cooking in San Francisco?

RF: No, I think he learned it as a, when he was working as a domestic, and when he first came over, because those were the only kind of jobs they could get, things like farming and trucking, and just ordinary labor work. But my life with him was as a, well, he was a gardener living in West Los Angeles. My mother on the other hand, her father, my grandfather, her father came to the United States by himself, left his wife and my mother, who was, I think, about twelve or thirteen at the time, in Japan. And my mother's sister, who was about one or two years old, (when he) left for the United States. (When) he was in Japan, he was, from what I heard, a, what do you call it, a troubadour, went town to town performing different plays and things like that.

KL: He was part of a troop, a group of actors?

RF: I don't know whether he was part of a troop or not. All I know is that that was what his occupation was.

KL: What was his name?

RF: What was his name now? My mother's maiden name is Itagaki. And I think his first name was Yoshiro. And anyway, he came to the United States by himself, trying to establish himself here. And spent fifteen years before he went back to Japan to collect his family and bring them back to the United States. So by then my mother was in her, I believe it was in her early twenties. That doesn't make... the numbers don't make up. Something like that. They brought the family over here, and then my mother and father were married here in the United States.

KL: Did your grandfather continue to be an actor in the United States?

RF: No. He and Grandma had a dry cleaning business on South San Pedro Street and near Washington Boulevard. And I have a lot of childhood memories going down to see Grandma and Grandpa every Sunday, driving from Sawtelle to their establishment on San Pedro Street, which was about a couple miles south of Little Tokyo. In fact, I was born in a house on Eighteenth Street, which is just around the corner from the dry cleaning store. I used to always go there because it was an interesting experience coming from sort of a countryside village to the middle of downtown. And so it was an interesting experience just being there.

KL: Was it exciting?

RF: Yeah, getting to see lots of cars and people.

KL: Did your grandfather work in, with dry cleaning and clothes and stuff before his family came to the U.S., do you think?

RF: That I don't know. In fact, after the war, he set up a dry cleaning store in Boyle Heights. And then my uncle, who was the (second child) of the family, he set up a dry cleaning store in Boyle Heights as well. So that's our family, their careers was in dry cleaning. My grandfather, it turns out, had quite a famous uncle. Was it uncle or great uncle? I'm not sure.

KL: Your great uncle.

RF: Great uncle, okay. And his name was Itagaki Taisuke. And he's very well-known in the history of democracy coming into Japan, he's known as a freedom fighter. And we didn't really discover that until probably the last ten years.

KL: How did you learn that?

RF: One of my cousins had heard about that and started to explore it on the internet. It turns out that he's famous enough to have had statues in several locations. In fact, my son and his girlfriend just recently came back from a two and a half week trip to explore his family roots as well as to visit the statues. One was in the island of... one is in Kochi on the island of Shikoku, the second one is a statue in Gifu, and the third statue is in Nikko just outside the front gates of the Nikko... what was the emperor that was the palace there? Do you remember the name of the samurai? Tokugawa. It's the Tokugawa shrine in Nikko. And he also was on several monetary notes, I think it's the hundred yen note, fifty yen note. And apparently they study about him quite often in school, because anytime I mention it to someone, I relay that, their eyes perk up, and, "Well..."

KL: "Let me tell you." [Laughs]

RF: Because they all studied him, they probably know more about him than I do.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2012 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

KL: I was interested, too, to read that your dad's family had traditionally been Buddhist priests or caretakers of the temple. I wonder if you could talk about what that meant for him to leave that.

RF: Well, I don't know an awful lot about that except, well, one or two visits. But in Kyushu, he grew up in the city of, it was a village called Setaka, Setaka-machi. And the family was the village Buddhist priest. And so his, being he was the eldest son, had two sisters, and, of course, he was the next in line to become the next Buddhist priest, which he didn't want to have happen. So that's why he, one of the motivations of going to the United States, because he didn't want to be a priest.

KL: Did he keep up Buddhist traditions or practices?

RF: Well, we're an avid Buddhist family. So if, did attend, but he wasn't a priest. And, in fact, his sister, eldest sister, married, and the husband had to agree to take the Fujioka name so that they could carry on the priest tradition. And so their son became the next village priest. And when I first went to Japan, oh, gosh, when was that? In the '60s, I guess it was, early '60s, we went down there to meet them. It was really a remote area, it was a very small village. It was not too friendly. And I wasn't quite sure why until I learned later that, the story, and I was the one that should have been the priest. [Laughs]

KL: Yeah, I wondered if your aunt minded that she had to find a partner who would agree to that.

RF: Yeah. Anyway, that's the interesting part of the history, but that's all I know about that.

KL: So did all of your father's siblings remain in Japan?

RF: Well, he has two sisters, and they were both there.

KL: Do you know what took him to the United States?

RF: My father? Well, I think he was that type of person. He was very independent, very westernized in his thinking, although that was his first experience out of Japan at the time. But he was young and adventurous and wanted to get out and do more for himself. But it was... not having an education, he had to do mostly laboring type of work.

KL: Okay. And tell me his name. I guess we should get people's names on the recording, too.

RF: His first name was Ryusho, that's R-Y-U-S-H-O, and my mother's first name was Sumako.

KL: Okay. How did the two of them meet each other?

RF: That I don't know. I don't know the history of how they met, but they were both in Little Tokyo at the time.

KL: Okay. So it was somewhere there. And then they moved together out of Little Tokyo?

RF: My recollection is, I have a brother and sister, both older than me. And when I was a little toddler is when we moved from Los Angeles, and I'm not sure where we lived there, to Sawtelle. And I know we lived in a little house on Idaho Street, and the only thing I could remember is that I was told I was a rascal, and they had to fish me out of a fish pond and those kind of stories.

KL: [Laughs] What are your siblings' names?

RF: Pardon?

KL: What are your brother and sister's names?

RF: My brother's name was William and my sister's name was Mary. They all have Japanese middle names. His was Takashi, and my sister's name, middle name is Shizue. And my dad was an avid tennis player, and when he was in San Francisco, played a lot of tennis. And some of the famous local tennis players were where our names came from William for some famous tennis player in San Francisco by that name, and Mary was also a famous tennis player, and Robert. So that's where our names came from.

KL: And so you're the baby.

RF: Yeah.

KL: Yeah. [Laughs]

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2012 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

KL: Tell me about, you talk about your earliest childhood recollections being around age three or so. Tell me about the memories.

RF: Well, I don't remember much from our Idaho home, but I know that when I was about three years old, we moved down to Federal Avenue, little house on the 2100 block, 2120 was the address, I don't remember that clearly. In fact, when Mary and I got married in 1955, our first apartment was right across the street.

KL: Oh, how funny.

RF: So you always come back to your roots, I guess. But we had a lot of fun in those days. We had two great neighbors, the one neighbor next to us was a family called Law, and had two boys. And the eldest one was Bill and the youngest, his name was Gerner. And Gerner and I were about the same age, so we were playmates. Then the next house down was a family called Sutton, and he was a disabled World War I veteran. And so he didn't work, but they had two boys, the eldest was Jim and the youngest was Ted, my age. So my playmates for quite a few years, until we went to grammar school, was Gerner and Ted. And we played every time we could get together, playing in the street, and right next to us was a cornfield, we'd play hide and seek in the cornfields and had a great time pulling out cornstalk and smoking it. [Laughs]

KL: Yeah, I wondered if you would say that part out loud. My mom remembers her uncles doing that a lot. How did that go, the smoking of the corn silk?

RF: Well, I ended up being a smoker, but not because of that. It was from the army, which is where everybody learns how to smoke.

KL: Where were those two families from? Were they longtime Los Angeles, or what was their background?

RF: Well, they were there before we were, so I'm not sure where they originally came from. But Mrs. Sutton was a cook at Lark Ellen Home for Boys, which was just down the street on Olympic, couple blocks east on Olympic, which at that time was called... I believe it was called Tennessee, and it was a two-lane dirt road with high bank walls, no sidewalks. And it's, our home was on a big lot, and she was a cook there, and that has since been torn down and is now high rise buildings. It's right across the street from a Japanese community center and Japanese school.

KL: Were their families Japanese American, too?

RF: Pardon?

KL: Were your friends' families Japanese American, the Suttons and the Laws?

RF: No, no, they were Caucasian.

KL: Caucasian?

RF: Just down to earth, I'd call them Midwest type families, very down to earth. The Laws were a little more sophisticated. I remember Mrs. Law used to always wear these spectacles, hangs down on her neck like a teacher, and she was very prim and proper. They had a sheet metal business in Sawtelle. This was during the Depression, so business wasn't so good, so ultimately they left. They moved to Salinas, and I think it was to set up another sheet metal business. So that was when we departed with Gerner, but in the meantime, that was probably under five or six years... must have been a little older, in the fifth or sixth grade. So he was about ten or eleven. And the Suttons still stayed a little longer. When I was, let's see, starting junior high school, we moved to Santa Monica Boulevard, over towards Armacost, which was near Bundy. And the Suttons moved to Norco, and amazing stories they tell me. They moved to Norco, there was nothing in Norco at that time, there was no house, nothing. They just pitched a tent, and I'm not sure where they went. They just pitched a tent and started to develop whatever they could for farming. They had a cow, I remember visiting, had a cow, so we had milk from the cow, fresh milk. And it was a long time before they had a house.

KL: Did you visit when they were living in the tent?

RF: Yes, yes. Very hard life.

KL: But it sounds like a strong friendship between your families even, that you would go visit.

RF: Every birthday from that time on, I'd get a card from Ted Sutton, even today. And so that would be eighty-some odd years without fail, he would send me a birthday card. Gerner's deceased; he died quite young. He did quite well for himself as an attorney in Washington, but he died of, about middle age. But it's just amazing, the friendship you develop. Ted Sutton always remembers.

KL: Did the older brothers let you guys play with them?

RF: No, the older boys, they played with themselves and didn't want to have anything to do with us squirts. So we had our own play and they had their play. And every time we wanted to join them, they'd push us aside like older boys do. [Laughs]

KL: I read, too, that some of your neighbors were, remember that you took the Los Angeles Times at your house.

RF: Jim Sutton always reminds us. After we came back to West L.A. after the war and all, I'm not sure how we got together with the Suttons, but we did, and we had yearly reunions for a while.

KL: The whole neighborhood or just your families?

RF: No, no, just the Suttons and Bill Law and myself, Mary, and my brother, I guess, was there, too. He came in from Chicago for a couple years, and joined us on a couple reunions. And we'd talk about old times. And with aging and physical disabilities, the Suttons couldn't join us anymore, and Ted's wife passed away. He lives in Ontario. His wife passed away, and so physically we haven't been able to get together too much. But he'll still write me a birthday card. Amazing.

KL: Did other people not take the newspaper, or did they take a different one?

RF: Oh, well, Jim Sutton always reminds me that we were the only ones who took the L.A. Times.

KL: Uh-huh. Did they take a newspaper?

RF: Pardon?

KL: Did they take a different newspaper, or nobody else...

RF: No, nobody... this is Depression days, and people really couldn't afford to, luxuries like newspapers. Except my dad was not very disciplined, so he wanted the latest things. So he always had the L.A. Times, which shows his, in a way, his level of western sophistication. And we, Jim also reminds us that we had the only bike in the neighborhood. I'm not sure how he remembers that.

KL: You had one for your siblings?

RF: Yes. It was really my brother's bike.

KL: It sounds like he liked it, maybe, that's why he remembers.

RF: Yeah. [Laughs]

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2012 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

KL: Tell me more about the neighborhood. You talked about playing in the street.

RF: Well, lot of our play was around just our houses, and play on the streets, hot summer days. There wasn't much traffic, vehicles, so we'd lie in the street, pick at the tar that joins the cement streets. And lie there and have a lot of fun, and play in the cornfields. Behind Ted's house he had a willow tree. He had a shed, too, and it was a good place for a play area. And the willow tree had a treehouse, and we'd play in the treehouse and had a great time.

KL: Were the cornfields right there in your neighborhood behind the houses?

RF: In the empty lot. Because the next door house was an empty lot, and across the street there was an empty lot. And I'm not sure who the corn belonged to, I don't remember who planted it, who tended it. It was a great place to play hide and seek, crawling in and around that.

KL: A little spooky when it's not a lot of light. [Laughs]

RF: And behind our house we had a chicken coop, which a lot of houses had, grew little chickens in those days. And had pigeons as well in the coop. Of course, my job was to clean the chicken coop. And the chickens were my pets. Had names for each one, and every Sunday, I'd lose one of my pets.

KL: Did you get used to it?

RF: Well, never did. That's why I'm not much of a chicken fan right now, because I got kind of squeamish about all that, especially the way they had to kill the chicken and wring their neck and chop the head off and with the carcass flop all over.

KL: Yeah. I can see how as a kid that would be kind of...

RF: Dunk the carcass in hot boiling water so you can pull the feathers out, and the odor that comes from that is just terrible. [Laughs] Then, of course, chicken dinner.

KL: Have you kept chickens as an adult ever?

RF: Pardon?

KL: Did you have chickens later in life ever?

RF: Yes, I do, and I still do, but I'm not a fan of chicken. I don't go out of my way to have chicken. So I'm not a Kentucky Colonel fan.

KL: Yeah. Well, California, you're probably pretty safe. I wanted to talk about your dad's eventual work as a gardener, too. How did he start in that field, do you think?

RF: I don't recall how, but everyone in West L.A. was practically either farming or gardening, mostly gardeners, because it was a city area. There were farms around the area. I imagine that's probably why we moved to Sawtelle, so he could pursue that as a living. And, of course my brother being old enough, he'd go on weekends to help, Saturdays. And when I was old enough, I started to help on Saturdays also. And it was kind of awkward because my recollection is that his customers were in Westwood and Beverly Hills, Holmby Hills. Of course, a lot of my schoolmates when I went to Emerson junior high school in Westwood, there was no junior high school at that time in Sawtelle. A lot of the classmates in Westwood at Emerson Junior High School lived in Westwood, Holmby Hills, very wealthy areas, and they were my classmates who I would also see on Saturdays while I was helping with that gardening. So it was a little awkward. And the same thing continued in University High School, because that's sort of the whole area as well. So a lot of students came, the Japanese and Latinos came from Sawtelle, very wealthy Caucasians from Westwood Holmby Hills, Brentwood. So it was quite a mixture of a variety of economic and racial classes.

KL: Did you speak to each other if you would see each other on weekends at your work and stuff?

RF: It was a very friendly basis, on the surface anyway. It was kind of an interesting lifestyle because I had a lot of playmates from those areas.

KL: You don't seem very social. [Laughs]

RF: Well... me?

KL: Yeah, I'm teasing you.

RF: Well, I had a lot of playmates who were from those areas during school periods. And, of course, you go back to Sawtelle, and after school and on weekends, your playmates were all Japanese. So it was kind a mixture of myself swinging from one group of friends to another group of friends. But I guess I inherited a lot of my dad's... what do you call it, tricks of doing things differently. So I learned how to dance, and I remember dancing with a lot of Caucasian girls from the other side of the tracks, having a lot of fun. In fact, I was invited to a dance in Westwood by the same group of Caucasian friends, and I was the only Japanese from the other side of the tracks going to the dance.

KL: Was it in one of their houses?

RF: No, it was a dance studio. Because in... people that were wealthy enough to go dance classes and things like that. I learned it from two of my brother's lady friends, girlfriends, who taught me how to dance at the Buddhist church. [Laughs] Simple dancing like the foxtrot.

KL: Did your brother mind? By that point you were older, you could play with, you could learn to dance from his girlfriend, it was okay?

RF: Well, no, I wasn't playing with these girls, I was just, they were dancing, so I asked them to teach me.

KL: So you learned at the temple.

RF: Yeah. And we're still dancing, right? I dance five days a week now.

KL: Oh, that's great. What kind of dancing do you do? Do you do salsa?

RF: Ballroom dancing and swing dancing. I primarily go just because of my health. I'm diabetic, doing a lot of exercise is one of the best ways, I love to dance.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2012 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

KL: Do you think your dad liked gardening or did he choose it because it was available?

RF: I think it was, for him, a necessity. He loved to sing Japanese classical songs, so he spent a lot of evenings at that really enjoying himself.

KL: Did he just sing at your home?

RF: No, he would perform at... I know he went to Los Angeles for that. The group that did... let's see, it's called nagauta, kind of singing which is a classical type of singing.

KL: How do you spell that?

RF: Nagauta, N-A-G-A-U-T-A. Uta means song, and not sure how to interpret, but it was a classical type of singing where the music comes from down here. And he loved that. He spent a lot of the evening hours doing that, to the point where it was late hours, so we were probably the last ones going out on his route to the nurseries picking up flowers for his gardening route. So for him it was not a love of flowers and gardening from what I recall.

KL: His singing group would perform in Los Angeles, you said?

RF: What?

KL: His singing group, the nagauta, would perform in Los Angeles?

RF: Yeah.

KL: Do you have any idea where, at what restaurants?

RF: No, I don't. They typically sing at picnics and performance, other occasions. I only heard him singing at picnics.

KL: What was his relationship with you like?

RF: Well, he was a very stern father. And I think I had a lot of his traits, so we didn't really mix too well. [Laughs] I guess I was pretty independent. And being the third son, third child, that was probably a lot of it perhaps, I'm not sure.

KL: Your older siblings would probably say so, yeah, they made it easier for you.

RF: Yeah, right, they did. They were under his thumb a lot more than I was.

KL: Did your mom have a job outside your home?

RF: She had to do some housekeeping. She'd go to people's homes to clean house, she'd take in laundry as well. In fact, in one of the pictures I showed you, a family called Hirano, one boy was one of my best friends, his mother and my mother used to get together on weekends, take in iron and launder things for customers. But mostly sheets and things like that.

KL: Were they sharing equipment or they liked the fellowship?

RF: Mrs. Hirano had the equipment to do all that. Had these, what they call mangles, which are roller type things, and you put big sheets of cloth through to iron them. So my mom worked very hard. That was before the evacuation. After the war, or after they relocated, she was doing work as a housekeeper. And my father, as I said earlier, was a cook. Then when they returned to California, my father was retired, and my mother continued to work in the garment district sewing, doing garment sewing.

KL: What was her personality like?

RF: Well, she was always smiling, a very happy personality. But she suffered an awful lot, because my father was not a very disciplined person, so she had to be the one to reign in the horns and watch the money and that sort of thing. So it was a very difficult life for her. She had to work very hard to make ends meet. She lived to be a hundred, though. I'd say reasonably well until about the last three years, yeah, very docile last three years.

KL: She saw a lot.

RF: Still, ninety-seven's pretty good.

KL: Yeah, yeah.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2012 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

KL: Tell us more about your schools.

RF: My what?

KL: Your schools that you went to, the Emerson junior high school...

RF: Well, as I said, went to Sawtelle grammar school, which is now called Nora Sterry. In fact, I don't even know, is Nora Sterry still open?

KL: Oh, I've read that it was a retirement home, I think, for a little while.

RF: It is?

KL: I think.

RF: So no longer a grade school?

KL: Maybe, I'll have to check. But I've seen somebody else talk about that in one of their interviews.

RF: But that's where I attended school, grammar school. And Nora Sterry was the principal at that time, she was a large woman, and would always chase us boys out of the bathroom, because that's where we were playing and monkeying around. [Laughs]

KL: Did you shoot things at the ceiling?

RF: We did all kinds of bad things.

KL: But she was pretty... she knew how to handle?

RF: Yeah, yeah. But I think very nice at the same time.

KL: Had she been principal there for a long time?

RF: As far as I... as long as I can remember. One of my classmates there, interestingly enough, he lived in Sawtelle, he was a Caucasian guy that lived in Sawtelle. His name was Mel Patton, he turned out to be an Olympic sprint champion. So that was quite a famous guy that came out of Sawtelle.

KL: Yeah. It sounds like sports were pretty big in your childhood.

RF: Well, yes. My brother loved sports and I loved sports. He excelled at it, I was kind of mediocre.

KL: He played baseball, right?

RF: He was a city all-star baseball player.

KL: What do you remember about that circuit and those games? Were they popular?

RF: Well, he was an avid baseball player, very... he was very disciplined at trying to develop his skills. And I had to be his pigeon. [Laughs]

KL: What is your difference in age?

RF: Four years. So in high school, while he was in high school, I was in junior high school. But he pitched our fence in the backyard, I had to pitch to him.

KL: And then get out of the way. [Laughs]

RF: And get out of the way. That ball used to come back so fast. [Laughs] And ultimately I became a reasonably good fielder, but a terrible hitter, and he became a good all-around baseball player to the point of being selected as a city all-star player. That was his love.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2012 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

KL: Did he play teams from Terminal Island, did I read?

RF: Yes. In fact, Pearl Harbor Day he drove and I went with him to play in an all-star game in Terminal Island. Terminal Island, of course, was all Japanese, and they had a stellar baseball team there. So a lot of the center of baseball in Japanese circles played down there. But there was an all-star game that day, and he played in it. And I'm not sure whether it was on the way or on the way back when the news of Pearl Harbor broke. It must have been on the way, because... no, I'm not sure. I can't remember. Anyway, that was a very memorable day for me.

KL: Did you hear it in a...

RF: On the radio, car radio.

KL: In a car radio? What was your reaction?

RF: Well, it was shock. I didn't know much about what was going on with world affairs, and I thought, "Wow, this is huge." Of course, after that, it was blackout time, and had blackout curtains in all the houses.

KL: Do you think that your parents or friends of theirs were following events in Japan, or do you think they were too busy working and raising kids?

RF: I don't think... first of all, we didn't have a shortwave radio, so I don't think they were following it too closely, where I think some families had shortwave radios to follow things more from Japan. But we didn't, and I'm not sure if my dad was that closely aware of what was going on.

KL: When you and your brother got home, what was your family's response?

RF: Well, it was kind of a shock, so we didn't know what to say or what to do, except the word first came out pretty quickly that we should keep blackout curtains and not stray out around at nighttime. And so for a teenager at the time, it was more of an adventure, so you know, that's going on, and heard about these planes coming over, went out in the street, we didn't stay in the house. So that's about all I remember about those days.

KL: Was there, I've heard some people say that their principal or teachers in their school would make statements in some cases to treat Japanese American students well. Do you remember anything from your school administrators?

RF: I never heard anything.

KL: Nobody talked about it, it was just...

RF: No. Nobody said anything derogatory or anything to me at that time, so I don't know. I was pretty active at University High School. At that time, the year before that, I was elected to be a cheerleader.

KL: I was surprised to read that that was an election. You didn't have tryouts, it was chosen?

RF: Well, I don't know why, but I did it. That's my independent streak. And some of my friends said, "Go ahead and do it, dare you to do it," sort of thing. So I said, okay, I'm going to do it. So you get up on stage and you perform in front of the whole student body, leading a cheer and trying to be a hotshot to let them know that you're going to be a good cheerleader. So I went up there and did my thing, what do you know, I was elected, the student body elected the cheerleaders. Typically the cheerleaders were usually always Caucasian, and they were gymnasts because they have to do a lot of somersaults and that sort of... and I don't do any of that. So I was kind of an anomaly. Two other guys who were cheerleaders were Caucasians from Westwood, wealthy, white, athletic, gymnastic, and here I was a Japanese son of a gardener, no athletic, gymnastic skills, cheering people on.

KL: Did you write your own cheer?

RF: Hmm?

KL: Did you write your own cheer for the tryout?

RF: Well, you spell out the high school University: "University, yay!" [Laughs]

KL: That got a good response, huh?

RF: I was running all over the place. But it led to other things, because I was also elected, or selected to be a member of the Squires group, which was a boys service group. And then I was elected to be secretary to the boys student body, so knowing that we were going to be relocated, evacuated, I had to formally resign. I wrote the resignation letter and it was read in front of the student body.

KL: Who read it?

RF: I can't remember.

KL: Somebody... not you, though.

RF: Yeah, not me.

KL: You were still there at the school?

RF: Yeah, sitting the audience.

KL: What was that like?

RF: Well, it was kind of sad. But I couldn't do anything about it. I felt I should formally resign instead of just abruptly leaving.

KL: What was the other students' response to your resignation and your leaving?

RF: I don't recall anyone being very vocal about it. Not many people talked about it to me, about the whole evacuation situation. I think some of my friends I know were pretty disappointed and sad about it happening.

KL: Caucasian friends?

RF: Yeah, Caucasian friends. One especially, a fellow by the name of Glenn Holtby, who was a very close friend of mine, lived in Westwood. An excellent track athlete, in fact, we played together from junior high school, Emerson junior high school. I know he was pretty sad about it, he wrote a letter to me in camp, and his mother sent some things to me as well, which was very nice of them. That's about all I remember.

KL: Did you write back to his letter? Did you write for a while?

RF: I'm not a very good letter writer.

KL: You weren't there very long.

RF: But I think I did, I'm not sure. I don't remember.

Off camera: Ed Lindhop.

RF: Pardon? Oh, Ed Lindhop, that's right. Ed Lindhopwas a classmate, and he was very verbal and vocal about the evacuation. I don't recall much that he, what he did until after camp, after... at reunions as well as his statements in the alumni newsletter. In fact, he also came to Manzanar several times. Several times? One time. Who'd he come with?

Off camera: Don Lindsey?

RF: Don Lindsey? That's right, yeah. Don Lindsey. Don Lindsey was also a classmate.

KL: They just drove up and came to visit?

RF: I'm not sure how that happened. So Don Lindsey and Ed Lindhop. In fact, both were teachers at Uni High after that. Their careers were teachers at Uni High.

KL: Did you have them? [Addressing someone off camera.]

Off camera: I had Mr. Lindsey. The principal was against the Japanese Americans.

RF: That was Principal Wadsworth.

Off camera: Yes, at the time.

KL: He thought the Japanese Americans should be removed?

RF: Yeah. In fact, to this day, University High School still has not honored those that would have graduated at University High School. So I guess... the school has, the city sponsored a program to honor graduates of high schools, 'cause I've never attended anything. I wasn't invited to any.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2012 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

KL: I was interested, I looked at their website last, or a couple days ago because both of you had those connections, and their website in the introductory paragraph talks about what a multicultural school they are and what a source of strength that is, and I thought that was kind of interesting several decades later.

RF: Yeah, it was very multi-ethnic as well as economic.

KL: Even in the '40s.

RF: Yeah. You had people like famous movie stars graduating from Uni. I'm not sure they attended school, but they graduated. Like Gail Russell, there was a Benny Bartlett, Marilyn Monroe was a classmate at Emerson junior high school before she became famous. Who else? Quite a few.

KL: Did you learn any Spanish when you were growing up?

RF: Oh, yes. Mr. Jiminez was my Spanish teacher, and in fact, to this day, I still speak Spanish better than I can Japanese. In fact, we got along famously in Spain when I went to Spain because I was able to use my Spanish. But in Japan, when I tried to use my Japanese, all kinds of strange things happened.

KL: So you studied Spanish in high school?

RF: Oh, yeah.

KL: Did you speak it with friends?

RF: I believe I did. I've forgotten a lot of it, but I know enough to get around like in places like Mexico or Spain.

KL: What other... I wanted to ask you too about from before you went to Manzanar, both sports and your involvement with the Buddhist temple. Did you have any sports memories of your own that stood out besides cheerleading?

RF: Well, no, I don't, because I wasn't that good at sports. I enjoyed sports and played a lot of things like baseball, football, basketball with my peers, but not in high school. I was on a B team baseball team. But I didn't excel at the sport like my brother did. And I was on the track team, didn't do very well, I was on the C team. But our group of Japanese boys, we always played football, basketball and baseball together. We enjoyed that a lot, but it was not what you'd call real top competitive sports, you're playing with your peers. And we continued on it, and that's how the Vandals, the club Vandals was formed, because our primary goal was to play sports. And we continued on in camp as a team, although they lived in the western part of the camp, the higher side, and we for some reason were settled in the eastern side close to the highway where I was, most of my neighbors were from the San Fernando valley. Which was nice because I developed a whole new group of friends.

KL: Yeah, then you have two.

RF: Yeah.

KL: Did you, so you went to dances at the Buddhist church, did you go to services?

RF: Well, I didn't really go to dances. As I said, I learned dancing from my brother's girlfriends. But I didn't dance an awful lot. So the Buddhist church was a ritual going every Sunday, because my parents insisted that we go. I can't say that we were really, that I was an avid Buddhist follower, like Mary was an avid Christian.

KL: Did your mom grow up in a Buddhist family, too?

RF: Yes.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2012 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

KL: Well then you got the, after the Pearl Harbor attack, and the announcement at school. When you were talking with your Japanese American friends about leaving your home, what did you guys think? Where did you think you were gonna go?

RF: Well, it was really a period of unknowns. You didn't know what was going to happen, you didn't know what was out there for you at Manzanar, we knew we were going to Manzanar.

KL: How soon did you know that?

RF: I don't remember.

KL: Do you remember how you learned you were gonna have to leave?

RF: Well, I had these posters.

KL: And you saw one?

RF: Yeah. And I don't recall getting an official letter, although my parents might have gotten it. But most of my friends, we all knew we were going to be together, so it wasn't the trauma of separating, it was just the trauma of not knowing what was ahead of us and when we were coming back, if we were coming back, where we were going, what it was like. We all knew there was a desert, we all knew there were a lot of scorpions, and so we all bought boots, which I've never had before. And we didn't know what going to happen. One of my closest friends, the Hiranos, they decided to not go to camp and move to Utah. And later found out that their life was probably a lot worse than ours, because we had a roof over our heads, three meals a day, some degree of protection, security, although the insecurity of not knowing what the future would hold. But they went to Utah on their own, didn't know anybody, didn't have a place to go to, and ended up farming without having a house, lived in a chicken coop.

Even a year after, when I visited Manzanar and returned to Salt Lake, I notified (Henry Hirano) that I was coming and I wanted to see him, and we met in the city at the Mormon temple. He didn't invite me home, but we just talked and enjoyed, renewed old friendships and then got on a bus and left. Later I learned that the reason he didn't invite me, it turns out that one of our dance friends is his sister, and I didn't even know that. But anyway, she told me that, "The reason he didn't invite you is because he didn't want to invite you to a chicken coop." When I heard that I just, I had tears in my eyes, you know, the hardships that these people... then that story I think is much less known than our stories of camp, because they ran into, these people ran into all sorts of hardship. Starting new, starting without homes, starting with an unknown farming in an area that was different than Southern California. So that greater stories of tragedy I think were people like that, than there were with people at the camp. I can't say, it's all relative. But that was really tragic to me. But that's what they chose.

KL: How did they decide on Utah, do you know?

RF: No, I don't, although a lot of people did go to Utah. I guess some went to Idaho. I've never heard of people going anywhere further east or even to Arizona for that matter. Most of the people I know went to Utah. and I guess because they were either relatives, there was farming, it was outside the zone, and so relatively easy to get to in terms of relocating themselves. I don't know the history of what the choices were and why.

KL: Did your family consider that at all, do you think?

RF: Well, my dad was not a farmer. So I don't think he even considered going there, although one of his careers was as a produce truck driver, where he'd drive semis across Utah and places like that. Maybe that's why he didn't want to go to Utah, I don't know. I have no idea.

KL: So you knew Manzanar was the name of the place, and knew it was in a desert. When did you, when did you leave for Manzanar?

RF: Oh, well, people in West L.A. all left at the same weekend, I believe it was. And we all met at the Japanese school and boarded buses there.

KL: What was the departure like? Were there other friends who were not Japanese American there, or spectators?

RF: I didn't see any Caucasian friends that I knew. They were mostly, my recollection was they were mostly the people who were departing. Do you recall if there were other people, visitors seeing people off?

Off camera: There were people there [inaudible].

RF: Oh, from your family. But we had no other visitors, our family didn't. I don't even remember how we got to the Japanese school from our home. Our home was about three miles away, two miles away. I don't know how we got to the Japanese school to get on the bus. I don't remember that.

KL: How did you dispose of your household...

RF: Well, we were not that wealthy, we didn't own the home, so it's all personal goods, things that we couldn't carry, like furniture, beds, and refrigerator, those things. And people were knocking on the doors wanting to get the stuff for dirt cheap. And what do you do? We're getting rid of it, so you just got rid of it. We didn't have enough to store or anything like that.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2012 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

KL: So this is tape two of an interview here with Robert Fujioka on June 20th of 2012. And you were going to share something, you were starting to say the last time you were in Sawtelle?

RF: What was I going to say? [Laughs]

KL: Oh, that's okay, I just didn't want to interrupt you.

RF: Well, I was just going to say that Sawtelle at that time was a very sleepy little city, in fact, very rural, because there were a lot of dirt roads still. And south of what is now Olympic was a train track, Exposition train track, where a bunch of hobos used to live. And so that was a place where it was a pretty spooky place for us, so we wouldn't trek out there too far. But there was not much vehicle traffic, and so things were very quiet. And, of course, being the Depression period, there was not much to do except have free time to play.

KL: Outside. Where we had left off before, we were talking about your being at the Japanese school to depart on the buses to go to Manzanar, and we were thinking that perhaps Mary's family was also there, which...

RF: I'm sure they were, because all the people that lived in Sawtelle were leaving from that same spot.

KL: What was the bus ride like? What are your memories of that?

RF: Well, I don't recall an awful lot about the bus ride except the stop in the desert, because there were no restroom facilities on the way large enough to accommodate all the people. So I have my recollection, and the thing I remember is how people had to scurry out in the desert and find whatever bush they could find and relieve themselves and hop back on the bus. That was kind of an eye-opener for me. That's about the only thing, memorable thing I recall on the ride up.

KL: There was just one stop like that?

RF: As I can recall, yeah.

KL: How many people were on the bus, do you think? Was it a caravan?

RF: Yeah, I guess there was a caravan. I would imagine there were probably around twenty or thirty people on each bus, maybe a little more.

KL: How many buses do you think there were?

RF: I don't recall, but there had to be six, seven, or maybe ten buses, I'm not sure. I don't recall.

KL: And when you arrived at Manzanar, what time of day was it?

RF: It was dusk, and so it was starting to get dark and cold and windy. And, of course, when we get off the bus, it's a lonely desert, and black huts, and kind of cold and dusty. Strange land, so you weren't certain what was going to be ahead of you. But the first thing they did was to register the family, gave us tags, like I think it was on the clothes. And the thing I remember is having to fill a sack with hay, so I could have a mattress for my bed.

KL: Were there people to meet the buses? Did you see people when you arrived?

RF: Yes, there were people. I don't recall how many there were, but there had to be people that would sign the families in. I don't remember much of that, though.

KL: Was it in a building that you signed in?

RF: I don't recall being in a building. All I remember, it was a very dark and dismal place, because you couldn't see the beauty of the mountains at that time. All you could see are these black huts in this lonely place, and it was pretty desolate.

KL: How did you find Block 14, do you remember that walk?

RF: No, I don't remember how we found that. But it was, it's close to the entry area, so it must not have been too long a walk for us to get there. I don't recall.

KL: But most of the people you traveled with went west to other...

RF: I'm not sure about that. I don't know... they couldn't have, because most of the people from West Los Angeles, Sawtelle, settled up in the western upper part of the camp which was, was it Block 30-something? No, 20-something? Twenty-three, yeah, up there, where our 14 was right next to the highway. In fact, there was a fire station there somewhere, and right across the firebreak was the main administration building. So we were separated from all the people in Sawtelle. I suppose there may have been a few other families, but I don't know why we were, why that happened. And as I said, most of the families around us were from the San Fernando Valley.

KL: Were they already there, or were they moving in, coming in?

RF: I don't recall. I think they were already there, but I don't recall.

KL: And you said you remember stuffing a mattress?

RF: Yeah. And you walk up into a tarpapered building. I think, I'm not sure whether... yeah, I don't recall. I seem to remember there were cracks, so it couldn't have been tarpaper, they were dark. But the wallboards had spaces between them so you could feel the air coming through. Maybe that was the floor. The buildings were tarpapered, the floor was just floorboards, and it was cracks between the boards, so the air was coming up. Later on they put linoleum on there, and later on they put... what's the... plasterboard walls in. But for a long time we still had the air coming in, that's coming in from the floor and from parts of the ceiling, I think. And there was a oil stove in the center, and metal cots that we put our straw mattresses on, and a single lightbulb in the center. So it was not like going to an outdoor camp, but more like a, just a garage facility. It was pretty dismal, but I guess we were all tired enough so that we were able to sleep reasonably well. I don't remember that. I remember my first experience in a mess hall, or they have these metal folding, what do you call, not plates...

KL: Army kits?

RF: Yeah, kits with the folding handles, kind of heavy and kind of slippery.

KL: Was that that night that you remember?

RF: I think so. Then they had a cup, a metal cup with a folding down handle. Not very appetizing things to have food with, but I recall the food wasn't very good anyway, so it didn't matter.

KL: It was fitting maybe, right?

RF: Yes, sustenance.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2012 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

KL: Who was with you... did your brother and sister go into Manzanar with you and your parents?

RF: Yes, we all went as a family.

KL: The five of you? Were there other people in your apartment?

RF: No, we were the only ones in the unit.

KL: And you said you thought you were maybe in Building 10?

RF: I think it was either 10 or 12. And the end unit, so it would be number 1. I'm not exactly sure. I should have checked with my sister, she might have remembered. It was in the middle of the area, it was right across from either the laundry room or... yeah, probably somewhere near the laundry room. In the center there was lady, women's latrine and men's latrine, and in between was the laundry area. I think it was close to the laundry area.

KL: Do you have recollections of those buildings?

RF: Well, the men's latrine was pretty stark and not very much privacy. That's about all I remember.

KL: What did you think the next morning?

RF: Getting out?

KL: Yeah.

RF: I guess I don't remember. Well, it's strange, but also it was kind of an adventure, it was a new place, a desert. A little better, I think, because you could see the mountains, everything. But all these black huts, very regimented feeling, and feeling of, I think, uneasiness, not knowing what's ahead of us.

KL: You liked the mountains?

RF: Oh, yeah, they were really majestic mountains, beautiful mountains. The contrast of that with this desert area with the black huts, it's hard to believe that it's one and the same place. Then, of course, the wind and the dust that comes with that, sand all over your place, sand everywhere you went, can't even get the sand out of your system. It's in your hair and your clothes, take a shower, it still gets in your hair and clothes where you walk. And the desert sand with sandstorm is hard to believe what's that like.

KL: It hurts. [Laughs]

RF: And it gets cold there. We ultimately got, were issued peacoats, but it was hardly enough to ward off the cold winds.

KL: What do you remember about getting to know your neighbors?

RF: Well, I don't remember how I met them, but on the other side of the washroom facilities was a family friend called Nakadaira, whom I knew before the war because of the Hiranos. Hiranos, they taught... Mr. Hirano, I think, taught Japanese school, and would go over to the valley every Saturday. And one day I went over with him and his son Henry went, good friend, we went over to the San Fernando Valley and we met the Nakadairas there and became friends with a fellow you see in some of the pictures I showed you, his name was Hiro. And so it was a nice thing to see an old acquaintance in the same block. So I spent a lot of time with that family on many occasions. Their older brother was my brother's peer, so they competed in baseball together, so they knew each other quite well. And they had a large family. They must have had five or six in the family besides the parents. So I got to know them pretty well, and it provided a little bit of comfort, I think, to know that there were friends there. All my Sawtelle friends were way on the other side of camp, which is a long trek for me, at least initially. I can't say initially, a long trek to the other side of the camp.

KL: But you still saw a lot of each other?

RF: Yeah, because there was a lot of time, which is a problem itself. Because schools were not open yet, and we had nothing but time on our hands to just socialize and play. And so there was a lot of playing going around, playing a lot of sports. And to do that I had to be with my Sawtelle friends, so we'd get together either on their side of the camp or wherever the play activity was going on. And then I spent a lot of time with the Nakadaira family just lounging around and socializing. And wherever we can get some work, we were doing work. I remember driving a truck around even though I didn't have a drivers license. Then we ultimately worked on the camouflage nets and then...

KL: What was your work in the net factory?

RF: Pardon?

KL: What was your work in the net factory?

RF: I was stringing the fabric in the nets. I'm not sure what we were on, we called it being on a ladder. I think it was a platform, they would raise and lower the nets, we'd have to string the fabric through the nets. And I worked in an office, I'm not sure which office it was and why I was there. Primarily I was doing errand work I think, like a messenger boy. but that wasn't steady work. So there was a lot of time to play.

KL: How long did you work in the camouflage net factory?

RF: I don't recall, it wasn't too long.

KL: It was a short time?

RF: Couldn't have been too long.

KL: I've heard that it was kind of controversial. Did people, what did other people think about your --

RF: Well, to me it was something to do, and that was about all I knew. I didn't know the social or...

KL: Nobody gave you grief, though, or it wasn't a big deal?

RF: Nobody told us not to work, nobody tried to stop, so I don't know.

KL: And you ran errands sometimes too?

RF: Yes.

KL: Do you remember tension in the camp?

RF: Oh, yeah. Let's see. There were always rabble rousers there, people who felt that it was an injustice, shouldn't have been there. And there was... while I was in the middle, knowledge about the people who were targeted as being disloyal to the group, and being associated with the government, that sort of thing. And some riots that occurred, some people being beat up, and ultimately I think, I recall these people were sent out of camp to some other place, which I learned later was somewhere in the Death Valley. [Coughs] Excuse me. Then, of course, the riot on the annual, the Pearl Harbor Day.

KL: Did you witness any of that? Take your time, take a drink. [Laughs]

RF: Pearl Harbor Day where the riot was down at the entry gate, and we as kids, we follow where activity is, so we were down there. And then, of course, learning that somebody got shot.

KL: What did you see there? What are your memories of watching that?

RF: It's a lot of angry people, that's about all I remember.

KL: Were you kind of back from the crowd?

RF: Yeah, uh-huh. I don't recall being front and center.

KL: Were there many other people who were like you, probably other seventeen year old boys?

RF: Yeah, yeah, there were quite a few people that had gone down there. There was nothing else to do in camp, except if there was crowd, you'd join it.

KL: See what was going on.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2012 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

KL: But when did you know you wanted to try to get out?

RF: I don't recall when that happened, but I think it was primarily an opportunity. I wasn't planning on it, wasn't thinking about it. We had a very good friend, his name was Henry Ushijima, and he was, he told our family and me about this group of men, young men, who were leaving to go to Chicago, most of them to continue their college schooling, some to go to work. And they were being sponsored by... not sponsored, what's the word? Led by a former administrator, his name was Temple, I think it was Thomas Temple. And Henry encouraged me to go and finish high school out of camp, because I was not happy with the schooling in camp. It had just started, and I wasn't impressed with the teachers. I was very, very bored and upset of schooling, so it was an opportunity. And I know my parents were not in favor of my leaving on my own, being sixteen, seventeen, but they had the comfort of knowing that Mr. Temple was there, he was assuring them that he would be sure to watch over me.

KL: And he was at Manzanar and he was able to have these conversations with your friends?

RF: Yes, yes.

KL: Was he a school administrator?

RF: I don't know... no, he wasn't a school administrator, he was an administrator in the camp. I'm not sure what he did. He was a very nice elderly gentleman. So he took a group of us out. I'm not sure what the number was, but something like about fifteen, twenty people, men. I was the only high school person there, the others were either going to college or looking for employment. So Mr. Temple took us out and rented an apartment on the south side of Chicago, so it was like a boarding house, and all the rooms had beds, cots lined up. And I started... this was, I guess it was just about the beginning of summer, summer of 1943 I think it was. I started summer school, and then Mr. Temple had a heart attack and died. But I was with a group of real great guys, and I'm not sure how I supported myself then.

KL: He had been living in Chicago with you?

RF: Yes, he was living in the same apartment. And so I continued high school, summer school, and then decided I'd better find a job to earn some money. And fortunate enough that some of the men were working at a wholesale book supply facility, company, and they had some opening, so I went to work there, working in a... it's kind of like a stockroom. So I was earning some money to pay for my way, but I needed to finish high school. So in the fall I started high school, at Hyde Park High School, which was in the south side. [Wipes eye] Excuse me. Started high school there, Hyde Park High School, and was fortunate enough to find a job from four to midnight, after school, which was in the city, so I had to take the Elevated train to get to my job. So I'd go to school during the day, and at three o'clock I'd hop on the Elevated and go up to my job which was near Chinatown, to a place called Cunio Press, which is a bookbinding company. And I worked the four to midnight shift with two other Polish guys, who were both not fit enough to go into the service. And our job was to glue the backs of books after they were sewn together, and then to trim the books ready for the cover to go on. So it was heavy work, and big presses to cut the books, big like a guillotine, to cut the (edges of the) books, and it was quite an experience. So I'd work 'til midnight, go through the dark Chinatown to get to the Elevated, which was kind of spooky. I got home about twelve-thirty, or one o'clock. And let's see. At that time, the group moved to another facility, more of a home instead of an apartment, so they could have more space.

KL: You stayed together with the group from Manzanar?

RF: Yeah, so with the group. I was further away from high school, and walked through a park to get to high school. But it was a more comfortable home, and once I got out of school I had to get the furnaces going, and that was my job before I headed off to my job. And then around after a month or two, the high school principal called me and he said, "You don't have a taxpaying guardian that's paying taxes to the city. And so you can't come to a public school unless you pay private tuition." So I said, "Well, what do I do? I need to go to school." Said, "Well, you have to pay tuition." So I pondered that problem and fortunately at that time, my sister had relocated from camp to Minnesota, to Minneapolis, and she had found out I could go to public school in Minneapolis without paying tuition. So I packed my bags, said goodbye to everybody, and went to Minneapolis. And had to find a place to stay, and fortunately, God is always watching over me, they found a, the Wesley Foundation, in the basement of the Methodist church off of campus of the University of Minnesota, was housing Japanese students primarily, college students, to a place to stay in their basement. So there were about six of us. Couple of them were working, couple of them were going to college, and two of us were going, still high school, a fellow by the name of Tom Sasaki and myself. And high school was two blocks away called Marshall High School, and so I was able to go to public school there. Let's see, Uni High, Manzanar... so it was my fifth high school, trying to finish my senior year.

KL: Just trying to finish at this point, yeah.

RF: So there were a lot of distractions. So anyway, I finally finished and graduated in winter class of 1944. I normally should have graduated in summer of '43, so it was only a half year delay. But I also had to work and earn a living to pay for things, so I worked as a busboy in a cafe, then later on a friend of mine, Tosh Nitta, found a job in a foundry for me to work with him sifting the sand, mixing it with (coal dust) to get it ready for the next day's crew of mold makers, who would take the sand and make molds out of them, I think pour casting, iron castings in the evening at the end of the day. And we'd come in at the end of the day and pull out these white hot castings and mix the sand with water and (coal dust), so it'd be ready for the mold makers the next day. So that was the job, it lasted from about four or five o'clock in the evening to about ten. Dirtiest job you can think of.

KL: It probably made college seem pretty appealing.

RF: Pardon?

KL: That probably made college study seem pretty appealing?

RF: [Laughs] Yeah. Well, I was still in high school.

KL: Yeah.

RF: So that was the worst, that was the worst and dirtiest job I've ever had. It makes, to me it makes gardening a very nice job. And a lot of people complain about how hard gardening is, but you're outdoors, you're with flowers, you're with sun, and if it rains you don't have to work. Here in this god-forbidden factory, or if you have coldness all over, white hot castings, and almost burned my foot off. And you come back, you're so black, it's like a chimney sweep, you're black from head to toe. It's in your nose, it's everywhere. The Midwest has the hardest jobs that one can ever find. The poor souls in Minnesota who have to work, in the Midwest who have to work in these kind of jobs, it's just terrible. But it's work, right?

KL: Yeah.

RF: I had several jobs like that in the Midwest. I worked in a grain factory helping to take corn grain out of boxcars, so they'd go down, up into the silos. OSHA was not around in those days, so there's not masks to cover you from all that dust. And you get in these boxcars, it's like walking in a pile of sand, get the grain and push it down into the opening to get it in for the silo. [Laughs] It was just terrible, dust is all over the place. So anyway, that was my experiences in the Midwest.

KL: Yeah, yeah.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2012 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

KL: Did you, you did in enroll in college?

RF: Well, after I graduated from high school, most of all the male friends were going into the service. They're going into the air force, the navy, nobody's signing up to go to the infantry. And so I said okay, I'll sign up for the air force. Sorry, they're not accepting Japanese people in the air force, the navy. "The only thing we have available for you is the infantry if you'd like to volunteer." So I said, "No thanks, I'll go to college." [Laughs] And so I started at the University of Minnesota, and after a quarter and a half, I think it was, then the government says, "We'll draft you," so they drafted me into the infantry. So I didn't have much of a college experience there.

KL: And let's go through your different posts, because you had some interesting stories about your military experiences.

RF: Well, we were inducted, officially I think it was Fort Snelling, Minnesota, but our first assignment was in St. Louis, Missouri, Fort Jefferson, we were officially enrolled into the infantry. Then from there we were shipped off to basic training to Camp Robinson in Arkansas, another dismal place. [Laughs] I've never seen so many rocks on the ground as in Arkansas. Even more than Manzanar. At least in Manzanar it was sand, not heavy rocks. But here there were rocks all over the place. And they had our basic training there, and just as we were finished basic training, we were ready to get shipped off to Europe. But as I said the good Lord is watching over me, and just about then, the European conflict ended.

KL: Do you remember hearing that news?

RF: I don't recall how I learned about that. I think it was officially from the military.

KL: How'd you learn, when you learned your deployment was not gonna happen? I mean, how'd you feel?

RF: Well, I felt relieved because I wasn't interested in going to fight in the middle of a battle. So anyway, we were at Arkansas for a little while, then they shipped us to Camp Ritchie, Maryland.

KL: Let me ask you one thing about Arkansas before we go on. You said that some people went to visit Rohwer.

RF: Oh, that's right.

KL: Did you go to Rohwer?

RF: Yes. This was one weekend, a bunch of us (Niseis) decided we wanted to, we were not too far from Rohwer, so we took the bus to go to Rohwer. And that was an interesting experience, too, because you get on the bus, and the bus says... what did it say? "Whites in the front, blacks in the back." And so we said, "Where do we sit?" And the bus driver says, "Up front." And said, "Well, why is that?" So he didn't give us an explanation, said, "You're not black, so you sit up front." Of course, that stops on the way, stop at these places, the restrooms for blacks, restrooms for whites. Water fountain for black, water fountain for whites. So it was really a mixture of being Asian in the South. You're not sure where you belonged. But anyway, that was an interesting experience. But we did get to Rohwer and spent a day in Rohwer having a great time visiting with people there.

KL: How did it compare to Manzanar in terms of how people felt or what it looked like?

RF: It was not too different except the missing thing was what nature provided. There was no sand, there was no majestic mountains. But the people were the same, the people were still resigned to being contained in that area and trying to make do and enjoy life the way they could. So they really enjoyed the fact that we were visiting, because it was something new for them. That's all I remember.

KL: Yeah, thanks. I wanted to hear about the bus, too.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2012 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

KL: Your experiences in so many different places make you kind of interesting to hear from about what you found. So then you went to Camp Ritchie.

RF: Oh, yes, Camp Ritchie. I believe that's now called Camp David, but I'm not sure. The most beautiful Fort that you could ever find, or camp, military camp. Beautiful, majestic, rolling hills, greenery everywhere, it's really a beautiful spot; a lake. And we didn't know why we were going there, but we finally discovered, they brought in some Broadway actors to teach us how to act. And we were saying, "Act? What are we going to do?" So we discovered that our role was perform in front of the military people to teach them how to, Japanese prisoners were going to respond and act. So we were, being Japanese, we were supposed to take the role of the Japanese prisoners who were captured and how they respond to their conquerors. So that was, they brought in actors to teach us how to perform on stage. And I'm not much of an actor.

KL: Probably wasn't what you envisioned when you were inducted into the army either, I would guess.

RF: So I had a hard time trying to be a tragic prisoner of war, Japanese prisoner of war, and I was just, I just could not do it. Just could not do it. So I ended up being a stage hand behind the scenes instead of in front it. Some of the guys could perform pretty well.

KL: Were the actors from Broadway the ones giving them the directions about how to behave?

RF: Oh, yeah.

KL: I wonder if they had been trained. I mean... I just thought that story was so...

RF: Well, teaching people how to act, I guess, is their business. How they knew about...

KL: How they knew about the psyche of the Japanese soldier would be interesting.

RF: Yeah, I don't know. I don't know where that came from. But that lasted only a little while, because before we even finished the conflict in Japan ended.

KL: Before you finished rehearsing even? So you never performed it?

RF: So we never had to perform anywhere. But it was a beautiful experience, it was the nicest place you'd ever be in the military compared to what a lot of the military people who went into conflict went through. We were still stateside.

KL: What did you, what do you remember hearing about the atomic bombs?

RF: Not an awful lot. You didn't hear much at all except for what was on the news. And it was alarming at first, but heard both sides of that. Ended the war a lot sooner than it would have, saving a lot more people than it would have, from that side of the propaganda. The other side of the coin was the story about the devastation. Later on, when I went to Hiroshima was when I really, when it really hit home. But at that time, being in the military and being supportive of whatever America would do, I guess I assumed that it was a necessity, was my short-term conclusion. That's about all I remember. Because my experience at Camp Ritchie was so good, I was able to hitchhike to New York City several times. Fortunately, my parents were at New York City at the time.

KL: How did, when did they leave Manzanar, under what circumstances?

RF: I don't recall what the specific date was, but they left to get employment in New York City as domestics. And they worked for a very famous person, I don't know whether you remember a famous radio commentator, his name was H.V. Kaltenborn, probably the most well-known news commentator during World War II. They were hired to work as his domestics. In fact, on one of my trips to New York City, I stayed there at the Kaltenborns' townhome in New York City.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2012 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

KL: I meant to ask you, we were talking about this a little bit when you arrived, but I meant to ask you on tape about your visit back to Manzanar, too. Can you tell us about that?

RF: After I graduated from Marshall High School in Minnesota, and before college at the University of Minnesota, another friend of mine, (...) his name was Min Takimoto, and his brother was one of the early teachers of the Japanese language military school, which started in Camp Savage, Minnesota, later moving to Fort Snelling. So his brother brought him out to Minneapolis to finish his high school in Minneapolis, so he graduated the same time we did. So his mother was still in camp, so we both decided that we'd go back and visit. So all I remember is that we took the Greyhound bus from Minneapolis through the Dakotas, through Montana, through Idaho down to Utah, Salt Lake City, over into Nevada and finally down into Manzanar. And I don't recall how we got official approval to go in there, to go into the zone that's supposedly not available to Japanese, down into Manzanar, and how we got into Manzanar. And we stayed there in Manzanar for about a week, I guess it was. And then I don't remember how we got out.

KL: Did the camp seem different to you than when you had left? How did it feel?

RF: No, it seemed the same. It hadn't changed much at all to me, except that physically... well, I guess the people seemed more settled to me, and the school had developed further. They had a gymnasium there, and they had classrooms. They were still barracks, but they had classrooms. But everything was still very regimented, mess hall's the same, people's barracks the same, people's time and their interests were the same. It didn't change a lot to me.

KL: Do you remember people on the Greyhound with you responding to you guys?

RF: No, I don't think anyone ever approached us and said, "Who are you, what are you doing?" that sort of thing. For the most part, everybody was sleeping on the bus. The Greyhound bus stops every two hours in some spot so people can use the restrooms or get something to eat. So the most thing you remember is a long bus ride with a lot of stops disrupting your sleep, the hard seats. Very few people if any, I don't recall anyone stopping to talk to us on the way, even at the stops, even in the restricted zone. So I don't remember anything negative that happened. I'm surprised that we did it, how we did it. I'm surprised that we got in, got out, and then going out, I decided I wanted to stop and see my friend in Salt Lake City, which I mentioned to you where he lived and all, and then on to Heart Mountain which was in Wyoming, just south of the route to, back to Minneapolis. And I stopped at Heart Mountain. I'm not sure how I was able to get in and get out of there again, but it was not the restricted zone. But I don't recall at all. But it was a nice stop, because I was able to see my grandpa, my uncle, and my cousins, and some of our family friends.

KL: How had they fared there? What were their spirits like when you saw them?

RF: Of course, again like before, the place was different because of the environment. People were still, not much different, they were trying to make do and trying to live as best they could. That's about all I remember.

KL: Yeah, thanks for backtracking. It was interesting to hear from somebody who had left Manzanar and then come back.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2012 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

KL: So you were honorably discharged from the army, and then from there...

RF: From Camp Ritchie they decided to send some of the people who spoke Japanese into the Fort Snelling military language school. And some of us who were not that conversant with Japanese were put into headquarters there. So we all got shipped to Fort Snelling, Minnesota. This is back to my hometown, Minneapolis, which was great because we had friends there. [Laughs] And being headquarters, my assignment was to become a supply sergeant, so that was my occupation in the military towards the end. And my job and role was to help make the move, to move the language school from Fort Snelling to Presidio Monterey. So mine was the last train out of Fort Snelling. And we went to Presidio, and shortly after, a couple months after that, I was discharged from the service.

KL: I have a question about the different places that you were, and I wondered if you would compare -- it's kind of a big question -- compare your thinking about prewar Los Angeles, Manzanar, Chicago, Minneapolis, Jefferson City, Little Rock, Camp Ritchie, how did those places feel different to you especially as far as how different cultures interact, different races?

RF: Everything was contrasts. There was great contrast between Sawtelle prewar, pre-World War II, to Manzanar, great contrast. Of course, the psychological emotional one was there, too, because there was uncertainty, not knowing what was going to happen, where are you going to be, what's... when you think about your future, you can't think about your future, you don't know. So the contrast physically and emotionally was great there. Going from Manzanar and comparing it to a small area like Sawtelle to Chicago, a big city, was also a big contrast. Not one that I would call a happy one. I couldn't take Chicago, it was too hard, too big, too impersonal. Of course, the situation, just to amplify that as well, the fact that I was still a teenager, still had to go to high school, find my way around, make a living, etcetera. And not having family around, being on your own at sixteen, seventeen, you wonder what the heck you're doing. And yet you have to live day by day. So I never have liked Chicago. Even going back to Chicago quite a few times in my career for business and seeing the good side of Chicago, the nice hotels, the nice restaurants, good view spots and everything else, I still have very little feeling of, desire to want to live in a place like Chicago. And I didn't have any friends I developed in Chicago as well, so that probably also affected that an awful lot, because I didn't have time for social activities. I did meet a couple of people in summer school who continued on to Hyde Park, they were great friends. We were in the same math class in summer school, so that's something in common. And then when I went to Hyde Park High School, we were together for a little bit. And had the shock of my life, she suffered a... what do you call it? It's on the tip of my tongue. She went into a faint, what do you call that?

KL: A seizure?

RF: A seizure, yeah. There's a name for it, I can't remember. Where you have to watch your tongue...

KL: Oh, yeah. I don't know the word, but you wrote it... what is it?

RF: (Epilepsy). Yeah, yeah, and she was flopping around on the ground, what a shock. And so her other, the other friend of mine, we tried to calm her down and all. But anyway, that was a shocking experience. But that was a nice friendship that we developed, and then when I left, that was the end of that friendship. There was another incident, another friend who was at Hyde Park High School who happened to be from Emerson junior high school (in WCA). His family moved to Chicago and he was going to Hyde Park High School. So we met, and we had a good time, I remember on Easter Sunday we went to Easter sunrise services together, and that was kind of a great reunion for me. But even so, Chicago was not my town, even though the song says "my kind of town." [Laughs]

KL: You get your own song. [Laughs]

RF: Yeah. Minneapolis was another place in contrast, primarily because of weather. I've never been so cold in all my life like Minnesota. But great people, there were Swedish people there, not all Swedish, but the people in Minnesota are as warm as the weather there is cold. They'd go out of their way to welcome you and make you feel like at home. So I developed two good friendships, one, a guy by the name of Tom Battey, and the other was a fellow by the name of Bob Anderson. They were as good of friends you could ever find. Tom Battey's family would invite me to their home and have me stay over, had me join them for dinner, wonderful people. And so Minnesota, I look at with great contrast, great people terrible weather, terrible jobs. [Laughs] The worst jobs I could ever imagine were in Minnesota, Minneapolis. So it's quite a contrast. Where else have I been? Well, the treks in the military, you don't really see the, get to know them, the areas you're in.

KL: Why do you think the Batteys responded to you the way they did?

RF: Well, they were very sympathetic with the plight of the Japanese people. Couldn't understand why the American government would do such a thing. They felt in their hearts to make up for that, I think. He would, Pa Battey would write me letters constantly, and they moved, they moved from Minneapolis to Oklahoma, and he would write constantly. Really wonderful people. And most of the people I met in Minneapolis like that, we went, we've gone back to high school reunions where we met another fellow by the name of George Uram who I knew only briefly in high school. But engaged with one of them at the reunion, another wonderful person. There's something about the people in Minnesota that just is overwhelming in terms of sincere friendships. In Chicago I didn't get any new friends there. Even the couple that I met in summer school, as nice as they were, it doesn't compare to the friends I developed in Minnesota.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2012 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

KL: But you were ready to go back to California?

RF: Pardon?

KL: When you finished with the army, though, you were ready to go back to California?

RF: Yeah, yeah. The opportunity was there, so, yeah.

KL: How was that return?

RF: Well, I wanted to come back to Sawtelle. And my friend Min Takimoto's mother had a boarding house there, a block away from Mary's church. And so she said I could stay there while I went to school, I found my career. So I stayed there at the boarding house and went to USC. And wherever I could do gardening I was, had my own gardening route, and that was my income.

Off camera voice: You were the only student with a lawnmower sticking out the back --

RF: [Laughs] Well, I had to work between classes, so I had a Ford coupe which had a deep trunk, but not long enough to hide a whole lawnmower, so the lawnmower handle would stick out the back, and I couldn't take, get rid of my tools and leave them, so they were always with me. So I'd park at the USC parking lot, and Mary says I was the only, had the only car with a lawnmower handle sticking out the back.

KL: Makes it easy to find, right, when you were leaving class?

RF: Yeah.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2012 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

KL: Tell me about eventually choosing your course of study and how you came to decide on that.

RF: Well, I really wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I always had an interest in architecture, but I wasn't, didn't think I could ever go to USC. And when I went for VA counseling, the lady said, "Well, you could still go to the School of Architecture at USC if you wanted to, because you have the GI Bill of Rights, and the GI Bill could support you with your school." So I said, "Oh, gee, that's great," so that's why I went to USC and got into the school of architecture. But I discovered a field called industrial design, which was in the architectural curriculum. And that was involving design of products, things you could hold in your hand, touch and feel, instead of buildings which were too big and too impersonal to me. So I decided to go into industrial design and was fortunate to have a wonderful career. And with all its ups and downs, many downs, many ups.

KL: You had some advice from one of your... I don't know if it was an advisor or a teacher, but you said you had two teachers who taught you particular...

RF: Oh, yes. Well, the field of design, architecture, was... it requires a pretty deep process of thinking philosophically as to why you're designing what you're doing, so you have a basis for your philosophy and approach to design instead of being superficial and being strictly artistic, and putting some substance behind it. To learn that process, you had to take a gardener, no artistic experience, no deep thinking experience into a course, which is tough and discouraging. And at the first, you feel like people are talking a different language, and you don't understand it. The philosophy is different, too deep for you, too abstract. And there was a guy by the name of Emmett Wemple who was teaching basic design. He and another teacher by the name of Byron Davis, most of them and Wemple who was more, had his foot on the ground, where Byron had, his philosophy was up in the air. But Emmett kept coaching me and kept encouraging me and convincing me that, you know, if I stuck through the hard part, you'd make it through it. And so with that encouragement I started to move forward. When I got into the specific field of industrial design, there was a little Italian professor, Sal Marendino, bless his heart.


KL: This is tape 3 of a continuing interview here with Robert Fujioka on June 20, 2012. And you were halfway through a story about your two mentors in school, and we wanted to get to the second one.

RF: Then as I got in further into the industrial design curriculum, Sal Marendino, a wonderful Italian professor, had a real feeling for the emotions that a designer should have in the design process. And when you're going through the process of developing this philosophy, or doing philosophy, and the criteria of what you want to do when you're designing, you tend to get very serious about what you're doing. And he said, "Stop that nonsense. You have to be human. Enjoy what you're doing and let yourself feel what you're doing instead of being so literal in what you're doing." So he was always encouraging us to do that, stop being so serious and have fun, enjoy what you're doing. So it helped an awful lot to become a little more human in what you're trying to express in the way of inanimate objects for other people. So those two teachers were a godsend to me in building my career.

KL: And do you have a particular career highlight or something that really exemplifies your...

RF: Well, I've gone through an awful lot of interesting experiences from the time that I graduated, working with the wonderful companies and people. But the highlight of my career probably has to be Samsonite, the luggage manufacturer that they're known for. But they also built casual furniture, clothing furniture, they also built toys. And so it provided an opportunity for me to work with the original family who founded the company, two son in laws who were the spearheads, vice president of marketing, Emmett Heitler, and the vice president of manufacturing, Louis Degen, who believed in what I was able to do to a point where they supported me right away, and allowed me to deliver with my team of people at my company called Design West, the kinds of products that would be winners in the marketplace, and hopefully it was to the enjoyment of the ultimate user, the public.

KL: How did Design West come to be?

RF: Well, that's a long story. But from graduating I worked through a series of jobs, primarily doing a lot of freelance work. And my freelance work I ran into a company called Ampex in Redwood City, California. And Ampex was a large, successful tape instrumentation maker who was embarking on consumer products, and built the world's first professional audio tape recorder, which ultimately led to the Japanese taking over and building cassette recorders. But they were building a portable, suitcase enclosed audio tape recorder, professional tape recorder, wonderful technology. And they were housing it in a Samsonite suitcase. And when we designed the tape recorder for them, I said to them, "You know, your product looks like a Samsonite instead of Ampex." I said, "You need to make it look like Ampex." So they said, "Well, design us a case." So we designed a carrier case, and it looked like (Ampex). The Samsonite people were so alarmed at hearing that, they came to us and said, "What are you doing redesigning a Samsonite case when you could be using the best case in the world?" And I said, "Well, it may be the best case in the world, but it looks like Samsonite, and we need Ampex to have a look of their own." So we designed this case, and Samsonite made it, and they said, "Well, if you could be that convincing to your customer Ampex, why don't you join us at Samsonite and design all of our suitcases?" So that's how that happened. So, again, the blessings from above led us to that.

KL: Lot of confidence in you.

Off camera voice: Samsonite started, was in a wooden case when you started.

RF: Oh, that's right, yeah. At that time, Samsonite was building cases made out of wood and covered with plastic leather. And they were having a difficult time because structurally, with airline travel, they get more abused and more damaged, especially with the hardware (and they were heavy). And so we took them into what I call the airline age using more exotic, mass produced materials like magnesium, plastics, and different technologies that were mass producible in factories rather than handcrafted with wooden saws and everything else like that. So we were able to then design whole lines of suitcase, attache cases, and their other division had folding furniture, so we designed folding card tables and chairs, outdoor furniture, institutional furniture like these kind of chairs. Then they acquired the Lego license, so we started designing toys for them. And it was a wonderful career for twenty-five years.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2012 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

KL: And I don't want to neglect your, mentioning your family, too. Tell us how you and your wife met.

RF: Well, my wonderful wife Mary, we've been married for fifty-six years. Is that right, fifty-six? Almost fifty-seven. And we met, we lived a block away from each other when we were, when I was going to USC living in Mrs. Takimoto's boarding house, and Mary's family had just returned from camp and were (temporarily) housed at the church, United Methodist Church of West Los Angeles. And shortly after that, they found a house close by. So we were neighbors but didn't know each other until she walked by my boarding house. And typical of a young male, I hailed her and said, "What's your name?" and that started a beautiful friendship. And we have one son, his name was Mark.

KL: And he works for a company that I think I've used the products of.

RF: Pardon?

KL: You said he works for a company whose products I think I rely on a lot when hiking.

RF: Oh, yes, yes. He's a technical representative for a company called Super Feet. He's been covering all of Southern California helping stores to educate them on the virtues of Super Feet as well as the medical personnel, because it's a wonderful product. I feel like I'm making a pitch now for them. So he's been with them for five years, wonderful product.

KL: And he's here in Southern California with you guys?

RF: He lives in Fountain Valley.

Off camera voice: He's a Kings fan.

KL: Yeah, he might see this tape, so if there's anything defining, you need to mention.

RF: Oh, yeah, he's an ardent Kings fan, and he and his girlfriend were in Japan for two and a half weeks while the Kings were having their finals with New Jersey. But because the Kings lost the last two games, he was able to see the final game and attend the ceremonies, the victory ceremonies a couple days after that.

KL: Well, that is my list. Thank you very much for joining us. I wanted to see if there was anything that I didn't ask about though that you would like to mention.

RF: Well, I covered a lot of ground. There's a lot of my life still that's, I guess, untouched. I don't know from now if there are any highlights, but I thank you very much.

KL: I think you've done an excellent job of summarizing it, and I liked being able to hear your comparisons of different times and places. Thank you very much for participating, selfishly, for me, because it's great to get to hear from your firsthand. But on behalf of Manzanar, too, we value these interviews a great deal.

RF: Unfortunately my life in Manzanar was very short, but it was a very memorable one, both on the plus side and the minus side. Plus side being the friends that I developed in Manzanar, minus side is the uncertainties one finds sometimes in life, not knowing where they're headed. But being young, I guess, you always work your way through that. But I thank you very much for the interview.

KL: Well, thank you.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2012 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.