Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Minoru Yamaguchi Interview
Narrator: Minoru Yamaguchi
Interviewer: Kristen Luetkemeier
Location: Ventura, California
Date: June 21, 2012
Densho ID: denshovh-yminoru_2-01

<Begin Segment 1>

KL: This is Kristen Luetkemeier speaking, of Manzanar National Historic Site. I'm here in Ventura, in the home of Min Yamaguchi, and with us also is Ashley Nottingham, she's the videographer today. Today is June 21, 2012, and we'll be talking today with Min about his birth in the United States and then childhood in Japan and return to the United States in 1960, and whatever else comes up. Min, do we have your permission to conduct the interview and to keep it in the library at Manzanar, where it'll be available to the public?

MY: Yeah.

KL: Thanks. Thanks for talking with us today, too. I want to start off just asking you about your parents. Can you tell us your parents' names?

MY: Yes, my father's name is Mokichi. He is one of the four siblings, and his brothers, three other brothers, spent their time in USA, one time or another. And my dad is the number three son, and four brothers and three sisters, and they're all born in a little village called Tsunoki in southern Kyushu island, way down southern tip of Kyushu island. Today, if you want to go to Okinawa, you hope on the plane from Tokyo and they have a direct flight to Okinawa, but if you want to take a boat ride to Okinawa and Kagoshima, which is the capital city of Kagoshima, where my father was born, that's the shortest distance on a ship ride to Okinawa. So that's where they pretty much tell where the, where Kagoshima is.

KL: Okinawa's the big city where the business happens?

MY: Right, right. And my mother's name is Kiku Ono. Her maiden name is Kiku Ono, which is, she was born in a little village also, by the west of where my dad was first born. My mother was the youngest of the four sisters, four sisters, and she was... didn't want to come over to U.S., but somehow my dad wanted to. At this point, I don't know how my dad and my mother met, but...

KL: What was the name of your mother's village?

MY: She was born in 1907, 1909, and my father was born in 1899, so...

KL: And what was the town that your mother was from? You said there was a small village that she --

MY: Small village, about five miles west of where my dad was born.

KL: Does it have a name?

MY: The name of the place? The little village is called Ono, O-N-O or O-H-N-O, so ninety percent of the villagers who lived in Ono have a name Ono, so most of the names, last name's Ono there. That's pretty interesting, because I was known as Ono when I was there, because -- I could tell you why later.

KL: Yeah, yeah, I do want to hear why, and let's wait until we get to that point. Your dad's brothers, who also went to the United States, can you tell us about them?

MY: Yes. Well, I don't have too much information about his older brothers, but they all spent their times here in U.S., but they all went back before the war.

KL: What was their work while they were here, or what motivated them to come?

MY: Well, their work was all farming. But I don't know, I just don't have any idea what their motivation to come over here... so their, I mean, their siblings still here, and some of 'em in Los Angeles and some in San Francisco, Oakland area. Actually, the Yamaguchi family is one time or another, here, was a big, big family, uncles and brothers and cousins and, one time or another it was a big family. But most of 'em are gone now.

KL: Did they come back, then? You said his, your dad's brothers came to the United States and then went back to Japan.

MY: No, they never came back.

KL: Oh, they stayed in the United States.

MY: They went back to live there for good.

KL: How did the other Yamaguchis come? Were they younger people?

MY: The brothers?

KL: Was it your dad's brothers who came?

MY: Yes.

KL: Okay, and they settled in the West Coast and stayed.

MY: Yes, they're, all four brothers were in the United States one time or another. And the older two brothers went back before the war, and my uncles, my dad went back in 1941. And the youngest one, my uncle Hiroshi, his name is Hiroshi, he ended up staying here all the rest of his life. And he's the one that, most successful one, because he married to the lady who was born here, so she had American citizen, and Hiroshi and his family was, instead of going to the camp, they moved to Colorado to work in the farms. So I think for a short time they, I understand they were in the Tule Lake in California, and from there they were given a choice to, either to go in a, to stay there in a camp or move away from there to elsewhere inland or inner states, to work and, you know, private.

KL: Were they in a camp in Colorado?

MY: No, there's no camp in Colorado. People who went to Colorado, I understand it was just, they had, free to do anything, so most of 'em worked in the farms. So I know a lot of friends, a lot of people that did that. In fact, my friend Tom's dad did that. I think instead of them going to Colorado, they went to Utah, I believe.

KL: Your dad's family was, were farmers in Japan?

MY: Yes. Yes, they're all farmers and predominantly planting rice. Rice is the major crop. And besides that, they didn't have, little cattle farming because those days there's no tractors to use in the farms, so they used the cow to plow rice field and so forth, so on. So not only the cattle brought the cash income, because they fatten up and then they would train that thing, then they get some cash and they buy a new calf, and then just did the same thing over and over. So that gave them a good cash income. And the rice, rice production is just mainly to feed the families. That's what it was.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

KL: What motivated your father to leave and come to the United States?

MY: As a young man, he was getting some training as being a carpenter, however, he wanted to come over to seek out the new world. I don't know why he wanted to do that because his older brothers were already here, or he wanted to go elsewhere. That I don't know, but one thing I know, he got on the ship that predominantly carried immigrants, Japanese immigrants, to go to Brazil, and then they, the ship was even named Brazil Maru. And when the ship reached here on the West Coast, for some reason, I guess the ship stopped in Baja, California, somewhere, I think in Encinitas, but I'm not sure. I guess the ship stopped there because, to pick up some supplies or refuel to continue to go to Brazil. But for unknown reasons, the ship stopped there, so at which time my dad and some other fellow passengers decided to jump off the ship and then wanted to trek over north to the border.

KL: Did your dad ever tell you who came, who left the ship with him? Were they friends of his?

MY: No. Just, he's, I remember he was telling me some, with some other friends he said. And he jumped off the ship and then started walking toward the, to the U.S. border toward San Diego.

KL: That sounded like quite a journey, from what you've written. Do you, what did he tell you about the trip?

MY: Yeah, he didn't, he didn't get into too much detail how the trip came about, but the one thing he was mentioning was that he was really worried about being bitten by a rattlesnake and the dehydration, walking on the hills of San Diego. So he said some other, some of the people get bitten by rattlesnakes and then end up dying in the hills of San Diego somewhere. And to get some water, he was told to cut down the cactus tree, to suck on the cactus, that would be the best way to get the, to get hydrated. So that's what he did, and then he was fine, he said. So luckily he made it to the border, and then he kept on mentioning about the place called Capistrano. As a boy, I remember the name 'cause I didn't know where Capistrano is located or anything. So now of course, we know that's San Juan Capistrano. I guess he found someone there, farmers, Japanese farmers who were willing to have him work there. I don't know how long he worked there, and then from there he just kept on going north. And he was, another place that he was mentioning was Long Beach, and I knew, I'd never seen, I'd never been in Long Beach, but I knew the name when I was there. And then he also mentioned Inglewood, so that's near where, the L.A. International Airport's somewhere in there, I imagine. And they did some farm work there, and then he continued going north.

KL: Do you think he worked for the Japanese families that he met in San Juan Capistrano?

MY: Yes, all Japanese, all Japanese families, farmers.

KL: Did he just stay for a while and help out on the farms, do you think?

MY: My dad? Yes. Yes, that's what he did. I didn't hear anything about he was with his brother at any time or anything. I don't know he spent any time with them or not, but he kept on going north, and that's where he finally ended up in Salinas.

KL: Why do you think he decided on Salinas as a place to settle?

MY: I think he had a couple friends who were already there, farming or working for the farms, somewhere in Salinas. And he mentioned something about Gilroy. That's another familiar name to me, so this is such-and-such in Gilroy, there's something, he used to always mention that.

KL: To me too, 'cause I like garlic. [Laughs]

MY: Yeah. And then he, another town he was, he used to mention was Gonzales. Gonzales is just before you get to Salinas; there's a little town called Gonzales.

KL: So he would talk about these places to you when you were a kid.

MY: Yes. My mom did that.

KL: What did he say about his experiences there?

MY: Pardon?

KL: What did he say about his experiences there? Was it hard, or did he like the people he met?

MY: Well, I haven't heard much about the, his experience with the other farming friends, except the fact that sometimes he would go downtown Salinas to have a drink with them. In fact, lots of drink, according to my mom, go in downtown Salinas and have a lot of drink, and she used to worry about whether he's gonna be able to come home safely. The fact that my mom always mentioned that there is a railroad track runs right along the main road there, and sometimes he'd come in so late, coming home so late and she's been waiting and then she start wanting, says, "I hope you won't get run over by a train or something like that." So that was her worries. But anyway, as far as the, my dad's friends' farming operations, I don't know who, what they did or where they farmed, anything like that. But I do remember him mentioning about some friends in Gilroy, Gonzales. And where my dad ended up was in Spreckels, and that's where we all were born, in Spreckels. That's west of Salinas, in the foothill of the, that Big Sur mountain range there. So in other words, on the other side it's Big Sur and this side is Spreckels, and then there's a big field, expand, and then downtown Salinas is on the eastern side of it.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

KL: And he was living in Spreckels when your mom came, is that right?

MY: Yes. And when he got there, from Inglewood area, he was able to negotiate a deal with the American farmers there, the farm owner there. That was what I understand was sharecropping. I don't know how it worked, but he, that's where he started farming. And because of the Spreckels, those days they had that factory there, the sugar factory -- that building is still standing today -- so Spreckels is known as a sugar factory town, that all the farmers those days grew predominantly sugar beets because they'd just harvest sugar beets and take 'em over to the factory.

KL: And sell it to the factory.

MY: Yeah, sell to the factory.

KL: So he rented acreage, he rented land and a house, but grew his own crops and sold 'em to the factory.

MY: I guess that's how it worked. But I don't know, he grew sugar beets for the landowner and then landowner sold the sugar beets to the factory. That I know, and he got the percentage of whatever -- I really don't know what the sharecropping means.

KL: Might mean different things to different people.

MY: Right, right. So that's, that's what he was doing. But, so about 1929 Mom came and -- the year or two before he, I mean she came to visit.

KL: She did?

MY: She came to visit. I didn't, I don't know if she was... they were married in Japan before my dad left, but anyway, she came to visit my dad in 1927 or '28.

KL: But you think they were married in, they were both present at their marriage ceremony in Japan?

MY: I have no idea. But the family registry says that they were married February 6, 1927, so...

KL: Sometimes people were married in Japan without the husband being present. It was a legal certificate, and then the wife would come to the United States and join the husband there.

MY: Right.

KL: So I wonder if that's what they did.

MY: Maybe that, probably happened. But anyway --

KL: When was her visit?

MY: Pardon?

KL: When was her visit to your father? You said she came to the United States for a visit, before she moved here?

MY: No, just, she took out a short visit visa, I don't know, maybe two weeks visiting visa or whatever, and she just overstayed. She just overstayed. In 1929 my brother George was born, then the following year my sister, Amy, was born. So George and Amy's is about a year difference, or maybe a just little, one months or two months, different, a year different.

KL: Do they have Japanese names also, your siblings George and Amy?

MY: Yes, yes.

KL: What are their Japanese names?

MY: George Masaharu, Amy Emiko, and then my other brother, Bob Shigeto. And I'm Minoru, a Japanese name. They never came up with an American name for me. So I should've asked that question long ago, why only me have Japanese name, not American name? And after they went back, they had my younger sister. She was born in Japan, and then they made my youngest sister Mary. Why, she was born in Japan and the name Mary, why, me, I was born in America. Why they didn't come up with an American name, you know?

KL: Does Mary have a Japanese name at all?

MY: Who's that?

KL: Does Mary have a Japanese name at all?

MY: Well, they call Meriko. So it's, I always think, so why didn't they come up with American name for me? Minoru. Minoru is a good name. I like that, actually, the meaning that, the plant or... yeah, mostly plants, something growing and the process of being, becoming, forming a seed or fruit.

KL: Minoru means something growing?

MY: Yeah. No, the becoming of the fruitation or seeding or, become a seed or fruits. Or sometimes business, like when you start the business, you work real hard and then being successful, well, that process called minoru. So your business is minoru, that means you're successful. So in other words, if you plant the plants, take care of it, then, like for instance, say if you want to, if you plant an apple tree, young apple tree, you take care of it for three years and it grows nice and big and then soon you have fruits, and that process means minoru.

KL: That is a good name.

MY: So I like that, Minoru, but living here and then mingle with American, English-speaking people, Minoru, it sounds unfamiliar, so people start me calling me, "So okay, I'm not gonna call you Minoru. I'm gonna call you Min." That's fine. So that's how my name Min came from. People just start calling me Min instead of Minoru.

KL: So you grew up as Minoru, but when you came back to the U.S. it shortened to Min.

MY: Min, uh-huh.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

KL: So you were born in -- oh, I wanted to, your dad grew beets first, but did he grow something else later in Spreckels?

MY: Yes. According to my mom, in all those years it was very struggling. I mean, you were just scraping and having trouble financially. By the way, when he was growing sugar beets, right after my brother George was born, and in the sugar beets, the field, I understand there were a lot of pheasants. Whether they were, the pheasants were eating some foliage or eating, doing some damage or what, well, he like to hunt. For some reason he was carrying that loaded gun in the back of his tractor, and my brother George was riding with him. I think he was about three years old. And for an unknown reason, that loaded gun fell off the tractor, just exploded, and the bullet hit my dad's spine, back spine, and he ended up in the hospital for a long, long time. So I used to see his scars when I was growing up in Japan, right, right about the waist. So anyway, but anyway, he was recovered from that injury, and then in 1939, I believe, he was growing five acres of lettuce, which happened to hit a big market and ended up making a lot of money. It was 1939, just a year before I was born. And of course, I was born in 1940, so by that time he was financially pretty stable, for the first time in his farming life. And in the meantime, the relationship, the government relationship between Japan and the U.S. was going downhill, I mean deteriorating, because the, I guess Japan was asking U.S. to give them, give Japan a supply of oil and the U.S. kept on refusing. Then that relationship was just... you know. So I guess there was, around 1940 there was rumors flying there might be a war soon. And then --

KL: So your parents were keeping up with developments in Japan in between, yeah.

MY: Right, I guess. So I guess his buddies, farming buddies, like I told you before, they were going downtown Salinas and over the drink and then they'd talk about politics. It's, I don't think it's no different from now than then. And then my dad started to think about, worry about what's gonna happen and then the sake of family safety, the kids, he start thinking it might be better for him to just pick up family and go back to Japan.

KL: Because he was worried about your safety if war began.

MY: Right. Not only that, his desires, and at that time many Japanese people desire who have a kid, they wanted to educate their kids in Japan, for Japanese, they get a Japanese education. And maybe that was my father's desire too, to take the kids to Japan and to give them a Japanese education. That would be, he thought that was pretty nice to do that. And another thing was my mom hadn't seen, ever since she came over, hadn't seen her sisters for a good ten years or so, or more. So they thought it was a good idea, not only to keep the family in safety just in case something happened, so, and the financial situation's no problem for him because they just happened to have a good income from the sales of lettuce field, lettuce crop. So I'm just thinking that, what if he didn't make the money in 1939? He would've stayed on. He wouldn't, no way there'd be enough money to be able to buy tickets to go on board, on the ship to go back to Japan. We would probably end up in Poston, in the camp. So that's how fate is determined by the parents', the fathers' decisions.

KL: Or by world events.

MY: Yeah. So anyway, that's what he did. He just decided to go back.

KL: Do you have a sense for whether he might've stayed if relationships had been better between the two countries?

MY: Oh yes, most definitely.

KL: You think he would've wanted to stay.

MY: Yeah, most definitely. He would've stayed. He wouldn't never go back. And then, if he stayed back here, although we had to go in the camp, well, what if after the war's over, we'll probably, but we would've been in Salinas and Spreckels and all three brothers farming. I don't know.

KL: Yeah, you might not have had your sister either, or she might've been a different person.

MY: Right, right. So that is something that I always think about. What if?

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

<Begin Segment 5>

KL: How did they prepare for the trip?

MY: Well, after he hit the big market with lettuce crop he bought himself a brand new automobile. It was a 1940 Ford, and I used to have a picture of it. My mom got a brand new refrigerator and a Singer sewing machine, the foot operated Singer sewing machine. That sewing machine ended up in Japan. My mom decided to take that with her. But my dad always talked about, "Doggonit, I couldn't bring that brand new Ford with us," 'cause how could he?

KL: Are you guys in the picture that you had of it? Is your family in the picture? Just the car?

MY: Yeah.

KL: Sewing machines were something that mothers brought to camps too. It must've been really important, I think.

MY: Yeah. So as a kid, I used to see the Singer sewing machine sittin' in the corner of the room, and then my mom did all the sewing, so the school uniforms to pretty much everything, using that Singer sewing machine.

KL: Did she -- oh, go ahead.

MY: And, of course those days, in Japan nobody had anything like that. Lot of 'em even had never seen a sewing machine like that before, so that was kind of a rare thing.

KL: Yeah. Did your neighbors come use it ever?

MY: Oh yeah. Oh yeah, all the young ladies used to want to use it. Yeah, that was something that we were all proud of, something that no one had. Then another thing was... well anyway, going back to the time... I have, still have the visa that my father took out on me, with a small picture and my name. And then the name of the ship was called Tatsuta Maru, and the departure date was October 2, 1941. Of course, Pearl Harbor was December, so that's only two months before that. So you can imagine, maybe that ship that sailed across the Pacific was probably the last one. And we, as soon as we got to Yokohama and then got to my mom's village, that was Pearl Harbor. That was --

KL: Your first news on getting there.

MY: Yeah, the start of the war.

KL: Do you know if neighbors from Spreckels came on the ship, or other people that your folks knew, decided to leave?

MY: No. I don't know who else came with them, or he just decided to go back alone. I don't know.

KL: Did you go to your mom's village?

MY: Yes.

KL: I knew you lived in your grandparents' home. Those were your mother's parents?

MY: Yes, right. That was an old, small house with, I don't know if you've ever seen a thatched house, not the roof, the roof was made, covered with the rice straw. On the southern tip of Kyushu island, it's subtropical weather area, and then it rains all the time. And the typhoon areas, every summer, like in June to October, every year we had nasty typhoons came through and take the whole roof, and then it's got to do over again. But when I, of course I was only eighteen months old, so I don't remember anything, but my mom was telling me that they had a lot of problems. Not only the weather problem, but coming from here to go there and then different zones, the different area, the water is different, the food that we ate was different, and then we used to have all kinds of medical problems, diarrhea to, summertime we'd get mosquito bites, flea bites and that kind of, because of the high moisture, it kind of got out of hand. And the boils, here and here [touches arms] and all over the body. And I still have scars from those days, so it was pretty tough.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

KL: What was medical care? Did you just get, did your mom just care for you at home?

MY: Yes. It's very limited medical supply. Mostly I think the medicine was used was, what do you call, the herbal medications that local people always know, okay, this herb works for this or mix this with that one, and then we used to have all kinds of things all over my body. [Laughs]

KL: It'd be hard to watch your kids have to deal with, I think.

MY: Yeah. It was tough going there, but then after my dad got there and he decided to start building our own, his own house for the family, and luckily my mom had the family forest where they had the redwood trees growing, so he was able to cut down some of those redwood trees and then take it into the mill, saw 'em.

KL: Had her family managed that forest for...

MY: Yes.

KL: ..a long time?

MY: They always, the family have, it's such a mountainous area that different families, each family have their own forest that's been passed on to generation after generation, and then they've been taking care of it. When they cut down the tree, they make sure they plant young trees again, and after thirty or forty years then we have nice harvestable trees. Then they use that to build the house, so that's what my dad did. But after the war, all the materials, building materials, well, he had the lumber alright, but other materials like nails and the tiles, to put the tiles on the roof, and all different materials was short because the Japanese Imperial Army was using up most of whatever's available at the time to support the war. So it took him a long time to get the house building completed.

KL: Where did he, how did he get the materials? He was just patient and he found what...

MY: Yeah, he just went all over, I guess. He looked high and low to try to get the material. And that was completely tiled with no thatched roof, just completely tiled roof with nice individual black wavy tiles. And that was a villager's dream home, type of home. That was pretty modern at the time. And then not only that, he was able to buy radios. Nobody had radios. Course, no televisions at the time, but the radio is one of the best communication tools. So listening tools, so he had that, and then that radio came in pretty handy during the war because he was able to, he was able to catch news and what's going on about the progression of the war, and all the villagers come and listen to the radio. And when we have the air raid, we'll get an emergency broadcast from capital city of Kagoshima that there is an air raid southern Kyushu, or whatever, and then him and I -- I was probably about four years old, five years old -- him and I would go to the community center where it had the hand-cranking siren and then cranked the siren. He would let me crank the siren, and I used to have a lot of fun. [Mimics cranking motion and siren sound] So let the villagers to know to evacuate because the air raid is coming.

KL: I wonder if that's why your dad took you, 'cause he knew it was exciting and something kind of fun for you in the middle of this...

MY: Yeah, it was a lot of fun, and that's what I remember. I didn't know what was going on, actually, and then just to go to the community center and then crank the siren and all the villagers start getting ready for evacuation.

KL: Would they leave the village, go into the --

MY: No, they always went into the mountainous area, and then they have the manmade cave. It's about, say, six feet or, six feet wide and five, six feet high and maybe about ten feet deep, so some of the villagers would just go in there and stay there until...

KL: How many people would crowd in there?

MY: Sometimes it's very crowded, and then it's very stuffy and dark. And we used to carry, we used to carry a little emergency, what they call emergency bag, with roasted soybeans and... the reason why they used the soybeans is that gave you enough protein, and that's why all, everybody carried a handful of soybeans in there, so when we're hungry, just get that and then munch on that.

KL How long would you stay in there, during a raid?

MY: I don't... well, maybe, sometimes we'd stay overnight there. It depends on how close the airplanes, the warplanes are approaching, 'cause I imagine it's coming from Okinawa or that way. Once the airplane, the warplane got there, it didn't stay around too long. But sometimes we'd just stay overnight. But during the day, when we get into the, actually toward the end of the war, the warplanes, I guess it's the B-29 warplanes, bombers, fly over the mountain range, the kids, as kids we wanted to see that. I mean, it's so curious and we wanted to see how the airplanes come and dive down, and we wanted to see what's happening. But Dad and other adult people just start screaming at us to, "Get back in! Get back in! It's dangerous, get back in!" So we couldn't see much of it. But the airplane, the warplanes, I don't remember how many, but some group of airplanes, about, maybe three to five B-29s come over the mountain range, and then all of a sudden the one start diving. It'd go [gestures a plane diving]. The sounds, the change from diving from high altitude to low altitude, it'd go high to low [imitates sound]. You know that, and then one dives and then the next one do the same thing, then pretty soon the black smoke's rising from the, beyond the hills on the other side. So you know that something's being hit, right? So as soon as you start seeing that smoke, the black smoke rising up from the other side of the hills, you realize that it's actually that, really taking place, that it's something hit. So we immediately felt the real danger. "Oh, that really is dangerous." So we used to get really scared. To this day, sometimes the local, from the local airport, that stunt biplane that, just the singles, biplanes, I don't know, they're practicing diving or whatever, from high pitch sounds to the lower pitch sounds, go [imitates sound] when you go down, that sound is something very similar to what I heard at that time, so I don't really care for that sound. I don't want to hear that, because I just remember those days because of that. So I don't even, I didn't, I don't even care to hear that noise. Or sometimes the local airport here, they have an airshow; I never want to go to an airshow, because of that, because of the experience that I had as a child, the memories that really bring out when you're seeing those things. So I don't want to see that.

KL: Sounds like a strong memory.

MY: Yeah, it is. It is. Everybody was just traumatized with that. Yeah.

KL: You'd feel pretty defenseless, I think.

MY: But as far as our small village is concerned, we never, we never had the problem, never, no bombs would drop in our area. Because our, it's a sleepy farming community, just a small, small house scattered here and there, so... but on the other side of the hills, there used to be wine, not wine, whiskey distillery companies. You know those, they make the whiskey from the sweet potatoes.

KL: I've heard of that in Ireland too, from regular potatoes, white potatoes.

MY: Yeah, so I guess that company was attacked. I mean, that actually, that black smoke was coming from, actually, that was that distillery that got hit. That's the only commercial, industrial establishment in our whole area.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

KL: So we've got another tape going. This is tape number two of a continuing interview with Minoru Yamaguchi on June 21, 2012. And we were talking about your village where the Ono family was from, and I wanted to ask you, how many people do you think lived in that settlement?

MY: At that time there were quite a few families. I'd say quite a few, must be about forty-five families. They're all engaged in farming and cattle. Except my mom's sister, who married to a cattle trader. He was almost working full time trading cattle, going around different people and market the already marketable cattle, and then he would bring a small calf to the family so that they will start feeding them again.

KL: Yeah.

MY: So that's about two year cycle. So once you bring in a small calf, then it'll take two years or so to become a marketable cow.

KL: Could he continue that work during the war?

MY: Yes.

KL: He was able to find cattle.

MY: So he was pretty well-known in the area, not only that village but the next village where my dad was born, and then others. My wife's from same region, but it's quite, I'd say about thirty miles south of where I grew up, and her family was involved in that trading, cattle trading business too.

KL: Maybe they worked together.

MY: Yeah. Well, they knew each other. My wife's dad and my uncle, they knew each other.

KL: What was the community center building like, where you said you'd go to crank the sirens? Did that have a thatched roof too?

MY: That's, well, the community center sounds pretty, pretty...

KL: A gymnasium and... [laughs]

MY: Yeah. But no, just a small, one room shack. They didn't have a thatched roof, though. They have a tile roof. But one room, just a building, with a tatami floor. Tatami is the rice mat floor. And then they used that community center for meetings, the villagers meet to discuss when they're gonna get together and they go up in the mountain to cut an underbrush, underbrush of the growth of redwood trees and all that.

KL: People cut underbrush as a group?

MY: People worked together, as a group. They always did that, not as individual, so they always cut together and then worked as a group. Which is, I think it was pretty nice. Even when the time to plant the rice in the rice paddy, instead of working individually, all the villagers got together and they helped. "Okay, one, this day or tomorrow, we're gonna plant Mokichi's, Yamaguchi's rice field." So all the villagers get together and then come, got the planting done in one day. "Okay, the following day, so we're gonna do such-and-such." So okay, so we did all that together, which is, I think that's pretty efficient way to get the job done. Because the timeframes of the plant, especially rice, is pretty much limited. I mean, you got to get it done in a certain period, like in June. You cannot wait one month from there to do it, because the rice plants need a high temperature, warm weather. Otherwise they won't grow. So they got it done in a certain time frame, so that's what the people did.

KL: Was there a church or a temple in the village?

MY: Pardon?

KL: Was there a church or a temple in the village?

MY: Oh yes, yes. The Japanese tradition, the man of the house needs to carry on the family affairs, especially the ancestors' memorial service, and make sure that he has to get that done. In other words, the person or his dad or whoever in the family passes on, well, then one year, need to go to the church, or temple, to have the service done. And that usually happens in every odd number of years. Okay, the first year goes, that's pretty important, and then followed was third year. One, three, and then after third year's memorial, you skip to seventh year. That's pretty important, seventh year memorial is pretty important, as far as Buddhism is concerned. And then after seventh year, thirteen, thirteenth year, and it goes so for so on. And if you don't do that, we always believe that the family's been cursed by ancestor's spirit. Like, you know what Obon is? Have you ever heard the name Obon?

KL: A little bit. I don't know a lot about it.

MY: Obon is the very important Buddhist holiday which occurs every summer, for three days, August 13th through August 15th. Well, we believed, in Buddhism, that the ancestors' spirits come home, actually come home to visit family in the house where they were born. So you might say that's homecoming for the ancestors, so we celebrate. You prepare food, and then we do the memorial service for them, and then after that we, family all get together and have good food and have a good time. That is Obon festival. That's what every church, even here, August, or sometime in July, everybody gets together and have a Obon festival. That's what it means. If you don't do it, we all believe that family will be cursed in some way. We don't want anything of that nature happening to us. We don't want that, so therefore we have to go through the, we feel that we should. So that is important things, so we always did that. We always went to the temple. And the day that we had the memorial service, the day that the person died -- in fact, my mother's, my mother died on June 25th, which is just four days from today, so we're gonna make sure that, we don't go to church here, but we have a portable shrine, the shrine here. Then we put incense and the flowers and little traditional pastry and then tea, and then ring the bell and then [clasps hands].

KL: On the anniversary.

MY: Every year we do that. And then every Obon we do that. Not necessarily, if necessary we go to the church here, temple here, but if you, I could go over there and do that, but since we have this portable shrine here, we do it at home. So as long as we do it, that's the most important thing. And in Buddhism, if you put the palm of your hands together and then [bows head] and then like this, your feeling will be connected to the person who's deceased. Like if I want to do it like this [clasps hands and bows head], my mother's anniversary, I'll go like this and my feeling will be connected with my mom, or dad. So that's pretty important for us. So, like every time we go fishing in High Sierra, we stop there at the Manzanar. Even if I am, if I didn't, if I don't know anybody that, knowing that someone's died there and there is a monument there, we go over there, pay the respect. That's what we do. I mean, we're kind of educated -- well, I don't know, our mom and dad and everybody did that, and we're seeing them do that.

KL: It's a connection.

MY: Yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

KL: What did your, what did your siblings think about being back in Japan? What was their response to the air raids and to, I know they went to school there, can you tell me a little bit about your older brother and sisters' experience in school?

MY: My brother George and Amy had -- of course, they were ten years old, eleven and ten when first we got there. Although they spoke a little bit of Japanese, because parents spoke Japanese, right, they kind of pushed around back and forth at first, got in fourth grade and then the teacher decided maybe we should put them in the fifth grade and this and that, so back and forth. And then they had so much problem. And George especially, he was a very, very smart man; he was able to, he was able to get into a prestigious high school. That's old, olden system, Japanese school system's high school, equivalent to university now. And I know that a lot of people that went to that school either became schoolteachers and higher professions, but those days, with the war, supporting the war was the main thing, not going to school to study things. Well, they're going to school to kind of assist Japanese Imperial Army. That's what my brother was kind of irritated about. He wanted to study, but didn't have enough time or amount to do that. Instead, we're doing, digging holes, or if he wasn't digging holes he was going somewhere and assist the, translate the English to Japanese, things like that. And commuting from the house to the school was quite a distance, and the only way to get there is by walking or bicycle, and he has so much problem with going to the school because the rain all the time, and rainy days it's pretty hard to get on a bike and go to school on time. Then if he didn't make it in time, he'd get punished by teachers, and he just had so much problem. And the, my sister, Amy, attended the local agricultural school, to study housekeeping mostly. You know, the girls, I guess...

KL: Home economics here.

MY: Yeah, home economic, things like that. So that was, it was okay for her, but not the same case with my brother George.

KL: Do you think the army knew he was a U.S. citizen when he was doing these translations and stuff?

MY: It was a dual citizen. There's a long story on those things.

KL: 'Cause of his dad, yeah okay.

MY: Because...

KL: But they weren't suspicious of his, that he would give them the wrong translation or anything?

MY: Well, you know, I don't know about that. Maybe they didn't care because they needed someone to translate the English, and then they'd have him do, he happened to be able to do that. So maybe they didn't, maybe they closed their eyes and let him do that. Who knows? But those days, the American citizens, or any other citizens other than Japanese, couldn't go to school there. They wouldn't let, they wouldn't even accept the kids to go to school there, unless they're Japanese citizens. So, well, I'm an American citizen, Bob and everybody, so we had to change our name to Ono, not Yamaguchi. Yamaguchi's a name that was from here. That's a U.S. citizen name, Minoru Yamaguchi, or Amy Yamaguchi or George or Bob Yamaguchi. That's a name that was named here. And then Japanese school system won't accept (American born students), so my dad had to change our last name to Ono, my mother's maiden name, and then register as a Japanese citizen. So all of a sudden we're dual citizens, American citizen...

KL: With one name.

MY: And one name, then Japanese citizen with same first name but then different last name, which is my mother's maiden name. And we, I tell you, we really had to keep our identity very secret. We'll never, we never told any other people, even the villagers, my schoolmates or school friends, never, ever told that we were -- as far as I'm concerned, I don't know about my other brothers -- told my friends that I was born in USA. We had to keep our name secret. I mean, not name, but identity, that is. Because, especially after, right after the war, with the sort of, some of those Japanese, other people had, felt animosity about Americans, so my dad warned me not to say anything about you're from, you were born in the U.S. That was right after we made a trip to Yokohama to renew our visa, 'cause we carried the visa. And after five years -- it was ten years? I don't even remember, that was either five years or ten years. All I remember is they made a twenty-four hour train trip from Kagoshima to Yokohama to visit American consulate, and then to extend, to make extension on the visa.

KL: Were you about eight years old, do you think?

MY: Yeah. But it was fun.

KL: The trip?

MY: The trip was fun, just, just a lot of passengers with a big basket carrying all the food, the... after the war, there was such a food shortage. I mean, those city people didn't have enough food to eat, so they would hop on the train to go countryside or out of town to see if they could get some food to take home. And those trains were loaded with those people that was carrying the big basket loaded with food, such as potatoes, onions. But as a kid, the train ride, twenty-four hours, it was a lot of fun.

KL: Yeah. You and your dad and your brother, you said, right?

MY: Uh-huh.

KL: Yeah.

MY: But, of course, we're taking twenty-four hours, so once we get there and then visit American consulate, get all the paperwork done, then we go to the hotel -- it's called, Japanese style hotel called ryokan. It's called ryokan. It's not fancy hotel or anything, just spend the night, and the following day we will hop on, back on the train to go back. At the hotel, I remember my dad told us, "You never say anything of this trip to your friends or anybody." I couldn't understand why. I was so eager to tell my experience to my friends here, how fun it was to make such a trip to go big city like Yokohama. But...

KL: Did you keep it a secret?

MY: Oh yeah.

KL: You did.

MY: Yeah, 'cause I had to. He was very, very strict about that, said, "Don't say anything about it."

KL: Did, what was your story, if people had asked where you had been for the first year and a half of your life, or if someone asked your older siblings where they had moved from when they came back to the village? What did they say? Do you know? When you were little, I don't, your friends just grew up with you, so they didn't know you hadn't --

MY: I don't know, I don't know what was my dad's excuse. I don't know. I never heard, or I never, later years, I never heard any villagers asking us, "Why you guys born in America?" I never, I never knew.

KL: But as far as you knew, you were unique. You were the only Niseis in your, in your village?

MY: As far, yeah, because my mom and dad always talked about the time that they spent here. And then their, they spoke mainly Japanese, right? Japanese language.

KL: Did they learn any English, or just a little?

MY: Well, that's what I'm gonna get into. They, their conversation, between my mom and dad's conversation, was mixed in with English vocabulary, just a vocabulary here and there, and then some of those were bad words. I didn't know at the time, but I could tell the expression of my dad's calling my mom, you know, because he would, he was using some bad word, but I didn't know exactly what it meant, but, until after I came back. And some of those words are pretty bad words. So their conversation was pretty much scattered with English vocabulary words, so I was kind of familiar with those, especially the, especially names. Or he would say, he would say the, every time it rained, he wanted to cover something and he would call my mom, "Where's canvas?" You know canvas, the canvas? He used to say canvas. Some of those words are pretty familiar words to me, even though I speak any English at the time, but then I kind of knew. And then the name of vegetables, he would call cabbage. Never, those Japanese villagers, they never used, called, cabbage, they used Japanese word, right? And bell peppers, "Oh, I got nice bell peppers, bell pepper." Things like that. So I was pretty much familiar with some of those English words, yeah, when I was growing up.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

KL: So this, I think, we're up to about the time when your older brother and sister were thinking about maybe going back to the United States.

MY: Yeah, it was 1948. That was the year that I started my first year.

KL: I did want to ask you, though, and I know you don't have a lot of firsthand memories of it, but I did want to ask you about your memories of the atomic bombs and the Japanese surrender, too. Let's back up to that. Forgot about that.

MY: Yes. Of course, I told you that my dad had that radio, the one and only in the village. And I believe that was 1946? Yeah, I think it was 1946. It was... let's see, Hiroshima, the, when the atomic bomb was dropped it was August, right? August 1941?

KL: The war started in '41.

MY: Okay, then '45, I'm sorry. I'm sorry, '45.

KL: That's okay.

MY: I think it was 1946 when, I don't remember, I was just, I have a faint memory that I saw some villagers sitting around the radio, and some of 'em kind of bending down like this [bows head], some of 'em, their expression of, some of 'em was almost in tears and some of 'em were just bending down and then listening to the radio. I didn't know what it was, but that was the message that they were, from Emperor Hirohito, announcing that he wanted to unconditionally surrender, so that's why after that, I guess, some of those people felt anger or sadness, and that's why they were almost in tears. Now, I kind of realize that later on, much later on. So I guess that was the end of the war. But I don't remember at all about the, when the atomic bombs dropped. I didn't know, 'cause we were about four hundred miles south of Nagasaki. Well, Nagasaki's in Kyushu, the same island that we live. Kagoshima is southern tip and Nagasaki is on the Japan Sea side, on the west side, which is about, Hiroshima is the mainland of Japan, so a little bit further, further northwest -- northeast, I'm sorry. But Nagasaki is probably about two hundred and fifty miles, three hundred miles maybe northwest of us. And I didn't know anything about it until when I was a little bit older, later, that some of those workers, some of those younger people that were in the area working in a coal mine, I think... yeah, in that area, like Fukuoka, Nagasaki, in the same area, Fukuoka's pretty well-known for coal mine, there was a lot of coal miners those days. And some of those people got affected by that, and they came home and then have the problem with leukemia or... so I didn't really know anything about it until much later, even after I came back here. I had a chance to visit Japan, so I wanted to see Hiroshima, and that, once I, of course I had to pay, I don't know how much, but I got into interpretive center where they keep all the materials, and start reading all those things, materials that was on display. That's when I really realized that it was, really was something. So other than that I, before that I didn't know. I didn't know anything about it. And another interpretive center, the local one that I had visited was, all the... zero airplane pilot, okay, zero airplane pilot is, the zero airplane was just a small airplane that carried just bomb, attack airplane, and they were given one way of fuel, the suicide bomber, so called suicide bomber. So you just fly the airplane and then just target the U.S. warship, and then they just go in like a suicide. Then there's no way of, even if they survive the attack, couldn't come back because there's only fuel that is one way. And those pilots, before, the day before they left, they left a note, little short note, and I saw that, some of those collection of notes. It was so sad. It was incredible.

KL: I imagine.

MY: And those notes were mainly left to their mothers. Most, ninety percent of the notes was written to mothers. Because I read Japanese, so I understood one hundred percent what they were saying. So sad. And that really hit me, more than what I've heard about the A-bomb or other things. But those letters to their mothers was something. Never, never can forget it. That was something that's, something sad. But just, those young boys, about eighteen to twenty years old, had to go through that for Imperial Navy, talking about the courage. It was incredible.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

KL: We took a quick break and are back. We're getting ready to talk about Minoru's older brother and sister's return to the United States.

MY: Yes, I was eight years old in 1948. That's when I first started my elementary school, that was first year. And I don't remember after I started school, but it was 1948 when my brother George and Amy left to come here, because my dad wrote a letter to his brother, Uncle Hiroshi, who was here in L.A.

KL: Did they write other times during the war?

MY: Uh-huh.

KL: They wrote a lot.

MY: Uh-huh. They were communicating with each other. Somehow the letter was going back and forth during that time, but anyway, my dad asked Uncle Hiroshi that he's sending two kids over to him and please, to bring the kids over to his house and educate 'em, put 'em back to high school, whatever. And Uncle said yes, go ahead, send 'em. So they were, they came here and then immediately after that George started high school.

KL: Your uncle was back in California? He had left Colorado already?

MY: Yeah, right.

KL: Do you know when they left Colorado? Was it during the war?

MY: Yeah, he was, he was in Colorado working in the farms during the war, and then he, after the war he came back and took over Auntie's brother's business, because the brother was having some health problems. But anyway, my brother started high school and then Amy decided to, well, I guess Uncle decided to send her to live with an American family somewhere in the West Los Angeles, this American family, to learn how to speak English and get used to the American way of life. So she did that, she stayed with the family and then she did whatever household chores, like cleaning the house on the weekends or whatever, and then she went to school from there. And I understand that, she was telling me later years that the American family that she lived with, one of the sons became an American Major League Baseball player.

KL: Really?

MY: I didn't find, I didn't know the name of the baseball player, but she told me that. So wow, that was, I said that was pretty fantastic.

KL: Yeah. Were they an okay family to live with?

MY: Yeah, she was happy there. Then she graduated from... Dorothy High School? Anyway, the high school down in West Los Angeles. It's still there.

KL: You think it's called Dorothy or something?

MY: Yeah, Dorothy High School, I think. And then after that, she was able to get a job, pretty well-known insurance company. I think it was the New York Life Insurance Company, but I don't know. Insurance company, it's pretty well-known. George, after the graduation, went in the army.

KL: He went back to high school in the U.S., you said?

MY: Yes.

KL: Okay.

MY: Yes, and then he was inducted to army and he served in Korea, so he was in Korea for two years. That was from 1950 to 1952. And... yeah.

KL: How was the transition back to the United States for them? Was it hard, or were they happy to be back?

MY: Yeah, my brother was telling me that Uncle Hiroshi was pretty rough on 'em. I mean, I respect Uncle Hiroshi. I know he, he's good at heart and he was willing to be in charge of bringing some of the kids, including myself, my brothers, and not only our family but his other brother's kid, he did that. But maybe because he felt he needed to be strict, to keep everybody in...

KL: Keep 'em safe, since their parents weren't there.

MY: Right. So, but everybody turned out pretty good. There was no problem. And he had a good business going. He had a transplant nursery business, where he transplanted from seed, the celery seedling to the regular planting so that the flat, put one of the ten plants in regular flat and then after the plants were grown about six inches or so, then they would load 'em up on the truck and then deliver them to the farmers all over, like Seal Beach, nearby farming community like Seal Beach. And when I was still there in the '60s there was a lot of farming ground down the beach area, and he even used to come up here to Oxnard -- my brother, that is. My brother used to drive a big truck.

KL: He delivered, did the deliveries.

MY: Right. But anyway, he did real well in business and then I was, he was something that I was really looking up to. I wanted to be a successful businessman like him. Then George, after the army, he came back from Korea, he went back to work, working for Uncle and he became the manager for the nursery that they were operating in Torrance. And he stayed there until 1963, I believe, because, reason why he left there was Uncle Hiroshi wanted to sell the nursery to a big development. That was corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Hawthorne Boulevard, just right on the corner, right next to Torrance Airport. And I think he, I don't know how much he sold it, probably so that he just made a pretty good, pretty good money. And then he, by that time he had a business, another business going in Malibu, here in Malibu, and my brother --

KL: He had them both at the same time?

MY: Yeah. He was, and him and his son, Tosh, was operating the business here in Malibu. And then my brother George and Bob moved up here and started the nursery, the plant nursery business, sell trees and shrubberies. I, when I came here --

KL: Was it, when they left Japan and you guys were still there, were, was it hard for your parents, or were they happy they were back in the United States? How was that?

MY: My parents?

KL: Yeah, to have your brother and sister leave.

MY: Yeah, it was, wasn't easy, especially my mom. Well, I'll go back a little bit now. After I graduated from high school, well, the same day that I graduated from high school, everybody's celebrating, my friends, and my dad told me, he said, "Son, you go back to where you belong." He told me. That meant you go back to U.S. "You go back, because I already told my brother Hiroshi," my uncle, "I got the permission for you. Your uncle Hiroshi will be willing to have you there and get you going." My mom was just devastated to hear that because, because my brother Bob was already gone, he was here, and I was the only one that, left in the house. And my dad was already sick. I mean, he had a stroke when I was sixteen years old, I believe. I was, just got into high school, and he's stricken with a stroke, and then he couldn't do much farm work anymore. So my mom was saying, "Who's gonna do this, who's gonna take care of this?" But my dad insisted that I should go back. "We'll manage alright. Don't worry, we'll do it alright. You go back." So that's, and so that was February 1960. And then seventeen days later, I was here.

KL: Wow.

MY: Yeah, I was here.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

KL: So you left right after graduation too. It was...

MY: Yeah, that took me about six or seven months to get the paperwork done, 'cause I had to go to the American consulate in, this time not in Yokohama. They moved a branch office to Fukuoka, near Nagasaki. So there was, there's only two hundred fifty, three hundred miles trip. A short -- well, it wasn't short, but then it was a lot closer than going to Yokohama. And I remember, through a translator, 'cause I didn't speak English at all then, and through -- of course, American consulate, it was American man, so he spoke nothing but English, which I couldn't understand, so they had the translator then. Then translator told me that, "Look, you have, you are a dual citizen. To go back to USA, you need to get rid of, do away with your Japanese citizenship. If you want to keep Japanese citizenship, you may not be able to go back." Well, my choices are clear. I mean, to go back, well, I gotta get rid of that. So I discarded that Japanese citizenship then, then I agreed to it and signed it, then they issued the passport.

KL: And then you went back to Yamaguchi.

MY: Yeah, back to Yamaguchi. But my passport, first passport was done "Minoru Yamaguchi, a.k.a Minoru Ono." But I don't know why they did that. The reason why I'm saying that caused me a lot of problems, when I got to San Pedro, immigration officer was, kept on questioning me about that. I couldn't answer the, 'cause I couldn't speak that well of English. It was just halted English and try to explain it, then they couldn't understand it. Then they kept me in a room a while, but they decided to let me go. Then my brother and his son, my nephew, he was five years old at the time, were waiting on the other side of the gate, but then those, the Immigration officer wouldn't let him come in to help me. Said, "No, you can't do that." But anyway, they decided to release me.

KL: Sounds scary, a little bit.

MY: Yeah, it was a very traumatic experience. Because I'm, I wasn't trying to come here as illegal. Legal, I had the passport. But because of the way the passport was written, I guess they had some kind of a suspicion, I guess. But anyway, I was alright. I was able to get through that. But anyway, after I got here and started to work at the nursery, and there were about seven or eight Japanese ladies who spoke nothing but Japanese working for the, at the nursery.

KL: This is your uncle's nursery?

MY: And the ladies were the transplant... so I worked around with them all the time, and I couldn't, I didn't learn any English at all because I was talking to them in Japanese every day.

KL: Were they immigrants? What was their story?

MY: Yeah, they were first generation people, immigrants, yes. And so I asked my brother, said maybe I would like to go to night school, or maybe even high school, and I contacted with Torrance High School and then they said, "No, you're too old already, so we cannot accept you as a high school student." My choice was just to start the night school. So I just start going to night school in Redondo Beach, which is the west from Torrance, about three nights a week. I did that for about three years. And then after that, my cousin Tosh in Malibu, his customer in Chicago had quite a huge greenhouse, nursery, bedding plants type, or seed business, and they said that they were setting up a vocational training school there to train young people with some horticultural training so that they become greenhouse flower growers or bedding plant growers and stuff like that. So my uncle asked me, says, "Do you want to go? We could buy you tuition." Said, well, since I wasn't learning any English, thought it might be a good idea for me to go there. And then I said to my uncle, said, "No, I think I have enough savings to, enough savings to pay for the tuition, or my brother George will probably help me," if I didn't have enough to pay for it. "So you don't have to worry about it, but I'd like to take up the chance." So I did. I went there, sure enough, there's nobody to understand my Japanese, so I didn't have no choice but to start speaking English. And about a year or so --

KL: Did you take classes or anything, English, English language classes?

MY: Over there?

KL: Uh-huh.

MY: No.

KL: You just listened and...

MY: Yeah. But to go to school, right away it's, we had to learn all the different names of the flowers and, not the regular name but the botanical name, which is very difficult, long name.

KL: The Latin names? Yeah.

MY: Yeah, I had to learn all that, I mean, most of them, all those different names.

KL: Yeah.

MY: So I was just using the dictionary. It was difficult for a while, but then somehow I was able to.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

KL: We're here in tape three of a continuing interview with Minoru Yamaguchi on June 21, 2012. And we left off talking about experiences in Chicago, but I wanted to backtrack a little bit and ask you about your departure from Japan. I know your dad said that you should go back to where you belonged and you had some trouble getting the paperwork, or that was a process to get the paperwork, but I wonder how it was leaving Japan.

MY: It was difficult. My dad was already stricken with a stroke, and I had a young sister and my mom, so we, the day of my departure, our ship left the port of Kobe, which is a little bit south of Yokohama, just one night sailing time from Kobe to Yokohama. My parents and sister came to see me off, all the way to Kobe, and then I got on the ship and then we just said goodbye and I left. And then the ship stopped over in Yokohama, then I met with my friends and relatives there for one day.

KL: That's a kind of help, to get to see them.

MY: Yeah, it was kind of, to kind of calm my nerves, so that was kind of nice. And then we left Yokohama. It was an immigrant ship called Argentina. I guess the ship was taking on the immigrants to Argentina this time. And I was in the second class, and all those other passengers who were going to South America was down in the bottom, and my gosh, second class passengers, like first class, it's very fancy, I mean, the food and a nice, comfortable bed. And every breakfast, lunch and dinner you go up in the restaurant and then have dinner with, a meal with ship's engineers or navigators or executive people, and then some of those foods I've never eaten before, seen before. I didn't even know how to eat grapefruit. I never seen grapefruits carved out like that. And the waiter bring me, I mean brought me the sugar with the spoon stuck in it -- I didn't know what to do. I kept on looking at it and the guy just scooped a little bit of sugar and then sprinkled over the top of the grapefruit, so I thought, "Oh, that's how I eat the grapefruit."

KL: What'd you think of the grapefruit? Did you like it?

MY: It tastes awful. Bitter. [Laughs] Well anyway, all the foods are like that, but anyway, other than that, roast beef to lobster to, my gosh, I never seen anything like it.

KL: Were there any other people who were kind of similar to you, who were going to the United States for the first time in their memory?

MY: I was the only one. And then all the other people, they were taking the trip to Japan and then coming back, those retirees or older people, and they were together with me. They kind of told us -- I mean, they told me about the way that California live in, "we do this, we do that," so I had some idea.

KL: Did you just communicate as much as you could?

MY: Yes. Yes, most of 'em spoke half Japanese and half English, so they had been living in California for so long.

KL: Were they Japanese American?

MY: Yeah, Japanese American. But they were pretty nice. They were so helpful. But one thing they couldn't do is to help me in Immigration, 'cause immigration officer wouldn't, won't accept nobody to help, but anyway, I said goodbye to them and then... when, after I walked out the gate, my brother, we walked over to the parking lot where the car was parked and then, gosh, to my surprise, my brother had a 1960, brand new, again, 1960 Ford Fairbank, I think it was. It was so huge. It was awesome. And then once we got on the road, the freeway, San Pedro Freeway and the Pacific Coast Highway for a little while, to get to Torrance, the road was so wide and straight, just, it was just something to see, the first time, first experience. God, it was nighttime, so I couldn't see much of anything else, but the road was all brightly lit and I was able to see some of the things. And the one thing I will never forget was the boat approaching the port, I see a big ball right in, up in the air, big, huge ball and it says 76 in blue letters. I didn't know what that was. "What is that?" Somebody says, "What? That's 76." And I found out later that it was Union Oil's sign, because in San Pedro there's a lot of oil refineries there, and I think one of the refineries was 76, Union Oil refineries. That's what, I guess, I was seeing. So anyway, that was my impression, the first impression. And I'll tell you, after a day or so, just, my sister-in-law, the first time I met her that night, and she's originally from Lodi, California -- in fact, she and her family was in internment camp in Jerome. That in Arkansas?

KL: Uh-huh.

MY: Okay, that's where they were. But anyway, she's Japanese American, spoke mostly in English, a little bit of Japanese, but anyway, she took me to the, two, three days, probably about three or four days later, after I got here, she took, drove me over to Sears Roebuck in a place called Del Amo Center. It's just one of the department stores that's... and then they got me the jeans and the work boots. "Oh my gosh," I thought, "This is what America's all about?" I mean they wear such nice clothes and then wear leather boots, and I thought, this is, this is fantastic. But actually start working at the nursery was pretty hard.

KL: Did you live with your brother and sister-in-law?

MY: Yeah, there was another house in the nursery, another pretty nice, comfortable house. They sometimes, my uncle from Malibu'd come in and spend, have lunch there, and that's where, the house that I stayed. They had three bedrooms and had a nice living and dining, so that's where I stayed. But not being able to speak that much English, and then I wasn't able to move around too much, as far as, I didn't, I wasn't even driving then. I didn't know how to drive, so I pretty much stayed around the nursery and then walk over to the shopping center, food market -- let's see, the grocery store's called Food Giant -- buy little cookies or apples or whatever.

KL: Was it nice to be back with your brother and your sister-in-law? I would think it would be, kind of help you catch up to living with them.

MY: Yeah, they were very helpful. And sometimes she fixed me Japanese food and cook rice, and that was good. They were, I owe a lot to her and to my brother.

KL: She sounds very welcoming.

MY: Yeah. And it was just like Mom and Dad, second mom and dad. Took care of me and washed my clothes and did all that for me, and then drove me, my brother drove me to night school, to Redondo Beach three nights a week, back and forth.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

KL: When you were in night school, were you studying for a degree, or were you studying just English language?

MY: Just to get the high school diploma. I was, that's what I was aiming for. So what I had to do is I had to, I had to write to my high school in Japan and then have them transfer my credential report, and then they, I took it to Japanese embassy, consulate downtown, Little Tokyo, and I had them, I had them convert that over to American level. Then I took that to school office and then they said, "Okay, well, you gotta take English, you gotta take this and this and that. You gotta take history." Okay, so I just stayed with it. But since I decided to go to Chicago, so I kind of left that program, then I went to Chicago, then I came back. By that time my brother George and Bob had the nursery going, so I moved over here. My uncle Hiroshi wanted me to go back to Malibu to work there, but we wanted to have our own business. That was our own goal, to have our own business and be successful. But it didn't work out that way later, though. It was together. But anyway, my uncle was so disappointed. I kind of felt bad about it, but then, but I decided to go with my brother, my two brothers, to have our own business. But...

KL: Where was your nursery?

MY: Pardon?

KL: Where was the nursery that you guys set out?

MY: Right here in Oxnard. There's Ventura, then there's the Santa Clara River, and then on the other side it's Oxnard. So then my brother George did the landscaping, using our own nursery material that we had in our nursery yard, and my brother Bob did the maintenance on the landscaping that my brother George put in, and I was at the retail nursery end of it, waiting on customers and then do all the ordering.

KL: Did you guys, did you grow from seed?

MY: No, we bought those...

KL: Small plants.

MY: Plant materials from wholesalers and then we did the retail, and then bedding plants, ground covers, trees and bushes, and fertilizer and garden supplies. And I kind of watched the retail operation.

KL: And your brothers went to clients' homes and did the installation and the maintenance?

MY: Yeah, my brother just every day loaded up with the plant materials and then went out to the homes or get the orders, do all that with two helpers. And my brother Bob, he kind of did the maintenance. But my sister-in-law did the bookkeeping and the public relations and --

KL: What's her name, your sister-in-law?

MY: My sister-in-law?

KL: Uh-huh.

MY: Her name is Mary.

KL: Do you know her maiden name?

MY: Maiden name is Furuoka, Mary Furuoka. They were from Lodi. And then the family operated together grape, the vineyard in Lodi, today, still today.

KL: Wow. What's its name?

MY: Uh...

KL: That's okay.

MY: The father, Mary's older brother passed away, so his son, Mary's nephew is...

KL: I wondered what the name of the vineyard was.

MY: I don't know.

KL: The Lodi one.

MY: Yeah, I don't know the... but they still --

KL: That's neat that they were able to keep it in their family.

MY: But anyway, so the, back to going to high school, since we're in here, moved to Oxnard, and then I started again going to Oxnard High School. It's a night school. And I stayed with it for about four years, to get all the curriculum done, then I took the G.E.D. test, and then I passed and I got the diploma. Was in, that must be about 1980 or... well, I finished the high school education course, but I didn't even think about getting the diploma, but after four years or so they went ahead and sent that diploma over to me in the mail. Yeah, I didn't have to go over there and get it.

KL: That's a surprise.

MY: Just, 'cause if I was looking for a job or something, it would require the credential, and I would've used it had I ever needed it, but then I had my own business, so I didn't need it. So I just let it go.

KL: Yeah. That's a long road.

MY: Yeah, it took me a long time. And going, after all day's work and going to night school... what bothered me was that learning American history, in the American history was mostly watching the movies, old movies from, "President Truman did this and that," or that and this and that, and you just sit there and watch it, and pretty soon go [pretends to sleep].

KL: Yeah. [Laughs] Especially a day of work.

MY: But pretty important to follow that 'cause sooner or you have to take a test according to that thing, so it was really tough. Yeah, it was really tough. But anyway...

KL: You finished.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

KL: And you two met, you and your wife met because of your wife and --

MY: Yeah, after four years of nursery operation, because of the economy, the housing and all that thing was not doing good, well, it kind of made the nursery business slow down too because people didn't hire my brother to do the landscaping on the yard. 'Cause it's just like right now, not many housing transactions going, so that made the business kind of tough, and there wasn't enough profit to share all three brothers. So my brother just kept the nursery. He had it going. And my brother Bob just decided to just go on his own independent gardening business. Then I, since I was trained to become a flower business, I had a lot of floral knowledge, so one of the salesmen told me this man in Camarillo, which is down south here, about eight miles down south here, this man was looking for flower growers to work in his farm to grow chrysanthemums. So, well, I'll take it. So I went to see him and I was hired just in a heartbeat, says, "Well, can you come tomorrow?" Said, "Sure, I'll start tomorrow." [Laughs] So that's what I did. Then it worked out pretty good. We had a lot of flowers, and one day he asked me to, he says, "Well, can you find flower harvesters, or do you know anybody?" And then I asked her sister -- I knew her sister, my wife Kayo's sister -- and then I said, "Do you know anybody who wants to work in the flowers to harvest?" She says, "Yeah," she says, "as a matter of fact, my sister just came from Japan and she's looking for a job." Said, "Do you want, do you want to hire her?" Said, "Sure, why not?" So I took her over there and then said, "You want to do this and this?" Okay, she says she wants to work there, so I hired her. And of course, that was that first meeting with her, and then while we were working together, then we got kind of involved and then we decided to get married. So that was 1990 -- 1970.

KL: Had she just arrived in the country?

MY: Yeah, she was, she got here 1968, and then that was just months or so after she got after here, I hired her. So she worked where I worked, and about a year and a half or so later, 1970, we decided to get married. So we didn't have very much money, we didn't want to go through all that elaborate weddings and this and that, so I says, "Let's drive over to Vegas," and that's where we got married.

KL: Oh yeah?

MY: Yeah. Then we came back and, we came back and invited relatives and friends, had a little reception. So that was, that was our wedding.

KL: Tell us her full name for the tape, if you would.

MY: Pardon.

KL: Tell us your wife's full name, her maiden name for the tape, if you would.

MY: Okay, her name, first name is Kayo, K-A-Y-O, and last name is Yanagihara. It's a big family here, Yanagihara.

KL: Really?

MY: Yeah. And then their families have a U.S. connection too. Yeah, her uncle, two uncles worked here in U.S. before the war, and then they all moved to Colorado.

KL: They were on the outside; they were not in a camp either.

MY: I think Kayo's mom or dad was here one time or another, and they went back. But those two other brothers stayed here and then relocated to Colorado, not in the camp, but like my uncle. So they stayed there until 1950, and then they came back here in Oxnard.

KL: Do you know where they went in Colorado?

MY: Denver. Denver area. So our families, my wife's side and my side all have a connection in U.S.

KL: And you were neighbors in Japan too, the families were neighbors.

MY: Yeah, it was, well, there was some...

KL: Business together.

MY: Yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

KL: And you were saying before we started recording that you'd been to a couple of the camp sites.

MY: Yes.

KL: Could you tell us about those trips?

MY: There was a, organized by one of the travel agencies down in Orange County, and Tom Nose, my friend, the friend, told me about this bus trip, a bus trip that's coming up and he wants to make, join that bus tour. And he asked me, "You want to do it? My wife is," he said, "My wife is gonna go to Japan at that time, so I'm gonna be by myself, so if you want to join with me, we'll just make a pair." Said, "Sure, I'll do that." And with the tour guide and he's very knowledgeable about all the geography to geology to everything, and we started out here and then went to Yosemite first, and he explained all the geologies, how the, all these valley's formations, how it's done, how it happened. And then the same way all the way through, so we went to Reno, from Reno, from Utah, and then all the way to Teton, then come back down to Las Vegas and made a huge circle in two weeks, two week bus tour. I think it was something like four thousand miles or five thousand miles. But anyway --

KL: So in Wyoming --

MY: That was one of the stops.

KL: Manzanar was?

MY: Manzanar, because there was a lot of Japanese Nisei group that had the experience and been in the camp, in Manzanar or even other, I think there, the travel agency's owner, in fact, was in Heart Mountain. He spent his time in Heart Mountain. So that was one of the tour stops. And the, at that time there was, coincided with some type of dedication there, at the Heart Mountain. I think it was...

KL: Did you stop at Heart Mountain on the same trip?

MY: Yes. And then we had that dedication ceremony. There was a senator from that area -- I've forgot his name. Other dignitaries was there, and we had that dedication ceremony. I think it was something to do with soldiers who were there, I mean the boys who were there and went into army.

KL: Do you remember what year this trip was? If you don't it's okay, but I just thought we could...

MY: Let's see, that was after I retired, so that was, it'd be about 2003 or 2004, somewhere around there.

KL: And what was it like to be there with those people who had their family connections?

MY: Well, it was pretty interesting, talking back and forth and asking them questions, how things were. And they're... some of those members who had that experience didn't want to talk about much. They just didn't want to say much about their experience. I don't know why, they don't want to remember the situation or what, but they didn't say much. And I even have a friend that I play golf, and the golfing friend, in Oxnard, he grew up, he spent some time in Manzanar and I asked him about that, says, "Hey, I understand you spent, your family and mom and dad spent some time in Manzanar." And he said, "Yeah," he said, "Yeah, we did, but we were kids. All I remember is we had a lot of fun. I think my parents' situation was different. I know that." He just, he said just that. He didn't want to mention anything else. And he says, "My parents' situation was not different, but we, as the kids, had a lot of fun." That's what he told me. So I think every Japanese people who had that experience, I think the mom and dad had really hard, hardship spending some time there. I was the same way in spending my time in Japan, as a kid growing up. I had a lot of fun playing with the kids.

Of course, now, when we come to the eating stomach full of food, being a farmer as my dad was, I don't remember I was ever hungry. The food that we ate wasn't fancy or anything, but at least we always had a stomach full. We never went hungry. We ate a lot of sweet potatoes, that's for sure. Because he, his mainly produced rice, but the rice that he produced was, most of it was required to sell to the local agricultural co-op, then the government bought those crops to feed the army. That gave my dad some, I mean the farmers, not only my dad but the farmers, rice farmers, gave some cash flow. However, we had to cut down the amount that we ate, so we never ate straight steamed rice, just the rice, like today we eat nothing but rice that's nice, fluffy, sweet rice, I mean, tasty race. But those days, my mom always used maybe thirty or forty percent rice and then mixed sweet potatoes, chop up and dice sweet potatoes and mix it to get the volume so that she didn't have to use up so much rice, because the amount of rice is rationed. We only were able to eat one fifty pound bag full of rice per month or whatever, and then they just kept just the minimum amount. Then the rest went to the ag co-op. well, that gave my dad some cash income to pay for the fertilizer and to buy some other things like medicals or clothes or for us, tuition, school supplies or whatever. But we were a lot different from city people. City people were the ones that had problems. They had money, maybe, some of 'em, they had the materials, but they didn't have food, so they always had to go out somewhere to look for food, every day. So we were a lot different, and then those people had a lot of problems. Like those fishermen, of course they, they'd go out there in their little boat, they'd catch some mackerel or sardines or whatever --

KL: In Japan?

MY: In Japan. But that's all they had to eat, and then they didn't have no soy beans or rice or anything because they didn't have no farm land. So the ladies usually put those, their catch, or husband's catch, sardines or whatever, in a little basket. They will just bring it over to our area, say, "Hey, you want some fish, fresh fish?" So we'd say, "We don't have any money to, we want some, but we don't have any money to buy, buy fish from you." Then those ladies always said, "You know, you don't have to have money." Said, "Well, do you have anything to exchange our fish with your food, or rice or wheat or soy beans or buckwheat," or whatever that my dad grew. So he said, "Okay, we'll give you one kilo of buckwheat, then give me whatever," whatever he want in sardines or whatever. That's how we were able to have fish. So that was barter system that we used. We never, the money never exchanged hands, but then things. Yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

KL: That reminded me that I wanted to ask you about your trip. Have you just taken one trip back to Japan?

MY: No, no.

KL: You've been back several times?

MY: No, I've been back, back and forth probably, average maybe every three years, every fourth year I take a trip. Last trip was exactly a year ago today. I was there in Japan in June.

KL: Did, your youngest sister stayed there? She never came to the United States, is that right?

MY: No. I did want to bring her to live with us, my mom and my sister, but because of the trouble changing the name, I just couldn't, I just couldn't put the papers in order to make the immigration department to understand what is really taking place. We had to prove that it's, they're actually my mother or my own sister. But I tried my best, I tried my best, but I -- I got the paperwork here still -- I just had to give up, because it's just, the paper was going back and forth, file the paper and never got any answer, and then try to get back and ask 'em, said they didn't know what I'm talking about. So I just had to give up.

KL: But you would go back and visit.

MY: Yeah, I'd go back and visit them. Much easier now. And another time, things are now different. Things are a lot different. They're, it's a small country, so it's very crowded, but regardless, it's a nice place, nice country to visit. People are polite and the food is good, sushi is good.

KL: Yeah, I'll bet it is. [Laughs]

MY: Yeah.

KL: Sushi's good in California too, some places.

MY: Yeah.

KL: Have your kids been to Japan ever? Would you tell us about your kids, what their names are and... your children? I didn't ask about your children.

MY: You know, I've been telling them and I said I'm getting old and will I still be able to walk around and be able, let's get together and make a trip to Japan all together. Maybe, my grandkids are seven and four, so maybe another couple of years, three years, we'll probably make the trip, all of us.

KL: Exciting.

MY: Hope to, anyway. Yeah, I'd really like to see my, my grandkids to see Japan. And my own kids, daughters been, seen Japan. I took 'em once, but when they were pretty small, so they don't remember, actually. Now they're all for going and grown up, and maybe it's a really nice thing, I think, to visit. Make a tour of our own, that'd be nice.

KL: Tell us your daughters' names.

MY: The one that's married is older, oldest one, Erika, and then the middle one's Michele. She's single, she just bought a house recently.

KL: That's exciting.

MY: And our youngest one is Karina, and she's gonna get married this November in Hawaii, so we're all gonna go out there.

KL: Are they all living in Southern California?

MY: Right here, just in the same, so every Sunday, every Sunday, most of the time, we get together here and have a dinner. We all have dinner here once a week.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

KL: We're back here after just a real quick break, and Min, the only other things I really wanted to ask you are kind of what we were talking about, your family, so this is perfect. What are things from your life that you, either important lessons that you've learned or just things that you kind of would like to pass on to other people whose experiences have been different?

MY: Well, only thing I could say is the, we hear, even today we hear about all the troubles, especially in other countries now, because American involvement in the, first Iraq and then Afghanistan and American soldiers is fighting that terrorism and whatnot, the... I kind of realize that the war, what the war could do to the average people and disrupt their lives, so this, I know some of those people in Afghanistan and those areas are experiencing, and now Egypt and all those areas that're having problems, when you think about the average person, average families, they are suffering. And I wish someday all those troubles go away. I know it might be difficult things to do because everybody have different opinions and religious belief and political belief and everything else, but just my hope -- because my experience as a child, childhood time, and even today, we never had a chance to all member of families live in the same land, and whenever we want to see, even living far distance, we'd hop on airplanes or bring them together for Thanksgiving dinners or holiday dinners, we've never been able to do that. And I hope someday this peace comes for everybody that could do that. Of course, once you have a war, anything can happen. We look back and, "Hey, this was our mistake. I'm sorry." But the war does all those things, so we should erase the, these war things out of the face of our earth. I mean, that's my hope. Someday in the future, I don't know, maybe a hundred years from now or fifty years from now, we don't have any more of that problem. That's all I could say, because all those troubles that we went through, I know the people, Japanese people who had to go in camp and then going through all the hardship, and then on the other hand, we relocated to Japan. Our freedom may not be disrupted, we had the freedom living in Japan, not like living in a certain area that would, with a guard watching over your shoulder and watch your movement. We never had that, living in Japan. However, we had difficult times, and I wish we didn't have to do that.

KL: Is there anything else you want to add, things I haven't asked about that you wanted to share? Is there anything, any other, anything that I did not ask about that you wanted to talk about?

MY: Well, as far as my living here today, I'm kind of glad that my mom and dad had me here in this country. I mean, of course I love Japan, and the modern Japan is good, fantastic. They have good food and high, the bullet trains, high technologies to everything. But I still pick this country over that. I love it. I like it, and I'm glad that my roots finally establishing here. And now I'm glad that, personally, I was able to send all my three girls to a good college and they have a good job, so that's all I wanted. So I think, because we're here in this country, I was able to do that. I truly believe that. Then I appreciate the, not only my uncle, but, Uncle Hiroshi -- he's the one that really got us going here. Otherwise, that would not be possible. Also, people help me, other than Uncle, the people help me, American people as well as Japanese friends, American people, friends from Bellingham, Washington, those two Japanese families, Watanabe families in Chicago, helped me. Without their help, I wouldn't be here today. That's all I can say, so I really appreciate them.

KL: Well, we really, really appreciate your being part of the oral history project at Manzanar. It's been an honor to talk to you. Thank you so much.

MY: I hope I stated my experience understandable to other people who might want to hear me.

KL: Yeah. I'd say you did. [Laughs] Thank you very much.

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