Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Mas Okabe Interview
Narrator: Mas Okabe
Interviewer: Kristen Luetkemeier
Location: San Jose, California
Date: January 30, 2013
Densho ID: denshovh-omas_2-01-0001

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KL: This is Kristen Luetkemeier from Manzanar National Historic Site. Today is Wednesday, January 30, 2013, and we're here in San Jose in the home of Mas and Shirley Okabe. And I'll be interviewing Mas about his experiences growing up in California, and then being in several different facilities during World War II, going to Japan and spending years there, and then returning to the United States. And Alisa Lynch is operating the video camera today. And before we start, the important question to ask is, do I have your permission to record this interview and to make it available to the public and keep it at Manzanar National Historic Site?

MO: Yes. Yes, you can.

KL: We really appreciate your having us here. So I want to ask you first about your parents' background. I know you know some things about your folks, so let's start with your father. And would you share with me his name?

MO: My father's name was Umesaburo Okabe. He was the oldest son, and he was born in Aichi-ken, Japan. And I think he came here in the early '90s, maybe late 1800s, and he did many things. Some say he was illegal, but I'm not sure.

KL: Do you know where he came into the country?

MO: No, I don't. No, I don't. Some say he came in from Mexico and that he handled horses down there, and that's just hearsay, so I can't prove that.

KL: Who told you that?

MO: One of my son's friends, my youngest son's friends told me that he came through Mexico. I don't know where he heard that, but anyway... then I remember Sacramento where I was born. Beyond that, I don't remember too much about him, but in Sacramento he had a Chinese restaurant, and we were there 'til the war, well, 1941 we moved to Woodland, California. He was going into farming, he sold his Chinese restaurant and we just moved to Woodland to start farming, and we had planted tomatoes, we had pruned the grape vines to grow grapes. And then the war started, and we didn't get to harvest anything. Because we were just uprooted and taken away.

KL: What about your mom? I forgot to ask what your mother's name was.

MO: My mother's name was Asao, her maiden name was Asano, A-S-A-N-O, and she was born in Aichi-ken, also, and she was a "picture bride." And I don't know when she came here, but she worked in the Chinese restaurant with my dad.

KL: Do you know how their marriage was arranged, anything about that?

MO: No, just "picture bride," that's all I know. And shall I tell 'em about my father? Originally, he had another lady lined up... lined up. [Laughs] But things didn't work out, and I guess she went back to Japan, and then my mother came after that.

KL: The other lady came to the United States?

MO: I think so. No? No, she didn't.

KL: How did you find out about that?

MO: I just heard... where did we find out about that? I don't know. It was in one of the documents, I think, yeah.

KL: But they never met, you don't think?

MO: No. I don't think she ever came here.

KL: Lucky for you. [Laughs]

MO: Well...

KL: Had they ever met in Aichi? Do you know if their families knew each other?

MO: The first lady?

KL: No, your mother and your father.

MO: Oh, that I don't know. We know nothing about... they don't tell us these things, you know. So I just remember my mom in Sacramento growing up, and she worked in the restaurant, helped my dad.

KL: What was her personality like?

MO: My mother? She was quiet, warm person, very gentle, caring. She was a nice mother. Couldn't ask for anything better. My father was more stern and domineering, ruled with an iron fist. And if you did anything bad, watch out. [Laughs] He was very, a disciplinarian.

KL: They were kind of complements to each other?

MO: Yeah.

KL: And do you... did they ever say anything to you about their trip over?

MO: Trip?

KL: Their trip from Japan?

MO: No.

KL: Did they say why, why they wanted to leave?

MO: Like I said, they don't discuss things like that with us.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.