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_2-01-0010

<Begin Segment 10>

KL: Who went with you to Merced?

MO: My mother, my two brothers, no, three brothers and myself, the five of us.

KL: Did the Kakimis go?

MO: Yeah, they were there, they went, too. And it was during the summertime, very hot in Merced. And I used to take sumo, remember I told you? So they used to have wrestling in camp, so I used to, my mother would let me go, I wrestled, and during a match, I broke my leg in camp.

KL: In Merced?

MO: Yeah, in Merced. So I walked around on crutches.

KL: What was your treatment like?

MO: They had a cast, yeah.

KL: Did you go to a hospital in the assembly center?

MO: Yeah, they had doctors there to take care of it. I was just hobbling around.

KL: Yeah, casts are --

MO: It was hot, that's what was uncomfortable. Other than that, not bad.

KL: Where did you live in Merced?

MO: I don't recall the cabin number or anything like that. It's just a big horse stall, I guess.

KL: It sounds like, am I right, that some of it was new construction and some of it was the horse stalls and stuff?

MO: I don't recall that.

KL: Were you guys in a stall, though?

MO: We might have been in a newer one, because I don't remember smelling anything. Like my wife says, in Tanforan, she smelled the horse droppings and stuff like that, but we never had anything like that in Merced.

KL: What was a normal day in Merced like?

MO: Get up, go eat, go play with my friends, go back and eat lunch, go play again, so that's all. For kids like us, it was just play and eat.

KL: Was it easy for you to make friends in Merced?

MO: Yeah, because there were kids all over the place.

KL: Did you switch back from being kind of quiet to a more open kid?

MO: Yeah. We just played. For us, camp wasn't bad because there was a lot of people to play with. But for my folks, it was devastating. They had to leave everything.

KL: How did you get to Merced?

MO: I think we took the train. I'm not positive, I can't recall.

KL: So you don't remember?

MO: No, but I remember being on a train, maybe it was a bus, I don't recall.

KL: Were there others with you? Was it a chartered bus or was it just your...

MO: There were other Japanese people there with us.

KL: Do you remember meeting them at the stop or anything?

MO: No.

KL: How did you, do you remember checking into Merced, any kind of...

MO: I don't recall that too much either, except we had to haul our baggage to our dwelling.

KL: Was your sister on the bus with you at the time?

MO: No, she didn't go to camp.

KL: She was already separated?

MO: She was in the sanitarium by then. She was in Sacramento.

KL: Did she leave before Pearl Harbor?

MO: No. She was with us, because we used to walk to school. I guess it was after the war started, and then I don't know if they gave us a medical exam or not. I can't recall that. But she wasn't allowed to go to camp with us, so she was left behind. So she was sent to Sacramento, to a hospital there was a tubercular isolation ward, so she was sent there.

KL: Do you know how that... I know you were little, but do you know how that affected your mother or your family, her diagnosis?

MO: No, I don't recall that. I guess tuberculosis was fairly common in the Japanese, Asian community. Lot of, I think Asian people were prone to that, tuberculosis. I don't know.

KL: I've read that at Manzanar, at least, people were sometimes reluctant to get tested for it or to report it because there was kind of a stigma.

MO: Oh. I don't know about a stigma.

KL: It was just an illness.

MO: Yeah.

KL: Are there any sights or any memories or sounds that, when you think of Merced, kind of come to mind?

MO: No. Yeah, I take that back. You know, in camp, when you're in one of these buildings, barracks or whatever they call these things, you could hear everything, you know. And this young couple just got married, were in the next stall, and you know, you could hear them giggling and things like that. It was kind of funny, you know. [Laughs] I do remember that.

KL: Did you know what was going on?

MO: Kind of. But we never said anything. That I do remember. Other than that... wrestling, you know, sumo. If you win, the people, if it was a good match, the spectator would throw money into the ring, and then you were able to keep that. So...

KL: Where was the ring?

MO: Huh?

KL: Where was the ring?

MO: I can't recall. But, you know, they set up something in an empty area, and they built this little mound. And if you win, you get to keep the money. And then I remember one time I won a match, and they gave me a case of beer. What am I going to do with a case of beer, so I gave it to my dad, and he said, "I'll take care of it for you." [Laughs]

KL: Oh, was this later, like in Crystal City?

MO: No, I can't remember where... maybe it was Crystal City.

KL: You said you gave it to your dad.

MO: Maybe it was before the war, before the war. Yeah, it was before the war. When I used to take sumo in Sacramento before the war. And I won a case of beer and I gave it to my dad, and he said he'd take care of it for me. I never saw it again. [Laughs]

KL: I'm sure he took care of it, yeah.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.