Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Shirley Nagatomi Okabe Interview
Narrator: Shirley Nagatomi Okabe
Interviewer: Alisa Lynch
Location: San Jose, California
Date: January 30, 2013
Densho ID: denshovh-oshirley-01-0011

<Begin Segment 11>

AL: So... oh, another thing I was going to ask you about your apartment, did your family have a Buddhist altar in your apartment?

SO: Yes, a small one, yes.

AL: So could you explain what that would look like and why you would have one, what the significance is?

SO: Well, I think all Buddhist priests have one in the home, other than the temple they go to. And so my father would chant the sutra every morning, but it was an altar that one of the camp members had made for him. But I think it was Reverend Goldwater was able to bring in the things that go into the altar.

AL: So what kind of things would go into it?

SO: Well, how do I explain that? We have... there's a place for the Buddha, and we have different offerings, I guess you would call it. And one of the offerings would be, we would put a little bit of rice every day as an offering. I'm not exactly sure what else, I don't know what you call them, but they're like one you put sweets, one's the rice, and usually you have flowers and you have incense. So my memory's not that good. [Laughs]

AL: How would you describe like just the size, as far as how it was built?

SO: Well, ours was just homemade, I mean, a carpenter in camp had made it.

AL: Do you know if any pictures of that altar exist?

SO: I'm not sure, I'll have to look.

AL: Yeah, that would be interesting. Did your father, did he host people in your apartment very often, or was that just a private space?

SO: Yeah, that was private space. I think he did all his... in the church office.

AL: Where was his church office?

SO: Right in 13.

AL: Was it part of the 13-15, or was it a different apartment?

SO: Uh-huh, yes, no, I think it was part of that, if I'm remembering correctly.

AL: Because it sounds like that building got very crowded, like standing room only.

SO: Yes, right. I don't... I think it was all, yeah, I think it was all there. And then in late '44, then they moved it to 18.

AL: So just speaking a little bit of Block 14, or just camp in general, what do you recall about the weather?

SO: It was cold and windy in the winter, and it was very hot in the summer, that's all I remember. It was not... we never seemed to have nice weather.

AL: Was there any dust there?

SO: Yes, lots of dust. Like what did they call them? It was dust, and the wind would just kind of bring, but I remember that, because it would hurt my legs as we were walking. We tried to avoid going out on those days.

AL: Some of those days go on for weeks. [Laughs] We still have that.

SO: Oh, you do?

AL: Most of our cars look like they've been sand blasted.

SO: Oh, really? Yeah. I mean, it hurt. But you have to go out, you have to go out.

AL: Did you ever see snow there?

SO: I can't recall. Just the mountains, Whitney and Williamson.

AL: Do you recall anything that your parents ever said about just the setting of Manzanar? Some people say, well, Williamson reminded them of Mt. Fuji, or any sort of... that's a bit of a stretch, but any sort of thing about, like if, I don't know, like if your father had stayed in Tanforan, he might have gone to Topaz.

SO: Perhaps, a lot of them went to Topaz, you're right.

AL: I've been to Topaz, and it makes Manzanar look like a resort, very dusty and no mountains.

SO: I don't think they chose any place where anyone would want to live, otherwise they wouldn't build the camps there. Because it had to be barren for them to put all those barracks.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.