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-01-0012

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AL: This is Alisa Lynch and Kristen Luetkemeier, tape two of an interview on the 30th of January, 2013, with Shirley Nagatomi Okabe. And so we were talking about your life in Manzanar, and I wanted to ask about your family, because I know your brother Masatoshi is still in Japan, and you said they were keeping in touch through the Red Cross. By this time he would be getting to be a teenager, right?

SO: Yes.

AL: Was there ever any talk of what the family was experiencing in Japan? Do you know if they were subject to any of the bombings or war?

SO: No. They lived not in Hiroshima or Tokyo, or Nagasaki.

AL: Do you know if there was ever any possibility of him being conscripted into the military in Japan?

SO: He was.

AL: He was?

SO: He was, towards the end of the war. Well, see, before, all university students were exempt, and then they started calling in the regular students. But since he was planning to become, he was going to a religious school, so the students there did not have to join the military. But at the end, I think they were kind of running out of young men to draft. So he had to go in, but he never saw any... shall I say, he never had to go to battle, because he said he had to serve a general his meals. And so he was kind of away from the action, so he was safe.

AL: Do you know where he was stationed?

SO: No, I don't.

AL: Do you know if he was in the army?

SO: Yeah, I think it was the army.

AL: Do you know anything about how your father felt about that?

SO: My father always felt that you have to be loyal to the country you live in. And so he knew my brother didn't have a choice, so he just accepted that.

AL: Well, and your brother at that time had never been to America.

SO: No, no. He didn't come 'til he was about twenty-two.

AL: It's hard to imagine what it was like to have child who was culturally Japanese, and then you have children who were culturally American.

SO: American, right. But because he had finished all his university work already, when he came over to America, he went directly to Harvard. So we really didn't get to know my brother, only on vacations, maybe he would come home during the summer. So we grew close to him with the short time that we would see each other every year, but there's a difference in bonding, I think.

AL: So this is after the war, much later.

SO: Correct, yeah.

AL: So you had a baby sister born in Manzanar.

SO: Correct. She was born in Manzanar, February 15, 1943. And my father named her Shinobu, because in translation it means "to endure." And she didn't, she was only about three, I think, when we left camp, and so she didn't remember anything about camp.

AL: Did she have an English name also?

SO: Yeah, Jean.

AL: And she's also passed away, right?

SO: Yes, I'm the only one.

AL: So what do you think... I know you were a pretty small kid at the time, but what do you think it was like for women in Manzanar who were going through pregnancy and childbirth in the camp, with the open latrines...

SO: Yeah, it couldn't have been easy, but my mother never complained. And then they did have the hospital where she would get her checkups, and she gave birth to Jean. But it must have been difficult for them.

AL: Did you get to see her in the hospital?

SO: I don't remember seeing her in the hospital, I think when my mom brought her home.

AL: Do you know how long they kept women in the hospital?

SO: No, I don't, I don't.

AL: Did you have any medical care yourself, there?

SO: No, I was pretty healthy, so I don't think I had, I think I had some dental work done, but I didn't break any bones or anything, and I was never sick.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.