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-01-0006

<Begin Segment 6>

AL: Do you know how long before you were sent to Tanforan, or how you got to Tanforan?

SO: I know we went by bus, middle of... that would be what, '42? And I remember the stench of the stalls, that's my first memory of Tanforan.

AL: So you lived in a stall?

SO: Uh-huh. And we were there for a few months.

AL: So could you describe, if somebody doesn't... I mean, if they haven't seen Tanforan and don't know what it is, what did you see when you got there? I know you were talking about the stench, but could you just explain what Tanforan was and what you would see as you went in there as a child?

SO: My memory's not too good, but I do remember going through the horse stalls first. But then I think they had built a temporary housing for everyone, but my memory, I can't remember exactly where we stayed. And a few months later then, we were able to leave, so we were there only a few months.

AL: Do you know what happened to the church during the war? I know there's one in San Francisco that became like a synagogue, is that that one, or a different one?

SO: No, no, that wasn't... I don't think so. But I know the Gardena Buddhist Church, that's where Reverend Goldwater came into the picture. He volunteered to check all of the Buddhist temples to make sure no damage was done, and then once in a while he would come to Manzanar and report.

AL: Could you tell us who Reverend Goldwater was?

SO: Reverend Julius Goldwater was one of the first Caucasians to become a Jodo Shinshu minister. And he was a young man, and he would come to Manzanar, bring us Buddhist reading material and ojuzu, which is like the Catholic rosary, but it's what the Buddhists use. And my father was always very grateful to him, because he kind of brought the news from the outside to camp.

AL: Do you know what his ethnic background was, where he grew up, how he came to be introduced to Buddhism?

SO: No, but there was a long article in the Los Angeles Times a few years ago. I was surprised, you know, that he was still alive, he lived to be quite old. But perhaps you could check with the Los Angeles Times archives, because I don't know what happened to him after camp life.

AL: So would he be... you said he was in Gardena, stationed in Gardena?

SO: No, he was out of Los Angeles, but he would check the temples in Southern California.

AL: Oh, okay. The San Francisco temple, you don't know what they did with that one during the war?

SO: No, I'm not sure, but I know my father was in charge of all the household goods that the people could not take, they brought, the members brought their things to the gymnasium in the San Francisco Buddhist Church, and he had to organize that.

AL: It was interesting at Manzanar, some people, we have a sign that says Buddhist Church, because that's what it was called in camp, but then some people have criticized us and say, well, it should be Buddhist Temple. What is...

SO: I think the terms are interchangeable. I guess in Japan they call it a temple.

AL: Do you know why they started calling it a church?

SO: Probably just Americanized.

AL: Sort of like Sunday school?

SO: [Laughs] Perhaps.

AL: Do you know if Sunday has a significance in Buddhism like in Japan, or is it just in America that it's a Sunday?

SO: I'm not sure. I'm not sure.

AL: So what do you recall of Tanforan besides the smell? Like what kinds of things would your parents do during the day to keep you active?

SO: I really don't recall. I don't recall.

AL: Was your father active in ministry there?

SO: I'm not sure. I think they held Sunday, you know, services, but we were only there three months.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.