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

<Begin Segment 1>

AL: Today is the 30th of January, 2013. This is Alisa Lynch with Manzanar National Historic Site, Ranger Kristen Luetkemeier and I are in the home of Mas and Shirley Nagatomi Okabe in San Jose, California. We're doing this interview as part of our oral history project at Manzanar, to be archived in the site library, also to be used for public education and history at Manzanar. So do we have your permission, Shirley, to record the interview?

SO: Yes, uh-huh.

AL: Okay. So I'd like to start by asking your full name and when you were born.

SO: Shirley Shizuko Okabe, formerly Nagatomi, and I was born in San Francisco on February 7, 1937.

AL: What are your parents' names?

SO: Sumi and Shinjo.

AL: And your father... well, I know both your parents were Issei. What can you tell me about your father's family history in Japan?

SO: He was born into a temple family in Yamaguchi-ken, Japan, but he was the second son, and his older brother was to inherit the temple. So he went to the university and got his bachelor's, then he wanted to go on and get his master's, but his parents said they couldn't afford to send him. So at this point, he met... well, he didn't meet my mother, they were set up, and her father needed a boy in the family because he had two daughters. So he married my mother with the understanding that my grandfather would send him to the university to get his master's, so that's how they got married.

AL: And your father, do you know what his parents' names were?

SO: Yeah, I wrote it down. His father's name was Araragi, A-R-A-R-A-G-I, Sonen, and his mother's name was Nakamura Fuji.

AL: Fuji's the first name, so the last name is Araragi?

SO: Yeah, the last name would be Araragi, so I was kind of glad my father was adopted by the Nagatomi family. [Laughs]

AL: It's interesting because your father is so well-known, and the Nagatomi name is so well-known, it's ironic that that's not the name he was born with.

SO: Right, correct.

AL: That's very interesting. So in Japan, do you know how many generations back your family was...

SO: Temple families?

AL: ...temple families?

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

AL: And so the sect in Japan that your father was with, was that also Jodo Shinshu?

SO: Yeah, Jodo Shinshu.

AL: Do you know what Jodo Shinshu translates as, or what that sect is known for?

SO: Not really, not really.

AL: So would that be common in Japanese culture, that the oldest son would take over the temple?

SO: Correct.

AL: So your mother's family, her father was a minister?

SO: Yes. He was blessed with two girls. [Laughs]

AL: What can you tell me about your mother's life in Japan?

SO: She went through high school and her education stopped there. And I don't think she worked outside the home at all.

AL: What was her... when was she born?

SO: She was born in 1901, so they were the same age. In fact, she was a little older than him by twenty-one days.

AL: And so her family... I mean, her family adopted your father. Do you know what was involved in adopting a son?

SO: I think it's just all paperwork.

AL: Do you think that was a difficult thing for your father?

SO: No, because he wanted to go to the university for a couple of more years, and I guess... you know, Mother told me they only met once before they got married. So I'm not exactly sure how they felt about each other.

AL: That's what I was gonna ask, because did you feel it was a good match?

SO: It was, it was.

AL: So I know that you have an older brother who was born in Japan. Could you tell me his name and when and where he was born?

SO: Masatoshi Nagatomi, and he was born in Japan in 1927, and he was raised mainly by my grandparents because they didn't want to interrupt his education when my parents came, and I think they thought they would not be here as long as they stayed, they thought they would go back in a few years. But as it turned out, he didn't come to America until his finished the university in Japan.

AL: What year were your parents married?

SO: I think they were married... I have no record, but the birth of my brother, and I think it was about like 1925. I'm just guessing, though.

AL: And you said they were in Yamaguchi?

SO: Yamaguchi-ken, Japan.

AL: Do you know what the name of the village was?

SO: Yeah, Koroi-mura.

AL: How would you spell that?

SO: K-O-R-O-I.

AL: Koroi?

SO: K-U-R-O-I. Kuroi. It could translate as "black," kuroi is black.

AL: What part of Japan is that in?

SO: Yamaguchi-ken, it's near... it's fairly close, I guess Kyoto... yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

AL: So you said your brother was born in 1927. Do you know anything about their lives in Japan before they came over?

SO: No, I don't, no.

AL: Do you know why they came?

SO: Well, when my father finished the university, his brother had that temple, and my mother's father was still living, so he was the head minister at that temple. So I think one of... my father told me once that one of his friends had come over to America to become a missionary, and so I think he asked my father to try coming over here. So I think that's why he came, really for a job.

AL: Do you know where he came to?

SO: Uh-huh. Well, first he came to Canada, and he stayed there for about three years, then he back for a visit to Japan, then came to San Francisco in 1930... no, later than that, about 1932, maybe. And when he came to America, he went to the L.A. Buddhist Church.

AL: Did your mother go to Canada with him?

SO: Yes, yes.

AL: So they immigrated together?

SO: Yes, my older sister was born in Canada.

AL: What's your older sister's name?

SO: Dee Hideko.

AL: Do you know what year she was born?

SO: Yeah, 1934.

AL: And so how long were they in Canada?

SO: Just about... I think almost three years.

AL: Did you hear anything about their experiences in Canada, like what life was like for Japanese people in Canada?

SO: No, I never did, no. I know they had a Japanese congregation there, and we went online, we googled the Buddhist churches in Canada and we did find a picture of him in Canada, but I think that church no longer exists, it moved.

AL: What part of Canada did they go to?

SO: Raymond, Alberta. I think now it's changed to Etheridge, I think it's still in Raymond, I'm not sure. I think it's still in Alberta.

AL: So when they were going there, do you know if they were going... you said he was a missionary, was he going to serve Buddhists who were already there, or to convert people to Buddhism or both?

SO: No, to serve the people who were already there. There had been some other people who had, some ministers who had gone before him, so he did have a congregation already.

AL: Was your sister then a, did she have Japanese, I mean, did she have Canadian citizenship?

SO: Yes, she did. She had Canadian citizenship, and she eventually became a U.S. citizen.

AL: Was she a dual citizenship with Japan?

SO: No.

AL: Just Canadian. Multiple countries.

SO: I know. [Laughs]

AL: That's interesting. So they went back to Japan from Canada?

SO: Yeah, to visit my brother. I think they were there for about six months.

AL: And so your brother was being raised by your mother's parents?

SO: Parents, uh-huh.

AL: What do you know about his upbringing?

SO: I just know that he was raised by my grandparents, and he went to school, and that's about all I know.

AL: But raised also to be a minister.

SO: Yes, well, he did become a minister.

AL: Do you know what level of correspondence your parents would have had like with him or with their own, with their parents in Japan, how they kept in touch?

SO: Through letters before the war. And during the war, the Red Cross would be, send messages both ways, and so... I mean, they were very short, "We are healthy," or they sent one back saying my sister was born, but kept in touch.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

AL: So what year did they go from Canada back to Japan?

SO: I think it was about 1933, '33, '34.

AL: So that's about the same time that Japan was expanding, they were at war with China. Do you know how much your father followed sort of the world politics of what was happening to Japan, just the changes in government in Japan?

SO: I can't remember.

AL: Well, that would have been before your time anyway.

SO: Yeah. [Laughs]

AL: You know, some people talk about, well, their parents were very politically attuned, and some people say, oh, no, they weren't paying attention. But he was going back and forth at a time when a lot of things were happening.

SO: Uh-huh, but yeah, he wasn't really into the political scene, I don't think, you know.

AL: What do you think he was like as a young man, what you've heard about him?

SO: I haven't heard too much, actually, because I haven't had any contact with anyone who knew him as a young man.

AL: Do you have any of his writings?

SO: Yes.

AL: As a young man?

SO: No, no.

AL: What about your mother at that time?

SO: She was a typical Japanese wife, she does sort of cater to the family, and always took a second... well, she would say second, she just always did what my father told her to do.

AL: Were there any special obligations that would come from being a daughter of a minister or the wife of a minister, a mother of a minister? Because she had it all around, I mean, in terms of how her role would be different than another Nisei woman.

SO: Well, my mother did a lot at church, you know, she would arrange the flowers, and at one point she was a janitor of the church. But as a daughter of a minister, we would always hear, "Do not bring shame on the family or you'll embarrass your father," you know, you have to have a certain decorum.

AL: So I imagine there would be a lot of pressure. Because I've talked to Nisei friends who were not daughters of ministers, and they still talk about how their parents would say don't bring, is it haji?

SO: Yeah, right.

AL: No haji on the family, so I imagine you have a lot more pressure, because, for the many ties. How would, in that time, how would a minister be supported? I mean, was it something that they would have a salary, or did they just get contributions from their congregation, or both?

SO: No, I read in the papers that when my father was in San Francisco, he was making a hundred dollars a month.

AL: And how would that... was that a good salary at that time?

SO: I'm not sure. I'm not sure whether they had... maybe he lived rent-free in the parsonage, which was right across from the San Francisco Buddhist Church.

AL: So before we get to San Francisco, do you know how long he was in Japan?

SO: Oh, it was not even a year, not even a year. Then he came to Los Angeles, and that's where he stayed for two years, that's how Yoshiko and them met my father.

AL: Okay. So when he went from Canada back to Japan, he went from Canada to Japan and then San Francisco?

SO: No, to Los Angeles, excuse me.

AL: Oh, and then Los Angeles to San Francisco, I see.

SO: To San Francisco, correct.

AL: So he was in Japan just for a little time. Do you know why he didn't bring your brother when he came back?

SO: Because my mother's parents insisted he stay because of his education, because by then he was in elementary school. And I kind of think it's in order to get my father to come back. So my brother always says he was a hostage. [Laughs]

AL: Do you think he felt left behind in Japan?

SO: Yes, yes.

AL: Did he ever talk about his relationship with your grandparents?

SO: I think... well, I think he was spoiled by my grandparents, because I had an aunt, but she was quite a bit older than him, so it was like having three parents. But I think he still resented the fact that he was the only one.

AL: Mas says tell us about -- is there a story?

SO: Well, when they were coming back to America to go to San Francisco, they had to bribe him so that he wouldn't cry so much, so they had to buy him a bicycle and a bunch of bananas. [Laughs]

AL: To stay behind in Japan?

SO: To stay behind in Japan, yeah.

AL: So Mas did not get his bicycle, but your brother did.

SO: No. My brother got his bicycle and bananas.

AL: That's interesting.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

AL: So do you know how he was summoned to Los Angeles?

SO: Well, it was under... I think it was not Buddhist Churches of America, that came later. So I think it was the Northern American Buddhist Society, and I think they kind of determined where you were assigned, and perhaps they needed a person in Los Angeles.

AL: So was it a situation where they would tell you where to go, kind of like you think of the military, that he didn't elect where to go.

SO: Right, right.

AL: Do you know if there was ever any talk of them leaving your sister Dee in Japan?

SO: No, because she was very young then when they went. And then so she came back with them.

AL: To Los Angeles. Do you know where they lived in Los Angeles?

SO: I think they had facilities at the church, because I couldn't find an address for Los Angeles.

AL: So was he at Nishi Hongwanjii?

SO: Yes.

AL: And that's the one that's right next to the museum, right? The old Nishi Hongwanjii temple?

SO: Uh-huh.

AL: So he lived somewhere near there?

SO: Yeah, 'cause I couldn't get, I couldn't find a house address for them. So perhaps, because that was a pretty large place.

AL: It still is.

SO: So I think they may have lived there.

AL: Have you been in it since it's been restored?

SO: No.

AL: It's kind of a... I did an interview with Jack Kunitomi, Sue Embrey's older brother, who was born in 1915. And so he talked about -- this is, I'm sure, before your father's time there -- but how when they used to have funerals there, I think it was Fukui Mortuary even then.

SO: Oh, really?

AL: And when they would have bodies down in the basement there, that the kids used to sneak in there and scare each other, look at the bodies and run out. And he had all these stories about that temple that, like I said, would be before your father's time.

SO: I think so, I think so.

AL: Definitely makes you think a little differently. I don't know what year it was built.

SO: Yeah, I'm not sure.

AL: It's been there a long time.

SO: Yeah, it has.

AL: So do you know how many ministers they had there at Nishi Hongwanjii at the time? Was he the only one?

SO: No, no, they had multiple ministers. I can't even take a guess, but at least four or five. And they would serve all the neighboring communities, so they'd go to different areas, driving distance.

AL: So what would the typical day of a minister be? I mean, I know that people have talked about like Sunday services, but what would he do typically during his day or his week?

SO: Well, when he was the minister he was like the head bookkeeper, and they didn't have a secretary so he did a lot of that, like secretarial work, and he used to put out the newspaper.

AL: What was the newspaper called?

SO: I don't remember. I remember him running the mimeograph machine, and it was the type where you had carbon and then you'd just turn the machine.

AL: So when he was the... I mean, I'm sure that being with people in America was very different than culture in Japan. Did you have any sense of kind of where he was most culturally comfortable? Like in the United States, obviously he stayed here versus Japan. Do you have any sense of where he felt most at home?

SO: Probably Japan because of the language. But he did learn to speak... I was surprised, in one of the papers, it said he speaks some English, so during one of the interviews I guess he spoke some English. But he was self-motivated to learn, so he learned, he could write beautifully, so his writing in English was very nice.

AL: And what about your mom, did she learn English?

SO: No, she never did. She never did.

AL: So when you were a child, did they speak to you primarily in Japanese?

SO: Yes, I didn't speak English 'til I got to Manzanar.

AL: There were a lot of children, there's reports about that first year, how many, I forget the percentage, but a large percentage of children did not speak English. So you were next after Dee, is that right?

SO: Yes, I'm the third child, second daughter.

AL: So you were born in Los Angeles?

SO: No, San Francisco.

AL: Okay, so that's right, let's back up. So how did he end up going from Los Angeles to San Francisco?

SO: I think it was just, I guess San Francisco needed a minister, so we were assigned over there, so that's how we got there.

AL: And what was the church in San Francisco and where is it located?

SO: It's at 1881 Pine Street, still there. And then I think while we were there, they were building a new church.

AL: Is it still an active church?

SO: Yes, it's a very active church.

AL: And it's called San Francisco Buddhist Church?

SO: Yes.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

AL: So you were born, you said, in San Francisco. Were you born at home or were you born in a hospital?

SO: No, in a hospital.

AL: Do you know which one?

SO: I think it was St. (Francis) Hospital.

AL: And where did your family live?

SO: Right across the street from the church.

AL: Do you remember your address at home?

SO: No, I don't.

AL: Do you know if it still exists, the building?

SO: Yeah, I'm sure it does, because all the homes are... we've been to the church, and all the homes are still there.

AL: Did you know where your father felt, or your mother, both of them felt more comfortable in Los Angeles or San Francisco, or any of the differences?

SO: I think it was the same. I think it was the same, because they served the Japanese community, so there's no language barrier there. So I think they felt comfortable both places, they made good friends both places.

AL: Did they have a car?

SO: I don't know if it was a church car or not, but I know my father used to go to the San Mateo Buddhist Church from San Francisco, and he used to go to West Los Angeles or Sawtelle and serve the people there. So I'm not sure whether...

AL: So what is your earliest childhood memory?

SO: My earliest childhood memory, I think when they came to get my father, it was the first time two Caucasians came to our house, because we lived within the Buddhist community, it was mostly Japanese Americans. So when two Caucasian gentlemen came, and then my father said, "I'll be back in a while," then he didn't come back until evening, and then he said he was being questioned.

AL: This was after Pearl Harbor?

SO: Uh-huh. But he came home, whereas a lot of other ministers did not have that opportunity to come home once, so I guess they were detained right away.

AL: Did he ever explain what they had asked him or where they took him, did he ever talk about...

SO: No, no.

AL: Did you find anything in his records about that?

SO: No.

AL: But he came home the same evening?

SO: Uh-huh.

AL: How did your parents, I mean, at that time you were how old?

SO: Five.

AL: Five years old. How did they explain to you what was happening, you know, with, after Pearl Harbor?

SO: Well, my mother just said that Japan had dropped a bomb, and now there's a war, so we have to move. I guess she put it in language that we would understand, so we moved to Tanforan.

AL: Do you remember any of your emotions at that time?

SO: No, because our family was always intact, we were never separated. And so I think one, when you have your family with you, then it's not as traumatic as some of the families who were separated from their fathers.

AL: So you had not started school yet, then?

SO: No, no.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<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.

<Begin Segment 7>

AL: So how was it that your father ended up going from Tanforan to Manzanar?

SO: Well, the young people that he served in Los Angeles heard that my father was in Tanforan, and they didn't have a Buddhist minister there, so they asked the government to send a Buddhist minister to Manzanar in particular since my father was at Tanforan, if they could send him, and they complied. So we took a train from San Francisco to Mojave, and a station wagon picked us up and took us to Manzanar.

AL: Do you know when you arrived at Manzanar?

SO: I think late '42.

AL: What do you remember about seeing Manzanar?

SO: Well, I lived in San Francisco where all the houses are stuck together. And so I just remember as a child looking at this massive, the barracks, but they were all separated. And I couldn't believe that that's where we were going to live.

AL: So you went into Manzanar probably not knowing that many other children.

SO: Yeah, I didn't know any.

AL: How were you accepted?

SO: Well, we were all in the same boat. No one wanted to be there, but I made friends. I don't remember any negative experiences.

AL: So one of the places on the roster it says that you lived in Block 14, Building 1, Apartment 4.

SO: Yes.

AL: Do you know if that's the first place you lived?

SO: Yes, that's the first place we lived. Then looking through my father's papers, I found that in late '44, they moved the church to Block 18. So I think towards the end we moved to Block 17 so that my father could be closer to the church.

AL: So the original church when you first went there was...

SO: Thirteen.

AL: Thirteen in the recreational hall?

SO: Right, 13-15, I think, was the address.

AL: Right, so that'd be just across the street.

SO: Uh-huh.

AL: What do you recall about your apartment there in Block 14?

SO: It was snug. [Laughs] Because our house, you know in San Francisco, the homes are pretty big, and so I thought it was a small space, but like I said, our family was together, so as a child, I don't think I felt anything missing.

AL: So did you have to share an apartment with any other family, or did you have your own?

SO: Well, we had our own, I think there were four... weren't the barracks divided into four sections, I believe? So we just had the first unit.

AL: So there were only four in your family.

SO: Correct.

AL: So that's actually pretty low population, because there are some families that had eight or nine, but it was just your immediate family.

SO: Right, right. But I think, weren't the larger families given maybe like two spaces?

AL: Some were later on as there were, people got furloughed out, but early on, there were a lot of people who were just eight, nine to a barracks.

SO: Oh, really?

AL: You know, the first few months. So do you think that your father had a little more space in his housing because of his position in the church?

SO: No, I think it's because there were only four of us in the family, and I think each family was given that space.

AL: Do you recall anything about how your apartment was divided or set up or anything like that?

SO: Not really.

AL: So you had your own cot?

SO: Yes, I had my own cot. We all had individual cots.

AL: So some people talk about they hung up blankets or they built partitions. Do you recall any of those things?

SO: No, my father wasn't very handy, so I think we stayed the way, the apartment stayed the way it was.

AL: Did you ever have any pets?

SO: No, I don't know if anybody had pets.

AL: I think some people did later on as people started dumping puppies and kittens near there. There's actually a pet cemetery out by the real cemetery.

SO: Oh, you're right. But I don't remember seeing any cats and dogs.

AL: So what was, how was your life different at Manzanar in terms of the work your father was doing?

SO: No, it didn't change much, because my father went to the church and he stayed there all day, came back at night.

AL: What about your mother?

SO: My mother just mainly stayed home with us.

AL: So did she have any sort of official role with the church at Manzanar?

SO: She used to go help with flower arranging, but other than that, they had someone to clean the church. So other than taking care of us and doing flower arrangements at church...

AL: Would a minister's wife, I mean, even before camp, would she be compensated? Like you said, she was a janitor at the temple.

SO: No, no, there's no compensation.

AL: Just volunteer?

SO: That's right.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

AL: When you got there, did you go to school? I don't know what month you arrived, but did you go to school?

SO: Yes, I started first grade in camp, but I didn't speak any English, so I had a difficult time.

AL: Who was your teacher?

SO: Well, I remember a Miss Ishida, Seiko Ishida, both she and her father were in camp. And I know, I'm always... feel grateful to her because she tutored me a lot so that I could catch up, because I had no English skills at all.

AL: How was Dee's English as a child?

SO: Well, she had already been in school, so I guess it was okay. She was very bright, so I don't think, she didn't have too much trouble catching up.

AL: What was the age difference between you?

SO: Four years.

AL: Four years.

SO: Uh-huh. So she had already gone through maybe third grade.

AL: Was she, in your life in Manzanar and starting school, was she an active big sister in terms of walking you to school and being with you, or were you pretty much on your own?

SO: No, she took care of me pretty well.

AL: What was she like as a child?

SO: Quiet, studious, that's about it.

AL: Yeah, what about you?

SO: Maybe mischievous.

AL: In what way? Can you give me some examples of being mischievous?

SO: No, but I remember my mother always having to scold me, just little things, I think.

AL: Mas says you were spoiled, is that true?

SO: He wasn't there, he doesn't know.

AL: [Laughs] I think anybody who was flattening his teacher's tires shouldn't be criticizing you.

SO: I know, really. Really. [Laughs]

AL: So when you were going to school, was Dee in a classroom near you?

SO: No, no, because she sat with the first grade, she's fourth grade.

AL: Right, but then at first, my understanding is before they consolidated the school into Block 16, they had people in different buildings all over the place.

SO: No, I don't remember that, then.

AL: Where she was going?

SO: Yeah, I don't remember that.

AL: Do you remember your classroom? Did you have desks?

SO: Yes, tables, chairs, but I don't remember too much of the physical layout of the school.

AL: Did you have any subjects you liked more than others?

SO: Oh, I had difficulty in all subjects. [Laughs] Especially without speaking any English, you know.

AL: How long did it take until you felt like you were speaking English properly?

SO: Maybe after the second grade.

AL: Did you find your teachers pretty patient?

SO: I don't remember the names, but two teachers were Caucasian, and then I had Miss Yoshida. I think I felt comfortable with her.

AL: What about with the Caucasian teachers?

SO: Well, I had never really had any contact with Caucasians, so I think at first I was kind of intimidated, but then I grew to like them.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

AL: What about when you weren't in school? Do you remember games that you liked to play or the types of games or toys that you...

SO: Well, let's see. My father had us take, you know what koto is? It's a stringed instrument. So my sister and I took koto lessons and calligraphy lessons, and I can't remember if we were... no, just my older sister took piano lessons, too.

AL: So where would you take the lessons? I mean, are these private lessons that you would hire somebody?

SO: Uh-huh. Well, like the koto, I think there were only... I guess someone had, you know, after a while in camp, people from the outside could bring things in other than what we could carry. So I think someone brought in two kotos. So the teacher went to go to her place, because she played one and we played the other.

AL: Do you remember the teacher's name?

SO: No, I don't.

AL: You were pretty little to be playing the koto.

SO: Well, it's very basic.

AL: But I mean just the size of the instrument.

SO: Oh, yeah, right.

AL: Somebody donated their koto to us.

SO: Yeah, it's big. But then the strings aren't that far apart.

AL: Did you like it?

SO: Not really. I wasn't musically inclined. So my sister learned how to play the piano and koto. They gave me lessons, but I never did get any better.

AL: What did your parents do for their non-work time? Did they have hobbies or interests?

SO: My father used to enjoy playing shogi, it's a board game. And what's the other one where they, there's a black and white?

AL: Go?

SO: Go, yes. So he enjoyed that. But he really didn't have that much... I don't ever remember seeing him really relax and do something other than that.

AL: If someone were, like in his role as a minister, do you think he was treated differently, like with more deference or respect than just one of the guys?

SO: Maybe by his congregation, but I think he was treated like anybody else by the camp staff. But he did grow fond of Mr. Merritt.

AL: So I think every picture I have ever seen of your father, he's in his, I don't know if you call them vestments.

SO: His robes?

AL: His robes. Or he's wearing a suit. Is that kind of how he would dress on a daily basis, or is it just because those pictures are special?

SO: No, he always wore a tie.

AL: He always wore a tie?

SO: In fact, there's one picture in the album where he's just in his undershirt, kind of surprised me. [Laughs] But it's just a snapshot.

AL: What about your mom? Did she wear...

SO: No.

AL: ...just typical clothing?

SO: Uh-huh. She was very casual.

AL: Do you think that being in the camp changed either their personalities or the dynamics of their marriage in any way?

SO: I don't think so. They were the same.

AL: How would you characterize... looking back now as an adult, we look back on their marriage, how would you characterize it in terms of, some people say, well, our parents were, they're really partners, or it's this great love story. I mean, just how you'd characterize them as a couple.

SO: Well, they were not too... they didn't show their feelings too much, but I think I would characterize it as mutual respect. They never yelled at each other, physically or verbally.

AL: Would you say that they had a sort of typical Issei arranged marriage?

SO: Yes. I think they appreciated each other for what they did.

AL: Was your mother... I saw in your album you had like a PTA card for your father. Was your mother involved in any sort of social things like that, like PTA?

SO: No, no, it was my father. Even in Gardena, he came to one PTA meeting, he was the only man there. But I was happy to see him there.

AL: So did he take an active role in your schooling?

SO: Uh-huh. I think it's because of the language barrier, too.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

AL: What do you remember about just sort of daily functions at Manzanar like the mess halls or the latrines? You were a pretty small girl...

SO: But I hated the latrines. There was no privacy.


AL: So what can you tell me about the latrines?

SO: Well, I would hate to go... so my mother would take me after dark when not too many people were there, and then one day I noticed there's a partition for privacy, so I thought, oh, maybe we can use that. And my mother said, no, they built those for the nuns, so we can't use them. I thought that was so unfair. But even as a youngster, I just, I remember that.

AL: So did the nuns live in Block 14?

SO: They must have, because they were using the showers there.

AL: Do you remember them?

SO: No, they were behind the partition. [Laughs]

AL: But I mean just in -- I think their names were Sister Bernadette and Sister Susanna.

SO: No, I don't.

AL: But it was in your latrine.

SO: Private latrine, private shower.

AL: Was it just one stall?

SO: Yeah, I think it's on the corner, the corner stall.

AL: Do you think other people resented not being able to visit?

SO: No, I don't think so. I think they respected their position.

AL: Do you think that your father or your parents had additional respect because of their positions?

SO: Not particularly.

AL: So just the nuns, the Catholic nuns?

SO: Uh-huh.

AL: How much interaction was there between like the Maryknoll sisters and your father and different... I do want to come back to the latrines, but just their, do you know anything about the kind of level of interactions?

SO: Well, my father gave a talk at the first anniversary of the Christian church, and so I think there was mutual respect between... I know the Christian church and the Buddhist church. But I don't recall anything with the Maryknoll or the other...

AL: Well, Mr. Kado was Maryknoll, who built the monument.

SO: Oh, that's right. That's right, he was. But he was the one to go to for the monument.

AL: So just going back to the latrines for a little bit, do you recall if they ever built partitions in your latrine?

SO: I don't remember. I don't think so, it was pretty open.

AL: Did you ever get used to it?

SO: No, it's something you don't get used to. Even as a child, you don't get used to.

AL: What about the showers?

SO: What about the showers?

AL: Could you describe the shower and how that worked?

SO: Yeah, that's communal, which I don't think anyone was used to. It's just part of camp life, I guess.

AL: What about the mess halls?

SO: Yes.

AL: Tell me about the mess hall.

SO: Well, I didn't look forward to going to the mess hall, but my mother made sure we had our meals, so we would go. But I can't say I finished every meal.

AL: Was there anything that you particularly liked or hated?

SO: I hated the mutton, because it smelled.

AL: What did it smell like?

SO: Not good, you know. It just had a foul odor. So I always remember, that's the only one I remember.

AL: Do you like apple butter?

SO: No. Oh, yeah, they served a lot of that, too, now that you bring it up. I never acquired a taste for it. Yeah, they did serve that a lot.

AL: I know that at one point in time they fed the younger children earlier than everybody else. Were you ever fed your meals at different times?

SO: No, no, I always went with my mother, yeah.

AL: Did your family always eat together?

SO: We tried to, but there were many times my father couldn't join us.

AL: Do you recall if you ever had like a hotplate in your barrack or any meals that you would prepare outside the mess hall?

SO: Later in, I think, right before we left camp, they must have closed up the mess halls, I think we had a hotplate in our barrack, and I think my mother used to cook simple meals on that. But it wasn't 'til the very end of camp.

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

<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.

<Begin Segment 12>

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.

<Begin Segment 13>

AL: What about your parents? I mean, other than childbirth, did any of your family go to the hospital there?

SO: I don't think so.

AL: Do you know if your father had any kind of ministry with the hospital?

SO: I think he used to go to visit, and I know he always took members during celebrations to go visit the hospital.

AL: Do you recall any of the situations, like for instance, in the summer of 1942, Ruby Watanabe, who was Buddhist, died in the hospital. She was giving birth to twin girls, and both the girls died as newborns. And there's a picture of your father and large casket with two little caskets. Do you remember any of those funerals?

SO: No, I don't remember them. I just remember the one of a soldier. In fact, the funeral was double... Munemori, and I think another soldier had passed away, so I think it was a double ceremony funeral.

AL: There are pictures of that.

SO: Right, right.

AL: And I think the speech from your father. Yeah, I think it was private, Robert Nakasaki.

SO: Yes, that sounds familiar.

AL: In the auditorium.

SO: Uh-huh.

AL: Did you ever go to any of the funerals, though?

SO: No, I didn't, no.

AL: Or weddings?

SO: I used to go to, I was a flower girl in a wedding, but other than that...

AL: Whose wedding?

SO: It was (Suiko Hori and Dennis Shimizu), her husband, they had, what was it, a shoe store or something in Los Angeles, it was right across the street from Toyo Miyatake's. I can't remember their names.

AL: When people wanted to get married in the church, did they have any sort of preparations that they had to do, like pre-marriage counseling, or did they have to apply?

SO: No. I think they just came and said, "We would like to get married," so they set a convenient date. There were many.

AL: Could you explain for people who aren't familiar with the tradition, exactly what a baishakunin is and how that works, and how often did your father do that?

SO: Well, basically a baishakunin is someone... is like a go-between, you know, they see a girl and they think that she would like this gentleman who's appropriate. But most of the time now in America, even back camp days, the couples find each other and then they come and ask to be married. But then they always had a baishakunin to represent the bride's side and groom's side, you know, or perhaps one person who knew both families.

AL: That's what I was gonna ask, would it be one person for both or each person has their own?

SO: It could be either.

AL: Was there any kind of a fee for serving as a baishakunin?

SO: No, no.

AL: Just an honorary title?

SO: Yeah, right.

AL: Do you know if there were ever times when it didn't work out, where people turned down the advances?

SO: Oh, yes.

AL: Was that considered rude?

SO: No, not really.

AL: Acceptable?

SO: Yeah, yeah.

AL: Isn't that part of the reason you have that person, so you can broker with them?

SO: Perhaps, perhaps.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

AL: What kind of other duties like that would your father do, just beyond his ministry?

SO: Weddings, funerals, and all the activities at church. They were very active, especially the young people's group. Well, you'll see in the album that I gave you, that they were always planning different things.

AL: So when there was a group like the Young Buddhist Association, was it made up of people of all the different sects like Zen Buddhism?

SO: No, it was all the Shinshu.

AL: So it was, each group stayed within itself.

SO: Correct.

AL: Was there any kind of... I don't think rivalry is the right word, but you know, like within Catholic and Protestant, back then a little bit of tension. Do you think there was any kind of tension between the different sects of Buddhism?

SO: Yes, because there's some literature that says because the Shinshu group was so large, that they were given the church in Block 13. And I think another sect which was very small, I guess, objected, that they were monopolizing that barrack. And so I think they had to give them some time, so on Sunday I think afternoons, that their group was able to use the same buildings. Then I think eventually they found a place for everybody.

AL: So would they socialize together?

SO: Not really, no. Not really.

AL: Were you involved in Obon or any of the cultural...

SO: Uh-huh. Well, we used to dance.

AL: Where did you get... I've seen like pictures of the Obon where the girls wearing kimono, I mean, where would you get those things?

SO: I think those were brought in after the initial camp moving in, because you could only take one suitcase at a time. But all through camp, friends from the outside could bring things to the camp, and I guess it had to pass inspection. But that's how the koto got in, and I think a lot of people had their friends bring kimonos and things like that in.

AL: So the cultural events that you participated in, was your role any different because you were the minister's daughter?

SO: No, no.

AL: Just one of the children?

SO: Just one of the children.

AL: Do you remember the Toy Loan Library?

SO: No, I don't.

AL: Did you have toys in camp?

SO: I just remember my father ordering a doll for me from Sears Roebuck, and it was my treasured piece that I had. And then my sister Jean was younger than me, she just ruined, she tried to comb her hair and she just ruined it. That was so traumatic for me, I remember that. And I think maybe that's why we named her Jean, you know, I think that's how she got her English name, was because the doll was a Jeannie Walker doll, and so I think that's how.

AL: So you lost the doll and got a sister?

SO: I got a sister.

AL: You probably preferred the doll, huh? [Laughs]

SO: [Laughs] Probably.

AL: What about... I know I'm kind of bouncing around again a little bit, but as a small child, were you conscious of the fact that there were guard towers and searchlights and military police? What can you tell me about that?

SO: They were sort of intimidating. I knew they were there, I mean, you can't help but see them, right? And they're keeping us in, but I guess... I probably thought that's just the way it is. Being so young, I didn't know any different.

AL: Did your parents tell you anything about the fence or the soldiers or anything?

SO: No, not other than don't go too close. But that's about it.

AL: How far of a radius were you allowed to go?

SO: Maybe a block or so, not too far. My mother was pretty protective, so other than going to school...

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

AL: I was gonna ask you also about going back to the funerals. I know in all of the pictures it shows caskets, and yet in the pictures of the church, there's all urns. So would they have the body present for the funeral and then cremate?

SO: Yes, yes. And then a lot of them, they would cremate them thinking somebody they would leave camp, and so they would leave the cremations at the church.

AL: And is it typical for most Buddhist funerals that they are cremated?

SO: Uh-huh. I'd say majority. Not all, because I have friends who buried their parents at a local cemetery.

AL: There are still nine bodies remaining in the cemetery at Manzanar, or excuse me, six. Nine have been removed, six are still there.

SO: Is it because they can't find...

AL: There's three old men and three ladies.

SO: I know the first one who passed away was a bachelor or something.

AL: Mr. Murakami?

SO: Uh-huh.

AL: Do you know if your father did that funeral?

SO: I'm not sure.

KL: You said they would leave the ashes at church thinking they would leave the camp one day?

SO: Uh-huh.

KL: Can you say more about what you mean?

SO: I think there's a picture in the album, but many of the remains were put into little boxes, and they would keep them at the church. And so my father brought back quite a few to Gardena, and the relatives would come and pick them up.

AL: Do you know if those urns were made in camp? Because they all look the same.

SO: I think they're boxes. I think they were boxes, that's what they look like, but I'm not sure.

AL: Do you have any idea how many ashes would be... I guess we could look at the picture and count, but...

SO: Yeah, I'm not sure. But I'd say the majority of the bodies were cremated.

AL: Did you ever have any interaction with children from the Children's Village, or did you know that that orphanage was there?

SO: I know the orphanage was there, but I never had any interaction with the children.

AL: Do you know if your father or your mother...

SO: Yeah, my father did, because he would take groups over there.

AL: Groups of who?

SO: Of the YBA members.

AL: The Young Buddhist Association?

SO: Uh-huh.

AL: And what would they do over there?

SO: I think they would just maybe participate with them in games and things, take treats. And then I know during Obon, they would go over there and... well, no, that was to the hospital that they would go and take some of the girls in their kimonos and have a program for them.

AL: For the patients in the hospital?

SO: Uh-huh, yeah.

AL: You had talked earlier about... or you'd mentioned Ralph Merritt and your father. Ralph Merritt is one of the camp directors, the one who was there the longest, from November 1942 through the closing of the camp. What can you tell me about Ralph Merritt as a person as you remember him? Not what you know now, but as a presence in your life there, did he come to your apartment, did you see or interact with him at all?

SO: No, it's just, I guess, hearsay. It's from my father, what I heard from my father. He would be present every time my father would be questioned about the loyalty. At first my father could not get travel permits because they always stated that he had a son in Japan, and so they didn't feel that he could be trusted to go outside of camp. But after so many months, I think Mr. Merritt thought he was trustworthy enough to go out of camp. So my father left camp about, maybe three or four times. I know he went to a funeral in Topaz, and he went to visit a sick person in Reno, and I think there were a couple of other times.

AL: Do you know whose funeral he went to in Topaz and why?

SO: Oh, it was the Bishop Matsukage, it was his wife. And she had passed away, and my father was very close to the bishop from San Francisco, and so he felt he had go to. And so that's where they, all the ministers had a meeting to... before, they were always under the Japanese Buddhist church from Japan, and at this point I think they made, they were going to cut themselves off from the Japanese Buddhist church and form their own Buddhist Churches of America, so that they were not... they didn't have to get any income or anything from the church in Japan. So it was more or less an independent American Buddhist group.

KL: That was during the war or before?

SO: Uh-huh, no, it was towards the end of the war. Because many of the ministers went to Topaz to attend the funeral, and so then they decided to have a meeting there.

AL: Do you think they had planned in advance to set up the Buddhist Churches of America, or do you think it was just, they were at the funeral and started talking about it?

SO: I'm not sure.

AL: Because I've heard of the meeting...

SO: Oh, have you?

AL: But I didn't know it was associated with a funeral. And what was the person who died, what was her name?

SO: Mrs. Matsukage.

AL: Matsukage?

SO: Uh-huh, the Bishop's... she was the present Bishop of the Buddhist churches in America.

AL: Do you know how she died?

SO: I'm not sure.

AL: Or how old she was?

SO: I think it's somewhere in my writings, but I'm not sure. But I think my mother said she was not a very strong woman, and so they never had children. Oh, I know, she passed away of a stroke, that's what it was, the telegram my father received said she passed away of a stroke.

AL: Do you know how they traveled up there? Did they take, I mean...

SO: I think train.

AL: Train? Did he have to have a chauffeur?

SO: Escort, yes.

AL: Escort?

SO: An English-speaking escort. But it was usually one of the YBA members.

AL: So it was not a WRA or an MP?

SO: No, no.

AL: It was just an escort.

SO: Uh-huh, and they have to have permits.

AL: How long was he gone?

SO: I don't remember. But I think on the permit it says how many days they could be gone and do that by a certain date.

AL: Would you say he was comfortable with the decision to break away from Japan?

SO: I think so.

AL: And so this Buddhist Churches of America, did it, I mean, was there a council or was there a leader who... how did that work organizationally?

SO: Well, because they had a bishop, and prior to the war the bishop was always out of San Francisco. But then Bishop Matsukage had to go to Topaz, and so when all the ministers were there for his wife's funeral, perhaps he decided... I'm not sure exactly how that transpired.

AL: And Buddhist Churches of America, did they only oversee the sect, Jodo Shinshu?

SO: Uh-huh.

AL: So it's not Zen Buddhists...

SO: No, no.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

AL: And that, you're talking about when your father was questioned, what do you recall about or what do you know about the "loyalty questionnaire" and how your parents addressed that?

SO: Well, this is after reading all the papers I received from the WRA, and he answered "yes." But when you read all the papers, you'll see where at first I think they had doubts about my father because of my brother in Japan, but later, once they became trustworthy of him, it stated that they thought he was an internationalist and that he would be loyal to America as long as he remained here, and he felt everyone should be loyal to the country in which they lived, not necessarily where they were born.

AL: Now, what point do you think your parents decided that their future was in America?

SO: Hmm, that's hard to say. Maybe once we had been educated to a certain point, then it'd be hard for us to go to Japan and start over again? We never really talked about that.

AL: So you said that Ralph Merritt was present when your father was questioned. Do you know if he was questioned other than for the "loyalty questionnaire"?

SO: Uh-huh. You have the papers I'm giving you.

AL: Do you know what kinds of things he was questioned about, or why they were questioning him?

SO: Well, just to see, because my brother was in Japan...

AL: Okay, so it was about him personally.

SO: Right, yeah.

AL: Do you know with the "loyalty questionnaire," if other people sought out counsel from your father?

SO: I don't know that.

AL: Because it was very difficult...

SO: Yeah, I think a lot of the questions they asked is, do you think the people, some of the people here will return to Japan, and he just always said, "I don't know, it's up to them." He couldn't speak for the others.

AL: Do you know how much if any of his... I don't know if you call it a sermon or a talk or whatever, do you think he had to make a conscious effort to stay non-political, or do you think... sometimes there's a mix of religion and politics and how you walk that line as a minister in a situation like Manzanar.

SO: He was a... he was not political at all, so he kept a neutral stance. And just reading all the questions they asked him, he was not willing to take any side.

AL: So you don't think he had any sort of... I guess I shouldn't say preference, but as far as the outcome of the war, he was just gonna take what came?

SO: Right, right.

AL: I didn't realize until I saw the photograph of the funeral from the riot, that your father was there at the time.

SO: Uh-huh.

AL: Do you know anything about that?

SO: No, I don't.

AL: You don't recall anything?

SO: No.

AL: Or him ever talking about it?

SO: No. He didn't share that much with us, you know, I guess because we were so young.

AL: Do you think in the decision with the "loyalty questionnaire" that your mother had a voice, or was it just that your father decided and that's what the family did?

SO: She always went with... he just made all the decisions. I think that's typical of the Japanese families.

AL: Do you think he sought her counsel at all?

SO: He may have talked to her, but I think the final decision was always his.

AL: You know, I'm really curious, and I know we've talked about her a little bit, but just to know more about her as a person. Because he's the one in all the pictures.

SO: Right.

AL: He's the one in all the writing, I mean, he is so prevalent in camp life, and I don't see anything about her. So what can you tell us about her?

SO: Well, she was a very down-to-earth woman, I think her children were her pride and joy. And she respected my father. So I don't think she ever questioned him; what he said went. She really didn't have any personal agenda.

AL: Do you think it was difficult for her to have your brother in Japan?

SO: Oh, yes.

AL: How would how she dealt with it be different than your father?

SO: I don't think any different. They just wanted him to be safe.

AL: How often would they hear from him or about him?

SO: Maybe about once a year.

AL: Do you know if they were able to send anything other than telegrams back and forth?

SO: No, that was it.

AL: Sort of financial money or anything?

SO: That was it. The letters from the Red Cross, and it'd be very simple. I think some are in your materials I'm giving you.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

AL: As far as your experiences in camp, we talked a little bit about school, did you do any special things like picnics? We have some pictures of kids at North Park picnic area, we have pictures that Miyatake took of the first grade visiting the fire station, did you do any field trips in camp that you recall?

SO: No, I don't remember any field trips.

AL: You can't go too far.

SO: I know, you're confined. [Laughs]

AL: Well, and the fire station was pretty close to you.

SO: Yeah, I don't remember visiting it, though.

AL: Yeah, it was in Block 13, the east end of Block 13.

SO: Yeah, I saw that in the picture. I didn't realize it until I saw that.

AL: But you had a picture in your scrapbook of a fire in camp. Do you remember that at all?

SO: No, I don't. When I saw that, the smoke coming up, I remember you referring to the fire that was there, that you had pictures of, I thought, oh, that must have been the one.

AL: Do you... I know that your father and Toyo Miyatake were friends. What can you tell us about their relationship and what you know about the Miyatakes?

SO: Well, we were social friends, because I remember Minnie and Tabo. I think Tabo was in my class at one point. But their friendship continued through camp after the war also, and so that's why he was a baishakunin for it, because the Maedas were in Manzanar also. They were just good friends.

AL: So your father and Toyo, did they keep in touch after the war?

SO: Yes, they came and took our family pictures, and anytime we went for our graduation pictures there, and they were very generous to us.

AL: And your father was not only the baishakunin for Archie and Take, but he also married them, right?

SO: I don't think so.

AL: He's in the pictures.

SO: Yeah, he's in the pictures but he's wearing a tuxedo.

AL: Oh, I thought he was, Archie said he married them.

SO: I don't know. I just saw the pictures of him wearing a tuxedo, because they took pictures of my mother and father all dressed up.

AL: That was a big wedding.

SO: It was a big wedding.

AL: So you were there?

SO: I went to the reception.

AL: What do you remember?

SO: I just remember they had Chinese food. All the weddings had that.

AL: Where did they go, Far East?

SO: Maybe. But there were a lot of people, so it had to be one of the bigger ones.

AL: They showed me their album once, I think I was telling you that, but it was very fascinating. Because that's 1949, so it's just as people were getting resettled. What do you recall about the end of the war? How did you find out about it?

SO: I think my parents told me. Other than that, I don't remember too much, I just knew that my mother said, "Pretty soon we'll be able to leave." But other than that, I have no recollection.

AL: So you don't recall anything that they said about Japan or the defeat of Japan?

SO: No, no. I think my mother thought, "Oh, I'll get to see my son."

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

AL: So you said before that your father, your family was the last family to leave camp.

SO: I think so. Can you check that? We left on the 21st.

AL: That was the last day.

SO: Okay. I remember we were in a station wagon, and I think there was another couple with us, I don't know why they got delayed leaving, but there were not too many people left when we were there.

AL: Why did he want to stay?

SO: He told Mr. Merritt that he wanted to make sure that everybody left camp before him, to make sure they all got out. So we were the last ones.

AL: And where did you go from here?

SO: They took us, they came after us in a station wagon and took us to Gardena.

AL: And was he assigned to the church in Gardena?

SO: Uh-huh, yes.

AL: And did you have a place to live?

SO: Yes, there was an old house, and then in the church, it was made into a hostel, you know, for families who didn't have a place to go. They had bedspreads for partitions, many families lived in the church, and we had a Japanese, there was a Japanese school connected to the church, and many families lived there, too.

AL: Is that the same church that's there today, or is that a newer one?

SO: No, it's a different church. It was an old one, yeah. It's older.

AL: I Just went to a funeral there last month. Was it in the same location, though?

SO: No, it moved a little bit.

AL: How was it for your family to get reestablished? Do you think it was easier because your father had a church and had a important job to go to?

SO: Probably. Because there were some families whose fathers couldn't find jobs. They were there longer until they could find a place, they couldn't leave the hostel.

AL: Was there any kind of... within the church, any kind of community welfare where if somebody... I know like Miyatakes took in over a dozen people to live in their house. Were those things just that people decided to do on their own, or was there an organized...

SO: No, no, that was on their own.

AL: Every person for themselves? Were you afraid to leave camp?

SO: No, I was happy to leave.

AL: What was it like going back to school? Did you go to a Buddhist school, or did you go to public school?

SO: Public. I went to Denker Avenue in Gardena.

AL: What's the school name?

SO: Denker, D-E-N-K-E-R, Denker Avenue, it's still there. Then on to Gardena junior high and senior high.

AL: So how long did you stay in Gardena?

SO: We were there twelve years, so until I graduated from college.

AL: And you went to USC?

SO: Uh-huh, and I graduated in '58, then at that time, my father was diagnosed with cancer, and he was going to get care in San Francisco, so we moved to San Francisco.

AL: How long did he live?

SO: He lived another two years, no, one year, because we got married in '60, so yeah, died in '59, and we got married in '60.

AL: And you had said that your mom died not long after?

SO: Uh-huh, three years after that, same month, in November, about two days apart.

AL: What did she die of?

SO: Massive stroke.

AL: So she would have been only fifty-nine years old.

SO: Sixty-one.

AL: Sixty-one? Yeah, both very young. What was your father's funeral like? He had done so many funerals for some many people.

SO: It was very big. A lot of people from Gardena came to San Francisco.

AL: Did you see a lot of people from camp?

SO: I don't remember, just maybe the ones he was close to.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

AL: You had talked, when we were on the phone, you talked about going back, that your father went back, you went back with your father in 1946. Could you tell us about that trip and why you went and what you did there?

SO: Well, my father decided that he had to go back for Obon services, and so he, I guess, spread the word that they were going back, so we had two busloads. And he came in the house and said, "There's room for one more," and I said, "I'll go." I don't know if my older sister wanted to go, but I went with him and I recall that the two buses drove up, and we couldn't get in. And so they said, "You can't come in unless you have permission." So I think at that time, too, somebody contacted Mr. Merritt and he said it was okay -- I don't know where he was at this time -- but he gave the guards an okay. And so Jack Iwata, who went with us, said at that time, "Gee, they put us in and wouldn't let us out, and now they won't let us back in." Which was true, and that was the last time my father... no, my father went every year after that. I didn't go, but my father went every year after that 'til 1957, and that was his last one before he got sick. And then after that, I think Mr. Maeda used to go with a group.

AL: So our sign then is wrong, because the information we had is it was Robert Maeda and... so that's good to know. And I didn't forget, but I wanted to ask about, the story of the cemetery monument, I know you went back there, but that was built in 1943. How did that come about, how was it funded and designed?


SO: About the monument? Okay, well, my father and the YBA, the Young Buddhist Association decided they wanted to build a memorial for the people who had passed away in camp, and so they went to the WRA and said this is what they would like to do, but they didn't want the WRA to pay for it, they wanted the people of Manzanar to pay for it so they would collect all the money. And so my father and Jack Iwata went to go see Mr. Kado because they knew he had built the towers, I guess the gates, so they went to him, and then he drew up a plan which was okayed by the church members. Then it was built, and my father had to do the calligraphy, and so he chose the words Ireito, which means "in memory of the deceased." And I remember him getting about four or five brushes, calligraphy brushes, and wrapping it up because, you know, the writing's pretty big, so he was practicing. He practiced a lot until he said, okay, this is the one, and that's when they put it onto the monument.

AL: Do you know how they put it on there? Did they, like, stencil it?

SO: I think so. I think that's how... and then they painted it in.

AL: So how much did that... do you know how much people paid to build the monument?

SO: I think it was fifteen cents a family, something like that. It was minimal.

AL: Was it every family in camp?

SO: Just the ones... just Buddhists. I mean, whoever wanted to.

AL: Do you know how much it cost?

SO: No, I don't, I don't. But then, I mean, it's to pay for all the cement and whatever goes underneath that.

AL: What do you think when you see that monument?

SO: Well, it reminds me of my father, or our time in Manzanar.

AL: It is probably the most recognizable feature of Manzanar, and the Manzanar Committee, I mean, it is Manzanar to so many people, but I don't think to anybody as personal as it is to you.

SO: Thank you for taking care of it.

AL: You know like I was mentioning people still, even before the Park Service was ever there, have left things on that marker.

SO: I know. The picture you showed was amazing.

AL: It is amazing, and it continues. And we collect certain things off of it, like if somebody puts fruit on there, we don't leave it because we don't want it to rot.

SO: Right, right.

AL: Although the monument gets repainted, but we collect representative objects that go into our museum collection, and that's actually, that cemetery monument collection is a big part of our museum collection. And one of the advisors we had when we were developing a policy about that was the person who curates the Vietnam Wall. Because they get huge offerings, they've had a Harley Davidson motorcycle left.

SO: Oh, my.

AL: Wedding rings and all kinds of things, and that...

SO: Where do they leave it? It's such a simple...

AL: On the monument?

SO: Uh-huh.

AL: Well, there's those kind of three steps, you know, not steps, but levels. So we see a lot of coins and barbed wire. I think you'll be amazed when you see it.

SO: I'm looking forward to going again. I think I'm ready.

AL: Did your father... I know I've seen movie footage of an early pilgrimage, like 1946 or 1948, and your father's in the footage, and Toyo Miyatake and Ralph Merritt. Did your father keep in touch with Mr. Merritt?

SO: No, I think it was just the language barrier.

AL: So would they have a translator when they were meeting?

SO: I think so, I think so.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

AL: Your father's birth parents, we've talked a lot about your brother being with your maternal grandparents, but did your father stay in touch with his own parents?

SO: Uh-huh. Whenever he sent telegrams through the Red Cross, he always sent one to his mother, and then she passed away, so he would send it to his older brother.

AL: Did their families both survive the war?

SO: Yes, yes. And I remember after camp sending, we always sent two care packages, used to send candy and coffee, the basics. We used to send it to both sides of the family.

AL: So when did your brother come over?

SO: He came about, I think in about '52. But he went directly to Harvard where he studied, then became a professor there eventually. That's where he retired.

AL: So he spent his whole life at Harvard.

SO: Uh-huh, but he used to come home to visit us.

AL: What do you think your grandparents thought about him leaving? Because they'd had him his whole life.

SO: No, they were gone by then.

AL: Oh, they were?

SO: Yeah, they were gone by then.

AL: And your sisters, how did they adopt after the war, adapt after the war?

SO: Adapt? I think pretty well, because when we went to... I was in elementary school, but my sister went to Gardena junior high, and I think Jeannie was just starting kindergarten. But I didn't feel any prejudice. People were pretty nice. And there were not too many Asians or Hispanics, it was mostly a white community. But I never felt any prejudice.

AL: How integrated was your father into the non-Buddhist community?

SO: Not much. It's mainly just church and activities.

AL: How did their lives evolve after the war?

SO: Well, I think they were working hard to try to reestablish the church in Gardena, so he started teaching Japanese school at that point. And my mother did her flower arranging, and that's when she was a janitor of the church.

AL: Did you go to Japanese language school?

SO: Uh-huh, just for a short time.

AL: What did you think of it?

SO: Hard.

AL: Was it hard?

SO: It was hard.

AL: Was your father your teacher?

SO: No, no, I was never in my parents' class. My mother taught the elementary and my father taught the more advanced students. Those teachers were strict.

AL: What do you think your father would think, and your mother, today, that seventy years later we're talking to you about it, we still have the monument, we're getting 85,000 visitors a year. What do you think he would think of this?

SO: I think he would be surprised and pleased. Because I think when they built that, I think they were trying to build it so it would be there forever. So in a way I think it's a symbol of no more war.

AL: What do you think is most important, not just about the monument, but about this whole experience and why we talk about it? You know, the same question that Kristen asked Mas about, you know, a hundred years from now, if somebody looks at this or reads this, what do you think it's most important to remember?

SO: I think perhaps they should teach everyone that war has no positive conclusions. Everything is negative.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

AL: Do you think it was hard for your brother to culturally adapt to the United States?

SO: No, because he was such a scholar, I think he loved the challenge of the education that he got at Harvard. So I think he acclimated quite well.

AL: Could you talk just a little bit about his career at Harvard?

SO: Well, he went... he already had his bachelor's from Japan, Yukoku University and Kyoto University. And then he went to, he took a crash course in English at UCLA when he came during the summer, and then he went to Harvard and received his master's and PhD. And he was asked by one his professors to stay to teach, because he was retiring, Dr. Reischauer. And so my brother just stayed there and flourished, loved it.

AL: Is that Edwin Reischauer?

SO: Uh-huh.

AL: That's one of the first books I read on Japan was by him.

SO: Oh, yeah.

KL: What did your brother teach?

SO: He taught Indic philosophy and Sanskrit, and Buddhist studies.

AL: Does he have children?

SO: Yes, he had three daughters. They all live in... no, two live in California now, one still lives in Massachusetts.

AL: So could you just kind of give us a quick synopsis of each of your siblings' lives, like where they live, what their careers were?

SO: Okay. Well, I finished my brother. My sister Hideko Dee, she went to UCLA, and then went to USC. And when we moved to San Francisco, she went to San Francisco state to get her teaching degree. Earlier she got married and had a son. Then she had a long teaching career in Mill Valley, that's where she met Joan Busbee, and she was the type that teaching was her whole life, and she just gave it her whole time and energy to teaching.

AL: What did she teach?

SO: Third grade and elementary, Mill Valley. And, in fact, she was teaching 'til the day she collapsed and then they diagnosed her with cancer. So she was really dedicated. Then she passed away. Then Jeannie went to San Francisco State and became a teacher, and she taught for many, many years, too, she got married when she was in her forties, then she passed away due to an accident. And here I am by myself. I was a teacher also.

AL: What did you teach?

SO: Kindergarten. Here my brother's teaching at Harvard, and I taught kindergarten. But I loved it. Until my family came along and I stayed home with them.

AL: So you went to USC?

SO: Uh-huh.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

AL: And I understand you acquired a husband during a lunch?

SO: Yes, yes.

AL: Maybe not quite that quick.

SO: No. After five years, make sure, you know, it was gonna work out. And we've been married, it'll be fifty-three years this year. So I think it's gonna work out.

AL: I hope so. [Laughs] Kristen, are there things that you want to ask, or Mas, things that she should talk about, or other things that you want to add?

SO: I think you covered everything. But I wish I had studied a little more.

AL: And I wish I had a more formal list. We usually have a list that kind of goes chapter by chapter through your life, but I was just so curious about so many things.

SO: So you could put it in order when you write it up, right?

AL: It can be edited. Well, we're really eager to have you visit Manzanar sometime.

SO: I promise we'll be there this year sometime.

AL: And we thank you for allowing us to scan the albums.

SO: You're welcome.

KL: I do have something.

AL: Okay, good.

KL: Did your dad and Mr. Kado or anyone in your family continue to have a relationship?

SO: No, no. They were from a, at the Maryknoll church, so I think once the monument was built, I don't think they continued their friendship.

KL: Did he say anything about what it was like to work with Ryozo Kado?

SO: No, no, other than we got the blueprint from him. But I think he was a perfectionist.

KL: Kado?

SO: Uh-huh.

AL: There was just somebody in this week talking about helping to build the sentry post and how particular Mr. Kado was.

SO: Uh-huh, I don't know why, but I heard that. Somebody told me that.

AL: He was a good teacher. What did your mother do from the, between the time that she lost your father until the end of her own life? I mean, what...

SO: Oh, she went to do some, she did housework for the doctor who cared for my father through his illness. I think they hired her just to really be helping, I don't think they really needed a housekeeper. But Dr. McCoy was nice enough to hire her, so this helped supplement the social security. And then she used to babysit my sister's boy.

AL: Did they become citizens?

SO: No, they never did.

AL: Do you know why?

SO: No.

AL: Did your brother become a citizen? I guess he would need... yeah, would not be a citizen because of...

SO: Uh-huh.

AL: Did he do that in their lifetime?

SO: I'm not sure. I'm not sure when he got his citizenship.

KL: Did he talk with you about meeting Joan Busbee?

SO: Just slightly.

KL: What did she say?

SO: No, she said, "You won't believe it, somebody knows Manzanar." [Laughs] And then I really got to know Joan at my sister's memorial. Before that I had never met Joan. And then, so when we met, then she brought the book for me, and that's when I really got to know that the two of them had such a close relationship and the common bonds they had of Manzanar.

AL: That's kind of a strange coincidence, kind of like our visit with you, where what are the chances?

SO: Right. Because I read where Joan's parents were the ones that found the fisherman up in the mountains, and they went down to call and let someone know that he was up there. And then my father had a funeral for him in Manzanar.

AL: We always think of that the cemetery is just the space around the monument, but one of our coworkers, Richard, who you talked to, when he would do programs out there, he would say, "You know, actually, this cemetery expands to the top of that mountain," because Mr. Matsumura is up there.

SO: Right, right. But when the fishermen used to go up there, they would bring some down for us, they would share it. It was the best trout I... I still remember that.

AL: There are a few restaurants there that serve good trout.

SO: Oh, really?

AL: We'll have to make sure we get you to one. So to both of you on behalf of the National Park Service and Manzanar, and Kristen and I personally just want to thank you for your time and all of the information, and just being so open with your hearts and your stories, and just really grateful to finally meet you.

SO: Thank you for your interest.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.