Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Akiko Okuno Interview
Narrator: Akiko Okuno
Interviewers: Kristen Luetkemeier, Alisa Lynch
Location: Saratoga, California
Date: January 31, 2013
Densho ID: denshovh-oakiko-01-0014

<Begin Segment 14>

KL: What are your memories of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, learning about that?

AO: Oh, it was really... the night before was a Choral, County Choral Festival or something in San Jose, so of course our choir went. And we were so proud of how we sounded that night. And on the way home we were all singing the Star Spangled Banner at the top of our lungs, and then the next morning, turned on the radio and brought... just can't understand. I mean, it's unbelievable. It's like another mystery story or some made up story on the radio. And then my father had gone into town and came back and said this is so. And then the rumors began to fly as to what was going to happen to us. My father had been a leader in the community for a long time, so everybody thought my father had been picked up by the FBI. People came over to reassure my mother that if he's taken, when he's taken, they'd try to help us.

KL: The rumors started that very day, that Sunday?

AO: That day, yeah. So we were just, you know, it's like every day, when is the axe gonna fall? And we had a picture in the living room over the fireplace of the Fuji, Mt. Fuji, so quick, that was taken down and burned. And any magazines and anything that had pictures of the emperor were burned.

KL: Was the picture of Mt. Fuji a photograph or a painting?

AO: It was a photo. I think it was a photo; I don't think it was a painting.

KL: Was it something you had always had?

AO: Yeah. Then it was just a scenery, you know, the mountain. But that's kind of symbolic of Japan, so I guess parents... and we had a Buddhist shrine, and it was just a small one, inexpensive, but Buddhism is not solely Japanese, but there were a lot of Japanese who were, and they were picking up the Buddhist priests, so that also got smashed and burnt.

KL: How did you use the altar before? What was its significance?

AO: It was just sitting in a spot in the home, and my mother used to say her prayers. Those are the kind of extremes. We had a knife, the blade was about this long that was special for making sashimi, and of course, they thought if you have a knife that's longer than so many inches, so my father chopped off part of it so it'd be less than twelve inches long or something.

KL: Who destroyed the shrine?

AO: Father, I think. Because he was the one who was chopping things up and putting them in the fire.

KL: Was it important to him, too, that tradition of Buddhism and the prayer?

AO: Well, it was just assumed. But he was not particularly, not like my mother. My mother strongly felt that her faith is what helped her when the two children died. And so she told us, didn't matter what church, but she wanted us to have a faith, or have something that's bigger than us to hold on to in case. She said women in particular needed something to help them, inner strength to get through the hardships. So I tried to continue in the Buddhist church, but by the time, when the war was over and I went to the Buddhist church, the priests were all only priests that have been trained in Japan, there were no English, specifically English-speaking priests. So when they gave, talked to the congregants of the Sunday morning service, they were mostly young people who didn't speak any Japanese. So he used the most simple Japanese to get through to me, and it just blew my mind because it was like telling fairy tales to teenagers and expecting them to believe it. And I wasn't getting anything. And when I accompanied my mother to her service, I couldn't understand it all, but it had more depth to it, and then I could talk about it with my mother. So then she encouraged me to join the Christian church so that I could get in touch with God.

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