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-01-0023

<Begin Segment 23>

KL: What else did you do those first couple days?

AO: I don't remember except try to find everything, get all your belongings, and find out where things were, the lay of the land.

KL: What about after that?

AO: Shortly --

KL: Maybe a month later, how were things different?

AO: Well, some of us decided we might as well work. And we were able to get jobs in the kitchen as students. We could help wash dishes and set the table, serve, things like this. So, yeah, I started working fairly soon. And as a student, we got paid twelve dollars a month.

KL: Did you work in the kitchen in Block 17?

AO: Uh-huh, in our kitchen, yeah. So that was kind of fun.

KL: Who did you work with?

AO: Oh, I don't remember who all was...

KL: Was it mostly students?

AO: Yeah, for that it was students, there were a number of us. And then some of the older girls. But people quickly sought jobs. My older sister was able to get a job as a secretary to the medical director. So, yeah, she had been... she hadn't been working before, but her shorthand and typing were good.

KL: She got that job early?

AO: Yeah.

KL: Who was the medical director, do you remember?

AO: What was the doctor's name? Started with a P, I think.

KL: That's okay, we can look it up. Did you have any contact with the cooks in the mess hall or any of the other employees there?

AO: Well, the cooks were from the block, and this is a block made up of farm families. And usually in the farm, the farmer is out in the field early, morning 'til dusk, and the wife does the cooking. So they were able to cook a fairly decent pot of rice. But for a long time, food was very poor.

KL: Were the cooks all men?

AO: They were all men. They had to be, because you're handling these great big pots. And then this happened, I guess, in a lot of the blocks, so they sent the cooks to cooking school.

KL: Where was cooking school?

AO: Well, it was in Block 32. I don't know how come 32 had the good cooks, but they were good cooks.

KL: Do you think they were from that block, too, 32, the cooks in 32?

AO: Either could be or, yeah, but... I don't know how that happened, how that got to be. But anyway, they taught them how to handle some of the stuff that came in. Because I remember having one night, dinner was rice with ketchup. Well, for one thing, because you fed everybody first, and then the help ate afterwards, so all that was left was rice and ketchup, we put it on and ate it.

KL: Did people, were people pretty vocal in response to the quality of the food?

AO: Well, my mother was not the most popular because she put in a complaint that the young people were not being fed properly.

KL: Who did she complain to?

AO: First she complained to the block manager. Each block had a manager, it was from the block. And then he, I guess, reported regularly to headquarters.

KL: Who was she unpopular with?

AO: Huh?

KL: Who?

AO: Well, with some of the kids, because they were, they really loved it. When rice sticks to the bottom, it's not burnt, but it's nice crust. And what they would do is sprinkle a little salt on it and then dig it off and eat it. And it's crunchy and good, but not nutritious by any standards. [Laughs] And that was what my mother complained about, that for an afternoon snack, the kids should be given something a little bit more healthy. So some of the kids complained.

KL: A nice orange instead of the salty crunchy.

AO: Yeah.

KL: Yeah, I thought you were gonna say with the block manager or with the administration, but...

AO: No.

AL: When you were talking about the cooking school in Block 32, was that a formal school like you get a certificate, or was it just they would teach --

AO: No, it was just somebody who knew how to cook the kind of food that we were supplied.

AL: So it was just informal, like just go over there and learn how to cook? It wasn't like there was a graduating class of cooks.

AO: No, no, it was not like a certificated school or anything. It was just somebody who... somebody there must have been a chef in real life, and so taught them how to prepare. Because you're delivered the rations, and then you've got to make something out of it.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.