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

<Begin Segment 1>

KL: This is Kristen Luetkemeier from the Manzanar Oral History Project, here for an interview with Aki Okuno. Today, I think, is Thursday, January 31, 2013. We're here in Aki's home in Saratoga, California, and Alisa Lynch is also in the room operating the video camera. And we're going to be talking today about Aki's experiences growing up in Gilroy and then being in Poston, at Temple University, and then your career and family life afterwards. So, Aki, this interview is going to be archived in the library at Manzanar, and it will be available to the public. Do I have your permission to go ahead and record the interview?

AO: Yes, you have my permission.

KL: Okay, I appreciate it. I want to talk first about your family that you grew up in and your parents and what you know of their background. So let's start with your father. Who was your father?

AO: My father was Tsutomu Awaya, T-S-U-T-O-M-U, A-W-A-Y-A. I was born in Gilroy, California, and when I was about nine months old, we moved to a community called Cienega, C-I-E-N-E-G-A. My mother thought that living in a city, which Gilroy definitely was not at that time, but to her, it seemed that way, it would be difficult for children.

KL: Where was your mother from? What was her name?

AO: Oh, my mother's name was Sadae Hatsuku, S-A-D-A-E, her maiden name H-A-T-S-U-K-U.

KL: And was she from Japan?

AO: Yes. My father was from Usuki, which is in Oita Prefecture in Kyushu, and my mother was also from Oita Prefecture, from a little village called Sugao, S-U-G-A-O.

KL: How did they meet each other?

AO: Someone who knew my mother knew my father, and introduced them. And I guess they took to each other and they got married.

KL: They met in Japan?

AO: In Japan, yes. My mother was a teacher at that time. And so he had been in America, and had gone back to Japan to, I guess, get a wife.

KL: Around when were they born?

AO: My father was born in 1885 and my mother in 1894.

KL: And you said she was a teacher?

AO: Yes.

KL: What did she teach?

AO: She was teaching, I think, like about second grade.

KL: So what was her education like?

AO: She was educated... it probably was not a university, but what they call normal school, it's further education, which enabled her to become a teacher.

KL: Do you know anything about what... was it a public school that she taught in, or what the school, or who her students were?

AO: That I don't know, but I know that subsequently on one of our visits to Japan, I met a cousin, I don't know how much removed, who was a student of my mother's.

KL: Do you think it was typical for most people to be able to go to elementary school at that time?

AO: I think education... education I think has always been very important in the lives of the Japanese. And so my mother was supposedly rather sickly, and she was protected by her parents because she was supposed to be sickly, but she did everything, tried. And I remember her saying that in order to strengthen herself, she would get up early in the morning in the wintertime and go outside and bathe herself and exercise in the cold.

KL: She sounds really disciplined.

AO: Just the thought of it... yes.

KL: Did she have siblings?

AO: Yes, she did, and I just knew of one brother.

KL: Why did you know of him?

AO: Pardon?

KL: Why did you know about him?

AO: I met him. He was the one uncle I did meet, so he and his wife had two girls that we met. I'm not sure about the boys.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

KL: Do you know what your grandparents, your mother's parents' professions were?

AO: My mother's parents, I really don't know. At an early age, her mother, I know, died. And...

KL: Did you know how or why?

AO: No, I don't. And her father, I think, was a doctor, if I'm not mistaken.

KL: I wonder if it was hard for them to let their daughter that they were so protective of go to a new country.

AO: Yes. I guess it was her oldest brother at that point who was head of the household, and he didn't want her to go, and refused to help her with the passage. So the brother that we met, who was one of the younger brothers, but I think my... I can't remember whether he was older or younger than my mother, but he helped my mother to come to this country.

KL: Do you know around what year she came?

AO: 1920... it was just before the alien exclusion act went through. Twenty or '21. Yes, I should be able to figure that one out, because my sister, I have a sister living in Japan still who she had intended to bring with her, but her mother-in-law said, "You can't take a baby."

KL: Your sister... oh, your sister was born in Japan?

AO: Yeah, my oldest sister. And she was born in '21. So I guess my mother came in... no, my oldest sister was born in 1920, so she came in 1921, because my sister was, her picture is on the passport, my mother's passport. And I think she was seven or eight months old.

KL: What's her name, your sister?

AO: Yoshi, Y-O-S-H-I-K-O.

KL: So she remained in Japan.

AO: She remained because her grandmother then kept her and raised her.

KL: How did your mother feel about that?

AO: Oh, my mother was devastated. And unfortunately, she went to her grave without ever seeing her.

KL: How did they keep in touch?

AO: Letters.

KL: Did they write pretty often?

AO: My mother wrote all the time, and when a letter came from Japan and news of Yoshi, we hated it when those letters came because my mother was always crying.

KL: Did you ever meet, when did you meet Yoshi for the first time?

AO: For the first time I met her in '70... let's see, when was it that we went to Japan? '77, I think. The four sisters, four alive sisters here went to Japan, and that's when we met her for the first time.

KL: If I somehow forget to ask about that, remind me, because I would really like to hear about that trip when we get more to the...

AO: And then in 1982 we got her to come here for a visit. And I have an older sister who lives in Fresno. My youngest sister lives in Berkeley, and she stayed with Atsuko in Berkeley. And when they drove her to Fresno, she realized how expansive... I mean, this is just California, this is only one forty-eighth of the country, and she says, "No wonder my father wanted to come here."

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

<Begin Segment 3>

KL: What do you think drove your father to come here?

AO: Well, he was one of those who... he was the oldest son, and so he wanted to try to recap some of the family fortune. The usual dream of foreigners, the streets of California are paved in gold.

KL: Can we do kind of the same thing with his family? What do you know about his family, what do you know about that he grew up in?

AO: He has two sisters and a brother. I never met... I just met them, my mother's side of the family. I didn't meet... but my younger sister, Atsuko, A-T-S-U-K-O, went to Japan early on, I forget what year it was, and my aunt, both aunts, my father's younger brother went to Manchuria and he died there. So we never met him.

KL: What was his reason for going to Manchuria?

AO: I guess there was a job there for him. So he and his family were there, and then went, they had, all the Japanese had to leave Manchuria and come back to Japan, that's when he came back. And he went to his wife's family's, and so we never met him. We did meet because his son, he came and met us in Tokyo that first time we went, but we haven't heard from him, there's been no contact since.

KL: Who were your father's parents?

AO: His mother was Naru, N-A-R-U, and I can't remember his father's name, I should have looked that up.

KL: That's all right.

AO: And his sister, older sister, was Misao, M-I-S-A-O, and the younger sister was Setsu, S-E-T-S-U-K-O.

KL: What was that family's work, what was your grandfather or your grandmother's...

AO: I don't remember, but it was one of those stories of a samurai family whose wherewithal there was no more. And what my father's father had been doing, I really don't know, but he was a younger son, and so there was no inheritance there. And so that's why the two boys, I think...

KL: They got lucky.

AO: Yeah. My father had a university, he went to Imperial University.

KL: Did he have a course of study or a specialty?

AO: I think it must have been in econ. or something like that, that was not... didn't lead to much. And it certainly didn't prepare him for life here in America, because he became a farmer. When he first came as a single, he took on any job he could get. Then he made some friends.

KL: Where did he come into the United States first?

AO: I'm not sure. I tried to... I had his passport and tried to figure out where, but couldn't. Whether it was San Francisco or some other port, I don't know. And he traveled back and forth to Mexico on occasion, because when we moved to Cienega he was growing lettuce for seed. And then he would, every year, after the lettuce was, the seeds were harvested, he would travel to San Diego, in that area, to sell the seed. And they probably went to Calexico, too, 'cause I saw Calexico on his passport.

KL: Is there an entry stamp in the passport?

AO: Oh, that I did not... I don't have the passport now, I gave it to my sister so I couldn't refer to it.

KL: Did he mention any places that he was when he first came?

AO: No, he didn't talk too much about what he did when he was down in that area. There was one family that he knew there, so he would go and visit with them.

KL: Down in San Diego or Calexico?

AO: Somewhere in Southern California.

KL: How did that samurai background affect him as a person, do you think? Was it a presence in his life?

AO: Well, he was well trained in the martial arts, he was good at judo, kendo, and he was good at calligraphy. And to a certain extent, I guess he must have been artistic, but he never had a chance to do anything with it other than when we went to camp, he carved birds, and those showed his talent.

KL: How did you know he was good at calligraphy?

AO: Because in Gilroy, annually they would show a movie, a Japanese film, and everybody came and made donations at the time. And my father was the one, they would put up banners with your name on it if you made a donation, and he was the one that did all the calligraphy.

KL: Did he do it at home?

AO: Uh-huh. Well, there at the movie, when the people came in with it, he would do it. But at home, my mother had him doing the diplomas and things like that.

KL: Did he let you kind of watch, or did you learn any of that?

AO: No, because he just did it. It was beautiful watching him, he was very controlled.

KL: What did he use to make it?

AO: The regular fude, the brushes, and the sumi ink, and so we always had, in fact, I still somewhere have a bottle of sumi that was from him.

KL: Where did he get those supplies?

AO: They'd come from Japan.

KL: Did he order them?

AO: I guess, yeah. I have a number of his brushes.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

KL: Was his trip back to Japan, when he and your mom connected, do you think it was, was that the first trip back to Japan he had made?

AO: That I do not know. And I don't know how many years he was here before he went back.

KL: How long was he back in -- oh, go ahead.

AO: That I don't know, how long he was there until he came back, but he came back before Yoshi was born.

KL: Oh, okay. So he went and they married, and then he came back and she remained?

AO: Yeah, she was pregnant. Well, she needed to finish out her contract here, teaching, and so he came back. And then she followed after. And I don't have any of the letters that they may have exchanged during that time.

KL: What was their relationship like when you knew them?

AO: It was a very caring, and much respect for each other. And they were always in conversation with each other. And my mother and my father discussed everything with me. And now that I'm an adult, I can appreciate her. I just recently was speaking with one of my sisters and saying how wise she was.

KL: In what sense?

AO: In a lot of sense, in living, in life, and the decisions. I remember meeting someone who was saying that, "Your mother was a pioneer." And I think so, she must have been adventurous, because she had an offer of a very prestigious job, and that's why her brother wanted her to stay and take the job.

KL: What was the job?

AO: To be teaching in the Imperial household, which is really special, and she turned her back on that. And so that's why he never forgave her for that. Because it would have --

KL: It helped him out, too, or brought his --

AO: -- brought the family a lot of...

KL: You said he didn't forgive her ever?

AO: I don't think so. He held it against her.

AL: Was that before she was married?

AO: Yeah. Well, she had this... no, it may have been after she married, or it was after she met my father and made the decision she was going to marry him and come here. And that's why he refused to help her at all to come.

KL: Did she work after she came to the United States? I mean, did she teach or did she have a profession...

AO: Yes, after we were a little bit older, she was... let's see. Well, we lived in Cienega... yes, she was teaching. Because my sister could drive the car then, and drive her to the house. And then in 1935, '34, when I was nine, so '35, we moved to Gilroy.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

KL: Okay, let me back up then. So your parents, your mother came back to the United States, or came to the United States and joined your dad in 1921?

AO: Uh-huh.

KL: And then who were the other children in your family?

AO: Okay, Toshi, T-O-S-H-I, was born in 1923.

KL: She had no "ko," she was just Toshi?

AO: Yeah. And then I was next, '26.

KL: And when you were born, what was your full name?

AO: Akiko.

KL: Did you have a middle name?

AO: No. Actually, between Toshi and me, there would have been a boy. I don't know how far along in pregnancy, but pretty far. And this is one of the reasons why we moved to Cienega, because my sister ran out into the street, and my mother ran after her and fell, and it caused her to abort, and it was a stillborn. Would have been a boy.

KL: Did she talk about him? How did you know about that pregnancy?

AO: I guess she told us. I don't know, but we knew that there was a grave for Tamotsu. So she was almost full term when she did, fell, I think. But when the baby was born, it was stillborn. And so that's when she insisted that... and then when I came along, she said she just didn't want to take the chance of another child running out in the street.

KL: And you were born in Gilroy?

AO: I was born in Gilroy, then when I was nine months old... and then next...

KL: What is your name, Akiko, is there a meaning behind that?

AO: Yes. Many girls whose names are Aki, it's because they were born in fall, and aki is the fall. And I was born in fall, but mine means "crystal."

KL: Why did they give you that name?

AO: I don't know. But I guess because it sounded like the fall, because aki, but she wanted to give a little better connotation to it. And then she had Sumi. Sumi was born in probably, I don't know whether late '27 or '28, I'm not sure when her birthday was. And then Kazuye, K-A-Z-U-Y-E, was born in '29. And then Atsuko was born in '34. But Sumi died at the age of three with appendicitis.

KL: And your dad, how did your dad feel about the move to Cienega?

AO: Pardon?

KL: How did your father feel about the move?

AO: Oh, well, he was all for it because he found some farmland.

KL: Did he like farming, do you think?

AO: I don't know, but he had been working for the store in Gilroy, and I don't think he's too keen on that.

KL: What was the store?

AO: It was just a general, you know, carrying Japanese goods and whatever anybody, the Japanese community needed.

KL: Do you know the business's name?

AO: No, I don't. I just know the family who had it, ran it, Kobara. And they moved down south, and I don't know, to El Centro or somewhere like that, and that's where my father would stay when he made his trips down south.

KL: And that wasn't a job he was really excited about?

AO: I think probably it was meeting all the people that came in the store. I'm not sure what he did then either, or whether he was doing other work too.

KL: Was he very social?

AO: Yes, he was. People gathered around him and looked to him for some leadership type of thing. He had a fairly imposing demeanor. Friendly, and I worshipped him. Because we were a family of all girls there, and I wanted to be that boy, so I would try to do everything that I could to make him think that I could fill that spot.

KL: Do you think he wanted that?

AO: Oh, he was wanting a boy, that's why they had that last pregnancy. But it wasn't a boy. In fact, they had a name, a boy's name picked out for the baby, and then it turned out to be another girl, so they just changed it to a ko, that's Atsuko, A-T-S-U-K-O. it was going to be Atsushi.

KL: Atsushi? What's the meaning of that name?

AO: I don't know whether it's the same character that they would have used. I can't remember the character now. I've forgotten so much of my Japanese.

KL: How was he with you? You said you worshipped him.

AO: Well, he treated all of us kids the same. He was a good father, I think. He didn't... well, he played with us, and he would sit and carve, whittle stuff for us, like whistles and do things like that, and then I remember at night he'd have a fire in the fireplace, so he would sit and peel an apple, give us the slices.

KL: Could he do that thing where it came off in one?

AO: He probably could. I mean, he was very adept.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

KL: Say the name of the town that you moved to again?

AO: We called it Cienega, and now maybe the proper pronunciation is Cienega.

KL: I don't know. As Alisa knows, I moved from California when I was pretty little, so I'm kind of relearning all the...

AO: C-I-E-N-E-G-A.

KL: Cienega.

AO: Yeah. And it wasn't a town, it was just a valley. We had a one-room schoolhouse there, and it was twelve or fourteen miles southeast of Hollister, kind of in a valley.

KL: Who else was there when you moved there? Who were your close neighbors?

AO: The close neighbors were the Smiths, and that's where my father rented the property from, Mr. Smith. Grandpa Smith was just a love, we called him Grandpa. And he had a daughter Vernie who unfortunately had an illegitimate child, and so was ostracized by the community. And we loved Vernie, and, of course, Vernie's daughter Georgia was a year or two older than Toshi, and she took us all under her wing and taught us how to ride horses and stuff.

KL: Georgia was the illegitimate daughter?

AO: Yeah.

KL: So did they stay local?

AO: Yeah, they stayed there. And so to this day, Toshi corresponds with Georgia. Georgia is living in Monterey County somewhere.

KL: So you said the community ostracized them, but your family was still close?

AO: Yeah. And my mother, I mean, they were people to be loved, and they were kind to us, too. Mr. Smith had all the makings of a blacksmith shop, so that used to be fun to go in and watch him pound on the horseshoes.

KL: Yeah, that's exciting stuff. Did he, was he her father, Grandpa Smith was Vernie's father?

AO: Vernie's father, so Georgia's grandfather.

KL: Did they stay close, or was there a rift between them?

AO: No, no. Grandpa Smith loved Vernie. I don't know what happened to Vernie's mother. I never heard, but I remember in the living room over the fireplace there were pictures of ancestors.

KL: How long had they been in that valley, the Smith family, do you know?

AO: I never bothered to find out. To me, they were there forever. And Vernie had a couple of brothers who were, yeah, they were both policemen in L.A. And every year, they would each come up.

KL: That was in the 1930s?

AO: Yeah.

AL: How old was Georgia when you guys lived there?

AO: Georgia must have been like about two or three, I guess.

KL: How far away were the houses from each other, your house and the Smiths' house?

AO: I guess we had a lane to go up that was shorter than our driveway.

KL: And both houses were on that lane?

AO: Yeah, the big house was there, and then came down here and went down the lane, and then our house was down.

KL: Was his blacksmith thing his means of support?

AO: The blacksmith shop was... I don't know if that was a means of support or what, but he may have been doing that. And then when my father came along and rented the field from him, that became his source of income.

KL: Your family's source of income.

AO: Yeah. Well, his family's. His source of income was our renting the land.

KL: What did you grow?

AO: The lettuce seed. It was all just lettuce for seed. And of course then we had a big vegetable patch and grew all our vegetables, and that kept things going during the recession.

KL: How did you feel about the vegetable patch? Was it just kind of there, or was it fun, or was it tedious?

AO: Oh, it was fun because, I mean, you go out there and you pick everything you needed. And we would grow, I remember, watermelons. We had quite a lot of, you know, must have been about a quarter acre of watermelons, because we'd go running around in the summertime and it'd be hot, so we'd find a ripe watermelon, smash it, wash your hands in it, get another one, open it, and eat it.

KL: That's a lot of watermelons. Did you sell them, did you have a stand or anything?

AO: No, uh-uh. Sharing, we'd take 'em to school. It was a one-room schoolhouse, and we'd take the watermelons to school, and there was a creek running along behind the school, and we'd put the watermelons in there, and then on Friday, school let out early and then we'd bring out the watermelons and cut 'em. We had a wonderful teacher then.

KL: How big was the school? How many students?

AO: When the migrant workers would come through, it would swell the population to about thirty students. And then ordinarily there were maybe twenty.

KL: Do you know anything about the migrant workers' circuit, where else they would go?

AO: They would be picking prunes and probably cutting cots.

KL: Cots? What's that?

AO: Apricots.

KL: Oh. I haven't heard that before.

AO: Is that right? [Laughs] And I guess help with harvesting some of the other, some of the farms. I know for us, we had, my father would hire help during the harvest.

KL: Where did those people live?

AO: There was a building that... where did they live? There was a barn, and there was another building there. Did they live with us? I don't remember. I remember Placido, and what was the other one's name? He was really nice. Two men that came. Whether they were there all the time or just in the harvest, because they helped my father plant and all that sort of thing, too, to they must have lived somewhere around there. Gosh, isn't that terrible? When you're that age...

KL: Well, this was a long time ago.

AO: just accept them.

KL: Yeah, at that age you're just kind of yourself, and everything else is an extension of yourself.

AO: And I never bothered asking my older sister, but I'll have to see if she remembers where they stayed?

KL: Where were they from, do you know?

AO: They were Filipinos. So they were Asian, so they knew...

KL: How did you communicate with them, in English?

AO: English.

KL: Did they speak Spanish, too?

AO: They probably spoke Tagalog, which is the Filipino language. Among themselves they spoke something I couldn't understand, but we communicated in English. And they'd been here for quite some time, so they spoke English.

KL: Did your folks ever learn English?

AO: Oh, yeah.

KL: Did they know it in Japan?

AO: I don't think so. They learned it here, learned it, I mean, took some classes. Because she felt it important that we continue learning, knowing Japanese, but also that she could communicate with us and our friends. So she made it a point to learn English.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

KL: I'm taking notes, 'cause there's like seven questions I want to ask you right now, and I'm trying to keep track of all of them. Where did you learn Japanese language?

AO: At home. And then when my mother was teaching, we went with her, but she didn't spend any time on us.

KL: She was teaching Japanese language?

AO: She was the Japanese language teacher in Hollister, and then later in Gilroy.

KL: What was the building that she taught at in Hollister, do you know?

AO: It was just a little building, and I don't know whether it belonged to some family, one of the Japanese families, or whether it was rented.

KL: Was it like a community center or a home or a church?

AO: It was just a little building, but that first school, I don't remember. It was across the street from a Japanese family, and it could be that they obtained the premises for us. And then we later moved to another spot, and that building belonged to the Taoka family, I think.

KL: That was in Hollister also?

AO: It was also in Hollister.

KL: And then she taught also in Cienega?

AO: No. Because there were only three Japanese families in Cienega, and the two other families moved out, probably about four or five years before we did. So we were the only Japanese family there.

KL: And were most of the migrant workers Filipino or were they from different places?

AO: The Japanese families were farmers, the Uyenos, U-Y-E-N-O, and the Obatas, O-B-A-T-A. [Stands up]

KL: Let me unhook you.

AO: No, I just looked to see what picture was standing up there. I want to mount a picture up there that Dorothy, Tomi Obata, from the Obata family painted. She's an artist.

KL: Is she around your age?

AO: Yes. So she may be a little bit younger than I, about a half a year younger than I. But she's an artist living in Hawaii, and quite well-known in the Japanese community.

KL: Were the Obatas and the Uyenos there all year round?

AO: Oh, yeah, they lived there.

KL: And some of their kids were in school with you?

AO: Oh, yes. Yes.

KL: Who were the other students, the twenty who were there year round?

AO: Well, by the time I went to school, the Uyenos and Obatas had moved out. So our family, we were the only --

KL: Where did they go?

AO: To Hollister.

KL: Why did they move, do you know?

AO: Probably either the land that they were farming, they were looking for bigger land or more land, or the people that they were renting from, I don't know why they would. Or maybe they moved to Hollister because it would be closer to schools, and the children would have better schools. Because... yeah, at the time they were still there, we had Miss Klauer for our teacher, and I don't think she was as wonderful as Mrs. Trowbridge. Mrs. Trowbridge was my teacher when I started school. Just very innovative. For instance, like for spelling, instead of... because for a lot of the things like reading, the first graders are here, the second graders and the third graders, and she'd take each grade separately and spend time with them. But for spelling, she would have the whole school at once taking the spelling test. And she'd say, "First graders could drop out here, second graders can drop out here," and so on, when you reached. And if you wanted to, you kept on as far as you could, and it was always a challenge to go to the end.

KL: What was the test like? How were you tested for spelling?

AO: She would give words, spelling words, and you'd just spell, write them down. So it'd start with "cat" and stuff like this. and I remember the last word was "pneumonia." That's the one I missed.

KL: Did you have a list to study from, or was it a surprise?

AO: No. Well, you were reading and things like this, so you learned. And maybe it was old fashioned teaching, but we certainly learned.

KL: It sounds really holistic.

AO: It was, it was. And you learned to read by sounding out letters. But then when I was about to go into the third grade...

KL: This test where you had the word "pneumonia," how old were you for that test?

AO: I think I was like in second grade. But even before I started, before I started school, we didn't have kindergarten. But my sister would, in Georgia's, would be teacher and student, we'd play, instead of playing house, you'd play school. And so I was learning; I knew my alphabet, and could do a lot of things like addition.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

KL: Did you have a library in that community, or a bookmobile or anything?

AO: The bookmobile came around, I forget how... not too often.

KL: Who drove it?

AO: I don't remember, because it came from Hollister.

KL: It was in, like, a truck?

AO: It was, yeah, like a little bus. It was a San Benito County Libraries. But my mother encouraged reading. She encouraged learning.

KL: Did you have a lot of books in your home?

AO: Yes we did, a lot. And I was always watching what Toshi was doing and learning, trying to study the same things.

KL: Were the books that you had in your home or from the bookmobile, were they picture books geared toward children, or were they classics of literature, or what kind of books were they?

AO: They were the children's books. They didn't have that many with lots of pictures in those days. And my mother read to us a lot in Japanese, the Japanese stories, and then we'd talk about it.

KL: What kind of stories?

AO: Oh, the Momotaro, you know those?

KL: Are they like fairy tales?

AO: Yes. Momotaro is the Peach Boy, and there was, Kintaro was... I forget how Kintaro started. And then... what was her name? The Moon Princess, she was found in a bamboo, it was a woodsman who cut the bamboo and there was this princess. And so he took her home, and they raised her, and then when she, I don't know, became a beautiful little princess, this army comes from the sky to take her home. [Laughs]

AL: What was the story of Momotaro, if people are not familiar with it?

AO: Oh, that's the Peach Boy, and I forget how the beginning of that is. That he's eating a peach, and I guess the seed opens up and a little boy is there, if I'm not mistaken. And they raise him, and then Momotaro learns how to fence, do all the different things that little boys do. And he's going to go to the city to establish himself, and he goes on a journey. No, no... that's right, no. Momotaro, I'm getting my stories mixed up. Momotaro-san, Momotaro-san... oh, the mother makes the little musubi for his lunch to take on his journey, and he has... "Momotaro san, okoshi ni tsuketa kibi dango," okay, kibi dango is his bento. "Hitotsu watashi ni kudasaina. Agemashou, agemashou, orekara oni no." Oh, that's right. there's a monster, oni is threatening people, and so he is going to... yeah. The reason why I'm thinking so much is because there's also a story of Issun Boushi, the One-Inch Boy, who fights and kills an oni. But I think Momotaro does, too. But he meets a monkey, and meets three animals on his journey, and he says, "Sure, you can come along with me, and I'll give you one of my dangos." And so they go together, and when they come up against the monster, the three animals that he has befriended help him to overcome the monster. I think the monkey climbs on him and closes his eyes or covers his eyes or something, you know, type of thing. And so it's a story with a moral, of course: be kind to dumb animals, because they'll help you. And learn all these things so you'll be good and strong.

KL: What is the song? Is that different than the story?

AO: No, that tells the story, that's why I was singing it to myself, to get the gist of it.

AL: Could you sing it for us?

AO: I can't remember the words. "Momotaro san, Momotaro san, okoshi ni tsuketa kibi dango. Hitotsu watashi ni kudasaina. Agemashou, agemashou, korekara oni no seibatsu ni. Tsuite kurunara agemashou." That's it. "If you come along with me I'll give you something."

KL: That's neat. I knew that story a very little bit, and I even have a recording of someone telling it from a museum I used to work in, but I didn't know the song, and I do like stories, obviously.

AL: Well, you know, we just have a couple of minutes left on this tape, I don't know if there's any other songs that you remember that would share?

AO: Oh, my goodness. I remember, this is totally different, but my younger sister Kazue, she and I were always singing. And her song was... oh, dear, "See, my toys are dear but my dolly Pretty Molly, she's the one I love best of all and she's my love. Da-da-da, and I love her best of all," or something like this.

KL: That sounds like an original.

AO: Could be. No, it was something that my sister learned to play on the piano at Georgia's house. And so people would ask her to sing, and she'd sing it, only she'd sing it, "Oh, my toys are dear, but my dolly Pretty Molly," and she'd go so fast that you couldn't tell what she was saying. [Laughs]

AL: Did you learn to sing Kimigayo?

AO: Oh, yes.

AL: Could you sing it for us?

AO: "Kimigayo"... oh my gosh, my voice. I'm going to have to sing bass. "Kimigayo, chiyo ni yachiyo ni, sazare ishi no, koke no musu made," something like that. Golly, I've forgotten it, too.

AL: What is Kimigayo?

AO: Something about... Kimigayo. For a thousand and, I don't know how many, ten thousand years, and like the big rock wears away until it's totally worn away. In other words, the empire will, this is... the emperor will continue until the, all of the stone is ground away.

AL: What is the significance of that song culturally?

AO: It's that the emperor, the empire will exist forever.

AL: But it's the national anthem.

AO: It's the national anthem, yeah. I don't know if they still consider it so, do they? I haven't heard it.

AL: I understand that's rarely sung, it's very controversial.

AO: Yeah, that's why. Because it's the emperor.

AL: So you could say it as a -- this might run out, I think we have a couple minutes -- but just as an explanation, like not with me asking you, but just explain what Kimigayo is and why? Because I don't think we've ever had anybody sing it or explain it if it was sung in the Japanese community before the war.

AO: It was always at special things, they would sing it, and I remember learning it in school, my mother teaching it to us, all the students, that that was the Japanese anthem, national anthem. But I haven't sung it for how many, sixty, seventy years. So I've forgotten it.

AL: Did people ever sing it in camp?

AO: They probably did in Tule Lake, but I don't think they ever sang it in Poston. But there was a diehard group in Tule Lake that intended to go back to Japan, be Japanese.

AL: What does it mean to you as an American, that song?

AO: I just like music. Keeps me going. And, I mean, if the Russian national anthem was something I could sing, I'd probably sing it. You know, not because it was something I believed in or anything, but if it's music... I think one of the beautiful ones is Finlandia, but anyhow... I just love music. And my sister and I were always singing these children's songs when we were little. And if we saw a movie, like Shirley Temple movie, we would regale my parents every night after dinner with a Shirley Temple song.

KL: How did they respond?

AO: Well, they would listen to us, then, "Okay, time to do homework."

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

<Begin Segment 9>

KL: We're back recording tape two of an interview with Aki Okuno on January 31, 2013. And we had left off talking about music, and that played a big role in your life. You said your sister studied piano. Did you study any instruments?

AO: Well, I studied piano in adult, and it's hard to make your fingers do what needs to be, so I haven't done that much. And I took violin in high school for a couple years, but that was all. Because I preferred singing, so I moved to the choir.

KL: Did you have, did you do singing in school?

AO: Hmm?

KL: Was there a choir in school?

AO: In Gilroy High School I made choir, yeah.

KL: When you were a child, when you were like elementary school age, what other occasions did you sing at?

AO: Oh, well, we would sing... well, at school, we'd have singing opportunities, too. And like if, for a treat, my father would let us, take us to the movies about once a year or so, and, of course, we'd like to see Shirley Temple movies. So afterwards my sister and I would be singing the Shirley Temple songs.

KL: How far from your home was the school?

AO: It felt like it was pretty long, but we walked it every day. And so maybe half a mile. It felt like three miles.

KL: What was your home like, can you describe it, the layout, and what it looked like from the outside?

AO: It was... when my parents first moved there, there was just one, like a small kitchen, and up a couple of stairs there was a room, and then a little kitchenette dining area, that's about it. And then my father added on a living room and another bedroom later on. Because I remember... I remember the small one, and then when the addition was made, how wonderful that was, we were able to spread out.

KL: How old were you when he made the addition?

AO: So I must have been like three or four.

KL: What was the name of your school?

AO: Cienega. Cienega school.

KL: Cienega school, okay. And was it first through sixth grade?

AO: First through eight. And when you have only twenty students, like in my first grade and second grade, there were just three of us. And then when I was going to go into third grade, the Hawkins' moved away, and that would have left just me. And so what I needed to do is learn my multiplication tables so I could move in to the fourth grade and skip the third grade, otherwise I'd have to repeat the second grade. So I worked real hard and I was able to enter the fourth grade. So then I had Jimmy... what was Jimmy's last name? I forget now. But Jimmy and I were the only ones in the fourth grade, fourth and fifth grade together.

KL: Was he... what ethnicity was he?

AO: He was Caucasian.

KL: Were there other ethnicities represented besides Japanese American and Caucasian in the school?

AO: That's it. And in the summertime... no, there were some time when the farmworkers had no work, so they would come to school, and so there were some Hispanics, but not many.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

KL: Did you learn English in school or at home?

AO: Both.

KL: Did you grow up, what language did you speak with your family at home?

AO: With our mother we spoke Japanese, mother and father. Sometimes it was pidgin Japanese, because they understood English. So if we wanted my mother not to know what we were saying, we'd use Pig Latin. But she was getting wise. [Laughs]

KL: Probably after a while, yeah.

AO: And yeah, so...

KL: Did the Smiths have any other friends besides your family once that pregnancy happened?

AO: Yes, because the Contival were friends with them, and they lived the next farm over. And I think the Whites were... but Vernie didn't socialize a lot.

KL: So it affected her much more than your father.

AO: Oh, yes.

KL: Her father was still okay?

AO: Grandpa would go into Hollister and did things, and he would go to the, sometimes they'd have meetings, and use the school for community meetings and Grandpa would go.

KL: How did you get to Hollister when you would travel around?

AO: By car.

KL: Did your family own one?

AO: Yeah, my father had a Model A first, and that's what my sister learned to drive. And then he bought a 1934 Pontiac, and we also had a pickup truck. But it was the Pontiac... before that it was a Buick, but I remember the Pontiac because that's the one that she and then I learned to drive. I learned to drive when I was twelve.

KL: So the people who just, who were working the lettuce crop was your dad and sometimes one or two other people you hired?

AO: Yeah, and my mother was out there helping, too. And sometimes there would be, he'd hire a couple more people, but it was usually just Sison and Placido.

KL: So you got his name without saying it, because I didn't ask.

AO: Yeah.

KL: His name was Sison?

AO: Sison. Must have been S-I-S-O-N, Sison.

KL: And they would come back season after season?

AO: Yes. And so I'm not sure if they were there all year round or what, but they were like friends to us kids.

KL: They didn't have any families?

AO: No. They were just the nicest guys, caring.

KL: When did you see your dad? I know my dad grew up on a farm, too, and he says his dad would come in at the end of the day, and he would eat dinner, and then he would just lie down on the floor and he would be asleep. What was your dad's schedule like?

AO: Well, he'd go out early in the morning, he'd eat breakfast and go out, and then he'd come in to eat lunch, my mother would feed them. And then sometimes... no, in Cienega, it was always... it was when we moved to Gilroy that sometimes he would, after lunch, just lie down on the floor. Lie down on the floor with a couple of books piled up for a pillow, and take a nap.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

KL: When did you move back to Gilroy?

AO: In '35.

KL: What prompted that move?

AO: They decided that we needed to be where there were better schools, more opportunities. Because by then, Toshi was in junior high school and ready to go to high school, so it would be better. Because the bus used to come and pick up the students to take them into Hollister for high school, but they felt that it's time that we move to a metropolis.

KL: How old were you in 1935?

AO: I was nine.

KL: What was your school in Gilroy?

AO: Jordan.

KL: How did it compare?

AO: Well, of course, in Cienega school, I was fifth grade, and we moved in October, so school had started already. But the fourth grade was kind of difficult for me because although I'd learned my timetables on my own, I was still struggling with my timetables, so the teacher gave me a C. And on the strength of that C, they put me in the lowest level, the fifth grade at Jordan. So what they were studying is stuff that I had already known the year before, but the teacher liked me there because I could help her.

KL: Who was the teacher?

AO: Oh, I knew her name...

KL: It'll come out later.

AO: I could picture her.

KL: What did she look like?

AO: She had brown hair, and I don't think it was in a bun in the back, but it was a... because the kids in that class were those who just wouldn't study, didn't want to study. And some of them were smarter than the C class.

KL: Were there a couple rooms of fifth grade?

AO: There were three classrooms, and this was the lowest grade.

AL: So your class was called the C class?

AO: Well, that's what we called it. There was the A class, B class, and the C class, and you were dumb if you were in the C class. So I was put in the C class. But when I moved to the sixth grade, I got stuck in Ms. DeRose's class, and that was the top group. But I was still able to keep up there, because what I had learned in Cienega got me through, plus my sister badgering me to keep my grades up.

KL: How many kids were in a class? In the C class, how many people were there in fifth grade?

AO: I don't remember. There must have been about twenty-five or so.

KL: Why do you think the other kids were in that class? Did school bore them, or did they have trouble with learning, trouble in their backgrounds?

AO: Some of them may have been... trouble with learning, I don't remember any of the kids that were in that class, because I never associated with them.

KL: Who did you associate with?

AO: People that I rode on the bus with, because I remember after school going out on the playground, and we all stood in line to go across the bars. And Adeline was, rode our bus, too, and people looked on her as the meanie. She was the bully. And I was about third back in the line when Adeline came out and went in the front of the line, and the girl in front started to let her in. And I said, "No, she was here first, you go to the back of the line." Nobody had ever stood up to Adeline before, and I didn't know her rep, so this was like my first day in school. And so she went to the back of the line. Ever since then, Adeline was so nice to me, I remember, even in high school.

KL: Was she your age?

AO: Yeah, I guess she was. Well, most everybody was a year older than I, because of having skipped the third grade. But people used to wonder because Adeline bossed everybody else around, but she never did me.

KL: The whole line was probably like, "Huh?"

AO: Yeah, but...

KL: What was the demographic at that school, at Jordan school?

AO: There were some Japanese students, because a lot of Japanese farmers in Gilroy, and their kids went to... if they lived in Old Gilroy, they went to the school out there, otherwise they all came to our school. Oh, some of them went to Wheeler, depending on where they lived, but our end of town went there.

KL: What language did you speak in school then?

AO: Oh, English. It was all English. And I made friends with all the Japanese students, but I didn't... because I remember there were factions. There were two girls, and they were sometimes friends and sometimes not. And when they're not, they're definite factions, not interchanged.

KL: What were those factions based on?

AO: I have no idea. I mean, suddenly one day Yuko's not speaking to Rosie, so you'd better not.

KL: Their names were Yuko and Rosie?

AO: Uh-huh. And then other times Yuko and Rosie were the best buddies. So I don't know what...

KL: And were the cliques constant, like if you were Yuko's friend, were you always her friend, or were you sometimes Rosie's...

AO: No. And there was one other girl and I who were together, and we could intermingle. We didn't belong to either group.

KL: Sixth grade is fun, right? [Laughs]

AL: Was Rosie also Japanese American?

AO: Uh-huh.

AL: Okay.

AO: So all the Japanese students did this. But I had buddies, I remember, Squeaky Soares was my buddy.

KL: Was Squeaky a girl?

AO: Uh-huh, we called her Squeaky because she could reach heavenly, these high notes.

KL: What did you like about her?

AO: Oh, she was just lots of fun. And so... I guess she was in my... gosh, the name just almost came, and then it went, that fifth grade class, because... or no, I guess it was in Ms. DeRose's class.

KL: That was back in Cienega, right?

AO: No, this was in...

KL: Ms. DeRose was in Gilroy?

AO: In Gilroy, in the sixth grade.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

KL: What was your house in Gilroy like?

AO: It was a farmhouse. They had a big pantry, and a storage room. And if we were naughty, I remember once I was naughty, and my father put me in the storage room and made me stay there for a while.

KL: What had you done?

AO: Huh?

KL: What had you done?

AO: I kicked my sister.

KL: Did she deserve it?

AO: Yes.

KL: What happened to her?

AO: She was always teasing me, and she could hold me like this, she was taller than I, and I couldn't reach her, so I kicked her.

KL: Did she get in trouble, too?

AO: No, she told on me, so then my father grabbed me and stuffed me in the storage room. "You're not coming out." So I just stayed there pouting because I was not in the wrong.

KL: It's very unjust. How many bedrooms were in that house?

AO: There were two bedrooms and a sun porch, and they used that sun porch for a bedroom, too.

KL: Was Gilroy still very much known for garlic at that time, or was it more diverse?

AO: No, it was diverse.

KL: What did people grow?

AO: All kinds of... tomatoes, garlic, peas, squash, you name it, they were just garden farming.

KL: Where was the market?

AO: They would ship... because the train would come through, and I guess the buyers would come and pick up, and take it to the train and then it would go and be shipped around.

KL: How far away did it go?

AO: I don't know. But at first, let's see, we just had tomatoes.

KL: Your family?

AO: And then we got, Father put in peas. Oh, and then the year that he decided to do garlic, garlic was selling for a penny and a half a pound, so it wasn't worth even harvesting, so they just dug it up. And we used to have chickens, and the chickens go out in the field and they'd eat this garlic that had been plowed up. Oh, the eggs were awful. You could scramble them and it'd be okay, but the soft boiled eggs, soft boiled egg, it's, I mean, fresh garlic is fine, but this is digested garlic, you know. And soft boiled egg, the yolk would, you know, taste like garlic breath.

KL: How old were you that year?

AO: I must have been about twelve, eleven.

KL: What was your middle school?

AO: Well, we had a seventh and eighth grade middle school, that was... gee, that was Wheeler, that was... or was that Wheeler? Jordan, Severance school was the seventh and eighth grade school, but they... yeah, they took the... that Severance school was just seventh graders. And the A group from sixth grade went to, directly to... I think maybe that was Wheeler. I thought Wheeler was the other elementary school. But anyway, whatever that school's name was. And there was one seventh grade, Mrs. Fletcher's class, and then the eighth grade. And so Mrs. Fletcher was my seventh grade teacher, she was a gem. Mrs. Hunter was my eighth grade teacher.

KL: What made Mrs. Fletcher so great?

AO: I liked the way she taught, I guess. And she made learning interesting. And Mrs. Hunter, I guess it's the challenge that I enjoyed. And so like Mr. Ruth, too, was a strict and good teacher. But Mrs. Fletcher was an older woman, and she made everything interesting.

KL: How did your mom like being back in Gilroy?

AO: Probably better. She probably didn't have to work quite so hard, and it wasn't... because Cienega didn't even have electricity. So here in Gilroy we had electricity, flush toilet, not an outhouse.

KL: And you guys were older, so maybe, did she have her concerns still about safety?

AO: That's right. And we rode the bus in to school, we walked the lane up to the main road where the bus came.

KL: Why do you think that your parents did decide to stop having children when they did?

AO: Well, I think... well, my mother was older by then, thirty-five, thirty-four. Yeah, she probably was close to menopause, so Atsuko was her last. Plus, they must have realized that there weren't gonna be a boy, and if they did have a boy now, it'd be so spoiled. [Laughs]

KL: Did they ever hear, you said the letters from Japan would upset her mother because she missed her child. But what did they think of the political climate in Japan or what was going on in Japan?

AO: They did not discuss those things with us, or talk about it. And they just talked between themselves, I guess, and often they'd be sitting there, just the two of them, in the kitchen talking a lot, and we were doing our homework in the living room.

KL: Did you know what they were talking about?

AO: We didn't pay any attention to it.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

KL: So we're back after a break of a couple hours, it's now the evening of January 31st. And when we left off with you, Aki, we were talking about you were kind of in middle school age, your family had moved back to Gilroy. And a note I jotted down was I wondered if your dad had continued his connection with judo culture or judo practice?

AO: Not really. He didn't do it, but he was very interested in seeing...

KL: Was there a scene in Gilroy, a judo scene?

AO: Well, sometimes the children did some sumo type things, and there were kendo classes, and he encouraged that.

KL: Did he participate in kendo?

AO: No, he didn't do any of those things anymore, but he had an interest in them.

KL: Where were those matches?

AO: I don't know if it was matches, there were some young men who were taking kendo lessons, and so he kept up with that. I was not at all interested, so I didn't even pay much attention.

KL: Where did you start in high school?

AO: At Gilroy High School. I went, well, until the war broke out. I was a junior in high school when the war broke out.

KL: And was it very different from middle school?

AO: No, not really, because we fed right into it. Some classes were... well, we had choices of various things in high school that we didn't have in junior high.

KL: Was it pretty, kind of pre-professional, or did you have a focus in high school, or was it very general studies?

AO: It was kind of general studies toward college. The courses that I took, that my parents encouraged us to take, was pre-college so we could get into UC Berkeley.

KL: Was Berkeley kind of a desirable one?

AO: I think that was a possibility. Of course, San Jose State was closer, but Berkeley had a little more prestige.

KL: What did you want to study?

AO: Medical, in the medical field. I didn't know what, but in later years, I sometimes wish I'd gone into pre-med.

KL: Where did that interest come from?

AO: Well, I worked as a med-tech.

KL: I mean when you were a teenager?

AO: When I was a teenager? Not so much medical as... what was I thinking I wanted to... oh, math. And so I was thinking in terms of a math career. I didn't know much about what choices there might be, and I'm glad I didn't, because I've done some bookkeeping and stuff, and it's deadly. [Laughs]

KL: Yeah, I'd never make it past those multiplication tables you said you struggled with.

AO: That I overcame, but no, I'm much better off in the medical field.

KL: Did you ever, did you work while you were in high school, did you have a job in Gilroy?

AO: No, other than... we'd catch the bus in the morning, go to school, and our bus, our route was we had to wait for the second time the bus came around, so we had about a half hour, forty-five minutes at school waiting, so you tried to do your homework or stuff. And then we'd get home and get a bite to eat and get out in the fields and help my parents.

KL: Oh, that reminds me of something. I took a picture of some celery seeds earlier today at the museum in San Jose. I'll have to show them to you later. Do you remember the establishment of the Gilroy Yamato Hot Springs? I was reading about that place a little bit before we talked with you.

AO: Oh. It was the Gilroy Hot Springs for many years before, I had never been there, but then after the war, that became... what did they call it? When the returning Gilroy returnees who didn't have a place to go to went to the hot springs, and my mother and sisters were taken care of there.

KL: Oh, okay. There was a man that I read about, Kazuburo Sakata?

AO: Sakata. He was the one that started the hot springs.

KL: Did you know him?

AO: No, I did not.

KL: Do you remember that place at all from before the war?

AO: I had never been there. I had heard about it, and people talked about the Gilroy Hot Springs, but I had never been. And then after the war, it became the hostel for the returning Gilroy people. And that's where my mother and sisters were, so that's the first time I'd been.

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

<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.

<Begin Segment 15>

KL: You said that you were pretty sure your father was going to be arrested and others were. Were there other men, or other people?

AO: Oh, yeah, there were other men who were. But he had been trying to encourage younger people to take leadership roles, and so he'd taken a backseat. And I guess, I don't know, they didn't go back too far to get who was... I guess just the current leaders.

KL: Leadership roles in organizations?

AO: Well, there was... in things that happened within the Japanese community, like when they did the fundraiser of the movies.

KL: What were the funds for?

AO: To keep the Japanese school going, and I guess they had some to help with the cemetery, because there was a Japanese section of the cemetery, and to keep it clean, people helped to clean it, too.

KL: What was the cemetery called? Was it just Gilroy Cemetery?

AO: It was just part of... yeah, Gilroy Cemetery. And they had what in Japanese is Nihonjinkai, Japanese club, and that sponsored. And so whenever like the consul general in San Francisco would meet with groups in various cities, wherever there were Japanese, and so my father was the one they talked to. There were like about three different men in the city, in Gilroy, who took leadership.

KL: Who was the membership of the Nihonjinkai?

AO: It was just all the Japanese in the... they didn't have dues or anything, I don't think, it's just that if you're Japanese, you automatically could be...

KL: Were there women who were part of the membership?

AO: Oh, yeah. The whole families participated. Once a year they'd have a big picnic and all the kids would go, too, and they'd have games.

AL: Could you translate Nihonjinkai, for people who don't know what that means?

AO: Oh, Nihonjin is Japanese, the people of Japanese ancestry. Kai is club.

KL: What percentage of Gilroy's population do you think was of Japanese ancestry?

AO: Oh, I don't think it was very large. I couldn't even guess a percentage.

KL: How did your dad feel seeing the arrests or hearing about the arrests of these people he had kind of trained and encouraged?

AO: Oh, very upset and concerned, very concerned. What's going to happen to them? Because at that juncture, you had no idea if they were leading them off to imprison them or to execute them or to send them back to Japan or what. And thought that we may never see him again.

KL: What did people say about the FBI's demeanor or their treatment when they made the arrests? What kind of stories did people tell?

AO: We were... if my father and mother heard of any stories or anything, they kept it to themselves and just discussed it between them. They did not want to frighten us.

KL: Did you think your dad would be taken?

AO: Yes, I did, because I knew he had, you know, people looked at him for anything happening in the community, he was there.

KL: What was that like for you?

AO: Because this is something that you don't think happened in this country. And in the first place, the fact that Japan and America were at war, I couldn't really grasp it. I mean, if this is thought to be a fluke type of thing. And when we were evacuated, oh, "We won't be gone long." We'll be back in a couple of weeks, maybe, at the most.

KL: That's what you were thinking?

AO: Yeah. I never thought that it would be years. And so when I said goodbye to my friends, it's like going on a vacation, "I'll be back, I'll see you."

KL: Do you remember some of the names of the people out of Gilroy who were arrested, the family names?

AO: I think Mr. Hirazaki was, I'm not a hundred percent sure. And Morita... and I can't remember who else might have been. But they were also leaders.

KL: Who was the leader of the Buddhist community that you were a part of?

AO: Well, Gilroy does not have a church, so they would go to San Jose. So whoever was priest there at San Jose Betsuin would be the ones who...

KL: How often did you go into San Jose?

AO: Very seldom. But like for Memorial Day service, the priest comes out to Gilroy, and for funerals the priest would come to the Hayden Mortuary, and that's where the services were held.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

KL: What happened after the... well, I guess first of all, in school and in the community among other people, did treatment of you or your family change after the attack?

AO: Remember I said Squeaky was my best friend? She turned on me. I mean, she just didn't know me. That hurt, and... but Catherine Caillau was my partner in chemistry to do a project. She was right there for me, and wrote to me in camp.

KL: Did you have conversations with her about the attack or about what was going on with your family?

AO: Well, we were, I was flabbergasted as they were, so we were all together and surprised. But Catherine finished our project, and we got an A due to her work.

KL: Did Squeaky say anything to you?

AO: Well, since the war, I've seen her. We had our class reunion, and I went, and you'd think nothing had happened.

KL: She never acknowledged it?

AO: No.

KL: At the time, did she say anything to you or did she just start ignoring you?

AO: She just... yeah, she just ignored me; she turned her back. Well, I didn't push her, say anything to her about it because the anti-Japanese feeling was quite rampant among a lot of people. But our immediate neighbor, the Riandas, were very kind.

KL: What do you think was -- oh, do we need to stop?

AL: No, I just wanted to ask a quick question. Could you spell Catherine's last name and then the name of the neighbors that you just said?

KL: I thought you were going to ask me and I can't remember. I think it's --

AL: Or just pronounce it again?

AO: It's French, so C-A-I-L-L-A-U, I think it was.

AL: Okay. It that Catherine with a K or a C?

AO: C.

AL: C, okay. And the neighbors you were just talking about?

AO: The Riandas, R-I-A-N-D-A.

AL: Thank you.

AO: Leland Rianda was the same years as I, and we compared grades always. "Did you get a hundred on that test?" "Yes, I did." [Laughs]

KL: What do you think was responsible for the differences in people's reactions?

AO: Probably however way their parents thought of the situation, or whoever had any influence, or some people deliberately, who probably didn't care for the Japanese.

KL: Had you been to Squeaky's home? Did you know her parents?

AO: No, I did not. That was a Portuguese family, and so I don't know if, you know, some nations more than others were probably...

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

<Begin Segment 17>

KL: Were those patterns evident in Gilroy? Were there some groups of people who were responding as a group, or was it more individual?

AO: I think it was more individual, yeah. There were some instances of drive-by shootings, and one girl was picked up and raped.

KL: Were there -- oh, go ahead.

AO: No. It's kind of hard looking back, because it's a negative in my life, and I've kind of tried to wipe it out.

KL: I appreciate your thinking back on it, and it's an important part of the story, but it's hard even asking the questions, so I'm sure to answer them is difficult. Were there... did people know or have ideas about who the shooters were or who the rapists were?

AO: No. I don't know if they made a very strong effort to determine. And all my classes, I don't remember any real deliberate negative things coming from my classmates.

KL: Did the administrators say anything? I've heard sometimes in big city schools, like the student body would be called together and the principal would say, you know, "We're not going to have any poor treatment," or sometimes teachers ignored it entirely.

AO: No, I don't remember anything being done that way. I always had a good rapport with most of the students that I was most friendly with. And I don't remember other than Squeaky.

KL: Was your group of friends pretty multicultural?

AO: No, I had a lot of Caucasians like Catherine, Charlene, then all the choir members. There were just two Japanese in the choir, Yuko was one of them. Yeah, and some of the, like Ed Mullen was very kind and thoughtful. The people that really mattered to me treated me very well and showed respect.

KL: Ed Mullen was another student?

AO: Uh-huh. I've often wondered what happened to him, because he was, I felt, a good friend.

KL: Did you lose touch with him after you left? Did you communicate with him in camp at all?

AO: No, no, because I had heard that he moved away from Gilroy and I didn't know where he went. He was not the most healthy. There were some others, too, Joey Jasper Johnson was a fun kid, but he moved away from Gilroy. And then what's his name? He became representative to Congress, George Melius, and he was a good friend.

KL: He was a student with you?

AO: Yeah. But he died early.

KL: Those shootings that you mentioned, were they of people's homes or businesses?

AO: Yes, they drove by the homes. Lot of the Japanese kind of lived in similar places, and a lot of it was like sharecroppers, so they just went along and shot.

KL: Do you remember the families whose homes were shot?

AO: No, not all of them. One was my friend's home, Matsumoto. And there were a couple others, but I can't remember.

KL: Were any people hit?

AO: No, nobody was hit, fortunately. I think it was just not intended to kill, but just to warn.

KL: How long did that go on?

AO: There was just, I think, one incident, and there was such an uprising about it, I mean, it became big news, so I think they got scared off.

KL: Do you think that, when you said they got scared off, did people organize to try to protect homes, or did it make the town look bad?

AO: The police then took, were ready to take action, and I guess they realized that this was not good behavior.

KL: Did you see a bigger police presence?

AO: Not really because I stayed home mostly, just went to school and back. I just tried to be as out of sight as possible.


KL: This is tape three of an interview with Aki Okuno on January 31, 2013. And we were talking about community, how life changed in the wake of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. I wondered what happened to the woman who was raped also in your community.

AO: Yeah, she was okay, but for a long time, she didn't come back to school right away.

KL: She was a high school student?

AO: Yeah, she was a classmate of mine. And I don't, at the time I didn't know what had happened. I had just heard that somebody had come to the house and taken her and kidnapped her, and been, and I didn't hear, but later on somebody told me that they had kidnapped her and she'd been raped and thrown back home.

KL: Who told you she had been kidnapped? Was it other students?

AO: Well, the story, "Did you hear Lucille got..." type of thing.

KL: And you said your response was to kind of lay low, keep out of sight?

AO: Yeah.

KL: Were there other steps people took to try to protect themselves?

AO: I don't know. We just didn't talk about it. Really, everybody pretty much kept their mouth shut.

KL: Did the newspapers change their tone at all? Did you guys read newspapers or subscribe?

AO: Well, no, we didn't. Gilroy had the Gilroy Dispatch, and we didn't subscribe to it. So we weren't aware of editorials or anything like that. Because my mother and father just read the Japanese newspaper that came out of San Francisco.

KL: Did you read that newspaper from San Francisco?

AO: It was in Japanese.

KL: And you spoke some Japanese, but you didn't read?

AO: Well, didn't read that much, and I wasn't that interested in reading a Japanese paper.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

KL: How did you find out that you were gonna have to leave?

AO: Oh, that, the signs went up, and of course my father came home from downtown Gilroy and said this is what's happening.

KL: How were your parents' movements affected before that? Did their patterns change?

AO: Oh. Well, my father, there was not much sense in planting a crop, because rumors had it that they were gonna round everybody up. Yeah, see, February 19th was when Executive Order 9066 went through, and that's about the time you start planning crops, end of February, early March. And so there would be no sense in putting in a crop. it was just a matter of just really wondering.

KL: How did you -- oh, go ahead.

AO: Yeah, I think the older, the Issei, the older generation, really aged there, because unknown. It was scary. But for us, my sister was attending junior college, that was in Salinas, and she would catch the bus in the morning and ride over. But then this five-mile radius limit was placed on us, with curfews, so she had to drop out.

AL: Was that five mile radius on aliens or on all Japanese Americans?

AO: All. Students, too. So we were able to go to school, and that was about it.

AL: Can I ask you just one more question while Kristen takes a quick break? Did you ever hear a story about a World War I vet in Monterey named, I think his last name was Murata before evacuation? There's a story in Michi Weglyn's book Years of Infamy, and she talks about how she committed suicide.

AO: No, I wasn't aware of that. I'll have to read...

AL: I've never seen original documentation, but that he had, according to her story, he had a letter from the U.S., or the City of Monterey thanking him for his service in World War I and calling him a hero and he had that by his side. But like I said, I didn't know, but since you lived in this area, I was just wondering if that, if you heard stories like that.

AO: My parents may have, but I'm not aware of it.

KL: So your, you said signs went up notifying...

AO: Yeah. So this was in, because we were evacuated in April or May? Somewhere around there. April, I guess. Because it wasn't as early as February. Gosh, I remember we weren't doing any farming ourselves, but...

KL: How did you prepare to leave?

AO: Well, we tried to get rid of things like cars. My father was able to sell the cars. We had a '37 pickup, Dodge pickup, and a '34 Pontiac sedan, and got about twenty dollars for that sedan, a little bit more for the pickup. And I don't know what he did about the tractor, whether another farmer bought it or he just gave it to somebody. Because we could only take what we could carry, so all the furniture more or less, people would come by and take, you know, if you're ready to give 'em away, they weren't buying.

KL: Were they locals?

AO: Yeah. And like some of the immigrants or the less fortunate people, they were probably grateful to have access to beds and things that they may not have had.

KL: Do you remember any discussion between just other people in the community or within your family about how to respond, you know, was there ever talk of leaving the exclusion zone or ever any talk of resisting the order?

AO: No. There was nobody that I know of that talked about resisting, but a number of people... first they said just go inland, and so there were people who moved to Fresno thinking that would be safe, that area, San Joaquin county. And then eventually they were evacuated also.

KL: People from Gilroy went to Fresno?

AO: Yeah. And one family that we know, I think they had some connection to somebody in Utah and they went to Utah. So they were there, and that's where they lived out the war.

KL: Did you hear what that was like for them, in Utah?

AO: Not easy. Because they met up with a lot of discrimination.

KL: I've heard sometimes it was even difficult for Japanese Americans from places like California, even from other Japanese Americans in those other places, it just sounded difficult all around sometimes.

AO: Yeah, like Utah, Colorado, Arizona. Parts of Arizona were more eastern, but they had difficulties, too.

AL: Did the Smith family contact you at all before you went to Salinas? Were you still in contact with them, Grandpa Smith?

AO: I don't remember, I don't remember. But after the war, Georgia made a real effort to, I guess, and so my sister's been in touch with her since.

KL: You said it was hard for the friends in Utah because of prejudice they experienced there.

AO: Uh-huh.

KL: Can you say any more about the details of that?

AO: No. I've just heard that some of the people say that it was not easy. And some others were welcome, whoever happened to be the neighbor, you know, and the treatment was very good.

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

<Begin Segment 19>

KL: Were there any things from your household, going back to your preparations to leave, that you wanted to make sure came with you or that you were certain to take?

AO: No, there weren't. I didn't make an effort to take anything. And I wasn't... the only thing was probably our dog, but then we found somebody to take the dog.

KL: Who took the dog?

AO: Pardon?

KL: Who took the dog?

AO: I can't remember who it was, but somebody did. And my sister Kazue is the one that is the animal lover, and, of course, they had trouble taking him because he wanted to stay with my sister.

KL: Do you remember them coming to take him?

AO: No, they came when we were in school, so there wouldn't be difficulty. But we just knew that Tipsy was going to a good home.

KL: How involved were your parents in your packing? Did they pack?

AO: Yeah, and like the dishes, we had dishes and things, and cooking utensils, they said the building were the Japanese school, the Japanese school building was owned by the Japanese community. And so people would bring their stuff there to be stored, and we did, all our dishes and things like that, and anything else, I can't remember what all.

KL: Was it there after the war?

AO: No. The place had gotten broken into and all the good things were taken.

KL: Was there anyone watching over it locally?

AO: I don't think anybody was specifically watching over it, but the sheriff's office was aware that all that stuff was stored there, they were keeping a really tight watch on it.

KL: I know you said you don't remember a whole lot about the assembly center, but what are your memories of going there?

AO: Well, I remember walking in and getting the... I guess it was the typhoid shot.


AL: So I was just asking about the dog.

AO: Tipsy, and the reason we called him Tipsy was because he had a little white tip on the end of his tail, but he was my sister's dog really, because when we were playing catch or any games, if I'm chasing her, he's nipping at my heels so I can't catch her. And when she's chasing me, he's getting in my way so I can't run away. [Laughs]

AL: He was a good defensive dog.

AO: Oh, he was, he was. And when, I remember we were living on Balsa road in the south of Gilroy when we moved to the house that the community owned next door to the Japanese school, because my mother was teaching Japanese at that time. And the dog would not come to the new house until my sister was in the car that was going to transport him. But if she was in the car, then he came very quickly to the car.

AL: How big was he? What did he look like?

AO: Oh, he was about the size of a... little bit bigger than a terrier, not quite as big as a lab.

AL: What color was he?

AO: He was kind of... it's been so many years. Let's see, he's got a dark brown and brown spot, but that white tip on his tail. We've had so many dogs since that I kind of forget which one was Tipsy.

AL: Was your... I had heard that some Japanese language school teachers who were women had also been arrested and questioned. Do you know if your mother was under any suspicion as a Japanese language teacher?

AO: I don't think so. Well, I don't know, maybe she was. But she wasn't that terribly well-known, I guess.

AL: It would be a small school.

AO: It was a small school. And she hadn't been teaching that long, because when relations between Japan and United States were becoming a little dicey way back a full year earlier, the person who was such a high school teacher decided to go back to Japan. He was from Japan, and so he decided to go back, so then the community just asked my mother would she teach.

AL: What was the name of that language school?

AO: It was just Gilroy Japanese Language School, Nihongo gakkou, Japanese language school.

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

<Begin Segment 20>

KL: So you said you remember the typhoid inoculation.

AO: Yes, I remember the shot going through between... I don't know, it seemed like just going, entering in. But the one memory I have is that the shower room was a big room, must have been like about twenty foot square, with these showerheads on the wall. No stalls or anything. And then the toilets were just toilets one after another with no barrier in between or anything. So your elimination and your shower were with, it was a community thing. And you managed to watch when there was nobody else using the toilet to run in.

KL: Did people keep watch for each other?

AO: Yeah. At first it was, you had to, because you didn't go alone. And, but we would not shower in front of other people. Well, I wasn't going to. I wouldn't have gotten naked in front of a stranger. I mean, we do it between ourselves because we had had Japanese style bath, we'd done that with just my sisters. So my mother solved it by waking us like about three o'clock or so, and then we'd go quietly to the shower room where nobody else was around to take our showers. I have no recollection of going for meals or anything.

KL: Do you remember where you lived?

AO: No, not in the assembly center. But I remember having to walk a little ways to the shower room.

AL: Was the assembly center like at a fairground or was it a new construction?

AO: Yes, it was the Salinas fairgrounds. They called it the Gymkhana Grounds. So we were fortunate, our family, all the stables were used up already. And so it was a brand new building.

KL: Had you been to those fairgrounds before, ever?

AO: No. I don't think I had been to... I always thought I had, but I'm not sure. And my sister tells me that there was just one mess hall for the whole camp, there were three thousand, and that we went in shifts, there were so many buildings went at such and such a time. But I don't recall that at all, I have no recollection of any of the meals, what kind of food it might have been, which is really strange, because I love food.

KL: Do you remember your arrival there aside from the vaccination?

AO: Other than the, going through the gate and getting a shot... I guess it was on a train, yeah, because Gilroy, there's a train station there, so we were all put on trains.

KL: Do you remember the departure?

AO: Nothing. Just... it's totally wiped out. I remember that by the time we were getting to really leave, the school building, the Japanese school building had been taken over by the army and some soldiers were staying there.

KL: What was their purpose?

AO: It was housing for soldiers. And I don't know whether they needed them... I really don't know. I don't think they were there to watch the Japanese community.

KL: I wonder if they condemned the building or how they...

AO: I really don't know. But we were able to leave, there was like the stage and area where we put all of our stuff to be... but I remember the soldiers being nice, and one of 'em giving my mother a coat. Because she said they couldn't, I mean, he didn't have a use for it, and maybe we could use it. He was very nice to us.

KL: Did you just pass him, when did you have contact with him?

AO: I don't know if they moved in before we were evacuated, and so we had seen them, but it was that morning as we were leaving, he gave my mother the coat. So I have really wiped all of that out of my memory, even as much as I try to recall something, I can't.

KL: When did your sister tell you about the mess halls and about her memories?

AO: Oh, because the Japanese American Citizens League of Monterey and Watsonville got together, and it was the 70th anniversary of 9066, they had a thing. And I was asked to be a speaker, and so I said, "But I don't remember anything." So I started to ask all my sisters. So Kazue, who I guess was like about twelve, yeah, had memories of it, and she's the one who told me about eating in shifts, about how we had to walk by something to get to the shower. But I had remembered the shower, going to the shower early morning, and that was about all I did.

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

<Begin Segment 21>

KL: When did you go to the assembly center?

AO: It was, must have been sometime in April, because we left there in June, the end of June, and supposedly we were there for a couple of months. So must have been toward the end of April.

KL: Do you remember leaving there?

AO: Yes. When we left, I remember, because I was wearing about three layers of clothes, it was so cold. And my heavy overcoat over everything. But very little about the train ride.

KL: Where did you gather to take the train?

AO: I don't remember. All I remember is being on the train, and vaguely remember when we hit Barstow, it was so hot. And Poston's right straight across east from Barstow. And between there and Parker, the train ran out of water. So we had no water to drink for the last few hours of our trip. And so when we got to Poston, we were all so thirsty. And because the water lines had just been installed, and the water still was not arable, they boiled the water. And then to make it palatable, they made tea out of it. And the, of course, all of us were dehydrated, so they handed us with, handed out salt pills in the tea, and it was hot. And I remember thinking, "If I drop dead right now, nobody would care."

KL: When you ran out of water on the train, did you know you were a couple hours away?

AO: No, we had no idea when we'd get any water.

KL: Did you know where you were going?

AO: No.

KL: Did you know how long it would take?

AO: We had absolutely no idea. There may have been some people who did, but I certainly didn't, we didn't, our family.

KL: How long was the train ride?

AO: I think we were only one night on the train. My husband kept a diary, and he's got in it what was served at each meal. And I was thinking, wow, I have absolutely no recollection of what we ate or anything.

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

<Begin Segment 22>

KL: What is your visual, describe what you saw when you came to Poston and you got off the train?

AO: When we got off the train, it was in Parker. And we had to board buses to go down. And it was so hot and these buses were not air conditioned, so everybody rolled the windows down. Well, the road from Parker down to Poston was unpaved, so there was dust. And by the time we got to Poston, there wasn't a black head in the bus, everybody was covered with dust. That much I remember, because it was so dusty. And then we stepped off the bus in what felt like ankle deep dust. And then handed, I mean, here you are just dying of thirst, and this hot tea and the salt pill. Then after you had drunk that and taken your salt pill, then they showed you the pile of hay, straw.

KL: Who showed you?

AO: There were people who had gotten there ahead of us, they were from L.A. area, and so they were very helpful. They helped all the new arrivals, and they gave you your canvas, and you went over and they went over and they helped to stuff the straw in canvas bags, and we would have to... that was our mattress. And I don't know whether we walked to... well, we must have had to walk, because we were in the next block. Because I don't think they drove us in trucks to where we were. Some of the people, because of where the administration was, this was Block 32, and then Block 17 was right next to it. So it was close enough.

KL: Which block were you in?

AO: Seventeen.

KL: And 32 was the administration?

AO: Well, no, it was next to administration. They may have... because we did have our bags with all our bedding and stuff. Or they were identified, so probably we walked to where we were supposed to be. And then the trucks brought all the luggage over.

KL: Were you in Camp I?

AO: 17-11-C.

KL: Who was in there with you, 17-11-C?

AO: Seventeen... oh, it was just our family. My father and mother and the four girls. So fortunately, you don't need the blankets, or you use the blankets as the walls.

KL: You were issued the blankets?

AO: Yes.

KL: What else... was there any other bedding that you were issued?

AO: Well, we were, the mattress, so-called mattress, and we had cots. They were canvas cots, and in that heat, we would take the cots out, wet it down, and then just sleep on the wet cot.

KL: Where did the water come from?

AO: They had, each barrack had a faucet at the end.

KL: What else was inside the apartment?

AO: One light. And I think there was a stove in there. But if not then, then eventually a stove was brought in, because the winters do get cold.

KL: Yeah, you didn't need it then.

AO: Yeah, in the summertime we certainly didn't need it. But it was bleak.

KL: Did you come with other people from Gilroy?

AO: Yes, there were some others. Of course, all of us in Block 17 had been at the Salinas Assembly Center. There weren't that many. Quite a number of Gilroy families were there. Two barracks faced each other, and then were backs to these two. So right across from us was the Uyehata family who had been our neighbors.

KL: Oh, in Gilroy?

AO: In Gilroy, uh-huh.

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

<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.

<Begin Segment 24>

KL: How long did you usually have to wait before you could eat? How long did it take to serve a whole block lunch?

AO: Oh, not too long, not too long. Because you served the bowl on the table, you know, and everybody helped themselves. It wasn't like people coming through the line and you served them.

KL: Could everybody fit at once, or were there shifts?

AO: No, everybody came in. Not everybody came in at once, people kept coming.

KL: How did that work? Did it... how did that work?

AO: Well, it was fine. The kids would all eat together and the men would all eat together, and finally they began to realize that any family life was breaking down, so they assigned tables to families and made the families eat together.

KL: Who assigned the tables?

AO: I guess the adults must have met or something and realized that they need to do something, because the kids were running wild.

KL: Did that happen throughout the camp or just in your block?

AO: Well, each block, I think, pretty much came to this conclusion, because I heard stories, similar stories all around, that they realized the family structure was breaking down.

KL: Were the mess halls used for things other than eating?

AO: Yeah, we had parties in the mess hall.

KL: Tell us about those.

AO: Yeah. At first they'd have a party, just food and stuff, and then occasionally there's be a dance. And there might be a few musicians and so you'd have... otherwise it was with records.

KL: What kind of music?

AO: Oh... I'm forgetting. Who's that musician who... anyway, the music of the '40s.

KL: Like big band, swing, kind of stuff?

AO: Yeah, uh-huh.

AL: Glenn Miller?

AO: Yeah, Glenn Miller it was, yes. His... what was that one piece called that was always the final piece? The one that kind of goes on and on and on.

KL: It's not "Mood Indigo," is it? Is that Glenn Miller?

AO: Yeah, I think it is. I was fifteen at the time. In fact, I never went on a date until I was about twenty.

KL: Did you dance at the dances?

AO: Little bit, yeah. I don't know that I really knew how to dance, but you know, jitterbug and stuff like that.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

KL: Was your sister who was the secretary for the medical director, was that Toshi?

AO: Uh-huh.

KL: What did she say about that job?

AO: She enjoyed it because she got to really use her shorthand and typing, all our secretarial skills.

KL: Where did she go to work?

AO: There in the administration building. There was the administration part set aside. There was administration, and there was the hospital, and then all the barracks. My father got a job as night watchman, so he wasn't home all night. And then I guess he'd sleep during the day. And then, of course, he was in conversation with the men, and then... so we didn't see too much of him.

KL: What were his duties as a night watchman?

AO: I guess at the warehouse where they kept all the stuff. Probably didn't really need it, but...

KL: Did he work with a crew, was he by himself?

AO: I really don't know, because what had happened is then he had tuberculosis, and he had been ill with it before, and I think he got this job so as to keep his distance from us and not expose us.

KL: When had he been ill before?

AO: In Gilroy. But he was diagnosed with it, and had been going to the doctor two or three years before.

KL: How did that diagnosis affect your family?

AO: Well, for one thing, I said that there was this screen room, and that became his room.

KL: The porch, the sun porch?

AO: Yeah, so that he was not exposing us, and all of his dishes were boiled, my mother took care of her.

KL: Did that affect your finances or your social life?

AO: No, because he was still, worked on the farm until the war, and then he couldn't farm.

KL: One of the -- oh, go ahead.

AO: I guess my mother's teaching kept us fed.

KL: One of the sociologists who was writing at Manzanar said that she perceived that a lot of people in Manzanar believed that tuberculosis was hereditary and it was a shameful thing. Did you have any, did that...

AO: No, we weren't... because he didn't have it before, I mean, there's nobody in the family who had it.

KL: Yeah, it seems like you were aware it was contagious.

AO: Yeah. So the way it was found is they did tuberculin tests on all the children, and I came home with an arm like this.

KL: Was that at school, the test?

AO: Yeah. And so the whole family was x-rayed. And although I broke out, I mean, I reacted, I had no sign of it. But then that's when they discovered my father's. And so my mother was well-read, and so she took questions and kept everything that he ate with separate, kept him pretty much...

AL: I've heard stories of families where, like a gentleman we interviewed yesterday, his sister was separated from them and kept... how come your father was not segregated from the family in camp? Some people, the TB...

AO: I don't know. Unless he didn't tell them, you know. And then... because then he was working. And probably then, I don't know, maybe he was getting weaker. He seemed fine to me. Of course, we didn't see the ravages.

AL: So they didn't test for TB when people went into camp?

AO: No, no.


KL: This is jumping around a little bit, but on health care, did your sister say that there were any themes or any issues that were big in health care in camp?

AO: No, she didn't really talk about things like that. No. I guess there wasn't a lot of that kind of conversation, I guess, between us. We were busy doing our own things. And then when school started, of course, I had my studies.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

KL: When did school start?

AO: In September. I was fortunate in having Ms. Maeda, who had been a teacher in Southern California, so she was a real teacher. And my physics class was taught by someone who was a college student or had had college physics, and was no means a teacher. And I was the only girl in the class.

KL: Was it an elective?

AO: Yeah. Well, I was taking the core class, which is English, history, civics, type of thing. And physics and algebra, too. That was my full load. And my algebra class was taught by Ben Sanematsu, who was not a teacher then, but he was working toward it. And he became a teacher here in the San Jose Cambrian district, yes. So I had contact with him afterwards, too.

KL: What were the facilities like for the school when it first opened?

AO: Well, we just, that first year, there was no school. So they just found empty barrack rooms and used those for classrooms. So I had my core class in Block 2, which is on the other side of the canal from Block 17, and then my physics class was... I keep thinking 19, but I don't think it was 19. Anyway, it was about in the middle of the camp. And then my algebra class was at Block 35, which was way off.

KL: How did they arrange the schedule?

AO: Oh, we had a walk, about a half hour or so, between. Because my physics class was about eleven o'clock, and my algebra class was at two-thirty. And two-thirty in the afternoon, Arizona. So when that happened, we moved it to seven o'clock in the morning.

KL: I don't know which is worse. [Laughs]

AO: No, it was okay. Much better than that heat. And so, yeah, I enjoyed my algebra much more than physics. Physics was just... the boys in the class had a friend, one of the boys had a friend who... I don't know if he was a teacher, but he should have been a teacher, because he could explain the physics, everything to these kids. But these were boys that I didn't know, and here I was all by myself trying to learn physics from a book.

KL: Was that tutor older or was he your age?

AO: He was older.

KL: But he didn't really work with you?

AO: Uh-uh. Well, I didn't even know what questions to ask him, plus, I mean, he was just the teacher for the class and he could care less, I think.

KL: Oh, I mean the friend, the friend of the boys. Was he older?

AO: Yes, he was older. In fact, before the year was out, he was drafted and sent to Italy and then was killed. That was the saddest thing.

KL: You remember that news?

AO: Pardon?

KL: You remember hearing in Poston that he was killed?

AO: The news, yes.

KL: How did you hear?

AO: Oh, it just went through the school because everybody knew him.

KL: What was his name?

AO: I was trying to remember. Started with an S. It's not coming.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

KL: How did other, the rest of your family spend their days? What did your mom do?

AO: Well, my younger sisters went to school, they were in school. My youngest sister found a friend, and the two of them knew everything that was going on. The two girls would sit and watch the world go by and learn about everything that was going on in everybody's lives. [Laughs] They're having a great time.

KL: How did you feel about that?

AO: It was nice, they were cute. So, what, she must have been like about eight years old or so.

KL: She sounds like a happy kid.

AO: Yes, yes. She's now very... yeah, she's strong. And she became a teacher. Yeah.

KL: Did your mother teach or tutor in the camp?

AO: No. And she got a job in the hospital sewing the sheets and things, mending things, so that she could be near my father.

KL: He was eventually put in the hospital?

AO: Yeah, he was hospitalized.

KL: When did his illness come again, or when did it make itself...

AO: He wasn't that night watchman for too long. It was only a couple of months after camp.

KL: So like later that fall or that winter?

AO: Yeah. So then my mother found out that she could get a job there, because she was going to see him at the time.

KL: Did you see him in the hospital?

AO: Pardon?

KL: Did you go to the hospital?

AO: No, he didn't want us coming to see him. I guess he was afraid of infecting us.

KL: Was there a separate ward?

AO: I think it was a separate ward for TB patients. And at the end of the war, they began closing the hospital. And I think they allowed him to come home and try to help my mother with the packing to get ready to leave camp. But by then, I was out of, I had left camp.

KL: Did your mother talk to you about what the hospital was like?

AO: No.

KL: The doctors, the staff?

AO: No. Well, my sister had talked a little bit about how things were there at the hospital.

KL: Did she feel like it was... I forgot we're short... did she feel like it was... what was her impression of the staff, your sister's impression?

AO: That they were doing the best they could with what they had, and she had no [inaudible] with that.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

KL: I wondered how... so you were in school. Did you do any activities there, were you part of a choir?

AO: No, just went to school, and then I was working in the kitchen until I graduated.

KL: Were you part of a religious community in camp?

AO: No, I was not.

KL: Was anyone in your family?

AO: No. Well... no, I guess not. I don't think there were regular Buddhist services, and if there were, I wasn't aware of it.

KL: What would you say the mood in the camp was like? Were people kind of camaraderie toward each other, or was it a really tense place?

AO: Yeah, I think everybody made a definite effort to get along, did they best they could. In other words, I guess you've heard of gaman and make the best of the situation that you can't do anything about.

KL: You said there were rumors in Gilroy after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Did rumors, were rumors a part of life in Poston?

AO: If they were, I'm not aware of it. So yes, I think I tended to just make the best of each day and enjoy myself.

KL: Did you have communication with any friends from outside of the camp?

AO: Catherine, little correspondence. I'm not that great of a letter writer, so I think I let her down. But she was kind.

KL: What did her letters mean to you?

AO: I really enjoyed... and it was a feeling of warmth. It's good to have people who were like this that would take the time. And I really appreciated her having worked on our project, because we had just started it when evacuation, and then she turned it in time to get us a good grade.

KL: Were there any kids from that high school who left during their final year? Were there twelfth graders, Japanese American twelfth graders who had to leave?

AO: There might have been, I can't remember exactly what families did move.

KL: And it's interesting you were issued a grade for that project after you left. It sounds like the school kind of finished out your semester, finished out your year administratively.

AO: Yeah. Still, I did get a grade, and I remember thinking the one grade... I got As in all my classes except PE, which kind of frosted me, because I did fine, and I was doing well before. And all the tests that we had, I passed.

KL: When you started high school in Poston it was at the start of eleventh grade then?

AO: Twelfth, my final year.

KL: Oh, okay, so you just had one more year.

AO: Yeah.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 29>

KL: What... well, let me ask you about a couple things, and then I want to go back to education stuff. There's a few events in Poston and I wonder if you remember, there was an adobe workers strike in August of 1942, so I guess right after you got there.

AO: August '42? I don't remember anything, not even hearing about it.

KL: There was then a strike in Poston, in Camp I, there was a beating and two Kibei people were arrested?

AO: There was an uprising of sorts, and people were marching. I remember my mother making sure that we stayed home. Because a lot of people went to see what was going on. And it was over this "no-no," and being sent to Tule Lake type of thing. Some people protested that they've locked us up, and no way are we going to be drafted, type of thing. And then there was the "no-no," you're aware of those questions?

KL: But I'd like to hear about what you're experience with them was, what they were.

AO: Well, I felt like it doesn't pertain to me. And I guess I was not... I certainly wasn't as aware as I am today of civic stuff, nor particularly did I delve into the consequences of actions or anything like that. So it did not affect me other than hearing all the commotion. I think it affected the families with boys especially, especially of draftable age. We were a family of all girls.

KL: Did you receive the questionnaire?

AO: No.

KL: Did your parents or brother and sister?

AO: No. So we were kind of left out of the whole thing.

KL: There were these two speeches that John Collier, who was head of the Bureau of Indian affairs at that time gave in Poston where he was talking about the importance of planning for the future and developing land and planting crops and things being permanent in Poston. And I guess Dillon Myer from the WRA gave a speech shortly after saying, "This is temporary, you don't need to worry that you're gonna be held here for a long time." Do you have any, what did you think?

AO: Well, I was not aware of that. And at that time, I hadn't... I didn't even try to think of how long we might be here. Because I don't know, we were aware of the war and the battles going on in the Pacific, but not having anybody in the military... it was like it's not, I'm not involved type of thing, so it didn't affect me. Now, my older sister didn't talk about it. She may have thought differently, but I and Kazue certainly were just enjoying ourselves, or living each day as it came.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 30>

KL: You had been in a college preparatory track back in Gilroy. When you went to Poston, did you think you would continue your education?

AO: I had no idea if it would even be possible. I mean, we didn't even know whether we'd be able to finish the twelve grades. So in the year that I went to school, we didn't have the classrooms. But that summer, like my mother even went out to make adobe bricks so that they could build the school, and they did build the school. So there was a high school, but I had graduated by then, and I was working.

KL: Working in the mess hall still?

AO: No, I left the mess hall and got a full time job, 'cause that was as a student, so not being a student any more. And I was able to type, so I got a job as a clerk typist. And I ended up copying all the material off of each of the block managers' daily guides, things, for Colonel Leighton who was getting ready to write a book, and he has written a book.

KL: Who was he?

AO: I don't know what his first name was. Leighton, L-E-I-G-H-T-O-N. So I was sitting there, and so my challenge was to be as accurate as possible without erasing. [Laughs] So, and I built up pretty good speed.

KL: He was writing a book based on the block managers' accounts?

AO: Yeah. And he has a book out. I haven't even looked at it to see it. It's got to be very dry. [Laughs]

KL: Maybe you're footnoted.

AO: I doubt it.

KL: I know you did end up going to university though out of camp, right?

AO: Yeah.

KL: Tell us about the process.

AO: Then after I finished, Dr. Leighton pulled everything out and moved to Phoenix for his headquarters. Then that job ended, so I moved over to the Ag. department and started there as a clerk typist, then became timekeeper, and then became office manager. I was too young and dumb to know any different, so when nobody else would take it, they said, "You want to be it?" and I said, "Okay." So I worked under Mr. Sharp, who was the heads of the Ag. department.

KL: What did you do as office manager?

AO: Oh, a little bit of everything, because I was the only one who could take shorthand, so I took shorthand, minutes of things, and took in the reports from the three camps on all the ag. stuff. Yeah, I did the timesheets for the workers.

KL: What kind of projects were happening in those camps? What was in the reports, I mean, in agriculture?

AO: Oh, agriculture? We were growing all the produce for the three camps, plus enough to ship some out to Utah. And we had a pig farm, cattle, I don't know if we had any sheep, but... and chickens. And all the eggs, and the chickens, milk. I don't know if they made cheese, because I don't know if the Japanese ate much cheese. Plenty of milk.

KL: Did workers from Poston create those fields?

AO: Yes, uh-huh.

KL: Was that still happening when you were working there?

AO: Yeah. So we had equipment to cultivate and to dig the ditches and set the irrigation up.

KL: Was there a relationship with local extension agents?

AO: Well, that property where Poston was located actually belonged to the Department of Interior for the Indians. The Indian school was going to be moving out from Phoenix to that site.

KL: The boarding school?

AO: I guess. That's how come Mr. Sharp came as the Ag. department head because he was going to be running, it was going to be an Ag. school.

KL: Why didn't it come?

AO: Well, because they put the camp there.

KL: Yeah, I've heard that there was tribal resistance to the camp. Did you have any encounters with tribal members?

AO: No. We had an Indian working in our office, and I'm trying to remember his name. He was the nicest guy. I was learning some Indian expressions from him, and I was teaching him some Japanese.

KL: Do you remember any of the expressions?

AO: No.

KL: It's been a long time.

AO: Yeah. And he used to be a, in movies, in some movies, just small parts, bit parts in movies, the Westerns. He was just a nice guy.

KL: How old a guy was he?

AO: I'd say he was in his late fifties, so he was quite a bit older.

KL: What did he tell you about his background or his life?

AO: Nothing. He just... you know, little bits about, we'd ask him about how it was being on sets and in the movies.

KL: Did he tell you about what it was like to grow up? Did he grow up on that reservation?

AO: No, we didn't probe any of those kinds of questions with him, and he didn't share that much. So it must not have been good because this was after I was married, Art and I took a trip to Grand Canyon. And going along some of those areas where the Indians lived. I just felt ashamed being American, treating the Indians the way they did, giving them... they've had the dregs. We stopped at one little place I guess to get some gas or something, and Art went in there. And when he came out, he was bringing this man with him. The man had been, for the last six months, herding sheep up in the hills, and so he was finally able to come home. But the bus that would go past the road that was his home was not going to be arriving until late that evening. So Art said, "Give him a ride," so that's what we did. And I saw where he lived, and I just... it was just some branches standing up put together, barely a house. It wasn't a house, it was just a lean-to. And when he started to come out, the kids came running out, and then they saw us in the car, and they all ran back in, so then we left.

KL: This fellow that you worked with in Poston, what was his job?

AO: Can't remember exactly, 'cause he was doing work in the office, and just helping Mr. Sharp, yeah.

KL: What was Mr. Sharp's title?

AO: I guess he was the supervisor or the director of agriculture or chief of agriculture. Anyway, he's the head of the Ag. department. And we had a lot of employees, over three thousand employees, because they worked the fields.

KL: How did you learn about that school that was planned?

AO: Mr. Sharp told us. William Sharp. He told us about it.

KL: Do you have any, did he say anything about how, I don't know, the affect that that had? Were people happy or sad?

AO: No, no, he didn't talk about, he didn't...

KL: He may not have known.

AO: Yeah. He just said a little bit about his background, that he was instrumental. He was in Phoenix and they found this territory, and it was part of the Indian territory, so they were planning to build an Indian school there.

KL: Was his professional background with agriculture or as an administrator?

AO: I'm not sure. He knew his ag., agriculture, and he could talk to all the guys who were working in the fields.

KL: Was it anything of a demonstration project, do you know, Poston? I mean, did local farmers or Indian farmers...

AO: No, they didn't do anything like that. They just worked and produced, and they produced well.

<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 31>

KL: Are there things about that that I haven't asked about, any other things from your work in that department that you want to share, or people?

AO: Well, the people, it was... they were all fun people to work with, and it was very interesting. One time Mr. Sharp brought in a veterinarian, and that was interesting. And while he was here, they found a rabid dog, which was fortunate that he was there, and they got rid of it.

KL: He just happened to find it, or had it been...

AO: Somebody talked about this dog that was really, you know, kind of mean. It did not bite anybody, but it was aggressive. And so Mr. Sharp, I mean, the doctor... what was his name? Caldwell or something like that, rolled up a newspaper and did this. And the way the dog attacked it, she says, "It's a rabid dog."

KL: That's scary.

AO: So he took care of it.

KL: Do you have any other memories of animals in Poston, either wild animals or things that were surprising to you?

AO: No. Of course, there were... what others? Those big spiders.

KL: Tarantulas?

AO: Yes. Well, not tarantulas, but... what is it that, in the desert?

KL: Scorpions?

AO: Yes. And so we were all afraid of the scorpions thinking that if you got bit by a scorpion, you'd die. And, of course, you're looking for rattlesnakes and things. I was aware of that because in Cienega we had the, not scorpions, but we had tarantulas and snakes. So I wasn't too worried about that.

AL: Did you have any pets, anybody in your family?

AO: No, we did not. But, yeah. And then in '44, it was in December or the end of November in '44, that for some reason, the opportunity or talk came up about colleges opening up. And so I applied, I applied to one and was told that they couldn't take me because they'd already accepted the quota of Japanese students that they could take.

KL: What school was that?

AO: Gosh, it was something, someone in the Midwest. So I thought, well, I'd better find another, and somebody told me about Temple.

KL: Do you know what the other school's quota was?

AO: I mean, they were limiting maybe five, ten, to a school.

<End Segment 31> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 32>

KL: When you said you heard that universities were opening up, where did you hear that? Was it from your peers or from the administration?

AO: Peers. And kids were applying for it. I've been out of school for over a year, and so then we were told that the last train taking kids out of Poston was leaving on December 5th. And this was like the first of December, and my mother didn't know if she could let me go. And my younger sister, she was an eight year old, says, "Well, if it wasn't meant for her to go, the opportunity would not have come up." So on the strength of that, my mother said yes. And with five days, threw together enough that I could leave camp. And I was starting on an adventure that I didn't know what would...

KL: Had you been accepted at Temple?

AO: And I had been accepted, yes.

KL: What was the application process like?

AO: I really don't know exactly how, what the process was and how, but I decided, well, I might as well apply to Temple then, and I did, and it was okay, and then we were told that... I thought, well, the next semester was not until the following something, late in January.

KL: Did you ever work with the administration or with American Friends Service Committee or any group?

AO: It could have been the American Friends, because it was through them mostly that a lot of this was happening. And when I got to Philadelphia, it was...

KL: But your contact was just with Temple, it was between you and the University?

AO: Yeah.

KL: I'm sorry, I keep interrupting you.

AO: You know, isn't that strange that I don't have the particulars? All I know is, yes, I could go to Philadelphia, so I'm going.

KL: How did you get there?

AO: By train. From Parker we caught the train.

KL: Did any family go with you?

AO: No.

KL: How was your goodbye with your mom? I'm sorry, this is a hard question, but do you remember your goodbye to your family?

AO: You know, I was so excited about leaving, that I don't think there were tears. I know my mother had a lot of trepidation, but the husband of a friend of hers was also going to be on that same train. He was going to a job in New Jersey, so she asked him to kind of keep an eye out. And thank goodness for that, because when we reached Chicago, we missed our connection and we had to stay overnight in Chicago. And had I been alone, I wouldn't have known what to do, and I probably would have just stayed in the train station all night. Whereas he had an acquaintance that he called, and the friend came and got us and took us to the Y. And the next morning, we got back to the train station and got the connection to Philadelphia.

KL: What was your impression of Chicago coming from Poston?

AO: Cold, just cold. I had, I don't know, a wool suit and a heavy coat over that and a scarf, mittens and everything, and I was still freezing. It was cold and windy, and oh, that just cuts right through you.

KL: Chicago's a big city.

AO: Yeah, it is.

KL: It was busy in the '40s.

AO: Yeah, and I would not have known. Because I didn't even know how they used... I mean, I could use a telephone there in camp because it was like 2-1-1 or something like that. But I got there and Mayfair something, do you spell out Mayfair, do you... anyway.

KL: So it was one night in a Y...

AO: And then on to Philadelphia. And got to Philadelphia, and somebody from the hostel met us and took us there.

KL: What was the hostel?

AO: The hostel was run by the Friends.

KL: Where was it?

AO: I don't remember.

KL: Was it close to Temple?

AO: No, it wasn't that close to Temple. What area was it? Because Temple is in the north, northern part of the city. And it seems to me it was like a little bit west and south of where Temple is.

KL: Who was it who met you? What was that person like?

AO: I don't remember. I was so tired, and I remember being welcomed and showing where my bed was, and crawling in bed and going to sleep.

KL: And then falling into it, huh?

AO: Yeah. [Laughs]

<End Segment 32> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 33>

AO: And then before I left, I had made arrangements for a job babysitting, or helping, a nanny job in a suburb of Philadelphia, in Wyncote, and called them and they told me how to get out to their place and I took the train and went there. He was an attorney, and they had this nine-month-old daughter, and I had to look after Nancy. And that was, and I stayed there and worked there thinking that I could commute from there to Temple. And while I was... and then every Thursday on my day off I went to the hostel, it's the only friendly place I knew.

And one time when I was there, this phone call came that this woman was looking for a Nisei girl. They had just heard about evacuation and thought it was just terrible, and they wanted to do their bit to make up to it by taking a Nisei girl into their home, a student. And so they wanted to meet me first to see who I was and what I was like. So we made arrangements, I met them, and Mrs. Barry liked me. I didn't, I guess I only had like a couple of weeks left before I had to start school, so I left Wyncote and went to stay with the Barrys. And they were, they treated me like their own daughter. And Nancy was going to University of Pennsylvania.

KL: Was she their daughter?

AO: Yes. Yeah, the two, they're all Nancy's.

KL: Nancy Barry?

AO: Yeah. So I became part of their family, and she was just so good to me. One night they were gone somewhere, and I was home alone, and I was reading this very interesting book. I had this funny pain here, so I just crawled on the bed and just kept reading. But I was all curled up, and when she came home, she looked and she saw me all curled up and she wondered. And I told her, "Well, I've got this funny pain." "Appendicitis," she says. I said, "But I'm..." you know. So I lasted, went through the night, and the next morning she took me to the doctor and the doctor said yes. So they put me in the hospital and did an appendectomy. And that, and while I was there in the hospital -- in those days they kept you for a week -- VJ Day happened.

KL: What was your reaction to it?

AO: Hallelujah. That was in the summertime. Because after, during the summer, during the summer break, I'd gotten a job at Hahnemann Hospital working. And the two people that I worked with, I was... I would be preparing materials for the students to, for their classes, like mounting slides and stuff like that. And then I guess I typed, and doing some typing stuff, too, just the odds and ends.

KL: When you heard about VJ day, what did you hear about the bomb, the atomic bombs?

AO: Yeah. That was probably, it was bombed when I was probably under, I mean, out. And so I don't remember any kind of a personal reaction.

KL: Did you hear anything about them, that there was this new weapon, or was it just...

AO: The war is ending, yeah. Because I was there in the hospital not knowing anybody. It was run by nuns, and they were very nice to me. And I remember the first night... I mean, here you are, laid up in the hospital, and you're not supposed to get out of bed. That first night, I was asleep, and I heard my mother calling. And I jumped out of bed and I found myself standing at the foot of the bed, quickly crawled back in. And later I found out my mother dreamed it, or I guess dreamed or something that I needed her, and she had called my name.

KL: Your connection to her was strong, huh?

AO: So Mrs. Barry was all prepared to wire my mother, but she wanted to wait until after the surgery to see how I was. And then she decided, no, she would write and tell her the details, that it would be better.

KL: What had your communication with your sister in Japan been during the war?

AO: During the war there was no communication, so we had no idea just where she might be or anything. My mother wrote to the latest, the only address she had of her brother to see what was happening, and we learned a little bit about their deprivations. My mother put together packages as often as she could and sent them to them.

KL: Were you released from the hospital then at the end of that...

AO: Oh, yeah, then I was home.

KL: Did you continue to go to the hostel after you had moved in with the other family, the Barrys?

AO: No, I did not, no.

KL: What was your first time going to Temple like?

AO: Well, Temple University is... you know like UC is all in one place, it's like another building, office building on a street, and you look for the address and go in and find your... and the only real memories of my time there at Temple, are my German class. Because that instructor just was quite... just by the way you talked, he could tell where you were from. I mean, he was naming, "You're from the Bronx, you're from Long Island, you're from..." just fascinating.

KL: What made you study German?

AO: Pardon?

KL: What made you study German?

AO: I figured for medical you need... German was the best. Because I had studied Latin in high school.

KL: What was your reception like from the other students and teacher?

AO: Fine. There was no ill feelings or anything. In fact, there were a couple of missionaries who had been in Japan, and so we became pretty good friends.

KL: Were there any other Japanese Americans you had in classes?

AO: No, not in... because I just went to my classes and then went home, so I didn't participate in any student activities. If there were any, I don't know there were.

<End Segment 33> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 34>

KL: Did you go back to Poston ever?

AO: Yes. Then when the camp was closing, my mother asked me. I was all set to, for the next school year, I mean, next semester. And my mother wrote and said she really needed help to move. So I had arranged and sent my transcript to Berkeley and had been accepted to continue there. And I went back to Poston, and I was looking forward to seeing my father and expecting a glad reception. Here again I'm going to cry. I walked up to where he was sitting, and he turned to my mother and he said, "Why did you call her back?" Because it was his dream that we all get college education, and here Toshi had to interrupt her... because of the war. And I tried to tell him, "I'm just changing colleges." But the it just.. [cries]. I'm sorry.

KL: It's okay.

AO: I think that was one of my worst moments of my whole life. It's like he didn't want to see me. But, so I helped my mother and my sisters pack, and we all came back to California, and my mother and two sisters went to the Gilroy Hot Springs Hostel. And I went to San Francisco. My sister... well, I went to the hostel in San Francisco, which was the Buddhist church, and from there I got myself a schoolgirls, working with Dr. and Mrs. Moore. Dr. Moore was a proctologist in San Francisco. And so they had me come in to help prepare dinner and wash the dishes afterward, serve if necessary, little housework. But you know, it was not difficult or anything. And then my sister thought, well, by then... my sister found that I guess the government had arranged for housing for returning, and it was the kind of housing they had for the shipyard workers and things. And there was one of such or returning Japanese in El Cerrito. And so my sister arranged for my mother and my sisters to move there.

KL: Which sister was it who learned of the housing?

AO: My older sister. She worked for the Family and Children's Agency in San Francisco, and probably through them she learned of this.

KL: Did you live with the Moores when you were in San Francisco?

AO: Yes. And she was doing housework for her room and board.

KL: Toshi?

AO: Uh-huh, in another home. Hers was much more difficult. But the Moores were very caring, Dr. Moore. But when I told him that I was having problems with hemorrhoids, he took me to the hospital and took me to surgery and took care of me, and didn't charge me anything. And took care of the hospital bill. So, you know, it's like I've lived a charmed life.

KL: You have encountered some good people in important times.

AO: Yeah, they all come at the right time.

<End Segment 34> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 35>

KL: So did Toshi and you, who moved into the housing?

AO: No, she didn't, she kept on, and then we wanted to move my mother and everybody to San Francisco so that we could all be together.

KL: Where was your father living?

AO: Oh, he had died by then. He died that first year we were back, in November.

KL: Did he go to the Yamato Hot Springs also?

AO: No, he went directly to the hospital from camp. And so my mother, fortunately, was able to get a ride from Gilroy to San Jose to see him a couple of times before he died.

KL: Did you see him again after Poston?

AO: Toshi and I took a Greyhound bus and rode down to San Jose to see him, and he had just lost so much weight and was so... I guess he was near death then, wasted away. It was a shock. So anyway, we decided that I needed to be able to work and earn money. And my sister found out about this school that trained medical technologists, so I attended the school.

KL: What was the school?

AO: I can't remember the name of it. It was just a small thing, probably wouldn't be accredited now. I know, like I thought, after I... before the semester opened, I thought, well, I'll just go to a school and not be wasting my time. And I applied at this one school, business school, to hone my typing and shorthand skills. And they said, "Oh, you know, we have a lot of GIs coming back in here, so I don't think we could accept you. It might disrupt the school." So then I went to Heald's, they had a lot of GIs coming there, too, but they opened, welcomed me with open arms. And so I attended Heald's for a while until my sister heard about this other school where I could get medical training. And so then I went there and went through that training.

KL: Was that close to El Cerrito, were you living with your...

AO: No, we were in, yeah, it was in San Francisco and I was living with... I guess I was living with the Moores yet. And then so after I graduated there, I went looking for a job, went to all the hospitals, went to St. Mary's hospital, and a Sister interviewed me, and she said, "Well, our secretary" -- because I had all this typing and shorthand skill -- "our secretary is leaving and I'm going to need a secretary. If you'll come in and be our secretary until I can hire somebody else, then I'll move you across the hall into the lab." Okay, sounded good, so that's what I did. Well, I was a secretary one month, two months, three months. And I asked for time off one day so I could go check out an opening for a med tech in, I forget, Madeira or somewhere like that. The next day she put me across the hall in the lab. [Laughs]

KL: Good job.

AO: So things just fall in place like that. So I worked in St. Mary's during the day, seven to three-thirty, and then I took call at Children's Hospital from five. And sometimes it was just five to about nine when I did the pre-ops. And then on weekends I took call, and I stayed there twenty-four hours.

KL: What does "took call" mean?

AO: Oh, if they had an emergency and needed a lab tech, they'd just call me, wake me up, I'm sleeping there in the lab.

KL: What was... can you summarize what a lab tech's job is?

AO: Well, we'd draw blood, do all the blood counts, urine analysis, and the various blood chemistries. And if need be, the stool exams and whatever needs to be done in the lab, in the various tests. So that's what I was doing. And then I found out that Kaiser needed some extra help, so I was taking, when I wasn't doing Children's, I was taking call there. So I was able to work up enough hours to make up the five years of experience you need to be able to take the exam. So I qualified to take the exam, and so I did that. After that exam, I thought, "If I don't pass, I've got to find me another job."

KL: This is it.

AO: But I passed, got my certification, so that's how I made my living.

KL: What year was that that you took the exam?

AO: So that must have been like about... let's see, that was '45. So like about... it was three years, so '45, '46, '47, '48, so yeah. So I must have started working at St. Mary's in '49.

KL: Okay. So you finished education in '48, started working at St. Mary's in '49?

AO: I think that's what it was.

KL: And then took the exam. When did you take the exam?

AO: '52 or '3. So I worked at St. Mary's Hospital. And then the Sisters of Mercy had bought Notre Dame hospital. And so three of us moved over to that lab, and we ran the lab there. And then there really wasn't enough work to keep the three of us busy. So then I found a job downtown San Francisco in a doctor's office.

KL: Was that your whole career, was always laboratory technical stuff?

AO: Yeah, and doing lab work for this doctor.

KL: Did you see any big changes in that field?

AO: Oh, I could not go back, and I wouldn't want to go back. It's no longer... I mean, you just do, put the blood and the stuff in the machines, and the machine does it all. I mean, there's no looking in the microscope and checking for this or that, and it's lost its interest. I wouldn't want to.

KL: When did you stop working in that field?

AO: When did we move? '58.

<End Segment 35> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 36>

KL: When did you... you're married, your husband is also part of the Manzanar oral history project.

AO: Yeah.

KL: When did you, how did you meet him?

AO: I met him in... was it Christmas of '52.

KL: Christmas?

AO: Yes. We were getting, at church, I was attending a Methodist church then, and we were preparing for the Christmas program. And they decided to do this play. And because I spoke some Japanese, I took the part of the mother who had a few Japanese lines. And then there was a part for one Caucasian, Mr. Smith, I forget what his name was. And they said, "Oh, Art Okuno's coming back to San Francisco. He'd be good at that." So everybody's waiting for Art, and all the girls are saying, "Oh, Art's coming." And I thought, "Who is this?" And I thought about that, for goodness sakes. [Laughs] Wouldn't give him a second look. But half year later we're dating.

KL: He must have liked you.

AO: I guess so. [Laughs] He says he joined the choir because I was in it. He has a nice voice, too.

KL: Was that what changed your thinking toward him?

AO: No, it's just... actually when he -- well, I'm telling everybody, aren't I?

KL: Yeah, you can tell us later if you want to. So you know him in choir? Is that how you, how did you get to know him?

AO: Yeah, and at church, and everybody does things together, got to know him. it was really... yeah, he grows on you. [Laughs]

KL: And you said it was a year and a half later you were married?

AO: I guess, let's see, 'cause we were married in '54.

KL: Oh, what was the play that you were in together? Was it something someone had written, original?

AO: Yes. It's... oh, lordy. Oh, my goodness, isn't that terrible?

KL: It's okay, I just was curious if it was published or whatever. Was he good as Mr. Smith?

AO: Well, it was only just a one-liner type of thing.

KL: What is the church that you went to?

AO: Pine Methodist Church. It was located on Pine at the time. It's now on Thirty-third Avenue or something. But they still called it Pine.

<End Segment 36> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 37>

KL: Tape five of an interview with Aki Okuno, on January 31, 2013. And we just wanted to back up in time a little bit. You said that you did visit the Liberty Bell in Independence Hall, or some historic sites in Philadelphia. Tell us about that.

AO: Yes. I don't recall anything special, but it was really, I mean, this is something you hear or else studied about in school. And then to go and actually see it, it does something to you.

KL: Who did you go with?

AO: I can't remember who particularly, or whether it was just a group or just a friend. It was not with the Barrys. So I may have just gone with a friend. Because I know I did some things with somebody I went... she wanted to go to New York once, and so I went with her.

KL: Oh, you did?

AO: And we stood there arguing because she said, "We came out from there, so we should go back down." And I said, "No, we came out from there, so we should go down there to go home, go back."

KL: Is that the subway?

AO: Yes. And so finally she gave in to me, I think I convinced her, and we did make it back to the train station that way.

KL: What did you do in New York?

AO: We just walked along some streets, that's all. We had no money to spend, and it was just...

KL: What did you see?

AO: We may have gone to the top of...

KL: The Empire State Building or something?

AO: Yeah, and walked around that balcony area. It's not the top floor.

KL: Yeah, that's a big place, too, in a different way than Chicago.

AO: Yes, yes. Well, Chicago, I don't remember anything about it, because it was so cold, and we took taxis.

KL: Did you like that feeling of energy in New York, or did it seem frenetic to you?

AO: No, it was kind of frightening because I wasn't sure if we're gonna get lost or not.

KL: When you went to the Liberty Bell, I've never been, but I hear now it's very busy, it's just crowds of people kind of pushing through. What was it like when you went?

AO: No, it wasn't real crowded, but there were a lot of people there. Like you would expect a famous spot, that there would always be a lot of tourists and people looking. And even if you're not a tourist, I think if you lived in Philadelphia, you would want to every once in a while touch base. It's like touching base, you know? They're familiar, and something like that, that means a lot.

KL: You said it does something to you. How did it feel to see it, to you?

AO: It's just impressive, and this is the real thing.

KL: What does it mean, what did it mean to you?

AO: I guess the whole concept of liberty... it's strange, not thinking back on that, here we'd been deprived of our liberty. But it's still liberty, it's a mainstay of this country. And so I guess that's what it is. It's like the foundation, being able to feel the foundation.

KL: Were there any other memorable places you went or trips in that time on the East Coast?

AO: On the New Jersey shore. Because we always went to the beach here in Watsonville, down toward Monterey. And the sand is very fine. I get to New Jersey, and you don't even want to take off your shoes because of the rocks. It was disappointing.

KL: Yeah, the ocean was not what you thought there, huh?

AO: No, no. So I don't know if, how I'd feel if I saw it now. But then, because I was just so looking forward to seeing the ocean and the sand. And this isn't sand. [Laughs]

<End Segment 37> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 38>

KL: We wondered, too, if you would mind telling us about your father's funeral or memorial.

AO: Oh, after he died, yes. There was a funeral, we had a funeral. I said November, but I remember now, he died in December. It was like the 28th. And so it had to be done quickly and not go into the new year. So we had the funeral. Most of the people in Gilroy were old friends who were there.

KL: Where was it held?

AO: In Gilroy.

KL: In a church?

AO: No, at the Habing Mortuary.

KL: Was there a service?

AO: Yes. The priest from San Jose came, and I think it was the Buddhist priest there who my mother was friends with. But it was just kind of devastating losing my father.

KL: How did it affect your mother?

AO: Pardon?

KL: How did it affect your mother?

AO: Well, she felt the loss greatly. But she was a strong woman. I didn't realize how strong, now that I look back on it. And my father was aware of this, and because early on, he had talked to my mother and said that, "I hope you outlive me because in order to take care of the family," because my mother had the wisdom and the strength to do that.

KL: So it's like high praise.

AO: Yeah. But he knew my mother, and she did that. My sisters and I, to this day, keep marveling that we didn't appreciate her when she was alive.

KL: When did you start to realize her strength?

AO: When we had our own children. So all I do, I keep looking back and thinking, "How would my mother handle this situation?" and try to emulate.

<End Segment 38> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 39>

KL: When did you have your children?

AO: Let's see, I was married in '54, the first one was born in '59.

KL: Was that still in San Francisco?

AO: Yeah. Or no, after we came here.

KL: Why did you decide to come here?

AO: Well, my... Art was working at NASA, Ames Research Center, and he was commuting. It was forty miles every day. So then we looked for a place, and we were looking at a, what is it, development, and we actually had picked a house when Art's co-worker said, "Let me introduce you to this friend who was an architect and a builder. And so we met Mr. Hirschback, and Mr. Hirschback found this property, and we were able to buy the property and he built the house for us.

KL: Did you love it immediately here?

AO: Oh, yeah, yeah. I mean, just answer to prayers.

KL: What did you like about it?

AO: That it was in the country. It wasn't right next to another house, and with the hill, it was nice.

KL: I feel sad for anyone who watches this tape that they haven't seen this place. Would you tell us your favorite spot in your property, or do you have one?

AO: Oh, not... I wouldn't say a favorite spot, just like looking out the window and seeing the hills down below. But also used to be that there were no houses above us. And I'd look out of my kitchen window and feel like there's nobody else in this world here right now but me. And the neighbors were very nice.

KL: Who were the neighbors?

AO: Right down there were... oh, lordy, these names keep... it was a young couple who the wife's brother, they were raising the wife's brother, and then they had children of their own. But she was... oh, before they bought that house -- that's right. Mr. Roseborough owned, Mr. and Mrs. Roseborough had owned the whole property, and they were in a bit of a bind and so they needed to sell off this when Bob Hirschbach heard about it, because he knew the Roseborough, and he got us to see it and we bought it from him. And they were nice and friendly people, too, and very caring. And then they were sold to a couple, I can't remember their names.

KL: When you came back to California, were there times in the '50s, after moving up here, when you continued to experience prejudice?

AO: Personally, no, although I was, kept my fears out there. And anytime I went into a new situation like first time going to church, strange church, just being quiet and seeing, but we were welcomed usually always. And I didn't find any problems. There may have been, you know, but I wasn't aware of it, and so never had contact with the person. I'm not a... I don't think I'm unfriendly, but I'm not, I'm a bit on the shy side.

KL: So you're an observer anyway?

AO: Yeah, I tend to.

<End Segment 39> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 40>

KL: We were talking about starting to get to your kids, and I wonder if you would tell me your children's names and when they were born, and a little something about each of them, what you think of when you think of them.

AO: Well, Ken was born in '59, and he was an old man from the get-go. [Laughs]

KL: What do you mean?

AO: To walk, he would go to a corner, nobody sees him, and practice before he let me see that he could walk. And one day he, I'm standing there in the kitchen, he was there crawling across the floor, and stood up in the corner and walked to me. And to this day, if he opened something that you have to put together, he doesn't just pull it out and put it, he reads the instructions all the way through, and then does it, and does it properly. [Laughs] But he's a very thorough person. And so when he works, I often wondered what they thought of him. He worked in the, in Washington, D.C., the patents office. And you know, in the patents office they have to check to make sure this thing has never been patented before. And I'm sure when he got finished, there were no doubt that that had not been, you know. But it was slow. He was having trouble keeping up with the quota that he was supposed to examine. But that's how he is. That's why I say he was an old man when he was born. But he's a sweetheart.

KL: Who was the next one?

AO: Next one is Satoshi Paul, and he's a charmer, adventurer. At one time he thought he was gonna be a race car driver. But he's a good driver, I totally trust him behind a wheel, and very lovely. He would come up with little gifts, but he was adventurous. One day, there was a cord in there, and he thought... he had this, whatever had, little coil, and he thought he would hook it over that. Of course, sparks flew. [Laughs] Those kinds of things. And when he learned to walk he climbed up on a table, and he was going to walk off the table, too. And that's how he was growing up, but he was very loveable, and he's gay. When he came out, I asked him did he want me to tell people, and he says no, he'd do it himself, so I let him. And then the one person he was afraid to tell, it was somebody that he'd known for a long time, and they did a lot of things together sports-wise. And then he finally told him, and he said, "So? You're the same person, aren't you? And it's the person that I love that you are, so okay."

KL: How old was he when he came out?

AO: He was an adult, I don't know, but he was in his twenties.

KL: What would your parents have thought of that, do you think?

AO: My mother would have accepted him. She wouldn't have... she would have been shocked at first, I think, but she would have understood and accepted him.

KL: What about your father?

AO: I don't know. He would haven't... he probably would not have been happy about it, but he would not have rejected him. I don't think he would have rejected him.

KL: We were talking on the way up here about kind of holes in our knowledge about Manzanar and camp life in general. And one of the things we haven't heard a lot about or asked about in interviews is, you know, gay experience in the camps or at that time.

AO: I'm sure there were closeted gays, but there wasn't a lot said. And I probably would have been the last person to even think of such things. Because for the longest time, a couple of the people that I worked with at St. Mary's were lesbians, and I would, we were the "three musketeers." And I often stayed over at their place, 'cause I was living in Richmond at the time, and when we'd have a late show or something in San Francisco, or the lab group was having a party, then I'd just stay overnight with Marge and Jan. But later, you know, I remember once, one of the people that I was working with saying, "They're that kind." And I didn't know what she was talking about. Then later it dawned on me.

KL: "The fun couple that I like to go out with?" [Laughs]

AO: I mean, they were fun people, but there was nothing... and talented, and good workers, and they were good to me and kind to everybody I knew.

KL: When was Satoshi Paul born, what year?

AO: '62. Then Tadashi Robert was born in '64, and he's the one living next door, and he has the four children. And then daughter was Akemi Jan. So those are our four, and oh, she was born '66. Is that your age, too?

KL: What are their personalities like?

AO: Well, Satoshi I told you. Tadashi is just solid, works fast and gets things accomplished, and he's not afraid. He's the first one among the four to get a job when he was quite young. The Lawrences next door hired him. He was maybe about twelve, thirteen, to pick up dog poop, and he did it. He said he hated the job, but it was money. And then while he was going to high school, he worked, once he got his driver's license, he worked for the drugstore downtown to deliver prescriptions to the elderly. And so he's always worked, and he's a good cook. Oh, Satoshi's a great cook, he does gourmet stuff. And none of 'em did I teach, have cooking at home much, they just watched me cook, but they all ended up having to cook for themselves.

KL: And Akemi Jan?

AO: She is very sharp, and she has the most patience, watching her teaching her father how to, number one, when he was trying to learn the computer because I was going to be away, so that I could send him emails. And she's just so patiently teaching him. And then before this trip, he bought himself a new digital camera, and she's teaching him. Her patience is just so great. And here I am talking about my own children. I'm so impressed with the patience. So she had been working, I forget the name of the company. But anyway, and her boss, who was attorney for the company, decided that he wanted to quit that job and he wanted to explore the world. And this is something she had been wanting to do, so that's what they did. They started in New Zealand, and it was only going to be like a month in New Zealand and then go on to Australia, and then go on to Southeast Asia. Well, they were in New Zealand for about a half a year, and then they came back for some reason. And then they went to Thailand. Yeah, it was Thailand. And while in Thailand, of course, Akemi, her visa would... so she'd go to another country. I don't know exactly how that worked, but she'd go to Laos or somewhere to get the visa renewed, and she'd go back to Thailand. So she was in Thailand for about a year or more.

<End Segment 40> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 41>

KL: I wanted to ask you about your trip to Japan, too, that reminds me. You said you went to Japan in the '70s, right? About twelve hours ago you said that, I think. [Laughs]

AO: That's right, our first trip to Japan. I think... was it in '76? I think it was. I had just started working for this organization called Friends Outside. I had been a volunteer with them for a number of years, and then their secretary quit, so I came on as secretary. And earned some money so I could afford to go to Japan. So that's when all of us decided that we would take the trip to Japan. My youngest sister Atsuko had been, and we had to go and meet Yoshi, our sister. So the four of us went and traveled a bit in Japan to various places.

KL: What was it like to meet her?

AO: We spotted her immediately in the train station, we recognized her. And it was almost like being with our mother again, because she looked a lot like my mother. And, of course, our Japanese is very poor, and we did our best to communicate, but it was not easy, and I'm sure it was very difficult for her. But we got to meet the whole family, and so I had trouble keeping everybody apart. [Laughs] When you meet them all at once, it's hard. And then so as not to overwhelm her, we were just there with her for a couple of days, and then we went and did some sightseeing and then came back, and then went to Kyushu, southern island, where my folks were from. And then she came and joined us, and we traveled around to see. My aunt had died, because I don't remember meeting Setsu Obasan.

KL: Were you able to communicate with her well enough to know what it was like for her to see you all, to see these sisters she'd never met?

AO: It was a shock to her. I mean, well, she didn't say that, but you could tell. Because compared to her, we're just country bumpkins, really. And you know, Americans are much more broad and wide, free, and they're very [inaudible], and you can't fake that. We did our best, but...

KL: Did she ever speak with you about how she felt that she grew up in Japan?

AO: Her greatest regret, that she feels abandoned by her parents. And no matter how hard we tried to tell her that they really, the intention was to bring her, to raise her here, but her grandmother insisted that... and, of course, the daughter-in-law does not defy our mother-in-laws' edicts. So that's why she left her.

AL: So your father would not defy his own mother?

AO: Well, I don't know if... I don't know. I really don't know. And I don't know if he approved of that decision or not. Because he didn't know that child. I mean, he had never met her, I mean, because he was not there. He had not seen her ever.

AL: Did you ever witness the interactions or what he would say to your mother when she would receive these letters and be crying and feeling the loss of your sister? Do you recall his reaction at all?

AO: No, I don't remember. And whether she did not cry in front of him, which may be possible, that she just read the letters herself. But I'm sure she talked to him about telling him all that was going on in her life, and I'm sure they must have talked about it.

AL: How long did her grandmother live? Was there a point at which her grandmother was gone and they could have brought her over, or did she live a long time?

AO: Well, by then, she couldn't have come. I mean, she could have come for a visit, but she would not have been able to stay, because the Alien Exclusion Act had been passed, and without a special thing from a congressperson or something. And I don't think they knew about trying to petition such a thing. But she was living with Grandmother, and when she started school, she was going. But she had become so spoiled by then, that the rest of the relatives thought it best that, because my father's sister was living in the town of Usuki, and that's where the school was. And my mother was living, I mean, Grandmother was living probably in the outskirts or something a little distance. So what they did was have Yoshi stay with her aunt and uncle during the week and just go home to Grandmother on the weekends. That way... and Misao was a strong woman, and Misao was able to curtail a bit of her selfishness, I don't know. But her children today say... oh, here I'm telling all these secrets. But anyway, she, I think, all her life has felt sorry for herself for never knowing her parents.

AL: Well, from how you have described them, that sounds like that's a great loss, because they both sound really exceptional people. I was curious -- I'm sure Kristen was probably gonna ask you this also -- just about your mother's life after the war and when she left this life. And also about your sisters, just a little bit about their personalities. So it's three questions, but...

AO: Yeah. Well, like I said, earlier, my mother was helping out in the fields a lot when we were in Cienega, and also in Gilroy. And so when we were real little, my older sister Toshi was pretty much taking care of us. And she was doing such a good job that Mother let her, you know. So we had to... she was strict. When we'd go to school, and you come home, and you're so happy because you got a hundred percent on your test, "Well, how many others got a hundred percent?" You know, it's not that great if ten others got it. But if you were the only one, then it's great. And things like this. So she ruled the roost. And she's very capable -- she is a very capable person, never had a sick day in her life. I missed so many school days from being sick, but she never did. And she was a straight-A student type of person. She worked hard, and does to this day. Very aware of her place, what others might think of her and stuff like this. And my younger sister Kazue became a nurse, and she and I are kind of alike except that she's very friendly, bubbly personality, she makes friends with strangers very easily. When she's standing in line, she's talking to everybody type of person. And then my youngest sister Matsuko is, has the strength and firmness of my older sister. She's capable. All three of them have artistic talents. Well, Toshi liked to do pottery, and Atsuko's got a good eye. People who ask her opinion about, "Do you think this looks good or not?" type of thing. And Kay has been -- Kazue, we call her Kay now -- because Kazue was too hard for a lot of people to pronounce. And she does watercolors and sketches now, type of thing.

<End Segment 41> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 42>

KL: When you sisters all went to Japan, was kind of the beginning of when people were starting to speak more about the camps and their experiences there. Do you remember any of that, like Farewell to Manzanar coming out, the book, or any pilgrimages beginning?

AO: Yeah.

KL: What do you remember about that time, those conversations?

AO: Well, I used to go around to the schools early on. It used to be that in the fourth grade, part of the curriculum was studying Japan. So they would ask me to come in and talk about Japan, and I would show them how, show what the alphabet looks like, the Japanese alphabet, and write each class member's name on a piece of paper for them to take home. And then I'd also put in just a little bit about the war between Japan and the United States, and as a result, all the Japanese here in this country were rounded up and put in concentration camps.

KL: When did you begin speaking to schools?

AO: Probably in the '70s.

KL: Did you get an invitation, or did you do it through a group, or how did that start?

AO: It started when somebody thought it would be a good idea. One of my kids' class teachers asked me for the fourth grade, do the Japan unit. And I may not have mentioned camp at that time, but then I thought, this would be a good venue, and started to introduce a little bit about it. I didn't go into depth, but just dropped it.

KL: What was the response of the students?

AO: Most of them had never heard of it before. But...

KL: Were they surprised, or did they just kind of let it go?

AO: They just accepted it as another piece of information.


KL: So you were talking about the children's response, and then I started coughing, and you started to say something else about your early talks to school groups.

AO: That's right. I'm not sure what year it was, but the high school here in Saratoga, history teacher, I guess, must have brought this up in history class, and so asked me to speak. And that was the first time I really talked about camp. Then he was no longer teaching there, and nobody else asked me. But then the word must have eventually got around, because I was going out to Santa Theresa, which then, this is before the freeway, so it took me an hour to get to school.


AL: So, Aki, you were talking about visiting schools and talking with students. Did what you say to students or interest in having you speak to students change at all after September 11th? Do you think it's changed the way people look at this?

AO: I don't think there has been a change. They're all interested in this subject, but I always close my remarks before we leave, saying, "This is something that cannot happen again in this country. And you're soon going to be the voters, and you will have a say in this." There was a danger of people wanting to round up the people, where was that, Iran? I forget what country now. When was it, during...

KL: The 1980s?

AO: George Carter's...

AL: Oh, the Iran hostage crisis in the 1970s?

AO: Yes, yes. There was talk of rounding up all the Iranians. And the Japanese did speak out.

AL: Did you personally speak out?

AO: I spoke to people, to the classrooms, yeah. I didn't say anything to the congressmen. I didn't go to that extent.

AL: Did you ever have any students or parents contradicting your recollections of the camp?

AO: No.

<End Segment 42> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 43>

AL: So have you visited... I know that you went to the Heart Mountain reunion, because that's where we first met. Have you visited Poston or Salinas Assembly Center? If so, what has it been like to go back?

AO: Well, Salinas Assembly Center is no longer the barracks there or anything, and it's now the new fairgrounds, so everything is very modern. But they have a little garden set aside to mark that this was the site of an assembly center, and sort of like a Japanese garden. And Poston, the year we went to, I think it was the year we went to... no, it was '07, we had a family reunion near Tucson, Arizona. And so after the reunion, we drove back through the area which was Poston, and there was really nothing, almost nothing there. I think there was a marker. But since then, I believe they've had some fundraising, and have a little bit more to commemorate.

AL: What did it feel like to be back there?

AO: It was just so different than what I remember Poston being. Of course, there were no barracks and all that. And even the landscape just did not look at all like the landscape I remember.

AL: Were you at all involved in the redress movement, or following the redress movement?

AO: No, I did not get involved with that. I was a member of the local JACL, Japanese American Citizens League, and supported all the efforts and everything, but did not actively participate.

AL: What did you think when you got the apology and the reparations?

AO: The apology was great. Well, the funds were great, too, but it just, in a way, was almost like a slap in the face. Because it's like we're gonna buy you off if you stop complaining type of thing. But the other thing that really griped me for a long time was Earl Warren was governor of California at the time of evacuation, and wholly supported the thing. Yet, as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, he did not add his name to the apology. And that was, I don't know, it just made me angry when I'd think of it.

AL: What can you tell us about your mother's life after the war?

AO: She... I think all the hardship and worries and everything contributed to her rheumatoid arthritis, and so she suffered a lot from that. But she worked right through it, she would use her crutches and board the bus to go to San Francisco to see the doctor. We had found a good doctor who was very kind, where she loved him. Unfortunately he died early, I think it was leukemia or something like that. And she wholly supported everything that we were doing, and she never stopped studying herself. So when it became possible for her to become a citizen, she studied the Constitution and passed the exam and got her citizenship.

AL: What did that feel like for you to see her then?

AO: It was joy to see my mother accomplish this. And wholly...

AL: Do you know what year she did that?

AO: Oh, lordy. Was it in '50? Somewhere around there that...

AL: I think '52 was the first year they could.

AO: Oh, well, then that's when she did it. As soon as she found out, she went to classes, and [inaudible] she took the test and did it.

AL: When did she pass away?

AO: She passed away in '58, after we moved here. We moved her, and while we were building the house, she was living with my sister (Toshi) in Fresno. And then after we moved here, she moved in with us, 'cause she'd been with my sister for a couple of years. So we thought it's time I took her, because I had a home now, instead of living in an apartment in the city. And so she moved here, (and) was enjoying herself, then she had a stroke. But she realized, neither my sister nor I told her that (I was) pregnant. But I guess she must have thought she was going to be a burden that I was expecting a baby. So she allowed herself to have a stroke and leave us. It's the way I look at it.

AL: And your parents, are they buried in Gilroy?

AO: Yes.

AL: What was the name of the cemetery?

AO: I think it's the Gavilan, they call it the Gavilan cemetery. But we have a grave there, and there's room for two more, so my two sisters, Kazue's now divorced, and so she is single, and Atsuko is single, so they've arranged that when they die, they will be buried there.

AL: One question a little bit back in time, is you talked about your friend Catherine. Did you ever reconnect with her after the war, or is she still alive?

AO: That I don't know, if she's still alive. But I heard that... I was hoping that I would see her at the class reunion that we were having, and I believe she was living in Watsonville or somewhere around there at the time. I don't think I was ever able to get in touch with her.

<End Segment 43> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 44>

AL: Did you talk, did you and Art talk to your kids about your experiences in camp? Some people say they didn't talk to their kids at all, and people say they always did.

AO: Well, they would hear us talking when the family would get together and the sisters would be talking. They'd hear that, but not really sit down and talk about camp. It didn't seem to come naturally. So every time we'd talk somewhere, and there's a chance for them to be present, they'd try to take it in. A couple of my kids in school did write compositions about evacuation. They asked us questions then, and that's about it.

AL: You've talked about never wanting this to happen again. What do you think, in years to come, twenty, thirty, fifty years from now, if someone were to see this interview, what would you want them to know or think about just your life, and as you reflect back on your life?

AO: As I reflect back on my life, it's been a good life. And I've been blessed; things have... without effort on my part, it just all works out for the better, and things have come my way, and it's making life easy. It's like my mother's still looking after me.

AL: How has your faith, or has your faith formed your life? You were talking earlier today about your mother just wanted you to have a God to turn to. Do you think that has changed how you lived your life or responded to your life?

AO: It might be. I think there is a God, and I try to live my life that way. But, you know, I could be a Buddhist, too, and there would be God. So it doesn't matter, 'cause I've tried to learn a little bit about a lot of the religions of the world. And I think all of them are looking at the same God, and it's just a different approach, and different tenets that we live by. Whether it's been dictated by Abraham, Buddha, Jesus, or whoever. So that's my belief.

AL: Is there anything else that you'd like to share with us? We're just down to the last minute or so. Anything else you want us to know?

AO: The evacuation was a difficult time, and an upsetting time. But a lot of good has come out of it, and so I can't make it a totally negative experience for myself. But my reasons for wanting something like this not to happen is it's a blot on America. The Constitution does not allow for this, and I think if we really stuck to the Constitution, a lot of things would be better.

AL: Well, on behalf of Kristen and myself and the National Park Service, and anybody who will see this, I just want to thank you for your time today, for spending so much time with us, actually, five hours just of tape. Amazing, amazing life stories, and so we just really want to thank you professionally, and also Art for welcoming us into your home. Thank you very much.

AO: Thank you.

KL: Thank you.

<End Segment 44> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.