Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Sumiko Yamauchi Interview
Narrator: Sumiko Yamauchi
Interviewer: Whitney Peterson
Location: Chula Vista, California
Date: July 23, 2013
Densho ID: denshovh-ysumiko_2-01-0012

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WP: Do you remember the block manager's office?

SY: Yes.

WP: Did you go there?

SY: Always.

WP: Always?

SY: Well, we had to because our mail came from there. We had to pick up our mail. If you wanted to buy a newspaper, or the Sears & Roebuck, Sears & Roebuck, Montgomery Ward, Spiegel, there was another book that we could buy our things from. And before, at the very beginning, they used to, we could order, it would come to our house, but then there were too many people, so they just sent so many. And each block office had these catalogs, and if we wanted to buy something, we had to go to the catalog. Another thing, you're not going to believe this. Paper was very hard. Paper was hard to get. And at that time, at the very beginning, nobody had paper, because we didn't think paper... you kind of take things for granted. And we didn't have... and so if you wanted to write a letter to somebody, I didn't have any paper, but we used to go to the bathroom and used to write letters on toilet paper. After a while, there were no more toilet paper in the toilet, and people were saying, "Hey, we need more toilet paper in the toilet." And they said, "Well, we can't because we can't seem to keep it full. Everybody steals it." Well, we didn't have Kleenex, toilet paper works good. And so they decided, okay, we were assigned, if there are six people -- no, each person is entitled to so many toilet roll. [Laughs] So each month, the toilet supply, toilet paper supply would come to the block office and we'd have to go and go get it. And that's the story of my toilet paper. [Laughs] You know, it sounds kind of whatchacallit, but you know, you can't live without toilet paper.

WP: Did you ever send letters to anybody on the --

SY: Yes, I did. Oh, yeah.

WP: Did they know that they were getting letters on toilet paper?

SY: Oh, well, you know, toilet paper, I don't care where you go, they're all alike. Yeah, they knew. And in those days, you know our toilet paper now? It tears, and it's not... you can't write on it. But in those days, it was hard. It was like this only a little bit thinner. And so you could write on it, and the ink wouldn't run, or the pencil would tear, and it wrote good, so you could write on it. You can't do it nowadays, the toilet paper has changed. It's modernized, it's softer. [Laughs]

WP: Who did you write to from Manzanar?

SY: I used to write to, there was a lot of people in camp when you were eighteen and older, you could leave. Well, you could leave whenever you wanted to. But a lot of them would leave as soon as they were of age because they felt they didn't want to be in the camp. Nobody wanted to be in camp unless you had to stay there, and I had to stay there because I was still in school. But in those days, lot of 'em went, so if your friend, like my sister was in Chicago, because she graduated in '43 and she left camp in '44. So we used to write letters back and forth. And then our friends would move, family-wise, you know, they had some friends where they could go to, but yeah, I wrote. And some of 'em says, "What is this toilet paper?" [Laughs]

WP: Do you remember going to the block manager's office for any other reasons besides the mail or using the catalogs?

SY: No.

WP: Do you remember who your block manager was of Block 17?

SY: No. I mean, to this day, I can't remember. But he lived right behind his office, so I can't remember who it was.

WP: And so your father worked in the tofu factory...

SY: Well, he was, he worked in the mess hall first as a dishwasher. And then when the tofu opened up, he applied for it and got into it. And this, that DVD that I've had, it shows a picture of him making tofu. I don't know if you've ever seen that Manzanar...

WP: Is the film that we have...

SY: I have no idea. It's right there.

WP: Yeah, how about we look at it after?

SY: My DVD broke, so...

WP: So he worked in the mess hall and tofu factory. Did he have any other jobs at Manzanar?

SY: Well, then my mother worked in the mess hall, and she worked in the cleaning and the serving. And then when my sister was there, she was already graduated, and she worked as a... they call it dietician, but it isn't. She prepared food for the babies, the bottle, puree the food, you know, that kind of thing.

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