Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Ujinobu Niwa Interview
Narrator: Ujinobu Niwa
Interviewer: Kristen Luetkemeier
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
Date: August 6, 2013
Densho ID: denshovh-nujinobu-01

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

KL: This is Kristen Luetkemeier from the Manzanar oral history project. I'm here with Ujinobu Niwa for an interview about his experiences before World War II, and then life at Manzanar and some of his adult life. He's actually being interviewed for the second time. There's an interview from a JACS grant with Laura Ing and Paul Watanabe that viewers should reference if they want to hear a more complete story. Operating the video camera is John Kepford from the National Park Service, Laura Ing is also in the room from the National Park Service, and also Emi Watanabe from the National Park Service are here taking notes and listening in. And it is August the 8th of 2013, we're here in the Fremont Hotel and Casino where we're all participating in the Manzanar reunion. So before we go any further, Ujinobu, do I have your permission to conduct this interview and record the conversation and make it available to the public?

UN: Yes, sure.

KL: We really, I really appreciate your willingness to be here. As I told you, I was really interested in hearing some of your, what you know about your parents' background and their experience. Your mom is part of our exhibits and our website, and so let's actually start off talking about her. Would you tell us your mother's name?

UN: My mother's name is Haruko Grace Niwa. And she came from Japan with her father because her brother was attending UC Berkeley at the time.

KL: What was her family name before she married?

UN: Her name was Hasegawa. And they came from... let's see, I'm sorry. Let's go on. [Laughs]

KL: You told me on the phone they were from Nagano?

UN: Yes, Nagano, and the city of Ueda.

KL: What was her... do you know anything about what her family's professions were, or what her home life was like?

UN: Her father at one time owned banks, and he was a banker. And Mother had a teahouse. And she grew up in this kind of environment. And her brother was at UC Berkeley studying economics.

KL: Why did he choose UC Berkeley?

UN: For some reason, he felt that he would get the best education by coming to America. And after he got his bachelor's degree, he went on to Columbia and got his advanced degrees, and he went back to Japan and became a professor of Waseda University. And at first he was... he became economic advisor to Tojo, and he went to Manchuria for Tojo. But when MacArthur defeated Japan, MacArthur elected to have him help him with the project to reconstruct Japan economically. And after he accomplished this, he came back to America on a Fulbright scholarship, and that's the first... and he lectured at Columbia and other universities. And then he came over to see my mother, and that's when I was able to meet him for the first time.

KL: What was his name?

UN: Koichi Hasegawa.

KL: Were there other children in the family they grew up in?

UN: Yes. My mother had an older sister, and she married into a family, and her daughters, one of 'em married... let's see. I can't think of the tool company right at the moment. Anyway, one of 'em, one of her children had a paving company, and during the war, they converted the paving company and also silk family, factory, and they converted the silk factory to a shoe factory and helped out with Japan's war effort. And another one of her children married into Makita tool company's family, and of course, we all know about Makita tool company. They sell tools here at the present.

KL: So that older sister, she remained in Japan?

UN: Yes. And then another daughter married a Buddhist priest, and he became the highest Buddhist priest in Japan. For a long time he was a Buddhist theological seminary professor, and eventually he became in charge of the Buddhist movement in Japan.

KL: Do you know what branch or a name for his philosophies?

UN: No. I should, but I can't recall right now, because I'm a Christian. [Laughs]

KL: What was the name of that older sister, your mother's older sister, do you recall?

UN: No.

KL: Did you ever meet her?

UN: No.

KL: So she was the oldest, and then who was next in that family, do you know?

UN: I think her brother was.

KL: Koichi?

UN: Yes.

KL: And then were there any other siblings?

UN: No.

KL: So your mom was the baby.

UN: Yeah. And she came, when she came over to see her brother here in America, I don't know what, how this happened, but they went to a Christian church, and she met my father. And they fell in love, and she, my father was a choir director of the church, and she started singing in the choir and eventually they got married.

KL: Did she plan to remain in the United States?

UN: She got married here in the United States.

KL: Did she just come thinking it would be a visit?

UN: She just came here for a visit, and it turned out to be her whole life.

KL: Do you know, did she ever speak about her dad's bank or her mother's teahouse, what they were like or who banked there?

UN: Well, no. I think she was... because her mother was busy, she was raised by a governess. They were very wealthy. And she also had interest in learning to speak English. And so from that connection, she went to, her high school was, she went to high school in Aoyama Gakuen, that is a Christian high school in Tokyo.

KL: Do you know how to spell it?

UN: Aoyama?

KL: Uh-huh.

UN: A-O-Y-A-M-A.

KL: Thank you.

UN: And so she, when she came over here, her English was pretty good.

KL: Why was she interested in English, did she ever tell you?

UN: I don't know. But then after they were married, my father was regional manager for a Japanese newspaper.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

KL: Let's back up, actually, and would you tell us your father's name?

UN: His name is Steven Ujio, or it's Ujio Steven Niwa, U-J-I-O.

KL: U-J-I-O.

UN: Yeah.

KL: And what was his family background?

UN: His father was the regional judge in Japan at one time. And he was, he became a Christian, and he walked away from being the regional judge and became a Christian minister. And my mother's, my father's mother was also a Christian, and so when my father was growing up, he was sent to the Benfords', they were a Brethren Society minister in Japan, and he was sent to the Benfords' to be a schoolboy. And so my father was indoctrinated in Christianity.

KL: Do you know anything about what caused his conversion to Christianity, what appealed to him or why he decided to?

UN: Well, it's just like I'm a Christian because my mom and dad were Christians. And since his dad and mother were Christians, he became Christian. And at the time, Christianity more or less was introduced to the upper class people in Japan. They had contact with the Caucasians, so naturally they talked to the Caucasian people and were, they were introduced into Christianity. And so, but my father... let's see. He had... after he graduated from high school, he went to... let's see, a college that was sponsored by the emperor of Japan. And I can't think of the emperor's name.

KL: I had something I missed, too. It was Ujio, your father, who went to the Benford School, is that right?

UN: Yeah, went to Benfords' to be a schoolboy. And the Benfords treated him like their own son. And just prior, about two years before World War II, the U.S. government asked the Benfords, they said the relationship with Japan is getting very poor, so they forced the Benfords to come back to United States. And, of course, by then, my father was over here. And as soon as he found out that the Benfords were in Pasadena, he took our whole family to see the Benfords. And that's when the Benfords, I met the Benfords, and for the first time, I was about eleven years old, and they treated my brother and I like their grandchildren, you know. And in fact, after I got my degree in Manzanar, my folks wrote to the Benfords and said, "What college would you recommend," for myself? And the Benfords helped locate the college for my advanced degree, or my college degree.

KL: Were they still in Pasadena at that time?

UN: Yes.

KL: Did your parents talk with them other times in the '40s?

UN: Oh, yes, oh, yes. They were like part of the family.

KL: Where did your dad grow up?

UN: In Tokyo.

KL: You said his father was a regional judge?

UN: Yes.

KL: Where was that?

UN: In northern Japan.

KL: Do you know that grandfather's name?

UN: I had it down, but I can't recall it. [Laughs]

KL: You can send it, it's fine, no worries. Did your mom ever talk about Ueda, what that town was like where she grew up?

UN: This year I was supposed go to Ueda to see... I started writing to people trying to find out exactly where they were located, and I couldn't find that, it's been too long ago. And so I decided not to go to Japan to investigate where my mother grew up and where she went to school and whatnot.

KL: What was her religious background? Was she Christian in Japan also?

UN: They were Buddhists in Japan, and but when, as soon as she came to America, she started going to a Christian church. And then she married a Christian, and the rest of her life she was going to Christian church.

KL: Did you say she sang in the choir at that church?

UN: Yes.

KL: What else did she like to do as a...

UN: She was president of the women's society, UMW, United Methodist Women. And she went to retreats, and also, backing up the story a little bit, after my father and mother married, they went to, they left San Francisco and came down to Santa Barbara, and that's where I was born. And then from there they went to Los Angeles.

KL: The government records for Manzanar state that you were born in 1926, does that sound about right?

UN: That's right, yes.

KL: And they were living in Santa Barbara?

UN: Yes.

KL: Why did they make the move?

UN: I don't know why exactly, but it could be because he was a regional manager for the Japanese newspaper, and he had to go to different communities to check up on the distribution of the Japanese newspaper.

KL: What the newspaper's title? Was it the Nichi Bei or something smaller?

UN: Yeah, I think it's something Nichi Bei or something like that. And then eventually he worked for Rafu Shimpo, and he was the regional manager there. And then he got ulcers, and so the doctor told him that unless he quit that job, it's gonna kill him. And so he was in bed for, like, a year trying to get rid of his ulcers. In that interim, my mother decided that she had to work, and so she became a Japanese school teacher in Sawtelle, or West Los Angeles. And so we all moved to West L.A. and Mom became a Japanese school teacher.

KL: Were there other, did you have siblings by this point?

UN: Yeah, my brother. I had just one brother, and his name was Ujiaki Niwa.

KL: Would you spell it?

UN: U-J-I-A-K-I. And he was born November 9, 1927.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

KL: So I noticed a similarity between your father's name and your name and your brother's name.

UN: Yes.

KL: Do you know anything about the meaning of your names?

UN: Yes. My father was from upper class in Japan, and to designate who's gonna be the next heir, the firstborn sons all took the Uji name. And since he was the firstborn, his name is Ujio. And then I was born, and he gave me my name, Ujinobu. And then my brother's name is Ujiaki. But since my brother was a second son, his heir will not be the head of the family, so his son is not called Uji. But my son, my father named him Ujihiro. And Ujihiro, my son is currently a professor at Emerson College in Boston. And now, with that tradition, his son is called Ujitsugu. I gave him that Ujitsugu name. But it's been doing that for a hundred something years.

KL: Who named you, your father?

UN: My father. But in our family, we have a little booklet that's been coming down hundreds of years. And we get the kanji out of this book. So to keep up the tradition, when my grandson was born, I went to that book and I got the kanji and gave the, my grandson his name. Ujitsugu means, "tsugu" means to continue. So I named him because I want the name to continue.

KL: But his name is Ujihiro?

UN: My son's name is Ujihiro.

KL: Oh, I see, sorry.

UN: And he was named by my father.

KL: Is that, do other families also use Uji, or is that unique to yours?

UN: Well, in the old days, at eighteen, in the Japanese tradition, that's when they were given the sword. And that's when, in my family, anybody that's Uji becomes Kinjuro. My grandfather's name is Kinjuro, until he became eighteen he was Uji something. But these are very ancient traditions. And the Asians do this so that there's no mistakes about who's gonna be the head of the family.

KL: Did other families also use Uji to designate that?

UN: No. In fact, you know, the kanji for uji is only used by upper-class families.

KL: What is, is there a translation of it into English concepts or words?

UN: You've got to ask my father. [Laughs] Since my mother was a Japanese school teacher, and at one time I was proficient. In fact, I worked for Unical Research, and when we had Japanese guests come over, I acted as an interpreter at times.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

KL: Do you know the name of your mother's school where she taught?

UN: It was Sawtelle Japanese school.

KL: And you said she started doing that because your father was recuperating.

UN: Right. And when he recovered, she quit that job, and my father started a fruit stand business. So we, the whole family worked at the fruit stand. We were part of Safeway store at the time.

KL: Was that its name, the stand's name?

UN: No. He had a fruit stand concession in the Safeway store.

KL: You said that he got the ulcers from the stress of working for the newspaper? Do you know what was the cause of the stress? Like did he have too much work or were there politics that were troubling?

UN: Oh, I don't know. I just know that he had ulcers that one time. And then one day he comes home and says, family says, "Reverend Baba prayed for me, and now I've been saved. So I'm not gonna have ulcers anymore." And that was it. From that day on, his ulcer disappeared. [Laughs]

KL: Who was Reverend Baba?

UN: He was a minister, a Christian minister.

KL: What was your family's church, and what was Reverend Baba's church?

UN: Our church was United Methodist church.

KL: Were you part of West L.A. United Methodist at that time?

UN: Yes.

KL: What were your mom's feeling about teaching at the Japanese school?

UN: I think she enjoyed it. My mother was a very talented person. Then the war years came.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

KL: We're back after a little break, and these guys were talking about the kanji of uji.

UN: That's because our family originated from the 55th emperor, we're the direct line of the emperor at one time. Here in America, we don't believe in that kind of thing. We believe that we're evaluated according to what we do as a person. And I believe that, too. I told that, it doesn't matter who we're, who we come from, or where we come from, it's just what we do and how we conduct ourselves that we're evaluated, and that's what I preach to my son.

KL: How did your parents feel about that idea?

UN: Same way.

KL: Same as you?

UN: Yes. It doesn't matter whether our ancestors were from the emperor's family. In Japan, my grandfather was invited by the emperor to all the festivals. And whenever there's a tea or something, he was invited. But because my father came to America, he's been cut off, as if he no longer lived... they don't even have... you become an immigrant. In Japan, until after the war, we didn't hear from anybody in Japan.

KL: Even family?

UN: Nobody. I didn't know I had a family in Japan. But after the war and Japan's defeated, all of a sudden we have a lot of relatives. [Laughs]

KL: Was that communication troubles because of the war or because of their immigrant status?

UN: Well, it's custom. Before the war, they would say you're an immigrant, and that had a nasty taste. So there's a... and all the fairy tales are that way, too, that whoever immigrates, they always come back to Japan in their stories.

KL: Was it unusual then for your grandfather to come visit? Oh, go ahead, I'm sorry.

UN: But, you know, here we have a pilgrim story, they immigrated here and they flourished. And they're proud of being part of the immigrants, the pilgrims' family line. That becomes something nice. A story like... the Japanese story is like they immigrate, they conquer, and they bring the traitor back to Japan.


KL: She said there's a special place called Tanba that she sees in there, and she wonders if your ancestors were from there or connected.

UN: I wish my father was still alive.

KL: Yeah, I mean, this is a long time ago.

UN: Yeah. But she would know... our family was, the Tokugawas had three armies, and one of the armies was a Niwa, and we're part of that. See? And whenever they had peace, they drew up a Japanese script, and our Niwa is on the script. But so my mother used to tell us that although her family was a banker, and they'd finance the war for the samurai class, that she would never be able to marry my father.

KL: Because of the divide?

UN: Yes, the class.

KL: Was your grandfather --

UN: Yeah.

KL: You said your grandfather came to visit his son in the United States at UC Berkeley.

UN: Yes.

KL: Was he supportive of his son leaving Japan?

UN: He was a banker.

KL: Did he support his son's decision to come to education outside of Japan?

UN: Well, by then, all the money was paid by the family.

KL: But I mean culturally, you talked about how in the stories, come back home and stay home.

UN: I don't know what made my uncle want to come to America, but in those days, they were wanting to have, the emperor of Japan wanted educated people that could speak English so that they could communicate with Americans. And to get that kind of education, my uncle came over here. But my uncle was a very bright person. I mean, to be used by Tojo, Tojo had, could have used anybody in Japan, and he chose my uncle. And my uncle went to Manchuria and just by, he was able to close all the Manchurian banks owned by Japan and bring all the money back before Japan invaded Manchuria. And then he was able to take that money and take it to Singapore, and by money exchange, made enough money to finance the war with China. He did things like that. So I would say he was pretty bright.

KL: Yeah, I'd say so, too.

UN: And my mother was very bright, too.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

KL: Yeah, you started to say that she was very talented in many ways. Tell us how, tell us about those ways.

UN: Because during the war, we all got incarcerated in the camp. And right away, my mother realized that people in camp were suffering, and so she volunteered and became a social welfare worker. She actually worked for Mrs. Deal, and she wrote reports in English. Here a Japanese school teacher, you know, writing reports in English. Of course, my father did the same thing, he worked for Mrs. Deal in the social welfare department so that they could get bassinettes and whatnot for people who were pregnant and had babies. You know, whenever there was somebody sick, they took procedures to get additional funding for them.

And then when I got my high school degree in camp, and I got scholarship from different colleges, the government didn't want us to go to a major university because they were having problems. And so they recommend that we go to smaller colleges, and I had a scholarship, and we relocated to Milwaukee. And so my mother decided to come out to Milwaukee, and when the government found out that she was going to Milwaukee, they asked her to start, you know, one of these homes, relocation homes in Milwaukee. And my mother became supervisor of the hostel, and she went to the mayor's Monday morning meetings, and she wrote reports, and then after the camp closed, the war ended, and they decided to disperse the people. There was no longer a need for a hostel. And so my mother closed it down, and the government said, "You did such a wonderful job for us, what would you like to do?" And so my mother said she would like to visit the thirteen colonies before she went back to California. Well, the government paid her way, and she visited the thirteen colonies before she went home.

KL: Did she go alone?

UN: Yeah.

KL: What did she tell you about that trip?

UN: She said she had a wonderful time. [Laughs]

KL: Where did she go? I mean, did she see historic sites or visit people?

UN: Yeah, she went to all the historic sites. And then, by then, my brother was in the U.S. Navy. And I have an interesting family. They gave him, he was applying for first class, so the whole, it was after the war, and they didn't have any, very many promotion sites for the sailors, so the whole fleet took an exam for that one position, and my brother came out number one. And so the navy said, my goodness, this kid's pretty smart. They sent him to Annapolis to teach the plebes fire control. And my brother went there and started teaching the plebes fire control. Well, fire control is an officer, you actually integrate the guns with the, all the electronics involved in tracing the airplanes. And he was doing this, and the commandant in Annapolis called him into his office and offered him to become a plebe. And my brother refused because we're Christians. So they sent a psychologist with my brother back to interview my mother, and they came to...

KL: Was this still in Manzanar, where was your mother?

UN: She was in Los Angeles at the time. And they came over to interview my mother. They couldn't believe that this kid would refuse to just, they promised him education. And then they found out that my grandfather was a minister, my uncle was a minister in New York, my cousin's a United Methodist minister in Chicago. [Laughs] And we had a Free Methodist minister in California.

KL: So there's precedent.

UN: And I was sent to become a minister from my family.

KL: Okay. Were you guys... well, actually, let me back up. I have a few more questions about before the war. You said that when your parents met each other they fell in love, and I wanted to hear a little bit about sort of what their relationship with each other was like, how they interacted with each other, and maybe what drew them to each other.

UN: Well, it's before my time. [Laughs]

KL: But when you were a kid growing up, did you have a sense of especially what they liked about each other?

UN: Well, my mother was a beautiful woman in her younger days. She was actually pretty, and very athletic. She was an ice skater, and I guess my dad just went over, head over heels for her.

Off camera: Did she play a traditional role in the family? Was she a very strong, independent woman, like more of an equal relationship with your father?

UN: Well, my mother was so smart that she almost ruled the roost, you know, in a nice way. She never, she would never oppose my father, but I could tell that... and when, like I believe, loved my mom, because every time Dad would be on us, my brother and I, Mom would come to rescue us, you know? In a typical Japanese Oriental family, the father is very strong. And you know, Mom would come to our rescue, and pretty soon, it's an argument between my mother and my dad rather than...

KL: Can you give us an example of something that was important to him where this would come up?

UN: Well, it's so long ago, but when my mom died, I cried because she... and she's always helped me in my schoolwork. Dad was like one step above us, but Mom was always there. If I'm not reading well, she would make sure that I do my lesson and help me read.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

KL: Where did you go to school in Los Angeles?

UN: I went to Sawtelle grammar school, it's called Nora Sterry grammar school now. And I went to junior high school, Emerson junior high school. Then the war came, and I was just starting Uni High when the war came, and I had all my high school in camp.

KL: Did you go to Japanese school in Sawtelle?

UN: Oh, yes.

KL: Was your mom your teacher there ever?

UN: Yes. And she couldn't afford a babysitter, so she put us in Japanese school, and the Japanese school was like babysitting. [Laughs] And when I went into, I went to Japanese school when I was so young that a lot of the students I was competing against were already in high school when I was in grammar school. I enjoy beating them in studies. And they would take my brother and I behind the school and beat us up because we were competing against them. And later on, I'm bigger than most Japanese. My brother was even taller than I was, and when we grew up, we got even with all the kids that used to beat us up. [Laughs]

KL: Do you want to say any more about what form that took, or no?

UN: Because I became a senior research associate in Unical. And by the time I got my chemistry degree, I would never fight. We just don't do that. We try to excel by using our brain.

KL: How many teachers were in that Sawtelle Japanese school, or how many students?

UN: I would say probably about 150 at the time, or more. And they had four or five teachers.

KL: What were your classes like there?

UN: It's just like American school. They had reading, writing, and you had examination. And what was even different was that the top student, at the end of the year, school year, had to get up before all the parents. They had a, they would invite all the parents, and the top student in every class would give a speech. It seemed foolish, but we all competed to be the top student. And then we would have three of four pages of Japanese to memorize, and we would get up before all the family and give this speech.

KL: What would the speeches be?

UN: Something that the teacher would write. So they tried to show their, show off their student, so that it was a very complicated speech, but you gave it. And it's amazing, in the Japanese community that you should, in American school, if you know you have to do something like that, they would all say, "I'm not going to be the top student," you know. "Let such and such do that." But in Japanese school, we all competed to be the top student. And so I didn't want to shame my mother, so I studied, and I gave these speeches in Japanese. [Laughs]

Off camera: Were those speeches that you made, were they typically about American themes or were they about more traditional Japanese history themes? Or what kinds of things did they talk about?

UN: It's usually about building character, being a good student, typically. [Laughs] But you know, you do that in Japanese school, it carries on in American school. You want to be the top. And I think it helped. And when we become a chemist working for our company, you want to be the best, you try to be the best. I went to school... most people, once they get a job, they quit going to school. But I went to night school so I could do a better job, and I tried to be the top one. So there you have it. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 8>

KL: So we're back in tape two of an interview with Ujinobu Niwa, he's gonna stick around for another, we promise to hold it to sixty minutes and just ask kind of bigger questions. And one that I wanted to hear about, or what you recall about Emerson junior high school and your first start at Uni High, what are your recollections of those schools?

UN: Well, Emerson junior high school, I would say the people there treated me very nicely. And it was, I would say, in my formative years, I made a lot of Caucasian friends, and I had a lot of Mexican American friends. And I liked the Mexican American friends because we both lived across the railroad in the poor section. [Laughs] And there were times when I felt that they would support me. Now, when I went to high school, when I first entered high school, I took mathematics, and my teacher tested me, and while she was giving math lesson, she would give me a scissors, and I went out to the horticultural department and I cut flowers for her. Because she says I know this stuff already. [Laughs]

KL: Did you?

UN: And so I would cut flowers and bring it back to her, and I was having a great time. But then the war came, which ended all that.

KL: Did life at school change after...

UN: Well, no, within the very short time, the government put us in relocation camps. They posted signs on the telephone poles saying you only have so many days and you're gonna be evacuated.

KL: How did you react to seeing those?

UN: Well, when you're young like that, you just go along with... we didn't make any big statement because of this or that. But one thing my mother said to us, she got us, my brother and I together and said that, "Don't worry, because God's going to be watching over us." I think that, well, that's why I think a lot of my mother.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

KL: Were you guys involved in the Christian community at Manzanar?

UN: Pardon?

KL: Were you involved in the Christian community, or one of the Christian communities in Manzanar?

UN: Oh, yes, sure.

KL: How were you involved?

UN: I went to church every Sunday. And the minister was Reverend Bovenkirk, and every once in a while, my mother and dad would buy, through Mrs. Deal and other Caucasian people they contact, would buy groceries and they would cook in the... my mom used a hotplate. She would cook a meal so that we could all sit together and pray together and eat together. They did that every once in a while.

KL: In your apartment?

UN: In my apartment.

KL: You were in Block 29, is that right?

UN: Yes.

KL: What was the inside of your apartment like? Could you describe what we would see if we walked in the door?

UN: It was just one big room, that's it. And there were holes in the floors, and every time the wind would blow, the dust would come up through the holes. So my dad went to the mess hall and we'd get the lid from cans, and we would use that and nail it on the, around the holes to keep the sand from blowing in. [Laughs]

KL: Did that work?

UN: I don't know, the sand, but we had scorpions coming through the hole, and they would get in our shoes. So we had to shake our shoes to make sure that we don't get scorpion bite.

KL: Do you know anything about how the church you were part of in Manzanar got organized? Were you guys part of setting it up? I've talked to Jack Takayanagi, I don't know if you know him.

UN: Oh, yes.

KL: He talked about how it was kind of difficult even to find people within Manzanar. What do you remember of getting the church set up?

UN: Jack Takayanagi was pastoring the church I was attending before the war. And during the war, I guess his, in Block 23, his barrack was at the end of our barrack, and that's before we moved to Block 29.

KL: You were in 23 first?

UN: Yes.

KL: What was, was it Reverend Bovenkirk, what was his background?

UN: I was too young to be questioning his background. But he was a gentleman, I would say, about fifty years old. And he voluntarily came in to become a minister in Manzanar.

KL: Did he live in Manzanar?

UN: They all lived in separate, they didn't have barracks, they had actual homes for these, the Caucasian helpers. And I don't know whether, where he lived, but I'm assuming that he was, he lived in one of those homes.

KL: Was his leadership similar or different to your minister in West L.A.?

UN: No. He was a very calm, nice, gentleman.

KL: What else, were there memorable services or people from that Christian community at Manzanar?

UN: Well... at that time, I would say that most of us just went to church on Sundays. And during the week, we had other things to do. For instance, I worked for the hospital kitchen so that I could have, the government paid us like twelve dollars a month, and that would help pay for our shoes. And we all needed shoes, and we were growing up, so we needed t-shirts and shorts and whatnot. And so everybody would be, will have some kind of job.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

KL: The hospital had kind of a strong connection the Manzanar riot. Do you have memories of the events in December of the first year?

UN: Well, I was working for the hospital at the time they had the riot. And I saw the people being brought in, and they would have a little tiny hole in the back, and a great big hole in the front. So the military was using...

KL: Did you see their bodies?

UN: Yeah.

KL: Oh, wow.

UN: They were bringing these people in, the ambulance was bringing them into the hospital, and the doctors were inspecting the bodies. And then the morgue was behind the hospital, so the doctors made sure these people were actually dead, and logged how they died. And it seems like the government, the soldiers sprayed these people when they were trying to run away, and so they got shot in the back. And by the time the 50-caliber machine gun bullet came out, you know, it made a big hole. It was awesome.

Off camera: How old were you at the time?

UN: I was around sixteen or seventeen years old.

KL: I've heard that earlier in that day, too, there were people in the hospital, a big group of people searching for Fred Tayama in the hospital, Dr. Kusayanagi says they were searching for her and her husband Dr. Goto. Do you remember crowds of people coming into the hospital earlier that day?

UN: No. In fact, earlier in the day, I wasn't at the hospital, so I can't tell you. I was studying at home, and my father says, "Aki is with a crowd, so go get him." And so my father knew that violence may erupt, and so I start walking towards the rioters. And my brother decided that things were getting kind of out of hand, so he was already coming back. And while he and I were walking home, we heard machine guns going off. And so I naturally just went to the hospital and watched the ambulance come in.

KL: What did your brother say about how he knew things were getting out of hand or what people were saying or doing? What did he tell you?

UN: I didn't ask him. We just, you know, soon as I saw him, I said, "Dad wants you," and so we started walking home.

KL: If I were a parent, I think I'd have a reaction to my teenage son seeing that kind of violence. How did your parents deal with that day and your involvement?

UN: Well, I guess we never discussed, because then we heard that Dr. Goto, who was in charge of the hospital, was discharged. And then we had an American administrator come to administrate the hospital. And it didn't concern me because I was a junior cook in the hospital kitchen, and I made the puree and soft food for the patients, and so I just did my job. [Laughs]

KL: You were talking to the administrator or Dr. Goto.

UN: I found out that if I keep my mouth shut and keep my job, the chief cook used to call me, he would say, "Come over here." And so I would go to the chief cook because he had no way of rewarding us monetarily, he would slip a pie, he would bake a pie and slip it to me. And I would take it home and we would all feast on that pie. In other words, this guy was a wonderful chief cook, and he knew who was doing a good job, and he treated me like a son. And so I made my puree, and I made my soft food every day.

KL: Did you guys have a table in your barrack apartment, did you gather around when you had, like, the pie?

UN: Oh, yeah, we made our own tables. We made our own chairs, and...

KL: Who made those?

UN: My dad. And, in fact, I'm still using a chest that he built, and we use it every day.

KL: Where did he build it?

UN: And he built it by, you know, these lug boxes would have, he would take it apart carefully and use that wood, and they would make all kinds of things with it.

KL: Where did your... your parents worked for the social welfare office in Manzanar? Where was that office?

UN: The office was all around Block 7, in that area.

KL: Did they ever talk to you or to each other at home about their work, the cases they were seeing, what they thought?

UN: Yeah. I wrote a lot of the reports for my dad because his English wasn't as good as my mom. And so I would type it out. He would write the report and I would type it out. But I just, they would, there were some husband and wife would have conflicts. Because here they jam, in one mile square, ten thousand people. And the wives would be in contact with other men, and so they would have problems that occur. And the social welfare people would go there and straighten it out between the families.

KL: Did your parents have that role also, counseling?

UN: Yes.

KL: How did that affect their life in camp?

UN: I just wrote the report, you know. My father said that if you get between these two people, that both of them wouldn't love 'em. They'll come together, and he's done his job. He straightened things out, tried to get him to go to church, but they're kind of ashamed to see him, because they had this problem. So he just, he would help people, but people remember all these things. When my dad died, we had his funeral in West L.A. We must have had six, seven hundred people come to the funeral. We couldn't get him into the building, and we opened up the Sunday school area, and we put sound system in the Sunday school class, and they were just parading. And later on, the city of Los Angeles gave him an honorarium saying that he helped a lot of Japanese people, and I have it yet.

KL: When did he die? When was that memorial service?

UN: He died in 1987.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

KL: I have two more things I kind of wanted to ask about Manzanar time. And one was school. You mentioned on the phone a couple of teachers that you remember.

UN: Yes.

KL: Would you tell the tape about them?

UN: Well, for our math teacher, we had a teacher that retired, but she came in to help us out. For a speech teacher, we had a blind person, Mr. Greenly, and so he would come in with another Japanese person so that people wouldn't sneak out of the room. [Laughs] And for our science teacher, we had a Japanese American fellow who was attending UC Berkeley at the time, and he became our chemistry professor. And then for our...

KL: Is that Mr. Nakamura?

UN: Yes. And then for our physics teacher, Mr. Ikeda, he was also going to UC Berkeley, and he came, he became our physics teacher. And then we...

KL: What was their attitude toward teaching in their classes?

UN: They acted like teachers. They were very good... of course, in chemistry, we didn't have a laboratory, it was all dry lab, because we didn't, the government didn't furnish chemistry beakers and all that.

KL: Did that ever change, did you ever get a lab?

UN: I don't know. After I graduated, I went to the park right away, so I don't know what happened thereafter. I thought I was getting a good education until that first year in college, wow, it just about swallowed me. [Laughs] It was tough.

KL: The other topic I wanted... was there anything else about the school that you wanted to talk about?

UN: Oh, yes. I came to appreciate all the teachers that came in, or helped us. Because without their help, I couldn't get into college. And if you don't go to college, you can't have, you can't have a career that's meaningful for the rest of your life. They made it so that I had a meaningful life for the rest of my life. I was able to work in research and do what I liked to do. And I really appreciate that.

KL: Did you see any of those teachers again, or remain friends with them?

UN: Yes. We had a Manzanar reunion, and I knew Ms. Cramer was going to be there. And I noticed that --

KL: She was the homeroom teacher?

UN: Yeah. And I noticed that, I remembered that she has these plastic bracelets, and so I bought her a stainless, I mean, a silver bracelet at Bullock's, and I gave it to her, and she cried. And she said, she told me, said that I was so stubborn that she knew I was gonna succeed. [Laughs]

KL: When were those reunions? Were they in the '50s?

UN: Pardon?

KL: When were those reunions? Was that in the 1950s or more recent?

UN: Around the '60s. Well, you had to be a little stubborn. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 12>

KL: The other topic from Manzanar is the so-called "loyalty questionnaire" that was distributed in 1943 asking people a whole bunch of questions, but about military service also. What was that like for your family? How did people respond to it, was there conversation, was it private?

UN: We had, my dad and our family got together to discuss this. And my father said that in Japanese mind, that we were not Japanese, that we were born, my mom and dad were Japanese, but to people in Japan, we're Americans. And that they would never, we would never be treated like Japanese, even if we went back to Japan. So he said, "You think about this." And so my brother and I talked it over and said, "Okay, we're gonna be loyal to America." And then my folks, both mom and dad said, "Where my kids are, that's where my heart is. We're gonna vote 'yes' too." So, but our family was so different from other people.

KL: In what way do you feel --

UN: We had neighbors, they come over to talk to me, says, "My dad just orders me that, to write 'no.'" They were forced to write "no-no." And when they were, the government came over to take them to Tule Lake, they grabbed my hands, and I could still feel that. They were put on the truck, and we were holding hands, and slowly the truck's moving away, and they just tore away, and they were gone. We didn't hear from them. It was very sad because we knew if the kids had their own way, they would be with us. So I'm glad that the government forgot all that and let the people back in that said "no-no," because I would say over half of them would have said "yes" if their parents said that's the way they wanted. But in the Oriental family, you don't cross your dad. Your dad, if your dad says something, that's it.

KL: It sounds almost like your parents, like you and your brother made the decision.

UN: Yeah, that's why we're so different. And that's why, like I said, we liked to qualify what we did.

KL: You responded that you'd like to qualify?

UN: Well, no.

KL: Oh, I see. I'm sorry. That you were so different.

UN: Yeah. Our family run was very different. Despite the fact that my dad comes from a very high family, he was very understanding.

KL: That's a powerful memory of those people leaving.

UN: Well, yeah. And I had friends that had straight-As in American school, and they went to Japan. They were put on Gripsholm and got exchanged for prisoner of war. And later on, after the government says you can go back, he came back. But he said, "My life is over. I can't go to UCLA now."

KL: When did he come back?

UN: After he was about... after the war ended, it took about five or six years afterwards. But you see, these people come back here. Maybe the parents stayed in Japan, I don't know what happened. But the government doesn't give you any money. They would ship you back, and just like when I left the camp, they gave me twenty-five dollars and a one-way ticket. Now, how far does twenty-five dollars go? So my father said, "Son, fifty dollars with two people will last a lot longer than one person with twenty-five dollars," so he's going to come with me. And so he applied, and he and I, well, the war was still going. We went to Milwaukee. And before that fifty dollar was spent, I had to find a job. So we didn't, we weren't choosy. Any kind of job that was offered, we took it. Going rate was like a dollar or a dollar and a quarter an hour, I worked for seventy-five cents an hour. But you're not gonna quibble.

KL: What was in Milwaukee?

UN: And so when these people came, were shipped back from Japan, they were just let go right into society. And so in West L.A., the United Methodist Church opened up their church and we used sheets for partitioning, and we let people live there until they found a job, and then they were able to move out. And the church tried to help the people get settled. And in many ways, I'm glad that the government did that, because the Japanese people aren't like the Indians. You know, the Indians are, in our country, they feel that things are so hopeless, that all they do is get drunk, and that's not right that they should waste their whole life just getting drunk. I feel so sorry for these people. It's very hard for them to get away from the reservation.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

KL: How did you get away from Manzanar? Would you tell us about leaving and where you went?

UN: That's what I said. My father said that he's gonna help me. And we put fifty dollars together, and we ate, going to Chicago, we bought, Hershey bars used to cost, you know, twenty-five cents. So we would, every time you'd get hungry, we just ate a bar, little tiny bar of Hershey's until our stomach started growling, you know. And we went that way to Chicago, it took like two and a half days. And then we went to Milwaukee, and we had bulk of that twenty-five, I mean, fifty dollars yet. And right away I went out and I got a job for buffing tires. Now, you know, that's about the worst kind of job you could have. And after six months of this, I saved enough money to go to college. And I went to college, and for the next, like, three or four months, I was spitting out rubber out of my lungs. But we all did things like that. And we lived in a hotel so cheap that in the morning, we'll see blood on the sheets, and there would be bedbugs. But we did it. You have to. You have to just do something like that to get ahead.

Off camera: What did your father do?

UN: He got a job in the tire recapping factory, and he started recapping tires.

KL: That was in Milwaukee?

UN: In Milwaukee. And later on, the owner of the tire recapping factory came down to talk to us. And Mr. Stanzel said that he was from Germany, and during World War I, that the U.S. government only allowed us to, within four blocks, that they could roam around in four blocks. They couldn't go out of that four blocks. And so he knows how we feel. And he, like Thanksgiving, he would have this great big box, in that box would be a turkey, a brick of cheese, you know, and he would give it to all the Japanese American people. And he tried to give us, he trained us, and we were able to work in this factory. And after we got our degree and whatnot, Mr. Stanzel came to Los Angeles and we threw a great big party for him to thank him. And even after we came to L.A., he would ship us great big package for Christmas, you know, smoked ham from Milwaukee, and several bricks of cheese. [Laughs]

KL: I'm so glad you stayed for this area, because that's another really just wonderful thing to know about, that friendship that you formed because of the shared experience.

UN: We had people that, like Mr. Stanzel, that really helped us.

KL: How was his name spelled, do you know?

UN: No.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

KL: I want to keep my promise of letting you go in twenty minutes, so if you would just tell us about your education from that point forward, kind of the highlights of your education.

UN: Okay. I went to Park College as a pre-ministerial student. In my family we had nothing but ministers, and so my dad says, "Son, you're going to be a minister from our branch of the family." So I went to Park saying, "Yes, sir," but I always liked science. So I took a pre-ministerial course, and then added chemistry and physics and math to my curriculum, so I had like twenty-one hours. And I just about sank that first semester. But the chemistry prof. was watching what I was doing, and he came over to me and said he was, "We've been watching you, and how about being an assistant in a chem. lab? And you know, when you're seventeen -- well, I was eighteen -- eighteen, and when the professor comes and invites you, boy, it went right to my head. And immediately I became a scientist rather than the pre-ministerial. I wrote to Dad, my mother and father, and said that I got an offer to be an assistant in the chem. lab.

KL: Was he still in Milwaukee?

UN: Yes. And he said, "Son, I want you to come home right away." So I said, "Everything's paid 'til Christmas, I'll be home for Christmas." And then my dad, when I went home for Christmas, he says, "I sent you to school to become a minister." And then told him that I'm bound and determined to become a chemist, and I still, everything's paid up 'til end of the semester, I'm going back. And he could tell that I was resolved. And so he takes me to Gimble's and buys me a watch with a second hand, buys me a suit, and said, "You're gonna need a good watch." And he let me go back and finish up as a chemist. But my theology, the head of the theology department must have been watching me. And after I got my degree in chemistry, he calls me in, Dr. Teener. And Dr. Teener says, "Niwa," he says, "we're in the new world, and I don't want ministers that don't know science." He put it right to me. Says, "I have a church in Sedalia, that I want you to go there. I've written to McCormick Theological in Chicago, and you could go there for your ministerial degree." Wow, you know, I says, "Dr. Teener, let me think about this." [Laughs]

KL: Yeah, McCormick would be hard to say no to.

UN: Yeah, well... but I knew right away that I wanted to continue on, chemistry. And then my math teacher calls me in, Dr. Robbins wanted me to go to University of Missouri to continue my math. And he said that I always make mistakes on the easy one, but I had, I solved the real tough ones, and he liked that. So he was going to help me get into University of Missouri, he already talked to the chairman of the department. So seems like all my life, somebody's always trying to help me. And they weren't Japanese, you know. I come back to Los Angeles, and I needed a job because I was going to SC grad school. And I started knocking on doors, and I happened to knock on the door of a secretary of the American Chemical Society, and he started talking to me, and he said, "I kind of like you, son." And he said, "I'm going to get you a job." And he gets on the phone, calls up Union Oil company, and the vice president of Union Oil, and he says he said a big lie. He said, "I have a young man right here that I really like. I want you to give him a job." And so they said, "Send him over." So I go to Union Oil refinery in Wilmington, and sure enough, I get a job. But not only that, because this guy was a secretary of American Chemical Society, they started testing me right away, see how much I knew about chemistry. And then they said, "Well, son, report to the research department." So I report to the research department and I started working in research.

And then the semester came when I'm supposed to go back to graduate school, and I started thinking, if I quit this job and go back and get my degree at USC, the best I could hope for is to get a research, and I'm already there. So I said, "I'm going night school." Well, you can't get a degree going nigh school, you know, I found that out. I went for years and years. In the meantime, I became expert in metal separations and inorganic chemistry. Then I noticed that we didn't have certain tests in organic chemistry, then I took a course in electrical chemistry at USC, and I realized that I could use my coulometric method for, as a technique to anodize sulfur down to a tenth of a part per million. And so I made a machine using my coulometric method, and we were able to anodize sulfur down to a tenth of a part per million in oil. And also I made another machine to analyze down to a tenth of a part per million in nitrogen, and it turned out that I was the only one, our company was the only one that was able to do that. And so before I knew it, I was senior chemist. [Laughs] And then so on. And at one time they called me in saying, "You realize that to become research associate at Union Science and Technology, that you would have to have a doctorate? That we don't have any doctorate, research associate without a doctorate." I said, "Okay." But before I knew it, I became a research associate.

Then I represented Union to ASDM D-32 on [inaudible] and represented the company. And then, before long, I became senior research associate. If I wanted to, like, there was a new chemistry on clathration, and there was a professor at Arizona State that was an expert on clathration. I tell my boss, "I want go to University of Arizona State to learn about clathration." He says, "Go ahead." So I go to learn about clathration, they pay for my way, and I come back and I set up experiments in clathration. Then they said, "Oh, there's a conference on particle size distribution and particle barring in San Francisco, so why don't you go there?" So I, you know, I go there with my wife. And then I come back and I set up a laboratory, particle size distribution laboratory for our company, and they really liked it. [Laughs]

KL: I know you said it was a great company to work for.

UN: But my bosses were, they were so wonderful. You know, they never treated me like... and then I got called in by personnel, and they said, "You know, we knew you were going to be a good chemist, but you seem to have a lot of golfing buddies, bowling buddies," says, "we like that." Says, "We're gonna hire more Asians because you guys could get along." So they started hiring Asians in research in the whole company. He was vice present of personnel for the whole company. But Union Oil just was... you know, you're in this camp, and you look beyond the barbed wire, and you see this beautiful Manzanar mountain, and you see the sunrise on it. And so, you know, it's so inspiring, you can't help but grow with that. In the same way, personal relationship, you know. You go outside and you meet these people, and as you do the work, they help you, and help you achieve, introduce you to different areas. And it was just a wonderful career.

KL: What was the rest of your parents' lives, what were the rest of your parents' lives like? Where did they go and what did they do?

UN: Well, Mom ended up in a nursing home, Keiro. So I went to my mom and said, "Mom, you worked all these years here, you lived here in America. Did you like living here? Wouldn't you like to be a citizen before you die?" And Mom says, "Yes." So I took out the citizenship, you know, forms, I filled it out, I filled it out, I sent it in, and like overnight, they approved it. And so I take Mom to the immigration office, and the whole staff comes to greet my mom. And the top man in the immigration office in L.A. comes out, shakes my mom's hand, and says, "Mrs. Niwa, what took you so long?" And I found out why, because I went to FBI files in Washington, D.C., and there were letters from Mrs. Deal, letters from the mayor of Milwaukee, all commendating on her good work. And the government, you know, surely the immigration saw all this. And so she became an American citizen, and she died shortly after that.

KL: We're down to one minute. You want to give us thirty seconds on your family that your family that you have with Grace?

UN: Pardon?

KL: You want to give us thirty seconds on your family that you have with Grace? Or we could change the tape and we can do a fuller answer if you want to.

UN: [Laughs] Well, like I tell my wife all the time, this is the nicest thing that ever happened to me, that she should marry me. I love my wife. We've had a wonderful life together. And our daughter is married to a Caucasian boy, I've seen him since she was in, just starting high school. And she went to college, graduate school, and he was there all the time, and now their life together, he has a company of his own. The boy was tested to be precocious. The boy's only six years old, and he balances equations, he does fractions, you know, at six. [Laughs]

KL: I couldn't do that when I graduated high school very well.

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