Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Saburo Masada Interview
Narrator: Saburo Masada
Interviewer: Kristen Luetkemeier
Location: Fresno, California
Date: September 11, 2014
Densho ID: denshovh-msaburo-01-0008

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KL: What are your memories of arriving -- well, you said you saw the guard towers and the fences. Was that a shock? What did you, that's a dumb question, but what had you expected and what was it like to have that first visual and go in?

SM: Well, again, our culture just tells us to, can't do anything about it, so that's the way it is. And of course, the fairgrounds is a place of fun and we'd visit in order to see all the crop displays, but it wasn't that anymore. It was a prison. So we just accepted what was happening to us. And we were given a big cloth bag, and there was a pile of straw, or hay, I forgot which, but we had to stuff it and that was our mattress. But one of the things I noticed, first thing, was the Isseis were sweeping -- it was all dirt, no lawn -- and they were sweeping and picking up every little piece of litter and stick to make it as nice and beautiful as possible, all around the barracks. And I thought, gee, that's amazing. So nobody was rioting or complaining. They all started to make it a place where they could try to do the best they could. And I remember that was May, so there should've been at least one more month of school, and I remember being told that there's a sixth grade class and that I should go to it. So it was one of the fair booths, and I went to it and there were, I think, four of us, four sixth-graders with a teacher, but I don't recall learning anything or what she taught us, but it was, like, to finish up our sixth grade. Not that it mattered, because we didn't have any books or anything.

KL: Was she incarcerated there? Was she Japanese?

SM: Oh yes. They were all...

KL: The teacher was?

SM: They were all Japanese, Nisei. They weren't set up for any schools, so these are all volunteer people who tried to make life as normal as possible, and so I guess they set out, decided to do that and start a Scout troop. My cousin was, for some reason, was in the Scouts, so he drafted me into the Scouts and I went through one level, and then he went to Arizona and I went to Arkansas, so that was the end of my Scouting experience.

KL: And you said you had been to the fair before?

SM: Yes.

KL: So you... what else can you tell us about the Fresno Assembly Center?

SM: Well, every night, I can still hear the bugle from the grandstand, that was a curfew signal. The bugle would blow the Taps, and then we could hear people scurrying around to get back to the cabin. And of course, people who had to go to the outdoor community toilet, they were in trouble because the MP came and knocked on our door and opened it and put the flashlight into our faces and make sure all of us, nine of us, were in our room. So that happened every night. So at nighttime, from the grandstand there was a searchlight that scanned the, let's see, about how many barracks, two hundred plus barracks, every night. So it was, it was, we knew that we weren't there for a vacation. And of course --

KL: How long --

SM: Of course, there was long mess, mess hall lines, and the morning they had the, either bugle, someone played a bugle -- depends on which block you were in, some just hit a big, big metal to announce the breakfast, lunch and supper. We had someone play the bugle, and every morning and noon and night we heard the bugle call that they used in army to announce breakfast, lunch and supper. And they started a baseball league, and sumo tori. My friends and I, we came up with our own little game. We dug a little hole in the dirt, and I forgot if we put a can in there or not, and then we had these washers, I don't know where we got them, we got washers and like horseshoe, we would throw the washers and try to get into the can, and that was our fun game that we played every day in our camp, in our block.

KL: Were they friends from home or new friends?

SM: No, new friends. There was, except for my cousin, I didn't know anyone from back, from Caruthers who was in -- well, they weren't in our block, so that's one thing. They might've been some other block. They were in another block far away, so we had no interaction with them. I mean, I didn't at that age.

KL: Did you have any visitors?

SM: We didn't. We didn't, but I did notice some people, visitors bringing something like fruit, box of fruit or something, to their friends inside.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2014 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.