Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Sadako Nimura Kashiwagi Interview
Narrator: Sadako Nimura Kashiwagi
Interviewer: Kristen Luetkemeier
Location: San Francisco, California
Date: July 11, 2015
Densho ID: denshovh-ksadako-01-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

KL It's July the 11th, it's 2015, I'm Kristen Luetkemeier here with Sadako Kashiwagi for an oral history interview for the Manzanar National Historic Site. We're in San Francisco today, I'm in my room at the Inn San Francisco, and we're going to be talking some about Sadako's time both confined at Tule Lake and then also her involvement with the site in more recent years, too, with the pilgrimages and commemoration. And I want to confirm before we go any further that I do have your permission today to be talking with you and recording this interview and to make it available to the public.

SK: Yes.

KL: Well, thank you. I'm so glad this has worked out. Let's start off talking about your parents, if you would just tell us both of their names and what year they were born, or approximately? I can give you a guess. I have your dad as 1885 and your mom as 1905?

SK: Okay, yeah. Right.

KL: Well, let's start off with your dad. What was his name and what can you tell us about his background, the family he grew up in?

SK: I don't know too much about him, but his name was Junichi Nimura, and he picked up Fred along, when he came to the United States, obviously. He was Jack of all trades and master of none, you know, and he moved a lot. Very independent spirit and he didn't want to take orders from other people. And we'd be tenant farmers and he didn't get along with the boss and so we'd have to move, so we did a lot of moving. And at one point he went to Mexico and I don't know what he did there or how long he was there, and then he worked in the lumber business. And unfortunately, that's where he learned to chew tobacco because they couldn't smoke. [Laughs] And then he worked also a houseboy, so he did a lot of things. And then he got married, my mother was a "picture bride," and she was one of the last to come over before they closed the immigration. And so they had two girls before my Neesan was born. And both of them died, one died of a milk allergy, and then another one was stillborn. That was before Hisa was born. And Father believed a lot about names and the importance of names, and they named her Hisa, meaning "long life" because they lost two girls earlier.

KL: Yeah, I was gonna ask you about his name, Junichi.

SK: Junichi. Well, it probably was the oldest son, because ichi means "one," the first one.

KL: Oh. I've heard jun defined as "pure." Bill Nishimura talked about this term Jun-Nisei which I had never heard before, like "pure Nisei," like had never been to Japan, as opposed to Kibei-Nisei. So I saw jun and I thought, oh, I wonder if it has to do with purity.

SK: No, it would depend on the character.

KL: Oh, I see, okay.

SK: First time I've heard that expression.

KL: Yeah, I hadn't heard it either.

SK: Okay.

KL: Yeah, there was a lot in... actually, I think Alisa interviewed Bill at the same pilgrimage where Densho interviewed Hiroshi, because it was in 2004 up at the Tule Lake pilgrimage, so it was kind of neat. So do you know where, jumping back again, do you know where in Japan your father grew up or was from?

SK: Oh, he was from Saiki-gun, Japan, province...

KL: Do you know what kind of work his family did or anything about his education?

SK: At one point I think they tried to make him a priest, so he knew quite a bit about Buddhism. And at one point he worked in a bank, I believe.

KL: In Japan?

SK: Uh-huh. You know, he was very good with numbers, and he found a mistake that one of the supervisors made, and he pointed it out because the supervisors over him, they got rid of my father. So that was one of the reasons he came, he left Japan. That's about all I know about his background and why he came to the United States.

KL: He was not interested in becoming a priest?

SK: No. [Laughs] He read a lot. He read a lot. And very definite opinions. He knew quite a bit about the U.S. Constitution, oh, and during bootleg time, he was a bootlegger. In fact, his mother would make sake and he tells the story about the feds coming, and he put kerosene on the top, and the kerosene would float to the top so the feds couldn't find out the sake was on the bottom. [Laughs]

KL: He put it in the bottle? Oh.

SK: No, he put the kerosene on top of the still, and the kerosene would float to the top and the sake would go to the bottom, so they tasted it and said, "Oh, this isn't sake." But then I think he spent some time as a bootlegger, I think he did. And he was quite open about these kinds of things, you know. So, as I say, he did things his way, and he was a "troublemaker." [Laughs]

KL: Let me ask one more question about him and immigration. Do you know why he chose to come to the United States?

SK: Probably because a lot of his fellow citizens were coming to the United States, it was the go-to place.

KL: I've heard it was kind of unusual for the first son to leave. Did he ever say anything about what impact that...

SK: Well, that's another thing that we're not clear on. He was married before he married my mom, and you know, the first son gets everything in Japan, and this one family didn't have a son, and so my father married into that family, took that name. So I'm not even sure that Nimura is really our name. When going through the papers my sister had, there was a whole history of my father's family, but it was all in Japanese. And Hiroshi looked at some of it, so I don't have it with me, but my niece, I think, has it. Sounds like she's going to get all the Tule Lake archives kind of stuff.

KL: That'd be great. It would be wonderful to get that translated.

SK: Yeah. And you know, he was very strict in many way, but he was a very generous spirited person. I remember always... we were a poor family, and it was eight of us or six or whatever, and he always finds somebody who needed more, and he'd bring them home, and we'd share a meal with them. And at one point they lived in Loomis, you know, right near the railroad tracks, and there were a lot of what they called hobos in those days, and he'd invite them in and feed them and provide a sandwich and send them off. I mean, he was just very generous that way. You know, when there was something needed to be done at church, for example, for Obon, the yard needed clearing up, he go and cleaning the yard, trim the trees or whatever, and cart it off all at his own expense. And one time he was going down the road and something fell out, and he got cited for that. It was those, just before where the litter laws were coming into being. And so he went before the judge and says, "Hey, I'm doing this on my own time, my own gas, and I'm going to be, I have to pay this fine." The judge just waived... in other words, he was not afraid of speaking up when he felt it was necessary.

So when we went to camp, and this kind of leads right into it, I was... by the time I got to Tule Lake, I was nine. Left Newcastle when I was eight, nine when I got to Tule Lake. And so to recruit for the army, my father went to the meeting and told the Nisei, "You're fools. Why should you?" And you're like this, you're already considered disloyal, why should you volunteer for the army?" Someone reported him to the FBI and lo and behold, they came to get him one day. I remember it very vividly, we were playing some kind of game between the barracks, and the two FBI agents came and took him off, and we didn't see him for eighteen months. And again, going through my sister's papers, we saw... see, he was sent to Sharp Park, just on the peninsula here, first, and then from Sharp Park to Santa Fe. So... as I say, we didn't see him for eighteen months.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2015 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.