Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Katsumi Okamoto
Narrator: Katsumi Okamoto
Interviewer: Richard Potashin
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
Date: November 7, 2007
Densho ID: denshovh-okatsumi-01

<Begin Segment 1>

RP: My name is Richard Potashin, we are at the Golden Nugget casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, at the Minidoka reunion. We are this morning interviewing Kats Okamoto, a former internee at the --

KO: Can I correct that? That's Kats.

RP: Kats.

KO: K-A-T-S.

RP: Okay. Kats Okamoto. And he was a former internee at Puyallup Assembly Center.

KO: Yes.

RP: And then later on, at Minidoka War Relocation Center. The date of the interview is November 7, 2007, and our videographer for this interview is Kirk Peterson. And Kats, thank you so much for sharing your stories with us this morning. Can I refer to you as Kats?

KO: Kats, yes.

RP: And I'd like to start our interview by getting a little background information on you and your family. Can you tell us, first, where you were born and what year?

KO: I was born in Seattle, Washington, in 1926. July 5th.

RP: Were you born at home or were you born in a hospital?

KO: I was born, delivered by a midwife.

RP: Which was sort of the tradition at that time?

KO: Yes.

RP: Was there a hospital that served the Japanese community in Seattle?

KO: There was a hospital, yes. Some of the ones that could afford it, I think, went to the hospitals.

RP: Right, it was an issue of economics.

KO: Yes, I think it was.

RP: As most everything is. [Laughs] What was your given name at birth?

KO: Katsumi, spelled K-A-T-S-U-M-I. Katsumi Okamoto.

RP: And you had quite a large family and a large number of siblings. Can you give us their names in order of their birth?

KO: Yes. Hannah -- I don't have their birthdates exactly -- but Hannah, Hanako, I think is now eighty-five, Miyeko is eighty-four...

RP: How much older is...

KO: We're quite close together, year and a half apart.

RP: How much older is Hanako than you?

KO: She would be, well, she's gotta be five years older than me. So she is eighty-six, she won't admit it. [Laughs] Miyeko is next, then my brother, John, who is here, Mamoru, that's his name.

RP: Mamoru.

KO: Yeah, and he was, he was born in 1924, and my younger sister was born in 1929, 1930. Kazuko.

RP: So you still have most of your...

KO: We're all alive yet.

RP: That's really fortunate. Did you ever have an English name, were you given an English name at birth?

KO: I got it, given to me, I'm trying to think. I went to work on a farm in Twin Falls, Idaho, the first time I went out, and somehow I picked up the name Richard. This farmer's wife thought Richard was good. And then I think someone else agreed it was good. So I picked up the name Richard, and it's on my national register now, too, as Richard Katsumi Okamoto.

RP: Well, I support that name, too, so... that's a good name. What about your Japanese name? Many, many people sort of know what their name means.

KO: Well, yeah, my name in Japanese kanji or, is "win beautifully." Katsu is "win" and Mi is utsukushii in Japanese, which is "beautiful." So evidently it means good sport.

RP: How about your last name, Okamoto?

KO: Okamoto would be oka, base of a cliff or mountain, I mean, down to the ocean, yeah, Okamoto. Moto is the base, oka, I think, is "cliff."

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

RP: Let's talk a little bit about your father, Kats. Can you give us his name?

KO: Masaru. I think he came over about fourteen years old with my grandpa and grandma along with two brothers.

RP: Was he, was he the youngest brother or the oldest brother?

KO: He was the oldest brother.

RP: He was. And do you know why, why his parents brought the family over?

KO: No real reason. I think my, my understanding, my grandfather did not want to farm. He was rather adventurous and he turned the farm over there over to his younger brother and he came to this country. He first tried Hawaii, but he didn't care for the atmosphere, 'cause I think everybody was on these plantations. So he came over here and loved Bainbridge Island. So I think he had a small greenhouse right by the Port Blakely or the old ferry dock. That's what I was told.

RP: So he established himself in agriculture.

KO: Yes, a greenhouse, small business.

RP: Growing flowers or vegetables?

KO: No, vegetables. And he had some strawberries, but it didn't last too long. I think he started, he was ill, he started getting ill. But he had sent my father to school in Seattle, and I think my father, if I recall, stayed with a doctor or someone, and did all the outside work, the tasks like a houseboy.

RP: A houseboy.

KO: And he went through school.

RP: So he graduated high school?

KO: Yes, he did, that's what I understand.

RP: Did he ever talk to you at all about those early years in the United States?

KO: Not really as much, because I think the war interrupted that part or I think we as kids were adult enough to start asking questions and...

RP: You said that your dad's father was ill and he eventually went back to Japan?

KO: No, he went back several times.

RP: For treatment.

KO: Yes.

RP: What was his problem?

KO: I really don't know. I knew he had very poor eyesight and he coughed a lot. It could have been emphysema, too, I'm not sure.

RP: But he chose to go to Japan for treatment rather than America?

KO: Yes, that's what I understand. Then what happened, my dad, my father then took over the business. They sold the greenhouse and they started a grocery store in Seattle. This was well before I was born.

RP: Would that have been in Japan? The Japantown area of Seattle?

KO: Pardon?

RP: The Japantown area of Seattle?

KO: Yes. It's up the First Hill. It's not way downtown, not International District. It is on the First Hill, Eleventh Avenue and Fir Street.

RP: Your grandmother stayed in this country?

KO: No, she came over with him and I saw the manifest at the National Museum where she brought a couple of the boys over with her. I have the manifest, I have copies of it. She brought the boys over.

RP: So your father was running this store, did he actually own the store?

KO: Yeah, he owned the store.

RP: Do you remember the name of the store?

KO: I think it's Joe's grocery store, I think.

RP: Uh-huh. Kind of like what we refer to as a mom and pop neighborhood store?

KO: Yes, uh-huh.

RP: What do you remember about the store? Did you eventually work in the store?

KO: No, I did not. I was too young and he did all the work. My mom would help out. I remember he would sit there polishing all the fruit. He would line it up like you wouldn't believe. And I heard old customers say they never saw somebody have such a beautiful display of fruit, all polished up. He worked very hard, I know.

RP: As a kid growing up, what do you remember most about your father?

KO: Oh, my father was very interested in fishing, salmon fishing, very interested in sports. Now, my brother was a lot better athlete than I was; I was decent, but he was a star and everything. My dad would drive him around, we were fortunate to have a car, and he would drive him to all the, and other people to the games, but my dad was very interested in that. I remember I used to throw as hard as I can to him and he'd catch the ball and not even flinch. So he was, he was a good dad. He encouraged us to participate in sports.

RP: How about education? Was he pretty, was he pretty strict about, did he have plans for his...

KO: No, he was not. I think my mother was more influential that way and of course, my two older sisters being older would do it, but my mother did have a pretty good education in Japan so she pushed our studies as number one.

KP: Can I ask a question? Where did your mother and father meet, or how did they meet? What circumstances?

KO: By picture, it was promised a long time ago, I think, is that yoshi, or whatever, the "picture bride" routine, but they were promised a long time ago.

KP: Before he left Japan?

KO: Pardon?

KP: Before he left Japan, you think they were promised?

KO: Yeah, I think it was by families, I think, it was planned. I'm trying to get the history now. But she went to a girls' school and things, so she was, I understand from her brothers that she was rather spoiled. [Laughs]

RP: I think, I think kids went up to the eighth grade in Japan?

KO: Yeah.

RP: And then some went on to...

KO: A girls' school, yeah.

RP: A girls' school. That was pretty exclusive.

KO: Yeah, some of the refinements. But she didn't get to utilize much because we didn't have the money.

RP: What do you remember about her?

KO: She was the one that spoke up more. I guess I was kinda close to her because my brother was very close to my dad because he was a real good athlete. [Laughs] I was still close to my dad.

RP: Did you get spoiled quite a bit?

KO: Who?

RP: You.

KO: No. No, we were the ones, my younger sister and I talk about it even today, that we were the ones rather ignored because we were the two young ones. Of course, she got all the tap dance lessons and things, and I was the younger brother, you know.

RP: Was there, was there anybody in the family that was musically inclined?

KO: Not really, although my two older sisters took piano lessons. We had a piano, actually, in a small living room. Yeah, they took piano lessons. I remember some recitals.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

RP: Did you live, was there a room adjoining the store?

KO: Behind the store we had a house, uh-huh. Really, we slept in one long big bedroom 'til we moved from the, because of the project, you know, the housing project in Seattle. They put it up on the First Hill, and so we were right on the edge of it and we had to move. My dad lost his business, but I guess he was, helped to establish a new one up on Madison Avenue a little ways up the, further away. I remember him working hard to establish that.

RP: Another grocery store?

KO: Yes, uh-huh. It was a little bigger one this time.

RP: Now, being an Issei, he was not allowed to own land or a business.

KO: That's right.

RP: So he basically leased or rented it.

KO: Basically rented, yeah.

RP: And the second store, financially, how was, did the condition of the family improve over time?

KO: Didn't seem... well, changed a little bit. One thing is because we had the store, we ate well compared to others because we had the... and I think in those days they did a lot of bartering. I think we got a dental service 'cause I remember delivering groceries to the dentist, and that's, I guess they did that in the old days a lot.

RP: So you were the delivery boy?

KO: Well, not really, I wasn't old enough yet when they were doing that, yes.

RP: How did your father's business survive during the Depression years?

KO: He seemed to have done very well, but his problem was he let people charge, and I wonder, I heard word that he never collected on a lot of the bills. And once the war started, that was it. He lost a lot of money, but he was a very gentle-hearted person that helped people out.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

RP: What can you tell us, Kats, about the Japantown area of Seattle?

KO: I didn't go down there as much, but we used to go down there to eat, special occasions, and I remember it being, a certain area was Japanese, then in-between area was between the Chinese and Japanese, and then a little different area was Chinese. But a lot of the Japanese owned the, or leased, you could say, these hotels down there, the, you know, the overnight-type hotels. The seamen would come in and stay.

RP: Right, Victor was just talking about that most of the, most of the hotels in that area were owned by Issei.

KO: That's right.

RP: For mostly single guys.

KO: Transient trade.

RP: Transients coming in and out of the community.

KO: 'Cause I used to pass down that way. When I used to walk down with some friends, we would fish a lot off the docks, which would be dangerous now. We used to crawl under the docks and fish for perch, yellow perch and rock cod, if we could catch it.

RP: Shiners?

KO: Yeah, shiners. [Laughs]

RP: Yeah, I'm familiar with that term after yesterday. Yeah, both Victor and Shig talked about fishing out there.

KO: You heard about where we'd fish, and it wasn't too sanitary? [Laughs]

RP: [Laughs] Right by the outfall. That's where all the fish were, though.

KO: That's right.

RP: How young were you when you started fishing?

KO: Oh, I imagine about maybe eleven, ten, eleven. It's hard to think back, it's such a long time ago, but that was part of our recreation.

RP: What else did you do for fun and recreation?

KO: Well, I don't know if you have heard of Collins Playfield.

RP: Yes.

KO: Okay, it used to be there, and I used to meet people there, and we would play basketball on an outdoor court. We used to monopolize it, certain people, and do things. And during the winter they would open up the inside and we would play basketball. But on a Saturday if you had nothing to do, they had what they call some kind of hockey game with wooden dividers, and we occupied the time that way. Meet your friends at the field house at the park.

RP: A number of folks mentioned that they swam in Lake Washington, too.

KO: Yes.

RP: You used to do that?

KO: Yes, well, they would give us a few pennies to take the cable car or whatever it is to go there. We used to go to Alki Beach, which was... yes.

RP: I'm beginning to learn the hangouts.

KO: And we'd get a locker and leave all our clothes. Of course, things were in terms of pennies in those days 'cause a dime was a lot of money, see. But I was fortunate enough to have that privilege even to get a nickel or dime. A lot of people couldn't even afford that so I considered myself very fortunate.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

RP: How about, what was your first work experience?

KO: My first work experience was, my dad, when my grandfather got sick, my dad started the business. He set my grandfather and grandmother up with a, just a little farm, they rented a place in Thomas, Washington. And starting about, I'd say I was about nine or ten years old, I would spend the summers with them since my folks were busy, you know. But then when I was about, I guess, twelve years old, I worked for a farmer, I didn't get paid much, but weeding and maybe picking a few beans, picking a few berries.

RP: Berries.

KO: Yes, uh-huh.

RP: Where was, where was the farm located?

KO: Thomas, Washington.

RP: And where is Thomas in relationship to Seattle?

KO: It would be beyond Kent, halfway between Kent and Auburn, Washington. So, I spent my summers there, and...

RP: What was that like for you?

KO: Well, sometimes it was lonely 'til my best friend started staying with me from Seattle. He stayed about two summers.

RP: What was his name?

KO: Hank Karakomi. I remember him staying one or two summers with me.

RP: Did you have some other, other good friends that you palled around with?

KO: Yeah, in the early days. Our families are very close in those days.

RP: Did you mostly congregate with kids in your neighborhood, Kats?

KO: Yes, uh-huh. He wasn't in our neighborhood, though, see, they lived, we used to do things. We'd meet and maybe play. We had an area right by where my dad had a grocery store with an open field, and we'd make up baseball games or football games. Then a block away, probably some others have told you about it, they had a place called Dugdale. Dugdale off of Twelfth Avenue and between Yesler and Fir Street, and that's where they played the serious sports, football. But we had no equipment so we would stuff pillows in our sweaters and stuff as shoulder pads.

RP: Oh, how creative.

KO: I wasn't that good, I was a little too young yet, because I left Seattle when I was fifteen. All the big guys played the rough sport, you know.

RP: Did you play baseball too?

KO: I played some. I played mostly basketball.

RP: Did Seattle have any sort of semi-pro basketball teams?

KO: No, not really. We had what they called the Courier League, I think you've heard of it, started by this...

RP: Mr. Sakamoto?

KO: Jim Sakamoto, who was blind. He was blinded, he was boxing and got hit in the temple, and he was permanently blinded. But he started this, I think he started the JACL, but he had that newspaper, the Courier, so we called it the Courier League. And he had it for all age groups.

RP: What league were you in? I guess there was an ABC?

KO: I was in the C, 'cause we were the younger group. I left Seattle when I was fifteen so we were the younger ones. But it's... well, I guess, I see a lot of guys here that I played basketball with on the same team, you know. You're privileged to be on a good team or a bad team and I was very fortunate that I was on some of the better teams.

RP: What position did you play?

KO: I probably played forward because I was a little bit taller than most, you know. We all tend to be short.

RP: Pretty good shooter?

KO: Pardon?

RP: You were a good shooter?

KO: Okay. I handled the ball better, I think. My brother was the shooter. [Laughs]

RP: And what, was he on the next league up from you?

KO: Yes. In fact, he went to Broadway High School, it turned out. I think he made all-city the sophomore year in high school.

RP: In basketball?

KO: Yes, uh-huh. That's why everybody knows him. I've always been his kid brother.

RP: All-city, yeah.

KO: Everybody expects you to be just as good.

RP: Right. It's hard to live up to that.

KO: Well, yes, but I hung around with other guys that had the same situations.

RP: Yes. What social events do you remember attending with your family, picnics?

KO: Yes, well, we went to, all went to Japanese school, language school, the big one. I think the majority of us went there, and, after our regular school.

RP: Every day?

KO: Yeah, uh-huh, and sometimes I would skip. I think I started turning out for basketball in junior high school or middle school, I wouldn't make it there. But it was all right with my dad 'cause he was a real sportsman, like my brother. They had practice after school and games, so he no longer had to go, you know.

RP: Oh, really?

KO: But that helped me. I guess they kept track of me, I must have... 'cause when they told me to go to Fort Snelling to study, I don't recall even taking a test, they just stuck me into class, you know.

RP: You had been to Japanese school.

KO: Language, no, this was the military language school. So that's where we got a basis for our... we did speak enough and understand enough Japanese language, I think all of us did.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

RP: Now, you said your father graduated from high school.

KO: Yes, that is what I understand, yeah.

RP: And he also had --

KO: I never got the true story. I'm trying to find out.

RP: He also had a business, too, so he must have had --

KO: Oh, he started the business after that.

RP: Right, so he had a certain level of fluency in English?

KO: Yes, he spoke quite well. And my mother seemed to understand, and could speak enough, better than most.

RP: Most Issei?

KO: But my dad spoke pretty good English.

RP: With a business like that, it would seem he would have had to.

KO: Yes, uh-huh. He was a very friendly soul, nice, mild and nice. I remember that. I don't think I ever recall him losing his temper.

RP: Did he express himself outwardly?

KO: Not as much. I think he, yeah, I don't know whether it's a Japanese trait or not, but I think we have problems expressing ourselves.

RP: You said your mother was a little more the talker.

KO: Yes, a little more vocal, yes. A lot more confidence, I think that's the way to put it. That's my childhood as I recall, and I did get in trouble a little bit. I was kind of the, I was the family renegade, I think. [Laughs] Very active.

RP: Like what?

KO: Oh, I remember getting in a fight one day at school and my dad had to come. That's a no-no, you know, with people.

RP: Where did you go to school, Kats?

KO: I went to school at Pacific School. All of us in the neighborhood went there. That used to be on, if I recall correctly, it was on Eleventh Avenue and I don't know how far over, maybe Pine or somewhere in there. I don't recall anymore 'cause they closed it down. Then I went to, they established Washington Middle School, and that's where I went. Then I went to Broadway High School. I was there a year and a half, really, that's about it, when we got evacuated.

RP: The notice?

KO: I was fifteen when I, we left Seattle. So...

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

RP: What was the greatest influence on you growing up? Was it your parents, was it sports, or...

KO: I'm trying to think. [Laughs] I know my, when I spent summers with my grandpa and grandma, I learned about work ethics because my grandmother had this little farm, a couple acres, but she worked for other people. Here she is in her sixties and just working every day, getting up at 4:30 in the morning, and she would read her Bible, she was a Christian. She went to a missionary school in Japan and she would read the Bible for half an hour at least every morning, then she would start the, she would have the wooden stove going and she would cook breakfast. Then she'd have it ready and by seven o'clock she was going to work. My grandfather couldn't work, he'd stay at home. So I guess maybe I picked up some of her work ethics. She, I never saw someone so disciplined, work hard.

RP: You mentioned her Bible study.

KO: Yes.

RP: And Christian...

KO: She read it, she was, yeah.

RP: Was your family and yourself particularly involved in religious activities, too?

KO: My mother -- this is rather odd -- my mother was a Buddhist, so she would take, she would take my younger sister to Buddhist church, but the rest of us all attended the Episcopal church, St. Peters, which was about a block and a half away. My dad, you know, my dad was more, I would say, agnostic, or you want to say, he didn't go. Of course, he did a lot of fishing on Sunday mornings. [Laughs] But he made sure we went to church. But my mother later became, after the war, became a very strong Episcopalian. You never saw one as strong as she was. I'm still, we're all still Anglicans to this day. I serve at the altar here in Seattle. I did that for twenty-something years back East. That was a refuge for me, really. Any new town I went to back East or in the Midwest, you start with a church, and that's the best basis for making friends, getting to know good people.

RP: Did your grandparents talk much about Japanese culture? Did they introduce you to the idea of you being Japanese?

KO: My grandpa was more that way. My grandma didn't talk as much, she was rather quiet but she was the strong one. My grandfather used to tell me about behaving and being proud, talk about pride, yes.

RP: Not bringing any shame to the family?

KO: That's right, that's the way he was. [Laughs]


RP: Kats, we were just talking about your grandfather and talking about taking pride in your Japanese-ness. And he was the one that kind of shared that with you.

KO: Uh-huh. And also I think my mother was stronger that way, because my dad came over when he was quite young. He didn't get that, develop that sense of, what would you say, Japanese pride. But -- I'm sorry?

RP: Go ahead.

KO: No, no. I'm okay.

RP: I was just going to say, your dad, it sounds like your dad may have had a little more American perspective on... as a young Issei.

KO: Yes, coming over quite young, yes, uh-huh. Yeah, he seemed to get along with his customers, they thought a lot of him. And he worked hard, quietly. As long as he could go salmon fishing, he was known as a very good salmon fisherman.

RP: Would he go out on his own boat or...

KO: Well, I remember him later on having a motor. A lot of people didn't have a boat motor. He had a Johnson motor, I remember that. And he'd put it in a barrel and he'd test it out, tune it up. That was his pride. And the other thing was, he would take, I guess he had samurai swords from the family, from my grandpa, grandpa's parents or whoever it was, he would polish it, take it out and really oil it up. I used to sit there in amazement and watch him, you know, and I wanted that so bad, but it goes to the older brother. My brother has it in Florida at this time, so it's one of those things. It's a tradition that the oldest get it, you know, so I don't begrudge that.

RP: Yeah.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

RP: Well, let's talk about Pearl Harbor.

KO: Okay.

RP: The attack on Pearl Harbor, specifically, if you can tell us how you heard about the tragic news of the bombing and also your reaction as well as your parents and your other siblings.

KO: Well, it's amazing. I think it was that Sunday morning and I guess I was... I don't know where I was. I was fourteen, wasn't I? Fifteen at that time. Anyway, my sisters called me and they were all gathered around a radio, listening. And I think my parents were in disbelief, they couldn't believe what was happening. I remember hearing Roosevelt, I mean, the voices saying Pearl Harbor is being attacked, and that's all I remember. At that age, you're really not quite there yet, not quite an adult and it didn't hit me as hard as I think it hit my older sisters, because she was going to university. And my mom, especially, it hit real hard. I didn't know what was going on really in a way, what the consequences will be. None of us knew. We thought of ourselves as Americans, yeah.

RP: Many Nisei kids your age remember going to school the next day and what that was like.

KO: Yeah, that's right.

RP: Can you share your experience?

KO: No, I didn't notice really any difference, because I think we had enough Japanese Americans at the school, so people did not. And I think the people that went to Bailey Gatzert, you heard of that school, was all, mostly Asians anyway, and they had a very understanding principal. I think we did, too, so I don't remember any harsh reactions to that.

RP: There were some things that changed, restrictions like curfew.

KO: Oh, yes.

RP: How did that effect, did it have a direct effect on your family? Curfew and restrictions?

KO: Yeah, we followed rather blindly. We're very obedient, we're taught to be obedient, so we stuck to the curfew. I remember a neighbor hopping over the fence to come see my sisters about nine o'clock at night, hopping over the back fence. But they were both going to college at that time so they knew each other.

RP: They were both going to University of Washington?

KO: One of my sisters, yeah.

RP: Was that the plan for you, to go to college, too, eventually?

KO: Well, I don't think I was even thinking that far ahead.

RP: How about your older brother?

KO: I don't, he was thinking, he was more involved in athletics. He was a very good athlete and being the star of the basketball team at Broadway High School, he had a little different circumstance than I did. I was a nondescript freshman and then a sophomore. I remember taking classes and trying to do the best I can. But after the war started and I was going, school didn't seem to matter as much. I was rather mixed up; I think all of us were. What's our next step? 'Cause our parents were very puzzled.

RP: "What's going to happen to us?"

KO: That's right.

RP: Uncertainty?

KO: I was old enough to realize that, but not old enough to really analyze the whole situation.

KP: Can I ask a question or two? Were your grandparents still alive by Pearl Harbor?

KO: Well, I have something interesting on that. They were both alive. After the war started, my grandfather went to -- you probably heard people talking, Thomas, Washington, about Iseris grocery store in Thomas. Everybody knew it, right by the main highway between Seattle and Auburn. And my granddad had gone down there, on the way back, there was a hit and run. Somebody hit my grandpa and killed him. And we don't know whether it was racial or not. But I remember that we had right across the street from us, the highway, there was a Miller's Dairy Farm who held auctions for dairy cattle and things. Now, he's the one I understand that expressed really, anger that he felt somebody might have... 'cause the guy took off as the hit and run. Now, if this guy had cared, he would have stopped. So that was one of the sad situations we had right after the war started.

RP: And so what happened with the farm and your grandmother?

KO: Well, he was renting the farm, so when we left... well, we left shortly after. I felt bad for my grandma, you know, that here she worked hard, but she kept things going, she raised chickens, and my dad sold all the eggs, Rhode Island red, the brown eggs. He'd sell it at the store for her. She grew some crops, though, she grew broccoli, I remember, and she grew peas, a couple acres. She worked, can you imagine an older lady doing all of that? But we had this person that I worked for, that farmer, they were very nice. They came over and they cultivated with a tractor and stuff for her. They were very nice people, you know. We were very fortunate.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

RP: Did you have to turn in any, there was a number of items that were considered contraband like radios and cameras. Do you remember having to turn in any of those?

KO: Well, my dad, I remember, had a .22 rifle, and he also had a shotgun. [Laughs] He took the firing pins off of those and got rid of 'em.

RP: Just sold them?

KO: Well, he didn't sell them, he just got rid of them. I don't know what he did with it.

RP: How about the swords?

KO: Huh?

RP: How about the swords?

KO: He stored them. Now if I recall, I think a lot of the, all the items we stored they claimed was lost in a fire. But the idea, my mother was very strong into flower arrangements as an instructor, and all her lacquerware, all of those things disappeared by the time we had in storage, and they were gone.

RP: Where did you store them?

KO: I think they were stored in a public warehouse, plus some were stored on Bainbridge Island, I think. We had very good friends in Bainbridge Island, but most of that all disappeared. They claimed it burned down.

RP: You never got any of that back?

KO: No, we got some back. In fact, we got some furniture back that, some of my dad's customers at the second store, in fact, I think there were a couple of German families that felt some empathy for him and said, "We'll store it." I think it was that way, and they even shipped it out to us in Chicago.

KP: Oh, really? And that was the samurai swords?

KO: What?

KP: The samurai swords.

KO: They disappeared.

KP: They did?

KO: So we got another set officially from Japan. They got it for us, to replacement. And it's in my brother's keeping down in Tampa, Florida.

KP: Did your folks pay rent on the storage for the duration in camp?

KO: I don't know what they did, I don't know about that arrangement. But they stored it with, they had a government storage, which wasn't kept up. I mean, it was all, it was a joke, I think.

RP: Not too many folks at that point trusted the government to store anything.

KO: Pardon?

RP: Not too many folks trusted the government to store items.

KO: No, well, it's no different today. [Laughs]

RP: Yeah, we can't find things at Manzanar.

KO: That's right.

RP: What happened to your father's business?

KO: He sold it, the goods. I understand that business didn't last very long. But some people came up to him and said, gee, they don't understand what's going on, really. I don't think the average person did, any clear-thinking people, you know. But I don't know what you do. I felt sorry for my dad. When I left Seattle I was fifteen, so you know really, I didn't have a real deep understanding of what was going on.

RP: Right. It's pretty well-acknowledged by most of the, most of the Nisei and everybody else, that it was the Issei that really suffered the brunt of the...

KO: Oh yes, uh-huh. When you work all your life for things, yeah. All taken away at the stroke of a pen. Then my dad had a heart attack right before he went to camp. I think it's all the stress. He had a stroke, so...

RP: And was he hospitalized?

KO: Yes, he was, and when we went from "Camp Harmony," which is a joke, "Camp Harmony," Puyallup, we went before him and he came with the hospital people. He was confined with a stroke. I think he had suffered it while he was in Puyallup, because all that stress got to him. Of course, I think he had high cholesterol levels but we didn't realize it. So he was rather an invalid, not real bad but he couldn't do anything strenuous after that.

RP: During the time you were in Puyallup he was kind of laying low?

KO: Yeah, even afterwards. Take it easy.

RP: Did your, did the whole family go as a group to Puyallup?

KO: Yes, we did. Yes, and we even took our, made sure my grandmother and my uncle came up from California.

RP: Oh really? Where?

KO: They were in Los Angeles. The two boys ran a fruit stand, and I remember him saying they were regular customers, the one they loved was Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. I don't know if you ever heard of him, very famous. But he would take a morning walk, and theirs was the stop. I guess he might have stopped to talk a lot also.

RP: So there was a real effort to gather up all the family and go as a unit?

KO: Yes, we wanted to do that. I stayed, yeah, we were lucky to be, retain the family unit.

RP: Together.

KO: Uh-huh.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

RP: Did, what were your first impressions when you got to Puyallup and saw what the government had established there as a camp?

KO: My first impression, everything was disorganized. I went to the restroom, or latrine, and it smelled like a horse stall or whatever you want to call it. It was. Underneath the grandstand, and it really stunk. You know how they could smell. We were fortunate, we didn't stay under the grandstands. We were out in the open area within the confines of the inner, what do you say, the racetrack itself? The inner circle. So we were in wooden shacks, all in one room.

RP: Oh, all of you were in room?

KO: I think we had two. My grandma and my uncle had one small unit.

RP: Yeah, Shig was telling us yesterday that there were, the camp was set up into different areas, like Area A, B and C.

KO: Yes, I was in Area D. The big one.

RP: Oh, D.

KO: Yeah, that's where they had the grandstand and the horse racetrack, and things.

RP: I think early on there was restrictions as to, you know, that you had to have a special pass to go from one area to another. They were very strict about going...

KO: And most of the other people wanted to come to our area, from A, B, C, 'cause they were in the, they were in the smaller areas, and the main area was Area D. But it was very boring. I remember curfew time, bedtime. They had selected certain people to be the authorities, or to police, self-governing type things. Some of these, a couple of 'em, they really tried to exercise it 'cause they had a authority for the first time. But they, you know, it's alright. We all cooperated. We as, in our Japanese culture, I guess we did not rebel or anything, we went along with the flow. Of course, we had no choice.

RP: How did you pass the time in Puyallup? What did you do to keep your mind busy?

KO: Well, ran around with friends, people I knew, we just ran around and did things together. That's all I remember. Maybe played catch if we wanted to, or try to occupy our time, that's really what it is. Instead of sitting there grumbling, it didn't help.

RP: So did you find that you began to gravitate more to your group of friends than your family?

KO: Yes, yes. You're talking about family life, I think at that point, started disappearing. We no longer had it.

RP: You ate with your friends.

KO: Yup. It became important to establish that bond.

RP: Were you conscious of the guard towers and the barbed wire fence?

KO: Well, we looked at it. You could see them, they had machine guns on top of the grandstand itself. I thought the guns were supposed to point outwards, but they were pointing inwards.

RP: So how did that make you feel?

KO: I had a lot of mixed feelings. Being fifteen, you really, I was more worried, concerned about my, about my activities, is that a good way to put it, with my friends, trying to make the best of the situation. And that's the way I'd put it. I know some people said they tried to make fun but I think it's a matter of adapting and trying to the best of what you have. I think that's what I felt.

RP: Did your sisters or brother work in the camp?

KO: I don't think we did as much in Puyallup. We did when we went to the permanent location. I remember I worked there when I got there. We were kinda early, so I got on a truck with some friends and we distributed mattresses. We acted like we were important people as the new ones come in. You toss mattresses down. [Laughs]

RP: You had mattresses, actual real mattresses, not bags filled with straw?

KO: In Puyallup, we had bags filled with straw.

RP: And you had to fill those, didn't you?

KO: Yes, you had to do that. They had a pile of straw, gave you bags, fill your own. I remember that. But in the permanent camp we had these, if I recall, the metal army cots with the mattresses with army blankets.

RP: Well, it sounds like Puyallup was pretty crude.

KO: Oh, yes.

RP: And just, like you said, very chaotic.

KO: Yeah, families were just, I think there's no family life. You can't have family life unless you're very strict. If you were very dedicated, a strong family, maybe you could maintain. I think my sisters hung around with the family. I know my brother and I kinda went with our friends. And he had his teammates from Broadway High School. I remember one time early in the game, he would bring back, bring in hamburgers and stuff. So he had it a couple times, and the guards decided no way, that's it. They were passing it through the barbed wire.

RP: Oh.

KO: Yeah, they were very loyal to him, they were teammates. I recall that. I was very jealous. [Laughs]

RP: I heard a story, too, that there were actually vendors who set up little stands and things and sold things through the fence.

KO: I guess I didn't know that because I didn't have any money to spend.

RP: Yeah, after Pearl Harbor, the FBI rounded up all the Issei leaders, community people. They also froze the assets of Japanese families. Were you able to bring any money into camp with you?

KO: I don't remember. See, I wasn't in on that part, so I don't know whether they did or not. I was one of the younger ones. Like my kid sister says, we were the last ones to know within the family. My older sisters were more involved. So financially I don't know. My dad had run up a lot of bills. He let people charge, unfortunately, and when the war started, it was gone.

RP: Right, that was, that financial stress as well as the evacuation stress created a medical problem.

KO: And he ate very unhealthy, we realize today. He didn't care for fish; he didn't eat much fish. It was all, he had access to all the pork chops and that, uh-huh. He probably was loaded with cholesterol and he didn't realize it.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

RP: Kats, you said you were one of the first to arrive at Minidoka?

KO: No, we were probably, maybe, the first third, put it that way. Because Block 1, I think they came up from Block 1 and they had forty-eight blocks, wasn't it, or something. We were Block 13 so you can imagine what sequence we were coming in.

RP: There were many stories shared about the earlier hardships of Minidoka, like a portion of the camp was still under construction, there was no sewage system, the coal was late in arriving at winter. Can you share with us your personal impressions of the early months at Minidoka?

KO: Early months, I really can't say it because I didn't stay at home much. [Laughs] I stayed with my friends, we would, after we'd pass out mattresses, we'd kinda wander around camp because there wasn't that much to do at that point. Nothing was established yet. I guess we walked around as buddies. Somebody had a record player; they had these 45 records and we'd sit there and listen.

RP: Is this the group of friends that you kind of acquired?

KO: Yes, and then we remained friends. Yeah, all of a sudden we were kind of attracted to each other. There were some, we knew some, we were together a little bit in Seattle. Now this bonded us together.

RP: Were you all the same ages, or...

KO: Yes, we were pretty much the same age. We were class of '44 or '45.

RP: Can you describe to us a little bit about the camp environment, the landscape around the camp? Was it mostly sagebrush, desert?

KO: What I recall was we'd wander around the camp, and everything was the same, really, you think about sagebrush, watch out for rattlesnakes. We followed some guy, we thought we were tough enough to go after rattlesnakes. Made nooses, some guys would actually catch 'em and cut the rattles off and hang them on their belt. That actually happened. I guess we were not that daring. Oh yeah, we didn't want to get bitten. We pretended to be pretty tough, but I guess we weren't.

RP: Did you go around collecting items? Some people would collect arrowheads, or stones?

KO: No, we didn't. But my uncle, they were interested in, they learned that there was a certain type of wood they called greasewood to make things out of. He was interested in that. I think my uncle made, got the wood and made a couple of chests. My sister has one of those, in fact, in Chicago. It's amazing how he did it. It looks real good, it works well. I think he dovetailed a lot of it so you don't have to pound nails. It's more of a fit, dovetail fit, so he must have been quite talented as far as I'm concerned.

KP: I'm still not quite sure of the situation of the barbed wire and the guard towers at Minidoka. When you first arrived there, were there guard towers with the barbed wire? Did it change as you were there?

KO: I don't recall ever seeing guards up in the guard towers. I think other people have told you that, haven't they?

RP: There was, in going through some of the literature, it appears that it was months before they decided to build guard towers and barbed wire. People had respected the boundary signs and that type of thing, and then suddenly they began constructing barbed wire and guard towers, and there was this big outcry, "Why are you doing this?"

KO: Yeah, some of the people. The older ones.

RP: I guess they electrified the fence, too, for a short time.

KO: I don't think so. Did they electrify it? I don't believe they did.

RP: Yeah, they said they did, and that created even more conflicts, so there was really no problem to begin with and the WRA created a problem by constructing guard towers and barbed wire. But there was a huge outcry about it and I guess they took most of the barbed wire fence down.

KO: Yeah, I heard rumors of first-generation Isseis, some of 'em going out and cutting it. Nobody can verify that.

RP: Cutting the barbed wire?

KO: Yeah. Then I remember the only thing I heard of was that one of the guard towers burned down 'cause kids were up there smoking. [Laughs] They must have lit a bonfire or something and the guard tower burned down. I don't ever recall seeing a guard up in the guard tower. They didn't need it, they knew they didn't need it.

RP: Right, right.

KO: The soldiers knew it, the guards, you know. Some of them were South Pacific veterans. Most of 'em were quite reasonably nice, you know, they were.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

RP: Did you have any contact with MPs at all?

KO: Yeah, we as a group sometimes. I remember one time, we waved to him, the guy stopped, starts talking. Really, it was, he was a decent human being, you know. Of course, he realized we weren't dangerous. Once we went out to work on the farms, everything was just so relaxed it was pitiful. Yeah, yeah. It was a joke, as far as I'm concerned. I could sign up to go to town shopping in Twin Falls, Idaho. You sign up ahead of time and then took a bus to town.

RP: So a bus ran every day?

KO: Yes, uh-huh. You could sign up for going downtown. Like somebody said, one of the places that accepted us, you know, all the restaurants wouldn't serve us. But there was a chicken place, fried chicken place with honey, you heard about that. And they treated us very nice, but he was smart, I think he made a lot of money.

RP: What else would you do in town when you went there?

KO: Wander around a little bit. I understand there was a few incidents where the little kids, the younger people, were kind of ridiculed and told to do, tried to make 'em crawl or something. I heard about that. But one of the, I think it was the physical ed. teacher, happened to be in town and he just walked up, I guess, and told these people off.

RP: Oh, they were harassing young Niseis?

KO: Harassing them, yeah. That was, I just heard about it. I never did have troubles.

RP: Did you go with your group of friends?

KO: Yeah, a few of us would go together. Especially after I worked that one year in Oregon, eastern Oregon, harvesting potatoes and mainly sugar beets. Came back and for my graduation I went downtown and I bought my sport coat, my graduation. I made enough money to buy a nice pair of shoes, slacks, tie, shirt and the sport coat. It was amazing 'cause most people didn't make that kind of money. And I worked for a Mormon farmer who I feel was very sympathetic toward us, very nice. He practiced his religion, and treated us really like human beings. Let us have a truck, he didn't go with us. And we'd drive the truck to town, Vail, Oregon, and go shop for our groceries for the week.

RP: So how soon after you got to Minidoka that you went out on this furlough?

KO: Let's see, I was fifteen.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

RP: Kats, we were talking a little bit about your experiences outside of camp. Let's go back into camp. You palled around with some really, you had a tight, kind of cohesive group of friends in camp.

KO: Yeah, there were about seven of us that hung around. We weren't a big gang, some of the guys were big, but...

RP: Were there any kind of rivalries between groups of kids in camp?

KO: We never were. We did what we wanted to. There was not really, 'cause Northwest people, Seattle area people, were very mild people. Minidoka, I think, was known as one of the, say, the moderate...

RP: Moderate.

KO: They didn't have the problems there at all. There was a few incidents during that time between the ones that volunteered, and some comments I think were made by the ones that were objecting to being imprisoned and so, but Minidoka as a whole was considered a very, well, moderate atmosphere camp. There was no great protests.

RP: Like at Manzanar or Tule Lake.

KO: Or Tule Lake, yes. In fact, they took the few problem area people from Minidoka and transferred them down to Tule Lake, and brought up the Northwest people that were imprisoned down there back to Minidoka. And my wife was one of those that I think, yeah, was down in Tule Lake and was brought back up.

RP: She originally was in Seattle?

KO: No, Independence, Oregon.

RP: Oh, and they sent her to Tule Lake.

KO: Tule, and then they brought her back up to rejoin the family and things.

RP: Did you, did you meet her in Minidoka?

KO: No, I never knew her in camp.

RP: You never did?

KO: She was four years younger. We were kind of stratified, once you're in a confined area, you got these levels of people and we hung around more with our age group.

RP: Right, it seems like the groups were very stratified according to ages.

KO: Yes, I've always been told by the older ones, they didn't know me because I was one of the younger ones.

RP: Did you guys get into any mischief in camp? Did you begin smoking in camp or drinking?

KO: Two of my friends smoked. But they did not, we were rather moderate, our group, and we did things together. In fact, like I remember we sponsored dances which means getting a hold of the facility mess hall, and we'd do all the preparation work, we moved all the furniture. I remember one Christmas, we got hold of white sheets, moved everything out to the outside, I mean, toward the walls, decorated the whole, just surrounded the whole area with white sheets. And then if I recall, my friend that became an architect, a very famous architect in Detroit, we set up a little lighting fixture. Then we played the music and let everybody enjoy dancing. So we did about two or three of those dances, plus I felt somebody had to do it to make the best of things. I heard some Caucasians, we were talking one day, they said, I said we did that. "Oh, you enjoyed yourself?" I says, "No." I says, "What we did was try to make do with what you, we had, and for you to say we were enjoying ourselves," I says, "that's wrong." I says, "You were home in your own home and having Christmas, and we're trying to make it nice with what we have." I guess I'm different, maybe some people would say, "Well, we had fun." What do you call fun? You make the best of situations.

RP: Not where you wanted to be or what you wanted to do.

KO: That's right.

RP: But this is what you had.

KO: That's right. And it's a wonder, like the school system itself, I wasn't a super brain, but I guess I was okay, but we had people that really did excellent, well, friends of mine. One of my best friends is number one man in the, what would you say, in the financial side for the government. He travels all over for the World Bank, he's a lawyer, things, very outstanding. You don't hear about him but he is one of those prime movers. We've had some very outstanding people. Like Jim Akagi, you met him. He was a, told you he was a professor at Iowa State University in Ames. Microbiology.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

RP: What you just mentioned about helping make things a little better for your block and creating dances.

KO: Oh yeah, in high school I was very active.

RP: Many Niseis did try to make things better for the kids. Older Niseis and you especially. Did you feel a sense of community in your block?

KO: Not within our block. I think within the high school itself, people my age. Frank Muramatsu, who was in charge of registration and things, he and I did a lot of projects together in school, high school. Tried to maintain.

RP: Like what?

KO: Just keeping things going, interesting, I was part of the Hi Y organization.

RP: Is that like a YMCA group?

KO: Yes, it was established and we had a reverend who was the head of it and organized it. There was a reverend, and I felt, I joined it because I was used to going to church and it was a good group. That was an excellent group because we all had religious ties that way. Course, the Buddhist church might have been stronger, I don't know, but I felt I did a lot of projects, volunteered for things, I guess that's why I was active.

RP: Doing this.

KO: With this, yeah. I had, last night was mine. [Laughs]

RP: So that theme has kind of followed you through your life.

KO: I guess you do. Some people, I feel good about it. I've done that back east, I've been in Optimist clubs. In Green Bay, Wisconsin, I was in the JCs.

RP: You mentioned about decorating your barrack for Christmas.

KO: Mess hall.

RP: The mess hall, yeah. There was a big kind of contest, I guess, in Minidoka, you know, who had the most nicely decorated...

KO: Oh, the mess halls itself, not dancing.

RP: Right. Do you remember that?

KO: Yeah, I remember that, but I never participated. We ate wherever we thought there was good food. We would wander as a group. So I rarely ate with my family. And I don't know if that's, I think this was very true for a lot of kids. They dined with their immediate friends rather than... then we tried to choose the better cooks, because the food itself to start with, like mutton, you know, you could make mutton taste good if you prepare it properly. But people to this day won't eat lamb chops, I offered it. Back in Seattle, they don't like it at all. And I tell them, "No, this is lamb chops, not mutton."

RP: What was, so was that your least favorite food in camp?

KO: I guess so, I don't have a recollection exactly. People talk about Vienna sausage because it's an easy thing to do, you know. And to me, I think Vienna sausage was better than mutton if they did prepare it right, 'cause mutton, the old fat is kind of rancid. Then I remember eating some dried dehydrated frozen fish. I remember somebody said swordfish steaks. The government must have had it stored for years probably, a good way to get rid of it. I heard rumors about some of that, boxcars being sidetracked, and I heard rumors that the former director of that was prosecuted. So I don't know about that for sure, I heard.

RP: Former director of Minidoka?

KO: Minidoka food.

RP: Oh, the food.

KO: Procurement. So easy chance to take... but I can't verify that. I heard about it.

RP: There were similar charges at Manzanar as well, that food was being taken and sold on the black market.

KO: Yeah, then it was subject to this, like the old mutton sitting there or somebody said you had swordfish steak, I recall that. But it must have been stuff that was stored for years that nobody wanted and they substituted it, you know.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

RP: Kats, can you talk a little bit about going to high school in the camp? Maybe looking at, I know you only spent a little time in high school in Seattle, but maybe kinda compare high school outside the camp to high school inside the camp, and maybe talk about the teachers, how they inspired you or didn't inspire you, particularly the one teacher that you mentioned earlier, Miss Amerman.

KO: Yes, our core room teacher, or you say homeroom.

RP: How did school start there?

KO: I'm trying to recall. A lot of things have faded. We were told the school was starting, we were assigned rooms for homerooms, that's where everything starts, and Miss Amerman, Helen, was our teacher. I think she was a very caring person. She was, her parents were missionaries in Japan, so she had grown up quite a few years in Japan. I don't know if anybody, she told me about that. So she understood, I think, some of the culture. She really cared about people. She was one of those that was really liked, or -- [laughs] -- you know, that always happens. People form their opinions. I thought she was very sincere. In fact, I figured they had to be sincere in order to come share the environment with us. No sane person would come, because, you know. And Mr. Coombs and Miss Gilbertson and Jerome Light, the principal, he had a family, they all lived there. In fact, I think his children went to school with us, if I recall.

RP: Caucasians?

KO: But my brother knew him better, my brother, John. They kept in touch for years and years and years afterwards. Remember going from class to class and it was kind of, rather mechanical. Environment stunk for learning. If I recall, the chemistry lab was in a laundry room. Did you hear about that? Yeah. Where else would you have water, these big laundry tubs and you lay a board across. I remember, if I recall correctly, we had a little fire. We lost some of the chemistry books so we had to share books, and I wasn't a good chemist anyway so it made it twice as difficult. Although I did take four years later, in college. It was tough competing when I first went back to school because our background was so poor, really. And I don't know how some of these guys did it, they just, they seemed to excel immediately. Maybe they were naturals, but I had to really work at it, my mathematics to catch up and I took physics in college and it was extremely difficult because my background was, maybe I didn't concentrate as much because it was just like starting over. Where other people had high school physics, I feel I started with the basics. It was very difficult for me.

RP: So do you feel like camp education set you back a little bit?

KO: I think so, I believe that, I really do, unless you, some people were inspired to study on their own, you know. And I was doing other things, I think, too much, it was difficult, but I made it through.

RP: And you graduated.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

RP: Let's talk about the following year. You said you took a, did a work furlough in Twin Falls?

KO: Pardon?

RP: You said you did a work furlough in Twin Falls?

KO: No, we went out to a labor camp as a group and we were with a bunch of Jamaicans, next to us, you know, we'd be in this area and they brought 'em up from Jamaica. They would come into, farmers, as they needed labor, come in and ask. That's how we worked. But I didn't make much money because a day laborer and stuff, they hardly paid. And they fed us lunch.


RP: Kats, we were talking about your day labor work in Twin Falls, so correct me if I'm wrong, you went out, you took a bus?

KO: In the day labor camp, yeah. It's on those farm labor camps they established.

RP: Right, and what did you do on the farm? Were you harvesting sugar beets, or...

KO: Well, no, at that time, no, that camp, we were weeding, stacking hay, and I remember moving potatoes around. We harvested potatoes, I remember that. Keeping up with the truck, and we were all about 120 pounders, and they were 40 pound bags of potatoes, you know. The truck goes and the truck driver puts it in gear, they go straight down the furrows, and he's stacking them, we're running beside him and tossing it up. All of 126 pounds when we were doing that. And all of us were small stature. It was hard work, but we did it. Here we are at that time, sixteen years old. [Laughs]

RP: Right, you could remember what your grandmother did.

KO: Yeah, oh yeah.

RP: You had that ethic.

KO: Yeah, I don't know if we did, but it was nice to get out of camp. That was part of the reason why I think we did it.

RP: Now did you come back to camp every evening?

KO: Yes, we had to, as soon as our time was up, we came back. But we didn't hardly have any money left. Oh, we had to pay for food, remember. They didn't furnish the food free, you know, so it was all subtracted.

RP: What about the farmer that you worked for?

KO: I remember getting fed, they gave us lunch and it was interesting, we went as a group and somehow the farmer chose me and brought me into the house and fed me, you know, the family. It was very nice.

RP: Oh, you ate with his family?

KO: Yeah, yeah, and I guess I was more on the religious side and they were a very religious family.

RP: Did you get the sense that they really appreciated...

KO: I felt that way, I think they did.

RP: ...the labor the Japanese Americans were providing?

KO: That's right.

RP: They really saved the, saved the agricultural situation.

KO: I think the second time, second summer I went out, there was much more appreciation.

RP: By the Mormon farmer?

KO: Yes, otherwise the sugar beets would be laying there. Yeah, and we, it was hard work for us, 'cause we were small in stature, trying to, and we would work, we were working twelve, fourteen hours a day there. It'd be pitch black when we finished. We'd work 'til dark.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

RP: How long did you work the Twin Falls job?

KO: That wasn't too long. I would say maybe less than a month when I was at the labor camp. Some of the older guys stayed longer. Yeah, we were the younger guys, and we had guys out there twenty-one, you know. They wanted to get out, I think, and with the experience with the Jamaicans and things.

RP: Yeah, what was that like between the Jamaicans and the Japanese Americans?

KO: I don't remember much at all. Just that, I know they thought they were tough, boxing, and we had a guy that really was halfway decent. So we set up a, if I recall correctly, we set up a boxing match and our guy won. [Laughs]

RP: Oh, right out on the farm?

KO: No, at the labor camp.

RP: Oh, at the labor camp.

KO: Yeah, it was rather interesting. [Laughs] I couldn't have done it, I would have been killed, you know. But, they were, we got along. They weren't the most ambitious because they weren't used to hard labor, I don't think, the ones that came up. They were the ones that needed employment, I think.

RP: They were brought in, they were brought in from Jamaica?

KO: Yeah, they were Jamaicans, yeah. That's all I remember.

RP: Because there was such a shortage of...

KO: That's right.

RP: on the farms so they... that's interesting.

KO: And they might have not have been used to hard labor, either, that's the thing. But that's beside the point, we were there, and when I came back, I didn't have much money on me.

KP: So what did you think of the Jamaican English?

KO: What?

KP: Did the Jamaicans speak English?

KO: Oh, yeah. With an accent, yeah, yeah. That was my first experience with people like that. 'Course, I was used to black people in Seattle because some of 'em hung around with us. 'Cause there was a real small population living in Seattle, there wasn't too many blacks around, and they hung around. One guy hung around Collins Playfield with us all the time. He was very famous for, no, famous for hanging around with us. He was a real character.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

RP: Can you share a little bit with us the impact of camp life on your parents at this time and also your older sisters? You said your dad was, was he still ill in Minidoka?

KO: Well, he couldn't do heavy labor, so they gave him a job at the hospital. He helped in the, assistant cook in the kitchen. So he ate well, and he was able to bring home some...

RP: Special treats?

KO: Special treats, but I never, I wasn't home so I never got to eat it. I was with my friends. I think this is very typical of everybody you talk to that they hung around with their group. Yeah, a disruption of the family structure.

RP: With a lot of, yeah, a lot of different events and sort of dynamic things had changed the whole family structure.

KO: It broke it down.

RP: Right, just the life in camp, as well as kids like yourself going out on farm furloughs, the "loyalty questionnaire."

KO: I was never in on the loyalty because I was a little too young when they put it out. You had to be eighteen, remember, eligible for the draft.

RP: Right.

KO: I never got to be eighteen in camp so I didn't have to face that.

RP: Right. How did your mom adjust or did she, to sort of the routines of camp?

KO: My dad was very Americanized; he believed in this country. In fact, I understand in the early years, my mother had an older sister. They had a big machine shop in Manchuria and they had no children. So you know how that goes, they asked my mother for me, 'cause they had an older brother, they wanted somebody to take over. And my mother was rather concerned a little bit, because you know how, family pressure. My dad just said no. He was very Americanized, and he says, "No, that ain't gonna happen." I wouldn't be here today otherwise, because they were all captured by the Russians and put in prison camps.

RP: Prison camps, wow. The other thing was, I mean, a number of Nisei kids were sent back to Japan...

KO: To study.

RP: To study. Became Kibeis, a different perspective.

KO: But look at it the other way, the U.S. Army were lucky that they did go back, because when they came back, they were the ones that... I'd been reading the history, 'cause I was in the MIS studying, and they did a lot. History is proving that they did shorten the war. They were the ones, remember the (Battle of Midway), that the general was shot down? Admiral that was in command?

RP: Yamamoto.

KO: Yeah. The guys were the ones that intercepted a message and translated it.

RP: They saved so many lives. And they were Kibeis.

KO: Uh-huh. And some of the guys that landed -- [laughs] -- I think we had a guy in Seattle that landed in the second wave of Marines. And he probably had two or three Marine buddies with him, looking after him 'cause he would have been shot. But anyway...

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

RP: So the following year, you went out to Vail. And how long did that stint last?

KO: Gee, I'm trying to recall. Maybe six weeks or longer. I remember getting there, and he furnished us a little house. Just a little bigger than this for the seven of us, which was good. He had bunk beds, he had a little kitchen, we couldn't... he treated us well. We did our own cooking and we'd get up. He'd come pick us up early in the morning, we'd go out there and start working harvesting sugar beets. He'd have 'em all dug out, having those machetes with the hooks on them, and picking them up, and taking the sugar beet on your knee and whacking the end off and toss it on the truck. Some of those things were, if you get it caked with mud, were big and heavy, and I don't know how we did it, but we did it somehow. But it was hard work, very hard work.

RP: And you went into town to shop?

KO: On the weekend, yes.

RP: What else did you do in Vail?

KO: That's about it. But we'd hang around together when we didn't have to work one day. We all got along pretty good. It was a group of guys that, well, we had special treats 'cause he set it up that when (...) it was pheasant season, and he'd tell the farmers he'd allow them to hunt on his property. But any time they got the hen pheasants, which is illegal, they shot them accidentally, he said, "Don't throw 'em away, bring it to our house." So we had pheasant a couple times, we had about three pheasants they would bring, we plucked them. We had somebody that knew enough, his dad was a chef, and he cooked for us. That's one of the plusses we had. But having a good farmer that kind of cared a lot, religious, you know, we had an advantage compared to a lot of other people. He appreciated what we did more than... others came back with no money, hardly.

RP: Yeah, it was a very disappointing experience.

KO: You heard about that? Yeah, yeah. Because the guy charged them.

RP: Right, and sometimes the housing was even worse than barracks in camp.

KO: Yeah, if I recall we weren't charged, I am very sure. 'Cause I had enough to buy a sport coat.

RP: For your graduation?

KO: Yes.

RP: Can you tell us a little bit about graduating in an internment camp?

KO: You know, I keep thinking back, it was just a... [Laughs] I think it was an outdoor ceremony, if I don't recall.

RP: There was an outdoor theater in Minidoka.

KO: Well, it wasn't up yet when I left. In '44 they didn't have one. A lot of that was done afterwards. Because the services they had for the dead servicemen were out in the open, chairs. And I remember wanting to graduate looking properly.

RP: You had caps and gowns, and all the trimmings?

KO: Yeah, I had a sport coat and tie.

RP: Probably meant a lot to you because you'd gone out and earned that money.

KO: Yes, we had to work for it. But some of the others, I don't know what they did. Maybe the parents bought it. We didn't all, they didn't all have clothes to wear. But I worked for mine.

RP: Did you have a prom, too?

KO: Huh?

RP: Did you have a prom?

KO: Yes, we kind of had a prom. Best we could.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

RP: I know you were pretty tight with your buddies, but did you also date in camp?

KO: I didn't do much dating, no. A couple of 'em did, but I was too busy with other things. Maybe my hormone level was low, so... [Laughs] But I was more interested in doing things. Now I don't know, I think, I'm trying to recall and somebody said we did, they had a Boys State. Boys State, you know, where you go to the legislature in Boise. I keep recalling, I went to Boise, they sent me as a representative, they invited us. By that time, my senior year, they realized, hey, we harvested crops, we're not dangerous. I think three of us went, if I recall. But I remember going there and being real puzzled, not knowing what I'm doing. Only good thing that they had an automated cafeteria. You know, food passes by, and I don't know where I got, they must have given me money but I was able to pay for that, or somebody picked the tab up. And sitting there and picking out the food I wanted, I was ready for that.

RP: After mess hall life.

KO: But I don't recall too much, I know, I think I was elected sergeant-at-arms for the House or State Legislature. They elected various people.

RP: So you were there for several days?

KO: Yes, overnight.

RP: As a representative.

KO: I think I was. I checked with somebody, "Did that happen?" And Shuzo Kato said, "Yes, you guys in Hi Y were the ones that invited to go."

RP: So you can boast that you held state offices. [Laughs]

KO: It didn't occur to me 'til I heard somebody talk about Boys State. To me, those things weren't, I don't think, that important.


RP: Kats, you mentioned about the, sponsoring some of the dances in the mess hall?

KO: Yes, we did, one or two or three. I don't know how many but I remember that one in particular because my best friend was very artistic and stuff, so he could decorate.

RP: And you listened to the music of those times, the big band music?

KO: Glenn Miller, yes. And we considered it a privilege to play the music. [Laughs] They would fight over who was going to be the disc jockey, see. I never was, could do it 'cause the other guys wanted it, you know. I did the bull labor.

RP: Of course, you probably had to clean up, too, afterward.

KO: Yes, we had to. I felt it was worth it, do it for the people.

RP: And people from all over the camp or just your block?

KO: High school kids could come, yeah. I guess some of us are geared that way to...

RP: To organize.

KO: Yeah, and be willing to volunteer to do things. Otherwise things wouldn't happen. We had to make activities for ourselves, like we said.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

RP: And then eventually you relocated out of camp.

KO: Yes, I did. I finished high school and about a week after that, see, I was going to turn 18 in July, we graduated the end of May. So I told my mom I'm leaving. I don't know what made me do that. I chose Minneapolis, I don't know for what reason. But we did have a friend there, so two weeks after I graduated, I told my mom, "I'm leaving." She didn't believe me. I was going to leave on Monday, Saturday I started packing, what little I had. And I got on a bus and took a train to Minneapolis.

RP: What was that like for you? Leaving your family?

KO: Oh, it was kind of scary, tell you the truth. I didn't know what I was getting into. Very lonesome. I went all by myself. But they had a hostel there, they call it a hostel, nice house, this Mukai family volunteered to run the hostel. But he was an engineer for Westinghouse so he was pretty successful. But you were allowed to stay there so long, and I ended up in a boarding, rooming house, crowded, three guys in one bedroom with a sun porch, you know. That was better than nothing. Then we went out, and I remember when I first got there, I worked for a wholesale druggist. And I was filling orders with a bunch of other guys. I remember he said, "Hey, boy, you work hard, you do a good job, I'm going to give you a raise in two weeks." I waited a month and I asked him for a raise, and he told me, "You're lucky to have a job." [Laughs] Real nice guy. I walked out 'cause somebody else had a job available, he was getting drafted, at the American Legion Club, which was a very prominent club at that time, in Minneapolis. So I was hired there, and I waxed floors, mopped floors, waxed it, helped set up rooms for parties. Then late at night, I used to hang around with the bartender. When they would have poker games, the mayor and chief of police and them would have poker in the back rooms. They would ask me to stay, and I learned how to make drinks and how to serve them. And drinks in those days were 60 cents. I got a dollar for each drink. [Laughs] But they would play most of the night. I remember that very distinctly, Chief Hillner was the chief of police, and he was very nice to me.

RP: The chief of police of Minneapolis?

KO: Huh?

RP: Of the whole city, Minneapolis?

KO: Yeah, American Legion. Then the mayor, the funny part was after I went into the service and stuff, then I heard they were accused of corruption. [Laughs] But the whole thing was, he would send me down to the butcher shop, a nice butcher shop. I'd come back with two shopping bags full of meat, no food stamps. [Laughs] And I remember him packing steaks, the butcher and stuff. And I think that's the kind of thing he got... in fact, he would offer me, "Why don't you take the steak home?" I says, "Elmer, I can't cook steak in the rooming house." That's some of the more humorous... but the person was very nice to me and the American Legion Club, the manager was really nice to me, just really took care of me. He appreciated, I guess, what we did.

In fact, then I left that job 'cause I had a job at the American Bridge Company when I was eighteen and I was learning from, I think it was Eddie Pafco, became the star third baseman for the Chicago Cubs. He had just come up to majors, but he was a spot welder and we were working on portable carrier decks at American Bridge Company, part of U.S. Steel. They hired me, my job, he was trying to teach me how to spot weld, my job was to clean up the welds, the dirty work, you know. But he was very nice to me and it was a job that paid half decently. I did that 'til I was drafted.

RP: So you go from being put in an internment camp to working on aircraft carriers?

KO: Yeah, I remember that, cleaning up welds. I tell you, that was interesting.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

RP: And then you got drafted, and tell us about your military experience.

KO: Well, I was drafted and then they put me on hold because they knew the war in Europe wound down, they didn't need replacements. But they drafted me and I went down to Camp Robinson, Arkansas, infantry replacement. I was 4th Platoon, 115th Battalion, I remember that. Learning heavy weapons, machine guns, I was a machine gunner. Then the war ended the fifteenth week. So we all celebrated, Japan, and then the next day they said, "We would like you to volunteer to go to Fort Snelling to study military intelligence." I said, "No, Sir, I want to go the other way and see Europe." Next morning they cut the orders and I was on my way to study at Snelling.

RP: Back to Minneapolis. What was that like?

KO: Oh, it was very difficult because we weren't very proficient, none of us. You know, we studied English, English language, we didn't study, even Japanese school, after while it became a joke 'cause we should have been more serious. But I guess I knew enough, I didn't even take a test, they just stuck me in classes and I graduated, God knows how, but I did.

RP: You went through the whole program?

KO: Yes, six months.

RP: Some people kind of got half of it and then were sent over to, sent over to Japan. But you went through the whole program and graduated.

KO: Six months. I don't know whether it was half or not, but we were shipped over and I was classified a linguist.

RP: And when did you arrive in Japan?

KO: Japan? I'm trying to think. I was there fourteen months, I got out in November of '47. So go back fourteen months, so it wasn't too far after the war, too long after the war.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

RP: Right, can you describe to us...

KO: Japan?

RP: Japan, postwar Japan.

KO: Oh, I was shocked when I got there. Because we got to the repot depot in Yokohama, and my first experience going through the chow line, gonna empty what I had left over. And there are some Caucasian guys in front of me, and the kids are begging. They would scrape the food, okay, one guy spit on his food, and we all yelled at him, but he spit on the food and then he gave it to them. He was a recruit like me. I thought, gee, that kind of make an impression that people can be nasty.

Then I was assigned to ATIS in Tokyo, just to stay there 'til I was assigned. And I volunteered, I was there a month before I was assigned to something special. They needed telephone operators, so they trained me to man a switchboard at night. They got rid of me because I cut a colonel off twice. [Laughs] It was one of those you pulled the plugs. Then I wanted to keep busy. Well, they needed people, translators to work at night with the jeep drivers. We were hauling these linguists, there was Germans and stuff that were doing a lot of translation, and we would have to take them back to their rooms. But they needed somebody to ride with the Japanese. I did that for about two weeks.

Then they asked for, they assigned me to a team going to Maizuru Naval Base, one of the first boatloads of Japanese prisoners coming back from Russia, Russian prisoners. And they were setting up interview teams and stuff, and they needed people. I had, there were a lot more professional people than me, some of the Kibeis knew really -- you know what Kibeis are, yeah -- so I said, "Why don't you put me at the front desk, I'll talk to people as they come in and direct them." But I would hear some of the interview and it was very interesting. They were trying to sort out, really, the Communists. At that time they were very down on Communists. It was interesting because there'd be a busload would take off at dead of the night, you could see them. I saw them. And I think they took 'em for retraining, I think. Reindoctrination. But the most interesting one was this kind of tall, good-looking guy, beard, officer comes in, and he looks at me, "Hi there." I look at him, he says, "How did the Bruins do this year?" He says, "UCLA, how did they do in football?" [Laughs] Believe it or not. I said, "I'm a Washingtonian." I didn't know what happened to him, he went for the interview, but he was conscripted, I think, into the Japanese service. He was probably caught over there and he joined over there.

RP: So did you actually, you never got to actually interview any of these Japanese prisoners?

KO: Not really, I did not. I felt uncomfortable.

RP: So it was kind of an intelligence-gathering effort.

KO: Yes, but I still had to keep track of things.

RP: About the Russians...

KO: Yeah, uh-huh. But the CIC was really doing all the...

RP: What does that stand for?

KO: What?


KO: Oh, Counterintelligence. Yeah, they were the ones that would work with, they were kind of the secret service, you know what I mean, intelligence people.

KP: I have a quick question. Did you encounter any repatriated Americans over there that were returned from Tule Lake?

KO: I got to know one family, some reason. We used to go to the Red Cross and these young girls were working there, one was sixteen and one was about twenty-one. They had repatriated. They were on the fringes, kind of difficult for them, and we got to know them a little bit, not that much. And they were getting so friendly, I was concerned. One of my friends says, "Yeah, I think that's a family that they're trying to get their girls married to GIs to come back." I wasn't about to do that, college is my next step.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

RP: Many Nisei who ended up in the occupation force in Japan, that was their first visit to Japan and they had an opportunity to visit their family.

KO: Same. It was the first time, I spent fourteen months there. I got assigned to a unit called the 5250th Technical Intelligence Detachment, which was after I volunteered for interviewing the prisoners. They gave me a prime assignment, that was supposed to be one of the best. And it was a very small, small outfit. Maybe we had a couple hundred people, that was it. We didn't report to MacArthur. We were with the Army Security Agency who got all the messages from the Pentagon for MacArthur. And so it was rather a very unique group. And I did some translation and things, time went so fast. It took me, it was very difficult for me to translate, but then we all had to share guard duty, you know. Front gate, or be, what do you call it, man of the day for, and they had a whole bunch of warehouses with all the army technical Japanese equipment in these warehouses. So we had to serve, take our turn being guards since we were such a small outfit. So that was part of our duty, but it was nice that I was able to see my relatives.

RP: Like who did you get a chance to visit?

KO: Fukuoka, you know the southern island, northern part of that.

RP: This is your mom or dad's family?

KO: Both sides. But mainly my mother's side.

RP: Were they kind of shocked to see you at the door?

KO: No, I contacted them. They came up. My mother's younger brother was a mining engineer and things. He was up there on the ladder, so he contacted me, he found out through my mother. And I arranged a furlough, I went down ten days and took all kind of goodies for them because they had nothing. I took two pairs of khaki pants for all that time, a pair of shoes, enough socks and t-shirts. Walked it, he could have had a car, but we walked and visited all the relatives, you know, and even saw, I think, the family farm, but that disappeared, by the way. My younger brother quit farming, nobody wanted to farm up in the mountains, so squatters kind of took over. We should have hung onto it, 'cause I understand that property is worth a lot. So the government took care of it.

RP: Kats, what was it like to see your family for the first time?

KO: Oh, it was different at first, but I had been in Japan long enough that I kind of got used to things, which was good for me. And my younger, my mom's youngest brother who was very, had college degrees and everything, just took me around under his wings to visit all the rest of the family. So we traveled for about seven days, just went around. It felt good, except for one of my young cousins. Kid got drunk one day, we were sitting there having some sake, he came rushing in and he started making a fuss. He looked at me, he says, "It's a good thing," he said, "I would have killed you before if you landed here." And I'm looking at him. [Laughs] So my uncle is big, he grabbed him and tossed him out. Next morning he came in and apologized. Those things happen. I think he was with some of those people that were being trained. You know, they had those people.

RP: Yesterday afternoon when we were interviewing Shig, I forget his last name, but he was saying that it was really different for the Japanese people because here's a person who has got a, obviously has a Japanese face, he's speaking Japanese, but he's wearing an American uniform. Many of the Japanese people were just completely intrigued with that whole idea, like, "Who are you?"

KO: But my relatives weren't bad. Only time I had that was when I was at Maizuru Naval Base, it's on the China side, it's a big naval base. We went up in the mountains to an inn I heard about. Well, they really hadn't seen American soldiers. Some of those places American soldiers never went into. They were kind of looking at us. We stayed at the inn. They were very nice, but they're looking at us like, "What are you doing here?" But it was interesting, we talked to them about what we were and stuff, and they listened. They were willing to listen. 'Cause they're, I'll give 'em credit over there, Japanese people are willing to reform, to make the best of the situation over there, maybe the same way we were with camps. They were all very friendly except for that one cousin. People welcomed us, really did. I was always a special guest and things.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

RP: Kats, can you tell me a little about returning to the United States? You said you had plans to go to college.

KO: Yes.

RP: And somebody had already kind of worked that situation out for you.

KO: Yes.

RP: Tell us about that.

KO: Yes, I got home and I received word shortly after that they wanted, my core room teacher plus this Reverend Kitagawa who became Dean of the Theological School in the University of Chicago, anyway, they had set up a visit for me to Michigan State University. They felt I would fit in good. And Helen Amerman, my core room teacher, had gotten a master's there, and worked for the registrar. So I paid the, they told me which train to get on, what time to get there. Two professors met me, Dr. Olson and Dr. Hansen, and I stayed with, I think, Dr. Olson that night. They had a little dinner for me. Next day they taken on a complete campus tour. Imagine being that important that you have two professors taking you around. When I got through, I was so impressed. It was a beautiful campus. It's all farmland, walk two, three miles, beautiful, all grass. So I was thinking about going to school in Chicago. But I consented, and he said, "Good," he says, "I think you're pre-registered." [Laughs] So that's how I went to Michigan State University, and I had four wonderful years there. Interesting thing I had there was one of my co-students, you could say, was a junior, was the former governor of Hawaii, George Ariyoshi. I got to know him well in two years. But it was tough. I had a hard time in high school because of the poor education I got in camp. You know, you're competing against guys that had good high school training and I suffered more in the chemistry and the physics part, the math. Somehow I worked my way through that and managed to graduate.

RP: And what did you go on to do after that?

KO: Well, I had more or less a food science degree they called it. Food sciences. I was hired by a big frozen food and canner of vegetables in Green Bay, Wisconsin. It used to be big, it still is kind of big, fresh-like vegetables. And they hired me to work on their frozen vegetables. They have any frozen, they didn't know how to do it. So the vice president and technical man came and interviewed me and I had some background in frozen foods, so he hired me. I worked up there developing things, I set up their bacteriological laboratories and things. Worked hard, did the troubleshooting when they had spoilage, you know, when you get organisms that spoil. I worked hard, but Green Bay, Wisconsin, is not a tolerant town. I remember a black army sergeant the last year I was there trying to move into town, they wouldn't give him a place to live. You'd be shocked, the atmosphere up there. Now, there are some Japanese doctors and things, but before that, that's why the football players never stayed there the whole winter. They came in, played football and left. I found out what prejudice in a small, conservative town is.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

RP: To kind of conclude our interview, can you sort of reflect on your camp experiences, how they impacted you and how they shaped your life?

KO: I think so. I think what impacted me was feeling, when I left camp, I felt very inferior for some reason. I think we might all, people won't admit it, but I think we did. And when I went to Minneapolis, it was a very strange experience for me. But it might have been good for me to leave alone. And after I was abused in the first job that the person really told me I'm lucky to have a job, I made up my mind then and there that, hey, I am not going to take a backseat. I've been that way most of my life.


RP: You were just reflecting on...

KO: My effect of the camp. Yes, at first, work ethic-wise, I worked hard naturally. My feelings about things, I felt inferior when I left camp. I think all of us did in a way we won't admit it. Then I worked in Green Bay and I had to kind of work, 'cause they made you feel like they wouldn't promote me in Green Bay. All the plant managers couldn't figure out why I wasn't a plant manager where you made the money. So I was looking around and a big can company came, American National Can. They came up, the vice president came up and said, "We want you to work for us." And that's where I ended up working. But then I still speak up to people that say evacuation was for your protection, they have all these philosophies. I says, "No, there is prejudice." Economics, I still feel economics were involved because of the big landowners in California especially. Not Seattle as much as down there. So that is the way I feel and I will always speak up. I've learned to speak up when people say things. I don't care how big they are, I will kind of let them know nicely that, hey, it's not true. We were, it was a lot of prejudice that did it and economic land grabbing was some of the prime reason, I feel.

RP: How did the, how did the apology that the government issued in 1988 and the payment affect you?

KO: It didn't affect me, I expected it, and I think I wanted it to be sincere. I think Reagan was more sincere than the other, 'cause I think Reagan had served, had something to do with the Japanese Americans. I think he was sincere, but I wonder about Mr. Bush a little bit. I see the results of his offspring. But I hope our kids, I worry about my future, the kids are not paying enough attention to what happened. I believe in speaking up, I think the Niseis were very responsible for not speaking up. Back east, I felt when I first went to Dayton, Ohio, in 1970, I joined the Episcopal church and they asked me, they said, "Oh, you were in one of those camps." Somebody said, "We just heard about it." They wanted to have Adult Education, seventy-five people showed up for two sessions. And guess who organized it? Somebody at the Meade family, the Meade Corporation, the wife of the president, plus she was a Swift, by the way, from Chicago. But she was interested, so we had a session. Seattle, I don't think, ever had a session at that time, but they were interested enough, and were very sympathetic, empathetic. They couldn't believe our country did what they did. And so it was kind of was vindication. That's why I respected that church very much, a big church.

RP: Kats, thanks so much for sharing your stories with us. Appreciate it.

KO: You're welcome.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.