Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: George Kikuta Interview
Narrator: George Kikuta
Interviewer: Richard Potashin
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: July 18, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-kgeorge_2-01

<Begin Segment 1>

RP: This is an oral history interview for the Manzanar National Historic Site. And this morning we're talking with George Kikuta. And our interview's taking place at the Pacific Commerce Bank at the corner of Olympic and Sawtelle Boulevards in west Los Angeles. The date of the interview is July 18, 2008. Our interviewer is Richard Potashin, and our videographer is Kirk Peterson. Our interview will be archived in the Manzanar site library. And George, do I have your permission to go ahead and do our interview?

GK: Yes.

RP: Thank you very much for taking some time today and sharing your family and personal stories during World War II and beyond. George, your date of birth and where you were born?

GK: March 3, 1942, and I was born in Boyle Heights area in Los Angeles.

RP: Can you give us your full name at birth?

GK: George Masayuki Kikuta.

RP: Kikuta?

GK: Yes.

RP: Do you have any insights into the meaning of your Japanese names?

GK: Many of... my father's name is Masaichi, so I'm sure he gave me one of, you know, the kanji "masa," and all of my brothers have "yuki" at the end. The oldest brother has Hatsuyuki, Masayuki, myself, and Yoshiyuki. So that's the family tradition.

RP: And let's just mention your siblings right now. Can you give us your siblings in order of birth?

GK: Yes. My oldest brother is three years older than myself, so he is sixty-nine years old right now. I'm sixty-six myself.

RP: And his name again?

GK: Katsuyuki. Henry Katsuyuki Kikuta.

RP: And you, and then...

GK: And my one year younger brother is Bruce Yoshiyuki Kikuta. And the youngest one passed away about three years ago, he doesn't have an English name, Masaru Kikuta.

RP: Give us a little bit of your family background in Japan, what you know of it.

GK: In Japan?

RP: Right.

GK: Our family returned or went back to Japan from Manzanar, Tule Lake, and went to Fukushima, outside of Fukushima city in Fukushima prefecture. And we had a family farm, and our grandmother was living there alone. So we joined, after the war, we joined her and that farmland. It's a fairly large house. So my uncle's family also joined us, and we lived there for a while. And my uncle's family came, came back in, I would say, early '50s. And we, our family came back to Los Angeles in 1959.

RP: Your father and mother were born in Hawaii?

GK: Uh-huh, right. I think Fukushima prefecture, the people, the governor of Fukushima, I guess, picked not necessarily to permanently send the people to overseas. I think, I think the intention was to temporarily go out and maybe earn some money and come back. So both my father's parents and my mother's side parents, they went to Hawaii and Maui, and I think in more of a sugar cane farm. And they made some money and came back, went back to Japan and built a nice house.

RP: Your father's family, how many other siblings did you have?

GK: My father's side including my father is seven, seven siblings. But the older siblings, two of 'em, I think, stayed in Hawaii. And the younger ones were brought back with the parents to Fukushima.

RP: Do you know how long, how long your grandparents stayed in Hawaii?

GK: I have no idea. I have no idea.

RP: Or when they went over to Hawaii?

GK: I think older ones were born in Japan and brought over to Hawaii. But the younger, like my father, and the younger ones were born in Hawaii. That's why they have citizenship, U.S. citizenship. So they must have stayed somewhere in the neighborhood of ten years, over ten years.

RP: How many of them were born in Hawaii besides your father?

GK: I would say, I would say about five or six. I'm not exactly sure, but five or six out of seven.

RP: Now, did your, first of all, your father's name again?

GK: Richard Masaichi.

RP: And did your father meet your mother in Hawaii? What was the arrangement there?

GK: No. When -- this is interesting. My mother is a "picture bride." The arrangement was made among the parents in Fukushima, and they exchanged pictures. By then, my father was here in Los Angeles, and my mother was in, still in Japan. So once my father accepted good-looking lady's picture, she was sent by herself over to Los Angeles.

RP: And so your, your grandparents on your father's side were landowners in Fukushima?

GK: Right.

RP: Do you know how much their holdings, there was a farm there, you said?

GK: Basically it's rice farming, and it's not a huge, I don't know how many acres, but I don't... four or five acres maybe.

RP: Pretty large farm in Japan.

GK: Yeah, enough to support the family plus sell excess to, to the market.

RP: And roughly, when did your father come over to the United States? How old was he?

GK: My father? He was, he was in early twenties. Twenty, twenty-one. So he was a young man.

RP: He wasn't the oldest son in the family, was he?

GK: He's fourth.

RP: Oh, fourth. So he didn't really stand to inherit anything.

GK: No, but he's the second boy, but he inherited the family farm. Yeah, because oldest one, oldest uncle, was somehow adopted into his wife's family, yes. So that made my father the oldest.

RP: The oldest.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

RP: He came over in his early twenties, and where did he settle when he got to America?

GK: Boyle Heights.

RP: Boyle Heights?

GK: I think that was where many Nikkei were concentrated back then because of the P-car. I don't know if you heard about the P-car. There's a city streetcar running on the First Street all the way to Pico Avenue. And many Japanese Americans lived along the, that line, P-car line.

RP: P-car?

GK: And that went through Little Tokyo, yes.

RP: That was probably one of the red cars.

GK: It's a small, typical streetcar, yes. I used to, I used to ride when we moved into Boyle Heights. It was ten cents per token. Went to Little Tokyo and had, I had my part-time job there dishwashing. [Laughs]

RP: Tell us a little bit about your dad's early life in Los Angeles.

GK: I remember, only thing I remember is he, when we were put into Manzanar, he'd just started a produce market business. And he had to, you know, close that, let it go. So he was a little bitter because of that. I guess that was one of the reasons he went back to Japan after the war.

RP: And he started his own produce market?

GK: Right.

RP: Boyle Heights was, many people talk about Boyle Heights with fondness, about the fact that everybody seemed to get along there. Of course, you were too young to kind of remember it until you came back. Any other stories about your father's struggles to get settled here?

GK: He didn't, you know, want to talk too much about himself, but I heard from other uncles and aunts that he was one of the more aggressive person in the camp, I think. He was sent to a camp, camp that they concentrated those aggressive ones, in Texas. I don't know if you know anything about that. I don't know exactly which camp and for how long, but I would say he was sent over there.

RP: Crystal City.

GK: Is it...

RP: Probably Crystal City, Texas, an internment camp, mostly, yeah, for Japanese aliens and their families. He might have been --

GK: But he was sent by himself, I understand.

RP: Right.

GK: Not, we stayed at the Manzanar.

RP: And he was sent from Manzanar?

GK: Manzanar to...

RP: I thought he might have been sent from Tule Lake.

GK: Then we went to, entire family went to Tule Lake, I guess, just before we moved over to Japan.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

RP: Did you, were you able to get any information from your father about -- other than what you've just shared with us -- about his camp experiences at Manzanar? I mean, you were really just about, what, three or four weeks old when you went to Manzanar. And I would imagine you had a curiosity about finding out what that part of your life was about.

GK: Yeah, it's basically --

RP: What have you learned in the, in the intervening years about the camp, and where have you learned it from?

GK: You know, he didn't want to talk too much, so I had to talk to my uncles and aunts about what... many of my, my father's siblings also were in Manzanar. So they, they share the same type of experiences there. And some people, I understand, really enjoyed the life there, because you're fed, and many never had children until they were put into camp. And so many newborns were, you know, took place there. Like my younger brother was born there, and I have, my cousin was born there. So many babies. [Laughs]

RP: There were, I think close to six hundred babies.

GK: Six hundred, I see. Okay.

RP: Let's talk about who else was in the camp, of your extended family. You said your, one of your uncles was there.

GK: My father's second oldest sister's family was there, Kikuchis. And my... I guess my father's younger brother's family, he is also George, George Kikuta, Masaji Kikuta. And his two cousins were also there, Tanjis, yes. And I think other young, younger siblings were -- I'm not too sure where they were.

RP: So the entire extended family was at Manzanar.

GK: Right.

RP: You didn't have, you didn't have members at other camps at all, just at Manzanar?

GK: I haven't heard my father's siblings in any other camps, only Manzanar and Tule Lake.

RP: Tule Lake.

GK: Right.

RP: So everybody, all those siblings and their families all went to Tule Lake, too. Was there anybody that didn't go to Tule Lake amongst your extended family?

GK: Yes. Only, only group that went back to Japan from Manzanar are our family and the younger brother's family, and one of those two cousins' families.

RP: So people who went to Tule Lake were referred to as "no-nos."

GK: Right.

RP: Because of the fact that they answered some critical questions on a "loyalty questionnaire."

GK: Right.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

RP: And so some of this is just speculation, but you mentioned the bitterness that your father had in losing his business that he was just starting to get up. Do you think that was the main reason why he chose to go back to Japan, answered the questionnaires...

GK: That's, that's my understanding.

RP: George, do you have any memories at all of your time at Tule Lake?

GK: I don't know exactly if that was my memory or just my created memory. I have just a vague memory about the water and the birds flying over and that type of... and playing with other kids. I understand I was notoriously bad in my block. And so any time when kid cries, "it must be George that caused the problem." [Laughs] Anyway, I remember a little bit about the ship, was sent by U.S., I guess, Navy ship, went back to Japan, and landed in Yokosuka, and took a train to Fukushima. I remember those experiences.

RP: Just going back a little bit, do you remember what block your family lived in in Manzanar?

GK: I was told it was Block 13, but that came from my mother.

RP: Tell us a little bit about your mother. You said that she was a "picture bride" and came over here. What type of person was she?

GK: She was truly a Japanese wife, you know, obedient, and she spoke very little English. And just basically did the domestic chores and raised four boys, four children. But she is the one that caused us to move back. She wanted our boys, my siblings, to have U.S. education. So for that, I'm very thankful. [Laughs]

RP: All moved back to the United States?

GK: To the United States, right. She pretty much listened to whatever my dad wanted to do, but this issue, she really forced all of us to move back.

RP: So your father kind of had the, "We're going to move back to Japan," and your mom...

GK: Yeah. I guess she, I guess he had a pride enough to say, "Let's go back." I guess he didn't...

RP: He didn't feel like there was any future in staying in America?

GK: Yeah, I think he had to start all over again here. And I'm sure he was not confident enough to rebuild his business here.

RP: And he had an inheritance in Japan?

GK: Right.

RP: And would that same reasoning that your mother used in wanting to take the kids and give them a Japanese education been part of your dad's reasoning as well?

GK: Well, that I don't know. That I don't know. Maybe, yes. But when we're, you know, in school back then, Japan was still backward and way behind the United States. So I, myself, I enjoy coming back and going through U.S. lifestyle and education.

RP: Do you remember, you said you remember the ship going back to Japan. Any other memories about the trip back?

GK: Yes. I remember the train was so, so crowded, people need to climb into the train from the window, and really have to pack into the train itself.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

RP: Tell us about how difficult it was to come from America, and you're like three or four years old, you're in Japan. And first of all, the country's devastated, and one of the key issues was food.

GK: Right.

RP: So tell us about the first, what you can recall about getting reestablished in Japan after a devastating war.

GK: You know, our memory is, when we went back to Japan, me and my brothers, we were so hungry and they didn't provide enough food for us. But according to my mother, it was just only a short period because we had to farm. But I remember me and my brother was looking at the cat's food plate sitting next to the front door. We wanted to steal some of that food, you know, was so hungry. And that memory still stays with us. But like my mother said, only six months or so, food was scarce. But next harvest season we had plenty to feed everybody.

RP: Some folks we've talked to who took a similar route as your family did from Tule Lake back to Japan said they ended up eating some very strange things to kind of satisfy their hunger they wouldn't normally eat.

GK: Right, uh-huh. Yeah, people said that sweet potatoes leaves and that type are typical staples for a while. But truly, I think, I personally don't remember exactly. But I still feel we were always hungry back then.

RP: And where did you, where did you start grammar school? In your village area?

GK: Yes. We have a village school that entrance, the first day of school, all the students have seat assignments and the name tags, and the names on your own desk and everything except myself, because I was U.S.-born and a non-Japanese citizen. So I was the exception. So I kind of stood out like a sore thumb, and I was treated like a foreigner, immigrant, back in Japan.

RP: Felt even more different.

GK: Right. But I guess that was just the typical kids' stuff that kids wanted to tease somebody different.

RP: Can you explain to me why you did not get dual citizenship?

GK: Yes.

RP: Can you tell us about that?

GK: By the time I was born, consul general of Japan here was already gone, you know, war had started. So my older brother had dual citizenship, but myself and my younger brother were not able to register as a Japanese citizen. And so we only kept U.S. citizenship.

RP: And how were you... you said that it was kind of awkward the first day of school. How were you treated by your classmates in the first few months of school? You mentioned something about they were very suspicious of you, an American spy or...

GK: They, they treated... not treated, but they called me an American spy and tried to segregate me and my brothers because we were from the United States. But we, we used to get the American foods and chocolates, gum, and that type was shipped from U.S., and my relatives, I think, tried to help us. We distributed that among our neighbors, and that really made us look really good. [Laughs]

RP: Oh, that was your, the relatives who had stayed here.

GK: Yes, those who stayed here keep sending us on a monthly... but we're lucky if we get half of it delivered to us, because the package was kind of repacked and some, where we moved. Everybody was hungry back then.

RP: Right. Everybody was taking their share.

GK: Right.

RP: So you developed some better relationships through chocolate and sweets and things like that. That's the way to reach kids. George, do you have any, sort of, visual images that you saw as you were traveling back to Fukushima of some of the devastation?

GK: Yes. From, we landed at the Yokosuka, it's a port city south of, nearby Tokyo. And we went by the Tokyo area, and it's, I still remember my parents were showing us part of Tokyo, there's just nothing there. It's all burned down. And no high rise building that I could, you know, that I could see, it's nothing. So it's pretty, pretty bad scene.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

RP: I'm just curious, your father might have had some other ideas of what the Japan he was returning to was like. And then when he saw what was actually out there... I mean, later on, do you think he had any regrets about coming back to Japan?

GK: You know, I'm sure he had a, that feeling, but he didn't say it. And we, he had a pretty good life in Japan, again, he had land, and he was working for a U.S. army base located in Japan. So he had, he had a pretty good income coming from, for him. And food were plentiful from our own farm.

RP: You said you grew rice?

GK: Right. And we changed the rice field to apple and peach orchards, and so we, we had that going for us. We hired helpers, and my father was still working at the army base.

RP: What was he doing at the army base, George?

GK: He was bilingual, so he was doing some translation and secretarial, male secretarial type work, helping U.S. army officers.

RP: And how far away was this army base from your farm?

GK: Initially, it was just only a few miles from our house, and in a city, our city called Fukushima City. And they closed the base, and he moved to Sendai, which is about hour and a half by train. So he had to live separately from us, he had to live nearby on the base.

RP: Would he come back on weekends?

GK: Weekends or, you know.

RP: And his English skills, I imagine, were picked up while he was here in the United States.

GK: Right.

RP: So he could converse fluently in English?

GK: Adequately. [Laughs]

RP: Good enough for, good enough for the army.

GK: Right.

RP: Did your father's younger brother's family also live on the farm with you?

GK: Right.

RP: And what did he do? Was he just working on the farm, or did he also...

GK: I think he also worked at the --

RP: Base?

GK: Base, right. But he's the one that came back early, so I don't really recall exactly what he was doing.

RP: Another thing that you mentioned to me earlier was that you remember all your brothers and cousins coming down with this weird rash from the water?

GK: I suspect it's, you know, it must be different chemical in the water that caused rash all over our body, legs, arms. We were so itchy every day, I remember.

RP: Was this early on when you first got back?

GK: Yes, yes. I think it didn't last too long, but our other children had that problem. We had clean water, but somehow it didn't agree with our bodies.

RP: What was your, where was your water supply? Was it a spring or a well?

GK: Well.

RP: On the farm.

GK: Uh-huh. We had our own pump.

RP: And as you grew older, did you assume responsibilities on the farm as well as going to school?

GK: I say yes, but according to my mother, we didn't do too much farm work. They always hired, we had hired hands that helped do the farmwork. But I still remember weeding and doing some, water the vegetables and that kind of stuff. But must be, must be a few times a year.

RP: What was the, can you describe for us the landscape of the farm and the surrounding area? Was it a hilly area, was it a flat area?

GK: We were in the valley we call Bonchi, which is surrounded by mountains, but it's a flat area. And so most, rice fields were pretty good size, flat, and we didn't have to create... some of the mountainous area, they have to create step --

RP: Terraces?

GK: Rice terrace, but we didn't have to do that.

RP: You were right in the bottom.

GK: Right.

RP: Middle bottomlands.

GK: Yes. And we had clean water running from a mountain through us so we had plenty of water, resources.

RP: For the rice.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

RP: Tell us about going to school. When you were in grammar school, are Japanese grammar schools organized sort of along the same lines as Western schools?

GK: Yes. We had, we had six, six grammar schools, and three junior high. Back then, that was our mandatory educational requirement, so nine years. And, but by the time I graduated junior high, I'd say more than fifty percent, they were sending to high school. So I went to high school, and second year of high school, came back here. So I didn't graduate from high school in Japan.

RP: Was education taken more seriously there, based on your experiences when you came back here?

GK: Oh, you know, I think so. Education is a real serious issue in Japan. So when I came here, I attended Roosevelt High in Boyle Heights. I was able to speak only a few words. So other than English class where I got "C," any other course, I had "A's." So my English teacher saw my report card and says, "Oh, I'm embarrassed to give you a "C" for your effort here." So I didn't, I didn't even study hard. But when I went to college, first, first semester I got "F's" and "D's." So I noticed back then, I don't know now, the level of, difference of, the emphasis on education, I think the U.S. had a pretty high level of college education. Big jump from high school level from college level. So I had to change my study habit and really try to do lots of homework.

RP: Were you gradually accepted by your classmates and other members of the community as a Japanese person, not just seen as somebody, like you said, an immigrant from America?

GK: In Japan?

RP: In Japan as you're growing up.

GK: Yeah. I think after the initial sort of teasing or discriminatory comments, we were treated rather in a positive way, more elite type of, coming from U.S. And they had many benefits being a U.S. citizen in Japan. Like myself, I was... in addition to shipped care package from relatives, we received some package from U.S.... I don't know which organization, but they just sent us a care package also. So those additional benefits were distributed to neighbors also. [Laughs]

RP: So eventually you have, right, the stigma of being an American citizen was balanced by the benefits of care packages. Did you tend to stick with your brothers at school? I mean, were there little, did you have your own little clique that formed?

GK: Yeah, we had a rivalry between villages, small sectors of villages. My brothers and myself and some of our boys tried to get together, band together to beat up other boys from other sectors of village. And that type is more of a typical, you know, all the kids stuff. But it's not just because we're a U.S. citizen or anything like that, just, by the time we acclimated there, we were one of the boys, village boys, nothing different than any others. But I think in Japan in junior high, they have started teaching English as a mandatory requirement. But that's where I got lot of pressure because I was expected to do better, being a kid from America. But I was, I was not that good. [Laughs]

RP: In English.

GK: In English, right.

RP: Because you hadn't really, you were still a young, a child.

GK: And I wasn't that motivated to really try to include myself in English.

RP: So I imagine you were raised in a traditional Japanese way, you celebrated the holidays and everything else?

GK: Yes, hundred percent. So my, my basic thinking is still Japanese way, the culture and the tradition and all that.

RP: You keep that going in your life now?

GK: Right. So I'm married to, my wife is from Japan, and many of my friends that we go out for dinner and that type, mostly Japanese individuals from Japan, and they live here.

RP: What part of the culture did you embrace the most during your time in Japan? Was it the arts, or did you get involved in arts or judo, kendo, physical activities? If you think about your time back in Japan, what was so impressed, what impressed you the most or engaged you the most?

GK: You know, I really, even now, I really enjoy the old temples, and anything, the historical buildings. So those things are very fascinating. Only problem in Japan is all the buildings, old buildings, temples, shrines, are built in, by using wood. And most European culture buildings are built with stones, so last a long time. Whereas in Japan, they need big effort, make a big effort to maintain the existing culture, the important historical buildings.

RP: Did you get a chance while you were growing up in Japan to meet your mom's family, too?

GK: Yes. We were just walking distance away from our farmhouse.

RP: And they also were farmers, too?

GK: Yes.

RP: Rice farmers?

GK: Right.

RP: And how did they accept you?

GK: Oh, we would enjoy, our youngest brother was born in Japan and born in my mother's house. So we visited that place often when our youngest brother was born. So we were very close.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

RP: Let's talk a little bit about your return to the United States. You said that your mom was very strong about you coming back to get an American education as well.

GK: Right.

RP: Did you, how did you feel about the situation? Did you feel like you wanted to stay in Japan and just remain being a Japanese?

GK: No, I --

RP: Did you want to come back as well?

GK: I think I was one that really wanted to come here, even though I didn't put in the effort to try to learn English. So I was disappointed, initially I was able to come here to attend American high school, and instead, my older brother was picked to come here in place of myself. So I was kind of disappointed, and became a little violent. [Laughs] But other than that, I was very happy that my mother pushed this issue of coming back here for our education. Went through high school and college here in the United States.

RP: Was there a thought that you would return back to Japan, or that you were free to stay here as long as you wanted?

GK: Our intention was to live here for good, because our entire family moved over here. And I had no intention of moving back to Japan myself.

RP: And what were the arrangements that had to be made for you to return here? Was it principally just to get a visa? Because you were a citizen...

GK: Yes. I understand one of the reasons that made my mother try to bring the entire family back here was here in the United States, my parents' citizenship was, I guess, initially it was renounced. And now it was given back to them, and so that made, many families in Japan started coming back. And my mother heard about that possibility, so that --

RP: That helped her.

GK: Right.

RP: Right, and to restore your citizenship.

GK: And our uncle, my father's younger brother, were encouraging us to come back, and they said they'll support us.

RP: You had a sponsor.

GK: A sponsor.

RP: So your parents had probably renounced their citizenship at Tule Lake, that's were a lot of people did.

GK: I assume so, yes.

RP: And your younger brother had done the same thing, too?

GK: Yeah, I think so.

RP: Or your father's younger brother.

GK: Yes, my uncle.

RP: That was a long, lengthy process for some people.

GK: Uh-huh.

RP: And so you sailed to Japan on a ship which took probably two weeks or longer.

GK: Right.

RP: And you, what, did you fly back to...

GK: No. we, I think two reasons. One is, since we have entire family moving back, and we have lots of stuff, it was, back then, Japan allowed only, I think, fifty dollar per person to carry, U.S. dollars. And so we... and Japan Airlines and, I think, PanAm had a flight via Hawaii, but very expensive for entire family. So we took a ship, and took us a little, I think, over seventeen days to hit Sacramento, San Francisco, and Los Angeles harbor.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

RP: So you came back to Los Angeles, and what were your feelings as you saw, as you came towards the port?

GK: Yeah, I still remember my uncle's family came over and picked us up, and they brought Coca-cola and Danish. And I still remember that sweet Danish and Coca-cola. [Laughs] First day here in the United States.

RP: What more appropriate welcome can you get than Coca-cola?

GK: In the little bottle.

RP: In the bottle? So they were here to welcome you down?

GK: Right.

RP: Now, you say that your whole family came back over, that's including your dad, too?

GK: Yes. Except my, like I said, my oldest brother Henry came here a year before us. And living with the uncle's place, and instead of going to day school, he went to night school and worked during the daytime, try to save money to support our move and day-to-day living.

RP: So who took over the, the rice farm in Fukushima?

GK: We had, we still had the youngest brother of my father living nearby. So he took over the farm in Japan. But they eventually moved -- so he made out real good. He's the one that sold the entire estate, and kept it. [Laughs]

RP: And he came over here?

GK: Yeah.

RP: Oh, boy. [Laughs]

GK: He's the lucky one.

RP: Yeah. So where did you settle? Did you live with your uncle here originally?

GK: Settled across the street from Roosevelt High in Boyle Heights.

RP: You said you, you said you settled in a house right across the street from the house you were born.

GK: Okay, that was, we stayed across the street from Roosevelt High for a few months, small, two-bedroom apartment. Then we moved to Seventh Street in Soto, that's where, next door was my birthplace. Coincidence.

RP: That's a full circle story. Came right back to your home. So we talked about the transition or the adjustment for you adjusting to Japanese culture and school and everything else. So what was it like in terms of adjusting to, really, another new culture for you?

GK: Yeah, back, English was the biggest obstacle. But fortunately, three high schools here in Los Angeles, part of the Los Angeles school district, Roosevelt High and Los Angeles High, and Belmont High, they had, like, classes for foreign students. So we were, all the Japanese-speaking students were grouped into that program, and they had a special program to concentrate on English. And at the same time, we took regular college preparation type courses like history and math and English and all that. So at Roosevelt High, I think we had sixty to seventy bilingual Japanese students there. And so in that process, I think we were allowed, we were slowly acclimated into American lifestyle. And many people felt so comfortable, I think they didn't, they're not too motivated to study hard in other area and then move on. But some of us that we still are very close, we get together a couple times a year and play golf together, these are the group that went on to UCLA and state college and USC, and went through the education process. And so many, many of those are still maintaining pure bilingual lifestyle.

RP: And you're doing the same?

GK: Right. So we, we mix English and Japanese, mumbo-jumbo type. [Laughs]

RP: Of course, you got that, little bit of Hawaiian background in your family, too.

GK: Right.

RP: You could throw some pidgin in, too.

GK: [Laughs] Yeah, I think my parents never, never learned pidgin English, so we didn't, we didn't have that opportunity.

RP: What was Boyle Heights like when you...

GK: You know, it was very comfortable. Like this Seventh Street house, I can still remember one morning we got up and we saw a stranger sleeping on our couch. And because we never locked the door, I think nowadays in Boyle Heights, I think you lock up two or three padlock, and you have the bars and everything else. But back then, it was nice, peaceful place to live, and very convenient, of course, to Little Tokyo. I really enjoyed the life there.

RP: What did your father resettle into as far as for work experience?

GK: We, he started gardening work. Initially, he did just helping grocery stores and helping somebody else's gardening work. And after a while, he started his own gardening work. And that became his lifetime work, yes. So myself, I thought I'll be a gardener. But my cousin, one year younger, she was very bright, Roosevelt's school vice president, and she got a full scholarship from UCLA. So she convinced, says, "George, you have to get a college education in the United States. We are minorities, and unless you have a good college education, you're nobody. You don't want to do gardening for the rest of your life." So I said, "Okay, I'll try, I'll give it a try." And so I, you know, I feel really appreciative of her advice to get a college education. I was not that motivated back then.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

RP: This is a continuing interview with George Kikuta. And George, we were talking about your return to the United States and resettling in the Boyle Heights area. Were there other community organizations base around church or whatever that your family established connections with in the Boyle Heights or Little Tokyo area?

GK: Uh-huh.

RP: Tell us about that.

GK: Yes, my parents are from Fukushima area, and they have quite a few families from Fukushima area settled in this area. So they have a Fukushima kenjinkai, the prefecture, they have summer picnic, they get together and all that, events among Fukushima people. So that's the family thing, but us kids, we were looking for girls. [Interruption] So my friend said, "Hey, let's go to Christian church in Little Tokyo to look for girls. So Little Tokyo was a focal point for many Japanese, particularly those who recently arrived. [Interruption] Back then, they used to call people like us from Japan "FOBs," "Fresh Off the Boat." [Laughs] So we FOBs got basically, used Little Tokyo as a hangout place. They had food, they had books, and they used to have two movie theaters. So they had a lot to do there. And I had my part-time job there to do dishwashing at that time while I was going to college. So that place was spent, other than my own home, I spent most of my time there. And they had a Christian church called Union Church, still there. And had both English and Japanese services, so we went to Japanese service section, and that's where I met my wife.

RP: You did?

GK: And so it worked out pretty good.

RP: Found a gal there.

GK: Right.

RP: And what was, first of all, what was her name?

GK: My wife's name? Keiko.

RP: Keiko? And what was her, can you give us a little brief sketch of her background in Japan and what brought her to the United States?

GK: You know, she had a very interesting background. The Union church's founding member was her grandfather. But she was born and raised in Japan, because her mother came here with the father when she was young, like ten years old. So she was raised here. And meantime, my wife's father was an exchange student at USC. And on the side, he was doing a newspaper reporter job. And he was interviewing my wife's mother because she was a famous singer in the community.

RP: Little Tokyo?

GK: Interviewing in Little Tokyo area. So that's how they got how we got to know. And before, I guess, when he graduated, he went back to Japan and started business. That's where my wife was born. So she was born in Japan and educated there. Came here in the early '60s to attend her, one of her sisters' weddings, and she was attending the church that was founded by her grandfather. She's a third generation Christian in Japan, which is very --

RP: That's rare.

GK: -- rare. And most other Japanese are "supposed" to be Buddhist, right? [Laughs] Okay. So I was attending church, and we got to know. Her mother got real concerned because I was not extraordinarily good student, I was spending time doing dishwashing and playing around. So she said, "Okay, we'll take Keiko back to Japan and keep you separated." So they went back, after the wedding they went back, and we communicated through letters. Back then, the telephone between U.S. and Japan was so expensive, we have to decide what time, which date, what time we would call and communicate. And we'd talk about five minutes, and pay a lot of money for that.

RP: That was your way of keeping in touch, though.

GK: Right. But...

RP: So how did you, how did you coax her back here?

GK: After, after a while, her mother wanted to live close to two other sisters here, in the United States. So reluctantly, she sold the property and moved here, so we got together.

RP: By that time you had --

GK: By the time, yeah, we were getting very close, just communicating via mail, love letters. [Laughs]

RP: And so you, where were you going to college?

GK: Where?

RP: Yeah, where did you go to college?

GK: I graduated from California State University here in Los Angeles.

RP: Los Angeles.

GK: Right. I initially started engineering, and switched to accounting. And that was a good move.

RP: I'm very intrigued about your story about Little Tokyo kind of being a bridge between Japanese and American culture for you, a place that was kind of, still be sort of entrenched in what you had left in Japan, but also an emerging Americanness in you. And so it kind of satisfied both, both those worlds that you had experienced, or were experiencing. It would be a comfortable, very safe place to be?

GK: It was very safe back then, and they, like, they had, they still have Nisei Week festivity coming up soon, in August. Back then, many people from Fresno, all the farmers up in the central valley area, they came, took entire family here, stayed at the hotel, and attended the one week event. So it's a big, big thing, and I think many neighboring Japanese Americans, on the weekend they came to Little Tokyo and did all the Japanese food shopping. So it was a very vibrant community. Now, unfortunately, it's kind of dying.

RP: A lot of condominium projects.

GK: Right. And I understand most of the new business owners, restaurants and the retail, not Japanese, maybe Koreans and Chinese, other Asian people are moving into that community, which is good. Our bank is Pacific Commerce Bank.

RP: There's a branch there?

GK: Yes, it's the headquarters. And we initially started as a Japanese American bank, now it's a pan-Asian bank. Most of the staff are all mixed, and we have CEO is American, Caucasian, we have Korean group, Chinese group, and a Japanese group, obviously. That city, that section is becoming a multiracial Asian community.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

RP: So you made a switch in your academic career. You said you got into accounting or business?

GK: Yes. I switched my major from engineering to business administration with a concentration in accounting. So after graduation, I was not so aspiring, so I went to look for any kind of job, and I wound up in the City of Los Angeles, government job.

RP: A government job?

GK: Yeah.

RP: Just like us.

GK: Accounting section. And one of my supervisors was studying to be a CPA, and I found out, oh, there's such a profession called CPA, Certified Public Accountant. So I said, "Maybe I'll study and try to take the exam, I'll pass the exam in two years." So I quit and moved into public accounting. But back then, it's interesting, it was in the late '60, early '70, accounting was a pure WASP profession. And minorities were not well-accepted. Back then, we had entities called the Big 8 accounting firms, large multi-national accounting firms called the Big 8. And they were not taking too many Asians, not too many Hispanic. Even, they're not accepting Jewish people. So there were a lot of good Jewish CPAs, they formed their own firms, and throughout the United States, they have large Jewish-owned CPA firms. Recently, many were merged into Big 8. Now, Big 8 became Big 4. Among themselves, they merged. So kind of interesting that even female CPA candidates were not accepted back then in the early '60s, mid-'60s, I should say.

RP: So you were one of the first, first Asians to enter that field?

GK: Yeah, there were quite a few Niseis and Sanseis, CPAs around. But I think when I was, when I passed the exam and became a CPA, I think only a handful of bilingual Japanese CPAs around. So I, I was fortunate to be a bilingual. I guess I'm, among my siblings, I think I was fortunate ones for being raised in Japan and came back here, and maintained bilingual skill. But my other brothers were not that fortunate. They had to go through a lot of tough times.

RP: Right, so that bilingual ability became an asset in your situation. Before that time, was your ethnicity an obstacle? You mentioned accounting, but were there other situations where you weren't accepted or you were excluded because of your ethnicity? One, being Japanese American, but also, two, being Kibei.

GK: Right.

RP: There's always been this historic schism between the Nisei and the Kibei.

GK: I never felt, you know, discrimination. I just accepted whatever was given. I guess it's a typical Japanese attitude, but when you compare with a white American, I'm sure I was given third or fourth ranked opportunities. So, but still, U.S., if you try hard, keep climbing, you get, you get rewards. That's pretty good.

RP: I think that the time that you came back here was advantageous. If you had stayed in this country and gone, gone ahead and gone through your academics and professional experience, there were Niseis who were PhDs and working in fruit stands, you probably heard those stories.

GK: Right.

RP: Most of the professions were shutting doors to anyone of Japanese...

GK: You know, most, most of the professions had rules or law against non-citizens. Like even CPAs and attorneys, unless you're a citizen, you're not allowed to become a CPA. Plus, CPA have experience requirement, and nobody gave you a job. So even if you passed the exam, you're not certified because you cannot obtain required experience. So like my wife's uncle was the first Japanese dentist. He graduated from USC, and dentists, I think, it's easier because you, once, after you graduate, you don't really require experience. You could start your practice right away. But he had to go through a tough time to start his own practice. He only concentrated on Japanese community.

RP: And then, yeah, depending on the language issue, too. I assume that there also were, like you mentioned, exclusionary kind of laws that developed in these organizations in corporations, but also the fact that there might have been quotas as well, too? You know, "We'll hire one or two Nikkeis or two Jews," or that kind of thing. I mean, those quotas were...

GK: You know, I think those quotas came way after my, my early days. I think they never had quotas before. Because those quotas are after Martin Luther King and Kennedy time, way after.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

RP: George, you mentioned while we were setting up about a couple of folks, women who were putting together a project to, or a video about the camps, and you were talking about...

GK: Oh, there's two young men.

RP: Right.

GK: Uh-huh.

RP: Can you, can you share with us some information about that project?

GK: Okay. There's a local Japanese TV station... the name escapes me, but they have a local Japanese TV station that's targeting Japanese-speaking communities. And two young leaders, before they started this, I think they were students at the film school and they developed a project to cover Japanese American community here, and the hardship that they went through. And the more digging they did, they find out about the Manzanar and other camps' experiences. And so they made the short film of their interviews. I'm part of one organization called Japanese American Friendship organization, picked them as a recipient of our annual award for their effort to study this and communicate it to local Japanese Americans and also to Japanese in Japan. So we thought it's a very good cause. Even though I think here in the United States, we have, what, I don't know, maybe you know more than I do, close to 200,000 Japanese Americans. In Japan, other than selected number of people, Japanese people don't realize there are so many Japanese Americans living here in the United States, and the camp experiences. So they, it's, recently some proactive people started creating videos and some articles trying to advocate these community activities that we had. They know the huge Japanese American population in Brazil, but they don't, they don't realize that we have here a huge number of Japanese Americans. Vice-versa, many Nisei, Sansei, Yonsei, maybe Niseis are more interested, but Sansei, Yonseis, they really don't think they're Japanese. They're American with a Japanese background. So I think it's a mutual disregard or just no interest. So it's good that even the U.S., not Japanese government, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, are very, making effort to have mutual projects to have exchange programs. I think consul general's office here regularly sends, what, around ten people on an annual basis, the young Nikkei leaders, to Japan and meet with Japanese leaders and politicians. So I think it's good that they're doing it.

RP: You mentioned to me that you eventually established an accounting firm in Korea?

GK: Korea? No. No, no, I... my accounting career is experience here, and I started my own practice here. Currently it's in Koreatown, but --

RP: Oh, Koreatown, I'm sorry.

GK: Yeah, Mid Wilshire. Mid Wilshire started and I was recruited by the largest Japanese American-owned CPA firm in the United States back then as a bilingual partner. And I was not ready to be a partner, but they offered me a partnership position at a large firm that they were auditing, like, Bridgestone Tires, and Suzuki Motors, the motorcycle company, and many well-known Japanese, Japan-based companies here in the United States. So I joined them, and so I had a very exciting... not too many people think accounting profession is that exciting, but I went through a very exciting accounting career. After that, we grew so much, we merged with one of those Big 8 accounting firms. And our group became national Japanese practice section of one of the Big 8 accounting firms called Deloitte. And I'm currently, the name is Deloitte Touche. It's one of the Big 4 accounting firms. They have offices throughout the world. I think they employ nearly 400,000 people, mostly CPA and consultants. So it was very exciting professionally to deal with the high-level businesspeople that you... plus, financially, too. Money was good.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

RP: I'd like to kind of go back to the topic of Manzanar just for a few questions. One, have you returned to Manzanar and visited?

GK: Yes, many times, many times.

RP: A place where you, that was your home for a while. And I guess the second part of that question is, I assume that you have some kids.

GK: Right.

RP: And what have you been able to share about the experience --

GK: Oh, I should have brought the picture that we have in the living room. We visit Monmouth once a year, minimum once a year. So on the way to Monmouth, either on the way there or coming back, we always stop by. Even before you people built that nice museum-like building, they had only, only a gate or a gatepost or something. We used stop by there and we reminisced, and we explained to our children, even when they were smaller, much smaller, we explained, "This is where I was raised," and went through that, the camp experience, and why Japanese Americans were here. And most recently, it was about three years ago, I think, we had the entire family, my kids and their family went to Monmouth, and on the way back, we stopped by there and took a picture. We went through our names. So at least my family and my kids' family are aware of what the Manzanar is, and they've been through the new facility. It was nice. I hope, I hope they're gonna keep improving that facility.

RP: That's our plan. Other than the obstacle of language when you came back to this country, what other, what other obstacles did you kind of have to overcome sort of trying to feel that part of you that was American?

GK: You know, I always try to turn and look the other side. When I was in this accounting profession, some younger staff felt frustrated, discriminated, or not given the opportunity. I said, "That's the other way around. This big firm, you've got dark hair, short, and yellow face, they'll recognize you right away. If you're a six-foot blonde and good-looking, tall, good-looking, nobody will notice you." [Laughs] So I said, "If you're good, they'll notice you right away, because you're different." So I said, you know, I always think that way. And I felt I was given a fair chance. It's up to me to prove that I could deliver. And I think I did deliver, so I was treated good. So many people, I think, they're a lot of crybabies, in my view. Maybe it's not fair to say that to some handicapped people, but if you're not handicapped and able-bodied, it's up to you to prove, right? No free lunch, right? [Laughs]

RP: Yeah.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

RP: Another question about your time in Japan, did you run across other people other than your own family who were in a similar situation, and returned with parents from the United States? And did you form any bonds with, with those people as you went through life there?

GK: I think when, when I went to Roosevelt, we had quite a few that had come back and a similar background. So I do have some friends that had similar background. And most of my cousins are that way, 'cause we lived together in Japan. But they came back early enough, they become native American. They speak native language, I mean, fluent English and all that. So a little bit different. But most, most of the people, main thing's lifestyle like I do. They speak Japanese at home, and their kids are more, all English-speaking, and their friends are Japanese-speaking. And I guess when we go to work, it's all English, and they have American friends, too, in their work environment. So it's...

RP: Socially...

GK: Social, day to day, I think comfort level is more Japanese than English, I'm sure.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

RP: So do your, have you sent your kids to Japanese school?

GK: We did. There's the Sawtelle school.

RP: Oh, to Sawtelle?

GK: Yeah, Sawtelle school there. All of my four kids. They went through high school level, and it's a fight every Saturday morning, it's a big fight. You have to go to Japanese school and study Japanese, they said, "Oh, no, we want to play baseball, we want to play basketball, do this, do that." But when they started attending college, they started taking Japanese classes. And, "What for?' Says, "Oh, some of my American friends, they speak fluent Japanese, and we're embarrassed." [Laughs] So, "Now, you're telling us you want to take Japanese class because you're just embarrassed?"

RP: And so that's so funny, George, because we heard the same, same lament from Niseis who were forced to go to Japanese school when you were growing up in the '20s and '30s, you know, "Oh, yeah, I want to play baseball," or, "I want to play with my friends, and they forced me to go to Japanese school."

GK: And the kids' says, "Why didn't you try to push us a little more?" "What are you talking about? Every Saturday morning was war," you know. [Laughs] And I think, I think most other language where they use alphabet is much easier. But Japanese, you have to learn kanji.

RP: Kanji.

GK: And it's so, so difficult.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

RP: Do you have any other stories or recollections you'd like to share with us about Japan or United States before we complete our interview?

GK: Anything, any particular field?

RP: I probably maybe just say, when I mention the word Manzanar, what does it mean to you now?

GK: You know, it's, Manzanar is always my personal experience, in my view. But I talk about, a little bit about... I think Niseis went through real emotional experiences compared to my experience. Because I was so small, so I don't have this emotional thing. And I hear many Niseis, they're in high school, and they're pulled from high school. And some of the young adults, they went to, volunteered for war in Europe. So I think they, they have more emotional... when you hear about Manzanar or any camp names, you know. To me, it's more of a nostalgic, good memory, rather than a bad memory.

KP: I have a question. Redress in 1988.

GK: Yes.

KP: What was your experience with that, your feelings about that?

GK: You know, I was, I was very young, and got the money, $20,000. So what I did is I gave half to my parents, because they were, they didn't have that much savings. So I, to me, it's rewarding that Reagan, was it? The letter to us, right? So that's, that's good. I didn't feel anything, but I felt good about, especially my mother and my father, they went through so much. But money, $20,000 for them was like a little pittance. Because when my dad felt the, he feels if he was, just keep doing, he was a hardworking man, so I'm sure he was successful produce person. And financially, I'm sure, it was rewarding. But when he died, he was retired from gardening, and the money was good, $20,000, even $20,000 was okay.

RP: Kind of a follow-up to that... oh, did your, either your mother or your father become naturalized citizens when Isseis had the chance to do that?

KP: His father was.

RP: Oh, I'm sorry, that's right. I'm sorry.

GK: See, yeah, both my mother and father was born in Hawaii, so they had citizenship.

RP: Already citizenship. Forget it. I'm just too locked into the usual.

KP: What I find very interesting is you're second-generation Kibei.

GK: Yeah. You know, my father was Kibei, so I'm Kibei, second generation like you said.

RP: Do you have any other questions, Kirk?

KP: No.

RP: George, thank you very much. I appreciate your time and your stories.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.