Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Frank Isamu Kikuchi Interview
Narrator: Frank Isamu Kikuchi
Interviewer: John Allen
Date: November 6, 2002
Densho ID: denshovh-kfrank_2-01

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

<Begin Segment 1>

[Ed. note: the beginning of this interview is missing due to technical difficulties.]

(JA: Tell me, how old were you in '41?

FK: I must've been sixteen, and my birthday is October 21st, so I guess it was a couple of months after my sixteenth birthday.

JA: Tell me a little bit about your family back at that time, where they came from, what they did.

FK: Well, I know now that my father and my mother came from two separate areas of Japan and they were married here in this country. Both of them had broken marriages. My father came from a province or area known as Iwaki, that's way up in the northern end of the main island, and my mother came from what you call more or less the southern end of that same island, she's from Fukuoka. So they're two separate areas, and they got married here, they got to know each other in this country.

JA: What do you know about what motivated them to come to the United States?

FK: For a fact I know that my mother wanted to get away because she had a horrible life in Japan. Her father was of samurai lineage and he never knew how to work and he never did work. He did have land, and to sustain himself he would sell off little bits of land every year and that's what their income was, sales of land. And they were pretty impoverished, yet because he was samurai-type, he was sort of the, all say spoiled, and he wouldn't work, he'd drink and enjoy life, and my mother suffered as a result because she was just a little girl. And she must have been only about nine or ten in those days that I'm talking about, that's when her mother contracted cancer and she had to take care of her mother, and this was despite the fact that she was so young and she hadn't gone to school. In fact, she never did get any education in Japan to speak of. In later years after she came to this country, she did attempt to learn English, but never acquired speaking skills very much.

JA: What led your father?

FK: You know, I was never ever that close to my father, but from what I understand from his brothers and all, that he was the oldest of the brothers that did come to this country, and they all looked up to him because he was the oldest, and apparently he was the most successful. We were in the Seattle area. In the old days, my father started out as a laborer with the Great Northern Railway in the Montana-Idaho area, and he finally became the cook of that group, and he) acquired some skills in speaking. He was the one that was, all the other Japanese would use, he'd be the one that they'd use as an intermediary because he spoke pretty decently, and he was able to write, too. So, you know, it's amazing, I don't know where he got that knowledge and everything, but he was able to write and speak pretty well for an Issei.

JA: Tell me what were some of the restrictions that he might have been affected by in this country in terms of property, citizenship.

FK: Well, as I told you, my father was, in the early days, was pretty successful, considering that he was an immigrant. And one of the things he acquired was a pretty nice, I hear it was a pretty nice apartment house. And he could not own that himself or acknowledge ownership, so he used to have to have a white man do all his intermediary work with the tenants and everything to do with the apartment. He was the owner, but he didn't have anything to do with running the place. And I know it was a pretty nice apartment because we're talking about the early '30s where he had the refrigerators in them, and for that reason we had a refrigerator in our house, it was from one of the apartments. And that was... it seems funny now, but that was one of the... you know, hallmarks of success, when you get a refrigerator, an electric refrigerator. Not an icebox, but it was one of those that has that round canister on top and he had one of those, and we always had a nice car and we'd get one about every two or three years, a nice car. My father also had this odd business that you would never ever hear of these days, but anybody that was living during the time of prohibition would know there were such businesses. It was the kind of business where he would sell anything you needed to make home brew at home. Naturally, with the end of prohibition, that business was wiped out. But because he sold that kind of stuff, you're sort of on the fringe of racketeering. He would have racketeers come to his place and they'd muscle him, I remember, because there were oftentimes real mean-looking guys used to come to our store and they all had suits on and they were big guys, red face, and, you know, they'd come in three or four at a time and they'd be in discussion in the back room, and I know they were involved in not home brew, but making brew to resell. And my dad must have been doing pretty well because I remember we used to have warehouses, big warehouse, you know, rented ones, I guess, but full, stocked to the ceiling with sugar, brown sugar, and all the condiments you need to make brew.

JA: It's a pretty unusual story. [Laughs]

FK: It is, Oh, the thing is, it's an unusual business. You never hear about it anymore, but it was legal to make it at home. So you'd have these racketeer-types muscling and pushing.

JA: Well, it sounds like your father had made a pretty good success of his life.

FK: In those early days, yeah, until that business got wiped out with the end of prohibition, and he got talked into buying a share in a syndicate, bought a coal mine, or leased a coal mine in Utah. That was a fiasco. He lost it all there. We went to Utah to pick up the pieces because the promoter was a pretty smart Japanese guy that arranged everything and everything was in his name and he died of a heart attack. And you know how it is when a guy dies and everything's in his name, it goes in probate and all that stuff. So for a year while we had the coal mine, it was in limbo and we just couldn't get it going.

JA: Did you -- in growing up, in the years before the war -- ever have any personal experience with racism by virtue of being Japanese lineage?

FK: I would say most of it came not in the... I didn't feel it in the early days, but more later. In Seattle, where I'm talking about, I was too young to really know. My parents did, though, because you know, like I say, my dad couldn't own property and he had to run, buy an apartment and have somebody else run it and things of that order. And my mother used to tell me that salesmen used to come to the door and she'd refuse to buy and they'd say, "Why don't you go home, you goddamn Jap," and stuff like that. I didn't quite understand that because when you're a young kid, you don't know racism. Of course, as I, when I came to L.A. I realized -- I was older then and then I realized there was a lot of racism in this world. And I think it was worse during the war years, though, and after the war.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

JA: What do you remember about December 7, 1941?

FK: On that day, I was, you can tell by my age I was about fifteen or so then, and I was going to high school already. And on that Sunday, this group that I was with had gone to see a basketball game, it's a local Japanese groups, Nisei Athletic Union kind of deal, and we went to a basketball game. And we came back to Maryknoll, Maryknoll School, that's where we were, where we were centered, there was a community center, and gee, we noticed right away everybody's quiet. The whole atmosphere was different, and then there was this Brother Theofain that used to be at Maryknoll. He asked us, "Did you guys hear about it?" and then he told us what happened, and he was very worried. He said something like, "Things aren't going to be the same around here anymore," and you know those were really prophetic words.

JA: How would you describe what happened?

FK: Well, what do you mean?

JA: Well, if I was someone who was a young kid and you wanted to tell him what happened on that day.

FK: Oh, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. That was a super shock to me because, hey, I respected Japan as a country where my parents came from, but, you know, it's a peanut-sized country because over and over and over again, it's the size of California, we're told, the whole country. And just couldn't imagine a little country, you know, dropping bombs in Pearl Harbor, a part of this country. It's obvious that they started the war, this country was caught by surprise, and to think that they started it, wow, that was a shocker. And then a few days later, we find out it was all a pre-planned deal where they took over Asia in a matter of a few weeks, so you know that it was all planned, it's obvious.

JA: What was your family's reaction?

FK: Oh, went into a cocoon, were real worried because, hey, we're at war with Japan and we're in the country that they're warring with, and I'm an American citizen, my sister is an American citizen, and all my friends are American citizens. We're all Nisei. Our parents are all Issei, and we know that's there's going to be big, big problems, and then sure enough, after that Executive Order was put into effect, the wheels started churning and little by little different rules and laws came in effect and, and ended in us going to concentration camps.

JA: How did Pearl Harbor change the way that, apart from the official things like the Executive Order, how did it change the way other American citizens treated you?

FK: Oh, immediately they withdrew most of 'em. I was going to Cathedral High School here in Los Angeles and I was one of the one or two Japanese in that whole school. And previous to that, well, I always was looked on as different, but when the war broke out there was very little communication. I didn't feel at home at all anymore. And at my father's store it was even worse because my father had bought a store about a year previous to all this happening, and this store wasn't a real tiny store, it wasn't a real big store either, but a medium-sized store where the butcher department, or the meat department, was run separately, or leased to a white person. And this person had a son that was in the United States Navy and he was in Pearl Harbor at that time when it was bombed. And, oh, right away they stopped talking to us. And that is a bad situation where you have a store and they run the meat department and you run the rest of it, and there's no communication anymore. I could understand that this man that ran the store, ran the butcher department, had a son in Pearl Harbor. I didn't know it at that time, but sure enough, a few months before we went back to -- went to concentration camp, his son did come back in his Navy uniform and he wouldn't talk to us. Yeah, he would not talk to us. Previously he did, but he would not talk to us anymore, and he would just whisper to his dad and whisper to the customers, and that kind of situation was not the kind of thing you should have in a grocery store. When we had to sell, it was, to me it was sort of a relief because it wouldn't have operated right anymore, you know, under those circumstances.

JA: Did people come to your home to search for...

FK: Not our home, no.

JA: They did not?

FK: No.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

JA: What... tell me about the experience of learning you had to go to camp. When did you first learn that and what was the family reaction?

FK: Oh, there was a lot of news in the media where... and also the Japanese local newspapers that kept us apprised of what we had to do, and also our church, Maryknoll, was very concerned because Maryknoll is a Mission Catholic church, and their group consisted entirely of Japanese. They, they were probably the best source of news. Father Leavy, who was the pastor there, was very concerned and he saw to it that we were all aware of what was going to happen, what would happen, and gave us good direction on what we should do and what we shouldn't do, and things of that order. And he tried to communicate with the government to help us out, too.

JA: How much advance notice did you have for having to go off to camp?

FK: I think it was about three weeks, yeah. And at that time, at Maryknoll, we used to have sort of an information-gathering place where we would disseminate news, and I had a little bit notice where if we signed up at a certain place, we would be able to go directly to Manzanar because Manzanar had been changed from a, what they called an assembly center or a jail to a permanent concentration camp. And if we went directly there, we wouldn't have to move two times. Because anybody that went to Santa Anita, that jail, the holding place there, would have to be moved again, you know. And to avoid that, there was a chance if we went to Manzanar we could just make one move, and I elected to do that and I told the family about it and we went on that basis.

JA: What were you able to take with you?

FK: Whatever you can carry, so we acquired cheap cardboard-type suitcases and I think it amounted to something like the two biggest ones we could carry, each person, that's it.

JA: How did you decide what it was you were going to leave behind?

FK: Oh, it was a matter of clothing. My mother didn't tell us anything, she left it up to us individually. So in my case it was clothing mostly and a few other odds and ends. And we even went out, each, all of us, I think, went out to buy a few bits of clothing because we had news that Manzanar, oh, you had to wear boots and the sun was fierce, and you know. We, I remember I did buy what they call engineer boots because I didn't have boots of any kind. I bought some engineer boots. I bought a heavy coat, army surplus, and things of that order.

JA: What did you do with the items you had to leave behind?

FK: Oh, burned 'em. I remember we had -- in those days we had incinerators, you know, as part of living in the city and cities where you can have incinerators, and we burned a lot of things, and at the store we burned a lot of things, too. I remember we burned, I had some cameras and stuff, we burned those all.

JA: You didn't try to sell them?

FK: No, because we knew that nobody would give you much for anything because they knew we had to evacuate and we were, we were offered peanuts for everything, you know. There were a lot of stories going around about that kind of thing and it sort of discouraged you from even trying to, attempt to sell anything. Because I had friends of mine that were in that group that was, that had to leave Terminal Island, and those people had only forty-eight hours and they put their things on their lawn, and they were offered things, amounts like five dollars for a brand-new refrigerator or twenty dollars for all their living room furniture. It was ridiculous the prices they were offered.

JA: What about your father's business?

FK: That, I used to have a half-, I had a half-brother who has passed away, and he had knowledge of this group that's still existing called Certified Grocers, it's a wholesale grocery company, and he arranged that we could take inventory and they would buy our groceries at their price minus a discount, you know, because it'd be all broken lots. And we took inventory ourselves and they checked it and then they accepted our totals and then they paid my father some money.

JA: So he got a fair price?

FK: Not a fair price, no, but because it's figured at the wholesale price, Certified Grocers has huge buying power so their wholesale price is lower than what my dad used to buy it at. Plus, besides that, it's a broken lot, so for that you have to... you know, like you might have three short of a case, well, it's a broken lot, you pay... I mean they'll offer you less then, because it's a lot of trouble for them to restock it then. Then, on top of that there was a discount for all the handling, so it was not that much. And besides, there still was the, all the equipment, you know, all the refrigerators and all that, you didn't get peanuts for that either.

JA: What kind of emotional feelings did you have or your family have about having to make this move?

FK: Well, I was too darn dumb to know. It seemed like almost an adventure. But then there was a big sadness in losing your possessions, like I had use of the car, what we called the family car, it was my own, mine to use as my own because we also had a pickup truck, and gee, once that was gone, I felt like I didn't have any legs anymore. We sold that for just a couple of hundred bucks, I remember. It was a two-year-old four-door sedan, sold it for a couple of hundred bucks.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

JA: Tell me how you were transported to Manzanar.

FK: We were told to gather in front of the Buddhist Temple on First and Alameda at such-and-such a time, and we were there with our two suitcases apiece, and our family was grouped together in one little knot, and other families were gathered similarly all along the curb. And we were taken to the Union Station and we had to walk a long distance in the place, way into the, into the track area, and we boarded an old train that had the curtains drawn, and we went to Manzanar that way. Well, I don't know where exactly that spur ended, but we got off that train finally and were taken by truck to Manzanar, and we arrived late in the afternoon.

JA: Were there guards on the train?

FK: Yes. Not a lot of 'em, but there were guards, yeah. I still remember the lunches they served, they must've been made a couple of days ago. I'm a young kid, you know, then, food was an important thing to me, and I still remember horrible. In fact, if I have anything to say about camp, a lot of it goes back to the food because before that, I guess I'd have to say I ate pretty good, especially like if you have a grocery store. And we ate a lot of meat because it's the easiest thing to prepare and a lot of times we'd prepare -- as young as I was, I'd fry my own hamburger or whatever or steak and eat it in the back of the store 'cause it's the easiest thing to do. Once you get to camp, though, wow, meat was an item you hardly ever saw. You know, it would be meat that would be diced up real small, or meat would be bologna, or once in a great while we got chicken, and once even more in a great while we'd have meat, but it was always mutton. Mutton is something I learned to dislike because I didn't like the aroma. For years, I couldn't eat lamb chops.

JA: Say that again?

FK: For a long time I couldn't eat lamb chops because it's similar to, that smell is the same as mutton.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

JA: What were your first impressions when you got off that truck and looked at where you were going to be spending a while?

FK: I can't recall my first impressions, but I still remember, wow, this is a hot dusty place and everybody looked dusty, because it is windy there, you know. And there weren't any roads to speak of, just dirt, dirt, sand, sagebrush, that's all there was, and they had these black tarpapered barracks spotted all over the place and that's it; that was our home. It looked desolate and it looked dusty to me. I kept looking around for familiar faces and didn't see too many of them because I guess in that group I was with, we didn't have any familiar faces. Our friends -- I just made friends in camp, mostly.

JA: What kind of place did you spend that first night?

FK: In one of the barracks that was assigned to us, because when we went there, we were given a canvas bag and told to fill it with straw and that was our bed for that night. And then they gave us army cots, those canvas army cots later on. And sometime after that we got those army steel cots, but in the beginning everything was makeshift, we had to do with just the canvas bags filled with straw.

JA: Did you have any privacy there relative to other people? Did you have your own apartment?

FK: We, we had our own apartment. Of course, at that time it wasn't quite finished, but it did have, ours had plasterboard inside. You know, plasterboard is paneling made out of gypsum covered with cardboard, and we had that in-between each unit. It wasn't finished but we had it all over the top and everything else, it was separated and it was our unit.

JA: A lot of people have talked about the winds in Manzanar.

FK: Oh, that was terrible. It was something you had to live with there, and even after we had been there a number of years, we still have to contend with the wind. Of course, in those two years that we were there, we had laid down a lot of grass, but there was still a lot of sand. In the first couple of days, I remember before we started to do anything about it, we had sand just covering us in the morning, you know, when we got up, our faces would be grimy and all around the windows would be piles of dirt, you know, where the, I mean, the sand would, it kind of came in through the cracks and would be all piled up there. Wind is something you had a lot of over there. We used to have actual dust storms there. Years ago, I understand it wasn't that way because there was a lot of underground water, but Los Angeles had, the city of Los Angeles had used a lot of that subterranean water and that whole area turned to a desert. When the wind blows, sand blows.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

JA: What kind of a daily routine did you get into? What was daily life like once you sort of settled in there?

FK: Oh, let me go back to the apartments where we were because it's sort of relevant to that. An apartment like we had, and everybody had, consisted of four bare walls and your bedding. And you had your suitcases in there initially, so naturally there was nothing to stay in there for. So the first thing you did in the morning was you get up and you go to the central wash area, men's lavatory and the women went to the men's -- women's lavatory, and we walked in there and did our duties and then we'd go to the mess hall. And you'd have your breakfast, such as it was, and over, in a period of just a short time, you'd get to see your fellow neighbors all over in that block and you'd start talking with them, and young guys like myself, we'd go with the young people, my sisters go with her, my sister goes with her young friends, and family life was gone because there's nothing to go home for except four walls and nothing to sit on, nothing to enjoy yourself with, no reading material, no radio, so your entertainment would be your friends. So we'd go walk around or talk with our friends all day and wait for the next dinner gong.

JA: How did that disruption of family life affect the older generation in the camps?

FK: In a way, I, I think it was a case of where our family, my mother and my father, were in normal life in the city here and L.A. before the war, from the crack of dawn until it got dark they'd be working. No longer had to work. So in that respect, maybe they might have initially felt relaxed about it, and on top of that, they had a lot of people they could make friends with and communicate with, because there's a case where everybody's in the same boat and everybody's Japanese. You don't have Caucasians. You can talk in your language, no restrictions about that. No... you don't have to hold back. So they had a lot of friends. They all made, everybody made friends, man being a social animal, and young guys did the same with their friends. And I guess initially, you got worries, but you sort of put 'em back and you start talking with your friends. And I would think the thing my parents had some amount of relaxation, there's no question... and in fact, as a case in point, one of the first things the Japanese did was form groups for social activities like knitting or sewing or craft work or arts and crafts, singing, you know, Japanese songs, and all kind of things like that. The Japanese Isseis did a lot of that, and the Niseis, they went into sports. We had, every block had their own teams and they'd play against other blocks, and every sports group had their own team. They'd play against other sports groups. So we did a lot of that.

JA: Did you play against teams from outside the camp occasionally?

FK: I think there was one or two occasions where they did play with the outside teams, and as I recall, most times they beat 'em pretty bad, because the Japanese had the pick of everybody in camp.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

JA: Tell me about school. What are your memories of school?

FK: In camp?

JA: Yes.

FK: Oh, that was a downer for me because previous to the evacuation, I was -- I told you I was sixteen -- I was a senior at Cathedral High School and I had about six months to go, one semester to go, I guess, to graduate. And I was taking what's known as an academic course, a college prep course. When I went to Manzanar, one of the first things we were supposed to do was to register for school. I went and registered and there was nothing available for our class, my kind of student work, nothing, nothing at all. So I ended up not going to school. And my sister was also taking academic course here in L.A. at a Catholic high school in Lincoln Heights, St. Mary's... I forget the name of the school -- Immaculate Heart of St. Mary's? But she didn't go to school either because she was in the same boat. What they did was they concentrated on starting school up for the younger kids. If anything, if I were older, they would have made me teach one of those younger classes, I guess, because they were having trouble getting teachers initially.

JA: So how did that affect your education? Were you ever able to --

FK: No, I never did, because when went out of camp -- when the war was over, went out of camp, came out of camp, I'd start scratching for a living. And so, went the course where a lot of people do, it's the easier way, I guess. I didn't complete my education and I finally got married.

JA: So how would you describe the impact of camp on your education?

FK: Well, that was the reason I didn't go to college I guess, because previous to the war, it would have been an automatic thing for me to go to college because my family would have been able to afford it, get me through college, but after the war there was no way. In fact, after the war when we came back to L.A., we lived in an area half of the size of the room we had in the barracks, all four of us, and we had to cook and eat there for a period of time until we got enough money to get a bigger place, and we all had to work at different jobs just to live. My father was a dishwasher in a restaurant, my mother went out to clean homes. That was hard for her because she'd have to take a bus or a streetcar all the way to the West Side from East L.A. And my sister got a job in the cafeteria at Flintridge, the high school there -- I mean, college there. And I worked as a meat packer in Vernon.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

JA: So even apart from the years that you were locked up in camp, with that aside, this whole experience really changed and disrupted the flow of your life afterwards.

FK: Oh, yeah, it sure did, yeah. And, you know, there's something I have to say, you know. When I was incarcerated, if you figure about my age, I was sixteen, and I had never been, had a job or worked before... yeah, I helped at the store and all that but I never had a paying job. And when I went to camp it seemed like an adventure thing, almost like a Boy Scout camping trip type of deal, and too dumb to realize 'til much later on, that the impact it had on my folks must have been really a trauma because here they worked all their lives, and in one swoop, everything they worked for was gone and they were penniless, or near penniless. And at some time they're going to have to go out and face the outside world and start from scratch at their old age. I thought about that much, much, later and I was too dumb to realize it myself at that age, but I do realize it now. So, gee, I really have to appreciate how my parents bore up against, against all that.

Something unfortunate happened just before evacuation that... it was one of the first times I heard my mother and father have a really bad quarrel, argument, whatever, because my dad had sold his store, you know, he had all the proceeds in a big fat wallet. And he had to go to court for something and he made a telephone call from the court, you know, the pay phone at the court area, and he put that wallet on top of the telephone and left it there. That's why I say we were penniless because there was all the proceeds from the sale of the store and my mother, he told my mother about it in camp. And I remember that time... oh, I didn't know for what reason my mother and father really had an argument, and my mother started crying. I didn't know 'til later on what it was all about, but my mother told me much later that my dad had lost all the proceeds from the store. So, I realized, gee, it must have been really a trauma during that time when they were in camp, they were penniless, and when they went out of camp they're going to be really suffering. Because before that we were, you know, as well-off as most of the Japanese, you know. I was able to go to a private high school and my sister was going to a private high school, and we had whatever we needed, and all of a sudden when camp was over, we would be scratching real hard.

JA: It sounds like before camp your dad had sort of achieved what some people call "The American Dream."

FK: Well, we were plugging away at it and everything wasn't hunky-dory, but there was possibilities of me going to get a better education, and my sister also, and were pursuing, like everybody else, the "American Dream," but it wasn't to be. But, you have to really give the credits to the Issei, the parents. They really were strong people.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

JA: Tell me about the so-called "riot" at Manzanar.

FK: One thing about that riot you're talking about is, you have to remember that there was no real good communication. It all depended on word-of-mouth and how things get distorted that way. All I knew is that there were people from the JACL, the Japanese American Civil -- no, Japanese American Citizens League, that were working with the United States government and they were going against the interests of the Japanese, most of the Japanese. But from what I understand, some of those guys -- oh, excuse me. Some of those people were pretty forward about it, and apparently, from what I thought, I realized, was that there's a lot of firebrand-type pro-Japanese people, not a lot of them, they were definitely not the majority, but there's enough of them where they banded together to cause a lot of waves and they were pro-Japan. And those two groups are really opposed to each other, and the JACL people are pretty laid-back and they're not aggressive in doing anything except working with the United States government. But the Kibeis, or those pro-Japan types, they're firebrand types where they take physical action. And I think that triggered a lot of uncertainty among the Japanese in Manzanar, and there were a lot of fights and altercations and pretty soon we had, there was gunfire down at the administration area. I didn't know what was going on. Pretty soon there were jeeps running around, spotlights, and soldier groups, and I found out there was a riot and somebody was killed, in fact. But I really, it's just a mishmash to me but I just do know this much, that it was the Kibei or the pro-American -- pro-Japan group versus the pro-American groups.

JA: What was the effect of that event on the community as a whole?

FK: It all died down pretty fast because I think they spirited those JACL people out, which was a good move, I think. Then they were spirited out of camp into another area where they were safe, and then the firebrands had nothing to target themselves against.

JA: So that whole thing was kind of the outpouring of different kinds of tensions.

FK: Yeah. Well, from -- I was reading -- see, I work as a docent in the Manzanar Museum, and reading about it later, I find out there's other tensions that all, they get all wrapped up together. There's some, a lot of people that hear scuttlebutt that why the administration is stealing the food that was destined for us. In fact, they say that food was the cause of a lot of the riots. I didn't realize that, maybe it was, maybe it wasn't, I don't know if they're making up the story or not, but it's all written down. It says in a lot of instances there was food that was the cause, because the food was plain, and it was boring, but it was adequate. Nobody ever starved, but it was boring. And also, there was a lot of, always was tension between pro-Japan groups and...


JA: Tell me again what your father was.

FK: Well, my father was, they were elected or chosen, they want to do a democratic-style in camp, so somebody would be chosen from one block and he would be the one that people in the block would go down to and give their concerns to and he would represent the block in any matter that came up that would, should be acted on by the administration. And his office would be one little apartment way down on one end of the block and it would be the place where if you wanted to read the newspaper, you could go there and read the newspaper, and you could pick up any news that's coming on, coming around that pertains to any of the residents. Like for instance, if there's going to be a meeting of any group or what kind of activities is going on. And he was just one that you would communicate with to know what's going on in camp. Isseis would use him a lot, first-generation, like... first, second-generation like ourselves, I don't think we hardly ever went to the block manager's office. I would go in there once in a while and just read the New York Times. They would have the New York Times and the Los Angeles Examiner and the Los Angeles Times.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

JA: He was changing the tape there when you were describing what you thought of the food.

FK: Oh, yeah.

JA: Tell me that again.

FK: The food, nobody ever starved, and the food was adequate but very, very boring. And meat was a precious item, you would hardly ever get meat. And what's galling, irritating to me, even now, is when I, I think that even the Times but especially The Herald, I mean, the Hearst newspapers used to always say that, "Here outside were being rationed, Americans are being rationed, and these Japs are getting steaks and chops and eggs and were eating high off the hog," which was an absolute lie. The only... well, let me put it this way: I never had steak in camp, not even once. The only thing resembling steak was they would bring in mutton once in a while and they'd slice that probably with a slicing machine and bread the holy heck out of it so it would be a decent thickness, and that would be, I guess you can call it chicken fried steak. And if you had chicken it would always be chicken a la king, that style or chicken gravy, that style. And you might have weenies or bologna served for dinner once in a while. That's about it for the meat.

JA: Did they ever attempt early on to serve you what they thought Japanese people would eat?

FK: Well, our cooks, who were all Japanese in these mess halls, each block had their own mess hall and their own cook, they would attempt to do the best they could with whatever there was given to them. Food was distributed throughout the camps and it was all brought in by the government, and it was, like I say, it was... I guess it's wholesome and adequate, but then again, it was awfully boring. There wasn't any meat. And as a young guy, I was used to meat, oh, I loved meat, but...

JA: Tell me about the, the gardens that began to spring up.

FK: Oh, yeah, that's something that a lot of the Japanese, I guess they were pretty good in gardening, they used whatever space was available next to the barracks in the shaded area where the sun wouldn't kill it, and we had plenty of water because it was piped in from the Los Angeles water from Owens Lake, I guess. We had to build a channel and it would go into this little holding pond. And we had all the water we wanted, no rationing, ice cold water, spring water, melted snow water is what it was, delicious. But anyway, water was not a problem, so, oh yeah, in spite of the desert we had a lot of victory gardens. And we also had two farms, a north farm and a south farm, and we cultivated a lot of vegetables. We had a surplus so we'd distribute it to, or the WRA would distribute it to other camps.

JA: What inspired those victory gardens?

FK: Oh, because you wanted to grow your own ethnic-type vegetables like nasubi, eggplant, Japanese eggplant, or cucumbers, or whatever, and you know, which isn't normally available in the normal vegetable line of commercially-grown stuff. So we used to have a lot of people growing eggplants, which is used for pickles. Because one thing we had in camp, a lot of, was rice. But you have to have something to eat with rice, so it'd have to be something like pickles, something salty that you can eat rice with. So, everybody used to grow vegetables where they, and they used to make pickles, cucumber pickles, nasubi or eggplant pickles, things of that order.

JA: And there were also some just beautiful flower gardens.

FK: Yeah. I wasn't into flowers, but I know there were certain areas where they had a lot of people get together and they made a nice big garden and they'd keep it up. It takes a lot of work in that area to keep it up, because proof in point, they're all gone, even though the whole system was pretty elaborate where they had water channeled in and they had all kinds of beautiful flowers, they had rocks forming the beds, yeah, those are all gone.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

JA: Did people there -- how did people view this whole experience? I mean, was it just kind of, ultimately, resignation, this is the way it's gotta be?

FK: I think there was a lot of that, in Japanese language they call it shikata ga nai, "it can't be helped," and they were just resigned, and hopefully that things would change. They knew it would end sometime, which it did. Good thing, finally, when the war was over, the government did you might say force us out of camp, whoever was there, because we may have well lived a whole generation there and then we might have gotten too dependent on "big brother" where we wouldn't have left. And we would have changed, where we would have been so dependent on the government for everything, and even though it was mediocre quality everything, you know, compared to outside, we would've lost our initiative, I think, if we weren't forced out to seek life on our own. So, in a way of speaking, it all went for the best that we were forced out, because it seemed pretty cruel, though, at the time, because here we are with hardly any reserve or any money, the war's over, the camps are going to close, so the government says, "You gotta get out, we're closing the camps." They gave each of us, anybody that was left, twenty-five dollars each and a ticket to wherever you're going to go, and that was it.

JA: Were some people allowed to leave prior to the actual closing of the camp?

FK: Yes, six months before the war ended, there was a pretty concerted effort to get people out of camps. And in the earlier days, the WRA's plan was to try to spread the people out all over the United States rather than have 'em concentrated on the Pacific coast like they were prior to the war. You know, prior to the war, there was 100,000 Japanese on the West Coast, and probably about just a small couple of thousand past that Western Command war zone #1. Most of the Japanese were on the West Coast, and they wanted to break up those communities and see if they could get 'em out in Chicago, New York, and wherever and spread us out, so that was their idea. So they let us go out six months before the war was over if you met three conditions: you had to have a job, you had to have a place to stay, and you had to guarantee that you wouldn't be a liability to the community you were going to. In other words, you had to post bond or have money in the bank or have some backing. And the other way around that if some big company needed a labor force, they would wrap that all up and provide you a place and you'd be working there, and you know, you'd be able to go out. And you would be issued this pass, they called it Indefinite Leave Pass, with your photo on it and would be able to go back East. On that basis, a lot of them did go, but young kids like myself that had never had a work experience, I didn't want to go out; I was scared to. But I think a lot of people that had been working at any kind of job prior to the war, they probably made an effort to go out. But would you say oddly enough or whatever, I think the vast majority of them come back to the coast.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

JA: You said you were a Boy Scout?

FK: Yeah, I was with Troop 145 at Maryknoll, and I was a Star Scout, and I was in a senior group. I was, at the outbreak of war I was a junior assistant scoutmaster and I also was a bugler. I... I remember I used to blow the bugle calls when there was a district meeting of all the, our district, and they needed somebody to blow all the calls where they would, I'd have to go to those meetings and blow 'em because I had taken bugling as one of the things for a merit badge, so I knew all the calls. I used to go and... I also was playing with the Maryknoll Boy Scouts drum and bugle corps. With all that experience, I guess when we were in camp I brought my pretty brand-new uniform because I had long gray khaki pants and a heavy shirt, and I took it as part of the clothing I took because it's practical. And, hey, what do you know, on Armistice Day in 1942, the administration called for a flag ceremony and they wanted somebody to blow taps, so I blew it. And there's a picture of me at the museum, a pretty good picture, it's about twice as big as this lamp, and it shows me blowing taps but everybody's got their head down, all the other scouts and the flag, the flag bearers have their heads bowed down, so I know it's taps.

JA: Where is the original of that picture? Do you have a copy of that?

FK: No, but there's a --

JA: Was that one that Toyo Miyatake took?

FK: No, Toyo didn't take that, but there is the name of the person that took that picture. It's in the archives of the museum. And also it's in one of their books, too, that's right on the, in the lobby. I didn't know that was there until I looked at it one day and I said, "Hey, that's me." I could tell because we had a distinctive neckerchief, we had a hand-embroidered neckerchief, because we're the oldest Japanese troop in this country, where our neckerchiefs are handmade and embroidered, and all the other scouts there have a stock off-the-shelf type of neckerchief and I knew that was me, the 145. And looking at it, you can see my insignia on my arm, so I knew that was me. And they made a... I'm sort of the butt of jokes at the museum now just because of that, but that's me all right.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

JA: Tell me what you remember about the loyalty, the "loyalty questions."

FK: You know, that question I realize now is so unfair and I really don't know for sure how I answered. I had feelings that I was so mad, though, that they would dare to ask a question like that where it would tend to sort of break up a family. The government is asking, in my case, a father and a son who have different situations, the same question, and on the basis of your answer your family might be broken up. Because it, it was two questions. One was pretty forthright: "are you loyal to this country" or something on that order. And the second one was a funny one where it said, at the end of the thing it says "and you have to forswear allegiance to the Japanese emperor" or something on that order, you had to forswear allegiance to the Japanese emperor. Now, how could my father answer that question where he has to forswear allegiance to the Japanese emperor or any other foreign government? Because this country hadn't given them citizenship. He had been here most of his working life, and because of the war, he had lost everything and the government wants him to forswear allegiance to the Japanese emperor? He'd be a man without a country. And how am I going to answer it, because I can't forswear allegiance to the Japanese emperor because I never had allegiance to him. You can't forswear what you didn't have. By having the word "forswear," the government made a mistake: you can't answer the same question in the same family, like father and son. A Nisei cannot answer that. How can you forswear an allegiance you don't have in the first place? So, I wonder how I answered, I must have lied or my father must have lied because we never got shipped to Tule Lake. I really thought a lot about how should I answer that, and we among the Nisei, we used to talk about it among ourselves.

JA: What do you think the point was of asking those questions?

FK: I guess it was more of the United States government trying to separate us and ship the dissatisfied with this country types back to Japan. I do know some people that went that way, by the way. But a lot of 'em were able to come back, you know that? I don't know how many, but I know some of them were able to come back.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

JA: Tell me about the... as time went on, I think that there was a movement about, from some young men to want to join the military service. Did you know people who joined the U.S. military?

FK: You mean volunteered?

JA: Yeah, volunteered.

FK: Oh yeah, there were a lot of them that volunteered from the United States concentration camps. If you go into that, you have to mention the fact that there were a lot more from Hawaii, though. But then the Hawaii people had a little different situation, I guess, you know, they weren't incarcerated, they didn't lose their possessions or their jobs, or anything like that. And those people were treated fairly decently, so when there was a call-up for volunteers, they had a lot of 'em volunteering. In the States, there was a little different situation where the parents and the families were all incarcerated, we lost everything, and yet in spite of that, when there was a call-up for volunteers in our concentration camps, there were people that volunteered. And there were... also on top of that they were subject to draft because we had to register and submit to a physical for our classification. All of us had to do that, just like anybody else outside, and from that classification we were called up, they were drafted, in other words. But there were volunteers also, though, I know that for a fact.

JA: That's quite an irony isn't it?

FK: Yeah, it's one of the sticking points. But, before I get too negative about it, I still think this is the best country in the world, hands down. Got a lot of warts, but still, you know, everything in balance, it's the best country in the world, and it's just up to everybody to see that it stays that way.

JA: At that time, did you feel your country had let you down?

FK: Yes. I didn't see the justice at all in demanding service from incarcerated people. We were incarcerated by our own government. It wasn't that we were soldiers of an enemy country or anything like that, we were incarcerated by our own government that mistrusted us. Or it was war hysteria or whatever, or commercial interests, they just banded together to have us incarcerated.

JA: And yet the 442nd served with a lot of distinction.

FK: Yeah, they were the most highly decorated unit in the whole history of the United States Army. They're a wonderful group. And on top of that, don't forget the MIS, the Japanese that served in the Pacific. They were unheralded for a long time. They shortened the war by two years, according to MacArthur's own aide.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

JA: What would you say you learned from this experience at Manzanar?

FK: Well, from this experience at Manzanar, and also because of the fact that I'm a docent at the museum and I've had to read more material to qualify, I think I'm a little bit more up to date on everything. And a little bit of the background of what happened, I would say that it's very important that all Americans be aware why we were incarcerated, what caused us to be incarcerated, and see to it it doesn't happen again. War hysteria, commercial interests, selfishness on the part of people, and not speaking up on our part more. But definitely it might happen again, if you let things run without, you know, raising your voice. Currently, the country is getting ready for a war maybe with the Arab states, and hey, there's a lot of good Arabs in this country, good Muslims, good Middle Easterners in this country, and they're doing the same thing we did, come to this country to make a living and be part of the "American Dream." They shouldn't be incarcerated; they should have their due rights. That's where we missed out, we didn't get our due process.

JA: Tell me about the main constitutional issues that you think are raised by your experiences.

FK: I don't quite understand how I'm supposed to answer that. I don't know the question, I guess.

JA: Well, I mean, you have just spoken to me about due process and --

FK: Oh.

JA: -- civil rights, but what, relative to your experience, what...

FK: Well, I, I don't know if I'm going to be answering the question correctly, but it was obvious that somewhere along the line, something slipped up where even the man who was president at that time ignored the fact that we were bona fide American citizens. And as citizens we had the right to due process, and we didn't get anything like that. They ignored it totally. In fact, with that Executive Order, he set the wheels in motion to override any of the civil rights that are basic to as a citizen. We didn't have any kind of a due process, we were just told, "Get out of here and go to camp." And it's so unfair that we didn't have a chance to really get fair compensation for everything we lost, because twenty -- fifty years later, when they did give us compensation, the people that deserved it the most, that suffered the most were already gone. And it wasn't retroactive, and you can figure out how long that period of time was, it was very unfair because most people in terms of money in those days lost so much more than that. Fifty years is half a century.

JA: When that compensation finally came, also came a letter of apology from the President.

FK: Yes.

JA: How did you feel when those things happened?

FK: Oh, it felt pretty good that finally we're back to square one, we're starting over again with no black cloud hanging over us. And the monetary sum, hey, it was useful, but it wasn't... it wasn't what it might have been, but then again, the only thing I thought was very unfair was the fact that it took so long. I know what it means when they say "justice delayed is justice denied" now because the people that deserved it the most were long gone.

JA: There was a long and active movement to get that to happen.

FK: Oh, yes, you know yourself, if you know anything about it, is it wouldn't have happened except for the fact that we had -- when I say "we," I'm speaking of the Japanese community -- we did have lawyers that were pretty smart, we had an active group of fundraisers, we had an active group of third-generation people that were more vociferous than we were as Niseis, and they all worked together and it took a long time. And I think it's sort of a model for other groups now in the way the Japanese did it, but it still took a long time. It took an awfully long time, to think about it.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.