Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Henry Nishi Interview I
Narrator: Henry Nishi
Interviewer: Richard Potashin
Location: Santa Monica, California
Date: January 8, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-nhenry_2-01

<Begin Segment 1>

RP: -- the Manzanar National Historic Site. This afternoon we're talking with Henry Nishi. Henry lives at 3002 Sixteenth Street in Santa Monica, California. The date of our interview is January 8, 2009. Our videographer is Kirk Peterson and our interviewer is Richard Potashin. We'll be discussing Henry's experiences as an internee at the Manzanar War Relocation Center during World War II. We'll also be talking with him about both his father's and his experiences landscaping and in horticulture in the West Los Angeles area. Our interview will be archived in the Manzanar park site library. And Henry, do I have permission to go ahead and continue -- do our interview?

HN: Okay.

RP: Thank you very much for sharing some time, kind of in short notice. We just talked to you yesterday.

HN: Okay.

RP: We very much appreciate having you, having your stories. Tell me, where... your birth date?

HN: 3/20/19.

RP: '19? 1919?

HN: Yeah.

RP: And where were you born?

HN: On, in Los Angeles.

RP: Uh-huh.

HN: In mid-town Los Angeles.

RP: Uh-huh. Where were your, what were your parents doing at that time?

HN: They were in the nursery and flower business.

RP: And they had a florist, florist and a nursery business on Wilshire Boulevard at that time?

HN: Right.

RP: Wilshire and do you know what other street there?

HN: Yeah, it's right around Normandie. Yeah, just east of Western Avenue.

RP: Was that, was that their very first nursery and florist shop in...

HN: Yeah.

RP: West Los Angeles?

HN: Yeah. I think they started business there in 1905.

RP: So they'd been pretty established.

HN: Yeah.

RP: And your, your given name at birth?

HN: Is Henry Kenichi Nishi.

RP: Can you spell Kenichi for us?

HN: K-E-N-I-C-H-I.

RP: And where did, where did the name Henry come along? Was it given to you at school or...

HN: No. Actually, that name was given to me prior to starting school, kindergarten. [Laughs] Yeah.

RP: A little easier than Kenichi.

HN: Yeah.

RP: Kenichi Nishi sounds kind of poetic, but...

HN: It sounds what?

RP: It sounds kind of poetic.

HN: [Laughs] "Ken" is the, the letter "ken" is, like I said, means "health."

RP: And ichi would be one.

HN: One, yeah. Yeah.

RP: How about the name Nishi? Does that have any...

HN: Well it's the, it means, "nishi" is "west." And I think that's the only, only definition for nishi is, is west. Pertains to the direction.

RP: And were you born at, at your parents' home?

HN: Yeah.

RP: Did they ever tell you, was it a midwife or a doctor?

HN: It was a midwife, yeah.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

RP: I'd like to talk a little bit about your father first. Can you give us his full name?

HN: It's Kuiichiro Nishi.

RP: Could you spell his first name?

HN: K-U-I-I-C-H-I-R-O. Kuiichiro.

RP: Can you tell us where in Japan your father came from?

HN: He came from, I guess you would call it, Wakayama-ken is the state in Japan. And it's the middle part of Wakayama-ken, inland from, from the coast.

RP: That's the main island?

HN: Yeah, the main island, Honshu.

RP: And I imagine that you've... have you visited that area...

HN: Yeah.

RP: ...where your dad grew up?

HN: Yeah.

RP: And what, can you describe what it's like to us? Is it a mountainous region or a coastline?

HN: It's a, it's a very mountainous region. Beautiful country. They lived on the hillside. And at the bottom of the, it's like a canyon there, was a famous creek. It's Kokawa, Kokawa Creek.

RP: Can you spell that?

HN: K-O-K-A-W-A, Kokawa.

RP: Kokawa.

HN: It was famous for, they have a fishing, a freshwater fish in Japan called... it's almost like a trout, but it's not a trout, but it's something like a trout. Yeah. Very small, it's smaller than a trout, actually. Yeah, it's very, it's a delicacy.

RP: And, what, what are the economic background of that area? What...

HN: It's citrus, citrus. And the citrus, it's, they call a mikan. It's actually tangerine.

RP: A special type of tangerine?

HN: Yeah, the... yeah. Their grounds were, were tangerine farms.

RP: Your, your father's family was...

HN: Yeah.

RP: the, in that growing business?

HN: Yeah.

RP: Uh-huh. So, where is the, is his farm or home still there?

HN: Yeah, it is still there. 'Cause while my dad was in this country -- because he was the only son -- he went back several times to repair the house. And I think at one point he did rebuild it. So, when I visited the house, it was pretty nice. That was right after the war when I was in the service. And I was stationed in, in Tokyo. I went, I went there a couple of times.

RP: You say he was the only son. Did he have any sisters?

HN: He had a sister but the sister was, I think it was, I'm not sure, yeah, I think it was adopted sister because, because I was the only son. There was another, there was another adopted... no, not myself, himself... my father's sister. 'Cause I was born here, so... yeah. I'm referring to my father had a sister, but she was adopted by the family.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

RP: What do you think your father's motivation was to come to the United States since he was the only son and he normally, in Japanese tradition, would inherit the farm?

HN: Well, I guess for economic reasons.

RP: It's...

HN: I guess it was... had, had not much chance of... well, that was not a, not a real prosperous situation.

RP: Right. It might have been a depression or economic downturn?

HN: Yeah, yeah. I think it was in the real late 1800s, just before 1900.

RP: That he came over?

HN: He came to this country, yeah.

RP: Uh-huh. Do you know how old he was when he came?

HN: Gosh, I don't remember. He was pretty young. He was pretty young.

RP: In his teens?

HN: I think he was at least that or maybe early twenties.

RP: Did he, did he have much schooling in Japan before he came to the United States?

HN: I think just high school.

RP: And where did he land? Did he come through San Francisco or Seattle or...

HN: I think it must have been San Francisco. I think at that time, most of the people came into, to San Francisco. But I'm not sure. But, I think the, the passenger ships from Japan at that time came into San Francisco harbor. I'm just guessing. [Laughs]

RP: And where did he seek employment? In San Francisco or did he drift south or north?

HN: Well, he had an uncle that was already here. And that motivated him to come, come to L.A.

RP: The uncle's name?

HN: Yuwasa.

RP: And what was he doing here in Los Angeles?

HN: He was, had something to do with the fish cannery in Terminal Island. And also he had something to do with the, the starting of the... I think he had something to do with the starting of the Rafu Shimpo, the newspaper. He also, I think he, he started this Japanese Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles.

RP: Well, he was heavily involved in the community.

HN: Yeah, yeah.

RP: Very business-oriented.

HN: Yeah.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

RP: And so what did your father, did he go into business with your uncle or...

HN: No.

RP: ...uncle give his, give him an opportunity to get started or something?

HN: Yeah. Yeah. 'Cause he, he had a, the uncle had a, a sister-in-law living in Pasadena that, where, like I said, came very early and they had a, they had a rose farm. And I think he, he worked there, well, that's where he came. And I think he stayed a very short time, but then, to start his own business. That's how he got involved into the rose, rose growing business.

RP: Started there, in Pasadena.

HN: Yeah. And that, that was in south Pasadena, and that was a cut-flower. They were growing roses for cut-flower, to sell, sell to the florists.

RP: And your father started his own business on Wilshire.

HN: Yeah, a retail nursery and he started the rose growing business in San Fernando valley.

RP: The land in Pacoima.

HN: Yeah, Pacoima, yeah.

RP: You said that was about a hundred acres?

HN: Hundred acres, yeah.

RP: So he started that jointly with this floral shop.

HN: Yeah, I think what happened is he called, he... oh wait, I think I told you that he was the only son, there was another, he had another brother. So I do have an uncle, yeah. He called his younger brother and had his younger brother take charge of the, of the farm in San Fernando.

RP: Was that Akira?

HN: Yeah, exactly.

RP: I just remembered two and you said he had another son I was like, wait a minute, I see pictures of his brother in Manzanar.

HN: Oh, yeah. 'Cause he, we lived together in the same barrack, yeah.

RP: Right, right.

HN: Yeah, the family, yeah.

RP: And how... was Akira younger or older than, than your dad?

HN: He was younger, yeah. I mentioned that he was the only son, but there was, there was two, two sons. My, my dad and the younger brother.

RP: Did your sister-in-law's husband help, help your dad get started in terms of investment and financing?

HN: Yeah, what she did, my aunt, what she did was, because my mother was very involved in the flower business, and so my aunt took, took care of the kids. So, because she was, so she was needed just to run the shop, flower shop, which was like an all-day job. So my aunt did, did the housekeeping, taking care of the kids. 'Cause at that time there was, I had an older sister, which was Setsuko. Yeah.

RP: How old was she?

HN: She was just a, just a year older than I was.

RP: Uh-huh. So there was Setsuko and then you.

HN: Yeah.

RP: And then who came afterwards?

HN: There was Midori, then there was Mary, Edith, and Barbara. [Laughs]

RP: Let's see, that's five or six, I think.

HN: Yeah, it's five. Yeah.

RP: So you were outnumbered.

HN: Oh, yeah. [Laughs]

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

RP: Let's talk about your mother a little bit. First of all, what was her name?

HN: Hiro, Hiroko.

RP: Hiroko?

HN: Yeah.

RP: And her maiden name?

HN: Maiden name was Matsuyama.

RP: And where did she, did she come from Japan?

HN: She come from the same, same area.

RP: Wakayama?

HN: Wakayama, yeah. If not the same town or the same neighborhood, I don't remember.

RP: And how did your mom and dad get together?

HN: After... I don't know, I really don't know if he already knew my mother, but after he got here and got established, he called for her to come, come over. They were not married but they got married after they got here.

RP: Did your father know your mother when he was growing up in Japan?

HN: I'm pretty sure he did, yeah.

RP: Kind of met there and...

HN: Yeah, yeah.

RP: Tell me about your mother. Give us a picture of your mom, physically and personality-wise.

HN: Well, she was really, really a hard working, like most mothers at that time, they were really a... but she had, my dad was involved in the nursery business and she was involved in the flower shop, so that it was a full time job.

RP: Did she have any previous, was her schooling...

HN: Other than high school in Japan?

RP: She, she...

HN: No, no, none.

RP: No additional women's college or business?

HN: Yeah.

RP: But she had a flair for business?

HN: I don't think she had any. [Laughs] Yeah, I think most Isseis didn't have any further education than, than high school. 'Cause they all came at a young age, after high school age. I don't know of any that actually, after they got to, to this country, if they went to any further education or not. I would imagine some of 'em did, but I don't know of any. At least I'm not aware of any.

RP: How about your father? What do you remember most about him?

HN: Well, there again, just with a high school education and without any experience in business, to have started a business like which he had, it's pretty amazing actually. But that was not only my dad. It was a lot of other Isseis that came from Japan that, that had to start from, without too much education, other than high school.

RP: How about language, language barrier? Did your parents eventually...

HN: That's what really amazes me. That they didn't speak the language, but I guess once you started some kind of business, which, like my dad had, you, I imagine you picked it up as fast as you could. Because you're dealing with, like if you're in business, you're dealing with, with the American public. 'Course, the people that started business that were in, that had to do with trading with their own people, like in Little Tokyo, then it was probably easier. But if you're out in the American public, then it's pretty amazing that they were able to conduct business. Because in my dad's business, which the clientele was 100 percent Caucasian people, there was no, there was no Japanese clientele. So he had to learn. It seems like he did, with little, little English language, they got by all right.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

RP: Did you go to Japanese language school?

HN: Yeah.

RP: What did you think about that?

HN: It was a, it was a drag. [Laughs] I hated it. Because that meant going to regular school, then after regular school, you had to go, go to Japanese school which gives you hardly, very little time for recreation with your friends in school. You couldn't hang around after school with, with kids. You had to hurry home and go, go to Japanese school. That was five days a week. At least that was the school I went to, was weekdays, the same days as the regular school. It was, I guess some of the Japanese schools were on just Saturdays only. But the school that I went to was on weekdays.

RP: Which school was that?

HN: That's the Hollywood, Hollywood, well, it's the Hollywood gakuen, which was the Hollywood school, Hollywood Japanese language school.

RP: Was it a Buddhist church or a...

HN: We went to a, a Christian, Hollywood Presbyterian.

RP: The language school, was it strictly just for Japanese language or was it also used as a church or...

HN: No, no, it was strictly a school. Had no religious...

RP: Affiliation.

HN: Yeah.

RP: Did your father, was he involved in helping set that up? Or did he have a role to play with that school?

HN: I don't think so because he was very involved with, with the Buddhist church in downtown L.A.

RP: Nishi Hongwanji?

HN: No. The Koyasan.

RP: How was, how was he involved with the church?

HN: He was very involved, helping them financially and... primarily I guess as, as a very staunch member.

RP: Were they just establishing the church at that time?

HN: I don't know. Yeah, it must have been starting just... right about that time when the Japanese were coming over. 'Cause the original... it was right in downtown Little Tokyo.

RP: First Street?

HN: It was on Central, right near First Street. Where the... it was right across, you know where the, the old, the Buddhist church was. Nishi Hongwanji, it was right next to that on Central Avenue. It was just a wooden building, small, small temple. Then they moved to First Street later on. I don't know if you're familiar with the Koyasan church on First Street?

RP: I've seen the most recent church.

HN: Yeah, it's kind of set back behind, behind the, the commercial buildings.

RP: But you remember a wooden building?

HN: Yeah, yeah.

RP: Was it a two-story building or just a...

HN: No, it was... yeah, one part of it was two stories, the minister's quarters. The temple itself was a one-story building.

RP: What do you remember going, what holidays do you remember going there for?

HN: We went there primarily, whenever we went there, it was a funeral. But we, as far as our... we, we went to a Christian church in Hollywood.

RP: Was it primarily Japanese?

HN: 'Cause religion was, I guess, my dad probably, my parents probably... religion is something that was necessary but you didn't have to go all the way downtown. [Laughs] Whatever was convenient. And that, that was convenient to send us to a Christian school because, because it was in the neighborhood.

RP: But he remained, he was a pretty staunch Buddhist?

HN: He was, yeah.

RP: So, when you were growing up, where did, where was your social life centered around? Was it the church or school?

HN: Most of my friends were from school, school friends. 'Cause I went from elementary to high school without changing... we never had to, we never moved, I mean, from... so it was, I had some longtime friends from elementary to high school.

RP: Did your family celebrate any traditional Japanese holidays, including New Year's?

HN: Other than New Year's? New Year's was the biggest holiday, of course. We celebrated Christmas. But, being, at that time being... my mother being involved in, in a florist business, Christmas is one of the biggest business days, business holidays there was. It was huge for the flower business. 'Cause everybody bought flowers and poinsettias and cyclamens. So, it was the biggest part of their business was, was the Christmas holidays.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

RP: Now, you were about two or three years old when your parents left that nursery on Wilshire and moved to another location?

HN: Yeah, yeah.

RP: Where was that?

HN: Where was that?

RP: The second shop.

HN: Western Avenue. Western Avenue...

RP: Beverly?

HN: And Beverly Boulevard.

RP: And was that, was that already a nursery that they just bought or did they establish it from the ground up?

HN: No, no, it, it was bare ground that he actually rented the, or leased the property, built, built the building, the flower shop. He built a greenhouse and a lath house, shade, and he built a small house in the rear for, for living quarters.

Off-camera voice: Was that the property that had been lemon trees?

HN: I'm sorry, I didn't hear...

Off-camera voice: Was that the property that had been lemon trees?

HN: No, that, that was later on. That was when we moved to West L.A.

RP: That was the west one. This was the property that eventually was, the Ambassador Hotel was built on.

HN: No, that was the very first, before... when he started business, we were not born yet. We were born there at, at that first location on Wilshire Avenue.

RP: That was the...

HN: That's where the Ambassador hotel was, yeah.

RP: Now, did --

HN: And then, we went, then from, I guess it was two... we lost that, Dad lost that property because the Ambassador Hotel was going to be built. So we had to relocate to the other place which was on Western Avenue.

RP: And you started that from the ground up.

HN: From the ground up, yeah.

RP: What do you remember about the nursery and the floral shop?

HN: Well, the first location, I don't remember anything because I was born there and, and I think we moved there when I was two or three years old. But we, we grew up in the Western Avenue location which, from elementary school to high school, so we had lot of fun there. I had a lot of friends, neighborhood and school friends.

RP: Yeah, you said, you said that you used to, you used to drag race Model Ts?

HN: [Laughs] That's how we... teenagers.

RP: What did you do for fun as a, as a kid, before you became a teenager?

HN: Oh, we, it was mostly, in those days, it was pretty, like just hanging around the neighborhood. Summertime we used to just, we used to play games, shoot marbles. We used to go, summertime, we used to go around looking for apricot trees in the backyard, stealing apricots. [Laughs]

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

RP: So the house that you lived in at the second...

HN: On Western Avenue?

RP: Western Avenue site.

HN: Yeah.

RP: Yeah, did you have indoor plumbing and electricity there?

HN: Oh yeah, yeah. It was very small but we had all the, the...

RP: Amenities?

HN: Yeah, amenities, yeah.

RP: And can you describe your dad's nursery that he had there? Was it predominately... what types of plants did he, did he sell there?

HN: He, we had a, we had a greenhouse which, which, the greenhouse was the purpose for keeping indoor plants for the flower shop business. Then there was, the balance of the property on that, that lot was, was a shade house which we called a lath house. And it was mostly kentia palms, which were sold as, as houseplants and then also for, you rented the palms for the, the studio business.

RP: You mentioned that, that there was another, another nursery owner that most of his business was just renting plants to the, to the movie studios.

HN: Yeah, yeah, the... I remember the family name. It was the Deguchi family.

RP: Taguchi?

HN: Deguchi.

RP: Deguchi.

HN: Yeah, and, and his family, and the nursery was called Melrose Avenue Nursery on Melrose. It was, and his primary business was renting plant material for studio sets. And on Melrose Avenue there was one or two big studios.

RP: You said maybe RKO was there.

HN: I think it was RKO, I think it was RKO, I'm not sure, but that's one of the nurseries. And the other nurseries, it might have been Paramount, I'm not sure. It was Paramount, Universal. I know there was Warner Brothers, that was on... but that, but that was actually nearby, too. I think he rented to Warner Brothers, too, quite a bit. That was on Bronson Avenue on Sunset Boulevard, Warner Brothers Studio. I think it was later on that they moved to Culver City. I think, no, I think Culver City did have quite a few studios right, right from the very beginning. I don't remember.

RP: Can you tell us how, how large is a kentia palm? How large does it usually get?

HN: They get, they could get to, when they're old they could get to ten, twelve, fifteen feet high. But the ones that were growing in the lath house, for indoor use, were anywhere from a couple of feet to five or six feet high.

RP: You had, he had indoor plants for that clientele and also the studios and any other specialty plants that he grew there?

HN: No, no. It was pretty limited.

RP: Did he grow bedding plants, a lot of color?

HN: No, no.

RP: Uh-huh. And how about landscaping plants? Plants for...

HN: No, not... only because it took, it took a lot of space for growing... in the retail business it was more feasible to have the growers buy it, you buy from the grower... it's, it's a buy and sell situation.

RP: Uh-huh.

HN: Only when we moved out to, to the West L.A. property that we had plenty of space that he grew, he grew mostly for specimen, specimen trees, larger specimens for, for landscaping use.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

RP: Now you, when you, a little later on, I guess in your teenage years, you, you worked at the, at your mother's florist shop.

HN: Yeah.

RP: Tell us what you did.

HN: As a, as a teenager we had to, we helped out by helping on deliveries. Not driving, I mean, not, not driving the truck but just to, to hop off and take the flowers or the plant for delivery.

RP: You said you, you called yourself a jumper?

HN: A jumper, yeah. [Laughs] Yeah. And then the floral department, a big part of the business was funeral, funeral flowers. There was a lot of that, funeral arrangements being delivered to cemeteries and to the mortuaries, which was, I guess, 50 percent of the business was, was funerals. A big, big part was weddings and of course for parties and corsages for, for proms and things like that. And, of course, house decorations.

RP: Can you explain to us a little about where you got the flowers and some of the protocol that was involved with the flower mart?

HN: Yeah. The flower market was, in those days, every morning you had to go to the flower market to, to get fresh flowers. And that, that opened, that was before you opened the store. The flower market opened at, I think it was five o'clock. But you had to get down there early if you wanted to get the best flowers. And so, and it was an every morning, every day affair, from Monday to Friday. So, that was my dad's job, is to go to the flower market, get the flowers, then, then after that he had to, he had to tend to the nursery.

RP: He had a long day.

HN: Yeah.

RP: You told us also that you needed to have some type of certification or, actually that you would, you had to wear a badge to identify yourself as a legitimate florist?

HN: Yeah, the wholesale flower market was, was very strict in selling to legitimate florists. It wouldn't allow any non-florists to come in and buy flowers, I guess primarily to protect their flower business. So, in order to get into the flower shop you had to be, you had to be registered and when you were registered they, they issued a button so that you could enter the, enter the flower market.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

RP: Now you said that you, on Saturdays you would go down with your father to the flower market?

HN: Yeah, yeah.

RP: Can you describe how the market was set up and how you actually, you know, acquired the flowers?

HN: Well, there was a big rush to get there as early as possible because... the primary reason was to get a parking spot. You wanted to be able to park, park your delivery, your truck as close to the, the entrance as possible so you didn't have to haul 'em a long ways. And the earlier you went the better, better spot you got. And then at the same time after you parked your truck, you waited to get into the, into the flower market which opened at five o'clock and it opened at, promptly at five o'clock and everybody waited until the gates opened. Then everybody made a big rush to get, get to their growers that they want to buy flowers from. And you made a wild dash to, to do that. It was a, it was a...

RP: Were growers in stalls or...

HN: Yeah, yeah. They had, the growers had, they had permanent spots. They rented permanent spots for... and that was allocated to one particular grower. You could be at a certain designated spot every time so you went directly to, to this, growers that you wanted to buy different flowers from.

RP: It must have been very colorful, fragrant scene.

HN: It was a fragrant, wild scene. [Laughs]

RP: So would your father say, "Hey, Henry, go over there and get us a couple dozen of these, or..."

HN: No, I was too young to do any. I just pushed the cart around. You loaded, you loaded the flowers onto a, onto a I guess you could call it a little flatbed hand truck, and you piled the flowers on top of that and you wheeled it out to the, to the car, to the truck.

RP: Did you have any refrigeration or any... well, it was kind of early in the morning so you probably didn't need that?

HN: Yeah, the things like orchids and roses and couple of precious flowers were refrigerated. Well they were not, they were kept cook with ice. They were called ice boxes. There were...

RP: Tell us about the...

HN: They were walk-in boxes that were visible from the outside, they were glass, front and side. And the, the ice storage was on the very top. I think the ice, the ice man came every, couple times a week, to load the ice box up. And these would be full cakes of, or half cakes of, half blocks of ice that the ice man had to kind of walk up a small ladder to, to get into the, the ice compartment. 'Cause we had no, no refrigeration, electrical refrigeration at the time. They were all, like the household ice boxes were ice also at that time. This is in the 1920s and the '30s. I guess in the '30s, they started getting refrigeration, electrical refrigeration.

RP: Some of that ice would, you said some of the shavings would come off and...

HN: [Laughs] Summertime, pick up the ice chips.

RP: You also had the responsibility of cleaning the flowers when they, they arrived from...

HN: Yeah, when they were brought back from the, from the flower market. They all had to be cleaned and sorted into bunches for sale. That was a big chore just to do the... it took all morning just to get the flowers ready for, for sale.

RP: Did your mother employ people to design arrangements?

HN: Yeah. She always had at least one or two designers all the time. And she had salespeople in the flower shop. And she did, she did designing, too. 'Cause when you had, had big funeral orders, it was a lot of work getting the funeral, the stuff ready. Then when there was a, when you had a wedding, too, then you had to get the wedding things ready.

RP: And how many deliveries --

HN: The flower business at that time was... 'cause people used a lot of flowers in those days for weddings and funerals, for graduation, for parties, dances, and whatever. I guess especially in the, in the neighborhood which was more of the upscale neighborhoods.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

RP: So business remained pretty steady even during the Depression years?

HN: Yeah. I remember during the Depression years it got tough, it got tough. And then eventually, as you know today, they don't have flower shops like they used to have back in those days. 'Cause you could buy, go to the market and buy, buy flowers. And you could actually go to the flower market and buy flowers if you wanted to.

RP: Today? These days.

HN: Today. Yeah.

RP: Your father had this rose growing area in Pacoima.

HN: Yeah.

RP: And tell us, what market did he, did he grow for?

HN: The, the rose, the rose business was, was selling the rose plants to nurseries. And there was, because of southern California weather, a lot of roses were grown in southern California and shipped back east to nurseries back east where weather was much colder where it wasn't feasible to grow, grow roses. So it was a, it was a shipping business. Not too much for local business, but for back, back east, eastern states.

RP: So he would... they would be dug up as bare root roses and shipped back...

HN: Bare root, yeah. I think there was like five roses to a bundle and they all had, the names had to be tagged. I think five and whatever the order was, we had to fill those orders. Oh, we didn't. I mean, they, they had big, like a, like a warehouse that all, all the roses came and then they were all bunched and got ready for shipping. They were packed in the...

RP: Sawdust?

HN: In the, in boxes for shipping. And packed, after you got all the roses packed into a box, then they were filled with sawdust, wood shavings, then wetted down and closed up then shipped, ready for shipping. But that, I wasn't, I knew that was going on but I never worked at doing that.

RP: But you visited the growing area?

HN: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

RP: What, what varieties of roses did your dad grow? Did he...

HN: All, all the varieties that were... I don't remember, remember all the varieties, but there was, there was a lot of varieties at the time. And those varieties at that time, they hardly, they don't exist any more today because they're all replace by newer hybrids.

RP: You said he occasionally get some accidental hybridization and new varieties.

HN: Yeah, yeah.

RP: One of which he named for your sister?

HN: Yeah, there was one, one rose that, that my dad discovered that he grew that was a new, new variety that named for my sister, Mary Nishi. But like I said, those, those old varieties don't exist today.

RP: Did he actually do any cross breeding of...

HN: Hybridizing?

RP: Hybridizing.

HN: No, no.

RP: What was his, what was the name of his business?

HN: Pacific Rose Company.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

RP: There were a couple of growers that you mentioned, particularly the gentleman who, who grew the gardenias?

HN: Yeah, there was a gardenia grower in Culver City that, he was famous for growing beautiful gardenias. His name was Mr. Kitagawa. I don't know if the name of the business was, what the name of the business was, but the trade name for his gardenias were kitty gardenias. And there were that variety of mystery gardenia which was, was a famous variety... he was famous for growing beautiful flowers. Like one of the number one growers at the time.

RP: You also received, purchased flowers from San Fernando valley and other local areas?

HN: Yeah. The, the roses of course, the flower, cut roses were mostly grown in hothouses. And that was a, that was a different, different kind of a farming altogether. And there were, we bought like Armacost, Armacost and Royston. They were all grown under glass. I think then, of course, the orchids came from Hawaii.

RP: You purchased...

HN: No I think, yeah, no they, there were some orchid growers at the time, yeah. Armacost and Royston grew orchids I think here actually here in west L.A. Had a greenhouse, had orchid, orchid plants, the cattleya orchids.

RP: How about Easter lilies? Did they...

HN: Easter lilies came from, mostly from the Bay Area. Well, yeah, there was a, a big grower in Gardena, Gardena, I think there was several growers. I can't think of the name. I can't think of the name of the, the grower. They had... and then there was poinsettias, which was a big item for Christmas. That was, but I think cyclamens and azaleas mostly were grown up in the Bay Area around, what is that, around Palo Alto, was a lot of growers back there. San Leandro I think is what... and things like bulb flowers like ranunculus and tulips, I think mostly came from the Bay Area, not much grown down here.

RP: At the time your father had the nursery at Beverly and Western, was he also getting involved in landscaping?

HN: No, not at that time, no.

RP: That came a little later on?

HN: Later when we moved out to the west side.

RP: So you kind of -- pardon the pun -- you cultivated an interest in plants and horticulture from some of your dealings with the nursery?

HN: Yeah.

RP: Started to get interested in plants and...

HN: I grew up, grew up in the nursery business, nursery and flower business. Only because we lived right on the premises. [Laughs]

RP: You couldn't get away from it.

HN: Yeah, yeah.

RP: Did you have any other interests or ambitions other than...

HN: I don't think so.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

RP: You had an opportunity to go to Davis.

HN: Yeah.

RP: And your parents were able to pay for your education?

HN: Yeah, I took up landscape design.

RP: And that was, you spent three years up there?

HN: Yeah.

RP: So you grew up, you grew up in kind of an urban area in Los Angeles and you went to Davis, kind of a rural area.

HN: Yeah, yeah.

RP: How did that work out?

HN: Well it, Davis was, was a real small town. Not much there except most of the people that lived in Davis were either connected to the university or they had businesses, grocery stores or, or pharmacy, drug stores, shops. It was a really small, very small city, 14 miles west of Sacramento, exactly 14 miles west of Sacramento.

RP: And how was the, how was the schooling there? The classes that you took...

HN: At that time it was, it was a real small school. And I think at the time when I was there from 1938, '39, and '40, I think UC Davis had, I think it was only about 1,500 students. But, it was, it was a nice school. I mean, it was, it was a, we had dormitories there. They had nice classrooms. But a lot, because it was an agricultural oriented school, we had a lot of acreage and vegetables, orchards, citrus... not citrus but the fruit, like apricots, peaches. And it was also poultry, animal husbandry, I think we had a pig farm. They bred horses there. I think we had, they had, I think we had some Arabian horses. And most of the Arabian horses were at Cal, in Pomona, university of, was that Cal-Poly? Yeah. But we did have some Arabian horses there at UC Davis.

RP: Before you went to college, during your high school years, were you growing any plants?

HN: Was I?

RP: At the nursery? Or propagating plants?

HN: You mean was I involved in doing that?

RP: Yeah.

HN: No, no.

RP: Not at all?

HN: I was too young to be...

RP: Who did the propagation at the nursery, or when you were growing like the kentia palms or would you get those in from a...

HN: I think they were all bought from a, actual growers.

RP: And you just...

HN: Yeah, 'cause my dad was primarily in the retail business and not in growing, growing for other nurseries. He probably grew a lot of stuff for his own use, but not in the scale where he'd be growing for other, other people. Because, in the nursery business, whether it was retail or... it was either retail or you're doing wholesale which is actually growing for the retail trade. So, my dad was primarily interested in the retail trade and not growing.

RP: So was the idea for you to go and get a more formal education in horticulture and come back and help run the nursery?

HN: Yeah, yeah.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

RP: When did your father start his west Los Angeles nursery?

HN: I think it was 1930, 1929 or '30. They moved out to... he was able to get a lease from the Veteran's Administration. They leased him 10 acres of land right next to the Veteran's Administration. But the land, land was a lemon orchard. In order to utilize the property, he had to clear the lemon trees which was cutting the 10 acres of lemon trees. These were mature lemon trees, and I wasn't helping out doing that but I know I went there when, when they were clearing that. And one thing good about clearing that lemon tree, that lemon orchard was it was a, a big demand for firewood, citrus firewood. So once you cut it up, you had no problem getting rid of it. I don't think we sold it, but people just came and got it. So he didn't have to dispose of it even though 10 acres of lemon trees would be a lot of wood.

RP: And tell us what he established on the 10 acres.

HN: Well he had 5 acres, 5 acres were the front part, facing Wilshire Boulevard, was for the retail business. And the 5 acres on the back half were for, for what they called field grown, field grown plants. And 1 acre was devoted to shade area, lath house, for growing kentia palms.

RP: Did he, did you have a, a house on the site, too?

HN: Did it have a what?

RP: Where, was the house built on the site, too? A house?

HN: No. There was no house. He did build a small office which was, he built a little stone office building and another kind of, almost like a storage area where we had a fireplace. But yeah, we did have a, have an office building.


RP: This is tape two of a continuing interview with Henry Nishi. And Henry we were just talking about your father's development of the west Los Angeles nursery.

HN: Yes.

RP: And, you said he, he also had a tree moving company which he established?

HN: Yeah, yeah. Which was pretty unique because I think the tree moving business was just getting started. There was one, there was, as I recollect, there was only, I think there was, as far as I know there was two tree moving companies that, that's all they did was, was move trees. And one, the big company, the major company was Hampshire, Hampshire Tree Moving Company, which was, that's all they did was move trees. And there was another, oh yeah, I think it was called Superior Trees, trees. And they were, and that's all they do, just move, relocate trees. And I think my dad was interested in doing that, too. I guess he liked that, the engineering of moving trees. So you can... I know he bought a, one of those big trucks for, a ten-wheeler, where you could... 'cause a mature tree, when it was boxed, weighed probably several tons. And he started out, he had a nice truck, I remember. But it was primitive in the way that he didn't have a power winch, a winch that was run by a, by a motor. He used a, a hand-winch which you had to, which powered by hand. And then a drum full of, a winch that was with a steel cable wrapped around a tree box and then wound up by, by hand. Opposed to having a power winch run by the truck motor. So it was quite a chore to get a...

RP: Get that box up.

HN: Get that tree back on the truck. Actually, it was kind of a dangerous job. [Laughs]


RP: And you didn't help him with that, did you?

HN: No.

RP: You weren't the guy with the, cranking the winch?

HN: [Shakes head]

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

RP: So your, your father's new nursery in west Los Angeles kind of paralleled the development of these new communities in the west Los Angeles area.

HN: Yeah, yeah, at that time west L.A., Westwood area was just coming into, into, there were at that time when we used to drive out from, from Hollywood to, to the west L.A. area, coming, coming, taking Beverly Boulevard west to Wilshire Boulevard and coming over to, to the Westwood area, there was a lot of vacant, it was just rolling hills. UCLA was very prominent because it was the only big building that was standing. That was nice brick, beautiful brick buildings. And Westwood Village, which was being developed by Janss Investment Corporation, was just being built. This was back in that, early 1930s. And...

RP: How about Bel Air and Brentwood?

HN: Bel Air and Brentwood was also being developed. The Palisades was a little bit older. People lived in Palisades, were older buildings there, residential buildings. But the, but that area, the Bel Air area, the Westwood area, was just a new development.

RP: So your father wanted to take advantage of that, and...

HN: Yeah, yeah. I think UCLA had a lot to do with the, with the development of Westwood, Westwood Village. Because of the students coming there and people and faculty moving, moving there.

RP: So your father's... had a pretty upscale clientele at that nursery as well?

HN: Oh yeah, oh yeah. Because of the area.

RP: He had some pretty famous clients he did landscapes for.

HN: Yeah, he had a lot of, lot of well-known people as clients.

RP: Can you name a few for us?

HN: Yeah, one, one of the big names that I remember was, oh, Barrymore, John Barrymore. Yeah, he had Shirley Temple, the parents, the Temple family. Jane Withers. Tthere was others but, yeah, they had that kind of people.

RP: How did your father do... did he do the designs for these landscapes? Would he...

HN: Yeah.

RP: He would create the landscapes?

HN: Yeah, yeah.

RP: Did he draw up just rough sketches or...

HN: Rough, rough sketches, yeah.

RP: And what type of... how would you characterize your father's style as a landscape artist?

HN: Well, it... I could say that he, he knew his plant material. Design-wise, I don't think, he was not that talented. But he was pretty knowledgeable as to what types of plants would do well in certain, given areas. Whether it'd be southern exposure, northern exposure, western exposure, eastern exposure, the types of soil. He's pretty knowledgeable about that type of thing. So, he was able to plant the proper plants in the right locations that were suitable for, for that particular plant. Design-wise, I don't think he was too talented in that, that aspect.

RP: Did he design pond gardens, waterfall features, that type of thing?

HN: Yeah, when the call came for that type of thing, he liked to do that, rock gardens or the Oriental type gardens.

RP: There was... those became very trendy in the '20s and 30s.

HN: At one time, yeah.

RP: Uh-huh. How was his ability to work with rocks? Did he, did he have an eye for selecting rocks or, or was that...

HN: Well he liked to do that. But I say that he was, he didn't have a real good eye for it. 'Cause I was kinda critical about things like that. [Laughs] About, about placement of rocks. Just because of, not by doing it, but visually seeing the other works that were, what I thought were, were nice. And learning from visually seeing. And then also studying natural nature. I think that was the important thing about doing rock work is, is having a visual, have the natural look to rock placement and not something that was, it was put there that had that unnatural look.

RP: Just dumped out on...

HN: Yeah, yeah.

RP: So did you work with him at all on any of his landscape projects?

HN: No, no. I didn't have a chance. By the time I got involved in the landscape business, he was like mostly retired and, and, and after I got, really got involved in, in doing landscaping, my father was gone. So...

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

RP: You, you mentioned that you made a connection with a professor at UCLA who was a, quite a landscape designer.

HN: Yeah, he was, he was a real artist that had a, had a, what I thought had a really, a good talent for, for garden design. And of course that's what he taught. That's what he got his doctorate in, in landscape design. But he was a natural, he had a natural talent for, for that... he was an artist.

RP: What was his name?

HN: Dr. Kawana. Koichi Kawana.

RP: Dr. Kawana, Uh-huh.

HN: I don't know, have you ever heard of him or anybody ever brought up his...

RP: No, I never had until yesterday.

HN: Oh, really?

RP: Yeah.

HN: Yeah. He, he... at the time he, when he got, really got involved in doing gardening, he got well-known. He built several gardens in other parts of the country, in the United States, big gardens. Either, yeah, mostly municipal gardens, Japanese gardens. I know the one that he built in St. Louis was supposed to be one of the... which I never went to see, but it was a big, big garden. And there's others, too. Of course, he built, he built the garden in Van Nuys for the water reclamation...

RP: The Tillman plant?

HN: The Tillman plant, yeah. That was his design and his execution. I think that's one of the last gardens he built, was the, was the Tillman garden.

RP: That wasn't too long ago, was it?

HN: The garden today is, I think, I think is about, what is it, I forgot the year that it was, about, what, twenty, twenty years old about? Twenty or Twenty-five years old. Pretty new garden for a Japanese garden. It's, I think it's really a beautiful garden.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

RP: Was he pretty, pretty much a traditionalist in his use of specific plant materials and rocks? Did he...

HN: You mean Doctor Kawana?

RP: Yes.

HN: Yeah, oh yeah. Yeah, yeah.

RP: You had a chance to actually go out and work with him a little bit.

HN: Oh yeah, yeah.

RP: First of all you said you used to go collect, select rocks with him.

HN: Yeah.

RP: Where did you...

HN: He was, when, when he was actually doing some private work for some of his friends in school, the professors that wanted gardens, I think we built seven or eight different private gardens for, and they were all people from UCLA. And I helped him build the gardens under his direction.

RP: How about the rock selection? You said you went...

HN: Yeah, we, it was at the time... of course, the Japanese gardens, the granite boulders were most suitable for, for Japanese gardens. And that Pomona Claremont area had better beautiful, more beautiful rocks than our local San Fernando Valley. So we went out there to... and also they were more available out there, too, in that, that area, the foothills of I guess it was the, not the San Bernardino but in that...

RP: San Gabriel?

HN: Yeah, I guess the San Bernardino County, we picked rocks there.

RP: You could just drive out and collect 'em?

HN: Yeah, yeah.

RP: And how did you, how did you, you hauled them by truck?

HN: Yeah.

RP: You have cranes or...

HN: I had a small, small truck with a crane on it. And we were only able to carry about 3 tons at a time.

RP: Were these granite rocks or...

HN: These are granite, yeah. Yeah. They had... really, for whatever, I don't know, for whatever reason, the granite rocks were, had more character to 'em in that, in that area than our rocks here in, in the San Fernando Valley. They had more color, colors were better. But, you know, it was still granite rock, but, and they, they, it was just more, they had more character to 'em. But, so... our preference was, was to get rocks from that area.

RP: Can you describe to us the process of putting together a garden with the professor? What...

HN: Yeah. The way Doctor Kawana... his, instead of doing a plot plan, he did a rendering in watercolor, or sumi-e. And he'd do a, he'd do a beautiful rendering of a garden that he... then we used that rendering to execute a garden. Opposed to... normally you would have a plot plan where you'd be looking at a, at a plan that designated exactly where, what went, what rock went where and what plant went. The elevations were all on a plot plan. But his, his plan was just a rendering. But in order to execute it properly, he supervised doing it. So that... but if you had an exact plot plan you didn't need to have the person that was, actually designed the garden to, to execute it because plot, plot plan was very precise, exactly as to where, where everything went.

RP: So he would supervise the construction?

HN: Yeah, yeah.

RP: And he would, he would locate the rocks and...

HN: Yeah, yeah. And he was very decisive about rocks. I know I've worked, worked with other architects and other designers doing rock work, they would try to place a rock, they'd place it. "No, I don't like the way it looks, let's do, let's try another one or let's turn it over." But Kawana, "I want this rock and I want this side up and I want this much buried." And it was, he never, he was very decisive about, it went in, that was it. There was no fumbling around, changing rocks or, "Oh, I don't like this." And the work went real quick because his, his decisiveness. Yeah, it was amazing. Normally, you would play with the rock. Try to place it, and no, it doesn't look right. Let's turn it over or let's get another rock. But he, he would pick out a rock and this rock goes here, this goes down, and that was it. There was no change. [Laughs] Consequently, it was very easy to work with somebody like that if you, if you were the contractor. Because time meant... if you had to be spending a lot of time on each different item. You're spending a lot of, a lot of money on time, which, which was not the best thing in the, in the final, final analysis.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

RP: I'd like to backtrack back to Davis.

HN: Yeah.

RP: And, did you live on campus, Henry? Or...

HN: Not right on campus, but right next to the campus. We lived in a private home. And a lot of people that lived there tried to make space for students because it was very... but there were dormitories at, on campus. One was the north dorm, the west dorm, and then there was a women's dormitory. There was three dormitories. But, if you wanted to live off campus in a private home, you had that choice. But there was very few people that actually went to school that were commuting from home because we were out in the boonies. Yeah, I had a friend that lived in Woodland, which is only about 10 miles away that, that lived at home and came to school. And I don't know of anybody that... if you lived in Sacramento, which was only 14 miles away, I'm sure there were students from Sacramento that would have commuted from... but even that 14 miles, it would be easier to live on campus if you could.

RP: Were you the only Japanese American at the school at that time?

HN: Yeah, at that time we had fifty, fifty Japanese Americans, mostly from the Fresno Valley. Mostly orchardists, farmers that were... it was citrus growers from Parlier. There was almond growers, peach growers... I don't know of anybody that was in the, in the grape industry, but UC Davis had a, had a department in wine grapes and grape, the grape industry. But peaches and pears and apricots and citrus, and besides, there was truck crops, too.

RP: Your summers, you came back down to Los Angeles?

HN: Yeah.

RP: And part of your summer was spent working at your father's nursery?

HN: Yeah.

RP: And what did you do for him during the summer?

HN: Well, mostly water plants in the summertime.

RP: Where, what was your water source for the, for the nursery, Henry?

HN: Because it was on government ground, we couldn't be serviced by city water, water and power, L.A. And I think Edison Company supplied, Edison, to that particular west L.A. area. In order to get electricity from Edison Company we had to put in our own, install our own pole and pay for the, pay for the electricity, pay for the installation of the electrical line, and of course they would put in a meter after. If you did that, of course, you owned all the equipment. But we had to have power for, we had to have a lot of power for running the pump for the water. Because we had, we had a, had our own well... there was an existing well out on the property, but there was no, no pump or we had to install, get a pump. We had to install the, a pressure tank so we had enough pressure to, to water the plants.

RP: And the area of the nursery that was devoted to field grown stock was flood irrigated?

HN: Yeah, it was irrigated. Yeah.

RP: Was anybody doing drip irrigation in those days or...

HN: No, no.

RP: Still too far away. Lots of water.

HN: No, no. But we did, Dad did use overhead, overhead irrigation a lot, too, other than... of course, you know, at that time, the only irrigation, overhead irrigation it was Rain Bird, which is, to this day is still famous. I think it's pretty recently that, maybe ten-twelve years ago that, that the Rain Bird, that that patent ran out. But that Rain Bird company had that exclusive patent for that particular, you know what I'm talking about? The Rain Bird...

RP: Oh, yes.

HN: Overhead irrigation...

RP: I worked with them for a long time.

HN: I think, they still, the orchards, they still use the Rain Bird...

RP: That sound, that sound.

HN: Yeah, yeah. Alfalfa fields, they still use it.

RP: Those impact sprinklers?

HN: Yeah.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

RP: Henry, did your father, did your father raise any goldfish for any of his gardens?

HN: No, no.

RP: Or ponds? Which brings me to another question. Was your father associated with any other gardeners or landscapers in the area? The one person I'm specifically thinking of is Mr. Kado, the stonemason?

HN: Yeah?

RP: Ryozo Kado?

HN: Yes.

RP: Mr. Kado had a nursery on Wilshire Boulevard.

HN: Yes, yeah.

RP: And I think it was...

HN: In Santa Monica.

RP: Santa Monica, yeah. I think he, he primarily dealt with cactus and also had fish, water lilies that he put into gardens that he created. Did you...

HN: Yeah, that was his specialty. Yeah.

RP: Did, did your father and him ever hook up before the war?

HN: Oh, they were, they were very close friends. Yeah. Mr. Kado and my dad were very close friends. Yeah, and there was another, another small nursery called Westgate Nursery. It was, which was also on, on the west side of Veterans Administration property. And there was another, Kishi, that was on Wilshire Boulevard. It was a small nursery. Have you heard of Kishi?

RP: I think so. And of course there were nurseries on Sawtelle, too.

HN: Yeah, yeah there was nurseries on Sawtelle, yeah.

RP: So that, all that new development on the west side here was really fueling a lot of growth in the nursery business.

HN: Yeah, like Mr. Kado and Mr. Kishi, and the other, it was a small nursery on Wilshire, on west side... I can't think of his name, but he was one of the, he was a brother, brother to the person that was owner of Rafu Shimpo. What, what was the name of it?

RP: I'm just thinking of a couple other names of nurseries in Sawtelle.

HN: Oh, yeah.

RP: Hashimoto?

HN: Yeah.

RP: And Kageyama brothers?

HN: Oh yeah, yeah. Kageyama, yeah, yeah.

RP: I don't know of the person you're talking about.

KP: He started the Rafu Shimpo.

RP: He started the Rafu.

KP: Didn't we talk about that today? Someone...

RP: No, that was the judo dojo, it was called the Rafu.

HN: Oh, he was a good friend of mine. I can't think of his name.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

HN: But Joe Kishi, which had the, the nursery on Santa Monica Boulevard. He's the one that started the nursery in Manzanar.

RP: Really, was he?

HN: Joe Kishi, yeah.

RP: Joe?

HN: Yeah, Joe is the one that instigated going to Ralph Merritt and says, "Let's open a nursery. Let's have a nursery so we can grow some plants." And...

RP: And so you jumped on the bandwagon, too?

HN: So he rounded us, myself up because we were... oh, Komai. Komai was the, the owner of Rafu Shimpo. Another brother was the owner of Westgate Nursery.

RP: Oh, Westgate Nursery, okay.

HN: Westgate nursery, yeah. Yeah, Komai family.

RP: Was Komai involved in the nursery in, in Manzanar as well?

HN: Yeah. The son, Sho Komai, which was the son my age, then Joe Kishi, which is my age...

RP: And you.

HN: Yeah, and myself. And then Fukuhara.

RP: Henry?

HN: Frank.

RP: Oh, Frank Fukuhara.

HN: Frank Fukuhara.

RP: Did he have a nursery, an existing nursery in...

HN: I think, yeah, they had a nursery here. Yeah. So they were all the... yeah.

RP: So do you recall if any of those guys were able to... did they bring any of their plants up to...

HN: No, no.

RP: Of course, you couldn't take very much.

HN: Yeah. But Joe Kishi's the guy that, that got all that thing started.

RP: He actually went to Mr. Merritt and proposed the idea.

HN: Yeah. Well, you know Joe was a, he was a go-getter. So after he came back from, from camp, he started up the nursery, Allied Nursery Exchange. He had a big business. But he, he died early.

RP: Did Joe run a retail nursery, too?

HN: He ran a, like a, a nursery that dealt with, like a broker, that dealt with the landscape contractors. He had a big business here, Allied Nursery Exchange. And he was another one that liked, he learned golf in Manzanar. And he, he did very well in the nursery business but he also, because of his, his love for, for golf, he's the one that started the, the golf cart business. Have you heard about that? Well, he got involved, because of his love for golf, he got involved in, in the golf cart business by, I don't know how it happened, but he knew of the source or whatever and got, and made a deal with the city of L.A. to supply golf carts for all, all the city golf, golf courses. So he, he had that exclusive rental business of golf... exclusive to the city of L.A. And he made a lot money. I mean, he was... done very successful doing that, golf cart business.

RP: It all started in Manzanar?

HN: It all started in Manzanar, yeah. [Laughs] Exactly, yeah.

RP: Wow. You mentioned that your dad and Mr. Kado were close friends.

HN: Yeah.

RP: Did they work with each other?

HN: No, they didn't. Well, as friends they were very close.

RP: Would...

HN: The other, see, Mr. Kado's a very devoted Catholic. And my dad was Buddhist, so in that respect, my dad went to a Buddhist and he was, he was very Catholic. Us kids were Christians. [Laughs] But in the source that being related in the nursery business, they were very close. Because at that time they had a Japanese nurseryman, nurseryman's association. And of course they were all, most all, they were all, all these people were members of the... and they were very close in that respect. Yeah.

RP: Uh-huh.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

RP: Now, your father was able to buy a house in West Los Angeles when you were, when he was running...

HN: Because we had the business out here and we lived in Hollywood and they wanted to give up the business in Hollywood altogether, Mom wanted to retire from... 'cause it was such a, it was real hard for her to run a, run a shop. So he wanted to move out to West L.A. and then, at that time, back in the, yeah, back in the '30s, there was a lot of land available out here in West L.A. And it was very, it was cheap. He was able to buy a lot, which he only paid like $500 for a lot and he built, built the... this was in nineteen... let's see, when did the war, '41?

RP: '41.

HN: Yeah, because '40, he built the... completed in November of 1941. And the war broke out in December. And we had to relocated. So he had just, just finished, finished the house in November of... a brand new, a nice home. Yeah.

RP: And what happened to the house when you, you had to go to Manzanar?

HN: It just so happened that our, the mailman that delivered mail to this house, our house, he asked if, that he would rent the house while we were gone. And we took up, took him up on the offer. His rent, by him paying the rent, we were able to pay, pay the mortgage. And we had a lawyer, an attorney that took care of all of this, the matter. He collected the, the rent. He took care of those finances. So we were very fortunate that, that somebody, a very honest person that did all these things for us. That really believed in us. Which was very, very fortunate. Opposed to a lot of people that, that they just dropped everything and left.

RP: Especially a home that you had just completed building just a month before.

HN: Yeah.

RP: What was the...

HN: And not only that, the mailman offered to... of course, we had a two-car garage, he says, "Why don't you take one half of the garage and store some of your stuff?" Which we did, and he took care of. And of course being a brand new house, Dad bought all new furniture from Barker Brothers. Then it was delivered and we didn't want to store it in the garage. So at the time, he had put it in public storage, one of those storage companies. They kept it. There again, the attorney took care of paying, paying the rent for the storage. So when they came back, the house was there, the furniture was there. Like, like the day that he left.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

HN: 'Course, Dad wasn't around when we, actually were relocated because he was interned the night the war broke out.

RP: Can you tell us a little bit about that?

HN: Well...

RP: That night.

HN: That night, yeah, that he was, he was taken... I guess the FBI officers just rounded these people up and were, were interned or whatever you want to call it.

RP: Were you there when they showed up?

HN: Yeah, yeah.

RP: What was that like?

HN: Well, it was, I mean, it was, it wasn't something like they were, I mean, they were not mean or... they were just doing something, a job that they had to do and were very polite. It was just carried out very, like it should have been. I mean, you know, it was nothing... of course, it was a very unpleasant situation, but that's something that had to be carried out. And the people that, the officers that came by, they were very polite. They just explained what had to be done, and...

RP: Do you have any thoughts about why your father was picked up? Was it because of his connections with the Buddhist church or did he have other connections with Japanese associations?

HN: The, Dad was involved in a lot of... he had the Nurseryman's, Japanese Nurseryman's Association, the Buddhist church, the Chamber of, Japanese Chamber of Commerce. And a lot of times, you know, he was, he was president of some of these associations. The terms were maybe one or two years, but at some, at one point I think he was president of the Japanese Nurseryman's Association at one time. I think he was, I think he also had, had to do something with, with the Japanese schools, probably as a member because we were students there. And so these were all people that, they were suspected because of their, they were known as, as the leaders of different organizations.

RP: Where was he sent to?

HN: What's that?

RP: Where was did he go to?

HN: The prison in Terminal Island.

RP: And then was he transferred from there to another camp?

HN: Fort Missoula, Montana. But he was released because... well, one of the reasons why he, he was released fairly early because he did have a lot of, lot of friends that, that vouched for him. And these were prominent people. Especially the people that were, people from Veteran's Administration. The, the head of the administration here in west L.A., I think his name was, was Colonel Brigham. And there was a captain, well, there was a captain, major, there was... I can't remember the names of them, but they all, they all wrote letters saying that, that they would vouch for our dad. So I think it really helped a lot that he was released fairly early, back to Manzanar.

RP: So with your father gone, did your mom have to assume responsibilities for... or did you take responsibility for...

HN: Well, my mom, myself, my older sister...

RP: Specifically the nursery, what...

HN: Yeah.

RP: How did you come to the decision to...

HN: We asked, well, we, I mean, we had, I guess it was at that time it was like almost 20 acres of nursery stock. It was pretty hard to dispose of all of a sudden. So we had, we went to the Veterans Administration... "We're just gonna leave it, would you take it over? We'll donate it to you." And they said, "Yeah, we'll be glad to accept it." So actually it turned out as a donation to the Veteran's Administration, nursery stock.

RP: Are there still, are there trees out there today that are, were...

HN: Yeah, some of the trees that, the natural trees that were used for landscaping that... when you come off the 405 on the off-ramp to Wilshire Boulevard going west, that whole area right there was where our nursery was. So the island surrounding that particular interchange, the trees that were there were trees that were left from, from the nursery.

RP: Did your father, even though he was in Missoula, did he have any say in the decision to dispose of the...

HN: No.

RP: It was between...

HN: No, we just, we just, yeah, no, we, we had to just, we had to decide what to do.

RP: Pretty soon, too.

HN: Yeah. Yeah. We had to decide what to do.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

KP: Can I ask a question here? I want to backtrack a little bit.

HN: Yeah.

KP: Back to the morning of December 7, 1941.

HN: Yeah.

KP: Where were you when you heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor and what was your parents' response? I mean, did your father have any inkling that he was gonna be arrested?

HN: No. No, none whatsoever. We were home and that night, I don't know whatever, whatever reason why, we went to the movies. And we came back and then that's when, when the, when the agents came and said, "We have to take your dad."

KP: Did you suspect trouble when you heard of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, or, I mean, what was your response?

HN: Yeah, well, I mean it, it was, it was really shocking, actually, that something like that happened. It was scary.

RP: Were you, were you down here at that time?

HN: In our home in, in West L.A. on...

RP: Okay. Had you left Davis?

HN: Yeah. I, we came home and...

RP: Right.

HN: And, because we didn't want to be, stay in school. But it was, 'cause we didn't know what was going, gonna happen, what's going on. So we, we left school.


RP: So the war interrupted your education.

HN: Yeah.

RP: But you were able to get three years of school in?

HN: Yeah.

RP: You never got a chance to go back and graduate.

HN: I didn't, I didn't do that ever.

RP: Besides the fact that your father was picked up, other than the fact that your father was picked up, did the FBI agents also search your house?

HN: I don't think so. I don't remember if they did or not. I don't think so. I don't remember that. No, they didn't, I'm sure they didn't. I mean like, actually do that. They, it wasn't like, I don't think it was like they were coming after some criminal. They just had to pick him up and that's what they did. They were very polite about the whole thing. There was nothing that was really, real messy or anything like that. No, they didn't make a search.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

RP: How did you react to the news, how did you react to the news that you would have to leave west Los Angeles and go to Manzanar?

HN: Well yeah, for us, we were pretty young, so I think if, if we were older we might have acted differently. But being pretty young and, just whatever happened, happened. And we had to obey whatever it was. It was, it wasn't like it was a situation where you'd want to protest it. You just took it as something that had to... maybe if we were older we might have protested that you can't, or whatever, I don't know. It's just something that happened and you just obeyed it, that's all.

RP: How about your older sister, Setsuko?

HN: Yeah.

RP: Was she married at that time or...

HN: No, no. She got married in camp.

RP: Oh, she did.

HN: Yeah.

RP: Uh-huh. So you were fortunate that you found someone to take care of the house and also store items and that type of thing.

HN: Actually, take care of whatever... make sure there's the taxes, taxes were paid, making certain that there was enough money in our account that paid for these things. An attorney that we had never known prior to, to this, we were introduced to him at that time and he, he said that he would take care of it. And, and we trusted him. Well, we had to trust him.

RP: Basically --

HN: 'Cause if we, I think the only... at that time when, like our parents, if they needed a lawyer most, it would be, they would hire a Japanese lawyer, I mean, a Japanese American or a type, because of the language barrier. If we had known, if he had, he had a Caucasian attorney then of course you would naturally ask the attorney to do whatever is necessary. But, if he had an attorney it probably... he must have known attorneys, but they're Japanese and they were gonna be relocated also. So you couldn't ask for that kind of help unless you went to... and if you were fortunate to know, know of an Caucasian attorney or friend... but by being introduced to this particular... in fact, his name was Raymond Nelson. I guess he was a well-respected attorney. And he was introduced to us and we asked him to take care of these matters, which he did. And the mailman that wanted to rent our house, live in our house, he asked to rent it, he said he would take care of it, when we got back, until we got back, which he did. So we were really, really grateful that, that we trusted people.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

RP: Where did you leave to go to Manzanar?

HN: Leave what?

RP: Where did you leave the community to go to Manzanar?

HN: We were just across the street, which was right across Olympic Boulevard, was the Japanese school and that's where we were supposed to meet. We just had to go across Olympic Boulevard, that's where we met. We just happened to live right there. And then we had a house full of people, actually, because our cousins that lived in San Fernando Valley, they had to come, go someplace. We had this home so they came and lived with us a few days until... then we had another, another friend from Hollywood that said, "Can we come over and stay until we get relocated?" So we had a house full of people for a few days.

RP: You didn't have any folks from Terminal Island, did you?

HN: No. No.

RP: And did you, did you take a bus or a train up to Manzanar?

HN: It was a bus. Yeah.

RP: Santa Monica bus?

HN: I don't know what it was. I don't... no I don't know what kind of a bus it was. Whether it was a Greyhound bus or a city bus or a private bus or whatever. I don't know. I don't remember what it was. I think it was a charter bus. It could have been a, it could have been a city-owned bus, I don't know. I don't know.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

RP: Share with us your first impressions of the camp when you, when you arrived.

HN: Gosh, I think when we arrived in Manzanar, I think it was dark. [Laughs] I think we got there, I think we got there way after dark. Oh, it was cold. And the first thing that we were issued, issued these mattresses to sleep on which we had to fill with hay. And we were assigned... because we had a large group, our cousins and this other family, having this wife and then they had a child, and our cousins, we had three kids, aunt and uncle. And we had, of course, we had five, mom and five of us kids. It was a big group. So they... we got there, instead of, they couldn't assign us to where, our group was supposed to go to a certain block, because we had this group they said, "We'll have to put you in this particular block," which was block twenty-two, which was like a mixture of people from different places. 'Cause we had in our block, Block 22, we had the downtown people. We had Santa Monica people, people from Santa Monica, from west L.A. It was a mixture of different... in Block 22.

RP: Just to backtrack, was there anything memorable about the trip up to Manzanar?

HN: Well, it was, it was a long ride, I remember. And I don't ever remember stopping anyplace. We must have stopped someplace, but, of course, we were young so... I don't know, I don't really remember whether I enjoyed the ride or what, what I was thinking. But I do remember, when we got to Manzanar, it was dark. And, when you're riding in a bus, when you go into an area, you don't know what the surroundings are like.

RP: So what did, how did it affect you the next day when you woke up and you saw where you were?

HN: I don't know how I really felt. I know we had to, I know I felt like we had to do whatever... make the best of it. I know it was really dusty and we had to get adjusted to that situation where... we, at the time, because of the time element, everything was still under construction. Our barracks actually were not completely completed, like they should have been. But they didn't have time to do that. So there was not, there was no, of course, there was no insulation of any kind. It was, the floor, floorboards, the space in between the floorboards were not sealed until later on. They put, they covered it with linoleum. They put in, I think the, the vertical walls, the outside walls, they had the tarpaper on. I don't think we ever added any more than that to it. We did, we did have, we did have a heater. Did we... I don't know what we burnt.

RP: I think it was oil.

HN: We used oil, yeah. Oh yeah, I guess they were oil burners. I know Amy was saying in (Wyoming) they had to use coal. The coal truck came by, not at Manzanar, but in Heart Mountain. She kept saying that they had to rush to get the coal because if they were, if they were kind of hesitant about it then it would be gone. Yeah, yeah, we had oil. We had oil, oil burners. I don't know whether it was kerosene or, yeah.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

RP: How did you occupy your time on the first days and weeks of your new life at Manzanar?

HN: We got together, like for myself, we got together with friends that we knew. And I think on the next, the barrack across the street, across our barrack, was my friend Joe Kishi that... and I remember talking to him and then Sho Komai, which lived in another block, I think he lived in Block 17 or one of those blocks. It was close by. 'Cause we knew each other from, from home. We would get together. And I think it was because Joe was the kind of a guy that would, was very aggressive, he did... he said, "Well, we gotta do something. Let's start a nursery." And that's what, that's how that came about.

RP: So that idea started pretty early on?

HN: Yeah.

RP: Just a few weeks or so after you got there?

HN: Yeah, yeah. It took, took a while because we had to get the material. We had to requisition for the material and then you had to wait 'til it got there. But then we knew the project was... they said, yeah, you could go ahead and do it. And I'm sure it was because the, Ralph Merritt, which was the, what was he? The...

RP: The Project Director?

HN: Project Director.

RP: Uh-huh.

HN: He was pretty liberal about letting us do these things. He gave us the okay to do it.

RP: And so the money to, to build that nursery came from the government?

HN: Oh, yeah.

RP: All those supplies and construction.

HN: Oh, yeah. We had no money to buy, to buy things. Yeah. We had to requisition, first we had to requisition for the lumber to build a, you know, had to build x-amount of four-by-four posts. We had to get so many bundles of the lath. And it was a big lath house. Because we copied the same lath design as the guayule, 'cause they already had that lath house there.

RP: They already had the lath house?

HN: Yeah, yeah. So we, 'course, our lath house wasn't as big as the guayule project, but it was a fair size lath house that we built. And when you build the... the framework of our lath house was very simple but what takes time is the laths. You had to... putting the laths in is a time-consuming thing. But we had the time, sit there and...

KP: Where was this constructed? Where did you build this?

HN: Right at that south, southwest corner. Right next to... that space was open and right east of us was, going east, was the guayule, guayule lath house, and beyond that was the, was the camouflage.

RP: Yeah, to the east of you.

HN: To the east, yeah, was the camouflage.

RP: So you were right beyond Block 6, I think.

HN: Yeah.

RP: Right towards the...

HN: Right in the corner.

RP: You were around Bear's Creek and eventually where that golf course --

HN: Golf course, yeah.

RP: -- was put in.

HN: Yeah, yeah.

RP: Okay.

HN: But like, right that corner, isn't that Bear's Creek that comes through right at that corner?

RP: Sure is.

HN: 'Cause we were right next to that Bear's Creek.

RP: Did you build a greenhouse, too, as part of that?

HN: No, no.

RP: It was just a lath house?

HN: Yeah, lath house.

RP: Uh-huh. I think we'll...

HN: Primarily, I think asking for greenhouse was a little bit too much. [Laughs]

RP: Build the lath house first and.

HN: Yeah.

RP: Okay. Henry, I think we'll...

HN: Probably if we asked for it we probably might have gotten it too. Who knows?

RP: Aim big.

HN: Yeah, yeah.

RP: Okay. We'll finish there for this, for this part of the interview.

HN: Okay.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.