Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Isao Kikuchi
Narrator: Isao Kikuchi
Interviewer: Richard Potashin
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: May 15, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-kisao-01

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

<Begin Segment 1>

RP: This is an oral history for the Manzanar National Historic Site, and today is May 15, 2009, and we're speaking with Isao Kikuchi. Isao resides at 1710 South Carmelina in West Los Angeles, and Kirk Peterson is manning the camera this morning. Richard Potashin is, myself, is conducting the interview, and we'll be talking with Isao about his experiences as an internee at the Manzanar War Relocation Center, with a special emphasis on his volunteer experience at the camp and later relocating out of camp to Chicago. Our interview will be archived in the Site library, and Isao, do I have permission to go ahead and conduct our interview?

IK: Of course.

RP: Thank you so much for your time, and can I refer to you as Isao?

IK: Please.

RP: Okay, tell us a little bit about your personal background, first of all, your birth date and where you were born.

IK: Born in Los Angeles in the middle of what is now Korea Town, which is just out central, downtown, but it's... well, it's Korea Town, everybody knows where Korea Town is.

RP: And the date of your birth?

IK: December 9, 1921.

RP: And what was your given name at birth, Isao?

IK: That was it. I-S-A-O.

RP: And you never took an American name?

IK: No, that was my father's, that's his wish, and I accepted, or I had no reason not to, just to go with it. I didn't know any better.

RP: Do you have insight into the meaning of your name, your first name and last name?

IK: What?

RP: Your, the meaning of your first name?

IK: Well, my father once told me when I was a young kid that it meant "bravery," and I've never questioned it. I didn't know what it was all about. I had it and that was it.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

RP: Can you share some of, with us, some of your family background, about your father, whatever you recall about his life in Japan before coming to America?

IK: Well, I admired my father, who -- I don't know much of his life in Japan, but I know that he came here and studied with an English-Japanese dictionary and went to SC and became a dentist. I thought that was pretty darn good. I'd never do it.

RP: Where did he come from in Japan?

IK: Can't think of the name... it was near Kyoto. Doggone it, it's, he's... I can't think of the name just offhand.

RP: Do you know how old he was when he came to America?

IK: No, I would just have to guess, but he came about 1918 I would guess, somewhere in that vicinity.

RP: Did he ever share with you whether he had plans to return to Japan after...

IK: No. He, he didn't... no, had no dreams of returning to Japan, to my knowledge.

RP: This was his country.

IK: Yes. 'Cause he went through quite a bit, I thought, not knowing English at all, so I thought he did very well.

RP: Right, 'cause for an Issei, not very many learned English, but he had a, like, he had a very strong idea of what he wanted to do with his life in America.

IK: Not quite. I think, I believe he originally wanted to be a bookkeeper, and I don't know why he quit in that, but it ended up dentistry. And he had worked as a bookkeeper in San Diego someplace for a while and I guess he tried other little things, but it ended up at SC.

RP: You know how he was able to finance his education?

IK: No, as far as I know he dug it out all by himself, because he was the oldest of the Kikuchis in Japan and his father was quite a important fellow from what he said. He tried to start a distillery or something for sake and he went broke with that. He went broke with other business, so... I guess, I guess originally they planned to have him, my father, come to America, make his fortune and go back to Japan, 'cause he being responsible for the Kikuchi clan at the time. But his brothers were kind of mad that he left, because he was supposed to take over the clan. And that's about the only thing I know the personal part of his life in Japan.

RP: What do you remember most about your father as a person and a father?

IK: That's... well, what I know of him, he was an athlete, in between times, because he played golf, and I don't know when he learned that. He sliced all over the place. And we played a little tennis and all the family growing up, he took my sister all over the place for singing lessons and horseback riding lessons and things like that. I sat on the fences and watched. But he was quite active, socially active, because he helped form the Japan-American Society and also the M.E. church in Los Angeles. He helped found that. So he was quite active, and... I didn't know a heck of a lot about it. I was too young to be interested.

RP: Did he have any creative outlets, as well?

IK: My father? Yes, he, I think all dentists are frustrated artists because they, every dentist I know and his friends sketched some or carved some or did creative things. And my father, I had to give him an oil painting set so, to keep him interested. He took that on the trips and stopped the car, sketch in the car, during the trip or something. But he didn't do an awful lot of that, but he did try.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

RP: How about your mother? First of all, your father's name?

IK: Yoriyuki. It's just the way it sounds.

RP: And your mother's name?

IK: Mitsu. It's... they call her Mitsuko generally, I guess.

RP: M-I-T-S --

IK: S-U...

RP: K-O? Mitsuko?

IK: Yeah, Mitsuko would be, that's... the K-O is the, the Japanese all stick on most of their names, I believe. But she, she was very pretty gal.

RP: And what was her, do you remember her maiden name?

IK: Fuwa. F-U-W-A. And by some of the information I got, it was a very prominent name in Kyoto. And she passed away at the age thirty-six.

RP: Did your parents meet in Japan?

IK: That part's a little strange. I didn't quite make it... I don't know. I just don't know whether... I think my father went to Japan, married her and came back, and that's all I can say about that.

RP: Now how many siblings did you have?

IK: One that lived, my bigger, older sister, and my mother had a couple of miscarriages.

RP: What was your older sister's name?

IK: M-I-Y-O, Miyo.

RP: After your father completed dental school at USC, where did the family settle?

IK: Los Angeles. That's all I remember of him, where he lived, and that's where I was born. And we can, we can own most of Los Angeles 'cause we moved around quite a bit, and I don't know why, but we did live all over the city.

RP: And your father was able to set up a practice?

IK: Yes. Prewar he had a practice in Little Tokyo, which was Little Tokyo then. And, well, at First and San Pedro Street, I believe. Quite close to the city hall. And he was there until the war started and camp was next.

RP: So most of his clients were, or patients, were Japanese American?

IK: Yes.

RP: Did he attempt to try to open a practice elsewhere?

IK: No, even after the war he went back to Little Tokyo and then at the end of his, mostly the end of his life, he bought an apartment house and converted one of the units into an office and spent the rest of his life there.

RP: Tell us about your biological mother.

IK: Well she, I didn't know her well enough, but as a kid she was... excuse me... I'm sorry...


IK: I was eleven and... that was what sort of turned me around with religion, was that the church people came by and said the Lord needed him, and all I could think about is, "Who the hell let her, needed her more than anybody but me?" And that was a sort of a turn in life, and in life that's, that had a very large impression on me, which, I guess, meant everything to me.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

RP: Tell us what you did for fun as a kid growing up in Los Angeles.

IK: I just played like any other kid, played Cowboys and Indians and stuff like that. Later in life we -- because I almost kicked the bucket on asthma or something like that -- my father urged me to go into sports, I guess to build up my body 'cause I was skinny little kid for a long, long time. So over my period of time my father played, played golf with him a little bit, played... he got me started in tennis, and he took me to the Olympics when I was a kid. 1932 Olympics, I believe, and I admired the Japanese swimmers, when they just cleaned up the Olympics at that time, so I copied the stroke that I saw on the top of the water and luckily I was picked up by a coach at the, or the director at the swimming pool, which... he saw that I had a nice stroke from copying the Japanese and he taught me the rest of it, and I became on the swimming team of the local, local swimming pool, I guess, in Highland Park. And I guess that was the most, one of the important roles of my life, in the young life anyway, because I competed in the, with the team. And I guess the famous one that came out of that team was Sammy Lee, the diver of those years, and I became a lifeguard, city lifeguard because of all of that.

RP: Where did you, where did you take a job as a lifeguard?

IK: In the Los Angeles pools. They, they had a number of regular swimming pools, of course, and another fellow, another Japanese fellow, two of 'em, we all took the test at the same time and all passed it, all got positions at some pool or another. I ended up in East L.A. as a lifeguard.

RP: At the Evergreen Pool?

IK: Yes. I think it's gone now, but it was, it was nice place to work.

RP: So you worked there just during the summers?

IK: Yes, and that happened just before the war, so I didn't last very long, didn't have a long period of employment.

RP: And that was your first job?

IK: Yes, my first real job. I've gone playing around in farms once in a while and... that didn't, well, hard work didn't appeal to me at all, and that's what turned me away from hard work.

RP: What was it about swimming that excited you?

IK: Well, the racing of course was exciting. Maybe do something, maybe try for something. And it paid, paid very good money as I find out later that family members were making about the same amount of money that I made, which was surprising as a kid that didn't know any better.

RP: And where would you compete in some of your...

IK: Well, there were leagues around the city and there was another important league, or something, something about Southern California, somethin'... but all of, it was covering the competitors of open swim meet. It was quite important for me and I don't even know what, what it represented really. All I knew was something about Southern California. And I hit my head in the swimming pool and -- doing the backstroke -- and so I didn't do very well in that. Strange pool and I couldn't find the end of the pool. I just ran into it, went straight down.

RP: Did your pursuit of swimming also have sort of a social component to it?

IK: Not that I knew of, with... it may have. I was just interested in the swimming.

RP: Where did you develop your social relationships growing up?

IK: Well, we finally moved from Highland Park to East L.A., which was a very important of my life in that East L.A. with the all people from Latinos and the Jews and the Germans and the Russians, it was a mixture of all cultures and I found how people were real people there, where in Highland Park it was just a place. And East L.A. was a very human place, and I think I grew up there. Where... they had a reputation I find out much later, that it was a rough area, but they were very, they were people, from my account anyway. And I got to know, have some, become acquainted with some very, very good friends that had heart, and it was very important.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

RP: Did, did you, during your childhood attend Japanese language school at all?

IK: Did while my mother was alive and when we lived in the west, southwest area by the church, and I remember a few words and... I stopped using Japanese when my mother died. My father always spoke English at home, so that's all I remember in Japanese school is when I had to go from grammar school to walk across an area to the church where the Japanese school was. I had to have little fights to get through the district, which didn't sit too well with my father, I guess. But he didn't help me any.

RP: Your ethnicity was Japanese, your culture was American. Did your parents emphasize one over the other, or did you grow up in sort of a bicultural atmosphere?

IK: No, I was... no, my father talked about pride and etcetera of the Japanese culture, which I heard him well, I thought. But I did appreciate all of the other guys that had their own ways of life, and I think that's what helped me a great deal.

RP: Any other values that they tried to instill in you that...

IK: No, I think my father had the biggest impression there, that, 'cause I knew the others that fed me enchiladas that were the best in the world and the Jewish... the heck did they have it? I ate a lot with friends of...

RP: Matzo balls, potato latkes?

IK: Yeah, that stuff. So I was, I was well cultured, or taught about, about menus, and I could eat anything, but I only ate the favorites.

RP: [Laughs] So you really experienced some of these other cultures?

IK: Definitely, definitely.

RP: Their food and holidays and things like that?

IK: Yes, and my neighbor played a squeeze box.

RP: Accordion.

IK: Accordion, yeah. So we got, went to many different parties, just because he played the accordion, and so for some reason I went along with him. And so there was Greek parties and Mexican parties and Italian parties, and everybody sang and we all sang Spanish songs and stuff like that. It was fun. But they were people, as I say.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

RP: Where did you attend elementary school?

IK: That was, elementary school was in... near Western and Slossen. It was somewhere in there, and then ended up at Highland Park in the fourth grade. Then I left there -- that's where I met Sammy Lee at the time, and we were very good friends at that time, and for some reason suddenly we were enemies. And it... much, much later Sammy wrote a letter apologizing to me for such of his actions, but his father had brainwashed him, being Korean and Japan had overtaken Korea back then some time. And Sammy Lee took, stood up for his father. But I admired Sammy, he wrote me a letter and apologized much, much, much later.

RP: You were, you were very involved in sports, particularly swimming.

IK: Yes.

RP: Were there other elements of popular culture that kind of pulled you in, like you mentioned music, movies, other...

IK: I, for one spell, very concentrated bunch of time... the fellow, the leader of the Woodcraft Rangers took interest in me and got me interested in shooting bows and arrows, of which evidently I became pretty good. He took me around exhibiting archery on stage at schools, and I didn't know anything about it. He wanted me to shoot, so I went to shoot. And the target got so where the arrows would go through the target and bounce all over the stage, rear of the stage. Background, you'd see 'em hitting the walls. Got a little scary, didn't know where they were going. But that... I won some golden arrows or whatever they were and I don't know where any of them are, but he took me, he spent a lot of time developing my shooting and got into making bows and arrows and stuff like that, so that was quite concentrated for a while. And I was still a, must've been somewhere in the low teens. That's about all I remember.

RP: Did your, did your family have an opportunity to travel at all, outside of Los Angeles?

IK: My father loved to travel, but the only traveling we did is, I can remember, is after my mother passed away. But he would drive for nine hundred miles in a day, and this was early days when there were no freeways, and we would just bounce around for the longest time.

RP: Just to, just...

IK: Just to drive. And he loved the desert, and he still did 'til the day he died.

RP: Do you remember some of the places you went?

IK: What I remember were like Lake Tahoe and, I believe it was the furthest away that I know, but he had driven to the, when the Alaskan Highway first opened... I said I thought he was crazy. That was a gravel road all the way up, and in his new Cadillac he did that.

RP: Did, you mentioned a trip to Tahoe, did you drive up into the Owens Valley, any occasions...

IK: I think we made a loop from, and there was not much in between here, or Los Angeles and Tahoe. I just remember that single road going... I believe, I heard, remember going up and coming down, and we had a Buick with no windows on it. We put up those Eisenglass or whatever it was, and that was, closed it up, but of course, it was a Buick and it barely made the grade of course.

RP: So you actually visited the Eastern Sierra before you came to Manzanar.

IK: Yes. Oh, in fact, we went further to Yellowstone, which was quite a bit further. And it was a boring time looking at a long, long, long highway. Well, he loved it.

RP: It sounds like your father was fairly successful with his...

IK: I think he was. I think he did one hell of a job brcause I was coming to SC with a dictionary and I don't know how you'd pass, pass the classes, 'cause I couldn't do anything. So I admire him for that, and all of the Isseis that had the guts to come over here without the language.

RP: How comfortable were you with your Japanese?

IK: Oh, in camp?

RP: Before camp.

IK: Before camp I was not that well-acquainted with the Japanese kids, until we moved to East L.A. Then I was invited into a Japanese club, which was a social club. And I kinda had learned to see what they were all about, 'cause they were a little bit different, or I was a little bit different than they, obviously. 'Cause it was kind of tough getting into their society. Not that I was proud or they were proud or whatever. It was just that we had different kid times. And I had all Caucasian or other than Japanese kid times to know how they fought and played. I had to learn that stuff all over in East L.A.

RP: Where did your, your artistic background begin?

IK: It started... I can remember me on the living room floor copying cartoons. And I did that for a very long time, and that was the only incentive, or... I don't know. It had to be that 'cause I was getting pretty good at doing cartoons, but serious art, I had no idea about that. But I did know much later that, well, I was interested in that and I still am, and so I, that little bug stayed in my head. Oh, I guess it really happened when my father arrived at a time when he said, about my studies and about becoming doctor, etcetera, and that's when it, being an artist came to mind. And after trying I told my pop, "Hey, I'm too dumb," so we made a deal. "I'll take a science major, and if I flunk you got, I'm done." And he agreed, so I just recall at college I could speak college English fluently, no problem. And then the, in the final of the term I sat down in a two hour test time and I finished it in fifteen minutes. I answered everything, and I felt I spoke quite fluently of school German, but I flunked. There you are, Pop. I didn't care if I flunked 'cause the fact that I could speak school German quite well and I flunked, I said something's wrong. And that's all I could figure, 'cause I felt I proved to myself that I wasn't that dumb because I knew I spoke German. So that turned the point and he sent me, allowed me to go to art school, and there I was so interested that I knew I could do it.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

RP: Let's talk about high school, just for a little while. Where did you go to high school?

IK: First went to high school in Franklin High in Highland Park and then we transferred over to, in my senior year, to Roosevelt High, which was East L.A. and that's where I cultivated a lot of the other side of people, I guess. They had much better understanding, and I became more open to the welcoming I received among the Italians and the Spanish and the Jews and the Russians. I was accepted there. That was, I think the learning time.

RP: Where you also discovering girls at that time, too?

IK: Sort of, but not... I looked at 'em, but that's about as far as it went 'cause I wouldn't know what to do. Anyway, then I became my first, you might call it puppy love. There was a girl that... first, first date I ever had, and I didn't know what to do, so I finally learned some.

RP: You, you lived in Los Angeles area for much of your, for all your years.

IK: All my life until then.

RP: Do you remember trips to Little Tokyo, or just, maybe you can describe for us what that community was like before the war.

IK: Well, I didn't go to Japan 'til after the war, so...

RP: Oh, I meant Little Tokyo in Los Angeles.

IK: It was, it was acceptable. I didn't think anything deep about it. I just remember how they squatted in the streets and smoked their cigarettes. That I couldn't do. They were just too limber, but they could just squat anywhere and just sit, sit like that for hours and hours and hours. That was the only thing strange I saw about them. Very flexible.

RP: Did your father send any of, he never sent you back to Japan before the war, did he?

IK: No, that, one time... oh, I recall, I don't remember how old I was, but he asked me something about dual citizenship and if I recall correctly he, we had to make a choice of one or the other. I said, "Well, heck, I'm an American. I can't speak Japanese. My mother's... when she was alive, but I know, I know English. I'm American." And that was just the, that made the decision for my pop, or he accepted that. And that was, that's all that was ever said.

RP: There were quite a few, there were quite a few Issei parents that sent kids back to Japan.

IK: I don't really know. I don't know any -- oh, out of camp some people, I found out, did go back, but they came back here, so that says somethin'. 'Cause they got worked on over in Japan. They were not accepted there, so I think that's why they came back, because they knew they were Americans.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

RP: So you graduated...

IK: Roosevelt High.

RP: Roosevelt High, and then you went, did you go directly into art school?

IK: No, I went to --

RP: Or you first went to the university?

IK: Yeah.

RP: Where did you go?

IK: Los Angeles City College. They had just turned into a college, I think, and after that, I've forgotten how long I stayed there. At least, it had to be at least one, one semester, to take a test. Then after that was Los Angeles Art Center, and that was just about a couple of months, I believe, and then the war started, if I'm not mistaken. 'Cause I remember throwing one student in the lake when he made some dirty remark about, the war had just been declared and he said something about the "Japs," and that word I found was a bad word and no way you're gonna do that, so I threw him in the lake. West Lake Park at the time, that's where the Art Center was.

RP: This was just right after December 7th?

IK: Yes, yes.

RP: War was declared the next day.

IK: Well, I didn't even know the war had started 'cause the three of us went up hunting in the local mountains and I think back, it was kinda funny 'cause we had three shotguns and they were laying on the backseat of the, on the shelf of the backseat, just showed as clear as daylight, coming home with, on San Fernando Road, which was very, very heavy in traffic, and people were just staring at us, because we had three shotguns laying up there in clear sight. So when we thought about that later we started laughing, thinking we were gonna start a war here, but... and we, I still, none of us knew that it was a war on 'cause we were in the cars and had been hunting. And so next morning I went to start for school, I had to get some gas, and the owner said, "Boy, I'm sorry about that." I didn't know what he was talking about, that we had declared war. And I said, "Hey, this guy's got something wrong with him." So that day at school is when this guy called me a "Jap," and I didn't know what that was for, but that's, that doesn't go. So I tossed him. And that's about the only really incident I had. With all the other people it was just fine, just, "We're sorry." So they accepted me as an American.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

RP: Tell us when, when your father remarried.

IK: I believe in 1939.

RP: Can you... what was her name?

IK: I'm sorry?

RP: What was your stepmother's name?

IK: Miya Sanomiya, and she was quite, she had, she was going to Berkeley. What's in Berkeley up there? Anyway, she was with the college there and was going to become a doctor, but her father was a farmer up there in the area and he went broke or had a whole bunch of debt, so she went to work running the farm and paid up the debts and became quite a figure in the... I'm not sure if it was the YMCA or some organization that dealt with Japan, and she was taken to Japan and met the prince and all of that sort of stuff and became quite a character in Japan, and accepted as such. And so she spoke fluent Japanese and fluent English and that was her biggest value, and she spoke the very proper Japanese, obviously, and she spoke the very proper English. Better than most, including the Caucasians.

KP: Was she Nisei?

IK: Yes. She was born in Hawaii, and a chubby little gal when she got married, since, she lost the weight. And she was very well read, well... just very social and vocal in society here in Los Angeles, and was respected by all. Oh, she also was writing for a paper up in, in the north. She was, she lived in San Francisco for a while, and she was... I've forgotten the name of the... she was, of her columns, she was writing something about Auntie Miyo or something like that. It was the title. And a lot of people wrote in to her and asked for advice and such.

RP: So she, her education revolved around social work?

IK: Yes, generally speaking, I believe that's a good overall title for her 'cause she, in Manzanar, she was listening to the ladies complaining about their husbands playing and coming in crying, and she was supposed to fix 'em all up.

RP: But you say "playing," how do you...

IK: Just the one you think about. "When my husband's playing with so and so," and so they'd come in crying and she tried to solve their problems, but she, she lost some weight there because she, she took in the information and was trying to cure them and just, just wrecked her livelihood. She took it so well to heart, so much to heart.

RP: How did you relate to her as a stepmother?

IK: Well, I don't know. I accepted her as a, she would not accept, she would not be my mother mother, but she was my stepmother. I accepted that, 'cause my father was happy and that was more important than mine.

RP: Was, did they decide to get married, or did they have to go through an arrangement?

IK: Well it, I don't... it was sort of an arrangement by convenience, I believe. Her family was in San Francisco and I don't know what she was doing there, but they, I think they tried to, they fixed them up. But it wasn't, I guess, the traditional type where the families made, picked the bride and so on. They had their times, but they got together finally. 'Cause she was Nisei and he was, actually he was a broad-minded Issei, for him to even get married, I think. I really don't know. But I think they figured out that she was a... oh, what do you call it? Old, old maid? 'Cause at thirty... I, seems... anyway, younger than Pop, but it was, just... quite broad on both sides, I believe. 'Cause she was single a long, long time and he was... see, I don't remember when my mother died. She was thirty-six... well anyway, it's... he married again.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

RP: You said that your father was involved in this Japanese American, Japan American Association?

IK: Yes, very...

RP: What was, what was their purpose, their purpose in...

IK: It was, I believe it was mostly cultural, 'cause they went to operas and socialized quite a bit, and I didn't go at all so I don't know anything about them, really. But they were a social, social event, I believe.

RP: You mean one of those organizations that foster good will between countries?

IK: Yes, well, Japan American Society.

RP: In a cultural way.

IK: Yes. So I don't what their position was during the war at all, 'cause I didn't, really didn't know the purpose of the Japan American Society at the time, and I was less interested. It was too high class for me.

RP: Was, was your father ever visited by the FBI because of his association with organizations like that?

IK: Well, our lines were tapped. When the war broke, our lines were tapped and we had to leave messages by signaling and saying I'm going, I'm coming or whatever. And so they were listening, and I'm sure the preachers were tapped and then whoever the, the pretty popular or known.

RP: Community leaders. And the phones were tapped from the time the war broke out 'til you left Manzanar?

IK: You could hear 'em click.

RP: No personal visits that you were aware of?

IK: Not that I knew of. They were investigating my mother 'cause she was so active, so with that would be my father. And I've forgotten the, somebody came and questioned her quite, questioned them quite a little bit, and I didn't pay much attention to that because nothing you could do about it. 'Cause the only thing I could do was get physical and who you, who you gonna go? Where? It's useless. 'Cause they were not very polite, and that was shown at San Pedro. They were very rude down there. They would just... I was treated once and I was ready to climb on him, but it was just useless. You're gonna fight the whole damn nation, because they were not very, they were not very polite. 'Course, we were the enemies, of course.

RP: After the war broke out, in the time between that and going to Manzanar, can you describe what life was like during that period?

IK: Oh, didn't change mine at all except I was told to stay home at night, and I could care less what they thought. So I went to, I traveled across town to see my -- 'cause by now we lived near, in Silver Lake, and my friends were in East L.A. and nothing's gonna stop that -- so I would drive over there. Nobody bothered me, and... 'cause I, you know... but they did bother my, the folks. My parents knew they were here and we were being watched, but there's nothing I could do and no more could I care.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

RP: When did you, do you remember when you found out that you would have to... because the evacuation orders were being established and Executive Order 9066 was...

IK: Well my mother told me all of that. She says, she was telling me all the rules you had, curfew and all of that sort of stuff, which I paid no attention to, so I was thinking lightly about when she was talking that we're going to camp and all of that. And so one evening she sat me down and told me all the facts, that war started and all that. And that they were watching us, and told me all of those things, which I still didn't believe, but when she brought up the point that we're gonna go to camp... so she knew about the volunteering and offering a job. And the word "job" got me the most, 'cause I was at that age where it's, pretty soon it's school, job or it's get on with life. So when they said they would pay union wages as carpenters if you volunteered for this, then I said, "Hey, I'll go." So I scooted down to the place to register. That was it. So they told us where to meet. We met, drove on up.

RP: Tell us, if you can recall, can you describe the scene at the Rose Bowl? I think it was very early in the morning.

IK: Well, it was all in front of the... there was a, in front of the Rose Bowl, and we just all parked in a line. And it was cold, quite chilly that morning, and it was quite early also. So we just started following the line, and I ended up kind of in the, buddy of mine and friend, he started in front of me and I pulled in behind him, and off we went. Very slowly, took us quite some time just to get out of time, out of town from Pasadena. And off we went.

RP: Did you, so you traveled in your own vehicle alone?

IK: No, I had a friend that I had met at the registering place, so he and my dog.

RP: And your dog?

IK: Yes.

RP: Your dog. And your friend's name was...

IK: I can't remember just now.

RP: Is it the same person in the story? Kei, Kei...

IK: The one in the car, yeah. What...

RP: Kei was the name.

IK: Kei. Yes, a simple name. Kei... it's a very short name. We sort of parted company in... because we were, as the camp started to settle down, we were playing ping pong and a group came in wanting to play and we got into a hassle, and he ran and I was there with about ten guys. And they jumped me, which started other things going.

RP: We're gonna get to that.

IK: But he took off, and that's... you don't do that East L.A. style, or my time anyway. If you were going down you'd go down together. That's all there was to it.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

RP: One of the other advantages of volunteering to some of the other folks who went up is that they could drive their own vehicle and take more items with them.

IK: Well, I guess so, but I had no other thought.

RP: Just the job, having a job?

IK: It was a job, so I took, took a hammer and nail gun, saw. That was all I needed.

RP: What else did you take with you?

IK: Just some, the clothes I had.

RP: You didn't load up your truck, or vehicle?

IK: No.

RP: What were you driving at that time?

IK: At that time, I think it was a 1933 Plymouth, a convertible. There was very few, they mostly were the nursery guys, landscapers and such. A lot of their trucks were in line.

RP: Did you see tools and plants and thing like that?

IK: No plants, just tools. But there were boxes or suitcases and such. I don't know that, what the other people took. They took bedding. Yeah, I had bedding, and that was about it.

RP: Can you describe to us the military presence in the convoy?

IK: Well, we were following the... and I've forgotten what kind of truck or whatever they did, but it was the army, and tailing, picking up the rear was a state trooper, I believe.

RP: So you were kind of in the middle? Middle of the...

IK: Somewhere, I don't know and I didn't... I was just following my friend. We were old friends so I just, we stayed together.

RP: In your, in your narrative you talked about the, sort of the governor of the convoy was one of these old Model T cars that...

IK: They, that Model T set the pace. It had probably thirty miles an hour at the most, so it was a... I was in first or second gear half the time.

RP: They wanted, they wanted all those vehicles in the convoy to be in good running order.

IK: Didn't hear a word about that.

RP: Did you see other, where there any cars or vehicles that broke down on the way up there?

IK: Not that I recall. For as slow as we were going, anyone could have broken down and they could've stopped and it wouldn't have made any difference 'cause we were going so slow in the first place. 'Cause I think it, I think we started around six o'clock in the morning, and I think we ended up at Manzanar well after midnight. There were no freeways and there were no fast cars, so they had no... just, just a boring, boring time going up.

RP: You made one stop for gasoline?

IK: Well I did 'cause I was tired of sittin' there going under thirty miles an hour, so I just pulled out of the convoy at a gas station, and I let my dog to the potty and I went and... Kei, oh it was Kei, that was his name. Kei went to, we did everything and checked the tires and checked the oil and checked the water, and up came the rear end state cop. Oh, he was mad. He was ready to pull his gun like a cowboy, like we were tryin' to escape or something. And he says, "What are you doing?" I said you have to have the point, point of the car, you know, like a dummy. And the dog was pissin' on the tank, so he was getting' madder and madder. He didn't know what to do, either. And I knew what I was gonna do. I just wasn't gonna hurt him, and that's all there was to it. So anyway, he got mad and spun his wheels in the dust and covered us with that and took off. And we waited and waited and waited, and then we started again so I could undo my car, just hit, just floored the throttle. And I caught up with him very quickly, but I just passed up most of the convoy, doing about ninety miles an hour on this one lane highway, and up comes this cop behind me. He's gonna capture me, or us. And so all we could do was stop and pull back in the, in the convoy. But we had our satisfaction. I ran it out. And I could stick my tongue out at the cop. Nothing he could do.

RP: Get a little, little excitement.

IK: Yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

RP: So you got there, you got into Manzanar at midnight.

IK: At least midnight. It was just darker, just dark. I followed Harry in his car, parked next to him. I, none of us knew where we are, so we sort of followed the guy in front of his, and somebody led us to the camp, where the barrack was. We stumbled into the barracks with no electricity. I think we had a flashlight, or somebody did. And so we fell to, on the blankets we had on our army cot with springs, and that was our first night.

RP: You talked about the promise of helping build the camp, and you had some of, you brought some carpentry tools up. Did you, what other information, if any, did you, were you given about Manzanar, or were there any rumors that were going around about what was...

IK: No, we were all dumb with... we couldn't even build the, rumor, we didn't where we were, what we were doing or what we were supposed to be doing. So we just wandered around like a bunch of leadless ants. And, "Hey, what do you know? What do you hear?" Everybody asked everybody what's happening. Nobody knew. Nobody bothered. When we were, we were now captured. We were in camp.

RP: Can you describe what the scene looked like, those next few days? As far as the construction of the camp and...

IK: Well, there were nothing but ditches and hammering of the, the Caucasians building the place, and us just roaming around. We didn't know where the limits were or where the lines were, so we just walked where we felt like, and we didn't want to walk anywhere else 'cause we didn't know where we were. So it was just confusion, but nobody give a, give a damn really, 'cause we're here and that's as much as we knew.

RP: So you made an effort to try to talk to the Caucasian...

IK: No. It was their obligation.

RP: Nobody came over and...

IK: Well, we did not have a leader in our group, and so we're there. So if they're not gonna say anything, what are we, what do we say? We're not in a position to demand anything.

RP: How did you feel... again, the promise obviously was not being kept.

IK: We just know it's not being kept and that's it. I accepted it. I didn't care 'cause we couldn't go. What good did we care? It's no purpose.

RP: You wandered around a little while, then you actually met up with one of the sentries?

IK: Well, the only way we did that was we took baths at the pipe, main pipeline, so that was their, one of their lines of sentry. And we got to talkin' with them 'cause we get bored of talking with each other that didn't know anything, and that's how our little group, our Niseis, we just start talking with these guys. 'Cause they were, wanted to talk also. They were bored. So we just walked there, peeked around the camp and that was like a radio that you'd listen to when you wouldn't listen. And so that's how we got acquainted.

RP: And this, this sentry was an African American?

IK: Yes, yes. And we, I didn't pay any attention to that stuff 'cause I was accustomed to seeing different colors and stuff. They weren't anybody different than I, until their deep Southern accent came across. Then I knew they were different people. They spoke a, if you'd never heard it you'd think they were speaking a different language. And their, their slang was very... well, that's all I can say. Slang. And that's their whole vocabulary.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

RP: This is tape two of a continuing interview with Isao Kikuchi. Isao, we were just talking about your early days at Manzanar. Particularly, can you tell us a little bit more about the African American presence there? There was more than just this one soldier there.

IK: Well, what we saw, or I saw was the guys that we, they weren't always the same guy that we walked by and talked with. They were all black, and then when we... they would hold a, somethin' like an... they, they'd get together off duty, maybe twenty yards away. They were all black and they, they all spoke the heavy slang. So I didn't see any white guys there at that time. Later, yes.

RP: There was one particular situation you encountered with a group of blacks.

IK: Oh, you're referring to the, the shooting.

RP: Yeah, the quick draw.

IK: We were walking along one night and we heard loud noises like a football game, and that was right there by their, their... whatever you call their break time. And just big noise and suddenly we heard something about counting down, and we looked over there. They were back to back, and just like an old cowboy show, they walked apart, turned and exploded. One shot. And, boy, that was a big noise in nothing but quiet. And we decided to move out. These guys are crazy. Anybody that fooled with real arms and called for a showdown, hey, they need help. So we decided never to walk with the guys again, and that's the last we saw of the black guys. I believe they must've been shipped out the next few days, within the next few days. I don't think they ever walked the lines anymore. I don't remember.

KP: So at that time the perimeter of the camp was simply the guards walking?

IK: Right, there were no, no barbed wire or anything. They were the, they were the fences.

KP: And what, what kind of conversations did you have with these guys? What did you talk about?

IK: Oh, it... we were trying to just talk to see what they were like, 'cause they had more to say than we did. And one black guy says, "Man, my feet hurt 'cause this is the first time I done wear shoes. And it's, everything, new clothes, new everything. They feed us regular." He was happy as a lark, so he was having a good time. He had four hours on and four hours off and that's the routine. And so I don't... that was the only outstanding occasion or time talkin' with the guys 'cause that was marked by the shooting. That's why I remember that one so vividly, 'cause that was... well, it was the shooting was the highlight of that speech, conversation.

KP: And there was a big... it was at night and they had a big bonfire burning in the center.

IK: They had their time fires there. It wasn't anything special. The army would not have unless it was firing. And there was no war on as far as they were concerned.

RP: So they were back to back and they just paced off a certain distance and then one man turned around and fired?

IK: Well, there was sort of a referee saying "start," but the, I don't know, there's probably at least twenty guys in the group. I would assume it was a beer bust, and they were all sitting down squatting, and then the two guys got up and walked apart, and bang. And that was actually pretty good shooting, 'cause those are army .45s and they're not very accurate, but there it happened.

RP: And you saw the one man fall?

IK: Yes. It was all just, happened in a second.

RP: And then you took off after that?

IK: Yes, very quietly. 'Cause it's... well, it's the first time I've seen anybody killed. I mean, just with no reason. I guess you get all emotional and things happen, but that was pretty damn dumb. Or at least one man thought so.

KP: So what, the guards walking, do -- I know that later you went to 442nd, were familiar with weapons -- did you know what kind of weapons they were carrying while they were on guard duty?

IK: It was either 0.3s or Gurans. Not in, in the towers there were machines, but the other guys couldn't have had anything else but 0.3s or Gurans.

KP: When did the towers go up? Do you remember that?

IK: I don't know. Suddenly they were there. I've, I had less, lost tracking time because no, one day didn't mean a thing from the other. It's either sunny or not, or it's blowing or not. And that's all.

KP: What, what kind of machine guns in the towers?

IK: No idea, didn't see, get close enough, but I would imagine it was a, a light, the light machine gun.

RP: Thirty caliber?

IK: Yes, they're all thirty caliber, except the .45 pistol. This was before the carbines and such.

RP: How about Thompson submachine guns?

IK: I didn't see any of those. And those were, those were special guns for the old timers to, that was a sort of a, one favorite gun because it was a different gun. They were very lousy for firing but there was a statue, a sign of special...

RP: Statute?

IK: That's the word.

RP: Right, in the hierarchy of weaponry...

IK: Yes. They were lousy guns.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

RP: Where, where were you housed when you first came into Manzanar?

IK: It was a, it was a... it had a roof, and I think it had the tarpaper on it. And leaky floors and so the dust always came inside.

RP: That was in Block 1?

IK: Yes, Block 1 in the third apartment. There were four apartments in a building.

RP: And you were in the first barrack?

IK: First barrack, yes. In the third apartment. That's side door.

RP: So were they still actually constructing Block 1 when you, when you moved in there? Were there buildings that were still being built?

IK: Oh yes, they were still digging sewer lines and there were no, there were outhouses at the time. And there were moveable carts that are on sleds. A truck would come up, chain on the thing and pull it away some place, and they would bring it back. It was kinda... they had, they were pretty busy, because diarrhea set in quite often because of the inexperienced cooks. They're not used to cooking the, or know the menu for the... but see, everything was new. That's all.

RP: Did you, was there a mess hall open at that time in the block?

IK: Yes, there was a building half done where we, they fed us. Just endless tables inside. Just as you could imagine it's nothing special, kitchen at one end and a mess hall in the rest of it. And we'd stand outside in line and wait.

RP: A number of people talk about the, sort of the monotonous look of the camp and that all the barracks look the same, and that causes a lot of problems for people who are trying to find their rooms.

IK: Oh, most definitely. I, the next, the first day, everybody... everything looks so same, except ours had -- well no, the first block had about half of the block were covered with tarpaper. The rest were sticks. So even within that, those few barracks, I was lost and everybody was lost. And I told my dog, "Go find home," and he just looked at me. He didn't know what I was talking about, 'cause he knew where home was at home. Anyway, we walked in about every other apartment and got laughed at because they did the same thing. They'd walk in and look for their bed and everybody'd look at you. They'd know we, they wouldn't scold you or anything. We just went in and looked for our bed, and so I went in about four or five apartments before... I knew there were not end doors. That's the only thing I knew, so I walked through all the middle ones and finally found my bed. The only reason is I found, I knew the color of my blanket.

RP: And --

IK: I'm sorry.

RP: Oh, I'm... who else was living in your room? Was it a group of bachelors?

IK: We were all the bachelors, yes, and a total of ten. And I forgot the measures of the thing, but I would guess it was about twelve by fifteen or something like... twenty, ten by, no...

RP: Twenty by twenty-five, I think.

IK: Some, somewhere in that neighborhood. It was just cot after cot, that's all.

RP: And did you know any of these guys previous to Manzanar?

IK: No, just the guy that rode with me. And I don't know, didn't know where the one I followed... because it was, when, we were just following each other in the dark and when we got into an apartment we just tramped in, and so we just didn't know where anybody was.

RP: What happened to your vehicle that you drove in? The, was it the Chrysler? Plymouth.

IK: The, the Plymouth, yes. Well, I've forgotten how much time later, my neighbor wrote me a letter and asked about the car. I said, I told him to come on up and get it, and I think he paid some money, about a hundred dollars or somethin' like that, which was a lot of money. And I wanted to give it to him 'cause I had no use for money anymore, but he insisted and paid the hundred dollars. He hitchhiked up and I wondered how he did that, 'cause not many cars came up that road. But he... well, I wondered if the car would start, but it did luckily. But there was no gas station nearby, either, and I didn't know where the closest town was, but that was his problem. But he, I was not happy to see it, but I was happy for him to get it, take care of it. I wanted to drive it one last time so I just made the wheels spin all the way around the camp and said goodbye. It was in very good condition, so he, that's why he wanted it.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

RP: Can you share with us the story about the, the confrontation with the Kibei?

IK: That was kind of funny. It was a surprise, too, 'cause I never thought of defending myself or reach a gang, but... the camp supplied ping pong tables of all things. Anyway, we went into an empty barrack and set up a ping pong table, and Kei and I started playing. And we're both tennis players, which made it nice and we played it like tennis. Both of us would fly back up the table and hit, hitting like tennis. And this bunch came walkin' in and walked right in front of me and the table, and right in the middle of a rally, and they says, "We wanna play." I says, "Well, wait 'til we finish." We, that's sportsmanship. You don't disturb the middle of a play, which he walked right straight in. I said that ain't the thing to do, and so I was ready for something because you just don't do that. So anyway, he got into my face and started making noise and, like my father said, "Don't hit anybody first." So I had to stand there and wait for him to punch, and I just... "Hey, I'm gonna get hit first," so luckily I had boxing lessons before. So he swung and I blocked him and I let go, and I hit him across the, I caught him just right. That hurt all clean down to my spine. So he hit the other side of the wall, and then everybody jumped. And so I grabbed one guy and I pulled him down with me, and they kicked the hell out of me. They were, they were trying to get to me, which they didn't. I didn't think they did, or maybe the excitement made me immune. So suddenly -- oh, just as it started Kei took off. He just, I just saw him run out the door, and I just remembered that. I didn't have much to do with him thereafter. But anyway, evidently he caught a bunch of guys, Niseis, and by now the Kibeis all ran to their apartment and I ran to their window says, "Why don't you and I come out and have a fair fight?" And of course he says, said something in Japanese that I didn't understand. And I said, "Why don't two of you come on, come on out?" And I had four. I, finally I says, "Okay already, so and so guys, come on out." And so they came out and they set around me, and by now I guess Kei brought the Niseis out and they circled the Kibeis, so now I says okay, I got a chance. So now they're talkin' about we fight to kill and I was not smiling. I was ready to... 'cause I had protection. I knew if they jumped these other guys are gonna help, so I'm ready to go and then suddenly somebody grabs each of my arms and lift me up, walked me away, and it was the nurses that carried me out. Isn't that funny? What could I do here. Here I have my legs off the ground and they're all crumbling over there, and I'm very embarrassed.

RP: Carried off by nurses.

IK: Yes, they just, they... well obviously, or evidently it was a respect for women, but it was... maybe, probably... well, it was, who knows whether I would've survived or not, or whether the Nisei would've helped or... that's a big question mark. I'll never know. But they, the, I can only say that the women must've saved me 'cause they didn't touch us. After that the, I, one of the lifeguards I was with, he says, "Let's go get 'em." And I figured no, that wouldn't be nice. We shouldn't do that.

RP: But later on you, you got some, some measure of revenge.

IK: Yeah, I had my chance when I became... I ran that big, huge cement mixer with... I would shovel the sand and stuff in the, the thing and start running. And they showed up as a, as a crew, and I didn't pay any attention to, I ignored them until they said, "Let's start lining up," and I filled the barrels full. And if you've ever pushed any cement, that's a chunk of money. I mean, it's so heavy you, takes a real man to wheel it. And these guys just were not big enough to do this, but I would fill the, each barrel up just to brimming and then walk a step and spill the, just dump the cement. They couldn't handle it, so I just kept doing that. There was more cement right at our feet than... it would the whole form. But they kept spilling it until finally the break time, I said, "Break," so you know... I sit down and up comes the foreman of the Kibei with a Coke he bought from the, the little shop we had, there was, that they could buy stuff. So they bought me a Coke and then I figured that was it. They... peace, the peace sign. So I guess... yeah, I guess they figured okay, everything's over. I don't know why they were coming up to me. I owed something to them more than this. I mean, I wanted some meat from them, but I had to accept this trophy. So after that I loaded it halfway full and they made the forms, so we, we dumped a lot of cement right there. There were about ten, ten in the group and every one of 'em dumped it within ten feet, so if you could just imagine that pool around our feet.

RP: What, what was it, this friction between the Kibeis and Niseis?

IK: Well the Kibeis were born here and sent back to Japan to, their low schooling, so they spoke more Japanese now just to show off, I think. And they kind, well, they obviously grouped with the, with each other because they all spoke the same language. And they were, they were the only ones that really complaining about the camp. The Isseis did not complain. They just felt sorry for the rest of us, but the Kibeis were still Japanese, at that time. I guess they were just plain old mad. 'Cause after that I and the Kibeis got along alright.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

RP: And the Kibeis in fact, this group or gang that you just described were also not directly involved with the riot, but they were part of the crowd that went down to the police station, weren't they?

IK: The, the riot was to do with the, a cook of one of the kitchens was charged with selling sugar to the, I think it was either Independence or Lone Pine, I don't know where, but he was supposed to have been dealing sugar. And that just quite did not make any sense 'cause -- and this is what I think roused the crowd is that, hey, we're confined and it wasn't all that long that we had been confined and he's gonna all, he gonna, he's supposed to go trade with the whoever, the Caucasians? That doesn't make sense, so as I'm walking across the camp to see who all the commotion like the rest of 'em, the story was common now. It was that this cook was charged with selling sugar to the white, Caucasians, so we all started walking down toward the administration where the action was, and the whole camp is talking. And so we stood on, across the... let's see, one side of the room was a, the road was a white area, and the administration or some building, I've forgotten which... but they, the soldiers were lined up along that road and we were lined on the other side of the road, what, fifteen feet or whatever it is. And everybody's yelling, and mostly Kibeis were yelling because I didn't hear much of what they said, or understand what they said. And the GIs just, they were white, not, no blacks, and they were gettin' a little edgy. You could, well, there's a bunch of people on that one side of the street and we could've really easily run over them, but we were on one side, and I think one little kid threw a rock and bang, off went the shots. Everybody scattered. I jumped into a pickup truck nearby, on top of another guy, and I figured well, there's not enough room for me, so I got out and jumped onto the ground near a barrack and the guy got hit, was in the pickup, this truck, so he went to the hospital after all, went out, got over. And the, that dispersed the crowd when real bullets came by.

RP: The person in the truck, do you know if he was just wounded, or did he die?

IK: I think he was the one that died. I figured, well, that was kinda lucky. I could've been the one that died.

RP: Right, the bullet could've had your name on it.

IK: Yeah, I was, I would've been on top.

RP: Where were you in this crowd? Were you right up at the front?

IK: It, well, it's, the front was... we were all on the front 'cause it was only maybe... a big crowd for there, but it was, like, two or three deep. But it was strung out in a line, so that made it a big, big crowd.

RP: I know it's tough to estimate how many people were actually in that crowd, but can you give us and idea?

IK: The big mouths were, I would say, ten to twenty, like the Kibeis.

RP: And they were mostly, they were talking in all Japanese?

IK: Yes. What I heard was Japanese, so I just thought it was my guys making the same noise 'cause I don't, I just didn't know, really I didn't count 'em. Wasn't any time for counting.

RP: Any sense that, that something was gonna happen?

IK: No, it was just bang and then... there was no, only the soldiers knew, or only that one soldier knew, 'cause there was no reason to shoot unless out of fear, but nobody was moving across that road. And they were, they wanted justice, and for... you couldn't believe that a Japanese guy could go out there and trade with the Caucasians this time of the, time in, we've been in the camp.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

RP: Was there any discussion or did you hear anything about, in the story, the other kind of version of the story is that, that this gentleman, who is the cook, his name was Harry Ueno, and he was allegedly one of the people, one of six people who beat up a JACL leader in camp --

IK: Okay, with that were the case, were the same, my boys, the Kibeis, on the line making all the noise, because whoever was in that group was the group that was, started looking for, for... what's the...

RP: Fred Tayama.

IK: Yeah, Tanaka. There was a Tanaka in there also.

RP: There was a Tanaka also. The original guy who was beat up was Fred Tayama and he was, he went to the hospital because of his injuries --

IK: Oh, there were...

RP: -- and there was a group that went to the hospital to find him.

IK: Okay, that was, that was the same Kibeis, and evidently they were the only ones that made, they were making all the noise, because the Niseis that I knew were just listening. And they, after the shooting this group would have been organized, or they were a group, and that was the only group I knew that was together. And they gathered and they yelled something about Tanaka I believe it was, and so I just, I... all of us followed the group, just out of curiosity or whatever, and I heard Tanaka and somebody else, I've forgotten, and they were headed for the hospital. That's... then my father, being the head of the dentistry, he was, we lived right next door.

RP: To the hospital?

IK: Of the hospital, which is Block 36, which I joined him then later. But the, this group had started heading for the Tanaka's, wherever he lived, so we just followed the group, behind as I knew a whole bunch of Niseis, so I went along with 'em. And I would hear the names, and then I heard, "Kikuchi," because of my mother. She was quite prominent in the camp, giving advice to a lot of people, so know I knew what, something was gonna happen. So I ran home and talked to, told my parents to stay inside and, "Don't turn your lights on." So I grabbed my bat and headed outside and ran around the group and moved up behind the leaders, and they, those guys were the guys that I had the run-in with, and so I figured, okay, "You turn to my door and I'm gonna break your head open." I just knew that, and I was... well, they got right to the door and to the steps, and I moved in real, right next to him and they suddenly turned and went away, 'cause it was dark and I don't know for, what, for what. Then they went to the hospital entrance, making a big noise and I walked right next to the soldier with a gun, and he, we were rubbing shoulders with each other. He didn't do anything, and these Kibeis kept talkin' about, or yelling, and I think they said they spirited him out earlier. I don't really know, but that was the word, and so that, that sort of lost the energy, and I think that's when the gang group gave it up, 'cause he was no longer there and they don't, no word of where he went.

So now we, somebody yelled and said let's gather, so we gathered in the Block 36 kitchen, and they started having a argument about things, the Kibeis and... I don't, didn't know the guy that talked for the other side and... "What are you guys... calm down," and trying to hold them down. And luckily, for some reason the Niseis sort of gently moved towards each other while they're talking, and so we're all looking at each other and passing messages, you might say. And with our heads we nodded towards the, the Kibei, and they were gonna get killed, I think, starting that thing, 'cause I still had my bat and the other guys had bats also. They were... and the, one side was, "Hey, calm down. This is no time to do any of this stuff," and that was a Nisei, older guy to boot. And the Kibeis had tried, but they just lost. I don't know what they said. I was just waiting for the explosion 'cause you don't have to have words for that. So we would take, take our energy towards these guys. Then on, after that the army drew in martial law I think it was called, so you couldn't walk around the camp with more than one fellow, friend. No gatherings more than two. And the jeeps drove through with machine guns on their things and drove through. All we could think was, oh, those dummies. If we wanted them we could have 'em. We wondered why... it, and it's kind of a joke, 'cause I knew darn well we could break that whole camp open if we wanted to. If we had any, if our skin was any other color we probably would've, but it's useless. So I don't think I recall of anything exciting happening... well, except the, our friends and I decided, "Let's make a break for camp and see if we can get by the searchlights and such as they were sweeping over the..."

RP: Was that just after the riot or...

IK: Yes.

RP: How soon after?

IK: That's, I don't know how soon after, but the lights were sweeping the camp thereafter. And that's when we... gonna escape the camp, and so it's, we went... well, it was a game. We had something, we need to have something to do, so we start running, timing with the searchlights and jumping under weeds and stuff like that. Then I think there was bare ground for about twenty-five yards or so between the barrack and the barbed wire where the towers were. So that was kinda fun and exciting. We made it up to, to the, under the tower, went under the camp fence and the barbed wire there, and then got to under the tower, which was, if we were gonna escape we were gonna take the tower. We got there and leaning on the thing and says, "Well, what do we do now? Ah, let's go back." Because living on the land I could do, but none of the others could, or the other two could not, and I says, "Hey, living on the land of the... the food on the mountains up there is no fun. Let's go back." So we skinned, timed the lights and ran back, went back in and played pinochle. So it's just as exciting now as escaping.

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

<Begin Segment 19>

KP: A couple questions about being there at the riot. The soldiers were on one side of the street and the rest of the people on the other side --

IK: Yes.

KP: Okay, so then about fifteen feet difference between the two.

IK: There were... yeah, it was a country road across the street. It was at twenty feet, thirty feet, whatever. It's not very far.

KP: And the Kibei were shouting primarily in Japanese. Did you hear...

IK: I think it was just the, as it comes out in... it sounds as though it were the Kibei, 'cause I didn't understand the language enough, and they made the big noise and they were the only gathered group that I knew of. There was no gangs and such, which later formed in camp, like any civilization. But it's... they were the only group, so that does... and I think of that today, not then.

KP: It was also, one of the stories was about a truck that crashed somewhere right around the beginning of the shooting, and you, were you aware of that at all?

IK: I just knew the one they shot through.

KP: The one you were gonna get in?

IK: Yeah, that's the only truck I know that was even...

KP: Where was that truck parked? Do you remember?

IK: Right at, on our side. Right next to a barrack.

RP: Would that be the administration barrack?

IK: The truck would've been on our side, at least.

RP: You were on the administration side of the...

IK: No, that was across the street, 'cause I know the jail was across the street and the administration was off to the right. The primary administration, or the... yeah, the administrators and such, so the only building I can think of is, would be the police...

RP: Station.

IK: House, which was... it's, that's all I can think of.

KP: And the military were lined up by the police station?

IK: No, it was by the side of it, or where, I don't know where the front was. It was just one of the, they're all barracks, so there was a barrack running opposite of the -- oh no, it was the same direction as all of our barracks.

KP: And one other question was the guns that opened, just started shooting... later of course, you went in the 442nd and probably became very familiar with the weapons and the sound of it. What weapons were being fired? Do you know?

IK: Had to be 0.3s, single shot or both action.

KP: Some people say there was machine gun fire, but you didn't...

IK: No machine gun fires. It's, it was a little peanut poppin' 0.3s.

RP: No bursts, no...

IK: No bursts, 'cause those are in the towers. They didn't have any down level, 'cause if they'd shot a... I'm surprised that they only caught one with, if it was one bullet. Because one bullet, bullet would easily penetrate three bodies.

KP: How many, how many shots did you recall?

IK: I don't know, just a few. It wasn't any big, big... the whole place opening up, 'cause they would've killed a lot of people.

RP: Do you remember other bodies lying on the street as you...

IK: No, I would've taken off the other way.

RP: Just headed out.

IK: Yeah.

RP: Do you remember... again, going back to this historical account of the riot, there was... as people gathered and there was yelling and screaming and whatever, supposedly the MPs fired off tear gas grenades to try to scatter everybody.

IK: I didn't see any. I didn't see any. I think after the shooting stopped, I was probably, more people were probably about a barrack away, the length of a barrack back into the, deeper into the camp.

RP: So every, once the shots were fired everybody scattered out and, and it... you're saying that they just moved away a little ways?

IK: No, they scattered. Yes, and I happened to be near the guys that were yelling and that's when I heard, "Let's get Tanaka," or whoever it was. And that seemed odd that they would start going after somebody after the unplanned shooting. So anyway, it was, the emotions were up or whatever's the... the place is alive now, and so that's when the, this group started for the, the other group that they were looking for, which had to be the Kibeis, I guess, 'cause they spoke the Japanese, and as they, as I found out they were the same guys that I knew, only with the, they now had bands around their head, forehead.

RP: They did?

IK: Which is kind of strange for that time, or characteristic.

RP: Do you, do you know any of the names of those men that were in that group?

IK: No. No, I didn't want to know. I know them by sight. I met one much later in a party, and I smiled 'cause he went to hide. He, he pretended he was drugged out, and I knew why he was gone.

RP: Right. There were about twenty-six men that were rounded up after, after the incident, or riot, and sent away. They were, they were labeled as the troublemakers or the people who...

IK: Oh, then I would wonder if they were the Kibeis then.

RP: And most of 'em weren't Kibeis, and I'll give you a list of the, the...

IK: I wouldn't know their names. I'd know their face, well, their young faces.

RP: Just, just as a information for you. So they went, they were taken out and some of those guys might have been...

IK: Well it sure sounds, sounds like it.

RP: They never saw Manzanar again.

IK: I'll be darned. That's...

RP: And the one guy that your were talking about, the cook, was the... well, however he ended up, he was in the jail there, and then he was taken out to...

IK: Out of camp?

RP: Out of camp, yeah. He was in the county jail for a while.

IK: Oh, that, that's, that sure needs looking into, 'cause I, none of us believe... it can't be, 'cause it, it wasn't that long that camp being started. Why would they let a Japanese person go, sell sugar?

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

<Begin Segment 20>

RP: Well the, again, the other version of this story that you shared is that Mr. Ueno --

IK: That's the cook?

RP: He's the cook. Yeah, he was involved with the mess halls and he, he set up a union for the mess hall workers, which wasn't very popular with the administrators. But he, he accused certain administrators of taking the sugar.

IK: They, they were the ones that could only do it.

RP: Right, they took the sugar, according to Harry, and sold it on the black market. That was, that's one of the other versions of that. So it wasn't, it wasn't him, but he was accusing other people, and because of that, those accusations, it was thought that the administration was trying to get back at him for the accusations, so they fingered him in the beating of this man, Fred Tayama.

IK: Hey, that's a fairy tale.

RP: [Laughs]

IK: It... well, that, that's typical, though. 'Cause he had the power.

RP: Right, and actually, according to his memoirs or accounts, the FBI did come in and investigate his charges, you know that --

IK: And whose side were they on?

RP: Well...

IK: There's no question about that.

RP: Nobody, no administrators were picked up or jailed or accused of anything officially, so there's your answer to the question.

IK: That's a surprise, isn't it?

RP: Well, not to me or not to you. So tell us a little bit about what was the camp like in the days and weeks after the riot?

IK: That's when the military, the... what do you call it? When they start patrolling?

RP: How long were the jeeps in, in camp? Do you remember?

IK: I don't know. I didn't pay any attention to 'em, or I, my, our friends just weren't, weren't interested in that stuff, 'cause it had nothing to do with us, really. So couldn't be anything they did any further than put a fence around us, and what, what good was the patrolling and the Jeeps in the, inside the camp? It's ridiculous, ignorant. That's just stupid. And, 'cause... well, I knew nothing was gonna happen, 'cause we don't do that, and it was... it sort of was dumb. That's what we thought, and we sort of all had a distaste for it, or disrespect for them, 'cause we were getting no respect, and it's, they were dumb. That's all. That's what I thought, anyway, and our friends, my friends. We... no, it's just nothing to do with politics. I mean, we didn't. They had it all.

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

<Begin Segment 21>

RP: Let's switch gears a little bit. In your story you talked about how important sports was in the camp for you. Can you...

IK: It was a, or the biggest, I'd call it interest, because it was active and brought your own personalities out and were able to express in all sports, so that's where I believe the sports were so important. Because it took up time and gave a mind to grow and be active, and that's what I think is what would never be broken by the Americans. Is, this is, I believe that is culture of the Japanese basically. Or you could say that that's a common culture, I believe. And that's what I believe also saved my neck. And I believe it proved out in the 442nd also.

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

<Begin Segment 22>

RP: Isao, since you were there in the very first week of camp construction and you went through all, some of the earlier hardships of life there, what were the biggest changes that you saw in the camp from those days that you first got there to when you, when you left?

IK: Well, by the time I left camp the whole camp was covered with tarpaper. Nothing was on the floor. And there were the things that the captives or tenants, they were building Japanese gardens and such. They were developing what, what they had their interests and talents in, and the change, changing was very quick, 'cause they were not, they were not used to just sittin' around, either. But they had started to make yards with grass, which they would buy from, I guess Sears or some place, through the mail. And the swimming pool I was supposed to build was never done, but they, they planted a lot of trees and things like that. I, you can imagine what it was going to be like. It was going to be a very nice place, except for the principle of it all, that the... we had leveled out basketball courts and football places, and I think there were -- yeah, there were routine, I mean... what do you call it when it's team, different teams around playing each other, so on. Baseball teams and football teams, basketball teams. And among people they formed clubs, as they did, have in Los Angeles, social clubs. They traded parties, making dances off of records that many kids smuggled in, the offspring, at the start. And I guess cliques formed, as people do. Oh, and they had started a golf... the, I didn't see the golf course, but I know my wife, current wife, who is, recently passed away, but she learned how to play, start playing golf in, on the sand. So those were some of the improvements, I guess.

RP: So there were plans to build a swimming pool?

IK: The only swimming pool I would know would be the reservoir. I think it's towards the mountains. 'cause I took the crew up there.

RP: Right, that was an interesting story, too, about, about some of the fishing experience that...

IK: Yeah, the, what I didn't, the first trip I didn't know where it was, so they had to guide me. So I drove this truck in between rocks bigger than the truck, and I'd never seen those rocks or never, haven't seen them since, but above there someplace was the... this crew dug this hole and made a reservoir. And soon as I, they told me how to get there, I parked. They said park there. I parked there and they all jumped off, went right to a spot and started fishing. And they all seemed to own their each spot. And so that's all they did was fish, and they're supposed to be workin', but I guess that was their job, keepin' it clean.

RP: Did you, did you fish at all while you were there?

IK: No, I was not a fisherman. I just watched, walked around. But that's the only pool that I know when, with my stay.

RP: And you had this great sort of swimming background, too, and fortunately in camp there was --

IK: I had enough to be a lifeguard, anyway, but that would've been quite a... I didn't know that I was supposed to start a swimming pool. Hell, I was just a lifeguard, not, not a builder. No, I just didn't have enough incentive to do that stuff.

KP: Where were you supposed to build that swimming pool?

IK: Nobody said. He just says, "Well, I appoint you." And this was the, I think his name was Nielson.

RP: Roscoe Nielson?

IK: He was the head of my department.

RP: Recreation department?

IK: Yeah. I don't know what he did, because he didn't, he didn't form the football or the baseball... I think he furnished the ping pong table. That's as far, far as I know.

RP: So you worked for him, or the recreation department?

IK: Yes, but that was at the very first and nothing happened, so I got a job running the cement mixer, and then later the truck.

RP: The truck, you... this is the truck that you drove out of...

IK: Yeah.

RP: And what did you, what did you do? Where you bringing food to the mess halls or...

IK: No, I don't really know what I did do. I did drive it around a few days and that's... oh, I did run through the tests they gave me for driving the truck, and I don't know whether it was supposed to teach me how to drive a truck or what, but I think I surprised him that I could double check, double shift down into compound. And he, well, he didn't, no, he didn't do it that style. I said, "Well, I don't do your style." But I could, I was a good driver, so that's... I don't remember what I did except take the crew up there at the reservoir. And I just didn't do that very long, either.

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

<Begin Segment 23>

KP: Can we backtrack a little bit, 'cause you talk about coming up to camp very early on to work as a carpenter and help build the camp, and apparently there's just no organization, nobody wanted you working, or people who came up there. How did that evolve into... I mean, who came in to start organizing things? When did you start seeing a change?

IK: That was, you mentioned the name before. A Caucasian. I can't think of his name now. My father knew him well. Anyways, somebody organized the administration and, I guess, took care of Neilson, but I didn't know anything that happened from the administration. And I just knew my mother was, what she was doing.

KP: And your father, when did he come up to camp? And you talked about his first dental practice there. Could you describe that a little bit?

IK: I don't know when he came up to camp, but he, the rest of my family did. My sister came up early also, but then my parents followed, and I don't exactly know how much longer, but not too long because it was, there was no hospital or there was no dental office or anything. My father had a pocket kit of dental tools, and I recall helping him throw a box for the operations, and he had boxes to put his tools on, and it was a bare, bare apartment. No linoleum or anything. It was just the outer tarpaper, and first he started practicing and then another doctor came in and also helped him. I've forgotten his name, but my father had seniority. And they were, all they could do was give out aspirins, 'cause he didn't have any, was not allowed any chemicals or medication, so I was kind of [inaudible] a patient sitting on a packing box, and he's workin' on the patient with no headrest or anything. I thought, holy cow, this is, this is early, early, early times. And it's, it just broke my heart to see him do that, but he was busy.

RP: Later on, when the hospital was built, he moved into...

IK: Oh yes, into the hospital. They had offices. Nobody wanted to work, for my father 'cause he was such a boss. So that like I say, on this thing. But he was a very, very strict... he had strict rules and definite philosophy. In fact, I think my, my wife worked for him for a short time, and... well, everybody that worked for him hated him, I think.

RP: So you lived right across from the hospital.

IK: With them, after they came in.

RP: After they came in. Did you get to know any of the other hospital people, like Dr. James Goto, or...

IK: Yeah, I knew of him from Los Angeles, and he, the only thing I really knew about him is that he cut very small for appendectomies. Smaller than anybody. So that's about all I knew about him. And he had a brother, also. But he was known as a good doctor. And I knew the other Gotos, too, but I can't recall. Everybody who was everybody knew of them. Anybody of prominence, anyway.

RP: There was one other woman that worked in what was later called the Community Welfare section of the camp where your mom worked. Her name was Margaret Delily or something of that effect. She would, she would've been your mom's boss, I think.

IK: Then I wouldn't know her.

RP: You didn't know her, that name? She worked for the YWCA in Japan.

IK: Yes.

RP: And knew, could, was bilingual, knew the customs and the --

IK: Was perfect, both languages. Above and beyond.

RP: I have a feeling that your mother and her were probably very good friends as well as coworkers.

IK: I would guess. I would guess, 'cause she had a very high position in civilian time, so she was well above her class at Manzanar.

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

<Begin Segment 24>

RP: Can you speak a little bit about the lack of privacy in camp?

IK: Well, that was optimum. That's... starting with the latrines, they just -- the men's, well, I should be careful of this because I'm sure it developed much more after I left, but when I was there the pots were sittin' right next to each other, maybe two feet apart, so if you're going, you're sittin' there rubbin' elbows. And one time I got the runs, and that was very common in camp. I was walking across the camp and I just jumped into every can I came by, and first time I had to lift my feet so the women could mop the floor. That was kind of embarrassing, but by now we're getting used to anything, since, she said, "Lift your feet." I look up and you see this gal mopping the floor. It was different. Diarrhea was so common, all the, lot of things happened in there, and I remember sitting... everybody's got the runs and guy's standing there jumping up and down and he just can't wait, so he just walked into the shower and turned it on. [Laughs] Nobody had any, anything to say 'cause we're all in the same, got the runs. That kept that camp half alive.

And the others, you feel sorry for the... well, there's just no privacy. There was no, no walls to hide behind and so on, so it's... I first tripped across somebody, face flat in the middle of the fire break. I was cross-countrying, crossing the camp, heading for sleep and down I went. I said, oh, that's soft, and I turned around and I just saw a pair of legs, or two pair of legs, and I thought, "Oh no." So I had to, I didn't, didn't say sorry or anything. I just left. Boy, if they had that nerve or yearning, they deserved all they could have. And there was one popular place for that stuff would be the apple orchard, which I'm sure lots of guys went up in the, pairs went up in the apple orchard, 'cause there were a lot of trees and a little holes that were all dug around, so it was very private. The only private, I would say, unless it was a, an unoccupied apartment. So for privacy, the ultimate privacy was, that was it. And the... it was all sorts of things they... I think the most common story you hear about the girls waking up in the morning with sand all over their face. They'd put cream on their face and the sand come blowin' in at night. That was a very common story. I think one of the more embarrassing ones I've seen is when they were emptying the outhouses, the truck would come in and attach a chain to the outhouse and drag it down, down the streets, and one came, right as I was walking by, truck came by with an outhouse, and suddenly you hear screaming in the back, in the outhouse, and so the truck stopped. He knows what, he knew what was happening. He stopped, unchained it and drove away, left the, this outhouse in the middle of the road, and after a little while a gal comes out, and we're all watching to see who's gonna come out. But she came screaming and ran into the first apartment door she, she could find, and it was a bachelor's apartment. It was, it was just going up into a show. She finally came out very, very embarrassed of it all.

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

<Begin Segment 25>

RP: There was another situation that you experienced and that was at a dance where a group of young men...

IK: Yes, that was, that was quite a happening also, that the girls club started the dance in this kitchen, and they sprinkled corn flour on the floor, made 'em slippery and all of that. And they invited, I guess, the club I was in, then to, invited to -- this is the way it just kinda worked -- invited us to the party. And so up come a group, and it just so happens that the head of this group is a former San Quentin boy, and that was, which is quite rare, to know any Japanese had ever been in San Quentin, but he had a big reputation of being tough and all that. But the gal that was at the table who -- very heavy, about two hundred fifty pounds or whatever -- and she had a couple of tough, very tough brothers, just as big. But she was tending the desk, and in came this group with this -- I've forgotten his name also, but he was well known, and he comes swaggering in, and he was about five foot five or six, somewhere in that area. And he says, "We're coming in," and so on


RP: This is tape three of a continuing interview with Isao Kikuchi.

IK: Oh, really? I talk too much.

RP: Isao, you were just sharing the story of this mess hall dance --

IK: Yes, and his name was Lou. So anyway, Lou walks in with, and he was the leader of this bunch, and he was gonna swagger in and take over the dance. And the gal just walked up to him and bumped him with his, her tummy. She just bumped him and he went flying down the, backwards down the stairs and just landed there in a heap, too embarrassed to say anything, 'cause his gang was there, all standing around him down there, on his back. And this gal's standing at the door, just tell him to go away. That was that. But that just, oh, that went all, all over camp. The next day it was just, it was a story. And stories went over real fast in camp, 'cause that's all we had to talk to about. But that was a shame because he bullied every, every where he went, because story, some stories were that he killed somebody and so on. It grew bigger as time flew by, went by. But he had a big reputation, and he'd broken in other dances and it's, it's just you knew he was gonna try somethin'.

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

<Begin Segment 26>

RP: Isao, can you, just after the riot -- I think it was maybe two months or so, in early February -- the army came looking to recruit young men for a special segregated unit.

IK: That was a laugh. An insulation, insult. Oh, boy.

RP: The "loyalty questionnaire" was something that everyone over seventeen had to fill out. Tell us about your experience with the "loyalty questionnaire."

IK: I was well aware of it because everybody was talking about it that went in. They told us what happened and so on. By the time I went in I knew I was gonna be insulted like that, and I asked him to explain again and he just explained the same thing. I said, and I know I'm not gonna get anything out of him. I says, "You mean if I say 'yes' to this one, I'm in the army?" He says yes. And I said, and I told him a few things. So I did not... I think, I don't remember the exact quotes of the questions, but one was, as I recall one of them was "if," or "would you protect the American shores?" or somethin' like that. If an enemy came, something like that. And if you said "yes" to that, you were in. You would have joined the army. And I told him he's insulting. I said... that didn't go anywhere. I heard the word, words over and over and over. So I said "no" to whichever question it was and stomped out, but they still called me loyal. They let me out of camp.

RP: Did you feel, at that time, that... any bitterness or anger and this was a chance to --

IK: At the moment, yes. It, that's insulting. And I guess I just refused to talk with him. That's really the way it comes out, 'cause you can't do anything with it. You can't hit him. That's the only thing I could do, so it's just dumb and... nowhere. And it was an insult, thinking that we were that ignorant that we didn't understand English, and put in a tricky little way that I would, if I said "yes" I'm in the army. How can they, how can we say that? But I wouldn't get an answer for him, from him, because he's had 'em a million times before.

KP: So what were the circumstances for doing the questionnaire? You'd go into an office or a room, and...

IK: Yes, in one of the apartments. He was just sitting, just sitting behind a table, very nonchalantly, very impersonal, just nothing except the words.

RP: And this was an army...

IK: He wasn't army dressed, as I recall it. I think he was just dressed civilian.

KP: And it was one person at a time?

IK: Yes.

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

<Begin Segment 27>

RP: After, after that experience... you shared with us yesterday that you started to have a desire to be free, to get out of Manzanar.

IK: Yes, I, I don't know when that desire started, but it was, it grew very, very strong. I just had to get out of there, and I don't know quite why, but I knew I wanted to. That, it was just, this place was going nowhere.

RP: And how did you go ahead and realize that desire to leave camp?

IK: Well, it had to be the word running around, 'cause that's news, or maybe it was my parents, my mother... but anyway, it's, in fact, I don't exactly know who changed my mind to apply for a job anywhere. And I don't know who mentioned even the YMCA would hire me. And so I wrote to my old boss in Los Angeles, and I assumed, I never heard one way or the other, that he did write a, one letter to the YMCA, but I, anyway, I think they offered me a job, and that's how I got out. I wasn't smart enough to go there and take the job. That was pretty dumb.

RP: Can you, how did your parents feel about you leaving camp?

IK: They never said anything about yes or no to me, 'cause I'm a grown man now, supposedly. So no, they didn't express anything about that.

RP: So you made a decision to leave, and do you recall anything about your trip out of camp, first to Reno?

IK: Boy, that was, that was quite an occasion, going away from camp with about, oh, four or five of us, and one girl. And she sat by me in the bus, and she's waving at her friends and suddenly she starts crying. I thought, "Oh, God, what are you doing?" And she's crying that she's leaving her friends and dancing and all that stuff, and I sat on the trip to Chicago all the way, and god, it was quite worrying. She cried all the way about her boyfriends and whatever, parents, 'til bus to Reno, then we transferred to train, and she cried all the way. Pretty soon she's gettin' to me. I'm wondering, "Why am I leaving?" But we went to the same receiving place in Chicago, the, it was a fraternity of a college, religious college. I can't remember their name. But there we parted ways, thank goodness, 'cause she was, she was so homesick from the second we got on the bus. So that was quite a, that was hardest trip I ever took.

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

<Begin Segment 28>

RP: So what was, what was resettlement like for you in Chicago, trying to get back...

IK: Well, that was kind of a shock, and I got off the train and it was winter. It's January, I think, if I'm not mistaken, 'cause I was shuddering, just shivering all the way into the train station, with my light little American -- excuse me, the California overcoat, was a raincoat. And I'm thinking, "What am I," it was dark, dark, glum, overcast snow day, and I'm wondering, "Why am I out here?" 'Cause after all of that crying all this way, maybe she's right. Then the train, I get used to the Chicago loop on the rail, the streetcar. I got on it near the end of the line, and I fell asleep before we got into town and fell, stayed asleep all the way around the loop and back on out. I woke up at the other end of the line again, so I figured, "Well, I may as well go back and sleep." The hours were wrong, too. Different, with the change of time. So that was quite a change. That city was a big city compared to Los Angeles. I didn't have that much money in my pocket for much of anything, so it was quite a lost place.

RP: Were you able to acquire that, that YMCA job?

IK: No, I wasn't smart. I didn't even remember that, so I bumped across friend from Manzanar, and he says, "Why don't you come stay with us?" And since I was at the YMCA, paying three and a half dollars a day or somethin' like that, I wasn't gonna last long. So as Tommy was old friend from camp, says, "Come live with us," and it was a place that the religious... I'm awful with names. A Caucasian, Philadelphian...

KP: Quaker.

IK: Quaker, that's it. He had this sort of a hostel with a bunch of other guys from camp, and he was saying go out and get jobs and so on, from there. So I stayed there a couple of days and worked, went for a job that was hiring. They found Japanese evidently educated and were hiring Japanese. Anyway, in the interview, I start with grammar school. "Yes." Junior high, "yes." High school, "yes," and now they're being suspicious. "Anywhere else?" I said, "College." "Where?" And so they wrote that out very slowly. "Anything else?" I said, "Yes." I said, "Art school." By then he's just totally, just out of, he was out of his... he did not admit to anything. Anyway, that stopped filling out the, the form, and I met the, I got hired to work in the book... it was a, what was it? It was a, they sold everything. They were a warehouse. Anyway, the, they had different departments, and I ended up in the book department. I guess they figured I could read. My immediate boss, I think she graduated junior high school or somethin' like that, and the boss, I -- oh no, she didn't graduate high school, but the boss did -- so I had more education than the boss boss, because I guess I could read. And that was so very boring and uninteresting that I'd fall asleep in the bins between orders. And what got to me most was the time clock you had to punch. I never heard of one and, and there was one that you had to punch it for every little movement, and I just walked out. I couldn't take that.

So I finally got a job at the hospital. I can't remember that name, either. I can't remember anything about the hospital, but the, we had wash out the instruments for oil... everybody was getting gas -- not gas -- blood, blood to make serum for the army, the... just, all for blood. Anyway, they wanted to make a, gave me a book to become a doctor, things like that. And I thought, "Gee, I'm gonna do what I want to do," so I finally started looking for a job in art, and I had no, didn't know how to do it or anything. I was just, looked in the telephone book and started at the studios. Started at A, like the smart guy. I went all through the As and then went through the Bs, and I finally got to the Ss and a guy, they offered an apprentice job, which I jumped at. And although they expected my family to pay my salary. I said, "Well, I can't do that. I need, rent to pay and food to buy." And so they did a big offer and gave me twenty dollars a day -- or not a day, a week. But my rent cost nine dollars, so the rest was... let's see, I think streetcars were about ten cents or so, so I was running out of money real, real fast. I didn't eat much, but the job was around very famous people that were all experts in the country, or they were tops in that country. Their reputations were so... I got a big education just watching them paint.

RP: These were commercial artists?

IK: Yes.

RP: Doing advertising work, or...

IK: Yes. These guys, most of them were illustrators that did a lot of billboards for Coke and stuff like that, so I was very fortunate. And then I got drafted.

RP: Did the training and the learning that you got there, that inspire you to go into a graphic arts field?

IK: Well, I was an, I was a pure apprentice. I didn't know a damn thing, and they were all very friendly, very helpful to me. They didn't know what Japanese was, and also they were very open-minded people. And these were famous people that were, I was hobnobbing with.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 29>

RP: You got drafted while you were in Chicago.

IK: Yes.

RP: And what were your feelings about going and fighting for you country at that point?

IK: My first thought was, well, I was an "enemy alien" a short while ago and suddenly I'm a loyal American. And what can you do? There's nothing you can do about it, so you can't have an attitude. It's just worthless. You can't, if you can't do anything about it, why worry about it?

RP: So you first went where?

IK: I was Chicago at Fort Sheridan, and that's when I got introduced, became a soldier immediately 'cause you knew you'd lost your life right there. Man, that civil... yeah, it's just another new life. Nothing else has, really matters. So you became a soldier right away by them telling you, "I can make you do anything I want you to do." Those are pretty strong words. They did.

RP: A few more questions. Tell us, give me just, maybe a brief overview of your experiences with the 442nd.

IK: Well, that's hard to say in a few words because they, I think they gave the proving answer to many of my young questions. One of the biggest questions was, "Would I be a coward?" That, that hurt, or that sat with me more than anything else, and it, it was, death had nothing to do with it, or wasn't involved. But the, being a coward was the biggest question in my mind, so all the anxiety, all the things that did happen had to do with that, because we heard some... everybody we talked to on our, in the service, on the trains, going into camp and all, everybody knew the 442nd and what they did, 'cause I didn't go in with the original. And only thing I could think of was would I be a coward, and that's what I worried about the most, so everything was, it was just, again, a different world, 'cause I had a real important point in my life... this is real questionable. I have no, no control, I didn't think, and so I gave that a thought, lot of thought, and I don't know what went by my head. It just happened, and all the way through, every train stop, they talked about the 442nd and -- other soldiers, other one that knew the reputation and then the things they did. And that just bring my... up, and I was honored, I felt honored and still wondering about being a coward. Now I could not be a coward because this is building up such a whatever, and it's, I guess it turned into semantics or whatever, you might say, because coward is just a nonexistent word it, that it come out to. It transfers into something else, anyway, and I was proud to enter the 442nd and hoped I would live up to their reputation. And that was the war for me.

RP: Did you feel that you did?

IK: Definitely. I found a spot where I did, and I proved it. And I kept wishing that they'd quit coming because I was poppin' away, and I was beatin' the war by myself. I just, I think... in fact, the only part that comes to mind is I was shooting all day. My buddy dropped his backpack, and we were into, back down into Italy from France 'cause it's a secret mode of attack. We don't really know, but it was, far as I know we were secretly brought down to help the, the black unit, it's funny to mention, the 92nd Division. And they couldn't take a place for a couple of years, so we were just a spearheading outfit, so that was our job. We... anyway, it was early in the combat and my buddy dropped his backpack, so they wanted, I assume, well, they would need that backpack to get some information on us, see who they're fighting. This is after we took the division objective, and we just shot all day, and after he dropped his pack and we were digging in, I was at a point, so he ran by me and while trying to get the pack a German would come sneaking up and I'd pop him off. And up come a big Red Cross flag, so I honored that. They honored us before that, in action, so I would have to admire it for now. So flag went down and nothing, GI came up and I popped him, so I shot about eighteen rounds and fired every time. About the eighteenth or the nineteenth time, I saw the, I shot, and then he yelled, "Medic," as they all did, and up came the flag. And then suddenly they went away, but the bag, the guy's pack was gone. They got the pack under the use of the red flag, and I thought that was pretty damned unfair. I should've shot, but I kept thinking, what if they quit? Just knocking you off and you can't get me, so why don't you quit? But they kept coming. I think it was eighteen of 'em. And I just felt bad, but then after I saw, or my buddy, very good buddy, Mitch's brother, got shot right in the middle of the head. That said, well, this is, this is war. That's really what war is about. And I was very sorry to do that, but, hey, if I don't do that to you, you're gonna do that to me. That's what it really came down to. So that's when it, whether I'm gonna be scared or not came to point. Forget it, which I did. And the rest of it, I was just fine. Just cautious.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 30>

RP: Stepping back a little bit, can you tell us about your parents in camp? Did they eventually relocate, or did they still go to the...

IK: They relocated to, I think my father was okay, because he was working, he was, at first, the only dentist and then he was the head of the dentist, and there was a lot of work on that many people, 'cause I think there were three, four dentists in the place. Then he... and my mother was, she was quite flexible. She would go with whatever, as... she had the capacity. And she went out. Oh, my father went to... they both went out at the same time. I saw them in Chicago and then they left there and went to New York, where my father worked as a dental assistant -- not a dental assistant, but a lab, do lab work. And my mother worked interpreting -- not interpreting, transferring... what, what do you call? Teaching Japanese to the Navy.

RP: In New York?

IK: In New York, yes.

RP: And this would've been around 1944, '45?

IK: Somewhere around that. Like I say, I, dates didn't matter to me then, but they sent me fruit overseas that I really needed. And that was --

RP: What kind of food did you get?

IK: Well they sent canned fruit, and that, that went around the squad. Boy, I had about one bite of it, so I quit asking for that 'cause they were on... tickets of food, what do you call that?

KP: Ration.

IK: Stamps, anyway.

KP: Ration.

IK: So I suddenly realized that they were having a hardship over here, so I can't do that anymore. But that was, I thought, well, that was big of them.

RP: Did you, when you were discharged out of the service, did you meet up with them in New York or did you return to California?

IK: No, we were on, on the, whatever you call it, the, in a group to go... I was to be, see, I was first to be -- oh, part of first... on the draft card was my home in Los Angeles, so I had to get discharged out here, and I couldn't get, my girl was in Chicago, which I had to come out here first. So I didn't see my parents there. He was already practicing in Los Angeles by the time the war ended, or they were released and all of that. So he started an office in Little Tokyo again, and all new equipment, which was nice, and a very growing practice. My mother worked as a, with him at the office, was a receptionist, as all the wives were doing, I believe, at the time. But they were, they were, they had a growing business by the time I got home.

RP: They kinda picked up where they left off.

IK: I don't know how they started, but he, he had a very busy business because I think he was early in coming back here, because he got out of camp, and I think the other doctors stayed in camp. So he would be the first to come on back here and rebuild his...

RP: Rebuild his practice.

IK: Yeah.

<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 31>

RP: And did you eventually pursue your artistic abilities?

IK: Yeah, well, I got discharged out here, called, I was to do here. We got married, and then I got a job here and she worked at the community chest for a while, and I got a job with an agency here, but our business, this, Los Angeles was just small time. And I had, no big guns in Chicago, so I went back to Chicago and worked with the studio I did for a while and, because they were supposed to give us return jobs. So he took me back, and then I got tired of that and started my own business there and decided that... I had my office right at the corner of, where the Elevated went by, and with no air conditioning that was the biggest racket in the world, so I decided nowhere, this is no place to raise a family and we came back to Los Angeles and started a business again.

RP: So it, what, it was a graphic, graphic arts business?

IK: Yes. I was, I was, the title then would be commercial artist, but I started the words design because I didn't want to be a big specialist in any one thing, 'cause I wasn't gonna ever be as good as the guys that I saw, but I could have a creative design. And so I designed anything that came along.

RP: And you start, you said that your inspiration for pursuing your art was the cartoons that you used to draw?

IK: That's the only thing I could think of, 'cause I did enjoy it when I was a kid, or I did draw a lot when I was a kid. I didn't know if I liked it or not, but I could do it. And I did it a lot when I was a kid.

KP: And you said your dad had an interest in...

IK: Oh, he wanted me to be a doctor.

KP: But he had an interest in drawing, too?

IK: Yes, he did. I think all dentists are that way because you, they do sculpting before they learn how to make teeth things, so every doctor I know has made a ring for his wife or, I know my father made a gold ring for my mother. And one fellow was courting my daughter, was a dentist, and he was very interesting. He paints and everything. So a lot of them are frustrated dentists.

RP: [Laughs]

<End Segment 31> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 32>

RP: You just recently visited Manzanar last, actually --

IK: Which I was very impressed, incidentally. I thought it was very professionally done.

RP: Did any, did it bring up any feelings or emotions for you to be back in a place where you, you know...

IK: I don't, I don't have any real feelings about Manzanar, except that, my memory, and I don't have any stellar feelings for it all. Is it was just a happening, as far as I'm concerned, as the army was a happening, only they gave me a big, big education.

RP: And you got a pay increase, too, didn't you?

IK: I'm sorry?

RP: Did you get a pay increase, too?

IK: Yeah, I guess I did, 'cause in camp I think I made twelve dollars a month, if I'm not mistaken.

RP: As a buck private or... you would've made about twenty-one.

IK: I think you're right. I don't remember that, either, but I came out a sergeant, and I don't know what they make. But, no, Manzanar is a memory. That's all I put it as. I don't have... it was an injustice, but that doesn't bother me at all, 'cause politics and broader look at it, it was a very political move, and on who I don't know, but that's for sure a political move, and not done just by the army. Well, they carried it through, but it was carried, started at a... that's what I would like to see exposed. And I think it's President Roosevelt area. That's, that saved his neck, because he became a prominent president by doing that. That's his, whatever his memories, or memories of him are how he saved America, and that was in World War II. And that's, well... the people I met along the line had nothing to do with the camp, really. It wasn't their fault. They did what they were hired to do, and today especially, when people do things, they do it, which is a hell of a lot worse than that. And I feel happened worse than that, only I wasn't smart enough to know that then. But when it, we'd heard a lot of the starting of the war and whose fault, and I think somebody exposed quite a bit of it. Hall? No. I can't even think of his name, either, but he exposed, exposed some of it, which says, hey, there's that much more. Only he couldn't have done it. So that's what it really, is it, and maybe one day it'll all come out.

RP: I have a question. Having been in the 442nd and part of the distinguished combat history, did you have any awareness of a draft resistance movement that took place in some of the camps, particularly in Heart Mountain?

IK: No, that, none of that came to mind, because that war was so personal -- I mean, for each of us -- that all of this politics had nothing to do with anything, 'cause we were shootin' at each other. And... "What the hell, I don't care what Roosevelt does." In fact, we were told that the president died. We were on a hill, just taken the hill, and the CO says, or the lieutenant says, announced that the president died and let's allow him some silence or some damn thing. What went through my mind real quickly, here's eight guys right in front of me, dead. One of 'em is on fire, and they're tellin' us that we're gonna give some respect for somebody that died over there. It has nothing to do with me. And I just thought, "Big deal. So how many minutes do we give these people?" 'Cause they're dead people. That's all I could think. That's bullshit. Why they would even try to tell us, in combat, we'll spend a moment of silence. I just thought that was... what the hell is the matter with people? We're next to dying and we're gonna spend some time gettin' shot out and give him some silence. Come on. Get real. And somebody's head's in the moon. It's, it's just so out of, out of anything.

RP: Do you have any additional questions?

KP: No.

RP: Isao, do you have any other stories or memories you want to share about...

IK: Oh, I don't know. I have to be prompted because I, they just... suddenly somebody says a word and that'll remind me, because in the, what I left out of my writing was, as I thought of them I typed them, in the, of the army. And I think I've lost about five hundred pages while moving my offices from place to place. It get lost and... 'cause I was, I wanted to and I thought about it was I would write my squad and our squad, and stories of all of, all of, each of us. And that would've made a, one hell of a funny book. Because I felt that is more interesting as a war book than all of this heroic stuff, because your, in your frame of mind or position or whatever it is, you're in a different place and it's out of civilization. You don't think of civilization or being civilized. They're completely different rules in war and none of it is political, and it's just totally divorced, and they're, because of this particular place, wherever your mind might be, everything has changed. Your humor is totally, totally different. As I wrote one part in my thing, one of them died, real good buddy. One of the funniest things that came to me of -- this guy's name, Jim -- was wartime humor. I mean, not wartime humor, but the state of mind you're in during that period. Forget civilization. But this is this world, and I so I had always wondered before going over, what am I gonna do when I have to take a crap? What do you, they don't talk about toilets or anything, so anyway, in my mind with Jim, it was just right on the crest of, the sky was here, seen clearly. And he had dug out right at that crest that I saw, so this morning he jumps out of this hole. I see him up there and the Germans are probably... I couldn't see them at my point, but they were, I would guess about twenty-five yards or fifty yards away. They saw him, and suddenly he's, pulls his pants down, take a crap. Boom, in comes a mortar, so he's, holds his pants, scoots over here. Boom, come the next, so he scoots to another place, and then... "God damnit, he's droppin' one and their droppin' one." And that became a funny story. And he thought it was, and he was laughing, too. So anyway, this, there's a little bit more to it, but I think I tried to point it towards a stranger and it, this running around with pants down. Then he got down mad, jumped in his hole mad. And I saw this part. I didn't know what, what he was thinking. And I saw his head come out over his hole, and he was aiming. And I'm sitting there watching him, and I said, "Well, damn it, shoot." And he's aiming and he's aiming. I said, "Jeez, when are you gonna shoot." Then suddenly I, on the mountains you don't know where the shots come. They boom, boom, boom, boom, but you don't when, either. So anyway, during these things his rifle pops and he goes down. I said, "What happened?" And then they said move out for us, so we went through a bunch of shooting, then we went down there and everybody's gathered together, and I go to Jim. I says, "You get 'em, Jim?" "Ah, no." He was still mad, and he showed me his rifle, the M-1 is a rifle and the gas port just below it. German, German was aiming at him and he was aiming at the German, and the German shot first. I didn't know, this is why the shots mixed up, but he kicked back and he went down. So I says, "Hell, I thought you got it right in the head." And he says, "Oh, that's what happened." He says, "Boy I was so mad." And he laughed, but I sent this section of the story to the family after he died. They never answered me, and I thought, oh hell, I made a joke of him, just sending them that much, because that time, that was a very -- and he told the whole damn squad. And he, "That damn rifle," he had to take it apart and he loaded the chamber again and sat there all that time before going, with just one lousy bullet in his gun. I said, "That took courage. And you're still with us." And that just didn't go by with the family. He was an asshole, he was a joke in that writing, so I decided, boy, enough of, no more, none of that. Because the attitude, or the, life's borders are so, totally somewhere else. And it's hard to explain.

RP: Thank you, Isao, for sharing all this.

IK: It was fun. I enjoyed being able to tell somebody.

RP: On behalf of Kirk and myself and the National Park Service, thank you for your great contribution to our knowledge of Manzanar and beyond.

IK: I appreciate it.

<End Segment 32> - Copyright © 2009 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.