Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Yooichi Wakamiya Interview
Narrator: Yooichi Wakamiya
Interviewer: Richard Potashin
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: February 4, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-wyooichi-01

<Begin Segment 1>

RP: This is an oral history interview for the Manzanar National Historic Site. Today we're talking with Yooichi Wakamiya. Mr. Wakamiya will be discussing his experiences at the Santa Anita Assembly Center as well as the War Relocation Center during World War II. Our interview is taking place at the West Los Angeles United Methodist Church at 1913 Purdue Street in Los Angeles, California. The date of our interview is Thursday, February 4, 2010. Interviewer is Richard Potashin and our videographer is Richard -- sorry, Kirk Peterson. Our interview will be archived in the Park's site library. I will also mention that Mr. Wakamiya's wife is also in attendance, Eileen. And do I have permission to go ahead and record our interview?

YW: Yes, you can.

RP: Thank you very much for coming today and sharing the stories of one of the lost camps there, Rohwer.

YW: Lost camps? [Laughs]

RP: First of all I'd like to get a little family background and your personal background. Tell us where you were born and what year.

YW: I was born (in the L.A. Japanese Hospital but lived in) in Hawthorne, California, 1933, July 10th.

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

YW: The one I have now.

RP: Can you share that --

YW: Yooichi Wakamiya. We were too poor to have an English name. [Laughs]

RP: Do you know anything about the meaning of your first or last name?

YW: The meaning of the last name?

RP: Or the first name.

YW: The last name, Wakamiya, W-A-K-A is, means "young," and the miya part means "prince." So I'm a "young prince." Yooichi is kind of an interesting combination. Yoo comes from the word taiheiyo, and my dad says that refers to the Pacific Ocean. When they write down the word for Pacific Ocean in Japanese they use yoo as part of the calligraphy. And the ichi part means number one. I'm the firstborn. So a lot of Japanese kids had the word ichi in their name; you can probably guess that they're firstborn. Now, my brother is Eiji, J-I, and if you look at the calligraphy on his name the J-I is a two, so he's second born.

RP: And did you have any other siblings besides your --

YW: No, just me and my brother.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

RP: Tell us a little bit about your father, first of all his name.

YW: Seiichi, S-E-I-I-C-H-I.

RP: Where did he come from in Japan?

YW: He came from Fukui, Japan, and Fukui is on the west coast of Japan overlooking the Japan Sea side of Japan, and it's about, if you draw a line from Tokyo due west, where it intersects the western coast is about where Fukui-ken is. And in fact, today it's become famous because Obama City is nearby, so he also used to mention Obama City as one of the ways, I guess, they used to get in and out of that area, so there must've been a train route or something. But he came from there and all he can remember about that area is it was very cold in the wintertime because they got the Siberian winds, and in the summertime it was very hot, humid. He says Arkansas kind of reminded him of the humid part, but Arkansas wasn't as cold as he remembers it in Japan. When he got to Southern California he thought he hit heaven, 'cause the weather is perfect. He says, "I'm not going, I'm not ever going back." And true to his word, the only time he went back was to visit his parents.

RP: And your (grandfather) had an interesting profession. I guess his father had a profession where you were dealing with crafting agates?

YW: Yes. My grandfather was, I don't know how far into the history of our family this goes, but at least he was involved in crafting agates, and my dad says his job as a student, as a young child, was to cut big pieces of agate into smaller pieces and then they would sell off the smaller pieces to other craftsmen. Now, the problem with all that is that's kind of a very narrow kind of way to make business. And he says that's kind of why he left Japan, because he couldn't make any money. At the time, when he, my grandfather left Japan, he said the economy was so bad you couldn't sell things like that to anybody anymore. It was, it was very slow, and he was looking at his bank account and he said, "I could count the days when the money was gonna run out." So he decided to take a chance and come over to the U.S. So he came in the early 1900s, and I can't remember quite when, maybe 1915 or so, and then he and my father were communicating by letter and he says, "By the way, if you're interested in coming over here you might consider doing it pretty soon because they're talking about closing immigration to the Japanese," which finally occurred in 1922, I guess. But not knowing when it was gonna happen, I guess my dad jumped ship and left Japan in his junior year in high school, I believe, so he cut off high school to get over here and he basically stayed here the rest of his life except for the few times that he went back to visit his parents.

RP: Now, your father's father got sort of a foothold in the flower growing industry.

YW: Oh, I don't know how they were able to arrange this kind of occupation, but my grandfather was able to get hired by some Japanese florists up in the Montebello area -- that was an open area in those days -- and I guess somehow he was able to get a job there. And then when his son came, he also was able to be hired there and they worked in the flower farming business for a while. And somewhere along the way my grandfather went home because he still had, left behind a wife, two daughters and a younger son, and my father was the oldest of them all, so, and here he was over here. Now, the plan was, I guess, Grandpa could go home, try to take care of the home front, and my dad was working here and sending money home. And that was typical of many Japanese families, try to get a foothold in the economy that way.

RP: Did your father have, have any plans to return to Japan?

YW: Not to my knowledge, because after he was working in Montebello, for whatever reason he changed jobs and signed on with a fellow named Mr. Satow over here in Hawthorne. And Mr. Satow had about a thirty-five acre carnation enterprise going on on El Segundo Boulevard and Kornbloom over here in Hawthorne. Today, that property of his was taken over by the school board and they bought it by eminent domain, so now it's a schoolyard. But he had a big organization going there. He had many sons, one daughter, and he was able to afford the labor 'cause he didn't have to pay his sons, I guess. [Laughs] But it was about thirty-five acres of carnations under glass. You know, it's quite an expensive enterprise he had going.

RP: You said that he had about ten greenhouses?

YW: Yeah, at least, as I remembered it. And these were glass greenhouses, right? Very expensive. But he didn't have to keep rebuilding it. A cheesecloth greenhouse every year, which is cheaper, but it's a lot of work to rebuild it every year, but cheesecloth doesn't last very long, but that's what my dad eventually ended up doing when he left Mr. Satow's farm and started on his own in about 1938, '39 time period. And he leased five acres of land from the Johnson Ranch people and his property, if you would look at it today, it would be just underneath the Western Golf Course, directly across from, if you looked across from Western to Crenshaw you'll see the Grumman Aircraft Company there, right, (east) of Grumman, and so he was up on the slopes and that's where he farmed his carnations. And he had about five acres, but he had about two acres under cultivation. The rest of it was being rotated. So typically, of the two acres, one was in flowers, other was being planted, so you just keep rotating around.

RP: Yo, what do you remember most about your dad?

YW: Hard working. Very honest and hard working individual. I remember one time my mother took him to a movie, said, "Let's go see a movie." He said, "What's a movie?" You know, this, here's a country kid who never went anywhere, worked, worked, worked. And he says he was appalled to see the pictures talking. It was a brand new experience for him. And my mother, on the other hand, knew a little bit more about the world than he did, I guess, and that was kind of a shock for my father, when he first saw a moving picture. I remember my mom telling me about that, says, "Hey, when a guy has his nose in the grindstone all the time and doesn't go anywhere, he doesn't know what's goin' on out there. All he knows is farming." And he had an obligation to send money home, so he was workin' hard.

RP: Was he a small man, physically?

YW: About five feet three, maybe, five feet four. [To wife] How tall was he? Five-one? about five-one, five-two, something like that. I was the tallest of the group. I'm not much taller than five-six, so very small family.

RP: Was he a quiet man or an, he had an outgoing personality?

YW: Outgoing, yes. But depends on who you are.

RP: How about with the kids? Did you have a pretty strict upbringing as...

YW: Japanese upbringing. Obey your parents, behave, don't bring disgrace upon your family name, study hard, work hard, be straight with your friends. Standard, standard growing pattern, right? Yeah. And on top of that they sent us to language school after regular school, so you get some of (those) ideas hammered into your head.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

RP: Tell us about your mother, first of all her name.

YW: My mother's name is Hatsuko, H-A-T-S-U-K-O. Her maiden last name is Nakamoto, N-A-KA-M-O-T-O.

RP: And can you give us a little bit of her background?

YW: Yes, she was born here in Los Angeles, and she had two brothers, younger brothers. She was the eldest. And I'm not sure what her folks did for a living, frankly, but they were here, they preceded the family and they started their family here, so both my uncles and my mother were American citizens by right of birth. They were born in Los Angeles, and somewhere along the line the parents decided they better take the kids back home to Japan, to an area, to a country that the kids knew nothing of, and started them off in Japanese school. So they ended up finishing high school in Japan, so they lost any English they knew, if they knew any at all, frankly. And so my mother lost most of her English, if she had any at all, so she was basically Japanese-speaking the rest of her life. Okay, now her younger brothers were bilingual, but mostly Japanese, but their English was much better than hers. And during World War II they ended up in, I guess, the (Military Intelligence Service) and they were part of the postwar occupation forces, served as interpreters for the U.S. Army.

RP: So your mother graduated from high school in Japan?

YW: Yes, they all graduated from high school. Yes.

RP: And do you know roughly when she came back to the United States?

YW: Beg pardon?

RP: Do you know roughly when she came back to the U.S.?

YW: I don't know. I really don't know when that happened. I was looking back in my paperwork and I can't figure it out. In fact, all the kids came back, I don't know whether the parents came back or not. I can't establish that from the records. As for her brothers, after the war was, after they served in the Armed Forces, the younger of the two brothers stayed in Japan and married a Japanese woman and took on her family name. It's called yoshii. Because they had nothing but girls in that family. You can plan like this, but as luck would have it, he had nothing but girls, so that family does not propagate that name too well. [Laughs] My other uncle, the older of the two, came back to the U.S. and he brought back a war bride, if you will, and he lives in L.A. somewhere. I lost track of him.

RP: Can you give us their names, both of the uncles?

YW: Let's see now, the older one, his name was Yasuo, Y-A-S-U-O, and I think he took on the name Harry also. The younger of the brothers was, I think it was Yasuto, Y-A-S-U-T-O, and his English name was George.

RP: What do you remember most about your mother?

YW: What do I remember most about her? Let's see, what can I say? Hard working around the house, always trying to nurture us, and always encouraged school, good behavior was expected of us. She ran the house with an iron fist without using an iron fist, you know what I mean? She was very persuasive. Says, "Don't do that. That's shaming the family," that sort of thing and that straightened you up right away." She died at a young age, about sixty-one or sixty-two. Had breast cancer, and so she was the youngest of the, my kids' grandparents had died. It was kind of tragic 'cause I wanted her to see them grow up a little bit, but never got the chance. My dad followed suit later. I don't know how many years after that, but he also passed away then.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

RP: You mentioned that you were told to go to language school.

YW: Yes.

RP: And where did you attend Japanese language school?

YW: Where did I go? I went to language school three times in my life. Okay, the way it goes is like this. Prior to World War II there was a language school just across the street from where Northrop and Grumman is today, out on Crenshaw. That whole area was farmland and part of that farmland was cut out by the Japanese community and they had a language school there, and I think it was starting from grade school all the way up through high school. And one of the interesting things that I noticed was in the junior high level classes one of the students was a Caucasian girl taking Japanese, and she had advanced that far. She was doin' real well. So I've always wondered what she ever did with the skills she acquired, but never found out because when the war broke out we all split up and left and they closed down the school and things like that, (...) I went to that school after grammar school for about a year. That was when I was about, what, seven or eight years old. And then when they, the second time I went to Japanese school was when I was in Rohwer. There was some people within the block that I lived in that felt that we should continue our language learning, if you will, so they started a little school, students, for the kids in the block. And that didn't last for six months 'cause we got thrown out of camp at that point, November of '45. So we moved to California and ended up in Long Beach, in the trailer courts there. The trailer courts were opening up because they were initially used by people that worked in the docks and since the war was over those people were going home from wherever they came, so the trailers were being emptied. So it was ideal for the trailer people. They said, "Hey, we got some new tenants." So they let us use it, and so it was a camp of, I don't know how many trailers there were in that camp, but there was, each trailer was about, oh, twenty feet long typically, typical width, and so family of four living in a trailer like that is a little confining, but we stayed there for about three plus years and then we managed (...) some money for a down payment for a house and moved out. That's the way it's been ever since.

RP: Where did you attend language school at that time?

YW: Okay, at that time the local Buddhist church opened one up. I'm not Buddhist, but the language school opened up and said, if you want to come, you don't have to be a church member, but come anyway. So there was a young lady that took on the task, they hired her to teach. She must've been in her thirties, I guess. And so Saturdays we'd go, and, but this, by the time I was going there it was already, I was in my freshman year in college already. It was, there's been quite a span there and went there for maybe, a time period of maybe a year, and it got to be too hectic trying to keep both the academics of, the university life and this going, so I finally dropped that. Maybe to my chagrin, I shouldn't have done it, but that's the way it goes. You got to take something and run with it and I ran with the university curriculum. So that was the last time (...) I learned Japanese for about a period of six months to a year, so if I learned anything it was over about two and a half years worth of language skills were trying to be rammed into my head.

RP: You spoke Japanese at home?

YW: My parents did. We picked it up on the fly. What little we picked up wasn't very useful. We didn't learn enough, we didn't have enough vocabulary. And they didn't understand English; I didn't understand Japanese. Most of the families in the Japanese community are like that, I guess. But somehow we managed.

RP: How would you communicate?

YW: Enough Japanese to understand what was going on. Yeah, it's kind of hard. I have often wondered how European immigrants and their kids worked that out, but we managed somehow.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

RP: You touched on religion a little bit. Did your parents stress religion as part of your upbringing?

YW: Not really. The way they got into religion was, lot of times the Buddhist religion requires that you go to this, go back to the temple and have special services for the dead, so, and there are certain years, fifth year, tenth year, whatever, they have certain calendars when, which you ought to go back and have a service for them. So that was one way I was exposed to the Buddhist religion and accompanied the parents to these services, but not knowing what was going on. It's kind of hard to understand. In camp, in Rohwer, it was, a young lady in our community who invited me to church, 'cause she herself was very active in the local church, and that was, I think it was Baptist, and she said, "Come on Sunday and listen in." How can you say no, right? So I had a mixture of religious experiences when I was a kid. I had both Buddhist and Christian upbringing. I wouldn't call it upbringing 'cause I wasn't a very steady attendee, but of course what made more sense to me was what I could understand. That was English, right? So the Buddhist was a little hard to comprehend, so I drifted toward the English speaking religions, if you will. And when I left camp, in Long Beach there was a Presbyterian church, Japanese Presbyterian church, so I'd attend that, off and on, not a very steady person to attend, but I did that. And, and then when we got, when I met her [points to wife] it was at a Congregational Presbyterian church? [To wife] Is that what that was? In Los Angeles, so that was English speaking. In fact, the person who married us, his name was Dr. Paul Waterhouse, very famous preacher among the Japanese, and he originally started out preachin' to the Japanese in Hawaii, so he was bilingual. So when (got married), we were at the dinner party after the wedding, he shocked my mother by speaking Japanese very well. And my mother's response was, "He speaks it so well he embarrasses me." That's how good his language was. He was a great man.

RP: I know your parents were spending a lot of time working on the farm and raising you.

YW: Yes.

RP: Did you have any type of a social life? Did you recall growing up at picnics, get togethers with...

YW: Typically the language school that I went to would have yearly picnics and lot of times that was part of it, get together. Also, they also had friends that they had that they would go visit each other on weekends periodically. In fact, my mother, on one of her trips to and from Japan, met a young lady on the ship back who was coming over for the first time, and they stayed in touch after they got back, and her husband and her family raised strawberries in Torrance. And we were in Hawthorne, so that was not too far away, so we'd come and visit each other. So that was part of the social life, if you will. Organized things my dad shied away from. He wasn't much for organized anything. Guess maybe he was shy.

RP: You never took any extended trips or vacations out of the, out of the area?

YW: When I was with the, my parents? Hard to do because the kind of work that he was involved required every day hands on. You know, when you're workin' on the farm or the ranch the plants will die if you disappeared, and if you don't trust your help to maintain the plants correctly, there goes your crop for the year, right? So they pretty much stayed close to the farm.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

RP: Tell us, you mentioned there was a community of Japanese farmers in the area that you lived and your father farmed, can you kind of give us a little picture of, of that community?

YW: Okay. The area I'm describing is the Johnson Ranch area on the north side of El Segundo Boulevard and east of Crenshaw, west of Western, south of... what's the name of that street over there? The next street over from El Segundo is, gosh... good heavens, I just drove right down that road this morning, can't remember it. Anyway, that was the Johnson Ranch, and the Japanese farmers would lease land and do their farming. My dad was one of the few people that grew flowers. The rest of 'em were growing vegetables, so we didn't have too much in common that way. Now, you ask yourself how do the farmers irrigate their land, 'cause this is all open land. Well, water for the home was piped in by the water company, but water for farming was a separate thing. What they did is everybody had a reservoir and you would buy water by the hour, so you'd stop the guy who's running around the farms turning on the faucet to fill the reservoirs, and my job was to go find this guy when he's on the road. He said, "Today's Tuesday. He should be around there somewhere." My dad would say, "Go find him and tell him Wakamiya needs some water this week," so I'd, I would hail this guy down and I'd say my father says he wants so many hours of water today. So the guy says, write it down in his book, pretty soon you see him going and opening the water gates, turn the water on for two hours. And that's how we paid for water, two hours worth of water.

RP: You also had another job. You, you would turn on the pumps in the pump house?

YW: Yes, my dad, in order to water you can't just use the water from the reservoir as it is. It has to be under pressure. So he installed a water pump that would draw water from the reservoir and run it out so that it would be under pressure, and my job was to turn that pump on, whenever he wanted the water. There's no point in leaving the pump on forever, so he'd say, he'd tell me, "Today we're gonna water, so I need for you to help me turn the water on and off." So that was my job. He said, "Okay, turn it on," so I'd go running over there and turn the water pump on. And then a few hours later he says, "Okay, time to turn it off," and I go turn it off. So that was my simple job as a seven-, eight-year-old.

RP: We were talking a little bit, last time we talked you talked a little bit about the operation, how hard your dad worked. Sometimes he'd work into the night and...

YW: Yes.

RP: Maybe you can discuss a little bit about the sorting of the carnations and how he prepared them?

YW: Yes, okay. Carnation growing is a very intensive kind of (...) flowers to grow. In the field you have to do the following. As a small plant it's okay, but as, as the carnation starts growing you have to keep 'em isolated into boxes of wires, if you will, so that it would grow straight. Otherwise it would flip over. So what he would do is run, like, he would make wire clotheslines at different levels, and the width of the, width of the plot would be, each bed would be about three or four feet, and he would run wires the length of the, of the plot, and a typical plot would be maybe twenty-five, thirty feet. And he'd string up wires this way. Now that's, takes care of that dimension. Now, this way they'd put strings on, so he'd grab string, he'd tie the string at this end, wrap it up and someone else would tie it at the other end. So you had thousands of strings keeping the flowers contained. Okay? Now that's the first part. Once the flowers start growing, the plants start growing, you have to disbud carnations to maintain only the main bud on each plant. There'd be several stalks coming up, you disbud the side buds and maintain only the main bud, and that way you get the big flowers. So every week you've got to do that because the flowers don't quit growing, so my mom and my dad and some helpers they hired would be involved in this activity. And it just goes on and on. And now, this is during the day. Now, at night, once he's got the flowers picked, he goes into the garage where he had a special processing area that he laid out in the garage and he would sort the flowers out according to size, and grade A, B, C, and he would get 'em all to a uniform length, cut 'em off at a uniform length. And oftentimes the carnation is a flower that would burst its bud, so the, to put the flowers back into the bud he would pin it back in with small wire clamps, if you will, and so if you look at your flowers that you buy from the nursery, from the florists sometimes you may find little pins holding back the carnation buds, 'cause they would burst open and burst the bud. Well, you can't throw those away. That's good flowers except for the fact that it burst its seams, right? So he would do this 'til maybe twelve, one o'clock in the morning. Then he'd go to sleep, Mom would go to sleep, he'd wake up at two or three o'clock in the morning. He only had two or three hours of sleep. And every other day he'd ship, go to L.A. flower market and he rented a stall in the flower market and he would sell from his stall, and the people he would normally sell to are the shippers that want to ship the flowers back East and the local florists that are pretty big, that have a big shop. They would come by these people's stands and look at what they have and they would buy his flowers. And he says, "Fortunately, I had good flowers, so I sold out most of my flowers every day," every time he went up there. He was very successful, he was very well taught and very well learned the craft, from Mr. Satow and those people, he worked hard at keepin' his crops going well.

RP: There was a climatic event that occurred, I think it was, you mentioned 1940, '41, when there was a severe freeze that hit that area.

YW: Oh, yeah, he (deliberately selected) the slope of that hill and turns out one year there was a bad, big frost and the frost rolled down the hills. All the people at the bottom of the hill got their crops wiped out 'cause it was too cold. He was lucky. He was up on top of the slopes. He said he went to market that day and made a killing, because he had flowers that were in shape. The other people couldn't bring flowers 'cause their flowers got frosted out. He came home and said, "Boy, did I make a killing today," so he says, "A few more of those and we can retire." [Laughs] But he knew what he was doing. He knew the weather in that area and he, he was very careful what he did and when he invested his money in that ranch he knew exactly what he was doing. By the way, as a kid I learned what Bank of America was all about. That's where he banked in Hawthorne. I used to accompany him to the bank teller. The bank teller says, "Who's this?" He says, "The next farmer." [Laughs] And he deposited his money, and I was wondering what he was doing, he says, "I'm loaning them my money," he says. So I learned banking at a young age.

RP: So if it wasn't for the war, Yo, you probably would've been a flower farmer.

YW: Right. I was telling my wife that the other day, if it wasn't for the war I would have probably ended up farming. 'Cause it was a good living. Hard living, but a good living. You could make good money with it. If you have a little luck going your side and you do know, you did what you were supposed to be doing, you could make good money. Yeah.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

RP: What was your housing situation like? Did you actually live on the farm there?

YW: Yes. I don't know what happened, but my dad somehow found a wooden structure that used to be a home somewhere else on some other person's ranch. It was basically abandoned, and I guess the guy wanted to get rid of it. Dad says, "Don't get rid of it. I'll have it moved." So I guess he paid for it to get moved and I don't know what he paid the man for the structure, but it was a wooden structure and he converted that wooden structure into two parts. One part was a garage and a flower processing area where he can work at night, and the other part, we lived in the house. It was basically, amounted to about two bedrooms and a kitchen and a living room area, and that was, it was not the prettiest thing to look at. I can still remember it was, it was raw wood on the outside. It was brown. It had aged. But that's what farmers lived in. and the only thing I remember about that was that it was old, but it was livable, and the one thing I remember about sleeping in my bedroom was when I was young I used to be asthmatic, so I'd be locked in my bedroom, if you will, and I'd notice that the swallows would visit our home. They'd make their mud nests up in the eaves. That was my first exposure to Mother Nature. Oh my gosh, what are those things? My folks said, "Those are swallows. They make mud huts." So that much I remember, early on.

RP: Any other vivid memories of growing up on the farm?

YW: Only what I described. You know, helped Dad out with the watering. The other thing I did was, he used to buy scrap lumber for firewood, so I don't know how he contacted these people, but periodically, maybe once every six months, the guy would haul in a stake truck worth of lumber and just dump it there, and that was our firewood for the stove to heat us. Not for cooking, just heat us. Cooking was gas, regular gas. They had that piped in somehow.

RP: Did you have indoor plumbing?

YW: Indoor plumbing, but not indoor bathrooms. There was an outhouse. So I know what an outhouse is. It was a country outhouse. I think if I were to run that farm I'd convert it into a, at least a septic tank and a, some more modern amenities. But I remember, I told my wife, I said I remember outhouses. She said, "I do, too." [Laughs] But she remembers hers from her camp experience.

RP: When you mentioned the woodpile that you used to heat your home --

YW: What?

RP: The woodpile.

YW: Yes.

RP: Did you also have an outside bath, a furo?

YW: Yes, my dad built a separate building off to the side and part of that wood was used to fire up the bathtub. And the bathtub was typically, what, about six feet long, maybe three feet wide, maybe two and a half, three feet deep. It was metal. You had to hoist, it was hoisted on a stone platform, so he would just light a match and fire that up. And that's what part of that wood was for, not just for our heating, but also for heating the water. And the Japanese like to take hot baths, and I learned how to take hot baths in that thing, but it was very comforting for him because he needed to get the tiredness out of his body and he would just love to get soaked in that warm water. I remember that, and, but that was our bathtub. Still country living at its best, I guess, but at least we were clean.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

RP: Where did you attend grammar school?

YW: My grammar school was in Hawthorne School District and it's 135th and Yukon is where it still is. The only difference is, I noticed when I went back there, is when I attended there used to be a C-shaped building like this, and kindergarten at this end, sixth grade at this end and all intermediate grades in between, and after the war, when I went back some time later they had demolished these buildings and put 'em on the north side and built some new buildings over there, so it doesn't look like the school I used to go to. But the school was there and farmers were farming within reach of the school, around the schools, so we were really a country, country school. The one thing I remembered at the time was about 1940, right across the street a Ma and Pa family grocery store opened, so I wondered if that was still there and I went back and looked at it and sure enough that store's still there, but next door to the school they had built another school for the higher grades, and they named it after the principal that used to be the principal when I was going there as a youngster. So that school, I guess, expanded in, in enrollment so much that they decided one side'll be for the younger kids and the other side'll be for older kids, so they split up the campus into two campuses. And as far as I know that's still there. Had I, were it not for the war and I continued there, I would've gone to Leusinger High School, which I think is on Rosecrants somewhere. Yeah.

RP: Share with us the makeup of the community, of the school, the sorts of ethnicities.

YW: There weren't too many Japanese kids there, just farmers' kids. And I remember I had a classmate and it's hard to believe, but he was the biggest kid in the class, Japanese descent. He was big. And later on, after the war, when we got back from, from camps, I had noticed that he was participating in Japanese league sports, and I can see it 'cause he was very athletic, and not only was he big, but he was athletic. And he was playing in, I guess his favorite sport must've been baseball or somethin'. He was a pitcher. But I thought, my gosh, I'm surprised, because at the time when we were playmates, classmates, you could tell he was different from the rest of us. He was capable. We, we were inept. [Laughs] You know, you know how some kids stand out like that. But he was the biggest kid in our class, and I'm not talkin' about just Japanese, among all the Caucasian kids, he was bigger than they were. In hindsight I think that was incredible, that, you don't usually find that. The Japanese kids are typically smaller and shorter, but not him. He was normal sized and bigger.

RP: Your, your asthma had a real impact on your early education. Can you share with that, with us?

YW: Yeah, my asthma was unfortunate. At, starting at about age five or six or so, it became a weekly thing, every third week I would be absent for a week. I went back and looked at my school records years ago and I had noticed that I missed about thirty percent of my class time. And this persisted for an awful long time, until about the sixth grade. When I left camp after finishing the sixth grade, came back to school and started the seventh grade, and seventh grade was no different. It was bad, and as a result my grades suffered tremendously 'cause I wasn't following up on the class very well. But all of a sudden it's like the Almighty decided I had enough and turned off the switch, and from the eighth grade on I was fine. And to this day I don't understand how that happened, because the only medicine that was available to me at the time was an atomizer that we would spray my throat with, with a spray, and that would give me maybe an hour's worth of relief, two hours' worth of relief and then I'd be back to wheezin' again. So that was the way I grew up through the seventh grade, from about the kindergarten through seventh grade. It's a disease that just came on and it just quit all of a sudden. About seven or eight years later it just stopped. Fortunately. I couldn't have gone to college if it, if it kept that up. Yeah.

RP: Did, before the war, do you remember any instances of discrimination or prejudice in your community, the area that you grew up in, or any, anything of that nature directed at you personally that you realized suddenly, you know, "I'm Japanese. I'm different"?

YW: At the school we were perfectly accepted. The kids were all great. And being isolated on the farms out there, you didn't see much of the world, outside world, so the only time I found something rather hideous is when I got back from camp. We... how did that work out? We traveled about three and a half days leaving Rohwer, ended up in Union Station in Los Angeles, disembarked from the train, and they said, "Lots of luck, you're on your own," right? We were told by a friend to catch the red car, come down to Long Beach and take it to the end, and today the end would be almost, at the time we got off it was Third and American Avenue. That's where the Long Beach Post Office is. So the man told us to get off at the Post Office and stay there and "I'll come and pick you up." And that's how it happened, so we get off, we got our luggage with us -- whatever we can carry we had -- and the first introduction I had to Long Beach was some grizzly lookin' old Caucasian man looked at me, says, "You dirty Jap." [Laughs] That was my introduction to Long Beach. That was the first and only time I was treated like that. Never heard those words before. I'm sittin' there, said, what's the matter with this guy? I don't even know him, right? But I was gonna be in the seventh grade, so I knew what he was saying. But once I started school the kids were very good. Never did it come up. Good people. Kids were nice. I had no problems.

RP: A lot of kids who, who grew up on a farm like you kind of had to make their own fun. What do you remember doing as a kid, for fun and playing?

YW: As a kid for fun, on the farm, it was marble, playing marbles and riding our bikes. That was about it. We didn't have any, there's only one or two of us, so, this big kid that I was talkin' about, his father was growing flowers on the other side of El Segundo Boulevard and the street that connected his house to my house today would be Van Ness Boulevard, basically, so he lived at one end of Van Ness and we lived at the other end, and since we were classmates we'd come and visit each other and play. But typically the play, at that time, had to do with just biking and talking and watching, lookin' at comic books and things. That was it. There wasn't much else to do. If there's only two of you, you can't do much. We had more fun at school, the language school. The kids would invent games and we'd play whatever games they invented at the time. But that was after school every day, so we got to see other kids, but once on the weekend it's just he and I would bike to each other's homes and do whatever we did. There wasn't much in the way of playing things, but I think in some ways we played better in camp. We had a lot of kids on the block that you played with and grew up with.

RP: So your father had this, made this killing on, on his flowers --

YW: Yeah, that one, couple of weeks it was good for him.

RP: Right, and he was continuing to prepare the ground and grow flowers, and then suddenly everything changes.

YW: Everything hit the fan.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

RP: December 7, 1941.

YW: Right. The first rule they passed on him was, "You're an alien, you can't live within so many miles of a defense plant."

RP: And that was (east) of...

YW: (East) of Grumman, maybe less than a mile, mile and a half away, and the limit was five miles. How's a guy gonna ranch his flowers from five miles away? Well, what he did was, they said, "You can't be there at night. You can be there during the day." So he transported his sorting and processing to another facility and he went there during the daytime and left before it got dark.

RP: Which facility was that?

YW: Okay, the way that worked out was when the war broke out, when they got this five mile limit restriction, he had to figure out somewhere else to go live. We couldn't all live there at night, so there was a Japanese language school in Gardena, and today I'm guessing it's at about 125th or -30th and Broadway. There was a big area under the power lines or whatever, this Japanese man started a language school and a lot of the local people sent their kids there, but when the war broke out he had to stop everything and the buildings were empty. So he heard about the plight of all these people, so he offered the use of his facilities for temporary housing, so we used the classrooms for housing. Now, there was three families that ended up there. On the corner of Crenshaw and El Segundo Boulevard there was an elderly couple that used to grow specimen trees for the nursery business, and his specialty was trees. He and his wife moved into the Japanese language school, and then the person that helped us out, get the trailer court, was from Terminal Island. He had to leave overnight, so he moved into the Japanese language school, and among his family he had a son that was (...) my age, so we became playmates. And eventually, (a few months) later, his family ended up in Manzanar, my family ended up in Rohwer -- or Santa Anita first, then Rohwer -- whereas he didn't, he didn't go to Santa Anita. He went directly from there to Manzanar.

RP: And the irony was that, I guess, the authorities said that your mother could live on the farm because she was a citizen.

YW: She's an American citizen, right? You like that? You could do that. How's she gonna do anything? It was tough, tough, tough.

RP: And so what was life like for you in that time that you, you lived out in this school?

YW: So we had to change schools, grammar school. We found another grammar school to go to. We went there maybe a period of six months, temporarily, and then we all got incarcerated after that. So by February, March time period the following year, '42, we were all being rustled off to camps. I ended up in Santa Anita, temporary quarters. I got to live in the stables. (My wife) got to live in the barracks on the parking lot. She says she was a high tone person so they put her in the parking lot. [Laughs]

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

RP: So let's talk a little bit about sort of that, that rough transition from leaving the farm, then going to the language school, and then going to Santa Anita. What arrangements did you make, your father, in terms of his, his farming situation, his operation?

YW: He did two things. He had tools and a lot of lumber that he had used. Fortunately for him, he had good relationship with the lumber yard in Gardena that he was doing business with for a number of years. He talked them into reserving a spot in the yard somewhere where he could bring his lumber and store it there. He said, "I don't know what this is gonna end up being, but if you could hold it there for me I'd appreciate it." I mean, he was a good customer, right? So they said, "Sure, bring it over here." So he, what little tools he had left he put over there, he put the lumber over there, and lo and behold, when he got back after camp, there they were. They said, "Take what, it's yours. Take it back." So that was one thing that he was able to take care of, but the crops he lost totally. What are you gonna do? You can't pull 'em up and sell 'em.

RP: That's the crop that he already had plus the crop that he --

YW: The following years were going. They're, I mean, he lost two, three acres of crops, and that's a lot of money involved there.

RP: Is there any way you can estimate how much that might've...

YW: I have no idea. I have no idea what carnations were at the time. It, he had to abandon it. what can you do? You can't take it with you. Most farmers had to just abandon their crops.

RP: Well, he had to cancel his lease with the...

YW: Yeah, he had to go to Johnson Ranch offices, said, "You know what happened. Everything hit the fan, so I got to foreclose on the lease, shut it off." So he just signed off and left. The only thing that saved him was he still had his bank account.

RP: B of A?

YW: But there was one other problem. In order to help his folks back home in Japan, he was putting money also in a different account with Sumitomo Bank. And in fact, many Japanese were doing that. Those bank accounts were frozen and stolen by the Japanese government. They shut it down. They, we can't, we have receipts that says we deposited ye many thousands of dollars in these accounts and we can't get 'em out. That's what happens when you're on the losing side, right? Japanese side lost, they confiscated all the accounts. So not only did he lose his crops here, he lost part of his account in the bank. He should've put it all in Bank of America, but the reason he left it in Sumitomo Bank was so his father and mother could get at it to use. There was, there was a few thousand dollars left in those accounts that he couldn't get his hands on. And a few thousand dollars in 1941 was a lot of money. So that was his loss.

RP: Do you remember, during this time of real upheaval and big changes for your, for your parents and you, do you remember sensing any emotions from them or how they were feeling about suddenly their life is sort of uprooting?

YW: There was a word in the Japanese language called shikata ga nai, which means "can't be helped." You know, what are you gonna do? It's beyond our powers. Go with the flow. And that's what happened.

RP: Tell us about the, your next home was the horse stalls at Santa Anita Racetrack.

YW: Santa (Anita Race) Track, Santa Anita, right.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

RP: Alright, this is a continuation of an oral history with Yo Wakamiya. This is tape two, and Yo, can you, do you remember the day that you drove in that army truck in the rain to Santa Anita?

YW: I remember it raining, and I thought it was like February, March time period. I don't remember exactly. And all I remember is we had a few suitcases. We were picked up at some local pickup spot where they told us to meet, and a bunch of us in a caravan of trucks were taken into Santa Anita on this rainy day.

RP: And you mentioned that your father had a truck that he used to haul his --

YW: Yeah, he had a, what do you call those things, anyway? Oh, panel trucks, right. And I don't know whether he drove that to Santa Anita and then, and then sold it to some buyer or whether he sold it before he left, but he did sell it. And that was it. We didn't have a car anymore after that.

RP: Can you describe to us what you saw when you first got to Santa Anita?

YW: I saw the guard towers, barbed wire fences, and a gate that we went through. And we went to a processing area to get assigned one of the (horse stalls), and so it's kind of like an unknown. We weren't sure what we were gettin' into here. But that was it, and then when we finally were assigned our stall, couldn't imagine what it was. I'd never been in a horse stall before. It was a two sectioned area. If you went in there was a front, front room and then they had a gate, put a horse in the back, I guess they could put two horses in there, but we used the whole facility for, for our family. And they gave us straw to fill our mattresses with and that was our bedding.

RP: That's perfect for an asthmatic.

YW: Yeah, it's wonderful. Just, just perfect for me, right? And so we slept on cots with straw mats that we stuffed ourselves, right? And then the cafeteria situation was, there was several cafeterias scattered throughout the complex and they were given names by color, so there was an orange cafeteria, there was a red cafeteria, whatever. I don't remember which one we were assigned to, but everybody was assigned to a cafeteria according to where they lived, so it was close by. Now, everybody had to do some work, had to get candy and cigarette money, right? So they hired us to man the kitchens, so we did our own cooking. We had a group of Japanese people who cooked and washed the dishes and maintained the kitchens. Can you imagine that? "Now that we got you set up you can cook your own food now." [Laughs] So the government provided the food and we provided the manpower.

RP: In, your father worked in one of those mess halls?

YW: Yeah, he, he didn't cook or anything, but he says, "I'll go get a job. I'll do whatever." Just to stay busy, right? So I think he was washing dishes for a while. And that didn't last very long, about six months and then we were kicked out of there, we had to go somewhere else, so we ended up in Rohwer. In Rohwer he did something else. He became a carpenter there. And then, I can tell you about that later.

RP: Your mom also worked in, in Santa Anita, too. What did she do?

YW: Yeah, she was helping with the camouflage job. They were asking us to help put camouflages together, so they had these nettings hung and we were stringing, not cheesecloth, looked like gunny sack strips of various colors, and we were stringin' it through the netting. But can you imagine? They're asking the inmates to make camouflage nets to protect ourselves, right? 'Cause they're gonna hang it over the Santa Anita buildings. And perhaps if they had extra they would ship it off to somewhere else that would use these, use these nets. But the inmates were being asked to help with the nets. I thought that's kind of rather, rather too much, you know. "First we jail you, now you can cover yourself up with netting."

RP: You remember seeing these nets out there?

YW: Oh yeah. Yeah, I went to visit my mother. I said, "What are you doing here?" She said, "They asked us to make nets, so we're making nets." But they're paid, took time away from the regular days, so days went by fast. But as an adult I start thinkin' about it, I wonder what's going on. They're asking us as inmates to make our own nettings. It didn't sit well at all and I thought, what is going on here? The other thing I noticed was guards in the guard towers, armed. But the thing I thought was humorous was there was a guard tower next to the baseball field, and the Japanese are quick to take up activities like sports, so they started sports leagues. That was just a continuation of the sports leagues that they had outside of camp. Right, so they just continued playing in the camps, and the, one of the guard towers was right (...) near home plate at this baseball field, so the guards had a good time. They just watched a ball game. And I thought this is wonderful. We're providing entertainment for them as well.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

RP: And how did you pass your time? You, suddenly you had a whole bunch of kids to play with.

YW: Yeah, well you know, at our age there wasn't much to do because there wasn't, there weren't anything that we can play with, so we just kind of, I guess looked at comic books and things like that, and went to school. Our school was interesting. They used the cafeteria facilities of the, that were built into the grandstand facility, and we also used the open air facilities when it was hot and we just had our classes in the stands. So if people ask me, "Where'd you go to school?" I say it's a little hard to explain. [Laughs] I spent about six months in this grammar school, part of it was in the cafeteria tables, and when it got too hot in there we went outside to the grandstands.

RP: So the grandstand grammar school.

YW: Yeah. So we just, couldn't do much writing out there, but I mean, we could do reading, so that's the kind of thing they did. And the teaching staff was, at least at my level, was comprised of a lot of the Japanese American ladies who were university students, so they just volunteered to help with our teaching. So I remember I had a couple ladies who taught us until they too were being sent off to other camps, so they said, "This is the last day we're gonna be here." They'd tell us, "Tomorrow I don't know who's gonna do this class. But we were told to leave, so we're leaving." I remember that. So these young ladies were sent off to some other camp, like Manzanar or wherever, and they pretty much had to shut down the, the schools because people started being sent off to other places, so they just said, "Let's shut this down," and they just shut it down. So my, my third grade class was in Santa Anita. [Laughs] What little I had in third grade was there. And I finished up my grammar school when I went to Rohwer, finished up the third grade and then started the fourth grade following year. So I didn't really have any interruption in grades or anything, so I went from third grade through sixth grade in camp, and then when I came out I was in the seventh grade.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

RP: Now, your asthmatic condition played a part in, in the --

YW: Yes, going to Rohwer.

RP: -- the camp you went to.

YW: Yeah.

RP: Can you explain?

YW: My dad, being concerned about my health, asked the person that was lining up these people to go to the different camps and he asked if there was a chance to change the location if possible. And he told him the reason, he said, "Well, you got a good reason." He says, "California's dry. That's Manzanar." He said, "That's where one group is going. We could send you to Arkansas if you want, and that's humid and wet. Don't know what to tell you, but those are the two choices." So I remember my mother and he talkin' about this and they said, "Let's take a chance with Arkansas," 'cause it wasn't much better here, so that's how we ended up in Arkansas. So three and a half days on a train and we ended up in Arkansas.

RP: What do you remember most about that trip?

YW: Tiring. Boring. Nothing to do, you know. You just sit in the rickety train. We didn't get Pullman accommodations. The people that got Pullman accommodations were the people that were in the hospitals, the patients. Those people got, they needed that, so they gave 'em the extra help. But the rest of us were sitting day and night like this on hard benches, three and a half days. Clickety clack, clickety clack, all day, all night. And one thing I do remember is every now and then we would have to pull over at a siding on a train track because a military train was going by us. In those days they still had soldiers running around the country in trains, and they had first priority, so we, we weren't in any hurry. They were, so they'd pull us off to the side and we'd wait half an hour for them to go by, put us back on the main track and continue our trip. So I remember that happening a couple of times. I do remember one time we stopped in Arizona in the daylight and lo and behold, these people were trying to sell us things. Vendors were trying to sell us things through the window.

RP: Like what? What kind of things?

YW: Oh, you know, candy, sandwiches, whatever. Nothing much, but I mean, they were selling. I said, what are they doing over there? This is a new thing for me. I've never seen this before. But I can see it. People are trying to vend their foods and goods. So I remember that.

RP: So this was your first time ever on a train?

YW: Yes, first for me.

RP: And it was your first time ever out of Los Angeles, too.

YW: Yes. Right. New experience. They said we were goin' to Arkansas. I knew nothing about the geography of this country at the time, and they said it's gonna take us three and a half days, and I said, I had no idea what three and a half days was gonna be like on the train. It was hardest on the parents. It was (...) agonizing, you know? Kids, we'd find, we'd wander around the train and meet up with other kids and go up and down the train and raise ruckus, and pretty soon the parents would say, "You got to calm it down, slow down. You're giving people headaches." But I do remember meals on the train. We'd go, you'd go to the train where they had the food, serving meals. And to this day I'm galled by the, by the fact that they expected us to tip those people.

RP: On the train?

YW: Hey, they're serving us. I understand that, but hey, they should be tipped by the government, not me. I thought that was kind of crude.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

RP: What are your first most vivid memories of coming into Rohwer, the landscape? What caught your attention?

YW: Trees. We got into an area in the southeast part of Arkansas, it was pretty much wooded and swampland, so we ended up in the middle of a cotton field, next to a cotton field. One side was open cotton field, the other side was something that the government leased from the owner of the land down there. And the size of the camp was one square mile, one by one, and then it was all fenced in with barbed wire. I remember the guard towers again. They were armed guards. I don't know whether it was every quarter mile or every half mile, but they had guard towers. And we were taken to the administration building (where) they unloaded us onto these trucks, processed us, and said, "This bunch goes to this block," so we ended up going to the block, and when we got there we went to a particular barrack where they had assignments for each family. And so I ended up in Block 16, Barrack 1, Unit D. I remember that. And the kitchen was communal, but we had to provide our own cooks, and the fuel they used was coal. I never knew that you could burn rocks. It's the first time I saw that, and I was wondering what that pile of rocks was. They said, "That's coal." I said, "What's coal?" And so that was my introduction to coal burning. And then they said you could also get those coal with your bucket and take it back to your barracks where you have a potbellied stove, and that's what you feed it with. No wood, just that. So we were burning coal for our heat.

RP: Was there, there was your parents, you, and your younger brother. Were, when you first got there and were assigned to your barrack room, was there another family also placed in there as well?

YW: No, we were, each family was assigned a unit depending on their size. Now, the barracks had, let's see, I think eight units. The end units were the biggest, and then the one next to them were, were small units for two people, and then the next unit was our size and it was, it was typically for four people, and then you flip it over and it's the same the other way. So you had, I think, eight units in our barracks, and each one had a potbellied stove, each one had beds, if you will, if you can call 'em beds. They were just cots.

RP: Did you have to stuff your mattresses with straw again?

YW: I think these were a little better that way. I don't think they, we had to stuff these. I think they were stuffed already with something else. I think ordinary mattresses. That was it. And then you had to, I think we brought our own bedding. That was about it. And so, then there's a little closet in the corner where you can hang your clothes, a little space there. And that was about it.

RP: One big open room, no partitions?

YW: No partitions or nothing, and what you did was, this is where you slept and stayed during the day unless you wandered around, and then they had breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the, at the block communal kitchen, manned by the internees, if you will.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

RP: How were you called to meals? Was there a...

YW: There was fixed times, but you can tell. They rang a triangular bell. You know, ding ding ding. But that was it. Hour and a half for lunch, hour and a half for breakfast, hour and a half for dinner.

RP: Did your family eat together?

YW: Yes. We did. Lot of times lot of families, kids scattered, 'cause the older kids, they wanted to be with their buddies, so I think that had a lot to do with breaking down of the family structure in many ways, because the parents were really not in control anymore. The schedule was not set by them, they didn't cook the food. But it kind of, a lot of sociologists have studied this problem. They said they think they, the family structure was somewhat destroyed because of this looseness of the way things were run that way.

RP: That, did that occur with you and your parents?

YW: No, we were too young yet to be wandering off on our own, so we just, just ate with the family.

RP: Were tables assigned to families?

YW: No, you just, first come first served, you sit where you, you sit where you can. And there's a bunch of what looks like picnic benches, tables. Two rows, I think maybe three, four rows of these things, and that pretty much serves the block.

RP: How was the food in your mess hall?

YW: My parents thought it was awful, 'cause they were primarily used to Japanese food, but the chefs tried to mix in some of that where they could, but you got to get special ingredients for that and that was always hard. They had the rice. They got the rice. They were able to get soy sauce.

RP: You have any tofu or miso?

YW: Tofu, in fact, that's interesting, in 1944, '45 time period my father worked in the tofu factory in camp, (...) after he quit his carpenter's job. He found this other job, so he learned how to make tofu, and by the time he left camp he was the manager of the tofu factory in camp. 'Cause all the other guys had left, so he was the senior guy there, so he said he had to run the place.

RP: Did you ever get to see the tofu factory?

YW: I never saw it, no. But I knew it was there 'cause he would bring some home. [Laughs] He said, "Had a little extra, so I brought some home." But that was a big deal. You couldn't get that kind of food just anywhere.

RP: So the food changed over time?

YW: Yeah, a little bit, but it's hard to prepare food for a lot of people, for one thing, and when you don't have the proper ingredients it's tough. And for me, an innovation for me was stew, beef stew. We didn't have a lot of that sort of thing at home, so when they started servin' us this in camp I said, what in the world is this? So it was a little strange, but I got used to it.

RP: Were there other foods that also kind of attracted your attention?

YW: I'm trying to think what else they fed us. It's hard to imagine.

RP: In Manzanar people always complain they got a lot of mutton, you know, old sheep.

YW: Yeah, that, that's a problem for sure. I don't think we were fortunate that way. [Laughs]

RP: I don't know if you'd call it fortunate. Apple butter was another...

YW: Yeah, apple butter. Oh my.

RP: Never experienced in Japanese...

YW: Yeah, it was too much. Apple butter was too much. I remember that.

RP: Liver, liver and onions.

YW: Some things were familiar; lot of things were not. I just... what do you expect? This is, there just tryin' to keep us alive, not keep us happy. [Laughs]

RP: The latrines were also another sort of communal part of life in the block.

YW: The restrooms?

RP: Yeah, the latrines.

YW: Yes, yeah the restroom facilities were men and women, split up into two halves there, and the toilet seats were not private. They were just lined up, so there's no separation walls. Doing this to Japanese people is a little crude because we were used to our privacy. And the showers were also open, so it was a communal shower, so that was awful. A lot of people went to the showers late in the evenings to get a little more privacy.

RP: Do you remember a time later on in camp when there were stalls separating...

YW: Only if they put 'em in themselves.

RP: And did some people do that?

YW: Some people did that, yeah. The men's side I don't think they did that, but they did it for the women's side. Men decided they would build 'em something. They went and got some scrap lumber and put together some temporary walls for them. Yeah.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

RP: And you said that your father initially began working as a carpenter.

YW: Yes, what he was -- this is kind of ironic -- he was helping build facilities for the administration personnel. So their barracks weren't completely made yet, so some of 'em were, but they needed more help, so he was good with a hammer and stuff, so he went over there and helped 'em out. And after a few months that was over. They had to make facilities for people who were gonna live on campus there, so I imagine the administrators and, I don't know if the teachers lived on campus or not. We had a lot of Caucasian teachers among the staff there, and I don't know whether they lived there or -- must've, because if they lived off campus they'd have to go twenty miles, thirty miles away. Nearest, nearest town was McGehee and that was like, I don't know, I'm guessing fifteen, twenty miles away. I don't know.

RP: Did your father also help improve your barrack room by making furniture or any other...

YW: He didn't make much in the way of furniture. If he did I don't remember.

RP: Do you remember improvements to your barrack room?

YW: Not much. We didn't have much. Maybe just a bench or something, that's about it, and a table. But what are you gonna do with it? It's, you don't need it.

RP: Anything else about your block that you remember? Any recreational equipment or...

YW: Let's see now, every block assigned one barrack for recreational purposes, so they had ping pong tables. They also had, but they did, I don't know that they provided any balls, like basketballs or footballs. A lot, I know a lot of kids had their own, so we'd play games on our own. The recreation hall, I think, in hindsight looks like a waste because it wasn't used that much. There wasn't much there. But it was there, they could say they had provided it, but what are you gonna do with it? The kids kind of made up their own games. Kick the can, stuff like that.

RP: Capture the flag.

YW: Capture the flag, we played that. Played marbles. Made these little toys I showed you.

RP: Yeah, maybe we can get that on camera there.

YW: We made these toys --

RP: Can you tell us, you, you actually that made that in Rohwer?

YW: I made this in camp, yeah. Well, I made this the other night. I said, I got to show 'em a demonstration model, but my mother used to work in the area where they had sewing machines, to repair things, your clothes and stuff, and they had a lot of these available, so she just brought some home and then the kids played with this. [Shows toy made from empty thread spool] Shall I roll this on the floor?

KP: Sure.

YW: Can you get it down on the floor there?

KP: I can.

YW: Okay, see here. [Rolls toy on the floor, all laugh] Part of our toy making was one of those. We also made stilts. Do you know what stilts look like? We used to walk on those things. We'd go down to the lumber pile and get scrap lumber, make stilts. In fact, I made one, I have one at home. I didn't know if I could bring it, so I didn't.

RP: Oh, one that you made in camp you still have?

YW: No, no, no. I made it later. I told my kids I could ride stilts. They says, "Do what?" I said, "I can do something you guys can't do." I said, "I had to make this myself in camp." I said, "We just scrapped together wood, nails, somebody had a saw, we'd cut the thing to the shape."

RP: So how tall would these stilts be?

YW: Oh, I'd make 'em his high off the ground and walk like this and then we'd have combat. The kids would try to knock each other off these things, so that was one way we kept ourselves busy. And then we played our sports with the balls. Primarily it was football 'cause there was not much in the way of basketball facility. It was dirt.

RP: You didn't have a basketball court in your block?

YW: No. We had a basketball net, a hoop up, put up, but you couldn't use it much 'cause the ground was not exactly flat. But we played football. We made up our own games and played.

RP: Right. And you mentioned that your block actually had, was a training field for a football team?

YW: Yeah, the high school level kids formed teams and the one, Block 1 was the one next door to us and we were Block 16, so when it goes, the camp was labeled One through Eight, Nine through Sixteen, so Block 1 and 16 were next to each other, okay? So Block 1, there was a young man there that used to play football at UCLA before he got incarcerated, and so he, he took it upon himself to put a team together. They asked him to coach the team. Turns out he was a very good coach and he formed a team and they used our, our open space in the block as training facilities for that team. And the teams that were formed, there was, there was a bunch of people that came in from Stockton, California, that were on the other side of the camp. They, they had a similar kind of arrangement. They had somebody who could put a team together, so they did, and I think they were called the Blue Devils or something. I don't know. I think that's what it was. Blue Devils from Stockton, California. So we were the Joker Ys from L.A. area, and they, we played these guys, and I don't know if there was a third team or not, but these were the high school level kids that played the game. And I think we might've had exchanges with the Jerome people. If they have a team we'd make arrangements to go to each other's facilities and play, but...

RP: You get tired of playing your own people.

YW: Yeah, that's right. So we had, there was one kid on our team, he was a really nifty ball hawk. He was, they made him the wide receiver or the end on this team and he could really snag that ball. And so he was the, the long term ball catcher. They sent him down and he made the papers. They'd write about him. "Hey, they got a great guy who can catch the ball." Well, somebody had to deliver it to him, right, but we had a guy that could throw the ball pretty well. So that was an interesting thing and this team hardly lost. They were very good. And, well, that was good, these guys had something to do for the older kids. That was good. And I think later on when they built that, you know that museum facility you have? We had, we had a facility like that in camp, but they used, used for indoor basketball, stuff like that. And they also used that for group gatherings and things.

RP: Activities.

YW: Yeah. But I don't ever remember seeing basketball being played, 'cause that building was on the other side of the camp for us, so we didn't normally go there.

RP: Can you give us the name of the coach who established this team?

YW: Matsui.

RP: Victor?

YW: Victor. Victor Matsui. Do you know him? Victor Matsui, yes. He was the coach.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

RP: You shared with us the story before we started the interview about...

YW: A player on the team?

RP: One of the players on the team.

YW: When my kids finished high school -- was it before high school? He was a summer student. He was lookin' for a job, and... what company was that? Was that Sylvania?

Off camera: Magnavox.

YW: Magnavox? Magnavox, in Torrance, hired him as a summer gopher. You know, hire a kid. And one day he comes home to me, he says, "I met another Japanese fellow who's a permanent employee there and his name was Jack Kitahata." I said, "Jack Kitahata?" I said, "I wonder if that's the same guy that used to play football in camp." I said, "Ask him when you go back to work tomorrow whether he was ever called Jackson Kitahata." So my kid comes home, he says, "Guess what, Dad? You hit it right on the nose. That was Jackson Kitahata." He says he was shocked to hear that, I knew a name like that. He asked my son, "Where'd you get that name?" He says, "Nobody's ever called me that since I left camp." He said, "Well, my dad used to watch you play football when you were in camp, if you're the same guy." He says yeah. He says, "You used to be a terrific fullback for the team." The guy's jaw dropped. He said, "I don't believe." Here it is, thirty, forty years later, right? And his past was catchin' up with him. Turns out Mr. Kitahata had a cousin or a brother whose wife that, my wife worked with in the Girl Scouts, so we're closin' the loop along the past. It was interesting. Says, "Yeah, you used to be quite a football player." And he used to play fullback. I said, "But he wasn't all that big." Said, "Well yeah, neither was the team." It was, that team was probably more like a B football team, size wise, because all the Japanese kids were short. They weren't very big. But he was the fullback on that team. My son said, "I shocked my coworker by askin' him if he was ever called Jackson Kitahata." Said, "Nobody's called me that in all these years. Where'd you get that?" And he told him the story. He says, "I can't believe it." So I went to pick him up one day and I met him. I said, "You shocked that we knew your name?" [Laughs] Small world, right?

RP: Gettin' smaller. Do you remember judo or sumo wrestling in the camp?

YW: We saw sumo wrestling. In fact, Victor Matsui, the coach for football, was the top ranked sumo wrestler in camp. He was quite an athlete. He was a pretty big guy and there weren't too many people that could take him on. But this thing was done maybe several blocks from home. They put up a pit out there, a raised platform, and they put that together. And my dad loves sumo, so we used to go down there and watch whenever they had a meet and typically Victor Matsui would be the winner. Yeah, he was, I remember that. But that was practiced whenever they had an opportunity. Now, the other martial arts things like kendo --

RP: And judo?

YW: -- I didn't see those. They, they may have occurred, but I was not aware of that. Yeah. All I remember is football and sumo.

RP: You remember celebrating Christmas in Rohwer?

YW: Every block had a Christmas tree and the Christmas presents were provided by support from the outside. I remember one year getting a book and the book was provided by a church from Boston, Massachusetts, so I guess the Christian churches went out and solicited donations for these things. And that's how I got to reading. Hey, this is good. I can read. I don't have a TV, right? What's a TV? So I learned to start reading books and the library was my best friend, 'cause whenever I was sick I'd have a book on hand to read. Lassie Come Home was the first big book I had a chance to read.

RP: In camp?

YW: In camp. Right.

KP: We have that, a reproduction of that version. We sell it in our bookstore.

YW: What is that?

KP: Lassie Come Home.

YW: Oh, good.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

RP: I was gonna ask you, you got to know the area around the camp.

YW: Yes.

RP: Eventually --

YW: We escaped. [Laughs] No, what it is is after a few months the guards realized we weren't goin' anywhere and the administration decided there was no point in putting guards, guards in the towers. Nobody's running off. I don't know. They, all they got to do is think, where we gonna run off to, right? So the guards pretty much disappeared, so we started getting a little more daring every day and start crawling under the fence and going beyond the railroad tracks. And pretty soon the guy says, "Hey, I hear there's a bayou out there." I said, "What's a bayou?" He said, "It's a big pond of water. You think it's okay to go over there?" Says, "Well, who's gonna stop us?" So we carefully crawled along the fence line and then got out, went out to see this bayou. And it became our swimming hole. It also became a fishing hole for the adults. They would go out there. I know, I remember this one man, he would religiously go there about every day, three in the afternoon, to go fish. And he was looking for garfish. You know what a garfish is? A garfish looks like, physically looks like a barracuda, slim and long, but the skin had a hard shell. The scales were very hard. And so I said, "What are you guys gonna do with this? You can hardly eat this fish." But they were using it for trophy. They would bring it home and gut it and salt it and dry it out, and that's their idea of taxidermy, you see? They had a trophy. But what they really liked about those fish was it had a, a long beak with sawtooth teeth. It was a fighter, so they loved the fight. So they got wise and got, started using wire leaders because those things would just cut up anything else, and they, these guys would typically bring home one or two of those. And that was their fun. That's how the older guys figured out how to have a little fun. Us kids went out to the levies that fed the bayou and fished for trout -- not trout, but...

RP: Crappie.

YW: Yeah, crappie.

RP: How'd you do?

YW: Once in a while I'd catch one or something, but I'm not much of a fisherman then or now. But it was fun.

RP: What did you use for a rod?

YW: You make your own.

RP: Piece of wood?

YW: Piece of wood. You'd find a limber stick. Somebody, somebody got some bamboo, I don't know where from. And little by little we'd accumulate a little bit of a fishing kit, if you will, put together.

RP: What would you use for bait? Would you find worms?

YW: You find worms, yeah. Worms were not too hard to find. But that's what we did and that, somehow we spent some time beyond the fences. And pretty soon people says, you know what, they're not gonna watch us. We're gonna come back and eat here anyways, so they quit watchin' us.

RP: You mentioned that also folks would, like, would go out and sit under the trees, in the shade during the summertime, relax.

YW: Yeah. One thing I noticed that the elderly Japanese craftsmen did, they went to the, some of the bayous and they would go after cypress stumps. And these cypress things would have root stalks that came up out of the water like this, and they would sever those things from the tree and bring it home and dry it out and make decorations. They would dry it out and varnish it, so it's a wood decoration. And I don't know if we had one at home or not.

RP: Your dad did that?

YW: My dad didn't do it, but he, somebody must've given him one, if anything. But a lot of these guys that were very artistic would see things like that, in the wood, and said, they would bring home these cypress stumps and work on it, dry it out and work on it and pretty soon polish it up and it'd be a little decoration and, and the, find a little empty bottle, find some flowers, put it in, it's a nice decoration for the sparse surroundings of the house.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

RP: You got a, a chance to go out of camp to McGehee one time.

YW: Yes.

RP: Can you tell us about that?

YW: Yeah, the way that worked out was my dad knew the person that was driving the mail truck. We had to go out to McGehee because that was our biggest mailstop, where federal mail is delivered, so they go pick up the camp mail there and bring it in. When he heard about this he asked the guy if it was okay if he hitched a ride into McGehee with him. He said, "I don't see why not as long as there aren't too many of you." He said, "Well, me and my oldest son would like to try it." So we took this fifteen, twenty minute drive, or twenty mile drive, whatever it was, and the man went to pick up the mail and he told us, "Why don't you go to the ice cream shop and go get yourself some ice cream across the way?" So that's what we did. The proprietor probably was shocked to see Asian faces walk in ordering ice cream. [Laughs] Probably thought the prisoners escaped or somethin', right? But that was, I think, the one and only time I did that, but it was an interesting experience. I was a little hesitant and nervous about it. I said, "You do, you don't suppose they're gonna throw us in jail for doin' this?" "Hey, what are they gonna do?" Right? Kids.

RP: Right. Broke out of your security zone there and met the world.

YW: Right. So a lot of people started to leave the confines of the camp and a lot of the older people would go out fishing 'cause they loved to fish, and they'd find these fishing holes and they'd bring home garfish and things like that. They had to do something to kill time, so they would do that.

RP: And you would see these fish mounted on their, on their walls?

YW: Yeah. I wanted to see what he did, he said, "This is what I did." And I saw one when he caught it. It was, the darn things were tough, and you could see the teeth that it had. I thought, wow, you don't want to put your finger in there. And these guys would mount these things, and I thought, well, that's a nice hobby. Got to have to do something.

RP: There was some interesting creatures around Rohwer, the fish as well as the water moccasins.

YW: Water moccasins in the, in the water. Snakes, I guess. And then we had squirrels in the trees that we enjoyed watching. And I learned to eat pecans 'cause they, it was growing wild in the trees out in the forest, so pecans became one of my favorite nuts.

RP: How about those chiggers?

YW: I'm sorry?

RP: How about those chiggers?

YW: Awful. They would get into your groin and bite you 'til you quit. It hurts. It's embarrassing. You can't be scratching on your gonads all day, all night. [Laughs] But people say, "Chiggers? What are chiggers?" I say, "You'll know when they bite you." Yeah, that was awful. Between mosquitoes and chiggers, it was awful. But what can you do? That's the environment.

RP: What did you, as you lived in Rohwer, did you adjust and adapt to that change of climate and environment?

YW: I was still sick. It didn't matter. I was, turns out it didn't matter. I was still sick. And until I got out of there I was still doin' my thirty percent. I'd get sick about every third week and I'd be down for about four days.

RP: Just in bed all day?

YW: Yeah. You know what it is, you wheeze all day, and cough and wheeze, and to help with the cough and wheezing, there was medicine, but it's not as good as what it is today. The best they could do for us at the time was give us a liquid fluid medicine that we put in an atomizer, then you'd pump the atomizer and spray your throat. And that would give you relief for maybe half an hour, an hour at most. And that's no way to live. And I suffered like that through camp and through the seventh grade when I left camp, for about a year, and then all of a sudden it just stopped. I didn't take any new medicines or anything. It just quit. Thank goodness it stopped.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

RP: Tell us about attending school in, at Rohwer, what that was like.

YW: Okay, I attended grammar school from the third grade through the sixth grade. And we had, the majority of the teachers I had were Caucasians that were brought in from the Arkansas school district. I remember the names of two of 'em. Fourth grade teacher was Miss Hayes and the sixth grade teacher was Mrs. Rutherford. She had a teenage daughter that would come in and help her once in a while, grade papers and things. So we had a single lady and a married lady. And then the fifth grade teacher was an older Caucasian lady, but I can't place, I could see her face almost, but I can't remember her name. But they're all competent, did their job, and were accepting of us in our situation. And Mrs. Rutherford did something interesting for the class. She said, "We're gonna have an election this year 'cause Roosevelt's running for office and so is Dewey. And so you guys," she said, "you guys can campaign for each one and I'm gonna give you time to do that. Then at the end of the week we will take a vote." And so we made up little booths to vote in and she made up ballots and gave us a firsthand experience of how democracy is run. And I can't remember who won, but I voted for Dewey because I wasn't gonna vote for the man that put me in jail. But that was an interesting experience. She used the opportunity to teach us something, see? It was good.

RP: What kind of student were you? Were you...

YW: Being sick all the time, I was probably a C-plus, B-minus student. Yeah.

RP: When you weren't sick you were dedicated?

YW: I was fine. Turns out I was, I was pretty good at math. That's one subject I didn't flunk. But, in fact, it was kind of interesting. Once I got out of camp I ended up in a school in Long Beach, and one of the classes I took was metal shop as a junior high student, and the instructor I had was a Jewish teacher and he was very knowledgeable about my situation, about where I was incarcerated and all that. And periodically he would give exams on how you're supposed to compute the layout of your patterns so you can cut it out and make boxes and things like that. And he would teach us how to do this, then he'd give exams to see how well the students learned anything. Unfortunately for me, I was the only student that got an A on those exams. All the other kids couldn't seem to get the hang of it. He finally stopped the class one day, he says, "I got to tell you something. You guys surprise me." He says, "This guy has been in jail for the last three and a half years and he's getting an A on this, and you guys have been out here all this time. What've you been learning? You haven't learned much. I guess I'm not a very good teacher," he says. Mr. Lehman was his name. And from then on the other kids looked at me with, suspicious. [Laughs] It's like, "He's smart." I was good in math and stuff he taught us was easy. And as a result, I was not very good in English. I was poor in English. I was a good science student. I was a good math student, so it was like liberal arts was not for me, but science courses were, so that's what I was. I became a decent student and by the time I graduated from high school I was in the top two and a half percent of my class. So I did well, and that afforded me the opportunity to go to UCLA then, 'cause I had the grades.

RP: Grammar school in Rohwer, do you remember having to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day at school?

YW: Yes. Daily.

RP: And was that some, did you have a sense of irony about that?

YW: Yes. I thought this was strange. Mrs. Rutherford was good in music. She like to teach music. She says, so she said, "We're gonna put on a Christmas program." We, we. [Laughs]

RP: We, you.

YW: So then she had all her friends, teachers and stuff, this is for the adults to listen to, so some of those songs are patriotic songs and in hindsight I think it was kind of strange. I just say, what are we doing singing patriotic songs? But she, she liked it. We performed well for her. Yeah, she says, "My friends enjoyed the program." That was good, right? But she liked to give us different experiences like that, so I thought that way she was a very well rounded teacher and gave us interesting things to do, like the election and this kind of thing. It was good. It was not part of the curriculum. It was, she took extra time to do this.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

RP: Do you recall the, a time in camp when people were sent to Tule Lake, the segregants, the "loyalty questionnaire"?

YW: Yes, we had, I barely understood what was going on there, but I had heard that several people did transfer out of our camp and went to Tule Lake, but to this day I can't remember who it was. And there was one family that I kind of remember went, and the only reason I remember them is their son was studying Japanese for the idea that they may go to Tule Lake and back to Japan. Well, so that was the first and last time I saw him. They ended up in Tule Lake, I guess. Many years later, I find out that they got back to California and the father became very wealthy in Orange County as a farmer and he was donating money to the museum.

RP: Oh, Japanese American National Museum?

YW: Yeah. His family became quite well off with the land. Not the, not the fruits of his labors, but the land became very expensive and he sold it, he was forced to sell it at a profit. [Laughs] So he apparently decided it wasn't, it wasn't the right place to be in Japan. He came back. I said who'd want to go to a country that's devastated, but they did anyway. He said, "I made a mistake. I'm comin' back." So he came back. That was the only time I remember that. And I don't know who else went to Tule Lake. It's, there was conversations about it, but being adult level conversations, I don't know what they were talkin' about.

RP: How about also you were very close to Camp Shelby, not too far from there.

YW: Yeah, Camp Shelby, I know it by secondhand that, I guess the 442nd (Combat Team) was training down there, and one time they were permitted to come to our camp for recreation, so the ladies of the camp put on a dance for them and they came. But the problem that they had, and I sensed it right away, was there was animosity between the members of the Armed Forces, those from Hawaii and those from the mainland. And I got that drift right away. I heard there was, it may've even led to fisticuffs between the two groups. I don't know why, but I just heard that. And later on, I think I understand why now, but at that time it was kind of a puzzle to me. I said, you guys are fighting on the same side and you're fighting against each other? What's goin' on here? Yeah, well, the Japanese in Hawaii were raised quite different by those in California, and so there was a lot of animosity, I think. They thought, well you know when you talk to the people from Hawaii they're speaking some kind of a pidgin English and those in California were speaking straight English, so they didn't understand each other, for one. And they thought that might've been a problem for friction.

RP: Do you recall seeing Niseis in uniform, in the camp?

YW: Yes. They came to camp for the dance. In fact, one of our, in fact, they used our block for one of the dances, so they cleared the tables off to the side and used the cafeteria, if you will, where we ate, as a dance floor. So I remember that.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

RP: You remember attending movies in camp?

YW: Every now and then they would have movies. They had a man that was very generous. He used to have a movie house when he was outside of camp. And then he had a lot of films, so he would share those with us. And he says, "Come back after dark and we'll have a show here." So we go and he'd show us some cartoons, kid level movies. I thought very, I think about it, it was very nice of him to do that because there wasn't much to do. Either that or you paid for, you paid a little extra money and go see a show they had on for the adults, and I don't remember ever going to one of those, 'cause... [to wife] you remember going? Yeah, I didn't. I didn't have any money.

RP: Where, where were movies typically shown?

YW: Where were movies shown? In the one case, well, this man brought in the movies to our classroom. He showed it to us in the classroom, and of course getting the permission of the teacher to do that, but it was a break for the kids, 'cause we didn't have much that way. He'd do that once in a while. The other movie that was shown was, it's kind of like a big auditorium you had over in Manzanar. Those kind of facilities were used for that.

RP: You said that you were really into comics growing up as a kid.

YW: Oh yeah, comics.

RP: And in camp you came across a pretty good supply of...

YW: Yeah, I don't know who owned these things, but my house was used as a repository. [Laughs]

RP: Your barrack?

YW: My barrack room. So everybody would come to my, my unit and we'd sit in the shade of the barrack, 'cause they, somebody had built a little shade across the front, and we'd sit there on the ground and on the platform and thumb through these comics. And we'd look at these same comics over and over, week on end, because if we didn't have any new ones we just reread the old ones. It was a good departure from what we were doing, and it was a good way to spend the day because it was hot out there, humid and hot, so we'd look at comics and that was nice.

RP: Do you ever remember this guy, from Arkansas?

YW: Yes. He was on the camp newspaper.

RP: "Little Daniel."

YW: Yeah. I don't know who the artist was that made that.

RP: I think his name was Chris Ishii.

YW: Don't know him.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

RP: You have any recollections, Yo, of the day that the war ended with Japan?

YW: I remember. Bunch of us were playing and we were takin' a rest, and one of the brothers came over and he says, "The war is over," and this is George Hamamoto. He was the older brother of, of one of the brothers I was playing with. And he said, "The war's over." I said, "What are you talkin' about?" He says, "A few days ago the United States dropped a couple of unknown kind of bombs we never heard of." He says, "I think it was called atomic," he says, "but it was so devastating the war's over." That's all I remember. And his younger brother Bobby says, "Where'd you hear that from?" He says, "Dad went down to the central office where they had a radio," 'cause we weren't allowed to keep radios, so these guys would go down and listen to the news, and he came back with that news. He said the war's over. I said, "What?" It didn't sink in to me that maybe we could leave. That didn't make any sense to me at all. So as the talk progressed among the community members, they said, "I guess they're gonna close this place down. They're gonna let us out maybe, huh?" And true to that prediction, we were out by the end of the year. We, we were one of the last to leave. I think we may not have been the, we were either the last or the next to last group to leave Arkansas. November 16th is when we left.

RP: Did you, do you ever remember discussions amongst your parents and you about what your future would be after you left camp?

YW: My dad didn't know what he was gonna do. He says, "I don't think I want to start carnation over again." He says, "I'm four, five years older and I know how much hard work that was. I don't think I want to do that again," he says. "That's gonna take a lot of capital to get started." Says, "I have a little bit of money. I can start over, but I need a lot more to really start and I think my age is against me to do, starting at the middle of, mid-forties." So he says, "I don't know what I'm gonna do for a living, but we'll figure out." So we ended up in the trailer camps. He had heard that the local fish canneries were hiring men and women for seasonal work. By that they meant if the ships came in with fish they would need the men to offload the fish, then they would need the women to help with the processing and can, put 'em in the cans. So my, both my mother and my father worked down in the canneries for a few months, but the hours were never regular 'cause the fishing boats come in whenever, right? And remember I told you earlier that this man from Terminal took off and ended up in our Japanese language school? Well that man, before the war, was a gardener. He took care of yards. He told my dad, "You know, you're good with your hands and soil." He says, "I'll teach you how to do this gardening thing and you can do it on your own." He says, "It's a quick job. You just buy a few tools and you can do that for a while, 'cause I know starting your farm is an awful lot of money." So this fellow named Mr. Mizumoto helped my dad by takin' around his routes for a couple of weeks and he picked it up. He said, "There's nothing to this thing. I know how to take care of plants. You just got to figure out how to take care of lawns," and that was easy, he learned that. So that's what he did 'til he retired, and he was able to feed his family doing that. And since he had money from before the camp to put a down payment on a house, he was a little bit ahead of a lot of people in that way. He had money. So that's how we started, and we, we got started in Long Beach that way and stay anchored there 'til I got out of college and I moved, after I got married I moved to L.A.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

RP: This is tape three of a continuing interview with Yo Wakamiya, and Yo, can you describe your feelings the day that you got on that train to leave Rohwer, Arkansas?

YW: Being kind of young, I wasn't sure what was happening. But I knew we, we got to back to L.A., so I asked my dad how long's it gonna take and he said about three and a half days. So I found another playmate on the train and we ran up and down and raised hell on the train for three and a half days. [Laughs] What else can you do? There's nothing to do. So we visited each other and the parents of each side said, "You go visit the other parents," 'cause we were raisin' a ruckus. [Laughs] So for three and a half days we went up and down the train, lookin' at sights and got to see some empty spaces when you crossed places like Oklahoma, Nebraska, nothing there, right? And then we got to the heat of Arizona and the vendors at the train stations, that's where we saw -- and El Paso. It was hot, and then it started cooling down as we got toward California. And we ended up at Union Station in L.A. And before we left camp they gave each family a stipend, a small amount of money, I don't know, twenty-five, thirty-five dollars or something. It was not much. And when we got off, then we took a red car train down to Long Beach and Mr. Mizumoto picked us up and took us to our trailer court, and that started our few years there in the trailer courts.

RP: And what was life like in those trailer courts?

YW: Pretty confining, 'cause the room was small. Twenty feet is not much. And my dad said, after he started working as a gardener for a while he was able to save a little more money, he said, "I got extra cash. Why don't we go buy a house?" He says, "This is awful." So the problem that he faced was lot of people weren't willing to sell homes to Japanese. So one day he was able to find this house, but it turns out he found the house in a neighborhood in west Long Beach where Japanese used to live before the war. He didn't know this 'cause he didn't know Long Beach, but the person was, the family that sold us the house had a plan of their own. They wanted to move about five, six blocks north of that house. They had a new house built, so as soon as that house became available then we moved into their old house. Now, that house doesn't exist anymore, because it used to be, it was located at the intersection of the Harbor Freeway and Pacific Coast Highway, and when that freeway went in my dad had to sell his house the freeway people. Eminent domain took over my house, so we had to go buy another house, right? But when he found out what the previous owner had he went over there and asked if he could take a look at their house. He hired a local contractor to build him that house. And that was an elderly couple. There's just two of 'em. But my dad said that would be, it's a two bedroom house, "That'd be adequate for what we could use." So we went and checked in with that builder, my dad says, "I want to go find a lot," so he found an empty lot, bought the lot, had that builder build that same house. So that house is still there, but it's two blocks north of where we used to live, and my brother still lives there. My parents are all gone now, but he's still living there. He's single. And I think he's one of the few Japanese living on that block now. All the others moved out. I don't know where they did, but they, what happened to them.

RP: And you went on to college, as you said, at UCLA?

YW: Yes.

RP: In engineering.

YW: Yes.

RP: And then from there you, you...

YW: I worked at two companies.

RP: Went into a career in aerospace?

YW: Yes. I started out as a summer student when I was going to college, Long Beach Douglas was hiring students for the summer, to be gophers, if you will. So I got hired in, and with a bunch of other college students that I met, there was about five, six other college students that were hired in. And I worked there for several summers until I graduated, and I asked the personnel manager if I could work part time. He said, "Why?" I said, "I want to go back to graduate school." He said, "Well, I guess we could work that out for you." He said, "You can work here part time and go. Schedule is easy to negotiate with you," he says. So he did that. He was very compliant that way. So I worked part time and went to school part time and finished my Master's degree, then I went back full time, working there full time, and I decided I want to go back to school again, so, "Don't you ever stop going to school?" [Laughs] I said, "I want to try the PhD program, so," I said, "I want to take a leave of absence for a year." And so I took a whole bunch of classes up there, then I came back and I said, "That PhD is too tough. I'm gonna work." So that's what I did. I decided to work from then on. But I had all kinds of courses under my belt. But that next step was really grueling and I saw how a lot of people were failing. I said no, I think I'll just drop it here.

So I stopped going to school for a while and I worked full time 'til January of 1959, then I transferred over to STL, Space Technology Laboratories. And the way I got that job was one of the graduate courses I was taking was being taught by a professor and an assistant, and the assistant was a section head over at STL and he would cover for the professor when the professor had to go run off somewhere. Well, this guy wrote letters to all his students who graduated from that class and it said, "In case you're interested in hiring onto our company, we got openings for you, 'cause you guys are takin' the kind of classes we want our people to have." So I stayed on 'til December of '58 and decided, you know what, I think I want to change companies 'cause Douglas was firing people. They had lost a big contract. They lost a proposal. They weren't, they were not doing very well. I said last hired, first fired, "I better get out of here," so I wrote back a letter, I said, "Back in July you sent us a letter about inquiring about employment opportunities," and back came a letter, said, "Come on, I want to talk to you." So in December I interviewed them, in January I was workin' for them. And I stayed with STL, which eventually became TRW when they expanded, and so I stayed there thirty-two years and I retired in 1992.

RP: You kind of got in on the space race there, right at the ground level.

YW: Oh, it was wonderful. Yeah, what happened was while we were working the Russians, thank goodness, started a space war. In 1957 they launched the first satellite. I think they scared the heck out of the U.S. government. "Good heavens, they got a capability we don't even have and we can't even get near it. We have to catch up." So as a result, from '57 on 'til today, they were pouring money into the industry and they were pouring money into different companies who had different specialties, and we, we got on that bandwagon and TRW was formed and continued on and helped with the government's contracts. We also did our own contracts. And it was a fun time. It was a good time, had interesting jobs, money was not a problem. It was, it was a good kick in the pants we got from the Russians. It was really, if it wasn't for them I think we'd still be meddling around and doing all the wrong things. But that, that focused our attention on the right things, and as a result, things that came out of our industry are, like this miniature camera, right? Calculators, miniature telephones, all that came out of that industry, so we not only made weapons, we made some interesting other things. I don't know what the next wave is gonna be, but we're gonna need some help.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

RP: Yo, looking back on your camp experience, reflecting on it, how you, how do you see it?

YW: Unnecessary. First of all, they broke the law. The government broke its own rules. My father was a legal resident of this country. My mother was a citizen of this country. She was born and raised here, except for the time she went to Japan. Her kids were all born and raised here. We're all citizens or legal residents. Those rights were not accorded to us during World War II. No trial. We just looked like the enemies and they didn't like it, so they put us in jail. It's not fair. It's not right. They finally admitted they goofed, right? They paid reparations. Not enough. Doesn't cover the damage they do to, what they did to my dad, right? He could never recover from that loss. I think a better settlement, rather than the twenty, twenty thousand dollars, in hindsight, I think a better thing for them to do was give these guys the right to not pay taxes for twenty years. So each to his own, right? You make a lot of money, you get to save a lot of money. You make a little money, you save a little money. But don't tax us for twenty years, I think, would've been a better settlement. We got nothing, really. Twenty thousand today's dollars is peanuts. And he didn't lose peanuts; he lost a lot. I don't know whether that was ever negotiated as part of the deal, but that should've been a better deal, I think. Don't pay income tax for twenty years.

RP: Now, you mentioned also that you, you've shared your story with your granddaughter's grammar school classes?

YW: I have a granddaughter who's about thirteen years old, eighth grade, and her English -- was it English teacher? -- English teacher was just asking a generalized question, "Anybody here have grandparents that were incarcerated?" Up went her hand. She says, "I want to talk to you after class." She says, "You think your grandfather would be willing to come in and talk to us about his experience?" She said, "I'll ask." So she came and asked me. I said, "What does he want to hear and when does he want me to talk?" We got that all straightened out and one day we spent an hour and a half or so in a big room where he had, must've had a hundred kids in there. And the kids were listening to our story and then they were allowed to ask questions and we had an exchange, and I don't know how it impacted them, but that's what I did. Yeah.

RP: Well, I certainly hope you do more of that. This is, this is part of that.

YW: Well, I think a lot of people don't understand what happened to us. They don't even believe it. In fact, I can tell you a story about that. We were in Washington, D.C. at the history museum there, as part of the -- [to wife] what's, what's that museum we went to see?

Off camera: Smithsonian.

YW: Oh, Smithsonian. You got a whole bunch of different museums there and we walked into one of 'em, and one of 'em had, the history museum, in the doorway they had a display that said, "This week we're gonna show literature and exhibits from the Japanese incarceration during World War II." And so I was reading this sign, I said, hey, I better go see what they're talkin' about here. So we were reading this thing and the lady behind me, Caucasian lady lookin' at the sign, she says, "I don't believe that happened." See, this is the problem we have in this country. "I don't believe it happened." I looked back and I said, "Excuse me, lady, you're lookin' at one of the inmates." I said, "I wasn't tried, I wasn't accused. I was just accused of looking like the enemy." And I agreed all of that. I said, "I looked like the enemy, but that was the only reason I was in jail." I said, "Can you believe that? It happened. Trust me, it did. Go listen, go read that exhibit and find out for yourself." I said, "This country has done something horrible to some of its people." I hope she went and looked at the exhibit and taken it seriously. So she didn't believe it. A lot of people said, "I don't believe it." Said, "They wouldn't, the country wouldn't do that." I said, "You wanna bet?" I said, "Tell you what. I want to take you to a museum. You got time this Saturday?" So I've done that to people, taken them to the Japanese American National Museum. There's a section on it. I said, "I don't mean to do this to chastise you personally. I'm just doing this to educate you. I'll do you one better. I'll even buy you lunch." [Laughs]

RP: The people that acknowledge that these camps existed sometimes don't want to acknowledge the fact that there were actually two camps in Arkansas, you know, so far across the country.

YW: Oh. Actually there was ten of us.

RP: Ten camps, but you know, Rohwer and Jerome kind of seem to be lost in the shuffle.

YW: Yeah. Well, they don't, most of 'em don't even know there's two in California. "Tule Lake? Where's Tule Lake?" Right? They hear Manzanar 'cause they go fishing up that way, but "Tule Lake? What's Tule Lake?" I says, "I've never been there either, but it's in northern end of California." I think my uncle was incarcerated there for a while.

RP: Oh, really?

YW: Yeah. Just by accident. He ended up there, not because he wanted to be there, but -- some people went there 'cause they wanted to be there -- but he was there.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

RP: Have you attended reunions?

YW: Sure. I have attended several of the Rohwer reunions.

RP: Where are they held?

YW: Huh?

RP: Where were they held?

YW: One was held in Rohwer.

RP: Was that the --

YW: I shouldn't, I shouldn't say Rohwer. It was held in Little Rock.

RP: Was that the program through the Japanese American National Museum, "Life Interrupted"?

YW: Yes. I went to that one. My wife is, was incarcerated in Amache, which is southeastern Colorado. They had a gathering. [To wife] In Las Vegas, was it?

Off camera: Denver.

YW: Denver. Denver, okay. Denver, so we went to that. She has some friends that live back east who didn't come back. What happened is they went from Amache, they worked back east, and then when they heard this was going on they came out and so we, they thought good time to get together. So she saw some classmates at the reunions.

RP: So what was it like for you to go back to Arkansas? I imagine you visited the camp site?

YW: Several times before, on my own. Yes, on the way, on the way back from Washington, D.C. I said, "I want to go back to my camp. We're on the way home, anyway. I say we just take a southern route." And went through places like Tennessee and across the, across the mountain ranges there, then went into Mississippi and crossed over into Arkansas. And I was able to find it first shot. I knew where it was.

RP: And what did, what did you find still left out there from the camp?

YW: The main thing that's left, the camp site itself is farmland. It's been turned back into farmland, like it was before, and instead of cotton they were growing soybeans. One of the biggest soy sauce factories is in Wisconsin. Are you familiar with that? Yeah, one of the Japanese companies started a soy sauce factory in Wisconsin because they can get soybeans up and down the Mississippi Valley. Yeah.

RP: How ironic.

YW: Kikkoman, one of the famous Japanese soy sauce companies, has a place in Wisconsin. Yeah, the thing, the main thing that you visit there, left now in camp is the cemetery, and I remember the cemetery very well 'cause it was on my side of the camp. Block 16 was on the end, the cemetery was, like, if I go back, it was One through Eight, Nine through Sixteen, I'd say maybe where Block 4 was, 4 or 5 on the outside of the gates, the fence there. The camp cemetery was built there. And what I remember about seeing there was some of the stone structures that were put up by the inmates. One was a, they made, using cement and concrete, they built an army tank, okay? And on the army tank they put a plaque up and indicated the names of the people who left the camps to go serve. And then on a, on another one, more recently -- this is back in the '70s, maybe, or something -- somebody put up a granite plaque, and there was another plaque that was there already when we left put up by the -- is that there? Oh, I don't know where this is. You have a picture of the camp, the military block? No. Let's see, I don't remember this one [looking at a picture].

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

RP: I think some of those photos are, yeah, from Santa Anita, Stockton.

YW: You can find my mother in that picture somewhere, probably putting up camp nets. Can you imagine that? "We're gonna jail you, but you want to help us build camouflages?" Right. This is an irony. They had Boy Scout camps and they interacted with us, Boy Scouts outside of camp. That must've been a strange feeling.

RP: Yeah, you were a little too young for Boy Scouts, weren't you?

YW: Yeah. One of my friends had an older son that was in this. He was about fifteen, sixteen at the time.

RP: And he got to go out to the jamboree?

YW: Yeah. Oh, let's see [looking through pictures]...

RP: That's some of the cypress wood you were talking about?

YW: This is the cypress, cypress roots. [Points to a picture, shows RP] Remember?

RP: Right. Oh yeah, there's even a picture of it.

YW: That's what they're carving. Right. Let's see, oh my... played marbles, yeah. Oh, let's see here. Where was it? [Still looking through pictures]

RP: I don't think --

YW: You know, with ten thousand, eight to ten thousand people, it's a small city. We became one of the biggest cities in Arkansas all of a sudden. Oh my. [Holds up a picture] That's what a typical classroom looked like.

RP: That was it?

YW: Yeah. Can't find what I'm lookin' for. I thought they'd have another picture.

RP: Of the other memorial?

YW: Of the monument.

RP: With the tank on it.

YW: Yeah. I'm surprised. That was one of the original things built.

RP: And I think, yeah, you mentioned that was at the, at the cemetery?

YW: At the cemetery, right. They also put up an obelisk and they put the names of, not, it was more like a "rest in peace" kind of thing, in Japanese calligraphy.

RP: Oh. We have our cemetery monument in Manzanar and it's [inaudible], I believe it's the same characters.

YW: Similar, similar kind of thing, yeah.

RP: Did you, did you try to locate where Block 16 would've been?

YW: Oh yeah, I knew where that was. I could look across from there, I said, it's about right over here. Yeah, it's one block in. They says, "How do you remember that?" I said, "Well, we were next to the corner near the railroad tracks."

RP: Railroad tracks still there?

YW: The railroad tracks still there. That still operates.

RP: So what kind of, did you have any emotional response to being, being back there?

YW: No. No, it was just an, something that happened. I could just picture faces of kids I played with, but they're now old, right? Yeah.

RP: One final question --

YW: Oh, I visited the water hole to go see where we used to go fish.

RP: The bayou?

YW: The bayou. I drove, I had a camper that we drove around over there. The bayou's still there.

RP: You throw a line in?

YW: I didn't see anybody fishing at the time. But it's a wonder the people that lived across the bayou didn't, didn't call the police or something, wonder what these people are doin' out here.

RP: One final question, Rohwer was a, kind of a combination of people from Stockton, California --

YW: I remember that.

RP: -- and the group from Santa Anita, Los Angeles.

YW: L.A.

RP: You mentioned the rivalries that were expressed in sports between the different communities.

YW: Yeah, they had one football team and we had another, and so they competed.

RP: How did, how did those two distinct communities get along, L.A. people and Stockton?

YW: I guess okay, as far as I know. I don't know how, whether there was any animosity or anything like that, except that they were a different group of people.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

RP: Are there any other stories you'd like to share with us, Yo, that we haven't touched on in our interview?

YW: Stories. I could tell you a story about a man going away to war. There was a class, there was this playmate that was a few years younger than I was and he was saying goodbye to his older brother. And tears were in his eyes. He says, "My brother's gonna go away and he may not come back." I didn't know what he was talkin' about. He said, "Well, he's goin' in the service today." I says, "What branch of the service did he join?" He says, "Paratroopers. He's gonna jump out of airplanes." And that was the last I heard of him. I don't know whatever became of him, but it was one of the, that one I really remember. And then later on we had a special banquet for two other young men that were leaving 'cause they were drafted, and one was a young boy from a family of nothing but young men and the parents were all gone. They were just young men helping each other out. I think they were orphans, basically, but they had a lot of kids there that were younger, but there were also older kids among 'em that held the family together. So this young man was one, and then the other person was a young man who was, I think he was about the middle of a group of seven kids, and he was very impressive. My dad would say, "That young man's gonna go somewhere someday." And says, "Why? Why do you say that?" He says, "Well, he's got a job down at the warehouse and during his break he is studying. He's got his books out studying." And I found out later what he was doing was taking courses from UCLA, SC, wherever by mail, and he was trying to stay up with some of his classes. Well, when we were released from camp his family ended up in Chicago. That's where they chose to go. That young man went to the University of Illinois, became a medical doctor, and later when he returned to L.A., or Gardena, he became my family doctor. But you can see when, at a young age he was very dedicated and not to let this stuff mess up his life, right? So he studied. But he was the other student that, he and the other guy were two of the people that were taken by the draft, so they gave a party for these two young men. And it was interesting, at the end of the dinner the two young men got up and spoke, thanked the group for putting on this festivity, and the one from the family of just adult kids, I guess he didn't learn any Japanese, so he spoke, he gave his speech in English. He says, "I wanted to thank you people for putting on this nice go away party," etcetera, etcetera. Then this fellow that became a doctor gets up and speaks, and he does it all in Japanese. I didn't understand half of what he said, but my parents said it was a very impressive speech. And they were farmers in Torrance before the war, and later on I find out he goes to school and becomes a medical doctor, so I said, my dad says, "See, I told you he's gonna go far." He was studying all the time.

RP: Pretty good judge of character, your dad.

YW: Yeah, my dad said, "That guy is not wasting time. He is taking advantage of the time that he has to take classes by mail if he has to." That's what he was doing.

RP: That was, that was such an important thing, 'cause many people refer to that as the lost years.

YW: Well, he didn't lose, he lost some, but he didn't, he tried to make the most of what he had and studied. And I, to my way of thinking, I'm thinking he's, the youngest one was my age and he went to college. The one above him became a multi-millionaire, became an electronic manufacturer. Then, then this doctor. Then he had an older brother and an older sister and I don't know what they did, but they all became very successful people. They, my parents were very glad to have them as friends. We, we met 'em in camp and after camp we kept in touch forever.

RP: Well, Yo, on behalf of myself and Kirk, thank you so much for a great interview today. Really covered a lot of ground, good ground and great stories.

YW: Well, I hope it fills in some blanks for you.

RP: Tremendously. Tremendously.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.