Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Nellie Mitani Interview
Narrator: Nellie Mitani
Interviewer: Richard Potashin
Location: Pasadena, California
Date: February 5, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-mnellie-01

<Begin Segment 1>

RP: This is an oral history for the Manzanar National Historic Site. This morning we're talking with Nellie Okazaki Mitani. And our interview is taking place at Russell and Miyo's residence. And again...

Off Camera: Hers, too.

RP: And, and your residence. What was the address again?

Off Camera: 1402 Stratford Avenue.

RP: Okay. 1402 Stratford Avenue in South Pasadena, California. The date of the interview February 5, 2010. The videographer is Kirk Peterson and I'm Richard Potashin doing the interview. Today we also have Nellie's daughter, Miyo, present as well as Miyo's husband, Russell Ukita. And this interview will cover Nellie's experiences as a former internee at the Poston War Relocation Center and also the Crystal City internment camp. The interview will be archived in the Park's library. Do I --

NM: Excuse me. Did you say attorney? I was...

Off Camera: No, interned.

NM: Interned. Oh, I'm sorry. That's my hearing. [Laughs]

RP: Okay. And our interview will be archived at the Park's library at Manzanar. Thank you, Nellie. Can I refer to you as Nellie?

NM: Oh, of course.

RP: Okay. Thanks for spending some time with us this morning. I'd like to start our interview with some very basic personal questions here. Your date of birth and where you were born?

NM: January 31, 1919, in Mesa, Arizona.

RP: And what was your given name at birth?

NM: Narie.

RP: Can you spell that for us?

NM: N-A-R-I-E.

RP: And how did you end up with "Nellie"?

NM: People couldn't pronounce Narie, you know, the Caucasian friends. And so they decided to call me Nellie, which is quite similar in pronunciation.

RP: Uh-huh. I'd like to get a little bit of background on your family.

NM: Uh-huh.

RP: Beginning with your parents. Can you tell us your father's full name?

NM: It was Miyoji Okazaki. M-I-Y-O-J-I.

RP: And what part of Japan did your father come from?

NM: He came from Kumamoto, Amakusa, and the little village was Kyoragi.

RP: And where is Kumamoto located? Is it on the main island?

NM: I have to think. I think it's, you'd call it the main island, the southern part of it, yes.

RP: Is it right on the coast or is it inland? Is it a mountainous area? What type of landscape?

NM: I've never been there so I really don't know. But, I don't, I think they have some coast. I'm not sure.

RP: Uh-huh.

NM: Because, yes, the Commodore Perry landed near there I think, somewhere around there.

RP: Uh-huh. What can you tell us about your father's family in Japan?

NM: I think his great-grandfather, or grandfather that is, was a Shinto priest. And, and his father, I think, being a, I think he was the oldest son, took over the priesthood. But I don't know that he was too successful. They served too much wine, sake. And I think he became kind of an alcoholic or something, apparently. At least that's what my father said. He was always drunk. But that comes from the services that he had to perform because sake, naturally, was part of the service.

RP: Was your father the oldest of the, the siblings in his family?

NM: No, he was the second son. I think he had younger sisters but he had, had an older brother. But the older brother came to America and he passed away. And this is why my father was head of the family.

RP: And, the older brother's name?

NM: Shigeharu. S-H-I-G-E-H-A-R-(U), no, it's R-U, not the A. H-A-R-U.

RP: So Shigeharu was the first of the family to come to America?

NM: I think so and then I think my father came afterwards.

RP: Uh-huh. And do you know the circumstances surrounding Shigeharu's death?

NM: He was in Fresno I think, and I think he caught malaria and really became ill and passed away.

RP: What do you think brought your father to the United States, Nellie?

NM: I think the usual thing. Go to America, get rich, and come back to Japan and live like a king. But had the emperor there, but anyway, live well.

RP: Did he also come to, to bring the ashes of his brother back to Japan, too?

NM: Yes, he, he was cremated and taken back.

RP: Tell us about your father, his personality, what type of father you remember him as.

NM: Well, I think we were afraid of him because he was quite strict. And, right was right, wrong was wrong, and we had to toe the line.

RP: And he came from Kumamoto.

NM: Yes.

RP: And he, and you said that he was a pretty stubborn guy because that's the way they were there?

NM: Yes, that, that's what the reputation is.

RP: Where did he first settle when he came to America?

NM: I don't know exactly where it was the first, or where he first came, but he did spend time on Catalina Island. And, he was there as a houseboy. He learned how to cook, so he was able to make some fancy dishes.

Off Camera: You said he could de-bone a what?

NM: De-bone a chicken and stuff it, looked like a real chicken. He served, you know, all these well-to-do families, did fancy things like that. And he learned a lot of that kind of thing.

RP: So as a houseboy he worked for a wealthy family on Catalina?

NM: Oh yes, uh-huh. Yes.

RP: Did he ever share with you some of the... well, many Issei talk about some of the hardships they had to endure when they first came to America. Did he share any of that with you? Some of the early days of his life here?

NM: No, I don't think he did talk too much. He was busy raising us and we didn't have much time to talk. We had to work more. So, we didn't learn too much except I guess occasionally I got my knowledge from somewhere and it must have come from him.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

RP: Let's talk a little bit about your mother. Tell us her name.

NM: Her first name is Iki, I-K-I. And last name was Onishi, O-N-I-S-H-I.

RP: And was she also from Kumamoto?

NM: Yes. From the same area.

RP: And do you know how, how they met?

NM: No, I don't. And, I don't, I don't necessarily remember whether it was sort of a, one of those arranged marriages or not. But...

Off Camera: Shall I tell you what my grandmother told me? She said my grandfather went back to Japan. And I don't know, maybe it's when he took the brother, ashes back?

NM: Yeah, I think that's the first time he went...

Off Camera: And he saw her either, I keep thinking it's the school in the classroom and she happened to be there and she was standing up and she was the biggest, strongest looking woman in the room. [Laughs] So that's why... she said she was like a horse. He considered it a... she came from a samurai family. But, by that time, even samurai didn't have much. But, she said, yeah. And then the other thing, she says people would go by their house. And she lived with her uncle, huh?

NM: Yes, I think so.

Off Camera: I don't know what happened there.

NM: She was adopted by the family.

Off Camera: Yeah.

NM: Parents died early.

Off Camera: Yeah. So they would... as the people went by their house they would stop and bow every time. They had to stop and bow. Isn't that something?

NM: Because they, they were the shouya family, which means that they were the magistrates or whatever of that area. And in order to go from here to across the other way, other side, they had to bow and go, go walk ahead. Yeah.

RP: Just political etiquette at the time.

NM: Oh yeah.

RP: Uh-huh.


RP: How about your mother? Had she attended much, or had --

NM: Education?

RP: -- had much education in Japan?

NM: She went to, I suppose through the elementary school. I don't know through what grades but after that she attended a sewing school. Which was probably normal for that, that period, for the girls.

RP: Uh-huh.

NM: Had to learn sewing and I guess how to become a good wife or whatever.

RP: What do you remember most about your mom?

NM: Well, she was a hard worker. I remember one of the things she did was to irrigate the farm that we had, which was about fifty acres. And at night I could see the light, lantern, bobbing here and going around so there she is way out there. Yeah, so she worked very hard and she was kind. I don't, I don't think she spanked any of us. In fact, I don't think my father did either except once I got spanked.

RP: Why?

NM: But other times they didn't...

RP: Why did you get spanked, Nellie?

NM: Oh, don't ask me that. [Laughs]

RP: Well I have to. You volunteered that information. Now we have to know.

NM: Because I wanted to go swimming. And for some reason my sister was involved in that. And so I couldn't go swimming, and so I hit my sister. She was innocent, but I hit her anyway. And so my father got me and spanked me real hard to teach me a lesson. But I don't, you know, hit other people just because I get mad.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

RP: Yeah, you mentioned your sister. Maybe this would be a good time to share with us your other, your other siblings.

NM: Okay.

RP: There was your older daughter.

NM: Yes, the oldest was --

RP: I'm sorry, I mean, sister.

NM: -- Mariyo.

RP: And, can you spell that?

NM: M-A-R-I-Y-O. That's one of the spellings. She had various ways while going to school.

RP: Uh-huh. And how much older was she than you?

NM: I think about two, two and a half years older.

RP: Then you were next. And who came after you?

NM: Connie. And she's, she's the, still well. And she ended up to be a teacher in kindergarten. And after that is Marchie, M-A-R-C-H-I-E. She was born in March and her name was Machie, M-A-C-H-I-E. But I think the Caucasian friends thought (it) sounds so much like March and she was born in March, we should call her Marchie. And so she got that name.

RP: Did Connie have a Japanese name, too?

NM: Yeah, well, Kaneye, which sounds quite similar, so, yes. K-A-N-E-Y-E.

RP: And then you, your brother came next.

NM: Yes. He was Lita. They anglicized his Japanese name to L-I-T-A. But in, it should have been spelled R-A-I-T-A, which means thunder and lightning. Yeah, and he was born in July and we had those terrible thunder, electric storms. And, the, Tom's father was living with us at that time. And so he gave my brother that name, chose that name. In Japanese it's thunder and lightning. But he is real quiet. [Laughs] Well, he had six sisters, you know. So he couldn't be very rambunctious.

RP: Poor guy. And then, Tome? Tomie?

NM: Yes, she was the youngest.

RP: And did she have an English name?

NM: No, I guess she always went by T-O-M-I. But in Japanese it would be spelled T-O-M-I-E. And then there was a sister who passed away between Machi and my brother Lita.

Off Camera: When she was thirteen?

NM: She died at thirteen or so. And her name was M-O-R-I-E...

RP: M-O-R...

NM: Morie.

RP: Morie.

NM: Uh-huh.

RP: You mentioned the, some of the meanings behind --

NM: The names?

RP: -- the names. How about your name?

NM: The Nari is written to mean "growth" or, I don't know whether, to become something. That kind of a growth. I guess. I guess that's what... Narie.

RP: How about your last name? Your maiden name Okazaki?

NM: Okazaki. Oka is a hill. And zaki, zaki means sort of like the tip, the point. I think that's, I hope that's the correct interpretation. But I think that's what... and Oka could also mean something else, I don't know. But that's what I think it was.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

RP: Your father decided to go to Arizona to farm.

NM: Yeah.

RP: Saw some opportunities there?

NM: I guess it was just opening up and people were moving out that way.

RP: Uh-huh. And where did he establish himself in Arizona?

NM: In Mesa, Arizona. Yes. The community or the district of Mesa is Lehi, L-E-H-I. Sort of the Mormon center.

RP: Right, uh-huh. And, what was the, the ethnic makeup of the, the community there?

NM: I think maybe there were about five or six Japanese families and, 'course, there were people from Mexico. And I don't know that there were many other foreign groups there. They were just a small community and most of the them were American, Caucasian.

RP: And what about your, your father's farm? How large was it, do you recall?

NM: Around fifty acres.

RP: And what, what did he grow there?

NM: It was truck farming so all kinds of vegetables. Mainly, later on he specialized in growing carrots. I guess he was called the "Carrot King" or something like that in the produce market. He had a ton, I guess it's a ton and a half truck. It was filled with carrots. And he took that and sold 'em. And I think he sold them all because I don't remember having, discarding any at home.

RP: Where would he, where would, where would he haul his vegetables to?

NM: Oh, there was a big produce market in Phoenix. And so he'd have to get up around three o'clock and get over there before the retailers came and bought their produce.

RP: Did he do that every day? Would he go to market every day?

NM: Every day except Sundays. I don't know about Saturdays. Maybe Saturday and Sunday he didn't. But all, every weekday he did go.

RP: Well, I guess you and the rest of your siblings were, were some of the labor on the farm.

NM: Oh of course. Almost the main, main laborers practically. We did have a Mexican family living on the farm. And another man, a single man there. They were the main helpers and I think, I think when we were really busy we might have had some outside help. But they were sort of always there.

RP: Did you pick up any Spanish from them?

NM: Yes. I, a little bit, not too much. But, my youngest sister played with the kids, the Mexican children there. And so she was pretty good in Spanish. Yeah, yeah, she's... 'cause she, she was there with them all the time.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

RP: Well, give us kind of a picture of what you, you and your brothers and sisters did to help out your parents on the farm.

NM: Well, mainly I guess the main work was that we had to tie... the vegetables would be usually hauled in from the field. And the Mexican workers would probably do the pulling of the carrots or whatever. And so, we, after school, had to bunch the vegetables. Like, you had five or six carrots that we put into a bunch and tied it with the raffia. And then those bunches were put into a dozen bunches and then after doing all that we had to wash them. Fortunately it was a sandy ground so it wasn't too hard to wash the carrots. If it's muddy ground then it'd be quite a job. And so my father built a large tank and filled it with water and we were scrubbing away with big brushes. And that was late at night. And then after that we had to study. We had to work first. So, I guess that was the main thing we did. Sometimes we went out to the field, did some hoeing of weeds and thinning the vegetables and things like that.

RP: Did your father have any mechanical equipment? Tractors or...

NM: Yes. Of course, at first it was horses and sleds. And, and also he had a tractor from as far as I can remember. And a lot of the plowing and the leveling was done by tractor.

RP: Do you know where he got his water from? Did he have a well on the land?

NM: We had a well. That was built later. And, but while I was still quite young, we had a, he had a, dug a well. And had a big tank on a high platform and otherwise that was mostly used for washing the vegetables, you know, had to fill that tank. And for our house, household use. And otherwise it was the irrigation water which was, which came from the Salt River. That was over in Granite Reef Dam or whatever the water, dam, dam water we used.

Off Camera: Is that the one that came in the canal, that ran along five?

NM: There was a canal, yes. There was a canal on the east side of the farm and there was a pump on the adjoining property. But we didn't use that for farming.

Off Camera: Oh, you didn't.

NM: But it just went along side the property. But we did swim in it, nice cold water. [Laughs]

RP: Were there fish in it too or do you remember?

NM: Yes, below in the stream there were I think like carps or something like that or maybe suckers, what we'd call suckers. But, not too many I don't think.

RP: So you developed a bit of a work ethic on the farm there from your parents.

NM: Yes, I guess, I don't know if you'd call it develop. We had to know it.

RP: Right.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

RP: What did you, what did you do for fun while you were growing up on the farm?

NM: Well, one of the fun things was we had some large fig trees, black ones, and then the green ones. One of the fun things was going up and climbing those trees and eating figs. And we had a couple of pecan trees. And I was always climbing those in the fall and getting the nuts. So that kind of fun I had. And then with my friends, we had a large yard, and so the friends would come over and we would would play different kinds of games, you know, the usual kids games like Run Sheep Run... Run Sheep Run or May I? and things like that, Red Rover or whatever.

RP: And these friends, were these friends from some of the other Japanese American farms?

NM: Yes, the other farming families that lived around there. They were sort of around the same age as we were growing up.

RP: Do you remember the names of those families?

NM: The names?

RP: Yeah.

NM: Well, one of the families was Ishikawa, I-S-H-I-K-A-W-A. And, Horiba, H-O-R-I-B-A. And Sekiya, S-E-K-I-Y-A. Matsuyoshi, M-A-T-S-U-Y-O, no, S-H-I.

Off Camera: Yeah. Y-O...

NM: Oh, yes, S-H-I, yeah. those were the main families I can recall now.

RP: Were they all truck farmers?

NM: They were all farmers, yes. I think the whole community, Japanese community, were farmers except there was a couple that had an ice cream parlor or something like that. And then another family had a grocery store.

RP: In Mesa?

NM: In Mesa yes, that was just in Mesa.

RP: So they handled Japanese items there?

NM: Yes, we could just get at the grocery store, yes.

RP: Get your rice there?

NM: Yes, we probably did.

RP: Did you ever have peddlers who would come out and sell things to you?

NM: Yeah. Uh-huh. We had a fish man who came up every week and so we got our fresh fish and tofu, essential things like that, yes.

RP: So you, did you, did you have animals on the, the ranch, too?

NM: Oh, well, besides the horses? We had, we didn't have any cows. But, we had a dog, a big police dog. And, was it called police dog?

Off Camera: Yeah, German Shepherd.

NM: And, German Shepherd dog I guess it was. And then we had one of those, chickens, no ducks. I guess that was about all of the live animals on the farm. We didn't have too much.

RP: Something else you mentioned the other day that you remember, were the Japanese community picnics.

NM: Yes. Oh, yeah, the community, they would be mostly, in the beginning, community picnics with the entire community involved. But eventually the community became split into two groups. And so we did have our own group picnic, yes. And, we would usually go to Granite Reef Dam and enjoy the dam there. And we made our rice balls, onigiri, made some teriyaki chicken and stuff like that.

RP: Would there be games for the kids, too?

NM: Yes, we, I guess the adults didn't get involved but we organized ourselves, yes, played different games.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

RP: What, what split the community into two groups?

NM: I think it was a religious matter. So it was the Buddhist group and the Christian group. They, around '39, or '31, '30... around '30, '29, '30, a woman minister came out. It was a Christian minister. Unusual at that time and even now I think it's unusual to have a woman in the ministry. But anyway, and so my father being the, that type of person, helped her out. She's a woman there, a stranger, and so, and so then we developed a Christian community.

Off Camera: A hakujin woman?

NM: No, Japanese.

Off Camera: A Japanese woman? Wow.

NM: Yeah, so it was unusual, yeah.

Off Camera: Yeah.

NM: And, I think now there may be one or two. But anyway, and then, so we rallied around her and there was already the Buddhist group. So, naturally (the community) split. We didn't have anything else more to do with the Buddhist group. And did whatever was guided by the Christian minister.

RP: And so your religious background originally was Christian?

NM: Yes, it was...

RP: Or it was Buddhist and then you kind of moved over?

NM: Oh, I don't remember doing anything especially Buddhist as a, as a religion. It's just that we were with that kind of group. But I was baptized at twelve, when I was twelve, around that time. So, after she came.

Off Camera: And Grandpa and several of the people built the church, right?

NM: What?

Off Camera: Grandpa and several of the people built the church.

NM: Built the church, oh yes, they built that church. Do I have a picture? Well, we have a picture somewhere.

RP: Was it a Christian church, Methodist church?

NM: Pardon?

RP: What type of church was it?

NM: Oh, a Methodist. We belonged to the, what they called the Japanese Provisional Methodist Church. Which involved all the... up and down the coast of the, of the states, all the Methodist churches.

RP: So you had a Methodist and a Buddhist church in the Mesa community?

NM: Yes.

RP: Did you also have a language school, too?

NM: Yes.

RP: That you attended?

NM: Yes.

RP: And where was that?

NM: That was in the, in Mesa. And I think it began at our home. No, no, I'm sorry. That's after the minister came. We had, she taught us at our home first before she had a house herself. And, anyway, it was a community school. And my father helped build the school. It was a brick building I think. So he was interested in that building kind of thing from way back. And I don't know whether he made the drawings for the building or something like, he had, anyway, involved that way. And...

RP: What was language school like for you, Nellie?

NM: Well, even in the early days, we went there to meet our friends and have fun. And later on I got to thinking everybody, everybody, my Caucasian friends, they have a good time on Saturdays. Here we had to go to school on Saturdays. It wasn't a weekday thing, but once a week on Saturday. And so I went there to play, enjoy myself. But now I regret it, of course, because I became an interpreter and my language isn't that good.

RP: An interpreter for who?

NM: Japanese-speaking people who came, well, from, from Japan and who needed to... oh, like business people, government people, who had to speak with their cohorts over here. So that's what I became.

RP: Did either one of your parents ever learn English or enough to communicate in English?

NM: My father did, of course, 'cause we, in the business he had to communicate. But it was more or less broken and he didn't really speak that much English, around the house it was always Japanese. And Mother hardly picked up any English. I think she understood, but I think she was too shy to try, to make mistakes. You know how it is with Japanese? Yeah, so she didn't use it.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

RP: I was curious to know, what type of holidays you celebrated growing up in Mesa?

NM: Well, besides the usual, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter. That was because we were affiliated with the church. And but before that we, the community celebrated the Emperor's birthday, Tennou Tanjoubi, and I guess that was probably the only time we got together to do any celebrating.

RP: How would that be celebrated?

NM: Oh dear. They would have a, I know, a stage and then they'd put on plays and, and just sort of get together and have fun. This was with the whole community, the older generation and the younger ones. Probably had some kind of a box lunch or people prepared kinds of, kind of nigiri or sushi or something like that, too.

RP: Do you remember ever celebrating Girls Day? Was that a holiday?

NM: No, not as a celebration. I think... I never did anyway. My kids didn't have any... And I don't think we did either on the farm, no.

RP: How about New Year's?

NM: New Year's was a big day for the Japanese, especially for the men. The women had to cook, and the men could go around eating all these delicious foods that was cooked. [Laughs]

RP: And the kids had to stay home and help their moms.

NM: Oh yeah, we had to stay home. That was the advantage or being a man at that time.

RP: So they go around eating and...

NM: Drinking.

RP: ... drinking sake?

NM: Yes.

RP: And they'd come home a little plastered maybe?

NM: Yeah.

Off Camera: Not my grandfather.

NM: Huh?

Off Camera: No Grandpa, 'cause he didn't drink.

NM: No, he didn't drink much. No, he didn't drink. Yeah, I think he did when he was younger. But, I think because he saw his father being, you know, inebriated I guess you'd call it. A nice word, but okay.

RP: What were some of the dishes you remember your mom would make for New Year's?

NM: Well, besides the sushi type of thing, and, some, with the rice mixed with vegetables and vinegar. That's, that's a type of sushi. And then of course we had mochi. And...

RP: Who did the pounding of the mochi?

NM: Oh, that was a community affair, sort of, of friends I guess you'd say. What I remember is different families came together. And we had a big backyard. And like I said, I mentioned before, so then we had a metal washtub filled with cement with the center dug out to make a bowl. And they put the steamed rice in there and pounded. And I think they made their own steaming boxes to put the rice in too. But the other, the little straw things like, that kept the rice in there, I guess they bought it. It's a... I don't think we made those, but anyway, they were available.

RP: Uh-huh. Did you have a part in making the balls?

NM: Oh, yes. We had lumber, I don't know how long it was. As I recall it was quite long but I was small then, so... and I remember the white paper being covered over the table and then all these mochi lined up. We had to take 'em out and, and spread them out to kind of dry them. And I remember my mother had the job of turning the mochi as the men pounded. You had to be careful that your fingers didn't get pounded. Turn it, keep it moving.

RP: Dangerous job.

NM: That was very dangerous. But she was good at it. I don't think she got her hands caught even once.

RP: You get the timing down with it.

NM: Yes, it was.

RP: With --

NM: So those who pounded had to be also careful about timing it.

RP: And the, the pounding would go, would it go at a pretty steady pace?

NM: Yes. Not too fast but... and of course they made the -- what, I forgot what they call it. Anyway, the mallet or whatever -- with a log about so big and so long with a stick handle.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

RP: Another ritual of, of Japanese farm life was the, the baths at the end of the day.

NM: Oh, yeah.

RP: The ofuro?

NM: Uh-huh.

RP: Do you remember that?

NM: Oh, yes. I had, I was responsible growing up for getting the wood to burn. And there were no, no forests or anything like that nearby. But along the canal there were a lot of bushes that grew and so, and I'd go and have to gather those and put it, use it as a firewood. And, then the other, well, also we used broken crates, the crates that we put vegetables in. It would break and so we would burn that, too. But, it was quite a job to do that every night.

RP: With all that you already had to do. You had a lot to do already.

NM: Yeah, uh-huh. And this was extra.

RP: And the family would bathe every night? Was that a daily...

NM: Yes, oh yes.

RP: Soak, soak out that tension and ease the muscles a little?

NM: I guess so. It was nice, too. They had a wooden platform floating on the top. And you'd get on that and you'd just gradually sink down to the bottom in the hot water. It was really nice. Like a sauna, I guess.

Off Camera: They still have that. After the war when I used to go back and visit in the summers...

NM: We had that. As long as we were on the farm we used it.

RP: Did your father lease the, the land that he farmed?

NM: No, he bought... well, in the beginning yes, but he bought it.

RP: Oh, he eventually bought it.

NM: But we owned it, yes.

RP: And, there were alien land laws at that time.

NM: Oh, yes. Definitely. But, we weren't very old at that time but still the land was put in our names. My sister and I were landowners when we were just teenagers. [Laughs]

RP: And sometimes, I guess, yeah if they had, if an Issei man had a family of young kids he could pay to use somebody else's name. Like a Nisei --

NM: Yes. If they didn't have children they had to do it that way.

RP: -- over eighteen.

NM: Kind of risky. If that, if they didn't choose a good man why they might have lost their property.

RP: This is kind of a speculative question, but do you think your father, if he was able to become a citizen of the United States would have?

NM: Oh, yes, I think so. Because he planned to live here. He didn't plan to go back.

Off Camera: But he did become one.

NM: Huh?

Off Camera: He did become one.

NM: Oh yes, after he was able to become a citizen he did. Yeah, right away.

RP: Do you remember helping him in that process?

NM: No, I don't. I wasn't living... where was I at that time? That was '52 huh? I think we went to Japan? Anyway, I didn't help him.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

RP: And where did you attend grammar school, Nellie?

NM: In Lehi. That little community, Lehi.

RP: Was it a walking distance from your farm?

NM: It was about three miles away. Yes, we walked it in the beginning. Yeah. But there was a ditch that ran alongside the road. So we took off our shoes and walked in the water to go to school. [Laughs]

RP: Pleasant in the summertime.

NM: It was nice in the summer, yes.

RP: And then you attended Mesa Union High School?

NM: Yes. Grammar school I attended Alma school, which was also about three miles away. And we had to walk all the time. And that was in first and second grade. And in third grade I went to Lehi. And later on they had a bus to pick us up. But still we had to walk about half a mile. And I forgot what your question was?

RP: Oh, that's what it was.

NM: Oh, yeah.

RP: School. Yeah. Tell us a little bit about your, your interests in school. What, what subjects did you favor?

NM: Well, I don't know whether I favored any special class or not in my grammar school days. But in the high school I majored in science, physical science, well, I took biology as a minor. And, so science and math as a minor, too.

RP: Were you involved in clubs, any social activities in school?

NM: Well, I guess the, I think in grammar school, I'm not too sure, but I may have been in the orchestra. And in high school I was in the orchestra.

RP: What did you play?

NM: Violin, fiddle. I didn't play it, I just scratched it. [Laughs] But anyway, yes I... and in the orchestra we got to go to different occasions and do different functions and it was fun. And besides that I think I was in the science club. I don't know if I was in one of those, I don't think I was in Phi Beta Kappa, but anyway, one of the education.

Off Camera: That was college. Seems like honor society or something in high school.

NM: Huh?

Off Camera: Honor society or something in high school?

NM: Honor society, yeah. Something like that.

RP: So what was your personality like when you were growing up? Were you shy, were you outgoing, or did you get more outgoing as you...

NM: Well, I got to be very talkative, as you can see now. But in those days I was very shy. I didn't, I was not outgoing.

RP: Did you have any hobbies when you were growing up and during your school years?

NM: Well, I learned how to crochet and knit and that kind of thing. Made jam and things like that. I don't know if you'd call it a hobby or not, but maybe a necessity. Do that kind of thing.

RP: How about your, your parents, did they have a creative side to them that they expressed? Or did they have, maybe not time to do that.

NM: No, they didn't have time to do anything special. Although my father enjoyed fishing and he made a fishing net, fishnet, he used to call it. And, with those little squares but with a heavy string. And that was quite a large one. I don't know what happened to it. But anyway, and my mother didn't have any special hobby that I can recall. But in her younger days I guess she did sewing and things like that. But I know she didn't like to cook 'cause as soon as we were able to cook we had to do the cooking. She would rather go out in the field and work.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

RP: Did, during your upbringing, did you have any experiences with discrimination or prejudice? When did you kind of get awareness that you were Japanese American, maybe different than some of the other people in the, in the community?

NM: I think growing up that, it was a small community, so I don't think we felt discrimination as such. But later on, just before the war broke out, I guess around '39 or something, around that time when Japan was moving into China, that period, there was, a bomb, homemade bomb thrown into our yard. And this was done also on other farms too. But it didn't go off and I had a friend who went... I think the Mexican worker going out to the fields had to go by the road that was in the front and probably saw it. And so this friend who happened to be there got it and put it in a bucket of water. So I don't, I don't know whether it was a real bomb or just a makeshift kind of thing. But it was some young fellows who were out to have a good time. And so I know our place and then this other, Ishikawas farm, they had thrown a bomb there, too. Yeah, but other than that, I, growing up I don't think in like grammar school, high school, I didn't feel any discrimination.

RP: You were included?

NM: Yes, I was able to do things. It was my choice, I think, if I wanted to do more I could have but I didn't. Had to go straight home and work.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

RP: And did you have aspirations to attend college after high school? How, how did that go down with your parents?

NM: Oh, I think my parents wanted us to continue education and I didn't have any special aspirations or such. It's just something that I thought I would be doing. So it was probably instilled by my parents that we would go as far as we could. So, yeah, most of us were able to go to college. I think all of us. No, junior college, and one sister was business college and another she was ill and she didn't get very far.

RP: So you went to junior college first? Or did you go straight to...

NM: Me? Oh, I went straight to --

RP: Arizona State?

NM: Yes. I guess it was Tempe at that time, I don't know.

RP: And were you able to receive a scholarship or how was education financed?

NM: No scholarship, but I worked in the summer. I remember working at the college there. We had to do the scrubbing, like cleaning the walls and doors. And the man who was in charge says, "Don't do it from the top. Start from the bottom and go up. Because if you do it from the top, dirty water will come down and make a streak which won't come off." So that was the lesson I learned from that experience. But, yeah, so we sort of financed it ourselves and I didn't get any outside help.

RP: And how far away was Arizona State College from your, your home?

NM: I'm not too sure about the distance but it was between Phoenix and Mesa. Tempe was about five, six miles maybe?

RP: Did you commute?

NM: I commuted, yes.

RP: What kind of car did you drive at that time?

NM: Model A, Ford.

RP: Uh-huh.

NM: And it had a rumble seat I think, as I recall.

RP: Wow. So, what was, what were your first impressions of college? You know, going from the farm to, to a state college?

NM: I don't know that I had any impression but it was a big place, of course. And kind of confusing. Had to go to different classes and different buildings. And it's kind of hard to get used to all the people, I guess. And changing teachers, I mean, going to different classes.

RP: When did your future husband show up in Mesa? You said that he was assigned to come and minister there.

NM: Minister, yes. I think he came in '39. And in the fall of '39, I think, or summer of '39.

RP: So you were going to college at the time?

NM: Yes, at that time I was going...

RP: Uh-huh and how did you meet him?

NM: (...) My dad and I went to the station to pick him up. 'Cause he came by train. That's the first time I saw him.

RP: And did he, and so he ministered at the Methodist church?

NM: Yes.

RP: And did he also attend the college that you were going to?

NM: Yes, he was on a student visa at the time. And of course being a minister he was able to stay, too, but, so he was still required I think to go to school. And so he went to college.

RP: And where did he come from before he, he landed in Mesa? Where was he based in?

NM: I think he, he was a student in New York. He attended the seminary in New York. And then he was ill and was in a sanitarium for a year or maybe two. And then after he was released he came out to Mesa. I guess he joined the provisional conference that summer and he was assigned to Mesa.

RP: So, what were your impressions of him when you first met him or got to know him a little bit?

NM: Oh, I don't know. [Laughs] He was kind and he was very interested in people. And so... I don't know whether I thought anything special at the time.

RP: And when did you get married?

NM: In '41, in the summer of '41, 1941. I graduated in '40. So it was the next year.

Off Camera: 1941?

NM: 1941.

Off Camera: They never did celebrate their anniversary.

NM: What?

Off Camera: I said you never did celebrate your anniversaries.

NM: No, I don't think so. We could hardly celebrate our wedding either. Well, we had a wedding party and all. But that was in the summer just before the war broke out. So...

RP: So you had just graduated and, and you received a bachelor of arts degree?

NM: Yes. I graduated in '40, 1940. And then, yes, with a bachelors. It was bachelor of art although I majored in science. I don't... well, because I guess it's a, it's a teaching, it used to be a teachers school, college. And so I don't know whether they had bachelor of sciences at that time.

RP: Were there many other women attending that college at that time?

NM: There were many women, yes. You mean in general?

RP: In general.

NM: Not very many Japanese though. Was I the only Japanese? Maybe. I think at that time, uh-huh. My sister had moved out already. She, she attended there but she moved away.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

RP: You graduated and the next year you were married.

NM: Yeah, right away.

RP: And, and you were married I imagine in the Mesa Methodist church?

NM: The wedding ceremony was at a, my home, at home. I don't know why we didn't use the church.

RP: Did you have the whole community there?

NM: I don't, I don't recall who were there. But probably not too many. Well, it was wasn't a very large community anyway. Of course we had to have a go-between.

RP: Baishakunin?

NM: Oh, yeah.

RP: And who was that?

Off Camera: Who was it?

RP: Who was the baishakunin?

NM: The Nakatsus, N-A-K-A-T-S-U.

RP: Uh-huh.

NM: And Kawamotos. K-A-W-A-M-O-T-O.

Off Camera: They didn't live in...

NM: What?

Off Camera: Nakatsus lived in Tempe.

NM: Yes, they lived in Tempe. But they were old friends of ours.

RP: They were.

NM: But, but they, their name came in after we were engaged and all. It was just a...

RP: Formality?

NM: Formality, tradition.

RP: Not like it would have been in Japan.

NM: No.

RP: With all the sort of going over records and, and inspections and...

NM: Yeah. Well, I think they went over the records. I think my father checked up on my husband's family in Japan. Or he had a friend look it up and found out that, "Oh yeah, they're okay." [Laughs]


RP: This is tape two of a continuing interview with Nellie Okazaki Mitani. And Nellie, we were talking about the circumstances that brought you and your husband together. You were mentioning about the baishakunin and everything. Your father approved of, of this, of your husband, and things went forward and where did you, do you remember going on a honeymoon first of all?

NM: Well, I guess you'd call it, uh-huh.

RP: Where did you go?

NM: We went to Tucson and spent a few days, that was all.

RP: Uh-huh. How did you take to the, the southwest, the desert country? Did you, did you embrace that landscape or was it a hot place and just...

NM: Well, I guess I didn't know any better. I mean, I was born there and just grew into it. And yes, it was very hot during the summers. But we still had to work. We grew vegetables that ripened in the summertimes so... or we had to plant them in the heat of the summer. July and August was planting time.

RP: What would you plant then? What would you plant?

NM: We'd plant, oh, in the later years it was like carrots, mostly carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach. Oh, any kind, turnips and beets and all, all kinds of truck vegetables. And we had some citrus. But, earlier, before that, I guess when we were very young, my father specialized in melons.

RP: And so you got married in the summer of 1941, and then you moved to Bakersfield?

NM: Yes. We were assigned to Bakersfield Church, Japanese church.

RP: So, Bakersfield is kind of a semi-arid area, too, but it's a very agricultural area.

NM: Yes, that's right.

RP: And so you settled in Bakersfield and that was just before the war broke out.

NM: Yes, yes. We didn't quite settle. We were just beginning to settle down.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

RP: And tell us about December 7, 1941. What do you remember about that day?

NM: It was right after church and from the church we went to a grocery store to do a bit of shopping. And at that time the announcement came over the radio that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor. And so we couldn't believe it, of course. So we finished our shopping and hurried back home, back to the, well, our parsonage. And I don't know what we did after that. Probably just listened to the radio. That's the only way we got news.

RP: How did, how did your life change for you and your husband after the war broke out?

NM: I think we continued to live as we were there for a while, that is, at the parsonage. And then when we had to be evacuated we moved in with a widower who had a large house. And so we lived there until we were relocated in May.

RP: And who was that widow that you moved in?

NM: I can't recall her first name, but it's Mrs. Tanaka, T-A-N-A-K-A. Actually, her husband was a well-respected leader of the community. But he had passed away.

RP: I know you weren't there very long, but there was a, was there a Japanese town in Bakersfield or a specific section of the, of the town where Japanese lived?

NM: No, not a concentrated area. But because they were mostly farmers and they were scattered around. And there were a few families that lived, well, I say a few but maybe two or three, who lived in the city itself, the grocery or some kind of restaurant or something like that.

RP: Would your husband go out on ministerial trips to some of these farms and...

NM: Yes. Well, in the beginning we were under curfew and couldn't travel very far. And, but later on we were able to go visit different members of our church and we went around.

RP: There were other restrictions like curfews?

NM: Yes. My husband was a student at SC and so he was commuting I don't know how many days a week. But he couldn't, of course, travel after that. And so he had to, he couldn't go to school after that anyway. And then locally I guess, I don't know whether the curfew lasted for the duration of our time there, but we didn't go around at night very much anyway. Like, I guess we were under some restriction because my sister was in Dinuba, the Fresno area? And so she went back home to Arizona but she was accompanied by a guard or somebody accompanied her. I don't know if it was a guard but I guess for her protection as well. She was a single woman traveling, so, yeah. And she stopped in at our place. So she was allowed some freedom like that. But, yeah, we were restricted in traveling.

Off Camera: Yeah, because before the war she used to go back and she went, was at Biola down here in L.A. She used to hitchhike, right? Back to Arizona.

NM: Oh, I don't know about that.

Off Camera: Yeah. She told us.

NM: Well, the one who hitchhiked I guess was Lita.

Off Camera: And Mariyo did too, before the war. I was thinking gee, a woman?

NM: Maybe she did.

RP: Hitchhiked that distance?

NM: I don't know. We can't find out now. It's too late.

Off Camera: No.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

RP: What was your gut feeling when you received the news that you would have to leave Bakersfield, as the government call it, evacuated? Be removed from your community and sent somewhere? Did you...

NM: Oh, I think it was very upsetting of course. But, I think it sort of came on gradually and we were sort of in a state of flux anyway. We didn't know what's going to happen. And so, little by little, things changed and it wasn't something that came all at once. We kind of expected something to happen. So, I guess we were upset of course but I don't think it was something we thought we had to do something about. It was that shigata ga nai feeling, you know.

RP: Do you know how much time you had to prepare to, to go to Poston?

NM: I think the evacuation order came in, what, February or something like that? And we had to leave, we left in middle of May. So, I guess the camps weren't ready in the first place, I guess, anyway. So they couldn't send us all out there until after we had a place to live. And so we kind of stayed until then.

RP: Now you received a lot of support from folks in the church community.

NM: Yes.

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

NM: Yes. We, there was a person named Emma Buckmaster. And she had a friend, Miss... can't remember, recall her name. But anyway, Miss Buckmaster was a first grade teacher and so she had taught many of the younger generation. And she was a very staunch friend of the church, too. She was a Methodist church member, and so she helped the Japanese church a good deal. She taught, I think she taught Sunday school and helped in various ways, so. And so she and her friend and the minister at the time, Reverend Throckmorton and his family, they were right there helping us out and supporting us. So, we felt very strong about that. Of course, I had just been there only since the summer so I didn't have too many Caucasian friends yet. But, I think the long time residents there had friends and they, they were very helpful to them, yes. There was no incident of attack or anything like that.

RP: And some of the Caucasian church members took possession of some of your personal property?

NM: Yes, our property. We, in Bakersfield, all of the property was put into the church, stored in the church. And so after we were sent to the camps and we'd need different things that we had, they would go and get the things for the people who had these needs and send it to us in our camp. So, that was in our community and I'm sure things like that happened in other places, too.

RP: Did you have items that they sent to you in Poston?

NM: [Coughs] Excuse me, I don't think I had anything special. I don't think I had much of anything anyway at that time. Just married, not much of possessions or anything. So, but I know other people had many things sent to them.

Off Camera: Was your friend's name Lottie?

NM: Hm?

Off Camera: Was the friend's name Lottie or something?

NM: Lottie? Lottie Phillips, Phillips, yeah, was the other person. Lottie, Lottie Phillips.

Off Camera: Have you heard of her? Have you talked to other people about it?

NM: Yes, you probably have because they were very helpful for the Japanese.

RP: We've heard those two names before.

NM: Yes, I'm sure.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

RP: You were, when you went to Poston you were one of the first --

NM: Yes, yeah.

RP: -- groups to go. You mentioned to me the first group was from El Centro.

NM: Yes, they were there. They arrived apparently the night before we did. We arrived there in the morning. Yeah.

RP: And then you came next and you were basically kind of accompanying a group of young people who wanted to volunteer to help set up --

NM: Yeah.

RP: -- services at Poston?

NM: Yes. I forgot how many there were. Fifteen, maybe twenty, something like that.

RP: Uh-huh. And these would be mostly Niseis?

NM: Oh yes. Uh-huh.

RP: Professional people?

NM: No, I think they were in their early twenties, maybe in their teens, late teens, around that age. And so they were all young. I mean, the population as a whole weren't, they weren't very old yet.

RP: And so you, you acted kind of as chaperones for them?

NM: Yes, I think that was the purpose, yes. And being bilingual, I guess, was something that later on my husband needed to know what's going on in the camp so probably had that in mind, too.

RP: Did your husband share your, your feelings as far as what was happening? The government rounding up people, Japanese Americans and resident Japanese and sending them to camps? I just wanted to get a sense from you, was he, did he have a strong political bent or social bent to his, to his awareness?

NM: No, I don't think that he expressed anything verbally. But I know it was very upsetting, not only to him but to all the others too. And, he of course became active in camp.

RP: Do you recall any, do you have any memories about the trip to Poston? Did you leave Bakersfield on the train?

NM: Yes. Yes. I remember we were milling around in the station there for the train to come pick us up in the morning. And, we, after we were all herded into the train the blinds were put down. I don't know why. Maybe I mentioned it to you before, the only things that I could, or people could see us, or things that could see us would be cows or horses. And I don't know whether they wanted to keep us from seeing what was outside but it was only desert so... of course we could kind of peek out, too. But, it was a rather uneventful trip. We were all quiet. Nobody started any problems. And Miyo enjoyed eating her apple that somebody gave her. She was walking up and down the aisle.

Off Camera: That was later. I wasn't born yet.

NM: Oh, you weren't born yet. Yeah, that, that's the next trip we took.

Off Camera: That was going to Crystal City.

NM: Going to Crystal City is right.

RP: You don't want to rush that.

NM: I'm getting mixed up here. [Laughs]

RP: So what was the mood like on the platform there while you were waiting for the train?

NM: I think we were all pretty silent. I don't remember anybody sort of talking, upset conversation or anything like that. We just, being Japanese, shigata ga nai.

RP: Were there any folks like Lottie or Emma that saw you off at the train station?

NM: I don't recall. I don't know if they did or not. I don't remember, so maybe they didn't. I think maybe they thought it was wiser not to be sending us off.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

RP: So, being one of the first sort of volunteer groups to Poston, what were your responsibilities once you got off the bus? How did you help to, to set up the camp?

NM: Well, I guess after, we had to go to our little stack of straw and mattress covers and fill our mattress. I think that was one of the first things we did. And then I don't know how my husband was assigned to be a block manager, but I guess sort of leading the group into the camp anyway. So he was the block manager there. And then afterwards the, some of the younger people took over. But, I think like I told you before, the El Centro group was already, they were in Block 5. We were across the street in Block 6. So, they had their own setup I suppose. But we sort of met the group that were coming into 6 and helped them adjust. I guess my husband was a block manager for a while so taking care of all the needs, distributing whatever, mattress or getting them ironing boards and stuff like that.

RP: So you, when you first walked into the, the barrack room, what did you see in there?

NM: Nothing. There was nothing in there I guess, just the four walls. And, I don't even think the windows were covered. They were just open windows. But I don't remember my walking in actually, so... too many things going on I guess.

RP: And you helped in the processing of folks who were being sent to the camp.

NM: Yeah, coming in, yeah.

RP: What did you, do you recall what you specifically did?

NM: No. No I don't.

RP: Was there a large building where people kind of filed through?

NM: Yes, there was a reception area I guess you'd call it. And so I think different ones of us had to do the clerical work and things like that. But I don't know exactly what I did.

RP: Do you, did you get a sense of, what were the, the people's emotions as they came through that reception center?

NM: No, I don't recall except they were all very quiet and the face, shigata ga nai kind of a face. You had to take it.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

RP: Now, your, your parents and some of your siblings didn't go to camp.

NM: No.

RP: Can you explain how, why that happened?

NM: Yes because they had drawn a line, I think along the coast covering, I mean, I don't know how far from the coastline, but through the coastal cities, states. And then across the southern part of Arizona. And the line went through the highway in Mesa. And so my parents happened to live on the north side, and north side was not evacuated. But the south side was. So some of our friends who lived in the south had to go to camp. But we didn't have to. I mean, my parents didn't have to. Just an arbitrary line.

RP: And do you know of any families that just sort of moved over the, across the street to, to escape going to camp?

NM: No, I don't think, I don't recall that happening. And I don't think they could very well do that actually. Probably after it was set, the dividing line was set, I don't think they were able to move over, move.

RP: Yeah.

Off Camera: Who went to... lived with the Nakatsus or something to go finish school to or something?

NM: Yuji went to live over there so he could go to school in Tempe.

Off Camera: Yuji.

NM: In Tempe there was a Nakatsu family. He lived in Tempe.

Off Camera: Yuji.

NM: And they were on the north side of the highway.

Off Camera: Lita or Yuji? It was Lita? No.

NM: Lita.

Off Camera: You said Yuji.

NM: Did I say Yuji? Yuji wasn't born yet.

Off Camera: No he wasn't. That's my younger brother.

NM: I get my brother and son mixed up all the time. Short name. Y-U-J-I and L-I-T-A. And that's maybe one reason, but anyway, I'm always saying the wrong name.

RP: So this, this gentleman did move across?

Off Camera: That's, so Lita went to Nakatsus? Why did he if they lived on the north side?

NM: 'Cause the high school was on the south side and he was still in high school. And he couldn't attend the school and so he had to go to Tempe and go to Tempe High School which was on the north side of the freeway, of the highway.

NM: Yeah, a lot of confusion.

RP: A lot of confusion.

NM: I could understand why you're shaking your head because that would not have happened now. This was what, sixty years ago.

RP: Did you, speaking of confusion, was that sort of the atmosphere in the early days of Poston or, or even the first few months, did you feel that?

NM: Well, yes, I think there was a feeling of confusion. What can we do? What should we do? That kind of a feeling. 'Cause we were just sent there and dumped in the camp there, sort of. And I don't know that there was any great leadership at that time. 'Cause they were all from different areas and we had to sort of figure out what to do ourselves.

RP: Right.

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

<Begin Segment 19>

NM: Now, you and your husband moved in to the Block 6 --

NM: Block 6, yes.

RP: -- barrack room and who was assigned to that room as well?

NM: There were, there was another couple. let's see, who were they? Well, there was a name. One man was from Japan. He was a businessman who was with us, so he moved into camp with us. And later he had to, he was sent back to Japan on the Gripsholm, that ship. And then there was a minister who was single, and then this couple. And then us, so there were six of us in there.

RP: And how did you create privacy there?

NM: Oh, we had blankets to hang. Or big sheets or whatever, cloths. That, that's the only privacy we had.

RP: Did, you mentioned that the one Japanese man left to...

NM: Went back to Japan.

RP: Back to Japan. And did the other --

NM: They all...

RP: -- folks leave and go to other rooms?

NM: They were able to get rooms for themselves, uh-huh.

RP: And how, do you recall, did your barrack room improve during the time you were in Poston? Do you remember making any improvements?

NM: It didn't improve unless we did the improving. And I don't know that my room was improved that much. My husband was too busy and I was carrying Miyo. So, we just existed I guess. And, I don't think he, I don't think we did. I don't even remember whether I made curtains. We must have had something though. I know later on at the other camp I made a curtain, which I have. But that was Crystal City, huh? Well, I still have it somewhere.

RP: And you, you had your, your daughter in camp.

NM: Yes.

RP: And do you remember anything about the doctors that provided care for you?

NM: My doctor was from Hawaii and a very well-respected doctor apparently in Hawaii, too. And so he was very good.

RP: Were there any other early hardships that you experienced at Poston?

NM: Well, I took teacher's training in the summer, and we had to ride a bus and go to some, I think it was the Indian school or something, for our training. And at that time I was carrying Miyo. But I jumped off the bus and that wasn't too good. I mean, I kind of hurt my hip a little bit, I guess. But, so that, so that kind of thing was one of the inconveniences and, and not so good a situation I guess you'd call it, yeah. But, otherwise I don't know...

RP: Dust storms?

NM: Dust, oh yes. Well, I was born in it so it really didn't bother me that much. I mean, in Mesa we always got this thing. We'd see this dust circling around and say, "Oh yeah, now it will come over here." But it had a sort of semicircle and then it would blow towards us. But yeah, yes, that happened in Poston, too. Of course in Poston I guess it was a little worse than Mesa 'cause it wasn't cultivated. There was a lot of sandy ground. Yeah, but I suppose that would be one of the biggest problems for most of the people who lived on the coast, to have those.

RP: Were you aware that, that the camp was on an Indian reservation?

NM: I think so, yes.

RP: Did you ever see any Native Americans --

NM: I don't think so.

RP: -- work in the camp?

NM: I don't, I don't think they worked in the camp. Maybe they did, but I didn't see them.

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

<Begin Segment 20>

RP: How about your husband? You said he got sort of actively involved in the community and some of the politics at Poston. How about as far as religion goes, did he help set up the first Christian church?

NM: I think he was involved in that, yes. And then of course he was involved in the co-ops, setting that up and all. And working with the administration as an interpreter, so, so I don't know that he did anything special to organize things because he had to interpret most of the time.

RP: Did he interpret for the project director?

NM: Yes.

RP: Mr. Head?

NM: Yes, Mr. Head.

RP: So he had a relationship with him.

NM: He had a good relationship, yes. Mr. Head was a very kind gentleman actually and I think the residents there liked him. So far as you can like an administrator who's over you.

RP: There were a number of different factions in Poston, as there was in some of the other camps. You had the, you had the Nisei, the Issei, and then Kibei as well.

NM: Kibei.

RP: There was, always seemed to be friction between one group and another.

NM: Yes, uh-huh.

RP: Do you remember some of that?

NM: Well, of course they had the strike because of some of that I think. Some, some group was against the administration or against what the policy of their food situation, or something. They had some, some kind of grievance. But, yeah, as I say, I was mostly in the house. I didn't do much of anything. So, I wasn't aware of too much except that my husband was out all the time. And so, but he didn't come back and talk about what happened or what went on, so much.

RP: Some of the, some of the Nisei and also Kibei who were considered to be collaborating with the administration and in some cases there were charges of, that they were kind of spying on people.

NM: Yeah, the inu.

RP: Uh-huh, you said it. Some of those people were beaten up.

NM: Oh, I understand they were, uh-huh.

RP: Your, your husband being a religious man, did he offer any mediation or, or how did he fit into that, all that turmoil?

NM: I think he, well, as an interpreter, I don't know how much personal mediation he did. But I think he had to convey what the administration was facing and vice versa. That was more the kind of thing that he had to do.

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

<Begin Segment 21>

RP: Can you give us your memory of the experience in Poston where your husband eventually was picked up by the FBI? What, what led to, to that?

NM: Well, I'm not sure exactly what. But I think his talks that he made to the group, to the, the large group that was gathering together. And he gave these talks on newspaper and magazine news that, to the people. Because the people were absolutely ignorant about what was going on because they couldn't use their radios either. And, and so he would use these materials and sort of convey to the people, in Japanese of course, and, what was going on outside. And so of course the news hungry Japanese, the men especially, came, even from Camp II and Camp III. And so there were thousands of men in one group and I think that was kind of fearful for the administration. 'Cause my husband could say something and arouse this group and if you have thousands attacking the administration it'd be something terrible. And anyway, I guess that was sort of the feeling that the administration had. And so they probably figured it's best to get him out of camp. And so, so he was taken out. And the people to do that I guess was the FBI. So they came in.

RP: They came to your barrack room?

NM: Yes.

RP: Can you describe what happened?

NM: Well, they, they came in a car and parked out front. And our room was the end room. It was facing the street. So they came knocking and asked to come in. And so of course they came in. And they, they wanted, they just said, "We have, want to talk to your husband." Oh you know, "Talk to you," I guess they talked to him personally, "have a few questions to ask, and it won't take long." And I said, I don't know why, but I said, "Well, should I get his toothbrush and pajamas for him?" And they said, "Oh no, you don't have to do that." But I don't know why I asked such a question when just two men come in and want to talk to my husband. But I had a feeling I think that they were going to probably take him. Because a lot of the men were taken from the camp, even after the initial roundup, the various leaders in the camp itself were taken out. So, "No, don't, we just want to talk to him a little bit. But what they did was they took him out and went to Phoenix and he stayed overnight in the jail there. And Reverend Stewart was the minister in Mesa was able to visit him and so that's how we found out what had happened. And then from there I guess they drove on to Santa Fe. He was there in Santa Fe for over the winter. And then we joined him in Crystal City. I think it was around in April.

RP: 1944?

NM: '44, yes, the next year.

RP: And he had contracted tuberculosis?

NM: Yes, though he had that from way before while he was a student. And so he was mostly in the hospital, I think, in Santa Fe.

RP: Did you receive any letters or communication from him while he was there?

NM: Yeah, I probably did but I don't recall specifically what was said or anything.

RP: So you were pretty much left alone with your child?

NM: Uh-huh.

RP: Did you get any support from other members of your block or...

NM: Oh, yes. They were all supportive and I remember, I have an old friend of my husband's was living in another block but he came over and wanted to help me out. Do, you know, do whatever he can he said so, had support like that. So, I guess we just continued living as we were. I guess Connie came over after that.

Off Camera: Was that when she came?

NM: I think so. My younger sister came and helped at one point.

RP: So she, she was in Mesa at the time?

NM: Yes.

RP: And she came to the camp?

NM: Yes.

RP: And helped you during the time you were gonna deliver your...

NM: Yes, well, she came over to wash diapers. [Laughs]

RP: But not in the stream, right?

NM: Huh? No, not in the stream. No. In the lavatory that we had, latrine.

RP: Uh-huh.

Off Camera: So the FBI, they were kind of a little bit sneaky there saying that really you didn't have any inkling that they were gonna take --

NM: No.

RP: -- him away.

NM: No, we just thought that they were gonna just talk to him and go.

RP: Or maybe just an overnight in the jail. Maybe that was even...

NM: That, that wasn't implied at all. They just said that they want to talk where I wasn't present so they would take him out and, and talk to him.

RP: And was it the typical FBI look with the long coats and the fedoras and...

NM: No, I don't think so. I think they were just natural looking and so I don't, I think I had a glimpse of their car.

Off Camera: Pretty informal.

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

<Begin Segment 22>

NM: Their car of course was an official car I think and so I probably understood or knew that, yeah.

RP: One of the ironies that you mentioned about that is that you said that your husband would submit all the materials that he was going to use --

NM: Uh-huh.

RP: -- to the administration. So they knew exactly what he was using and what the content --

NM: Yeah, of course.

RP: -- was of his discussion. But yet they still had that sort of suspicion that he might slant something.

NM: Oh yes, uh-huh. I think, yeah, I think that's true.

RP: And did this, did these gatherings or readings, did these occur after the strike?

NM: I think that was before.

RP: Before.

NM: I think he started early, early, yeah.

RP: He started early?

NM: Soon after, yes, because all the people were insecure and all that so I think he started it up soon after we got there.

RP: And so it went on for, for a --

NM: We were there --

RP: -- a good time.

NM: '43, probably he started in the fall.

RP: Of '42?

NM: Probably so. So, almost a year I guess. Of '43 in fall he was taken.

RP: Right. And you said that at first a few people showed up in the mess hall and the word got around and then you have all these folks. I can just see truckloads of people coming from Camp II and III.

NM: Yeah, yeah. They came, that was after there were so many people that they started the talks out on the recreation blank spaces, open spaces. They had, they had a stage set up for plays and stuff like that I think. So everybody took their little homemade camp stools and sat on the ground, listened to him.

RP: These were, the materials he used were magazines and newspapers? English magazines and newspapers?

NM: Yeah, uh-huh. What was available, yes. 'Cause I think they had those available for the English-speaking people. But the Japanese speaking people didn't have any kind of reading material.

RP: There were, to your knowledge, there never was a Japanese edition of the, the newspaper in Poston?

NM: I don't think so. Like the Rafu Shimpo and all? No. Oh, because they were all sent to camp. They couldn't do any work, they couldn't publish.

RP: I just wanted to, a few more questions about Poston. What do you remember about a gentleman by the name of Dr. Herbert Nicholson?

NM: Remember him as a kindly minister and very humble. He loved Japanese.

RP: Did he visit you and your husband in Poston?

NM: Yes. I don't specifically remember an occasion where he came to the room. But I know he was there at the church that we had or barrack there. And actually he brought my husband a bicycle. Some, it was donated, I guess. And my husband was of course going from Block 6 all the way across to the administration buildings and doing a lot of walking. So Reverend Nicholson thought he needed a bicycle. And so he brought that. I guess somebody had donated or he probably asked for a donation of bicycles.

RP: Did he bring any other items for you personally?

NM: Not that I remember, no. I don't think so. But he helped a lot of the people though. I'm sure if there are people who, who were in need, he'd probably help them out.

RP: Was, is there any other important event or person that stands out in your mind when you think of Poston?

NM: No. No, I don't, I don't think of any special person or all... because I was more or less house, what do you call, house ridden, or, I was in the, my room most of the time, taking care of Miyo. And I didn't go out and do much socializing at all. And so I don't know that I went out to any of the meetings or anything like that. It was a chore to carry a little baby around in those days. Had to really carry them.

Off Camera: They said somebody made a wagon?

NM: That was in Gila.

Off Camera: Oh, that was in Gila.

NM: That's after you started walking.

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

<Begin Segment 23>

RP: So the next time you saw your husband was in Crystal City?

NM: Yes.

RP: And what was that like when you got there and you had been apart for months?

NM: Well, he was still in the hospital. He came out of the hospital in Santa Fe to the hospital in Crystal City. And so he couldn't come out. Well he, he had to stay in, inside. And then so I would take Miyo and go and visit him through the window. And of course my biggest complaint was the mosquitoes they had, great big ones. I called them bombers. And the fleas. And I'm very allergic to fleabites, so it wasn't a very happy situation there. But later on he was able to come out and could visit outside the door. But that was sometime later.

RP: And, how did you end up going to Crystal City to be reunited with your husband? Did somebody approach you in Poston and say, you know, there's this, in Crystal, this family camp in Crystal City or did you inquire about that?

NM: I don't think so. I don't think that I knew about it. Yeah, Crystal City and such until probably later. There was talk about that and I don't know how we were chosen to go. But there were quite a number of families, a trainload anyway. I mean, a carload.

RP: What are some of your other vivid memories of the short time you spent in Crystal City?

NM: Well, there was a family, at that time I guess just the husband and wife were there. But, she grew gourds and made one of the ingredients that's used in the sushi. And they call it kampyo. And so I thought that was really something that she was able to do that there. And then the other thing was the Peruvian, Japanese descendent from Peru, she lived across the, from my, my room. And she was a very kindly woman and a big person. And, and I don't know, she was probably not pure Japanese. But anyway, she would make doughnuts. Not, not the, not the one with the hole in it but you know, and bring it over to me. And Miyo, we enjoyed her friendship.

KP: What, what language did she speak?

NM: Japanese.

KP: That's what you, that was your common language?

NM: Yes. Because otherwise she spoke Peruvian Spanish or whatever it is.

RP: Was, Crystal City was a very interesting camp because not only were there Japanese there but there were also Germans --

NM: Yes.

RP: -- and Italians, and you remember a story about, about the Germans there. Can you share that with us?

NM: Yeah, well, not exactly a story because I actually saw these women, big hefty women, and they would walk at a nice fast pace around the camp, around by the fence. That was their exercise, I think. They did that regularly. It was kind of fun to watch them walking around.

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

<Begin Segment 24>

RP: How did the living situation differ, or did it, from between Poston and the accommodations that you had in Crystal City?

NM: I think it was a little bit nicer, the room was. And I think we, we were able to do our own cooking, yes. And they had a bed and it was just one room where our bed was here and the kitchen was over on this side, yes. And...

RP: Did you have your own bathroom facilities, too?

NM: I think so. I can't remember. I guess I took a bath, but I don't remember.

RP: You had all that in one, one room?

NM: Yes. I think so.

Off Camera: Were they two stories? 'Cause that one picture of me, they look more like some of the military bases in, in Germany where they were like two or three stories high those buildings.

NM: I don't think so. I think it was just one story.

Off Camera: I wonder where those buildings were then.

RP: I think they had buildings they called Victory Huts. They were just small units like you were...

NM: In Crystal City.

RP: In Crystal City.

NM: Yes. I think so. Yeah, yeah. I don't know whether there was people living on the other side of the building or not. But on my side I think it was just my room that I remember.

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

<Begin Segment 25>

RP: So was there a time when your husband actually was released from the hospital and lived with you in the... he was always in the hospital?

NM: Yes.

RP: The whole time you were at Crystal City?

NM: Yes. I think so, but I don't know whether he was released from the hospital just before we left there. I think he was probably released, yeah, before. Because I remember, I don't remember how we left or where we left.

RP: To go to Gila?

NM: Yes. I just remember we were on the train and there was a man standing watching us, guarding us. We had a guard going back.

RP: To Gila?

NM: Uh-huh.

RP: With a, with a rifle?

NM: No. I don't think so. He might have had something hidden, but I... I guess it's for our protection as well. At least I take it that way.

RP: So you weren't in Crystal City very long.

NM: No. No, I think, what was it? April to September or something like that? Just over the summer. Just enough to enjoy the mosquitoes.

RP: Yeah. They got a chance to draw some blood from you and, and then you were gone.

NM: Uh-huh.

RP: So did, did she get to play with some other kids in Crystal City?

NM: I don't think so. I don't even recall any small children there.

RP: And so you were back in the Arizona desert again in Gila.

NM: Yes.

RP: And were you in, there were two camps in Gila. Did you camp in Canal...

NM: We were in Riverside, Rivers.

RP: Oh, okay.

NM: There was...

RP: Canal Camp and Butte Camp?

NM: Oh, Butte, I guess. I think it was...

RP: And was your husband hospitalized at Gila as well, too?

NM: Yes, uh-huh. He was... I guess he was able to, he was discharged maybe about a month before we went to Mesa. Or, that was at the end of, I think we stayed until about the last day or a few days before the camp closed.

RP: And you met a gentleman in Gila who was an optometrist? And he made, he made something for you.

NM: Yes. His name was Nakamura and I think he came from Stockton. But he made this little cart in which to carry Miyo around, or pull her around. And he made the wheels out of some lumber, it was a wooden wheel. And so he made it pretty round I think. I don't think it bumped around too much. But anyway, yeah. And it ran quite, I mean, pulled easily. But they were very thoughtful.

RP: Yes, you were able sort of get around a little bit with her.

NM: Yes.

RP: And, your social life opened up a little bit?

NM: Yes, well, like I was able to go to the movies and take her with me. The movies were held outdoors. And on the other side, I guess, almost the other side of the, the camp that I was in. And so that was one of the entertainments I enjoyed. And the other was, well, take her around to visit some of the people there.

RP: Do you remember, do you remember when the war ended and Japanese, Japan surrendered? Also, the other important event would have been the, the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan. Were you still in camp at that time?

NM: Yes. We were in, but I don't remember exactly the impression I had. I don't think we had newspapers or I don't even know if we had a radio or not. But somehow we learned about it, I think. That was in Gila. My husband wasn't subscribing to all these papers and magazines anymore 'cause he was in the hospital. And so, yeah, I think I probably heard it from my neighbor or something like that.

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

<Begin Segment 26>

RP: What was, what was your state of mind like when you finally found out that you were gonna be leaving Gila and heading home?

NM: Well, I probably was very happy to hear that news. But the question was, where will I go? My family was south of there so of course we went there. But, a lot of these people didn't know how, where they were going to go back to because whatever they had were taken away or rented out already and they couldn't just move right back home. But, I guess the, in that respect I was fortunate 'cause I was able to move out and go directly to the family's home. But many of the others had to go to an interim place I guess you call it where they had this wait until they could find a place to live. So they had all these centers where people would initially go.

RP: Hostels.

NM: More like probably the men of the family or heads of the family lived there temporarily. But I didn't have that experience.

RP: Tell us a little bit about your father. Had, he was a very ingenious man and somewhat of an inventor, too. And, he came up with a patent for, for some sort of a building style. Can you explain that a little bit?

NM: Yes well, he was always interested in building, in building buildings. Like the Japanese school a long time before and the church, Methodist church community, the Japanese church. He was instrumental in getting that built and then also some of the homes that we had, lived in, he built and adobe house for us to live in at one place. And so he was sort of interested in this type of work. And then finally, during the war, he was thinking of all the fires in Japan and he said, well there, that's because the houses are built out of wood. And so he got to thinking and thought, well, it needs to be concrete. And so in his spare early morning moments he sort of, I guess, figured out in his head more or less how to do all of this. And, decided on, or figured out how to make concrete houses that could be built by maybe just a couple of people in about a week. And so that's what he did. He accomplished the fact. And he built houses in Oxnard and Japan.

RP: Can you tell us about the house he built in Japan?

NM: The house that he built for himself, for him to live in, I guess he built as a sample and it was... the original forms could build a two bedroom house, kitchen and a living room, sort of a square building. But, the one in Japan he combined the forms and, and built a sixteen room, two-story building. On a rock actually. A very, very small island but it was a rock so when he built the house it covered the whole rock. When the tide came up all you could see was a floating house. So I have the picture there.


RP: [Showing a photograph] Can you tell us about this house? Where is it?

NM: This is in, in Kumamoto. And it's Matsushima Bay in Amakusa.

RP: And this is the house that your, that your father built --

NM: Yes, he built that.

RP: -- out of concrete.

NM: Yes, using his forms, yeah.

RP: And what were the forms made out of, Nellie?

NM: Metal. Metal and aluminum. Metal reinforcement, steel reinforcement and aluminum plates.

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

<Begin Segment 27>

RP: Nellie, How, did your camp experience, did it shape the rest of your life?

NM: I guess the, I was just thinking about that, but the experience itself was something that was a bitter experience you might call it. But, looking back at it now, I think it was a unique experience and that it's been something that has really shaped my life in a way... that getting along with all these people, being able to talk more, things like that. And so I think it, in a way, it was beneficial to my life. You could call it that way. It's one of the experiences out of my ninety-some years, it was about a three year experience. So, just a small part of my life, in a way, but it had a big affect on my future.

RP: Were there certain lessons that you learned? Anything...

NM: A message?

RP: Yeah.

NM: I don't know if I have a special message but I think there are forces in this world that you can't fight against. It will happen. I guess this is that shigata ga nai feeling I have. But, yeah, but the thing is to make the most of what comes around, I think.

RP: Well, both Kirk and I and the National Park Service thank you for your time and your special memories and stories.

NM: Oh, you're welcome. I hope it will be helpful in some way.

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