Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Karlene Koketsu
Narrator: Karlene Koketsu
Interviewer: Richard Potashin
Location: San Jose, California
Date: April 15, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-kkarlene-01-

<Begin Segment 1>

RP: This is an oral history interview for the Manzanar National Historic Site. This morning we're talking with Karlene Koketsu. Karlene lives at 1649 --

KK: 1687.

RP: 1687 Curtner Street --

KK: Avenue.

RP: Avenue in San Jose, California. The date of our interview is April 15th, yes, it is tax day, 2010. Our interviewer is Richard Potashin, our videographer is Kirk Peterson, and we'll be discussing Karlene's experiences at the Manzanar War Relocation Center as well as some of her experiences before and after camp as well. Our interview will be archived in the Park's library. And Karlene, do I have permission to go ahead and do our interview?

KK: Yes.

RP: Again.

KK: Again. [Laughs]

RP: Take two. First of all, can you spell your first and last names for us?

KK: Okay, Karlene, K-A-R-L-E-N-E, Koketsu, K-O-K-E-T-S-U.

RP: And your date of birth and where you were born?

KK: Los Angeles, Japantown, or what do they call it, Little Toyko area.

RP: And what was your date of birth?

KK: January 7, 1935.

RP: And do you recall your given name at birth?

KK: Kaoru, K-A-O-R-U, and my maiden name was Nakanishi.

RP: How did you acquire the name Karlene?

KK: Well, my dad's name was Karl, he had been given that name by a neighbor or something... a German neighbor, Karl with a K. And my mother was named Allene, A-L-L-E-N-E, so my aunt combined the two and came up with Karlene.

RP: Your Japanese name that you just --

KK: Kaoru.

RP: Do you know the meaning behind your name?

KK: According to my dad, it meant some sort of ethereal fragrance of some sort. [Laughs] So that's all I know.

RP: And in your situation, it would normally be the father or mother that would name their kids, both parents?

KK: Well, actually, my father had chosen a name, Katsumi, but at the time he was reading a serial in the newspaper and there was a character named Katsumi and she killed her husband or something like that, and so he changed his mind and named me Kaoru. [Laughs]

RP: And were you born in a hospital or at home?

KK: No, midwife in Little Tokyo, I've forgotten her name now. (Mrs. Hiraga.)

RP: Would she have been Japanese?

KK: Yes.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

RP: Well, let's delve a little bit into your family background. First of all, your father, what was his name?

KK: Karl Katsujiro Nakanishi.

RP: Can you spell his first name for us?

KK: K-A-T-S-U-J-I-R-O.

RP: And where did he come from in Japan?

KK: He came from Wakayama-ken and I can't remember, I think his... he came from an area called Shimotsu, which was my mother's maiden name. So I'm not, I'm not positive about that.

RP: Wakayama, many immigrants came from that area.

KK: His family had oranges, grew oranges. His grandfather grew oranges but his father came to this country when my father was two and then my father came here as a teenager because his mother was not well and so he wanted his father to come back to Japan. But he really didn't know him, his father, because he was here in the States.

RP: And what was your father's father's name?

KK: I think it was Takanaga, T-A-K-A-N-A-G-A, Takanaga.

RP: And you said he came here when your dad was two and where did he settle?

KK: Actually he had a... ran a ranch in the Pacific Palisades area.

RP: Like a foreman of a ranch?

KK: I'm not sure exactly. My father said he ran the ranch so I would assume that might have been his position.

RP: Your father came over to persuade him to go back to Japan.

KK: Uh-huh. And then his intention was to go to school. I think he was about fifteen and he was born in 1904 so he was fifteen.

RP: They came about 1919, 1920?

KK: His father apparently had not sent money home to his family and his mother raised seven children I believe or -- excuse me -- some of them may have been grown because my father was the youngest and there was seventeen years, I mean, seven years between his, I believe his sister and my father. So, I don't think... he didn't really tell us a whole lot, he remembers his childhood in Japan and talked about the oranges and how they had lanterns with their family crest on them and things like that, but other than that, he didn't talk very much about it.

RP: So did his father eventually return to Japan?

KK: He did, he did return to Japan. But he had helped many people here in the States and so people were very helpful to my dad when he came.

RP: And your dad had plans to attend school here, and did he?

KK: No, he didn't because the farm required, you know, help and people on the farm required help. So he said that he worked so hard at one time he had lost his sight but he said, every day he would look over the fields, on the green fields, and eventually he got his sight back. [Laughs] I mean, that's just a story, you know, that I remember hearing as a child.

RP: So your father took over his father's situation when he went back to Japan he kind of stepped into his shoes and ran this ranch?

KK: The ranching, right.

RP: Do you know what this ranch produced? Was it a --

KK: Well, he talked about strawberries but I don't know what else. So I'm not sure whether this... you know, that's historically correct or not but that's what I remember. And, you know, he may have moved or...

RP: Can you give us some of your personal insights into your father?

KK: He was a very quiet, gentle man. And after he was in his late seventies almost eighty when he had an aneurism first and it... up until that time he did calligraphy for many years and so he thought that that was what he would do when he retired. Because up until that time, he was doing small gardening jobs -- excuse me -- in and around the neighborhood. He was still driving up until that time but he was unable to do that because he lost partial sight and you know how you have to align the calligraphy and he wasn't able to do that. So he started writing poetry, senryu, it's similar to... it's kind of a humorous take on life and it's like haiku, I think they use, you know, the syllables, they count the syllables. So he would carry a little tablet in his pocket and pen and then he'd take it out every now and then and he'd be, you know, counting out syllables and writing. But I think he was, probably learned that sort of thing as a child in Japan they must have taught him. He also kept a journal and he was an excellent gardener, you know, people would give him plants that didn't seem to be doing very well and he'd plunk it in the ground and they would flourish.

RP: Were there any other members of his family that came to America?

KK: His older brother, but they were not close, they were not close. Also around the time that I was born, he had a market in the... not a market, a restaurant in the market area of downtown, the produce market area.

RP: He had a restaurant there. This was after he left the ranch?

KK: Yes, I think so. Well, that was after he had gotten married. My parents were married in November of 1922 I believe, I mean, '32.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

RP: How about your mother, what can you tell us about her?

KK: My mother was born in Heinz, California and she told that was buried by the freeways, but it was in the Huntington Beach area. What was the... I can't remember the name of that area anymore. So she grew up and graduated from Huntington Beach High School in... I've forgotten, probably I've told you dates before that I can't remember now. She grew up... her father was a farmer also and she remembers Mr. Knotts, you know, of the Knotts Berry family, he used to have a trundle cart and sell boysenberries she said and she remembers that as a child. And she had a happy childhood but her mother died in childbirth in 1920 and then her father died about four years later. I didn't mention that she was born in November of 1912. She lived to be eighty... eighty-eight I believe, she was almost eighty-nine, she died in June of 2005. And my father died in February of '65, (1995), he was ninety-one.

RP: So how much age disparity was there between them?

KK: Eight years.

RP: Eight years?

KK: Between my mother and dad.

RP: And what do you remember most about your mother?

KK: My mother, well, she was the disciplinarian, kind of stern, critical but she was a good cook and a talented seamstress I think. She worked for James Galanos who was a designer, he designed Mrs. Reagan's inaugural dress, the one that was in the, I don't know, the Smithsonian, was it in the Smithsonian or where ever they keep first lady's inaugural dresses. And it apparently grew because of the weight of the jewels on it, or the embellishment on it. But I don't believe she worked on it or anything like that but she was a model maker so he would design the clothes and Jane Yamamoto was his pattern maker. And he designed, he drew the clothes but she (made the pattern) and then there were a group of women including my mother who made models for the shows and then they were sold. But she did flower arranging and was talented in the arts.

RP: Do you know how your parents met?

KK: I think it was, you know, like an arranged or my father saw my mother and so he told his relatives and so it was arranged in that way. My dad was attracted to my mom.

RP: She was born in this country, Nisei, and he was Issei.

KK: Right, he was a young Issei.

RP: Very young. And did your father have a handle on English at all? Did he learn English?

KK: No, his English was not very good.

RP: How about your mother's Japanese?

KK: Fair to middling I think. I don't know how well they, you know, they were able to communicate but I don't think her, you know, they had deep discussions or anything like that.

RP: They got married and then they moved to the Los Angeles area?

KK: Into the Los Angeles area.

RP: Where exactly did you live in L.A.?

KK: My first memory was in West Los Angeles and I think I was about two. I can't remember, is Norwalk near Pasadena or something? I'm not sure of the towns in L.A. anymore. But we, I think, they lived somewhere in Norwalk or somewhere outside, somewhere close to the valley and then they moved to West L.A. And my father worked in a market and we lived in a small, like a shack almost, home behind this market on Sawtelle Boulevard.

RP: What did he do there?

KK: He would work in the market. I'm not exactly sure. I remember they used to wear aprons... he wasn't a butcher or produce person so I'm not exactly sure.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

RP: And tell us a little bit about what you recall about your upbringing and growing up in the Sawtelle area.

KK: I started school at Nora Sterry, Nora Sterry School, at the time it was called Sawtelle Boulevard School but later the school was named after the principal and Nora Sterry was there when I went to school. And I was in second grade when we left for camp. But I think it was... I had a nice childhood. I was very curious about and liked older people so I remember walking in around our neighborhood and talking to the older people. And there was a young married woman who just had had a baby and I would visit her and talk to her. And Rose Honda lived on the same block and she babysat for us. But we lived in rental homes so we moved several times. Before that we lived on Corinth, not Corinth... yeah, Corinth and then we moved to Beloit which is now under the 405. [Laughs]

RP: What did that area look like to you as a child growing up?

KK: I remember it being sunny and I used to like to roller skate so I remember roller skating on the streets. And my parents had vegetable gardens, the last home we lived in had a huge yard and it was fenced in -- pardon me -- and we had chickens and my father had a hothouse in the back and many fruit trees of figs and plums and that sort of thing. And I remember playing jacks on the front porch and the front... there were bougainvilleas that were right over, kind of formed an arch over the front porch.

RP: Was the area primarily urban at that time or do you still remember areas --

KK: It was all... it was a suburb of L.A., I don't remember large buildings or big buildings except on the boulevards, Sepulveda and Santa Monica boulevards. And we used to walk to the stores and we were allowed to, I mean, I remember walking to the market or the drug store for my mother and I was very young at the time, you know, six.

RP: Were there Japanese stores in Sawtelle?

KK: That was the market, it was called Asia Shokai where my dad worked and then he was also a gardener. I think, perhaps, when we moved into Beloit he became a gardener. I don't know the transition there very well, I don't remember it very well.

RP: There were quite a few gardeners who lived in that area, a lot of men who worked in the, sort of --

KK: Nurseries.

RP: Nurseries, more fluent areas of the city nearby.

KK: And there were... there was a large pansy field right on Sawtelle Boulevard that I remember that Rose's mother tended, but, you know, I can't remember. I do remember a picture of several children -- excuse me -- being taken there on our way to Sunday school and we went to the West L.A. Methodist Church.

RP: So were your parents very religious?

KK: No, my father was Buddhist at the time and he, when he did attend, he went to Koyasan in Little Tokyo and then... but my mother had grown up as a Protestant, Baptist probably, I think and so she sent us to Sunday school. And my uncle was active there or he was in the youth group, he went to University High School and graduated and was... he lived with us and so I remember when he went off to the army.

RP: Before the war?

KK: Before the war.

RP: What was his name?

KK: Sho, Shotaro Shimotsu.

RP: And what did he do for work before he was --

KK: You know, I don't remember.

RP: Might have been a gardener.

KK: Oh, I'll take that back, he worked in a market, he also worked in the market. One of the things I remember, I think there was a bakery in the market, it was around Westwood and Pico somewhere and he would bring cream puffs and napoleons home. I remember that but he liked to listen to popular music at the time so I still like big band music and jazz because of it. And he used to take me to the movies, so I remember him taking me to see Dumbo when it first came out at the Carthay Circle. Do you remember that theater? They used to have many premiers there I believe and so the searchlights would be on. But I do remember seeing that and I remember my aunts visiting, my mother's sisters visiting and we went to see... they took me to see Gone With the Wind when I was four years old. So I remember that quite vividly.

RP: Did your family take vacations or trips out of the Los Angeles area?

KK: No, I don't remember any of that.

RP: How about to the ocean?

KK: We used to go to... we used to take picnics to the ocean with other families.

RP: Do you recall any prefectural picnics or kenjinkai?

KK: Oh, the kenjinkai, yes, I remember those picnics.

RP: What do you remember about them?

KK: I remember they used to have races and I remember they had soda, soda pop and I think that was my first introduction to soda pop because that was not something that we had very often in those days.

RP: And do you know where those picnics would have been held?

KK: I'm sorry?

RP: Where those picnics where held?

KK: Located, you mean? No, I don't. I don't remember they were in huge parks but I don't remember, you know, where.

RP: Was your father involved in any community activities or, you know, in terms of the language schools or --

KK: No, he wasn't. I remember him taking classes though, you know, he took classes in, I think they called it bonkei or something, it was making miniature landscapes, and I think he enjoyed the arts and he did that. But, no, he wasn't a leader in the community at all.

RP: Before you went to camp, did you attend Japanese language school?

KK: Yes, at the Sawtelle Gakuen, yes I did. I can't remember her name now, Meri, what is her name, her mother, Mrs. Hoshiyama was my teacher. She was very kind and... but that was just in the first grade I think and shortly after that, well, actually I was in the first grade when the war started and then started second... because they had semesters started in mid-year and so I was in the second grade when we left in April of '42. But Sawtelle Gakuen was where we -- where the buses were that we took to camp.

RP: You went on a bus instead of train.

KK: We went on bus. I remember a red, red buses, I think they were red. But I do remember waiting and then getting on the buses to go to camp.

RP: Did you have siblings, Karlene?

KK: Yes, I have a younger sister and a brother, a younger brother. My sister's name is Teruko Joanne and her last name is Torimaru, and then my brother's name is Dennis Nakanishi and they both still live in Southern California.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

RP: Do you have any remembrance of, you know, the day the war broke out, Pearl Harbor was bombed? How did you hear about it?

KK: Well, I was roller skating and it seemed strange because there was no one out and about because generally there were a lot of people, you know, out in their yards. There was a stillness about that day that I remember even as a child. And I remember visiting that lady, the young woman that had the baby, and she said... she told me to go home. She said, "I think you'd better go home," so I went home and that was the last time I saw her because she went to a different camp. Her name was Mae, M-A-E. Mae Suto. But, you know, and that's all I remember. But I remember the curtains having to be drawn, you know the, what do they call them?

RP: Blackout.

KK: Blackout curtains.

RP: Do you remember the next day at school at all? Were you treated differently by classmates?

KK: No, I don't remember that at all. But right after the... well, it was right around Christmas so after the Christmas holiday I don't believe we went back to school. I think, you know, I don't think we went back to school after the holiday. But I regretted not being able to go back because we had a bunny in our classroom and I, you know, I enjoyed petting it and things. I don't believe we went back to school.

RP: And you don't know why that... why you didn't go back to school?

KK: No, we didn't go back.

RP: So from the time, after the holidays 'til you went to camp, you were not in school.

KK: Yeah, I don't know whether that was, you know, everyone or whether it was just myself but it may have been the whole community.

RP: Sawtelle was --

KK: A large population, large Japanese American population.

RP: Do you remember other groups as well?

KK: You mean playmates?

RP: Yeah, playmates, who did you play with, did you play with Caucasian kids or Japanese American kids?

KK: Just kids on the block or around the block. That part is kind of fuzzy, I don't remember it until my parents had to start, you know, selling off their things. I had gotten a piano for my sixth birthday, you know, the previous January, early in January, this was December, and they had to sell that.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

RP: Just a few more questions before we enter into Manzanar.

KK: Okay.

RP: How would you characterize your upbringing? Was it a balance of Japanese and American cultures?

KK: As a young child before I left for, I mean, entered school, I think a lot of the conversation was Japanese. Well, my dad always spoke to me in Japanese but a good part of it was... I think there was both because my mother spoke to us in English. I don't think we had difficulty when we went to... I didn't have difficulty when I went to school understanding the teachers so, you know, I think I had a fairly good smattering of English.

RP: How about holidays, were Japanese holidays celebrated, for example Girl's Day?

KK: Girl's Day, because I was born on the 7th of January and I was the oldest child, my father we bought me an entire set of Japanese Girl's Day dolls. But that was burned, they burned that amongst all the books and things, you know, when we had to go to camp. That's something that makes me kind of sad and regretful that they weren't able to save that. Because many, many people saved theirs, I think, you know.

RP: How many dolls would be in a set?

KK: Well, it started with the emperor and the empress at the top and then musicians and courtiers and all of that and little serving things for sweets and that sort of thing. But I remember it being set up, you know, on Girl's Day. I remember there was a picture of the emperor and the empress in our kitchen but that was quickly removed when the war started.

RP: You said those items were burned.

KK: They burned, my father had a pit in the backyard and a lot of things were burned. I don't know whether they were told to do that or whether it was done in fear of, you know, retaliation or I'm not sure but I do remember that.

RP: What do you remember about New Year's Day?

KK: New Year's Day, oshogatsu, we used to have a lot of... my mother prepared food and we had people coming through visiting, they would just come for a short time and, you know, with New Year's greetings and things. One thing I remember a lot was that we visited people in those days, you know, on Sundays, after Sunday school we'd go to visit friends in Culver City and then occasionally to downtown, you know, Boyle Heights, because my parents had friends. And then they would come over to our house and stay for dinner and things. There was a lot of that.

RP: Traditional.

KK: The one thing I do remember is that as an adult, I don't feel I had as much of the culture as many of my friends whose parents were older because my mother was in her late twenties at this time and my dad had come over as a young teenager and so I'm not sure how much of the culture was handed down to us. Although they had older friends and my mother lived with old family friends who taught her how to cook and, you know, before she got married. But I don't think it was quite as traditional as most Japanese families and I didn't have grandparents. Many grandparents lived with the families, and I didn't have that because my mother had been orphaned and my father's parents were still in Japan. But I think my father's parents died by the time... were both gone by the time I was six so, you know, in essence I didn't really have grandparents.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

RP: Do you recall a gentleman by the name of Reverend Herbert Nicholson?

KK: Yes.

RP: I believe he took over the West L.A. Church before the war?

KK: There were just a very impressive couple I thought, you know, they seemed so kind and caring and Reverend Nicholson, we had stored some things at the church and he brought a refrigerator to us in camp.

RP: You had a refrigerator?

KK: Uh-huh. But that was I think maybe the second year or so.

RP: Right, and the (WLA United Methodist church) became kind of a storage area for families in the Sawtelle --

KK: Right, I think the social hall, existing social hall, was probably a storage area.

RP: You mentioned the refrigerator, what other items do you recall the family storing there?

KK: Well, my... many of the things were stored with a family, a couple that my dad worked for.

RP: At the store, market?

KK: No, gardening, his name was Wayne Farrington, and I believe he was a colonel, he became a colonel. But they eventually divorced so many of our things were dispersed, I don't know, lost, because he had gone off to war and then they were divorced and so I think we got some of our dishes back and a bed but not much else.

RP: Do you remember any particular items that you took to camp with you, any special things?

KK: I had a doll that I had gotten for Christmas and her name was Jo Jo. [Laughs] I still have her.

RP: So she went to camp with you too?

KK: But other than that I don't remember. I do remember that we went to Sears and got pants and things that were, you know, I don't believe we had any pants, long pants, and sort of I thought were kind of like cowboy clothes. [Laughs] I don't remember much else about what we took but I do remember that one outfit. And my mother must have taken her sewing machine because she sewed for us in camp.

RP: And she... you mentioned about her involvement with this designer and designing models, was that after camp?

KK: Oh, yes, way after. We were in... I was in junior high school, junior high, high school at that time and into college actually.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

RP: You told us about where you assembled at the Sawtelle Gakuen, and do you recall anything else about that day, that morning?

KK: That morning? I do remember in the kitchen before we left, there was a mattress on the floor, just an old mattress and my mother gave me a tall glass of milk and I really didn't like milk, and I know I didn't drink, I couldn't drink it. But I do remember that and then we went... I'm not exactly sure how we got to the gakuen because we were... I don't know whether we walked or, I mean, it was within walking distance.

RP: Many families on that day would dress up in their, some, you know, suits and Sunday best.

KK: You know, I don't remember what my parents wore or anything like that. No, I don't remember what the people wore.

RP: Do you remember anything about your trip on the bus to Manzanar?

KK: I do remember it was quite hot but they kept the shades pulled down. I don't know where we were when they let us put them up and open the windows. But at Christmastime my uncle had given me a little coin purse with I think four fifty cent pieces in it and I was tossing it as I sat, you know, in the bus as we were going and it flew out the window. [Laughs] Never to be seen again. That was the most memorable thing, I think.

RP: Do you recall soldiers on the bus, MPs?

KK: You know, I don't remember that, I think maybe we were allowed to get off and stretch halfway through and perhaps there was a soldier but I don't remember that clearly.

RP: You told me a story and I'm not sure if it associates with this being on the bus but you were talking about somebody started a club on the bus?

KK: No, I don't remember. I was only seven so I don't remember that.

RP: Where did you... where were you first assigned to when you got to the camp?

KK: Block 8. And we had to room with a young couple who had a baby, a new baby. And I remember my dad coming back with the mattresses, I mean, the white sacks that had been filled with hay. And I remember my mother and dad sort of stomping on it because my little... they didn't want my little brother to fall... roll off the bed. You know, because they were kind of rounded and so I remember them stomping on it. And our friends, family friends, the Morimotos, lived right across the way from us and there was... I believe they had someone living with them as well. We didn't stay there very long because the canteen was in that block and large trucks would come and my mother was concerned that we'd be run over or hit so we moved way across camp to Block 31. And the Morimotos moved with us, I mean, we all moved together and so they lived in... we lived in 31-11-2 and they lived in 31-11-1, the front part of that barrack.

RP: What do you remember about that barrack room?

KK: Well, it was pretty sparse. [Laughs] There was the oil stove and I don't believe there was any linoleum or anything on the floor because there were holes, knotholes, and we could look down and, you know, see the sand below. But eventually they put the linoleum in and my dad worked as a carpenter so that he could build some things. And so I remember him building storage with the surplus plaster board, they called it, what do they call it now?

RP: Sheetrock?

KK: Yeah, and so he... we had closets and he built me a little corner where I had a little desk and table. And it kind of separated the two areas, I mean, sort of the living area and the sleeping area.

RP: Almost like a partition?

KK: Yeah, the closet became like... but I don't remember my mother hanging, you know, I've seen pictures where people had hung blankets and things like that, we didn't have that. So my dad must have built those things right away and I think he built a table 'cause I remember having a table in there.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

RP: When you moved to Block 31, Barrack 11, were you also housed with another family or did you have your own room?

KK: No, that was our own place.

RP: So there were four of you.

KK: Five.

RP: Five of you.

KK: I was seven, and my sister was not yet four, let's see, seven, she had her birthday in June so she must have been four, no, not yet five and my brother was not yet three because that was our uneven year. We're two years... I'm two and a half years older than my sister.

RP: Did your mother hold a job in camp or was she busy raising the kids?

KK: No, she was with us and she was fairly active, I mean, she took sewing lessons and that sort of thing but she became ill (between '43-'45) and they suspected... her doctors after camp suspect she probably had rheumatic fever and some form of hepatitis because she had a hole in her liver and an enlarged heart after camp. But she was very allergic to sulfa and (the camp doctors) kept giving her sulfa and that, I believe, it was the allergic reaction to the meds that made her sick, sicker.

RP: Did she have to be hospitalized?

KK: Uh-huh, she was hospitalized for a while and a friend of the family lived in the same block and so they took care of my little brother. And I believe it was about that time that... after my dad worked in the, as a carpenter then he worked at the mess hall, one of the mess halls. And then when my mother became ill, he went to work at the hospital laundry so that he could take our laundry. And so in the late afternoons we used to wait for him because we could see him coming down the road from the hospital, there's a slight, I guess, elevation there. We used to wait for him, my sister and I.


KK: I can't remember that. I can't remember but I remember when I was in the hospital for a while. I think there must have been an irrigation ditch or something that we went, quote, swimming in and I must have gotten some kind of, I don't know, water, oh, I was immersed for a while, I mean, I wasn't about to drown but I thought I was. And then the chill and everything, I became ill. I don't know whether it was the water or anything like that but I think I was in the hospital for about a week. There were lines of beds that I could remember. (Narr. Note: I had gone out with older girls to a "swimming hole." They were holding my hands, but let go and I was submerged and struggling and swallowed quite a lot of water, which probably caused my illness and hospitalization.)

RP: Most people who were in Manzanar, you know, talk about the dust storms.

KK: Yes.

RP: And so tell us what you recall about that situation and did it affect you or other people in terms of asthma or --

KK: I didn't get any sort of... no, I didn't develop any type of allergy or anything like that but I remember I was taking piano lessons and I remember my dad coming for me. And he was wearing his peacoat and a hat and he wrapped a kerchief around my face and I walked behind him so that I, you know, the dust wouldn't be in my face. That's what I remember very distinctly but I do remember we would have to, you know, stay in our rooms during those dust storms. And they just came, I mean, you could barely see the barrack next door when they came, swept through.

RP: Do you recall if they were still building the camp when you were there?

KK: Yeah, I think they were because as I said my dad, you know, was a carpenter.

RP: So did he actually participate in constructing buildings?

KK: Uh-huh, and I'm not exactly sure what but, yes, he did.

RP: You mention the peacoats and your dad wearing a peacoat. Did you have one too?

KK: No, we didn't get the peacoat, we got World War I jackets I think they were. They were khaki and very outdated looking. I think my mother took them apart and made something else for us. But there were some children who had got (peacoats), maybe they had more adults or whatever in their families because I remember seeing children with peacoat capes or, you know, made out of that blue fabric, wool. I remember when they were issued because I remember my mother putting it out on the bed and we looked at them, sort of puzzled over them. [Laughs]

RP: What do you do with this?

KK: Yes, exactly.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

RP: This is a continuation of an oral history interview with Karlene Koketsu, this is tape two. And, Karlene, we were just talking about life in Manzanar various variations. You started the second grade in Manzanar?

KK: Well, actually what my mother did because I was... had started school in the winter, she put me ahead to the third grade. And so I don't remember being able to read, you know, I don't remember being able to read in the third grade. From that point, I remember I always felt like I was running to keep ahead, I was, you know, one of the youngest in the class. But, yes, I went to third grade and then fourth grade is where the picture, the Ansel Adams picture was taken, and fifth grade. And I told you that Miss Shoaf was our fourth grade teacher. I remember she seemed like a very tall kind of husky lady with curly red hair. I don't know, you know, I'm not exactly sure what she looks like now.

RP Do you remember where your classroom was?

KK: In the, I guess you called it a recreational building, so they were scattered all over, there were two classes in our barrack and they were both fourth grade classes.

RP: And could you kind of give us, if you can recall, maybe describe the room itself, did they have blackboards?

KK: It seemed bare. I don't remember if there were... there must have been a blackboard. I remember the chairs and tables but little else, I don't remember there being a whole lot more. There may have been a teacher's desk. I do remember music books and I think perhaps there was, there were math books. But we used to have to write everything down on our papers, we were given little sheets of newsprint to write on. And I think with Miss Shoaf, we learned a lot of music, I remember the songs, some of the songs.

RP: What songs?

KK: It was the words to... well, we learned "Bendemeer's Stream" and there was one with Robert Louis Stevenson words, "I hate to go to sleep... in summer I have to go to sleep at night," now I've totally forgotten it but... I can't instantly recall it but I'm sure after you leave I'll remember it. But it was something about, you know, having to go to sleep, during the different seasons when you go to bed, you have to... and summer he had to go to bed when it was still light. I remember that song and I don't believe there was any sort of accompaniment or anything but I do remember singing a lot in that classroom. (Narr. note: The lyrics were: "In winter I get up at night and dress by yellow candlelight. In summer quite the other way I have to go to bed by day.")

RP: How about arts and crafts?

KK: That I don't remember. I remember drawing in the fifth grade. She used to give us sheets of paper and we would draw, her name was Dixie Bailey, Dixie M. Bailey, I believe, she was a very tall woman from Kentucky and she came to school, she didn't wear socks and one day it was extremely cold and so she asked Sumiko and I to go to the dry goods store to buy her some socks. And she used to read to us which I loved. I also remember there was a librarian, I don't know where the library was, was it like a travelling library?

RP: I believe, no, I think Block 22 I believe. I think there was a main library and there were several branch libraries.

KK: We used to be able to check books out. I remember there was at one point they dumped a whole bunch of books and so I went with a number of my little friends and we were able to bring books home and my friend and I found Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and we brought those back with us. I don't remember what happened to that but I remember in the fourth grade, I remember reading Heidi so, you know, somewhere in that, in between third and fourth grade I think I eventually learned to read.

RP: Do you remember a specific building that was set aside as a toy loan library?

KK: Yes, I do. I do remember that. I'd never heard of a toy loan before but yeah, I do remember that. I don't remember checking anything out.

RP: Did you have any toys that you acquired later on in camp?

KK: I think I had games and that sort of thing, checkers and jacks and Chinese checkers, the one with the marbles. Other than that I don't remember a whole lot except perhaps a doll, oh, paper dolls, we used to have paper dolls that we used to get. And I think we got those at Christmas, you know, we were I guess given, was it the Quakers who collected gifts for children at Christmas? And they were gift wrapped.

RP: They were one of the groups.

KK: And then at Sunday school they gave us gifts with boxes of candy and peanuts at Christmas. But I also attended the Buddhist church because most of my girlfriends were Buddhist and so I used to walk across the camp somewhere to the Buddhist church. I remember one time my friend and I, because there were no... not much in the way of sweets, and so we had jello, a package of jello, and we each ate a whole package jello, just, you know, licked it and then we both got stomach aches and so I remember we walked to the canteen or dry goods store and bought Exlax. [Laughs] And I'm not exactly sure what happened after that but I do remember that very clearly. And I remember playing games at night, into the evening, playing Prisoner's Base and Tag and, what's the one, Mother May I and we also played Hide and Seek and we used to play throw the ball over the latrines. There used to be a slide and sandbox at one area in Block 31 and we used to play games walking along the edge of the sandbox and we used to do janken po, you know, the paper-scissor-rock game. And I do remember that we took some of the children, older children brought milk cartons and waxed the slide and my little sister went down the slide, and she went head first, and she went so fast that she got a bloody nose, I do remember that. But we used to play Hide and Seek so we had a lot of freedom as young --

RP: This was all without any adult supervision.

KK: Yes, right. And hopscotch and we used to play a game of kind of like hopscotch where we made this huge spiral and made boxes and you had to hop all the way through and back. And if you did that successfully then you were able to choose a box and you could write the initials of your favorite movie star in it and then as you were hopping through, on that box you could step with both feet. But the other children's boxes, you had to hop over. So we played that for, you know, hours and then we used to play the one with the nine squares where you hop in and you go back and forth, hop back, hop into the second one and do it twice. So there were a whole lot of games and I remember some children having some Japanese game with little disks or very colorful disks where you fling it and then do something. We used to be able to take our pocket knives and play Mumblety-peg, or something like that where you, I don't know, you flip the knife. I don't remember the game but we also used to play marbles a lot so my mother used to get very distressed because I'd come home with hem full of sand, you know, the hems of my dresses had sand in them.

RP: So when you played Hide and Seek, where did you like to hide?

KK: There weren't many places because you know, the barracks but I think as people planted things there were more shrubbery and that sort of thing.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

RP: So who were your best friends in camp?

KK: Well, my best friend was a girl named Cherri Iwai and her name was Nobuko but the whole group of girls, I think I was probably one of the younger ones, but everybody got a fruit name and I was Peaches and she was Cherry and Cherri has become her name, I mean, it stuck with her. And I believe she just altered the spelling a little, she uses an I at the end rather than the Y.

RP: Do you still keep in touch with her?

KK: Just during Christmas but last Christmas I didn't send anything out so... and her birthday was on Armistice Day so I've known about Armistice Day from an early age, her birthday was November 11th.

RP: Did you have any other nicknames besides Peaches?

KK: No, it was mainly Kaoru, I went by Kaoru, until I left camp. But the boys used to tease and call me "coyote" and "cow doo" and all of that sort of thing because it is very difficult to pronounce, you know, with the rolled R and vowels.

RP: Yeah, it's very convenient to change it. What was your, I mean, how did being at Manzanar, did it change your personality at all from what it was before camp?

KK: I don't think so. I was kind of shy I believe, more introverted. I had other friends, I mean, I did have friends but most of the girls lived... came from other blocks so, you know, we didn't (play together after school). Like I mentioned over the phone that my friend Ruth who was in the fourth grade class, left to go to Seabrook Farms in New Jersey but we get together here now. I mean, as adults we became reacquainted and found that we have a number of things in common. I just saw her last Saturday, we go to this talk cinema in Palo Alto to see unreleased movies. Oh, that's another thing I remember from camp, was movies where we took our blankets and kind of dug little holes in the sand and watched the movies, Deanna Durbin and Donald O'Connor movies, musicals and that sort of thing. But we went without our parents, we went with friends, you know, that was at eight and nine years old, as nine year olds.

RP: Did you ever get lost on your, you know, during a dark evening trying to find your way back to the barrack room?

KK: (We generally stayed together with playmates coming home from movies.) No, after dark, I think most of the time, you know, I was supposed to be at home. But during the day we did go to other mess halls to have lunch and things with friends, not often but we did that. And we had old family friends from Culver City and I used to walk clear across from 31 to Block 18, is that quite a ways? I used to walk that to visit her but they both went to Tule Lake and then it must have been, it was a cold winter and she was a very tiny delicate lady and she passed away. But there were other people that I knew along the way and I visited but I was allowed to do that, I did it on my own, walking across. I remember getting sick at school and having to walk home from Block 16 and crossing several firebreaks to get home.

RP: One other thing you mentioned that you did before camp was roller skate.

KK: (Yes. It was much easier on the sidewalks.) We tried, we tried. [Laughs] I had roller skates (in camp) but it got stuck in the tar, you know, especially in the summer time, the tar on the roads would stick to our (skates), so we would try skating in the laundry rooms but the ladies would chase us out. [Laughs]

RP: So there never was a really decent place to skate?

KK: No, but I did have a pair of roller skates in camp. I don't know whether... I don't believe I took them, I must have gotten it as a gift or something.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

RP: What was the experience of going to the latrines like for you?

KK: Not pleasant, you know, because at first there were no partitions between stalls. And there was like a long trough to brush your teeth and I remember the showers were very grim looking because they were, you know, concrete, gray and it was very, I mean, communal so. As children, you know, you don't really mind that so much but I'm sure it must have been very difficult for the older people. The one thing I remember we were talking about this recently, some friends and I, one of the kind of remedies that the Japanese used was yaito, where they put these little, I can't remember what they're called, but powder and they'd light them and they would be on certain pressure areas. And so we'd see these ladies with brown spots all over their backs and I think that was the scarring from this remedy.

RP: How would you spell that?

KK: Yaito, Y-A-I-T-O, I believe, yaito, romanized.

RP: Like an herbal powder?

KK: It's different from moxa, do you know what moxa is? Where they put pressure like use little cups and heat it and put it on you, but it's similar to that I think. They used, I can't remember what it was called, but some kind of granule, maybe it was herbal. We saw all shapes and sizes of people in the shower room. [Laughs]

RP: Did you observe how people adjusted or tried to adapt to the lack of privacy?

KK: I think it probably was very hard. As a young child, you know, you don't notice things like that or (at least) I didn't.

RP: How about you said that you used to eat at some of the other mess halls with your friends, how would you characterize the food at Manzanar?

KK: The food? I was a very picky and finicky eater and the first night we got there, they gave us those GI Joe type metal things and you had to balance that and they plopped rice on it and then this big huge cube of something, turned out to be egg foo young and then they put... I don't remember there being any vegetables but they put kadota figs, canned figs on top of that. [Laughs]. I think I just sat there and looked at the plate, I don't think I ate anything. And for years after, I couldn't eat pancakes, I didn't like pancakes at all 'cause they used to have that with, know you, frequently and so I think I used to perhaps take a fruit and the boxes of cereal and eat those dry. And they had mutton quite often and we would know when they were going to have mutton or lamb, they called it lamb but it was mutton and it was horribly smelly.

RP: Had you ever eaten lamb before?

KK: Yes, my mother used to make it. I couldn't eat liver, I didn't like liver, so my mother used to make lamb chops or pork chops for me as a child, as a young child before going to camp.

RP: You talked about sweets and --

KK: Sweets, mainly fruits and when we went to the movies they were mostly in the summer time, they would have corn in the mess hall and they were good but they were really big so we would be able to take out the kernels individually and so we would take that as snack. We'd take the cob of corn and then take one kernel at a time and eat. But we didn't really have a whole lot of sweets, I think, you know, we got them at Christmastime, I don't remember other (sweets). We had, you know, apples and bananas and oranges.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

RP: Do you recall how, you're mentioning about people planting things, in blocks. Was there anything that kind of caught your eye around Block 31?

KK: Cosmos, cosmos those sort of daisy like plants. They grew all over, cosmos, and then my parents grew some vegetables for a while I think between the barracks. I don't remember there being too much else, I mean, my dad didn't plant a garden like some other people. Maybe some sweet peas or something, you know, out in front but other than that, I don't remember. You know, tomatillos, they grew wild and there was this elderly man, old family friend of my mother's parents and he was a bachelor and lived in the bachelor quarters. And so he didn't eat fruit and he saved them up for us and the cereal boxes and he'd bring them to us every now and then and my mother would fix, you know, the rice gruel porridge, okai, they call it, you just cook rice with a lot of water or my mother used to make it for him with tea. And I think she must have made pickles, you know, tsukemono, because he would have that in exchange but often he brought us the, we called them hozuki, the tomatillo plants, and we'd carefully take off the husk and hollow them out with a toothpick, take all that out and then we'd make this thing called hozuki, I guess in Japan they were made out of rubber or something but you put them on (your lower lip) and then you'd sort of load them up (with air) and then kind of (press) down on them and they'd make kind of a raspberry sort of the noise. So we used to do that quite a bit during the summer when they were growing.

RP: Where did you find the tomatillos growing, in the camp?

KK: I don't know, yeah, they were growing in the camp so they may have been there from, you know, times before when other people lived there. They were always about that... I can't make circles anymore but about that size. (Narr. note: The size was larger than a quarter.)

RP: Did you or your mom do any cooking in your room?

KK: You know, I think I remember her occasionally making us something, maybe toast or toast and she'd warm milk and put the... cut up the toast and (make) milk toast, is that what that's called, I can't remember but she would make that for us.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

RP: Did you have any occasions, Karlene, to go out of the camp on a school outing or --

KK: No, we went to that Bairs Creek, but I can't remember if we were going out or not but we did that with friends. As a family, I don't believe, I mean, we didn't do much visiting or we lived next door to our friends and so we (visited with them).

RP: Morimotos.

KK: The Morimotos.

RP: Was Mr. Morimoto an artist, do you know?

KK: No.

RP: Do you remember any of your other neighbors?

KK: The artwork? I remember there being these little arts and crafts type shows, where people made things. (Narr. note: Yes, the Yoshiwaras lived next door (31-11-3). They had two sons born in camp, Norman and Harvey. Across the way were the Kurahashis, he was our block manager.)

RP: And you could go view them? Visual arts museum I think it's called.

KK: Uh-huh. Other than making our furniture I don't believe my dad did any type of craft, you know, like some... oh, I guess the, it was in the Arizona area where they made the canes and things out of saguaro, is it plants. One of the things we used to see as we walked around were elderly people playing go and people who captured little chipmunks and made wheels for them, you know, I remember that. I wasn't real outgoing but I like to watch people and things, I mean, I was a people watcher so I do remember seeing, you know, and ladies doing their knitting and crocheting and there was one man in our block that taught a type of singing, sounded like somebody being, you know, killed. [Laughs] It was a Japanese, with shamisen, I can't remember what it was called.

RP: Would it have been shigin?

KK: No, it wasn't shigin. It must have been some type of folk singing but it was caterwauling sort of. [Laughs] That was all I recall but he was an older man but he gave lessons I think and so we used to hear that. But people did do shigin also. And then the talent shows, they used to have talent shows, you know, they had a band, I don't know what it was called but they were, you know, probably college, late teens, college aged kids who had band.

RP: Was it the Jive Bombers?

KK: It may have been. There was a Bill Wakatsuki, lived in our block and whenever they have various things, I remember him singing "Old Man River." And Jean Wakatsuki was in one of the classes, we were in the same grade and so she was (at recess), I remember playing with her. And during recess we would have play, like super heroes and she was always Wonder Woman, that was one thing I remembered about her. I mean, we weren't close friends or anything like that but, you know, how kids play on the playground and become acquainted with each other, I remember.

RP: Do you remember attending any events in the auditorium later on?

KK: Movies, they had movies and if you went regularly they had those Western serials. But they did have movies in the auditorium. I can't remember any other, you know, they may have had the talent shows there but other than that... I do remember that building though where the visitor's center is now, I do remember that. I think I remember when it was being built originally.

RP: You were talking about the ground squirrels that the guys were making wheels for.

KK: The chipmunks.

RP: Any other wildlife that you observed?

KK: Horned toads and scorpions and other lizards, you know, a variety of lizards I think, that's about all I remember.

RP: Did you ever see those in your barrack room, lizards?

KK: No, we didn't, fortunately didn't have (any in our barrack).

RP: How about snakes?

KK: Yeah, they did have snakes, I can't remember what they were called, there were just sort of ordinary, I don't believe we had any rattlesnakes. We occasionally found flint, you know, arrowhead type things, pieces of flint. I remember gathering some kind of vegetable, sort of like spinach, and I remember my mother cooking it, it was good. I'm not sure what it was, kind of like when people go out and get mustard greens or that sort of thing but it was a darker green and I'm not sure what it was. Oh, I remember one of the things that we did was go to the ball games, you know, the old man teams where the older men played baseball. What else?

RP: You said you were early on in your life, you were very attracted to sort of older people, did that carry over to Manzanar?

KK: No, I think it was mainly younger friends because we didn't have, I don't remember there being a lot of young children in our neighborhood growing up, I mean, before the war.

RP: Was there any sight, sound, or smell that frightened you in camp, any talk about ghosts or ghost stories?

KK: Oh, they did, older children told us ghost stories. And some adults talked about these kind of poofs that came up at the base of the mountain or at the foothills of the mountain. I don't know what they were called but they were supposed to be like... they weren't like ghosts, but sort of some sort of phenomenon that occurred but, I mean, I was never a witness to it or anything like that but I do recall people talking about it. I don't know what they were. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 15>

RP: Do you remember the day that you left camp?

KK: I remember I think maybe a truck or something came for us and then took us to a bus and then we got on a train but I don't know how that, you know, the continuity of it. I don't remember that but we went to Utah, we went to Salt Lake City, Utah. It was June of '45 that we left camp and went to Salt Lake and we lived in a town called Gunnison for about six months 'til February of '46 and we came back to LA. And it was... we lived in a hostel with a number of other families right near Alameda in downtown.

RP: Who ran the hostel?

KK: You know, I don't remember the people's names.

RP: Was it the Evergreen hostel?

KK: No, it was on Turner Street and that's all I know, 417 Turner Street. [Laughs] I don't know how that came (back to me).

RP: Just to go back to your residence in Gunnison --

KK: We lived on a small, in a small house... I don't know how my father arranged it but we lived with a family, a Kimura family, and they farmed, they had cabbages, celery, sugar beets and my father and mother worked on the farm. And then we lived with them briefly and then moved into a smaller house on their property.

RP: Did the Kimuras, were they put in a camp?

KK: No, they were... people in Colorado, Utah, were not interned.

RP: Were they curious about what --

KK: I don't remember, they probably were but they probably, you know, asked my parents about it. But we were intrigued because they had horses and, you know, huge horses, well, we were pretty little then but, you know, huge horses. And there was another family, a Miyatake family that lived across the way and they had a farm as well. And there were other Japanese families who lived in town.

RP: And they were all established families.

KK: Yes, people who, some who had moved there once, before relocation started. I think they just probably moved there because they eventually all came back to the West Coast.

RP: Did you go to school while you were there?

KK: Yes, I was in the sixth grade and it was... Mas and I visited there a number of years ago and that school house was burned down. But it was in a town called Centerfield, so we lived in Gunnison but the bus picked us up for school, it was about a five mile drive to school. And what I remember about the school was that they had a wonderful, it wasn't actually a cafeteria, but they had a cook and she'd make roast turkey or whatever and then we'd have sandwiches or turkey with mashed potatoes with this delicious gravy and we'd take fifty cents on Monday and that paid for the week, ten cents a day, you know. Wonderful lunches and we could smell the cookies baking, you know, during our mornings.

RP: Guess it must have tasted great after mess hall food.

KK: Yes, it really was, crunchy apples, although the children there complained because they were used to raw milk and they were just beginning to pasteurize at that time, or homogenize. But that was... we had a good time there. I remember I really enjoyed it because I was able to listen to the radio and listen to all the Sky King and Jack Armstrong and you're probably too young to remember all that. [Laughs]

RP: Was the enrollment of that school predominantly Caucasian?

KK: Yes.

RP: How were you treated by the others, by those kids?

KK: Oh, pretty well, pretty well. Some kids were a little nasty but others were not. And many were curious about us although there others (who were already part of the community) -- the Miyatakes had children our age and there was a Mori family. In fact, we became reacquainted (with the Moris) because they lived here in Santa Clara after Mas and I moved up here. But for the most part, people were quite friendly. Oh, I remember one incident while we were there. There was a German prisoner of war camp and one of the guards went berserk and he shot nine of the inmates. And then a few weeks later we went to town with Mr. Kimura for him to get a haircut and we were sitting outside, you know, little kids sitting outside waiting for him and someone came out of the barber shop and he said, "They should come and shoot all the Japs too." But, I mean, he sort of directed it at us as he left but that's the only incident I remember. That was an experience. But the, you know, it was interesting and fun, most of (the time), you know, they were mostly Mormon so we learned quite a bit about Mormonism.

RP: Were there efforts to convert you to that?

KK: No, but the children couldn't, they didn't eat chocolate, anything with caffeine in it, they said it was against the Word of Wisdom or something like that, I remember that type of thing.

RP: That didn't stop you did it?

KK: No. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 16>

RP: So how did it feel to be out of camp? Did you have any feelings about that at all?

KK: It was nice, it was nice. I don't remember too clearly my feelings about it, I mean we were just in a different place. Well, we had snow in camp but just probably one winter while we were there, I'm not positive. I don't believe we had as much snow after the first winter. It was a totally different, you know, environment.

RP: How did you travel to Utah?

KK: By train, we went to Utah on a train and I'm not sure, maybe Mr. Kimura came to get us in Salt Lake City. I don't remember exactly. We did go to church briefly and the minister's wife was a piano teacher so I think I took piano briefly, I mean, we were just there for six months before coming back to L.A. So I went to three different schools in the sixth grade, in Utah, in downtown L.A. and then back to Nora Sterry School.

RP: And how was it for your parents in the resettling process back in Los Angeles?

KK: It was difficult. Do you remember the little house I told you that was behind the market when I was first, I mean, a toddler? We lived there briefly and we brought our Japanese tub, you know, ofuro, that we had in Utah and my father hooked it up. Although we had a faucet in L.A., but in Utah my father filled it with a hose I think and then lit a fire underneath it.

RP: Can you describe the tub?

KK: It was a metal, galvanized metal, with a wooden platform that you had to stand on because it was hot underneath.

RP: How many could bathe in it at once?

KK: Oh, I suppose several but we, you know, I think maybe my sister and I went in together and my mother took my brother, he was... maybe my dad took my brother by that time he was five. Oh, we also had, in Utah we had a root cellar, you know, so we used to slide down the root cellar in the winter, that winter. Oh, we had a cat, that was one nice thing about being out of camp, we were able to have the pet, we had a cat. But we had to leave her because, you know, there's a quarantine period when you take pets (to a different state). We didn't know where we would be living so we weren't able to take her. We also had a pet pig, it was just a tiny little, what are small pigs called? Piglets, I don't know. [Laughs] But they said he grew to be 450 pounds when they butchered him.

RP: Were your parents able to obtain work fairly soon after they came to Los Angeles?

KK: You know, I don't remember what my dad did. I don't remember that period, it wasn't very long, maybe a couple months, several months because I went to school there and then we came back and I finished sixth grade in West L.A. and then my dad went back to gardening. I think that period was difficult, the resettlement period. Oh, we lived in the gakuen, that's right, when we first moved back to West L.A. we lived in the gakuen and then we moved into that little house before my parents bought a home. But it took a while to, you know, to save enough money to buy a home.

RP: The gakuen was set up as a hostel for returning families?

KK: Right. We were in the school building, in the back they had a gymnasium that they had partitioned off with blankets but we were in an actual room with a water fountain. [Laughs] You know, the time periods I'm not exactly sure but I had my twelfth birthday in that little house before my parents bought their house.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

RP: Now, where did you go to high school?

KK: University High School in West L.A.

RP: And then on to UCLA?

KK: And onto... we went to Emerson Junior High School and then to University High School and then my friend and I went to Santa Monica City College for two years and (then) UCLA.

RP: And that's where you met him?

KK: No, actually I had already graduated and had started teaching and he had come back from Germany in the army.

RP: Where did you first teach?

KK: In Canoga Park in the valley, San Fernando Valley and so I still didn't know how to drive at that time so I used to have to catch a ride with someone. And it was, you know, I guess it was the baby boomers, we were on double session, so I had to start teaching at about seven-thirty or so in the morning, very early, and then we were finished by noon. And the fellow I got a ride with wasn't real patient and so sometimes if I wasn't out there immediately, well, I think he'd wait for a little while but he'd leave and then I'd have to find my way back home. So there was someone who lived somewhere east of Beverly Hills so I would ride over the Laurel Canyon Road or Cold Water Canyon or whatever road and go into town to Beverly Hills and catch a bus home because we lived right off of, couple blocks north of Wilshire Boulevard.

RP: Why did you decide to become a teacher, Karlene?

KK: That was sort of... you either became a secretary, a nurse, or a teacher, you know, at that time. And I didn't feel like I had any special talents to do anything. I was interested in occupational therapy but our daughter-in-law is an occupational therapist and I don't think I would've been able to do that. [Laughs] It's more like, I mean, there's a lot of nursing, you know, duties that go along with it.

RP: You mentioned that incident of prejudice in Utah, did you experience other incidences when you were back in Los Angeles?

KK: No, we didn't. I went back to church, it was Easter Sunday, I think the first Sunday when we returned to West LA and they were taking a picture of everybody who had attended that day. And I was standing next to this little girl and I said, "How old are you?" and she told me and it turned out we were in the same sixth grade class. She was quite a bit... she was nine months younger and to this day we're friends all these years. Her oldest daughter is my goddaughter and so we just recently attended her wedding, second marriage but she has a ten year old daughter. We went through sixth grade, all through junior high, high school and college together.

RP: Have you shared your camp experience with your kids?

KK: Occasionally we probably will talk about something but I don't think, I mean, I don't believe we've ever sat down and discussed it. They're aware and they do know about it but I think Rose (Honda) and Mary (Ishizuka) were very instrumental in helping us survive this as young children coming back from, we were pre-teens and shortly after that, they organized a little club, that's maybe where you were thinking of the club. But they had organized (us)... there were seven of us originally and to this day we're friends, lifelong friends. Whenever we go down to Los Angeles we get together for lunch, but during that period of resettlement we were, we were the Sunday school teachers and many of the things that we started are now, traditional church events, like an Easter breakfast and our club. Oh, we were also the choir for a while. So that was a rich, a very rich period in our lives.

RP: The church was really instrumental in --

KK: Uh-huh. But Mary and Rose just took very good care of us.

RP: Do you remember seeing Rose in camp?

KK: You know, I probably did see her but I don't remember exactly. Well, our parents were busy getting resettled, they gave us many experiences that we wouldn't have had. They took us to Huntington Library and on all sorts of outings and they also taught us to, you know, volunteerism, doing things for others. And I remember we used to babysit and with the money we earned we bought equipment for the Sunday school and that sort of thing so they were really wonderful teachers and mentors for us.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

RP: This is tape three of a continuing interview, oral history interview with Karlene Koketsu and, Karlene, there was a... you had quite an experience in camp, meeting up with one of America's most imminent photographers at the time, Ansel Adams. Can you tell us about how that all...

KK: Well, Toyo Miyatake had his little studio right in Block 30 where our classroom was, our fourth grade classroom. And we were waiting for school to start and standing there sort of trying to keep warm and this gentleman came and asked if he could take a picture of us and so he did. He seemed like a very big man, to me, but of course we were little kids. But that's me in the center and a girl named Sumiko and Eiko on this side. Eiko, there was a Maryknoll church in camp and she went to the Maryknoll, that's where she went so occasionally I went with her to catechism and I don't know, the last time I talked to you, I probably mentioned that -- thank you -- that they talked about the end of the world, and probably it might have been Revelations or something, I don't know, they talked about the end of the world and there was a very, very heavy windstorm and we both said, it must be the end of the world and so we hid. And I can't remember exactly where we hid but they couldn't find us so people were looking for us. [Laughs] But that was another memory from camp.

RP: When did you find out --

KK: Well, my mother had a copy of (the picture taken of the three young girls by Ansel Adams) from the time we were in camp. But it was a very small, with a white border and a small print. I haven't been able to find the original, must be amongst my boxes of pictures. But she had taken, purchased some other pictures that he had taken of camp, you know, the Alabama hills and the, I guess it's called Mount Williamson now. We always called it Mount Whitney but (they were referring to Mt. Williamson).

RP: So do a lot of people. How were you, if you were, affected by the landscape around the camp, especially the mountains?

KK: As an adult or --

RP: As a kid in camp.

KK: As a kid. I don't think I had any specific... you know when the cottonwood trees blow all that fluff, it was almost like a snowstorm at times, they were so heavy. I remember that and I remember that plant that we ate and there were many, many more trees up towards Block 33, 32 at that time that I remember. One of the things is that the trees meant shade in the summertime 'cause it was very hot. I don't know, I don't have any, I mean, in my mind's eye, I can still see, see the camp as it was but I don't have any profound recollections of how I felt about it.

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

<Begin Segment 19>

RP: You made several visits to Manzanar since you were actually put there, with this Los Angeles church?

KK: We went to the fiftieth (anniversary of the camp), when they said that... they announced it was going to be part of the National Park system, we were there. And then we've gone the three times with Rose and, you know, met the people from West L.A. Church.

RP: When you visit the camp where you were, do you have any reactions or feelings that come up?

KK: Well, it seemed like a jungle, you know, I mean, there's so many much more vegetation because it was just... they must have stripped all of the vegetation to create the camp. That was the first thing I noticed, all of the plants.

RP: You had a pretty happy time there, a lot of friends and, you know, typical of young kids.

KK: Exactly.

RP: Even though, did --

KK: And I don't think my parents didn't hold any, I mean, strong feelings against it or if they did, they didn't ever tell us about it. And they were young too, my dad was probably (thirty-eight) and my mother was about thirty or so, when we went to camp.

RP: Now looking back, sixty-eight years, over all that time, how do you reflect on that, on your experience?

KK: Well, I think it's a horrible, you know, thing to have happened. And of course, it changed all of our lives, I mean, dramatically. Probably for the better actually because, you know, people were dispersed all over the country, they were able to go to schools. Probably at the time, you know, people had a difficult time but I think we, in many ways lost our language, because so many of us didn't, you know, we were not encouraged to speak Japanese. And for many families, I think it was very heart wrenching and a difficult time because they were torn apart. Being from a younger family, I don't think we felt that as bad, I mean, you know, as much as many of the older Niseis. Probably people in their twenties and teens, twenties and early thirties who were just beginning to be established, I'm sure that was a very difficult period for them. But as a child, my perspective is from a child's, I was seven and ten when I left camp. I turned eleven in Utah.

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

<Begin Segment 20>

RP: As a kid, did you ever have a thought of when are we going home or is this home?

KK: Yes, I do. I recall one time saying, "I hate this place, I want to go home." I don't know how old I was but I do remember saying that at one time. "Why can't we go home?"

KP: And why did you hate it?

KK: I guess it was the dust and the food, you know, yeah, probably the food. [Laughs]

RP: One more question. You said that Reverend Nicholson brought a refrigerator and you used it.

KK: We did. I think (we) put fruits and that sort of thing in it.

RP: Did it go with you to Utah?

KK: No, I think we left it there.

RP: I've heard of very few people having a refrigerator.

KK: Yeah, we did have a refrigerator.

RP: Other people want to use it too?

KK: I don't remember, I think my mom put tsukemono in there, I think that, you know, they made tsukemono, yeah, things like that. But we didn't, you know, for the most part, we went to the mess hall for our meals. It was nice when we had the mess hall in our block. And then we had to go Block 30 so there were more people and it always seemed very crowded and we had to stand in long lines to get in.

RP: So that's where you went to school in Block 30 in the recreation building.

KK: When I was in third grade it was in Block 33, we walked up to Block 33 for school. And my teacher's name was Miss Hardy, I remember more crafts and things in that class. I think we made a drum or something.

RP: So would you eat in that block's mess hall or would you go back to Block 31?

KK: We just came back home. I don't remember lunches. We must have gone to our own mess halls for lunch. That's strange, I don't remember what we did for lunch when we were in Block 16. That's really... isn't that funny, I don't have any recollection of lunch.

RP: Did you ever have the opportunity to run into Miss Shoaf again?

KK: Yes, we did, my friend, Ruth, who lives in Cupertino, (had a colleague) at De Anza College and my friend Ruth taught there and her... this young woman's aunt was Miss Shoaf. And she came to visit her and so we had lunch, but she didn't remember us, she said she just remembered the boys. [Laughs] I think she probably got along with the boys a little better than us. Somewhere I have a picture but I don't know where it is of our fourth grade class.

RP: Are there any other stories that you would like to share with us before --

KK: I'll probably remember when you leave but no. [Laughs] It wasn't, you know, that traumatic or... last year I... my son and his wife took our grandson and he enjoyed it. I think he enjoyed visiting my niece a little more because they had a huge trampoline and she had chickens. But he got to fill out that little booklet that you have.

RP: Junior ranger booklet. You have some relatives who live in the Bishop area.

KK: Yes, my niece and her husband, Dr. Hiroyasu, Stuart is an optometrist and Michele teaches, I think she teaches first grade now.

RP: Now you were a teacher for a number of years, did you on occasion share your camp experience?

KK: Uh-huh, I did. A couple of times the fourth grade teacher asked if I would come and talk to the children. So I talked about the games that we played and how we spent our time, you know, wandering around, looking for flint or arrowheads and that sort of thing. But camp, I mean, children now associate camp with fun and games and so we did have fun and games as children but I did talk a little bit about the difficulty for our parents and for the adults.

RP: Well, Karlene, thank you from Kirk and myself and from the National Park Service.

KK: Well, thank you. Thank you for coming and letting me share my story.

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