Densho Digital Archive
Oregon Nikkei Endowment Collection
Title: George Nakata Interview
Narrator: George Nakata
Interviewer: Masako Hinatsu
Location: Portland, Oregon
Date: August 23, 2004
Densho ID: denshovh-ngeorge_2-01-0023

<Begin Segment 23>

MH: Can you think of any experiences that you had in camp?

GN: Well, as I look at the big picture, Minidoka really became a city, not a rich city, but a city with everything you really needed, from recreational things, we had our swimming hole. We had our garden with Japanese vegetables. We had the hospital, the dentist. We had our barber shops. We had the movie theater. We had talented people that would go around. We had wartime heroes that would come back. I remember they had a parade for one of the Niseis of the 442nd that came back that won the Medal of Honor, one of the few that won a Medal of Honor that was still living, and they had a parade that went through the Minidoka camp. And they had a sense of pride amongst all the families because all of us knew someone, a relative, a brother-in-law, a nephew, an uncle, a close friend, that had someone in their family that either was in the 442nd or perhaps might have even lost their life fighting for the United States. So they had that deep sense of patriotism, if you will, and loyalty that I think were displayed that even young people like myself can really understand, and it kind of came through during your several years there in Minidoka. I think I got to respect the American teachers that came there like Mrs. Kleinkauff and Mrs. Martin and some of the others. I can truly say that they were dedicated to do more than the call of duty. Yes, they taught the class, but they were always there to help us individually. Almost everyone in our class got to personally spend quality time with Mrs. Kleinkauff. Whether it's a personal problem, whether it's a concern at home, whether it's adjusting to something, whether it's an embarrassing moment in a classroom situation, whether it's a difficulty on certain lessons, she always seem to stay after school to give individual one-on-one or one-on-two help.

So there's a great deal to say about Minidoka, the team work, if you will, the organization. There was recreation. I remember my father in Block 34. One room was the go room, the Japanese chess game of go, the black and white that they put on the go board. They'd have go tournaments. He would spend time because now he had time. Yes, he worked in the kitchen, but that's just three meals a day. He had time in between. That's when he can go greasewood hunting. That's when he can play softball. That's when you he can learn go and master go. And you know, go is a simple game yet extremely complex. There is a handicap system. The person with the higher handicap can start with five pebbles already on the board or six or seven or eight depending on their handicap. And as the years went on, my dad's handicap got lower and lower, and he started to win some tournaments, and that's just one indication. My mother took sewing lessons. Before when we had the Pomona Hotel, she didn't have time. But now, she liked to sew, to create new things, new outfits. They didn't have a lot of material or probably used material that was brought in from nearby towns or charitable organizations, but she got to learn to sew. And there's a teacher Miss Kato and Miss Sasaki that taught the lessons, and my mother used to go there for quite some time on a weekly basis, got to sew an outfit for Mary, trousers for me. So she had new dimensions to her life added because of camp. Clearly, there were drawbacks, clearly there were challenges, but at the same time, I believe that the Isseis in particular have that unwavering determination to get up and really make the best of a situation or disadvantages that they had. And I did not realize all of that at the time, but as I grew older, I became more increasingly fond of that kind of spirit and character displayed during those tough times by the first generation pioneer Isseis.

MH: How much did you see of your parents in camp since, you know, you didn't eat in your own apartment. You had to go to a mess hall. How much time did you spend with your parents?

GN: Actually in our case, we spent quite a bit of time. You have the confines of one room, in our case, four of us in the one room. Yes, you actually go out to do your laundry in a different place. You go to the restroom, you go to the shower in sort of a common stall area. So yes, there are times. But when we go to see exhibits of greasewood or artists or performances or odori or some Japanese culturally related ikebana or flower arranging, I always went with my parents. I don't think it was because I had to go with them, but I probably knew that I might learn a little bit more because it was my dad that taught me about ikebana, the simplest having the heaven, earth, and man, the three parts to the simplest displaying or a branch or a flower. And those are little things that spending time hooking worm onto your thing as you cast out to catch a sucker in the Minidoka canal, quality time as I look at it now that I spent with my father and my mother, and the same holds true with my sister Mary and for the most of the other friends of ours. True, we spent our time with friends. We played our sports, we went to school, but I think that I had a chance to spend more time with my parents because no longer was my mother making beds in a hotel. No longer was my father waking up at 3:30 and 4 and going to the produce market to get vegetables and running a fruit and vegetable stand. So you tend to look at the bright side of things, and I think that for most families, we are not dissimilar. Most families probably found that, gee, their mother is around more, their father is home all the time or very often. And so with all the common things, yes, we ate together, we showered together, and things with our friends, but a lot of really quality time that we spent with our parents.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2004 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.