Densho Digital Archive
Oregon Nikkei Endowment Collection
Title: Lilly Kobayashi Irinaga Interview
Narrator: Lilly Kobayashi Irinaga
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Portland, Oregon
Date: April 27, 2013
Densho ID: denshovh-ililly-01

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: So today is Saturday, April 27, 2013, we're in Portland. Observing in the room we have three observers. We have Todd from O.N.E., we have Valerie, who is training to be an interviewer, and we have your son Mike, who's listening in. On camera is Dana Hoshide, and then I'm the interviewer, Tom Ikeda.

LI: Oh, I thought it was "I," but it's "A." [Referring to TI's nametag.]

TI: No, it's actually "I." They misspelled it downstairs, so it's Ikeda.

LI: [Laughs] Okay, I thought so.

TI: So why don't we start with just tell me when you were born.

LI: 4/5/29.

TI: So April 5, 1929, so that makes you eighty-four years old?

LI: Uh-huh, it's forty-eight reversed. [Laughs]

TI: Yes, yes.

LI: I can't believe I'm eighty-four, that's why. [Laughs]

TI: Oh, so when people ask you how old you are, you say forty-eight in reverse?

LI: Yes.

TI: That's funny. And where were you born?

LI: Portland, Oregon.

TI: Okay, and do you know where in Portland you were born?

LI: Emmanuel Hospital.

TI: And what was the, kind of, address when you were born? Where were your parents living? Or what part of town?

LI: I think it was 55 Northeast (Borthwick St.) near Emmanuel. Northeast.

TI: And what was the name given to you at birth?

LI: Lilly Mikie, M-I-K-I-E.

TI: And Kobayashi was your maiden name?

LI: Yes.

TI: And any significance to those names, either Lilly or Mikie?

LI: Well, maybe because I was born so close to Easter, perhaps. I'm not definitely sure.

TI: That make sense. The lilies are coming out, the Easter lilies. So you just celebrated your birthday a couple weeks ago. So let's start with your father first. So what was your father's name and where was he born?

LI: He didn't ever like his name, so when he got his citizenship, he turned it over to Toru. Otherwise it was Toraichi, "number one tiger." He didn't like that at all.

TI: Oh, interesting. So what was it before Toru, what was it again?

LI: Toraichi.

TI: Toraichi.

LI: It meant "number one tiger," I guess.

TI: Interesting. And do you know why he didn't like it? He just didn't like it?

LI: He just didn't like it.

TI: And where was he born?

LI: Okayama, Japan.

TI: And what kind of work did your father do, or your father's family do in Japan?

LI: I don't know what their job was back then. I just met my grandmother, he had passed on, but I really don't know what they were doing.

TI: And how about brothers and sisters of your father?

LI: He was an only child.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2013 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: And so describe how your father's family came to America.

LI: I don't know whether it was my father that wanted to come or my grandparents, but I think they wanted him to learn some English, and also to go to school over here, of course. And then he stayed with his uncle and auntie who were already here. They were quite elderly also, but they took him in.

TI: And do you know about when this happened, your grandparents and your father came to...

LI: He was about (sixteen), I believe, and he was born in 1987.

TI: So 1887.

LI: I mean 1897.

TI: So about 1899 would be when they were... if I did the math right. So about the end of the century. And where did they go, the three of them?

LI: I don't know exactly, but I imagine my grandparents stayed with his aunt and uncle as far as I know. It was somewhere in the country, I'm sure.

TI: But you're not sure where in the country?

LI: Gosh, I really don't know.

TI: And so your grandparents came, and it sounds like then they returned back to Japan?

LI: Yes, uh-huh.

TI: But your father stayed?

LI: Stayed here, right. And when it was time, he went to Benson High School (and graduated).

TI: Did your father ever talk about how it felt to stay, yeah, left in America?

LI: I really don't know. I've never asked him, I guess.

TI: But he was able to stay with his aunt and uncle?

LI: Yes.

TI: And was that aunt and uncle on your grandmother's side or your grandfather's side?

LI: My father's side. They went in an old Ford, we have a picture of that, and I think he was driving, actually. But he went to Benson High School and graduated from there.

TI: So the picture of the Ford was your father driving this?

LI: I think it was my father who was driving it.

TI: And so what, do you know what your uncle and aunt did, what kind of work they did?

LI: No. Oh, I think they were on the farm. That story, let's see... out on Highway 26, I'm pretty sure it's way out there.

TI: And we're kind of going far afield extended family, but do you know their names?

LI: Oh, my goodness. I must have it somewhere, but I'm really not sure. (Kobayashis).

TI: Yeah, we're going pretty far afield. So your father comes to America with his family, he's about (sixteen) years old, his parents return but he stays. And then you mentioned he went to Benson High School and graduated from there. And so what did your father do after high school?

LI: High School? He became a machinist for the Union Pacific Railroad, but in between that time, I can't say for sure, but he went to the... let's see, he was a judo instructor, and then after that, he went to the Western School of Chiropractic and became a chiropractor. I think that's it.

TI: So that's a pretty wide range. So both judo instructor, chiropractor, and also a machinist.

LI: Yeah, he was a machinist, I think when my parents were married, if I'm not mistaken.

TI: So it sounds like being a machinist was a pretty good job.

LI: I think so. And Emmanuel and our home was very close to (the Union Pacific Railroad).

TI: And that was the hospital.

LI: Uh-huh.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2013 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: So let's talk a little bit about your mother. Tell me your mother's name and where she was born.

LI: Her name is Sakaye Fujihara, and she was born in 1909. (...)

TI: Yeah, so about twelve years' difference.

LI: Twelve years, right.

TI: And do you know the type of work her family did, I guess first in Japan, because they also moved to America, but...

LI: Oh, my grandfather on my mother's side went to New York for some reason or the other, but my mother stayed with her mother (...). No, no, her mother, and she had a silkworm farm or something. And I don't know whether she did it at a farm or in the house, I don't know how that goes.

TI: And this was in Kyoto?

LI: Kyoto, right.

TI: So silk farm, and interesting, your grandfather went to New York, which is not common.

LI: Yes, very unusual, that's right. I don't know why he did.

TI: Do you think it was business related of some type?

LI: Very possible.

TI: Okay, but then eventually your mother also comes to America, so where does she go? Is it New York, or where?

LI: No, because when she was in middle school in Japan, her father wasn't there, so she wrote a letter to him saying, "I really miss you, so would you please come back to Japan?" So eventually he did come back, and then my grandmother and my mother came to, I think, I don't know if it was Portland or... on the West Coast somewhere, all of them stayed here. Let's see...

TI: So that was a big shift, I think, especially for your grandmother.

LI: Yes, it was. And my mother had no siblings when they were in Japan, but when they came over here, they started another family. There were three siblings, but they were quite a few years apart, so they had three children after they came here.

TI: So your family's really interesting. It's a little complicated, because you have an uncle and two aunts who are, I guess, Nisei. They're U.S. citizens, they were born in the United States.

LI: Right. My mother was an Issei, of course, (when they) came over here.

TI: Okay. And what did the family do in Portland?

LI: I think they (then worked on a farm).

TI: And so in some ways, your, so your mother had three siblings, Mas...

LI: Mas, called Masaki.

TI: Hannah?

LI: Hanaye.

TI: Hanaye.

LI: And Tamaye. So they would be my aunts.

TI: Right. And age difference, how different in age were they from you?

LI: Well, let's see. Mas was probably three or four years older, and then my auntie Hanaye, I think, was only two years older than I, and Tamaye is the same age as I am, but the niece is a little older, me. [Laughs]

TI: So in some ways, they probably felt more like cousins rather than your uncle and aunt.

LI: That's right. So my mother and her mother were pregnant at the same time, actually.

TI: So in some ways, your mom, even though they were siblings, was probably more like an aunt to you, too.

LI: That's right.

TI: How interesting, okay. This is fun.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2013 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: So let's go back, I was going to ask, how did your mother and father meet?

LI: I think it was by baishakunin or matchmaker. And I think it was Dr. and Mrs. Sato. Their son became the doctor, I don't know the age difference, but they knew each other, the families. So that's the way they were.

TI: But what's interesting, for that generation, a lot of times the matchmaking happened because they were from the same village or prefecture.

LI: That's right.

TI: But in this case...

LI: They're far away.

TI: They're far away. So it was more they just knew the families.

LI: I guess so.

TI: And I'm sorry, and you mentioned the baishakunin was the Satos?

LI: Dr. and Mrs. Sato.

TI: Sato, okay.

LI: So it's been a long time ago.

TI: So your father was about twelve years older than your mother. Tell me a little bit about your father. What was he like? What was his personality?

LI: He was very gentle and very kind. He didn't show a lot of emotions. I used to go to some of his judo tournaments, I mean, I was pretty little as far as that goes. But I remember his being there. And he never did practice chiropractic per se, but he was working -- not working, but when the judo people were injured or something, then he would be right there for them also.

TI: And so at these judo tournaments, was he, I'm guessing he competed. Was he pretty good at judo?

LI: I guess he was a black belter, I don't know what number or anything. But he not only... well, I didn't ever see him do the judo per se, but I knew that he was... what would you call it? He was with his students, and he was sort of a... what would you call it? Teacher?

TI: Sensei?

LI: Sensei, very possible. And he had other people, too. I have a picture of him with all the other senseis, and the elder one was the one that talked like my father, etcetera.

TI: And do you know where the dojo, the judo dojo was located?

LI: I don't know that, but I know that I had gone to Hood River for one of the tournaments. And it must have been right in town because... I don't know where he actually (taught) or trained.

TI: But it's interesting, so they would have tournaments where they would go to different parts, regions?

LI: I think so.

TI: And the people he trained, were they pretty much Japanese Americans?

LI: Yes.

TI: Good. So I know a little bit more about your father. Let's talk about your mother. What was she like? What was her personality?

LI: She was a gentle person. She did a lot of handwork, and as she grew older and I did, too, she used to dance. She took lessons, and she used to dance and ohana, (learning) flower arrangement. And she sewed a lot for me, apparently. I had a lot of handmade clothes (...).

TI: Now if you ever needed... I can't imagine this, but I'm sure there might have been a time when you needed to be disciplined, or if they, someone needed to talk to you sternly, who would that be, your mother or your father?

LI: Well, maybe my mother. Yeah, very possible. She didn't really yell at me, she was very gentle, too.

TI: Yeah, I think I asked this in the pre-interview, but I should follow up on this. So brothers and sisters?

LI: None.

TI: So you were an only child.

LI: Yes, uh-huh.

TI: And now that we know a little bit about your father and mother, and they're both, you described them as gentle, and in some ways cultured also, in terms of your mother dancing.

LI: (Yes), she liked all that.

TI: And your father into the martial arts, what was their relationship like? I know there was an age difference of twelve years, but how would you describe their relationship?

LI: They were not lovey-dovey. But they were kind to one another. I never heard them yell or anything. They got along very well, I think.

TI: So I'm always kind of curious in terms of the first generation, the Isseis. How would you describe or how would they show their affection to each other? I know in most cases you don't hear too much, but I'm wondering if you ever noticed something that would show affection one way or the other.

LI: They spoke kindly to one another. I've never heard them yell. And I guess she cooked and all that, so he was satisfied with the cooking. [Laughs] But other than that, I really can't tell you.

TI: Now if there was a difficult time in the family, and they had to really figure out something, how would that be worked out? Did you ever see them kind of have to discuss something difficult, and if so, how did they do that?

LI: Gosh, I really can't remember. As long as he brought some money home and they could live comfortably, that was great. But other than that, I can't really remember. I can't.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2013 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: Both of your parents were involved in Japanese culture. Your dad with judo and your mother with dance. How did they talk about Japanese culture or being Japanese with you? Did that ever come up in discussions?

LI: Not really in discussions, but I know that they had me go to (Japanese school and had lessons in odori). They wanted me to wear things like that, (I wore kimono). I wasn't real keen to begin with. [Laughs]

TI: So some of the more traditional Japanese dance, how about Japanese language?

LI: I went to Japanese school after the (regular elementary) school every afternoon for about an hour (or an hour and a half), and then on Saturdays we would go as well, and that was our cleanup day as well.

TI: Cleanup day at the school.

LI: At the school. So I went every afternoon. I still remember my teachers, (Mrs. Fukuda and Mrs. Miura), they were very kind.

TI: So you had to go to Japanese school after regular school.

LI: Right.

TI: And what school, elementary school did you attend?

LI: Shattuck school.

TI: And your Japanese school was one hour (and a half). So describe a typical school day for you, like a Monday or Tuesday. What would you start off... I just want to get the sequence between regular school to Japanese school.

LI: It was fun. I met, well, I knew quite a few people. I don't know where Jean Matsumoto went. She was a little younger than I, she might have gone to the same school, actually, too. But we used to bring them to school occasionally because they were that much younger. But it was fun to be there with a lot of the Sanseis because we would play games and we would go outside for maybe ten minutes or so for exercise.

TI: You mentioned, I just want to understand, you mentioned Sanseis? So there were Sanseis at the Japanese language school, or was it mostly Nisei?

LI: I guess it's mostly Nisei, that's right, in my generation, yes.

TI: But backing up a little bit earlier, so let's start at the beginning of the day. What time would you normally wake up on a school day?

LI: Oh, let's see. I had a mile and four blocks to walk, so I must have gotten up around seven o'clock. Because school would start, I don't know, eight-thirty, thereabouts.

TI: And what would be a typical breakfast that you would have?

LI: The American style, you know, cereal and eggs and (bacon and toast). She did a lot of things American ways. I didn't have any Japanese breakfast.

TI: And then you mentioned that the school was a mile and four blocks away. How would you get to school?

LI: Walk. No transportation.

TI: And would you walk with others, or would you walk by yourself?

LI: Yeah, I walked with my aunties Hanaye and Tamaye. And we would pick up other little girls like my age or younger, and I think we took both Jean and Alice -- they had Japanese names at that time -- but then we'd go to another hotel, and my friend Mazie, who was probably four or five years older than I, she used to take us to school.

TI: Okay. And then you would all get to school, and then go to school 'til about, what, three o'clock or three-thirty?

LI: Yes, that's right.

TI: And then what would happen then? How would you go... what would happen next after your school?

LI: We would walk over to the Japanese school.

TI: So how about things like a snack or anything like that? Did you have a snack between school?

LI: I don't think so. One thing I do remember is that my parents bought me a bicycle. And so I rode another girl, Mary, and we were going to the Japanese school. And I don't know how I got into an accident, but anyway, they took the bicycle away from me. [Laughs]

TI: Oh, so you crashed or something, or you fell?

LI: I think we bumped into the car or something. I didn't injure myself nor my friend that I was riding the bike with. I still remember her.

TI: So let's talk about that. When they took the bike away, was it because, were they angry at you?

LI: Well, because I was in the accident, but they did return it to me maybe in a month or two.

TI: I see, okay.

LI: They were very adamant that I learn how to write a bicycle a little better.

TI: That's a good story. So after regular school you'd walk to Japanese school, you mentioned you were there for about an hour (and a half).

LI: About an hour, hour and a half, something like that.

TI: And so describe Japanese school. What did you learn at Japanese school?

LI: We learned to read and write, actually. And we would have, I'd guess you'd call them programs where they had the children act out and also storytelling, and we would write things in Japanese and we would read them also. And it was a fun time because when we got out for even ten or fifteen minutes, we would all play with each other, learned a few Japanese games. But the teachers were all very kind.

TI: Earlier today I interviewed Cannon, and he told me that at his Japanese school they had to go two hours.

LI: Oh, I think he want to North School. We went to South School.

TI: Right. So it sounds like you only had to go one hour (and a half).

LI: One, I think. [Laughs]

TI: But it sounds like it was a pretty rigorous program.

LI: Yes, it was. (We had weekly tests).

TI: He was saying how they were using pretty much the same textbooks as they were using in Japan.

LI: Oh, is that right? I don't know about that. Is Cannon about a year or two older than I? About the same age?

TI: I think a year older.

LI: I see.

TI: He may be a year ahead of you. Yeah, so I'm familiar with Shattuck, and he told me about the different elementary schools.

LI: He didn't go to Shattuck, did he?

TI: No, he went to...

LI: He went to the North Side, Couch.

TI: Yeah, Couch. Spelled like "couch," but it's like couch.

LI: Yes.

TI: So let's... growing up in your neighborhood, who were some of your playmates?

LI: I had a lot of Caucasian friends because there weren't too many Japanese families that lived around at that time. Well, this is a little later, but after we came back from the war, there were a lot of people that had leased homes, leased hotels, so had more Japanese friends to play with. But in our area, I can just remember the Matsumotos and a few other families, but not that many. We used to go down by the Willamette River to play because it was so close. We were on Front or First Avenue.

TI: And when you guys go down to the river to play, to me it sounds dangerous.

LI: There's a lot of grass down there.

TI: Oh, so it wasn't really in the water, it was just by the shore.

LI: Right. But we used to go down the stairways, down to the platform where they had the (Willamette River), but I don't think anyone said, "Be careful." We were trying to be careful on our own.

TI: It's so different, like today's day, if you have kids, you probably wouldn't let them down there.

LI: Oh, yes, the parents would be right with you. We went down there quite a bit.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2013 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: So describe your home. What was your home like in terms of, was it a house, how large was it?

LI: When I was real little, we lived close to the Emmanuel Hospital and the railroad... well, anyway, (the United Pacific Railroad).

TI: So where your father worked.

LI: Right, right. And it was a pretty good sized home, I guess. I have some pictures of myself (outdoors). I don't think we ever took (a picture) on the inside. Oh, I do remember my grandparents and my aunties and my dad and I had a picture taken, and it looked like a pretty good-sized home. I was there for about five years, and then we moved into town because the parents wanted me to go to (elementary) school (...). I guess maybe they didn't have a school close by.

TI: And describe that house in town. What was that like?

LI: It was hotel that was leased. And this was down pretty close to the riverfront, too, and we had a great... well, I shouldn't say family, he was just like a grandpa to me (who was a resident). He was an artist, and he always taught us how to paint. I never was a good painter, but he was fantastic. We have a lot of pictures that he hand-painted, watercolor.

TI: So explain to me again who this person is, the artist.

LI: He was from Germany originally, and he was out in the Midwest. And he came way over to Portland. He was with the (IWW), International Workers of the World, he was in that division, too. He was really like a grandpa to me. He lived in the hotel that I first moved in with my parents, and then from there I used to walk on my own four blocks to Shattuck.

TI: And when you say this is a leased hotel, was it leased by your parents? Were your parents running it?

LI: They never were able to buy it, of course. But I think they were leasing it.

TI: Okay, so they were managing the hotel.

LI: Right, right, uh-huh.

TI: And how big a hotel was this?

LI: Oh, dear. Not that large. There were some hotels right nearby, and I started to go with some of the friends that were... there must have been around... one, two, three, four, five... there must have been about five or six hotels and cleaners and whatnot near there.

TI: And when you think back to the hotel, who were some of the people who stayed at the hotel?

LI: They were all single people, (transients). I don't think there were any married couples that I know of. But it was, like I said, it was near the waterfront. And I guess they were all workers that came to rent the (apartments). And my dad was still working at the railroad, and I remember picking him up by the First National Bank, which is at that time around Fifth or Sixth Avenue. My mother was making the beds and cleaning each of the hotel rooms. That's what I could remember about that.

TI: And the people who stayed at the hotel, were they more transient...

LI: Yes.

TI: Or did you have some long-term tenants also?

LI: Yes, they were (some long-term tenants).

TI: And you said they were mostly, they were single, was it mostly men?

LI: Mostly men. I don't think there were any ladies there.

TI: And what kind of work did the people who stayed at the hotel do?

LI: Oh, my goodness. They were in and out there... I really don't know.

TI: And as part of running a hotel, did you have certain chores that you had to do?

LI: No, not at that time because I was pretty young.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2013 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: Let's talk about any, like, Japanese community events. Do you remember any events that happened before the war?

LI: There were some Japanese (school) picnics, and they called them undoukais and I guess the south side and the north side always, they weren't against each other, but we would play with one another to see if we could win. And like the rope pull...

TI: Tug of war?

LI: Tug of war, and then we would race. And there was a lot of food at that time because all the parents were there. So they called it undoukai.

TI: And so there was this kind of competition between the north and the south?

LI: That's right. And that was fun.

TI: And when you think of, so you were on the south side.

LI: South side, uh-huh.

TI: How would you describe the people from the north side? Were they different than the south side? I mean, how would you, what were the differences?

LI: I don't think there were any differences that I could tell, and I think we won, lost, won, lost, you know.

TI: But in terms of kind of a reputation, like was one side maybe a little rougher than the other side, or was it pretty much the same?

LI: I think they were about the same.

TI: So let's talk a little bit more about Shattuck school. When you were there, what... so going back to Shattuck school, tell me about your classmates. Was it, like, how many Japanese were in your class?

LI: Maybe five or six, the rest Caucasian. Chinese people were there also, and quite a few Jewish people. They lived up on the hill, and they were very kind people. And we were all good friends.

TI: Now during this time, was there discrimination, either against Japanese or against a Jew or Chinese? Did you feel...

LI: Not at that time. Little bit later, yeah. We were all good friends.

TI: Okay. Any other childhood memories? Before... we want to go to your visit to Japan, before I go there, any other childhood memories? Like did you guys ever take trips together, especially with your, not your cousins, but your aunt?

LI: No, we never went with them because they didn't have a car either. However, one family had a car, and we used to go... not as far as Mount Hood, maybe, Bonneville Dam or something. And we used to do some picnics with them also. So that was fun, and they had a girl a little older than I. And she would take me around and introduce me to quite a few of the other Japanese people. Because other than the picnics that we had, they were all Caucasian, basically.

TI: So up to this point, you had not really traveled that far away from Portland.

LI: That's right, or even, yeah, the city of Portland, sure.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2013 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: So when you were... let's see, about ten, eleven, that you then took a trip to Japan?

LI: Yes, uh-huh.

TI: So let's talk about that. So why did you go to Japan?

LI: Because my father's mother was very ill, and I think that was, that was the second time they went to Japan after they were married. And I'd never met my grandmother at all. And then my grandfather was already gone, so I never did know him. It was a nice trip.

TI: So let's talk first about the journey from Portland to Japan. So how did you travel?

LI: Hmm. I think we went to Seattle by train, by golly, because we had a pass, and that was the first time he ever used the pass while he was working there. And so we went by train, and we caught the boat in Seattle, the Heian Maru, and that was a lot of fun. It was the first time I'd been on a big ship, too. So we met a lot of people from Seattle, and not too many from Portland.

TI: So when you say you met people from Seattle, this was on the ship?

LI: Yes, on the ship. And there were quite a few Japanese people that were on the ship. So it was quite a trip for me.

TI: And this was in 1941 that you took this trip?

LI: Yes, uh-huh.

TI: And what month was this?

LI: Around June or July, because I was there... let's see, June, July, August, September. We were supposed to be there only for a couple of months, because I'd have to go back to school when September came around.

TI: And so sort of in this early summer of 1941, was there any sense that there was tension between the United States and Japan at this point?

LI: Not at all. Not at all. My parents never said anything about it. As far as I know, the Japanese people didn't say anything to me.

TI: So it felt pretty safe to travel to Japan?

LI: Oh, yes.

TI: And so you go on the ship, and so any memories from the, you mentioned meeting more Portland and Seattle people?

LI: Yes, yes. Well, we ran around the ship all the time. But we met some people from both the cities and the States. We took part in, they had a lot of shows, so we'd go see the shows. They were basically musical or dancing type shows. Let's see... we would do our exercises, and my parents and I always ate together when we were on the ship.

TI: And so you don't remember what class you guys were in?

LI: It wasn't the first for sure. I don't know, but it must have just been regular. They were not the richest people in the world.

TI: You mentioned the dining area, so I was just wondering what area you were in.

LI: Remember, I was only twelve, and you know how old I am now.

TI: It must have been a pretty exciting adventure.

LI: It was; it really was.

TI: And so where in Japan did you land?

LI: In Kobe or Yokohama, I can't tell you for sure. And then we took a train over to my grandparents' home in Okayama, which was quite a distance. And I don't know whether I landed in Narita or... what's the other one? Oh, I guess Narita was...

TI: Well, that's the airport, Narita. That's more modern-day.

LI: Yeah, can't be. I guess we landed in Kobe or Yokohama.

TI: Yeah, that makes sense, they're both coastal port cities.

LI: Right.

TI: First impressions of Japan when you got there? What were your thoughts?

LI: It was so beautiful, I really can't even describe it. It was very, very nice. And of course everybody spoke Japanese and I knew a little bit, the regular... I didn't know any fancy words, but I (could) understand part of it.

TI: Now, do you think you were ever made fun of or teased because of your lack of Japanese?

LI: Not at all, but, you know, I was in the sixth grade, I believe, sixth or seventh when I went over there. And since the boats were not leaving, and we didn't know why or I didn't know why, we had, they put me in the grade school and I was in the fourth grade (in Japan) at that time so I would learn from the beginning or whatever. That was interesting, but it was very difficult for me, because it was all in Japanese, no English spoken at all. So when I came back, my parents' friends said that I had learned quite a bit (in Japan).

TI: Because it was really immersion in Japanese.

LI: Right, uh-huh.

TI: And during that time, did your classmates ever tease you because they thought it might be strange that you're the same age but didn't know?

LI: Not really. They were all very kind to me.

TI: That's good.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2013 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: So let's go back. You mentioned earlier that you went to Japan in early summer, and the plan was only to stay for a couple months. But you were there longer, and so they put you in Japanese school. I guess one question, it was fairly common for Niseis to return to Japan, and like you, go to school, and some people even stayed. Did you ever think that you might stay in Japan?

LI: Never.

TI: That would be, become your home?

LI: No.

TI: Now why was that? Because in some ways, you were very close to maybe having to have to stay there.

LI: No, I didn't think my dad would stay there. We just decided that Portland was our home, and that's where I wanted to be. I wanted to go home at a certain point.

TI: So you never got a sense that the family in Japan were trying to convince maybe your parents that maybe you should just stay in Japan or anything like that?

LI: No, no.

TI: Okay. So tell me as much as you can about the difficulties in coming back. You mentioned that the ships quit sailing from Japan to the United States.

LI: Yes.

TI: So describe that. What happened?

LI: Well, we would go to Kobe thinking that we would be able to go back to the U.S. directly. But like you had said, they didn't go all the way. They weren't even moving at that time, but my parents never said that there's something wrong. And so I think I had mentioned before that we had come to Kobe or Yokohama, and then we went back to my grandmother's home. And they would always give us a farewell (party) or whatever, and then we'd go, I guess my dad must have said that there might be another boat going out from Yokohama. So we would go there, but after the second time or the third time, he says, no, we'll just have to stay in the town where he thought the ships were going out. But they had never said anything, nor did I hear about it from other people that there was going to be a war coming on. And never did we think that it was going to be the U.S. So I was a little frightened, but I didn't know all the things about it, so I wasn't really that frightened. But we knew that we were going to go back to the U.S., and our ship, the Hikawa Maru, went back -- this is going a little fast -- but we landed in Seattle. But the other ship that left, there were two ships that left about the same time, and they went... let's see, did we go north or south? But anyway, the families were broken up because the children were on our ship and the parents were on the other, and I guess they must have been full, that's why they divided it. But the one ship that went the opposite direction that we went, they turned back, and they went back to Japan. So the families were split, and I don't know if they ever got together during the war. (we were on the last ship)

TI: And what was the date that this ship was sailing to come back to the United States?

LI: Let's see, I came back around the beginning of (November). No, no, the war began...

TI: December 7th.

LI: Yes, uh-huh. It must have been the (early) part of November.

TI: But just literally two or three weeks before the war started.

LI: The war started, right.

TI: Going back to Japan, did you ever hear people talking sort of in opposition to the United States? Because during this time, the United States had put up a blockade around Japan, making it really hard in terms of blockading oil and things like that. So I was wondering if in the papers, when people read this, if there was sort of this resentment towards the United States.

LI: Not that I know of. Maybe my parents did, but they didn't say anything to me. I guess I didn't know how to read the Japanese (newspaper) all that well, too, so never in my mind that it would be Pearl Harbor, really.

TI: So on the ship that came back, I'm guessing it must have been pretty crowded.

LI: It was very crowded, yes. From people, I remember this one fellow, he was in college already, and we met him on the way over and on the way back. He was from Seattle. And other than that, we made friends with my age group, but other than that, I really didn't know that the U.S. was going to be bombed. That was such a surprise.

TI: And when you say, so was it crowded, more crowded on the way back, what would be an example of a ship being crowded? Did, like, your living conditions, were they more cramped?

LI: Yes, I think so. Because on the way home, we had to sleep in bunks instead of having the regular beds. And I know some families, they were pretty crowded. But other than that, we had our food. Well, anyway, it was pretty comfortable for us. There were only three of us, so other than that, maybe some of the (larger) families had to really crowd in. Yes, because in the dining halls, we would know that there were a lot more people there on the way home.

TI: And how about the mood on the ship? I'm just thinking in my mind, so this is the last ship, some people were waiting for weeks to try to get back to the United States. Was there tension on the ship or was it relief that people were on the way back?

LI: There was relief, but I don't feel that there was any tension that I can remember.

TI: Okay, how interesting. Just, in retrospect, when you think about being the last ship back...

LI: Well, we didn't know that it was going to be the last ship until we landed, and they said the ones that went the northern route -- I think we came back the southern route, because the others went through the Aleutian Islands, as I recall. So when we came back, we were very sad that the children or the parents were split apart like that. I think they were from Seattle, too.

TI: Hmm. Did you ever know what happened to the children? I guess maybe relatives or friends...

LI: I just never knew. Every time I thought about it, I thought, "Oh, that's so sad."

TI: Interesting. But going back to what I mentioned earlier, how in some ways by happenstance, you guys got on the last ship, and how your life would have been so different if you weren't on that ship.

LI: That's right.

TI: That you could have had to stay in Japan during the war.

LI: That's right. And I don't know if my grandmother would have taken me in, but I'm sure she would have. I've never even thought about it really, it was just always coming back home, that's about it.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2013 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: So you come back to Portland, and then Sunday, December 7, 1941. So tell me about that day for you. Where were you, how did you hear about it?

LI: Well, some people said they didn't have a program, but as I recall, we did go to the Norse Hall, and there was a contingent from Japan. And we went to see it, and we saw part of it, and all of a sudden these FBI (agents) had come to take away these men, their names were called. And I was just shocked when my father's name was called, 'cause I thought, "Oh, my goodness, they said the FBI (agents) were here to take them away," but we didn't know to where or anything. But I was so sad when he was taken, I didn't know why or when or (where). And later on, I thought maybe it was because we had (just) come back from Japan, or maybe he was working on the railroad or something. I really can't tell you.

TI: Now was your father involved with very much in terms of community leadership?

LI: Well, I don't know if he was a leader, but he was with some social groups, and I knew that he was going to meetings occasionally, but he never said anything about the war. Well, actually, I don't even know why we stayed at that program knowing that the war had begun that morning or afternoon. And, well, my mother didn't know where he had gone. We knew that he was taken, but later on we heard that he was at the Portland police department. But she didn't know for a few weeks, actually, where he was taken.

TI: Going back to when they picked up your father, I'm curious to get a sense of how that all happened. I mean, was there lots of confusion, was it quiet, was it noisy? Describe that...

LI: Yeah, it wasn't noisy or anything. All the men's names that were called went to the door or whatever. And I don't know if there was one agent or more, but they all took them, and we all didn't know where they were going. And later on, my mother wanted to bring some clothing, because they went just as they were. And she found out probably in a couple of weeks that they were at the police station. So we brought a few clothes and a little food for him, that was about it.

TI: Now when they called your father's name, were you nearby him?

LI: We were all sitting together.

TI: So did you...

LI: Yeah, I went with him, actually, when his name was called. And I thought, "Gee, where's Dad going?"

TI: So when they actually called his name and he started walking, you walked with him?

LI: Yes, I did. And I said, "Dad, where are you going?" He said, "I don't know." And it was a big surprise to him as well as our family.

TI: When he said he didn't know, was there, could you sense concern? Or how would you describe...

LI: Yeah, I think there was concern. He didn't realize what was actually going on. He knew the war had begun as far as that went, but he didn't really mention much else after that. All I know is my mother was extremely upset, and she didn't know where he was going either.

TI: And so when you say your mother's extremely upset, what does that mean? Was she crying?

LI: Yes, she was crying. She says, "I don't know where he went." She didn't know too much about the FBI either at that time. But just to be taken from this place that we were at, and she didn't know where he was going to be taken, it was tragic, really.

TI: And so I have this image of you walking with him, and you're asking him where he's going, and he doesn't know.

LI: He doesn't know.

TI: So at what point were the two of you separated?

LI: When they took him. They were handcuffed, as far as I could remember, and he was taken out. But I never went outside, I went back to my mother. And of course the program had stopped by then, so we all went home. I don't even know how we got home. But like I said, we didn't know where he was for several weeks, and I don't know who clued my mother in as to where he was. But by the time she went there several times, the last time she went, they were already (sent) out to other camps.

TI: So again, that must have really upset her.

LI: Oh, yes, yes. He first went to Missoula, Montana, from there he went to various other camps as well. I don't know why that was, either.

TI: When the FBI picked up your father, were you able to see any of the FBI agents and see their treatment of your father or anything like that?

LI: Not at all. I don't know whether they handcuffed him... I don't know.

TI: And so after the FBI leaves, and your mother is obviously upset and you're probably also upset, what was the reaction of people around you, the people that maybe knew you? Do you remember hearing or seeing anything?

LI: No, I don't remember. All we wanted to do is go home to the hotel that we were in. But that's about all I remember.

TI: So tell me, how did you and your mother cope without your father? It must have been difficult without him.

LI: It must have been. I think to myself, I was almost thirteen in half a year, and if I can remember a lot more things, it would have been good, but I don't really recall a whole lot of things at that time. Just my father being taken, and that was it.

TI: And then what was it like the next day? I mean, so Monday, did you go to school that next day?

LI: I must have. I don't remember staying at home. And everybody at school seemed to be fine with me. There wasn't any animosity or anything, just because Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. We were young enough, I guess, that they weren't angry at me or us, I'm sure. But it was hard to take.

TI: Did people at school know that your father was picked up by the FBI?

LI: Probably not. I didn't say anything, and they didn't mention anything either.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2013 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: So, Lilly, where we ended up, you talked about, we had just talked about your father being picked up by the FBI, and how difficult that was. And you said there's a couple week period where you didn't know what happened to your father.

LI: No, I don't think my mother knew either.

TI: So eventually you found... how did your father eventually communicate with your mother?

LI: He didn't at that time. And when she went to bring a little food or something, he was already gone to Missoula, Montana. And so from there he used to write, but it wasn't to me, it was to my mother. I read some of that, and I tried to look for some of those things, but I could not find anything.

TI: So there were like letters back and forth.

LI: Letters, uh-huh. He never called as far as I know. And like I said, he was moved to about five camps after that.

TI: And so let's talk a little bit about, so how did your mother survive without your father? Because he was, he had a salary with a railroad, and he was probably helping out with the hotel. So what did your mother do?

LI: She was making the rentals that came in, she never mentioned to me that she couldn't feed herself and myself. So I really can't remember that.

TI: Now, did your life change in these weeks after your father was gone?

LI: Oh, yeah. I was really upset that he's gone, and like my mother, she didn't know where he was, and I certainly didn't either. So it was a sad time at that period.

TI: Now did you sense or see any kind of more bad feelings towards Japanese Americans during this time period? So you're in Portland, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, were there any incidences at school or anywhere else against Japanese Americans?

LI: There was a real good Chinese friend of mine, we had gone from kindergarten on up, and she wore a pin, "I am Chinese," and that really hurt me. And we didn't talk for the longest time, until we came back from the (internment camp) and I saw her at Olds & King's.

TI: And did you ever ask her about, or talk about the war?

LI: No, never. And, well, I don't know where she lives or whether she's married or not, but I saw her on the elevator at this old department store, and we just said hello and that was about it.

TI: Now when you saw your good friend wearing an "I am Chinese" button, what did that mean to you? Why were you upset?

LI: Well, because she saw me as one of the enemies, apparently. And she didn't want to be mistaken for Japanese because she might have gone through something that wasn't very pleasant for her. And she had brothers and sisters, but I didn't know 'em all that well. But (...) she still might be around. And I was very sad to see that.

TI: Because part of it -- I talked to some Chinese about this -- part of it was they said it was just self-protection.

LI: Very possible.

TI: It wasn't like, necessarily, they were against the Japanese, but they just did that so at night or whatever, during the curfew, they could still be able to...

LI: Right, right. Very possible.

TI: But, so Beverly was your friend, she's Chinese. I'm curious, at some people, Japan and China were at war. Did that ever cause any tension between the Japanese and Chinese?

LI: Not that I know of.

TI: Because I know there were Chinese families, especially the immigrants, who didn't like Japanese because of what was going on in Asia.

LI: Yes, that's true. I wasn't particularly educated in that line at all. So friends were friends.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2013 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: So eventually in May, people in, Japanese Americans in Portland have to leave Portland.

LI: Yes.

TI: So what did your mom do with the hotel and all the other belongings? What did you do?

LI: I think my German grandfather took care of the hotel for us, or for my mother. And he kept it going for a while, I think, because -- this is a little further on -- but he used to bring Sunday newspapers and a little treat for us when we were in the evacuation center, the Portland center. And he was the kindest person. But he, I don't know if he sent my mother money or if he sent anything, but he took care of the hotel, so we were very grateful for that.

TI: Now do you remember his name?

LI: Arthur Boose. We still have a lot of paintings.

TI: And he was like a, before the war, a long term tenant at the hotel?

LI: Yes, he was. And I would go to his apartment from time to time, and he would show me how to paint, and he was a good mentor. He's gone now, of course, but I've never known a person so kind.

TI: And you said that he kept the hotel going for a time, so it sounds like maybe it didn't last throughout the war?

LI: Gosh, I don't know much more than that.

TI: That's okay. But then you said he visited you at the assembly center?

LI: Yes.

TI: So tell me about that. What was that like?

LI: Yes, he would come over and pass the newspapers to me (through the barbed wire), and he would give us some candy so we could pass it on to our friends, too. But it was so kind of him. I mean, I'll remember him forever. We have a lot of watercolor paintings that he did, and he was very, very, not commercial, but I'm sure one of the people down at the coast, somebody told them that I had some paintings, and she wanted to know if she could have some of them to sell in her art shop. But I didn't want to sell them. I think we had a couple with us, and still have them. He was a great grandpa to me.

TI: And so after the war, then, you stayed in touch with him, and he was still around? Or was this all before the war?

LI: No, I stayed... yes, because I have a picture of him when I was... how old was I? Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, thereabouts. And I have a picture with him.

TI: So I'm curious, you're pretty close to him. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor and all these things are starting to happen against Japanese and Japanese Americans, did he ever talk to you about what was going on?

LI: No, never. And he was always kind to me after the war, during the war. Well, after the war. That was the only time I saw him.

TI: Because I find it interesting the fact that he was German, and the United States was not only at war against Japan, but also with Germany. And just how he kind of felt about this.

LI: I don't think I ever heard. He was just Grandpa to me all the way through.

TI: That's sweet.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2013 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: So when you had to go to the [Portland] Assembly Center, how did you get from Portland to the assembly center?

LI: It must have been a bus because we didn't have a car, nor most of my friends didn't have a car. Portland Exposition Center I guess is what it was called.

TI: And tell me, what was that, your first impressions of the assembly center?

LI: It was hot, and the smell wasn't very good because all the animals were there at one time or another. And they had, what did they call these boards, two by four or whatever, and they had made the walls with that. And the top was all open, and where you entered, I don't know if it was canvas or any, some kind of cloth. And you could hear everybody's conversations. Of course, it was just my mother and I, so we had a very small cubicle, and I thought, gosh, I didn't think Portland had that many Japanese. And some of the Seattle people and not all of the Oregonians were there. They went to Tule Lake. And then we were there. It was fun in a certain way because I had met so many other Niseis there. It was a time when we made new friends and we felt (...) that they're going through the same thing, too.

TI: Going back to the living conditions, so where in the [exposition] center were you and your mother living during this time?

LI: In 2-B-10, I remember. [Laughs]

TI: 2-B-10. And where was that located?

LI: Oh, gosh. I don't remember.

TI: Was it closer to the animals?

LI: To the entrance.

TI: Oh, the entrance, okay. And you mentioned the heat. So tell me about other things. Like the smells...

LI: Yes, there were smells there from the cattle and everything that were there.

TI: And how about like flies or bugs, do you remember?

LI: Yes, there were lots, there were lots. And of course you had to go to a certain place to go to the bathroom or to wash your clothes, and there was a dining room there, I guess. There were some pictures that I remember I had.

TI: So I'm thinking about, so you're twelve years old about now, twelve?

LI: Let's see. I was twelve in '41, so I was thirteen. And I remember I was in the shower and I wasn't quite sure how to use it, and I was burnt. And so, quotes, the "doctors" there had seen the burnt part, and they did try to take care of it. But I was in a bandage and all that things for quite some time, but I was okay after that.

TI: So explain to me how you got burnt.

LI: Oh, the hot shower.

TI: So just the hot water?

LI: Uh-huh. I guess I must have turned it too fast or the other way, I'm not sure. But anyway, I knew it hurt a lot, but it was on this side that I can still remember that.

TI: So it seemed like it was severe enough that it caused, like, blistering?

LI: Right, right. I don't know, maybe I was not too bright to turn it one way or the other.

TI: Well, it must have been hard, too, I mean, here you're a young woman, and there wasn't that much privacy.

LI: There wasn't; there really wasn't. There were several other ladies that were showering at that time, too.

TI: And so how did you spend your time at the assembly center?

LI: Oh, dear. I imagine... I think we played games and whatnot. Oh, there were movies at times, and gosh, what else was there?

TI: Someone told me about the, in Portland, the Portland Assembly Center, that the public library made available lots of books. And I was just curious if you...

LI: That's right, they did, uh-huh. And there were some older boys that were taking care of a lot of that, and they had sort of a reception desk and we would go there and look for books, etcetera. And then I don't know how much we were making or how much I had, but they were selling candies and ice cream and so forth at this little place. And so what else would I have done there? I didn't really play any games, I mean, play any sports or anything over there that I can remember. In Minidoka I did.

TI: And how about your mother? What did she do during this time?

LI: She helped in the kitchen, and I don't know how much she made. I know in Minidoka she was making only sixteen dollars a month.

TI: And so during mealtime, did you eat with your mother or did you eat with friends?

LI: Well, before she began to work, I ate with her. But basically I did eat with my friends.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2013 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: Before we go to Minidoka, any other memories about the Portland [Exposition] Center?

LI: All I knew it was very, very hot, no privacy. It won't come to me right now.

TI: Okay, if it does, just go ahead and bring it up, but let's go to Minidoka. And when you went to Minidoka, how was that different than Portland?

LI: It was extremely hot and very, very dusty. I can remember trying to close my nose and keep my eyes shut, 'cause it was really, really bad lots of times. It wasn't that continually, but when the wind would blow, it was horrendous. And in Minidoka, well, we got there on a train, and all the windows were closed, and we were not supposed to open it at all. And the soldiers that were on there were okay, they weren't doing anything bad to us. When we got to Minidoka, I guess the first day or so, all we did was unpack and see what we could do. There was that potbellied stove, and we had to go and get the wood, etcetera, outside. And then we had to find out where the restroom was and where the dining room was, and there was nothing private inside the rooms. Oh, there was a canal over there, which was nice, but this was way over there, and that's a little later, too.

TI: Well, describe your living quarters. What was that like?

LI: Very, very small. I think I might have a picture, but it was just all wood, and then my mother brought some of my dolls or whatever, so we put them on the shelves. And, gee, we didn't have a whole lot of things for sure. We didn't, we just couldn't bring a lot of things. So it was pretty bare.

TI: Yeah, because your father wasn't with you, were there others who helped or offered to help the two of you?

LI: Yes, I'm sure there were. There were other fathers (who) were taken, too. I don't know if Cannon's father was taken or not. We have some of those group pictures. I knew him, but I didn't know him real well. You know, the age difference, even one or two years, made a big difference.

TI: Now for the families who had their fathers taken away, were you treated any differently than the other families?

LI: No. No, we were not.

TI: So there wasn't any mumbling or talking that perhaps your father was maybe more pro-Japan or something and that was the problem?

LI: I didn't hear anything like that.

TI: And so when you're at Minidoka, earlier you said your mother worked in the kitchen at [Portland]. What did she do at Minidoka?

LI: She did the same type of thing, she worked in the kitchen. I think that was sixteen dollars a month at that time. So I ate a lot of meals with my friends at that time.

TI: And so when you weren't in school, how did you spend your time at Minidoka?

LI: I learned how to play sports. I used to play tennis, and she got me (a racquet), I don't know where it was, Montgomery Ward's or Sears, and then in the wintertime she got me ice skates, and so we went up and down the canal, which was fun. We learned a lot of sports, because there was nothing much more to do. I learned to play basketball and, let's see... well, anyway, there were quite a few sports that I took part in. I learned how to play tennis while I was over there, so I've been playing 'til I was seventy-five. [Laughs]

TI: So I have to ask you a question about the ice skating. My dad was at Minidoka and claims that he also did ice skating. But one of the places they ice skated wasn't the canal, but it was like the cesspool? So he said that's why he's such a good ice skater, because they learned never to fall. Have you heard anything like that?

LI: [Laughs] No, I did not.

TI: Okay, that's his story.

LI: What block did he live in?

TI: You know, I don't know offhand which block.

LI: Oh. You know all these things about Minidoka already.

TI: Well, he told me little stories about that.

LI: How old is he now?

TI: He's eighty-six.

LI: Is that right?

TI: So he's a little bit older than you are.

LI: But what was his first name?

TI: Junks.

LI: Junks Ikeda?

TI: Yeah.

LI: Junks Ikeda, I know the name, and I know what he looks like.

TI: Okay, that's my father.

LI: Yeah. Oh, for heaven sakes, what a small world. Junks Ikeda, yeah, he's about your dad's age.

TI: Well, yeah, he's my dad.

LI: Yeah. Who's he married to?

TI: To, it was Mary Kinoshita.

LI: Oh yes, yes, I know her. They made a nice couple.

TI: [Laughs] And they had five children, I'm the third one.

LI: Is that right? For heaven sakes.

TI: Yeah, there's a strong connection between Portland and Seattle. My dad always talks about how... so here's another story about Portland. So he went early to Minidoka to help volunteer to set things up, but he said the best job, he said, was the crew that helped unload the train, and they would then bring things over, help people bring their belongings to their apartments. And he said what they would do was he said the most attractive girls were from Portland, and so he would always, they would always...

LI: But he married a Seattle person.

TI: But he would grab the things to help all the pretty Portland girls with their stuff.

LI: Is that right? Oh, for heaven sakes.

TI: That's his story. So a little tangent, I'm not sure if this will make the final cut of this.

LI: Oh, that's interesting. I knew who both of them were, but I didn't know them personally. I can still picture them.

TI: Yeah, so I've learned a lot about the camp from him.

LI: Oh, I'm sure. Oh, yes.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2013 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: So let's talk about the school at Minidoka. What was that like?

LI: They had a lot of outside Caucasian teachers that came, and Mrs. Peavey was one. And we had English and Math, and we had a pretty consistent -- not consistent -- pretty good teachers. And some of them were not terrific, but they were good, and we had a principal, Mr. Stafford, I think. And, let's see. I went to my sophomore... no, freshman and sophomore year there. Because I know I came back from camp and finished off my junior and senior year. So I think we were able to skip some classes before we even went to Minidoka. I don't know why, because my ages don't coincide with the classes that I was in. And even going back to the exposition center, we had classes there also. There was a big... not a hall, but where they used to display all the animals there. We all sat on benches that were clear up there. I remember being on benches, and some of our Nisei people taught us, and I still remember a few of them that they come over to (hot lunch program at) Ikoi no Kai. So anyway, it was good that we had something to do daily.

TI: And by living with people in such close proximity, it seems like a lot of lifelong friendships developed during this time period.

LI: Oh, yes.


TI: Well, during this time when you're at Minidoka, was your mom able to stay in touch with your father?

LI: Yes, I think they got censored mail. I have one, just an envelope, but I never found the letters that came, 'cause they were all censored, they were all cut out. It wasn't just an eraser or pen or anything.

TI: And earlier you'd mentioned he was at Missoula, Montana. Did he stay in Missoula, or did he go elsewhere?

LI: (He also went to Fort Sill, Oklahoma and Crystal City Texas). No. There's a letter that... not a letter, but...

TI: An envelope?

LI: My grandson, who is (fifteen), asked me a lot of questions, because that came up in his school, and I was supposed to let him know what had happened. And on that, I have Fort Leavenworth and Fort Sill, Oklahoma, something New Mexico, and then Crystal Springs, Texas.

TI: Crystal City, Texas.

LI: Yes, Crystal City. Is that where your dad was?

TI: No, my dad never, he was a Nisei, so he didn't...

LI: Oh, of course. He was about fifteen...

TI: But it sounds like your father went to quite a few different camps.

LI: Yes, I don't know why or how. As a matter of fact, when he was in Texas, I don't know how my mother knew that we were going to meet him in Texas. Well, in the meantime, he came back to Minidoka, and I don't know how that happened.

TI: Oh, interesting. So at one point you were thinking that you and your mother would go to Crystal City.

LI: Yes. We were almost ready to go down there, and all of a sudden he was back, so I don't know why or how.

TI: So let's talk about him coming back. When you first saw your father, what were your impressions? Had he changed?

LI: His face hadn't changed, but his hair was all white. And he was still the same dad as far as I know. And he was teaching a little bit of carpentry, I don't know where he got the expertise or whatever it was, and he taught maybe the eighth graders in camp. Not for long, because I've forgotten what month he came back to us. But I think it was in '45 before we came back to Portland.


TI: But I was going to ask, oh, in terms of your father, so I'm curious, did he do any judo at Minidoka?

LI: I don't think so. I don't think he did any of it. He was all tuckered out as far as... he was tired a lot of times when he would come home from the school where he was teaching carpentry or something.

TI: So do you think he was more tired after the FBI had picked him up and he'd been in all these internment camps?

LI: Oh, yes. I don't know what they did in camps like that, because maybe my mother knew a little bit more, but I sure didn't know.

TI: Now did your father ever talk about the other camps and what it was like?

LI: No, he never did. And I really don't remember anything about that, unless my mother had learned more about it through the letters. But I'm sure I read a few of the letters, but it doesn't really come to me right now.

TI: Now you talked about your living quarters being pretty small, and now your father joins you. Did they move you to a different place?

LI: I think we had another cot, because we were in 34-12-G in Minidoka. But, no, he lived right there with us. There was one small apartment next to us, and ours, and then the rest were fairly large. And I suppose Cannon's family was there, too. I think his father was taken.

TI: Yeah, Cannon's father joined them right before they went to the assembly center. So he was only, his father was only taken for maybe four months, so it wasn't as long as yours.

LI: Is that right? He didn't go to all the other camps.

TI: No, so he just went to Missoula, probably maybe with your father, then was released.

LI: Yeah, I didn't know his family at all before we met in camp.

TI: But I'm curious, for you, how did the life change now that your father's here? Did things change for you in terms of your life?

LI: I was very excited that he was there, and I was very happy. He didn't do a whole lot of things when he came home. He was working somewhere else... no, no, he was always with the carpentry thing. But he was his old self, except that I remember he was awfully, awfully tired. Other than that, I don't really remember.

TI: So it sounds like your life didn't change that much. You still probably ate with your friends.

LI: Yes, right, uh-huh. I don't even know if he made any money teaching for sure.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2013 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: While you were at Minidoka... earlier this morning I interviewed Cannon. And when you came in, I noticed that you had a drawing from Cannon of the camp, and it's a pretty elaborate drawing.

LI: Oh, yes. He was, even at that young age, he was an excellent artist. And I think when he went to college (to continue his education in art).

TI: But why did he give it to you?

LI: I don't know. He was just a friend that lived in the same block. He was not my boyfriend. [Laughs]

TI: But it was such a beautiful drawing.

LI: Yes, it was just beautiful, I always kept it. It's still around somewhere.

TI: Yeah, we have it. I was just curious.

LI: I'm going to frame it sometime.

TI: You should; it's beautiful. And so I was curious if there was any kind of interest between you and Cannon.

LI: He might have had a girlfriend, and I had my boyfriend.

TI: So let's... any other stories or any other memories from Minidoka?

LI: Oh, on Christmas, during the Christmas season, we used to go from camp... dining room to dining room.

TI: So block to block?

LI: Block to block, and they had some really nice decorations, I don't know where they got them. But they were very cleverly done. It was not only Christmas trees, but all kinds of different (decorations). I think they must have had some kind of... what do I want to say? They had a contest. And so one block would win, I don't know if they got anything or not. And then also they had, say, like odori and singing, and I remember going from one block to another. Not all of them, but maybe half a dozen, and performing for, because my mother had me (learn) odori from the time (since) I was about six years old, and so I took it all the way through. And my teacher went to Chicago. Those people that had a little more money were able to go elsewhere. But there was another teacher there, and my mother had me continue with it, so this teacher would bring several of us to perform at various places. And I guess, I don't know where my mother got the kimonos and all, because they were not the most important things to get to camp. I don't know where she had it.

TI: Maybe they were stored at your place and your German grandfather shipped them to the camp? Sometimes people shipped things later.

LI: Gee, I don't remember that.

TI: Something like that.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2013 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: So I want to get you back to Portland. And so after the war was over, the camps started closing. So when you and your parents came back to Portland, where did you live?

LI: I think we lived at the Chester Hotel, because Arthur Boose was still there at the hotel. And, let's see... oh, the first job that my parents had was with the Russian War Relief. And I don't know how much they were paid, but I wasn't doing much of anything, so they had me working over there, too. And just recently I heard that other people had been there, too. I can hardly remember what it was, but it was like a warehouse, and we would be sorting clothes. And I don't know why we were sending things to Russia, really, but that's what happened.

TI: Well, they were pretty devastated from World War II.

LI: Yes, I guess so, uh-huh. So that happened. And I think after the Chester Hotel, my grandparents had the Amsdon Hotel right in Portland. Well, we were on the... well, not the north end, but this was on the south side, and so after we came back, I don't think we went to the same hotel, I don't know why. But we lived with my grandparents for a while. And I went to Lincoln High School, because I was going to finish my junior and senior year there.

TI: And when you went back to school, or went to Lincoln High School, what was the reception for you and other Japanese Americans?

LI: It was very nice. I remember a lot of my friends were still there. The only thing I felt that was not a good thing was we all went to Jolly Joan's, was sort of a restaurant, a place to go for lunch and whatever, but they wouldn't serve us. There must have been around six or seven of us that all went, we thought, "Why aren't they serving us?" And then the girls said, "Let's go out of here." Because I was Japanese, that they were not going to serve us. That's the only time, I think, that I can remember, "Okay, I'm Japanese, so they aren't liking me."

TI: So you were there with five other... and they were Caucasian?

LI: Yes.

TI: So how did that make you feel when you understood or realized that they didn't serve the six of you because of you?

LI: Yeah, I just felt like, "Oh, I'm a criminal," so they weren't going to serve me, nor the rest of the group that I was with. All I remember is it was on Broadway, and we'd go there from high school. And I thought that was a terrible thing that they were doing.

TI: Do you recall any conversations with your friends about that? Did they say anything about it or to you about it?

LI: Yes, they didn't like it for sure. They said that wasn't fair, and so we all moved to another restaurant. And some of the other restaurants were fine, but this one that most of us had gone to... well, not really before the war, but the other restaurants were okay. I don't know why this one had treated us like that.

TI: Now how much did these friends, these white friends, know about where you were and what you just went through?

LI: They didn't ask a lot of questions. (Probably they didn't know what had happened)... well, they were very friendly to me, so I liked them really well.

TI: Were you aware of the school administration or teachers saying anything to the student body before Japanese Americans came back? Because, I mean, your friends are so nice, it's almost, I'm wondering if people explained to them what happened, and they went out of their way to be friendly, or do you know anything about that?

LI: No, I don't. I think they were very nice girls as far as I'm concerned. And I might have met them a few years back, because I didn't go to school all that much in between except for Minidoka, etcetera. And I knew some of the sisters and brothers of those juniors and seniors, and we just kept on going.

TI: Now when you go to high school in Portland, I guess, how well were you prepared for that? I mean, was the schooling at Minidoka good enough so that you, it was easy to just go into high school in Portland, or did you have to catch up? What was that like?

LI: I don't think we needed to do much to go through high school and all. I know that... oh, there was one very kind thing. Was that Girl Scout then? But anyway, I think it was Marian that Cannon knew real well, and Marian and I had gone to school from kindergarten on up. She and... I think it was myself, with a great big group of... I think it was Girl Scouts (or Girl Reserves), but they had us go over to West something, on the Coast, for a conference, and I thought that was really nice. We got to meet other Caucasian people, too, from other high schools. So that was a really nice thing (and fun, too).

TI: Because they went out of their way to really include you?

LI: I think so. (Westview was the name of the camp).

TI: Yeah, it sounds like people really...

LI: Yeah, they were very...

TI: ...were sensitive and really wanted to make you feel like you were part of the community.

LI: That's right. My junior and senior years were very good. They were friendly, and they took me into various activities, played a lot of basketball. [Laughs]

TI: And how about your parents and grandparents? Did they also feel, in similar ways, that people helped them? Or what was their experience when they returned to Portland?

LI: They all worked at the same hotel. I don't know if the lease of the Chester Hotel was gone or whatever. But they all worked fine together, so that was great. And then afterwards, I don't know if the lease ran out or not, but they got another hotel and my parents got another hotel. And it was on Tenth and Hoyt, and right now, it is so crazy, they built a condominium right where our hotel used to be, and it's called Tenth and Hoyt. [Laughs] I still remember that. It's a very nice condo that they built.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2013 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: So you grew up in Portland before the war and then returned. I'm trying to get a sense of how the Japanese American community in Portland changed from before to after. When you look at Japantown, where it was before the war, how did that change after the war?

LI: The south side didn't change all that much, but I think the north side changed a great deal. Well, they had a lot more stores and things over on the other side. On our side or the south side, a lot of the parents had leased other hotels so there were quite a few on this side, but I think on the north end, they had even more. There were more Japanese people living on the other side.

TI: So in Seattle, for example, before the war, there were thousands who lived in our Nihonmachi. And after the war, a lot of them didn't return. It actually was, became a lot less populated with Japanese. And I'm curious, did that happen in Portland also, or did they return back to the same size?

LI: It's really hard to tell. The north side, I just mentioned that they had a lot more Japanese families, and they leased so many more hotels over there.

TI: Okay. It's always interesting, because I think it varies from community to community.

LI: Oh, I'm sure.

TI: And I just know Seattle changed quite a bit. And part of it was, it was hard coming back to Seattle, because a lot of times Japanese didn't own the property because they couldn't. And so other people moved in, and they couldn't return.

LI: The lease just ran for so many months or so many years, right.

TI: And so because of that, housing was in such shortage because of the boom of the World War II.

LI: Right, sure. Your dad must have told you quite a bit about evacuation and Minidoka. They were in Minidoka for some time, too, about three years (...).

TI: But then my dad left and worked in places like Chicago.

LI: Oh, I see. Did he go to school outside also?

TI: After the war he went to the University of Washington.

LI: Oh, I see. Oh, that was good.

TI: Because he went into the service, which many of the Niseis did, men did. Which kind of like, I want to kind of now segue into your husband how you met your husband, because he was a...

LI: He was a volunteer from camp.

TI: So tell me about him. What's his name and where was he from?

LI: His name was Fred Irinaga, and let's see... his father passed on at forty-nine or something, very young. And so his, there was a sister who was the eldest, and then (two) brothers, but she had to quit high school in order to help my mother-in-law at the vegetable stand in the new market that was down by the river. And the boys were able to go through high school, but the oldest brother, who was just a couple years younger than Shiz, he had to learn how to drive early and he got his driver's license, because he was the only one that could drive to the market to sell vegetables and fruits and whatnot. She had a hard time with four (children, one daughter and three sons).

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2013 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: Well, so your husband, Fred, was a little bit older than you, then.

LI: He was seven years older than (me).

TI: And how did the two of you meet?

LI: At a social after we came back from camp. I didn't know him from before, I knew his mother when she was at the market, because my mother used to bring me over there.

TI: So I'm curious how your parents felt about you dating an older man. Your parents, there was a twelve year...

LI: Twelve years. That's what I said to Mom, "You know, you can't say too much about it because your marriage was so many years apart."

TI: Oh, because she wasn't in full approval of you dating?

LI: (Yes). She was not that happy about my going with him. [Laughs]

TI: So tell me a little bit, you said he volunteered. So did he volunteer out of Minidoka?

LI: Right.

TI: And where did he serve? Which unit did he serve with?

LI: 442. So I went to that (replica of the gold medallion) program that they had.

TI: Congressional Gold Medal ceremony?

LI: Right.

TI: And did he volunteer early? So was he, like, a replacement 442, or do you know where he fought?

LI: He was never overseas, he was a stateside soldier. He was almost going to go from New York to somewhere, but he was called back to become a cadre or something with the group. And then he was a parachuter, and I don't know, but he was never able to go overseas. He said he wanted to, but he couldn't.

TI: So he stayed kind of back in the training camp helping to train the other men?

LI: Right, right. And then he was with the MIS, too.

TI: Oh, so he then trained in Minnesota, like Fort Snelling?

LI: He was out that way, yes. I didn't know too much about his army life, but he did write a little bit for me as to where he was at a certain time. And I don't know if they came back to camp, I'm not sure, but anyway, I met him after we came back (...) from the service.

TI: Okay, did he serve in Japan? Did he go to Japan?

LI: No, he didn't go anywhere overseas. He was stateside.

TI: Okay, so he's part of the 442nd and the MIS, but stayed stateside.

LI: Right.

TI: Okay, good. And then so after the war, the two of you met at a social.

LI: (Yes), they had socials at the Nichiren church, and I think that was the only one that had a great big social hall, 'cause our church didn't.

TI: And then so when were you married, what year?

LI: June 15 of '52. My mother said, "You're not getting married until you finish college," so I finished and got married right away.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2013 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

TI: So where did you go to college?

LI: University of Oregon.

TI: And what was your degree?

LI: In education. And then I finished off at Marylhurst. So I keep telling my kids I'm a Catholic duck. [Laughs]

TI: A Catholic duck, that's funny. That's good. So are you a big fan of University of Oregon?

LI: Oh, of course.

TI: It's so hard, because I'm a Husky.

LI: Oh, I see. [Laughs]

TI: I know, you feel sorry for me, I know.

LI: My three kids went to Oregon and one went to Linfield. But anyway...

TI: And so you got married in 1952, and so tell me about your family, your children. How many children did you have?

LI: Let's see. (Michael's) the eldest, and I have four all told. And he's going to be sixty sometime in May, right? And I can't believe he's got white hair and he's my kid. [Laughs]

TI: Okay, so sixty, so that means he came along a little bit after...

LI: Our first anniversary.

TI: Did you ever teach or anything with your degree?

LI: Yes, as soon as I was out of college I taught for a year, and then my sister-in-law had a baby about the same time that he was born, and so she would take care of him while I taught my second year. And then after I had my daughter, then I stopped, because I had two more after that. But I did go back when my youngest one was, I don't know, the second grade or something, I went back to substituting, and I did that for about fifteen years. But after that, I never got papers. [Laughs]

TI: So, Lilly, we zoomed through your life in a little more than two hours, which is way too fast. But I wanted to just ask, in looking back at your life, I mean, if you were to think generations later, and maybe it's your great-great-grandchildren or something, what do you think is important in life? Given what you've been through in your life, and all the twists and turns that we just listened to, what do you think is important?

LI: As long as my children are happy and happily married, and I have eight grandchildren, I don't have any greats yet, but I'm hoping. I had a good life with Fred. He graduated from Oregon, too, a couple years before. One reason I came back to Portland to go to Marylhurst was because we were engaged already. And we went on many, many trips all over the world, and so I was very grateful for that. And when he did pass (a show five years) ago almost, he had a major stroke (...). His mother had, his sister had a stroke. [Interruption] But we had a very happy life, and so I'm very grateful for (my life).

TI: Yeah, it seems like the sense of family has really been important to you. And in many cases, having both sets of grandparents, knowing them, and your parents, it seemed like there was a strong sense of family.

LI: Yes, lot of connections.

TI: Well, thank you so much for the interview.

LI: Oh, my goodness, you're welcome. I hope it wasn't too boring.

TI: Oh, no, this was fun. I really enjoyed it.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2013 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.