Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Shig Imai Interview
Narrator: Shig Imai
Interviewer: Linda Tamura
Location: Hood River, Oregon
Date: October 30, 2013
Densho ID: denshovh-ishig-01

<Begin Segment 1>

LT: So, Shig, when and where were you born?

SI: Oh, I was born in Dee, Oregon. Dee is a ghost town now, but I think it was when the Oregon Lumber Company was having a sawmill, why, it was quite an establishment because all the people lived down there. And up on the flat was just farmers. But there was a lot of people living right around the sawmill. And there was even, I could remember using the railroad section crew that was composed by Japanese. It was two locomotives running up and down, one's from Hood River to Parkdale, and then Dee, Dee had their own locomotive, steam locomotive, that went up toward Lost Lake to get the timber. So they had two steam locomotives at Dee. It was unusual. So there was two railroad maintenance crews that were composed of quite a few Japanese.

LT: Okay, so you grew up in a vibrant Japanese community.

SI: Oh, it was. I can show you the pictures if you want me to.

LT: Sure, how about if we look at those later?

SI: There was oodles of Japanese on the Dee flat.

LT: Okay. So when we were you born?

SI: January 16, 1920.

LT: Okay. And what was your full name?

SI: Shigenobu Imai. [Laughs]

LT: All right. Well, let's talk about your parents first before we come back to Dee and your growing up. What was your father's name where was he born?

SI: Father's name was Tomoyoshi Imai, and mother's name was Kotono Moriyasu. And Father came from Okayama-ken, that's right... oh, where is that? it was near Hiroshima, but Okayama was the prefecture there, he'd come from. And then Mother came from that same area, but...


LT: So you were talking about your father and your mother?

SI: Yeah, Dad... our grandpa was here in America before he came, and he went back, and then he said for Dad to come to America, and then his brother, Dad's brother was Mr. Kusaji, Masaji Kusaji. So they both came to America. And they started to work on the railroads, and then when Dad came to Dee, he went to work for that lumber mill, sawmill, Oregon Lumber Company. And I don't know where Masaji came, but he ended up at Dee, too. But he took his wife's, first wife's name, so he was Kusaji. And so he took the name Kusaji, so he wasn't an Imai anymore. That's the way they do in Japan, is they take the family name.


LT: And actually, I think we'll go ahead and leave your brother's story, but I think I'll get back to your father who was born in Okayama, and you were talking about his reason for coming to the United States?

SI: Was his dad or grandpa says to come to U.S. He came, and then when he came, soon as he landed, I guess, they fixed up... you know, Japan, somebody else fixed up the marriage, so they both came off the ship at the same time and here they married. My mother was sent at the same time, I guess, so they landed in Seattle and they just got married there. [Laughs]

LT: So they both came on the same ship?

SI: I guess. I don't know how they come about. I'm not too sure how they came, separate boat or whatever it was. But anyway, there was, you know, they always fixed marriages over there, they didn't pick their choice. So anyway, they got married in Seattle, then he came to, there was a lot of work on the railroad, so eventually he'd end up in Hood River. Of course, railroad work was about over by the time he came in, I think he came over in 1916. So he came to Dee, well, when he came to Dee, then he started working for a lumber mill down there, Oregon Lumber Company.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

LT: Okay. I'm going to stop you right there and ask you a little bit more information about your mother before we go to talking about the Oregon Lumber Company. Your mother's name was?

SI: Kotono Moriyasu.

LT: Okay.

SI: And I don't know too much about them because when I was in Japan, I lived in the village that my father was born, and I stayed there three years, went to school there three years. Of course, when I went to Japan at seven, I didn't know... well, what Japanese I knew was spoken at home. And then I went to three years of Japanese school. But when I came back in 1930, I didn't know one word of English.

LT: Okay.

SI: So here I started school, grade school, at Dee, and my brother was already, I think he was already about the third grade when I came back. So they tried to shove me through eight grades in six years. [Laughs] So I had a hard time using English.

LT: Sure. Sounds like your family has been through --

SI: Yeah. But only advantage I had was when I was in Japan I learned Japanese multiplication table, and that was like singsong deal, you know, and I never did forget that. I still use that multiplication table in Japanese and transfer the answer in English.

LT: Can you sing that now?

SI: Oh, yeah, I can remember a bit of it. But nowadays with our computer and other devices we got, we don't have to. Of course, just to check what you're doing, we still use math.

LT: Sure. Can you sing that multiplication table song that you learned in Japan?

SI: Well, it had a, "Ni, ni, san ni, ni shi hachi, ni, juugo nijuu, juurokujuuni," you know, like that. Just Japanese alphabet.

LT: Sure, sure, okay. Well, let's go back to your parents arriving in Seattle on the same boat, and they were married. Do you know about the marriage ceremony?

SI: No, I don't.

LT: Okay. But you know that their marriage was arranged by relatives, then.

SI: Yeah, the village people, different village.

LT: Okay. And they were from the, they were from different villages, but they were both from Okayama-ken?

SI: Well, same prefecture, but different village. That was quite far apart, I think, I can remember. It wasn't right next to each other.

LT: Were their backgrounds in Japan similar?

SI: What do you mean by that?

LT: Were they... what kinds of occupations did their parents have?

SI: Oh, they all, they were farm people, yeah, they raised rice. Of course, Grandpa had a rice field, and he had a little peach orchard, too, up in the hills. I can remember that.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

LT: Okay. So they were married in March of 1919, and can you talk again about the work that your father did for the Oregon Lumber Company?

SI: You know, when the Oregon Lumber Company, he, I guess the lumber in those days, they used to have the lumber come out on a chain and then go down this way, then you sort out the lumber that you have piles of. It was usually small stuff, two-by-fours, six and eight, and four-by-four and all that, separated in piles, and you have to go back and forth and put it on this thing. And it could be long or it could be short, sometimes it was long, they tempered it pretty heavy. Because it was sure manual work.

LT: So his job was to sort the wood?

SI: That lumber that was made, and it's piled up.

LT: So he had to pile it as well.

SI: Well, you got to drag it off and put it on the pile.

LT: Okay.

SI: In those days, when they first started, they used to just have a cart about this wide, and cart, oh, maybe ten foot flat cart, and just put on top of that. And then since they had a wheel on that, underneath that cart, well, they took a horse and took it to the yard and piled up. They had to, usually they were, in those days, they were drying the lumber by just stacking in patterns so there'd be air space between the boards.

LT: And then how were they distributed for purchase?

SI: Well, they had to run it through what they call a planer to surface it so it'd be all smooth and same dimension. So they had to go through the planer first, then I remember Oregon Lumber, they used to load the cars, boxcars, these guys would load 'em. Unless they had a special order for a certain size, they just loaded up all different size and they said, they sent the car out and they told the salesman to sell the car with the lumber in it. So the car left, but they don't know where it's going.

LT: So you mentioned that the Dee lumber company and the Dee sawmill was a place where many Japanese Americans settled because the Issei --

SI: Not at the sawmill worker, but there was a lot of, just like this maintenance crew for the railroad it had, were some Japanese, and then up on the flat it was mostly farmers. There was a few Japanese family in the mill, working the mill, but I think there was two or three families that worked, like Kinoshitas and Imebis, they worked in the mill.

LT: So how do you think Dee became a Japanese American community where so many Issei settled?

SI: I don't know why. Well, most of 'em on the flat were doing farming, and I think Mr. Yasui is the one that kind of pushed the Japanese out there.

LT: What did he say to encourage them to settle?

SI: I don't know. There was quite a few families came to Dee.

LT: Well, your father began working for the sawmill, and then he eventually became a farmer. How did that happen?

SI: Well, then this lumber company owned the whole flat when they logged it off, so they sold land to whatever wanted to buy 'em, and they bought it for a pretty reasonable price. I think it was less than fifty dollars an acre. So they had to... timber was taking off, but some of 'em had to clear the land, and then when they cleared the land, usually they start out with putting out strawberries. Then they put the trees in between the strawberries. In the olden days, the trees were, well, trees, spaces were pretty far apart, 'cause they were big trees. And that's how they got started. When that strawberry was raised first, well, ground was pretty nice, so it really had good production. But the strawberry in those days, they raised, they planted the plant, and the first year they just hoed it and took care of it, water it and everything else, and the second year they didn't hardly get much strawberry. But the third year they start getting strawberry. It was a long process. I hear in California, present farmers, they just plant strawberries in, I guess in September or sometime, and by March they're harvesting down there because temperatures a lot warmer. So their plants are not very old.

LT: Well, it must have been difficult for the Issei farmers who were starting out to wait three years for their strawberries to be harvested?

SI: Yeah, three years. And fruit, so they put the fruit tree out, but they didn't bear either. 'Cause those olden days, everybody just pruned the tree to make a shape. And the more you cut, the less production. They found out later that you just don't want those cut those trees, just let it grow. Those days, they were just trying to make a tree, really cutting them. And they didn't bear for three or four years.

LT: My goodness. So waiting for your strawberries to bear, and then waiting for your fruit trees to bear, it must have been a very frugal life for the Issei. How did they sustain themselves during that period of time?

SI: Well, they always raised their own vegetables, raised hogs and chickens and things like that to survive. Oh, yeah.

LT: Okay. Well, while your father was farming, what was your mother doing?

SI: She was helping manually, try to help as much as she can.

LT: Can you be specific about some of the responsibility she had on the farm?

SI: Well, when they start strawberries, well, they were picking just like the kids were and stuff like that. When they started raising asparagus, they were... after they were all cut and brought in, they were all sorted out and made into nice bunches, things like that. So there was always some work for the women to do on the farm, or go hoe and get rid of the weeds in the field.

LT: Okay. And then beyond the farmwork, they were also taking care of the house and the children?

SI: Yeah, doing the cooking and taking care of the house. But those days... yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

LT: Okay. When you think about your father, what, how would you describe him? What kind of a personality did he have?

SI: Well, he was pretty versatile. When they built the community hall at Dee, there was a lot of carpentry work and things. He was doing a lot volunteer work, that and then I remember one time he went to the neighbor and helped him build a house. Meantime, all the Japanese Isseis, they liked to drink sake, so they were, all the families used to take the rice and make the sake, which is, some of 'em really liked that stuff, so they, I think all the families used to make sake.

LT: Do you know about how they made it?

SI: No, I don't know too much about it, but they used, to start, they used yeast of some kind to let it ferment. And then the rice, I think they cooked the rice. I don't remember how they do it. But all the family used to make their own every year. And when it comes to New Year, that's when they want to celebrate by drinking. [Laughs]

LT: Oh, okay. Well, it's nice to have rewards. So you talked about your father. What was your mother like? What was her personality?

SI: Well, she was always saying, we used to go to grade school, then after the grade school, we had to go to Japanese school. Then if still daylight left, get out and go to work. [Laughs] They want you to work.

LT: So was your mother the one who was telling you to do that?

SI: Well, they all said we had to. So we were kept busy 'til it got dark.

LT: Yeah, in fact, I want to ask you about that. You talked about your... anything else you could say about your mother's personality?

SI: Oh, I don't know. She was practical in doing things, you know. I can't remember.

LT: Okay, that's okay. When you think about your mother and your father as a couple, how would you describe their relationship? What were they like together?

SI: Well, you know, Japanese families, they never showed much affection like the Caucasians do. So they don't outwardly show too much of that. But then, they must have get along.

LT: Okay. What told you that they got along? Were there some examples you can share of your mom and dad getting along?

SI: Well, even Dad worked outside most of the time, but when it comes to cooking, he'd help. Yeah, that was... there was always something to do around that farm.

LT: Yeah. So in the kitchen, when your father helped, what was that like? What did he do?

SI: First we never had running water. Those days they had those hand pumps. There was a well underneath the house, and they just hand pumped the water, so that was the running water. And we used to have a well that you can get water from. Then all the Japanese families used to have what they called a furo, is a bath, bath made. They used to take a board and make a square box, this deep, maybe, and then they'd get a galvanized sheet of tin like a flat sheet. Not like a roofing, but flat sheet, and they just nailed it all up from the bottom, then they built a little box underneath that and make your hot water that way. That's the way they made their hot water on the bath. There was a lot of occasions that bathhouse caught fire. [Laughs]

LT: Oh, I can imagine. So that was a task that your father did for the family?

SI: Yeah, he built it outside of the house, some of 'em were separate, but some of 'em they just built right next to the house. But that was a problem, the bathhouse was, if it's outside, you got to go outside between the house. So Father eventually built right next to the house, so you didn't have to go outside too long.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

LT: So let's talk about you. How many brothers and sisters did you have and where were you in the mix?

SI: Well, we had five brothers, five of us brothers, and two sisters. All the Japanese family had big families like that, that they all had five... very few only had one or two. They all had big families of five or six.

LT: And where were you among the brothers and sisters?

SI: Oh, I was born first, so I was oldest. And then came a year later apiece, I guess.

LT: So what responsibilities did you have as the eldest Imai child?

SI: Well, they decided I guess I had, they would send me to Japan when I was seven years old, and shipped me off to Japan for three years. They thought, well, if they ship me over there, maybe I could continue the farming on the Imai family deal. So they shipped me over there.

LT: So the intent was that you would farm the Imai farm in Japan, in Okayama?

SI: Yeah. But I didn't like too much, so when my uncle came over in '30, just before '30, he says, "You want to go back?" I said, "Sure do." I didn't like the, at that time, Japan was always, they were already starting war with China and all that stuff, and I didn't like their, the way they were trying to rule the world over there.

LT: Can you be more specific about what it was that you didn't like?

SI: Well, they were, you know, just trying to teach marching and things like that, the soldiers do. Of course, we didn't have no baseball game like modern people. But they...

LT: What... in school then, what was school like in Japan where they were teaching you about Japanese and marching?

SI: Well, they were always saying that they believed in the emperor more than God, I guess. So they were saying for the country, or for the emperor, they idolized emperor, I guess, those days. And then they were always saying you do things for the country by sacrificing yourself.

LT: Okay. And how did they teach you that? Did they teach you by reading or by actions? How did you as a student --

SI: Lot of reading, yeah, lot of reading. It was kind of a fanatical thing that you had to give up a lot of things just to satisfy the way they were thinking at the time, I guess. Yeah, I didn't think too much about it. That's why I came back. But they were invading China and all over. It was...


LT: So, Shig, when you were seven years old, you were living in Japan. What do you remember about your Imai family life in Japan?

SI: Well, Grandfather had a... of course, Grandmother was still living there, too, when I went there. But she died while I was still there. But they had a rice field in front of their house, and then they had a little peach orchard up in the hills. They used to even go clear up in the hills, and there was pine trees. They used to pick up those pine needles and bring it all the way home in a big bag and use that as a fuel, 'cause they used to have... well, they had to cook everything with some kind of a fuel, so they used dried pine needs for fuel. And some woods and twigs, anything they could find up there in the hills. They were, they had to have something to cook there, those days.

LT: Was life in, living in Japan similar or a lot different from living in the United States?

SI: Oh, yeah. There was, one time, I don't know if Dad was there or not. But anyway, they had an electric clipper, and instead of on the wooden floor or mat, we were on the dirt floor. And that clipper had a leak and I got a shock out of it. I'll never forget that. [Laughs] Yeah, it was a little different. Then they only had, electricity they had was only, I think, one light bulb was all they had in the house. They didn't have much of a electricity at that time.

LT: So were you the only child living with your family in Japan?

SI: Yeah.

LT: Okay. And so that was the reason that you would be taking care of the farm?

SI: Well, that's what they thought I was going to be doing. [Laughs]

LT: So did you also attend Japanese school?

SI: Oh, yeah.

LT: What was that like? To be an American kid attending Japanese school?

SI: It was... at that time, well, they were, they just... can't remember all that. They didn't have no baseball game or anything like that at that time, so what they did was run races or something like that. Just simple athletic competition.

LT: Was it easy to adjust to school in Japan?

SI: Well, it wasn't too bad, 'cause I knew the speaking part of it was learned by the family when we were living in Dee, yeah. Well, I didn't know much English when I went over there anyway. Only English I knew is kids next door we used to pal around with. We didn't know too much English them days.

LT: Oh, okay. So how did you feel about living in Japan?

SI: What was that again?

LT: How did you feel about living in Japan?

SI: I didn't... after my uncle came over, before I come over, he asked me if I want to go back, and I said, "I sure do." So I came back. That was a good thing, 'cause if I stayed there, probably they would have sent me to the war and I would have probably got killed.

LT: Let me just ask, you were seven years old, so how old would you have been to go to the Japanese military?

SI: Well, you had to be a little older, but then I left when I was ten, so I wouldn't have gone right away. By the time you got out of grade school, they would have probably sent you in the military. I don't know what they were doing then, anyway.

LT: So there was much more military instruction in grade school?

SI: Even grade school they had to learn to march and all that cadence.

LT: Can you talk about the marching exercises that you did at Japanese school?

SI: No, I can't remember those things.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

LT: Well, let's go to your uncle Masaji Kusachi came to Japan, and you eagerly said you wanted to come back to the United States. What happened next?

SI: Well, coming back, he said, "I got to get you on a boat before you turn ten. So my birthday was January 16th, so we had to get on the boat first part of January. And the Pacific was really rough coming across, and we had, there was a little freighter that was the only boat that we could come on. And, gee, the ocean was so rough that the waves would come over, right over the front of the boat and clear over it. I thought we were gonna sink sometimes. [Laughs] It was a pretty rocky ride. Then when the back end, prop would get out of water and you hear all that vibration. It'd just rumble all over the boat. It was quite a ride.

LT: So when you returned to the United States, what was your adjustment like? Because you had been used to speaking Japanese, you had younger brothers and sisters who had not seen you for three years.

SI: The first thing I noticed was when you got off the boat and started coming home on the railroad, Uncle says, "Have a sandwich." So he gives me a cheese sandwich. Well, I never had eaten a cheese before. [Laughs] So I had to learn to like the cheese eventually.

LT: What did you think of the cheese sandwich?

SI: Yeah, it was, it was something that, it wasn't too appetizing to me, but then eventually I learned to use it, eat cheese.

LT: So what were your thoughts when you returned to the United States and saw the country of your birth for the first time in three years?

SI: Well, right away we had to go to school, American grade school. And here I was too old to be in first grade, but then they started pushing me and trying to get through the eighth grade in six years. So it was kind of rough on my English composition, and English was kind of a tough subject for me.

LT: I can imagine. Can you talk about what a school day was like in Dee?

SI: Well, Dee, we had to walk, there was no buses, I don't think, we had to walk. It was only about half a mile, I guess, but you walked to school. One thing I really enjoyed was they used to have, at noon they had a hot lunch, and wintertime, they used to, some women was cooking soup or something like that. Besides sandwiches we'd take or sometimes we'd take onigiri, but not when we were eating in the room, we didn't take onigiri, because hakujins didn't kind of like that. If we were eating outside, well, some of us took onigiri. When you have onigiri, they put that pickled plum, you know, that sour old plum in there. [Laughs] But then we used to, I used to walk about a mile to the store to buy a loaf of bread from the farm. I had to walk clear down there to Dee. That was over a mile, one way. And then the bread in those days was five cents a loaf. And we had a store down at Dee for the lumber mill, there was a lot of people living there, so they had one general store.

LT: So was school quite a challenge then after being gone from the United States for three years?

SI: Well, then not just going to grade school, but then we had to go after school and go to Japanese school. And all they taught you was reading anyway, but in all that time we had to walk between places. Before we got home, sometimes it was dark.

LT: So the multiplication tables that you learned in Japan served you well in school.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

LT: What about Japanese school? Because having lived in Japan and studied in Japan, did that help?

SI: Well, they just... I guess it did. I don't remember too much about it. But it was just reading, so they had Japanese school books was used in lower grade reading books, stories and stuff.

LT: So in your Japanese school, how many students were there?

SI: Oh, there was quite a few, I think. I got a picture of... it's in the other thing, of Dee school kids, and my god, there was about, seemed like there was over a hundred people there.

LT: At the Dee Japanese school?

SI: Yeah. It was quite a few.

LT: And what about your classroom at Dee, your grade school? How many students were there?

SI: Oh, just exactly classmates, there was about three or four about my age. But there was a lot older than I am and younger than I was. There was a lot more.

LT: Do you have any idea about how many?

SI: I never did count 'em. I don't know.

LT: Okay, that's okay.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

LT: We talked about the adjustments that you were making when you transferred from a Japanese school in Japan to an American school in Dee. You also returned as the eldest son with younger brothers and sisters who hadn't seen you for three years. Were there adjustments with your family at home?

SI: Oh, I guess we got along okay, yeah. Some of the youngest brother and sisters I remember even changing the diapers for. [Laughs]

LT: Were there any other adjustments or responsibilities that you had when you returned to the United States with your family and your younger brothers and sisters?

SI: Well, I don't know. Always parents says if you had any daylight hour, we had to get out and go to work, do something around the farm.

LT: Well, let's talk about your work on the farm because you spent a lot of time helping your family in your orchard. Can you talk about the jobs that you had and what you did?

SI: Well, when we were just a kid, we just did the manual labor, you know. But as we got a little older, we started getting tractors and things like that. So then we had to learn how to operate the tractors and maintain them. So I'd just go do things as you'd go along and learn everything the hard way. There was no school teaching you anything about farming. You had to just learn to do things the hard way, by doing things.

LT: Can you think of one of the harder tasks on the farm? And talk more about what your job was.

SI: Well, I wasn't much of a... I didn't have much patience. Like picking strawberries, getting on your knees and crawl all day picking strawberries, but I wasn't too hepped about that. But my brother, he'd get there, and he was just picked, what they call carriers, they were putting six boxes in the carriers, and he'd pick about twice as much as I did. [Laughs] Dad used to get after me, he said, "Get to work."

LT: So we talked about one of your tougher jobs on the farm. What was your favorite job as a kid?

SI: Well, as we grow older, we started using a lot of equipment, and that was the thing I liked about using tractors and eventually trucks. Of course, then later on in my life, well, I liked to use equipment, so I went into a lot of truck driving and things like that, equipment driving.

LT: Okay, thank you. So we talked a lot about the work that you did in Dee. What about the fun? What were fun things that you and your friends and your family did?

SI: Well, as a Nisei, we had a... when I was about in high school age, we formed a baseball club from Hood River Niseis. And so we formed a team, and older people like Ray Yasui and Mits Takasumi and your brother George, your father Uncle George, they all played baseball and we formed a team. So we used to go to Salem and play their team, and then go to Gresham, go to Wapato, go to Ontario, they all had baseball, Japanese baseball teams. So once a week, we'd go to do different places, and that was something to look forward to.

LT: Oh, okay. So what was your position?

SI: Oh, I didn't know. Wherever, anyplace that they put me, I guess.

LT: So I'm thinking that Hood River was very rural, transportation was difficult. How hard was it to get together to practice, and then to be able to travel to games?

SI: Well, about that time, about that time, well, we were driving cars, so we just drove cars to get to town.

LT: Uh-huh, okay.

SI: We had either Model As or a little later model we had, other kind of cars.

LT: Okay. What about your family? What did they do together?

SI: Well, we had picnics once in a while, Japanese picnic once a year. In our family, socialized with a group in the Dalles or Dallesport, so we used to go visit once in a while. And knew they were socializing that way.

LT: You mentioned that your father helped to build the Dee community hall, and that was the Japanese community hall. How was that important in your family life?

SI: That was a gathering place for all the Japanese holiday they had, and they would have a gathering there. Sometime they would bring in a Japanese movie from Portland, and they would show a movie at night. Those old samurai pictures where they do the fighting and old style movie they used to have. Nothing modern, but something different. We didn't go to any other movie. I guess there was a theater in town, but I never did go.

LT: Did you celebrate special holidays at the community hall?

SI: Oh, yeah.

LT: Can you choose one holiday and talk about what you did and what you ate?

SI: They always had New Year gathering. It was the emperor's birthday or something one day. They had... can't remember how many holidays they had, but they had two or three.

LT: Do you remember how you celebrated the emperor's holiday? And I'm especially interested because you talked about how the emperor was viewed in Japan. So how did you recognize the emperor's birthday at the Dee community hall?

SI: Well, the Isseis was the one that decided to have those holidays. It was their doing. Yeah, it was all based on what Issei wanted to do.

LT: Okay. How did you honor the emperor, do you remember?

SI: Oh, they had some program, they'd talk about, or they'd read about something, I don't know.

LT: Do you remember what you ate?

SI: Huh?

LT: Do you remember what you ate when you celebrated the emperor's birthday?

SI: No, I don't remember.

LT: Okay. What did you, you said the Issei chose the holidays to recognize. What did you learn from your parents about Japanese, being Japanese?

SI: Well, I don't know. Yeah, they didn't... the only time we celebrated Christmas is school. Or they used to have Valentine's Day, they'd pass around, make our own Valentine and give it to people at the grade school. During the Japanese school, they always had New Year's parties.

LT: So on the one hand, in the United States, you were celebrating American holidays. And at the Dee community hall, you were celebrating Japanese holidays and watching Japanese movies.

SI: Yeah, they had, like grade school used to have Christmas programs. They had participated in that.

LT: So it sounds like you had partial celebrations of America and partial celebrations of Japan. Was it confusing?

SI: No, it was just something to do. It was different from just farming. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 9>

LT: On December 7, 1941...

SI: Yeah, Pearl Harbor happened on December 7th. And Katsumi Sato was my neighbor, and we were buddies, so Kats and I went to selective service vote in Hood River, told them we'd like to get in the service. So January 6th, I think, within a month of Pearl Harbor, we volunteered to be selected in social security -- not social security -- as a draftee for the Hood River county. So we were the first, Kats and I were the first Nihonjin that was in the, went to service. Of course, up to then, there was already a draft going on for a couple, three years with numbers. I think like Taro Asai, Bill Yamaki, Sho Endo, they were already drafted, so they were in the service already. So Kats and I went into Fort Lewis, and they sent us to a place called Camp Grant, Illinois, which was, they call it medical, administrative corps, and that's where we took our basic. But meantime, all the draftees that were drafted after Pearl Harbor, and there were some Niseis already in the service. So they didn't know what to do with us, so they were sending a lot of Niseis from California and all the different places to kind of put 'em over there at Camp Grant, working in the hospital complex and ordinance. Not ordinance, but, oh, yeah, department that furnishes clothes and food and things. So there was quite a group of Niseis gathered at Camp Grant. We were just put to work, whatever work there was running a hospital, ward boy to cook or anything. So I was just stuck in an office, and I was pretty lucky. I didn't have to do no physical work. [Laughs] Stuck in an office, and had to learn to run the office. We had a lot of paperwork. But it was quite an experience, 'cause you deal with an officer, work with an officer. He kind of keeps you going all day long. Even when we have that spare time, he says, "I'll teach you how to play cribbage." [Laughs]

LT: So you took basic training at Camp Grant. I don't know a lot about basic training. Can you talk about what happens there?

SI: Oh, just soldiering. You have to, they always did calisthenics in the morning, and then they had to do marching or hikes. They have to go to, they had to go to a lot of training like they used to have a gas mask drill, which was kind of a, everybody had to know how to use a gas mask. And that was quite a thing, 'cause in order to go learn the gas mask drill, we had to march about five miles or so, get to the, they had a big room, little bigger than this, maybe. Anyway, they'd take a squad, platoon, for a gas mask drill, and you'd have to put on a mask, they'd teach you how to put it on and test it. And in order to really test the gas mask, they would put out a tear gas in a room. And you got your mask on, and it worked, so you don't feel the tear gas. But the last minute before you go out, one by one, they said, about five or six foot from the door, they say, "Take off your mask and you can get a whiff of it." So that gives you confidence to wear the mask. That was quite an experience.

LT: I can imagine so.

SI: But the thing that really personally, to me, when I went to that mask, gas mask drill, when I got home, I developed... I guess that tear gas was on my fatigue collar, and I developed a rash around my neck. And I had that dang rash all through my service life. And the army didn't know what to do with it. But the good thing happened was when I got home and started farming, we were putting on the spray called Firbam, which was black like a charcoal black powder, black powder, but it was a fungicide. And when I got home and started farming and I got that thing on there, before I knew, it cleared out. I think it was about the second or third year after I got home. I didn't realize that that bacteriacide was putting on our fruit was that helpful. And that cleared up. So when I got discharged, they gave me a disability for having that rash. But as soon as it cleared up, they said, "You're off." [Laughs] So I didn't have a permanent disability.

LT: So you moved to work with the medical administrative corps?

SI: Yeah, that was just kind of basic. They didn't teach you anything medical about it. But then we were just learning the base to be a soldier is all, for about, I think it was four or six weeks, four weeks, I think. Well, week of that, I got a mumps, I was in the hospital for a week, so I missed out on some of that training.

LT: But you did learn about litters?

SI: Well, they said they practiced putting the people, carrying it, you know. But my squad, they're all six-footers, so they said, "You get on it. You don't need to carry," so I was always a patient. [Laughs]

LT: And how did your size vary from the six-footers?

SI: No, I wasn't that tall like those guys. Six-footers, so they're all big guys.

LT: Sure, sure. So during your military career, did you get promoted?

SI: Yeah. After about, I think six or seven months, they gave me one stripe. Buck, you don't have no stripe, you get one stripe. Then the next is two stripes. But it took me about six months, they gave me one stripe. But the second stripe, I didn't get it for just about a year or so. My officer said, "We'd better go see what's wrong here." So we went to the, they call it provost marshal office. Anyway, we went there, and found out that when the FBI raided our (home), start of the war, raided our... they raided all the Japanese houses to see what they got, they were turning in guns and radios and all that stuff. Anyway, they found a... I happened to send an aerial view of Camp Grant map, pretty good sized paper like this home to my sister. And they saw that map at the home, so they just marked it up as something fishy, I guess. Anyway, they said, "That's the reason you're not getting another stripe." So I told them, "You were selling that thing in the store," what they call PX in the store, in the camp. It was openly sold. I said, "Nothing there." I just thought it might be interesting to see what kind of camp it was. So after that, they gave me another stripe, after that session. [Laughs]

LT: Well, eventually you went to Honolulu and served there. Can you talk about that?

SI: Well, that was... see, during '42... about the beginning of '43, they were asking all the Niseis either make a choice. I was there, what, two years, two full years, '44, I think, '43... around the end of '43 or '44, they were telling the Niseis to make a choice. Go to Military Intelligence School or go to what they call combat unit, 442nd. And I wasn't going to volunteer for anything, but eventually they sent me to a place called Camp Savage, which is the beginning of a school there for Japanese language. And I wasn't very happy there anyway because... anyway, they put me into a school and I wasn't learning fast enough. So about two or three months, they said, "Oh, you can't make it," so they shipped us out of there.

And we ended up in, us outcasts were, ended up in an MP unit. And the MP unit was supposed to be what they call prisoner of war processing unit, so the unit composed of about six or eight Nisei, and it was photographer, fingerprinter, and a few other people. Anyway, they made a unit, I guess it's, they had two or three of those units was made. So when the prisoner was captured, it was supposed to make a personnel record of the prisoner for the International Red Cross. So we were used as an interpreter for the prisoner of war. Well, you all heard that Japanese never got captured, 'cause they all either committed suicide or they just got (killed), they didn't have a real Japanese prisoner of war camp itself. So over there in Honolulu, they had a prisoner of war camp, but there were not, quote/unquote, "Japanese," they were young Koreans. And the Koreans were drafted by Japan as a support for the troop, young Koreans were used as support for the Japanese soldiers. So there was, I guess eventually, there was about one thousand Koreans captured. But I ended up in a prisoner of war camp in Honolulu called Honouliuli, and that was just strictly prisoner of war camp for Koreans. They were all young Koreans, soldiers of our age, that captured all of our Pacific islands. So I read in the internet news that eventually that had one thousand Koreans imprisoned in Hawaii. We had over three hundred where I was stationed. And then at that Honouliuli camp, Niseis were used, supposed to be kind of a translator and whatnot, but all we did was guard duty, twenty-four hours for two years.

LT: So can you talk about your guard duty was like?

SI: Well, we had to, they had their twenty-four hours on the post or walking around the fence, just playing guard duty, that's all.

LT: What did you think of it?

SI: We had a, the camp itself was just tents, over there, so it was just a tent for us. But we had a little building, I think there was six or eight of us, slept in that building, protect that building. And we had a few of those for us, so all we did was two years of guard duty, not much translation or anything like that.

LT: Well, thank you.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

SI: But when the American Legion stirred up things, well, it was a, Kent Schumaker and Jess Eddington and that politicians, Wilber, that went to Salem? All three was the one that really stirred up Hood River to keep us from coming back.

LT: How did they stir up Hood River? What did they do?

SI: See, they were World War I veteran, and if it wasn't for them, I don't think the Legion would have... but then this Wilber was a representative in Salem, and they even passed a law, they had to make a state legislator pass a law that Issei Japanese subjects couldn't buy a land. But the loophole in the law was that Nisei could buy in his name. But between three of those guys, they really stirred up the Hood River. And boy, they went, they just had a big campaign for us to not come back anymore.

LT: What did they do specifically to try to prevent you from returning?

SI: They just had a big campaign in the paper and had people stir up signed petitions and everything else.

LT: And what did the petitions say?

SI: They don't want the "Jap" back.

LT: And where did they appear, those signs, those petitions?

SI: It was the Hood River News, that's their local newspaper.

LT: Okay, okay. Were there any other actions they took to stir up sentiment against Japanese Americans?

SI: I don't know of any incident, but then I've heard some places there was some, there was some things that... I think Hood River sheriff's department was supposed to collect guns and radio, shortwave radio, that could pick up Japan. And they were supposed to turn it in to the sheriffs. And by god, I could remember, when I got back here, sheriff says, "You've got to," Dad had a "Monkey Ward" radio that picked up Japan, and we had a gun. So we got those back after we got back here.

LT: Well, when you and your family returned to the valley, what did you see? What was it like to return to a community where three prominent leaders had, as you say, stirred up everything to prevent you from returning?

SI: Well, they come to us, once we got back to our farm, well, we had a place to stay, so there was nothing they could do, as long as we stay at home. I don't think they threatened us to leave, but then... so (we) just kept on farming.

LT: Okay, okay. Well, what did you see when you came back to your farm?

SI: Well, let's see. There was some farms that were not kept up too good, but then it was like some of the equipment was, they used it for their own use. And I remember we had one brand-new, Dad brought a brand-new Caterpillar tractor that was used to, I think it was a gas model. Anyway, when he came back, he used, the guy that was running the farm, used it for logging, and he didn't have it no more. So when he come back, there was some other tractor there, I guess. He got the tractor back, but it was a different model.

LT: What about your trees? How had they been cared for?

SI: Oh, I don't know. I don't particularly remember particularly how the trees were treated. But I guess I didn't, I didn't particularly see how it was.

LT: Well, what about your family's ability to make purchases? Were you able to go to stores?

SI: Oh, I heard that there was a town in here, Hood River... oh, my uncle wanted to buy a truck, and I think he went to the Dalles, and Ernest Motor in Dalles said, "Oh, we'll sell you a truck," so he got a Studebaker truck from Dalles. And I think Gerbrandt, he had a Plymouth Dodge Chrysler distributorship, and then he, I think Gerbrandt was able to sell and get the cars from him, or trucks.

LT: So you were able to make purchases from some stores in the valley?

SI: Yeah, eventually more and more started to cater to...

LT: Did you have any personal experiences with stores?

SI: No.

LT: Okay. You mentioned going to Tip Top?

SI: Oh, yeah, one time I stopped in to buy a Coke or something, just to try it out, and they said, "Go on (get) out." They wouldn't serve me.

LT: What about your neighbors? What kind of a reception did they give you?

SI: What was that?

LT: Your neighbors?

SI: Oh, neighbors, well, they accepted us eventually. But then nothing too... there was nothing too hostile about it, but then they accepted us.

LT: What is it like to come back to a community when newspapers, advertisers...

SI: I think we were just too busy trying to make a living and survive on the farm, that they didn't bother us. [Laughs] You're just trying to survive, so you just go ahead and do what you want to do. We didn't socialize too much with the neighbors anyway.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

LT: So can you talk more specifically about how you did spend your time on the farm and with your family trying to readjust now that you were home?

SI: Well, I got a little, I didn't stay too much, 'cause brother was home, and he was farming, so I took off a year or two and went to Hawaii, went to University of Oregon for a while and stuff like that. So I didn't, for a few years I was just roaming around. [Laughs]

LT: But you eventually decided to return to Hood River?

SI: Oh, yeah.

LT: In Dee?

SI: Uh-huh.

LT: So what did you do to reestablish yourself in your hometown community? There had been a lot of prejudice. What did you do to dispel that?

SI: Yeah, like Dee mill, they had work, so I used to work down there for a while, then try to find work. In the co-op, there was a lot of, there was Apple Growers Association, anyway, they... I got in to do some work for them furnishing our own equipment or driving, or try to get a little part-time work, eventually got to where you can, you can work, since Hood River still had a cannery going, well, there was a lot of work canning pears day and night. So we just got in doing some work that needed to be done, nighttime or something, and farmed during the day.

LT: So how many hours a day were you working?

SI: [Laughs] We were young yet, so sometimes we worked quite a few hours.

LT: I guess so. So you were establishing yourself by working really hard. Do you think Nikkei in Hood River became more Japanese or less Japanese after the war?

SI: No, it's less, because we were working for other people, not Japanese, you know. So we were working for, like Apple Growers, and got to know a lot of those people eventually, like eventually by 1980, I got to be a regular over the road truck driver. And I took a responsibility of driving the truck and delivering canned goods or fresh fruit to Seattle or down to Medford or Eugene. So they let me use what equipment they had, so I was doing pretty good job and moving merchandise for, especially when they had cannery, well, they had juices and ciders, vinegars. I could remember even one time I delivered, Diamond was juicing New Towns and Red Delicious. And then when the juice, apple juice was made into concentrate in a fifty gallon barrel, I've taking a whole load in a forty-foot van, whole load of concentrated apple juice clear up to Aberdeen, Washington, where they made cranapple juice with their cranberry, things like that. So we had quite a responsible job using the equipment. Then when I started working for Diamond pretty steadily, well, usually if there was a night work, well, I'd take a night work and do a little farming in the daytime. But then that way I kept working, and eventually I got to be a full-time worker for the last, at least the last five years before retirement, I was a full-time worker. So I got to... so they had a union, teamster union, and lot of the growers said, "We don't need to join the union, you're a grower." I said, "Well, I don't know. I think there's some good benefits the teamster had." So I joined the teamster union, and some of the guys said, oh, they didn't like the idea that I was a teamster. [Laughs] But eventually I worked full time for quite a few years, so I got a good pension out of it.

LT: You seem to have had your hand in many pots. And then you met your wife. Can you talk about that, when you met and when you married?

SI: Oh, I used to, we used to, family used to visit Dalles, Toda family, and in that process, we got to know each other, so that's where we got together. Yeah, it's... she was... well, during the war, she and her sister, her twin sister, went to Clinton, Iowa, I guess, to be in, study nursing. So when she got (home) after the war, she was RN. So she was working at Dalles or somewhere as RN. That's how, when I visited her, Dallesport, well, that's when we got acquainted. Then after we got married, well, she did some nursing work for hospitals or private nursing or across the river or somewhere. I think when I first met her, she was working at the Dalles hospital.

LT: And to backtrack just a little bit, Mary, your wife, and your family, were at Minidoka during the war. What did you learn about Minidoka from them?

SI: Well, I didn't know too much what they did, 'cause I don't even remember visiting at Minidoka. But while I was away, well, Brother Hit said he went into Minidoka, but family found a job available if they work out, so they went to Walla Walla and Twin Falls, and they didn't stay in a camp if there was work, so they went out to work. And I guess Brother Hit said he worked at the big apple orchard farm in Twin Falls or somewhere. Then he said he went up to Walla Walla to work at the farm that raised those green onions, or onion seed, they were farming and raising seeds for the onions and places like that. So they tried to find a work, they didn't stay in a camp if they could help it.

LT: Sounds like work is a theme through everything here.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

LT: Let's go back to Hood River, because by 1950, you had joined the Dee fire department, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the American Legion. So you were becoming an active part of your community. Can you talk about your reasons and your joining of each of these organizations and others that helped...

SI: Well, once the VFW offered us to join, well, we joined. But it was shut for a while, 'til a lot of the modern wartime war veterans was running the American Legion or VFW. So they offered us to join, so we joined. But just to be joining, I guess, we joined.

LT: Did you have any reservations considering the actions they had taken in the past?

SI: No, we figured that the old timers are gone, so they weren't gonna be that bad.

LT: And what about the VFW?

SI: Well, VFW, there was a fellow named Jonsey, he was very active in helping the veterans. I think he was a veteran officer for the county for a while, so he got a lot of the Nisei to join the VFW. And American Legion, I don't know how many Nisei joined, but a few of them joined, but not too many, I don't think.

LT: What kind of feelings did you have about joining the American Legion?

SI: Well, I figure if they were accepting me, well, might as well join.

LT: Okay. You were also active in the Dee fire department.

SI: Yeah, that was something else. Being active at fire department, we had nothing to start with, and we had... when we were starting the fire department at Dee, the lumber mill was all gone, all liquidated out, so there was not much tax for the fire department to get, lumber mill. So it was just the farms. And then the fire department in those days, not much money to work with, so we had to... and I remember one time we had to, just to get firemen's boots and clothes, we had to raise some money. And we got a bunch of, all the women and men, much as would help, on the Dee flat to have a good old chow men dinner, had it so then all the fire departments, they would all participate and help us, too, so we had quite a social gathering.

LT: And who made the chow mein?

SI: Yeah, we had chow mein. My uncle was a pretty good cook, so he made the ingredients, so it was pretty tasty.

LT: That sounds great. You also were a volunteer with the Hood River Tsuruta City Program.

SI: Oh, yeah. In fact, I volunteered to go to, clear to Detroit, Michigan, and drive a truck chassis home so they could make it into a fire truck, and that was quite a chore. Here I flew to Detroit and drove clear across the country. [Laughs]

LT: Were you also active in Japanese American organizations?

SI: No, not as such.

LT: Any thoughts about that?

SI: No. JACL was pretty active for a while, but when all the... like when we had Kumeo Yoshinari and George Kinoshita and all those older generation were active in JACL, all they had was either community picnic or dances. I didn't go to any of those. We had community picnic, which was pretty good.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

LT: So you have a daughter Sheri, and can you tell us about family life and your family?

SI: Oh, yeah, she was adopted, and she was, went through Dee school and Wyeast school. I guess when she graduated, she was from Wyeast, I think. I don't remember. But she was... yeah, Mary was, had a Girl Scout at Dee, so the neighbors' kids all got together. She socialized quite a bit with the neighbors.

LT: That's great. So what have you told Sheri about your wartime experiences, and how do you involve her in that telling?

SI: No, I don't think I told her too much about it. You don't talk about, I didn't talk about evacuation because I wasn't involved. But a lot of Niseis didn't want to talk about that 'til later.

LT: Yeah, that's what I notice. Why do you think that is?

SI: I don't know why. Just want to forget it, I guess. [Laughs]

LT: You think so?

SI: Yeah, especially ones that went through the camp and all that. 'Cause I was in the service, I didn't go to the camp.

LT: You served our country and you served proudly and honorably.

SI: Yeah. I was a little different 'cause I was in the service a month after Pearl Harbor. So other Niseis weren't drafted 'til about '43 or '4, I think. They were, they didn't know what to do with the Nisei, so they didn't draft 'em until about '43 or '44, I think. Then they started to be in the draft, 'cause they had a draft going.

LT: So I'm wondering, if Nisei are reluctant to talk to their children and other children about experiences during the war, how will other people find out, and what should we be doing so that others, including the Yonsei and the Gosei, and others learn about what you've done?

SI: Well, Sanseis, Yonseis and Sanseis are finding that their parents didn't talk about it, so now they're asking questions. I see in the JACL publication that it's all over in California that they're really finding that Nisei didn't want to talk about what happened during the war.

LT: So should we shut down and not talk about it at all, or should we do something different to help others learn about what you've done?

SI: Well, they're doing, Sanseis and Yonseis are doing quite a thing, is like Yasui's, Robert Yasui's daughter made a video of what happened during the war and all that. So it's, they showed that here one time, didn't they? At the art center. It's being shown that Sansei and Yonseis and public is being educated a little more.

LT: And actually talking about the Yasuis, how were the Yasuis involved in Hood River, and did they have an effect on your life?

SI: Well, I don't think they had any effect on us. But they had their own problems, too. But then they, being... I heard they had, like their store was just practically confiscated, and lost everything. They had a big acreage, land up there at Mosier, they just lost it. Not much they can do. But just like all these Sanseis intermarrying, like Yasui's Flip marrying Maya... her last name was Annela, I guess, things really, more generation, other people, nationality, get in, so they were finding out a lot of things. All the intermarriages are really, really nice things, I guess. But then eventually there will be no "pure" Japanese. There's very few "pure," what they call "pure" Japanese and Japanese marrying. Very few.

LT: Is that okay?

SI: Yeah, they're all intermarriage now.

LT: Is that okay?

SI: Well, it's gonna happen. I mean, we're in America, you can't help it.

LT: And if the Nisei don't talk about it, but if the Yonsei and the Sansei do, is that okay, to talk about Nisei during the war and military?

SI: Yeah, it's a good idea for them to really, not discard all the Japanese things that they know about, they should take the good part.

LT: Just a couple more questions. Did your wartime experiences change you in any way?

SI: Well, I don't know. I don't think so. As we go through life, well, we got to adapt to whatever's come to you. I guess I've done pretty good, just like I learned to smoke in the army. About ten years of that, smoking, and one morning I decided with all the hacking I was doing every morning, it was enough for me. So I just smoked every stick I had the house and that was the last of it. I haven't smoked since, so I kind of think that when I quit smoking, that was the best thing to happen to me. And then I don't get drunk like some people do. I never touched alcohol. So that's why I'm still living, I think.

LT: And very healthfully at ninety-three. You participated in a number of recognitions and commemorations of Japanese American veterans. Can you talk about what it's like to attend an event and represent Nisei veterans?

SI: Yeah, it's pretty honor to represent 'em, but then just I'm lucky that I'm still living. [Laughs]

LT: You definitely are. What should we learn about what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II? What should the next generations learn about us?

SI: Oh, I don't know. Well, I think every one of us just made the best that we can, what we come up against, just kept going. We're doing okay so far. A lot of the Sanseis and Yonseis are in good jobs, even good politicians. [Laughs]

LT: What's important in life?

SI: I guess to be liked by everybody, anybody or everybody. And if you're a fair person, well, they'll treat you fair, same way.

LT: Thank you very much.

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