Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Yoji J. Matsushima Interview
Narrator: Yoji J. Matsushima
Interviewer: Valerie Otani
Location: Portland, Oregon
Date: November 15, 2013
Densho ID: denshovh-myoji-01

<Begin Segment 1>

VO: Today is November 15, 2013, and we're in Portland, Oregon, interviewing Yoji Matsushima. Assisting today is Marlene Wallingford, observing is Lynn Longfellow, our videographer is Ian McCluskey, and I'm Valerie Otani. We are going to just go ahead and start, Yoji, by having you introduce yourself with your full name and where and when you were born.

YM: My name is Yoji Julius Matsushima. I was born January 31, 1933, in Portland, Oregon.

VO: And any significance to that, to your names?

YM: My middle name, I was named after the governor of Oregon at that time, Julius Meier, so I should be very proud of the name. But I changed it from my first name to my middle name in my adulthood.

VO: You were always called Yoji?

YM: That's right.

VO: Tell us about your father, where he was from and when he was born.

YM: My father is from Okayama, Japan, a village called Hirata. And he came at the age of fifteen, worked with his older brother on the railroad in central Oregon. His first job was a waterboy when they were building the Crooked River Railroad Bridge. And later he joined my great uncle in his business as an employee.

VO: That Crooked River Bridge was very high. Wasn't it over a steep canyon?

YM: That's very high.

VO: And what was his, as a waterboy, what does he...

YM: He had to carry pails of water up and down the hill all day. But I guess he wasn't very big for his age, so it was a good job for him.

VO: So then you said he joined his...

YM: Teikoku company, which was owned by my great uncle. He adopted my mother, and later my father married into the family.

VO: And your father's name?

YM: My father's "maiden name"? [Laughs]

VO: Yes.

YM: Was Yasui. And he was the second-born male in his family, so in Japan, in those days, you don't inherit anything. So therefore he married into the Matsushima family. And my uncle, great uncle, not having any children, he adopted my mother, and then later my father married my mother and changed his name to Matsushima.

VO: And what was the age difference between --

YM: Ten years.

VO: So your mother was how old when she married?

YM: I think she was about... let's see, legally eighteen, I think.

VO: Legally? So you think she was a little younger than that?

YM: I think so.

VO: Okay. And, let's see, your mother's... what kind of family did she come from?

YM: They were farmers in Japan, Okayama, village called Narazu. And they had one male and two female siblings. And later, the elder male passed away. Then the complication in the family, my mother was adopted by my great uncle, but had to go back to her family to head up her family. And my aunt went over to my great uncle's house and took over his house. So that's the background of the family.

VO: Your aunt, your mother's sister, took over your great uncle's house in Portland or Japan?

YM: Japan.

VO: And when your mother was adopted, was she already in Japan and then brought...

YM: No, they were both here, both my aunt and my mother. But I think on paper they did that in Japan.

VO: Well, that's a tradition in Japanese culture, to marry into a family if they have...

YM: Yeah, if the male was the second or third born, lot of times they'd marry into a family that'd have a female, all females. I think that's called youshi. It's not a very good status in Japanese culture, from what I heard.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

VO: But then, so then for your father, he joined the Teikoku store. What does Teikoku mean?

YM: "Imperial."

VO: And what was his role there?

YM: I think he was co-owner or manager with my other uncle.

VO: Well, describe the store a little, what kinds of things they sold, who they sold to.

YM: The store was a general merchandise store. Didn't have very much fresh vegetables or fish or meat. More in the line of canned goods, shoyu, rice, the staple Japanese food. They sold shirts, arrow shirts, Stetson hats, Florsheim shoes, and they had a liquor store, I think one of the few liquor stores outside of... Oregon liquor store. And they had radios and refrigerators later. They even sold Studebaker cars, and they acted like an agency for a bank in Yokohama to transfer money to Japan. They were an agency for hiring for the railroad, mostly SP&S, that's Seattle, Portland, Spokane. And they sold to the railroad employees, the Japanese railroad employees, and they also sold to logging camps and canneries. My dad used to tell me that he used to go to Astoria, Warrenton, Westport, Huntington, Baker City, and as far as Spokane.

VO: So this was, in addition to the store, which was located in Old Town.

YM: Yeah, Old Town, on Second and, Third and Davis Street.

VO: So in addition to the store in Old Town, did they have trucks that went out?

YM: They had trucks that delivered in the Portland area. Salesmen used to go out and take orders in the outskirts of Portland like in Gresham and Columbia Slough, Dallesport, Hood River. They used to take the order one week and then deliver the next week, and then that week take another order and come back. And they used to go to Vernonia, and Salem, Independence, Brooks.

VO: You had mentioned that by traveling out to these Japanese communities out at the coast or in camps, they really were a line of communication. You talked about bringing back...

YM: Oh, yeah, the days when they used to send money to Japan, my dad used to tell me that he used to bring gold, they used to pay him in gold, so he used to put 'em in his hat, and made sure his hat didn't blow off.

VO: And because they were agents of a bank, then he could...

YM: Right, and then they would come with that and then they'd wire transfer it to their account in Japan, to their families.

VO: And so what was your mother's role in the family?

YM: She was just a housekeeper, I mean, a housewife. And we used to be in the Merchant Hotel building. It was also called Teikoku Hotel at the Japanese community. And we had the fourth floor of that building, and they had a large kitchen that we served the family and employees, single employees or anybody else that wanted to eat that day, she and my aunt used to cook meals, lunch and dinner. So that's what they did.

VO: So what was it like for you growing up in the Merchant Hotel and with the store?

YM: Well, you know, as a child, you don't know anything else but your surroundings. So I guess it was just good times.

VO: Did you mostly play within the neighborhood streets of Old Town?

YM: Yeah. We used to play, we used to go down to the waterfront, which is, they used to load lumber out of the waterfront in those days. We used to play under the Burnside Bridge. We used to go up to the park blocks and then to the zoo at that time. And we used to go to Jantzen Beach by streetcar with the older kids, would take us over there and go swimming and then we'd pack, have lunch packed, and we'd always go in groups.

VO: Tell us a little about your brothers and sisters.

YM: I have, I had an older sister and an older brother. They were taken to Japan when they were one and two, and they were left with my grandparents, and they were raised by them. And they were, they never came back except my sister in 1955 after she got married in Japan and came back to Portland. My brother came back for my folks' fiftieth wedding anniversary, but that's the only time he came.

VO: Were they both, your brother, older brother and sister, American-born, American citizens?

YM: Yes, they're both American-born, both had American citizenship. Then I have a younger brother that's about seven years younger than I am, he was raised here in Portland.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

VO: And you went back to Japan as a child?

YM: Yes, in 1936 to 1938, my parents went back to Japan for a couple years.

VO: And what was the reason for that trip?

YM: I think it was for my parents to see my older brother and sister and maybe take care of some business over there, too. It's hard to imagine these days that you could leave your business for a couple of years' sabbatical and have your business still there after you come back.

VO: But he left it in good hands?

YM: Well, my uncle was in charge then, so I think it was in good hands.

VO: And this is actually your uncle but not your great uncle.

YM: No.

VO: So your original...

YM: Yeah, my aunt's husband.

VO: So it's a great uncle.

YM: He was in Japan already.

VO: He retired from the business and left it with your father? And do you have any memories of that trip to Japan?

YM: Well, I think that I went back to Japan on a boat with a fellow named Jess Toda and Al Abe, locally, and Jess and his sister, I think my parents went back with Jess's mother and sister. And I know that Jess and I, we really took over the ship according to him. [Laughs] We used to give the captain a bad time. But after we got to Yokohama, Jess and I, we got in trouble because at the inn we were staying at, he and I punched out all the shoji paper and my dad was very upset about that.

VO: And the trip back was...

YM: I don't recall too much about the trip back, but I know the trip back, coming back to Portland was very rough. It was in December, and we came back through the northern route, and the waves are so, the sea was so rough that they had to close all the portholes with the steel... well, covered the portholes up.

VO: The hatch covers?

YM: Hatch covers. And the ship was rocking and rolling so much that they had to, when they brought the food to the room, they had to put a wet towel on the table so the dishes wouldn't slide.

VO: Did you ever talk with your sister who was raised in Japan about that experience or what it was like to be in Japan while the rest of you were here?

YM: I think my sister pretty much was raised by my great uncle, because they had no kids or grandkids. So she lived at that house, which was just a couple houses away from where my brother was. But I know that she was telling me that her war years, they didn't, they hardly went to school because they were working in, she worked in a, I guess it was an airplane factory, making fuel tanks for the fighters. And she said that they hardly worked, went to school.

VO: And did she say much about that visit with your family coming back to visit her?

YM: No, she wasn't that broken up about it, but I heard that my brother was very sad when my parents decided to come back to Portland and they left them there. You know, you see the picture of a little boy chasing after a car and crying, and that's the picture that she portrayed to me.

VO: And he ended up staying without coming back.

YM: Right. And then the war broke out, so they couldn't come back over here. And my grandparents are getting old, so he just took over the farm.

VO: Is he still alive?

YM: No, he passed away a couple years ago.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

VO: So, shortly after you returned from Japan on that family visit, you started school in Portland.

YM: That's right.

VO: What was that like?

YM: Well, that was quite traumatic. I didn't speak any English, and here I am in the first grade. I started, we came back in December and I was in school in January, so I couldn't speak a word of English, so it was kind of hard.

VO: But did you kind of quickly...

YM: I must have.

VO: ...pick up the language?

YM: I must have adjusted.

VO: Did you go to Japanese school?

YM: We went to Japanese school, all the kids in the area, Northwest Portland, we all went to Japanese school after going to the grade school. The school was on Sixth and, Northwest Sixth and Flanders. And we went for a couple hours a day and Saturday, too.

VO: So six days a week?

YM: Six days a week.

VO: You'd come home from...

YM: School, and off to Japanese school.

VO: Do you have much memory that, did you learn much at Japanese school?

YM: No, you know, you're first grade, second grade and third grade, that's it, you know.

VO: What was your experience like in high school then here in Portland?

YM: High school was, it was okay. I got along fine with most of the kids and joined the club and did the high school thing. But never really interacted with the Caucasian kids much except in school, or school activity.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

VO: Well, actually, let's go to Pearl Harbor. So how old were you and what do you remember from that time?

YM: I was eight years old at that time, and that was Sunday morning, and I remembered a newspaper boy hawking newspapers on the corner and saying, "Extra, extra, read all about it, Japs bombed Pearl Harbor." And I say, "Well, what is Pearl Harbor?" Then realized that Japan was, started a war against the United States. And at that time, I didn't know what was going to happen, but found out pretty quick.

VO: So what did happen for your family?

YM: Well, my father was arrested December 11th, but they closed the store right after the war started. And the employees took inventory of the store.

VO: So when you say they closed the store...

YM: They actually padlocked the store.

VO: And I had heard that the City of Portland suspended the business license.

YM: That's what I heard too, yes.

VO: So what happened to the store?

YM: Well, after they took the inventory, they told us to sell off all the assets of the store. So they reopened the store and they just had a fire sale of everything, inventory and equipment. And many of the employees felt that they should go back to their families, so a lot of them left and went back to the families like in Salem, or at that time, Montavilla. And some of the ones that didn't have family, they stayed and helped sell off everything.

VO: This is December, so what was in the store?

YM: Well, it was, we were getting ready for Christmas and New Year's, so the store was full of merchandise ready for the holidays. And they sold everything, what was the term they used? Ten cents on the dollar? I guess that's what it was.

VO: Do you remember seeing that sale? Were you around?

YM: I kind of remember it, that they were selling everything off, and the shelves are getting bare.

VO: And then the money was... what happened to the money?

YM: The money, after the sale and after we closed the store, the government confiscated the money and we never seen it until 1956 without interest.

VO: Now your father was arrested December 11th, and what happened?

YM: Let's see. He went to, he was arrested, and I think he was booked at... and he went to Multnomah County jail, I think. And he was there until the end of December, and then they were sent to Missoula, Montana, where he was telling me before that they took his belt off, took his belt away, and they couldn't, they took his shoe strings away. And then they told him, when they fed him, they didn't give him any utensils to eat with, and he said, "You think we're a bunch of dogs?" Then finally they gave them utensils, because they thought that they might use them as weapons. But in December, they sent them, without anybody knowing, I me an, the family didn't know, they sent them to a group of people that were arrested in Portland, they sent to Missoula, Montana. I remember that Mr. Mayeda, Roy Mayeda's father, used to work at the depot. And he tried to go talk to them, but he got pushed back.

VO: When he saw them being...

YM: Yeah, loaded on the train. And I guess it was very cold up there in December, and they didn't have the clothing. Lot of people got colds. And my dad, after we came back, he would tell my mother to make this special cough syrup that Dr. Tanaka concocted, made up of oranges, lemons, honey, and garlic. And the doctor would make everybody drink that when they had a cold.

VO: So at that time, your father was a successful businessman?

YM: I would say he was semi-successful.

VO: And he belonged to the Portland Chamber of Commerce?

YM: Yeah. Now the Japanese Ancestral Society.

VO: Did he ever talk to you about why he thought he was arrested?

YM: No, except that he was one of the business leaders in the community, I guess.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

VO: So what... did you hear... what happened to your family then, the rest of you who were left here in Portland?

YM: Can you repeat that again?

VO: Well, so your father was off in the camps, the FBI camp in Missoula, and you were here in Portland. So then can you describe then what happened after that?

YM: Well, let's see. January, February, March... I guess we were just living here in Portland until we got the word that we have to go into the assembly center.

VO: Did you hear anything from your father, any letters?

YM: Not while... I don't remember him saying anything about my mother talking about getting a letter from him from Missoula. I knew we got letters from him when we were in Idaho, Minidoka, but I don't recall getting letters from him. Most of the letters I think came through Red Cross, I don't know.

VO: And while your mother then was in charge of closing the business and taking care of you, do you remember much about how she acted or what she thought?

YM: Well, she was... it was up to my mother and aunt to close up the store, and she kind of took charge, had the remaining employees help close up the store and get everything in order.

VO: As a child, did you have much sense that that was hard time for her?

YM: When I... well, when we were in, yeah, I think so. During that period it was kind of a hard time without any males around. Then after we... I think it was very hard when she went to Minidoka, the hardest because of the weather and everything, you know. I think Minidoka was the hardest for her.

VO: So do you have any impressions of the assembly center?

YM: Yeah, we had a good time, the kids did. We ran around all over and played with our friends.

VO: Did you have school?

YM: If you call it that. It wasn't much. But Lury Sato organized the school and we had school. Well, it was June, July and August. In September we were off in Minidoka.

VO: What was your impression, your first impression when you arrived at the assembly center?

YM: Well, we went through the gates, and then I saw the mess hall with all the dishes and the cups lined up, and the smell from the kitchen, which was strange because it's not like the type of food that we were used to eating.

VO: So then your family went from the assembly center, this is your mother and you and your brother.

YM: That's correct.

VO: To Minidoka?

YM: Yes.

VO: And at that time, your father was in the FBI camps.

YM: That's right.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

VO: So can you describe a little about your father's desire to go back to Japan and how that...

YM: Well, the first time that we were talking, or they were talking about repatriating, because my aunt and my uncle, they had to go back because of their visa, I guess. He was there on a trader treaty or E-2 visa, so they made all those people go back on the first Gripsholm. And then we heard that we were gonna go, and I remember giving things away and getting ready to go and then we never went. And then when we went to Idaho, they decided to go try again.

VO: Your parents decided they would like to repatriate to Japan?

YM: So in September of '43, we went to Newark, New Jersey, to get on the ship to go to Japan, and the ship was called the Gripsholm. It was the second trip of that ship, and it's a Swedish vessel flying a neutral country flag. And I heard that the ship was supposed to go from the United States to Brazil to pick up some people there, and then go around the Cape of Good (Hope), Africa, and the exchange was supposed to be made in, I think, Sierra Leone or in Goa, India. Well, I can't remember where, but was a long trip. And then you would get on the Japanese vessel there, and then you would go back to Japan.

VO: Do you remember your mother talking to you about that decision?

YM: No, except that... yeah, we didn't discuss it, he just said that we're going back to Japan.

VO: And did you feel that she also wanted to do that as well?

YM: Well, I think that my parents decided they wanted to go back because they had the two kids there, and they didn't know if the family was ever going to get back together again, although I think that was a big decision, or the decision they decided to reunite with the family.

VO: So you went to Newark. From Minidoka, you and your brother and your mother went to Newark.

YM: We went to Newark and we sat on the dock in front of the Gripsholm all day, and then that night, they told us to get on this boat, I guess it was the Coast Guard, and my mother would just, she just refused to go until she saw my dad. But they talked her into getting on the boat. No lights, and we went out in the dark waters of New York Harbor, and from some of the other people that I talked to that was there at Ellis Island, they said that there was a searchlight, and we followed the searchlight into the building and we didn't know where we were. But I got up in the morning and I looked out the window in the building and I saw the Statue of Liberty. I said, "Wow, we must be in New York Harbor." And then they told everybody to go down to breakfast, so we went down there, and there we saw my dad. And my brother would call him ojisan, meaning "uncle," because he doesn't remember my dad. I think he was three years old at that time.

VO: How long had you been separated from him?

YM: Let's see, December of '41 to September of '43, about a year and a half, I guess.

VO: What was your impression, seeing him again?

YM: Well, he looked very good. Because I think the rest must have done him good, not working. He went from Missoula to Livingston, Louisiana, and then he went to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and then we met in Ellis Island.

VO: So did you get on the boat?

YM: No. [Laughs] The Coast Guard boat, or the tugboat. We stayed there about seven days.

VO: So what happened to the Gripsholm?

YM: They sailed on without us.

VO: And do you know why?

YM: Well, I heard that it was because of the prisoner exchange number count that a bunch of us got left out.

VO: But what about your luggage?

YM: What's that?

VO: What about your luggage?

YM: Oh, our luggage? Our luggage went on the vessel, and that went to where they were going to exchange prisoners. But we got it back about six months later, all intact.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

VO: So then your family is reunited at Ellis Island, and then what happened next?

YM: From Ellis Island we went to Crystal City, Texas. They put us on the ferry in the morning, they took us to Grand Central Station, and we're walking down inside the Grand Central Station behind the armed guards. It's early in the morning, and we go down the corridor and downstairs, and they put us on this car, railroad car, separate from the rest of the customers. And there was an armed guard in both sides of the car, and we're off to Texas. And along the way, the air conditioner broke down. This is mid-September, and we have no change of clothes, and we're going down and we opened the window, all the soot comes in the window, and that's quite an interesting ride. It took about a week, I think, to get to San Antonio. Then from San Antonio, they bussed us to Crystal City. It was known as the spinach capital of the world. They have a statue of Popeye right in the center of the town, and that's the only, I think that's the only time we saw that, 'cause that's the only time I was outside the camp. But we got to the camp, and it's just like a refugee. They tell us to take a shower, and they gave us new clothes and they feed us and then assign us quarters.

VO: So describe what the living was like in Crystal City.

YM: Texas was quite different than Minidoka. It was a agricultural migrant camp, so they had cabins all set up. And what they did was build a few more buildings and a hospital and administration building, schools, and then they put a fence around 150 acres. So it was very small, and a number of people, and the size of the camp. One interesting this is that not only were there Japanese from the mainland, but we had Japanese from Hawaii and from Peru, and I don't know if many people know that the Peruvians were used as hostages, and they were brought to the United States, and they paid Peru money. I read a book called The Silver Thread, and describes all that. But the interesting thing is that we had Italians and Germans there, and there was a very prominent German there, I think his name was (Fritz Julius) Kuhn, and he was the head of the Nazi party of America. He eventually got deported. But they used to have torch parades and everything in there. But the only thing that the camp, I guess, commandant, said, "Don't raise the flag." So it was pretty much... the Japanese and the Germans, they didn't intermingle at all. We had separate commissaries and everything, no fence or anything in between. But they issued plastic money for buying food at the commissary, and my mother would go every day to buy food for the family. And they would deliver ice every day for the ice box, and they would deliver milk every day.

VO: So you had your own cabin, your family?

YM: We had a cabin that we shared with three other families. But there wasn't a big cabin, but there was a couple and another family with one son, and our family we had four. And there was a small toilet in the center of the cabin, and the showers we had to take out in a separate building. And the heating and the cooking was done by kerosene. So my job was to go get the kerosene when we needed it. Just like in Idaho I had to go get the coal to stoke the fire.

VO: So your mother was able to cook for your family there?

YM: Right.

VO: So it was quite different.

YM: It was quite different because I think it must have been under the Geneva Convention rules for prisoners of war. And they had to serve so much protein, so much carbos, and the food there was quite different besides the fact that my mother was cooking for us.

VO: So you think it was better than at Minidoka?

YM: Oh, it was much better. We had rice and we had shoyu and miso and everything that the Japanese would eat.

VO: And did your father, what did he do during the daytime?

YM: He had, everybody there had to work. And, of course, his job, he managed the wholesale commissary for the canteen, not the commissary. So he used to do the buying for the store, so he was in his element.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

VO: What do you recall about that time in terms of your family?

YM: I think the family really bonded. Not like before the war when my dad was working day and night, and he was more relaxed, and it was good for him.

VO: And you had been separated from him for almost two years.

YM: Two years, yeah. It was kind of like living almost in Japan, because everybody, the common language was Japanese because the Peruvians, they couldn't speak English. And so communication was all done in Japanese, except for people that spoke English.

VO: So you went back to speaking mostly Japanese then.

YM: Well, you know, I thought in my mind that we were going to go back to Japan again. So instead of... we had a choice of going to an English school or Japanese school, so I went to Japanese school for over a year until they ended the war. So I think I was in the fourth or fifth grade, and for a year, over a year, I went to Japanese school, and it was like Japan. People there made their own textbook, Japanese textbook, and they even bound them by hand and stenographed the pages and actually made books.

VO: At that time, were your parents still actively considering going back to Japan then?

YM: I didn't hear them talk very much about it, but toward the latter part of '45, I think, they decided they aren't going to go back.

VO: And do you feel it was mostly to reunite the family, or do you think they...

YM: I think so.

VO: Do you think they had any feelings about the United States and how they'd be treated?

YM: Well, I think the war was going bad for Japan. My dad used to take, read the New York Times. At that time, he used to get the Sunday New York Times and he used to read that. He followed the news pretty closely, so he knew that the war was not going well for Japan, and it would, Japan would be devastated anyway if they went back. So I think they, in their mind, they decided to stay.

VO: Were they able to hear any news from Japan from your uncle in Japan?

YM: No. I think through Red Cross you could have, but I didn't remember hearing or seeing anything from Japan.

VO: So when the war ended, what did they decide to do?

YM: Well, we didn't get out... when the war ended, it was in August, was it August of '45. We didn't... my dad went to several hearings, I don't know in front of who, or whom. But it was six months after the war that we were able to get out of camp. And they released us, and at that time, there was a Mr. and Mrs. Horagami, and the Tambara family, Asakichi Tambara family that left the same time we did.

VO: And where did you go?

YM: We went to a town called Uvalde, Texas, a good Texas cowboy town, to catch the train back to Portland. But I think they decided, the group decided that they were going to stop in Los Angeles and spend some time and talk to people about the possibility of residing there or starting a business in Los Angeles rather than coming back to Portland, because there was nothing to come back to. But I got to tell you about Mrs. Horagami. When we got out of camp, right outside the gate, she was jumping up and down on the bus, she was so happy. I didn't think Issei women were like that, but she was so happy to get out of the camp.

VO: How did you feel?

YM: I felt good, too, that we were finally going to leave. But really didn't know what was going to happen after we, wherever we decided to go to.

VO: Did you have many memories of Portland, and what did you think about... what did you think about going back there?

YM: Well, I thought that we were going home, the home we never had, but to go back to. But I was kind of looking forward to coming back to Portland.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

VO: So we're going to have you tell us about coming back to Portland. What was that like?

YM: Coming back to Portland? After we left Texas, we went to Los Angeles and stayed there about a week, I think. As I mentioned earlier, that my dad and the other two, Mr. Horagami and Tambara, they wanted to talk to some of the former inmates that were in Texas, and the other people that he knew about the situation in Los Angeles, about business climate, etcetera. And then they were gonna come back to Portland. So we got back on the train and we came back to Portland, and we were met by a Mr. Okazaki, Haru Ninomiya's father. And the first person that we went to visit was Mr. Oyama, that had a Japanese newspaper in Portland. That's Al Oyama's father, Dr. Oyama's father. The one thing I remember of that conversation we had with him was that my dad kept drinking water there at their apartment. He thought the water tasted so good in Portland compared with Texas, that hard water we were drinking for three years down there. And after that, we went to Haru's house. And coming out of camp and living in the cabins down there, I thought that it was like, wow, what a large, wonderful house that smelled so good and so fresh. And now I look at her house and it's not that big. But at that time, we thought that it was, I thought that it was just a beautiful home. And we stayed with, they put us up for close to a month, and then we went to, my folks decided to move to Vanport because Haru was saying, "You got to get Yoji in school. He's missing too much school." So they wanted me to go to Kenton school, but they decided to go to Vanport and I went to school in Vanport for about a month, which was terrible, the school was. I hated it.

VO: Why was that?

YM: Well, there was a lot of bullying and name calling, and the teacher wasn't very good, nice. And I really didn't want to go to go school.

VO: So the bullying was...

YM: Mostly... Vanport was pretty much predominantly black. And so all the kids in the class were mostly black, calling names and everything else. I'm glad I was out of there in a month.

VO: So you just, the school year was over?

YM: School was over.

VO: And then in the fall?

YM: In the fall, well, you see, that summer, my mother and my brother and I, we picked berries at Shiogi Farms on 109th and Market Street in Portland. And it was in Russellville. And we worked there that summer, and then my father was looking for a location to open the store. So he said that he found a spot, and after we came back, we moved to town, and we lived in the back of our store, which was on 211 Northwest Davis Street. And that September, I started school at Couch School. So I finished my seventh and eighth grade at Couch School.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

VO: Tell us a little bit about starting the store. How was your father able to start that again?

YM: Well, my dad didn't have any money, because the money was confiscated. And he couldn't get any money from the bank. And I know that the man that used to own 7UP, he was a Greek fellow, I can't pronounce his name. He offered to help my dad because when he started the business, my dad used to buy from them when he just started his business. But I guess he decided to ask some of his friends, some in Hood River and some in Portland, and then he borrowed money.

VO: From his Japanese friends?

YM: Yeah. And he started his business, but starting a business is okay, but this is 1946 and nothing was being exported from Japan, so he couldn't get any soy sauce or miso or any canned goods from Japan. So the question was, what are they going to do? And I guess they came up with the idea of making care packages and sending them to Japan. People would buy things in the store and they would pack them up, and then we would send them by mail.

VO: What were the things that would be in the care packages?

YM: The care packages lot of times contained, like, coffee and sugar and cocoa, and we had canned butter and ladies hosiery, canned Spam, things like that. And a lot of times it was not just for eating, but a lot of times it was for selling on the black market in Japan. So they had a special rate, a care package rate, it was ten kilos or twenty-two pounds. So we used to go around the local grocery store and get wine boxes from Mautis and the other Greek guy that had a store. And we would, it was just right to make these packages, and they cut 'em down in weight, and would wrap 'em. At first, I used to put it on my bicycle and take it, but they got so many of 'em that we used to get help from Shig Wakabayashi and Frank Yasui to help carry the care packages to the post office, then we would ship 'em off from there.

VO: So that, before the war, the store was called Teikoku.

YM: Right.

VO: Which... what's the meaning?

YM: Then when we came back and my dad tried to use the name and they wouldn't allow him to use it because the name meant "Imperial." So he decided, he asked his friend in Japan if he could borrow his name, and it was Anzen. They had an automotive distributorship and parts company in Japan, so we used the name Anzen thereon.

VO: And what does that mean?

YM: "Safety." [Laughs] Just like Safeway. An interesting part of this is that my dad was very skeptical of the government. He didn't want them to take the business again, so Haru Ninomiya volunteered to sign as the owner of the store.

VO: Because she's American-born.

YM: Yeah, American-born and everything. And so she did that ten years for them. It's hard to believe that she volunteered to do that so long.

VO: So what did she do for the business? What did she do for the business?

YM: Nothing, just signed checks.

VO: That's something.

YM: I don't know if my dad paid her, but I don't think he did. But we were... well, we were getting rice from California by truck, not truck, train, and then by barge. The soy sauce came from California, and the rice crackers at that time came from Denver, Colorado. Since then they've moved to Los Angeles, but the miso came from Salt Lake City. So you can imagine that everything we sold was made in the USA.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

VO: And were most of the customers the Japanese community?

YM: They were all Japanese community. I don't remember ever seeing a Caucasian face in the store in the early part of the business.

VO: And then... so at that point, you were finishing up seventh and eighth grade.

YM: Went to Lincoln High School, and I went to Lincoln High School for four years.

VO: And then what was your education after that?

YM: I decided I wanted to go to the University of Oregon, so I went down to University of Oregon for four years.

VO: What did you study?

YM: I majored in business and Far Eastern studies. I was planning to, I was hoping to go into the foreign service, but they didn't accept me.

VO: So you actually pursued the foreign service?

YM: I did go for an interview, but at that time I think most of the foreign service people were coming out of the Ivy League schools, and they weren't looking for people from the West Coast. They were just being nice.

VO: And you were... your major was Far...

YM: Far East studies. So I studied Japanese and Japanese history and Japanese literature, Chinese literature and Chinese, Russian literature, geography, everything about the Far East.

VO: And what was that experience like of coming to the University of Oregon?

YM: It was shocking. [Laughs] And you know, I was never really in the mix of a Caucasian friends and group who were living together, Caucasians, so it was quite different.

VO: Because up until that time, you'd grown up within the Japanese community?

YM: Pretty much so. Not so much outside acquaintances or friends, close friends.

VO: What kinds of impressions do you have of that time?

YM: It was a good time. [Laughs] I had a good time in college. I didn't study that hard, but I had a good time.

VO: Well, tell us a little about your social life in the fraternity.

YM: I married -- not married, I met this fellow my freshman year from Hawaii, and we became friends and we're still friends. And he and I decided we wanted to pledge a fraternity on campus. And we knew that none of the fraternities were accepting any Asians or blacks, but there was one that was accepting it, so we decided to pledge that house, which was Tau Kappa Epsilon. And I was... we were the first Asians to be in a fraternity, and I was the first Asian to sit on the interfraternity council. So I guess it's kind of a groundbreaking... at that time I didn't think it was, but as I think back, I guess it was. And I had no resistance from in the fraternity or even outside on the campus directly.

VO: Well, you were saying that the fraternities, the other fraternities didn't accept...

YM: They didn't accept Asians at that time, or sororities then, either.

VO: Or anybody, you were saying, that no African Americans or Jews.

YM: Yeah, the Jews had their own sorority, I mean, fraternity. They had a sorority, too, but I remember the fraternity house, the Jewish fraternity house.

VO: So it sounds like you adjusted.

YM: Yeah, I think so. I really adjusted real quickly and made a lot of good friends on campus.

VO: So you felt accepted in the fraternity and you still have some of those friends.

YM: Lot of the fraternity members at that time were returning veterans, so they had more of an open mind than a lot of the younger kids that were in fraternities. So they, the fraternity really emphasized a scholarship to study. So that was good. Kept me in line. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 13>

VO: So upon graduating, your first thought was the foreign service. And so when that wasn't panning out, what did you end up doing?

YM: Well, I knew I had to go in the army, so I volunteered for the draft, and I spent two years in the service. So that was kind of a waste of time, but it was okay.

VO: You were in the States?

YM: Well, at that time it was the territory of Hawaii, so I was in Hawaii for two years. That was hard duty. [Laughs]

VO: You have good memories from that time?

YM: I made a lot of friends there, yeah, in Hawaii. You know, as a GI, you don't get very much money. I was making seventy dollars a month, sending twenty-five home, so we don't have anything to spend. But I got to know a lot of people there, and they took me in. Told me to come in on the weekend, so I still go see them when I go to Hawaii.

VO: That's great.

YM: Yeah, very good people. Really enjoyed it. Almost thought about taking a discharge there.

VO: But you decided to come back to Portland?

YM: I decided to come back because of my parents' pressure. [Laughs]

VO: And so what did you do then after the army?

YM: After I came back, I went to work for a grain exporter named Louis Dreyfus Corporation, and they have an elevator here in Portland down by the Steel Bridge, and they ship grain all over the world. So I got a taste of world trade working for them for about three years. And my dad said he's going to retire. He said, "You want to come back to the store, or I'm going to sell it or close it." So I said, well, I'll give it a shot, maybe ten years at most. And I stayed for forty. [Laughs] So that's the story of my life.

VO: So you were located in Old Town, on Davis.

YM: That's second and Davis, and then in '68, the Naitos bought out the Foster block, and they wanted to raise all the rent. And at that same time, or before that... let's see, in '61... '61, '62, we purchased a small fish market in Southwest Portland, First and Columbia. It was called Pacific Fish Market. And they came under urban renewal, and my brother was running that store. And we decided as a family that we should look for something bigger and our own building with a little bit of parking. And we started looking and we decided on the location on 736 Northeast Martin Luther King or Union Avenue at that time. And that's where we moved in '68.

VO: Was that a difficult decision?

YM: It was a very difficult decision, but after we moved there, I thought it was a great decision. Because we didn't think that there was going to be that much business out there. But not only did the Japanese community support us, but the Portland people that were interested in Asian foods supported us, too. So I think it was a good move.

VO: And so you continued then, you and your brother, with a store and expanded?

YM: Then in '77, we built, we bought a building in North Portland, a warehouse. And I was there, and we operated the wholesale business out of that building. And my brother ran the retail business out of that location on MLK.

VO: You had a Far East store at one time, didn't you?

YM: A fire?

VO: A store in East Portland?

YM: Oh, we had, we bought the Russellville Market for a little bit, and then they decided to turn that into a post office, George Shido's family. And we had a store in Beaverton, but after Uwajimaya came, we decided to close that.

VO: And through these years running the store, you were also active as a volunteer in the community. Can you tell us a little about that?

YM: Well, let's see. I volunteered I think when the Legacy first, Legacy or ONE first began, I worked with them. And I was active in the Japanese Ancestral Society and eventually became the president. Had a longtime chairmanship of the Japanese cemetery at Rose City. I met, chaired that for about ten years, and I chaired the Ikoi no Kai senior lunch program for about eight, nine years. It was very enjoyable.

VO: Well, also with your business and community involvement, you traveled to Japan quite regularly.

YM: Yeah, about once a year. And I also had a chance to travel to see Korea, South Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, Thailand. So it was, I had my... I didn't go all the time, but I had my chance to travel.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

VO: As you look at the Japanese American community in Portland, do you have some thoughts about how it's changed or knowing it back from the old days before the war?

YM: I think the community is not as tight-knit as they were back when, because there was less participation of the Japanese Americans with the rest of the community, with people like yourself and Marlene and Lynn, stay active, so we'll keep the spirit alive, anyway. But it also gave me a chance to, besides the Japanese community, I've been volunteering at Richmond school, which is a Japanese immersion program. And I left the Ikoi no Kai program and I volunteer at the Meals on Wheels program now, which was the Loaves and Fishes, meeting other people, mostly Caucasian, and it's a lot of fun.

VO: Do you think... are there ways that you feel that the experiences you had in bridging the immigrant generation to today have influenced how you've lived your life?

YM: I can't answer that.

VO: Do you see the ways in which your life is quite different from your father's or the same?

YM: No, I think my life is a little different than his. I got a chance to live more in the greater community, being able to go to school, college, and then also doing my two years in the army. So it's looked quite different, but it's good.

VO: Do you have a feeling that your father was happy with his choice to come back to Oregon?

YM: I think so, after a while. It was very rough for both of my parents when they first came back, because they put in a lot of hours trying to make the store go, and I'm glad that we got, we were able to get it going after a while. Took a few years, but it was okay. Made a living for ourselves.

VO: Well, that money that was confiscated in 1941, then your family got it back in...

YM: '56. And since my, it was a partnership, and my uncle went back to Japan during the war, half of it was not returned to the family. They government kept that. And I don't think my uncle's family got any of it either. I don't know if they petitioned for it or not, but it was gone. And there was no interest paid on it.

VO: Do you remember when the money arrived? Do you remember your parents' reaction?

YM: yeah, my dad was very happy. He went out and bought some stock. [Laughs] I think he bought AT&T and he used to have Chase Manhattan Bank stock, and I think he bought some more of that and PGE stock. He was real happy.

VO: Let's see, are there other things that...

Off camera: What about the kids? Were they involved in the store?

YM: Can you say that again, please?

Off camera: Your kids, your children.

YM: Oh, my boys, I have two sons. They're, one is, my older son is working for, he used to be, I say "drug dealer," but he used to work for a pharmaceutical firm, and he used to sell medicine to doctors. But last year he changed jobs and he's working for a company that's owned by a Japanese firm called Kaijirushi, and here in Oregon, their company owns Kershaw Knives, and he's in charge right now of the brand name Shun. It's a culinary knife, very expensive. And my other younger son, he's a policeman. He's been with Multnomah County detectives, I mean, county sheriffs for twenty years now. And he's a lieutenant now.

VO: So neither of them was interested in the business, the family business?

YM: No. And both of them didn't marry Japanese girls, but they're happy, so that's fine. And they're doing all right, they have a job. And they both went to Oregon, too.

VO: That's good. Are there other things, is there any other thing that you can think of you wanted to tell us about?

YM: Let's see. One thing about my dad, he was very bitter about the war. And when the citizenship thing came up, he refused to get his citizenship. He said, "Anybody that's going to put me in jail for doing nothing," he said, "they could deport me, but I'm not going to get my citizenship." And when the redress money came, he was going to refuse that, too, but we had to talk him into it.

VO: So your father never became a citizen?

YM: He never became a citizen, nor my mother. He just refused to get his citizenship.

VO: Did most of his friends become citizens?

YM: I think so.

VO: Do you ever remember any discussion about that?

YM: No, they just told me that one time and that was it. Made up his mind, and didn't change.

Off camera: Did you share your experience of incarceration, your experience during World War II, with your sons? Do you ever talk to them about it?

YM: Oh, yeah, I've talked to them. They know pretty much what happened during the war. I don't think my grandkids are that interested in it, but I know my niece's kids were very interested in it, and they used to interview me all the time. But my current grandkids, they're not that interested. I don't think they had any school projects. One time, my granddaughter's history teacher wanted to have me talk, but my schedule was conflict, so I couldn't do it.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

VO: I remember... Minidoka. We wanted to go back to, you were in Minidoka how long and for what, at what age?

YM: I was in Minidoka for one year almost to the date. I was nine years old and I left when I was ten.

VO: And you said you learned to swim there.

YM: Kind of.

VO: What was that story?

YM: I started in the irrigation pond and moved up to the canal, and then we went to the swimming hole.

VO: But you took to swimming easily?

YM: I guess I did. But when I started high school, I started to swim competitively. It was kind of a late age to start, but I did. And I swam for Lincoln and then I swam for University of Oregon. And then I also swam in the army.

VO: And it all started in the irrigation pond at Minidoka?

YM: Yeah. [Laughs] They had a pool in Texas, too. It wasn't a pool, it was a reservoir, water reservoir for irrigation. And the inmates dug it, and they put concrete on it and they used it for irrigation. And they also let us go swimming in it, so we swam in there.

VO: And "inmates," is that how you referred to yourselves when you were there at the time?

YM: No, I just call that because everybody else says they were inmate. I guess we were inmates, because we were behind barbed wire.

VO: Did it feel like that at the time?

YM: That place was really a jail.

VO: Crystal City?

YM: Yeah. It was nothing like Minidoka. I mean, they had fences. They were twelve feet high and guard towers every so often, and they had a horse patrol that went around the perimeter and through the camp, and they looked like Texas rangers, they all rode horses and wore the ten gallon hats and had a pistol in their... it was spotlights all night long, and that was really a camp. Nobody escaped, though. They had it too good in there, I guess. [Laughs]

VO: Do you remember any impressions that that made, to see the patrols with horses and guns?

YM: No, just figured that we were there to stay.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

VO: And coming back to Portland, what was your feeling when you first arrived back?

YM: Well, it was kind of, we came back in about April, I think it was April. It was dark and cold and wet coming from Texas where it was stifling hot all the time.

VO: Did it feel like home?

YM: No, just another place to live.

VO: Because you had moved so much?

YM: Yeah, I guess so. Just kind of like a gypsy, going from place to place. But we had three meals a day, so we should be very happy.

VO: It sounded like, in coming back to Portland, the friends and community that you have really made it possible to settle back in again.

YM: Yeah. They were kind of scattered out because a lot of people were in Vanport, and then in St. John Woods, which is another housing project in St. John. And people started to move away from the central city except for the people that operated the hotels, which was many. Probably just about every hotel on the street was in lower southwest and northwest Portland, was operated by Japanese.

VO: And were only Japanese living in them?

YM: No. There was mostly Caucasian, blacks. And blacks were on the east side more, except by the depot, I think.

VO: Any other thoughts that you two have? [Addressing others in the room]

Off camera: Maybe just with all of your range of experiences and life, living life, what would you say is the most important lesson that you learned, and what is most important in life?

YM: That's a hard question. I think we just kind of struggle through our lives, trying to make the best of everything, most of everything.

VO: And how to you think being Japanese...

YM: Hmm?

VO: How do you think being Japanese American has been part of that view?

YM: It's always been part of my life. Probably now I don't feel as conscious as before, but before, I used to feel very conscious of being Japanese American. I hated December 7th, I used to want to just stay in the house and be in bed. But I think things have changed, so it's okay now. Not really okay, but just kind of passed.

VO: Are there parts of being Japanese that you think have influenced how you've lived your life?

YM: I think so. Being honest and loyal to your friends, not bringing shame to your family, filial piety, those are things that are kind of important to me, and I try to pass that on to my kids. So I hope they follow up on that. That's all, no more. I have no more stories. [Laughs]

VO: You've been great. You have great stories. We hear new ones each time. That was great. Thank you so much.

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