Densho Digital Archive
Oregon Nikkei Endowment Collection
Title: Kenji Onishi Interview
Narrator: Kenji Onishi
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: March 21, 2014
Densho ID: denshovh-okenji-01-0016

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: And so what were you left with? When you think about what you brought to the Portland Assembly Center, what did you have left?

KO: Well, it was summer. We didn't even think about winter. So we put into the suitcase our summer clothes, shirts and trousers and a few sweaters, maybe a jacket or something. And we had to bring our own bedding, too. And so the duffel bag was filled with our bedding, blankets and sheets and pillow and whatnot. And I put my baseball glove in. About the only, that was about the only non-clothes item I took. And in the suitcase you put your trousers and a couple of pairs of shoes or tennis shoe or something like that. But it was basically our clothes and our bedding. They said take dishes and kitchen utensils, too, so we dutifully took plates and knives and forks with us, too.

TI: And where did you go, where did the family go to get picked up to go to the assembly center?

KO: I don't really remember how we got there. I don't remember whether it was an army truck that came to get us, or whether it was a truck that we had hired to take us there. I don't really have a clear picture of that. Because I tend to say something, and my sister says, "I don't know if that was it." [Laughs] But when we were living on Twelfth Avenue, one of our neighbors was the Bauserman Transfer Company, and I got to know Earl Bauserman personally. I mean, I was a twelve year old boy, but Bauserman was a young fellow in his thirties or something. And somehow we hit it off relatively well. But in my memory, it seemed like we went to Bauserman and asked him if he would drive us to the assembly center. I don't think it was an army truck coming to the south end neighborhoods and picking all of us up.

TI: And when you got to the... so describe the Portland Assembly Center. What did you see and feel when you first saw it?

KO: [Laughs] Well, the Portland Assembly Center is completely different today. Today it's a lovely, modern facility. But in 1942, the Livestock Exposition Building was a huge barn. It was a red barn colored wooden building. It was a huge building, but it was wooden, it was barn red, had an arena in the middle of the complex. It was a place where stock people brought their livestock to sell and to sell and buy, and they were shown in the arena. But around the arena were the livestock stalls and whatnot. On the floor of the building, they had partitioned, put plywood partitions like office cubicles in, say, today's large building. And each family was given a space, I don't know, I'm going to guess twelve by twelve. But it was just plywood partitions of twelve by twelve rooms.

TI: And do you recall what you were thinking or feeling when you saw all this?

KO: Well, I think I... because most of my growing up was isolated from the Japanese community, I mean, as far as the living is concerned. I think I remember thinking, "Gosh, I never saw all these Japanese people before." I don't remember too much other than that, it was... there was a certain amount of excitement among young people, to see the buses come and wondering where these people are coming from. But they were coming from, a lot of them were coming then from out of town, so the question was, are coming from Gresham, are they coming from Astoria, are they coming from Forest Grove?

TI: And so this is 1942 after your birthday, so you had just, what, turned fifteen at this point?

KO: Uh-huh.

TI: So describe kind of a typical day when you're at the Exposition or the Portland Assembly Center. What would you do?

KO: Well, a lot of it was play. They did a wonderful job of organizing the community by having recreation departments, education departments. Of course, the meals were organized, too. But we would be assigned to eat breakfast and lunch and dinner at a given time. But there was a, right away there was a recreation department to organize activities for kids and for youth and young adults. So there were organized baseball games, there were even classes for those of us whose education was interrupted. And then lot of times just hang out and mess around. But, of course, sports was really important to me and for the whole community. One of the things that happened was I signed up right away to play baseball. That was really one of the good fortunes. I had not belonged to a baseball team before that time. The baseball we played was in the parks department kind of thing. So I signed up to play baseball, and I was assigned a team to play with. And I came under some real good tutor, some good coaching.

TI: So these were maybe older Niseis who were coaching the team?

KO: Uh-huh.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2014 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.