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3-Pearl Harbor & Preparing for Internment
How did you feel about Pearl Harbor?
Pearl Harbor. I don't know anybody who even knew where Pearl Harbor was. It was difficult to think that Japan would even consider attacking the United States, being such a small nation.
Do you remember the day?
What can you remember?
My parents were in church. Two of the people in our church were getting married that day, so they weren't going to be home for a while. I think I might have made lunch for my younger brothers and sisters. In those days, they used to have "extras"—you would get a regular newspaper, and if something really big happened, there would be "extras." Newsboys would walk up and down the street shouting "Extra!" People would go running out to buy that newspaper; they would find out what happened. That's how a lot of the people learned about things like Pearl Harbor. You wait for an "extra" to come out. You wouldn't wait for it, you knew that something big was happening when a newspaper published an extra newspaper for that day.
Was it a Sunday?
What else do you remember about that day?
I don't know. It's like, "What is Pearl Harbor and what does it mean?" My dad and mother were quite concerned because of Roosevelt's boycotts and the blockades and stuff like that. They felt that Japan was getting pushed into the corner somewhere. I knew that they were concerned about what was happening.
At that time, were you old enough to understand the seriousness of the situation?
I don't think so, but you know even one of the generals at that time, he said, "We're going to go in there one Wednesday and clean them up and be all done by the next Wednesday." They didn't think it was going to be a big thing. The United States Army didn't think it was going to be a big thing. My mother always thought that something might happen to them because they were aliens—they were not allowed to have citizenship—and because they were aliens, they would be restricted somehow. But, they thought that we were citizens and so nothing would ever happen to us.
How old were you?
How old was I? Same as you guys.
How was the aftermath about finding out about Pearl Harbor?
When I went to school on Monday, the principal at Berkeley High had an all school-wide assembly. He had to have three; there's always about three thousand people at Berkeley High. He had three assemblies and he said that the Japanese students that go to Berkeley High had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor, and that we should be treated with respect. For most people it was okay. Right after the war nothing happened, everything was fine. We didn't go to camp for three or four months.
During the time between Pearl Harbor and the time you were sent to camp, there was not a big change in your life?
No, there were some regulations. The Isei—our parents—couldn't travel more than five miles outside of their home. And there were other really strange restrictions. If you lived in Alameda, the Japanese-born parents had to leave Alameda. But they could live in Oakland. So you could live on one side of the estuary, which was Oakland, but you couldn't live on the other side, which is Alameda. On University Avenue, here in Berkeley, you could live on the south side of University Avenue but you couldn't live on the north side. So a friend of ours' parents had to move across the street. They were lucky that most families would take in people. People who lived in Albany, they couldn't go back to Albany. Their children could but they couldn't. There were lots of restrictions. All of us had to be inside by 8:00. But the kids that I played with thought that was fun. They'd help us climb over the back fence and get home if we had to.
Was there any discrimination from your friends?
Not any of my friends. But my sister's friend told her she was a "Jap and I don't trust you." She was crying, so her teacher wanted to know what had happened and spoke to the other person. There was very little anything right after the war for those months.
Preparing for Internment
You didn't feel the internment coming did you?
No, but then after a while we started to hear about it. We knew before the notices went up on the telephone poles that it was coming. The notice for the evacuation was simply posted on the telephone pole; as you walked by, you read that. Or in grocery store windows, but not in the big stores, just in the neighborhood.
How did you feel about the notices on the telephone poles?
I don't know. When I was taking a class from a Caucasian man, he was absolutely incensed that they would just put a notice like that on a telephone pole and not send one to each family. But our ethnic newspaper had some articles on it so we knew it was coming.
Do you remember how your parents were acting around that time?
I think they were really busy trying to do extra work and making a little extra money. They went through a period of time where their bank accounts were frozen and they weren't able to withdraw money. If they had money in a Japanese bank, a lot of people lost it, or they certainly didn't have access to those accounts.
Where did that money go?
[gestures "I don't know"]
I was lucky because in those days—I think it was Bank of America—we used to have banking at school to encourage kids to learn about banking and also to maybe save for college. So I had a bank account that my parents could use.
Did that money stay safe during the internment?
Yes. A lot of the families that were here—a lot of the immigrant families—didn't have children old enough to do a lot of things. We didn't have people who had invested in big companies or could just pick and move off to Philadelphia or New York or something. Very few people had somebody with enough resources to be able to move out of the area, because you could—you were given the option if you didn't want to go to camp, you could just pick and leave. In the beginning, they said, "Go to central California," but then that became bad. You couldn't be in central California. You could be in Utah. All the Japanese Americans in Utah were okay. But we were still guarded in Topaz.
Were there some people who moved to the east coast?
Not a lot of people did. But you would have to have money to pick up your whole family and go to the east coast. It would really be difficult to sell your house or whatever you might have. In the first place, because the Japanese were aliens, they were not allowed to become citizens. They couldn't own any property. A lot of them—most of them—didn't have property unless they had children that were at least twenty-one. They didn't have property, but then if they had children who were old enough to go to the east coast, then they could go. But a lot of them came back because they wanted to help their folks. So instead of going east, they came back.
Do you remember the specific day of getting moved out?
Yes, we got moved out on April 30.
What are your memories of that day?
In a way, it's kind of exciting, because you're going to get on a bus and go somewhere. There were ladies at the congregational church up in Berkeley that came down in their cars and came after us to take us to the church where people congregated and were picked up by the army buses to take us to camp. The reason being was that most people either didn't own cars, or had to try to sell them by that time. We had our belongings that we had to carry, but other than that, there was no way to get there, so they came down. And what they did was they made coffee and had cookies and stuff like that for us because most of us—well, you can't eat breakfast and then leave all your dirty dishes—you can, but you don't. So, they had coffee and cookies and things for us. And I met someone much later who said to me, "We didn't know what to do! What could we do for these people?" So they thought, well, they would at least make breakfast for them.
Do you remember what you brought in your case?
Mostly bedding, and some clothes, but mostly bedding because you had to take your bedding, and you're supposed to take enough utensils so that you could eat—not cook, but eat, and your own clothes. So we didn't take books, or, any kind of toys or anything like that.
You didn't know where you were going, so what kind of clothes did you bring?
Just what you had. So here we are—when we got to Utah—and it snows and gets way down below zero, you have California clothes.
4-Tanforan Assembly Center
Did you know ahead of time when you were going to move?
We heard rumors that we were going to be in Tanforan, that we were going to be in a race track. So we went to the Tanforan racetrack.
Tell us about that experience right?
Somehow, the powers-to-be thought that assembling us at the racetrack would be less traumatic than going straight to Topaz. But we stayed in horse stalls, and it was six people to a horse stall, so six people would stay where a racehorse stayed. And, I don't know why, but the stalls are divided in half. There's a lady that goes to this church and she had gotten married just before she went to camp. Since there were only two of them—they had just got married—they were in the back end of the horse stall, meaning that they didn't have a window or an outside door. The only way they could get out was to go through somebody else's living quarters. So we had six, but my dad made a terrible fuss and they finally put us in a barrack room—a new room—that was clean. The horse stalls were all full of mud out in the front because the horses plow up the ground, and when it rains, it's just awful. When we first went in, the bathrooms and latrines weren't installed, and we had to all go to the main grandstand and wait in long lines to use the facilities. One really unhappy, embarrassing thing for me was it takes a long time to go all the way across the racetrack to the grandstand, and one time I had to go to the bathroom. So my dad just took me into the weeds, and told me, "That's it!" Because it's just so far to go. And then, when so many people use bathrooms all together like that, they don't wait enough time for it all to go down. So it starts to back up.
Do you have any vivid memories of the smells or sounds of your surroundings?
I don't have any memories of smells. When we finally went into a barrack room, we had two rows of eucalyptus right in front of us, and so it was really nice. We probably had one of the best rooms there. The highway—I have to find out what highway it is that runs in front of Tanforan—the highway ran in front of there. And so Tad—the man I later married—used to stand there, and he would identify all the cars and just watch all the cars go by. He would stand right up against the fence. And his family—somebody had mumps, so then they all got mumps, then somebody got chicken pox, they all got chicken pox—so they were quarantined for two months inside their room and couldn't leave. They had a bad time there.
Do you remember the food situation?
When we first went to Tanforan, they weren't ready for us so we had bread and Vienna sausage. I remember when the people from Alameda came, we had a hamburger that was maybe about that big, and they'd complain, and I thought, "It's the first time we had meat, and they're complaining!" If you were to look at the food, it was probably okay—and when you're one of 300 people, and they are not accustomed to serving that many people, and everything is made in great big batches, it just isn't all that great. I remember, for a big treat, my mother would go to the mess hall early before they cracked all the eggs open, and she would bring home some eggs that we would have been served if we had gone to the mess hall. Just eating something that's cooked just for you, and still warm and all, instead of all—everything was always just kind of...
How did she cook the eggs? Did you have a kitchen?
We didn't have a kitchen, but we had a wood stove. We didn't have any water in our room—we didn't have water, we didn't have heat—except for the wood stoves—a coal stove. But that was in Topaz. In Tanforan, we didn't have heat at all.
How long did you stay there?
Six months—between four and six months. I can't remember.
Did you know what was to come? Did you think you were just going to stay there for awhile and go back home?
I think we never really knew how long we were going to stay, but we knew we weren't going to stay there for very long; that we would be moved somewhere else. Then the rumors start flying, you know how it is, "You have to be careful because of the scorpions." So then we knew we were going to be in the desert, and some people went ahead of time, and there are a lot of scorpions in the desert, but I don't know anyone who got bitten. But I know one lady wrote a story how she always kicked the toilet before, just in case there's one around that it'll go scurrying off somewhere.
Do you remember the day that you left Tanforan?
No, I don't. But we caught a real old train, and went to Salt Lake City—I think we were there two nights, and three days—it took a long time.
Did you have contact with the outside world while you were in Tanforan?
We could write letters. I don't remember getting very many. I know teachers from Berkeley High—not a huge group of teachers, but teachers from Berkeley High, and even some friends from Berkeley High—came by to see us. There was one man that had just gone to work as a gardener for a man in San Francisco, and he says, "What can I do for you?" and he says, "Whatever you do, send us buckets and mops so we could clean up our living quarters." So next time we saw him, he had as many mops and buckets as he could carry. See the guards and all, they were not very good to the people that came. The people that came, they'd have to stand in line, and be okayed, or I don't know what you'd do to somebody, maybe if you go to visit somebody in prison, so they would have to be all okayed, and then they couldn't leave the grandstand, they couldn't go to your place, they could only be in that one grandstand area. I know when the teachers came from Berkeley High, they had little soaps and lotions and things like that, which was really very nice. I know two ladies that had gone to Mills College and they set up a library at Tanforan. What they did was they wrote to people at Mills, and these people sent as many books as they could. My sister said, "Oh those Nancy Drew stories really saved her!" She's about four years younger than I and she really enjoyed it.
Did you like to read?
Yeah, but I didn't go to the library as often as she did, and various people set up different kinds of schools so people who were artists, they set up an art school, and people who were musicians gave lessons. There were sewing lessons, so there were all kinds of things going on and you could participate. Some of the older people—not older people, but older
Niseis, the ones that had gone to college—they would set up classes, or organize baseball games and football games.
This is while you're in Tanforan?
While we were in Tanforan, a man who has a nursery in Albany and started building a really nice lake in the middle of the racetrack. They would make sailboats, and sail them on the lake. I think if you really wanted to, you could keep yourself busy.
Did you have any mobility to go in or out? Was there a sense of being guarded?
Yes, because every night, you had to be home at 6:00 o'clock, or whatever it was. The manager came by and counted to make sure there were so many heads there. So you had to be in your room and counted.
Can you think of any other examples where you were being guarded or controlled in Tanforan?
A couple of funny incidents. Sometimes the food wasn't prepared properly, or it wasn't refrigerated properly—and everybody would get sick and be running for the bathrooms at night. Because we didn't have any bathrooms where we lived, we had to go quite a few yards to the bathroom, so everybody would be running to the bathroom. So the guards would feel like that there would be an uprising or something, and they would turn on searchlights, and get all worked up. But we had to have—Topaz, for instance, was a very large area, but the actual camp where the 8-10,000 people lived—it's just one-mile square, and it's guarded with guards and towers all the way around.