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May 15, 2007 - Part 3 of 5
Section below transcribed by Joseph Werhan (intern).
Can you describe the day that Pearl Harbor was bombed?
The day of Pearl Harbor I was in my room typing a resolution. A girl from downstairs came running up and said, “Japan had just bombed Pearl Harbor.” I couldn't believe that Japan would do such a foolish thing. To me it was foolish. It was such a small have not country. They had no place where they can get the things that they need for war—oil, steel, metal or anything that they needed. The resolution I was typing was a resolution against the United States allowing oil to be sent from San Diego to Japan. That was the resolution that I was typing. That was kind of ironic. Here Japan attacks the United States and we are sending material over to them to send back to us. That’s what we said to them. While we were sending the letter saying that one day they had not bombed yet so we said one day they may send this back to us in another form and it did happen. Of course we only said that because it was a matter of speech. We didn't really believe that they would do anything like that because it was a small country. That’s what exactly happened to Japan. Once they defeated the fleet at Midway—Japan was gone. They had no protection. How were they going to bring things in? They had to bring everything in from some place. I knew right then that Japan wasn’t going to win. They may fight for a while but I knew right away—once they said they had destroyed the Japanese Navy—that they were gone.
Did you see a big reaction, a change in the reaction of the public around you? Did people treat you differently after Pearl Harbor?
American people against the Japanese you mean?
I mean did you personally. Did anyone treat you differently after Pearl Harbor, before the interment?
No, not necessarily. The army was—because of DeWitt—very racial. The Navy was different. Two weeks after Pearl Harbor the Navy intelligence called and asked me to come over and work on their radio—become a radio operator. You can see the difference between Army and Navy. The Navy knew more about the background of Japanese-American people than the Army did. They knew that there were people they could trust and people that they cant. They were going to use the people they can trust—so they called me on that.
Why you? Explain that a little bit more. Why are they calling you?
I was educated in Japan and knew Japanese and I knew English. Also I was progressive and they knew I was not pro-Japan. I guess that was the main thing—that I wasn't pro-Japan. That’s why they called me. So I said, "You mean I listen to the radio all day?" They said, "Yeah" and I said, "No thanks I don't wanna sit on a radio all day I'd go nuts!" Maybe what I should have done was go over and be interviewed by them. They may have given me another job someplace else, not just radio.
Go back to that resolution for a minute that you were writing. The resolution on December 7th—Can you talk a little bit more about why you were involved in that and who were you writing it to?
We had this resolution—we discussed it in the Nisei Young Democrats club—and we passed the resolution. We decided to send this letter to the American government. We happened to have the meeting one week before Pearl Harbor then they asked me to type the resolution. I was typing it up when the bombing of Pearl Harbor happened.
Do you have it by any chance?
We didn't keep records of the Nisei Young Democrats. They do probably have a copy of it in the Navy Intelligence.
Did you get a response to your letter?
No, because that resolution was not up to date anymore. It should have been before the attack, but after the attack it was not relevant. We didn't send it in.
Did the Nisei Young Democrats hold a meeting to discuss Pearl Harbor?
We didn't call a meeting right away, but we did call a meeting when the evacuation problem came up—to discuss what should we do. As soon as that came out we had to decide whether we fight it or not. We discussed this and we couldn't see what we could do because nobody supported us. We discussed this for a long time. We finally said we won't fight it, but we don't like it. That's the resolution that came out. We sent it to the President of the United States saying that we don't like the idea of evacuation—we don't think that they have a right to do that. We have a right to fight this and to stay where we are. So we sent that letter out to the President.
When people asked us about what the Nisei Young Democrats did—that's the position—that we didn't support the evacuation but we just decided to cooperate and not fight it. That was the position that the Nisei Young Democrats took. It was because there was no way of fighting it. I went around and talked to the steel workers and the mine workers and talked to their leaders—or union members—who were in the Young Democrats and that I knew. They said they can't support it because if they support it, it will divide their war effort and they don't want to get involved in another fight because it will divide them. The longshoremen were another group we talked to too that we talked to—we had people in there. They were sympathetic but none of them would fight for us. That was the reason that we felt we couldn't do anything either. We said we won't fight it. We will only say we will cooperate to the extent that we won't fight it.
Did the President or anyone ever respond to your letter?
They just said thank you for the letter. They never responded because it was not what they like. If we sent a letter to them that they liked, then they'd respond.
Did you ever talk to your family about Pearl Harbor when it happened?
My kids you mean?
No, your parents back in Japan.
Not too much. When we went back to Japan we talked more about the atom bomb being dropped on Hiroshima. That was the thing we talked about mostly. My parents more or less agreed with me that Japan was silly to go into the war with America because America is too big. They agreed with me on that.
What was your reaction to how the media—especially the newspapers—had portrayed Japanese-Americans?
Do you mean when? When there was a change in the way they portrayed Japanese-Americans?
How did you feel about the negative response towards Japanese-Americans in the newspapers?
Do you mean at Pearl Harbor, or later?
After Pearl Harbor.
What period are we talking about? After the war?
Right after Pearl Harbor. Was there a big shift in the media?
Right after Pearl Harbor? Yeah, it was a big thing because the papers were all anti-Japanese so they worked up the people. There's a picture of Wanto Grocery Store—right here in Oakland—of that “I am an American” sign he put up. He was Japanese-American and he had that store but he had to put it up because kids would come around and throw rotten tomatoes and stuff at the window. Things of that sort were happening. One farmer got shot at—they didn't shoot him they shot his barn while he was away. There were some things that happened but it wasn't really bad.
What were some of the things that you experienced?
In the city I don't think there was much. Even between the Chinese and Japanese-Americans there wasn't much. I still went down to have lunch in Chinatown. The waitress knew I was Japanese and all she said was, “It must be hard for you now, huh?” Among the people that I knew there wasn't much hard feelings but every once in a while you hear from others that things that happened. Nurseries said that some people threw rocks at their glass houses and broke the glass. There were things that were happening but not too bad.
Was it hard to leave your house when you were forced to relocate to Tanforan?
What's this period now?
The relocation period.
The immediate period or the period after?
One of the things that was happening was the government came in and had this loyalty test. They had two questions and they were silly questions. After these questions were answered and loyalty was established those people who said “yes-yes” to the two questions were allowed to volunteer in the Army. If you volunteered in the Army you were allowed to leave the camp. If you were a student and a college accepted you—and gave you room and board and tuition—then you could leave. As long as you became a ward of the government after you left the camp you could leave the camp. That's why people started to go out. I for one went out and I worked in a nursery—fresh air and all that. Other people went in—they did some assembly work. Very few got jobs as engineers. They mostly got assembly work and things of that sort.
After the war ended—then people began to get jobs. People began to get jobs because some people hired Japanese engineers and found out that they were pretty good workers. That got around so others started hiring. Although still in California you couldn't get a job, outside of California you could find jobs. Little by little it opened up. When the war ended, then a lot of nisei's began to get into these jobs—engineering jobs—because they had the education. The education paid off for the nisei because of that—they started getting decent jobs. That was one of the good things that came out of this war. It opened up the job situation for the nisei. Later on when we overturned all the laws in California they began to get hired too.
Councilman in Tanforan
Section below transcribed Rachel D ('09) cleaned by Joseph Werhan (intern). Please report errors to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Earlier you were talking about the Nisei Young Democrats. You said you were against the interment, but you weren't going to fight it. Do you have any regrets about not fighting it? Do you think you could have stopped it or would it have just created violence?
No regrets, because we didn't think we could do anything anyway. Nobody regretted it. Some of the guys while we were in camp said, “Why didn't you fight it?” What's the use of fighting anything when you can't do anything? I said that if there was support some place we'd do it, but we found that there was no support. Even the American Civil Liberties Union didn't support us. Only Ernest Besig—who was the chairman of the Northern California American Civil Liberties Union—he was the only one who came out against the evacuation.
What was the American Civil Liberties Union?
The American Civil Liberties Union is a national organization of lawyers who are for civil rights. They have membership as well. They take up various issues when they come up. For example, if somebody is put into prison without any charges and it becomes known to them they'll take it up and they'll fight for that. They are well known for that. They are a good union—its a good outfit generally speaking—but on this issue they floundered.
Were you ever fingerprinted or identified somehow before being relocated?
The only time I remember being fingerprinted was when we were evacuated. They took our fingerprints then. No other place except the Army took it.
How did you feel about being fingerprinted when you were an American foreign citizen?
I didn't feel anything because fingerprinting was just a way of identifying me. That's the way I looked at it. It wasn't because I was an enemy that they fingerprinted me. I didn't feel anything about it. I know some people may have.
In Tanforan you said you were a councilman. How did you become a councilman?
All of the people in the same area—the East Bay—went into Tanforan. Because of that we had a nucleus of Nisei Young Democrats who came in together into that camp. So we got together right away and we started discussing things and when the camp elections came up we talked about it. We said, “Why don't we try to get one of our people in so at least we could stymie camp controllers from doing anything bad about us?” We talked about it and the Nisei Young Democrats said let's run me because I am Japanese-American—I'll get the support of those that speak Japanese as well. They decided to run me—although I was a radical at the time—because we're fighting the administration. They figured its better to have someone like me in there. It was interesting because I didn't know whether I would get in or not but we got an overwhelming vote-in there.
Did you ever have your doubts about being a councilman and being a leader to people?
No because these are camp problems that we would be taking up and I knew the main thing we would be fighting was the administration. It didn't bother me to become councilman there.
Did the guards or anyone else ever target you because you were a leader type?
No, I don't think the guards knew I was one of the leaders. They only guarded the fence and the gates. The towers were near the gates and the corners usually. Nobody tried to climb the fence or anything like that. That’s another interesting thing about the Japanese. The Japanese are very law abiding. They're used to listening to authority—I think that’s what it is. That’s why the parents can control their kids a lot better. The children learn from the beginning that they should do as the authority says, and the authority in this case is their parents.