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5-Life in Tule Lake
In your article you said that you had a fun time at camp with the acting troupe. Was it all fun for you, or did you sometimes feel like you didn't want to be there?
As long as I was doing the theater work, I was enjoying myself. I was also reading books, and as I said I belonged to the Writers' Club. Those were things that I did as a kind of recreation, I guess. I wasn't social as this show "Camp Dance" shows. My son is rather disappointed that I was not one of those who went to dances. To talk about the show, it's about young people. We were young then, we were in our teens and early twenties. We were young and in that show it's about young people dancing and meeting and so forth.
But there is a character, an older character, who's the father, who disapproves of all this dancing and frivolous things. He comes in there and in a very thick accent says, "Waste of time". Somebody asked him, my son, that since I'm an actor, "Why don't you write a part for him?" And he says, "Well, how could I? You know, he doesn't sing, he doesn't dance". He's left me out of the show. But I could only do that one old man part with that one line. He's added another line because he does that so well.
We were able to do that. We were also, since we didn't have our own show, our own place, because no one was writing them at the time. All the Asian-American plays were written in the fifties and sixties, after the war. We had no material, except for Broadway shows. Then also these were short one-act plays. We couldn't quite handle a full length play. We took short plays, and we put three plays together to form a program. Then would repeat the plays every night and different blocks would come because the theater was very small. It would only hold about a hundred people at the most. We would play for couple weeks, same show. It was great fun. We had a newspaper that would write us up. Yeah, it was great. But it all came to a halt in 1943, February of 1943, when this order for registration. The army came to recruit for the later famous 442nd battalion.
Those were all volunteers. Many of them were volunteers from the camps, and others who went out of camp, and were drafted. They made up the 442nd. But my fun in camp stopped right there because then people thought that we should become more Japanese. We started to go to Japanese school, language school. In some cases we were told not to speak English. Being Japanese, why speak English? It became more difficult.
Did you have Japanese schools in camp that you could go to?
In camp, yeah, they formed schools, yes. They were rather nationalistic because it was based on pre-war material, and these teachers were also very nationalistic. I went to a class. I was in the advanced class. It was fun, we had a class in writing. I wrote a story in Japanese and it was about a man who kept a canary. Very odd, in our situation. One day, he had to go to the hospital, so he put me in charge of the canary. You had to feed it, and water it, and so forth. I was curious, I mean careless one time, and I left the cage door open. Next time I went to see the canary, it was gone. This man happened to like to recook the food. He would bring the food from the mess hall and then recook it to his own taste.
Sugar was rationed, he would use hard candy as sugar. You would find this slop suey with hard candy in it. He would share it with me sometimes. I was working with him because he was the block manager, and I was his secretary, so we were always working together. He left me in charge of the canary, and the canary was gone. He used to keep a bucket of water, so that he wouldn't have to go to the washroom to get water all the time. He'd keep it and then wash his dishes in there. Well, when I looked in the bucket, there was the canary, lifeless. I pulled it up and patted it, trying to revive it. But it was very dead. That was the story of the canary and of course the man was quite understanding when he came out. He said, "Well, what can you do? That's how it is." That was a story which the teacher read in class.
Do you remember having any relationships with the guards in the camps?
No, no, never. No.
Anything memorable that you saw in anyone's interaction with the guards?
No, you stayed away from the guard tower and the guards. Because they had, I guess, a job to do, and they had weapons of course, and we didn't. They would shout down and say, "Don't come too close", or something like that. And they would warn us. If we went too close to the fence, they would warn us. We had very little to do with the guards. We stayed away, yes.
What is a block manager?
Block manager is what we called "block-heads." They were in charge of the block, actually. If there was a quarrel, he would intercede. He was also a liaison for the administration. Whenever there was a message that they wanted us to know, they would bring it to us, and they would announce it at the mess hall while everyone's busy eating. He would make these announcements. Some people were quite good, very qualified. And others were pretentious and so they got the name "block-heads". I was asked to be a block manager, when our first one left after the registration. He left, he and his wife. They were the office staff.
There were two positions to fill, and a couple of block elders came to me and said, "Will you become block manager? You speak Japanese and you could make these announcements and so forth". That was the last thing I wanted to do. But I refused to them, and they were very disappointed and they were rather annoyed that I refused. But this man volunteered. He said, "I'm not qualified, but we need a block manager and I'm going to volunteer". Only if I agreed to be his assistant. I agreed to be his secretary, so called. All I did was to sweep and mop the floor in the morning, and maybe handle the mail, which came once a day. He claimed that I was just a very lazy person, did nothing. But there was nothing to do actually, except to be there and to deal with the people who came in. We would sit and smoke, and watch the girls go by and play cards. We did plenty of that. I've never touched a card ever since I came out of camp because we would spend hours and hours playing Pinochle. That was one game that I played and I never enjoyed it. It was just to pass time, and also to be with these fanatics who played the game like it meant life or death.
So Reno and Las Vegas, they mean nothing to me. Not even the lottery tickets. I don't think I want to buy any lottery tickets and win a lot of money. I did at one time, but I don't do that anymore. What would I do with all the money if I should ever win it? But, we had a lot of time, and we spent it playing softball. I played softball and was pretty good at it. Every block had a team, and we would play other blocks. Sometimes there would be a tournament, and we were in the camp championship. I wasn't the regular player, but I went up to pinch hit and made an out, I remember. That was our championship game. If I had hit the ball, we could have won. But we did a lot of that, and while we were playing, our minds were on the game, so we didn't have to deal with the everyday routine. Once it was over, it's back to the same old thing.
We had shows. We had amateur shows, and these were very popular. Yeah, they were held outdoors, and stages were built, and big sets. There were many theater groups outside, in the metropolitan areas, and they had brought their whole sets and equipment and costumes. Very elaborate. They put on some fancy Kabuki shows, and all kinds of talent, dancing and singing. We went to a lot of those things. Then later done indoors, in the mess halls, makeshift stage. They made these shows. Then towards the end of camp, we would put on carnivals and that became quite popular. We would make our own noodles and I remember stomping on them. Then they would be noodles that we would sell at the bazaar or carnival. Actually, in bare feet we would stomp on them. Very tasty noodles.