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Where were you when you heard about Pearl Harbor?
I was living in Panrin (ck spelling), which was a small town from Loomis, and we were a sharecropping fruit ranch, and I was doing most of the work because my brother was still in high school and my father was ill and couldn't do the work, although he would supervise the work. I think I was chopping wood. It was in December, so it was cold, and we had a wood burning stove, so we had to chop wood and fill the wood box for the night. So I was chopping wood when I heard the news over the radio.
Were you scared?
I didn't know what to think or what would happen. Japan had attacked US, and I don't know. We didn't know what would happen to us. It was shocking.
Did people start to treat you differently?
That was one of the fears, how we would be treated.
Did you still have the store?
We were not doing the store at that time. We would hear comments from people sometimes when we go to town for shopping. Then we would hear people talking or people would tell us things.
What would they say?
Well, that we had to be careful. That we should... I don't know... Of course, no one knew what was happening or what was going to happen. It seemed to be closing in on us. People who lived on the coast were moving into our area because our area was still a free area. But people on the coast were moving inland. There was a lot of uncertainty and things like that.
What did you think of the American government and how they handled the whole situation?
We were hearing over the radio all these people who were beginning to talk about the danger of having Japanese living along the Pacific coast. Then slowly we began also to hear that we should be put away somewhere.
Were you angry?
Not so much anger as being insecure, yes, not knowing what was going to happen. Our only source was what we heard on the radio or read in the paper—and our paper was the Japanese language paper—and they weren't too sure either, so no one really was sure.
Did your parents speak English?
My father spoke a bit of English, not much. Just enough to get by as a farmer or a merchant. He was a baseball fan so he would read the paper about baseball, but beyond that he didn't.
Do you remember, soon after Pearl Harbor, you went to buy razorblades at a store run by Mr. Stephens?
When we had the store, across the street was the drugstore. The store was run by Mr. Stephens, that's a fictitious name I made up for the book. He kind of tolerated me because I used to go and get iced cream cones there. It was the only place to buy ice cream. So being a neighbor across the street I think he tolerated us. As you recall in the book I wrote about an incident with a Pilipino man, and he was very rude to him.
Did Mr. Stephens know he was Filipino, or did he think he was Japanese?
No, because he was non-white. Anyway he was not always friendly, but I would go there once in a while for errands or to buy something. And then I think as we were ready to leave I realized that I needed some razor blades. And I was already shaving at the time.( I went to buy razor blades, I didn't know what it was exactly, I know I was going to buy something, but razor blades made a more effective, you know... thing. So I might've invented those. But I think I went in to buy something and he was not friendly. In fact he sneered and refused to sell us anything.
Did you argue with him?
No. No. When he—I mean, you get the message. There were very few people who were friendly as we were leaving. In fact no one was outside. The only man who came to see us was one man who was a manager of the fruit house, and he came, and he shook our hands, to bid us goodbye and so forth. But he was the only man in the whole town.
Did you feel like the whole town was glad you were leaving?
I think so. Yes. Maybe there was some guilt, I don't know. I doubt it.
Did you believe that they thought you were dangerous?
No, I didn't believe that. I don't know. We were just like sheep. We were following orders, and we were told to go. In fact we were instructed by leaders of the Japanese-American Citizens League. They advised all of us to comply and to prepare and have instructions how to pack things in such a way that we would take as much as we could. So I don't know, we didn't really question the thing, we just kind of followed and did whatever we were asked to do.
Speaking of the JACL, did your parents or did your father agree with their decision to cooperate?
As I said, my father was not involved, because he was sick. He was in the hospital. So, no we didn't know what to do. And we had the orders, and we were willing to follow the orders. We really didn't question it. Because, I mean, if we had protested and refused to go, then we would be left in town with all this hostile environment and people who were very unfriendly towards us. So it was safer to be going as a group.
Did you feel safe going into the camps?
In a way, yes. It was a choice. If we were left there, and we didn't know what would happen. Maybe we'd be shot. There were a few instances where there was some violence.
Did you know of anyone that was shot?
No I didn't know, but we heard and read.
You wanted to get out of that town?
Yes. So for our own safety, we were willing to go. I mean, and we were just too young, too naive to know any better about protesting. There were very few, there were maybe three or four people, refused to leave.
Did your younger siblings ever ask you or your mother, "Why do we have to leave home?"
They might have. But they understood that we were all going as a group and they certainly wouldn't have wanted to stay behind by themselves. So there was a kind of safety in being together as a group.
Can you describe the train ride there?
We took a bus originally to the temporary camp. It was in a place about ten miles away from our home. Still nearby. It was a swampy pasture which they leveled over and so there were a lot of mosquitoes, especially when it got warm. But we didn't take the train until we were transferred from the temporary camp to the permanent Tule Lake. That was an overnight train ride.
Was it cramped?
No, we had our seats. There was enough room. It wasn't cramped. We couldn't look out the window. The shades were down. We didn't move around much, except to go the bathroom.
Were people talking?
Not very much. I was monitor in the train. Each train had a monitor. We distributed lunch because it was overnight. And there were some mothers with babies, so I had formulas for them. I remember being a monitor on the train.
Did you arrive at the camp during the night or day?
In the morning, when we woke up in the morning, then we were just moving into camp.
What was your impression of it stepping off the train? What did you see?
It was, well, the railroad track was a bit away from the camp, so we were driven in on an army truck. We were loaded on. Actually we didn't see the camp until we were right in it.
What did you think when you first saw it?
It was kind of strange, we were just thinking, where are we going to settle in, you know. We had beds, we had cots. Some places they had to fill the bags with straw to make their own mattresses. We had mattresses, they were given to us. We had our cots, and we had, there were four of us. So there were four cots in this room. Then we unpacked.
Do you still remember your barrack?
Oh yes, I do. It was at the end. No our barrack it was in the middle. There were, I don't know, about twenty barracks. We were divided into blocks. There were about eighteen or twenty barracks and we were sort of in the middle. Five. So, right there, and right across from the latrine, which was very convenient. Shower room. So when we were working, you would just run across and go. Some people had to go from way in the corner and then come round.
There was only one latrine?
One for the males, and maybe two for women. At each end, and one in the middle.
How were the general conditions?
There was nothing in the room. In fact, it hadn't been—I worked as a carpenter to put up the plaster boards. So we put ceilings and walls.
Was there electricity?
Yes, there was electricity. But when we first went there, it was just nothing. You could see the roof. And then there was no—I guess there was a partition, but of course, very thin walls, so you could hear everything that's going on next door.
How did it compare to the previous camp you were in?
It was a little better, because we had flush toilets. The first one didn't. It was an outhouse.
How long were you in the first one?
About two months. And by that time, things were not good. We used to try to go to the—I remember working in the hospital, just so I could use the flush toilet.
You could choose your job at the first camp?
I don't know, I suppose you could. I might've been early, but not too many people wanted to work in the hospital. So, that's what I did. And I was able to use their facilities. In the hospital, they had flush toilets.
What were you doing in the hospital?
I was an orderly. I was giving back-rub's, medication, carrying bedpans and stuff.
Could you have chosen any job you wanted to in the camp?
Yes, you could choose whatever. My first was carpenter's assistant—we put up plaster boards, these boards, along the edge. We could barely—I worked with a crew of about six and these men could barely hit the nail straight. We were not carpenters at all. But people appreciated us, because we were making the living quarters better. Warmer, and a little better. A little bit.