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1-Introductions & Early Life in San Francisco
Hi, my name is Robert, my name is Brett, my name is Marshall, and we are interviewing Masaru Kawaguchi, on April 27th, 2005 in San Francisco, California.
Can you please state your full name?
My name is Masaru Kawaguchi.
What year were you born?
I was born in 1925.
Where were you born?
I was born in San Francisco, California.
About how old were you when the internment started?
I was sixteen years old.
About how old were you when you were leaving the camps?
I left camp when I was about eighteen.
Do you remember the date of you leaving the camps?
It was in the summer of 1944.
Can you briefly describe your childhood family?
I have seven total in our family; I have four sisters and three boys including me.
Where were your parents born?
My parents were born in Japan.
How long did they live in Japan for?
I don't have the exact date on that one. My father came to the United States in 1906 and my mother came in 1913.
What were your parent's jobs?
My father worked as a farmer when he first emigrated from Japan in Stockton and then he came to San Francisco and opened up a tire store. And then after that he worked as a gardener.
What was your mother's job?
My mother's job was housewife.
Where were you living before the internment?
I lived in San Francisco, California in Japantown on Sutter Street.
What camp did you go to?
I went to Tanforan and Topaz, Utah
What was your earliest memory as a child growing up?
My memory of... child growing up. I always lived in San Francisco, California on Sutter Street. And I remember going to Raphael Weill grammar school. And then from there I went to John Sweat junior high school. And then I went to George Washington high school and at that time I was evacuated back in 1942.
Do you have any specific experiences from those schools?
I had a happy grammar school age because being in Japantown, most of the children were all about my age and they all lived in the neighborhood so we got along very well there, so I had a very good time growing up.
What was your life like before you went to the camps?
I was still a student at George Washington high school so I went out for the George Washington basketball team which I spent a lot of time, because you go to school and then after school you have to practice basketball and then also I went to a Japanese language school. So it took a lot of my time and then night times I had to do some homework so I was quite busy. And then I was also with the Boy Scout Troop 12 that took a lot of my time on the weekends.
What was life like as a child?
As I went Raphael Weill grammar school, it was pretty quite. I used to go to school every morning, walk down Buchanan Street and as I got older, I became a traffic policemen so I used to get there a little earlier then. I used to escort the children on Geary Street on Buchanan and let them go across the street. Grammar school was very enjoyable because I knew all of the kids and they were all from the neighborhood so we had a great time. We played basketball, baseball, right at the schoolyards and there was really nothing exceptionally different from any other kids.
Who went to your school?
In those days, schools were all from the neighborhood, not like they do with a lot of busing, so it was mostly kids from the neighborhood. There were some Caucasian actually, but very few blacks because San Francisco at that time had very little blacks until after the war when they brought in workers for the defense industries, but I still remember some of my friends. One I particularly remember because he also worked at Cal Check with me. So I still remember him, but the rest of them, I kind of forgot because I don't see them anymore.
Do you remember if most of your friends were Japanese?
Most of my friends have always been Japanese because I lived in Japan town and we all played together and all the Boy Scout activities were mostly Japanese. It was like they call it, "Japantown."
What kind of activities would you do in Boy Scouts?
Boy Scouts were a very interesting activity. In fact, I enjoyed it very much because we used to go camping up to Russian River and spend two weeks there camping. We had to pitch our own tents and drive a pipe into the ground to get water and walk into town to get groceries. We had a lot of fun.
What was it like getting up to Guerneville at that time?
To get there they put us all into a big truck, one of those transfer companies, so everyone threw their sleeping bags and bags into the truck and all piled in. You don't take a bus, you just sit in the back of a truck in those days. And our Boy Scout camp, we had to go out there and pitch our own tents, pick up firewood and cook our own breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So we learned a lot. In fact, that was some of the good learning points of boy scouts. You learned how to cook, and do all kind of activities. First aid.
Japantown, San Francisco
In terms of race, what was it like, living in Japantown where everyone was Japanese?
Living there, I didn't know there was any other group around because it was predominately Japanese there and the only time I met Causation's was after I left the internment camp. That's when I went out to Detroit, and that's when I started to meet a lot of blacks and worked over there. Then when I went to school, that's where I started to meet more Caucasians. So up to then, it was primarily a Japanese community.
Did you experience any racism growing up?
I didn't experience any racism as they say it now, but I'm sure there was because whenever I helped my dad, he was always like a servant to the person he worked for. And actually he had to be, because he worked for someone and I always thought there was a little difference that there'd be more domineering at that time. But as I grew up, I found out I was just as good or better then some of these people I was dealing with so I didn't feel too much. But then after I got through with the service and all that, I felt more discrimination then because when I tried to buy a house, after I got out of the service, here I got my honorable discharge and they wouldn't even sell me a house. I paid as much for an old house as I would a new house. Even during working, I thought I was a good student and I was top in my class and everything, and they wouldn't give me a job. So that's why I went into Civil Service, because Civil Service was the only place that they would hire Japanese. I guess they thought I was still the enemy even though I was in the service.
Who was your dad working for at the time?
When I graduated out of collage, I was a top man in my school in engineering and the only job they would offer me was a job down in Venezuela and I didn't want to go to Venezuela, so I started looking around for a job and the only place that I was accepted was Civil Service with a city or a state or federal government. So that's why I started to work for the state of California and that's where I retired from. But here again, even working for the state it was tough, there was a glass ceiling and you could only get promoted so high. It's only been recently that I see that the top man in Cal Check became a Japanese American. But at the time I was there, you couldn't make more then senior engineer.
You mentioned that you did have a sense of some discrimination as a young child prior to high school; can you give us an example?
The sense that I felt, it wasn't really discrimination in that I felt that my dad was sort of being a kind of a servant to people that he worked for, which he was because he was a performing a service for someone else. Whenever I helped him, I noticed that they were always telling him what to do. I felt that there was some discriminating as I look back, but at the time I was growing up, it didn't matter to me because it was a living, I was just helping my dad.
What kind of things would you help him with?
I would mow the lawn or water the garden or wash windows.
Back then, did you know what was happening in Germany and Japan?
The only thing that I knew was going on was that Japan invaded the countries of China and Manchuria because it was in the papers, but until Pearl Harbor I didn't know what it was all about until that happened.
How did you react when you first heard about Pearl Harbor?
I didn't know what it was all about, I didn't even know where Pearl Harbor was; that's how much I knew about the world really. The thing that I felt was that they started posting notices in the neighborhood that I wasn't allowed to move out of my area and I had to quit going to school at George Washington because they said you couldn't go out of the area. That's when I really felt discrimination because I was on a championship team at George Washington high school and I missed the championship, because I couldn't go to school anymore.
Do you remember exactly what you were doing when you first found out about Pearl Harbor?
The first thing that pearl harbor hit was it was in the radios, and then the news paper boys would come down the street selling paper and it says something about Pearl Harbor and that's when I knew. To me it didn't mean too much to me, but the only other thing that I knew was my brother was already in the US army so he was in before Pearl Harbor.
When did you realize what was going on because of Pearl Harbor?
The biggest thing I noticed like I said, I was being restricted in my activities, I couldn't go to school; do nothing. See I'm still a student about 16 years old and most of my activities were just going to school. playing basketball was a big thing for me at that time.
Did they ever tell you why you couldn't play?
They put up a notice saying all Japanese Americans couldn't go out of this area. I couldn't go past Fillmore Street.
Did you ever wonder why you weren't allowed to do that?
All I know is I was of Japanese decent so the announcement says persons of Japanese ancestry could not move around anymore, regardless of weather you're a citizen or alien. Everybody just stood around in their homes, that's about all they could do.
How did your siblings react to being restricted?
I have two boys and a girl they are more active then I was, but because my father never did tell me what to do; he worked seven days a week. I was different because I was able to help them with schoolwork, getting them into Boy Scout activities, or any crafts, or take them out swimming or fishing and stuff like that.
Do you remember your parent's reactions to Pearl Harbor?
My father and mother, they never discussed that with me. But I knew it affected them very much because they were of Japanese ancestry and they couldn't get citizenship so they were theoretically Japanese because all Japanese could not get citizenship at that time. In fact, my father and mother they were allowed to get citizenship back in 1951.
Did you find that Pearl Harbor affected your dad's job?
He was a gardener, so he relied on going to the place out in Forest Hill or St. Francis Wood to take care of their garden, and if he didn't do it then he didn't get paid. It wasn't automatic, he had to get out there and work to get paid in those days. And there was no social security or health insurance and nothing.
But did you find that it was harder for him to find work?
Definitely, because in Japantown, people don't have gardens like they do out in St. Francis Wood or Forest Hill where people need that service. So he didn't have a job because he was restricted.