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How were you informed you would be leaving Tanforan?
They just give you a notice and say, "Get out, pack your bags and take the train," which was located right outside Tanforan.
When did you arrive at Topaz?
Topaz I arrived around October of '42.
What was you first reaction to seeing Topaz?
Seeing Topaz you can see we came right into a big desert. Nothing but desert out there. And the field top paper barracks out there.
How were the living conditions different at Topaz compared to Tanforan?
Topaz was different in that the climate was different. They had nothing. The barracks to me was better because I didn't have to stay in a horse stable. This time I was in a barrack even though it's very sparse. We still had army cots, two blankets, a light bulb and a potbelly stove. But each area had a mess hall and each area had common toilets. So in that way it was rather different.
What was the train ride like?
The train they had was an old, old car. It was a Harrison car about 1920. They had sleepers on top but they wouldn't even take those down so we could sleep. We had to sit in the car for two days, shades drawn and armed guards on each door. We didn't get anything to eat. I think they gave us some fruits. That's about it.
For two days they didn't give you anything to eat?
How sanitized was the train?
Those cars only had one toilet. It was terrible. But they didn't get stuck because I think the toilet has an opening and just drops it on the tracks.
How crowded was one car?
I would say fifty. They all sat in a coach car and then we had to sleep on the floor. That's it.
Did you first experience snow when you first got off the train in Topaz?
When we came in it didn't snow yet. So, it was still bright October.
What was your first impression of snow?
It was cold. First impression was, "Oh, he's got snowballs." So we started throwing snowballs. After that it got cold, we didn't have any clothing. We had San Francisco clothing. So the government finally gave everybody navy pea coats. So everybody had a navy pea coat. The snow, and then when your walking on the snow it was all powder. So when it rains that powder just sticks to your sole and shoes. Pretty soon you got about six inches of mud stuck to you and you feel like your walking on stilts.
Why were the shades drawn on the train?
We didn't know where we were going. So we kind of looked out and everybody sort of peeked to see if we could spot where we were going. I didn't know my history but evidently we went up towards Sacramento, crossed Salt Lake City and down. I didn't recognize any of the towns but everybody looked out and they never told us where we were going. So we were just sitting in a car and wondering what was going to happen.
Were you told to keep the shades down?
They told us not to open them because they didn't want them to know that they were transporting Japanese- Americans across the country.
Were you scared that you did not know where you were going?
We definitely were concerned, yes. We were just like sheep. We just obeyed orders. That's what I say about the Japanese. They are very obedient about that. They take orders and they just followed.
Did you ever question your identity: Japanese or American?
I didn't really give it much thought. I was just obeying what my father and mother were saying—I just went along with them. I never thought about being disloyal or loyal or whatever. I'm still at age where I'm still trying to figure out what to do. I wasn't worried about being in the service at that time. I was just worried about me just going to school because that was what I was doing at that time.
What was your first memory of Topaz?
My first memory of Topaz was that after we got off the train they put us on a school bus and we drove about twelve miles. We were traveling through this desert. I still didn't know where I was going. All the sudden, we see some tall paper barracks out in the desert and then I knew that that was it.
Did you know you were in Utah?
I really knew it was Utah because I think we went through Salt Lake City. I think that was one of the cities that I knew was in Utah.
How many buses did it take to bring all the internees to the camp?
The train stops in Delta, Utah. They put us in little school buses to take us over to Topaz.
How many people would be in a bus?
The bus contained maybe about thirty people.
So there were a lot of buses?
No, they weren't a lot of buses they just kept shuttling back and forth.
Did you have to wait for a while for your turn to get on the bus?
We were in the train and naturally we were just sitting in the train there until they told us to get off.
Was the atmosphere on the bus similar to that on the train?
Yes, we were still wondering what's going to happen to us. All we know was we're on a bus and they drove us over to the barracks. The only good thing that happened was they had these young Boy Scouts playing music. But the surrounding, you know, was all desert.
Were there any thoughts of the possibility that you could be going to a place worse than just a temporary prison?
No, we just didn't know where we were going. We just saw the camp and -we just knew that it was another place to stay for a while.
Were you ever fearing for you life?
We didn't know what's going to happen to us. I knew they weren't going to shoot us because otherwise they would have shot us by now.
How did the size of Topaz compare to that of Tanforan?
Topaz appeared much bigger because you're out in the big desert. So it looks like it goes for miles and miles. Once you get in there they got a barbed wired fence so it's about a mile square.
What were the living conditions like at Topaz?
Topaz was different—we had tall paper barracks. They called it blocks. They had about forty-two blocks and about 250 people to a block. Each block has a mess hall and they had a building for washing, and showering, and toilets.
Were the bathrooms similar to the ones in Tanforan?
Yeah, they were all open bathrooms. At least they were newer. They were clean at that time.
I'm assuming there was one for men and one for women?
They were separate. They had a wall separation. They had about a half of a dozen toilet seats and about another half a dozen shower heads. Like anything else, you have to wait if they get full. The water runs out when everybody starts to take showers all at once. I usually go earlier or later so you have hot water for shower.
How was day to day life in the camps?
Life at Topaz revolves around the mess hall time because if you don't eat at that time you don't get fed. In the mornings they ring a bell and everybody goes in and gets in a line to eat breakfast—and the same thing happens at noon and the same thing happens in the evening. So most of my time you listen for the bell and then you go eat. The rest of the time was free time. You could walk around the area but there was really nothing to see because all the barracks are the same. You see some of your friends in different blocks because they have a barbed wired fence all around and guard towers all the way around.
What was it like eating in the mess hall?
The mess hall experience was better than Tanforan in that you had less people and it was all in one area because everybody got to this one mess hall for each block. So it was much better. And then the cooking and the serving was done by the residents there. Here again, the food again was something that was terrible there because they didn't have the food that we should have got because I understand people were taking the food for themselves because at that time food was rationed. Milk. We didn't get milk. We didn't get ice cream. None of those things.
Could give an example of a typical breakfast, lunch and dinner?
The breakfast I know we had toast. And then we had coffee—usually scrambled eggs because you don't get sunny side up or specialty because it was mass-produced. So they just scramble the eggs in a big pan and just serve you. It was eggs, toast, I don't believe we had very much fresh vegetables that I recall. Lunch time was about the same too because it was nothing that I would brag about, I know that. I kind of just went and ate. I don't really recall the menus that well because I just ate what they had and left. Nothing to write home about.
Did the internees get to choose the food they cooked?
No, the government had a menu that they had for the camp and I never saw meat for the longest time. It's only maybe much later when they started to raise cattle out there, and they started to raise chicken, and they started to grow vegetables. Then the food started to improve. Prior to that it was very sparse. I didn't enjoy the food at all.
Were there any recreational activities at Topaz?
Yes, the thing about camp was since they were divided into different blocks, every block had their baseball team, basketball team, and that was the big thing. And then in the desert, they scraped off the desert, and made baseball diamonds, and they put up some basketball courts right in the desert. It was one of the better things that happened. In my particular block we had good baseball players, and I liked basketball so we had pretty good basketball teams. and we were one of the better teams out there.
Did you play on the basketball team?
Yes, we did. Yes.
Was it the first time you played in a long time?
I played in Tanforan too because they put up a basketball. You know, to put up a basketball you put up two posts up there, put a board up there, and then put hoops up there, and they played there.
Did people go to these events a lot to take up their free time?
Yeah, I think that was the biggest thing for us younger folks, to play baseball and basketball.
Did you find you spent most of your free time with teammates or did you spend time with everyone?
I think it was very competitive within the blocks. Everybody wanted to have the best team for their block so you kind of played. We played against other people. They started the high school so then I met some of the other high school players. We had a good team also. In fact, one of the things that I enjoyed, they let us go out to play the local high school teams out there, and we played with them, but they beat us badly because they were too tall for us.
Against teams in Utah?
Yeah, there was one town they called Delta. That was the only team that I remember.
So you were playing them?
Yeah, we just went out and played against them.
You played against other Caucasian players?
Yes, that was Delta high school. The guys were too tall for us. They were over six feet. We couldn't compete with them.