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1-Introductions & Pre-War San Francisco
My name is Mario, my name is Zach, my name is Aaron. Today is May 9th, 2006 and we are interviewing Masaru Kawaguchi in San Francisco, California.
My name is Masaru Kawaguchi. I was born and raised in San Francisco, California. I went to school at San Francisco and graduated from Topaz High School when I was interned in Utah. I also went to Michigan State University and graduated as a civil engineer. I also took graduate work at State University of Iowa. I am married and I have 3 children. The oldest is Todd who is a captain in the fire department, and Jeffrey, he is a CPA, and my daughter, Marie, she's Senior Vice President at Bank of America.
How did you get into the Boy Scouts?
My older brothers were also in the Boy Scouts so I naturally followed through and then, this is one of the biggest community activities in Japantown, was being in the Boy Scouts. So I followed through with the pattern of being a Boy Scout.
What was your experience in it like?
The Boy Scout program was very interesting to me because we went to Russian River for summer camps, and we went hiking and learned a lot of different things about Boy Scouting like cooking, and tying knots, first aid. So it was a very enriching program for me. My sons also followed through and I'm very pleased about the whole program in Boy Scouting.
Was this Boy Scout program segregated?
Yes, it was a predominantly Japanese-American Boy Scout troop because it was right in Japantown and was sponsored by the American Legion of Japanese-American soldiers that served in WWII [he meant WWI]. So the program was very exciting because at that time the San Francisco World Fair was starting and we had a good drum and bugle corp and we used to go to the Worlds Fair just about every week.
Are there any memories you have of the troop or of your time in the Boy Scouts that stands out for you?
Yes. I still remember the days when we went out to the Russian River where we had to pitch our own tents. Not like they do now where you go and stay at a motel, we actually went out there and drove our pipes down to pump water, and we had to hike into town to shop, and we had canoes there, and I also learned how to swim over there.
When was this?
In Boy Scouts you started at twelve, so that was about 1937.
Were all the boys your age joining the Boy Scouts?
We had the YMCA also because that was also located there. And the Boy Scouts had the Christian churches sponsoring one of the Boy Scout troops, and the Buddhist church also was sponsoring the Boy Scouts, so that was actually two Boy Scout troops there. So that was kind of interesting, and it was very competitive too because the Buddhist church and the Christian church had the Boy Scouts.
Did your family identify with Christianity or Buddhism?
We actually did both because my father and mother went to Buddhist church and then we also went to Catholic church, but I was not a very good religious person because I was the youngest, and they all got tired of going to church, so they didn't really push me that hard to go to church. But after I got married we went to church because we wanted our children to be going to church.
Were your parents very religious?
No, because in those days they worked almost seven days a week. They were religious in a sense that they would attend churches when they had big services, and memorial services and stuff, and make their tithing. But going every Sunday, you know, Sunday was almost a workday for them too.
What did your parents do for work?
My father was a gardener, and so he worked seven days a week; and my mother was a housekeeper. We had seven in the family so she was pretty much taking care of all of us at home.
What did you feel about your father's work as a child?
I thought it was okay because later on I used to go help him. I used to be the power mower there, so I would cut the grass and trim it, and haul the grass away; that was my big job. Then at the end I'd water the garden, and then during the week I would go water the gardens at times.
Did your father do this gardening throughout your whole childhood?
Yes, that was his primary job and also he did extra work like domestic work, like the special days where they like him to cook turkey for Thanksgiving because he was also a good cook.
Was there ever a situation where he had to look for work?
You are always looking for work because the more jobs that you have, you have more salary. In those days you only get what you work.
What was your family's relationship with Japan and being Japanese?
We didn't have much relationship with Japan except that we were all Japanese and my mother had a big family in Japan so she would send them clothing and food whenever they had the need for it. But as far as myself the only time I went to Japan was when I went over there with the U.S. Army. That was the first time that I saw grandma and that was my first touch of Japan.
How did you meet your friends that lived outside of Japantown?
Being in Japantown, most of my friends were also Japanese Americans and then when I started to go to George Washington High School there were very few Japanese over there, maybe a handful there. Then I started to play basketball and that's where I started to meet them, but then I lived back in Japantown so I would never see them after school except playing basketball. Other times, like I said, they don't go to the same church, or the same Boy Scouts, so I rarely saw them.
Was this small handful of Japanese your main group of friends at your school?
Yes it was because ever since we lived in Japantown the grammar school was mostly all Japanese Americans in that area there, and then junior high it got more diluted because they went to different junior high schools and then when we got to high school it got more diluted because there were so many high schools in San Francisco.
As a child did you ever pick up on any anti-Japanese propaganda?
I really didn't feel anything about that because we were in this closed area there where I didn't really feel any effect. It was only when Pearl Harbor hit that I really noticed the discrimination effect, because as a youngster I didn't notice at all, but I'm sure my father and mother probably had discrimination. Until I grew up and started to be in the internment camp, that’s when I first noticed that because I was Japanese that we were being ostracized.
Recalling Japan & China Conflict
While you were in school did you follow the war between Japan and China?
I only followed to the extent of what was on the papers. I didn't read the paper that much either because we didn't even subscribe to the paper at that time; and there was no television that you could watch like you do now.
What did you know about the situation in China? Was there talk in your family about it?
Well prior to Pearl Harbor I knew that Japan was fighting in China, that I knew for sure, but as far as what effect it had on me, I really didn't think too much about it where the fact that Japan was in China. I never heard about all the bad things that are coming out in the paper about where they were killing civilians because that was not really publicized in those days.
Do you recall any discussion among your parents about the situation? Did they talk openly with you?
No, they never talked to me about anything political, about China and Japan or other countries because in those days we never talked about politics because I was pretty young then, I didn't care less really. I knew there was a war going on because you could see it in the papers sometimes, and at the same time I noticed in those days that the Chinese in San Francisco didn't like Japanese because there was a war going on, and then at that time Japan was occupying China but I knew that was a fact, that the Chinese didn't like Japanese in San Francisco.
Were there any instances where Chinese people said anything to you about the war?
No they didn't say anything to me because we never were that close. In Japantown there was one Chinese restaurant which we used to go to, and I knew that girl there but they were real friendly to us because I think being in Japantown they liked our business. So she happened to be in my class.
Tell us about your visit with family in Japan after the war.
I really didn't know that Japan was going to attack Pearl Harbor because I knew little about that, but I knew that Japan was in China and Manchuria because my uncle, my mother's brother, he was in the Japanese Army. In fact, that was kind of an interesting story: while I was in Japan as a U.S. soldier and I didn't know my relatives and I knew he was in the Japanese Army. I called him up because I was allowed to call up all the prisoners of war, so I called him up to find out where they lived. When he came he was very anxious about what was happening and I told him who I was, and then he was more relieved. Then he took me to go see grandma, which was kind of interesting to me because it was the first time I saw grandma. But I couldn't talk to her because she had a different Japanese colloquialism, and they spoke much faster Japanese that I had to tell her to talk real slowly so I could understand what she was saying. They were pleased to see me because I brought them some food, because they didn't have anything at that time, and they were real happy to see me then.
Did you visit them often?
No, because what happens when you're in the U.S. Army, the first thing they ask you is "Where was your father and mother from?” and when I told them they were from down south Japan, then they shipped me up north. I was not able to go see them, but I knew they were down there, so I took a leave and then I went down south, and then I went to our headquarters down south, and I called my uncle in; because I didn't know where they lived and I didn't know what they looked like or nothing. So when he came in he was very anxious you know, "Why did they call me in for?" So I told him who I was and I went and said "I'd like to go see grandma." So then he took me over to see grandma. It was a real country village, and one of the things they did was they killed the only chicken they had, and I said "Oh god." The only chicken they had they gave me for dinner, it was a tough bird but I had to eat it. They had a lot of little girls there, my nephews and stuff; and I had a camera so they were very pleased that I sent pictures that I took, because in those days they didn't have cameras or films and even we had a hard time getting films. So they were happy that I sent pictures.
Was it odd for your family with you being one of the occupiers of their country?
Yeah, they didn't even know I was there, because my mother never told her.
Was it at all awkward talking to them then?
I'm the guy that initiated the mood because nobody else in my family really saw them for all those years. In fact, my father and mother, for the first time, they went back to Japan much later than I did. So they talked to them and then they were pleased that I was there. I gave the little girls pencils to write with because pencils were hard to get too at that time. I brought some can goods for them to eat, and they were very nice. I gave them my sweater and stuff because in those days they had nothing in Japan. In fact, while I was there I was smoking at that time, and you throw a cigarette butt out there, then people just dive at it. Canned goods, they kept all the cans and made things out of them. So everything was very hard to get in those days.
Did you talk to them about the war?
No I didn't talk about the war at all because I didn't think that would be the topic to talk about.
What did you talk about?
I just talked about the relatives because my mother had quite a few sisters and stuff so I had a hard time just remembering who was who there. I just stayed there for the day because I had to get back too. It wasn't like I stayed there for a week; I was just there for a day.