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2-Pearl Harbor, Tanforan & Topaz
Where were you when you heard the news about Pearl Harbor?
I was still in San Francisco in 1752 Sutter Street there, and all I remember was when Pearl Harbor came, it was in the radios, in fact that was the only thing that we had, radio. Then the newsboy used to come walking down the street, hollering "Japan attacked Pearl Harbor!” and then that’s when I knew. And to me I didn't even know what Pearl Harbor was in those days because Pearl Harbor didn't mean a thing to me, but I knew it was Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. And it affected me because, you know, I'm Japanese and when Japan does something, everybody thinks it's me doing it. That's the problem that I have. I'd never been to Japan and the only thing I knew about Japan was that I used to go to Japanese school too and that's how I learned how to speak Japanese—and my mother and father spoke Japanese too. That was the way of communicating.
Do you remember where you were when you heard the news of Pearl Harbor?
I was at home at that time. The newspaper boy came out with the papers, but before that, I didn't know too much more about it. I knew Japan was going into China and Manchuria because that was in the papers.
Do you recall hearing about Pearl Harbor, before reading about it?
I think there was probably talk among my parents. Like I said, I really don't recall anything. The paper must have came out later, I know that—it must have happened before that, now that you think about it. There was this guy running down the street hollering that Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. But before that there was talk by my parents and evidently they must have been saying something, but I'm sure there was a lot of discussion about people being picked up by the FBI—these type of things. I really don't have any knowledge of what happened to them because I was not aware of them. I still don't know exactly what happened because it didn't affect me at all really. I know my father and mother was talking because they said that "Oh, we got to do this" and "we got to do that." I think they said, "Oh we have to get rid of all the Japanese things," I think that's one of the things that they said. But, as far as getting rid of anything else—we didn't have anything that we were ashamed of having. The only thing that they took from me was my Brownie camera, and then we had a radio in the house, which didn't belong to me, but it was a small table radio. My father lost his small Japanese sword, that was a nice one there and we never got it back. I think they said, "Destroy all the Japanese flags." I think there were some Japanese flags in the house; they said "Get rid of that." I know some places had the emperor's picture, they said get rid of those if you have them, people were saying that, but we didn't have really anything that we were ashamed of having. We didn't own the house, so we didn't have that much anyway. We didn't have anything that we were afraid of—that we lost; my father didn't got picked up. Like some families, their fathers got picked up. My father didn't get picked up.
You said they took it and your father "lost" many things. Who is this "they"?
What they did was they told us that we had to turn those in—that was one of things that you had to do. You had to bring it into the police department—turn in any camera, radio, swords...
Who said this?
There was a notice out – I know that. I didn't see the notice but I know we had to do that. Being the youngest in the family, I don't make decisions for family affairs. I'm sure that my oldest sisters and my father and mother probably did that.
Did you bring the various artifacts and possessions to the police station or was it your father?
Oh yeah,somebody—I didn't bring it in because I'm the youngest in the family—I don't have that responsibility. Everything is done by seniority in Japanese families.
Did anybody in your family keep something that they were not supposed to?
Not that I know, because I didn't know where we had anything that we were not supposed to have. I think all the kitchen knives were supposed to have been banned too that was over so many inches long. And I'm sure we probably had some of those in there, if I recall. I know all of those things that we had that was supposed to be bad—but nobody came in and started checking the lengths of knives in the house.
Was there any post-Pearl Harbor racism toward the Japanese that you saw?
I saw more racism as I grew up really. Like up to the time I was in the assembly camp and war relocation camp—now I call them concentration camps because when I read history, they're very similar to a concentration camp. When I first went out and worked picking fruits in the Utah, Provo Valley, that was when I first started to feel real discrimination because while we were picking fruits, some young people drove by and shot at us – I know that. The other time was when I went to work in Detroit and I started to look for a job. They had want ads full of pages looking for workers to work in a factory and when I went to these factories, they wouldn't hire me because I was Japanese.
The only place that would hire me was a milk company because the wages were much lower. The other discriminations that I felt throughout my life was after I graduated from the university, and I started looking for a job—I was top man in my class you know, as an engineer—and the only job they offered me was in Venezuela; I said, "well, that's not right." So then I came back to California because I thought I'd look for a job. Here again I went through all these private companies and nobody would hire me. The only place that would hire me was civil service—the city, state or federal government because at that time civil rights started to come in, so they started hiring. That's when I got a job and I retired with the State of California because that was one of the things that kept on giving me a job. I didn't want to go out and challenge them to give me a job someplace else.
And the other thing was when I started working, I said 'I got enough money to buy a house' and I go out looking for a house to buy. One of the first places I went out was out in Westlake when they were still building Westlake. I walked into the real estate office and the guy turned his back on me—he wouldn't even listen to me. That's why I came to this place here—this house was many years old but I'm glad I bought it because I find that the homes in Westlake got damaged during the earthquake and mine is still standing. Sometimes things work out for the best. Even with working for the state, there was no Asian promoted beyond a senior engineer when I was there. I ended up as a senior engineer. Up to then there were no Asians, Chinese or Japanese promoted. While we were in the army, nobody got promoted to be an officer in those days. After we told them we were going to leave, then they started promoting the Japanese-Americans because they wanted them to keep on serving, but I left and came back home. I stayed in the army, but even then I graduated from Command and General Staff School for generals and I still had a hard time getting my promotions. That's it.
Were you shouted at or shot at?
Shot, Shot. We were in Provo, Utah. They were looking for seasonal workers to harvest the crop for the summer right out of Topaz, which was the Internment Camp. So a lot of us went out there to help harvest the crops. While we were staying at the farm labor camp, somebody came by and shot at us.
Who were they?
They don’t know, they just felt bad. Nobody seemed to have investigated, so they never told us.
So there was no investigation?
As far as I know it, we didn't know what happened after that because nobody seems to support us wherever we go, so we didn't pursue it—what were we supposed to do? Evidently they didn't shoot us again, but I knew they did it once. Must have been some guy who didn't like us.
How safe did you feel after the attack?
Well we didn't feel too good about it at home, but we stayed there.
Can you remember anything more about that shooting?
No, nobody said a word about it after that.
Anybody get hit?
No, they hit our tents because they must have shot from the road further back—I don't know exactly where they shot it. I didn't see any police come by and investigate it because nobody even showed up.
We were all Japanese-Americans that were in this farm labor camp. What they do is the farmers come over and they wanted help, they'll just pick us up and take us in their truck and go out and work.
Were you in the tents at the time of the shooting?
Yeah, yeah. So nobody got hurt, so…I don’t think nobody.
Did they yell anything out of the car?
It happened so fast; all I know is that...
Were there any other incidents where there was someone who could have been injured due to racial violence?
No, that was the only time. So we were even sort of scared to go to town to go see a movie in those days. It was quite a walk into town anyway, we didn't have any cars or nothing.
When you were in Detroit looking for jobs, what did the employers say specifically about why they didn't hire you?
When you look in the papers, and see the address and just go to the place and we ask them for them for a job, and the guy just wouldn't give us a job.What are you going do?
Did the factories give any explanation at all about why they didn't hire you?
He'd ask you if you were Japanese—and that's it.
Tell us about one incident that you remember?
Well, there were so many companies on that list; we just went to them because the salary was terrific compared to what we got in the internment camp. We were only getting, I didn't work there, but they were getting sixteen dollars a month. You could almost make that much an hour out there. I left the camp, four of us went out and we went to Detroit. We didn't have a job, we just went out because they said, "Anybody want to go out?" And then we went to Detroit and there was a Japanese minister. He had a house and he had cots all over the place so we stayed there and looked for work. After we got a job he told us to get out and find a room, so we had to be on our own. When you go out and the guy says no job, what are you going to do? Are you going to say, "Hey give me a job!"? You can't fight him, you're by yourself—what are you going to do? Nobody will back me up.
I've been discriminated all that time, from '42 to '44 and then you go out there and you're trying to make a living and the guy said "no," and nobody backs you up even while we were in camp. I couldn't go out and say "Hey! I demand a job," not like it is now. The guy said "I'm not gonna give you a job!"—I can't fight him—nobody will back me up. That's the way it is. That's the way it was all the way through. One time I protested while I was in the Army and I protested to the inspector general that I wasn't getting promoted – same old stuff. They said they investigated—I still didn't get promoted. You can't win when nobody backs you up. It's a tough life when you're a minority. If you're a majority, fine, the guy will back you up and then they'll push for you. That's the problem the Japanese-Americans had throughout their lives here. The only thing that you could do is do better than somebody else, then they hire you. That was my attitude—to be better than them and if the want me, I'll go there and if they don't want me anymore then I'll just leave and try to get a better job. So that's my attitude.
Were there any times that you can think of when somebody did back you up?
Like I said, even in the Army this one guy, he was my branch chief, he said, "I recommended you," but he didn't win. There's always a boss on top that’s got to make the decisions. If they don't back you up then you can't win. Anybody that fights a system, if they don't have someone backing them or you don’t have someone to back you up, then you’re not going to win.
Were the Japanese-American's the only minority looking for work after you left Topaz?
In Detroit everybody was probably looking for jobs, it was predominately Blacks and Polish that were there.
What about farming?
In the farming area—they wanted help so the came recruiting in the camp and said come out there to work.
Was it just mainly Japanese-Americans who were farming?
It’s a labor crew up there. Later on I went up to Idaho and at that place they had Mexicans—I could hear them singing. I didn't like that Idaho area because we had to be there and there was only several of us there, there was no support by anybody, so I left after because the work was not too good. Picking potatoes and topping beets is a lot of work and the pay was not too good—I couldn't even support myself on that, so I left. That was my story on farming; I said "Hey, I'm not going to be farmer."
Were there any Caucasians working in the fields or doing labor?
There was no Caucasians. The only Caucasian that was working labor was the owner and his son—or somebody. The son would drive the truck and that was it. Labor was very short in those days. Anybody who could work, they left the farming area because the pay wasn't very good for them even. The only guy that was making any money was the farmer—the owner. The defense factory work was more profitable and the wages were better. So that's what happened—that's why everybody leaves the farms—even today you don't see too many going into farming because they pay is not there and the work is too hard.
When you were restricted in San Francisco, did you ever feel like any enemy?
No, they didn't treat me like an enemy. The only thing they did was they cordoned off the area. Actually, nobody came...told me I had to do this and that, it was just that we were obeying the order that was posted that said we couldn't go anyplace. I didn't try to sneak into someplace out because where could I go really?
How did they cordon off the area and how were you restricted? Were there barriers?
There was no barriers; it was signs that were posted. And each area they gave a street limit area that you're not supposed to go beyond. Beyond that they said they're going to pick you up. There was really no guards because I know I walked beyond a couple of those areas and nobody said "Hey get out!" because you couldn't control that many people.
Did you ever know anyone that was arrested?
No, I don't know anybody that was, personally that I knew, that got arrested. But there was a lot of cases that I heard of that [people] were arrested.
How do you think your early independence in the camps affected your life during internment?
It affected me very much—my independence—because once they put you into a area then even your parents have no say because somebody's up there above them saying "Hey, you eat a certain time" and you go to the mess hall. Pretty soon, all of us young kids sort of got together and we just ate at the regular time but we didn't eat with our families anymore. I mean naturally, you go with your buddies to go eat so I used to eat with my buddies all the time and I never used to eat with my parents anymore. But I came back to the same room because that was the only place that I could sleep.
Conditions and Daily Life in Tanforan & Topaz
What were the sanitary conditions like in Tanforan as opposed to the bus going to Tanforan?
Tanforan is a very short drive from San Francisco so they just bused us right down. But as far as the conditions—it was terrible because we were actually living in the horse stable and the horse stables were whitewashed. They gave us a bag to fill with straw and they put it on an army cot.
Since the conditions were so terrible, did you hear of anybody having health issues?
You don't really notice anything about what happened to others, you start looking out for yourself because all I know is whose living within the area there, and then the people that I see sometimes. Then pretty soon we get to know our friends that we used to know before and new ones that we met recently. As far as knowing actually what happened to somebody, you really don't know. If somebody died you wouldn't even know until somebody told you, or if somebody had an operation or something. Unless it affects you, you really don't know. I was fortunate, I didn't have to go to a hospital or anything; my family didn't have to go to a hospital. You hear from people that "Oh they lost their father or mother" because they went to camp. We were lucky. Even though we had a big family—my sisters had children, they all seemed to survive. It's not saying that we had a good life there; it certainly was not a good life. It's just that we didn't have to have medical care. Or the food—at least we had something to eat, it wasn't a case where we were starving; they gave us something to eat.
What was the weather like in Tanforan?
The weather was pretty much like San Francisco, there was no change.
Do you know where Tanforan is Mario? It's about 5 miles from here, down by the airport.
Tanforan Shopping Center. Right off of San Bruno Avenue. That used to be a horse track.
Topaz was a different story though, because we never had been out of San Francisco before. When I went to Topaz, it was a desert out there and the temperature varied from -30 F to about 120 F out there. Compare that to San Francisco—it's really extreme. Everybody suffered from the heat and the cold. The cold was really the worst part of it because we were not prepared for cold. Being from San Francisco, I didn't go skiing or anything. I never had any winter clothing, and not only that, we were only allotted to bring what we could carry. So I don't know if we could have even brought winter clothing down there.
What were you thinking of the future while you were in the camps?
We were unsure what had happened because we didn't even know we were going to Tanforan; we didn't know what was going to happen. That was one of the most frightening things for us because we were just told to pack up—and leave. We didn't have any resources or anything to see in the future. Not only that, they [U.S. Government] froze my dad's bank account. He didn't have much but whatever he had, it was frozen, so we didn't have that. When I look back at it, I say to myself, "You know, nobody really came to help us." There was Red Cross, Salvation Army and all that. Nobody came to help us. Today, if something happened I'm sure somebody will come and help you. That was something that I look back on and say, "Nobody came and helped us." I heard somewhere that some of the churches tried to do something, but it never happened.
Was there any sort of theater or other entertainment in Topaz?
In Tanforan I really enjoyed myself because we had a guy named Goro Suzuki and he actually ended up in television and movies, his name is Jack Su, and he was terrific. He had a good voice—he used to sing and he told jokes. We had a lot of other people that knew how to play piano and sing and dance; I never saw so many talented people that came there.
Were there any moments when you felt that you were in danger?
No, I never felt that I was ever in danger because I stayed within the rules. I never tried to leave camp and sneak under t he barbed wire fence there. I was still young. I didn't think that anybody was going to bother me.
Did you know of any incidences when somebody did do something like that?
Well, the only incidence that I remember was this old man that went too close to the fence and he got shot and got killed. So something like that scares a lot of people from going to the fence. All you have to do is shoot one guy and people won't go near the fence. Would you?
Do you recall the incident when he was shot?
No I wasn't there but it was the talk of the camp when I was there. They had a big service for him, and a lot of people were very mad at the guy that shot him. But here again, who got the gun? We don't. What are we going to do? Nobody had a big riot.
How often did you play basketball?
I played basketball quite often in camp because that was one of the things that kept me going. We actually set up a basketball court. We put the post up, and I don't know where they got the rings and everything. And even the basketball was hard to get, so I had to go see my cousin to borrow the basketball. Later on it seemed like they built a gym in the camp, and I was on the high school team. We also had what they call a block team. There's 42 blocks; each block had a team. So it was kind of fun that it was quite competitive to see which block had the best team and our block had a pretty good team. So I was kind of happy.
How often were games played?
Just about almost every day we'd play around. When you start playing everyday that's when you get real good because you can almost shoot baskets blindfolded if you wanted to.
How often did you dance?
Well I learned how to dance in Topaz because that was one of the things that I learned how to do. It seemed like there was a dance almost every week if I recall. They had a dance for just about anything. That was one of the things that we enjoyed. So we, in our spare time, we practiced dance steps. That was one of the most enjoyable things that I had. You didn't have to have any equipment all you had to do was have your hands and feet and move. You didn't have to buy any special equipment... nothing. In fact, we danced with our boots.
Are there any moments at these dances that stand out in your memory?
It's just that we had a good time. That was the only entertainment we really had. Movies were terrible because there was no seats and they rarely came. But dancing... you get to meet the girls and everybody seems to enjoy that. We didn't have any other activities. Basketball, baseball, and dance, those were about the three big things that I recall that we did.
How often did you go outside when it was so cold?
I rarely went out in the snow because we didn't have any skis or ice skates and I didn't know how to do either one so it didn't bother me. The only thing I knew about snow was making snowballs and I guess you threw it at each other. But other than that it was just cold. We didn't really do much more that that. I saw someplace where they had somebody put some water out there and somebody must of had some ice skates but I never did.
When it would rain it would get muddy. What effect did the rain have on the camp?
Oh yeah, when it rained, and this mud, even though you had boots on, it'd cake up like you're wearing high heels. And then when you go to some place and they wouldn't want you to come in there because they'd tell you "take off your shoes," otherwise you'd have tracks of mud all the way though the place. And then I noticed some places somebody made these little bars so you were supposed to scrape your feet especially when you are going into the mess hall because they didn't make everybody take off their shoes to go into the mess hall or go to the toilets. But there was a little bar where you could scrape your feet. I don't know if too many people did. Because I noticed, some of this common area where they had the boots on, they'd have a track of mud going right through, so it got pretty dirty.
How big did Topaz look?
It looked like a big, big open space... endless. Until when I got in there then I noticed there was a fence there. I guess it was about a mile wide. A mile is pretty far away and then you've got all of these barracks in between. So it looks like it's crowded. It was really not that big really when you start thinking about it. When you look out beyond there you got no place to go. So it didn't bother me. What are you going to do? There was a fence there... you couldn't get out.
What happened if you were hungry between meals?
You didn't eat. You had nothing. Most of us didn't even have a dime in our pocket. There was no place to go buy anything. I don't recall actually going out and buying a candy bar or soda or anything because there was no place you could go in those days. So I really didn't miss it because even before I went there, I never had anything anyway. We never used to go buy candy or drinks or anything. We didn't have anything. So it really didn't bother me.
Did your brother-in-laws go to Topaz with you?
They're not from Topaz. There were some people out of Topaz that went into 442nd which I know, but my brother in laws, they were not from Topaz. It was on my wife's side that I really know about is that her brother, he was in 442nd. He volunteered right out of the internment camp and he died over in Italy. And the other brother, he earned the Silver Star because he was with the rescue of the lost battalion where 800 went in and about 200 came out—to rescue 200 Texans.
Were there any social relationships between internees and the guards?
I haven't heard of any experience between the guards and the internees. I read a book where the girl was infatuated with the guard but I never heard of any of those incidents. The only experience that I had with the guards was when I went in and out of the camp one time. They didn't seem to be too bright there. I don't think they put the sharpest soldiers there.