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4-More About Tule Lake
Were there a lot of medical issues at camp?
I really don't know because I didn't work in the hospital but my friend was a nurse and there was a lot of cancer. Just like the outside world. People dying of cancer and it was kind of sad to see because they weren't getting the advanced care that they would've gotten outside. Because the doctors were not fully trained at that time they were interns and, maybe, beginning residency. Because, like my husband was in third year UC medical school when the evacuation came so they weren't’ into practice yet.
Did you meet your husband in camp?
No. I met him Detroit. I was a patient in the hospital and he was on his rounds. Kind of romantic huh?
Can you describe what the camp was like physically?
Well, we were all in barracks. Tar-paper barracks. I think four units to one barrack. They had a mess hall. They had a firebreak, of course. There was a group from Hawaii across from us who were notorious for something. Niseis from Hawaii and they were always playing the ukulele and my father said, "Don't go over there because they're rough-necks." That's about it. Since I was teaching I did meet a lot of people who were professional, people like attorneys, and everyone was trying to get me married off. Trying to match me up. I wasn't interested in being paired off. Issei mothers were busy trying to pair me off with their sons. That's about it.
Did any marriages happen?
Yes, a lot of them did, I think.
What were they like? Did you see any?
No. One guy I was going out with married one of my friends. And so we went by the barracks to say, "Gee, they just married!" That's about it. But they got their own barrack, which was fortunate.
Were you ever almost married at any point?
No. I was going to say, "No thanks". No, I didn't even think about that. I just wanted to get out of there.
What was the mess hall like?
Mess hall was a huge place and we all sat down at a long table and you sat wherever you could find space. I didn't like to go to the mess hall. So my mother brought me my food 'cause I didn't have anyone to eat with, really. And I didn't like the way they were reaching across the table and "me first" kind of a deal. No manners. Because after all, it is.. camp. So my mother, she didn't want me to associate with.. she was kind of socially conscious or something. Japanese society is very stratified, as you all know, right? According to the way you speak you can always place them. What strata you're from. And so I didn't associate with too many people unless my mother knew their background because my mother was a poet, a poetess. And my mother-in-law also wrote poetry, the Tanka, which is limited to six syllables and you had to express your whole feeling in six words and you have to know your vocabulary. So she was of that ilk so I didn't have many friends. We were just on a different planet.
Do you remember any particular boyfriend that you had?
I finally met one guy that was taller than I was and, I don't know, I just happened to meet him at the newspaper office and he was going to be a doctor. I went out first so I got him a job as a lab technician in Detroit. We broke up after two, three years that's about it. I don't know what happened to him.
As a 19 year old what was the stratification?
The background in Japan, even, they carried that over here in the way you spoke. You could tell right away what classification they were by the way they spoke Japanese. Half the time I couldn't understand them because they picked up the dialect from the parents' original province. You know that right?
How about the Hawaiians?
Hawaiians, I didn't have any contact with but they were very rough. They'd say, "Go for broke, na?" and things like that and I don't know what they are saying half the time because they go into lingo just to irritate us. They would get the ukulele going all night. They were just having a lot of fun with us 'cause we'd complain, like they were wild men or something, you know? Being from Seattle, my parents are very conservative. The men wore corduroy pants and wore suits to school, and here we get out to California and the young fellows are in tight jeans and my father said, "My goodness, this is another world." So when they came in from Hawaii it was another story again. And I wasn't allowed to go to any of the dances either.
My parents just didn't like that. She didn't know because we wouldn't know their background.
It was your parents that isolated you?
It just got to a point where I just didn't want to anyway, unless I found someone that I can communicate with.
Did you speak in Japanese or English?
My mother learned English in Japan, so it's mixed. We have a tendency to mix English and Japanese together and my children can't figure out how we can do that. We'll say "chicking" meaning we're going to have chicken tonight. There are certain traits that Niseis have. My daughter always says, "How come you can meet other Japanese people” because they are all married to non-Japanese, my three daughters. I just said, "We knew each other." You might say we knew our place.
What was it like waiting in line?
Especially in Pinedale, well see I didn't wait in line in Tule Lake because my mother brought my food home for me, but in Pinedale it was very, very hot. Oh.. it was so hot! Coming from Seattle, you know that right? The humid heat, and then no trees, no shelter, and then the low tar paper. We used to sleep on the floor underneath the cot because that was the coolest place to be.
Did anyone ever have reactions to the heat?
Well I passed out a couple of times, but then we'd run to the bathroom and run our hands under the faucet and keep that running all day like this. Oh, you do everything to survive. At least try to be comfortable. What else are we going to do? We're locked up. Right?
What were the surroundings of the camp like?
It was all desert, sand. Which camp are we speaking of? Assembly Center? Both of them were surrounded by desert. In Tule Lake all the young fellows were sent out to develop the land. They made a big agricultural project out of it. And now, I think.. Was there a land grant in Tule Lake? Or something? Or homesteading or something? After the Niseis all developed it, I think there are a lot of people up there now. The fruits of the labor of the camp people, right? We were allowed to go out to work in the farms. I don't know what I did. I can't remember.
Did anyone ever try to escape?
I think one, one or two people did, but they didn't know what they were doing, I don't think. They just went kind of batty, I think.
What was your relationship with the guards?
No contact at all, as far as I'm concerned, no. I understood some of them were selling cigarettes to the internees and bringing in liquor, but I didn't have any contact with them. That's what I understand, but no one approached me.
They were in the towers?
Yes, yes. Uh huh. I never saw them. Matter of fact, they're way up high. I didn't know whether they had guns or what, really. But if we wanted to go out, we had to get a pass at the gate.
Why would you go out?
Maybe go out to the agricultural area, see what they were doing. In the end I had quite a bit of freedom.
How did the towers make you feel? Nervous or afraid?
No, one gets accustomed to it, it's just like listening to the foghorn. You know, you don't hear it anymore.
Did you have any important personal possessions with you at camp?
No, because we just had what we could take. There were no cameras allowed, but I don't know, some people had their cameras with them because I see the pictures that they took. No, just what we had, but we loved going through the Sears and Roebuck catalogue and sending for things. That's the only mail, we got. They opened up a commissary for us, but what can you do with nineteen dollars? Not much, even in those days.
What did you buy from Sears?
I think I bought clothes, of course! I think that's about it, but I wanted to save the money for future too. When I supposedly was going out. I knew they were going to give me only twenty-five dollars to go. That was a lot of money in those days, I think. I think.
When did you start thinking about leaving?
From day one, from day one.
Did you have any sort of ideas about what you wanted to do specifically?
Yes, I wanted to go into fashion design.
Well, I applied to Parsons School of Design, as I told you before. But the WRA, War Relocation Authority, said, "You can't go from one coast to the other coast." This is ridiculous. Like I said before, I wanted to go to Chicago because that's where all the Japanese were going. I thought, well, I'd be protected. There was one lady there that went ahead to Chicago and she was with the Nippon Times. Matter of fact, she was a very good friend of mine and I couldn't go to Chicago, they said you must go to Detroit to open it up for other evacuees.
What was the bathroom situation like? Would you wait for nighttime?
Nighttime. No one was there because after all you are exposed, right? There are no stalls. I was thinking last night, we all sat in a row, latrine too.
Was there one stall with a door?
No, not that I know of. I can't remember. But of course you did that in gym too, in high school, too. Right? I don't know nowadays, but in my days it was that way.
You went to the bathroom at night?
Well, I tried to control myself during the day.
How many times would you go?
Maybe once, twice. You know you were younger then. You don't have to go quite so often. I can still do that. When I go to casinos I can hold it for eight hours. So, it is possible! I go to a Urologist, I say, "Oh, I go too frequently." Then when I go to the casino, my husband said, "Oh, things are different then isn't it?"
What other kinds of activities did you do?
I was just thinking what you said. I did a lot of reading and.., what did I do.. They were teaching all kinds of classes. I took tap dancing from Yuki Shimoda. He was in Auntie Mame. He played the butler. He was really good at that time and besides I was in love with him. And things.. just.. people were giving parties and inviting me, trying to match me up with people. Which I didn't know at the time, I don't think. I just wanted to go some place to have a party. Party, party, party. Because I couldn't go to dances either. But my mother knew these people. My mother and father knew these families that are inviting me. They're already married, they're older Niseis. They kind of more or less took care of me. They knew that I was kind of isolated there.
Where were your brother and sister?
Yeah, I found that out when I was 17.
What did your parents do at camp?
My father was a night guard I think, and my mother, in order to get good food, she was a pie baker for the chef. That's why she could bring me food! She got to bring home, what is it? Left over pies and pastries. Oh, it was just wonderful.
You said you always ate mutton?
Well, that was in Pinedale Assembly Center, yes. We had fairly good food, I guess, in camp. I think having this wonderful chef we had a special deal.
Were you ever sick?
No, I just had toothaches and had my teeth yanked out because they were not fully accredited dentists.