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How much a part of your life was Japanese culture during your childhood? How present was it?
At home it was mostly Japanese food and I had to mop the floor every morning before I left for school and it was all Japanese. And on Saturdays we had to go to Japanese school all day and I didn't want to learn Japanese. I thought, "My goodness, this is America, I mean this is the U.S. This is an English country." So I didn't do very well in school - I mean Japanese school that is, because I was more focused on English.
Can you recall any disagreements with your parents about that?
Oh yeah. My parents were wondering why I was so stupid like everyone else, learning how to write Japanese and learning how to write Kanji and skipping from one grade to the other and here I'm stuck in the 2nd grade forever.
What kinds of things did you study in Japanese school?
First you have to learn Japanese Katakana, which a basic Japanese - very simple: the alphabet. Then you're transferring to Hiragana, which is more cursive and then you start learning [Kanji], and that's all memory work. By that time, fortunately, the war broke out so I didn't have to...
Did you family participate in any Japanese customs? Traditional dress? Or was it more Americanized?
I was more Americanized, although my mother did go to Japan and get me a Japanese kimono, but it didn't fit me because I was so big. There are standardized sizes, so she brought one back for me and everything’s short sleeves - nothing ever fit me.
What were your feelings towards the Japanese culture when you were young?
I rebelled. I thought, "My goodness, why do I have to turn on the switch, come home and be Japanese and when I go outside I have to be American. It's just like turning on a light switch.
What are your opinions on it now? Do you think it was worth it...?
Oh yes. I think the more languages and the customs and the culture you learn the better. So I focus on that for my children.
You said you skipped two years of school. Do you think that affected you at all?
School is very simple for me, very easy. I would make a lot of noise and stamp my feet and do things so the teacher just pushed me onto the next grade. But the problem is that I had nightmares because I did not graduate with my class. So I didn't have any social life, in a way, because I was always two years younger than the other people, but intellectually I was advanced.
Was there pressure in your family to perform well academically?
Sometimes, like my neighbor got an A++, in those days they gave A++, so when I came home with A+ that's not enough! It doesn't make any difference later on.
The Emperor, Patriotism & Pearl Harbor
You said your mother destroyed pictures of the emperor right after Pearl Harbor. What were her emotions surrounding that?
She was just aghast that this happened. This sneak attack and all that and what's going to happen to us?
Was she upset about having to destroy these pictures?
No, not that I know of.
How did your family feel about the emperor, what was their connection to him? Was there any connection?
I guess there was in a way because my mother wrote poetry and one time she got a prize. He sets a theme and then you write the poetry according to the theme that he sets every year. And one year she got this chrysanthemum cake. That was kind of an honor so that way, although she did not get it directly from him.
Did you feel any attachment to him?
No, absolutely not.
Do you think your family did?
I imagine –yes, because my mother's family was in the Japanese Navy.
Would you describe your family as patriotic Americans prior to the war? Were they very Americanized? Did they love America?
Oh yes. They loved America! But my father would run into discrimination so he would get upset about that.
Did they keep that feeling of patriotism during the war?
Yeah. I guess they didn't want to be evacuated. We couldn't understand why the others, like Germans and Italians, weren't evacuated. And yet at the same time, how the Hawaiians weren't either. The Japanese Americans in Hawaii were not evacuated.
After the war did they keep that sense of patriotism as well?
Oh yeah. My mother became a U.S. citizen the first chance she got. She was so delighted. She went to school at night. Rain, sleet, snow, I mean she would go to school.
Even though they were mistreated they still wanted to be part of the country?
Did you ever have to hide that you were Japanese?
No, because I think my grammar school years by the Elliott family, them being true Christians, they did not discriminate. They had quilting parties and they would invite my mother. Then they had potluck parties and they would bring potluck over to the house, and it was just a wonderful group. When it came to citizenship and not being able to buy land, then it became an issue, not with this family, but after we moved. We wanted to buy some property someplace else, and the man said, "No, no. The neighbors object. We can't sell it to you." And so it became an issue.
Can you think of an example in your childhood where you were uncomfortable being Japanese?
No, that's the funny thing. I never knew that I was different in a way, I was just part of this group. Went rolling skating together on the highway, eating tar off the road. The only thing I heard was my neighbor's son wanted to work on the golf course. I think you heard this before: as he was mowing it and the golfers said they don't want any Japanese Americans mowing the golf course, and he got fired. So then and there I began to hear about discrimination. Especially if you were male. But as long as you worked as a servant it was fine. But I was taught that if I ever had to work as a servant, I should commit suicide. That's just degrading. So I never did any housework, I mean worked in a family as a maid which a lot of other people did. And my father always said, "No, you shouldn't do that."
How old were you when the boy was fired from the golf course?
I think I was in the 5th grade or something like that.
Do you remember the name of the golf course?
Maple Wood golf course. Do you know that place? By the Cedar River?
Can you remember any other instances of discrimination before the war?
Not when I was at this Elliot school area and when I moved to this place called Bryn Mawr in middle school... no, there wasn't any discrimination there and in high school, in Franklin High School - are you familiar with Franklin High school? I didn't feel any discrimination either because I was a sports star, believe it or not. Basketball. I just tried everything, debate team and go to other schools.
How about the sentiment in the broader Seattle community? Maybe at night.
I didn't go out at night, we didn't date in those days. All I remember is when I was a junior, I went out with the all-city football star and that was a Japanese American.
So it sounds like you had a social life.
Yeah, well, but then the war broke out so...
How did you identify yourself in your adolescence? Japanese, Japanese American, American?
Gee, I don't remember. We didn't socialize with other ethnic groups though. At school we did, but otherwise we didn't. Because one day a young girl invited me to go swimming down on Washington - Lake Washington and she says, "Well you're Japanese so you can't come in the house, but you can swim off of my dock." And she had a huge boat. Then I felt that I was second-class citizen. She regarded me as a second-class citizen. But I thought, "oh well, I don't care, she's got nothing to offer me."
What was your opinion of FDR?
I think I didn't think about politics too much. I was too busy looking for guys. The reason was, I was big for a Japanese American and everyone was smaller than I, so it was hard for me to find someone with potential.
Hearing about Pearl Harbor
What were your first thoughts after Pearl Harbor?
It’s just like when an earthquake happens, you say, "Oh my goodness, what happened?" Although, we were gonna buy some property from a Russian-American, and he said I cannot sell it to you because there is going to be war between Japan. Then and there my mother and father realized that war was brewing. Then my mother's cousin was a silk representative from Japan to New York, and he said he was being sent home because there was going to be a war. So, there was forewarning.
What did you think the American reaction to Pearl Harbor would be?
I thought, "Oh that’s terrible, terrible. They are going to take it out on us." Yes, Japanese citizens, but I didn't think it would affect we who were born in the United States. But all of a sudden you realize that you are not accepted as a full US citizen, even though you are born here, because of your physical features. They look at that first. Today they say, "You speak English well!" I say, "Yeah, that’s because I am smart." I mean what else are you gonna say?
Describe the day you found out about World War II
I think I was playing tennis, and then I heard the first generation, the Isseis, saying, "Oh my goodness, the war, the war!" Then I just kind of took it lightly, I mean it couldn't happen. It's just like when you people heard about the savagery against the Twin Towers. It was unbelievable that this actually happened. It was like a bad dream. Just shock.
Do you remember when you first heard about Pearl Harbor?
I think I was going to go out to play tennis. I was playing tennis. We got a telephone call from a neighbor or something.
How did your community react to Pearl Harbor?
I really don't know because my parents were so busy working in the nursery. The lab owner didn't say anything to us. All I know is the FBI showed up that night, so somebody must have turned us in.
What did the FBI do when they came to your house?
They just knocked on the door and looked at the light bulb. I don't know what for. Unscrewed it. Went through motions I guess. But they must have been prepared for it, to know exactly where we lived. Or someone turned us in, I don't know.
Did you have any other encounters with the government prior to evacuation?
Yes, I tried to fight it. We had a committee that was set up in downtown Seattle. I lived 12 miles away from Seattle, but I took the bus. No, at that time I drove to the city, and I protested. There was a hearing, but it didn't do any good. Then I also worked registering enemy aliens, they called us.
Can you tell us more about the details of your protest?
I can't remember that far back. All I know is that my picture was in the paper. "Here is a protester." I was in Downtown Seattle and it was in an office. We're talking about how many years ago? 60 years ago, yeah. Yeah. I mean I have a tendency to blank things out. I'm surprised, because when I see other Niseis, they can quote what house number they are, they can quote their family number, I just cant remember anything. I have a tendency to just move on, get on with life. So even this is very trying for me.
Did other minorities in the Seattle area treat you differently?
What do you mean by other minorities? Do you mean Chinese, Filipinos? You see, I didn't know any other minorities. The only minority I knew was the Filipino that worked on our farm, about ten of them at one time. There was one Filipino that we kept for fifteen-twenty years. My uncle owned a hotel. So, summertime he worked for us, wintertime he went to work in the hotel.