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Transcription below by: Michael P (2010)
What is your earliest childhood memory?
Those were tough times then. Economically, the United States was actually in a depression in 1933 and when Franklin Roosevelt became president that's when he initiated the different programs like unemployment and the Homeowners Refinancing Act where they gave loans so people could buy homes. They were spending the money to build rural schools and public roads to make work. Unfortunately we didn't qualify or we felt we didn't so most of us of Asian descent did not apply for those kinds of things. My father decided to be a strawberry farmer on Bainbridge Island, that's where most of the Japanese and Japanese-Americans ended up. Some of them were able to buy some of the land they worked on through their children because they had the Oriental Exclusion Act and our parents were from Japan so they could not buy land but they bought land in their children's name. That turned out to be their advantage because after they went in to camp and they came out, the price of the land had gone up so much, they really had something to start out with. That's the way things are, some people did the right things. Unfortunately my father didn't buy any land, so that's why I ended up in Minnesota.
Could you describe to me what your relationship was with your siblings?
It was O.K. My brother was three years older than I. His name was Peter. I had a sister that was born in Japan, and she was in Japan, so she was here and then she went back. She was considerably older than my brother. My brother and I were the only ones. We got along alright. Of course, to the outside public, when you have a name of Peter and Paul they want to bring you in to the church any time.
Can you tell us one story of when you and your brother were recruited for the church?
My mother particularly was very religious and we could not go to any high school activity like a basketball game unless we had gone to Sunday School the previous Sunday. If we missed it we couldn't go out to do things that we wanted to do. That's how strict my mother was, so my brother and I both went to Sunday School and junior classes at Sunday School. It didn't matter which church it was. We went to a Baptist church—my mother and father were Baptist—but we went to Methodist and Presbyterian and whatever. The one we were not close to—but it didn't matter—we never got into the Catholic Church. We could have learned a little bit more there. As it turned out, when I went to Chicago I went and enrolled in De Paul University. You had to learn a little about Catholicism before you could get into school there.
Do you remember what any of your friends were as a young child?
Yes, they've all passed away. I don't know if it's there luck but I'm already eighty-three and some of them didn't make eighty-three, or eighty.
Can you tell us about you friends when you were a child?
Yes, you see Bainbridge Island is a little island about five miles wide and fourteen miles long, and its just hills with pine and fur and real tall trees. Actually, we didn't have a Japanese community or a Japan Town. We all lived there, and they were farming so they were out in different places. My closest buddy was probably George Brockmeier who is, of course, of German descent. His folks moved out when they had the dry period in North Dakota, and he was on the island. He became my locker mate. Then next to us we had the Smiths—I don't know where they went—the Groves family and the Hansons. They were all our neighbors and they stuck up for us. Everything was new when the war came, everybody didn't know what to do. We usually went to school events with them, but after we graduated—actually we never got a chance in this case because I went to camp and then all of a sudden all I had was all Japanese-Americans.
Tell me about your experience is school.
I wasn't a smart student, I just got by and that's my nature, just enough to get by, which is a bad habit. The other kids in the school—particularly those of Japanese descent—they all were very competitive, they wanted be on top of the class. My brother and I enjoyed our buddies more than the subjects, but we got by. I guess we did, anyway, we got a diploma and we both got into college and I don't know how. We did enjoy our college, too.
Did you have any hobbies as a kid like playing sports?
Unfortunately the game of basketball and football still required taller kids and I couldn't play. But I played baseball and I played the outfield and I could hit—well I thought I could anyway. In a small high school where you only have about twenty-five eligible kids who can play the sports, they needed everyone, so my coach put me in. I played right field or left field in baseball. I couldn't play football, I couldn't play basketball. The only way I could keep up with sports was being an equipment manager. The coach knew me well enough—we had the same coach who was the basketball and the football [coach], so he'd let me be the equipment manager in a small school. They were very good.
I'd like to tell you about that school system in Bainbridge Island. On Bainbridge Island, most of the farmers were in strawberries. They set up the schedule so that the classes would end about the end of May. Then you'd have harvests of strawberries, and the kids that were of Japanese extraction had to help and tried to harvest. That was actually the main business on Bainbridge Island that kept them going, they had these strawberry farms. Today it isn't that way, today Bainbridge Island is a residential community where the people live there and then they take the ferry to Seattle and walk to their offices. But, in those days they had to depend on strawberry farming and, mostly, that was all.
Do you have any memories on your dad's strawberry fields?
I can tell you it was hard work. You had to bend over and when they did the strawberries—they don't do it like they do here. If you go out here you just plant a bunch of plants and then you take your cultivator and you go down and set up the rows. They used to plant each individually and then set up runners—only two runners. You had to lean over and plant them and then you had to weed the grass that would grow in between. Then, after harvest you had to cut the leaves. It was no fun. In fact, everybody wanted to get out of it but you had to do it, that was the only way they could make a living. I can remember, just about 1933—that's when WPA was initiated by President Roosevelt—it was actually a way of making work for the people and then putting money back in to the community. The Japanese didn't go in to that, we wanted to but it was a kind of a gentleman's agreement, we didn't go in to that. The Japanese are a little different, the basic philosophy of the Japanese—in my point of view—we never tried to create waves to do something. Even in class, we would know the answer but we never raised our hand. We'd let somebody else raise their hand, and then if they did get it wrong, then the teacher says, "Somebody else?" or they'll pick on you, then we would answer. That's our basic philosophy, we were very timid.
Why do you think you were like that?
I think it came from the forerunner to this, when the Chinese came to the country. When the Chinese came, the group of Chinese they got were people that they kidnapped and brought over to do the work. They weren’t the educated Chinese. I think they had a little conflict there. I think the Japanese, when they came over, they were actually assigned. And I think it had a little to do with the government in instructing the people in how to act. At least, that's the way I feel about it.
When you were playing baseball, was there one primary ethnicity or race on the team? Was there segregation between teammates of different ethnicities or races?
No, there was about seven of us who were of Japanese extraction on the team, but all of them were not on the first team. Unfortunately they had an opening in the right field so I got to play but a few people didn't. When we got the evacuation order, the coach—we called him Pop Miller—he made sure that every Japanese got to play in the last game against one of our opponents on the other side. We lost something like 19-2 but he didn't care. The whole point of this is that here we are—he was of German extraction—he would say, "I'm going to let the Japanese play." We kept our name kind of low. We knew there was going to be friction when the war came about.
Did you see any friction with the German community, of people treating the German community in any way?
No, no, we thought Germans—and up in the Northwest you have a lot of Scandinavians, the Swedish and the Norwegians—but no, we just thought they were all Americans. I can remember, we'd go to an Italian restaurant—that was an American restaurant—and having spaghetti was an American dish, and I happen to like pasta.
Did your family approve of you having friends of all different ethnicities?
How did other peoples families feel when their children were friends with you?
It was fine. Probably the only time there might have been a little is when a few Caucasian fellows dated Japanese girls—of Japanese extraction. That probably went on the sly, so if you read the book Snow Falling on Cedars, some of it is kind of true. I don't know if you have heard of the book Snow Falling on the Cedars.
Can you recount one of these stories of tension over inter-racial dating?
I think they just dated secretly. That's all.
Can you recall anything specific of knowing someone, or yourself or anything, any story of inter-racial dating and struggle?
I think, they just didn't go much farther than sneaking out on Friday nights or something like that, but that's about it. We didn't have too much problems then.
Do you remember any specific stories about hanging out with your friends?
On Bainbridge Island?
Yes, on Bainbridge Island it's a country atmosphere. Most of the things revolved around the high school and maybe a few organizations they had on Bainbridge Island and most of those we were invited in. Most of the young kids became scouts—they were not segregated, we just went to a troop. Bainbridge Island also is an island and we used to go fishing a lot. Usually we went fishing with our Caucasian friends, our neighbors or whoever. We got along pretty well there. In fact I would say Bainbridge was one of the few places that the people were very nice.
Did you eat the fish that you caught?
Yes, and we threw away a lot of the fish that they now have in the market that they feel it's marketable. We didn't eat sole that much. Sole was a flat fish near the bottom, but we ate perch and rock cod. The Caucasians used to think the perch in particular was a dirty fish because it was around the (polly). The sole is the one—we just didn't take the sole. Now,of course, everybody eats sole and nobody eats perch. I don't think it's even in the market.