Japanese American World War II Evacuation Oral History Project

Part III: Analysts

Edited by
Arthur A. Hansen
California State University, Fullerton

K.G. Saur
Munich - New Providence - London - Paris
1994

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Preface

Consistent with the student-based philosophy and practice of the Oral History Program (OHP) at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF), its extensive Japanese American Oral History Project (JAOHP) was launched in 1972 at the urging of a then CSUF undergraduate history major, Betty E. Mitson. Mitson was enrolled concurrently in an introductory oral history class taught by Professor Gary L. Shumway, the founding director of the CSUF program and a pioneer in the national oral history movement, and in a historical methodology class under my tutelage. Coincidentally, she had chosen to sharpen her technical processing skills in oral history by transcribing, editing, and indexing a series of tape-recorded interviews in the OHP collection pertinent to the World War II Japanese American Evacuation, the very topic I had selected for investigation by the students in my Historical Methods class.

At this point, I knew virtually nothing about either the method of oral history or the subject of the Evacuation. My motivation for assigning each student in my class to write a research paper on some aspect of the wartime removal and incarceration of West Coast Japanese Americans was that the thirty-year anniversary of this event afforded a convenient way of imparting historical perspective to the contemporary concern with civil liberties, human rights, and ethnic consciousness. Mitson soon convinced me that she could spend her time for my class more profitably by doubling her processing efforts relative to the Evacuation tapes and by collecting and collating research materials for exploitation by her classmates.

One immediate result of this arrangement was that, in reviewing Mitson's processing work, I was plunged into every facet of the oral history process via the topic of the Japanese American Evacuation. Before long I found myself becoming less Mitson's teacher than her student, as she instructed me both in the art of oral history interviewing and transcript editing. Moreover, the dynamic, dialogical character of the oral history data that I was working with had the effect of deepening my understanding of and stimulating my curiosity about the entire subject of the Evacuation. Mitson then encouraged me to suggest to Professor Shumway that the OHP formally constitute a project pivoting upon the history and culture of Japanese Americans, with particular attention being paid to the events surrounding World War II. Upon receiving Shumway's enthusiastic endorsement for this idea, the JAOHP, with Mitson as associate director and myself as director, became a reality.

During its twenty-year history, the project has evolved through three stages of development. This first stage extended through 1975, at which time Mitson accepted an appointment as an oral historian for the Forest History Society, and I succeeded Shumway as the CSUF-OHP's second director. The high tide of this stage was reached late in 1974 with the publication of Voices Long Silent: An Oral Inquiry into the Japanese American Evacuation (coedited by Mitson and myself), an anthology of project interviews, interpretive essays grounded in these interviews, and taped lectures delivered by selected interviewees in a University of California, Irvine, Extended Education series that I coordinated. The annotated bibliography of project holdings that we prepared for that volume is instructive. It shows that the project had inherited thirteen interviews conducted for the OHP between 1966 and 1972, all with individuals residing in Orange County, California, who, for the most part, were of Japanese ancestry and had been interned during the war in the Poston War Relocation Center in southwestern Arizona. More importantly, it indicates that within the next two years project members generated seventy-three new interviews, and that these taped recollections encompassed the Evacuation experiences of Japanese Americans and non-Japanese Americans from all over California, though particularly from the Los Angeles area—the prewar residential, commercial, and cultural center of the mainland Japanese American community. In addition to addressing the situations prevalent for evacuees at the nine other War Relocation Authority (WRA) centers apart from Poston, especially the Manzanar center in eastern California that housed primarily evacuees from Los Angeles County, these interviews embraced the reminiscences of: 1) Japanese Americans who had been detained temporarily in many of the fifteen assembly centers managed by the Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA); 2) resident Japanese aliens deemed "potentially dangerous" who were interned in one or more of the several centers administered by the United States Department of Justice; 3) children and grandchildren of the evacuees capitalizing upon the symbolic meaning of the Evacuation as activists in contemporary movements of ethnic consciousness-cum-cultural politics; 4) Caucasians who had been employed by the WRA as camp administrators; and 5) non-Japanese


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residents of the small communities in the regions close to the sites of the former California camps of Manzanar and Tule Lake. The latter was located near the Oregon border and was converted during the war from a regular relocation center to a segregation center for Japanese Americans deemed "disloyal."

What is less clear from perusing the annotated bibliography in Voices Long Silent is how this profusion of interviews came into existence. Although Mitson and I were directly responsible for the production of a substantial number of them, the bulk of the interviews derived from students enrolled in successive seminars on the Evacuation taught by the two of us. During this interval, individual and group forays into the field by project members netted an array of oral memoirs falling into categories noted above. The two most prominent student interviewers during this phase of the project, David Bertagnoli and Sherry Turner, undertook prolonged fieldwork with the aforementioned townspeople living adjacent, respectively, to the Manzanar and Tule Lake campsites. Then, too, other undergraduate student interviewers, notably David Hacker and Ronald Larson, substantially enlarged and enhanced the project's holdings by conducting key interviews with controversial personalities involved in intracamp policies at the Manzanar center. Finally, two other undergraduate interviewers, Janis Gennawey and Pat Tashima, played important roles during this period through the multiple interviews each added to the project's mushrooming archival collection.

The next stage of the project's development extended through 1980. This stage saw the addition of some thirty-five interviews, falling largely within four topical foci: 1) internees and administrators of alien internment centers; 2) celebrated dissidents at WRA centers; 3) Japanese American community leaders in Orange County, California; and 4) residents of the southwestern Arizona communities proximate to the former Poston War Relocation Center. The interviews comprising the last two categories were collected, respectively, under the aegis of seminars that I taught in conjunction with Ronald Larson and Jessie Suzuki Garrett in 1976, and with David Hacker in 1978. Each of these individuals, along with Susan McNamara, Eleanor Amigo, Paul Clark, and Betty Mitson, at one or another time during this phase of the project saw service as the project's director.

More central and, perhaps, more consequential than interviewing in this period, however, was the technical processing and interpretation of the amassed oral data. Owing to a contractual arrangement between the OHP and Microfilming Corporation of America (MCA), a New York Times subsidiary, project personnel were obliged to transcribe, edit, and index our holdings so that they could be disseminated internationally by MCA in a microfilm edition. In addition to the project directors named above, three other project members—Paul Hacker, Elizabeth Stein, and Mary Reando—were instrumental in converting raw tapings into polished archival documents.

With respect to the interpretive work accomplished in this stage, project members produced not only two more published anthologies of its interviews, but also two unpublished CSUF Department of History master's theses and one lengthy scholarly monograph based upon project material. The first of the anthologies, Japanese Americans in Orange County: Oral Perspectives, was edited with an introduction by Eleanor Amigo in 1976. More ambitious in scope, as well as more controversial in nature, was the 1977 anthology, coedited and introduced by Jesse Garrett and Ronald Larson and show casing the interviews transacted by David Bertagnoli and myself, entitled Camp and Community: Manzanar and the Owens Valley. The two theses, authored by Paul Clark and David Hacker, were completed in 1980 under my supervision. Clark's study, "Those Other Camps: An Oral History Analysis of Japanese Alien Enemy Internment during World War II," revolved around interviews he recorded (some with the translation assistance of Mariko Yamashita, a Japanese exchange student at CSUF affiliated with the project), with former internees and administrators of Department of Justice camps for enemy aliens. The thesis by Hacker, "A Culture Resisted, A Culture Revived: The Loyalty Crisis of 1943 at the Manzanar War Relocation Center," was informed by the many interviews in the project impinging upon developments at Manzanar, particularly an intensive three-day interview conducted jointly by Hacker and myself in the spring of 1978 in Norman, Oklahoma, with Dr. Morris Opler. A professor emeritus of anthropology at both Cornell University and the University of Oklahoma, Opler, during World War II, had headed Manzanar's Community Analysis Section. As for the unpublished monograph, "Doho: The Japanese American `Communist' Press, 1937-1942," it was authored by Ronald Larson and anchored by interviews done by himself and other project members.

The project's third stage, persisting into the present and encompassing some thirty-five new interviews, has been characterized by cooperative ventures undertaken with outside agencies and individuals. The first of these had its origins in a 1976 project interview with the central figure in the so-called Manzanar Riot of December 1942, Harry Y. Ueno. This endeavor was capped by a widely circulated and critically acclaimed 1986 project publication Manzanar Martyr: An Interview with Harry Y. Ueno, coedited and introduced by Sue Kunitomi Embrey, the wartime editor of the camp newspaper at Manzanar and the founding chair of the Manzanar Committee (a Los Angeles-based activist group known principally for leading an annual pilgrimage to the Manzanar campsite in the Owens Valley), Betty Mitson, and myself.


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The second shared venture, done in conjunction with the Japanese American Council (JAC) of the Historical and Cultural Foundation of Orange County, consisted of fifteen interviews with pioneer family residents of the Japanese American community of Orange County, California. Of these interviews, which were done by enrollees in a CSUF Department of History community oral history class composed about equally of CSUF students and JAC members, seven were with predominantly Japanese-speaking Issei (immigrant-generation Japanese Americans), whose transaction and processing necessitated the services of competent bilingualists. Fortunately, these were provided on a volunteer basis by college-educated wives in Orange County's large overseas Japanese business community who were affiliated with the JAC. Published as fully bilingual volumes, these interviews, along with eight other ones done exclusively in English with Nisei (citizen-generation Japanese Americans), comprised the first phase of the ongoing Honorable Stephen K. Tamura Orange County Japanese American Oral History Project, named after the founding cochair of the JAC in recognition of his rise from his roots in the local Japanese American community to appointment in 1966 as the first Japanese American appellate judge in the continental United States. (In 1992, work on the second phase of this study began when two new project research associates, Alan Koch and Cynthia Togami, transacted interviews with the members of two prewar Japanese American communities in Orange County, Fullerton and Laguna Beach).

A third set of cooperative undertakings during the project's last phase has been the publication of two novels penned by project interviewees dramatizing the Japanese American World War II experience from contrasting perspectives. The first of these novels, The Harvest of Hate, was written by Georgia Day Robertson, an Orange Countain who supervised the high school mathematics teachers at the three camps in the Poston War Relocation Center during the war. Although submitted originally by Robertson for publication consideration in 1946, its ultimate publication did not occur until forty years later in 1986. Issued jointly with the JAC as a hardcover volume (in June 1989, it was released by Lynx Books of New York as a mass-market paperback), this novel depicts the crisis of the Evacuation through the eyes of the several members of the fictional Sato family, who farmed in the San Diego area prior to being interned at Poston. The second novel Seki-Nin (Duty Bound), saw print in 1989 under the dual copyright aegis of the project and its Nisei novelist, George Nakagawa. Also published in hardcover from, this novel focuses upon the plight of a Seattle-area Nisei, who, out of deference to parental fears for his future, forsakes his native country in 1940 to accompany his parents back to Japan, only to be drafted three years later into the Japanese army and sent to fight, and be killed, in China. Both of these novels, appended with portions of project interviews with their authors, have been widely reviewed in the mainstream and Japanese American community press.

In addition to these cooperative publication activities, the project has continued to extend and diversify its archival holdings. Consistent with its established pattern of collection, the project added more interviews with Japanese American wartime evacuees, especially those who took part in resistance movements; WRA appointed personnel; and social scientists who studied the Evacuation. But while these older categories were augmented, they were also broadened and variegated. For example, a 1982 interview with a Nisei teacher turned social activist, Hannah Tomiko Holmes, took up her wartime evacuation from the School for the Deaf in Berkeley, California, her incarceration at the Manzanar and Tule Lake centers, and her resettlement in Chicago as a student at the Illinois School for the Deaf. Then, too, a 1987 interview with a WRA administrator, Paul S. Robertson, highlights his seven-month directorship of the isolation center for alleged Nisei "troublemakers" established by the WRA in the spring of 1943 at Leupp, Arizona, on the Navajo reservation. Instead of recording further interviews with those "applied" social scientists employed by the WRA through its Community Analysis Section, the project branched out to interview five social-scientific observers connected with the theoretically-attuned University of California-sponsored Evacuation and Resettlement Study (ERS): Robert F. Spencer, an emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota, who served as a field anthropologist at the Gila Relocation Center in Arizona; Charles Kikuchi, a retired Veterans Administration social worker who was an ERS participant-observer at Tanforan (California) Assembly Center and Gila Relocation Center and also collected life histories in Chicago among resettled evacuees; Rosalie Hankey Wax, an emerita anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis, who conducted fieldwork at the Gila and Tule Lake camps; James M. Sakoda, an emeritus professor of social psychology and statistics at Brown University, who carried on participant-observation for ERS at Tulare Assembly Center and the relocation centers at Tule Lake and Minidoka, Idaho; and Setsuko Matsunage Nishi, a sociologist at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, who surveyed the wartime resettlement pattern of Japanese Americans in St. Louis and Chicago.

Finally, this phase in the project's development has witnessed the production, in 1989, of two more CSUF History Department M.A. these by project members. The first, "Medicine in a Crisis Situation: The Effect of Culture on Health Care in the World War II Japanese American Detention Center," by Michelle Gutierrez, makes resourceful use of existing project interviews with an Issei, Dr. Yoriyuki Kikuchi, chief of the dental clinic at


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Manzanar, and Frank Chuman, the Nisei director of the Manzanar hospital. The second, "Interned Without: The Military Police at Tule Lake Relocation/Segregation Center, 1942-46," by Reagan Bell, is heavily reliant upon interviews he transacted for the project with soldiers who were stationed at the Tule Lake Center as well as with a man who served there as one of its assistant directors. Both Gutierrez and Bell illustrate a practice increasingly being followed in the project: that of employing mature students rich in life experiences as interviewers, editors, and interpreters. In the case of the former, she graduated from a university with a degree in microbiology and worked for a decade as a laboratory technician at the University of Southern California/Los Angeles County Hospital prior to matriculating in the graduate history program at CSUF; as for the latter, a World War II veteran who witnessed his southern California classmates at Tustin Union High School being evacuated to Poston and other centers in 1942, he finished a twenty-year U.S. Army career prior to completing his B.A. in history and commencing graduate history studies at CSUF.

During the course of its two-decade existence, the Japanese American Project has been fortunate to have the dedicated service and support of countless individuals. Apart from those already named, a number of other people associated in some significant way with the project deserve recognition for their contributions. Dr. Kinji K. Yada, a colleague in the CSUF Department of History and a wartime internee at the Manzanar center, has assisted the project as a resource person from its inception through the present; not only has he provided timely translations and trenchant advice, but also taught classes taken by project personnel in Japanese and Japanese American history and shaped and sharpened the M.A. theses of a selected few of them. Elizabeth Stein, later a faculty member in the CSUF Department of English, gave unstintingly of her time and editorial talents as an undergraduate while discharging her duties as the project's associate director during its second stage of development. Others who were important to the project for their promotional work in this same period were Duff Griffith and Reed Holderman. Since 1980, the project has benefited greatly, particularly in connection with its work on the Honorable Stephen K. Tamura Orange County Japanese American Project, by the efforts of volunteers drawn from Orange County's Japanese American population and the county's overseas Japanese business community. Noteworthy in the former category were the following individuals: Myrtle Asahino, Yasko Gamo, Susan Hori, Charles Ishii, Gale Itagaki, Hiroshi Kamei, James Kanno, Carol Kawanami, Grace Muruyama, Dr. Ernest Nagamatsu, Clarence Nishizu, Shi and Mary Nomura, Iku Watanabe, Dorothy Wing, and Rae Yasumura. The latter category was headed up by Masako Hanada and Yukiko Sato, who coordinated the team of translators, transcribers, and editors associated with the production of the bilingual volumes in the Tamura collection. Members of this team included: Keiko Akashi, Kokonoe Baba, Kazuko Horie, Hisako Maruoka, Etsu Matsuo, Setsuko Naiki, Kyoko Okamoto, Yoko Tateuchi, Yumiko Wakabayashi, and Chiharu Yawata. CSUF students instrumental during this third phase of the project have been Phillip Brigandi, Celia Cardenez, Jeanie Corral, Richard Imon, Reiko Katabami, Alan Koch, Lisa Nobe, Noemi Romero, Cynthia Togami, and Ann Uyeda. Although the CSUF Oral History Program staff, spearheaded by its able and indefatigable former associate director/archivist Shirley E. Stephenson, has facilitated the work of the project in many ways from its beginning, in recent years the role of staff members, Kathleen Frazee, Shirley de Graaf, Debra Gold Hansen, Nora Jesch, Gaye Kouyoumjian, and Garnette Long, especially in the area of technical processing, has been both spirited and substantial. During the 1980s and 1990s, the project has enjoyed the support of two new OHP directors, Professor Lawrence de Graaf and Michael Onorato, both faculty members in the CSUF Department of History, the OHP's administrative parent. Finally, the four History Department chairs during the life of the project—Professors George Giacumakis, Thomas Flickema, Robert Feldman, James Woodward, and Frederic Miller—have demonstrated leadership beneficial to its growth and development.

Throughout its history, the project has been largely self-supporting as a result of the sale of its assorted publications. In its formative years, a small amount of subsidization was provided by the CSUF School of Humanities and Social Sciences and a series of research grants awarded to student project members through the university's Departmental Association Council. The largest infusion of funds into the project came about, however, during its second developmental stage via Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA) salary payments for trainees attached to the project. In recent years, financial assistance has flowed from several sources: 1) the Japanese American Council of the Historical and Cultural Foundation of Orange County; 2) the MAC NEEL PIERCE FOUNDATION, with student scholarships; 3) CSUF faculty research and travel grants; and 4) donations from project interviewees and their families.

Almost from its outset, project holdings and personnel have been consulted by a variety of researchers, from affiliates of local historical societies and agencies, both within and outside of the Japanese American community, through writers of doctoral dissertations and scholarly studies. In 1993, the National Park Service contracted the project to consulting on the historical interpretation of the Manzanar War Relocation Center. The media have also turned to the project for assistance on a regular basis, extending from area newspapers through network television


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stations in Japan and the United Kingdom, and from low-budget documentary film makers through producers of mass-circulation feature films like Come See the Paradise (1990). The successful movement in the 1980s for redress and reparations to Japanese American survivors of the Evacuation dramatized the value of project documents and it is likely that they will continue to be valued by researchers for many years to come, even after the project as an institutional entity has come to its inevitable end.

ARTHUR A. HANSEN

California State University, Fullerton
1994


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Introduction

Almost from its beginning in 1972, the Japanese American Project of the Oral History Program at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF), has been interested in and benefitted from the work of those individuals who experienced the Japanese American Evacuation firsthand and converted their "fieldwork" into interpretive studies of that cataclysmic historical event. This part of the Japanese American World War II Evacuation Oral History Project bears testimony to this particular Japanese American Project focus. Included in it are interviews done with two categories of "analysts"—novelists (Georgia Day Robertson and George Nakagawa) and social scientists (Togo Tanaka, Robert Spencer, and James Sakoda).

It is fitting that the lead interviews in the two sections of this volume should be those with Robertson and Tanaka. Shortly after Betty Mitson and myself launched the Japanese American Project over two decades ago, she informed me that the Special Collections section of our university library contained the manuscript of an unpublished novel written in 1946 by Georgia Day Robertson, a former mathematics teacher at the Poston War Relocation Center in southwestern Arizona. That the novel was grounded in her experiences at the Poston center made it especially intriguing to us. This was because the prewar Nikkei (Japanese American) community in Orange County (some 2,000 people) had been detained there, adjacent to the Colorado River. Once we read the manuscript, we realized that it possessed more merit than simply being connected to our university's region of service in southern California. We instantly recognized that, quite apart from its documentary subject matter, Robertson's manuscript—then entitled "Harvest of Hate"—possessed considerable literary value. However, it was not until five years later that we were able to locate Robertson, who was then, at ninety-one years of age, living alone in a mobile park in the south Orange County town of Costa Mesa. She readily accepted the project's offer to find a commercial publisher for her epic novel, and failing in that regard, for the project to publish "Harvest of Hate." As it turned out, both of these "scenarios" were enacted: in 1986, under the slightly revised title of The Harvest of Hate, the Japanese American Project (with funding assistance from the Japanese American Council of Orange County) published a limited clothbound edition of Robertson's novel coincident with the author's centennial birthday; then, three years later, Lynx Books of New York City produced a handsome paperback version of The Harvest of Hate for mass distribution. Portions of my 1973 interview with Robertson, which appears in this volume in its entirety, were included in the Afterword to both editions of her novel. Although she died shortly after the Lynx paperback was released, Georgia Day Robertson had lived long enough to lay her literary claim on posterity.

Within two years after the discovery of Robertson's manuscript, the personnel of the Japanese American Project made another discovery—Togo Tanaka, who participated in a lecture series I coordinated on the topic of the Evacuation at the University of California, Irvine, in 1974. A political science honors graduate in the mid-1930s from the University of California, Tanaka had served as the prewar editor of the English-language section of an influential Japanese vernacular newspaper, the Rafu Shimpo, in Los Angeles's "Little Tokyo." After being evicted from the West Coast, Tanaka was interned in the Manzanar War Relocation Center in eastern California's Owens Valley. There he became connected with the camp's Reports Office as a documentary historian, writing almost daily reports about virtually every facet of concentration camp life. When the political currents swirling in the Manzanar center created the storm of the infamous Manzanar Riot of December 6, 1942, Tanaka and other Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) leaders first had their lives threatened by angry opponents of the allegedly "collaborationist" JACL and then, in the wake of the riot, were placed in protective custody in an abandoned Civilian Conservation Corps camp in Death Valley. While there for a few months, Tanaka was contacted by the Evacuation and Resettlement Study (ERS), a University of California, Berkeley, research project spearheaded by the sociologist Dorothy Swaine Thomas. Persuaded by Dr. Thomas's assistant, the political scientist Morton Grodzins, to write a series of in-depth reports about such topics as the Manzanar Riot, the prewar Japanese American press, and the JACL, Tanaka continued his affiliation with ERS even after leaving Death Valley and resettling in Chicago. The two 1974 interviews with him that are represented in this volume take a different yet complementary tack: the first, by Betty Mitson and David Hacker, is a "life review"; the second, by me, pivots on Tanaka's wartime assessment of the causes of the Manzanar Riot (a topic that Hacker and I were then immersed in researching and writing up for publication).


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Because of our joint work on the Manzanar Riot and our separate interviews with Togo Tanaka, Hacker and I became very interested in the role played by social scientists during the Evacuation. One person who we contacted about being interviewed by us for the Japanese American Project on his World War II work was the eminent applied anthropologist, Dr. Edward Spicer of the University of Arizona. Spicer had been affiliated with two social-scientific teams that had studied the Evacuation. Initially, he was an assistant at the Poston War Relocation Center to Dr. Alexander Leighton—an anthropologist, psychiatrist, and U.S. Navy officer—who headed up the Bureau of Sociological Research. Later, he replaced Dr. John Embree, another noted anthropologist, as the head of the Community Analysis Section of the War Relocation Authority (WRA). Unfortunately, Spicer's failing health prevented Hacker and me from interviewing him. But we did find out from Spicer that the anthropologist who had worked under his direction as the community analyst at the Manzanar center, Dr. Morris Opler, was in excellent health and likely would be amenable to our interviewing him. A double emeritus professor from Cornell University and the University of Oklahoma, Opler reluctantly agreed to be interviewed by us in June 1978 at his home in Norman, Oklahoma. The transcript of that interview shimmers with the brilliance of the commentary that Hacker and I were privileged to listen to and record for three days. Sadly, however, Opler (who was then contemplating writing his autobiography) afterwards decided that he was not prepared to sign the CSUF Oral History Program's standard interviewee release form. For this reason, readers of this volume have been deprived of a precious recollective resource.

Nine years after the disappointing aftermath of the interview with Morris Opler, in the summer of 1987, I had the good fortune to interview still another distinguished anthropologist who had done fieldwork during the Japanese American Evacuation, Dr. Robert Spencer of the University of Minnesota. In 1942-1943, while still a doctoral candidate at U.C. Berkeley in his twenties, Spencer had been persuaded by one of his mentors, Dr. Robert Lowie (who along with Spencer's other major professor, Dr. Alfred Kroeber, was a world-class anthropologist), to accept employment as a field anthropologist for Dorothy Thomas's aforementioned Evacuation and Resettlement Study. When I contacted Spencer about interviewing him in relation to a manuscript I was preparing about a near riot at Gila in November 1942, he responded with alacrity. After I told him of my sad experience with Opler, he agreed to sign the interviewee release form before the interview had been conducted. That three-day interview, done simultaneous with Spencer's retirement from the University of Minnesota (where he had been since 1948), follows the ones with Togo Tanaka in the social scientists section of the present volume. What emerged from that interview was not only rich historical and ethnographic "data," but also a valued friendship (with Spencer and his family) and a professional collaboration between Spencer and myself on an anthropological history of Gila (that was tragically terminated by his death from cancer in 1992).

A few months after my 1987 interview with Spencer, I attended a superb conference that Professor Yuji Ichioka of the Asian American Studies Program at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), organized at the University of California, Berkeley, campus to evaluate the achievement of the Evacuation and Resettlement Study. There I met, for the first time, many of the social scientists who had been ERS field workers. With two of them, Charles Kikuchi and James Sakoda, I developed a close enough relationship for me to request that I be permitted to interview them for the Japanese American Project. Accordingly, in the summer of 1988 I traveled to Rhode Island where both of these retirees were living (Kikuchi as a seasonal resident of Block Island and Sakoda as a year-around citizen of Barrington). The successive multiple-day interviews I did with these two social scientists—Kikuchi a social worker, Sakoda a social psychologist—paid compound dividends. In the case of Kikuchi, who had been Spencer's research ally and boon companion at the Gila center and later studied the experiences of midwestern resettlers out of the ERS Chicago office, the interview was transacted in the interstices between family fishing expeditions, swimming parties, historical sightseeing tours, and sumptuous repasts prepared by his renowned dancer-wife, Yuriko (then assistant artistic director for the Martha Graham Dance Company). Lamentably, a month after our interview, Kikuchi was overcome with stomach cancer while on a walk for peace in the Soviet Union and, shortly after being sent home to New York, passed away. Although it was intended that his interview be included in this part of the Japanese American World War II Evacuation Oral History Project, time, space, and financial constraints have frustrated this intention. For similar reasons, the interviews I conducted in St. Louis and New York in 1990 with two other former ERS staffers, the anthropologist Dr. Rosalie Hankey Wax and the sociologist Dr. Setsuko Matsunaga Nishi, are conspicuous by their absence from this volume. Hopefully, another venue can be found for giving voice to their remarkable (and, in the case of Wax, highly controversial) narratives.

Included in this volume, however, is the interview I did with James Sakoda. Ironically, while that interview was being transacted at Brown University (from which Sakoda had recently retired) and the Sakoda home in Barrington, two events transpired: V-J Day was celebrated in Rhode Island (the only state in the Union still honoring


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this holiday), and President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 to redress the wrongs committed against people of Japanese ancestry by the United States government during World War II. To commemorate the latter, my wife Debra and I capstoned a marvelous dinner prepared by Professor Sakoda and his wife Hattie with a champagne toast. The true pièce de résistance, though, was Sakoda's taped recollections of his work for ERS at the Tulare Assembly Center and the Tule Lake Relocation Center in California and the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho. An undergraduate at U.C. Berkeley at the time of Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor, Sakoda was recruited by Dorothy Thomas to work for ERS. The most prolific member of the ERS team, Sakoda lived through—and described and analyzed—all of the major crises experienced by Japanese Americans during World War II: their initial uprooting from their West Coast homes; their incarceration in temporary assembly centers; their transfer to more permanent relocation centers; their successive trials by fire in the relocation centers surrounding registration, segregation, and military conscription; and their ultimate eviction from their wartime prison enclaves back into a largely unwelcoming mainstream American society.

The final voice heard in this volume is that of the Nisei (second generation Japanese American) author George Nakagawa. Born in 1932, much later than any of the others represented here, Nakagawa experienced the Evacuation as a child—at the Pinedale Assembly Center and the Tule Lake Relocation Center in California and at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming. The novel that he wrote during the postwar years while working as a U.S. government civil service employee in Japan, Seki-Nin (Duty Bound), says very little about the Evacuation per se. Still, the psychological struggle that prevailed for Nisei when the country of their ancestry warred with the country of their nativity is, in a very profound and pervasive sense, the defining quality of the novel (which was published under the aegis of the CSUF Japanese American Project in 1989). As the two-part interview I did with him in 1988 about his life and novel makes quite clear, perhaps only a Nisei could have written so palpable a novel about the World War II Japanese American experience as Seki-Nin.

ARTHUR A. HANSEN

California State University, Fullerton
1994

An Interview with
Georgia Day Robertson
Conducted by Arthur A. Hansen
on July 26, 1979 and August 21, 1979
for the
California State University, Fullerton
Oral History Program
Japanese American Project

"The Harvest of Hate" / Poston War Relocation Center
O.H. 1753b

©1994
The Oral History Program, California State University, Fullerton

Use Restrictions

This is a slightly edited transcription of an interview conducted for the Oral History Program, sponsored by California State University, Fullerton. The reader should be aware that an oral history document portrays information as recalled by the interviewee. Because of the spontaneous nature of this kind of document, it may contain statements and impressions which are not factual

Scholars are welcome to utilize short excerpts from any of the transcriptions without obtaining permission as long as proper credit is given to the interviewee, the interviewer, and the University. Scholars must, however, obtain permission from California State University, Fullerton before making more extensive use of the transcription and related materials. None of these materials may be duplicated or reproduced by any party without permission from the Oral History Program, California State University, Fullerton, Fullerton, California, 92834-6846.


3

Interview

  • Interviewee:
  •     Georgia Day Robertson
  • Interviewer:
  •     Arthur A. Hansen
  • Subject:
  •     "The Harvest of Hate" / Poston War Relocation Center
  • Date:
  •     July 26, 1979 and August 21, 1979
Hansen

This is an interview with Mrs. Georgia Day Robertson, 1973 Newport Boulevard, Space#28, in Costa Mesa, California. The interviewer is Arthur A. Hansen and the interview is being conducted for the Japanese American Project of the Oral History Program at California State University, Fullerton. The date is Tuesday, June 26, 1979, and the time is 10:15 a.m. Mrs.Robertson is the author of an unpublished novel, "The Harvest of Hate,"[1] which is a saga of the Japanese American Evacuation based upon the Poston War Relocation Center in Arizona where she taught during World War II.

Georgia, let me begin the interview by asking you a little about your own personal biography, beginning with your family background, and then proceeding on through your childhood into your young adulthood.


Robertson

I was born on an Iowa farm. I don't know why, but I didn't start school until I was almost eight years old. I went to a country school. In 1902 we moved to Keosauqua, the county seat, so that I could go to high school. I completed high school and went to Iowa State College.


Hansen

Let me back up a bit and ask you one or two questions. You were born when?


Robertson

October 9, 1886. [Georgia Day Robertson died in 1991.] I was the youngest of seven children. I had one brother and five sisters.


Hansen

And where was this where you were brought up in Iowa exactly?


Robertson

The southeastern part of Iowa, Van Buren County.


Hansen

What was it like there, growing up in a farm family, at that time?


Robertson

Beautiful! Oh, I had a wonderful time, wonderful time. We hunted Easter eggs at Easter time. Mother let us have all the eggs we could find outside of the chicken house for our own to sell. We could buy something we wanted. Of course, a lot of the hens laid eggs around the weeds and I found a lot of Easter eggs. One year I decided to buy some material for a new dress with my money. I went to the store at the little town of Utica, about a mile and a half from the farm. I bought the ugliest piece of calico they had in the store. It was brown, ugly brown, if you can imagine.


Hansen

Was your family quite serious about education? Did you get personal education at home or through the church?



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Robertson

No, I was the only one of the girls who went to college. An older sister went to kindergarten training school and taught kindergarten. My brother went to college at Ames, [Iowa], and that's the reason I went there [Iowa State College]. He brought his yearbook home. He graduated in 1900. I just went through the yearbook and I knew everybody in it. I knew every professor, I knew all the buildings; Ames was my school.


Hansen

Were you a prolific reader when you were a young girl?


Robertson

Yes.


Hansen

What types of things did you read?


Robertson

Well, everything you wanted to read at that time.


Hansen

Can you recall any books that stood out in your mind, important books to you?


Robertson

Oh, what was that book that always broke my heart, my first novel? I wept over it. My mother had to take it away from me.


Hansen

You don't remember it though? Was it by an American author or a British author?


Robertson

An American author. Gosh, I don't remember the name of it. East Lynne [Or, The Earl's Daughter] was a play, wasn't it?


Hansen

No, it was a novel [written by Mrs. Henry Wood (1814-1887)].


Robertson

That was another thing I wept over. When I graduated from high school, we gave our orations then. You know, everybody had to get up and give theirs, and I wrote on spring. When we were ready to go to commencement that night, Father said, "Have you got your copy of your oration so somebody can prompt you?" I said, "No, I know it. I don't need any prompting." So he took it, but he sat way up in the gallery so I don't know how he expected to prompt me.


Hansen

How big of a school was it, when you attended?


Robertson

Oh, well there were only ten of us in the graduating class. It was a small school.


Hansen

Did you find that you had good instruction from your teachers?


Robertson

Very good!


Hansen

I know you later went on and did work in mathematics. Did you show a proclivity toward mathematics when you were young?


Robertson

Yes, but our high school was not accredited so I had to take examinations in mathematics before I went to college.


Hansen

What hobbies did you have when you were growing up, prior to going to college? What types of things did you like to do? Were you a tomboy?


Robertson

Oh, very much so. I wanted to have my hair cut, wanted short hair. So later in the years when the girls began to bob their hair, by that time I was a white-haired woman. I guess that I was the first older woman to bob her hair. I've had short hair ever since. Oh, just the usual things kids do on a farm, you know, slide down the hill in the winter on a sled, and then we had to walk a mile and a half to school. We went every day, no matter how deep the snow was. If it was too bad, Father would take us in the bobsled. Nowadays, if you get a couple of inches of snow on the ground they don't have school, you know. We went regardless of the weather. I had a neighbor boy, a little younger than I, and we used to get into a lot of things. We


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got some cigarette paper and rolled up corn husk in it and smoked it. We walked to school together and stole turnips out of one of the farmer's turnip patches when we went past, and ate those unwashed turnips on the way to school. I had a lot of fun, I always had a lot of fun.


Hansen

Were there any people of different ethnic backgrounds in Iowa who were the object of any kind of ridicule or discrimination, whether Irish or Scandinavian or German?


Robertson

Well, after I went to high school, there were a lot of black people there. Of course, they were sort of the servants in the community, but there was no racial hatred of them or anything like that.


Hansen

Where was that?


Robertson

In southern Iowa, where I went to high school. I'd be walking home alone at night and there was all tree-bordered streets, you know, and it was pretty dark. I'd hear someone behind me, and I'd look back and if I'd see it was a black man, I'd feel perfectly safe. They kind of looked after the white people.


Hansen

How were they treated back there as a whole, would you say?


Robertson

They were treated very well. They had them as students in high school, no different from anyone else.


Hansen

So the school that you went to that only had ten students was your grammar school?


Robertson

Ten graduates in my high school class. There were about one hundred students in the high school. The town was Keosauqua, an Indian name.


Hansen

Oh, from your high school class.


Robertson

Yes.


Hansen

You went to a grammar school first, didn't you?


Robertson

I went to a country school. Don't tell me they don't teach you how to read and write in a country school.


Hansen

So you got a good education in the country school?


Robertson

I think so. I got a better education in the country school than they get in the Los Angeles, [California], schools today, much better.


Hansen

What do you think the key was to that?


Robertson

Of course, they didn't have all those extra things. All we did was learn to read and learn to spell and learn arithmetic. That's about it.


Hansen

Was there a teacher in the grammar school who was especially important to you?


Robertson

Well, I had just one teacher in the country school.


Hansen

For all the years?


Robertson

No, each year. I had a different teacher each year. In the rural school, the teacher taught all the grades.


Hansen

Was any particular teacher very special to you, then?


Robertson

Well, I had a lot of different ones. None of them stand out.



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Hansen

What about in high school? You had more than one teacher there, didn't you? Did anybody encourage you in high school to go on to college?


Robertson

No.


Hansen

Was it because you were a woman that they didn't encourage you?


Robertson

I don't think they ever thought about it. We didn't get any counseling in school in those days.


Hansen

So the main inspiration you had for going on to college was the fact that your brother went to the college at Ames?


Robertson

No, the reason I went to Ames was my brother, but I would have gone to college anyway. That was in my own mind, I was college-bound.


Hansen

How did you get that idea in your mind?


Robertson

Don't ask me, I have no idea. I just knew that when I got through high school, I was going to college. When we moved to Keosauqua to go to high school—that was 1902—I was sixteen years old.


Hansen

How far away were you from Ames when you went away to school?


Robertson

Oh, something over a hundred miles. Ames is north of Des Moines, twenty-five miles.


Hansen

So you had to go move to Ames and live there on campus?


Robertson

Yes, in the girls' dormitory.


Hansen

Was it easy for your parents to afford to send you away to college?


Robertson

They didn't pay a cent of my expenses.


Hansen

Well, how did you manage that?


Robertson

It didn't cost us much to go to college in those days. The first year my brother gave me two hundred dollars. That was all I needed.


Hansen

Was this the brother who was already in college?


Robertson

Yes. And the second year I worked for professors' wives. I waxed floors and washed windows. That was a wonderful experience. I got acquainted with these professors' wives and later, when I lived in Ames, it was very nice to have them for my friends. And then the third year they let me teach a class in math—algebra—for students who had to take it to make it up. And I was treasurer of the Reading Club, so that paid my expenses. My last year I borrowed five hundred dollars, because I wanted to be free my senior year to really get the most out of it.


Hansen

You borrowed it from the bank?


Robertson

Yes, I borrowed five hundred dollars. My brother-in-law was the cashier of a bank, and he loaned me five hundred dollars. So that's how I got through college. It never cost my folks a cent.


Hansen

How about the course work that you were taking at college. What was your field of study?


Robertson

Mathematics.



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Hansen

Right from the start?


Robertson

Yes. I took the science course: mathematics, physics, zoology, biology, geology—all the ologies. (laughter)


Hansen

So it didn't matter if it were an earth science or a biological science or a physical science, or whatever—it was science, right?


Robertson

Physics was my minor. Of course, everything I learned in physics is out of date now. We had a botany professor who never failed anybody. He said that if you liked botany, you'd study it hard enough to pass, and if you didn't like it, it would be a shame to make you take it again. Now that's a good idea for you as a professor—you remember that.


Hansen

I will. (laughter) Did you, while you were at school, also take courses which would allow you to become a teacher?


Robertson

No, they didn't have any. They didn't have courses like that then.


Hansen

What was your intention when you went to school? What were you planning on doing with a Bachelor of Science?


Robertson

Teach mathematics.


Hansen

Oh, you planned on teaching from the start?


Robertson

Yes. Then I got this idea that I was being called by God to go to China, to go to a mission field. So I joined the student volunteers in college. That was a group that would go to foreign fields.


Hansen

Were you active in the church prior to going to college?


Robertson

Oh yes, even when I was a kid in high school, I'd teach in Sunday school class.


Hansen

Which church was that?


Robertson

Methodist.


Hansen

Was your family in the Methodist church?


Robertson

No, my mother was Presbyterian and she got the surprise of her life when she... the Presbyterians in Keosauqua didn't have a service at night, so we would all go to the Methodist church, and that's where I went because all the young people went there, you know. One night when the preacher asked for people who wanted to join the church to come forward, I got up and I went to the altar. I never said a word to my mother, and she was completely surprised.


Hansen

Did you ever have any difficulty while you were in college being a science student and also being a religionist?


Robertson

No.


Hansen

You didn't? How did you reconcile the two positions?


Robertson

I didn't feel a need to reconcile them.


Hansen

Why not?


Robertson

Why should I?



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Hansen

Well, it's just that oftentimes, especially around the turn of the century, there were a lot of crises that individuals were going through because the claims of science were opposed—in some cases—to the claims of religion. So I just think it's ironic that you didn't have any qualms at all over reconciling the two. But you never did? One was in the area of faith and the other was in the area of logic?


Robertson

I had no conflict whatever.


Hansen

Was the coloration of the college religious?


Robertson

No, it was a state college.


Hansen

But was there a religious atmosphere within the college?


Robertson

We had a very strong YWCA [Young Women's Christian Association], but no, I wouldn't say there was any religious atmosphere.


Hansen

But you had decided for some reason or another that you felt a stirring that you wanted to go into missionary work? So what was the year you graduated from college?


Robertson

1909. While in college, I was very active in the YWCA, athletics—I won my letter in tennis and field hockey—and in Literary Society activities. I was also a member of the Pi chapter of Alpha Delta Pi [social sorority] at Iowa State University.


Hansen

So tell me a little about the beginnings of your missionary work, where you rendezvoused in order to get an orientation, and how you were sent out to China.


Robertson

It's just a disgrace the way they used to send out these young missionaries with no preparation concerning the country they were going to. I was only twenty-four, and I got this appointment that sent me to Chengtu [Ch'eng-tu], China. I had a year to study the language. And this is the way I studied it.


Hansen

This is before you went to China?


Robertson

No.


Hansen

Oh, once you got there.


Robertson

Yes, I got to my station. It took me six or eight weeks to get up there from China because we had to go up the Yangtze River in a houseboat to Chungking [Ch'ung-ch'ing]. And then from Chungking to Chengtu in a sedan chair. It was a ten-day journey. Well, we finally got there. I took out a book—a Chinese primer—and they got a teacher for me, a Chinese teacher. He sat on one side of the table and I sat on the other, and there was the textbook. He didn't speak a word of English; I didn't speak a word of Chinese.


Hansen

He was a Christian, though, wasn't he?


Robertson

I don't know, probably not.


Hansen

You don't know if he was a Christianized Chinese?


Robertson

No, I don't know. And you know, they have the tones in China. A word has its meaning by the tone as well as the pronunciation. So we started "Foo." That was on the first page of the primer, "foo." And he said "foo," in a low tone and I said "foo."


Hansen

"Foo"?


Robertson

I repeated it in the same tone as before, raising my voice like a question. Well, we gave up on that one and


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went to the next one. The next one was stressed on "foo." He said "foo," like he was provoked, and I said "Gee, he's getting mad at me." And I said "foo" and he said "foo." Well, that's the way we went through that. Then all of a sudden I discovered that they had tones as well as pronunciation. That's the way I learned my Chinese.


Hansen

During that year when you were learning the language, were you also getting an introduction into the Chinese culture?


Robertson

Well, what do you mean by Chinese culture?


Hansen

Well, the way of life, the family life, the social customs.


Robertson

Well, there wasn't much of family life as I was in this boarding school with about seventy or eighty girls. I was living in this boarding school and, of course, I'd talk to the schoolgirls and that helped a lot in my learning conversation.


Hansen

This was a boarding school for Chinese?


Robertson

Yes, Chinese girls. Practically every night in summer we'd spend sitting out on campus and then I'd be talking Chinese with these girls. Naturally I didn't learn the official language, but I learned the language of the schoolgirls.


Hansen

What was your mission, so to speak, in terms of its objectives?


Robertson

The same as all missions: evangelization and education. Well, the first year I studied the language and the next year they did a very unfair thing to me. They gave me the principalship of the girls' boarding school.


Hansen

Of the same boarding school you were in?


Robertson

Right off the bat.


Hansen

This was a Chinese school—it was a Christian school?


Robertson

Oh, yes.


Hansen

A Methodist-run school, then.


Robertson

A senior missionary at Chungking who had been out there several years and should have taken the principalship wouldn't come to Chengtu because she wouldn't live with Miss Collier, the teacher who nobody could get along with. And so they gave it to me, just out there one year and one year of language, and then all of a sudden I'm principal of the school, responsible for the lives of seventy or eighty girls—buy all their food, hire the teachers, run the school, buy the cloth and hire the tailor to make their [the schoolgirls'] garments. It was an awful load.


Hansen

Who did you have for teachers there? You talked about how you had to hire teachers. Did you hire Chinese teachers?


Robertson

Well, I had one other missionary who taught, and then all the rest were Chinese teachers. I had about ten or twelve Chinese teachers.


Hansen

How long did you handle the principal's role in the school?


Robertson

Well, I handled it until I got married.



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Hansen

And when was that?


Robertson

That was in 1914, the year the war broke out in Europe.


Hansen

You got married and then came back to the United States?


Robertson

Well, we stayed on in China for a couple of years. When my husband proposed to me, I said, "My life belongs to China." He was out there teaching mining engineering in a government school. And he said, "Well, I think I'd like to stay in China, too." And then I wasn't principal of the school anymore, but I still taught. I taught while the baby was coming, I taught while I kept getting bigger and bigger. I taught as long as I could get in between the desk and wall. That was just about a month before the baby was born. And then before he was a month old, I was back to teaching again.


Hansen

Well you were out in China during a very tumultuous period in Chinese history. Could you tell us a little about that, and how it affected your own personal job at the school?


Robertson

What do you mean?


Hansen

Well, there was a revolution of sorts going on in China at the time.


Robertson

Oh, I was out there during the revolution against the Manchus.


Hansen

Right, that's what I wanted you to talk a little about, and how it affected the running of the school.


Robertson

It had a very drastic effect on the school. All the missionaries were driven, not only out of Chengtu, but out of the whole [Szechwan] province. During those years there was a strong anti-foreign feeling in China which always came to the surface at times when the government was weak. When the revolution against the Manchus broke out, the Manchu government, already weak since the death of the Empress Dowager a couple of years earlier [1908], could give us no protection. Our lives were threatened; we fled from one place to another and finally wound up in Shanghai, which at that time was run by foreigners. That is where the international settlement was, and it was the real Shanghai.


Hansen

When did you start feeling this?


Robertson

Another missionary and I went to Omei, the sacred mountain [for Buddhists] of West China, for the summer of 1911, and on our way back to Chengtu in our sedan chairs we were met by a messenger from Chengtu saying that there was a riot going on there and not to come back. So then we turned and went to Kiating [Lo-shan], on the Min River, and lived with some Baptist missionaries there, and we were harassed the whole time we were there. The Chinese pastor had a plan if they came after us. He was going to hide us up in the garret of his house. Finally there came a time when they had, oh, just thousands of anti-foreign Chinese surrounding the walls of Kiating and they were going to kill all of the foreigners. Then we had to get out.


Hansen

How did you get out?


Robertson

Well, we spent the whole night getting food cooked up because we didn't know where we'd be able to buy it. And then, of course, the cities were all walled, and they always locked the gates at sundown and did not open them until sunup the next morning. We wanted to leave before dawn, so we asked for the key from the Yamen—that's the official city headquarters including the mayor's office—and they opened the gates about four o'clock and we went out before anyone was up. We started down the river and went to Chungking. They had a French and a British gunboat at Chungking.


Hansen

Were you pregnant at the time?


Robertson

No, I wasn't married yet then.



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Hansen

Oh, you weren't married yet.


Robertson

So we stayed at Chungking and finally things got so bad there that we had to leave. One night they were going to kill all the foreigners and all the people who worked for foreigners. You know when the Chinese get frightened they don't get white, they get pea green. Our table boy came to serve us that night, and his face was really green—scared to death, afraid we were all going to get killed that night. Of course, a lot of us were down there at Chungking at the mission and it was just overloaded because people from all over the province had had to flee and get out of their stations. So some of us were sleeping out on the porch. The mission home at Chungking had a two-story veranda that went clear around the house and we were sleeping right out on the veranda, easy prey if anybody wanted to kill us. We went to bed, like nothing was special going on and then, when it began to rain, we knew we were safe because the Chinese wouldn't go out in the rain to do anything. They had pigtails then, and they didn't want to get their pigtails wet. So we knew we were safe. The American consulate had given us a Tibetan dog to protect us and it was the biggest dog I've ever seen in my life; it was as big as a half-grown cow. I was more afraid of that dog than I was of the Chinese. One of his favorite sports was at night when we were all asleep to come up the back steps to the veranda and run around there; and he'd just sort of shake the whole veranda. Well, finally we had to leave Chungking and the British gunboat accompanied the houseboats down the river. We were fired on a few times and finally got to Shanghai.

While I was at Shanghai, we stayed at the mission which was the Methodist home where all the missionaries stayed when in Shanghai. Dr. Lacy had the Methodist Publishing House there. At this time Bishop Bashford was also there, and Dr. [?] of Boxer Rebellion fame in Peking [Peiping] who had done a lot to save the people. That was a wonderful experience there for me, because I was just a country girl from an Iowa farm and here were all these great people. I sat right next to the bishop at the table. He said to me, "Miss Day, you're a mathematics major, aren't you?" And I said, "Yes," wondering how in the world he knew that, the great bishop. And he said, "Well, Dr. So-and-So is teaching mathematics at Nanking Men's University and he wants to do some famine work; I want you to go to Nanking and take his place. Women never taught at men's universities. But I went, and the president of the university said, "Now, if they don't rise and bow when you go into the room, you won't be able to teach, because that would be an insult." Chinese students always stood and bowed to teachers when they went into the room. So I had butterflies in my stomach when I went into that first class—it was trigonometry. As soon as I got inside the door, the whole class came to their feet, and as I took my place behind the teacher's desk, we bowed solemnly to each other. Their great regard for teaching was stronger than their contempt for a woman's mental abilities. Everything went fine.


Hansen

How long did you teach at the college?


Robertson

I taught there a year, and then I went back to West China. It was after I went back to Chengtu that I met the man I married, John Thompson Robertson. He was a Canadian. A few years after we came home he died. He was only thirty-six.


Hansen

You had one child...


Robertson

I had two sons [Angus and David]. They were four and seven years old when their father died.


Hansen

And one of them was born in China?


Robertson

Yes, Angus, the older one, was born in China.


Hansen

What was the precipitating reason for your leaving China?


Robertson

I had promised my parents I would come home at the end of five years. The next year, my husband came home. The war and everything had so depleted the treasury that the government schools couldn't pay the high salaries they were paying the foreign teachers. So they let him out and he came home.



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Hansen

And so where was home when you came back to the United States? Was it Iowa for both of you? Did you come home to Iowa or did you go up to Canada?


Robertson

No, he came to Iowa to get me and then took me up to Canada to meet his relatives. Then he got a position in Fredericktown, Missouri, as a mining engineer at a cobalt mine. They opened up this cobalt mine during World War I because of the demand for cobalt. So we lived in Missouri. That's where my second son, David, was born. Then my husband felt guilty because I had said that my life belonged to China, so he felt he had to try to get back. He went back—I don't remember what year it was—after the war was over. He went back to a mining company in Yunnan Province and I was waiting for them to build a bungalow for his family so he could bring us out. Then the government changed their mind and gave the mining company no protection whatever, so they just gave it up and he came home.


Hansen

So you were back in Missouri?


Robertson

Yes, but not the same place; we were in Flat River this time. That's where he died.


Hansen

In Flat River?


Robertson

Well, he died in New York, but that's where he got sick.


Hansen

He died a natural death, then?


Robertson

He died of cancer.


Hansen

And he was very young. So there you were with the two boys...


Robertson

Just two strong boys, so [there was] nothing to do but go back to teaching. That's when I got my two master's degrees, in the 1920s.


Hansen

Did you stay in Missouri and go to school there?


Robertson

No, I went back to Ames. I went to Ames and then I took a summer semester at USC [the University of Southern California] in Los Angeles. I received a master's degree in economic history in 1924. My second master's degree was in education. I could have gotten it at USC if I had wanted to, but I just had the idea that they would be harder on the exam—the thesis exam. I'd rather be back at Ames where I felt more at home.


Hansen

Let me see if I can get this straight now. When you went back to Ames, you were going to school but you were also teaching at the same time?


Robertson

Well, I was on a teaching fellowship. I also went to Teacher's College, Columbia University [New York City], for a brief period, and I tell you, it was great in those years—I don't know anything about it now. Almost in a month there, you get an education.


Hansen

How'd you do all this? Were you teaching at a high school in Ames, too, while you were going to school?


Robertson

No.


Hansen

What was your main job when you were taking these degrees?


Robertson

My teaching in the college at Ames. Like I say, I was teaching on a fellowship.


Hansen

Oh, I see. You weren't a graduate assistant or anything, you were on a teaching fellowship. When you went away in the summers—this was at the same time, like to USC and to Columbia—you would be going to summer school?



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Robertson

No, I was at USC one summer and then I was out here one semester in 1927—the second semester, February to May of 1927—taking graduate work.


Hansen

Who took care of your kids then? Did they come with you to California?


Robertson

Sure.


Hansen

So when you were out at USC, was this your first trip to California? Or had you come here enroute to China?


Robertson

Yes, I went to China from San Francisco.


Hansen

So what did you think of southern California?


Robertson

I liked it. I wanted to teach out here, but somebody said nobody with white hair can get a position in California. After receiving my Master's in Education in August 1927, one of the professors in Education at Iowa State died. The head of the department, Dr. Lanslot, called me over and asked me to take his position temporarily because it was under the Agricultural Department, Vocational Education. You had to have a degree in agriculture to hold a permanent job. So I took it temporarily while they found someone else. Dr. Lanslot was so pleased with my work that he kept me the whole year and gave me two terms of summer school. Do you have summer school at [California State University at] Fullerton?


Hansen

Yes, we do.


Robertson

Do the teachers like to get the jobs?


Hansen

Love it.


Robertson

Well, it was the same way at Ames, so you know the head of the department must have thought I was doing pretty good work, because I never even asked for it. I had never even planned on coming to California for the summer.


Hansen

What did you do, come at the end of the summer?


Robertson

The end of the summer I went to Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, a Methodist college, and taught a couple of years.


Hansen

How'd you like it in comparison to your old job at Ames?


Robertson

Oh, Ames was the most beautiful year I ever had professionally. That was tops—to be a professional teacher at Ames—to have a desk in the Education office along with the professors I had gone to school to. That was great. I wish I could have stayed.


Hansen

So you went from one of your nicest experiences ever in teaching to one of the worst?


Robertson

Yes, one of the worst. I stayed at Simpson two years. I got fired.


Hansen

Oh, you got fired—for what?


Robertson

I don't know. They never tell you why they fire teachers; they never tell. A friend of mine who was also fired said if you could sue a certain person on the faculty for slander and collect, you wouldn't have to work for the rest of your life. So I don't know what kind of a tale they got out about it. The students came to my home at night because they knew I was someone they could talk to. One time they came and brought a little jug of alcohol and we had something to drink. One of them drank most of the alcohol before the others had barely gotten the ginger ale—or whatever they were going to put in it—ready. So he got kind of drunk and I kept him after the others left because I was afraid if he went home drunk the college would


14
find out and fire me. The Methodist preacher lived right across the street from me, so I don't know whether he had a listening post in his bedroom or what, but anyway I don't know what the story was—I didn't even ask the woman who fired me; I didn't care.


Hansen

You just wanted to be out of it?


Robertson

I didn't care.


Hansen

Where did you go from there?


Robertson

I got a fine recommendation from the president who fired me. I went to Morehead State Teachers College in Kentucky, quite a school now; it was just new then, didn't even have all the buildings built. I went there as a teacher trainer in the teacher training school. I trained math teachers how to teach math and also demonstrated. When I'd be teaching, I'd look up and there would be a whole row of people from some college—a prof and his students—watching. Then we had a room where I took a class to teach before college classes in education. They had seats just like bleachers in the back of the room. The prof would bring his education class down and I'd take my little junior high class in arithmetic down and teach—show the students how to teach—oh, I hated it. I called it the delivery room. Then one day a prof had his students there and I had a student put up a problem on the board—it was a real long problem—she made a mistake at the beginning and I didn't see it. She went through that whole process and then when she got to the end, she had the wrong answer, so she had to go back over it. After the class, the college prof who had his students there said, "My, that was a wonderful thing you did. There are not many teachers who would have had the patience to let that girl go on after she had made that mistake." He never dreamed I hadn't seen it. (laughter)


Hansen

Made you sound real magnanimous.


Robertson

Yes, he thought that was a wonderful thing.


Hansen

How long did you stay at Morehead?


Robertson

Two years, then I got fired there.


Hansen

What was that for? Did they tell you this time?


Robertson

Well, they're very provincial in Kentucky, and the same year I went there, they brought in two other teachers from outside the state. That was quite an innovation, to bring anybody in from outside the state. They brought a Mrs. Wilson from California, a wonderful English teacher; they brought Miss Shepherd from Ohio, a marvelous foreign languages teacher; and they brought me from Simpson College. They fired Wilson the first year and the second year they fired the other two of us.


Hansen

So this anti-foreign thing had been following you around from China, huh?


Robertson

We were just like foreigners to them. It was then that I moved to California.


Hansen

What year was that?


Robertson

It was 1933.


Hansen

The time [Franklin Delano] Roosevelt was first taking office [as the president of the United States].


Robertson

Yes, I remember. When we came to California, we lived in Midway City [an unincorporated community in Orange County], but it was in August, after Roosevelt had gotten inaugurated, in August of 1933. People were still talking about the earthquake, you know; it had happened in March. Then the next eight years—from 1933 to 1941—by selling short stories and teaching at a Santa Ana [county seat of Orange County]


15
evening high school and raising chickens and selling eggs, I was able to make enough money to pay the rent and keep food on the table for all of us, and buy a bit of meat for the cat. I bought two gallons of gas a week to drive to market in Santa Ana.


Hansen

So you didn't have a regular teaching job out here, did you?


Robertson

I didn't have a teaching job in California until 1947.


Hansen

I see. So you were selling short stories and raising chickens; what was the other thing?


Robertson

Teaching at Santa Ana Evening High School.


Hansen

What town were you living in at that time?


Robertson

Midway City.


Hansen

How big was that at the time?


Robertson

Oh, they had maybe a thousand people then. When they opened the oil fields in Huntington Beach [Orange County], they had to move a lot of houses out. So they moved them to Midway City, and that's what started Midway City.


Hansen

How did you travel to Santa Ana to do your teaching?


Robertson

I had a car.


Hansen

How did you go from Midway City to Santa Ana at that time?


Robertson

Oh, Midway City is about seven miles straight west of Santa Ana. You could go out on Bolsa Avenue or Seventeenth Street. I did that until 1941. Then I entered the University of Southern California to work for my doctorate.


Robertson

After about a month I was offered a position at the USO [United Service Organization] in San Diego, [California]. All during the Depression, no jobs—I thought money was more important than a doctorate. I just loved that month at USC working for my doctorate; but a job was more important than a doctorate and I could get that later. So I took the job and I was down in San Diego working at the USO. Then my next stop was Poston [War Relocation Center in southwestern Arizona].


Hansen

Let me back up just a little. When you were living here in Orange County, that was quite a while actually, about seven years, right? You were living in Midway City most of the time?


Robertson

I've lived in Orange County ever since I've been out here.


Hansen

When you were living in Midway City, did you have contact with members of the Japanese American community?


Robertson

Oh sure, they were all around.


Hansen

What were they mostly doing here at the time?


Robertson

They were ranchers [farmers] and they had their little wayside road stands, where we went and bought vegetables. Then, as I said, my son Dave's two best friends were Nisei [citizen-generation Japanese Americans] and we had very close contact with them. There was a Nisei family that lived right in Midway City that had a fish farm, goldfish for aquariums. They were nice people, lovely people.



16
Hansen

Did you ever learn any Japanese, by any chance, having a background in Chinese?


Robertson

Well, that was just after World War II.


Hansen

Oh, later on you did?


Robertson

Yes, before I went to Japan in 1950, I got some records and tried to learn from them, but I didn't learn very much.


Hansen

So most of your contact with Japanese Americans before the war was through your children and then you knew a few families in Midway City. Did you have Japanese American students at night at Santa Ana when you were teaching there?


Robertson

No, I don't think I had any Japanese students.


Hansen

But you were conscious of them being around in the area?


Robertson

Oh, very much so.


Hansen

Did you feel at that particular time that they were discriminated against in Orange County?


Robertson

Well, I just really didn't know. They just had their businesses and they seemed to be very prosperous. They owned all the strawberries in the county.


Hansen

But you didn't see any anti-Japanese behavior?


Robertson

I didn't see it, no.


Hansen

So anyway, then, we were talking about your going down to San Diego—I'm sorry for backtracking—to work for the USO at the time that the Pearl Harbor news of the Japanese attack came through. Were you alone then or was one of your boys still with you?


Robertson

I was alone there. Angus was up north someplace by that time—in Alaska or Washington—and David was working for Douglas [Aircraft Company]. He got a room and went and left Midway City. He had to get a room someplace else.


Hansen

So how long were you down in San Diego before Pearl Harbor?


Robertson

I went down about the first of October, so about two months.


Hansen

What was your job with the USO?


Robertson

I was in charge of entertainment. The USO I worked for was operated by the Salvation Army and we couldn't have dances. Boy, it was hard to get girls to come to parties! (laughter) The YWCA also had a USO unit and I talked with that girl who was the daughter of a very famous professor at the University of Iowa [in Iowa City,Iowa]—I can't think of his name—and she didn't have any trouble because they could dance over there and get all the girls they wanted. But I had a very hard time getting the girls to come to the parties.


Hansen

Did you ever have any contact with Japanese Americans in San Diego when you were down there? Through the USO at all? Any Nisei soldiers?


Robertson

No.


Hansen

Where was the USO located?



17
Robertson

Oh, it was on the upper floor of a building right in the downtown area.


Hansen

Because it was a military town, was San Diego especially panic-struck by the Pearl Harbor attack? Was the whole town pretty much in a state of anxiety?


Robertson

No, not the whole town, just individuals. Of course, we had a blackout that night. There was a line of streetcars just standing out there on the tracks not moving, no lights on them, no street lights or nothing. I couldn't get back to my room. I had to go across the street to a hotel. The lobby was loaded with people who couldn't get to their homes—some people who lived just off the coast over on Coronado [Island]. There was no bridge at that time, I believe.


Hansen

No, there wasn't. They only put it in a few years back. It was a ferry system up until the 1960s.


Robertson

Nothing was running. I stayed in that hotel overnight, and this woman with whom I was rooming out on Mission Hill—she was one of the hysterical ones—loaded up her car and said, "Would you like to move out? I'm going down there, we're going to be bombed." Away she went to Arizona. I went back to the hotel and got a room and stayed in that hotel the rest of the time I was in San Diego.


Hansen

How long did it take for people to regain some semblance of "business as usual" in San Diego?


Robertson

I don't know, because I didn't know much about that side—I was too busy in USO.


Hansen

Well, how did it change your job at the USO?


Robertson

Well, there was quite a different attitude on the part of the men. One day they were there and the next day they were gone. It was pretty sad.


Hansen

I would have thought they would have relaxed the ordinance against dancing, too. Did they?


Robertson

No.


Hansen

They didn't?


Robertson

Never.


Hansen

So how long were you down in San Diego at the USO?


Robertson

I wasn't down there too long, three or four months.


Hansen

What did you do after that, since that only took you into about early 1942, didn't it?


Robertson

Well, I came home for the summer and looked for a job for the fall. Along in August, I still hadn't found anything, so I went into the California Teacher Association's Placement Bureau in Los Angeles. They didn't have anything. Just as I was leaving—I had my hand on the doorknob, I was in a hurry to open the door, I guess—and the secretary called to me and said, "Would you be willing to teach Japanese?" I said, "Why not?" Then she told me about Poston. She gave me Dr. Miles Carey's address and said, "He's looking for teachers, write to him."


Hansen

Had you heard anything at all about the [Japanese American] Evacuation up to that point?


Robertson

Oh, I knew the Japanese had been evacuated, but I am ashamed that I didn't protest against it. There were so many things happening then. So I wrote to Dr. Carey and asked for a job in math. He wrote back and said that all the Nisei were going to teach the math in the high school and could I teach social science. I wrote back and said yes. I never had, but sure, I could teach it. Then I never heard a word from him. It got to the last day of September and I'd rented my house and I thought, "Gee, I wonder what's the matter;


18
I think I'd better call him up." So one Saturday night I called him—the last day of September—and as soon as I got him on the phone, he said, "Why aren't you down here, school begins on Monday!" I said, "I didn't know I had a job." You see, the Nisei girls were employed as the secretaries in the offices and they were so mad about being down there that they didn't give a darn whether they did things right or not. They had sent my letter telling me I had this job as head of the Department of Mathematics and had sent it to somebody else in northern California.


Hansen

Oh, so they gave you a math job actually?


Robertson

Yes. They wrote and told me I would be the head of the Mathematics Department and supervisor of teachers.


Hansen

Who was the head of the school at Poston that you mentioned? What was his name again?


Robertson

Dr. Miles Carey—a wonderful fellow.


Hansen

So you had to get down there to Arizona over the weekend?


Robertson

Yes, I had to pack up that night and I went down that same night. A friend took me because I didn't have any tires for my car. You know how it was in those days. I didn't have a spare, so I was afraid to drive. My friend took me down and we drove all night. We got to Poston in the morning, dead tired and hot—it was hot! We had breakfast in one of the mess halls. My friend had gone down to visit one of her Nisei friends from Westminster [Orange County].


Hansen

This was like in early October of 1942?


Robertson

Yes. So she went right to the block of her friend, and that was the only time while I was down there that I ate in one of the Japanese mess halls. You know what we had for breakfast? We had cold pancakes and syrup and hot coffee. And that was my breakfast. I don't know if it ever got better after that or not.


Hansen

Where did you live after that?


Robertson

They put us in the barracks, just like the Japanese had, only better furnished.


Hansen

But you didn't live with the Japanese?


Robertson

No. There was a school block, a block set aside for the school. The Caucasian teachers occupied two rows of barracks in that block.


Hansen

Did all the teachers who were at Poston stay at Poston III?


Robertson

Oh no, in Poston I, Poston II, and Poston III [the three camps that together comprised the Poston War Relocation Center].


Hansen

Didn't you only have one high school for all of Poston?


Robertson

No.


Hansen

Oh, you had Poston I High School, Poston II High School, and Poston III High School?


Robertson

Right, the same with the junior high and the grade schools. Each camp had its own schools and principals.


Hansen

So you were the head of the Mathematics Department for...


Robertson

For all three high schools at Poston.



19
Hansen

Oh, for all three of them, I see. So you had to meet regularly with the heads of the other two schools. I mean, you met with the other Math teachers at Poston I and Poston II.


Robertson

Yes. All of the math teachers in the high school were men—Nisei men—and they all had at least one year of university. It was from them that I got a lot of material which is in my novel [The Harvest of Hate ]. Mel Finley was the head of the Social Services for the Administration. She appointed me to counsel with the Nisei men in our Poston III camp who had fathers in prison camps. Some of them had real mental troubles and what they needed was a psychiatrist. At least I could listen to them. They would tell their stories. They were having a hard time handling the situation, because they knew their fathers had never done anything wrong, and there was no reason why they had to put them in prison camps. They just couldn't take it, you know. Then there was the problem that they were putting up a camp someplace—it seems to me it was in Texas—you probably know, where the men in the camps could have their families with them?


Hansen

Yes, in Crystal City, Texas.


Robertson

These fellows had to decide whether they'd stay at Poston or go with their families to these prison camps. They had a lot of problems. And I also learned just gobs of information from them about before their evacuation.


Hansen

You weren't at Poston very long before they had a pretty considerable strike [November 1942] in the Poston camps. That must have been one of your first memories, isn't it?


Robertson

Well, it amounted to so little that it didn't make much impression on me. I was up in Poston I that day of the strike and I was right in the midst of it. It wasn't very exciting. They just had built a platform and they had a fellow up there on the microphone and he was stirring on the crowd and they were listening and yelling and that was about all there was to it[2].


Hansen

And you didn't feel any fear at all?


Robertson

No, I went right in back of the crowd; I was close enough so that I could have touched them. I was right behind the crowd. See, I visited all these math teachers regularly and then we had all those teachers' meetings and we always wound up talking about the Evacuation.


Hansen

Really? How did you evaluate the teaching staff over there?


Robertson

Good.


Hansen

Both from the point of view of the Anglos who were in there teaching, like yourself, and the Nisei?


Robertson

Oh, I thought you meant the Japanese American teachers.


Hansen

I meant both really.


Robertson

Oh, there were some of the Caucasian teachers who had no business to be there. One of them even called the kids "Japs" right in class. There were others who didn't use much judgment. Some of the missionaries were overly sentimental and sympathized with the evacuees too much. Although I was head of Mathematics, the Education Department still didn't have their full faculty at the beginning so I had to teach a class in the social sciences. And I'll never forget that first morning when I went into the classroom—bare barracks and no seats even, and a little table for the teacher and a little chair and, back up on the wall, her own little blackboard. And that's all there was in the room. No textbooks, no seats. The kids came in carrying their little stools their fathers had made for them out of mesquite. Those high school boys were mad as hornets. I would say that the high school age were the mad ones and the college age were the hurt ones. Oh, were they mad! They were just there to break up the whole thing. They were used to the California school buildings and the big libraries and gymnasium and all that sort of thing—and now this bare barrack. I said to them, "I won't say I know how you feel, because that would be impossible, it wouldn't be true.


20
I can't know how you feel. But I have a good idea. You're here and there's nothing you can do about it, and nothing I can do about it, so there's no reason to punish yourselves by not getting an education while you're here. So let's get down to business." No textbooks! I did a great job of teaching then, really, it taxed all of my ability.


Hansen

Did they get down to business?


Robertson

Yes, I had a nice time with them.


Hansen

Did you find it one of your better teaching experiences?


Robertson

I just taught that class a month, and then they got another Caucasian teacher in and he took it—Louie Marquette, a Jew from Brooklyn. We had a lot of fun with him and we loved him! But he said one day, "I'm sure getting tired of hearing the class talking about how Mrs. Robertson did it." (laughter) He'd hear that every day, "Mrs. Robertson did this; Mrs. Robertson did that."


Hansen

Why did they take you out of the classroom?


Robertson

Well, I wasn't supposed to be teaching because I was the department head.


Hansen

Oh, so the department head didn't teach there?


Robertson

No, I wasn't supposed to be teaching, but I had to take this class because they didn't have a full faculty yet.


Hansen

So your total classroom teaching experience down there consisted, really, of one month, right?


Robertson

No, after the government began to allow the Nisei to go out and relocate—you know, go east and finish their education or get jobs or something like that—some of our Nisei teachers left. I had to take classes then. Most of the time, after the first year, I was teaching at least one class. That gave me contact with the high school as well as the college age.


Hansen

How long did you stay at Poston, until it closed up?


Robertson

No, I left in the spring at graduation.


Hansen

Which year?


Robertson

In 1945. And they closed up sometime that summer, I guess.


Hansen

You left in 1946?


Robertson

No, in 1945. Yes, Poston closed up in the fall [November] of 1945.


Hansen

And so you were there pretty close to the end then. Altogether you were there from 1942 to 1945, almost three years.

Georgia, let's now talk about the contacts you had with people within Poston, the Japanese Americans. You've already mentioned a couple of instances of people to whom you talked, but do you recall having long conversations about their experiences prior to the war and at the time of evacuation and subsequent to that, regarding their families and the like?


Robertson

Oh, I had numerous conversations. I couldn't pick out anyone special, because they are just continual—they wanted to talk about it.


Hansen

The people you were talking to is really what I'm getting at—not individuals so much as groups of people.


21
To whom did you tend to speak? Would you speak mostly to high school students or with their parents? Did you speak with Issei [immigrant-generation Japanese Americans ineligible for United States citizenship] as well as Nisei?


Robertson

I spoke both to individuals and to groups of people, outside of the classroom.


Hansen

Now I don't mean you speaking to them as a group, but I mean speaking to members of certain groups in the camp. Do you remember having any friends among the Issei generation, the older people in the camp?


Robertson

No. My contact with Issei was very little, I just saw them. The gardener who looked after the lawn and planted flowers and things around our barracks and the janitors at the school—of course, they didn't speak much English, the people in that group. So I had very little contact with the Issei. I don't know if the woman who organized the teachers' group was a Nisei or not—she came from Los Angeles—a very lovely woman. She spoke very good English. But, of course, there are a lot of Issei who speak English well. My contact with Issei was just about nil, my personal contact with them.


Hansen

What about with the Kibei, the Nisei who were educated in Japan and had spent some time there? Did you have any contact with them?


Robertson

Just the one in the book. And he's imaginary. No, I don't remember knowing any Kibei.


Hansen

So most of your intimate contacts were with the Nisei teachers who worked under your supervision, right? Were they an interesting group of individuals?


Robertson

Yes, marvelous, and all different. But they're just as American as the Caucasians, just as American. You can't classify them, you can't stereotype them, they were just as different individually as the Caucasian teachers were.


Hansen

Do any of those teachers stand out in your memory as ones with whom you developed a close personal friendship, and have even, say, exchanged Christmas cards with in the years since the war, or whatever?


Robertson

No. This Gil Marada—I think he's represented in my novel—was one of my teachers who I liked very much, and then this teacher who was the one depicted in the novel as the artist's son, I remember him. No, I didn't correspond with any of them. Of course, the Orange County group I didn't know because they were in camps II and III. One Orange County family I knew was in Camp III. I don't know why. The son is about the only Orange County person I know of who lived there; and, of course, I've had contact with him ever since I've been home. That was Hitoshi Nitta [see O.H. 3]. He married at Poston, and his wife, Mary [see O.H. 1127a,b], was also a close friend.


Hansen

Where in California had most of the people in Poston III lived before being evacuated?


Robertson

San Diego County and San Joaquin Valley.


Hansen

So most of your teachers were representative of that area.


Robertson

My teachers, of course, were in all three camps. I visited all the camps.


Hansen

So you had teachers from Orange County as well?


Robertson

Oh, yes. I had teachers from Orange County. Then, of course, I've kept in touch with them ever since I came from Poston. Every once in awhile the Nisei in this county used to get together and talk over Poston days, and once in awhile they would stop and take me with them. I was just sort of one of them, you know. I remember one night one of the fellows said—we had been talking about our experiences down there at Poston—and he said, "Well, I'm certainly glad I had that experience. I sure wouldn't want to go through that again, but I think I really got a lot out of it." I thought that was really interesting.



22
Hansen

When you went to that camp you probably didn't have a very strong feeling about the Evacuation because, as you said, you had heard about it and you knew it was going on. Once you got there and you were involved within the camp, did you start to develop some feeling that this was a terrible thing, or did that ever occur?


Robertson

Definitely.


Hansen

How fast did that come about?


Robertson

Well, it didn't take long, I can tell you. Just a barren desert and those ugly barracks. There wasn't even a green blade of grass or leaf or anything. Bulldozers had scraped off mesquite, everything off the desert, before the barracks were built. When I went there, there was nothing but these black tar paper buildings and, of course, the administration buildings were wood and painted grey and white and they had a little group of them and most of them were in Camp I. We had small groups of administration buildings in Camps II and III. When I saw these Issei there sitting with idle hands, just sitting, sitting, sitting and looking down at the ground. Oh, the things I saw! It didn't take long for me to decide that this was a shameful thing, a tragedy, just a tragedy.


Hansen

Do you think that the administration at Poston was pretty much of a similar mind as you were, that they realized that this was an American tragedy?


Robertson

Oh, I think that that was recognized clear up to the federal government. I think they had no longer accomplished the evacuation of the people then they realized they had made a colossal blunder, because it was so soon that they began to make arrangements to let the people out to go east. I kept wondering where Eleanor [Roosevelt] was when [President Franklin] Roosevelt was signing the proclamation [Executive Order 9066]. She kept pretty good track of what he was doing and if she had known about that, I think she would have objected.


Hansen

Do you remember her visiting the camps?


Robertson

No, I don't remember a thing about it. I wonder if it's true.


Hansen

Well, she did visit [in spring 1943] the Gila [War Relocation] Center [in southcentral Arizona], but I'm not sure that she visited Poston.


Robertson

She certainly didn't visit when I was there. Some of the prominent visitors when I was there—and I wish they would put it in a book—was the Congressional [sub]committee [headed by Senator A. B. "Happy" Chandler] that conducted that investigation [in spring 1943]. They took the word of that fellow [a WRA employee at Poston] who had been dismissed [from his duties by the camp administration] and he lied to them. When we read the morning Los Angeles Times, we just couldn't believe our eyes. I don't know what the committee was, but they were the congressional committee that investigated Poston because there had been so many things said—the evacuees were getting better food and they were storing food for the Japanese when they came over, and were poisoning the water in the dam way up there above Parker, [Arizona, on the Colorado River]. There we were down several miles below Parker and how could poisoning the water down there get clear up to the dam? No one could figure that out. They never let up. The Los Angeles Times never let up on the Japanese, even after they came back home.


Hansen

Is that the paper you were getting down there at Poston, the Los Angeles Times?


Robertson

Well, the Times was what practically everyone was getting; that's what they sold at the canteen. All of the newspapers were lambasting them [Japanese Americans]. Norman Chandler was the owner and editor at that time and I got so disgusted I finally wrote a letter and invited him down [to Poston]. I said, "I just wanted to give you an invitation to come down and meet some of these fine Japanese Americans and find out what good citizens they are and how patriotic they are." Then I thought, here, I've invited the owner and editor of the Times down and never even said a word about it to the administration. I think I'd better tell them. I told the administration about it and they said, "That's okay, I hope he comes." Well, I had a letter from


23
him—a long one—but it certainly wasn't an answer to mine.


Hansen

Do you still have it?


Robertson

No, because he didn't say a word about the invitation and he didn't say a word about the Nisei. All he told me about was that several years before he had planned to get a large tract of land down in Mexico, and he was bringing over Japanese to farm it. And how glad he was now that he hadn't done it, because then he would have had a Japanese enemy and a Japanese army right here on our border.


Hansen

When you came back from Poston, where did you move? Where did you settle in California, or did you settle in California?


Robertson

I still lived in Midway City; I had my home there.


Hansen

Did you go back to teaching when you came back? Or did you go back to selling eggs and writing short stories?


Robertson

No, I didn't get a teaching job because I came home in the spring of 1945.


Hansen

Well, the WRA supposedly had a responsibility to try and place the people who had worked for them during the war. You didn't get any assistance in having them help place you in a job?


Robertson

I didn't ask for it. Some of the folks did and some of the folks didn't.


Hansen

So then what did you do for an income?


Robertson

Oh my, I lived on what I had made down at Poston. I probably sold my bonds—it was an order by the government to buy bonds every month—so I had several bonds. And, of course, I was alone then because David had gone to war and Angus was in the Merchant Marine. So I was alone and it didn't cost much to live.


Hansen

So how long was it before you felt some indignation sufficiently to decide you wanted to launch your novel, "The Harvest of Hate"? Can you remember the conditions surrounding your decision to write that book? I'm sure you do.


Robertson

Well, it wasn't until 1946 that I decided to write it. I can't remember what I did in 1945. I don't know whether I ever told you or not, but I needed a setting that had to be San Diego County. I knew that I'd have to have the locale of the book down there because it was from the San Diego County people that I had gotten so much of my information and although it probably would have been the same all over before the Evacuation, I still wanted to write from the place where I got the information. So I went down to Chula Vista, south of San Diego—they had a lot of Japanese ranchers down there. I had a friend in Chula Vista who I stayed with and we drove out to these Japanese ranches and looked them over and they were very accommodating and stopped their work and I told them what I was going to do. They showed me their land and their equipment and what they were growing and their buildings and showed me how they grew their different crops and told me what they grew in the summer and in the winter, and so I got a firsthand idea of ranching. That was very valuable.


Hansen

Before we get into those details, what prompted you to write The Harvest of Hate?


Robertson

It's pretty hard to say after so many years, but I think perhaps as I told you [off tape], the [postwar] trip to Iowa might have had something to do with it, to find the utter ignorance of the people, and even after I talked to them about their indifference, they just looked upon it as a local problem. It didn't make any difference to them and they didn't do anything about it. Anyway, there came a time in early 1946 one night when I said to myself, "Someone has to write a book." Since I had done quite a bit of writing, it didn't seem like such a big task, so I decided that I would do it.



24
Hansen

What had you written up to that point?


Robertson

Oh, I had written two or three books on China. Also, I had written a book about World War II concerning a woman who was very patriotic and thought her husband ought to go to war—and he didn't care to go to war. So she went to war herself, with the Red Cross.


Hansen

Were these novels that you wrote?


Robertson

I've never written anything but fiction.


Hansen

Had any of these novels been published or not?


Robertson

No.


Hansen

Now, you were saying that you were writing some short stories to subsidize your family and everything, so obviously some of your short stories were published.


Robertson

Oh, I sold around twenty of them.


Hansen

Who did you sell those to?


Robertson

They were stories for young people. There was a church magazine, for instance, that published short stories for youngsters.


Hansen

When did you start writing the stories?


Robertson

After I quit teaching in 1932, after I got fired from Morehead. I had probably written little things before that. Then it was the Depression and there wasn't anything to do and I liked to write. I think if my English teachers had given me a little encouragement in college, I would have started writing right away and if I'd really put a lot into it, I'd be a successful writer.


Hansen

Did you write anything during World War II during the time you were at Poston? Had you written any short stories or essays or sketches?


Robertson

While I was at Poston, no. There wasn't much time for writing while I was down there.


Hansen

Did you keep a diary at Poston?


Robertson

No, they say only an introvert keeps a diary.


Hansen

Aren't you an introvert?


Robertson

I don't know. (laughter)


Hansen

But you didn't keep a diary or a journal when you were down there?


Robertson

No.


Hansen

Did you do any other kind of writing at Poston other than that angry letter you wrote to Norman Chandler? Did you do any other writing, like for the camp newspaper [ Poston Chronicle]?


Robertson

No, I don't think so. Did you read that article from the Poston Chronicle that I read into my interview [with Mary Skavdahl in 1978; see O.H. 1753a]?


Hansen

Right, right.



25
Robertson

Wasn't that something?


Hansen

The one dealing with Parker? Yes, we're going to get into that next time. I'd just like to thank you right now and we'll pick up the interview dealing with your novel, "The Harvest of Hate" in our next interviewing session and talk about that.


Hansen

This is a continuation of the interview with Georgia Day Robertson by Arthur A. Hansen that was begun on June 26, 1979. It concerns her manuscript, "The Harvest of Hate." The date is August 21, 1979, and the time is roughly 11:30 a.m. This session of the interview is also being conducted in Mrs. Robertson's home in Costa Mesa, California.

Georgia, let's drop the formality and get into what is our biggest interest right now, and that is your novel. One thing that impressed me about "The Harvest of Hate" the first time I read it impressed me even more during my second reading. I'm not talking now about the novelistic qualities of the manuscript—the fact that you have developed some memorable characters and that you have a sturdy plot structure. But rather that, as a historian, I was really quite amazed at the sociological grasp you had over events that transpired in Poston. So I want to ask you right off here if, at the time you were writing this novel, you had any assistance in the way of documents that were made available to you from the Bureau of Sociological Research at Poston? I know there were a couple of studies available at the time you wrote the novel—they came out in 1945 and 1946. One of them was by Alexander Leighton, who was the head of the Bureau of Sociological Research at Poston and it's called The Governing of Men. [3] There was another book published by the University of California Press that was coauthored by Dorothy Swaine Thomas and Richard Nishimoto called The Spoilage. [4] Now did you either have access to those two studies or did you have access to documents that were available at the camp or did you just read the Poston Chronicle and rely on your own memory, or just how did you construct this novel in a historical and a sociological sense?


Robertson

No, I didn't have those [two] books, although later I did read The Governing of Men. It was just mostly memory. It made a deep impression; you know, you don't forget things like that. When you go through something like that, you don't forget it.


Hansen

So most of the situations you described there [in "The Harvest of Hate" manuscript] were things that you picked up either yourself or in conversation with some of these Nisei who were working under you in the Mathematics Departments of the three Poston high schools, right? So there's not too much in your novel that's "bookish," in the sense that it comes from a book—somebody else's observation; it mostly comes from you and your conversations.


Robertson

Yes, I think so. I didn't limit my contact down there [Poston] with the Mathematics Department, because I had very close contact with all the teachers; we had teachers teaching all different subjects. We had teachers' meetings and we had contact with all of them. So my contacts were very large.


Hansen

Okay. Now let me ask you some more questions about the novel. The Sato family [the fictional family at the Poston War Relocation Center around which "The Harvest of Hate" revolves]—is that literally a family that you had as a living model or is it a composite invention in the sense that you created the Sato family if not out of whole cloth, certainly out of your observations, and then you as a novelist put your assorted observations together as a family rather than simply observing a specific family?


Robertson

No, it wasn't a specific family. I chose my characters so that I could represent the different things down there. For the Nisei, Tad [Sato] was the one who resented and fought the government at every inch of the way and Tom [Sato] the one who tried to cooperate; then there was Mari [Sato] to represent the young women and Yoshi [Sato] to represent the children. And, of course, Father and Mother Sato represented the Issei.


Hansen

Why did you rivet upon an agricultural as against an urban family—what was the deciding factor there?



26
Robertson

I suppose that's because all the Japanese I'd ever known here in Orange County were ranchers. I just never thought of them as city people. I've known Japanese in Ornage County ever since I've been out here, but I've never known any of them that lived in town—they were all ranchers.


Hansen

So why did you choose the San Diego area as opposed to Orange County since you were living in Orange County several years prior to the Evacuation?


Robertson

Well, that's very simple. The people in Poston were from San Diego, and that's where I got my information: from San Diego people.


Hansen

You mean the people at Poston III, where you lived, were largely from San Diego?


Robertson

Yes.


Hansen

You said during our last session that you had taken a couple of trips down to San Diego—or at least one trip—to familiarize yourself with Japanese American farm life, right?


Robertson

Yes.


Hansen

Where precisely in the San Diego area did you go on that trip? Can you refresh my memory on that point?


Robertson

Well, I had a friend in Chula Vista and I went down to see her. I stayed with her and then we drove out [to the surrounding area]. There were a lot of Japanese ranches around Chula Vista. We drove out to three, I think.


Hansen

Did you also feel rather comfortable with a farm family because you were from a farm family yourself?


Robertson

Oh, I don't know that that made a difference. It had been a long time since I'd been on a farm. Yes, I suppose, but I never thought of that.


Hansen

It seemed to me when I read your novel that there were a lot of things in it that corresponded with your own background. There was, first of all, a farm family. You had a choice to make the Satos either Buddhists or Christians, and you made them Christians. You dealt with the San Diego experience. I know last time I interviewed you, you talked about yourself being employed by the USO in San Diego. So you did have some working knowledge of three central parts of the Sato family's lives. Then also in the novel...it doesn't figure in every chapter, but in a couple of key chapters you take up the experience of the school system down there at Poston, which again you would have had personal contact with as a result of your position as a teacher and administrator. So I think all those things helped to impart authenticity to your novel. It speaks to readers in a very commanding voice, perhaps because of those factors.

Did you feel that you had a good grasp of San Diego or was San Diego a shadowy place for you? I mean, I know you worked for the USO there for a short while, but would you say you had a good knowledge of San Diego and the Japanese American community in the San Diego area?


Robertson

I knew nothing of the Japanese in San Diego while I was down there. I was working for the USO and had no contact with the Japanese.


Hansen

So most of your knowledge of the San Diego Japanese American community came about after you arrived at Poston?


Robertson

Yes, Poston III.


Hansen

What characters in the book correspond pretty closely to specific people that you knew in Poston, either before or after?



27
Robertson

I don't think any of them do.


Hansen

How about yourself? Do you figure in the novel? Are you a character in the novel?


Robertson

No. Miss Brown did the things I would have done, but no, I'm not in it.


Hansen

What about Miss Carlson? Carlson is a name like Robertson and Miss Carlson is referred to as a former missionary in Japan? Were there other missionaries in Japan or China aside from yourself in the camp?


Robertson

Oh yes, there were several missionaries from Japan.


Hansen

Who were teaching in the Poston school system?


Robertson

Yes, and I think there were some in the administration.


Hansen

But you can't think of any character in the novel who corresponds to somebody of your acquaintance. For example, Peter Vandenhuval, the benevolent Dutchman—was he somebody who...


Robertson

I have no idea where he came from or where I got his name. I'm sure I didn't make it up.


Hansen

What about members of the Sato family? I know the family, as you say, is a creation to illustrate certain points of behavior. You mentioned before we started this interviewing session that perhaps two of your favorite characters were Tad and Yoshi Sato. Do they correspond closely with individuals who you knew at camp?


Robertson

No.


Hansen

And none of the Nisei math teachers who worked under you found their way into the Sato family in recognizable form?


Robertson

No.


Hansen

How about the fox terrier, Malt? Is that, too, just a creation?


Robertson

Just a creation.


Hansen

Why did you make the dog a fox terrier?


Robertson

I have no idea.


Hansen

I was just wondering if you had a fox terrier yourself.


Robertson

I never had one. I can't even think of the kind of dog I had now.


Hansen

Did you have anybody in mind for the Sullivan family, especially the kids, Allen and Peg?


Robertson

No.


Hansen

One of the characters in the story who I think I liked least because he seems too stereotypical and stagy is the Maestro. Where did you come up with that character? Were you basing him on anything?


Robertson

I suppose I came up with him from books I'd read, from my reading.


Hansen

This character, then, just stood for a famous musical teacher, somebody who was a respected musician?



28
Robertson

I'm sure that I had read books with a maestro in them.


Hansen

How happy were you with the character of the Maestro? Before we started taping, you said that you were never too happy about the relationship between Tom and Yuri. On second blush, are you happy with the character of the Maestro?


Robertson

Oh, I think so. You thought he was stereotyped.


Hansen

That's how he struck me—as kind of a stereotype in the novel. Somehow or other I, as a reader, would have preferred it if the Maestro had been given a specific a name and wasn't so...it's almost like saying the duke or something like that. But the Maestro is not a character whom you have a strong vested interest in maintaining as such?


Robertson

I don't even know what nationality he was.


Hansen

Mari Sato was a student at Poston at the high school and her principal was a man whom you call Mr. Benton. Now you obviously worked under a principal yourself at Poston. Does Mr. Benton correspond to the principal you worked under?


Robertson

Mr. Benton?


Hansen

Mr. Benton, Mari's high school principal.


Robertson

I don't remember anything about that.


Hansen

You characterized him in the novel as being a rather dogmatic man. Some of the school teachers at Poston who had worked in schools prior to the war were not as taken aback by his sense of authority—or some would say authoritarianism—but some of the Nisei teachers were. They found him dictatorial. You just mentioned that point in passing in your novel.


Robertson

I don't remember a thing about that being in the book.


Hansen

I can't recall the page, so I'll bring it to your attention later on.


Robertson

Every time I read it, I find something I didn't know was there.


Hansen

One of the things that you emphasize in the novel is the resistance mounted by certain elements within the camp population. You have Tad participating with the camp resisters for a while, but they're there in the novel as an undercurrent all the time. Where did you derive that feeling that there were people who really were against what the government was doing and that almost all authority at Poston was being undermined by this group? Where did you get that feeling?


Robertson

Oh, we knew what was going on in the camp, we knew pretty well what was going on. There were these resisters and a lot of them were sympathetic to Japan. A lot of them were just disgruntled like Tad was. You don't live in a camp and not know about these things.


Hansen

You felt this resistance a lot, then?


Robertson

It was the grapevine.


Hansen

But it comes across in something that should be closer to home to you than just the grapevine. It comes across in the attitudes of some of the students and some of the teachers in the school system. You have Tad, in fact, depicted as a teacher and what you basically say in the novel is that as a teacher he, in a sense, propagandized in the classroom. Did you have some models to base that portrayal upon from your direct experience, that Nisei teachers used the opportunity of being a teacher in order to make certain kinds of


29
points that could be considered pro-Japan or anti-American, or however you want to put it?


Robertson

Well, I can't say definitely because I wasn't in the classroom; I don't know what they were saying, but I am very suspicious that they did.


Hansen

So it wasn't someone in particular who you had in mind, or a group of people?


Robertson

It wasn't definite information, no.


Hansen

But you had a sense that that was going on? I know you weren't in the classroom very long yourself, just at the outset right, and then you increasingly became an administrator.


Robertson

Yes. But then after the Nisei began going out—to jobs and out to finish their college, going back east—then I did quite a bit of teaching the last couple of years. I had to take their place, because classes would be left without a teacher until they got another teacher in. So I did quite a bit of teaching.


Hansen

I think I gave you some misinformation a little while ago. You were having trouble remembering who the principal was. I told you Mr. Benton and Mr. Benton was Mari's high school principal when she was at La Vista High School. The high school principal in Poston was Mr. Harrison. So maybe I can return to Mr. Harrison. You worked under a principal there at Poston—is there a close modeling of Mr. Harrison on the principal you served under?


Robertson

Who's Mr. Harrison?


Hansen

Mr. Harrison is the Poston High School principal, Miss Brown's and Miss Carlson's principal.


Robertson

What did he do, I don't remember him.


Hansen

He didn't do much; he was the one I was talking about before who was...


Robertson

I was probably thinking of...oh, maybe I'd better not say his name if this is going to be published. I think he's dead now, our principal. I don't want to give his name.


Hansen

What about Hideo Yana? He was your character in the novel who acted the role of a Kibei firebrand in camp? Did you have somebody in mind there or was the character of Hideo Yana just created to conform to the Kibei element?


Robertson

No. He was purely fictitious. However, I was familiar with Kibei and their problems even before I went to Poston.


Hansen

Mr. Takeda, Yuri's father—the artist—we talked about him before we started taping this interview and you said you couldn't recall his name as such. But didn't this character closely follow along the lines of a distinguished artist who you knew in camp?


Robertson

Well, he's real, I really used him. I said I didn't take anybody who was real down there, but he was.


Hansen

So he was, and in what context did you know him?


Robertson

Mostly through the Mojave Room. I'd go over there and he was always around and I knew him pretty well. He had a picture that I always wish I had bought.[5]


Hansen

Did he used to paint the kind of pictures of smoke trees that you described in the novel?


Robertson

Oh yes, he had this beautiful picture of a smoke tree and I wanted to buy it. I asked him what he wanted for it and he wouldn't put a price on it. He said, "What do you want to give?" And I didn't know what to give to a well-known artist—whether to offer $30 or $50. Fifty dollars was about as much as I could


30
have paid. And so I just never got it.


Hansen

I sure wish you could remember his name.


Robertson

He didn't put prices on his things and none of the artists did who had work in there. They had beautiful carvings. They'd go out in the mountains and get the ironwood—these Issei—and bring that in and make beautiful carvings. Oh, that Mojave Room was a place of beauty! Wood carvings, paintings...what else did they have in there? I don't remember.


Hansen

Did you have much contact with the agricultural unit at the camp? Since Tom Sato is depicted as working for the Ag unit at Poston, did you have very much contact with that group of people?


Robertson

Oh, I didn't have any personal contact with them. I just saw what they were doing.


Hansen

Did you used to read the Poston Chronicle?


Robertson

Oh, everybody read the Poston Chronicle! That was our newspaper.


Hansen

Did you read it again after the war before you wrote your novel? I noticed when you donated your novel to the university, you also donated some copies of the Poston Chronicle. I was wondering if you had kept your copies so you could read them and have something to use as background for your novel.


Robertson

I don't think I had very many copies.


Hansen

You just kept selected ones.


Robertson

Well, I'll tell you, the university has a prize in all those clippings. Magazine and newspaper clippings are very valuable.


Hansen

Those are the ones that you kept and donated, right?


Robertson

Yes. People sent them to me and some I clipped myself. I had a whole bunch of them.


Hansen

Is it fair, then, to describe you as writing this novel by sitting down at a table or sitting down on a sofa, without doing much historical research except recollecting things through memory?


Robertson

I just sat at the table and wrote it.


Hansen

So it wasn't something you ran to the library to get information for, or contacted other people about or anything else?


Robertson

No, I started the novel up in [the state of] Washington at my son's. Angus had a little ranch up there.


Hansen

What were some of the things about the novel that worried you, like some problems in the novel that you had to wrestle with and that caused you a great deal of anxiety or just a lot of hard work to try to unravel or solve?


Robertson

Well, I can't think of any right now. You create your characters and they just sort of take off. That's the reason I like writing fiction.


Hansen

We alluded to your favorite characters in the novel, Tad and Yoshi Sato, but maybe we ought to explore that point a little further.


Robertson

Well, they're not outstanding favorites, but I like them a little better than I do the others.



31
Hansen

Do you think that preference has something to do, again, with your own personal background? Last time we talked, I think you communicated the idea that there's an outspoken rebel in yourself, and at a number of places where you taught you were quite forthright. Do you think that these two characters speak to that portion of your personality? They stand up on their hind legs and let people know what they stand for?


Robertson

I don't know, I had just lived half of my life before somebody told me I was a non-conformist. That explained a lot of things I hadn't understood before.


Hansen

Who in the family that you created in your novel do you like least? Which one of your characters in the Sato family do you find least satisfactory to you? The one, I mean, who seems to be the least full-bodied...


Robertson

Probably Mari, I don't know—they're all interesting.


Hansen

What troubles you about Mari?


Robertson

I loved them all. I wish I could have gotten Mari married off or at least some prospects before the book ended.


Hansen

But you killed off Willie, and that was going to be her prospect, right?


Robertson

Willie died.


Hansen

That's what I mean, you had Willie die and that was going to be Mari's prospect. Then, of course, we've taken care of Yuri's prospect, too, although it is implied that she'll have plenty of offers, won't she? It seemed likely that she would become wealthy and live in San Francisco after the war. She would, it seemed, probably become an art connoisseur, also.


Robertson

I don't think that artist at Poston had any daughter.


Hansen

So that relationship was more an imaginative creation?


Robertson

Yes, he had a son who taught mathematics.


Hansen

Oh, so he did have a son at Poston then?


Robertson

Yes, and he stayed down there about a year and then he went to St. Louis, [Missouri], and entered Washington University to continue his education. He was a very fine fellow.


Hansen

But as far as you can recall, Mr. Takeda is the only sort of person in your novel who really closely parallels somebody you knew at Poston?


Robertson

I think so.


Hansen

Did any of the math teachers who gave you information become one of the characters, more or less, in your novel?


Robertson

Well, this Bill Lucudo—his father had this tuna fleet of fishermen down in San Diego—he was real. He was a good friend of Tad's, you know. He was real. I don't remember what his real name was.


Hansen

How about Mother Sato?


Robertson

She was just a kind of conglomerate of all these Japanese women whom I had been buying vegetables from at roadside stands since I had lived in California.



32
Hansen

How about the father? In your novel, of course, you have him interned in a Department of Justice camp for suspected enemy aliens.


Robertson

I really didn't know any Issei men except in Midway City we had a—I can't think of his name—but we had an Issei and his wife who were very lovely people who had a fish hatchery. I was living in Midway City when I first came to California and I knew them—I used to be in their home. They were very lovely people. Practically all of the Orange County people went to Poston I. So I didn't get acquainted with as many of the Orange County Issei, except through the schools.


Hansen

You write in the novel about the experience of Mrs. Sato going to the Poston I hospital. Tad goes over to visit her and finds that, in spite of all the rumors that he'd heard about the hospital, it appeared to be a pretty good hospital. Did you have any firsthand experience with that hospital so that you could validate the observation you impute to Tad?


Robertson

At first it was terrible and they said that babies died there because of the heat and the lack of moisture they had in the atmosphere. But it got better as time went on and they got competent doctors in there—it was difficult to get doctors from outside as it was during the war, because the army was taking them. It improved, and by the time Tad was up there, it was a pretty good hospital. Nothing was right down there at Poston to Tad, you know.


Hansen

You use a number of occasions in the book to make some fairly ugly commentary about the town of Parker, Arizona.[6] Each time you mention Parker, it's in an unfavorable light—in fact there seems to be...


Robertson

Nothing good to say about it.


Hansen

What was your experience with Parker? What was your contact with Parker?


Robertson

Well, that was our nearest town. That's where we went to do our shopping. There in the hot summer days, the drugstore was always cool and we'd go in there and have ice cream. Then we sometimes went in for dinner; there were two nice eating places there.


Hansen

Now you're talking about nice things, ice cream and good places to eat, and yet your book doesn't talk about those nice kinds of things. What did you sense in Parker that caused you to characterize it in such negative terms?


Robertson

Its relation to the Japanese.


Hansen

What did you pick up, what kind of comments? Were people in the town calling you a "Jap lover"?


Robertson

Well, signs on the doors "Keep out Japs, You Rats." You'd see that on many doors in town.[7]


Hansen

Did you have any unpleasant contacts in Parker with individuals who railed against the Japanese being out there at Poston or you spending your time with the Japanese?


Robertson

No. I had no personal conversations with anyone in Parker. Just a buyer-seller relationship. I did have an argument with the owner of the drugstore because he wouldn't serve black people. During the second and third year we had several black nurses and teachers at Poston.


Hansen

I didn't know that.


Robertson

There was a woman who lived right next to me in the barracks—Mrs. Cook—a beautiful woman and a teacher. I wanted to take her into Parker and have something cool in the drugstore on a hot day. But I wasn't going to have her insulted, so I spoke to the owner of the drugstore and I said, "I have a very good friend down at Poston, but she's colored. I'd like to bring her in sometime for a treat." And he said, "Well, I'm awfully sorry, but we can't serve her." And I said, "Well, you're serving all these Indians, why can't you


33
serve a colored person? You served these colored soldiers from the camp nearby. I guess you don't let them sit down and eat something—you sell them whiskey. Why can't you just serve this black teacher?" "Well, I'm awfully sorry, we can't do it." Well then, some of the teachers did take her in one time, and I don't think he ever saw her—she was a very nice looking person and very well-dressed and I don't think he ever realized that she was black.


Hansen

What about the schoolteachers at Poston? Your comment in the novel is that some were basically good and some were bad. When you step outside the novel, do you still maintain the same position?


Robertson

Oh, some of the teachers called the kids "Japs" right in class and, of course, that was the worst insult you could call them. Some didn't like them.


Hansen

Were they good teachers generally? Did things improve or get worse?


Robertson

Well, I don't know, we had some pretty funny people down there. I remember one time, we had a woman there that Dr. Carey wanted to get rid of. She was a stout person and when the hot weather came, she was dismissed. I said to Dr. Carey, "What did Mrs. So-and-So do? Why was she dismissed?" And he said, "High blood pressure." And I said, "Whose?" That was the only time when I saw Dr. Carey a little bit angry. He just flared up and said, "Well, it wasn't mine."


Hansen

You made quite a point in the novel about the salary that the Nisei teachers had as against what the Caucasians—and I guess blacks had, if the blacks moved into the same housing that the Caucasian teachers had—did they move into the same housing?


Robertson

Well, they lived with the rest of us, and got the same salary as we did.


Hansen

You also made a point about the salary for teachers hired from the outside being in excess of $200 and then having better living arrangements altogether than the interned Japanese American teachers, and that this could have caused some problems. But you noted that the Nisei teachers had a remarkable degree of forbearance and didn't really comment upon this discrepancy too much—at least not openly. Was it something that a lot of people felt guilty about—this arrangement for teachers?


Robertson

Yes. I had a very fine Nisei teacher—I don't know what she was teaching, but she was a lovely girl—and she was trying to earn money to go to college. Well, you can't save much money on—I think the Nisei teachers got $19 a month as the top salary. And here I was—I wasn't getting a lot, maybe $300 a month— and I offered to split my salary with her because we were doing the same work. She wouldn't consider it.


Hansen

She said nothing doing, huh?


Robertson

I would gladly have done it. Yes, I felt guilty. I don't know if anybody else did, but I did terribly. It wasn't fair. Nineteen dollars a month! And the farm workers got $14 and somebody got $16—I don't know who they were. Nineteen was the outside.


Hansen

Would you say the character of Yoshi—for his age group, which you had some contact with... I think he's depicted as being about in the eighth grade when you introduce him to readers, right?


Robertson

Well, he's eleven.


Hansen

Well, he probably would have been in the sixth or seventh grade then. I know that at one point in the novel you mention he's going into the eighth grade because you've got him there at camp for a few years. Would you say that his behavior was something that you saw a lot of in kids his age?


Robertson

Oh, I don't know if I have it in the book or not, but when the parents tried to discipline their children, they said, "The government is supporting us, you don't have anything to say." You just can't imagine these Japanese youngsters saying that to their parents.



34
Hansen

The same sort of breakdown that you have in the mess halls, too, where the families aren't eating as much together.


Robertson

The kids ate together and Father Sato was very shocked about that when he came [to rejoin his family at Poston from the Department of Justice camp].


Hansen

You mention a number of times in the story, too, that there was a lot of pressure brought to bear on people like Tad, or Tom at another point, to make certain decisions, that there was coercion; for example, if they didn't say "No" in the loyalty questionnaire, they were liable to be beaten up. And you talk about beatings that went on in camp. This was not just at the outset of the camp, but later on you have this occurring. Signing up for the selective service was another case. Was that a pretty common occurrence that was communicated to you by the math teachers who worked for you—that they had to watch themselves, that they couldn't talk, or if they were overheard they'd be beaten up if they didn't say the right thing? Was that a pretty common thing?


Robertson

Well, the night Tom was lost in the woods and Tad was very much worried, because he thought that Tom had been beaten up because he wanted to volunteer for the army and was going to sign "Yes" to the loyalty oath or something. Tad was very worried and was up and awake when Tom got home after daylight.


Hansen

You have such a really good feeling for that situation—I mean it comes across in your novel. Your empathy is so powerful here that I'm wondering how it got communicated to you. That's not something you're writing about second-removed very much. Were you yourself ever intimidated?


Robertson

No, no we just lived with it. You can't live in an atmosphere like that and not know about it. We lived in the camp right with the Japanese. We lived in barracks right with the Japanese around us.


Hansen

But did anyone ever come to you with this very idea, "Look, I can't be seen talking to you, you represent a Caucasian, you represent the administration here, and if I'm seen talking to you, that makes my reputation suspect and I might be beaten up." Did people ever tell you that, or did you feel shunned by people because you were, so to speak, the enemy?


Robertson

I can't remember such instances, but I suppose that a lot of the teachers who did come and talk to me told me about these things that were going on in camp. That's the way I knew about them.


Hansen

Were you able to enter into many close relationships with Japanese Americans? I mean, would you feel free to go over to their barracks and eat a meal with them? Or would you invite them over to your place for a game of cards? Or in those days, did you play solitaire, too?


Robertson

Do you mean now?


Hansen

No, I mean in camp while you were at Poston. Did you feel free to intermingle with them?


Robertson

Well, sure. There was always somebody coming to my room.


Hansen

And you didn't see any reluctance on their part to do something like that?


Robertson

No.


Hansen

Now was that more true of the teachers than of other people? You called the schools a great stabilizing force in the camps—that's what you say in the novel. Do you think that other administrators could have had that same access to the Japanese people as you did as a teacher, or not?


Robertson

No, I don't think the Japanese ever really trusted the administration.


Hansen

So teachers weren't really counted as being part of the administration?



35
Robertson

No.


Hansen

So there were the administrators and there were the schoolteachers and then the resident population. You were granted something of an exception even though you were a Caucasian because you were a teacher.


Robertson

Oh, they were so happy that the teachers were willing to come down. They thought at first that nobody would come to live under those kinds of circumstances. So they were very happy that we came.


Hansen

Were there any times during your whole stay in camp that you felt endangered because you were Caucasian? I mean when the camp had reached fever pitch to the point where you could be perceived as an enemy?


Robertson

I never had the slightest fear. But then when I was in Japan in 1950 during the [American] Occupation, I would go out at night and walk halfway across the city by myself. And that was in Japan soon after the war. The church was about a mile from our mission and I'd walk over there by myself at night.


Hansen

When they had the strike in Poston in November of 1942—that was an event a lot of people have commented on—was that mostly a Camp I phenomenon?


Robertson

The strike was in Camp I.


Hansen

So it didn't affect Camp III?


Robertson

No. Is that in the book?


Hansen

No, but the strike does figure in the background. When you depicted internees coming out by the fires—it was during that point, the first winter before the stoves had come into camp for the Japanese Americans. People would gather around the fires and I know at Camp I they started to make up flags and things that they would put up by their campfires and they started to develop lots of factions and things were stirring up and there was a lot of resistance at that point. I was just wondering if that went on in Camp III, too?


Robertson

It was pretty peaceful down there. As far as open riots or anything like that, there weren't any. One exciting night was before they built the fence around the park and the wild horses went through the camp—a whole herd of them. Boy, didn't they make a noise and didn't they tramp up everything.


Hansen

Was that a real incident you described in the novel where a Japanese man was found hanging from a mesquite tree? Was that a true incident?


Robertson

Yes, I think may be that's the reason I wrote that chapter. That's one of the chapters I don't especially like—the teachers starting out and seeing Tad bringing in the flag. Then they go on and hear about the man. I thought that chapter was kind of corny—I never did like it very well. But I guess the reason I wrote it was because it happened. There was a young man who was bitter like Tad was, and he never missed it if that flag was left out. The janitors in the school were Issei and all they thought about was getting the rooms swept out and getting home in time for the dinner gong. They often left the flag out, and this young fellow would always see it and take it in.


Hansen

I think that incident of him bringing the flag in sort of sticks in my craw a little bit, also. It just seems that, although it is consistent with the idea that he was an American patriot—after all, he had volunteered for the army... and he comes around toward the end of the novel with that same sort of disposition. At the point that you have him bringing in the American flag, it seems that it would have been too dangerous for him. Once in your novel you described the way in which people observed things that were going on—like you noted that to say something in Poston would be to publish it—and I think what you meant was that it would get into the grapevine and people would know about it. It seems that that was publishing it, too, to walk out there every day with such a flagrant solicitude—to go out and take that flag down and put it away and everything—it just seemed like it was a very dangerous thing for him to do. When I read it, I just thought to myself, "I think he would have been smart enough not to do something like that. However


36
he felt inside... he might be patriotic, but he wouldn't flaunt it in that open of a manner."


Robertson

Tad would do anything that he wanted to do. You couldn't intimidate him. Anyway, the bad guys weren't interested in little things like that. They were after people who reported to the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] and that type of action.


Hansen

Well, you talk about intimidation a few times and there are times where Tad goes and does what he wants, but usually it's because of some family loyalty, not loyalty to country as much. When his mother said she was going to go out to work or something like that, he right away decided that he was going to go out and relocate—or his dad was going to go out and get a job and he decided no, he'd go out and do it rather than to go to Tule Lake. So he has to go in and clear his name again so that he is eligible for resettlement, so he can go out and get a job, because he doesn't want his own father working or maybe his mother working, too, he said. I think I know him in that story pretty well, but it just seems to me that he wouldn't have done that at that point. I mean he might have at some point made a decision and said yes, I'm going to do whatever I want—I'll take that flag in—but that's a regular thing that you have him doing, day after day after day. It just seems to me that he wouldn't have been able to retain his friendship with the people that you have him running around with. I mean, that's not something they would have put up with. They would have ostracized him if they didn't beat him up. It just seems that way to me, that the group dynamic you portray was very powerful.


Robertson

Take it out, take it out.


Hansen

Okay. Well, I think I'll end this interview right now. I don't have anything more to ask you. I thought maybe more of your characters would have been based on real live people. I think your treatment of the fox terrier—the change of ownership—was very strategic.


Robertson

Change of ownership?


Hansen

Yes, you have Malt being kept for the Sato family by Jerry [a neighboring Caucasian boy] during the war, and then at the end you have Yoshi saying, "Well, why doesn't Jerry keep him?" I thought that was a real logical sort of thing. It was not only true to a dog's loyalty, but I think what it also did was to say that the three years had a lot of people going through a lot of changes.


Robertson

That was characteristic of Yoshi, too, because he got to be such a smarty down at Poston. If you wondered why he never felt so bad about leaving him—well, he was going to get himself a retriever or something. He was really a smarty when he came home.


Hansen

Well, once at camp you also had him choose his bicycle over the dog, so that was consistent. Then when he came back, he saw a lot of the things that he had identified with himself in the prewar years and they now seemed too young for him. So again, the dog comes along. I think the thing with the dog is kind of like the ending there with Yuri. Yuri and Tom's love affair seemed very important at the time, just like the ownership of Malt seemed very important at the time. Once you took away the strange context, it didn't seem as important. Yoshi can release Malt, and Yuri can release Tom—and, really, Tom can release Yuri, also. Their relationship was situation specific, so once you took away the intensity of the wartime situation, they could deal with matters in a normal perspective and make decisions accordingly. So I thought those two aspects of your novel resonated real well together.

Let me ask you about one more character, this Peter Vandenhuval. I'm not altogether happy with him, and maybe we should explore why you were so content to leave Peter Vandenhuval intact as you did in the novel. Didn't Peter Vandenhuval ever bother you as being rather stereotyped? There aren't too many stereotypes in your book, but you do have a few. One is Jose Gonzalez, the Sato farmhand, another is the Maestro, and still a third one is Peter Vandenhuval.


Robertson

Why do you think Vandenhuval is stereotyped?



37
Hansen

He's so nauseously good and benevolent. I know that you build up the idea of reciprocity.


Robertson

He probably owed the Satos all that he ever gave them because he didn't give them money—he loaned them money.


Hansen

He's just there all the time. I mean, he almost seems to be ubiquitous in times of great crisis and he's there with a check or he's there with advice—at one point his friendly pick-up truck is right there to be of service to the Satos—and he just seems like the benevolent Santa Claus figure.


Robertson

It's not such a strange thing in such a little town that when Tom was at the bank, Vandenhuval was also.


Hansen

No, except he had to be in there at just the right time, didn't he? I mean it's like in some of those novels by Thomas Hardy where all of a sudden people meet right at the point when they're needed. It's almost like a trumpet has called them forth and they march in to service the situation.


Robertson

And then he went out to say good-by to the Satos before they left. I think that was perfectly natural.


Hansen

And he took care of the letters of recommendation for them and then he came back at the end to provide five thousand dollars for them.


Robertson

Mrs. Sullivan took care of the letters of recommendation. For Father Sato, you mean?


Hansen

But then Vandenhuval wrote one for him, right?


Robertson

Well, he may have written one, but it was really Mrs. Sullivan who provided the letters that got Mr. Sato out of prison camp.


Hansen

I guess it's just that Vandenhuval seems altogether too good, like a stock figure.


Robertson

Well, I thought of him as an old man with a lot of money who liked to buy friends. Haven't you seen an old man like that?


Hansen

He doesn't come across that way in the book.


Robertson

He does these things for people to buy friends.


Hansen

If he came across that way, I could believe in his acts a little more, but the trouble is he seems to behave out of unmitigated benevolence. He seems like an unmixed good. There is not the human roughage in him of the sort, say, that is in you and me and most of the other characters in your novel. It seems that something has got to pass through his mind that the reader can come across which will give him believability as a character so that the reader doesn't see him solely as a series of functions.


Robertson

Well, do something to him.


Hansen

Yes, I'll think about that and maybe you can think about it, too.


Robertson

I just figured out that Sato probably worked for Vandenhuval for years for practically nothing. I figured he was just getting what was coming to him.


Hansen

Maybe we can underscore that a little bit somehow by suggestion, because that will help.


Robertson

Well, we know he never made very much because he didn't have enough money to go back to Japan.


Hansen

Right. We've got to make him feel that somehow or other this isn't just, "I owe him this and a lot more," the way it comes across in the novel, but there's even a sense of guilt in there—somehow that he had


38
exploited the Satos before the war. That should come across, and then his advancing years now give him an opportunity, like most rich people, to decide if they want to be philanthropic. Maybe if we could get that point across—instead of the pure altruism that comes across, and get more of a suggestion of it. I think it's there.


Robertson

I think I've known one or two people like that who were just pure generous.


Hansen

Not too many people who got rich.


Robertson

No.


Hansen

I mean, I think more of the ones you know that way are people who never made very much because they were doing that for a long time. Well, just like your situation, not too many people are going to want to share their salary. I can see myself doing it and I can see a few other people doing it, like when you were at Poston. But this fellow Vandenhuval had gone through a whole life and had amassed quite a substantial fortune. Most people who amass fortunes like that do it by being a little bit sharpey about things.


Robertson

That's right, but now he's old and he's lonely.


Hansen

All right, so we've just got to establish the fact that at one point in his life he was a little that way, and then later on, maybe we can edge that loneliness a bit and edge the mercenary side of him earlier. Maybe that'll do it. A turning of the screw here and a turning of the screw there and I think we've got him as a character.


Robertson

Do anything you want to it.


Hansen

Okay, thank you. Is there anything more you want to add about your novel?


Robertson

No.


Hansen

It's ready to sail into the seas of public approval or disapproval or whatever?


Robertson

That's right.


Hansen

One final question: You originally titled this novel "A Harvest of Hate." You later retitled it "The Harvest of Hate."


Robertson

No, you're wrong. I originally titled it "Harvest of Hate."


Hansen

Okay, so you didn't use an article at all. Now you've called it "The Harvest of Hate". Why the change?


Robertson

I thought that would put the emphasis on the harvest and I thought it sounded a little better, like The Grapes of Wrath. The Grapes of Wrath sounds better than Grapes of Wrath.


Hansen

Was Steinbeck's novel something of a working model for you?


Robertson

No, never thought of it.


Hansen

Had you read it?


Robertson

Oh, sure. Who didn't? When was it written?


Hansen

It was published in 1940.


Robertson

Oh, sure, I had read it.



39
Hansen

Early in the novel, you have one inner chapter employing a God-like voice much like the chapters that Steinbeck employed in The Grapes of Wrath, but then you dropped that device. What he does is he runs the story of the Joads' odyssey from Oklahoma to California and then he has more cosmic kind of concerns—philosophical concerns, religious concerns—put into chapters interlaced between the ones that carry the story itself. You do that early on when you start talking about forces at work and things like that, and then you drop it. I started to think maybe you were modeling your novel after The Grapes of Wrath, but then I realized you, in fact, weren't doing so.

Okay, that's it. On behalf of the Japanese American Project of the Oral History Program at California State University, Fullerton, I want to thank you very much for this interview. All of us in the project and the program look forward to the future publication of your novel.


Notes

In 1986, this manuscript was published as "The Harvest of Hate," in a hardbound edition, by the Japanese American Project of the Oral History Program at California State University, Fullerton, in conjunction with the Japanese American Council of the Historical and Cultural Foundation of Orange County (California). The published novel, released coincident with the author's 100th birthday, includes forewords by two former Poston internees, Moto Asakawa and Hiroshi Kamei, and selected portions of the present interview with Georgia Day Robertson. In 1989, Lynx Books published The Harvest of Hate in a softbound edition, using the identical format as the hardbound version.

In addition to the original manuscript of "Harvest of Hate," the Japanese American Project of the Oral History Program at California State University, Fullerton, has other relevant material archived in its collection such as correspondence with Robertson and her family and friends, photographs of her, and two of her unpublished manuscripts (one an autobiography, the other a novel based upon her missionary experience in China).

2. The really quite spectacular Poston Strike of November 18-24, 1942 (its causes, dynamics, and consequences) is treated in two book-length studies of the Poston War Relocation Center: Alexander Leighton, The Governing of Men: General Principles and Recommendations Based on Experience at a Japanese Relocation Center (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1946) and Paul Bailey, City in the Sun: The Japanese Concentration Camp at Poston, Arizona (Los Angeles: Westernlore Press, 1974). Two other pertinent sources are: Gary Y. Okihiro, "Japanese Resistance in America's Concentration Camps: A Re-evaluation," Amerasia Journal 2 (Fall 1973): 20-34, and Lane Ryo Hirabayashi and James Hirabayashi, "The `Credible ` Witness: The Central Role of Richard S. Nishimoto on JERS," in Yuji Ichioka, ed., Views From Within: The Japanese Evacuation and Resettlement Study (Los Angeles: Asian American Studies Center, UCLA, 1989), 65-94. For a listing of the key primary documentation compiled by Alexander Leighton and his Bureau of Sociological Research at the Poston center, see Deborah Gesensway, Mindy Roseman, and Geri Solomon, comps., Guide to the Japanese American Relocation Center Records, 1935-1953 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Department of Manuscripts and University Archives, Cornell University Libraries, 1981). For an account of the Poston Strike by one of its principal figures, see the interviews with George Fujii (O.H. 1479a,b) in the Japanese American Project of the Oral History Program at California State University, Fullerton.

3. As cited in fn. 2 above.

4. See Dorothy S. Thomas and Richard Nishimoto, The Spoilage: Japanese-American Evacuation and Resettlement During World War II (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1946).

5. For an overview of the artistic work done by Japanese Americans detained in the War Relocation Authority camps during World War II, see Deborah Gesensway and Mindy Roseman, Beyond Words: Images from America's Concentration Camps (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1987). See also my review of this volume, Representations of an Imprisoned Poston Past, Journal of Orange County Studies 3/4 (Fall 1989/Spring 1990): 102-108, for a discussion centered specifically upon the artists at the Poston center.


40

See, in particular, Chapter 12 for the author's most extended and unflattering portrait of Parker. At first mention, for example, she writes: "Parker, gateway to the camp at Poston, sat on the open desert, halfway between Phoenix and Indio. Sat there beside the Colorado in the empty desert like a creature who had lost his way and had squatted in the barren sands near water, the accumulation of his living scattered in heaps of rubbish about him. In its isolation, it had become suspicious and crafty and inclined to show its ugly teeth to strangers.

"When the government moved in to construct the camp for Japanese evacuees on the Indian reservation some twenty miles below the town, the place worked itself into a frenzy of suspicion and hate. Some businessmen hurried to paint large signs on their doors warning, `Japs keep out,' and the barber's was the largest of all. Did he not have three sons in the service? His patriotism knew no bounds. `Keep out Japs, you rats,' his sign read."

7. However, according to the taped recollections of wartime residents of Parker, Arizona, only one business proprietor in town, the barber Andy Hale, flaunted such a sign at his establishment. See Arthur A. Hansen and Nora M. Jesch, eds., Japanese American World War II Evacuation Project: Part V: Guards and Townspeople (Munich, Germany: K. G. Saur, 1993).


41

Index

  • African Americans, 5, 32
  • Alpha Delta Pi Sorority, 8
  • Bashford, Bishop, 11
  • Bureau of Sociological Research, 25
  • Carey, Dr. Miles, 17, 18, 33
  • Chandler, A. B. "Happy," 22
  • Chandler, Norman, 22-23, 24
  • Chinese language, 10-11
  • Chinese Revolution, 9-10
  • Chula Vista, Calif., 23, 26
  • Columbia University, 12
  • Cook, Mrs., 32
  • Crystal City, Texas, 19
  • Depression, 15, 23
  • East Lynne (Wood), 6
  • Education. See Schools and Schooling
  • Evacuation. See Japanese American Evacuation
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), 35
  • Gila War Relocation Center, Ariz., 22
  • Governing of Men, The (Leighton), 25
  • Grapes of Wrath, The (Steinbeck), 38
  • Hairstyles, 4
  • Harrison, Mr., 29
  • "Harvest of Hate, The" (Robertson)
  • Iowa State College, 3, 4, 8, 13
  • Issei, 21, 23
  • Japanese Americans. See also Issei
  • Japanese American Evacuation, See also specific war relocation centers 17, 19-21.
  • Keosauqua, Iowa, 3, 5, 6, 7
  • Lacy, Bishop, 11
  • Leighton, Alexander, 25
  • Los Angeles Times, 22
  • Loyalty oath, 34
  • Marada, Gil, 21
  • Marquette, Louie, 21
  • Methodist Church, 7, 9
  • Midway City, Calif., 15, 16, 31
  • Missionaries, 8-10
  • Morehead State Teachers College, 14, 24
  • Nishimoto, Richard, 25
  • Nitta, Hitoshi, 21
  • Nitta, Mary, 21
  • Orange County, Calif., 16
  • Parker, Ariz., 32, 39-40n6, 40n7
  • Pearl Harbor bombing, 16, 17
  • Poston War Relocation Center, Arizona
  • Poston Chronicle, 24, 25, 30
  • Robertson, Georgia Day
  • Robertson, John Thompson, 10, 11, 12
  • Roosevelt, Eleanor, 22
  • Roosevelt, Franklin Delano, 14, 22
  • Schools and schooling, See also specific institutions 3, 5-6
  • Simpson College, 13-14
  • Spoilage, The (Nishimoto & Thomas), 25
  • Steinbeck, John, 38
  • Thomas, Dorothy Swaine, 25
  • United Service Organization (USO), 15, 16-17
  • University of Southern California (USC), 12, 13, 14
  • Wood, Mrs. Henry, 4
  • World War I, 10
  • Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), 8

An Interview with
George Nakagawa
Conducted by Arthur A. Hansen
on January 26, 1988 and June 23, 1988
for the
California State University, Fullerton
Oral History Program
Japanese American Project

Nisei Experience / "Seki-Nin"
O.H. 1959

©1994
The Oral History Program, California State University, Fullerton

44

Use Restrictions

This is a slightly edited transcription of an interview conducted for the Oral History Program, sponsored by California State University, Fullerton. The reader should be aware that an oral history document portrays information as recalled by the interviewee. Because of the spontaneous nature of this kind of document, it may contain statements and impressions which are not factual

Scholars are welcome to utilize short excerpts from any of the transcriptions without obtaining permission as long as proper credit is given to the interviewee, the interviewer, and the University. Scholars must, however, obtain permission from California State University, Fullerton before making more extensive use of the transcription and related materials. None of these materials may be duplicated or reproduced by any party without permission from the Oral History Program, California State University, Fullerton, Fullerton, California, 92834-6846.


45

Interview

  • Interviewee:
  •     George Nakagawa
  • Interviewer:
  •     Arthur A. Hansen
  • Subject:
  •     Nisei Experience / "Seki-Nin"
  • Date:
  •     January 26, 1988 and June 23, 1988

Part 1

Hansen

This is an interview with George Nakagawa by Arthur A. Hansen, for the Japanese American Project of the Oral History Program [OHP] at California State University, Fullerton [CSUF]. Mr. Nakagawa is the author of an unpublished novel, "Seki-Nin," which treats a dimension of the World War II Japanese American Evacuation and is scheduled to be published by the CSUF-OHP Japanese American Project.[1] The date is January 26, 1988. The interview is being held at Mr. Nakagawa's home, 15404 South Catalina Avenue in Gardena, California.

Mr. Nakagawa, our interview will be divided into two parts—the first consisting of a review of your life, and the second a discussion of your fictional manuscript, "Seki-Nin." Let's start today's session by having you fill us in a bit on what you know about your own family's background, both in Japan and in the United States.


Nakagawa

Okay. My dad emigrated [from Japan] about the turn of the century, and after several years in the United States, he earned enough money to return [to Japan] and then marry my mother. It was an arranged marriage. I don't know much of the specifics, except that they were both born and raised in the same village in Hiroshima Prefecture.


Hansen

What was your father's name?


Nakagawa

His name was Genichi Nakagawa.


Hansen

And what about your mom?


Nakagawa

My mother's name was Itsuyo Yamasaki Nakagawa.


Hansen

This village in Hiroshima, what was its name?


Nakagawa

It was Ibaramura, but the name had changed. It was originally, when they immigrated, Ibaraichi. So they used to call it Ibaraichi. But when I visited [the village], I found out that there was no such place; it had changed to Ibaramura.


Hansen

When did you visit Ibaramura?



46
Nakagawa

I visited initially in December 1952. I was in the service in Korea. I was in Japan on R and R [rest and recreation] and at that time I had two older brothers who were also in the U.S. Army. Fortunately, they were both stationed in Japan, so one of my brothers, Kaz, and I visited the relatives. And that's when I visited the Tanaka [actual surname withheld at request of interviewee] family, who was the basis for my novel.[2]


Hansen

Mr. Nakagawa, in talking to your parents about their village, and then in visiting it yourself a half-century later, what can you deduce were the significant changes in the village, aside from the name?


Nakagawa

Almost none. When I visited in 1952, I think the village was almost unchanged, except possibly they had electricity, which they probably didn't have when my parents originally immigrated. But it was almost unchanged. It was a narrow, single-track railroad that went right through the valley. It was a very narrow valley, probably at the widest point maybe less than a mile. It was a long, narrow valley that went from Hiroshima City to Miyoshi City. And in 1952, there were no vehicles to speak of. There was a bus, I think, that went part of the way through that valley, but it was, I'm sure, almost unchanged from the time that my parents left. In 1964, when I visited with my parents, it had changed quite a bit. There were motorcycles, and television, and a lot of other things. But in 1952, I believe that my parents would have had no difficulty recognizing the village.


Hansen

I take it, then, that your parents were from an agricultural background?


Nakagawa

Yes. They were both children of tenant farmers. My dad didn't talk very much, but he was the oldest of several sons. Interestingly enough, one of his younger brothers was a merchant seaman. My dad was very short, about 5'1", but a couple of his brothers were very tall, by Japanese standards, 5'6", 5'7". I later became a merchant seaman. But one of my uncles had been a merchant seaman and died in Osaka of unknown causes. My mother told me at one time that it was suspected that he had died of VD [venereal disease].


Hansen

Which is not uncommon among merchant seamen.


Nakagawa

No, it wasn't.


Hansen

Do you know anything about the conditions surrounding your parents' decision to leave Japan? First, your father's, then, your mother's?


Nakagawa

I only know that my father borrowed money from relatives to come to the [United] States. Believe it or not, I always thought that he had immigrated directly to Washington state, and worked in the sawmills. But in 1975, when I was living in Hawaii, he visited me. I was taking him from Honolulu to Hilo, to visit relatives. And we were flying over Maui, and he said, "That's Maui. That's the first point that I lived in in the United States." And I was very surprised, because I'd never known that he had originally immigrated to Hawaii.


Hansen

He was on a plantation in Maui?


Nakagawa

Yes. He immigrated originally as a contract laborer to Hawaii. And I asked him why he left, and he said at the time the Japanese in Hawaii were living like pigs. It was filthy, and conditions were atrocious, so he said that he just left. I think he probably walked out on a contract or jumped ship or something like that, but he never talked much and never told me the specifics.


Hansen

So actually, you not finding out about this until 1975 is a good illustration of the reticence of your father [in talking] about his own personal experiences?


Nakagawa

I think to a large extent my dad never told me about his life because he never had the time. With twelve kids, he just never sat down and talked to me. My mother did, but she never mentioned that he originally lived in Hawaii. I knew that my aunt, who was my father's younger sister, had married somebody who had


47
lived in Hilo, because I have cousins in Hilo. But I never knew until 1975, when my dad was eighty-seven or eighty-eight years old, that he had actually lived in Hawaii. I never knew he'd even been there.


Hansen

Did he tell you how long he'd been in Maui? You said he came to the United States around 1900. I assume you meant the mainland United States, and that maybe he had been in the Territory of Hawaii at that time or a bit earlier.


Nakagawa

I don't know. I don't recall. I think he told me he'd been in Hawaii only a short while—a few months, a year, or something like that. He never told me how he got to Seattle, [Washington], but I know he worked for a long time in the sawmills around Port Townsend, [Washington].


Hansen

Did he tell you where in Maui he lived?


Nakagawa

He never even mentioned it. He was out in a plantation.


Hansen

Okay. So you don't know which end of the island.


Nakagawa

No. I don't have any idea.


Hansen

He was a contract laborer in Hawaii. Then he found the conditions in Hawaii not to his liking, and decided to come to Washington. I think you intimated that he started to work for a sawmill?


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

Now, where was this?


Nakagawa

Port Townsend, in that area.


Hansen

Do you have any recollections of him working at the sawmill? Or, by the time you were born, was he already out of that and doing something else?


Nakagawa

He left the sawmill long before I was born. I understand that he once tried some business in Seattle, but failed. But I was the tenth child, and by the time I was born, my dad could no longer support that number of dependents on a job. So then he turned to farming. He actually went out into the forest, and cleared land, and started to farm. I was born in a converted chicken coop.


Hansen

Where was this that he was clearing land?


Nakagawa

In the hills east of Kent, Washington, which is about twenty-five miles south of Seattle.


Hansen

He was on the outskirts of Kent, then.


Nakagawa

It was not the outskirts; it was actually in the hills, about five, six miles.


Hansen

He actually went in and cleared out stumps and things like that?


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

So he prepared the land for agriculture.


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

And what kinds of things did he grow there?


Nakagawa

Beans, peas, lettuce, cauliflower, tomatoes—most of the common [farm] vegetables that are grown in that area.



48
Hansen

Was there a Japanese American settlement around that area?


Nakagawa

Not in that area. Kent, Washington, before the war, I believe was one-quarter Japanese. But where we were, there were very few Japanese. As a matter of fact, there were very few people. Because we were way out in the country. We didn't have electricity or running water.


Hansen

Insofar as you had neighbors there, would they be hakujin [Caucasians] or would they be Nikkei [Japanese Americans] or what?


Nakagawa

Mostly they were Caucasians, but there were a few Japanese farmers in that area. But it was not good farmland. It was too cold, and the growing season started too late. Up in the hills, you get frost until late in the year and early in the fall, so it was not good farmland. So we left in 1938.


Hansen

Had your dad moved there before or after he got married?


Nakagawa

Oh, long after.


Hansen

So I take it that he worked at the sawmill, and usually that was a bachelor's occupation.


Nakagawa

Yes, it was.


Hansen

So, when he got married and before he moved over by Kent, what other things was he doing? He tried to start a business?


Nakagawa

I understand that he had some sort of a business in Seattle for awhile, up until several years before I was born. I never asked him what type of business, but he simply was not a businessman.


Hansen

In your novel, which we'll be talking about in detail during our next interview session, you have the family in there, the Toyotas, running a hotel in Skid Row. Did your father have any connection with that [hotel management], since that was a common occupation for immigrant Japanese?


Nakagawa

I don't know if he had any experience in that line of business. But the Tanaka family, upon whom I based my novel, definitely did run a hotel, because I remember. I was ten years old when the war started, but I remember my parents constantly referring to them. I think they were childhood friends.


Hansen

So you think that your father at one time lived in the Jackson Street area.


Nakagawa

Yes, in Seattle.


Hansen

But in any event, by the time you came along, he was ensconced there in the Kent area.


Nakagawa

Yes. In the hills.


Hansen

And about a fourth of the population of Kent was Japanese American?


Nakagawa

At the time of Pearl Harbor [December 7, 1941], yes.


Hansen

What are we talking about, in terms of the size of Kent?


Nakagawa

Oh, the town itself had a population of about 2,000 in the incorporated limits. Most of the Japanese Americans still lived outside the limits of the city, in the rural area, because they were farmers.


Hansen

You possess, I'm sure, familiarity with Kent. Probably you went to school in Kent, didn't you?


Nakagawa

Yes, I did.



49
Hansen

Tell me a little about Kent, not only as a town as such, but from a personal vantage point. How did you experience that town in terms of your own ethnic background?


Nakagawa

The spring before I started first grade, my family moved from the hills of Kent in closer to the city. And we lived very close to the city, so I was attending Kent Elementary School, which was the school for the town people. Most of the Japanese Americans were out in the rural areas, maybe four or five miles out in the country. So the school that I attended only had about, I'd say, 5 to 10 percent Japanese Americans. The schools in the rural areas had a much higher percentage. I attended the first through the fourth grades at Kent Elementary. I recall that my classmates were always the same kids, simply because there were two first grades. "A" through "L" was in one class and "M" through "Z" was in another class, so I went to school with basically the same kids for four years. So I got to know those kids pretty well. We only had four teachers, and I recall fairly well all of them—their names, anyway, and basically what they looked like. But strangely enough, the principal of our school, a Mr. Phipps, was the son of a missionary, and he spoke excellent Japanese, much better than I did.


Hansen

So you were brought up having an Anglo principal, but one who had Japanese language facility, then?


Nakagawa

But I never really got to know him, except that he was friendly to us and once in awhile he'd talk to us and joke with us in Japanese.


Hansen

Was that an accident or was that a deliberate placement of him in that area?


Nakagawa

I think it was an accident, because if it was deliberate, they'd have probably put him in one of the rural schools, where it was predominately Japanese Americans.


Hansen

Let's talk about that for a little while, because as I've studied camp life during World War II, a lot of reports that I've read by anthropologists and other social scientists talk about the differences between a more Americanized Japanese American population and a more Japanized one, and they customarily describe the Japanized sector as being largely comprised of people with rural origins. So it was very significant, then, when you moved closer to Kent to start school. Had you gone to a school on the periphery of Kent or out in the country, your experience might have been quite different. Is that correct?


Nakagawa

Yes, I think definitely [it would have been].


Hansen

If you were to go to school in the rural area, would you find that when kids came to school the only language they had initially was Japanese?


Nakagawa

No, I don't think so. Because I'm one of the younger Nisei, and almost all of my peers in the Japanese American community were the fifth through the tenth children in their families. When I started school, I spoke English quite well.


Hansen

Okay. But that [language facility in English] linked through your older siblings, then.


Nakagawa

Yes, that's right.


Hansen

Your older siblings, when they went to school, they probably just spoke [Japanese].


Nakagawa

That would be the difference, yes. But for me, I don't think it would have made too much of a difference whether I went to an elementary school that was predominantly Japanese American or the school that I happened to go to.


Hansen

Except that the school might have been better in a bigger town, as opposed to in the country, is that right? I mean, was it better for you to go to Kent, to the school there, as opposed to a village school or a country school?


Nakagawa

You mean academically?



50
Hansen

Yes.


Nakagawa

No, I don't think so. Not in the lower grades of elementary school. I don't think it made much difference.


Hansen

Of course, the town of Kent was not that huge anyway, was it?


Nakagawa

No. It was a small town. There was only two classes in each grade, so you're probably talking about fifty to sixty kids in each grade. That's a pretty small school.


Hansen

What precipitated the move of your family [from the hills outside of Kent] closer into town?


Nakagawa

I think economics. Although my dad had cleared the land, I don't think he was able to support the family out there. Out in the hills, we were basically a subsistence family. About all we bought, I believe, was rice and shoyu [soy sauce], because we had no electricity or running water.


Hansen

What did your father do when you came closer to town? Was he still in farming?


Nakagawa

Yes. My dad leased a small farm about a mile from downtown Kent, which was a very small town. And we farmed it, I guess, from the summer of 1938 through 1941. Then we were evacuated in May of 1942.


Hansen

Before we get into legal and extralegal discrimination against Japanese people in that area and in Washington state as a whole, and even on the West Coast, maybe we could explore what it was like for a Japanese American to be brought up at that particular time. Your parents were an immigrant generation [Issei]. What constellation of activities did you have, in terms of educational, cultural, or just plain recreational things? What was the world of a young Nisei [U. S. born citizen of Japanese ancestry] like, insofar as that young Nisei had a window [from which] to observe what the world of the Issei, his parents' generation, was like at that time? What was it like in a place like Kent?


Nakagawa

Basically, I think I was living on the fringe of two societies. In school, I recall that there were only two other Nisei boys in my class, and one Nisei girl. So in school I mingled with Caucasians. There were no blacks, no Filipinos or Chinese, just Caucasians and Nisei. I think I mingled fairly well. I had a lot of friends and enjoyed it. But, socially, my life was centered in the Japanese American community. I started Japanese school in the fall of 1941.


Hansen

In Kent?


Nakagawa

Yes. I was in the fourth grade already in English school, but I was only in the first grade in Japanese school. I think, to a large extent, because my dad couldn't afford it. I had an older brother, Henry, who was one year older than me, and he was three or four grades ahead of me in Japanese school. But we only went to school on Saturdays. I remember that when I learned that Japanese school had been closed in December of 1941, I was relieved, because I was going to have to take part in a New Year's play. There was a huge barn right outside Kent that we used to call Katayama Hall. It was sort of a community hall for the Japanese American community, and we were going to have a play there. They used to show Japanese movies there, but we were going to have this play, and I was going to have to participate in it, and I was scared to death.


Hansen

Was Katayama Hall named after Sen Katayama?[3]


Nakagawa

I don't know. We used to call it Katayama Hall. It was right on the edge of Kent, less than a mile from our house. I remember I used to go over there and we used to see samurai movies, and we used to have a great time running around.

I went to that Japanese school one day a week for only a few weeks. On occasion I used to attend Sunday school, which was run by Maryknoll missionaries. I remember that because they used to give us candy. I think that's the reason why I went; candy was hard to come by in those days.


51

But as far as playing, I used to swim in the river with my older brothers and a bunch of Japanese kids in the neighborhood. Well, it was a neighborhood, but they were actually farmers. It wasn't a cluster of houses or anything. We used to fish in the river, and also in the creek. We used to poach game. We used to play softball in the pastures. The dairy farmers were mostly Caucasians, but we used to play softball in their pastures, and the neighbors didn't mind. Kids were kids, I guess that was it. School was in a mixed society, and the rest of my life was in the Japanese community.


Hansen

How was the situation different for you and your older siblings? There must have been a spread of fifteen or twenty years between you and your oldest sibling.


Nakagawa

Yes. My oldest brother, Itsuki, graduated from high school a year before I started school. But I had two older sisters, Toshiko and Masako, older than him. One of them, Masako, never came to the [United] States because of the Oriental Exclusion Law of 1924. My mother had gone back to Japan to take care of her mother. My mother was the oldest child. And my sister was born in Japan and couldn't be brought back to the States. So I never met her. She died, I believe of childbirth, in 1942. And my niece, Seiko, who is still in Japan, has children who are considerably older than my own. Well, the only close relatives I have in Japan now are my niece, who I first met in 1952, and an aunt, Shizue, who is my mother's younger sister.


Hansen

You mentioned how many kids there were in your immediate family. How many did you say?


Nakagawa

Twelve.


Hansen

How many of them were born in Japan and how many in the United States?


Nakagawa

Two were born in Japan.


Hansen

Okay. And the first one that was born here was born about what year?


Nakagawa

Oh, I would say she's probably sixteen years older than me, so about 1915 or 1916.


Hansen

And then the last one who was born was born about what year?


Nakagawa

Nineteen thirty-five. I'm the tenth of twelve [children].


Hansen

And your year of birth was?


Nakagawa

[Nineteen] thirty-two.


Hansen

Okay. What could you, as a youngster, glean about your parents' prewar world, the world of the Issei? I mean, what round of activities did your father participate in, and what about your mother? Because I think sometimes we find out about the public world of the men, but we don't understand the sometimes less public world of the women. As a younger child, you probably had a lot of chance to observe your mother's way of life. Oftentimes, for example, men, because they came here first and had to deal with the outside community, developed a greater facility in English than their wives, but maybe that was not the case with your family.


Nakagawa

Yes, it was definitely the case.


Hansen

Okay, why don't you tell me a little about your dad and your mom in terms of their lifestyle.


Nakagawa

My dad was able to speak some English, but not fluently. He surprised me because he was able to read a little bit, although I don't think he ever had any formal training in English, not even in camp [during World War II]. My mother never spoke any English at all, except just simple greetings. My mother was a housewife, pure and simple. She had no apparent interests or qualifications; she just never had a chance to acquire any. When she came over, she didn't speak any English. And with twelve kids, she simply didn't


52
have time. She didn't live in a house with electricity until the war. My dad was a great drinker. I think that's something he learned in the sawmills.


Hansen

Was he a gambler, too?


Nakagawa

Yes. My dad was a gambler and a drinker. He didn't do either well. (laughter) But of eight sons, I'm the only one who acquired any facility for drinking. I learned that in the [U.S.] Navy, on the merchant ships. But my mom used to tell me, used to tell all of us, "Stay away from liquor, because it's the devil and it will imprison you." She thought of alcohol as modern-day people think of cocaine or hard drugs. She thought that if you started doing it, there was no escaping it. So I almost never drank in front of my mother. I'd drink a beer or so. Once in awhile, when I was an adult, my dad would be drinking beer and he'd offer me one, and I'd drink one with him. I'd never do any drinking in front of my mother, however, because I didn't want her to worry.


Hansen

Did your mom's attitude toward drinking come from her Christian background?


Nakagawa

No. My mom was not a Christian. She was always a Buddhist, but she did mention to me at times about considering Christianity. To the best of my knowledge, my dad had no religion. He was a member of the Buddhist church and attended funerals and a few weddings; that's about it.


Hansen

Did your father's drinking and gambling lead to constricted circumstances for the family's economy, and was your mother reflecting, in part, the actual situation that the family was short of money because of your father's habits?


Nakagawa

I don't think so. My dad was a poor gambler. I don't remember before the war because I was too young; I wouldn't have been involved in it anyway. But after the war, on one occasion, an Issei man came over to our house when we were farming to collect some gambling debts from my dad. But you can't squeeze blood from a turnip. My dad never had any money. The only time he had money was after he pretty much retired on social security. Then he was living on a farm that we owned, so he had no expenses. He was raising a few head of cattle, because we converted the land to pasture and he was just grazing a few head of cattle. I think that's the first time he had any spending money in his pocket that I knew of.


Hansen

Did your father participate in any kind of civic or cultural groups? I mean, was he in, like, the Japanese Association, or did he participate in a prefectural organization? Was he a board member for a [Japanese] language school or anything like that?


Nakagawa

No. If anything, he might have paid lip service and donated a few bucks, if he had it. But he was definitely not a doer, in that sense. He used to make sake and beer, and when we were in camp [Heart Mountain War Relocation Center in Wyoming during World War II]—how he got it, I'll never know—he used to get hold of dried prunes and grapes and ferment wine. My mother used to complain because the house was always so crowded with his friends drinking up and raising Cain. But I remember the closet in camp would be splattered with juice. (laughter)


Hansen

So the profile of your father that you're presenting here is such that I would suspect that at the time of the roundup after Pearl Harbor he wasn't somebody who was picked up by the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation].


Nakagawa

Definitely not. He'd have been about the last Issei to get picked up.


Hansen

So he didn't have a high profile in the community.


Nakagawa

No, he did not. Definitely not. My mother used to say that my dad was looked upon by his peers as a great guy: "If you need a drink, go see Nakagawa." There was always a lot of people in our house drinking. Even after we left camp, in the 1950s and 1960s, the neighbors—not Japanese but Caucasians—would come over and they'd be drinking beer or some of his home-brewed sake and having a good time.



53
Hansen

Your dad sounds like a fun-loving guy.


Nakagawa

Yes. Yes, he was. All the Issei, and even some of the Caucasian neighbors, even prior to the war, used to come over to our house, and they used to call him "Gene, good old Gene." He was a drinking partner.


Hansen

What did your mom think about that, since she voiced concern that you might drink and that a drink would be almost addictive and that it would lead you down the wrong path? How did she feel about that situation with your father and the moveable feast of his parties?


Nakagawa

She didn't like it, but she didn't rebel. It was one of those shikataganai [there's nothing you can do] things.


Hansen

Do you think your parents were very much in love? I mean, I know theirs was an arranged marriage, but that doesn't preclude love, obviously.


Nakagawa

I don't think so, not in the sense that most Americans think of it. My father was very Japanese; he had very little respect for women. I had a younger sister, Kiku, one year younger than me. I think I was one of the few kids in my family who argued with my dad. I thought he treated her badly, and I would object. If I didn't like what he was doing, I would say so. And I remember as a kid—this was after World War II, junior high and high school days—there were a few times when he'd get so mad he'd run me out of the house. I'd get out of the house and stay out for an hour or two, and when I came back in, he wouldn't say a word. It was forgotten. He never harbored a grudge. But later, when I became an adult and I became a merchant seaman and started to sail back and forth to Japan, I would bring my parents records. I bought them a shortwave radio so they could get shortwave reception. It didn't work very well.

But later, my dad never harbored any grudges against me. He didn't love me less because I had been rebellious, but I was probably more rebellious than the others. Most of my brothers and sisters were much more inclined to shrug their shoulders and say, "What the hell. It's the old man. You can't change him."


Hansen

I've talked to a lot of Nisei who experienced, as a lot of people in Japan do even today, a strong attachment to their mom and kind of a distance from their father which, as time went on, mellowed into a bit more understanding and appreciation, even love. You've been describing a situation with your dad as a bit of a clash but not something that threatened your mutual love, but there's still some tension. What about with your mom? Was there that bonding of closeness with your mom?


Nakagawa

Technically, yes. I don't recall my mom ever getting mad at me and raising the roof with me. Neither did my dad. He just got mad. You know, he just ran me out of the house. But my mom, I don't recall her ever seriously dressing me down. Because I was one of the rebellious kids, my mom often pleaded with me and said, not with tears—I used to kid her about it years later—"Please be nice to me, because I don't have long to live." (laughter) She said that from the time I was in grade school. Thirty years later, I would kid her about it.


Hansen

When she'd say that to you, would she say it in English or Japanese?


Nakagawa

Japanese, always Japanese. We always spoke Japanese.


Hansen

You made an invidious comparison earlier between your principal's Japanese and your own. But was your Japanese sufficient to be able to have, not only effective communication with your mom, but affective communication, too, where it was emotional? Could you communicate with your mom with a sense of intimacy?


Nakagawa

No, not really. I don't think there was ever any serious misunderstanding, but I believe that probably the most obvious of the effects of the [Japanese American] Evacuation on me personally was that I lost the ability to fully communicate with my parents. Because when I went into camp, I was ten years old, and for three and a half years I really had little intimate contact with my parents. I'd go to them, mostly my mom, and say, "I need a pair of shoes," or "I need a dime to go see a movie." But I don't recall ever eating


54
with them in the mess hall, or really living with them. We lived in one room and they lived in another. We saw each other all the time, but I was always out with my friends.


Hansen

You were about nine years old when you were evacuated, right?


Nakagawa

I was ten when I went into camp.


Hansen

You were born in 1932 and you went to camp, then, in 1942.


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

You've been alluding to not only camp but a specific camp. Before the interview started, you were talking to me about the Heart Mountain camp. A prominent Nisei writer, Bill Hosokawa,[4] ended up at Heart Mountain, but he had been transferred there from the Minidoka [War Relocation Center in Idaho] camp. I'm wondering how you also ended up in Heart Mountain. That [being interned at the Heart Mountain center] wasn't very common for people from Washington, was it?


Nakagawa

No, it wasn't.


Hansen

They [Japanese Americans who had resided in Washington prior to World War II] usually went to either Minidoka or Tule Lake [War Relocation Center in California], I guess, initially. Those who had lived on Bainbridge Island [an island off the coast from Seattle, Washington] originally were sent to Manzanar [War Relocation Center in eastern California], I know that.


Nakagawa

Yes. Most of the people in my town, Kent, went to the Pinedale Assembly Center [in Pinedale, California], which we did, and then they went to Tule Lake. We went to Tule Lake and we were there for a little over a year, and then, because of the segregation thing,[5] we went to Heart Mountain. Now, I believe my dad wanted to go to Minidoka, but we couldn't get there.


Hansen

Mostevacuees went to Puyallup [Assembly Center in Washington], and then to Minidoka, right?


Nakagawa

Seattle people went to Puyallup and then to Minidoka. The Kent people went to Pinedale and then to Tule Lake, and from Tule Lake, they scattered.


Hansen

Let me now go back to Kent in the prewar period. To what extent did you have a relationship with the Seattle and Tacoma area? Did your family go there on occasions, and if so, what were those occasions? Shopping? What brought you into, really, the largest urban area around there? You weren't that many miles away from Seattle. There must have been many more things to do there, and you probably had friends or family living in the greater Seattle area, also.


Nakagawa

My parents had lots of friends in Seattle, because many of the people who were in the sawmills eventually relocated to Seattle. Of course, my parents lived in Seattle for a few years before I was born. So my parents had a lot of friends in Seattle. On occasion, they would visit us. Once in a while, we would visit them. But I don't recall ever visiting friends in Seattle with my parents. For one thing, there was no car that was near big enough.


Hansen

You were only ten years old, too.


Nakagawa

I was ten years old, but, see, I had many older brothers, and we could fill up that Model A pretty easy. So, in the prewar period, I remember going to Seattle only one time. Well, only one time strictly for recreation, social reasons. That was in July of 1941. Our whole family went to a Chinese restaurant in Seattle, and we had a great meal.


Hansen

Was this following a funeral or a wedding?



55
Nakagawa

No. This was purely celebration, the Fourth of July 1941. We went to Seattle—I was nine, I guess—to this Golden Pheasant Restaurant, which is still there. And we had a great Chinese meal. Then, after the meal, we were going to go over the newly completed floating bridge which went from Seattle to Mercer Island. And we went over to Mercer Island on this bridge, which was a toll bridge, and we were going around the island. There was a bridge on the other side of the island that went over to the other side of the lake, and my dad was trying to find that, because he was too cheap to pay toll fees to go back, and we got lost on the island. I remember that very clearly. Other than that, the only time I went to Seattle that I can recall was to visit one of my older brothers, who had, I think, tuberculosis and was in the sanitarium there.


Hansen

Did any of your older siblings participate in any of the athletic leagues or anything that would take them over to Seattle for competition?


Nakagawa

No, they didn't.


Hansen

Was there a host of things going on, even in a small area like Kent, for younger people to participate in? Sports leagues and the like.


Nakagawa

Yes, there were. I don't know about basketball; there definitely was in baseball. I recall that the various Japanese communities there used to have baseball teams, and they used to have a Japanese baseball league. The various communities would have teams, like Tacoma and White River, which was in Kent Valley. They used to have, I understand, pretty good baseball teams. But my brothers didn't play in that. A couple of them played school sports in this small Kent High School.

But my earliest recollection of my brothers participating in sports was when I was a first-grader. My second brother, Giro, was playing football for the Kent High School team. We had just moved from the hills closer into Kent. But prior to that, he used to turn out for football, and he would ride the bus in in the morning. But in the afternoon he'd have to, after football practice, walk about three and a half miles home. Kids did that in those days because nobody had a bike.


Hansen

When did you start working around the family property?


Nakagawa

I started working prior to school.


Hansen

You were four years old or something?


Nakagawa

Four or five years. I would help. I don't know if it amounted to much. When we were picking peas or beans or things like that, I would pick on one side and one of my older brothers would pick on the other side, and that's how we were paired up. Because when I was in the first grade, I had a brother who was a senior in high school, one who was a junior, and one who was in about the ninth grade. So I was paired up with one of the boys who was a junior or senior in high school. Between the two of us, I guess we did a pretty adequate job of picking a row of beans or peas or whatever.


Hansen

You didn't have any Kibei [Nisei educated in Japan] in your family, then.


Nakagawa

No.


Hansen

And was the reason because you already had somebody in your family in Japan? The explanation I hear frequently for why Nisei went to Japan for an education is that, when their Issei parents eventually retired, they would have somebody familiar with Japanese culture and society to take care of them. But you had, actually, some siblings who were born in Japan.


Nakagawa

Two siblings were born in Japan: my second sister, the second child in our family, who I never met; and my fourth brother, who would have been the sixth child. But my brother Kaz, who was born in Japan, was able to return to the [United] States. I don't know how that was possible. Let's see, he's seven years older


56
than me, so he must have been born in 1925. Now, he was born in Japan and then came back to the States as an infant. How that happened, I'm not sure. Because I know he's seven years older than me. And he's the one who's the engineer up in Lompoc, [California, in Santa Barbara County]. Anyway, during World War II, he didn't serve in the armed forces, but he was drafted during the Korean War. And he is the one who I visited my relatives with in Japan, because it so happened that when my ship came back into Japan for R and R from Korea, he was stationed a short distance away.


Hansen

What sort of difference in Japanese language facility is there among your siblings and how does that situation reflect age differences?


Nakagawa

I guess the older the kid was, the better he or she spoke Japanese. I was near the low end of the totem pole, so I spoke very little. I was able to understand what my parents were saying, but I never had the ability to discuss anything in real depth. And that was very unfortunate.


Hansen

The story of the Evacuation has been told quite frequently in recent years, but I always maintain that the Evacuation happened to individuals, and that each individual experienced it in a quite different way. I'm particularly interested in the way that you perceived it, being a sensitive person, a writer, and also at the time being a child. Maybe you could communicate what sort of anticipation you might have had about the Evacuation as a result of hearing your family talk about the worsening situation between United States and Japan, or the Sino-Japanese War, or whatever else. Was there some kind of incremental preparation for Pearl Harbor as a result of just hearing that things were intensifying, things appearing in the [Japanese] language press, and your parents or your siblings conversing about it? Or was Pearl Harbor a total surprise to you?


Nakagawa

I have no personal recollection, other than the day that Pearl Harbor happened, I remember one of my brothers, Itsuki, telling my mother about it. My dad wasn't in the house. I don't know where he was. He was probably out fishing or something like that, because in December there's no farm work to do. He was probably out doing something. But, having been only nine years old at that time, I really had little knowledge of world affairs. I was very much conscious, though, of the fact that I was a Japanese American, because there was a noticeable discrimination that was obvious even to a nine-year-old. I knew we were different. As I mentioned earlier, there were two other Nisei boys and one Nisei girl in my class. One boy was my neighbor and one was the son of a man who ran the Japanese country store—only it was in town. But I have no recollection of teachers at school or anybody picking on me as such, but some of the kids would conk me once in awhile. But I don't think it had anything to do with the fact that I was a Japanese American. But it wasn't anything serious; it was something we accepted.

As far as the actual evacuation, I didn't give it any serious thought. At least I don't recall. I was aware that we had to go, and that was it. I knew we were going to camp. I remember the weekend before we were evacuated, though, that we had one splurge. We went to the town of Auburn, [Washington], which was south of us, to see a movie. It was a Wallace Beery movie. I recall thinking it was unfortunate that we lived south of a river. We were in the town of Kent, but we lived south of the Green River. All the people who lived north of the Green River were in one group, and we were in the group with the people from the next town, who I didn't know. So when we got to Tule Lake, then, all of my friends from my town, those who I had gone to Japanese school with, were way in the 70s block of Tule Lake, and we were in the 50s, diagonally across the whole damn camp. I recall I was unhappy about the fact that we were going to be with a bunch of strangers.


Hansen

But didn't you go to the Pinedale Assembly Center first?


Nakagawa

Yes, we did. We went to Pinedale. But then from Pinedale we went to Tule Lake. How it happened, I don't know, but at Tule Lake we were somewhat separated from the rest of the Kent people.


Hansen

Tell me a little about Pinedale, what you can recollect of that experience.



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Nakagawa

I remember that we were right in the middle of a fig grove. One thing I recall is the extreme heat. When you're from Seattle, it's cool even in the dead of the summer. Except for maybe half a dozen days of the year, it's cool. It might get to 80, 85 [degrees]. But in Pinedale it was extremely hot. Must have been way over 100 degrees, and no wind. I also recall the public toilets, you know, the outdoor privies. But we had those on our farm, so that wasn't a serious problem for me. Other than that, I remember they used to have what they call oyatsu [snack] for kids. Ten o'clock in the morning or sometime thereabouts, in mid-morning, mid-afternoon, they would give milk and saltine crackers to the kids. I think it was for kids ten years old or under. I just qualified. If I hadn't been qualified, I'd have lied anyway. But we used to go from one mess hall to the next just to get double shares. In Pinedale—we weren't there very long—they rapidly organized activities. I think we were there from about May to August [1942] or thereabouts. But I remember right away they organized softball leagues, even for us kids.


Hansen

How did your parents handle being evacuated? What do you recall about the conditions? I know your dad wasn't part of the government's roundup of community leaders, but certainly the authority figures in the house must have experienced being evacuated in a very dramatic way. What do you recollect happening around your house with your parents and older siblings? Did some of your family evacuate to one place and some to another because of marital relationships and the like?


Nakagawa

No, we were all evacuated together. At that time there were eleven kids at home. My one sister was in Japan. My oldest sister, Toshiko, was working as a maid in Seattle and she came home so that we could all be evacuated together. I had an older brother, Giro, who was working the oysters. He had graduated from high school. He was working the oysters in South Bend, Washington, which is on the coast. And I had this other brother, Itsuki, who had been up in Alaska working in the salmon canneries or something like that. But they all came back, and we all evacuated together as a family. So we went to Pinedale. I think that's the last time our whole family was ever together, in May of 1942. We went to Pinedale, and we were there, I think, about three months.


Hansen

Do you remember the emotional climate in your family at the time of this evacuation? Was it, again, the shikataganai thing?


Nakagawa

Yes, I think it was largely that. I don't recall it firsthand, but I believe that it was largely that. "Well, we've got to go." So we did. I remember they assigned us a family number, and we put tags on everything. I think I recall that our family number was 16786. They had these cargo tags. I don't know how we got there, but we went to Auburn [Washington]. We were actually from the town of Kent. We went to the Auburn train station to be evacuated, and that's why we wound up with a bunch of strangers. You know, not our group, really, when we got to Tule Lake. My parents were used to hardship. I don't think that they suffered a great deal emotionally. I don't think that my brothers and sisters did, either. They were conditioned to discrimination to the extent where they could accept it, at least on the surface.


Hansen

None of them were old enough to be married?


Nakagawa

No, none were. Well, they were old enough to be married, but they weren't. My oldest sister, Toshiko, then must have been in the mid to late twenties. But people weren't getting married early in those days.


Hansen

What concern did the family express about the one sibling who was in Japan during this time?


Nakagawa

I remember my mother was worried about it. She used to mention it in the same way that you would expect any mother to. But she wouldn't discuss it much with me. You have to remember, I'm the tenth. (laughter) There were other siblings who she could express her concerns with more readily. And my dad, I don't recall him ever saying anything. He was too busy trying to figure out where to get the ingredients to set up his still.


Hansen

It's interesting that one of the things that you remember very vividly—and I don't think that people who haven't gone through this can fully appreciate it—is that you're thrown in with strangers, in a sense. It makes the uprooting more vivid in that you're not only being taken from Kent and put into Pinedale, but


58
you're being suddenly taken out of a context of people who you know and set down among people who are different. How did those differences manifest themselves? At Manzanar, for example, the people from Bainbridge Island were put side by side with people from Terminal Island [near San Pedro, in Los Angeles County], and they just felt very uncomfortable.[6] And actually, after the rioting in late 1942, they petitioned to be able to be moved to Minidoka—which they later were. They [the War Relocation Authority] took several blocks of Bainbridge Islanders and they moved them up to Minidoka. So I'm wondering, who were you set down among at camp? Maybe you don't remember the situation at Pinedale, but certainly you do that at Tule Lake. Where were the people from and how were they different from, say, the people in your neighborhood and your area?


Nakagawa

I don't think there was any significant difference. It's just that, as a kid, I wanted to be with kids that I knew. In Pinedale the camp was quite a bit smaller, and we were there only a short time. We didn't go to school, so it wasn't noticeable to me, although I recall that before being evacuated I was concerned. I didn't want to go to camp with these guys from Auburn because I didn't even know them. And I was only ten years old, just turned ten. Naturally, if you go camping or on an outing, you want to go with your friends, and it was that same concern. But, basically, the people, I think, in that area, the whole White River valley, all farmers, were basically the same. There was no vast difference in loyalties or anything like that.


Hansen

Well, was there a difference as to place of origin in Japan, like for your parents?


Nakagawa

No.


Hansen

There were a lot of Hiroshima Prefecture people in that area?


Nakagawa

Yes. No, there was no significant difference in the people. As a matter of fact, I think it turned out better for me in the long run, because when we got to Tule Lake we were in with all of these other people. My block in Tule Lake had more kids than any block around.


Hansen

What do you recollect about the transfer from Pinedale to Tule Lake?


Nakagawa

I only recall the train ride. We went by train from Pinedale to Tule Lake, and then from Tule Lake to Heart Mountain.


Hansen

But you were a year in Tule Lake.


Nakagawa

Yes, I was a year in Tule Lake. But when we went from Auburn, Washington, to Pinedale, we had a very nice train. We had a commercial dining room. It was great. I remember the blacks [African Americans] with their white dinner coats.


Hansen

Porters?


Nakagawa

Yes. It was great. Hey, I'd never had such good food before. But the other trains were kind of dumpy.


Hansen

You went by train, you say, from Pinedale to Tule Lake, too, right?


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

At Pinedale, did you run up against the sentries and the barbed wire and things?


Nakagawa

Oh, yes, definitely. You know, when we went on the train from Auburn to Pinedale, we had an armed guard in the car with us. And there was a family, a young couple, a Kibei man and a Nisei wife, with three infant daughters. They later became friends of ours. But I didn't think of it at the time, but it just seems that it must have been such a hardship for them. Three infants. I mean, they were just babies. But as far as I was concerned, I was ten. My youngest brother, Ben, must have been seven. It was no hardship physically for us, except it was hot. Boy, it was really hot for people from around Seattle.



59
Hansen

You must have experienced some hardship as regards the housing, though. Of course, you were probably crowded in the place you were living in before the war, also.


Nakagawa

Yes. We were living in a crowded house. Before the war, we used to sleep four into a double bed. It's easy to do when it's head to foot. You know, two guys with heads on this side, two guys with heads on that side.


Hansen

I realize that one can't factor out the trauma and sense of shame that's involved with discrimination and the Evacuation. But if you could factor that out—which I realize, of course, that in truth you cannot!— simply look at the objective living situation, would you say that your standard of living went up or down when you moved from Kent into the camps in terms of just the food that you ate, the facilities that you lived in, the plumbing that you had, the medical care you received, and all those kinds of things?


Nakagawa

As far as the physical aspects of camp, I don't think that as a ten-year-old I suffered. Except it was so damn hot. And I didn't have the freedom to run around. You know, we were fishing. We had this little creek and we used to poach fish, trout and things, before it was in season. As far as camp is concerned, the physical changes in the environment—food and all of that—I don't think I suffered. To be perfectly honest, a lot of people did, but we were very poor. I got sick and tired of some of the food in Tule Lake. It seemed like we lived on lamb curry stew and Columbia River smelts. I'll never forget that. (laughter) I can't stand lamb to this day. But we constantly had Columbia River smelts and lamb curry stew. And red beets. I hate red beets.


Hansen

How did your family make a living while you were in camp? Did your dad and mom both work, or just your dad?


Nakagawa

No, my mom never worked. My mom used to make a lot of our clothes for us in camp. She did quite well. She would make shirts. And there were plenty of people to make clothes for. But my dad worked on the farm. He was a chimney sweeper [for all of the barracks]. He was working all the time. My older brothers and sisters left camp about as soon as they could.


Hansen

Left from Tule Lake?


Nakagawa

Three of them left from Pinedale as soon as we got there. As soon as they could, they went to Ogden, Utah. Then the others, as they graduated from high school, they went out to the railroad in Montana or wherever. They didn't hang around the camp.


Hansen

So they took advantage of the [WRA's] leave clearance policy and got out of camp.


Nakagawa

Yes, they got out.


Hansen

After the sorting out at Tule Lake and Tule Lake became a segregation center, and the people who had said yes on these questions [in the "loyalty" registration administered in early 1943]—questions twenty-seven and twenty-eight[7]—were actually sent out of Tule Lake for the most part, and the people in other camps who had said no, no, to these questions ended up at Tule Lake, your family moved to Heart Mountain. By the time you got to Heart Mountain, about how many were left of your family to live together there?


Nakagawa

Let's see. Parents and six kids. Maybe it was more than that, but I think the others left before we got to Heart Mountain. About as fast as they got out of high school, they were gone.


Hansen

So it was basically your parents and the younger kids who were left.


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

What about your sisters? Did they stay in camp with the family or did they go out, too?



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Nakagawa

My oldest sister, the oldest of my siblings, left very early. She was working in Utah somewhere, in an ammunition plant or something like that.


Hansen

Of course, a lot has been written about Tule Lake before and after the segregation.[8] But even before the time of the registration that I was just alluding to there was a great deal of intimidation on the part of different people to try to get other people in the camp to answer the questions in a certain way. Was your family in any way involved in that, or were you aware of it, or were you just oblivious to what was happening because of your age?


Nakagawa

I was aware of it, because I recall when I was there...I don't even remember what month...In one block, I think it was [comprised largely of people who originated from] the Sacramento-Placer County area [in central California], there was some sort of agitation, and so they sent troops in. And we were watching, I recall. These troops came in with fixed bayonets and gas masks. I don't know what they were doing, but we went over to watch. I was aware of what was going on, although I didn't understand the significance. My gang, the kids in my block, grade school age kids, we used to refer to the people as "the pro-Japs" and "the anti-Japs." (laughter) And we were saying, "Hey, these guys got to go in and get the pro-Japs." But I think that was an effort to make the people register for the draft. But I do recall the troops came in.


Hansen

What was your block and barrack number in Tule Lake, do you remember that?


Nakagawa

Block 54, barrack 4. Strangely enough, I'm living now here in Gardena in a house whose number is 15404, and my barrack in Tule Lake was 5404. We had the whole middle of the barrack. There was one family in the end, we had the whole middle, and there was another family in the end apartment.


Hansen

You have that imprinted indelibly in your brain. I wonder if I could test your recollection as to what your residence number was at Pinedale. Do you remember that?


Nakagawa

I don't recall. I think we lived in Block A, but in Tule Lake I remember it vividly.


Hansen

And then at Heart Mountain, where did you live?


Nakagawa

Block 12, barrack 17.


Hansen

And then did you have a particular apartment in barrack 17?


Nakagawa

We also lived in the middle of the barrack. "B," "C," or something like that. But we had two or three.


Hansen

That's right, because you were a family of a sufficient size.


Nakagawa

I have a much better recollection of Tule Lake than Heart Mountain.


Hansen

You do?


Nakagawa

Oh, yes.


Hansen

And yet you stayed in Heart Mountain longer.


Nakagawa

Yes. See, because in Heart Mountain... We used to go ice skating. They had a swimming pool. It wasn't a swimming pool; it was an irrigation ditch that had been dammed up and was really a swimming hole. We used to go out to the Shoshone River and wade. We used to go hiking. But it wasn't fun. It wasn't fun because there were very few kids in my block. In Tule Lake we had a gang. You know, oh, gee, there must have been forty kids approximately my age, and we used to have gang fights. We used to steal food from the mess hall and go out to the irrigation ditch to swim. We used to sneak up in the rafters of the community shower and peek down into the girls' showers. We just had a hell of a time.



61
Hansen

You were about a sixth-grader, weren't you?


Nakagawa

Fifth grade.


Hansen

Fifth grade at Tule Lake. When you went to Heart Mountain, did your father continue working in agriculture?


Nakagawa

He worked mostly on the farm. But my dad had no skills. He was a lumberjack, a failure at some business, cleared land, worked on a farm. In Tule Lake, I recall he was a chimney sweeper. He used to come home all black from soot. My dad was a hard worker. You give him a job to do and, boy, he'd do it. But as far as skills, he had none.


Hansen

I have seen a lot of pictures of Heart Mountain and Tule Lake, and both of them have memorable landscape features, ones that readily identify the respective camps. Are those distinctive features in your mind at all?


Nakagawa

Very vividly. I never went hiking up to Heart Mountain; it was too far. We always went the other way, across the highway to the Shoshone River. In Tule Lake we used to—for the short time that we were there and we were free to go, because we were confined at first—go hiking up on Castle Rock and out on Rimrock Mountain, which we used to call "Horse Cock Mountain." (laughter) And I recall, when we started school there—the school was in Block 50, kitty-corner across from Block 54—we were going to have a contest to name the school. I was in the fifth grade, and I was not a really, really bad kid, but sort of a mischievous one. And me and a couple of other guys, we wanted to call the school "Concentration Camp School," and they said, "No way." So then we were going to call it "Horse Cock Mountain School." (laughter) They finally compromised and called it "Rimrock School." But we had a blast. I had a blast in Tule Lake.


Hansen

Do you think that the students at Tule Lake got rowdier, in a way? Now, when you were in school before camp, there were only three other Nisei kids in your class. At Tule Lake, I know there was, among the high school students, a lot more truancy and just talking out in class and doing mischievous things such as writing on the bathrooms walls. Did you find in Tule Lake that the climate of the classroom was a little more "troublesome?"


Nakagawa

Yes. Less discipline, yes, definitely. But I'm not sure what the reasons were. I never really thought about that. But when I was a kid in Kent Elementary School, the kids, probably twenty-five Caucasians and four Japanese Americans, we were very docile and attentive.


Hansen

Who's "we"?


Nakagawa

All of us.


Hansen

Not just the Nisei.


Nakagawa

It was a well-run school. I mean, to my recollection, we respected and loved our teachers. When I got to Tule Lake, I don't know whether it was because of peer reinforcement... Because, you know, if some guy has a tendency to screw around, then he knows his peers are thinking the same thing. There's peer reinforcement. I don't know whether it was that, or whether it was because the kids had this pent-up, anti-Caucasian sentiment building in them. But there was definitely more rebelliousness. Now, I don't know. Because the bulk of the kids at that Rimrock School in the fifth grade were from Placer County, and the Placer County kids were less disciplined. We used to call them yogores [delinquents]. I don't know whether that was the reason, whether it was this peer reinforcement of the rebelliousness that's natural, I think, in kids, or whether it was a pent-up, anti-white people feeling, because our teacher was white. But our teacher in Tule Lake was a Mrs. Hannon. She was a very kindly, plump, probably middle-aged, gentle person. And she had a Japanese assistant. But I remember, she used to make us us sing constantly. We used to sing "[I Dream of] Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair," "Juanita." You know that song?


Hansen

Yes.



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Nakagawa

I can still sing that song from those days. The kids, though, in Tule Lake, and to a large extent at Heart Mountain Junior High in the seventh grade, were more rebellious. But maybe it was because seventhgraders have a greater degree of independence than the lower elementary school, I don't know.


Hansen

I was reading a book not too long ago by this educational historian named Thomas James, and it's called Exile Within [:The Schooling of Japanese Americans, 1942-1945 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987)]. It's about education in the World War II Japanese American camps, and one of the things James notes is that, when the WRA first started the school, which would have been your first year at Tule Lake, they adopted a curriculum that was developed by a professor named Hanna from the Department of Education at Stanford [University in northern California]. It was a progressive form of education designed to get the children in the camp into seeing democracy at work in their community, and so everything in the curriculum was geared to studying institutions and developments in the community. But the anomaly of it, of course, was that such a curriculum showcased to the Japanese American students a community structure and dynamic that was authoritarian and totalitarian. I mean, they were living in a community that was in fact a concentration camp. Do you remember that situation, where the camp curriculum was based in the community, wherein you and your classmates would, say, visit the fire department or police department, or go see how the community government worked? They [the WRA] scrapped this curriculum pretty much after the first year because it was such an abysmal failure, but I was just wondering if you had any recollection of that?


Nakagawa

No, I don't recall. In Tule Lake, we didn't visit the fire department or the hospital, anything like that, I'm quite sure. I think our school year must have been fairly short, because I think we probably didn't start the school until late in September or early October. But I enjoyed the fifth grade. A lot of my classmates are in Seattle now. I met them and talked to them. As a matter of fact, my second cousin, from Penryn, California, was my classmate. I didn't get to know him very well because, although a classmate, he was very different than me. He was the youngest child in his family by about ten years, and he was very much a mama's boy; and I was with a gang, and I didn't want to have much to do with him. He was much bigger than me. We never fought or anything. He was just a second cousin, and I had really nothing to do with him.


Hansen

You were plugged into different worlds.


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

This book [Exile Within] that I was alluding to a little while ago, the author [Thomas James] mentions that the quality of education, as the war went on, went down—for several reasons. A lot of the hakujin teachers ended up leaving. There was a huge turnover of teachers. And then, the better Nisei teachers who, like your older siblings, were teaching assistants, resettled and went to work elsewhere in the United States. So the camp schools were left with a lot of teachers, whether Anglos or Japanese Americans, who were not real well qualified in the classroom. Did you notice that when you went to Heart Mountain that, even though the facilities for the schools got better, that the quality of the teaching itself diminished, or not?


Nakagawa

No, I didn't. As a matter of fact, I think that the same teachers who started in the fall of 1944 continued on through the end of the 1944-1945 school year. I don't recall any change in teachers at Heart Mountain. In the sixth grade I had only one teacher, a Mr. Jennings. He had a broken leg. He's living in Seattle. I read in the Pacific Citizen [the official newspaper of the Japanese American Citizens League] that he's now retired and living in Seattle. I might go call him when I get up there. He won't remember me, but...


Hansen

Do you remember good things about your teachers, then?


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

Both the Anglo and the Nisei teachers you had?


Nakagawa

I don't have an unfavorable recollection of any teacher. There's only one teacher who I thought was somewhat incompetent, but as far as a negative attitude, I have no negative attitude. I have a very positive


63
attitude toward some of them.


Hansen

Would you like to talk about some of them who you have a positive attitude toward, and what subjects you found interesting and why?


Nakagawa

Okay. The first teacher that I have a very positive attitude toward is my teacher at Rimrock Elementary School. Her name was Mrs. Hannon. I'm quite sure it was Hannon; Hannon, Hanna, something like that. And she lived a short distance outside of the camp, because she told us. She was middle-aged, plump, and somewhat auburn-haired, as I recall. Reddish-brown hair, freckles. A very kindly, sympathetic teacher. She didn't preach to us kids because we were only fifth-graders. But I recall she used to make us sing those songs, and we thought it was sissy to sing. But then, after you learned to sing the songs, even though you as a "tough" kid didn't admit it, there was beauty there. Especially "Juanita." "Soft o'er the fountains..." You know, hey, to a gang kid who thinks he's tough, with a tough gang, and you want to portray toughness. (laughter) She used to take us out to the firebreak for PE [physical education]. Her assistant was Miss Shiratsuki, who was on the same train as me when we went to Heart Mountain.


Hansen

Can you tell me a little more about Miss Shiratsuki.


Nakagawa

She was a very small woman.


Hansen

Nisei?


Nakagawa

Yes. Except that she and Mrs. Hannon worked hand in hand, and they seemed to be...There was a very cordial relationship between all of us. We used to give Mrs. Hannon some trouble, kids' way, mischievous stuff. I remember, though, when we suggested "Concentration Camp School," it was a joke. You know, she took it seriously, because I'm sure...I didn't realize it at the time, but I take it that she realized that that was not the right attitude to instill in kids in that camp. But I definitely recall her very vividly.


Hansen

Were there other teachers at Tule Lake who you recall?


Nakagawa

They were the only two teachers I had. I had only one class.


Hansen

Because you were only at elementary school at that time, right? Just had the same teachers all through the day. You were in the fifth grade at Tule Lake. Then, by the time you got to Heart Mountain, you were in the sixth grade. And again the situation was that you had what, a teacher and an assistant?


Nakagawa

Just one teacher.


Hansen

Tell me what you recall about that teacher.


Nakagawa

His name was Jennings. I think he was Ted Jennings. But I recall that he had a broken leg, which was in a cast all the time that he was my teacher. He was sort of a gangling, thirty-five-year-old man. Most of the kids didn't like him because he was too stern.


Hansen

He's somebody who would have been [given a military classification of] 4-F because of his leg, though?


Nakagawa

I don't know whether that was the case or whether he had just recently broken it. I learned quite recently through the Pacific Citizen that after leaving Heart Mountain he taught in western Washington and recently retired and now lives in Seattle. I thought maybe I'd like to visit him just to say hello. Because he had mentioned that he would like to have visitors.


Hansen

Why would you visit him, though? Is there a bond between you at some level, or do you feel indebted to him for imparting some special kind of either wisdom or compassion to you?


Nakagawa

Not particularly. But I recall him, and I just remember him as a teacher who was...well, let's face it.


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We didn't know many white men in those days, and he was just a white man who treated us as just kids. We weren't Japs to him; we were just kids. He wasn't particularly kind to me. I don't recall that he took any special interest in me or anything like that. We had not a fond relationship but a cordial and proper one. Mrs. Hannon, I feel a certain affection for. With Mr. Jennings, it was just a teacher-pupil relationship. No particular affection but just that I respect the man.


Hansen

Was he the first male teacher you ever had?


Nakagawa

No. The first male teacher I had was in the fourth grade. His name was Mr. Weeks. He was my penmanship teacher. I had a homeroom teacher who taught everything except penmanship.


Hansen

At Kent?


Nakagawa

Yes, in Kent. In the fourth grade. Mr. Weeks. By coincidence, in 1946-1947, in south Seattle, he became my youngest brother's teacher. And I learned that, although I never talked to him, he had gone in the navy and been a flyer during the war. But Mr. Jennings was the first male teacher that I had who I really got to know, because in penmanship it's only one hour.


Hansen

What about your next year at Heart Mountain, when you were in junior high?


Nakagawa

Now, in junior high school I was in what they called 7-3. They had four classes in seventh grade, and we were segregated according to academic accomplishment. The smart kids were in 7-1, the dumb ones were in 7-4. I was in 7-3, right where I wanted to be. Because I didn't want to be in 7-1, because for one thing I wasn't qualified, but also because all of my friends were in 7-3. You know, my friends were in 7-3 and 7-4 and, of course, you want to be with your friends. Seven-one is where the sissies and the girls were. You know, in those days we didn't think about academics. At least, I didn't. My parents didn't preach to me about studying. So, in 7-3 we had a different teacher for every class. I think the teacher I recall most vividly is Mrs. Rudolph, who was my music teacher. Her husband was teaching in the high school, and he taught...I forgot what course, but he was the JV [junior varsity] football coach. But all the teachers that I had in my camp years were, to my recollection, very nice, professional, and competent, as far as I could tell, as a kid can tell.


Hansen

A kid who didn't care that much about academics.


Nakagawa

No, I didn't, really. But they were nice people. They managed to maintain some sort of discipline. That was my only contact, I guess, with—I didn't consider myself an American, frankly—with Americans. They were my only contact. I think I recall them and have certain pleasant memories of them because they were nice. I mean, I was reading in the papers, [hearing] over the radio, [seeing] in the newsreels at the movies, about the Japs this, the Japs that, and I think my contact with these teachers in some way—although I certainly didn't realize it then—gave me a somewhat more balanced perception of what American society was. So I think that may be the reason why I have especially fond memories of my teachers. If not fond, at least pleasant.


Hansen

Not negative, for sure.


Nakagawa

Yes. Definitely not negative.


Hansen

In your classes, do you recall, number one, either being asked to think critically about the situation of the Evacuation and of the existence of places like Tule Lake or Heart Mountain, or number two, do you remember attempts to obscure the actuality of the Evacuation and the camps through your teachers adopting a patriotic or Americanization orientation? Do you remember either of those two things occurring in your classes at school?


Nakagawa

No. But I remember very vividly—it must have been at the time of the [loyalty] questionnaire [February 1943]—that among us kids in Tule Lake there was a lot of, if not joking, horseplay about the pro-Japs and


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the anti-Japs. I remember we used to have team chicken fights. In this Tule Lake magazine I've got, in fact, there's a picture of chicken fights. This one here. (displays photograph) We used to have team chicken fights, and as I told [you], in Block 54 there was a huge number of kids.


Hansen

Is that a Tule Lake reunion book you're looking at?


Nakagawa

Yes [Tule Lake Relocation/Segregation Center, Newell California ]. But anyway, I remember that one time we used to have teams, the pro-Japs and the anti-Japs. We would have this chicken fight until one team knocked the other team down. You knocked each other down or bumped each other until they let loose of their legs.


Hansen

This book on Tule Lake with this photograph is a good book to have. I see it was originally published in 1955 and was reissued in 1987. Where did you pick it up?


Nakagawa

I saw it advertised in the Pacific Citizen, so I wrote in.


Hansen

It's got some wonderful photographs in it.


Nakagawa

Yes, it does.


Hansen

You mentioned something that I think jostles a pervasive stereotype among non-Japanese Americans as they think about Japanese Americans: the attitudes of the families and kids toward education. According to the stereotype, Japanese American parents put an awful lot of pressure on their kids to excel in school, for they regard school as a passport to future success. And this is something that is true not only in the United States, but apparently had been true in Japan after the Meiji Period. One would think that this situation would have been compounded in camp, because then, instead of having a few Japanese Americans, you had all these competitive kids in the same classroom, with a lot of intensified family pressure, community pressure, to succeed. And yet what you've said was that actually your parents didn't put a lot of pressure on you. Was your situation atypical, or is the stereotype just off, as far as you can read it?


Nakagawa

I was from a family of twelve kids. A neighbor family had almost the same number of kids. I don't recall that among this group—the Japanese farm families in my immediate neighborhood—that very many kids went to college. My brothers and sisters did. Well, not my sisters, only my brothers. Let's see, all but two of my brothers, which would make it six out of eight, are college graduates. My sisters did not go to college. But I think probably to a certain extent I didn't plan to go to college because I didn't think there was much use in it. When I was growing up in the 1940s in Seattle, right after the war, there was really no economic opportunity for the Nisei yet. It hadn't really started opening up. In 1946-1947, Boeing [Aircraft Company] didn't have any Nisei. As I recall, there were no Nisei in the Seattle public school systems. It was sort of the talk of the Japanese community, at least among the people who were in this housing project in south Seattle, when one of the Nisei older guys got into Kenworth Truck, which is a small company in Seattle. He got in there, and, hey, that was great. In the Japanese community, people who got a job with the post office were considered well-off. It was steady work. I didn't really discuss it with my parents, but I really didn't plan to go to college. Because I think, as I recall, I just didn't have the incentive. Maybe I'm rationalizing, but I didn't really see any sense in going through the hardship of going to college to get a college degree. I mean, I think the Nisei are a very practical-minded people, and I think probably about the time that I was growing up, a lot of them felt there's really not much use in it. That's not the attitude that seems to have been prevalent among the Nisei who were getting back from the war, but among my age group. I think it might be interesting if somebody made a study and found out, of those Nisei kids who were getting out of high school in the late 1940s and the early 1950s, if there wasn't a significant dropout rate. Because it might be interesting; it might show something.


Hansen

It might even show something about the quality of the education they were receiving at camp, I don't know.


Nakagawa

I know I didn't plan to go to college, and I had an older brother, Henry, a year older than me, who wasn't


66
planning to go, and my younger brother, Ben, wasn't planning to go. We finally wound up in the service.


Hansen

You were at Heart Mountain right to the end [November 1945], just about?


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

Was your family one of the last groups to leave the camp?


Nakagawa

Yes, we were.


Hansen

There was an interesting [master's] thesis written at [the University of California,] Berkeley about twenty years ago [1965], by Matthew [Richard] Speier ["Japanese American Relocation Camp Colonization and Resistance to Resettlement: A Study in the Social Psychology of Ethnic Identity under Stress"]. It documents that there were, in many of the WRA camps, families who simply, at the war's winding down and the opening of the West Coast, resisted leaving whatever camp they were in, not because they loved the camp so much, but just because they had finally developed a certain amount of security and they didn't have anyplace else to go. And, according to the author of this thesis [Matthew Speier], insofar as they got news about their prewar homes on the West Coast, there was a lot of resistance in those communities to the return of their former Japanese Americans residents. Finally, after the government ordered these camps closed, there were still some people who wouldn't leave, and so they [the WRA camp authorities] literally had to march them out of the camp at bayonet point and put them on the train. Was your family part of the very last group that left Heart Mountain?


Nakagawa

Yes, I think so. We left camp in October 1945. We got into Seattle just before Halloween. We were among the last families to leave Heart Mountain. My dad was not one of the active resisters, but I recall that my parents, neither of them, had any inkling of what to do. We didn't own anything. We had nowhere to go and nothing to go back to. My dad was a tenant farmer, and what are you going to do in the fall if you go back to Seattle? There's nothing you can do. You've got no place to live. There's no work to do. So I believe we were one of the farmers who were thrown out of camp. We were pulled into camp, and then thrown out. As I said, my dad was not an active resister; he was just a follower. He did resist leaving camp, but he didn't know where to go. My older brothers and sisters had all left. At the time, in 1945, I had an older brother, Henry, a younger brother, Ben, and two sisters, Setsuko and Kiku, left in the camp with us. Three of my brothers were in the army. My oldest sister had since gotten married and settled in Utah temporarily. I believe it was Utah. Anyway, my older siblings were scattered throughout the country, and my dad and mom simply didn't know what to do. So finally we were sort of removed from the camp, and we were put into a housing project in south Seattle. I recall very clearly, it was just before Halloween because right after we got out of camp I got sick. And I didn't start my eight grade year until the week before Christmas. I remember that very clearly because I was afraid I was going to flunk and be in the same grade as my sister, which would have been a humiliation.


Hansen

Not too long ago I ran across a real interesting article ["Japanese American Internees Return, 1945: Readjustment and Social Amnesia," Phylon 41 (Summer 1981): 107-15] by a professor up at the University of Washington, Tetsuden Kashima. He argues in this article that, in studying the wartime situation of Japanese Americans, most researchers have stopped their study too soon; they assume that when the Evacuation ended, the problems for the Japanese American community ended, and that they went back to their prewar communities and then moved on into positions of educational and occupational success in the mainstream society that a lot of people today customarily identify Japanese Americans with holding. But he pointed out that researchers really needed to take a look at the ten years from 1945 to 1955, that for a lot of Japanese Americans those years were almost more harrowing than the camp years, because the fight still had to be made for getting Issei citizenship rights, and the people in the Japanese American community had to get reconstituted in jobs and homes, and they even had to take back their neighborhoods from wartime residents, usually blacks [African Americans]. In Los Angeles, for example, the blacks took over Little Tokyo, renamed it "Bronzeville," and converted it from a largely commercial to a preponderantly residential area. And the same situation was true in San Francisco, Seattle, and other major West Coast cities where Japanese Americans had developed elaborated communities during the prewar years.


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Kashima says that you've really got to look at that process of community reclaiming. Here you were, at war's end, starting in the eighth grade—belatedly, as you just outlined—but these are the years that you're starting to come of age and going to high school, so maybe you can react to what Professor Kashima maintains in his article. In your opinion, is he on to something significant?


Nakagawa

In the case of my family, yes, because from 1945 to 1948 we were living in this housing project. It had been built on a golf course to house World War II shipyard and factory workers. And by the late 1940s, the project had deteriorated to a welfare housing. That's what we were—on welfare. My dad worked at various odd jobs. He was a dishwasher in a hotel and did various other odd jobs. Mostly he was a transient farm worker. Not "transient" in the sense that the family moved, but he worked as jobs were available from farm to farm. The owners of the farms would usually come and pick him up, pick up some of the Issei and some of the Nisei kids in the summertime. So I worked on the farms, too, in the summertime. But we were mostly supported then by help from my older siblings and, for part of the time, welfare.


Hansen

What did your older siblings do to help?


Nakagawa

They had army allotments. My brothers didn't smoke, so they used to send in their cigarette rations. I remember my dad used to get a whole bunch of them, and I used to steal some from him once in awhile.


Hansen

What about your sister Toshiko, who was working in the [Tooele, Utah] munitions factory?


Nakagawa

She got married and she was living in Bainbridge Island. We used to help there, too, on a strawberry farm. But we were struggling along. Then, in 1948, my dad moved us out to work on a sharecrop basis on a farm outside Seattle, in Renton. We did that for just two years. Then, in 1950, when I was a senior in high school, one of my older brothers finally bought a piece of land in Kent, and we moved out to Kent onto a farm which my dad lived on until about 1974. So for twenty-some years he lived on this farm that my older brother had bought for him. It was a small piece of land with a small house that we fixed up. By then, though, 1950, he would have been sixty-two years old. My younger brother and I and my younger sister helped him on the farm. But he was really too old to farm by himself by then.


Hansen

Didn't your mom help on the farm?


Nakagawa

Oh, yes. But she was not in the best of health. She helped but just taking care of the house.


Hansen

She didn't do field work at all?


Nakagawa

A little bit. She would pick beans and things, whatever. But not a great deal. My dad farmed for only five, six years after the war on his own land. And then he was eligible for social security. One of my brothers, Giro, who bought this farm, this land for my dad, definitely had some foresight, because my dad wasn't legally the farmer; my brother was. And he hired my dad, so my dad qualified for social security.


Hansen

Your dad, as an alien ineligible for citizenship, still couldn't actually buy land up until 1952, right?


Nakagawa

That's true. But he could be the entrepreneur. That's how my dad got qualified for social security. Otherwise he wouldn't have been, because hourly farm workers weren't qualified for social security.


Hansen

While this was happening, you actually were experiencing discontinuity, then, in terms of the schools you were attending, weren't you?


Nakagawa

Oh, yes, yes. I attended four high schools in four years.


Hansen

Why don't you walk us through those schools and tell us a little about the makeup of each school. I'm particularly interested in the Nisei who were your classmates at these schools.


Nakagawa

Okay. When we came out of camp, I was in the eighth grade. I started at Highline Junior/Senior High


68
School. It was actually a combination junior/senior high school, from the eighth grade up. I attended there for the eighth, ninth, and tenth grades. And then, when I finished my sophomore year, we moved out to this farm where my dad was a sharecropper for a couple of years. And I went to Foster High School right outside Seattle for only a month or so. I wanted to go to Foster because it was small. But I found out I lived outside the district, so I was kind of booted out of there. Actually, I knew I was out of the district. I thought I could lie and get away with it, because I didn't want to go to Renton High School, which was much bigger. So I had to go to Renton High School. I attended that school for my junior year and half of my senior year. In the last half of my senior year, we moved back to Kent, Washington, where my brother had bought a small farm for my dad, and I finished up at Auburn High School. Actually, I should have been going to Kent High School, because I lived in Kent District. But I went to Auburn High School because I didn't want to go to Kent High School. Now, for years I never could figure that out, because if I had gone to Kent High School, I would have been back with some of my classmates with who I'd gone through first to fourth grades; but I really didn't want to go back to see them. And for a long time I wondered, "Hey, I must have been crazy." But you know, to this day I've come to the conclusion that maybe I was ashamed to go back and see those guys again. I believe that was the case, because I know that many of the kids that I knew from prewar days were still in that town. As a matter of fact, I worked with one of them as a farmhand in my senior year.


Hansen

When you say "the kids," are you talking about non-Japanese Americans?


Nakagawa

Yes. None of the Japanese kids returned to the valley. None of them. As a matter of fact, in Kent, in the White River Valley, which consists basically of Kent and Auburn, Washington, I think less than 10 percent of the Japanese farmers returned. It's very different in California, because economically it was not nearly as promising as California. You can only farm up there a few months out of the year.


Hansen

Was it also a case like in the Hood River, Oregon, area, where there was a lot of resistance to the Japanese coming back?


Nakagawa

I don't think there was a great deal of resistance to them coming back. There was some. At least when we went back to Kent we didn't find any problems; I didn't have any problems. In 1945, when the first ones came back, I think there were some problems, but I think that that discrimination angle is somewhat overplayed. I mean, the angle that discrimination had a significant part in the fact that very few of the farmers went back to the Pacific Northwest. I think it's primarily economics, because having gone to the camp, most of the people from that area, farmers, who were industrious and wanted to go, they left camp—having been in Minidoka, primarily—early and were already farming in the Ontario, Oregon, area, or in Idaho. Those who were still in camp could see that California offered better possibilities for making a living.


Hansen

So you actually had a lot of movement, then, of Washingtonians into California after the war.


Nakagawa

Not to California so much, but a lot of the farmers, people who I knew prior to the end of the war, had already relocated into Oregon and Idaho, and farmed there. Now, some of them went to the San Jose, [California], area to farm; some came down to the Los Angeles area. But a fairly good number, either directly from camps or by way of eastern Oregon, came to California. Some of them came to Los Angeles and became gardeners. You know, whatever. Whatever was available. Probably they went into farming, but I know of a few families who—not a great deal, because I didn't follow it that closely—but of the families who were farming in the Seattle area prior to World War II, quite a few of them are in [the] eastern Oregon-Idaho area. They're scattered. Some are in the Bay Area, working, last I heard, in the shipyards or at Fisher Body in Oakland or in San Jose.


Hansen

But there was an incredible demographic reshuffling after the war, people going to other places.


Nakagawa

Yes. From the White River Valley, probably because economic prospects were not good up there. Very few families returned to farming in the area, so few that they had difficulty even sustaining a Buddhist church.



69
Hansen

What year was it that you went to Bainbridge Island and did some work there on the strawberry farms?


Nakagawa

My sister was farming there [with] her husband, so I worked on the strawberries there through a good part of the late 1940s.


Hansen

I've interviewed several people who were from Bainbridge Island before the war. One of them [James Matsumoto Omura; see O.H. 1765] ended up in Denver [during the war] and another person [Ikuko Amatatsu Watanabe; see O.H. 1363] ended up in Manzanar. But I'm curious as to whether that community got reconstituted. Or was it similarly affected like the area you're describing around Seattle and the White River Valley?


Nakagawa

Very few families returned to Bainbridge Island to farm, very few. In the late 1940s, I believe there were only eight to ten Japanese families farming on Bainbridge, almost all of them berries—strawberries and bush berries.


Hansen

So, when your sister was farming over there, she was part of a new group that was going into Bainbridge?


Nakagawa

No, her husband was originally from Bainbridge Island. They owned some land there.


Hansen

What was his family name?


Nakagawa

Katayama. As a matter of fact, my two sisters married brothers, both from Bainbridge Island. But it was sort of a coincidence, because my oldest [sister] met her husband, Yoshio, in Utah, I believe it was, and years later my brother-in-law's younger brother, Mitsuo, had served in the army with my second brother in Japan and Korea, and he met my sister in Chicago several years later. So it wasn't arranged, either American- or Japanese-style. It was more or less a coincidence.


Hansen

You still have relatives on the island?


Nakagawa

None. I believe they all left. I don't think there's any Japanese farming on Bainbridge now, frankly. There's a couple of families there.


Hansen

I stayed there on the island with a couple, the Amatatsu family, about four or five years ago.


Nakagawa

Are they farming?


Hansen

No. They were at that point retired. The children have since left Bainbridge Island.


Nakagawa

I know there were quite a few families there who had been farming on Bainbridge who now live in Seattle. The Japanese simply didn't go back to farming in western Washington. I guess prospects just weren't good enough.


Hansen

How was the situation for you after the war on Bainbridge Island? How did the island receive you?


Nakagawa

I was only working there in the summertime, so I don't know.


Hansen

But in the summertime were you welcome on the island?


Nakagawa

Oh, sure.


Hansen

They're having a lot of coverage, of course, for this publisher and his wife [Walt and Millie Woodward] who had stood up [in their newspaper, the Bainbridge Review ] for the Japanese Americans at the time they were being evacuated from the island to Manzanar in 1942.[9]


Nakagawa

Yes. As a matter of fact, fairly recently, my niece, Kathy Katayama Roberts, who teaches school on


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Bainbridge, was fairly active in a multiethnic effort to bring the community together—the Filipinos, the Native Americans, you know, all of these new, recent immigrants. I think Bainbridge is probably among the communities up in that area more "with it" than most communities. Probably has something to do with the fact that those newspaper people up there got the people to thinking. It must have had something to do with that, I would think.


Hansen

Sure.


Nakagawa

Although a lot of people would say that the discrimination in Kent, the anti-Jap attitude of the thirties and early forties, had something to do with the fact that very few returned, I don't think it was really it. I think it was economics. Because nobody got rich farming up there, as far as I know.


Hansen

You were at the high school in Renton for awhile.


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

How did you find that high school, as far as the teaching and the general quality of your education? You were among strangers again, like you say, because for shame or whatever other emotion you felt, you didn't want to go back to where you were, so here you were at Renton.


Nakagawa

No, that's not the case. I moved from Highline to Renton, and then after I moved out of Renton, then I had the opportunity. I should have been going back to Kent High School. But I went instead to Auburn High School.


Hansen

And what was Auburn like, as far as the high school? Was there a Japanese population there?


Nakagawa

No. See, Auburn and Kent are the two towns in the White River Valley where almost all of the Japanese farmers in that area lived. In my senior class of 109, I think there were 3 or 4 other Nisei. And of those, only 2 of them were from farm families. One was running a pottery plant there. But there was no anti-Japanese discrimination among the kids at school that I noticed, in any of the schools.


Hansen

How did you feel about being in what amounted to a segregated school when you were in camp. The population was rather homogeneous. You might have had a WRA administrator's kid or two in your class.


Nakagawa

We did. They were in 7-1.


Hansen

Right. So you had a token hakujin or so in class. But then, after the war, you got into another situation where you were a decided minority, like you had been at Kent. You were going back and forth between not only schools but between ethnic populations. How did that experience affect you?


Nakagawa

I was very scared, I guess. When you're in junior high school, that's a very sensitive age. I came out of camp late in the year, and then I got sick and couldn't start school until December. The school wasn't within walking distance; we had to take a bus. I was very apprehensive. I didn't know how I was going to be received. Strangely enough, I was very surprised that, hey, these people didn't even realize we had been in camp. (laughter) Suddenly there were a few Japanese kids showing up in school, and nobody even noticed. I mean, the people didn't notice, most of the people.


Hansen

Ignorance can be a dangerous thing, but sometimes it's a welcome commodity, too, right?


Nakagawa

Yes. I mean, people didn't know, even around Seattle. People don't read the newspapers. School kids certainly don't. I have to get on my kids to read the newspaper.


Hansen

So it's not only that people back in Iowa didn't know about the Evacuation; a lot of the people on the West Coast didn't know, either.


Nakagawa

Oh, no. Even the adults, a lot of them, didn't know. A lot of the people in the camps didn't know. This


71
housing project, we called it a camp. It was a temporary wartime housing area for all the people, especially from the South, who'd come up to work in Boeing and the shipyards. A lot of those people didn't know we'd been in camps. Suddenly, there was a whole influx of these Japanese families coming in, and the people living in the project didn't bat an eyelash. They were so busy with their own lives, I guess, they just didn't notice us.


Hansen

In the Northwest, did non-Japanese people—particularly whites and blacks—seem to have difficulty in being able to make distinctions between, say, somebody of Chinese ancestry or somebody who was Native American or Filipino? Did you notice that situation, or were they able to identify clearly, say, those of Japanese ancestry? Living in such a polyethnic social environment, were they able to make those sorts of ethnic distinctions?


Nakagawa

I believe that of those people who lived in the housing project right after the war, most would not have known the difference between a Japanese American and a Chinese American. They didn't know where Korea was. As a matter of fact, when the Korean War started, people didn't know where Korea was. But most of the people in the housing project, my neighbors, were from the South. They were either from the middle South—around Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia—or they were from the deep South. A lot of them were blacks. Most of them had come up during the war to work in Boeing and the shipyards.


Hansen

This is when the housing was so impacted they had to throw together these communities.


Nakagawa

Yes. They built this project on a golf course. They were fairly decent units.


Hansen

But you don't think that the people in the housing tract could even draw distinctions between different ethnic groups. To them, for example, the Japanese were just people who lived there.


Nakagawa

See, there were so many different people. There were American Indians; there were blacks. Not very many Filipinos. At that time there were no Koreans or Chinese, because they were settled. These were transient people who had just come up during the war.


Hansen

And there were whites living in there, too?


Nakagawa

Oh, yes. I would say probably 60 to 70 percent were white. Maybe 20 percent were blacks. The rest, whatever.


Hansen

When you went to Auburn, you must have been about what, a senior in high school?


Nakagawa

I went in the last half of my senior year at Auburn.


Hansen

But you graduated from Auburn High School?


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

Probably you didn't have much identity at all with the graduating class, did you?


Nakagawa

I didn't. As a matter of fact, I didn't know very many of the seniors, because when I transferred from Renton High School to Auburn, most of my classes were with juniors. For example, I was taking Washington state history, which was a senior class at Renton, but a junior class in Auburn. So when I graduated, I didn't know very many of the kids. I knew who they were in general, because it was a small school. There were only a little over 100 seniors.


Hansen

You earlier said that you didn't have an immediate orientation toward going to college, and it is now becoming apparent why you didn't. I mean, you have reasonable recollections of your educational experience at camp, but there were, of course, powerful emotional forces surrounding that situation. And then, after you left camp, you were plunged into a totally chaotic situation as far as your education. You


72
moved from one place to another; you also worked a lot. Your family was faced with economic insecurity of one sort or another. It would have been very surprising to me, given these circumstances, that you would have been oriented toward college. You probably didn't even have counselors at school who took you aside and said, "Look..."


Nakagawa

No, I never had a counselor in school. I don't recall. I know now they've got counselors who counsel each student. When I was in high school, I don't recall a counselor ever talking to me. I guess they didn't have them in those days. I don't know. But college was the farthest thing from my mind when I was in high school. I'm not proud to say I graduated in the lower half of my class in high school. I did better in college.


Hansen

But you didn't have a context for learning, really, in high school, did you? I mean, you hardly could get settled into a peer group. There was always the problem of friends. And there was your family situation. Where did you study? How did you get the time and the peace of mind to do that even? I mean, it must have been a very chaotic time.


Nakagawa

I didn't think of it as that way. When I was in the housing project, in my eighth, ninth, and tenth grades, none of the kids that I ran around with—they were blacks and whites, mostly; a few Nisei—did any homework. We used to have a community center in this housing project. We used to hang around there. We used to play basketball, softball, and run around.


Hansen

So you were developing more street smarts than school smarts.


Nakagawa

Street smarts, but not the vicious type of street smarts you find today.


Hansen

What you mean by that, I suppose, is that there wasn't a lot of drugs and vandalism and things like that. Is that what you are alluding to?


Nakagawa

I am alluding to the fact that there was no destructiveness of property or of people. We were engaged in such things as drinking beer when we could get hold of it, smoking cigarettes, skipping school, sneaking into the movies. You know, you'd have one kid buy the ticket for one of these skid row movies that were all over Seattle's skid row. One kid would go in. He'd look eighteen or so, so he'd buy a ticket. In the middle of the afternoon, when nobody was looking, he'd open a side door and six kids would go rushing in there. That type of stuff. We weren't beating up people or breaking into homes, you know, doing anything vicious. It was just screwing around, raising Cain, having fun. But not like a lot of stuff that goes on now, the strong-arm stuff. We wouldn't dream of hitting somebody over the head and taking his money.


Hansen

What year, again, was it that you graduated from high school?


Nakagawa

It was in 1950.


Hansen

There were, of course, a lot of Nisei who served in [the] military during the time of the Evacuation. But, from my interviewing, I've noticed a tendency on the part of many Nisei your age or a little bit older than you, who weren't old enough to get into the service during World War II, to go into the armed forces in the postwar period as soon as they could do so. Got out of high school, and then they went into the service. I've thought about that situation a bit and wondered about the reasons for that, and I came up with two basic explanations. Number one, it was kind of a compensatory sort of thing, that people like that went into the service to demonstrate their patriotism in the face of charges that they and others in their communities were "suspect" Americans. The other reason was that force which has served to fill the armed forces today with largely people from ethnic minorities—that the service represents a break from the family and also an opportunity to get education and job training. Nowadays it's Chicanos and blacks who are enlisting for military service. At that time, following World War II, probably the situation was ripe for Japanese Americans, because [of] all the conditions that you were earlier describing. I've thought about that, and maybe my thinking on it's been wrong and maybe there were a lot of other factors at work, so maybe you could trace your own thinking, reflecting back upon why you might have joined the navy and how also your peers might have got into the service.



73
Nakagawa

I never considered joining the service, because when I graduated from high school [in] 1950, the Korean War started, and right away Boeing was out hiring every warm body they could get their hands on. I couldn't go to work for Boeing until September, late September, after the crops were pretty much finished. But I went to work for Boeing, and right away I was working seven days a week. And I worked it for about six months. I worked a twelve-hour shift Monday through Friday. Saturday and Sunday, eight hours each. I was making plenty of money. But if I had graduated from high school in 1950 and the war had not started and I couldn't get a job, then I think I would definitely have considered the military, just like a lot of minority people are doing now. Because I would certainly have rather been in the army than working my dad's farm, because, hey, we weren't making any money, maybe two bits an hour at that time, and we were putting in long hours in the summertime. There was no doubt that I wasn't going to be a farmer. I wasn't going to be a gardener, because in high school, when I was a senior, after the crops were in—or early in the spring—I tried gardening on weekends, and, hey, I couldn't cut that. These guys were packing two lunches. You know, they would start at the break of day and they would eat their lunch and then their supper, and then still work until it got dark. I couldn't do that. So I don't really know what I would have done. I didn't plan to go to college. I didn't have any plans to learn a trade. I sure as hell wasn't going to be a farmhand or a gardener. What was there? You know, it kind of scares me to think [about it] now.


Hansen

So what were you doing at Boeing? What was your job there?


Nakagawa

I was an assembly mechanic, which is a term for a general mechanical assembler. But I was very lucky. I got in there right at the peak of things, and I was promoted very quickly. So I was happy at Boeing until I went into the service. But I didn't volunteer for the service. The draft was getting hot on me, so I joined the naval reserve. And then I got called in for two years of active duty. It was very fortunate, because I enjoyed the navy. I wasn't going to re-enlist, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I guess I should mention that of my seven brothers, they were all in the U.S. Army, and I was the only one who didn't join the army.


Hansen

Even your youngest brother went into the army, right?


Nakagawa

Yes. He was a tail-end Korean War vet. He got in, I think it was 1955; you were still technically a Korean War vet. And he was drifting, as I would have been. I think it was 1954 or 1955. I talked him into volunteering for early call-up so that he could get in and do something.


Hansen

Tell me a little about your navy years, your experience.


Nakagawa

Okay. I joined the naval reserve in, I think it was, February 1951, because the draft was getting on me. And I used to report for training one night a week at the Naval Reserve Armory in Seattle. In the summer of 1951, I went on a two-week training trip to [the] Naval Training Center. In March of 1952, I was called to active duty for two years. I served most of my time on a carrier, the [USS] Kearsarge. I was a fire control technician, which is not fighting fires but operating and maintaining the gunfire control systems, the radar gunfire systems. It was a very fortunate break for me, because with bad eyesight I couldn't be outside; I had to be an operator indoors. So when I was in Korea, in that cold winter of 1952 to 1953, I spent all my watches indoors, because the gun director could be operated either manually from outside or by radar inside. And since I couldn't see outside because of the mist that comes off the ocean, I had to be indoors.


Hansen

But you're talking about your being on a ship.


Nakagawa

Yes, I was on a ship.


Hansen

So how long were you stationed over in Korea?


Nakagawa

Well, I was only there for one tour, which was about eight months. What we would do is the carriers would take a trip to Korea and they would get an air group out of Miramar Air Station. We'd take a trip to Korea. After about eight months, the air group got pretty well worn out, and we were ready for rotation. So we'd come back. The ship was getting ready to go back to Korea in the spring of 1953, but I was one month short to make the trip. In other words, my twenty-four months would have been up before the ship got back. So,


74
although I wanted to make the trip, they wouldn't let me. They told me I had to either re-enlist or extend enlistment for a full year. And I wasn't going to do that, so I was put in a naval air station, in a jet fighter squadron, for a few months.


Hansen

Where was that?


Nakagawa

At Miramar. But I was scheduled for separation in March 1954, but the personnel officer in my squadron could see that they didn't need me. I was just being wasted. So he sent me to the separation center in early December, because he figured, quite frankly, that they would let me out before Christmas. So, on the twenty-third of December, I got separated, three months early.


Hansen

To the extent that you were part of a tradition, when did Nisei start getting involved in the navy? How far back does that go?


Nakagawa

I think the first Nisei joined the navy shortly after World War II. I know during the war they didn't accept Nisei. As a matter of fact, one of my brothers, Giro, I believe, tried to join the air corps to be a flyer during the war, and he was rejected. But he was later drafted. Another one, Sam, tried to join the merchant marines, and he wasn't accepted. They were both drafted, eventually.


Hansen

I know there were a few [Japanese American] language teachers down at the Naval Training Center, like in Boulder, Colorado, which was a naval facility. And even Filipinos were [in the navy] serving as mess boys and in such capacities as that.


Nakagawa

Yes. They were very limited, yes.


Hansen

So when you went in, do you recall other Nisei being in the navy?


Nakagawa

On my carrier, of 3,500 [men] there were only two other Nisei on the ship. One was a marine buck sergeant. He was from Hilo, Hawaii. I got to know him, and I asked him if he knew my relatives in Hilo, but he didn't. Another was a Nisei kid from El Centro, [California] or somewhere, and he was in naval air. On our carrier, of 3,500 there was only one minority officer. He was a black ensign in the engine department. I remember him very clearly, because people used to make a point: "the black officer."


Hansen

You weren't facing any discrimination in the navy, were you?


Nakagawa

Not officially. None whatsoever. My boss was a navy lieutenant. He was boss of the gunfire control people. He used to give me breaks. He gave me a leave when we were in Hawaii for only a short stopover en route to Korea. He gave me a weekend seventy-two-hour pass so I could go to Hilo and visit my relatives. But the leading petty officer, he was a little Italian guy, he used to give me some hard times. But officially, no. My treatment in the navy was quite good. The personnel officer in the squadron sent me to the separation center to get separated. He couldn't do it, he couldn't separate me. But he said, "Hey, I'll send you to the separation [center] and maybe they'll let you out."


Hansen

Historically, even continuing down to today, there's a lot of strong feelings between people of Japanese and Korean ancestry. How did that translate itself in terms of the Korean War for somebody like yourself? I mean, you were brought up in a Japanese community. Now, that's certainly not the same as Japan, but still there must have existed within the community some of those antithetical feelings toward Korea found in the old country. I don't know if you thought about it at the time. I'm asking you to, really, I guess, kind of reconstruct what feelings you had at that time toward people of Korean ancestry.


Nakagawa

I had no feelings whatsoever. I never knew a Korean prior to the time I went into the service. I might have met some who were using Japanese names, but to the best of my knowledge I didn't know any Koreans prior to the time I went into the service. As far as going to Korea, hey, it was a great adventure. It was an opportunity to see the world and visit Japan and Hawaii.



75
Hansen

And you did get into Japan when you were there on leave?


Nakagawa

Oh, yes. That's when I visited the Tanaka family.


Hansen

And you actually had some R and R [rest and recreation] in Korea, too.


Nakagawa

Oh, yes.


Hansen

Okay. Where were you stationed in Korea?


Nakagawa

I was on a carrier, and the carrier never docked in Korea. It was always thirty, forty miles out to sea, launching planes.


Hansen

So how did you get into Korea?


Nakagawa

I never landed in Korea during the Korean War. Only later.


Hansen

But when did you get to Japan?


Nakagawa

I first arrived in Japan in August 1952.


Hansen

That was even before you were on the carrier, then.


Nakagawa

No. I was on my carrier en route to Korea.


Hansen

And you stopped in Japan in 1952.


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

And where were you there, in Yokohama?


Nakagawa

Yokosuka. That's a naval base at the mouth of Tokyo Bay.


Hansen

So you were basically in Tokyo, then, when you were on your R and R, initially?


Nakagawa

I didn't go to Tokyo until later, but I was about thirty-five miles outside of Tokyo.


Hansen

So in 1952 you stayed fairly close to where the ship was.


Nakagawa

I did go to Tokyo, but...See, when I first went to Japan in 1952, I had two brothers, Kaz and Henry, who were in the U.S. Army and stationed right outside the port where I docked.


Hansen

And so you saw them there.


Nakagawa

Yes, we visited, and they came aboard ship.


Hansen

Did you see any relatives at that time, in 1952, aside from your immediate family?


Nakagawa

Yes, in December.


Hansen

Where did you go?


Nakagawa

I went to visit my relatives in Hiroshima.


Hansen

What I'm trying to get at is your perception of Japan at that particular time, because this was still during


76
the American Occupation [1945-1952].


Nakagawa

Oh, yes.


Hansen

But it's just about close to the end. What was it like? What do you remember? Were things in Japan starting to get reconstituted so that you didn't get to see quite the poverty and the devastation of the immediate postwar period, or was that still pretty manifest?


Nakagawa

I guess there was still a great deal of poverty, because there were people who were sleeping in the train stations; there were people who were living underneath bridges and stuff. I don't mean homeless bums, but I mean families, people who had been repatriated from the mainland of Asia and from various former colonies. There was a lot of poverty there. The people were extremely poor. And the country was very backward. Of the Americans who spent time in Japan through the 1940s and the 1950s and much of the 1960s, there's two things they liked about Japan: the low prices and the fact that you didn't have to worry about getting knocked over the head, getting rolled, so to speak.


Hansen

How did you feel about going there? This was your parents' country. As far as your own citizenship went, it was also an enemy country.


Nakagawa

Yes, as far as my citizenship. I'll tell you. I wanted to go to Japan and I enjoyed it thoroughly. But I felt kind of ashamed. I felt kind of ashamed, because people then looked down on the Japanese, and they thought of me as Japanese. You know, I guess I really didn't begin to feel that I was an American until probably about [the] 1960s.


Hansen

You said people looked down. You mean people in the service, is that what you're talking about?


Nakagawa

Americans.


Hansen

Okay. What I was alluding to, first off, was how the Japanese looked at you as a Japanese American. Did they see an American or did they see a Japanese, or did they see a lesser Japanese? How did you feel about that situation?


Nakagawa

I never felt that those Japanese that I worked with or met in Japan looked down on me or harbored any animosity toward me because I was a Japanese American. I lived in Japan for twelve years, through the 1960s and the 1970s, and I worked with a lot of Japanese. I had a very good relationship with the Japanese employees, I thought. We used to play volleyball after work. I used to go on outings with these guys. Ski trips. I mean, I made it a point not to flash my money, especially in the 1960s when the Japanese...For example, we'd go skiing out of Tokyo. We would take the local train out of Tokyo on Friday night so that we wouldn't have to pay for a hotel on Friday night. We'd get up to the slope on Saturday morning and we'd ski all day Saturday, sleep in a small inn on Saturday night, ski Sunday, and then catch an express train on Sundays back. If you're going to get along with them, you've got to be like them. You can't flash your money.


Hansen

It's ironic. You're saying two things simultaneously here. One is that, if you're going to be like them, you have to sort of behave like them. And yet, just before that you had said it wasn't until the 1960s that you got an acute sense of being an American.


Nakagawa

Yes, that's right.


Hansen

You started to feel like an American when you were actually most like the Japanese, in terms of your lifestyle. (laughter)


Nakagawa

You know, that's true, by God. You know why I started to feel like an American? Because I think my peers started to treat me like an American. When I went to Japan in 1963 to work for an American government agency, I was looked upon as an American. The Japanese treated me as an American, although because


77
I could speak the language and knew their culture and appreciated their food, I could socialize with them. But I was treated like an American. Let's face it, Americans went to work in chauffeured vehicles, and the Japanese came on the trains. But not just the physical things. You know, through my adolescence, I always felt that the people that I was working and living with always thought of me as different, as not an American. Not a real full-blooded American, I guess that's what I'm saying. So now I feel like I'm an American, I really do. And I tell my kids that. I think probably what I'm saying is I didn't feel like I was an American because I wasn't let to feel like one, to believe I was one. When I was a kid, I was acutely aware that I was not like the other Americans, and partly because I was different physically and partly because I was in this Japanese school, all these things.


Hansen

Did you have any sense of ethnicity among Caucasians, to the point that they would be seen by you as less American, too? Or was color—white—the thing that defined what you would use the term "American" for? Like, say, an Italian or a Portuguese or whatever. Did you have a sense of those differences, other than just black, Chinese, Mexican, Japanese, et cetera? Did you also see gradations among whites, like Jews or Italians?


Nakagawa

Yes, to a certain limited extent. In the 1940s, when I was going to these various high schools. Yes, I think there was sort of an informal status, that certain Americans were considered, or considered themselves, or the society as a group, considered that Italian Americans, since they were largely farmers in that south Seattle area, were somewhat of a lower class: a white man, but not quite as good of a white man as these other white men. I mean, yes, I think that existed. Certainly I was aware of the fact that a lot of people looked down on Jews. And, of course, down here, the Latinos. Yes, sure. There is still that attitude among a pretty good segment of the Asian American population that some Asian Americans think they're better than others.


Hansen

Early on, you said that an older sibling you had, a sister who lived in Japan, never came to the U.S.


Nakagawa

That's right.


Hansen

You said you never saw her.


Nakagawa

You didn't even see her when you were there in 1952?


Nakagawa

She died in 1942. I did see her only child, who is my niece, in 1952.


Hansen

This was when you got your first glimpse of the village where your parents were brought up.


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

Now, did you see friends of your parents at that time?


Nakagawa

Yes. We visited the Tanakas, who formed the basis for my novel, yes. Lots of "left-field" relatives. You know, people dropped by because, to a large extent, they were living in that area.


Hansen

What did you do on your pilgrimage—really, that's what it was—to your ancestral home?


Nakagawa

Okay. We lived with my uncle. My father's younger brother was married to my mother's younger sister, and they were childless. They adopted my second oldest sibling. She died in 1942. And my only niece was then adopted by that same uncle and aunt. And when I visited in 1952, I stayed with my uncle and my aunt, both blood relatives, and my niece, who was about ten years old.


Hansen

Did your sister die in childbirth?


Nakagawa

I think so. I'm not sure. But it happened during the war, and we found out through the Red Cross. It was so long ago that I don't recall. But my niece's mother and father passed away not knowing that the other


78
had died, because my brother-in-law, who was a distant cousin, was killed in the Japanese Army in New Guinea somewhere. I saw pictures of him; he was a handsome fellow. Anyway, the parents of my niece did not know that the other had passed away when that happened in 1942. I stayed with them, my brother and I. Took a lot of pictures. We took my niece to Miyajima, which is a resort island outside Hiroshima. We visited a few people, including the Tanakas. We visited my mother's oldest brother, who must have been ninety years old then. But we visited a lot of people. We were only there a few days. We passed out goodies, because in those days people were very poor, and we passed out cigarettes and Hershey bars.


Hansen

Did you visit the village graveyard or not?


Nakagawa

Yes, I did. That's where I got much of my ideas [for my novel].


Hansen

Now, how far was this village from the city of Hiroshima?


Nakagawa

It must have been twenty, twenty-five miles.


Hansen

And was it affected by the A-bomb or not?


Nakagawa

Not at all.


Hansen

Did you have people who were living out there in 1952 who had moved out there from the city?


Nakagawa

No.


Hansen

So being there, there was no way of visibly being able to understand what had happened in 1945.


Nakagawa

No. They did tell me that the people came through the village, all that sort of stuff. But, no. The impact of the bombing of Hiroshima on that little village—it's just a collection of houses and a train station—was very slight, I think. Some of the people in the village had relatives in the city at the time.


Hansen

Or themselves had to go there on occasion for one reason or another.


Nakagawa

Might have, yes.


Hansen

Certainly they saw the mushroom [created by the A-bomb].


Nakagawa

I don't recall that they talked about it. I remember my aunt, who was then in her late forties, told my brother and I that she'd only been to Hiroshima a few times in her life. She told us something like, "The last time I was in Hiroshima was in 1944," or something like that. I said, "What? What, are you kidding?" I mean, I couldn't believe it.


Hansen

But the village is that provincial, though. They stay where they are, right?


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

But then again, you were talking pretty much the same kind of way about the situation around Kent. I mean, Seattle wasn't that far away, and yet there were not a lot of trips to Seattle, were there?


Nakagawa

Not that I made. Maybe my parents made drinking trips in the winter (laughter), but I didn't.


Hansen

Did you go over to the city of Hiroshima?


Nakagawa

Oh, yes. Yes, we did.


Hansen

At that time, 1952?



79
Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

What did you see and what did you feel?


Nakagawa

There were no significant feelings on my part. The city was starting to build up. There were little shops. But my brother and I took our niece, and we had dinner there. My uncle was ill. He passed away a few years after that. And my aunt just wasn't interested in going. She just had a "What do I want to go to Hiroshima for?" type of attitude. So we took my niece. And we took a lot of pictures. It was a day's outing in the city, that's all.


Hansen

So what did it look like at that time? You say shops were starting to appear again, but there must have been still a lot of devastation.


Nakagawa

Oh, yes. But we didn't spend any significant time looking around. You could see that the city had been laid flat, because there were a lot of little buildings there. I mean, after the war, I guess, they had very little building material in Japan, and most of the buildings that were built there around the train station were just small wooden structures.


Hansen

What did you see in people's bodies, faces, things like that? Was it [the devastation] visible there, too?


Nakagawa

No.


Hansen

So if you were a man from Mars and you stepped into the town of Hiroshima in 1952, aside from the fact that there were a lot of small buildings, you wouldn't be able to tell that you were in a different kind of situation than if you'd been in Tokyo or been in Osaka or someplace else like that?


Nakagawa

I wouldn't say that, because if you were in Japan in the early 1950s, there were a lot of walking wounded. There were a lot of people [who] looked like drifters, who were wearing old army clothes and obviously crippled. Homeless people.


Hansen

Begging?


Nakagawa

Very little begging. There were a few people playing musical instruments with a collection pan for donations, but they wouldn't come to you and say, "Hey, can you give me a quarter?" or something like that. But in 1952, Japan still looked like a war-torn country. The people and the facilities were downed. I wouldn't say that of Hiroshima. If there were people who showed the physical effects of the bombing, they were not so great as to make it specifically noticeable. But one of the first things I noticed when I went to Japan was the devastation. I mean, it was obvious there. People were living underneath bridges, in train stations in little boxes. You know, cardboard boxes. So when you went to Hiroshima you saw this destruction, and the people...


Hansen

You were already inured with that.


Nakagawa

Yes. So I wouldn't say that it was a normal environment. But it wasn't significantly different than the Yokohama-Tokyo-Yokosuka area.


Hansen

Now this was in 1952 and you were two years into your four-year tour of duty.


Nakagawa

No, I was only in for two years.


Hansen

Two years. That's it, because you were in [the] reserves. So you were out pretty soon after that, right?


Nakagawa

Yes. December 1953. It was December 1952 when I visited Hiroshima.


Hansen

Let me review something with you. You graduated from high school in June of 1950. You worked at Boeing


80
until when?


Nakagawa

March 1952.


Hansen

And then when did you join the naval reserve?


Nakagawa

In February 1951. I got out in December 1953.


Hansen

So you served almost two years of active duty.


Nakagawa

Yes. Twenty-one months.


Hansen

That was the only time you visited Japan, though, during the time you were in your active duty, right?


Nakagawa

I had several trips to Japan. The first time I hit Japan was August 1952. I think I had one other trip into Japan between August and December.


Hansen

But it was only during the December 1952 trip that you went over to Hiroshima?


Nakagawa

Right. Yes.


Hansen

Okay. And the other times you stayed fairly close to the Tokyo Bay area, right?


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

What did you do then?


Nakagawa

I went back to Boeing for about three months.


Hansen

Were they obliged to give you back your job, or what?


Nakagawa

Yes. Returning vets had re-employment rights. You could just walk in there and say, "I'm back," and they had to put you to work, even if they had to put somebody out on the street. So I went back to Boeing in January of 1954. And then, in April 1954, I got on the merchant ships, at that time, MSTS, military sea transportation service. And I sailed merchant ships out of Seattle until the fall of 1955, when I started college.


Hansen

And how did you happen to do that? I know you had a G.I. Bill [of Rights, the Servicemen's Readjustment Act], for one thing.


Nakagawa

How did I go to college?


Hansen

Yes. How did you happen to go to college?


Nakagawa

I didn't want to, because I was having lots of fun and making money. (laughter) But at that time, when I was separated from [the] service, I was told that if you didn't start your G.I. Bill within two years after separation, you'd lose it. So the longest I could stay out was the fall of 1955. So in the fall of 1955 I started at the University of Washington, with great reluctance. And then, in the summer of 1956, after my freshman year...


Hansen

Did you have good enough grades to go right into the University of Washington?


Nakagawa

Oh, yes. I had 2.4 grade point average; I had slightly above a "C" average.


Hansen

Oh, you didn't need a 3.5 to be accepted?



81
Nakagawa

No, not in those days. In those days, if you were a state resident and a graduate of high school, that got you in. You might have to take remedial English and maybe make up a foreign language, but you could get in. The problem was staying in. I started out in engineering, and they used to weed them out real quick. But in April of 1954 I started [in] the merchant marines, and I sailed about a year and a half. Then, after my freshman year in college, I was going to quit college. And I went back to the merchant ships. I sailed the merchant ships for six months. And then I started school again in January of 1957.


Hansen

And were you living by yourself then?


Nakagawa

No. I was living in the Nisei students' house.


Hansen

You had long since left living at home and everything, right?


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

You never went back to living at home after you got out of the service.


Nakagawa

Only for the few months that I worked at Boeing. But I was staying at the Nisei students' house. I was in school for six months, and then in the summer of 1957 I went to New York and sailed out of New York.


Hansen

Could you tell me a little about this Nisei students' house? I know they had a lot of student housing for Nisei at places like Berkeley and [the] University of Washington before the war, but after the war I didn't know that those places still existed. I lived in a housing cooperative [Cloyne Court] at Berkeley in 1957, and it was probably 40 or 50 percent Japanese Americans at that time. But it wasn't called a Nisei house because it was multiethnic. It was near the engineering school. Most people living there were engineering or pharmacy students, and it was, to a large extent, a Nisei/Sansei house at that time. That was spring of 1957, just when you're talking about. But this Nisei students' house, can you tell me a little about that? Was that a holdover from the prewar days?


Nakagawa

Yes. The Nisei students' house at the University of Washington was owned by the Japanese community. It was built, I think, in the 1920s. When I went there in 1955, it was run by the students. The students appointed the student manager, who ran the house. We used to hire an Issei woman to come in and cook the evening meals. But other than that, the students ran it. I ran the house for a couple of years as a student manager.


Hansen

So it was pretty much like a cooperative?


Nakagawa

Yes. It was a cooperative. It was a student cooperative house, but it wasn't recognized as such by the university. It was run by the Japanese community. It was later renamed "Synkoa" in honor of various graduates who were killed in World War II. But the house was since disbanded. We couldn't compete with the new dorms that were set up. The dorms had much better facilities, better chow.


Hansen

When was it disbanded?


Nakagawa

It was disbanded in the 1960s, shortly after I left.


Hansen

Okay. But while you were there, it was obviously still intact.


Nakagawa

Yes, yes. We were running the place. But it was getting run-down.


Hansen

So you lived there once, then went in the merchant marines, came back, and lived there again, right?


Nakagawa

Yes. I lived there until 1960, when I quit. I was actually living there, working at Boeing, and going to graduate school. And in 1960, I left Seattle to accept a civil service job in Korea. And I haven't lived in Seattle since then. I visited many times.



82
Hansen

How did you hear about this civil service job in Korea?


Nakagawa

Well, what happened is, after I graduated from college, I took the federal service entrance exam. I wanted to find a job in Japan, a civil service job; that's about all there was. So I took the federal service entrance exam and I indicated that I would accept employment only in Japan. But they offered me other jobs, because civil service pay was so low at that time. They would offer me all kinds of jobs—in San Francisco, Washington, D.C. Finally, one came for Korea, and I was aware that, because U.S. forces in Japan were cutting back very drastically, it was going to be tough to find something in Japan. So I thought that if I accepted the job with the government in Korea, I could get my foot in the door and then transfer to Japan. When I got to Korea in the fall of 1960, I found that almost all of those guys had been in Japan but got kicked out because of a reduction of forces in Japan, so they went to Korea. I was in Korea for three years. The government sent me to a management seminar at Camp Zama, Japan, and I was looking through the Japan Times want ads, and there was an ad for a job in Japan, Tokyo. So I applied for it, and that's how I got to Japan in the fall of 1963.


Hansen

What was your main incentive for going to Japan?


Nakagawa

Fun.


Hansen

Was it partly, too, because of your recollections of it from when you were there in the 1950s?


Nakagawa

Yes. But as a bachelor, it was primarily good times that I was looking for.


Hansen

You weren't looking for a wife, though, were you, at the time?


Nakagawa

No. In those days, no. I was looking for good times.


Hansen

So marriage wasn't in the back of your mind ever.


Nakagawa

No, no.


Hansen

The furthest thing from your mind?


Nakagawa

Not exactly the furthest thing, but my primary concern was good times, where can I have the most fun. And having been on the merchant ships and seen parts of Europe, North Africa, and much of the United States, I knew that for a Nisei guy there was no place for good times like Japan in the 1950s and 1960s. Because even a G.I., economically he was well-off in Japan.


Hansen

By going to Japan, were you liberated from certain kinds of constraints that you would have faced—you mentioned "as a Nisei"—say, in the Seattle area or even in California?


Nakagawa

No, I don't think so. I wasn't the type of guy who would do anything that would need to be restrained, I don't think. No, I was just interested in the good life.


Hansen

But what is it? I guess what I'm getting at is, you say "the good life in Japan," and you have to juxtapose that against a less good life somewhere else. And so what is the thing that constitutes that goodness about Japan as opposed to staying in, say, [the] Washington area, getting a job there, and living your life there?


Nakagawa

(laughter) You're talking to an ex-merchant seaman. No, but seriously, in Japan, if you, for example, in the 1950s and early 1960s, had an income of $300 a month, you could live "high on the hog." You could buy food in the commissary, the PX [post exchange]. You know, cameras and things—whatever you wanted was cheap. Not only that, life was casual. You could have a maid. There was plenty of nightlife.


Hansen

Was some of it six? I mean, I know a lot of Nisei girls were raised very strictly.


Nakagawa

Sure. It has to do with everything. It has to do with the availability of nightlife. It has to do with the


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availability of booze. It has to do with the ability to hire a maid to clean your room. Hey, who in the heck wants to launder his own shirts? That was before the days of wash and wear. I can remember when I was a college student. I used to have to iron my own shirts. We did those things. Clean your own room. Go out to the laundromat. Wash your own car. And we had to take turns mowing the lawn. Hey, in Japan you didn't do any of those things. You just went to work. And at work you had a very reliable, capable crew, and all you had to do was be the figurehead.


Hansen

So what was the nature of your job this time when you got transferred from Korea to Japan?


Nakagawa

I went over as the chief accountant for the Pacific Division of the Army and Air Force Motion Picture Service. That is a non-appropriated fund, which means that it's a self-sustaining government agency. From the receipts of the movie theaters, we paid all of our expenses—salaries, et cetera. And we were a government agency.


Hansen

And you had how many people working under you?


Nakagawa

At first, about five people.


Hansen

And they were all Japanese nationals?


Nakagawa

Yes. So I went over there as the chief accountant, which was a GS-9. No big thing, but at that time I think my salary was around, oh, $500, $550 a month, which was about ten times what the highest paid Japanese in my office was making. Plus, I had tax-free gas, food, free housing.


Hansen

Were you able to save anything during that time, or did you spend most of it?


Nakagawa

Yes. Well, I spent a large part of it. But I would take trips, excursion trips to wherever.


Hansen

But you got to see Japan at that time, a lot.


Nakagawa

I had the opportunity. I didn't avail myself.


Hansen

You were talking about skiing. Was that later, or was it there?


Nakagawa

Yes. Oh, yes, I did things like that. But I mean, I didn't tour. I wasn't a tourist. I went out to the beaches, mostly with co-workers, and stuff like that.


Hansen

But you were a bachelor. You were a young guy at that time.


Nakagawa

Sure. But I didn't go on too many excursions. When I went on excursions, I would go to Taipei [Taiwan] or Bangkok [Thailand].


Hansen

Did you get back up to Hiroshima?


Nakagawa

Only in 1964.


Hansen

And what was the occasion of that?


Nakagawa

My parents came, and so I went to visit them.


Hansen

Oh, did they take you around at all and connect you with places that were important to them in their youth?


Nakagawa

Very little, because it was all right there in the village, and I'd already been there. By then, my parents were quite old. This was in 1964, so my dad was seventy-six.



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Hansen

How did they seem to you? Did they seem at home, or did they seem strangers in a strange world at that point?


Nakagawa

They went back to Japan because they were contemplating retiring there. But after spending one summer there, it was obvious to them that life in Japan wasn't to their liking.


Hansen

What do you think the difference was? Had they become spoiled by certain conveniences?


Nakagawa

No. I think it was partly cultural and partly the fact that their old childhood friends were gone.


Hansen

Dead.


Nakagawa

Yes. I mean, they were gone. They didn't know anybody in the village. You know, when they were kids, they probably went down to the village of five, six houses and a few farmhouses, and there were their friends. But there was nobody there except my aunt, who is my mother's youngest sister. A couple of "left-field cousins," but they were all old. And there was just nothing there. They were living in a little sort of apartment house, and I stayed with them in that apartment house because they were renting with the idea of retiring back there. But then they stopped and thought, "Hey, wait a minute. All of our kids are back in the States, our grandchildren. And who's over here, except one niece?" And they were living in this little apartment house. They were going to the village every day to do their shopping. But pretty soon they were going to be so old they would have to be taken care of. Who was going to take care of them?


Hansen

In listening to your parents and your relatives talk—the ones who never came to the United States but who had lived there in Japan from the time they were born—did you notice a different vocabulary pool that they had? Did you notice that, after having spent nearly half a century in the United States, your parents seemed to speak almost a different language from your relatives?


Nakagawa

No. I don't think my parents changed much and I don't think the people up there did. As a matter of fact, one of the first things that struck me when I visited the village was that I was more fluent in the Japanese language than I thought I was. Because they were using these old, pre-twentieth-century terms that if you used them in Tokyo, people would laugh at you.


Hansen

But not in Hiroshima.


Nakagawa

No. They were still using those old terms. Funny terms. It probably wouldn't mean anything to you, but okanei in Japanese is "money." But in the country, they used to say zini. Nobody says zini in Tokyo.


Hansen

But your parents used to use that term when they were here?


Nakagawa

Yes. But they were starting to use the more standard terminology. But when they went back to the village, to use that old terminology was normal. At least I felt more fluent when I went out to the country among my type of people, country people.


Hansen

So as you said earlier in our interview, there had been very little change in that village from the time that your parents were there and the time that you first visited it.


Nakagawa

I would say yes, very little change.


Hansen

Yet, twenty miles away, the city of Hiroshima—not as a result of the atomic blast but before that... why it became a target—had undergone a tremendous transformation. I mean, Hiroshima City had incorporated towns around it and had grown into a substantial urban center. But twenty miles away, you still had villages coexisting that were almost in a time warp, that were existing...


Nakagawa

Yes, that's right. As a matter of fact, the house that my uncle and aunt were living in was the house that my dad had built way back. Maybe it was a fairly impressive house, two-story. Yet, I think the village even


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now probably hasn't changed too much, except you see TV antennas and cars and stuff like that. But basically the housing, the fields. You know, the valley isn't covered with housing; it's too far out in the country. My niece and her husband, I know, are relatively well-off now. Because they own land, they have a nice house. They live, maybe, two city blocks away from the train station. My niece's husband works at Kirin Brewery in Hiroshima. My niece has two kids who are grown up now, and she works part-time at the train station. They're well-off. They've got a car, color TV. My mother, I remember, used to be worried about how the relatives in Japan were going to make it. But when she went back in 1964, it finally put her mind at ease. Hey, the relatives are much better off than we used to be.


Hansen

But then things started to change pretty dramatically by then, right?


Nakagawa

Yes. By 1964, sure. By 1964, there wasn't anybody going hungry in Japan. They were starting to buy motorcycles. As a matter of fact, there were even Japanese employees in my company who were starting to buy cars.


Hansen

You actually were there during a time when a big transformation came about and probably was visible to you. You were talking earlier about the disproportionate salary that you had relative to your employees, who were Japanese nationals. By the time you were coming back here, you probably started to see a lot of Japanese nationals having the experience that you've just been describing. Your niece and her husband were beginning to reach parity and comparability in terms of salary and lifestyle and everything else. I mean, that was occurring just in a short interval.


Nakagawa

Sure.


Hansen

But when you first got there, how did it make you feel? You were not just an "ugly American" over there; you were a Japanese American. And yet you did have this disparity in terms of income and everything else. Did it engender any guilt feelings within you?


Nakagawa

No, not guilt. I think the feeling I had was, "Jesus Christ, these poor people will never make it." I thought that their economic situation was hopeless. Of course, I was just a high school graduate. I thought, "Gee, on a crowded little island, no resources, and a lot of homeless people." I guess like most people who visited Japan, I thought, "Jesus Christ, these people will never make it."


Hansen

Even most people who didn't visit Japan felt that way, right?


Nakagawa

Yes. I was living there from 1963 to 1974. I'd been in and out of there since 1952. From 1952 to 1956 I was in and out on ships, and then from 1963 to 1974 I lived there. But between 1960 and 1963, I was also in there because I was working in Korea and went on R and R. So I'd been in and out of Japan since 1952. The big changes in Japan from what I could see was in the 1960s, right about the time of the Olympics [1964]. Because by the time I left Japan in 1974, even the lower graded employees in my company were starting to buy small cars. The richer ones were buying [Toyota] Corollas and cars like I was driving.


Hansen

Did you get married over there?


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

Did you marry a Japanese national?


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

What year did you get married?


Nakagawa

In 1968.


Hansen

So about half of your time over there was unmarried and half of it was married.



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Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

And you had kids over there?


Nakagawa

Yes. All three of my kids were born there.


Hansen

Of course, they got American citizenship as a result of your own citizenship status.


Nakagawa

Oh, yes.


Hansen

Is it because of your kids that you finally came back to the United States?


Nakagawa

No. I came back to the States because I got thrown out of Japan. They closed so many bases. They finally closed the base out from under me, and I had to go to Hawaii, because the headquarters that I was working for transferred to Hawaii.


Hansen

Do you think you might have just stayed there indefinitely?


Nakagawa

I would not have retired there.


Hansen

But you might have lived out your working life there.


Nakagawa

Yes, I think so. Sure. You get free housing. You get to buy tax-free goods at the commissary and the PX. Sure. I'm lazy; I like the good life. (laughter)


Hansen

How was your situation over there different from the situation of, say, the Kibei, who ended up going back to Japan to live after World War II? I mean, they'd been educated in Japan, came back to the States, went through the Evacuation, and then a lot of them who had gotten involved in the postwar years in international businesses went to live in Japan. What I have heard from some of the people I've interviewed is that such Kibei almost formed a self-encapsulated subculture in Japan, in the sense that they tended to frequent the same bars and always behaved pretty much as Americans abroad do. There was always, so to speak, a Japanese American curtain around them. How was your situation different from that? Because from what I was picking up, you had a lot more outreach to other people in the general population over in Japan who you went skiing with and did this, that, and the other thing with.


Nakagawa

I didn't belong to social enclaves of any sort. I went to work. I was with predominantly Japanese. About 95 percent of the people were Japanese. There were a few Americans; there were some Nisei. But most of the Nisei were women.

The one thing I noticed when I was starting to write this novel was that the Nisei [who] were standed in Japan during the war, for whateverreason, were very reluctant to talk about their experience. Because when I was starting to write this book, I knew what I wanted to write about. One of the Nisei women who worked for me had gone to Japan in the 1940s to work for this very outfit, the Motion Picture Service. And she married a Nisei who had returned to Japan just prior to the war. He was a high school graduate just returning prior to the war. He was a very good golfer. I didn't get to know them very well because they kind of kept to themselves. But when I would see them at company Christmas parties or stuff like that, I would talk to them. Me being a very talkative person, I would just inquire about what went on during the war and what they were doing and how they got back. I'm not reluctant to tell them about what I did and why. So I noticed that those people, as well as a couple of other Nisei who returned before the war, were very reluctant to talk. I got the impression that they had something to hide, or felt that they did. I think maybe they didn't want to talk about the fact that they helped in the war effort, either by serving in the military or working for it. Of course, they were forced into it; they had no real choice. But I think they did feel guilty. I think you'll find that attitude quite common among those Japanese who went back.


Hansen

Did you meet any people who, as a result of the situation up at Tule Lake, went through the repatriation,


87
and then went back to Japan and have never actually regained their citizenship? Most of them did, but there is a small group of people who did not. Did you meet any of these people?


Nakagawa

No. No, most of those people were ten years older than me. There's one person who I was fairly close to in Tule Lake who went back to Japan, and my older brother—a year older than me—who was stationed in Japan, visited him. At that time, they were in their early twenties. My brother told me that this guy was planning to come back to the States. Because he was a minor. He never renounced his citizenship, so he did return, and he's now in Seattle. I never looked him up, but I'm planning to next summer, because we were pretty close friends. He runs a travel agency now. But I think most of the Nisei, including those in the United States, the "no-no boys," are very reluctant to talk about it. I noticed that, because in Kent, when I was—this was in the early 1950s—working on the farms, helping my dad, I talked to some of those guys. They were very closemouthed about the questionnaire. I guess it was because they were ostracized by the Nisei community, too.


Hansen

You were at Heart Mountain. Of course, they had the draft resistance movement at Heart Mountain, which was quite celebrated and has been written about.[10] Your brothers all went into the army, and so they...


Nakagawa

They must have been among the "yes-yes" boys.


Hansen

But even the Heart Mountain resistance group were "yes-yes" boys. They just resisted being drafted without restoration of their citizenship rights or fair play, right?


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

Did that ever touch your family in any way? Or do you recall that at all?


Nakagawa

No, not that I know, because my older brothers who were drafted out of high school were already out of camp. So they were not in the camp. The last of my brothers, Harry, who went into the army during World War II, was graduated from high school in February 1945, and he immediately went out to Montana to work on the railroad.


Hansen

So it's a blank in your mind as far as that whole Fair Play Committee thing goes.


Nakagawa

I remember because in Heart Mountain it [the resumption of the draft for Americans of Japanese ancestry and the resistance to it spearheaded by the Fair Play Committee] was a subject of conversation, just like in Tule Lake with the anti-Japs and the pro-Japs.


Hansen

That's what I was getting at. You do recall.


Nakagawa

Yes. I recall, but I don't remember what the significance of it was. I know in Tule Lake what I remember from my personal recollection about what it was about, because there were some people who were pro-Japan, wanted Japan to win. I didn't think of it as being anti-American or pro-American. I thought of it as those who wanted Japan to win and those who wanted the United States to win.


Hansen

Did you see the film on Heart Mountain that was done a couple of years ago?[11]


Nakagawa

No.


Hansen

This fellow named "Bacon" Sakatani, a former evacuee at Heart Mountain who now lives in southern California, has served as kind of the unofficial chronicler of Heart Mountain. He's been the keeper of a lot of different kinds of camp memorabilia, and then, apparently, he acted as an adviser for that film. But you haven't seen that. I'll see if I can bring the videotape next time I come over here to interview you, because I really think that you'd like to take a look at it. Now then, you came back to the United States after having spent this thirteen-year stint in Japan, right?



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Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

And did you settle here in Gardena when you came back?


Nakagawa

No, we went to Hawaii. In 1974, we went to Hawaii because the headquarters of the Pacific Motion Picture Service was transferred from Tokyo to Hawaii.


Hansen

Did you go to Hilo this time?


Nakagawa

Yes, I went to Hilo a couple of times.


Hansen

I meant to live. Or did you live in Honolulu?


Nakagawa

Honolulu. I visited relatives in Hilo. But, no, we were at Honolulu, and I lived in Pearl City.


Hansen

Okay. How long did you stay in Hawaii?


Nakagawa

Seven and a half years.


Hansen

So you've been only here now for about six years.


Nakagawa

No, only about three years. Because from Honolulu I was transferred to Dallas, Texas, and I lived there for two and a half years. And then I moved over here in June of 1984 when I retired.


Hansen

You've lived in Japan, you've lived in Hawaii, and you've lived in Gardena; in all of these places there were many other Japanese people. However, you probably were not around too many Japanese people in Dallas, were you?


Nakagawa

No. That's right. There were very few Japanese living there.


Hansen

You have three kids?


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

And what grades are they in right now?


Nakagawa

Freshman, sophomore, and senior in high school.


Hansen

So, they're all in high school. How has your life been here in Gardena? Has it been a good place to live for you and your family?


Nakagawa

I never lived in a place that I was unhappy with. Yes, I like it.


Hansen

I thought you were going to say "until Gardena."


Nakagawa

No. I like it here. Crime's too high; it's a little too congested. But, hey, you can't have everything. I don't have to get up and scrape ice off my windshield anymore. I like it here, yes. I liked Dallas; I liked Honolulu; I loved Japan. I even liked Korea, which is an exception. Most people don't like Korea. But I enjoyed it.


Hansen

And what are you doing here?


Nakagawa

Well, I'm semi-retired. I retired from the Exchange Service, and I got a small retirement annuity. And I got a paid-up health and life insurance. I work as an accountant here in town, between twenty and twentyfive hours a week.



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Hansen

And then your wife works, too, right?


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

You're going to have some pretty big expenses when your kids start going to college.


Nakagawa

I don't think so. My kids are pretty bright. Those are their trophies. (gestures to fireplace mantle) They were on the academic pentathlon team in junior high. The two girls are straight "A" students. I tell them, "Hey, if you want to go to Harvard, fine. Get a scholarship, because I ain't going to pay your way. If you want to go to [California State University] Dominguez Hills, I'll pay your tuition and you can live here."


Hansen

They have a pretty good crack at scholarships, then, do they?


Nakagawa

Oh, I don't know. It's that same attitude again. I don't feel that I have an obligation to send them to Harvard or Yale or Stanford. If they want to go to college, and if they want to do it themselves, that's fine. I'll give them all the help I can reasonably give them. But I'm not going to bust my butt trying to send them to Harvard or Yale. Nobody did it for me. It's not that I have the attitude that "Nobody did it for me, so I don't have to do it for you." It's the attitude that there's plenty of opportunity for them. If they want to go to Dominguez Hills or UCLA or USC and if they want to live at home, fine.


Hansen

It's a pretty healthy attitude, actually. I mean, too many parents make large sacrifices for their children, ones that often have the effect of plunging them into a perennial state of crisis and anxiety. Their kids too often end up going off to college and then launch careers while remaining oblivious to what their parents have sacrificed for them. And sometimes the parents, drained by their largesse, are left with very little in the way of resources to carry them through their old age.


Nakagawa

Hey, I've seen that. I've seen that among the kids who I went to college with. Their parents had struggled and sweated to send their kids to college and then, say, to dental school, and then the kids flunk out of dental school because they're too damn lazy. I've seen plenty of that.


Hansen

Let me ask you one final question, because it's a transition to our next session. You alluded to this earlier, but maybe you could just talk about it a bit more. Your novel, "Seki-nin," or "Duty Bound," you said that you launched it when you were still living in Japan?


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

Tell me a little about the circumstances of your starting the novel and then what's happened since that time. It's now, obviously, a completed manuscript—soon to be a best seller, we hope.


Nakagawa

Okay. In the late 1960s, I was the controller for the Pacific Motion Picture Services. I had been promoted a couple of times, and I was now the head of the accounting office. I had a staff of about twenty-five, mostly Japanese. Highly qualified people. I didn't have to do anything but write a few letters and sign a few instructions to the theaters. So I had so much spare time that I thought, "Why, hell, I'll start writing." I'd never considered writing these things, but I thought about this Tanaka family for a long time.


Hansen

Going way back from the 1952 visit?


Nakagawa

Prior to that, actually.


Hansen

Oh, really?


Nakagawa

Because in 1946, one of my older brothers, who'd been in Japan, came back to the States, and he was telling my parents about this, about how—they were my parents' childhood friends, the father and mother—distraught and grief-stricken they were because they felt they'd killed their only son. And here my brother was one of four kids who served in the U.S. Army during the war, and not a scratch. But my brother was


90
telling my parents about how grief-stricken they were. I never forgot about how moving it was. And my parents, too, because my parents were, of course, upset and very interested in what had happened in Japan during the intervening years.


Hansen

Did you ever know the Tanaka son?


Nakagawa

I met the Tanakas only because they visited us a couple of times.


Hansen

So you met the son?


Nakagawa

I probably met him, but I don't recall him personally. I remember that my parents would talk and, occasionally. they'd mention the Tanaka family. They were close friends, having been brought up in the village together.


Hansen

But then they lived in Seattle.


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

So you didn't see them very much from Kent.


Nakagawa

No, because they were close to my family before I was born, because my parents were also in Seattle. Having been from the same village in Japan and then living in Seattle.


Hansen

So it's something you heard your family talking about more than actually seeing directly.


Nakagawa

Yes, that's true. Because the boy was much older than me. That's true.


Hansen

So then in 1952, when you were in the Hiroshima area, you visited the Tanaka family, right?


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

Okay. And, of course, the protagonist for your novel was at that time deceased. But you talked to the Tanaka family. You didn't talk to them at all, however, about the situation, or did you?


Nakagawa

No. No, not at all. I just made a courtesy visit, and they did mention, "Gee, you know..." They were obviously still affected by that. They thought of me as one of the long line of Nakagawa kids, and I was visiting them with my older brother, who was seven years older. They remembered my older brother quite well. They knew him. I was just one of the littler kids who happened to be in the family.


Hansen

Did the Tanakas, as you characterize the situation in your novel, actually adopt a child?


Nakagawa

No, they never did. I got the impression that they just couldn't bring themselves to do it. Nothing could replace this kid. If they had adopted, I think the tragedy would not have been so great.


Hansen

So in your novel you provided them with an alternative to pursue.


Nakagawa

Oh, yes, because I didn't want the story to end so tragically. Another thing: the son was not a football star. Also, he did not die in China; he died of malaria in New Guinea somewhere. In 1942, I think it was. So when I visited his parents, it was almost ten years after he had died.


Hansen

Let's see, you were talking about having had some free time, and this incident was on your mind and everything. So you sat down and started your novel. What confidence did you have that you could write a novel? Had you done some writing?


Nakagawa

None, absolutely none. I'd never written anything other than business correspondence.



91
Hansen

No kidding. No creative writing or anything?


Nakagawa

No. I guess I just thought, "Hey, this is a story that really needs to be told."


Hansen

Did you nature the thought "there but for the grace of God go I," or my brothers, or something like that in your mind?


Nakagawa

No. I just thought of the incident as a great human tragedy that these poor people were the victims of. The Tanakas were probably not the only family that suffered this tragedy, but nobody's given it a thought. There are all kinds of tragedies, and certainly this is one of the great ones. Because in Japan, people live for the kids. They do. Not so much now, but in those days they lived, the Tanakas lived, to better themselves. And not just for their physical comfort, but for the generations to follow. The tanaka family became fairly well-to-do, because they only had this one kid and they obviously had some business sense. They struggled and worked in that skid row hotel and made a few bucks. I don't know how much, but they had a pretty substantial amount of money. Of course, they lost all but a little stretch of land after World War II, because it was confiscated.

I didn't know the Tanakas. I didn't have a personal relationship with any members of the family, but I feel that I knew the family because my parents talked about them and their tragedy. I remembered them talking about it.


Hansen

There's probably a world that all of us have that is outside of our immediate province, but because it's part and parcel of family conversation, the people in this world sometimes become more real than people we actually know. Because we're so intrigued by it, we fill in the outlines with our own fancies and fantasies. You must have done this to a considerable degree.


Nakagawa

Well, this idea was in my mind. I recall very vividly the first time I thought about writing the novel. It was late in 1959. My brother, who had been in Japan and had visited the Tanakas in 1946, was now married. He got married in 1958, very late, twenty years after high school. His wife was having their first child, and I was taking my mother out there in the country to help them. They run oysters out on the coast of Washington. And when we were on the drive from Seattle—I call Kent "Seattle" because it's now a suburb of Seattle. When I was driving my mother out there to stay with them a couple of weeks, the subject turned to the Tanakas. For some reason, I don't know why. That's when I thought, "Hey, I ought to write a novel." I was in grad school, working for Boeing, having a great time. Shortly thereafter, going to Korea. It never occurred to me to start until about 1968 when I was a controller in Tokyo and had tons of time. I finally started it, very sporadically. But that's when I really thought, "I've got to write this damn thing." Then I forgot it for almost ten years.


Hansen

How did you happen to stop writing it? You were writing it, and then what caused you to stop?


Nakagawa

I had a detached retina. I was in St. Louis. On a business meeting in St. Louis, I had a detached retina. I was flown back to Tokyo and had an eye operation. My vision, even with glasses, is not 20/20. I was so depressed—and having difficulty doing my job, because I was a controller working with figures—that I just dropped it, forget it for six years or so.


Hansen

Then what called forth your resuming your writing of the novel again?


Nakagawa

Then I got to Hawaii and I got this job as chief of Admin[istrative] Services for the Pacific Headquarters of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, which had absorbed the Motion Picture Service. The Exchange Service runs all the PXs. So I was in this job in Honolulu, and again I had nothing to do. This is not the work of a dedicated writer. (laughter) I've always done things as time permits. But I had so much time on my hands I started to write it, and I had it just about finished when I got transferred to Dallas. I finished it in Dallas.


Hansen

And when was that? In 1982?



92
Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

So you've had the manuscript completed now for six years?


Nakagawa

Yes, but I changed it. Once. I had to put the prologue into the novel to juice it up. So the final form as you see it now was completed about four years ago, give or take a few months.


Hansen

I guess we can call it quits for this session of our interview. In our next session we will concentrate upon your novel, okay?


Nakagawa

Fine.


Part 2

Hansen

This is the second part of an interview with Mr. George Nakagawa by Arthur A. Hansen for the Japanese American Project of the Oral History Program at California State University, Fullerton. This interview is being conducted on June 23, 1988, at Mr. Nakagawa's home in Gardena, California.

George, today I'd like to talk with you explicitly about your novel "Seki-Nin." First, let's talk about the degree to which this novel represents a reflection of reality—the reality of the Tanaka family, the reality of the Japanese American experience, the reality of the war in China, and the like. So could we talk about your novel, then, as a historical document, as a reflection of historical reality, before we start dealing with it as imaginative literature? In a literal sense, what do you see as the novel's historicity, its historical nature? Often at the beginning of a novel it says something to the effect of "none of the characters or situations in this novel are based upon historical fact." If you were to write a disclaimer note such as this for your novel, what would it say?


Nakagawa

I think I would say that the novel is based on a true tragedy but the characters and the incidents are fictitious. Because I didn't have intimate knowledge of the Tanaka family before the war, so I don't know what the father and the mother and the son were like personally. I knew of them. I undoubtedly met them.


Hansen

You say you "undoubtedly met them." Why do you put it that way? Can't you recall meeting the Tanakas before the war?


Nakagawa

No. I know they had been over to our house because they visited us from time to time before the war. But I was so young then that I don't recall them, because we had lots of visitors.


Hansen

Were they an important family in terms of family lore? Was the plight of that particular family something that was talked about a lot in your family so that it was in your consciousness? Was the son who was lost during the wartime, the one who you've made into Jiro in the novel—the protagonist—was he an intimate friend of your older brother?


Nakagawa

Not an intimate friend. They were in the same age group. Actually, the Tanaka son was the same age as one of my older brothers, the one who is eleven years older than me, I believe. So they were friends but they were not intimate friends, because I think as they were growing up, the Tanaka family was living in Seattle. They were relatively well-to-do. And we were way out in the country and quite poor. So they were friends but not buddies, so to speak. But Mr. and Mrs. Tanaka had been close childhood friends of my parents. I know this to be true because my parents talked about it from time to time.


Hansen

So it's literally the case, then, that they were from the same village as your parents?


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

They were all from the very small village in Japan that you later visited in 1952 for the first time.



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Nakagawa

Well, they were from the immediate vicinity, because in Japan the rural villages didn't have defined village limits. They were within close walking distance of each other.


Hansen

Then, when you, in 1952, went from Korea to Japan and you visited the Tanakas with your brother Kaz, how much time did you get to spend with the Tanakas, to observe the village scene there and to observe them as people? Was it just an afternoon that you spent with them?


Nakagawa

Yes, just a short time. We visited them; it was sort of a mandatory courtesy call. We visited them and we had tea and lunch, the usual, casual visit. But they didn't do much talking to me. Very little. Because they didn't know me. They knew and remembered my older brother but they only remembered me as one of the many younger Nakagawa kids. And, of course, we were both in our uniforms because in those days U.S. military personnel had to wear uniforms.


Hansen

To what extent did their son figure in the conversation at that particular time?


Nakagawa

I don't recall that they even mentioned him. They asked about my older brothers because I had six older brothers. But I don't recall them ever mentioning Henry Tanaka, except that they mentioned the military. And by then, they seemed to have recovered emotionally. But you could still kind of sense the tragedy. That kind of tragedy never leaves you, I think.


Hansen

So the Tanakas' real son's name was Henry?


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

Was he an only child.


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

And he was not really killed, as you have it in the novel, in China in 1945, but rather somewhere in New Guinea because of malaria, right?


Nakagawa

I don't recall the nature of the illness, but I'm quite sure it was malaria. I'm not sure it was in New Guinea, but it was in the South Pacific.


Hansen

And it was in the early stages rather than the latter stages of the war, correct?


Nakagawa

The early stages of the war, yes.


Hansen

Peeling back the layers of time and thinking about that visit to the Tanakas in 1952, was the situation of Henry and of the Tanaka family uppermost in your mind on that occasion? I mean, later on you would write a novel about this situation. The seeds of the novel were planted, perhaps, back in 1946, when one of your brothers came back from Japan and related this information about Henry and the Tanakas to your family, with you, as an impressionable youngster, hearing this. In 1952 were not so young, though maybe still impressionable. To what extent did this 1952 visit make a deepened impression on you? Did you have some sort of feeling that "something should be written about this" or "this is a tragedy of epic proportions"? Or didn't you even think about the matter then?


Nakagawa

I didn't visit the Tanakas with the idea of writing a novel or anything. I don't think the thought had really germinated yet. But I think the visit did strengthen a sense way back within me somewhere that something ought to be written about this, because I recall much more clearly hearing my brother telling my parents about it in 1946 than I recall anything in 1952. But I recall clearly that, in the fall of 1959 when I was driving out to visit my brother with my mother, how we got to talking about this. My mother was a very gentle, sensitive person, and I think it was her telling me about it that really planted the seed firmly in my mind to write this. That's the first I can recall of actually thinking, "Gee, I really should write this." Maybe it wasn't a firm commitment, but I do recall thinking, "Gee, I really should write this."



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Hansen

Back in 1952, though, when you talked with the Tanakas, how did they strike you? Because the mother and father of Henry, who becomes Jiro, became important figures in your novel. What I would like to find out is, what correspondence exists between the actual Tanaka family—mother and father—and their counterparts in the novel. Did you have an opportunity to get a reading of them so that you could actually develop characters, or do the characterizations of Jiro's parents in the novel come out of someplace else—your own parents, other Issei parents you knew, or just generalized fictional types?


Nakagawa

I don't have a good recollection of the mister. As I recall, he must have been about in his early sixties when I visited the Tanakas in 1952. I have little recollection of him. He was just another man. But the missus did impress me. She was a good-sized, attractive woman. She must have been in her fifties by then, but you could still see that she was an attractive woman, a very proper, somewhat refined woman. I didn't base my characters in the novel on them, no. I think the characters in my novel are composites of people who I had met, people who I knew. So they're not based on the actual characters but they're based on a composite of people who I knew. I don't know if that answers the question.


Hansen

Well, you're now being comprehensive. I'm asking you specifically about Jiro's parents, and you're talking about all of your characters as composites. Is that the case? Is Jiro, then, too, a composite?


Nakagawa

Yes, definitely he is. Jiro is definitely a composite of a lot of people that I knew, both physically and in terms of personality and character.


Hansen

What about the correspondence between the historical person Henry Tanaka and the fictional character Jiro Toyota?


Nakagawa

As far as my character in the novel, Jiro, I think the only thing about him that corresponds to what I know about Henry is his sense of responsibility and duty, something that almost all of the older Nisei—my older brothers and their friends—were brought up with. That was a Japanese characteristic. But as far as personality, I don't know anything about Henry's personality. I don't know whether he was easygoing, for example. I understand he was studious. But as far as sports, no, Henry was not athletic like Jiro.


Hansen

So would it be fair to say, then, that while you had some loose knowledge about the Tanaka family that was deepened a bit by the 1952 visit, you had an awful lot of room in your depictions of this family for poetic license, for pretty much creating the Toyotas out of whole cloth?


Nakagawa

Yes. In other words, my novel is purely fiction. The characters are purely fiction. The tragedy is not. I think that pretty well summarizes the situation.


Hansen

Okay. That leads me to my next question, and that is for you to discuss why the tragedy so much impressed itself upon you as a tragedy. What is it about this story that you've told that is so tragic? Is it something that's tied to a cultural situation peculiar to the Japanese American experience or Japanese culture, or is it a tragedy in a larger sense than just a subcultural situation?


Nakagawa

I think the tragedy here really has little to do with culture; it's a human tragedy. It's a tragedy of people conscientiously and religiously doing what they think is right and what is best and then having it all just tumble down. Because I know that, especially the Japanese immigrant families, they lived and worked for their children. And the Tanaka family, I know, did what they thought was best for their son. They worked hard; they saved money. They, in effect, forced Henry to return to Japan because they knew in their mind that that was what was best for him and the family. And then, after a lifetime of work and dedication, they lost, really, everything. They didn't, in fact, lose their wealth. But to them, wealth wasn't important; it was their son. And I think that's the tragedy. It's not a Japanese tragedy. I don't think of it as such.


Hansen

Except when you say the culture has little to do with the tragedy and it's a human tragedy, you then go on to explain some things that deepen the tragedy in terms of culture. Number one, there is the strong sense of duty that the son feels. He feels impelled to be able to follow the dictates of parents even against his own preferences. And then the second part of the equation is the way in which the parents have loaded so much


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of their hopes and dreams and love onto the child. Now that surely is a human tragedy, but it seems to have a coloration to it that resonates very much with Japanese American cultural imperatives and norms, doesn't it?


Nakagawa

Oh, yes, definitely. It's true that it's a Japanese American tragedy, yes, but that's really not the gist of it. It's a tragedy like any other human tragedy. It's true it was a Japanese American family, but I think this is a tragedy that could be understood if you get beyond the prejudices, because I wrote this draft and it was typed for me by a lady in Texas. She was somewhat upset because she thought that the novel was anti-American. I didn't think it was anti-American at all. I think some Japanese would read it to be anti-Japanese. I think a lot of people who may read this, if they're not familiar with Japanese culture and the Japanese American experience, may get the impression that this is anti-American. But I don't think that, objectively, there is anything "anti" in this novel at all. It's just anti-tragedy; it's antiwar; it's anti-compulsion.


Hansen

But isn't it the case that the tragedy would not have transpired if there hadn't been the historical circumstances vis-à-vis people of Japanese ancestry? Would Americans of non-Japanese ancestry have had to make a choice such as the family in your novel makes, to take a successful high school graduate like Jiro, and rather than permit him to realize his success on his native soil, to send him instead to the parents' native country of Japan so that he could attend a Japanese university and stand a chance for later success in life? Was that the case, say, for Italians or for Germans or for Norwegians, and other nationalities? Isn't that really a situation that comes out of the Nisei experience, the Nisei dilemma of being marginalized as a result of discrimination that existed in the 1930s and in the early 1940s, at the time that this action is transpiring in your novel?


Nakagawa

I think it's true that if there had not been the rather extreme anti-Japanese discrimination on the West Coast in the 1930s that the Tanaka family probably would not have gone back to Japan. They might have. Some of the Japanese came here strictly with the idea of making money and going back to Japan. But I don't think that objective was firm in most Japanese immigrants, because if it had been, they would not have gotten married and started raising large families here, because that economically eliminated the possibility of returning to Japan. So I think it's probably true that the discrimination factor in this case was the ultimately determining factor in returning to Japan. Because the overwhelming majority of Nisei kids did not want to go to Japan after graduating from high school in the United States. I think the Tanakas, had it not been for the discrimination factor, would have yielded to the desires of their son Henry and remained in the United States. So in that sense the novel is a Japanese American tragedy, yes.


Hansen

Lots of Japanese American families were involved in the same type of debate as the Tanakas were, as to whether they should send their kids or even go themselves back to Japan. I mean, with the war clouds starting to appear on the horizon and things starting to be tense, well before Pearl Harbor a lot of people made these kinds of deliberations and acted on them. It was going on, I think, if I read historical documentation correctly, in many, many households. Not only before the war, but once they got to the camps, there were people who made decisions about repatriating or expatriating, and there was a lot of family strife. Once Tule Lake became a segregation center, there were lots of people who renounced their citizenship, and some of this was driven by family pressures and family desires. Did you, as a child, get a palpable sense of this dilemma, this debate that was going on about whither goest the Japanese American family in those years before the war as a result of your own family discussions or friends of your family discussing it? And did this early exposure to this dilemma and debate sensitize you to the tragic dimensions of what would happen when it was acted out for another Nisei? Not yourself or your brothers, but another Nisei, like Henry Tanaka. Is that what gives a strong feeling to your novel, do you think, that in some ways you're involved with that? It's more immediate than it seems. It's not just Henry, but it's you as Henry.


Nakagawa

I don't recall that it was ever debated within our family, because with a dozen kids and being very poor, there was no possibility that we could return to Japan. I mean, our family couldn't. I don't recall when I was first aware of it, but as far back as I can remember, I was well aware that there were divergent opinions among the Japanese Americans about the future—our future in the United States, and whether our future was with the United States or Japan. I was well aware of that. But within my family, I don't recall it ever


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being discussed; I don't think it seriously was. It might have been in Tule Lake when we were considering the segregation issue. But even then, I'm quite sure that with several of my older brothers already having left camp and working, I don't think there was any serious consideration of remaining in Tule Lake and being repatriated, because the only thing I recall my mother mentioning—and my father never discussed it with me—was whether we should go to Idaho. My dad wanted to go to Idaho, as I understand it, because all his old buddies from Seattle were there. And my mother, when we found out we were going to Heart Mountain, I recall her telling me that she was glad because she didn't want him rejoining all his old drinking buddies from Seattle.


Hansen

In Minidoka?


Nakagawa

Yes. Because, see, my family had lived in Seattle, and Minidoka was largely [comprised of] Seattle people.


Hansen

But if it wasn't your family that had the debates and the deliberations over this possibility of going to Japan at that time, was it something that you were aware of through other families? Neighbors, friends, whatever.


Nakagawa

I don't really recall why I was aware of this. I think it might have stemmed from the period even prior to World War II. I was aware that there was some doubt within the Japanese American community as to our future in the United States. I think it started before World War II, but I'm not sure. But it was always with me.


Hansen

You said in our last interview session that it wasn't until the 1960s, when you were over in Japan, that you really felt for the first time that you were fully an American.


Nakagawa

Yes, that's true.


Hansen

And it seems to me, in reading this novel of your, that this apprehension, this doubt about your Americanism, somehow or other gets insinuated into the story. Because here is a person who carries all the credentials, as you've depicted Jiro Toyota in the novel, as a Jack Armstrong figure, almost, a full-blooded American—football star,athelete, valedictorian—who, in spite of all this, is consigned, on the basis of a cultural mandate, filial piety, to go against his own will and go to Japan. And there he ends up, really, as a sacrifice on the altar of a war, fighting on a side for which he lacked empathy and nationalistic commitment. Of course, as you depicted Jiro's situation, he developed a feeling for his fellow human beings, the Japanese soldiers who were involved with him in fighting the war, but ideologically he did not have a commitment to the cause of Japan in this war. So it just seems to me that, if you had these kinds of concerns about your status and your identity, then the creation of this character Jiro is, leastwise in part, a projection of your anxieties about your own very tenuous situation? That here you were, in the United States, but weren't really considered even by yourself as fully an American. Is that something, do you suppose, that energizes the creation of Jiro as a character?


Nakagawa

Yes, I think so, definitely. I think that there must have been very few Nisei who really felt that "I'm an American" at an early stage in their lives. I think it was typical of them to feel that way in the environment that we were brought up in. Not to blame society; it's just the way it was. I was brought up in a Japanese American community where I went to school with white kids, and they were my friends. But after school, I was in a different society. I remember in grade school, before World War II, my friends were talking about birthday parties. I never had a birthday party; we didn't do those things. We couldn't afford it anyway. But the kids were talking about birthday parties, and they were my friends. I was never invited. I mean, it didn't occur to them. I don't think it's that they didn't invite me because I was Japanese; it's just that it was their society and I was in a different society. But I didn't feel any, or certainly very little, personal discrimination among my class. Ten percent, I guess, were Nisei, and the rest were white kids. But I was aware that I was living in a different society, in a different culture.


Hansen

In our last interview session, you alluded to the fact that, if anything, in terms of the family, you were kind of rebellious.



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Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

You chafed against authority, and your father ultimately didn't hold that against you, but it probably was nettlesome to him just to have you disagreeing. It's interesting that a person who rebels, who takes this kind of semi-adversarial position vis-à-vis the authority figure in the family—the father—should write a novel about somebody who was duty bound, who accepted what the father wanted with very little question.


Nakagawa

With reluctance. Yes, I think most of the Nisei accepted their parents' views, but with reluctance, with reservations. Certainly reservations. I was the same way, I think. I may have been a little more vocal than my brothers, most of them anyway. But I think we were all brought up pretty much with the same values.


Hansen

Had these values become attenuated, though, by the time your particular coming of age came about, however? I mean, had they thinned out a bit, become diluted as a result of the passage of time and even the end of the Evacuation? I mean, you're a younger Nisei. Your generation is not quite the same as Jiro's. Like, for example, now a Yonsei [fourth-generation Japanese American] might feel this seki-nin impulse, too, but to a lesser degree.


Nakagawa

Much less, yes.


Hansen

But you were even starting to feel less of it.


Nakagawa

Yes, definitely.


Hansen

Was part of your feeling the notion that you weren't going to be sacrificed like Henry Tanaka, not going to become a cropper to family as against individual needs and individual fulfillment? In other words, there's this juxtaposition between what we think of as the American democratic ethos, where each person acts out his or her own desires, as against a more traditional Japanese situation, where you have to think of the good of the group and you have to accept the governing norms of the family hierarchy. Was some of that strain going on with you?


Nakagawa

I don't think so. Frankly, I'm not a good thinker; I never was. But I don't think that a Nisei person, brought up in the 1930s and 1940s, unless he was awfully stupid, could have been unaware of the conflicts within the Japanese American community. But I was aware that a lot of the Nisei were drifting. Now, that conflicts with the stereotypes of the Nisei of being driven, striving to excel. That's not the Nisei community I saw. Now, granted, the community I was brought up in was poor, large families, not the so to speak upper crust in the cities who had few kids and money and dreams.


Hansen

Like Jiro Toyota, your novel's protagonist.


Nakagawa

Yes, that's true.


Hansen

So in a sense you were not even writing about your social situation, your social class. Jiro was an urbanized member of a Japanese American community, and you lived out in the sticks, really, out in the country.


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

When people think about a novel, they'll often say, "To what extent has the novelist written an autobiography?" So what I'm trying to establish is what your relationship is to the protagonist of your novel. And, as I'm starting to see it, he's almost the other side of the coin from you.


Nakagawa

Yes, definitely. I would say so. Because what I depict in this novel has nothing to do with my situation. I wasn't torn with a conflict of "Should I go to college or should I study this?" I don't recall giving college a serious thought until after I had been in the service and I knew I was going to get the G.I. Bill. I wasn't torn with such conflicts.



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Hansen

Then why were you drawn, do you think, to someone who was torn with such conflicts? What was the attraction?


Nakagawa

I don't know. As I mentioned to you, maybe I should have been a historian because I was always interested in history. I don't claim that this novel depicts history with any great degree of accuracy. I think it's plausible—the moves, the situations. But I really don't know. I think it's the tragedy that drew me into the whole thing, that really stuck with me.


Hansen

And one of the things that galvanized it for you was just the way in which your mother related this situation of the Tanakas and their son Henry. I mean, you earlier were talking about the time in 1959 that you were driving to your brother Giro's place in the country with your mom and she was talking about the Tanaka tragedy, and it was somehow the emotion that she had in her voice or in the way that she talked about this incident that prompted you to begin your novel.

Okay, why don't we turn now to the structure of the novel. You have a prologue and an epilogue, and then you have five divisions within the novel itself: "Old Japan," "The New Land," "A New Life," "Imperial Army," and "The Unthinkable." Does that particular structure for the novel grow out of the facts of Henry Tanaka's experience or did you develop it somewhat independently of his experience?


Nakagawa

It's a structure that just evolved as I was writing the novel. I originally wrote the novel without the prologue and then I thought that it started out kind of slow and dry, starting out in Japan at the turn of the century. I thought the novel needed to be juiced up a little bit, so then I put the prologue in, hoping that it would add a little interest in what this is all about. So that when people read the prologue, hopefully they would have an idea what this is about, rather than starting out with dry dialogue about what Japan was like at the turn of the century.


Hansen

So you would give it an emotional focus first and then get into a historical mode.


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

The epilogue, was that written as part of the original manuscript, or is that also something that you tacked on later?


Nakagawa

That was pretty much intact with what I originally wrote in longhand at the office on scratch pads.


Hansen

And did the epilogue, when you first wrote it, include the scene at the very end where they [Jiro's parents] have adopted a twelve-year-old son?


Nakagawa

Yes, that was my thought all along. The Tanaka family did not adopt. But I had planned [it] all along because I didn't want it to end on such a tragic note. I wanted the tragedy to be there but I didn't want the novel to end on such a tragic note.


Hansen

In speaking about that epilogue and the scene that I was alluding to in the graveyard there in the village in Hiroshima, I think you mentioned that you had visited that graveyard.


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

Did you actually visit Henry's grave?


Nakagawa

No, I did not. No. I visited our family ancestral grave site. There were a bunch of stones, some very old and moss covered, some very new. I described what I saw in our family's burial area.


Hansen

What year was it that you went back to visit the village?


Nakagawa

I think it was in 1964. It was in the early 1960s. My parents were there and I visited them.



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Hansen

So you had a chance to get a sense of that village, to help you depict it in your novel's first section on old Japan. During our last interview session you talked about when you visited Hiroshima and the village in 1952, and you said that it had probably changed very little from what you supposed it had been like when your parents and the Tanakas had been brought up there. This rural museum, so to speak, preserved a way of life for you to observe and then recreate in your novel's opening section.


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

In addition, did you have your picture of old Japan infused with stories told to you by your parents and perhaps also from people who belonged to their Hiroshima kinjinkai [prefecture-based society] in Seattle, so that you had a vibrant sense of what village life was like in the period before the war?


Nakagawa

All I recall is what my mother had told me when I was young. She would tell me about what her life had been like as a child: three years of school, cutting grass for the cow alongside the rice paddies. But I think my impression of Japan is pretty much the impression I got when I went over there in 1952. It had changed little. It was almost as my mother had described it: a very narrow valley, green, dotted with rice paddies, terraced, to some extent, along the hillsides. It was just as she had described it, so I thought, "Hey, this hasn't changed in fifty years." It might not have changed.


Hansen

So what you saw corresponded with what you had heard.


Nakagawa

Yes. It was what I expected. I thought that, if my mom were to go back there, she would think she had just stepped back in time.


Hansen

And then, in the second section of the book, treating what you describe as "the new land," this is set in territory with which you were, I guess, fairly familiar. Actually, more of this section of the book is set in Seattle rather than twenty-five miles outside of Seattle, where you lived. Did you, in fact, get a sufficient opportunity to experience Seattle so that you didn't have to indulge in a lot of literary license when you were writing this section? Did you have a feeling for the Japanese American community in Seattle or not?


Nakagawa

Yes, I think I did. I had read about Seattle, Monica Sone's Nisei Daughter (Boston: Little, Brown, 1953) and John Okada's No-No Boy (Rutland, Vt.: Tuttle, 1957). I'd read about Seattle, about as much as, probably, the average Nisei. And then I did recall some of what Seattle life was like. For example, the school, Bailey Gatzert. I think my younger brother was the principal of that school in the 1960s; it's still sitting there. And I knew that that school had been built in the 1920s—I think it was the late 1920s—a little, one-story brick building. Because I used to walk by there. It was right near the Nisei Veterans Hall. So I was familiar with the territory and I knew where the Buddhist church was and, you know, all these other things; they're still pretty much in the same place as when I was there in the 1940s and 1950s.


Hansen

So you had a sense of it, but then it was reinforced by your brother's later situation at the school.


Nakagawa

Yes. And I read a few other historical things; I don't recall exactly what they were.


Hansen

Did you read the sociological study on prewar Seattle by [Shotaro] Frank Miyamoto [Social Solidarity among the Japanese in Seattle]? It was first published in 1939 [in the University of Washington Publications in the Social Sciences, Volume 11, No. 2, 57-130]. It was recently published [1984] in a new edition [by the University of Washington Press, with a detailed explanatory introduction written by Miyamoto].


Nakagawa

No, I did not.


Hansen

You didn't. I thought maybe you had because that study provides a wonderful sociological and quasiethnographic portrait of what the prewar Japanese American community in Seattle was like. I was almost certain that you had read Miyamoto's book.



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Nakagawa

No, I have never read it.


Hansen

The sections of your novel entitled "A New Life" and "The Imperial Army" must have been a little harder for you to write. Those are sections which must have derived more from books than did the first two that we've just been discussing. "A New Life" treats Jiro's college life at Keio University in Tokyo, as well as his experiences in both Hiroshima and Tokyo. Now, we've established your credentials relative to Hiroshima, but did you have a pretty good sense of Tokyo, too?


Nakagawa

Yes.


Hansen

But you weren't a college student in Tokyo. Of course, at the time you started writing your novel, you had experienced the University of Washington and college life there. I'm curious, did you also have contact with university life in Tokyo? Did you, for example, ever visit the Keio campus?


Nakagawa

No. I knew about where the various colleges were in Tokyo. I was well aware that in Japan, to a large extent, it's much tougher to get into college than it is to graduate. Once you get in there, it's pretty soft, except for the Nisei who couldn't understand Japanese too well; they had a little trouble. But I had a vague, general understanding of what college life was like [in] Tokyo, and much of it was based on what I saw in Japan in the early 1950s, when I first got there, because I was familiar with the tea rooms and the coffee shops, and I knew that this type of thing was available in Japan before the war. This section of my novel was based largely on my personal experiences in Japan. I mentioned the fleet of battleships outside Yokosuka. Well, I used to go into Yokosuka all the time when I was in the navy. I was a merchant seaman sailing out of Yokohama. Most of this section was based on my recollection of what Tokyo was like, as well as on what I picked up in casual conversations.


Hansen

What about something like the football activity you depict in your novel, with Jiro playing with a team at Keio University? It's largely Hawaiian Japanese and mainlander Nisei, like Jiro, who your novel depicts as playing in this little football league there in Japan. How did you get any insight into that situation?


Nakagawa

I don't really know. I know they did play football. I don't really recall, but I know that in the colleges they did have informal Nisei football leagues. I don't think it was limited to Nisei; there might have been some locals playing. I don't recall where I even learned about this. Much of it was based on my personal recollections, things that I'd picked up.


Hansen

But, recollections aside, what about personal feelings? After all, what you were writing about in "Seki-Nin" is somebody who was brought up in the northwestern part of the United States and who then goes to Japan and lives out his existence in a subculture there, that of overseas Americans—in this case, Japanese Americans. And that was your experience, too, when you were in Japan. So the core of this section of your novel—not just the trappings of it but the core of it—the emotional core, doesn't that really come out of your own situation? The reason I'm asking you this question is that in our last session you said that you didn't feel uncomfortable in Japan, but rather felt quite comfortable. And yet, I don't think that you depict Jiro as being altogether comfortable with his situation in Japan, even before he gets conscripted into the Japanese army. I know you were having a good time while you were in Japan, but was there a side of yourself that wasn't altogether comfortable being there?


Nakagawa

I was never uncomfortable in Japan, but I was aware that a lot of the Nisei did feel uncomfortable. They didn't feel that they were part of the Japanese society and they weren't really Americans either. Because the Japanese looked on them as sort of half-Japanese. But I was aware of it because I had Nisei friends over there and I knew a lot of people who had served over there. Quite a few of the Nisei didn't really feel comfortable. They didn't really feel like they fit in. But I never had that problem. I didn't have intimate relationships with most average Japanese there. I wasn't going to their house and playing softball with them, although in our company we used to have softball games and boys' and girls' volleyball. You know, like the Japanese do. But I was never at all uncomfortable there.


Hansen

Let me ask you a tough comparative question. When you were growing up in the northwestern United


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States, did you feel more marginal to the hakujin community there or did you feel more marginal to mainstream Japanese society when you were living in Japan? In other words, in both of those situations, you were something of an outsider. You had questions about whether you were indeed an American when you were being raised in this country. And then you went over to Japan and you must have had questions about whether you were Japanese or not. Which situation, though, did you feel was more marginal for you, the Kent situation or that when you were living in Japan?


Nakagawa

The Kent situation, period. Because there I had an economic problem, too, see? In Japan, I didn't have a lot of friends, but, hey, I didn't have a care in the world. I had money in my pocket; I had a place to sleep. I had a pretty good job. I didn't have a care in the world. That's not the situation I was in when I was in Kent, or even after the war, in Seattle. There was always an economic problem that I was aware of. Money was the least of my problems when I was in Japan.


Hansen

Is it fair to say that, when you were in Japan during that period, you were not only most comfortable with your identity as an American but also most comfortable with your Japanese ancestry, that that was a good period for you because you were able to bring those two identities together? I mean, you were affiliated with the U.S. Army, which left very little doubt as to your identity as an American. But, at the same time, you were participating in a society where, certainly, more people looked like you and had a heritage like yours. Was that, then, a real comfortable period for you because you, in a sense, had the best of both worlds?


Nakagawa

It might have contributed to it. But I think the more important factor was that I was more mature and I just didn't let little things trouble me. I was aware that a lot of the Americans that I worked with thought of me as something a little different. Not in a negative, derogatory sense of something different. I think it's understandable. But those little things didn't bother me.


Hansen

Did you act as any kind of broker for non-Japanese members of the military vis-à-vis Japanese society? Did other servicemen look to you in some instances to be a go-between, either for language or cultural purposes?


Nakagawa

By the time I got there and got settled in Japan, the language barrier was not a serious one. There were so many Japanese who could speak English well and so many Americans who spoke Japanese that my services were not really needed.


Hansen

You're talking about the 1960s period.


Nakagawa

Yes. But even during the 1950s. For example, when I was an American seaman, we used to go into Yokohama. They would have a bunch of [Japanese] yard workers, laborers, come aboard to clean up the ship's engine room and do other menial jobs. You didn't have that in the United States because it was too expensive. But those work gangs, they all had interpreters, you know, so it was not necessary for me to interpret for them.


Hansen

Now, the part of your novel that, in my estimation, would have been the toughest for you to write was not the "A New Life" section but "The Imperial Army" section, because here what you were trying to do was to understand a mentality and a set of structures and even a historical situation, all of which you were not privy to. I mean, you were, to be sure, in the United States Navy, and there was some correspondence between discipline and authority and procedures. But the United States Navy was not the Imperial Army, and the United States Navy after the war was certainly not the Imperial Army during an all-out war. So is it the case that a good portion of this chapter derives from your wide reading, or a combination of wide reading and discussions with people who were either in the Imperial Army or were very privy to that way of life?


Nakagawa

Having been a navy veteran, when I started to write this novel, I had intended to make Jiro a navy officer, a signal officer aboard the Imperial Navy battleship Yamato. But I couldn't find anything about how the Japanese navy trained their people. I knew something about ships but I couldn't find anything about how the Japanese navy operated. So then I decided I'd make him an army man. I had not read a great deal but I had read some about the Japanese army. I had read a book written by Jim Yoshida and [with the assitance


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of] Bill Hosokawa, about Yoshida's life. It was entitled The Two Worlds of Jim Yoshida [New York: Morrow, 1972]. Have you read that book?


Hansen

Yes, I have. In fact, I should say that when I first read your novel, I thought about Jim Yoshida as a person who had a similar situation to that of your protagonist, Jiro Toyota. Like Jiro, he was a football star in the Seattle area.


Nakagawa

I didn't know about Jim Yoshida until the mid-1970s, when I read his book. But there was another book. It was written in tribute to Koji Ariyoshi [Hugh Deane, Remembering Koji Ariyhoshi: An American G I. in Yenan (Los Angeles: U.S.-China Peoples Friendship Association, 1978). Do you know who he is?


Hansen

Yes, I do.


Nakagawa

Now, Koji Ariyoshi [1914-1976] was in the interior of China during World War II. He was a liaison officer with the Communist Chinese army. In reading his book, which wasn't a long one—it was largely pictorial—from the pictures and from the descriptions in that book, I got much of the idea about the background, the Chinese countryside and what it was like. You know, the small-scale skirmishes rather than massive battles that they had in the western war.


Hansen

Koji Ariyoshi was a labor organizer and a communist who spent the last half of 1942 at the Manzanar War Relocation Center. He's from Hawaii originally, but he was interned at Manzanar. Then he went back to Hawaii after the war. I understand that he died just a few years ago.[12]


Nakagawa

Yes, that's right.


Hansen

But Ariyoshi's book, then, allowed you to be able to experience the situation in China through Nisei eyes—Hawaiian-Nisei eyes.


Nakagawa

Yes. And also to get an idea of what was going on in China during the war. But I had also read other things. I don't know. When you're in Japan for a dozen years and you read the Japan Times and the Mainichi Daily News, you pick up a lot of things. Maybe you don't remember where you got it. I had a general idea of how the Japanese army trained. For instance, I mentioned playing this squeaky march music on the phonograph? Well, I had heard that in the Japanese Self-defense Force. They had some Japanese Self-defense Force navy people in [the] Yokosuka and Yokohama areas. I don't remember where it was but I see in my mind these people marching around. They're playing music on this one speaker. You know, the Japanese march music in those days was very brassy—squeaky, kind of. That's where I got the idea. But I didn't do much research for this. Most of it was based on what I had read.


Hansen

Your job was connected, though, with films. Did you see a lot of films that would have helped give you a context and provide some roughage for your descriptions?


Nakagawa

None that I can recall, none at all. We were showing American movies, Western movies, for American G.I.s, and I don't recall that I derived any information or background from what I'd seen in the movies.


Hansen

But I was thinking not just of the movies that you yourself would show. During your later years in Japan was just when they were starting to be able to deal with [the] World War II situation in films, so you would have seen Japanese-made films. I was just wondering if some of those antiwar films that were coming out at that time were ones that you had seen and drawn imagery from for your novel.


Nakagawa

No. I saw very few Japanese movies when I was in Japan. But most of the Japanese war movies that were made in the 1960s and early 1970s, I believe, were very poorly made. I recall one movie called Kiska. The technical effects were absolutely horrid, very bad. Now, I know they do make some good movies. Some, like the ones by [the celebrated Japanese director, Akiro Kurosawa [1910- ], are highly technical, excellent movies. But the Japanese war movies I saw must have been made on a shoestring, for they were very poorly made.



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Hansen

But you did see some.


Nakagawa

I saw a few. When I was in Japan, I went to movies and baseball games and whatever.


Hansen

Had you read [Erich Maria] Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front [1929] as a kid, or not?


Nakagawa

Yes, I did.


Hansen

I thought about that novel some when I was reading your novel, also, because what you had to do, in a sense, was to jump out of your own skin as an American and put yourself into a Japanese frame of mind on perspective, through Jiro, and be able to see yourself as part of another group and not be harsh and ideological against the Japanese army and against the Japanese cause. Had you done so, it probably would have ruptured your novel. It seemed to me as though you had a basis for your equanamity, and I just thought maybe that reading the Remarque novel was what helped you a bit on that.


Nakagawa

I don't think so. not at all. I'd read the novel All Quiet on the Western Front. I'd seen the movie on television, too. I think. But I don't think that influenced me at all or affected me in any way.


Hansen

I had another reason for saying that. A lot of things that affect us do so unconsciously; you really don't know what affects you and what doesn't. But the thing that stuck in my mind was that there seemed to be a similar quality to your novel and Remarque's classic one. Both succeed in showing that, in a world war, everybody is a loser. His novel deals with World War I and yours with World War II, but neither glorifies war. Instead both show the horrific dimensions of war. I recall vividly a scene from All Quiet on the Western Front where one of the German soldiers gets killed, and a comrade of his almost immediately rivets upon the fact that the guy has a brand-new pair of boots that should be used to replace worn-out ones instead of being buried with him. Rather than seeming cold and callous, this scene expresses the brute level to which war reduces human beings.

And your novel succeeds, for me, because it also seems to get down to the question of, really, the ultimate futility of international wars. Without being stridently polemical, "Seki-Nin" nonetheless, in its own way represents a strong indictment of war. It's really, to my mind, an antiwar novel. Now, I don't know if you were trying to write an antiwar novel, but may be you were in a position, because of your Japanese American situation, to appreciate how everybody can be a loser in a war. Here, in a sense, you've got your heritage divided against your nationality at the time of World War II, and what happens is that, as a result of that over 100,000 people are evicted from their homes and incarcerated in concentration camps. The camps established for Japanese Americans only figure in your novel very briefly, but the Evacuation is in there. Even the atomic bombing of Hiroshima comes into your novel, albeit in a very oblique sort of way—and yet it's felt very powerfully by the reader. So two tragedies are lurking in the novel's background: a social policy that violates people's human and civil rights and the dropping of a bomb that kills thousands of innocent people. I think a Japanese American is in a position to be able to understand both of those events very poignantly. Not only would a Japanese American have an intimate knowledge of the Evacuation, but the prefecture that sent the largest number of people to the United States was Hiroshima. So there's more than just the historic connection; there's the emotional connection. So anyway, I thought that All Quiet on the Western Front and other books like that one might have had an impact on you.


Nakagawa

No. I would like to say, though, that I didn't start writing this with the idea of writing an "anti" anything anti-war, anti-discrimination, or anything. My thought was, I just wanted to write about a tragedy that occurred. I think that human beings have a tendency to be affected by tragedies that affect others.


Hansen

I felt that you took pains in writing your novel to avoid heavy-handed moralizing, that you let the story provide the tragedy and allowed readers to draw out its implications. I could almost feel you drawing back from indulging in philosophy, ideology, and polemics. For example, there is the way in which the Evacuation and Hiroshima are insinuated into the novel and yet are never permitted to become obtrusive. They're just there, providing emotional framing for the novel, but they don't really rupture the novel and dominate the story. I think it would have been very easy to bring in a lot more about the Evacuation and


104
the atomic bombing, but I think that what that would have done is to corrupt the novel.


Nakagawa

Well, I don't feel that I'm qualified to write anything scholarly or intellectual. I just wanted to write a simple, tragic tale, that's all. It's a relatively simple story. The ramifications are broad but it's a simple story, a simple tragedy. It's a story about a simple family who suffered the ultimate tragedy, I think.


Hansen

You entitle the last section of your novel "The Unthinkable." When a reader first encounters that title, they think of the A-bomb.


Nakagawa

Maybe so. But not in my case, because I'm always writing about the Tanaka family. "The unthinkable" to them was the loss of their only child, Henry, who was their whole life.


Hansen

But the fact is that the unthinkable for the Tanaka family occurs in March of 1945, and a few months thereafter, in August of 1945, very proximate to where they're living, another "unthinkable" occurs. The word "unthinkable," in the context of what you're depicting, conjures up the Hiroshima bombing. We've been [so] conditioned to the bombing through films and books that it's hard to avoid drawing that connection. As an author, you surely realize that the setting that you're dealing with during this portion of your novel carries with it connotations that go way beyond the Tanaka family.


Nakagawa

Oh, yes.


Hansen

So when you use a term like "unthinkable," dealing with something that occurs to somebody living in Hiroshima in 1945, you could see where the reader might be tempted to feel that this is a double-edged term that you're using. But apparently you weren't intending this effect.


Nakagawa

No. I used the term "the unthinkable" in that part of the book where the family is notified that Jiro had been killed. The epilogue covers the Hiroshima account of the bombing. "The Unthinkable" ends in March 1945 and then the epilogue picks up in August 1945.


Hansen

That's true. Explicitly, it is in your epilogue that the bombing of Hiroshima is mentioned. But what I'm saying is that when a reader like myself sees the title "The Unthinkable," I expect to hear next about the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.


Nakagawa

That's because you're a historian. See, you're much more conscious of these things than the average person. I think you're probably much more conscious of the significance of [the] atomic bomb than I was. Although I know what you're talking about now, that thought didn't enter my mind. The unthinkable, in my mind at that time, would have been the surrender, not the atomic bombing, in the minds of the Japanese. Because, boy, there were Japanese people who weren't going to surrender, period. We could have bombed out every city and they'd have still been fighting with their damn hoe handles.


Hansen

Well, that was even true in the minds of some of the Issei in the camps—they simply couldn't believe that Japan had lost the war. They suspected that news of this result was really American propaganda and that pretty soon the Imperial Japanese Army was going to be marching into whatever the place happened to be—Minidoka or Heart Mountain or whatever other camp.


Nakagawa

I wonder how many people actually believed that. Some might have been paying lip service, but, gee, I wonder how many people actually believed that. I know, from being in Heart Mountain, people were talking; some people were saying that Japan had won the war, after the surrender. But I wonder how many people actually believed that.


Hansen

I don't know. Fantasy and the will to believe are powerful forces, more powerful sometimes than we perhaps realize. When I read about how many Issei were saying this and were saying it stridently, I found it kind of shocking that they would have had that capacity to suspend their disbelief. But war is so full of propaganda, you just never know the truth. If you're listening to shortwave broadcasts and hearing enemy propaganda, you're bound to be mixed up as to what in the heck actually happened. So what do you really


105
believe?

I think that we've covered pretty much everything I hoped that we would, and more, in this portion of our interview. I guess the only thing that I still need to ask you is, in writing the novel, which characters or which sections were the toughest for you to be able to get your mind around and to create? Which caused you the most agony? Which inclined you most to say on a given day, "Hell, I can't get this. I'm going to go down to the beach and look at these gals in bikinis" or whatever else?


Nakagawa

I'm sure it was the first few pages, probably the first ten or fifteen, just getting started. It took me a long time to get rolling.


Hansen

What made you think you could write a novel? You'd never done any creative writing before. How did you get the courage of your convictions to even attempt a novel?


Nakagawa

I was never confident that I could write well enough to get somebody to publish my novel, but I was confident that I had a subject that was worthy of consideration. And then, it was the time. I had ample time, the opportunity. If I were working an honest forty-hour-a-week job, I would never have been able to do this, never. For a long time, I had no more than maybe ten or fifteen hours of honest work per week.


Hansen

A lot of people, when they have leisure time, turn to something other than writing a novel. You must have nurtured some sort of generalized aspirations to be able to create something, to write something. Had you been a wide reader?


Nakagawa

Yes. I used to be an avid reader, but not so much of novels. When I was in Japan at the time that I started writing this, I used to read on a regular basis, probably three or four daily newspapers, three or four weekly magazines. The daily newspapers were the Stars and Stripes, the Japan Times, the Yomiuri, and the Mainichi Daily News.


Hansen

Is the Mainichi Daily News Tokyo-based??


Nakagawa

Yes. And then I would read The Wall Street Journal. I was an avid reader. I read quite a few books, but largely history books. Especially about World War II. Not about the camps; I wasn't reading about that. But I was always interested in World War II history. I was a history buff, I guess. So I did read a lot, but not novels. I never cared too much for literature in high school. But I do recall, when I was a senior in high school, my teacher loved [George Eliot's] Silas Marner [1861], and I can recall vividly that we used to discuss this every day. And, strangely enough, Silas Marner covered approximately the same time span, about thirty-five years or so, [as] what I wrote. So when I started to write this, the first thing I did was I went back and reread Silas Marner. Because I knew I was going to write about [the time period spanning] from the early 1900s to 1945. Silas Marner sort of served as a model, you know, to give me a general idea of how to go about writing my own novel.


Hansen

How did you know how to write dialogue? Did you just study other novels and see how their authors did it?


Nakagawa

No. I guess I just sat down and did it.


Hansen

But even punctuation for dialogue, you had to pick that skill up somewhere.


Nakagawa

Oh, well, I had college English, freshman English, same as everybody else.


Hansen

But you never had a creative writing class.


Nakagawa

No, I never had a creative writing class.


Hansen

I think, then, that this portion of our interview is now over. As I did last time, I'd like to thank you very


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much for sharing all this information with me. Your interview will make a splendid addition to the Japanese American Project of the Oral History Program at California State University, Fullerton. And your novel "Seki-Nin," when it is published, should serve to illuminate the incredible complexity of the Japanese American experience during World War II.


Notes

1. When published in 1989 by the CSUF-OHP Japanese American Project under the title of Seki-Nin (Duty Bound), the novel included an Afterword featuring selected portions of the two 1988 interview sessions with the author represented here in full.

2. In his novel, the author uses the name Toyota to represent the family in question.

3. Sen Katayama (1859-1933) was a founder both of the Communist Party of Japan and the American Communist Party. For an insightful and sympathetic assessment of Katayama's life and activities, including his role in the Japanese American community and American labor politics, see the following two sources by the Japanese American communist activist and writer Karl G. Yoneda: Ganbatte: Sixty-Year Struggle of a Kibei Worker (Los Angeles, Calif.: Asian American Studies Center, University of California, Los Angeles, 1983), passim, and "The Heritage of Sen Katayama," Political Affairs (March 1975). Interviews with Yoneda and his wife, Elaine Black Yoneda, are available in the Japanese American Project of the Oral History Program at California State University, Fullerton; see O.H. 1376a,b and 1377a,b.

4. A 1937 graduate of the University of Washington, Hosokawa was born and educated in Seattle's public schools. Between his college graduation and the onset of the World War II Japanese American Evacuation, he was employed as a journalist on English-language newspapers in Singapore and Shanghai. After being transferred from the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho to the Heart Mountain War Relocation Center in Wyoming, Hosokawa became the editor of that camp's newspaper, the Heart Mountain Sentinel, and a vigorous spokesperson on behalf of the perfervid Americanist ideology and policies of the Japanese American Citizens League. During the war, with the assistance of the War Relocation Authority, he left the Heart Mountain center for residence in Iowa and employment with the Des Moines Register. In 1946, Hosokawa moved to Colorado and became affiliated with the Denver Post (for which he would eventually fill the position of editor of its editorial page). Best known within the Japanese American community for his featured column in the Pacific Citizen, the official newspaper of the Japanese American Citizens League, Hosokawa has authored two notable volumes— Nisei: The Quiet Americans (New York: Morrow, 1969) and JACL in Quest of Justice: The History of the Japanese American Citizens League (New York: Morrow, 1982)—and coauthored still two others: (with Robert A. Wilson) East to America: A History of the Japanese in the United States (New York: Quill, 1982) and (with Mike Masaoka) They Call Me Moses Masaoka: An American Saga (New York: Morrow, 1987).

5. On July 15, 1943 the War Relocation Authority announced the policy of segregating persons who "by their acts have indicated that their loyalties lie with Japan during the present hostilities or that their loyalties do not lie with the United States." Following rehearings for individuals who had answered "NO" or refused to answer a loyalty question during a registration program administered back in February 1942 at all ten WRA centers, the Tule Lake center (which numbered many alleged "disloyals") was tranformed into a segregation center, replete with a manproof fence surrounding it, a battalion of military police guarding it, and six tanks conspicuously assembled proximate to it. Beginning in fall 1943, "loyal" Tuleans were transferred to the other relocation centers, while those deemed "disloyal" in the other facilities, and their families, were sent to Tule Lake to join the more than six thousand "disloyals" retained there. According to Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1982), 208-209, this action meant that "Tule Lake now had a more diverse population than any other center. People had come from all over California, Hawaii, Washington and Oregon. They were disproportionately rural people and unmarried farm laborers. Of 18,422 evacuees at Tule Lake between September 1943 and May 1944, 68 percent were citizens. Most were there because they had requested repatriation or expatriation (39 percent), answered the loyalty questionnaire unsatisfactorily (26 percent) or were family of someone who was segregated (31 percent)."


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6. The contrast between the prewar Bainbridge Island and Terminal Island populations characteristically has been seen in terms of the Washingtonians being very "Americanized" and the Californians (comprised to a large extent of fishing folk from Wakayama Prefecture) being very "Japanized." See, for example, the interview in the CSUF-OHP Japanese American Project with Ikuko Amatatsu Watanabe (O.H. 1363), who discusses in detail the experiences of her family and their Bainbridge Island neighbors at the Manzanar War Relocation Center and the rationale for their post-Manzanar Riot transfer to the Minidoka War Relocation Center.

7. Question 27 on the questionnaire asked draft-age males: "Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?" Alternatively, others were asked if they were willing to join the Army Nurse Corps or the WACs (Women's Army Corps). Question 28, the so-called loyalty question, asked all adults, citizens and aliens alike: Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, or any other foreign government, power or organization?"

8. See, for example, the following studies: Dorothy S. Thomas and Richard Nishimoto, The Spoilage: Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement During World War II (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1946); Rosalie H. Wax, Doing Fieldwork: Warnings and Advice (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), 59-174; Michi Nishiura Weglyn, Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of America's Concentration Camps (New York: Morrow, 1976); Gary Y. Okihiro, "Tule Lake Under Martial Law: A Study of Japanese Resistance," Journal of Ethnic Studies 5 (Fall 1977): 71-85; Donald E. Collins, Native American Aliens: Disloyalty and the Renunciation of Citizenship by Japanese Americans during World War II (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1985), and Richard Drinnon, Keeper of Concentration Camps: Dillon S. Myer and American Racism (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1987). For a fictional treatment of the Tule Lake center based upon the Thomas and Nishimoto volume noted above, see Edward Miyakawa, Tule Lake (Waldport, Ore.: House By the Sea Publishing Co., 1979).

9. See, for example, the documentary film Visible Target released in the late 1980s by Cris Anderson Video Production. Produced by Cris Anderson and John de Graaf, it focused on the heroic role of the Woodwards in 1942.

10. See, in particular, Douglas Nelson, Heart Mountain: The History of an American Concentration Camp (Madison, Wis.: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1976), passim, and Frank Chin, "Come All Ye Asian American Writers of the Real and the Fake," 63-82, in Jeffrey Paul Chan et al., The Big Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Chinese American and Japanese American Literature (New York: Meridian, 1991). For a fictionalized account of the draft resistance movement at the Heart Mountain center, see Gretel Ehrlich's novel Heart Mountain (New York: Viking, 1988).

11. In addition to this film, whose production details and release date could not be ascertained for this volume, see the poignant, award-winning 1990 documentary film by Steven Okazaki centered on the Heart Mountain days of the interned Caucasian artist Estelle Ishigo, Days of Waiting.

12. Shortly before his death, the following biographical sketch of Ariyoshi appeared in Emma Gee, ed., Counterpoint: Perspectives on Asian America (Los Angles: Asian American Studies Center, University of California at Los Angeles, 1976), 589: "Koji Ariyoshi was born and reared on a tenant coffee farm in Kona, Hawaii. His immigrant parents came to Hawaii as plantation contract laborers. He has been a leading labor figure in Hawaii since the 1930s. Mr. Ariyoshi was editor and publisher of the pro-labor Honolulu Record for ten years. He is presently an occasional lecturer at the University of Hawaii in ethnic studies, president of the U.S.-China Peoples Friendship Association of Hawaii, member of the National Steering Committee of the U.S.-China Peoples Friendship Association, and a frequent visitor to the People's Republic of China." See also, in this same volume, the article authored by Ariyoshi, "Plantation Struggles in Hawaii," 380-92.


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Index

  • African Americans, 58, 66, 71 72
  • Agriculture. See Farms and farming
  • Alcoholism, 52-53
  • All Quiet on the Western Front (Remarque), 103
  • Amatatsu family, 69
  • Ariyoshi, Koji, 102, 107n12
  • Army and Air Force Exchange Service, 88, 91
  • Arranged marriages, 45, 53, 69
  • Atomic bomb, 78, 79, 103, 104
  • Auburn, Wash., 68, 70
  • Automobiles, 54
  • Bainbridge Island, Wash., 68-70, 107n6
  • Bainbridge Review, 69
  • Baseball and softball, 55, 57, 100-101
  • Boeing Aircraft Company, 65, 71, 73, 79-80, 81
  • "Bronzeville," Los Angeles, Calif., 66
  • Buddhist church, 52
  • Chicanos, 72
  • China, 102
  • Chinese Americans, 71, 74
  • Contract laborers, 46
  • Deane, Hugh, 102
  • Education. See Schools and schooling
  • Eliot, George, 105
  • Exile Within (James), 62
  • Fair Play Committee, 87
  • Farms and farming, 47-48, 50, 51, 55, 68, 69
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), 52
  • Filipinos, 70, 71, 74
  • Films. See Movies
  • Football, 100
  • Gambling, 52
  • Gangs, 60, 65, 72
  • Gardena, Calif., 88
  • G.I. Bill, 80
  • Hannon, Mrs., 61, 62, 64
  • Hawaii, 46, 47, 88
  • Heart Mountain War Relocation Center, 54, 62, 63, 66, 87-88
  • Hiroshima, Japan, 45, 78-79, 84, 103
  • Hosokawa, Bill, 102, 106n4
  • Ibaramura, Japan, 45, 46, 78, 83, 84, 85, 98-99
  • Issei
    • citizenship of, 66
    • immigration goals, 95
    • language facility, 51-52
    • Pacific War, opinion of, 104-105
  • James, Thomas, 62
  • Japan
  • Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), 62
  • Japanese American Evacuation. See also names of relocation centers
    • Caucasian response to, 70
    • and education, 62, 65
    • and families, 54
    • impact of, 53-54
    • Japanese American response to, 57
    • population distribution, 54, 56, 58
    • preparation for, 56
    • registration crisis during, 59, 68, 69, 87, 106n5, 107n7
    • research and writing about, 65, 66
    • resettlement, 66-71
    • travel to centers, 58
  • "Japanese American Internees Return, 1945" (Kashima), 66-67
  • "Japanese American Relocation Camp Colonization and Resistance to Resettlement" (Speier), 66
  • Japanese Americans. See also geogenerational groups, e.g. Issei
  • Japanese language, 49, 51-52, 56, 74, 84
  • Japanese schools, 50, 77
  • Jennings, Ted, 62, 63-64
  • Katayama, Sen, 106n3
  • Katayama, Yoshio Nakagawa, 69
  • Katayama Hall, 50
  • Kashima, Tetsuden, 66-67
  • Kearsarge, USS, 73
  • Kent, Washington, 47, 48, 49-50, 55, 67, 68, 70
  • Kenworth Truck, 65
  • Kibei, See also Nisei 55, 86, 100
  • Kiska, 102-103
  • Korean War, 46, 71, 73-75
  • Korean Americans, 71, 74
  • Kurosawa, Akiro, 103
  • Leave Clearance Policy, 59-60
  • "Little Tokyo," Los Angeles, Calif., 66
  • Loyalty Oath, 59, 60, 64-65, 106n5, 107n7
  • Manzanar War Relocation Center, 54, 58, 69, 102
  • Maui, Hawaii, 46, 47
  • Merchant seamen, 46
  • Minidoka War Relocation Center, 54, 96
  • Miramar Air Station, Calif., 73, 74
  • Miyamoto, Shotaro Frank, 99-100
  • Movies, 102-103
  • Nakagawa, Ben, 58, 65, 66
  • Nakagawa, Genichi
  • Nakagawa, George
  • Nakagawa, Giro, 74, 56, 57
  • Nakagawa, Henry, 65, 66, 75, 87,
  • Nakagawa, Itsuki, 51, 56
  • Nakagawa, Itsuyo Yamasaki
  • Nakagawa, Kaz, 56, 75, 93
  • Nakagawa, Masako, 51

  • 111
  • Nakagawa, Mitsuo, 69
  • Nakagawa, Sam, 74
  • Nakagawa, Setsuko, 66
  • Nakagawa, Toshiko, 51, 57, 59-60, 67
  • Native Americans, 70, 71
  • Naval Reserve, 73
  • Navy, U.S., 73, 74, 101
  • Nisei
    • economic opportunities, 65
    • in Japan, 86-87
    • Japanese values of, 97
    • language facility, 49, 53, 56
    • in military, 72, 73, 74
    • national identity, 96, 100-101
    • repatriation of, 87, 95-96
    • social life, 50
    • as students, 81
  • Nisei Daughter (Sone), 99
  • No-No Boy (Okada), 99
  • "No-No boys," See also Loyalty Oath 87, 99
  • Okada, John, 99
  • Omura, James Matsumoto, 69
  • Oriental Exclusion Law, 51
  • Pacific Citizen, 62, 63
  • Pacific Motion Picture Service, 86, 88, 89
  • Pearl Harbor bombing, 56
  • Phipps, Mr., 49
  • Pinedale Assembly Center, 54, 56-58, 59, 60
  • Port Townsend, Wash., 47
  • Puyallup Assembly Center, 54
  • Remarque, Erich Maria, 103
  • Remembering Koji Ariyoshi (Deane), 102
  • Roberts, Kathy Katayama, 69
  • Rudolph, Mrs., 64
  • Sakatani, "Bacon," 87
  • Sawmills, 47, 48
  • Schools and schooling, 49-50, 61, 62-64, 65, 67, 71, 89
  • Seattle, Wash., 54-55, 99
  • "Seki-Nin" (Nakagawa)
  • Shiratsuki, Miss, 63
  • Silas Marner (Eliot), 105
  • Social Security, 67
  • Social Solidarity among the Japanese in Seattle (Miyamoto), 99-100
  • Softball. See Baseball and softball
  • Sone, Monica, 99
  • Speier, Matthew Richard, 66
  • Tanaka, Henry [pseud.]. 48, 93, 94, 95, 97, 104
  • Tanaka family [pseud.] 75, 77, 89-90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 98, 100, 104
  • Terminal Island, Calif., 107n6
  • Tule Lake War Relocation Center
  • Tule Lake Relocation/Segregation Center, Newell, California, 65
  • Two Worlds of Jim Yoshida, The (Yoshida), 102
  • University of Washington, 80, 81
  • Venereal disease, 46
  • War Relocation Authority (WRA), 59, 62, 106n5
  • Watanabe, Ikuko Amatatsu, 69
  • White River Valley, Wash., 68, 70
  • Woodward, Millie, 69
  • Woodward, Walt, 69
  • Yoshida, Jim, 102

An Interview with
Togo W. Tanaka
Conducted by Betty E. Mitson and David A. Hacker
on May 19, 1973
for the
California State University, Fullerton
Oral History Program
Japanese American Project

Nisei Experience / Japanese American Evacuation / Manzanar War Relocation Center
O.H. 1271a

©1994
The Oral History Program, California State University, Fullerton

Use Restrictions

This is a slightly edited transcription of an interview conducted for the Oral History Program, sponsored by California State University, Fullerton. The reader should be aware that an oral history document portrays information as recalled by the interviewee. Because of the spontaneous nature of this kind of document, it may contain statements and impressions which are not factual

Scholars are welcome to utilize short excerpts from any of the transcriptions without obtaining permission as long as proper credit is given to the interviewee, the interviewer, and the University. Scholars must, however, obtain permission from California State University, Fullerton before making more extensive use of the transcription and related materials. None of these materials may be duplicated or reproduced by any party without permission from the Oral History Program, California State University, Fullerton, Fullerton, California, 92834-6846.


115

Interview

  • Interviewee:
  •     Togo W. Tanaka
  • Interviewer:
  •     Betty E. Mitson and David A. Hacker
  • Subject:
  •     Nisei Experience / Japanese American Evacuation / Manzanar War Relocation Center
  • Date:
  •     May 19, 1973
Mitson

This is an interview with Mr. Togo W. Tanaka at his office at 1001 South Victoria, Los Angeles, [California], for the California State University, Fullerton, Japanese American Oral History Project. The interviewers are Betty E. Mitson and David A. Hacker. The date is May 19, 1973, at 10:00 a.m.

Mr. Tanaka, where and when were you born?


Tanaka

I was born in Portland, Oregon, on January 7, 1916—or I think I was. (laughter) My parents didn't register me when I was born, they didn't get me a birth certificate until I was ready to go to school, so this is why it is approximate.


Mitson

Do you know why they didn't register you?


Tanaka

Well, the birth took place at home with a midwife, and I guess they just weren't familiar with what the requirements were. It wasn't at a hospital. I had some difficulty in getting into elementary school, because they couldn't establish my age since I had no birth certificate. So my mother guessed at it, and in view of the fact that I had an older sister and a younger brother, they established it as January 7, 1916.


Mitson

And they had birth certificates?


Tanaka

Well, it was... I received a certified copy. Apparently my sister did have; I guess they were born when my parents had slightly different circumstances, so they did get it. I guess in my case they forgot it, so they didn't get it until I was ready to go to school.


Mitson

You weren't the first born, you say?


Tanaka

No, I was next to the last. There were six of us, and I was number five.


Mitson

Would you like to provide their names?


Tanaka

Well, I never met my oldest brother, Heihachi—he died in Japan. My oldest living brother is Minji. And I have two sisters, Ayako and Fumi, both married. I came next, and then I have a younger brother, Koto,[1] who was the last in the family.


Mitson

Were they all born in that same area?



116
Tanaka

No, the oldest was born in Japan, and the rest of us were born in the United States. My younger brother was born in Los Angeles, [California], so we were spread from Japan to Portland to Los Angeles.


Mitson

Did your parents ever discuss why they came to this country with you?


Tanaka

Yes. My father came here first, and I think he came over to make some money and then planned to return. He came over here by himself and had been unsuccessful, so after six or seven years my mother came here. Neither one ever got back to Japan. This would be the reason that I can think of, but I really don't know for sure.


Mitson

Do you know what year your father came over to the United States and whether or not it was with a labor gang?


Tanaka

No, I don't believe it was. I think he came just to find employment. He didn't come with any group. I don't know what year; I'd have to check back.


Mitson

Do you have any idea when your parents were married?


Tanaka

Yes, they were married in Japan. He was nineteen, and I believe she was eighteen.


Mitson

What year would that be, do you know?


Tanaka

Let me see. My father died in 1953 at the age of seventy-eight, so I would have to work it backwards, and my mother died at the age of seventy-eight in 1955—she died in Chicago, [Illinois]—so it would be in the latter part of the last century.


Mitson

Well, you weren't born until 1916, so they would have been married a good many years when you were born.


Tanaka

Oh, yes. Yes, they were. My father was about forty.


Mitson

Do you know what kind of work he got when he first came?


Tanaka

He did everything. That is, he worked as a farmhand, I think, and on the railroads. When my mother came over, then he and my mother were domestic servants in a large household in Portland.


Mitson

They worked together as a team?


Tanaka

Yes, they did.


Mitson

Was their port of entry Vancouver, [British Columbia, Canada]?


Tanaka

You know, I don't know that. I wouldn't be surprised if it were. It might have been Seattle, [Washington].


Mitson

Do you know how they happened to come down to southern California?


Tanaka

My father didn't care for domestic work, and I think he wanted something that would allow him to better his circumstances. So they came down here. And he wanted to—at my mother's urging—go into some kind of business. I think that's why.


Mitson

Were you old enough to remember that?


Tanaka

No, I was three months old when they moved down here from Portland. So that goes back a bit.


Mitson

I should say. You don't know, then, if he had work waiting for him when he came?



117
Tanaka

Oh, I'm sure he didn't. They just came down here.


Mitson

Did he go into farming work at that time?


Tanaka

No. As with most Japanese who moved into the city at that time, he was told that if he had any proficiency in gardening he could get jobs there. And this is what he started to do. They found a house here in Hollywood [Los Angeles County], and he went to work.


Mitson

Do you know if there was any financial assistance for him from the folks in Japan until he got established here?


Tanaka

None at all, absolutely none. He said it was largely... Apparently one of the reasons for their not having saved much money was that they were constantly sending it back to Japan. It seems to me that they came down here virtually penniless with just enough to feed themselves for about a week and to find a place. He immediately went to work and found a job. There was no commitment in advance or any assurance that he would find anything, excepting friends had told him that it wouldn't be difficult if he would get out and hustle. And this is what he did.


Mitson

Do you know if your parents stayed with friends for awhile when they first came?


Tanaka

No, I don't know that. But I would assume that they probably did.


Mitson

In his family in Japan, what brother was your father?


Tanaka

He was the oldest son. And this is rather unusual. Usually it was the younger one or someone down the line who emigrated, but he was the oldest son. He was expected to come over here, I presume, and make a small fortune and return. And I think this, too, is one reason why anything that he might have earned and saved here immediately went back there. He felt he had a responsibility to his brothers and sisters and family in Japan.


Mitson

Do you know how many brothers and sisters there were?


Tanaka

There were too many! (laughter) I think my mother had a resentment of them, so we never felt particularly close. I mean, she saw in them, you know, a competing second family in that whatever she might be able to put aside here soon disappeared and went back to Japan. I think she never really had any desire to return to Japan. He did.


Mitson

Do you think that he desired to return to establish residence there again?


Tanaka

Yes, I think he wanted to return to Japan, but somehow never could. The family had increased, and all this time my older brother Minji had been left in Japan. So there were just four of us over here and he was in Japan. I think the intention was one day to return. But they were unable to achieve any kind of economic security over here because the money went back there. So eventually they brought my older brother here. At age sixteen he came to this country, quite a total stranger to his parents, of course.


Mitson

Do you know how old your brother was when they left him originally?


Tanaka

Well, he must have been about... I think my father hadn't really seen him, or maybe he was an infant when he left. And my mother left him when he was six years old. So he was raised through his very crucial years by relatives with whom he had no particular love relationship. My older brother and I are very close. He lives in Winnetka, Illinois. He had great difficulties adjusting to family life, and I think he had a natural resentment for having been, what he regarded as, abandoned. It was a difficult time for him.


Mitson

In what area did your father's family live in Japan? Was it an agricultural area?



118
Tanaka

Yes. It was in Yamaguchi Prefecture, and this is... Gee, I don't know how to describe it. It would be the southwestern part of the main island [Honshu]. It's next to Hiroshima.

You know, it's very interesting. My oldest daughter [Jeanine] has gone to Japan—and this is interesting. She was the only one [of my children] who [during World War II] was [interned] at Manzanar [War Relocation Center in eastern California]. She was a child then, an infant. Just before the interview began, we were talking about the Sansei [third-generation Japanese Americans] and whether or not they were interested in their racial and cultural roots in Japan. All three of our children have spent time in Japan. Jeanine spoke not one single word of Japanese until she was in college. She started out here at UCLA [University of California, Los Angeles], and then decided it was too large and impersonal, so she asked if she might go to Europe. She spent three and a half months in Europe and wanted to study in Switzerland, but we persuaded her to come back. She attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. They have a work and study program, so she decided she'd like to do some work, first in Black Studies. She volunteered for some work in the ghettos of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. But somehow she got interested in the Midwest where there are Japanese and began taking conversational studies at Earlham College in [Richmond], Indiana. She would go on a Saturday by bus, you know, from Dayton, [Ohio], all the way to Earlham, and learn conversational Japanese.

Once, while doing some work at a Jewish community center in Skokie, Illinois, teaching the little girls how to cook gefilte fish (laughter), she decided she was going to Japan. There's a Christian center in the mountains above Tokyo called Kiyosato. She volunteered to work in their hospital. She had never before indicated an interest. It was like a work camp or a peace corps in Japan. From there she attended Sophia University. It's a Catholic school in Tokyo. And then [she] went to International Christian University [ICU], which is just outside of Tokyo at a place called Mitaka. She took her bachelor's at ICU. It's funny, see, she became bilingual. And here she was, writing letters in difficult Kanji Japanese to her grandparents, which neither her mother nor I could read. (laughter) She became a real nut on genealogy and tracing the history of our family. So, you know, you ask me; I don't know. I don't even know how many brothers and sisters my father had. But I'm sure Jeanine knows it all. She's gone back to the ancestral community, and she knows the origins of the family as far back as it can be traced. She was doing social work in Tokyo, and she came back here and took a master's degree in Social Welfare at UCLA. Then I tried to persuade her to take a job with the state or the county here, doing casework, because this has been her interest. She did some very fine work out at Camarillo State Hospital [in Ventura County], and she did some right after the Watts Riot [in 1965] here [in southcentral Los Angeles]. She had worked in Watts as a caseworker for the county. But she took an assignment from the Interchurch Board, which I think has some Methodist underwriting, and became a social worker in an orphanage in Tokyo. It's called Ikuseien. She had a three-year assignment there. She finished it, and she flew home to spend Christmas and New Year's with the family. We tried to persuade her to come back here. When her assignment was finished, she went to work for a publishing company back there, the John Weatherall Company, but found it was too confining and didn't interest her, so she's teaching at Aoyama Gakuin over there, teaching English. We don't know. Now, she's the only one in the family who suddenly got the idea she wanted to know about Japan. And she's quite... I think she's kind of racist in reverse, you know.

I think her sister [Christine], our second daughter, went over to Japan almost at the same time. She started also at UCLA, then went to [the University of California at] Santa Barbara. Our children were kind of like gypsies. Then our second daughter went to UC [University of California] Berkeley. You know, you mentioned your son [Brian Mitson] thinking maybe he'd like a little change of pace from school. Well, our second daughter, in the middle of her studies at Berkeley, decided she'd rather get a job. So she went to Chicago and got a job selling sweaters in the men's department at Marshall Fields [department store]. She said it was very educational. But ultimately she wanted to become an M.D. [medical doctor], she said. We didn't see how she could quite do that, but she wound up in Japan and she did the same thing that her sister did, but it didn't interest her. Instead of learning how to speak Japanese, she became very proficient in French. She has run through one marriage. She married a young Frenchman from Paris, but it didn't work out. They were divorced after two years. Then she went back to school and was a candidate for a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. And she was accepted at the University of Michigan [in Ann Arbor, Michigan]. She was going to go there two years ago, but she met a young man here at UCLA, a professor


119
in engineering, so they married and she stopped her studies. But her interest in Japan and Japanese is very peripheral, whereas her sister's is quite extreme. I often wondered whether, because the older one was at Manzanar and this one was born in Chicago, whether it had anything to do with it.

Our son [Wesley] is just twenty-two. He took his degree at UCLA, and he's married. He was going to continue graduate studies at either the University of Colorado [in Boulder, Colorado] or the University of Washington [in Seattle, Washington], or San Francisco State [University in San Francisco, California] in physiological psychology. I've got him working for me right now. (laughter) He took a real estate license. He's very good. I mean, if he weren't my son, I'd still feel that he'd be somebody we'd try to keep, you see. He spent three months in Japan when he was about fourteen. We sent him over on a Boy Scout tour, and he didn't know any Japanese. He spent three and a half months, I think, going all over the country by himself with no knowledge of Japanese. He enjoyed it, but as far as he's concerned, Japan is just another foreign country.

We meet with my children's grandparents quite often, but the conversation is in English because my son can't communicate in Japanese. But while my other two children are not as interested as Jeanine in Japan, they very definitely are interested in its history. We share the publications we get with them. There are ceramic art shows here at the County Museum. They go there. They go to see Japanese movies. My son is married to a young lady who is from Pennsylvania. Her father is the ombudsman out at UCLA. I think her antecedents are Dutch—Hartsock.

When I think back, excepting for the fact that I was in a job that involved my having to know things that were Japanese, I think the Nisei [second-generation Japanese Americans] weren't nearly so much interested in Japanese culture and things about Japan as the Sansei generally are. This is my own observation.


Mitson

Is this young lady, your son's wife, the one who works in your office?


Tanaka

No, my son works for me.


Mitson

You mentioned in your [April 3, 1973] lecture at [the University of California at] Irvine [in a lecture series on the World War II Japanese American Evacuation][2] that you were hoping to keep the services of a young lady.


Tanaka

No, no, that was my daughter Christine!


Mitson

Your daughter is working in your office?


Tanaka

I was largely in publishing for many years, and we still do some. We publish for clients, you know. They just subsidize publications. I have one client that we've had for nearly seventeen years, the California Federal Savings and Loan Association. There's a certain amount of production and coordinating work that has to be done, and my daughter Christine is very good at it. As a matter of fact, I used to have her work with clients like Dillingham Land Corporation and Tishman Realty and Construction Company and Great Western Financial Corporation. I had difficulty keeping her because they'd keep offering her jobs and paying her more than we were willing to. But she's married now, of course, and she's a housewife, and I get her part-time to just handle the publications. She does most of it from home.


Mitson

Oh, I see.


Tanaka

But I have a problem keeping her help. (laughter)


Mitson

You mentioned grandparents. Were you speaking of your wife's parents?


Tanaka

Yes.



120
Mitson

Is your wife [Jean Takamura Tanaka] a Nisei, also?


Tanaka

Yes, she is. She was born here in Los Angeles.


Mitson

Your daughter who is in Japan, is she married?


Tanaka

No, she's not. It's very interesting. She [Jeanine] was on the verge of getting married. I don't think she intends to, but she was dating a young man here before she went to Japan. He was an engineering graduate of Purdue University, and he was of Polish descent—a young man named Nick Kurek. We liked him very much; my wife did and her mother did. But I think when Jeanine began to feel that she was being cornered, then she took off for Antioch. We were then subsequently invited to Nick's wedding to another girl. (laughter) And we hear from him quite regularly. Then she came back from Antioch briefly, and she was dating a young man. I can't even remember his name. He was of Swedish extraction. And they were quite serious. He had proposed, and she indicated that she had other worlds to conquer. So she went off to Tokyo. He followed and went to work for a publishing company. But nothing ever came of it. He married another Japanese girl over there. It's interesting. We correspond a good deal, and Jeanine keeps sending us pictures of young men that she thinks she's going to marry. Then after about the seventh, eighth, ninth, or tenth one, you figure this is all one great big joke, and we tell her so. It's interesting that her requirements are that he be of the Japanese race.


Mitson

Now that wasn't her requirement in earlier years, was it?


Tanaka

Well, I don't really know because she never married the young men, you see.


Mitson

You're not sure.


Tanaka

My wife and I keep saying, "Well, she's out of her mind. She doesn't understand." She thinks she's native Japanese. In Japan, it's extremely unlikely, I think that... My impression is that first it's an accepted thing that people in Japan who are so—what is it?—conscious of stations in life, and the daughter of someone who is an immigrant abroad just simply isn't regarded as first-class. She feels that she's sufficiently native Japanese that she can be comfortable and at home. And we know that she can't. Because she still likes the physical comforts, the standard of living that she is accustomed to here. In Japan, it's expensive to live, and there's quite a broad range of stations. But she keeps telling us she's met someone, and we think that for her to marry someone who was raised in Japan, a male, you know, this is disaster. We share this feeling with everybody. But she thinks that she can be the exception.


Mitson

How many years has she been over there now?


Tanaka

Well, she went over originally in 1962. That makes it eleven years. But she was back here for two years. She comes back periodically.


Mitson

Do you think maybe the fact that she has worked in special areas where she might not be mingling with the local people as much as she would in other kinds of work might isolate her? In other words, do you feel that perhaps she's not really getting a clear picture, even though she's been there so many years?


Tanaka

That's possible, yes. Yes, I think so, although I really haven't been able to quite figure this one out, you know. (laughter) She has many friends, many friends. And I think generally they concur that, if she's going to find a husband, she really ought to come back to the United States. Her sister feels that way, but, you know, she has to do her thing and find it out for herself. She's competent in what she does and she's quite mature, I think, in those areas that she has trained herself in, but I think that only in this other matter she's very immature. You know, we don't develop equally in all areas.


Mitson

So then is it three children you have?


Tanaka

Three, yes. Two daughters and a son. And now we're just left alone with the parrot, just the two of us.


121
(laughter) So we're traveling.


Mitson

In interviewing people[Japanese American], I come across instances quite often of parents who were forced to come into the country illegally. Of course, it would depend on the period. Do you happen to know if that was the case with your father, if he had to come that way?


Tanaka

No, my father didn't. My son-in-law's father did. He tells me how he had to jump ship and then ran for years and years and years, always figuring he was two steps ahead of the law. He's a fascinating man.


Mitson

Is he still living?


Tanaka

Yes.


Mitson

Does he speak English?


Tanaka

Yes, very well. He's an extremely interesting person. He's a mushroom farmer just south of San Francisco in a place called San Martin, California. He's a man who had served in the Imperial Japanese Army in Manchuria, and he was describing some of his personal experiences, you know, the incredible physical hardships. That prepared him for anything! Absolutely anything!


Mitson

When you say he jumped ship, was that a case where he came up through Mexico, do you know?


Tanaka

You know, I really—I'm trying to remember whether he came up through Mexico or just jumped off of some ship in one of the ports. But I was so entranced by his description of all the things he had gone through.


Mitson

When they jumped ship, do you suppose he had to actually dive overboard?


Tanaka

I would think so. He had to swim or climb aboard. That's how I think of jumping ship. Because you can't come through the normal way; you'd get blocked. There were many who did that. As a matter of fact, I think one of the things I used to hear about when I was editing the Rafu Shimpo [Los Angeles Daily Japanese News] was that within the Little Tokyo community [of Los Angeles]—it was one of the unfortunate things that people said—was the insecurity and the feeling that even though legally they were supposed to be permanent residents that some families, you know, had got started in this way and so they felt extremely...


Mitson

Insecure?


Tanaka

Yes, right.


Mitson

I'm interested in this point, because one lady I interviewed pointed out to me that her father was always very anxious to do anything authorities asked him to do, even after the war, up until the time he died, because he was afraid, due to this fact that he had come in illegally.


Tanaka

Yes.


Mitson

And I'm interested in your opinion about that factor as it relates to the [Japanese American] Evacuation, because it isn't mentioned in books, to my knowledge. Do you feel that was a partial factor in compliance with orders to evacuate?


Tanaka

Yes, I don't think there's any question about it. The only thing is to what degree, because no one ever counted noses and said that there were so many of them and what percentage. I used to wonder. I remember once at Salt Lake City, [Utah], Morton Grodzins[3] and I were discussing this. We shared a room when the University of California [Evacuation and Resettlement Study][4] had a meeting there. Morton had done a lot of interviewing, you know, in the camps and all; and he said to me once, "Do you know, just making a guess, I think maybe 5 percent." He said, "I have nothing to go on, except my own reactions to conversations." Because he was doing—well, he wasn't taping his oral histories—but he was interviewing


122
many, many people. And he said, "I think 5 percent of the Issei [immigrant-generation Japanese Americans] men who came over here [to the United States] were illegal entries, possibly." And surely that would have a great deal to do with... You know, their children and their friends all felt, "Well, my gosh, we don't even have a legal basis to be here in the first place." I think it very definitely was a factor. You know, before World War II, if a Japanese was involved in an automobile accident or if he was involved with the police—I mean there was no question—he caved in immediately, whatever they wanted him to do. He knew he didn't have an equal break in the courts of law. And I think this did have a great deal... I remember once at a session when... Let's see, I think [Shotaro] Frank Miyamoto, who was heading the University of California staff [in Chicago]... We used to meet in the basement of Harper Hall at the University of Chicago, and there was Frank, and Charlie Kikuchi, who had done some tremendous diaries and interviews, and then [Tamotsu] Tom Shibutani, and who else was it?[5] There were several people from the University of Chicago staff. We were discussing just this thing: to what extent illegal entrants constituted the total population. They definitely were a factor. And you're right. It was something that wasn't discussed, because, one, the legal position was so tenuous that how in the world... And then to some extent, among the Japanese, if there were any difficulties, one among the other, you heard that this could be kind of a blackmail weapon against some people. It was a rather unhappy situation until it could be cleared up and everybody could be certified that, you know, you belong here and you can stay here. I think it was a factor.


Mitson

I think the fact that if people had resisted going into camps, they faced the possibility of those who had come illegally being deported immediately, then that would have left the families just with the current generation.


Tanaka

That's right.


Mitson

And the current generation averaged twenty years of age or younger, so that would have meant...


Tanaka

Oh, in many cases families would be children in preschool and grade school and teens. I think they would be more in that category than those who were old enough to fend for themselves.


Mitson

So that even, say, a family whose parents might have come in legally, they would probably have the welfare of their friends in mind, whose parents came in illegally.


Tanaka

Oh, yes!


Mitson

It would not only have influenced the family that had that circumstance, but do you think it would have influenced other families as well?


Tanaka

Well, I think so. Frank Miyamoto used this expression that, I guess, is sociological, and that was "in-group solidarity." In the Japanese communities on the West Coast, whether it was Little Tokyo [in Los Angeles] or San Francisco or Seattle, or the farming communities, there was a close-knit feeling among the Japanese residents, simply because the non-Japanese world outside was, you know, inclined to be either hostile or threatening. You needed to close ranks and to protect one another. So what was good for you was good for all. Now I think this general feeling prevailed a great deal more than in most communities that make up our population.


Mitson

I also want to touch a little bit on the fact that at that stage, for the most part, the Issei were the leaders of the community, were they not?


Tanaka

Oh, yes. No question. Yes, they were.


Mitson

You happened to be rather in a leadership position, but you were an exception rather than the rule, weren't you?


Tanaka

Yes, well, but I was not in a leadership position, as subsequent events turned out. I don't think any of the Nisei were, in a true sense, you know, either accepted or qualified to lead this population. One, because


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the Issei were really men in their prime. I mean, they were still in their thirties, forties, fifties, and the old ones were in their sixties. The older Nisei, you know, were still in their early twenties, or perhaps some of the oldest of the Nisei were in their early thirties, but by and large this was a teenage group. The Nisei were called upon to perform certain functions, and largely they were a liaison between the community, as it was constituted, and the authorities in the outside larger public. To attempt to really lead, so that you had a following, proved disastrous. And this is what happened in the camps. This is how the rioting occurred.


Mitson

So would you characterize your role just prior to the war as more of a liaison person in the sense that you were in a situation of dealing with American authorities?


Tanaka

Yes.


Mitson

Because the leadership in the community was not really in a position to do that?


Tanaka

Well, let me tell you very specifically, as I look back and analyze, what we did. I was English-language editor of the Rafu Shimpo. That was my primary job. I was one of two editors; Louise Suski, who had preceded me by ten years, was the other editor. When [the attack on] Pearl Harbor [naval base in Honolulu, Hawaii] came [on December 7, 1941], I went to jail; H. T. Komai, the publisher, went to jail; and all the other people who were running that publication were arrested and held in custody. I came out after a certain number of days and suddenly was asked to be the editor, not just of the English section, but of the entire publication. I accepted, simply because...


Mitson

Excuse me. Asked by whom?


Tanaka

By the son of the publisher [Akira Komai] because, in terms of the financial control, he now had succeeded his father, you see. And I was to run that. Well, as I look back, I remember it was really a ceretaker job until we got closed up, because I came out of custody in mid-December, or late December, and we were closed up, as I recall, at the end of March [1942]. So I had several months in which, theoretically, Akira Komai, the son of the publisher, and I were to run that. Well, I can't even read Japanese! (laughter) You apply that circumstance. How in the world, see, was I going to lead this thing? You're not a substitute. You think you are. But we were called upon in this period to kind of negotiate with those authorities who were in a position to change our lives, and we did. And often we gave the answers which really were hardly satisfactory; and even if we gave the answers that we thought were right, did they really reflect the feeling and the genuine support of the people we were supposed to be representing? And I think this is what happened at Manzanar, too. By the time we were evacuated to Manzanar, I had a feeling that was kind of ridiculous, because the so-called leadership—and I think—I identified myself in those days with the Japanese American Citizens League [JACL]...


Mitson

Were you an actual member?


Tanaka

Yes, I was. I had a national office. I was supposed to be in charge of their program of publicity at that time, and I had a small budget. We were running it from the newspaper. And we were trying to get favorable publication of articles and letters, et cetera, in all the California newspapers. We thought this was one way which, with the written word, we could communicate what our position was. But it was an impossible situation, because if you're going to lead something, you've got to have a constituency. And we had not earned it, we had inherited it in a situation where there was a great deal of fear and uneasiness and mistrust and suspicion. This is, I think, what happened, so that when the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] and the Naval Intelligence and all the other groups came in and took the leadership of this community, you know, and put them into camps, then we really didn't have a base from which you could organize any resistance or anything. You just simply had people who were fearful, uncertain, and didn't even know their legal rights. So I think this is what happened.


Mitson

So the power base was taken away.



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Tanaka

Completely.


Mitson

The ones the people would normally look up to for advice were gone.


Tanaka

That's right.


Mitson

I'm going to mention, for the purpose of the tape, that we are skipping a considerable portion of your life and the prewar period, and I'm hoping someday we can go further into that. But for the purpose of time today, we'll go on to the Manzanar period and find out what you can tell us about that. These questions I'm going to give you are rather basic ones, and you did address yourself to them in your recent lecture at the University of California, Irvine, to a great extent, but maybe you can now elaborate upon them. Just consider them as sort of takeoff points and don't necessarily confine yourself to the question. You mentioned in your lecture that you went to Manzanar rather than Santa Anita [Assembly Center in Arcadia, California] through choice. I was wondering, what were the circumstances of that choice, since most people weren't able to choose where they could be evacuated.


Tanaka

Well, that's correct. I think people were told to be ready, and they would go according to where they lived. But in the period between Pearl Harbor and the evacuation, I had the opportunity in representing the newspaper [ Rafu Shimpo ] to visit the Santa Anita Assembly Center and the Pomona Assembly Center [at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona, California], as I recall. We were told that if we were to avail ourselves of the opportunity early to uproot ourselves and go, we might go to Santa Anita, because from there we would have a chance to be shipped inland. So the choice was an option early. But we elected to wait until the very end because we thought maybe they [the United States government] wouldn't do it [go through with the evacuation action].


Mitson

Was your visit to the Santa Anita center before it was actually occupied?


Tanaka

Yes. It was being made ready for occupation.


Mitson

Oh. Did the others have that opportunity?


Tanaka

No, not very many. We were on a so-called committee. There was a gentleman named Carl Cover, as I remember, who was an executive at Douglas Aircraft, and a young man named Frank Yamaguchi who was employed at Douglas. He was one of the few Nisei at that time getting jobs outside the [Japanese American] community; that was unusual. Frank was a member of a small committee that the newspapermen had gathered together. We were seeking alternative means by which groups of us might go out to inland areas away from the Western Defense Command and develop wartime self-supporting communities. Mr. Cover had indicated that he would enlist some people to help us, so we were meeting at his home in Santa Monica. This was one of the efforts that we made. And then, as I remember, this man, Isamu Noguchi,[6] had organized a group, and we met with him. He said that he could find properties in Arizona where, by getting people who had certain skills and organizing a community, we might go there. There must have been perhaps a dozen other such proposals from different people, and in the rather desperate and urgent effort to try to find ways by which we could avoid going into government camps, I think a visit to Santa Anita came about. All of these were great plans. Joe Masaoka came up with half a dozen very interesting things. As I remember, we would have wound up in Utah. Then I recall Joe Shinoda, who was a member of the editorial advisory board of the Rafu Shimpo, was very vocal about how stupid the whole thing was. He was going to fight it, and he would never go to a relocation camp. He never did. He took his family and flew to Colorado. Joe was one of the more affluent Japanese Americans. He had a very successful multimillion dollar business, and he grew San Lorenzo roses in nurseries. He had a fleet of trucks operating up and down the West Coast. He just simply felt that the whole thing was wrong and should be resisted to the very end. He had some plans that he came up with. But in the final analysis, we were unable to do much, so we just went to camp.


Mitson

Would you identify Joe Masaoka?



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Tanaka

Yes. Joe Grant Masaoka, at that time, in prewar days, operated a successful fruit and vegetable market in the West Los Angeles area with, I think, three of his brothers—Ben and Ike and, I believe, Hank. I don't know whether his brother Tad was old enough. In any event, his business was in the produce industry, but he was very active in the Japanese American Citizens League. The JACL had what they called the Southern District Council, and I believe Joe was chairman of that council on several occasions. After the evacuation, Joe and I were at Manzanar. Then we went to apply for jobs as reporters for the Manzanar Free Press [the official camp newspaper]. We were latecomers at Manzanar, so we wound up delivering papers instead of being reporters. And then we were asked by, I think, Dr. Solon Kimball[7] and Dr. Redfield,[8] who came as a consultant from the University of Chicago, if we would become documentary historians. So this is what Joe Masaoka and I did for seven months at Manzanar. That's it.


Mitson

Was Mike Masaoka one of Joe Grant Masaoka's brothers?


Tanaka

Yes. Mike was the third of the Masaoka brothers. Mike never came to camp. He was up at Salt Lake City [as the JACL's executive secretary],[9] and we were in constant correspondence with him, getting directions from him as to how we ought to reactivate the JACL's activity inside the camp. When you look back on it, it seems kind of funny, but we were serious.


Mitson

Was Joe the oldest Masaoka brother?


Tanaka

Joe was the oldest, yes. The next one was Ben, whom I was very close to. Ben fought for the 442d [Regimental Combat Team].[10] He died in Europe. He never came back.


Mitson

How does it happen that Mike went to Salt Lake City and the other brothers did not?


Tanaka

Well, all of us had the option of not going to camp, if we just simply moved.[11]


Mitson

And he did that?


Tanaka

Well, he was regarded as too valuable by the JACL. They just moved their headquarters from San Francisco to Salt Lake City, and he went there and directed the activities of the organization from there.


Mitson

Was he the president at that time?


Tanaka

No, he was what they called the Executive Secretary. He was out there to work.


Mitson

So the national JACL set up their headquarters in Salt Lake City?


Tanaka

In Salt Lake City, yes.


Mitson

Had they had a JACL branch there before that?


Tanaka

Yes, they had, but the national staff moved there, you see.

(long interruption in the tape due to technical difficulties)


Mitson

During our break we were talking about history books. Could you please repeat what you said?


Tanaka

Well, after the war I became head of publications for the American Technical Society, a midwestern publishing firm that specialized in technical books and industrial arts education. It was largely for the junior college level and some high schools. In the early 1950s we thought we would branch out and go into the social sciences. I negotiated the purchase of some manuscripts. Well, one was a book called Psychology for Life Adjustment [Chicago: American Technical Society, 1953]. A gentleman named [Charles Richard] Foster, down at the University of Florida, was the author. Another book was United States History: The Growth of Our Land [Chicago: American Technical Society, 1953], by a Merle Burke


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of La Salle Township High School in Illinois. He was represented to us as being a middle-of-the-road historian. Very interesting. We were in the habit in those days of seeking to get adoptions in cities throughout the United States. The man in charge of our sales sent a set of galley proofs down to Texas and to some of the other southern states. I remember a letter we got back from the American Legion indicating that the author of this book sounds like, quote, "If he's not a Communist or a `pinko,' he must be a New Deal Democrat." (laughter) But I remember we had one book called, I think, American History [Canada and British North America], by William Bennett Munro. This was a classic, a textbook published [originally in 1905] by the Macmillan Company. And we had purchased the reprint rights. We had a captive market in the country's largest correspondence high school, the American School. When I left the American Technical Society, I continued to do work for the American School as a publishing client. I had moved out here [to southern California], and we did most of their student publication publishing. In the history book that we were to revise and reprint and try to use ourselves for the American School, as well as perhaps trying to market it elsewhere, the references to Japanese of the West Coast caught my attention immediately. I remember assigning it to an editor on our staff named Robert Sullivan, who had been a graduate of the University of Notre Dame. I think that in the rephrasing and the rewriting of that particular section, we were able to get at least a kind of objectivity and substance, too, in fact, that history books generally weren't characterized by when they dealt with the subject of Orientals of the West Coast.

I, subsequently, attended many meetings of and was a member of the committee of an organization called the Chicago Book Clinic, and became exposed to what was being done at the level of teaching materials, where you begin to have some effect on what students at the secondary-school level believed, the images they had. I came back to the West Coast and was exposed, I think, to a lot of the ranting (laughter) of the young militants who feel that the way to express themselves is... Here, now, they want to clobber Earl Warren[12] and deny him a platform [to speak]. They think that they are positively and constructively accomplishing some good, because they feel better by reason of getting these emotions out. I think a lot of it is misguided. Maybe it's necessary. I'm not going to question for one moment their right to do this, because this is a part of our society. But if they're truly looking for ways by which they want to correct some of these problems, then I just don't think that this blind feeling of being anti-Warren really accomplishes something.

I'll say this. I remember the years before Morton Grodzins died [in 1964]. You know, he died as a young man in his forties of cancer, and I was quite close to him because he became chairman of the Department of Political Science of the University of Chicago, and subsequent to that he was made director of the University of Chicago Press. His office was one block from mine at the American Technical Society. And Morton, who had, I believe, interviewed Earl Warren and knew him personally, wrote a book, I think, called The Loyal and the Disloyal[: Social Boundaries of Patriotism and Treason (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956)]. He had a theory. He said that much of what Earl Warren did on the Supreme Court stemmed, of course, from his feeling about what had happened in California during this period, and that whatever we may ascribe to Warren's influence in extending the area of civil rights, of which we are all beneficiaries—I don't care whether we're Asian Americans, or Black Americans, or Chicano Americans—that we have to look at the whole man and the whole career. And that for Japanese Americans to waste their energies trying to crucify this man, it was merely to take one small segment of his total career and say, "That's all that's important." While they, by the irony of history, are the beneficiaries of much that he made possible. Doesn't he get any credit at all for that? This is what makes me feel that these young people are really not looking at... You know, life is not just one narrow segment. I think that they have tunnel vision, and that they are not giving themselves an opportunity to learn and to grow, nor are they giving this man the same fairness that they demand for themselves.


Mitson

Last year, Earl Warren was invited to speak at the commencement exercises at Sacramento State University [in Sacramento, California]. There was some agitation among the students there against that, and as a result he asked to be relieved of that obligation to speak.


Tanaka

Well, you know, I probably don't represent the right generation, but I'd go to hear him talk if I knew that he was going to speak. (laughter) I think he would certainly be a very rich source of recollection. He did say—and I think this is what many people probably don't forgive him for—that the very fact that there had


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been no espionage or sabotage [by Japanese Americans] was in itself an indication that the danger was there. This kind of reasoning, I think, is what most Sansei probably repeat and remember. But if people are critical of him can think back to things that they themselves did at one time, and can defend that today, I mean, I think this is the unfortunate thing.


Mitson

I don't believe that he has made any statements in recent years about his attitude. Probably he feels that his record speaks for itself and that he doesn't need to defend himself. Unfortunately, though, people read things in isolation. Of course, many people who later perhaps would have regretted what they said, said some very strange things back in those days.

I want to go on now to the situation when you were in Manzanar. You spoke briefly about the kind of work you were doing there. What do you think were the basic causes for the discontent that came to a head at Manzanar?


Tanaka

Do you mean specifically what caused the rioting [in December 1942]?


Mitson

Well, yes, or even before the rioting—the times when some of you knew that you were in disfavor with other members of the camp. Could you kind of outline, as best you recall it, the sort of things that, perhaps, you personally knew about that were going on, the irritating factors?


Tanaka

Gee, I would have to do a lot of looking back. It would seem to me there was the overall feeling of uncertainty and fear. Someone once told me that, if you confine ten thousand people in a one-square-mile enclosure and oblige them to live in conditions where there is lack of privacy, then you're going to get problems anyway, just out of that situation. It's communal living—people who come from so many different backgrounds, having only one thing in common, race, and being denied freedom of movement beyond those walls. But as I look back, probably one of the most aggravating and frustrating sources of this irritating thing which would contribute to unrest was that there existed a double standard, depending upon whether you belonged to one race or another. Here you had worked every day side by side with someone who probably was less competent than yourself, say, the doctors. An interned [Japanese American] doctor would get nineteen or sixteen dollars per month]. Then someone else [of non-Japanese ancestry] would be coming in on a government payroll and his salary would be many, many times that—and probably doing less work. This was pervasive throughout the camp. The economic structure was based upon a racist principle, you know. It was basically unfair. I think people were aware of this double standard, not only in how you were rewarded for what you did but also in the way you lived, and you were reminded of this every day. Evacuees were in tar paper barracks that were quite minimal, and the staff administrators lived in comfortable finished cottages. So you had the visual reminder constantly and daily of the differences. Then, also, in the early stages, I think, there was a good deal of grumbling because some of the administrators were less than—the rumor went around camp—honest with the disbursement of what the evacuees, or the people in the camp, felt belonged to them: food and whatever else the government was providing. And wherever you have this kind of thing going on, then the beginnings of discontent set in. But overall, I think, there was also a great deal of fear, since there were two different schools of thought as to who was going to win the war. The lines were drawn rather sharply there.


Mitson

What was the makeup of the people involved in those two different schools of thought?


Tanaka

Well, I think that in a very general way it was the Issei and Kibei who felt that Japan was going to win, and the Nisei felt that the United States would win. I think this is oversimplifying it, but it's as accurate as you can get.


Mitson

There was some overlapping, I suppose.


Tanaka

Oh, sure.


Mitson

For instance, there would have been some Kibei in the group that felt the United States would win?



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Tanaka

Oh, yes, right. Well, then you have to remember this, too—you might feel that the United States would win; it might not necessarily mean that you wanted the United States to win, but you wouldn't necessarily want it. I mean, I think that it was a little more complicated than that. But I think that without recognizing it, with most people it boiled down to how you were going to behave and act and what you were going to do. I think this is what happened. I think people who said they were going to live here [in the United States] did one of several things. They had their college-age children apply for student relocation. They filled out questionnaires and answered, "Yes, we want to get out of camp." They went out on furloughs to top sugar beets. They looked for the Quakers [Society of Friends] or whoever would sponsor them to get out. They wanted to relocate. They volunteered for service in the United States Army. This type of activity went on. And then there were those who felt that there was no future in this country—whether or not at one time they desired to live here permanently—and those who weren't going to have a chance to, and those who actively said, "We don't want anymore of this country." These are the people who sat on their hands and said, "We don't want any part of this other activity. Just be quiet and we'll go whichever way we have to go." Or some felt, "Those people who were agitating to get us into the service, they're troublemakers, and let's kill them." You know, this is about how it went. I think that this is how the trouble began to develop, brewing at Manzanar and the other camps.


Mitson

We were wondering about the role that rumor might have played, especially in the early period. Things such as resettlement and going to colleges really came later, didn't it?


Tanaka

Well, rumor was a tremendous factor in what happened at these camps. I haven't read the published studies, but I knew of a discussion that took place. I think Tom Shibutani did some studies on the anatomy of rumor in relocation camps.[13] I was fascinated by how he traced the origin of a particular rumor as it spread through the camp, how quickly it was out there, and how people identified according to these rumors as to what they were or were not. This affected the role of the JACL rather dramatically in these stages. It affected everyone who was either physically assaulted or beaten or threatened. These people generally were high on the rumor list early. There was no question that numerically it wasn't too silent a majority in those days, that people felt, I think, closer to the fact that they were Japanese, first and most importantly. Whether they could be recognized ultimately as Americans of Japanese descent, it was touch and go, I think. It took a great deal of faith and influence, I think, from the outside as people reached in to reassure those of us who really had no basis for believing, excepting to say that we hoped and wished this was going to happen; because in the early months it seemed pretty dreary and dismal. There wasn't too much hope that we weren't headed on a one-way journey either to some island in the Pacific or back to Japan, no matter what we wanted or hoped. So I think that you're right. I think it was in the later stages that student relocation and resettlement became an actuality. But you see the interesting thing is that from the outset the JACL and its leaders at Salt Lake City were strenuously and actively working to bring this about. But the opportunity for most people in camp to know that or, if they were told that, to believe it, just didn't come about until long after all the rioting and upsetting things took place in the camp.


Mitson

What month was it that you went to camp?


Tanaka

The end of March or early April [1942]. I can't really remember.


Mitson

And how soon after that did you start on your historian's job?


Tanaka

Probably at the end of the month, because we didn't last very long as delivery people [for the Manzanar Free Press ]. (laughter) One, I felt that by reason of our just being there, that the Rafu Shimpo and the people I had represented had been discredited pretty much in the camp. In other words, in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo community, our paper was the largest, and we couldn't help but feel we were the respected publication. And then, by reason of things that we had attempted to do among the community, we had the feeling of both acceptance and, you know, a certain degree—if you want to call it—of leadership, although in terms of the total community, no.


Mitson

You're speaking of the Little Tokyo community?



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Tanaka

Right, and of the Southern California Japanese community. We had a network of correspondents all through the southern California area up to Fresno. Right after I had gone to work for Mr. Komai, I had asked him for permission to organize the correspondents, so once or twice a year we would bring them in. We'd have a great evening and a banquet. We had a close-knit community; we thought we did. And it was. We instituted publications, special issues like a graduation, or commencement issue, and a holiday issue. We organized what we called the Nisei Business Bureau, which was really a promotional effort to contact representatives of large industries to find out if they would make available opportunities for the employment of Japanese Americans. In connection with that, I attended some conferences among Nisei students at Berkeley in 1940 to relate to them what we were doing here in Southern California to expand the horizon for getting jobs and getting into professions. We did that, and then we also tried to get housing. That is, I had myself experienced the almost impossible difficulty in buying a house, even if you had the money. So we thought by working with developers and banks and escrow people, people who were in the real estate industry, we could make restrictive racial housing covenants less effective.

This is one area where the Sansei give Earl Warren no credit. The very fact that the homes that they live in today—that they're able to go literally anywhere and buy without any difficulty, that they're not hemmed in, in the undesirable parts of the city, having to pay 15, 20, and 30 percent more just because the supply is limited while the demand is great—these things have changed, and Earl Warren was largely responsible for this. But then, we were doing this type of thing even in those days. I don't know whether we had any particular success or not, but the effort was all in that direction. The camp destroyed those efforts early.

You know, I had a funny experience. I don't know the new editor of the Rafu Shimpo. She's a young woman named Ellen Endo. About a month ago—I have some business interests in San Diego and San Francisco—and I was due down in San Diego to attend meetings. But I had this telephone call from Robert Vosper out at UCLA. He's the [university] librarian, and I had a call from his office saying that UCLA had completed the microfilming of the Rafu Shimpo and the Kashu Mainichi [Japan-California Daily News], and would I come and give a talk at the dedication? I said, "What for?" He said that Akira Komai, the present publisher, had said he wouldn't, and it was suggested that I go in his place. I said, "Well, I'm not about to. I worked there for a very short time, for about five or six years. And it has been about thirty years since then." But he kept calling. So I finally called Aki and asked him, "What is it?" And Akira Komai said that he didn't want to. Well, I know he's a very retiring person. He didn't want to do the talking. So it turned out that I agreed. I canceled my appointments in San Diego and San Francisco, and I went there to UCLA and gave a brief talk based on what I knew of his father and the publisher of the other paper. I don't subscribe to the Rafu, but someone sent me a copy of what Ellen Endo [the English-language editor of the Rafu Shimpo ] had written about what I had said. It was totally a misquotation, and left an impression that was completely outside... I said, "My gosh!" (laughter)


Mitson

After you'd put yourself out!


Tanaka

Right. They made a tape of what I did say, and somebody sent the transcript of it to me. Tad Uyeno, who used to write for the Rafu Shimpo —he's over in San Gabriel [Los Angeles County] and owns a nursery—he called and asked, "Well, will you tell me what you did say?" I think somebody in my office sent it [the transcript] to him. I read what I really did say and what I was purported to have said, and there is a very substantial difference. I had just simply read it from what had been prepared. But I think this is part of history. This is how history gets written or garbled. (laughter)


Mitson

And how former newspaper editors find themselves misquoted! (laughter)


Tanaka

Well, yes.


Mitson

Yes, I recall you mentioning that in your talk for the lecture series [at the University of California, Irvine].


Tanaka

Yes.


Mitson

I want to ask you if your recruitment as a historian at Manzanar was a direct result, do you think, of your


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working at the Rafu Shimpo? Was the administration there aware of the fact that you had been an editor?


Tanaka

I think it's possible, although Joe Masaoka hadn't been. I think we just happened to be there when they needed somebody. I was so fascinated. I never even knew what anthropology meant, you know, and then I met this very distinguished Robert Redfield from the University of Chicago. I found that the meetings we had with him were quite, well, they were learning experiences. I enjoyed meeting and talking with him. He came, and suddenly in the midst of all the despair and the negative feelings we were having, I thought, "Well, this is a great opportunity to learn something that we'd never had." He convinced both Joe and me that we could do some valuable work by each of us, as accurately as possible, just simply recounting those things about camp life that we observed each day. It got to be fun. At the end of each day, we made the rounds. We went to the camouflage factory and the guayule farm, and talked to the people in the mess halls and in the laundry room and all over camp. We would go to the nurseries and the churches; Joe even went with me to services. I was baptized and confirmed in the camp by Bishop [Charles] Reifsnider, who was the former Episcopal bishop [president of Rikkyo University] of Tokyo. Mrs. Reifsnider became my godmother. I had never belonged to any church. Joe, who was of the Mormon faith at the time, came to communion because he figured that was the only place we'd get any alcohol. (laughter)

We were having a great time, we thought, until later when we discovered that we were being accused of being spies. It was quite a shock to us to learn that about the jobs that we thought we were performing simply to help compile the history of the camp. I think that what we did write and leave—and I'm sorry I never kept much of what went on—that we would just simply each day write, you know, Documentary Report Number so and so. I remember when we got into a gory triangle and a murder up at Manzanar. A young woman with an older husband and two children, I think, had an affair with a young sugar beet worker and the husband murdered her and then committed suicide. It was this type of thing. I think we tried to get as complete and as thorough a picture of everything that went on in the camp as we could. This can get you into trouble, because you get awfully nosy, you see.


Mitson

Did you go around camp with a little pad of paper and a pencil?


Tanaka

Yes. Yes. They knew what we were doing. (laughter) We were not sophisticated enough. We had no bugging devices, no electronic equipment. (laughter) We just simply went and said that we were documentary historians. This was our job. We would interview people and ask permission to quote them. Often we would quote them without their permission because this is what we said they told us. We must have gotten to be known as a couple of very nosy snoopers.


Mitson

Do you know what happened to those records?[14]


Tanaka

No, I don't.


Mitson

Was it under the University of Chicago?


Tanaka

No. This was under the War Relocation Authority at Manzanar.


Mitson

But the man who was instructing you, you said, was from the University of Chicago, right?


Tanaka

Well, no, Dr. Redfield was the man who introduced us to it. But there was another gentleman out of Washington, D.C., with the War Relocation Authority, Dr. Solon Kimball. He was in charge of it. I've lost track of him. I don't know. I have heard since of Dr. Redfield.


Mitson

Dorothy [Swaine] Thomas had nothing to do with the project, did she?


Tanaka

No. I was employed by the University of California [Evacuation and Resettlement Study, directed by Dorothy Thomas] after the riot [at Manzanar]. We were removed from Manzanar, and I was sent to [an abandonded Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp in] Death Valley. I think on the first night out at Death Valley, or the second night, Dorothy Thomas sent Morton Grodzins to meet me at Death Valley to


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ask if I would chronicle for the [Evacuation and Resettlement] Study just what had happened at Manzanar, what I could recall of the previous few nights. And I did that. Then they asked me if I would do some writing based on the six years I had been at the Rafu Shimpo from the files that we had there. They wanted a study of the business community in Little Tokyo and organized gambling and any other crimes, as such. They wanted to know the nature and the extent of social organizations, both Issei and Nisei, and the farming. I gave them much of this information as best I could from files that I had shipped both to Manzanar and also to Chicago, where I went after leaving Death Valley. All that has been so long ago that I've lost most of it.[15] I don't think I have ever given any thought to it until I received the invitation from Dr. [Arthur A.] Hansen to lecture at [the University of California at] Irvine.


Mitson

Do you still have any of those old files?


Tanaka

If they are around. My brother is in Chicago, and much of what I had there I had him take. He lives in Winnetka, [Illinois], you see, and in Chicago. I had two homes. I had a home in Chicago for many years and here. It has gotten scattered now. I've had no reason for looking it up, so it must be somewhere around here.


Mitson

That would include your diary, too?


Tanaka

It probably would, yes.


Mitson

Who sent you the files?


Tanaka

I think a gentleman named Thomas Lynch. He was an attorney here who was active in the Democratic Central Committee. He was a very interesting man. He died quite a few years ago.

You know, it's very interesting. I try to recall the people with whom I corresponded from Manzanar, because I think that each letter that we received had a disproportionate significance, in that you needed to be refueled and reassured that you weren't just completely lost. This man's letters were always, "So what are you complaining about?" He was of Irish descent, and he could recall some of the things that his forebears went through in this country. I think there was a man named Clyde Shoemaker. He was an assistant city attorney here. He had made a talk before some luncheon [service] club—maybe it was the Rotary or Lions—in which he echoed what General [John] Dewitt[16] had said—that there was only one solution to the whole [Japanese American] problem: Ship them all back [to Japan], they'll never belong here. And Mr. Lynch said, "Why don't you write him [Shoemaker] a letter?" He suggested it, so I did. I got back a letter from Mr. Shoemaker. It really was something! Well, he just simply reiterated how he felt: "The kindest thing that can happen to you people is just to get lost." You see. Now I had some good friends here, too. A man named Louis Ardouin, whom I had met and used to lunch with quite frequently, was a real estate appraiser. Out of the kindness of his heart, he would write to me and say, "You know, really, for your own good, you should go back to Japan." (laughter)


Mitson

Oh, my!


Tanaka

You know, with friends like this, who needs enemies? Well, many years later, of course, I recall meeting Louis Ardouin, and he acknowledged that maybe he was wrong. But he said his motives were kind. He and I had a mutual friend, a man named George Smedley Smith, who had been active in a group called Forty-Plus. This is an organization to get jobs for people after age forty. I sent Smedley a copy of Ardouin's letter, and he wrote the most amusing and, to me, reassuring letter to Ardouin, telling him what a knucklehead he was, that he should think this way. So we go to Japan; who do we know? We don't know anybody. These people at least you knew, and I was always reminded by what Joe Shinoda frequently said: If the danger was that great to us that we were likely to be assaulted in the streets or hung on the nearest lamppost, truly, "I'd rather have it done by people who knew me than by strangers." (laughter)


Mitson

I think that at this stage I will turn this interview over to Dave Hacker, who is writing about Manzanar.[17]



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Hacker

You were talking a bit earlier about the riot. After you went to the CCC camp in Death Valley, you wrote a report for Dorothy Swaine Thomas. Have you read her [and Richard Nishimoto's] book, The Spoilage [Japanese-American Evacuation and Resettlement During World War II (Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press, 1946)], in which she cites your report?[18]


Tanaka

I have some years ago, yes.


Hacker

Do you remember it well enough to give your opinion on it as to whether she really applied what you said?


Tanaka

Well, I don't remember now. I recall that at the time it was published that I felt that it was an accurate enough representation of what I had submitted to her. Was that the book she did with Richard Nishimoto?


Hacker

Yes, it was.


Tanaka

I remember meeting Mr. Nishimoto and being at many [Evacuation and Resettlement Study] conferences with him, and I thought they did a good job.


Hacker

What were your circumstances at the time of the riot itself?


Tanaka

Oh, I was in camp, and we lived in Block 36. On the day of the riot, I was notified by several people that the rioters were going to be going after the people on their various death lists, and that it would be advisable for me not to be in my own barrack at a given time that evening, but to probably be at some other location. I was told this by neighbors on my block and on the other block, Block 35. My wife, mother-in-law, and father-in-law felt then that I ought to be with my older brother. So my question was, of course, "Perhaps we all ought to leave the area?" They said, "No, it isn't necessary." That by the nature of what was happening in camp, they were rather singular in their listing of people and there was no danger to anybody else. So I had dinner in a mess hall in another block, then spent that evening with my brother and people in his barrack when the rioting had broken out. Out of concern for what might be happening to my family, I joined the mob—I guess, the rioters—as they went by the block where I was staying and went to Block 36. So I was there when they tried to find me. But I've never been really able to figure out... In a camp of ten thousand people, where both Joe Masaoka and I were quite, I thought, reasonably well-known... Our names were better known than our faces, although people knew what we were doing. It was a very dark night, and we were all dressed alike in these Navy-issue peacoats. It was a cold night. Most people were rather warmly dressed. So I saw much of the moving about, but I saw no actual violence.


Hacker

How exactly did you go about getting the information for the report that you wrote? You see, the reason that I am inquiring is because most of the reports that have been written on the riot itself have been taken from Dorothy Swaine Thomas's book, The Spoilage, which in turn draws largely from your report.


Tanaka

Well, I was only one of many. I think Ralph Smeltzer, who drove me out of camp, provided Morton Grodzins with a good deal of information. I think Morton interviewed people who were on the police force at Manzanar and who were there when the shooting took place, but who, for reasons of their own safety, denied permission to name them or quote them. I think that much of the material that Morton gathered at the time was not hearsay. It was based on firsthand observations by people who were there. He got it from the administrative personnel and from the evacuees who were there.[19] In any event, Ralph Smeltzer came for me and said that I'd better get out of camp. He drove me to the barracks where people who had been on the death list were being kept, and then were removed to Death Valley.


Hacker

I think you mentioned before something about the beatings that happened. There was some violence and things like this.


Tanaka

Well, there was the beating of Fred Tayama. He was number one on the death list.[20]


Hacker

Before this, were there other instances of gang violence or instances where any group or the violent groups pointed you out and said that you were one of the people that they should get, or something like that? Were


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there instances of that before the period of the riot itself?


Tanaka

Well, to my knowledge, we had heard some rumors a few days before, but neither Joe Masaoka nor I—and we were lumped pretty much together as the two people who were doing the same thing—could recall later that we had actually been threatened. I never had been, and he never had been. But there was no question that on that evening they were out to kill both of us as well as others on the death list. Yet, I think that I never felt apprehensive, and people whom we met and who later were identified as those who were out to get us before the riot were affable and cordial and friendly. I felt when we were debating the issue of urging young men to sign up for volunteer Army service, it was a dignified, intelligent, and friendly debate, that it was not going to wind up as, you know, "We don't like what you're saying, so we're going to knock you off." But we were given... As a matter of fact, I became so confident, and even somewhat exhilarated by the idea of matching ideas, that in the last two or three instances when Joe was with me, I volunteered and did speak in Japanese about our ideas. We felt that we had to go the second mile; that we should take this position because we didn't want to live in Japan under any circumstances; that we felt this was our home, and everything that we had stood for. I thought we communicated this. They were polite and listening—even those who sat on the other side of the table, who followed us, and said we were nitwits and that we didn't know what we were doing. They didn't indicate that they were about to murder us. So this was an experience—that they would accuse us of being dogs and informers. Had they given us an opportunity to respond, we would, of course, have attempted to set them right and tell them that this was not our function, and that we had no intention of doing it. We wouldn't knowingly perform that kind of duty; that we were there trying to defend a position that we thought we could identify with, and we felt it was for the good of most of us. But this got nowhere.


Hacker

Well, there were people who were violently against you, such as Joe Kurihara.


Tanaka

Yes, that's right.


Hacker

You mentioned Joe Kurihara and Tokie Slocum before in your [aforementioned] lecture [at the University of California, Irvine].[21] I wonder if you could expand upon that?


Tanaka

Well, you know, I had regarded both Kurihara and Slocum as personal friends before World War II. Kurihara, because he was a very pleasant, congenial, friendly, and outgoing man who used to visit me at the Rafu Shimpo. He was an older Nisei and I always enjoyed talking with people who could give me the benefit of their experiences. I knew he was active in the Commodore Perry Post of the American Legion. Tokie Slocum was a member of the editorial board of the Rafu Shimpo, so I had occasion to know his views. I liked what he stood for. I agreed with the substance of what he believed in, but I couldn't stand his methods or his style. He was an extremist in so many ways. He was dogmatic, very assertive, and not very cordial or polite. He used to try to dominate some of our discussions, but I think we had some pretty solid people on our editorial board. In other words, to me he epitomized the—I've been to a lot of American Legion rallies—people who wear their flag on their sleeve. You never know what their private thinking or their private lives are like, or the kind of people they really are, and they're often personally obnoxious. Slocum was one of these people. So I didn't like him, personally, that much. I liked Kurihara as a human being much more. But in camp, the views Slocum expressed—by a stroke of irony—represented what Joe Masaoka and I believed in. In this war, we were Americans, not Japanese, and when we had to make the choice, this was where we belonged. Kurihara took the other view. In camp, Kurihara never personally or openly expressed to me a dislike for me to the extent that I should arm myself or be equipped to defend myself against his wanting to have us put away. So this, I think, was a surprise. Before Joe Masaoka died, he and I were involved in a number of things. One was a business venture here. We used to think back and say, "You know, life is funny. Joe Kurihara was one of the last people in the world we thought would want to get us knocked off, whereas we wouldn't have put it beyond Slocum." So Manzanar was a puzzle to us. We were glad to get out of there.


Hacker

What do you think of the projects that existed at Manzanar, like the cooperative store and the camouflage net factory? What relation might they have had to the riot?



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Tanaka

Well, camouflage nets represented something that were used in the war. I really don't know. As I try to remember, there were some people who didn't want to take part in it and others that did, and most of them thought, "Well, we get paid for it." My father-in-law [Kango Takamura] did some drawings for the guayule rubber project.[22] After all, during the war it was necessary to find substitutes for rubber which had been cut off from us by what the Japanese had done in Southeast Asia. That, too, was regarded in some light as a war project, but I don't think these had great effect one way or the other. Maybe it was a part of the total cumulative effect that anything had. "Here we are, we're stuck in here, now we've been treated like prisoners of war and they want us to help in the war effort." I think some people might have felt unfriendly to that. But by and large, I don't think it had too much to do with the riot. I don't know very much about the cooperative store, excepting that I remember it was there. I think most of the things that went on in that camp... There were so many things that people felt good about. I discovered this after we were out, in trying to get my in-laws to come out of there and they didn't want to.


Mitson

You mentioned a police force when you were talking to Dave. Were you speaking of a police force made up of people of the camp?


Tanaka

Yes, that's right.


Mitson

Do you know if they brought any police in, say, from Lone Pine or Independence?


Tanaka

As I recall, they had one non-Japanese police chief [John Gilkey], and they had an evacuee subchief [Kiyoshi Higashi]. Everyone on the force was a member of the community. That is, they were evacuees.[23]


Mitson

Did they wear uniforms?


Tanaka

No. I was trying to remember how we did identify them. I think they wore bands.


Mitson

Armbands?


Tanaka

Armbands. They might have had a hat, I'm not sure. But there was very little need for them. I think occasionally there was a family quarrel. There was no thievery. The thievery going on was with the administrative personnel and on a large scale. (laughter)


Mitson

There was evidence that that actually was going on? It wasn't just a matter of suspicion?


Tanaka

Well, I would say this: in a court of law it would be difficult to prove.


Mitson

In what sort of ways were the people aware of that, do you know?


Tanaka

In food.


Mitson

I mean, did they notice a shortage of food when there should have been more?


Tanaka

Yes. Well, meat was in great shortage and, say, someone working at the warehouse said, "Did you know that so-and-so, the assistant project director, took two sides of beef in his car and drove off the camp with it?" And that should have gone into hamburgers for us, you see. Now that rumor takes all of about fifteen seconds to get around camp. Or that we should have had chicken stew, but if twenty-five of the chickens have disappeared, then it gets to be a little bit less. People were concerned with food and with eating, and if the rumors were that food that should have come to the evacuees had disappeared down the road because of hanky-panky by people in charge, then it got to be accepted as a matter of course, but it didn't make people like it any more. Whether it was true or not, there was no opportunity for those who were allegedly the victims of this to really get to know.


Mitson

Did you personally know anyone that worked in the warehouse?



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Tanaka

My brother. My brother was a night watchman in the mess hall. I got the impression that there was much of this going on. I think Joe Masaoka indicated to me that... Well, as a matter of fact, I think our reports would show that. We documented, quoting different people, without putting them in the position of being likely to be the victims of any kind of retaliation, that this kind of thing was going on. It was a part of the feeling of uneasiness and apprehension on the part of the evacuees.


Mitson

I don't mean to persist, but the reason I want to get into that is to establish the fact that you weren't hearing this as the tenth person in a rumor chain.


Tanaka

Oh, I see! We were talking to people.


Mitson

You were. Did you actually get some information from your brother?


Tanaka

Yes. Oh, yes. Right, as to so-and-so having loaded his car, you see. Let me see, there were other supplies, too. Let's see, they brought in a certain amount of clothing, and there were rumors that some of these were being stolen and sold off elsewhere.


Mitson

Were you able to speak to anyone who had seen that kind of thing happen?


Tanaka

We would report these and send them in. This was kind of naive. Joe and I often used to regret this. We should have had enough carbon paper and kept copies, and we'd have quite a collection of things. This must be like [the] Watergate [scandal during the U.S. presidential administration of Richard M. Nixon], you know. We're writing it but who gets it, you know? (laughter)


Mitson

So, in effect, the administration had the reports of all the rumors that were going around?


Tanaka

Well, if there were people in the administration who were guilty of this, then they must have had us on their blacklist, too, because here were these two dumb snoopers going around and writing all these things. Neither Joe nor I had had enough experience. We had neither the sophistication nor the training to know, and we just had one job: look and see, write it down. That's all we did. So this was raw data. Some of it was hearsay, of course, because we talked to someone who said he was quoting someone else. But much of it was from people who said, "I experienced this." So we wrote it, and this was a part of our report. We were to document the day-to-day living that was in that camp, and that was our job. Later, I had reason to regret it: "Gee, why didn't we save some of that? We would have this much, you know." But we didn't.[24]


Mitson

You could have written a book! (laughter) I wonder about this expression, "They were out to kill us." How did you know they were out to kill you rather than just to beat you up?


Tanaka

Oh, well, yes. We were at Death Valley, and we were getting all kinds of reports from our friends who had attended the rallies. They had beaten up Fred Tayama, and then they had jailed those who had been apprehended for the beating, and it was a demand that these people be released, as I recall. So at several of the blocks they had rallies, you see, demanding the release. The speeches at these rallies were, "Unless they're released, we're going to kill these dogs: Fred Tayama, Joe Masaoka, Togo Tanaka, Tokie Slocum, and down the list."


Mitson

How many were on the list?


Tanaka

A varied number, depending on who you were going to quote, but probably it was up to about five on the death list. After that they would beat them up, you see. So it must have run over to about ten. We didn't know whether we should feel honored or what! (laughter) But Joe and I concluded that we must have earned our place on the list by reason of our activities around the camp. Then, of course, my mother and father were at the camp, too, and they related what had been told to them by their friends and their neighbors. We were on opposite sides of the camp. They were way over in a block on the other side, and they said that we were lucky to get out of there alive. It was uncomfortable for my parents, so they moved from that camp to Utah.



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Mitson

Was that after you were taken out?


Tanaka

Oh, yes, right. One of the reasons is that I felt a little bit apprehensive for them, too, if it were true that I had been on the death list. The people might be a little bit unbalanced. And being concerned about their welfare, I asked if they might not be moved to a different camp. So they were, and they were willing to go, too.


Mitson

So they went to Topaz [War Relocation Center in Utah]?


Tanaka

They went to Topaz, yes. My sister and her husband and family chose to move from the camp immediately. They went on to Chicago. That is, they came to Death Valley for awhile. My other sister, also. My older brother was transferred to [the Granada War Relocation Center in] Amache, Colorado. Then my younger brother and his family were brought to Death Valley, and they subsequently went to Chicago. My wife's mother and father elected to stay in Manzanar. They didn't feel quite as apprehensive, although they were in the barrack at the time. They stayed on straight through. They kept me informed. I think, from these various sources, I concluded that I wasn't just going to be beaten up, that they had intended to do away with certain people, and I happened to be among them.


Mitson

Did Tokie Slocum have a Caucasian father? Is that the reason for the name?


Tanaka

No, I think he was adopted by a farm couple in North or South Dakota [Minot, North Dakota], as a young man. He was raised there in the Midwest by the Slocums. But his Japanese surname was Nishimura. He was Tokutaro Nishimura Slocum. He was kind of an oddball in my estimation, because our backgrounds were different. He came from a community where there were no other Japanese. He had very successfully lobbied for passage by Congress—I think it was in the 1930s—of a law which permitted Japanese American veterans to obtain citizenship. I don't remember all of the details.[25]


Mitson

Veterans of the First World War?


Tanaka

Yes, First World War. He had served in the First World War, as had Joe Kurihara. I haven't been in touch with him since then nor with Joe Kurihara, although I think they're both in this country.


Mitson

I want to refer back to your lecture wherein you referred to the fact that Joe Kurihara had appealed for a reference from you through the Red Cross. Now, in view of this situation where you were on a death list and he was involved in that, may I ask what your response was at that time?


Tanaka

Oh, I was asked merely to indicate whether or not he had been a law-abiding American citizen, loyal to the United States up to World War II, and I responded favorably. Of course, I was, at that time, on the staff of the American Friends Service Committee, and they're Quakers. For me to have done otherwise would have been a denial of what I was supposed to be doing with them. I have never borne him any personal animosity, and I can well understand why he behaved the way he did. This is why I can't understand why the militant Sansei, who have had nothing to do with it, are out to get Earl Warren! (laughter)


Mitson

Well, I certainly want to make the comment that I feel that's a prime example of turning the other cheek. Do you think, then, that he did come back? Do you think he is in this country?


Tanaka

I was told that he is, but I have no way of knowing. I don't know.


Mitson

And he made that attempt to return even before the war was over?


Tanaka

Yes.


Mitson

Then it didn't take him long to change his mind, apparently.


Tanaka

No. No, apparently not. I received word when I was with the American Friends Service Committee. It


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was a very simple communication that came through Switzerland by way of the Red Cross. I was asked to sign a paper indicating that he had made a statement, and they were seeking confirmation of it from people who had known him. So I signed it and returned it.


Mitson

Did he have a family?


Tanaka

No. He was a single man.


Mitson

I wonder about the people who went on that first trip back to Japan on the Gripsholm.[26] I understand people were exchanged in Africa with people coming back from Japan. Then there may have been another trip, I believe. Do you know if there were more than two trips during the war that sent people back?


Tanaka

No, I don't. I probably have read it. I had a friend who came back from Japan on the first exchange.


Mitson

I understand Ambassador [Joseph C.] Grew was on that exchange.[27]


Tanaka

Yes.


Mitson

Was your friend a Kibei?


Tanaka

No, he was a YMCA [Young Men's Christian Association] worker from Kentucky named Paul Rusch. Paul had been teaching at Saint Paul University in Tokyo, and had started this little camp called Seisenryo up in the mountains. This is where my children subsequently went.


Mitson

The mountains of where?


Tanaka

It's just outside of Tokyo. This is a place that's called KEEP, for Kiyosato Educational Experiment Project. In the 1940s, in Chicago, I helped Paul in his organizing of the American Committee for KEEP. Subsequently, over the years, the committee raised several million dollars. KEEP started with a church, and then with a library, and a 4-H farm; and it's quite a project there now. It had done a great deal of fine work. This is where my older daughter first went to volunteer in the hospital. My other daughter and son had also gone there. Paul came back on the Gripsholm and then, subsequently, went back to Japan in the American Occupation on the Intelligence Staff of General [Douglas] MacArthur. But that was primarily so he could reorganize what he started before the war. He had done quite a tremendous job over there.


Mitson

Have you ever heard of people who may have committed suicide on the return trip to Japan?


Tanaka

I know I've heard of them. I'm not aware of the details. If I have read about them, I can't recall.


Mitson

But it is back in your memory somewhere that that may have happened?


Tanaka

Yes, it is. I believe so. One man about whom I wrote for the University of California [Evacuation and Resettlement] study was named Yamatoda. He was the kingpin of the Tokyo Club, which was the organized gambling group down here [Los Angeles] in Little Tokyo before the war. He was reported to be on the exchange ship. He went to Hiroshima, and I heard that the atom bomb finished him off. This is sad.

One of the most successful of the Japanese Issei merchants here before the war was a man named Hasuike. He owned the Three Star Produce Company, which was a rather substantial chain. I can't remember how many he had. He had quite a few of these markets. Back in the late 1930s he was doing about $3 million a year, which even in today's terms would be a very substantial business. He had several hundred employees; and it was kind of a standing joke here that, if you got a college degree at USC [University of Southern California] or UCLA, you'd wind up working for him. (laughter) Which was true. I understand he returned to Japan, I don't know where. But someone told me he had come back here. I don't know if it is so or not. I imagine that if I explored it enough I'd find quite a few people whom I had either known as acquaintances or friends who went that way and came back this way, too. I met quite a few who came


138
back on that exchange ship, by reason of the volunteer work I did for the Quakers. You know, they brought back a whole shipload of missionaries from over there who went to work over here relocating the Japanese Americans out of the camps. (laughter)

One of the things—as I discussed with some of the Sansei militants—is that their whole focus is on all the things that were wrong, the injustices that we suffered. Yet, they're not even aware of, or interested in, the tremendous outreach of goodwill and help from the people who really went to work to salvage a situation that was bad. If they spent half of the energy honoring these people as they do trying to condemn those who did this, I think that we'd see things a little bit more in balance.


Mitson

Was Esther Rhoads[28] one of those who came back on that ship?


Tanaka

I think she returned from Japan before the war began. She's another person for whom I have nothing but the highest regard, and I've visited lots of people who somehow saved the situations that could get pretty bad. (laughter)


Mitson

I met her about two weeks ago.


Tanaka

Oh, is that so?


Mitson

In Pasadena at a Friends' meeting where she gave a little talk about the things that she was involved in. I'm hoping maybe to interview her. She lives now in Pennsylvania. I'd like to ask you about another former missionary, Herbert Nicholson.[29] When you were at Death Valley, did he have occasion to visit you at that place?


Tanaka

I can't really remember because Herbert Nicholson just stands out as somebody you remember whether you've seen him in ten years or fifteen. But my memory of him is as a person who always brought, not only all the things—he must have driven truckloads of things—that the evacuees couldn't get. He would bring these things, but mostly he would bring good cheer. He would really restore the spirits of people, and refuel them, and make them have hope. To me he just stands out as one of those very rare and few people who, when people really need this kind of propping up the most, he was there. He's a very earthy and pragmatic man. He's the kind of person who pitches in and does things. He's a doer more than a person who sits back and thinks and contemplates. But I never met anyone who, having met Herbert Nicholson, didn't remember him with a smile. I think of how he was regarded by evacuees: they respected and liked many people but I think most people loved Herbert Nicholson. He's an unusual man.


Mitson

I wanted to ask you, even though your birth wasn't registered in the United States, were you registered with the Japanese consulate?


Tanaka

Yes, I was.


Mitson

Did that cause you any trouble later?


Tanaka

No, it didn't cause me any trouble except, when I became English editor of the Rafu Shimpo and became involved in editorial debates with people who were criticizing the Nisei, I went to the pains of removing my name from the Japanese Consul's office. In other words, you had to renounce your Japanese citizenship and my father had registered me as Japanese. I guess, at around the age of ninetten or twenty, I renounced it and had only one single citizenship. But it could have caused trouble. Had I gone to Japan, I would have been liable for induction in the Japanese Army. I had no intention of going to Japan. (laughter)


Mitson

Did your family as a group renounce or did you individually do that?


Tanaka

Well, at the time I did it individually. I had a younger brother who did go to Japan. He came back and I believe he renounced, too. With my sisters, who have never been to Japan, there was never an issue.



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Mitson

The camp you were taken to in Death Valley had been a CCC camp?[30]


Tanaka

Yes, it was. It had been used for that. It had been abandoned, and we were just taken there, cleaned it up, and stayed there.


Mitson

Had anyone prepared the camp before you came?


Tanaka

No. This was very sudden, so we had the job of cleaning it up and getting it ready.


Mitson

How did you manage the first night?


Tanaka

Oh, it was pretty miserable! (laughter) And you know, it was cold. I was amazed. We went out and got some wood to put in the stoves there. They gave us blankets and some cots. There were no facilities at all the first night. It was even more primitive than when we went to Manzanar. We were there from, I believe, December 8 until the day before Valentine's [Day] in 1943 or so—December, January, and part of February. In that period it was a very enjoyable experience under the circumstances, I think, because now we could look forward. We were assured that we were headed for Chicago or somewhere East, and I think the knowledge of that alone made a world of difference. I never realized it until I experienced it, that if you're in a situation where the future is blocked and you don't know, it does something both to the spirit and to everything. it takes a great deal to keep going and believing that it's going to come out all right. Once we were in Death Valley they said, "Well, if's just a matter of processing the papers and you'll be on your way." I'm sure that the facilities there were much poorer than at Manzanar, but we enjoyed it. We were digging ditches for a park ranger, so we went out every day and were digging. You know, though not being physical myself, I really enjoyed that work. (laughter) I look back on the Death Valley episode with pleasure. As we look at Manzanar it was a bleak experience, but Death Valley seemed to be the last step before something good was to happen, just to get out.


Mitson

Were the families of the people there also brought at the same time, or were they brought later?


Tanaka

We weren't all brought that first night. But within a couple of weeks, as I recall, all of us who were to be there were there.


Mitson

I have met Karl Yoneda at Manzanar and have read a little bit of his writing. I wonder if you could tell me what you know about Karl Yoneda.[31]


Tanaka

I remember him. I didn't know him very well. I think Joe Masaoka knew him much better. In my mind, he was a very successful leader in organized labor with the longshoremen, and he was a spokesman for that part of the Japanese community, which was generally, I think, identified politically as left of center before the war. But I remember his wife in camp more than I do him. I think her name was Elaine [Black Yoneda],[32] I'm not sure. I think Karl always spoke out pretty much and he encouraged us. He was an older person. I have the recollection that when Joe Masaoka and I volunteered to go out and try to recruit people to volunteer that Karl Yoneda was one of those who encouraged and supported the position we took. Beyond that I don't have many memories of him.


Mitson

He mentioned in a talk that he gave at UCLA on November 12, 1969 that he had participated in a petition to encourage the government to draft people in camps. Do you recall a petition for that purpose?


Tanaka

No, I don't. We might have. I mean, we were signing so many things for the Japanese American Citizens League. He might have been one of those who signed that. I'm sure he was. If there were a line with Joe Kurihara on one side and some of us on the other, Karl was friendly with us.


Mitson

I understand he went out. Actually he wasn't there at the time of your evacuation [from Manzanar to Death Valley]. He had already left the camp before that to do intelligence work with the United States Army, or some branch of the military service.[33]



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Tanaka

Yes.


Mitson

Was the whole group at Death Valley planning to go to Chicago?


Tanaka

No,I think some were to go to Chicago; some were to go back to other relocation camps. It seems like my older brother was to go to Amache. Largely, I think, most of us were headed for Chicago. It seemed to be the one place that was prepared to receive us. I was due in Washington, D.C. They had a wartime agency called the OWI, Office of War Information, and some effort had been made to get me a job there.


Mitson

On the part of whom?


Tanaka

By people like Morton Grodzins and Dorothy Thomas. Morton had written to friends of his at... I think he had done some work for the Louisville Courier Journal. He was in correspondence with... I can't remember the name of the editor. He wrote all over to get me a job on a newspaper. And then I think I was scheduled to go on to Washington, D.C., for a final interview and the assurance of a job with OWI when we landed in Chicago, at the Quaker Hospital. I decided then to cancel going further and volunteered to work for them.

Could I get you some more tea?


Mitson

That would be nice. In fact, perhaps we should bring this interview to a close now. You have been most generous with your time, Mr. Tanaka. On behalf of Dave Hacker, myself, and the Japanese American Oral History Project at California State University, Fullerton, I would like to thank you very much for your cooperation and candor.


Notes

1. In 1992, Jack Koto Tanaka's daughter, Janet Tanaka, directed a film, Who's Going to Pay for These Donuts Anyway?, which explored the contrasting impact of the World War II Japanese American Evacuation experience on her father (a schizophrenic with paranoid tendencies unable to relate to his family) and his older brother Togo (a highly successful businessman and winner of numerous civic awards). In her perceptive review of this film for the American Historical Review 98 (October (1993), 1183, Sumiko Higashi observed: "As the two [long] estranged brothers reconcile before the camera, the filmmaker comments on their similarities rather than their differences. If Jack's angry reaction to the internment provoked institutionalization, shock treatments, and drug therapy, Togo did not internalize American values without paying a price, either. A recovering cancer patient, the eloquent former news editor had five surgeries and radiation to remove a tumor from his throat." Produced by ITVS, this 54-minute film is distributed by Electronic Arts Intermix, 536 Broadway, New York, N. Y. 10012.

2. The tapes for the ten lectures in this series, coordinated by Arthur A. Hansen, are archived in the Japanese American Project collection of the Oral History Program at California State University, Fullerton. For details as to their contents, see Shirley E. Stephenson, ed., Oral History Collection: California State University Fullerton (Fullerton, Calif.: Oral History Program, 1985), 236-39. Togo Tanaka's lecture in the series, "How To Survive Racism in America's Free Society"), was later published in Arthur A. Hansen and Betty E. Mitson, eds., Voices Long Silent: An Oral Inquiry into the Japanese American Evacuation (Fullerton, Calif: Japanese American Project of the Oral History Program at California State University, Fullerton, 1974), 83-109.

3. At the outset of World War II, Morton Grodzins (1917-1964) was a doctoral candidate in political science at the University of California, Berkeley. When Dorothy Swaine Thomas, a UC Berkeley sociologist, launched the [Japanese] Evacuation and Resettlement Study (JERS), she selected Grodzins to serve as a research assistant and to act as her assistant director. He remained in this capacity for almost three years, leaving in 1945 after completing his dissertation ("Political Aspects of the Japanese Evacuation") to accept a position in Tennessee. At this point, he requested from Thomas that he be


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permitted to revise his dissertation, based upon data he had collected for JERS, in the projected JERS monograph series. Thomas refused his request on the grounds that Grodzins had been paid for the data he had amassed for JERS, which owned this material, and because she felt his dissertation was "verbose," "immature," and "intemperate" in its criticism of governmental officials—and thus unworthy of publication by the University of California Press. Thomas, moreover, applied pressure, unsuccessfully, to the University of Chicago Press to prevent their publishing Grodzins's study. Following its release in 1949 under the title of Americans Betrayed: Politics and the Japanese American Evacuation, Thomas arranged for three University of California scholars (Jacobus tenBroek, Edward Barnhart, and Floyd Matson) to publish a study in the JERS series designed in part to counter the work of Grodzins— Prejudice, War and the Constitution: Causes and Consequences of the Evacuation of the Japanese Americans in World War II (1954). For a brief overview of this conflict, see the introduction by Yuji Ichioka, "JERS Revisited," 17-19, to his edited work Views From Within: The Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study (Los Angeles: Asian American Studies Center, University of California at Los Angeles, 1989); for a detailed treatment of this controversy, see Peter Suzuki's article in the same volume, "For the Sake of Inter-university Comity: The Attempted Suppression of Morton Grodzins' Americans Betrayed, " 95-123. Between 1951 and 1954, Grodzins held the post of Editor of the University of Chicago Press, and thereafter became Professor and Chairman of the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago.

4. For information on this social-scientific study, see the following sources: Dorothy S. Thomas and Richard Nishimoto, The Spoilage: Japanese-American Evacuation and Resettlement During World War II (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press), v-xv; Ichioka, JERS Revisited, 3-27; and Peter Suzuki, The University of California Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study: A Prolegomenon, Dialectical Anthropology 10 (1986): 189-213.

5. For information on Miyamoto, Kikuchi, Shibutani, and other social scientists affiliated with JERS, see Ichioka, Views From Within, passim, but especially 3-27. The "who else" referred to by Tanaka probably included two women members of the study connected to the JERS office in Chicago, Louise Suski and Tamie Tsuchiyama.

6. Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988), renowned as a sculptor around the world for his work in museums, gardens, and parks, was associated with progressive, internationalist causes prior to World War II and was a "voluntary" inmate for a few months in 1942 at the Poston War Relocation Center in Arizona.

7. Solon Kimball (1909-1982) was a pioneer in community studies, anthropology and education, and anthropology and modern life. After receiving his doctorate in 1936 from Harvard University, where he studied under W. Lloyd Warner, he was successively employed prior to World War II with the Soil Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (on the Navajo reservation). From 1942 to 1945, Kimball was based in Washington D.C. and worked with the Community Management section of the War Relocation Authority. From Washington, he traveled extensively to the ten WRA camps situated in the western and southeastern United States, and for a short period in 1942 he served as acting director of the Manzanar center in California's Owens Valley. According to Alexander Moore's obituary of Kimball in the American Anthropologist 86 (1984): 386-93, "Kimball was not happy with this [the World War II] phase of his career. In the seven years that I knew him at the University of Florida, he never mentioned it; and he and I talked on an almost daily basis."

8. Robert Redfield (1897-1958) was a cultural anthropologist who, after 1927, was affiliated with the University of Chicago. Married to a daughter of Robert Park, a sociologist prominently identified with the Chicago School, Redfield was an authority on cultural and social changes of a folk peasant community affected by urban influences. In 1942, while Redfield was serving as Dean of the Social Sciences Division at the University of Chicago, the War Relocation Authority hired him as a consultant. Recommended for this job by fellow anthropologist John Provinse, Chief of Community Management for the WRA, Redfield visited a number of centers (including Manzanar), participated in policy discussions, and made several recommendations. One of his recommendations was that the WRA establish a "Reporting and Information" service on each project, which led to Togo Tanaka and Joe Grant Masaoka becoming documentary historians at Manzanar; in 1943, it bore further fruit in the form of the WRA establishing a Community Analysis Section to implement a program of applied anthropology in Manzanar and the other centers.

9. Mike Masaoka (1915-1991) was born in Fresno, California, but was reared and educated as a Mormon (Church of Latter-day Saints) in Utah. At the University of Utah, he achieved recognition as a skilled debater. After graduation in 1937, he became involved in the Japanese American Citizens League and soon was catapulted into a position of national leadership in that organization. In 1941, JACL President Saburo Kido, feeling that the time was right for the organization to


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hire an executive secretary, asked the youthful Masaoka (who had been raised apart from the West Coast Japanese American communities and spoke little Japanese) to assume the position. In his autobiography, written with Bill Hosokawa, They Call Me Moses Masaoka: An American Saga (New York: Morrow, 1987), Masaoka recalled the circumstances surrounding his selection. "We were basically agreed a JACL employee must be fluent in Japanese as well as English, have good rapport with the Issei, have a knowledge of Japanese community affairs and JACL history, be able to speak in public, and have the experience to meet with government officials on their own terms. In other words, he must be an articulate leader who could deal with both Issei and American communities. I was acquainted with only a few Nisei, but I was aware of one who met all the qualfications. That would be Togo Tanaka [then chair of the JACL's public relations committee] of Los Angeles, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of UCLA. He was working in the English section of Rafu Shimpo, a daily newspaper, and obviously destined for more important things."
After his appointment as National Secretary and Field Executive of the JACL, Masaoka became a moving spirit in and a spokesperson for the organization's post-Pearl Harbor policy of "constructive cooperation" with the United States government. Never incarcerated in a detention camp himself, Masaoka assisted in the transfer of the JACL's national office from San Francisco to Salt Lake City, then relocated to Washington D.C. and, after lobbying the government to open up the military to Japanese American volunteers, enlisted (along with four of his brothers) in the all-Nisei 442d Regimental Combat Team. After the war he represented the JACL as a full-time lobbyist until 1953 and, for twenty years thereafter, as a part-time one. Lionized by some elements of the Japanese American community, Masaoka was reviled by others, with some critics charging that he was a false Moses who had led his people, in the name of Americanism, into concentration camps. This condemnatory perspective toward Masaoka (and the JACL wartime leadership in general) should assume quintessential expression in the forthcoming study of the JACL by James M. Omura. See the 1984 interview by Arthur A. Hansen with Omura (O.H. 1765) in the CSUF Oral History Program's Japanese American Project, excerpted in the Amerasia Journal 13 (1986-87); 99-113, and published in its entirety in Part 4 ("Resisters") of this oral hisory project.

10. The 442d Regimental Combat Team was composed of volunteers from Hawaii and the mainland, many deriving directly from detention centers. The team trained in Camp Shelby, Mississippi, from October 1943 to February 1944. On June 2, 1944, the 442d landed at Naples, Italy, and then moved on to the beaches of Anzio. Thereafter they went to Rome and there the 100th Batallion, which had begun the war as part of the Hawaii National Guard, formally was merged with the 442d. The team then fought in France, before returning to Italy to battle German forces at the conclusion of the European phase of the war. According to Personal Justice Denied: Report on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (Washington D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 1982), 258, "In seven major campaigns, the 442nd took 9,486 casualties—more than 300 percent of its original infantry strength, including 600 killed. More than 18,000 men served with the unit.... The 442nd was one of the war's most decorated combat teams, receiving seven Presidential Distinguished Unit Citations and earning 18, 143 individual decorations, including one Congressional Medal of Honor, 47 Distinguished Service Crosses, 350 Silver Stars, 810 Bronze Stars and more than 3,600 Purple Hearts."

11. On March 2, 1942, Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt, Commanding General of the Western Defense Command and Fourth Army, issued a proclamation designating military areas in the states of Washington, Oregon, California, and Arizona from which certain persons or classes of persons, as the situation might require, might be excluded. The data of this proclamation began the period known as "voluntary evacuation" for West Coast residents of Japanese ancestry, since they were permitted to evacuate their homes and businesses and move inland. Altogether, prior to the Army's termination of nonmandatory evacuation on March 29, 1942, it is estimated that only 4,889 people participated in the program, with the largest numbers migrating to Colorado and Utah. For a discussion of "voluntary evacuation," including its complexities and constraints, see Personal Justice Denied, 100-104.

12. Earl Warren (1891-1974), who later became Governor of California, an unsuccessful Republican candidate for Vice-President of the United States, and Chief Justice of the United States, was Attorney General of California and preparing to run for governor when President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. This order laid the foundation for the evacuation of people of Japanese ancestry by authorizing the secretary of war to establish military zones "from which any or all persons may be excluded as deemed necessary or desirbale." Testifying at the hearings of the House Select Committee Investigating National Defense Migration (Tolan Committee) a few days after this order was promulgated, Warren indulged in groundless insinuations and racist demagoguery to paint a picture of likely espionage and sabotage by California resident Nikkei and thereby lend credence to the necessity for their eviction. That Warren's anti-Japanese testimony continued to haunt him throughout his life, notwithstanding his exemplary judicial fight for expanded civil rights and civil liberties, became blatantly manifest in his posthumously published memoirs, The Memoirs of Chief Justice Earl Warren (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1977): "I have since deeply regretted the removal order and my own testimony advocating


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it, because it was not in keeping with our American concept of freedom and the rights of citizens." As quoted in Personal Justice Denied, 375.

13. For Tamotsu Shibutani's treatment of rumors within the context of the World War II Japanese American Evacuation experience, see the following three studies produced by him: "Rumors in a Crisis Situation" (master's thesis, University of Chicago, 1944); "The Circulation of Rumors as a Form of Collective Behavior" (Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1948); and (to a lesser extent) The Derelicts of Company K: A Sociological Study of Demoralization (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1978). For a discussion of the nature and function of rumors in a global context that includes the wartime Evacuation experience, see Shibutani's Improvised News: A Sociological Study of Rumor (Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill, 1966).

14. The reports compiled by Togo Tanaka and Joe Grant Masaoka in their capacity as Manzanar's documentary historians are archived at the University of California, Berkeley's Bancroft Library [UCB-BL], Japanese Evacuation and Resettlement Study [JERS], Manzanar Relocation Center [MRC], folders O10.06 and O10.08. These exceedingly valuable reports, numbered from 1 through 90 and comprised of 406 typescript pages, cover virtually every dimension of Manzanar life during the period from June to December 1942.

15. Togo Tanaka remained in protective custody at the Cow Creek Civilian Conservation Corps Camp in Death Valley, California, from early December 1942 to mid-February 1943. While there, and after being resettled in Chicago, Tanaka wrote a series of reports for the [Japanese] Evacuation and Resettlement Study—all of which are archived in UCB-BL, JERS, MRC (see endnote 14 above). Four of them relate to Manzanar: "Governmental and Administrative Actions" (7 pages); "Report on Manzanar Riot" (123 pages); "Report on Manzanar Riot: Addenda" (50 pages); and "Various Short Reports on Manzanar Citizens Federation, Doho, JACL, etc." (unpaginated); see, respectively, folders O10.10, O10.12, O10.14, and O10.16.

16. At the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, John L. DeWitt (1880-1962) was a lieutenant general in the United States Army and commander of the Western Defense Command and the Fourth Army, both headquartered at San Francisco's Presidio. When, on February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, control over enemy aliens was shifted from the Department of Justice to the War Department and authorization was given for the designation of military zones from which all persons—citizens and aliens alike—might be excluded. The very next day, Secretary of War Henry Stimson appointed DeWitt, a sixty-one-year-old career officer nearing retirement, to carry out these duties. For a critical appraisal of DeWitt and his role in the Evacuation, including his authorship of the controversial Final Report, Japanese Evacuation From the West Coast, 1942, see Peter Irons, Justice at War: The Story of the Japanese American Internment Cases (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), especially 25-74 and 206-18.

17. David A. Hacker's major contributions to the historiography of the Manzanar center are the following two works: (with Arthur A. Hansen), "The Manzanar Riot: An Ethnic Perspective," Amerasia Journal 2 (Fall 1974): 112-57; and "A Culture Resisted, A Culture Revived: The Loyalty Crisis of 1943 at the Manzanar War Relocation Center" (master's thesis, California State University at Fullerton, 1980). See also the 1978 interview conducted by Hacker (and Arthur A. Hansen) with Manzanar's community analyst, Morris Opler (O.H. 1600) in the CSUF Oral History Program's Japanese American Project.

18. Togo Tanaka's report on the Manzanar Riot is included in Thomas and Nishimoto, The Spoilage, 49-52.

19. See Morton Grodzins, "The Manzanar Shooting" (30 pages), in UCB-BL, JERS, MRC, folder O10.04.

20. For biographical information on Fred Tayama, including his role in the Manzanar Riot, see Hansen and Hacker, "Manzanar Riot," particularly 113-15 and 137-40.

21. See Tanaka, "How To Survive Racism in America's Free Society," as cited in fn. 2 above.

22. Kango Takamura, who was born in Japan in 1895 and was working as a photo retoucher for RKO Studios in Los Angeles at the time of Pearl Harbor, was interned first at an alien detention center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and then transferred to Manzanar. The artwork that he did while incarcerated at both of these sites is showcased in Deborah Gesensway and Mindy Roseman, Beyond Words: Images from America's Concentration Camps (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1987), 117-29; particularly see 127-28 for information on Takamura's work for the guayule project.


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23. For a detailed account of the internal security setup at Manzanar from the perspective of a member of the evacuee police force, see the August 12, 1974 interview by Arthur A. Hansen with George Fukasawa (O.H. 1336) in Part 1 ("Internees"), 215-77, of this oral history project.

24. As noted above, in fn. 14, this invaluable material was preserved and is available to researchers. Perhaps what Tanaka is referring to here are the raw field notes upon which his (and Joe Grant Masaoka's) documentary history reports were based.

25. The details of Slocum's lobbying efforts are covered in Bill Hosokawa, JACL in Quest of Justice: The History of the Japanese American Citizens League (New York: Morrow, 1982), 42-44, 49-56.

26. For information pertinent to the wartime exchange of people between Japan and the United States, see P. Scott Corbett, Quiet Passages: The Exchange of Civilians between the United States and Japan during the Second World War (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1987).

27. Joseph C. Grew (1880-1965) was United States Ambassador to Japan from 1931-1941 and, during World War II, authored two books on his Japanese experiences: Reports From Tokyo (1942) and Ten Years in Japan (1944).

28. Esther Biddle Rhoads (1896-1987) lived in Japan for twenty years prior to 1941, where she taught at a Society of Friends (Quaker) school in Tokyo and was one of the few Americans there who could converse in Japanese. Home at the time of Pearl Harbor on a furlough, she went to work in February 1942 with the Quaker-sponsored American Friends Service Committee program to assist persons of Japanese ancestry (continuing in this capacity until mid-1946). For information on her wartime role, see Esther B. Rhoads, "My Experience with the Wartime Relocation of Japanese," in Hilary Conroy and T. Scott Miyakawa, eds., East Across the Pacific: Historical and Sociological Studies of Japanese Immigration and Assimilation (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC Clio Press, 1972), 127-40.

29. For information on Herbert Victor Nicholson (1892-1983), see the following sources: Herbert V. Nicholson, Treasures in Earthen Vessels: God's Love Overflows in Peace and War (Whittier, Calif.: Penn Lithographics, 1974); Herbert V. Nicholson and Margaret Wilke, Comfort All Who Mourn: The Life Story of Herbert and Madeline Nicholson (Fresno, Calif.: Bookmates International, 1982); Michi Nishiura Weglyn and Betty E. Mitson, eds., Valiant Odyssey: Herbert Nicholson in and out of America's Concentration Camps (Upland, Calif.: Bruhn's Printing, 1978); Floyd Schmoe, "Seattle's Peace Churches and Relocation," in Roger Daniels, Sandra C. Taylor, and Harry H. L. Kitano, eds., Japanese Americans: From Relocation to Redress (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1986), 119-20; and "A Friend of the American Way: An Interview [by Betty E. Mitson] with Herbert V. Nicholson," in Hansen and Mitson, Voices Long Silent, 110-42.

30. The historical background on this camp and the experience of those Japanese Americans who were removed from Manzanar and placed in protective custody there after the Manzanar Riot of December 6, 1942, are treated at length in two accounts—the one by a Manzanar and Death Valley internee, the other by the son of Manzanar's director. See, respectively, Tad Uyeno, "Point of No Return," serialized in the Rafu Shimpo 22 August-10 October 1973, and Ralph P. Merritt, Jr., Death Valley—Its Impounded Americans: The Contribution by Americans of Japanese Ancestry During World War II (Death Valley, Calif.: The Death Valley '49ers, Inc., 1987).

31. For information on Karl Goso Yoneda (1906- ), see his autobiographical account, Ganbatte: Sixty-Year Struggle of a Kibei Worker (Los Angeles: Asian American Studies Center, University of California at Los Angeles, 1983), as well as a critique of this account, Harvey Klehr, "Communists' Autobiographies," The World and I (June 1987), 613-20. See also, Betty E. Mitson, "Looking Back in Anguish: Oral History and Japanese-American Evacuation," Oral History Review 2 (1974): 42-50, and the 1974 interviews with him (O.H. 1376a,b) in the Japanese American Project of the CSUF Oral History Program.

32. For information on Elaine Black Yoneda (1906-1988), see Vivian McGuckin Raineri, The Red Angel: The Life and Times of Elaine Black Yoneda (New York: International Publishers, 1991); Mitson, "Looking Back in Anguish," 42-50; and the 1974 interviews with her (O.H. 1377a,b) in the Japanese American Project of the CSUF Oral History Program.

33. For the conditions surrounding Karl Yoneda's departure from Manzanar on December 2, 1942, and his wartime service in the Burma-China-India Theatre with the Office of War Information Psychological Wartime Team, see Chapter 8 ("Volunteer for U.S. Military Intelligence Service") of Yoneda, Ganbatte, 145-65. Yoneda's military exploits during World War II are covered also in Joseph D. Harrington, Yankee Samurai: The Secret Role of Nisei in America's Pacific Victory (Detroit: Pettigrew Enterprises, Inc., 1979), passim.


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Index

  • American Friends Service Committee, 136-37, 144n28
  • American History (Munro), 126
  • American Legion, 133
  • American Technical Society, 125-26
  • Americans Betrayed (Grodzins), 141n3
  • Ardouin, Louis, 131
  • Barnhart, Edward, 141n3
  • Birth certificates, 115
  • Burke, Merle, 12
  • California Federal Savings and Loan, 119
  • Chicago School of Sociology, 141n8
  • Civilian exchange, 136-38
  • Cover, Carl, 124
  • Cow Creek Civilian Conservation Corps Camp, 139-40, 143
  • DeWitt, John L., 131, 142n11, 143n16
  • Dillingham Land Corporation, 119
  • Draft, 133, 139
  • Endo, Ellen, 129
  • Executive Order 9066, 142n12, 143n16
  • Expatriation and repatriation, 136, 137, 138
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), 123
  • Foster, Charles Richard, 126
  • 442d Regimental Combat Team, 142n9, 142n10
  • Gardening, 117
  • Gilkey, John, 134
  • Great Western Financial Corporation, 119
  • Grew, Joseph C., 137, 144n27
  • Gripsholm, 137
  • Grodzins, Morton, 121-22, 126, 132, 140-41n3
  • Hansen, Arthur A., 131
  • Higashi, Kiyoshi, 134
  • Illegal aliens, 121-22
  • Imperial Japanese Army, 121
  • Interracial marriage, 119, 120
  • Issei, 121-23, 127
  • Japanese Americans
    • arrests of, 123
    • citizenship of, 136
    • discrimination against, 129, 131