(pg. 74 -)
- Then to Terminal Island
I do not know exactly when the county jail had been built, but it seemed quite new and well furnished with various facilities. The waiting room where we were herded into was very clean, sanitary, and spacious beyond compare to the police substation jail in which some of us had been put at first. It must have been used only for men: that there were eleven urinals, though without any partitioning screen, there was a drinking fountain, and a built-in bench. That was all the fixtures in this room.
There was another group of about 30 people brought into this room from the west area of Los Angeles, and some people from our group had been taken to some place else.
There was a steam heater, but the room was not very warm. Maybe because it was still early morning. All of us had been moved around throughout the night without much sleep, so many of us just lay or sat down on the concrete floor. I tried to lie down since I was exhausted from fatigue and sleepiness; however, as soon as I started to doze, a bodyache and a chill tormented me that I could not sleep nor rest my limbs.
Someone kept smoking cigarettes vacantly sitting on the narrow bench. Another paced back and forth inside this room. Some chatted in groups of three or five, but by this time we all had shared about our arrest or a war story of a thrilling air raid, that no loud or cheerful voice was heard. On the contrary, some were casting their eyes down in a manner of being sunk in thought. They might have been worrying about their family or supposing what would happen next to them.
Meanwhile the noise of the trains that went through the city started to be frequent and the window facing the courtyard grew lighter. The people who had been lying on the floor started to get up one by one, and the ones who had been sitting on the floor started to stand up or move to the bench. The atmosphere became a little more lively than before.
“It feels long when waiting.”
Someone said as if he had longed for the dawn. It was an old man I did not know.
“It will be bright soon. It doesn’t take long when the window looks like that.”
Another old man who was leaning against the wall by the door to the hallway said in a comforting manner.
“I would like something hot to drink.”
“Breakfast should be soon. Breakfast is usually early in jails and barracks.”
“That’s right. They should be feeding us soon. I don’t expect anything more than some donuts and coffee, though. See, I hear they are getting ready in the dining room downstairs.”
“Oh, I think I can smell the coffee.”
“Breakfast is nice, too, but I can’t wait until the morning comes. Then we will be settled in somewhere.”
“I agree. I can’t stand being taken around here and there, or being left alone forever like this.”
About an hour later, two police officers came in through the door on the side and said,
“All come downstairs. Follow us in a single file, O.K.?”
We followed them to the hallway, took the elevator in several groups to a few floors down, and went through another hallway to an office covered by a metal fence. There we were ordered to sign our receipt of our belongings and hand it to the officer.
“It seems we are getting our belongings back.”
“They are letting us go home then.”
“They should let us go for now, since they have examined us twice already.”
A few interpreted this in a favorable way, and many more who did not say anything seemed to put a similar interpretation on it, too. It was our hope and it felt good to think that we were being released; however, our belongings were not to be given back to us at this time. Instead, they merely handed us a new receipt with an amount of money written on it. Then the same two officers lead us further down to the ground level, and to the outside.
There were two large buses waiting for us. We got in as the officers told us to.
When the bus started to move, various theories were shared.
“We are being sent far away now.”
“I heard that there is a large prison built near Chino. I think we are going there.”
“I think we may be taken to Death Valley. They say that there is a huge detention center with a capacity of tens of thousands.”
“Since they didn’t feed us breakfast, it could be a much closer place. Maybe Terminal Island?”
“The immigration jail on Terminal Island?”
“No. There is a new one built that looks like a prison.”
While we were discussing, the bus took Alameda Street and headed south.
“That’s it. It’s Terminal Island.”
“It’ll be nice if it’s Terminal Island. It’s so close that my family will be able to visit me.”
“It must be Terminal Island that we are heading to, for sure now.”
All seemed to agree with this. Even the ones who advocated the Chino theory or the Death Valley theory took back those and said with one accord,
“It’s definitely Terminal Island.”
Terminal Island was located 25 miles south of Los Angeles, facing San Pedro and Wilmington where the pier of Nippon Yusen Company was. Actually the pier of Osaka Shosen Company was on Terminal Island.
After about 45 minutes ride, the bus drove onto Terminal Island as we expected. There were several armed guards near the iron drawbridge at the entrance.
The bus stopped near the southeast edge of the island. Far behind the ten-foot high metal fence, we saw a new concrete building. There was a sign that said, “Federal Correctional Institution.”
There was a guard with a machine gun on the watchtower watching us solemnly. Nevertheless, several seagulls were flying over and away smoothly and the harbor was calm without much waves as if it was a large lake. The scenery looked truly peaceful.
(pg. 80 – )
- A Pleasant Jail
“I’m so hungry. When are they going to feed us? Really.”
“No drinking water here, either. I was so thirsty that I asked that gardner to let me drink some of the water he had for the plants.”
“Water won’t do for me. We missed breakfast and lunch.”
“I’m out of cigarettes. If I had one, it could have been a stopgap.”
“I have my last one here. Would you like a half of it?”
“Oh, how kind of you.”
Mr. Kikuji Inoue of the Kumamoto Oversea Association’s board started to whine at last, unlike his usual cheerfulness. He received a half stick of cigarette from an old man from West Los Angeles, where he also was from. He smoked it with evident joy and said,
“What a treat. I hadn’t had one since this morning.”
Since I was also in the same predicament of being out of cigarettes, I could not help feeling special sympathy for him.
In fact, we were left alone standing outside in two rows within the metal fence of the federal prison near the side gate. No donuts or coffee were given to us and we were left standing there until late afternoon. All the smokers shared whatever was left amongst them, and every cigarette had turned into smoke by noon.
The moist wind was blowing on us relentlessly, and our hunger grew worse and worse. We had given up the hope of breakfast by noon, but we were still hopeful of lunch. Time passed one o’clock and two, and there was still no sign of food. At the end, no one was complaining of hunger or lack of cigarettes anymore.
At the entrance of the building, we were called in one by one for detailed inquiry of our name, address, occupation, and so on. Then we were admitted in; but this inquiry was not making much progress at all.
When mine was done and I was admitted in, it was almost five o’clock. We were made to take a shower first, then checked for respiratory and sexually transmitted diseases, and our weight and height were recorded while we were still naked. Then we were clothed in a prison uniform without buttons that was faded from washing. After our fingerprints and picture with a number were taken, we were led through many rooms and hallways to the east end of the building facing San Pedro Harbor. It was a large room, or rather a hall, that was 100 feet long, and 40 feet wide. There were more than 100 beds arranged in four rows, and the left two rows were bunk beds. There were four windows each on the east side which was facing the harbor, and the west side which was facing the courtyard. Both sides were wrapped by the passageway of the guards, but it was not so unpleasant since there were no iron bars to interrupt our views, as in the city and the county jails. Everything looked new and the room was bright. There was a new style of fan heater, the restrooms were on the right side at the end of the room, the shower room was on the left, and there was another good-sized room connected to this room to be used for meetings and smoking. Overall, it was a well made and convenient facility.
Our guard was a short and mean looking man with hard eyes. He gathered everyone and said,
“Whoever comes here must obey the rules of this place. Blankets, towels and pillows are going to be issued right now, so go to the next door in an orderly manner. Then everyone makes his own bed in the exact same way. The crease of the sheets has to line up from here to the other end of the room. Understood? And we don’t call your name, but your number, so memorize your number. When called, respond ‘Yes, sir.’ clearly. Understood? Now, come follow me to the next door in a single file.”
We, a group of about 70 by this time, obediently followed him and received the supplies: mattress, sheets, two blankets, comforter, pillow, pillowcase, towels and so on. Everything was brand new and the blankets were marked with “U.S.” as the emblem of the federal government. We made our beds as instructed.
In this way, our family names that we had been freely and proudly using since our childhood, and the names that had been given by our parents, were taken away. Instead, we were given numbers like criminals, and we were to respond with the respectful address for the guard who would call us by those numbers. I was given a number of 6071. Mr. Sakakura’s was 6070, so he took the upper bunk and I took the one right under him. My right side neighbor was Mr. Bunshichi Okuno of Mikawaya Confectionery and my left side neighbor was Mr. Mikitaro Sato whom I mentioned before.
After the bed-making, we were led in two files through the courtyard diagonally to the dining room on the other side, and finally given a supper after 24 hours. The food was not as bad as expected. The coffee did not have much flavor at all, but to our surprise, it was sweetened with a small amount of sugar.
We were made to form a line at the entrance to the dining room, moved slowly in an orderly manner, took a plate — 1.5 feet long, a foot wide, alloy made plate, with six hollows — were served several things on it, sat at a table orderly and ate quietly under the watch of 7 to 8 guards surrounding us. This made us feel the sorrow of prisoner’s life. However, we were in high spirits despite the hardship of this whole day. Because we knew that this was not a result of our action that would haunt our conscience, but merely a part of the injury caused by the war.
(pg. 88 – )
- The First Night
The regulations of this prison were: rising at 6:00 a.m., retiring at 9:30 p.m., breakfast at 7:00, lunch at 12:00, supper at 5:00, roll calls at 6:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 4:30 p.m., and 9:00 p.m. Another patrol was to be made around midnight. We were allowed to smoke only in the smoking room, two or more people were not to sit on a bed, no metal object was allowed on us at any time, and so on.
On that day, toward evening, some heavy bombers and fighters of the Navy and the Army flew over us one by one. Some made a formation of three and flew above us in a large half circle and away to the direction of Palos Verdes Mountains. The sight suddenly made us feel overwrought. The same roaring kept audible right above us without ceasing until the night fell. Moreover, our lights were not turned on and the darkness made it even more gruesome.
At 9 p.m., the alarm went off in darkness and we all stood straight by the bed as we had been ordered for the first roll call. About 20 minutes later, we all slipped into the assigned bed. Some kept talking even after that.
“The bed is not bad. I think I’m going to sleep well tonight.”
“This place shouldn’t be too bad if it’s not for too long.”
“I agree. It’s merry that there are so many of us here together.”
“I wonder how the war situation is?”
“I suppose the reports on Japanese news about Hawaii were correct.”
“Sure they were. What a tremendous thing they have done.”
While we were still talking, the guard’s flashlight approached the room, and a group of Japanese people followed him. The guard was making them choose their bed in darkness by groping. Some familiar voices were recognized.
“That’s Mr. ****, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is. He’s arrived late.”
“There are some twenty or thirty people.”
“I wonder who they are?”
“We’ll see tomorrow morning.”
We kept talking in a low voice with the people in neighboring beds so the guard would not hear us.
The following morning, we found out that the new arrivals were mostly from Los Angeles and I knew most of them well. Thirty two or three new arrivals and us, who had arrived earlier made a group of one hundred and seven. I am not able to list all the names here, but these are some of the names, other than those ten people I already mentioned, whom I had spent time with in the city jail:
Kengoro Nakamura (president of Central Japanese Association); Kichitaro Muto (vice president of the above); Jiro Fujioka (accountant of the above); Gentaro Bessho (same as above); Shiro Fujioka (former chief secretary of the above); Shungo Abe (former president of Los Angeles Japanese Association); Kurakichi Kaneko (vice president of the above); Kohei Shimano (same as above); Kinichi Tada (accountant of the above); Tomomi Yamashita (same as above); Katsuya Kawano (former vice president of the above); Susumu Hasuike (president of Southern California Fruit Union); Mitsuhiko Shimizu (former president of Los Angeles Japanese Association); Jutaro Narumi (owner of Asia Trading); Isamu Rikimaru and Mataji Rikimaru (Rikimaru Brothers Agricultural Trading); Taiji Kita (co-owner of Star Agricultural Trading); Motoo Noritake (president of Sunrise Soda Manufacture); Choichiro Shirakawa (hotel owner and union counselor); Katsuji Uemura (owner of Fukushimaya Hotel); Yoshitaro Sasahara (former president of Hiroshima People’s Association); Isamu Sekiyama (doctor); Uich Iwata (owner of Kogetsu); Sojin Suzuki (chief editor of Rafu Shimpo); Sueji Nishimura (president of Pasadena Japanese Association); Tomoki Iwanaga (Salvation Army Lieutenant); Ryuji Tatsuno (Southern California Rank Holders Association board); Eizo Maruyama (Central Japanese Association executive); Masamichi Yamamoto (president of Southern California Wakayama People’s Association); Kuichiro Nishi (Gardner’s Union executive); Meitaro Yoshii (entrepreneur); Jihei Kuga (hotel owner); Masakatsu Fujita (assistant treasurer of Los Angeles Japanese Association); Michio Ito (dance master). There were also elderly men like Futaro Hiraiwa of Pasadena (82), Gisuke Sakamoto, an elder statesman of West Los Angeles (73), and Chozaburo Okumura of Los Angeles (72).
Most of these people had lived in the United States for many years, having been well known for their unselfish contribution to public works and American society in many ways. They were prominent and indispensable figures especially for the Japanese society in the United States.
Nevertheless, when the morning came, all these people were wrapped in prison uniforms which were without buttons. Some tied the waist of the pants with a string, some rolled up the hems of large baggy pants, and some uniforms had already been torn five to six inches. All uniforms were faded from washing and these men looked truly shabby in them.
President Komai, wearing the same prison uniform as others, was remarkably cheerful from the very early morning and volunteered to be an organizer for the housekeeping chores. The people who received assignments started to work handling a broom, a mop, or a bucket.
Others gathered in the smoking room, which had been cleaned, and chatted.
“The roaring of the airplanes above us kept me awake all night. It was hard because I was so tired and wanted to rest.”
“I fell asleep all right and did not know, but why were those airplanes flying around here?”
“For defending the coast or night time drills, maybe.”
“I don’t think so. I think they left to reinforce the Hawaiian air force in a large formation.”
“That makes sense. I heard that the damage is severe over there.”
“That may be it, then.”
“That is it, I’m sure. By the way, don’t they turn on the light at all here during the night? I had to choose a bed in darkness, and I got one without sheets or a pillow.”
“I got it worse. After I chose a bed, I went to the bathroom, and I could not find it again when I returned.”
“Oh, so that was you who was moving around me with stealthy steps. I thought it might be a burglar. I was thinking that I must be careful since this place is a nest of specialists, you know.”
“Don’t be silly. All our belongings were taken away and we don’t have anything that we need to be careful for.”
“How come? Have you smuggled in some cash?”
“It’s not cash. It’s my dentures. I put my dentures under my pillow when I sleep.”
“Ha, ha. Dentures. I didn’t think of that. But it is inconvenient if we have to spend every night in darkness.”
“It’s not every night. Last night was the first time. It was the blackout order.”
Said the person whose name was Ohashi. He had been in this place for smuggling industrial use diamonds.
“So, that was the blackout order. Come to think of it, the guard did look a little nervous.”
“The guard doesn’t say anything about it, but other prisoners are spreading rumors that Japanese fighters may fly over here to attack anytime. I think that could be true.”
“Aren’t the prisoners frightened?”
“No, they’re not. They are shrewd rascals.”
“Some may be thinking that an airstrike would be their chance to escape.”
“Probably. There are some Italian prisoners of war, too.”
“Where were they arrested?”
“They sabotaged the ship. They blew it up.”
“Oh, I read about it in the paper.”
Meanwhile, the cleaning was completed and some went back to the bedroom. Small groups of three or five were formed here and there, and they chatted.
The majority stayed in the smoking room. Some talked brave war stories, and some discussed the general situation of the world. It was quite lively there.
However, as for cigarettes, none had any. It was a pitiful sight when there was not even a wisp of smoke amongst so many of us gathered.
(pg. 95- )
- Absolute Isolation
A piercing sound of the whistle. The morning roll call. Another whistle. Breakfast. Another. Distribution of dental floss and towel. They use the whistle to gather people for whatever purposes at this place.
At about 11 o’clock in the morning that day, the whistle was sounded. We gathered wondering what it would be this time. We were told to assemble in the adjacent room for special instructions from the warden. The adjacent room was on the north side of our quarter. It was a very large room, or a hall, that could easily hold 60 to 70 beds. It had many windows facing the ocean, which gave this room much light and a great view.
The warden was a man of about sixty years of age. He had an imposing figure with a respectable appearance. He stood in front of us and said that all the rules and the orders of the guards must be followed exactly, and we are to cooperate with each other in keeping the room clean, taking care of individual hygiene, maintaining order, and not to be involved in any fight or quarrel. If these were followed, no restriction other than the rules would be placed on us. He continued,
“One of our rules dictates that you are to be kept in absolute isolation for the first three weeks or 21 days. That means you cannot read newspapers or magazines, no correspondence or visiting with your family, and you are to remain in your quarter for the whole time except the meal time. However, one hour sunbathing may be permitted in the courtyard on a sunny day. Please understand that this is a part of the regulations of this prison.”
Neither the words or his attitude was as derogatory as the guard’s instruction on the previous night, but the words “absolute isolation” made us all truly disappointed. None of us had violated or even thought of violating any policy of the United States. We were good permanent residents and fathers of American citizens, with no guilty conscience in our hearts. We all had thought that we would be allowed to return home after one or two days of investigation. Most of us had accepted if we had to stay over night at the local police jail, but none of us had imagined that we would be put into the county jail or the federal prison and be cut off from communications with our families. The police officer had told us to come for a minute, and we all had believed and followed obediently without having discussed about our business, the livelihood of our family, or anything else with our family before we left.
“Absolute isolation seems rather harsh. I can accept two or three days, but three weeks! I wish that they would notify our families that we are here.”
After the warden’s instruction, we gathered here and there in our bedroom or in the smoking room and chatted about what we had just heard.
“The police officer told me to come for a brief inquiry and I came without thinking of anything else.”
“Same here. I was already in bed and got out in a rush. I didn’t even bring the money for cigarettes. I thought I would be released immediately.”
“My family was out when I was picked up. They must be worrying about my whereabouts and it is killing me that I cannot let them know that I’m here.”
“I’m glad that I had given my wife the money for expenses for a couple of months, but we take care of my sick mother and I worry about her.”
“What kind of sickness?”
“She had a surgery and it hasn’t healed well. She needs to be taken to the hospital often, and it’s difficult for my wife. We have small children, too.”
“That is hard.”
“I don’t need to worry about my children since they are all grown up, but I didn’t leave any money for my wife. If only we could correspond, I would be able to get my checkbook and send her a check or something. I only have 75 cents on me. I was taken when I came home from work.”
“The warden said three weeks of absolute isolation. I think that means the real investigation may take longer.”
“I suspect that we may be thrown into some detention camp without any real investigation.”
“Don’t be so pessimistic. We are in the home country of democracy. They can’t be that unreasonable.”
“But this is wartime.”
“You’re right. ‘The Alien and Sedition Acts’ passed congress in the 1790s, and the president was allowed to imprison or deport a person without any trial when he perceived a hindrance to the national security.”
“You are talking about the United States?”
“Yes. It’s a historical fact. I think it was when Jefferson was the president.”
“But we are good permanent residents who have never thought of even objecting to the national security.”
“Never. But they may think that we may have.”
“We have lived here for 30 or 40 years already and have made up our mind to live here until the day we die. It is a gross error in their understanding to think of us in that way.”
“They may not even try to understand us. They just see us as foreigners.”
“What a trouble. We may have to accept to be treated as foreigners, but why do they need to trouble our families, too?”
“I agree. At least they should let our families know that we are here, even if they don’t let us correspond.”
Everyone was expressing their worries for their families here and there, but some were more optimistic.
“I think that it will appear in the papers that we are admitted here.”
“I think so, too. I saw newspaper cameramen taking pictures of our bus when we were leaving the county jail.”
“Ah, that should appear in the papers. We don’t need to worry.”
“Our families must be making a frantic search, too. They will track us down, somehow.”
Some set their hope on their family.
(pg. 100 – )
- A Bag of Durham
Our chat became lively again when we came back to our quarter after lunch. Some were talking about their unfortunate experiences in the dining hall.
“The boiled beans didn’t impress me.”
“I surrender to that piece of bread. I left it on the plate because I couldn’t chew it with my bad teeth; and I got yelled at.”
“I got yelled at, too. I tried to leave the beans on my plate.”
The rule of this dining hall was to finish the food that was served to you. We did not know this rule at first, so we just received what was served, sat at the table and started eating. Some had difficulty finishing the portion, for some food was unfamiliar to them, or the loss of appetite from the drastic change of life. The bread was especially troublesome. It was probably a few days old by the time it was served to us and it had the toughest crust. Some of us had bad teeth and left the tough piece of crust on the plate. Oh, what a commotion it made! The guard came flying and yelled,
“Finish your food! You cannot leave until you finish!”
The person who got yelled at had to go through a heartrending sorrow, or a fit of anger with resentment, but held it inside and whispered a petition in Japanese.
“Would somebody please eat it?”
It usually was either an elderly man or someone with a health issue, so someone nearby would sympathize and tell a young one next to him,
“Hey, you eat a half and I will eat the other.”
And the young man would say,
“Pass it to me.”
and stuff it into his mouth. In this way, the younger of us covered for the older, and the healthier helped the sick ones.
The bread was indeed a real trouble especially for those who could not stand the tough crust. We were to take as many slices as we wanted from the counter where the machine-sliced bread was, as we walked by it in a single file. Whoever fell on the ends of a loaf, would try to skip them and take the next couple of slices. He would get yelled at. None knew this fact at first and the unfortunate ones suffered the calamity.
Leftover bread can be used in making puddings, adding some sugar and milk, or dressing or stuffing with some vegetables and meat. That is a clever custom of Western cooking, and there is no need to force anyone to eat such tough crust to prevent wasting. However, that kind of idea would not be a part of the rules to treat prisoners, and this place was a prison.
After two or three days of life in this prison, various loopholes and countermeasures were invented naturally, out of sharing experiences. Some became quite skilful in putting a left over crust in their pocket or wrapping beans or a piece of meat with their handkerchief behind the guard’s back. Thus, we became clever in various ways.
The most troubled bunch of all at this time, were the nicotine addicts. Up until the day of arrest, some had been consuming five or six cigars everyday, and others, two or three packs of cigarettes. Those people, in which group I also belonged, were at their wits end. The craving for a puff after a meal was indescribable, and every time they came back from the dining hall, they all shrieked.
“Oh, I want to smoke so bad!”
After the supper that day, Mr. Iwata, who was well-known amongst Japantown in Los Angeles with his sharp tongue, produced a bag of Bull Durham.
“Hey, you guys, tobacco! I have tobacco!”
As he yelled, seven or eight smokers immediately gathered.
“Iwata-kun, where did you find this?”
“I asked Mr. Ohashi to give me some, because you guys look so pathetic.”
“Mr. Ohashi gave it to you? Can he buy it here?”
“He said he receives two bags a week as his ration.”
“What a nice guy! Let’s have some now.”
“Iwata-kun, your long experience of hustling in downtown must have made you this quick witted. I’m very impressed.”
“I’m not so thrilled by being appreciated by a bunch of prisoners.”
“There he goes again; but he is a hero today, and I won’t complain.”
“Yes. You can buy a bag of Durham for five cents out there, but it’s worth a thousand dollars for us in here.”
A rolled cigarette was passed around and they all smoked it. There was no distinction of celebrity or educated at this point. Everyone became equal, wrapped in a prison uniform.
Sonoda-kun, who was chosen by President Komai to be in charge of rationing, came back and made an announcement.
“The guard instructed me to inform you that they are going to issue coupons tomorrow. There are two kinds: two-dollar and five-dollar, and each person may purchase up to ten dollars worth. If you have deposited money, please write the amount you wish to spend and sign on this form.”
“What can we get with the coupons?”
“There is a store that carries many items across the courtyard, but we cannot go there while we are in absolute isolation. So tomorrow, they will bring some items here.”
After this explanation, he added,
“He said that since they cannot bring the whole store, they will mainly bring cigarettes and candies tomorrow.”
Out of the smoke of liveliness, a shower of applause arose. It was the sound of happy consensus of the sweets-party and the nicotine-party.
(pg. 106 – )
- Convenient Japanese
It is true in any country that there are many kinds of exclusive argot in the so-called underworld amongst thieves or inmates. However, except the outside world, usually the argot cannot work well inside a prison unless it is a new code made for a specific situation as it occurs, because most of its vocabulary is already thoroughly known by the officials.
We had a unique situation here. We did not speak any argot nor code, but our native language, Japanese. Even a federal prison, as can be expected, did not seem to have any officer who understood our language. Therefore, we were able to express our honest opinions and discuss matters freely in our comfortable language.
The night fell early. The blackout order was in effect again and there was only a dim lamp on each side of this large room. It was practically pitch-dark.
When I was walking across the room from the smoking room, I passed by a group of people, that were gathered around Mr. Sueji Nishimura and Mr. Shungo Abe. Mr. Abe called out to me abruptly and asked,
“Mr. Chief Secretary, when did you get arrested?”
“It was last night, when I got home from the Association.”
Mr. Nichimura jumped into the conversation.
“They put handcuffs on you, didn’t they; since you are an incumbent?”
“No, they didn’t. Did you get handcuffed?”
“Yes. They put the cuffs on both my hands like this, and two big men escorted me from both sides. I must have been regarded as an atrocious one.”
“Is that so? By the way, Mr. Abe, when was yours? Was it at the meeting of the Central Association?”
“No, it wasn’t there. I left the meeting early because it wasn’t going anywhere and I had other things to do. I drove home and soon after I got home, they came.”
“Then you didn’t know that the police raided the Central Association?”
“As I was driving away and stopped at the red light, I saw the police in a crowd running into Miyako Hotel. So I guessed that they were going to the Association, and they may be coming to my house, too. As soon as I got home, I asked my wife if the police had come. They came when I took off my coat and sat down.”
“Then they told you to come for a brief inquiry?”
“Yes. And I said I would go if they had a warrant. One of them got upset at this, grabbed me by the collar and told me to go outside. They were two large men with authority, so I decided not to say unnecessary things and followed them obediently.”
“Did they search your house?”
“Not then, but they must have done it by now for sure. I had a large Chinese map on the wall and I was marking the movements of the Japanese Army on it with red ink. I suppose that it must have been taken away. How about your house?”
“My house was searched before I got home, my wife said.”
And I told him about the officer who came to my house, that he seemed to be interested in a cartoon, and how the whole thing went at my house. The people who were listening to me seemed surprised.
“Your officer seemed to be the nicest one.”
“It sounds like he knows how Japanese people are.”
“You were very lucky to get such a nice officer. I was not allowed to say a word.”
Mr. Abe said,
“I think your officer was giving you some time to talk with your family by looking at the cartoon. So, did you get to make arrangements with your family?”
“No, I didn’t. I believed that it would be a brief inquiry.”
“I have to say that it was a remarkably swift operation of the United States. It surely was like lightning. But I guess the order wasn’t quite thorough, considering the inconsistency of our arrests.”
“That’s right. I presume that the order was simply to arrest or imprison us, without any explanation of how to treat us. That’s why some officers treated us as criminals, some as vicious criminals, or some respectfully, as the individual officer’s interpretation of the order dictated.”
“That makes sense. I was wondering about why we have been treated as convicted criminals at the city jail, the county jail, and here.”
“I am impressed with their thorough research.”
“They worked hard on it. The specialists were sent to England to study their control law against enemy aliens, and they have been making a list of groups and associates of Japanese residents since over a year ago.”
“But it doesn’t seem fair to me, to view our situation as lawful permanent residents here in the United States, with the European situation of multiple nations sending spies to each other and doing the fifth column activities to each other.”
“That’s true. But I’m afraid that the incident in downtown maybe bringing a curse upon this situation.”
“Yes, it is. I think the kind of incident is rather common in any country, but it was unfortunate for us that it happened in the middle of the town many of us Japanese people live. We are being struck by a chance blow.”
“Mr. Nakamura’s office and our Japanese Association’s office are on the same floor, and I heard an officer said that neither could be trusted.”
“They do not consider at all our achievement and passion of several decades in the effort of building friendship and cooperating relationship between the two countries.”
“How sad that is; but I still have hope that when we are through with the investigation, all suspicions will be cleared as groundless apprehensions.”
“I also think that the general public puts confidence in us.”
“I’m skeptical of those politicians who are skilled in leading people’s minds to their advantage. They can make black white and white black.”
“Are you talking about the Dies Committee?”
“Not just that. Even the local representatives who seem to understand our situation, may change their standpoint anytime for whatever reasons. Politicians are inseparable from opportunism.”
“Our Nisei should be secure since they are citizens.”
“Of course. We are fortunate that it didn’t happen five or ten years ago. Our Japanese American society might have been completely destroyed without enough number of them that were old enough to be independent. But they are a good age now and most of our works can be carried on by them. Our mission of cultural thriving won’t die out completely.”
“No, it won’t. Even the Issei who didn’t get arrested like us, should be able to stay in their business, shouldn’t they? All of them cannot be ordered to suspend their businesses.”
“No way. I think that even we will be able to go back to our business after having our innocence proved by the investigation.”
There were some who expressed very optimistic opinions, and there were some who were more pessimistic about our future as prisoners. However, when it came to the matter of the future of Japanese Americans as a whole, we all seemed to hold a more optimistic view.
As we were discussing this, the night guard came and said,
“There will be no light in the room because of the blackout order tonight. If you need to use the restroom, wait until my next round, or come to the door and call me if you cannot wait. Understood?”
Thus, we went to bed again as prisoners, who had to report even a restroom use under the prison regulations.
As the night advanced, a sound of tooth grinding or snoring was heard here and there. Someone suddenly cried out in his sleep. Some kept tossing about all night. A misty rain was falling outside.
Goketsu mo yume dewa makete unarigoe
A hero, defeated in his dream, cry out. Mokunen (author).
Higemusha no negoto naniyara shaba ni fure
A hairy samurai, sleep talk, something of the outside. Tsukuba (author).
(pg. 113 -)
- A Long Siege
In the morning of the third day, we were given the coupons as it had been announced. Most of us bought either two dollars or five dollars worth. I bought a five-dollar coupon. There was a person who had been detained for a long time, bought two five-dollar ones. We all obtained some tobacco or candy with the coupons. Someone was buying many cigars. People who happened to have some money either bought coupons for or shared their tobacco or candy with those who didn’t.
On this day, eight safety razors were lent with an order to shave our faces everyday and to return all the razors before supper. So we all shaved in turn, and felt like a new person after that. There was a young man who started to make a calendar carefully with a piece of cardboard he had found. His plan was to mark on it everyday starting from the day of the imprisonment.
When I got to the smoking room, all the ashtrays were already full. We all had shared a cigarette with some people the day before, and the last person had smoked until it almost burnt his lips, but some people already forgot the bitter experience and left a third, or even a half long cigarette butt in the ashtray.
Mr. Hasuike was playing igo with the small pieces of paper that he cut out of the box of his Lucky Strike and marked black and white. Mr. Shirakawa was playing shogi with pieces that were made of candy wrappers. Some were playing karuta with handmade cards.
I was not interested in such games too much, so I went to the window facing the ocean, and looked at the harbor. There was a freighter which was loaded with wood and listing, near the breakwater. There were four oil tankers anchored here and there separately from each other.
Since we were isolated from the outside would completely, we did not get to know how the war was developing. I was amusing myself by imagining the movements of the ripple in the Pacific Ocean by deducing from what I could see in the harbor. Someone suddenly talked to me from behind.
“What’s the matter? What are you gazing at?”
It was Mr. Iwanaga.
“I am looking at the ships. You see, there, there, and there are two more over there, make it four tankers all together; and there is a freighter. I am keeping my eyes on those ships.”
“I have been watching since yesterday, and there were three yesterday. Now there are five, but none of them seem to be getting ready to sail. Isn’t it odd?”
“Maybe it is odd. What is on your mind?”
“Nothing much, but I wonder why those tankers are staying there after their arrivals. They cannot load oil there. Why aren’t they anchored at the pier of an oil company? Ships should be scarce now.”
“You’ve noticed an interesting point. I would suppose that they may be taking refuge from a perilous voyage in the Pacific Ocean since the sea is rough at this time by the warfare.”
“That is just what I was thinking. And if so, the damage to Jawaiian base must have been substantial, I deduce.”
“I heard that seventy percent of the Pacific Fleet was damaged. I wonder if a Japanese submarine is approaching this coast.”
“Look at that freighter. It is listing. It cannot be that way from the load. Don’t you think it is odd?”
“It does look odd. This prison sure is at a nice location. We can see the movements from here. We can see seagulls and fishing boats, too.”
“Someone said that the boredom is the worst thing for a human being, and I sure hate a monotonous life. It would be very distressing if we could not see any movements of outside.”
“That’s true. I have been visiting prisons for decades and have seen many prisoners’ lives, and what they desire the most is always change or some kind of movement. An inmate kept in a solitary cell with no view would develop affection towards even a fly. Its movement interests and comforts him.”
“I can imagine that. I think I’m going to pay attention to those things now.”
“You will naturally be interested and pay attention to those things.”
“I think this experience of being imprisoned and living as a prisoner is doing me good. It is a golden opportunity.”
“I have seen and heard of other people’s experiences, but this is the first time I am living in a prison, and I am glad to get this training for myself. I think it is your opportunity to write something.”
“I know. When we got here, I spoke with Mr. Nakazawa and he was glad, too. He said this was a fortunate incident for him and he would like it to last for six months or one year to live with everyone like this, not just for one or two months.”
“Is Mr. Nakazawa planning on writing, too?”
“Yes. He said that he is interested in studying human psychology in this living situation, and writing a thesis in English. And he said to me that I should find another perspective to write about this, too.”
“Interesting. If you have that type of purpose, living in prison can be much less painful even for years. Creators and thinkers don’t need movements. Bodhidharma meditated facing the wall for nine years.”
“Nine years seem too long. But I guess Mr. Bodhidharma must have been visited by hundreds of flies and comforted while meditating. Maybe that’s how he endured for nine long years. He might have used his horsehair flapper to fan off the flies or to tease them.”
“Ha-ha, it might have been that way.”
As we were chatting, suddenly a room was in commotion as if some trouble had occurred. There were people gathered at the passageway, so Mr. Iwanaga and I went there.
Short and chubby Mr. Iwanaga was standing on tiptoe and asked the person near him.
“A new person just came from the county jail, and he has news of the war progress.”
“How is it?”
“Japan’s victory. They landed on the Malay Peninsula, air raided the airports in the Philippines and Manila, and sank two British battleships off the coast of Malay.”
“That sounds implausible. Are you sure?”
“He said he read it in the paper. Prince of Wales and Repulse were the two battleships they sank.”
“Then they are going to break through the ABCD Siege at last.”
“Yes. They had endured the strangling quietly, and then suddenly threw them over.”
“Japanese submarines defeated a freighter and a tanker near the California coast, too.”
“I guess we are in a long siege now, then.”
“We don’t need to worry about being discharged after only one or two months.”
“You’re right. I guess it’s a blackout order again tonight.”
That was Mr. Iwanaga.
There was no streetlight or any neon sign in Long Beach on the other side of the bay from us, even after sunset. It was a blackout all night in the prison. Probably the whole stretch of the coast was under the same order that night.
(pg. 120 – )
- The Attitudes of Guards Change
(Haiku) Fuyu shigure shitodo no naka o shokudo ni
Winter drizzle, soaking wet, to the dining hall. Muin (author).
This is one of the haiku Mr. Shiro Fujioka made in prison.. It is a depiction of our life there, in which we cross the courtyard slowly in a double file line in drizzling rain towards the dining hall. We usually had to walk in a double file line when we went to the dining hall as a group and there was no differentiation of the rules according to the weather. We were not allowed to run or fall out of the file even when it was raining. So we had to march to and from in rain, getting soaked, without umbrellas or hats, wearing only a shabby prison uniform; we were led by the guard who was equipped with a raincoat and a hat.
Starting from the fourth day, I recall, we were given one hour of free time in the courtyard on a nice day. The freedom was limited within a square yard of 60 or 70 feet long, which was surrounded by a high chain-linked fence and it was locked. However, it was under the sun and the blue sky and it was the best amusement for those who were confined indoors all day. Talking in a group of ten or twenty was not allowed there, because it infringed on the prison rule to inhibit prisoners from making arrangements of jail breaking.
About the time that we were allowed to have this free time for the first time, the attitudes of the guards towards us visibly began to change. They had treated us as atrocious criminals at first, and expected us to respond as such. However, their prediction was defied day after day, and their demeanor began to soften. When it became so, we started to see that there was something good in the guards, also. The night-time guard was especially good to us. From the fourth or the fifth day on, as soon as the day-time guard left and he came on, we gathered around him and started a conversation.
“How is the war situation? Is it still going?”
“Yes, it is. It is going on in the Philippines, Malay Peninsula, Wake Island and Guam.”
Someone would take a step forward.
“How is the situation now?”
“It seems like Japan is doing better.”
He would answer, but show a sign of not wanting us to ask further questions. So we would be considerate and change the subject, and try to appeal to his compassion.
“It is hard for us being separated from our families and not be able to have contact with them.”
“You are not the only ones separated from their families. My family has left for Arizona yesterday. The residents near the garrisons received an order to move away.”
“Is that right? I’m sorry.”
“We have no choice. It’s wartime. Even this island is confined, and everyone has to get permission to come in or to go out.”
He would tell us quite deep information like that.
In that way, we came to know that 4000 Japanese people, who were living on Terminal Island, could not freely go out of the island nor the fishermen put their boats to sea at this time. However, we did not have any information about Japanese people including our families living in Los Angeles, or any other areas.
Our anxiety for our families never ceased to exist, but as we spent four or five days in this place, it was lessened a little. We were getting used to the life and started to feel that there was no use in worrying. Tobacco and candy became available and we obtained access to dominoes and checkers; those did help diverting our minds.
President Komai started to ask everyone, full name, home prefecture, and age. He made a chart with those data and took statistics of the numbers of inmates per home prefecture. It was not easy since blank paper was not available and the use of pencil was not permitted to us. Someone pointed out that we should use English when we wrote something down to avoid an infringement of the rules.
Mr. Michio Ito settled down in the smoking room and sketched the people who were playing shogi or igo there.
When night fell, the talent show started. Mr. Isamu Rikimaru treated us generously with his excellent hauta and dodoitsu (songs), in which he must have invested quite much money. Old Mr. Okumura recited gidayu (formatted story reciting) “Awa no Naruto” (title of a story), and made us all laugh with his mimicry of a parrot.
A clergyman came in and gave us a sermon. It was arranged for us to have a weekly gathering, borrowing the hymn books and the bibles from the library in the prison.
We were left discussing our imagination and suppositions about the current war situation: how long it would last, and what would become of us after all. Someone even shared his theory as this.
“Two mighty nations like Japan and the United States must stay out of the combat and start working toward rebuilding the world after this war. The United States should demilitarize Hawaii and open it as a resort for both nations before the damage spreads, since the Pacific Fleet is already lost. The oil from Dutch East Indies should be traded. The Philippines should be independent. They should approve Wang Jingwei Government, resolve all the issues between Japan and the United States, and both nations together arbitrate the war in Europe. In this way, the war should end soon. The ambassador Nomura may be making arrangements as this already.”
However, this theory was obstructed by the warden’s instruction to prepare us for the time the air raid siren would go off.
“In today’s war situation, we cannot know when we would be air raided here at this prison. We may get it today, tomorrow, within an hour, or right at this moment. If it happens, you should lie on your face immediately when you hear the siren. This building is reinforced concrete and if the explosion comes from its side, we should be fine as long as we are on the floor face down. If it is a direct hit, you and I would be gone together and there’s nothing we can do about it. Just hold yourselves in readiness.”
After this instruction, the theory of a quick establishment of peace was blown off at once and its sympathizers disappeared.
(pg. 126 – )
- Communication Permission
After the daily cleaning, many of us were in the smoking room, playing games, shogi, igo, or chatting in small groups of five or seven. The handmade calendar was marked for four days. It was the morning of the fifth day of our imprisonment, December 12th.
There was a group surrounding Mr. Jutaro Narumi. I saw another group with Mr. Sueji Nishimura and another with Mr. Yoshio Nagano. I joined Mr. Narumi’s group.
“What do you think was an aim of these arrests?”
“The main aim might have been the Navy League. The related people had been investigated before.”
“I agree. Also, all Japanese Associations, and Gunyudan Association.”
“For Gunyudan and the Navy League, not just the executives, but all the members were arrested, they say.”
“I’ve heard so, too.”
“Then, there must have been more Japanese arrested than the one hundred of us here.”
“Quite, so. There must be many more still in city or county jails. I don’t see some of the people I was with at the county.”
“I overheard that there are some of us in the Immigration Detention Center just by this prison.”
“Yes. The women who were on the same bus with us were admitted there.”
This was Mr. Iwata. I asked him,
“Who were the women? I saw Mrs. Furusawa taken from the Central Association’s meeting room that night.”
Mr. Iwata replied,
“Yes. Mrs. Furusawa (Sachiko) was on the bus from the county jail. Others were Mrs. Kazahaya (Satoko), Mrs. Kamo (Mitsuyo), Mrs. Murase (Kouko), Mrs. Ueda (Yoshie), Mrs. Kawaguchi (Mie), Mrs. Suzuki (Mitsue), Mrs. Kato. These eight women were there.”
I talked to Mr. Narumi.
“Mr. Narumi, we met at Manseian that night and talked about the arrests of Mr. Furusawa, Mr. Muto and Mr. Fujioka. I remember we said to each other that this time it was not you or me, but only the Navy League and Gunyudan associates.”
“Yes, I remember that. It was you and me after all. Ha-ha.”
Mr. Narumi laughed merrily.
“What did you do after we parted at Manseian that night, Mr. Narumi?”
“I went to the Ambassador Assembly.”
“I remember you were saying something about the movie night there?”
“Yes. There was a movie from Sumo Association that night. I was in charge.”
“Were you arrested at the church then?”
“No; it was at my place afterwards. By the way, who were arrested from your L.A. Association?
“That, I don’t know. There are three vice presidents and two accountants here, but the auditor is not. So I guess the auditor was not considered executive; or the people here are also associated with the Navy League, or other organizations and their arrests may not be related to the Japanese Association after all.”
“What happened to your president, Mr. Mukaeda?”
“The last time I saw him was at the Association meeting that night.”
“He is also a trustee of the Japan Culture Association and he must have been arrested for sure.”
“But the Culture Association shouldn’t be an issue. It is permitted by the federal government and registered properly. Mr. Mukaeda was confident that the semi annual reports were made as regulated and there shouldn’t be any problem.”
“In peacetime, no; but we don’t know now. Anything to do with Japan can be a problem.”
“That’s true. The day before our arrests, I attended the Community Chest Funding Report held at the Biltmore Bowl with President Mukaeda, representing its Japanese division. We were praised in highest terms for our strong sense of public morality and extensive effort in cooperating in society. And the following day, none of that was taken into account, and we were brought to a place like this as atrocious criminals.”
“That is so. But I wonder where Mr. Mukaeda could be? He must have been arrested.”
Someone spoke up.
“Mr. Mukaeda was arrested. I saw him in the county jail. I suppose he was taken to the Immigration Detention.”
“Dr. Furusawa and Mr. Meijiro Sato should be with him, then.”
“Yes. Some people from San Pedro are with them, too. Like Mr. Kazuich , and Mr. Momota Ookura.”
“Oh, then the people from San Pedro and Terminal Island must all be there.”
“That seems to be the case.”
That was when the whistle sounded.
“What would it be now? Another rationing?”
“That’s right. Since we are behaving so well, we will be given a suit.”
“With our prisoner number on it, maybe.”
“It could be a prison border sweater.”
“I would take a sweater, border or stripe. It gets cold when the steam is weak.”
We chatted as we were heading to our regular meeting room. Sonoda-kun stopped us at the door and said,
“Please get ready for the warden’s instruction.”
We lined up between beds and soon the warden came in with two guards.
“You have been excellent in following the rules and we are very pleased. Please keep cooperating and avoid causing unnecessary trouble. I have brought you good news today. I have received a notification from Washington, saying that you are not criminals. You are admitted here on the request of our federal government, that is to say, we act as your lodging, and you are our guests. However, we do operate by the rules here, so please follow them as before. On the other hand, the three weeks of absolute isolation placed on you is naturally lifted at this time, so you may make contact with your family. You must use the prescribed form. One form per person, write only on one side legibly in English, and write both your number and full name on it. Limit it to the necessary matter, and turn it in unsealed. All the correspondence will be inspected and mailed as soon as possible.”
We were with great joy at his words. Though we still did not know about the future developments, we could at least let our family know that we were here and well. Some would use this opportunity to instruct their family about their business, too. Our joy was only natural.
As soon as the pencils and the forms were given, we all wrote to our family as excitedly as children. Those who could not write in English were helped by those who could, and all the letters were turned in.
(pg. 132 – )
- The Sick
When an everyday lifestyle or a regular eating habit changes drastically, even a healthy body would receive some impact. For example, people who are unused to travel would experience some level of insomnia or constipation on their first trip.
In our case, the change of lifestyle was not just drastic, but violent and sudden as a bolt from the blue. Moreover, it was not only the daily routine, but also the food changed drastically to us. The anxiety over our family and business could be lessened during the day for there were some distractions. It was the night-time, the apprehension grew with added imagination. Some of us started to complain of difficulty in sleeping at night or mild constipation. Even the healthiest started to notice some weight loss as time went by.
Mr. Jihei Kuga had lost consciousness from hypertension 10 months prior, and was in recovery after six to seven months of convalescence. His condition was still as if holding a bomb inside his body. Mr. Taiji Kita had been a diabetic for a long time, and Mr. Uich Iwata was in infirm condition. These men became visibly weak after two or three days from admittance.
There were rooms that were prepared for the sick in this prison. The room was just like a solitary cell for a criminal who committed a serious offence, with a heavy iron-barred door. The room tormented the sick psychologically more than anything.
The worst case was the person called Mr. Hazama. He had had a surgery of gastric cancer and the scar was not even healed yet. His prognosis was not positive on his survival, and he was arrested out of his sick bed. He was put into this solitary cell soon after his arrival.
Mr. Kuga, Mr. Iwata, and Mr. Kita once moved into the solitary, but none of them could bear to stay in the room, so they all came back to our room to be with others eventually.
When we asked about the solitary, Mr. Kita made a facial expression of being terrified even to think about it, and said,
“Well, I guess it is convenient since there is a washroom inside, but the iron-barred door is horrible. It’s closed at a certain time every night, and it is just like the solitary cell of the county jail I was put into. I was left all by myself without anyone to talk to. I couldn’t sleep and my anxiety over my family got overwhelming. The room didn’t help me feel better at all. Instead, I almost had a nervous breakdown.”
Everyone who had been to solitary seemed to share the sentiment. Mr. Hazama must have felt the same way, too, but his health condition was so bad that we could not do anything about it. He had a wife and a daughter, but even if the contact was made, the only thing they would be allowed was to visit for a limited time under strict supervision. Caring for him by his family would be impossible. I felt very sorry for him.
On Saturday, FBI officers came in for an investigation. We all had to go to an office, where we were asked some questions and had our fingerprints taken. The office happened to be right next to the room where Mr. Hazama was. On the way to and from, I looked into his room and talked to him.
“How are you?”
But all he could do was to say,
“I’m fine. Thank you.”
in a faint groan. He could not even turn his head towards me.
Mr. Kuga had a pen name that was Kakusui. He was well learned in Chinese classics and was excellent in Chinese poetry. He was well known as a cultured person in
Southern California and an important elder among Chiba people. He ran a hotel on Hill Street. He was a manly, open hearted and jolly man, and an eloquent speaker with his Chiba accent.
When I assumed the office of the Chief Secretary of the Los Angeles Japanese Association, Mr. Kuga, who was a counselor, visited me in my office. The president of that time, Mr. Shungo Abe introduced us to each other. I said,
“This is my first time meeting you, Mr. Kuga, but I have heard a lot about you from my friend Shurin Tanaka.”
“Shurin Tanaka. Well then, you must be Mr. Sasabune.”
“Yes, I am Sasabune.”
“So, you are Mr. Sasabune. I have heard about you, too. I wanted to meet you, but I thought at any rate, a writer must be a person of no weight. So I didn’t visit you.”
“Is that so?”
“I admit I was wrong. You are a grand fellow. I’m glad that you are contrary to my arbitrary expectation. Let’s shake hands afresh.”
Mr. Kuga offered his large hand and we shook hands with each other firmly.
That Mr. Kuga was now in low spirits since his health had declined. He was 64 or 65 at this time and he did not have any children. This arrest was a tremendous blow to him, not only physically, but also mentally.
All other healthy members suffered from worrying about their families or anxiety over their businesses more or less. However, none of these made any one of us have a serious nervous breakdown or anything of the sort.
(pg. 137 – )
- The Rumor of Transfer
All of us, 100 and some people who were committed in this federal prison, and most of the Japanese people who were living in the United States at this time, were the people who had their hearts set on living in this country for the rest of their lives as pioneers of ethnic thriving. Our average age, according to Mr. Komai’s statistics, was 58. We were a group of old men. Some of us had sons who were serving in the U.S. military, and many of us had grandchildren.
We belonged to the nation of Japan, and our offsprings belonged to the United States. As we lived in this country, we were willingly obliged not to be an obstacle to this nation. Even when the two countries were warring against each other, none of us dreamed of doing anything obstructive to the United States. We knew this sincerely in our hearts. Even in this prison, many of us believed that we were to be investigated fairly as permanent residents of this country, fathers of citizens, and pioneers of the west coast; not as enemy aliens. Most of us expected that the investigation would be conducted in this prison, and we should be released as the result.
In fact, there was an inquiry conducted by four or five FBI officers. However, it was mostly limited to the five people from the Central Japanese Association: Kengoro Nakamura, Kichitaro Muto, Jiro Fujioka, Shiro Fujioka, and Shungo Abe.
All of us were made to sign on a house-search agreement, and we chatted about it afterwards.
“I wonder if they are going to search our homes again.”
“Maybe they will do it before our examination.”
“If they are going to translate and investigate all the Japanese documents they find, it won’t be quick.”
“I think it was just to legalize the search they had already done without our consent.”
The source of information was unknown, but someone started a rumor that we would be transferred to a distant detention camp. It spread out in ten minutes.
“Do you think it’s true?”
“I think so, but I wonder where.”
“I think it’s Chino this time.”
“Chino would be nice; it’s not that far away.”
“You know, Chino is not federal. I don’t think it would be Chino.”
“Some say Texas or Montana.”
“Texas would be okay, but Montana would be harsh. It’s freezing over there.”
While we were discussing about it here and there in our quarter, a guard came to our doorway and whistled. We gathered in the bedroom.
“You are going to be transferred soon, so if you still have coupons, use them now. The coupons are only good at the store here, and you won’t be able to use them anywhere else. You may receive a refund for unused coupons also. Those who wish to shop, come follow me in a double file line now.”
Those of us who still had coupons followed the guard to the store. This store was a very small one and did not have much variety of goods. I had bought a carton of cigarettes out of my five-dollar coupon, and I still had 3 dollars and 80 cents left. It took some time for me to decide how to use up the money here, but finally, I decided to get ready for a long siege, and bought five half-pound cans of tobacco, a pipe, and some lemon drops.
Mr. Muto did not know what to buy, so he bought as many oranges as he could buy and gave them away to everyone. Some non-smoker bought an armful of candies and shared with others.
Mr. Michio Ito came into the smoking room after dinner and said,
“An acquaintance of one of my students approached me just now. He is a government official and he says it could be Fort Missoula Detention Center in Montana that we are being transferred to.”
“Is that settled?”
“He didn’t say so explicitly, but it seemed like it. The center’s capacity is over 1,000, I heard.”
“We still don’t know then, if he didn’t say it explicitly. Some people say it’s Texas.”
“They are forbidden to let the destination out.”
“I wonder why. I want to know where I’m going.”
“Me, too. If not, I want them to at least let my family know.”
“There should be a good reason. Maybe it is for our safety; so we won’t be assaulted on the way or something.”
“I don’t think so. They are just making it more difficult for us.”
“That could be it.”
“Let’s ask our night guard, tonight.”
“He won’t be able to tell us.”
“It doesn’t hurt to ask.”
“That’s true. If he doesn’t tell us, that’s fine. If he does, that will be great.”
“Yes; let’s ask.”
Night fell and the guard’s shift changed. After the roll call, our good-natured night guard came and sat on a bed. Six or seven of us surrounded him.
“Officer, we are going to be transferred soon. Do you know where we are sent to?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Some say it’s Texas.”
“Texas? No, I don’t think so.”
“Can it be Montana?”
“I don’t know, but I hear they built a large detention center there.”
“Isn’t it very cold in Montana?”
“Yes, it is, but the center is very well-furnished, I hear.”
“How far is it from here?”
“I don’t know.”
The guard spoke as if he didn’t want to go too far into the matter. Instead, he paid compliments to us.
“I have been a prison guard for 15 years, but I have never met any other group so easy and without any trouble, like you guys. The guys on the other side of this place, have fights of 10 to 15 people, five or six times everyday. When you are gone, I think I’ll miss you very much.”
Once we knew that we were to be taken away to another state from Southern California, our home for many years, separated from our families, we could not help hoping that it would be closer and warmer. The hope was repeated many times during the night.
(pg. 143 – )
- The Rumor Materializes
Sunday (14th) afternoon, the whistle sounded. We gathered. The guard called out our number and name and handed us a form one by one. We were to fill it out with our address, phone number, and signature. That was to let our family prepare winter clothes and other commodities for cold weather. They were to bring those things to a certain location, or government officials would come to pick those up.
That made us decide that our destination should be Montana, and everyone showed disappointment. However, some people did not get called at this time. I think the number of the people was 37. I was one of them, and amongst them, there were: Mr. Nakazawa, Mr. Sakakura, Dr. Sekiyama, Hirashiki, Tatsuno, Yamamoto, Shimizu, and Shirakawa.
“What will happen to those?”
“I guess from the lineup, that they may be released after some investigation.”
“No, I don’t think so. Probably they will be sent to a detention center nearby for the time being, since the Montana place does not have enough space for all of us now.”
“I heard someone mentioned the CCC Camp in the back of Glendale.”
“I have been to a tuberculosis sanatorium in the back of Glendale. It’s only 40 or 50 miles away from here. That would be nice.”
“No, that can’t be it. I think they are going to Texas.”
“But it’s funny that they are not making their family get ready their clothes. We all are with only the clothes we were wearing when we came here.”
“They won’t need much clothes in Texas because it’s warm. Overalls may be distributed.”
“That makes sense.”
When some new incident occurred, it was our custom in prison to drop all other subjects and all groups and gatherings discuss or guess only about the new development for a while.
Amongst the people who were called and received the order of transfer, there were some who extremely desponded for they supposed that they would be detained for the duration of the war. Their main problem was that they were not able to resolve the management of their businesses or the subsisting of their families. If they could see their family and discuss about their course, it would give them some relief. They were greatly anxious about if they would be given that opportunity.
The human imagination works in a peculiar way in this kind of situation. Sometimes it becomes optimistic and hopeful, and other times it is utterly pessimistic. We negate it, affirm it, and repeat this cycle incessantly. According to my observation, the pessimistic period seems to last much longer.
The people who were not called, were going through this motion, also. Most of us pessimistically believed that we were going to the Texas Detention Center. Once in a while, just for a moment, an optimistic prospect of Glendale consoled us.
On the following day, we were told to move the beddings and supplies to the basement for we were to be transferred that afternoon. It was a clear day, and we had our free time in the courtyard, also. Some families that had received the letter on time, came to visit. Some legal advisors and managers visited to discuss businesses. Mr. Muto and Mr. Nakamura were visited by their wives and Mr. Jiro Fujioka and Mr. Rikimaru were visited by their managers and lawyers.
Those business consultations and family visits were held under strict supervision and the time was limited. All those who had visitors said that they could not discuss any matter sufficiently. Especially the women who visited became very emotional when they saw their husband in a shabby prison uniform, and burst into tears. They cried through the visiting and were unable to discuss practical matters.
When these people were back from the visiting, all others gathered around them and asked many questions.
“How are the businesses of Japanese people?”
“Did you hear how Japantown is?”
“I wonder about the vegetable market. Did you hear anything?”
“Did you hear anything about the war?”
However, we hardly got any information about outside situations or circumstances from these visitors. We could not know much, especially about the war development.
When it became dark, the guard came and told us to make our beds, since the transfer was postponed to the following morning. So we went down to the basement and retrieved the beddings and supplies accordingly.
There was no blackout that night. All the vessels had sailed out of port. We could see the city lights of Long Beach, lights of pleasure boats, and neon signs through our window. It was beautiful.
“We may not be able to see the ocean view and the neon signs reflecting on the water like that for two, three years.”
“No. Snow view in the winter and Sagebrush view in the summer.”
“I hope they would allow us to read papers over there.”
We chatted about things like this or discussed about future developments as we looked at the view through the window, even after the lights out.
On Tuesday (16th), after breakfast, we who had not been called were called at the very beginning. We were instructed to receive our belongings, money and clothes, change into our own clothes, and return the prison uniform and supplies. The guard led us to the hallway where we received our crumpled clothes, crushed hats and shoes. We changed at the spot, went to the office to receive our belongings and money, went outside, and lined up.
The seaside morning gradually came and soft winter sunlight started to shine. At the shipyard on the other side, some cranes were busily working as though they were building four or five ships at once. Behind the metal wire fence far away, we could see many Japanese women and children standing, who probably came here to see their captive father or husband.
(P153 – )
- To the CCC Camp
We were put onto a long distance sleeper bus that was painted “Santa Fe Bus Line.” Santa Fe Bus Line was a traffic route that connected New Mexico and Texas. I got on the upper deck of the bus on the left side seat.
Soon the bus started to take off. There was a police officer from a federal agency seated near the driver, and there seemed to be another officer on the lower deck. There was a car marked “U.S.” in front of the bus and there was another behind it. Both cars were loaded with shortwave radio devices, there were two federal officers in the front car and there were three in the car behind, all imposingly armed.
When the bus passed through the side gate and went towards the front gate, the women and children who were there to visit rushed for the bus.
“There they are!”
“That’s your wife, over there.”
“That is my son.”
Someone yelled from the bus.
“That’s my dad. Dad!”
A child ran towards the bus.
Some women did not seem to know what to do and just stood there waving their hands without making any noise. Some rushed very close to the moving bus as they were wiping their tears with their handkerchief.
“Where are you going?”
A woman followed the bus as she yelled the question.
“We don’t know yet. I’ll write to you!”
Someone responded from the bus. I wondered if she could hear it.
I had a glimpse of Mr. Isamu Rikimaru’s eldest son “Ken-chan,” standing on his tiptoes on the sidewalk trying to find his father on the bus.
“Ken-chan! Your father is not on this bus. He is still inside!”
I yelled, but I was not sure if he heard me.
The bus picked up speed. I looked back and saw the women and children who were left behind waving their handkerchief or hand vacantly. However, it was only for a short moment. The bus turned right and everything went out of sight.
I felt for those who came all the way to visit with their loved ones, wondering if this was the time that they had to say their farewells and not knowing how and when they would be able to see each other again; and yet not being able to exchange even a word and were torn apart again. I could not inhibit my tears.
The bus was on Seaside Street and made a turn onto Alameda Street in front of the Ford Motor Factory. From there on, it never stopped or turned at any intersection. The bus kept moving swiftly with the escort vehicles in front and back, that kept sounding their horns continuously. It was as if an escort of villains of a grave crime. I could see the guards with their fixed bayonets standing at every important intersection near oil tanks or an entryway to a factory. On this day, the tenth day of incarceration, I saw an America that used to be so freely open in peacetime is now all under the war regime. The drastic change took me aback, and hit me with a strange feeling.
I kept my window half open and paid attention to the streets, though the cold morning air was blowing in. I hoped to see some Japanese persons and let them know that we were being escorted to somewhere, though the destination was still unknown to us. Nevertheless, I did not see even one Japanese until we got to the back of the Seventh Street Vegetable Market. So I paid closer attention when we passed the Japantown, since the opportunity must have been caught there. As we crossed the East First street, I looked to the direction of Taishusha Bookstore with a hope. Yet all I saw were many magazines displayed at the sidewalk. No human beings. I felt mildly disappointed. I waited for the next opportunity. We got to Jackson street. There, I found Yasuda-kun, who was an employee of Rafu Shimpo, standing near Daiwa Service Station. I opened up the window, put my upper body through and waved my arms broadly. Yasuda-kun noticed and he raised his hand smiling at me. I felt an indescribable gladness for I could accomplish my purpose.
The bus passed the station, went on to North Figueroa street, crossed the Los Angeles River, and went on to the Cross Country Highway 99. Soon we passed the foothill road in the suburb of Glendale, went on and on toward north, passed through Tujunga, went on some more, and then, arrived at our destination. As some of us guessed earlier, it was the CCC Camp located beyond Glendale. Just like the Federal Prison, it was surrounded by the newly erected tall wire-net fence.
The front gate made by the same wire net was opened and our bus slowly went into the grounds. There was already an exaggerated preparation made to accept us. There was a county sheriff officer standing on each side of the gate holding a short hunting gun, and there were six or seven officers carrying a handgun on their hip inside the gate. They all were the Border Security Officers in their uniform and hat of the Immigration Bureau. In other words, at this point, we were moved from the hands of the prison guards to the supervision of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
We were told to get off the bus. We formed a double line in front of the office building which was built between the other barracks and the yard. Behind us were the officers with strained countenances on guard duty. After everyone was called one by one for a simple inquiry, we were divided into three groups and assigned our barracks. Sakakura, Shirakawa, Shimizu and I were assigned to the Barrack A; Yoshii, Maruyama and Sonoda, to Barrack B; Nakazawa, Sekiyama and Tatsuno, to Barrack D, a special quarter downstairs.
The CCC camps functioned to relieve the unemployed and they housed the laborers in the forest-fire prevention, road works, or the beautification of national parks. As almost all their facilities were built in a canyon deep in the mountains or on foothills, the camp we were brought to was also located at 1500 feet above sea level near the watershed higher in Tuna Canyon, which is 30 miles north of Los Angeles. It was surrounded by the mountains which were covered with deep green shrubberies and there were oak trees in interesting shapes to look at here and there. The place had the loveliest view.
The area of the grounds was more or less five acres, and there were five barracks from A to E beside the office building mentioned before. Barrack E was built at the northernmost and was twice as long as other barracks. All others were built in the same size; about 20 feet wide and 120 feet long, facing the same way. Barrack D was used as a dining hall and a kitchen. Nakazawa, among others, were put in the only bedroom downstairs.
Apart from these, there were separate buildings for a clinic, library, recreation room, store, shower room, restroom, laundry room, and barbershop. However, they had been vacant since August, and there were not many fixtures left other than about 1,000 books in the library, the beds in each barrack, and a large mirror and an adjustable chair in the barbershop.
In fact, when we arrived, ten or more workers who were brought in were working busily on fixing up this place doing carpentry, plumbing, and various other repairs. So as soon as our assignments to our barracks were made, we, too, started working busily by cleaning the barracks, distributing the beddings and other supplies, making the beds, or some of our experienced gardeners started to clean the yard.
According to the request of the director of the place, I became the supervisor for the whole group as well as the leader of Barrack A, and Mr. Meitaro Yoshii became the leader of Barrack B. The name of the director was Mr. Scott, who was slender build, tall and greatly understanding. He was well known among Japanese, for he had been an immigration officer at Los Angeles Port for a long time. As he showed us around and explained about the camp, he said to me, Mr. Nakazawa and other leaders,
“Setting aside the point of why you were admitted here, you somehow came here to live with us and you must cooperate with us to make this place as nice as possible to live for you and for us. When the nations of Japan and the United States become belligerents, we Americans are naturally 100 percent patriotic for the United States. But you are citizens of Japan and it is unavoidable that you feel for your country. But let’s set aside that matter, and I want you to consider this place within the fence our home together and cooperate with us. We have been working hard to fix this place for a week now, and we haven’t made much progress. As leaders, I would like you to explain my intention to everyone and have each one make improvements and beautify this place as your own home.”
He seemed to know what kind of people we were so well that he never was armed around us, talked to us openly and frankly about many different topics and asked our opinions sometimes. His subordinates, however, maybe for the matter of their duty or because they did not know who we were, kept their strict watch and guard against us and to another group which arrived later that day, and yelled at us if we went too close to the fence.
(pg. 160 – )
- Anybody and Everybody Rejoice
The federal prison we had been kept in until this time was not a nice place. We believed that we would have been able to bear it if we were to be kept there for a considerable time. The facilities were not bad, the food was tolerable, and we had been granted a chance to see our family. However, this place we were moved to was a far better place than the other. Although this place was also surrounded by the fence as well, we could stroll the grounds anytime during the day, and the air was just an ideal blend of the dry air from Mojave Desert and the moistened air blowing from the ocean. It was a country resort with a great view, and moreover, it was only a 40 to 50 minutes drive from where our families lived. Nobody expected this great fortune, and anybody and everybody rejoiced exceedingly.
There were large oak trees on the grounds here and there. Young olive trees and trees that looked like Japanese Popular were also planted. The grounds was pebbly sandy soil in a gentle slope higher on the north side. The area in front of the office was already nicely leveled.
First, we selected four or five people who could cook and asked them to cook rice for the whole group. Having had been cut off from Japanese food for ten days, we devoured it. The delight was extraordinary, particularly for the group that had been kept in a jail where food was unpalatable for several days before being sent here.
Yet after all, the utmost concern of the whole was to see our family. We were moved right about the time that the most of our family received the first notification from the federal prison, and everyone was anxious to let their family know before anything else, where we were now, and that we were safe there. There was a nisei young man who was coming to the office as an interpreter, whose name was Sugimoto. We asked him to buy and bring in a hundred postcards for us; and we sent out the invitation to our family for the visiting hours which were Wednesday and Sunday afternoons. Some wrote to bring a change of clothes, and some reminded his family not to forget to bring a “go” board and its stones.
The director called me in and said,
“I would like to regard this place as a community of you as residents, and lay out a system of self-government. I see you already put in the cooks. It will take a serious effort to complete organizing the whole system, but I want you to start electing various committees among you and give assignments to them. First of all, we need a health committee, and I understand that there are some experts among you. I would like one of them to be in charge of it, and start making the rounds every morning. There actually is a commissioned doctor for this place, but he comes in only three times a week and does not always stay here; so I prefer not to bother him unless it is a special case. We need a fire prevention committee also. Please organize the hose persons and the fire extinguisher persons with a leader for the emergency and for the regular drills. I would like to see the committees for library, store, barbershop, and laundry room also. There are only English books in the library now, but I hope to find an appropriate method to gather Japanese books for you in time. But of course, it is a detention station and you are the internees, so you are required to solemnly follow the rules of this station.”
Then he explained the rules, called my attention to some points about organizing committees, and shared his suggestions with me in detail.
The rules there were very similar to the federal prison’s: rising, retiring, and meals were exact same hours, the morning roll call was at eight thirty, the night roll call at nine thirty, and the lights out was at ten o’clock. The only difference was that a guard made two rounds each night at 12 and 4 o’clock in the morning.
When cleaning inside and out of the barracks was finished and all the beds were made, most of us strolled in the grounds, chatted under a tree, or brought out a “shogi” board or a checkerboard to a nice sunny spot and had a game or two.
Although this was Southern California of everlasting spring, it was in the middle of December and we were at high altitude; as soon as the sun went down, the chill in the air increased rapidly and within the thin walls of the barracks got quite chilly. There were stoves, but they were not yet ready to be lighted. The cold seemed to torment sickly or elderly people, whereas the healthier ones were not affected much.
(pg. 163 – )
- Family Visits
The chimneys were set up for our stoves the following day, and we vied with one another to light them in all the barracks. We could have as much fire as we wanted since there were plenty of scrap wood and firewood of oak stacked in the crawlspace under the barracks and outside.
After having lived a highly automated and noisy city life for a long while, we were used to warm ourselves with a gas or an electric heater. As we smelled the fire of burning wood after so many years, and enjoyed the warmth that increased ever slowly, we almost felt bad at the inexpressible joy. Mr. Asagoro Itami, who was 72 years old, was arrested maybe because he had been a warrior in the Sino – Japanese War and was a member of Gunyudan Veterans Association. He suffered from the cold the night before very much and said that he had not been able to sleep for having had to go to the bathroom seven times during the night. The gratification of Mr. Itami for the fire was exceptional.
There were two stoves in each barrack. On this day, there were gatherings in every barrack, surrounding the fire, chatting about various matters. Maybe it was about the time that we settled in and became a little comfortable; the talks about old times and life stories began to be exchanged.
In the afternoon, many families that lived in the city of Los Angeles or in the suburbs arrived for the visits. The visits were allowed only in the two small rooms inside the office building under a strict supervision. There were so many visitors, and the rules dictated the visits only last until 4:30, that each family could visit for only 15 minutes.
My wife also came, with Mr. and Mrs. Itakura who lived nearby, in their car. All we could have was just a simple conversation.
“How are you and the children? Is everything alright?”
“Yes, we all are fine. Both Tazuko and Tsutomu are working, so we have no worries about a living for now. “
“That’s good. Have you known where I have been?”
“I didn’t know it at first, but a person from the market looked into it and gave me the information; so I have known that you have been with others.”
“You don’t need to worry too much now. This is a very nice place and I will have a good rest, as if I am taking a vacation.”
Just like ours, the others could have only a simple exchange of words and few had enough time to discuss business or more complicated matters.
That night, we exchanged the information we obtained through the visits at the fireside.
“My wife said that it was enough that she could see me well, and cried. She could not even talk much. It was difficult.”
“Did you do the talking, then?”
“No, in fact, as soon as I saw her, my tears came out, too. I could not say even a tenth of what I intended to say.”
“My visit was nothing like that. My wife is the most stubborn of all. She didn’t show a drop of tears. I could hardly hold my own against her.”
“Could you discuss business then?”
“Not too much, but she said our business, which is a grocery store, is doing rather better than before, for our Caucasian neighbors show sympathy for us.”
“My business is a hotel, and my wife said it is going fine; though I don’t know if she only said so not to worry me.”
“Then maybe I don’t need to worry about my store. We do business with Caucasians.”
“You don’t need to worry then. But I could tell that our families were worrying a great deal. My wife looked completely worn out.”
“My daughter came by herself, and said that she is so terrified that she can’t even go shopping by herself, because of the blackout order, various wild rumors, and that the people from our neighborhood kept being taken one by one.”
“I suppose some locations are like that; others may be fine for now, but we don’t know how it will change. The sympathy may not last for long.”
“That might be true, but I’m a gardener, and my Caucasian worker has been so helpful, my wife said. He has been covering for me and keeping our customers happy. But my wife said she had worried about me so much that she could not sleep until she saw my letter. She did not have a clue of my whereabouts and thought that I must have been killed.”
“My wife was saying a similar thing. She went to the police station where the officer who took me was at first. She was told to go to the county jail, so she went, and they told her they didn’t know where I was moved to. She had no option left but to call the FBI office. They told her they would look into it, and she never heard back from them.”
“I think that some thought that we had been killed when they could not find our whereabouts. In fact, I thought that myself; because I am a veteran, I might be done away with. Considering the circumstances, I was prepared for the inevitable.”
“I’m a veteran also, and I did not go that far myself; but it worried me very much that my family must have felt that way and been worried.”
Conversations like these were continuing on at every fire place. One man looked very worried and he was asking,
“My house is right there at the foothill, only 9 miles from here, but no one came. Is it possible that my letter did not make it there?”
The office had not received any instruction from the headquarters about us yet, and did not allow us to listen to the radio, or read a newspaper. So we could not know what was happening outside of this place except for the bits and pieces we heard from our families. We did not know much about the development of war. The only thing we could see was that the families of the arrested people were communicating, discussing things, and comforting each other. Also, some of our families were rejecting the visits of the people who showed sympathy, worrying for them to get involved in our trouble. On the other hand, some people stopped visiting our families all together fearing the same thing.
One thing was clear to us from the words of most of the visitors that day; since all the important leadership figures were taken away from Japanese communities, many people who were left did not know what to do. To make matters worse, there were groundless rumors spreading, and everyone out there was just utterly bewildered.
I received a change of underclothes so I could change after two weeks, and changed my socks too. Some shared candies that were brought in and some shared homemade sushi. At these seemingly ordinary things, we, in an isolated circumstance, felt special joy.
We were not allowed to have any type of knives or other contrabands here. All the packages and gifts from our families were searched thoroughly before being given to us. Especially, anything with writing on it was prohibited, and the officers inspected even every piece of paper money, holding it up to the light, looking for any code or a hidden message.
I think it was this day that Mr. Itami received a suitcase, filled with clothes, cigarettes, and many other items. All came out of his daughter’s kind thoughtfulness for her father. Among them was a “go” board and its stones. This was the first time we saw the real “go” board and stones in our detained life.
(Pg. 170 – )
- The More and More Arrivals
Mr. Shiro Fujioka had been scheduled to be sent to a far location with others from Terminal Island; however, he arrived to join us due to a change of plan. Moreover, Mr. Kazuich Hashimoto who was the president of San Pedro Japanese Association, Mr. Shigemasa Hiraga who was a board member of the same association, Mr. Toraich Sumi who was the president of Union Paper Supply, Mr. Kintaro Asano who was the owner of Mikado Hotel, Mr. Toyokichi Nagasaki who was the president of Sunrise Soda, Mr. Masutaro Kamiya of El Centro, Imperial Valley, Mr. Shinjiro Nishizu of Buena Park, and some others were sent to join us, group after group; the population of this place was doubled.
At the same time, the facilities had been organized in progression. The recreation department became equipped with “go,” hyakunin isshu, pingpong, and badminton. Several other departments were organized with their leaders: medical with Dr. Amano and Dr. Sekiyama, library with Mr. Nakazawa, garden with Mr. Sskakura, laundry with Mr. Umekubo, fire department with Mr. Shirakawa.
Each barrack was furnished with two fire extinguishers for the front and the back, the laundry room with tubs, washboards, line poles, and four electric irons and ironing boards, shower rooms with a new water tank and a heater. All these improvements changed the appearance of this place.
Meanwhile, the garden department transformed the garden by shearing the hedges and pruning the trees.
Many visitors showed up on the third day, which was Thursday, and the following day also. The office allowed the visits for they came a long way, though it was not the set visiting day. Since Sugimoto-kun was transferred somewhere else, I was chosen to be the interpreter and a witness of visits. There were so many visitors that each visit had to be limited for 5 to 10 minutes. It was very inconvenient, but there was nothing we could do about it.
We ate with the officers at the same time in the same dining hall, but our food was cooked by Japanese cooks, so the food was not the same. The ingredients were provided plentifully, and the food was unexpectedly good.
We had a talent show at night. Mr. Kichigoro Yoshimura and Mr. Kichinosuke Yoshizawa were the main people to perform kouta, hauta, nagauta and naniwabushi. They entertained us all by responding to any request. No one was unsatisfied with this living at this detention station.
I was amongst the first 30 some people to have arrived here, and we had similar experiences of being transferred from the local police station to the county jail, from the county to the federal prison, then to this place. However, the people who arrived here later seemed to have had very different experiences. Most of them were envious of our experiences; so we could imagine that theirs were much worse.
Mr. Tajima, who had been kept in the county jail after being arrested in Los Angeles, described his experience.
“I was arrested in the evening of the 10th. I was taken to the local police station at first for a brief inquiry, then moved to Lincoln Heights Branch. There were 180 of us put into a large room with 60 beds. Each bed was used by at least two men, some took turns to lie on a bed, or some chose to sleep on the floor. The food was exceptionally bad. They fed us bacon and beans boiled together every day, and it was awful. After 3 days, I was transferred to the county jail, into a three-man room. The food was not as awful as the branch station, but nevertheless, it was not good. Sometimes a vendor came in with newspapers and cigarettes, so that was convenient. We were confined by iron bars to sleep and to eat, but at the roll calls or something else, all of us were in a narrow corridor and chatted with others or read a newspaper. Visits were possible, but it was cancelled sometimes for some reasons. The visitors seemed to be disgusted to see us in prison uniform. The people who were in the rooms facing the direction of Broadway said that they had the city view, but to my disappointment, there was nothing to look at from our window.”
He also told us about an episode in the county jail.
“Do you know Mr. Yoshikazu Takada, the vice president of Los Angeles Japanese Association? He had encountered a pistol robber the month before, and he had quick wittedly called the police and had him arrested within just 10 minutes. The robber himself actually was in the county jail at that time, and he found Mr. Takada and said,
‘Hey, don’t you remember me?’
Mr. Takada did not remember him, so answered,
‘No, I don’t.’
The robber said to him,
‘You fool, don’t you remember me? I’m the robber who went into your house the other day. I got caught because you did it so well. But when I’m out, I’ll go back to your house again, so you’d better get out of here soon. I’ll go back to your house to shake hands with you.’
Even Mr. Takada was taken aback at this. The robber said that it was his third time being in the county jail.”
Mr. Shima had been put into San Diego County Jail. He said that he had been arrested a little later than others and it was on the 14th. He had slept on the mattress on the floor, but it was so much better than that the people who had been there earlier had slept on the floor with only a blanket. The food was extremely bad and small in quantity. The coffee had a strange smell and was very unpleasant to the taste. Although, the money did open the doors there also; with two dollars upon the admission, sugar was added to the coffee, Durham Tobacco was provided, and the newspapers were sent around. Mr. Shuntaro Yamashita had been there also, and he had been completely exhausted due to the humidity and the bad food of the jail. By the time he arrived in a room downstairs of my barrack, he had been in a critical condition having lost the ability to walk. Someone had to carry him in a wheelbarrow when he needed to go to the restroom.
The poor condition of Lincoln Heights Branch was already mentioned, but most of the people had been kept there only for two or three days before being sent to the county jail. This had been bad enough for them, but some less fortunate people had been kept there for a prolonged time. Their fast weakening was pitiful.
Mr. Junji Asakura was one of them, and the level of his debility when he was brought in was truly pathetic.
Even these weakened people seemed to take back their vitality immediately by coming to this station. After spending two or three days here, even Mr. Asakura and Mr. Yamashita looked much better, recovering their strength. Before long, Mr. Yamashita started walking by himself again using a cane.
(pg. 175 – )
- Various Reports of Sad News
“I heard Dr. Honda passed away. Do you know anything about it?”
One of the old arrivals asked a new arrival.
“Yes, he committed suicide.”
“I heard a rumor that he was murdered.”
“Yes, there was such a rumor. We cannot know for sure because no Japanese man was with him, and no one saw his body either.”
“Was he then, in a solitary cell?”
“Yes, he was. It seems true that he was persecuted persistently since he was the president of Gunyudan Veterans Association. He was a man of a strong sense of responsibility. Since all the members of the association were arrested including the ones he had solicited, he made every effort to explain that there was nothing questionable about the nature of the association or the ideas and conducts of the members. Yet, the harder he tried, they seemed to misunderstood him further. I think he was utterly discouraged and killed himself for poignant regret.”
The new comer explained.
Gunyudan Veterans Association had been organized about 7 or 8 years before at the suggestion of the American Legion. There had been veterans associations of British, French, Italian and other countries, but not Japanese. The American Legion exhorted Japanese veterans, their ally in the Great European War, to also organize a veterans association. Ever since, Gunyudan cooperated with the American Legion in various events side by side: they participated in parades, attended memorial services for those killed in war, and observed a moment of silence together. Many of its members even went to the front in the Great European War. Some participated in the Tsingtao Attack, some went to the Mediterranean as a crewman on a destroyer and hunted German submarines, and some were in a convoy for a British-American transport. Mr. Honda had a thorough knowledge of the nature of Gunyudan as a pure social group without a political or any other affiliations. The members had only one thing in common which was their past of having been a soldier, and their only regular meeting was the New Year’s banquet. He had believed that the American government and the American Legion knew that also. However, his trust was disappointed, and that was where his agony lay. When he knew that there was nothing he could do to straighten the situation, he held himself responsible and committed suicide.
He had been arrested on the 7th in the evening, and he was sent straight to Terminal Island Immigration Detention Center. He passed away on the 12th while he was kept in a solitary cell.
The same group of new arrivals also informed us about another victim: the suicide of Mrs. Hamano.
Mrs. Hamano was the wife of Mr. Yasuo Hamano, who owned one of the best two Chinese restaurants in Japantown, Manshuro, the other being Sankoro. Mrs. Hamano also managed a western style confectionery “Umeya” in Little Tokyo. She was a very gentle and kind woman. She had been arrested two or three days later than other women because it had been just after their move of residence. She had been put into the Lincoln jail, which condition was known to be the worst, all by herself as a woman. She had been kept in an iron barred solitary cell, and it was unbearable to her.
A newspaper reported this as “A Suicide of a Japanese Woman,” on the 14th, but no notice was sent to her husband Mr. Jamano or any other family member. Mrs. Yokouchi, who was the bookkeeper at Manshuro, made an inquiry to the authorities by telephone, and finally found out the fact and that it was indeed Mrs. Hamano.
Her charge was having made a contribution through her business. She had done it merely from a sense of business obligation without any intended purpose; yet, she had been met by this calamity: groaning, imprisoned. She had worried about her family and her future, and prayed ceaselessly for the protection of Buddha, in whom she believed. Nevertheless, she had decided to take her own life in the end.
Our fellow countrymen were astonished at the news of Dr. Honda’s death. Still more, at the sad news of Mrs. Hamano, they all regretted and lamented at the deaths of these people.
We all shed silent tears at these sad news of our countrymen.
Since we were not allowed to keep a journal at this place, I do not recollect the exact date; however, about this time, Mr. Kyosuke Iseda of Nippon Shimbun, Los Angeles Branch, arrived anew. Moreover, Mr. Koji Kayano of Chula Vista, Mr. Naokazu Ikeda of Guadalupe, Mr Jitsutaro Tokuyama of Lompoc, Mr. Tameji Eto of San Luis Obispo, and others were sent to this place, and there were over one hundred of us. All these new arrivals were assigned to Barrack C.
They also brought some unusual experiences or sad stories of fellow countrymen at different locations in this state of affairs.
(pg. 179 – )
- Various Experiences
A new group of people arrived on the sixth or seventh day, and Mr. Takeo Shiokawa was among them. One night, I visited Barrack C and chatted with five or six people surrounding a fire; and I started a conversation with him quite insignificantly.
“Mr. Shiokawa, why were you arrested?”
“I don’t know why. I didn’t even know that the war had broken out for a week.”
“How come? Where were you?”
“Where was I? In jail.”
“The day that the war broke out. It’s a funny story.”
So he explained his experience to me:
Mr. Shiokawa was a gardner. On this Sunday, he had invited three of his friends who lived near him in the Southwest District and gone to La Vida Hot Springs, which was about 70 miles northeast of Los Angeles. Mr. Yamada, who managed a gas station, Miki Nakamichi and Sadashichi Kinoshita, who were gardening contractors, had gone with him. They all had spent a good time bathing in the hot spring and felt fully recharged. They had enjoyed hiking up the hill behind and Mr. Shiokawa had taken some photographs and videos. When they had come back to the car after having strolled around together, a police officer had been waiting for them. He had told them to come with him to Chino Police Department for an inquiry. All four of them had been put to jail straightaway.
“What time was it? Was it in the morning?”
“No; it was in the afternoon. It must have been a few hours after the war broke out.”
“But you did not know about the war yet.”
“Not at all. We were so innocent that we even talked about taking a picture of the airplane flying by.”
“Did you take it?”
“I stopped him for I thought that he might get into trouble by taking a picture of an airplane.”
Mr. Nakamichi joined the conversation.
“Did you notice anything unusual then?”
“No. We never imagined that the war would break out. But we did notice one thing, didn’t we, Yamada-kun?”
“Oh, that woman? I heard that she is the wife of a FBI officer.”
Mr. Yamada said.
“What was the woman about?”
“Well, we were hiking up the hill and enjoying the views. We were talking about where to take good pictures and I was taking pictures here and there. We saw a woman came out of a house at the bottom of the hill looking at us in a strange manner.”
“You didn’t mind her.”
“Not in that way. I thought she hadn’t seen a Japanese person before.”
“What did she do then?”
“She called the police.”
“I see. That is how you were arrested. What happened in Chino jail?”
“We were kept there for three days and then transferred to the county jail.”
“Yes. My pictures were taken away. Since I didn’t take a picture of anything bad, I thought they would be given back to me after checking, but they were never mentioned again, and we were transfered here.”
“Maybe you were suspected as spies.”
“That must be it. Mr. Nakamichi rents a house and lives by himself since his family is in Japan. So he didn’t want to leave his money at home and he was carrying the cash with him: six hundred dollars! They must have thought that he was a financial backer or something.”
“I feel like an idiot. I went to the hot springs for the first time and got arrested.”
Said Mr. Nakamichi. Mr. Kinoshita followed.
“I haven’t been very healthy, so I thought that going to the hot springs would be a good chance for me to recuperate. I guess we were unfortunate. Furthermore, I wrote to and also telegraphed my friend from the county jail, but he never wrote me back.”
Mr. Shiokawa said,
“Maybe they only took your money and didn’t send them.”
Someone else responded,
“I think they do send mail. Some people are afraid to respond to our mail for they don’t want to get involved in our troubles.”
“You’re right. My wife told me that she would have sent our daughter to bring me some clothes, but a board of the association had advised her against it, for not putting our daughter in danger of being arrested also.”
Mr. Shiokawa was convinced at this comment and said,
“Even a family is so afraid to get involved; I understand now that single men, like the four of us, would never get a visitor.”
There was a person who went by the name of Mr. Fuji. He said that he was a farmer in the country, and he was only visiting his son who lived on Terminal Island when he was arrested. He kept worrying about his horses that he left in a stable of his farm. There were four more farmers from the Sacramento Valley in Northern California, or Fresno in Central California. They had finished their work in the farms for the year, and had come to Los Angeles by bus to pass the winter. They had been arrested in Hollywood. They said that if they could spend the whole winter at this place, they could save the whole money that they had. There was a young man, who had been arrested for a mistaken identity. He was worrying very much about his wife who was expecting their baby soon. That young man, Sonoda-kun, who was an American citizen, and nine others as such were allowed to go home in two groups after an investigation. However, Mr. Shiokawa’s group never had an investigation here, as my group never had one either.
About this time, Mr. Shimizu received a package from home of clothes or something else, in which a piece of Rafu-Shimpo of the 19th was used as a wrapping paper. Since this was the first newspaper some of us had seen since the arrest, we were very excited. We cut it into several pieces and passed them around to read. One of the headlines was about a murder case of a Japanese farmer couple by a Filipino in Imperial Valley. From this, we understood that the atmosphere outside was becoming considerably grave for Japanese.
(pg. 185 – )
- The Rumor of Another Transfer
The small pond near the front gate was cleaned up and our request of putting some goldfish in it was approved. Two sets of barber tools had been purchased for us and our hair cuts had been done by Mr. Naokichi Namekawa and Mr. Yoshimura. As for the food, in addition to miso and soy sauce, even Kyushu-zuke was stocked. We harvested the olives in the yard and Mr. Wada who had worked for an olive company for 30 years, made pickled olives. The roll calls were revised to four times a day. We stood in a double line in the front yard before every meal, and there was another roll call at night. We came up with a system of buying necessaries by collecting one dollar from everyone. We expected that subscribing to a newspaper would be permitted soon.
We made this place our temporary community and home. Though we did not know for how long, we believed that we would be able to live there contentedly without any complaint.
My job there kept me quite busy. I was responsible to line up all the people for every roll call; I had to run around all the barracks to notify the freetime when I received all the reports of the night time roll call through the microphone, which took place inside; I had to assist purchases; Coordinating the dining hall workers and the cooks was my job, too; I was the witness and the interpreter for the visits; I translated and passed on the instructions given by the director; and I wrote letters on behalf of others. Though I was so busy with those miscellaneous jobs, the officers gave me special recognition and the detainees were very cooperative that everything went comfortably with no trouble.
I think it was my seventh day there; my only pants wore out, and finally got torn at my buttocks. It was not an open seam, but a tear, and I did not know what could be done. On that day, one of the guards on duty came to me and said,
“I would like to inspect the windows and the doors of every barrack today. Will you come with me?”
“Sure, I will.”
I answered and followed him holding the tear of my pants with my hand. First, we went to Barrack B and talked to the leader, Mr. Yoshii.
“How many broken windows do you have? Please report if there are any problems with the doors.”
“We have two broken windows, and we could use a stronger spring for the back door.”
I interpreted his answer to the guard, we moved on to Barrack C, and to my own barrack at the end.
“Do you have any broken windows in this barrack? I don’t see any.”
The guard said so after we inspected the barrack.
“We have one.”
“Which one is it?”
He looked at me questioningly. I showed him the tear of my pants and said,
“Right here. This one.”
The guard laughed and said,
“I don’t think our carpenter can fix that window.”
I was comfortable enough to even joke with the guards like this.
On the 23rd, the cooks gave us delight by saying that they had received 600 pounds of turkey and the Christmas dinner in two days would be splendid. The following day, an odd rumor got afloat. It said that some of us were to be transferred to Montana. We all were so sensitive about this kind of matter that we could not ignore it even if it were just a rumor. People got together around the stove in every barrack, and discussed and exchanged information about this subject.
“Who did you hear will be transferred to Montana?”
“I heard that the families of Dr. Sekiyama, Professor Nakazawa, and Mr. Yamamoto received a notice.”
“What kind of notice?”
“That they will be moved to a colder climate and will need warmer clothing.”
“I heard that Mr. Nishizu’s family received the same notice, but it clearly stated that he will be sent to Missoula, Montana.”
“So we know that those four probably will go.”
“I have made up my mind to live here with you guys, and we have to part again. I’m sad.”
“That’s true. Parting is not good. Especially with you guys that I feel are like my own brothers.”
When I was participating in this conversation, I was called to the office; so I got up and went. There I was asked to be a witness for a visit of Mr. Asakura’s family.
After the visit, Mr. Asakura’s eldest son asked the guard worrying about his father.
“Officer, what will happen to my father if he is sent so far away?”
“I don’t know if he is going so far away. Maybe he won’t.”
“But I know, officer. He is going to be sent to Montana. It’s certain.”
“Montana? I don’t know anything about it. It’s news to me.”
The guard said, and then asked me,
“Have you heard anything about a transfer to Montana, Mr. Sasaki?”
“No. I haven’t heard anything that you haven’t.”
I answered to him, then I said to Mrs. Asakura,
“I really don’t know, but I don’t think so. This place is different from prison and we have two Japanese doctors here. I think Mr. Asakura will get better soon after recuperating here. Don’t worry too much.”
I also talked to the second son, Akira,
“Don’t worry about your father. There are many of us here with him, and this is a good place. Your father will get better. If he will be sent far away, we and Dr. Sekiyama will be going with him together, so don’t worry. O.K?”
Mrs. Asakura, the eldest son, Akira, and Mr. Asakura were all shedding tears. I could not repress mine, either.
I witnessed many other visits this day. Some came because they knew about the long distance transfer, and some came without knowing of it. The people who knew, knew that this would be a long parting, and everyone looked very sad. The guard seemed to feel sorry for them and allowed them to talk in Japanese. He only required the summary of conversations from me.
(pg. 191 – )
- Talent Show of Farewell
In the late afternoon, Mr. Gihachi Yamashita was brought in all by himself. He had been kept in the county jail for the whole time since the day of his arrest. He found the face of Mr. Bunich Suzuki who had been brought a couple of days earlier, and said,
“Good heavens! Suzuki-kun, you are here!”
He looked truly surprised.
“Yes, I was sent here; not home.”
Mr Suzuki said.
Mr. Yamashita looked around at the faces of the people who were gathering around him, and seemed surprised once more. He cried out,
“Mr. Matsuura, you are here, too! And you, too? What, everyone is here!”
“I believed I was being sent home then. That’s why I took your message for your family, but I was wrong. And here, I saw all the people we had thought had gone home before. I was very surprised.”
Mr. Suzuki explained, and Mr. Matsuura followed.
“I thought I was going home, too. The tomatoes are going to be in season, and the price is good; so I was very happy to get into the car. What a disappointment it was to find out that I was only sent here!”
Mr. Yamashita said,
“I had been put into the county straightaway, but the people who were there with me were taken out, and then the people who came after were also taken out one after another. They all sounded like they were being released, and when I was the only one left, I became quite sulky. Then they said it was my turn, so I thought finally it was my turn to be released and I gave all the money I had on me to the person who came in after me. I thought I was going home.”
He continued on and said,
“But this is a nice place and I don’t have any complaint about not going home if I can stay here. I’m relieved. Come to think of it, it is comical.”
People who had spent some time in the county jail with Mr. Yamashita gathered around him and chatted for a while. I waited for a pause in the conversation and said to him,
“Long time no see, Yamashita-kun. I’m Sasaki of Los Angeles Japanese Association; from Salt Lake City. Do you remember me?”
and I held out my hand. Mr. Yamashita took it immediately and said,
“Mr. Sasaki, it’s been a long time indeed. How many years? It was before I got married.”
“I think it was at that sugar beet field of a few thousand acres that Mr. Sozan Takahashi contracted in Fielding, Utah. Wasn’t that the last time we were together?”
“You’re right. After that I went back to Japan to get married. It’s been twenty years. Long time ago.”
“I can’t believe it’s been twenty years. And yet, we meet again 800 miles away in a place like this. How peculiar!”
“Indeed. We don’t know what awaits in front of us, but let’s do this together again.”
“Yes, let’s do this together. Let’s think we are on vacation and take it easy. There is no use in resisting and struggling within the wire fences.”
The conversation between Mr Yamashita and I did not seem to come to an end. In the meantime, someone came up with an idea of having a party to cheer up the people who are to be sent to Montana; if there really were such. Others agreed with this idea and the messengers were sent to all other barracks for the talented individuals.
It might have been about seven thirty or eight when we finally started the party. I acted as master of ceremonies and said a few words to the effect that I wanted them to make it as merry as they could for it was Christmas Eve and also a send-off.
Mr. Yoshizawa and Mr. Yoshimura sang shinnai and hauta in behalf of Barrack B. Barrack C sent Mr. Ogata from Delano in Central California, who was a strong built large man. He showed his muscular arm dancing “Yarisabi”. From my barrack, Mr. Gentaro Adachi who was from Tottori Prefecture, sang Yasukibushi, the song of home. Also, young Mr. Fujimura sang Hayaribushi.
The people who had been clearly informed to be sent to Montana, however, did not sing nor seem to enjoy the songs and dances of others. It was not their lack of preparedness but their sadness of leaving this place that they had made home, and parting from the colleagues with whom they had lived with thus far.
(pg. 195 – )
- “All will be Transferred”
The Christmas Day dawned at last.
“Today is Christmas. We are going to have a turkey dinner.”
“There may be only two meals today. Then the dinner may be at about three o’clock.”
Some started talking about the feast as soon as they were awake. One of the guards came and said to me,
“Mr. Sasaki, Inspector Scott wants to see you. Will you come right away?”
I got dressed in a hurry and went to the office. Mr. Scott said with an expression of true sympathy,
“You will be transferred today. Please inform the people and have them get ready.”
“All of you.”
“I don’t know. I have just received this order at five thirty this morning.”
“How should we get ready?”
“Please leave all the supplied articles as they are. Take what you will need on the train with you and pack all the rest for shipping before noon. The departure will be in three groups, at one, two, and three o’clock by bus.”
I started to leave the office. Mr. Scott called and stopped me.
“Please wait. I want to tell you how much I appreciate your work here. I am very pleased that we have been without troubles and this camp has been tidied up inside and out. Please send my regards to the people. I think you may only get some sandwiches and coffee on the train, so make sure to eat enough turkey dinner which will be served at 11 o’clock here. Please tell this to them, too. And have them come outside for several necessary procedures after breakfast, O.K?”
“Yes, sir. I will tell the people so.”
I answered and went around the barracks to send the instruction. Some looked thunderstruck at the news; but the majority took it quite well.
“We don’t have a say in it anyway.”
“We all are going, and no grudge against anybody. I like it.”
“We’ll be able to see those who already are there.”
“It’s been years since I took a train to anywhere.”
They were acting cheerfully.
After the breakfast, we went outside and deposited cash, and received a dollar for spending money on the way. The luggage was checked in, the three groups were formed by alphabetical order, the roll call was taken at 11:30, and we went into the dining hall and ate the turkey dinner.
It had been cloudy since the morning that day, and it started to drizzle at about noon. Some families in Los Angeles came to visit this day for they had known about our transfer, but no visit was allowed. They were not even allowed to come closer than 20 feet from the fence.
A large bus came at one o’clock as it had been announced, and the first group departed. The second group departed at about 2:30. I was in the second group, and Mr. Nakazawa, Mr. Sekiyama, Mr. Itakura, and Mr. Tatsuno were amongst us.
Mr. Tatsuno was one legged. When I saw him checking in his prosthetic leg bound to his suitcase, I said to him,
“I thought you were going with me. Weren’t you?”
“I am going with you. I’m in the second group, too.”
He replied seriously. So I said,
“But you went one step ahead with your suitcase.”
He laughed heartily as usual, and said,
“That leg doesn’t work properly, so I sent it ahead. It cuts the blood circulation, too.”
Two of the guards got on the bus with us. One sat next to the driver, and the other sat near me.
“Are you going to the station?”
I asked him.
“I’m going all the way with you. Three of us are accompanying you from here.”
“Where are we going?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are we going far?”
“I don’t know that either.”
It seemed that he was ordered not to disclose the destination; all he said was “I don’t know” for any such questions. I felt disappointed and became quiet. Then he uttered a question.
“By the way, don’t Japanese people kiss when parting?”
“Many women came to visit yesterday, but I didn’t see anyone kissing even between a wife and a husband. I wondered why. Some of them knew about the transfer, I’m sure.”
“A Japanese woman would not kiss anyone, even her husband, in front of someone else.”
“And they don’t cry loudly.”
“Don’t they feel sad?”
“Of course, they do. It’s our custom not to show those raw emotions publicly.”
The guard did not seem to understand.
Our bus stopped alongside a train that was stopped on the back side of Los Angeles Station. We were herded into one of the passenger cars in a single file. It was a coach with all the blinds shut, and the lights on.
It was a spot far away from the regular passengers boarding and there was none but police officers, security guards, or the train conductors near us. In a drizzle thinner than a thread, there was no one there to see us off. Maybe it was forbidden to see us off. Maybe this location was kept confidential from our families.
About the Contributor
Yoko was born in Kumamoto, Japan and moved to the United States to further her education. While she was a student at Cal State Northridge studying anthropology, she worked for the San Fernando Valley Japanese Language Institute. She lives with her husband in Santa Paula, CA., and enjoys serving as a volunteer, teaching ESL to adults in her community, and engages in continued education opportunities to further her knowledge and skill as a teacher.