Terminal Island Life History Project


  • Interviewee:
  •     Mas Tanibata
  • Interviewer:
  •     Mary Tamura
  • Date:
  •     March 4, 1994
  • Transcribed by:
  •     Mary Tamura

Mas Tanibata is recording about his father, his family and himself and their lives on Terminal Island.


My Dad, Zenmatsu Tanibata came from Wakayama ken. He came here about 1890 when he was about nineteen years old. The reason he came, I think, is because he wanted to evade the draft. He said his family was poor in Japan and they had to do something to make a living and thought about coming to U.S. to make a lot of money and going back and make a better life for the folks there. He came to Seattle first time, maybe Vancouver and I think he started working on the railroad, Canadian Pacific. He worked there several years but found work to be strenuous and so he came down to San Francisco. He did some sort of business, shipping fish back East or into the interior of U.S. But the trouble was he spent all his money gambling. He never was what you call a prosperous business man. Just then the 1906 earthquake hit San Francisco and his credential, passport, business license were burned. He was penniless. He found out there were some Japanese in Monterey, fishing. He came to Monterey and worked for about five to six years. He did odd jobs at fishing and sometimes farming. He soon got tired of this and heard about the colony in Terminal Island. He drifted down this way. Before that time in Monterey his family back in Japan urged him to take this gal as a bride and sent her over. My Mom told me that she was suppose to meet someone fairly well-to-do, fairly nice looking and all this kind of stuff and then found out he was a complete opposite. Anyway, she was tied down over here and soon afterward she had kids and she had me.

Then they came down to Terminal Island. Soon afterwards they came here my Dad bought a boat, a little one-man operational boat called jig boat at that time. He went out early in the morning every day, returned during the evening and the fish caught for the day was unloaded at the fish market and the market dispersed the fish throughout the local fish markets in Los Angeles, Long Beach, San Pedro and nearby areas. It was this time I was born on March 26, 1921. So evidently he was over here in 1890 or during the turn of the century.

During my grammar school days and high school years, I used to bait set lines that were needed in order to do this type of fishing. I didn't have much time to play or anything like that. All I did was help my Dad and Mom set line. One set line took 400 to 500 hooks and each one had to be baited. One set line took approximately two hours to bait the whole thing—to untangle the line and curl the line round so that when the lines were put out, the lines would not get tangled. He would take at least four or five sets for his fishing. This consumed a lot of time. My Mom did most of the set line after working eight to ten hours at the cannery and I remember her working until wee hours of the evening around eleven, twelve or one o'clock a.m. just getting the set lines ready. Seeing how hard she worked, we couldn't just sit around idly or go out to play with the other kids. So my brother and I used to help her. By that time I had brother Kiyo, sister came after that was Takako and the youngest brother Seizo. There were six of us in the family—three boys and one girl, Mom and Dad. Dad made a fair living. We didn't get rich but we had roof over our head and bread or rice on the table. That was the extent of what my Dad's fishing operation concerned.

During my school years, I don't remember much of kindergarten. I remember my first grade teacher, Miss Chan. We had a May Day Parade and she put me in a costume of a lion inside of a cage. I remember taking my clothes off and my underwear was torn. I was so embarrassed because she looked at the torn underwear, but like a teacher didn't say anything but I knew she knew I had a torn undershirt. It sure embarrassed me at that time. We went through the exercise fairly well. This stuck in the back of my mind for quite a while.

All through the grammar school years it was fun. I didn't realize until now, it was about the best time of my life. We didn't have much to worry. We didn't worry about where food was coming from or whether the rent was going to be paid or if we had clothes on our back, shoes to wear for the next semester and all this kind of stuff. We never worried about things like that. I suppose that was one of the best times of my life I think because we just didn't have any worries.

At the same time while we went to English school we spoke English there and after class was over we'd all speak Japanese or a mixture of Japanese and English. Right after that at four o'clock, our Japanese school started and we had to speak Japanese. At recess and anytime outside of class we spoke English. It was funny when we were in English school, at recess we spoke Japanese, while going to Japanese school, at recess we spoke English. That was sure odd, when I think about it now.

I remember I was not too good of a student. I used to be a real rascal. I used to do all kinds of pranks. I remember one time during the Japanese school, I got a book of matches and tore out a couple of sticks and crept up behind the teacher's desk. As his foot was stretching outside the desk, I stuck these two matches and lit them and crawled back to my desk. I waited until the matches burned down to the head and all of a sudden flared up and that's what we'd call giving a guy the "hot foot." I really gave the teacher a "hot foot" and he jumped in the air and yelled out, "Who did this?" in Japanese, of course. Naturally, I got scared and I started to run out of the class and he chased me from the class out to the baseball grounds. But I could run much faster than he... By the time he got to the baseball park, I was nowhere to be seen. But afterward, my Dad was called to the Principal's office and when my Dad came back he saw me and sure gave me a lecture. A lecture wasn't all, he gave me genkotsu. "Ita katta." So 1 wasn't what you call a model student during my adolescence.

During my adolescence, whenever I had time, after helping my parents setting the bait line, a bunch of us would get together and play baseball early Saturday mornings. I remember we used to nail up the broken bats that the Skippers used to throw away and we'd saw off the tip or head of the bat because it was too heavy and play regular game of, I imagine not exactly a softball or a hardball but with a ball in between, and we used to pick teams and play ball. In fact, we played most of the sports. We'd play football at the school playground. Ichi Hashimoto used to organize the team and I was on his team. We used to play at different areas like Wilmington, hakujin teams, but they beat us because they were much bigger.

As far as organized games, the so-called Hokkaido bunch got together after Japanese school was over about six o'clock to play capture-the-flag or kick-the-can, hide and seek, cops and robbers. I remember one time when I was playing cops and robbers, I found a good hiding place where nobody could find me. Everyone went home as it got dark and here I was up in this tree house. "Gee, nobody's around" and like a darn fool, I stayed in the tree for an hour or so and trying to be the hero of the game. I imagine they all went home because it was dark. Here I was up in the tree! Things like this are vivid in my mind today.

I remembered we joined the kendo group and did kendo for awhile. I imagine I started when I was about ten or eleven years old and quit when I went to High school. So I guess I did kendo for about five or six years.

Henry Ida used to be our idol and he used to get a bunch of us together and we formed a basketball team and we played at the J.A.U. in Los Angeles. There was Moto Shimizu, Bob Uragami, Tokio (Elmer) Hayashi, myself, Kaz Takade, Jimmy Okura. I remember one year we were such a tall team we played in the "B" league and we wiped everybody out. We were the champs that year. The following year we were promoted to the "A" league and we didn't do very well because the other guys were just as big or taller than us.

I remember also Reverend Yamamoto took a liking to several of us—Hideo Tsuchiyama, Toshi Ogura, Yutaka Nakagawa, Hiraki Ishino and myself. We used to call ourselves "The Seven." Every Friday night we would gather at Rev. Yamamoto's house and he'd provide the refreshments usually. We went mostly for the refreshments and after the refreshments, we'd have a wrestling match. Three or four of us against Rev. Yamamoto and I'm telling you we'd have a rip rolling time! It was quite an affair!

During our growing up period, I remember the girls had their Outing Club and they were learning how to dance. They were using the school auditorium. We used to go there and peek. We wanted to learn how to dance. We were just too shy to say we'd like to learn how to dance and teach us also. We'd peek from the window and watch them and see what kinds of steps they were doing and go home and try them out ourselves. I remember those periods.

What especially comes to my mind is during our high school senior year. Prior to that nobody in the Japanese community went to the Senior Prom. So I decided I'm going to go. I got my date, Mitzi (darn, can't recall her last name). Let's just say, Mitzi. When the people found out I was going to the Prom, they said, "Gee, if you're going, we'd like to go too." I said, "What am I supposed to do?" They said, "Can't you get a group of girls and we can all go?" So I said, "I'll give it a try." What happened was we had about five to six girls and we had to get a bunch of guys together and guess who had the privilege of matching all these boys and girls together? That was me. Boy, I'm telling you I'd never do that again because they had nothing but complaints: I remember we were short one guy and in desperation I had to ask Min Nakamura who was one or two grades below us. I had to ask him to come with us too. There was me, Elmer Hayashi, Ken Takahashi, Toshi Ohara, Bob Uragami and Min Nakamura. I think the girls were Emi Iwasaki, Kazaye Shibata, Emiko Oka, Ruby Shibata, Ruiko Shintani, Ichiye Taniguchi. There were six. Min had to go with one of the girls and would you believe nobody knew how to dance except me. Because I used to hang around with the hakujin bunch and after every basketball game on Friday, I'd go with those guys. They would go to the Torrance Civic Auditorium where they had a dance band there. They had a regular live band and dance every time. I used to hang around on the side, watching how to dance and finally I got enough nerve to do it myself. It took quite a while but eventually I got around to it. So I was the only one who knew how to dance and Min had record player. I remember he had all kinds of records—Moonlight Serenade, Sunrise Serenade, Elmer's Tune, Blueberry Hill, In the Mood, Sometimes I Wonder... What are some of the other songs? I just can't remember... So we all went to this prom. I'm telling you, we all had a good time anyway. Just about every afternoon we'd get in front of Emi Iwasaki's porch and we'd play the records and do the steps. The girls were cooperating too. You never heard anyone doing something like this. Because as soon as you started hanging around girls, you were the talk of the town and you just didn't want anybody to be talking about you in that way because like it was, we were just one partition wall from our neighbor. In fact lots of times, we knew what our neighbors were having for dinner, that's how close we were. Whenever they had a family feud, we'd hear the worst of it. We didn't want to be caught dating a girl or something like that because it would be the talk of the town.

Anyway, from these happenings we all learned how to dance. We went to the Prom and really had a good time. Every one of us. I'm sure they still remember to this day how it was and the fun we had. Right before graduation time, I took Mitzi for a date. You didn't date any girls. It was something else.

Graduation night we were supposed to stay out all night. We weren't supposed to go home after graduation. A bunch of us, Toshi Hara, myself, Elmer Hayashi, David Yokozeki got together. The only guy that had the car was Toshi Hara. He had a Studebaker. We used to help him wash the car and things like that. Anyway we went out after graduation and went out to the Brown Derby and (something) Tea Garden. We had our dates out until two to three o'clock a.m. in the morning when we got back from Los Angeles. Well, gee, no sense going home. What shall we do? So we sat in the car by Toshi Hara's home and shot the fat until daybreak, and decided then to go home. That was quite a deal. That was our graduation at that time, as I recall.

During the summer vacation, we used to help our father albacore fishing and missed about a month of the Senior year. This was just before graduation. After graduation, each of us went our different ways. I think most of us didn't know or really have an occupation except to fish as far as fishing, that was all we knew. Oh yes, lots of college graduates or some of those people who went to Junior college were working in fruit stands. So what the heck, so far as I was concern, I decided to go out and work. So I went fishing on Mr. Saka's boat called, The Key West. We went north fishing for sardines. That was right before the start of the war I suppose.

I remember while I was up there fishing in Astoria, Oregon, we stayed up there couple of months, October, November, December and then came down to San Francisco and finished out the season from January to February. October, November, December we were up in Astoria, Oregon fishing for sardines up there. We heard some of those terrible, dangerous stories about fishermen. I realize that when the skipper go fishing up there and see a school of fish, it's money, so regardless of what the weather was like, they'd set their nets. One time, like being the youngest on the crew, I'd go on the most dangerous place, that was the skiff. When they let the net go, one half is tied to your skiff. The purse handler would go around and come around to your little skiff and you throw the end of the net up to the boat and they would hoist or tie the net down. I remember it was rough and I was on this skiff and I see the bottom of the boat as it reared. In fact, the south-east was coming around and the waves are at least twenty feet high. I remember that I could see the sea cox underneath the boat where the water went into the engine. You can see the sea cox up there, man, it's towering above us and before you know it, it goes down and here they are right below us. So I threw the rope down there. That's how bad it was. But then you'd never get any fish in that kind of weather because once you purse up the net and the fish is in there, the weight of the fish and the tossing of the boat just rips the net around the cork and all the fish would go out. So usually it was useless to set in weather like that. I remember the skipper used to yell at me from the top of the wheel house, "Masa, Hayo yaranka!" He used to yell right at me and here I'm rolling around and the wind is blowing and I'm having a hell of a time just trying to get near the net. I'm telling you it used to blow my mind thinking about it. I remember too when we were finishing our season up there, on this trip we bailed in several tons of fish, I think maybe forty-five tons of fish that we were able to save out of this catch. As we were coming down, we were shaking so much back and forth because of the high waves. By the time we get to the cannery to unload the fish, it was all mush. The fish's meat would fall off the bone because they rubbed back and forth. So all you got was bones as they unload the fish. It was really useless, so we lost it. We had to tie up, rest up, and because we had to fix the net and we lost the catch, plus we lost the fish that we brought in because it was like mush, turned into water. That's how it was and really taught me a lesson: Don't go fishing during bad weather. It's not worth the while.

Talking about bad weather, as we finished our season up there, we were coming down and we hit this bad weather again. I'm telling you, it was awful. It's so scary! The boat coming down the coast in groups of three to four boats at a time, because in bad weather you don't know what's going to happen. We were going about thirty, forty, fifty yards apart when the waves were coming, we'd see the tip of the mast and sometimes we wouldn't see them at all. They were only fifty yards away. As I recall, in that instance, there was a Norwegian boat that capsized and all the crew were lost. Fishing was really dangerous business.

We came down to San Francisco and by that time it was about the end of November. Right at the time my mom was ill with cancer so then I got a leave from the boss and flew down to L.A.X. (the cost was $18.00 at the time). Then I got a cab and went to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital where my mother was. She had a brain tumor and was operated on and I was there just before the operation. I talked to her a few times about this and that and how things were. At least I got to talk to my mom and then right after the operation, she died. I went backup north to do some fishing and did you know that the month of November (toward middle of November to end of November and beginning December) it was so good I remember as a kid of, I think I was nineteen, I made $1,175.00 in one month. At that time, $1,000.00 a month was a substantial amount. In fact, that paid for the hospital expenses.

That was toward the end of November and as December came, we were getting ready to go out fishing. And everybody knows what happened on December 7th. We were tied up, in the dock in San Francisco, and we were just about ready to go out fishing. We were listening to the weather report because that's very important. Just as we turned the thing on, some part of it all of a sudden everything went on a crisis basis. "This is important! This is important!" There was a news flash "WE ARE AT WAR! WE ARE AT WAR!" All of us on the boat, maybe three or four of us were young. Most of the guys were ashore and the young kids were on the boat. We were listening to this and were quite surprised because what the heck, who would ever think Japan would declare war on the United States. That was absurd!

Every boat on the dock area was aware something drastic had happened. And no sooner than this came over the air, the dock side was surrounded by M.P.'s. We were on the wharf talking together and the soldier with the bayonet came and moved us along toward the boat. He didn't say, "Sorry" but said, "Hey, you Japs, get over there!" The boat was quarantined the rest of the day and in fact the quarantine was declared unofficial or something and we were isolated right on the boat. We couldn't get off.

Finally, after three to four days of it, we ran out of food. We told the M.P. "Hey, we have nothing to eat. What about doing something about it?" What happened was they got a field marshall to issue a special pass to go ashore and there was a curfew until six o'clock p.m. We had to be on the boat again by then. We got our way downtown. You know what we ate? We ate at the Chinese restaurant and ordered one bowl of rice and a plate of chashu and that was twenty-five cents. That's how we lived for a couple of weeks I guess because we just didn't know what to do as we were tied right to the boat and they wouldn't let us off or go anywhere. We had to even get a permit, in order to even buy a ticket for the train because the trains were being utilized by the army and Armed forces. So finally, after a couple of weeks, we were running out of money too and we (Bob, Elmer, myself, Peanut, Yachi) sought to petition the field marshall to give us a pass to buy tickets to come down south to Los Angeles.

Finally, it came through and we were able to buy the tickets to come down and get on the train. I'm telling you it was very uncomfortable on the train, because it was all hakujin. We had our overcoats, our hats on, Fedora, overcoats, gloves and things like that. We sat in the corner like that just doing absolutely nothing. We just tried to keep from being noticed. That's how we came down to Los Angeles. From Los Angeles we took the red car and came to San Pedro. We got off at the red car station by the ferry there. To get from the red car station to where the ferry was, about a block away, I'm telling you, we got those hisses and all that razzmatazz at being hassled. It wasn't very nice. Then we got in the ferry and thank goodness we got back on the island.

Sure enough when I got home, everybody was in dire straits and had nothing to do. Everybody was wondering what was going to happen next.

That was about six o'clock in the evening when we heard the news on December 7. We were quarantined for about a week. Then we were able to come home in about two weeks so it was just about the end of December when we were able to come home.

Everybody was wondering what was gonna take place... Because you know, people just didn't have any money. The banks were closed. Where are you gonna buy food? I bet your place over there, Izumi (grocery store) had all kinds of I.O.U.'s? Didn't they? Gee, people just didn't have any money to buy any food, the banks were closed. I think, we were eating mostly fish, most of the time. How I hate fish that time when we were kids. I never liked fish.

We were in a state of limbo, at least until the Executive Order 9066 came about and gee, all kinds of thing happened. J.A.C.L. said you oughta get your identification and all this kinda stuff and we all went and got our cards which didn't mean anything. And when the order came, I think everybody was in a real chaotic state because like us, we just didn't have any relatives outside of California that we could go to. They just told us to get out. Where are you gonna get out to? So, you know, if it wasn't for the Quakers and the church groups that provided the trucks and transportation and a place to stay like the hostel in Los Angeles we'd have nowhere to go. That's where we went. Most of the Hokkaido people around our area went to this hostel, run by Evergreen Baptist Church, I think. I think they handled it. If it wasn't for the gakuens (Japanese schools) that opened their school for families to stay, outside of Terminal Island, it woulda... You know, in fact, I think we should have stayed there. Most of the men folks were taken away because of the illegal alien status, so the people that were left were just kids, women and old men. I think my Dad, he was around sixty I guess at that time, and he was considered old. In fact he had retired from fishing. Didn't do anything. Good thing he didn't belong to any Japanese associations or some kind of nihon-jin-kai, you know, or something like that or otherwise he would have been taken too. But in spite of that, if everybody had stayed there, they would have had to jail most of the kids, women and old men. And I think we should have just stayed there, you know. That's just an after-thought. The U.S. government would have had a heck of a time trying to decide what to do with everybody. After all, we didn't have any place to go.

So I think there were about four or five families... In fact I remember this Toyosaki family. In fact I said this in my report to the Commission when they came to Los Angeles... You know there was Kanshi and Mr. Murakami who gave this oral recitation to the Committee. I told them about the Toyosaki family. You know, they had seven kids. The oldest one was fourteen. She was a girl. The husband was taken away and the mother just sat there and cried. She just didn't have any place to go. Nobody to help her and all these little kids she had to take care of. God, I really felt for her. So you know what the young guys did? I think I was about eighteen... No nineteen as I had just graduated. (Slow starter, late bloomer...Chuckle). But anyway, a bunch of us, Kiyoshi Okamoto, myself, Wataru, Bill?... Don't know if Bill Nakasaki was there. But anyway we got her things together, bundled all her things up. The things that she was gonna take and the things that she was gonna leave. And we put them in boxes and put her name on them and things like that. I think that kinda relieved her. I can still see her at the time.

So there were about four or five families that went to Evergreen hostel. From there, the Los Angeles bunch, they asked for volunteers in Los Angeles. So I told my brother, why don't you volunteer for Manzanar because we were all going to Manzanar and that way we'd be sure to get a place in Manzanar... In Californian anyway. You don't have to go to some other place in some boomtown area. So I told my brother. And he went. That's the reason we were able to go to Manzanar because my brother was there. We went with a bunch of Terminal Islanders from the hostel.

I remember the time we were set to leave. We got on this train. I think it was a local. Stopped at just about every crossing from here to Lone Pine. When we got to Lone Pine, there was a bus waiting for us. We all got on the bus and hit Manzanar Relocation Center. When we got there, it was dusty and the wind was blowing. Oh, what a miserable place it was! Anyway, you know we were young. I was only nineteen, you know. Hey, look at those girls over there! We use to kid each other! All in all, I think it was a terrible time. Disastrous. So we got our blankets, my Dad, myself and two brothers and stayed in Block Ten, Barrack One, Room One.

We stayed there in Manzanar. I think that's where I met my wife. (chuckle) You remember, we had those outdoor theater type of entertainment Monday night or Friday night. I think it was Saturday night usually they'd have outdoor music. Because it was summer time, It was real balmy, not too cold. We'd lay our blankets out there in the open air. We'd just look at the stars and listen to the music. I remember that's where I met Kawai. I used to tell her and remember saying a joke:

Hey, I hear that Hannah's stuck on you!

The guy would say, "Hannah who?"

Hana kuso!

That made everybody laugh. I think, even to this day, she'd say, "You thought you were so cute!" Anyway, that's where I met my wife and we decided, well, we were made for each other.

So I stayed in camp. Four years? That's where I started playing golf, between the fire breaks. I remember we used to play golf between the fire break where we had cleared the sagebrush. The fairways were sand and the greens were real fine sand that's oiled. And on this green, socalled oiled sand there was a roller about two feet long. It's a pipe with a handle on it. And you get that golf ball to land on the green, we would drag this thing right to your ball and then it would make a smooth path. And then you'd putt. But you'd have to putt pretty hard because you know, you're going through sand and you're playing maybe. It was a nine hole course, and you're playing two rounds at the most and even the white ball gets black. You gotta get a new ball. So what we used to do was to get this mail-order paint. We use to paint the ball white. So that's where I got introduced to golf. In fact, I didn't have any golf clubs so I use to borrow my brother's, who had either gotten it from Sears or he bought it from somebody else that had an extra club. That's how I got started playing golf. That was in 1944, I guess, 1943.

In camp there was all kinds of job offers to be had. I preferred to be the lazy one and I thought the best thing for me to be was a fireman because you're three days on and two days off. So you come out ahead if you worked one week. You have four days off, more or less.

So being a fireman, they had an election as to who's gonna be the fire chief, who's gonna be the assistant fire chief, who's gonna be the pumper, and who's gonna be on the fire hose. You know all that stuff. And what do you know? I was elected to be the assistant fire chief. So I got $18.00 a month and the rest of the guys got $16 or was it $14?

Whatever it was, I worked as an assistant for about two years, I guess. Oh, I remember an incident in camp when we had a fire.

Firemen, you know, they thought, "Aaah, we'd just take it easy. Sit around all day and play pinochle." You know that was it. So one day this kid comes running up to the place where we were playing pinochle outside the barracks and he says, "There's a fire! There's a fire"

Aaaah! There's no fire around here! Get lost, kid!

We just pooh-poohed the thing. Pretty soon this older man comes running up and says, "Kaji da! Kaji da!" (Fire!)

So why don't one of you guys get up on the roof. And they climb way up on the roof and sure enough there's big black smoke over there. So we all jumped up and get on the fire truck and go rushing out to the fire. We got the hose out. They're all stationed ready to turn the water on. And the guy at the pumper, you know what a pumper is—the pumper is a fire engine from the hydrant it goes into the fire engine and from the fire engine it goes to the hose. So that's where there's a lot of pressure on it and the fire engine pumps the water. And the guy at the fire truck he waves and circles his arms. "Go on! Put it on!" He circles his arms. And the other guy says, "Hey, NO water! NO water!" The four guys at the end of the hose, they're just hanging up there. In the meantime, the thing is going up in flames.

What happened was the guys that tied up the pumper had the hose going up to the fire engine and from the fire engine back into the hydrant, and from the two extensions of the fire truck was going out to the hose. In other words, they connected the wrong pipes!

In the meantime, the thing is going up in flames and the flame is getting higher and higher. And by the time we got everything all set and ready to throw the water on there, that thing was down to the, you know, down to the base. And the thing was, the thing that was in the warehouse. It was in the warehouse that caught on fire—toilet paper. Can you imagine a warehouse full of toilet paper going up in flames? Man, it just went up in no time. Before you knew it, the thing was down to the ground. And for the next three months, you know, like catalogues, old magazines, they were at a premium. There was no toilet paper! I'm telling you, it was terrible! (chuckle)

So after that incident, we had to go out practice every day. Never mind pinochle. Run out to the baseball ground, connect it to the hydrant, and water the baseball field. That was really something.

Another was that we had a brush fire right outside of camp. That was for real. I mean, it was dangerous. The wind was blowing. The sparks were flying all over and we had to put it out. We put it out though and that was a good thing. Otherwise, the whole camp would have gone up in flames. Honestly, it was really bad! That was the two worst incidents in camp. After that I got bored of doing nothing so I joined the rock gang.

The rock gang is the one that went outside the camp to this creek. They would funnel the water down to the farmland as irrigation ditch. That's what they did. They went out there with shovels and dug this ditch and lined the ditch with rocks. And at that time, my father-in-law was the head of the farm institution. Here I'm working with this gang outside the complex. It's really hot. It's stifling. Everybody's sweating and tired. So about two o'clock Tanaka says, (he was the head of the rock gang) "Hey, Mas. Go ask your father-in-law for some watermelon!" as he used to grow watermelon.

So I go over there and I say, "Oji san. Suika ippon kudasai!"

"Oh, motte ike."

So he gave me ONE!

There's about twenty guys. So I go back over there and Ken Tanaka, he says, "God Damn! Mas got just one watermelon. What the hell you think we are?" He took that watermelon and threw it on the ground and it burst all over the place. Then he tells me, "God Damn! Mas, go back and tell your father-in-law to go to hell!" (chuckle) So from then on, my father-in-law was taboo. He was for the pits!

So that's how it was. The guys used to stay out there, these gangs. They didn't count the noses when we left camp to go to the complex outside the barb wires to make these ditches. So then they would be prepared with heavy clothings, boots and some things like that. So like Amos and them, they would stay out there. They wouldn't come back to camp. They didn't count. During the night they would hike all the way up into the mountain and catch trout. That's how...you know they had these ponds. Beautiful, Japanese gardens in between the barracks. And Amos used to have these big trouts in them. That was really amazing.

One thing I learned that staying in camp: You know, the Issei, especially the younger Issei, well, Nisei too. They were really resourceful people. You ought to see the beautiful rock gardens that they made in between the barracks! You know the barracks were really ugly but then these gardens made the camp beautiful. It was, to tell you the truth, the most resourceful people that I have ever come across. They would make canes out of these junipers. They would make chairs and benches and things like that. You just can't imagine that they could do something like that.

I'll tell you one thing though, that wherever these Japanese people go it seems like the first thing they do is to organize a church. You know that! Wherever, as 1 recall, even back home in Terminal Island, as I became older and realized what was going on, there was one church that was the Baptist Church. Remember? And that was the mainstay of the community. Because whenever Christmas time came along, there was always a program for the kids. And there was always something to do on Sunday for most of the kids. Because I think they all went to Sunday School even a bratty child like me. I remember Miss Swanson, Rev. Morikawa. I used to "try" Yamamoto sensei, Murakami sensei. Yamamoto sensei, we used to call him "Jack." We never called him "Reverend." "Hey, Jack!" What a bunch of idiots, calling the Reverend, "Jack."


When did you leave camp?


I left camp in about '45. I left camp because the rest of the guys were going out. Nothing much to do. Oh, by the way, we went out beet thinning during the interim we were staying in camp in Manzanar. I remember we went up to Montana and Idaho. We went because there was a labor shortage on the farms because of the war. Everyone was working in defense plants so there was a shortage of farm help. In fact they were importing farm workers from Jamaica. There was a lot of black people that were imported working in Montana and Idaho. In that area at different camps, we went potato picking, onion picking, apple picking, beet topping, beet thinning.

I remember the Terminal Islanders went up to Idaho and did onion picking, I think it was. After that we went up to Montana, about ten miles from the Canadian border. I think the place was called Harlem, Montana. We did beet thinning. There were about fourteen or fifteen of us. You know what they told us? "Hey, Mas, if you fool around with these Indian girls and get one of them pregnant, you gonna get stuck over here with twenty acres. And that's it! Don't go fooling around!" That was an ultimatum. And that kept us in line, I'm telling you!

I remember we used to go to the pool halls in Harlem, and Naka used to wear these real rounded domed hats and the way he wore it, he looked just like an Indian. Yeah, he did! There was one pool hall we'd just buy out the candies. The guy at the pool hall, he'd get mad. He says, "Hey, ya gotta save some for the kids over here! Because you know, candies were at a premium during the war, right? We'd send them all to camp.

Well, anyway, we'd go to this pool hall and here comes this great, big, Indian guy. He must have been about six feet six. Real mangy looking, about fifty years or so, real rough looking character, half drunk. (This guy is a real California Paiute Indian.) He comes up to Naka, put his arm around him and he's slobbering through one side of his mouth. He says, "You my friend, ain't you?" (laughing) And Naka was cringing. That was a sight. I'm telling you.

But anyway, things like that happened and you know the first thing that the Nisei did out there was to make "o-furo." And this one place we couldn't find any materials to make "o-furo." We just had hot water and we took showers. Everyday we bathed because of the dust.

I remember one farmer where we thinned the beets. We did a lousy job. We just ran through his patch, fourteen of us. And by the time we got through, we did such a lousy job, the farmer was just crying. He said, "You know, you guys are really bad. You ruined my crop. You know, we're gonna starve next winter. If this beet isn't any good this summer, we're not gonna have anything to eat." You know, we really felt sorry for him. He was really in tears so the next day we went back and really cleaned it up for him and did a decent job anyway. Things like that happened. I'm glad we went back. He was really almost on his knees begging us to help him out. Things like that as we came back to camp.

I left camp in 1944 because some of my friends had gone out to Chicago and back east to Philadelphia. I decided, what the heck, I might as well go out to the furthest point back East and then work myself back west as the years went by. So I got a ticket. I told the Relocation officer I wanted to go to Philadelphia thinking it was the most eastern place where I knew somebody. So anyway they gave me about $60.00 subsistence and the train ticket. I got on a bus from camp and I said, "Good-bye" to my family and my brothers and I went up to Reno and from Reno I took a train. It took me forever and a day to get to Chicago. In the meantime, I had written to my friends in Chicago that might be around a certain date in Chicago. They were right there at the station, believe it or not! And when I saw them at the station, I said, "Hey, I don't want to go to Philadelphia! I'm gonna stay here." These guys were already there. There was Mac Okuba and Tosh Kinya and these guys were mostly from Bakersfield. They put up the board and I stayed with them and worked my way doing silk screen work and found some foundry work. Then I went to school, Institute of Design for a couple of years while working.

I remember these Terminal Island guys down on the south side, like Toby and Charlie and all those guys. One time I saw Charlie's picture in the Times, you know the Chicago Tribune. It showed him on the front page in the sports section and it showed him flying flat backwards, flying through the air going backwards. I called him up and I said, "Hey Charlie! I saw your picture in the paper. What the hell. You're not knocked out, were you?" He said, "Yeah!" You know his name was Castle Hamasaki at that time. He named himself, "Castle." What had happened was... You know, Toby, Charlie, Tiger and several other guys were rooming together and nobody would go to work, except Toby. So he got tired of providing all the food for these guys and he said, "Hell with you guys! You are on your own. I'm gonna keep all my money." So these guys ran out of money. So in order to get money to eat, Charlie would go out and fight for $15.00. If he won, he got $25.00 and if he lost he got $15.00. Well anyway, that was the reason I saw his picture in the paper.

That was during the earlier part of my stay in Chicago. I wrote to Aiko and by then we were going pretty steady. I wrote to her and asked her to come out. She came out and we got married in Chicago by Rev. Morikawa.

I'll never forget the time when we went up there to see the Reverend. You know, Aiko knew all the reverends as she was from a Christian family. And here I'm a "no-good" from Terminal Island, and here we go up to Rev. Morikawa. In fact, Rev. Morikawa knew me from Terminal Island because he used to be there for a while. He caught me playing craps in the church benjo so he knew that I'm "no-good." So he tells Aiko, "You don't have to marry this guy. You know, there are a lot of better guys out there than this guy." I felt about this big... Oh, my gosh, the Reverend saying things like that. But I guess he was trying to test me out. If I got mad or something like that, he probably wouldn't have performed the marriage ceremony. But anyway, he married us and we had our little reception with a bunch of Terminal Island guys at a chop suey house. Then we wrote to our families back home in California. By that time camp had closed and they were in California. To get our baishaku I asked Mr. Karauchi on my side and from her side, I forget who it was but anyway they got together back home and they decided it was okay. The family was okay or something like that.

I was out in Chicago about five years. After about three years, my daughter was born in Chicago, near Clark and Division. Dr. Shigekawa delivered most of the babies for the Nisei there.

You know, those were the times. By then I quit school and I was holding two jobs trying to support the family. After the fifth year over there, boy, I'm telling you...you just can't stand the winters, you just can't stand the summers. The summer is so hot and muggy, the winter is so cold because of the wind. When you think about California, you just can't stay in Chicago. So we decided we had enough over here. Let's go back. And her brother had found a place in Griffith Park. Remember they had the Quonset huts over there in Griffith Park for soldiers? Only retired veterans could rent there. Anyway, he had a place there. And so since we had a place to stay we decided to come back to California.

We came back in 1950 and stayed with my brother-in-law for about a year or six months. Then my wife went to work in Los Angeles and I also went to work in Los Angeles. Then my brother, Seizo got a house in Long Beach and since he was by himself with my Dad, we decided to come down and stay with them. So we stayed there for the rest of the time in Long Beach. I tried fishing again but there was... Gee, it was terrible. I think in one year I made two thousand dollars. If my wife wasn't working, we'd starve! So anyway, we stayed in Long Beach for a while. Said to myself, this fishing is for the birds. I'll get some steady job. Do some work other than fishing. So I decided to make a resume, make some drawing, and go out. In fact I liked engineering work. I liked aircraft and all that. So I decided to make a simple drawing and take a sample and go to McDonnell Douglas, Lockheed, Hughes, Rockwell. I went to several place like that. And the one that hired me was Hoffman Laboratory, Los Angeles.

"Hey, you wanna start right now?"

I said, "Yeah!" What more can I ask? I started with $2.95 and hour. That was pretty good at that time. Man, I was commuting from Long Beach to Los Angeles. I did that for quite a number of years, about five years, I guess.

After working at Hoffman Laboratory for five years, most of the bosses went to work for Hughes. So naturally, they called the best guys they knew who could do the job for them. I got a call from one of the bosses, "Hey, Mas, you wanna come down to Hughes" It's a pretty good place..." So I went over to Hughes and sure enough, they offered me a raise of, I think about 40% or something like that. Gee, can't beat that, you know. So I worked for this guy named Herman Crank. He's a German. Boy, he was a stickler, I mean but he was fair. Treated me pretty good. Taught me all the ropes about engineering. Then I went to night school to kinda better myself, trying to get a degree or something like that. But gee, you just can't do it. Working at day and going to school at nights. You know, you carry eleven units. It's tough. You work during the day and carry twelve units. But I got about 120 units. Never got a degree. I should have gotten an AA but I didn't. Anyway, I had my chemistry, my physics, all my math, so I knew what was going on as far as engineering was concerned.

I worked for Hughes for thirty years. After ten years I went to ground system. The ground system moved to Fullerton and I decided I didn't want to go to Fullerton, so I went to Culver City. Worked there for about another twenty years. Then I found out if you don't have a degree you advance to that level and you're not getting any promotion, to say, a manager. In Hughes they went two different ways, managerial or technical side. You need formal education. It was pretty limited. Anyway, I didn't care, after twenty years, there's no sense quitting work and going back to school. You can't make up the time spent going to school as far as wage is concern. So I decided, I think this a better way. Of course you can better yourself, but I decided, "This is it!" They acknowledge your talents some way, I guess. Personally, I think I was pretty good because whatever I designed or undertook, it always flew. I use to tell my boss, "Hey, you give me ten guys, all Orientals, and I'll get this job done in half the time and at half the cost." He use to laugh. But did you know by the thirtieth year, there were more Chinese, more Japanese, in fact there was one Vietnamese, in our group. Would you believe that! I tell you... Orientals work hard. When the time comes, they're not gonna just quit and lay down and go home. They just do the job until it's done. I tell you. That's the truth. I think it's the oriental nature. I used to tell by boss that. He had the most Orientals. That was the extent of my endeavors as far as getting a job was concerned.

Now, coming back to Terminal Islanders.

The settlement about the $25,000. I decided I'd do something. I talked to Yuki about this. He told me, "Why don't you do it, Mas. The Commission on the resettlement is coming to Los Angeles and Terminal Islanders should have a voice in it. Mas, why don't you do it?" So I said O.K.

I hate to do it, but boy, I'm telling you, it's gonna be an ordeal. You know I went through quite a bit of interviews with Mr. Mio. I interviewed several people from Terminal Island that were still around and finally came to the conclusion that something oughta be said to this Commission that came to Los Angeles.

I forget when it was but I still have a tape of it... Of my presentation. There was Mr. Murakami and Kanshi and myself that spoke to this Board. I told them all the different things that had happened to Mrs. Mio. They had a $50,000 mortgage. They were just about paid up when the war broke out. And what the heck. You know how much they got? I think it was $2,000 or something. I think it was Mr. Mio or somebody asked what that was for. "Well, it's for the real property," which is the building itself. You don't own the land. You spend fifty grand and get two thousand in return. That's a bunch of horse shit, you know.

The Hashimotos, they had the "Wheel," the Yamasakis had the "Lindy," the Shirakawas had the "Richness." There were several boat owners that lost their boats, for two grand, that's stupid. And how about the net that cost twenty grand or ten grand, at least at that time. You know that's really stupid. Just getting two grand for that thing. So to this Commission, I gave all these things WHY we should be able to sue for some monetary allotments. And gave all these reasons for that. Also, I told them about the Toyozaki family that had seven kids and all this kinda stuff, you know. I finally said, "When I went to school, they said `democracy,' `Pledge Allegiance to the flag,' all this means nothing. Just a hocus pocus to deceive us and say that we are Americans." I told them that at the Commission. I forgot the exact wording but anyway I told them. In order for the institution to make things right, each one of us should have at least $25,000 as settlement. When I got home, you know what the guys old me? "Hey, Mas, you shoulda asked for $250,000 because if you ask for $250,000, they might give you twenty five. Ha, Ha. You ask for twenty-five, they just gonna give you five." But that was the extent of the interview. I'm sure it made some lasting effect.

Of course, Mr. Murakami gave his incident. You know, like he was taken away from his family with no shoes, just slippers and thing like that. He was hauled all the way to Bismark, you know in the mid-winter. No shoes. And like Kanshi, his father lost the lease on the "Columbus" and things like that. But the way I gave the presentation, it covered the whole island. Covered the business, covered the fishing, covered the ordinary people the like the Toyosakis. I gave the over-all picture of what actually took place, really at that time. In fact I was really angry at the Commission. You know (laugh) right after I finished the thing, the whole audience stood up and they all clapped. Honest, that really was an awakening for me. I thought a lot about the Terminal Islanders. That's about the way I feel about the Terminal Islanders. It's really an organization you can be proud of. You don't have to boast about it. At least you feel good about it. That you are a Terminal Islander. You are one of them. You are a piece of what took place. It really tears me.

I suppose there are a lot of groups like that who went through a lot and they stuck together. They seem to be welded together with one thought in mind: to have a go at life and all this kinda stuff but all in all I think it actually comes out to how you're brought up together. I can't realize...oh...l remember the time when it was first organized. I think it was Bill who really organized it. And I think they had it at that Chinese place. There was about room for four or have hundred people and about 750 people showed up for the initial Terminal Island organization meeting. However, I missed the first meeting. I heard about it too late. I feel that the Terminal Island is sort of a special place. A special feeling that goes a long way. It's deeper than what you think it is.

I think it will somehow or other continue because kinda deep down in your heart, you feel like this ought to be going on forever. But eventually, I suppose it will have to come to an end. Like my philosophy: anything you think of, anything you can dream of, is possible. The only thing that's impossible is to be more than one.

Right now, I'm trying to be more than one, but I don't think I can be more than one. I'm retired now from Hughes after thirty years. I've been retired for about six years. All I do is play golf three times a week, do a little painting, do a little sumie, do a little calligraphy. I suppose just watching my grandson grow up, that's about the most important thing that's in my life. My grandchild, I just have one, he's a mixture of hakujin and nihonjin. He is twelve years old now. He's living with us. My daughter's separated from her husband, but I feel that my grandson is going to be a Japanese. I can tell you a story about him. When he was about four years old he asked me, "Grandpa, why can't I be a Japanese?" "Why do you want to be a Japanese?" You know what he said? He said, "I want to be a ninja!" That's what he said. So I'm sure he's gonna be a Japanese.

About this text
Title: Terminal Island Life History Project
Date: 1994
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