© By: Chizu Kawashiri "Sue" Wright
In 1941, the Kawashiri family consisted of My Grandfather Yukiju, age 64; my father, Jero age 43; my mother, Chiyoko age 29; myself, age 10; Tetsuro, age 8; Kazuko, age 6; and Yukio, age 3. At that time, a non citizen Japanese could not own property, so my father and grandfather had a "long term" lease on a large acreage on which they grew flowers and built a new home. This would soon come to an end and all would be lost.
I had just reached the age of 10 a few weeks before, and national news of any kind did not normally have any significance. I couldn’t comprehend the full extent of what we were hearing but felt that somehow it was important. I knew of Japan through my parents, studied about it in school and knew it to be the homeland of my father and grandfather. I had also learned a lot of their customs, but it was still a foreign country and news of it had no more of a meaning than any other foreign country. It was just a place "over there".
The San Francisco News March 24, 1942
We were placed on a travel restriction of a five mile radius from our home by the Police within the week. Five miles - No further. Soon after that, We were notified that we would be going to a retention camp in the very near future. Not long after the police put us on the restriction, one of our neighbors, a Caucasian family came to visit us. I recall my father transacting the sale of his car for $10.00,.... my father was saying; “we don’t know what is going to happen so I’ve got to get rid of it.” It would have sold for much more, but many Americans were attempting to buy everything the Japanese had for pennies. It was better to offer it to a good friend for $10 than to sell it to someone else.
Christmas was not Christmas that year. Because of the Executive Order No. 9066 signed by FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT on February 19, 1942, all Japanese, American Citizens or not, that lived in the western coastal states we were required to register, and would soon have to report to "Assembly Centers" located in different States. In our part of the county, our first destination was the Santa Anita race track. We were to report with only what each individual could carry. We were limited to the following items: (my father carried extra items for the younger children)
I remember being in a convoy of cars, and pick-ups, all types and sizes. The line seemed to extend forever. When we gathered at the assembly center, I had never been among so many Japanese people in one place in my whole life . [It should be noted that there were a number of Caucasian as well as Chinese and other nationalities that went with their Japanese spouses in order not to be separated.]
Barracks had been built on the Race Track grounds to house the evacuees, however, the Government had under estimated the population of the Japanese people therefore ended up with a housing shortage. It seemed we were among the last to reach our destination, and with the shortage of barracks, our quarters were the stables! No matter how hard you cleaned, they still smelled like stables. In lieu of beds we slept on cotton cots, and were provided with a large canvas bag filled with hay as our mattress. Fortunately, we had our own bedding, although we were provided with "GI" blankets so that helped. There was a "Utility building" that was shared with many people; morning clean up, showers, washing clothes. etc... When it came to ironing, since space was limited in the horse stales, you would see the ladies ironing outside between the stalls,.... it was almost comical, to see the women lined up ironing! The Japanese elders would call assembly for us kids, we would go to a huge hall. There we were divided up by age groups and conducted some school activities. Story’s were read by volunteers, we sang songs, told stories..... no real classes.
After about six months at Santa Anita, we packed all our goods that we could carry and were placed on a train heading East. During the trip we had to keep the curtains closed when we went through any cities. It was an old vintage passenger car and it seemed like it took forever. The seats were wooden and they were getting harder and harder during the trip. In about three or four days we arrived in Arkansas.
Jerome Relocation Camp [Map] The forest was cleared to create two large internment camps a few miles from a town called McGee, Arkansas. One camp was called Rowher Camp and the other Jerome Camp. Our camp was Jerome. There were more than 80 `Blocks’ in the camp. Each block consisted of four long barracks on either side of a "Utility building" and a mess hall (photo) at the end of it.
The Utility room is where one could take a bath or shower, also had a few basins, and of course bathrooms. The entire camp was surrounded by barb wire and a watch tower occupied by a soldier with rifle. The barracks was built as a wooden frame with tar paper walls. Each barracks was partitioned off into six family units. With thin walls, you could hear every sound in the next room. With my grandfather we were six and were able to have two rooms for our family. Each room had a pot-bellied coal stove as well as one folding steel cot with a straw mattress for each person. No other furniture. What ever we had, we had to make ourselves. The winters were cold and summers hot and humid!.
Movies were available to us every week end at the Mess Hall. We had stores to purchase our necessities. Schools were available, various clubs, crafts, were created for the adults. My father worked in the mess hall, my mother was able to learn how to sew difficult garments through the sewing class. My grandfather worked with people who created different shapes and figures from the roots of trees. They would look for various shapes of the roots that grew out into the water of a stream in the forest.. Only in the forest is it available. It is really amazing what they were able to create from an ugly root... into this shining, glowing beautiful object!
As you can see, even while in capltivity, life did continue. It was in Jerome in Jan 1943 that my younest sister Sachi was born. She was the only one of my brothers and sisters that was not born in California.
Tule Lake Relocation Camp - In mid 1944, we found ourselves back on the train again, this time headed for Tule Lake, California, which is on the border of California and Oregon. Tule Lake is a dried-up lake bed in the lava beds area, summers hot, winter very cold. Tule Lake camp is identical to Jerome, the lay-out of the “Blocks”, I don’t know how many blocks there were, but there were over 18,000 Japanese living there. We had a coal burning pot-belly stove to keep us warm in the winter, but the summers were hot, and dry. In Jerome Arkansas, summers had been hot and humid! It was awful! Like the previous camp the adults created various groups and clubs. Since this was a dry lake bed, there were a lot of sea shells buried in the ground which the adults took advantage of and made into various creative articles.
This camp was occupied by people who were considering returning to Japan. Most had lost everything with nothing to go back to and many had decided to return to Japan. When I look back, there were a lot of discussions over "loyalty", loyalty to Japan or the U.S. and was beyond me to comprehend. My mother and I did voice our opinion to my father that we would like to remain in the States. With a family of six, and a fear of the unknown had we remained in the U.S. helped drive my father back to Japan. Another reason was that in 1944, my grandfather passed away while in Tule Lake Camp, where his funeral (photo) was held. Having not seeing his mother for over 15 years, my father wanted to see her. He also wanted to bury his father in Japan. It was a great disappointment to both me and my mother, however, the family followed his wishes.
My Grandfather who was born in Japan, came to the United States in the early 1900's. My father was also born in Japan, but came to the U.S. with his older brother when he was in his teens.
I can’t imagine how my parents felt after the loss of the house and all those years of hard work out in the fields.... absolutely gone! I couldn’t begin to think of how people like my mother and father went through the years of internment suffering.... I don't believe my father ever recovered from that loss.
There was a lot of talk from Japanese GI’s who came to visit their parents in camp, saying how terrible the conditions in Japan were. But, nobody believed the GI’s. They were oblivious of the condition and of course refused to believe any of it. We soon learned that it was true.
Japan Bound - On Christmas day 1945, at Tule Lake, we boarded a train headed for Portland, Oregon. I remember looking from my window gazing at the homes on the hillside, all decorated with Christmas lights, it looked so beautiful!
In Portland, we boarded a Navy Troop ship, and were separated, men in one group and women with the kids in another. We slept in hammocks and that was quite an experience. After 12 days, we docked at Yokosuka, Japan. I recall an unpleasant odor in the early morning air. I understand it was from the raw wood. Once we arrived in Japan, on land when it was meal time, we were fed brown rice, which we were not accustomed to. Japan had a shortage of white rice and only the brown rice was available.
The majority of the men from the States were dressed with heavy over coats, dressed well against the cold.... after all it was in January. They had to use the “Out house” when it was necessary, and they would hang the over coats outside the door, and when they came out, the coats would not be there! It was a shock to them, realizing their own country men were stealing from them!!
We then boarded a train. I don’t remember how long we rode on the train. It had broken windows, and going through so many tunnels it was All I could do to hold my breath till we got through.... I hated the smell of coal burning. My father's ancestral home was in Tottri Ken, a south western Prefecture in Japan.
We had to switch trains in Yonago, to go to Niiya, the village where my father was born. That took about half an hour, then we had to walk from the train station to the village (15 min.). The house was along the main road which ran the length of the peninsula. A large gate and a long cement walk with fruit trees on both sides lead to the front door of a two story house. We were greeted by a middle age couple, who were strangers, they called for my grandmother, and I could hear her shuffling her feet when she came out to meet with us. It was quite a surprise for her to see her son and family suddenly upon her doorstep. My father had sent her a telegram concerning our arrival but she had not received the telegram yet. It was such a joyful moment for my grandmother and father after so many years! It seems no sooner than we arrived, the word was all over the village... the men friends of my father’s were coming over to greet him. He certainly was a popular man!
The women and children gathered in the other room, around a “Komatsu”. A "Komatsu" has a wooden frame build around a hibachi (with hot coals) in a designated spot in the floor. A very thick “futon” is then placed over it. You sit on the floor made of wheat or rice straw, put your feet under the futon, which was very warm. There is no heater as we know it. They all seemed to enjoy conversing.....especially with my mother. However, my grandmother couldn’t understand why I would torture my hair by making it curl (I had a permanent in my hair).
I eventually occupied the upstairs of our home, which was not very large but I liked the view from the window. I could observe a little strip of the sea (Japan Sea) between the pine trees that lined near the beach. When it snowed, I would put my hand out and could see the intricate design in the snow flakes, it was really fascinating to observe this. The peninsula we live on is only 2 or 3 miles wide, and about 10 to 15 miles long, but long enough to appear on the map! We lived in approximately the center, with picturesque mountains in the background. The summers were hot and humid, winters were dry and cold.
It was a happy day for me! When my family (with the exception of my father) were all together again in the UNITED STATES.
Don and I are happy to say that my mother is now living with us.
And what is your "Family History" as you remember it. You are all encouraged to submit your "History". Don't hesitate, now is the time to pass on to others little a time capsules of your life.