California Council for the Humanities

California Stories Initiative

Years of Valor, Years of Hope

Tulare County and the Years 1941-1946

Tulare County Library

The Friends of the Tulare County Library

And the Tulare County Historical Society

Interviews in 2003-2004


Interviewee: Jun Hatakeda

Date: 2/18/04

Tape # 13

Interviewer: Karen Feezell

Place: Tulare County, CA

Place of Interview:Tulare County Public Library


Japanese Internment Camp


How the internment caps were set up

Organization of camps

KF: It is February 18, 2004. I am interviewing Jun Hatakeda at the library in Visalia about the "Years of Valor, Years of Hope" project. The way I’d like to start Mr. Hatakeda is by having you tell us what you were doing being the war and how old you were and whether you were single or married.

JH: I was farming, beginning farming. Out of high school I went directly into farming. Of course I wasn’t married then.

KF: Were you farming with your parents?

JH: Yes with my parents, Asichi and Imano (Ishro) Hatakeda.

KF: And you lived with them?

JH: Yes.

KF: Did you have brothers and sisters?

JH: Yes, I have one brother, this brother, Shigeru, here with me and I have three sisters, Hatsye (m. Frank Yoneda); Ruriko (m. Toshio Masuda) and Reiko Hatakeda.

KF: OK. And were they all living at the same time?

JH: Yes. Yes, that’s right.

KF: What was your initial reaction to the bombing of Pearl Harbor?

JH: Actually that morning it was just an ordinary day for me. I went to the Post Office and when I went there they told me all about this. I didn’t listen to the radio before I went, so that was the first time I found out about the bombing and all that. At the post office, the local post office.

KF: What was your reaction?

JH: Kind of stunning. How could it happen, you know? Pretty stunning for me. I went home and told my parents and brother about it. It was a shock more than anything else.

KF: One of our questions is, "How did the war affect your life?" and I think we’ll be able to tell by the answers to these other questions. Okay?

JH: Okay.

KF: How were you evacuated?

JH: We left Visalia in August. We were on the free zone for most of it. The military zone, the coastal area and the free zone. So we were the last ones to leave from here. It was August 6th.

KF: What year?

JH: In 1942.

KF: Would you tell me a little bit about what the free zone is? And what happened?

JH: A military zone is like San Pedro and coastal cities. There the people were told to get out of there in twenty four hours so they took what they could and left. Wherever they can go. A lot of them came to our area hoping that they would be free, but that was not so.

KF: And they’re talking about the Japanese at this point?

JH: The Japanese, yeah.

KF: Were there any other groups that happened to?

JH: No, only Japanese.

KF: So this was an immediate response to the war.

JH: In other words, right after the war, President Roosevelt made an Executive Order No. 9066 issued February 19, 1942, in other words, right after the war. That comprised of we would not be able to go anywhere. Nighttime we stay home. We had a curfew. There were other things involved in it, that is to keep Japanese people from moving around.

KF: Did that make any sense to you?

JH: Now I think it was a really, really poor thing to do. To move us from here. Actually we didn’t know that this was going to happen like anyone else would have known. Just all of a sudden it happened and put a cap on us.

KF: Were you born in this country?

JH: Yes.

KF: Were your parents born in this country?

JH: My parents were born in Japan .

KF: So your parents had immigrated quite a long time before.

JH: Yes, about 1900, 1920, in that area. That’s when they came here.

KF: And you were a citizen.

JH: Oh yes.

KF: Because you were born here. How did the start of the war affect you life before the evacuation?

JH: Well, we were under control in other words. We couldn’t do anything we wanted to do. That’s the only thing.

KF: Was the reaction frightening or were you angry or were you just surprised?

JH: It was frightening all right.

KF: After that, in that time period, when you were still here in Visalia, did you experience any racism?

JH: Name calling mostly. That was about all.

KF: What school did you go to?

JH: I went to Woodlake High School.

KF: That’s the area you lived in, out toward Woodlake.

JH: Yes.

KF: So you had gone all through the Woodlake schools?

JH: No, I came here to Visalia for most of the time and Ivanhoe schools and I went to Woodlake High School.

KF: How did you find out about the evacuation order?

JH: What do you mean - the evacuation order to move into the camps?

KF: Yes.

JH: Or to assembly centers? You see, the people out on the coast were immediately put into these assembly centers, which are fairgrounds, Tulare Fairgrounds. People from Oxnard came into the Tulare Fairground.

KF: And that was early in 1942.

JH: Yeah. Before we left, yeah.

KF: And they couldn’t move from there, is that right? Did they have to stay there or could they move about the county?

JH: You mean in the assembly centers? They were put in and barricaded.

KF: Did you go first to an assembly center?

JH: No. We went directly to our relocation center. It was in August, so we were the last ones to leave out of this area. We went directly to relocation centers.

KF: How did the family feel and what did they do to prepare to go to the evacuation?

JH: Well, we couldn’t take anything. Very few things, so we went as we were. A certain day came and they told us to leave and we left and left everything.

KF: Did you own your farm?

JH: Yes. I didn’t own it. Dad owned it.

KF: Who cared for the farm?

JH: A gentleman in Ivanhoe, the postmaster, he took care of the farm while we were away. He farmed it for us, which was very fortunate for us. A lot of people had nobody to ask, so they sold it for a few dollars, measly dollars.

KF: Other friends of yours or other farmers you knew sold their farms.

JH: A lot of them did. Thinking they would never be able to come back.

KF: Describe the evacuation day.

JH: We left from the Santa Fe Station here in town at four o’clock just as we were. We got on a train and shipped out. We rode all night and the next noon we reached Poston, Arizona.

KF: Did you have a meal on the train?

JH: When you say a meal,it was one sandwich. We ate that sandwich at midnight at Barstow and I understand the church group in that city provided that. They made the arrangements, and a bar of ice cream. That’s all we had until the next noon. Then we didn’t get anything at noon either. They weren’t prepared to feed us. I guess the next meal was the next evening, our next meal.

KF: Your mother didn’t bring food to feed the family?

JH: No, no, no. I don’t think anybody brought any food.

KF: How old were the children in your family?

JH: How old? My youngest sister was only about 5 or 6, and my oldest sister was about 24.

KF: Big range. Was the family able to stay together on the train?

JH: Oh yes. They made sure we stayed together.

KF: How many people do you suppose were on the train?

JH: Well, it’s an antique car. Oh I imagine whatever the car holds. Full of people in there.

KF: Were there seats?

JH: Oh yes there were seats alright.

KF: Did you know other people that went with you?

JH: Yes, the people that lived in this area were in our group, so we knew just about everybody on the train.

KF: Then when you got to the camp, describe the camp and describe what happened when you got off the train, please.

JH: Well the camp was quickly made apartments. Barracks is what they were. One hundred feet long barracks 100 x 20 feet. Our apartment where we stayed was only 25 x 20, so it was a little space, and 7 of us had to live in there. Of course, it was a tarpaper covered, made of wood, and they put tarpaper all over the thing. The wood they used was green wood and it would shrink and you would see right through it. They put tarpaper all over it and it was hot. It was desert, you know, and terribly hot. It was in August.

KF: What state and what country, or what was the name of the town?

JH: This is an overnight town, they called it Poston. It’s a pretty good size gathering. Blocks, the buildings were in blocks. Six in a block and the camp we stayed in had three of sixes, so eighteen buildings. Anyway, in a group of six, six blocks to a group. There were three groups.

Poston is a community that was there before it was a relocation center. It is within the Colorado River Indian Reservation.

KF: And in those barracks, how many families do you think lived?

JH: There were 4 apartments per barracks and of course 4 families.

KF: In 25 x 20 feet.

JH: In 25 x 20 feet.

KF: Were there restrooms?

JH: No, there were no restrooms. The restrooms, from where I stayed, were 100 feet. It was latrines between the blocks, between the buildings, latrines. Those on the far end had about 200 feet to the latrines, so it’s very inconvenient.

KF: Was there water in these barracks?

JH: Water. There was only one water on the end of the 100 feet barrack. And we were fortunate to be on that end of the apartment. We had water on the outside. The other people had to get water come through that little faucet to get water. The state there, most of them ordered pipes from here and there and they got together and strung wires through every one of these apartments. Not wire, but pipe to every one of these apartments, so they had water.

KF: You folks worked together on getting water. The families that lived there?

JH: Oh yes.

KF: Were there beds and chairs and tables?

JH: Beds were Army cots. Canvas cots, and the mattress, they gave us bags and we filled with straw which was delivered outside. So we all gathered there and filled these bags up and made a mattress out of it.

KF: Would you describe a day? How the day went in the camp.

JH: The days went by rather quickly because we had lots of activities. The activity department made activities for us so we don’t just sit there and mope about it. They had movies once a week, on the outside, summer or winter, it didn’t make any difference. Good movies and they had baseball games, basketball games, and other activities. They had county fairs, where they would raise the best vegetables to show.

KF: When you say they, who are you taking about?

JH: I mean us.

KF: Families.

JH: Yeah, families. We had three separate camps. Camp 1,they were there since April ’42. They raised vegetables and this and that,like a county fair, you know, things to do.

KF: So the camp that was there first began organizing to do things to keep people busy.

JH: Yeah, yeah. We had exhibits in our camp. Wood carvings and they’d have an exhibit.

KF: I’m going to back up a little bit. I’m interested in what you are talking about. Describe the day. Did you all get up at a certain time? Where did you get your food?

JH: We had a mess hall, so at a certain time they clanged the bell and we all went to eat there. Three times a day.

KF: What was the food like? Was it compatible? Was it what you were used to?

JH: The cooks, they weren’t regular cooks. They were made to be cooks. At first it was kind of not tasteful, but as the days and years go by it wasn’t bad.

KF: Were they Japanese cooks?

JH: Oh yes. They came with us.

KF: Okay.

JH: So they assigned so many people to cook and we got by.

KF: What was your first reaction to your internment? What was your family’s reaction and how you did adjust?

JH: We were lost. We were all dumped off there in the desert and we didn’t know what to do. We didn’t know what was what. A lot of confusion going on. As the days go by that seemed to smooth out. Japanese are, as a people, are rather self supporting more than anything else. Even right now you don’t

find Japanese people on welfare. You just don’t. They all have something to do, work or in business or this and that. Same as Chinese.

KF: So people sort of organized and found things to do. They were industrious. What did you do?

JH: First I went there and worked in the Maintenance Department for a while and then I taught school. The next year I taught school.

KF: What was there to maintain?

JH: Well, electrics and water and pipes and this and that. There were things to do in the Maintenance Department.

KF: Did you Japanese within the camp set that up?

JH: Yes, had to be. They didn’t tell us what to do.

KF: You organized yourselves to make yourself comfortable.

JH: Yeah, as much as possible anyway. After three years, the camp was not as desolate looking. They had trees growing between there. So it was nice in a way. Got things to do, so they’d grow flowers and this and that, so it was nice.

KF: How long were you there?

JH: We were there for three years.

KF: So once again, you would go to the mess hall and have breakfast and then . . .?

JH: Go to work. Everybody had a job to do.

KF: Was there school for the children?

JH: The first year the school was just . . . they didn’t have hardly any books so they got by the first year. The second year we build the school buildings. We built it. We had to have so many classes to get accredited. The first year they didn’t go to an accredited school at all, but the second year was accredited so we had auto shop and wood shop.

KF: Where did you get the supplies to teach, books and stuff?

JH: Books they provided for us. I was the auto shop teacher. We didn’t have autos available, so we did a lot of book work. What an automobile should be and that. Of course once in a while the Caucasian teachers would let us work on their cars for an example. It was all right, we got by.

KF: That’s what you taught when you taught mechanics?

JH: Automobile mechanics.

KF: Occasionally there were Caucasian teachers there?

JH: Oh yes, there were a few Caucasian teachers as the department head. The head of English, the class of that, they were Caucasian. But there were a lot of Japanese school teachers, but actually they weren’t school teachers because I didn’t go to college to do that. Right before I left for camp I went to what was called a "defense class" for maintaining equipment. So they took me in and I was a teacher.

Woodlake High School Agricultural Class sponsored an evening "defense class" on how to maintain equipment when new parts or equipment could not be obtained, in December, 1941. This class lasted about six weeks.

KF: What time did school get out, or work?

JH: What do you mean?

KF: Well you started your day and you had breakfast and you went to work or you went to school. Then I guess I’m asking what happened in the afternoon and evening for the kids as well as the adults. You were a young man at that time.

JH: Well, I didn’t do anything extra.

KF: What was there to do?

JH: Play ball. They played baseball. Lot of other things to do of that sort.

KF: So there was recreation to do. Was there a library?

JH: There was a library. It wasn’t much of a library, but it was a library.

KF: For recreation, you did baseball?

JH: Baseball and all that.

KF: And did you also work on a garden, did your mother or parents?

JH: Not much space for gardening.

KF: You said some people grew vegetables.

JH: Yeah, some grew vegetables on a little plot between the barracks.

KF: What did your parents do? What was their day like?

JH: My dad was quite elderly, so he wasn’t real well. Mother was younger but she took care of Dad. That was her job, so she didn’t have a job.

KF: Was there medical care?

JH: At first we had two or three doctors there, regular doctors, but you know when they only get paid $19 a month, a doctor isn’t going to stay there very long. So the doctors over there that we had, they all left. The captain said "Well, they go the cities you know. They could make that in one hour." So they had what they called a doctor but I don’t know. I don’t think he was a doctor. Dentists, the same thing. We had one old man from San Diego that was a dentist. Two others called themselves dentists but you kind of wondered. But they only got paid $19 so you can’t expect too much of them.

KF: Were there incidences of unrest in the camp?

JH: Very little. That’s one thing. We kept to ourselves. They wanted to raise a lot of ruckus about a lot of things, we just wanted to have things quiet. It was rather a quiet town. It was a pretty good size town you know.

KF: Among the three or four camps?

JH: Within the three camps they had about 74 . . . the population was 17,814 between the three camps, so they were full of people. They kept to themselves.

KF: As a young man, did you go around with other young men and women.

JH: Oh, we had friends. That’s about it.

KF: Did you have dances?

JH: They used to have dances every now and then. One block would have a dance and we would invite them in to our block and so forth. That’s about it.

KF: Is there anything you wanted to mention? You have a list of things? Is there anything I am not covering about the camps that you would like to mention?

JH: No. (Looking over his list.) That’s about it during camp. We just lived there, that’s all.

KF: Did you meet your wife? Did you marry?

JH: I met my wife after I came home. I married late.

KF: How about your other friends? Were there marriages?

JH: Oh some got married in camp.

KF: That’s quite a length of time to be there.

JH: Yeah, yeah, some got married in camp.

KF: What is your religion or do you have one?

JH: I’m a Buddhist.

KF: And were there Buddhist services?

JH: Yes, there were three Buddhist reverends and three church services. Every Sunday they would have services. I guess Christians had the same way. They had one or two Christian ministers there. We had regular services on Sunday.

KF: You were able to maintain your religion pretty well. How did you find out it was time to leave?

JH: You mean leave here?

KF: To leave camp.

JH: To leave camp, oh, they gave us an order to leave the camp in September of 1945 I guess it was. The order came that we would have to evacuate the camp. Everybody had to move out. The government provided us with, I think it was $63 and a train ticket to anywhere in the United States . To get out - What can you do with only $63? That wouldn’t even last one hotel stay, so a lot of them had a lot of trouble as to where to go, but those that stayed in the camp, refused to leave, because they had no place to go. They had the water and lights shut off, so they had to go. But most of them found places to go. They had these hostels in different cities where you could go temporarily till you find a place to stay. That helped some. But most of them found a place to stay.

KF: Let me ask a question about when you were in camp. Was there a way to make money? Did you accumulate any money?

JH: Actually, there was no way to make money. No where to spend money either.

KF: You didn’t really accumulate many things that you wanted to take back with you.

JH: No, no. But the Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Wards were the main stores for these people. They ordered things from them. The $16-$19 a month, you think wouldn’t be anything, not enough to do anything with, but actually that’s enough. Sixteen dollars with a $3 clothing allowance, that’s enough for a month I guess.

KF: Was it?

JH: It must have been.

KF: It kept you guys in clothing.

JH: Well, yeah. There weren’t any robberies of anything.

KF: Because when you started there you had only the clothes on your back, right?

JH: Whatever money you had, you took it with you.

KF: So when it was time to leave there was a lot of confusion.

JH: Oh yeah.

KF: Talk a little more about that if you can.

JH: Actually the place to go when we left there was Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and all of the big cities where jobs were the easiest to get at that time. There was Seabrook Farms in New Jersey, Birdseye Frozen Food People, they hired a lot of us and gave them homes and everything else. It took the edge off of our problems. But out here in this area too, farms like grape vineyards and places like that hired a lot of workers when we were freed to go anywhere. They worked on farms more than anything else.

KF: Did most of the people that came from here return here?

JH: No, because out in this area, on the farming end we probably had about forty farms the Japanese ran that grew vegetables and they are all gone. The only one left in town was the drug store and a few other stores, where before the war we had a lot of different stores. But they all went somewhere else.

KF: The people that owned them just sold them?

JH: Those that sold their property went on to another area.

KF: How about you and your family?

JH: We didn’t sell. My brother came home with the family because there was just the three of us and our family came back here. The rest of them went to Sanger, Reedley, or other areas to get work or go buy property or whatever.

KF: So did you come back to the farm?

JH: For the first winter I came back to New York and came back to Chicago to work that winter and then I came home. I came home in February the following year.

KF: Did you do that because you didn’t think there would be enough work?

JH: No, my sisters wanted to go there. One of them, Ruriko, wanted to go into cartoon work, movies, like Popeye and all that. She would do that. My other sister, Hatsye, went along with her so I accompanied them up in New York and they stayed there over the winter.

KF: And you found a job there?

JH: I came back to Chicago and found a job there.

KF: Somehow you folks had enough money to do that?

JH: Yeah, I guess so.

KF: And another part of your family came back to the farm and later you did too. And then other members of your family came back and farmed in other areas in the area.

JH: No, they came back to the farm and maintained the farm.

KF: How did the family feel when they came home and what did they see in the way of changes?

JH: Not much they say. I wasn’t here, but not much.

KF: How was the attitude toward people, toward you when you returned?

JH: Some, like I said, would shout and say those derogative words and there was sign out in Ivanhoe that said, "No Japs Wanted Here." But they tore that down Halloween night and burned it up, so people got together and burned it up.

KF: Someone had cared for your farm. Were you able to move right back into the house with the family?

JH: They had to fix the house a little bit.

KF: Nothing had changed.

JH: No, no, no, nothing.

KF: How did you feel about coming back? Did you stay on the farm or did you get another job when you came back?

JH: I came back to the farm.

KF: How did you feel?

JH: No difference. In other words, just maintained the farm.

KF: But there were a lot of people that you knew that weren’t there anymore, right?

JH: That sold out? Yes. Some families sold orange groves, some sold out walnut groves thinking that they wouldn’t be able to come back.

KF: Looking back, how did the war affect Tulare County? What have you seen that’s changed?

JH: The only thing I was going to say was the people were just struggling in our area and when I came back they were big farmers. In other words, I heard there was really good money making farming so they turned up to do farming and some of those people are big farmers. In fact, one fellow used to come to our ranch right before we left, to get these little grapes that were left over.

KF: Gleaned.

JH: Yes gleaned. And loaded them up on his pickup and took them to the winery and got paid and he divided the profits on them and when I came back he had farms all over the place.

KF: How has it been in these years since the war? And it’s been a long time. But say in the first few years. How do you feel you were treated?

JH: I thought I was treated very well considering. . .

KF: Considering what?

JH: Considering some people thought they’d get their house burned down. We didn’t have any of that.

KF: Say that again?

JH: It was quiet. We went on just as we left it.

KF: How would you describe your overall experience of the internment?

JH: Well it was wrong. It was a mistake. I think you people would say that too. It was costly for the government to maintain us. There were 110,000 of us. They had to feed us and give us housing for three years. The government was just about ready to quit that and then the war ended, so it turned out all right, but the government was in bad trouble, I think.

KF: How about you? How did it affect you and your family?

JH: I don’t see any difference. We just went on.

KF: You didn’t loose a lot by being there for three years?

JH: No.

KF: Did the man pay you, the man running your farm, did you share?

JH: Oh, we shared the profits on it. He took care of it and I thought he did a good job considering.

KF: So you didn’t loose a whole lot.

JH: No, no.

KF: Some people lost everything. Anything else you want to add about that time or the time since then?

JH: Oh, yes. After the war, this is 1990, we had what was called "Regress." The government, President Reagan, made an apology, he made an arrangement to give us $20,000 each for the living people that went to the camp that were still living. They gave us $20,000 to settle this.

KF: Was $20,000 enough?

JH: I didn’t think so, but what could I do. I can’t holler. Nobody hollered. I was in Japan on a vacation and the people I went with talked about this and they came back and sure enough it happened. They got a check for $20,000. For some people it was really something.

KF: Anything else you want to add?

JH: Do you know where Manzanar is?

KF: We are talking about Manzanar Camp?

JH: Out there, there is a plaque; the state put that out there. I can read what it says on there, okay?. "In the early part of WWII, 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry were interned in relocation centers by Executive Order No. 9066 issued on February 19, 1942. Manzanar, the first of such concentration camps was bounded by barbed wire and guard towers, confining 110,000 persons, the majority being American citizens. May the injustice and humiliation suffered here as a result of hysteria, racism and economic exploitation never emerge again." California Registered Historical Landmark, No. 850.

Now, I went to one in Tule Lake, another camp, that has about the same story on that one too. These camps, there were ten of them. One in Wyoming(Heart Mountain), one in Utah (Central Utah), one in Colorado (Granada), one in Idaho (Minidoka), two in Arkansas (Rohwer, Jerome), two in California (Manzanar, Tule Lake) and two in Arizona (Gila River, Poston). I think that’s close to ten. Anyway, that’s how many camps that held 110,000 Japanese. Those that went to Wyoming had a terrible time.

KF: Weather.

JH: Weather. Way below zero. Lot of those places had below zero and they suffered a lot. We went to Arizona where it’s hot but not unbearable.

KF: So you were lucky, but some other really suffered.

JH: Oh yeah. Those that went to Utah and Colorado, the same way. Zero weather there too, in the hills.

KF: In the same kind of barracks?

JH: Same barracks. The barracks were all the same. Of course no, Wyoming had sheet rock siding so it wasn’t quite as bad, but the weather was just terrible over there they say.

KF: Have you talked to a lot of people about their experiences?

JH: No, we don’t talk about it. We just don’t talk about it. It’s one of those bygone days. Sixty two years ago and most of them are gone.

KF: OK, I think we’ll stop there. Thank you very much. This is a lot of information about the camps and hopefully it will be able to be transcribed. Thank you. This is Jun Hatakeda, the end of his tape for Years of Valor, Years of Hope. This is Karen Feezell.

Karen Feezel/Transcriber: Jan Chubbuck, 3/27/04/Editor JW 7/29/04

Editor’s note: This transcript has been changed to include names of family members and clarification of information based on a phone interview with Jun Hatakeda on July 29, 2004.