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: Shig Kitauchi
Tape # 50
Interviewer: Arvilla Boswell
Place: Tulare County, CA
Place of Interview:Mr. Kitauchi’s Home in Visalia
PLACES WHERE INTERVIEWEE LIVED DURING 1941-1946
Poston Internment Camp
OUTSTANDING POINTS IN THE INTERVIEW:
Personal Reaction to War
AB: It is Tuesday, January 27, 2004 and I’m at the home of Shig Kitauchi. Am I saying that right? We’re in Visalia and it’s around 2:30 in the afternoon and we’re going to talk a little bit and have Shig tell of his experiences in World War II.
AB: So, were you in the service? Tell me about your story.
SK: Well, when the war broke out I was 14 years old, I was young. We were ordered to get out of California. It was August of 1942 here in Visalia. We were sent to Parker, Arizona, where our concentration camp was. I attended school there. When we first left here I was thinking, oh boy, I will not have to work. I was just a youngster then. When I went to camp and I first saw the apartment we got into, it was a barrack with four apartments. It was a single wall building with black tar paper around it sides and roof. You didn't bother sweeping in there because the floor was full of knot holes with cracks on the floor and on a windy day when the dust picks up it was as dusty inside as it was outside. It made me mad. That was the condition there then.
AB: Was it your mother and father?
SK: Yes it was my mother Himo (Honda), father Inokichi, brother Masichi (Mas) and me. Four of us.
AB: How old was your brother?
SK: He was 19. And I can't remember how old my dad was but I think he was about 50.
AB: What affect did that have on your mom and dad?
SK: You know I really didn't ever talk to them about that but naturally we were devastated. We did not want to go. But the orders came down and we went.
AB: Did you own property at that time?
SK: Well, at that time my dad couldn't, my dad couldn't own any property because of the alien land law. There was no Japanese non-citizen who could own property. But he was able to purchase property in some else's name that was a citizen. That was the way to get around the law.
AB: Were you born here?
SK: Yes, I was born in Fresno; my brother was born in Selma.
AB: Your parents were born in
AB: What age did they come to
SK: My dad came, let’s see, to San Francisco the year of the earth quake, about 1906.
AB: Did they marry here?
SK: Yes. My mother came in 1919, I think. My father met her in Fresno. She was a widow. Himo Takamoto They were married in Fresno.
AB: When you got notice to leave, was the notice sent in the mail?
SK: It was more by word of mouth. We didn't get any kind of notice. We were told to assemble in Visalia prior to our evacuation. We went over there and had an interview. We were told when we were to go, what date we were going and where to go to get on the train.
AB: How did you know what to take?
SK: Well, they decided for us. Just what you could carry.
AB: What happened to the rest of your belongings?
SK: We stored it in a room. We locked up one bedroom in our house and stored everything in there. There was a Mexican family who rented the farm while we were gone. And they lived in the house.
AB: How did they do, did they take of it?
SK: They made one big mess. The roof was leaking, and this was in Orosi. Dead grass all around the house about a foot tall. They never took care of the yard. Inside of the house was one big mess. It was miserable conditions to come back to. We put our washing machine in the stored room and it had about 3 inches of water in it when we opened up the door and looked inside.
AB: That must have been devastating.
SK: Yes, it was devastating but under the circumstances there was nothing that we could do.
AB: How long were you in the camp?
SK: Three and half years. And to come back, we couldn't come back to the house because those guys wouldn't leave.
AB: And you couldn't make them leave?
SK: Well, the FBI took care of that when they found out. They allowed them three days to get out.
AB: Did you have to notify the FBI?
SK: Some way or the other the FBI knew it was our property. They had our prior address and they knew we lived there. They went to a lot of trouble just to get us relocated. It took awhile to get them out, about two months.
AB: Where did you stay in the mean time?
SK: Oh, anywhere we could stay.
AB: Did you have other family members there?
SK: No, we did not have family there. We just stayed with other Japanese friends. I remember we stayed three days in Clovis and my folks stayed in Sultana about two months.
AB: When you were in the camp, did your Dad work? What did you do on a daily basis there?
SK: I went to school.
AB: Was this a local high school?
SK: No, we had a high school in the camp. There were three camps in Poston and each had their own school.
AB: Were the teachers provided by the government?
SK: Some by the government like a typing class. In the first year, if someone graduated from high school or college, they were hired as teachers. And as far as the class room was concerned there was a blackboard in there nailed against the wall. There was one book and the teacher had that. We had to take notes. The first year we had to take our own chairs. They had a wooden table there for us, but we had to provide our own chairs.
AB: So you had to provide your own paper and pencils?
SK: They provided the paper and pencil, but everything we had to take down on notes.
AB: Did your father work while you were there?
SK: Yes, he managed the water pump for the camp.
AB: Did most of the people that were in the camp work in the camp and not outside?
SK: Always in the camp.
AB: Were you allowed to go out?
SK: Some people were allowed to work outside, field work. Some worked in the sugar beets, some went to Montana, Utah, Wyoming.
AB: So they would let them out of the camp to go and do that?
SK: Yes, you could go for three months work furlough and then come back.
AB: Did you have churches and stores and things in the camp?
AB: So all your shopping was done in the camp?
SK: Yes and with Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Wards catalogs. We did a lot of that.
AB: What did you do for entertainment in the camp?
SK: Well, see, I was just a youngster. We played baseball, football, basketball . . .
SK: We went to dances, yes.
AB: Well, your brother was older so he was probably more interested in the girls than you were.
SK: Yes, at 15 I guess I was pretty immature. Girls didn’t interest me that much then.
AB: How did it make you feel when you got to the camp and you had to do this?
SK: Well, you see, when I was on the farm I had to work every day. And the first thought that came to my mind was, "Oh boy, I don't have to work." As a 15 year old, I was always tired of working day after day. Every day it was work, work, work, that’s all I knew when I wasn't in school. Once I got there, I had lots of friends there and I didn't work there. Until I wanted some loose change and I took on a part‑time job.
AB: And what was your part‑time job?
SK: Feeding the chickens. There was a chicken farm over there and I would go over there and feed the chickens. I made about $5.00 a month. That was better than nothing.
AB: Right, so when you lived in the camp, for your food and so forth you would have to work and have money to go buy your food?
SK: No, they provided that. They had a Mess Hall where we ate and they provided the food. And they had cooks. The food wasn't very good when we first went there because in our block we didn't have professional cooks. They were all a bunch of farmers and I guess you can imagine what kind of food they cooked. But later it got a lot better. But the first few months, talking about lousy food, it was lousy.
AB: Did you have furniture in these places?
SK: Well, we made our furniture. They had a scrap lumber pile over there and about every two weeks or so each block would get a chance to go to the scrap pile and get lumber. We had a cot for our sofa.
AB: Did this bother your mother?
SK: She hated it but what could she do? We were all in the same boat there. We had to get ourselves accustomed to what we had. We did with what we had, that’s all.
AB: Did they have any planned activities for you?
SK: Yes, we had a softball team, a baseball league.
AB: Did you do all of those,play baseball?
SK: Well, I am not the athletic type but I did play a little softball. I played some football. I guess that was the end of my activity.
AB: What about churches there? So you could go to church when you wanted to?
SK: Yes, they did have churches and we could go if we wanted to.
AB: Did they ever have any problems in the camp? Did people get mad at each other?
SK: As far as fights were concerned, there were gangs in the camp. Us guys from Central California were peaceful types of guys. There were no fight type people from around here. There were some fight happy type guys that went around beating up people.
AB: And you had to stay away from them.
SK: Oh yes, we stayed away from them.
AB: When you came back how were you treated?
SK: Good and bad. There were a lot of places that had signs up there, "Japs Keep Out." In fact, there was one guy in Cutler that had a service station and he had a sign "Japs Keep Out". But right next to it there was a garage, Dierks Garage and the first thing he said to me, he reached over the counter, shook my hand and said, "Welcome back."
AB: How did that make you feel?
SK: It made me feel warm inside. Whereas the guy next door had the sign that said "Japs Keep Out". So I guess you could call it meanness on my part or orneriness on my part but I bought a Pepsi and sat in front of the sign and drank my Pepsi (laugh).
AB: Good for you. That must have been very hard.
SK: Well, I was so darn mad I didn't care. I was just a skinny guy but I was so darn mad that I didn't care. Maybe I’d get beat up. I figured that if I get beat up, I would get my licks in there if I can.
AB: Right, right. I just can’t even imagine it happening to me. It’s ugly, really ugly.
SK: Even just right after the war broke out when I was going to school and in our class one teacher asked us, "Hey, anybody have a current event?" One gal jumped up and said, "I got one." She said, "They are going to move all of the Japs out of California."
AB: She did this at school?
SK: I don't think she fully realized what she had said.
AB: What school was that?
SK: Orosi High School. Then there was one gal sitting right behind me who whispered to me what they are doing to you guys isn't right. That was kind of heartwarming under a difficult situation. She couldn't just jump up and say that is not proper, that is not right because she could have gotten beat up.
AB: Did you find that most of the people were supportive of the Japanese people or did they not like what was happening?
SK: Well, there were people that didn't like it but to aggressively come out and say, "Hey, this isn't right". They didn’t come out and say that. They wouldn't say anything.
AB: Would they come to you personally and say it?
SK: There were some personally, but there were little cases, like I told you with the garage fellow, he said. "Welcome back." There was a druggist in Orosi, Walter Rutherford; all along during war time he kept in touch with us. He said, "I want to keep in touch with you guys."
AB: So he wrote to you?
SJ: He wrote to us in camp and tried to keep in contact with all the Orosi people he knew. And when we came back he greeted us with open arms. He had some threatening calls himself.
AB: Oh, really, because he had been befriended you.
SK: Uh huh, because he was befriending us. The situation there, there was two groups of thinking there. I know there was one fellow that came visiting . . . . Well, they opened it up so the guys could come back and he came back and he was told, "Hey you better hurry and get out of here".
AB: They didn’t want him in his house?
SK: No, no. For his safety. Right after he left there was a bunch of vigilantes that came there and asked, "Where is that damned Jap?" They were trying to get him but he got out. So nothing happened there. There were houses that got burned up.
AB: In that area? Orosi?
SK: Yes, the contents. I’m sure they took all of them before they torched it.
AB: The white race came in and burned and took things?
SK: Well, in this case a Mexican fellow was taking care of it, so I’m not so sure about that. It might have been the Mexican people there, that were farming that place. We were lucky our place did not get burned down. Then right after we came back, one fellow, his son was taking a bath and the rifle fire came through but did not hit him. Now if he had been standing up he would have been dead. But he was sitting down in the bathtub so the bullet went over his head. Then there was another fellow that moved in and as soon as they got in there, they were standing up and there was a boom, and rifle fire went through his house.
AB: Did anyone do anything to try and stop this?
SK: Well, there was an anti‑vigilante group, I didn't know about them until a long time later. But every time they heard anything they reported it to the FBI and the FBI did come out here.
AB: So then you were seventeen or eighteen at that time?
SK: I was eighteen.
AB: Did you graduate from high school in the camp?
SK: Yes I did. 1945,when we got out of camp, when we were kicked out of the camp.
AB: Why were you kicked out?
SK: Well, they were going to close the camp so they said, "You guys have to move."
AB: Did they provide transportation for your return?
SK: Yes, they did: a $25.00 cash grant.
AB: So they gave you money and you had to make your own arrangements?
SK: Yeah. It was tough.
AB: I can imagine. It sounds like it was a very difficult time. Did your brother come back?
AB: Both of you did come back. When you came back, what did you do? Did you continue to work on the farm?
SK: Starting farming again.
AB: Your dad would have been up in his fifties then.
SK: It was in 1946 and I think he was around 56. He was 20 years younger than I am now (laugh). I used to think he was an old man then (laugh).
AB: We all did. And how did you meet your wife?
SK: At a church activity. Her name was Mary Takemoto. We were married in 1954.
AB: And this was after you came back from the camp, at a church activity?
SK: Yes, and I also served in the Army in between.
AB: Tell me about that. When did you go into the Army?
SK: During the Korean War I got drafted. In 1950, the war broke out and I got drafted.
AB: And how old were you then?
SK: I was 23.
AB: But you weren’t married yet.
AB: So did you go to
SK: No, I was interrogating prisoners.
AB: And where were you located?
SK: About the central part of
AB: Now this was the Koreans you were interrogating, right? Did you have to speak the Korean language?
SK: No, they spoke Japanese. Japanese occupied
AB: So they could speak Japanese then.
SK: Most of the guys during that time I was there, anybody between the ages of 18 and 45 spoke better Japanese than I did because they went to school. But we were able to communicate and get along.
AB: So you were there the whole time you were in the Army?
AB: And that was what your job was? The whole time you were in the Army? Do you think that was because you were Japanese?
SK: Yes, it was definitely because of that. Being able to speak Japanese I didn't think was ever going to do me any good, but it turned out it helped me tremendously. I didn't have to tote my own rifle or be in a fox hole.
AB: Or shoot at people. Okay. You were in a concentration camp, which we put you there. And then you came back and served our country.
SK: If I am going to live here, that is what I am supposed to do.
AB: Good for you. I admire you. That was a tough time.
SK: Well, what happened in the past, there is no way you can undo what you did or undo what happened to us. So you have to look forward, I just can’t be dwelling on it.
AB: Do you ever feel bitter about that?
SK: Yes and no. Because going into it I thought oh boy I don't have to work and when I got there I could play, make friends, anytime I felt like playing with someone - catch, football or whatever. I was able to do that. I wouldn't have been able to do that on the farm so the time I was there I can't say I was really bitter. Some people probably were bitter. And when I saw that dust come up in our room I got mad.
AB: The conditions you were living in. And were you mad when you came home and saw your home?
SK: Yes, I was pretty disappointed, but when I got to thinking about it, our neighbor's house was burned down and our house was there so we had to be kind of grateful for that.
AB: The house was in Orosi? Is there anything that stands out in your mind that you can remember that you either regret or you are proud of?
SK: Well, that is kind of hard to say.
AB: You drank the Pepsi in front of the sign. That was a pretty bold statement.
SK: Yes, I am proud of that and happy that I did that.
AB: Sure. You stood up for yourself and your race.
SK: It helped me vent some of my frustrations. See the guy, Harvey Derks, said welcome back and reaches over the counter, which left me with such a warm feeling because under the hostile conditions that did prevail then, the man wasn't afraid to welcome us back. It was a warm feeling.
AB: How long did this last, this feeling, this tension?
SK: Well, it gradually started to dissipate. You can see it and feel it because some of the guys refused to do business with us. A good example is Shell Oil. Before we went to camp, we always did business with Shell. And when we came back, the guy wouldn’t serve us. They wouldn’t deliver gas to us.
AB: Because you were Japanese.
SK: Yes. He wouldn’t outright say so, but you could see it in his face, the hostile attitude he had. So we found another person that would deliver to us. After that the guy felt he better do business with everybody regardless of who they are and he came back there four or five times and tried to get us to do business with him.
AB: Did you ever do business with him again?
SK: No. Because when we needed it, we asked the new person to come and he would come.
AB: After you came back, just going to the grocery store and buying groceries, was that a difficult thing?
SK: It was bad in Orosi. A lot would not service us. But there was one fellow in Orosi that would, McGee, so we all went there to do our shopping.
AB: That was in Orosi. What year was that?
SK: That was 1945‑46. They were the two toughest years.
AB: 1945-46. And you were back here? Tough for what reason?
SK: Well, doing business. You didn’t know where you were going to go. Where you could go. For instance, as a teenager I liked to go see a movie; you liked to go bowling. I remember going to the movies the first time. We managed to get in there, but we had to sit on the outside aisles. That was all right, we got in there to watch the movie. Then after, we were young kids and we were hungry. We didn’t dare go to just any restaurant because we did not know if they would accept us or not. So the three of us were sitting in a car watching a restaurant to see if any oriental would go in, then we would go in. And if they asked us what we were we would say we were Chinese (laugh).
AB: Well, it sounds like you have a sense of humor. Oh my, that must have been really hard.
SK: So we sat in the car and we saw oriental people walk in, whether they were Japanese, I don’t know, so we went in and we ate, and it was okay. Through the gravevine, you find out who would serve us and who would not, theaters we could go into and where we can’t go. If we do go into a theater, which we’d go on the outside or which ones we could sit in the middle. Sooner or later you find these things out.
AB: You said you had a group of boys that went together. Were they all Japanese? Did you have any whites or Mexicans who ran around with you?
SK: Since I was already out of high school, I didn’t have that. I was involved with friends I made in camp. I was a little skeptical about making friends with someone else, because I didn’t know how the other people were going to be accepted. There was a Caucasian fellow and he couldn’t see why they had to do that to us. Consequently, he made friends with some Japanese people that he knew and he got into fights because of that.
AB: Really. So if you tried to have friends, you were afraid to because it might cause a problem for them.
SK: Both sides had problems. To avoid that I was friendly with a lot the Caucasians but I wouldn’t go out with them. I was afraid for their sake and for ours. People would say "hey you damn Jap lover" and then they start picking a fight with them and we’d have to join it.
AB: Did you ever have any fights over it?
SK: No. I was lucky.
AB: What about your brother?
SK: No, he was able to avoid problems too. So you might say we kind of kept to ourselves. As much as possible, it’s better that way. Some narrow minded guys come over and try to pick a fight with these other guys, consequently, they have to join in.
AB: Did your mother and father stay in that house in Orosi? Are they still living?
SK: No, they are both gone.
AB: Were they there when they died?
AB: They were. So they stayed there for a long time, didn’t they?
SK: Yes, since 1936.
AB: And they just had the two boys?
AB: Your brother. Where is your brother now?
SK: He passed away about four years ago.
AB: He’s gone too. And did he feel uncomfortable?
SK: Yes it bothered him. We used to talk about it, who our friends are, and he said "That guy, he was a nice guy, we got along good with him, but we wouldn’t go out with him."
AB: Thank you, Shig, for your story.
Arvilla Boswell/Transcriber: Jan Chubbuck, 2/17/04/ ed. JW 6/8/04
Ed note: Words in italics were added during a phone interview with Shig Kitauchi on January 10, 2006.