Book Excerpt


December 7, 1941

The morning of December 7, 1941, started out very ordinary and peaceful in West Los Angeles where I was living in a boarding house. There were numerous such living places in West Los Angeles at the time. They accommodated the many Japanese-American bachelors who lived in the area. Most of them were engaged in landscape and garden maintenance business. I was one of them. Being single, we did not want to own a home with all the responsibilities that went with it. The place I lived in catered to ten boarders.

I was living at the Ishida boarding house with my younger brother Kenny. It was just a little over six months since I returned to the United States of America from Japan. My brother and I were doing very well in the gardening business. Financially it was much better than most other occupations because many of the other businesses were closed to us at the time. This was due to racial discrimination. We were able to earn as much as $150 per month or better. Some of my friends in the retail produce business were barely making $15 to $18 per week.

After breakfast on this December 7, Sunday, my brother asked if I wanted to go with him to visit some friends in Norwalk, California. I thought it over for a moment but decided to decline. I told him I would rather stay and enjoy the pork chop and shrimp tempura lunch that was our usual Sunday fare. To me these two dishes were too good to pass up. I could get my fill on these dishes. He shook his head; said, “Suit yourself”; and was on his way.

We were halfway through our lunch when one of the boarders came in hurriedly and said there seemed to be some trouble in Hawaii. He muttered the radio report said some unknown planes bombed Pearl Harbor. I ran up to my upstairs room and turned on the radio. Sure enough, he was right. There was a lot of confusion on the radio news report. The newscaster was so excited; it was hard to understand what he was saying. Another reporter mentioned that he noticed a large red circle on the wings and fuselage of the bombers. When I heard that, I knew what was taking place. Those planes belonged to the Japanese Imperial Navy. I had seen many of them flying around while I was a student in Japan.

It was not long before many confirmed and unconfirmed reports started to come in from all fronts. The bombers were confirmed as Japanese naval planes, and the war had begun. We were in shock for a long time. It seemed that everything was going down the drain for us. There was nothing that we could do but wait for the worse to come. It was such an empty feeling. “Damn it,” I said to myself and threw a book out of the window.

I feared for the worse, and it was not long before it all started. First to come was the curfew for all people of Japanese blood, be they citizens or otherwise. Next came travel restrictions. We could move around only in a limited restricted area. That did not affect me too much because most of my work was within the boundary.

Several banks started to institute their own restrictions. Some went as far as to refuse to cash our paychecks. I had trouble especially with one bank. I could not get anything accomplished, so I took my check back to the person that issued it. I explained the difficulty I had trying to cash the check. The lady became very angry and immediately called the bank. She asked why the bank refused to cash the check because she knew there was nothing wrong with her account. The bank manager gave a lame excuse that angered her more. She told the manager to cash the check, or she would transfer the account elsewhere. She told me to cash the check right away. “If there is any more trouble, come right back, and I will take further action,” she told me with firmness in her voice. Gee, I thought, this lady is really going out of her way for me. I, somehow, did not expect all this and so appreciated her effort to remedy the situation. She was living in the Wilshire District, and so I presumed her bank account must have been substantial.

We also faced other difficulties with our gardening accounts. Some gardeners lost accounts, but some fortunate ones actually picked up new accounts. Some of our customers went as far as to refuse to pay for services rendered. Since we had no way of collecting, we dropped those accounts and quietly told them where they could go. The way things were going, we knew that sooner or later something drastic was in store for us. It happened sooner than expected.

On February 19, 1942, we received the Executive Order No. 9066. This was the order that took away our rights and will remain forever to remind us that the Constitution is a frail document. This order forced all persons of Japanese blood, be they citizens or aliens, out of the Western Defense Command area without due process and placed into permanent concentration camps. Fortunately, they were better than the type of camps Adolph Hitler is known for. However, even President Roosevelt used the term concentration camps.

When the executive order was issued, it immediately set into motion activities to create ten permanent camps scattered in all parts of the United States. They were located from inland California to distant Arkansas and from Texas to as far north as Montana. Tule Lake and Manzanar Camps were in California. Other camps were Topaz in Utah, Poston and Gila River in Arizona, Jerome and Rohwer in Arkansas, Heart Mountain in Wyoming, Granada (known as Amache) in Colorado, and Minidoka in Idaho. There were a few others like Crystal City in Texas, Bismark in North Dakota, and Fort Missoula in Montana. All the camps were built strictly to house the so-called enemy aliens considered to be dangerous elements. Dangerous to whom or what? Eventually most everyone were freed before the end of the war. Some were traded off as war prisoners. It was more like a military grandstand than anything else. According to the FBI records, there were nary a record of any acts of treason or sabotage committed by any Japanese people in the United States of America. Thus, the forced evacuation and incarceration turned out to be the biggest mistake this nation has committed in all history: imprisonment without trial.

Before the permanent camps were built, there were numerous temporary centers in several locations. Large temporary facilities were hurriedly constructed in Santa Anita, Pomona Fairgrounds, Fresno, Tulare, Pinedale, Salinas, Merced, Turlock, Tanforan, Stockton, Sacramento, and Marysville in California. One was built in Portland, Oregon, and another in Puyallup, Washington. Places like Santa Anita, Pomona, and Tanforan were well-known horse racetracks. During the war, the tracks were closed, and the United States Government made good use of the facilities as temporary housing for thousands of evacuees. The stables reeked with stench even though many known steeds used them. During the hot summer months, the smell was overpowering. What a life!