HORSE’S MOUTH: Too Young to Really Know About Camp Days

1

By GEORGE YOSHINAGA

If I mentioned the name Bill Shishido in my column and called him a “friend,” and he read such a statement, he might have a tough time sleeping tonight.

However, I have to congratulate him for his accomplishment and contribution to the Japanese American community.

On the other hand, as a former Heart Mountain Relocation Center resident, I would not consider him as a source for the history of the Wyoming camp.

The reason is simple.

Bill was not even a teenager when he was incarcerated in the camp with his family. By his own admission, he claims 12 as his age.

I was a lot older than Bill, but I’ll never claim to be an authority on camp life, although I do have my own views.

Heck, I’d like to ask Bill a few things about camp that I think he might be able to respond to, such as: How many “canteens” (shopping stores) did they have in Heart Mountain camp?

And what was his family’s camp address?

It may sound a bit conceited for me to ask, but did he ever hear my name while he was in camp?

Some may ask the same question of me. Did you ever hear Bill’s name while in camp?

No, I didn’t, because I didn’t know anyone who was preteen. It was tough enough keeping up with people my age.

At 12 years of age, Bill wasn’t really a “hanatare kozo,” but still in an age bracket that was much younger than I.

So, why am I even bringing up this issue?

Well, for one thing, Bill is being credited with producing a piece of literature on camp life at Heart Mountain, and that seems to be the trend these days.

Heck, even George Takei, the movie star, who is younger than Bill, is often quoted about his views on camp life.

I wonder if they knew we had women sumo matches at Heart Mountain?

As evidence, I am running a photo that was taken as I prepared one of the female sumotori for a match.

That’s me checking the foot of the female sumotori. Helping me is Pomproy Ajima.

Of course, the background shows that the matches were held outside the “barbed-wire fence.” Something everyone talks about these days when mentioning camp.

Yes, it’s the new year, although it’s March already, so I’m going through the usual “clean-up” of my clutter, which means I find a lot of old photos, which all have stories connected with them.

Naturally, putting photos in my column helps fill space, too.

This one was taken during my days in occupied Japan with the U.S. Army.

I was driving a jeep down a street in Okayama when a young woman waved to me, so I stopped to see what she wanted.

Naturally, she asked me, “Nihongo wakarimasu ka?”

Of course, my response was “Chotto.”

So she started talking in Japanese.

I learned that the baby she was carrying was undernourished because she didn’t have the money to buy food.

Well, I wasn’t exactly a “kane-mochi.” What GI was?

But, I had a few yen in my pocket, so I gave her everything I had.

During the early days of the Occupation, the exchange rate was about 3 yen to 1 dollar. I gave her 20 yen, about 7 bucks.

As I drove away, she waved and yelled, “Domo arigato.”

I felt good for the rest of the day.

In response to my piece on the U.S. arrival date of my Issei father, reader Harold Kobata sent me the following email:

“I found my grandfather, father and mother’s date of entry at the Japanese American National Museum about 10 to15 years ago.

“My grandfather came through the Port of San Francisco and my parents through Tacoma/Seattle. I think the records of all Japanese arrivals are on microfilm and you can get a printout.”

Thanks for the info, Harold. I know my father entered the U.S. through Seattle, too.

I’ll check with the museum to find out.

Oh yeah, the other thing I am curious about is: Why did our Issei parents come to the U.S. and what did they do during the early days of their stay?

Most of them didn’t speak English, and how did they make a living after arriving in the U.S.?

Well, as I might have mentioned, I’m shoving off for you-know-where next week, so I’m kind of goofing off by using photos to fill space.

Unfortunately, one of the photos I asked my son to email to Gwen was already used, according to him. He’s the one who forwards photos I use in my column, and after I wrote the piece that goes with the photo, he said, “I already sent this one about a year ago.”

Nowadays I sometimes forget what I did six months ago, so if I did use it, I’m sure Gwen will toss it in the round file.

I thumbed through other photos during my “clean-up” time and came across the one below.

I know that my son didn’t send this one before because he was about 4 years old when it was taken.

It’s a photo taken of Em (Kato) Yamada when she was selected as the Nisei Week Queen a lot of years ago.

It shows Queen Em waving to the crowd from a platform that was built on Weller Street, now Onizuka Street.

I can identify the guys in the photo. They were either on the festival committee or those who helped out during the festival.

On Em’s left is Paul Bannai. On her right, Eiji Tanabe, and on the other side of the young lady, Kiyo Yamato.

In the back row behind Em, Bob Watanabe, and next to him, you-know-who.

Ah, those were the days.

Since I often kid about “getting old” along with all the Nisei generation, you aging JAs will probably get a kick out of the following:

• The older we get, the fewer the things that are worth waiting in line for.

• Some people try to turn back their odometers. Not me. I want people to know why I look this way. I’ve traveled a long way and some of the roads weren’t paved.

• One thing no one tells you about aging is that it is such a nice change from being young.

• Old age is when former classmates are so wrinkled and gray and bald, they don’t recognize you.

• Being young is beautiful, but being old is comfortable.

I was kind of surprised by the news that the U.S. is entering the battle against Japan’s yakuza.

The yakuza would be Japan’s gangster syndicate.

Why would America get involved with the yakuza?

The reason this story caught my eye is that one of the groups being targeted by the U.S. is the Yamaguchi-gumi, the largest yakuza organization in Japan.

To Americans, the way the yakuza operate in Japan may sound horrible, but to many Japanese, it is an accepted part of their society.

I mentioned it a number of times in previous columns, but when I lived and worked in Tokyo about 40 years ago, I learned a lot about the yakuza and how the Japanese accepted them. I know from first-hand experience.

The company I worked for associated with the yakuza, especially Yamaguchi-gumi.

Some of you may remember the time I wrote about being introduced to the head of Yamaguchi-gumi.

In Japan, the mob bosses are called “Oyabun.” That’s the Japanese word for “Godfather.”

The person who introduced him to me said, “He’s Japan’s Al Capone.” I laughed, thinking it was a joke.

Of course, the oyabun felt insulted when I laughed, but the person who made the introduction told him I was a “gaijin” and didn’t know any better.

I wonder how many Americans who will be involved with the yakuza will make a few blunders similar to mine.

American’s first move against the yakuza will be to freeze the assets of the oyabuns.

How will the Japanese cooperate with the Americans?

I’m going to keep a close eye on how this works out.

Remember a few columns back I wrote about dining at the Kula restaurant in the Japanese Village Plaza in Little Tokyo?

I wasn’t aware what kind of restaurant Kula was but quickly found out that it was a sushi place with the sushi swirling around on a conveyer belt.

Each small dish with a sushi on it cost $2.

As I wrote, that was a bit high for us, so we settled for a chicken donburi.

But when I read about the record price one restaurant in Tokyo paid for a bluefin tuna, the price at Kula seemed like it was free.

How much did the Tokyo restaurant pay? Would you believe $1,238 per pound?

If I felt that 2 bucks for a piece of sushi was out of my price range, I don’t have to tell you what I’d do if I were handed a bill for a pound of sushi at Sushi-Zanmi, the place where the $1,238 tuna will be sold.

Okay, we know kids are quick. Try these:

• Teacher: John, why are you doing your math multiplication on the floor?
John: You told me to do it without using tables.

• Teacher: Glen, how do you spell crocodile?
Glen: K-R-O-K-O-D-I-A-L.
Teacher: No, that’s wrong.
Glen: Maybe it’s wrong, but you asked me how I spelled it.

• Teacher: Donald, what is the chemical formula for water?
Donald: HIJKLMNO.
Teacher: What are you talking about?
Donald: Yesterday you said it’s “H to O.”

• Teacher: Glen, why do you always get so dirty?
Glen: Well, I’m a lot closer to the ground than you are.

• Teacher: George Washington not only chopped down his father’s cherry tree, but also admitted it. Now, Glen, do you know why his father didn’t punish him?
Glen: Because George still had the axe in his hand.

Heh, heh.

George Yoshinaga writes from Gardena and may be reached via e-mail at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

Share.

1 Comment

  1. P. Yoshiye Ando on

    Living in the midwest there are few if any Japanese communities. I do get to the w. coast twice a year and recharge my batteries on our Japanese American heritage. Thank you for being online and @ my fingertips. A child of the 40’s and trying to keep up with the world around me with the help of the internet. Thank you again.

Leave A Reply