HORSE’S MOUTH: It Must Be Old Age

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YOSHINAGA-GEORGEBy GEORGE YOSHINAGA

I started out today’s column with a pen and paper. Yup, I was back in the hospital again this past week. So while I was at Torrance Memorial Hospital, I realized it was my day for pounding out a column. Without my computer, I decided I would have to write longhand.

Well after scribbling three pages, the MD came into my room and said, “You can go home now.”

When I got home, I decided to retype what I wrote. The following several pages are the result of my scribbling:

Yup, I’m back in the hospital again.

This time, Torrance Memorial Hospital because Little Company of Mary was completely filled. It was hard for me to imagine a hospital as large as Little Company of Mary being “sold out.”

I’ve been here since Monday. Don’t know how long I will be here, so asked the nurse if I could have a pen and writing pad. Needless to say, she gave me a strange look.

When I told her I was a writer and my column was due on Wednesday, she left and returned with the writing pad.

Of course she asked, “You write? For what paper?”

I explained about The Rafu.

She said she attended Banning High School years ago when there was a large number of Japanese American students and one of them mentioned The Rafu to her, so she was familiar with the name.

It’s a small world, isn’t it?

I hope Gwen and Maggie can make out my scribbling. (Don’t have to, ladies, because I was released early enough to get back to my computer keyboard.)

One thing. When one is on his/her back for three days, you can imagine there is a lot of time to think about issues and topics.

If this didn’t happen, I guess you would have missed next Saturday’s column.

I’m not sure how long I’ll be here. Hopefully, I can go home this afternoon.

When one gets older, a lot of thinking changes, mostly on the negative side. Well, let me toss my negative thoughts out the window and continue on for today.

One thing for sure. Being in my present condition, I sure miss going to Las Vegas. Hopefully, this will change.

The doctor at the hospital commented, “You’ll be fine,” if I change my way of thinking.

He also said I shouldn’t stop writing because keeping a sharp mind is very healthy. When he learned I wrote a column, he added, “Using your mind in composing a column is good therapy.”

I’m glad he didn’t say giving up eating rice was also good therapy.

He added that watching TV is good for me. But during the daytime, there are not a lot of programs I like to watch.

Newscasts are what I like to watch, and the evening hours are the best time because they all review the events of the day.

Judging from what I have seen during the daylight hours, I would assume that the viewing audience is a lot different from those who watch in the evening. At least if others are like me.

I know, about now, someone will probably think, “What took the Horse to the hospital?” Let me say again, “Old age.”

One thing about trying to compose a column in a hospital is that the nurses keep coming into the room to see how I’m feeling. When they see me with pen in hand scribbling away, they naturally ask, “What are you doing?”

No, I don’t tell them I’m a newspaper columnist. That would take too much explaining because I know they know very little or nothing about the Japanese American community.

Well, I hope by retyping today’s column, Gwen and Maggie will let out a sigh of relief at not having to read my handwriting. If the readers see this, it means they were spared the agony of trying to figure out what I was writing about.

Needless to say, one of the things I am always told by the medical staff is what I should or should not eat, and my response is “What about rice?”

Well, I was told that one “chawan” with every meal is not too bad. However, the MDs add, “Don’t ever use soy sauce on your food.”

Gee, can I adjust to going without “shoyu” since I’ve been a soy sauce fan since early childhood? If my mother didn’t cook anything I wanted, my supper was mainly a bowl of rice with shoyu poured on it.

If I told that to the doctor, he probably would have grunted, “Ugh.”

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Time to toss in a letter from reader Takeo Ichikawa from Santa Clara. Gee, that’s not far from where I lived before evacuation took us to Heart Mountain.

Takeo writes about camp days in his letter:

“Hi Horse. First, me and my wife Yoshiko want to thank you for your fun articles and probably the only reason I subscribe to The Rafu, although I can still read Japanese.

“Since you are ready for a challenge to your reference to the relocation center as a more or less vacation camp because you were free to picnic by the Shoshone River and run unescorted to Cody, I just could not let that go and laugh it off. I walked across about three miles of mesquite bushes along the Colorado River to camp and picnicked unescorted with no guards from the towers. Fun? Yes!

“When I was a kid, I fell down a full flight of stairs on the NYK Chichibu Maru and I found I was completely out. A crew carried me back to my cabin; they all knew I was a rascal. When I finally came to, I did not know where I was or what happened.

“Well, this takes on this concentration camp thing. I did not know what was happening or what happened. The Salinas Rodeo Ground was called an assembly center. I cannot think of friendlier term than that. I was later given a free ride to Poston, which was called a relocation center run by the War Relocation Authority because I needed to be relocated.

“I did take a few years before I came to and questioned what happened. So, although very close in age, I think you are still in a coma on this relocation thing.

“How come 99.9 percent of the people in this confine were all of Japanese descent?

“Isn’t this a concentration of some sort? You are right that we were not physically abused by having a gun stuck in our faces, but we were not free.

“Your demeaning of 10-year-old Norman Mineta is really unjust because of his age. So he had fun in camp, but so did you. You said Norman comes from one of the most respected families that I know of.”

Thanks for your letter, Takeo.

My Issei father and Norman’s father were friends during prewar days and I often accompanied my dad when he visited San Jose and stopped in at the Minetas’. Because of our age difference, I doubt if Norman ever knew I existed.

I still stick by my words — Mineta was too young in camp to really know what it was all about, at least to know enough to act like an authority about those dark days.

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As those of you who follow my column know, I get a lot of news out of Japan by getting the English-language Japan Times via email.

Well, that source has been cut out because their website runs headlines of the top stories in Japan, but just the headlines. Nothing about the stories themselves. To get them, one must subscribe to The Times. I guess that is fair enough.

I’ll just have to find another source so I can pass on top news stories about Japan in my column.

(Maggie’s comment: Mr. Y., just a suggestion. Why don’t you call or try watching Channel 18-2? It’s a Japanese channel and it is so informative and entertaining. They cover EVERYTHING. It is very similar to Channel 28, the PBS channel.)

In the meanwhile, maybe I won’t miss stories from Japan but will get more news from Hawaii. That’s because reader Harold Kobata gave me a subscription to **The Hawaii Herald,** a newspaper for the Japanese American community.

Since I’m pretty sure there are former Islanders in my audience, they may find that the stories I select will be of interest to them.

Needless to say, they do have a lot of “local language words” that are common in Hawaii, but we “kotonks” don’t know what they mean.

For example, the front page of the first edition I received had the word “kendama.” Sounds a bit Japanese, doesn’t it?

I guess I shouldn’t feel too badly. My wife was born and educated on Maui and she didn’t know what “kendama” meant.

Perhaps some of my Island friends can drop me an email and explain the word.

The subtitle under “kendama” had the words “at the JCCH New Year’s Ohana Festival,” so it might have something to do with the coming of 2014.

Oh well, I’ll wait and see. I guess I’d better learn a few more Hawaiian words besides “kukae.” Heh, heh.

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Since I didn’t have time to explore a lot of subject matter over the last few days, I’ll toss in a letter from reader Sam Mihara, who is a lecturer on WWII “imprisonment.” He wrote:

“I found your article on camp terminology in the Jan. 18 issue of The Rafu of interest. You are partly correct and partly incorrect.

“I was a resident of Heart Mountain, entering at age of nine and leaving at 12, and I have a fairly good memory of camp, although I just turned 81. I have interviewed fellow camp residents and studied documents by experts on the topic of what happened to us during World War II.

“The part in your article that is correct is that the government in 1942 used the term ‘relocation centers.’ The truth is that the government initially planned for the camps to be non-prisons, way stations, used for relocating us to other parts of the country away from the West Coast.

“The part in your article that is not correct is assuming the government’s use of a term makes it correct. The government is at fault for not changing the name from ‘relocation centers’ to ‘prison.’ I also am not comfortable with the term ‘concentration camps,’ because many people relate its use to the Nazi death camps, which was not our case.

“Before the camps were completed, state and local government officials demanded they be made into prisons by including barbed-wire fences, armed guards and controlled access/egress. The governor of Wyoming at the time, Nels Smith, threatened to ‘hang escapees from the closest pine tree.’ So the federal government (WRA) yielded to the locals and made relocation centers into prisons.

“I have a photograph taken at Heart Mountain that proves the prison conditions when we arrived, including showing the guards who escorted us when we arrived at the train stop outside the camp and the weapons held on top of the guard towers. I also have photos of signs along the fence that warned us (in English and Japanese) not to cross the fence.   All of these are indicators of imprisonment.

“One year after our arrival at Heart Mountain, the armed guards no longer occupied the guard towers. The timing coincides with the shooting by a guard of James Wakasa at Topaz camp on April 11, 1943. That was the seventh camp occupant who was killed by a guard. So after that date, walking out of the fences at Heart Mountain was less risky.

“The government’s representatives at that time also did not tell the truth in the federal trials of Korematsu, Hirabayashi and Yasui. The government prosecutor stated they were spies. Thanks to the discovery by Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga, the truth was revealed during the appeal process — that we were not spies and forced removal was not necessary. Consequently, statements by the government in 1942 about the naming of camps should be questionable.

“You are correct in that at some time after our arrival, we were allowed to leave camp for day trips to Cody and Powell. Camp became more like a ‘halfway house’ or ‘honor farm’ … but requiring passes for the day until a daily quota was met. And I have examples of permits required to leave camp for short terms. On those trips to local towns, we saw more and more signs stating we were not welcome.

“The camp, therefore, did become less a correctional institution with time. But we were prohibited from returning home. And outside the camps we were suspected enemies.

“In my talks I use the term ‘imprisonment.’ I show photos of why I use this term and I try to stay away from ‘relocation centers’ and ‘concentration camps.’ I have spoken to over 10,000 students and faculty throughout the country and all have been supportive of my statement about terminology.”

Thanks for our letter, Sam. Since it was rather lengthy I think I’ve run out of space for today’s Rafu, so I am going to respond next week since my response might be just as lengthy as your missive.

Needless to say, my views will be completely opposite of your words.

(Maggie’s comment: Forgive me, Mr. Y., but I am sure you receive letters from readers on subjects other than evacuation, what it should be called, etc., etc.)

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

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