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Setsuko Moriya — Part 2

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So they're doing chicken farming and so I imagine for them they, they had to give up their farm when the war broke out or after the order was signed. Is that right?

Well, I think in those areas everybody was friends, so some white family did take over the farm for them, took care of it. It could have been, "You just watch the farm and it's all yours for a while, right?” But they still had their land when they got back.

So they were fortunate, then. And what happened with your family's restaurant when you had to leave?

Well, we had this Chinese young fellow that worked at the butcher and he said, "I will run the restaurant for you." So we were happy with that. But after maybe a year, he decided to sell it. So that meant that we were losing the restaurant. It was brand new, maybe a couple of years old, so everything was really in top shape. I think maybe we got a few thousand dollars for it.

So at the assembly center, where did you go and how long were you there?

I don't know anything about it. I think we were there maybe six months or so. But it was like just built.

Do you remember the kind of housing you had there?

The only thing that I remember is the bathroom. The toilet. It was like it's an outhouse, but a three-seated outhouse. And I guess you probably could lift the lid and you could fall in and drown in it, probably. But that scared me, that's all I can remember. That was awful. But brand new. I can remember brand new wood.

And those were just the open toilets with no partitions between them?

Nope, but three holes.

Would you usually go with your older sister or your mother, or did you just have to get used to it?

I must've went with somebody. It was scary.

So you were in the assembly center and then about six months there. And then what do you remember about leaving from the assembly center up to Tule Lake?

I don't remember a thing. I was probably sleeping all the way through.

Once you were in Tule Lake, what memories do you have from there?

Well, our block, the people that were in it were the people that lived close by, it was like Sacramento again. It's the same people. Like the neighbor, my dad's friend? They were there but the father, his friend, wasn't there. His friend was taken to another camp. You know how they took people that were too political or had something to do with Japan? So he wasn't there all that time that we were in Tule Lake. That probably wasn't too nice of a thing for the other wives. Some of the wives were single. And that wasn't too pleasant for them. 

Do you remember the mess hall or anything about eating?

Food in Tule Lake was not good. Pancakes didn't seem to do well with me and I would have stomach problems, and my dad didn't like that we would have so much pancakes 'cause I couldn't handle pancakes. But the food was not good at all. In fact, it was the holidays that we were there and at the time, food was nothing to me, but Thanksgiving was like okazu. Vegetable type okazu. I remember carrots, lots of carrots and I don't know what else, but it certainly wasn't good. Christmas was not that good, either. It was probably the same old okazu they had for Thanksgiving. But the food was not good.

Do you remember what you would do to pass the time? Did you make friends or play games with anyone?

Well, the neighbor, she and I were friends but she was about three years older than me, but we were always friends.

So everyone kind of still split up a little bit during the day. And were your parents working?

My mother, I believe, she's always worked. She must have been working in the mess hall. But my father, I just never seem to have seen him. He was always busy about what does he have to do next. He was always looking around to see what's happening outside of the camp, or what he has to do next. He worked with wood, he did a lot of carving in Tule Lake. A lot of the men worked with wood. Any leftover wood, logs. But he didn't do that in Amache.

Do you remember what he would make with the wood?

Little statues, ashtrays. He smoked cigars, so a lot of time it was an astray. He liked to do cats or dragons. And he would use us as models. We didn't stand around, he just used us as models.

So he was very talented with carving.

Well, he came from Japan and they used to carve out names of families. That's what he used to do. He was a stone carver.

Sounds like he was highly skilled.

Well, I don't know about that [laughs]. But he came to America because I think all that working with the stones caused his lungs to hurt. But he didn't know he had lung trouble until he was about 70 years old, then they found the cancer and they opened it up and his one lung was gone, it was petrified. So he didn't know all that was with him, he just continued on. It's good not to know.

When they went to camp, he was in the prime of his working years, correct?

See that's the thing — you worked up to there and you're going to lose it all and then you're going to start over. That's the hardest part.

Is there anything else about Tule Lake that you remember that was really vivid for you?

In the wintertime, they had ice skating and like my brother, they had bought ice skates for him. But it's like the sewer. The sewer freezes and they're able to ice skate. I know it didn't smell that good. But you don't think about how how dirty it was, like it is nowadays.

Did you have a barrack to yourself or did you have to share with other people?

The barracks were about four section, and if you have over six kids, six people, you get two rooms. But my mother took only one, even though we had seven. 

Was it pretty cramped for all of you?

Yeah, my mother was young, she was not a fighter yet. So she took everything, you know, took the least amount what's necessary. A lot of people would line up for food or push to get food or something. She was not that type. If she needed something, she'll go and wait in line. Some people are pushy.

But she was just very patient.

Everything was alright, you know, no need to get mean or angry. She was a pretty nice lady.

Did you feel closer to one of your parents, either your mother or your father?

My mother. My father, we hardly ever spoke to him. All he would do is scold us a lot. We were scared of him, which was good, it kept us in line. My father was scary [laughs]. His voice was — we all paid attention if he said “no.”

If he wanted something done, he told us and we did it, that's all. He never had to hit us or anything; his voice was scary enough. And then he spoke only Japanese, so it's not that we didn't understand some Japanese — that's the trouble. If your mother speaks English, you mix the Japanese so you never learn to speak fluently, both languages.

How long were you in Tule Lake?

Tule Lake? Only one year. Maybe less than a year. I don't know.

What was the reason for your family moving camps?

Well before camp, my grandfather already had a stroke. So when they moved to Amache, Colorado, he was not doing well. He was already passing away, so we were able to get there before he passed on.

I see. Do you remember when you left and how you got from Tule Lake to Amache?

Oh well, see, in that case, I remember it was a train. And it's not like all of us are going. I don't know how many families there were, we were like the only ones going that way and so we didn't have any seats. My father and my brother had a seat where they sat. My mother and the girls, we got rooms in the bathroom. It's not a parlor, I remember just sitting — you know how you might sit on the edge of a window sill? That type of chair. That's where we sat. So I don't recall ever sitting in a chair in there. But maybe my mother occasionally got to go back and sit on the chair sometime. I don't know, but I thought that was bad.

What do you remember about starting your life in Amache? What were some of the biggest differences?

Well, the first thing we did was get off the train, they took us to our barrack or our block, and we were fed breakfast with eggs. It was like, wow, eggs. It looks like I haven't seen eggs for a long time. I don't know. I never thought of food until I got to Amache.

And you realize what you've been missing.

Right [laughs]. And that was a bad thing. It lasted forever now. Food is important in my life.

Do you remember any other dishes?

In Amache, I believe we had turkey. And then Christmas, we had a delicious chow mein. It was wonderful. 

So what was it like living there?

Well, see, we lived in 12F, and my cousins lived in 11F. And one family that was our second cousin, they lived in our block, 12F. So it was for us wonderful because we got all these relatives there. We owned the block [laughs].

So that was really nice for you and your parents to be together.

It was nice, yes. My father didn't appreciate all those relatives. It was a headache because they're all enemies of him.

Really? Did he not get along with the family?

No. You know he's from Japan and my uncles are — they're more American born and they can't see his type of personality. Kind of bossy, pushy. Especially one of the uncles didn't really like him at all.

So it's just cultural clash, kind of. I wonder how your mother felt about that?

Well, he always sounds so mean. And so the younger brother really thought, he couldn't stand my father. Even though he had two brothers that were from Japan and came to America, they weren't like my father. They were more gentle. Like my brother said when he went to Japan, my mother's side was gentle and his Shimono side was more rough. 

Where are they from?

They're both Hiroshima. But one lived more in the island, the Shimono side. That's why my father knew how to swim. Well, that's how he came across to California. Swimming.

Read Part 3 >>


*This article was originally published in Tessaku on December 13, 2022.


© 2022 Emiko Tsuchida

Amache concentration camp California Colorado concentration camps Sacramento Setsuko Moriya Tule Lake concentration camp United States World War II World War II camps
About this series

Tessaku was the name of a short-lived magazine published at the Tule Lake concentration camp during World War II. It also means “barbed wire.” This series brings to light stories of the Japanese American internment, illuminating those that haven’t been told with intimate and honest conversation. Tessaku brings the consequences of racial hysteria to the foreground, as we enter into a cultural and political era where lessons of the past must be remembered.

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About the Author

Emiko Tsuchida is freelance writer and digital marketer living in San Francisco. She has written on the representations of mixed race Asian American women and conducted interviews with some of the top Asian American women chefs. Her work has appeared in the Village Voice, the Center for Asian American Media, and the forthcoming Beiging of America series. She is the creator of Tessaku, a project that collects stories from Japanese Americans who experienced the concentration camps.

Updated December 2016

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