When the Emperor was Divine

January 22, 2014
Custom User Avatar
More by this author
When the Emperor was Divine

REPORTER: Let’s start with a couple of simple questions to get things moving along. How was the process of leaving your normal home and heading to the internment camps?
DAUGHTER: It was definitely an interesting experience. My mom had made all of the preparations before hand and made sure that everything was packed up. Sadly the one thing we couldn’t bring was our dog, but for some reason he went missing right before we left. I remember the days before we left and the feeling of not knowing exactly where I was going. They put all of us onto a train that took us to the camps. Some times it was so cold I could not sleep and other times it was so hot I could not breathe, I remember talking to Ted about it, he was a man on the train with us. The whole process of moving was tiring and no fun at all.
REPORTER: What was life exactly like inside of these camps, I’m sure it was a real transition from your regular every day routine, correct?
DAUGHTER: Life over “there”, was nothing like home. At home I feel comfortable and warm and fuzzy, our new temporary homes were isolated and depressing. During the day I would wear my panama hat, and at night I used to tell my brother stories about the world outside of the fences we were surrounded by. They tried to make things similar to home, giving us a school and dining hall, but life just isn’t the same seeing armed men patrolling and knowing that you are caged from the real world. The winters were long and cold and the summers were hot, I began to change over time as well. I would go out for long hours and rarely ate with my mother and brother, I began to smoke cigarettes and honestly felt like I was no longer myself. I was miserable and wanted more then anything to leave.
REPORTER: I just want to ask one more question, you’ve been great so far. How was life coming back from the camps, were things different or exactly the same?
DAUGHTER: Coming back from the camps was an amazing feeling watching my mother unlock the front door and swing it open, I felt free finally. We ran throughout the house and ate cheese and drank milk. That was it though; once we were home things were just as bad. People no longer treated us as Japanese Americans or regular people, but rather as the enemy. People and neighbors looked at us as if we did not exist, even people we knew and thought of as friends. Someone even threw a bottle of liquor through our window. At school kids who used to be my friends did not even welcome us home or let me sit with them or even join their games. It made me feel out of place and like I didn’t belong. Before it had just been a part of my being, my ethnicity, Japanese, nothing more, I was as American as the next person, but now it was a label, one that told everyone to avoid me. Life at home was scary, all the nights spent dreaming of the day we would finally return home were now a reality and it was nothing close to what we had hoped for.

REPORTER: Hey bud, I just have a few questions for you about your experience. After being sent to an internment camp, what exactly were you thinking and did you understand why you were there?
SON: I think looking back on my experience “there” the one thing that I questioned the most was that exact thing. My father had been arrested and taken away before we had been sent to the camp and I was not sure as to why. I didn’t understand what we had done to be sent away, my whole life I was just a normal American. While I was in the camp I wondered if we had been sent away for something that I had done. I thought maybe I was being punished for biting my sister’s erasers off her pencils, breaking a chain letter from Alaska or for flushing my dying goldfish down the toilet before it was actually dead. The biggest mystery to me was why I was there. It made no sense to me, I had no idea about the emperor before hand I did not worship this man. So to answer your question, I couldn’t understand why I sent there.
REPORTER: As a young boy living in this camp how did you see life within the fences?
SON: I will always remember the dust. The dust would get into your eyes and burn your skin, it would make your nose bleed and weaken you. Dust. Dust. Dust. Dust. There were rules that we had follow and lousy barracks that we had to sleep in. When I first got to the camp I would always see my dad, but he was never actually there. I wrote him letters telling him about the camp. I used to think to myself all day, remembering old stories I was told or games I used to play. I dreamt of water and freedom, and watched as time slowly passed waiting to hear that the war was over. There was nothing to do and once winter came it was cold and long. I wondered if my dad would still recognize me or if I would recognize him. As time went on it was hard living “there” and the only thing I could think of was going back home.
REPORTER: I’m going to wrap this one up but I have one last question for you, how was your life at home after coming back from the camp compared to life at home before you had left?
SON: Coming home, to me, was nothing like I had expected. I used to try and imagine what it would be like finally coming home after all the time spent in the camp. I thought that id return home and people would be calling to see how it was, I thought friends and neighbors would be welcoming us back with open arms, I thought I would fly my kite in the park, I thought I would do all the things I used to love before we had left, but it did not happen like that. People treated us as the enemy still; they ignored us in the streets and stole from our home. Words were written across the walls of my home that will always stick in my head. In school they treated my sister and me like we were aliens. No one would let us join their games or eat with them. People would follow and yell at me when I walked home from school. I thought that things would finally be better once my dad came home, but it was exactly how I thought of it. He looked unfamiliar and he wasn’t the same. He used to have energy and would play games with me and tell me interesting stories. He was tired and worn out it affected all of us and didn’t make things easier. I liked my old life before the war, before the camp, before the emperor was divine.

REPORTER: Thanks for talking with us, let me start by asking how did you prepare yourself and the kids to make this move?
MOM: The days leading up to the move I kept trying to pack things and get things ready to go. I buried the silverware and locked up the family china and my favorite Electrolux. I cleared out the kid’s rooms and rolled up the carpets. It wasn’t easy getting everything ready for this move that I was still so uninformed about without the help of my husband. Not only was it hard getting the house ready for the move but also it even harder having to see my children have to deal with it. I remember the night, sitting in bed with my son, there was a thunderstorm, and I knew in the morning we would leave the house and head to the civic control station to be sent off.
REPORTER: From the view of mother how did you handle life in the camp and taking care of your children?
MOM: As I said before it was hard handling things without the help of their father but I tried my best every day to make sure they were in a positive mindset and tried to make them feel comfortable. It is hard as a child to understand exactly what was going on so I tried to make it as easy as possible. As for me it was just as draining and demeaning. My body-felt weak a lot of the time and the weather conditions made life even more difficult. It was one thing for me to have to deal with life inside the camp but another having to watch my own children suffer. That was the saddest part for me living in the camps. My daughter started to go out on her own often and my son wondered whether it was his fault that we were there. The only thing I could tell them was that once the war was over we would be able to leave this place and go home.
REPORTER: You should be proud of the way you took care of yourself and them, I’m just going to ask one last question and then you can go. As an adult how did you view the way you and your children were treated after coming home from the camp?
MOM: The experience of coming back to the real world and our home was almost as upsetting as the experience inside of the camps. Imagine how you would feel if the first time after three years you walked into your own home to see it completely trashed by people who you don’t even know. Water was leaking through the ceilings, slander was written on my walls, pornographic magazines were thrown around my rooms, all we wanted was to feel comfortable in our own home again and it was like we were back in our barracks. I stayed up most nights making sure that the kids were safe. People would break into the house and steal food and if they saw the lights on at night they would throw things through our windows. Having to hear my children tell me that at school kids would avoid them and people would call them names in the streets absolutely killed me. I wished I could do more for them. As for me it wasn’t easy especially after my husband returned. When he came back it was as if rather then finally having someone else to help me, I now had someone else to take care of. He didn’t work and just sat around which left me having to work double time to make some money for the family. Life at home was the complete opposite of all our expectations.

REPORTER: Thanks for talking with us, I want to start by asking how did you feel after being arrested and taken away knowing your family had no idea of why it was happening.
FATHER: How would any father feel? I felt awful, I wished more then anything I could be with them trying to help them get through each day. At times I felt lonely and hopeless but I wrote letters to the children to just keep in touch and let them know how I was doing.
REPORTER: How did they treat you where they sent you, which I presume was different from the camp your family was sent to?
FATHER: Every single day was a struggle. They thought we were spies that had been working for the enemy. They treated us as if we were worthless and stripped us of our dignity and manhood. At first things didn’t seem too bad, there were rooms for us to sleep and half decent food to eat. As the war started to heat up things worsened and worsened. We had to work long hours for close to no pay and were treated like animals. The experience I had in “there” drained me, it made me different, I’m no longer the man I used to be. I cant even find the strength or will power to try and support my family. They put labels on us without giving us even the slightest chance to explain that we were not working for the Japanese. It was degrading.
REPORTER: That sounds awful, I’m so sorry, I just want to ask one final question. How did you feel coming back from the camp after being treated the way you were, to hear in the news and from returning soldiers how the Japanese locked up Americans and tortured them, after no one had reacted to the internment camps?
FATHER: That was one of the most hurtful parts. Imagine spending years in confinement, isolated from the world, thousands of people just as harmless as you, being punished and beaten for no reason. People like myself came back from these camps and rather then coming back finally to a life of normality and respect, had to face more hardships from neighbors and community members. We had done nothing, just because we had “slanted eyes” or “yellow skin” we were treated as the enemy. Yet no one, not one person, even went out of their way to welcome us back, and when the Americans returned they were welcomed with open arms and put an even worse name on the returning Japanese Americans. That was definitely the worst part. It ate away at me every single night and day. How could such innocent people be treated so harshly just from a generalization of an ethnicity? It blew my mind to tell you the least. I would do anything to get back the years that were stripped away from me when I was arrested and sent away, and even more to get back the years I let my family suffer alone.
REPORTER: Wow I can’t begin to imagine how that feels. I wanted to give you and your family a sincere thank you for allowing us to sit with you and talk. It’s been a great experience hearing about all of your lives and I wish the best.

REPORTER: Hi, we wanted to ask you few questions about your experience if that’s ok. First I wanted to ask you how you felt once you were discovered to be a Japanese spy and did you admit it once you were caught?
MAN: Looking back on it now I don’t think I would have decided to take the route that I did. I believed that what I was doing was the right thing and my duty to the emperor. When I was first arrested and questioned I denied everything I was asked just like I was told. They knew they had captured a spy but just like everyone else they had questioned I was no different. In the back of my mind I knew they knew the truth. Every night it haunted me, especially since I had risked everything and ultimately lost it all. I let down my family and myself most of all. I’m lucky to be here to speak to you today.
REPORTER: Coming back to your life in America must have not only been intimidating but you must have also felt blessed to still be alive, right?
MAN: I was more then blessed to be alive. I had lucked out. I suffered just like everyone else sent to the camp, but I stayed under the radar and lasted until the end of the war. Coming home was harder then my time at the camp. Everywhere I went I felt like I was being watched the same way I watched the Americans. I felt like everyone that looked at me knew what I had done and were out for me. It was scary at times I wished I never made it out. When I first got back people had destroyed my home completely and I was left with no-where to go. Anytime I tried to stay somewhere I was treated like the enemy again, until finally I was able to move in with a caring family. It was a miserable time.
REPORTER: Finally I want to ask you how you were treated in your camp and how was everyone else reacting around you?
MAN: The camps were scary and most of all draining. It weakened me greatly. The American men patrolling the grounds would hit us when we were walking and call us degrading names. I had never felt so low as life in the camp made me feel. We slept in rooms with many other people and shared small rations of food. My brother was sent to another camp that seemed much different than mine from the letters he sent. People around me were confused. They didn’t no why they had been accused or sent away; they were nothing more then Japanese Americans. I felt guilty every single day and night knowing that there were plenty of people at the camp with me receiving the same abuse I was, but yet they were innocent and I knew I was not. I didn’t know what to do with my self. I felt like I was responsible for all of it and all of these people. That was the hardest part for sure. I had let down myself…. I regret it all, the emperor at this point is irrelevant to me.

Post a Comment

Be the first to comment on this article!

Site Feedback