Fumiko Hayashida

As a young woman, Fumiko Hayashida was moved from her home on Bainbridge Island, Washington and placed in the Minidoka relocation center.

[Image: Fumiko Hayashida]

Jim: Now where were you born?

Fumiko: I was born on Bainbridge Island, January 21, 1911.

Jim: I know you ended up in the Minidoka camp. Tell me a little bit about how that happened.

Fumiko: Well, that's when the war started. It was decided that we had to evacuate but we weren't sure because we were both American citizens. My husband was born in Bellevue, Washington and I was born on Bainbridge Island in Washington and we had two children at the time - a son, Neil and daughter Natalie and I was expecting my third which I was disappointed but lucky. We had a baby boy and we called him Leonard and I'm sorry to let you know I lost him last year. He was born in Camp Manzanar, California and older man, a friend of ours, he was Isha, born in Japan and came to congratulate us and he said, "Oh my, I hear it's a little boy," and we were happy for it because I had a boy and a girl and I was wishing for another girl but it didn't work that way. We named him Leonard and he was born in August fifteenth. That was happened to be - the war ended on August fifteenth too. And anyway, this old friend of ours came to congratulate us and he said, "Ah, a little boy. That's good but," he said. "He'll be right in time for next war," he told us and I said, "Oh, no." I wasn't too happy about it but we found out he went too of course.

We lived in Seattle at that time because we moved from Bainbridge Island. My first two were born at Bainbridge Island and after the war evacuation we had a big farm, a strawberry farm, but we lost it and we tried to keep the farm but you know, after two years of not working on the land we couldn't afford to start - he tried to start it but he decided he better work. He's getting older too so he applied at Boeing and he got a job at the Boeing and he commuted one year from Boeing to Bainbridge Island with the ferry and expensive and a day's long and we decided well, buy a house and move to Seattle. That we did and the kids were all young. They went to grade school and they all graduated from the University of Washington but when you know, as I was saying when Isha man came and congratulated us he said, "Oh, it's a boy. Well, he's ready for next war." I said, "Oh, no." And that came out true because Leonard had to go to Viet Nam war and he came back wounded and at least he was back and - you know, changed man. He didn't want to talk about wars, he didn't like to hear about it. Well, anyways, so we helped him along.

Jim: How did you find out that you were going to first have to go to the camps? What was that like when they told you that you were leaving ?

You know, you do your duty. My husband always says, ‘Follow the government and you won’t go wrong,’ because we could have moved inland so we didn’t have to evacuate but no, he says. ‘Children are small, we’re going to stay with the government, do what we have to do, what they want us to do.’ We didn’t like it but that’s okay. I think no use fighting the government.

Fumiko: We didn't find out until last week or so because he had a soldier - I mean policeman friend - my husband did. He came to see us almost every day and he says, "You're a citizen. They can't do that to you," but ended up citizen or not, you were to evacuate so he kept working until the berries are blooming or almost ready to harvest but we lost everything.

Jim: Why did you end up going to Minidoka? Why did you have to leave Manzanar?

Fumiko: Well, my sister who married and who lived in Seattle was in Minidoka and her husband was an editor of a Japanese paper and so he was - the day or next day or must have been that day - he was arrested and put into prisoner - not evacuation camp but prisoners and so my sister - she had five children and she was alone in Minidoka with five children so - and we were in Manzanar. We decided to transfer to Minidoka to help her but otherwise we would have stayed in Manzanar. It was a better camp. We found that Minidoka was cold and wet and hot. Well, anyway and -

Jim: What do you remember about going to Minidoka the first time? What do you remember about that?

Fumiko: I was disappointed because it was so cold and. Manzanar was our first camp and it was a good camp. I mean, they were demanding to the government that Seattle people and they were putting the lawn between the barrack and they were improving it. On top of that, after about a month later my brother-in-law who was in Texas prisoner, Crystal City, was able to get his family together so my sister moved to Crystal City so we really didn't have to move because - but that's okay. We didn't like the climate out in - well, we didn't like Manzanar either because it was too hot but then we're not working.

Jim: What was that like trying to raise your family in this camp in Minidoka?

Fumiko: Well, as a mother everyone saying you stay close to home when children are small so I went to the camp but I stayed around our area, own block and always at home. Today I went to the Minidoka. I heard about canal but it's the first time I saw it because we were up in Block 44 way up at the end. I heard about canal but never walked toward it, sagebrush, and we had to stay within our block because I want to stay - watch the kids all the time.

Jim: Today when you went out and you looked out at the area where you used to live I heard you got out of the little shuttle car they had, and you looked out and you said, "Wow!" What were you thinking when you saw that? That used to be your home.

Fumiko: That was sixty-five years ago I was here. Wow, and I was kind of disappointed with the barrack. It wasn't that neat and I think it was smaller - something about it. Of course everything was small and when we moved in the flooring was just bare woood. It wasn't like flooring there - knot holes was all over the place and I don't know if they're a lot alike. We didn't want the children to walk bare-footed because they get sliver and I don't know, it seemed like - If I remember right those stoves, little pot belly stove they had in the cabin here - only thing big was - if I remember that stove was really big, the one in the camp but this is different. Of course we didn't have no ice box, no running water, no toilet and when we went inside we saw empty cots, bag of straw. That's about it. When I first went in I just cried. I didn't know that's what we were to do with our strawberry pickers - give them a cot and straw and tent and they themselves put up a tent and oh, I don't know. I was so disappointed today when I saw it but I think - young people, they could look around and - but I don't know -

Jim: It seems like when I look at that and I've seen the pictures where it was, it was like tar paper on the sides and it looks like it was a tremendously hard life to step into from what you knew, from leaving your home.

Fumiko: Oh yeah, but we weren't the only ones. My family was together so I thought at least we're together. A lot of - the first generation father was interned in Montana, a lot of some families didn't have the father but the children were older and teenagers had fun because they didn't have to help, they don't [do] cooking or washing or - I guess mother did everything but -

Jim: You did everything.

Fumiko: No, I was really lucky. My husband was real helpful. He did the washing for me and brought the water in and although they were looking for workers in the camp but he didn't work until I had my baby and he was home about two, three months. He stayed home and helped me so I was real fortunate. Of course we don't have to cook, got to go to mess hall when the bell rings.

Jim: Were you angry?

Fumiko: Well, no. In a way, but you know you do your duty. If the President wants us to do it. My husband always says, follow the government and you won't go wrong because we could have moved to inland so we don't have to evacuate but no, he says. Children are small, we're going to stay with the government, do what we have to do, what they want us to do and - we didn't like it but that's okay. I think no use fighting the government.

Jim: How do you feel now? I know some people sometimes feel a little bitter?

Fumiko: Well, I feel now that we're okay and my husband died early. We were married for 47 years. We couldn't make - last week I went to 50 year anniversary party. Well, I realized gosh we didn't make it to 50. That's a long time too, you know, because I lost him with the bone cancer. We can't fight that. Then I lost my youngest son that was born in Manzanar. He went in the service and came back changed man, you know? He doesn't want to talk about the war and he was changed.

Jim: When you think back to the years in the camp, when you think about those days, what are some of things that you think about from being there at Minidoka?

Fumiko: Well, I think I just felt sorry for ourselves but you can't blame it on anybody - blame it on the war I guess. We didn't have any trouble with babysitters although we don't really need it because I'm home all the time but I had time to learn how to knit and crochet.

Jim: What was it like when you found out that you were going to be getting out, when you knew that you were no longer forced to stay?

Fumiko: Oh, we were really happy to go home because we still had our land. In fact I still have the land, part of it, you know, and we had the house so we came back and my brother-in-law came back early and cleaned the house before the rest of the family came home so it was all clean.

Jim: You were one of the lucky ones that came back to a home.

Fumiko: We were lucky. We were really lucky because we had our land, we had our house. But a lot of the other farmers could not come home because they were leasing or they didn't own it so they didn't have the home to come home to. But of course we lost our dog and cat - not cat but we had two dogs - a lot of chickens and turkey and two horses and we lost everything but - we couldn't have insurance. That was cancelled you know. Our friend was Asian but she said notice from the headquarters to cancel our insurance and we had one car and three trucks but they weren't all insured. But we had our health, that's good.

Jim: What have been some of the nice parts about coming back here for this, with talking to people and things like that? What have you enjoyed about this experience?

Fumiko: Because my neighbor came and welcome home us back and we had - like linen and good china, they sort for us you know.

Jim: If you talk to kids today, younger people, they've read perhaps about Minidoka, they probably haven't been out here but they know a little bit about it. What can you tell them to make them understand what it was like for you and your family?

Fumiko: Well, when first my daughter was about, I think about third grade she came home from school. She's the first one to mention evacuation and she asked us, "Did we? Did you go into camp, you know?" That was the first child that asked because I have a lot of nieces and nephews who are older than her but they haven't heard about it. Somehow she was the first one. Then we told her because of the war we had to leave home and she said, "Mommy, Daddy, you are American citizens. How come? That's against the law." But she - you know, you know - war, there's a lot of things. Just like a war. Someone started bringing lumber on the top of our hill and I said, "What's going on there, the lumber?" And then, so my husband wrote a letter to Kitsap County asking what's going on because you know, they're unloading lumber and so they were making a station, look-out station or something like that. The government was and they didn't even ask you if they could do it or not and then of course I think they just took it because - and they promised that when they were through with that we could get the land back. But instead of giving it back the government kept it, made it into park so it's just Strawberry Park now but that's part of our land. But we didn't fight it because we didn't know how and I know lawyers and all that will cost more than - so it's still government park.

Jim: What do you remember about when you heard that Pearl Harbor had been bombed? Do you remember that day? Where were you?

Fumiko: Yeah, I remember that day was Sunday. Of course no television in those days just radio. My brother-in-law came. It was Sunday morning, we were looking at the funny paper and our Sunday papers and he says, "Did you know that," - we didn't have the radio on - "that the war started with Japan?" And that was the first time I heard because we didn't have the - and then we turned on the radio and sure enough blasting - I said, "Gee, what for, what a small country like that attacking the U.S.?" He said, "No chance." That's the first thing we all said. What the heck are they doing? But - I don't know. That's what happened and then about a couple months later I guess was evacuation.

Then - it was hard for us because Bainbridge Island is just a small island. It's a city now but before it was country. There was no bank on the island, everything was in the city. Our bank was in Seattle and we were - we couldn't go to Seattle, we can't use phone. Could use phone but certain times - I know I was talking to my sister one day and the operator said, your time is up and - I don't know. We were enemies right away but not the neighbors. We were lucky.

Jim: What was that like? You said you were enemies right away. What did that feel like?

Fumiko: Well, you feel sorry for yourself but we're Americans so we were all educated in America.

Jim: Are you glad that you came to this, to Minidoka back now?

Fumiko: Well, this was first time. This is my first time. We were here sixty-five years ago. I was glad to see and sad in a way because I know, I remember how sad I was. I see one day, see a bag of straw and the cot and my husband and me and two children, we didn't know where to put them and they had Army blankets and the kids were scared because it's the first time they walk on the bare floor. At home they, you know everything is rug but no running water, no latrine. I was lucky. I had my husband. He was really good. He brought in the water. The bucket alone was heavy. I couldn't carry it and we had to get the water from the latrine. No, he helped me a lot and the children were in diapers. Oh, I don't know - we made it. We made it and - well, that's what the war does to you. So I wish this war now - I feel so sorry for them and every day I say, "I wish you would quit it." Nobody is going to gain from it. I guess I don't know why they are fighting for right now. The world is getting too small.

Jim: There's a wonderful picture out there with you and your daughter. Everybody was looking at that and taking pictures of you looking at that.

Fumiko: I remember. They asked for signature so they could put it in a book or something. My daughter - she got married. She finished - she is a UW graduate in business and she worked just one year at UW and she met a fellow who was working at Boeing, an engineer and they got married. He's Chinese and he wanted a federal job because you know they have a better - and that's when NASA was getting started to open and he's a graduate of Texas A & M so applied there and he got hired right away so after not even one year she had to move to Texas and I didn't like that because - I cried every night and my husband got mad at me. He said, "No, she's married and she's gone but she can always come back." Anyway, as long as she was happy there. Well anyway, she's happy and they do real well and she worked a little bit but she decided not to work because it all goes to taxes. So she played tennis. Right now she's a city council woman. She's really busy and doing lots of outside help and volunteering a lot.

Jim: Look at that picture of you holding her. What do you think about when you see that picture?

Fumiko: I wish it was colored because she had a pretty red coat and outfit and she looked real cute but she was asleep too and she was daddy's girl. She hated to walk. She rather be carried. Meanwhile my oldest son, he'd rather walk. He didn't want to be carried. It worked out good. But yeah, I enjoyed the kids. And she was a smart girl.

Jim: That's a wonderful picture. Everybody looks at that and they are just taken by that so much.

Fumiko: Thank you. Yeah, just happened that was taken. I didn't know when the picture was taken. Evacuation day Seattle newspaper had photographer there. I didn't know. But it was a sad day. You didn't know how long we were going to be away, what is going to happen to the children and we were a country family. I think the first thing we went to Portland for honeymoon and that's the only time I went out of city, out of state, and first time for us to go to California, first time to ride a train. I was kind of excited but you know, it was the first time but I didn't know what to do with the kids because in those days our suitcases are full of diapers because my oldest son was still using diapers and they didn't have no disposable diapers. We all brought our own and all that. I don't know -

Jim: Can you believe it's been sixty-five years?

Fumiko: Sixty-five years?

Jim: Can you believe it's been that long?

Fumiko: I can't believe it. I couldn't believe it. I haven't seen it for sixty-five years. I can't believe it. Well, I'm happy to be living and to see, come back again but - this vast country, I'm really amazed to see that all that was covered with barracks. The government sent lots of money to feed us and all but that's what they thought would be the best and I think it's better to - of course you can't say what would have happened if we'd stayed home.

Jim: This was the first year that you've been back.

Fumiko: Yes.

Jim: Do you want to come back again or was once enough?

Fumiko: I think I saw enough. Who knows, I might be dead by - I'm taking day at a time and I'm ready and I'm happy. I've got enough to live on. Life has been good to me. Really good. I'm proud of myself and my children. My daughter adopted two children. They are an international family. She is Japanese American, her husband is Chinese American, they adopted a boy from Korea and a little girl from China so - and they all grow up and my children on their own now and they have two grandchildren. The daughter is not married and they have their life but ready to retire. They may come back to Seattle but they may not. I don't know. Of course he's from Texas. He'd rather stay in Texas. My daughter wants to come back.

Jim: So for you coming back this one time you think was enough you think?

Fumiko: I think so. I think so. I'm glad I came. I'm glad I have my life. It's just a number. I'm happy, I have a lot of friends. I don't drive, I never drove, but they come and see me and I have lots of nice nieces and nephews. They are all retired - most of them are retired and they are all more or less professional. I mean, school teacher, nurse, I have three - let's see, Frank is a dentist and two others are doctors. They all did well. And my son-in-law is an engineer and my own son is working and my daughter is more or less retired now. I mean she never worked but a month or two but she was honored recently in Texas as one of the persons that volunteer, helping the poor, helping the older people. They called it "gate" was it? I don't know, some - any way she was one of the honorees that had a big dinner -

Jim: You must be very proud of them.

Fumiko: I am very proud of her and working for NASA engineer, he was a head of a - what do you call it, what you bring up the space - so they travel quite a lot to other countries. Went to Japan, go to Italy, Spain, France and every time she could - she's not working so she could go with him so she is happy.

Jim: I know you want to get back out with all those people and I appreciate your talking with us.

Fumiko: Well, thank you. I am really honored. I'm glad I came and I'm glad I have so many friends. They are all good to me. I'm just another person. I didn't go to college. I never worked in my life but I'm okay. Now I'm alone in the old house and I think there, in that house, but I'm happy. A brick home was my dream but you can't have everything. I have you now. I made a lot of friends. I'm so happy I came and thank you very much. I'll be okay and I hope to see the tape.

Interviewed by Jim Peck, producer of The Idaho Homefront: Of Camps and Combat

Funding provided in part by the generous support of WETA and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.