VIDEO: Japanese internment camp survivors reflect on their experience

Brooklyn Park residents Takeshi Osada and his now wife, Alice, both left Tule Lake prison camp with $25 and a government issued train ticket for any destination in the United States. In some ways, their departure was not unlike their arrival – uncertain and nervous on a state-funded ride.

On their inbound trip, they had been forced to draw the blinds in their train car to hide their destination. This was not the case on their outgoing train. World War II had ended, the unconditional surrender signed. They were free to go about their lives, free to view the landscape as it blurred past their windows.
It was the end of an ordeal that began Feb. 19, 1942, two months after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. President Roosevelt had signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the forced evacuation and imprisonment of 120,000 people of Japanese heritage, mainly those living on the west coast.
By March 1942, Takeshi said he knew his family would be imprisoned as a result.

In Tule Lake, most families shared a single room in the barracks. (Submitted photo)
In Tule Lake, most families shared a single room in the barracks. (Submitted photo)

“It wasn’t a deal where they came and took us,” he said. “We had notice and packed and got ready,” he said. He was 15 years old, a sophomore in high school.
Alice’s family had some time to make arrangements as well, she said. When her family was sent to a camp in Jerome, Arkansas, she was 13 years old. Her family didn’t go to the camp until May 1942. She was later moved to Tule Lake when her mother decided she wanted to return to Japan, she said.
Before reaching Tule Lake in California, both families spent time in relocation centers in Fresno, California.
Takeshi lived in Tacoma, Washington, prior to his internment.
“They put us on a train. We didn’t know where we were going, but we ended up in California,” he said. “A place called Pinedale Relocation Center.”
“It was a three or a five day trip to California,” Takeshi said. “We had to close the blinds, and they took us down there,” he said. His family spent approximately a month at Pinedale before being sent to Tule Lake, he said.
“When we traveled, we had to keep the shades down,” Alice said. “We didn’t know where in the heck we were going,” she said.
Alice and her family were sent to Fresno Assembly Center before they ended up in Jerome and Tule Lake, she said.
Once they arrived in Tule Lake, each family shared one room in the barracks, they said. Takeshi’s family was an exception, he said, since his family of nine shared two rooms.
“We had five kids and mom,” Alice said.
There were approximately 18,800 people imprisoned in Tule Lake.
“We had to eat at the mess hall. We didn’t have any bathroom, it was a community bathroom, one for every block,” Takeshi said. “We didn’t have running water … in the house.”
There was no furniture in the barracks, so they had to make it out of boxes and other scrap items found around the camp. Takeshi said he remembered someone making a bicycle out of found pipes.
“We didn’t have cameras, so we improvised and [used] X-ray film,” he said. “They even had agriculture.
Alice said since the camp was built on a former lake bed, there were left over marine objects such as shells that they used to make crafts.
Both Takeshi and Alice attended school while in the camp.
“When we first got there, they didn’t have a school,” said Takeshi said, adding that they held class in the barracks.
While some teachers were professionally trained, others were not, but were highly-educated prisoners willing to help out, they said. A school was built on the site, but an arson incident did away with it.
“They were real radicals, and they burned this place down,” Takeshi said, pointing to a picture. He graduated from high school while in the camp.
The pair met when they were fairly young, they said. “She was 14 or 15. I was 17 or so,” Takeshi said.
“We happened to be in the same block,” they said.
Prisoners with highly-skilled jobs outside the camp, such as doctors, were paid $19 per month for their work in the camp, Takeshi said. He worked many odd jobs, including nighttime garbage pickup and oil furnace repair.
There was a canteen where surplus cash could be spent, they said.
“We weren’t in a place where they mistreated us,” Takeshi said. “There was a fence, and there were guards up there, but we had this massive place where we could go any place we want. It wasn’t a regular life, but we weren’t tortured or anything.
“It wasn’t jail, but it wasn’t a regular life either,” Takeshi added.
When the war ended, both Takeshi and Alice found themselves with a free train ticket and a small amount of cash.
“When they closed the camp, they gave us $25 and train fare to any place in the United States,” Takeshi said.
So, both of Takeshi and Alice needed to find a place to relocate. A childhood friend of Takeshi’s suggested he come to Minnesota. Upon arrival, he worked for a while, then he attended the University of Minnesota.
When atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, one of Alice’s family members in Japan died as a result, she said. After that, her family decided to stay in the United States, rather than return to Japan.
Alice and her family decided to head toward Minneapolis, as her older sister and her husband were living there. He worked at Fort Snelling at the U.S. Army’s Military Intelligence Service. Alice and her younger sister rode the train by themselves.
“It was kind of a scary thing,” Alice said.
After settling in Minnesota, Alice and Takeshi reconnected, dated and married. They had five children, three girls and two boys, and they all graduated from Osseo High School.
Takeshi was drafted during the Korean War, after he finished college. Since he had a degree, he was made an officer.
“I asked to go to Japan or Europe, but I got Alaska,” he said, laughing. The family spent two years in Alaska while he was stationed there.
Coming back to Minnesota after his time in the service, Takeshi opened a dental practice in Osseo. He said the people there were very welcoming to him and his family, and they didn’t feel the need to segregate themselves from other people in the community.
“When we came out, everything opened up for us,” Takeshi said. “When I came out of the service and started my practice in Osseo, they accepted me very well,” he said. He started his practice in 1956, he said.
“Osseo has been a very good town to us,” he said.
They moved to Brooklyn Park in 1957, they said.
“This place was like, with the cows in the back,” Alice said.
“This place was a two lane dirt road,” added Takeshi, pointing to Brooklyn Boulevard.
Takeshi said the time he spent in the camp was not as damaging for him as it may have been for older, more established career folks.
“The people who were my age and younger, probably weren’t hurt that much,” Takeshi said. “The people, like my parents, or people in college, were all delayed.”
In 1982, the U.S. Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians published a report that said the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War Two was motivated mainly by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria and a failure of political leadership.
The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 acknowledged the injustice of internment camps and issued reparations to survivors.
Both Takeshi and Alice said they hope the U.S. government never imprisons such a large number of citizens without due process again, and they worry history may repeat itself.
“I think that it was wrong to put U.S. citizens in that place,” Takeshi said. “It was, like, wartime panic or something, I think,” he said. “I hope things like that don’t happen again.”
A day of remembrance and program titled “The Japanese American Incarceration: Could it Happen Again?” will be held 2-4 p.m. Feb. 19, at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul. It will feature a live readers’ theater performance directed by Rick Shiomi and narrated by David Mura.

Contact Kevin Miller at [email protected]