Letter from Kenji Okuda to Norio Higano dated July 10, 1942

Letter from Kenji Okuda to Norio Higano dated July 10, 1942. Higano Family Papers, Acc. 2870, Box 1, folders 9-11. University of Washington Libraries: Manuscripts, Special Collections, University Archives.

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In a little room off headquarters
1p.m. – cloudy afternoon
July 10, 1942

My little study hound,

I just chased two girls (no, three) out of this cubbyhole in order to enjoy a little solitude while I write this letter to you. It’s hard to get down to letter writing, especially when one is loafing all day, and so I’ve finally gotten down to do a little writing. And how is the renovated Romeo now?

Shady trees, green - they’re invitingly close - just across the street - but on the other side of the fence. This whole situation is certainly one hell of a mess, and I wonder just what I should think and do. It rained a little this morning continuing the cool weather which followed as a let up to the killing heat of about a week ago. It was warm, but there was nowhere to go to escape the heat. Sweating all day, stripped to my bathing trunks; girls to their halters and skirts; but still the same killing heat. Fortunately we have very few cases of actual heat prostration, but the after effects were worse. Most of the first generation were extremely tired out by the heat.

Ye gods, Norio, take it easy. Coming down to my weight is nothing to boast of. But I seem to remain in the same weight class neither gaining or losing weight despite the soft, easy life which is generally led within camp. And food, to get back to a subject of common interest. It seems that beginning today we are going on Army rations – which means more and better food. Until now the food was ordered, put into the warehouse, the menu planned from the stock available, and often there was short stock. But now I understand we’ll have chicken next Sunday. There are plenty of rumors going around, but I’m sure the last statement isn’t one of them. For lunch today we had beef stew and a fruit salad. Raspberries, of which there is a shortage because of the lack of pickers, has been used quite liberally on our menu. And for breakfast this a.m. – I went only because I heard the food was to be extra good – we had creamed ham, toast, and raspberries. I hope dinner maintains the high standard reached today, but one can never tell. Frank Okada is working hard every day as a cook (helper) in the mess hall at which I eat.

During that recent hot spell the mess halls were like steam baths but the cooks and the dishwashers who had to endure the heat and work despite it. Frank claims he lost quite a few pounds and I wouldn’t doubt it at all. Heat, at least, here, is no pleasurable experience.

Aha – and how is the ole Romeo getting along with Yasuko Tani? Isn’t she a 5' 1/2” or thereabouts bundle of nervous energy and personality (age 20?) who has all the boys she meets on the “go”? Don’t worry! O’Brien didn’t say much – told me of her beauty in an aside, and I don’t know what he told Shig. He didn’t say anything about that to the whole group, but I managed to have my secret operatives x 102 and 3 x 01 do the dirty work for me. I’ll have to admit that if pictures don’t flatter her, she is certainly a beauty. You’ve almost got me going myself. About the meeting – that was one Sunday afternoon immediately after his return from Chicago when he told interested students in this area of the prospects of continuing or beginning their college educations.

I haven’t had a chance to ask Koichi what he thinks of Yasuko – he lives in C but comes over here at least once a week with the orch, and his girl is my secretary so I see him often enough – just slipped my mind I guess. I got my dope from Kit Kitayama, one of the Mik boys, and how he raves. We had a queen contest in every area on the Fourth and he (Kit) claimed that she would have won all of them if she were here. Wow!!! And being a soloist with the U. of Cal Symphonic Orchestra is nothing to sneeze at.

And coming back to the subject of osculation – how are you getting along? My guess as to how many? (shall I say 3 or 4) or am I over or underestimating your masculine prowess? My record to date is still the same – evidently I’m slipping and getting nowhere. But I’m getting around ok. Last night we had a dance of U.of W. students and alums in Area D for the graduating seniors (150 went from A) – what a peach of a dance floor. Over here we had to hop on the wooden illegible, but over there they’re using one of the exhibit barns with a concrete floor and plenty of spangles. After two months of kicking around in here, that floor was just like skating on a sheet of smooth glass. It was swell.

I thought of going with a date, but that I could get one in D. But hell, the competition was too stiff – so I stagged it. Had my fun tho dancing with almost a dozen girls – Chiya Tamaki (remember the JACL convention?) Butch Takao, another attractive nurse (ask Tosh), Mich Ogami, some of the office girls, and a host of others. Tonight we’re having a coronation dance for the queen and her attendants we selected on the Fourth of July in Area A. The queen? A gal (tall) named Yoneko Tanaka. I don’t think much of her or the crowd she runs around in. I dislike her guts. And attendants are Jane Suguro (the youngest), Sherry Shimano, Betty Kogeta, and – no, I guess that’s all. Hannah Kihashima was one of the original contestants but didn’t even place. And in Area D illegible Semba was crowned queen. I’m not sure of the results in the other areas, and I’m not interested, so hell –-

Last night, though, when we sang Bow Down to Washington and Alma Mater, I felt a strangely tingling feeling. Perhaps I’m an idle dreamer, but I had my faith in was renewed. What song can do to the hearts of men – why can’t we carry out the purer thoughts? My feeling of kinship with the faculty and student body at Wash. was rekindled, and I’m sure the feeling isn’t one sided.

My dad is still in Spokane, and since we are prohibited from going there by one of DeWitt’s orders, he’s been trying for two or three weeks to get in here. I hope that he can come pretty darn soon. And that order which I am referring to states that no person can move to or in or out of military area 1 which has been completely evacuated or the Military Zone 2 in California to any other area under the jurisdiction of the Western Defense Command. That means, of course, that we can’t move from here to Idaho, Wash., Oregon, Cal., Arizona, Nevada, Utah, or Arizona, except to relocation sites selected by the Federal government and this regulation is quoted to prevent a Nisei soldier in the Middle West from coming out here to Puyallup, for example, to visit his parents. What irony! A soldier prevented from traveling around freely in the country for which his is fighting because of his racial background. The moment this soldier crosses the Columbia River into Washington, he is unwanted and denied his civil rights. And yet the Niseis are training hard – if only those rabble rousers against us could see this and really examine themselves to see how they would act under a similar situation. If they have any brains whatsoever, they can feel nothing but admiration for our spirit. But this narrow minded, ridiculing, egotistical mass known as the public –-

Mr. Yasutake is still, as far as I know, in Fort Lewis. By this time he may have been transferred to an internment camp. And I told both Serichi & Tosh to write to you. I think that one of them might have done it by now.

I just took a short moments’ rest to view the art exhibit on the other half of this building. The works are excellent – especially the bark carvings of the firewood which we receive. An eagle and a lamb on one piece – really beautiful. And we need no cameras to record for historical purposes the conditions within camp – the paintings are excellent. At least the artistic talent within camp is not being hidden. I hope that this will also produce some good writers and writings. We need a real novel on our experiences.

My chances of getting out are still in the gloomy dark. Tom Bodine is there in Frisco working with the program of student relocation. There are about 20 persons working out of Frisco (Quakers mostly) on the Student Relocation Committee and the answer to my latest letter down came from a Trudy King. An argument rages as to whether the writer is male or female, but we may never know, as if it made any difference.1 He (or she) states that my records lack a community acceptance from New York where I’m still trying to get into President’s School. That started on July 7, but if that acceptance will enable me to get out, I’m willing to get back there a week or 10 days late. Frisco is trying directly to get the acceptance, and as soon as it does, my record will be submitted with a request for a travel permit. I’ve still got my fingers crossed hoping for a telegram saying that my travel permit is on the way, but I’m not overly optimistic about my chances.

Frank Seeley is in New York at the College Summer Services School and staying with 7 girls. He states that a fine fellowship has developed – quite naturally, but he sounds as though he’s having one swell time. And I’m planning on going to Oberlin even though I might not be able to get out for President’s School. My papers are in; only dorm facilities must be arranged. I’m looking forward to it, pray be even a little too eagerly.

It’s raining again – hard. But that keeps the dust down and makes life more bearable. Our future (as a camp) is still very, very uncertain. It seems improbable now that we'll go to Tule Lake for the latest grapevine report has Pinedale and newly evacuated eastern California going there directly. The biggest speculation now is when Spokane will be evacuated. It’s almost a certainty at least to my thinking, that Spokane will be cleared – only a question of time. I think that we’ll be moving into Idaho (Minadoka [sic] project) or maybe even Wyoming. I’d prefer the latter for several reasons – the most important being that the surrounding area is outside the Western Defense Command. Idaho means that Dim Witt is still supreme – the further I get from the Presidio and Frisco, the happier I’ll be. Koichi is here now – the center of attraction – planning this evening’s program. My favorite “One Dozen Roses” will be dedicated to me and the Portland Rose (you know who). At least it has the girls in the office guessing.

I registered, finally, as a C.O. with the following “Conscientious Objector to War” written across the face of my registration card. Maybe I did a foolish thing: I don’t think so – but I don’t regret it.

“She’s a very nice singer. The very best singer that we’ve had in over history. Very nice personality and the boys in the band are all crazy about her." Koichi’s statement on Yasuko.

“A very nice girl (how tame), nice voice, very chummy and friendly, easy to know – very-you know –- and that’s all Kit would say, obviously up to your description 100% and more. And how about a picture of her – so I won’t feel like a stranger when I meet her. That’s the gospel truth, so help me.

Beyond room and board, the government is providing us with an allotment of $2.50 per adult, $4.00 per couple, and $1.00 in script per child under 16 to be used at the canteen for cigarettes, candy, pop, paper, etc. Beside this we are given a monthly clothing allotment – us males get $3.87 per month. The women get about $.50 more, illegible, but I guess that goes to prove their expensiveness. One statement which a friend made and of especial interest is that the Army holds bludgeon hold on the W.C.C.A. which administers these temporary camps. Thus every criticism of the W.C.C.A. is used by army to tighten its hold on them, and so we are urged to keep as quiet as possible here. But the W.R.A is an independent organization which has a lot more power and will administer the permanent centers with much less Army interference. And the personnel quality of the W.R.A. is of no comparison with the W.C.C.A. The latter is made up largely of W.P.A. leftovers – the former staff is made up of college professors, Quakers, and men with social vision and intelligence. Thus Tule Lake has a 200% better administrative staff than we do – they’re all (or almost all) “donko” heads here.2

But there is one disconcerting (sp?) fact which bothers me. About one week ago, a censorship of mail was evidently imposed at Tule Lake. Why? Is all mail at permanent centers to be censored? Or are the authorities trying to hide something? The latter theory has the most advocates now – and rumors are of course, rife. I wish that I could get the real facts on the case. I hope that I’m not disappointed and thus reducing my estimation of the W.R.A. staff.

In the Puyallup Valley this year there is a tremendous shortage of labor, a shortage which will be overwhelming next year. In California the farmers who fought to evacuate the Japanese are now fighting to have the Japanese released to harvest the crops – releases under guard, of course. It may be that even we will be requested to go to work out here. I hope not – but since the wages are so good – raspberries $.60 a crate & 15¢ bonus for picking – many might go out to make a little money.

Moral conditions in camp are not deteriorating, as yet. There is some necking going on – not much – and not much more. However family life is disintegrating – nobody eats together, children run around wild, and some people are purposely obnoxious. But there is slight possibility, which I hope will materialize, that we will profit from this Camp existence. To live, to think, to love – deeper. To appreciate the simple things of life – to appreciate the beauty of nature – to slow down and live for once – this can be so meaningful if only we can learn.

I’ve gotten to know Caleb Foote quite well – wrote to him on some of my camp impressions. He and Donna seem to have hit it off well at Seabeck.3 And she’s also been down to see us quite often.

Gosho – tokuwan is sitting across from me now cracking jokes right & left. Everyone is constantly laughing in this office all day long – one happy family.

Now – what can I gab to you about. I saw Jeanne Kanno last night escorted by George Okamura – does all right for herself. Haven’t written or heard from any of the Wapatoites either – how do you rate? Good luck – don’t study too hard – I imay be seeing you soon.

So long

P.S. Please Xcuse the poor scribbling.


1. For those that are curious, Trudy King is female.
2. Donko in Japanese means slow-witted.
3. Seabeck is a Christian conference center on the Hood Canal in Washington State. The YMCA and YWCA groups held summer conferences at the site during the 1930s and 1940s..