Letter from Kenji Okuda to Norio Higano dated September 4, 1943

Letter from Kenji Okuda to Norio Higano dated September 4, 1943. Higano Family Papers, Acc. 2870, Box 1, folders 9-11. University of Washington Libraries: Manuscripts, Special Collections, University Archives.

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Sept. 4, 1943

Dear Norio….

Having heard your colorful accounts of the St. Louis heat last summer and expecting some unexpected weather here, I was much taken aback, although pleasantly, by the fact that we have had a remarkably cool summer in Oberlin. I’m sorry to hear, though, that you are again experiencing the terrific humid heat… and I shan’t make it any tougher by trying to contrast Oberlin weather with St. Louis’. And thanks a lot for your letter… have conveyed your regards to Harry, who lives with me here… eight fellows altogether… and to Bill, who works in the same kitchen for our board. Incidentally, Harry’s living here may be a subject for debate, for he comes home after all of us have gone to bed, and gets up after we leave. Every night of the week, he visits his girl…one wonder how he does it.

I’m certainly glad to hear that you are fighting apparent segregation and winning out. Let me know the latest developments as they occur…will it be Private Norio Higano the next time I write to you? The draft status of the Nisei still seems to be enshrouded in uncertainty, and so it has resolved itself into the back of our minds. One wonders, though, whether the draft may not be applied before the year is up, but speculation in that field seems somewhat vain and useless.

I was certainly interested to hear of the new arrivals in St. Louis…even Shiz is there now, eh?…the queen of Labor Day festivities last year at Tulelake. As far as new arrivals in this vicinity is concerned, I am afraid that I have absolute nothing to report. I have not met any evacuees in Cleveland since last June since I went in only once after that…to take in a big league game between the Cleveland Indians and Washington. I have heard that several Northwesterners are out there, but I shall have to check up through Abe or Vic Kambe the next time I am out that way. Oberlin itself has had no Nisei arrivals…pardon me, Tamako Inouye came down to visit Bill several weeks ago. What an experience! I didn’t even hear about Tamako’s coming in except through a fellow who is Bill’s working partner…I happened to ask him where Bill was, and he explained that he was out with his girl…Tamako. I bumped into them that night downtown…can’t miss anyone downtown anyway…and stopped to have a coke with them. During the half-hour, I couldn’t get Tamako to utter more than half a dozen half-hearted monosyllables (sp?), and she continually glanced at the clock and then at Bill. I have rarely felt myself so definitely unwanted and out of place. She left the next day…frankly, quite a schmeck [sic]… I was highly aggravated…my estimation of her has gone down a notch.

I’m certainly glad to hear that attempts are being made there to aid the Nisei in the adjustment to a new environment and circumstances by offering recreational facilities…and at the same time trying to avoid the difficulty which will arise from the formation of a closely knit Nisei group. It takes plenty of effort and conscious planning to accomplish that purpose, but it can be done. More power to you.

This is a Saturday night, but I am staying at home for the first time in over a month…quite a struggle before I decided that sleep and letter writing were, at this juncture, more important than a date with some nice blonde or brunette, or even blackhead. I seem to be getting less and less studying done..more and more time being spent on bull-sessions, coke and libe dates, and the other activities which interfere with one’s studies, or vice versa. Last Saturday night I had a date…went into Elyria, a boom town in marked contrast with Oberlin with its busy streets, men-hungry girls, and service men wandering around. The Sat. previously, I was invited to a formal by a Chinese gal from Hawaii…not a bad number at all. Tuxes…corsages…dressing up…long evening gowns…are all a part of the Oberlin atmosphere. Thus, this term, I’ve taken in two formals, and will probably take in another before the end of October when this semester ends. Despite the fact that the other Nisei fellows are either going steady or not dating at all, I am more or less enjoying the field. Bill is in Cleveland today visiting the girl from Hawaii…I haven’t seen him on a date here in Oberlin since I got back in July…Sammy hasn’t had any date as far as I know this term…while Soichi Fukui’s girl came out from Topaz and is now working in Cleveland…a short, attractive gal who stayed in Oberlin a few days before she went out to the big city. Thus we all manage to get along…the only Nisei girl here this summer, however, is pretty well out in the cold. Oh yes…another Nisei fellow from Hawaii is going steadier than a cold sober prohibitionist with a haole…some rumors that he has mentioned engagement to her.

The first of last month I went down to visit my sis at Antioch…hitch-hiked down and stopped off at Ohio Wesleyan overnight. I went up to visit a girl from our camp…the family with whom she was staying invited me to bunk down for the night…so I stayed. I met Sachi the next morning…gave them all a big build-up on Perry Saito before leaving. At Antioch I ran into Fumi Shitamae, Teresa Honda, and another Nisei girl down there…and had a wonderful time looking over a school which is in marked contrast to Oberlin’s traditional limited liberalism. For example, the girls have no pers … girls here have to be in their dorms by 10 on week-nights…mid-night Saturdays. In the dorms down there, there are no house mothers to provide the autocratic rule…up here, the hide-bound old maids and fogies are…well, the least said the better.

The hitch-hiking wasn’t bad to cover the 400 mile round trip, but I was stranded on my way home some 50 miles north of Columbus on a dark, dreary road…pitch black except for the lights of the occasional farmhouses…it was very fortunate that I did get a ride which got me into Akron, and from Akron here by bus. I encountered no unfavorable reaction to my being a yabo…but some interesting conversations.

Since we have twelve days at the end of this term in October, I am seriously considering the possibility of getting home then. We will have no vacations of any length until next summer… I can’t make up my mind as to just how I am going to get home…whether to try to hitch-hike as far as possible westward…take a train through Chicago, or a train through St. Louis. I probably won’t know definitely until a week or so before we are free to roam for two weeks. I certainly hope that I can include St. Louis as a stop and meet you and the gang again.

Incidentally Bill and Harry both complete their work at the end of this semester. Bill has a job in the cooperative store in town which he plans to hang on to for a year, while Harry will go immediately into Yale grad school for an advanced degree in psychology…”monkey study”. We’ll be seeing quite a lot of Bill for some time to come yet.

I received word from Noby Inamoto (remember him?) the other day that he is teaching Japanese in the U. of Minnesota to an Army Specialized T.C. unit there. Ironical as it is, he is not permitted to take any courses in the college, and so he seems to be considering transferring to another school where he might teach the language and also study his engineering. The other day too, I read in the Citizen, that Yoshiko Kiyono had married some fellow whose name I didn’t recognize…another camp romance culminated. With the Tulelake project being all split up, I’m wondering where those whom I know…mostly the Tacoma group.. will end up. It seems entirely likely that they will be transferred, or seek transfer, to Minidoka…our camp is getting 1,000, and I’m hoping that my uncle is able to join my parents. That will make it easier for Toyo to leave.

An interesting story which I heard here at Oberlin from sources which don’t spread wild rumors I’d like to tell…I’ll go ahead anyway. It seems that when Pearl Harbor was attacked, there were no plane carriers, fast cruisers, or modern destroyers in the harbor…for they were at that very moment on their way to attack Tokyo…the bombing of Tokyo was supposed to occur on Dec. 10…Japan had beaten the U.S. to the draw. There a few interesting details here and there which, pieced together can fall into the general framework of this interesting story…whether fact or fancy. One picks up all kinds of interesting dope in this vicinity…several individuals around who are very interesting and worthwhile to know.

Have to get around to a few more things tonight, so I shall close this short letter. Luck to you, and let me know of the latest developments.