Letter from Kenji Okuda to Norio Higano dated December 11, 1942

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

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Dec. 11, 1942

Dear Norio,

Thanks for your letter - your description and impressions were strikingly objective and clear, and it certainly gave me an opportunity to examine myself. You were not only doing some beautiful writing, but getting your ideas across in an almost miraculous manner. Well this certainly does not excuse my procrastination, and so I apologize humbly for not having written for such a length of time. But the days fly by like a bat out of hell, and we catch only a fleeting, quickened experience. How are you making out there in St. Louis, and have you been able to go over to Washington University to do some visiting? Isn’t it about time?

This afternoon I bumped into a person whom I didn’t suspect I would ever meet again, and particularly in this country. I had often wondered if he was dead or alive - if he was still in this country or in Japan - and now I know! Remember David Watanabe? That fellow who came from Japan with your sis and myself - that timid, retiring naïve fellow who was leaving shortly for Berkeley and the University of California? He’s in the army now, and a staff sergeant at that, stationed at Camp Savage where he is head clerk having been drafted last December! It seems that he came out to Denver on his furlough and dropped in here, and he spotted me in the ad building. What a small world! But he’s changed - he’s hardened, not pleasantly, and he smokes like a veteran. I remember how he wouldn’t take a drink or touch a weed on board ship, and how we tried to make him. His face still contains the soft lines, but it’s a cynically hardened softness - he wanted to speak Japanese to me but didn’t dare - I don’t think that he’s enjoying his Army life, and I was amazed at the new David I saw. I think that I’d prefer him as of two years ago - but that’s the Army influence. No matter - it was a thrill meeting him and to chat for a few short seconds - but he seemed to have his hardened guard up.

So “deadpan” Kubota is now at W.U!! Will that gal ever change?1 She’s got glamour, looks (smokes too), and appears sophisticated but that damn deadpan. Work on her, will you, and let me know if you get any results!

There is much of the superficial gaiety around camp. I can hear kids gleefully yelling and shouting outside the window - but the gift of adaptability of the human personality is nothing short of divine. In a sheltered and misleadingly “comfortable” life, the harsh realities of the world about us are easy to push into the background and forget. In a sense we have life too easy being fed, clothed, and housed - we can live without worrying or examining the future - life becomes a superficial joke and laughter comes forth as though forced - there is nothing really spontaneous about it. Of course the younger kids are in a position to laugh and play - the problems of the world are the furthest from them. What frightens me, though, is the number of young people and isseis who can joke and sleep and eat from day to day without thinking of the morrow and calling the existence living!! The future is black - we’re afraid - we’re weak - and so we cling with awful tenacity to the present making a joke out of everything that happens. The boys look at girls more often - the girls are more boy conscious - and thus the vicious cycle starts!

Bob O’Brien visited us for 4 1/2 hours two week-ends ago coming and going like a limited express. Just as we were starting to discuss mutual friends and had a few moments to ourselves, he had to dash off. Not before I found out though, a little more about that now famous “beach incident.” You told me of Misako and Pat - were you alone? I was very much interested to hear that Chihiro was at Cincinnati - as was also Toshio Inatomi - and I generally tried to catch up with all those whom I knew. We Washingtonians are certainly scattered all over the U.S. - from Seattle to North Carolina via St. Louis, Oberlin, and a thousand by-parts - from New York to Tule Lake and Manzanar via Rohwer, Granada, and Denver. There are very few places where we aren’t. Can’t help boasting about it when I start talking with my newly found friends here.

This evening we had an open meeting sponsored by the College Council with Paul J. Terry as speaker and First Lt. Roy Hirano (a commissioned officer who took advanced ROTC at UCLA) as special “attraction”. The topic was “Relocation” - Mr. Terry dwelt on negative camp attitudes which he wanted to see corrected, and he hit so sharp it hurt. The lack of leadership among the Nisei - the fault of the Nisei in not wanting members of their group to get ahead of them and so proceed to tear them down - the developing attitude of getting something for nothing. Why work 8 hours when you can work 4 and get paid 8? How are we to combat these attitudes and get things done? That’s the problem I’m seriously trying to think through tonight.

As “executive secretary” of the College Council, I’m devoting full time to the work of assisting student relocation and student relocation contacts and formulating a camp-wide program which might be of some benefit to all of us. What can we do? We’ll feature outside speakers - get acquainted - do our work in our little insignificant way, but what can we do more concretely? In my mind now is the idea of a weekly discussion or forum on a varied field of subjects - but can’t we be a more personal service. I often wonder why I want to waste my energy bucking what seems to be a wall of indifference and inertia, but we’ve got to break it down, or else we’ll never get anywhere!! There is no hope for the Nisei unless they develop more interest in their problems and their future, but how? Yes - but how? Give me some of your ideas, won’t you? We need them - ideas - and we need them badly.

Norio, you diagnosed the situation perfectly when you mentioned this “inferiority complex” mania which seems to be sweeping us. Because we have been evacuated, we like to feel ourselves ostracized and persecuted - the persecution complex only leads to self-pity, and that in turn to a weak-kneed pitiful “inferiority” which is causing both ourselves and the Nisei group irreparable damage. We’ve got to come through because of and in spite of these difficulties which there is no sense minimizing - we’ve got to pull through and not be pulled under. In these respects those of us who have numerous outside contacts are fortunate, but I think that each relocation center paper might well carry a short column or columns by evacuees outside so as to make the people within realize that we aren’t hated by everyone, that we still have friends, and plenty of them.

Bill Marutani, whom I met in Denver on his way to Dakota Wesleyan had a short column in the Tulean Dispatch (Tulelake) which was not only heartwarming but damn interesting. Of his invitation to a Sadie Hawkins’ day dance - of the swell time he had - of being called onto the field by the surging crowd as it did the victory march on the gridiron - “We want Bill and Tom - we want Bill and Tom” echoed the roars until they joined the group. (Tom Semba, Mamie’s brother).The value of a small, well-rounded institution for the average Nisei is obvious!

A lot of nostalgic memories came back to me as I read the Tulean Dispatch - Yuri Kabukata from Enumclaw and the U. of W. had a column in it (I remember how Tom Tamura used to shag after her) - Aiko Kawashima in charge of a club party (Betty’s and Sue’s jitterbugging girlfriend from Oyster Bay) - Asta Nakao, a tall, beautiful girl from the same region - Waiichi Ayanagi in charge of recreational activities - Salem Yagawa and two of the Hayashi brothers volunteering for service in the Army Intelligence school at Camp Savage - those good old days. Some 25 fellows volunteered from Minidoka, and Ben Hara and Henry Gosho were among them - we’re growing up, aren’t we? Gradually we’re scattering over the face of the globe, and making our little dents wherever we strike. Romeo Makino continues to maintain his stride at Oberlin; Walt is off to a good start at Haverford; Harry’s still the lover, and I sit in camp and illegible.

Tomorrow night, for the first time in three months, I am dating a girl to a dance. I just can’t seem to hit my stride with the women - too many other activities keep the less important things from coming to the foreground. She’ll probably be just a passing fancy - very clever on her comebacks and quite intelligent, but I really haven’t had a chance to talk with her. I’m looking forward to it - in a way I hope I fall hard, because the moment that happens, I have a feeling I’ll be whisked away - perhaps be given my educational leave. I’m hoping, hoping and hoping like Hell, fully realizing that over half a year’s waiting tempers one’s impatience. If I secure my release soon, I hope to travel leisurely back - from here to Denver, then over to Lincoln, Omaha, maybe Peru, St. Louis, Chicago (and I’ll have to look up Yasuko Tani),illegible points, and Oberlin. Incidentally, Bill’s interest is at Lincoln - I’ve heard that he’s contemplating a trip there for his Christmas vacation. There are so many young women I must meet! Incidentally, drop Fumi Takano a hint that I’ll appreciate a word from her. I wrote her shortly before she left for school, and I never have received an answer on it. Keep me posted on all the other kids we know about if you hear from them.

I have some hopes of spending Christmas outside - if I can get some Christmas rush work in Denver or in Kansas, there is nothing that I would like to do more. It would be an opportunity to leave for a short while and make enough to at least meet expenses. I have some crazy ideas of going all the way back to Idaho, but those will probably never materialize - but I’d like to go back there and meet some of the kids I know - and particularly, those from the Rose City. Idle dreaming, that’s all!!

I cannot help wondering what the possibilities for jobs really are for us Niseis. Of course menial and domestic work is open, but what of the stenographic, clerical, skilled, and executive positions? What, for example, do you think are the chances of a qualified Nisei finding a good job in St. Louis? Have very many interested groups really pushed into the question by contacting employers with vacancies and finding out whether or not Nisei will be accepted? I’m very much interested in the situation in St. Louis since that is a large city which is probably finding business booming and a labor shortage impending - it might be possible for some interested groups to really study the question! One way of boosting camp morale is to find responsible, worthwhile positions open - that will help prevent a lot of the escapist actions and thoughts. The picture is not rosy, nor is it all black.

It seems strange, but I seem to be running out of words, probably because of the lateness of the hour. Go to bed early and get up late, and I’ll always miss my breakfast seems to be the motto around here. The weather is cold, but nothing unexpected or unusual. We have had several snowfalls but nothing very heavy - a few days and the ground is turned to slush and mud. The construction on the school buildings has been started - $300,000 for a high school, elementary, and junior high. A lot of money is being put into these structures which should be completed by the end of March. That’s a long time off yet. The buildings will be beautiful when completed.

Senseless inane chatter cannot continue endlessly - mustn’t forget the play we put on Wednesday and Thursday of next week for a “fee” - I act the part of a lovelorn fool who is coldly being given the brush-off by a woman of the world - I know, all I have to do is act naturally. I hope that I’ll be seeing you soon - I’ll be stopping in.


PS. Could you mail me your school paper?



1. Possibly May Kubota, a classmate a the University of Washington.