Letter from Kenji Okuda to Eleanor Ring dated June 2, 1942

Letter from Kenji Okuda to Eleanor Ring dated June 2, 1942. Ring Family Papers, Acc. 4241, Box 1, folder 13. University of Washington Libraries: Manuscripts, Special Collections, University Archives.

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Area A Headquarters
Camp H.
June 2, 1942

Dear Eleanor,

I am singing as I try to write, the person next to me at this table congratulates me on the fact that I am so happy, but my feelings at the moment are difficult to analyze…I feel as though suspended somewhere in between, as though I were out of contact for the moment with those around me…as though lost in a fog and yet knowing perfectly well where I am. But I’m talking in riddles, and so I should get myself down to earth as soon as possible.

I beg forgiveness for my procrastination and also wish to thank you and your mother and your father for you and their kindness and interest in us. Thanks again for those cookies which Tom Bodine delivered to me and little Tosh…I’m sorry but little Tosh has moved over to D, and I have been unable to see him yet. And I wish that you would thank the old lady who has been so kind to us in here by giving us of her preserves and also helping to make the cookies.

Somehow I feel so inadequate when I try to express my thanks; words themselves used by a novice as myself can only sound hyprocritical and can never express the true feeling which I want to convey. But I reiterate again that the cookies were delicious.

I hope that the exams are not keeping you too busy, but after all one must take it easy once in awhile although this would be the most inopportune time to do so. Or should I say exam preparations? But any way, you’d better not overwork yourself. Out here all one has to do is exist, and that is a comfortable but de-energizing experience. I am trying to settle down so that I will be able to do some studying…quite ambitious…and I think that the educational program which is being set up will enable me to accomplish more than I am doing at present. Starting tomorrow, classes will be held in first aid, creative writing, shorthand, public speaking, German, English, and French. I shall try to see how much German and shorthand I can garner before I leave, if at all.

At present, I am awaiting with anxiety Mr. O’Brien’s report of the conference in Chicago. Perhaps you already know. We can only expect the best.…if the news is unfavorable, we will probably resign ourselves to a stay in camps for the duration. But I am surprised at the relative calmness with which I am awaiting the news. One learns to live leisurely…man is truly a product of his environment to a very great extent..and calmly for there is no purpose served by excitement or undue physical exercise. For some reason I cannot seem to get any continuity into this letter which insists on skipping from here to there and back again. But I am still striving.

As I cast about for subjects on which to write, the girls working in here want me to brag about the fact that I have a secretary, who also has very little work to do, how attractive she is, “the most efficient in the world” to use her own expressions (slightly egotistical), the most efficient one I’ve had at any rate…the only one.., of her black hair, red lips, etc. This, if anything, is indicative of the exciting(?) life we lead in camp limited by the fences into a 19 acre area which has no more privacy than a zoo.

And getting on to the subject of lack of privacy, I am proud to state that moral conditions here are very good. But abnormal conditions may result if similar circumstances make privacy and a normal life difficult in the permanent centers. The lack of privacy may lead to extreme actions when stolen moments of freedom are encountered. But the weekly dances and other opportunities for normal boy girl relationships will reduce the gravity of the situation. Conditions in the other camps down the coast are not up to the standards here if I am to believe some of the reports currently circulating.

The first reports from those who went to Nyssa, Oregon have come back and they are very interesting. The weather is somewhat similar to our Puget Sound area’s…at least they seem to get plenty of rain. Those who went down liked the country but not the living quarters nor some of the restrictions encountered. They thought the work not very difficult because of the soft soil, and so the difficulties may be ironed out. An eight o’clock curfew is enforced although Japanese in the surrounding areas are not required to comply with such restrictions. To go into town, a Caucasian F.S.A camp official must accompany them. If these restrictions will be removed, the group has stated its willingness to work in the sugar beet fields enduring the small tents which are used as living quarters. Good for them. They have put the issue up squarely to the Federal officials giving them a week to remove the restrictions or they will return to Puyallup and the beets will just have to be plowed over.

The reports from Tule Lake in Northern California just south of Klamath Falls, a permanent, for the duration of the war, resettlement site, are very favorable, and the people here want to go there rather than to Idaho in the Minadoka [sic] Valley. Of course the assumption is that those are the only two places to which the W.CCA might send us. With the future so uncertain, no one can say where we will end up. It may even be in Wyoming.

This peculiar weather! There is a slight shower now, but I hope that the sun will triumph. Dusty roads are bad, but I think better than the muddy mess which the rains in the last two or three weeks have created. But after all, this is not Paradise nor anywhere near it.

Yesterday I had another slight taste of an invigorating nearness to complete freedom. Taking our time as we unloaded wood from a freight car in North Puyallup, we rode bikes which some youngsters had brought around and climbed onto the neighboring hill and really enjoyed nature’s greenness and serenity. The trains occasionally whizzing past reminded us of our closeness and yet distance from “civilization”…the yellow Streamliner streaked past at 3:10, an event to which we had looked forward all afternoon and watched our work so that it would last that long. A whiz, and it showed only its rear assembly, but I’ll try my hardest to take a streamliner if I can get to head east. As we rode thru town on the back of the truck, the gang of kids created quite a disturbance hailing all those walking along, especially the girls, waving, trying to do jigs on the truck, and generally amusing themselves with a sense of abandon and freedom not found within the confines of the gates and fence.

Why cannot I write a decent letter? I hope that I can do better next time, but until then, take care of yourself. Please give my regards to all…Clara, Chuck, Donna, Delores, Dorothy..they were out Sunday, Frank, Jack….the whole bunch of them.