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Kenge Kobayashi Oral History Interview, June 3, 2006

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´╗┐EU: This is an oral history interview with Kenge Kobayashi. Today is June 3, 2006. We're in my apartment in Eugene. My name is Elizabeth Uhlig and I'm the interviewer. To start with, could you tell us where you were born?

KK: I was born in Imperial Valley, California, which is southern end of California. And my folks were farming, and they had about a hundred acres of farm. And they were very successful farmers.


EU: What kinds of things did they farm? What kinds of crops?

KK: Vegetables, like tomatoes, cantaloupes, squash, Let's see, cucumbers. But mostly vegetables. Cantaloupes. That was the main source. They were doing pretty good. OK. My father and my mother were from Japan, the northern part of Japan. They came to the States, to the United States in 1905, the turn of the century.


EU: Did they come to the United States together? Were they married here or in Japan?

KK: They were married in Japan, and they came over as soon as they got married. My mother was 18, something like that, very young. They were farming, and and they were very happy farming. There were a lot of laws against them, like the Asian Land Law where they couldn't become citizens, they couldn't become naturalized. So, but they didn't mind, they just farmed.

EU: You said they had 100 acres. Were they able to buy the land? Or were they renting?


KK: No, they were leasing it. But the Asian Land Law and many other laws against them. They were very happy.

EU: How did they decide to settle in the Imperial Valley? Do you know the story?

KK: Well, they came to San Francisco. My father worked on the railroad with the Chinese people who were working on the railroad. He joined them and they were working on the railroad. And he heard about farming in the Imperial Valley and 00:04:00so he decided to start a farm there.

EU: How long did he work on the railroad?

KK: I don't know about eight years, I guess.

EU: Did he talk about that? Where did he go?

KK: Near San Francisco, and eventually joined the other railroad from the East, and they got together somewhere, I don't, know in the Mid West. And they were very successful doing that. They built the railroad from the West Coast to the 00:05:00East Coast. That's where he was working on. But he decided to farm in the Imperial Valley.

EU: What was your mother doing while your father was working on the railroad?

KK: She was housekeeping.

EU: With him, or--

KK: Yes, with him. She traveled with him. And,

EU: Do you know - why did they leave Japan?

KK: They heard about the riches in America and they heard it was a good country and they tried it. Since Japan was in a very depressed state at that time and 00:06:00they were struggling and they coming to the New World they would be more successful making a living.

EU: What did their families do in Fukushima?

KK: They were farming a small plot of land, they were farming rice and whatever.

EU: Did they come alone or did brothers and sister come with them?

KK: No, they came alone, just the two of them.

EU: And how old was your father?

KK: My father was 18 years older than my mother,. So he was 26, or something 00:07:00like that, No, not 26 -- 36 -- he was 36.

EU: How many brothers and sisters did you have?

KK: I had two brothers and a sister. So there were 4 of us.

EU: Were they older or younger?

KK: My brother was older, I had an older brother and an older sister.

EU: What year were you born?

KK: I was born in 1926. July 1926.

EU: Then after working for the railroad for eight years, they decided to farm. How did they hear about the Imperial Valley?

KK: Through mutual friends. They knew a lot of Japanese were gathering in the 00:08:00Imperial Valley and starting to farm so they heard about that. So they farmed for, lets see, how many years was that. Since 1913 to 1942, they were farming.

EU: Almost 30 years, 31 years [sic]

KK: And they had no intention of going back to Japan. They loved it here and wanted to stay, so they were successful farmers, and they were happy in America 00:09:00with the food they were producing, So even thought they couldn't become American citizens, they wanted to, but they couldn't. There were still happy over there and to me they were good Americans.

EU: How... You said they had 100 acres, which was a lot. How did they did they start small?

KK: Yes, they started with about 20 acres and it grew to 100 acres. And they were making money, and so in 1936 they made a lot of money. And so they built a 00:10:00new house and bought a new car, and bought new furniture, and threw out the old ones. And so from 1936 they were doing very well, you know. And until when the war broke, they had to move, they had three days.

EU: Do you remember your house?

KK: Yes, it was very nice.

EU: How many rooms was it?

KK: They had, well, we had had two separate houses. One was the bedrooms, we had 00:11:00three bedrooms, 3 big bedrooms. And the other one was the kitchen and dining room. And at that time we got electricity. We never had electricity before '36. And we had gas, so it was very convenient. So the house was fairly new and we had all the farm equipments, tractors, a barn, and everything. Plus we had two 00:12:00cars, one truck and one car. And so we were living pretty good, not really high class, but we were living pretty good.

EU: Did you have to work on the farm?

KK: Yah, I -- that's the reason I didn't go out for sports. I was still in grammar school, of course. I had to come home and work.

EU: Did you work during the summer, too?

KK: Yes, in the summer too. But in the summer time it got too hot, besides the crop was finished in early July. So from there we used to go to LA, Los Angeles, 00:13:00to go on a vacation for a couple of months.

EU: Who did you visit in Los Angeles?

KK: In Los Angeles we had our uncles there, An uncle had a farm, a flower farm, and we stayed there. And my folks helped out on the farm, and got free rent. But, it was a lot cooler in LA and we had no air conditioning at that time, and 00:14:00it was really hot in the Imperial Valley.

EU: Did your parents hire other people?

KK: Oh, yes. We hired Filipino and Mexican workers, especially to harvest the crop. There were a bunch of them. They had their own tent houses that they lived in. But we got along good.

EU: Were there lots of Japanese in that area?

KK: Yah, I think there were like a thousand families there. They were all 00:15:00farmers. Most of them were farmers.

EU: Do you have organizations, like school or church?

KK: Yes, we had a Buddhist church that we were going to. And I got my religious teaching there, and all that. And then when the war broke out, when the Pearl Harbor happened, they signed an order in February to put us all in camp. And by May we had an order from the government saying that we had to pack up and leave 00:16:00everything. They gave us three days. And we could take just what we could just carry. So we had to leave everything. We didn't have time to sell the farm, or sell the crop, or anything. We just packed up with our suitcases and left there.

EU: Did--..So you couldn't sell anything?

KK: We sold the cars for one thing. For $75 for both the car and truck together. We couldn't sell the crop or anything?

EU: Were there many Caucasians around? What was the feeling in the community?


KK: I don't know. We didn't ask anything. We were trying to get help, but nobody wanted to touch it.

EU: How old were you?

KK: I was fourteen. And so we sold the car and truck for $75 and we had to leave the rest, the houses, and the crop was coming out in May. We started harvesting the crop at that time. And it was a bad time when they told us to leave. And so 00:18:00my folks lost everything. They just lost.

EU: Did they talk about it? How did they feel?

KK: They felt like all Japanese do when things like that happen. They call it shigata ga nai - which means "it can't be helped" you know. So they just accepted it. But they lost everything and not only that, but when we were put in camp they lost their stature, because they were the breadwinners and we were living off the farm. And all of a sudden they weren't the breadwinners and so 00:19:00they were dejected about that.

EU: And you, you were fourteen. You had to leave your friends--

KK: Yah, I had to leave my friends. Of course, in those days, farming, our next door neighbor was five miles away so we didn't get too much with our neighbors because they were too far away. But in school, we had our friends there. But, we didn't have a chance to say 'good bye' to anyone, we just left. When we went in camp, I was still, I was only fourteen and all of a sudden, I met a lot of 00:20:00people, in the camp we got a lot of people together, and so it was fun for me, I met a lot of people and we played baseball and everything. But I felt sorry for my folks. They are the ones who suffered the most.

EU: When you went to the camps, where did you go first?

KK: Went to a place called Gila River, Arizona. Which is in the middle of the desert, and really hot in the summer time, so hot. The heat - many people had 00:21:00heat stroke and stuff like that.

EU: Did you have to go -- from the town did you have to go to a gathering place or did you just go from the farm directly to the Gila River?

KK: No, we first went to a place called Tulare Assembly Center, it was just an assembly center, But they turned it-- at Tulare, there was a race track there, a horse race track that they turned the stables into barracks, stables into living quarters for us. So we lived there for seven or eight months in Tulare. There was -- we lived in a stall, a horse stall, and the smell of manure and all that 00:22:00kind of stuff. And we suffered for seven or eight months there.

EU: There were six of you there, your parents and--

KK: Yah, my parents, right--

EU: Were you in one room?

KK: Yes, we were in one stable, so we had no privacy. In fact we had no privacy with the next door neighbor, because the stable had open top, the ceiling, the walls just go up so far and that was it - we could hear what the neighbor was saying.

EU: What did you do during the day?

KK: During the day--

EU: Yah, I mean, for the seven or eight months.

KK: I just fooled around, went to school. They started a school there. We played 00:23:00baseball and stuff like that. -- But, so it was, as far as I'm concerned it was kind of enjoyable, because all of a sudden I didn't have to work on the farm any more. And I had all these friends that I could play with. But, to think back, I felt real sorry for my folks because they were the ones who suffered the most.

Then we were moved to Gila River, 'cause that's a more permanent camp. They built barracks there and everything. So we moved there. But it was so hot there. 00:24:00There were people dying from what they called valley fever. I don't know how you catch it. In fact, it was almost an epidemic there, valley fever. People were just flocking to the hospital there. But they survived that.

But we were only there only about a year in Gila River, because they came out with a questionnaire, a loyalty questionnaire. The government was trying to weed out the disloyal with the loyals. Trying to find out who disloyals was. The two questions were ... One was .. we foreswear any allegiance to the emperor of Japan or other country, and be patriotic to America and all that. And the other 00:25:00question was will you would serve in the military or fight for America if you had to, you know.

Those two questions -- and I was too young to answer those questions, because I was only sixteen and I was underage. You had to be seventeen or older to answer the questions. So I just followed what my parents did. And my parents said if I 00:26:00foreswear the allegiance to Japan, that's my citizen[ship], that's my country, my citizen[ship]. And I can't become an American citizen, so I'll be without a country - a man without a country, and they'll take away my Japanese citizenship. So what am I? Nothing.

And then besides that, they took all my farm and we had nothing left. If I wanted to go back out there, I would have to start all over again. So they decided to put "no", and they put "no-no" on both the questions. And so they were thinking about going back to Japan, because in Japan they had relatives 00:27:00they could live with. But because they put "no-no" on the -- the whole family was shipped to Tule Lake.

EU: This is Part 2.

So Kenge, when you --were starting to talk about your move to Tule Lake. Do you remember --Did you go by train? How did they transport you?

KK: Yes,they took us from the camp they took us on a bus to a train station. And 00:28:00we were on a train to Tule Lake. And got off the train and got back on a bus and took us to camp, to Tule Lake camp. And, when we traveled on the train, the shades were all drawn, we didn't' know where we were going. They didn't tell us where we were going. And we didn't know where we were. But we ended up in Tule Lake. And there were no welcoming us or anybody. We just walked in and barracks 00:29:00were assigned to us

EU: Did you go-- Why did they send you to Tule Lake? Was it because of the "no-no"?

KK: Yes, that was the only reason. And those were trying times because I made a lot of friends there when I was in Gila and had to say good bye to them.. And there among the Japanese, and the Japanese-American, they were sort of divided at that time, the no-no and yes-yes at that time. And there was sort of 00:30:00animosity between the no-nos and the yes-yes people. So that was terrible there.

But when we landed in Tule Lake, we were assigned to -- the barracks there were really bad. Gila River -- they had nice, new barracks there, built, but Tule Lake was an old, a bunch of old barracks with tar paper onthere and holes in the floor so the wind comes through. And the living quarters was very small -- smaller than what we had in Gila River. We had -- oh, I don't know what the size 00:31:00were. But, each barrack was broken into four units and the family was in one unit and we were on the end of the barrack. And we had the largest room because we had six of us. And, but there was no privacy. We had to put a sheet, a bedspread to divide the women and the girls from the men. So we had a little privacy but that was it.


But Tule Lake was a bad camp. There was, just, -- we were all considered disloyals, you know, by the government and we were treated as such. They didn't have much privileges there.

We had curfew, had to be in bed by 9 o'clock and nobody wandered around at night time. And the food was bad; and we had hardly anything to eat. And -- everything was bad. We had to line up for mess hall, for our meals. And then we had to line 00:33:00up for taking a shower. We had separate shower stalls in the bathrooms from our barracks, So we had to walk to the place and then get in line there. A lot of time there were lines. So it was just terrible place all together.

EU: Were you able to bring anything from Gila River?

KK: No, whatever we could carry, that was it.

EU: How was that for your mother? How was it, I mean-- what did she do while she was there?

KK: My mother started working on the farm. They had farms at Tule Lake outside 00:34:00of the camp. They had fields of vegetables and stuff growing. And my mother volunteered for that, worked on the farm. But my father was a janitor for the mess hall. And I was going to school and the kids were all going to school.

But Tule Lake was a very volatile place. They found out that the WRA, the people who was managing the camp, was stealing a lot of our food that was supposed to 00:35:00come to -- like meat, milk, and coffee and stuff like that. And they were selling it on the black market. It was supposed to come to us and we found out about that. And so we started a riot. And then we went to the manager - at that time the management was not fenced off so we could just walk in there. So we went over there and we kind of raised hell a lot and complained about out shortage of food and stuff like that. And they pulled out a couple of guys and 00:36:00beat them up and stuff like that, you know, kind of stuff.

EU: Who was doing the protesting? Were your parents, or your father, or was it mostly young people?

KK: Mostly young people. And people like me, too, and I was still young and it was an excitement. So I got carried away. But it was the young people who started it. They started speaking at different locations in camp; and a lot of time, the people were influenced by the speeches and everybody got riled up. And they said, let's strike and lets do this and riot and stuff like that. And 00:37:00that's how everybody got and opposed to management and complained.

And what the management did, they called the military. There was a military camp right outside Tule Lake and so they called them in and they came in with tanks and guns, all kinds of stuff, and tear gases. And they dispersed the crowd with tear gas, and I was in the middle of all that. (Kenge laughs) And then the military took over the whole camp. They were guarding, going around with their 00:38:00tanks between the barracks, and then they put a curfew on like 8 o'clock. We have to be the barracks by 8 o'clock. And then they were arresting a lot of people, too, who they thought was the leaders and they arrested them.

And then the military delivering our food to the mess hall. And what they did with their trucks was they came up. And all these trucks had machine guns on top, and they stopped by the mess hall and they dropped, from the trucks, they just dropped and the crate broke and the food and all the food were splattered 00:39:00all over. And that's how they delivered it.

And meanwhile, we had a strike. The farm workers had a strike, my mother was on strike with the rest of the farm. And weren't getting any food from the farm.

EU: The food on the farm was intended for the camp?

KK: Yes, for the camp. And we weren't getting any of that, too. And so we were in pretty bad shape. The food was -- so that went on for a few weeks. Then about a month later they went back to normal, you know. The strike was over and the farm products came back in. We were delivering our own food and stuff like that 00:40:00and so it got back to normal.

EU: What did your parents think about you protesting and participating?

KK: My parents were very quiet. They didn't participate or anything like that.

EU: But they didn't stop you.

KK: No, they didn't stop me. (laughs) But they just kind of gave me hell for being such a mischievous person. But I was a -- what I did during the strike was I got on top of the management cars, they had cars, and I smashed the car tops. And all kinds of stuff like that. So that was fun for me.


EU: Did things improve then afterward, food delivery?

KK: Yes, it gradually improved. We had better food. We had our milk, and coffee, and sugar, and then meat. We had a lot of vegetables because of the farm, and we had fruits from the farmers nearby we got oranges and apples and stuff. So it was pretty good afterwards.

EU: DId you ever leave the farm? You said you mother left for the farm-- Did you 00:42:00ever leave for working?

KK: No, I didn't work, I was going to school, so I didn't work. But what happened was that they had this young people's group; they started a club, what they called a club, It was called Seinen-dan. And they were really -- most of them were what they called kibeis. Kibeis were the ones that were born in America but they were sent to Japan before the war and got educated there and they came back. So they, a lot of them were pro-Japanese and they wanted to go back to Japan and all that stuff. And so they started this club. But they were a 00:43:00very powerful organization. They ruled the camp 'cause everyone was afraid of them. And they were all a bunch of young people and they were all judo experts and stuff like that. And if they thought somebody was either snitching on them or they were against them, they pulled them out of the barracks and beat them up, and things like that. So people were afraid of them. They became powerful in camp and they started to rule everything, like baseball games, they started to rule everything.

And then they started this Japanese school. We had this Japanese school there. And I was --. My folks told me to go to the Japanese school. But the Japanese 00:44:00school was very pro-Japanese/Japan. The teachers were all gung-ho Japan, and so they were trying to instill the Japanese into us. And so I was going to English school during the day and then after school I was going to Japanese school

EU: Did you speak Japanese growing up?

KK: Yes, because my parents were speaking Japanese. But, it got me kind of mixed up, because at the English school they were teaching patriotism and America. And I would go to the Japanese school - they were teaching you Japan. So I was so torn between the two. And, I think a lot of people were like that, too.


And, then the worst part was, the organization, the Seinen-dai, the young people's group, they influenced us to renounce our citizenship and go back to Japan and renounce their citizenship -- the American citizenship. So They were going around telling everybody you're going to go back to Japan, go to Japan. You got to renounce your citizenship so you become strictly Japanese. citizens. And they went around influencing everybody to renounce their citizenship. And fortunately I was too young to renounce my citizenship. But my sister and my 00:46:00older brother renounced their citizenship because of the influence from them. And it was also the fault of the government, because the government put an amendment to the constitution that you could renounce your citizenship if you desired to and that made it all the worse. And my brother and my sister renounced their citizenship. Because at that time we all thought we were all going back to Japan, that they would deport us to Japan.

So towards the end of the war my father was thinking of going back to Japan and 00:47:00taking the family with him. That's when my sister stood up for her rights.

EU: This was your older sister?

KK: Yes, she was the oldest

EU: What was her name?

KK: Toshi -- Toshiko. And she says, I don't want to go back to Japan, to Japan. Because there's nothing there. They are losing the war. And we'll be starving over there and we won't have a job or we won't be accepted in Japan to start with. And she says, I'm not going, us kids, she was speaking about us. She never discussed it with us kids. But she says, us kids are going to stay, you folks 00:48:00can go back. She was a strong woman.

EU: How old was she at this time?

KK: She was about twenty-one, twenty-two, something like that. And so she stood our grounds and my father who was -- the Japanese custom is that the woman has less of a place. And besides being a daughter speaking against her parents, he was just astonished. But he thought it over, and says the family should stick together so we'll go with you guys. And that was when the government said we could go out, either go to Japan or go outside. We had a choice.


EU: What year was this?

KK: This was 1945.

EU: The war was over.

KK: Yes, by the time the government said we could go out, the war was finished already. So when my sister said that, then my father thought it over and said we better stay, too, so that's when they decided to stay.

EU: What did your older brother think?

KK: He thought the same way, he thought to stay here.

EU: But they had renounced their citizenship?

KK: Yah, they had renounced their citizenship already.

EU: Could they get it back then?

KK: No, not at that time. So they had no citizenship. So but when we came out, 00:50:00when we were released my sister and my brother stayed behind because they couldn't get out because of their renunciation. But the rest of us went.

I just graduated high school then, that was the last graduating class there. And I thought, hey, you know, I graduated school, it's about time I go out on my own. So I heard about this -- like in Sacramento there was a camp there taking in all the ex-internees and this was out on a farm and they make you work on a farm and so I said I'm going to go there, you know. But my folks said they're gonna go somewhere else and they went to southern California to work on a farm.


EU: But what happened to their farm then in Imperial Valley?

KK: Oh, nothing. They couldn't get it back anymore.

EU: Couldn't get it back.

KK: No. Everything was lost. And, so they went to southern California to work on a farm. They were just working there.

EU: Working for..

KK: Yes, they were working for American, Caucasian farmers. I went to Sacramento and worked for Caucasian farmers there, but this camp was set up there, so--

EU: You said - your older brother and sister they had to stay--

KK: Yes, they had to stay in camp for a while, but they came out eventually.

EU: What about your younger sister, younger ..?

KK: Brother, yes he went with my father, the family. But they ended up -- my 00:52:00sister was married by then.

EU: Your older sister?

KK: She got married in camp and so she went, they went to Fresno to work on a grape farm there. And I went to Sacramento, and I was seventeen, I was going to be eighteen, and I worked on a farm. Umm, this was for a couple of years, I guess, I worked on a farm.

And I was writing letters to my folks, and my folks says you know we're having a hard time over here because we're hardly making any money. And we can't buy 00:53:00food, 'cause they won't sell us any food or the stores are all closed to us, they don't want to sell anything to us. They don't want to sell to Japs. So my folks had to travel about fifty miles to the next town to buy food and stuff like that. So they were having a hard time and besides my mother had what they call phyria or something -- she had to take out all her teeth and all that stuff. And so they were in bad shape.

And meanwhile I was working in Sacramento and I was working without any day off, I was working seven days a week. And I had no chance of going to a bank, so I 00:54:00was hiding all my money under the mattress. So I told my family to come to Sacramento there's a lot of work here on the farm and there's no prejudice. So that's what they did. They came over. And when they came over they were flat broke, they had a few dollars in their pocket, that was it. And I took the money out from under my mattress, I had about $4,000. And that's a lot of money in those days, you know, and I gave it to them. I saw tears in my mother's eyes, you know.


EU: That's a lot of money--

KK: Any time I got the money I just -- I got paid cash so I just put it under my mattress because I didn't know where to put it, you know.

So we started farming - working on the farm there as a family, as a whole family. And we got enough money to -- So they wanted to start their own farm, so they went back to LA, near LA to a place called Carson, and started a farm there.

EU: Carson?

KK: Yes, Carson. It used to be called Dominguez Hills. And they started a small farm there.

EU: So they used your money to buy -- Could they buy the land at that time?


KK: No, still they had to lease the land. But they bought equipment and everything with the money and started a farm.

EU: What kinds of -- was it vegetables or what kinds of things --

KK: Yes, it was a vegetable farm. Cabbages and celery and stuff like that.

EU: Why don't we, before we stop again, tell me the names. What were your parents' names?

KK: My mother's name was Nobu, N-O-B-U Kobayashi. And my father's name was Kihei K-I-H-E-I. And --

EU: Older brother?

KK: My older brother was George. Any my older sister was Toshi. And my younger 00:57:00brother was Sam.

EU: So your sister and you had Japanese names. But then George ..

KK: Yes, George. I don't know why called him George. But he died a few years ago. He died of a liver chirosis. He was an alcoholic. My sister and my brother, younger brother are still living. They're in California.

EU: This is Part 3 of the interview with Kenge Kobayashi. Kenge, why don't you 00:58:00talk a little bit about your experiences at Tule Lake.

KK: Well, at that time I -- all of us went to the high school and so that was the English school But then they started this Japanese school, too. So I went to the high school during the day and then right after class I went to the Japanese school. So I had schooling all day, from morning to night. And it's kind of funny because in the English school they teach you Americanism, you know, about 00:59:00being patriotic to the United States. But when I go to the Japanese school they had these pro-Japanese teachers that tell you about Japan and how you had to be loyal to this and that. So my feeling was getting kind of mixed up because one side was saying loyal to America and the other side saying loyal to Japan. So I was torn between them.

But the English school was run very lenient. It was very easy. I never studied for the English school. They were just classes and teach you the regular stuff. 01:00:00To me it was so boring because it was just -- everything was just like the history was just there it was nothing spectacular. But in the Japanese school they teach you history and geography and all that stuff, and they pound it into you and you had to do a lot of studying. So I studied mostly for the Japanese school at home. And I found that the Japanese history was very interesting, you know, because of the warrior days, and the samurai days. They had very 01:01:00interesting history. So I was very interested in that. But I was still torn between the English school and the Japanese school. And I didn't know what to do about that. But my father was planning to go back to Japan at that time, so, and he was expecting us kids to go with him, so all that was - the Japanese school all of a sudden became pretty important because if you're going to live in Japan you had to know Japanese. So I wanted to study more harder in Japanese classes 01:02:00than and it was more one-sided at that time.

Did I talk about my sister already?

EU: You said your sister talked to your parents and convinced them to stay.

KK: Did I say that already? Oh, I did, OK. So I was prepared to go to Japan with the kids, but after my sister talked to my parents, she saved the day for me because I never wanted to go to Japan. Cause I never been there and didn't know what the country was all about, or what. Besides I felt at that time that I was more American than Japanese. And so I'm glad she spoke up and made us stay here.


EU: Later on I know you became a graphic artist. Did you do painting or drawing when you were in the camp?

KK: I did a lot of painting in camp, especially pen drawings I did in camp. I painted a lot of pictures of camp life, and the guards, and the scenery around there. But I lost it all cause we moved so many times and it got lost in the shuffle. But I wish I still had them.

EU: Do you ever think of drawing them again from memory?

KK: Yes, I did a couple of things from memory. And I have them at home. So I 01:04:00show it once in a while when I speak to classes or high school or middle school. I take the pictures with me to show them graphically what.. So--

EU: When did you realize that you had a talent for art?

KK: Oh, I always loved art, all my life. In fact, when I was in the Imperial Valley, I used to draw all the time, and my mother used to get mad at me because I didn't do my homework. I was drawing instead of doing my homework, so she was getting mad at me. But later on, after we moved to the farm in LA, I was 01:05:00thinking of going to art school, you know. So I told my mother that, and my mother got mad at me, says, you was going to end up doing paintings on the street corner and ..sario?? painting. And I said, no, it's not like that, you know. So, anyway, I went to school, started when we were in LA and I started school there.

But when the Korean thing came up, the Korean War started to come up. I was drafted into the army.


EU: What year was this?

KK: This was 1948, I think it was '48. The war didn't start yet, I don't think. But it was just ?? , they were having trouble and they started drafting people. And I was drafted and I went into the army and was in there for about a year and a half when they decided to, if you army draftees, if you wanted to go out, you could go out. But you had to be in the reserves, the active reserves. So I chose that and I got out in about a year and a half. And when I was out, I started a school, the Art Center School, that's in Pasadena now and was going to that. 01:07:00Then the Korean War started and they activized all the reserves, again. And so I was right back in there again. And I had to quit school and go to the army.

EU: What did you do in the army?

KK: Oh, I was in the, what they call, it the radar section. I was put in the 01:08:00anti-aircraft battalion, and they picked a couple people from the battalion, to go to school, and I was chosen, I don't why they but chose me to go to school. So I went to school, I was in Washington, Ft. Lewis, Washington. And they send me to Ft. Bliss, Texas, for the schooling there. And that's where I learned about radar, computer, and what they call acquired direction center, and ??? and all that. They taught that.


And after I graduated, they sent me back to Ft. Lewis to join my outfit. But when I went back the outfit had gone, they went to Korea, and I missed the boat by about three days. You know, they, the military they don't know what one arm is doing to, with the other. So they thought I belonged to that outfit, so I was sent back there. But all of a sudden, I found out they were gone. So they made me an instructor in Ft. Lewis, Washington. I was an instructor of radar and all that stuff.

And, then after a couple of years I was released. This was in 1951 or 1952 01:10:00maybe, I don't know, anyway, about that time. I came out again. And I started school again, the Art Center School. And I got married, in 1952 I got married. But I was still going to the school.

EU: Where was that school? In Los Angeles?

KK: In Los Angeles -- called Art Center College. And that's where I learned about graphics and design and all that stuff. Then I graduated in 1956 -graduated, and I was on the honor roll.


And that's when we, I, at that time there were not much jobs in LA in advertising. So I went to Chicago and I took my family. I had a couple of kids by then.

EU: What was your wife's name?

KK: Mary. And she was in Manzanar, camp Manzanar. But anyway, I met her during the military when I was on one of my furloughs. And so we got married in 1952. By the time we went to Chicago we had a couple of kids already - my oldest daughter and my son. And then when we got married, when I graduated the art 01:12:00school, went to Chicago because that's where the jobs were, you know. We spent about eleven years in Chicago. I was working for an advertising agency in Chicago.

EU: Just to get back to the school. Did you go to the school on the GI Bill?

KK: Yes, I went on the GI Bill, otherwise I couldn't have gone to that school. Even at that time that school was so costly, that you had to be rich to go to that school. But there were a lot of us people in the military that went on the GI Bill. So they paid for the tuition plus all the materials, and everything, so 01:13:00that was great.

EU: How did you like Chicago?

K: Well, Chicago, well, I loved he work cause it was big time. But the weather was so bad. It was so cold in winter time, and hot in the summer. But, I loved it there, I liked it. And most of my kids were born there. I had five kids then, and they all seemed to love it there, too. They played out in the snow and stuff. But I loved it there, because of the work. The work was very, very interesting. Because I was really advertising for big time people, for big clients.


But my wife was unhappy, cause she missed all her friends from LA. And besides she was a housewife so she didn't make many friends, and she was lonely, I guess.

EU: Was there a Japanese-American community in Chicago?

KK: Well, there was a little, but we didn't associate with them so much. So I knew how she felt, so this friend of mine said I could find a job in LA. So I said, I'll take it. So that's when we moved back. And my wife was so happy at that time.

But it wasn't very long after that that she got cancer, ovarian cancer. And she 01:15:00died in 1972. So I lost my first wife to cancer and I already had seven kids by then.

EU: Why don't you tell us the names of your kids.

KK: Oh, their names? The youngest is Sab, Saburo, English name is Luke. Then the second one is Jiro, David, Jiro David; the third one is Terry, Teruko, Japanese name; then Julie, Joyce, Mark, and Joanne. There are seven of them.


EU: Did they all have Japanese and American names?

KK: Yes, the all had Japanese names. But the oldest ones had English names - they were Catholic, cause we were all Catholic. And I named them Japanese names. So they all were either Catholic names or Japanese names. And, so I..

EU: But, they were very young when their mother died.

KK: Oh, ya, they were very young. In fact the youngest one, Sab, was a baby. That's how they found out she had cancer, they had to open her up and found cancer there. But, they ranged from, the oldest one is 50 something years old 01:17:00already, and she's retired and living in Tennessee. And then the rest are in LA.

EU: How did you raise them?

KK: Well, I had my mother-in-law was living nearby who was helping out. She was talking care of the baby mostly while I was at work and stuff. But it was a struggle, you know, because, my oldest was doing all the cooking. And she was 01:18:00having a rough time.

EU: What about your parents? Where they still living?

KK: Yes, they were still living in, but they were in Gardenia which is too far away, so they couldn't' help.

EU: Were they retired?

KK: Yes, they were all retired by then. So it was my mother-in-law who was helping most of the time.

And so after she died, it was in 1980 that I got married to my second wife. She got what you call angina attack, it's like a heart attack. And so, because there 01:19:00was so much pressure between her work - she was a supervisor at a big company in LA. And she had three kids of her own. She was divorced. So there were all these kids at home. And it was a lot of pressure on her, so she had this angina attack. So I said why don't we just move out here. By that time the kids all were old enough to go out on their own. And she said, ya, OK. And I says how about moving up north like to Oregon. I heard about Eugene, so we could stop there and if we don't like it there we could keep moving up to Portland or 01:20:00somewhere. And she said ya, OK. And so we came up to Eugene and we liked it so much that we stayed in Eugene.

EU: What was her name?

KK: Miya.

EU: How did you meet her?

KK: Through a friend.

EU: Is she from Los Angeles?

KK: She's from San Diego. But at that time she was in Los Angeles. She was divorced and had three kids. So I married her in 1980. And in 1989 we moved up here.


EU: What kind of work were you doing in Los Angeles?

KK: I was working for an advertising agency. Then after a while I became a free-lance artist, doing free-lance work. But it was a struggle because we had big payments for the house and everything. We bought a new house for a pretty high price and we had to pay payments.

EU: In Los Angeles?

KK: Yes, in Los Angeles, in a place called Arcadia. Where there was the Santa Anita racetrack. It was a nice home, a pretty big home. We had four bedrooms. And we turned our living room into a fifth bedroom, because we had to 01:22:00accommodate all the kids. By that time the older ones all left -- Joanne, Mark, Julie, Joyce -- they all moved out. So we only had, how many kids, I don't know. But we still had her three kids and my four kids. So it was a tight squeeze. But we had a nice home there. We sold it for a profit, a good profit and moved up here.

EU: You moved up here in 1989. Did you continue working here in Eugene?

KK: No, well, I retired. Before I came here I retired. I took an early retirement, at 62. I took a retirement. So I was retired and.. . But she started 01:23:00work here and I was doing nothing for a whole year or a couple of years before I started working myself. But when I started working at that time we had to pay back the social security money, we made so much. Until the age of 70 if you work you had to pay back social security, so I was paying, half of my salary was going back to social security, So I said - wait. So I quit and I started 01:24:00teaching. I liked you know, painting. I had all the schooling, so why not teach. So I started teaching. So I've been teaching twice a week for, I don't know how many years now, for five or six years now.

EU: Where did you teach?

KK: At the Peterson Barn? Do you know where that is?

EU: Peterson Barn - on River Road?

KK: It's off of Highway 99, on Royal Street. I enjoy it.

EU: What do you teach?

KK: Oh, water olor painting.


EU: So while you were working you continued your own painting?

KK: Ya, as soon as I moved up here I started taking classes, watercolor classes. Because I've been painting or drawing for my work, I was doing all that layouts and stuff so I was drawing all along. So watercolor came easy to me, I started doing that. Then after a few years after taking different classes, I said, why not teach because, I learned everything in high school, you know, all the basic way of drawing things. So why not just teach. So that's what I did.

EU: Are you still teaching?


KK: Ya, uh hah.

EU: What kinds of things do you paint -- scenery, people?

KK: Oh, everything, I could paint people, scenery, still life, flowers, whatever you want, I could paint, animals. But, I felt that with my knowledge I could teach where other teachers here, they know watercolor, but they don't know too much about perspective, or composition, or stuff like that. I know all that so I thought I could teach.


EU: OK, this is part 4 of the Kenge Kobayashi oral history. Kenge I wanted to continue to asking you about art. Is your art influenced by Japanese art, or is it more western art, or a combination?

KK: Well, it's more western art. But I guess I'm influenced by Japanese art, Japanese brush painting a little bit, but not that much, just mostly western.

EU: You mentioned before that you speak sometime to school children about the camp experience. Can you talk about that?


KK: Yes, every once and a while I get called upon to talk about my experience to classes. So I've been lecturing in high schools, middle schools, and college, the UO, I've talked there quite a few times. And I've also talked to OSU, Oregon State. Then I went to Portland once to talk over there. I just get these calls and they want me to talk about it. I went to Cottage Grove last year and talked to the high school students there. But every time I talk, people listen very.., 01:29:00they are very interested in what I have to say. They listen intently, and they all give me a great applause, theyeven shake my hand after the lecture is over. And they really appreciate my talking about things like that. And so it's really gratifying.

EU: When you speak to them, what is the message, what do you want them to learn?

KK: I want them to learn what could happen to any group of people if you let them. The government makes mistakes like that. And they do whatever they want, and it could be unconstitutional. So you got to be vigilant over what they do, 01:30:00and try to fight for your rights, you know. If they go off the track and do something like that, like the present administration currently doing a lot of shady things like wire taping and stuff like that. You got to be careful. And then they arrest people like the Arabs and then all that stuff. And sometimes they get off the Bill of Rights and constitution, so you got to stop them from doing that. So I teach them to be aware of all those things that happen. It 01:31:00could happen to you, you know to anybody else. So that's the message I want to carry to them.

EU: And people have very receptive to that.

KK: Ya, oh ya, they're very receptive. They really appreciate what I said, and all that. But as Japanese-Americans, we were put in camps and all that because they thought they were a lot of sabatours or spies among us, and so they put us all in camp without realizing they were breaking the constitution. And they use 01:32:00the words "in time of war" , you know, the military has the say so. But that's not true because we are Americans and we had the rights like anybody else. So we had to be vigilant about what the government does, you know. Let's see, what else.

EU: Were you involved with the reparations, in the 1980?

KK: No, I wasn't involved with that, but I was for that. And that proved that, the reparations proved in court that the government was wrong. They said it was 01:33:00"military necessity" but it wasn't, but it was to racism, you know. So that is why they gave us the reparations.

What's sad about the reparations is that I was still young, I was only like seventeen, sixteen - seventeen in camp. And it was almost enjoyable there. But my folks are the ones who lost everything. They lost the farm. They lost everything. And they died before the reparation was given. The reparations was in 1988, and they died in 1960s and 70s. So they didn't get any of that. And 01:34:00there were many people like, who died before the civil liberty was signed. And they're the ones who deserved the most, cause they lost everything. So in that way I thought it was unfair, you know.

EU: Were your parents bitter or angry?

KK: No, they weren't. They lived as the Japanese saying "shigata ga nai," it can't be helped. They took it all in stride, you know, but I really felt sorry for them.

That's why I want to talk about the memorial a little bit. That's why we decided 01:35:00to build a memorial in front of the Hult Center. We're in the process of getting enough money and everything. But it's gonna be about the Japanese-American internment. There are about 50 different artists that submitted ideas. Two of us were picked, I was one of them, and the other guy is from Idaho, David Clemons was the other one. He's the one that came up with the statue about a little girl playing with a butterfly on top of the suitcases where they were gonna be 01:36:00shipped to a camp from there. So the whole project is called "Forced Journey, 1942." The Hult Center was the site of where they registered to go in to camp. So it has significance, putting it in front of the Hult Center. And it's this statue is gonna to be there in the front.

And then in the back, toward the back, is gonna be my design which is three rocks, three big rocks. And the first rock is gonna have a picture of three people who fought the reparations, not the reparations, but the internment. They 01:37:00were a couple of lawyers, one of them was Min Yasui. He's a graduate, a UO graduate law student. And he [thought] that the government was wrong in putting us in camp, so he says, I'm not going in camp. And so he and these other two guys that's on the [monument] Korematsu, Hirabayashi, and Yasui -- those three people resisted the internment so they were put in jail for two years. And so they brought the case up again in the '70s and they won. So their name was 01:38:00cleared. So then we started thinking, hey, if they won, well how about the rest of us, the other 120,000 people who were put in camp. We had the same rights so we, the whole, the 120,000 people took the government to court and they won in 1988. So that's where the reparations came from. OK, that's the first rock.

The second rock, is about - I want to talk a little bit about the issei, which is the first generation Japanese. They came from Japan, and they came over here, and they worked hard all their lives. And when the war came out, everything was taken away from them and most of them lost all their property. And so it shows 01:39:00the whole family there behind barbed wire and the guard tower behind them. So that represents them. And besides the site in front of the Hult Center is gonna be a Japanese garden. Because my father and mother who, when we were in camp built a little garden in front of the barracks to make it look more homey. And so that's why I decided to make the whole site in front of the Hult Center a Japanese garden to dedicate it to them, the issei, the first generation. So 01:40:00that's the middle rock.

The third rock is a GI in front of -- a soldier in front of the flag. It's about all the people from Hawaii and also who volunteered from these camps that we were in, these prison camps we were in, and volunteered to form this all-Japanese-American military unit. And they fought in Europe, and there they [were] the most highly decorated unit in American history. And they sacrificed their lives for America, to prove that America was wrong in putting them in 01:41:00prison, putting us in prison. So they proved their loyalty with their lives and blood. And then there's these -- also the MIS, what they called MIS, which is the military intelligence. They fought in the Pacific, they were people who decoded the Japanese messages, and they interrogated the prisoners. Most of them were fighting like just like the rest of the Americans and they died, a lot of them died. And so that's the other flag. So that's the three units that I wanted to show in my design. So they represent what happened to us in camp.


EU: When will this memorial be finished?

KK: We're aiming for February 19th, which will be when the dedication will be. Because February 19 is the 65th anniversary of when President Roosevelt signed the order to put us all in camp.

EU: Have you drawn these paintings already?

KK: Yes, I've drawn them.

The statue is a little girl, and they're making the face like this little girl 01:43:00who was Min Yasui's sister from Hood River. So they're replicating that girl in that statue. And then they, on my rocks, the soldier is -- we're gonna to use Kenny Namba who is a 442nd veteran from Portland, he lives in Portland now. So he's goinna represent the Japanese military.

EU: And this family in camp?

KK: Oh, that could be anybody -- a family.


But this, the memorial, in the back of this brochure had Senator [Daniel] Inouye, who was all in favor of it, [Representative] Peter Defazio, Kitty Piercy [mayor of Eugene], [Sid] Leiken [mayor of Springfield] -- they all have a statement written in back. And then also [Governor] Ted Kulongoski, State Senator William Morrisette, Oregon State Superintendent of Public Education Susan Castillo, 4J School Superintendent of Schools George Russell. They all endorsed this project.


EU: I imagine there's going to be a big celebration in February.

KK: Ya, the dedication, And I can assure you all the 442nd veterans are gonna be here mostly from Hood River and Portland. I had a luncheon with Kenny Namba, he's a good friend, and he's on the committee, our Japanese-American internment committee. And he's gathered all the 442nd people from around the area in Oregon. I had a luncheon with them and there were like, I don't know, about 01:46:00fifteen of the veterans there with their wives. It was a very humbling experience for me. Because I saw all these old people -- a lot of them were injured. This Kenny Namba, his brother was killed in the 442nd, in the war. But to see all these people almost brought tears to my eyes. But one of -- and then I had my paintings there, the paintings on the rocks, and it was about this big. And I told them to sign it, all the veterans to sign it, so they did. And after I brought it home I looked at it and I saw one signature and it says his name 01:47:00and Company I. Company I. And I looked at it and I have a book on it on the Company I of the 442nd Company I. And the book was called "And Then There Was Only Eight" -- that's the name of the book. I read the book and it says out of 250 people in the I Company, just the I Company, there were only eight left. And he's one of them, the guy who signed it.

EU: Do you remember his name?

KK: No, I forgot his name, but I got it at home. Then Kenny Namba's outfit, he 01:48:00was is L Company. They had only very few left, they only had about 15 or 16 people left. Most of them died, was killed saving the Lost Battalion, they called it the Lost Battalion, Texas. They lost 800 men to save 200 people from the Texans.

OK, that's it.

EU: Well, thank you Kenge.

KK: Thank you.

EU: This is Elizabeth Uhlig and I'm talking with Kenge Kobayashi in his home in 01:49:00Eugene. Today is August 11, 2007. And Kenge is talking about his paintings. Kenge, can you start and talk about the painting in camp?

KK: I did a lot of paintings in camp -- I was in camp, I was 15 years old. But I lost it all with all the moves we made. The paintings I have now is something I did about 5 years ago out of memory, my own memory. It's just a painting of our camp, mountain in the background, the barracks, the people, the guard towers.

EU: This is in Tule Lake?


KK: In Tule Lake, yes..

EU: Who are the people in the painting, anyone in particular?

KK: No, just some people walking. And I just wanted to show the bleakness of the barracks that we lived in and the barbed wire and the guard tower.

EU: What kind of statement did you want to make?

Kk: Well, I just wanted to show what we were up against in World War II. And just wanted to show how we were living under guard by the soldiers who were watching. To show that we were actually prisoners of war, because the guards 01:51:00were keeping their guns pointed at us so we won't escape And we had all those high fences that was keeping us from running, taking off from camp. So it was just a miserable feeling, when you have all the things guarding you and you don't have the freedom of doing whatever you wanted. It's a feeling of you being a prisoner, you know.

EU: When did you paint this painting?


KK: I just painted it about five years ago.

EU: About 2002?

KK: Yah, I just thought I wanted to paint something that I remembered. And so it's all done by memory.

EU: Is it a watercolor?

KK: Yes, it's a watercolor.

EU: Is that the medium you generally paint in today, watercolor?

KK: Yes, yes. EU: OK, and then. This other, this picture of the two boys? Can you talk about that?

KK: They're my grandkids. The two boys are very close friends, they're cousins. But they are very close friends. So they were arm in arm. This is during when we were out camping, out in the woods. So I entered that into the Mayor's Art Show, 01:53:00and it got the grand prize, the Mayor's Art Show prize. So I'm kinda proud of that.

EU: What year was that? Do you remember?

KK: That was 19 -- about four years ago.

EU: Four years ago, so about 2003?

KK: Yes.

EU: What are your grandsons' names?

KK: Ryan and Adam.

EU: And where was that displayed? Where was the Mayor's Art Show?

KK: In Springfield. This is the Springfield Mayor's Art Show.

EU: OK. And then we took a picture of you sitting at your desk there with your 01:54:00painting and your brushes. Could you, so you said now you mostly do watercolors?

KK: Yes. And I teach watercolor at Peterson Barn and at Lane Community College. So I teach watercolor three hours a day. And so it's an enjoyment I have in my retirement.

EU: What kinds of things do you usually paint? What are your themes?

KK: I like to paint anything in Oregon, because Oregon's such a pretty place. So I do a lot of scenery painting, like lighthouses or bridges of Oregon Coast, and 01:55:00the forest, and then animals And then I also do portraits of all my grandkids which I have eight-nine of them, nine grandkids.

EU: When, do you make these paintings always in your studio here or do you go out in nature and paint?

KK: Most of the time I go out and take pictures, photographs of and then I bring it home and I paint. I paint either at home or in class, 'cause I do a demonstration in class and I usually paint whatever the photographs I took.


EU: And then who are your students? Are they of all ages?

KK: Yes, they are of all ages. Mostly, most of the people in my classes are retired. But there are a lot of young ones, high school - college age. But so I have a variety of people and a variety of talent. So that makes it interesting for me.

EU: How would you compare, like the teenagers or the young people with retired people? How, do, is it, the way they paint, is it that different?

KK: Oh, yah, it's a lot different. The young people, they are not afraid to take chances and so they do, you know, something that's not, it's not ordinary. They 01:57:00do weird things, and designs, and whatever they want to do they do. But the older people are more conventional, they paint pictures that they took photographs of. Or they're very conservative, very conservative, afraid to put down colors and all that, and so it they are good, though, there are some very good painters in our class. But it takes time for them to get the idea. But the young people they take chances so they're good already. But I enjoy teaching 01:58:00because - they keep me alive. I'm now 81 years old and I think by doing this it keeps me alive.

EU: OK. Thank you very much.