Richard Koyama screenshot

Video interview with Richard Koyama

In this video interview conducted at the Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Washington’s Northwest Nikkei Museum, Richard Koyama talks about his families experience in Tule Lake and Minidoka. He discusses artwork by his maternal grandfather Eikichi Hara, and his father George S. Koyama.

My name is Richard Koyama, I’m from Portland Oregon but my parents used to live in Seattle, we still have the family house here in Seattle. I am one of four siblings in my parents’ family. Just as a bit of coverage for internment, anyway, my parents were interned first at Tule Lake and then moved about a year afterwards to Minidoka. My family was actually interned at Tule Lake together with at least one set of grandparents, and numerous siblings of my parents all at the same place. So my cousins were there as well in Tule Lake.

While at Tule Lake and at Minidoka my father actually worked he was able to leave the camp and work locally. I’m not sure of the details of how that worked out but at the end of the war my parents elected to stay in the United States. And by the way my father was a Japanese citizen so I’m not really sure if he was subject to the two questions. You know the No-No’s and the Yes-Yes’s. I never got into any detailed discussion of that issue with him so I can’t say. But I have a feeling that he was moved to, that he and his family was moved to Minidoka because he had no intention of going back to Japan. Whereas my grandparents, my cousins and all of my father and mothers siblings elected to go back to Japan after the war. So that’s really in a nut shell the story of our internment at Tule Lake and Minidoka

My father was actually a car mechanic in White River Valley. My parents lived in a little crook in the road which joined Auburn and Renton. In fact the road is still there and I bet the crook in the road is still there as well. I was born in Auburn Washington; at least I was born in an hospital in Auburn Washington. My mother was pregnant when we were interned with my brother so my brother was born in camp. So he would have been born in September of 1942, I think, so we were already in camp at that time. My mother was a homemaker in Auburn, and just as a point of historical perspective, my father worked for a man named Mizuno and he had a garage on the crook of that road there, Mizuno Garage. Probably the pioneers would still remember that place, but most of the pioneers are gone I’d say.

Going back further my grandfather on my mother’s side was a farmer in Yakima. As I was telling you earlier he made several trips across the pacific always to come back to Yakima to do his farming. Evidently it was economically more feasible to do that then to do farming in Japan but I don’t know the details to that part of the story.

My father made the dresser drawer, this six door dresser. And the back panel of that drawer has the address of their location in Minidoka. I believe, that could have been made, I think it was probably made in Minidoka, but it could have been made from the crate that housed their possessions in shipment from Tule Lake to Minidoka, that’s why it’s got that address on there.

There is a card table, a 3×3 card table, and a smaller tray that were made by my grandfather. My grandfather made those defiantly in Tule Lake because he never moved from Tule Lake. But obviously he was interested in wood work but as he liked to say, he was a farmer. But he liked to do woodwork, and I like to do woodwork so perhaps I inherited some of his genes. I don’t know the stories of how he got these materials, because obviously materials like that are hard to come by in a place like Tule Lake. But I also know he did other things with his hands, for example he had a stump, it was a hollowed out stump, sawed off at the top, it was mostly burled, but from the stories I heard from my parents and my mother the stump was something that they, that he simply did with his hands, he may have done some carving on it, but mostly, all he did was rub it. So this piece of burled stump was a highly polished piece of stump. Now unfortunately that piece of work is in California with my brother who was born in camp so I wouldn’t be able to show that. But that could have been another piece that we could have had for the show.

Since camp they’ve all come, well from camp, back to Seattle. My parents moved back to Seattle some time in 1945. We lived for a year with my second cousins and then we moved to Washington Street for probably about ten years, at least ten years. This was right near Wilson Junior High school. And then at that point my parents bought a house on Lake Washington Boulevard. So I am well aware of the fact that these pieces were with us during all of those moves. So these pieces have been in our family for all those years.

Well my mother died a few years ago so effectively the siblings acquired these pieces. We fondly say that we jointly own all of these pieces. In fact these pieces are still rattling around in my mother’s house, which we still retain. And unfortunately none of the siblings have carted them away and put them up in display pieces. Although some of the other things, some of the artifacts have scattered to our respective homes. But these pieces we’ll probably, eventually take them to our individual homes, we just don’t know yet.

I’ve always known what their origins were. Camp for us was, I was probably three or four years old when I first went to camp, and I knew about these things as originating in camp but you know my parents really never talked about camp as a piece of experience in their lives. It obviously was a piece of experience in their lives, but not something they talked about.

Well mostly I think the dresser drawers I think are strictly utilitarian. I’m sure everybody needed a place to store things in the camp barracks. My grandfather on the other hand probably was an artist at heart, and so he liked to do things with his hands. And that’s what those were, because we have a number of those trays, there are probably at least a half dozen of those trays that exist. There’s only one table though, but there are a number of trays which are scattered about.

You know it makes me wonder where he got the materials, because they are all appropriate for what he was doing. It is interesting to note that there were a lot of craftsmen in these camps. Many not probably professional artists or anything, just people who like to do things with their hands, and that’s how they’d spend a lot of their time.

Yeah it is certainly a good idea to show them and I was very glad to hear that the Seattle JCC was going to do this because we have some pieces in Seattle, for that purpose.

I suspect that most people have bad memories of being in camp but they also have to have some good memories of being in camp. It is probably not the best of their times, but on the other hand it is a piece of their life and there is no way to give it away or take it back. You know so that’s part of their life and something they have to live with.

I have been to Tule Lake. I went there with my daughter and wife one year and actually my daughter has been there again. We still have yet to attend the one to Minidoka; we plan to do so sometime, but not this year. We’re always busy in June.

Well the reason I offered my impressions here is because I am the oldest in the family. I do have a younger sister living in Seattle still, but she has no experience with the camp because she wasn’t there. She was born after our parents moved back to Seattle, but we thank you for the opportunity to show these pieces in your show.