Video interview with Hide Tachibana
In this video interview conducted at the Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Washington’s Northwest Nikkei Museum, Hide Tachibana shares her stories of her grandparents.
My name is Hide Tachibana these are objects which my grandparents Reichi and Shiwa Okumatsu brought from Minidoka camp.
They were originally living in Walnut Grove, California; they were living with my paternal uncle and aunt, my dad’s brother and sister in law. My uncle George Okumatsu was a physician and when the relocation order came ordinarily he would of gone to a California camp where his friends and neighbors went, but because they were lacking doctors in the Washington area he received orders to come to Washington. My grandparents had always lived with them so they drove from Sacramento to Washington. I have a copy of the letter that they received from a general giving them permission to be on the road. So they came to Washington, they were in Puyallup and then subsequently they went to Minidoka and spent their time there.
So these objects which I have are just things that were given to them, probably by friends, maybe some of my uncle’s patients, so I don’t know who the artists are, I don’t have any background on them at all.
Oh I am sure they did. I’m sure my grandfather probably used the canes. Probably from the size of it, my grandfather was kind of tall, so he might of used, probably the cane. And when they came to live with us then for a short time he brought me this little chest of drawers. So I’ve always had it since 1944 or something like that.
Well an interesting side note. They were probably the only people who were in camp and they wanted to come out of camp. And my family lived in Minnesota, I was born and raised in Minnesota, so we did not have to relocate. Actually we were one of two Japanese families in St Paul Minnesota. There were our two families and then there were three men who were cooks for the railroad. So we did not have to relocate, although we had the FBI experience. Anyway my grandfather and grandmother came to live with us for a short time, they came out of camp. And it was not a good experience for them, we lived in the suburbs, there were no other Japanese families, they had no one else to communicate with. Subsequently they went back to camp where their friends were and relatively they were happier there then they were with us in Minnesota. I mean they had these two bratty America kids and so they went back to camp.
Oh yeah I’m sure maybe it was a year or less than a year. It was a very, very difficult transition for them. Because they had been, you know, in Walnut Grove in this Japanese community and then went to camp and there were all these Japanese people and then suddenly they’re in the suburbs with no one to talk to. You know my dad had his business and my mother worked with him. My dad was able to find my grandfather a job as a janitor at the hospital and so you know they had no contact with other Japanese people.
I think it was very difficult for my parents, but we had a house that was large enough so that my parents just moved to another bedroom upstairs instead of being on the main floor. But you know I remember I think that it was very hard for my mother, because this of course was her mother in law who had a very strong personality. You know she, my grandmother, was the only daughter of a doctor, and my grandfather came and he was Yoshi, and he took her name. And so she was kind of always a strong person in the family, and then to come and live with her daughter in law.
And then after everyone left camp they then went into Sacramento where my uncle opened a practice again and practiced as a physician there until his death.
I think they just brought it with them when they came. It wasn’t, it wasn’t for a specific occasion. Well you know it has all these cute little drawers and you can put little things in there. And actually I think part of it was kind of just glued together so it was kind of coming apart so I had my neighbor do a little refurbishing work on it. You know I just keep stuff in it.
It was from camp and also I remember, I don’t know if they brought it with them, but it seemed like we had a desk, kind of a crudely made desk, but it was a desk that had a kind of partition that folded down and I think it had a drawer in it. And I don’t know whatever became of that.
And in our family to, my aunt, this aunt who had come up here for camp, she and her husband had no children so I was their closest relative and was really caring for her and I eventually had to bring her up to Seattle. She had two big heavy chests of drawers that were made in camp. And they are still within our family.
Yeah my aunt told me that these were things that they brought back from camp. In fact I asked her, I said these are just beautiful did she make them, and she said no. and also the big cabinets and the things that I have and she said no that he was not a carpenter, and neither was my Uncle George.
I think it is just because, especially now that we are learning more about people’s lives and their suffering and all the things they did. And how ingenious and innovative people were at relocation camp, the things that they were able to make with whatever pieces of wood or things that they found, I think it’s very precious.
Oh you know they are things that have been in the family so you know those things you just have to keep. And actually this one cane I love because I think it’s so beautiful with the different kinds of woods so I think someday when I might need to use a cane this is the one that I am going to use.
Well these were just things that, I think on one of our trips down to California my aunt had saved everything and I think when we went down there I just wanted to make sure that they stayed in the family. So I brought these and the chests of drawers and a few other things back with me.
Well she was a keeper. She kept everything. In fact one of the chest of drawers had a little piece, well actually had newspaper clipping from nineteen forty-something and a there was a little piece of paper that had a person’s name on it. So I tried to trace that person. I thought that person probably had made the chest of drawers, and I tried, I thought maybe in Portland, someone thought maybe Portland, so I tried friends and connections there and I wasn’t able to find it. Then I went on the Internet and I found somebody that might have been in California and tried to get in contact with them and never heard from them so I don’t know who the carpenter was who made them.
But I have a nephew who is very interested in all of these, especially family things, so he has kept those big chests of drawers. I think that you know sometimes in your family it is a matter of their getting old enough to really start to thinking of your family history and I have one nephew too, who is particular about , actually a couple nephews who are really interested in family things, so I think that these things will stay in the family. And the stories too, they’ve heard the stories.