• Keepers of the Flame

    Keepers of the Flame is an oral history project dedicated to recording and preserving the experiences of Japanese Americans living in the San Gabriel Valley before or after World War II

  • About Us

    "They are in their ‘twilight time’. The flame of their lives burns softer."

    History

    “Keepers of the Flame” is an oral history project of the ESGVJCC, started in late 2012; and is dedicated to recording and preserving the stories and personal histories of the Pre-World War II Japanese American pioneers of the San Gabriel Valley. Bacon Sakatani, a Nisei elder of the ESGVJCC, is the inspirational founder of the group. His reunion photo history of the Pre-War San Gabriel Valley, first published in 1987 along with the aging of the Nisei provided the compelling concerns to start the project.

    Purpose

    To date, there is no comprehensive documented history about the pioneering role that Japanese Americans performed in developing the San Gabriel Valley. With this collection of work it is our goal to preserve the stories of the aging Japanese American population and share the experiences with future generations. The current plans for the collected works is to be archived for public access and distributed in the following formats: digital archives, publications, oral performances, and readings, and documentaries.

  • Featured Interviews

    Ted Hamachi

    Ted Hamachi is a currently on the Board of Trustees at the ESGVJCC where he has previously served as Board President. As a devoted farmer, Ted likes to spend his free time volunteering at a local farm in West Covina called Hurst Ranch.

    Jim Yamashita

    Jim Yamashita was a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and is a recipient of the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. A retired businessman, Jim now spends his time working on educational projects including his most recent project, “Echoes of Silence,” which contains the profiles of every killed-in-action (KIA) Nisei soldier.

  • "It is time to gather their stories so that the light, warmth and wisdom of their lives will never be extinguished or forgotten"

  • archived Interviews

    See our gallery of conducted interviews.

    Aileen Tanaka

    Birthplace: Covina, CA

    DOB: August 5, 1937

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Aileen grew up and currently resides in the San Gabriel Valley.

    Highlight: "The FBI came and knocked on the door and they asked if he was Frank Yamashita, and I don't know if he was Frank then because Saichi was his real name. So then the FBI came and knocked on the door that night and said he was under arrest. [...] It was just my mom and us three kids left and we had no cell phones back then. I think he was sent to another state. I kind of think he went to Montana or somewhere around there. And then we went to Heart Mountain and that's how we lost our business and everything."

    Beans Sogioka

    Birthplace: Baldwin Park, CA

    DOB: September 18, 1919

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Beans was born and raised in the San Gabriel Valley.

    Highlight: "General vegetables but they were cheap. There was a Issei couple that use to come into the market. They had a junky old pickup, they had 10 boxes of leek. I asked them in nihongo, “Ikura desuka” going for $5. $10, that's $50 bucks in a week. That's unheard of. That's for me, inside I was thinking. So then I planted leek, then I planted 30 acres...I planted in staggered patches so that when I finished one, the next one come and I timed it just right, so I had leek 365 days a year.”

    Ben Kayashima

    Birthplace: Sawtelle, CA

    DOB: March 28, 1930

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Ben grew up in the San Gabriel Valley where he later practiced law for 32+ years.

    Highlight: "Do you know what I mean by row crops? It's where you have land, you dig ditches, you plant the things in the middle, the ditches on the other side, and when you irrigate you irrigate down those rows.... If you have tomatoes, at least at that time, they put stakes up and as the plant grew up, you put string around it to make it climb up. They raised tomatoes, squash, at least [...] And they shipped it from Terra Bella to L.A. - 9th Street and 7th Street, if I recall the markets.”

    Beverly Oki

    Birthplace: Tacoma, WA

    DOB: 1940

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Beverly moved from WA to CA, where she would later raise her family in Whittier.

    Highlight: "[The Center] changed a lot [...] The people that ran the Center were all volunteers. [...] They had their picnics and different things...They did it all. [...] I think there was sports/basketball, then maybe judo, then kendo, the Japanese school. But now you have all these other things that are going on here. So it’s grown a lot. That means more people are connected to the center, the more things you have going on, the more people you have come to the center.”

    Clara Furukawa

    Birthplace: Pahala, HI

    DOB: 1932

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Clara moved to the San Gabriel Valley (Monrovia) from Hawaii in 1954.

    Highlight: “When I moved here, to Monrovia, the Furukawa family had a connection. He [her husband] knew some people that belonged to the community center. [...] And eventually when you start meeting other friends or relatives you make connections, how they are related... So that’s how I was able to meet other families and friends, through the relatives and the connections they had among each other. Eventually we all got to be great friends.”

    Frances Okura

    Birthplace: Los Angeles, CA

    DOB: 1930

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Frances was born and raised in Los Angeles but now resides in San Gabriel.

    Highlight:  "My sister and I shared that room but my brother was in my mother's room until he was a little bigger. And we had this big garage in the back and they built a playhouse on one side and fishing room for my father to put his fishing tackle stuff. And the playroom, we converted it into a bedroom for my brother when he got bigger. And in the back, they had a storage room. [...] that's where we put all...the stuff that we wanted to save during the war."

    Fred Oda

    Birthplace: Boyle Heights, CA

    DOB: 1926

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: After camp and time in the military, Fred moved to Pomona, where he raised his family.

    Highlight: "I actually met her [his wife] in camp, but we really didn’t get together that much until after the war. I was walking down Broadway in Los Angeles and some of her friends were out there picketing for the company they worked for to unionize. And I saw her picketing on the sidewalk and started to talk to her and asked her for a date."

    Gus Kawato

    Birthplace: El Monte, CA

    DOB: March 16, 1926

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: After WW2, Gus lived in Japan but later returned to the Covina area.

    Highlight: While I was there [Japan]? I was working for this Australian. I guess it would be part of the British Armed Forces over there. They were there after the war. I was working for them for a year I think, maybe. Then I went working for the civilian - it was Swedish National. I was working for him [doing import/export business]."

    Jane Kubota

    Birthplace: Waimea, HI

    DOB: September 18, 1932

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Jane moved from HI to Claremont, where she raised her family.

    Highlight: "I think it’s somewhat different in Hawaii, you know. Here [California], we have friends here, which they don’t really know the Hawaiian traditions, you know, which is the food, and the dancing. Here, on the mainland we go to a church where they have lots of Japanese and other nationalities you know, whether it’s Vietnamese or people from Thailand or other places. And they also share their traditions with us too.”

    Jim Yamashita

    Birthplace: Santa Ana, CA

    DOB: 1924

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: After the military, Jim came to Pasadena to attend PCC and later serviced televisions in the Alhambra area.

    Highlight: "I recall that was Sunday, December 7. Monday the school called us all in the auditorium...we all listened to President Roosevelt declare war. It was I don’t know, I didn’t fear too much at that time. I think the teachers and your friends knew that we were Japanese so they came and expressed their assurance that we were part of their community and they should not be afraid. I recall teachers coming up to me and saying 'Jim, don’t worry we’ll look after you.'"

    Kiyoko Okada

    Birthplace: Riverside, CA

    DOB:1916

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Though born in Riverside, Kiyoko was raised in Japan but moved to the Covina area after getting married.

    Highlight: "They [the younger generation] must be patient, can’t just give up. Also don’t waste any food, it’s Mottainai."

    Marian Yamashita

    Birthplace: Irvine, CA

    DOB: 1924

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Marian moved to Glendora from La Habra Heights.

    Highlight: "The FBI came to the home...They searched the whole garage and house and everything. And they found my father and uncle raised lettuce, so they found some lettuce knives...and they said these are contrabands. You have to go with us [...] You should have seen my father. He got a cup of coffee and he was shaking. He couldn't even get it to his mouth...But they did come and take him. There was a little CC camp in Tujunga or somewhere... I remember going to visit them. We talked to them behind the fence. And then before long they were sent away to Bismarck, North Dakota.”

    Mike Mayekawa

    Birthplace: Gardena, CA

    DOB: January 31, 1927

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Mike lived in Japan after WW2, but he returned to LA, where he opened a produce store (Sierra Produce) in Arcadia and eventually moved to Hacienda Heights.

    Highlight: "Well, I was in the produce business. I would get the best I could find: the best quality, the best tasting, the best everything. And each item, you know? And then that's how I operated. Get the best you can get, and then sell it the least you could sell. Pricing is very important. They would always repeat, I mean they would always come twice a week or so to get my stuff, because they enjoy the taste and the quality and everything.”

    Mitsuru Kubota

    Birthplace: New Mill, HI

    DOB: September 25, 1932

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Mitsuru grew up in HI, but his endeavor as a professor would later bring him to Claremont.

    Highlight: "My job was as a tray boy, uh standing before um a group of about 12 ladies and girls whose job was to um put the pineapple that were sliced into cans. My job was to [...] have empty cans ready for the ladies and when they’re full to then stack it up in a pile. In fact, a pile which was higher than my height. [...] When you first started you could not put the tray so that the backside was uh higher than the front because as you did that all the cans would come spilling on you and that happened to me.”

    Mitsuo Kunihiro

    Birthplace: Los Angeles, CA

    DOB: July 7,1918

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Mitsuo raised his family in the Sierra Madre.

    Highlight: "Well for the future, there isn't much... I think I lived my life and enjoyed it because there's a family now. Family and friends. And being with the organization, the VFW. [...]. I wasn't much with the hundred 442, but I knew a lot of guys in there, and these would turn out. So, all in all, I think I give Niseis a lot of credit. [...] to start from nothing, I think they all did pretty well. Get back on their feet. So that's why my credit goes to a generation that had a rough time. But, turned out to be real good.”

    Paul Konno

    Birthplace: Covina, CA

    DOB: February 29, 1948

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Paul grew up in Azusa, where he would later return to care for his parents.

    Highlight: "Cassette players. They [ARVN Army] turned them up full blast. When we take a break, most of us shuck our bags and our sacks and carried all our ammunition, food and dropped them on the ground and laid back... But they would take big orange cargo shoots and throw them up on the limbs of the trees. They’d start playing their music. They had like a party! They were brewing their tea and stuff like that! We were looking up there and thinking: ‘How far can they see that bright orange cargo shoot from here?’ It’s like a beacon saying: ‘Hey, we’re here!’”

    Nancee Iketani

    Birthplace: Watsonville, CA

    DOB: January 15, 1931

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Nancee currently resides in Covina with her husband, Roy.

    Highlight: "My dad had a restaurant one time and another time we had a grocery store and we just thought that’s what everybody did. My dad had a pretty bad time now that I had to think back at how he had to do it. We were in Oakland when the war started and I remember the FBI coming to pick up my father and they didn’t tell us why they were taking him or anything. They just sad ‘come with us,’ that was all I heard and off he went. Because they didn’t tell us, we didn’t worry too much and I guess that’s stupidity on our part.”

    Roy Iketani

    Birthplace: Los Angeles, CA

    DOB: February 14, 1930

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Roy currently resides in Covina with his wife, Nancee.

    Highlight: "No, they [people] couldn’t figure it out. They looked at me and figured that I was born someplace else and that I wasn’t able to speak [English] very well. You may have come across that same question yourself. I’ve run into that situation on several occasions and I’m talking about people who intelligent people are talking to me this way. That’s probably not discrimination and such but they probably see you as someone different."

    Ruth Sakatani

    Birthplace: Pomona, CA

    DOB: July 11, 1916

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: After the war, Ruth and her family moved to the Chino area.

    Highlight: "They [ojisan & obasan] were in the same Heart Mountain, but block 20. Because they were all the same. They were in 22. I can’t remember the room. Because we were in block 20. They had a bigger room because my 2 sisters. My brother, they weren’t married. They lived with my mother."

    Satoshi Okada

    Birthplace: Los Angeles, CA

    DOB: 1932

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Satoshi grew up in Puente but post-WW2 moved to Pomona.

    Highlight: "You know in Idaho I can still remember we lived...geez, I don't remember, at least maybe 10 miles, maybe 5 miles out of town so we had to get around in a bus. One day I was playing sports and I missed the bus home so I started walking home and it started raining. It was pouring rain. I was all drenched and this pick up comes with two guys. They pass me up and say, "Hey kid come on get in the back". I start running, they look back and say, "Hey, it's a Jap" and they took off. So I walked all the way home in the rain.”

    Setsuko Kawato

    Birthplace: British Columbia, CDN

    DOB: February 9, 1930

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Setsuko moved to the Covina area after she married her husband, Gus.

    Highlight: "Because the house that we lived in, I was ashamed of the place that we lived in and all our neighbors were Hagojins, white people. Friends were all white people. I don't think I knew hardly any Japanese at that time. We went to Japanese school, but that wasn't close by. That was about the only time we saw Japanese so mostly Caucasians.”

    Susan Arii

    Birthplace: Los Angeles, CA

    DOB: June 19 11, 1946

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Susan was born and raised in the El Monte and West Covina area.

    Highlight: "I think it was very sad, I think they went through a lot. We never talked about it, it was always a hush-hush kinda situation. No one discussed it. And it’s sad that we didn’t learn more about that. Even by our daughter-in-law, she’s a school teacher, she says, “it’s a sad part of that part of history that no one knows, like it didn’t happen, like the Nazi camps, people thought that wasn’t real.” And they had so many of these camps all over the United States, and we just hit the tip of the iceberg with the West Coast. It should have been more said.

    Tak Oki

    Birthplace: Montebello, CA

    DOB: 1927

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Tak was born and raised in Montebello.

    Highlight: "But we had crops, we had equipment, people knew we were going to leave, so they knew they would get it sooner or later, real cheap [...] if the government tells me that I cheated on my income tax, I'll say well that’s for cheating me and my family, putting us in camp like that. They had no reason. [...] All we could is carry a suitcase. What we could wear and what we could put in our suitcase. Everything we had to leave. I had to leave my favorite dog, I called him Jack. I hated to leave him. We had to leave everything there, and I’ll never forgive them for that."

    Ted Hamachi

    Birthplace: San Gabriel, CA

    DOB: 1927

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Ted grew up in West Covina.

    Highlight: "We started in four years. I couldn’t believe how much money I had in the bank. That money, not my money, but I felt it was my money because it was in my name. My mother and I were the ones that earned it. What I liked about it was that I get to handle the whole thing. [...] I felt pretty good because I learned from the older farmers. One of the places I went when I needed good advice or something was troubling me I would go to a guy like Yosh Sogioka. he became like an older brother to me."

    Ted Hashimoto

    Birthplace: San Gabriel, CA

    DOB: 1921

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Ted was born and raised in San Gabriel.

    Highlight: "It was my brother who was working outside as a manager of a fruit stand and so forth. He was the one that was bringing the money to buy the groceries. [...] The only money I ever got was going through my laundry and nickel and dimes from my brother's pants but that was quite enough. My mother use to give me a little spending money every so often. [...] my third year in high school, towards the latter part of the third year, I saved enough money that I took my older sister, went down to Figueroa Street in L.A. and bought a 1934 Ford.”

    Tom Kawakami

    Birthplace: Redondo Beach, CA

    DOB: January 19, 1925

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Tom grew up in Bassett.

    Highlight: "All I thought about was my father and my mother is now they had a vacation. They worked seven days a week, so I thought this was good for them. I didn't hold any animosity. Maybe I should, but we got the benefit to. The benefit was rest for them. Maybe that's the wrong way to think about it.”

    Tosh Asano

    Birthplace: Monrovia, CA

    DOB: December 11, 1922

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Ted was born and raised in San Gabriel.

    Highlight: "I was good in football, basketball, and track. I never did get to play baseball because I used to end up going to the finals in the track, so that interfered with baseball. So I never got into baseball until later in my life. So that would have to be after we came out of camp, or I came out of the army Then I played semi-pro with the so called Little Tokyo Giants.”

    Toshiko Okawa

    Birthplace: Wilmar (South San Gabriel), CA

    DOB: November 16, 1931

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Toshiko grew up in South San Gabriel.

    Highlight: "There was this little white lady. When we walked, cause the camp was on the other side of her property, and she had a little, what do you call it... a little room like this with a lock. And then she would sell potato chips. Remember in the old days. They had them hooked and hanging...At first she was so prejudice. That I guess it was 3 o’clock when we were coming home. You should see her. She’d hurry up and grabbed that stuff and put it inside and close. She didn’t want to sell to Japs. She said, “Japs go home”, so she closed it."

    Yosh Sogioka

    Click here for full interview.

    Birthplace: N/A

    DOB: N/A

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Yosh grew up in the West Covina area.

    Highlight: "That's one thing about farming that we were doing is that I never had the opportunity to give my time to my kids, to take them on a vacation. [...] when I think about it today, I can't forgive myself, for not being able to give them my time or to take them on a vacation or anything like that because I couldn't afford to take off. One thing I regret. If you work for somebody, at least you get hard day, you get your weekend off, and you get to take your kids to wherever you want or you can go on a vacation for a week or so. Being a farmer, I couldn't do that. That's the part that I regret. Not being able to do that."

    Yoshio Shimizu

    Birthplace: El Monte, CA

    DOB: 1925

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Yoshio grew up in Wilmar but raised his family in East Los Angeles.

    Highlight: "My brother came to Los Angeles... He called my sister over... My mother and my older sister... came and they went to Lomita... Then my sister joined them. Then they moved to Downtown Los Angeles after a while. It was on Olive Street. They were living in an apartment there - my mother and my two sisters. My brother was living by himself... And then I worked in Sacramento - I drove a truck for Sacramento to Fresno. And then when I went on the farm, I worked and then I came back down here and I worked for the latex rubber company. That's where I met my wife.”

    Emiko Takamatsu

    Birthplace: Los Angeles, CA

    DOB: July 22, 1930

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Emiko was born in Los Angeles but grew up in SLO & Pismo Beach. After the war, she and her family lived in Boyle Heights.

     

    Kay Shintaku

    Birthplace: N/A

    DOB: N/A

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Kay grew up in the SGV.

     

    Tak Kawakami

    Birthplace: Redondo Beach, CA

    DOB: 1931

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Tak moved to Bassett in 1937.

     

    Toshiko Oda

    Birthplace: San Francisco, CA

    DOB: August 14, 1926

    Connection to Keepers of the Flame: Toshiko grew up in various cities within the SGV.

     

  • Featured Volunteers

    Our dedicated volunteers that work tirelessly to support Keepers of the Flame. Whether it be conducting interviews or transcribing them, this project would not be where it is today without their generous help.

    Robert Fumio Leong

    Interviewer

    Robert Fumio Leong and his family have been members of the ESGVJCC for 18 years. He has previously served on the ESGVJCC Board of Directors. Bob currently works as a Freelance Corporate Communication Specialist.

     

    "For me, the Keepers of the Flame project preserves the vital stories of our Elders. Their stories tell us a great deal about who we are as individuals and as a community. Their lives have been powerful molders of the Japanese American identity, and their stories prod any one of us to ask; 'what would I have done … then?'"

    Margaret Holderness

    Transcriber

    Margaret Holderness lives with her husband of 24 years, Robert Holderness, and their two Australian Shepherds, Emma and Kodi. They are both retired and relocated from Monrovia, CA to Paso Robles, CA (Central Coast). To keep herself busy, she works part time at a winery (Tackitt Family Vineyards) and was recruited by ESGVJCC board member, Grace Richardson, her sister, to help transcribe Keepers of the Flame interviews.

     

    "When I first became involved with Keepers of the Flame, I am a little embarrassed to say, but I knew very little about the internment camps. My mother shared her family experiences when they were intervened at Tule Lake. But listening to several of the interviews as they share their heartfelt stories and difficult situations their families endured during this very sad time made me more inquisitive about my cultural background. This made me want to embrace my culture and become more aware of the hardship that my ancestors endured. Now I understand where I get the 'gaman' attitude."

    JPNT 177 - Spring 2016

    Interviews & Transcribers

    Coming Soon...

  • "Their lives have been powerful molders of the Japanese American identity, and their stories prod any one of us to ask; 'what would I have done…then?'"

    - Robert Fumio Leong

  • Intern Profiles

    Thank you to our wonderful interns that have poured endless hours into recruiting, conducting, and transcribing interviews.

    Kristi Kayoda

    Summer 2018

    Kristi got involved with Keepers of the Flame when she interned at the ESGVJCC during the summer of 2018 through the Nikkei Community Internship (NCI) Program. She will be a senior Fall 2018 at Chapman University, pursuing degrees in Education and English. Kristi loves working with kids and aspires to be a primary school educator.

    Tony Tang

    Summer 2016

    Tony is a rising senior at Cal State University, Los Angeles. He was an intern at the ESGVJCC during the summer of 2016 through the Leadership In Action Program and got involved with Keepers of the Flame. Tony plans on working with youths in the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community.

    Courtney Richardson

    Fall 2015

    Courtney worked on Keepers of the Flame as an intern with the ESGVJCC during the fall of 2015. Courtney is a graduate of UC Santa Cruz and has great love for the environment. She is currently spending her time backpacking across Eastern Europe.

    Avalon Igawa

    Summer 2015

    Avalon is currently a Junior at the University of Southern California. Avalon was involved with Keepers of the Flame as a Leadership in Action (LIA) intern during the summer of 2015. Originally from Seattle, Avalon is an avid frisbee player and the President of USC's Student Coalition for Asian Pacific Empowerment (SCAPE).

    Julie Mac

    Summer 2014

    Julie became involved with Keepers of the Flame when she interned at the ESGVJCC during the summer of 2014 through the Leadership in Action (LIA) Program. Julie is currently teaching English in Matsuyama City, Japan as part of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET).

  • Contact Us!

    Feel free to contact us if you have any questions or comments