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Hatsuro Aizawa
Former Japantown Resident

Hatsuro Aizawa
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Video Credit: KQED 1999

 

 

Hatsuro Aizawa as a boy
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Photo Credit: San Francisco Public Library

On Growing up in Japantown

In Japanese, we called it Nihonjimachi. I was born on Post Street between Laguna and Buchanan. Until I was 17, we lived on a house right on the corner of Post and Buchanan. In those days, it seemed like there was a barrier around the area. We had our own Japanese school, which we attended every day after public school. We had our hamburger stands, soda fountains, plus the different Japanese sweet shops and all the different restaurants. We had our own ethnic grocery stores that you were able to buy anything that you needed.

 

On His Father's Bookstore

He had a bookstore that sold nothing but Japanese books. Everybody gathered there, playing cards or reading the books. We were always poor because nobody bought any books. They just stood there and read the books and went home. I didn't work in the store as such but I got paid thirty-five cents a month to deliver books. My father used to stay late. He would close the store at 11 o'clock at night and then he would come upstairs. We would wait for him to finish and then we would go out with him to eat. The war was economically devastating for us. We had to shut down the store. I remember cleaning up all those books and getting ready for evacuation. We could only take what we could carry.

 

 

Hatsuro Aizawa's Father's Bookstore
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Photo Credit: Hatsuro Aizawa

 

 

Japanese American children with U.S. flag
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Photo Credit: Public Domain

 

On Living in the Internment Camps

Physically we were 100% Japanese but we are 100% American in our hearts. It's not that I want to wave the flag but we were born and raised here in the American system. It was a crushing blow that the government would say, "You're Japanese. You've got to get out of here." There were about 10,000 Japanese or Japanese Americans in our first camp. We were there for about 6 months and then we were assigned to Topaz camp. It was just a desert and they put up barracks. We had to start from scratch. It was a difficult period in our lives although I didn't stay very long. I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship from a church to go to college, so I left Topaz within three months. I was one of the few fortunate ones.

 

On Returning to San Francisco after the War

We always felt that we had to come back to San Francisco. This was our home, regardless of how we had been treated. Everything I remembered about San Francisco was very dear to me. After the war, we were here about four or five years before we were able to come back to our community in the heart of J-town. Luckily, a Japanese company decided that they were going to come in and help us build this community center that helped J-town get off the ground. But it took quite a while. It was just something that we all worked at and strived for.

 

 

Japantown Day of Rememberance
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Photo Credit: KQED

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