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Before the War
Were you aware of the war that was going on in the United States before you were interned?
I wasn't aware of a lot of things. I did know, for example, we went swimming. I guess it was with school. I'm trying to remember. Maybe I was in a group, I don't know. But we went swimming. We would go swimming to the pools, and then I could remember that I and some of the Japanese kids all sat outside. We had to sit on benches and watch the other kids go swimming because we weren't allowed to go swimming. Places like Sutro Baths. I could remember we all used to envy people who could go swimming there because we couldn't, but it never occurred to us to challenge it in any way. We just said, "Well, that's the way it is." But I did not encounter discrimination per se because we were in a sense prized. The teachers really loved us because we worked so hard. And we were so good. So when we were so good in American school, we let loose in the Japanese school. I felt so sorry for the teacher in Japanese school because everybody was so rambunctious. We would go to school till three o'clock or something, and then about from four to six was Japanese school. And we were terrible. I think if you ask most Japanese my age who went to Japanese school, they will say they did not learn Japanese. We socialized with each other, and the poor teachers were really distraught. When I was in high school, I used to cut Japanese school all the time. And the Japanese school teacher never told my parents because, you know, we were tuition. My father used to pay to have us go to Japanese school, but if we didn't appear then my father would not pay. So they didn't tell them, and we used to cut all of the time.
We had a social life of our own. Like junior high school I think—I loved elementary school—junior high was a little bit different because kids were becoming much more aware of themselves. I think of it in terms of kids teasing each other about who they like and stuff like that. I used to get really upset because they always paired me with this Japanese boy who I did not like at all, but the only person they could think of was another Japanese kid. But most of the people in Jean Parker School were Italian, and they were very open. I could remember my father used to give us fifteen cents for lunch on Mondays because my mother did not want to make sandwiches on Sunday night, so we would get that. If you could imagine, a group of us would go to a restaurant with five cents to get soup and we would sit there and drink soup. Then we would say, "My god, we got ten cents left," and we would go and there was a corner candy store and they had these penny candies. What's interesting is that they still have some of those little candies with these little bits of sugar on, these little sugar things on, and those whips that they have, the black whips and things like that. They were all a penny a piece or two for a penny. So we would get five cents worth of candy, and then we would keep that five cents for something special. And I could remember once we kept our five cents, my sister and I kept our five cents for Christmas to give my mother and father a Christmas present. You know again, as I said, because we had a large family, and people were always surprised because we didn't really fight. My mother would not let us hit each other and she would not let us scream at each other. She would always stop that, so we got along very well.
Do you know of any families who were getting along as well as you and your family were?
Yes, some of our girlfriends had that. But, I remember these three boys who were like our brothers. We were really like them. We used to do a lot of things with them. But their father was very strict and these boys were really out of hand. It's interesting because my brother did a study—my brother is a professor at UCLA—and he did a study. He said one of the things that happened was, when the kids were too rambunctious and were too difficult, the families would send them to Japan so that they would learn a little discipline. So in this family there were three boys and they were my sisters' age. They were all a little bit older than I. They were very close to us, but I could remember seeing once going over there and they were defying their father. The father took them and put them under the faucet and put water on them, and they're screaming and kicking and we couldn't believe that. We'd get home and tell my mother about what had happened. They were difficult and he sent them to Japan. Two of them ended up in Japan because they were difficult. The third one, the middle guy, stayed here in the United States with his family.
I could remember things. For example, when I was a kid I could remember one of the men come running over to our house and he and his little boy came running to my house. My father said, "What's the matter?" and he said his wife ran away. One of the things that happened was that these were all—my mother was married just looking at pictures—picture brides, and she was a picture bride. Sometimes those picture brides really had terrible, terrible experiences, and evidently this was one of them and the woman ran away. I could remember the little boy and the father crying and crying and saying, "I'm going to kill her. I'm going to kill her," and my father saying, "No, don't do that, don't do that." He never found her. He never found his wife. Many of the women, or actually I should say some of the women, went off to Colorado with their new husbands or whatever. But there wasn't that one happy—like what I'm describing my family to be. There were other families that had problems and a lot had to do with the poverty and the discrimination that they endured.
Can you explain what a picture bride is?
Yes, a picture bride. Let me tell you how my mother and father got together. As a picture bride, my mother said that her mother and my father's mother were washing clothes in the stream—they were living in rural Japan and washing—and my father's mother said, "You know, I have a son who is in the United States and he is looking for a bride, and would your daughter be interested?" My mother at that time was pretty old. If you are eighteen, you are over the hill, and she was at that time about twenty-one or twenty-two. She never told us why she didn't get married before, and we figured she might have been ill. In Japan, if you have tuberculosis or anything like that it was like a shame. So you were not marriageable material. We figured my mother must have had something like that because she was twenty-one, twenty-two when she got married, which was over the hill. But anyway she said, "My mother said, 'Yes, I have a daughter who would be fine.'" My mother went to a fortune-teller. My mother—she was in her twenties—went to a fortune-teller and said, "Look, I have an opportunity to get married to somebody in the States," or there was this other man who wanted to marry—his family wanted her to get married—who was living in the same area who was fairly wealthy. And so, my mother and father said, “You pick out which one you want.” And the fortune-teller said to her, "You'd do better if you went to the States." Can you imagine a fortune-teller telling her what to do? And so she did. She talked about what it was like to get married. She said she was on the boat as a picture bride. They exchanged pictures, and my father was not handsome and my mother was not pretty, you know, really pretty. But they decided that this was going to be a stable thing. Their names went onto the roster in their town. Then they came to the United States. My mother said she was on the boat, she was looking out as she sees this young man, and he’s throwing rocks into the water. They went to the island, and they said he was throwing rocks in there. She said, "I bet you that's my husband," and it was. She said he was always different, always doing something kind of peculiar. But she said while he was waiting he was trying to skim rocks. My father must have been about five years older than her. Many times, the difference in age was very high. My father was kind of an entrepreneur. Although he only had a third grade education, my mother was a school teacher and the difference in their backgrounds was pretty sharp. But they seemed to get along okay, and mother and father, they had seven children. But a picture bride was one where that was the way they got married.