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What were your parents like?
My father was born in Shikoku, Japan. It is an island that even today is closer to the very, very old Japan than any other parts of Japan. My mother was born in Sendai, which is in north Japan. It's very unusual for marriages like my parents—the northern person and the southern person to get together. That's because when she was a little girl, she was the youngest of a very large family and her father had died. He had been ill for quite a while. But the family had been comfortable enough so that the mother had sent all the female children to a wet-nurse and they were raised by the wet nurse. She breast-fed them, and then she took care of them when they were young. And so I think that the family maybe was not as strong as it could have been. The boys kind of took off on their own and did their own thing, they didn't stay and help the family that much.
When my mother was still in grade school, one of her brothers decided that he would sell her perhaps to atea person or to a geisha house. Her older sister decided that wouldn't do. So she decided to put my mother in a Christian home—a Christian high school. In order to do that, she had to be baptized. So my sister coached her on how to become a Christian and she passed the test. A minister baptized her. The night she graduated from her school—grade school—she went and entered the Christian missionary school which is run by white people. I think it was Methodist. She was their charity student, so she was given free room and board and tuition. When she graduated, she had to work where they asked her to work.
When she graduated, she was told to take a job in Tokyo, which is quite a ways from Sendai, especially in those days when transportation wasn't what it is now. She was given, what she calls, "unfortunate children" to teach—they were children who had been, maybe, thrown away by geisha women, or handicapped somewhat—so she taught them for a while. Then she decided that it was not a good thing for her as a young woman to be living by herself in Tokyo, so she went to the Salvation Army and she was housed in the Salvation Army headquarters in Tokyo.
My dad had already come to the United States. He had been working in various jobs. He actually became a very good cook. He was a farmer and he lost his farm. Somewhere along there, he became a Christian, and he joined the Salvation Army. He went to
The Citadel, it's a school in San Francisco for Salvation Army cadets. While there—there was a big earthquake in Tokyo—he was sent as part of a team to do rescue work, to help feed, clothe, and clean up bodies and things like that in Tokyo. While he was there, he was billeted in the Salvation Army headquarters there.
The teachers there thought it would be a good thing if my mother and my dad got together, so they worked it out and they all decided it was a good thing. Her parents were very happy for her. Her mother—her father had died—her mother and her sister and all were very happy for her to be going to the United States with him. So she came to the United States. I asked her one time what she thought it would be like. She had seen the picture called—I can't think of it—but it's a picture of a farming couple and they're leaning over their hoe, and it's the end of the day, and they have their head bowed in prayer.
Was it a Norman Rockwell painting?
No it isn't, it's earlier than that. Isn't that awful, I can't think of the name. She thought that maybe life would be somewhat like that. But it turned out to be a lot different for her. For a while she wanted to go back to Japan. My dad said, "If you really want to go back to Japan, I'll save up enough money to send you." Then she realized that there was nobody in Japan who would want her so she stayed here. She worked hard and helped raise the children.
How did you parents decide to go from Japan to the United States?
My dad was the youngest boy in his family, so he wasn't going to get anything from the family. He kind of joined the Merchant Marines, and he went to China, Malaysia, and all kinds of places, up into Seattle and Portland. I think he jumped ship in Portland, but I'm not sure that's what happened. He started in Portland, and went all the way down to Arizona and he liked the Bay Area the best and he came back and stayed here. So my mother knew when she got married that she was going to come to the United States.
Can you tell us about your siblings?
I had an older sister. I have two younger sisters and a younger brother. My older sister died when I was in grade school—when I was in kindergarten. She cut her foot on a can and I think the cut was about a quarter of an inch. But she got blood poisoning and she was dead inside of four days. That was very traumatic for the family. And of course, in those days, no antibiotics, and also no hospitalization.
How old were you when she passed away?
I think I was in kindergarten.
Did you have a good relationship with your other siblings?
I think so. When we went to camp—I have read, and people say, that in camp, some of the families disintegrated. But I can't agree with that. I think that our families were very strong. It was more like if you have a recital to go to or you have to go to a music lesson or you don't make it for dinner and mom makes you a sandwich ahead of time and maybe you come back and eat a little bit more later, but you didn't eat with the family. I think it would be more like that. But the kids did, a lot of kids did, eat together. They would go off with the kids in their class or whatever and eat together or sit together and eat.
I think that the families ended up being very strong. And I say that because I know of so many families where the parent would have, say, a small grocery store after the war, and the youngest child is now going off to college. Then, the older sister who has a job, wherever she relocated, she'll come home and take her turn helping the folks. It's very common, and very common that siblings helped each other in college with the tuition, or whatever it was that needed doing, often helping with the family budget.
What did your father do?
My father worked very hard at a church. He worked as a gardener and he used to study. Now that I watch very old movies and things, I understand a little bit better. He could never read to himself, he has to hear himself read. So when my father was studying, you could always hear him. Not real loud, but you could hear this low reading. He studied a lot.
What did he study?
The Bible. Writing his sermons.
Was he a preacher? A minister?
Was your family very religious?
Yes. And one of the interesting things is that when I look back at my like, I'm never sure what things are Japanese, what things are Christian, what things are the era. My mother was born in 1903, and my dad was born twelve years earlier. So they were influenced by Victorian standards. My mother was very, very strict when it came to going out with guys or going out to dances or how we dressed. Other times, it might be Japanese, but it would really be difficult to say where the lines were.
Do you remember thinking about the lines when you were younger?
I think I thought about it. But in the days of arranged marriages—which seems strange to a lot of people now—many people who lived—I think that even in Berkeley you were supposed to go with certain kinds of people. If you were going to college you went around with other people in college. If you didn't, you would be considered strange. Certain social classes stayed with certain, and that way they kept the money in the family and things like that. It's really hard to say where the lines are. But I know that my parents were very strict. My kids laugh, because even after I was engaged, I had to be home by twelve. They think that's funny. When we didn't have a car and wanted to go to San Francisco and had to be home by twelve, that was really hard.