Densho Digital Repository
Alameda Japanese American History Project Oral History Collection
Title: Kiyoko Masuda Interview
Narrator: Kiyoko Masuda
Interviewer: Judy Furuichi
Location: Alameda, California
Date: November 5, 2021
Densho ID: ddr-ajah-1-1

<Begin Segment 1>

JF: I'm Judy Furuichi, and I have the pleasure this morning to interview Kiyo Sato Masuda, who will share her experiences and her personal reflections and her story. So good morning, Kiyo.

KM: Good morning.

JF: Can you just give us, to begin with, a little bit about yourself? Start with your name, that's important.

KM: I'm Kiyo Masuda. My full name is Kiyoko, but, of course, I go by Kiyo. And I am... I'm a third-generation Alamedan. And so my grandparents came as Isseis, and then my father was born here, and I was born in Alameda also. So I was privileged and asked to be part of this project. Thank you.

JF: Thank you. So can we begin with, you mentioned your parents. Can you begin with their story as early, early Alamedans?

KM: Well, my father, Goro Sato, he was born in 1907 in Alameda. His parents had come prior to that, a few years before that. And he had an older brother, Toshio. I think Toshio was born in Japan and he was brought over as a young boy, little boy. My grandfather was a gardener and worked for various families here. And my grandmother was a housekeeper. And there was one family that I would like to note. It was the Nortons that lived on Lincoln Avenue that they worked for, and my parents became good friends with their children, Helen and Harry Norton. But my dad, when he was eighteen months old, was sent back to Japan. And this was not an unusual thing to happen for the immigrants at that time, and my dad was sent back at eighteen months to live with his grandparents. And apparently my grandparents wanted him to have a Japanese education. They wanted their, if they could, send their children back to get educated, to get the Japanese education and the Japanese values and ethics. So that was one of the reasons I understand.

So my dad was a Kibei, and when he was eleven years old, he was brought back to the States. And I remember him saying that he came back, he didn't know his parents. He was so young, and so he remembers that the first thing that his mother said to him was keep his collar straight. "And when you go out, make sure your shoes are shined and you wear a hat." He had finished fourth grade in Japan and he says his life there was really, it was a child's life. And he was able to play, he doesn't remember getting into fights or anything. He was raised by his grandmother and his great-grandmother. Apparently the, his grandfather and great-grandfather were already gone by then. And, gosh, he used to tell us these wonderful stories. One was he said that his grandmother, his great-grandmother, he had gone to school, and then a neighbor came and he had to go straight home because his great-grandmother was calling for him, she was dying. And my father says that he remembers rubbing her feet, rubbing her feet. And so, coming from a very loving childhood then, coming back to the United States, not knowing his parents, and not being able to speak English because he was raised, you know, in Japan, I'm sure it was difficult being a Kibei.

But he says that he went to Alameda High School, he said he had an English teacher, and Papa had an accent. And he said she would say, "Say, 'I love you.'" And he said he'd try, and he'd say, "I lub you." [Laughs] Anyway, he was very smart, my dad. And he said when he was going to school, he also took English lessons for three years. He wanted to improve his English and he wanted to go to college. He took Japanese, and so he was able to pass the Japanese classes through eighth grade. And then his social life, he said, was when he went to school, he didn't interact at all with the non-Japanese but with the Japanese, and so his social life was primarily here at the Alameda Buddhist Temple. He was asked what about dating and all, he said, "Oh, no." He said the boys stayed together and the girls stayed together. He said he didn't gamble, there was lots of gambling apparently in Chinatown in Oakland, and so he and his friends would go over there to eat Chinese food.

And then when he was still in high school -- this was in 1923 -- his mother decided to go back to Japan. And then in 1925, the year that he was graduating from high school, his father went back to Japan. And so my father, the money he had saved to go to Berkeley, he gave it all to his father. And that was the end of his ability to go to college. So from what I understand, he did itinerant farming and went all the way down, even like to San Diego and worked his way up farming. Then he came back and lived with his brother. I don't know where in Alameda, but it must have been on this side of Lincoln Avenue and continued going to school, Laney College. He also took correspondence courses with Waseda University. And he was offered a job with one of the Japanese language vernacular newspapers in San Francisco, and he wanted to take that because he was gardening. And his older brother said, "No, there's not enough money in there." And so he didn't do that, which is a shame. So he continued gardening.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

KM: (In 1936) when he was about thirty, he met my mother, and that was an arranged marriage. And my mother, she's very sweet, she said she just couldn't marry somebody that she didn't know, which was really the practice at that time. And so apparently they dated a few times, and my mother lived in the country on a farm around San Jose. And she said she remembers Papa coming in with his old Model T car, and he would come all dressed up in a suit with his tie and his hat -- I guess just like his mother had said -- to the farm. So I can see the contrast there. But my mom was a real Nisei. She was born and raised here. She was born in San Juan Batista in 1914. She's about seven years younger than my dad. And she was very popular, very active in high school, and she played tennis. And her group of friends, they were not all just girls, you know, the boys and the girls mingled together, socialized together. She drove to school every day. And so they grew up very differently, my dad and my mom, but they got married in 1936.


JF: We're back, Kiyo. You were talking about your family's history, and you mentioned that your father's name was Goro, Goro Sato, but you didn't, we forgot to ask you about your mom's name.

KM: Of course. My mom's name is Kimiko Nakayama, and of course she went by Kimi. And as I said, she was born in 1914 in San Juan Bautista. I don't know who the... they said baishakunin, but it's a go-between, I don't know who that was, but I was surprised that my father would be introduced to somebody who lived so far away in San Jose when he was in Alameda. [Narr. note: the baishakunin were Mr. and Mrs. Eguchi.]

JF: Can I ask you about some of the years early before the evacuation, before they had to leave Alameda? Where were they and where did they go?

KM: My folks got married in '36, and after they got married, they were in, I'm pretty sure it was a rental on Oak Street, which is just a few blocks away from the temple here. And my brother, Kazuyoshi, he was born there in 1938. And then I was born there in 1940. And, of course, Mom didn't go to the hospital, we had a midwife. [Narr. note: the midwife was Mrs. Takiye Kondo.]

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<Begin Segment 3>

KM: Then the war broke out, and it was a time, of course, very frightening for everybody. And then the 9066 was posted, and my folks, from what I understand, went to San Jose and stayed with my mom's side of the family for a bit and then the family decided that they did not want to go to camp. And so I think they went to Colorado. And so my parents didn't want to do that, and so they went to an assembly center, I think, in Florin first. And from there they were sent to assembly center in Fresno. And they were there for about five months, and then they were sent to Jerome, Arkansas. And then Jerome, Arkansas, that camp closed, and they were sent to Gila, Gila River, Arizona, and that's where my sister Misao was born, in 1944. Now, the camp years, we've got pictures of my dad and all these men chopping down trees. They had to clear some of the forestration there, so they could plant. And then my father was also, I think you called them block managers, where he was responsible for a community of, I think, three hundred families in Jerome. And he said it was really hard work and very, it was a lot of responsibility, because he was the spokesperson for the head office, yes.

BS: So when you describe this happened or that, if you make sure you tell us which camp that was? If they did something in Jerome and later on did something in Gila, we just need to know those things. Okay.

KM: Okay. And, of course, he was the block manager in Jerome. And I really don't know, remember too much about camp life. But I remember there was a, I guess they had talent shows and things. And I remember, I was just three or four, I remember going up on the stage and singing, "Mama's little baby had..." what was it? "Mama's little baby had..." what was that?

JF: I was going to say shortening?

KM: Yes, I think so. And then from Jerome, when we went to Gila, my dad was asked to be a block manager again, but he declined. And I remember Gila. I remember crossing a bridge, because we had to get milk for my new baby sister Misao. And I remember the Issei men catching, I heard that they'd catch rattlesnakes and then making rattlesnake sashimi. And then, of course, with the skin, they made things, so I thought that was rather interesting. Then after the war...

JF: Oh, Kiyo, may I interrupt you?

KM: Of course.

JF: I really was impressed by this story, or fascinated by the story of your father in the draft, military. Can you tell that story?

KM: Yes, of course. When he was in Jerome, he was interviewed by a government lawyer, and he was asked if he would fight for the United States. And my father said no because, "I'm incarcerated like this and I've lost my rights. But if I were asked to fight as an American citizen, I would." And he said he asked the interviewer, "Would you, if you were in my position?" And the interviewer said, he didn't say anything, he just put his head down. So I thought it was very brave of my dad. Not brave... my father was very honest, and that's one thing that he believed was his Japanese side. That he was ethical and he used the word "Confucian ethics," so anyway...

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

JF: Kiyo, your camp story, your family's camp story is so interesting, thank you. Can you now tell us about where your family went after camp, after they were released?

KM: Okay. Well, from Gila, Arizona, after the war we were not able to come back to Alameda, and so we went to Ohio. Apparently the Quakers had hostels there, and they welcomed the Japanese. And I remember we had to take a train. It was very long, and when we got off the train in Cincinnati, my mother said that all of these people, they were just staring at us because they'd never seen Japanese before. So anyway, we were in a hostel for a while in Cincinnati and then we moved to Dayton, Ohio, to a dairy farm. And I remember that dairy farm, not a lot, but we lived in... I called it a shack. There was an outhouse, and from my window, from my bed, I'd turn around and there was a knothole in the wall. And I could look out and I could see the pasture and a cow. And my father worked, he'd never worked in such a place before, but I remember going into the barn, and he said, "Kiyoko, get out, get out." I had on red clothes, I think, and it was thought that that was really dangerous for bulls, working with the livestock there. And then I remember, after the rains, lots of dandelions, and my mom would pick that, and that's what we had for okazu, fresh dandelion (leaves to eat). And I remember I went to nursery school or something at that time. And then going to the five and dime with my mom, I found some really pretty buttons, so I brought them home and I showed my mom these beautiful buttons I (got). I must have been about five. And I couldn't keep them, she took me back to the store and I had to give them back to the clerk and apologize. So that was Dayton, Ohio. We only stayed maybe a year, year and a half, because my dad felt it was too cold there and he wanted his kids to be around Japanese and the community here.

So we came back to Alameda, and when we came back, of course, there was no place to live. And so this Buddhist temple was open and we stayed here for about five months or so, and lived in the hall with a number of other families. And I remember all the ladies had to cook together in the kitchen. There were the Sugiyama girls, Kiyomi and Satoko. And then there was the Marubayashis, and Mamie and all of her sisters. They bought a house on Pacific Avenue, just a few blocks from the temple. And I didn't know it at that time, but I learned that the reason so many Japanese live on this side of Lincoln is because Lincoln was the red line, and people of Japanese heritage could not buy on the other side, so that was interesting. So from there, my dad continued to do gardening, and I remember that there were no Japanese barbers who had come back as yet. And my dad was not, I guess he was uncomfortable going to a non-Japanese barber. So I distinctly remember, in the kitchen, Papa would be sitting on this chair, my mother would give him his haircut, and they were really whitewalls. Uuntil the barber came back, but he lived on Buena Vista, where he had his haircuts.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

JF: So Kiyo, I love the story about your family, especially your mother and father. And I know that your father had dreams for himself as a young person. So can you talk a little bit about how he felt not being able to fulfill that dream and what they were?

KM: Yes, of course. Well, as I had said earlier, my dad did go to school. He did want to go to UC Berkeley, to be a white collar worker. And, of course, those dreams were all dashed because he couldn't have, he didn't have the money anymore. And he was like an orphan, actually. He had gone to school and he had learned English and he went to, he tried to get as much of the education as he could, but he was not able to. And then the war started, and this was... let's see, that was 1940, and he was still a gardener, but he still was hoping that he could, you know, when he came back, he was able to... it's difficult to say.

JF: Well, you... excuse me for interrupting, but you talked about his love of history and that really struck me.

KM: Oh, I see, yes. Yes, of course.

JC: Can you tell me a little bit about that?

KM: Of course. He was not into sports and things, or gambling, as I had said. And he always had a love of history. And to go back just a bit, when the war started, and we had to evacuate, my mom said that they had to burn a lot of things. And besides the Japanese dolls and things like that, she said they burned all of his books, he had lots and lots of books on the history books and things because he loved history. And they also burned his violin. I didn't realize that he played the violin. And so, after the war, they came back, and they settled in the house, he started reading more again. He was always reading. And my sister Carol, when she was little, she was born in 1949, so she was ten years younger than me. She said when she was home, and she and Papa would have oyatsu, snack, at three o'clock every day. And so she said he would tell her all of these history things. She said she learned all about the Civil War and General Lee, that he was a good leader. And she says it was not only Japanese history, but so much more. In fact, Carol, when she went to Berkeley, she was a history major. So I think maybe my dad had some influence on that. And I know, when he became older, he did say that he did not fulfill all of his dreams, but he was satisfied, happy that his family, he had a good family. There was some sadness in his life, a lot of sadness in his life. But that was most important, that his kids turned out with a good life.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

JC: Yes, I love the story about your mom, too, and her dream of becoming... tell us that story.

KM: Yes. You know, my mom before she got married, she went to college. She went to Woodbury College in Los Angeles, from San Jose, and she was very creative. She went to school, and it was in design, fashion design. We had lots of books that she had made, of fashion things, patterns and dress styles and things. And from what I understand, several of her friends wanted her to stay down there so that they could start a business in fashion. But her father said, no, she should come and get married. And so she got married when she was twenty-one or twenty-two. And so that was an opportunity where she could have, perhaps, done something with her talents. She came back, got married, and then, of course, the war started. She had the two kids. Now, after the war, she did so many things. I remember she went to Laney and she got a certificate, license, in beauty school or hair design or something like that. She went and learned secretarial things. She went and learned about sewing drapes. She was very, very talented and wanted to try all these things but was never able to, for one reason or another.

JC: So the war, the internment really did affect your family, and especially your parents.

KM: Yes, yes. I really think it did, particularly for my dad. When they came back, they had nothing. So what could he resort to, but it's because he had all these kids in the family.

JC: Thank you, Kiyo, your family's history is really fascinating. But I have a question. You have so much detail in your father's story. So where did all those memories come from?

KM: Well, I have a secret, I have cheat notes. My husband, Will Masuda, is a Buddhist minister, he's retired now. But he went to school to get his doctorate in clinical psych. And for his dissertation, he wrote about the Kibei. And he did all of these interviews of Kibei and my dad was one of them. And so I have the transcripts of that interview, and so I got a lot of this information, particularly about the camp life and about his hopes, the effects of the war. And my dad was very worried, very worried during the war, what was going to happen to his family. Were they going to be annihilated, killed here, you know? Were they going to be saved by the Japanese? So it was a really, really troubling, disturbing time for him that I didn't realize until I read about him. And, of course, other things from what my folks had said.

JC: Well, you're very fortunate to have that, because so many of us, as family members of our own families, wished we could have, just knowing that a time like this could come when you want those memories.

KM: Yes.

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<Begin Segment 7>

JC: Can you now tell us a little bit about Kiyo? What was Kiyo's family like, and what do you remember about your childhood?

KM: I was a pretty happy kid. I was quite influenced by my folks, of course, about studying. I was what you could call a model Asian. I was born in 1940, so I grew up in the '50s. And this is the time when "father knew best." Right? Remember Father Knows Best? And so I went to school, I studied, I was a "good girl." And when I went to high school... well, let me go before that. When we came back from Ohio and we lived here at the temple, I went to Porter school, I was in first grade at Porter school. And then we moved to Pacific Avenue, and I went to Haight school. And I remember when I was in the eighth grade, I ran for secretary of our student body and I won. And I didn't feel any prejudice or anything at all. In fact, another Japanese friend and I, when we were in seventh and eighth grades, we belonged to a club called Flaming Flashes, and they were a bunch of, seven or eight of us girls. And we would meet every Thursday in one of the girls' homes. And they lived on the Gold Coast. Of course, I lived here on Pacific Avenue, and just to tell you the differences in our lives, we were all going to wear (red) pedal pushers, White Stag. At that time, White Stag was a brand that was really popular, like Adidas or (UnderArmor) or something is today. And so I asked my mom, I said, "Mom, I want to get some of these pedal pushers, red ones." And my mom says, "Oh, you don't have to buy them," she says, "I'll make them for you." You know, I couldn't say to Mom, "No, I want to buy 'em," because that would make my mom feel bad. And so my mom made them, she made me nice pedal pushers, they were red, made out of pique. And I remember that I was a little embarrassed, but I didn't want to hurt my mom's feelings. And it was only years later I realized it was because we were so poor, you know. And that breaks my heart to think that I didn't appreciate these pedal pushers.

JC: Kiyo, what were some of the special things that you remember about elementary school, or I don't think we talked about high school yet.

KM: Oh, high school. Well, high school, my life was very much, my social life was very much separated from high school, from home to high school. In high school I associated primarily with non-Japanese, and I was in different various service clubs, and I was president of one, I can't even remember the name of it right offhand.

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<Begin Segment 8>

JC: Kiyo, your elementary years were pretty happy for you, weren't they? Can you talk a little bit about your high school experience? You went to Alameda High School?

KM: Yes, I went to Alameda High School. At lunchtime and all, there was a little group of girls that I had lunch with, we'd walk down to Park Street every day and go to Boniere Bakery and get palm leaves, that's what I liked, I remember. And I also belonged to several social clubs. But one thing that stands out now is that I did not socialize with the girls that I went to elementary school with, because they all joined sororities. And, of course, I wasn't asked to be in one, and I didn't give it that much thought, but I was disappointed. And my social life changed completely when I went to high school. My social life was centered primarily here at the temple with my Japanese friends, so I went to, I was part of the Junior YBA and we went to dances and things like that here.

JC: May I ask a question, Kiyo? So in high school, when you were not invited to join the sorority, what did you think? Why was that?

KM: I didn't... I thought it was because I was Japanese, you know, I was not white. But it's something that I just accepted.

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<Begin Segment 9>

JC: Kiyo, can you just continue on then? You were talking about your social acquaintances, or your friends, outside of high school. They were mostly Japanese American?

KM: Yes, because it was by my temple, my temple life on the weekends. You know when I was in high school, I was embarrassed to say that I was a Buddhist. I remember once someone said, "What is that? Don't you believe in God?" And I said, "No." And I remember that really did shut me up about being Buddhist. And it wasn't until many years later that I was able to say anything. And maybe this is why my life turned out as it did. I went to college, I didn't... talking about being Buddhist, when I was in high school, I was not a Buddhist by faith, but just by association with my social life. But when I was in college, I met Will. And Will wanted to be, go to Japan and be a Buddhist minister. And, of course, I had fallen in love with Will and that was fine. But it wasn't fine with my dad. And so when he learned that we wanted to get married, he said no because to be a minister's wife. And he said no, because a minister will always be poor and the ministers' wives will always be talked badly, and he didn't want that for his daughter. But eventually he relented and we got married. And Will and I, this is in 1962, we went to Japan, because he studied in Japan, we went to Kyoto. And talking about being prejudiced, we went to Kyoto, which is a supposedly very cultured. And Will, he spoke broken Japanese, as here. And so he spoke with a lot of colloquial jargon and Meiji-era Japanese. And so he was made fun of, of course. And then I could not speak Japanese, and I remember Will was asked, several times, "Is your wife, is she from Indonesia?" Because I was dark and I didn't dress Japanese. We have lots of experiences of prejudice against us. I think much more, we felt it much more there than we did here as being Japanese in the United States. So that was sort of an interesting thing.

JC: What did you study when you went to Berkeley?

KM: Oh, when I was in Berkeley, I wanted to go into medicine. But then, of course, as I said, I fell in love, and Will said he's going to be going to Japan after he graduates, and he went to San Francisco State. So I transferred to San Francisco State also. And I became... and I got a teaching credential, something that I really didn't want to do because I didn't want to teach. But karmically, it all turned out the way it was supposed to, I'm fine. When we went to Japan, I had two boys, my two boys were born there, very interesting. Came home and I was a minister's wife for sixty years. And I think my dad was happy that we were not so poor because I was able to work and help out with our family.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

JC: What is your life like today?

KM: Gosh, I am so fortunate, Judy, in that I've been... my family is, I've got a lovely family, lovely friends. Will and I are retired, we live in Oakland. I have two boys. I had a daughter.

JC: What are their names?

KM: Oh, yeah, Todd and Peter were born in Japan. And I had a daughter, we had a daughter, Ariya, she was born here in 1968. But we lost her when she was eighteen in an accident. She was, it was her sophomore year, first day of her sophomore year at UC Santa Cruz. It was very tragic.

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<Begin Segment 11>

JC: What's your hope for your family? What is your hope for this next generation? I know there are some things that you really love to do, and one of the things you mentioned was you love to do talks with young folks?

KM: Oh, yes.

JC: Can you talk a little bit about that?

KM: Yes. Talking about being a teacher and going into education, it's still a very big part of me right now, I think. I taught English, Language Arts, History, Social Science, in middle school. I taught elementary, I taught some high school, but my real interest in the teaching part was middle school. And I got a master's in English, Language Arts, and specializing in literacy. And so that's something that just really motivated me into reading. And I was also an administrator in schools. And then the last (seven or eight) years of my professional career, but I was director of a large group of teachers who taught teachers how to teach reading, literacy. And through that, of course, I became so interested in getting kids to read, write and think. And so one of the things that I've been doing is presentations, workshops, for dharma school teachers in our Buddhist organizations on how to use children's books in teaching the dharma..

I'd like to share, is this Cherokee story that I use all the time. There is a Cherokee grandfather, and he is fishing with his grandson and they're having talks about life. And the grandpa says to his grandson, he says, "You know, we all have two wolves in ourselves." One is a bad wolf, and he is jealous, he gets angry, he's selfish, he's a bully, and he doesn't help other people, and it's always "me, me, me." And then the other wolf is loving, is kind, is altruistic, is helpful, will do anything to help other people, and sympathetic, giving, and he's quiet. And the grandson says, "Well, Grandpa, if they're always fighting, which one wins? Doesn't anyone win?" And the grandpa says, "What do you think?" And the little boy says, "I don't know." The grandpa says, "Well, it's the one that you feed. It's the wolf that you feed." And I think that is so true today. But during the war, we were incarcerated and it was wrong, it was wrong. And then in 19, what, '88, we were paid money for a wrong. Well, I don't think that that really meant anything. But what I think the war did was, and after the war, the redress, all of that, maybe in the '70s also, the thing that it brought up was that hate and racism is alive and well, and we're able to talk about it now. When I was growing up, we couldn't talk about things like that, and today we can, and it's because of the culmination of what happened to us, what happened after the war, and now the strong voices of the Sansei, what's happening now, we've got all this hate, antagonistic, horrible things that are happening. And I firmly believe that it's because we hear so much hate talk. We have to counter that with the "good wolf" talk, you know. We have to feed the good wolf, and I don't think we're doing enough of that, we have to continue to do that. So hopefully, now that we have these different support groups... anyway, I hope we can.

JC: Kiyo, thank you so much for sharing today. Your story about the wolves, you're the good wolf.

KM: [Laughs] No, we all have both of them.

JC: No, you're a good wolf, and I just really appreciate your spirit, your generous spirit of telling your story, and it gives me hope, lot of hope.

KM: Thank you. I think that's what we have to do, is continue to fight -- and here that is a war word, but I'm using it -- for what we believe is right. And that was my dad. He never lost his Japanese spirit of doing what is right.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.