Densho Digital Repository
Alameda Japanese American History Project Collection
Title: Kenneth Narahara Interview
Narrator: Kenneth Narahara
Interviewer: Jo Takeda
Location: Alameda, California
Date: November 5, 2021
Densho ID: ddr-ajah-1-2

<Begin Segment 1>

JT: It's Friday, November 5, 2021, and we're here at the Buddhist Temple of Alameda. And I'm here with Ken Narahara. I'm going to ask, be interviewing Ken and asking you a few questions, Ken. So would you follow my lead?

KN: Okay.

JT: This is Ken Narahara. Kenny, can you tell us what year you were born?

KN: I was born December 16, 1936.

JT: Here in Alameda?

KN: My birth certificate shows Oakland, but we were living here in Alameda on Park Street. I don't know what they call those people that...

JT: Were you born by midwife?

KN: There you go.

JT: You were?

KN: Oh, I shouldn't have told you guys that.

JT: I didn't know that.

KN: Oh, I didn't know that either. Let's start all over again. Let's just say Alameda and make it simple.

JT: All right, well, I didn't know you were born... I knew you were born in Alameda, but I did not know that a midwife had your...

KN: You're not supposed to talk about midwife.

JT: Okay, start over. We're interviewing Ken Narahara, who was born in Alameda in 1936.

KN: Right.

JT: But before we talk about you, Kenny, I wanted to ask you a few questions about your grandparents. What were their names?

KN: Well, I don't know their first name, but they're from Fukuoka and it's a Narahara. And I'm not sure how old my grandfather was, but my grandmother was around nineteen, eighteen, yeah, 1899 when she came.

JT: To California?

KN: When she came to the United States.

JT: Were they married?

KN: Yeah, they were married. And I said my gosh, she was only nineteen. And they came and then my dad was born in 1901. And so from there, they bought that house, I was telling you about the one on Park Street, what do they call it?

JT: Right. Well, that's what I wanted to ask you first about your grandparents. From what I've studied, they had a ryokan, Japanese, we'll call it a hotel. And you said it was on Park Street in Alameda?

KN: Right there on Park Street, yeah. And they were people that was coming from Japan, and they were discharged in San Francisco and they'd take a ferry to Alameda. And they stayed one night. Sometimes even sailors stayed there more than that. But most people came and stayed one night and went to Sacramento where all the farming and where they could make money and go... I have no idea.

JT: Well, maybe they still were looking for gold, but I know that Alameda became a, what they call -- and I just heard this -- a way station. In other words, when people came from Japan, they heard about this ryokan on Park Street, the Narahara ryokan, and they came and stayed in there for a few nights and went off to look for jobs somewhere else.

KN: So I was surprised that my grandmother, she took care of the place, and my grandfather was the one that went to Sacramento, too. And I don't know what for. And so my grandmother, she ran the ryokan by herself.

JT: I know.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

JT: Tell us a little bit about what you remember or what you heard about your grandma, how hard she worked? She must have had to work hard because she had your dad in 1901?

KN: Then she had my uncle.

JT: Uncle Mas?

KN: Uncle Mas. No, no, she had an aunt, I mean a daughter. And I forgot her name. but she died of tuberculosis or something like that when she was twenty-one, twenty-two years old. And Uncle Mas, he was okay, and they all lived in that house on Park Street.

JT: That hotel.

KN: That hotel.

JT: And what was your father's name?

KN: Sam.

JT: Okay, and did he have a Japanese name?

KN: Isamu.

JT: Ah, that's where he got Sam. And his brother's name was...

KN: My uncle's name?

JT: Uh-huh.

KN: Mas.

JT: And Mas was younger than Sam?

KN: Yes. Maybe two years or something like that.

JT: You were only, you were born there, but your dad and brother were raised in that ryokan, in the hotel.

KN: Yes.

JT: Of course, do you know, it's just across the street from where we are today, the Buddhist Temple.

KN: Right. And my grandfather bought that house when, I'm not sure, but it was a few years after he was here in the United States. And I think because my daddy was a citizen then.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

JT: Well, your dad was born an American citizen in 1901. And then you were telling me that your dad had a florist's. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

KN: Yeah. My uncle was Uncle Mas. When he was younger, I think he was still going to high school, and he was going to the florist shop on Tawada's on Santa Clara Avenue, and he learned... I guess Harry Kono learned how to do the flower business. And then my dad, in 1923, '24, was taught the flower business from my Uncle Mas and they two bought the flower shop.

JT: And where was that located?

KN: On Grand Avenue in Oakland. That's where the Oakland theater is?

JT: Oh, Grand Lake?

KN: Grand Lake Theatre, close to Piedmont.

JT: And you said that your uncle Mas was taught by Harry Kono?

KN: Yeah, he worked there.

JT: Because Harry Kono had the shop on Santa Clara, and he learned his flower skills from Mr. Hayashi, who had that same shop before.

KN: Yeah, we didn't know Mr. Hayashi.

JT: So was your dad working, or did your dad have the florist's when the war broke out?

KN: Yes, he had the florist shop right into the Depression until the time the war started. And then when they had to leave Alameda, they had to sell everything.

JT: Let's talk about that a little. What do you remember about when the war started? Because you were only four years old. Do you remember anything?

KN: Not a whole lot. But I always know my mom was busy all the time.

JT: Right. Because did you have any brothers or sisters?

KN: Yeah, I have an older sister, Joan, and a brother, Eddie, and my other sister Carol.

JT: And where are you in the family?

KN: I'm the bottom. I'm the fourth one.

JT: The youngest.

KN: Youngest.

JT: Okay. Were you spoiled?

KN: I guess so. I'm not sure. I had a good life.

JT: What makes you say you were spoiled?

KN: Because I think, my siblings are, they had to adhere to my father and mother more closely than I did. I was the nice boy.

JT: Oh, you were a good boy?

KN: I was a good boy.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

JT: Let's go back to... before that, let's go back to the days before, when the war broke out. You told me that your family, people had to leave Alameda pretty quickly after the, Pearl Harbor. What did your family do? You said that...

KN: My family was split up. My sister and I, Carol and I, went to Oakland. I'm not sure the name of the residence we were at, but my dad had to be over there to sell his shop up.

JT: Close up the shop.

KN: Close it up. And then my other brother and sister, Eddie and Joan, went to Irvington, to the Tajimas, everybody knows Tajima family. And they stayed over there, and then when my dad finished his thing in Oakland, then they moved to Irvington. And then from Irvington we all moved, we all went to Tanforan from there.

JT: I see. And you said, when you went to Irvington, you went with the Tajimas?

KN: Yeah, that was...

JT: Were you related to them?

KN: No. My dad just, our grandfather knew each other from way back.

JT: They're old Alameda families, so they helped each other out.

KN: Right.

JT: And where did you stay in Oakland?

KN: Well, close to Piedmont, but I don't remember the residence.

JT: Oh, I think you told me it was Mas Oishi's.

KN: Oh, no, that was after coming back from the war.

JT: Oh, okay. Well, we're not there yet. Let's get to Tanforan first.

KN: And what I remember of Tanforan, they talk about the horse stable where people had to live and sleep. That part I remember a little bit, but most times, you read it before...

JT: Right. Was your family in one of the horse stalls?

KN: Yeah. We were all together, we were always, (seven) of us, Grandma...

JT: So there were your grandparents?

KN: No, my grandfather already passed away.

JT: Okay. So there was baachan.

KN: Baachan.

JT: And your parents and the four of you.

KN: That's right.

JT: Do you remember doing anything at Tanforan? Because you were only, like, four, four and a half years old. Do you remember anything about it?

KN: Well, I remember the big mess hall that's under the stadium with all the people. And then my mother had to get food for the family.

JT: And you told me, you said you had to stand in line?

KN: Well, grandmother, my mother did.

JT: Oh, mom did.

KN: Because Mom, we were just too small.

JT: Right, you were too young.

KN: Yeah, too young. So she took care of the whole family.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

JT: And then from there, your family, with all the other evacuees, had to get on buses? Did you tell me they were buses?

KN: Oh, no. Well, then I think we, according to my brother Eddie, we had to go to Topaz in September. So when September rolled around the next year, we got on a train at midnight or something, it was dark, and we rode in it, down with the shades, and rode into Utah.

JT: Oh, you got on the train with -- and you remember that? The shades were drawn?

KN: Well, all I remember is it being so dark at night with the shades down. And the regular train noise and this and that, so you know you're going.

JT: Right. So you were just a little kid, so were you a good boy? Did you sit still like they asked you to?

KN: Oh, I'm still a good boy. [Laughs] Yeah, then we went to Topaz. First it was, they called it Delta, that's the name of the town. Then we got into Topaz, barracks.

JT: When you got there, do you remember what it was like? What was your first impression of Topaz? Because it was in October, right? It was in the fall, close to winter.

KN: Yeah. Well...

JT: Didn't you tell me that it was, there was so much dust or something, you couldn't...

KN: Yeah, when we first got there, it was nice. I can't remember all the dust. But as we left, the year after that, every year, we know when the dust storms are coming. Nighttime, the winter over there was tremendous, it snowed, four feet deep and all that. But as a kid...

JT: But you do remember going to eat in the mess hall at camp, right?

KN: Yeah. Well, beginning... not beginning. My mom, still, was going to the cafeteria, I mean, mess hall, and bringing food home for everybody.

JT: Oh, she brought it back to you, you didn't eat in the mess hall. And how many of you lived in the barrack?

KN: Well, we had one corner. And I guess it was divided two ways with Grandma there, and the four kids and my mom and dad. And (we) had a great big, what they call those black stoves.

JT: Potbelly?

KN: Potbelly. That's where I learned how to get coal and warm up the house.

JT: Where did you go get the coal?

KN: There was a great big coal pile in the center of the block. They had one, two, three, four, five, six... seven or eight, I don't know, I think eight. I think eight, four and four, I'm not sure, but they had a center where the coal pile is where we can pick it up.

JT: You picked it up in buckets?

KN: Buckets and then take it out. Basically it was my older brother, he did most of the hard work.

JT: Who?

KN: Eddie.

JT: Eddie?

KN: Yeah.

JT: And what were you doing?

KN: Tagging along. [Laughs]

JT: Did you have many kids to play with your age in the barracks?

KN: Yeah. I think we were in kindergarten, but I don't remember any of the names, I don't remember a lot. But it was a fun time.

JT: But you remember what you did when you were playing with them? What kind of things did you do?

KN: Throwing tops and playing marbles. What else was there?

JT: How do you throw a top?

KN: You roll it up and somebody throws a top there, you roll it up and throw the top on top of the other top. Because the top has a, like a nail there.

JT: And you win or you lose?

KN: Well, you hit the top and the other one will fall down and your top will still be going.

JT: Oh, I see.

KN: And even if it's not going, you still won the war because you hit the thing.

JT: So you played marbles and tops.

KN: Tops, yeah.

JT: Because remember, you were still just not even... well, you were in kindergarten, right? Did you go to school?

KN: Yeah. Don't remember how old, but we had fun there.

JT: You had fun at school?

KN: Yeah.

JT: Was it Japanese school or American?

KN: No, no, American school. I don't think we had Japanese school there.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

JT: Well, what I was wondering was, you're only about a year difference in age from your sister Carol. And then your sister Joanie and Eddie, so you're all about five years apart?

KN: Almost.

JT: All together. So did you do things together? Did you play... I mean, what did you do?

KN: No, most of us were all...

JT: Doing different things.

KN: Yeah. I never thought about that. I mean, I stayed with my brother a lot. Because he told me about going out of the camp. We're not supposed to... we snuck out, but when you're a kid, you do those things.

JT: Oh, you mean, you just snuck out of your... not out of the camp?

KN: And we better not talk to... should I write that down? But anyway...

JT: You didn't sneak out of the camp, you snuck out of, away from your barracks.

KN: Yeah. Well, whatever it was. But we're supposed to... anyway, you can talk to my brother about that.

JT: You had fun. Well, you were just a young kid, and Eddie was only four years older, so he wasn't... but he was good role model the way you turned out, look at you.

KN: You're right, you're right.

JT: But I wanted you to tell me about what it was like inside the barrack.

KN: Inside the barrack?

JT: Uh-huh, where you lived, your living quarters. There were eight of you, seven of you in one space, one small space?

KN: Well, it didn't seem small. Because it's all divided up with walls.

JT: And was your mom home, inside most of the time at home?

KN: Yeah.

JT: What was your dad doing?

KN: Well, he was, one time, what they called block manager, yeah, he did that. And then summertimes or when apple season came around, they all got on a truck and they all went picking apples.

JT: Did you say he was a block manager?

KN: Yeah.

JT: I didn't know that.

KN: Well, I don't know.

JT: Because I know that my mother was a block manager.

KN: She was? Really.


JT: Well, I was trying to remember, you were telling me about what you used to do with your brother in camp, besides marbles and tops. Ice skating.

KN: Oh, we'd go hiking out on the field and then we did go ice skating. And then they had an entertainment thing in the center of the, had sumo and stuff like that, judo.

JT: They had tournaments.

KN: Tournament stuff. But that's all it was.

JT: But you were a young boy, so those were the kinds of things young kids would remember.

KN: Theater too that we saw movies once a week on Fridays, Friday night.

JT: Oh my goodness. You had a movie theater?

KN: Yeah. Well, it's a barrack, but they just...

JT: But, I mean, they put up a screen and showed an old movie. Did you have any favorite movies at that time?

KN: They're all cowboys. [Laughs]

JT: I was going to say, they were cowboy and Indian.

KN: They're still my favorite.

JT: They are? So you remember, what cowboy movies do you remember?

KN: Oh, Tom Mix and all that, Mickey Mouse. I can't remember all those.

JT: Well, you know, Mickey Mouse was around then, I think Mickey Mouse just turned... he came out in 1927, so he's older than you are, Mickey Mouse.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

JT: But remember coming home after you left the camp? Did you all come back as one family?

KN: Yeah, we all came back as one family. We stayed at Mas Oishi's place, I was telling you, in Oakland. And I don't know how long we stayed there, six months or something. But then we came here to the gakuen.

JT: Right. Well, back up a little. You said you left from the ryokan, the hotel. What happened to the hotel when you left?

KN: It was sold, it was gone.

JT: You had to empty it?

KN: Oh, yeah. In fact, I completely forgot about that ryokan until you brought it up, and my brother was telling me about it, too.

JT: And where did you come? You come back to Alameda?

KN: We went to Oakland first, East Fourteenth Street, Mas Oishi's place, and then we came to the Buddhist church here at the gakuen, that's what they call it.

JT: That gakuen, that was that building...

KN: 2320.

JT: 2320 where the apartments are now.

KN: Right. But was had all the families there.

JT: When you say "all the families," can you remember how many?

KN: Tomines.

JT: Oh, the Tomines?

KN: Yeah, Ozekis, Sugiyama, somebody else. I can't name 'em all.

JT: There were, like, five families who were there. Do you remember what it was like? Did you live in one room?

KN: Oh, no, we all had separate rooms.

JT: I mean, did your family all live in one area, one room? Was it kind of like an apartment building?

KN: I think it was just a room with partitions between.

JT: I remember there, I used to play there. But what about, and you had to share the bathroom, too, right?

KN: Yeah, but with all the families.

JT: With all the families.

KN: And had one neutral family toilet and all that stuff.

JT: And the laundry room.

KN: Yeah. And how they cooked, I'm not sure how Mom did that.

JT: All I know is that you knew what the neighbor was having for dinner by the smell, by the aroma, I should say, right? And you told me a little bit about that, was your grandma a good cook?

KN: My grandma, or my mother?

JT: Your grandma. She used to cook okazu kind of things. But was your mother a good cook?

KN: I think so. I ate whatever was on the table.

JT: [Laughs]

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

JT: Well, let's go back to those days when you lived in that, you called it the schoolhouse?

KN: Yeah, gakuen.

JT: You lived there. Did you go to school? By then you were able to go to school.

KN: Yeah, I was, like, in the fourth, fifth grade. We walked to Porter School.

JT: Oh, so you went to Porter School.

KN: Yeah.

JT: Did you have a lot of friends, Japanese friends?

KN: No, I didn't have any Japanese friends, because there was nobody my age. I don't know why, but all I had was my regular hakujin friends. And they were all nice to me, I was nice to them. Of course, I guess when you're younger, none of this stuff affected us.

JT: You don't remember being called names for being Japanese.

KN: No. I was their best friend and they were my best friends.

JT: What kind of things did you do with them?

KN: We had, we played our pickup baseball games and football games. Like Kiyoshi Naito was here. Came to the United States with his father, Reverend Naito.

JT: When you were young? Is he your age?

KN: And we used to walk to Porter School together.

JT: Oh, for heaven's sake. And Kiyoshi is Jane's...

KN: Jane's brother.

JT: Brother or father?

KN: Oh, no, Jane's father.

JT: I'm trying to think. Okay, because their father was the minister here, Naito.

KN: That's her grandfather. Jane is Kiyoshi's daughter, her father was, I mean, her grandfather was the minister here.

JT: Right, exactly.


JT: So at Porter School, what kind of things do you remember? Were you, what kind of student were you?

KN: So-so.

JT: What did you like to do?

KN: Play baseball and play football.

JT: You were an athlete.

KN: Well, I was always on a good team.

JT: You were?

KN: Of course, because I made the team.

JT: Were you picked first?

KN: Of course. But I was small, too, I don't know why. Maybe that's why I am...

JT: You're like that guy on the 49ers, Frank Gore.

KN: There was one hard teacher that, his name was Oppenheimer. And why I remember him, I have no idea, but it was probably the strictest teacher, but he was straightforward and I don't know why I liked him.

JT: Did he like you?

KN: He liked everybody.

JT: You liked him because...

KN: I kind of liked him, but he was...

JT: respected him.

KN: And today, for me to remember his name like that, is incredible. I can't remember half of the people in my high school.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

JT: So you went to Porter School, and then where did you go after that?

KN: Alameda High.

JT: Oh, and what was that like? Were you playing in sports?

KN: That was a wonderful time because I played sports there. And I played football, and I learned how to play golf a little bit. Well, nowadays, Alameda High is not a golf course, but go ahead.

JT: But you played football, you were a Hornet. Did you play the Yellowjackets?

KN: No, they were the Hornets. I played my freshman, sophomore year. I quit in my junior year because all my members of my class, they already played senior football.


JT: So you played for the Alameda Hornets. What position did you play? What position?

KN: I returned punts.

JT: Oh, you were one of those guys that...

KN: One of those guys that they kicked the ball and they looked a... or you see that ball in the light and you catch it and then you run, and into your defensive line.

JT: Wow you must have been good. There aren't too many of those on the team.

KN: Yeah, I was lucky, too.

JT: You were lucky.

KN: Well, when I was a sophomore, I was playing junior football while I was a halfback. But the guy that was playing halfback for this varsity team is in the same class as mine. So if I went up and got on the junior team, I can't knock off the first string quarterback.


JT: So you played sports in Alameda High. Did you do anything... how did you get there?

KN: What?

JT: To Alameda.

KN: Oh, Alameda? Oh, from Bay Farm Island, we were already there.

JT: So you got a school bus?

KN: School bus, yeah.

JT: Well, you know, you talk about Bay Farm Island. What I wanted to ask you is about what year did you go to, move to Bay Farm Island?

KN: 1950.

JT: Okay, so you came back in '45, lived at the gakuen or Japanese school for five years, and then you moved to Bay Farm Island. How did you get that house? Because in those days, they weren't selling to Japanese.

KN: Well, my mom got a job. Dorothy, she got a job at the naval air station. See, my mom worked there for over twenty years. And when she got there, then she knew people that...

JT: What did she do at the naval air station?

KN: Clerk something typist, whatever. But she's kind of lucky, too, but at that time, the Japanese were bringing guys over from Japan. And my mom's the only one that spoke Japanese, and so they liked her a lot.

JT: So she was kind of like a go-between. She helped the people...

KN: So she had a lot of friends, and then the friends said, "Hey, Dorothy, why don't you get that house there?" And my dad said, "Good, let's go."

JT: So you were probably the first Japanese family to live there. Because before 1940, I forget the year, they didn't let Japanese live past Broadway, anywhere beyond Broadway. So you were one of the first.

KN: It wasn't by law, right? It was by prejudice.

JT: Well, yes. And we can talk about prejudice, but do you remember being teased or talked about being Japanese? Did you ever feel any prejudice or racism?

KN: Not me.

JT: You never did? Because you were "one of the guys."

KN: Well, if you talk to my sisters and brothers, they weren't one of the guys, they were called "Japs" and this and that. But I guess, maybe, I don't know, I just happened to be already involved with American guys or something.

JT: Well, there weren't any Japanese kids your age here in Alameda then, were there? You were the only ones that age.

KN: Right.

JT: There were a bunch of girls, but no one your age.


JT: We were talking about high school, and we were talking about the fact that you didn't feel different because you were Japanese, but you were the only Japanese in your class, right? You were just a regular guy.

KN: Just a regular guy. And I'm surprised, I talked to Mas Takano and he said, oh, he was harassed a lot of times. His age, his group was five years older than I.

JT: Yeah, he's five years older than you.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

JT: You know, we talked about coming back to Alameda, and I wanted to know, the ryokan wasn't there, the hotel wasn't there, so what did your dad do for a living?

KN: My dad, after the twenty years of flower business, and I think he was pretty smart. He said... he went into gardening. And when I said gardening, my dad knows about flowers, he knows how to architect landscape, things like that. But for some reason... and he had this old panel truck, 1937 truck. And it didn't go too far when the war broke out. He dismantled the truck and made it so that when he got back from camp, he would be able to put cars together and run it. And sure enough...

JT: He got it going?

KN: Even my brother and I got in there, we cleaned the engine out.

JT: You remember that?

KN: Yeah, and we got kerosene and put oil in, and he got that thing running.

JT: Where was it? Where did he have it stored?

KN: Either at Tajima's family or someplace, we're not sure, but they had it in the garage.

JT: But he took it apart. He took it apart?

KN: Well, no, actually, he didn't take it apart. He left elevators on, some crutches, so it wouldn't be on the wheels. The body itself would be off the ground. And they got new tires and everything, that's where I learned about the cars, too.

JT: Oh, and so he got it going and you learned how to do a little car, work on cars.

KN: Well, I learned how to drive the stick shift.

JT: How old were you?

KN: Well, I was going to high school... no, it was earlier than that. By then, well, he let me drive that truck in a churchyard. But anyway, he had that truck to do gardening, and he was able to go to Piedmont, he knows the rich people were over there and all that.

JT: I'm sure, because he had that florist in Oakland.

KN: Yeah. So he kind of catered to Piedmont Avenue and all those places, and then because he was good in florist, he knew how to take care of landscaping.

JT: Plants?

KN: Yeah, and then he started putting plants in, lawns, and doing that kind of stuff. And good old dad bought a, what did I say, 1949 Chevrolet?

JT: Yes.

KN: We had a new one, we had it parked right there.

JT: No, '59.

KN: '49.

JT: Oh, wow.

KN: We were still at the church, I mean, gakuen here.

JT: Oh, okay.

KN: Brand new '49 and proud of that.

JT: I'm sure.

KN: And we drove it to Bay Farm Island and had the thing there. So I said Dad did a pretty good job.

JT: I think he did. Do you remember helping him? Did he ask you to help him do gardening?

KN: Gardening? My brother more. I don't know why, because my brother was bigger.

JT: Well, Eddie was older, too.

KN: Yeah, older. But I played baseball on Sundays, Saturdays, so I couldn't go.

JT: So you didn't have to?

KN: No, I went.

JT: Did you learn a lot from him?

KN: In a way. Because even I do gardening here on Fridays. In my mind, I don't pick up things that are, I do things so maybe we could do it next week. But you want to do something that is really looking bad, you want the whole place to look nice. You don't look at the lawn only, you look at the trees or you look at this. Sometimes it's hard to do hard work, you have to do the things that are more important, things you can leave over to the next month.

JT: But you didn't. You did it all. You made it look nice.

KN: Make it look nice all the time.

JT: Did you learn that from your dad?

KN: Yeah.

JT: He was like that?

KN: He said when you leave up gardening, you got to make it look like you did something, and something that was out of hand.

JT: That has a lot to do with pride, doesn't it?

KN: I guess so, I think so.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

JT: Did your folks talk about that a lot, pride in doing your best and things like that?

KN: No, they just, I guess you learn, because Mom did the best she could.

JT: You learn by role model, watching?

KN: Yeah. Because you think my mom, thirty-two, that's when the children were born, she had to take care of all of us and go into the camp with Grandma and everything, she had to start a whole life.

JT: They had it rough.

KN: Yeah. And then she went into, she got out and she went to work at the naval air station. That was a good thing, and she had, what twenty years of service there? So we had a lot to be proud of.

JT: You do, and your parents worked hard?

KN: They worked hard.

JT: Did you ever talk to them about that, about how, realizing how hard they worked? Kodomo no tame ni?

KN: No.

JT: You didn't?

KN: They always told me you'd better work hard, you'd better do this, you'd better do that. It was always the other way.

JT: Did they tell you why?

KN: No.

JT: You just knew that you had to do...

KN: Just following their ways. But now that you get older and think of all the things that they've done, you appreciate them much more. Now I understand. You brought out a lot of stuff that I never thought of. Of course, I'm in a world by myself, too, and now the whole world is, too.

JT: Well, so much has changed.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

JT: But let's go back a little bit to find out what made you... after high school, what did you do after you graduated?

KN: I went to, I was telling you about business college. I went here and there and then they said, "You have to go in the service for two years." And I'm wishy-washy what I want to do, okay, I'll go in the service for two years. Everybody had to go.

JT: So you went.

KN: So I went.

JT: What service?

KN: The army.

JT: Okay, and where did you go?

KN: Fort Ord and went to Fort Lewis. Nothing to be proud of, we all worked hard.

JT: Well, no, but you served your country.

KN: Yeah, I did my service.

JT: And those were good, you don't feel like those were two years of your life that were lost because what else --

KN: No, no, no, I was lucky. Because you look at history, I was too young for the Korean War, and then when I was in the army, the Vietnam War was coming up. And I didn't have to go to Vietnam, but I know I was on alert all the time. But I said, "Look at these guys to go to Vietnam," they had a horrible time. Now, North Korea, that was...

JT: Right, like Kenny Okamoto.

KN: So lucky. And I got out.

JT: So then you went to school?

KN: Yeah, I went to Armstrong Business College.

JT: What did you study there?

KN: Oh, business. Business law, calculus.

JT: Oh, math?

KN: Math. Everything that had to do with business.

JT: And did that help you with a career? What did you do?

KN: Oh, yeah. Well, I worked for Mitsui in San Francisco, they hired me there.

JT: What do they do?

KN: They're a trading firm and they hired me to sell plastic. They said, "You know plastic?" I said no. "Do you speak some Japanese?" "No." [Laughs] "Play golf?" "Yeah, a little bit." "Okay, you're hired."

JT: You passed the test.

KN: You better take that out of there.

JT: No, wait a minute. What do you mean Mitsui in plastics? What plastics were...

KN: We were promoting Japanese plastic. See, like General Motors were selling safety film for the windshield.

JT: Oh, okay. So you worked for Mitsui and you sold to American companies.

KN: Yeah. I was the one-man team.

JT: Wow, that's a big job. Mitsui's a big company. You didn't know it?

KN: Life is funny. I don't make a big thing out of it, but after you leave it, you say, "Hey, that was pretty good." That's weird, isn't it?

JT: Well, see, Mitsui is a big company.

KN: Very big company.

JT: Yeah. In Japan, isn't it one of the big...

KN: Number one. Any guys that want to go get out of college, they wanted to go to join Mitsui.

JT: But what kind of skills did you get out of Armstrong that helped you with that job?

KN: Legal, know how to make contracts, and you got to know what you're doing when you make a deal with a big company.

JT: Finances.

KN: Finances and that. And then you got to know how to bring in products, what it costs.

JT: Shipping and transportation.

KN: That's right.

JT: So you had to know all that.

KN: You're supposed to know that. [Laughs] It's just one after another.

JT: Did you spend a lot of time in Japan?

KN: Couple times I went by business. They gave me what they call a training thing. We went for one week, all the guys that were so-called good guys, training for one week and look at all the factories and stuff like that.

JT: But what about the language? How did you navigate that? Did you speak Japanese?

KN: No. I mean, I speak enough Japanese, but I think I learned most of it, like I was telling you, my grandma, I used to take her to the Safeway store because I was the youngest one and baachan would want to talk to me in Japanese.

JT: Oh, so that's how you picked up...

KN: And then I was surprised that I go to these meetings and these guys that start talking Japanese, and I raised my hand and I said, "No, you're wrong." "Oh, you understand?" I said, everybody did. Well, see, they look at me, I'm a Sansei, but I was lucky that I picked it up a little bit.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

JT: Do you think that... you said you went to Nihon gakkou. Did you go to Nihon gakkou?

KN: Yeah.

JT: Did you learn anything?

KN: I don't want to say, I'm not sure. Maybe I did.

JT: It might have just infused...

KN: Could be.

JT: And you heard it at home all the time.

KN: But I don't want to say what I'm good and bad at doing.

JT: Well, what do you think you're good at? I mean, that's not a fair question, is it? What do you think in your life, were you the best at?

KN: Best at?

JT: Uh-huh, I mean, in terms of... let's go into sports first, because I know you were a big jock.

KN: Yeah. Well...

JT: What sports did you excel in?

KN: Well, I liked football, but I was too small. And I liked baseball. And my dad would tell me, he said, "Kenny, you got to hit the baseball when it's here, not when it's way up there." I said, "Dad, you can't hit a baseball that way, you got to hit it up there," you know, when the ball comes. But my dad was a good baseball player.

JT: He was. Do you know he played for the ATK, the Alameda baseball team? He was one of the early ones, and Uncle Mas, too, I think.

KN: Uncle Mas, no.

JT: No? They were different?

KN: In a way.

JT: So you were more like your dad.

KN: No, my dad was stubborn. [Laughs] He was... it's not stubborn, it's gaman, he knows how to...

JT: Oh, they toughed it out.

KN: You know how to be tough. He didn't take a second to nobody.

JT: But he was such a gentleman. I remember your father.

KN: Yeah, only to the ladies. I shouldn't say... we're on television.

JT: We're not on television, you're at my house, we're just talking. But no, I do remember your dad was quite a gentleman. He was always... they used to come to our house. Every year, your mom and dad, they would make the rounds, we'd do tanomoshi together. But do you remember, can you think of things that you, that he taught you by words or by, as a role model, how to be a good person? Did he say it? He didn't say it?

KN: No, just follow his way.

JT: He just followed his way. So did you take after him?

KN: I take after my mother.

JT: No, I know your mother well, but in what way?

KN: Well, I can't say I... yeah. I really don't know much. I used to think my mom could do everything. When I look at my dad, I said I'm lucky to have a dad like him.

JT: No, but your mom was a very capable... she was also very, your dad was a gentleman and your mother was a really dignified lady. So you won't mess with her either.

KN: Yeah, well, I was like mama's boy.

JT: I was going to say, were you kawai?

KN: Mama's boy. You got to be. I was the last one, boy, and Mom wanted to look after me.

JT: Oh, so you were spoiled?

KN: I don't know, I guess I was. What do you call spoiled?

JT: Well, I call spoiled when you got, if you made a little fuss you got a popsicle or candy or something. They didn't push you in the corner and say "bad boy."

KN: I have no idea.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

JT: Well, let's talk about that. Not about being spoiled, but after you worked at Mitsui, then what did you do after you retired? How long did you work for them?

KN: Thirty years? Anyway, I retired and this other Japanese company that we built a converting company here in Haywood, and they took me out for a couple years. They said, "Why waste your time playing golf?"

JT: So what did you do for them?

KN: Sales. And then teach people what there was to do. That's it.

JT: What do you mean? You also taught them...

KN: They would ask me questions because I already know about being an importer.

JT: Oh, so you mentored a lot of people.

KN: In a sense.

JT: So you made good use of what you learned at Armstrong College, and the army too.

KN: Well, the thing is, we took college prep courses in high school. I had to follow my sisters and brothers.

JT: What do you mean?

KN: You know, prep courses? Most of them, you had to take language and...

JT: And you did all that in, around football and baseball and all that, too?

KN: Yeah, I was better at baseball.

JT: And then you say you like golf now. Where do you play golf? In your backyard?

KN: Alameda golf course, I live right there.

JT: I wanted to ask you about that. Do you have any old cronies or friends that you made along the years that you still see and do things with?

KN: No.

JT: Why? Are they all gone?

KN: Well, I did mostly with, like, the company guys. And the guys at the church, there's nobody that plays golf, or they're a lot older than me.

JT: They're older than you?

KN: They're like Mas and those guys. There was that group there, Harry Haramaki, Sumi Hashimoto.

JT: Right. Were you part of the Swinging Samurai?

KN: I was too young.

JT: Well, now you're too old, and now...

KN: My dad was a Swinging Samurai.

JT: I know. I know, but they didn't swing a sword, what did they swing? Your dad, they swung golf clubs?

KN: Golf clubs, yeah.

JT: So what do you do now in your spare time?

KN: Talk to Jojo and enjoy my life. But it's funny, when you get older, there's things you can't do. I used to be a fairly good golfer, but you got to work at it. And now your body says, no, you hurt here, you hurt here. You live with it. And I go to the gym and exercise.

JT: How long have you been doing that?

KN: Oh, a long time. Since living in Bay Farm Island.

JT: You go every day?

KN: Almost. I used to go almost every day, but then when the virus came around, I quit for about a year and a half, two.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

JT: So now that you're... let's say that we're in our second half of our life, you look back, what do you think were the best times for you in your life? Your lifetime, not your grandparents, not your parents, but for you? What was the best time in your life?

KN: Hard to pick.

JT: Oh, that's good. I think that's a good sign.

KN: When you're a kid, all you did was play and play marbles and stuff like that. You grow up and you got friends that are, we'd do baseball all together and go camping and things. I don't think I missed out too much.

JT: I don't think so either.

KN: I've had a full time.

JT: Do you have anything, I know you have two children, do you have any advice you would like to give them, to pass along to them?

KN: I don't know. They are what they are now, I'm proud of them. They go to school, they worked hard, they're smart, honest. Hard to tell. But I think children will follow your parents, and I followed my parents.

JT: Role model.

KN: And the role model on that, and I try to be role model.

JT: You're a good role model.

KN: Well, I hope so, but sometimes I wish I was a little bit better. There's a lot of things I'm not telling you. [Laughs] Always tell you the good thing.

JT: Then we'll have to spend more time together.

KN: Is that an approach? That's great. I'm all for that.

JT: Well, is there anything... so may I just ask you one last question? That what you think... you already told me what your dad taught you or showed you as a role model, to be hardworking, gaman, tough it out. Do you think that was good advice?

KN: Yeah.

JT: And would you pass that along, are you passing that along to your kids?

KN: Yeah. I want them to work as hard as they can. Don't let it... even if you fail, you got to keep going.

JT: Pick yourself up and keep going.

KN: That's it, that's it. What do you say? You say you lost a battle but won the war. And I think that's so, that's what life is, I think. You got a lot of battles, and now you, but you got to win the war.

JT: And that means, what does winning the war mean to you?

KN: Well, I don't give up on the battles. I mean, I lose in the battle, but I keep going.

JT: You keep going.

KN: Sure. I'm going to win the war.

JT: I will say that I'm going to think about that a little and agree with you, but I have to wait and live a few more years.

KN: Why?

JT: Because I'm not as old as you.

KN: You don't have to be.

JT: You think I should do that now?

KN: Yes, you have a battle every day. You have a battle every day of your life. I have a battle every day of my life, and I lose some battles and I win some battles, but you've got to win the war, I mean, the whole thing, World War II, you've got to win it. There's no no to that.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

JT: When you think about... we'll finish up, but I'm thinking about your grandfather. He came here in...

KN: 1899.

JT: 1899. What do you think was in his mind?

KN: Well, I think he knew that, I think the U.S. was a place of opportunity. And where he was at, in Fukuoka, maybe there was something different. And their civilization goes much longer than ours.

JT: Right, and he must have looked forward to a good life ahead because he brought that young bride with him, sixteen years old.

KN: No, she was nineteen. I think she was nineteen, twenty, something like that.

JT: That's good, that's just the beginning of a good long life. I want to thank you for the time you spent with me. Is there anything else you want to say?

KN: I don't want to say anymore.

JT: This is your last chance to give us your wisdom, stories.

KN: Thank you, you're the first one that said that.

JT: Are you glad that we were able to talk like this?

KN: Yes, but I only did it because Jo, you can't back off from her.

JT: Do you think it's important that we were doing this?

KN: Yeah, I guess. I learned things that --

JT: -- card that you put back together, all those things? Those are precious things that you should pass on to your...

KN: Can I take out my dad's work from flower shop to doing, just pushing lawnmowers, but he didn't push lawnmowers only, he made a landscape out of it. He did things with flowers.

JT: And didn't he sign papers having to do with this building?

KN: Yeah, 'cause he was an American, he was American-born. He was one of four guys that signed the name when the transfer of this building to the church.

JT: And why was that?

KN: Because he was an American citizen.

JT: And you had to be an American citizen because they couldn't sell to aliens.

KN: That's right.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

BS: Jo, can you, let's go back in time a little bit here and ask Kenny a few questions about the time period that we're talking about. Sort of go back to, okay, we talked about the 1920s and the 1930s, ask a few questions about that. Let's get into this just a little bit.

JT: Oh, the '20s?

BS: Well, whenever this signature takes place for the transfer, whatever Kenny knows about that.

JT: Okay, I was supposed to... okay, so you were telling me that, well, of course, the folks had the ryokan on Park Street.

KN: Park Street.

JT: Buddhist Temple had its beginnings two houses away from your grandparents' hotel. So they must have been intimately involved with the Buddhist organization who wanted to make this temple here in Alameda. And you said that they wanted to buy this property but they couldn't. And what did you tell me about your father?

KN: Because if you're American citizen, you could buy a house in America. And there's about four guys that signed their names to this church as owner of the church, they're all Americans.

JT: Do you know any of the others besides Sam Narahara?

KN: No, I just know Sam Narahara. But Mas Takano knows, they've got records up here, too.

JT: Yes, we do have records. But that was in 1916, 1917. And so that's when this whole area was the center of Japantown.

KN: But I'm glad I live in this time and era.

JT: That's all I know about that.

BS: That's good. We just weren't clear about the time period that that took place. So I just wanted people who watch this to understand what that time period was.


JT: Okay, I wanted to say thank you to Kenny for sharing your time and all your interesting memories about your family with us, because I know that it's going to be very valuable, not only now, but down the road when people don't know how we lived in our time, in our days.

KN: But really it's people like you that are making this thing go together. You get everybody around and make 'em talk and do things, they should give you a medal.

JT: Okay, thank you and good night.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2021 Densho. All Rights Reserved.