Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Masao Watanabe Interview
Narrator: Masao Watanabe
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: June 19, 1998
Densho ID: denshovh-wmasao-01-0006

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: And in general, did the workers in the Japanese stalls pretty much frequent or go to the Japanese restaurants and places?

MW: I think as a rule I would say yes. But there were a lot of these chain types of restaurants like Manning's, and I don't see any of those restaurants around anymore. They were a little more than McDonald's or Burger King or something, but they used to have some pretty good restaurants that had very reasonable breakfasts and lunches. And we had Greek restaurants and Italian restaurants. It was a unique society, I think.

TI: When the Japanese pretty much stayed, or frequent in general, the Japanese places, was it because it was a sort of a comfort thing that they felt like they should or they wanted to support Japanese? Or was there a sense that they weren't wanted in other, these other stores as much, or other restaurants as much?

MW: I don't think -- well, my recollection is that the society, the market society itself, was very liberal. I mean, there was no animosities between the Italians or the Japanese or anything like that, so I think it was just their being used to certain types of food, and it was very interesting.

TI: Can you describe some examples of the Japanese sort of mingling with either the Italians or the Greeks or other people and how that, how that worked?

MW: Yeah. It's hard to kind of guess, but, gee, most of Greeks and Italians were... gee, I hate to use the word "similar," but they were probably from farming communities in Italy or something, so that their backgrounds were relatively the same. And I think it was easy for Isseis per se with the Italians or Greeks to communicate with each other even if they weren't too proficient in each other's language. It was a unique society, is all I can say.

TI: And as you were growing up and you needed to go get food someplace, as a boy working in the market, were you paid by your father and then with this money you would go and buy hamburger or something, or how did that work?

MW: Yeah, well, we had very sophisticated cash registers: little cigar boxes and things like that. So depending on where we went for lunch, we just grabbed a few, few dollars and went. But so much of the market, I think, that was a very unique part was the bartering system, where we'd go to Manning's Cafe, which was a real big chain, or some meat market and just grab some things, and they would come back and get fruits and vegetables. So it was kind of an exchange. But my recollection is we didn't bother to find out, well, you took two dollar's worth of that or a dollar's worth of that, or... it was a very informal thing.

TI: That sounds interesting. So that informally, if you needed something at a meat market, they knew who you were.

MW: Oh yeah.

TI: And so when you took something or used something, conversely they could come to your dad's place and get produce.

MW: Yeah. They could come to my dad's place and get something of equal value. [Laughs] It was very interesting.

TI: Was there ever a sense that there were some people who took advantage of that system and people quit bartering with them? Can you recall anything like that?

MW: That's hard to say, because I'm only aware of what I did or my brother did or my father did. And I just, I think I would say that everybody knew each other and there was no advantage in trying to take advantage of people.

TI: Was that a little unique? You grew up in the Japanese community, but it seems like the market was a place where there was a lot of mixing with other ethnic groups.

MW: Yeah.

TI: Which, back before the war, wasn't done that much by people who lived within the Japanese community. Do you think that gave you a different perspective about Italians and Greeks that perhaps your friends who grew up in the Japanese community didn't have?

MW: Probably. I think we were in general a little more liberal, and gee, we got along pretty good, but I think it was a similarity of backgrounds that created this similarity. Even today, if I go down Rainier Avenue, there is a Desmone's who has a little fruit and vegetable stand down here, and he's the son of one of the sons who was close to my age. So you find them around still, and they look the same and act the same. [Laughs]

TI: That's good.

MW: So it's interesting.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.