Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Frank Yamasaki Interview I
Narrator: Frank Yamasaki
Interviewers: Lori Hoshino (primary), Stephen Fugita
Location: Lake Forest Park, Washington
Date: August 18, 1997
Densho ID: denshovh-yfrank-01-0010

<Begin Segment 10>

SF: You mentioned that your parents didn't speak much English. Did they send you to Japanese school?

FY: In South Park, I'm sure there must have been a, there was a Japanese, yes, there was a "tip" school or Japanese school in South Park, which was again, maybe a couple of miles away, so I didn't go.

LH: Now, why was it called a "tip" school?

FY: Well, I'm not sure, but I, I, in the old days, there was an expression that I think many gamblers used to use, and they'd say, "I got a hot tip," or, "What's the latest tip?" Meaning, what's the latest information. So often wonder, I never really got, investigated that, and often, I'm assuming that that's where it probably started.

LH: When you were a child, Japanese was your first language, wasn't it?

FY: Yes, of course, yes.

LH: And so when you went to the Japanese school it felt comfortable and then...

FY: I didn't go to Japanese school.

LH: Oh, I thought you said... I'm sorry, I'm sorry. So when you went to school, you were speaking Japanese and then when you entered all of a sudden, they're teaching you English.

FY: Yes.

LH: Now how, how did you make that adjustment?

FY: There was lots of adjustment, that I'm sure many, many Niseis have to make. Even now I have difficulty enunciating words properly. I grew up going to the grocery store and saying 'bata,' for butter. 'Eggesu,' 'meato,' I thought that's what it was supposed to be. 'Salada,' for salad, and -- [laughs] -- and at some school function where they may have -- not a formal but a semi- banquet of some sort -- I wouldn't know which spoon to use or which... and there used to be stories about how we would joke, we'd go to restaurant, and we order chicken and then they'll come with a clear soup. We'll try it, and said, "This is terrible, it's cold and it has no taste." And we didn't know that this was supposed to be a finger bowl. [Laughs] So there were, these, there were many, many adjustments that many Nisei have made.

SF: Do you remember, when you were using these words, like the word for, Nisei word for butter and so forth, did that produce kind of a self-consciousness in folks in those days?

FY: At that time no, it just... the clerk would stand there looking, and trying to figure out what we were trying to say, but I think at the same time, there were many foreigners in those days. Italians, they pronounced in a funny way, too. This is another story, but going back, before I was born, when my mother and father were on Dearborn Street, living there, my father working and the friend suggested that they start a hotel and Mother could run it. My mother could run it. And of course in those days they just have very few money, but at the same time, you borrow from all your friends and start the business. They instructed Mother to, whenever a customer comes, just show the book and tell them, "Shine, shine here." It means sign here. So the customer, with a -- heavy big guy with a beard, he'd go and he'll speak in some foreign language and he put an "X" there. See, so there she was saying some of the experience... another experience she had was one time the customer come down and gave her a bunch of old clothes, and she, Japanese, no matter what, you say thank you and show your appreciation. But after he left, she said the least they could have done is washed it, it was so dirty. So anyway, she put it away, and three or four days later this guy come down and ask for his clothes and she thought, "Oh my God, he wants his clothes back." So then we got it and returned it to him, it was still under the counter. And the guy was real angry because it was still dirty. She found out that she was supposed to send it out to the laundry. [Laughs]

LH: So it sounds as though the language difference created a lot of interesting and almost humorous situations.

FY: It did. The, the period there where it wasn't only the Asian that were immigrants. There were whites that were immigrants. So language was tolerable, much more than when I grew up where I've been insulted where somebody said, "Why don't you speak English?" because I'm not pronouncing the words correctly.

SF: You mentioned that your mom was supposed to run this hotel. And how would you -- what were gender relationships like in those days between the Issei fathers and the Issei mothers?

FY: I think it must have been the same as it was in Japan. YThe male dominance, the women's subservient state. They were to listen and not speak. I think that was pretty similar with the Italians and others, too. When I was growing up, I seen one case where this Italian family, the husband was chasing his wife all over the field. [Laughs] So this type of male chauvinism existed among, at least among the poor peasants, uneducated peasants. I think that's primarily why most of the immigrants came to America, looking for that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.