Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Paul Bannai Interview I
Narrator: Paul Bannai
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: December 28, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-bpaul-01-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

AI: Well, it's December 28, 2000. We're here in Seattle, Washington, with Mr. Paul Bannai. I'm Alice Ito with the Densho Project. Dana Hoshide is on the camera. And Mr. Bannai, thank you very much for joining us today. As I had mentioned, we'd like to just start out asking about your family background. And if you could tell us as much as you know, something of your parents, your father, and also your father's parents, their lives in Japan and how they came to America.

PB: Yeah. The, lot of it is in, written, so I don't have to remember that well. In fact, I couldn't because it's before my time. But in late-1800s, my grandfather came over to United States and settled up in the Utah area. My father and his mother, the grandmother, then came from Japan. And fortunately he wrote a diary of his entire trip -- the day he left, what year it was, what day it was, from Aizu Wakamatsu in Fukushima-ken.

Now, there weren't a lot of people that came from that area. It's interior, up north. If you look at the history of the Japanese immigration to Hawaii and to United States, you'll find that Wakayama, Hiroshima, many places that were south and along the seacoast contributed most of the Japanese that immigrated to this country. Also, a lot of people from Okinawa in those days went to Hawaii. But Fukushima-ken didn't have too many people. But motivated by the same thing, which is if you go to the United States and make money, we can come back fairly wealthy or whatever their reasons were. And as a result, there were some people that came to United States from Aizu-Wakamatsu. If anybody studied the history other than what my father and grandfather wrote, there were other people from that area that became individually famous, you might say. The first woman, her name was Okei, and her story has been written in Japanese, and I don't know if it's been translated. But I have visited her grave up above Sacramento. But my family was responsible for the headstone. They have a big stone with her name on it. And she was one of the first women that came to the United States. And the story is about her involvement in setting up a silk colony, and they brought the equipment and everything. The group was brought here by a Caucasian man who wanted to start that industry. But her story, as I say, I've asked if it's ever been translated to English. I don't know what it is.

Another individual that I'm familiar with because of my father and grandfather is a man named Noguchi. And he also came from this Aizu Wakamatsu area, kitakatta. And the reason I know about this is I went back to visit that area. And there is a bus in front of a school. And that school is where my grandfather and my father went to. And Mr. Noguchi then came to this country, went to South America, Central America. And if you want to read his book, he also is, wrote a book and was, of course, written up by many people because of his research into and helping people in the cure of diseases. But anyway, I saw the bus there and, in Japan. Also I went there one time because I wanted to find out about the background. Found out that Aizu Wakamatsu is where they have a very famous, well, you might say a museum which depicts the Byako-Tai which is a very famous story. When the last encounter took place between the Shogun area and the emperor's forces. And whenever I went there, I had the opportunity to talk to people and found out that my ancestors, my great-grandmother carried a naginata and took part in the battles. And in looking over the display in the museum -- in Japan, they have what they call a logo, family logo. And I use it on my card. But that logo was seen on some of the dresses that I saw in the museum, so I knew that my ancestors had taken part in the battles of Byako-Tai. So these are things that I can understand that my grandfather, when he came to this country, carried with him some of the pride and the history of Japan. So those are things that I have that maybe, many peoples that are -- I'm almost a Sansei because my grandpa was here first. And many of the Niseis, probably from wherever they've come, they should look up their history and find out more about their ancestry and how it became their past. And I think it's interesting to do that.

AI: I do think that it is notable that both your father and your grandfather and grandmother were all here in the United States. And wanted to ask you, what were their names?

PB: The what?

AI: What were their names? Your grandparents' and your father's names?

PB: Oh. Oh. My father was Sakui Bannai, and my mother was Shino Bannai. And my mother came later. My, I said my father and his mother came over and joined his father, my grandfather. And then down the line my mother came over later. And they were married, but she, for whatever reason, it's not written, but she did come over later. And as a result of that, they were in Utah and then went to Colorado. So that's why I was born in 1920, 'cause my mother didn't come over until later. And it was about a year, little after a year -- she came over about 1919 so that I was born on July the 4th. That's why I have my name, Paul. You asked about names. When I was born, I was the first child of my parents, and the doctor said, "July the 4th is a day that, in American history is very famous and there was a hero during the Revolutionary War called Paul Revere. So I think that you ought to name your son Paul." Well, my folks had no idea of any American names. They named me Takeo, and they said, "Yes, you will be Paul."

And I think traditional, if you look back on all of us Niseis, older Niseis, we have two names, you know, an English name and a Japanese name. And my family is the same. My different sisters, one was born in Montrose, Colorado. The doctor named her Rose. My first, oldest sister was named Lillian. And my father wrote down the reason for that is they asked the doctor, and the doctor said that his wife's name was Lillian. So we all have two names, American and Japanese name. Now, depending on where and what the circumstances, we may never use the Japanese name. But I do remember that my father never used my American name. He always used my Japanese name. But we're a group of people that have two first names anyway, a lot of us.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.