Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Mits Koshiyama Interview
Narrator: Mits Koshiyama
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: July 14, 2001
Densho ID: denshovh-kmits-01-0001

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AI: Today is July 14, 2001. We're here with Mr. Mits Koshiyama. I'm Alice Ito. We're here in Seattle at the Densho office, and videographer is Dana Hoshide. Thanks very much for being with us today.

MK: I appreciate your asking me to be here today.

AI: Well, to start at the beginning, I wanted to ask when and where you were born.

MK: I was born in Mountain View, California, that's in the Santa Clara valley in the Bay Area -- in 1924, August 7th.

AI: And what name were you given when you were born?

MK: Yeah. I'm the only male in our family. We had four sons, and I'm only one with a Japanese name. And my name is Mitsuru. And I asked my mother, "How come I have only the Japanese name?" Says, "Well, you're named after a famous Japanese person." And I said, "Well, who is Mitsuru?" And I, she told me, "Well, he is something like the Robin Hood of Japan." And I said, "Oh." I thought it was pretty good. But when we went to school, when I got older, the teachers had a very difficult time with the name. So it was really a handicap. And my brothers, they were named George, Albert, and James, which is very easy names. But I don't know why, you know. My mother never explained to me why I ended up "Mitsuru."

AI: Well that's an interesting, interesting exception she made. Tell me your mother's and father's names and where they came from in Japan.

MK: Well, my father's name was Tatsuhei Koshiyama. My mother's name was Tsutaye Oka. My father first came from Japan in, I don't know, early 1900s, I think it was. I don't know the exact date. But he was only fifteen. And his mother died in child-, giving birth to a child, his brother, so his father remarried. And this stepmother had children, so she was close to her own children, and my father felt left out. So even though they were pretty well-off, he jumped, well, I guess they call it "jumped ship" and came to Hawaii as a contractor. He didn't see any future in Hawaii in a sugar plantation or the pineapple fields, so he took off for America. I only wish that he stayed in Hawaii. I would've probably had a very much happier life. But he came to America. He worked on the farms and the railroad, and I guess he made enough money to go back to Japan, and he married my mother. And my mother came from a broken family. Her mother remarried, too. Since the, in Japan at that time, a woman with a child had a hard time remarrying. So she farmed my mother out to a relative. So my mother felt unwanted. So the first chance she got, she willingly married my father, and she came to America.

AI: Do you, excuse me. What area of Japan were they from?

MK: Oh, they're from Yamanashi-ken. Yamanashi-ken is near, between Yokohama and Nagano-ken, I think it is. And it's on one side off the base of Mt. Fuji. The other side of Mt. Fuji is Shizuoka-ken. And I think Yamanashi-ken became kind of famous after the war. People in the Tokyo area, when they start making a lot of money, they start buying resort homes. And these resort homes sprung up around Lake Yamanaka in Yamanashi-ken. So the, that really helped the prosperity of Yamanashi-ken.

AI: I see. Well, now, when, after your parents married and returned to the U.S., do you know about what year that might've been that your mother came?

MK: I'm not too sure.

AI: Possibly early 1920 or maybe --

MK: Oh, yeah.

AI: -- shortly before that?

MK: My sister was born in, I think, 1921. So they must've returned somewhere between 1918 and 1921.

AI: And what, where were they living and working at that time?

MK: Well, they came back to Santa Clara valley. They had no place to go, so they became farm laborers. And later on my father and mother had decided to become farmers.

AI: So they had, their first child was your oldest sister. And then...

MK: Older brother.

AI: And then...

MK: Me, two younger sisters, and then the last two were two younger brothers.

AI: Well, tell me a little bit about your young years as a child. Your parents were doing farm labor. Were they doing sharecropping then?

MK: Yes. We, at times we did sharecropping, especially after the war because we had no money. We had no place to go. It's an interesting story. Santa Clara valley, I would say it became the strawberry capital of the world because every street had strawberry, strawberry patches on it. And the funniest story is that the, lot of these farmers that later, who hired these Japanese family as sharecroppers, they were against the Japanese returning to California. But they saw that there was money to be made. And I always say it takes money, money makes people change their mind about everything. And that's what happened.

AI: That's what happened later.

MK: Yeah, they opened up their land and everything, and the Japanese families had places to stay. They didn't make any money growing, sharecropping strawberries, but they had a home to stay in. A lot of people came from the Los Angeles area and Washington area to become sharecroppers in the Santa Clara valley.

AI: That was after the war.

MK: Yes.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2001 Densho. All Rights Reserved.