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-01-0003

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AI: And yet at the same time, there were some positive things about being part of a Japanese American community. I understand there were some picnics...

MK: Yeah.

AI: ...that your family would attend with other families that had originally come from same area of Japan. Maybe summertime, did you participate in any Obon activities or other kinds of summer activities?

MK: Yeah. I, I felt a bond with the Japanese American people. I, I went to a Japanese Methodist church, Christian church. My folks were Shintoists when they came to America, but we had a prominent Japanese who owned the import/export business in San Francisco -- I think he was one of the, if not the largest -- and he converted my father and mother. No matter how poor I was, I looked forward to going to church. I really believed in brotherhood and God and whatever you have. I, I really believed in that. But when the war came, I was very disappointed that the church didn't speak out. The Japanese ministers were very meek. In fact, they took sides with the government. And they took a dim view of the dissidents in the camps. I was very disappointed in our Christian leadership.

AI: Well, we'll want to come back to that when we get up to the point of the war in our discussion. But before we go there, I wanted to ask you a bit more about your high school years. What high school did you attend?

MK: I attended Fremont High School in Sunnyvale. And that was one of the racist high school probably in California, because the city of Sunnyvale passed some kind of ordinance or a law that forbade Japanese Americans to come back to Sunnyvale after the war to live. That's a, you know that's against the law, Constitution and everything like that, but it didn't bother them. I know for a fact that that school was very racist. And since we lived there, well, there was nothing much you could do about it. You're powerless actually. The teachers and principal had their way. There was no such thing as protests or anything. What could our parents do? They could hardly speak English. You went home and said that the teachers and principal were racist, they couldn't do anything about it. So I, I, well, we made, tried to make the best of it. Tried to make the best of going to school. Tried to make the best of pleasing our parents. They wanted us to be educated, because they knew from Japan days that education was the key. People in Japan that were educated did get the better jobs, and they were in higher society and everything. They saw that. So they wanted their kids to be educated.

And before that, they had, you asked me about -- I forgot about it -- but the kenjinkai picnic. We looked forward to that. The kenjinkais were very close, very close in Issei days. They had a common bond. They used to have picnics, and I really looked forward to that because they had ice cream, soda water -- first time in my life I get soda water, ice cream. Hey, bananas? Couldn't believe it, you know. But when you're a kid, you see all the material things and you think that's the best part of life. Who's gonna complain about racism and everything when you've got all that, all the goodies? [Laughs] You don't think of those things. Our Japanese community had their own picnics, too, and it was very good. And I especially liked the kenjinkai, because lot of relatives and friends were there.

AI: Well, during high school, what would a typical day be like for you, going -- you'd get up in the morning and go to school, and how would the day go on for you?

MK: Well, there was just certain groups that would pick on you. They just didn't like anybody that looked foreign. The rest of the kids were, they left you alone. And we participated in sports and everything. We, we did the best we could. We knew there was racism, but we wanted to participate in sports and all that, and we were allowed to do so. Some of the coaches were pretty understanding. I remember I was playing basketball, and this Japanese kid on the other team was pretty good, making points. And the coach looks at me, and he says, "Hey, you better watch that Jap kid better." [Laughs] What's he talking about, "Jap kid"? They, they don't think. It just comes out naturally for them. And I'm not going to say anything bad about that coach because he was pretty good to the Japanese people. But he used that word "Jap" quite often, and it kinda hurt me.

AI: Well, while you were in high school also, what would your summers be like at, during summer vacation, during high school?

MK: Well, I didn't look forward to summertime because that meant lot of work. I, Santa Clara valley was, had lot of prunes, apricots, and stuff. I ended up picking prunes, picking apricots, and doing all kind of farm work. I kind of envied the hakujin kids. They got jobs in canneries and stuff. They get better paying jobs and everything. And here, us and these Mexican kids we're picking prunes. It's kind of, well, we know that's the only kind of job we could get. We, we sort of accepted it. We knew it wasn't right, that we should have equal chance to get better jobs, but we realized it wasn't so. [Interruption] So in those days, it was very noticeable that they, hakujin or white kids always got the better jobs, always were treated better. I would say us Japanese kids, we did the best we can under the circumstances. We accepted, actually accepted the crumbs that they threw at us, and we survived. I, I always tell my kids we survived the war and racism because we have a lot of pride that was instilled -- no matter how poor we were -- that was instilled, instilled in us by our parents. Have lot of pride. Don't bring shame to the family. I, I still remember my mother always telling me that. No matter how poor we were, she always keep telling us that. "Some day, you will live a better life. Work hard."

AI: Well, now, you had your older sister and older brother who graduated from high school before you. And as you were in high school, what were your thoughts or plans about the future? What did you think you would be doing after high school?

MK: Really I only was, I gotta admit I wasn't a real deep thinker. I, all I could think was my poor mother was working out in the fields ten hours a day, early morning 'til late at night. Still take care of the family and cooking and stuff. I said I gotta get out of school, help my mother. So I didn't think about higher education or anything. My brother, who got real good grades in school, he really wanted to go to college. But we had no money. So he ended up working. And like I said, my aim was to help my mother.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2001 Densho. All Rights Reserved.