Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Mitsuye May Yamada - Joe Yasutake - Tosh Yasutake Interview
Narrators: Mitsuye May Yamada, Joe Yasutake, Tosh Yasutake
Interviewers: Alice Ito (primary), Jeni Yamada (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: October 8 & 9, 2002
Densho ID: denshovh-ymitsuye_g-01-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

AI: All right. Today is October 8th, 2002. We're here in Seattle, Washington, with the Yasutake and Yamada families. I'm Alice Ito with Densho. Also from Densho on videography are Dana Hoshide and John Pai. Also from Densho in the room is Patricia Kiyono. We also have in the room as observer Kai Yamada, co-interviewer is Jeni Yamada, and I will have our narrators introduce themselves.

JY: Okay. My name is Joe Yasutake. I'm the youngest of the group. I was born in 1932. I currently live in San Jose, California.

MY: Okay. My name is Mitsuye Yamada. I'm commonly known as May to my family members. I was born in 1923 in Japan through an accident of birth, my -- when my mother happened to visit there. My two older brothers were born here. And I presently live in Irvine, California.

TY: I'm Tosh Yasutake. I was born in 1922 in Seattle, and presently I'm living in Bothell, Washington. And I'm, some of my friends know me as William, and some knows me as William. But I, my old friends call me Tosh, so I like to go by the name of Tosh.

AI: Thanks very much for being here. We really appreciate all your participation. And I thought we would just start off with some family background and history. And if perhaps you could start by talking about your father and your mother, their families and what you know of their background.

MY: Okay. Our father's name was Jack Kaichiro Yasutake. Jack was a, a name that he acquired. His, it was his pen name. He wrote senryu poetry, and his Japanese pen name was Jakki, and they transferred that to Jack, which he was known by his friends in Seattle. He, and he married my mother, our mother, around 1918 or 1919, as I understand it. Yeah, 1918. Our mother was Hide Shiraki Yasutake. They were both from Fukuoka, Kyushu, Japan, and they were married in -- my father was going to school in the United States at Stanford. And he went to Japan to -- to marry. And so he, then he returned to the United States and moved to Seattle when he found a job as interpreter for the Immigration Service.

AI: May I back up and ask a little bit more about your father's family and what they did for a living in Fukuoka?

MY: Yes, they, they lived in a very small town that was known at that time as Mushirouchi in, in the foot of the Yamada Mountains in, in northern Kyushu. And his parents were farmers. They had two sons. My, my dad was the older son. And he, he told us then when we were quite small that he saw the handwriting on the wall that he would be the, as the older son, the heir to the job as a farmer, on, that he would have to take over his father's family business. And so, and he didn't want that. He wanted to, to get away for an education. And, and his younger brother was considerably younger than he. I think he was about seven or eight years younger. So when Dad was sixteen or seventeen, he essentially ran away from home, he said. And his younger brother was still quite young. He, and boarded a ship and came to California, to San Francisco, California. And there he... we have all kinds of amusing stories about, he was very interested in school -- in drama. So he enrolled in, he went to a mission school first to learn English. He enrolled in a drama school, and we have this little certificate where he, he must have been quite a fast learner. He worked as a houseboy for a while, and eventually went to Lowell High School in San Francisco, which is still standing, I hear. The high school is still there.

JY: It's a very popular school.

MY: Is it?

JY: Yeah.

MY: Yeah. That's, and it's still in --

JY: Still in San Francisco.

MY: -- San Francisco.

JY: Well-known school.

MY: Oh, is it really?

JY: Uh-huh.

MY: I don't know about the drama school. Do you know that...

JY: I don't know anything about that.

MY: Yeah. I wonder if it's still there.

JY: We ought to look it up some time and see.

MY: Yeah, I know. It would be kind of interesting because my dad was quite a ham, I think. And then eventually he applied to Stanford University, which was at that time called...

JY: Leland Junior --

MY: Leland Junior College

JY: Junior College.

TY: I thought it was junior college, but it's Leland, Jr. That's his name.

JY: Yeah, right.

TY: It wasn't junior college, either.

MY: Oh.

TY: It was a university.

MY: Oh, okay. Yeah.

MY: So that was Leland Junior --

JY: College.

MY: -- College.

JY: Yeah.

MY: Of San Francisc-, and it wasn't called Stanford.

JY: Uh-uh. Not then.

MY: And it became Stanford University. It was a school -- I would, it was not coeducational apparently at that time. I think it was just for men.

JY: I don't know about that.

TY: Well, why wouldn't it be? The drama, that picture we have of him in drama class is all females, mostly females.

MY: That's right.

TY: Was that -- so it had to be coeducational.

MY: I'm not sure.

JY: I, I have no idea.

MY: Because I remember when we were growing up, I, when I was in high school, my dad kept telling me that he wanted me to go to Stanford, but first they would have to, it would have to become a coeducational university. So I, I thought that it was not a coeducational university at the time.

TY: Well, well, anyway...

MY: Well, okay. That's kind of, remains a mystery. And so that was the rea-, you know, my father was very focused on getting an education, getting a college education. I think he majored in engineering, but apparently was not too successful at it. I'm not sure, but he, he didn't quite graduate, from what we understood later in life. We, he didn't ever tell us that he didn't, he dropped out or that he, he apparently went back to Japan. His parents wanted him to come home. He was in his thirties at this point, and they thought that he was getting old enough, he was way past marriageable age, he should come back to Japan and get married. And so he went to Japan. And my mother had a older sister who was married to a doctor, the country doctor in the town where my grandparents lived. And so the story is that, that the sister said that there was a young man in their neighborhood whose son is coming home from America looking for a wife. "How about your sister?" You know, how about our sister. And so the, apparently they had a family council, and they decided to marry the, my mother to my dad. And so my mother didn't actually meet him until they had a miai, you know, there.

And we have this kind of amusing story about Joe at one point where he, he was really upset that he wasn't -- his friends were about, over six feet tall in high school, and he was still, still quite short. And so he asked my mother, you know -- because my dad was shorter than my, than our mom -- and Joe asked her, "How come you married such a short man? It's all Dad's fault that I'm so short." And my mother said, "Well, at the, when we, when I was introduced to him, the family had already arrived at the restaurant, and they were all sitting down at the engagement party." And so then they got engaged, and so he, "I didn't see him stand up until the engagement was all over, and it was too late by that time." [Laughs] And so she'd already been promised to him. So anyway, that's how she got, they got married. She, then my dad came back to the United States. He promised to, to find a job or finish -- I think his, he said that, "I have to go back to the United States to finish college," but essentially what he did was he looked for a job so that he could call his wife over. And it wasn't until the year after that my mother came. And then I guess it was in 1919 because our older brother, Michael, was -- Seiichi -- was marri-, was born in 1920. And, and then, and then Tosh and I, we come kind of very close together. And so that's sort of the background of our parents and how they came to come to this country.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.