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-01-0011

<Begin Segment 11>

AI: Well, I, I had a question about these younger years also when, when you were children. It, was Japanese your first language, do you think, or do you recall -- have any recollection of, for you two older ones when you first started speaking English?

TY: That's a good question.

MY: Yeah, we, well, we were -- I think that Mike and, Mike and I -- of course, we, our original language is Japanese. And I didn't pick up English because I didn't go out in -- you know, as I said, I was ill when I was a child. So my mother really never let me go out to play, whereas Tosh played with the boys in the neighborhood, I think. We started school together, first grade together.

TY: Yeah, because I was sick, I was -- yeah, I was a year behind.

MY: And so we -- and I remember that, that I first, that I only spoke Japanese when I started school. But Tosh spoke both Japanese and English. And we, and so, and they always seated us alphabetically, and since, since my name was Mitsuye, I sat in front of him, and he always sat behind me. So I remember once, I was talking to him in Japanese, and the teacher told me not to, to talk, for one thing. Not to talk, but not to talk in Japanese. And, and I guess I didn't stop. So I turned around and talked to him in Japanese, and she, she put me under the kneehole of the desk, her desk. And, and I remember sitting there for the longest time, and I, and I was telling my brothers that I don't remember what, her name. I, I don't remember what she looked like, but I remember what her knees looked like. [Laughs] I guess her skirt had hiked up, and she was sitting there. And I was just sitting there for the longest time, staring at her fat knees.

AI: Tosh --

MY: And that was the only time that I remember being punished for speaking Japanese.

TY: So I, I guess my first language was English, but since my mother spoke Japanese and my, when I talked to Dad -- well, frequently was in English, half English and half Japanese, but with my mother I spoke nothing but Japanese.

MY: And then so my -- since Joe was so much younger, he didn't really pick up --

TY: I don't think he had that problem.

MY: -- Japanese.

JY: I don't know.

TY: Yeah.

MY: Well, he had us to speak English to.

TY: Yeah, right. So...

MY: So he didn't pick up, he didn't, he had to learn his Japanese a little bit later, and --

JY: Well, I used to -- but Mom must have --

MY: He spoke conversational English -- Japanese.

JY: Yeah.

MY: But, so I think Tosh was the only one who was bilingual when we started school. And Mike and I both only spoke Japanese --

TY: Yeah, for a while, yeah.

MY: -- until we could start picking it up for a while. And --

TY: I wonder if I understood you when you first came back from Japan.

MY: Well, probably not.

TY: I don't remember having problem with, you know, understanding --

MY: Communicating, yeah.

JY: -- yeah. And Mike, too. I mean... but I guess we, since we were, by then, you were kind of bilingual, by the time Mike came. We met two years after, so --

MY: Yeah, isn't that... yeah, I don't remember that either. But we, we spoke both Japan-, you know, I spoke Japanese so I was able to communicate with him. And --

JY: Usually you hear -- you were used to hearing Mom talk because she spoke Japanese only.

MY: All the time, yeah.

JY: So I'm sure could at least get a --

MY: Mom talked exclusively in Japanese, so that was the language of the family.

TY: Right, yeah.

MY: And, and so we all -- we learned to speak English outside the family when we went to school, you know, obviously.

TY: Yeah.

MY: But then when Dad was home, we talked, talked to him mostly in -- I don't remember talking to Dad in, in Japanese very much.

JY: No, I never did.

TY: Well, I think, kind of half and half.

JY: I don't remember --

JY: When things got, we talked about complicated things -- well, we probably, I probably spoke in English, and simple things I probably spoke in Japanese, so --

MY: To Mom? To Mom?

TY: And Dad --

JY: No, Dad, too, he's saying.

MY: Yeah.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.