Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Roger Shimomura Interview
Narrator: Roger Shimomura
Interviewers: Alice Ito (primary); Mayumi Tsutakawa (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: March 18 & 20, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-sroger-01-0002

<Begin Segment 2>

AI: Well, could you tell me more about your father, his name and a little bit about his family background, and a little more about your grandparents?

RS: Well, my father's name was Eddie Kazuo Shimomura. And I don't have his birth date. But he was born here in Seattle, and to my grandmother and grandfather, obviously, that had come to this country in -- actually my grandfather came in 1906, my grandmother came in 1912. Then my father was born. He was the first to be born in the family. And then my, I had an Aunt, Fumi, that was born after my dad, and then I had an Uncle Mich that was third to be born in the family. Are you interested in them as well?

AI: Oh, yes.

RS: I think, backtracking a little bit, one of the interesting things was, because my grandmother had such a flourishing midwife business in Seattle, in the Japanese American Midwives Association, I've been told that she was the most active of all of them. And at least in all the pictures I've seen of that organization, she was always sitting in the middle in the front. That may or may not have indicated that, but in any case, her business was thriving to the extent that after my father was born, she -- and she became pregnant with her daughter, Fumi -- she realized that she was too busy to raise Fumi. And so she took my dad, and took Fumi and went to Japan to visit her mother and told her mother that she needed help because of her thriving business and needed her to raise either "my son or Fumi," who was to be born. She was carrying Fumi. And apparently she, my grandmother's mother, opted for Fumi because my father was about three years old at the time, and she said he was too "gasa-gasa," as she put it. And so my grandmother stayed there long enough to give birth to Fumi and then left Fumi with her mother and took my dad and came back to the States. And this is something that I wasn't aware of but when I took my Aunt Fumi's oral history, she told me this. And she actually stayed with my grandmother's mother for three years in Japan. And that's where she learned how to speak Japanese so well. And then she was sent back, after she turned three, with a Reverend Yamaka, I believe his name was. I'm not sure of that name, but she was sent back with the minister of the Methodist Church and rejoined my grandmother. So anyway --

AI: That is interesting. Well, and then, that leads me to ask you a little bit more about your grandmother and your grandfather, and their lives in Japan, as far as you know, about their family background.

RS: Well, my, my grandmother was born in 1888. And she went to nurse's training school and graduated, I believe, in 1903. I have a photograph of her in her graduating class. And then immediately following that, she was drafted into the Japanese Imperial Navy as a Red Cross Nurse. And because of her nurse's training, and so on, it was logical that that would happen. But she was sent on assignment to the Japan-Russian War, which was sort of at its peak, and was sent to the famous Battle of Port Arthur which was the decisive battle of the Japan-Russian War. And she was on a Red Cross ship along with a lot of other Red Cross nurses. And they were servicing those men that were being injured in the Battle of the Baltic Sea. And my grandmother wrote a story about that that has been published in several sources. But the story was about how they were expected to lose that battle against the Russian fleet, and she writes about how she was anticipating that suicide bills were going to -- pills were going to be passed out to all the nurses. And so they all cleaned their rooms in preparation to die, to save some honor in defeat. And then she talked about how she saw the bodies of soldiers washing in from the Baltic Sea and how they would count how many were Russians and how many were Japanese. And, but then as it turns out, the Japanese fleet defeated the Russian fleet and victory was theirs. And she described how they stood and screamed their banzais and so on. And so, shortly after that she was discharged from the Red Cross and she went to work. She was from Saitama Prefecture, and she worked in a very large silk factory and she was the main supervising nurse. And one of the employees at that silk factory was my grandfather's brother. And I believe his name was Seibi.

And my Grandfather Yoshitomi, had already immigrated to the United States. And he actually went to the United States six years before my grandmother, in 1906. And his intention, following his graduation from business college in Japan, was to come to America and make a lot of money, like a lot of the immigrants expected, and to bring that money back to Japan and retire as a wealthy person at a very young age. He was going to do that in San Francisco. And so he got on a ship for San Francisco. And the story is that a day outside of San Francisco is when the great earthquake hit, in 1906. And so the people on the boat had to choose another port and at that time the next closest major port was Seattle. So the boat swung northward and several days later they landed in Seattle. And, of course, he found out that life was not as easy as he expected it to be. And he ended up getting jobs as either a cook or a janitor, and ended up traveling all around the Pacific Northwest looking for work, and even for a period of time going up into Canada and living and working up there. And I remember he used to tell stories about working, cooking for the Elk's Club. And he talked about how, when he would leave the restaurant late in the evening, leave the kitchen, that there would be a couple of white men out there waiting for him and would stone him. And so he got injured several times. And so they made special provisions for him to leave out the back alley. And so eventually that problem subsided when they, the people that were doing that assumed that he was no longer working there.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.