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Title: Frank Miyamoto Interview IV
Narrator: Frank Miyamoto
Interviewers: Alice Ito (primary), Tatsuya Fukunaga (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: July 7, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-mfrank-04-0001

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AI: And today is July 7, 2003. We're here at the Densho office with Dr. Frank Miyamoto. I'm Alice Ito with Densho and co-interviewing is Tatsuya Fukunaga, our visitor, researcher, and Dana Hoshide is doing videography for us. So, thanks again Dr. Miyamoto, for being here to talk about the canneries in Alaska, your own individual experience, as well as giving us an understanding of how the cannery work was organized, and the situation there. And I wanted to ask you to begin by giving us a short overview of your own cannery experience.

FM: Well, as you know, I'm a sociologist by background and I feel that the cannery system was a very important part of the Japanese community here in Seattle, which is one of the areas of my sociological interest. And that inasmuch as I understand Densho does not have an extensive account of this cannery background of Japanese Americans, I feel that it would be desirable to fill in the picture as much as possible. Briefly, with regard to my own background, I think I got into sociology because my father, who was a... who was from Japan, came to this country in 1905 and established himself ultimately in the furniture hardware business in the Japanese community, had a point of view of... that Japanese immigrants should absorb themselves as much as possible into the American society, which is a different point of view than the sojourner attitude that characterized most of the early immigrants to this country from Japan. And with that point of view in mind, he, very early then, about the time I was in the second grade in elementary school, he moved our family out to the Beacon Hill area at a time when only two other Japanese families were out there. In short, he wanted to put us into the American system as much as possible and become part of it. The result was that, because he had a business in the Japanese community, I got necessarily drawn into the Japanese community through his business connections, and also our family connections, but also I was part of the American community living on Beacon Hill with lots of American friends. And what struck me as I grew older was the difference in characteristic of the two communities I was in touch with. And it was this kind of contrast between the Japanese community and the American community that drew me, I would say, into the profession of sociology, which I got into as my life career.

Going back into the question of cannery work, which is the topic of the discussion here, I think I... well, I should say that although my father and the family had a kind of middle-class orientation, and we, for example, had a summer place out on Faunt-, out in Fauntleroy Beach, early in life, and I thought I had a very easy life of it. Nevertheless, my father also had this kind of Benjamin Franklin orientation that one should learn how to work. And so, very early in life, we started going to berry picking in Bellevue, but mainly out in Bainbridge Island, and I also ran a Taihoku newspaper route in my early career. I was not, not unaccustomed to working, therefore, even in my earlier years.

Now one of the things that occurs to me is that the Immigration Act of 1924, which brought about the closure of immigration from Japan, and was a major, I think, one of the most important political... international political relations that ever occurred, came into effect in 1924 and stopped the immigration into the United States, which had been going on for twenty years or more. And the effect of that was to close down substantially the amount of business that Japanese Issei businesses were carrying on in relation to the immigrant population, the flow that was coming in annually from Japan. My father's business, therefore, from 1924 on went steadily downhill, and by the time the Depression came in 1929, it was on the verge of, well, I wouldn't say bankruptcy, but very severely damaged by the effects of the 1924 Immigration Act. My father never said so, but I think he was glad to have me go to work in a place like Alaska for that, for that reason, that we were beginning to feel the pinch as a family which we had not before the Immigration Act.

Now the other reason why I got into the family -- cannery work, was that in my Japanese community connection I was particularly related to my cousin's family, the Hashiguchi family, which had, as it happened, eight boys in it, no girls, and therefore, to me, with no sibling males, was a very attractive setting in which to relate myself. Anyway, it was a... one of the cousins, a year older than I, to whom I connected up with respect to all kinds of activities. And when he went to, to Alaska as a worker, the year after that I followed as a kind of a natural course of things in my... that is to say, I was interested in going to this kind of summer job that he was interested in. The other thing I should mention here is that I went to this Waterfall Cannery, which is in southeastern Alaska, that was under contract with the Nagamatsu Contracting Company. And Mr. Nagamatsu, they were brothers, Mr., two Nagamatsus; the Messrs. Nagamatsu knew my family, father, who was in business in the Japanese community, and as usually happened in the Japanese community business life, if you knew each other, why, you could then arrange to have your son work for them, or work out relationships that would not be possible without that kind of relationship beforehand. So, I know that my father talked to the Nagamatsus and made sure that I would be safe, even though I was at that time only fourteen years of age, and therefore, pretty young for going into something... going a distance from, away from Seattle and also working in something that was, to our family, strange and unknown territory. Anyway, that is how I got into the cannery work initially.

AI: And that was in 1927, was it?

FM: 1927 and not only did I get into the thing in 1927, I continued for twelve summers thereafter except for one summer where I went to the Eatonville saw-, Eatonville sawmill. I worked continuously, summers, because the cannery work enabled me to save enough money to go through college. As it happened, unfortunately, my father died when I was only sixteen years of age, and therefore I was pretty much on my own and the cannery work enabled me to not only go through undergraduate college, but do at least two years of graduate work both at the University of Washington and University of Chicago. In effect, the cannery work paid off for me very handsomely in setting me up in my career.

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