Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Minoru "Min" Tsubota Interview
Narrator: Minoru "Min" Tsubota
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda (primary); Tetsuden Kashima (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: August 18, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-tminoru-01-0020

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TK: Min, after the farm supply sales area, let me go back for a few seconds to your experience in terms of playing in a Japanese American band in Seattle. Could you tell us more about how you got started in that and what kind of experiences you had playing in the band? Perhaps you can hold up this picture?

MT: [Ed. note: narrator holds up a photograph] Back in 1935, I think I was very fortunate when I heard that the, Al Masuda of Ellensburg was, had the Nisei Melodian band in Seattle for the Japanese community and they were playing for lot of community socials. And so I had my brother bring me to Seattle. And during, the Nisei Melodians were practicing at the Rainier Power and Heat Building. And I enjoyed it very much because most of the people were all older than I was but I was able to meet Shang Kashawagi of Seattle Tailors, Porgy Okada, they both played saxophone, I played saxophone and clarinet. We had a temporary drummer named Johnny Walker, he was African American, and we had an accordion player. And afterwards, TadKoyuki used to play the drum for us and so that completed our band.

TK: Maybe you can point out the people in the picture.

MT: Yeah, yeah, this is Shang Kashiwagi here and this is Porgy Okada. This is me, this is Johnny Walker, and this is Hats Takahashi, he used to work for the North Coast importing company. And these two girls there were with the Lotus YBA of the Buddhist Church and they were giving a presentation at the Nippon Kan Hall. I don't remember what year it was but we were asked to join 'em each year as they had their plays and things like that.

TK: What kind of music did you play at these dances?

MT: There, most of the music were Glenn Miller music and included, we went to the oldies, the oldest one were like "Blue Heaven" and "Downtown Strutters Ball." I think our, last music we were playing "I Love You Truly." I don't remember too many of 'em but there were, belonged to the Glenn Miller styling that we played.

TK: There must have been a lot of attractive Nisei girls during that time?

MT: Well, it was interesting... not the girls. [Laughs] But the fact that we played what we called taxi dancing at the Washington Hall. And usually every weekend the University Japanese Club or some other organization would sponsor a dance. And the taxi dances, each boy had to buy tickets to dance and they'd ask the girls to dance with 'em. But it was quite a fundraising project and everybody enjoyed it, and...

TK: Let me get this straight. In, in other communities, people would buy rows of tickets, and then you would dance with the woman and then you would give them a ticket. Is that what you mean by taxi dance in this sense?

MT: No. We buy the, they'd buy the tickets and then they'd ask a girl to dance with 'em and then they'd give it to the sponsor organization. So that's where the profit came in for the fundraising of the program.

TK: Do you remember how much the tickets were?

MT: Gosh, I don't remember. I don't think they were very much. But I was about fifteen years old. I was young then. But I lived in Kent and I drove in on my Model T and Model A car and they gave me about five dollars each time to pay for my gasoline and, so it was quite enjoyable for me as far as playing the music and meeting a lot of young people.

TK: How did you learn the tunes or your part with respect to the music? Did you practice at home or did you guys get together as a group?

MT: Yeah, I practiced at home but we played standard dance band music so we practiced as a band, at the Rainier Power and Heat Building on Jackson and Maynard.

TK: Do you have any memories of those days at all, any stories that you remember?

MT: Not too much. It was enjoyable when the Japanese community had picnics out at Lake Wilderness, Shadow Lake and various lakes by all different organizations and one of our Nisei really social life was dancing at these lake resorts.

TK: Earlier you'd said that your mother was not very pleased with all the dancing going on. By this time, had she changed her mind, or what was her reaction in 1935 or '36 when Niseis really getting into dancing or you were into the band?

MT: Well, about that time I, dancing had been quite a community thing and so Mother wasn't too strict about it, about the time that I joined the band. So she was very comfortable and she knew that I was participating as a musician rather than just going to different dances at various part of the city. So she was quite good about the whole thing.

TK: How about your older brother, Hiroo? Was he, did he go to the dances as a participant?

MT: Yeah. He enjoyed dancing very much. And like I said, he was very outgoing and was able to help me become outgoing by taking me to JACL and dances and the, and later the Buddhist Churches all had their convention dances and so... and I got to play for a lot of Christian church dances. So it turned out very nicely. By that time, Mother had mellowed quite a bit.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.