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-01-0005

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: Well, at some point, after living in Seattle for a while, they decided to move to Kent.

MT: Yes, uh-huh.

TI: Do you know why they wanted to move to Kent?

MT: They were down in Kent and the White River valley was, there were lots of immigrants from Hawa-, I mean, from Hiroshima, like I mentioned. And they were, at first, in the early days, I understand a lot of 'em went into the dairy business and milk cows and those that went from working in the mines or the railroads, the next big step was to go into the dairy business and the White River valley gave 'em that opportunity.

TK: Just to go back a step, on the grocery store in Seattle, do you remember the name of the store and maybe how successful it was, or how not successful it was? Do you remember anything like that?

MT: No, it... I believe it was what we call semi-successful. It did pretty well and they had it for a few years. But when, the reason they went to Kent is, from the dairy business, a lot of Isseis went into truck farming. Raising lettuce, cauliflower, carrots, potatoes, and so they, they talked Dad into selling his business here in Seattle and moving out to east side of Kent where they started a grocery store in Kent there, and so while they, while they, since it, well, it was an opportunity for Dad, actually. He started a grocery store there and then he started a shook mill there which was, made slats to make boxes like...

TI: Before you go there, so, just describe what's in that picture? There's a picture of a child in a basket.

MT: Yeah. [Ed note: narrator holds up a photograph] I believe this is my older brother, Henry and my mother on the side here. And so, but they started this shook mill and, it's like a little sawmill with a, the sawdust would accumulate in the city of Kent and the east side would be the main downtown Kent at that time. And the sawdust would keep accumulating. And Dad tried to get rid of it much as you can with his horse and buggy, but it kept accumulating and so the fire chief in Kent went to Dad and said that if you're gonna continue that it was too dangerous for the city of Kent because all this buildings around in that area. So he said, "If you're gonna continue the sawmill that you have to go someplace else, and, or just quit and keep the grocery store."

TK: I understand the word "shook" is S-H-O-O-K?

MT: Check. Uh-huh, uh-huh.

TK: And shook mill, I mean, could you describe how that crate was built with, with these shooks?

MT: It's like a current lettuce crate where they pound the nails and they make crates and they shipped cabbage and things like that to Seattle. So it was just a real opportunity for Dad at that time to get into that business in addition to the grocery store business. So... but when, and he enjoyed it because he was doing pretty well on that because of the large amount of farmers down in that area. And so, Dad thought well, if he's gonna have to give up the shook mill and that he could go to the west side of Kent, which is another mile-and-a-half from the east side to the west side of Kent, and start a full sawmill there. And so, that got him into the sawmill business. And so he, what, in those days, Kent did not have power lines all the way from the east side of Kent to the west side of Kent. So Dad had to pay for all of the light poles to the city of Seattle -- I mean, city of Kent and draw power over there to run the big motors and the planers and all the sawmill equipment.

TI: So here's a picture of it. And so, those poles in the background, those are the power poles that he had to bring the power to Kent?

MT: [Ed. note: narrator holds up a photograph] No, the power would be from here on into Kent. So, but the big electrical motors had to be for full power. So, and so it took quite a bit of his money from Japan, that was sent from Japan, plus lot of his friends loaned him money to get this sawmill going and so it was a fairly big enterprise at that time.

TK: Do you have a sense of how much money it takes to, to start up something like this?

MT: No, I don't. It's just... I imagine even those trucks alone would cost quite a bit.

TK: And, I mean, it just intrigues me that your father was recruited to go the Kent valley to start a store. From there he, he started making the boxes, and then a sawmill. He seems quite the businessman in some ways, creating these things and starting these things. Is that sort of characteristic of your father?

MT: Well, I give him a lot of credit to start those things. Like I mentioned, he was the only son on this rice farm, so I imagine he had no business background at all. And so, but he was a really nice fellow that everybody liked, enjoyed and that's how they got him over here and I think going into the different businesses was something that he was capable, because he did have the money that he brought from Japan and was able to promote these things. And so, that helped him a lot rather than try to work and save money and start a sawmill.

TI: And so, describe this picture. I think this is a picture of your father?

MT: [Ed. note: narrator holds up a photograph] Yeah, this is my father and his... I tried to find out from the Ford Motor company how, what year vehicle this was, but they said it is probably is 1917 or 1916 and it's a chain drive, solid tires, and it's quite... an antique, that I'm sure if we had it now it --

TI: Was it common for Isseis to have vehicles like this?

MT: No, no, no. They all had wagons and horses those days. So to go into the sawmill business and to have a truck, I imagine, was really unheard of at that time.

TK: Your father had to be very adventuresome to come over here, you know?

MT: Well, I always use that word also, adventuresome, uh-huh.

TK: And to get into, I mean, driving a truck, when the horses and wagons were probably the more common conveyance.

MT: Common transportation at that time.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.