Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Paul Bannai Interview II
Narrator: Paul Bannai
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: December 29, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-bpaul-02-0006

<Begin Segment 6>

AI: Now, let me back up a little bit because before you left Japan, you did have a little bit of time in-between the time you got to Japan and the time you left for the U.S.

PB: Right.

AI: And were you able to see a little bit of the country? You had never been to Japan before...

PB: Little bit...

AI: that right?

PB: ...because I was able to travel in a United States uniform. I unfortunately didn't know too much about the heritage of my parents and getting to where they were from, which was up in Fukushima-ken. I decided that -- I had heard of relatives in Kyoto. So I went to Kyoto. And there were several reasons. One reason is that the damage that the United States had inflicted on Osaka, I saw -- terrible. I went to Yokohama -- same way. There were areas, acres and acres, completely flat. The only thing I remember seeing is, people used to have safes, steel safes, and these safes would be standing there. But everything else, the buildings, because in Japan they use a lot of wooden buildings, completely burned down. So I asked, "Where can I go which would show Japan?" They said, "Go to Kyoto." Because they had spared Kyoto. It's a kind of a sacred city, and there was no military necessity in bombing that. So I went down there, and it was fortunate or it was a time in my life where because of my Japanese knowledge it came in handy. When I arrived there, there were some U.S. soldiers came up and said, "We understand you speak Japanese." And I said, "Yes." He says, "Would you do us a favor and accompany us, because we've been trying to do many things." One of them is to open a brewery down there. They had a brewery of, to make beer. And they couldn't get it open. And I said, "Why do you want it open?" "Well, it would be good for several things. We have the troops that would be furnished. Also there's a possibility that USO and the native population."

So I went and negotiated that for, it was an engineer unit. But as a result of that, it was an area called the Gion, which was a, kind of a area in the middle of Kyoto where prior to the war, all the geishas lived there, and it was where people went to be entertained. Well, it was off-limits to the U.S. troops. But when I went and the MP told me, "You can't go in," I told him, "My relatives are here." And they believed me. So they let me in. So I stayed at a hotel in the Gion, so I was completely isolated from U.S. troops in there every night. [Laughs] But it was an experience that I had that was quite interesting. And when I helped the people in the engineer unit, U.S. engineer unit get the beer and the sake, the company that bottled would give me some, and I'd take it to Gion. Well, I, they gave me money. I felt very wrong taking money and using it. So what I would do is every day I would go out, I'd give it to the kids that were around. I used to go get a shave and a haircut every day a little bit. [Laughs] Gave all my money away. But it was an experience of getting to know the Japanese because I was with military all the time. When I was in Kyoto, I dealt with Japanese that are natives there. And that was one of the many good experiences of being in Japan, not being in a camp all day talking only with GIs, but relating to the Japanese and their story as to how they felt about the war and how they survived.

AI: What kind of stories did they tell you? What did they have to say about their lives?

PB: Well, as I say, this area where I was, they were never bombed. However, they had relatives. Their children and their fathers and all that had gone off to war. So it was similar when you talk to them of our experiences, too, of being in the war. So I think it was kind of a time in which we would get a story that was similar to our existence. And that's why when war is talked about, it affects all people on all sides, whatever it is. And so it's not a good thing. And it affects people. People don't realize that it's a bad thing for everybody regardless, winner or loser or not. So that's one thing I learned very, very well.

AI: And it sounds like in Kyoto you had a very positive experience. That the Japanese people were willing to speak with you as an American. They knew you were American, and yet did you ever receive any negative reaction from the Japanese...

PB: No, I...

AI: ...about you being American?

PB: ...seldom did. It, maybe some other people that were in my particular category, interpreters who were in there, might have received some negative reaction. But most all the time, I did not. All the people that I met and the people I talked to and dealt with was very, very positive. I never felt that there was anything that was hatred because I was in the United States Army as a Japanese American. That's one thing that I never, never experienced.

AI: And for yourself, when you were in Japan even for a short time, did things about Japan seem familiar to you even though you had never been there, or did it seem rather foreign and strange?

PB: Well, it was, I'd never been there, so it was experience to see new places and meet new people. It was interesting. But as I say, I wish I had known a little bit more about my parents, my grandparents because I would have very much liked to have gone to where they were from. I didn't get there until much later when I found out. But that would've been a experience, because then those people would know that one of their descendents, that would be me, had served in U.S. Army and gone back to see what it was all about. So I regretted that. But there were other people, I'm sure, that went, that were with me because ATIS set up a headquarters in Tokyo. And they had lot of people, I'm sure, that had ancestors that they went back to see. Unfortunately I did not. But as I say, later on in life, I found out about my people that came from Japan, and I was able to go to Kyoto. I was able to go to Fukushima-ken and see and meet people that were my forbearers, you might say.

AI: It sounds like it must have been very interesting that first time.

PB: Right.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.