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Title: Gordon Hirabayashi Interview I
Narrator: Gordon Hirabayashi
Interviewers: Becky Fukuda (primary), Tom Ikeda (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: April 26, 1999
Densho ID: denshovh-hgordon-01-0001

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BF: So, what part of Japan did your parents come from?

GH: Well, the place that used to give me the shivers each time they used the word. During the Winter Olympics they called it Na-a-gano. And they say it like we would here, you know, they say, "Dakota." They don't say Da-a-kota. But somehow, somebody coached them on that word, Na-a-gano. And when they refer to the last Olympics, they still use that word. Nagano, Nagano-ken. That's one of the larger, if not the largest ken, physically, in Japan. And that's just east of Tokyo.

BF: And both, both your mother and your father...

GH: Yeah.

BF: ...were from that same ken?

GH: Yeah, Yeah.

BF: And what, do you know what the families did? What they...?

GH: Farming.

BF: Farming.

GH: Well, they all were farmers of one type or another, but largely everybody grew their own rice. And if they made more they sold it. But they all at least grew their own. And, my mother's family were, were in the silkworm business. So, I recall they were still doing it the last time I, the first time I visited there. They still had the silkworm yard, you know like a chicken coop in the back, silkworm buildings. And you could hear them chewing mulberry leaves, some kind of like a brush noise, you could, you could... and, then, then the next time I went, that was all gone. The silk for Japan now comes from Thailand or someplace else. It's been taken over, none of it in Japan. But they still produce a lot of rice, and they discover ways of per cap -- per acreage production, increasing production even though they're more mouths to feed. They still don't import as much as you would think, with all the consumption.

BF: And then your father was the first to immigrate to the United States, correct?

GH: Yeah, from that group, yeah.

BF: And that group, you mean that, a group of...?

GH: Group of, well, let's say, when we say the first of that group, you know, Admiral Perry got in there with his gunboats behind him to open up trade relations and so on. And they were reticent to deal with strangers, foreigners, and so on. But in the 1860s, 1870s around there, opening was made. And Dad was born in 1888. And I think -- my mother was seven years younger. And I guess, I guess when he left for U.S. it was around 1907. If you look at the immigration statistics you find that 1907 was a peak, peak year. It was increasing up to that year, and then began to go down because in 1908, I believe the immigration restriction came in...

BF: But the Gentleman's Agreement...

GH: ...Theodore Roosevelt, who was friendly to the Japanese, partly because they were a buffer to Russia. And in the Japanese-Russo War of 1904, U.S. and Britain both were interested in having Russia not gain a big step forward but stand still or backwards a little. And so they got support from U.S. and Russia -- excuse me, U.S. and Britain. Even going through Suez Canal was made difficult, so that they had to go around the Cape of Good Hope to get to Japan. So that slowed, slowed their arrival, and when they did come up it was a, you know, a well-worn group. And Togo, Admiral Togo had a strategy that kinda decimated them there. But with the help of allies -- it was called the Japanese-Russo War, but others were involved, actually. And that was... see the immigration was starting slowly, since the latter, well say, 1800s, 1880s, 1890s and into 1900. And Dad was with the flow of the peak year, 1907. And then the voluntary -- Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt persuaded Japan to institute a private slow down restriction of visas and that sort of thing. To slow down what was threatened by Congress. California senators and so on were out to have anti-Oriental restriction way back in, before 1910. But it eventually came to pass in 1923, I believe, '23 or '24, the total restriction of immigration.

BF: And so what -- ? Oh, I'm sorry.

TI: I was going to say, Gordon, going back to 1907, why did your father come to United States?

GH: Economic reasons, like immigrants from Europe, in general. Times were very rough in post Japanese-Russo War. To do that war -- that followed the Chinese war (in the late 1800s), and then this war. There was depression, economic depression, and they had to... for example, I said, "Did your, did your community leaders try to deter you from leaving?" 'Cause lot of first sons were in the group and usually they're the ones that kept the family going. Well they, they said, "No, this, first sons were included," because they wanted the eldest sons get up and do something, bring some money back, send money back. And they said the mayor encouraged them, the mayor of their community, encouraged them to go out. "You guys go out and help our families." And so they had dreams of, unrealistic dreams of, you know, there's gold all over the place, you just shovel it in and send it back. Well they found out it was difficult but they were able to -- especially during the days before they got married -- they were able to send a certain proportion of the money back. And Dad, Dad, a man of few vices of youth, he didn't drink, he was a teetotaler. I wouldn't be surprised if his religious training were involved in that. And they didn't, he didn't gamble, card playing and so on. So our family grew up that way. There was no, not even a playing card at home. I couldn't even read a card, you know, 'til university days.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.