Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Yosh Nakagawa Interview
Narrator: Yosh Nakagawa
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: December 7, 2004
Densho ID: denshovh-nyosh-01-0006

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: I'm going to now kind of return, I mean, we're talking about some of your early childhood memories, and you mentioned the store at Eleventh and James?

YN: Right.

TI: Describe, describe that store. Like, what other buildings or businesses were nearby your store?

YN: That probably has more, more impact in my memory of recall. This store, that simple grocery store must have set my tone forever, because I stayed in the retail business. I must have enjoyed serving customers even as a child. You look for reasons why you are who you are. I look at, from my bedroom above -- and we lived above the grocery, little grocery store, I can hear the bell of the school across the, across the street, and that was the Pacific School, it was our elementary school. And I also knew the neighborhood, because as a child, if I found a penny, I would go to the other store to spend it. And I often wonder why I did it, but I think now I know: because I didn't want my parents to know I was buying more candy, or whatever I was doing. So even at the earliest age, I understood and I could scheme against the things you don't do. And I knew that there was a floral shop, I knew there was a meat market, and I knew all these families because they must have babysat my sister. But there was one common, common thing among all those that I can talk to today: what a brat I must have been. I must have been a terror. And it's good to find out that you were such a person, because it brings reason to, to your being, and your incarceration story.

TI: Well, when you say you were a "brat," how did you figure this out? Why do you think that you were a brat?

YN: Because I think, by the very nature of my exposure, I didn't fit into the norm of how most of my peer-level friends grew up. Being that we had a grocery store allowed me to see all people. And I'm certain I picked up a lot of the habits of the, their being that I knew I liked, which might have, must have not been acceptable. 'Cause you were not to talk back to your teacher, you were not to question the authority, and the teacher was always put at a (higher) level. And I must have not listened to them, and I must have done many things culturally, (not the norm of their understanding). So I must have been very indicative that I wasn't fitting in to the community.

TI: So your experiences of helping out in the store and dealing with lots of different customers and, and their behaviors, you picked up these, these different things, and so you were exposed more than your peers to this behavior, and you think that led to you being more, perhaps, outspoken, more direct, and as you say, considered a brat.

YN: And it followed me the rest of my life. That's why I have come to the point of understanding why we are the way we are, as reason. And to really -- I got fired from a job working for a Japanese American Nisei family on a farm because I saw two attractive white girls and I whistled.

TI: And so how old were you when this happened?

YN: I was in the seventh grade. You see, I didn't understand my own culture, because that was totally unacceptable. I was a Japanese American, but that wasn't enough.

TI: And was the issue, they fired you because they thought that was being rude, or was it because the actual girls were --

YN: I was an embarrassment.

TI: -- were Caucasian?

YN: Well, both. They were Caucasian, and it's an embarrassment because we don't do such things. And I think there's a fear that you don't do those things because it may rock the boat. And much of our history is based upon not rocking the boat.

TI: That's good. Going back to the store, you mentioned the customers and the influence they had. Describe your customers. Were they mostly Japanese Americans from the community, or how would you describe them?

YN: That's very -- again, very interesting. I would have to say, in my recollection, I presume there was certainly Japanese, Japanese American customers, but I have to perceive that those of interest were not Japanese or Japanese Americans, because most of those knew my parents. The others didn't know me, so I think the influence is very great in how they spoke to me, what they said, and you must understand, all people like to be told they're doing something good. That's not a trait Japanese Americans have experience from their parents. They always don't do well. It took years for me to understand why I can do better than my counterpart Caucasian and still not be good, and they can come with something lower and they are very well-praised. It's again, the things that lead to my understanding today.

TI: So your, the non-Japanese customers that would come in the store would encourage you, give you encouragement or give you praise...

YN: For doing what I was doing.

TI: ...that you never received from your parents or others in the community.

YN: Others of my community, 'cause I was a brat. I could be no good. (That is my behavior).

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.