Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: James Yamazaki Interview
Narrator: James Yamazaki
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Van Nuys, California
Date: February 4, 2005
Densho ID: denshovh-yjames-01-0010

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TI: So, Jim, let's go back and again think about your father and his role in terms of starting these various organizations, and I wanted to go back to the Boy Scouts, because it seems interesting to me that the Nisei would think about starting a Boy Scout troop for Niseis. So tell me a little bit about the troop, how large was it, and who actually ran the troop?

JY: It started with two Issei bankers. My father was able to gain their interest. So being a scoutmaster means setting aside one evening each week regularly, since the meetings were, punctually occurred each Friday evening, so one of them would always be there, one or both. And these were Isseis, Japanese citizens, but they acted as if they were Americans. And I think just as we were entering, they always made certain that we understood what the scout oath meant, where it refers to "God and country." Said, "Do you know what that means?" Twelve years old, looked bewildered, at least I was. I had no idea what loyalty meant to the country, and God was, that was way far off for me. But they would say, "Think about it, it's important. If you don't understand it now, sometime you should." These were the kind of people they were.

TI: So what they were doing, so these were Issei scoutmasters, and they were intentionally trying to get you to think about things like, not only God, but country, and talking about the United States as pledging allegiance to this country, even though this wasn't their country.

JY: That's correct. And they said it with such determination that, gee, maybe we should think about it.

TI: Why do you think they did that? Why were they so, why did they want essentially the next generation to be so focused on this?

JY: Well, I think -- this is conjecture on my part, but knowing my father, he had to first convince these very fine young guys to come to be scoutmaster. That the future of the young Japanese was here, and that to be a part of this country, these were some of the things that might be very important for survival here.

TI: How large was the troop?

JY: I remember it was around thirty, and they had extremely fine parent participation. And the only thing was, when you think back, they were very poor economically. The neighborhood was very poor, but when it came to summertime, the Boy Scouts would organize, they had big camps in the mountains, and they would, the cost for it was, when we look back, was not too expensive, but for us in the neighborhood it was very expensive. So that we would go to the local areas where we could just bring our blankets, cook our food, and that, bring pork and beans and something like that. So that these big camps was, only a very few ever attended.

TI: Was there ever any discussion or controversy from the other parents, what your father and these other scoutmasters were doing in terms of promoting such pro-American values?

JY: Well, those values were only mentioned just when we were inducted into the troop. It didn't arise afterwards. It was a sit down thing where, maybe perhaps half hour, where they would talk with you, and I thought that was very nice, that they would take the time out to talk to us. Especially when I was older. I said, gee, these guys took time out to talk to us young kids pre-teenagers, to talk about these things.

TI: And how serious did this get? When I think about scouts, the top level is the Eagle Scout level, where you go through all the training and you get to the Eagle Scout level. Of a troop of thirty, was it common for there to be Eagle Scouts in the troop?

JY: It wasn't common, but there were several.

TI: And so how many would there be?

JY: Eventually, probably about a dozen.

TI: And were you an Eagle Scout?

JY: Yes.

TI: And so explain, how long did it take you to become an Eagle Scout?

JY: I can't recall. [Laughs]

TI: But your scoutmasters --

JY: But I can say it was during high school.

TI: Yeah. The extraordinary thing to me is to get someone to become an Eagle Scout, as much work as it is for you, it's also the scoutmaster has to know what they're doing to get you to that level. And here you have these scoutmasters who had really never done it before, and they were able to get a dozen Eagle Scouts.

JY: Oh, I think they just started the engine and they just got you moving.

TI: Oh, because you think it was really self-motivated?

JY: Yeah, it was. They got you to be motivated, then after that it was up to us. I don't think they ever hounded us to become advanced through the grades to Eagle Scouts.

TI: Well, so as you got older, in high school, as you were getting closer to Eagle Scout, was it important for you as one of the older ones to help the younger scouts?

JY: Yeah, that was, I think, you felt a responsibility.

TI: So, again, it's like an engine. Here we are, we have this engine. And when you got older, did those concepts of God and country, did those make more sense to you in talking, because then you had to talk to the younger ones.

JY: Well, I would say I wasn't hundred percent convinced, though I followed that precept to a degree.

TI: So at the...

JY: For example, I did join the ROTC in high school, so I guess I was somewhat more motivated that way than some of the other Nisei boys.

TI: So that's interesting. So you joined the ROTC, how many fellow students, was that a common thing to join the ROTC?

JY: Not among the Niseis, no.

TI: How about amongst the Niseis who were scouts?

JY: No. I can't recall anyone else. I think they were more interested in sports.

TI: Were you encouraged by your father to join the ROTC?

JY: No, not at all. No, he never... I can't recall him saying you must do this or that.

TI: Okay, so we're talking about your dad starting the scouts, which is a very pro-American sort of organization, essentially, with young men. And then on the other hand, he started a couple of Japanese schools. And so here is something that promotes the learning of the Japanese language. It almost seems like a contradiction, in that you have one side that's very U.S. sort of centric, or focused, and the other side is Japanese, which was more Japan-focused.

JY: Well, I don't think in terms of a nationalistic thing, but of a cultural thing, that you need to know something Japanese, that you shouldn't deny your Japanese heritage. At least that's the way I looked at it. Because historically, we knew very little about what happened in those important years of the 1800s in Japan, or what preceded that. And then, of course, we're here into the 19th and 20th century, that's our life, especially the 20th century.

TI: So you think your dad was walking this line, kind of this balance where, recognizing that, essentially, we were here to stay, the Japanese were here to stay. And yet there was, from a cultural standpoint, important things about Japan that they still wanted a connection with. So it was trying to be American, but still remember you're Japanese.

JY: Yes. In other words, he was... never denigrated ourselves being Japanese.

TI: Would you go so far to say that he was proud of being Japanese?

JY: I think so. At least he wasn't overbearing in that regard, but at least he wasn't, said anything that was contrary to that.

TI: So I'm curious now, so you're raised to be American, to be proud you're Japanese.

JY: Not proud so much, but just say we're just as human and just as, belong here as anyone else.

TI: Okay, so you belong as anyone else.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2005 Densho. All Rights Reserved.