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-01-0002

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: So, Jim, again, I'm thinking about your father. And maybe before we even talk more about what he was, perhaps, thinking or wanting to do, did he have any brothers and sisters?

JY: Yes, he had, I think, seven brothers and one sister.

TI: Oh, that's big.

JY: Yes, and he was the youngest.

TI: Oh, interesting.

JY: So that the image we have of this family picture was that the oldest brother, being the Japanese way, would be the heir to the family, and there being so many brothers in the family, many of them, in fact, all of them except my brother went to yoshi.

TI: And what's yoshi?

JY: Yoshi is that, families who have just daughters, and they still want to have their legacy maintained, would ask another family who they thought could well represent their family hopes and aspiration to become the heir for their family.

TI: And so why do you think your father wasn't one of, a yoshi? Because he was...

JY: He was the youngest, and just, I guess, the general thing is if the oldest, anything happened to him, at least there would be one remaining, which actually was, happened eventually.

TI: Now did your grandparents have any expectations for your father in terms of the type of work or where he, what he should do as he got older?

JY: I think my grandfather, that is, my father's father, died early before my father was an adolescent. That's the way it, picture frame I get. And that, so that by the time my father was an adolescent, the family was guided by his uncle. And so the image I have is that of a family patriarch where his uncle was the principal figure in the family.

TI: And I think you mentioned earlier that this is, your father's uncle was a prominent person in the town also, because he was the mayor?

JY: Yes. Well, he was, the image I have of him is that he was quite a scholarly person. And one of the pictures that my father had is of a very sparse room in which he was studying, with a considerable amount of literature on the shelves, and a fairly serious looking demeanor. And he was the one that would call the family together in the event there was any things that they had to make decisions on. So he was a guiding figure in the family.

TI: And so your uncle -- or not your uncle, but your father's uncle -- took over, sort of, the raising of your father.

JY: That's correct, yes.

TI: So did he have expectations of your father?

JY: I'm not sure, but he certainly was, I get the impression that he did have a, quite a person that designed the family pattern. But that didn't prevent my father from enjoying some of the things that young men enjoyed in the city.

TI: What's an example of that?

JY: Well, he knew all the songs that they sang at the geisha house. And most people, when they came to the United States, thought that he was a very serious minister. And one year they had a group of men go to Japan, and my father joined them, and on the way over, they felt, "Gosh, here's a bonsan with us, and all of our fun that we intended to have in Japan is going to have a blanket on it." But when my dad went to Japan, he could join in the songs and all the partying that they had, that they wanted to recreate in returning to Japan. So they were very happy after that, and from that trip, he made many nice friendships.

TI: Oh, so it was interesting. So going back to his childhood, he was very much different than the perception he was in the United States as a minister. So that just gave sort of a picture of what his childhood may have been like in terms of being more boisterous and things like that. But also, birth order, he was the youngest. And in the United States, oftentimes if you're the youngest in a large family, sometimes you get a little spoiled. Was he sort of the spoiled child of the family?

JY: That's the impression we obtained, yes.

TI: Now in terms of schooling, how well did he do in school?

JY: Well, I don't know just what was expected at that period, but when he finished high school, he became a teacher, and was teaching just before he came to the United States. We have some very interesting pictures of his little group of students.

TI: During this period, Japan was, from a military standpoint, very busy fighting, I believe, at that time, the Russo War. For your father, he was probably about draft age about that time. Was he involved in the Japanese military?

JY: Of course, they were very involved, all the young people, because there was prevailing feeling that the Western powers was imposing on Japan, and there was considerable concern in the country about what would happen to the other countries in Asia might happen to Japan. And so the young people, it seemed, there was quite a unified type of feeling that the young people would have to serve in the armed forces to preserve Japan.

TI: And is that how your dad felt about that, too?

JY: I believe so.

TI: And so what was his involvement in terms of the Japanese military?

JY: Well, he applied to the, both to the naval and the army academies, but was rejected because of, he didn't meet the physical requirements.

TI: So his intent was, he was very much proud of being Japanese and wanted to be part of the Japanese military in terms of, in some ways -- apologize for my words -- but sort of kick out the other occupying or imperial forces like the British, people like that, from Asia?

JY: I think that was the impression I obtained, that they didn't want Japan to undergo that type of experience.

TI: So he was rejected by the navy and the army in terms of their training, officer training. So what did he do next?

JY: Well, I think the family counseled with my, his uncle, decided that the next step was to go to the United States and obtain his education there. And since there were physicians in the family, they thought he might do well as a doctor.

TI: And they felt that going to the United States to get a medical training was a good move for your father?

JY: Well, at least to make an attempt.

TI: But during this period also, wasn't there a death in the family?

JY: Yes, that one of his older brothers died, and it was a brother to whom he was very close. He died after a sport accident, and he was quite troubled and vexed about life and its meaning, and he approached the Buddhist priest about it and then found no adequate explanations for what he was seeking. But he obtained this at the, from the ministers at the Anglican church that was established in the community.

TI: So the family was Buddhist, and so initially he went to the Buddhist minister to try to get some understanding of this tragedy, didn't find it, so went to the Anglican.

JY: Yes.

TI: And there you say he got counseling or information to help him heal.

JY: He found an explanation to life that he hadn't obtained from the Buddhist priest.

TI: Do you know what that learning or what that might have been in terms of how to cope with a tragedy like that?

JY: Not exactly. All I know is that eventually, apparently, it led him to the ministry.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2005 Densho. All Rights Reserved.