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-01-0037

<Begin Segment 37>

TI: So let's move on to the trip to Japan. And so why don't you talk about arriving to Japan, and this was your first and Aki's first time to Japan. So describe what that was like.

JY: Well, we were just delighted to be in Japan because it's our first time where, country where our parents came from. I think that was quite a striking experience. But when we arrived in the part at Yokohama, we were surprised to see all our neighborhood kids there. They were in the occupation army.

TI: Oh, so neighborhood kids from Los Angeles...

JY: From St. Mary's.

TI: ...were all there.

JY: At the wharf waiting for us to arrive.

TI: Oh, so they all knew that you were coming and they were waiting for you?

JY: Yeah, my brother was there too, so they were quite a welcoming crowd.

TI: So how large a group was there, would you say?

JY: Oh, about ten, fifteen. Yeah, this was already four years after the war, and still they were in the army.

TI: And like for your brother, who was in the occupation, when was the last time you had seen him?

JY: Gee, quite a few years.

TI: So it was kind of nice to face that reunion.

JY: Yeah.

TI: And so what... can you recall any thoughts or advice the people who had been living in Japan gave to you and Aki in terms of things to think about or do when you were in Japan?

JY: The people in Japan?

TI: Yeah, like your friends, your friends or your brother, can you recall any advice or...

JY: Well, they told me, I told my brother I was coming to Japan, and he told me to get a car. And I told him I didn't have any money, so he loaned me the money to get a car.

TI: So buy a car in the United States and ship it over?

JY: Yes.

TI: So did you do that?

JY: Yes, I did.

TI: What kind of car did you bring?

JY: The cheapest Chevy I could get, but it was pistachio color. [Laughs] First car I owned.

TI: Oh, that's good. So you're in Japan, and where do you go?

JY: Well, as soon as we got off of the ship, a representative of the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission came to us and called me aside and says, "You know, Aki and the baby can't come to Hiroshima." And I queried them about the reason, they said, "There's no room for you there." And I knew something was wrong, because we had had all this housing problem in the United States, and I made it clear to the people in Washington before I signed up that there would be housing for my family. They assured me there was, and we obtained special permission from the army to bring a baby into the country, and telling them that I'm a pediatrician so I could take care of the baby and wouldn't encumber any service from the government to take care of the baby. So they said I had to leave Aki and the baby in Tokyo. Fortunately my brother was there, so they stayed there, and I proceeded on to Hiroshima.

TI: Okay, so that was a disappointment. So Aki and your baby, so you had your first son born in Cincinnati?

JY: Yes.

TI: And so you're bringing him, so Aki was a new mother. So that was also hard, too, I suppose, taking the trip all the way across. So you go down to Hiroshima, so what do you find down there?

JY: Well, we found that the, Hiroshima is in the area of Japan called Chuugoku, and that it was administered by the occupation force by the British armed forces, and that they had administrative charges of that area. And that the reason we couldn't go was because they would not provide housing for non-Europeans in their quarters.

TI: Oh, that's interesting. So the British controlled this area. The occupation, though, was headed by MacArthur, but the British kind of controlled this area with their own sort of infrastructure, and they discriminated against non-Europeans.

JY: That's right.

TI: And there was no attempt by the U.S. Army or by the occupation forces under MacArthur to say that wasn't acceptable?

JY: And especially by Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, that assured me of housing. Once I brought this to their attention, they concurred with the British people and made no attempts to alter their policy.

TI: So was that because they didn't want to make waves with the British, or do you think they just...

JY: They complied with the prevailing feeling, my interpretation, they complied easily with the prevailing feeling before the war, the colonial, continuance of the colonial kind of atmosphere that had been going on for several hundred years. That was the way I interpreted it.

TI: So how did that make you feel? I mean, here you are in, in some ways, the country of your ancestors, and you're, you have this, in some ways, this old colonial power, the British there, imposing their rules, discriminating against, in some ways, the people who actually were born there.

JY: Yes.

TI: I mean, how did that make you feel?

JY: Well, I almost started, it might even sound a little severe, but I thought the Americans agreed with that policy. After all, they had the Philippines, and they felt that the war only emphasized that kind of thinking, and that even after assuring me that I'd get housing in Japan, they had no compunction to say they made a mistake or they misrepresented the situation to me. And, of course, I raised objections to the commission, and even the kids couldn't go to school, the Sansei kids. And then they... and their retort was that they didn't know why I would complain about these things when I didn't have kids of school age.

TI: So there's a sense from the British and Americans, in some ways, that they were superior to the, in particular, the Asians?

JY: Yeah, we were being used as, for the benefit of this investigation just because we are of Japanese descent. And I guess they recognized my anger, and they told me I could go home if I didn't like it here.

TI: Who told you could go home?

JY: The head administrator.

TI: Who was British or...

JY: American.


JY: Yes.

TI: And I should mention, the ABCC stands for the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission.

JY: Casualty Commission, yeah.

TI: So he said you could go home.

JY: Right.

TI: So were you kind of labeled as a troublemaker, do you think?

JY: Could be. I don't think I was a troublemaker, I was just outlining the facts. I didn't consider myself a troublemaker, I was just bringing these to the attention.

TI: Well, in the occupation, during the occupation, there were quite a few other Niseis as you mentioned earlier, who were in Japan. Was your reaction, would you say, different than what the typical Niseis were doing?

JY: Yes, I think so.

TI: So you were making waves when the other Niseis weren't.

JY: Yes, that's right. I didn't think... I thought it certainly should... in all fairness, they didn't represent the situation in Washington to me.

TI: So they essentially gave you an ultimatum, said, "Jim, if you don't like it, go back to the United States."

JY: Right, right.

TI: So what did you do then?

JY: I said, "That isn't what I came to Japan for."

TI: But then who gave in? So what happened?

JY: The next thing I knew, they told me to pack up and I would be assigned to Nagasaki to start the program there.

TI: And when you went to Nagasaki, Nagasaki was under U.S. control?

JY: Yes.

TI: And so the rules were different there.

JY: Quite a bit different.

TI: This is interesting.

<End Segment 37> - Copyright © 2005 Densho. All Rights Reserved.