Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Jim Akutsu Interview
Narrator: Jim Akutsu
Interviewer: Art Hansen
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: June 9 and 12, 1997
Densho ID: denshovh-ajim-01-0002

<Begin Segment 2>

AH: A lot of immigrants, when they come to the United States, come with -- and this is still going on -- have quite a remarkable education and professional background. When they come here they're forced into a lot of jobs, and usually it's because they don't have language skills but it's a combination of just racism and prejudice, and things like that. I'd be interested in finding out what your father said about his feelings about this particular situation, that here he is a student of America and then he comes here and he can't get in the university and ends up as a janitor. How does he feel about this?

JA: Well, one thing, he just, just never even thought about, this is America, and he accepted as such. Okay? So what he used to tell me was, "J-town," -- meaning International Area -- "this is not Seattle. You have to go out and we have to meet people." So one of the first persons that I met was Dr. Matthews, the person who started the university or college right there at backside of Queen Anne, and I met with him. Or if there's some mayor, county executive, or any officials from schools or from city, he'd take me and introduce me to them. And he said, "You got to meet people, you got to meet people." And he said, "That's the only way to do it." And another thing is that he told me, "See it once is better than hearing about it." So he used to always take me to university and he used to take me to certain buildings, and even as a youngster used to go to university, to the museum and at many times go into some of the buildings and meet with professors. And he says that's what he wanted me to do. And that's what... I was, therefore, I was a little different from the other Japanese Americans who lived and their whole life in J-Town. He wanted to take me away, so we never went down to J-Town. We were always living up there on top of the hill where Harborview Hospital. We used to live up there and he never asked me to come down or just stay away and...

AH: There, a lot of times what has gone on in some of the studies of Japanese Americans -- and it's only beginning to change right now -- is that people who have looked at Japanese American history have not been alert to the idea that there were social class and economic class differences and things. Recently that's come out. Would you say that, in a sense, that your father regarded some of the Japanese Americans as peasants in comparison to himself since they came as laborers and he came as a college graduate?

JA: Well, yes, he didn't come out to say that, but he more or less told that to us. That there are these people down here, they gamble, they do all kinds of things that he didn't want us, for my brother and me to get involved with. So he always told us, "You guys stay up here," and you go down there... even from very young, ten, eleven, they're gambling with pennies. Well, my parents never thought that was good and the kind of talks they carry on. So he would control -- or not control, but tell us where to go, what to see, what to hear, everything was very positive.

AH: Was he associated with Christianity?

JA: Yes. You know, my name Akutsu... I've been with the City of Seattle for forty years. Anyway, during that time I helped get the sister city going, mayor's conference, chamber conference, always present. And at the time they'll ask me, "What is your name?" "Akutsu." "Oh, you're from Kyushu." I said, "No, no, we're from north of Tokyo, not Kyushu." And I was very curious, because everybody will refer to us as Kyushu. So finally I found out that our family were Christians from way back. Anyway, they had to leave, they were told, "So many days you gotta leave," so they must have left and they got blown north and by the time they hit land they were up by north of Tokyo into the Nikko area. So the Akutsu -- actually the "Aku" beginning -- Akune, Akutsu, Akuta, all comes from Kyushu. So talking to... every time I go to a mayor's conference or a chamber's conference in Japan, I'd inquire, inquire and I found out that's true. Evidently, we got blown north and our ancestors got blown north and at about Nikko, they turned inland and they became a hillbilly. [Laughs] Well, anyway, you go into that area, north of Nikko, all the names -- Akutsu Mura, Akutsu Village, Akutsu, Akutsu, Akutsu, is all in --

AH: Common there.

JA: Yes, very common.

AH: In Seattle, were there enough people from your father's ken to be able to have a kenjinkai, or not?

JA: Yes, not too many. Our ken, just like I told you once, most of them, they all went into Tokyo rather than to come out to U.S. In Hiroshima or Yamaguchi or other places, they all came to the United States. But they all went to Tokyo, so the kenjinkai, Tochigi-kenjinkai, very small, maybe ten family at the most.

AH: But they would still have annual picnics?

JA: They used to, they did. And pretty soon this one will leave, that one leaves and pretty soon we only had about five or six, at which time we just stopped.

AH: Well, your dad had a bad experience with some of his fellow ken members. When he was here, and you were growing up and you and your brother were growing up in Seattle, did your dad largely not only live apart from the Japanese American community, did he also have his friendship circles that were outside of the Japanese Americans? Or did he have Japanese Americans who he felt comfortable with?

JA: He was always close with the Japanese Americans, he never pulled himself away from the Japanese community, as you would say. He put up the money for the Japanese University Student Club, you know, where lot of the kids from out of town came to, come to the university and they had no chance of going back and forth, they used to stay at the Student Club. Well, he used to put up the money for, not all, but he did contribute to set that up. And then to maintain Christmas, Turkey Day, New Years, he'd take mochi or turkey or whatever, to have them eat, have their celebration there at the University Student Club.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.