Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Joe Ishikawa Interview
Narrator: Joe Ishikawa
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: January 10, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-ijoe-01-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: Today's date is January 10, 2008, so this is my first interview of 2008. We're in the Densho studio in Seattle, and on the camera, operating the camera is Dana Hoshide, and then the interviewer is me, Tom Ikeda. We're both with Densho. And so this morning we have Joe Ishikawa to do the interview. And so the first question, Joe, is could you tell me where you were born?

JI: I was born in Los Angeles, California, which used to be part of the United States, may still be, I don't know. [Laughs]

TI: [Laughs] And what, what was the date of your birth?

JI: I was born July 29, 1919.

TI: Okay, 1919. So, that makes you how old today?

JI: Eighty-eight, going on eighty-nine. Eighty-eight is supposed to be a propitious year for... but I think that's kazoedoshi, they, the Japanese, so last year was a propitious year for me, except it wasn't.

TI: Wow, you look, you look great for eighty-eight.

JI: Well, I have a new pacemaker, helps. [Laughs]

TI: And what was the name that was given to you at your birth?

JI: I was Joseph Bunichi Ishikawa. Bunichi, I guess. And Bunichi could be read as Fumikazu in Japanese. As a matter of fact, my relatives in Japan thought, thought Fumikazu was my name, not Bunichi. And so when I met them years later, they, I was addressed as "Fumikazu" and I didn't know who they were talking to.

TI: So the Japanese characters for that could be read either way?

JI: Yeah, "bun" and "ichi," yeah.

TI: Okay. Do you know why you were named the name that was given to you? Was there any connection...

JI: I don't know, my father being hopeful, I guess. Bunichi means something about, has something to do with literature, fumibako is a letter box, and so it has to do with literature. And as a matter of fact, when I started university, I thought I was going to become the great writer of the, of the, write the Great American Novel, which I never did. Spared the public of bad writing.

TI: [Laughs] That's good. So let's go back to 1919. At that point, or during that period, did you have any siblings?

JI: Yes, I was the last of, of six children, really. I had, had... no, five children, I'm sorry. Two sisters, my oldest sister had been born in Formosa where my father was working for the Japanese government. And...

TI: And do you recall about how much older she was than you?

JI: Well, let's see. I was four when she died, and she must have been twenty, twenty-one. She was married at that time, she died of a miscarriage which, when it happened --

TI: So she was quite a bit older, then. She was about seventeen years old.

JI: Oh yeah, yeah, because my other sister was ten years older than I am. And then I had a brother eight years older, and another brother about three and a half years older. So, and I was the tail end, and my mother thought I was a gas pain. At least, that's what my siblings said, and I think they're, I don't know whether they're teasing me or whether it was true, but anyway, I turned out to be a pain in the gas to the whole family, I guess. [Laughs]

TI: Now, do you recall the names of your siblings, from your sisters on down?

JI: Yeah, my oldest sister was named Fusaye, meaning "tassel," I guess. And my second sister, the first one born here in the United States was Chiyo, Chiyoko. And my brother was, oldest brother was Henry, whom we called Hank, and he had a Japanese name called Jinichi. And the other brother was named John, Johnny, whose name was, Japanese name was Shuichi. But for some reason, my father gave us non-Japanese names. People say American names, but of course, mine is Hebrew, Joseph. And, but I don't know why that was, it was just that the boys were, were given, given Western names.

TI: Okay, good.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.