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-01-0004

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: Okay, so let me, let me back up just a little bit. First, when you said "moving to the city," I'm thinking this is Los Angeles?

JI: Yeah.

TI: So what part of Los Angeles did the family live?

JI: Well, the slums of Hollywood. [Laughs] The outer fringes of Hollywood, around in Melrose and Virgil. I was born in a house in Melrose and Virgil, but moved -- my first recollection is of another house south of Virgil across the street from a swamp. Now, that's the middle of the city. [Laughs] It was a swamp, I remember seeing a guy take a cow out to pasture. And we'd go into the swamp and it had wonderful clear flowing streams. And we would pick watercress there and get pollywogs and hatch them into frogs. It was a great place to grow up because it was very rural in spite of being in the city. And then we moved, we moved east to what they called the West End of Los Angeles. It was called the West End, but now it's, it's somewhere east of the center, the geographical center of city, probably.

TI: And in the neighborhoods that you grew up, were there other Japanese families?

JI: Yeah, there were quite a few in the... Virgil district was quite, quite a community, I think. And then when we moved to the West End, there were quite a few. It was a mixture, there were blacks side by side. As a matter of fact, in one house, we had black neighbors on both sides of us. Before that, there were, and there were some film studios around, too, there was a guy who... oh yeah, the Our Gang comedies were shot on our street, for instance. Not, not a lot, but occasionally they would shoot, shoot film there. And we lived across the street from Pathe News, and next to, about two doors down was a great big studio which caught fire one day. Very, very, everything was flammable and made a sensational conflagration and took down most of the house next to us and took down part of our garage. But we had... well, I guess we had a car by that time, we didn't have a car until '28. But we pulled, the car was not parked inside.

TI: And so when you think about those early days, do you recall who your friends were back then and the type of things you did?

JI: Yeah, well, we played ball, we had empty lots around there in the old days, you know. There's no empty lots anymore, at least none you can, that they permit you to play ball in. But we had pickup games. And I was lucky, my older brothers tolerated my, my playing with them, and so I learned a lot from them. And we played that kind of game, and "Kick the Can," street games.

TI: And so your friends, did they tend to be... you mentioned you had African Americans, you had Japanese, probably Caucasians. I mean, what kind of, I'm curious, like the racial mixture of the people you played with.

JI: Well, my closest friends were, were Caucasians, I think, and people I knew at school. And when they'd, I'd come home, they would, and they'd come over to play at our house, or we'd, I'd go over to their house sometimes. But yeah, there was... I guess the closest friends were Caucasians, but I had Japanese friends, too, with whom we'd play. And when we played ball, they were mostly from the neighborhood. So there would be, well, a few blacks. Then when we moved over to the West End area, we moved into an area where there was one kind of cute little black kid who would come around and talk with us. And my brother asked him what his name was, he said, "Willie Billy Smith." Well, Willie Billy Smith became Bill Smith who, in high school, he ran a 9'4" hundred. [Laughs] And he had, he high jumped 6'5" or something, broad jumped around 24 feet, and he was this little skinny kid, grew up to be this...

TI: World class athlete.

JI: Great, great athlete.

TI: Interesting.

JI: And so he had a couple of high school world records.

TI: That's interesting. Earlier, you mentioned the death of your mother. How old were you when this happened?

JI: I was nineteen, 'cause... yeah, nineteen. And it was after my mother died that my father asked me to go to Japan, because he was afraid that all contact -- he was in his seventies by then -- and he thought all contact with his relatives would be lost. And so since I was the youngest, since the other brothers were working and I was in school, I was a sophomore at UCLA at the time, he thought I should be the one to go. And he tried to give me a crash course in Japanese. [Laughs]

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.