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Title: Mits Takahashi Interview
Narrator: Mits Takahashi
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: March 20, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-tmits-01-0032

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TI: In terms of the Gardeners Association, I mean, recently it's received honors in terms of the Tom Foley award from the Japan-America Society, and so it's been recognized as a group. I think you mentioned earlier that it's no longer in existence. But I wanted to ask a little bit in terms of postwar, who ran the group? Was it the Niseis who ran it, or the Shin-Isseis, or who ran that group?

MT: The Niseis did. And then I think the Shin-Isseis were very active, too, but I think it was pretty much even until very recent years when we just kind of retired. And today, I don't know how, who's left as far as gardening. There are very, very few. I think there are, as far as the Nisei fellows, I think, can't think of anybody, because they're all my age. There are a few of the Shin-Isseis, but they're getting up in years, too.

TI: And how do you feel about, when the organization, the association is acknowledged by, like the Japan-America Society? How do you feel about that?

MT: I was surprised. I mean, you go along in an organization and you really joined the organization, socially and economically, and because you have something in common. And all of a sudden, I'm sure the Japan-America Society is a well-established, accepted organization, and to have them come out and say, "Hey, we've got an award, we want to award it to the Japanese Gardeners," I was quite surprised. I was very, very pleased about it, and I think I myself and... Dick Yamasaki was there at the dinner, George Suyetsugu, Jr., who was a Shin-Kibei, Alan Kubota, who is the grandson of Kubota Gardens' founder. Ken Yorozu, whose father was a landscape gardener that did the planting at the arboretum, we were there. And I was the senior of the group there, so I was asked to accept it. And I felt that, sure, we Niseis and Shin-Isseis did a lot, but the association was started by the Isseis, and I give them a lot of credit for starting that and getting the American public aware, or the Seattle, Northwest people at least, aware of the beauty of Japanese gardening. And I accepted the award, and I said, "Actually, I'm accepting it on behalf of the Isseis," because I think they're the ones that, they didn't have the foresight to see what's gonna happen, but because of their economic position and the need of working, they made the Northwest a little more beautiful place to live in.

TI: So was there some sadness that the Gardeners Association has stopped, that it doesn't carry on into the future?

MT: Really no sadness because there's no one left to carry it on. [Laughs] I mean, if there were, there were a lot of 'em and then it just stopped, I mean, I think it would have been a sad thing. But gradually it dwindled down to five, six members, and we just felt that we had really no, may have had a purpose to want to continue, but no possibility that we can continue with the few people they had left.

TI: So the gardens that were established by the Japanese Gardeners Association, what's going to happen to them? I mean, when you think ten, twenty years in the future, do you think they'll still retain their character?

MT: I think a good -- well, you were Kobe, did you see the Kobe, I guess it was the municipal area? Their garden was big pool, straight sidewalk, a French style, you go east, lot of it was English-style gardens, hedges, things like that. Where you look at Seattle and Northwest gardens, you don't see straight lines, everything's curved, gradual. They're not set tight formation-wise like the French and English gardens. And this is Seattle; I don't think, you very seldom go anywhere in Seattle and find a formal English or a French garden. But you see that Japanese, when you look at it closely, you see that influence, the Japanese influence: soft lines, graceful shrubs and things. And I think this is, well, can you say the legacy of the Isseis that, gardeners that they left behind? It's not obvious, or it's not something that everyone is very, very aware of, but it's there, and it's all over the Northwest.

TI: And so your sense is it will be, it will stay around...

MT: Yeah, it will be around, yeah.

TI: ...because it's sort of ingrained in how the plants were set up and they'll be maintained. And so in twenty years, someone will come through and still recognize the influence of the Isseis who did this decades ago.

MT: And I can't see that, whether it's our tea garden here or Tacoma or in Portland, whether it's the Japanese garden or a Chinese garden, that they will ever be torn down and changed into something else. I think this is something, the Oriental gardens, whether it's Chinese or Japanese garden, ten years from now, fifty years from now, it'll still be there. And it's gonna be part of the Northwest or the West Coast.

TI: Good, that's an incredible legacy.

<End Segment 32> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.