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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-01-0006

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: Okay. So about this time, I'm guessing, and then you mentioned earlier, your dad went into the gardening business?

MT: (Yes).

TI: And so this was in the '30s. So describe as much as you can what the gardening business was like before the war.

MT: Well, at that time, I think there were probably about thirty, possibly forty Isseis that were in the gardening business, and they formed the Japanese Gardeners Association. And they were a very close-knit group. They used to take on the job of cleaning the cemetery up, in Queen Anne there was a plot of Japanese there. And then Lake View Cemetery, they would go there and clean up during the, just before Memorial Day, and they did this for years. And they, socially they used to get together, you know, Shinenkai and things. So they were a loose organized group helping each other, helping with jobs, teaching them certain things. So they were, they were a fairly strong group of Issei men.

TI: And how did your father fit in this group? I mean, was there a structure, or was it pretty collegial, or how would you describe the group?

MT: Well, they, they had their presidents and treasurers and whatnot. Probably my dad was more, one of the more active ones in the Gardeners group, because he was probably one of the early ones to start the Gardeners Association there. And I think like the late Dick Yamasaki, his father was there, Arlene Oki of Keiro, her grandfather was a member there. Who else can I think of offhand? Oh, Bill, William Yorozu, his dad was active in there. Kubota, Tom Kubota's father. So there were quite a few Issei gardeners at that time, and they were mainly in maintenance work more than landscaping and things like that.

TI: So when you say "maintenance work," it's more like, what does that mean?

MT: Mowing lawns, pruning shrubs, planting flowers.

TI: So I'm wondering, so there was an association, and yet they were independent. I mean, I'm trying to understand... so they didn't really, or did they compete against each other, or how did they work together? I mean...

MT: I think more than competing, it was helping each other. I mean, if you had extra account, you couldn't handle it, if somebody needed a job you'd refer somebody else. There were times when they were doing something they needed help, they would help each other, but it was, there was a very independent group as far as working, socially. And they were one group and certainly they didn't try to cut each other's throat or anything like that. I think that was one of the biggest things they wanted to do, not to take away someone else's job, work, or anything like that.

TI: Now, the Japanese Gardeners, were there other groups that they had to compete against, or that there were other groups that would try to take their business?

MT: At that time there may have been a few Caucasian gardeners. The Filipinos were still of, what would you say, one generation behind the Japanese, so there were a lot of Filipinos helping the Isseis, but very few Filipinos that were gardening for themselves. The Chinese never got into gardening. There were some Italians that were in gardening, but it was... I think the Japanese gardeners were probably the biggest single group, ethnic group to be gardening in the Seattle area.

TI: So tell me a little bit about their clients. Who did they work for?

MT: Mostly Caucasians, yeah.

TI: And were there certain neighborhoods, or was it all neighborhoods?

MT: All neighborhoods, yeah. However, Seattle at that time was, Queen Anne was pretty far out. Madrona district was close by, Beacon Hill was close, Seward Park, so it was just the greater central area that they worked. Going out like to Windemere or something, that was way out in the country at that time.

TI: And so for one, one gardener, how many clients would, would he generally have?

MT: Oh, I imagine fifteen, twenty accounts.

TI: And so generally he would work on a couple accounts a day, or two to three accounts a day?

MT: Yeah.

TI: Okay. And then you mentioned kind of this group activity where they would as a group take care of the cemetery? And so I'm guessing that these are cemeteries where Japanese were buried?

MT: Yeah. Queen Anne... I can't think of the cemetery's name, but there was a plot of early Japanese fellows that passed away, they didn't have a place to bury 'em, so they, I think the Japanese community buried a group of 'em there, and a fairly large group buried there in Lake View. And these are young fellows that died, I imagine in the early '20s and things, and I'm presuming a lot of 'em had lost contact with their families in Japan. So I don't think even the families in Japan knew whatever happened to 'em. So the Japanese community, society, put up little concrete headstone, and oh, I would say there were forty or fifty 'em interred there in Lake View. So this was the place they used to go every year and clean it up for Memorial Day.

TI: Now, so were they asked to do this by, like, Japanese Community Services or Society to do this?

MT: Yeah, I think so, uh-huh.

TI: And so was there kind of this collaboration amongst the different associations? So you had the Gardeners Association, you probably had these other business associations, was there, were you aware of any collaboration amongst them?

MT: Oh, I imagine they had a close relationship, but not in the sense of getting together as a, the heads of the different organizations or anything like that. They were certainly aware of each other, but I don't think they ever had an annual meeting or anything, but like I say, the Japanese Gardeners were asked probably by the Japanese, Japanese Society or whatever, Nihonjinkai, I guess they called it. They were probably originally asked to help clean up the cemetery, and that's something they just took on their own to do.

TI: So as I'm, I'm trying to get a sense of this group, I mean, as an association, did they meet very frequently, and when they did, what did they do?

MT: I believe they met about once a month. They discussed their little problems. I think they would have a Gardeners picnic, Shinenkai, and I don't know, whatnot. But they enjoyed it, each other's company.

TI: And so you mentioned your dad earlier liked sake. Would they, at these meetings, after they finished business, would they, like, drink and have a good time, also?

MT: Yeah. Well, like I laughed at, somebody asked about the clean up of the cemetery, the Niseis go over there. I said, "After this clean up, we'd have coffee and doughnuts, where they'd sit there and have a sake party." [Laughs] I said, "There was a big difference." They enjoyed life.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.