Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Sharon Tanagi Aburano Interview I
Narrator: Sharon Tanagi Aburano
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda (primary); Megan Asaka (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: March 25, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-asharon-01-0004

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[Ed. note: This transcript has been edited by the narrator]

TI: So, let's, yeah, let's step back, and so your father and siblings. So how many brothers did he have, and sisters?

SA: I think there were four that I know of.

TI: Okay, so your father had, there were four brothers including your father or your father and four brothers?

SA: Well, this is kind of a strange (story). They were actually (three) half brothers, because his father was an artist, and (was) traveling through (Japan). Evidently, (...) he was a court artist (...), and he met someone (also) at the court, and he married her. But to her horror, when she came (to his home with her husband and her son), my father, she found out (...) that he already had a wife (and at least) three (sons). So actually, (my dad) was a half brother, (but) he was raised by them, but there was a big age gap, so actually, they were (much) older. And two (half brothers who) came with him, (were) Daishiro and Daigaku.

TI: So they were the older stepbrothers?

SA: The older half brothers, it would be. It's the same father, different mother.

TI: Okay.

SA: And so they, and it was to the credit of his dad's wife, because his mother left (him and returned home to her folks). She was just shocked. (...) And so he was raised by his (father and) when his father died, one of (his half brothers) took him (...) because he had a son almost the same age. There was a big age gap (between my father and his half brothers).

TI: Okay. So, let's go back. So your father and two older half brothers came to the United States?

SA: Yes. They came to (...) Sugar City, Idaho. There was a man named (Mr.) Hamilton, to whom they were evidently (...) under contract to. This was a fellow who, (...) when World War II erupted, (wrote) that we could come there, which was an amazing thing. Well, my father was unusual, because he was young, (and he), after (working on raising sugar beets), went up to a (nearby) schoolhouse (in Rexburg) and asked if he could attend school. (...) This schoolteacher, I was quite amazed, took him under and he studied English for a year. And I was quite delighted because I found an old book, and it's a book of poems that was given to him by this schoolteacher, and her name was inside. (This is a book that) I still have (is) over a hundred years old.

TI: Okay, so let me back up a little bit so I understand all this. So about how old was your father when he came over?

SA: Well, I would think he'd be about twenty-one, because he got drafted into the army.

TI: Right, so he's about twenty-one, he comes over to Sugar City, Idaho, he's hired by this man Hamilton, and then during his breaks or after work, he goes up to this school.

SA: Actually, during the time he was working there (and) I don't really know the circumstances (that made him go)because our Isseis never spoke much and my father was quiet. (But) he had left behind a trunk (and in it, we found some writing and this book). And from what I understand, he had decided he would go because he was (...) put in as a household person at someone's house nearby, and he helped there, as well as doing (some) sugar beeting, but more of the time (he was their) houseboy. And it was from there that he felt he needed to learn English. So he must have, through contacts, gotten to this schoolteacher, and she taught him for a year. Which was great because he could write English and he could read a little. Not that he comprehended (all he read).

TI: So that was unusual for an Issei.

SA: I thought it was unusual. And my mother also was able to write English. I don't know how she got to that point, because she said this missionary (in Japan) came once a week.

TI: Okay, so now we're, we're still in Idaho. And let me back up, too, and how did they get the work in Sugar City, Idaho? What was the connection there?

SA: I think, as far as I can tell, there were contracts out for workers (in Japan) because this was typical of that (Meiji) era.

TI: So do you think they came into a place like Seattle, there was a contractor that...

SA: I think they were contracted in Japan.

TI: Oh, in Japan? So they went all the way directly to Idaho? Okay. And so that was not only your father, but --

SA: He came (...) at that time, with his (half) brothers. He wasn't married at the time, of course.

TI: Okay. But then his brothers or your uncles also went to Idaho also to work there.

SA: Yes. But they returned to Japan, both of (his half brothers). It's an interesting thing, (one of their sons stayed behind). One of my cousins' daughters said that she had researched and evidently sugar beets were just coming in. And it said that, it was recorded that there was a Tanagi that really learned a lot, enough to (raise) it in a big commercial-like way. And (they) evidently returned to Japan and went on, one (...) into Manchuria, one (...) into China, and they (raised sugar beets).

TI: Oh, that's interesting.

SA: Isn't that interesting? And then they returned to Japan, (I have a photo of both half brothers).

TI: Yeah, when you said you went through the documentation and saw that someone did sugar beeting in a big way, was that in the United States or in...

SA: It was here (in Idaho), it was my cousin's daughter Bea Kumasaka, (who said she saw the Tanagi home in a state government book or something).

TI: But I was trying to figure out which, so which uncle was big in sugar beets?

SA: I'm not quite sure which of the two. (...)

TI: But they -- I'm sorry -- they did the sugar, they did first the sugar --

SA: I don't know which one. They learned how to grow it and (harvest it and refine it, I think).

TI: -- here, and then they went back to Asia, Manchuria and Japan and did sugar beeting there.

SA: Not in Japan, in China. I don't know why. Evidently, there was more land available.

TI: And maybe the climate or something was good for them.

SA: That's true, too.

TI: Okay, let's go back to your father. So we're now in Idaho, he's working as a houseboy, learning English, and also going to school. So what happens next?

SA: So I kind of lost track there, but I know the family (of his half brother's son) moved into Oregon. (...) (He left and) came into Seattle (where) he worked at the Swift Meat Company, I think it's gone now, (but he saved) enough money and (went back to Japan to get married in 1918).

TI: And I'm sorry, about what year is this when he comes to Seattle?

SA: It must be (right about the) World War I (years).

TI: Okay, so about 1919, 1920.

SA: In fact, it might have even been prior to that because he went back to get married and she came in 1919 and he came back with her. So I think might have been 1918.

TI: Okay, so he came to Seattle, then he went back to Japan, got married, and then came back to Seattle around 1919?

SA: Yes, he came back to Seattle, (I'm not sure if he went back to work at Swift's Meat Company, but in) 1923 he bought a grocery store, and that's the one at 653 King. It's the one that was between Nihonmachi and Chinatown.

TI: And do you know why he went into the grocery business?

SA: I think that it was owned previously (by a friend of) the Shimomura family (...). But I'm not quite sure on that.

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