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Title: Gene Akutsu Interview II
Narrator: Gene Akutsu
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: April 17, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-agene-03-0003

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TI: Okay, so now I'm going to jump, that was just some basic information I wanted to get, and the other interview covered a lot of your growing up and the prewar. And so I'm going to jump to December, essentially, December 7, 1941, and the day after, on December 8th, in Seattle, your father was picked up by the FBI. And one of the questions I wanted to ask was, so this was the day after December 7th when Japan, the military bombed Pearl Harbor, and so he was picked up very quickly. And I was curious why you thought your father was picked up so quickly by the FBI.

GA: One of the reasons, I think, was that he was quite active not as a head of a Japanese community, but a member participating and trying to be a, what do you call, liaison between the Japanese community and the English. So that they would understand what is going in, going on the white people's mind and, Caucasians' mind, I mean, and also (translate) all of the, what the Japanese community was talking about, so that everybody concerned knew about what was going on. So the JACL was taking care of a lot of the names, all the people who participated in all that, and I guess his name being, starting with 'A' was one of the first names, and therefore, right away, they picked him up on the 8th.

TI: I'm sorry, back up a little bit. So when you said the JACL was coming up with lists of names, these were names that were, that the JACL felt were...

GA: Active in the community.

TI: Okay, so that's...

GA: I imagine they also had names of everybody else, too, so that they know who is in, living in the Japanese community. So I guess they had a, not a diary, but a directory as to who, where they lived and all that sort of thing.

TI: So when you say your dad was active as a liaison between, say, the Caucasian community and the Japanese community, what would that be? How would he kind of do that? What would be an example of him trying to either inform the Caucasian community or him trying to inform the Japanese community of what the Caucasians thought?

GA: It's so far, long ago, I can't quite remember, but I guess one of the things might be, like, what... the Japanese, they had meetings and things, in the community, what they spoke about, and they may have had a play at the Nippon Kan Hall and things like that that the Caucasians didn't know what was going on. They thought maybe it was a secret party going on, and those kind of things he readily explained to the people of what was going on in the community to keep the interest of the Japanese.

TI: So was your father able to speak English?

GA: He was able to, but not really fluently, but well enough that he could express what he wanted. He's a university graduate and a teacher. Also, my mother was a teacher.

TI: Okay, so both parents were well-educated.

GA: Yes.

TI: In relationship to probably the other, many other Japanese.

GA: Yes.

TI: So given that, if you were to think back in terms of community, Japanese community perceptions of your parents, how do you think they would describe -- this is before the war -- how do you think they would describe them?

GA: My parents, I think that a lot of them looked at my parents as, "Oh, they were teachers in Japan." They thought they were well-educated and way above their heads because many of the Isseis that were over here, maybe graduated from, maybe not even the middle school in Japan. And now, my dad has a shoe repair shop, and they say, "Boy, you came down a long ways." Isn't that, as an insult, to let him know that they see how he came down to below the average citizen's level.

TI: So it's kind of interesting, so thinking about, so the shoe repair was a way for your dad to make a living, but his education within the community, it sounds like he was one of the leaders because he was able to be a spokesperson oftentimes. And so there was, yeah, this sort of... what's the right word? Imbalance almost in terms of what he had to do for a living...

GA: That's right.

TI: ...and his position in the community, especially based on his education.

GA: Yeah. There was a reason why he became a shoe repair, too. He used to work for Frederick & Nelson, and over at the Frederick & Nelson as a janitor. And when we, one night he was cleaning up the place, he found a safe open. And so he called the people of the company and told them about what had happened there, and so they trusted my dad and they decided to call him Charlie. And then they said, "Charlie, we've got a suggestion for you. Why don't you start your own business? And a good business to do is to get into the shoe repair business because everybody wears a shoe, and that wears out and it has to be taken care of." And so that's where he made up his mind that he will go into the shoe repair business at the suggestion of the people, heads of Frederick & Nelson.

TI: That's a good story.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.