Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Kazuko Uno Bill Interview I
Narrator: Kazuko Uno Bill
Interviewer: Megan Asaka
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: May 7, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-bkazuko-01-0014

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MA: I'm curious about your parents. Did they maintain ties to family in Japan, or did they ever talk about, like, current events in Japan with you or maybe in the home?

KB: Okay, I'll have to tell you about Japan, or ties to Japan. Because when I was ten years old, my father took me and my brother to Japan. And actually, his parents were quite elderly, and he heard that his mother was ill, and he wanted to see her before she passed on. At that time, we had to take a boat from Seattle, and it took two weeks. I think it was about two weeks. And unfortunately, she passed away during the time that we were on the boat. However, I did get to meet his father, and he was ill also, and they were in their eighties at the time. And he passed away when we were, while we were there. Now, he had the idea -- I think this happened with other Japanese families also -- had the idea that the children should stay in Japan and get some education there, and so he enrolled us in the school. I immediately felt prejudice towards girls.

MA: Towards being a girl?

KB: Towards being a girl. They always favored the boys. It got me upset because I was a good student, and I felt like they were looking down on me. Even though I had to go to a Japanese school, I think I did very well. In fact, I did better in, like, math, arithmetic or whatever it was, than the Japanese students. But I still felt like, okay, they promote the boys and they kind of look down on the girls. On the other hand, my brother, who was not very studious, got a lot of attention because he was a boy.

MA: From the teachers and adults?

KB: From the teachers, from the relatives, they kind of played up to him, and he loved it. So when the time came for my father to leave and come back to the United States, I said, "I'm not going to stay here; I'm coming back with you." So, but my brother, especially, was babied by my aunt who didn't have any boys, she had four girls, and she really doted on my brother. And so she was gonna look after him, so he stayed in Japan. And as it turned out, about maybe five years later, five or six years later, before World War II, my uncle, who was then taking care of my brother, said, "Please come and get him. He's getting too old for us to handle him," because he was a teenager by then. So my mother went back to get him, she went with my youngest sister Heidi, who was Paula's mother, and brought him back to Seattle. And it so happened that this was just before Pearl Harbor. And we kept saying, "If he had stayed there..."

MA: Who knows what would have happened?

KB: We might have lost him, yeah.

MA: Wow.

KB: So it was very fortunate in a way that we were able to get him out of Japan. Later when I visited Japan, I talked to a woman who was a neighbor, whose husband had been a good friend of my brother, and said he had to be, he had to serve during World War II and was killed. And I think a lot of the young men in Japan lost their lives in World War II.

MA: Did your brother talk to you much about his experience in Japan? I mean, I'm guessing, like, 1940 and the late '30s, there was a growing sense maybe that there would be some sort of conflict. Did your brother ever...

KB: No, he, you know, I'm not so sure that he experienced too much of that, living in the village. And he wasn't that interested in politics or what was going on.

MA: And then how long were you in Japan? Was it a few months?

KB: It was a few months, it was like maybe six months.

MA: And you left because you felt, as a girl, you were treated very badly?

KB: Right, yeah. Not badly, but I felt I didn't mean much to them, that I was a girl, so I was kind of insignificant. I mean, that's the way I felt. I don't, I don't mean that they really treated me badly, but it just -- [laughs] -- I wasn't getting the attention that I might have.

MA: Maybe compared with your experience in the U.S.

KB: That's right, yeah.

MA: What about being an American and going over and staying in Japan? Did you, were you treated maybe differently because you were seen as an American, or were you, by maybe other kids?

KB: No, I think, I think I was accepted pretty much because we were still small. Now, later on, when I went to Japan, and I tried to speak to a clerk for instance, in a store, they'll say, "Oh, come and talk to this gaijin," they called me gaijin. But at that small age, I'm not -- well, maybe they were talking behind our backs, I don't know. But I don't think I really felt that different. This was in a small village, and it seems to me there were other immigrant children there in the past, because a lot of the villagers had come to the United States, and some of them had returned back to Japan, and they had children. So maybe they were somewhat used to it.

MA: Right.

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