Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Frank Shinichiro Tanabe Interview
Narrator: Frank Shinichiro Tanabe
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: May 19, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-tfrank-01-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: Okay, so today is Monday, May 19th, and we're in the Densho studios. My name is Tom Ikeda, I'm the interviewer, and on camera is Dana Hoshide. This morning we have Frank Tanabe to do an interview. So Frank, I'm going to just start at the very beginning and ask when and where were you born?

FT: Well, I'm Frank Tanabe, a Japanese American with a little slight difference, 'cause I was born in Osaka on August 10, 1919. The circumstance was that my mother immigrated to the U.S. in 1916. And when she found (...) she was pregnant, she decided to have her firstborn back in Japan. And so (she returned to Japan to give birth).

TI: So Frank, I want to ask, so you said, so she was pregnant and she chose to have you in Japan. Do you know why, why she'd want to do that?

FT: Why? I don't really know why. Yeah, except that she wanted her firstborn to be born in Japan, in her native country. So she returned to Osaka by herself, (...) her younger brother was living in Osaka and (also) some other relatives. She is a native of Mikage-machi, which is a suburb of Kobe. (...) After I was born, we came back to the U.S. in, I really don't know, (in) 1921, probably. There's a picture of her carrying me (in) a passport picture. I haven't looked at it. I think my granddaughter has a picture. But we lived on Main Street.

TI: Okay, so Frank, before we get there. So you said Frank Tanabe, did you have a Japanese name, too?

FT: Yeah. Shinichiro.

TI: And what would that mean, Shinichiro?

FT: A trustworthy first son, I guess. "Shin" is trustworthy and "ichiro," of course, is first son. (...)

TI: And did "Frank" come at that time, too?

FT: No, that came later when I was in grade school. We lived around, I would say about Ninth and Main, or (somewhere) like, in a duplex, and I don't really don't know what my father did. But my mother had a little general merchandise-type store, between Sixth and Maynard on Main Street. My mother and father divorced in about 1924. And at that time (...) my name was Shinichiro Okamoto. Mr. Okamoto decided to go back to Japan, but my mother didn't, and so he left (us behind). I guess that was about 1924. Later, my mother married Kakujiro Tanabe, and (I went to) grade school.

TI: Okay, so let me, let me back up. So 1924, so you were a little boy.

FT: Five years old, or something like that.

TI: Do you recall the divorce or the...

FT: No, I don't recall that, but (...) later, much later, when I was going to Bailey Gatzert and we lived (on) Davis Place (at) Eighteenth and Charles, (...) in apartments (...). And I would walk through a hillside on the way to Bailey. And I remember a man standing there and giving me tablets and pencils. I didn't know who it was, but later, thinking about it, I guess it was Mr. Okamoto, my father. But anyway, when I started (at) Bailey Gatzert --

TI: Okay, Frank. I'm going to interrupt you one more time. So, let me ask you about your siblings before we go to school.

FT: Well, yeah, I had a younger sister, two years younger.

TI: And what was her name?

FT: Hiroko. And she took the name Lois.

TI: Okay, and so it looked like your mother would have been back in the United States, so was she born in Seattle?

FT: Yeah, uh-huh.

TI: So Hiroko Lois.

FT: And interesting thing about when I went to Bailey (was that) my mother didn't speak English. And so, she asked -- my father, or Mr. Tanabe was working with Mr. Sese and they were partners in the White River Dairy at that time, which was on... Lane, Weller, I guess it was on Weller Street -- about Tenth Avenue and Weller. And Mr. Sese had, his daughter, Shigeko, to escort me (on) the first day (to) Bailey Gatzert, registering (me) and so on. And you know, Shigeko is very famous now, she was Shigeko Uno.

TI: Okay, we know Shigeko Uno, yeah.

FT: So anyway, I was in Bailey Gatzert and I guess about (in the) second or third grade (when) my mother decided that I should... well, Mr. Tanabe adopted us, (...) and so we changed our name from Okamoto to Tanabe. Mrs. Mahon, the principal at Bailey Gatzert, decided (that), well, "If you're going to change your name from Okamoto to Tanabe, well, why don't we change your first name -- it's so hard for most of the teachers to pronounce -- (...) why don't you pick an English name?" So I took Frank, and my other classmates like Isao (...) became Peter Yoshitomi and Noboru Kumata took the name Robert Kumata.

TI: So this is interesting. So was that sort of the influence of Ms. Mahon? Was she the one who kind of encouraged --

FT: Yeah, well, we were (changing our school registration to) Shinichiro Tanabe. (But), "That's hard to pronounce, so why don't you pick an English name," (she said). And so I took the name Frank Tanabe. And so officially, that (became) my name.

TI: So you went through a pretty big change here. So you started off with Shinichiro Okamoto for a while, and then you changed really to Frank Tanabe.

FT: Yeah, but all my friends call me Shin. [Laughs] Because they knew me by that name when I first started, you know, all my classmates.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.