Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Kiyoko Morey Kaneko Interview
Narrator: Kiyoko Morey Kaneko
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Watsonville, California
Date: July 29, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-kkiyoko-01-0003

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TI: And so, about the time he met your mother, was about, what year was that? Was that about the turn of the century?

KK: Yeah, around, it was after that. But anyway, up to then, it was the custom for, a lot of the young men had gone to the U.S. on labor teams, and most of them went back after their time was up. But he didn't go back with the rest of those guys. And he, I guess, they decided, or he decided that he would go back. Well, about that time, Mom's oldest brother, she... I can't remember what his name was. Anyway, he had been to the United States and worked for ten years on some project someplace. And since the two families knew each other back in the old country, when Pop decided to go back, then, of course, the story went around that he was coming back. So anyway, the brother, older brother, was, I think he was either on the boat or just before Pop went back, he went back and he was telling everybody all the stories about United States and California. But I'm not sure where he was, but he was here for ten years. He had promised his father -- that would be my grandfather's father -- that he would come back after ten years. So he kept his promise and he went back. And everybody, of course, rallied around and wanted to listen to all his stories. So when Pop came back, the idea of girls from Japan going over to the United States was not a brand new subject or anything. So when Pop went back, they all visited and everything, so then my mother's father thought that, well, maybe that's okay, 'cause the brother had gone back and told 'em what the conditions were and everything. So he agreed that Pop should have my mother for a bride.

TI: But how did your mother feel about this? Because up to now, you said she pretty much refused other, sort of, suitors or marriages. But in this case, she wanted to?

KK: Apparently. I would say that she wanted to escape all this other shenanigans that was going on. So I think that she was... and then, of course, she talked to her brother, and probably heard stories that reassured her that place was not a barbaric place.

TI: That's a good story. So she, they married in Japan?

KK: I think so. I think they had some kind of a wedding. I don't know what, but anyway... because they came together on the boat, and they landed again in Seattle. And then they got down to San Francisco just after the earthquake, so that's 1906.

TI: So at that time, your father was about, oh, about thirty-eight years old, in 1906, maybe about thirty-eight.

KK: Thirty-eight? I don't know, something like that.

TI: Okay. So 1906 they get down to California. San Francisco just had their earthquake, so what did they do next?

KK: Well, they didn't -- excuse me -- they didn't want to stay in that earthquake place, because, of course, it was pretty dismal. So they, I don't know how they managed to get down to L.A. But up to that time, he had prospered in L.A. And that's another story, too.

TI: And this is the import-export business that he developed?

KK: Yeah.

TI: So tell me about that. What was the business that your father prospered in?

KK: Well, when he came over with his labor gang, he, like all the rest of them, they wanted to have Japanese food. And shoyu and all those other necessary articles was not available to the common folks. Probably the labor camps had some, otherwise the guys would not stay at all. So I think they had that, otherwise there was no way for them to get anything. The Japanese stores were non-existent. And so he experienced that shortage. And as he went along, as he worked his way down south from the northern area, I think he retained some idea of what things he could get and what things he couldn't get and all of that. So when they got down to L.A., he proceeded to... I don't know what you'd call it. He had no store at that time, but I think he sort of worked out of his pocket and imported some stuff, foodstuffs mostly, and sold it to the men. They were mostly men, very few women, and so he sold it to them. And, of course, he was very popular then. And after, I don't know how many years it was, but he established a grocery store on Alameda Avenue in Los Angeles. That was the main Japanese area at that time.

TI: So that's that Little Tokyo area in Los Angeles?

KK: Yeah, but this is a little bit east of that.

TI: Okay.

KK: But anyway, that's what they came back to, his store. So he already had, I guess, a livelihood. From that, from that little store, it kept enlarging things, and added a dry goods department. Because the Japanese men were so short, and the sleeves were too long, and the whole thing was terrible. So he imported clothing, whatever.

TI: And during this time, what did your mother do? So did, while your father worked on the, kind of the store...

KK: Oh, she, upstairs were several rooms. So they lived in one of the rooms and rented out the rest as a hotel. So she did all the, what it takes to run a hotel. I imagine she did all the maid service and all the cooking and cleaning and everything. They did that for a while, and shortly after that, he got sick, and the doctors couldn't, couldn't diagnose him. They insisted it was TB. Well, a lot of the people did get TB, but they couldn't, the tests were not the same. They couldn't tell him what to do about it. So all they could say was, "Move to a drier climate." So they moved to Monrovia, and I don't know who ran the store, but it still operated.

TI: And when you were in Monrovia, what did they do up there?

KK: Well, I don't know what he did. He probably did a lot of ordering and stuff, that kind of thing, by a long distance. But my mother went to the, South Pasadena, there was an ostrich farm about a block away from where we lived, where they lived, rather. After I was born, they moved to L.A.

TI: So let's, let me summarize here. So around 1911 was when you were born. And so they were located in South Pasadena, a block away from the ostrich farm, and your mother used to tie the ostrich feathers?

KK: Feathers, yes.

TI: And what would she do with the ostrich feathers? When she tied it, what was that for?

KK: Well, if you notice, in the fashion magazines, the ostrich feather grows like that, and it's very fuzzy. But you can't use that very often unless you're going to do a fan dance or something. The rest of the feathers are cut off, and they tied 'em so they have little plumes if you know what I mean, it's kind of bunched together. And those things were then hitched onto your clothing or whatever, hats and whatever. So that one little plume, I don't know what you call those things, one little thing would hardly make any difference. But if you tied them together and get a little bunch of them, then you have something very nice.

TI: And that's what your mother would do? She would tie those together?

KK: Apparently the Japanese women were noted for being very good with the intricate, tedious stuff like that.

TI: And so were there other Japanese women working with your mom in that same place?

KK: There must have been. 'Cause she did mention that all of her, all of the acquaintances were hired by the ostrich farm to do that.

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