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

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: Okay. So the way we start this is I just say the date, that today's Tuesday, July 29, 2008, we're in Watsonville, in Kizuka Hall. And then I, my name is Tom Ikeda, and I'm with Densho, and on camera we have Dana Hoshide, and she's also from Seattle.

KK: I see.

TI: And so today we have an interview with Kiyoko. And so the first question is, when and where were you born?

KK: I was born in South Pasadena, the year was 1911, September 3rd.

TI: And when you say South Pasadena, were you born in a hospital?

KK: I think in those days, everyone was born by having a midwife come. A doctor was, so-called, in attendance, but he wasn't actually there at each one. But he was supposed to be available, I guess. And he's the one that signed the birth certificate.

TI: And on the birth certificate, what was the name that they put on the birth certificate?

KK: For me?

TI: For you.

KK: Kiyoko Morey.

TI: And do you know, Kiyoko, why they named you Kiyoko?

KK: They never... they never explained that.

TI: Okay, good. Let's, I'm going to ask next about your father. What was your father's name?

KK: My father was Bungoro Morey.

TI: And where in Japan was he from?

KK: He's from Wakayama-ken. Did you want more detail than that?

TI: Yeah, I'm curious about... because I read someplace where he actually was with another family first and then went to the Morey family?

KK: That's correct.

TI: Can you explain that to me?

KK: Only thing that I heard was that the Morey family had no children. And, of course, according to custom, every person should, every family should have an heir, a male heir. And so that's where my father went, to the Morey family. Actually, he was born to the Kitabayashi family in Nakamura, Wakayama.

TI: And so I'm guessing that he wasn't the first son, that he had older siblings?

KK: No, he was number five. Bungoro means number five, so that's his number. Probably they had four other sons already.

TI: So he was expendable, I guess, in some ways. [Laughs]

KK: Well, if he grew up, he would have no inheritance.

TI: And I'm curious about the spelling of the name. It's M-O-R-E-Y.

KK: Well, that was spelled that way when he arrived in Vancouver. Up to then, he was M-O-R-I.

TI: Okay, so the immigration official spelled it M-O-R-E-Y.

KK: That's right.

TI: And then ever since that time, it sort of stayed that way.

KK: Well, yes. Dad wasn't about to change his name afterwards. Many people did change their spelling and all that, after they were, went to the States.

TI: So he came through Canada, Vancouver, British Columbia.

KK: That's right. The boat led to Vancouver, and that's where they arrived on the continent. And I don't know when or why they went to Seattle, but the first jobs were up in the sort of wooded area. So I surmised that he was in a, not in the city, is what I'm trying to say.

TI: Yeah, because up in the Northwest, lumber or timber was a big industry.

KK: Yes, that's right.

TI: And so he might have worked in the lumber mill.

KK: Yes, he did. I don't know about the mill or not, but he was five feet ten or eleven. Now, that is exceptionally tall for a Japanese born in Japan. And all his family were short men, and they all had short-handled tools, and they all were farmers. To use that kind of a tool, you'd have to bend way down to do it, and he experienced some excruciating back pain. So when the time came, I think, that he could escape, he joined one of those labor teams and he came away from that. So even if he went home to his birth parents, it would be the same problem. They still had the short-handled things.

TI: So he wasn't much for that physical, sort of, stoop labor, because he was so tall, it was very hard on his back.

KK: Yes. He had back trouble all his life.

TI: So eventually he made it down to California. Where did he settle in California?

KK: Well, it took a long time. I don't know how many years it took them, but he and a few of his friends sort of kept together, and they got their way down. Now, they, I know that he was a camp cook someplace, and he spoke about joining the lumber industry. And that didn't suit him very much. So he did about everything possible to escape the short-handled tools. If the tools were supplied by the employer of the labor team, they were bound to be short ones, because all the rest of them were short men.

TI: And how would you describe him? What kind of man was he in terms of personality and demeanor? What was he like?

KK: Actually, I was kind of scared of him when we were young. That's the Japanese way. But I think other people seemed to be in awe of his big stature.

TI: So it sounded like in addition to his stature, his height, there was a demeanor that was a little scary about him, or a little, maybe stern, or how would you describe...

KK: Yeah, kind of stern.

TI: Maybe more proper, like that, sort of?

KK: Could be. I think most of the other Japanese men of that era were pretty stern folks. And of course those that stayed here had to be rather strong characters.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: Let's go to your mother. What was your mother's name?

KK: That's Fujino Iwatsuru.

TI: And where, where was she from?

KK: She's from Akao. Akao, Nakamura.

TI: And tell me a little bit about her. Her life was pretty interesting growing up, also. She was a strong woman.

KK: Sort of, I guess. But part of that is her own doing, I think. When she was born, her mother was dry, so she, most of the women, when they had that problem, they farmed their children off to a wet nurse. Well, for some reason or other, she happened to stay with the wet nurse for five years, and that's a pretty long time to be away from one's parents. And of course, I don't know what the actual relationship was between that family and her family, but when it came time for her to leave and go back to Iwatsuru farm, she, of course, didn't want to go. Of course, all the relationships were in that other family. But anyway, the family seemed to think that they should treat that as, like, a homecoming for her. So they treated her very nicely, put her in a yellow kimono. And to the day she died, she hated the color yellow.

TI: So the family was really excited about her coming back. And so it was the family, the wet nurse, put her in a yellow kimono? Or was it her Iwatsuru family that did that?

KK: No, the wet nurse put that on her.

TI: And so she was disappointed about going back, and that's why she hated yellow?

KK: I think so, but she never talked much about that. It was just when I visited her in the nursing home that she mentioned that. But that kind of explains why she never felt that her own family was hundred percent behind her. So there was sort of, a little bit of, I don't know, disloyalty or enmity, whatever. I think back there, way in the back of her mind, she felt like her mother didn't want her.

TI: And so growing up, how did that show up? I mean, what was she like growing up with her mother or her family?

KK: Well, I think she was a little difficult, because she, I think she still felt that her family was not her family. But anyway, whatever it was, she didn't quite feel like a cohesive family member. So I think that she was a difficult child. But she was going to show 'em, so she diligently studied and went to all the school that she could manage to get. And when she graduated from the... what was it? The girls high school, as far as high school, I don't know whether that was, how many years after kindergarten or whatever. But anyway, she stayed in school as long as she could. And she vowed, and I guess she was determined to show 'em that she was somebody. So then when all the other children, all the other girls in the family were married off at fourteen or fifteen, she refused, and she just kept refusing. And she finished all the schooling that the local place offered, and so they shipped her to town, to Wakayama, someplace or other, I don't know where, to sort of a female finishing school. And after that, she went to a sewing school in order to stay in a school someplace. By that time, she was eighteen or nineteen, somewhere in there. But all along, I think the local matchmakers were offering one after another, but she wouldn't have any part of that.

TI: And I always heard, though, that sometimes the women didn't have much choice. I mean, once the family decided, wasn't it pretty hard to refuse?

KK: Well, it must have been, because that was the, that was the thing that everybody did. That all the girls got shipped off before they really grew up.

TI: Well, so how was that, finally, that she got connected with your father? What was the connection there?

KK: Well, that's also a long story. [Laughs]

TI: Go ahead and tell me. This is, this is what I'm curious about.

KK: Yeah. My dad had come over to the United States, and all the other young men, how old they were, I don't know. But all the other men that came with Dad would send for "picture brides." And so they waited on the shore for the gals to come off of the boat. And that's the way most of them were hitched up, so to speak. [Laughs] But Dad decided, I don't know whether, whose decision that was, but Pop insisted on going and getting his own bride. So by that time, he was, he was... well, he wasn't a young, young man anymore. He was about thirty-seven or forty or something like that.

TI: 'Cause he was born about 1860...

KK: 1868, I think it was.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

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.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: So 1911 was when you were born... so I want to ask you about your siblings. Did you have any older sisters or brothers?

KK: Yeah. I had an older sister. She's three years older than I am.

TI: And what was her name?

KK: Shizue.

TI: Shizue. And then other siblings, what other siblings?

KK: Oh, yeah. Then after, well, she had a miscarriage after, after she was born, and then I'm the third pregnancy.

TI: Okay. And then after you?

KK: After me there's George.

TI: And how much younger is George than you?

KK: George was a year and a half. He was born in June and I was September. So about a year and nine months, I guess you'd call it. Younger than... and then after George, she lost a boy. He was born 1915, and he was three years old. He had, infection of the mastoid gland was going around, and that traveled to his brain and he died. So he didn't last much longer. And after that was Miyoko. She was, my older sister named her Rose, which she didn't like. And then the last one was Arthur, Arthur Saburo.

TI: Okay, so let me see if I got this right. So the oldest was Shizue, then there was a miscarriage, then you were the third birth, Kiyoko, then George, then there was another brother, but he died when he was three.

KK: That was Roy.

TI: Roy. And then Miyoko was next, Rose, and then Arthur Saburo was last.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: In Los Angeles, when you went back to Los Angeles, where did you live?

KK: When we moved to Los Angeles, we moved to West L.A. Not Sawtelle kind of West L.A., but the west part of Los Angeles.

TI: And were there other Japanese families in the neighborhood?

KK: No.

TI: So why were you living in this neighborhood? What was the draw, or why?

KK: Well, I never heard them say why, but I figured that he did not want us to grow up among drunkards and all of that, which downtown in L.A., that was, it was not a nice place to raise kids, anyway. So he didn't want us to grow up among that kind of thing. So he decided to move way out there. That was right next to a celery field, if I remember right.

TI: So who were your neighbors in this area? So if they weren't Japanese, were they mostly Caucasian?

KK: Yeah. One was a Norwegian family, I think, Norwegian, and the other... I kind of think they were Jewish, but I'm not sure. That was one of those houses that for some reason or other, people didn't stay very long. I don't know why, but I do remember the Jewish ladies that lived there.

TI: And what are some, just, memories of growing up in this neighborhood as a child? What kind of things did you do after school, for instance? What would be some activities?

KK: Well, I think I must have been around ten. Yeah, I was ten years old. I had to take care of Arthur when he was born. So after school was baby tending. Shizue had to tend to Mickey.

TI: So a lot of chores, being busy, kind of.

KK: Yeah. But they didn't say we couldn't have any activity. In those days, it was quite safe for children to be playing in the yard. Of course, we, I think the children kind of congregate to the place where there's a lot of kids, so they used to come to our house. And we played on the front lawn until it got bare, and then we'd get out in the street and play out there.

TI: So when you would play with the kids in the neighborhood, what kind of games, what games would you play?

KK: The older, the older kids, I remember they played Run Sheep Run, and all those group kind of games. I can't remember whatever else there was. But then when baseball season came around, they want to play baseball and so forth.

TI: And so did the girls play baseball also?

KK: We tried to. The boys didn't like to have us, but we tried to.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: So I'm going to now ask you, what about Japanese school? Did you have to go to Japanese school during this time?

KK: Well, our Japanese school education was sorely neglected, I think. Since there were no Japanese in the area, you had to go a distance to get to it. And there's no way that you could transport us downtown to where the majority of the Japanese schools were. So every few years or something, it seems like somebody thought that there should be a Japanese school around there. So they set up the thing and we'd start in with the first book. And we never got beyond the first book. [Laughs] The school went broke, and we had to quit. So I think we started Book 1 about three or four times. And that was our Japanese school. It was kind of sad, but then my mother tried to teach us at home, but then kids don't listen to their parents that much.

TI: Well, at home, when you communicated with your mother and father, was it in Japanese?

KK: Yeah, with them, it was Japanese. Until after Shiz went to kindergarten, she learned to speak English. And so, of course, we all learned English along with her.

TI: And so before Shizue went to school, then just Japanese was spoken.

KK: Yes.

TI: And so for you, probably, until she went to school, it was all Japanese.

KK: Probably so.

TI: Okay. So let's talk about school. What was school like when you started going to kindergarten? What was that like?

KK: Well, of course, we were the only Japanese family in the area, so people didn't know just what to make of us, you know. They tried to say we were black people, but then that wouldn't stick. Whatever else they thought, I wouldn't know, but they were a little bit afraid of us. And those days, any Oriental in the movies and all were gangsters, and sort of evil folks. So maybe they thought that we came from that kind of stock, too, I don't know. But they pretty well stayed away from us. There were a few families, they must have been Christian families, that had no qualms. And so then we, they didn't care whether we came and played in their yard or anything. So it was not too bad. But then we did have to deal with the discrimination from way back.

TI: And how would that discrimination show up? What would, how would people discriminate against you or your family?

KK: Well, I know in school, when they made choices to make a team, we were the last people to be chosen. I'm sure my other, my siblings had the same experience. But we learned to overlook that kind of stuff. It had no harm in it. But we did know that they were sort of scared of us, I think. Maybe they thought we had, kind of, disease or something.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: Now, did your family participate in, sort of, Japanese festivals like Bon Odori dances or picnics or anything like that?

KK: Well, when the company, when Dad's store, company, had a picnic, we all had to go because he was the president of the company. So we all had to get dressed and go. But we didn't have such a good time 'cause we knew nobody. We had no Japanese friends.

TI: And so when you think about that time, how did you look at the Japanese community in more downtown area? When you went down there and saw the Japanese, a lot of Japanese, what kind of thoughts did you have about that?

KK: I don't know, can't remember. I don't think I thought too much of the whole thing, 'cause we, our everyday experiences were all among the haoles. We sort of didn't know how to behave, I guess.

TI: Inside the Japanese community you mean?

KK: What's that?

TI: You mean, so you didn't know how to behave in the Japanese community?

KK: Not too much. We didn't learn all the idioms and things that they talked with. So we were at a disadvantage there.

TI: So let's talk about high school. Which high school did you go to?

KK: I went to L.A. High School.

TI: And were there Japanese in L.A. High School?

KK: There were, I know there was one Japanese girl in high school. Before that, in junior high, I don't know. There may have been some. Yeah, there must have been, but I didn't know who they were.

TI: And so when you think about high school, who were some of your friends, when you think back to that time?

KK: Well, there were a couple of girls, I don't know what happened to them. There were, there were a few, a few people that were very nice to me. But come high school time, any time there was any social or something, people paired off. And so we were left out in the cold, there were no Japanese fellows in my class, at least.

TI: So things like dances, prom...

KK: No, we didn't go to any of that. Kids go nowadays, but we couldn't, we didn't go. It just wasn't done, that's all.

TI: And so after school, what kind of things did you do?

KK: Well, of course, I had babysitting, always. But we must have done something, I can't remember too much. I know I regularly went to the library, but that was a single, solitary business. I don't know what we did.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: Well, then let's talk about after high school. So after you graduated from high school, and this, I'm guessing, is about 1929, around then?

KK: Yeah. '29 was when I graduated high school.

TI: Okay, so you graduated in 1929, then what did you do after high school?

KK: Oh, I went to UCLA.

TI: So was it pretty common for women to go to the university during this time?

KK: Oh, there were quite a number there. In fact, the gals that my sister hobnobbed with, they were starting a Japanese club. But she graduated and went off, so when I got there, then I joined that. And actually, that was... I can't remember too well, but I think that's about the first time I had really intimate Japanese friends. Up to then, it was just kind of sketchy.

TI: So I'm curious, did your parents encourage you to go to UCLA? Did they want you to go there?

KK: They never said whether they thought I should go or not. But my cousin who came over before, went directly from high school to college. And when Shiz graduated from high school, she just went directly to college. It just seemed like the thing to do. So just, we just went on to college.

TI: And then what did you study in college?

KK: Oh, I majored in home economics. I understand it's, there's no more home economics. They dissolved that department and parceled out all the courses to the different sciences.

TI: So back in, I guess, 1929, 1930, where was the campus located for UCLA?

KK: Oh, we were, I was the first class that went out to Westwood. It used to be on North Vermont Avenue, and the campus became too small. And so when, when the realtor out there in... you know where Westwood is?

TI: Uh-huh.

KK: When the realtor was parceling out that one, the university people saw it and they bought a great big hunk of the real estate there.

TI: But before that, it was on North Vermont?

KK: North Vermont.

TI: So was that closer to USC, in that area?

KK: Well, it's on the same arterial, but that University of California, southern branch, it was called, was at one end. And USC is way down here. I think it was around Fortieth Street. But, of course, there was a lot of real estate between that, because from the campus of University of California, I would say there's about, must have been one or two miles until they came to the First Street. And then it started in and up the ladder.

TI: But it's historic that you were the first class to graduate from Westwood. 'Cause you started the first year.

KK: Yes, that's right.

TI: So you were the first graduating, or the full graduating class at Westwood.

KK: Yeah.

TI: What was campus like in those days? It must be very different from what it looks like now.

KK: Yeah, when we went they had just finished building the buildings. And there was no landscaping; the walkways were such that every time it rained, it turned into a flood. There's, place where they decided to put the campus was on the crown of a hill, and so then they put a bridge across to the high points, and that was the main entrance to the school. When you get on the other side, then they had, Royce Hall was on the right-hand side, the physics, no, the chemistry building was just before that, but that was built later. When I went there, they only had the Royce Hall and the library, and the physics building was being built. And after the physics building, the chemistry building went up. So all the time that I was there, they were building something. But we did start from ground zero, 'cause it was just plain old ground before that.

TI: Wow, that's amazing. It's interesting to hear how UCLA, the Westwood campus started. That's interesting.

KK: Yeah. Well, now it's huge. It just goes from here to there, who knows how much farther they've gone, I don't know.

TI: And during that year, were there very many other Japanese attending UCLA? You mentioned that women's...

KK: Yeah, the women's group. Well, there was a men's group... what did they call that? I can't remember, Bruin Club or something. Anyway, they were organized. They -- excuse me -- the women, number of women didn't increase as fast as the men. So the men got organized long before the women.

TI: And so in ratio, in terms of the number of Japanese American men to Japanese American women, what was the ratio, roughly?

KK: Well, maybe three to one. There were many Japanese men that wouldn't say boo to anybody. [Laughs]

TI: And so what did you think of Japanese Americans at UCLA? You said this is the first time that you really spent more time with Japanese Americans. So what was your impression of Japanese Americans?

KK: Oh, I thought that was fine, yeah. 'Cause we'd never had Japanese friends before that.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: So we're, we're going to start the second hour. And so where we finished up the first hour was when you were just finishing up UCLA. So I wanted to ask you, what was the graduation ceremony like for your class?

KK: Well, I think compared to the ones that the young folks have now, I think ours had more religious overtones. I think we sang "Oh God, Our Help in Ages Past," which is definitely religious. And can't remember the name of the other ones. But anyway, then... there's another one that the tune goes through my head, but I can't remember the name of the thing.

TI: Well, while you're thinking about that, how large was the graduating class when you graduated?

KK: I think it was a thousand.

TI: Wow, that's tiny compared to now.

KK: Now, yeah. But for that time, that was a large class. We graduated in Hollywood Bowl.

TI: And if you were to guess, of that thousand, how many were Japanese American students?

KK: I don't know how many. I can't remember any girls graduating in that class. I know there were several males, can't remember who they are.

TI: And when you think back to that class, do you remember any, like, notable, sort of classmates that were going to school the same time you were?

KK: I didn't know him, but the kids are always kidding because in the... what do you call that, alumni, with the great big book that they published, Lloyd Bridges was in that class.

TI: So the famous actor, Lloyd Bridges.

KK: Yeah.

TI: Who did...

KK: I didn't know him, so it didn't make any difference, but they're always kidding me about that.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: Okay. So after you graduated from UCLA, what did you do next?

KK: Well, I had a special secondary teaching credential in home economics. So I scouted around trying to find a job. But as soon as they saw my face, they decided that no, they wouldn't, they wouldn't hire a Japanese.

TI: So at this time, the schools or school districts were not hiring Japanese.

KK: No. I didn't think that at the time, there was anybody in the whole L.A. district. But after, oh, years and years later, I heard that there were a few here and there. I don't know who they were or anything. Anyway...

TI: Did that surprise you, the difficulty in getting a job?

KK: Oh, no, not too much of a surprise. Because at that time, the "Yellow Peril" literature was at its height. And so we just felt like, "Well, if that's the way they feel, why, they're not going to hire me anyway." So anyway, that was out.

TI: So what did you do next? So you couldn't get a job...

KK: Well, then at that time, the lady that did the alterations in the store quit, or decided to stop, so I was the stopgap. So I went to work and did that. So not only did we do alterations, but we had to keep a line of dresses in stock, so that people who needed a black dress for a funeral could just come in and take something off the shelf and have a black dress. It was quite necessary for the ladies especially. Of course, the men could just wear a dark suit, but the women, being farm ladies, they had no black dress to go. So it was kind of a boring job to keep that going. Because we couldn't do anything fancy, they wouldn't buy any fancy stuff. It just had to be something that would pass for a black dress.

TI: And the store you were working in, was this your father's store?

KK: Yeah, uh-huh.

TI: In the dry goods area. So what was it like working for your father?

KK: Never saw him much. We were in the, the dry goods department, which was separated, now, from the food section. So Pop had not much to do with our section. One of his best friends was the, was the boss in the clothing department.

TI: So during this time, about how many employees did the store have?

KK: Oh, gosh, let me see. One, two, three, four, five, six. There must have been about six, six or seven in the dry goods area. And I don't know how, for the men's department, I don't know how many of those guys were just filling in for somebody or what, but they seemed to come and go kind of fast. And I don't know how many people were in the grocery department.

TI: But I'm guessing the grocery department might even be larger than the dry goods, or about the same size?

KK: No, the dry goods was now larger.

TI: Larger, okay.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: And so you're doing that, you're working the dry goods, doing dresses, and then what happens next?

KK: Well, about that time, people, Nisei parents -- no, not Nisei, the parents of the Nisei, thought that the girls should go to Japan and get finishing school, if you know what I mean. Culture, they called it. So they had those while I was still in school, and I wouldn't quit school to go to one of those things. So along about then, about two years after I graduated, the Christian church decided that they would sponsor a student, Christian student, Christian student culture study of Japan or something like that, I don't know. And so they got together, this bunch of people that wanted to send their kids. So at that time, by that time, my older sister had gone to Berkeley, my younger brother went to Berkeley, went off to school. So I had said, "Well, okay, I don't want to go away to school, I want to travel afterwards." So I told Pop that that's what I wanted to do. So he got wind of this group that was going, and he entered my name in there. So I told him, "Well, you saved enough money from my not going to foreign places during school time," that now I wanted to travel. And so he kept his promise that I could go. Where he got the money, I don't know. This is the height of the Depression. So anyway, I think he took my salaries that had been accruing in the store and sent that to me. Every month, he sent me forty-nine dollars.

TI: And before we continue to Japan, you're right, you mentioned you're in the height of the Depression. And so how did the store do during this time? I imagine many of the customers had a hard time paying for things?

KK: Oh, there were always those guys that, you know, tried to, bought on credit. But I think, by my thinking, Pop was pretty lenient with folks. Because later on, people would come and give him some money, said that's to pay for the bills or whatever, something like that.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: And in general, how was your father, what was his position in the community? Like what, like the Japanese Association, was he part of that? Do you recall his...

KK: Well, business-wise, he had to be in the business association. I sort of believe that he was one of the bigwigs in that, in that part of the story. He would never admit it, but we just took it for granted. Because of the way other people treated him, you know, they oohed and awed, so we thought, well maybe he has some standing in the community. [Laughs]

TI: Now, you're going to go to Japan, I'm curious, how good was your Japanese at this time? Because you didn't go to Japanese school.

KK: No, I didn't go to Japanese school. The only Japanese I knew was baby talk to my parents. I don't recall too much of the Japanese school that we did attend.

TI: So did they give you any Japanese language training before this trip?

KK: Uh-uh. So the other people had gone to Japanese school, so they had, they had the advantage. But I was the oldest one in that group that went, and so I just, I didn't like it that they asked me to make speeches and all that kind of stuff.

TI: So describe the group for me. How many went, and, kind of, who were they, the ages? Tell me about that.

KK: Well, now let me think. I think there some, some kids were still in high school, but no younger than that. The leader, the Reverend and Mrs. Unoura, K. Unora, I think he was a pastor in the Christian church, I'm not sure, but something on that order. He had his two kids, and they were junior high school or something. But the parents kind of kept them on a leash so it was all right.

TI: And how many others, other, just girls that went with you?

KK: On the boat that we got on was... I think there were only three or four of us girls. There were more boys than girls. And then there were several, several girls joined us in Japan. Either the parents had sent them with somebody else, or they had traveled with them to Japan. But they joined us in Japan.


TI: So where we were was, we were talking about the group that went to Japan. And I was just trying to get a sense of how large the group was at this point.

KK: Oh, yeah. I guess there were somewhere around twenty-five or thirty in the group. Maybe a few more than that.

TI: Now, on your, on the voyage to Japan, I think there was a, you stopped in Hawaii?

KK: Uh-huh.

TI: And so I recall hearing that there was a wedding there that you attended?

KK: Yeah.

TI: So can you tell me about that?

KK: Oh, my sister Shizue had met this fellow at UC Berkeley. And apparently he, he was a med student then, he went off to New York, and it just so happened that he was gonna be finished in New York in June of 1936. And so he went, no, he graduated earlier than June because he went back to Hawaii and started, started a practice on the Big Island, Hilo. So that when he met, Shiz left L.A. the same day, but she was on the Lurline, and that took five days to go from San Francisco to L.A. And the boat we got on took ten days to go.

TI: Oh, so from, I mean, San Francisco to Honolulu took five days, and then, but you went from...

KK: From L.A. We got on our boat at L.A. and went to San Francisco overnight.

TI: And then to Honolulu.

KK: And then to Honolulu.

TI: And that took ten days.

KK: That took ten days. So we got there the same day, in Honolulu. And that day they got married, so I was the bridesmaid, the only one from the family that was there. So anyway...

TI: Can you describe the wedding ceremony? Where did they get married?

KK: They got... Tom -- that's her husband -- Tom knew the Higuchi family in Hilo, and Tom is from... I can't remember what that's called. Anyway, it's not in Hilo, but they call that... anyway, it's a cane field town, from Hilo it's about forty miles or so. But anyway, he had established a practice in Hilo. I guess he finished earlier, much earlier, because he did have a few patients by the time she went. And he's a pediatrician, and nobody ever heard of a pediatrician. But he was a, he was the first pediatrician to come to Hawaii. So he established the practice there, and people were kind of skeptical. But then when the kid got sick, they'd bring him over, and then Mama would be sick, so she'd get some medicine and she survived. So he was sort of a family doctor to the whole, people around there. But that was okay.

TI: And so when Tom married Shizue, where did they get married?

KK: Married in Honolulu, and the -- oh, I was trying to tell you that Tom knew the Higuchi family in Hilo before they had gone to school. So when they went back, Tom was a... when they went back, Tom became, now, a doctor, and Hiro had gone to USC and then gone on to, what do you call that, minister's school. Anyway, whatever you call that. When he came out, he was, he was a reverend. So he performed the ceremony in Honolulu at his, at Hiro's friend's house. Don't know what the, where it was, but it was in a nice green valley, so it was nice.

TI: Okay, so Hiro was a friend from USC, and this was Hiro Higuchi?

KK: Hiro Higuchi.

TI: Okay, and he performed the ceremony.

KK: Yeah.

TI: And they were married in Honolulu.

KK: Well, I should say that Hiro later became the chaplain of the 442nd.

TI: Okay, I recognize the name. Okay, that's interesting.

KK: So he was well-liked, everybody liked him. Anyway, they had the ceremony at twelve o'clock or something like that, and our boat had gotten in there at nine o'clock in the morning or something. And they rushed us off of the boat and got into our clothes and went to the ceremony. [Laughs] And along about three o'clock, our boat tooted the horn, we were supposed to get back on board, so we had to leave.

TI: Oh, what a story. So you were just able to get there just in time, do the ceremony, and then you had to leave.

KK: Uh-huh.

TI: But it was nice that you were able to be there, to represent the family.

KK: Well, I guess they were sort of planned that way when we found out that my boat was going to go. So they planned it.

TI: So they timed it just for you, that you could be there?

KK: Uh-huh.

TI: Now, did anybody else on the boat join you, or was it just you that went?

KK: On the boat, it was that group that...

TI: No, but that went to the, the wedding ceremony.

KK: The wedding? No, I was the only one.

TI: So they were, all had to wait for you to come back.

KK: Uh-huh.

TI: Okay, that's a good story.

KK: Some of 'em, I can't remember who, but somebody attended the wedding unbeknownst to us. [Laughs]

TI: Oh, from the group?

KK: Uh-huh. I didn't know anything about it until afterwards.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: So let's talk about Japan. So you go from Honolulu then to Japan. So where did you land in Japan?

KK: Yokohama.

TI: And what were your impressions of Japan when you first saw it?

KK: Just strange, is all I can say. I woke up the first morning, and all I could hear was the clatter of geta. All the students there, rather than wear shoes, wear these geta. And the higher, the longer they last then. The higher the platform. When those things hit the sidewalk, they make a very distinctive sound. So that was the first sound you became aware of when you woke up in the morning. Very strange.

TI: Oh, that's a good one. What other things do you remember, like sounds, smells, anything else, do you recall? Sights?

KK: Well, it was all just kind of strange, I guess. Of course, I had, I hadn't grown up among Japanese, so I didn't, I didn't feel like the chatter was Japanese. It just felt strange.

TI: So what did the group do? So you're there for how long? Several weeks, the group?

KK: Yeah. I don't know exactly how many days we traveled, but we went to several churches and they had parties and things like that. And then, of course, we had to go to all the shrines and temples and whatever. But nobody really explained what those shrines meant or anything, so it just looked a fancy dwelling, or new building. But my not having been brought up in the Buddhist religion, all of that was very strange to me.

TI: While you were in Japan, were you able to meet family?

KK: My family?

TI: Yes.

KK: Yeah, but that was later. We had that tour business, and then after that we had three weeks or something to go visit the families.


TI: So the question was, were there any other memories during the tour part that sort of stick out in your memory?

KK: I can't remember too much of those things. The buildings, they were beautiful and they were different, and, but they were all new to me as I had no prior knowledge of what each one meant or anything.

TI: What about the reaction of the Japanese to Japanese Americans? When they saw the group and then they would hear, probably, you speaking English to each other, what kind of reactions did you get?

KK: Well, you really felt like a foreigner, for one thing. So they, I think they just thought we were curiosities.

TI: Or were there, was there any reaction when they heard you speak Japanese? Because here you were, a young woman, and they probably expected someone to speak probably more proper Japanese. And so what kind of reaction, did you get a reaction?

KK: Not at the time. But after I stayed there for a while, I heard what they thought.

TI: Well, we're talking about that, so what did they think when they heard later on, when they heard you speak? What kind of comments did you get?

KK: Well, of course, my Japanese was the Meiji-era Japanese. And so that was foreign to some of the younger folks, and they were curious to know what I meant by some, some word or whatever. But, of course, my Japanese was a very curious kind of a mixture of baby talk... because I didn't know the difference between the, what the family did in the home, how they talked or anything. So I had to teach in the school where I landed. [Interruption] They thought I was a curiosity, to tell you the truth.

TI: So let's talk about, so after the tour, you had some time to go visit the family.

KK: Yeah.

TI: So what was that like?

KK: Well, my uncle, who had been to California, came, and he's a doctor. He came to, on his way back from Germany, he stopped in California. So we sort of knew him, but, of course, we hadn't talked too much with him 'cause we didn't have good Japanese. He came and he took me back to Wakayama and introduced me all around to my father's family and to my family -- [coughs] -- my mother's side. And everybody was very nice to me. I must say that the first day that I was there, wind had gotten around that I was coming. So after I arrived, I guess the word spread like wildfire. Somebody came and they opened the shoji from the street, and the little kids pointing at me, and they were laughing and talking among themselves. I guess I was a curiosity to them.

TI: Because you were the American coming to, to visit the village.

KK: Uh-huh. So I know that there were any predecessors to my arriving, but there may have been. Although as I said, my uncle had been in California and the United States. And I found out later that another brother, my mother's brother came to the U.S., too, but he subsequently died.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: And so when the tour was finished and it was actually time for the tour to go back, you decided to stay in Japan longer.

KK: Yeah.

TI: Why did you decide to stay there longer?

KK: Well, you know Ms. Kawai, Michi Kawai, she was a YWCA secretary. And she had been to Bryn Mawr for education, and she realized that the Japanese women were not educated. All they did was go to grammar school and learn the alphabet. And she came back and told the ministry that, "The girls here would fall short of any kind of comparison to the foreign girls." So she got permission to start a school. And so she did; she started in her own home with three students. The first year, second year, it doubled, and by the tenth year, she had quite a school going there. So she, she also noted that when the Nisei went to Japan, they were at a loss because they didn't know how to react to anything and they had been taught in tea ceremony and flower arrangement, but nothing much else that would help them to navigate in Japan. So Michi Kawai decided that she would have a class for chugakusei. So she started a class, and at the time that I went, she already had forty or fifty girls in that chugakusei. Anyway, they were mostly high school graduates, girls that had graduated high school in California and then they went over there. That's all that they learned. 'Cause there was no paths or anything for them, so she, she formed this group. And also, the schools at that time, in order for the Japanese children to learn good English and pronunciation, that the Japanese teachers just couldn't handle. So she always had a Caucasian person. So then just that time, she hired Helen Barnes, who was a missionary in Japan, and she was hired to come. And Kawai Sensei had a small bungalow separate from the rest of the places, so that this foreign teacher could live the way she lived, rather than have to cope with sitting Japanese-style and everything. She also was a student of sorts. She wanted to learn Japanese ways and everything.

TI: This is Michi Kawai wanted to? Who wanted to learn Japanese ways?

KK: The haole teacher.

TI: The haole teacher, okay.

KK: Ms. Barnes.

TI: And what was your role in the school? What did you do?

KK: I taught foreign sewing. The sewing classes in Japan only taught sewing a kimono.

TI: Okay. So let me make sure I understand this. So this school, these forty to fifty students were Japanese girls. But Michi Kawai hired, sort of, some Niseis and these other haole teachers to teach the Japanese students? And then for the Niseis it was a chance to also learn more Japanese culture also, to spend more time in Japan. So it kind of went both ways, is that how it worked?

KK: Yeah, a little bit, yeah. But then that forty to fifty students was just the very beginning of the school. By the time I was going there, they already had built another addition, two-story addition to the first bungalow that they had been using. So, you know, she had a goodly number by then. I never knew exactly how many students there were when I was there. But it was a good-sized school by then.

TI: And did you enjoy teaching sewing to the school?

KK: Yeah, I thought it was fun. And it was, it was interesting to interact with these girls. At that time, the working girls were just being introduced to foreign clothes. They didn't want to use those long sleeves and the tight body and all that sort of thing. They figured they couldn't do all the things that a regular secretary should do. So everybody, every company was promoting the foreign clothes, they call it yousai, sewing the foreign clothes. You know, you've heard of youfuku? Well, that means foreign clothes. So that what I was teaching was yousai. So when I went there, this girl who was there before, had gone from L.A. to this school two years ahead of me. But she had only gone to industrial school, so she had only the industrial type sewing. So that I don't know just how far she went, but she did the best she could. She was a friend of mine from church. So when they heard that I was coming -- and she was tired of staying in Japan by that time -- she wanted to leave. So she told me about this, so I went to see Ms. Kawai to see if I could succeed her in that position. So that's what happened. It's just lucky to have that opening.

TI: Yeah. It sounds like a really interesting experience that you had.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: And so eventually, you decided to go back to the United States.

KK: Yeah.

TI: So what made you decide to go back to the United States?

KK: Well, the summertime, we always traveled. And so then one summer, one girl, (Shizu Yamaguchi), she was not a classmate, but she had been in Japan for a year ahead of me. But she said, "Well, let's go to Korea and Manchuria," because it was declared then, by then, Japan possession, and it'd be good, they were trying to promote traveling to make everybody feel that it was peaceful over there. So the two of us got tickets and we went up there to Harbin, and then came back again. But on the way back, I had a friend that had graduated from UCLA, and she had come back and married a fellow that used to work for the, something Manchurian Railway. And he, he made use of his having been in the United States, he was a Japanese citizen, and he landed a very good job in Harbin -- not Harbin, in Mukden, which is a stop on the Manchurian Railroad, about halfway into that. So she was there, so on the way back, we stopped in to see her. And at that time, the army was very suspicious of everybody that looked a little different. Well, we looked different 'cause we had strange suitcases and all. So got on the train at one point, and then we went through the rest of the train and got our seats. Well, I guess that was a suspicious move because that army guy followed us then into Tokyo.

TI: Oh, so they had, like, essentially a member of the Japanese army tail you as you went on this trip.

KK: I think so. He didn't make himself too obnoxious or anything, but I, every time I looked around, he was back there in the crowd someplace. So I figured, well, he's tailing us, you know. Got back to Tokyo and went back to my house, and then one day I saw him lurking around. I thought, "Well, I don't like that."

TI: And so it was that, kind of that presence that, being tailed, that helped you decide to go back to the United States.

KK: Uh-huh, yeah.

TI: Because you were feeling sort of unwelcomed? Or what were you thinking when you saw this, essentially, soldier, tailing you?

KK: Well, I had felt that it was, it was kind of uncomfortable for me. Because before that, I had hailed a taxi to go someplace, and the driver was a very forward guy, he wanted to talk. And so I had a, in those days, it was fashionable to have a fur collar on your coat. And just because I was wearing a fur collar, he insisted I was a Manchurian spy. So he kept questioning me and questioning me, and I told him, "I don't know anything about Manchuria."

TI: But this is the taxi driver?

KK: That's the taxi driver. And he kept, kept on that tact until I got off the taxi. So I didn't like, the flavor was very poor, I just didn't like the idea. So then when the army guy started following me to, after that, I just, it just turned my stomach. I couldn't feel comfortable. The rest of the population never seemed to feel any, too much different. I didn't know then who was watching me.

TI: And this was about, what 1937, '38?

KK: That was '38, the latter part of '38. So then during the spring of '39, I was walking down the street and I saw another army guy trailing me. So that was, just turned my stomach. I thought, "Well, I don't want to stay here." So I decided to come back.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: So we had just finished your time in Japan where you felt like the Japanese military men were following you. And so you decided to go back to the United States. So let's pick up the story there. So from Japan, where did you go?

KK: Well, we had to go on the boat. And when I went to buy the ticket, the man, I said, "Well, I need to go and stop over in Hilo." And he said, well, they have a boat that goes to Hilo on the way to South America. But he didn't say that they never had any passengers. So he sold me a ticket to go to Hilo, which meant that I would go to Honolulu and stay on the boat, stay overnight, and get off at Hilo. Well, it turns out that soon after I bought my ticket, somebody else from Hilo wanted to go to Hilo. So he sold that girl a ticket to do the same thing. So we were the first two passengers to ever take that boat to South America.

TI: Well, first, I mean, from Japan to Hilo, and then from Hilo to South America?

KK: Yeah. Well, it went through Honolulu, stayed overnight -- [clears throat] -- stayed overnight, and the next morning, we were in Hilo.

TI: But you were able to get off at Hilo.

KK: Yeah. Well, then when we got to Honolulu, they looked at my passport, and the man said that, "Oh, this is no good." I said, "Why?" And I had to have a birth certificate to get the passport. So when I had left San Francisco, I had said, "Well, then I don't need to carry birth certificate, do I?" And he said, "No, you put that in your safe deposit box and leave it in California. So that's what I did. But when I got to Honolulu then, on the return trip, he said, "Well, that's no good." He said that somebody had made a lot of bogus passports and sold them that year to somebody else. So they were cancelling out, or being suspicious of anybody that had that. So he said I couldn't get off at Honolulu, so I spent the day on the boat waiting to go to Hilo. They said they would process the thing and find out what to do with me. The other girl had the same problem.

TI: So I'm curious, when you said the ship didn't have other passengers, what kind of ship was it? What did it carry?

KK: Oh, I guess it carried, it carried passengers to, where this...

TI: Oh, okay. So it was primarily to go to South America, but it had one stop in Hawaii just for the two of you to get off.

KK: To go to Hilo. So we, anyway, they had to finish their promise to take us to Hilo, so they did. Well, they never had any baggage inspector in Hilo. So when we went, they had to have the baggage inspector come to Hilo and set up shop there on the wharf with all the, all the deckhands and all the populace and whatever was around there watching them go through our baggage piece by piece. So we were the laughingstock because I had packed everything real tight, you know, filled all the holes with the small underwear and that kind of stuff. That was very embarrassing. [Laughs]

TI: So he would just like take it out and everyone could see how packed --

KK: Yeah, they'd hang it up and then they threw it back in, you know. It was awful. But anyway, they could find nothing to say that, "This person is no good." So they finally let us pass, and they went away. We went to my sister's place. And he said that, well, they took my passport, and they had to fly it to San Francisco to verify it. So it would take a few months, but he said, "Well, maybe by Christmas. In the meantime, they had no provisions for anybody, so I was lucky I had my sister there, so I stayed there. So anyway, that was my introduction to Hilo.

TI: So eventually you got your passport back.

KK: Yeah, but it came around the springtime, so I was staying in Hilo all that time. Well, just at that time, my sister was teaching high school chemistry, and so at that time the baby was two, almost three years old, and had to have a babysitter, naturally, 'cause she was only in school, Tom was busy with his practice. Even though the practice was based in the house there, but he couldn't watch her, too. So I stayed and watched her, took care of that business. That's right. Tom's sister, Umeyo, had been watching, but Tom's father got sick so she had to go back.

TI: So for the family, it was really fortunate that you were there.

KK: Yeah. So I felt like, well, that's not too bad. But I had to wait until the passport came, I could make no plans whatsoever. So I just stayed there.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: So eventually you got the passport in the spring.

KK: Yeah.

TI: This is now spring 1939 or 1940?

KK: 1939.

TI: And my sister had promised Pop that she would go back after three years. Well, it was well past three years, or two years or something. So she said she was going to go back to L.A. and show Mom and Dad that she had this healthy girl and everything. So when she finished the school term in June, and we got on the boat, the three of us, and Shiz promptly took to bed. She got seasick the minute we got on the boat. So anyway, there was nobody to watch Peggy then. But a friend of ours was in the same proposition. She had gone a little bit earlier than Shiz, but she also had this one daughter who was a little bit younger than Peggy. And she would promise to go back. So the three of us adults got on the boat with two kids. Well, Beatrice was the baby's name, she screamed and hollered from the beginning to the end. That was a heck of a thing. But at least once a day, Yasuko said, well, she ought to get out and get some fresh air and not stay in the cabin all of that time. So I grabbed her up and carried her around the boat with this screaming baby. [Laughs] That was an experience because she didn't struggle and try to go away, you know. She just screamed and hollered. But Peggy was walking then, so I just kept track of her, and it was very nice.

TI: And meanwhile, your sister was seasick?

KK: Well, she got in bed, and so did the friend. The two of 'em just got sick on the boat. So I felt it was worth it then to pitch in for two people, I did. We got back to L.A., and as soon as we got on land, she was fine.

TI: Well, again, it was fortunate that you were on that trip.

KK: Yeah, I don't know what they would have done.

TI: So you returned to L.A., and then what did you do in Los Angeles?

KK: Oh, I... well, my former boyfriend had gotten married, so no strings anyplace there. And I looked around to see what kind of jobs were available, but there again, I ran into the same thing. People still didn't want Japanese names on their payroll. So Pop said, "Come on back to the store," and I didn't want to go back there. And then several friends had gone to, after graduating from university --

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: Before we go there, back to your father, so at this time, how large was your father's business? I mean, how many stores did he have?

KK: Oh, they had the main establishment down in Japantown, which consisted of the dry goods and the grocery, but they were separated in two different areas, not too far apart. The grocery had one storefront, towards Los Angeles Street, on the same block. Then the dry goods was on the corner of San Pedro and First Street. And that took up two storefronts there.

TI: So it was like two separate stores there.

KK: Yeah. But they were under separate management, but still under the Asia Company name. And then they had also branched out, and they had a branch in, on Sawtelle Boulevard in West L.A. And then they had, they also branched out into the grocery business, retail grocery. And out in Vernon, they had a market of, they had a regular, just like Safeway or something like that, out there. And it was hard to get people to work in the vegetable, fresh fruit and vegetable section. So when we had nothing to do, we were sent out there to fix up the strawberries. It was a grueling job, because you take the stuff from the field blocks and have to weed out all the gooey stuff. So anyway, then we did that. And then we had... that was quite a long ride from home to get out there, but we had to get on the streetcar and go. I can't, I don't know how many minutes we were on the streetcar. And then... they also had a fruit and vegetable portion out in West L.A., of groceries, retail groceries.

TI: So there were, I counted five, like five different stores?

KK: Yeah, I guess that's it.

TI: And were they all named Asia Company?

KK: Yeah.

TI: And that was the name of it. I'm curious, at this time, did your father own the properties for each one of these, or was he leasing?

KK: Oh, he was leasing most of it. Before that, nobody would sell anything to... I don't know what, just who had the properties that they leased, but they didn't own the property, the land.

TI: Okay. And so you were going on that... so you didn't work for your father, and so you were going to do something else?

KK: Well, yeah. I thought I should use my education for something besides just doing the job that, that were open there. Anyway, they said that former, people, Nisei, had gone to Hawaii, and it was very simple to apply, get a job there. I guess the, it was kind of scarce.

TI: So there was a shortage of skilled labor or educated people in Hawaii, so it was easier to get a job there?

KK: Yeah. Well, anyway, I thought, well, it's not doing me any good to stand or stay around in L.A. I didn't like the atmosphere, and I had no terribly thick friends to do anything with. So I went, Shiz went back after her visit, and we went back together again. So went to, back to Honolulu, and in Honolulu, I met -- that's another story, though. I met my husband-to-be, but of course, he was just a man at that time.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: So tell me how you met your husband. How did you meet him?

KK: Oh, I didn't meet him first. Shiz happened to -- on the boat that she got on to come to Honolulu the first time, he was on the boat. And he didn't, she didn't know him and he didn't know her, but the families knew each other. So they had gotten word that this person would be on the boat, and, "I want you to keep each other company." Well, they both got seasick, so they met after the boat docked in Honolulu. So then he was invited to come to the wedding, because it was his, his brother, his brother's best friend was Tom. So they invited them to come to the wedding. Of course, they lived in Honolulu, so that would be a natural. There were no other guests to speak of. And Butch was supposed to come along with them to the wedding, but my brother-in-law was one of Tom's brother's best friend. He was invited to come to the wedding, but for some reason or other, he got stuck in his dental office finishing somebody's teeth, and so he was late getting to the wedding.

TI: So you're talking about Butch right now?

KK: No, Butch's brother (Charlie Isami).

TI: Butch's brother was late, okay.

KK: Yeah. So he was going to come late to the wedding, and my husband got mad and said he wasn't going to go if he was going to go that late. So he never showed up then. So I didn't meet him then. I met him when he came back, and he met us at the boat. I don't know what we did, but anyway...

TI: And so what was your husband's full name? You call him Butch, but what was his...

KK: Yoshio. Yoshio Herbert Kaneko.

TI: Okay, so he meets you at the boat on this next trip to Honolulu. And then what happened?

KK: Then, of course, at that time, you had to catch the boat to go to Hilo, we had to stay overnight. So that night, we all had dinner together, I think. I think we did, I don't know. But anyway... so then after a while, then, I don't know, somehow or other he... I don't know how it started, but we started corresponding.

TI: Because he was in Honolulu, you were in Hilo.

KK: Hilo, yeah. So anyway, it flowered from then.

TI: And so when did the two of you get married?

KK: '40, 1940. I think 1940, July 1940.

TI: And after you got married, where did you live?

KK: Oh, we first, we first had to stay a little bit with Butch's mother in Honolulu. I don't know why, something about this house being built in Pearl City on the peninsula. And when it got done, we moved out to that house in Pearl City. It was a cute little bungalow, it's nothing fancy.

TI: And when you were in Honolulu, were you able to get a job?

KK: Yeah. I think the first year, I worked for the YWCA. I was advisor to some of the, high school group of girls, some kind of a club, I don't remember what. But there, we ran into... well, I don't know, it had nothing to do with that.

TI: Okay.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

TI: So at this point, I'm going to jump ahead a little bit to December 7, 1941. And can you describe what that day was like for you?

KK: Well, that was Sunday. And Hiro had a church in Pearl City, so he had scheduled church services in a school, rented part of the school that had church services there. There was Sunday school for the kids, and then worship service for adults. So we were preparing to go to the Sunday school. And for that strange day, I had... after changing clothes, before I put my Sunday "go to meeting" clothes on, I didn't like to eat because I'd get messy. So I had this kimono on, cotton kimono, yukata, with a red and white Japanese obi on. And while we were eating breakfast -- this was before eight o'clock -- while we were eating breakfast, this horrible noise sounded. And we thought, "Oh, the navy and army are, got together and having practice." And we heard booms and stuff like that. But then it started to, we heard machine guns going off and that kind of stuff. So we thought, "Well, how strange," you know. So we were, I opened the screen door, and was standing there looking when this Japanese plane came by. You could see the pilot's face and everything. He looked at me, and I don't know what he thought. Because here I was, wearing this Japanese kimono. So anyway, I thought, "Well, how strange." And then we turned on the radio...

TI: Well, at that moment, when you saw the plane for the first time, what did you think when you saw that was a Japanese plane with a Japanese pilot?

KK: What did I think? Well, I was bewildered. I thought, "Well, it can't be war." Because the guy was in Washington trying to negotiate a peace. And we all thought that that was going to end up in peace. But then to have this happen, "What happened here?" So it was very bewildering.

TI: So you said you turned on the radio, and what did you hear?

KK: Well, just nothing much. But all of a sudden, a man's voice came, announcement said, "A foreign country has bombarded Pearl Harbor," and then they shut it off. So there was no signal after that.

TI: And during this time, were other planes flying nearby your house?

KK: Not too close, but I understand that some did fly closer and people got strafed. But fortunately, they didn't hit any of us. Our neighbor was running around the yard with a coffee pot, and says, "Come on over and have coffee." [Laughs] Afterwards, we found all these jagged pieces of metal all over the lawn. How we ever got by without getting hit...

TI: So explain, why was your neighbor running around with a coffee pot asking for coffee when this was going on? That seems a little odd.

KK: Yeah, it is odd, never could figure out what. But she was always saying, "Come on and we'll have coffee together." But, of course, none of us were candidates for that, we were going to church.

TI: And so while this was going on, what did you do? Were you, at first you were out in the yard, but then what did you do while this was...

KK: Well, then Butch said, "If this is war, and those are bullets, if the guy was shooting around, better get into the farthest corner of the house that has this solid wall, and put the mattress up there." And then we sat down on the floor and waited for all the sounds to stop.

TI: And then after the sounds stopped, what did you do?

KK: Well, then I don't know whether they talked to each other on... I guess the, Butch called Hiro on the phone and said, they conferred together and says, oh, well, they'll just cancel the church business. "Better wait and see what happens. But if it sounds like somebody's going to come alongside, or some people are going to invade, then we better run into the cane fields 'cause they'd never find us in the cane field." So they were thinking of what the army did in Nanking.

TI: Oh, so there was this fear that the Japanese army would land in Honolulu and then, and for safety, people were thinking they would just run into the cane fields.

KK: Uh-huh. So we were getting some provisions ready to take to the cane field. We didn't know how long we would be out there. So we quickly, hurriedly picked out a few canned goods and whatever that we could survive on. And we ran in, ran over towards the cane fields. It was up on the hill. The peninsula was into the Pearl Harbor, but the cane fields were up on the hill, higher up. In the cane fields, you can't find anybody.

TI: And so were you the only ones who were doing that, or were other families doing the same thing?

KK: Well, other families were doing something, I don't know what. But we never got together except after the raids were over and there was silence all around for quite some time, and they decided, well, maybe they're not coming back. But of course they might, so they said, well, we'll go up to the assistant manager's house, which was a big stone house. And fortunately, the manager, assistant manager and his wife were on the mainland, and so the house was empty. So we went up there, stayed in that house for a while. So they said, "Well, if the planes come back, better run into the cane fields."

TI: And you stayed in the assistant manager's house because it was safer, because it was stone? Is that why you stayed there?

KK: Probably that. I didn't think too much, I just did what I was told. But there were, up there, there were mostly army wives and navy wives that had living quarters on the peninsula.

TI: And so because you were Japanese American, how did the army and navy wives treat you during this time? Was there any kind of...

KK: No, no, there was no animosity. They just took us as just another person, at least I felt that way. But they didn't really get sociable.

TI: Can you describe, though, the feelings and how people felt during this time? I'm wondering how, especially the wives, knowing that their husbands were, were down at Pearl Harbor or something, what was the mood of the people?

KK: Well, they were scared silly. Most of them were young, young wives at home with little kids. And so they, nobody went berserk or anything like that, but they tried to keep their kids close. And that's about the size of it; the kids were scared, of course, 'cause the atmosphere was so poor. And I don't know how we got through that night, but we did. You couldn't, they told us not to turn any lights on. We couldn't turn the stove on because it was a gas stove. We opened some cans of something or another, I don't know what it was, but we had a little bowl of something that we did for supper. Nobody said anything about that.

TI: During that evening, did people understand or know the devastation that had happened in Pearl Harbor, how bad it was?

KK: No, no. Everything -- nothing as far as, no details forthcoming. The radio was dead.

TI: So describe the next morning. What happened on Monday?

KK: What did happen? I think we were all so scared, we didn't know what to do. And somehow or other, the day passed. I can't remember anything much.

TI: So at what point did you start hearing about or learning about the devastation at Pearl Harbor?

KK: [Pauses] I just get a blank; I just don't know.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

TI: In the days following, or in the weeks following, how was the Japanese and Japanese American community in Honolulu affected? And do you recall any restrictions or anything that happened by being Japanese?

KK: Well, I don't know too much what happened in Honolulu. We were out in, Pearl City's about ten miles away.

TI: Or in Pearl City then. What happened in Pearl City?

KK: Not too much. There was not much activity, it just all seemed kind of dead.

TI: How about your family on the mainland? When did, when were you able to get in communication with them?

KK: I think Shiz kept calling, and I think she did call me, but we were not at home, and I don't know how she could have gotten... there was no such thing as a cell phone at that time. I don't know how she got word that I was okay, but I think that probably the people in L.A. just thought we were dead, because we were just right there in Pearl City. None of our acquaintances had any casualties or anything. No, I think I was kind of numb about then.

TI: I'm sure. I'm sure it was very, very difficult. When did you hear about your father being picked up by the FBI?

KK: I really can't answer that. I don't know when I found out.

TI: I'm guessing it must have been a very confusing time around there, because communication must have been very difficult. For you to even talk to your sister in Hilo, let alone trying to talk to people in Los Angeles.

KK: Well, I don't know how, but somehow or other, I told Shiz that we were okay. And she, I don't know whether she phoned or what, but she assured my folks that we were all okay. But I don't know how she did that. She never, she never enlarged on that. As far as Pop being taken, I just assumed that he would be taken among the first.

TI: Well, in places like Pearl City and Honolulu, were you aware of the FBI picking up Isseis in Hawaii?

KK: No, not at that time. But as soon as we found out that it was Japan, we assumed that they would be rounded up right quickly. So that it turned out that that's what happened. Right away, the bigwigs were all rounded up. Of course, there was some Japanese people in the Japantown and all that were quite loyal to the Japanese emperor, and wouldn't believe anything that was told. So those kind of people were rounded up, and they were shipped back to Japan. But I really don't know too much about what happened.

TI: Okay. Well, now during this time, what was your husband doing during this time?

KK: Well, he's a dentist, and he... of course, that was Sunday, so he was home. [Pauses] Well, I don't know. I don't know what -- he was very protective of me because we just found out that I was pregnant then, three months. So they were afraid that I would miscarriage. But, so I tried to stay as calm as I could without getting all excited about the whole deal.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

TI: Okay. So during the war, were there any events or memories that have come to mind? Besides, I guess the big one was giving birth to your first child.

KK: Yeah.

TI: Probably the biggest.

KK: Well, of course, after things settled down a bit, and everybody got back to so-called "normal," we all had to walk around with gas bags, gas masks and something else. It was gas masks and... I can't remember what it was. It was a nuisance.

TI: And during the years during the war, do you recall any kind of difficulties by being a Japanese American? Did, like, discrimination or animosity towards you because of the war against Japan?

KK: Well, I felt that the haoles were suspicious of us, and they couldn't tell what we would do. We tried to be as invisible as possible without being too obnoxious.

TI: You talked about your family friend, Hiro Higuchi, the reverend. And you mentioned later on he was the chaplain for the 442. Were there very many men that you knew that you knew that volunteered for the, I guess, at first, the 100th and then the 442? Was that pretty common?

KK: Yeah, well, I didn't know too many of the people, but my husband did because many of them were his patients.

TI: Now, was your husband ever subject to military service?

KK: No, he volunteered go to, but they told him, "No, you stay home and take care of the teeth before they arrive in the army." [Laughs]

TI: Oh, good. So they thought he would be more valuable as a dentist in Hawaii than...

KK: Yeah. And then in case of emergency, then he would be on the medical corps.

TI: Okay. So you mentioned you were pregnant with your first child. Let's talk a little bit about your children. So who, can you tell me the names of your children?

KK: Yeah, the first one was Carolyn, C-A-R-O-L-Y-N. What else do you want to know about that?

TI: Well, then why don't we just do the order first.

KK: Well, then Paul, and then Mary, and Glenn is the youngest, G-L-E-N-N.

TI: Okay. And so I'm curious what it was like raising children during not only the war time, but really maybe after the war. What was Hawaii like raising children during this time?

KK: Well, by that time, we'd gotten used to the fact that Japan was an enemy. Of course, peace was 1945, '46, somewhere in there. I don't know. I just thought it was normal to have children to raise. They were two years apart, so it was a little bit busy, I should say, when the kids were young.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

TI: And while the kids were young, your husband became ill in the '50s. So a little bit later, after the war.

KK: Became ill.

TI: Yeah, did he, 'cause your husband died...

KK: In '55.

TI: In '55. So the kids were still quite young.

KK: Yeah, the oldest was twelve, and the youngest was six.

TI: And so what happened to your husband? How did he die?

KK: Oh, he just had a heart attack. I can't remember just what the, what the name that they gave it. Anyway, it's something, something about the heart bursting. I don't know what that... at least, that's the idea I got. But he, he did have a, he did have some small attacks before he died, and I urged him to go to the doctor, and I made appointments and he canceled. And he said, "Well, it's more important to get those guys' teeth ready for going away." So he just would not lay off. So anyway, I guess, I guess we went to the doctor, of course, and the doctor told him to stay home and, "Don't go to work." But he wouldn't listen, he went to work instead. So one day, I got a phone call from the office nurse to say that, "You better come and get him because he had another heart attack." So I went down and got him and put him in the hospital, and that's where he died ten days later. Was it ten days? Something like that.

TI: So at this point, you had children from six to twelve, four children. And at this point, you had to go on without a husband.

KK: Yeah.

TI: I'm guessing that was a very hard time for you.

KK: Well, when I come to think about it, it was kind of numb, I think. And I don't remember what I did. I must have, Shiz and her family lived around the corner from us, and so they were concerned, I guess. And I just took it for granted that she would see to things if it got tough or something. But I can't remember too much what I did. But I must have run the household okay because the kids never said anything. They were too young. I don't, I can't remember details of what I did.

TI: Yeah, sometimes those years become a blur because you're just so either numb or busy just getting by, day by day.

KK: Well, that's true. And he had good friends, had a good lawyer friend that took care of the details of all that stuff. And I don't know whatever happened to him. He sort of disappeared from there, I guess, I don't know. But he set up all the papers and stuff with Hawaiian Trust, and they saw to collections for a while. I don't know what the arrangement was. But the lawyer, man said that they had, he'd gone to the Hawaiian Trust and thought that they could do everything properly so that there would be no reverberations afterwards. And they would take care of the finances and all of that for the first while. So I didn't need to worry about that stuff, and I guess I just took him at his word and decided that they would take care of it, and it did.

TI: So you were fortunate that you had good people handling the estate, you had your sister, her family, to help out.

KK: Otherwise, I think I was just numb.

TI: Because I'm thinking, we're talking, it was over fifty years ago, '55.

KK: Yeah.

TI: It's been a long time, too.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

TI: Well, we're coming up to three hours, and so I'm going actually end the interview now, because I think we're both getting a little tired. Is there -- but before I end it, is there anything else? It's like we covered the first fifty years of your life, and there's fifty more. Is there anything else that you wanted to say?

KK: What kind of thing?

TI: Anything in terms of, maybe when you think back to your life, is there anything that sort of stands out as being really important to help you get through these hard times?

KK: I think I had very good friends, somewhere or other. They... well, my sister was the biggest help, I think. She sort of took charge of all the stuff. And when I finally came to, why, I was amazed that everything was not in a big mess or anything. Everything was so nicely arranged and everything. I guess she must have wrote her about a lot of things. After... I must say that the kids were really excellent kids. Nobody got into anything horrendous besides a lot of scratches and bruises, but we got by. Everybody got married and whatever. So I think I was fortunate there.

TI: Well, and I think I heard that each of your children also got a college education also.

KK: All what?

TI: They all got, they all went to college.

KK: Yeah, they all went to college, yeah. And, well, it was really helpful that my husband had been very careful about finances. Because before he died, there was not a, not a mortgage or anything to hamper anything. Everything was just straight cash. So that was good. I didn't have to ever worry about the roof over our heads or anything, so that was very well done. But I don't know how he did it, but he did.

TI: Thank you so much for taking the time. This was really enjoyable.

KK: Well, I hope it was helpful.

TI: Oh, it was helpful, very interesting, your life. So thank you so much.

KK: Thank you.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.