Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Sumie Suguro Akizuki Interview
Narrator: Sumie Suguro Akizuki
Interviewers: Shin Yu Pai, Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: October 30, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-asumie-01-0001

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SP: Today is Thursday, October 30, 2008. We're in the Densho studio today with Sumie Akizuki. My name is Shin Yu Pai. I am the primary interviewer, and Tom Ikeda is with me as a secondary interviewer, and on camera is Dana Hoshide. So welcome, Sumie. Thank you for being here with us today. So I thought that we'd just start with some really easy basic questions. Can you tell me when and where you were born?

SA: Well, I was born in Bellevue, Washington, on January 2, 1929.

SP: And were you born in a hospital?

SA: No, in the home, at the home. And I think my father delivered me. [Laughs]

SP: Wow.

SA: Yeah, he did. And then my younger siblings (were delivered by) a midwife. Her name was Mrs. Beppu, whose son (owned) Lincs Tackle Shop. (Mrs. Beppu) delivered my younger siblings, but (some of) the older ones (were) delivered by actually my father and a neighbor, a lady by the name of Mrs. Takeshita, whose daughter is Mitsuko Hashiguchi. (Mitsuko Hashiguchi) was our neighbor and helped us out when we returned from camp. (Our mother was) close friends with her mother.

SP: So tell me a little bit about your siblings. Where are you in the birth order and how many --

SA: Well, (there were) seven children, (...) two older sisters, two younger sisters, and two younger brothers. (...) My oldest sister is eighty-four. My youngest brother (...) passed away at sixty-five, several years ago. And so there's six surviving in our family.

SP: All still here in the area?

SA: No, there's two in California.

SP: Okay. So I thought we'd turn to asking you some questions about your family background, and so I want to go back to the first of your relatives who came here to the United States, your maternal grandfather. Can you tell me a little bit about when he came?

SA: Actually, it's my paternal.

SP: Your paternal. Sorry, your paternal grandfather.

SA: My paternal grandfather came in the early years, the turn of the century which was the early 1900s. And he worked for about ten years and then sent for my grandmother and my father. And my father came in 1913. And they farmed which is now near Bellevue Square, Lincoln Square in Bellevue. In that vicinity, right across from Bellevue shopping center. They farmed there for about seven years, but then they had purchased this ten acres in, it's called the Midlakes area, where Lake Bellevue is. And they cleared the land there, and it took them six years, according to my father, and it was virgin forest. And they, so while farming in that vicinity of Lincoln Square, which is Bellevue Way and Northeast Eighth, they took the horse and wagon for six years, until they cleared that land. It was very productive, whereas the land near (...) Lincoln (Square) in the downtown Bellevue area (had) very poor soil, so it wasn't very productive. But the (farm) in Bellevue at Midlakes was very productive. It was right near (...) Lake Bellevue. They raised strawberries and lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, (peas, etc.). And then since our grandparents lived with us, (and there were two generations in the household). My grandparents went to the (public market to sell their produce). They (took) the ferry, because the Lake Washington floating bridge (wasn't) constructed (until) 1940, (...) they took the ferry from Medina to Leschi. (They) sold all the produce, and they did well because the large supermarkets had not yet come into existence, and they didn't have the middle man. (...) They raised even flowers and we even had peach (...) and cherry trees, Italian prunes, anything that would grow on the land, they raised. And my sister said she remembers, (...) my grandparents counting (...) the money on the table. So I think they did quite well.

SP: Well, I just want to back up a little bit and ask you, what were your grandfather's motivations for coming to the United States originally?

SA: Well, they wanted to make money to return to Japan to retire (...). They had two children after they (...) immigrated to the United States. They had two children that were Niseis and they went back with them. Excuse me, I have to correct that. They went back with my uncle, (after) he graduated from Bellevue High School in 1934. (My aunt did not return with them.)

SP: So your father, when he was sent for, he was born in Japan?

SA: (...) He was born in Japan, and he was about thirteen years old.

SP: When he came to the United States initially.

SA: Yes.

SP: So it sounds like there's a large age difference between your father and his other siblings. Is that --

SA: Yeah, almost twenty years, I think. Quite a bit. Because he was born in Japan, and I think my grandfather was here for about ten years or so before calling for my grandmother and my father. (...) When my grandparents (returned) to Japan, we didn't have (the) other generation to go to the market. My grandparents' (wish) really was to make money to retire in Japan. They were poor when they came here. They bought property in Japan to build a house, and (returned with) enough money to retire on. They left us, our family, you know, my father and our family, kind of penniless. Because they took everything, all the money they took with them (...). And of course, like I said, they had to build a house.

SP: So it was a very difficult transition.

SA: It was very difficult. (...) Because my father had to take the leadership role, whereas my grandfather was the one that took the leadership role during all those years. And then my father, he was left with the farm.

SP: And a family.

SA: And seven children. And we didn't have any money because my grandfather took everything that, and you know, so I remember that we all of a sudden became very poor. Almost penniless. [Laughs] I was telling my sister, I think (we) became penniless. But then we had the farm, and my father was a very hard worker. And it was fine, because he knew how to raise (...) crops and make it productive.


SP: So, I'm curious to know about your mother, too. So can you tell me a bit about how your mother and father actually met?

SA: Well, they knew each other in Shizuoka Prefecture. And they knew, like I said, they knew each other as children actually. So my mother came in 1921, and she came from a middle-class family, and (her family was) well-to-do. And her introduction to America was just hard work. And (...) she worked very, very hard and always with a baby on her back. And when I visited Japan, her relatives told me that (her father had said) had they known that my mother would have to go through so much hardship, (he) wouldn't have (...) allowed her to come to the United States. But, I asked my mother in later years if she had any regrets, and she said no, that "America's the best place to live." And she's taken several trips to Japan and so she was very satisfied and happy with her life in the United States.

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