Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Eugene Tatsuru Kimura Interview
Narrator: Eugene Tatsuru Kimura
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: September 5, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-keugene-01-0010

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: Earlier you mentioned that your, your father died when you were a teenager, a boy. So can you, can you tell me how your father died?

EK: Yeah. For some reason, he contracted... what was that... slips my mind. Well, anyway, it was a blood disease.

TI: Leukemia?

EK: Yeah, leukemia. And then at that time, the only treatment available was very drastic. It was daily doses of x-ray, and three or four drops of solution, potassium arsenite in water. The whole theory being that the cancer cells would be more susceptible to the toxic effects of x-ray and arsenic than the host cells were. But then this was not to be the case because in essence, what happened was that unknowingly, the x-rays and the potassium arsenic may have been contributing factors to his death, but they may or may not have aided, or may or may not have accelerated his death. That, I don't know. But he was in a coma for quite a while. By quite a while, I mean in terms of my perception it was quite a while, but actually, he died a very short time after he went to Virginia Mason hospital.

TI: It's interesting, when you mentioned x-rays and arsenic, I mean, it's almost like these were, like, early forms of radiation treatment.

EK: He died in '36, 1936. He was fifty-five.

TI: Yeah. So, but like early treatment of, radiation treatment and chemotherapy, I guess.

EK: Yeah. That chemotherapy is not the sophisticated chemotherapy, it was arsenic.

TI: Yeah, yeah. So you were about thirteen years old when your father died?

EK: Yes.

TI: So at thirteen, I'm guessing this must have been a pretty traumatic time for you, because you're, you're just in your adolescence, and to then lose your father. Can you talk a little bit about, first, what the impact on your family was? You said it happened pretty quickly. And so how did this change the dynamics of the family?

EK: Well, insofar as my mother was concerned, tremendous load, responsibility fell upon her to raise two young teenagers and so forth. In terms of how it affected me, I was much closer to my father than my mother, but, so it was kind of traumatic. Because I remember when they brought the, his body and placed in the open casket in front of our, in our living room, I had a childish hope that he would all of a sudden get up and say, "How are you?" or something like that. It was a childish dream. And then after school, I would walk to the Virginia Mason hospital and see him, he was still in a coma there. And then after a while, I would walk, my mother was there, and I would walk home. And as I walked home, past some apartment buildings and so forth, you know, I could see the family light in the living room, the family assembled there. Then it hit me because I knew that when I went home again, it would be a dark home. So that's the most, what shall I say, traumatic thing, event that I remember about my childhood.

TI: Yeah, it was hard. What about the community response when your father died? Like the memorial or funeral service, can you describe what that was like?

EK: All I remember very clearly is that it was the Japanese custom to give koden to the widow, the survivor of the family. So my mother with her meticulous way kept track of everyone who did contribute money. And when someone else who contributed the money died, she would make sure that she would return the money to the individual. And I do remember that the neighbors, some of the Japanese, quite a bit of Japanese neighbors brought some food over. That's the typical thing that they do, anyway. Beyond that, I do not remember much. I think I was just trying to forget it, I suppose, erase it from my mind.

TI: Do you recall where the service was held, was there a service like at a church or a temple or anything like that?

EK: I'm embarrassed to say I don't know. I don't remember, I don't remember.

TI: That's fine. And so your, your mother felt the impact of this extra responsibility. How about you and your brother? Did your lives change at all after your father's death?

EK: Well, I can't speak for my brother. His personality was slightly different from mine. But I'm sure it affected him, too. Because Japanese families say the responsibilities rests on the oldest child and so forth. But what can you do when you're a teenager in terms of responsibility? Nothing much.

TI: Do you recall, was it, like, financially difficult for the family after your father's death?

EK: Yeah, yeah. I suppose whatever money she had was from the profits of the, not profits, but the residual amount that she may have had from my father selling the hotel in Seattle. But then she, of course, knew that that was not sufficient. And the fact that she was able to teach, she started teaching at the Japanese language school. And of course, how much can you get for about an hour and half to an hour of work? But then it still was enough for pocket money, and psychologically, she could say that, "I wasn't just lying around there, I was trying to support the family."

TI: And so was there any kind of community support? Do you know if other families helped out in any way?

EK: No, not that I remember. I think my mother was too proud to accept anything. And this was only after social security had been in effect for a couple of years, so actually, in essence, we got nothing from social security. I think nowadays you may be able to get some money, but not at that time.

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