Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: James A. Nakano Interview
Narrator: James A. Nakano
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
Date: June 3, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-njames_2-01-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: So today is June 3, 2009, it's Wednesday morning, and we're in Honolulu at the Japanese Cultural Center. And on camera is Dana Hoshide, and interviewing is me, Tom Ikeda. And this morning we have James Nakano. And so James, the first question is, can you tell me when you were born?

JN: November 12, 1933.

TI: And where were you born?

JN: In Honolulu, Hawaii.

TI: Now, do you recall, was it like a hospital you were born in, a house?

JN: No. My guess is, in those days, I think all the births were done by... what do you call those people who come in?

TI: Like a midwife?

JN: Midwives. I think midwives did all the deliveries in those days, my guess.

TI: Okay. When you were born, what was the name given to you at birth?

JN: I'm assuming it was James Akinobu Nakano.

TI: So before we talk about, kind of, your life, let me ask a little bit about your father. Can you tell me your father's name?

JN: Minoru.

TI: And do you know where in Japan...

JN: Fukuoka, Japan.

TI: And do you know anything about your father's family in terms of what kind of work they did in Fukuoka?

JN: My, by the way, my grandparents ultimately lived with us. So my grandfather, I'm not sure -- I'm sure they were on the farms. But my grandfather, early on, left, took off or had to run or something. He was, he had a reputation, I think, from what I hear from my older siblings, that he took off from Fukuoka, came from Hawaii. And supposedly he was to work in the cane fields as everybody else was supposed to. My guess is he did come with that contract. My guess is he... and the story I hear, and I haven't investigated that, is he went to the Big Island. He took off, off of the plantation, he didn't want to work on the plantation. What I heard was -- and again, this is from my cousin, older cousin said he worked as a bodyguard to gambling in the Big Island among the Japanese workers. And he was big, he was a big Japanese, basically, and I guess he was pretty tough. All I remember about him living with him was he never said a word. I don't recall him saying one word. But the only thing I recall is when I was young, he bought me my first bicycle for some strange reason. He's a, he was an interesting character who I never knew. Anyway, he came here first.

TI: Going back to that bicycle, so when he gave you that bicycle and you thanked him, you said he never said anything. How did he acknowledge that you got the bicycle?

JN: He probably just walked away. I don't recall at all. But my guess is, he just says, he just dropped the bike off and said, "This is Akinobu's bicycle." And then whoever gave it to me, I don't recall. But he was, he was that type of a guy. We had a veranda we called it, in Hawaii, because it's hot, right? All I recall most about him is he's sitting on the veranda, sitting down, and he wrapped his -- not cigarette -- tobacco, he wrapped it up and smoked. They wrapped their own cigarettes. And I remember him smoking there, and I think he used to spit over the railing. And that's all he did. Never said a word, and just sat there, smoked, didn't say a word. He was quite a character.

TI: And so you lived with your grandfather. Was your grandmother also there?

JN: Yeah, my grandmother came with... my, when he took off from Japan, this is when my grandfather took off from Japan, he had three sons with my grandmother. The oldest I never met. The story I hear about my oldest uncle is that he stayed back when my grandmother came here from Japan. She came her with her second son, who was my father, and her third son, who was my uncle. I forgot his name, Katsu-something. Then... where was I?

TI: Yeah, so your grandmother and, I guess, two of her sons came to --

JN: Came here. It must have been around, in the... very close to 1900, plus or minus, I'm not sure. My father, I heard about my oldest uncle was that he ultimately joined the army, and then he was killed in Manchuria, is what I heard.

TI: This was your, the oldest uncle.

JN: Yes. So I never met him and that's the story I heard of him. My father, who was the second son, they came with -- they came off the farm, I'm pretty sure. But they had apparently carpentry experience. Now, where they picked it up, I have no idea. They came here when they were like fourteen or fifteen years old. And where they both picked up, both my father and my younger uncle, where they picked up the carpentry, I have no idea. But they went into carpentry, and ultimately my father and later on my uncle both became general contractors here in Honolulu, Hawaii.

TI: And how did your father meet your mother?

JN: I don't really know.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright ©2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.