Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga Interview II
Narrator: Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Torrance, California
Date: July 7, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-haiko-03-0018

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: And then so you're in New York for about how long before you go to Japan?

AH: Oh, well, I was in New York from '47 until...

TI: To '49?

AH: But then from '49 to '54, I had remarried and I went to Japan with my Nisei husband who was in counterintelligence, MIS, counterintelligence. So I lived in Japan for five years in Fukui, Kobe... yeah, between Kobe and Osaka is a town called Shukugawa. And then Otsu for three years, and then Nagoya. So I moved around four different places in Japan, because that's where my then-husband was sent, stationed.

TI: Boy, I'm guessing that was a big shift for you, to live in Japan?

AH: Oh, yeah, definitely. Definitely.

TI: And what are some memories from Japan?

AH: Oh, I wish I had taken advantage of my being there a little more, but in some ways, I think the nature of my then-husband's work, which was counterintelligence, and ferreting out Communist infiltrators in Japan, we were advised that the family should not fraternize too much with the population because of the nature of his work. So my actual contact with the Japanese people was pretty limited mostly to my housemaids, the gardener, and just a few Japanese friends. Because of the restrictions, I didn't get a chance to really, I didn't take advantage of it. Maybe I could have done more, to even learn the language. It seemed like it slipped out of my hands, but I think now I should have somehow taken advantage of being there much more. I liked it very much, although I know I was treated like a gaijin, because they could tell by the way I talked, or walked, or the way I dressed, I was not a Japanese-Japanese. But it was nice to be there in the land of my parents. I didn't get a chance at that time, because of the restriction, to visit my own parents' families, but I did go back in 1992, I guess it was, for the first time, to visit Kumamoto and Hiroshima at the time. That was a good trip.

TI: How about other Japanese Americans? Were there very many other Japanese Americans that you got to know?

AH: In Japan?

TI: In Japan.

AH: Oh, yeah, a few couples, because they were all in the same kind of work. They were all the MIS, CIC, counterintelligence corps people. And we had a nice relationship with a few of those families. Well, we all, most of us lived in American compounds where we were walled off from the population. So that prohibited us from being, getting to know the Japanese people, but we had the relationships with the armed forces people, whether they were Marines or Army people. A few Japanese, Nisei couples.

TI: And so how were these years for you? It was like four or five years you're in Japan, was this a good time for you?

AH: Yeah. Well, it was sad in a lot of ways because it was sad to see the country and its people deprived of so much. By the time, when we first went there, it was still, the country was still reeling from the aftereffects of the devastation, and there were little kids with no shoes walking hadashi, barefoot, (...) and people with not enough food or clothing. But by the time we left, 1954, it was just amazing to see how much the Japanese had picked themselves up and took advantage of the opportunities (arose) whenever it appeared. And they really pulled themselves up so fast from the bootstraps. I compare that with the European countries that were so negatively affected by World War II, how long it took them to come up from all this devastation, and how quickly the Japanese did. They became one of the economic powers, right, in twenty years, thirty years? While Germany and all those other countries were having to struggle. That made me very proud, you know, when I think back. It was... I enjoyed that, certain parts of it. I didn't like some of the Americans who went into Japan as conquerors, and they let the Japanese people know we're here because "we beat you." And that kind of attitude really bothered me. There were a few Nisei who were like that, and I didn't like that very much.

TI: So I'm curious, when you saw like a Nisei or someone else act that way, did you ever say anything to them?

AH: Oh, no, I never did. I was chicken. But I thought about it a lot and said, "Gee, why did he have to talk like that to this houseboy or this salesperson or something like that?" as if he was the almighty. And it just made me unhappy. I tried to avoid people like that, because it made me just uncomfortable to be with people like that. But I didn't learn that the best thing to do is to speak your mind right away until much later, and I decided, be more honest and upfront with people, yet try to be tactful. [Laughs] It's a fine line, I think.

TI: Now, earlier, you mentioned how quickly Japan sort of recovered. Why do you think Japan was able to recover so quickly compared to the European countries?

AH: There's some kind of pride in being Japanese and the willingness and the will to improve one's own condition. I think it starts with, it must start with an individual, but nationally, there's some kind of strength in the Japanese character that makes them want to be tops. I don't know if it's competition or just pride in being of a race that believes in their own skill, intelligence, to be best. And it's been a source of real pride for me to see how Japan has, took this tragedy and became such a power later, to the benefit of its people.

TI: And you really saw that in those five years that you were in Japan?

AH: No, I could see the improvement.

TI: Improvement.

AH: Yeah, improvement, where the kids were dressed better by the time I left, and people were starting to get jobs, and there was just an attitude that just made me feel good.

TI: And so any other ways that you were changed by being in Japan those five years?

AH: Yeah. Little by little, I became much more proud of my ancestry. It took a while for me to understand the political part of our country that led to my feeling the way I was as I was growing up, but then to see myself in Japan and to see our people, the people of my father's country, mother's country, do such a good job eventually over the few decades after the war, it really made me understand why I'm proud to be a Nihonjin.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.