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-03-0004

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TI: Okay. So this is interesting. So your father had three children, and he's recently married to your mother. And at that point, they decide to come to the United States?

AH: My father came first, I guess trying to find out what the land was like and what the possibilities were like. And I'm not sure how long he was here before he came back, went back to Japan to bring my mother and the three, my three siblings over. So it was the turn of the century, like 1905 or something like that.

TI: And do you know what he found in America, where he settled?

AH: Just struggles. [Laughs] He was never a businessman. I think he tried several different businesses, but just never succeeded in it. And so he never did get to the seminary to study to become a minister, but he was always active in the Christian church. He ended up having, managing hotels in Los Angeles. And I think in Sacramento he was doing that, too. He tried a little business like tofu-ya, making tofu or something like that, and that didn't go, didn't take. But when we came to Los Angeles, he was managing a hotel. And then he ended up having a small vegetable and fruit stand on Western Avenue, I remember that. And the funny, main thing I remember about that experience was that instead of the cash register, he used to use the soroban, the abacus, to calculate purchase and change that he had to give the customer. And it just fascinated me that he preferred to use the abacus rather than the cash register. [Laughs]

TI: He must have been pretty good at it, really fast.

AH: Oh, yeah, he was a math teacher, apparently, so he was pretty good at that.

TI: Yeah, I remember my grandfather used to do it, too. He used to run a hotel and he'd use it, and it'd be so fast, it was like a little calculator.

AH: Yes, yes. And I understand that many of the young folks in Japan now are being taught the abacus. Because I don't know who made the decision, the educators or the parents, said that the computer and the calculator doesn't allow the children to use their own brains to figure out things. But with an abacus, you have to know some of your numbers and not let the machine do the thinking for you. I thought that was a good idea.

TI: Yeah, no, it's a very tactile, visual way of numbers and learning math.

AH: We might introduce that here in the educational system in America. [Laughs]

TI: Yeah, that's a good idea. So when you were born, you mentioned earlier you were born in Sacramento. So your father was doing different things, and I wanted to ask, what was your father like? I mean, he's doing these different things, you described him as sort of scholarly. What kind of personality did your father have?

AH: Well, he looked stern, but he wasn't. He just had that "I'm the boss" kind of look, but he was not. And never laid a hand on us, and just his demeanor, if he was displeased, would be very sharp and stern. But (...) I think I was spoiled. I'm pretty sure I was. But he, unfortunately, because of the language barrier, I didn't communicate with him too much. He knew English, he spoke some English, he read a lot of English, but he didn't communicate in English very much. And my mother didn't -- so busy taking care of all of us kids that she had no time to go like women often do now. She was... and of course because the economic situation being so poor in the '30s, early '30s and all, she didn't make time or take time to learn English. So, of course, that's one of my biggest regrets, that my relationship with my mother was so brief in terms of our being able to communicate. I fault myself a great deal for not appreciating my mother more by not embracing the opportunity to learn Japanese. So I keep thinking now, even this late day when I'm pushing eighty-five years old, how was I able to communicate and develop any kind of relationship with my mother when we hardly talked? We did the best we could with her poor English, with my poor Japanese. But she was a devoted mother. And so, always so kind, sweet and gentle. Loved music, she was a good shamisen player, she played the koto, she loved to dance the odori, mostly Bon Odori during the summer months. And it was a joy to see her do that because she worked so hard all the time.

TI: And how about her relationship with her husband, your father and mother? How would you describe that?

AH: Sort of what I figured was typical of Issei parents, that Papa was the boss, Mama did all the work, and he had the last word. But my father was not stern that way, so I think she might have had it a little easier. He was not a bossy type. I think... isn't that strange? I don't remember a lot of the communication between the two of 'em, they must have had their own private moments.

TI: Okay.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.