Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Sumiko M. Yamamoto Interview
Narrator: Sumiko M. Yamamoto
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda (primary); Barbara Takei (secondary)
Location: Sacramento, California
Date: December 8, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-ysumiko-01-0027

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TI: So let's start the third segment. And so right now we're in Japan, and you talked a little bit about some of the jobs that you did. I'm curious, how did the Japanese react to you? When they would meet you and they would get to know you and a little bit of your background, what did the Japanese think about you?

SY: Well, we met our cousins and, you know... and this one cousin I was talking to, she said, I mean, I thought I was speaking good Japanese because over here, you know, when we were in camp, the ladies would tell my mother that, "Oh, your daughter speaks good Japanese and she knows how to aisatsu," what do you say? Communicate? And I thought I was speaking good Japanese. And she started laughing, you know. I looked at her funny and she said, "Your Japanese is funny." [Laughs] I think my... it wasn't really a Japanese speaking, you know. I guess I had some accent, different kind of accent. So she said, "Anata no Nihongo, okashi ne?" she says. [Laughs] And she started laughing, I says, oh, gee, I felt insulted, but what can I say?

TI: But then how did they think about your, like your American sort of background? Because here you were fluent in English, and what did they think about that?

SY: Oh, they didn't hear me speak English yet. When we first went to Fukuoka, we went to our relatives', my folks wanted to go to their relatives and greet them. And we tagged along with them, and we passed a school. And these kids, you know, I guess they thought the clowns were coming or something, I don't know. They gathered at one window, you know, and then we'll pass the window, and then they'll run to the next window. You could hear them running in the hallway. And that was really funny, though, it was really funny. I think the way we dressed and walked, I think, was different, really different.

TI: And so did they have any prior warning, or just, they could see you walking and the way you were dressed and they would know...

SY: See, there were five or six of us, you know, walking. And I guess we drew quite attention. [Laughs] We were dressed differently, and I guess they say, "Oh, somebody's different coming down the road."

TI: Did you talk to any of them and find out...

SY: No. We were up on the higher place over where the road is, and the school is below. So I guess they could see us.

TI: So there was something different about you, the way you looked, the way you walked...

SY: The way we dressed.

TI: Dressed, the way you talked, all these things were just a little bit different. And so how would your relatives, what would they say to you, other than your Japanese might be a little different. I mean, what else would they say? Would they make any other comments about you and your sister in particular?

SY: No, they didn't say much. Yeah, I don't remember anything special that they said.

TI: How about Japanese who would hear you speak English? So they were in a situation where you used your English and then they saw you? What was that, the reaction of Japanese then?

SY: They said, "Your English is different from our," you know, the Japanese English, the way the Japanese speak English. I said, "Oh, we were speaking English when we were born." Oh, they marveled at our, you know, pronunciation and all that, the r's and the l's. [Laughs]

TI: Well, how about sort of Americans? When you came across them and you used your English with them, what was the reaction?

SY: Oh, they were surprised we spoke English. That was their first impression.

TI: And generally then, would they ask more questions about, about you and...

SY: Yes, uh-huh. "How'd you learn English?" and all that.

TI: And what would you tell them when, say, you're working with the U.S. Army or something and they, and someone asked you, "So how did you learn your English?" What would your response be?

SY: You mean when the Japanese asked?

TI: No, when the Americans would ask.

SY: Americans? Oh, I guess they're surprised that we were there. "How'd you get here?" and all that.

TI: But when they asked, so they were surprised. So they'd say, "How did you get to Fukuoka?"

SY: Yeah.

TI: How would, what would you say?

SY: Oh, we came from the U.S., you know, we came on the ship. And they said, they were surprised. They were surprised.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.