Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Ryo Imamura Interview
Narrator: Ryo Imamura
Interviewers: Stephen Fugita (primary), Erin Kimura (secondary)
Location: Olympia, Washington
Date: August 3, 1999
Densho ID: denshovh-iryo-01-0002

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SF: Maybe you could elaborate a little bit about your parents -- both your mom's side and your dad's side, because they had such a illustrious history in a large sense.

RI: Yeah, I'll go with my mother first. She was born to a Buddhist temple family. Her maiden name was Matsuura. Her father was one of the original Issei ministers from Japan who came in the very early 1900s. And did most of his work in Guadalupe, which is near Santa Maria, and in the Fresno area. And so she was raised pretty much in California. Although there was a period there where I think she went to high school in Japan. I'm not sure exactly why. So her father was from Hiroshima. And I don't think his father was a priest. He was from a lay family. But her mother was from a long lineage from Fukui, where my father's family's from. I think that's something to do with how they met, through go-betweens and so on. So she's a, a -- I guess more American than my father. She went to college, and was at the Chicago Conservatory of Music because she was a very promising concert pianist at the time when the war broke out. And so she had to give up not only her -- I guess she was one year short of graduation, but also her dreams of becoming a concert pianist, to come back to California, 'cause her parents had come back. There's this fine older priest here we want you to marry. So in those days you say, "Yes Mom" -- [Laughs] -- and that's what happened. So they were married just a few months before the evacuation. Lessee, so she's been very involved in Buddhist music. If you go to any of the temples and open their service books, you'll see "Jane Imamura" on many, especially the children's songs.

My father is Nisei, actually what you call Kibei, because he was born in Hawaii. His father was the bishop of the Buddhist temples there -- JoudoShin temples. And as the oldest son, the father who felt an obligation to the family temple back in Fukui decided to send his oldest son, my father, at the age of four -- back by himself -- to the temple to be the head priest there. So he didn't talk a lot about it. I guess I used my imagination more in thinking of a four year old boy going back by those old ships, back to Japan with a nanny and spending his whole childhood separated from his parents. He was trained there and I think by the age of eight was able to read all the services. And he went to college. He graduated from Keio University and studied Buddhist studies there. And then -- trying to think -- he came back to Hawaii at that point. My fa -- his father had just died and being the oldest son, he needed to take care of his family. And so he came back to Hawaii and he was the director of the YBA over in Hawaii for awhile and Waipahu Temple and Japanese school. I still see pictures of just thousands of kids back then. Then he wanted to come and study and earn his doctorate in philosophy. So he came to Berkeley, but he never, of course, completed it because of the war. So the war really changed the plans of both my father and mother. But if wasn't for the war, perhaps they would not have married and I wouldn't be here. [Laughs] So that's going way back before I was born.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.