Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Jim M. Tanimoto Interview
Narrator: Jim M. Tanimoto
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda (primary); Barbara Takei (secondary)
Location: Gridley, California
Date: December 10, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-tjim-01-0002

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TI: So let me ask about your, first your father. Can you tell me your father's name and where he was from?

JT: My father's name is Hikoichi, he's from Hiroshima. The community, I guess, is Nihonmachi or something, he said. I don't know the exact name of the place, but I visited Hiroshima, and it's a large place. And, of course, after the bombing, it was just big destruction, that's all it is over there. And he came to the Hawaiian islands when he was a young man, I think he was a late teenager, and he worked on the Big Island on Hawaii. Worked out in the sugar cane plantation. Two things he told me when he was working there was, "You never forget your lunch and you always carry a raincoat." Then he immigrated to the mainland.

TI: And do you know about when he went to Hawaii, about what year that might have been?

JT: No, I don't. You know, my kid says the same thing. "You don't talk about your relatives, you don't talk about..." you know. And my father has never mentioned the fact that he came over as a teenager or something like that, to the Hawaiian islands. All I know is that he was there as a young man.

TI: Do you know anything about his family in terms of brothers or sisters?

JT: Well, I know that he had one sister, and he had one brother in Hawaii, and he had another brother here that... he never owned real estate or owned property, he followed the crop, but he was like a transit worker. And my father, that's three, and his sister, that's four. That's all I know is just... the sister married a man named Matsumura, and his younger brother Iwasaki, he followed the crop. And he went back to Japan just before the war, and he had a real nice Model A sedan. And he says, "When I go to Japan, I'm gonna give it to you." And the thing was just like brand new. The day before he left, he turned it over on its side and he got a big old ding in the top of the, corner of the car. Other than that, it was just like brand new. And when I came back from camp, I didn't have it. Somebody had taken it.

TI: Wow, what a story. So at least we have a little bit about your background, so if your ancestors -- not your ancestors, but your descendants want to know more about this, I just wanted to capture some of that. But let's go back to your father. And how did he come to Gridley? What made him come to this area?

JT: Well, when they came to the mainland, they got into the rice business. You see the rice picture, the harvest. He was there, and then the rice, the whole agriculture collapsed, and then we had the Depression and he went bankrupt. And my mom told me, at that time, all she had, they had a horse and they had a buggy, and a case of Carnation milk. That's all they had.


TI: So, Jim, let's go back to the rice. And do you know why your father decided to get into the rice business? What was it about rice that he decided?

JT: I really don't know why he started in on rice. But this was before '25. 1925, that picture that you saw on the wall there, that was taken in 1925. When, I don't know, other than the fact that when the Depression came, they went bankrupt and they moved out of the rice. And because of the alien land law, they had to get somebody that...

TI: Yeah, before we go to the land laws, I'm curious about... because you're a farmer and you know this area, would rice be a good crop to have in this area? As a farmer, what do you think of doing rice?

JT: If I had to do it all over again, I would farm rice.

TI: You would farm rice?

JT: Oh, yes.

TI: So it's really a good place for rice?

JT: Not here. The rice farming is all west of town, and it takes heavier soil. It's adobe, it's clay, it needs clay. Because if you use loam type soil, it takes too much water. The clay would be like a pot, it would hold water while loam would, you know, let the water go through. So the guys that were farming rice are very financially well-off today.

TI: Okay, so your father was a pioneer, it was like the first one to do rice in this area?

JT: Well, he was one of the early ones. I don't know if he was a pioneer or not, but he was one of the early growers. And there were other growers that farmed rice also, and they did the same process that we did, getting somebody that was born in Hawaii or was a citizen. 'Cause they couldn't, they couldn't farm by themselves without having somebody that was a citizen. I mean...

TI: Right, so because of the alien land laws, they could not, unless you were a citizen, you could not own land.

JT: Yeah, that's right.

TI: And so did your father know this person in Hawaii that came here?

JT: Well, he's actually a relative of ours, and he was Hawaiian-born.

TI: Now, where did the money come from to buy land?

JT: We didn't buy land, we leased land. No matter what you did, buy it or lease it, you still couldn't do it if you was an alien.

TI: So this was just even to lease the land so you can do the rice, your relative from Hawaii came here, and the land was under his name.

JT: Yeah, yeah. The lease was under his name.

TI: And that was pretty common amongst the Japanese farmers up here? That's how they had to do things?

JT: I think most of the people that got into real estate, had real estate, that's the way they got their foot in the door.

TI: Good.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.