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Title: Jim Matsuoka Interview
Narrator: Jim Matsuoka
Interviewer: Martha Nakagawa
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: May 24, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-mjim-01-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

MN: Okay. Today is Monday, May 24, 2010, we're filming at East West Players, Tani Ikeda is videotaping, we'll be interviewing Jim Matsuoka, and I'm Martha Nakagawa, I will be interviewing. So Jim, let's start with your, the name of your father and mother.

MN: Toichi and Hatsuyo.

MN: And what prefecture were they from?

JM: They were from Hiroshima, from adjoining parts of Hiroshima, Kusatsu and Koi.

MN: And did your father come to the United States first?

JM: I believe he did, but I just don't have that much real information on his personal life. Because, you know, generationally, the Issei never really shared their personal stories with the Nisei. Just felt it wasn't our need to know.

MN: But you think he was in the Seattle area for a while.

JM: Yes, yes, I believe he was in Seattle, possibly maybe spent a little time in Vancouver and San Francisco. One of the reasons I know is that I have a piece of clothing from him left, it's the only thing I have left. It's a very, very thick wool full-length coat. There would be never any need for it in southern California, so I assume he was up north for quite a while.

MN: Now, do you know what year your father came to the United States and then what year your mother came to the United States?

JM: I think they were both here in 1924, which is the year that they, that was the limit. That was the time when the, sort of like exclusion acts against Japanese Americans came in -- against Japanese at that time, excluding them. So you had to be here by 1924 or you couldn't get in anymore.

MN: Now, now you, where were you born?

JM: Los Angeles, California, not very far from this, this theater. Maybe four or five blocks away.

MN: And at that time, was that considered part of Little Tokyo?

JM: Yes, it was. In fact, Little Tokyo went, I guess that would be south or east...

MN: South.

JM: South.

MN: You're talking, you said Fifth Street? Fourth Street that you were born?

JM: Between Fourth and Fifth on Towne. And the, as far as I'm concerned, Little Tokyo, not totally little Tokyo, but a really high percentage of Japanese residents went as far as, say, oh, I would say Twelfth Street. And then it slopped over the river into Boyle Heights. So in a way, I consider Boyle Heights a sort of bedroom community, too, of So Cal. But there are a lot of Japanese Americans all over. Little mom and pop shops, boarding houses, little homes all over the place.

MN: Now, were you delivered by a samba-san?

JM: I guess that would be a midwife? Yes, uh-huh.

MN: And you have this interesting story about your birth time and your son's birth time.

JM: Right. We were born at, on the same day, I mean, the same day...

MN: Not the same year.

JM: Not the same year. But I think almost at the same hour. Because I looked at the report from the midwife, and she wrote down around four o'clock in the afternoon. And, of course, she's probably figuring out around, around that time, but it could have easily been around two o'clock, at which time my son was born. So in a sense, he's, he's here to replace me, I guess, as the saying goes. [Laughs]

MN: And what, what is your actual birthdate?

JM: July 27, 1935.


MN: Okay. And what is your birth name?

JM: My birth name is Haruyuki Matsuoka. I came very late in my mother's life, so I guess it translates out to "spring snow." So, you know, at the very end of things. I think they told her to abort me, I guess, 'cause it was so late in her life, thirty... I think she was thirty-something, thirty-five, thirty-six. Nowadays, that's quite, you know, that's not that... I guess many women have, give birth at that age, but in those days, I think that was considered very old.

MN: Good thing she didn't abort you.

JM: Well, some people would say too bad. [Laughs] Just a matter of who you talk to.

MN: So when did you get the name "Jim," and how did you get that?

JM: Well, I got sick and tired at Ninth Street school of, they had you write your name on everything. So writing Haruyuki, H-A-R-U... I mean, that took forever. So I kind of like, figured out I want a shorter name, so I kind of chose between Jim, Ed, and Bo. So I could have been Bo, I could have been Ed, but I took Jim. Just three letters, J-I-M.

MN: Where did you get that from? Is it from a comic book?

JM: I have no idea, just that I think that was quite a common name at the time. But so was Bo, so I could have been Bo. [Laughs]

MN: How many siblings did you have?

JM: I have two older sisters, and I believe I have a half sister in Japan, which I know very little about. I know she passed away. And like I say, I know very little about my parents' background. I know they were both divorced, so that alone would kind of shut the door on any questions I had, see. That's about it. I have two older sisters, they're still with me.

MN: And you're the youngest.

JM: I'm the youngest, right.

MN: And you mentioned that your, you are named Haruyuki because you came late in your mother's life. So what is the age difference between you and your next sister?

JM: I think something like seven or eight years.

MN: There is actually a big difference.

JM: Yeah, there is a big difference.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.