Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Jim Matsuoka Interview
Narrator: Jim Matsuoka
Interviewer: Martha Nakagawa
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: May 24, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-mjim-01-0036

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MN: Let's go back to your student days. You just graduated with a master's. So after you graduated from Cal State L.A., where did you go find a job?

JM: I wound up in Little Tokyo because I wanted to do what I could for the community. I became, I was hired as a, they call it a liaison with the Community Redevelopment Agency. I was a liaison for the Little Tokyo office, so I was stationed here. And essentially I did a lot of the PR work for them. I wrote the articles for the Rafu Shimpo, and I gave, you know, tours and what have you, and people came to the office. If Kango wasn't giving the speech there, I would be giving it. But essentially, I did a lot of the, I put out the, sort of like PR things.

MN: And Kango is Kango Kunitsugu.

JM: Kango was a tough, tough taskmaster. He was tough. I never got anything through on the first take. It was always, "Not good enough, Jim." Rewrite, write again, rewrite. Third time, okay. But that was good. I mean, I learned a lot from him. 'Cause Kango used to write for the Rafu also.

MN: I think that's, he met his wife Kats Kunitsugu through the paper, I think.

JM: Could be, yeah. So he was a writer. He was an excellent writer. He had a drinking problem.

MN: I hear that a lot.

JM: Yeah. He'd go out for lunch and come back soused. Then we'd get into it.

MN: What'd you guys argue about?

JM: This and that. You know, when you've had too many drinks, you argue about anything. I felt sorry for those other people around, like Sachi Hirotsu and all that, 'cause they were like regular folks and all that. Like me, I had a world to conquer, so to speak, and I had to get even, you know, for all the ills done to me in my time. I needed a platform to speak out on. But people like Sachi, no, they didn't know what was going on. They were like management types, and they would see me. And Kango was the same way. He was driven. He was a driven person. So we were like two oxes, or two mad bulls bashing each other. 'Cause I remember one time he told me during Christmas, when they went around to give Christmas packages. At that time he was living in Little Tokyo in a little hovel over here, and his classmates came to his house, and they were shocked when they opened, they knocked on the door and it was his house that they were giving Christmas charity to. He never forgot that, and it really scarred him. So when it came time to talking about the community and doing something, we were right on target. Him and I were like lock-step. But when it came down to how to go about it, we, he was like, "We got to have the Japanese corporations," blah, blah, blah. And I'm like, "No, they're gonna take us over, they're gonna, we're gonna be nothing but an appendage to corporate Japan." I don't know if you've ever had a chance to read my article in Roots, but that's the whole tenor of the article, that we'll wind up being nothing more than, you know, some lackey to the Japanese corporations. So we went round and round. And then when they brought in the New Otani hotel as part of the redevelopment project, all it did was verify what I felt about the thing. And I said, "I can't be a part of this thing anymore." So I wound up going over to the high potential program at UCLA.

MN: And the in turn you became involved with LTPRO, and you became one of his biggest critics.

JM: Of the CRA.

MN: Yes.

JM: Yes, I made life miserable for the CRA, 'cause every time they had their meetings, we'd go barging in. [Laughs] We found out -- 'cause we had allies within the CRA office, and they would tell, oh, they're gonna have a meeting at the Hotel Roosevelt over there on Seventh and Figueroa. And technically, it's supposed to be open to the public, but no one knows that. And so we would come storming in there, "Is this a public meeting or not?" "We want to, we want to know if there's any time open for the public (...)." "Well, yeah, I guess you can have your say," and then we would harangue them, you know. "Since when are you gonna allow a structure that's owned by the Japanese corporations, and what does that have to do with housing? What are you gonna do with all the people that you displaced?" blah, blah, blah. We just ripped into them.

<End Segment 36> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.