Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Gerald Fukui Interview
Narrator: Gerald Fukui
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda, Jim Gatewood
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: July 29, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-fgerald-01-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

JG: Okay, so this is Jim Gatewood for the Densho Project. I'm here with Gerald Fukui, and Dana Hoshide is behind the camera. Thank you very much for agreeing to be with us today.

GF: Oh, you're welcome.

JG: So I thought I would just start by asking where and when you were born.

GF: February 14, 1953, in Los Angeles, Japanese Hospital, First Street.

JG: Okay. What do you know about your family's last name?

GF: Nothing. [Laughs]

JG: [Laughs] Okay, well, that's a good thing to know.

GF: Not much, although I believe somewhere down the line our original name, I believe was Tasaka, and I think because of the... what is it, youshi. It's where you may have one family who doesn't have a son, so they get him a son and the son takes on that family name. I think somewhere down the line that occurred to us, from what I understand.

JG: Okay, and so that's how you acquired the name Fukui. What are your parents' names?

GF: Soichi and Ruth. Ruth Takako.

JG: Takako, okay. What do you know about the first Fukuis to immigrate to the United States?

GF: Very little. The first one was Soji, S-O-J-I. He immigrated, and I'm not even quite certain when, probably in the late 1800s. Probably between 1880 to 1885, settled in the Big Island of Hawaii and they lived in Honomu, and I don't believe the town of Honomu is no longer there, but it's near Hilo. And so my great-grandfather worked the pineapple fields there, or it could've been sugar cane fields, one or the other. I'm not sure which one came first. And so I've asked my aunt before, both my aunts, and my other aunt when she was alive, about some of the history and they couldn't even remember themselves. And unfortunately I passed, my dad passed away when I was twenty-seven, twenty-eight years old and I was too selfish, too worried about my own self to really find out about my history.

JG: So do you know much about the life he had before he came to Japan? I mean before he came to Hawaii, rather?

GF: No. No, he lived in Hiroshima, from what we understand it was more from along the samurai line. I'm not quite certain about that.

JG: So at a certain point, though, so Soji went to the Big Island. He worked on a plantation field. I was looking at your, the website of the Fukui Mortuary, and it just said he made the decision to leave the plantations and come to California.

GF: Yes, he left his family there, and from what I understand, and I got some of this information meeting when I do my business. I meet with people. "I knew your dad, I knew your grandfather," and they would tell me stories. And I also got some of this information from one of my dad's cousin, Sasaki, who was a teacher at Notre Dame. George? George Sasaki? I hope my relatives don't see this. I'm forgetting their names.

JG: [Laughs] It's alright.

GF: And one in Japan who's living in Japan now, and they told me -- [phone rings] oh, sorry...

JG: That's okay.

GF: -- that my great-grandfather left Hawaii, obviously to make a better for life for him, took a boat to, to San Francisco, landed in San Francisco, went from San Francisco to Seattle then came back down to L.A. And along the way he tried import/export, restaurant business, hat making -- I guess learning how to maybe make straw hats -- and also chick sexing, and somehow settled into the mortuary business. And I would imagine he settled in L.A., and as you know, majority of all the Japanese immigrants that came here settled in the Boyle Heights area, which we call our BH, our Beverly Hills, but Boyle Heights, settled there. And it was such a small community, and so when someone would pass away they would go to the local mortuary, which is our mortuary. It's the actual original mortuary, same site, same building. It's had a facelift. But they would go there and the owner, who was Caucasian, could not handle the language, the customs, so he hired my great-grandfather, and I understand he handled, he hired two others. And so somewhere down the line, I don't know if this gentleman passed away or if the three of them bought him out or what, but the three of them took over the mortuary and it became the Japanese Undertaking Company. Now who the three are, or the other, excuse me, other two are, absolutely no idea, and what happened to them, no idea.

JG: Do you know the name of the mortuary before?

GF: No.

JG: You don't, okay.

GF: No. And somewhere during that time, of course, he, my great-grandfather, called over his family, 'cause my grandfather was still in Hawaii. My grandfather was born in Hawaii.

JG: But up until this point, your great-grandfather, this was his first experience working in the mortuary business?

GF: Correct.

JG: Okay.

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