Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Yoshiko Asakura Interview
Narrator: Yoshiko Asakura
Interviewer: Martha Nakagawa
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: September 2, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-ayoshiko-01

<Begin Segment 1>

MN: Today is September 2, 2010. We are at the United Methodist Centenary, Centenary United Methodist Church. We are here Yoshiko Asakura Morohoshi and Hikaru John Morohoshi. And Dana Hoshide is on the video camera. And I will be interviewing, and my name is Martha Nakagawa.

Yoshiko, I would like to ask you about Hikaru before we start talking about your life. Why didn't Hikaru get along with his parents, especially with his mother?

YA: They separated when he was one, and the parents went back to Japan and brought three more family members later. They had three more children and got Hikaru on top of them. They probably had some financial difficulties, and I also assume that their long separation kept his mother from developing motherly affection for him. Another factor is that his grandmother was the primary caregiver for him, and that was his mother's mother-in-law. The grandmother was still taking care of him as she always had been, and that was not easily accepted by his mother. I would imagine that this in-law family situation and the financial hardship created hostile feelings toward Hikaru. After the long separation, Hikaru did not feel attached to his mother either. They did not have a close relationship. His mother was building up harsh feelings toward him and started to be hard on him, and that kept him more distanced. It escalated into physical abuse, and she ended up wanting to get rid of him, I think.

Another possibility is that she might not be his real mother. This is just a wild guess, but among all the five siblings I have met, he looks very different to me from the other ones. The other five are the average height and average build for Japanese. Hikaru is the only one who is tall, and his personality is also different from the others. He is always self-centered and "going my way," and he is not good at communication or understanding others. His siblings were probably not really fond of him. Those are the two factors I can think of.

MN: Was that pretty common back then?

YA: Yes, I heard similar stories. After I came to the States, we went to Seicho-No-Ie and shared our personal stories at our group discussions. Each member talked about his hardship in the past. We shared our experience and gave advice to each other at our monthly meetings. I went to meetings with him, and often heard similar stories there. I also read about similar situations in newspapers. Back then, Kibei Nisei were sent back to Japan to be educated as some parents wanted to raise their American-born children in Japan. Some of them came back to the States later. It was not unusual that only the parents returned to the States. I heard a lot of sad stories about parents and the children as they did not establish close relationships after long separation. I understand that his situation is not unique, and there are more stories like that.

MN: Thank you very much.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

MN: I would like to ask you about yourself now. Where were you born, Yoshiko?

YA: The place has a different name now, but I was born in Sodeshimura Village in Ihara County, Shizuoka Prefecture. It was partially a fishing village and very scenic. There was a river and a long beach. It looked like a resort area with mountains, and people lived their ordinary lives there. A lot of white collar workers lived there. Our neighborhood mainly had households of those people. There were fishermen living in another part of the village closer to the sea. There were also farmers, and we all lived in this half farming, half residential village. After the war, it became a part of Shizuoka City after a series of mergers, and it is currently named Shimizu Ward.

MN: When were you born?

YA: Well, I was born on November 29, 1930.

MN: You are the second child of six.

YA: Yes, I am.

MN: I heard you liked reading the newspaper as a child. Who influenced you?

YA: I am the second child, and my father used to take me everywhere he went. I was so-called "daddy's girl," I suppose. My father worked for a post office and sometimes stayed home during the day after a night shift. When my mother was cooking dinner -- it rains a lot in Japan, and he bought a lot of books for me. We couldn't go out to play on a rainy day. We had monthly subscriptions for children's magazines. We had them delivered to our house, and my father often read them to me.

My father always read the newspaper after work and also read books to me. It became my routine to read and check newspapers after my father. That's how I got interested in newspapers. My father read the paper, and I read it after he was done. I don't know why, but I liked checking newspapers even before I started elementary school and learned how to read. I continued to read newspapers when I was an elementary school student. I especially liked reading about current topics. I remember that his office had the union. My father was the head of the supporters for the baseball team, and I often went to the baseball field near a high school for games before I started elementary school. I spent a lot of time with my father and enjoyed a lot of things he did. After I started elementary school, I was still very interested in current topics. I clearly remember when The China Incident erupted when I was seven. We used to have newspaper extra editions. Delivery people distributed special editions wearing a happi coat and a headband, ringing a bell strapped around the waist and crying "Extra, extra!" That was when The Lugouqiao Incident happened. I still remember the Chinese characters for Lugouqiao as they were hard to read. The name was spelled in Chinese characters. They said something big happened, and I found the Chinese characters hard to read when got a copy of the extra. My father then told me that The Lugouqiao Incident triggered The China Incident. That's how I realized that a war started. I was seven years old. I became more interested in current news including the war. The attack on Pearl Harbor happened when I was at elementary school, and I was in the school yard --

MN: Before we go to Pearl Harbor, could you tell us about the education system in Japan before the war?

YA: Okay, yes.

MN: Every morning, students at school had --

YA: Yes. We had a morning assembly. We had an exercise session after that and went into the classrooms. We always prayed in front of the emperor's picture at the morning assembly. I imagine this was the case all through the county. Every school had a well-built shrine by the front gate with the emperor's picture placed inside. I cannot remember what it was called. We bowed deeply, clapped our hands in prayer and started our morning assembly. Next to the shrine was always a statue of Kinjiro Ninomiya who was known to be very studious. Every school had a Kinjiro Ninomiya statue, and we prayed in front of the statue and pledged our hard work. That was the system, and --

MN: What happened if you were late?

YA: What was that?

MN: If you were late.

YA: Oh, if you were late. Well, I don't think a lot of students were late. A few students ran to join the assembly, maybe. The rules were strict, and everyone was very punctual. I still remember that we got kicked out of the classroom to stand in the hallway as a punishment if we didn't follow the teacher's instruction. It is like what is called time-out here. I remember there was this punishment, and we had to be standing in the hallway and listening to the teacher through a window. Our school life was highly regulated, and we were expected to be polite with proper greetings and orderly schedules. I guess it was the military style.

MN: When did you recite the Imperial Rescript on Education?

YA: Well, that started when I was a fourth grader. The Imperial Rescript on Education had to be memorized. Everyone was expected to be able to recite it without help. We were graded and approved by the teachers when we memorized the entire text. If we couldn't, we had to stay behind after school over and over again until we had it memorized. Everyone was expected to recite the entire text. We recited the Imperial Rescript out loud in some mornings, not every morning, and we also had a short imperial poem called Gyosei. The poem is about pledging loyalty to Japan composed by the emperor, and we read the poem out loud before the classes. People were firmly united under the policy. Retrospectively, we were educated under a very tight militaristic system. It was strictly militaristic with a morning salute to the emperor and a pledge for working hard like Kinjiro Ninomiya. After the war started, teachers taught military songs in the music class to raise the morale of the students. The songs were devoted to soldiers who were leaving for the war and fighting a brave fight. Through the system, militarism quickly swept the entire country.

MN: When did English classes and English words start to be banned?

YA: When the war against the U.S. started, the Ministry of Education immediately sent orders to all schools. That was like the Department of Education here, and the instruction was sent by the ministry. They banned all the English classes and English words.

MN: You couldn't use English words like "baseball" then.

YA: That is right. Not at all. For example, we use a lot of English words when we talk about volleyball. Words about the rules. We had to replace all those words with Japanese ones.

MN: Did you clean your school every day?

YA: We took turns to be on cleaning duty. The leader of the group filled buckets with water, and we worked in shifts to wipe all the desks clean in the morning. After lunch, we all mopped the classroom floor and hallways. We of course swept the entire floor too. We cleaned the classrooms and bathrooms. We were all assigned to a section. We worked in shifts and cleaned the assigned area every day.

MN: Did you bring your own rag?

YA: Yes, we brought a rag from home. We recycled old clothes to make individual rags and embroidered our names. We replaced an old one with a new one. Everything was kept very clean as we all had our shoes off in the school building. It got dusty with the doors and windows open. We all picked up trash and threw them away. The blackboards were always wiped clean after each class. It was an old building but kept very tidy. Our shoes were all lined up after we took them off. We were supposed to keep them organized by arranging them. The shoes were always neatly lined up. It was also done at home. We had signs up to remind us to be tidy, and the message was thoroughly followed.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

MN: Yoshiko, when was it, where were you and what were you doing when you heard the news about the attack on Pearl Harbor?

YA: Well, I was doing laundry. I was at home, and my mother and sisters were evacuated in countryside. I was there with my elder sister, and my father was at work. My mother wasn't there, and I heard the news on the radio when I was doing laundry at home. I was so shocked and couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe what I heard on the radio. I saw the news printed in a big font in the newspaper the following morning. I read newspaper every day, and I was so shocked and cried out loud. I was heartbroken, heartbroken and sad, and --

MN: Why were you so sad?

YA: I believed we would win the war. The war against the United States. We endured and waited for the victory. We didn't have anything to eat or to wear. We didn't have anything we wanted to have. They simply weren't available anywhere. We were forced to go through hardship, and everything was tightly controlled, like food and clothes, even words we were allowed to use at school. We had a slogan to urge us to be patient until the victory comes. We couldn't do what we wanted to do and couldn't eat what we wanted to eat. We all endured, but it all ended up nothing. Nothing was rewarded. We lost the war, and everything was gone. I was just a child, but I was devastated.

MN: I was asking about before the war started, just the beginning. Pearl Harbor was --

YA: Oh, Pearl Harbor. I'm sorry. I was talking about when we lost the war.

MN: I was not talking about the imperial broadcasting when you lost the war.

YA: Right.

MN: I was asking about the news when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

YA: I was impressed by the achievement and thought that we also needed to join and do something. The media presented the nine soldiers who crashed into the battleship as the "Nine War Heroes." Their pictures were all in the newspaper. Their portraits in the paper were almost something sacred for me. I thought those soldiers were just wonderful. I was very impressed by the brave young men and thought we needed to do something too. I felt like even the newspaper article was something precious and carefully placed the paper on the table. I was so impressed. We had to follow their lead. We had to do something. I think that's what everyone thought. That's how it was back then.

MN: When did the controlled food distribution take place?

YA: Well, it was not so intense right after the Pearl Harbor. It was getting very tight after about three years into the war. I don't remember exactly when the controlled distribution started, but the control was pretty rigid. I initially wasn't aware of it though.

MN: Could you tell us how the food distribution worked?

YA: Each family was given a food distribution book, and it was just like a notebook. It had the name and the number of the family members. It had the family name, the street address and the name, and we went to a rice distributor with the book. A certain amount was assigned to each family, and that was all what we were allowed to buy. But the amount was not sufficient enough to feed the family of five, six or whatever people you had in your family. Food was distributed for a certain number of days, and we needed to stretch it over the period of time. Mothers were required to divide it into the daily amount to have it last for a week, for example. That left us with a very small amount to consume every day. We needed to do something to get extra food. We happened to have unused land by our house. It had an owner but didn't have anything planted. Everyone was drafted to fight in the war, and labor shortage left a lot of land unused and empty. My mother went to the owner, got permission to use it and planted sweet potatoes and vegetables. She supplemented our food with what she harvested in the field, but it was getting harder and harder. Rice was the main food, but it was hardly available. We mixed potatoes and beans with rice to cook. We had some rice grains among vegetable pieces. We didn't have white rice, and all we could get was so-called partially-polished, like brown rice. Retrospectively, that was health food, but the black rice was what we ate. We lived on the distributed food and potatoes and pumpkins that we harvested in the field around the house. We were not skilled farmers and didn't get beautiful crops, but that was what we did to survive.

MN: Your mother also brought a goat from somewhere.

YA: That's right. That was after the war now I think about it. I was in poor health then, and I don't know where she managed to buy a goat. [Laughs] She bought a goat somewhere in the countryside. Goats are herbivore. She went to a field and empty land to gather grass and picked weeds on the vegetable field to feed him. She milked the goat and fed me with the milk.

MN: Did military police tighten the control after the war started?

YA: Yes, I didn't see many of them in our neighborhood, but they came to schools and other public places.

MN: Did the military use classrooms at your school?

YA: Yes, we had military people at our school. It was not for a long period of time, but they had a temporary stay in a group and then left for war from there. We were crowded into a limited number of classrooms to make the others available for soldiers to use. They held exercise sessions in the school yard, went through trainings there and left for war. After one group left, another one came, went through the same training and left to fight in the war. We saw several groups coming and going. We performed a play at a farewell gathering to give blessings and send them away when they were ready to leave.

MN: What kind of food did the soldiers eat?

YA: I didn't have a chance to take a close look. We were in our classrooms, and they were in a different part of the school buildings as the facility was pretty large. I didn't see the details, but I saw them cooking rice in small pots over open fire. They didn't have a large kitchen at the school. They cooked outside camping-style and ate there. I noticed that they were eating white rice in a pot when I took a glance at it. I realized that the soldiers were adequately fed. I heard people made sure that the military had sufficient food supply. Not our village, but some farming villages sent their crops to the soldiers to keep the military food as decent as possible. I heard they delivered food to many soldiers.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

MN: When did they start to move students from classrooms to factories to work?

YA: It depends on the region, but we started about one year prior to the end of the war.

MN: 1944 to '45.

YA: Yes, yes.

MN: Did you have morning assembly at the factory?

YA: Yes. At the factory. We went to a factory instead of going to school. We brought lunch with us. They took attendance at morning assembly. The factory manager -- the factory workers came to work earlier, and we showed up at the time our school would start. We arrived around eight o'clock and had morning assembly. We had the factory manager there instead of the principal we had at school. The principal took the military style salute at school. We turned our head to the right at the command of the principal and said good morning. He also said, "Good Morning." The factory manager also took the salute. We turned our head to the right on the command to salute. We commanded, no, saluted rather, to the manager on the command. We turned our head on "Head Right," to the manager at salute, just like in the military. And we said "Good morning" after salute, and the manager wished us another productive day. Then we all went to our assigned area. The teachers were there, too. They were walking around to check on the students. And --

MN: What type of work did you do?

YA: It was not a big factory, and the main office was looking for a couple of students to help there. My friend and I happened to be picked to work at the office. We didn't do anything important like creating documents, but we were just runners. We made and served tea. We went to a post office to mail something for the office staff members and did other jobs that they asked us to do. They had typists, and they sometimes asked us to deliver documents to a manager of another department. Some little things like that. Making tea and so on.

MN: What did the other students do?

YA: They were making screws for airplanes with the factory workers, making a lot of connecting screws and packaged them, with their hands all blackened with grease. They were sharpening the screws too. Some students put screws on pipes, and others made screws. It was detailed work like that. They all had their hands totally black. It looked a bit dangerous with the iron sharpener sending sparks all over.

MN: Did you still have raw materials in Japan then?

YA: We thought we did back then. That was when we started to donate our pots and pans from homes. It was banned to privately own metal household items, gold, silver and jewelry, and they were all confiscated including pots, pans and kitchen knives. That tells us that we were running out of raw materials, doesn't it?

MN: When you were working at the factory and heard an air-raid alarm, you --

YA: Oh, yes, yes.

MN: What did you do?

YA: We stopped what we were doing when an alarm went off. We turned off our lights and our machinery. We had air-raid shelters. We had trenches that we could run into, but they were not quite big enough for everyone to go in. We didn't have big enough land. The factory manager gave us students priority because he felt responsible for the young children under his supervision. So the students were allowed to go into the shelters first. But bombs were falling everywhere. Smoke came into the shelters, and we couldn't stay in there. We were told to go out, the airplanes left and things settled down. One time, that's how it happened. Smoke was everywhere. It wasn't going away, and we were coughing with smoke coming into the shelters. They were just small trenches. We didn't have sophisticated structure with a ventilation system and so on. It was suffocating. We were forced out when the smoke came in, because it was dangerous. We were lucky if the bombers were already all gone. That is how it was. We survived. We didn't have a lot of injuries reported. It was usually a short raid. I understand other areas suffered more intense attacks. Our region was just like that. The bombers came back several times.

MN: Was it dangerous to commute to the factory from home every day?

YA: Well, there were no air-raids in the mornings. Usually it was during the day and often at nights. It was more frequent after we went home. When we had air-raids at night, we needed to run out. The lights -- after we had our air-raids alarm system established, we organized groups to help the elders living alone in the neighborhood. My father was too old to serve, and he went out and called out with a megaphone when the alarm went off. The siren went off, and he warned everyone to evacuate. We had a precautionary alarm system for nighttime, and everyone knew the drill. One siren meant precautionary warning, and we were supposed to turn off our lights. We were instructed to have air-raid evacuation packages ready including protective caps to wear. We had essential items to take with us all packed and ready to go. Bagful of food and so on. And caps to wear. We couldn't carry a lot, and that was just the minimum. We were trained to follow the procedures. Young men were all gone to the war, and elderly people were left behind. Relatively younger and fit male community members were in charge of the rest. They looked after the elderly and children. That's how it worked. We didn't have any young men left. That's why my father was walking around to warn people when an air-raid alarm went off. People sometimes forgot to turn off the lights when the siren went off. His job was to make sure that everyone was following the manual. People assume a certain role in the community. Mothers also organized a group called Women's Organization for National Security. It was a patriotic organization of mothers, and they worked with other people and conducted fire drills with buckets. We all had wooden houses, and they conducted bucket relay trainings to put out a fire. Those mothers were wearing a sash across the chest. We were always instructed to keep our buckets and bathtub filled with water. We were told not to drain water in case of fire and organized fire drills to be prepared.

MN: As you lived near a port --

YA: Yes.

MN: When an American fleet came close --

YA: Yes, that's right. That was just about one month before the war was over. Bombs, large-scale bombardment by warships were concerns. My father was working for the post office, and the building was pretty big because it was the regional headquarters. It was four stories high. It was a target because that was a large structure. Cannons were fired, and bombs went through. We suffered bombardment from the warships. It made a thundering noise. It took a bicycle or train to go to his office from our house. It was about a 30-minute bicycle trip away, but bombardment in the area created such a thundering noise it shook the entire ground. It felt like everything would crumble down. Such a blast. Window panes were vibrating, but they were all covered with paper pasted all over. Bombing took place pretty often. It looked like the window panes were about to crack. That was very powerful. We stayed in the house and didn't go out. That was at night. We were under the covers in our bed and waited until it went away. It was pitch dark. We were holding on to each other. That is how it was. After a while, the news started to come in about a fire here and a fire there. All news was about damages we suffered. More bad news followed. Newspapers also reported local damages, but they described the overall war situation as still hopeful. After a while, the Japanese forces were defeated in the Attu Island, and the entire fleet was killed there. That was one of the bad news items that came in. But the media was still reporting that we were generally winning the war and praising the dead soldiers as gods. They supported war to the very end and told us that we would win. We were told to fight for victory, and we were pushed all the way to the end. Our sleep was disturbed with air-raids every day, and people started to experience some health issues. Some people had their mental health affected, but we were all encouraged to endure. We did the best we could do, even as a child. Each day, we were aware of the possibility of being killed, even children.

MN: Did you ever consider committing suicide?

YA: No. Our situation was not as severe as it was in Okinawa. That didn't occur to me during the war. I was very positive. Everything was over when the war ended, and we were under a shock. We were just so shocked and lost our motivation to do anything. American forces were flooding in, so did bad news. Young women and children were instructed to wear pants for fear of becoming a rape victim by American soldiers. They were told not to wear skirts, and they all were wearing loose trousers. Families with young women were instructed to send the girls somewhere in the countryside for safety. I was still a young child, but my mother sent my elder sister to the countryside to live deep in a mountainous area. She sent my sister away to live with her relatives. All the young ladies in the neighborhood were sent away. We didn't have a lot of American soldiers coming in our area though. Their ships were at the port, and they went to bars in the area when they disembarked. That was a distance from our neighborhood. We heard about them but didn't actually see many American soldiers. I saw them driving through in a Jeep. They didn't step out of their car and come to us. I heard they were hanging around in the port area. We were told that the area was dangerous and we needed to be careful. On the other hand, a special comfort zone was created there with professional women to entertain the soldiers and to protect the general population. Do you know what I am talking about? They were comforting the soldiers and keeping them around the port. Professional women were there. Some were orphans who lost their parents and siblings, and they volunteered to be there to make money. They didn't have a lot of hopes for their lives, and I suppose some of them became professional women to make money off those white guys, Americans. The entertaining business expanded into ports and military bases. It was just like Okinawa. We also had illegal markets set up in town. The food distribution system was still enforced. People created different distribution systems and established illegal markets to buy things. They were quite developed, and things were just so chaotic.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

MN: You mentioned that you were heartbroken and cried when the war ended. Did you listen to the imperial broadcast announcing the surrender?

YA: Yes. Not the entire announcement. I was listening to news, and they aired a part of it and a commentator was on after that. They talked about what happened and where. The news was repeated over and over, and I heard it again later.

MN: You mentioned that you were glad that the war was over. Why did you feel that way?

YA: We were all enduing hardship for a long time. Even as a child, I was aware that the military was in full control over us. The soldiers I encountered at school were all very nice, and I didn't have a chance to meet with a lot of military officers. But through newspapers and news from other sources gave me an impression that men were always in charge. I was constantly told to be quiet because I am a woman. I might be naturally a bit too outspoken, but I was always told to be quiet. I thought the end of the war would bring equality between men and women. I thought it was great. Democracy was introduced right away by MacArthur's order, and the entire education system in Japan was disassembled. It was down to nothing, and restarted from the bottom to help the democracy penetrated into the society. Media supported the effort and reported that was the better way. I didn't particularly think that the American way was wonderful, but I welcomed the idea of equality between men and women.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

MN: You went to Catholic church after the war. What convinced you to become a Christian?

YA: We went to a Bible class and immediately recruited. They told me that they believe in the equality of all. The biggest attraction for me was my very capable friend who asked me to join the group. She was a wonderful person. She was very warm, extremely modest and highly educated. I personally respected her. She was very devoted and asked me to go to church with her over and over, and I did one day. We were a bit late for a meeting. It was in the evening, and the church looked extremely romantic, partially because we were feeling so tired and hopeless after the war. She was waiting for me, knocked the door and let me in the church building. I met a French man with a big beard. I saw "Rikuchi Rudorai" written in katakana on the nameplate on the doorframe. It was a very unfamiliar name to me. The church building had stained glass, and plants around it were shimmering with evening dew. The stained glass was just beautiful. My friend knocked on the door and let me in. An old man with a big white beard answered the door. That was the Rudorai. He spoke beautiful Japanese and offered a warm welcome to us. He let us in, and my friend introduced me to him, and he welcomed me and talked to me so gently. I don't remember what we talked about. I was just so impressed by everything right away. I started to go to church every week with her. I joined the Bible study group. We discussed the idea of equality of all mankind. That was what I was looking for, and I was thrilled to realize I was right about the equality of men and women. My father was always the boss in our family, and my mother was having a hard time. She was having some health issues and yet was working very hard to meet the demands. My father was pretty bossy, just like any other guy back then. He was softer compared to other fathers but still always ordered us around. I was so happy to be told that we were all equal and getting more involved in the Bible study group. I made a lot of friends, shared our stories about our harsh experience during the war and got to know each other.

I had graduated from my school of nursing by then. We discussed our workplace situation with other members who were working for banks, schools and other places. We realized that all workplaces had their own issues and we needed to work on them with positive attitude. We were all so shocked right after the war ended, but we were beginning to feel energized again and getting ready to start anew. It was a great feeling. That's why I became a Christian and joined the group. I continued to go to church, and new groups were formed. I started to go to meetings every day after work. [Laughs] I was always busy at work and didn't have time to go home. Commuting took a lot of time, so I finally bought a bicycle with all the savings I had and went back and force by bicycle. That made the trip to church possible every Sunday. I was getting more involved, and we started a youth group. Men and women had separate groups. The church launched the "social life policy" for young people, so-called, the Catholicism established against the Communism. We were churchgoers but also learned about the Communism, as the opposite policy from ours. Some youth group members studied about it. Communism gained large popularity after the war, and that was against the Catholic policies. Catholic churches established social codes based on their dogma and their own labor policy for young people all over world. It was ordered by the Vatican in Rome, by Pope Pius XII. We were given a thick book to study and went to a study group every week. We started to apply the knowledge to the actual workplace, and the labor movement developed. We expanded our membership, and the group activities started to include member support with workplace problems. We studied about labor movements described in the book. The members established their own groups in the workplace. We were running various programs to support those groups to promote happiness for all, not sadness brought by war, rather than promoting the Catholic belief. The church head office offered a variety of programs and trainings, and we recruited new members and promoted the programs. We held monthly meetings to report on the work situation. People shared their stories about things like poor working conditions and received advice on the issues. Instructors for the youth group and the priest offered solutions based on the policies described in the book. I joined the group called JOC (Jounesse Ouvriere Chretienne / Young Christian Workers), and they established youth groups throughout the country. Retrospectively it was quite dogmatic, but the idea easily spread in the workplaces.

We had the union in our workplace, and I started to voice my opinions at the meetings. I studied the labor policies and expressed my thoughts on some issues. Some people thought I was too outspoken, but a lot of people supported me and joined the union. I was elected to be an officer of the union at the annual election. I had to accept it. I was recommended and voted into the office, and I had to accept it. I was going to church and also engaged in a variety of activities back then. I was taking tea ceremony and flower arrangement classes, not to be a good candidate for a wife, but just to enjoy them. I had a tea ceremony class on Sundays, and I was doing that for a long time. I was also certified as a flower arrangement instructor. I enjoyed all sorts of activities and had a lot of hobbies. I was elected as an officer of the union, and I had to give them all up. I started to wave a red flag instead of a small tea ceremony handkerchief.

I was running all over the place for the union after work and on my days off, seven days a week. We had a shortage of workers because there were not enough nurses. We were making constant demands for more nurses and for overtime pay. I was working for the surgical department, and I worked 100 hours overtime a month. That was intense labor. I once worked for 36 hours straight. I had cat naps and short breaks to eat, and worked for 36 hours. The nurse shortage was a big issue, and we developed a movement for more workers and so on. We stepped out of our Shizuoka Red Cross Hospital and had meetings with other unions too. We united with other unions for the prefecture office and the municipal office employees, and organized demonstrations. That was also when the anti Security Treaty movement started, and we joined the political movement too. I was extremely busy with all sorts of strikes taking place all over. I was a representative for our union and was supposed to participate to show our support of other groups. We lived in the dorm, and the curfew was ten o'clock. I worked for the union until then after work. I went to strikes in different places after work and also participated in our own strike. Ours was for a limited time and only four hours long. I went to many different places and national meetings. I was so busy and constantly running around. I always said I would need 25 hours a day. Other people had time to watch TV in their dorm room, but there was no way that I could do that. I also had to get up early in the morning and travel. I had my alarm clock set. The dorm didn't open until eight in the morning, but I asked the manager lady and got on a train. I went to Tokyo, went east, went north and went everywhere. I worked very hard and sometimes a bit discouraged to see other people enjoy knitting and other hobbies in their room. I sometimes wondered why I was the only one who had to work so hard. But I couldn't give it up. I was just running around to show the support of this strike and that group. I enjoyed many different activities at the same time. I went skiing when I had a bit of free time. I was constantly moving, 360 hours.

Our union activities slowed down as our demands were gradually met and some achievements were made. We presented policies and introduced a variety of new programs, but the members were not as enthusiastic in their response. There was a lot more to do, and we started to be involved with issues outside our own workplace. We had the situation with Polaris missile submarine right before I came to the States. [Ed. Note: In 1963, the U.S. Ambassador to Japan Reischauer contacted the Administer of Foreign Affair Ohira for the views of the Government of Japan on the refurbishing visits of so-called "Nautilus" type submarines (SSN's), not submarines of Polaris type.] We actually have some current issues with this too. [Laughs] People were always suspicious that they made secret agreements. [Ed. Note: Possibly referring to the theory of secret agreement make between the U.S. and Japanese government to allow nuclear weapon visiting Japanese ports in case of emergency when The Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security was signed in 1960.] That was indeed a secret agreement. We already found out about it back then. We knew that there was a secret agreement made in 1965. There was a demonstration planned to voice our opposition against the docking of the Polaris submarine at the Yokohama, Yokosuka Naval Base, I wrote slogans with a brush on a sash to wear. That was my last union work.

MN: You were engaged in labor and political movements, but your parents and siblings were hoping that you would get married as you are a woman.

YA: Of course. Yes, yes.

MN: You got married to make your parents happy.

YA: Well, there were a lot of women my age living in the dorm. People were telling me to get married, but I didn't really pay attention. A lot of my colleagues were in the same situation. We were busy at work, active in the union and just busy. I had several formal blind dates for arranged marriage when someone offered to arrange matchmaking. Just to take a look if you will, simply because the matchmaker spent some time to arrange a meeting for me. I didn't really feel like getting married though. I didn't miss out on anything by getting married and quitting my job. I didn't think I could do both. That is my personality. I am always focused, and I like to work very hard. I wanted to focus on my marriage if I got married. I didn't think it would work out to have a family and a job, especially in those days.

That motivated me to work hard through the union to have a daycare center established in the workplace for people to keep working after marriage. The slogan was "Daycare centers as many as mailboxes." We were making a big effort and negotiated with the hospital and other organizations. We presented a report to show them how many workers they could retain by providing a better workplace. They could have more workers and could offer better care for the patients. Worker shortage didn't offer great patience care. A daycare center would help the hospital to retain the workers, and that would provide better patient service. Worker shortage results in poor patient care. A daycare center would retain workers, and we could offer better patient care and practice better medicine. We worked very hard for that, but we didn't have enough space for it. It also was not easy to hire so many daycare workers. The biggest obstacle was the space. The facility just wasn't big enough. Japan is such a small country. It was a big hospital, but it was pretty crowded. I came over to the States in the middle of the negotiation. It took them thirteen years to have a daycare center built for them. A letter came to me all the way to let me know. All the way to the States. That gave me such relief. I was about to forget about it. I was busy over here after I came over. It might sound exaggerated, but I felt like I have been always working for other people. That's how I felt.

MN: Thank you very much for sharing your stories.

YA: Not really good ones though. [Laughs]

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

MN: Do you have anything else you would like to talk about? Maybe more about the war or the union?

YA: Well, the right of women to vote granted after the war was something that comes to my mind. I was very encouraged. I always went to listen to speakers talking about coming elections and candidates making a speech on the street. I was involved with both church and union activities. The union position was getting more demanding, and that kept me away from the church. I was getting engaged in the labor movements for the nurses at the hospital. A few members of the House of Councilors supported us, and that's how I met Councilor Michiko Fujiwara. Some female Diet members with the Social Democratic Party Japan were having negotiation meetings with the Minister of Health Labor and Welfare. The Liberal-Democratic Party didn't even pay the slightest attention to our issues back then. She asked me if I wanted to sit at those committee meetings. I went all the way to the Diet Building to observe a meeting with another member of the union. We went to a meeting with the Social Labor Relations Commission. That was the first time I was in the Diet Building. We didn't have a place to stay. Mr. Michiko Fujiwara had accommodations arranged for us and offered us to stay in the building. They had rooms for the members of the Diet in the building. Each member had a small room. The building looked so big and gorgeous from outside, but the rooms had bare wooden floors with tatami mats and a small charcoal burning heater. It was very bare back then. I was expecting something more sophisticated for the members in the Diet Building, but they had this small charcoal burning container. That's what they had for heating. I was surprised. They let us use the room to sleep on the tatami mats. Next day, we went to the cafeteria for the Diet members. I saw meal samples there and found out they were serving just regular meals like pork cutlets and rice bowls we would see at a cheap restaurant. It looked glamorous from outside, and it probably depends who you are talking about, but that how it was with the member's room for the Social Democratic Party Japan. I supposed no matter which party you belong to, either it was the Social Democratic Party, something else or Liberal-Democratic Party, they probably had a similar room. Tatami mats and a portable charcoal heater. Small charcoal burning heater. [laughs] I was rather shocked.

It was back in 1965. I went to the Diet, someone was trying to arrange marriage for me, and Ms. Michiko Fujiwara asked me to be her secretary. She offered the same level of salary the hospital was paying me, and asked me to work for her because she needed a secretary for the upcoming election. She offered me the position, and I had a matchmaker working on arranged marriage for me. At the same time, I was working for the Red Cross Hospital. The nurses there were offered a responsible position after working for about ten years, and smaller hospitals often offered us a teaching position at their school of nursing. I happened to get an offer from a hospital in Kamakura. I was interested in the position. Ms. Yamazaki, no, Ms. Michiko Fujiwara, she was Mrs. Yamazaki and then Ms. Fujiwara after she got divorced. Ms. Fujiwara offered me a position, and marriage to Morohoshi was being arranged. I had those three options to choose from, and I had my parents worried about me. They were getting old, and I felt obligated to make them happy. I thought that I would be a good idea to listen to them this time. My sisters were giving me a hard time and telling me to follow the parents' advice. Having an old maid sister didn't help my brother find a nice bride. [laughs] Marriage was between two families back then, and an old maid in the family wasn't welcome. My brother was also to take care of the parents, and that added another undesirable situation as a future husband. I felt like I needed to get married, and I made my decision. I felt bad to my future husband about my motivation.

I also felt sympathetic toward Morohoshi. I felt sorry for him. I heard about his life during the war and hardship he had been through. I heard about his troubled relationship with his parents too. I wrote to him. I told him that I would marry him if the rest of my life could make his life happier. It was not quite a love note, but that how I replied to him. I realized things were not that easy when I actually came over to the States. I was just too busy when I made the decision. I wanted to take a vacation. I couldn't help assuming many responsibilities when I was there. I had to do this and do that, it was ridiculous. Responsibilities just came to me. I thought I could take a vacation in a faraway country where I was not familiar with the customs, didn't speak English, didn't know anything and just hanging around like a fool. I felt guilty for my future husband, but that's how I ended up coming to the States. [Laughs]

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

MN: People around you thought you betrayed them when they found out you had a formal blind date with an American.

YA: That is right. I had met with my husband and decided to marry him. I tried to break the engagement once, but I ended up not. The one who finalized the marriage -- my husband signed up with a matchmaking agency. I didn't know that, but the director of the agency was my father's friend. I met my husband through my father's personal network. This is what I heard later on. The matchmaking manger was enthusiastic about getting things done quickly. He told me to apply for a visa immediately. We went out on a date several times. He urged me. "Get a visa, get a visa." My husband was staying in Japan for over two years at that point, and he needed to return to the States. "Hurry up. Get things done quickly." I was sort of pushed forward and went to the American Embassy and signed the documents. That didn't give me the sense that I got married at all though. I just signed a piece of paper. [Laughs] It was some sort of declaration, but I didn't feel that I was really married.

I went home and got flooded with phone calls from newspaper reporters at work. Shizuoka was still pretty rural back then, and the matchmaking director talked to a newspaper reporter to be on the local section. That was his business, and he probably wanted to take the opportunity to publicize the successful arrangement for his Shizuoka office. He wanted to take advantage of the situation to promote his business because that was the first marriage arranged for a foreigner. The local newspaper wrote about it. The article was in the paper, and reporters were calling me at work. I was busy at work. They asked for Ms. Asakura, and said, "I heard that you are engaged to an American," when I answer the phone. I said, "That is something private," and hung up. That happened many times. Even my sister called. I was in the local section. I was working for the Japan Red Cross (Nisseki) Hospital, and the newspaper article mentioned "Ms. Y working for N Hospital." The article said I was engaged with an American, Nisei, Kibei Nisei. "She will probably work in the States because she is a nurse." I didn't say anything, but I was in the newspaper. My sister told me. Her friend told her about it and asked her, "It is your sister, isn't it?" My sister called me to let me know. I picked up the paper I subscribed and checked to find out what they said. I was in the local section. I was so surprised. I didn't mention the article to anyone. I didn't want to. When I went back to my hospital, everyone who passed by at the hallway -- I had been busy waving a red flag, and no one expected me to get married. They all counted on me to work hard for them. This was totally unexpected, and they asked me, "Are you getting married?" like it was a wrong thing to do. Every single person I bumped into said, "Congratulations, congratulations," and I was getting dizzy. Everyone said something to me when I was walking in the hallway. A doctor came to me and jokingly said, "What is this? There are no decent guys in Japan?" That was such an ordeal. I was overwhelmed. I had a lot of paid holidays left. We went on dates, but I at one point decided that it wouldn't work out. [laughs] That was what I went through. I had a nervous breakdown, took some time off and stayed at the dorm. I didn't have any appetite and looked like a zombie. I then made up my mind to go forward. I refreshed my mind and decided not to just let the time go wasted. I was at the point where I needed to do what I needed to do. I was in the newspaper, submitted my resignation and simply couldn't back out. The only way to go was forward. My mother didn't say much but told me to give it a try. She told me to hang in there for at least three years. She said she didn't care what I would do after staying put for three years there. That's how I hopped on a ship and came over. [Laughs] Oh, not a ship but a plane.

I went to Shizuoka Station on July 4th and found out there were a lot of people hanging around there. I looked around wondering what was going on. I left my job on April 30th, and that was July 4th. I was occupied with all kinds of preparations to come to the States after I left the position at the hospital and didn't have time to see anyone. I didn't go visit the hospital either because I wasn't working there anymore. I realized that everyone at the station I saw that day was from the hospital. I asked, "What is going on?" and some people just said, "Not much." I stepped into the train. I looked out the window and waved goodbye, and everyone shouted at the same time, "You are going in the wrong direction." Everyone there, about fifty young people from the massage department and the x-ray department at the hospital. Administrative workers and nurses. Everyone was a union member. They were all lined up on the platform and shouted in loud voices, "You are going in the wrong direction!" They knew I was quite anti-America back then. I was criticizing the States for the atomic bombs, and I wrote various articles about it. I was saying, "Go home, Imperial America," and "Yankee, go home," for a long time. [Laughs] I was really against America. I was on my way to the country, and everyone was angry at me. That's why they told me that I was going in the wrong direction at the station. I asked why so many people came to the station later on. I visited the hospital to let them know when I was leaving and said goodbye. I sent a thank you note too. The administrative manager saw it and made an announcement in the hospital newsletter called "Inpou." He announced that Yoshiko Asakura was leaving Shizuoka Station at such time on such day for the Haneda Airport. That's how they found it out. It was Sunday, and they all came. They probably wanted to wish me well, but maybe at the same time, they wanted to tell me that I was betraying them at the same time. They all were there, and that was on my mind for a long time. "You are going in a wrong direction."

I was receiving newsletters from the union for about one year after I quit. I no longer had anything to do with them. I was working for the union and suddenly resigned. I found my replacement to take over the secretary position. They were sort of blaming me for quitting and telling me that it would be hard to find a replacement. I told them that I had made up my mind to leave and to make my parents happy. I made sure the transition would be smooth and asked my personal friend to take over the secretary position. She was married with children, and it was hard for her to assume the responsibility. She was saying to me that she did it for me but it was hard for her children. I knew she would step forward for me, and she accepted the position as a favor for me. After I came over here, she jokingly told me that she was so busy with the position that she didn't even have time to take care of her own children when they were sick. I was carrying guilty feelings for a long time with those things in the past. But I told myself that I did the best I could and deserved to do what I wanted to do. Maybe not exactly what I wanted to do, but that was my fate and I had to do it.

My school of nursing had a closing ceremony the other day on their 70th anniversary. The schools in Nagoya, Shizuoka and Aichi prefecture merged into an international school of nursing and moved to a different location. They asked me to write for some collections of stories and organization magazines for the closing ceremony, but I declined the request. They sent me an invitation to the closing ceremony, and I went there back in 2006. I went to the ceremony. I was called upon without notice right there in the middle of the ceremony. I wasn't listed in the program. I was introduced as someone from the States and asked to say a few words. That was a Red Cross Hospital function, and governors and other dignitaries were in attendance. There were a lot of people attending the closing ceremony. I was called upon there, and I didn't have a choice. I had to say something. I was so nervous. [Laughs] I talked about my work at the Japanese school here. I don't speak very good English, and this is how I contribute. I wish you all good luck. That's about what I said. [Laughs] I am happy about my choice to become a nurse. I encouraged everyone to be proud of their job too. I worked for Asahi Gakuen and helped at a school nurse office for five years. I am still trying to utilize my skills as a nurse and to contribute to the society. It is a wonderful profession. I wished everyone good luck. That was my message I gave there. That was in 2006. I have been continuously trying to work to help other people. I am getting to be eighty now. [Laughs] Time flew by. I have been always busy. I'm afraid I didn't spend enough time for my own family. I feel guilty for my children. I was always struggling for achievements. That's what I see when I look back upon my life.

MN: Thank you very much.

YA: Not at all. I haven't done much.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.