Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Roy M. Hirabayashi Interview
Narrator: Roy M. Hirabayashi
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda, Tom Izu
Location: San Jose, California
Date: January 27, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-hroy-01

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: Okay, so today's January 27, 2011. We're in San Jose at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose. Helping on the interview is Tom Izu, on camera is Dana Hoshide, and I'm Tom Ikeda. And we're here with Roy Hirabayashi, so Roy, I'm just gonna just start at the beginning for you. Can you just tell me where and when you were born?

RH: I was born January 1, 1951. I was born in Berkeley, California, grew up in Oakland, though, but Berkeley was, I guess our family doctor, that's the main hospital he was affiliated with.

TI: Okay, and what was the name given to you at birth?

RH: It was Roy Mitsuru Hirabayashi.

TI: You were born on January 1st, so was that, was there anything special about that, I mean, the fact that you were born on January 1st in terms of the family or your birth? Any stories about that?

RH: You know, everyone always asks me, were you the first one? But no, I was born in the morning, but not really early, so I don't recall, I don't know any really significant story from my mother that she said, other than the fact that they were preparing for New Year's, the traditional New Year's dinner, and then she had to leave to give birth instead, so it kind of ruined the dinner for the family on that particular day, unfortunately. But no other significant stories that I know of.

TI: How about growing up, in terms of your birthday, having your birthday on January 1st, any, was that a good thing, a bad thing? What was that like to have your birthday on January 1st?

RH: I guess people always say if you're on a major holiday like Christmas or New Year's, well for New Year's, for our family New Year's was always a special day where the family, most of our family would always come together to celebrate or to have the New Year's dinner and, and food. And so, and for my mother and father, that was also kind of important for us to be doing that, so it was, my birthday always seemed to be kind of lost because it was more significant that we were doing New Year's dinner and there was a lot of preparation of food and different, you had to eat your ozoni, had to eat your osoba the night before, all the kind of traditional foods that you, you made sure that we wanted, that we were supposed to eat and have. And so for me, my birthday was not special in that I always got to have a party because, it wasn't just for me, but it was more of a New Year's gathering and the family was always there. It wasn't, I never really had a birthday party, like other kids may say where, you know, invited a lot of neighborhood kids over, because that never really happened for, for me because there was always enough people just within the family itself. Our family, with all the nieces and nephews and everything, grew to maybe over sixty, seventy people would come together at one particular house for New Year's and it was always very special for us.

TI: And, and yeah, because in the same way, our family, New Year's Day is a bigger celebration than, say, a Christmas or even a Thanksgiving in terms of all the family, almost extended family coming together, so in the same way, we had fifty, sixty, seventy people, and it's all around New Year's.

RH: Right.

TI: So I was thinking about that, so yeah, it's almost like your birthday got lost every year, and so how did you feel about that? Was that something you, you always kind of thought about, "Hmm, people really aren't celebrating my birthday like other people," or did it bother you?

RH: It, no, it didn't bother me because, I guess, especially my mother really emphasized that New Year's was important and that there were certain things we had to do, and like I mentioned, preparation of the different foods, and she was always very particular that we ate the different things or knew what that was, why we had to do, even though we may not really enjoyed it, especially when we were younger. But it was, made it a special point that we would participate in doing that. And then as we were growing up, since was a major activity, all the preparation of everything, we all got involved in helping her doing that, and so I enjoyed just learning how to do some of the basic, even cooking, in a way what it took to kind of put some things together. And not that I'm a really great Japanese cook or anything, but at least I have a basic understanding of what the preparation and what, what's required and how much time it takes and how tedious some of that work really is, as far as even just cutting the vegetables a certain way and, and preparing all the foods and events and how long it took her really to do the different things when people just, mainly just sit down and just eat and you're not thinking about what it took to go into just making that one particular dish, whether it's the mame beans or the fish or whatever it is. So I came to enjoy or appreciate the fact that all of these traditions or customs were really part of what our family was about and it was all important for us to understand that and try to carry that tradition forward, basically.

TI: And so to this day, is that still how you celebrate New Year's Day?

RH: Our family always tried to do that. My mom, she just, her birthday is right after mine, it's on January 6th, and so she just turned eighty-nine and so, and she's always, like I mentioned, always been really adamant about having the family come together, but she was always very adamant about wanting to cook all the food and everything, but as she grew a little bit older and, although she wanted to do all these things, it was really hard for her, so we decided just for her sake that we would scale back, basically. And what we tried doing for quite a while, a number of years, is that among our cousins and my siblings, we would kind of rotate where the dinner would happen every year, so it was kind of nice. We were doing that, but as the family started getting larger and larger, my cousins had kids and they started having kids and they were all leaving and going off different areas, so it was getting harder and harder to get the family together, so past couple of years, unfortunately, we've really kind of downsized with that. We've had to just keep it a little bit more contained.

TI: A little bit more contained, but still trying to do all the traditional foods, or maybe scale down a little bit, but still traditional?

RH: Still trying to be a little bit traditional, but it's much more smaller. It's just more the immediate family that's coming together now.

TI: And so for your family, this is kind of interesting, where do you see it going in the future? So as the, the Nisei generation disappears, what do you, what do you think will happen to your, this family tradition?

RH: It's hard to say. I mean, that's one thing we were really trying to make sure it got passed on, and that's one reason why we started to rotate our New Year's dinner. It's not only that we all took responsibility for that and my mom and aunts and uncles who were also involved in helping to put this thing together, that they didn't have to take the burden of doing that every year, and also the cooking factor, and so it became more of a potluck rather than one family having to do all the major cooking. Everyone was assigned different things to learn how to do or bring to dinner. And so we were trying to encourage everyone to really understand and learn more about that, but it was different for the younger generation, I feel. Basically, my nieces, or even younger, they would be wanting or able to do that, be involved, and so, and as I mentioned, as they were starting to move away, too, it was even more difficult to bring the family back together and have them be part of that process of cooking and doing everything like that. Just getting them here, because now they're living Hawaii, New York, Midwest, or wherever now, it's not just the Bay Area, as we were growing up. In my family I have two older brothers and two younger sisters, so, and one sister is in Honolulu right now and the rest of my brothers and sisters, other sister, they're in the Bay Area, so we're still kind of close in that way, but even just getting my sister from Honolulu to get out here is kind of a difficult task to coordinate schedules for everybody.

TI: I'm curious, in terms of other times of the year, will the extended family get together on a regular basis? Is there another, like, function like New Year's when the whole family gets together?

RH: The holiday, the Christmas, New Year's period has been probably the most dominant time that we always try to come together, unless unfortunately there's like a funeral or a death in the family that, or a wedding, which is a happy event, that brings everyone together. So it's, it's more difficult to get everyone together now, otherwise. There's, whenever, because all the other siblings are mostly in the Bay area, whenever my sister in Honolulu is able to come out this way for another reason that, something else may happen during the year.

TI: It's interesting because, yeah, in our family it seems New Year's is the one time of year where we plan on getting together, so I was just curious for other Japanese American Sanseis how that plays out. So that's probably something I'm interested as we go on, just in terms of how certain traditions will unfold as the generations go on.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: So you're born January 1, 1951, so that makes you sixty years old this, this month.

RH: Yes.

TI: So anything special that you did as a sixty year old, for your birthday?

RH: Nothing special, yet. In, I guess traditionally a kaneki, you're supposed to have a party and traditionally you have this party before you actually turn sixty, and you're supposed to, the person that's having the birthday is supposed to throw this party for your friends and family, and because we were kind of busy at the time it didn't quite happen that way, but there are friends, or people who want to have this party for me still, or for me to have this party. [Laughs] And so it's actually happening a little bit later, actually, in March we're having a gathering, so that, that event is still to come. But I've been looking at the year sixty as a really significant year for myself in other ways, though, and so it's not so much retirement, but because the significance of turning sixty and what that means in a Japanese custom where they say you've gone through five cycles of your life, lunar cycles, and then at this point supposedly you turn back to your childhood, but at the same time you have this wealth of knowledge of the past sixty years, so it's not like you're becoming a baby and just not able to do anything, but you're, it's a time for you to kind of rebirth and start again and, but with new knowledge or more knowledge behind you. And so with that in mind, I've really kind of targeted this year as, as a significant turning point for my life. The main thing that's happening this year for me is that I've been the director for San Jose Taiko since the beginning and so I'm stepping down from my title in July to turn over the organization to the next generation of leaders, basically, and so that's my, that's been my goal the past several years, to try to get to that point for this year to happen.

TI: And so were you always pointing to sixty as the year, I mean for, I mean, not always, but maybe the last couple years you thought sixty was gonna a significant milestone for you to do this?

RH: Yes, yes. We kind of, PJ, my wife and I are, she turned sixty last year and so we were just kind of targeting around this time that we were gonna try to do this, so we kind of picked that. This is our, we're going into our thirty-eighth year with the organization. Some people said, "Why didn't you stop at forty or fifty, whatever?" But sixty year, the birthday sixty was more significant for me, that seemed a good time for both of us to kind of move on and kind of start, not so much leave the organization, but it's our opportunity to do more in different ways and other kind of projects, and for me it's to also get back a little bit more into artistic side because I've had to step away from that and been more on administrative side the past several years, but I still have a strong interest in the music side, too.

TI: So what do you see yourself transitioning into, like on a more day-to-day basis? Do you, what, what do you see this change, how's it look?

RH: Well, I'm hoping to do more organizational management work with other organizations and different kinds of activities in that way. There's some artistic projects we're trying to develop, also, whether it's on my own or with PJ or with some other artists that, we've been talking with people trying to see if we could develop something. There's some friends who, who we've known for a long time within the taiko field that are about to, we're all about the same age, so we've been thinking, you know, taiko's gone a long way since we got involved and we see a lot of younger folks really energetic and doing a lot of things, but how can we, a little bit more on the senior side of things, do, still do it, but have our own style or own way and also collectively present some new, new stuff that we want to do still? And so it may be, maybe not quite as energetic as what the younger folks are doing now, but still, musically, we hope it's still very strong. [Laughs] And that's what we want to be doing.

TI: Fascinating. Okay, that, that's really interesting. So, so that is actually a good, maybe, segue into, people are trying to think, so who is this man and what has he done?

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: So let's go, even before we go to your life, let's talk about your, your family history, and why don't we start with your father's family and why don't we start to the point, if you can remember, when your father's family first came to the United States, so probably your grandparents, can you share, like, where they came from in Japan and who they were?

RH: Okay. Both my families, mother and father's families, came from the Hiroshima area and they were both from farming families basically, and they came over to the United States, my grandparents came over here in the, I believe it's, it was about, almost about the same time, I believe, and I don't have the exact years, but it was somewhere around in the nineteen, early 1920s that they came here to the United States. It was probably, actually, even between, say, 1918 and 1920 or so that they arrived, and they were, my mother's side was, they came to the Oakland area, so they were, I know my grandfather had gotten into produce work and he was working in Oakland at that time and eventually got work, started working in a store to sell, a grocery store type of thing. My father's father and mother, they were more into farming and so they were in the Bay Area, then they actually had to, were moving around quite a bit, so they were in Salinas, they were in Watsonville, and doing a lot of the truck farming type of work, strawberries and other vegetables and all that kind of farming, but they, they would come back to the Oakland area, too, at different times, so they moved around a lot more than my mother's parents did. Both of 'em, I guess most of, I guess, my mother's family except for one, the youngest son, I guess, in her family was born here in the United States, and just about, I think, from my understanding, out of this, her siblings, it was just only one that did not go back to Japan for schooling and the rest were all sent back for whatever reason, and it was the oldest daughter that stayed here and all the other kids were sent back.

TI: Okay, so your mother was educated, had educated, was educated in Japan also?

RH: Right, so she was born here and then sent back, and so from elementary school to high school she was in school at Hiroshima. And my father also, he's Kibei also. He was actually born here, but he was also sent back from elementary school on. My father's parents, both of 'em, they, most of my grandparents had decided just to move back to Japan because they just didn't see, they couldn't figure out a great way to make a living here and they thought they would probably do better by going back home, so they returned.

TI: So there's quite a few similarities then, between your mother's side and father's family in terms of the grandparents both going back to Japan. Is that...

RH: Right. Right. My mother's parents, once they went back they pretty much stayed there. They never came back over here after they went back to Japan. My father's parents, though, they did, they were, like I mentioned, they were much more, they moved around quite a bit, so they did come back now and then to do different things here and then went back to Japan, so they were in and out more so than my mother's family was. But my father came back first, I guess, after high school, and then, I believe that was in the mid '30s or so, he came back, and then my mother came back, I think it was, she came back, it was about 1939, I believe, or so.

TI: Let's, let's talk a little bit more about just your father right now. So he comes back from Japan after, what, going through high school in Japan, and so what does he do when he comes back, I guess, to the Bay Area? What, what does he do?

RH: He, he, the stories I hear from when he came back, he was just out of high school, very young, so he came back over here and basically really couldn't find much work being that young and not speaking English very well, so he actually was involved more in the household servant type of work, so he was taken in by a family, I believe initially in Palo Alto area, where he was living, so he was just living there and doing whatever work was necessary to help support that particular family. And then he started to do some other kind of, more labor type of work. It was gardening and also some farming type of work that my grandparents had also done. He became, he was basically a blue collar laborer through the, his whole life. He was basically a gardener, but also he worked with Bethlehem Steel, which was based in Alameda, but that job didn't happen 'til after he came back from the camp in the late '40s.

TI: And what was your father's name?

RH: Yoshitomo.

TI: And how many siblings, or what siblings did he have?

RH: Just one brother.

TI: Okay. And, and so this was, he came back in the '30s and was doing this, and then let's talk about the war years. What happened to him when the, when the war broke out?

RH: They're living in the East Bay area, so they, and so when the war broke out they were sent to Topaz at the, at that time. So they had just gotten married and they were just living there. There was, they didn't have any kids at that time. My two oldest brothers were born in Topaz.

TI: Okay, so he had married your mother before the war?

RH: Right. And it was an arranged marriage, so my mom had come back from Japan specifically to get married to my father because it was arranged.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: Okay, so let's, let me jump to your mother then. So she came back, you said mid '30s, was that to marry your father? Was that part of, was the arrangement made while she was in Japan, or did she come --

RH: Yes.

TI: Okay. So who, who did the arrangement? Do you know who the...

RH: Actually, it was my, I believe it was my uncle, my mother's oldest sister's husband, so my, yeah. He, he kind of arranged it by, through people he knew.

TI: Now, was there any family connection between your mother's family and your father's family that you're aware of?

RH: Not that I know, no. Even though they're from the Hiroshima area, no.

TI: And your mother's name?

RH: Shizuze.

TI: And siblings for her?

RH: She has one, let's see, she's, there's three sisters and there're two younger brothers, and so, so there's two older sisters and, yeah, two younger brothers. Right now the, actually youngest brother passed away. He was the one that was born in Japan and never came over here.

TI: Okay. So it sounds like, what, mid '30s they got married, or mid to late '30s, your mother and father got married?

RH: Right.

TI: And then when the war broke out they go to Topaz, so they go together as two and then you mentioned your two brothers were born at Topaz?

RH: Yes.

TI: Okay. Any stories that you, that they, that you recall about Topaz and, and raising two boys?

RH: Well, just that it was very hard for them. And they wouldn't talk about it much and so, about the camp experience and what it meant, and it was, and just growing up I never really realized what was, what that was all about. And actually, my brothers who were born there, since they were very young, they, they don't recall very much about that whole experience either. My oldest brother, Steve, he was born, I think it was in '43 or so, and so it was right during the camp and my other brother, Sam, it was just before they left the camps, so it was, I think, in '45 or so. And so they have very little recollection of what it was like to be in there, but my parents, there were little things that would kind of pop up as, as I was growing up that I would see, just wonder, what is that, or where did that come from? What happened? Why were you in Utah for a period of time, and stuff like this, and so they would just say, "Well, it was very difficult and we, we couldn't speak much English. It was very hard for us because people didn't," even though there was Japanese people, the Nisei kind of were questioning them because they didn't speak much English, being Kibei and all this kind of stuff. But they would have to try to do their best, basically, and so for them, just, they just tried to do what they had to do in order to kind of survive in the camps.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: Did they ever talk about how other Japanese Americans, in particular I'm talking about the Niseis who had never been to Japan, how they were treated by them? I've done about a hundred fifty interviews now with Niseis and Kibei and, and there was, for some people, a lot of tension between those two groups and I'm wondering if, if your parents ever talked about that?

RH: No, they never spoke badly about it, so it wasn't like they were, they were angry at any one particular person or anything. I think they understood why there might be suspicion or question about, about them, and being Kibei, not understanding the Nisei culture that was being developed at that time, it was, they just felt it was just much more difficult and they just had to kind of find their own way to the other Kibeis that were there, so they pretty much, from what I understand, the Kibeis kind of stayed together in their own grouping of folks in order to kind of survive in that way and support each other. And so it was like, almost like a subculture of people within the camp itself is what developed, from my understanding. And that kind of carried through from after the camp experience, from what it looked like to me, as far as, 'cause most of, most of our friends, family friends were, are Kibei. Were Kibei; a lot of 'em have passed on, unfortunately. And a lot of 'em were doing typical work, simply, maybe it was because, also because my father was in gardening, a gardener, that a lot of the people he knew were in that same kind of line of business or doing that kind of work and, or being in a labor type of work.

TI: Yeah, did your parents, because they were educated in Japan, did they ever consider returning to Japan? Quite a few Niseis and Kibeis went to Japan, renounced their citizenship and went to Japan right, during and right after the war. Was that ever considered by your parents?

RH: Not that I know of, especially because, I believe, since Hiroshima was bombed, atomic bomb, for them, at that point after the war it seemed for them there was nothing to really go back to and that they were being told, don't come back home, there's nothing here. And so it was difficult for, both my grandparents were still in Hiroshima at that time during the war, and so it was a difficult process for my, my family in that way, I think, because, first my father's brother, who was and my father were kind of estranged from each other, basically, because of the war. My uncle had joined the military, the army here and came, joined into the MIS, and he was, because of that my father was very angry at him for making that decision, especially since his parents, or both our parents were in Hiroshima still, in Japan, and so he questioned why he would do that when his own parents were, like fighting against his own parents, and so, and I believe when the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima, after that whole experience it became even a more difficult relationship because of that whole thing, so it was almost like "see what happened" type of deal. And so it was very sad because when I was growing up I didn't even know I had an uncle. So i was that bad, basically. They wouldn't, no one talked of him, no one mentioned him, no one, he never came over, so I never knew really about him at all, until much later when I discovered that my father did have a brother, who actually lived in the Bay Area, and so, and I started, "Well, how come we don't see him? How come we don't know him?"

TI: And how did you find out that you had an uncle?

RH: Well, my, my grandparents were having problems health-wise and things, too, so it was naturally, and when my grandfather passed away, actually my father had to tell his brother what was going on, so it was at that point that I realized or started to hear, to realize this other relative and, and... 'cause there was property in Japan and all this kind of stuff, so my father had to kind of start dealing with this with his brother. And he wasn't very excited about doing it or having to do that, but he had to kind of take care of all that.

TI: And so what did your father tell you, when you were wondering, "So why didn't I know that I had an uncle?" I mean, what did they tell you about that?

RH: He wouldn't, he wouldn't say anything. He was very stubborn. Like me, I guess, in some ways. [Laughs] He was very stubborn in that way. He would not even talk about it, so most of the things I learned about what happened was through my mother or other, other relatives that kind of new about the situation, why that kind of happened. And, and for me it was just like, it was slowly kind of piecing things together why, what went on in that whole experience, like learning that my mother's parents passed away from cancer when they were very, when I was very young, in their early fifties. Never dawned on me what that meant, then I realized, wow, they were at Hiroshima and about six, seven years later they died of cancer.

TI: So thinking that the radiation from the bomb --

RH: Right, right, but no one ever said that. No one ever mentioned that. Other than the stories that my grandfather, my mother says she had heard that right after the bomb he went into the main city to look for relatives and friends and then people that he could find, he would bring in food for 'em, because they were outside, so they weren't immediately affected and, and they were on a farm on the outside, they would try to bring food and help wherever they could, and so he was constantly going into the main city right after the bomb dropped to help in whatever way.

TI: But I want to go back to your father and your uncle, did, did you ever talk with your uncle about what happened and his relationship with your father?

RH: No, I never did. Although much later on I got to know him a little bit but never really talked to him about that whole experience and what it meant for him. I just felt that was, my father had passed away before he did, so it was kind of unfortunate, I guess, that, and just before he passed away they kind of reconciled a bit, not totally, but at least they were, my uncle was coming over to the house and they would visit and stuff like this. So I felt, for them, they've done what they had to do to kind of, to understand what went on, basically, and I didn't want to go into it more with them to bring it back up, basically.

TI: Now, your father, was he older son?

RH: Yes.

TI: Did, was your uncle in a position to be in Japan after the war and to see, yeah, to, to help people or anything like that?

RH: I'm not sure if he did or not. Yeah, I don't know.

TI: Okay. Yeah, that's interesting.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: While we're, we're on this topic, I'm wondering, for you growing up, were there any issues having Kibei parents, I mean, in terms of your friends? Did that ever become an issue, or did you, were you aware of that, that there was sort of this, as you mentioned earlier, almost a subculture within the Japanese American community?

RH: Well, I grew up, we, my family moved to east Oakland. At first, actually when I was born our family was living in Alameda, in the projects area there, and then they, shortly after I was born they moved to east Oakland, which is where I grew up, and so, and that, east Oakland was, I guess when we first moved there was a pretty half decent neighborhood. By the time I finished high school it was predominantly a black neighborhood, but, so living there, but living there, that whole, growing up there was really kind of a challenge in many different ways, but for my parents, being Kibei, things I would -- first of all, my oldest brother, from what I understand, when he first started school, kindergarten, he didn't even speak English, and so he had a little bit tough time because basically he, my parents, that's all they taught him, Japanese, or that's what he was speaking when he started school. And so when I start school, naturally I was understanding more English and was doing that, but I just remember, like when I was in the first and second grade, that I had to start taking these speech classes and, and you know, they would send me off and say, "You have sit with this speech therapist to go through something." I never understood. "Why am I so different from the rest of the kids in my class?" I think I'm the same, but anyways, so I didn't realize much later that, because my mom had taught us, so naturally her pronunciation of different words was much different than it was supposed to be. [Laughs] And that's how I was speaking, so I didn't really realize that at all until I started having to do this and make this corrections on how I, like "brother" or "butter," it's like, they couldn't say some words right, so, and that's the way I was speaking in, as, in my early school. So then I started, it started to dawn on me, yeah, my mom does speak a little bit different English than other kids or parents and it's more Japanese. And sometimes, like when we'd go to the school, naturally, and for lunches and things I'd be bringing different things that my mom'd put in my lunch that other kids never had and they'd be kind of checking it out and says, "Wow, what is that stinky stuff in there?" It's kind of this takuan or whatever. And she would put, like, musubi or whatever in my lunch sometimes, and a lot of times it was just sandwiches so that we'd be more like what other kids are, but there were times where, and we would eat it at home, so for me it was like no big deal, but...

TI: But in that school lunchroom environment, when you pulled out the musubi or other Japanese foods and, and people would sort of check it out and say, "Hey, look at what you're eating," how did you feel about that?

RH: At first I guess I was a little bit ashamed because I guess when it first started happening I was a little surprised that other people would be kind of surprised, but, and they'd say it's kind of stinky and look, "Why you eatin' a rice ball like that? What's those, what's that manju thing? What is that?" And the, or whatever it was that my mom stuck in there at the time. But I figured, well, this is stuff we always ate at home. I like it. It's not that I don't like it. It's fine. For me it was like, wow, okay cool, but I was little bit, I guess, like most of the other Sansei friends who have experienced the same thing, little bit, little bit mixed about it, whether you should try to defend yourself or just say, this is what it is or try to just get away from saying, "No, I'm not gonna bring this anymore to school, so don't, don't put musubis in my lunch. Just make a peanut butter sandwich instead." [Laughs] And so it was just, I was just trying to compromise myself.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: Now, were there very many other Japanese American classmates?

RH: No. In the school I was going to, no. It started out, it was fairly mixed, predominantly white, but as I mentioned, that neighborhood drastically changed in a very quick time span.

Tom Izu: Did your parents, did they talk to you about some of these conflicts that were going on, or when you talked to them about trying to fit in, I mean, was there any kind of discussion about that? Any sense you got that they were trying to figure out how to, how to raise you in a way you'd fit in, or was there any talk about that?

RH: Well, they would, naturally, want us to be engaged in Japanese customs and culture as much as possible, and so from early on we would have to, we were going to, like on Saturdays, to Japanese language school and then to the Buddhist church for services and things like this and different kind of cultural events within the community. East Oakland is not a large Japanese community there. There were, there were Nisei living there, or Issei and Nisei living there, but not a lot. That's mostly downtown Oakland or that area. So she'll, they were trying to keep us engaged in that or just doing that, and just within our home there were the celebrations of Children's Day and Boy's Day, Girl's Day. My mom had a collection of the dolls that were displayed and so every year she would put this up, the displays for us, and she was very proud of doing that. And so, and it became known in our school, actually, when I was going to school, that she did that, so we even had our class come over and see this display at our home, so it became sort of a very proud moment for all of us, that she was able to explain what it was and why it's important and what Children's Day, or Boy's Day and Girl's Day is about. And she would make Japanese food for the kids to try out, so it was, it was her way to try to educate my classmates or other people around the area about what we were as Japanese and Japanese Americans.

TI: You mentioned the Japanese language school and the, and the Buddhist church, did you have very many Japanese American friends?

RH: We, well naturally, because our, my parents kind of kept within their, a Kibei community and so it wasn't like my, our neighbors were Japanese, but a lot of our friends or family friends were naturally Kibei or Japanese, and so those are folks I remember growing up with in different ways through that, along with some of the neighborhood ones and naturally school friends.

TI: Were, and so, so you're kind of still within this Kibei subculture, when you met and got to know Sanseis who had parents who weren't Kibei, they're just a Nisei who had always lived in the United States, were there differences that you'd notice in terms of, of how you were raised and how you thought versus a Sansei who had just Nisei parents?

RH: You know, I did start, and especially I started a little bit in college, when, that's when I got more involved in Asian American studies and, and I was a very, when I started college, I guess, politically and socially, there was just a lot going on in our country and in our lives, basically, but meeting other, I guess, Sansei kids who were from Nisei parents, I guess some of my more immediate things I noticed is that they perhaps didn't always like the Japanese food that I enjoyed or ate the different kinds of Japanese that I had eaten or knew about, and for them perhaps New Year's wasn't as, as meaningful for them. And so when I talked, "Oh, did you eat your mame beans?" Said, "What is that?" Or, "So did you eat your soba?" "No." "How about ozoni?" Said, "No." Maybe mochi, but that's about it. And so I was kind of surprised that some of those customs didn't carry through with some of those, some of my friends who, who were Sanseis still but just grew up in a different experience that way.

TI: And these Sanseis, were, were they kind of aware of Kibeis and things like that? Did you ever have discussions about this, like in college, about your parents and them being educated in Japan? Because what I find is a lot of Sanseis aren't really that aware of the Kibei experience, so I'm just curious what, what you found out.

RH: Yeah, I would always, I would always try to be very, bring the point out that my parents were Kibei and that they're not Nisei and so I grew up in a Kibei experience, so I always, I always felt I was different from them because of that and that naturally my parents were different than their parents because of that. And so it was, I just made it a point that, to always raise that with people to let them know that that was my background and that was important for me, and not that maybe we're so much different because of the, in general the Japanese American experience at that time was basically impacting us all the same way, no matter what our parents grew up with, so it was still kind of the same for us as Sansei at that point.

TI: Okay, good.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: So let's go back to your family a little bit. You mentioned you had two older brothers, Steve, who was born in 1943, and Sam, born in 1945. Then you were the third born?

RH: Yes.

TI: And you were born 1951, so a little bit after. Your, your two older brothers are a little bit older. And then you had two sisters?

RH: Right. Kimi, who's about two years younger than me, and then my youngest sister, June, is about six years younger than me.

TI: Okay. And tell me about some, oh, just memories of the family when you were young, before, before your teen years. What, just describe how the family functioned in terms of a typical day.

RH: Well, my father basically, because there're five kids, my mother didn't work. She stayed home and she, so she basically took care of the family, and so I just know that, remember growing up that my father was, always seemed to be working or gone and basically worked two jobs, because he, he worked at the Bethlehem Steel during the day and then after that he would go out and he would have these certain customers for gardening things that he would do. And so many times he wouldn't come home 'til like eight o'clock or even later in the evening, and then he, on the weekends he was always out doing the gardening work, too, working on Saturdays, even on Sundays, so he was, he was, always seemed to be working or gone doing things. So my mother was the primary person that was really taking care of the household. And, and many times, there were certain times in our lives, in my early childhood lives, where my father's parents were, would come, they would be coming in from Japan or stay with us for extended period of time, whether it's just a few months or actually a couple years or whatever, so it was different, they would come back and forth for different reasons, so I just remember having them with us at, so it was very, became very large extended household at times when they were there. And our home was, I guess in general it was kind of average. It wasn't, like, huge, but with five kids, my parents, and my grandparents all in one home, it became very crowded.

Some of the things I remember is that summertime we would, my mother's sister and, sister and brother lived in Los Angeles area, so every, usually every summer they would usually come up here or we would get a chance to go down to Los Angeles, and so naturally, for us, if we get to go to Los Angeles we get to go to Disneyland or Knott's Berry Farm and that was kind of the big event for us, that we'd get to go down there and do that. But I would always remember, again, that, even, especially if my grandparents were with us, that we would all pile into this station wagon car and drive down to L.A. to, to visit my relatives and have our so called family vacation together. And I never understood why we had to, when we would drive to L.A., why we'd have to leave at around like nine o'clock at night or something, because my father would always, we'd always pile into the car and he'd be driving most of the night to get to L.A., and so it wasn't until much later I realized that with five kids, all the people and my grandparents in car, it made a lot of sense to do it at night because we'd be sleeping and wouldn't be crying and complaining, having to stop every other ten minutes or whatever for somebody. [Laughs] He could just drive and make a couple stops because we would all be conked out sleeping. So, and that's what he did in order, to make it happen for us, basically, in his own way, he really kind of sacrificed a lot for us in his own way. And so, and those are some of the things I really remember about us growing up.

Even though my father worked very hard he was very, he loved to garden, so even though that was part of his work, he loved to garden and stuff, because at our home, in his, in our backyard, the plants and something was his pride and joy, especially roses, which I find really kind of funny because I'm really allergic to roses right now, so I can't, that's one of my worst plants I have to be around. [Laughs] And, but he just loved roses, so that's, he had it all over the yard and the garden and he would just take care of that and things. He would, as we were growing up, too, in the gardening things, he would make us, my brothers and I, help him at times, especially during the summertime when he knew we weren't in school. During school time, actually, he thought we needed to deal with school, so that was important.

TI: So, so yeah, explain that to me. Would that be your two older brothers and you, and would your sisters help, or it was just the boys?

RH: Just the boys.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: Okay, so tell me what it was like working with your father.

RH: We would always complain because he, we would figure, okay, especially when I would go, my other brothers used to have to go quite a bit and then I started going, too, so three of us and my dad to help him, his customers, so we would always say, "Wow, there's four of us, so we should be able to get out of here real quick." But we'd, seemed like we'd be out there longer when he was by himself than we were there, the four of us and we could never figure out why it took much more work, or why we didn't, we were out there longer when we should've been able to finish his work much faster. And so he just, one, I think perhaps we weren't that good, so it took us longer anyway. [Laughs] But he was trying to teach us all that, but he just made us learn about what it took to work and he was very meticulous about making us understand what it took to do different things, and so, and naturally, if it wasn't quite, if we didn't do it right, the lawn right, he'd make us do it over again, so whatever. And he would always find his own little things. He'd be, like, clipping a bush here and then half hour clipping one little rose bush while we're rakin' this large lawn type of thing, so it was his way to kind of teach us, I guess, to experience what it was to, to work and to be particular about what you do even though it might seem like menial work or labor type of work, but it was really important that you did it right and it was done properly and, and that you put all your effort into making it happen, basically.

TI: And how would he, how would he get that point across? Would it, would he say certain things, or would it be by just his doing it, or how did you know that?

RH: He would just tell us, "It doesn't look good. You have to do it better. Do it again." And so we would just have to do that, or next, when we go to the next place, say, "Well, you did it wrong, you cut the lawn the wrong way last time. Do it right this time." And in those days, too, there was no power mowers, right? It was the hand mowers. [Laughs] So, so we would be really struggling with that and all that kind of stuff. There's very few power tools that we were working with, so everything was by hand, the clippers, trimming the edge of the lawn was all by hand and everything.

TI: And tell me about your mother now, in terms of, when you did things with her, what was it like in terms of how your mother was?

RH: She was very hard working, because having the large family and taking care of everyone, she just spent all her efforts making sure everyone was well fed and taken care of and that the house was nicely maintained, so she didn't, she was basically at home. She never, she didn't even drive. She didn't start driving 'til much later, when I was in high school, I remember, she started driving. And so most of us, it was, so I just remember having to walk a lot because, earlier when I was growing up, or taking the bus or other public transportation, in order to get to places to, to go shopping or whatever, so I just remember having to do a lot, a lot of that. Even just the grocery store, maybe just a few blocks away, we would walk there and then buy and bring, carry everything back. And so those are things I kind of remember that it was, she was always involved with us and trying to do that. Naturally, when we first started elementary school, she would walk us to school and things and take care of us in different ways. And again, she had her Kibei friends that were in the neighborhood that she would be helping or working with, but also our local neighbors and things, she would really find, befriend and build these relationships with some of our neighbors who were not Japanese. So one of our neighbors right next door to us was a, was a Mexican family that had just kind of moved over from Mexico, so the wife there, she was a younger woman, too, I guess kind of like my mom in a way, I guess, but didn't speak much English, so she didn't understand a lot about things, so my mom was trying to teach her what she knew, even though she didn't know a whole lot of English, too, but what she knew about how to do different things. And so I just remember them sharing a lot because she would help her, teach her how to sew different things or cook different things and then, naturally, she'd, our neighbor, she would be, bring over tamales and flour tortillas and things like this that we would experience from her. And there were other friends, too, that she developed, from the Portuguese families and different things in the neighborhood that she was learning different things and gaining those friendships.

TI: That's a good story. Now, when you would act up or your siblings would act up, who would play the role of the disciplinarian, in terms of... yeah.

RH: In our family? My mother would be the first one, and if we were really bad we, we knew it came from my dad. And so, and it didn't take much, many words from my dad for us to know that we were in big trouble. [Laughs] So it wasn't like he beat us or anything like this, but, you know, he was, he could be very strict and he could, he had a temper, too, so we knew that we didn't want that to happen, so... and my mother, I guess, was the one that really kind of, was the one that really helped, I guess the first wave of discipline, if you want to call us that, really kind of kept us all in line.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: For you, like hobbies, clubs, growing up what were some of your hobbies?

RH: For me it was music. I started playing the trombone when I was in third grade, just playing an instrument, and later on started playing piano, so music became really kind of an important part of my life growing up. And naturally, I mentioned we went to Japanese language school and, and also the church activities, but some of those were kind of important, too, just working within the community context of what, what it took to kind of help out at the, the church. We were more involved, actually, with the Eden Township area, which is in San Lorenzo, and so, it's a smaller Japanese community center area, and so we only went downtown to Oakland to the Buddhist church there on special occasions, basically, like the larger Obon or other festivals, so most of our activities were more in the San Leandro, San Lorenzo area, within that community. So, but it was, growing up and doing that, but for me, music was a big part of growing up.

TI: And why did you choose the trombone in the third grade?

RH: [Laughs] That's what my brother played, so it was in the family. It was already there. It was one of those things, well, you don't have a choice, this is your instrument. So I just started to play that, and then my, my mom really wanted us to try, all of us to try music in different ways, so they bought a piano. I remember having a piano in the house from very early on, and so none of them, neither of my parents played it, but they wanted us to learn how to play it, so they had a piano there.

TI: Did she ever say why, why it was important, music for the kids?

RH: Well, she just felt, just like, I guess she felt that it was important for us to have sort of a rounded experience in a way, and she did feel that music and art and culture was very important. And so she wasn't very much musically inclined, but she did do her own, she was actually in her own way a very good artist as far as doing other kind of crafts type of work, too.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: Okay. So let's talk about growing up in your neighborhood. You mentioned how when you first moved it was predominantly white and by the time you finished high school it's predominantly black, so it was a neighborhood in transition.

RH: Right.

TI: And you grew up in this neighborhood in the, what, '60s pretty much? When a lot was going on with civil rights and, and going on, so tell me about that in terms of, of the Civil Rights Movement as you were growing up in this neighborhood.

RH: Alright. Well, when I started elementary school, I mentioned, it was predominantly white and during that whole, even during that time span of being there it's shifting, and then when I went to the junior high school in our neighborhood it was predominantly, by that time already the neighborhood had shifted quite drastically, so it was a predominantly black school, so there're very few Asians there and actually the white population was a minority on the campus. And so growing up, and again, I was involved with the music department more so or classes rather than athletics and stuff, so I really didn't, I was in kind of a different culture of things that was going on on campus and actually tried to excel as much as possible on the academic stuff, but for whatever reason, in junior high school, it was more like in the eighth and ninth grade, naturally we would all have to take PE class and stuff, so during PE we would have to do different things, and I was horrible at basketball and, naturally, football and all that kind of stuff because all the other guys were just much stronger and faster and better, but the one thing I could do was run, track. And so during PE we would have to do that and I, so I would start running and the PE coach noticed that I was able to, especially on distance, do fairly well in running. I was, there were a lot of other guys that were better sprinters there at our school, so that was one thing I couldn't compete at all, but I could last when I had to keep running. I could keep on going where they couldn't. So they, so he started making me do track a little bit more, so I started running and so I gained friendship within a lot of the guys on the track team, who were predominantly black guys, kind of gained that friendship in that way just because I ran track and also did music in a way.

So, and that was interesting for me 'cause that kind of helped save me in a way because, actually, when I graduated from junior high school in the ninth grade, it was actually right towards the end of the school year, I was walking home from school and I got jumped by a couple guys and got beat up basically, and so other kids at the campus found out that happened basically, and my friends on the track team, they knew who did it or found out who did it and they really kind of paid back in a way. And so it was, it was interesting that these guys came to my rescue, after the fact in a way, but they kind of helped protect me after that in a way, so, and it was my ability to run home and get away from all that was what kind of saved me, too, in that, during that whole incident. [Laughs] But it was kind of traumatic because, not knowing why these guys just, just kind of started pickin' a fight on me, whatever reason, because I was walkin' home, and, and it got, the only way I really got some, I started running and then some guy was drivin' down the street and saw this thing happening so he stopped and told me to get into the car and then he drove me home, which was just a couple blocks away. My mom called the police and all this kind of stuff happened and, naturally, reported it to the school and they got involved with it.

So at that time I was kind of deciding, because I was graduating out of junior high school and had choices -- the high school I was supposed to go to was Castlemont High, which was becoming a pretty tough school. I already knew that. That's where my brothers went to school and they, it was getting hard for them even at that time, so, and the other option for me was to be bussed up to another school which was called Skyline High School, which is up in the hills. That's when Oakland School District was trying to start bussing and integrating the schools, basically. And so the principal of the junior high school said, "You know, your option is either, if you want you can probably see these guys that beat you up, whatever, at Castlemont, if you want to, if you can deal with that, or maybe go off to another school like Skyline." So I chose to go to Skyline High School, which is up on the hill.

TI: And before we ask you more questions about that, I'm curious, going back to that, to the fight, essentially, or getting beat up, was it, was it race related? Was it an issue because you were Asian American and it was kind of like that, or were they looking for money, or what was the reason, do you think, behind that?

RH: I kind of have to feel it was race related, 'cause at the time I was kind of at the top of my class, being one of the few Asians and academically excelling in the school and whatever and on the music side and whatever. So I, they were just probably jealous of what was going on, somewhat... I don't know how strongly it was race related, but at that time, I'm not sure. Perhaps it was more so than I, I really assumed at the time that it was race related 'cause --

TI: But during this time in your school, if you were white or maybe Asian American, was it, was it hard sometimes in this, in this environment?

RH: We always knew who the tough guys were in the school. It wasn't so much a race issue other than they're gonna be the tough guys, and so, and our school had that, just that was going on within the junior high school already. And you know, this is like seventh, eighth, ninth grade, but still, we kind of knew what was happening there. So it was, it was rapidly changing, what, what the relationships of people were in our neighborhood at that time.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

RH: So I decided to go to Skyline, which was the beginning of bussing system. It was an all white school. It was a totally different experience for me because there were, again, very few Asians, but there are very few black people or people of color at all at this school, so I jump from being, seeing in basically a neighborhood that was all soul music and whatever to more of a just rock and roll and Beach Boys and all this kind of stuff type of attitude, you know? So it was really kind of different for me, and there was a group of us that would be, would take the same bus up to school because, from our neighborhood up there, so there wasn't a lot, but there were some other kids in the neighborhood that were bussing up there, predominantly the other black students, too. And so we would all be on that bus and we'd say, yeah, we start down here in the flatlands and we take the bus up to the hill, to this school and every day we have to go back down to the flatlands, where we live, basically. It was, it was, that's for, when it, for me, it really became obvious that race is an issue and being Asian American is, is something I need to deal with and living in a neighborhood that was predominantly of color, predominantly black, but that's really where, that's, that's my life experience, basically.

Tom Izu: I was gonna ask, did your parents and your older brothers, did they have anything to say about your decision to go to Skyline? Did they influence you or have any discussions about that?

RH: My mother really wanted me to go because, because the, having gotten beaten up, she says, "That's not safe for you." My brothers, they, they were kind of, my oldest brother said, "Yeah, maybe it'd be good," because he knew what Castlemont was like. My other brother who was more recently at Castlemont, he was able to deal with it, so he was kind of indifferent a little bit perhaps, as well. You know, "I went to Castlemont, so you should be able to survive, too, but Skyline is supposedly a better school, so maybe your opportunities are better or whatever." So they didn't argue against me at all. They saw it as a different opportunity.

Tom Izu: I was just curious, your relation with your, relationship with your older brothers, were you the, the star of the brothers, you're gonna do the best in school? Did they see you that way or was there any kind of rivalry like that?

RH: Not really. I think, my oldest brother was, was always very good academically and my other brother Sam was maybe a little bit of the black sheep of the family in a way, because he, he didn't get involved with school as much. He, school for him was not as important and so just doing other things was more important for him, and so, and then I was trying to be more academic a little bit, perhaps, but also I was, I was more on the musical side than my older brothers were. My younger sisters were definitely the ones that were, I guess, they, they excelled quite a bit more on the academic side and even when they tried to do music, they, they were very good at that, too. My sister just below me, Kimi, she's a, she's OB/GYN, medical, a doctor and so she went to medical school and all that kind of stuff, and so she, she's the one that really achieved the academic honors.

Tom Izu: And did your parents at this time, did they either directly or indirectly, were they trying to get you to go in a certain direction in terms of, like, "You're gonna go to college and start a career"? Did they make that pretty clear what they expected of you?

RH: Oh, definitely, all of us. They all expected us to go to college. They all expected us to take, go into a degree that was going to be financially secure for us. My dad and especially my mom, they definitely didn't want us to be gardeners or working in a steel mill and having to do the work that my dad had to do or stay home and just do like what my mom did, and so they're, they were very adamant about that, when we went to, that we had to college and we had to make a good career out of it. So, so that was choices that we, that wasn't a choice. That was something we had to do, basically.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

Tom Izu: And I wanted to ask you, so you were, you were exposed to, you were really into music and it seemed like your parents thought that was okay. You were exposed to a certain kind of popular music when you were in junior high, African American music, then you got exposed to rock and roll. Did your parents expose you to Japanese music at the time, and what was going on with that, like your brothers and your family, when you listened at home and with your friends at school?

RH: Well, my father and my mother, actually, they both loved to listen to the old Japanese folk songs, and so they had a collection of records that they, they would like to listen to, so, but they knew that was something they would just do. And so it wasn't, like, pushed on us that we had to really get involved with that, and it was also interesting, too, because my father, maybe because he worked at Bethlehem Steel, and I never could quite figure out why, but he was really into country western music, which I hated. [Laughs] I never got into that, but he would love the country western stuff, and I think it was basically because the guys he worked with at the steel mill were all, that's what they listened to and what they talked about, and so he would buy these, the early country western star stuff, so he would play that at home. Actually, my older brothers were getting, they were more into, when, they were starting to listen to, naturally, the Beatles and there was all the folk stuff like Peter, Paul and Mary, the Kingston Trio and all this kind of stuff. They were following all that kind of music early on, and so, and I was, so that's what my experience of learning music or experiencing was the Japanese traditional folk music and stuff and some of the pre World War II stuff, which was kind of very military sounding type of stuff when you listened to that music, because it was all kind of pro Japan type of stuff, and then actually the Japanese folk songs, something else too, which goes back dated much earlier, but, and then my father doing his country western stuff, and then what I would be hearing in, in school. In junior high school, one of my teachers that came into the school was, he just arrived coming out of college, so he was a very young guy and he was really into jazz and stuff, so he's one that really kind of mentored me learning more about that genre of music, what jazz meant, and so he would take me and show me, take me into other classes or get me involved in other programs or more jazz related stuff, and I studied privately with him for a while, too, both the trombone and piano. And so he was a very strong mentor for me. They call him Dr. Bill. His name is William Bell, Bill Bell, and he still plays in the area. You'll still see him playing in the area in different clubs and stuff. He's taught at Stanford, long time teacher at Laney College and Meritt College on the Oakland side.

TI: That's really interesting, because as a musician you're being exposed to lots of different types of music, from Japanese to soul to rock to country western, jazz, so that's...

RH: Right.

TI: And were you consciously listening to all these different types of music, in terms of the differences and, and what you liked and didn't like?

RH: Yeah, and when I, especially started high school, when I really started doing, playing more music, my, I was fortunate, I had some really great teachers who really tried to encourage me and just kind of push me by gettin' me out there to do stuff, so, but when I started just playing more I just really was trying to check out a lot of different things, and just in our neighborhood, naturally, too, just hearing different kind of stuff that was going on. So I was, I'm, I was really into the R&B, the soul stuff, so like the Temptations or Four Tops, the Supremes, all that kind of, that's kind of the music I really grew up listening to a lot of that, along with the jazz stuff I was hearing on top of that.

TI: So in high school, if people asked you, "Roy, so what music do you like best?" it'd be more R&B, would that be...

RH: Right, that would be, that would be the first thing I would say, yes. And, although the music I was playing most actively was more classical because in school I was playing in, like, the symphony orchestra and I was in, during high school at, by my senior year I was playing, like, in three different orchestras in, in the, in different kind of youth orchestras in the Bay Area.

Tom Izu: What kind of instrument? You weren't trombone anymore?

RH: Just trombone, yeah, basically still at that point. So, and so I was really kind of into it, because there was the Berkeley Youth Symphony, I was part of that and our high school thing, and there was, actually was sitting in with the Holy Names College Symphony, with them, so I was able to get out there and do a lot of different things. And on occasion, there would be other kinds of stuff I'd try and, get to try out and do stuff. Some of the guys I grew up with in, like, junior high school, some of the musicians from them, they kind of went off on their own track, and so I wasn't able to stay connected with them altogether, but kind of knew them in field. Some of them got into more the R&B and the early soul music stuff. Couple of 'em had a little bit tough time, unfortunately, too, in music, just the lifestyle they got involved with, unfortunately. Couple guys I knew were involved with, like, beginning of the Sly, Sly Stone band, you know, Larry Graham's band after that, so just doing that whole scene for a while, too.

TI: Well I was thinking, where you grew up, too, I mean, I'm a big Tower of Power fan in terms of the horn section.

RH: Right.

TI: And I was thinking that came out of Oakland.

RH: Right. So I was really into that kind of music and sound, so Blood, Sweat & Tears, Tower of Power, Chicago, all that stuff was kind of developing, like you said, a real strong horn section, but really kind of jazz influenced along with the R&B backing, and so I was really interested in all that kind of stuff, too.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: But before we go to college, I want to go back to Skyline and, and you were talking about the story of taking the bus from the flatlands up, up to Skyline. Did you have a sense that the people at Skyline, or how did they look at the people who were bussed from the flatlands? I mean, what, did you have a sense about that?

RH: It became obvious, especially the first years because we were one of the first class to be, start integrating, so definitely we were coming, basically people of color coming onto their campus, which was, again, before, predominantly white or those people of color were fairly, of people, families of wealth, basically, because the Skyline District is the upper east Oakland area, which is where all the rich folks lived. And so it was not only just a color difference but a whole class difference that was going on that we had to learn and understand what that meant, and so, and a whole different value system, which was also kind of difficult for us, for me to kind of understand what was happening at Skyline. Like the kind of cars that kids, my classmates drove, it wasn't like, weren't the kind of cars friends in my neighborhood drove, and just that whole kind of, the kind of clothes they were to buy and vacations they talked about going on and those, all that kind of stuff was just different from what it meant -- I mean, an example for what I felt was always kind of funny about our high school is that Skyline didn't have a swimming pool on the campus, yet we had the best swim team in the city, so how does that happen? [Laughs] Basically, the families, they had access to stuff that we, other schools did not have. We had, naturally had a horrible basketball and football team. We got our butts beat on that all the time by the other schools in Oakland, but it was, but the other, some of the other sports, we had a great tennis team, we had a great golf team, great swimming team, had a great gymnastics team, all those kind of high end sports were very, very strong. So it was just kind of, that was the kind of school, everything, and so what I enjoyed about Skyline, though, was that the music department was very strong, though, because there, the kids up there were very serious about music and that's one thing that I appreciated about, and that's why I really got into music even more at the high school level.

TI: But was there resistance to this integration process, I mean, the fact that buses were coming from the flatlands, from the city up there? Did you see any resistance to that?

RH: A little bit. And not, I mean, we could sense it. We understood it. We didn't really talk about it a lot and outwardly, but we kind of knew what it was. We knew how, what we had to do in order to deal with it, basically, and so -- we meaning the kids I knew coming up, especially from my neighborhood -- this is what it is and this is how we have to kind of deal with it. There were, on occasion, a few kind of outbreaks that maybe could relate to racial tension in a way, but in general it was, we were all trying to do our best to kind of, kind of make it work at our own different ways.

TI: And how about your former junior high school classmates who didn't go to Skyline, did you ever get flack from them for going to Skyline?

RH: Yeah, sometimes we would in the neighborhood because they would hear, I wouldn't talk about, "I go to Skyline," they would just assume I was going to Castlemont or something else, but they, if they knew I was going to Skyline they would say, "Oh, okay," they, you already get pigeonholed, basically, who you were and what that meant, basically. And our neighborhood became very, a center for a very hot social political scene, basically, because from where we lived, about four blocks away was where the Black Panthers started their, their work, basically. So during high school, during the, when the beginning of the Panthers, it was not unusual, it was common that we would see them driving through the neighborhood and you would see the guns sitting there and so it was very obvious, and knew, we knew what it was all about. And so, and we knew also that, basically, they were there for their own reasons, what they felt was neighborhood protection, so if we didn't mess with them they're not gonna mess with us, so it was a common respect in that way.

TI: Did any of the, the kids who were being bused up to Skyline, bring some of that, that thinking to Skyline in terms of, of confronting the social order at Skyline?

RH: I think it was starting to grow. When I first started at Skyline it was the early part of integration and by the time I was starting to leave and probably afterwards it was becoming more obvious because, again, after leaving high school, going into college, that to me was kind of the peak of when ethnic studies -- this is like 1969, when a lot of the anti-war stuff was really picking up or starting up and then development of ethnic studies and all those kind of things, so I feel, probably my experience at Skyline was at the very beginning, where people were just trying to make a system work and try to be, do whatever it was to take, get it to happen, and then things got much more political afterwards from, from the kids coming up there.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: Well, there, there was, like, a flashpoint, '68, the assassination of Martin Luther King. I mean, did that play out in your neighborhood and at Skyline?

RH: I remember when it happened there was a big fear in our, at our campus and basically the principal sent all the, the kids that were being bused in, they sent us home right away, basically, and so they just said "go home." So, and they, they didn't really say why, but I think their concern that it was gonna be some kind of tension, a racial outburst from that, so they just basically wanted to get us off the campus when it happened. So it was, yeah, it was kind of hard at that time. Again, that was kind of the growing, the sentiment that was going on.

TI: And for you, how did this all play out for you? What were you thinking during this time period?

RH: Well, again, coming... one, living in a real strong black neighborhood, trying to understand what that meant and then going to a school that was predominantly white and trying to understand what that meant, and at the same time growing up in this Kibei family that had our own values and culture that was happening, it was really, it was really confusing for me, I guess, to put it one way. [Laughs] Trying to figure out which way to kind of lean towards, like I'm not black, I'm not white definitely, and so, and I am Japanese, but I'm not even sure if I'm Japanese American because of my parents and their experience and how I was raised under them, and so all of that really was kind of, it really started making me question. And I think I mentioned to you, when he was going to, he went to Cal, so he was at UC Berkeley in the mid-'60s when the anti, the Free Speech Movement was going on, Mario Savio was doing all his thing, and so he would come home and talk about that or even bring me on campus when some of that stuff was happening on the weekends, just to see what was going on, so I would get to kind of hear or see some of that action that was happening about free speech and what it meant to be, to be able to speak your piece and all this kind of thing. And that really kind of made me start thinking, too, like well, I can't just, can't just be quiet about who I am, but I really have to start finding out who I am and discover that. And so it was, there was a lot of those different experiences that really were kind of gelling at that same time.

TI: It's kind of special that your older brother brought you on campus to hear this, because he's, he's what, about five, six years older than you?

RH: Right.

TI: And did he ever tell you why it was important for you to hear this?

RH: No, other than that it was, it was like, he knew that it was a major turning point in our society, too, and so naturally that was kind of a conflict for my parents, too, because they, they said, the oldest son's at Cal, which was very important for them, and here all this anti student stuff is going on, so they're saying, "Don't get involved with that, don't listen to that," and whatever, so whenever he would talk about it or be involved with it they, naturally they weren't very happy with that. They said, "You're just there to study. You're not there to do all this other stuff." And so, but I think he realized that there was more to it and than just studying on campus. There was, because of all the experiences he had to deal with. And then, for him too, he was really involved with ROTC, so during, even high school and then at Cal, and so he was, he had to deal with that factor, too, and he actually, because ROTC, naturally, he got a commission after he graduated, but he was sent to Vietnam, so he had to actually go over there.

TI: Wow, so for him, I mean, again, similar in terms of all these, these different things hitting him in terms of his Japanese upbringing, being there during the Free Speech Movement, military, in terms of ROTC, I mean, it must've been a very confusing time for him, also, in terms of trying to sort this all out.

RH: Right.

TI: And did you ever just talk with him? I mean, you're, again, you're quite a bit younger, so it might've been hard, but you, did he ever share some of the things that he was grappling with?

RH: During that time not so much. Later on little bit more so, but no, during that time, no. But yeah, having, just for myself, realizing that these are things I'm also having to face soon, so it was something I had to be aware of. I think my other brother, Sam, that really kind of impacted him, too, because he saw that happening, too. That was not a direction he wanted to go in, so that was, that was his concern, too.

TI: And was Sam also in college during this time? So Steve was at Berkeley, what was Sam doing?

RH: Sam went to, he started Cal State Hayward, when that campus was just starting up and stuff and, but he really didn't finish school at all there.

TI: Okay.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: And so going back to, kind of finishing up Skyline, any other memories that were, did you develop any strong friendships with the kids at Skyline?

RH: That's one interesting, because people talk about reunions and stuff, I've never gone to a school reunion and there's only, maybe like, less than five people that I would, I'm even kind of in touch with from high school. For whatever reason, my high school experience and friendship with people has just, it just dropped off. It just didn't, never continued really, other than those people that I still, that went off and kind of are still active in the community in different ways, too, in the Asian American community.

TI: So any second thoughts about going to Skyline versus the inner city high school?

RH: You know, there's always those things you kind of wonder about, what if I had done this instead of that, and what would it have meant, what, if I'd gone to Castlemont would the options of going to a better school and college have been there for me, 'cause, or, or would I have been rounded into another different scene and maybe dead already, killed off somewhere? [Laughs] It's really kind of hard to say, but again, I guess for me, the Skyline experience, because I got so involved with the music scene, I really appreciate that, and it was much, much different than the junior high experience because that became, got into more of the, the R&B and jazz scene and what was happening there and that kind of music, and then Skyline was more on the classical end, so just getting more and understanding of what that meant and being, having that experience and working in that kind of environment. So it was, it was interesting, but, so I had this real strong music interest and so when I was graduating high school I personally had to make a choice because of what my parents wanted, you know, going to college, they were saying that naturally you have to get a good job so good career. And so what I was thinking, well, I really like music, maybe I could go into a music program. They said, "No, that's not gonna, that's not a job." [Laughs] "That won't work, so you can't do that." So even though I was really kind of interested in doing that, it was not, it was not an option for me to --

TI: Now, if you went that option, what, where would you, where would you have gone? To a different school, or what was, if you pursued the music career?

RH: Yeah, I think I would've tried to go for a major music academy, to see if that was possible. And so, like I was just talking to a friend the other day, one of the, growing up in high school there was one other Japanese guy. We, he played trombone, too, and in different orchestras we were always kind of competing for first chair and stuff, and he was very good, but we were always competing, going back and forth and stuff, and ended up he went to Julliard. And we both played in the same orchestras together for a number of years during high school and stuff, so I always thought back, says, wow, if I had really put effort to it and made a choice to try to do that, could I have gotten into that kind of music school or scene? My life would be totally different, probably wouldn't be sittin' here talking to you about taiko right now because that wouldn't have happened. But yeah, so what ifs, those what if questions are really kind of hard to think about and wonder about.

TI: 'Cause I'm curious, if you had gone to, say, Julliard, what do you think that would've taken you? When you say you wouldn't have done taiko, what would you have done differently?

RH: I probably would've ended up teaching, but little bit more in the classical end, but just knowing my interests in the R&B stuff, trying to do more of that, just be more involved in the music scene in different ways. Yeah, I'm not sure what, how that would've ended up, 'cause that's a tough business, too, so, and at that time for, for Asians to get involved in that it was a little bit harder.

TI: Okay, so parents said no music.

RH: No music.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: So what happened? What did you do?

RH: Well, I decided, I enjoyed math in different ways. I enjoyed science and also, along with the music stuff, so I said, well, maybe I should look at science and stuff, so I decided I'll go into engineering. And so I picked, for whatever reason, chemical engineering seemed like an interesting field to go into. And San Jose State had a great engineering program, so that's why I was kind of looking at San Jose State to come down here and do that, so that was one of the reasons I picked that, picked a college down here to come here. So I applied to several colleges but ended up coming down here anyways, and that was in the fall of '69, basically.

TI: But before that, you, was this the time you took that programming class?

RH: Yes, so right after high school I decided, just to get a jump start, 'cause during my senior year in high school I was able to take advanced placement classes in the community college, so I was actually attending Merit Community College to take, like, English, advanced English classes, so I was able to get some of that advanced work done, so I thought, I was in that mindset, well, maybe I'll just get a jump start on stuff. So since I finished college, I decided, well, be maybe good if I just took a couple of classes just to kind of get into that mindset of thinking and also just get some stuff out of the way.

TI: So this was the summer after graduating high school, you took...

RH: Right.

TI: Okay.

RH: So it was right out of high school. I enrolled into summer session at Cal State Hayward and took, signed up for two classes, one of 'em being this computer programming class, 'cause I never had an opportunity really to take something like that and I thought this would probably be the, the field of the future, so I should start really learning what this is all about. And it was, at that time it was one of those key punch card classes. It was a real basic Fourtran programming class, so, and that's where I met PJ because she was in that class also. 02-19:20

TI: And how, I'm just curious, how did you like programming a Fourtran? Was that something that interested you after you took the class?

RH: It was interesting. I mean, it was, maybe for me, I guess it was, 'cause I always thought computers was kind of like a little bit engineering, but math and stuff, but the programming stuff actually was more logic thinking, because you had to be very logical in process and thinking in order to make things operate and function, and so it was a different kind of challenge for me, in thinking that way, 'cause I never really dealt with that, so, and so I guess, in a way, for me it was interesting, but it was something I kind of decided, I don't know if I want to do that kind of work where I have to be always kind of looking at things in that logic way. So it was not, I thought it was good, but it was not something I wanted to pursue.

TI: Well, that's, seemed like it was good that you, you exposed yourself to that to figure that out. I worked at Microsoft and so there are a lot of programmers who actually were musicians, so there's this connection that I've seen between musicians and really good software developers. I'm just curious how you saw that.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: So, so what did you do next then?

RH: Came down to San Jose State in the fall of '69, kind of jumped into the school here, but that was beginning of, again, there was all this activity starting on campus about the anti war movement, and so it was just starting up at that point. So there was all these, there were protests going on and different kind of things, a lot of different people talking about it and things like this, but I kind of jumped right into the academic side of things. I decided, too, that since music was not gonna be my forte or what I wanted to be doing, I was gonna stop playing, so I didn't even sign up for any music classes or anything, so I decided I was just gonna go into the academics and really try to jump into the whole engineering thing. But the music thing actually didn't get away from me. It was kind of interesting, because even though I didn't sign up for anything and didn't even tell anybody at San Jose State that I was there, right after I arrived on campus I got a phone call from the music department saying, "We're recruiting for guys to be in the marching band. Would you be interested in joining the marching band?" And I said -- "because we know you play trombone'' -- so I said, "Wow, how'd you find out?" Says, "Well, we know you play, so we just are trying to get this band together." So I said, "Well no, I decided I'm not gonna play anymore." Says, "Oh, well if we gave you a scholarship, would you be willing to march in the band for this semester?" Scholarship at that time, they basically paid tuition, but at San Jose State tuition at that time was, like, sixty bucks or something for the semester, so, but that still was a lot of money for me, so I says, "Okay, I'll march for a semester scholarship." I'd never marched in a marching band before. I hated to do that kind of, I never, because I was a, I was a symphony guy. I wasn't a marching band guy. [Laughs] So I told 'em, that's not my background, but okay, if you're gonna give me a scholarship I'll do it.

So that was kind of my experience to, jumping into that scene. It was really kind of different, too, because they're, what they were forming at that time, the band apparently had fallen apart and these guys were trying to put it back together for that particular year, and most of the people really involved with it were from the drum and bugle corps, local here guys, and so it was a very different kind of atmosphere and experience, very kind of, I don't know if you've ever been involved with drum and bugle corps guys, but that whole scene, lot of discipline involved, naturally, and that kind of thing and lot of precision. I was just amazed, because my perception of marching band, you know, bunch of hokey guys doing formation stuff and whatever, but this kind of stuff, this was really kind of sophisticated formation stuff and musically they were some really great players. So that, I was really kind of surprised after I joined in, what it was all about, but it was definitely some work for me to learn how to do that and just having to deal with the system.

TI: But I'm curious, you said that the, so it was kind of, it kind of fell apart and these drum and bugle guys kind of, kind of reinvented the marching band, so was it because of their drum and bugle background that led to this precision or was that just naturally how marching bands were in college at that time? About the time I came, I still remember the Stanford marching band and they were in their white overalls and they were just kind of coveralls, just running around in formation, and so it was a very different style.

RH: Yeah. They, because the big drum and bugle corps down here's the Vanguards, Santa Clara, so, and it's, they're really known for their precision and everything, so it was, it was kind of in that direction that they were trying to build it. And one thing, when you think about marching bands, when you see like the New Year's parade stuff, it's basically a concert band that's marching down in formation, no particular fancy stuff. They're just marching in formation. But you have your clarinets, your flutes and whatever, but this band in particular was, they wanted all brass and percussion ensembles, so they weren't looking for woodwind players. They were just looking for horn players, and so, and they were trying to build a hundred and twenty piece band in order to do that. And so, again, with that whole Tower of Power experience, whatever, so to be standing behind -- and like trombone players, you're in the front row -- to be standing behind this massive just horn sound behind you was just amazing for me. Wow, this, I never experienced this before, where you have a hundred and twenty guys, all horn players behind you playing stuff. And it was great music they were arranging, too, considering it was just what I, my perception of marching band from before.

TI: Well, and this sense of precision, too, almost the choreography of, of...

RH: Precision, yeah, and the, the level of musicianship that was required in order to execute the music itself.

TI: Okay.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: So engineer, marching band, you also mentioned the political scene, the anti war movement, so what other things were going on during, in college?

RH: I just started to just check out the whole political scene, so at that time there was an Asian American group called Progressive Asian American Coalition that was starting on campus, and it was sort of a, and they called it that because they were, they were sort of a offshoot of the AAPA, the Asian American Political Alliance, I believe it was called, which had a more, very heavy political context to it when that organization first started on some of the other campuses, so at San Jose State they kind of changed the name a little bit, although some of the thinking was still in the same way, naturally, just looking at what it meant to be Asian American, the Asian American-ness in the political context, what that meant as far as racism, and not only what was happening here but also happening in Southeast Asia or even in China and all these different things. So, it was, I decided to join this organization just to see what it was. And there was other, sort of more social organizations on campus at the time, but this was one, I thought it was kind of interesting because it was a little bit more on the political side.

TI: And so I'm curious, this, so you're at the, in some ways, forefront of this use of "Asian American." I mean, prior to that you'd have Japanese students, Chinese students, but this concept of Asian American and coming together, what kind of discussion was going on in terms of why an Asian American sort of concept?

RH: I guess for us at the time was coming together in the masses in order to, to work collectively to achieve what we wanted to achieve, knowing that in singular ethnic entities where there's just Japanese American, Filipino Americans, Chinese Americans or whatever -- those are three dominant ones in, at that time, that were on campus -- that we wouldn't be able to achieve a loud enough voice for what we wanted to do, so the Asian American concept was trying to unify people, the Asian American people at that time, or Asians at that time. So this is before the concept of Pacific Islander was involved, like you're saying, and so, and it was trying to, so it was like creating this more, larger umbrella type of organization and concept behind what we were trying to do, basically, and at the same time being conscious that we had, as specific ethnic groups, whether you're Japanese or Chinese or Filipino, that you really also needed to be able to have the opportunity to study and, or be part of that whole scene. All of that was kind of important for what we were trying to develop on camps at that same time, and, and what was interesting was, and I, when I came to San Jose I didn't know there was a Japantown here, and it, but when I got onto campus and then some of the people in the organization started talkin' about, "Well, we need to work within the community and we have a Japantown here, so we should start helping to organize and do things in Japantown," basically. So that's when I started to, came down here to take a look and see what it was.

Japantown at that time, this is late '60s, early '70s, was very different here. It was a very slow, very sleepy town basically, and I talk about, I can remember where I could probably walk down Fifth and Jackson in the middle of the street with a blindfold and not worry about a car hitting me at eight o'clock at night, because that's how dead it was here, in the community basically, because it was just a whole different kind of environment that was going on here at that time. So, but we wanted to really try to look at how we could connect what we were doing on campus and what it meant for us to be students, but also to be concerned what was happening in the community itself, and so I kind of got involved with that during that school year, so that was '69 and then 1970, and people were also, and that's when the Asian American studies program was, at San Jose State, was just first being put together in a way. On the other, I think it had just started at San Francisco State and UC Berkeley in 1969, and the actual classes to be offered at San Jose State was supposed to be launching in fall of 1970 and so the spring semester of 1970, or the second semester I was on campus, I started to work with some of the students who were actively involved in trying to organize that program that was gonna launch in the, in the following semester.

TI: Now, was there much resistance by the administration for the formation of Asian American studies and things like that?

RH: There was, but a lot of that struggle had happened just prior to when I got involved, and it was a group of people who really kind of helped try to push things through and get things going at that time, so they were able to kind of set it up. And because it's something the other programs had already established at San Francisco State and UC Berkeley, at least we had a model to say to the administration, "Well, this is already in place at these other campuses. This is important." And we were partnering also, because, and although at San Jose State there were three other, the other ethnic groups that were trying to implement was -- it's kind of interesting because the Mexican American program was actually a graduate studies program that started out in that same time, and the black studies was a B.A. program, which was probably the largest one in different ways. The MAGs program, the Mexican American grad program, actually was tied into the social, social welfare program also, MSW program. Then we had the Asian American studies program, which was being only allowed to come in as a minor program, and so that was a little bit of a sore point for us, because we said, "Well, black studies is coming in as a B.A. program, you got a graduate program for all the Latinos, Mexican American program. How come we only get a minor program? What's the deal on that?" Because everyone else was getting much more resources than we were, and then just being housed on campus as far as facilities, they were all getting, like their own little old renovated house, which was kind of cool and then they gave us a portion of what used to be these old army barracks. I says, well, that's like... [laughs] they're being put back in camps, basically. 'Cause that's what it looked like, it was literally an old army barrack that they had sitting in the middle of campus and they gave it as a part of that, those barracks to have our offices.

TI: And in terms of student population, what percentage were Asian Americans at San Jose State? I mean, was it, compared to, say, the Mexican and the black studies?

RH: Actually, I believe even at that time we were, it was almost equal, but I think we were just a little bit more in population than the other ethnic groups.

TI: So in terms of population you were on equal footing in terms of that?

RH: Right.

Tom Izu: African Americans had a pretty big presence, didn't they, 'cause this was, was it after the '68 Olympics?

RH: Tommy Smith, yeah.

Tom Izu: Just not that long after that, though, right?

TI: Was it '68?

RH: '68 is when that happened, and they were San Jose State guys, so yeah...

TI: Yeah, because that made world news. That was, that was huge. In fact, for me in Seattle, that put San Jose State on the map, in terms of the '68 Olympics. I remember that.

RH: Right.

TI: So it's, it's, kind of a, again, a turbulent time. Lots happening when you're at San Jose State.

RH: Yeah, because in the, in my second semester, the spring semester in 1970, that's when the real violent stuff started happening on campus. Basically San Jose State became sort of the central anti war movement campus, surprisingly. It was, like, considered the headquarters of all the activities that was happening nationally, and the students were able to actually close the school down for a period of time, where the faculty and students boycotted and just weren't doing classes. And so all of that was going on, and Kent State happened, actually, so that was, the killings there, or the massacre at Kent State, and so that really kind of fueled all the issues of what was going on, basically, and in different ways. And within the Asian American group that I was involved with, again, just looking at, well, how can we be more active not only on campus but also starting to look at, we need to organize within the community so that people understand why we're saying and doing what we're doing, and so it can't be just a campus issue.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

TI: Yeah, so earlier you talked about how you would call Nihonmachi kind of this sleepy town, nothing was going on, so what was your thoughts? What was your vision for San Jose Japantown?

RH: Well, so after that first year in college, and so 1970, I went, actually went back home for the summer and then before I went back home, I was hearing about some friends who, from, some people I knew from early church days and stuff, that were interested in trying to organize these outings for the seniors, for the Issei and they were calling different people together to help see if, during the summertime, whether or not we'd be willing to participate to help do these field trips for the seniors. And so, and this was happening on the East Bay side in Oakland and some of the people involved were coming from UC Berkeley, from the campus, and some were just from the community and different churches and stuff, so that's, when I heard about this and I decided, well, I'm gonna be back in the Oakland area, so I wanted to jump into that and see what was going on and started going to the planning meetings for that. It first formed as a group called East Bay Sansei, so it was predominantly Sansei doing this, and we started looking at just doing some kind of recreational stuff for the seniors and then, but people in San Francisco were starting to organize similarly, so that was, like, pre Kimochi basically, so they were trying to do this similar thing, so we start expanding in different ways. And so for that summer we were, we were just doing a lot of work just trying to see how we could organize and do different things and starting to look at what was happening within the Issei population, and kind of spurred my interest in all that. That organization changed, it kind of evolved later to a group called East Bay Japanese for Action and then later changed to Japanese American Service... something.

Tom Izu: JASEB?

RH: JASEB, yeah. And so, so that was the beginning of what, I guess, is JASEB now, is that group of people that I started with in 1970.

TI: And this was another time where you, oh, what's the right... crossed paths with PJ?

RH: Right, because she had gotten involved with that same group on the East Bay side, through people, 'cause she had started to get involved with what was going on at Cal State Hayward through some of their Asian American studies, organizing there, and so they were being called on to also join in on this activity during the summer, or during the year. So, and then my oldest brother, who had come back home, actually, after being in the military and stuff, Steve, he had heard about this, too, so he started getting involved with it, too, so the two of us were both pretty heavily involved with it.

TI: Now, did he see combat in Vietnam? What kind of experience did he have at Vietnam?

RH: He was pretty fortunate. He was not on the frontline, he was, so he was, he was more in, I guess, the backend stuff. So there were occasions where, naturally, was kind of dangerous for him, but he was pretty safe most of the time he was there.

TI: Did he have any difficulties being an Asian American fighting in Vietnam, any stories about that for him?

RH: A few, yeah. I mean, he would talk about where he would hear stories about guys who were out in the field where they were being shot from behind, basically by their own guys basically. So there was some of that stories going around, yeah.

TI: Okay.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

TI: Okay, so let's try to get back to San Jose. I realize we're, we're already at ten o'clock, so we have one more, we have one more hour left, so I want to get to the taiko group, but this has, this has been fascinating, because I think it really helps set up, I think, the, the background for San Jose Taiko, so I'm glad we're doing this.

RH: Well, that, the activities, doing stuff in East Bay was something that was really, so when I started back, came back to campus in the fall, and that's when Asian American studies was starting up, so I had, was volunteering there, so I was getting really involved with that, and then we were trying to organize on campus the ethnic studies, Asian American studies, and also we wanted to organize as the students in some other kind of way. And so we decided that it was gonna be difficult for us to do two fronts, if we wanted to do something in community and something on campus with the same people, that we were gonna burn ourselves out. We were already feeling burnt out, even with the little we were doing. So some of us chose to go in different directions basically, so it was a group of people who decided a lot of focus work on developing stuff here in the community and there was some of us decided to really focus on just making sure Asian American Studies as a program got off the ground. And so I stuck with the department and really got involved with that and just helping, as a student, even though I was a student, I became really involved in administrative operation of the, of the department, or the program, to the extent where probably the administrator didn't know -- and we were fortunate, because the actual faculty director was very, very open to the fact that the students were helping to run the program, where he would invite students on, in to help recruit and even interview faculty and do things like that where, that was unheard of before, and so, and also helping to choose curriculum and all this kind of stuff within the program, so I really got involved with all that. And the focus for us was really to try to design curriculum that was not just talking about the history and the experience, but also design curriculum that was gonna take people into the community to make that relationship happen. So we were anxious to bring in people who had that kind of sensitivity and understanding and work to help us do that from different communities. So we brought in, like, George Woo, who was at San Francisco State and also very active in San Francisco Chinatown. Greg Mark later came in from Oakland. He was with, really involved with Oakland Chinatown and also with, on campus and stuff. And so guys like that really had this crossover stuff, and we also hired people from the community, like we brought in Reverend Mike Morizono who was at the Wesley Methodist Church at that time to teach the Japanese American experience class, and so just trying to bring in the connection of people locally versus the campus itself.

And so that was kind of our way to make that crossover, but because of the Issei experience and the East Bay, I was really interested in seeing what we could do in San Jose, so I was encouraging people that maybe we should try to do something with that here. What was happening here in Japantown was the group of folks that wanted to do more stuff in the community, they formed an off campus group called Asians for Community Action, ACA, and they, and that organization was starting to recruit a lot of people, not only campus people, but it was younger, younger people working in the field, also Niseis, that wanted to be involved with what was happening in the community in different ways. So we were picking different projects, Issei or senior services was one of 'em, also legal referral work because of what was happening with people, especially with the anti war movement stuff, was another one, and just, there was another program that we were trying, that were getting involved, smaller segment was Asian Americans in prisons, basically, at that time, so this is, again, in the early '70s, which, a lot of them were because of drug related abuse programs, issues that they were having. And so, but the Issei project, for us, we started a similar thing that we're doing in East Bay, sort of recreational thing, and that kind of took off to become Yu-Ai Kai later on, I feel, because that kind of spurred that interest. And then we started a legal referral service. We got JACL to kind of open up the Issei Memorial Building, to take over the, what's now the downstairs conference room, and we ran sort of a referral service out of there, brought in some folks from Santa Clara University and those guys spun off to begin Asian Law Alliance. We had done sort of a early survey in the community about senior housing and the needs for senior housing and then that information kind of, I think, launched the building of the Fuji Towers that the Buddhist church took on. So I feel there was a lot of stuff that we were able to implement, the ACA was able to implement was, really kind of helped launch a lot of other now existing anchor organizations in our community, basically.

TI: Now, I don't know as much what happened in the East Bay, but it just feels like more happened in San Jose than, say, the Oakland area when you started talking about the East Bay group. Is that a correct perspective, our, or what do you think of that, in terms of more happening in San Jose than, say, in the East Bay?

RH: Well, I think East Bay's problem is it was so spread out geographically and it, it never had a central Japantown, like Nihonmachi San Francisco, there was a lot of stuff that went on there because of the physical Japantown.

TI: Exactly, so there's this advantage of place, I mean, having this sort of area they could focus on.

RH: Because in East Bay, our sense of community there were basically the churches, which were all over the place, from Berkeley to San Leandro, Hayward, so it was a large spread. There was no one physical space or geographic area, and the community was spread in the same way.

TI: So even though it was a sleepy little town you at least had that, that...

RH: Right. We were able to at least capitalize on that prior existence and at least knowing that people would still come back here for different things because the stores were still here, the grocery stores and the different kind of things, they're still here at that time.

TI: Good. Okay.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

TI: So good, keep going, so all these things have, are springing up now.

RH: Right. So that's, the stuff on campus was startin' to kind of take off. I got involved working with the Buddhist Church 'cause one of my interests too was working trying to organize the youth, and growing up in the Buddhist Church, just what they were doing or not doing was kind of a concern of mine, and so in the early '70s the Buddhist Church on a national level decided they were looking at, trying to figure out a way to get more of the youth involved, too. And some of the people that were behind it, prior to that the JACL had started a program called the FOX Program, it was kind of a weird name for what they called Field Operator Expediters. It was kind of their outreach people going into the community and doing stuff. It was mainly the younger youth folks. And so some of the people that were involved with that within the Buddhist Church wanted to do something sort of similar but not as political, perhaps, but just trying to organize, so they created what they called, this program called Relevant American Buddhists, RAD program, so basically they wanted to hire in, supposedly, youth coordinators to work within each district and to help inspire younger people to get more involved with the church by trying to create more programs in different ways. So when the program started, was starting up, I heard about it, so I applied for it and I got the job for the, what's considered the coast district.

TI: And this was the, I'm sorry, the Buddhist Church or JACL?

RH: This is the Buddhist Church doing this, and, but it was kind of modeled off of what the JACL had done prior to that.

TI: Okay

RH: So we, my district, or the coast district goes from Mountain View, San Jose, Morgan Hill, Gilroy, Salinas, and Monterey, so it's a pretty big spread of territory and, but I was responsible to try to go to all these different churches and meet all the different youth leaders and try to work with them to help them try to organize in different ways. And so I was trying to introduce to them my short experience of what Asian American Studies was about and doing that kind of stuff, and naturally the Japanese American awareness stuff was part of, and identity issues were all part of what I was trying to bring people, the younger folks, to be aware of. But the minister here at the San Jose Buddhist Church, he, Hiroshi Abiko said, "You know, it'd be kind of cool if we started something else up that would help draw the kids in," and he knew Reverend Mas Kodani in L.A. who was doing the taiko there, the Kinnara Taiko, so he said, "Maybe we could do something like that." And so this was early 1973 that he was looking at trying to do that. So two of us, Dean Miyakuzu, myself, along with Reverend Hiroshi Abiko, just launched it to try to organize, doing taiko around and using it as a tool to engage the youth into the church, basically. So we're using it as an organizing tool and as a cultural thing, and for me it was interesting because of my music interests and that it was musical and it was cultural, it was something from Japan, so it had all these units of interest for me that really kind of clicked at the same time. Even though I really didn't even know, even then, that that was really, had something really there to grab onto, and so it just seemed really interesting, just seeing what was going on at that time.

TI: Interesting but not really that "aha" moment yet, like how this all is gonna...

RH: Not yet, 'cause I was just kind of connecting on different levels with it. It wasn't really how the taiko itself could really be that implementing tool in that strong way.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

TI: Okay, so you're, you go to L.A., but there, there's also this influence from San Francisco also.

RH: Right. So once we got started into it then we had an opportunity to connect with San Francisco Taiko Dojo, Seiichi Tanaka, and he offered to help teach the group members, core members at that time. So we had a core group, about eight, ten people, that went up almost a year to study under him. And this is about 1974, so it was almost right after we started. So our group, so San Francisco Taiko was the first taiko group to start, and Kinnara in Los Angeles under the Senshin Buddhist Church was the second one, so that was in 1968 then '69, and then we were organizing in 1973, basically, so we were the third group to start here in the U.S. And so San Francisco Taiko's led by Seiichi Tanaka who's from Japan and studied, basically, more the traditional styles from Japan, and then Reverend Mas is comin' from a very Buddhist style philosophy of taiko in L.A., and here's us who, the people that started, that I brought into taiko here and from, especially from San Jose State and stuff, really were more involved in, wanting to do music as music, not knowing, at that time, really what taiko was. So we were bringing together, basically, our influences of listening to the R&B, the jazz, the Latin, whatever and using the taiko, this instrument we call the Japanese drum, as an instrument at that time.

TI: And so if, when Seiichi Tanaka would hear you guys play, from his more traditional training, what were his comments about how you played back then?

RH: [Laughs] I remember early on he would tell us, "Your music is too hard, too difficult. It's too complicated." Because we were doing these polyrhythm things and very intricate stuff, so, whereas the Japanese taiko style at that time was, was pretty straightforward, very repetitious in some ways, and so it was kind of basic and not so layered musically than what we were doing. And so that's, he thought our music was just too hard, too difficult and that we were thinking too much because we made it too hard to do it that way. But that was, but that's what we were used to doing. That was kind of part of our culture of playing music, though.

TI: Now, when you think back to those early days, back in '73, '74 when you're first starting and playing the music, what would you say about that music, looking back?

RH: I guess in starting, once we started going into that I realized that this is an opportunity really to kind of start creating an Asian American, or even more specifically a Japanese American sound, and even though it's just a drum, that this is an opportunity really to start creating that identity of what we have, what we can have as a Japanese American musical sound. I mean, the band Hiroshima was already doing stuff and they were doing their crossover, the koto and they had the taiko, so, and they had the jazz fusion stuff, so that was kind of going on already. But in the larger scene, the blacks had the soul music, the Latinos had the salsa, and the Asians, we didn't have anything. We did the R&B and the salsa, basically. We copied what other folks were doing, and so there was no identity. Japanese Americans weren't out there at dances doing Tanko Bushi. They were following what other stuff was going on in mainstream. So we, I thought it was an opportunity for us to start creating an identity for what we can have within our own community.

TI: So this is kind of the "Aha" moment, in some ways. I mean, really you did, you created a Japanese American music.

RH: Right.

Tom Izu: Did your, the other musicians who got involved in taiko, did you have a lot of discussions about what this means?

RH: We started talking about it a lot, 'cause our interest, and we were fortunate, we had some great musicians early on, in their own right, were very talented and able to kind of come up with stuff, and again, within their own perspective. And we were all kind of locked into this sense of what community was all about and that importance, too, and so we were coming from both socially and politically and somewhat musically on the same level, which was kind of great, which was, I think, different than the other groups that were starting up, had started up. And so we talked, we did talk a lot about what it meant to be Japanese American or be an Asian American and that importance and how we could try to create something that represented more of who we are versus copying what, what's from Japan or another group is doing, basically, and so those were kind of the issues at hand for us.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

TI: And yet as you developed this you, you looked towards Japan also. I'm looking at your, the milestones of the taiko group and you did a lot with Kodo, or, or back then, Ondekoza.

RH: Right.

TI: So talk about that, the influence of why looking to Japan was important for you.

RH: Well, we realized and understood and always wanted to keep in mind that, even though we were trying to do our own thing here, this instrument, the taiko, that we were trying to use was from Japan, so we needed to understand what the roots of that meant and what that was all about. And so, 'cause working in a vacuum, for us, we knew we were missing a lot of information. We didn't understand what that was. Most of us at that time had not even been to Japan or even lived in Japan or spoke Japanese that well, so that, that was kind of a missing piece of information for us. When we heard about this group Ondekoza, which was the first really major taiko group to come from Japan and start touring and doing performances here, we really were excited about the idea of, wow, this is something real different, or another taiko group to, from Japan especially. And when we got to see them for the first time, down in Los Angeles, it was a mind blowing experience because, one, it was not just taiko, but it was just so intense and it was just the amount of discipline and intensity that they played with, and also the musical talent was just overwhelming. But their, the other parts, too, is basically is -- what we were doing was basically music, or taiko in the festivals, so it was a lot of outdoor, that kind of festival setting -- Ondekoza brought this taiko to a stage performance in a theater with staging and lighting and made it much more theatrical, and so just totally changed the image and perception of how the taiko can be presented and in different ways. And so it made us realize that this is an art form that's starting in Japan that we need to kind of look at and see what that's all about.

And so we took from them not, not so much their music and musical ideas, but more their organizational things and how they operated. One, they operated somewhat collectively, and for us here in San Jose especially, we had no one teacher or sensei or leader, so we were operating in that same way. We had to somewhat depend on everyone to help participate and be involved in that leadership, so when we learned about Ondekoza we emphasized that even more to try to rotate the leadership. And we felt also that was kind of within the context of what we were talking about within the community anyways, that we needed to develop everyone as leaders and develop to share. Also the gender issue for us, which was real different from the groups in Japan because it was male dominated, we had a lot of women involved and playing with our group already, so that was important for us to maintain that and that there was no gender issues that the women only could do certain things, the men only, would be highlighted in certain ways, so we felt that everyone should be able to play all the parts and be equal in that way. So that was very important for us that really set us apart from the Japan-based groups.

TI: Because the Japan based-groups were primarily male? I think the ones...

RH: The early groups, especially Ondekoza, they had a few women, but they, they didn't even play the drum, the taiko. They basically did the dance and the singing and other kinds of things and all the taiko were being played by the men.

TI: Okay. And at this point, how much, had you been to Japan?

RH: I had not. I had never been to Japan. PJ had. She lived in Japan for almost a year prior to this, so she understood a little bit more about the culture and language and things, but many of the other members had not been to Japan at all.

TI: How about speaking Japanese at this point back then?

RH: Very little because lot of us, like for myself, even though I grew up with Kibei parents, I kind of, I didn't really spend a lot of time trying to maintain, understand, or speak Japanese, so that was not my primary language at all.

TI: Because I, so I noticed in your resume that in the early '80s you went to go study in Japan, and so that was a pretty big jump for you.

RH: That was, and so, and that was my first opportunity to go and the group Ondekoza had shifted in membership and they restarted as the group Kodo, and when that happened they were wanting to launch their first US tour, so they asked us if someone from our group would be interested to join them, to help them with that. So I thought, wow, this is an incredible opportunity, so I did that. I went to Japan, initially just a short time span just to learn what they were doing, and then we actually left on tour and came back over here and toured in the U.S. for about six weeks, and then we went back to Japan and toured over there for about six weeks. And so I was able to continue and be on that tour with them over there and got to see a lot of stuff that probably would've never experienced, smaller towns, the theater, how the Japanese theater works, how this particular company, like Kodo or a taiko ensemble, works in Japan and on the road. So it was a great learning experience for me. And then after --

TI: Now, one thing I read, I just had to ask about this, 'cause I read how when they train, or when they practice, they would, like, run long distances before they would actually play and, like marathon length runs. Was that part of the training that you were exposed to?

RH: Running was a big part of it, was, most of the members at that time with Kodo, we would have to get up, it was pretty regimented schedule when you're living on Sado with them and their training process. We would have to get up somewhere around five in the morning or something and the first thing you do is you gather and do exercises as a group and then you go out and run, so most of the members would run about ten kilometers, or about six miles, basically. And then you'd come back and you have, you have breakfast and then there's the so-called chores, the cleaning of the halls and the building, and then you get ready for the first practice, which would start at nine o'clock. And then there'd be, everything was kind of rotation, you would participate either helping to clean different way, or you'd be on a cooking crew for that day or whatever, but also there would be, like, two practices, the morning and the afternoon. And then evening was either lectures or sometimes free time to do your own thing, but it was like six days a week we did that. That's all we did.

And so I toured with the company for about, let's see, we were on the road from about September through almost Christmas time in December, and then after that went back to Sado to stay with them through the holidays up 'til about end of February, and so that's when I was involved with this training process that they were doing because they were all back into training. But Sado, I don't know if you know where it is, it's on the east, eastern side of Japan, the Niigata side and it's where, and it did get all the heavy snow and winter winds from Siberia and from the, from that end over there, from Russia, so it's very, very cold, a lot of snow. And so my first experience in running in snow -- because I grew up here, we don't have snow, you know. [Laughs] And so that was my first experience of living and having to deal with snow in that way, but we would run even if there was snow on the ground in the morning. It was, I mean, it had to be really bad weather, like typhoon coming in, that we wouldn't go out and run, but we would basically run no matter what, if it was raining or snow or whatever.

TI: And how was that experience for you? It seemed like a pretty intense experience.

RH: It was intense, and I always, looking back, you could be amazed at how much your body and how much you could push yourself, doing stuff that you don't think, that's impossible to do, and so I never thought I could survive that kind of experience, but I would go out there and do that with 'em just because everyone else did it, so I didn't want to feel like, well, "The lackey American's over there, he doesn't want to participate." So I tried my best to try to keep up with everybody. It was difficult, but eventually kind of got into it and just got better at it and just, you're able to kind of overcome the obstacles. And even practicing, like it was, in Japan, typical Japan, the rooms are not heated and the main rehearsal hall, it was a old school building, so it was very old and not very modern, so there was no heat at all in that main rehearsal hall, and actually, I remember looking down at the floor, when it was really windy you could see snow blowing up through the floorboards sometimes because it was that kind of old structure. But you would be in there barefoot practicing for a couple hours at a time and by the end of practice your feet would be like, almost like frozen solid because you'd be on this floor that's like standing on ice blocks for a couple hours. And that was, that was part of the training and process that you would do every day.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

TI: So how did this experience change you and your music and San Jose Taiko?

RH: Well, one, I came back from that learning a lot of different production skills that I felt that we could use here in San Jose. But importantly I felt that -- and our group was just doing the, more the festival things still, we just started to kind of do our own concerts in a way -- but I felt that we had something that was real different that could be really, maybe not the level that they're doing in Japan because it's a whole different culture and lifestyle, but still there's an opportunity for us to be one of the best groups here in the United States and to kind of be the equal to what Kodo was here in the U.S., in our own way, but it would take a lot of work to do that. So I started to share that with the rest of our group members, that we, we should probably start looking, start looking at how we could improve ourselves and really build to that kind of level of performance and activity. Most of the members in our group were just very happy just doing it for fun because it was strictly a hobby at that time. No one got paid. We just did festivals. Sometimes we were, got excited because we got invited to travel, fly somewhere, but that was kind of far and between. It was mainly just doing the Obon festivals around, around the area, and people were very happy and content with that, practicing maybe once a week or whatever. So the idea of increasing practicing to improve skill and technique and this, just trying to develop in different ways was a little bit more than what people wanted to do for themselves. They, they couldn't grasp what it would take in order to get to that level, basically, saying that it was just too far beyond them.

TI: So some people said, "So Roy got religion. All of a sudden he came back and," and all of a sudden you wanted to really take it up a couple of notches.

RH: [Laughs] Yeah. Yeah, 'cause it, I would talk about it and then people says, "Yeah, it sounds cool, but I don't know." And it wasn't until we, in nineteen, let's see, 1987, we got invited to go to, as a group, to go to Japan. The original Ondekoza was still performing and they invited us to go and play with them, and so it was after that trip that basically our members then realized, well, one, we were worried that the Japanese people wouldn't understand what we were doing, and two, we didn't know if they would know that we're different from being, that we're Japanese, or Nikkei, Japanese American. And so, but they did notice that and they did hear the difference in our sound and our music, and they did realize that as Japanese Americans we were creating something different, so that made us realize that we do have something here that's just as important as that's being developed in Japan, that we should try to pursue this as a group, that what we're doing here in the United States with taiko is just as important as what's happening in Japan.

TI: And how about comments about your, your technique and how hard, I mean, that part of it? So your, the music was different because of the influences you had in the United States, but how about the way you played taiko?

RH: Well, one, because we had a lot of women involved and every, like I mentioned earlier, we all played equal, so that was a big surprise for them, and we also, we had already developed a style that we were playing for joy and enjoyment of ourselves, in a way, so when we play we naturally are showing that. It's not very, it's not a serious look, it's not that kind of a look that, so that was much different than a lot of groups in Japan who are very serious when they play. There's, there's no expression of joy sometimes, actually, at all. And that's changed a lot, but I think we've had, we've influenced that a lot, so we, I think we've influenced women involvement and the fact that you could be happy while you play taiko at the same time. And so, and also the, what I mentioned before, our music, which was much more musical, in a way, it was much more layered and involved and a little bit more musical in content because of how we'd been writing our music and what we'd been involved with in that way.

TI: So that must be pretty heady stuff, to realize you've influenced the core taiko in Japan by what you've done in the United States. You go back, you play, and now you start seeing changes in Japan. Must be pretty exciting.

RH: Right. Yes, over the years we've seen a lot of what we've, I mean, initially, when we first started playing, too, we're trying to do taiko, but we're incorporating other instruments, so like we use the tambourine, a cowbell and stuff like this because that was kind of our heritage here, what we grew up knowing as far as percussion sounds. And we were being criticized, in fact, because they were not Japanese instruments. You didn't play taiko with a tambourine or a cowbell, so that was wrong. And we kind of persisted, saying, "Well, that's the way we are. That's our music, so we understand what you're saying, but no, that's, we still feel this is what is important for us."

And now you see all kinds of fusion of what's going on, so we kind of, I feel we took the brunt of the, of that criticism early on and just by continuing to do and try to expand on that, that we opened the doors for a lot of people to look at that. And also by doing crossover work, by working with other artists in other disciplines, whether it's dance or other, even Japanese classical instruments, but whether it's ballet or modern dance, even classical musicians or jazz musicians, so we started to do other types of things and different fusion ways with collaborations, and then also other ethnic groups, like the Abanai Dance Company, or Indian dance and those kind of things. So we were doing these collaborations way before a lot of other groups even tried 'em or thought about them, and now you see these collaborations happening all over and people saying "for the first time," whatever. Well, we did this long time ago, but oh well. [Laughs] And so it's exciting to see that kind of growth and that I feel we've influenced.

In Japan, even the concept of making the barrel drum that Kinnara Taiko started and they, they revolutionized, that was a very important of American taiko, they took a wine barrel and put a hide on it and called it a taiko. And the Japanese people, when they want a taiko they have to go to a taiko maker and they, they have buy that drum from them, and if that drum breaks they send it back to that taiko maker, which was, generations of families have been doing this. Here in America we're making our own and if it breaks we're fixing it on our own, so it's a very different kind of relationship that we have to the drums and those instruments that, even though it's not a real taiko, I feel we have a stronger connection to that drum than some of the people that play taiko in Japan because they're just buying that instrument.

TI: Now, in the United States, when you came back from Japan you talked about stepping it up a couple notches, how did that affect your standing amongst the taiko groups in the United States in terms of, back then it seemed like you saw a lot of the taiko groups as kind of at the same levels, but with that extra training, did San Jose Taiko kind of separate themselves from the other taiko groups?

RH: Well, I don't think we did it consciously, but it was, as far as trying to be better than the other groups in that way, we just we were trying to create the best sound and thing for ourselves, basically, was how we were looking at it. And it wasn't really a concern that we were trying to better than San Francisco Taiko or Kinnara Taiko or any other group that was started after that, but it was, yeah, it was just trying to see, 'cause we, if you look at it, San Francisco Taiko kind of leads the traditional folk style way of playing and Kinnara leads the Buddhist style, and then we took on this very contemporary Asian American, Japanese American perspective and kind of opened fusion type of work. And so a lot of groups kind of followed our format. We also developed a sort of collective process of working together, which a lot of other groups had to also adopt because they didn't have a teacher either, so we kind of helped build the infrastructure organizationally and musically, I think, for a lot of groups. And I think, a lot of people tell us that in a way, San Jose Taiko, we've kind of built our own competition, so to speak, by helping and sharing our style and our information so freely with other organizations, other groups that are trying to develop. And that's just been kind of who, what we feel's been important. It's not so much for us that we feel there's competition, but that it's important that there's more groups out there doing stuff and so the larger public knows what taiko's about, and it's really important that those groups are doing their own work so that it's not that we're trying to create a hundred different mini San Jose Taiko organizations out there, that there's a variety so people understand that there is that differences, even though, like jazz, you have this large term, but each artist is their own musician.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

TI: So we have sort of the, the music side where you've shared and, and brought this collective process. How about organizationally? When I think of San Jose Taiko I think of it as, as more of a professional troupe versus, I look at other taiko groups, generally they're volunteer run and they practice when they can, but San Jose Taiko has been able to do something differently. How did that come about?

RH: Well, I guess it was that process, after coming back from Kodo, that I was trying to push the organization to become more concert oriented and then the experience of traveling in Japan, knowing that what we have is something that we should try to work on as a group, and that's when the buy-in kind of happened with our own members, basically. So after that point we decided that, that we wanted to, as San Jose Taiko, really try to do more concert work and those kind of things, but I knew in order to do that that we just couldn't jump from doing part time hobbyists to full time taiko artists with no infrastructure, so we had incorporated a group, actually, much earlier because, with the thought that we wanted to start getting grants. Actually that happened in nineteen, we had started in 1981, '82 to incorporate a group as a nonprofit, and we were trying to get grants, but it was, the roadblocks we were running into in the mid-'80s was that no one knew what taiko was about and they didn't believe, when we were trying to apply for an arts grant, no one believed that we were an art form. So it took a lot of convincing to funders, basically, to educate them that we're a viable art form. And so that was part of our early work also, but fortunately that started turning around for us and we were able to get into some major grant programs that helped launch the group. The state of California had, through the arts council, had what they called a multicultural arts fund, which is sort of an incubator thing for us, and we were able to get into that, and after that the National Endowment for the Arts had also what they called an advancement program, which is, helped kind of lay down a strong business plan for the organization, and we were able to get into that program also, which also had some really significant funding dollars attached to, to that process.

We were told when we entered the NEA advancement program that maybe half of the groups that start that program won't finish and may not even exist afterwards because they decide it's not worth continuing as an organization, and so we were challenged from day one that, we were being told that, being told that we may not have a chance to survive this whole process. And so, and we knew that we were operating on a different style to begin with and that was, that was our challenge because we were being told that we needed to follow this typical kind of symphony model with a large board and all this kind of structure of staffing, whatever and here we're coming out of a community based art form and doing this, so we already knew that working collectively we didn't have that hierarchy structure, we didn't have the one artistic director and that kind of thing. We knew we would have to really think about how to define ourselves and be able to articulate it so we could sell it back to the funders so they could buy it also, and so that was our challenge at that time and we survived that. We were fortunate to survive that. We had to make some modifications, naturally, in order to compromise, but that really kind of set us on the path to look at how we could build ourselves organizationally.

TI: So it, was that a useful process? Do you think you're stronger by, by doing that and in some ways conforming to some of this?

RH: I think it was useful, one, it made us really think about what conforming meant and then we did try to implement certain things, and we found out that really still didn't work for us, so we, it was part of our learning process that, even though so-called professional consultants that supposedly knew how best to run things, were not totally right and that there were other models that could be just as effective and that we were one of those kind of models. And so we really tried to pursue that, just state that, one, we didn't need a large board, we are basically an artist driven collective, so you need to kind of look at how that operates. We're a community-based operation, so that's a real important component that's real different from other art forms, so we're very tied to a specific ethnic community, as far as our roots, and the instrument's very ethnically driven, too. So those were all factors that NEA or any other funders could not get their heads around at the beginning. And now it's changed a lot, but those were the challenges that we had to push early on, to make people understand that.

TI: And that's what kind of strikes me during this interview, was how many places you were sort of the trailblazers and, and the sense of innovation in blending the music, working with other groups, organizationally doing these different things. I look through your things, the use of technology, I mean, you had a website back in 1996 when the web was just, just starting, and where does that innovation come from? It is... it's not necessarily a common thing to see in these community based organizations, to be so innovative trying all these different things, so where did that come from?

RH: Some of it, to me, is we just happened to be at the right place at the right time, and it's not so much we were so brilliant in thinking about it and then planning for it, but --

TI: But, but is that really true? I mean, you think of the other taiko groups who were there before you and who started about the same time, they didn't take this step up in terms of innovating and trying these new things. In fact, if you talk with them they would say, "Well, we watch what San Jose Taiko does," and kind of follow you, so where, where does that come from?

RH: I think we, at least personally, I've always tried to feel that we were trying to be the creator and not be the follower, basically, and so, and we were willing to take the challenge or risk to kind of be out front and in order to create that process. Maybe it's a little bit of the stubbornness that we all had, and that's that, we were willing to kind of take the flack or, or take the failures, because not everything worked, naturally, but to kind of take the risk to go out there and try to do stuff, whether it's musically or organizationally. To be the first to hire on staff to run a taiko group, to organize as a nonprofit, to bring in a board of directors to help run you, to go after grants and try to fund you, to even ask the community to help donate to kind of help sponsor you or even to go after corporate donations to help sponsor what you're doing. To put the group on the road, to even start doing concerts versus what, 'cause they were, our competition really is the Japan-based groups because when we first started it was Kodo and us, basically, doing the concerts actively, just single shows of just taiko with one group. And so that was kind of the challenge for us, to try to match up. And it wasn't, again, that we were trying to copy, but we were just trying to feel that it was very important that we as an Asian American, or Japanese American group were able to create that recognition and that visibility here in the United States. And again, it's not for San Jose Taiko to be the best and top of it all, but to build a larger field in order to create that environment here in the United States, basically.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

TI: So when we started this interview we talked about how later on this year you were gonna step down, you and PJ as cofounders were gonna step down to let the next generation take over. What's your sense in terms of how they're gonna be able to keep innovating? What have you put in place so that San Jose Taiko will keep growing, evolving, and changing over time?

RH: One, I think we always talk about knowing your roots and it's always important to understand where things come from, so the history of not only taiko but, naturally, San Jose Taiko, and the sense of community where we come from is always important. But two, that we need to think out of the box, that whatever we've done in the past, it might've been real successful and that's what we're recognized for, but be willing to kind of change it up, do something different or challenge it or do something totally new. And so, and a lot of that's through collaborations working with other artists who are just trying different things, and as different members join the group, naturally, they're bringing different influences into what we're doing, too. So the harder part, I guess, really is not so much, to me right now is not so much being able to have that creative energy of new ideas because there's a lot of that comin' in. It's really the challenge to root it so people understand the history of where it all started from and to be able to relate to that and to be able to stand behind that piece as, as members of San Jose Taiko.

TI: But what have you put in place so that that will happen after you and PJ step down? I mean, what will continue the combination, the rootedness and that creativity to innovate? How do you, why are you confident that that will continue?

RH: I think because the leadership of the next generation that we picked, they totally understand that, and even though they're coming from a different perspective and different background, we feel very confident that they totally appreciate and they, they endorse what, the work we've done in the past. And so they talk, the other members, since we've been there -- PJ and I have been there kind of a long time -- there's, I guess, sort of the San Jose Taiko style way of doing things that's sort of our culture and environment, and then they talk about the Roy and PJ style of doing things. [Laughs] So it's like, we've become sort of like the Mom and Pop of the organization in a way. I always hate to use that term, but in a way that's we have become, and so, like, we're the one that always kind of scolding everybody else, "That's not, that's cool, but it's maybe not quite right," so kind of just trying to keep people in line. So I think, I feel confident it's, everyone's gonna have to make mistakes, but that's how you're gonna learn and I feel -- and transition -- you can't hang onto everything, and especially for an arts organization, especially a music one, you got to change. It's always got to change. And if you're thinking, we're not a Baroque orchestra or, you know, old classical music orchestra anything, we're looking to do contemporary work and continually to do that, and so with that said, we can't expect people just to do the old stuff we've been doing a long time, from the beginning, the same way, 'cause it's not gonna happen. And it shouldn't. So that's, that's what I feel is important.

TI: How has the experience changed you? I think of thirty-seven years, San Jose Taiko, I mean, now that you look back a little bit, how has Roy changed by going through this experience?

RH: Yeah, I've actually learned a lot about different things I never dreamed of doing before. I never, when we first started it was just a hobby, something of interest, never dreamed it would be a life's work, basically. I see it continuing as another, my, what I do next is just a continuation of that life work in a different way, in a different context, perhaps. I also feel that I've been able to now kind of share that experience with other organizations, not just within the taiko community, but within the larger arts community, and so several years back I helped start this multicultural arts leadership initiative here in San Jose area where we were able to bring in a group of, a class of about twelve people a year to help train them on leadership skills and to develop them as future leaders within the arts community, and also just myself, being given opportunities to get involved in different kind of leadership programs that I never even dreamed of being able to do before.

TI: So do you view yourself more as a leader now than, perhaps, when you first started in terms of, and being comfortable in that position?

RH: In some ways, yes. But a different kind of leader, I feel. I am not the kind of leader that's gonna go out and say, do this this way, or, charge, follow me, but it's, I like to be the kind of leader that's, hopefully is one that's able to listen to what's going on and help kind of mold the environment or the people involved to work together to move forward, basically. It's a harder process, it's a longer process, and I realize that, but that's, that's kind of, I feel it's a much longer lasting process, too.

TI: More collaborative, getting people involved.

RH: Yeah, because people buying into it, people are willing to engage and stay with it longer and believe in what you're doing, versus creating that one spike and they charge after you saying, oh cool, and then once it's done they're gone and nothing happens anymore. I've seen that happen too many times in the past and, and that's where conflicts always happen, too, because there's always people questioning, was that right or wrong or, especially if it fails. There's always a lot of blame to why it didn't work or whatever.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

TI: Okay. I'm at the end of my questions, so Tom, do you have...

Tom Izu: What role do you see San Jose Taiko playing in the future of the Japanese American community? There are so many questions that people are discussing. I know you're involved in the community outside of the taiko group, too, so what role do you see, as an organization, art organization, playing in the development of the Japanese community?

RH: Well, especially here in San Jose, we've, we always had a feel, and especially right now, that we're probably one of the key cultural institutions here that, that represent the Japantown, and we feel that's an important role for us to maintain and try to foster and increase. Because we're able to gain different kind of recognitions, luckily, so like, because with that we want to try to use that ability to try to make San Jose Japantown better known for what it is as a community, too. So even though we're traveling around or even outside the country about where we go, where we play and stuff, we're always talking about San Jose Japantown, even in our school shows. We may be in Midwest Iowa or Wisconsin, we'll ask, "Have you ever been to San Jose Japantown?" You know, this all white kids school program, they'll look at you, "What?" But so, "This is what Japantown's about," and we'll talk about that, and so they get an understanding that we as a Japanese community still have a community that we're connecting to, but we're Americans basically, and so what that means for being a person of color and how that's important and the music we're playing is part of that culture, but at the same time it's different than even what's being played in Japan. So we're trying to, it's hard to break down those barriers. People that never seen taiko, they immediately expect or assume we're from Japan, and we'll still get those questions, bizarre questions like, "Where in Japan is San Jose?" Or more typical ones, "Your English is very good," so those kind of typical questions always happen. It's really kind of unfortunate that people, the knowledge base still is very limited, unfortunately, and so we're still challenged to break down those myths and their images of what Japanese people are. And the fact that we can be in a very vibrant type of art form like what taiko's all about, and it's not just a classical musical form or tea ceremony or flower arranging, but there's other things happening in our communities. And I think for us it's important that San Jose Taiko, we're trying to bring all those things, especially back to here, back home.

TI: Good. Well, we're out of time. It's almost eleven o'clock, so Roy, thank you so much. Usually we take breaks in between, but I wanted to get everything, so we made you stay there for almost three hours. [Laughs] So thank you so much for the, it was a great interview. Thank you.

RH: Oh, thank you. I really appreciate the opportunity. I hope it's, you got something out of it. [Laughs]

TI: Oh, we got really good stuff.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.