Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: PJ Hirabayashi Interview
Narrator: PJ Hirabayashi
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda, Tom Izu
Location: San Jose, California
Date: January 27, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-hpj-01-0001

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

PJH: I was born in 1950, May 18th, in San Rafael, California. It's a area north of San Francisco and it was basically non Japanese community.

TI: Okay, let's talk about, a little bit about your family, and let me start with your father's family. So tell me how your father's family got to the United States.

PJH: My father's family, I believe my... well, for sure on my father's side my grandfather actually came from Kumamoto and his family was involved in making sweets, and I think he just wanted to leave and escape. [Laughs]

TI: So like a confection?

PJH: Confection, yes, a confection store.

TI: And he wanted to escape. Was he like the, did he have siblings, your grandfather?

PJH: He had, yes, he did, but I never met that side of the family at all. He immigrated to California and ended up in San Luis Obispo area and worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad. And my grandmother was a "picture bride," and she too was from Kumamoto.

TI: Do you have any stories about the two of them and how they got along, or how them met or the first meeting, things like that?

PJH: I don't know how they met, actually. I've not really perused that part of my history. I'll have to go back and talk to my auntie, how they met, but I do remember as a child that my grandmother was kind of like my guardian angel. She, she was always taking care of me. My, both my parents were working during the day. On occasion my mother would take me to work with her, when she would be cleaning homes or shops, but most of the time Grandma took care of me. Grandpa was already retired and he was always putzin' around in the garden, always watering and growing things, and because the memories that I have of Grandpa is that he was very hunched, and that had to do a lot with, I think, the type of work he did with the Southern Pacific Railroad as an engine wiper. What I remember growing up, because my grandmother died when I was four years, four years old, and I just remember her being a big lady. I can feel her nurturing qualities and always protecting me, providing me with food. I remember the manju, I remember things like this in the home, really foreign things like the butsudan. Why do they -- cling and then, where do the rice go? Where did the manju go? They made me believe that something always took it away. [Laughs] The other thing about my grandfather, I thought that he was a very, well, at that time I was so young that I couldn't really call him "strange," but he was very different in that his diet was really different. He was really into holistic living, even at that early, those early years. One dollop of yogurt, some miso soup, a few garlic cloves, I just remember things like that. He would ask me to help him at age four, five, six years old, to help him light the mokusa, the moxibustion little things that he said, "Okay, just put it on the little dots on my back," so I would put it on the back and then give me the incense and I would light it up. But these are the memories that kind of like...

TI: Wow, and when you communicated with your grandparents, was it in Japanese or English?

PJH: You know, that's a curious question, because I know there was some kind of, more of a heart to heart connection, but I can't say that I could really understand Japanese, but there was some kind of understanding going on, obviously. I was not really fluent in either, well, Japanese, but even English. [Laughs] My speaking patterns, I think, were really affected having been, grown up, growing up with my grandmother and grandfather taking care of me, so...

TI: Because they would speak Japanese to you?

PJH: Japanese to me.

TI: So you understood at some point or at some level what, what they were...

PJH: There must've been, yeah.

TI: And a feeling, also.

PJH: Right. So I can't say that it was really words. It was just, maybe it was kind of like in with the Japanese and out with the English, but really affected me in school. I had no idea that I could not pronounce certain things. I thought that was just the way things were supposed to be. They put me into speech class at a very early age, like first grade, and they, I remember getting drilled, "Say milkman. Milkman." "Milkman." Very traumatic, like why did I get pulled out of class to be in here with these kids, that I thought were kind of... [laughs]

TI: And that was because, in terms of hearing these words, they were from, with a Japanese accent and that's why you had to do that?

PJH: Yes.

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