Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Michiko Frances Chikahisa Interview
Narrator: Michiko Frances Chikahisa
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Skokie, Illinois
Date: June 17, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-cmichiko-01-0010

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FC: And so, and the other thing that happened while we were there, Japan and China went to war in July of 1937, and so the climate of the country changed 'cause you could hear newspaper boys calling, "Extra, extra," and they would have something pertaining to the war. And I don't know if you heard about this senninbari, they had these...

TI: The stitches, the thousand stitches.

FC: Yeah, so when you went downtown people would stop you and ask you please put a knot in this belly warmer, and so we spent, every time we went into town people would come up to us. So even as young as I was, I made this French knot, put the knot in this thing, and it's like praying for the soldiers and for their safety. So the climate was changing to a more militaristic kind of an environment, and so everywhere you went you could see soldiers waiting on trains and going, saying goodbye.

TI: Did your parents ever talk about that? Did you hear them talking about Japan changing into more military?

FC: I don't recall, but I'm sure that with the Akiyama family they talked a lot about, well, especially, he was having trouble finding an income. He kind of regretted leaving the U.S. and I guess with the war they're worried about the son, whether he might have to go to, 'cause he was at that point probably about fifteen, fourteen maybe, and if the war lasted any number of years he would have to go to, he would be drafted. So there was that kind of talk.

TI: Now, the Akiyamas' son, was he born in the United States?

FC: Yes, he was an American citizen. And as it turned out, he did, he was drafted and he was forced to work as an interpreter 'cause he retained quite a bit of English. And the story, what happened to the Akiyama family is really pretty tragic because after the war that part of Fukuoka was bombed quite heavily, and so I think their house was destroyed. They were really, really struggling. They wanted to come back to the U.S., but since he was, served in the Japan army, he was considered a traitor and he would've had to pay a huge penalty, monetary. If he put out enough money he could've bought his citizenship, or cleared his record.

TI: But even though he was drafted, it wasn't like he had a choice, really.

FC: They didn't, they didn't give him that consideration. He said if they put down enough money he could've cleared his record, but then they would have nothing left and so they couldn't even think about moving back to the States and not knowing how they were gonna survive. At that point Brazil was looking for immigrants and welcoming immigrants to Sao Paolo, so they decided to go to Sao Paolo. So at that point Hajime was already married and had several children, and so they decided, they went to Sao Paolo and they stopped in San Pedro overnight, and so we all went to the port to see them and they were crammed in this tiny, tiny little berth with, I think, another family. It was, it was unbelievable how cramped they were, but he said that they hoped to be able to have a future in Sao Paolo. They were looking forward to making a living there. They didn't, there were two kinds at that point, the ones that went into the actual jungle, and they were the real immigrants that went into prime forests and they were trying to establish Brasilia. So a lot of the immigrants were doing that, but they decided they didn't want to do that, roughing it, so they somehow found a job in Sao Paolo. And so that, after we visited them it was really touching 'cause they bowed to each other and they say, "We'll see you in heaven." They said...

TI: This was your father?

FC: And Mr. Akiyama, Mrs. Akiyama and my mother, they bowed to each other and said, this is sayonara for now, but we'll see each other in Tengoku.

TI: Because they realized that would be the last time they would see each other.

FC: Yeah. They didn't anticipate taking a trip back to Japan, and of course my parents wouldn't have thought of going to Brazil. So, but they were longtime friends and they knew they'd never see them again. It was very touching.

TI: Going back to kind of this buildup of the military in Japan, how did your father view it? Was he sort of proud of being Japanese, that Japan was now taking a stronger role?

FC: Actually, it turned out later he said that he had gone on this trip also to think about returning to Japan. He was hoping he had made enough money, that he would do what Mr. Akiyama did, he'd buy a piece of land. And then he said once he got there and walked around the country and talked to the families, he realized how Americanized he had been and that if he moved to Japan he would be put into this restricted kind of society, and he was the first one to say, "Let's go back home to America." [Laughs] He could hardly wait for us to leave Japan.

TI: Interesting. Okay.

FC: So he said he was an American. He did not identify at all with Japan. And it turned out that the ship we were supposed to come back to the States ran aground in the South Pacific so we had to wait for the next ship, so we didn't leave Japan until end of September, early part of October, when we should have left early in September. So our trip back was delayed a month, so we stayed in Japan much longer than we had planned.

TI: Now, for you, I want to talk a little bit about your impressions of Japan. You were there for several months. How did you like Japan?

FC: I enjoyed, I really enjoyed Japan 'cause we went to a lot of interesting places. I was especially fond of the fact that I met my grandfather. And I was amazed that here was this person that I'd never laid eyes on, my mother rarely talked about him, and we went to the, I remember particularly we went to the ocean, were going on like a beach party, and all of us had on our swimsuits. And I didn't learn how to swim. I was just, would toddle around on the shoreline at, in California beaches. Well, Grandpa was a good swimmer, so he was surprised that I didn't know how to swim and that I didn't want to go out there where the waves were, so he says, he put me on his shoulder and he says, "Come on, we're gonna go." And I'm thinking, here's this man, my father never held me on his shoulders. Here's this man I just met and he's willing to put me on the shoulders. He was so happy to know me, and I realized that that's what the family connection was, that here's somebody that if I passed on the street I wouldn't have recognized him, but he was Grandpa, and he was so happy to know us. It was the most, it made me realize how important these family connections are, and that you can make these connections almost instantaneously. And I guess he was accepting of us because he was so happy my mother had come back and she was doing so well, and so it was a real high point in his life. And after we left Japan he kept saying, even during the war, he was hoping that the war would end and we would return. And he lived to be ninety-one or something and he finally didn't, he realized that he wasn't gonna be able to see, the war didn't end in time. We wouldn't have gone back that soon, anyway.

TI: So that was the last time you saw him, was on this trip.

FC: Yeah, so it was the first and only time, but I was so, I really appreciated the connection I felt with him.

TI: Well, it sounds like a high point in your life, too.

FC: It was. It was, really. Yeah.

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