Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Min Tonai Interview I
Narrator: Min Tonai
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: September 2, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-tmin-01-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: So Min, the way I start this is just a kind of, it's called video slate, so the, I'll talk about the date and where we are. So today is Thursday, September 2, 2010, and we're at the Centenary Methodist Church in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles. On camera is Dana Hoshide and interviewing is me, Tom Ikeda. So I'm going to start, Min, with the first question -- Min Tonai is who we're interviewing -- is can you tell me where and when you born?

MT: I was born on February 6, 1929 in San Pedro, California.

TI: And can you tell me whether it was, like, a medical facility or at home, or tell me, tell me the circumstances of your birth.

MT: My family was living in Terminal Island at the Japanese fishing colony in Los Angeles harbor. And my mother's midwife lived in San Pedro, the town itself, across the, the channel in town, and so she went to, as they did, she went to live at the home of the, facility of the midwife for about a week to ten days before she gave birth, and after she gave birth she stayed there for a week to ten days. It was necessary back in those days because, in Terminal Island particularly, there were fishermen's wives had to get back and had to take care of the family, take care of everything 'cause the husbands are usually out to sea, and so this was a kind of a ritual that they had. And although my father was, at that time, no longer a fisherman and was in the produce business, this was a routine that they had, so I was born technically in San Pedro, although the family lived in Terminal Island.

TI: That's, that's interesting, so when women were going to give birth they would leave Terminal Island, go to this facility. How much, how long would they stay? I mean, before birth how long were they, how long did they stay after?

MT: A week to ten days.

TI: So about a week to ten days before they would go to this facility, give birth.

MT: Yes.

TI: And then they would stay for how long?

MT: Week to ten days, depending on the condition of the, of the mother.

TI: Okay, so two to three weeks, they're, they're...

MT: Well, yeah. One of the things is that you couldn't count on being, being born exactly at seven to ten days before the date that was due, but they would work within those kind of parameters. So if you were born, say, three days later, but you still may have only stayed only seven to ten days afterward, depending on the physical condition of the mother. Not, not everybody in Terminal Island went to Mrs. Tanaka -- that was the name of the midwife -- but quite a few did. Quite a few did. There were other, there was a midwife on Terminal Island itself, so there, some people were there. My younger brother was born in Terminal Island, the midwife that my mother went to was on Terminal Island, so that's where she went.

TI: Now, why was there a difference between where you were born and your younger brother? Why was he born in Terminal Island?

MT: Was the choice of the midwife. My mother chose one... up until I was, we all had Mrs. Tanaka, I believe. I believe that's, but subsequently she met the other midwife and then she decided to have her, my brother.

TI: Do you have any memories of the facility, Mrs. Tanaka's facility and what it looked like or where it was or how large it was?

MT: When I was a youngster I know I passed by it and it was just a regular home down near the waterfront, by then way up on the cliff. And Terminal Island is, I mean, sorry, San Pedro is built up in bluffs above the harbor itself, so I didn't, I don't now recall exactly what it looked like. But I do remember where my brother was born, but other than that -- he's a year, eleven months younger than I am -- but I remember that, going with my sister to, to see my mother.

TI: Okay. Going back to your life story, what was the name given to you at birth?

MT: Minoru.

TI: And is there any significance to that name?

MT: Yes. This is not a common character that is used for Minoru. The common character is what's called jitsu. It means fruitful, bearing fruit, whereas mine specifically is rice, bearing rice. The reason for that was that my father loved calligraphy, and with the name Tonai, which is fujiuchi, the character for wisteria, and among the wisteria the strokes said that I should have a more complex first name, which would mean the character which is nugihennone.

TI: So it sounds like your father was, was educated. So let's talk about your father. First, tell me his name and then where he was from.

MT: His name is Tonai Gengoro. He was the eldest son of the main Tonai family in a place called Esunokawa, which was a district of a town called Esumi in Wakayama-ken in the southwestern part of the peninsula, about halfway between Kushimoto, which is on the tip, southern tip, to Tanabe, which was a big town north of Oshima.

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