Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Esther Takei Nishio Interview
Narrator: Esther Takei Nishio
Interviewer: Sharon Yamato
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: September 21, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-nesther-01-0001

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SY: Alright, today is, today is September 21, 2011, and we're with Esther Takei Nishio and we're recording it at her lovely home in Pasadena. My name is Sharon Yamato and Tani Ikeda is the videographer. So, Esther, I would like to start with having you talk a little bit about your parents and where they were from.

EN: I love to talk about them. They're my favorite people. [Laughs] My father's name is Harry Shigehisa Takei, and I'm sure he added Harry after he came to the United States. My mother's name is Ninoye, it was Ninoye Hayakawa, and they married in 1923. I understand that my father was married previously and had come to the United States early in the 1900s, I'm not sure exactly when, and lived in Chicago, and he and his wife had three children, two daughters and a son. But during the flu epidemic his wife passed away, so her father came to the United States from Japan and told my father, "I'm going to take your children back to Japan with me," because he had been a yoshi. His daughter, his wife was an only child and he had therefore agreed to take her surname when they got married. So his father-in-law returned to Japan with his three children and he was, of course, very, very sad.

SY: Left on his own.

EN: So --

SY: What, is that, I've heard the term yoshi from, for the first time from you, but that was apparently something that was quite common?

EN: Well it's, apparently it's a very common practice. When you're, when you have an only child who is a daughter, then when she marries someone her husband is expected to take her surname to carry on her family line.

SY: So he then switched his name back after she passed away.

EN: Right, so when his father-in-law came to claim their children his father-in-law said, "You've fulfilled your obligation to my family, so please take back your surname and I'm going bye bye."

SY: And so did your father ever talk about those three children? Did he have any contact with them?

EN: Yes. Well no, he, after he married my mother he, he had me later on, but we were kept separate, but this was, of course, later on. My mother learned about the children after they were married and she wanted to bring those children to join our family.

SY: Is that right?

EN: Uh-huh. So I think it was in, when I was about three and a half years old, she and I went to Japan to Yamanashi-ken and apparently those three children were living with their grandparents in Kyushu, and so we traveled there with the purpose of requesting that they release the children to our care so we could bring them back to join their father and his new family. But we were unsuccessful, so the, his early family remained in Japan and we returned by ourselves.

SY: So your father didn't make that trip with your mother.

EN: No, because they had this business and he couldn't leave.

SY: That he was taking care of, I see.

EN: So I didn't see them. Of course, I've forgotten 'cause I was just a little child then, but I did meet them, I think in 1944, when I went back to Japan later.

SY: Wow. And they were, they were quite a bit older than you.

EN: Yes.

SY: Interesting. So now can we go back a little bit and you can tell me about your father's parents and your mother's parents and family in Japan.

EN: I know nothing about my father's family at all. I don't know where they lived or what they look like. I don't, even if I saw their picture I wouldn't recognize them. I did meet my mother's mother on this trip that we made to Japan, and she was quite elderly at that time, but that was the only time I met her, and I think the father had already passed on. But I understand that he was a schoolteacher, or a school principal, I don't know which, and he was an educator and that was all I know.

SY: I see. And when your father came here to this country, he was, you mentioned his, he had an older brother that preceded him?

EN: Yes, his older brother was living in Venice at the time and he was apparently a great billiards champion, so he had the nickname Sharky. [Laughs] And he had a very beautiful wife and a lovely daughter, and we grew up together and she was wonderful.

SY: So do you think that his brother being here was the impetus for him coming to this country?

EN: Well, probably, but his brother was in Venice but my father was in Chicago when he first came. I don't know what he was doing there, but I do have an old photo of him driving some kind of truck and I think it was a laundry business of some sort. But that's the only clue I have of his early occupation.

SY: I see.

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