Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Shyoko Hiraga Interview
Narrator: Shyoko Hiraga
Interviewers: Art Hansen (primary), Frank Abe (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: September 28, 2012
Densho ID: denshovh-hshyoko-01-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

AH: This is an interview for Densho. The interviewee or narrator for the interview is Shyoko Toda Hiraga. The interviewers are Art Hansen and Frank Abe. The videographer is Dana Hoshide. The location for the interview is the Densho recording studio, which is located at 1416 South Jackson Street in Seattle, Washington, 98144. The date of the interview is September 28, 2012, and the time of the interview is 9:40 a.m. Good morning, Shyoko, how are you?

SH: Good morning. I'm just fine, thank you.

AH: I'm very happy to meet you. We had a nice email correspondence, and I'm glad to put a face to an articulate sort of pen.

SH: Yes, I'm happy to meet you too and find out more about what's going on.

AH: Well, we're going to start the interview today with some biographical questions, and your life is central to this interview. We'll be encompassing things about your family, World War II, about Denver, about Seattle, schoolteaching and everything, but your life is central to it. So what we want to start out with is a biographical overview of your life from your birth in 1927, I think that's right, isn't it?

SH: Right.

AH: Up until World War II and the beginning of World War II and December 7, 1941, basically. So could you just talk about that, whatever direction you want to go and to whatever extent you want to deal with it?

SH: All right. I was born in Denver, my father was a tailor, and we lived in the quarters above his shop. There were many, many shops that were on the street, and it was Larimer Street. And we had very comfortable quarters. The upstairs part was bedrooms and sort of a living room, and then the downstairs part was the kitchen and dining room, and then in the front of the shop was his work area. As a child, when I was born, all of the children would be upstairs. My father would be downstairs working, but then we were all up there and having a good time. But because I was the second child, evidently I was somehow not as healthy as the others in the family. So the parents, my parents worried about me a lot. They said that I was often sickly. But as I grew older, I became very healthy. But I do remember that my mother once said that because I was ill a lot, that my oldest sister, who was twelve at the time, had to go out and do a lot of shopping and doing things. And as a result of that, she said that she had been killed by, in an accident. And I always felt a little guilty about that, because I had been a baby that cried a lot, I guess.

Anyway, as I grew older, I realized that my parents were really caring about us, and my father especially had that room set up in a way that as I learned to recognize things, that it was different from the other homes in the neighborhood. When I grew up enough to see they had the Book of Knowledge, he had a whole set in nice glass cases. And he had the Harvard Classics, and in any of the homes around there were not books, but he had books. They had a piano and pictures, and objects that were art objects. So I felt that, in the whole living room part was with a nice rug, and I thought, "Wow, this is different from other homes." So I knew that my parents had a pretty good life. But it was a busy life. But my mother, because she had the older child who had died the year I was born, and then my sister, who was three years older than I was, she was mostly busy just taking care of us.

And as I was growing up as a child, I remembered my sister and I, when we got so that we could play together and all, then she and I would be playing the old record player, that you had to have a wind-up record player. And we'd listen to songs, and they were both in Japanese and in English. But I didn't really understand too much English, but some of it came through hearing the records, I think. It was interesting because the language spoken in our home was Japanese, and so Japanese was the spoken language when I went to school. And in the kindergarten I had to repeat a year because I just didn't understand everything that was going on. And also we were not taught the skills that others had like using scissors and following directions and all. But caught on pretty quickly, and I always enjoyed school. But my parents always seemed to give us a very happy home life.

When I was in elementary school, there were many Hispanics in our, in the school. Our neighborhood didn't have any. The neighborhood, the immediate neighborhood had all stores, and so there were, like the mercantile store and a grocery, and furniture, used furniture places. And there was the Salvation Army on the corner of the block, and our playground, we didn't have much of a yard to play in. But my father had a swingset out there, and he tried to what he could to... and it was fenced in. Very small area, but it was to keep us there without getting hurt. But as we grew older, we were able to go skating around the block, and that was the means of exercise, I guess, and having fun.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.