Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Giro Nakagawa Interview
Narrator: Giro Nakagawa
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: South Bend, Washington
Date: April 30, 2014
Densho ID: denshovh-ngiro-01-0021

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TI: So you and Kuni come back first, so describe what happened? So what did you do when you first got back to South Bend?

GN: We ran the cannery, and repaired the cannery, and more or less managed the cannery.

TI: So just the two of you at first?

GN: Yeah.

TI: How about interacting with the union? Did you do anything with the union?

GN: No, we just became a union member, but we never... see, by being a former superintendent, you're not really supposed to be a union member. But we just kept paying our dues until it got kind of ridiculous to do it, so we dropped out and became managers here.

TI: So you and Kuni started getting the place back in shape. How much longer did it take before the others started coming?

GN: The next year, fall. I came back in '47, and in '48 they were all coming back.

TI: And what was the condition of the compound, the buildings, the beds?

GN: Oh, everything was in bad shape. They never took care of a thing for five years. The cannery was in bad shape, and every, it took us a couple years to get it where it ran normal.

TI: And how about the other oyster farms that were not Japanese? Were they doing pretty well?

GN: Oh, they all made money hand over fist during the war. The guys that used to live on little skiffs owed the, bought, one that guy that was nothing but an oyster opener, he made enough money to buy an oyster farm in Hood Canal. Another guy that lived in a shed, Glenn Point's a perfect example. That guy, all he had was a little skiff and a dock. When we came home, he was riding around in a new Oldsmobile, he had bought a house and had bought that ground that was developed for recreational. And he says, "If I can't make two dollar profit on a gallon of oysters, I'm not monkeying around with oysters," he never did. If you can make two dollars a gallon if you can pick it up for nothing.

TI: So the war years were really good for oyster farmers.

GN: All the guys made money.

TI: So was there ever... I'm curious why the New Washington Oyster Company, why they didn't get someone just to run the place.

GN: They did. They had both fishery run. It was a big fish company based out of Boston in those days. They had a branch in Seattle where we used to buy all our oysters. They were supposed to be managing it.

TI: And they just didn't do it?

GN: They just bought the oysters and made money on the oysters. I don't know that... we had no proof how they did it.

TI: But then, so it took a few years to get things running back. And then your role, when you first started, you were just like, kind of a worker, harvest. But now after the war, what was your position?

GN: We were the managers here. Bob Nakao lived in Seattle, he only came down here three or four days out of the week and went back to Seattle.

TI: How about the Isseis who started the company? What happened to them?

GN: By that time they were pretty old, so they, only a few of 'em worked here, couple years, and then they gradually disappeared. After the war they were, about my father's age group, they were just too old to be working.

TI: And so how did they transfer ownership? Did you just buy them out? Or how did...

GN: Every time a stockholder went back to Japan, said, "You, you and you will buy his stock." And they took it out of our wages, and he got paid off. So most of the old guys got paid off.

TI: Okay, so the workers, it was good for the workers because if they stayed here long enough, eventually they would become the owners.

GN: Yeah, yeah.

TI: And then over the years, as the Niseis got older or they moved away, how... did it just slowly get smaller and smaller in terms of the ownership?

GN: Yeah, yeah. That's what happened.

TI: And so were you the last one left?

GN: Frank and myself, Frank Kawashima and myself were the last. Then we were having a squabble, because he had an oyster company in Portland, and he needed all the oysters from here. He was gradually taking more and more oysters from here to keep his plant in Portland going. So it became either you buy me out or I buy you out, and he couldn't get by without it to keep his Portland place going. So he bought me out.

TI: But you're still here though. So how did that work out?

GN: Well, I was out for two years, until this guy that bought me out decides he's going to sell this place to Bay Center Mariculture who I'm working for now, decided to buy it. So I said "If you're going to buy New Washington," then I'll join you guys and become a stockholder there, and they gave me good stop options.

TI: And then you help run it for them?

GN: Yeah, 'cause I knew all the beds and stuff. So that's how I became... I wasn't going to buy another oyster company again, see. But when they bought this out, I said, "Well, it goes together, and I'm living here."

TI: Now just in terms of the oyster industry, in terms of the value, I mean, I have no idea in terms of an industry. From the beginnings of the 1930s to today, I mean, I'm guessing it must be, like, a multimillion dollar industry now versus pretty small back in the '30s? Has it really grown over the years?

GN: The production hasn't grown that much, but the price has gone up so high, it's ten times more.

TI: And so is it now kind of a business for bigger corporations to run it, or is it still kind of family run?

GN: Well, all the smaller guys are... the bigger companies are still growing, same. Our company is... let's see, one, two, probably about the third or fourth largest in the bay.

TI: So how many Japanese are left in the oyster business these days?

GN: Me. Yeah.

TI: And how about, in the whole state, or just here? How about other parts of the state?

GN: Do you know Jerry Yamashita from Seattle?

TI: No.

GN: Well, I think he's still in it, he's about my age. I'm sure he's not working anymore, but I think he has some interest yet. That's it.

TI: So for the Japanese, I mean, at one point, it was, the Japanese were a large part of the industry, and now it's down to the two of you.

GN: Yeah, yeah. Just myself and... I'm ninety-three, so I won't be a part of it much longer. [Laughs]

TI: So you're like the last of a whole, kind of, era.

GN: Yeah. Read that book by Doug Allen.

TI: And so taking a step back, how much have the Japanese contributed to oyster farming in Washington state?

GN: Oh, gosh, to start with, a lot. The Murakami family, this company, Jerry Yamashita.

TI: They did things like they brought in, like, the Japanese oyster seeds, that was probably a contribution?

GN: Yeah.

TI: How about innovations in processing, anything else that you think the Japanese kind of pioneered in terms of helping the industry?

GN: I don't know about that. Everything just comes together, and everybody's doing the same thing. Because T. Nakao, he talks about these big companies, when they were getting started, they'd come over there and borrow his baskets and skiffs and something like that to get started. Now they're big companies, and now they're out of it and somebody else is running it. To start with, the Japanese had a lot to do with it, keeping it going.

TI: Well, good. So that's all my questions. Is there anything else that you want to talk about?

GN: Not really.

TI: This was really interesting; this was a lot of fun to come down here and get to know you.

GN: Well, it was fun meeting you, Tom. Gosh, I've heard about you. [Laughs]

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.