Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Eiichi Yamashita Interview I
Narrator: Eiichi Yamashita
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: September 18, 2014
Densho ID: denshovh-yeiichi-01-0019

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: And then what did you do after you graduated from high school?

EY: Put into Tule Lake.

TI: Well, no, before the war, so right after high school...

EY: Oh, well, I was drafted by my father. He was an office person, there was nobody to go out to the bay to do any work. So he asked me, so I had, I was planning on going to Western, and I was ready... I went there to Western about five days, and then my father asked me, so I said, well, I was tired of studying anyway, so I said sure. And then I did all the work around there.

TI: So this is really getting into the oyster farming business?

EY: Yeah.

TI: So tell me about that. Tell me the operations of your father's place. How large was it?

EY: Oh, I don't know the acreage, but it was something that built on to the Larabees. And so my father planted, had a crew, so he planted the seed oysters. But after... when the war clouds gathered, why, then there was no more, not much that can be done with the help. And so we had a very limited operation. And so close to the war, my mother's restaurant and our shucking and things, I did that.

TI: Oh, so you shucked. So that was some of the physical labor your dad wanted you to do.

EY: Yeah. I was a worker. And so...

TI: And tell me a little bit about your house where you lived. Now, where did you live?

EY: We had a house that formerly, that was, the Larabees had. The Larabee family had a cabin, and there used to be an interurban railway out, partway out into the bay. And so they, so it ran from I think Bellingham to Seattle. And it used to be very obvious, you know, over around... oh, around north Seattle. So I do have some happy memories of running over the tracks, you know, and chasing the fish, and we would get ahead of the school of fish that was going back and forth between the piling. And we'd get ahead of the fish and drop the crab, lying down, and the fish would bite on it and we'd lift up the fish. We used to catch lots of silver perch.

TI: Interesting. Using a crab for bait?

EY: Yeah.

TI: But back to where you lived, was it then on Chuckanut?

EY: On Chuckanut, yeah. And so we have the small restaurant up on top, on the highway, and the little oyster stand where we sold some oysters. People from Bellingham would come by, or British Columbia would come by and buy oysters. But we were not in a position to have any shuckers anymore, didn't have much business. But we sustained ourselves in a limited way.

TI: So any other memories or stories before the war started?

EY: Yes. In 1941, my father had an invitation from a Mr.... I forgot. But he had the shore line of Pleasant Harbor that's in Hood Canal. And he always felt that it was a good potential place for cultching for seed, that is to prepare the setting material and put it in the water at the proper time, and the oyster larvae would come and attach itself to the shell. And so this one year, 1941... no, '40, I think it was '40, he wanted my father to come around and take a look. So we went and looked, and sure enough, it was a beautiful seed.

TI: And so prior to that, there wasn't really much oysters in Hood Canal?

EY: Well, no, there were. There were. And the thing about it is that Hood Canal is a long body of water, and so the water doesn't turn over. It would be going back and forth. And so because the same water would be going back and forth, the tendency was for the water to warm up, instead of mixing up, it would stratify. And so because that happens, the wind would blow it this way and blow it. Well, when it blows in a certain direction, the wind would stack the warm layer of water into a bay, and that layer sometimes would be twenty, thirty feet deep, and the temperature would be maybe, be about sixty.

TI: Because the normal Puget Sound was like fifty-five or so?

EY: Fifty-five is a little bit too low. Sixty, sixty-five, seventy, would be ideal. And so there are many bays. So when the prevailing wind, which blows from the south, it stacks up into this bay. And the layer of water, the wind would blow, skim the top off, and so the warm water would be building up. And sometimes the layer of warm water over sixty degrees would be thirty feet, forty feet, depending on the depth.

TI: And that was really good for the seeds?

EY: The oyster seed requires a temperature about fifty-five, sixty, to be suitable for setting. And so Hood Canal had that condition whereby a fairly high temperature can be maintained. And then the oysters would release all the eggs and the sperm into the water, and it fertilizes within that layer of warm water. And so that was happening over in Hood Canal. Like this year and last year, we had good weather condition, and so we looked at the oyster seed last week, and we found on one shell, maybe a hundred little oysters. And so that's what we found when we were going to Pleasant Harbor.

TI: Yeah. So is that, when you look around the Puget Sound, is that like one of the best places then for...

EY: Hood Canal, yeah.

TI: ...for seed. Interesting.

EY: And parts of Willapa Harbor has an area where the warm water usually stacks up. But more recently, there have been problems with that, too, because of the carbon dioxide...

TI: Being too high?

EY: ...effect on water.

TI: So 1940, you've discovered this, that was ideal.

EY: Yeah. So my father... so we put the cultch material in, we rented a small place from a beach owner, and we had just a tremendous set, beautiful scene. And so we showed it to my father's customer who used to buy seed from him, and we told them where to go and what to do so that they can maintain and sustain their operation of farming.

TI: Especially when the war broke out, when they couldn't get seed...

EY: Get from Japan, yeah.

TI: So they could create their own seed in Hood Canal.

EY: Yeah. And they were very pleased, and so they said that, "We will take care of your material, too, and we'll cultch it and set it, and then we'll bring it back, and we will plant it on our vacant ground, so that when you come back, you'll have some oysters to go back to.

TI: So that could be kind of your start for your oyster business.

EY: And so that's what happened. Our friends, who were counting on us for seed all the time, we had an opportunity to help them, and then, too, they were able to reciprocate that to help us.

TI: Earlier you talked about how some of the other oyster farmers, though, were upset at your dad because they thought he was getting the cheaper seed. Were these some of the same people?

EY: No, these people were, to us, a local people because they were across the bay from us, and we were here, and then they were over here.

TI: Okay, so they knew you much better. I see. So, Eiichi, we're going to stop here and choose another day to keep going. But I think this is a good place to stop, because we're right at the war. So the next interview, I'm going to get into the war starting and then what happened to your family, your father, your brother, all that. So we'll do that next time.

EY: Okay.

TI: Great, thank you.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.