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

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: So today is Thursday, September 18, 2014. We're in the Densho studio. On camera is Dana Hoshide, I'm the interviewer, Tom Ikeda, and we also have in the room Yoko Yamashita, Eiichi's wife, who's watching. So, Eiichi, I'm going to start first by just asking, so give me your birth date. When were you born?

EY: I was born January 27, 1923.

TI: And where were you born?

EY: In Seattle.

TI: And what was the full name given to you at birth?

EY: Eiichi Yamashita.

TI: Okay, so next, can you tell me your father's name?

EY: Masahide Yamashita.

TI: And tell me your mother's name.

EY: Masako Ogura Yamashita.

TI: Okay, Ogura. And while we're talking about the family, tell me the name of your younger brother.

EY: Masao Yamashita.

TI: And he was about five years younger than you?

EY: Yes, that's right.

TI: And then your youngest...

EY: My sister was a couple years younger than my brother.

TI: Okay, and her name is?

EY: Fumiko.

TI: Good. Okay, so we got all the names out.

EY: Yeah. And she, her married name was Murai.

TI: Good. Okay, so next I'm going to focus now on your father, because I'm really curious about your father. So first, tell me where was your father from?

EY: Tokyo.

TI: Okay. And do you know what part of Tokyo?

EY: Hmm?

TI: Do you know what part of Tokyo?

EY: Oh, I think someplace around Aoyama.

TI: And then what kind of work did your father do, your father's family, what kind of work did they do?

EY: My paternal grandfather worked for, he was a samurai, and he worked for Ito Hirobumi.

TI: Explain that to me, what is that?

EY: Ito, he was... he was the author of the Japanese constitution, Ito Hirobumi, and later he was, I don't know what they call it, but I always assumed that it was the governor general. He was in Korea for a number of years.

TI: So this is your grandfather you're talking about?

EY: Grandfather's employer.

TI: Okay, employer, okay. But your grandfather worked for this man, who was a very important person.

EY: One as a bodyguard, and then my uncle, my father's elder brother, worked for this man when he was in Korea. And he was the author of the Japanese constitution.

TI: Okay, so your family had some really high-level connections.

EY: Some connection, yes, uh-huh. And my maternal grandfather was a... not too active, but was active in politics. He was a lumberman, but he also was interested in politics, and he was a member of the, I think Mother said, I think, Seiyukai.

TI: So given that your father's family had such good connections, why did he decide to leave Japan and come to America?

EY: (Seeking his fortune in a new environment). I think the most compelling reason was that at that time, people were being drafted to fight in the Russo-Japanese War. And he said that had he been in the army, why, he would have died in that, the battle over there where they were, there was a... what was it? (Nihyaku San Kochi).

TI: Manchuria?

EY: Yeah, yeah.

TI: Well, isn't that interesting -- I mean, so how did your grandfather react? So here he is, someone who is trained to fight, and your father decides not to?

EY: My grandfather went into battle, first battle at the age of sixteen, and he was on the Tokugawa side. And I think... why my father chose that, I don't know. Perhaps... maybe he had his reasons, but I really don't know.

TI: And how well educated was your father in Japan?

EY: Oh, he, I think he finished high school, and then after that he came over here. So after that, he was pressed for making a living, and so he struggled a little bit. But then he was able to, with the connection that his paternal...

TI: Okay, so we'll get to that later, I want to go step by step.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: So after high school in Japan is when he decides to come to America. Now, when he decided to come, did he know anybody in America?

EY: Oh, he had one friend from Tokyo, and so this fellow became a sponsor for him so that he could be here and stay.

TI: And where was his friend living? Where was he?

EY: Where was he?

TI: Yeah.

EY: I think it's... I don't know for sure, but I think he was involved in clearing land over in Bellevue area, because I heard that he was using dynamite to get the stumps out.

TI: Yeah, because that was kind of the land of stumps.

EY: Yeah, yeah.

TI: And so about... so he came over when he was about eighteen years old. Do you know about what year that was when he came?

EY: Before 1900.

TI: Okay, so late 1800s?

EY: Yeah.

TI: And so tell me, so he now gets to America. Where does he go to find work?

EY: Well, he walked up First Avenue, that was the main thoroughfare.

TI: So First Avenue in Seattle.

EY: Yes.

TI: Okay.

EY: And he... as they walked along First Avenue, he saw a photo shop where they were using sunlight to make prints the old fashioned way. And he said, "Well, I've done that before, so maybe I can get a job here." So he went and he got a job to work at the shop, and then he had a number of opportunity to take some picture of some of the famous people that came along. And one of them was the man that came to the peace treaty between Japan and Russia, and that was someplace, maybe it was (one of the piers in Seattle). But anyway, the famous picture that he took was probably the ambassador that came through the port of Seattle, and he took a picture of that. And so that is something that was famous. But after that, I think...

TI: But before you move on, the owner of the photo studio, was he Japanese or was he...

EY: Caucasian.

TI: Okay. and so do you know why he wanted to hire your father? That's kind of interesting.

EY: Just the fact that he was experienced in that, and probably there wasn't many people available that can do, do that. And so I think it was just a stroke of luck that my father was able to get a job there.

TI: Well, at this point, when your father first came to Seattle, did he speak any English?

EY: I never asked him, but I'm sure that maybe a little bit, but I think it was limited. However, when I look back and say, well, Mr. Hardy hired him and he was partially managerial material. And so I suppose he was able to speak a little bit of English to communicate with the customers. And, of course, Mr. Hardy found him to be a very appropriate hired employee at that moment. Because soon thereafter, the state of Washington, I think it was, had passed the bill that was controlled by the Gentlemen's Agreement.

TI: Okay, so the Gentlemen's Agreement, not the, I thought you were going to talk about the alien land laws, but the Gentlemen's Agreement.

EY: Yeah, that, I think, had an impact. Mr. Hardy, after he, my father started working there, he decided to retire. And when the retirement thing came up...

TI: So before we go there, I want to go back to, just to finish up with the photo studio. It's interesting because I've done quite a few of these interviews, and it's pretty unusual that your father got that kind of job. I mean, most of the Japanese immigrants, the men, they tended to be more laborers in the work crews, especially at the time he came. So that was pretty interesting.

EY: It's kind of amazing to me, too. But at the time, I guess he was pretty dependable, except for maybe one occasion on which he goofed up.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: Right, so we'll get there, but before, I just want a sense of, how would you describe your father? What kind of man was he?

EY: Well, he wasn't a laboring man. And he was concerned about the young people of the day, and so he took the initiative of renting space for the young people to have an organization of their own and be able to discuss different issues.

TI: And this was right at the very beginning when he first got there?

EY: Yeah. When he was involved over at Hardy's, the jewelry store, that is when he had the opportunity because along with that and his other involvement, he was... I guess he wasn't married, so all he had to do was spend the money for drinks and help the young people with baseball balls and things like that.

TI: And what about his personality? If you had to kind of describe his personality, was he kind of outgoing or was he quiet, or what kind of person was he?

EY: My mother's complaint would be very descriptive. She said he was more concerned and interested in his boys whom he was helping, like having the club room and having, buying things for their baseball team and things like that. And she was very jealous, and she told me so, many times. She said, "He was more interested in his boys than me." [Laughs] And I didn't know how to answer, so I said, "Oh." (Narr. note: My father had a concern for the young people of the day. When a Japanese training ship came to Seattle, the young fellows invited the crew to dinner. One of the young fellows made a speech. He said that, "If there ever should be a war between the two countries, we will fight Japan with yamato damashii.")

TI: And when he was with the boys, at the club and stuff, how would he be? Was he really talkative, was he kind of the leader?

EY: He was a leader, but I don't know to what extent. Because at that time, I was more like a baby. And the only... and the only comments that I remember very clearly is Ralph Kono, (he) had a garage on Twelfth Avenue. And one day I went to pick up my father's car, which he had left there for service, and Yuki, ordinarily would just take care of preparing the bill or something like that. But on this particular day he came around and then he said, "You know, your father did a lot of good things for the young people of the day," and he was the only one that really came out to tell me that. But I was impressed with that because normally people don't care about saying anything like that. But he went out of his way to come around and say that. And I remember I went to his funeral service. (Narr. note: Whenever people had an opportunity to nominate or elect a chairman or leader for a group they tended to nominate or appoint my father so perhaps he did have a leadership quality.)

TI: Now are you talking about Kono-san, or your father's?

EY: No, Kono, (...) And he was a member of a Christian church over in the Bothell area, and he had done so much for that church. In fact, what is it... you know, making like park facilities and things like that, that the church had property, but there was nobody to make it better. And Yuki was the one that...

TI: Oh, so really made it beautiful, the garden.

EY: And the church did recognize him for that.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: Okay, so now I'm going to go back. So your father was at the photo studio. Why did he leave the photo studio?

EY: I think he had an opportunity to go to Hardy's. His friend that, sponsor, again, was working at Hardy's, and he was, I don't know whether he was a [inaudible] or what, but he did some minute work, fixing up things. (Ted Hiraiwa did some fine detail work, which he was better suited for than blasting.)

TI: Where was the Hardy store located?

EY: First Avenue.

TI: First and what cross street?

EY: First and probably Pike, First and Pike area.

TI: And how do you spell Hardy? Is it...

EY: H-A-R-D-Y.

TI: Good, okay. And you mentioned earlier that he was sort of in a management role at Hardy's?

EY: That's right. Once he goofed up. And his job was to, sure to be there first thing in the morning and open the front door. Well, he drank too much, and so he got, he went to work all right, but he had a long line of people waiting for him.

TI: So he overslept?

EY: Overslept because he drank too much the night before.

TI: And did anything happen to him for being so late?

EY: No, there was no penalty. I guess he must have had some good feature about him. Other than that mistake, why, he was very dependable. And the fact that, being a Japanese, and at the time, lot of the ladies were coming because of the Gentlemen's Agreement. They were in a hurry to be a resident here. And so he had the opportunity to service those people, and it was very, probably profitable for Mr. Hardy.

TI: Oh, because lots of the "picture brides"...

EY: "Picture brides," yes.

TI: ...came through the jewelry store?

EY: Well, they fellows bout the jewelry.

TI: So things like a wedding ring?

EY: And things like that, yeah. How much they were able to afford, I don't know, because it was a day when things were kind of tough on those people, too.

TI: I see. So it sounds like Mr. Hardy was a good businessperson, because by hiring your father, it would attract the Japanese, sort of, customers.

EY: Yeah.

TI: Okay, so that's why your father was so important. But then eventually you said Mr. Hardy retired.

EY: Yes.

TI: And then what happened? So he's going to retire...

EY: So Mr. Arold and Mr. Shepherd, the two, bought the store.

TI: Now were they also managers at the store?

EY: They were part of the store, yes. And I guess had he been, my father been a Caucasian, then he probably would have been in that, would have had the opportunity, too. But he wasn't, so Mr. Hardy suggested to him get into the importing business and maybe import pearls and other things.

TI: Now, but, so I want to go back. So when Mr. Hardy didn't sell part of the business to your father...

EY: No, he didn't.

TI: How did your father feel about that?

EY: Well, he was kind of sad. But given the opportunity to get some, get into the importing business, he went to Japan and bought (pearls -- crystals for watches).

TI: Right, so before we even go there, did the other two, the ones who bought the Hardy store, did they try to persuade your father to keep working at the jewelry store?

EY: No, I never heard anything in that way, no. So I doubt very much... I remember, Yoko and I was acquainted with Mrs. Shepherd. But I don't know how Mr. Shepherd... do you remember anything? Mr. Shepherd was a mason, and the mason helped Mrs. Shepherd a great deal (later in life), but she was... I don't know what broke. [Laughs]

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: Okay, so we can move on. So after Mr. Hardy sold the, he retired and sold the store, he told your father to get into the import business to try and bring these...

EY: Pearls (and other jewelry).

TI: ...pearls to the United States. So from Japan to the United States.

EY: Yes.

TI: Okay, so tell me how that worked.

EY: Well, the Japanese pearl makers were too anxious to get money. And so instead of allowing the pearl oysters to make a heavier coat around the seed, they harvested it too soon. And so the customers would say, "I don't understand why, but these seem to have a wear on the edges and I can see the inside thing showing." So my father told the pearl producers to do a better job. But that was not the only impediment in the progress of things. The complaint about the pearl was where the stones came together, it was wearing, and then the inside was showing.

TI: So again, that was because they were picked too soon?

EY: Yes, the coat was too thin. And so that was one of the complaints. Then my father got involved in... those days, people carried watches, so it needed crystals, so he had people make crystals. Well, it was a good domestic industry for people to blow it and make it, but the problem was, there was no uniformity.

TI: So he was trying to get crystals made in Japan and then importing that.

EY: Yeah.

TI: So he said he would set up, find people in Japan to do it, but then he said there was no uniformity in the...

EY: No uniformity. And so people didn't like that, and that was no good. It was in that way with many things that he dealt with. And so the importing part of that was no good, it didn't succeed.

TI: And how did your father find these people? Did he travel a lot to Japan?

EY: (Yes). Oh, he went to Japan to find people. And, of course, they were very poor, and they were anxious to do things and sell things so that they can make money. But they were too anxious, and so the end result was it turned into a failure rather than a success.

TI: Okay. Now you mentioned earlier that at this point, your father's still single, and he's in the importing business. But then you mentioned your mom, so when did those two meet?

EY: Well, they were cousins. And so I guess my father knew her, but...

TI: And so he went back to Japan to marry her?

EY: Yeah. He was going to... I guess he was involved with my mother's sister as well, older sister. But ended up with my mother.

TI: Now I'm curious, you talked about earlier how many of the women just were "picture brides," so they just came over and married their husbands here. So why didn't your father do that? He knew you were his cousins, so couldn't he have just, like, picked one and have them come over?

EY: Well, I suppose he could have, you know. But I also know that, know the complaint that my mother had voiced. She said he was more interested in the welfare of his boys than of her. And so she was very jealous, and she was letting me know. [Laughs]

TI: But then he went to Japan, and then they kind of got married in Japan?

EY: (Well, he was trying to satisfy the wishes of his father-in-law to be, so it wasn't that simple).

TI: And I think you told me earlier, he decided to try to stay in Japan for a while.

EY: Yeah, his future father-in-law wanted him to do something in Japan, so he tried. He thought that by mechanizing the sewage hauling business, why maybe if he bought a tanker truck, that he would be able to do it. He tried it, but you can't beat the cheap labor. When you try to do some sophisticated things, it cost more.

TI: So explain that a little more. So he would have his tanker truck, he would go into neighborhoods?

EY: Yeah, that was the plan. And he got one tanker.

TI: And he was going to collect all the waste from, the human waste...

EY: Human waste, yes.

TI: ...from all of the houses.

EY: Yes. How hard he tried, I don't know. I'm sure that he looked at it from a profit angle, too, and if it were not profitable, you can't do it. And so my father...

TI: But I was trying to figure out how they would do this. So the house would have some kind of system where it'd collect, and then the truck would come by and would pick it up, kind of?

EY: Yeah, with a pump, they would probably suck it up to get it in the tank. But my maternal grandmother, grandfather, was a little bit brighter, and he knew that there wasn't much that he could do in Japan. So he said, "Take her and go."

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: So he said go back to the United States, go back to America?

EY: Yeah. And then he said he had an opportunity to see that... well, my maternal grandfather had orders for, he was a lumberman. And he had an order for some oversized timber that was not available in Japan. And so he introduced him to a lumberman in Tokyo, and they were able to make arrangement so that he could, the man gave him unlimited credit. So that whenever there was a good bargain on the market, he can just go ahead and buy it and send it. And so that's what he was doing for a year or two.

TI: So when he came back to America, he had this business already that if he could find these big logs...

EY: All he had to do was go and look around and find the bargain.

TI: Find the bargains and ship 'em to Japan.

EY: Yeah.

TI: And this was Mr. Kobayashi?

EY: Yes, nice man.

TI: So your dad, at this point, would just kind of go around to, like in the woods and stuff, the forests?

EY: There was all kinds of small, gyppo lumbermill, and so there were some interesting things that happened, too. So he prospered for about a year or two, and then the earthquake in Tokyo changed everything.

TI: So when you say he prospered, how would you, how would you know that? I mean, did he have like a house or a car? What would be an indicator that he was prosperous?

EY: (Well, I was born at Seattle General Hospital). Well, if a car is a measure of prosperity, he did have a nice car that looked like a Buick or something. But he... the thing is that when the earthquake in Tokyo happened...

TI: And this is 1923.

EY: 1923.

TI: Which is the same year that you were born.

EY: Yes.

TI: And so you were just a baby.

EY: Yeah, yeah. He had flatcars loaded with timber from Everett to Aberdeen.

TI: So you have cars, many, many cars...

EY: Carloads and carloads of timber. (Narr. note: He was more practical than that. I think he even stopped helping his boys. He even went to Mr. Furuya to solicit help but he told me that Mr. Furuya responded with an advance but later sent him a bill for the donation.)

TI: So he bought these logs, and they're going to be...

EY: Yeah, with Mr. Kobayashi's money.

TI: And then they're going to be loaded up on the docks and then sent to Japan?

EY: And all along the tracks, you know. But the problem was, the earthquake came, and they didn't know whether Mr. Kobayashi was alive or dead. So therefore the bank would not advance the money. And because the transportation did not move the number, there was demurrage on the cars, and in the dollar value of those days, I heard that each day's cost was maybe ten thousand dollars or something like that. It was in the days when you can buy milk for ten cents or something. So the obligation kept on building up, and it continued. And so my father wasn't able to get any money, and so the enterprise ended up. And Mr. Kobayashi did pass away.

TI: So what did your father do with all that timber? He was able to sell it?

EY: He had to sell it, liquidate it domestically. So you bought it full price, but you've got to sell it for a price that was maybe lower.

TI: And, of course, he had to pay all that railroad fees and everything. So your father lost a tremendous amount of money.

EY: Yeah. He went broke. And it took him maybe half a year or more to get things, all the things straightened out.

TI: And in America, many people would just declare bankruptcy.

EY: Yes. He didn't quite declare bankruptcy, but there were some embarrassing situations for him, too, later on. Because of his seed business, oyster seed business, he went to talk to some people. And there's some people would say, "Well, gosh darn, I dealt with this Japanese person and I lost my shirt on it." And here my father said I didn't have the courage to tell the man that he was that Japanese that caused him all the loss. [Laughs] But, you know, he was saying, he said he just didn't have the heart to tell him.

TI: So you mentioned that after the earthquake, you took all those losses, he didn't declare bankruptcy, took about half a year to help pay some of that back. How did he do that? What did he do for a living after the earthquake?

EY: Well, he paid what he could without going to bankruptcy, but he did the best he could. But like this man that was buying oyster seed from my father, there must have been people that gave up and accepted the fact that there was a tragic situation. And if we go broke, what can you do? And so he probably was forgiven.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: So what did your father do next after the lumber?

EY: You know, there's a lot of stories. He, primary thing that he did was he tried to go into the seafood business importing tuna from Japan, and to sell to people like Van Kamp seafood. And he had Mr. Matsudaira go down there and pack some samples, but that was not successful.

TI: So let me understand this business. So from Japan, they would catch the tuna, they would freeze it, and then they would ship it to Seattle.

EY: Or to Los Angeles.

TI: Or to Los Angeles. Then your father would purchase the fish, and then he would then try to sell it to, like, the canners and people like that?

EY: Yeah, like, Van Kamp seafood, he would make arrangements with them, and they will take it. But the trial didn't succeed, and I don't know, I was too young then, so I couldn't say, but I think Mr. Matsudaira was a labor recruiter rather than a cannery operator, and I think there might have been some reasons there that it didn't succeed.

TI: So that didn't work. So the importing...

EY: The oyster seed, okay.

TI: So next is the oyster seed, okay.

EY: Oyster seed. Because the growers was in great need of seed, oyster seed...

TI: So the growers in...

EY: Here.

TI: Here. And why was that? When I think of the Puget Sound...

EY: Olympia oysters were all harvested, and they ran out.

TI: Oh, so they were overharvested and they ran out, now the beds were all just empty.

EY: Yeah. And so first they --

TI: Did they have Olympia seeds here? Why didn't they just re-seed them?

EY: Well, you know, I think at that time, at that time there must have been a great deal of impact from the pulp mill. And the Olympia being a very sensitive animal, people had difficulty growing them.

TI: Oh, interesting. So it's kind of similar to actually today, where I was reading how there are some, sort of dying...

EY: CO2?

TI: Yeah, the carbon dioxide, and the seeds are really sensitive to that and they're having a hard time.

EY: Before that, with the Olympia oysters, we had the problem of the pulp mill. Sulfide liquor was the (culprit) that was causing all kinds of problems. And so, but the Pacific oysters were, in spite of that, were a little bit better, they were able to survive. The conditions of the oysters were not very good. But, so, the people tried to grow the Olympia oysters, but the pulp mill's impact was too great. And so people tried other things. Well, pulp mill sulfide liquor affected the Olympia oysters. The industry imported Kumamoto oysters, which was a smaller oyster than the Pacific. But that was really not very successful. Today it's doing a little bit better, but it was not. And so the industry imported some of the Kumamoto oysters to take the place of the Olympia oysters because the Olympia oyster population was practically none. And, but it was not so obviously successful.

TI: Were there other Japanese oysters that were even more successful than the Kumamotos?

EY: They didn't try any other smaller oysters to take the place of the Olympias. But the Pacific oysters did survive...

TI: Now, the Pacific, did they come from Japan?

EY: Yeah.

TI: Okay, the Pacific and the Kumamotos. When you say the industry found these, who was doing this? Who was, like, going to Japan and getting these oyster seeds and bringing them back and trying this?

EY: Well, after. Up to the start of the Pacific war, my father was... and his associates in Japan, were the only ones getting the oysters imported here.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: But I was wondering, I mean, who first discovered that this would be a good idea? Who really first said let's...

EY: Mr. Miyagi and Mr. Tsukimoto, I think, imported about a hundred cases of Pacific oysters. And when they, the oyster seed arrived, they were pretty much all dead. So they dumped a good many of them overboard, but they decided they would retain a few and plant them out to see if any of it would grow. And so they planted it in Samish Bay. The next spring, they decided to go and check on it. And to their surprise, there were oysters that were growing. It turns out that the larger oysters all died, but the seed, the tiny ones, survived, and they were growing. And so Mr. Miyagi and Mr. Tsukimoto said, "Well, gee, this is great."

TI: So were they kind of the... I guess what would I call it, like the fathers of Japanese oysters in...

EY: Well, yeah. Certainly they were the first successful.

TI: And this was in Samish Bay.

EY: Yeah. And so after that, the growers contacted the importers, different people, saying, "I want to get some seed," "I want to get some seed," "I want to get some seed oysters.

TI: Because the word got out that the Pacific oysters...

EY: Yeah, somebody succeeded. And so they tried. And I'm sure that my father was one of those, too. But he, along with other... the other thing is Samish Bay, alien land law was there, and that's why Mr. Tsukimoto and Mr. Miyagi sold the land that they had over there to a Mr. Steele, who had the Rockpoint Oyster Company. And so... and then my father was doing some of the importing, too, of the seed. But no big deal. And there were many people with interest, but the growers keep on going to the producers over in Japan trying to get the price down on the seed because they had all kinds of expenses sending the flatcar loads of seed to Yokohama, and then loading that onto the deck of the ship, and a small quantity, handling was very expensive, and they had a problem.

TI: So let me make sure I understand. So at the beginning, a grower here would place, like, an order for maybe fifty cases, or some small order.

EY: That was the problem.

TI: And then so that, they would pack it up, ship it by train to Yokohama, and then shipped over part of a larger ship, just one shipment, and then it would come and they would have to go get it, so there was no scale. It was kind of a small operation.

EY: Yeah, and it was very expensive. And these people --

TI: Plus probably a lot of the oysters died, too, because there was so much --

EY: That's right. And these people would complain about poor quality. And so the poor growers over in Japan couldn't get much money out of it. They were always being told, "You've got to cut the price so that we could pay for all the freight and things." And so my father, Mr. Miyagi and Mr. Tsukimoto controlled the farmers. And my father, along with, I think, Mr. Yamada, got together and decided that they will form an oyster seed producers cooperative, and that way it'd be one price from one source. And they were able to do that, you know. (My father became the sales agent for the co-op. The seed remained the property of the co-op until delivered to the buyer by the co-op.)

TI: So they would go to Japan and go to all the seed producers.

EY: Well, by that time, Mr. Tsukimoto and Mr. Miyagi was in Japan.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: Okay, so they would buy the seeds in Japan, and they would then offer like a standard price for all the seeds?

EY: Well, it was all by the co-op. The oyster seed producers cooperative would get all the things together. The price is all uniform, nobody can chisel the price, so they had good control.

TI: And this way the seed producers in Japan would get more money, they would get a higher price.

EY: They were very happy. They even said that we would have to build a statue of Mr. Yamashita. They were just plain, they were happy. They didn't get people coming down and chiseling the price, they were... and the one problem was these people financially was very pressed. And so they wanted to, didn't want to miss any sale. So they sent extra quantities, and that got to be the source of another problem. Because my father got stuck with all of these things, he had to plant them or do something to sell.

TI: So he would have a surplus of seed.

EY: He would have a surplus. And then people would say, "Look at Yamashita. Because he's at the source, he's getting a bargain. And he's getting this, and that's not fair," kind of thing.

TI: Because they thought the cooperative always said everyone gets the same price, but then they would think that your father, because he was part of...

EY: The American customer was the one that brought up the complaint.

TI: But before we go there, I just want to back up a little bit, because you said there was another innovation, that before you talked about how the seed producers would ship it by train to Yokohama and then shipped over, but there was an even better way.

EY: Yeah. And that was my father in the use of the timber, was able to move the ships around. And so he used the same practice. If you have the whole production in one area, then you can say, "Move the ship over here, and we'll get the deck loaded." And so they would have a big load on it, and they don't have to have that small quantity being sent by flatcars to Yokohama. So everything would be quick. They could put it together and load it on the ship, they could be having salt water pouring over the seed, be healthy. And so everything worked out well.

TI: And when it came to the United States, did the ship go directly to Samish Bay, or did it come into, like, Seattle?

EY: Oh, they, depending on how many goes where, ships went to different places. Like one would go to Anacortes for Samish Bay area, and then there would be one that would be going to Seattle or Everett, Olympia, Willapa harbor. But the ship would go there, and then unload there to the growers' barges, and so it was much easier and efficient for the ships.

TI: So it sounds like everyone won, then, because the seed producers would get a better price.

EY: That's right.

TI: You had a more efficient way which would save money, which then meant that the buyers, the growers here, got a good price also.

EY: Yeah, but they got the wrong impression. They thought that Yamashita was getting a bargain.

TI: So even though the Japanese seed producers were all really happy...

EY: They were happy.

TI: The American growers felt that they were being cheated somehow.

EY: They thought that Yamashita was getting a bargain. And then my father turned to some of the Japanese producers over here in Willapa, and he said, well, we've got a surplus, how about taking some of this? He would say, well, after the crop is in, you can pay us. Anything like that would arouse suspicion that somebody's getting a bargain. And my father, people thought that because my father was the one that was representing the import group, he was getting a bargain. He wasn't.

TI: Yeah, so what happened?

EY: He was so honest, you know, that he wasn't even keeping any of those seed. He was sending it out to all the people and doing what he can to make things better for the growers over in Japan. But that was not the case from their understanding of people like E.N. Steele. He bombarded the Japanese foreign office saying that Yamashita was doing this, he was getting all the bargain and taking advantage. Bombarded them with letters, so what did they do? Well, Japan is controlled by Mitsui, Mitsubishi, because the imperial family are stockholders of those companies. They can do anything, they can get away with anything. And so they accused my father with all the wrongdoing. The opportunity came for Mitsui, they had a representative in San Francisco, the seed was supposed to come to here, but, to my father. In 1941, it didn't come, it went to the other people.

TI: And that was the Mitsui connection?

EY: Mitsui connection, the agent.

TI: What's interesting, though, you said it was like, in, sort of in cooperation with the foreign ministry, because you said Mr. Steele would complain to the foreign ministry office here, the Japanese office, and then they would communicate that back, and so that's when Mitsui came in.

EY: Yeah, that's how it is. The way Mitsui made things difficult for small people is just unconscionable.

TI: Because they could take that whole shipment and essentially divert it someplace else.

EY: Well, but I don't think it could be done that way. But the agent, the agent could say, well, "Gee, it's not going to Yamashita, I will handle it." (The Seed Growers' Cooperative was selling the seed directly to the local growers and my father was the representative of the co-op.)

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: But going back, let me make sure I understand this, I was thinking when you said earlier, so you had the oyster seed cooperative. So you had Miyagi, and they were buying the seed in Japan. So didn't they own it, didn't they control it, and then it would go directly to your father?

EY: No. I don't know how they influenced the Japanese seed producer and Miyagi and Tsukimoto, the major people, but somehow they did. (Narr. note: The ownership of the seed remained with the co-op until it was delivered to the buyer).

TI: And they bought directly from them?

EY: And once they did that, after the war, the easiest place for the U.S. government, the military, to seek the oyster seed, was for them to go to Mitsui, because they were in there one year.

TI: This is interesting. So from a business perspective, in some ways, before Mitsui came in, your father almost, like, had a monopoly on it. I mean, that was the only kind of pathway here, and then Mitsui took that, and then they became the monopoly. And then after the war, because they were there, they continued that.

EY: The military, the occupation force, was able to go to them because the demand from here was, they said, "Gosh, we've got to have it, we've got to have it."

TI: So did your father ever...

EY: No, he never tried after that.

TI: So he never talked with Miyagi and Tsukimoto?

EY: He had a letter from Mr. Tsukimoto.

TI: And what did the letter say? What did he say?

EY: I don't know. I didn't even ask him. I had given up, I felt real sorry for my father, but that was the way. And not only oyster seed, but Mitsui caused all kinds of hardships for my father. And when they wanted to send somebody to the U.S., people would bring their Mitsui card and say, "Mr. Yamashita, I want to look at some things here. I want to see some pheasants, I want to look at some other thing." And my father would take weeks at a time to accommodate those people, or the government people that'd come around and say I'd like to... my father was on the ground floor, you know, so he'd take a week off and go and attend to that. And yet, and yet when it comes to helping you, nobody helps. They make demands, but they don't reciprocate. That's why my father, like when he was freezing some products and bringing it over here, the people, the cold storage people over in Japan said, "Gosh, Yamashita-san, I want to deal with you, but Mitsui or somebody else said not to give, lease any space to Yamashita." Then he would say, "Why?" and they would say, "Gee, I'm sorry. I want to deal with you, but if I do, then I'll be blacklisted by Mitsui, then I won't be able to survive."

TI: So this goes back to that earlier story when he failed at the frozen fish business. He said it was a trial, he didn't work, and part of it was that he couldn't get the cold storage space that was required to be in that business. And so Mitsui stopped them. So when that happened with the frozen fish, and then later on he's doing the oyster and you said your father would always help them, why did he do that? I mean, these were people that had hurt him before.

EY: There must have been a soft spot in his heart. You know, he.. in one deal involving some kind of a pulp, Mitsui turned around and came back to him and said, "Let's do this." My father said he spent several years trying to get this thing resigned so that it would be something that we could carry on to our benefit. Well, they said, "Let's do this together as a partner. You take a share and I'll have my share." But my father said, "I spent too many years, I'm not in a mood to share with you. I want to get the benefit of the time and effort that I spent." And so he lost the whole thing.

TI: Why? Because he didn't have enough money to keep going?

EY: Always Mitsui would have the influence, and they would have the strength. It's not necessarily company policy maybe, but the employees don't care about that. They're only worried about themselves, and they say, "Gee, if I do this, why then maybe I'll get an extra bonus," or this and that.

TI: So the attitude they took with the smaller companies was, "Either you work with us or we'll crush you"?

EY: That's right, that's right. That kind of thing, you know, will lead to some kind of failure. It's a bad thing for... people, when they make the effort to get something done, they like to be compensated for it.

TI: Well, I mean, that, I think, makes good business sense, too, to work so that it's a win-win, rather than, "I win, you lose."

EY: That's right, that's right. My friend, I don't know whether it's, how it all turned out, but my friend had an importing business, and he went to Senator Magnusson's office and asked him to make it possible to import the Japanese oranges. After maybe six years or something like that, he was no more in it. And I don't know if he was compensated for that or what happened.

TI: Oh, so you think maybe the same thing might have happened?

EY: That's my suspicion.

TI: He might have worked really hard, finally made it happen, and then the big company came in and just took it.

EY: Took it.

TI: Interesting.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: Okay, so Eiichi, we're going to get going again. We had just talked about your father, his journey to the United States, all the way up to 1941. I now want to backtrack and talk about your mother. So what we talked about earlier was how your father went to Japan and married your mother, and then they came back to Seattle. So why don't you tell me a little bit about your mother. What did she, do you know what year she came to Seattle?

EY: 1922.

TI: Okay, 1922. And what did she do when she first got here? I guess she had you. You were born the next year.

EY: Yeah.

TI: So right away she had you.

EY: Yeah, she... I think my mother, the first place that they stayed was over at the Panama Hotel.

TI: Oh, interesting, it's still there.

EY: Yeah. And there was a Manshinro Chinese restaurant place down on Jackson Street, and we used to go down there and have some Chinese food. Chinese restaurant operated by a Japanese. And at that time, it was, I think it was about the time they have... they had these prohibition of...

TI: So no alcohol.

EY: No alcohol. Well, this man, the major portion of his customers were Filipino, and they were cannery workers. So every year they'd go to Alaska during the summer, and when they finished, they'd come back, and then they'd live in Chinatown in the single room hotels, and he would, they would come to his restaurant and eat Chinese food prepared by a Japanese man.

TI: But then where does the alcohol come in? You said this was during Prohibition, so did he have alcohol there?

EY: No, he didn't. So then he said whenever his Filipino customers would come to eat his Chinese food, but this particular time, the police would come around and frisk all his Filipino customers, and they don't like to be. So they quit coming.

TI: So why... what was the police officer looking for?

EY: Hmm?

TI: Why did the police officer frisk them?

EY: Well, they wanted to, when they find liquor... and besides that, the Filipino fellows don't like to be frisked.

TI: And the police officers knew that?

EY: Yeah, certainly they did. And so a little later, the police came around, and so the owner, Mr... I forgot his name, would face the police and the police said, "Well, all you have to do is pay us so much a week and then we won't bother."

TI: Oh, so they would, by hassling the customers, they would drive them away unless the restaurant owner paid them.

EY: Yeah.

TI: How do you know this?

EY: That's what our friend told us.

TI: I see.

EY: He had a long face, you know, and there were no customers. But little by little, people would come back.

TI: But the restaurant owner had to pay the police off so they wouldn't do that.

EY: Yeah. But it was not a prohibitive amount. I think it was maybe ten dollars a week or something like that.

TI: Interesting. You mentioned staying in the Panama Hotel. Did you ever go to the bathhouse at the Panama Hotel? In the basement they had that bath.

EY: No, I never did.

TI: Okay, I was just curious. It's still there, so I was just curious if there was anything that you remember. It's kind of on the side on Maynard, the Maynard side.

EY: I've never been there.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: But back to your mother, so she comes to Seattle in 1922, the next year she has you. I suppose the other thing that I know is that in 1923 was when your father went from pretty much living really, really more affluently, lost everything. He lost everything in the Tokyo earthquake. So how did your mother, how did she cope through all this? What do you know about your mother?

EY: Well, you know, she was a very brave person and determined. And she was always very supportive of my father. But she was a strong person, too, and she found that, I think this is where my, one of my story is... she didn't like to, she didn't like to go to public places and work. She was independent, and she liked to do things her way. And so... and also she was determined to cooperate and help my father in whatever he was doing. And so she wanted to give him a free hand so that he could do what he can. But my mother didn't want to trouble him in the support of the family, so she would maybe pretend like she's okay even when she was not. And so after the failure of the business, she said she wanted to make it possible for me to get, rebuild the business, and she wanted, didn't want the need for the family deter him from doing what he should in business. So she did things quite differently, and she was always not a weak person, she was a strong person. She had determination. And so she would make sure that he would go and take care of business. She even when, even when everything was very difficult, she made sure that he had an office space that he could go to and try to reestablish his business. And so that was my mother.

So she had difficulty with English, but she decided that she was going to sew some baby clothes. And so she went to the Bon Marche with samples. She went there maybe seven times before the buyer said, "Well, we've never done this before, but I want you to bring me a sample, a sample of baby clothes." And he gave her an order for about ten dozen. And I'm supposed to have been somebody that helped her carry some of the material, you know. And I was a source of problem for her as well as a support. I was a problem because I would bother her all day long, and she would have to stay up at night to do the job to have the clothes ready for delivery. But she went to the Bon to talk to this buyer about seven or eight times.

TI: Wow, so she was very persistent, I mean, she wouldn't take no for an answer, she kept going back and back.

EY: That was it. And she has a determination to accomplish it.

TI: And how did your father feel about your mother working so hard?

EY: Well, I think he got used to it. But I think, I think my father, I think he knew my mother. And people over in Japan, when he was going over there to get some things established, he said, "She's all right, she's all right." You know, the fact that my mother had the determination and the strength to get something done. She just didn't want to go and work anyplace, she was going to do it herself. And, you know, her determination and the courage, it really does cause you, cause tears to well in your eyes, you know? I can't help it.

TI: So there was one more story?

Off camera: Yes. He was, I heard that she really needed money, so she decided to work someplace, in a factory or something. So Eiichi's father left to Japan on the ship, and she, his mother, came back and quit the job. That was just pretend, you know.

TI: Oh, okay, right. So do you know that story, where she went to work in the factory when your father went to Japan?

EY: She quit right away.

TI: Yeah, so let's tell this story. So your mother was very determined, and I guess there's a story that at one time she worked in a factory? Can you tell me that story?

EY: Oh, yeah. Well, she was kind of a strict person, and she didn't like to see men and women kind of teasing and maybe doing something inappropriate. She just couldn't tolerate that and so she would, if she did go to work at someplace, she didn't last long. She would go and say, "I'm going to do my own thing." So that was the kind of person that she was. She was determined to be the support of the family if the need be there. And I think a lot of people look at her and say, "Gosh, she's really too strict."

TI: But it sounds like there's, she understood that the family maybe needed money, and there was a time when your father left for Japan? And so what did she do? I mean, even though she had this sort of, really didn't want to work in these public workplaces, when your father went to Japan...

EY: She quit right away.

TI: Well, but first she started working, because when he came back, she quit, right?

EY: No.

TI: Oh.

EY: No, my father arranged that so that she could work at a farm. The farm had some kind of job for women to do. So he thought that if that is done, why, then she'll be able to get by. But not my mother. She decided, "I'll let him go. I'll show him that everything will be okay." She wouldn't. She wouldn't stay with something that didn't satisfy her. You know, like the things that she thought that was not appropriate for people to be doing. and so she would be independent and persistent as well. Because when she was making the baby clothes, she went to the Bon Marche. And I would think about that when I, I thought about the Korean man, I kind of... I had an opportunity. I lived with my uncle and my cousin --

TI: Oh, we're going to get to that later, okay?

EY: But it's an important...

TI: Okay, go ahead.

EY: Yeah. It's important because this Korean junk man came around one day, and we had a pointer, a dog named Lucky. And Lucky would come around and sniff around, and the man was bothered, you know. So he said, "Yakamashii." Yakamashii is noisy.

TI: Noisy, right.

EY: And my cousin, you know, a boy and a girl, woman, she was in her twenties. But to me, to me, this yakamashii was not funny. Yakamashii is, you know.

TI: Right.

EY: And so me, I was... my thought about that is, gosh, when my mother had difficulties, she persisted, really. And perspiration was pouring down her side, you know. It wasn't funny to me, that the man was saying something about a dog coming around and he said, "Yakamashii," because it's not yakamashii. Urusai would have been the Japanese approach to it. So my cousins were laughing, but to me, to me, it really wasn't something that was funny. Because my mother had experienced all of that, with perspiration pouring down her side, but it was important to her that she conveyed her thoughts to this buyer. And persistence in the end paid out, because she was able to convince this buyer to buy the baby clothes from her. She further got other business through this man for embroidery work and things like that. And it was a true reflection of the result that she won from this man. If she didn't have the persistence, she surely wouldn't have had the business.

TI: Okay.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: So we're back in Seattle now, and you're starting to grow up. I think when you're about five, she has another son? This is your brother.

EY: Masao.

TI: Masao. So there was a pretty big gap between you and Masao, five years?

EY: Well, there was another boy, but I think he was a stillbirth or something like that. There was another boy. But I had so much that I owed my brother. You know, I almost feel guilty that I am so comfortable, and that he, to make things easy for me, died accidentally.

TI: And how old was he when he died?

EY: Masao was thirty-two.

TI: Okay, so after the war he died. So we'll get back to Masao, let's go back to you now. Do you remember the house or the place that you grew up in? So you're in Seattle, and as a child, you were born in 1923. Now, as you were growing up, where did you live at that time?

EY: I think the only place that I remember is East Spruce. We lived one house over from where the Umemuras had a grocery store. And there were others, Japanese in the neighborhood, like Hashiguchi and other people.

TI: And so what's the street that... East Spruce, and what's the street number?

EY: Twelfth and Fourteenth.

TI: So not too far from here. It's not that far.

EY: No.

TI: And so there were several Japanese families nearby.

EY: Yeah. It was close to, even close to where Yoko, her parents lived. I didn't know at the time. At the time I was more interested in grasshoppers. [Laughs]

TI: And so what are some childhood memories? What do you remember growing up in your neighborhood? Who were your playmates?

EY: Oh, George Umemura had a sister Nobuko and Mary. But I really wasn't much of a mixer. I was more independent like my mother.

TI: So when you started school, which school did you go to?

EY: I went to Pacific School.

TI: Now, when you started school, were you able to speak English at that point, or was it all Japanese?

EY: I think I had difficulty.

TI: In that you just only spoke Japanese at that time?

EY: Yeah, my mother was always talking Japanese. And then I was pretty much at home all the time, so, yeah.

TI: And so how long did it take you to start speaking English then when you started school?

EY: I don't know whether I... I really wasn't very sensitive about grades or anything like that either. But I think I went to Maryknoll for maybe half a year or a year, and my mother was the one that made decisions. Around Easter, I was a very obedient student, and so if the sister said something, I would get on my knees and pray. My mother saw that, and she said that was no way for the boys to grow up. "If he's going to be a boy, he's got to be more independent." And so I didn't last over at Maryknoll for very long.

TI: Oh, interesting. And so the Maryknolls was the Catholic.

EY: Catholic.

TI: And so did, was your family, did they go to the Catholic church?

EY: Never.

TI: It was just the school that you went to.

EY: Just the school.

TI: But interesting, your mom thought that the way that they were treating the boys in particular wasn't the right way. So did she move you back to Pacific?

EY: I went to Pacific.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: Okay, so did you first start at Maryknoll and then went to Pacific?

EY: Yeah. And then from Pacific, I went to Japan.

TI: Okay, you went to Japan. And what grade were you when you went to Japan?

EY: I was in the third grade when I went to Japan, and I took the entry exam over at Funabashi. And I took the first grade entrance exam, and I flunked.

TI: So you're third grade here, or in the United States, and you go there, and you can't pass the first grade. Was it primarily because your language?

EY: No, no. Math and things.

TI: Oh, really? So math, something that language isn't as important.

EY: No.

TI: The Japanese were much more advanced.

EY: Yeah. They told me, told my mother that Japanese children can finish that in ten minutes, and I took thirty minutes or more, and I couldn't finish it.

TI: So even though you were in third grade, you couldn't do first grade math.

EY: I couldn't make it.

TI: Before we talk more about school, I wanted to ask you, so why did you go to Japan when you were in third grade?

EY: Well, my father said that I missed, he missed the opportunity to send his children to Korea to show off his offspring to his father. And so this time, Grandmother was quite ill.

TI: Oh, so your grandfather, who was living in Korea, he died before he had a chance to see you.

EY: Yeah. So this time, he was trying to make sure that we did not miss the opportunity, so we went there. But my brother and I were always fighting around Grandmother's bed, and so we were not much welcomed. And so we were on our way back to Tokyo.

TI: So when you say... so you, your brother, and then did your parents also go with you?

EY: No, my mother did.

TI: Your mother.

EY: My sister was an infant.

TI: And so she was with you also then? So it was your mother and the three children. And then your father went back to...

EY: No, Father was always attending to the business.

TI: And so what did that mean? Was he traveling a lot then?

EY: Well, he was in Seattle. And then, you know, so after that, we went back to Tokyo or Funabashi, and we found that my father wrote and said he was, he needed the family in Seattle. My mother claims that she asked me if I wanted to stay in Japan or go back to Seattle, and she claims that I said, "I don't want to start from first grade again, so I'll stay." And so I stayed in Korea and in Tokyo.

TI: Say that one more time? She said she asked you if you wanted to go, you said you didn't want to start first grade again?

EY: That's right.

TI: Because if you went back to Seattle, you thought you'd have to start at first grade? Wouldn't you go back to third or fourth grade?

EY: Oh, no. I thought that I would, if I go back, I would be starting from first grade again. That's what she said, but I don't remember saying that. But then I wouldn't say that I have a good memory, so probably my mother remembers that.

TI: And so because of that, you stayed in Tokyo, so your mom stayed in Tokyo also?

EY: No, my mom came back to Seattle.

TI: Okay. So was it you and your brother that stayed?

EY: No. I stayed with my grandmother, maternal grandmother and a maid.

TI: And so your brother and sister went back with your mom?

EY: Yes.

TI: Oh, so you were kind of left alone. How did that feel for you?

EY: Well, I was chief. Grandmother and a maid, and I was ordering everybody around. And unfortunately, my uncle from Korea brought Grandmother's ashes, and he saw me ordering everybody around. You know, "polish my shoe," and all of that, and he said, "That's no way to bring a boy up." So I ended up going to Korea. And I thought it would be fun, but it was no fun, because all my cousins were all, what, eighteen, twenty-two, they were all older than me, and they would be complaining about what I don't do rather than what I do. [Laughs] And so I found myself being very, feeling sorry for myself. But, so I spent a few years there.

TI: And how would you kind of think of those years? Were those hard years for you, or were they good years?

EY: Oh, very hard and sad years.

TI: So you wanted to go back to Seattle?

EY: Yeah, I missed my mother and my siblings.

TI: So when you told people that, if you told people that you wanted to go back to Seattle, what would they tell you?

EY: My father said, "Oh, I think you've had enough Japanese education, so we'll go home." And that's when he came to visit. And so from there, we went to Tokyo, and then I had a place. But I think it was after that, maybe it took another year before I came back over here.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: Now when you came back to Seattle, what was that like for you? Had things changed quite a bit?

EY: Well, you know, the question that was asked over at the immigration station, they asked a silly question, simple question, but something that I didn't know. Then they wanted to know all the parks in the city that I knew. What about the teacher's name or my friend's name? It probably would have been easy, but to me, I didn't pay much attention about things like that.

TI: And tell me why they were doing that. I mean, you had all your papers, right?

EY: Well, at the time, a lot of the Chinese people had substitutes sneaking in. And so they were very, being very careful in identifying the person. I knew all the relatives in Japan, but I surely didn't know much about the parks and friends and teacher, short memories. But that was another one of those experiences you have to live through.

TI: But then you, they eventually let you go through, though.

EY: Oh, yes. Not because I knew all the parks, knew some of the parks, but because I had a greater knowledge of my relatives in Japan. And they asked the same question of my mother, and I guess it matched.

TI: Now at this point, so you've lived in Japan for a few years and come back, at this point how good was your English?

EY: Well, it was terrible because they tried to have, I have an interview on the ship before I came out, and I flunked that.

TI: Because they were asking you questions in English?

EY: Yeah.

TI: And so when you went through immigration, did they have an interpreter for you?

EY: No, I didn't ask for that. I didn't ask.

TI: So it was a hard, it must have been a very difficult...

EY: But the fact that the relative's name, from me, and from what my mother said matched pretty well, so I wasn't a substitute like the Chinese people were doing. Chinese people had lots of substitutes that snuck in.

TI: Okay. so once you go back now, go back to school, I know you were earlier afraid that you had to start back at first grade. So what level did you start when you came back to...

EY: I went to the foreign class, so that was no grade.

TI: Now, was this before or after the YMCA? I know you also went to the YMCA.

EY: After YMCA.

TI: Okay, so first you went to the YMCA.

EY: Yeah.

TI: So tell me about that. What was, what kind of class was at the YMCA?

EY: I think there were about three grades, three or four grades in that one classroom. And what the children were, I don't know. I don't know what kind of children were there. But my mother found, learned from a friend that there was a class, and so she made arrangements so I could go there. But Mr. Harris, the teacher, had no experience teaching a student that was not capable of understanding English. And so he just got me a book on cowboys and gave it to me. And so I, what did I learn? I learned something about corrals, I had some kind of saddle and things. After a month I got a little bit of something about the cowboy terms, but I didn't make much progress. And so in the meantime, my mother found out about the foreign class at Pacific School, so I went there. And that was good because there were others in a similar position as me, and we were learning English. There was a Spanish girl, a Norwegian girl, lots of Chinese boys.

TI: Were there any other Japanese?

EY: There was one, two three... maybe four Japanese. There was a couple of Japanese girls, and there were maybe three boys, four including me.

TI: So you take this course to kind of re-learn your English, or learn English, and then where did you go?

EY: Then after that I went to Franklin High School.

TI: Now, I'm curious, were you still living in the same place on Spruce Street?

EY: No. By that time, we were, I think, we lived over in Beacon Hill.

TI: And in Beacon Hill, were there very many other Japanese families nearby?

EY: In the neighborhood there were about six families.

TI: And where on Beacon Hill did you live?

EY: Hines Street, maybe a couple blocks (south) of the Jefferson Park Golf Course.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: And so you go to Franklin High School, not Cleveland? Wasn't Cleveland High School there?

EY: No, I went to Franklin.

TI: Okay, so you went to Franklin High School, and this is freshman year, Franklin High School?

EY: Yeah, freshman year.

TI: And so how many other Japanese were going to Franklin at this point?

EY: Oh, there must have been, there must have been twenty, probably around twenty or more.

TI: Okay, so a good size, but not a lot.

EY: Yeah. The Yamaguchis, the Kawaguchi, and then there was a fellow by the name of Bernie Indress that lived in back of our place. There was an Andy Opacich, basketball player. Endres was a basketball player, and then there was a couple of, there was a twin named McGregor.

TI: So I'm curious, now that you're a freshman in high school, how your education, having spent several years in Japan, how your education compared to other students at Franklin High School?

EY: Well, in terms of math, I was doing fine. But when it came to things like history, that was a no-no for me. But I remember when I was there, there was a baseball player, Soriano, and then there was a basketball player, Opacich. Some of the Japanese people had, I think there was a fellow named Yoshioka, but he transferred to Broadway. (Math was easy for me. Most American students were poor at math.)

TI: So it sounds like a pretty... well, so there were lots of whites, some Japanese, were there very many other Chinese or other races there?

EY: If there were any, very few, and a few Italian. That was, Rainier Valley is, you know...

TI: Right, so I would have thought there would be more Italians because of the Rainier Valley.

EY: Yeah, probably Soriano's Italian, isn't it?

TI: Right.

EY: What about Opacich?

TI: I don't think Opacich is, but I think Soriano is. Now, about this time, your family moves from Seattle to go up north. So why did your family move away from Seattle?

EY: Because my father's importing business was really no more. And so the only business we had was the oyster farming, but it was not, it was not something that really the family can do except my mother. She would do anything. So she had this restaurant, she asked my father to build a building for her, and he did. And so that's where we, my mother had a restaurant where the, about that the time the governor was Martin, Clarence D. Martin, and he and his entourage came by and had some oysters on the half shell. Initially they dressed up the plates and took it over, but pretty soon it got to be that they were not fast enough. So they just took a bucket along and then dumped all the shells into the bucket and then placed the oysters right on their own plate. [Laughs]

TI: So where was the restaurant located?

EY: Right on the Chuckanut.

TI: Oh, right on Chuckanut, so before you go up the hill, it's just the flat area?

EY: Oyster Creek, you know, Oyster Creek, it's about a mile north of Oyster Creek.

TI: Wow, so your mom ran a restaurant. I forgot to ask this, going back to Seattle, were there very many, like, Japanese community activities that you can recall? Like picnics or things where the whole Japanese community would get together?

EY: You know, I never did... I never did get to go to... of course, I had no interest, but then I... somehow or other, our family was not involved much with the local.

TI: Well, it may be one reason, I'll ask you this, did you go to Japanese language school?

EY: On occasion I did maybe on a Saturday, but then I didn't go very often.

TI: Because I'm guessing you didn't really need to because you spoke Japanese.

EY: Yeah. I think my father said, "I don't want you to forget it, though," maybe for, just to maintain it, it'd be good to go. On Saturdays I did go a few times to Mr. Hashiguchi's Japanese school. That was on Yesler.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: And the other question I forgot to ask was, so when you lived in Seattle, where was your father's office? Where did he go to work?

EY: Most of the time it was on the Smith Tower, Smith Tower, and he shared an office with Tom Masuda.

TI: So back then, the Smith Tower was the tallest building in Seattle, wasn't it?

EY: Yes, that's right.

TI: And so was that a pretty prestigious place to have an office?

EY: I think so.

TI: So the business was doing pretty well for him to be in the Smith Tower, that's probably the best, maybe, business location in the city.

EY: Well, I don't think so. I do remember Erling Bendickson telling me that my father had a big desk, and he was sitting back there. And Erling is a man that had a moderately large oyster operation in Willapa Harbor. And he also had some operation up in Alaska. So he would always say, he used to say, "Well, gee, your father had an office in the Smith Tower, and he had a big desk, and he was sitting behind there." [Laughs]

TI: See, I remember, because I was always impressed when I went to the Smith Tower, because those elevators, they would always have that operator there, someone who would operate the elevator. And I always thought that was special.

EY: Yeah, that was... my brother and I went over to Smith Cove to do some fishing, and we caught a bunch of black cod, and we had a paper shopping bag and we put the fish in. When we got on the streetcar, the bottom came out. We had a devil of a time. [Laughs] I think we got off at Pike Place Market to buy another bag.

TI: That's a good story. So you had to just kind of hold the fish with your hands?

EY: [Nods].

TI: Well, that's interesting. So you'd go to Smith Cove and you can catch black cod there?

EY: Yeah. I think it was Pier 90 or Pier 91, something like that.

TI: So as a kid, was it common for you to just take the streetcars to different parts of town?

EY: Yeah, we went there. It was a good way for us to go. We weren't old enough to drive yet, you know.

TI: When you think about those Seattle days before you went to, up north, what's some fond memories of growing up in Seattle?

EY: Well, I remember around Christmastime, on the Smith Tower, Tom Masuda and my father would have some whiskey in some bottles. And the operator, the elevator operator would be hopping in to get a... and would give 'em back. I think if it were today, we'd be worrying. [Laughs]

TI: Right, won't be very safe to have a drunk elevator operator. Yeah, I was wondering, given that you went to Franklin High School, did you ever attend baseball games at Sick's Seattle Stadium?

EY: I didn't, but a lot of the fellows were, went down the hill, you know, to watch the game.

TI: Yeah, because you can get a free seat up there and watch the game.

EY: Oh, yeah. But I just loved that teacher that we had. She was teaching... I think she taught a lot of the students that participated in plays sponsored by the classes. And so one day I was on the elevator and Dewey Soriano came in, and I said, "Hi, Dewey," then talked about different teachers, and told something about Ms. McDonald. And he said, "Oh, that's right, she's everybody's favorite." She was a nice teacher. And then there was a Mr. Hurley, English teacher, so I went to visit him once, I took my young daughter along with me. And he was living with a bunch of men. So maybe all these people were former teachers, you know, but they had a particular place, only about a block and a half from Franklin High School.

TI: And they were like retired teachers?

EY: Yes, that's right.

TI: Interesting.

EY: There was an article in the paper about one of our teachers that was very good at cooking. So probably when all the men teachers were living there, maybe he was assigned the job of cooking.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: Okay, so let's go back up to, more towards Bellingham. Because from Franklin High School, then when you went up there, you transferred to Bellingham High School? I'm curious, what was the difference between Franklin High School and Bellingham High School?

EY: You know, I had gotten used to the school, and I think I was more inclined to associate with the people more when I was in Bellingham.

TI: Because I'm guessing Bellingham was mostly all white? Or was there...

EY: Pretty much. There were some Indian people from the Lummi tribe, but it was pretty much... I thought there were some white that was maybe involved in some of that... I don't know. Around that time, I think there was a lot of investigation for reds, Communists.

TI: Communists, okay.

EY: Or Socialist inclined.

TI: And this is even before the war? I thought most of it happened more after the war.

EY: I think just before, just before.

TI: Now were there any Japanese at Bellingham High School?

EY: Yeah, there were. And I disappointed one of the history teachers. She said, "I always thought all the Japanese students were good students, but..." [Laughs]

TI: But not Eiichi?

EY: Meaning that I wasn't very good.

TI: So what were the other Japanese families doing up in Bellingham?

EY: There was a restaurant, there was a barber shop, and then there might have been some others that was involved in... not farming. The farming families were more down towards, between Everett and Mt. Vernon. I don't know.

TI: And do you recall any of your classmates, Japanese classmates?

EY: I didn't have any Japanese classmates. I do remember a Japanese girl, her mother had a barbershop, and then there was a family that had a restaurant, Okubo, and then in Burlington there was a Hirams family, his brother Bob, there was Nancy, that was in Burlington. Takagi had a... what did they have? Either a barbershop or... I don't know.

TI: Okay. So...

EY: Attorney.

TI: What year did you graduate?

EY: '42.

TI: '42? So you graduated after the war...

EY: Maybe '41.

TI: Right before the war started.

EY: Yeah.

TI: Okay, so like June 1941.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2014 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<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.