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Title: Frank Saburo Sato Interview I
Narrator: Frank Saburo Sato
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: August 14, 2017
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-445-4

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TI: Let's go to your mother. So what was your mother's name and where was she born?

FS: Masuyo Ishikawa, and she was born in Fukuoka. I always get these dates mixed up, but May 19, 1898.

TI: So how did she come to America?

FS: Well, that's an interesting story. Her father... well, let me back up. My mother's mom had passed away, and her father had remarried. And when her father immigrated to this country, and he was one of the first berry farmers out there in Firwood.

TI: So this would be your grandfather on your mother's side, okay.

FS: Yeah. And so when he came to Fife, my mother stayed behind in Fukuoka, and she was raised by her grandmother. But then, someplace in there, I think about 1917 or thereabouts, she came to be with her father, and when my granddad decided to go back to Japan, is when my mother and father got married, and my granddad returned to Japan. It's an interesting story there, which I found out visiting Fukuoka. Apparently, along about 1917, '18, farmers did real well, he was raising strawberries out there, made a killing, so to speak. And he packed up and went back to Japan.

TI: So he made a killing around Fife.

FS: Yeah, Firwood, which is right outside of Fife.

TI: Uh-huh, Firwood. And so he went back, essentially, probably during that time, a fairly wealthy man, kind of?

FS: Yeah, it's interesting, when I visited Japan, one of the first times I was sleeping on a tatami mat, and it looked like Douglas fir plywood (on the ceiling). And I said to my cousin, "Hey, that looks like Douglas fir," and he said, he came out with this big smile on his face, he says, "Don't you know?" And I says, "What do you mean, don't I know?" He says, "Your granddad brought that back when he came from America." What apparently happened was my granddad was a chonan, and so when he came to the U.S., he told his younger brother, "You stay here and take care of Mom and Dad, I'm going to go to America and make lots of money. When I come back, we'll build these homes side by side." So that's exactly what he did. When he went back to Japan, he sent all this (lumber) from the Northwest, and the house that they had was a fairly large house by Japanese standards, but built of all Douglas fir and plywood, huge planks, it was amazing.

TI: Wow. Did you ever get pictures of that, of the beams and things like that?

FS: No, you know, it's one thing I regret.

TI: Is it still standing?

FS: No, it was torn down several years ago, and they put a new structure on there. My cousin lives in that house yet.

TI: If anyone in the family has photographs of that, back in Japan or something, I'd love to get that, that would be really interesting.

FS: I may have some someplace, I'll have to look and see.

TI: I think it's actually historically significant that, yeah, this lumber was sent back and the house was built in Japan, that's a good story. Okay, so we're still on your mother's side, so that was your grandfather on your mother's side, so she just got married to your father around 1917, so that's where we are, and now we're in Firwood still?

FS: Yes.

TI: And so, at this point, they're a farming family?

FS: Yes. My dad had a farm.

TI: And what crops did he raise?

FS: He grew, as far as I know, strawberries, lettuce, cabbage, just regular truck farm stuff. Had raspberries, stuff like that.

TI: Now, this might be a question you don't know the answer to, but a few years after 1917, Washington state enacted the alien land laws, and so if you weren't a citizen, I mean, if you were, like, a Japanese immigrant, you weren't allowed to own land. Do you know if that affected your family in terms of property or where they could farm?

FS: Well, it affected them in this way, of course. My dad didn't own his farm, he leased it. And when I was a kid, they moved from Firwood, outside of Fife, to Sumner, and he leased thirty acres, and that's where we were before the war.

TI: Now, was there any thought of, like, at this point, putting the land under your older brother's name, or your older sister's name? I mean, they were ten years older, so at some point they probably could have done that.

FS: You know, that I don't know. I think that, number one, my father probably didn't have the resources to buy it yet, is my guess, I don't know.

TI: You know, I forgot to ask this question. I know your mother and father met and married in Firwood, how did they meet? Is that through family connections, or did they just meet someplace? How did that happen?

FS: You know, my guess is it was arranged. My granddad was going back to Japan, their friends around there, I surmise, probably said, hey, they were looking for some young bachelors, and my dad was one of 'em around looking for a bride, and I think that's how it came about. I don't know.

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