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Densho Visual History Collection
Title: June Yasuno Aochi (Yamashiro) Berk Interview
Narrator: June Yasuno Aochi (Yamashiro) Berk
Interviewer: Brian Niiya
Location: Studio City, California
Date: December 18, 2018
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-453-13

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BN: And I want to get back to that, but before we get to that, talk about the Nisei Week --

JB: Nisei Week?

BN: -- period, and how did that...

JB: I don't know how that... it's a mystery to me, too. I had just got back here from Denver, and somebody asked me if I would like to run. And my mother said no because we don't have any money, and I knew we didn't have any money. In those days you had to buy your own clothes and everything was, there was no sponsorship, you were on your own. So I made all my clothes. I mean, when I say I made them, my girlfriends all helped me make them. Basically I made my own clothes to wear. It was the era at that time where, in Little Tokyo, in order to create business for Little Tokyo, the Nisei Week was started in the '30s, right? So what they did was, every time you bought something, for every dollar you spent, you get a ticket, and then on that ticket you vote for whichever queen you want. So they would have our pictures plastered on the walls of the stores and the restaurants, and people would go in and whatever they purchased, they would give them the ticket and then they would write down the names. So Rafu Shimpo would have a weekly tally of who's leading, and then the top five get to become the court. And then from the top five, one is judged to be the queen. So in the time leading up to that, George Yoshinaga had me pegged as the dark horse, 'cause I was about number seven, and you had to be in the top five. So these people would... and I guess it was successful because people would tell me, "I bought my refrigerator and I put all my votes for you," or, "We bought this and we put our votes for you." I didn't know these people. I didn't know anybody in L.A., practically. So it was a big surprise when I slid into fourth place, I guess.

BN: Yeah, fourth.

JB: Fourth? I thought it was fifth. And then from there, they had judging in private home, and so we didn't have to go on stage or anything like that. I think being selected as queen was probably due to my Japanese training. I remember Consul General Hogan was one of the judges, and I think I impressed him by knowing Japanese, how to speak Japanese, where the other girls didn't know how to speak Japanese. So I think that gave me an edge.

BN: What were you judged on?

JB: Bathing suit. It was done at a private home in a swimming pool. So bathing suit, evening gown, they interview you, we each had to go in to be interviewed in a room. Those things, whatever you said, or your poise or whatever, that was what we were judged on. But we didn't know who won until that very night. And at night they would say, "Okay, fourth, fifth runner up is so-and-so," and then she goes out the door first and marches down. And it was at the Palladium. I don't know how many people were there, but she would go down. And the third place is so-and-so, and so she'd go down. By the time you get to second, and then the first runner up, there's only two of us sitting there left. When it was announced, I was pretty shocked. My mother was in the hospital at the time and she had just had surgery for cancer, so she wasn't there. So I called her right away, and I think I called Kansuma, too, I'm not sure. I thanked her. My mother said, "It's quite an honor." She said, "The first thing you have to do is you have to go to the gravesite to thank your father." So the next morning, I went to Evergreen Cemetery to thank my father. And being Nisei Week queen let to my becoming a model, and then that's when I was supposed to go to Japan with Hari Greer, and that was in that Scene magazine. And I did some movie work, a little bit, not too much. It opened up other kinds of opportunities for me. But then I got married and had kids, so that was the end of that. [Laughs]

BN: I read a little bit about the projected trip to Japan, but it kind of fell through.

JB: Yes. There were five of us, four Caucasians, they were from New York, models, and I was from here. They gave me a send-off trip, they gave me a send-off party, it was all set to go. And the day before the trip, Japan canceled me because they had Miss Japan and Japan to be a model. I was canceled.

BN: If they were going to bring people from the U.S...

JB: Yeah, you could bring the Caucasians.

BN: Yeah, you could find somewhere like you there.

JB: They said, "We have a lot of Japanese girls here, so you don't need to bring the Japanese girl." So Hari Greer said, "I'm really sorry to tell you this, but since they're paying for the trip, they said we have enough Japanese girls here." I was disappointed. But on the other hand, it was terrible because all my relatives in Wakayama, I heard they took the train to Tokyo to go greet me. It was a big deal. And then Fred Yamashiro, who was in the army, Korean War there, he saw my picture in Stars & Stripes, and so he told all his buddies, "This is my girlfriend and she's coming to Japan." So when he called this place in Nagoya, they said, "Oh, June couldn't make the trip." But then he called me when he came back from the Korean War and we got married. So there was this continuation of events, even though I was cancelled. But I still modeled here in L.A. for Ko Kaneko, mostly Ko Kaneko. She was a fashion designer, we modeled at different restaurants.

BN: And is this, you were talking earlier about Nobu McCarthy, this period in...

JB: Yeah, Nobu and I did the auto show together, and she had the Toyota car, and I had... was in the Datsun, the very first Datsun that came over. And everybody would stop by and say, "That thing is built out of beer cans." [Laughs] Next door to me is the Maserati on that side, and the other side of me was some, I don't know, Mercedes-Benz.

BN: You were with the Japanese cars.

JB: Yeah. And then Nobu was down the row with her Toyota, but at least Toyota had some style, it was pretty. Datsuns looked like, it was a Japanese taxi cab, is what it was. It was fun. So we would do different shows together.

BN: Is it something that you were thinking of pursuing professionally?

JB: Yes, I wanted to be a model, and then I wanted to be an airline stewardess. But at that time, they weren't hiring Japanese for airline stewardess, not until Japan Air Lines came.

BN: Or in Hawaii.

JB: Yeah, right.

BN: That was the time Pan Am was hiring, specifically looking for Nisei stewardesses.

JB: Oh, really?

BN: And just, it was a Hawaii thing.

JB: And then after a while I became afraid to fly, just didn't want to fly anymore. But there was a time when I thought I wanted to be a stewardess.

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