Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Alan Kumamoto Interview
Narrator: Alan Kumamoto
Interviewer: Brian Niiya
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: February 7, 2019
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-464-1

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

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BN: It's February 7, 2019, and we're here this morning to interview Alan Kumamoto. The interviewer is Brian Niiya, and on the camera is Dana Hoshide, and we're going to jump right in. And as we often do with the interviews, I'm going to start by asking you about your family, starting with your dad.

AK: Well, the Kumamotos, my grandfather Kumamoto, actually, because he was the Issei, he came to the U.S. directly to Tropico. Tropico is basically Glendale. And he was a farmer, so he wanted to continue farming, and he found that the ground was rocky and not so good, it was arid out here, so you needed water and so forth. So he eventually moved to Little Tokyo, and he established Hiroshima Ya, which was a boarding house. And so usually on the weekends, many of the Japanese that were farming and so forth were the workers, would come to Little Tokyo. Little Tokyo was the only safe place, or the only place you could go, all the restrictive covenants and things. So it was both for survival, so you could live and eat and do things that would be in the, quote, "Japanese way," as well as good life. Because you could gamble, and you could party and you could drink and all that with your colleagues. So Hiroshima Ya was the center for many of the people, because Hiroshima Prefecture was one of the major prefectures from Japan for Japanese to come. So that was my grandfather.

BN: And what was his name?

AK: You would ask that, huh? I'll have to find that. (Narr. note: Tamakichi and his wife Minako.)

BN: And was he from Hiroshima himself?

AK: Oh, yeah, (Sakamachi, Aki-gun-, Hiroshima). In fact, last summer we went and visited the tanpo and the grave, the visiting of the grave is the big deal. And so we went to the farmhouse that his oldest brother had. And the oldest brother had this... wow, it's how long now? It was the family house, and then they had a tanpo up in the hills, and it's a co-op now. And basically what happened was my father inherited the house because the oldest brother only had a daughter. So going down in succession, my grandfather, who was the youngest, he said, since he has my dad, my dad should have the house. And my dad said, "What do I want a house in Japan for? I'll never really go there," and everything. And besides, the older brother had a daughter. So one of the things that happens in Japan is her husband assumes the Kumamoto name so that he can inherit the house. So the house remained in the name of the, I guess, his son-in-law. That was the rite of passage, so that's that interesting story. So we had a house in Japan, I guess, momentarily as a thought. And they're re-renovating it right now, because that husband and wife, who would be my aunt and uncle, basically, they only have a daughter, and they don't have any children, so the question is, what happens? As the laws in Japan change so that she can inherit the house when my uncle passes away, because my aunt passed away a couple of years ago. And the Hiroshima Kenjinkai, I guess, keeps in touch with them, Sakamachi in Aki-gun, which is the, I guess the county of the city, there's a lot of people from this area who live there, or who came from there anyway, but that's my grandfather. My father then becomes part of the Olivers group, which is the social as well as the athletic group. And he goes into Lincoln High School, and then he goes to USC and becomes a pharmacist. And you couldn't find work outside the Japanese community, so he worked for various pharmacies in Little Tokyo. Now where Mitsuru Grill (on First Street) is, that used to be Kyoto Drug Store. And so the counter there used to be the actual counter, food counter, in the drugstore, so there are some fond memories there of that.

BN: So what year did he get his pharmacy degree?

AK: It was in the '30s, (1934).

BN: So he was kind of established in Little Tokyo for a few years?

AK: Well, because he was a kid running around in Little Tokyo, all the people would know him, it was a small community. We lived on the other side of Alameda where the Water & Power (facility) is, it's called arts district now, I call it the historic Little Tokyo because I was born there and so forth. But he would be always in Little Tokyo, which would be a couple of blocks away. Little Tokyo was huge at the time, it went down to where the 10 freeway would even be, down south, and to the river, and then out this way. And remember, all the train stations were on the L.A. River, this was before Union Station (in 1939).. So we hear stories about when President so-and-so came, they would go to the (Santa Fe) train station and see him, because he would be at the back of the observation car waving to the people.

BN: So in the '30s, he worked for various...

AK: He worked for various Japanese...

BN: Drug stores, pharmacies, all within Little Tokyo?

AK: Right.

BN: Or this large area.

AK: Right. But the concentration was along First Street, Second Street. My grandfather, (my mother's father), he became, my grandfather Suski became a medical doctor, and he had a place where Parker Center, the police station used to be. Because when they built Parker Center, they wiped out the whole block. That's where the Rafu used to be and so forth, and Jackson used to come where Union Church is, or East West Players over there, that section was totally different. So the whole block along First Street, along Los Angeles Street Temple and what's now known as (Judge John) Aiso, which was San Pedro, that looked like what the north side of First Street was, just all individual low buildings, various establishments of one type or another.

BN: And then before we leave your father's family, you were mentioning that your grandfather, his father, was involved with the Nishi Hongwanji.

AK: That tie to the family. The Kumamoto side of the family are the Buddhists, the Suski side, which is my mom's side, are the Catholics. And both of them helped build, if you will, the Buddhist community as well as the Catholic community. So we would go bouncing back and forth. Interestingly enough, when we ended up with my children, my two sons were raised during the weekday as Catholics, because they went to Catholic high school. But during the weekends, they were part of the YBA, the Young Buddhist Association, as well as because they played basketball. So they got involved that way, and because they were in Pasadena Bruins, they would be sponsored, if you will, by the Buddhist church in Pasadena. So they were weekend Buddhists and weekday Catholics.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.