Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Jimmy Naganuma Interview
Narrator: Jimmy Naganuma
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda, Yoko Nishimura
Location: San Francisco, California
Date: September 20, 2019
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-480-17

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: Well, let's talk about that, because you talked about how you went to the Art Academy, but from there, you actually, why don't you tell the story about getting a job at the tea garden?

JN: Yeah. Well, let me, I was going to art school, and also to pay for my tuition I had to get a job. So I got a job at a Japanese tea garden as a busboy, clean up, and I worked twice a week after school. I was doing that for a while and going to school at the same time. What happened was the tea garden was operated by three gentlemen as partner, and the manager decided to go on his own. And since I had already three years' experience there, not only cleaned, well, I did everything there they asked me to do. Well, the owners asked me if I would like to work for them, work as a manager. I said, well, I can't quit right now, I'm still in school. They offered me a free trip, a whole month, all the expenses paid. Every place you went was expenses paid. And I said, wow. At that time, I loved the Japanese culture. I said, oh, everybody here that are working are Japanese ladies. I said, well, I don't know if I should try, but I just fell in love with the culture, the place. Besides, I was working part-time, too, at this company that was hiring all designers, but I was getting too much pressure, so it wasn't fun at all. So I picked the Japanese tea garden, and they treated me very nice. And that's the reason, being treated, and me able to talk with them in Japanese, very few English. So even right around, I don't think my English is as good as they should be. But my Japanese got better and better and better. And I ended up going to Japan after I retired after thirty years almost. I fell in love and I worked almost every day, no vacation, almost every day. I got that reward from the boss, my boss, one month was all expense paid. When I came back, I worked hard for that, for one of my boss.

TI: Okay, so the thing that really got you to get this job is that one month all expense paid trip?

JN: No, not only that, I got to see my relatives for the first time.

TI: Right, you talked about that.

JN: The relative. When I went about what, four years ago that we went to Tony?

TI: Right, so you took the rest of the family.

JN: But before that, it was 1964, I don't know if you were born yet.

TI: Yeah, I was. [Laughs]

JN: 1964, that's when I went to Japan. And, of course, I enjoyed the trip and all that, I came back, I started working hard. The boss was, again, very tough guy, very, not many people liked him, but he's very sharp, CPA. I stayed 'til the end, until he passed away.

TI: Because you worked there for thirty-three years?

JN: Thirty years or more.

TI: Thirty years.

JN: Yeah, I started as a busboy, so I learned the business slowly, I picked it up. It was a very popular place in those days because they'd be free for everybody to come. Now they charge admission. So that kind of helped me out to keep me from being depressed. So going to school was hard.

TI: Okay, Jimmy, there's one question here.

YN: When you first went to Japan, what kind of impression you got? Because it's maybe completely different from working in the United States, and also in your, you already know some of the Japanese culture, but also when you first went there, might be, also be a different way. So could you tell me what kind of feeling you had?

JN: Yes. Even before I started to work there, my older brothers and sister, they also liked the culture. They would buy magazines, records, they would enjoy listening, and at the same time, I would look at the magazine and enjoy listening to music. They were showing Japanese movie two different places in San Francisco, and I'd go every Friday and Saturday. One Friday I'll go this theater, Saturday I'm going to go to the other theater. It was very much Japanese-y, more than being American. Because my father and mother at home would speak Japanese. My father said, "You have a Japanese face? You learn to speak Japanese." Still up here in my mind, so of course it got more interesting, myself, compared to George and Tony, they speak enough Japanese, but they're not like I am.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.