Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Hannah Hirabayashi Interview
Narrator: Hannah Hirabayashi
Interviewers: Barbara Yasui (primary), Tom Ikeda (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: March 10, 2022
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-493

<Begin Segment 1>

BY: We're here today with Hannah Hanami Hirabayashi. It's March 10, 2022. We are at the Lakeshore Retirement Community in Seattle, Washington. And I am Barbara Yasui, and Tom Ikeda is also here to conduct this interview. So thank you very much for agreeing to be interviewed. We're going to start today with some questions about your immediate family and your background. So can you tell us when and where you were born?

HH: I was born in 1938 in Seattle, Washington.

BY: Okay, and what was your full name that was given to you when you were born?

HH: Hannah Hanami Hirabayashi.

BY: Okay, great. And what was your father's name?

HH: Tomonobu.

BY: Tomonobu Hirabayashi.

HH: Right.

BY: And where was he born?

HH: He was born in Japan, Nagano-ken, I don't know what city or town or whatever they had at that time.

BY: All right. And what kind of, do you know what kind of work your father or father's family did in Japan?

HH: Well, my understanding was they were all farmers. But we never talked about it so I don't really know, I just assumed that. He always said he was from a samurai family.

BY: And when did your father come to the United States?

HH: 1919, when he was nineteen.

BY: Oh, that makes it easy to remember, doesn't it? And why did he come, or what motivated him to come to the United States?

HH: I think at that time it was mostly for economic reasons, you know, to make money for the family and to send money back to the family.

BY: Did he ever talk about that decision to come?

HH: He may have, in Japanese. [Laughs]

BY: And then did he arrive in Seattle, or when did he arrive?

HH: It must have been Seattle, because that's where all the boats came in.

BY: Okay. And then do you know what he did once he arrived?

HH: He was united with his brother who was ten years older. He was here for a while. And then at that time, he had a tailor shop. So my dad joined him and learned the tailoring business from him.

BY: So was your father's brother or your father, were either of them trained as tailors?

HH: No, uh-uh, fast learners.

BY: And do you know anything about their clientele? Were they tailors for the Japanese people or the white community, do you know?

HH: I think it was probably mostly the white community. My dad was saying that they didn't really suffer during the Depression because there were a lot of, I'm sure he said Swedish men coming in to have their clothes made or tailored.

BY: Do you know where the tailor shop was, or did your father ever say?

HH: Yeah, but I don't remember. It's in Chinatown, but I don't remember the street.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

BY: All right. And we'll switch now to your mother. What was your... oh, what was your mother's name and where was she born?

HH: She was born Tsune, or Tsuneko, and her American name was Mabel Ito. And she was born here, not in Seattle, but in Christopher, Washington, which is now part of Auburn.

BY: So she was born in the U.S.?

HH: Yes.

BY: So she was a Nisei then.

HH: Yes, uh-huh.

BY: And do you know anything about her parents, like where they were from, what their names were?

HH: No, and I don't know when they came over here either, but their oldest child was born in Japan, and then my mom, then obviously they came to the United States and my mom was born here. And I don't know what... they also were farmers.

BY: And do you have any idea, do you think that they were from Nagano as well.

HH: Oh, I'm sorry, yeah, Nagoya.

BY: Oh, Nagoya.

HH: And my dad was Nagano.

BY: Okay, all right. And so the parents, your mother's parents were from Nagoya and came here and became farmers in Christopher, Washington.

HH: Yeah.

BY: Okay. And so then your mother was a Nisei, but did she ever go back to Japan?

HH: Right. When she was three years old, she and her younger brother, who was probably about a year and a half or so, were sent back to Japan to be raised in the Japanese culture. And my mom was there for ten years and returned to the United States when she was thirteen.

BY: And where did she live while she was in Japan?

HH: With her... would be her grandmother, yeah.

BY: In Nagoya?

HH: Uh-huh.

BY: Okay. So she was, at least her early education happened in Japan.

HH: In Japan, uh-huh.

BY: But then she came back here and went to high school in the U.S., is that right?

HH: Uh-huh. First they would have to be grade school because she had to learn English. So she went to Thomas school, which is in Auburn now.

BY: Okay, so she came back at thirteen, but because she couldn't speak English, she had to...

HH: Yeah, go to American school.

BY: I see, I see. And then did she go to an American high school then?

HH: Yes. The family then moved to Seattle and my mom went to Broadway High School, is that was it was called? I think so, yeah.

BY: Okay. And so when she returned, the family lived in the Auburn area and then moved back to Seattle.

HH: Right.

BY: And then how did your mother and father meet, do you know?

HH: It was an arranged marriage. So they didn't meet 'til, I don't know.

BY: And was there an age difference between your mother and father?

HH: Ten.

BY: Ten years' difference. So what was your father like?

HH: Outgoing, loved people, loved to entertain, generous. When we all came back to Seattle, they had a dry cleaning shop. And people would drop in to visit as well, and there were a few people that, non-Japanese that kind of really wanted a handout. And so my dad just, you know, would give him something. And one fellow that he did lend money to, I think it was fifty dollars to go to Alaska, because he wanted to earn a living. This was another Caucasian. And my dad said, "That's the last we're going to see of him and money." But the man came back, returned the money, and they were just lifelong friends after that. So he used to take us places, and it was just kind of a family thing.

BY: So it sounds like, for your father, it didn't matter what the background of the person was.

HH: Oh no, uh-uh.

BY: And how about your mother? What was she like?

HH: Pretty much like my dad. [Laughs]

BY: Was she also outgoing and gregarious?

HH: Oh, definitely. Yeah, we had all sorts of gatherings and parties, and people meeting other people and they becoming friends and part of our family. So, yeah, it was really nice.

BY: And then your father was part of, the Hirabayashi clan was large, right?

HH: Yeah, fairly large, I guess, uh-huh. They all kind of ended up in Auburn or Thomas or whatever that part of town, place was called. And they worked as farmers.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

BY: So I'm going to ask you about siblings. Did you have any siblings?

HH: I had one sister, she's about six and a half years older than I.

BY: And what was her name?

HH: Amy. Amy Emiko.

BY: Amy Emiko, and she was born in...

HH: '32.

BY: 1932. So then did you --

TI: Oh, I just wanted to... when I ask a question, I'll just do this. You can wait but... going back to your parents, I was curious, when you were growing up, did they speak to each other in English or Japanese?

HH: Oh, Japanese.

TI: So your first language was Japanese, growing up?

HH: Uh-huh.

TI: And same with your sister?

HH: Yes, uh-huh.

TI: We'll get to it later, but then where did you learn how to speak English?

HH: In camp. Because we had all these kids my age and older, and all the young people spoke English.

TI: And how about your older sister, she's like six years older, and she was probably going to school?

HH: Yeah, elementary.

TI: And so how did she learn English?

HH: Again, through school, I'm sure.

TI: Because I was looking at your parents' background, and it could be English but it could be Japanese, and I was just curious about this. And one other question about your parents' religion, were they religious or spiritual?

HH: Well, spiritual, yes. Religious, to me, religious means belonging to a church and going through all the rituals of church. Of course, they were always Buddhist inside. So I guess you'd say we were Buddhist, I think that's the culture, though. Almost everybody from Japan was Buddhist. Then my dad became a Presbyterian because one of the ministers someplace, Japanese minister, was Presbyterian, and he just told my dad, "Well, you ought to become Presbyterian," so that's what he was. But not a practicing one, just went through, and they were married in the Presbyterian church.

BY: Interesting. Okay, so you were born only three years before the war, so you were pretty young. Do you remember anything about that time before the war? Like do you remember the house that you lived in, or do you have any memories of that time before the war?

HH: Well, just the grocery store that my folks had, Judkins grocery store. I just remember living up there. I don't remember what it was like upstairs. I don't really remember.

BY: Yeah, I mean, you were three, so I think people say that you don't really remember much before you're three years old. So you lived above the grocery store and your parents worked in the grocery store downstairs?

HH: Uh-huh.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

BY: And so I'm sure you don't remember Pearl Harbor happening, but do you know what your parents were doing in Pearl Harbor and what happened immediately after Pearl Harbor?

HH: Yeah, the story I understand goes like, it was I think Pearl Harbor night, maybe, or it could be the next... anyway, the FBI came knocking at the door around midnight and took my dad and told my mom that he would be back shortly. So six months later, let's see... well, from home, he went to the immigration building and they kept him there for questioning for quite a while, and then was sent to... what did I say? Missoula. Missoula where they had the, a spy camp? Something like that.

BY: Yeah, there was a Department of Justice camp in Missoula, Montana. Do you know why your father was picked up so soon after Pearl Harbor?

HH: He was too friendly with the Japanese soldiers -- not soldiers, sailors who came in on the Japanese ships. They were just there visiting, and the would go meet them and take his countrymen from Nagano to the park or to dinner or whatever, and try to make them comfortable in a foreign country. And that lasted, I don't know, probably a night or two, and then the next fleet would come, then that kind of raised questions among the military.

BY: And so did he do this, was he the only one who did that or were there other...

HH: No, no, there were several people that did that.

BY: And so he was picked up a day after Pearl Harbor, taken to the immigration station, then to Missoula. How long was he in Missoula, or what happened to him after that, do you know?

HH: No, the only thing I know is that he said it was very boring in that camp, they just found ways to entertain themselves. And what he did was polish rocks. They must have had some sort of rock polisher there because some of the rocks are cut very evenly. But the rest of it, he used sandpaper or rags or whatever he could find to polish several rocks.

BY: And so did he ever rejoin the family?

HH: Yes. Seems to me it was probably about six months later, he joined us in Tule Lake. And then evidently we were in Tule Lake for a year, and from there got transferred to Heart Mountain in Wyoming.

BY: And so your father went along with all of that then, too?

HH: Yes.

BY: Okay, so once he was released from Missoula, he joined the family and then remained with the family for the rest of the war.

HH: Yes, uh-huh. [Addressing TI] Do you have any questions for that part?

TI: Just a note that you mentioned during the pre-interview about possibly the FBI kind of surveilling the family? Because your father, as you mentioned, would be a greeter for the Japanese sailors, and it sounds like the FBI was monitoring that, the military was monitoring that. I think you told, you had a bit of information about how they might have surveilled him?

HH: Wire tapping.

TI: So tell me how you heard about that, and do you remember, or is that just something that people in your family just kind of found out later, or what can you tell us about that?

HH: I can't really tell you much, it was just something that my folks had mentioned, and when they got together with friends, this is after the war, they would allude to that, that we were wire tapped and were instructed to speak in English.

BY: So your family decided they should speak in English? Why? Why do you think they did that?

HH: Oh, they were told by the authorities, whoever wire tapped us.

BY: Interesting.

TI: And so it sounds like the government was essentially putting the family on guard also, like, hey, we're watching you. And to help us watch you, speak in English, because if you speak in Japanese, we won't know what you're saying.

HH: [Laughs] Yeah, right.

TI: It's kind of like, in some ways, similar to when people were corresponding. Everybody said, well, if it's in Japanese, it's not going to get through.

BY: Or I was wondering if they were saying, if it was the family decided they'd better speak English because then they might not seem so spy-like. If they're speaking in English, then they're not hiding anything. So that's interesting.


<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

BY: All right, so going back to your wartime experiences, so your father was taken away, and so it was your mother, your sister and you. And you were initially taken to Puyallup, but then you, instead of going to Minidoka like most of the people did, your family went to Tule Lake. Can you talk about that and how that happened?

HH: Uh-huh. My mother's aunt and her family also lived in Seattle just at that time. And her aunt heard about this request for volunteers to go to Tule Lake to, what would you say? Begin the initial camp thing, I guess. I mean, it wasn't totally completed, so they needed some people to come and start living there. And so my aunt said to my mom, "Well, let's go there, it's better than living in the stalls," so that's where they went.

BY: So in other words, they volunteered to be sort of this first wave of people.

HH: Uh-huh.

BY: And do you know, did your aunt have a family as well?

HH: Yes, uh-huh, she had a few kids. They were teenagers, though.

BY: And was her husband also taken away or was he there, do you know?

HH: I don't remember seeing him, but I think he was there.

BY: And so when you were, when you went to Tule Lake then, do you know if your aunt's family lived with your family?

HH: No, we didn't live together, but they were in a different block, I think.

BY: And then you said that you lived there for, you think, about a year and then were transferred to Heart Mountain. Do you remember that transfer? You must have been maybe four years old then?

HH: [Shakes head]

BY: No, don't remember at all. Do you remember, like, a train ride or anything? Nothing, okay. Yeah, I mean, you're still pretty young. And do you know why they were, why your family was transferred from Tule Lake to Heart Mountain?

HH: No, I don't, no idea at all.

BY: Is that one the segregation? Yeah.

TI: There's probably a good chance it was segregation.

BY: Okay, all right. And so you were, you spent, what, three years from about three years old to six years old.

HH: To six, yes.

BY: So what do you remember about camp, either Tule Lake or Heart Mountain?

HH: Hot and cold.

BY: Hot and cold, okay, the weather.

HH: The weather, uh-huh. Playing on the desert sand with some of the kids' marbles or whatever. But not really.

BY: Do you remember the barracks where you lived, like the room?

HH: Just vaguely. Yeah, I remember the straw beds kind of itching. The potbelly stove in the corner, that's about all, I don't remember tables and chairs.

BY: Do you have any memories of eating in camp? Like did you eat with your mom or do you have any memories of that?

HH: No, I don't. But I would have eaten with the family.

BY: Yeah. Some families kind of, some family life broke down a little bit, I was just wondering if that happened.

HH: Yeah, with the teenagers, basically, yeah.

BY: And do you remember the food at all?

HH: No.

BY: Or the bathrooms?

HH: Uh-uh.

BY: No, I mean, you were very young.

TI: Do you have any, like, feelings when you think about Tule Lake or Heart Mountain? Is there any kind of feelings about the place?

HH: No, I don't think so. I think the feelings came later when I knew what was happening as an adult or teenager. Then the feelings would come out.

TI: One other question about going from Tule Lake to Heart Mountain, did you ever hear later on why they chose Heart Mountain rather than Minidoka where other Seattle people would be at Minidoka?

HH: No, uh-uh. I wish I did.

BY: And do you know what your parents did in camp?

HH: Oh, my dad was a chief steward in the kitchen.

BY: Okay.

HH: And my mom, she kind of, in a way, she was a daycare person for kids. She loved kids, kids loved her, and so she spent a lot of time with kids.

BY: Took care of...

HH: Yeah, I don't know that you'd say she actually took care of them like they would now, but yeah, she kept them entertained. And then she got involved with all the other mothers with arts and crafts.

BY: I think your mother made some jewelry in camp.

HH: That's right. Oh, she did crochet and stuff. And then since there was a surplus, I guess you'd say, of seashells in that area, which she made seashell things, flowers and birds. And I think a lot of women did that, too.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

BY: All right. So the war ends, the camps are closed, where did your family go after the war?

HH: Well, before the war ended, we went to Spokane. We were allowed to move over to the other side of the mountains, and so my dad got a job at a cleaning, dry cleaning establishment. And we went, and the first place we were living was near Providence... not Providence, Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane.

BY: And do you know how he got that job?

HH: I think a friend found the job for him. Can't remember exactly.

BY: And then so how long were you in Spokane?

HH: Until right after the war. I think I was there at the beginning of the second grade when we moved. And we came to Seattle, and the same friend helped my folks buy the dry cleaning shop that they had on Madison Street, Fashionable Cleaners.

BY: And going back to Spokane, so then you started school in Spokane. Do you remember that at all?

HH: I remember the first grade, kind of. But I don't remember how I learned how to read, I just kind of knew.

BY: And by that time, you were speaking English?

HH: Uh-huh.

BY: Okay. And do you recall if there were, were you part of a Japanese community in Spokane that you remember?

HH: No.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

BY: And so when did your family return to Seattle? When was it when they got the new dry cleaning business, do you know?

HH: When did the war end?

BY: '45.

HH: '45, so we must have gone about '46.

BY: Okay. And so you moved back to Seattle and your parents opened a dry cleaning business?

HH: Right. And we lived in the back and upstairs.

BY: Okay, all right. And then you started school in Seattle. And where did you go to school and what do you remember about that?

HH: St. James Cathedral, which was just about three blocks from where we lived. And I was in second grade by then.

BY: Was that the logical school for you to go to, or your parents make an intentional choice for you to go there?

HH: Yeah, it was an intentional choice. They wanted us, my sister and I to have a Catholic education because of the reputation that a Catholic education had at that time for good education versus the public schools.

BY: Did they have to pay tuition for you to go to there, do you know?

HH: Uh-huh. My tuition for that year, or at the cathedral was, I think it was eighteen dollars a year for non-Catholics. For Catholics it was nine dollars a year.

BY: So was that stretch for your family or not?

HH: Yeah, I think it was, a little bit.

BY: And did your sister also go there?

HH: No, she was in Washington school, Washington Middle School.

BY: Okay. So she did not go to the Catholic school then?

HH: Right, but she did go to a Catholic high school after that.

BY: Interesting. And what was school like for you?

HH: Fun.

BY: Okay, so you liked it?

HH: Oh, yes.

BY: What did you like about it?

HH: I think everything. I was the only Nihonjin in the whole school, I think. But I didn't feel any prejudice or anything, everybody was very kid-like.

BY: And who were your friends? Do you remember a particular friend or two?

HH: Yeah. Some are still living and we do talk, get together, have reunions. So I do remember a number of things.

BY: And they were all hakujin or white?

HH: Hakujin, Filipino, Black, American Indian. And I think that covers it.

BY: So very diverse, it sounds like.

HH: Yes, uh-huh.

BY: Was it a really diverse school? I don't really know much about it.

HH: I'd say so, yeah.

BY: And how many kids were in your class, would you guess?

HH: Probably about average, thirty for all eight classes, eight years, I mean.

BY: And you said you liked everything about it. What did you think of your teachers? What were your teachers like?

HH: They were fun. One was very strict, that hardly anybody liked, but she was a really funny person, I enjoyed out of class, she was a really fun person to be with.

BY: And what did you do out of class or after school or on weekends?

HH: Play. [Laughs] After school, yeah, basically played. The neighborhood kids, we'd all get together and go to the empty lot and play kickball or what's the other... kick the can.

BY: And the cleaners you said was on Madison and what?

HH: Eighth. Between Seventh and Eighth.

BY: Okay, all right, yeah, very close to the church then, the cathedral then.

HH: Oh, yes.

BY: And so you would just play in the neighborhood?

HH: Uh-huh.

BY: Was there any particular place that you would play, or games?

HH: Well, there was an empty lot that we played in, and then there was an alley right next to us. There was an old wood panel truck, maybe, panel? Anyway, we'd go pretend like we're driving.

BY: Do you have any particular childhood memories, activities or an event or something that happened in your childhood that really stands out to you?

HH: I can't think at the moment, no.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

BY: And then, did your school go through eighth grade or was there...

HH: Eighth grade, yes.

BY: Okay, through eighth grade. And then you went to high school?

HH: Yes.

BY: And where did you go to high school?

HH: Immaculate, near Providence Hospital.

TI: Yeah, so earlier you mentioned how the school had both Catholics and non-Catholics. Catholics, their tuition was lower. Was there other things that Catholics did that non-Catholics didn't? Like attend mass or first communion, confirmation, all those things? I mean, how did they manage that? Like for the non-Catholics who weren't...

HH: Well, if you weren't Catholic, then you didn't have to go to mass, didn't have to go to communion. It was by choice of parents, what they wanted. So we didn't have to do anything.

TI: Did you as a student ever feel encouraged to become Catholic?

HH: Well, I guess I was, because I did become a Catholic in the seventh grade.

TI: So talk about that in terms of how you decided and what your parents thought about that?

HH: I think it was just the flow of life. That just... I don't know how to explain that. But it was almost a calling as well as a... not a demand, but a suggestion, I guess.

TI: Well, about that time is when maybe your classmates or friends who were Catholic are getting confirmed. Was that part of what was going on, too, during that time period? Were you aware of that or thought about that?

HH: I didn't think about that, no, but then I did become confirmed after I became a Catholic. And so we all, kind of, were confirmed at the same time.

TI: Okay, so with your friends.

HH: Uh-huh, classmates, friends, yeah.

TI: Did your sister also become Catholic?

HH: Yes, a few years before I did.

BY: So I want to know what you wore to school. What was your uniform like? Do you remember?

HH: It was a navy blue jumper and blouse underneath. The boys always had their corduroy pants and blue sweaters.

BY: Okay, that's great. Let's see...

TI: So one question that reminded me when you said that, how would your friends describe you? How would they talk about you in terms of you as a student and just both in and outside class?

HH: How would they... well, they all thought I was smart. And I really wasn't, I could fake things a lot. How would they describe me? Gosh. Not tall. [Laughs]

BY: So your parents were very outgoing. Were you outgoing as well?

HH: I guess so. We got into trouble. I was able to get other people in trouble. Not bad trouble, it's just funny things that would happen.

TI: Well, what would be an example of doing something mischievous or kind of getting in trouble?

HH: Hmm. Oh, when we were at the cleaners, we had an upstairs bedroom that the window was right above the doorway entry, doorway for the customers. And so we got our squirt guns and shot it into the air and just, people thought it was raining.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

BY: So what was it like living and growing up in Seattle in the late '40s, '50s?

HH: Those were the good years, you know. Kids never had problems, getting into trouble. Everybody felt safe, and we could go trick-or-treating without an escort and come back safely. What was your original question?

BY: Just what was it like growing up in Seattle? I mean, did you feel like you could just go wherever you wanted and you didn't have to... like you didn't have a certain time that you had to be home? I mean, what was it like just growing up in Seattle at that time?

HH: Yeah, exactly what you were saying. The freedom, the fun, happiness, all the kids seemed to be really happy with what they had.

BY: And did you continue to hang out with a very diverse group of friends, or did it become narrower?

HH: No, it was still diverse. In high school I still had Filipino, American Indian. I was the only Japanese in the classroom. Black.

BY: And did you continue to speak Japanese at home with your parents?

HH: No, not really, they spoke, my parents spoke Japanese to us, but we kind of mixed the two languages, but mostly it would be English. My mother would speak to us in English most of the time.

BY: And did you go to Japanese school?

HH: We had a tutor, our own tutor.

BY: Who would come to your house?

HH: No, we went to his house. He taught at the University of Washington, Matsushita-san.

BY: And how often would you go to his house for tutoring?

HH: I think it was once a week.

BY: And your sister would go with you?

HH: Yeah, both of us, uh-huh.

BY: And did you learn to read and write as well as speak?

HH: She learned really well. [Laughs] Yeah, we learned some kanji, I didn't learn katakana very well, but hiragana I learned. And then speaking. You kind of lose it when you don't use it.

BY: And so do you recall ever experiencing any kind of prejudice or racism or discrimination during the time you were in Spokane and all the time you were in Seattle?

HH: No, I never did. Well, I think I did once, some of my classmates in grade school were Girl Scouts, and they encouraged me to join their troop. And so I went to see what it was like, I must have been about nine or ten, but they wouldn't accept me, the troop leader. And I don't think they came out and said, "No, you can't come because you're Japanese," but I had that feeling, that I was not acceptable.

BY: So was this an all-white Girl Scout troop, do you remember?

HH: No. Let's see, one of my friends was Filipino. I think she was the only one, and then the rest were white.

BY: That's interesting. Anything else about that time period?

TI: I guess during that time period, were there ever any get-togethers with the extended family? You mentioned earlier that there was quite a contingent of Hirabayashis in the Auburn/Thomas area. After the war, did the Hirabayashi clan ever get together?

HH: Well, we were all spread out by then, except for Gordon's family, his mom and dad and brothers.

TI: Because they lived on, had a place on Fir or something? They were kind of not that far away.

HH: Well, Gordon's family, after the war, his dad and mom had the nursing home.

TI: Right. And so did your families ever get together?

HH: I don't think we all got together like a party or anything, but we'd go there to visit and just have tea or something, because he was always busy with the patients there, the residents. And after that, occasionally we would get together. Or whenever everybody was together, we'd all go to Gyokoken.

TI: Well, so you mentioned Gordon's parents, when did you become aware of Gordon and his stand against the government, that his case went all the way to the Supreme Court? Is that something that you knew as a kid?

HH: No, uh-uh. He was too much... older than I, and I just wasn't aware of him. I just knew he was Gordon, my cousin, who had twins. [Laughs]

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

BY: So you went to Immaculate and you graduated, and you mentioned that you went to Japan in 1960, around that time. Why did you go to Japan, and how long did you stay, what did you do during that period?

HH: I went to Seattle U before that, before I went to Japan. There was an opportunity to go with a tour group from the Buddhist church. And my dad encouraged me to go, and it was for, I think I said two weeks of touring and six weeks being on our own. And so the reason was that I was encouraged to go and I had the opportunity to go, and I had relatives that I should meet. And so I went there and the tour was great, and I had fun meeting all these relatives, and I even attended a wedding of one of my cousins.

BY: And so did you go to both Nagano and Nagoya?

HH: Yes.

BY: And then, so, what did it feel like, being Japanese American in Japan? Did you feel like, oh, I feel so comfortable here? What was it like for you?

HH: Well, the strangest feeling was when we landed into the Japanese airport. I looked around and saw nothing but Japanese people, and I thought, "Why are there so many Japanese here?" Then it dawned on me, duh, guess where you are? [Laughs] But other than that, I didn't feel any discomfort. I didn't feel like a foreigner.

BY: And your Japanese was fine?

HH: No. [Laughs] But kind of passable, I guess, and I knew main words and had a dictionary, so that helped.

BY: So you said that there was a tour for a couple weeks, and I'm assuming you went and saw the famous sights and all that?

HH: Oh, yes.

BY: And then the touring on your own afterwards, did you do that all by yourself?

HH: No, I was always with relatives. They took me to different places.

BY: And was that the first time you'd seen most of them?

HH: Uh-huh. All of them.

BY: Okay.

TI: So I have a question about the tour. You went with the Buddhist church, and so I'm guessing that the other people who were on the tour were mostly other Japanese Americans?

HH: Yes, right. Well, mostly Issei.

TI: Mostly Issei, not Nisei?

HH: No.

BY: So they were older than you, then?

HH: Uh-huh, except for one other person.

TI: Okay, yeah. For some reason, I thought it might be like a student...

BY: Yeah, that's what I thought, too.

TI: So this was just like a Japan tour by the temple and that was Issei. So when I think about that, what was the mood for these Isseis to return to Japan? When you were traveling with them, what did you observe? Because I'm guessing for most of them, this was their first time back since the war, and they were not only touring, but they were also probably going to visit relatives and things. Did you pick up any observations from that?

HH: Well, they all really enjoyed it, and they looked forward to each day to see which temple we would be visiting each time, and enjoying the food. I guess that's all I can recall. Everybody enjoyed shopping because it was cheap. [Laughs]

TI: Do you remember, were people bringing lots of things from the United States to Japan to give to people?

HH: Oh yeah, you had to do that, but I don't know what they brought. It was, when you visit Japan, you have to have a gift.

BY: I'm imagining you brought stuff for all your relatives.

HH: Yes, but I don't remember what.

BY: [Laughs] Yeah, okay.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

BY: All right. So what did you do after you got back from Japan? I understand that you may not want to talk about this, so if you don't want to talk about it, it's fine. So it's up to you if you want to talk about it or not.

HH: When I came back from Japan I went back to Seattle U, spent a few months there, then I transferred to Marylhurst College. And from there I graduated from Fort Wright College in Spokane.

BY: And Marylhurst is where?

HH: Oh, in Oregon.

BY: Okay, in Oregon, and then you ended up at Fort Wright College in Spokane?

HH: Spokane, and got my degree there.

BY: Okay, all right.

HH: Then I taught in Richland, Washington, about six years.

BY: So you became a teacher?

HH: Uh-huh.

BY: So what inspired you to become a teacher?

HH: I didn't want to become a medical technologist. I first enrolled as a technologist at Seattle U, and I decided that wasn't for me. I thought, well, what can I do? So I just decided to get some sort of degree, and it ended up being in education.

BY: Did you ever have a teacher or someone who, like a favorite teacher or somebody like, oh, I think I want to do that? Did that happen for you?

HH: No. I mean, I wanted to be kind of like them, but I didn't want to become, really a teacher, to be like them.

BY: Okay. And what subject did you major in or teach? Or grade?

HH: What did I teach? Yeah, I started it in fourth grade, then fifth grade. Yeah, elementary.


BY: So getting back to your teaching career, so you got your degree and you taught in Richland for a few years. Again, so what grades did you teach?

HH: Mostly fourth and fifth.

BY: All right. And then you came to Seattle, is that right?

HH: Okay, from Richland, yes, I came to Seattle and taught, I think I taught two years and was in administration for two years, and then went to Spokane and taught, I believe it was the fifth grade for a couple of years.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

BY: So when you came back to Seattle from Richland, you had talked about teaching at Immaculate, is that right?

HH: Yeah, Immaculate middle school.

BY: Right. And so what was that like?

HH: [Laughs] It was a circus.

BY: What do you mean by that?

HH: Everything that you would think would not happen in a school, happened. I taught in the Central District. And we had three seventh grades and two sixth grades and two eighth grades, I think. So I had seventh grade, and the other two seventh grade teachers were from New York, and they belonged to an organization called the Jesuit... it was kind of like the Peace Corps where they went out to help others. And these teachers came from New York thinking, well, they're coming to an inner city school. And so kids would be unruly, probably, and they were here to conquer the world. So they said, "We'll just let the kids do what they want to do." And, of course, the principal and other teachers, permanent teachers didn't have the same mindset, we treat the kids like they should be treated in the school.

But one day, there was just a whole lot of noise from the classroom across from me. And they have clear windows so we could see in. And it was so noisy that I thought, "Oh, gee, the teacher's gone, I better go in and see what I can do to calm them down." But the teacher was there. She was at her desk, working with somebody, helping them. And right next to her was a sixth grader, I guess it was, huge guy with a basketball just right above her head, was throwing the basketball against the wall. And then there was another, I guess it was seventh grade, another kid riding the library cart all around the classroom, making all sorts of noise. And then, of course, all the other classmates were not studying or anything, they were just having lots of fun while this poor teacher was just intent on helping this one kid, which was admirable, I guess. I just looked at it and I thought, "No, I'm not getting into this," so I just went back to my classroom. And one time, one of these kids lowered a chair with a rope down through the window, past the eighth grade classroom. So that was kind of fun for them to see. But other things like that happened a lot.

BY: So you were there for one year or two years?

HH: I lasted a year. [Laughs]

BY: You lasted a year. And then you said you got into administration, was that right?

HH: Yeah, then I went to the Immaculate High School and helped out there. I think I was there two years.

BY: But then ended up back in Spokane, you said?

HH: I think that's the order.

TI: So this was essentially the same schools that you had attended?

HH: Yes, but a different location. They had moved by then.

TI: Okay, but Immaculate.

HH: Uh-huh, high school and grade school.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: And you were talking about a difference of about, what, ten years? Or how many years, when you were at Immaculate, when you graduated from Immaculate and then...

HH: Oh, went back?

TI: Yeah.

HH: Let's see. Maybe it was ten years.

TI: Okay, ten years. Were there some of the same teachers that were still there after ten years?

HH: No, uh-uh. Because when I went back, it was a middle school. When I graduated, it was high school. So I graduated in '57.

TI: But when you came back ten years, did you ever talk to the upper school teachers to see what had happened in those ten years?

HH: We talked on the phone. [Laughs] And I encouraged one of them to write a memoir or a book about what happened.

TI: But it sounds like your experiences going through the Catholic schools was very different than what you were witnessing as you were a teacher. So what do you think the difference was?

HH: The difference between when I was attending school, not teaching?

TI: Yeah. The differences when you were attending versus Catholic school versus when you were a teacher at the school, kind of a decade later or so. What had changed?

HH: The whole culture of the United States, I think.

TI: So what year is this? This is going from the late '60s, or, I'm sorry, early '60s to early '70s?

HH: When I was in Richland it was the late '60s and early '70s. And then, from there, the middle school, the Immaculate middle schools...

TI: So it would be kind of the late '70s?

HH: It would have been...

TI: Because you graduated in the late '50s.

HH: '57.

TI: '57, so that's when you were at...

HH: '57, Immaculate High School.

BY: And then you went to Japan for a few months and you went to...

HH: To Seattle.

BY: Probably about ten years?

TI: Yeah, so I'm just trying to understand the cultural shift. So it's really, I guess I'm asking what Immaculate was like in the late '50s versus what it was like in the late '60s, and that's about when you were, sounds like you were there around the late '60s, early '70s as a teacher. When you were that middle school teacher, when it was kind of like, you said, a circus, it sounds like you were there kind of around 1970 or so?

HH: Yes, yes, I think you're right.

TI: And so you're saying there was this huge cultural shift from, essentially, late '50s to 1970?

HH: Yeah.

TI: And along with that, a demographic shift, probably, that happened in the inner city of Seattle from, again, late '50s to 1970? At least the combination of the Catholic church there, or Catholic school.

HH: Yes, they changed.

TI: Because it's interesting, my perception of a Catholic school is it would be more strict than a public school?

HH: Yes, at that time, yes.

TI: Back in the '50s?

HH: Well, even if the '60s, and maybe the '70s when I first started at the middle school, Immaculate middle school. One of the parents who sent her daughter to our school, non-Catholic, she came to us and said she wants her daughter in the school because she'll get a better education. And the daughter didn't want an education so she didn't do her homework or anything. And the mother would come up to me and say, "You're making her work too hard." And we discussed all that, and what I was doing and all, and so she said, "I'm taking her out of this school." And so we all kind of were really happy because she was a quiet person but just had her set ways and just wouldn't want to do anything that anybody told her to do.

TI: That's interesting. Because I now realize, my age, I'm that middle school age. I was at that time going to Sharples Junior High School in 1970, and I would walk to that junior high school -- it's now called Aki Kurose middle school -- we'd walk next to St. George's, and there's a Catholic church right there. And then I'd always remember, oh, they were so much more strict, they had to wear uniforms, and I went to the public school. And so it was a very different environment because I thought of St. George's being much more strict than the public schools. That was 1970s.

HH: I guess, yeah, they were still strict at that time, but not as strict as in the '50s.

TI: In the late '50s?

HH: Yeah.

BY: So how many years did you end up teaching then?

HH: Teaching itself, classroom teaching was, I think, nine years.

BY: And then you were in administration after that, then?

HH: Yeah, about three years.

BY: Okay. And so looking back on your teaching career, what were the highlights for you? Is there anything, a student you remember, a particular thing that happened, anything that really stands out to you?

HH: The Immaculate middle school, the whole thing. [Laughs]

BY: That's it, huh?

HH: But yes, there were some really outstanding students. Well, just what you want from a student, cooperative, bright, at least somewhat. Leaders. I still am in touch with one of them.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

BY: So this leads me to a topic completely off of your own personal life, but what you think about something. So have you heard of the "model minority," have you heard of that stereotype or label?

HH: You mean like when Japanese Americans came out of camp?

BY: Yeah, yeah, that they were law-abiding, hard-working, good students, never caused any trouble? Are you familiar with that?

HH: Yes.

BY: So I'm really curious as to what you think about that. Do you agree with it, do you disagree with it? What do you think about that?

HH: About having that name?

BY: About that whole idea of Asian Americans, or Japanese Americans being the "model minority." What do you think about it?

HH: It puts us in a bind, I think.

BY: What do you mean?

HH: You know, you expect... you expect something out of somebody who... I don't know how to put it. The expectations are a little unreal, asking us to be someone that we're not.

BY: Have you ever personally felt that kind of pressure?

HH: No, not from the outside, I felt pressure to do well, but I don't know what that pressure was, I didn't know what it was all about. But our parents were, my parents wanted us to do well just to show that we as Japanese people are good people, make a difference.

BY: Do you remember your parents ever saying to you, "Ganbare," or "shikata ga nai" or any of those kinds of phrases?

HH: Not for education, anything like that.

BY: How about just in general, do you feel like, do you remember them ever saying that?

HH: Not really, no.

BY: All right. Do you think that there's anything positive about that idea, the Japanese Americans being the "model minority"? You talked about how it could put you in a bind, but do you think there are good things about it?

HH: Uh-huh, yes. I think we can be proud. I never thought of it, really, so I just don't know what to answer.

BY: That's all right, it's something that we're actually working on a little lesson about that, and I'm just curious as to what different people think about that idea of the "model minority."

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

BY: I just have gathered, from talking to you here at Lakeshore, your involvement in different activities and all that, that you take a lot of pride in being a Japanese American? Is that accurate, and if so, where do you think that comes from?

HH: Family.

BY: Can you talk about that a little bit, were your parents very proud?

HH: Oh, yeah, they were always proud, especially my dad. He was always, "Nihonjin is the best."

BY: And how about for your family in particular? Was it just proud of being Nihonjin or was it proud of being a Hirabayashi, or proud of from Nagano-ken?

HH: I don't know how to answer that either, because I never really have thought about it.

BY: So where does your sense of pride come from? Because I feel like I see it in you.

HH: Uh-huh. Well, of course, it would be family. And I was never raised in a Japanese neighborhood or Japanese atmosphere, hardly any Japanese friends, maybe one or two. And so it's more hakujin than anything else, I guess. But the pride is still there. I think the only time I denied the fact that I was Japanese was when we came out of the camps. I would say, "I'm Chinese."

BY: So how old were you then?

HH: I was in elementary school probably, third, fourth grade.

BY: And you remember actually saying...

HH: Saying, yeah. Maybe fifth, I don't know.

BY: So that was when you're going to, when you were at St. James?

HH: Yeah, so I don't know where that came from, because I didn't feel any discrimination. But I don't know where it came from, but I knew I was different when we came out of camp.

BY: And so when did you sort of outgrow that, saying that you were Chinese, do you recall?

HH: Didn't last long. Probably less than a year.

BY: So do you have any sort of words of wisdom, life lessons, anything that you would like to pass on to younger Japanese Americans?

HH: Be who you are, but be kind.

BY: Okay.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: Something that you mentioned that, growing up, you weren't around a lot of Japanese Americans. You're now living at Lakeshore where there's a sizeable Japanese American population. Does that feel different to you in any way?

HH: No. We don't... it doesn't seem to me that the Japanese don't mingle a whole lot, and so I don't really see many people, other than in passing. And I didn't know that there was such a large community of Japanese Americans here when I first came.

BY: When did you move here?

HH: Four years ago.

BY: Oh, because I was going to think, if you moved here two years ago, you wouldn't have seen anybody for two years. [Laughs]

TI: But then just noticing that because there are Japanese Americans here, there are programs, programming, kind of Japanese American themes.

HH: Thanks to Barbara.

BY: I mean, I've seen you at many, many of the Japanese American programs. You contributed for the display case, for example.

TI: Yeah. So when you, how does that feel to actually... it sounds like this is probably your first time where, in some cases, the Japanese American community is a little more front and center, some of these programs, and focus on the residents. I was just wondering if that felt any different to you.

HH: You know, when I first came, as I said, I didn't know there were that many here. And then one day there were about three or four of us, maybe four of us in the coffee shop. And I think there were about two or three Japanese Americans, and we were talking about camp. And after two of them left, there were two, maybe three hakujin people there. And they said, "Yeah, why don't they just move on and get over it?" And that kind of spurred me on to getting in contact with Lori Matsukawa and thinking about things and wanting maybe more emphasis on what to do here. And I got more, I guess you'd say, passionate about getting the hakujins to recognize us and not demean us. That's about it, yeah. And so I think I've made suggestions for enrichment throughout the years, and I think maybe it made some difference.

BY: Sounds like it, absolutely. And so did you contact Lori and say, "Can you come over here and talk to us?" I remember when she did that for DOR. So that was you who got her here. So you've become a little bit of an activist, it sounds like.

HH: Just a little, yeah.

BY: That's great, though.

HH: I get these ideas, but then I think, "Oh no, forget it."

TI: I can't remember. Did you, on Day of Remembrance, go to the Puyallup?

HH: Oh, camp?

TI: Yeah, they had that, I'm not sure what they called it.

BY: Commemoration of the... just a couple weeks ago?

HH: No, no.

BY: I think about ten people from Lakeshore went.

HH: Oh yeah, the bus?

BY: Yeah, yeah, right. Do you have anything else you want to add?

HH: Yeah. I wish I had gotten more involved with the Japanese American community, because I never have been. And so I'm not aware of a lot of things that have gone on, like the Minidoka pilgrimages and the Puyallup thing, the Day of Remembrance things. So I wasn't really aware of them until I came here. Minidoka I knew about because of my cousins. So I don't know where I was going with that. [Laughs]

BY: You still have time to do it now.

TI: You're in a good place. This is one of the, this is actually becoming one of the hubs for Japanese American community.

BY: Isn't that interesting? Yeah, it's very interesting, but it's great. And I definitely feel a sense of community when there's a program. Like that JACL program that was a couple days ago, or last week, I guess. But yeah, it's a very nice feeling of community here.

HH: I want more of the hakujins to come to those.

BY: I think there were quite a few.

HH: There were some, uh-huh.

BY: All right. Well, thank you very much, Hannah.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.