Densho Digital Archive
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Title: Paul Nagano Interview
Narrator: Paul Nagano
Interviewers: Stephen Fugita (primary), Becky Fukuda (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: May 25, 1999
Densho ID: denshovh-npaul-01-0001

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SF: This is May 25th, and we're with Reverend Paul Nagano. We're interviewing him as the former Seattle (Japanese) Baptist Church minister. And I'm Steve Fugita and be one of the interviewers. Becky Fukuda is another interviewer. And we'll be talking to Reverend Nagano about all of the experiences he's had before the war in the Japanese community, as a Baptist minister during the incarceration and in the resettlement, and his current work looking at the future of the Asian American churches. Okay. Reverend Nagano, I'd like to start by going way back to when the Issei came over. And most of them were Buddhists. So how did the Christian churches build up their membership among the Issei, way back in the 1900s, 1910s -- maybe even the 1920s?

PN: There were two things, I think, particularly, that was responsible for many of the Buddhists becoming Christians. One is they associated Christianity with the West, or Christianity with the dominant society. So they felt that to become Americanized, it'd be to their advantage to become Christian. The other was the fact that they're in a new land, and in order to assimilate with the people, they felt that the study of the Bible as a English language would be the best entrance. And with the study of the Bible, which is initiated by the Protestant churches mostly, they naturally became part of the church and became Christians. And they decided, that this is where they ought to be. And so they left a lot of their Buddhist beliefs, although their background was Shinto and Buddhist and Confucius. But culturally, they still maintained a lot of that, but as far as their association, they became Christians -- the Protestant churches.

SF: Well, did they -- did the Protestant churches provide services, either social or sort of help getting a job -- those kinds of things, too?

PN: Yes. They helped in whatever way they can because of the connections that they made through the Bible study groups and their association with the initiating Caucasian groups that were in the Protestant churches. So they were able to find jobs through that. That all helped, you know, to get them adjusted in the new land.

SF: So -- you mentioned the, the church was helping out, assimilating the Issei. So do you think that, even way back in the first, early days of the Issei, that somehow those Issei who became Protestants might have been somewhat more assimilation-oriented or -- than the Buddhists or anything like that?

PN: Well, I think that they're all probably all similar -- the immigrants were similar because their -- they came with an adventuresome spirit. It was -- conscription there, in the Meiji Era in Japan, and a lot of them were not the first son in the families. There are several books written about this -- what was the main reason why a lot of them came over. And if you weren't the first son, or if you're gonna be drafted into the army, there wasn't too much for you to do. They took the challenge of coming to the new land, the land of opportunity. So even if they didn't know the language and the customs and so forth, a lot of them came over. Then, of course, the women -- and we know the story about the picture brides -- they came later on. And then, then you have the families.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.