Densho Digital Archive
Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community Collection
Title: Zen Shibayama Interview
Narrator: Zen Shibayama
Interviewer: Frank Kitamoto
Location: Bainbridge Island, Washington
Date: November 5, 2006
Densho ID: denshovh-szen-01

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

<Begin Segment 1>

FK: Well, how are you, Zen?

ZS: Oh, I'm pretty good.

FK: Good, that's good. Can you tell me anything about what you remember about your father?

ZS: [Laughs] Oh, what did you want to know about him?

FK: Well, you know, like what do you know about him coming to the country and getting established on the island and so forth?

ZS: Well, I don't know, he's kind of a strict father when I was young. But then, after later years, well, he was pretty much more docile, you might say.

FK: Do you know how he, how he came to the country, how he came to Bainbridge?

ZS: Well, he was a cook on a steamer, I think. And the ship happened to stop by Port Blakely, and he jumped the ship there. And he, he didn't have much money in his pocket, but he got by somehow. And he walked around the island quite a ways, up and down, I don't know exactly where, but he ended up at the, this little farm that had a shoyutaru, they call it, I guess, it's a bamboo-made keg there. And he said, "Oh, this must be a Japanese place here." So that's where he moved in and that turned out to be Matsushitas' place. And, that's how he got into the country. Later on he had to straighten out his citizenship because he jumped ship. But he got that all straightened out a few years later. That's all I remember about him coming here. He didn't have too much education in Japan, he only went there a few years in grade school, that's about it.

FK: Now, he was an entrepreneur, I mean, he ended up in business. How, how did that happen?

ZS: Yeah, that's a good question. [Laughs] I don't know. He... I guess he just happened to have a business mind, I guess. It was just the way it was. A little bit different from the others, I guess, all the Isseis that came over.

FK: So how did he meet his wife? How did he meet...

ZS: The Seko family -- my mother was formerly a Seko -- I think they, they were over here. He was a lumberjack or worked in a sawmill, I guess, in Port Blakely, and evidently he went back and then somehow kept in touch with him. And my mother, I'm not sure, I think she was born over here. No, maybe not, I really don't know for sure. So then, just happened to be... well, acquainted with the Seko family. Mr. Seko was my grandfather, and he, he had a son that's my mother's brother, Kaichi Seko. I don't know for sure when, when they got married, what year that was, I don't know.

FK: The only house I remember you guys living in was the one across from the Gardens. But did, did, was there another house that you lived in before then?

ZS: Well, up on the hill, we lived there later on. We used to live in that small shack, I always call it, right across from Bainbridge Gardens. And I can remember I was a small kid there and they used to kid me about me falling off the bed all the time. 'Cause I was upstairs, you know, they could hear me falling off the bed. And eventually the fire department used that for a fire drill and burnt it down. That's all I can remember about that.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

FK: So were you born on the island then?

ZS: No, I was born in Seattle.

FK: Tell me about the rest of your family.

ZS: Well, there isn't much to say. [Laughs] My older brother, he might have... I guess he was born in Seattle, too. And my sister, Kimiko, and I think my younger sister, Michiko -- the one that just passed away recently -- she was born in, she was born in Bainbridge. And Masaru was born when I was in the service. Later on, that was back in '39, something like that. No, wait a minute. Yeah... no, he was born when I was in Japan back in '39. I was gone about two years in Japan. And my other brother, Jimmy, was born in '42. And he, that happened when we were in Moses Lake. He had to go to Wenatchee, I think, 'cause there's no facility in Moses Lake. That's about it.

FK: So you grew up on the island then, is that right?

ZS: Oh, you could say so.

FK: About how old were you when you came over to the island?

ZS: Well, I went to Bainbridge High School for a while, I went to grade school at Pleasant Beach. And later on I guess we moved to Seattle. My father built a home right there. He was kind of proud of the fact that he only paid two hundred dollars for the lumber that he scrounged around for. And later on we added an extension to that house, so I lived on Bainbridge for quite a while.

FK: What do you remember about going to school on the island?

ZS: Well, not too much. At Pleasant Beach, I could remember Kitayamas used to be in, they used to live nearby there and they were one of the families there. And I can't remember anybody else. I think Tonookas was in that school, too, I'm not sure. They lived somewhere around there, that neighborhood. And that's about it.

FK: Did you get into any activities at school? 'font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"'>

ZS: No, I, I was still real small then, third or fourth grade, I guess. And after we moved to the, back to Seattle... and later on we moved back to Bainbridge. Then I was still in Pleasant Beach. And later on I had to go... George, my brother, and Kimi, my sister, went to Japan. And when I came back I, I went to Bainbridge High School, one year or so. That was about it.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

FK: So your parents sent you, the three older kids to Japan, then?

ZS: Uh-huh. We went there about a year and a half or two years and came back just before the war started.

FK: So who did you live with in Japan?

ZS: I guess it was a... we stayed in this, kind of a group school. Like that... there was a large group actually from all over Seattle and Auburn and it was quite a large group, anyway. And we stayed at... later on, after that school broke up, we moved to my father's brother's place in Aichi-ken, and we stayed there until we came back just before the war started.

FK: So, did your, did your parents go back and forth to Japan quite a bit?

ZS: Not too much. I think he went there once, maybe. As far as I know, he didn't go back and forth very much.

FK: So, when you got to Japan, did you already know how to speak Japanese pretty well? So was it simple...

ZS: No, not really. Of course, I went to Japanese school when I was in Seattle, for a short while. I had to learn how to write, read and write, in Japan.

FK: What were your feelings about being in a foreign place where you probably looked the same, but things were a little bit different. What was it like?

ZS: Oh, I don't know. I seemed to have gotten along somehow. It's, everything's new to me at that time.

FK: So, what year did you come back into the United States?

ZS: It was '41, I guess, just before the war started. I think we came back on the last ship. They must have knew, known that something's happened so they sent me back just before war started. That was, I think it was around October, came back, of '41.

FK: That was just, really before Pearl Harbor.

ZS: Uh-huh.

FK: Was there any difficulties as far as getting back into the country?

ZS: Not really. I was, I remember I went to Bainbridge High School. I was, I think a... I don't think I was a senior yet at that time. And, I don't know, I don't recall any problem.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

FK: So, so when the orders came to leave Bainbridge Island, what do you remember about that?

ZS: I don't remember a thing, to tell you the truth. [Laughs]

FK: Well, now you were one of the families that were able to get off the island, before all of us had to go to concentration camp. Do you remember anything about how that happened?

ZS: I didn't ask my dad anything about what happened, so I really don't know. But somehow he found this property out in Moses Lake, they called it Brown's Ranch, and we just loaded up and went straight over there.

FK: So, how many, how many families went together then, too?

ZS: Well, the Haruis came with our group. And of course my grandfather and grandmother came along. No, my grandfather, he got interned at Missoula, Montana. So it was just...

FK: That was Mr. Seko?

ZS: Uh-huh.

FK: So was he rounded up in Seattle or was he rounded up on the island?

ZS: We were on the island.

FK: You were on the island.

ZS: Uh-huh. In fact, I remember seeing a picture of my (brother), Masaru, he was only about two or three. Well, let's see, '39 to '42, yeah, he'd be three years old. And I recall that picture of him with the soldier right next to him with a rifle. So we must have went down to the ferry dock to see our friends off. But we stayed behind and we ended up in Moses Lake shortly afterward.

FK: Did you go there by car then or bus?

ZS: Uh-huh. No, we had a car. And I think my grandfather's family, Mr. Seko, had a, kind of a van. They used it for, they had a nursery. And we had to load up and I remember we had a tough time 'cause it was all loaded. Trying to go through the pass, we had radiator trouble. We had to melt some snow and put some water into the radiator, and all that kind of stuff. But then we made it somehow or other.

FK: So when you got to Moses Lake, you went into high school?

ZS: Uh-huh. I was a, I guess, I guess I was a freshman or a sophomore then. And I don't recall any problems there either. We just accepted our situation and I graduated there in '44. And right after that I was, I joined the army. I was drafted, actually.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

FK: And so where did, where did you go when you were drafted?

ZS: Well, I had to go to Utah for my basic training... no, my, that was where I got inducted. And they sent me to Fort Worth, Texas, for my basic training. And from there ended up at the Fort Snelling language, MIS language school there. And, 'bout the time I graduated, the war was over and they sent me to Japan for a, as a translator and interpreter.

FK: So you were in Japan during the occupation?

ZS: Uh-huh.

FK: And how long did you spend there?

ZS: Not too long, about a year and a half. Actually, from Japan, from Tokyo, I ended up in Manila as a court interpreter down there. Then I was discharged, I think it was '65... '45.

FK: Do you remember any, any things about your service that stands out in your mind as far as...

ZS: No, not too much. It was all routine stuff there.

FK: Did people in Japan think anything of you looking like a Japanese but being on the other side?

ZS: No. In fact, I had a relative in Japan, in Tokyo, and I used to visit him once in a while. And I don't recall any problem.

FK: Well, did you find your year and a half that you spent there being really helpful to you in being there?

ZS: Well, helpful in the sense that I learned Japanese pretty good. I was able to read those kanji characters and things like that. Although I've forgotten all that now, but then, at that time, that was pretty good.

FK: So if you were... so you said you were a court interpreter? Is that... so what type of things would come up that you'd have to, that they had you working at?

ZS: Yeah, a lot of those Japanese soldiers, they got in trouble because they were convicted for... what do you call it? Well, anyway, I was just one of a team there so I couldn't remember everything. But then, some of those generals there, they were convicted and hung and things like that.

FK: So do you know how they, they picked you to go to Fort Snelling to be part of MIS? Was there a process?

ZS: No, I really didn't know exactly how it came about that way. Although I remember my father must have known about this language school and he talked me into going there because he didn't want me to go into combat. So, that's how I happened to go to Fort Snelling language school. And they told me that the school... the army told me that, yeah, if I go to language school I'll get a promotion when I graduated. But it didn't turn out that way.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

FK: So, during this time, then, your father and the rest of your family was pretty much in Moses Lake and...

ZS: Yeah, they were all in Moses Lake at that time.

FK: So did they farm while they were there, or what did they do?

ZS: Uh-huh, yeah. Yeah, before I went to the army, I used to help on the farm there. It was hard work raising potatoes and onions, and truck farming, too. 'Cause I remember I used to haul those vegetables to the neighborhood grocery stores before going to school.

FK: So, did your dad already have some holdings in downtown Seattle then, at that time?

ZS: Oh yes, he had an apartment building there. And he kept in touch with the people that's running it for us. In fact, I used to have to check the bookkeeping there and help my father write the letter to the people over there to explain everything that's happening over there.

FK: How did, how did he find people to help look after his property over there?

ZS: Yeah, I don't know how he did that. That was some kind of a property management company.

FK: So did your dad express any feelings about the war or about your situation at that time?

ZS: No, I don't ever recall... I kinda remember when it first happened he, he had to obey the curfew. That's the only thing I could remember.

FK: Now, so who did you have look after the house on the island? Was there somebody on the island that you had?

ZS: No. As far as I know it was left vacant, I think. I was in the army at that time, so I don't know exactly what happened. But according to my sister, I think they had to get rid of a lot of those stuff and they burnt it in the yard, backyard there someplace. And got rid of a lotta those stuff that we can't take with us. I don't recall. I don't know if there was somebody living there or not while we were gone. But it was still there when we came back, although it was in shambles.

FK: So, was the property under someone's name or something since your dad couldn't own it?

ZS: Yeah, it must have been in my older brother's name, I think.

FK: Your brother George?

ZS: Uh-huh.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

FK: So, when you got out of the service, where did you return to?

ZS: Yeah, I came back to Bainbridge. At that time I guess everything was all settled there. I didn't see any sign of any damage or stolen goods or anything like that that. But then... course, I wasn't there when all that happened.

FK: Did you hear about some people having things stolen or damaged?

ZS: Oh yes. In fact, the Haruis, I remember my cousin Norio said he, he kind of missed his trumpet. When he come back it was gone, he says.

FK: So after coming back to the island, what did you do after that?

ZS: Well, I helped my dad take care of his apartment. We used to commute every day to Seattle and take care of everything.

FK: Now, Masaru was my age, so we used to have a lot of fun as kids. But was it different to have siblings that were so much younger than you?

ZS: Not really.

FK: Were you so busy? [Laughs]

ZS: No, I don't recall any problem there. We had good times. I think my sisters were taking care of Masaru and Jimmy, 'cause, you know, my mother wasn't too well. She was kind of an invalid. So it was up to the rest of the family to take care of the younger kids.

FK: Now, I remember, didn't your grandmother live with you after your grandfather passed away, or something?

ZS: Yeah. She, she was in Moses Lake during that time and came back to Bainbridge when it was over. I recall when we got the order to leave Bainbridge, my grandmother, she sure didn't want to go. In fact, she went to the trouble of buying a sleeping bag so she could stay somehow or other. But then finally we talked her into going to Moses Lake.

FK: Now, did your father, the Browns Point property, did he end up leasing the land or did he end up buying it?

ZS: I think he was buying it. 'Cause later on, this Koba family came over and started to farm in our farm, too, and I think eventually we sold the property to them.

FK: Now, in your years working with your dad's property and all that, anything memorable happen as far as during that time?

ZS: [Laughs] I can't think of anything special.

FK: So when your, when your... I remember your dad used to have this old car that he must have had for years, and he would walk around with holes in his clothes and sweatshirt and all that, and probably no one ever knew that he had all these property holdings. Tell me, tell me about that.

ZS: Well, he was that way. He'd wear an old hat, that fedora or whatever you want to call it. Stetson? Stetson. But it was all beat up and dirty so we, family got together and bought him a new one, but he never did wear it. [Laughs] He's that way, I guess.

FK: Now, your father really loved to take pictures, if I remember.

ZS: Uh-huh. He's... later on when we used to go travel a lot he used to take movies, took a lot of movies.

FK: We're doing this memorial on the island. What are your feelings about that?

ZS: Yeah, I think it's nice. It's good for everybody. I think most people don't know what happened, but this will wake 'em up and find out what happened to Bainbridge people and I think that was kind of a nice way to do it.

FK: What do you think is important for us to say at that memorial, to the other people? Are there any things that you would like to get across?

ZS: Well, not any more than what everybody else said. It's a nice way to make everybody aware of what happened. 'Cause I'm sure that a lotta people don't know what happened, actually.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

FK: So how did you meet Eiko?

ZS: Her brother and I, we used to pal around together. We used to play basketball and things like that and go to the ball games, and eventually I got to know her.

FK: So when did you get married?

ZS: Let's see... 1953, I guess it was.

FK: So it was like, meeting her again afterwards, or what happened?

ZS: No, it was just nothing unusual, I don't think. [Laughs]

FK: Do you have children?

ZS: Oh yes, we've got three boys.

FK: And how old are they now?

ZS: [Laughs.] Don't ask me that. I have to count my fingers here. I think my oldest is born in '55, so that would make him... yeah, wasn't it? Yeah.

FK: So, do you have any things that you hope for your kids or any things you wish for them?

ZS: Yeah, well, they're okay. They're doing all right, although only one is married. The other two... well, one of them got married and he got divorced and my oldest is still single and he's living with us. But otherwise, they're doing all right. I have no complaints.

FK: Well, you know, it was probably unusual in your dad's time to have a Japanese person involved in business. And I assume you had to do a lot of business with Caucasians. Was there anything... would other people look at him differently because he was Japanese, or anything like that?

ZS: I don't think so. He got along with everybody that I know of.

FK: Now, I heard that your dad actually loaned some money to some people that were having a hard time.

ZS: Yeah, I think he did. Even when, a long time ago when he was still... before he had the apartments, it seemed he used to be able to do financing for his friends and stuff like that. I don't know where he got all that business sense, but then he did all right.

FK: For a while he also... didn't he own some property on the island, too, as far as commercial property?

ZS: Uh-huh, yes. He had that shopping center there and some land.

FK: Is that where the Safeway is now over there?

ZS: Uh-huh.

FK: As, as you get older in your life and so forth and all that, if you look back on your life, would there be anything you'd change or anything that you would have done differently or, or hoped would come out differently?

ZS: No. No, everything got along pretty smoothly.

FK: Do you think the war in any way affected your outlook on things as they are now?

ZS: No... I'm the type of person that takes things as it comes along. [Laughs]

FK: So if you had anything you'd like to say to anybody, what would that be? Anything?

ZS: [Laughs] No, I don't think so.

FK: Okay.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

Male voice: I've got a question. If he was in Japan just before the war, and went there just after, he must have been able to see the incredible changes. If there were, what changes took place in Japan during the war, and I'm wondering what those changes might have been if there were any. Were there profound changes in Japan from before the war to just after?

ZS: Well, you know, that's just a few years' difference from the time I was in Japan in '39 to '41. Then as an occupation force I was there in '42 to '45, thereabouts, so there's not a huge gap there. But I could remember there was a lot of destruction there and I did have pity for all those people that went through all that.

Male voice: Did you feel the Japanese people resented you? Because you were...

ZS: No, I don't think so. They didn't... it's, in Japan I don't recall having any kind of a problem. But I remember in the Philippines, some of the Filipino people would look at me and say, and they make some bad remarks. But in Japan, I don't recall any problem there. I don't, I didn't associate with the public too much. I was strictly on the army... and that was it.

FK: So what part of Japan were you in, then?

ZS: In Tokyo.

FK: In Tokyo. So there must have been quite a bit of destruction from the fire-bombing.

ZS: Uh-huh, yeah. There was a lotta destruction I remember. But...

FK: So you think when you were in the Philippines that they had a hard time distinguishing that you weren't a Japanese soldier? [Laughs]

ZS: Yeah. They thought I was a Japanese native, I guess. They kind of made some kind of funny remarks.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

Male voice: We did an interview with Junkoh and he said that in Moses Lake, some of the local boys would make snowballs with rocks in the middle of them and throw them at 'em.

ZS: Who was that?

Male voice: Junkoh.

ZS: Junks? Oh yeah? Yeah, I heard that he had some problems there. I don't know why they picked on him, but it sounded like he didn't have a very good time. He was, he went to this school where this one building, one small building where all the classes were in one room there. And sounded like he used to get picked on and things like that. That's what I understand, anyway.

FK: I remember his brother Hiro was my age and he used to say he used to get in rock fights every day.

ZS: Is that right?

FK: Yeah. Do you think it was the difference because of the age or because you were in high school then?

ZS: I don't know. It, when I was there in high school I don't recall any problems with anybody there. In fact, I had a good time. I used to play basketball and baseball, and we had a good time, actually. We used to go skating and, and I used to work for this family and their son took me hunting and things like that, hunted for pheasants with his dogs. And went jackrabbit hunting and at nighttime, when shine the headlights on those jackrabbits and pow, shoot 'em with a low gauge shotgun and things like that.

FK: So were there any other Japanese families in...

ZS: Yeah, there were some came later.

FK: Yeah, but you were the only ones there when you moved to Brown's Ranch then?

ZS: Uh-huh, originally.

Lucy Ostrander: ...only about Bainbridge being unique, about people coming back. Other communities, it was not such a friendly... Bainbridge seems to be unique in that people were welcomed back for the most part. And why do you think that was the case?

ZS: Oh, I don't know. I think Walt Woodward had some influence in that sense. And people are kind of prepared for it, you might say. I really don't know for sure. But, the Japanese on Bainbridge at that time, they all seemed to get along with all their neighbors and everybody and it kind of carried over, I guess. I didn't hear anything negative about interaction between the two races.

LO: Do you think there was something about the Bainbridge community even before the war that made it cohesive, that made it easy or easier for the returning Japanese American families to come back to the island?

ZS: Well, like I say, I think they all seem to get along with their neighbors. And I never heard any real problems of anybody. Of course I, I don't know. I was still pretty young at that time.

Male voice: And did you come back to the island at the same time that the people in the camps came back?

ZS: Uh-huh, but I was still in the army at that time, so I didn't come back 'til quite a bit later. So I don't recall what the situation was at that time.

FK: You know, when you were in MIS or went to school in Fort Snelling, were there other people you knew that were with you or people from the island that you saw or anything like that?

ZS: Well, I, I know of one person. He's from Oregon, I guess, actually. But it turned out that he was a cousin to my brother-in-law. But that's about the only person I could remember. There was quite a few others from Seattle area. Tomitas, I recall was one of 'em. But then I don't recall anybody else from this area that went to Snelling at the same time.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2006 Densho. All Rights Reserved.