Densho Digital Archive
Emiko and Chizuko Omori Collection
Title: Hisaye Yamamoto Interview
Narrator: Hisaye Yamamoto
Interviewers: Chizu Omori (primary); Emiko Omori (secondary)
Location: San Francisco, California
Date: March 21, 1994
Densho ID: denshovh-yhisaye-01-0003

<Begin Segment 3>

EO: Can we go back? What got, what got you interested in writing?

HY: Well, I loved to read, starting out with the Red Fairy Book and the Blue Fairy Book and the Tanglewood Tales and, I remember, one of my favorite things in school was having the teacher read to us. And I recall Wizard of Oz, and Dr. Doolittle and stuff like that. And I just loved it. I would check out as many books as they'd let me, so I guess I thought writing was it, you know, writing books, so...

CO: When did you start?

HY: Fourteen, when I started getting published in the Japanese American press.

CO: And were you published from the beginning?

HY: Yeah, well, they printed anything you wrote. And a lot of the USC journalism grad-, graduates, they couldn't get jobs in the white press, so they became editors of the Japanese American press. And I remember people like Kenny Murase, who's a respected Sociology professor now, being one of the columnists for the Kashu Mainichi, and Toyo Suyemoto, who still writes poetry, publishing her early work in the Japanese American press. And people like Dr. Yasuo Sasaki, and Mary Oyama Mitwer, who recently passed away, and her brother Joe Oyama, and Lilly Oyama, she was more of an artist, but that family was kind of a literary dynasty in the early Nisei journalism. And Ruth Kurata, who was the editor of the... who was the feature editor of the Japanese American Kashu Mainichi, and her husband... what was his name? Boy, my memory is going. But anyway, he, he would write under names like "Les Harakiri," you know. [Laughs] A pun, and -- oh yeah. His name was Tomomasa Yamazaki. And he died as a result of the action in the South Pacific. He was on a plane that crashed, or something like that.

CO: Did your parents... what did they think?

HY: Oh, my mother encouraged me, my father wasn't that much for women getting educated, but they all tolerated it. I mean, it wasn't that important a deal, getting -- [laughs] -- sending things to the Japanese American press.

CO: [Inaudible]

HY: Well, looking back, yeah, it's very valuable as a record of Japanese American society and interests and... yeah. But at the time, when, it was just something you did like a hobby.

CO: It sounds like there was a lot of creative ferment at the time.

HY: Oh, yeah, uh-huh. I think like in the papers in Seattle, and San Francisco, and maybe even New York and... I don't know about Chicago then, but yeah, quite a few of the people who, that still write started out writing for those newspapers, you know.

CO: Well, I think that's what we're talking about -- kind of the role that it played encouraging...

HY: It did, yeah, because they pretty much printed anything the Nisei wanted to write. And the early poets, yeah. But accepted people like John Okada and Toshio Mori never did write for the Japanese American press 'til later, you know, they were asked for contributions. Or Toshio Mori was.


HY: Oh, yeah, my mother wrote senryu and she encouraged me. And one day -- well, I've written about this -- but she found me writing, scribbling a story on either, was it butcher paper or wrapping paper and she said, "What are you doing?" and I said, "I'm writing a story." And she said, "Well, if you're going to be a writer, you'll have to live on a hill where it's cool -- or a cool wind blows." Because I used to really be what they call atsugami, you know, couldn't take the heat very much, and I'd drip all summer. And so that was her advice to me. So now I do live on a hill, but -- [laughs] -- it's pretty smoggy most of the time.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1994, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.