Densho Digital Archive
Emiko and Chizuko Omori Collection
Title: Shosuke Sasaki Interview
Narrator: Shosuke Sasaki
Interviewers: Chizu Omori (primary), Emiko Omori (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: September 28, 1992
Densho ID: denshovh-sshosuke-02-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

CO: So, Shosuke, tell us about your childhood and the prewar days and life as it was before the war.

SS: Well, my, I was born in the southwestern corner, almost, of the main island of Japan -- Honshu. The family whose name I bear, Sasakis, were of the samurai class and they were, they were teachers, they were Confucian scholars and teachers. And my, my mother comes from, came from an old samurai family of Hagi, that's the castle town of our clan, known as Choshu in Japan. It's called Yamaguchi-ken today. My father was from a family of commoners, really. He was of the, he came from the shoya class. The shoya were the, served as the mayors or the heads of the villages. He was not of samurai descent. Further back, my family includes people who were, other than my father's side... see, he was adopted into the Sasaki family. And the Sasaki family itself got its name, Sasaki, when a young samurai scholar from Nagasaki was shipwrecked near where I was later born, in a storm in 1832, in a terrific typhoon that struck on that, that year, 1832. He escaped with his life and was able to get ashore. And he was on his way, by ship, to the port of Hyogo, which is now right by, going to where Kobe is. And the purpose of his trip to, on that ship was to get up to Kyoto where a meeting was scheduled to take place, consisting of young scholars from various parts of Japan who were concerned with the fact that Japan had been allowed to become practically defenseless by the Tokugawa government. And this first man, who later took the name Sasaki, he came from a family in Nagasaki, who were the samurai class and who served as interpreters, translators, of the, for the government of the Isaga clan.

CO: So, how did your family happen to come to the United States?

SS: Well, they came here because my father was a graduate of Japan's first merchant marine school. And I, I believe that that merchant, that merchant marine school later served as the nucleus of the Japanese naval academy. My father graduated from the merchant marine school and worked on trans-Pacific ships, and, as well as ships going down south. I remember he told me of the days when he used to go on the ships going towards Singapore and the southern part. How extremely warm and hot and humid it was and how the ships of those days -- they were sailing ships, made of lumber that hadn't been properly aged, really -- and how in that tropical heat, the pitch would come out from the boards on the decks. And how the shoes therefore stuck to the decks. And they, they soon learned to dispense with their shoes on board in going around the ship.

Well, he was on a trans-Pacific ship going to Vancouver, British Columbia. And unfortunately, the man who was the captain of that ship, I suppose could best be described as a Captain Bligh type. And my father decided he wasn't going, going to make the return trip on a ship that was commanded by this man. So he, he and a friend decided to jump ship one evening. And his friend left the ship first with the understanding that he would wait at the end of the dock for him but when he walked across the plank from the ship to the dock, the plank made some, made a clattering noise and so my father said he waited until, to make sure that there was no one else who was, would be awakened by that sound and then he quietly went on board, onto the dock. And when he got to the end of the dock where his friend was supposed to be waiting, there was no one there. And he waited for quite a while, calling his name out -- not too loud -- but no answer, and he finally decided that if he waited much longer, the dawn would be breaking and it might cause him trouble. So he went ahead, and eventually he came across the border and went, got into Eastern Washington. And he told me how he used to drink from the streams. He said he found an elderberry bush and broke off one of its branches and found that the, that he could split it and clear the pith out from the center and then combine the two halves together again and he used that as a drinking tube.

And the first job he found was on a Japanese railroad repair crew. And he said the other members of that railroad repair crew welcomed him as an addition to their group because he was the only one among them who could read, write, and speak English. My father, before starting to work, after he graduated the merchant marine school, he spent a year in Kyoto studying English from a British tutor. And so he was able to, he was bilingual in the real sense of the word. He kept dictionaries with him throughout his life and he got me into the habit of using dictionaries as a boy. And his... anyway, he was bilingual in the true sense of the word. He could read, write and speak in both languages, something which I have never been able to do... I can't do it to this day. But at the peak of my ability in Japanese -- that was back around the time the war began, I was going to Japanese language evening school. At that time I had gotten to the point where I could read Japanese newspapers and magazines without much trouble, but particularly since the death of my mother back in 1972, I've spent twenty years now -- no, it wasn't 1972, it was 1970 that she died. Since then, I have had almost no one to speak Japanese with and therefore my speaking Japanese has gone down practically to, almost to zero. I'm ashamed to admit it.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1992, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.