Densho Digital Archive
Emiko and Chizuko Omori Collection
Title: Jim Hirabayashi Interview
Narrator: Jim Hirabayashi
Interviewers: Chizu Omori (primary), Emiko Omori (secondary)
Location: San Francisco, California
Date: October 2, 1992
Densho ID: denshovh-hjim-01-0007

<Begin Segment 7>

JH: But in this situation about the Issei, it's not only legal things, but if you look at their, the innovations in agriculture and all the kind of enterprises that they got into, and also the adaptation and culture. For example, one of the important institutions that eased the adaptation of the Isseis into American life was the kenjinkai or the prefectural associations. Now, these prefectural associations did not exist in Japan. They're like saying a California club, we don't have such a thing as a California club here, but if we were to immigrate to some other foreign country and all the Californians got together, then that's what the prefectural associations were. So these prefectural associations, which were social, mutually economic and political organization, or they had political aspects about them, were purely Issei inventions to adapt to the conditions here in America. And as a matter of fact, we talk about continuity of family and everything else, but the structure of the family most certainly changed. In Japan, you have long family traditions. The eldest son of the family brings the wife into the household and maintains continuity of the family line through the generations, the eldest son of the eldest son, also brings in the wife, and that's how you maintain the family line. Well, when the Isseis migrated over here, of course, they established families anew. And so Sylvia Yanagimachi, Yanagisako, I guess. Or Sylvia Yanagisako, did her Ph.D dissertation on families there in the Seattle area, and she says that any butsudan -- Buddhist altar -- in the family home that she's ever looked into only goes back one generation. It goes back to the Isseis and that's it. You don't have the family, continuity of the family line. So that the family structure changes when, when the Japanese establish their new families in their new communities.

And I remember a situation that I was told about in the Seattle -- in the Thomas area. There was a very rich man who owned a packing house in the community. He was very important. And when his eldest son was to get married, the Japanese consulate and a prominent minister in town decided to talk this man into having a wedding that wasn't so expensive. It was during the Depression days, and they thought that the communities ought not put on such an elaborate display and so they talked that man into having a very simple reception with finger food and things like that. Well, the guests came to the wedding with very expensive gifts because he was an important man. And they came hungry, expecting to be fed. And so when they just got the finger food, they had to go to the restaurant themselves to eat. And there was so much gossip in the community that he had to invite them back in a couple of weeks to have the wedding ceremony. Well, there's a very strong community organization, and the wedding ceremony represented the community coming together for an event. So that try as they might to establish a new tradition, it didn't work. But the, if you do an investigation of who comes to these weddings, you'll find out that indeed the tradition has changed. In the village where I studied village life in Japan, it's just the head of the household that's invited to a wedding. And the people that come to the wedding, they're either related through kinship, through the relatives' households, or the important neighborhood households. So indeed, the friends of the couple that are getting married, aren't invited. It's only the head of the household, their fathers that are invited to these weddings. So the younger people are usually in the kitchen preparing the food and things like this. And every once in a while, they stick their head out to tease the couple. Now, a marriage in Japan joins two families together. It's not individuals that get joined, joined together. But if you look at who comes to the wedding in America, in a Japanese American wedding, it's not just the heads of the households that come, they come as family groups. And it's not just kin and neighborhood, but it's people that came over in the boat together with the Issei, the ones that are in your kenjinkai, and even Caucasians come. So it's the important people of the new Japanese American community that are attending the wedding. And for that reason, ritual is an important factor in maintaining community identity. And so the banquet has changed from the original structure to represent what's important in the Japanese American community here. So all of this is important innovation, and it's the creation of a new Japanese American community that's not like the one in Japan, and it's not like American communities; it's a new community. Would you like a object? Material object? Remember I told you earlier about the kimono.


JH: Well, in other words, what was happening in family structure in shifting from Japan to America was that it went from a very linear structure to a very nuclear one, so that you didn't have the family traditions over here. Now, this, of course, had consequences in camp.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1992, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.