Densho Digital Archive
Friends of Manzanar Collection
Title: Mas Okui Interview
Narrator: Mas Okui
Interviewer: Martha Nakagawa
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: April 25, 2012
Densho ID: denshovh-omas-01-0001

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MN: Okay. Today is April 25, 2012, Wednesday. We will be interviewing Mas Okui at the Nishi Hongwanji Temple, and we have Tani Ikeda on the video, and I will be interviewing, my name is Martha Nakagawa. So Mas, I wanted to start with your father. What was your father's name?

MO: My father was Jiro Okui, but he went by James. He adopted an American name.

MN: Do you know when he adopted that name?

MO: No, he always had it, he always signs his name James Jiro or James Jiro Okui.

MN: Do you know how he came with that name?

MO: I don't know. You see, in a Japanese family, you don't ask. [Laughs] It's trickle-down. You never ask your father questions, you just listen to him.

MN: Which prefecture was he from?

MO: He's from Hiroshima.

MN: Can you share a little bit about your father's early years, like when did he come to the U.S. and where did he land?

MO: He arrived in 1913, and as far as I know, he landed in Seattle. And there he worked as a schoolboy. He had been sponsored by a Mr. Awamura, and Mr. Awamura was, I think he was a samurai. He'd come to this country to make his fortune. Unfortunately he didn't make it, so he never went back to Japan. And then he went to school here, graduated from high school, and then went to Washington State College, which is now Washington State University. He graduated from there with a degree in mathematics. And following that, he worked for a Japanese bank in Seattle, and then the Depression came along. I think... anyway, 1928, he married my mother. My mother was born in San Francisco, her family was from Hiroshima.

MN: What was your mother's name?

MO: Oh, my mother's name was Yaeko, and to her Caucasian friends she was Mary.

MN: And her maiden name is?

MO: Oshimo.

MN: And do you know how she got the name Mary?

MO: [Laughs] I have no idea. I remember my father saying I should have an English name. He said, "You should be Marshall." I said, "I don't want to be Marshall." You can call me Massuo or Masuo, but most people simply call me Mas.

MN: So you never felt pressure to adopt an English name? Like a lot of people were, kids your generation did adopt English names.

MO: I think many of them were given English names at the time they were born. It's all part of trying to be assimilated, I think. That we knew when we were growing up that we would be considered Japanese. We always knew that. And so it's not surprising that people would discriminate against us. The unfortunate part about it is back in the '30s, you didn't say anything about it. Today, if someone says something to me about it, well, when I was younger, just would hit him. [Laughs] But at my time in life you don't do that.

MN: Let me go back to your mother. You said she was born here in the United States. Where was she born?

MO: Her birth certificate says San Francisco, but I know she lived in Dinuba, and her father died in a farm accident when she was ten, at which time my grandmother took the younger children to Japan. So her two sisters and her brother were Kibei. And she stayed with the Mayeda family and finished school, and then married my father when she was eighteen.

MN: Now your maternal grandmother is kind of, you had an interesting story about her, too, about where she landed, I think you said Vancouver?

MO: Yeah. She came to the U.S., and in my discussions with her, they were supposed to go to Souko, which is Japanese for "San Francisco," and Rafu is Japanese for "Los Angeles." Shiatoru, I guess, was "Seattle," Shiatoru. Anyway, to this day, I don't know how she got to Dinuba where my grandfather lived. I don't know. I don't think she knows, or she did not understand how she got there. Or maybe they met in San Francisco, but all I know is she was a "picture bride."

MN: And somehow she got from Vancouver without speaking any English...

MO: Yeah. Well, you figure people got on the boat, and they're coming here. And all of them kind of hang out together simply because they don't speak English, and they all dressed in traditional Japanese clothes. Some of the pictures I look at are rather, I don't know if "disheartening" is the word. Because you look at the uncertainty in their faces, or maybe I interpret the uncertainty in their faces. Because they haven't met their husbands, and then you hear the stories of some of the men who would show, send pictures of them ten years earlier, or they would go into town and stand next to a nice automobile in front of a nice house and have their pictures taken, and that picture would be sent to Japan. And maybe it didn't wash exactly as they had hoped, but they made the most of it. You rarely heard of women running away, but they did. They did. But they made the best of it.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.