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Title: Grace Shinoda Nakamura Interview
Narrator: Grace Shinoda Nakamura
Interviewer: Sharon Yamato
Location: Whittier, California
Date: January 25, 2012
Densho ID: denshovh-ngrace-01-0001

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SY: Today is January 25, 2011. We're talking today to Grace Nakamura, and we're at their home in Whittier, California. My name is Sharon Yamato, and Tani Ikeda is on camera. So, Grace, can we start with you telling us your full name and when and where you were born?

GN: My name is Aiko Grace Shinoda Nakamura. I was born in Los Angeles, originally called Highland Park, it's in northeast Los Angeles. And the natives around there called that area Hermon (named for Mt. Hermon in the Bible).


SY: So Shinoda is your family name.

GN: Shinoda is my family name.

SY: And your parents on your father's side, can you talk a little bit about them?

GN: Yes. My father's name is Kiyoshi Shinoda. He was born in Tottori, Japan, in 1900, and immigrated to the U.S. My grandfather came first and he came with his eldest son, Tomitaka, we called him Uncle Tom. He first came to Hawaii (in 1904) and he worked on (a sugar plantation). My grandfather was a prosperous person in Japan.

SY: What part of Japan?

GN: Tottori (ken, prefecture), Japan, (Mizoguchi mura, town, Hino gun, county). It's to the north and in the middle. It's on the Japan Sea side, and it has sand dunes. It has a lot of sand dunes, and there are a lot of stories about the Shinodas in Tottori. My grandfather did a variety of things. He was kind of an entrepreneur. He grew hops and he made shoyu and tofu. He became a Christian. An English lord from England came over, he was over six feet tall, and I have a picture that someone has borrowed from me and I can't locate it. It's a magnificent picture. It shows my grandfather in the farmhouse and he's gathered people in the village to come and hear this man who was bilingual. He spoke fluent Japanese. He was an English lord. And my grandfather became a Christian.

SY: So he's the one that helped him convert to Christianity?

GN: Yes, he converted to Christianity. Then when he converted to Christianity he felt he no longer could grow hops, which was for beer. [Laughs] The shoyu had to be made fresh every single day, and the tofu had to be made fresh every day because they did not have refrigeration. Well, he didn't feel he should work on the Sabbath, so he decided he needed a new occupation and so he would come to America. Little did he know (the hardships he would endure). I still remember my grandfather saying he left his comfortable home and surroundings and could only bring his older son. And incidentally, that older son went to school (in Tottori) with Mr. and Mrs. Komai who were the founders of the Rafu Shimpo. I just found that out when I went to a talk at the (JANM) museum by this manga (authority, Frederik L. Schodt of U.C. Berkeley), I found out quite a bit about our family. In fact, come to think about it, I'll have to show you this manga (book, The Four Immigrants Manga: A Japanese Experience in San Francisco 1904-1924) that actually tells the story of my uncle that I heard for the first time at the Japanese American National Museum by this authority on manga. Anyway, they came to the sugar cane fields and he worked in Hawaii. He said it was so terrible. It was flea infested, and they worked long hours for such paltry pay. But he said he'd gaman and he prayed every day. He said prayers and resolved that he would bring his family to America. He saved up enough money that he thought (he should) get over to the mainland and see if it is better. He couldn't bring his family to Hawaii under the conditions (there), so he saved enough money and he got himself over to the mainland and he traveled around. He found a nice place kind of like Tottori. It was in the hills and it was rural. He found a big (two-storied) house in Martinez, California. I've done a little research and I have a picture of the house and the big water tower that they had. We were all aficionados of John Muir and I've read most of his books as did my Grandfather (Watanabe) on my mother's side of the family and my aunt. I just naturally became an environmentalist when I was very little, and my Grandfather Watanabe (nurtured that interest). Anyway, I read all John Muir's books. John Muir was his neighbor, they had similar houses, and the Muir Museum is still in existence and the house is similar. (Narr. note: I have the chronology out of order. From Hawaii my Grandfather Shinoda and son Tomitaka came to East Oakland and the San Jose area. My grandfather was also in the shoyu business. I have a photo of him in front of the business in 1907. He was doing flower growing and shoyu. After that they moved to Martinez, California, and finally to San Lorenzo, California, and purchased land for a nursery business.)

SY: So were they acquainted when he lived in Martinez?

GN: I'm not sure that they were acquainted because by the time I did that research and found out all that information, my Grandfather Shinoda had passed on. But looking at the house, one of our friends who graduated from Berkeley has a longtime (friend who) was actually his roommate who lives in Martinez and knows a lot about the history. He said it had to be a next-door neighbor or very close. He belongs to the Historical Society in Martinez. So we established that he was probably a next-door neighbor because there's a large vacant area next to the Muir House, but it was exactly the same style. (Narr. note: The history of Martinez indicates there were similar style houses in the area, but the Muri house is the only one remaining.)

SY: So when he came to Martinez, did he immediately start...

GN: He had a fruit farm, but he really wanted to grow flowers. There was not enough water and the (soil) conditions weren't right. My father went to (high) school (there and elementary school in East Oakland. I have his high school diploma from Martinez High School).

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