Densho Digital Archive
Friends of Manzanar Collection
Title: Bill Watanabe Interview
Narrator: Bill Watanabe
Interviewer: Sharon Yamato
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: February 8, 2012
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1003-9-22

<Begin Segment 22>

SY: Speaking of that, your parents sent you to a Christian church even though they were Buddhist?

BW: Right.

SY: Was that, do you know how, what went into that decision?

BW: Well, when we were on Montague, right after the war, there was a Holiness Church only about a block away that was starting up, and so they invited, talked to my parents and invited me and my brother to -- well, actually all four of us, my two older brothers and myself and my younger brother -- to go to this church Sunday school. So we, there was only like seven kids and we were, like, half of that. So that's, my parents felt church is better than no church, so even though they were Buddhist, there was no Buddhist church in the area at the time back then, so they went ahead and sent us to the Christian church. And actually, my brother Bob and I and my oldest brother Kinichi, we've all been part of the Christian Church ever since.

SY: And the, and did your parents go to church with you?

BW: No.

SY: So it was just, and, but did they continue practicing Buddhism at all?

BW: Well, no. There was no Buddhist church in the Valley until maybe -- well, if there was I didn't know about it -- until maybe about the 1960s or so. My father was kind of irreligious, or areligious, he told me it's a bunch of hokey, but to him it was family tradition. He firmly believed that he should be Zen, belongs to the Zen church 'cause that's what his family always belonged to. My mother was more religious, and she actually was invited to go to the Christian church and she was interested in going, but my father told her, "You can't go. You're part of this family, this family is Zen Buddhism. That's where you should be." So he felt very strongly. Even though he never went to church himself, he didn't believe this stuff, he said, "This stuff is phony, they're all a bunch of charlatans," when my mother said she'd like to go to the Christian church, he said, "If you go, we're divorcing. I'm gonna divorce you." So that's how strongly he felt about it.

SY: And yet he didn't feel as strong with his kids, about your, about the kids.

BW: Yeah. Again, he didn't feel that strongly about us, but his wife, he refused to allow her to go.

SY: So growing up in the Valley, other Japanese families, did you feel because it was after the war that there was, did you feel more comfortable being around other Japanese? Or did you notice that there was a difference, that you felt more comfortable among...

BW: Yeah, I felt equally comfortable in all three spheres, although I did notice that my Japanese school friends who went to the Buddhist church were a little more tighter amongst themselves, and I felt a little bit excluded 'cause I think I was one of the only, very few who went to the Christian church who went to Japanese school.

SY: So the Japanese school was primarily Buddhist?

BW: Most of the kids went to Buddhist church, yeah. But being comfortable, I felt comfortable with my school friends, Japanese school friends, church school friends.

SY: And they were, this Japanese school, I mean, you were encouraged, it was a mandatory thing. Your parents really insisted on you going to Japanese school, right?

BW: Yeah, they did. So my friend Dick and I, we used to commiserate, like, "Why are we being punished like this?" We thought, "We're too young to have stored up all this bachi." We felt like it was punishment for something we did in an earlier life or something. But yeah, it's like, we said there's only one reason why we keep going to Japanese school: we want to eat. [Laughs] Our families would kick us out if we disobeyed them.

SY: It was that, that fervent.

BW: So we didn't stand up to them 'cause we wanted to keep eating. [Laughs]

SY: And your older brothers, did they, they all went? And you...

BW: My older brothers went until, I don't think they finished. Somehow they dropped out, maybe 'cause they were kind of working on the farm or something, I don't know.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.