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: denshovh-wbill-01-0003

<Begin Segment 3>

SY: So the, so when you said they went back, it was your mother and your older brother?

BW: It was my mother, her older brother, and another younger, two other younger brothers, so by the time they went back to Japan I think there were four kids.

SY: So it was, do you know --

BW: Or maybe five, five kids.

SY: -- roughly when that was that they returned to Japan?

BW: Around 1921 is what I kind of heard. And so even though my mother would've been like seven years old, she, they never sent to her to school. Number one, they thought, well, she's a girl, and number two, they probably would be going back to Japan soon, that was sort of their plan. So they decided, well, why send her to school? We're not staying anyway. So she never went to school, unfortunately, and she never learned English. However, her older brother, and I think her two or three younger brothers, were sent to school, grammar school, so they went to, like, first grade or kindergarten and they learned some English, which they retained throughout their lives. But my mother never learned English.

SY: So when you say she never went to school, then her whole life she never attended school?

BW: Well, except in Japan.

SY: So she only went to school in Japan.

BW: Right.

SY: When she went back with, with...

BW: Right. So even though she's a Kibei Nisei, she's really more Issei because she lived on the farm and then went to Japan and went to Japanese school, so she was fully Issei.

SY: And her life in Japan was, how long did they end up staying in Japan?

BW: Well, so she stayed 'til the age of eighteen, so if she went at age seven she spent eleven years there. But she, I think she essentially went from grammar school and graduated high school at the age of eighteen.

SY: So your grandparents really were intent upon settling back in Japan.

BW: I guess. That was, that was their plan.

SY: That was, and they, and I assume that they ended up staying there.

BW: So they ended up staying there. My grandfather died before I met him, but I did meet my grandmother on my mother's side one time, when she came to visit us, around the 1960s, I believe.

SY: So she led a long life.

BW: She did, yeah.

SY: And your, and your mother, then... well, I don't want to skip too much, but so your grandparents then went back to farming in Japan.

BW: Yes.

SY: And the business that they had here was just completely demolished, I guess?

BW: Well, they couldn't own anything, so it was basically farms that they leased, so they either ended their lease or sold, gave it up and went back.

SY: And the, that oil issue, was that, that was really the thing that precipitated it?

BW: That's what I heard. And apparently the farm... my parents used to raise chickens and things like that, and they would find chickens missing. I mean, hundreds of construction workers are all over, and they were building oil there everywhere, and whoever owned the land, I'm sure, sold out to get more oil. I read that, like, by 1925, '26, Signal Hill was the richest oil producing field in the entire world, for about ten years. I mean, they were producing so much oil out of Signal Hill, so farming was not, was not gonna last there. And if you see a picture of Signal Hill back in the 1920s, that's what it is, nothing but oil derricks, hundreds and hundreds of them.

SY: So you probably have no idea why they chose Signal Hill? Was it just --

BW: Well, there were other Japanese farmers farming there. So it was, it was kind of hilly like this, but it was wide open. There was hardly anybody living there at the time. And so if you look at the, kind of the address rolls of the farmers back then, there were other Japanese farmers already who had preceded my grandparents in farming in Signal Hill.

SY: And as far as you know, were they all sort of forced to leave because of this oil?

BW: You know, I would imagine so. Again, if you look at the pictures of Signal Hill, there were no farms. [Laughs] After a while it was nothing but oil wells.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.