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-01-0005

<Begin Segment 5>

SY: So they all went back to Japan, and so how is it that your mother ended up coming back to America?

BW: Well, so she then grew up in Japan, and my father, he came here at sixteen. And so when he turned twenty-eight or so --which would've been, let's see, he was born in 1904, so by twenty-eight, that would've been 1932 -- he wanted to get married, but in 1924 no Japanese, in fact, no Asian, could come back or could move to America because of the Alien Exclusion Act. So apparently he asked a friend to act as sort of a, what do they call 'em, baishakunin, to be like a go-between and look for a potential wife in his hometown of Fukushima. And so this friend went around to different farming families, and he had to look for an American-born woman who would be willing to be a "picture bride" and move to America to marry my father, and so he ultimately came across my mother's family. So my mother heard that there's a guy that was lookin' around for a potential bride, so they asked my mother if she would be interested and so, of course, you have to kind of check out the family and everything, so they told my mother, he's been living in America, he comes from a good family, no insanity or drunkenness and stuff, and so would she like to go to America and marry this guy. And so my mother said she wasn't too crazy about the idea, actually -- I think, who would be? I mean, if you're happy there, why would you want to do that? [Laughs] But she was eighteen, she just graduated high school, and so her, some of her friends had heard that my mother had gotten an offer of marriage from an American, I mean from a Japanese in America, and so her friends said, "Oh, Katsuye, you're so lucky. You can go to America and live in America," Hollywood or whatever. And so she hadn't thought about it in those terms, and so as she thought more about it, she said maybe, maybe that's not so bad, or maybe it'd be kind of exciting. I don't know. She never actually told me what made her change her mind, but she did mention these conversations she had. And so then she decided she would say yes. I don't think she was unhappy; I think she just decided this was a great opportunity.

SY: So did she actually have memories of living in America?

BW: When she was younger?

SY: When she was very young.

BW: Well, she remembered the oil wells and the derricks and living on the farm in Signal Hill, yes.

SY: And so she had some inkling of what it was going to be and that, do you think that factored in her decision to come again, come back to America?

BW: Yeah, I mean, life was not easy, so to her America, the America that she knew was not an easy life. But again, as time went on, I think people began to see a different picture of America and so America became a very glamorous place, especially like southern California, I think. So her friends, who, I think all, many of them, if they had a chance, would've loved the opportunity to come to America, were kind of envious of her, and she didn't realize that. So I think that kind of changed her mind about, maybe this is a good opportunity.

SY: You mentioned that your father was looking specifically for an American-born woman, was that because of the law then?

BW: Yes. Otherwise, they couldn't get here.

SY: So "picture brides" who came, who had not been in America, that was before that?

BW: Before 1924.

SY: So he specifically, that must've been difficult to find someone like your mother.

BW: That would've been my guess. I mean, it's not a big pool.

SY: And the people that she, had she heard stories about other "picture brides"? You mentioned that there might have been some unpleasant experiences that women had.

BW: Yeah, I had heard that she had heard stories of women who married men that weren't very nice, but not necessarily in America. I mean, back then you didn't get to go out on dates and fall in love and go see a movie. It was pretty much arranged for you, so even though I think families tried to do the best for their kids, sometimes they hook up with someone who's not very nice. So apparently she had heard, say about a friend, who married a man who wasn't very nice, so, I mean, that was a concern. You know, you go to America and you marry a guy and what if he's not very nice? But the family had heard, Rokuro Watanabe, he's hardworking, good family... they said he's not very tall. [Laughs] My mother happened to be kind of tall. But they said he was a good man, so I think you have to, she had to take that, that maybe, okay, that's the scoop.

SY: And as far as you know, there was no objection on the part of her family to sending their daughter all the way back to America?

BW: Yeah, my mother said it was her choice.

SY: They gave it, they allowed her to make that choice.

BW: Yes.

SY: And so did she come all by herself back to...

BW: So they had a wedding ceremony before she left, so my father was in absentia, I guess. [Laughs]

SY: Was that common?

BW: I can't quite picture it.

SY: I know, was that common, to have a wedding ceremony with no groom?

BW: Well, I don't know, I suppose there were enough "picture brides" that maybe there was some kind of customary thing you do, but, so there was a ceremony. And my mother was eighteen at the time, and she was escorted by her younger brother, who was about sixteen at the time. His name was Tomiji, and he was one of those that was born also in Long Beach and he spoke a little English because he did get to go to school for a year or two, so the two of them came together.

SY: And do you know why they chose her younger brother to come with her?

BW: I think just to escort her, and he wanted the opportunity to live in America, I guess. So I have a picture of the two of them visiting Honolulu, where my father's aunt lived, so there was a communication, apparently, before my mother left Japan that she's gonna be going to Honolulu. So my, apparently my father must've told her, "I have relatives there. Why don't you go visit them?" So she visited my father's aunt in Honolulu for a day or so, and then from there, I think they came to Long Beach or San Pedro I think.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright &copy; 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.