Densho Digital Archive
gayle k. yamada Collection
Title: Shigeya Kihara Interview
Narrator: Shigeya Kihara
Interviewer: gayle k. yamada
Location: Monterey, California
Date: July 1, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-kshigeya-01-0001

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gky: Okay. Will you please give me your name?

SK: Pardon me?

gky: Will you give your name?

SK: Shig Kihara.

gky: And you were one of the first teachers at, at the language school. How did you get recruited?

SK: One day in late September of 1941, I got a call from the University of California. It was from the office of Professor Florence Wong, chairman of the Oriental department at the University of California. She wanted me to go to the Presidio of San Francisco to be interviewed by Colonel John Weckerling, who was trying to establish an army Japanese language Military Intelligence school at the Presidio. I told Miss Wong, "I'm not qualified to be a Japanese language teacher. I've never been to school in Japan at the elementary or high school or university level." But she said that General Weckerling, Colonel Weckerling at that time, was having a difficult time finding qualified instructors. She said that I would be able to do the job. I had studied Japanese language at UC Berkeley under Professor Wong and I had even taken a graduate course in Japanese literature at UC Berkeley, and she urged me to go, so I said okay, nothing to lose. I'll go. So I went to see Colonel Weckerling at the Presidio of San Francisco and he didn't ask me to read one word of Japanese. I didn't have to read a Japanese newspaper, a Japanese military manual. Apparently Miss Wong had written such a laudatory letter of reference that the General accepted it, and he said fine after about fifteen minutes. He said, "You'll be hearing from me in about a week's time," and a week's time, a week later I got a letter from Colonel saying, "I'm offering you a job as an instructor of the Japanese language at the Fourth Army Intelligence School," and the letter directed me to report to his office on the fifteenth of October, 1941.

gky: Did you think it was strange that they were going to be starting a language school?

SK: Well, the relations between Japan and the United States were gradually getting worse and worse. In June of 1941 Japan had invaded French Indochina, and that point the United States cut off all trade between United States and Japan, particularly raw steel and oil. And the climate was getting a little touchy, so it was a surprise to me, but war was going on in China, in Europe, France had surrendered already, Dunkirk had occurred, so it wasn't a complete surprise to me.

gky: So what happened when you reported for work on October 15th?

SK: Well, I reported to Colonel Weckerling's office, which was on the second floor of headquarters building at the Presidio, and he said, "Come with me." And we went down the stairs to an empty basement room at the headquarters, and there Colonel Weckerling introduced me to John Aiso and Aki Oshida and Private Arthur Kaneko. Then on an empty orange crate there was a set of books. Later on I found out that they were Naganuma readers developed in Tokyo by Professor Naganuma, who was the director of Japanese language training for American military attaches. The school was conducted at the American embassy in Tokyo. And there were half a dozen dictionaries, huge dictionaries that I had never seen before, and a military dictionary, from Japanese to English and from English to Japanese. It was written by Creswell, an army officer. And there were two dictionaries of naval terminology, and there was one United States training manual, the title of which was "Japanese Military Forces." Then after we had been introduced to each other the Colonel said, well, let's go down to the school. So the General went down in a staff car and I followed in my old beat up car, and leaving the tree line, the green lawns of the headquarters buildings, the residential areas of the Presidio, we crossed some railroad tracks and there was a wide expanse of nothing, just sand, and we drove down about a couple of blocks and there was a corrugated tin abandoned airplane hangar. And we parked and we moved in. There were two individuals, Sergeant Peterson and one Officer Schneider, standing against the wall, and there was a carpenter banging away. We later found out that he was creating partitions for three classrooms, an office for the deputy commandant, and a faculty room.

gky: When you saw the Naganuma readers and the dictionaries there, was that all that, all that you were supposed to start the school with?

SK: That's correct. Colonel Weckerling took us into the building, and the books that were brought down were placed on one army steel cot, and he told John Aiso, "Sixty students will report for training in two weeks. Be ready to start training." Then he did an about face and left. Then John Aiso and the three instructors looked at each other, and we, I just would say, "What do we do know?" But John Aiso was a very well educated, capable individual, lots of experience in life, and he said, "Okay, we'll start with getting furniture into this building," and he told Schneider and Peterson, "Go wherever you can find buildings in the Presidio and ask these different offices if they have spare chairs, desks, and other furniture necessary to start a school." And Peterson and Schneider went off, and eventually they were able to get used mess tables with thatched seats, was able to get a couple of desks and chairs, and John Aiso told Peterson, "Be sure to find a mimeograph machine and borrow or beg or steal stencils so that we can cut instructional materials on them." And then he ordered Aki Oshida and myself to go around town in San Francisco and find printers who would be able to duplicate the one set of Naganuma readers in one hundred copies, and we found printers, and, "Be sure to order that they be ready in two weeks' time." Then John Aiso sent me to the bookstore at the UC Berkeley and at the bookstore at Stanford University to buy up all of their Japanese dictionaries and English grammars on Japanese grammar. Then we went to downtown San Francisco, visited the Goshado, Japanese bookstore, and we bought up their supply of dictionaries. And John Aiso began to whip up a course, how do you start teaching the Japanese language, so he devised a weekly schedule, two hours of reading and translation from eight o'clock to ten o'clock, then one hour of kanji, the Chinese characters. Then from one o'clock to two o'clock, English to Japanese translations, each of the instructors would have to write up translation problems and exercises for each of our three classes. Then a class in military terminology, the military terminology in Japanese was developed from an English training manual back into Japanese, and Aki Oshida, having the best handwriting of the three instructors, on a daily basis began to write out the language, the terminology for the Japanese army, starting from the emperor, the commanding general of Japanese forces, and then the minister of war, down to the various divisions, and from the divisions to the brigades, the battalions and the companies and so forth. And each day that we were there, for two weeks, preparing for the school, Mr. Oshida, myself, and Mr. Imagawa, who had been employed to take the place of Kaneko, who didn't want to do the job. He preferred to be a student. So Oshida, Imagawa, and myself, we translated the English TM, using Creswell's military dictionary, back into Japanese, then Aki Oshida wrote out the lessons on stencils each day.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.