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-01-0002

<Begin Segment 2>

gky: What were you doing before you were recruited?

SK: What?

gky: You were twenty-six years old?

SK: Yeah. Well, I started college, then along the way my father got critically ill, so I had to stop school for three years to support the family, then when he recovered I went back to school and majored in political science. This was in 1935. It was in the middle of the Depression. Unemployment throughout the United States was at twenty-five percent. Nobody had jobs. Stockbrokers were jumping off of their Wall Street buildings in New York committing suicide. Grown adults were selling apples on street corners. There's no jobs for anyone, so my father said, "Well, why don't you go back to school for one more year?" At that time the University of California, being a state institution, didn't have tuition charges. All you had to do is put down twenty-five dollars for registration and have good high school grades to get into the school, so I... and I graduated school with the same way. All I had to do is put, pay twenty-five dollars for registration, so I went back to UC and got my Master's in one year. Still there were no jobs. The unemployment rate at that time was, as I said, twenty-five percent, so my father said, "Why don't you go to Japan and see if you can go to school in Japan and using your English knowledge to possibly get a job?" possibly with the Domei news agency that a number of university graduates, Nisei, in the United States were doing. So I went to Japan in September of 1940, and while I was on the boat Japan signed a treaty with Germany and Italy called the Tripartite Alliance, and I landed in Japan and the climate there was a climate of war. Japan was already fighting in China, the dead were being transported back from China to Japan, and I had promised my father I would go to school and study, but the atmosphere was so tense that I didn't go to school at all. I traveled around Japan to get to know Japan a little better, and I boarded with a friend who worked in the, the offices of War Minister Matsuoka. He worked in the Public Affairs Office of the Department of the Army in Tokyo. And I was able to read the newspapers imported from England, from New York, San Francisco, and the situation in Japan was getting from bad to worse, and the reaction of the British government, the United States government regarding Japan was getting a little bit tense, so finally I wrote my mother and I said, "I can't stay in Japan. War is gonna break out for sure. If I stay here I'm gonna get conscripted into the Japanese army," and I don't want, I didn't want any part of it.

gky: Could I, could you say that again about how, how you wrote to your mother and you didn't want to stay there anymore? We had a train go behind you.

SK: Pardon me?

gky: Can you tell me again about how you wrote to your mother and told her you wouldn't want to stay in Japan? The train, we heard the train.

SK: Oh, I see. Fine. Well, the situation in Japan was getting so bad that I wrote my mother and said, "I can't stay here in Japan. War is going to break out sooner or later. I don't want to get conscripted into the Japanese army and go to war for Japan." I said I would prefer to come back to the United States and take my chances getting a decent job and continuing life in the United States. My mother wrote back and said, "Papa says that if you come back to America you won't have a home to come back to." My father said that he would disown me, and she didn't send me any money for a steamship ticket, so I sold a couple of pairs of shoes that I had and I sold my overcoat, I sold my portable typewriter, and got enough money to buy a third class steamship ticket back to the United States. And I left Japan and Japan had gone into French Indochina. The United States abrogated the trade treaties that had been in existence in Japan for one hundred years, and the steamship which I was sailing was the Tatsuta Maru, an NYK steamship. It had a million dollars worth of raw silk in its hold, and the night that we understood that the boat would reach San Francisco we celebrated, all the passengers on the boat celebrated and went to sleep. And the next morning when we got up the sun was on the wrong side of the boat. We found out that the, the captain of the ship had received a radio message from Tokyo ordering the boat to go back to Japan. They didn't want to get the million dollar cargo of raw silk possibly confiscated by the United States government. And this continued for one week. The boat went up and down the coast of California. We'd go in one day, come out the next day. Finally we landed in San Francisco, and at the wharf in San Francisco my brother was waiting and my future wife Aya was waiting, and my brother told me, "Papa says you can come home."

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.