Densho Digital Archive
gayle k. yamada Collection
Title: Barry Saiki Interview
Narrator: Barry Saiki
Interviewer: gayle k. yamada
Location: El Macero, California
Date: October 20, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-sbarry-01-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

gky: This is October 20th, the year 2000, with Barry Saiki. B-A-R-R-Y S-A-I-K-I, and it is pronounced...

BS: Saiki

gky: Saiki. Okay, we're in El Macero, California.


gky: Barry, you've given a lot of credit to your parents and that generation, in terms of helping you know Japanese. What would you say about the Issei?

BS: Well, I think of course the language school played an important role in teaching Japanese language students, MIS [Military Intelligence Service]. But every Japanese family, their parents were concerned about their future and, as a result, they encouraged their children to become bilingual as well as do good work in school, because they felt that, probably, education and the bilingual factor would play an important role in the future, because in the prewar days, there was a great degree of discrimination against Asians.

gky: So how did they learn it? By osmosis? They went to Japanese language school. They probably thought the school was free.

BS: Yes, they probably did. We probably thought that until we learned that our parents were paying tuition. Now tuition was in general nominal if the school was connected with a church because then the minister himself would be a teacher. But they also had private teachers, and these people had to be paid. But tuition was paid for these teachers and, of course, at that time, also, one of the reasons why the kids didn't want to go was because they went to the regular school, and then, after the regular school was over, they came back and spent another hour studying Japanese. Or in some cases, they studied Japanese on Saturday mornings, all morning. So it was a -- well, they felt that their playing time was being deprived.

gky: Did you also learn not only the Japanese language, but some cultural things or some values, certain values your parents may have had? Or would you attribute values like giri, or like -- I don't know. I mean, values like that?

BS: Well, I think every family, their parents had brought with them certain rules of etiquette and, therefore they emphasize, you know -- for instance, if you visit somebody, then be sure to greet them, be sure to take something, you know, a gift, a small gift as a token. That sort of thing was more or less -- well, the kids were told that these were the proper way to do things. In other words, they felt that there were certain moral values that should be taught. Now, of course, there was other things like -- for instance, my father enrolled all our kids into Japanese fencing. We did kendo. And the reason why he did that was because kendo taught etiquette. For instance, you had to, before you start the bout you had to bow your head, and then you present yourself, you face each other, and then you start whatever you're doing, the bout. So others encouraged them to take such things as -- for instance, the girls, ikebana, flower arrangement, or tea ceremony, and some of them men were taught judo, jujitsu.

gky: How do you think that learning those sports and those martial arts and those cultural things, how do you think that helps you understand what Japan was like?

BS: Well, in the first place, all of these activities involved a sense of discipline. So you were being given a lesson in discipline in whatever you were doing. Now each form has a different set of discipline. But, at any rate, if you get involved in any activity and follow the rules, then you begin to understand that there's a reason behind it. And I think that's how they acquired it.

gky: So fifteen years later, when you were in the service and you went to Japan, do you feel that helped you understand the culture there better than being just another -- like a hakujin or Mexican?

BS: Yes, I think, because in the case of kendo, for instance, they emphasized the samurai spirit, bushido, you see, code of honor and that sort of thing. So in other words, if you are having a duel in a kendo match, there were certain rules that you had to follow and you are taught that, and it became second nature to you.

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