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-01-0006

<Begin Segment 6>

gky: What difference do you think it made that you were a Nisei, that you were Japanese American during the occupation? You were Japanese American in a country of Japanese people.

BS: Well, first it's -- one other thing. Psychologically, you are at an advantage by being a Nisei in Japan because they look like you, right? And furthermore, from your background you have some concept of the standard of ethics that these people have. And in their way, you are more closely attuned to speaking to them, and I think this is also true. For instance, even during the wartime an American interpreter would find it impossible to try to go into a cave and call out people to surrender. But a Nisei would be more likely to do it because he feels a closer relation. And I think that also applies in after the war, because you are in a position that you feel that you are in a better position in understanding the other person's feeling, and they feel the same way.

gky: You mean the Japanese people treated you differently than the Caucasian standing next to you wearing the same uniform?

BS: I think they would because they could at least talk to you. See, with a Caucasian, they can't converse. So, you know, there isn't that feeling. That's the big advantage of the Nisei being the interpreter.

gky: It's been said that the Nisei acted sort of as grassroots ambassadors when they were over there after the occupation; the occupation couldn't really have happened the way that it did because of, except had the Nisei been there. Do you think that's true, and why?

BS: Yes, I think that's true because, as I say, you have to talk to people, you have to observe just like I did. I talked to many people to probe their feelings, and that's the only way you can understand. And I think that's what many of the Nisei do because they had relatives with whom they can discuss various situations. [Interruption] At any rate, our relationships and our friendships -- let me give you an example. My parents are from Hiroshima. My Japanese language basically I learned was Hiroshima dialect. Now when I went to Japan, the liaison conducted the liaison with the Home Ministry. The Home Ministry controlled all the police, all the files, information in Japan. One section that controlled the police and the fire department, Keio Tokucho it was, was headed by a man named Tanikawa. He was the son of a man who had immigrated to the United States, made money, and he returned to Japan with his child. And this child had gone to Todai, Tokyo University, and he was now one of the top ranking officials in the Home Ministry from Hiroshima, okay. In this, he had two subdivisions. One was headed by a man named Kato, and the other one by Murai. Kato was also from Hiroshima. Now if I went there and I asked for information from Mr. Kato, and I told him my parents were from Hiroshima, I got hundred ten percent treatment. See what I mean? Because I could also tell him I knew the village where I came from. I went to school there as a kid.

gky: So it's kind of like...

BS: Another example is Sankey [George Kiyoshi Yamashiro]. Now Sankey is an Okinawan. His parents went to Hawai'i from Okinawa, so he spoke the Okinawa dialect as well as the Japanese, okay? He became the interpreter for the high commissioner in Okinawa, and he became a favorite of the Okinawa officials because he's one of the few people who can speak Okinawa dialect. So they would do anything for him.

gky: You're talking about George Sankey?

BS: Yeah.

gky: How do you think, as sort of an observer, but a participant also, how do you think the MIS worked with the Japanese people to help create a, recreate their society?

BS: Well, I think from the fact that MIS people by the nature of their background, having some knowledge of Japanese society and Japanese family, now they were in the position to explain the various problems that existed in a more friendlier way and, therefore, contributed to the solving of these problems. If you had a group there that didn't know anything about the culture, the background trying to solve issues you're going to have a lot of misunderstanding.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright &copy; 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.