Densho Digital Archive
gayle k. yamada Collection
Title: Sunao "Phil" Ishio Interview
Narrator: Sunao "Phil" Ishio
Interviewer: gayle k. yamada
Location: Washington, D.C.
Date: November 7, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-isunao-01-0002

<Begin Segment 2>

gky: So, was there a difference say between Kibei, Nisei and Caucasian, or non-Nisei?

SI: Yes, there was a tremendous difference. The Kibei are those people who have spent their formative years, generally, say, the grammar through middle school, high school in Japan, so they have a very good basic understanding of the Japanese language and the customs, so forth. They are the ones who are capable of reading the so-called "grass writing." The Nisei who learned the language here in the States are very limited in their capabilities, so what we did was usually pair the Nisei with the Kibei as translators, and as translation teams. The Kibei were sometimes looked upon with greater suspicion because they had been raised in Japan. And this is one of the things that also that I looked into at the Archives is to -- what they did with Kibeis, their orders given out that the background of the Kibei should be studied and if they had certain things, such as belonging to certain organizations, they were discharged.

gky: Tell me, how did a Kibei and a Nisei work together on a team?

SI: Well, this is true especially in translation work where you have a, say a diary which is written in -- you got my blue eyes?

gky: You were talking about...

SI: Kibeis, yes.

gky: Kibei, Nisei, and sosho.

SI: So they're the ones who are capable of reading sosho, and so they were either sosho that translated -- of course, their English is not that good so the Nisei would brush up on the English. But that's the way they worked. Now there were quite a number of Kibei that worked by themselves, and, surprisingly, they did a lot of things that I think deserve a great deal more recognition than they've been given. For example, there is a fellow named Kozaki. Have you heard of him?

gky: Uh-huh.

SI: All right. He was an instructor at Savage, and, of course, he is a Kibei. He spoke with a definite accent and so forth. And he went out there pretty early, followed our group to New Guinea and assigned to an Australian division. As you know, the Australians did most of the fighting at that time, September, October. And was assigned to an Australian division, and he was wounded and -- but despite the wound, he continued to interrogate prisoners and translate and actually saved the life of one of the Australian officers in the course of the battle. So that's just one example. There are others. I don't know whether you've heard of... gee, I forgot his name. This guy was in Burma with the Merrill's Marauders, and he was a Kibei.

gky: Roy Matsumoto?

SI: Huh?

gky: Roy Matsumoto?

SI: Yeah... no, not Roy. No, it's another fellow. He swam across the river there to a group of Japanese soldiers who were holding out because he spoke fluent Japanese. He pretended he was a Japanese officer and he gave orders to them in Japanese, and they followed his orders. Do you remember that? Eventually he got them to build a raft. He got on the raft and they pushed him across the river and he captured about sixteen Japanese soldiers, and he got the Distinguished Service Cross for that.

gky: So in what way would you say that Kibei were valuable in a way that Nisei could not be, could not have the same experience?

SI: Well, mainly the language field. Of course there were some Nisei who were very good at the language and could do just as well in the translation field. But I think the Kibei were the ones who really made the difference, really. Of course, in my case, I also went to Japan but I was not really a Kibei in the sense that I was, but after I graduated high school, was first year in college, so I went directly into college there.

gky: That's pretty remarkable. Not having gone to Japan earlier in your formative years, being able to navigate the language and the customs.

SI: It's not too difficult. Of course, I spoke Japanese at home although it was not really the Japanese that was spoken in Japan, but, of course, I understood the language. Once you get into the university level, I majored in economics. Economics 101 in Tokyo is the same as Economics 101 in UCLA. Algebra in Japan is the same as algebra in the United States. The only problem would be if you take your entrance exam, you have to take some problems in Chinese classics and in the Japanese classical novels. Now those are -- otherwise, all the subjects are western: geography, physics, chemistry. And the lectures, once you get used to the terminology, that's no problem.

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