Densho Digital Archive
Loni Ding Collection
Title: Kenji Goto Interview
Narrator: Kenji Goto
Interviewer: Loni Ding
Location: Hawaii
Date: December 8, 1985
Densho ID: denshovh-gkenji-01-0010

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LD: You were, were you a Kibei?

KG: No.

LD: You were never Kibei?

KG: No. All my Japanese was learned in Hawaii. But at the time that I was growing up, well, all my surrounding was Japanese speaking. And, well, I knew some English when I went to first grade, but my wife tells me that when she went to the public school and entered the first grade, she just could not understand the English. So then attending Japanese language school, then even when I... well, the first job I had was a salesman in the grocery department of one of the Big Fives here. And those days there were, mostly Issei used to have a small general merchandise store here and there. They used to call and say, well, "I'd like to speak to Goto." [Laughs] And so I used to take orders for these retail grocery stores. And so we benefited. Then before I became a teacher, at the age of twenty-four, I went as an interpreter in organizing the PTA at the Konawaena High School and elementary school, Konawaena High and elementary schools. I was elected president of the PTA. I was still a bachelor and I had no children. [Laughs] And that's when this coffee schedule was instituted, when I was the president of the PTA. We worked with the school department, we worked with the legislature, the legislature finally passed a resolution to allow Kona schools to have vacations during the months of September, October and November. And then when I --

LD: Explain that again. The importance of those three months is because why?

KG: Because coffee used to ripen those three months, and that was the harvesting season. So instead of using hired workers, children could pick coffee as well as adults. Well, children, say, about ten years and older.

LD: This would allow the kids to work, is that the idea?

KG: Yes. So a child permit was given. And then when I became a schoolteacher during the Depression, well, that was one way of my change in my work so that I could earn a living, I became a schoolteacher. I came back to university and took one year of a course in education. But the first appointment came out, only five out of eighty got appointed, and I was one of them. I was really lucky. Then, you see, the parents at Konawaena school, I would say a good seventy percent were Japanese Issei. And for that reason, I was a sort of a counselor, and after I went to teach, I continued to be PTA president for a while, ten more years. And that required my meeting with parents and writing letters to them for some problem child and so on. Then I went to the Military Intelligence Language School. Then when I came back here, I was asked to run the Kuakini medical center. And there again, there were many Issei on the board of directors, so meetings were held in Japanese. So I had to convince them on many projects, building new facilities, instituting penchant system, raising salaries for the employees, all kinds of... I had to explain in Japanese, to convince them. So I think I must have gained because of my knowledge of Japanese, and now I think I, it is, I don't know, audacious for me to say this, but I think people have respect for me because I know the Japanese language and be able to serve the Issei just as well as the Nisei and Sansei and Yonsei.

LD: During the war, Buddhist churches and language schools were closed, am I right?

KG: Yes.

LD: Can you talk about that a little? That's one of the ironies, isn't it? That the only reason why you fellows knew Japanese as well as you did, to some extent, was because of the languages schools.

KG: Yes. Some years ago, the Hawaii Times asked me to write an article on MIS in Japanese. And I wrote a ten-installment article. And I ended up by saying that I was able to serve the MIS and six thousand others were able to serve MIS and help the United States defeat Japan two years earlier than what General MacArthur had expected the war to end. And I said this is due to the fact that our parents, with meager earnings, felt that in order to get that rapport between the parents and children, they were too busy to earn their living to bring up their children, so they could not attend night school to learn the English language. But they contributed money from their own small earnings and started the language school way back in 1893, starting with. And then by 1941, at the time of Pearl Harbor attack, there were 42,000 Japanese children attending 200 language schools. And on account of this language, our parents did not expect that their children would serve the United States as interrogators and translators, as language specialists in World War II between Japan in that way. But anyway, they maintained the Japanese language schools.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1985 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.