Densho Digital Archive
Preserving California's Japantowns Collection
Title: Louie Watanabe Interview
Narrator: Louie Watanabe
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda (primary); Jill Shiraki (secondary)
Location: Sacramento, California
Date: December 8, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-wlouie-01-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: So I'm going to start the interview by talking about the day and the time. So today is Tuesday, December 8, 2009, we're in Sacramento at Gene and Jane Itogawa's house, which they graciously let us use for this interview. We're here with Louie Watanabe. On camera we have Dana Hoshide, and I'm the primary interviewer, Tom Ikeda, and assisting is Jill Shiraki. So why don't we start just at the very beginning, Louie, and why don't you tell me when and where you were born?

LW: Okay. Start now?

TI: Yeah, so go ahead and start.

LW: Well, I was born in Walnut Grove, California, August 22, 1925.

TI: Good. And when you were born, what was the name given to you at birth?

LW: Oh, you mean the name? Well, my Japanese name was there, but my parents ran the boarding house and the restaurant, and all the customer was Caucasian. So they had a hard time naming Japanese names or remembering. So each of my brother and sister, they all have American names like George, James, Louie, Jack, and Alice. And, in fact, the restaurant that my mother had, they called Mary's Restaurant.

TI: Oh, so this was mostly from the Caucasian customers, the boarders.

LW: Right, it's the business, yeah. Well, it was in Japanese town, but the customers was all Caucasian.

TI: And so how did that work? When you were first born, did you just have a Japanese name?

LW: Japanese name only. And we went to school with Japanese name, but then the people that are living there, at the restaurant, they like, you know, remember your name. So each one of them got a Japanese -- an American name.

TI: Okay, good. That's a good story. So let's start. So why don't you tell me your Japanese name. So 1925, what did your parents name you?

LW: Parents name was... Yosaburo, my father's name.

TI: Oh, not their names, but what did they name you? What was your name?

LW: Oh, Mitsuru.

TI: Yeah, Mitsuru, okay. There's some kind of meaning to it, but I don't remember. You know how all the Japanese names, they got some kind of...

TI: Well, how about "Louie"? Where did "Louie" come from?

LW: "Louie" came from one of the workers that was staying there.

TI: But did he have a reason why he called you...

LW: No, I don't have any idea how they get those American names. So we make it a lot easier when we were going to elementary school, because all the Japanese had all Japanese names, and the teachers had a hard time pronouncing or remembering. (...)

TI: And you said the same thing happened to your brothers and sister. Why don't you tell me your brothers and sister's names in kind of order. Like who was the oldest, what was his name?

LW: The oldest one was George. Let's see. What was his Japanese name? Minoru. And James is my second brother, and his is Akira. And I'm the third, Louie, Mitsuru, and the fourth one is Jack, Mitsugi. And my sister's name was Alice, and Japanese name was Shizuko.

TI: Okay. So you were right in middle. You had two older, two younger.

LW: (Yes).

JS: So "mittsu" is "number three," right? So you're number three son?

LW: Beg your pardon?

JS: "Mitsu" is... hitotsu, futatsu, mittsu. So is that why you were Mitsuru?

LW: Yeah. It seemed like in a Japanese family, they seem like they go Minoru, Mitsuru, Mitsugi and all down the line, yeah. I noticed that a lot of families like that. But I don't recall what it means, though. I was too young, so I never had a chance with my parents, to talk with them.

TI: Now, in terms of difference in age, how much older was George?

LW: Well, George was born in 1922, and my second brother James was 1923, and I'm 1925, and Jack was 1926. Then my sister was... I can't recall. Because she was about ten, fifteen years younger. I don't recall what year it was.

TI: But the first four came right away.

LW: Right away, every, maybe two years, two years apart, yeah.

TI: Just as a side note, your birth order is exactly the same birth order as my family. I have two older brothers, I'm the third, then I have a brother and then a younger sister. So very similar.

LW: So you know what happened, I think, there was four boys, so my, maybe my mother wants one girl in the family, so they were trying. So I guess that's the reason that age difference, maybe six, seven years later.

TI: Yeah, and I remember that my mother wanted a girl, too. So when they had the girl, everyone was so happy to have one girl, finally.

LW: Yeah. Well, I know one friend of mine that, he had all girls, five girls. And he wanted a boy so bad, finally he quit because after five girls, that was enough. [Laughs]

TI: Yeah, that's funny.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright (c) 2009 Densho and Preserving California's Japantowns. All Rights Reserved.