Densho Digital Archive
Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann Collection
Title: Shig Yabu Interview
Narrator: Shig Yabu
Interviewer: Raechel Donahue
Location: Camarillo, California
Date: 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-yshig-02-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

RD: Okay, Shig. Where were you born, Shig?

SY: I was born in San Francisco, California, June 13, 1932.

RD: And were your parents American citizens?


SY: My mother was born in Seattle, Washington, in 1907, and she was a two-year pre-med student at the University of Washington. And my father was born in Japan, and he left when I was a year old.

RD: Now go to "my stepfather."

SY: When I was four years old, my mother got remarried to an illegal alien. He jumped the ship, and he saw the United States, he wanted to stay, and he did. And he worked for, as a domestic worker, and he enjoyed working because of the fact that people were so kind to him. All the people he worked for all throughout his life were all Caucasians.

RD: What was his name?

SY: His name was Joe Okada.

RD: Okay, now, where did you go to school in San Francisco?

SY: I went to Galileo High School. And the reason why I went there was when I was at Marina junior high, many of the athletes asked me to go there to play basketball. And so I was glad I did go there because I did enjoy playing basketball. And they had a very famous basketball player that went to Stanford University, he was All-American, and he is the one that invented the one-hand push shot, set shot. So he used to come to Galileo High School to teach us how to shoot, and this is one of the reasons why I still play basketball. I could still shoot, but I can't run as fast as I used to.

RD: Show me that one-hand push shot.

SY: The one-hand push shot is like this. Now, the difference between that shot and now, people are shooting the same shot except a little higher, or some even higher. And even some of them are jumping up to shoot, which was not invented in those days. But prior to that one-hand push shot, people used to shoot two hands or above their head with two hands. But he invented this one-hand shot at the NCAA national championship, he scored fifty points, it revolutionized the entire game of basketball with the one-hand push shot.


RD: And this is just curious for me, what was the racial makeup of Galileo then? Because we used to call it, amusingly, when we were in San Francisco, "Garireo," because it was eighty-five percent Chinese.

SY: We had probably quite a few Italians, and a lot of Chinese, and very, very few Japanese. And most of the people went to either Washington High School or Lowell High School, but I went to Galileo. And the reason for that, there was players like Don Bragg, Frank Pavish, and they enticed me to go to Galileo, so that's why I went there.

RD: What was your life like in San Francisco?

SY: Well, my parents ran a cleaners, and something I really hated was going to Japanese school. They used to pick us up on a bus and bring us home on a bus, a little small school bus. But I went to Fremont elementary school when I was the only Japanese American. And I enjoyed the school because it was an outlet, something I really enjoyed. And my best friend was a fellow by the name of Russell. War broke out, they put all the Japanese Americans in the interior so we couldn't see the San Francisco Bay. But one day Russell and I went hiking way up in the hills, and we climbed the summit, and we looked down, and I could see the entire bay and I saw all these ships. So I ducked down and Russell asked me, says, "What is wrong?" I said, "I'm not supposed to see the ships. I'm not supposed to look at the harbor." He said, "Who's going to know?" So I looked again, and when I went home, I told my parents, I said, "The United States is going to win the war." I had never seen so many ships in my life. And ironically, right there at the foot of Golden Gate Bridge, at Presidio army base, they had an interpretive school called Military Intelligence School, or Service. And they were the Japanese that went to the Pacific.

RD: Do it again from Military Intelligence school, I mean, Military Intelligence Service.

SY: Military Intelligence Service, MIS, and they were right there at Presidio where they could see the ships coming in and out, and they went to the Pacific, and to decipher the codes of the Japanese ships. And so they saved a lot of American lives.

RD: What did you do for fun in San Francisco?

SY: Well, we did a lot of walks. We used to go to the Golden Gate Bridge -- excuse me. We did go on the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937 when it first opened up. And I still remember that, and the reason for that, because there weren't even cars or trucks permitted to enter the bridge. And the reason for that was because it was opening day. And I remember walking down where we could see the Spanish fort, and it was very colorful, bright orange. And one of the things I remember, there was this young man about nineteen years old, put me on the rail of the Golden Gate Bridge and leaned me over. And I was scared to move because I didn't want to be the first person, fatality.

RD: Little did you know it would later become a tradition. Well, Fort Baker's right under there, too, right? Or was, it's not there anymore, but Fort Baker was right under the bridge.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2010 Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann and Densho. All Rights Reserved.