Densho Digital Archive
Steven Okazaki Collection
Title: Gordon Hirabayashi Interview
Narrator: Gordon Hirabayashi
Location: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Date: October 25, 1983
Densho ID: denshovh-hgordon-06-0002

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Q: What was your religious background like?

GH: When my father and his young friends were preparing to come to U.S., they recalled that they had two major objectives. They felt that, to succeed in America, you had to first know English, and second, you had to be a Christian. So they went to a language instructor and started taking English lessons. And you know, the English that a Japanese person would be teaching, the pronunciation would be not understandable. But he learned some, but the main thing he learned was, this fellow happened to be a disciple of one of the leaders of a Japanese Christian movement, called mukyokai, or the non-church movement, Protestant. But refused to join up with any denomination, he felt that that was an American organizational claptrap that wasn't necessary, and so he said, "We just do the real thing, the Christian thing," and had his so-called "non-church movement." Well, this disciple who was teaching English spent a lot of time getting that point of view across, too, I guess, so that by the time they came to U.S., they were converted Christians, his brand. So when they... I think they were headed for California. Dad said California was the name that was given, and they landed in Seattle. The boat stopped in Seattle and then they were, soon as they were cleared by immigration, they were going to go to get on the train to head for California. But he had sent a letter to a contact he was given just so somebody could come and visit them. And he came over to visit in Seattle, and they found, this fellow said, "You know, you people ought to consider here. This is not a bad place." And they said, "Well, there's eight of us, is there a job for eight of us, we could work together?" So he says, "I'll look into that," and he came back a few days later and said, "Yeah, I've got a, I've got a job for eight of you." Four-man team on the railroad, one of those handcars for repairs, teams of four, up in the mountains, Cascade Mountains from Seattle. And so that was about a year of their job. Now, regarding the Christian part, these fellows met, it was a non-church, non-minister, non-pastor type meeting. So they'd get together and have their own sessions. From what they were telling me, I felt that the easiest way to understand their type of session was something like an Alcoholics Anonymous. They would come and share their experiences, the difficulties, how they overcame them, and how certain aspects of their beliefs helped and so on, and you know, the testimonial type.


Q: How did your religious background or the religion of your father plus the Quakers that you had known influence your thinking?

GH: Well, in a number of ways. I think, in principle, probably the most fundamental part that reflected itself in my beliefs was the sincerity. Both, both my father's group and the Quakers, there were no connection, official connection between them, and I don't think they knew of each others' existence 'til, you know, later. They had a very close relationship between the statements of their belief and their behavior, and that impressed me. I liked that, because you run across so often people who profess certain high standards on Sunday, then on Monday they follow some other principle. So it was refreshing to me to find, after my growing up with my parents' group, a group like the Quakers that represented very similar principles of behavior and belief.

Q: What was your relationship with Floyd Schmoe?

GH: Well, I knew him from the days as a student, and a group of students who were interested in peace and some alternative way of international relations than war. We had speakers come in to our group. This was an informal group, and we had a variety of people coming in, and among them were Quaker representatives and he was one of them. Later on, when, after Pearl Harbor when war started, Floyd Schmoe was teaching at the College of Forestry, and I think about ninety percent of the students were drafted into the army. So along with a number of other instructors they found other things. Many of the instructors went into the service themselves. Floyd, being a Quaker and interested in the service work, peace work, was instrumental in getting the American Friends Service Committee organized for the Northwest. And the first key challenge for their work was assisting where they could with the Japanese Americans.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.