Densho Digital Archive
Twin Cities JACL Collection
Title: Sally Sudo Interview
Narrator: Sally Sudo
Interviewer: Steve Ozone
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Date: October 12, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-ssally-01-0014

<Begin Segment 14>

SO: Is there anything else that you wanted to talk about?

SS: I wanted to talk a little more about when I lived in Japan, the fact that when we moved there in 1967, for the first time this sister who I had never met and she introduced herself and she said --

SO: How did she find you?

SS: She must have heard from my mother that I was living in Tokyo, and so we made arrangements... we were going to go down there on a family trip, because at that time she lived in Kyushu, so it would be a like a good thousand miles away, certainly on a different island. So my younger brother Henry was a civilian working with the Department of Defense. He was an ammunitions inspector, so he happened to be in Japan at the same time. So Henry and I, along with my husband and our kids, decided that we were going to take this trip to meet my sister. And I hadn't seen any pictures of her or anything, so I wasn't sure how all this was going to work, but I told her when we were going to arrive so when we got off the train in her town of Nobeoka in Kyushu, I looked up and down the platform and here I saw this lady running towards us and she was the spitting image of my mother and I thought, oh my gosh. I mean, you could tell right away she was an Ohno and she was just so happy to see us. She took us right to her house. She and her husband were rice merchants. They had a rice store. In those days the Japanese government controlled how rice was sold, so unless you had a specialized rice store, you couldn't buy rice. You couldn't go to the supermarket and just buy rice. And so that was their business, and so we went to their home which was above the rice store and she had this huge spread that she had ordered, you know, all this catered food -- lobster tail and sashimi and tempura and all this mounds of food, and everybody from her family as well as other relatives that she taught I should know sitting around this big table. And I remember just tears coming down her eyes, the fact that she was finally able to meet somebody from our family.

And my brother then, from then on, he decided he was going to save up enough money so that he could send her back to the States. And it took him a couple of years, but she was able to come in 1970 for the first time, and that was fifty-two years since my parents had seen her. And it even made an article in the Star Tribune, you know, about this fifty-two years separation, how this ocean separated this family. And she came, and by then my father was quite ill, in fact, while she was here he passed away. So she came and was able to see him. She stayed through the funeral and everything. I asked her how she felt about this fact that here was this whole other family living in the States, and she told me that she was very bitter when she found out about it, because as I told you before, she didn't know until she was in junior high school. When her aunt finally told her, "I'm not your real mother. You have this whole other family in America." She lived through all this bombing in Japan during the war. Their town of Nobeoka had an Asahi Chemical plant so they were bombed frequently. By then she was married and had little children, she said she had to run into the river with a child on her back and one on each arm and just wade out into the middle of the river to escape the bombings. And then she comes here and by Japanese standards, American houses, you know, to them it's like living in a mansion. And she sees the way that everybody is living and she just can't get over it. She thinks that everybody is multimillionaires or something, just by comparison. So she really said that for a long time she had a hard time forgiving her parents about this whole thing, but all in all she made three trips to the States. The first time was when my brother sent her the ticket so she could come. And then she came two other times, and this was after my parents were no longer living and I took her out to the cemetery. The Japanese custom is to pour a bottle of sake over the gravestone and everything. Then she stood there in front of their graves and she read this letter saying that she was going to forgive them for leaving her behind, that she finally had it in her heart to forgive them, so I think she really struggled a lot.

SO: Did she end up meeting the rest of the...

SS: Yes. In fact, because she came here to Minnesota, then my other siblings who lived on the West Coast came here so that they could all meet her. And we had a big reunion.

SO: When you were in Japan, what was it like being in Japan, being a Japanese American in Japan, because it wasn't... you were there was the '60s, so it wasn't a real long time after the war. What was that like?

SS: Well, the hardest part for me was the fact that I wasn't fluent in the language, because they expected me to be, looking at me. And so just finding my way around and having to stop and ask questions, I would always get these strange looks or really sarcastic comments, so it wasn't pleasant for me in the beginning at all. But I think due to my husband's job, because he was really the general manager for a branch company that was based here, headquartered in Minnesota, and he opened the Japanese branch for them, we were able to live according to American standards in Japan, and I would say that probably those seventeen years I spent in Japan were some of the best years of my life, just the fact that I was able to raise my children in that kind of a culture and I was able to study a lot of the arts and crafts as a hobby, and I just had a wonderful experience living in Japan, after I got over that initial thing of looking like a Japanese but not really being Japanese -- they call it an American in disguise.

SO: So it was more that you didn't know the language, than that you were an American?

SS: Well, also the fact that I didn't act... the Japanese have certain picture of how you should act if you're in a certain position or what have you, and I was much more frank and straightforward, probably more so than I should have been, I didn't have all these little niceties that they have in the use of the language and things. So I'm sure I was always making a lot of faux pas but anyway I did have a good life there.

SO: And the company didn't show you those things?

SS: No, because we were the first ones to go there for the company, we were the first family to go there.

SO: What else should we talk about?

SS: Well, I guess that's it, huh?

BK: Why do you need to tell the schoolkids about your experience? What motivates you?

SS: What motivates me to go and tell about... well, I think this is a chapter in American history that's often overlooked. And there's so little of it in the textbooks and I think it's important for students to understand exactly what happened so something like this never happens again. That's my main motivation, is for them to understand how easily a person's civil rights can be taken away if we're not careful.

BK: It's just that some people don't like to talk about these things and other people are really good at it. Maybe because you were a little younger?

SS: I think that must have a lot to do with it. You know, I don't have a lot of bitter memories about camp because of my age. I think my older brothers and sisters were quite bitter about the whole experience. But I just think that you're six, seven or eight you just go along with what your family is going to do, and the fact that we were all able to stay together as a family in camp was a good thing.

SO: Your mom was that age?

BK: She was a little older. She was in Manzanar. She had a good time.

SS: Oh, she was in Manzanar. She had a good time?

BK: That's what she always says. We couldn't believe it. It's like you were saying, there were no worries.

SS: Right. Well, and for the first time in my mother's life, she was busy all the time with all these kids, she kind of had a little time to herself. It was probably the only time that she was ever able to pursue any kind of hobbies because she didn't have to worry about cooking or doing much cleaning, she had the laundry to do, but really as far as preparing meals or any of that stuff, she didn't have to do.

SO: What did she do?

SS: She did, in camp she learned a lot of tailoring, so crafting patterns and sewing. She also did flower arranging. She took an interest in the calligraphy, you know, writing with brushes and things. So she had her hobbies that she liked to do.

SO: And then what happened after camp?

SS: When we moved her to Minnesota, she was busy again just with her family because two of us were still in grade school, my youngest brother and I were still in grade school and then I had some other siblings that were still in junior high or high school yet. She was busy. She really didn't have much leisure time until we were grown enough, and then she joined the Japanese Twin Cities Independent Church and found her little circle of friends there, and had more of a social life after that. But up until then she was very much of a homebody.

SO: Having ten kids will do that.

SS: Right.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.