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-01-0009

<Begin Segment 9>

SO: I want to back up on this a little here. So you spoke to your parents here in Japanese?

SS: Yes. You know, the strange thing is that we were very limited in the kind of Japanese we could speak, it was very childlike. And so we never got into any kind of in-depth conversations with our parents, because there was always that language barrier, which seems kind of strange when they are your own parents and you're a child, but we could carry on conversations with our own brothers and sisters in-depth, but not with our own parents. So with our parents it was all the, just the menial kinds of things that you would say just to get through the day but not sit down discussions of any kind.

SO: Did they send you to Japanese school in Seattle?

SS: I wasn't old enough. I think you had to be in second or third grade to start Japanese school, but all my other siblings went to Japanese school.

SO: That's too bad. So, you missed out.

SS: Well, the fact that later in my life I lived in Japan, so when I came back I was as least able to converse with my mother much more freely. And my dad didn't live much longer. I was only there in Japan for about three years and then he passed away so I never had the chance to sit down and really talk to him that much. But my mother I could converse with much more.

SO: How well? Oh, but so you husband also spoke English?

SS: Yes, but he also, of course, Japanese was his first language, so he was very bilingual.

SO: Was it difficult for you to learn when you were living in Japan?

SS: Yes, it was. The fact that, first of all, because my parents were from Shikoku and I didn't realize that there was a dialect and when I lived in Japan it was in the Tokyo and Yokohama area. And of course, there, the Japanese was very standardized Japanese so when I would say things that I remembered learning from my parents, it wasn't the proper Japanese. And so it was a problem especially because everyone, just by looking at me thought I should be able to speak Japanese perfectly and I couldn't. In fact, when I first went to Japan, my husband had gone on ahead because of his job, and so then I came on later with, at that time we had two children. I remember landing in Tokyo, at that time it was Haneda Airport, and for the first time in my life I look out and the whole room is just crowded with people who were Japanese and every other person I looked at I thought, oh that must be my husband, and of course it wasn't him. It was the strangest feeling because when you grew up in Minnesota, at that time, if you saw another Asian face it was usually someone you knew. So I land there and he wasn't there to meet us because he was tied up in a meeting on his job. And I'm wondering what to do, here I am with these two kids, no Japanese money, and so I went up to somebody and I asked them about using the telephone because I knew what hotel he was staying at and they looked at me and gave me this funny look and they said to me, "What part of the country are you from that you don't even know how to use the telephone?" [Laughs] So I was always getting insulted like that.

SO: How did you, did you take lessons?

SS: Yes, I actually studied with a tutor and I... If I had known we were going to stay in Japan as long as we were, I would have really done it properly, but we went one of these two to three year assignments and ended up staying there seventeen years. I would have really planned it so that I would have gotten that full Japanese language education if I knew we were going to be there that long. But I just started out first learning conversation and not concentrating that much on the reading and the writing. and by the time I realized, one year turned into the next and the next, that I really should try to learn the language a little better. I got as far as what is considered a third grade education in Japan. [Laughs]

SO: What about the kids?

SS: Well, of my three sons, the youngest one is the most fluent, because he was actually born in Tokyo. And he lives and works there now, and he's very bilingual. But my kids always went to international schools or the American School in Japan, and so they had all their education in English, and they would take Japanese as a foreign language. Their friends were always other Americans, children of other businessmen, because most Japanese families didn't send their children to international school or the American School in Japan. So once in a while they would have a friend who spoke Japanese but most of their friends spoke English. Of course, all of their Japanese cousins spoke only Japanese, so that was always kind of a problem when we got together with the relatives in Japan.

SO: So you were there for seventeen years?

SS: Right, from 1967 until 1984.

SO: Okay.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.