Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: George Yano Interview
Narrator: George Yano
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda, Steve Fugita
Location: San Jose, California
Date: December 1, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-ygeorge_4-01-0013

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TI: As you're growing up, in terms of connections with Japan, you talked about your grandmother being more pro-Japan, your mother had obviously strong connections to Japan. What kind of communication was going on in the latter part of the '40s, early '50s, between your family in Japan?

GY: Well, my grandmother didn't believe Japan lost. And so she wanted to go back. There's family back there in the village, so she wanted to go back.

TI: So let me ask, so this is right after the war, your grandmother didn't think Japan lost?

GY: Right.

TI: And so at what point did she understand that Japan lost?

GY: I don't know. It was probably when it was obvious, but my grandfather put his foot down and said, "No, no way," I guess. And so the whole group stayed. There was one family that went back to their home in Yawatahama, which is in Ehime, because they still had, the parents lived there. But no, it wasn't gonna happen. So I don't think she, she said what she thought, and that was it.

SF: Can you give a good guess as to what year that took place, that decision was?

GY: That was right after the war, as I understand it.

SF: So '45?

GY: Yeah, '45, '46, when the decision, I guess a lot of families went through that. A lot of families that had sort of strong ties with Japan probably had that same decision-making.

SF: Did your family send a lot of money or clothes and food, all of that?

GY: Yes. I heard that, a lot of that, and sugar and commodities. So once it got there, they could be converted to money or something. And I just remember sugar, but there were commodities that they sent back in bulk so that the families in, the family in Japan could survive.

SF: Did your parents see that as burdensome at times? I remember my parents, they would do it, but my father would always grouse, "They're asking for more money," and, "they're asking us for more stuff."

GY: Oh. No... well, I don't recall that. It's probably, they probably just wanted to do whatever they can. And it was tough for the families. It's just, in 1945, for all Japanese Americans it had to be tough starting from scratch, everybody. And some people had land, which helped, but it was still tough. So people did what they could. And in the case of my grandfather, it's his brother who's the head of his family, so they tried to do as much as they could. And I could remember the shipments, big shipments of sugar and chocolates, coffee, those kinds of things. And from Japan we'd get shipments, too. And it would be dried squid, and what else? Small what they call iriko, small fish, dried fish that's used for seasoning. And rock sugar -- everybody probably had the same experience -- rock sugar on strings. And in our case, the area cultures pearls. So we'd get jars of pearls, and I don't know what happens to those. But we weren't sophisticated enough to send it to a jeweler and say, "Geez, what would this be worth?" And I don't know what happened to them. But it would be jars of pearls. [Laughs] Probably the rejects.

TI: And how about visits? After the war, in terms of family members visiting Japan or members from Japan visiting America? Did that happen?

GY: Yes. Well, my grandparents went back... I don't know if there was a period when you couldn't go back if you weren't an American citizen. My grandfather got his, he was naturalized later, I think in the 1950s. But as soon as he could go back, he went back to see how things were back there. First time we went back, it was just myself and my youngest brother, my mom and my grandfather, was in 1961. And by that time, it wasn't too bad. It was still dark, and the food was, food was not like we know it, 'cause it was still coming out of the war struggles. And the odor, because there was no sewage system. And you go walking in cities or villages, there was an awful odor all the time. And I remember that. But that was a good trip. You got to know the relatives over there. And we did some touring, we went to Kyoto, Tokyo. Well, we're sort of lucky we have a wealthy relative over there whose father was part of starting one of the railways in Tokyo. He had a Cadillac at the time. This is 1961 when Japan wasn't out of it yet. So that part of it is good. And when I went back, I saw him a lot. But with that and the travels, it was an experience, but yeah, we did that.

TI: Now, were you able to keep up your Japanese language skills?

GY: No, no. As you may know, our Japanese here was from our Issei grandparents, is Meiji-era. The language changed a lot, and the key words were English. You, "Car ni nore." The "car" was in English. Even worse than that, it'd be all mixed up. So when I went there, I went back in 1965 to work for a Japanese company. And they'd be laughing because I'd use these words that were ancient, 'cause the people came during the Meiji era, and the younger people were Taisho era. And they just came out of serfdom with the Tokugawas and all that. So they used to laugh. But it took me six months before I can even, I can even hear what they're saying. It's spoken so much faster than my grandparents. And they didn't use the key English words.

TI: That's good.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.