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_4-01-0015

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TI: So, George, the question I have is, I mean, to put this all together takes a lot of work. I mean, the research, the, contacting people, following up, long phone calls, so why? Why are you doing that?

GY: Well, it's... once they're gone, the story that they have, whoever it is, is gone. And you're never gonna get it back. And I started realizing that after I interviewed my grandmother. I didn't interview my grandfather, 'cause, of course, they didn't really speak to kids. And I talked to my grandmother for three evenings at my house, and got the story of how it was in Japan, what happened, maybe part of the McDonald story was there. But anyway, I was glad because soon after that, she passed away, and it would have all been gone. Like the common way that people had utensils or food in old Japan is each person had a little box. And in the box was a chawan, a dish, and chopsticks that was yours. And so when it was time to eat, they took out that little box, took out the utensils, and at the end, a lot of them -- this is the old zen way -- they just put tea on everything, sort of swirled it around, drank it, and that was the extent of the washing. And I didn't know that. But then you see it now in some of the old Japanese movies where people would take out this box and have their dinner. But things like that. And the way they cooked, like cooking with dashi, shoyu, sake and stuff like that. Think, oh, god, that's really hard. But the way she said it, it's like your frying pan. We didn't have frying pans, we didn't have oil, so we just had to use water. So they put water and shoyu and some other stuff in there and they put the fish in. And it's just a different way to cook. Instead of thinking it like New Year's dinner and how did they make this delicious fish?

TI: It's every day.

GY: Yeah. It's their way of frying it. They didn't have the frying pan. But anyway, that part I've got in one of those also, but that, and I wanted to leave it, once it's gone, it's gone, so I wanted to leave it for my brothers and sisters and my family, so I started to put it down in writing. And in trying to get information on different things like the pea company, that was at a funeral, and Chester Tanase was there. And I said, "Hey, there's this pea company that you guys were involved with, parents. Do you remember the name of it? There's no record." Says, "Oh, yeah, it was the Hato Pea Company. Such-and-such and such-and-such, and many of the big farmers in San Jose were involved at one time or another in this company." That became -- and then on the evacuation side of it, asked him, "Where did you guys meet up?" Well, he had this recollection, and that, and Kay Tanase, she recalled meeting by the hardware store in downtown Milpitas, so that must have been the final point, and they took off from there. But anyway, getting all of this together, I just wanted to put it down in writing so that someone later could also have it.

TI: It also sounds like there's some joy involved, too.

GY: Oh, yeah, once you get into it it's fascinating. In doing this and talking to people, and then once you get another bit of information you could go on another path and try to put it together. And mine's not finished, I don't even have all the names in there. And when you do this kind of research, sometimes something later on says, "No, that's not the way it happened," so you have to correct it. Well, it's not really polished to that extent. But just getting it down in writing, even if it's not in the final form, I felt that important. So I've been doing a lot of those, even just on my episodes in China and stuff like that. So that if one of my great-grandchildren, for example, says, "Geez, I wonder what he did," they'd have that part of the story.

SF: It would be great if you and a ghostwriter or something could put all this together when you get all the stuff together and then share it with the wider community.

GY: Yeah.

SF: It certainly will be a good thing, like, for the bookstore.

GY: Yeah. I think, you know, it gives some of the details on the first generation, like in the case of Kameo, what they, how they lived. And you know, during the 1920s and '30s when he had the big farm and stuff. He used to support the Zebras, and his picture is in front of the old Hiro's Golf Shop and stuff like that. And once they're established, it must have been a lot of fun. But at the beginning, like the first three years, at the railroad, one time he had a severe flu that almost killed him then. And that might -- you don't know what causes Alzheimer's, but at the end he had either Alzheimer's or Parkinson's. And they said sometimes a severe case of influenza or fever causes that. That could have happened. And those, when they first started, I don't know what they ate, I never had time to talk to my grandfather, "Did you have three meals a day?" But when you read the stories, it's not so. These people, in the history books, those crews went out there, the railroad crews, and they'd throw down a slab of bacon and a bag of flour. The hakujins knew how to cook it. They'd fry up the bacon and make biscuits or something, have bacon and biscuits or whatever. Japanese didn't know. And what they were doing is they were trying to save the bacon and sell it to the hakujins. So they have a little bit more money, and they'd send it back to Japan. So they were making what they called dango jiru, some kind of skimpy soup with dough from the flour, and they were going blind. No Vitamin C and stuff. So one of the stories I say is that they made, the old Isseis made this stuff called "tomato jiru." It's tomato and bacon from the bacon that they used to get, and they'd cook it up and pour it over rice. And that gave you the Vitamin C and all the nutrition, and kept them from going blind. Some of those things that happened which were not glorious and fun, I wish I could get more of that, but those people are all gone.

TI: But I agree with Steve that you should write a book. You have a lot of information that's really, and it's good information. It's really kind of unique and interesting content.

GY: Yeah, thank you.

TI: Well, so I'm done with my questions. Anything final?

SF: No, I think that covers everything.

GY: Good.

TI: Well, George, thank you so much.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.