Densho Digital Archive
Japanese American Museum of San Jose Collection
Title: Perry Dobashi Interview
Narrator: Perry Dobashi
Interviewer: Jeff Kuwano
Location: San Jose, California
Date: October 29, 2004
Densho ID: denshovh-dperry-01

<Begin Segment 1>

JK: This is an interview with Perry Dobashi, whose family has owned Dobashi Market in San Jose's Japantown since 1912. The interview was conducted by Jeff Kuwano, it is taking place at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose at 535 North Fifth Street, San Jose, California, on October 29, 2004. The interview is part of a project that is titled "Lasting Stories: The Resettlement of San Jose Japantown," and is a collaborative project between the Japanese American Museum of San Jose and the Densho Project of Seattle, Washington. It is funded by the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program.


JK: Well, thank you, Perry, for contributing to this project and for taking the time to participate in this interview today. Perry, you have a wealth of information to share, so let's begin with some background on, on your family. What prefecture did your family come from in Japan?

PD: My father's side came from the Wakayama-ken and my mother's side came from Hiroshima side, prefecture.

JK: Okay, and when did your grandparents immigrate to the U.S.?

PD: Must have been sometime around pre-1900s, or early 1900s, I'm not sure.

JK: And did they settle in, into the San Jose area immediately?

PD: My father's side, I think they, I'm not sure where they came in or came in, they probably came in from the San Francisco area. And it was my grandfather, I think, he settled maybe in San Francisco for a time being, before his wife came over.

JK: Okay, and your father's side, is that the Dobashi side?

PD: Dobashi side.

JK: One of the main reasons that many Japanese immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900s was because of economic reasons. What was the financial situation of your grandparents when they left Japan and early on in the U.S.?

PD: My father's side, I guess, I guess he worked enough or had enough money to begin something or borrowed something to start some type of business.

JK: Sure. What did, what did your grandparents do back in Japan? What was their occupation?

PD: I think they came from a family up in Wakayama where they grew tangerines, called mikan in Japan.

JK: Okay. And early on in the U.S.?

PD: I don't know how they got started in their financial ventures here.

JK: Sure. So it sounds like they were fairly well-off when they left Japan. Why did your grandparents leave Japan?

PD: Where?

JK: Why did they leave Japan?

PD: I guess to find a better future in United States.

JK: And what do you think prompted them to settle down in the San Jose area versus San Francisco? It sounds like they went to San Francisco originally where a lot of the immigrants came in, but then down into the San Jose area.

PD: When my grandmother came over here, I think she came over and felt that San Jose was a much safer place to live than the San Francisco area.

JK: And did they know a lot of people that were in the area in already, or did they come over with a lot of friends and family, or was it more...

PD: I'm not sure about that part of it.

JK: What level of education did your grandparents and parents obtain? There's, a lot of the immigrants that had come over during those early days had to forego a lot of educational opportunities. Was that the case with your grandparents?

PD: I think they were mostly country people, so I don't know how much education they did have. But I guess she was able to read. [Laughs]

JK: Oh, they were able to read?

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

JK: So your grandparents, or first-generation, they immigrated from Japan to the U.S., so they're the Issei, the first generation, and then your parents, were they born here in the States?

PD: My father and mother were born in the United States.

JK: Okay, so the second generation, or Nisei, so you are, you're the Sansei. Did your grandparents and parents, what language did they speak to you?

PD: My parents, my father went up to, I guess, at least grade school, anyway, and then my mother, I think she went up to high school, so we mostly just spoke in English. But I did, I did go to Japanese school when I was little, at the San Jose Buddhist Church.

JK: So your grandparents, did they speak to you in Japanese or English?

PD: I think it was broken -- [laughs] -- broken English maybe, but I was quite young when my grandmother was still alive, so I, I just remember her maybe during my grammar school era.

JK: And you remembered some broken English being spoken to you.

PD: From my grandmother, I guess I must, I was too little to really know that much about what I was talking about with my grandmother.

JK: And when were your parents born?

PD: I think my dad was born in about 1912, I'm not sure. And my mother, I forgot her birthday, but she must have been a little bit older -- I mean, younger.

JK: And were they born in that San Jose area?

PD: Yeah, my father was born here in San Jose, and my mother was born here in San Jose. She attended, I know she attended Roosevelt High School, but I'm not sure where she was, she was born.

JK: Have they told you how they met?

PD: [Laughs] I never did ask.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

JK: And were your grandparents and parents, were they involved in any Japanese or Japanese American organizations?

PD: I didn't meet my grandfather, but my grandmother was quite active in the San Jose Buddhist Church, and she had some memorabilia in the San Jose Buddhist Church, still hanging up there today.

JK: And what about, what about sporting activities?

PD: I know my father was a, a champion sumo wrestler, and he was quite well-known, and he was known as the "Ryumon," which means "Dragon." And he, he won titles all over California, and at one time, during his sumo era, he was asked to leave to go to Japan to compete. And he never did that, he just turned it down, 'cause I guess he couldn't leave the family business, because it was just beginning at the time.

JK: Where did he compete in the area?

PD: Well, they had a sumo, sumo baseball, recreational area here, I think it was on the, looked like it was on Jackson and Sixth Street. And after that, I think there was a pottery taking over the place after that, on that site.

JK: Who did he compete against? Were they people from in the area, or they, or people from all over?

PD: I think there were people coming in from all over, 'cause he was, people from Fresno knew him, and people from the Sacramento area knew him, and they all, they always talked about my dad being a real strong wrestler. And I guess even some people from L.A. area knew him, and they talked about him.

JK: So how did he get into, to wrestling, or sumo wrestling?

PD: I'm not sure about that, but, 'cause I think he must have been about, in it from probably late teens to the time he was maybe about twenty-one or something, and after that he got married.

JK: And that ended his, his sumo wrestling days?

PD: Yeah, I think his sumo wrestling days was over when he started raising a family.

JK: And at the, you know, at the time that he did wrestle, were there any non-Japanese Americans that, that he competed against, or that were into sumo?

PD: Not that I remember, him competing against any Caucasians or anybody else. But people knew about him, about his sumo, as I can remember.

JK: So it was popular amongst the Japanese American community as well as spectators and fans from outside the community.

PD: I think so.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

JK: All right, so moving on to your grandparents', your grandparents' occupation, what were they employed as, or what was their occupation when they first arrived?

PD: Oh, my grandparents seemed like they did a lot of different things. They had a restaurant called Tachibana, and my, I think it was right next to the place where they have the Yasu Restaurant now, and we had, we had a kind of a goldfish kind of a shop in the, around the house, and I remember they used to be like ponds, or like wooden, wooden tanks with a tin light, and I think they raised some goldfish, and sold goldfish at one time. And I think they also made some stone lanterns at one time in their life, because I remember some of the... in fact, we have some of the, three remaining lanterns at home, distributed amongst my brothers and sisters, and they're quite, quite big and unique.

JK: Stone lanterns, are they something that's traditionally Japanese, or is that something that they created?

PD: I think you see 'em at the church, and one of 'em's about, at least five-foot high, and they're quite huge. They're big blocks like this, with a base about, about two-and-a-half, three feet.

JK: And did they make these, or did they purchase them from a supplier?

PD: No, they had, they made 'em out of concrete molds. Wooden mold and poured concrete with metal wires in, so to keep the shape.

JK: So there was Tachibana, there was this, another shop that was selling these, these lamps, and a goldfish shop. So how many shops were there? Were they all here in San Jose?

PD: I think they just tried things at different times, but the restaurant was on Jackson Street, and the home was on Sixth Street.

JK: Okay, so your grandparents in Japan, they were farmers, but when they came to the States, is that when they became merchants and started selling different items and going into different, different pieces to sell?

PD: Yeah, I think, I think they just started things that, just as they went along.

JK: And the goldfish shop, were goldfish, were they popular? These aren't, are these koi fish, or are they...

PD: I think just regular goldfish, not, not really big things.

JK: And they, they sell any other items that you can, you can recall?

PD: As my grandparents, I don't remember that much more than that.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

JK: And have your parents ever, did your grandparents ever tell you how they, they ran the business? I mean, as far as who they hired -- [coughs] -- excuse me, who they hired to help? Who they served?

PD: My time with my grandparents was not that long, and then after that, my uncle came to, to Japan with my grandmother, and he was brought here when he was thirteen, and I guess he, somewhere along the line, I guess they started the store with my grandmother. And they had a store called Kinokuniya, which was the first name of the Dobashi Market. And I think it was quite soon they changed the name to Dobashi, because Kinokuniya was too difficult to remember and too hard to say for a lot of folks in the community that weren't Japanese. Kinokuniya is a, is a famous, from Wakayama Prefecture, 'cause that's where, the area where the Dobashi came, is from the Ki River, which is a Wakayama name river, and that's how, I guess, the name derives from Kinokuniya to, and then the Tachibana refers to our, the mon of the Dobashi family, which is a mikan flower and a leaf.

JK: And you mentioned Kinokuniya, that name was changed to Dobashi because it was difficult for folks from the outside of the Japanese American community to identify with or pronounce, perhaps.

PD: Not really Japanese Americans, but just, just people in general, I think. Because Kinokuniya is a popular bookstore right now for the Japanese community.

JK: So there were folks from the outside that patronized the store, or were customers of the store?

PD: Yeah. It was, along the way, it was part of the community of regular people. I mean, just people of San Jose.

JK: And were any of these shops outside of San Jose?

PD: The Japan, Japanese market, or are you talking about the family store?

JK: All the family's, the stores, the restaurant, and the goldfish shop, they were, they were all in Japantown, in San Jose?

PD: Yeah, they were all in San Jose. San Jose had a, quite a big Japanese community at the time, I think, with the church and the, they had bathhouse and pool hall, and cleaners and drugstores and whatever.

JK: And how large was the business?

PD: The Dobashi Market in general?

JK: Yeah, in terms of size and the amount of goods they pushed through.

PD: Well, the store was, I guess the main store was, right now, where Tsugaru building is right now, and it was a fair size, and it had a big basement. I remember we used to, as kids, we used to slide down the basement, they used to slide things down to the basement rather than use the elevator. It was faster just to send things down on a chute. So you just throw it on the chute and the rice bags would just go down the chute and they sent boxes down. One guy on the top by the sidewalk, and they just slide it down the chute, and then one guy would receive on the bottom.

JK: And where do they get their supplies from for these shops and the restaurant?

PD: My uncle used to drive his truck to San Francisco, and they used to get Japanese grocery goods from San Francisco, Japanese wholesalers, and I remember at the time, they also used to receive rice from railcars from Arkansas. Rice used to be grown in Arkansas for the Japanese, and the famous name was Sakura Rice, and it was called Arkansas Blue Rose rice, and it was supposed to be the most popular rice of the time.

JK: And was that a Japanese American company?

PD: Well, the distributor was a Japanese company, but I don't know who the farmers were that grew the rice.

JK: And what about the competition? Was there a lot of competition to your stores?

PD: Well, they had, they had a number of little shops, they had a Chinese, little meat markets and different kinds of shop in the area, and then Santo Market came along, I don't know, it was in, probably after the war sometime. And I think he's been in the business for maybe forty-some-odd years. Probably more than that, maybe, I don't know.

JK: Have your grandparents or parents told you anything about how they tried to position themselves against the competition?

PD: No, they didn't say anything about that, but we also had a truck delivering groceries out to the farming community, and they used to go as far as San Juan Bautista, and I don't know how far north. They probably covered the Fremont area, or the, they used to call, I guess, Irvington, where Fremont is, and then they opened up a store in Gilroy at some time just before the war.

JK: And what did that store in Gilroy sell?

PD: Basically, they sell the same things as the San Jose store did. My father, my father was in Gilroy, and they said I was the, about two or three years old when I was in Gilroy before we got recalled to camp.

JK: And these trucks that took goods around down as far as San Juan Bautista, did they, they drop goods off to stores, or did they, they sell goods right off the truck?

PD: Well, it was kind of a grocery store in the truck where you could, you could walk in the middle aisle and the outside would fold out to, like, counters, so you can see quite a bit of -- I guess it was a pretty big one-ton truck. I remember it was a pretty big truck, and later it was converted in the flatbed to run up to San Francisco to pick up groceries. They just took off the, the, I guess that was after the war, they took the, that big... like a van, I guess, that folded out and was like a...

JK: And was that pretty typical of the time? Were there other trucks...

PD: [Laughs] There was also a grocery store in Gilroy, too, but --

JK: Oh, I mean the, the trucks, were the trucks pretty typical in selling goods off of the truck like that?

PD: I don't know. That's what they told me, but I don't really remember.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

JK: Are there any memorable, any other memorable stories that your family shared with you about that prewar era?

PD: I guess, I don't know, it seemed like in the olden days, the community was a lot closer, and they had, they had their festivals and they had the sumo and they had the baseball. 'Cause a lot of people talked about the baseball teams that San Jose had, and they, they'd go to the community center, and looked like they had a good time. Everything, everybody was close, and everybody just knew each other more.

JK: And did your family experience any prejudice or discrimination before the bombing, before the war?

PD: They didn't talk about the discrimination too much, about that time, but I know that they were told that I guess there was a lot of people that got hurt from it, and they did destroy a lot of valuable sumo outfits that my father had, and he had a lot of sumo robes and a lot of traditional Japanese items that they burned, and they were sorry that they did. And I heard people had swords, and they just threw 'em in the outhouse and buried 'em or whatever. So there was a lot of things that people lost before going to camp, because you were only limited to, very little to take to camp.

JK: Did you ever find out who these people were that burned some of the...

PD: No, they had, they burned 'em themselves. People destroyed what valuables they had, or memorabilias connected to Japan to prevent their ties or, if there were too much ties to Japan, that they would get into trouble, so that's why they were destroyed, I think.

JK: Have any of the articles been saved from his wrestling days?

PD: Oh, I do have some trophies thrown in some old suitcases, but most of the trophies that he won were donated back to the sumo clubs. They just, I guess they must have just, just changed the plaques or something at the time, and just gave, gave 'em back out.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

JK: Okay, Perry, I'm going to ask a few questions about your background, shift focus a little to you. When and where were you born?

PD: I was born in 1938, and I was born down the block here at a midwife's place here, right across the street, just about, from here.

JK: And how many siblings do you have?

PD: So I have two brothers and a sister. But my brother's a retired dentist, and my brother's a chemist and my sister was a nurse.

JK: So you were born in 1938, so you were around two or three years old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Obviously too young to recollect the experience firsthand. Have your grandparents or parents told you about their reactions the moment that they heard of the bombing?

PD: No, they didn't say too much about it.

JK: And did you have any relatives living in Japan that your family was worried about at the beginning of the war?

PD: We had relatives, but they were like, maybe removed relatives, and I did have a chance to visit my relatives in Japan when I was, when I first made my first trip to Japan, I was, I must have been about twenty-seven years old, so that's quite a few years ago now, but, like, forty years ago now. So I did, I think I met, I think they were second cousins or something, so I visited Wakayama, and I remember riding on a steam rail train when I went the first trip to Japan, and now that I go to Japan, you ride a bullet train, that's more modern than anything in the United States. [Laughs] That thing just zips by so fast, you just hardly see the scenery.

JK: So did your family make contact with anyone back in Japan, either...

PD: It was my uncle that gave me the address, and I was able to visit, but after the first visit, it took a long time before I got, went back to Japan, so I never did really keep in contact. And my uncle that did keep in contact, he passed away quite early in life, or early for me in life. To him, but I guess he was in his sixties. So the connection between our family in Japan was not that close.

JK: Not that close during, or right after the bombing, up to the evacuation? Not a whole lot --

PD: Well, that was after -- before the bombing, they, they didn't really keep that close contact with the people of Japan, anyway, because there was no immediate... being a Nisei, all the brothers and sisters were in the United States, on both sides of my family, so there was no real connection between us in Japan for my family.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

JK: Now, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, that was a very difficult and challenging time for the Japanese American community, and understandably, many Japanese American families don't speak a whole lot about that era of their life. Have you reflected back on that era with your grandparents and parents, or other family members?

PD: Well, after coming back to San Jose, when we had to close all our stores down and since most of the business of Dobashi was done with the Japanese American community, they were mostly farmers at the time, and a lot of those people weren't able to pay off their, their debts from whatever debts they accumulated. And our debts became a little bit bigger, but we were able to come back and open the store again.

JK: Is it difficult to discuss that era with, with your family? Or is it something that's openly discussed?

PD: Well, it's, it's hard to say. It's, I guess whatever happened during those times just happened, and I guess you just have to let it go, 'cause there's not too much you can do about it, and it's nothing you want to bring up too much.

JK: Which assembly center and War Relocation Authority was your family sent to?

PD: We were sent to Heart Mountain -- well, first of all, what they said, we went, we all went to Santa Anita, and I don't know what the period of stay was there, and we stayed there for a while. I don't know if my sister was born there or... then after that, we went to Heart Mountain, Wyoming.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

JK: Please share some of your memories of camp life.

PD: Well, I was, I was only a couple years old, or two, three years old, and there's not much I can remember except having fun and being teased and going out to the Shoshone River, I guess, where it was. And there used to be caves in the mountain and my brother said, "You gotta watch out for those bears in the caves," and the Indians up there, too. And I remember messing around the mess hall where the cooks would wash their vegetables, and I was told to try to steal some potatoes for the campfire. And they also had those plays called shibais, where, where they kind of really scared because the acting seemed so real to me and then something new to me, and you'd see blood coming out of people's faces and people carrying swords around, just like Indians. So it was, it was kind of frightening for me.

JK: Were there any wild or dangerous animals on the camp grounds?

PD: I don't think so. [Laughs]

JK: So there were no bears?

PD: No.

JK: What about, what about caves? You said the terrain there was, there were some caves out there, or was that more stories from your brothers?

PD: I don't know what those were up there, but I, I really don't, not for sure. It might have been caves, it might be just something I imagined. [Laughs]

JK: Native Americans?

PD: I don't think so. I think they were just, maybe just something I imagined. [Laughs]

JK: Well, it seems like quite a place to, for a kid to roam around on the camp grounds there. Did it feel like it was fairly open, or did it feel enclosed?

PD: Well, it wasn't, it must have been a area where you can go out to the river, and I don't know if it was part of the camp, I don't think it was part of the camp grounds, I think it was a place you can, you can go off to. I don't, I don't remember all the places that were barb-wired. There were a few things I remember about, my dad used to work at the, I guess at the commissary where they sold, it was like a grocery store. They had, they had these little tokens, and they had the stamps and they had other things, ration coupons. And I remember when they sold bubble gum, I think there, people were just lined up like crazy just to get that Fleer's bubble gum. [Laughs]

JK: Did you swipe any extra potatoes?

PD: Well, I think I did get some potatoes, because I remember the, the head cook coming up and yelling at us. [Laughs]

JK: So was good food hard to come by in camp?

PD: We were little at the time, and I remember my, my dad would go to the camp because most of the times in camp it was, it was rather cold and I remember he had a wooden box built and he would bring that wooden box home for food, and he'd come home from the mess hall where they eat, and he'd bring a, just a box full of food home.

JK: And was that purchased with, with food rations?

PD: No, I think the mess hall was provided for everybody in camp. They had mess halls in certain areas, but I guess even dinners, the most thing I can remember, they had a little, a little box where he brought home food.

JK: And you mentioned Fleer, were they baseball cards, bubble gum?

PD: No, I think they're just wrapped with a twist.

JK: And how did you get those? Is that --

PD: I don't know. Being two years old, I just, I just, I just remember the stories rather than eatin' 'em. [Laughs]

JK: Were there any sad or amusing events that your family members experienced?

PD: I guess raising a family in camp was, I guess, being close, but there wasn't too much, all I can remember is, I guess, washing clothes and doing the laundry, and just maintaining life was not, was not a normal thing. You just, I guess, we lived in one barrack with, I guess, you knew the people there. But I can't say what it compares to now, but I can't say anything that it was difficult, because my time was as a little child, so as an adult, my mother and father must have a hard time, but it was a different time.

JK: And your father, a championship sumo wrestler, did he have an opportunity to, to wrestle in camp?

PD: Well, being a father, I don't think he had time, too much for play other than work at the store in camp.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

JK: What financial impact did the evacuation have on your family? You were mentioning earlier about a lot of debt.

PD: Yeah, well, those days are past and I don't know, we just... we worked hard, and the store became successful at one time, and it did go through times where we did a lot of things. After coming back from camp, we sold... I don't know, they sold Mercury outboard motors and fishing hooks and fishing poles, and they sold shoes and farming equipment and hats and all kinds of stuff after the war.

JK: So going into camp, what was done with the stores? Did anybody look after them?

PD: Well, the store was kind of boarded up, and there was a couple of families around that took care of the Japanese community. I remember there was a shoe shop next door that took care. I can't remember the other fellow's name that took care of the Japanese community, just slipped my mind. [Laughs]

JK: And your home?

PD: We boarded up the home, and it was kind of, it was... I remember coming back, I remember a lot of weeds there.

JK: Did you hide any assets?

PD: Not that I know of.

JK: Or more or less your family. So it sounds like, so were all the stores, were they, were they boarded up and saved, or any of them, did any of 'em have to be sold off, closed down?

PD: I remember when we came back, the Buddhist Church had the, it was... they had a big building, and they had a lot of families living at the Buddhist Church. And there was a hall there, and quite a bit of number of rooms and there was some housing across the street. So...

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

JK: So after the camps closed in 1945, where did your family go?

PD: We came back to San Jose, and I guess we all lived at the house, the Dobashi house that was on Sixth Street.

JK: And you said that you remember when you came back from camp -- [coughs] -- excuse me, that there were a lot of weeds. And what other kind of shape was the store in and your house? Was there quite a bit that had to be done to get the business going again?

PD: I don't know how much it took to get it started again, but they did, I don't know, they did open it up at, right after camp, and I guess, I don't recollect how it all happened.

JK: Do you know if they sold the same type of goods right after the war that they did before the war broke out and they were evacuated?

PD: I think they sold more kind of stuff just after the war, and then... but things were hard to get. I remember, I remember they couldn't get soy sauce from Japan, and they, there was a soy sauce being made in Colorado at one time, and it was really hard to get, and it wasn't, it was the closest thing you could get to soy sauce. I think the name was Maruhi Soy Sauce, but it doesn't exist today.

JK: Was it hard to get because there was a limited supply of it, or...

PD: Probably was a limited supply, and there wasn't that much made.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

JK: And where did you go to school when you came back?

PD: I went to, well, I went to local school here, and it's called Grant school here, and then I went to Peter Burnett, and then San Jose High School. The San Jose High School I went to was on Twenty-fourth Street. Previously, I guess the San Jose high schools that a lot of, my brother went to was on the San Jose State campus. So I was one of the first classes to graduate from that new, I guess it's the present San Jose academy, whatever they call it now.

JK: It was, it's on the grounds of where San Jose State now resides?

PD: The San Jose High School is on Twenty-fourth Street, and the older San Jose High School was on the San Jose State campus, I guess. And from there it was moved. So I went to the first opening of the new high school on Twenty-fourth Street.

JK: Coming back and going into elementary school, you were fairly young, but do you remember the, was there quite a bit of diversity at the elementary school, was there a mix of white, Japanese American and other ethnicities?

PD: Yeah, I think so. I think there were Filipinos and Mexicans. I remember other Japanese, 'cause they were still, they were still being at the, and the Buddhist Church housing at the time, 'cause I remember a lot of my friends were going to the same school.

JK: And what was it like making new friends, meeting friends' parents?

PD: Well, I think the time, the time that I grew up in the San Jose Japantown community, there was a lot of Japanese living in the area, more so than now. I don't know, we used to play football in front of the church and we played marbles out there and played, I don't know, a number of games. Kick the Can and flashlight fights and blow darts and it was just a lot of things to do, and you didn't have to ride a car to go have fun in those days. You just walk over to the church, and there was a lot of kids there all the time.

JK: And the schoolteachers, were they, were they Caucasian? Were there Japanese American schoolteachers?

PD: Well, the first... I don't... in my... I remember at my grammar school there was no Japanese... I can't remember my junior high school. But somewhere along the line, I think there were some Japanese teachers at the high school level maybe.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

JK: And what other memories do you have of growing up in Japantown? Perhaps favorite hangouts...

PD: Well, let's see. I didn't get married 'til a long time, that's, as did my friends, but I remember growing up, we used to go to the, they used to have dances at Peter Burnett and at the San Jose Armory. Later on, I was a member of the JACL board for a number of years, for about fifteen years, and I was active with the San Jose Japantown merchants association for, since it was started.

JK: And what was the, the mission of the merchants association? Or what was their, their goal?

PD: Well, to promote the Japanese community in the larger community, and it was started by Mr. Tatsuno of Nichi Bei Busan, and it was, it was started as a bit of advertising campaign, so it was started as a, it was called "A Bit of Orient," and we used to, I remember he used to make me go around and collect ads from the different shop owners, and put 'em on a block, and we'd say, "This is how we're gonna promote the Japanese community to the larger, larger public." And we would make an ad, and I'd go around and see if I can collect money from different merchants.

JK: And what, what time frame was this?

PD: I think it was sometime after my high school days.

JK: And was there a growing interest in Japantown, or was there decreasing interest from the mainstream?

PD: Well, it was... I think it was a pretty good time of doing business with... because everybody was coming into Japantown at that time, but we were looking for the, the larger community, the Caucasian and the whatever community come in to the Japanese town area.

JK: And did your family, did they ever consider moving -- right in the area, era of the resettlement when the camps closed -- did they ever consider moving to any other place than San Jose? And you growing up in San Jose, did you ever consider moving out of the area, or did you move out of the area?

PD: No, I didn't ever move out of the area. I just more or less stayed. But I did travel around to see different businesses and I met people from Seattle, met people from L.A., and I did talk to or meet the people from Uwajimaya and people from stores in L.A.

JK: Uwajimaya?

PD: That's in Seattle.

JK: How about other family members? Did they live out of the area?

PD: My brother went to school at Northwestern University dental school, and that's about it. My brother lives down in southern California to this, to this day.

JK: And did you meet your wife in Japantown?

PD: She was a shopper in the store, and I just took a fancy to her.

JK: And were you married here in Japantown?

PD: See, I think I was... I think I was married at -- [laughs] -- I think we married at my uncle's... my uncle's a judge, so I had him marry us at his home, I think.

JK: Your uncle was a judge?

PD: Yeah. He's Mr. Kanemoto, Judge Wayne Kanemoto from my mother's side. He was the youngest of my mother's family, so, so I had him do the honors of our marriage.

JK: And was this at the Buddhist Temple?

PD: No, I think I did it at his house.

JK: Now, what type, what type of transportation did you and your family use to get around town?

PD: When are we talking about?

JK: In, during the resettlement.

PD: During, during the...

JK: After camps closed.

PD: After camp? I remember there was just a few cars. I remember... I don't remember, the first car must have been a '48 Dodge or something. I can't remember, but I remember a green '48 Dodge and I remember a cream-colored Chrysler at one time. And I guess my parents were, the family was kind of partial to the Chrysler Corporation, 'cause I remember the trucks were Dodges. [Laughs] And I remember when I went to San Jose City College, I rode a, the store truck to the San Jose City College, and it was a three-quarter-ton pickup truck, and the San Jose City College was a mud, mud parking lot.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

JK: Did your family ever consider selling off the store during the resettlement and going into a different line of work?

PD: No. At one time, my uncle did go to San Jose State, but I don't think he completed his work there. But at the time, the Dobashi family had four brothers. There was Dick Dobashi and Henry Dobashi, and I forgot my father. Dick, James, Henry, and Harry, and they were the four brothers that ran the store at the time. And after that, I came along and I started working at the store, because my father was getting ill due to diabetes, and so I started working in the store.

JK: So it seemed at the time that a lot of the Japanese Americans, they were store owners and farmers. You mentioned that your uncle, Judge Kanemoto, who held your, or who married you. Do you know how he got into, into law?

PD: He attended the University of Santa Clara as a lawyer, and he had his first office over there, and I guess they call it the Issei Memorial Building over here? I'm not sure, where the JACL had their building before, and his law office was there. And then after some time in his practice, he was appointed a judgeship, so he became one of the first Japanese judge -- he became the first Japanese judge, I think, in the United States.

JK: And that was a judge here in San Jose.

PD: Yeah.

JK: Working in the Issei Memorial Building.

PD: In municipal court.

JK: And overall, what was the morale of your family leaving the camps?

PD: I was just going home. I don't know what... I guess I was really too young to know of anything of the morale of the family. I guess it's just glad to get it over with.

JK: Was there a high level of cooperation among the Japanese American community?

PD: I think so. I don't... I never remember any bad stories of the times, those times there.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

JK: Did your family start up the business immediately after returning?

PD: I think so, as soon as they could, could get everything running.

JK: And where did the funding come from to get the business going again?

PD: I guess, I don't know if they had the money or whatever, but I guess they must have borrowed some from the bank or had the wholesalers' trust. They had to get into business and everybody had to. I guess the ball just rolled into place where everybody had to do their thing over again after coming back.

JK: And is the shop, which is located at 240 Jackson Street, is it in its original location?

PD: Oh, it's just a little bit down. The older, the older building, the original one is Tsugaru, the restaurant building, but it's a, it's a Dobashi property which has been remodeled from... there's, there's pictures of the old store that was a wooden frame building, I think probably in this museum, but the store that's remodeled looks like it's a concrete brick building now. But the older store was a, at 224 East Jackson. But that was a wooden building.

JK: So when did you become one of the general managers of this store, after your father, James, to kind of, Henry and Harry ran the shop?

PD: Probably when I was in my thirties or something, I just... when I first made my trip to Japan, I was about twenty-seven, so I did some, some studying while I was there. I just visited some... I was invited to visit some shoyu factories, sake factories, and see the open marketplaces and see different supermarkets in Japan.

JK: And have you considered a different line of work other than running the family business?

PD: Well -- [laughs] -- when I was a real young kid, at one time, I wanted to become an architect, and I had, there was a man living down the street, I think he was an architect, and I took a fancy to him. I think his name was Mr. Paul Zaima, and I used to take my drawings there, whatever, and show it to him. But it never seemed to come too much after that, because I know when my father got ill, and I just turned my attention to the store.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

JK: So you became a general manager at around twenty- -- [coughs] -- excuse me, at around twenty-seven.

PD: No, about thirty.

JK: Oh, about thirty. Did you start working at Dobashi's before?

PD: As a kid, I used to work all the time at the store. I remember I just lived in the backyard, so I remember we used to work 'til, oh, nine o'clock or nine-thirty at night, and I remember going to the Japanese Hall every weekend to watch the Japanese movies, so I saw all the samurai movies, the judo movies, and a lot of, a lot of movies have the Japanese tradition. [Laughs]

JK: So who else worked in the store?

PD: Well, all the family worked in the store at one time or another, but my brothers worked there and my cousins, cousins worked there, and their sons and daughters, they all worked there at one time or another, but not that long. But everybody's kind of moved on, and... I don't know. Everybody's going off their way except now, it's my wife and I, and my cousin and his wife. And my son works just part-time, and he just, he's going to San Jose State right now, so he just works a couple, couple of days a week, two or three days a week.

JK: What are the pros and cons of having family work at the store?

PD: Well, it's hard to push authority amongst the family, so it's a, it's just a, you just do your own thing and do the best you can and hope things work out. So it's just... if somebody's not doing anything, it's hard to say, "Do your job," you know. [Laughs]

JK: And the positives?

PD: Well, you get to meet a lot of nice people, and I think it's, it's been a long family tradition, and you just get to know so many people.

JK: Did your family receive help from any non-Japanese?

PD: Well, during the... I guess it was during the time when my father was around, I guess he had a lot of Caucasian friends. My, my name Perry being, he said I was named after one of his good Caucasian friends, and I said, "Gee, there's hardly any Perrys name, name being Japanese that I know." [Laughs] So... and there was quite a few Caucasian friends among the family.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

JK: So describe a typical workday at the store.

PD: Well, nowadays, or...?

JK: Following camp.

PD: Following camp? I had... following camp days, I don't remember that much, but I remember the store was full of stuff, and the basement has... being a basement, there seems to be a lot of water down in the basement all the time, and you just have to keep cleaning up all the time. And there used to be artesian wells in the area, so it's just, when it rains, it just, lot of extra work to keep things dry. So... and soy sauce used to come in wooden barrels, and sacks used to come in hundred pounds and nothing else, and that was a lot of work. And in those days, they said my dad was one of the strongest, and he could carry two hundred pounds on this side, and two hundred pounds on this side, and walk upstairs and walk down the road delivering to the farmers. [Laughs] And I could hardly believe that. Nowadays, they don't even hundred-pound rice. They said, I don't think... I think fifty pounds is the biggest they make it because that's, that's a law not to have big sacks anymore.

JK: And do you, do you move those fifty-pound?

PD: No, we don't sell hardly any fifty-pound, very few now. Everything's in twenty-pounds, ten-pounds, and five-pounds now.

JK: And how about days a week and hours worked?

PD: Well, in the older days, I guess it was a real long day. If you go to the produce market and open up shop and work 'til nine o'clock, 'cause in those days, I guess the farmers never, never get off the field until the sun goes down, so you, you still had business to do after, after dark.

JK: Did your family or did you face any discrimination?

PD: No, I don't remember too much discrimination in my lifetime.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

JK: Was there any effort to try to draw in more mainstream customers? You mentioned that, that there was an association put together to, to appeal to the Caucasian population, or the surrounding communities. Was there anything specifically that Dobashi's did to draw in that mainstream, that outside community? Perhaps different food items or any other marketing tactics?

PD: I remember we used to take out ads in the Mercury newspaper, and do things like fliers and community advertisement programs. And I used to paint store banners in the window.

JK: And during the resettlement, was there much contact with non-Japanese Americans? It sounds like your parents and your family had Caucasian friends, white friends. Do you feel that Japantown was a fairly, was it a fairly self-sustaining enclave, or was there quite a bit of outside influence?

PD: This community was quite active and pretty big at one time, but I think as, as the community spread out and kids were born and people moved out to the suburbs, so you have a bigger population spread, so, and then you have different types of stores in the out area, so it changed, changed the type of business you did.

JK: How do you think it changed?

PD: Well, I think as your population spreads out and your grandkids and whatever, you don't have the time to spend traveling to the whole Japantown community, whereas it takes, it takes a lot of time to travel, even from, depending on the traffic, from one town, one end of town to the other, just to get to the area. So you have to make a special effort, and that effort is maybe not worth it to make that big effort to come to this, to this area, unless you have a special, two or three things to do. There used to be, all your doctors here or whatever, and all your activities here, but now it's not so.

JK: And what was the competition like here in that resettlement era?

PD: It was just... not, just among maybe not too many stores at that time catering to the Asian population. So there wasn't that much competition, but, other than going out of town or whatever.

JK: What were some of the most difficult challenges your family had to overcome to keep the business going?

PD: Well, now it seems that, I guess being a family store, I guess it's hard to change things and hire the help that's needed to change your, change your ways. So I guess kind of... I don't know if we lost our way, or... also the, the slow-down in the Silicon Valley and the opening of competition from a store in the West Valley side, a bigger store.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

JK: And what, what do think are some of the important factors that led to the family store's longevity in Japantown?

PD: It's just, I guess, the loyalty of the community and the people we knew.

JK: Have you ever considered selling off the store?

PD: Well, it's kind of on sale now, but I don't know when it's going to be sold, so I... it's going on where I'm getting quite a bit older right now, and I don't know how long I'm going to last, so I says, "Well, maybe it's time to, time to seek a sell-off. And my cousin doesn't seem to like, he's not that much... well, he's close to my age, too, so it's, time is near, so, and the younger members of the family are not willing to take it over.

JK: Well, it's had a very long and impressive run. And you mentioned some of the, the shops on the west side, some of the big shops. How do you feel about some of the big shops like you mentioned, stores like Safeway or some of the big chain stores that carry Asian food items?

PD: Well, I think all your stores are catering to the different ends of the population, and that's what America is, I think. It's just a mixture of all the, all the world's... all the world's food. So you can find anything that you... you can find in a Safeway or whatever. And it's just if you're looking for a convenient thing, and whereas our store might offer you the assistance of how to cook this or how to cook that, or how to use anything that's Japanese or, we still offer the wide range of things. But what you find in a Safeway might be, fit your quick needs.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

JK: And your family, having been merchants since the early 1900s, probably have quite a bit, bit of experience in selling some, some real traditional Japanese food items that are unique?

PD: Well, I guess we're kind of in the middle, 'cause thanks to my wife, we know a little bit about, more of Japan than... a lot of, a lot of things from Japan comes with no English on 'em, so it's hard to say, how do you do this, how do you do that. And you got to be able to read Japanese, and some of it I can't read, either, I just have to go by kind of memory or how things are supposed to be done.

JK: And how's the business of selling Japanese groceries and food items changed over the years?

PD: Well, first, we had a lot of canned stuff, oh, this used to be canned fish, canned chicken, canned abalone, and canned sukiyaki, but now, you don't have those things anymore. It's just, everything's changed. The process, process of even canning in itself, I think, has changed over, over the time, whereas the valley used to can a lot of tomatoes and fruits and stuff. But no longer are there any canneries in this town. So all the, all the things that you see in the grocery store now is in boxes and plastic bags and vacuum-packed containers, and now you have frozen meals from Japan -- I mean, Japanese foods. So everything is packaged different, and the cost of business of refrigeration and freezing becomes a big, big factor. And to run an efficient business you have to have a lot of capital these days to keep a lot of freezers running and refrigeration running to keep all those things. So that's the bigger, the bigger your energy needs is, the more capital you need to run a business. And so you have to run a bigger store to run a business or go, go to a specialization, so it's hard to decide what to do right now.

JK: Do you make trips to Japan to see what kind of groceries and food items are available?

PD: I did go to Japan recently, and I didn't get too much of a chance to see, but if you go to Japan nowadays, they say they have the shopping centers that are copies of the United States. They have those Eddie Bauer shops and they have tennis shoe shops, and much of the same things that our, our malls have. But they also have their own... Japan is a different country, I think, where they have smaller houses and they don't shop as often, 'cause they live closer to the stores. But they're getting their Costcos and they're getting their, probably Ikeas and whatever. It's the same as over here, and they're getting bigger houses over there and living in the country. But, like, gasoline is almost five dollars a gallon over there.

JK: And what differences do you see in the food items from Japan versus the ones here in the States? The traditional Japanese items?

PD: Lot of packaging is a lot smaller here -- I mean, over in Japan. As far as I can see, they still have their open markets, and whereas the open market here might be a flea market or something, but that's something you don't, I don't know if you go to very often, but that's something to see.

JK: And when did you start to notice this transition that you're talking about from canned foods to more fresh and frozen items, and the different type of packaging?

PD: Well, it keeps going on and on and on. It just, little by little by little, it just keeps coming.

JK: And it's very difficult to distinguish between what's traditionally Japanese and what is Japanese American. Have you ever noticed your customers, your Japanese American customers preparing unique meals using Japanese food items, traditional Japanese food items from your store, but creating new meals? And by "new meals," I mean meals that the Japanese Americans came up with that were unique?

PD: Well, it's hard to say, because the California roll is not found in Japan, because high cost of avocados over there. I mean, just, in some things, like spicy roll tuna, you don't find in Japan. Food over here is a mixture of everything. It's, the American melting pot is bigger than what you might see in Japan. Japan is still traditional Japanese, but they still have, I guess they have some mixtures from their Asian countries, too.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

JK: And how has your clientele changed over the years?

PD: Well, more and more people are getting into Asian foods. There's, I guess because they're experiencing the East because of, the Far East because of the wars or whatever, and the soldiers coming back. But also, I guess one of the biggest thing is that TV show called "Iron Chef," so a lot of people are interested in cooking Japanese food, or seeing the Japanese experience of eating the different types of food. So that's been a new thing, too, because they have that, looked like a, I guess cooking shows must be a good thing, a big thing right now.

JK: Do people come into your store and refer to "Iron Chef" and maybe "Yan Can Cook"?

PD: Yeah, it's, some, some of those people say, "Oh, I always watch those cooking shows."

JK: So aside from Japanese food, are there other food items that you, you sell, and that Dobashi's has sold over the years?

PD: There's, the mochi ice cream is something else new, too, so it's something new, but... it's not new, but people haven't tried it yet, but it's quite a, quite a favorite item still, and it's highly perishable.

JK: And how have events like, like Korean War, the Vietnam War affected business, or if they have affected business?

PD: Overall, I think it's just more interested in Asian foods as far as we're concerned, but I don't know about discrimination or anything, but there seems to be a bigger community, there's probably a bigger Korean community in Santa Clara County than the Japanese community now, and the Vietnamese community is probably one of the bigger communities just as, I think as far as the Japanese community, gee, I think it's one of the smaller communities. I think there's more Koreans and Vietnamese here in Santa Clara County than Japanese.

JK: In looking back now, knowing what you know, would you choose to run the business the same way?

PD: Oh, it's hard to say what my experiences are now compared to what it was then, but specialization, probably, you have to scale down or something. Keep, keep things running at an easier level.

JK: And you mentioned some of these earlier, but what have been some of the greatest rewards of having a business in Japantown?

PD: Oh, I think over the years, you met so many nice friends, and lot of people that have been good to the family, but also you also lost a lot of good friends over the years. Being so close is, to a lot of people is a hard thing. Also a good thing, but as they get older, they go bye-bye.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

JK: Sure. In a recent article in the San Jose Mercury, titled "Japantown's New Eatery Goes Beyond Tradition," this is dated on September 26th, it's fairly recent, it talks about a new restaurant, Yasu, and this restaurant was opened in mid-July by a relative of yours who used to work at Dobashi market. How is he related to you?

PD: Well, he's my cousin's son, and so he was active in the store a couple years, and then he went on to the cooking school in San Francisco, I think it's the California Cooking Academy, or whatever it is. He attended that school there and then went on to cook in a number of different places, so he's, he's pretty well-experienced at doing a number of things. He's also had some good advice and teaching, so, hope he's a good --

JK: Sounds like he worked with Wolfgang Puck and some of the other pretty well-known chefs back east, according to the article. How do you feel about his return to Japantown?

PD: Well, I hope he makes it. It's a tough business, because it's... he's still single, and I think he needs a right hand. [Laughs]

JK: His shop is located --

PD: Right across the street. Right across the street.

JK: So the roots are growing. Well, thank you, Perry, for helping the museum to collect and preserve Japanese American history in the Santa Clara Valley. Your contribution will help future generations to understand and appreciate the role of Japanese Americans in California's history.

PD: Thank you.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

[Interior and exterior shots of the present-day Dobashi Market]

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.