Densho Digital Archive
Japanese American Museum of San Jose Collection
Title: George Hanada Interview
Narrator: George Hanada
Interviewer: Stephen Fugita
Location: San Jose, California
Date: November 15, 2004
Densho ID: denshovh-hgeorge-01

<Begin Segment 1>

SF: Okay, this is a visual history interview with George Hanada. George ran George's Service Center after the war until fairly recently. Steve Fugita is the interviewer, this is being taped at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose at 535 North Fifth Street, San Jose. Today is November 15, 2004; this is part of the project: "Lasting Stories: The Resettlement of San Jose Japantown," which is a collaboration between the Japanese American Museum of San Jose and the Densho Project of Seattle, Washington. This project is being funded by the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program.


SF: Okay, George, I'd like to begin the interview by asking you about your parents. What prefecture from Japan did they come from?

GH: My dad and mom were both from Yamanashi-ken, and that's northwest of Japan -- I mean, Tokyo.

SF: What year did your dad come over?

GH: He came over in... I'm sure it was 1910.

SF: How old was he at that time when he came over?

GH: Well, he was probably twenty-one, because he was born in '89, 1889.

SF: Where did your dad spend his first years in the U.S.?

GH: Pardon?

SF: Where did your dad spend his first years here?

GH: I think he, I think he landed in Washington and then worked his way down.

SF: What did he do?

GH: Well, he did a variety of things, you know. He worked as... I think he worked in the lumber mills, and mining in Utah.

SF: Did, do you remember him saying if he worked with other Japanese, or did he work with hakujins or white people at that time?

GH: I think it was mostly hakujins, you know, that he worked with. I'm sure there weren't that many Japanese here at that time. And then they, a group of 'em got together and they started to farm in Utah, and they farmed there for a while, and then he went back to Japan.

SF: The group who he farmed with, they were other Japanese, huh?

GH: Uh-huh, uh-huh.

SF: Okay. When and, when and how did he meet your mother?

GH: How did he...?

SF: Meet your mom.

GH: Well, they're from the same area, and so they knew each other before, or the families knew each other. And when he went back, and then he, he got married and he came back here. And then she came a little later.

SF: Where did, where did your mom and dad move to after they were married?

GH: They moved into the, the Penryn, Penryn area. That's where --

SF: Yeah, what did they do there? What crops did they grow, or...

GH: Oh, they, they leased a ranch that was primarily peaches, plums, grapes. I think some cherries, and...

SF: Do you recall if he belonged to a Japanese co-op or any kind of Japanese association that worked together on farming stuff?

GH: I don't know; I don't think so, yeah.

SF: Do you remember if he sold his produce to, like, a Japanese package shipper or was it a...

GH: Yeah, most of it went to a shipper, and then the rest of it he sold in the Sacramento market. He would, like we discussed before, he would work all day and take the produce into Sacramento market at, in the early mornings, and then he'd come back and work a whole day again, so it was pretty tough.

SF: So you remember your parents as really being hard-working, huh?

GH: Yeah, they really had to work hard. And all my brothers and sisters, my sister and brothers, they were all born in that, part, in that particular area, Penryn area.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

SF: What year were you born?

GH: Myself?

SF: Yes.

GH: 1924.

SF: And how many sisters and brothers did you have?

GH: I have one sister and two brothers.

SF: When did your family move from Penryn, and where did they go?

GH: We moved here to San Jose in 1929, so been here most of our lives, yeah.

SF: Okay. Why did you choose San Jose, or why did your dad choose San Jose?

GH: What?

SF: Why did your dad choose to move to San Jose?

GH: Oh, I think my mother had a relative here, and so that's why we moved here. And we farmed with the relative for a couple of years, I think.

SF: What kind of crops did you work with, or did your dad work with?

GH: When we first came here, we, my folks raised strawberries, 'cause that's what the relative did.

SF: Okay, so when you moved to San Jose, how old were you then?

GH: Pardon?

SF: How old were you when you moved to San Jose?

GH: Five, I think.

SF: And so you started elementary school. What school did you go to?

GH: Franklin. Franklin-Mckinley.

SF: Okay.

GH: Yeah, that was on... I think it, I think it's on Tully Road.

SF: What do you remember about your elementary school days? Were they good years, bad years?

GH: Well, I was only, I was pretty young then, I don't remember too much about it, but it was okay, you know, it was a good... oh, one thing I remember about it, we lived on the west side of 101, or... what do they call that now? And to, from school, we walked to the corner of where Curtner and First street is, or Monterey Highway is, and we'd have to walk through the cemetery to get home. And if we played at school too long, it'd be almost dark by the time we walked through the cemetery. That was kind of spooky, yeah.

SF: When you went to high school, do you remember if most of your friends were other Japanese, or were they hakujins or whites?

GH: In where?

SF: In high school, when you started going.

GH: There were quite a few Japanese. At that time, we lived in the North First Street area, and there was a lot of Japanese farmers right there, so there were quite a few Japanese in that area, and also... it went to Santa Clara, so that, that would cover quite an area. There was only about five high schools in the whole valley at that time, you know.

SF: So in high school, were most of your friends Japanese?

GH: Yeah, I would say so.

SF: Like, would you think about dating a white girl in high school?

GH: I haven't, I didn't, but I imagine I thought about it, yeah.

SF: It would be okay; you could do it, huh?

GH: Yeah.

SF: What kind of activities did you participate in in high school?

GH: Basketball, track, wrestling...

SF: Were you interested in the academic side, or was it just kind of a, you were much more interested in sports?

GH: Yeah, it was kind of... yeah.

SF: Okay.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

SF: At the time you were in high school, was your family kind of middle-class, would you say, for a Japanese farming family? Somewhat better-off or worse-off than the average family?

GH: I'd say it was... we had a tough time. My mother passed away in 1934, so I was like ten years old. So, and my dad raised us. And so it was pretty tough, you know.

SF: So did you feel pressure to go to work, because, to be an extra breadwinner because your mom passed away?

GH: No, not really, yeah.

SF: So who did most of the stuff that your mom would have done if she would have been alive?

GH: Well, of course, my sister was only, like, twelve years old at that time, and so my dad did a lot of work, and, of course, she helped out a lot. She had to work pretty hard.

SF: So was your family pretty tight because of that?

GH: I think so, yeah. I think so.

SF: So how was your relationship with your dad? How would you describe it?

GH: I just, I guess it was like any other son/father relationship, but after, after the, I got out of the service, then, of course, my sisters and brothers were all married and I was the only single person, so my dad and I lived together for about six or seven years, until I got married. So we were pretty close, yeah.

SF: How about with your mom, up to the time you were about ten years old, before she passed away? How was your relationship with your mother before she passed away?

GH: Fine, but I was still only ten years old, so it wasn't like she was around for a long time. Could hardly remember.

SF: Before the war, what did you want to be when you grew up?

GH: Well, you have a lot of aspirations, you know, but I would have liked to have been a lawyer.

SF: So did you plan on going to college, or was that kind of like a hoped-for thing...?

GH: It was just something that I had -- I would have liked to, I would have liked to have been, but then I hadn't gone into it enough to say that, "I would go to this college or that college."

SF: So the economics of it or the fact that your family didn't have a lot of money, you sort of felt you had to sort of continue the farming, sort of life, or what?

GH: The what, now?

SF: Because of the fact that your mother had passed away, your dad was really working hard --

GH: Right.

SF: -- you would have liked to have been a lawyer if everything worked out, but you just didn't really think you could do it, because you had to take care of your brother and sisters, or contribute to the family because of the money situation, or how'd that work out?

GH: Oh, yeah, I'm sure that would have a bearing on it, sure. Yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

SF: Okay, now I'd like to move ahead and talk a little bit about the war years. Before Pearl Harbor, how did your family talk about the relationship between the United States and Japan?

GH: I don't think that we discussed that very much. My dad wasn't very active in the, any organizations, like right after the war broke out, the FBI came around and they gathered up all the guys that were active in all the related organizations with Japan, and put 'em in the concentration camps. That was before evacuation.

SF: So your dad was kind of, not a community leader, so he wasn't high-profile?

GH: Right, right. Yeah.

SF: What organizations did your dad belong to?

GH: At the time, I really don't know.

SF: Did the family go to church, for example?

GH: I'm sure he did, but then he wasn't active in it, you know. I think he's primarily trying to raise the family.

SF: Did your dad ever talk about returning to Japan?

GH: Returning to Japan?

SF: Uh-huh.

GH: I don't think he... he might have, much before the war, but then not after. Maybe in his later years, he might have wanted to go back, but he didn't.

SF: So he always saw his future and the future of his family as being in America, I guess. Is that right?

GH: I would think so, yeah.

SF: Okay. What do you remember about the days immediately after Pearl Harbor?

GH: Well, it was kind of a tough time. We're always worried that they would come and search our place, or take my dad, because we're a single-parent family, and if they took our dad, there was only my older brother, and he was only like, I guess at that time he was about twenty. He'd have to keep the family going. So it was kind of a worry. A lot of the neighbors were taken in, and... it was...

SF: So it was kind of mostly a feeling of anxiety about possibly taking your dad, or not knowing what was going to happen?

GH: Yeah, mostly that we didn't know what was going to happen.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

SF: Which assembly center were your family sent to, was your family sent to?

GH: We went to Santa Anita. I think that was in May, or... pretty sure, and we're there 'til September and then we went to Heart Mountain.

SF: Where, what do you remember about Santa Anita?

GH: Santa Anita?

SF: Yeah.

GH: Well, that's the first time I've seen that many Japanese all together at one time. Ten thousand people there, we're all in a one-mile area, so something different.

SF: So did your family get one of the new barracks, or one of the horse, horse stalls?

GH: We had one of the new barracks, yeah. We're in the, they call it the "yellow mess" area. There were five, five different mess halls, I guess, and had, each section was divided up into either the yellow or the green or the blue mess, red mess.

SF: Do you remember many guard towers and soldiers around at Santa Anita?

GH: Not inside, but on the perimeter there were, they had barbed wires and watchtowers, yeah.

SF: How did it feel to be inside a situation like that?

GH: Well, initially it really bothered us, but then after a while you get kind of like, get kind of used to seeing 'em around.

SF: One of the things that happened at Santa Anita was a so-called "riot." Were you involved with that?

GH: With the riot?

SF: Yeah.

GH: Well, only as a spectator. 'Course, when they started to gather together, curiosity brought me there, and I... it was kind of scary.

SF: So I remember you telling me that you were in the front row of this crowd.

GH: It was, well, there was a guard there, looked like a security guard-like, and of course, I was face-to-face with him, and there must have been fifty people there, or a hundred people in back of me. And he had his gun out and he was waving it around and he was gonna, he threatened to shoot everybody, but I couldn't back away, because there was so many people behind me. That was really scary.

SF: Yeah, I imagine. What did, what did the crowd gather for? What were they looking at, or what were they trying to see at that particular spot?

GH: I don't know. I don't know why they gathered, but there were all kinds of groups, like large groups that were... they, they had a, it was something about a, they were trying to get some guys that were turning other people in, and that was one of the problems. Of course, this security guy, well, of course, he wasn't helping out any. He was, he's going around threatening people, I guess.

SF: This security guy was a white guy, huh?

GH: Pardon?

SF: The security guy was a white guy, right? He wasn't internal security, like another Japanese, he was a hakujin?

GH: Yeah, right.

SF: Were there women and kids in the crowd, too?

GH: Not too many. Mostly young people and, well, yeah. Mostly young people.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

SF: When did you leave Santa Anita for the first time?

GH: Santa Anita?

SF: Uh-huh.

GH: I think we left in September and went to Heart Mountain.

SF: What did you think you would find at Heart Mountain? You knew you were leaving this assembly center for this permanent WRA center. Were you expecting things to be a lot better, or what was on your mind, what did you think when you moved to Heart Mountain?

GH: Well, actually, they took us by train from Santa Anita to Heart Mountain. That took about three days, I think, and all the curtains were closed and you weren't allowed to look out or anything. Once we got to Wyoming, I mean, it's entirely different than Santa Anita, which is in the heart of Los Angeles. It was, it was a big difference. It was desolate and sagebrush and barracks and barbed wire fences, and that's all there was there. There was one area that they had that was the commissary area, or the logistics area, and other than that, there was nothing there.

SF: What was the, the climate like there? What was the climate like in Heart Mountain?

GH: Well, it was nice, typical sunny day, but then just a couple of weeks later, it snowed on us. We got our first snow, I think, in about, first, first part of October. 'Course, it was windy in the afternoons, and dust storms would come up.

SF: So did you know many people at Heart Mountain that were from, say, San Jose that were family friends, or were they all strangers at Heart Mountain?

GH: Most of the people from this valley went to Heart Mountain, and they lived in more or less the same area. I think that was Block 23, 24, and -- [pauses] -- maybe 20, 23, 24, 26. Twenty-six, 27, maybe, or something like that. So they were, yes, they were kind of in a group.

SF: So you hung out mostly with people from those blocks that were kind of San Jose people, or did you kind of wander around the camp and make new friends?

GH: Well, we're still pretty young then, and we used to run around all over the camp. But yeah, we hung around a lot in the immediate area.

SF: What did you do? You played baseball or horsed around in gangs, or, what did you do mostly?

GH: I guess we just hung out, you know. And we did play a lot of different sports; we played football. All they had was a helmet, that's the only thing they had. They didn't have any, didn't have any football outfits. And weightlifting was a big thing. Other than that, just hung out.

SF: I've heard that, in the camps, that a lot of times, the teenagers would hang out in gangs, and they would make close friends such that they wouldn't eat with their family at the mess hall, that is, all the kids would eat by themselves, and the parents would eat by themselves and so forth, and so it was kind of hard on the family. Do you remember how you, your family handled that? Did they eat together or did you eat with the high school guys and so forth? Did everybody eat in shifts like that?

GH: There were some families that were, that they required everybody to be home at, say, dinnertime, and they all ate together like a family. But, of course, my brothers left rather early, and, of course, my sister was already married, and so it was just my dad and I mostly. At the beginning there were four of us; my two brothers, myself and my dad, but we didn't go as a family to eat dinner or anything. Usually I ate with my buddies or something.

SF: So do you think, looking back, that the camp experience sort of weakened your family ties because you guys didn't eat together or do things together, or didn't really make much difference?

GH: I think it did; I think it did in most families, except the ones that required the family to get together. But I think it, it made a big difference on the closeness of a family.

SF: So did you get into any kind of mischief when you were in camp?

GH: Well, yeah, lots of mischief. But I didn't think we did anything that was, that would hurt anybody.

SF: What would be an interesting example of your mischief?

GH: Well, I remember we used to take a lot of cars and hotwire 'em and run around camp with it. Couldn't go outside, but you could run around the area. And that was a fun thing, you know, had a great time with that.

SF: I remember, I think you said something about taking a police car, even, is that right?

GH: We used to take the cars, and when we dropped 'em off, we usually drop 'em off at the police station, then all scatter.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

SF: So, when did you first leave Heart Mountain?

GH: Well, almost immediately after we got there, everybody went out to work in either some type of work, seasonal type, like there was a big demand for harvesting sugar beets and whatever else was being harvested at the time. Because that was the fall of the year, and so wheat was being harvested, and sugar beets were being harvested. Can't think of any other, but so we went out almost within a couple, three weeks of when we arrived in Heart Mountain, and we didn't return 'til about first of November or the middle of November.

SF: So did you go out because basically you wanted to make some money, or you were bored and want to get, wanted to get out of the camp environment? Or why did you go out and work on these farms?

GH: Well, I wanted to get away, and also to make some money. They would hire people in camp, I think the low pay was twelve dollars a month, twelve dollars a month. And the next category was fourteen or something like that. That was for semi-skilled, and then the top was eighteen dollars, I think, a month, and that was for professionals like doctors and dentists and administrative workers and stuff. I mean, that was, that's for a month, now.

SF: So I remember you telling me earlier about an interesting story when you went to Montana to top sugar beets. What happened with this hunter?

GH: The guy that took a shot at us? Well, the guy came down the road, and I stopped what we were topping sugar beets, and looked at us, and then pointed his gun and shot at us, but he missed us. Like, like maybe a couple of feet away. But then he, it was a double, I guess it was a double-barrel shotgun, and the second shot, he hit us. And then, of course, he had to reload, so we ran after him, and he jumped in his truck and took off down the road a ways, and then he stopped and loaded his gun again, but I guess he was kind of nervous because he was having a little problem loading it. So we ran after him again and he kind of had some second thoughts about it, I guess, and he took off.

SF: Did you expect to find people this hostile towards you?

GH: Pardon?

SF: When you left camp to work on the farms, did you expect to find people that were this crazy or hostile toward Japanese?

GH: No, we didn't, and the guy that hired us was a Russian guy, and he was real helpful. I mean, he really did a lot for us, you know. Worked for him for about three weeks, I don't think it was even a month that we were there. That was a hard-working family, too. And even when we came back, when we left there, coming back to camp, we had to make a transfer on the bus. We went to Billings, Montana, from where we were, and we did some shopping there and had a real good meal. And we went to a place called Deaver, that was the changeoff where you change buses to get off, to go to Heart Mountain. And we had a problem with a bunch of young rabble-rousers, you know. But nothing happened, just, just a lot of name-callings and stuff.

SF: Did you think that you were actually going to get into a physical fight with them?

GH: Yeah, they wanted to.

SF: So the Nisei guys would always hang together and really put up a good defense, so to speak, huh?

GH: Pardon?

SF: The guys, the Nisei guys you were with, they would always put up a good defense when, when they were threatened by these kind of people.

GH: Yeah.

SF: Was it like they'd only take so much? I mean, you could call, with the people calling you "Jap" or whatever, how'd that work? I mean, would you try, always try to keep a low profile and only sort of respond if people really pushed you hard?

GH: Well, in this particular case, the biggest guy, he was going to... going to pick a fight with one of the guys, and I was the smallest guy so he wanted to fight me, you know. And I said, "Fine, I'll take you on." And he kind of changed his mind, because seemed like I was kind of too willing to. But yeah, we had some... that was the only two bad experiences we had working, working out of camp. I know some guys had some real tough times.

SF: So was the reputation of places that hired the Niseis out of camp, was the thought that it would be likely that you would get ripped off or hassled, or what? Did people expect to get a fair, square deal when they went out to work on these farms?

GH: Well, the people that we worked with?

SF: Uh-huh.

GH: Usually when you went out to work for somebody, they usually treated you pretty good. They didn't give you a hard time or anything. Because we went out to Denver a few times and worked in, in the hotels or produce market, or even made munitions boxes. And everyone we worked for treated us fairly well.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

SF: How did your family answer the, the so-called "loyalty questionnaire" during registration?

GH: I don't think we had a problem with that at all.

SF: So you guys were "yes-yes"?

GH: Yes, because the three of us, the three boys in the family, they're all, served time in the service, and so we didn't have any problem with that.

SF: Did, did your family, like your dad, ever think of returning to Japan or answering "no" on a questionnaire? I mean, it was always understood that you guys would be, answer "yes-yes," and your future was in America, always, huh?

GH: Yeah. I don't think he had any thoughts of going back to Japan and taking the family with him or go by himself. I know he wouldn't have gone by himself, but, and since we had all "yes-yessed" on that questionnaire, I'm sure that he had no problems at all with that.

SF: So later at Heart Mountain, they had the organized draft resistance movement there, right? In, I think, '44. What did you think of the draft resisters, resisters at that time?

GH: I don't know. I think that, that everybody was entitled to their opinions, or whatever thoughts they had, and I'm, I respect them for that. Even at that time, I thought that they were... at least you have to give 'em credit for being... well, they're, they had, they had certain thoughts that they had that involved the problems that we were in, and I don't think that... [pauses]. Well, a few of my friends did sign a "no-no," and, and they were still my friends.

SF: So in general, was there much hostility towards either the "yes-yes" people from the "no-no" people, or from the "yes-yes" people to the "no-no" people in Heart Mountain at that time? Or even the resisters?

GH: I don't, I don't remember anything like that. I mean, I think that everybody, nobody bothered anybody about that part of it. I think any problems that arose from that "no-no" question, I think, was later.

SF: What do you mean, "later"?

GH: Say after the service. They didn't go into the service, or, the guys that came back or the guys that lived in the community, they said, "Well, you should have went," or, but then, I think that was an after, hindsight.

SF: Okay.

GH: Because I think a lot of people would have signed the "no-no" had they, had they had any bad experiences or felt themselves that they were unjustly persecuted or anything.

SF: So did you know some of your friends who went to Tule Lake after segregation? Did some of your friends go to Tule?

GH: Yeah, uh-huh. Quite a few people went to Tule Lake on the "no-no," and then it was... I think, I'm not sure, but I think that there were some families that went that were going to be, go back to Japan or be exchanged to, to Japan. And then, of course, some of the "no-nos" went to, if they were draft age, of course, they went to, they had the trial and they went to prison.

SF: So this is jumping ahead a little bit, but did the "yes-yes" people and "no-no" people sort of get together after the war, or were there still a lot of bad, hard feelings between people so that they didn't, their friendships kind of broke up and they went their separate ways?

GH: No, I don't think so. I don't think that they, they... I don't think that they felt like... I really don't know. I don't think that it was that bad. I think it's more of a, was kind of played up, you know?

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

<Begin Segment 9>

SF: I understood that, understand that you went into the army about '44 or something like that, is that right?

GH: Yeah, end of '44.

SF: And you were already out of camp at that time?

GH: Yes. My point of induction was Chicago, 'cause I was in Chicago at that time. And we went to Fort Sheridan, and from Fort Sheridan, we went to Florida to take our basic, and then we went to Fort Meade for, to get ready to go overseas, and we went overseas from Camp Kilmore. That's in New York, and we landed in Glasgow, Scotland, and went to Southampton and over to Le Havre, and then from Le Havre we went to, went right into Germany. But at that time, the war was already over, 'cause we went in in end of May, I think, or, yeah, and the war ended in May.

SF: What branch of the service were you in?

GH: Went in infantry.

SF: So being in the infantry, did you hear a lot about the 442, people would say, "Oh, we know about the fine record of the 442," or something like that?

GH: Oh, yeah. My brother was in the 442nd, and he was in Italy the same time I was in Germany. He hadn't come back yet, or, when I first, yeah, I think he came right after that, 'cause he was in a hospital at that time.

SF: So do you think that the 442 really sort of helped the Japanese in general in terms of, because of the record, people knew about it, or something like that? I mean, was it well-known enough?

GH: I'm sure they, they really paid for it.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

SF: So what did you do after you got out of the service?

GH: Well, I took my discharge in Chicago, and then I stayed there a while, like a couple of months, and then my dad came back to San Jose, and so I met him here.

SF: How did you find the Midwest? Were the people friendly, or friendlier than they were in California, or less friendly?

GH: Where? Back...

SF: Back in the Midwest, like in Chicago? How did they treat the Japanese back there?

GH: Well, it's a big city. Nobody paid much attention to you. I didn't have any, any problems. I didn't have any problems in Chicago.

SF: So then you came back with your, with your dad, and what did you guys start doing when you got back to this area?

GH: What?

SF: So when your dad and you got back to the San Jose area, what kind of operation did you guys start up?

SF: Well, we basically had to start from scratch because we didn't have anything. So I worked for this -- or we both did -- worked for this nursery in Palo Alto, first job I had, and then we worked for another nursery in the immediate area there. And then 1948, '47, I went to So Cal to raise strawberries, and raised strawberries there for two years, and then I moved to Morgan Hill and farmed strawberries. Then in '53, '53, I think, I bought this shop and started a service station/garage.

SF: How was the, the economics of the strawberry business at that time? I mean, could you make a fair living sharecropping?

GH: Yeah, pretty good. I mean, it was, it was a start, anyway, you know. And, and you were on your own. I mean, it wasn't like you're working for somebody. And the ones with the large families did real well; there were quite a few large strawberry growers that had sharecroppers. Driscoll and Ryder and there was a couple others... Kaiser. They had large holdings like hundreds of acres. And some of the families did real well.

SF: So I suppose those big growers, they did well, too, right, 'cause they had all these good workers or sharecroppers, right?

GH: Oh, yeah. They did well.

SF: So when your, your family sharecropped, were you able to save enough money for, like, putting a down on George's Service Station?

GH: Yeah, yeah.

SF: So that was really kind of a good thing for you guys, then, huh?

GH: Right.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

SF: So tell us about how you started George's. How did you find out about it, and why did you go from farming to running a service center?

GH: Well, my, my dad had just had a heart attack, and, of course, my wife is from the city, she didn't particularly care for working out in the farm. So I guess I didn't have much choice. I would have liked to continue farming, because that was basically what I was, went to school for. And, but then the opportunity arose, and I used to hang out there quite a bit, at the garage. I had a friend there, by the previous owner, not the guy I bought it from, but the previous guy, we used to hang around together. Then he sold it to this fellow, Tom Honda, and I bought it from Tom Honda.

SF: So to kind of go back a little bit, what's the history of that service station? Who owned it before the war?

GH: Well, originally, this fellow, Tanizawa, he built the station. He had a grocery store across the street, Fourth and Jackson, and then he built this on the, on the, across the street, corner. And he built a grocery store and a, and a service station, and he ran the grocery store, and his brother-in-law ran the station.

SF: What happened during the war when everybody was gone? Who ran it?

GH: I guess it was leased out to somebody. I don't remember the name, but there was a fellow that ran the station, and then I don't think he had -- I think it was closed by the time we came back in '46 or so, it was already closed; it wasn't even operating. And then a couple of guys took it over and started it. Bill Yosukawa and I think his brother took over the shop, and they, somebody ran the station part, I don't know. Then this fellow, Ray Taniguchi, he ran the station for a while, and then he sold it to Tom Honda, and then Tom Honda sold it to me.

SF: So how did you learn all your automotive skills if you were mostly farming?

GH: Oh, I went to this ag. school, and we had a class, quite an extensive class in automotive repair, and that's where I picked up most of it.

SF: So you bought the place in 1953, and describe how your operation was in the early days, like in the early '50s or mid-'50s. What kind of a, how big was the operation and what did you specialize in?

GH: When we first got there, it was just light mechanics, and selling gas. And, but we went into more of the tire business, and we did a lot of truck tire repairs and selling truck tires. So we used to have a pretty good crew running around selling -- mounting, selling and mounting truck tires.

SF: So you went into truck tires because you sensed that there was a demand for it, and there was a bigger, better market for truck tires than just running a gas station with, doing mechanic work on cars? So that was a better, better opportunity?

GH: Well, sales is always, everything is sales. Volume is, I thought, was the secret to the whole thing. Even gasoline, if you just sell a few gallons, you're not gonna make it. But if you sell a lot of it, and by the same token, you can sell... car tires in those days were, like, twenty or thirty, twenty or thirty dollars apiece. Truck tires were a hundred dollars or more apiece. And if you sell truck tires, usually if you sell a semi, that's eighteen wheels, eighteen tires at one shot, that's much more profitable than selling two or three or four tires at a car. We were real fortunate because we had the support of most Japanese that were farming in the area, and a lot of the farmers would call us for tractor tires, and, of course, they patronized us pretty loyally.

SF: So what accounted for this good customer relationship? Would you say that, I don't know, you were a good guy and tried to really give them an extra, extra dose of good service... or to build up your clientele? Obviously you were very successful, so why were you so successful? Like, how did you handle your customers and so forth?

GH: Well, like I say, the Japanese community was real loyal to us, plus the fact that we were available twenty-four hours a day, so that made it -- like, for instance, we would get, we were on the highway patrol call list in case they had a problem with a, a truck down on the highway with a tire problem. We wouldn't get any calls during the day, but after ten o'clock at night or nine o'clock at night, most guys would kind of retire for the day, then we would get calls, like two, three, four o'clock in the morning is when we would get the bulk of our calls.

SF: So you mentioned that a lot of your customers were JAs, or Japanese Americans. Did you, in a sense, feel that you had to give them a little bit of a better deal or kind of treat them a little better because they were Japanese Americans? Or did they expect you to give them a little bit better service, or make sure they got the right stuff because they were Japanese Americans?

GH: Oh, I think we were fair with them. I think we were... I mean, being that they were loyal to us, we were, tried to do our best for them. And it worked out pretty well.

SF: Yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

SF: So being in Japantown, was that really an advantage, or could you have located the business, say, in Willow Glen or some other place outside of Japantown?

GH: I know a few fellows that, that did well, not necessarily in Japantown, but then I think initially when we first started, the fact that we were here had a lot to do with the success of the business.

SF: Did you get help from other Japanese when you first started up?

GH: What?

SF: Did you get help from other Japanese when you first started up? Besides being customers, they were, the wholesalers that sold you the tires, or something like that? Did you deal mostly with other Japanese?

GH: No, not the, not the wholesalers, because the petroleum products we would get from the consignees or the distributors or whoever they were, and so the tires and all the accessories were all mostly companies that were owned by hakujins, yeah.

SF: Did you sense that the hakujins thought that dealing with Japanese was a good thing, that you guys were trustworthy or fair or easy to work with or anything like that?

GH: I think that they, they liked our business because we paid, I mean, we, I don't think we've ever ripped anybody off, you know.

SF: Did you face any discrimination when you started up your business from anybody?

GH: Serious, you mean?

SF: Well, it could be minor stuff, or any kind.

GH: Oh, you might have had some minor stuff, but I don't think we had anything serious. Nothing that I can put my finger on.

SF: Nobody withheld supplies from you or anything like that?

GH: No, no. The only problem we had with that was when we went to buy a house, wouldn't sell us a house. And we had our, like, most of the veterans had their certificate of eligibility, which meant that if there was a house available, that we could buy it, but even that didn't help. They just said, "Nope."

SF: So where did you eventually end up buying?

GH: Well, this fellow was a contractor that was building on, on Nineteenth Street. He had built, I think, four or five houses in that area, and he said he was a Mexican fellow, and he had no problems with selling it. "Any one you want," he says. And at that time, you could buy a house for fifteen, twenty thousand dollars. Not like...

SF: Yeah. What year was that?

GH: 1954, I guess.

SF: In the Japantown neighborhood, it was mostly Japanese in this area, because they couldn't buy houses in other areas, is that right, when you first came here?

GH: When they were buying houses, you mean?

SF: Uh-huh, in this area, in this neighborhood.

GH: Yeah. Well, there were a lot of people here before, and a lot of 'em had their homes already, and they just came back to their home. As far as buying homes in this particular area, I don't think there were that many. I mean, and I'm sure that they bought some, but lot of 'em bought in other areas also.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

SF: Did you belong to many organizations in the years after the war? Like, I understand that you're very active in the Buddhist Church. Were you active in other organizations?

GH: Yeah. Active in the Veterans Association, and then --

SF: That was the Nihonjin chapter, or Japanese chapter?

GH: Yeah. It's the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and it's primarily Japanese. We had a few hakujins in there. That was fifty, fifty-some-odd, fifty-two years ago that they started this, this Post 9970 is the number of that post. And then I was also active in the merchants association.

SF: That's the Japantown Merchants Association?

GH: Uh-huh, yeah. [Pauses] Can't think of any others.


SF: So did any of those involvements help out with the business? That is, you knew people from these associations, and they came to like you and then would do business in the garage with you, or the service center?

GH: Maybe. I don't know, because I think that, well, I know most of the people, like the merchants association, I knew most of the people even when I was active in it, before I became too involved in it.

SF: So did you join a lot of these organizations because you felt sort of obligated, you wanted to give back, or it was just interesting? Why do you think you joined?

GH: Yeah, I think that, you know, you can't just live in a community and do nothing; you gotta do something. This fellow, Jim Yamaichi, stayed real active in the Buddhist Church, and he kind of corralled me into that one. I didn't go in it with the religious aspirations, I just went in to help him out and then I, I guess I kind of liked it and I stuck around, and I've been there quite a while.

SF: Do you find that being in Japanese American organizations somehow is more comfortable or easier or more fun than, say, with white organizations?

GH: I don't know. I haven't given, I hadn't given it that much thought, you know. You mean like Lions or...

SF: Yeah, say instead of belonging to a Nisei VFW, you could have belonged to a white VFW. Would that be as, as attractive?

GH: Well, a lot of the organizers, when we first started to join all these different groups, wouldn't accept, right off, they wouldn't accept the Asians or Japanese.

SF: So you were forced to form your own groups a lot of times, huh?

GH: Pardon?

SF: So you were forced to form your own groups a lot of the times in the early years.

GH: Yeah, yeah. We had this one guy, hakujin guy that really went to bat for us to get us into the Veterans, because they really wasn't going to accept all the Nisei, but this one guy named Flemings, he really went to bat for us, and really helped us out to organize ours, and all the other Nisei posts, 'cause I think there's ten or eleven.

SF: Why do you think he was so helpful to the Japanese?

GH: I don't know, but he was a real nice guy.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

SF: To go back a bit to the garage situation, did your wife and kids work on the garage?

GH: In what?

SF: Did your wife and kids work in your garage, or in the service center at all?

GH: No, no. She did all the, the accounting and the bookkeeping and sending the bills out and stuff. And that was a big help.

SF: So...

GH: But, well, I did require all the kids -- all of 'em, even the girls... well, not so much the girls, but all the guys had to help at least one, one summer or something like that. At least they know what the old man did for a living, you know, and so they all came in at some time in their, in their young period, and they worked at the shop.

SF: And they saw what hard work was really like, then, I suppose, huh?

GH: Well, and they knew how to maintain their own vehicles and stuff.

SF: Did any of them ever express any interest in taking over the garage or the service center?

GH: Well, the condition was that I would want them to work at least one, one time, and then I told them I didn't want to see them at the shop anymore.

SF: Huh.

GH: Yeah, I wanted them to do something else.

SF: Ah. Why did you want them to do something else if you had this good business going? Why not pass it on to one of the kids or something like that?

GH: It's a tough business; I mean, you're always greasy, and it's tough. Lot of hours and hard work and, I don't think, I think there's better, even financially, health-wise or anything else, I think it, there's something better. And I think that they're doing pretty well.

SF: So in your family, there was always the expectation that your kids would go on to college and get, quotes, "better jobs" and all of that sort of thing, huh?

GH: Yeah, uh-huh. Yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

SF: So looking back, what would you say was the most rewarding part of your job, of running George's Service Center?

GH: Well, I think that the guys that I worked with, the guys that I met, and mostly the customers that came in that I got to know, and they became friends, I think that was the rewarding part of the business, you know. Not so much the... well, the financial is fine, but I developed some real close friends while I was in the business.

SF: Did, did George's ever become kind of a hangout?

GH: Not so much of a hangout, you know. It was, the space is small and there's no place to park, and the office is real small. But yeah, we did have some people hanging around in...

SF: So looking back, what would you say would be the worst parts of running George's Service Station?

GH: Besides the hours and the hard work? Yeah, well, that's about it, I think. There's nothing that I would say that I didn't like about it.

SF: So looking back, you'd say that it was a pretty, pretty good thing, huh?

GH: I think so, yeah. I worked there for over forty years, and I never begrudged a day for going to work.

SF: That's saying a lot.

GH: Yeah, saying a lot.

SF: When did you retire?

GH: I retired in 19-, let's see, thirteen years ago, so...

SF: So you were sixty-seven when you --

GH: Sixty-seven.

SF: So why did you retire?

GH: Sixty-seven.

SF: [Laughs] It was time, huh?

GH: Yeah, it was time to retire.

SF: Looking back, would there be anything that you would change about the way you did things or developed the business?

GH: Well, the only change that I would have liked to have done is I'd like to spend more time with the family. 'Cause that's one thing I, I really missed, was I worked, initially I worked seven days a week, and we worked from, like, seven-thirty in the morning 'til maybe midnight, so I didn't see anybody. And if we worked seven days, you don't have any Sundays with 'em either, nothing. It got better as time went by, but I think I always worked a six-day week, except when we went on vacation or something like that. And vacations were only limited to, like, maybe once or twice a year, and maybe a long, long weekend and maybe a week in-between or something, or a week later on. That's about all, though. That's about all the time that we had, or that I had. So that would be one change that I would have made. But other than that, I'd have, I'd have run it the same way.

SF: Did the lack of time to spend with your family, did that ever become kind of an issue between your wife and you, or kids or something like that?

GH: No, I think they were pretty good about it. Yeah, they were really good about it. And my, my... 'course, my dad was gone, but my in-laws were a big help. They always helped us; they watched the kids, and... so that gave us time, just the wife and myself.

SF: So if you didn't have the kind of support of a good in-law family, that would have been, would have made things a lot rougher, I guess, huh, in terms of the...

GH: Oh, I'm sure it would have, yeah.

SF: So in a sense, the family and the community were really kind of important to all that happened at George's in a way, right?

GH: Yeah.

SF: All right, would you like to add anything to the questions that we've asked you? What else comes to your mind?

GH: Not really. Can't think of anything.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

SF: George, since you spent almost your whole life in Japantown, since the early postwar years, what do you think the future of Japantown is going to be? What do you see happening to this area?

GH: Well, it's been here a long time. It was initially a Chinatown, but it's Japantown, I guess, as far as I can remember. And there isn't too many of the Japanese centers, concentrated centers like here, and I think it's a good thing. It retains a certain culture, has a, has a kind of a draw for the community, you know, the Japanese community.

SF: Well, how would you describe the draw? What draws people here?

GH: Well, the main draws that I can see is the two churches. They draw, and the merchants in the area and, and the young people like, you notice at the Buddhist Church, on a Friday night, they must have two or three hundred kids running around. They're in either the Cub Scouts or the dance group, and it kind of pulls the community together, and they, the young people such as you, you don't want your kids to lose the Japanese culture or the, whatever. You don't want to lose that completely; you don't want your kids to lose it. And so I think that fact that they come here and they come to the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts and the dance groups and the, they have for the older people, they have the flower arrangements and the craft classes. And now that Yu-Ai Kai is started up the last ten or fifteen years, that's another big draw, and that pulls everything together. And this museum, that helps a lot. I think all that pulls it all together and at least you have a certain amount of camaraderie, you know.

SF: Uh-huh. What do you think makes up Japanese American culture? Like, you mentioned that I would want my kids to learn a little bit about or feel or have some affinity toward Japanese American culture, which is true; I really do. And like a lot of other people, what do you think that, that is now?

GH: Why?

SF: Or what is Japanese American culture? Why do I want my kids to, to mix it up with other Japanese Americans? Go to Boy Scouts or belong to the museum or go to one of the churches here?

GH: Well, they, they can't really, I don't think that they can really develop... I think everything reverts back to past history, to some extent. I don't think that, that they always improve on it, but then basically you go back to your old heritage and bring up things that, that you want to retain. You're not going to change your, your appearance; you're gonna always look Japanese, I don't care what you do. So I think you're always -- I mean, if, even if your hakujin closest friend looks at you, he may -- I have some friends that they, it's no, they can't tell the difference. I mean, they look at you and they, but they still see an Asian face.

SF: Right.

GH: That isn't going to change. And so that's one thing that I think would have a bearing on it, that... and you, sometimes -- not all the time -- but sometimes you feel more comfortable talking about -- depending on what you're talking about. I did a lot of hunting in my younger days, we used to go to Idaho, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and most of the hunters are, are hakujin guys. And never, never felt any less than them or better than them, or, and I, I'm sure that they felt the same.

SF: So can you think of anything that would be, like, a crucial part of Japanese American culture that would be attractive that, to keep people coming here, or that you'd like to pass on to future generations, or make sure it's preserved? What, what's left of Japanese American culture?

GH: Well, mostly, I guess, the art and religion. I could say music, but I'm not a musically inclined person, you know, so... but I think the arts and the religion, for one thing. And they have a, Japanese seem to -- especially Japanese -- they're, they have a.... I don't know, kind of a proud sense, like. You know, like, it isn't like... they don't work too well together in corporations and stuff, in business or... Chinese seem to do well, but Japanese can't seem to get together too well in business, but I think they have a certain amount of, a sense of personal pride, like. I think that goes even for the Sanseis and Yonseis.

SF: So what else do you think besides this pride is still found in Sanseis and Yonseis? Can you think of any other kind of character traits that Japanese Americans still have? I mean, is there something like... you mentioned sort of, sort of like honor or pride. Do you think that they...

GH: Well, they have this sense of trying hard, you know, and I think that was instilled by, by their, their parents or older people. I think that was instilled in them. You don't see too many low SAT scores on Asian people, because they try hard.

SF: So you still see that persisting, or lasting for quite a while yet, huh?

GH: Well, I think it, it'll continue on as long as, as long as the parents teach them that. I think that education was really important to the Isseis, even if they came over here young and didn't get much of an education in Japan, and didn't get much of an education here, they still stress that they wanted their kids to have an education.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

SF: So would your guess be that maybe a lot of the businesses in this area might go away, or they might change, or, and just the churches and the Boy Scouts and the museum and Yu-Ai Kai and those kind of more socially-oriented organizations would stay, but the businesses would go away? Or do you think that maybe the restaurants will stay and they'll cater to more Japanese nationals and hakujins, or the whites, or how do you see that evolving? What would be your best guess?

GH: Well, I can see the change already; you can see that they're making a change. The old, old-timers may still own a lot of the business, I mean, the buildings and stuff, but very few are actively in the business itself. And simply, I guess, because of the, the kids have gone to school more, they're engineers or professional doctors or something, and they're not going to run a grocery store or a restaurant or a garage with a Ph.D. or you know, with a MD or a DDS or something. They're not going to be out there pumping gas or fixing cars. So I think the change is, it's inevitable.

SF: So say, take something like the Buddhist Church that you're really familiar with. How do you see the Buddhist Church changing in, say, ten or fifteen years? Will it get smaller, will the members change so there'll be a lot more white people, or how do you see that changing?

GH: Well, the ratio of intermarriage is like, I don't know, thirty percent. So are you gonna, if the, if the parent, whoever is Japanese, is strong enough to bring 'em to the Buddhist Church, then it will continue. But if it, if it's stronger on the husband or wife's side that say, is some other religion, then they won't be here other than maybe grocery, buying groceries or something different once in a while, you know.

SF: Right. So you'd expect that the Buddhist Church might slowly become smaller?

GH: No. Well, yeah, a little bit, but I think that, like, in Colorado or New York, they're still maintaining their -- they're dropping off a little bit -- but they're still maintaining a pretty good level. But then, of course, the participation is, or the congregation is fifty percent other nationalities and maybe, maybe some places even lower than that.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

[Present-day exterior and interior shots of George's Service Center in San Jose, California's Japantown.]

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