Densho Digital Archive
Japanese American National Museum Collection
Title: Wally Yonamine Interview
Narrator: Wally Yonamine
Interviewers: Art Hansen (primary); John Esaki (secondary)
Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
Date: December 16, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-ywally-01-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

AH: ... by Art Hansen and John Esaki of the Japanese American National Museum's Media Arts Center. Also present at the interview is technical assistant Amy Kato of Visual Communications. The interview is being done for the National Museum's Nikkei Legacy Project. The date of the interview is Tuesday, December 16, 2003. The time of the interview is approximately 1:30 pm. The interview is being held at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu, Hawaii. Mr. Yonamine, a native of Hawaii, is a living legend as a sports superstar, having played professional football and baseball in the United States before compiling an illustrious thirty-eight-year career in Japanese professional baseball as a player, coach, manager and scout. How are you doing?

WY: Okay. [Laughs]

AH: Can I call you Wally for this interview?

WY: Sure, sure.

AH: Thank you very much, Wally. I'd like to start by talking a little bit about... you know, we say that you're an American of Japanese ancestry, and I want to find a little bit about that ancestry. You've spent time in Japan, so you have an opportunity, probably, to do a little bit of looking into your family background. But what do you know about your ancestors? Let's start with your father's side -- where they lived, kind of work they did, etcetera. How far back can you go?

WY: Well, maybe about ten... ten, twelve years ago, I went to Okinawa. This is where my father was born, see. And I went to Okinawa, and I was very lucky to see where he was born. So I went, and I met my relatives, you know. So, when I went there, all around the house is all cane fields. You know, and lot of times, in those days, way back, maybe sixty, seventy years ago, they raised pigs right in the yard. So when I went there, they had a couple pigs around that area right there. So, but I was happy to go there because I haven't met my relatives at all. Going to Okinawa in train there, I had the chance of meeting my relatives in Okinawa. And at first, you know, they were kind of leery that I wasn't going to talk to them because they heard about me so much in, you know, playing baseball in Japan, that they were afraid to even call me. And, but I had everything ready. When I went to Okinawa from Tokyo, I had candies and whiskey and signed autographs from all these great ballplayers in Japan, because I thought if they do call me, I can give them all that. And so, when they called me, I invited them to my hotel and I gave them all candies and whiskies and signed autographs. So they were so happy because they didn't think that they would, they would have a chance at guys like Nagashima, Mr. Oh. You know, they were so... he's a legend in Tokyo, you know, I got all those balls for them, you know. So they were happy on that.

AH: And who was it that you were seeing in your family when you went there, in Okinawa? What would have been their relationship to you?

WY: My, my auntie and my uncle, and they had, and some of my cousins were there, too.

AH: So, it was your father's side.

WY: Right.

AH: And did your father ever tell you about his parents?

WY: Not too much. Not too much, because, see, my mother, she was a Nisei here in Hawaii. And so when my father was seventeen years old, he came from, came from Okinawa, came to Hawaii, met my mother, and so, in Hawaii... see, I didn't know too much about the Okinawan people because my mother was... what do you call it? Naichi. So, so I used to hang around just on my mother's side. So I didn't know too much about my father's side.

AH: You obviously never met your grandparents, then, on your dad's side.

WY: No, I didn't.

AH: And when, what was the year, approximately, your father came over here?

WY: Oh, boy. I would say at least about... he lived until he was ninety-eight years old, so I would say at least... I hate to guess because I really don't know. [Laughs]

AH: Well, in the last century, I mean, in two centuries -- in the 19th or the 20th century, did he come over?

WY: Nineteenth century, I guess.

AH: Really? And did he come over straight to Maui, or did he go to Honolulu first?

WY: He came direct to Maui, yeah.

AH: Really? And in the, in the area where you were born, did he come to that?

WY: Yes.

AH: And what was he doing there?

WY: He was a tractor driver in the cane field, you know, making lines. So when the plant-, the sugarcane, you know, sugar in the cane, he used to make that line so that he can draw that cane right in there, that line there.

AH: Did he ever tell you that, in Japan, he came from a farming family? Or that his family were, were agricultural workers?

WY: No, he didn't say anything like that. But, like, when I went to Okinawa, I saw, I saw where he was born, and I used to see all, where the home and the cane fields was around the house. So, I feel, "Well, he must have been working in there when he was a little boy."

AH: And so the place there remained pretty constant over the course of a hundred years, didn't it?

WY: Oh, yeah. I think it was worse before, because I remember the early '50s, I brought my mother and father to Tokyo. And I, I had them go to Okinawa, because he hasn't been home for so long. And my mother also went with them. And that's when my mother was born in Hawaii. So the first night, my mother stayed with my dad at their house and they had pigs all around, that air was so smelly that she refused to stay there a second night. [Laughs]

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.