Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Toyoko Okumura Interview
Narrator: Toyoko Okumura
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Denver, Colorado
Date: July 6, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-otoyoko-01-0021

<Begin Segment 21>

TI: So how long were you in Japan?

TO: Forty-one years.

TI: Forty-one years. So what, so explain why -- and did your father and mother, did they stay in Japan all this time?

TO: That's right. My dad passed away when he was... let's see, how old was he? He lived to be seventy-nine. My mother lived to be a hundred, you see. So I stuck with her and my crippled sister, so I couldn't return to the United States. I did return for vacation off and on, and just took care of my crippled sister.

TI: And so, so eventually your sister died.

TO: In Japan, yeah.

TI: And your mother died? And then after that, is that when you decided to come back to the United States?

TO: That's right. And she used to say, says, "Mother's living too long, that's why you have to stay here." And she says, she always says, "I'm living too long." She was in good health.

TI: That's fortunate that she was able to live such a long life. And during this time when she was living, though, these forty-one years, did you always think you would come back to the United States?

TO: Oh, she always mentioned it. "Once Mama dies," she would say, "you go back to the United States, because that's your country."

TI: During those forty-one years, did you ever visit the United States?

TO: Oh yes, uh-huh.

TI: So you came back and saw friends.

TO: About five times I came back and forth.

TI: So you, in those forty-one years, saw a lot of change in Japan.

TO: Oh, yes.

TI: I'm thinking you actually got there...

TO: Right after the war.

TI: ...after the war, and then even through their, eventually their boom years, too, in the '80s. So describe, what were the biggest changes you saw in Japan?

TO: In five years, it was amazing how Japan could turn from a torn country into a modern... everything was coming up, buildings. In about five years, Japan was right on their own feet.

TI: So by the mid-'50s, kind of in '55 or so, they were already back on their feet?

TO: Uh-huh, that's right.

TI: And then from then, it kept changing, too. It just kept growing.

TO: That's right. Japanese are hard workers. [Laughs]

TI: Now, when people found out that you were Nisei, that you were a U.S. citizen, born and pretty much raised in the United States, how did people react to that?

TO: They envied me because I could speak the language, English. [Laughs] "Oh, you're so lucky," they said.

TI: And during this forty-one years, did you have that same job, or did you have different jobs?

TO: I was first working for the American army for about five years. But then our relatives all went in pearl business, so I got to pearls, selling pearls. That was really great. I mean, people, American people all wanted pearls, so that's how I started. When I talk about pearls, then they said, "Why don't you start a pearl business instead of working for the army?" So I said, "Well, that's a good idea, I'm going to do that," and I did.

TI: And so when you say pearl business, so it was like retail, selling to primarily Americans?

TO: That's right.

TI: Like Tokyo? Is that where you did this?

TO: No, army, I mean, different base.

TI: Oh, to army bases.

TO: Uh-huh.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.