Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Robert Katsuto Fujioka Interview
Narrator: Robert Katsuto Fujioka
Interviewer: Kristen Luetkemeier
Location: Santa Ana, California
Date: June 20, 2012
Densho ID: denshovh-frobert-01-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

KL: This is Kristen Luetkemeier of Manzanar National Historic Site. I'm here at Video Resources Studio in Santa Ana, California, interviewing Robert Fujioka. It's June 20, 2012, and we'll be talking today about Robert's childhood in Los Angeles before World War II, his time in Manzanar, his relocation to the Midwest, his time in the army, and then his career and family life after the war, and whatever else comes up. And with us are Ashley Nottingham, she's the videographer, and some of the staff members of Video Resources are also in the room, and Mary Fujioka is also here with us, Robert's wife. So before we start, do I have your permission to conduct the interview and to make it public in Manzanar's library?

RF: Yes, you do.

KL: Okay. Well, thank you very much. I also have some of the writing that you've done about your life, and so I'm going to be looking at that to ask questions. And you talked some about your parents and your grandparents, so I wonder if you can tell us about your parents and your grandparents.

RF: My father was from Fukuoka which is on the island of Kyushu, and he came as a teenager to the United States in 1906. He landed in San Francisco just at the time of the great earthquake. He didn't tell us very much about his experiences then, but I know that he did quite a variety of things, to the point where he even learned to master the art of cooking. Although he did not have that as a career until after relocation. And he and Mom relocated to the east, and they were domestics. My father did the cooking, and my mother did the housekeeping chores. And surprisingly, my dad was a real good cook of gourmet foods, not necessarily Japanese. In fact, I don't think he even liked Japanese food, from what I recall.

KL: Maybe he took cooking to learn other styles. [Laughs] He studied cooking in San Francisco?

RF: No, I think he learned it as a, when he was working as a domestic, and when he first came over, because those were the only kind of jobs they could get, things like farming and trucking, and just ordinary labor work. But my life with him was as a, well, he was a gardener living in West Los Angeles. My mother on the other hand, her father, my grandfather, her father came to the United States by himself, left his wife and my mother, who was, I think, about twelve or thirteen at the time, in Japan. And my mother's sister, who was about one or two years old, (when he) left for the United States. (When) he was in Japan, he was, from what I heard, a, what do you call it, a troubadour, went town to town performing different plays and things like that.

KL: He was part of a troop, a group of actors?

RF: I don't know whether he was part of a troop or not. All I know is that that was what his occupation was.

KL: What was his name?

RF: What was his name now? My mother's maiden name is Itagaki. And I think his first name was Yoshiro. And anyway, he came to the United States by himself, trying to establish himself here. And spent fifteen years before he went back to Japan to collect his family and bring them back to the United States. So by then my mother was in her, I believe it was in her early twenties. That doesn't make... the numbers don't make up. Something like that. They brought the family over here, and then my mother and father were married here in the United States.

KL: Did your grandfather continue to be an actor in the United States?

RF: No. He and Grandma had a dry cleaning business on South San Pedro Street and near Washington Boulevard. And I have a lot of childhood memories going down to see Grandma and Grandpa every Sunday, driving from Sawtelle to their establishment on San Pedro Street, which was about a couple miles south of Little Tokyo. In fact, I was born in a house on Eighteenth Street, which is just around the corner from the dry cleaning store. I used to always go there because it was an interesting experience coming from sort of a countryside village to the middle of downtown. And so it was an interesting experience just being there.

KL: Was it exciting?

RF: Yeah, getting to see lots of cars and people.

KL: Did your grandfather work in, with dry cleaning and clothes and stuff before his family came to the U.S., do you think?

RF: That I don't know. In fact, after the war, he set up a dry cleaning store in Boyle Heights. And then my uncle, who was the (second child) of the family, he set up a dry cleaning store in Boyle Heights as well. So that's our family, their careers was in dry cleaning. My grandfather, it turns out, had quite a famous uncle. Was it uncle or great uncle? I'm not sure.

KL: Your great uncle.

RF: Great uncle, okay. And his name was Itagaki Taisuke. And he's very well-known in the history of democracy coming into Japan, he's known as a freedom fighter. And we didn't really discover that until probably the last ten years.

KL: How did you learn that?

RF: One of my cousins had heard about that and started to explore it on the internet. It turns out that he's famous enough to have had statues in several locations. In fact, my son and his girlfriend just recently came back from a two and a half week trip to explore his family roots as well as to visit the statues. One was in the island of... one is in Kochi on the island of Shikoku, the second one is a statue in Gifu, and the third statue is in Nikko just outside the front gates of the Nikko... what was the emperor that was the palace there? Do you remember the name of the samurai? Tokugawa. It's the Tokugawa shrine in Nikko. And he also was on several monetary notes, I think it's the hundred yen note, fifty yen note. And apparently they study about him quite often in school, because anytime I mention it to someone, I relay that, their eyes perk up, and, "Well..."

KL: "Let me tell you." [Laughs]

RF: Because they all studied him, they probably know more about him than I do.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2012 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.