Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Jean Matsumoto Interview
Narrator: Jean Matsumoto
Interviewer: Kristen Luetkemeier
Location: Portland, Oregon
Date: July 10, 2012
Densho ID: denshovh-mjean-01-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

KL: And let me just say first that I'm Kristen Luetkemeier, park ranger from Manzanar National Historic Site, and I'm here with Jean Matsumoto. It is July the 10th, 2012, and we are recording an oral history interview. With us in the room also are Tomiko Takeuchi, Denver Kessler, Dennis Chapel, and Steve Kammeyer, and they're all assisting with recording and various technical aspects. And, Jean, I wanted to ask you, do I have your permission to conduct this interview and to record it and make it available to the public?

JM: Yes.

KL: Thank you, thanks for being here. I wanted to talk first about the family that you grew up in, your parents, and a little bit about their background. So let's start with your father. What was your father's name?

JM: My father was Kametaro Matsumoto. I think they called him George... my father was a hotel manager, and he leased the hotel we lived in because he wasn't allowed to purchase property. So he leased his job where he could collect the money and keep the hallways clean, and clean the bathrooms, and change the sheets, that sort of thing, in a hotel down on First and Pine here in Portland. Sixty-nine Southwest Pine Street. It was outside of Nihonmachi, but we were pretty close to the Japanese community.

KL: You said he came to the United States as a pretty young man?

JM: Yes, he came at the age of eighteen in 1900. And I just can't comprehend how he could do that. He was the oldest of the family, so was supposed to stay in Japan and take care of his younger brothers and sisters, and, of course, inherit the property. But like I said, I think he was trying to avoid the draft, I think it's the Sino, between the Sino and the Russo-Japan War. He came over with a buddy of his, and he had a younger brother who was just days old, or weeks old. And when Dad and I went back to Japan, it was pretty emotional. And we were told to look for someone that, they sent us this picture, the picture was twenty years old, and that was when I realized we all looked alike. [Laughs] Because we went into the airport and I thought, "Oh, there they are," and said, "No, that's not them. There they are." And then we saw this man that looked just like my dad holding up a sign that said "Matsumoto," and that's the only Japanese characters that I could read, and I knew that that was the two brothers, two younger brothers, and his sister had sent their son to meet us. And so the younger brother said he's finally meeting his big brother, and so I assume there's eighteen or nineteen years' difference between the two of them. But he also looked just like my father except he was taller. And then the brother that was next youngest was there. And then in the meantime, or maybe the one next to my father had passed away, but I think there were two sisters and at least three brothers in Japan. So anyway, but it just... and the things my father did, he worked in the sugar beets in Idaho, he worked in canneries in Canada. And he stayed unmarried for a long time. And he worked as a bellhop at the Benson Hotel, but certainly... and I don't know exactly, but he said he learned to read and write from a Native American.

KL: Where did he come in to this country, through Seattle, or do you know?

JM: I think in... I was thinking it was Vancouver, Washington, area. But he didn't, definitely never knew exactly where... oh, recently we got the list of where people arrived, and I don't know whether, on which ship they came to the United States. And I think there might be something that, I looked it up once, but I can't remember exactly where it was. And he was active here in the Oregon Buddhist Church as early as 1925, but he still wasn't married yet. But he learned that my grandparents who were his peers in Japan, were farming up in Bainbridge Island.

KL: [Sneezes] Excuse me.

JM: So he went up there to visit them. And my mother, who was twenty-two, my father was forty-six, and I made up the story that my grandparents twisted his arm, begged him to marry her and take her off the farm, because she hated it. She had come over when she was sixteen, and she hated the strawberry picking, the hoeing, the weeding, the planting, and she had done that from the time she came. I think she might have been pampered when she was left back in Japan when my grandparents came over first, and when she came over she had two younger sisters here. And my mother and her younger brother were left in Japan, and they probably were pampered by grandparents and aunts and uncles in Japan until she was sixteen. And then she comes over to America, and she just hated, it sounded like she worked forever on the farm, but I figured she was twenty-two and sixteen was only six years. But he did save her, and he brought her to Portland eventually and really made a city gal out of her.

KL: Where was she from in Japan?

JM: Same place in Japan, Hidaka-cho, Wakayama-ken. So when...

KL: Is it pretty rural, too?

JM: Yes, it was all rice farming, and I think that's what my relatives there did. Dad and I went back, I always have to look up the visa because I can't remember what year it was. But we went back with a church group from Ontario, the Idaho-Oregon, Buddhist temple minister took a group back to Japan. And we went with them, and just the transportation back and forth, we went with a group. Oh, in fact, we came back on our own, but we went with them. And once we got there, we were able to go our own way, so the two brothers and the nephew met us at the airport. And so once we finally got (there), we went from Tokyo, we landed in Tokyo and went to Kyoto, I think, for a few days, Kyoto, and then to Osaka, because that's where one of the brothers lived, and then to his home place. And the house that the brother lived in was on the same property where he was born, but it was a newer house. And my dad led the way to the cemetery to pay respects to his parents. So in all those years... because he was in his eighties when we went, and that was his first time.

KL: And that was the first time he had been back.

JM: Then I don't know if you know the story of Urashima Taro, but it's about somebody who goes back after, or it's sort of like he slept for a number of years and goes back, but that's what they called him. But he knew the way to the cemetery. Of course, then my mother worked with my dad in the hotel business, she helped him with the...

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