Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Shirley Nagatomi Okabe Interview
Narrator: Shirley Nagatomi Okabe
Interviewer: Alisa Lynch
Location: San Jose, California
Date: January 30, 2013
Densho ID: denshovh-oshirley-01-0004

<Begin Segment 4>

AL: So do you know how he was summoned to Los Angeles?

SO: Well, it was under... I think it was not Buddhist Churches of America, that came later. So I think it was the Northern American Buddhist Society, and I think they kind of determined where you were assigned, and perhaps they needed a person in Los Angeles.

AL: So was it a situation where they would tell you where to go, kind of like you think of the military, that he didn't elect where to go.

SO: Right, right.

AL: Do you know if there was ever any talk of them leaving your sister Dee in Japan?

SO: No, because she was very young then when they went. And then so she came back with them.

AL: To Los Angeles. Do you know where they lived in Los Angeles?

SO: I think they had facilities at the church, because I couldn't find an address for Los Angeles.

AL: So was he at Nishi Hongwanjii?

SO: Yes.

AL: And that's the one that's right next to the museum, right? The old Nishi Hongwanjii temple?

SO: Uh-huh.

AL: So he lived somewhere near there?

SO: Yeah, 'cause I couldn't get, I couldn't find a house address for them. So perhaps, because that was a pretty large place.

AL: It still is.

SO: So I think they may have lived there.

AL: Have you been in it since it's been restored?

SO: No.

AL: It's kind of a... I did an interview with Jack Kunitomi, Sue Embrey's older brother, who was born in 1915. And so he talked about -- this is, I'm sure, before your father's time there -- but how when they used to have funerals there, I think it was Fukui Mortuary even then.

SO: Oh, really?

AL: And when they would have bodies down in the basement there, that the kids used to sneak in there and scare each other, look at the bodies and run out. And he had all these stories about that temple that, like I said, would be before your father's time.

SO: I think so, I think so.

AL: Definitely makes you think a little differently. I don't know what year it was built.

SO: Yeah, I'm not sure.

AL: It's been there a long time.

SO: Yeah, it has.

AL: So do you know how many ministers they had there at Nishi Hongwanjii at the time? Was he the only one?

SO: No, no, they had multiple ministers. I can't even take a guess, but at least four or five. And they would serve all the neighboring communities, so they'd go to different areas, driving distance.

AL: So what would the typical day of a minister be? I mean, I know that people have talked about like Sunday services, but what would he do typically during his day or his week?

SO: Well, when he was the minister he was like the head bookkeeper, and they didn't have a secretary so he did a lot of that, like secretarial work, and he used to put out the newspaper.

AL: What was the newspaper called?

SO: I don't remember. I remember him running the mimeograph machine, and it was the type where you had carbon and then you'd just turn the machine.

AL: So when he was the... I mean, I'm sure that being with people in America was very different than culture in Japan. Did you have any sense of kind of where he was most culturally comfortable? Like in the United States, obviously he stayed here versus Japan. Do you have any sense of where he felt most at home?

SO: Probably Japan because of the language. But he did learn to speak... I was surprised, in one of the papers, it said he speaks some English, so during one of the interviews I guess he spoke some English. But he was self-motivated to learn, so he learned, he could write beautifully, so his writing in English was very nice.

AL: And what about your mom, did she learn English?

SO: No, she never did. She never did.

AL: So when you were a child, did they speak to you primarily in Japanese?

SO: Yes, I didn't speak English 'til I got to Manzanar.

AL: There were a lot of children, there's reports about that first year, how many, I forget the percentage, but a large percentage of children did not speak English. So you were next after Dee, is that right?

SO: Yes, I'm the third child, second daughter.

AL: So you were born in Los Angeles?

SO: No, San Francisco.

AL: Okay, so that's right, let's back up. So how did he end up going from Los Angeles to San Francisco?

SO: I think it was just, I guess San Francisco needed a minister, so we were assigned over there, so that's how we got there.

AL: And what was the church in San Francisco and where is it located?

SO: It's at 1881 Pine Street, still there. And then I think while we were there, they were building a new church.

AL: Is it still an active church?

SO: Yes, it's a very active church.

AL: And it's called San Francisco Buddhist Church?

SO: Yes.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.