Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Ujinobu Niwa Interview
Narrator: Ujinobu Niwa
Interviewer: Kristen Luetkemeier
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
Date: August 6, 2013
Densho ID: denshovh-nujinobu-01-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

KL: This is Kristen Luetkemeier from the Manzanar oral history project. I'm here with Ujinobu Niwa for an interview about his experiences before World War II, and then life at Manzanar and some of his adult life. He's actually being interviewed for the second time. There's an interview from a JACS grant with Laura Ing and Paul Watanabe that viewers should reference if they want to hear a more complete story. Operating the video camera is John Kepford from the National Park Service, Laura Ing is also in the room from the National Park Service, and also Emi Watanabe from the National Park Service are here taking notes and listening in. And it is August the 8th of 2013, we're here in the Fremont Hotel and Casino where we're all participating in the Manzanar reunion. So before we go any further, Ujinobu, do I have your permission to conduct this interview and record the conversation and make it available to the public?

UN: Yes, sure.

KL: We really, I really appreciate your willingness to be here. As I told you, I was really interested in hearing some of your, what you know about your parents' background and their experience. Your mom is part of our exhibits and our website, and so let's actually start off talking about her. Would you tell us your mother's name?

UN: My mother's name is Haruko Grace Niwa. And she came from Japan with her father because her brother was attending UC Berkeley at the time.

KL: What was her family name before she married?

UN: Her name was Hasegawa. And they came from... let's see, I'm sorry. Let's go on. [Laughs]

KL: You told me on the phone they were from Nagano?

UN: Yes, Nagano, and the city of Ueda.

KL: What was her... do you know anything about what her family's professions were, or what her home life was like?

UN: Her father at one time owned banks, and he was a banker. And Mother had a teahouse. And she grew up in this kind of environment. And her brother was at UC Berkeley studying economics.

KL: Why did he choose UC Berkeley?

UN: For some reason, he felt that he would get the best education by coming to America. And after he got his bachelor's degree, he went on to Columbia and got his advanced degrees, and he went back to Japan and became a professor of Waseda University. And at first he was... he became economic advisor to Tojo, and he went to Manchuria for Tojo. But when MacArthur defeated Japan, MacArthur elected to have him help him with the project to reconstruct Japan economically. And after he accomplished this, he came back to America on a Fulbright scholarship, and that's the first... and he lectured at Columbia and other universities. And then he came over to see my mother, and that's when I was able to meet him for the first time.

KL: What was his name?

UN: Koichi Hasegawa.

KL: Were there other children in the family they grew up in?

UN: Yes. My mother had an older sister, and she married into a family, and her daughters, one of 'em married... let's see. I can't think of the tool company right at the moment. Anyway, one of 'em, one of her children had a paving company, and during the war, they converted the paving company and also silk family, factory, and they converted the silk factory to a shoe factory and helped out with Japan's war effort. And another one of her children married into Makita tool company's family, and of course, we all know about Makita tool company. They sell tools here at the present.

KL: So that older sister, she remained in Japan?

UN: Yes. And then another daughter married a Buddhist priest, and he became the highest Buddhist priest in Japan. For a long time he was a Buddhist theological seminary professor, and eventually he became in charge of the Buddhist movement in Japan.

KL: Do you know what branch or a name for his philosophies?

UN: No. I should, but I can't recall right now, because I'm a Christian. [Laughs]

KL: What was the name of that older sister, your mother's older sister, do you recall?

UN: No.

KL: Did you ever meet her?

UN: No.

KL: So she was the oldest, and then who was next in that family, do you know?

UN: I think her brother was.

KL: Koichi?

UN: Yes.

KL: And then were there any other siblings?

UN: No.

KL: So your mom was the baby.

UN: Yeah. And she came, when she came over to see her brother here in America, I don't know what, how this happened, but they went to a Christian church, and she met my father. And they fell in love, and she, my father was a choir director of the church, and she started singing in the choir and eventually they got married.

KL: Did she plan to remain in the United States?

UN: She got married here in the United States.

KL: Did she just come thinking it would be a visit?

UN: She just came here for a visit, and it turned out to be her whole life.

KL: Do you know, did she ever speak about her dad's bank or her mother's teahouse, what they were like or who banked there?

UN: Well, no. I think she was... because her mother was busy, she was raised by a governess. They were very wealthy. And she also had interest in learning to speak English. And so from that connection, she went to, her high school was, she went to high school in Aoyama Gakuen, that is a Christian high school in Tokyo.

KL: Do you know how to spell it?

UN: Aoyama?

KL: Uh-huh.

UN: A-O-Y-A-M-A.

KL: Thank you.

UN: And so she, when she came over here, her English was pretty good.

KL: Why was she interested in English, did she ever tell you?

UN: I don't know. But then after they were married, my father was regional manager for a Japanese newspaper.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.