Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Saburo Masada Interview
Narrator: Saburo Masada
Interviewer: Kristen Luetkemeier
Location: Fresno, California
Date: September 11, 2014
Densho ID: denshovh-msaburo-01-0001

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KL: Today is September the 11th, 2014. This is Kristen Luetkemeier speaking, a Park Ranger with the Manzanar Oral History Project, here today in the Fresno home of Saburo and Marion Masada, for an interview with Saburo. And my colleague Mark Hatchmann is here in the room, he's operating the camera, and Marion is here, also in their, also in the house. So before we start with the questions, I just want to confirm that I have your permission to be having this conversation and to record it for the public.

SM: You do.

KL: Thank you. Thank you. Well, this, some of this will be somewhat repetitive of earlier this morning, but if someone watches your interview and doesn't watch Miyo's, I want to ask you some of the same questions about your family background. So what can you tell me, first, about your mother and her background?

SM: Well, let's see, I know that she came around 1918 as a picture bride and was married to my father, who was the brother of my auntie, who was lonesome and wanted her nice to come to be with her and also get married to her husband's brother.

KL: What was your mother's name?

SM: Nobuye, and sometimes it's spelled with a Y-E, but that's the way I spell it -- sometimes it's just U-E -- and she was a teacher in Japan before she came, and so the life here was very hard for her, being on the farm and being a very short person, probably four, she was probably 4'10".

KL: Do you know anything about her educational background, becoming a teacher, and her life in Japan?

SM: No, all I know is that she graduated to become a teacher and she enjoyed, she said, teaching and... and so her teaching background probably had a lot to do with her sharing a lot children's stories and songs while we grew up.

KL: Do you remember any favorites of yours or hers?

SM: Well, just like the American folk stories, Japan had these folk stories and they were well-known and they were all wonderful. There was an interesting thing that she told, one story, this great man -- I forgot his name now, but he was, he grew up very poor and he didn't have, and the family couldn't afford any oil for lamp, and so in his ingenuity he went out and caught fireflies and oiled the paper bag and put the fireflies in there, and he studied under the light of the fireflies. When we went to Jerome we had fireflies all over, and so I said I might do that, so I oiled a paper bag and I caught the fireflies, put it in there and shut the light off, and I couldn't see a thing. [Laughs] And so I thought, oh, that must be just a story, about this great man who was so devoted to study. But someone told me that in Brazil, or South America, they put the firefly on their shoelace so they could walk through the jungle. I can't imagine that, but maybe they're huge ones and maybe there's tiny ones like we had at Rohwer, or Jerome.

KL: Yeah, the fireflies were new to you, huh, being from California?

SM: Yeah, that's right. And it was fascinating. So I don't know the answer to that question, are there fireflies that's bright enough to study under, or was that just a good story to inspire us to study hard?

KL: Is, you can't hear anything? You're okay?

MH: I'm good. We're good.

KL: Okay. What... where was your mother from in Japan?

SM: From Kagawa ken. I don't know the town, Toyohama or something like that.

KL: Do you know anything about her family?

SM: Well, I know she had three sisters, and after her, after her father died they couldn't afford to raise the four girls, and maybe there was one brother, and so they had to give up one of the, the youngest sister. And the one right above her, Miyo -- not Miyo, but I guess her daughter said that her mother told her she cried, "Please don't, please don't give up our, my sister, my younger sister." But they had to do it, so she was given to a family somewhere else and they went to, I think Korea or Manchuria. I think's Korea. She and her husband died and left two children, and those were taken care of by my mother's mother. She raised them.

KL: Who was your father? What was his name?

SM: Ihei. Ihei, and I know very little about his background.

KL: And you said he had a brother here in the United States?

SM: Uh-huh.

KL: What was his name?

SM: Teisuke. In that record, which I don't remember the name, there was another older brother.

KL: In their family.

SM: Uh-huh.

KL: Did that person come to California?

SM: Not, I don't think so, just the two of them.

KL: Did your dad ever talk about his reasons for immigrating?

SM: No. I didn't speak Japanese and he didn't speak English, so there wasn't much conversation. And I was pretty small, so I wasn't interested in those questions at that time.

KL: When you think of your father from your early memories of childhood, what, what words describe him?

SM: Well, you know, I really didn't know him too well, and he became ill when, I must've been young, fairly young, and so I don't know if his stroke affected his speech or not, but Miyo had a close relationship with him, remembers him well. But as far as I'm concerned, he was working hard, then he got a stroke and then we wouldn't communicate. But I remembered one incident before he had his stroke. I don't know if I was in grammar school yet or not, but I remember since I was not -- so I wasn't in school, I was home, and my father and mother was trying to harness the horse so they can get work done, and for some reason he was frustrated because he couldn't get something done and my mother wasn't able to help in the way he wanted her to. And so I remember his getting very angry and didn't hit her, but he threatened to, threatened her, and I remember she cowered in fear and... but that's all I remember about that. And I never saw him drunk, but I think Miyo said he drank and sometimes he was, got drunk, but I've never, I don't recall any of that.

KL: What about your mother? What was her character and personality?

SM: She was a, I guess a typical, very good mother. She used to carry me on her back when she went out to work, tying the vines or pruning or whatever, and she used to sing songs and tell me these stories about these great men, or great people in Japan.

KL: Do you have a sense of what she, what she thought about life on the ranch when you knew her?

SM: No, except that, no, I never heard her complain, but according to Miyo she hated coming to America and having to work when she wasn't physically able to do much hard work. But I never heard her complain.

KL: And tell me again, what was the relationship between her and her sister-in-law? Were they already niece and aunt, or cousins?

SM: Yeah, niece and aunt. And so all I heard was that, "We'll go to the house of the other woman," because I thought the word they used for auntie also meant woman, so it's always, "Let's go to the other woman's house." I didn't realize they were saying, "Let's go to Auntie's house." And I never knew she was my aunt; I just knew she was my cousin's mother. I didn't find that out until years later.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2014 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.