Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Eiko Yamaichi Interview
Narrator: Eiko Yamaichi
Interviewers: Larisa Proulx, Kristen Luetkemeier
Location: San Jose, California
Date: July 15, 2015
Densho ID: denshovh-yeiko-01-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

LP: We're doing an oral history interview with Eiko Yamaichi. Present in the room is Larisa Proulx, Park Service staff at the Tule Lake Unit, and Kristen Luetkemeier, park staff at Manzanar. And Eiko, do I have your permission to record this interview and for the Park Service to retain it and use it for educational purposes?

EY: [Nods].

LP: Okay. Can we start off by talking a little bit about when and where you were born?

EY: Where I was born?

LP: Yeah.

KY: I was born in Seattle, Washington, and I went to school there 'til I was in the fourth grade. And during that time, Depression happened, 1933 and on. And my father lost his position, he was the produce clerk. And he was working for a Japanese family on Jackson Street, and he lost his job, so in order to keep a roof over our head and feed us, why, he said he'd have to look for another job. So he did find one as a lumber sorter up in Snoqualmie Falls, Washington, and already there were quite a few Japanese men working and their families were housed in what was like a barrack, somewhat like the camp barracks, only that it was sectioned off to be like an apartment. And because my folks were poor, we just had bare walls for a long time, and my father decided that, gee, we should do something. So every month, the lumber, I guess is must be an association, made a booklet, and the pages were real stark white, and had fine black printing on it, and it was like a form of Reader's Digest, and it was bound by string. In those days, they didn't have staples. So my father said, "Well, let's start collecting that from all those people who looked at it casually anyway and threw it away." So he went around asking the neighbors if they would just give that up if they wanted to. So accumulated quite a few of those booklets, and we had enough so my father said, "Why don't we just undo that and use the pages as a wallpaper?" So my job was to take the string off and stack it up, and then my father made a paste out of rice and squashed it off and mixed it with water. Then we started pasting one end through, then it was a wallpaper. But anyway, that's going way ahead of my time. [Laughs]

LP: So what are your parents' names?

EY: Parents? My father's name was Toshio, and people called him Tom, I guess it started with T. There was no connection otherwise. And my mother's name was Itsume, I-T-S-U-M-E, And he met her in Japan, and I don't know whether it was an arranged marriage or whether it was kind of like love attraction or what, but she was fairly good-looking, and my father was a good-looking man, too. And so I don't know what kind of a spiel he gave her, but anyway, she came here, and I think she was very disappointed. She had visions that America had lots of gold pouring on the street and this kind of thing, like fantasy, like everyone else. But my mother had to become a chambermaid. I don't know if they owned the hotel or whether it was part of someone's, and they were just managing it or what. But she became a chambermaid and my father, too. So when I came along, that's what they were doing. Unfortunate part about my story is that I never asked my parents what they did, how they grew up or anything, so that's a total blank for me, and I think it's sad. And I find that to be true with quite a few of us, and so when I do go out to talk, I tell the children, I said, "Just ask Mom and Dad, 'how was it growing up? What did you do?'" and all this kind of thing. Because I missed that. And as I said, it was sad. But anyway, that's done.

LP: So are they first generation?

EY: Yes. Actually, my father was born in Hawaii, but in those days, they didn't keep records, you know. So there was no proof that he was born there, so when war came along, he had to get a blue card like the rest of the Japanese men and women who came over here. So he has no proof to say that he was born in Hawaii, so he was considered an Issei. I never questioned it, even in my later life I never did. He accepted it, he never complained or anything. But now in my mature years, I think that I should have done it, but who's to say?

LP: Right. And then what about your mom?

EY: My mom, she was born in, I think, Kumamoto, Japan, I think it was Kyushu Island. And I really don't know her background, but from what my aunt says... how did she put it? There was a word she used. But anyway, my thought was that she came from a well-to-do family, but she really didn't. She's just from an average family. But she was just disillusioned about the whole thing, and I think her whole life she felt that way. She became a hypochondriac, so then by seven years old, I was cooking and doing all the house chores.

LP: Did you get a sense of how large their respective families were growing up? Did they have many siblings or do you recall any aunts, uncles?

EY: Most of our few friends that we did have, they averaged about four. Not like the Yamaichis where (there) were tens and then all those around there, all the farm people. I remember my father-in-law saying that every time he went from the ranch to the house, the neighbors thought that he was going at it, but actually, mother was working out in the field, so that was not true. [Laughs] But Jimi is one of ten, so that's okay, and there's many around here who did the same.

LP: And what about your siblings? It looked maybe you were one of a few kids?

EY: Yeah. I'm the oldest of three, and my next brother is two years younger, and then the other one was six years younger. Unfortunately, he died just before his sixtieth birthday. My other sibling, his name was Sam, and the one who passed on is Gary. My brother Sam lives down in Bellflower, but we don't connect together, unfortunately. Just the three of us.

LP: So were they all born in Washington?

EY: Yes.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2015 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.