Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Karlene Koketsu
Narrator: Karlene Koketsu
Interviewer: Richard Potashin
Location: San Jose, California
Date: April 15, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-kkarlene-01-0002

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RP: Well, let's delve a little bit into your family background. First of all, your father, what was his name?

KK: Karl Katsujiro Nakanishi.

RP: Can you spell his first name for us?

KK: K-A-T-S-U-J-I-R-O.

RP: And where did he come from in Japan?

KK: He came from Wakayama-ken and I can't remember, I think his... he came from an area called Shimotsu, which was my mother's maiden name. So I'm not, I'm not positive about that.

RP: Wakayama, many immigrants came from that area.

KK: His family had oranges, grew oranges. His grandfather grew oranges but his father came to this country when my father was two and then my father came here as a teenager because his mother was not well and so he wanted his father to come back to Japan. But he really didn't know him, his father, because he was here in the States.

RP: And what was your father's father's name?

KK: I think it was Takanaga, T-A-K-A-N-A-G-A, Takanaga.

RP: And you said he came here when your dad was two and where did he settle?

KK: Actually he had a... ran a ranch in the Pacific Palisades area.

RP: Like a foreman of a ranch?

KK: I'm not sure exactly. My father said he ran the ranch so I would assume that might have been his position.

RP: Your father came over to persuade him to go back to Japan.

KK: Uh-huh. And then his intention was to go to school. I think he was about fifteen and he was born in 1904 so he was fifteen.

RP: They came about 1919, 1920?

KK: His father apparently had not sent money home to his family and his mother raised seven children I believe or -- excuse me -- some of them may have been grown because my father was the youngest and there was seventeen years, I mean, seven years between his, I believe his sister and my father. So, I don't think... he didn't really tell us a whole lot, he remembers his childhood in Japan and talked about the oranges and how they had lanterns with their family crest on them and things like that, but other than that, he didn't talk very much about it.

RP: So did his father eventually return to Japan?

KK: He did, he did return to Japan. But he had helped many people here in the States and so people were very helpful to my dad when he came.

RP: And your dad had plans to attend school here, and did he?

KK: No, he didn't because the farm required, you know, help and people on the farm required help. So he said that he worked so hard at one time he had lost his sight but he said, every day he would look over the fields, on the green fields, and eventually he got his sight back. [Laughs] I mean, that's just a story, you know, that I remember hearing as a child.

RP: So your father took over his father's situation when he went back to Japan he kind of stepped into his shoes and ran this ranch?

KK: The ranching, right.

RP: Do you know what this ranch produced? Was it a --

KK: Well, he talked about strawberries but I don't know what else. So I'm not sure whether this... you know, that's historically correct or not but that's what I remember. And, you know, he may have moved or...

RP: Can you give us some of your personal insights into your father?

KK: He was a very quiet, gentle man. And after he was in his late seventies almost eighty when he had an aneurism first and it... up until that time he did calligraphy for many years and so he thought that that was what he would do when he retired. Because up until that time, he was doing small gardening jobs -- excuse me -- in and around the neighborhood. He was still driving up until that time but he was unable to do that because he lost partial sight and you know how you have to align the calligraphy and he wasn't able to do that. So he started writing poetry, senryu, it's similar to... it's kind of a humorous take on life and it's like haiku, I think they use, you know, the syllables, they count the syllables. So he would carry a little tablet in his pocket and pen and then he'd take it out every now and then and he'd be, you know, counting out syllables and writing. But I think he was, probably learned that sort of thing as a child in Japan they must have taught him. He also kept a journal and he was an excellent gardener, you know, people would give him plants that didn't seem to be doing very well and he'd plunk it in the ground and they would flourish.

RP: Were there any other members of his family that came to America?

KK: His older brother, but they were not close, they were not close. Also around the time that I was born, he had a market in the... not a market, a restaurant in the market area of downtown, the produce market area.

RP: He had a restaurant there. This was after he left the ranch?

KK: Yes, I think so. Well, that was after he had gotten married. My parents were married in November of 1922 I believe, I mean, '32.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.