Densho Digital Archive
Oregon Nikkei Endowment Collection
Title: Michiko Kornhauser Interview
Narrator: Michiko Kornhauser
Interviewer: Stephan Gilchrist
Date: September 23, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-kmichiko_2-01-0002

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SG: And how old was your mom when you were born?

MK: That following year, I was born, 1936. Every time, my father was a navy officer and then very bright person I was told. And then my father came from a very poor family, but he did extremely well. You know, if you know the Japanese history what happened to people in Fukushima prefecture at the time of Meiji Restoration, because of the rivalry between Satsuma and so on, and then the Fukushima people were really tormented and thrown out, and as a result, they became very poor. But my father obviously did well at school, so he was sent to Asaka, Asahi Chugakko and high school. And then from there, he went to navy school in particularly in accounting and supplies. So he became a supply and maintenance officer.

SG: So you were raised mostly on Japanese military bases?

MK: Yes, that's correct. I was born in Nagasaki. Immediately after that, we were sent to Yokosuka as well as Kure and then Maizuru. I was all over the place, so I have no hometown that I can think of. Wherever I go becomes my hometown.

SG: What was it like growing up on a Japanese military base?

MK: It was very interesting. It was very different from the rest of the population because I had no friends, and my mother was very careful about choosing my friend. And then mostly, I had maids to play with and then my siblings to play with, and I'm the oldest daughter. And then every time my father came back from the sea, most of the time, he was on the ship and going all over the world. And every time he came home, my mother got pregnant. [Laughs] As a result, I had a lot of siblings. And then my brother was born right away, Masataka, and Masanobu was born in the four years later, and then my sister was born five years later, and then I was able to play with my younger siblings. And my father was married before, twice, and so had a son, but then he was nine years older than I was, so I hardly saw him. For example, when we went, my father was stationed in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, to open the navy port, my brother didn't come, so I hardly got to know my brother. I always liked him, but I didn't know him.

SG: What was school like at the naval bases?

MK: Well, there is no schools on navy bases, no, that's, but we went to, well, the war started in December 7, 1941. At the time, we were living in Yokosuka, Kamakura, and then my father commuted to Yokosuka, and I wasn't at school at the time. And then after he was stationed in Okayama, the Beppu area in Okayama, Bessho, yeah, Bessho in Okayama, then I began to start school, yeah.

SG: What was that like?

MK: At first, my father believed in public school system, so I, for the first grade, I went to public school. And then I couldn't understand the language in Okayama dialect, and they tormented me, the other kids tormented me. I just said, tried to say thank you, but I grew up, my mother was from Tokyo, so I grew up with Tokyo dialect, and so I say, arigatou gozaimasu and then people didn't know. I was supposed to say okimi. I didn't know. So I went, something happened, so I said, gomen nasai, and they laughed at me and said I was not saying the right words. I never liked it. On top of it, obviously, I was born left handed, and then my mother made sure that I would be normal, so I had to use right hand. I couldn't draw a line. And then it was a torture to be at school, and everything just compounded, and I hated that school. So my father was sent to New Guinea in 1943, in the fall of 1943. The moment that happened, my mother got me out of school. In the second grade, I went to Fuzoku shogakkou, and I had to take an entrance examination, and I was lucky that I passed, and then I started. Then there, the school made sure that the teachers spoke in standard Japanese, Tokyo dialect. I felt so at home, then I really enjoyed the school.

SG: Was it a private school?

MK: University school. It's a kind of private school.

SG: So what type of, what did you do at school? What type of activities did you have?

MK: Well, that was the wartime education, so not just regular kind of curriculum learning Japanese and mathematics, but also, we had to be prepared. I guess the government knew that Japan was losing the war, so we had to learn how to communicate with each other with Morse codes so that each desk had a little gadget by the third grade, and then we are learning how to communicate with each other with Morse code, Japanese Morse code. And then also by using it, two white flags, little ones, and then we learned how to communicate with each other like sailors on the ships. That's what we learned. And on top of it, we learned how to hate Americans, and we had to draw the figure of two Caucasians, one with the round face and red color, and we painted it red, and that's the Prime Minister Churchill, and then long face in green color. That was President Roosevelt. And we knew exactly where the hearts are and then sharpen the bamboo spear, and then I used to practice how to kill Americans as well. And then also we learned when the bomb exploded and how to get down on the floor and under the table and then also plugging the ears with our hands and then also covering our eyes, so that no debris will damage our eyes or we will lose the hearing. So we always practiced that. That was the third grade, yes.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.