Densho Digital Archive
Oregon Nikkei Endowment Collection
Title: Homer Yasui Interview II
Narrator: Homer Yasui
Interviewer: Margaret Barton Ross
Location: Portland, Oregon
Date: October 10, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-yhomer-02-0013

<Begin Segment 13>

MR: As the '30s progressed, Japan was invading China, and did the Issei community follow that?

HY: Oh, well, I'm not sure I understand.

MR: In the news, if they were able to read the paper, the Japanese were invading China. Were the Issei aware of that? Did they talk about it much?

HY: Oh, yeah. They were very aware of that. Probably the best evidence that they were aware of it is the thing they call imonbukuro. Iminbkuro is, I don't the literal translation, but the way I translate it is called a comfort bag. And what it was was the Japanese community, many, many places, would make collections of small items for like tobacco, chewing gum, writing pencils and pens, erasers, candy, little card game, packets of cards, and so on, shaving equipment, shaving cream, razors, and so on and put them in little cloth bags, about this big, this wide, and they'd send it to central shipping port. In this case from Hood River, we'd send it to the Portland Japanese Association. And then this is beginning from about 1937 which is when the Japanese war began. From about that time, the Japanese community would collect these bags and send them to the wounded soldiers or the widowed people in Japan. They'd actually directly mail them. Not only that, in the bigger cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, the Japanese people took up collections to buy airplanes, war planes, and war bonds, so these things did happen. But then put this in context. Remember the Japanese are Japanese. They're not American citizens because they cannot be. What would you expect people to do who can't be American citizens? You expect them to say, well, no, we're, some of them did. People, Japanese, these are ethnic Japanese from Japan who didn't, were the Japanese communists, and there was a very, very tiny but a very determined strong body of Japanese communists in the United States. In those days, communists were looked upon with great, great distaste, cordially distrusted and hated by almost everybody. But the Japanese communists were just adamantly against the Japanese government. This is their own government remember now. And some of them taken back to Japan were executed later on, and I know some stories about those people. But it did happen, and so it was not a monolithic thing. The Japanese communists in the United States were against the war with China, they were against this, any type of war and any type of capitalism, so you have that. But on the other hand, you have the far vast greater majority of the Japanese people. Now mainly the Issei, but because they are our, the Issei are our parents, of course, we sympathize, and of course, we did what they wanted us to do. We're not going to fight our own parents. So if the Issei says, "Hey, we should be supporting Japan." After all, they're fighting a national war in China to better the lives of the Chinese, all government say they're going to better somebody's lives, Japanese are no different. They are going to better the Chinese lives. Manchuria, same thing. They're going to better the Manchurian, all that baloney. So anyway, the Japanese did that in the United States, raise money and bought airplanes. They bought war bonds. But the main thing that I know of and I know it happened in Hood River because I happened to have one of these bags still after seventy years, this is the imonbukuro, and it says on there, Oregon-shu, state of Oregon, and it comes from Hood River. "Furoriba," yeah, very, very rare item, but I have one.

MR: As the world became more engulfed in war, did some of that support turn to apprehension? Did the people think that it could go the other way?

HY: Oh, wait a minute.

MR: Well, that they could, as Japan became more aggressive and as the world became more engulfed in war, did the Issei develop any apprehensions about that?

HY: Oh, I'm sure there were considerable apprehensions. But you know, in Hood River, I don't know exactly how that happened because Hood River didn't have a big powerful Japanese Association like Portland did, plus all the other Japanese organizations. What we had mainly in Hood River was the Japanese Methodist church and what they call the kyori kyokai which was a kind of a welfare organization. But I'm sure that as the news came from Japan that they invaded Indochina, the Vietnam actually is what it was, and they took over French Indochina, Japanese, I would guess, this is strictly a guess, they must have had a mixed feeling of mingled pride and dismay at the same time. Pride in that this backward country of 100 million people, the area of the state of California is taking on the world. Oh my god, they're taking on China, a hundred times bigger, and they got far more people, and they're challenging these kind of countries. So I think that was probably mixed with some pride that hey, we are powerful people. We are Yamato, you know. I think there was that element there, but I also think that, gee, boy, these guys, we're having the world opinion turn against us, and my white guy who comes in my store going, "What is this about you guys and the Japs?" the Chinks, they call them in those days, so, hey, I don't know. I don't hate the Chinks, but I have been asked that in those days. But it was very, very different. It's very different being a minority. You learn a lot of things. But one of them is, hey, nothing is as it seems. But yes, in those days, it was getting kind of antsy, because Japan was getting, really flexing his muscles, and you know, when Yosuke Matsuoka signs the tripartite pact with Germany in 1935, I said, holy cow. Well, I didn't know much about that, but my father knew what these things were, and my father was kind of a pacifist, being a Christian man, church man and all that, he was against this thing. But you know, he's just one man, one grain of sand on the beach, so it didn't make that much difference.

MR: In those days, you were in junior high, high school, how aware were the students about these things, the Nisei students as well as maybe the Caucasian students?

HY: Well, I think that we were pretty aware because I'm thinking back to my junior high school and high school education. We had, I don't know, a social studies class called current events, and there was even a newspaper called Current Events, I think, so that kind of stuff came out. So, our focus at that time wasn't on current events. That was just part of an academic course that we had to do like Algebra and math and so on. You just had to do them. Most people were more interested in things like dances and girls and baseball, basketball, movies, and things like that. But in school, yes, so we knew about these things, these things were happening. But in Hood River, there was no organized action to protest the Japanese invading China or anything like that, not like there would be nowadays. You have all kinds of protest now about anything. But in those days, that didn't happen. Again, we're looking back sixty-some years, so it didn't happen in those days.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.