Densho Digital Archive
Oregon Nikkei Endowment Collection
Title: George Hara Interview
Narrator: George Hara
Interviewer: Loen Dozono
Date: February 5, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-hgeorge_2-01-0004

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GH: But mainly, all this was within company of other Niseis and the area that we grew up with in spite of the fact that it was in southwest Portland in the heart of skid row on that side of town, this was our home. We felt secure there. There were no threat of gang wars or racial wars. We ignored the skid row denizens, walked around them just like we walked around the pigeons that seem to congregate in that area. But we found people that were kind to us, and the ones that I remember were members of station, Fire Station 21. There were stations located on First and Jefferson only about four blocks from the hotel and right in the heart of where we walked daily. And in the back of their fire station, the firemen had built a four-wall handball court, and when it was not in use by the firemen, they let the Nisei kids use the court. And this was getting into, you know, real high level activity. We played with hard ball, handball, official handball and four wall which made it a much more interesting and the more delicate game of tossing a tennis ball back and forth against, you know, concrete wall. And we learned a lot of interesting things and some of the older Niseis actually became very adapt at the game, and the firemen were more than generous. I talked to a friend of mine that grew up that I was very close to, and he remembers being invited to their homes and eating dinner with them. I never got that close, but I enjoyed the company and the friendship of being under the care of firemen. And I think at times we were allowed to go up to the second floor where the dormitory was and slide down the brass pole, and that was one of the activities that I enjoyed. Other than that, weekends, on Taylor between Second and First, the kids would gather as many as twenty would play kick the can and hide and go seek and all kinds of American style games for kids, and we spend many delightful hours playing on the streets. Later on, we made paper airplanes and improvised, and we can get those things to float up to the second floor level and got a tremendous kick out of that.

Now the neighbors consisted mainly of these hotel laundry, but the Jewish people had stores there, working men's clothing stores, and right across the street from the Australia Hotel where I lived was the Alaska junk office and their main building. Now they were big into scrap iron, and Mr. Schnitzer, the owner, lived up in the Washington Park area, very large mansion like home we found out, and he was of the upper economic level, and it was their son, Leonard, was a classmate of mine, and we got along fine although our association ended right after school ended, and then my whole time at that time was spent with other Nisei kids. And the comfort and security of that Southwest Portland Japanese Town, and I mention that because even a few, half a mile away was the north Japanese Town that started on Front Avenue and extended to probably up to Fifth from Burnside on up to Glisan, another five, six blocks. Those were more commercial Japanese enterprises, some of the professional dentists, Dr. Tanaka was there, and I mention dentist, and the large Japanese stores that sold Japanese grocery, and they would send out salesmen that came once a week, and they covered the whole Japanese Town there taking orders. So my mother would order tofu, sashimi, sukiyaki meat, anything that she might be able to afford, satsumage and vegetables, and they would make deliveries. And so growing up in Southwest Portland, we had the advantage of being able to get real Japanese food, a lot of it were imported in cans from Japan that, takenoko and other things, the eel, and so we had really a combination of American made menu and Japanese menu. And one of the other activities that we grew into was weddings and funerals, and whenever they had that, after the services were over, they had a banquet, and most of these were in areas in Northwest Portland. They had Japanese cuisine restaurant, Chinese cuisine made by Japanese cooks, and we went to Chinatown, and one restaurant we went to was on Second and Oak Street which is right across the street from the main police station, but that was one of the favorites. There was good relationship in spite of the animosity between the Chinese and Japanese, but there they treated Japanese pretty well. And I enjoyed going there, and one of the delights were the tables were all set, and they had soda pop, and after a while you notice that there were different flavors. I think grape and cream were my favorite, and I probably pick a seat that had either those two. And after the banquet is over, they sent home all the people that were there with the extra food. And the interesting thing was the next day when we went to American grade school, we brought our lunch and lunch bucket and out would come these real made up sandwiches. These weren't just charsiu sandwiches, pork sandwiches, but egg foo yung sandwiches, chow mein sandwich. This was strictly Nisei, and we enjoyed eating it. It tasted good. We didn't bring musubis to school, but I remember eating egg foo yung sandwiches. I think it established a new level for sandwich making.

Anyway, as I look back, most of the activities were Nisei but some were Japanese-oriented, and one of the big events was the picnic, the undokai, and the undokais were big affairs. Each family would cook Japanese food, a different kind, and each mother would try to outdo the other's sushi, nigirimeshi, chicken, various kinds, and they would pack it in these lacquered boxes, wrap it up in the furoshiki, and you would have a virtual feast at the picnic, and south, in the Portland Japanese cook competed athletically. Each one produced a relay team, boys and girls and the South Portland had better runners every year and took the first place almost consistently, but that was our relationship with the North Portland Niseis.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.