Densho Digital Archive
Oregon Nikkei Endowment Collection
Title: Lilly Kobayashi Irinaga Interview
Narrator: Lilly Kobayashi Irinaga
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Portland, Oregon
Date: April 27, 2013
Densho ID: denshovh-ililly-01-0009

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: So let's go back. You mentioned earlier that you went to Japan in early summer, and the plan was only to stay for a couple months. But you were there longer, and so they put you in Japanese school. I guess one question, it was fairly common for Niseis to return to Japan, and like you, go to school, and some people even stayed. Did you ever think that you might stay in Japan?

LI: Never.

TI: That would be, become your home?

LI: No.

TI: Now why was that? Because in some ways, you were very close to maybe having to have to stay there.

LI: No, I didn't think my dad would stay there. We just decided that Portland was our home, and that's where I wanted to be. I wanted to go home at a certain point.

TI: So you never got a sense that the family in Japan were trying to convince maybe your parents that maybe you should just stay in Japan or anything like that?

LI: No, no.

TI: Okay. So tell me as much as you can about the difficulties in coming back. You mentioned that the ships quit sailing from Japan to the United States.

LI: Yes.

TI: So describe that. What happened?

LI: Well, we would go to Kobe thinking that we would be able to go back to the U.S. directly. But like you had said, they didn't go all the way. They weren't even moving at that time, but my parents never said that there's something wrong. And so I think I had mentioned before that we had come to Kobe or Yokohama, and then we went back to my grandmother's home. And they would always give us a farewell (party) or whatever, and then we'd go, I guess my dad must have said that there might be another boat going out from Yokohama. So we would go there, but after the second time or the third time, he says, no, we'll just have to stay in the town where he thought the ships were going out. But they had never said anything, nor did I hear about it from other people that there was going to be a war coming on. And never did we think that it was going to be the U.S. So I was a little frightened, but I didn't know all the things about it, so I wasn't really that frightened. But we knew that we were going to go back to the U.S., and our ship, the Hikawa Maru, went back -- this is going a little fast -- but we landed in Seattle. But the other ship that left, there were two ships that left about the same time, and they went... let's see, did we go north or south? But anyway, the families were broken up because the children were on our ship and the parents were on the other, and I guess they must have been full, that's why they divided it. But the one ship that went the opposite direction that we went, they turned back, and they went back to Japan. So the families were split, and I don't know if they ever got together during the war. (we were on the last ship)

TI: And what was the date that this ship was sailing to come back to the United States?

LI: Let's see, I came back around the beginning of (November). No, no, the war began...

TI: December 7th.

LI: Yes, uh-huh. It must have been the (early) part of November.

TI: But just literally two or three weeks before the war started.

LI: The war started, right.

TI: Going back to Japan, did you ever hear people talking sort of in opposition to the United States? Because during this time, the United States had put up a blockade around Japan, making it really hard in terms of blockading oil and things like that. So I was wondering if in the papers, when people read this, if there was sort of this resentment towards the United States.

LI: Not that I know of. Maybe my parents did, but they didn't say anything to me. I guess I didn't know how to read the Japanese (newspaper) all that well, too, so never in my mind that it would be Pearl Harbor, really.

TI: So on the ship that came back, I'm guessing it must have been pretty crowded.

LI: It was very crowded, yes. From people, I remember this one fellow, he was in college already, and we met him on the way over and on the way back. He was from Seattle. And other than that, we made friends with my age group, but other than that, I really didn't know that the U.S. was going to be bombed. That was such a surprise.

TI: And when you say, so was it crowded, more crowded on the way back, what would be an example of a ship being crowded? Did, like, your living conditions, were they more cramped?

LI: Yes, I think so. Because on the way home, we had to sleep in bunks instead of having the regular beds. And I know some families, they were pretty crowded. But other than that, we had our food. Well, anyway, it was pretty comfortable for us. There were only three of us, so other than that, maybe some of the (larger) families had to really crowd in. Yes, because in the dining halls, we would know that there were a lot more people there on the way home.

TI: And how about the mood on the ship? I'm just thinking in my mind, so this is the last ship, some people were waiting for weeks to try to get back to the United States. Was there tension on the ship or was it relief that people were on the way back?

LI: There was relief, but I don't feel that there was any tension that I can remember.

TI: Okay, how interesting. Just, in retrospect, when you think about being the last ship back...

LI: Well, we didn't know that it was going to be the last ship until we landed, and they said the ones that went the northern route -- I think we came back the southern route, because the others went through the Aleutian Islands, as I recall. So when we came back, we were very sad that the children or the parents were split apart like that. I think they were from Seattle, too.

TI: Hmm. Did you ever know what happened to the children? I guess maybe relatives or friends...

LI: I just never knew. Every time I thought about it, I thought, "Oh, that's so sad."

TI: Interesting. But going back to what I mentioned earlier, how in some ways by happenstance, you guys got on the last ship, and how your life would have been so different if you weren't on that ship.

LI: That's right.

TI: That you could have had to stay in Japan during the war.

LI: That's right. And I don't know if my grandmother would have taken me in, but I'm sure she would have. I've never even thought about it really, it was just always coming back home, that's about it.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2013 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.