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Coming of Age in San Francisco’s Nihonmachi: How My Parents Met, Married, and Moved - Part 2 of 3

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4. Friendships 

Most of dad’s really close friends during those years were other kibeis. There was a close bond and camaraderie between these men. They shared similar hardships and lives: heavy Japanese accents, youth, energy, vitality, under-employment, etc. The Great Depression shaped many of these men’s attitudes, life perspectives, and relationships. They probably were raised in other prefectures in Japan. The Japanese government propaganda machine was in full swing during the early 1930s. The Japanese government pushed kibeis to return back to the U.S, a fact that few American writers and researchers have commented upon.  

5. Recreation

The Great Depression was not completely devoid of fun and recreation. As a youth growing up in Japan, he was a long-distance swimmer and held a record for a 12-year old boy swimming from his hometown of Obatake to Oshima Island. In his hometown, twice a day, the inland sea current swirls like a whirling dervish and runs fast like a rushing river. In those days, true to form, the Japanese sports authorities encouraged him to swim and not participate in other sports; probably afraid that he would hurt himself if he was active in other sports.

In the U.S., he could try any sport that sparked his interest. Golf was always presented as a leisure sport played by “kanemochi” affluent men, wearing Harris tweeds, knickerbockers, long stockings, and a cap. He remembers playing at Pebble Beach Golf Links for $9 a round. That date must have been a long time ago.

Dad also played in a ukulele band, though he has forgotten the name of the group. He recalls that they played both Western and Hawaiian songs. He also remembers that he played the “A” part in a diatonic four part chords. When I was growing up my dad used to play chords on his ukulele and I always wondered how he learned to play. I recently asked. I studied and played music (piano and woodwind instruments) and was probably slightly jealous that he could play a string instrument, but I apparently couldn’t figure out how.

Inscription: C.L. Champions - 1936

Everybody loved baseball. San Francisco was the hometown of Joe DiMaggio and he played for the San Francisco Seals (before the Giants). As for Dad, he played second base for New World that was sponsored by a newspaper company “Shin Sekai.” The teams’ name was the company’s name translated into English from Japanese.

A “B” league team, they played teams from Alameda and San Jose. He used to hit left and his nickname was “Lefty.” In 1936 their team won the league championship. Each player was given a tiny brass (gold leaf) baseball with their name and winning year engraved, attached to a chain. I don’t know if the tournament leaders/organizers supplied the chain or whether my dad bought it, later. He has cherished this memento through the years and is admirably stored in a plastic dome-shaped container.

6. How did you meet mom?

The story goes that mom was passing by a car mechanic’s garage with a couple of girlfriends in San Francisco’s Japan Town as my dad was helping a friend. My mom’s girlfriends were joking with her that my dad was “Chinese” and dared her to talk to him. He was immediately infatuated and presented her with a white gardenia. My mom loved any flower with a scent. Years later, he planted for her a rose garden at their home in Carmel with cuttings from old-fashioned roses each imparting an ethereal and dream-like bouquet. The roses were of many color shades: pinks, reds, whites, yellows and combinations: all except for her favorite color, powder blue.

Edna on Ferry Boat at Treasure Island to attend the San Francisco 1939 World’s Fair

Part 3 >>


© 2011 Troy Ishikawa

family japantown nihonmachi san francisco