A First Friend

In the 1930’s my Japanese immigrant parents had forged their life dependent on my father’s work for the Pacific railroad that provided a company owned house. Located in a rural isolated whistle stop in eastern Oregon with no neighbors for miles around, my two brothers and I formed our own playgroup. The three of us (born two years apart) ate, slept, fought, and played together. We shared a nanny goat who provided us with milk, Our playground was along the banks of the nearby Deschutes River or in our backyard covered with tumbleweeds swirling in the hot summer heat. During our first six years we shared childhood diseases—measles, whooping cough and the occasional flu. We grew up without the benefit of electricity, indoor bathroom facilities, or hot running water but this was not experienced as a hardship; the inconvenience of an outhouse, heating water for our outdoor “hot tub” or grinding the gramophone to listen to Japanese music recordings were simply part of our life.

The Alien Becoming the Familiar

During our fifty plus years of residing in north Berkeley, my family and I have had the opportunity to sample a wide variety of cuisines. Nearly a decade ago, strolling down Solano Avenue we counted nearly 30 restaurants offering Indian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Mexican, Vietnamese, Chinese and variations of all- American meals with the exception of a Subway sandwich franchise, no fast food outlets.

Wigged Out

Seated backstage with 5 other 10- year old classmates, each of our faces had been whitewashed by Mrs. Sato, our Japanese dance instructor as she prepared us for our recital. I could feel the wet sponge as it covered my cheeks, forehead, chin and my neck. Although none of our families relocated by the US government during WWII was allowed personal cameras, shortwave radios or teaching a Japanese language class, cultural endeavors such as flower arrangements or teaching Japanese odori (formal dance) was permitted.

Made To Order

Both of my brothers and I were born in the midst of the Great Depression (between 1931 and 1936).  My father had worked as the foreman of a maintenance crew for the Union Pacific Railroad Company and they provided company housing located in Nacin, an isolated rural area in eastern Oregon, miles apart from friends and neighbors. Our playground was the wind swept dusty backyard dotted with scrub tumbleweeds or the nearby swift flowing Deschutes River where we would wade along its banks. By the time my older brother was 5, he’d wandered over the surrounding hills, often accompanied by the family goat. Rather than the dangers from traffic or crime associated with the cities, the perils he faced were prodding and disturbing; a sleeping rattler or nearly losing his footing at the edge of a ravine.