by Kazuko Kuramoto

The following is an autobiography required to precede the essay ìIssei, Nisei, Sanseiî, which I turned in to Eastern Oregon University for upper division credits.


I was born in Dairen, Liaotung Peninsula, Manchuria (Northeastern province of the People's Republic of China today) on July 6, 1927, to Japanese parents, and grew up speaking Japanese and Chinese. Dairen was a metropolis of the Liaotung Peninsula which was a Japanese colony from 1905 to 1945.

About a month after my eighteenth birthday, World War II came to a sudden halt in August, 1945. I was with my family then in a small town called Furanten at the border of the Liaotung Peninsula and Manchukuo, a puppet state which had been set up by the military-controlled Japanese government in 1932. It was the beginning of a holocaust. The whole sub-continent of Manchuria suddenly became an open battlefield with the U.S.S.R. from the northeast , Chiang Kai-Shek's Kuomintang from the southwest, and the local Chinese guerrillas all over each fiercely intent on taking over Manchuria, murdering, pillaging, raping and maiming any and all Japanese men, women, and children with wild vengeance.

The Japanese in Furanten were no exception. We were ambushed by a band of guerrillas on August twenty-fourth. My family was one of the very lucky ones who escaped to Dairen unharmed. This holocaust went on until an agreement was reached between Chiang Kai-Shek and Stalin. And finally, two long years later, the Japanese survivors were rescued and shipped by cargo ships to the war-ravaged Japan and were "dumped" there. I was twenty then.

The English language that I studied privately while in Dairen helped me find a job with the American occupation forces, Camp Chickamauga, Kyushu, Japan, I translated articles from the Japanese newspapers which were earmarked by my supervisor into English, mainly information about the gatherings of local Japanese. In 1950 I took time off, went to Tokyo to attend Tsuda Women's College, taking a course called Newspaper English, but quit after one term for financial reasons. I came back to Kyushu and worked in the Engineering section of the same Camp. In 1952, when the McCarren-Walter Act passed allowing U. S. civilians to marry Japanese women, I married Randolph E. Johnson, an American civil engineer working for the U. S. Army. I quit working and took up flower arrangement, earning a teaching certificate after eight years of study, and at the same time learned to paint in oil, specializing in portraits, winning first prize at an amateur exhibition. But eventually my husband became an alcoholic as did many American officers and men in post-war Japan. They were the victims of war as much as the people of the defeated country. He died of a heart-attack in December, 1963, at the ripe age of fifty-two at Fort Leonardwood, Missouri, leaving me with our adopted Amerasian daughter, June Marie, who was then ten years old. I did not go back to Japan to my family because I wanted to raise June as an American. I went to Phoenix, Arizona instead, at the invitation of my inlaws. I attended Durham Business College there to brush up my typing skill and to learn shorthand. Dictaphone was just coming out then, and I learned to handle that also. However, before I finished the course, a secretarial job was offered to me by a Chinese lawyer, Mr. Wing Ong. Sometimes I followed him to the court to record the event, but mostly my job was at the office, typing legal documents. While working there, Mr. Ong ran for state senator and I joined his family to help campaign for him, singing "China Night" as an entertainment preceding his campaign speech. It was fun.

In 1965, I married my present husband, a Nisei, Yoso Kuramoto, whom I had known while I was still married to my first husband as he was stationed at the same Army base as the head of the field office of the Military Intelligence Detachment. My daughter June and I moved to Seattle where he was stationed but he was soon transferred back to Japan as he is a tri-linguist: English as his native language, Japanese picked up from his parents, and Korean learned at the Army language school as a part of Military intelligence training.

During our five year stay in Hokkaido, Japan, I was actively involved with a cultural exchange program between our officers' wives club and that of the Japanese Self Defense Forces. I taught conversational Japanese, flower arrangement and Mah-Jong to our members; English conversation and bridge to Japanese ladies; and elementary English to a group of Japanese high school students, also acting as a go-between and a translator whenever we met which was at least once a month. Our daughter Marilyn Yoko was born in November, 1968, while we were in Japan.

We came back to the United States in 1970 as Yoso was transferred to Denver, Colorado, where he retired from the Army two years later. We then moved to Ontario, Oregon where his widowed mother and his sister's family lived. In 1977, after my mother-in-law, who had become senile and had been in my care, passed away I started working for Iseri Travel Agency as a part-time translator while our daughter Yoko was at school . My older daughter June had finished college by then and was living in Hawaii.

It was around that time that I started teaching Japanese at Treasure Valley Community College at the suggestion of Mr. Ford who was then the head of the Continuing Education Department at the college. The class went on very irregularly. We would have the class going whenever the number of students met the minimum requirement of ten or close to it, and eventually it diminished. Not very many students were interested in learning Japanese at that time yet. In the meantime, an anesthesiologist, Dr. Villamil, offered me a job at his office. As his business expanded he hired two more clerks and put me in the position of an office manager. Four years later he was offered a better position in Oakland, California, and moved there, leaving me responsible to tie up all the loose ends such as collecting unpaid bills, selling the office equipment - typewriters, copy machine, etc. - to close his office.

Then Dr. Parris, who had heard of me from Dr. Villamil offered me a job at his office. I worked there for almost two years. By then Japan's economy started to soar and many people showed interest in learning Japanese. So in 1988, again I started teaching Japanese at Treasure Valley Community College (T.V.C.C.). And then Ontario High School also wanted me to start a Japanese class. I was required to pass the CBEST (California Basic Educational Skill Test) in order to get the state license to teach public school. Luckily I passed it. (to my amazement!)

While I was preparing for the high school teaching, Eastern Oregon State College contacted me to teach advanced Japanese to a group of potential Japanese teachers who had been studying Japanese via satellite for a year. This was an eight-week intensive study program headed by Dr. Spronk. Mrs. Hasegawa, who is my friend and was at the time taking classes at Eastern helped me. While I taught grammar-oriented textbook all morning (since most of the students were school teachers, including some foreign language teachers, Spanish, German, etc. I thought the logical approach was most appropriate for this class ) Mrs. Hasegawa taught Japanese craftwork in Japanese, or told folklore in simple Japanese every afternoon, applying the basic idea of T.P.R. (total physical response). It was a good class, and some of the students and I kept up our correspondence until recently.

As soon as this was over I established two Japanese-I classes at Ontario High School while continuing to teach Japanese-I and II at T.V.C.C., which in the following year I dropped because the number of students at the high school had doubled. Teaching at the high school level, especially to the fourteen and fifteen year olds was totally different from teaching adults. I had to invent several games to make vocabulary memorization fun for them, sometimes letting them write Japanese characters on the board as a team competition. They especially liked the Bingo game with the Japanese alphabet. Unlike Japanese students who remain respectfully silent and unresponsive, American teenagers respond freely to the teachers, which I find helpful and encouraging to the teachers. And in view that the classroom interaction is the key to language learning, the American teenagers stand a better chance of learning foreign languages than quiet Japanese teenagers. I find that the Americans in general are also incredibly uninhibited and open-minded when it comes to mimicking the sound of other languages. The quiet classroom of the Japanese school is not necessarily an ideal atmosphere for language learning. I truly enjoyed the interaction with American teenagers.

On the other hand, however, it is quite demanding, both physically and emotionally to keep control of a roomful of high-spirited teenagers for fifty minutes at a time. Generally speaking, the American teenager's attention span seems to be shorter than that of the Japanese student. Also, unlike college professors, high school teachers are expected to take part in disciplinary aspects of individual students as well as involvement in extra curriculum activities such as, in my case, helping with fund raising for the Japanese club, setting up a pen-pal system with Japanese high school students, and the annual Japanese speech contest in Portland, besides attending workshops and conventions for foreign language teachers, which are helpful but often annoying interruptions to the lesson schedules. But all in all, my classes advanced at a healthy rate. Going into the third year at Ontario High School, I had one Japanese-III class which was advanced enough to take Japanese calligraphy, two Japanese-II classes, and two Japanese-I classes, all filled with fifteen to twenty lively students.

But after three years of devotion - perhaps too much devotion - I was physically and emotionally exhausted, and turned in my resignation two months short of my sixty-fifth birthday. After retirement, however, I missed getting up and going to school. So I started taking classes at T.V.C.C. and found the pleasure of being a student for a change. It was a great relief not having to be responsible for anybody else's learning except my own. I added more and more classes as I went along, and worked hard to collect "A's." Then one day it dawned on me that the driving force behind all this was nothing but my craving to make up for what I had missed almost fifty years ago.

I was barely eighteen at the time of the Japanese surrender, and my aspiration for higher education was gradually replaced by the bitter disillusion and self-destructive decadence which was prevalent in post-war Japan. It took me years of soul-searching to come to terms with myself again. And now at the age of sixty-seven I am seeking a Bachelor's degree, but not to adorn the last chapter of my life. It is to be a starting point of yet another phase of my life, which, I hope, will have a true sense of confidence and purpose.

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