Paul Kusuda’s column
Remembering the past--Part 2 of a few
Paul H. Kusuda
Japanese, to get a job akin to being a sub-foreman, better than being a gandy-dancer, or track layer or railway-track fixer-
upper.

He didn’t have to move heavy rails or pound spikes; instead, he kept some records and mostly translated the foreman’s
instructions to the laborers.  Even so, he didn’t particularly care for the work, so with a couple of others, he wound up in
Denver; how he got there we never discussed.  One of his jobs was as a pin-setter in a bowling alley.  At that time, the work
was not only labor-intensive, it also had an element of danger.  Unlike today’s alleys, ten-pins had to be picked up and
placed in correct spots by hand.  Today, the pins are swept together mechanically and placed in correct spots with no need
for human attention.  (Later in life, my father and I relived some of the bowling-alley anxieties as we talked about my
experiences a generation later when I had a similar job in 1943-1944 when I lived in Chicago just before automation was
installed in alleys.)

Somehow or other, he moved back to California and landed in Los Angeles.  He had saved enough money to buy a small
hotel in Skidrow L.A.  It offered rooms by the month, week, or day.  Monthly rent was the most economical for occupants
since bedding needed change only once a week.  There were a few married couples, but most renters were single.  On
occasion, he was asked by couples who wanted to rent a room for only a few hours.  He refused.  (At the time, I knew
nothing about that. He told me a number of years after he had left the hotel business.)

He decided it was time to get married, being 28 years old and earning enough to make a living.  So he entered into a
contract with a marriage counselor, called
Bai-shaku-nin, as was the custom, and married a 17-year-old on an arranged-
marriage basis. Neither knew each other, but that was completely acceptable and in accord with traditional practice.  The
Bai-shaki-nin’s responsibility, was to review family histories of both participants and report findings before final
arrangements were made. They were married in L.A., but I have no idea where the ceremony took place, who attended, and
not even whether it was Buddhist or Christian.

Three children resulted, and according to custom, a midwife attended the birth of the oldest, a son, and the youngest, a
daughter. The second child was still-born, so the next child, a son (me), was born in a hospital. So, even though my sister
and I were two years apart in age, my brother was more than four years older than I. That age difference definitely affected
sibling relationships. My brother showed little interest in me and my sister, so we younger two were close and spent much
time together.

According to custom or tradition, the oldest child ranked number one and the others were like also-rans. It was the way in
which children were raised, so there was only acceptance of reality. It wasn’t easy for my sister and me, but we knew no
better. Being the oldest son meant my brother had to be respected by us, and we could not call him by his name. Instead,
we had to call him
Nisan. He could call us by our name. My sister had to call me Haruo-Nisan, using my Japanese name.
We accepted the system, but my sister and I silently resented the role we had to assume. Being the oldest son, my brother
got everything new, and we got hand-me-downs unless the hand-me-downs wore out, in which case we were fortunate to
get new. My brother was able to join Boy Scouts of America Troop 33.

My parents were not able to afford costs for me to become a Boy Scout or my sister to become a Girl Scout.  We all felt
effects of the years before and during the Great Depression that resulted in hard economic times for everyone.  We knew
there were rich people, but almost all of the people we knew or saw were poor. We didn’t know the term “poverty” and
dichotomized families as being rich or poor. Our parents had to struggle, and we children just accepted things as they were.  
Later in life, I became more aware of the resiliency of people to the pluses and minuses of daily living.  As children, we had
some awareness of how our parents coped; as an adult, I admired their strength and perseverance.

Raising their three children in the skidrow environment bothered my parents to such an extent that they decided to sell their
hotel business to move to a better locale in L.A.  With their proceeds, they bought a small neighborhood grocery store in the
western part of L.A. Part of that decision was to enable the children to attend elementary and secondary schools that would
provide better educational opportunities than those available in the downtown area. Their choice proved to be excellent.  
By Paul H. Kusuda

Last month, I side-tracked myself and did not get around to remember the past, beginning with
my parents’ emigration from Japan.  My father graduated high school and decided to leave that
military-oriented country for opportunities in the United States even though he knew no one in
the new land.  He felt free to leave because his older brothers fulfilled family obligations to serve
in both the Japanese army and navy.  His landing spot after a short lay-over in the Territory of
Hawaii was San Francisco.  Together with other Japanese immigrants, he went to Colorado
where they got work with the Union Pacific Railroads.  How he got there he never told me, and I
never asked.  Also, I don’t know what city he landed in.

The Union Pacific didn’t have unions, at least not for immigrant laborers who were not vested
with retirement benefits. Japanese, on the whole, replaced their predecessors, Chinese.  Work
was difficult and took a toll such that as soon as possible, other jobs were sought.  The railroad
companies were hard-put to find workers; there were many injuries.  My father, because of his
education, was sufficiently proficient in reading, writing, and speaking English in addition to
Elementary and secondary
schools provided good
backgrounds for students
entering the Los Angeles High
School that was academically
oriented toward providing the
basics necessary for college
entry.  If my parents had chosen
to move a few miles to the south,
high-school education would
have been oriented toward
vocational training.  If they had
chosen to move a few miles to
the north, high-school education
would have been oriented to
students having more fun than
education.