Ray Nosaka
100th Infantry Battalion, B Company

Youth

When Ray is four years old, he and his brother are left with relatives who operate a farm in Yamaguchi-ken.

When they return two years later, the brothers are unable to speak English and viewed as bobora or newly arrived from Japan. Junior Hi-Y, YMCA, and sports activities involve Ray with others and help him overcome shyness.

Fights and trouble ensue when Ray joins a gang.

Left Behind in Japan

[W]hen I was four years old, my dad took me to Japan with my brother. And my brother was about five, I think. We board the Taiyo Maru. And he had one horse, one cow, and one goat, and one dog. I used to go feed 'em every day. From my cabin, I go down, I used to feed 'em.

Ray and Charley Nosaka

Then when we reached Japan, they took a train and went to Hiroshima, the first place. Then he gave the dog to the army camp to train. So he donated the dog. Then from there, we went to Yamaguchi, where my father's brother lives. Then he gave him the cow and all the other animals. Because they had a farm way in the sticks someplace.

And then, instead of taking us back home, he left us, and he went home.

So, the two of us - [my older brother] was old enough to go school but I was too young to go school. So I have to stay home and stay with the farming family.

And you know, those days, all the bathrooms are all you squat like this. Not the flushing toilet. And when they had funeral like that, they all walk all the way to the funeral parlor. I still remember, they had a lot of - these places, they have snakes and all of that, all in the country.

I still don't know why [my father took us to Japan]. I thought we were going to visit. He just left, dumped us, and went home. I never did ask him, "How come you don't take us home, and just dump us there?" We stayed there two years. So we came back really Japanese-like. So they used to tease us all the time.

[W]e were separated two years from my mother and my father. That's why I don't know what the reason, maybe he want to train us to be farmers. It's really a farming town, where we stayed, yeah. But I guess I learned a lot, through experience. How the people live and things like that.

Return to Hawaii

So when finally, both of us came home [to Honolulu], they used to call us boboras [equivalent to FOB or Fresh Off the Boat]. You know why? We can't speak English. We lost all our talk, whether it be pidgin English or what but we all forgot that language of English. So they used to sort of push us around, call us bobora and all that.

So eventually, I learned, I learned, and then I got to learn to speak English. Even at home, I was so used to the toilets [in Japan], I still squat on the toilet because you're so used to squatting down, you know. And it took me about a year to learn to sit right on the toilet seat (laughs).

Those days, the word bobora is just like "foreigner" or something like that.

I just go along with [the teasing] because the majority is against me, yeah, so I just keep quiet, don't say anything. But those are the things that you learn as you get older, you get a little matured. I don't regret all those things, you know. It was a little bit tough, but I learned.

Becoming Less Shy

No matter where I went, my brother was always the boss. So I can't say one word all the way. Every place I go - even at home, when we came home, I just stay in the back, I don't say one word.

And then as I grew up, when I was a - let's see, in the eighth grade, one Hawaiian guy nominated me to be the president for the junior Hi-Y. You know, junior Hi-Y used to be popular those days. So first time, I've never been a leader or anything, I was backwards, yeah. So I became a leader, more confident, speak a little bit.

Then when we went to camp in Camp Erdman with the YMCA [Young Men's Christian Association], that's when I heard [Professor] Shunzo Sakamaki speak. So I approached him, I said, "Can you come to my class to give a class about Manchuria?" Oh, he said, "Oh, yeah."

So when I came back to school, I asked my teacher, Miss Connors, if I could have him speak to our classes. "Oh, no," she says, "that's too big, we'll call the whole student body." So the whole student body came to listen to Shunzo Sakamaki. And because of that, they put me on the debating team, "Was Japan justified in invading Manchuria?" That's how I learned to get a little bit more outward. But before that, I was always behind, you know.

[W]hen I was a kid, a guy taught me how to box. And then you start getting to competitive sports. You get a little more outward. Otherwise, I used to be - even I come in this room, I wouldn't say one word. I was like that. But eventually, I learned to be more aggressive, playing barefoot football, and boxing, swimming.

Ray Nosaka strikes a boxing pose

Palama Settlement was a place where we always [went] - it's twenty-five cents a year, see, so we can afford it. They have all kinds of competitions: rope climbing, swimming. That's how I learned to be more outward. Because in competitive sports, you cannot stay behind, you just got to be aggressive. That's how I learned to speak a little bit.

And then my dramatic teacher, Miss Lee, she was my English teacher - she tell me, "Raymond, I'm going to give you a name, I cannot pronounce your name [Riyoso] good so I'll name you Raymond." And I came Raymond. Of course, they call me Ray now, but Raymond.

She pushed me to be the actor. I still remember, I was on the stage, I was Long John Silver. I was a character. I sang, "I stole this umbrella one day, ha-ha." I still remember the first sentence that I had to sing (chuckles). Miss Lee, after so many years, she married to Mr. DeMello, he was some kind of big shot in the amateur AAU [Amateur Athletic Union] boxing. And she used to go every time. So when my turn to fight, she always come to me, say, "Raymond, you remember me?" I say, "Yeah, I remember you."

So all those things helped me out to be more outward. I never was like that.

Palama Gang

But even when I went to high school, I learned a bad way because I started getting into the bad group. You know. But the only thing is, within the bad group, when I take the exam, I always take the exam first before I play hooky. We used to go down Kuhio Beach and go surf. But I always make sure I take the exam beforehand. I was that much conscientious. But my friends, they don't care.

Ray Nosaka surfing, Kuhio Beach

So I got into a lot of trouble with them, gang fight and all of that. But I don't regret, because when I look back, I learned so much from them, I'm grateful. (Laughs)

The only time I went jail was when we had a gang fight. We had about ten against, you know, so many guys. But one of them threw a rock and hit the guy on the head. And instead of taking everybody, I'm one of the three that they picked to go jail. They put us, you know by Bethel Street. That's where they took us over there.

And we stayed there two nights. And you know, the funny part of it is, that my father knows Lieutenant Morse over there. So he came to bail me out. And he says, there's no Nosaka here. What I did was I gave my name Komatsu, you know, false my name, says Komatsu. He says, "There's no Nosaka here." Then he calls me inside." My father started, "That's my boy, my boy." (Chuckles)

Those days, you in the cell and they give you tea in the morning, tea and bread. Lunchtime, tea and bread. Evening time, you get hamburger. The food isn't that good.

Girls get involved [in fights], too. The fight always starts from social dancing. We used to go Kahala or some place. And somehow, through the girl or somebody - and we don't know anything about it because my gang fight, I fight with them.

That's what it is, a gang. You don't know what the reason you're helping your gang but you just go up there and help them out, yeah. But how it starts, it's so strange. Sometimes just a friend to a friend says something wrong. You swear at them or something, then they're going to get their leaders and then they get into a fight like that.

[W]e're fighting against Japanese. Japanese against Japanese. Majority of them are Japanese. But I don't think so had anything to do with high-class, or low-class, or nationality, I don't think so.

You always want to be kind of looked up to, so you just follow them. You know what we used to do? During recess at Kalakaua, we used to sit on the outside fence, all lined up, pass it on. All smoking. (Chuckles) We were only about seventh graders, you know. All passing the cigarette, smoking. Think nothing of it. You don't think about health. Those days, they don't tell you smoking is bad or anything like that. Now days, even if you're not a smoker, if you smoke, you want to stay away, yeah. But those days, nothing to it. Everybody smoke, nobody say anything. Even my father. But he smoke cigar, because you know, when they come big shot, they only smoke cigars.

[My parents] hit us. (Chuckles) And my father, for a Japanese, he was big. He's five feet ten. You know, they used to call him "Oyaji [Boss]." He's a big fellow. And us guys small. My mother, more small. (Chuckles) And not one of us came tall. The tallest was five feet seven, my younger brother. But us guys, all five feet six, five feet five, that's about all. But my dad was a big guy. In the army, he was in the artillery, Japan army.

Religion

[I was] Catholic. This Hawaiian family, Simerson, part-haole. She [Rose Simerson] always come tell me, "Raymond." I have to go with her. She take me in her car and take me to St. Theresa Church on School Street. Then I got baptized there.

Co-Cathedral of St. Theresa, Honolulu, Hawaii

Now, I look back and say, "Why me? Why you don't tell my brother, my other sisters, to go to the church?" I never know what is Christian, you know. So I just ride in her car, she takes me to church, and takes me back. She plays the organ. And first thing I know, I'm singing in the choir.

Ray Nosaka's interview reprinted courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Ray Nosaka.

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