Yoshiaki Fujitani
Military Intelligence Service

GI Bill and Marriage

On the GI Bill, Yoshiaki attends the University of Chicago (1947 - 1952) where he studies religion.

While in Chicago he renews his acquaintance with Tomi Kitahata whom he met on a blind date years earlier. In 1949, Yoshiaki and Tomi marry. Two years later, their first of three children is born.

With a family to support, Yoshiaki works as a shipping clerk at the Illinois Engine Exchange.

[My father] didn't push me to go into the ministry or anything. Of course, the war came and I went away, left school for a while, and then came back with the GI Bill money. And then I asked my dad, "What should I do? I have no idea. I have this scholarship money."

And he said, "Well, you know, you were born in a Buddhist family. If you have no idea what you want to do, maybe you should go and learn what Buddhism is all about." He didn't say anything about the ministry. Just learn.

University of Chicago: 1947-1952

So I began looking at good schools, expensive schools (chuckles) because the government was going to pay for it.

I chose University of Chicago, where they had some pretty good teachers. And I went into the field of history of religions to study religions, generally.

Yoshiaki Fujitani and his parents

My teacher there was a Dr. Joachim Wach. He's a Swiss-German. And he had a sort of an interesting background. He was born a Lutheran but he became an Episcopalian. But he was interested in Eastern religions so he translated some stuff, some Buddhist things. So he was a very sort of well-known scholar. And I stayed with him for three years. I was at the University of Chicago for five years, actually, but was part-time, on occasion.

University of Chicago was a kind of an interesting place. You could create your own program (chuckles). And so it was an interdepartmental kind of thing. And so I took courses in Christianity, in history of religions of course, Chinese language. I took Sanskrit. I mean, these are very impressive titles, but my scores were pretty bad.

For instance, I got a D in German. But that was my language requirement. But I felt, to learn religions, I should learn Chinese and I should learn Sanskrit, and so on. So I took these courses.

And I'm not sure whether you understand the way they work there but their college actually begins in the junior year in high school. That's the college. And beyond that is your professional school. They call it divisions or whatever. And that's when you major in a particular program.

So I had a couple of years already at University of Hawaii, so they admitted me into the divisions. But I had to take an exam to get in and I failed in a couple of them. I wanted to get into humanities and I knew nothing about humanities. Questions like identify certain names, I had no idea who they were. And so I had to make it up.

Yoshiaki Fujitani at the University of Chicago

I was admitted to University of Chicago with deficiencies. And so it took me a couple of years to make up these deficiencies. But I was in the humanities division and I took all kinds of courses I wanted, all funded by the GI Bill.


I was admitted [to the University of Chicago] in [19]47, then two years later, in [19]49, I decided to get married.

I had met [Tomi Kitahata] earlier, when I was at Snelling, on a blind date. [S]he was in Chicago. Her family had been evacuated to Jerome, Arkansas.

Tomi Fujitani, University of Chicago

[Her family was originally from] California.

I guess after a while, they were permitted to leave for school or whatever. And so a bunch of them went up to Chicago, and so they were there when we were in Minnesota. And on one-weekend pass - one of these fellows that I hung around with in camp, I hung around with guys from Kauai. Anyway, one of them knew a person in Chicago and so I guess they talked between themselves and so that the young lady in Chicago brought some of her friends and this fellow got us involved. And so a bunch of us met in Chicago, under the blind date, and one of them was Tomi.

Tomi Fujitani, University of Chicago

It was after the war, of course, when I decided to go back to Chicago to school, that I decided to contact her, to ask her to find a place for me. And, well, anyway, that's the way it developed.

[W]e didn't know each other that well. And then when I went back to Chicago, she was not able to find a place for me immediately, so she put me in her family's attic. So I was living in her attic for a couple of days. Meanwhile, she looked around and found a boarding house nearby, near school, and then I moved in.

[S]he was also active at the Buddhist Temple of Chicago, which was Rev. [Gyomay M.] Kubose's place. Rev. Kubose was a Buddhist minister who had gone to Chicago in [19]43 and established the temple. And actually, his background is Higashi Hongwanji. And Tomi's family belonged to the Higashi Hongwanji. And so that was her temple and it was located near the University of Chicago, and so I decided to go, and I was helping there for a while. So those things brought us together, and one thing led to another, and we got married in [19]49.

Yoshiaki Fujitani in front of Chicago Buddhist Church

Our first child was born in [19]51. I don't know whether you met our daughter Pat but she was born in Chicago. So that side went according to schedule but I guess I wasn't really a scholar. I don't like to study. But I hung in there and finally, I left there. In fact, I remember Dr. Wach telling me, after I was there for five years from [19]47 to [19]52, he said, "Aren't you about ready to graduate?" (Chuckles) He wanted to get me out of there.

I got married and I thought - we had planned it, get married, and I would graduate, and this and that. But when, especially when our first daughter, Pat, came, my interest in studying just stopped right there.

So I had to go to work, and - that was interesting, too. I consider those things as part of my education. We had our summer work and stuff, but aside from that, I had to get a more permanent job.

Work: Illinois Engine Exchange

So I went to work at a place called the Illinois Engine Exchange. And what we did was, we rebuilt engines, automobile engines. I found out some very interesting things about the car engines. The V8 engine, the straight-six engines. But there was one called the V - no, it was a straight twelve. Did you know that there was an engine like that? That was a Ford car with twelve cylinders. Long, long engine. We rebuilt these engines and sold them to different companies.

And so there, I met people of different nationalities. I got to know some black people very well. So we had them all come over to the house for dinner and things like that. And we learned that, for these guys, anyway, that I knew, one characteristic of beauty in women was long hair. You know, for black people, their hair is usually sort of kinky and short. So when they see a person with long hair, wow, it's a sign of beauty.

I was more like shipping clerk kind of job. Yeah, I wasn't doing the rebuilding of engines and stuff.

GI Bill Benefits

[F]or one year, we received $500 for our tuition. And that was enough, at that time. In fact, it costs me $450 for three quarters at the University of Chicago. The way they did it was, I think it cost $50 per course and we were to take three courses per quarter. So that's $150 per quarter, for three quarters, so that's $450. And so there was $50, then, for books. And that was enough, too. Yeah, at that time.

Rockefeller Chapel, University of Chicago

And I think University of Chicago, at that time, was one of the more expensive schools, too, even at that. And on top of that, we had our living expense. For a single person, I think was $75. For a married person, was $105. And so, it was affordable. But when you have a family, that wasn't enough, so had to go to work.

Yoshiaki Fujitani's interview reprinted courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Yoshiaki Fujitani.

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