Chito Isonaga
A Different View

Japan

Chito graduates in 1933 and travels to Japan with her mother and sister. She remains in Hiroshima for six years to study the language.

She starts at grammar school and then attends a four-year school for girls. When she enters Hiroshima Jogakuin, a Christian women's university, she finds other nisei staying at the dorm. They all major in English.

As trouble brews between the U.S. and Japan, Chito is unaffected. She graduates in 1939 and returns home.

That year I graduated from high school in August [1933], I remember going to Japan. I really didn’t want to go [to Japan with my mother and sister], but that was more or less planned. Mom looked forward to it, so I just went along.

[I knew I would remain behind in Hiroshima, Japan.] For just a couple of years, I thought. I knew I had to go and so I accepted it. I thought it was okay that I stay there just for a couple of years, but I didn’t realize I was going to stay there for six years.

I think my parents wanted me to go there and learn the language because [my mother] was afraid that she couldn’t communicate with my other brothers and sisters. She wanted me to learn the language so I can interpret their thoughts and things to the children. But, really, that wasn’t really necessary because I never remembered doing that after I came home. But, that was the main reason.

I [first] lived with my aunt and uncle. They were sort of related, second or third cousins. They didn’t have any children and they had a kimono shop in Yokogawa, the main street in Misasa. The train station was just practically the back of their home.

Grammar School

[When I first got to Hiroshima,] I went to a grammar school. From September until January or February, until the other schools started, I went to the school.

I was much older than [my classmates] and I didn’t know too much Japanese. But, I managed. I guess they accepted me. I wasn’t ill-treated by them or anything.

I don’t think I had too much trouble [in grammar school]. There was a teacher living in the back of my uncle’s place and he was a music teacher. He sort of helped me.

Shintoku Jogakko

[After grammar school,] I went to Shintoku Jogakko and entered the third year there. I think it was a four-year school [for girls]. They had an art class. I didn’t even know how to draw. You know, the Japanese, they learned [art] from grammar school. I had trouble there, even drawing the apple. Of course, the language too. I don’t know how I managed, but I went two years there.

Chito Isonaga. High School, Japan.
Chito Isonaga. High School, Japan.

Hiroshima Jogakuin

[After Shintoku Jogakku,] I went to Hiroshima Jogakuin. It was a Christian school [i.e., a Christian women’s university]. We had chapel service every morning, and we had a few missionary teachers there.

I stayed at the dormitory when I went to Hiroshima Jogakuin. [I found dormitory life] real good because there were a lot of niseis there from the Mainland. Ruth Nishihara was an upperclassman, too. She was living next to me. I got really used to it.

All of us niseis majored in English to learn Japanese. (Laughs) It’s funny, but that’s true. Because everything was in Japanese. It was sort of easy for us. But, we still had shushin [morals, ethics] and history in kokugo [Japanese language] too.

Oh, we had fun. That college life there was really pleasant. Every Saturday we used to go to this one theater. We looked forward to English[-language] movies (chuckles). Whereas high school kids were prohibited to go to movies, but in college we were able to go. And then, dining at one restaurant in Hiroshima City, where you could have [a meal] for fifty cents practically.

No visits [home]. I used to write home quite often, I guess. Mom has thick rolls of letters that I wrote. But, I remember discarding part of it. I saw rolls and rolls of letters that I had written to Mom, and Mom had written to me.

[When Japan and U.S. were beginning to have problems and Japan was involved in the continental war in China], we weren’t [affected]. We didn’t have any problems that way.

I graduated that year [1939]. My education was finished, so I came home.

Chito Isonaga's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Chito Isonaga.

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