Author’s Note: The objective of this writing assignment was to write my autobiography or a biography of someone else. I decided to do the latter, and thus went on a search for an interview subject. While looking around in a toy store, I happened to find Walter Kasahara, a Japanese senior citizen, for my interview. The following is a recount of what happened, and what I learned.
The place is FAO Schwartz, the biggest toy store in Downtown San Francisco. I’m looking around for a person who looks like he may have an interesting story to tell. The toy store is so spacious that three flights of escalators must be taken in order to reach the top floor. In fact, it took me half an hour to find the place where I was going: the video game department. Since I was in a toy store, I thought I might take a look at what new high-tech games were on sale. The toy store was very crowded, hundreds of people looking at thousands of toys stacked on shelves and on the floor. I had to stand in a line of twenty people just to try out one of the three video games on display. The person behind me was the perfect subject for my interview.
Brown-skinned and white-haired was the man behind me. His hair was not an ordinary white, though. When I looked at it, I was reminded of snow in the Sierras, of vanilla ice cream, of writing paper. His skin was a light dark, that is, neither too dark nor too light. His forehead was small; he is one of very few older men who have not lost their hair yet. His eyes were dark brown, like dark chocolate. His nose was pointed at the end and was large, walnut-sized. His lips were thick and full; when he smiled, he resembled Santa Claus giving out presents to all the greedy little children.
That was exactly what he was doing: playing Santa Claus. He told me that he was looking for a toy for his grandson. He had wanted a video game for Christmas but Grandpa couldn’t afford it until now. I asked him if he was in financial trouble, and he said sadly, “I am currently unemployed, and my life savings ran out years ago. My family takes care of me, but for once, I actually wanted to buy something for the kid(the grandson) with my own money. So, I got a part-time job as a dish washer and also started recycling cans and bottles. I finally have enough money after four months.” “Why are you looking for a game here, then?” I asked him. “Don’t you know that this store is probably the most expensive in San Francisco?” “I didn’t know that, all I knew was that my grandson wanted a video game and this place had it. Do you know where else video games are sold?” I told him that I would inform him of the cheap video game store locations if he promised to let me interview him. “Alright,” he said, “sounds fair. Fire away.” And that is how my interview began.
First, I had to ask him if it was alright if I took notes on what he said. He told me it was alright, and I asked him how old he was. “I’m seventy years old, but I feel like I’m fifty.” “The retirement age here is sixty-five, isn’t it?” I asked him. “Yes, I believe it is,” he replied, “and I know what your next question will be so I’ll just tell you. When I retired, I received a sum of money from my boss, and had about a hundred thousand dollars in my bank account. It still is vague to me, I didn’t even know what was going on. My nephew was a stock broker. He told me that if I put my retirement money into stocks, it would double or even triple. So, without knowing what the hell I was doing, I gave him a check for a hundred thousand dollars. I actually thought that I could get rich. Instead, my nephew disappeared and so did my money. Ever since that incident, I have never trusted anyone on anything.” “Wow, that is a really interesting yet sad story,” I said. “But what about me? Are you going to trust me when I tell you the place of the cheap video game store?” I joked. “Yes, I trust you, you look very innocent, like a little baby,” he chuckled, and we just stood there for a while and laughed, as if to hide his pain from losing so much money.
After that relieving laugh session, I began to wonder why he was lining up to sample the games if he was buying them for his grandson. So, I asked him: “Why are you lined up to try a game? I thought you said you’re buying it for your grandson; shouldn’t he be here to test it out himself?” “Well, he already knows what title he wants. I just want to try it out to see where my hard earned money is going to. Besides, I haven’t had time to release myself in a long while. I hear that video games are very relaxing.” I myself am an avid video game player, and the more I talked to this man, the more I liked him. Then I realized that I had not even introduced myself yet. My face began to turn red, and I felt a rushing of blood into my head. “Oops, I’m sorry, but I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Jonathan, Jonathan Young.” “It’s alright, I forgot to tell you my name, too. I’m Walter Kasahara. Nice to meet you, Jonathan.” He offered me his hand, and I took it. His grip was tight, I felt like I was shaking hands with a person that had gone through many hardships. Somehow I felt that this was true, that he had had to suffer a lot before. “Are you Japanese, Walter?” I asked him. “Yes, how did you know?” he asked jokingly. “What’s so funny?” I wondered out loud. “Nothing, just that I thought you would know I am Japanese from my name.” “Well, can you tell what I am from my name?” I challenged him. “No, I can’t, but I would assume you were mixed from looking at you.” “How did you know?” He smiled as if he had solved the greatest mystery of all time. “That I’m not?” I said slyly. “Oh, you tricked me! What are you then?” I informed him that I was Chinese.
On a more serious note, I thought I might ask him where he was in World War II. Knowing that he is Japanese and is old enough to have lived during the war, I said: “Where were you during World War II?” He then told me a story that I will never forget. Walter was a Nisei, meaning that he was born here by Japanese parents, who were known as Issei, those Japanese who emigrated here. On the day when the Japanese airforce bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and started the war, Walter knew that he would not be able to live normally as he did before. At the time, he lived in Hawaii, close to the site of the bombing. When President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, Walter and his family were forced to live in internment camps. They were shipped from Hawaii and sent to an internment camp in Fresno, California. They had nothing, except their clothes. In the camps, they were given absolutely no human rights at all. Walter revealed that he would have rather died than live on. Soldiers beat Walter, raped his mother and sister, and herded his family like animals. Walter’s mother could not endure the pain and suffering and killed herself. As Walter told me about this, a tear fell from his eye. “You know, if this is too hard for you, you don’t have to tell me anymore,” I suggested. But Walter went on to tell me that in the winters, temperatures would drop to at least ten to twenty degrees below zero. In the summer, the temperatures would rise to the hundreds range. All in all, this period in time caused Walter a lot of hardship, and I could tell that he still felt the pain.
A little more composed, Walter revealed that when the war ended, a friend in Hawaii informed Walter that his family’s property had been severely damaged. He thanked his friend for caring for his land, and gave it to him, although he knew that his friend was probably involved in damaging it. Penniless, he decided to move to San Francisco where an uncle of his lived. His uncle was lucky and had been able to sell his belongings before the executive order was enforced. “I remember that he was so nice to me and let me live with him,” Walter recalled. Since then, Walter has married and has had three children and nine grandchildren. “I just love those grandkids; that’s why I worked so hard just to buy him a game.”
Just as he said those words, the person trying the game in front of us finished. “Here, now you can find out where all your hard-earned money is going to.” He picked up the controller and began playing. “I don’t think my money will be put to good use if I buy this. This game is not relaxing!” Walter chuckled. I knew, however, that he liked the game a lot. He just didn’t want to show it to me. “You know, even though I don’t like this game that much, I know my grandson wants it really bad, so I’ll buy it. You promised me that you would tell me where to get this game cheap, now tell me,” he insisted. “Alright, I’ll tell you. It will be on sale here tomorrow in the special one-hour sale at 3:00 pm.” I was lying to him because I had a surprise for him. “You mean I have to come back to this damn place? Alright, anything to save a dollar. Hey, it was nice talking to you Jonathan, but now I must leave now that I’ve tested the game. My son will probably be worried about me. Well, if fate brings us together again, I’ll see you. Bye!” “Bye, ” I said. I was thinking that fate must be really predictable, because I knew I was going to meet him again the next day. The game that he wanted, Street Fighter Alpha, just happened to be a game I was selling. But instead of selling it to him, I decided to give it to him. Here is what happened: I went back to the store the next day at 3:00 pm. I saw Walter standing around looking lost. I walked up to him and saw that he had his grandson with him. Grandson was dragging Grandpa to the checkout to get the game. Secretly, I slipped the game into Walter’s hand. He turned around and I gave him a big smile. He tried to refuse it, but I waved him off and left him with his eager and now screaming grandson.
That was just about how my encounter with Walter occurred. Never have I met such a man with such a background, a background full of pain and hardships. His own nephew swindled him, his country mistreated him, and his mother passed away on him. If any of these things happened to me, I know that I’d be too devastated to live. But Walter did not quit on himself and kept going, fought through all of those hardships. I have learned so much from these hardships. Before Walter, I never knew that the American Government mistreated Japanese Americans and wrongly accused them of sabotage during World War II. I never knew that someone as close to you as your nephew could swindle you. And I never knew what it would be like if my mother was not there for me. From these three events, I’ve learned that wrongly accusing someone can cause much harm, that relatives cannot always be trusted, and that my mother will not always be there for me. My interview with Walter really made me look closer at the things I normally take for granted! For my closing remark, I would like to make this statement:
“Thank you, Walter, for helping me see that life is not just fun and pleasure. Thank you for teaching me to be cautious of the people around me. I hope that you and your family prosper in the future and that you live the rest of your life in happiness.”