My Father-In-Law’s Diary

My Japanese-American father-in-law, Shigezo Iwata (see posting of 10/9/2010), became a devout Christian from missionaries in Japan, and, largely because of that, came to America as a young man in the 1920s.  He left a diary in English of his first year that revealed the difficulties of a new immigrant.  His handwriting and written English were surprisingly clear, much better than his spoken English.  I had only known him as a gruff, demanding man with old-school values, but his diary revealed the inner person struggling alone in an often incomprehensible society.  (I only know of this from memory.  The diary was among a group of items that were stolen.)

He was of the Samurai class and had already graduated in business from the prestigious Waseda University in Japan.  He struggled to get his master’s degree at several Midwestern universities, but his difficulties with English eventually became too much to overcome.  His social life centered around various Protestant church groups who willingly accepted and helped him.  There were few other Japanese immigrants and almost no Japanese-Americans he could bond with.  He needed the bravery of a Samurai to  survive.

He mentions his loneliness on his 21st birthday that passes uncelebrated as he is adrift in a strange country with a strange language and customs.

He only mentions one episode of outright prejudice.  When he got off of a bus, he was stopped by a policeman who was about to arrest him for following a woman also on the bus.  The woman herself denied the accusation, and he was released.  His life would have changed right there if it were not for her honesty.

He becomes briefly infatuated with a woman in a church group and describes how attractive and wonderful she is, how he would enjoy being with her forever.  The next day he is crushed when he gets an irate letter from her husband.  “How could I know she was married?” he asks in his diary.   Apparently he was not familiar with our custom of wearing rings on the left hand to indicate marriage, and the slight difference between “Miss” and “Mrs.” was beyond his understanding of English.

The diary ends abruptly when he leaves for New York City, just when it would have really been interesting.  That is where he got a reputation for wild living, but we will never know whether it was deserved or just another misunderstanding.


About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
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