—— Can you tell us about the San Diego Japanese School for which you serve as principal?
On February 2, 1974, we founded a nonprofit corporation, the San Diego Japanese School, to provide a Japanese language education for the families of business personnel from Japan, the number of which was increasing as more Japanese companies came here, as well as for e students into three groups by the languages spoken with their families: Japanese, English, and Spanish. Currently, we teach every Saturday and have elementary, junior high, and senior high school levels. Our teaching team works hard day and night, assisting students to acquire the language, culture, customs, and heart of Japan, and to foster their respect for other languages and cultures. We look forward to seeing our students grow up to be cosmopolitans with affluent sensitivity and thoughtfulness.
—— Can you give us more background on the founding of the Japanese School?
We came to San Diego in 1968 because of my husband's work as a pastor. I had taught at an elementary school in Japan and a school for Japanese-speaking children in Brazil, so I planned to become an elementary school teacher in the US as well. But I was told that I would need to study history and the US Constitution in college here in order to teach in the US. So I decided to study all subjects once more, this time in English. I attended San Diego State University and received my California teaching credential, which allowed me to teach up to the 8th grade. Then, a few years after I had started teaching at a local elementary school, the families of business people from Japan and those interested in the Japanese language frequently requested that I open a language school. So, following the efforts that the Japanese pioneers had made, we established the San Diego Japanese School.
—— What sorts of difficulties did you run into while trying to establish the school?
Founding a school generally requires a lot of effort, but in particular we had difficulty with the management of our school. We created the classroom by furnishing it with only essential items, including the piano from our home. My husband and I continued to work outside to fund the school. Before coming to San Diego, we had lived in Brazil for seven years and been engaged in founding a school for Japanese children there, so we tried hard to utilize that experience to create our new school. Gradually, more people showed an interest in our school, and accordingly, we were getting more support, especially from organizations such as the Rotary Club, Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force, and the Japan Foundation. The Sasakawa Foundation particularly had backed us for ten years, which enabled us to open a library for the school in 1980. We also received support from the local Japanese community, Yuwa-kai members, and Americans. We appreciate all their generosity.
—— Can you tell us about your life in Brazil?
Because of my husband's missionary assignment, we, including our daughter and son, moved to a remote area in Minas Gerais, in southeast Brazil in 1961. It was a primitive town in a mountainous area, nine hours from Rio de Janeiro by train, where the locals, even adults, would walk barefoot. We had rice, but so little agricultural produce that our little son would point at the weeds rooting in front of our home and say, “I want to eat these weeds.”
Soon after we arrived in Brazil, the construction of the steelworks of USIMINAS (Usinas Siderúrgicas de Minas Gerais) started around the town, funded partly by Japanese shareholders. This would become the largest iron and steel plant in South America. The project increased the number of the families from Japan, which were assigned to work there for three years on average. They had to do something with their children, so we were asked to run the USIMINAS Japanese School, the first full-time school for Japanese children outside Japan, providing education at the elementary, junior high, and senior high school levels. We started in 1962; early on, we rented an apartment building and held the classes there. The school constantly had thirty to forty students, but only three teachers, which included us and a Japanese woman who had immigrated to Brazil. We eventually added more teachers: Japanese employees from Yawata Iron & Steel Co., or Fuji Iron & Steel Co. taught science on a volunteer basis and a student's mother, who had an English degree, taught English. We had textbooks sent from Japan, but other things were difficult to get. We did not have much, but everybody̶the children, parents, and teachers̶worked hard. Music performances, talent shows, field days̶we thoroughly enjoyed every single event. In 1967, then Crown Princess Michiko visited our school and planted a tree to commemorate her visit. The seven years we spent in Brazil have become an unforgettable memory for us.
—— What made you decide to become a teacher?
When we were students, Japan still had difficulties in its economy, and the number of women going to college was small, their occupations limited to particular fields. My father had always reminded me that a woman should become a teacher, so I studied education in college and worked for an elementary school in the city of Yokosuka after graduation. I had been raised in a Christian family; I met my future husband while going to church in Japan. After we got engaged, he went to Kentucky to study at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, aiming to become a pastor. I also went to Louisville in 1956 to attend the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and studied church music, conducting methods, and other subjects.
—— Did you dream about coming to the US when you were young?
Since being little, I had been interested in visiting the US at least once. It was partly because of my fatherﾕs influence. He had converted to Christianity with the help of an American missionary, Miss Estella Finch (who changed her name to Mitsuyo Hoshida after becoming naturalized as a Japanese citizen). He had always told me how wonderful Miss Finch and her way of life were, so I wished to visit the country that had produced such a great person. I also dreamed about attending a church like the one that Pollyanna, the main character in Eleanor Porter’s stories, went to. Also, upon our engagement, I expected that we would come to the US someday because of his work, but did not imagine that we would live here permanently. Actually, my grandfather had come to the US alone in 1905 and lived here until his death. His initial intention was go back to Japan, but unfortunately, the outbreak of war between Japan and the US did not allow him to do so. One day after the war, my father received a letter from my grandfather, expressing his wish to return to Japan. When my father was about to write back, encouraging my grandfather to return to Japan, we were informed that he had died of lung cancer. With such an experience, I had somehow felt familiar with American since I was little. I was interested in visiting the country where my grandfather had lived.
—— Do you have any other commitments in addition to operating the San
On weekdays, I teach the Japanese language at Hilltop High School, Bonita Vista High School, and the State University of Baja California. It’s been sixteen years since I started teaching at these schools. I believe running the San Diego Japanese School has given me opportunities to teach in high school and college. When five years had passed since I started teaching in high school, I reached a crossroads in my life. My teaching credential had allowed me to teach Japanese in high school for five years, but in order to continue teaching I needed to obtain a high school teaching credential. So, I began attending California State University, Los Angeles to receive a California high school teaching credential. Twice a week, after my high school classes were over, I would head for Los Angeles, which took three hours by Amtrak. To return home, I would catch the last train, leaving at 8:45 p.m., and study or eat on board. Amtrak’s train whistle still reminds me of those days. When I had to miss the last train because of an exam, I would come back to San Diego by bus. It took me two and a half years to complete the program, but when I look back, I am proud of my dedication.
—— Do you see cultural differences between Japan and the US from a teacher’s point of view?
Even a person like me, who was born in Japan and whose native language is Japanese, can equally get a job here as a citizen, as long as I have qualifications, and continue working regardless of age. That’s wonderful. I've heard that in Japan your boss would put pressure on you to resign after you’ve reached fifty. That used to worry me, so I once asked the high school’s human resources department. They replied, “You can still hear, right? You can stand with your two legs, right? If so, please work as long as you can.” I've seen this kind of attitude not only because I am in teaching, but also because I am in America. I believe American society is based on its founding spirit. I admire, from the bottom of my heart, this country’s traditional culture.
—— What has been your happiest moment?
As the principal of the Japanese School or a high school teacher, it is delightful to see our graduates growing up. The other day, a female student at tending Yale University visited me, wearing a T-shirt with the university logo. She must have been very happy and proud of her achievement. It is not that going to a top-level school impresses me, but seeing any student doing well on his/her own makes me happy. A few years ago, I went to a bakery in Horton Plaza. While browsing the showcase, I heard this excited voice, "Mrs. Fukuda!" from the back of the shop. As I looked up, I caught sight of a baker wearing bright white work clothes. It was a former student whom I had taught in high school. In his high school days, he was a football player and full of energy, but did not study... Yet, he now said, “Mrs. Fukuda, I baked this bread. Please take it!" He not only worked as a professional, but also greeted me. That made me very happy.
As a way of living as an individual and of repaying America for my secure life here, I have a commitment to dedicate myself to Japanese language education in the US. Results of educational activities do not appear in a day, but I believe positive outcomes will follow someday, while helping young people create their future.
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