Is Good Neighborliness Good Business?
He was the least likely of neighbors to do it, a Buddhist turned Roman Catholic, patriarch of a California wine-growing clan.
I was a Southern Baptist youth, only recently learned how to shave, and served in the new “Korean
War” as a sailor.
You know the rashness of youth. I wondered aloud,
“How is it that you, a Japanese Buddhist, came to be
sending your son to Mary Knoll Seminary to become a
The lesson he taught me about the importance of
being a good neighbor has not been lost for more than
fifty years. Here’s his story in his words.
At the beginning of World War II, I was struggling
whether to enlist in military service. My struggle was not
because I was Nisei. It was because I had a wife. I had
three small children. How might I best serve my country,
care for my young family, and manage my new
vineyards? Even at home, I was struggling to maintain
them. What would happen if I left to join the service? I
might well not have worried.
At 10:00 a.m. one morning three Military Police
arrived at my home with a covered truck. They pounded
on my door and entered my house without permission.
“Pack one overnight bag for your family,” the leader
told me, “and be quick about it!”
By 10:15 p.m. my family and I were in the truck, on
our way to what was called a relocation center far from
my own neighborhood. I never had time, nor was
allowed, to call a neighbor or anyone to tell them what
was happening. By evening we were in a fenced
enclosure that was to be our home until the end of the
He sipped his wine. I was a teetotaler, but because I
was a guest in his house, and didn’t want to make a fuss, I
had accepted a glass. I tentatively sipped a swallow and
set the glass down.
“The wine is not good?” he had asked.
“Too good,” I had answered. “If I get started, I might
not be able to stop.”
He smiled and nodded knowingly. He continued his
When we returned, all Nisei returned to the area, we
found our homes and businesses gone. Sold for taxes to
our neighbors the first year we were gone. I couldn’t
believe it. All the vines I had labored so arduously to
plant and nurture. All the contracts I had so carefully
negotiated with the distillery. The home my wife and I
had so lovingly remodeled evenings when it was too dark
to work the vineyards– gone!
We could lay claim to no part of our former
possessions–property, furniture, jewelry. Nothing.
As I walked the city streets in disbelief, I wondered
how I could ever start over again. We were still despised
as “Japs” by much of the local population and former
neighbors. I was unlikely to find even the most menial
I was in tears. What would I tell my wife? But she
knew. Surely she already knew. Something of this
magnitude could not be hidden. Perhaps in another part of
the country I could get a job as a gardener.
“You know, lots of rich folks love to have a Japanese
gardener,” he said bitterly.
I looked around at the invaluable appointments,
lovely brocaded furniture, priceless wall hangings,
luxurious carpets, and wondered what he meant by “rich
He sighed at the memory of his misery, took another
sip of wine, and continued.
As I stood there, tears in my eyes, someone called my
name. I turned to face the voice. It was my old neighbor.
He was a vineyard owner on the land next to mine–the
land that used to be mine.
I had helped him irrigate his vines by hand one year
when the drought threatened our crops. He had helped me
choose the best stock to plant when I had first started. I
thought we had been good neighbors.
When I returned to the area, I found that he was the
person who had bought my property. For taxes. My own
neighbor! I tried to hide my bitterness.
“I didn’t know you were back,” my former neighbor
told me. “Where’s your family?”
I told him. I explained there had been an addition
since I left. He grinned and led me to his sedan.
“Hop in,” he said.
I couldn’t believe that this backstabbing neighbor
could have the gall to act so friendly. I don’t know why,
but I climbed in. He babbled happily, as if to a long-lost
friend as he drove to where my family was.
“Go get them. Get them all. I want to see the
young’ns. And I have something I want to show you.”
As we left the place where we picked up my family, I
recognized the route he was following. Two of my boys
were in the front seat with me. The oldest, the seminarian
from Mary Knoll, suddenly cried out.
“Father! This is the road to our house!”
I thought the grin on my old neighbor’s face was
especially wicked. Why are you doing this? I wondered.
Why are you torturing us this way?
We drove up to our old home. It looked well kept,
even lovingly cared for. Who lives here now? I wondered.
He jumped out and opened the car doors. He led us
into the house and into this room where we are now
Everything was as we had left it. But the dust of
years had not settled in. The carpets had been faithfully
vacuumed. The windows regularly washed. The furniture
carefully polished. Whoever lived here must have loved
the house as much as we did.
Seeing how carefully everything had been
maintained, I couldn’t be too angry with my neighbor.
After all, purchase of my property had been a business
deal for him. I’m sure it wasn’t anything personal.
The old man took another sip of wine. He pointed at
an elaborately carved, small desk with a drop down front
that stood against a wall. He went on with his story.
My neighbor took me to that desk and opened a
drawer. He took out a handful of papers and handed them
to me. They were the deeds and ownership documents for
my house and business.
I glanced at them, wondering how any one human
being could be so heartless as to gloat before a family that
had fallen to the depths I had reached.
“Look at them, read them,” he said when he noticed I
simply stood there, stupidly holding them in my hand.
When I did, my heart stopped. My name was on the
first paper I looked at. With trembling hand I looked at
another. My name. And another. And another. On every
document. My name. Just my name. Not his, not even as
He unlocked the drop down front and opened a
drawer inside. He took out a bankbook and handed it to
me. I scanned it. I could not believe my eyes. The balance
had increased significantly each year while I was gone.
“Business was good during the war,” he told me.
“My only problem was finding labor to do the work. But I
“But- - -but these are your profits,” I told him. I
shoved the bank book toward him. “Here. Take it. It’s
He laughed. “Naw. Your farm helped me. When we
added our properties together, I got more ration coupons
for gas, negotiated better contracts with the distillery,
generally did better business. You won’t believe this, but
when I broke down the tax bill, even that was less. I got
my pay. This is all yours.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. I wept openly. My wife
and I hugged each other and cried. Finally, I looked at my
The old patriarch looked at me and said, "You want to know why I'm sending my son to seminary to become a Christian priest? Well, here's why. I asked my neighbor, 'Why did you do all this for me? After all, we were only neighbors'.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” he told me. “You see,
in my faith we are all God’s children. We are brothers,
you and me.”
This true story is brought to you courtesy of
First United Methodist Church
of Miami, Florida
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