8Books Review: “American Sutra” by Duncan Ryuken Williams

American Sutra: A Story of Faith and Freedom in the Second World War by Duncan Ryuken Williams revisits Japanese American internment through the lens of Buddhism.

Williams begins as World War II breaks out and Japan becomes an enemy of the United States. He examines the Japanese Buddhist communities in Hawaii and the mainland, how Buddhism’s role in the community impacted the decision making around who was interred and in what sequence, how Japanese Christians fared in comparison, how internees found ways to adapt Buddhism for strength and survival, how Japanese Americans fighting in the war petitioned for their own priests and proper death rites, and countless individual stories.

This is an academic book, so it’s not for the faint of heart, nor is it what I would suggest as an introduction to the history of Japanese American internment (if you’re here, reading this, I can only assume that you don’t need such an intro), but what it does offer is a detailed, thoroughly researched, and thought-provoking new angle. Religion offers an important lens, understudied and under acknowledged. Williams offers multiple views on its role, from Buddhism being another way in which Japanese were identified as alien, to its ability to offer solace to a Japanese American soldier being tortured in the Philippines.

And though covering a dark chapter in American history, Williams pitches this as a hopeful saga about American multiplicity, religious freedom, and offers a timely call for inclusion over exclusion.

NYC Theater Review: “The Chinese Lady” by Lloyd Suh

Lloyd Suh’s new play, The Chinese Lady, takes us on a journey with the first Chinese woman to set foot in the United States. Her name was Afong Moy. She arrived in 1835 at the age of 14 and was put on display as “The Chinese Lady.” The cost of admission? 25 cents for adults, 10 cents for children. Co-produced by Ma-Yi Theater Company and the Barrington Stage Company, the cast of two–Shannon Tyo and Daniel Isaac–takes the audience on a journey through Afong’s life.

Afong (played by Shannon Tyo), we are told, comes from a well-off family, the youngest of seven, and has bound feet–making her a curiosity to New York audiences. Her family sold her into two years of service with American merchants. We are quickly introduced to Atung (played by Daniel K. Isaac), her translator, who we are told speaks both Chinese and English. Most of the speaking stays with Afong, with occasional interjections from Atung that bring warmth and comedy and humanity to these largely forgotten historic figures.

We follow Afong as she ages, but remains on display, even meeting President Jackson. Her optimism begins to waver, her clothes changes, and still she thinks about relations between the U.S. and China, between her and her audience. Towards the end, the play rapidly casts its audience through Chinese American immigration history via Afong–1882 Exclusion Act, the Geary Act, and on–before jumping to the present. This is an important lineage, but I felt this contemporary jump overly much and a bit didactic.

Still, Suh’s play seeks to dive into and through our constant conversations about identity and cross-cultural understanding and belonging and otherness, all the while weaving in our collective past. And that makes it worthwhile.

The Chinese Lady is playing at Theatre Row (410 W. 42nd Street) through Sunday, November 18. Cost: $30-$42.25. Tickets are available by calling 212-239-6200; or online at: www.telecharge.com/Off-Broadway/The-Chinese-Lady/ or through TodayTix at https://www.todaytix.com/x/nyc/shows/12360-the-chinese-lady#noscroll

Photo by Eloy Garcia

Remembering Asian and Pacific Islander Veterans: US Army Profiles

Asian Americans have had a long history with US Armed forces, as we have written about before. I grew up surrounded by Filipino American Navy Veterans and their families, and I lived the Navy Brat lifestyle. When looking for stories about veterans, I found this profile on prominent and historic Asian and American and Pacific Islander Army veterans.  It is notable for acknowledging the long history of Asian American veterans and for having one particularly notable omission.

A description of Senator Daniel Inouye was not surprising – I definitely expected someone from the 442nd regiment to be included.  Also not surprising was the inclusion of Senator Tammy Duckworth, who lost both legs in the Iraq War.  I didn’t know about Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who is still serves in the Hawaii Army National Guard.

The picture above is of that Edward Day Cohota.  Born in China, he fought in the American Civil War.  That surprised me – I didn’t know that there were any Chinese Americans who fought in that war!  He went on to serve in the army for 30 years.  Cohota thought his long years of service would grant him citizenship, but he didn’t get his papers completed before the Chinese Exclusion Act and never became a citizen, a story echoed today of what has happened with some current immigrants in the military.

Conspicuously missing was any mention of Major General Antonio Taguba.  Taguba, as you may recall, was responsible during the Iraq War for compiling a report on prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison which was leaked in 2004.  He was asked to retire in 2007.  Lou Sing Kee, a WWI War hero, was not listed. I also learned that he was even mentioned (as Sing Kee) in a Stevie Wonder song called Black Man.

Despite a few omissions, I still think it is a list worth reading (see the other Chinese American who fought in the Civil War).  For other Asian American veteran stories, I suggest checking out Koji Sakai‘s graphic novel 442StoryCorp’s Military Voices project has many moving Veteran stories, such as this one that we that highlighted on a Memorial Day and this one on a past veteran’s day.

8Books Review: “The Chinese Must Go” by Beth Lew-Williams

Beth Lew-Williams’s new history, The Chinese Must Go: Violence, Exclusion, and the Making of the Alien in America, is a thorough examination of anti-Chinese violence in the West in the 1880s and its relation to U.S. immigration policy.

If the history of American immigration policy, and particularly Chinese exclusion, is new to you, this might not be the best place to start. But for those who are, Lew-Williams adds nuance to our understanding of 1882 and 1888 Chinese exclusion laws and how they shaped and shaped in turn violent expulsions of Chinese in places like Wyoming and Washington. The latter chapters and epilogue delve into how Chinese immigration policy shaped the American conception of aliens as a category.

It’s a dense, yet highly informative read and is notable for drawing the connections between the history of Chinese exclusion and racial violence, and the larger trajectory of citizenship and rights.

8Books Review: “Bury What We Cannot Take” by Kirstin Chen

Bury What We Cannot Take, the latest novel from author Kirstin Chen set in Mao’s China, is a doozy. After 12-year-old Ah Liam reports his grandmother to the Communist Party, the family must flee their little island off the mainland. His mother applies for temporary exit visas to go to Hong Kong where his father lives. But she is told that she can either take Ah Liam or her daughter San San, leaving one behind as proof that they will return.

The impossible decision shakes the family and its members to their core. The novel spins it’s way around this single moment. I had thought this might be the kind of book that spans decades, traversing all the way into some distant future. Instead, it stays rather compact, unraveling in minute details each character’s thoughts, decisions, actions, and internal conflicts. Mother, father, grandmother, son, daughter. One displaced family grappling with this harsh reality and the truth–often ugly, sometimes beautiful–that it reveals in all of them.

At the novel’s heart are questions about the meaning of family–what is real, what is artificial, is family fragile or unbreakable. Bury What We Cannot Take is compellingly written, a fast and entrancing read, but also definitely an emotional doozy.

8Books Review: “Stolen Oranges” by Max Yeh

Stolen Oranges, a new novel by Max Yeh, is a whirlwind of a historical tale, recounting a series of letters written between Miguel Cervantes (of Don Quixote fame) and a Ming emperor as told by their discoverer–a Chinese American historian. I was first drawn to this novel by the back cover description: “this dazzling meditation on the intricacies of memory, language, and time.” And when it showed up at my doorstep, by the small size of the book itself, about the size of my hand.

I hadn’t even opened the book yet. Yeh’s story begins with the Chinese American historian, who is writing a historical book (which is to say that it reads like non-fiction, though it is fiction), introducing the circumstances that led him to discover and then translate a series of letters between Cervantes and Emperor Wanli. It is, in a particular style of history writing, a bit dense at times, but worth meandering through even if one, such as I, lack understanding of nearly all references to Don Quixote. But I found the gems to be in these letters that go back and forth. Both the Emperor and Cervantes’ letters offer ruminations on the promised topics of memory, language, and time in manner that is deeply philosophical, somewhat long-winded, yet mostly accessible.

Take this passage on words and language as an example:

Words are an empty palace we are born into, the halls and corridors to which, nooks and crannies, windows and doorways, were long ago constructed by innumerable and unknown builders and planners and workmen whose unknown and unknowable intentions and meanings are set in stone and wood and whose spaces form our whole lives, while we live so conformed under the illusion that we are ever building the palace the way we want it.

Perhaps out of context it is slightly less legible, but peppered throughout these fictional letters are intriguing nuggets about humanity. Though technically a novel, it is much more akin to a philosophy book, even more so than a history book. This is not what I would call an easy or fast read, but Stolen Oranges is rewarding for those interested in a well-executed deep dive into ideas and theories about language and being.

8Books Review: ‘Thank You Very Mochi’ by Paul Matsushima, Sophie Wang, and Craig Ishii

What’s the book about?

When Kimi and her family visit Grandma and Grandpa’s house for New Year’s mochitsuki, they discover the mochi-machine is broken. After initial fears that mochitsuki will be cancelled, Grandpa proposes an interesting, yet old-fashioned solution of making mochi the hand-pounded way.

What exactly is mochitsuki?

Mochitsuki, or pounding rice to make mochi (rice cakes), is an important traditional event in preparation for the New Year in Japan. (Source)

My Thoughts…

Raising an Asian American kid takes some thought. I want him to be proud of who he is and where his ancestors come from. But in the Japanese American community, that can be a bit tougher than some other ethnicities. During World War II, Japanese Americans were made to choose between being Japanese and being American. Most chose to be American. And the “lesson” the community learned from the experience was to blend in—not to speak Japanese, not to live in Japanese communities, etc. In other words, to be as “American” as possible. Because of that, there has in the past—less now—been a shunning of all things seen as too Japanese in the community.

This is why books like Thank You Very Mochi are important for Japanese American families like mine. It connects our culture and American heritages. It allows us to teach and celebrate who we are and our experiences. And it puts people who look like us in the center of the story… as opposed to one of the faces in a crowd. The first time my five-year-old read the book, he told  me, “they look like us.” (On a side note, this was an interesting comment since we’ve read children’s books before that featured Asian and Japanese Americans before).

In fact, my son was so proud of the book he wanted to bring it to his pre-school. It was during a unit where they were studying traditions. Even though, we as a family don’t have a mochitsuki tradition, he wanted to share it with his friends. His classmates enjoyed the story and even got to taste some yummy mochi from Fugetsudo. The part of the reading that warmed my heart the most though was when we got to the pages that had images from the Japanese American “camps” during World War II. Because my son and I ALWAYS talk about them, he kept wanting to tell his little friends about them too. However, since the kids were only four and five, I didn’t think it was appropriate topic for me to bring up; so I told my son that we shouldn’t discuss this then and there. (It should be noted that if you prefer not to talk about the “camps,” they are not mentioned explicitly. However,  if you do,  there are images that depict “camp” life and can lead to interesting conversations about them.)

I realized I wrote this entire review and haven’t mentioned what I thought of the actual contents. I love the writing and the pictures. And more importantly, my kid loves it too. Get a copy of it right away or as a Christmas present for the Asian/Japanese American kid in your life. 

One last thing, I would like to shout out the folks who put out the book: Kizuna. They are a Japanese American non-profit who are trying to connect culture with the next generation. I think they are an organization worth knowing about. To find out more, go to their website here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter @ksakai1

Asian American X-Files: The Only Asian Person to Have Sex With an Alien

Ever since I read Communion by Whitley Strieber, I’ve been fixated on the alien abductee experience. One of the things I’ve noticed is that a lot of the screen memories of abductees seem to involve Asians. The definition, according to Merriam-Webster, of screen memory is: “a recollection of early childhood that may be falsely recalled or magnified in importance and that masks another memory of deep emotional significance.” When used in context of an alien abduction, many seem to remember seeing an Asian person instead of an alien in their rooms. It is unclear if that’s something their own mind does to mask a traumatic experience or something their abductors put in their heads.

I was hoping to write my next 8Asians article on this phenomenon, but I was having a hard time finding anything. But during this “research” I came across the name Meng Zhaoguo, a Chinese lumberjack who believes he has had sex with an alien.

What fascinates me about Meng, other than the fact that he claims to have had sexual relations with a being not from this world, is that he’s Asian. Why is that unusual? The world of UFOs and aliens—most of the paranormal realm in fact—is very Western. The first UFO sighting—at least in the modern sense of it—was in the late 40s in Roswell, New Mexico and most of the sightings and other related events seem to take place exclusively in the English-speaking world. This isn’t to say that there haven’t been cases that have taken place in other parts of our planet—there have—but they have been much less common.

This is why when I came across Meng Zhaoguo’s story, I was instantly interested. Here’s the quick synopsis of his story:

In 1994, Meng thought he saw a helicopter crash in a remote Northeast corner of China. When he went to investigate, he was knocked out. He woke up back at his place. A few nights later, he was sleeping in bed with his wife and daughter when a nearly ten foot tall, twelve fingered woman with thighs coated with braided hair came to his room, levitated him, and then they engaged in a forty minute love making session.

According to interviews, Meng claimed that he was taken aboard a space ship on numerous occasions after this first encounter. He learned about a human/alien hybrid program and was warned that humans were destroying the Earth.

I was not able to verify this, but many articles claim that Meng successfully passed a lie detector test conducted by the police. In the Wikipedia entry about this case, the UFO Enthusiasts Club at Wuhan University came to the conclusion that the first encounter “may have occurred, the subsequent reported events were almost certainly untrue.”

I won’t pass judgement on whether or not any of this actually happened. But I am suspicious. It is believed that he “received numerous gifts as a result of his abduction, including a Sony television, a cow and, most notably, a job at a Harbin university.” (Source) If someone offered me an expensive TV to say that I had sex with an alien, I’d probably consider it. That’s not true. Buy me a nice dinner and a movie and I’ll say whatever you want me to say. But to be fair to Meng, he’s not the only one in the world who had made this particular claim. This Buzzfeed article highlights six cases of people claiming to have had sex with an alien.

As I looked into the story, one of the things that I found interesting was the attitude of the Chinese government toward the UFO/alien abduction phenomenon. From what I could find, the government’s position on such matters is pretty open:

The PRC once held a very conservative attitude to UFOs and forbid any reports until Reform and Opening Up. “It involved things like location and political factors,” says Wu. “But now we welcome UFOs and aliens and expect we could gain their materials and learn their techniques in order to improve our science. If we discover aliens some day, I hope I could communicate and establish a harmonious relationship with them. People could treat them peacefully.” (Source)

What do you think? Do you think Meng Zhaoguo slept with an alien? Tell me in the comments below.

Follow me on Twitter @Ksakai1 

 

Did Jesus Die in Ancient Japan?

Twenty thousand people every year visit Shingō Village in the Aomori Prefecture (referred to as: Kirisuto no Sato or “Hometown of Christ” by locals) that claims that Jesus visited Japan during his lost years and then returned after escaping crucifixion by having his brother take his place on the cross, making his way to Shingō where he became a garlic farmer, married a local woman, and had three children.

Today, in Shingō, you can visit Jesus’ alleged grave site and museum. Next to Jesus’ mound is another mound where Jesus’ brother’s ear is buried along with a lock of hair from Mary—both of which, according to the legend, he carried with him when he fled execution.

Just in case that’s hard to read:

When Jesus Christ was 21 years old, he came to Japan and pursued knowledge of divinity for 12 years. He went back to Judea at age 33 and engaged in his mission. However, at that time, people in Judea would not accept Christ’s preaching. Instead, they arrested him and tried to crucify him on a cross. His younger brother, Isukiri casually took Christ’s place and ended his life on the cross.

Christ, who escaped the crucifixion, went through the ups and downs of travel, and again came to Japan. He settled right here in what is now called Herai Village, and died at the age of 106.

On this holy ground, there is dedicated a burial mound on the right to deify Christ, and a grave on the left to deify Isukiri.

The above description was given in a testament by Jesus Christ.

Sound ridiculous? That’s because it is. Especially when you consider the fact that only one percent of people in Japan identify as Christian. But let’s pretend for a moment that there is something actually to this whole thing. How do people know Jesus visited Japan and then later died there? According to the legend, in 1935, Jesus’ last will and testament was found, which proved that he had not only been in Japan but died there. The document was “coincidentally” burned during World War II, but “luckily” someone had made copies.

What’s the proof that Jesus was actually in Shingō? Here is the “evidence” that is often cited:

It has been pointed out that some of the traditional clothing of the region included toga-like robes worn by men that were unlike other Japanese clothing, as well as veils worn by women, all of which seem more like something from biblical Palestine than Japan. In addition, some of the ancient traditions of the area included other things that are considered to be decidedly non-Japanese, such as carrying babies in woven baskets, wrapping them in robes embroidered with something akin to the Star of David, and marking their foreheads with crosses of charcoal. Even the regional dialect is said to have connections to the Holy Land, with some words resembling Hebrew more than Japanese. Even the name of the village itself was once Herai, which is remarkably similar to the Japanese word for Hebrew, Heburai. On top of all of this, it was once said that many of the villagers had decidedly foreign looking facial features and even blue eyes- let’s ignore that Jesus most certainly did not have blue eyes- that were seen to be a sign that they were descended from someone of non-Japanese origin. (Source)

My favorite part of the myth is Jesus’ supposed decedents have not let the fact that they are related to arguably the most important person to ever walk our planet get to their heads. In fact, a reporter asked one of them if they were going to do anything for Christmas and this was their answer:

“I’m not really planning anything at all for the 25th as it doesn’t really matter to us,” said 52-year-old Mr Sawaguchi. “I know I am descended from Jesus but as a Buddhist it’s just not all that important.” (Source)

Thankfully, it appears that most people in the village don’t actually believe any of this. They seem to mostly want to play along because it brings tourists—from I imagine all over the world—to a small village no one would visit otherwise and spend money at the museum gift shop.

“We’re not saying that the story is true or what is written in the Bible is wrong,” a village official told the BBC. “All we are saying is that this is a very interesting old legend. It’s up to the people who come here to decide how they interpret it.” (Source)

Are you interested in visiting Kirisuto no Sato? It’s apparently quite a commute from Tokyo. For specifics, check out CNN’s Travel article.

What do you think? Any chance Jesus didn’t die on the cross and ended up in Japan as a garlic farmer instead?

Follow me at @ksakai1  

8Books Review: “The Hope of Another Spring: Takuichi Fujii”

The Hope of Another Spring: Takuichi Fujii, Artists and Wartime Witness brings Fujii’s art to a broader audience with the stunning pages from a diary he kept while incarcerated during World War II. Written by Barbara Johns and with an introduction by the artist’s grandson Sandy Kita, this book offers a historical, art historical, and also deeply personal insight on to Takuichi Fujii. The first half delves into Fujii’s biography, providing an overview of his life in Seattle and the position of Japanese issei artists within the West Coast art scene, before delving into his family’s forced relocation first to the detention camp in Puyallup, Washington, and then to Minidoka, Idaho. The author also provides a as thorough an accounting of Fujii’s career and life work as possible.

But the gem of this book is the reproduction of Fujii’s diary that takes up the second half. His sketches and their accompanying notes (diary entires of a sort) provide a detailed look at life inside a Japanese internment camp and the emotional turmoil of that experience. The text ranged from a simple description to more of a thought out musing. It’s very poetic in styling and voice. All told, the works provide an intimate portrait of this life behind barbed wire fences. The Hope of Another Spring offers an issei artist’s perspective to our understanding of Japanese American’s wartime incarceration, while also bringing a valuable study of Fujii and his artistic journey and long career.

My Father’s Lost Concentration Camp (Pt. 2 of 2)

In April of this year, I was asked by Southern California Public Radio to do a presentation about my family as part of their new series called, Unheard LA. The following is the video from my talk, followed by my original speech (broken into two parts). Please note, the text is from the original draft of the speech, so at points is considerably different than the actual talk I gave.

https://www.facebook.com/KPCCInPerson/videos/1461691680518601/

Be sure to read, Part 1. 

CHAPTER 5: The story (cont.)

The “camp” my family was sent to was in Topaz, Utah.

Now imagine: People going from sunny and WARM Hawaii to the high deserts of Utah—where in the winter there was a snow on the ground and in the summer it was often over 100 degrees. They couldn’t have been prepared for that.

It is important not only to know where they were but why. In 1943, America needed soldiers and people to help the war effort. And there were 120,000 Japanese Americans sitting idly in these “camps.” But the problem was that the government couldn’t tell the “good” Japanese Americans versus the “bad” Japanese Americans. So, they created a loyalty questionnaire.

The two most important questions were questions 27-28.

There were only two possible answers to these questions. Yes, Yes and No, No. Answering one of them no, meant you were answering them both no. These two questions literally divided my community and its effects can still be felt today.

So why did people answer yes-yes? It’s pretty simple actually. They were loyal and willing to prove it. And they had no allegiances to any other country. The No-Nos were a bit more complicated. Some said, take me out of camp, take me out of this prison, I’m willing to answer yes, until then: No. And they believed Question 28 was a trick question, because the basic underlying assumption was that you had allegiances to another country.

How did my grandfather answer these questions? No Question 27 and No to Question 28.

Here are my grandfather’s words on why he answered the way he did:

  1. As an American citizen, he was insulted.
  2. He thought if he answered yes-yes, he and his family would be released on the mainland where they had no friends and family and into communities where anti-Japanese sentiment prevailed.
  3. If they were going to be deported anyway – as my grandfather believed – a ‘yes’ answer would not look good.

And, because of his answer, they were sent to Tule Lake.

…where all the “bad” Japanese were sent.

In 1944, the US government passed a law that allowed American born citizens to renounce their citizenship voluntarily during wartime. The bill was designed to pave the way for the mass deportation of Japanese Americans after the war.

It was under this law that my grandfather (and other Japanese Americans like him) renounced his citizenship. He said he did this because he was convinced that Japanese Americans were going to be deported to Japan and it’s better to be first rather than last in line. Secondly, there were pro-Japanese factions in camps that threatened him and his family if he didn’t renounce his citizenship.

Once Tule Lake closed, they were sent to Crystal City, Texas.

This camp was for an “enemy aliens” and had to adhere to the Geneva Conventions, meaning better food and shelter than the “regular camps”. And when I looked into it, there was a swimming pool in Crystal City

After the war, my grandfather and other Japanese Americans realized renouncing their citizenship was a mistake. They worked with Wayne Collins, a wonderful lawyer from San Francisco, who said, “You can no more resign your citizenship in a time of war than you can resign from the human race.” He argued their renunciations had been the result of the unlawful detention and the terrible conditions in Tule Lake and not their decision.

My grandfather argued he was an American by birth. His rights had been violated. But he wanted to remain in the country.

After much hand wringing, my grandfather and his family were allowed to stay…

… they were given $25 dollars each and one way tickets back to Hawaii. Their citizenship was returned to them 10 years later.

I don’t look at my grandfather’s story through rose-colored glasses. There are many disturbing things about his story. In fact, the first time I read it I thought he was a spy. Unfortunately, my grandfather passed away before I was born. I have so many questions I wish I could ask him. The most important being, did he know about Pearl Harbor.

But even without those answers, I no longer believe he was a spy. He just got caught in a wave of hysteria and was making the decisions he thought was best for him and his family. Blaming my grandfather also takes blame away from the government, who incarcerated 120,000 based entirely on their ethnicity.

Now that I know the story, I use every opportunity to pass the story to my son.

CHAPTER 6: Passing the story

It started with a trip to Manzanar when he was four.

But this was not just a one-time thing. Every time we pass places where Japanese Americans were incarcerated here in Southern California, I make sure to remind him. So that includes Santa Anita Race track, Griffith Park, Pomona Fair Grounds, and Tuna Canyon. I tell him, “this is where they locked up our people.”

This is my life’s work, to share the story of my family and others who were locked up. In fact, I constantly tell my son that we, as decadents of people who were locked up in these “camps,” have a moral responsibility to make sure that it never happens again to anyone ever. And I share it with all of you in the hopes we don’t let history repeat itself again.

Follow me on Twitter @ksakai1.

My Father’s Lost Concentration Camp (Pt. 1 of 2)

In April of this year, I was asked by Southern California Public Radio to do a presentation about my family as part of their new series called, Unheard LA. The following is the video from my talk, followed by my original speech (broken into two parts). Please note, the text is from the original draft of the speech, so at points is considerably different than the actual talk I gave.

https://www.facebook.com/KPCCInPerson/videos/1461691680518601/

CHAPTER 1: My hero

My father’s name was Walter Sakai. He was my hero. I know a lot of people say that about their dad’s, and I’m sure they mean it, but I had a special relationship with him. You see, he had a stroke when I was born that left him unable to work. Because of it, he took care of me and we got to be very close.

The one part of him that I never understood was what happened to him when he was in “camp.”

CHAPTER 2: My understanding of what happened

“Camp” is shorthand in Japanese American for the “internment camp” or more accurately, “concentration camp.” I know people always freak out when they hear that word. This is no disrespect to what happened in Europe, because those were much worse, those were death camps. What happened here is the picture book definition of a concentration camp. In fact, the people in government originally called it a concentration camp. Calling it an internment camp is a euphemism. Another euphemism from that time is “relocation” instead of what it really was an “incarceration.”

One of the earliest memories I have of my father was him trying to make sense of what happened to him when he was a child. Time, sickness, and age had worn down his memory until he had only three left of his time in camp.

  1. His dad worked for the “Japanese government” and that’s why they were taken.
  2. That they had been in the Tule Lake, Northern California camp.
  3. That the food was really bad.

No one else in the family seemed to remember much more. When I asked my uncle, the oldest child in my father’s family, he told me they were in Topaz, Utah. And my aunt, my dad’s older sister, said they were Crystal City, Texas. My aunt also remembered a swimming pool at Crystal City! A swimming pool? In a concentration camp? What’s unusual about all of this was that most Hawaiian Japanese were not taken to the camps. So why them?

The one thing everyone said was that neither of my grandparents wanted to discuss what happened and that my grandmother would have a visceral reaction when she thought about her time in “camp.”

CHAPTER 3: Trying to find his story

Just because my father wasn’t sure what happened to him, didn’t mean “camp” didn’t keep popping up in our lives.

In 1988, my father received his twenty thousand dollars and an official apology from the government. I remember how much it meant to him when he got it. It was vindication that what happened was wrong.

A few years after that, my father took me to the Japanese American National Museum, which was relatively new when we went. I only remember one thing from the trip, my father looking up his father (my grandfather) in the library. The records indicated that my grandfather was a mechanic. My father didn’t like that! He said he wasn’t a mechanic and we left.

I didn’t see this at the time but my father was yearning to find out answers as to what happened and why.

CHAPTER 4: My path to the story

It wasn’t until I started working at the Japanese American National Museum in my mid-twenties that I started to ask questions about what happened. Being around Japanese American history and culture as well as people who had been in camp, I suddenly needed to know my family’s story. Everyone who knew—including my father—had passed away or didn’t remember much, so I started to do research. I wrote to the National Archives, Dept. of Justice, and the FBI…

CHAPTER 5: The story

… and this is the story I found…  I hope this puts my father’s soul to rest.

My grandfather was a NISEI, a second generation, or in other words an American citizen.

My father had been right, my grandfather worked for the Japanese government. He was a clerk in the consulate’s office in Honolulu which was the equivalent of working for the Taliban in New York City right before 9/11. Not a great place for him to have been.

The FBI believed my grandfather was pro-Japanese with anti-American sentiment, more “old-time Japanese” than anything else.

My grandfather was taken by the FBI and sent to Sand Island in Hawaii. He was accused of three things:

1. In 1937, he and another consulate official took a camera from a naval intelligence officer who was taking a picture of a Japanese ship.

2. During a hearing, he admitted seeing other consulate officials acting suspiciously and did not report it to the proper authorities.

3.  And probably most damming, he was paid to burn paperwork on August 1, 1941.

The charges were vacated but the government considered him so much of a danger thhat he could not be released. So, they sent him (and my family) to the camps on the mainland.

To be continued…

Follow me on Twitter @ksakai1.