Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Edge of the Bay

This is the second in a series of stories about my otosan or father, which I first posted last month.

In this story, I'll share with you a little bit about my father’s myōji or the “Ebata” family name. I still have many unanswered questions about my family’s roots and family name and, so, what I’m sharing with you is what I know to be true today.

For Japanese families, it’s common for their surnames to be derived from things related to nature, geographical features or to the landscape where they lived. The Ebata family name is believed to mean “edge of the bay,” which is where my ancestral roots are in Niigata-ken (prefecture).

According to legal records, the ancestral roots of the Ebata family can be traced at least as far back to the 1800’s to the town of Nakajo. The town was located in the Kitakanbara District in the Kaetsu area (in the north) of Niigata prefecture.

Today, the town of Nakajo no longer exists as the adjoining village of Kurokawa and Nakajo recently merged to form the new city of Tainai on September 1, 2005. Tainai City is a small traditional city with a population of about 34,000 built on a narrow plain that stretches about ten miles from the Sea of Japan to the foothills of the nearby mountains.

Up until 1962, the Ebata family owned two house lots in Nakajo, one house lot was 62 tsubo (a unit of measurement in Japanese real estate) or 2,203.48 square feet and the second house lot was 294 tsubo or 10,448.76 square feet. Both house lots equated to 356 tsubo or 12,652.24 square feet of land, which is roughly a third of an acre. As the eldest son, my father inherited these two house lots but he transferred ownership of the property to a man named Katsumi Shirase of Shibata on August 3, 1962. I don’t know who this man was, but he must have been a close friend or relative because my father may have taken his given name and adopted it as my eldest brother’s middle name, Katsumi.

Until 1960, my father went by the given name of Isami. Structurally, modern Japanese names are simple compared with American names. All Japanese have one family name, or surname, followed by one given name with no middle name; Japanese didn’t use middle names. For example, my father’s name “Isami” following the Japanese structure would be “Ebata Isami.” The only exception to Japanese names is the Imperial family whose members bear no surname and only a given name. American names clearly differentiate their given name followed by their middle name and then their family name. Thus, my father’s name following the American structure became “Isami Ebata.”

My father didn’t adopt a middle name until July 21, 1960, when he officially changed his name and adopted “Roy” as his American given name and he made his Japanese given name as his middle name. Thus, my father became known as “Roy Isami Ebata” from then on.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Otosan (Father)

In Japanese, the word otosan means “father.” In a series of articles, I want to share with you my personal stories about my family, starting with my otosan, Roy Isami Ebata. My intent is not to provide a biography about my father in the traditional sense. Instead, I want to share with you stories about my father in a unique, more interesting way, each story introducing relevant insights about him, and providing you a personal and historical context by which to learn about my Japanese heritage and culture in Hawaii.

I begin my story about father by first sharing with you his death. My father passed away on January 12, 1990, as an inpatient at Kuakini Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii; he was 71 years old. The cause of death was stomach cancer.

When it was discovered that my father had stomach cancer, it was already too late for the doctors to do anything to save his life. The cancer had spread to extensively throughout his body and to the major organs. I don't know for how long my father must have suffered from the symptons of cancer, but in his taisho way (or to demonstrate a stoic attitude toward life), he took the pain, not showing it outwardly and kept it hidden from the family as long as he could until the pain became too intense for him to hide it anymore. But, by then, the cancer was too far along and he died very quickly thereafter. He didn't want to be a burden to the family and accepted the inevitability of his impending death.

My father was given a Buddhist funeral service at Hosoi Mortuary, even though he had not been a practicing Buddhist since he was inducted into the U.S. army on February 23, 1942. His induction papers indicated that he was a Protestant. Interestingly, my father must have known that war with Japan was imminent because he requested expatriation of his Japanese nationality and his request was granted by the Japanese government on November 18, 1941, about 19 days prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The U.S., in common with other countries, forbids expatriation during time of war. Given the circumstances of the time in Hawaii, he had to cut all ties to anything Japanese to be inducted into the U.S. military service and fight for his country like the thousands of other Nisei who also served during World War II. (Note: I will share with you more of this part of my father's life in later stories.)

Immediately after the Buddhist funeral service, there was a second funeral service held for my father. As a veteran of World War II -- he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army as a member of the famed all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team on December 28, 1945 -- he was entitled to a military funeral service at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl Crater in Honolulu. My father was given a military funeral with a military honor guard and 3-volley salute and my mother given the American flag.

Japanese Hospital
My father died of stomach cancer at Kuakini Medical Center, which has an interesting history of serving the immigrant Japanese community in Honolulu since the beginning of the twentieth century. It was even known at one time as the Japanese Hospital.

Originally, the Japanese Benevolent Society, led by the Reverend Takie Okumura of the Honolulu Japanese Christian Church, banded together to care for “those Japanese…overtaken by unforeseen mishaps, or those who [were] not able to provide medical care for themselves at their own expense.” Chartered in October 1899, this society operated from quarters in the Kapalama district in Honolulu. After 3,500 Japanese immigrants were left homeless following the outbreak of the bubonic plague and the Chinatown fire on January 20, 1900, the society built a hospital in a two-story wooden structure. It was completed in 1900 and called the Japanese Charity Hospital. As the number of Japanese immigrants increased in Honolulu, it was evident that larger facilities would be needed, so in 1901, the hospital was moved to a two-story building on Liliha Street.

Further growth in the Japanese immigrant population mandated the availability of more medical services and further growth of the hospital. In 1911, additional acres of land were acquired on Kuakini Street for new and larger facilities (and where the hospital stands today). A 16-building complex was constructed in September 1918 that was named the Japanese Hospital. The doctors who staffed the hospital were all born and trained in Japan, but this came to a stop with the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924, which put an end to all further Japanese immigration until 1952. Taking their place were the Nisei and that's how the Nisei physicians came into positions of prominence in Hawaii. By the 1940s, the hospital was Japanese – organized and operated in a traditional Japanese manner. Hospital records were kept in Japanese, but the ability to read and write Japanese was not required of the nurses. A family-style of care was practiced at the hospital, with family and relatives taking care of the patients’ needs, including the changing of the bedpans, often sleeping in the rooms. Nurses were trained to “serve” the needs of the doctors, carrying out orders without question. During this period, the hospital operation was more doctor-centered than patient-centered. Although the hospital was open to all, it was for the most part a Japanese hospital serving the Issei, first generation Japanese born in Japan, and their families. However, the situation changed after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The U.S. Army eventually took administrative control of the hospital in 1942 and changed the Japanese Hospital name, replacing it with Kuakini Hospital and Home. The Americanization of the hospital took place gradually, and the “older” administrators were replaced with younger Nisei hospital administrators.

Jisei No Ku (Death Poem)
Sometime before my father’s death, he wrote a jisei no ku, or death poem. It refers an ancient Japanese art of “writing a farewell poem to life,” dating back to the earliest Japanese sources, although it became popularized as an art form and/or death ritual in the nineteenth century. It’s a death poem normally written when one has knowledge of one’s impending death, and it’s usually written in a graceful and natural form and about neutral emotions adhering to the teachings of Buddhism and Shinto. The poem is usually written in a way that doesn’t mention the fact that one is about to die directly, but one can use negative metaphors like a sunset or falling sakura or cherry blossoms to suggest an inevitable death.

Through his jisei no ku, my father expressed with neutral emotion the depth for his respect of life and fatalistic view of death through the beautiful and delicate cherry blossom. This profoundly beautiful poem captures the essence of my father – his spirit and soul, his feelings and inner passions that were largely hidden from public view.

Cherry blossoms fall
when the time is right,
I too will fall
when it is time to go

With the help of Gladys Nakahara, Ph.D., a Japanese language instructor at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, she translated my father’s jisei no ku in the Japanese tanka form. Most death poems were written in tanka or short form, which is a classical form of Japanese poetry that encourages emotions and feelings. It’s an early form of poetry (31-syllables, arranged in five lines of 5, 7, 5, 7, 7 syllables) native to Japan that evokes a moment or marks an occasion. During the Heian period (794-1192), it was considered essential to be able to both compose beautiful poetry and to choose the most aesthetically pleasing and appropriate paper, ink and symbolic attachment – such as a branch, a flower – to go with it. Tanka was often composed as a kind of finale to every sort of occasion; no experience was quite complete until a tanka had been written about it. As a form of poetry, tanka is over a thousand years old in Japan, older than another form of short poetry, haiku, and is considered the most important form of Japanese poetry. The translation is:

Toki kureba
sakura chiri yuku
ware mo mata
toki ga jukuseba
chiri yukan

Japanese culture is steeped in the spiritual influences of Zen Buddhist philosophy, which views the material aspects of life as illusory. Death was no more lamentable an event than birth or next Wednesday. At its very core, Buddhist philosophy doesn’t preach so much the embracement of death, but an embracement of inevitability. Once one stops worrying about life and death, one can begin to enjoy oneself. Therefore, a good deal of jisei no ku is tinged with a playful sarcasm of life.

Hanami (Flower Viewing)
My father used the metaphor of the falling sakura or cherry blossoms to suggest his own inevitable death. The sakura or cherry blossom symbolizes the national character of the Japanese people, and the viewing of the cherry blossoms is one of the happiest events in Japan. This practice of “flower viewing” is known as hanami, which is a centuries old custom and is said to have started during the Nara period (710-784) when the Chinese Tang Dynasty influenced Japan in many ways; one of which was the custom of enjoying flowers. At that time, hamani referred to custom of enjoying the flower blossoms of the Japanese ume or plum flower, which was favored by Kyoto’s aristocracy and ume was synonymous with the word “flower.” But, it gave way to the cherry blossom by the start of the Heian period (795–1192), one of the classical periods in Japanese history in which unprecedented peace and security passed over the land under the powerful rule of the Heian dynasty for over three centuries.

During the Heian period, Japanese culture flourished as it never had before, such a cultural efflorescence would only occur again several centuries later during the Tokugawa period in pre-modern Japan. Struggles for the throne ceased but Japan still didn’t completely unite under a central government. Power accumulated under a single family, the Fujiwara. With such stability, the imperial court thrived, and began to develop a culture independent of the Chinese culture, which had formed the cultural life of imperial Japan up to that point. The Japanese developed their own system of writing since Chinese writing was adopted, and developed a court culture uniquely Japanese rather than derived from imperial China. This was a period in Japanese culture made famous by the greatest classic of Japanese literature, the Genji monogatari (“The Tale of Genji”) by Lady Murasaki Shikibu. The custom of cherry blossom viewing originated from hanami parties, which were held at the imperial court by Emperor Saga in 812.

Originally, the custom of hanami was a Shinto religious ritual held on a particular day. The coming of the cherry blossom season between late March and early April heralded the arrival of spring. During this time, it was also customary among farmers to perform ceremonies before the beginning of the planting season, forecasting the year’s rice harvest from the condition of the cherry blossoms. Then, likening the cherry trees in full bloom to a bumper rice harvest, they would go up to the nearby hills and mountains to see the cherry blossoms, carrying food and drink and celebrating the year’s good harvest under the trees. In those days, it was a tradition observed only by the nobility and upper classes.

By the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568-1600), hanami eventually spread to the samurai class. It was well known that the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537–1598), who played a major role in the unification of Japan, use to flaunt his power by holding grand hanami parties. Hideyoshi held hanami parties that reached new levels of extravagance and elaboration; they were held in public for the first time at Mount Yoshino in 1594 and at Daigoji Temple in Kyoto in 1598. Their reputation quickly spread through the Osaka region and they became the talk of the town.

Eventually, cherry blossom parties spread to the commoners toward the end of the Genroku period (1688–1704) during the Tokugawa dynasty (1600-1868). The Genroku period is regarded as the highest point of the vigorous culture of the merchant class of the Tokugawa era, a time of great renaissance in Japanese culture, a time when aristocratic and common arts flourished. Already the samurai class was becoming caught up in debt to the merchants, into whose hands the wealth of the nation was beginning to pass. Consequently, this was a time of jovial self-expression on the part of the merchant class. The extravagant life in the cities centered on brothels, teahouses and the and bunraku puppet theaters and kabuki theaters in the licensed pleasure quarters of Kyoto, Osaka and Edo (Tokyo). The Genroku period set the standard for an urban culture that continued throughout the Tokugawa era.

The Tokugawa bakufu or government promoted people to plant cherry trees. Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune planted cherry trees near Edo, which contributed to the popularization of hanami among ordinary people. Families, groups of friends or co-workers would gather for merry feasting, drinking and singing. Today, the meaning of hanami has lost its religious ritual; it’s more like a popular opportunity for all people to have a good time – partying with food, drinking and singing under the cherry trees.

The appeal and anticipation of the blooming of the cherry blossoms hasn’t changed, however. The blossoms open all at once at the peak of their beauty and then the petals fall to the earth while still in bloom, swirling through the air as if unmindful of the death it will meet on the ground below. It uses the wind and gravity to its own advantage and purpose to bring beauty and inspiration to all who watch it. Then, in a matter of just a couple of weeks, they disappear. Its very delicacy and transience has an extremely emotional and profound philosophical appeal. It echoes a deeper, ancient cultural belief in the short, transitory nature of youth and with life itself. It’s the unpredictability of the blooming and falling of the cherry blossoms that it symbolizes how fleeting life itself is. The cherry blossom was evidence that this was the natural way of things and could even be beautiful and pure. Life is as delicate and light as the falling petals, and there’s a natural time for all beautiful things to end. It’s a humbling reminder that when one reaches full maturity it hints at the beginning of the decline of one’s life.

From feudal times, the manner in which the cherry petals fall at the height of its beauty, before it withers and becomes unsightly and the transience of its span assumed a beautiful and important symbol for the samurai or warrior class. This is because the life of a samurai in feudal times was a well-known comparison to the short-lived cherry blossoms, for the samurai was always fully prepared to sacrifice his life at any time in the cause of his lord. They didn’t fear death. The samurai were trained to detach themselves from life and death encounters and to respond to any threat with a composed exterior, yet, with an inward passion. They were prepared to go into battle no matter the odds. To die in battle would bring honor or meiyo to one’s family and one’s lord. The samurai was prepared to serve his lord to the highest degree and to sacrifice his life for the good of his lord and family. The fundamental conflict of the samurai in real-life and portrayed in kabuki drama was that between giri and ninjo, or the conflict between duty and personal desire. The samurai was expected to subordinate his personal feelings for the higher goal. There’s a saying in Japan, “the cherry is among the flowers as the samurai is among men.” Samurai strove to see beauty and meaning in life, up until the last moment, by creating death poems that would serve as a last testament, and a lesson for those left behind.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Nisei Soldier: The 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Battalion

Note: The following is a speech by Eric Saul, a former U.S. army historian, given at an emotional ceremony to honor Medal of Honor winners William K. Nakamura and James Okubo in Seattle, WA on March 25, 2001. This speech has been passed along from family and friends, and I encourage you to do the same. At the heart of the speech are the values the Nisei learned from their parents and and how they inspired action. It serves as a valuable lesson for current and future generations of Japanese Americans.

Nakamura / Okubo Medal of Honor Commemorative Program
America at Its Best

March 25, 2001
Speech by Eric Saul

So why was it you Nisei, second generation, born in America, were willing to volunteer for the Army from the plantations of Hawaii, often when you were considered second-class citizens, or from concentration camps in America? Your parents couldn't become citizens or own land, so land was put in your name. Before the war, you wanted to be doctors, lawyers, and professionals, but you couldn't. No one would hire you. So you worked on your family farms, flower orchards, and shops. You were often segregated in the Little Tokyos and Japantowns. You couldn't go where you wanted, be where you wanted, be whom you wanted.

Furthermore, your President, on February 19, 1942, signed an Executive Order that said you weren't Americans anymore, you were "non-aliens." So why did you join the army? Why did you become soldiers, and ironically become, of all things, the most decorated army unit that this country has ever produced?

There were words like giri and on, which your parents taught you. Which means "duty," and "honor," and "responsibility." You had to pay back your debt to your country.

Oyakoko: love for family. Your parents couldn't become citizens, but you loved your families AND you had to prove your loyalty at any cost. You used your bodies as hostages for your families to prove your love for democracy and justice when you volunteered from those camps.

Kodomo no tame ni: "for the sake of the children." Many of you didn't have children at the time, but you knew you wanted to have families. And you knew that you didn't want your children to have to suffer as you did. You wanted your children to be able to be doctors, and lawyers, and professionals. If you went into the military, did your job, perhaps things would change. You knew it, and you fought for it. You even came up with your own regimental motto that's on this honored regimental flag in front of me. It was "Go for Broke." You set the tone for your own regiment, and lived up to its motto. You made democracy work. Because of your wartime record, your children can now be what they want in a country that you wanted for them.

Enryo: humility. There's an old Japanese proverb that says if you do something really good and you don't talk about it, it must be really, really good! You never talked about your wartime record. You didn't tell your children, you didn't tell your wives, and you didn't even tell the country.

Gaman: internal fortitude, keep your troubles to yourself. Don't show how you're hurting.

Shikata ga nai: sometimes things can't be helped. But other times, you have to go for broke, and you can change things.

Haji: don't bring shame on your family. When you go off to war, fight for your country, return if you can, but die if you must.

Shinbo shite seiko suru: strength and success will grow out of adversity. When I was curator of the Presidio Museum, I wanted to know why you joined the Army. Why did you join from a concentration camp? A veteran from Cannon Company named Wally told me a story. His family was sent from Los Angeles to the Santa Anita racetrack, which was an Assembly Center for Japanese Americans. There, they were put in a horse stall. Before the war, they had a flower shop, they had their own home in Los Angeles, and they were a middle-class family. Now they were living for weeks in a horse stall that hadn't been cleaned when they moved in, and it stunk of horse manure. Wally's father said to him, "Remember that a lot of good things grow in horse manure." It did.

I remember hearing a story from a Chaplain Higuchi, the chaplain of the 442nd, who was from Hawaii. I asked him, "How could the Niseis have joined the Army under these circumstances? How could they have done what they did?" Chaplain Higuchi said he himself couldn't understand, because he was from Hawaii and hadn't suffered the same discrimination. But his job as chaplain was to go through the pockets of the Niseis who had been killed in combat. He remembered going through the pockets of one mainland Nisei. In his wallet was a news clipping that told how the family farm had been burned down by racists near Auburn, California. Yet this Nisei still volunteered for the service. Chaplain Higuchi said that there was no medal high enough in this country to give to this Nisei who had been killed and was lying in front of him. Chaplain Higuchi had to write a letter home to his parents.

You Nisei fought for this country, your country. It has taken fifty-six years to get to this point, but you made democracy stand for what it really means. When you came home from the war, President Truman had a special White House ceremony for you. It was the only time that the President of the United States had a ceremony at the White House for a unit as small as a battalion. It was raining that morning in Washington, and Truman's aide said, "Let's cancel the ceremony." Truman said to his aide, "After what those boys have been through, I can stand a little rain." He said to the Niseis, bearing their regimental standard with the motto of "Go for Broke," "I can't tell you how much I appreciate the opportunity to tell you what you have done for this country. You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice and you won. You have made the Constitution stand for what it really means: the welfare of all the people, all the time." Lastly, he advised the Niseis to keep up that fight.

So in the 1980's you fought for redress. One of the reasons that redress passed so overwhelmingly in Congress was the overwhelming record of the 100th/442nd and the MIS. The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 provided an apology for your parents and for your suffering. So on the battlefields of France, Italy and Germany, "Go for Broke" stood for the welfare of all of the people, all of the time.

You never lost faith in your country, and we are here today to celebrate that faith. The result of that faith is that your children can be anything that they want: professionals, doctors, and lawyers. The price that you paid for democracy was the highest combat casualty rate of any regiment that served in the United States Army. The 100th/442nd suffered 314% combat casualties. The 100th/442nd was an oversized regiment, with its own cannon and engineer company, and even its own artillery battalion. The four thousand men who started off in February of 1943 had to be replaced nearly three and one half times. Eventually, about 14,000 men would serve in the 100th/442nd.

I see many of my friends from I Company and K Company here today. In one battle alone, the battle for the Rescue of the Lost Battalion in October 1944, which you fought in, two thousand of you went in to rescue two hundred Texas soldiers who couldn't be rescued by their own division. You went and suffered almost a thousand casualties in that one battle alone, of almost five days of constant fighting. In K Company, you started off with 186 riflemen. By the time you reached the Lost Battalion, there were only eight men standing. I Company did worse. They started off with 185 men. By the time they reached the Lost Battalion, there were only four men still standing in the company. It was unbelievable! You rescued the Texas Lost Battalion, and for that you won two presidential unit citations. The army designated the Rescue of the Lost Battalion to be among the top ten battles fought by the U.S. Army in its 230-year history.

You Niseis ultimately won seven unit citations, and no other unit for its size and length of service has won that many presidential unit citations. Chet Tanaka counted how many citations and how many medals the 100th/442nd earned. Of the fourteen thousand men who served, there were eighteen thousand medals for heroism and service. You had become the most decorated unit in American military history for its size and length of service, and until recently almost no one knew your stories. You really hadn't told anyone, including your families or children. You were truly enryo. If you do something that is really good and you don't talk about it, it must be really good.

Toward the end of the war, in April 1945, the 5th US Army asked you to create a diversionary attack to help break the German Gothic Line. The US Army had three infantry divisions lined up to breach the Gothic Line, which protected the Po Valley and the entrance to Austria. And those three divisions couldn't do it - they were stalemated for six months.

The Army then asked the 442nd, the "Go for Broke" Regiment, to break the stalemate. The commander and officers of the 100th/442nd said to the commander of the 92nd Division, "General Almond, we have a plan. We can create a diversionary attack and break the Gothic Line if you give us 24 hours." The General figuratively fell out of his chair and said, "Impossible. We've had three divisions hammering away at the Gothic Line."

The Germans had their best SS Divisions on the mountains and it was considered an impenetrable fortress. He told the Niseis to "Just create a diversionary attack and we'll do the rest." But you Nisei soldiers had your own plan. You were smart. Your average age was about twenty and your average IQ was 116, which was eight points higher than necessary to be an officer in the army. You were barely a hundred twenty five pounds soaking wet, but you were college-educated, and you were going to "Go for Broke."

So you climbed up that mountain called Mount Fogarito, which the Germans had so heavily fortified. You climbed it where they didn't expect you. It was nearly a 4,000-foot vertical precipice. You climbed the mountain that was unclimbable, in combat gear. The Germans couldn't possibly expect an attack from that point. From nighttime until dawn you climbed, almost eight hours. Men fell down as they climbed the mountain, and no man cried out as he fell, so as not to give away the position. At dawn you attacked, go for broke. You took the mountain and you broke the Gothic Line. It didn't take 24 hours, as you thought, or a few weeks, as the Army had planned. It didn't take six months. The U.S. Army reported that you broke the Gothic Line in only thirty-four minutes!

If the story of the 100th/442nd is unbelievable, there is a more unbelievable story. It is the story of the Military Intelligence and Language Service. More than 6,000 Niseis served throughout the Pacific in a super-secret branch of the military. Niseis provided the eyes and ears of intelligence and language skills that helped to break the stalemate in the Pacific. They broke secret codes, interrogated prisoners, provided valuable propaganda, and translated millions of documents to help win the war in the Pacific. By the war's end, General Willoughby, General MacArthur's chief of intelligence, declared that the Nisei shortened the war by two years and saved a million Allied lives.

Never had so many owed so much to so few. I only wish that a million people could be here to hear your story and know of your service. I wish every American could know your story. We owe a great debt of honor to you Niseis for what you did for the country and for democracy. It is a debt that can never be repaid.

I am here to tell the story for your children, because I know you can't say it. It is a legacy that they must carry on and remember what you did for them and for all of us. Your legacy continues to protect us all.

I remember during the Iranian crisis that there was talk of keeping Iranian Americans possibly in protective custody. Senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga said, "You can't do that. That's already been done, and you were wrong then." So your wartime service protects all of us.

You did make the Constitution stand for all of the people, all of the time. History works. You made it work, and you made it work for me, for your children, and for this country.

President Ronald Reagan remembered, when he signed the bill enacting the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which was called House Resolution 442, that blood that has soaked into the sands of a beach is all of one color. America stands unique in the world, the only country not founded on race, but a way, an ideal."

You Niseis came home, and became what you wanted. Eventually, many of you entered the professions and could go where you wanted and do what you wanted to do. You went about your lives, but you made sure that your parents could become citizens. By 1953, you saw your parents naturalized. Your parents had to wait, in some cases, sixty-five years to become American citizens. And that they could own land for the first time. And that others of Asian descent could own land for the first time. Your greatest success was that your children could be what they wanted to be, without the discrimination that you suffered.

Some of you became lawmakers and entered the House and the Senate. There were more than 590 laws in California in the 19th and the early 20th century against Asians. You fought a fight to make sure those laws were challenged and overturned one by one. We thank the Japanese American senators, Sparky Matsunaga and Dan Inouye, veterans of the 100th/442nd, for doing that. We thank you for your providing the legacy upon which they could fight for those rights. Justice prevailed, and your parents became citizens. We stand at a pinnacle of your history in your golden years. Redress passed and a nation apologized for a terrible injustice perpetrated against its own citizens.

A few months ago at the White House, President Clinton belatedly awarded 20 Medals of Honor to Japanese Americans. Clinton stated in his speech of the Niseis that "in the face of painful prejudice, they helped to define America at its Best."

Last night I was speaking to one of my K Company friends, Tosh Okamoto, and he said to me, "You know, the awarding of the Medals of Honor to our boys is sort of the icing on the cake. I've sort of been angry for a long time at my country and what happened to us during the internment. Getting redress and the apology, and having the country recognize my buddies, lifted a cloud from my head. I now really feel like I'm truly American, and it was all worth it."

So this is the happy ending of the 100th/442nd/MIS story, and I thank you for sharing it with us. I salute you. God bless you. And tell your kids to tell the world!

The great knowledge and insight on the accomplishments of the Nisei soldiers and the Japanese-American community by Saul, a non-Japanese American, is impressive and heartening. I hope Saul's speech inspires Japanese Americans to explore the meaning of their Japanese ethnicity and culture in America. It is my hope that younger and future generations will appreciate and perpetuate Japanese culture and traditions, taking them to new directions with creativity and adapting them to their local lifestyle wherever they may reside.

I hope this speech helps them feel closer and cherish more dearly our culture and traditions with "kokoro" (heart and soul). Our Japanese culture has helped define who we are as well as our character as individuals. It serves as a window to our ancestral past and permeates our lives today. My deep desire is to see it continue to live on through our children tomorrow.

Finally, I hope this speech will inspire younger generations of Japanese Americans who feel they are gradually losing their identity as Japanese. Assimilation into mainstream Western culture has caused many of them to lose sight of their ancestrial roots. I hope this speech will help them to open their eyes to things Japanese, helping them understand the importance of learning more about their culture, the legacy that they have inherited and preserve it for future generations.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Kansha (Gratitude)

Japanese people are taught that they are born with a host of debts to the people who have built the road before us. We owe our lives to these people and should be grateful or deeply thankful by expressing our appreciation to them. The word that describes this deep felt gratitude is "kansha." To the Japanese people, the phrase "kansha site" means to be appreciative or grateful in their relations with others.

The idea of creating this blog is a result of this indebtedness but also because of unanswered questions about my family’s heritage. As a Sansei, or third generation Japanese American, it is my desire to identify more closely with my heritage – to understand better the questions about my own family, ethnicity and culture.

The intent of this blog is to explore the Japanese American experience from a unique perspective – my own family’s experiences in Hawaii and Washington State. I intend to focus on capturing themes of human suffering, perseverance, justice, racism, community and conscience during some of the most turbulent periods in American history. I hope to share with you the importance of human values and protection our civil liberties and freedoms.

I also hope this blog will inspire younger generations of Japanese Americans who I feel are gradually losing their identity as Japanese and with their ancestors. Assimilation into Western culture has caused many of them to lose sight of their roots. I hope this blog opens their eyes to things Japanese, helping them understand the importance of learning more about their culture, the legacy that they have inherited and preserve it for future generations.

Finally, I hope future generations of Japanese Americans will appreciate and perpetuate Japanese culture and traditions, adapting them to their local lifestyle wherever they may reside. I hope to help them feel closer and hold on more dearly to our Japanese culture and traditions with "kokoro" (heart and soul), even though we are separated by distance from our ancestral roots and generations have passed in time. Our Japanese culture has helped define who we are as well as our character as individuals. It serves as a window to our ancestral past and permeates our lives today. My deep desire is to see it continue to live on through the children of tomorrow.

My parents raised me so that I would not have to go through the hardship and racial discrimination they – and their parents – went through, and they instilled proper values and ethics that provided a strong foundation to be successful in America. "Okage sama de" – “I am what I am because of you” because of the struggles, hardship, commitment, perseverance and sacrifice made by my parents and grandparents. I am grateful for my inheritance from the past and moved by my obligation to the future. "Kodomo no tame ni" – “for the sake of the children.”

I say, dōmō arigatō gozaimasu! Thank you very much!