Albert Saijo: Karmic Heart

When the phone rang unexpectedly early one morning in 2009, I couldn't believe it, but it was Albert Saijo on the line, calling me from the rainforests of Hawai'i. It seemed serendipitious. His book, Outspeaks: A Rhapsody, not only lay on the kitchen table, but I had engaged in conversation that very morning about his poems, which were insistent and dense, full of remembrance yet muscular in its intellectual content and tone. In an attempt to emulate Saijo's block handwritten style, Outspeaks was typeset in ALL CAPS, which I interpreted as a prophet incanting at a feverish pitch, upon a burning volcano. In life, his voice was unexpectedly clear, soft and luminous with humor, and his spirit was still as green as a bay tree.

Albert Fairchild Saijo (1926-2011) was the author of numerous books and as equally skilled as a designer, woodworker, as he was a philosopher and poet. It appeared that life and its great, fathomless menagerie of art, language, and spirituality had always had its pull on him. His childhood was marked by the aspirations of his parents, and include a lovely pre-dawn vision of his mother scribbling poems and newspaper columns at her desk. He has also written about a copy of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, inscribed "Satoru Saijo November 1908, Chicago, Illinois in his strong hand with flourishes," a treasured momento from his father's early education in the US. At the turn of the century, Saijo's father worked as a domestic for the Albert Fairchild Holden family in Cleveland, who later sponsored him as a university student. In remembrance, Satoru's second-born son bears the family namesake: Albert Fairchild Saijo.

Editor Albert Saijo inspects a copy of Echoes, the Heart Mountain high school paper with co-editors Alice Tanouye and Hisako Takehara. Photographer: Hosokawa, Bill Heart Mountain, Wyoming. 6/43

At eighteen, Albert Saijo fought in Italy with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, shortly after graduating from high school in Heart Mountain, Wyoming. In camp, a teenaged Saijo first learned of Rinzai monk Nyogen Senzaki, who held lectures and sittings in a barrack located in Block 2. Back in LA around 1950, Senzaki held zazen sessions twice a week in his tiny apartment on the 6th floor of the aging Miyako Hotel on the corner of E. 1st and San Pedro Street, which Saijo regularly attended and recalled, "Senzaki was seated in a Roman camp chair in front of the altar—before him was a folding card table & on it was the text of his lecture for that nite...his dentures creaked as he spoke." Although he was also in graduate school studying international politics at USC, Saijo dropped out, just as he began to suffocate from the city smog.

Allured by a blossoming literary renaissance, the young poet moved to San Francisco in the mid-fifties, where he found a job at the Chinatown YMCA. There, he met David Hunter, a pioneer in what later became known as the Human Potential Movement, which attracted others interested in alternative thinking. "When I first read about what his class was going to be in the office at the YMCA, it struck me that as very similar to things I had been active in LA. Mostly it was kind of zen-ish, it kind of appealed to me, and that’s why I went to the class and that’s where I met my initial friends mostly poets and writers and people in the arts and so forth. In the 50s, zen was just beginning to become an interesting subject. In fact, not many people had heard of zen." Also on the scene was a charismatic Englishman named Alan Watts, who taught Zen buddhism at the newly formed Academy of Asian Studies and had amassed a following through a regular program on KPFA, Berkeley's free radio station.

American writers Jack Kerouac (1922 - 1969) (left), Albert Saijo (right, with glasses), and Lew Welch (1926 - 1971) sit around a low table as they collaborate on a poem, which is typed by Gloria Schoffel in the apartment (304 W. 14th St.) of her and her soon-to-be husband, photographer McDarrah, New York, New York, December 10, 1959. The poem was entitled 'This is a Poem by Albert Saijo, Lew Welch, and Jack Kerouac' (later published as 'Trip Trap'), and was based on the trio's journey from San Francisco to New York in Welch's car. (Photo by Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images)

Saijo soon bonded with Beat writers who were deeply influenced by East Asian art and poetry, sharing what he had learned from Nyogen Senzaki about zazen and his experiences in American concentration camps. The group of artists eventually formed the East-West House, where the residents expounded all hours on religion, philosophy, sex, and poetry. Saijo joined East-West House and later moved to a similar community home known as Hyphen House, located on the northwest corner of Post and Buchanan of San Francisco's Japantown, which was on the brink of a major city-led eradication in the name of "post-war redevelopment," forcing its JA residents to flee the neighborhood for the second time in a few decades.

"[Hyphen-House] was in a neighborhood half Black and half Japanese, with mostly Japanese shops and restaurants," Saijo wrote in a May 1973 recollection. "Then there was Jimbo's Bop City around the corner that opened after hours, and nearby Sullivan's Liquor Store that delivered both day and night...The area south of Post was being demolished. There were empty houses waiting with human detritus, eerie to explore. And there were cleared off lots already taken by lush grasses, and weeds like brome, dandelion, common mallow, and filaree and a few left-over stately trees, and drifts of trash...Hyphen-House was in a large wooden building painted battleship gray with a poolhall, shops, and restaurants at street level and five or six apartments in a row above. It had a second-story level overlooking Buchanan Street. We had the middle apartment. It was two storied with a commodious feel, especially downstairs where the ceiling was at least ten feet high."

In 1959, he took a remarkable cross-country trip to visit Allen Ginsberg at his apartment on the lower Eastside of New York with Lew Welch and Jack Kerouac, penning humorous haiku along the way that were later published in a volume titled Trip Trap: Haiku On The Road (simultaneously referring to Gary Snyder's book, Riprap and Kerouac's On the Road. ) Kerouac later memorialized their trip in his novel, Big Sur recasting Saijo as George Baso, "the little Japanese Zen master hepcat sitting crosslegged in the back of Dave's [Lew's] jeepster."


Lonely grain elevators

on Saturday

—Abandoned toys

By the time he had returned from the jeep trip, Saijo decided to abandon city life entirely, and set up residency in Marin County, with what he deemed "the Gary Snyder crowd." Snyder had a cabin in a part of Mill Valley known as Homestead Valley, and was neighbors with one of the original light show artists and sound engineer named Sandy Jacobs, who was married to Sumie Hasegawa, daughter of an influential Japanese painter, printmaker, and educator, Saburo Hasegawa. Although Saburo Hasegawa was a recent immigrant to the US, he was a serious practitioner of tea ceremony, calligraphy, and Zen buddhism. His arrival in San Francisco in the 50s was exquisitely timed with the growing movement of American buddhist studies, and he was quickly offered a position of lecturer at Alan Watt's Academy of Asian Studies, and then at the California College of Arts and Crafts.

Soon artists from San Francisco were trickling over the bridge into Marin, Bolinas, Inverness and Point Reyes Station, founding communes and farms. This also marked the beginning of Saijo's psychedelics period and experiments with peyote, mushrooms, and acid. By the "60s & 70s I WAS YOUR BASIC MARIN COUNTY HIPPIE STONER—LONG HAIR LOOSE CLOTHES FREE LIVING & ON THE FLOOR CUZ CHAIRS SEEMED A FORM OF REPRESSION...I CONSIDER MYSELF A CHILD OF THE 60S—IT WAS WHEN I BECAME A REBORN HUMAN."

When Snyder moved to Kyoto to study Zen, Saijo took over his humble cabin and also cooperated in the maintenance of a "floating zendo" for sitting meditation that Snyder and Whalen had established. He immersed himself in long hiking trips over the Inverness ridge and through the Sierra Nevada mountains and engaged in blissful fasts that lasted up to forty-five days.

By then, Albert's brother Gompers and his sister Hisayo had joined him in Mill Valley. The Saijo siblings were remarkably intertwined, with their lives overlapping and their homes often being exchanged with a certain ease; as one sibling would vacate, the next would move in. (According to Saijo's nephew Eric, Hisayo came up north, and hung around similar circles as Uncle Albert. In the 60s she even worked as Alan Watt's secretary on a houseboat.) He wrote and published The Backpacker, a straightforward guide to treading lightly and experiencing wilderness in 1972, with Gompers as illustrator.

After twenty years in Marin and a broken marriage, Saijo began the quest for a more solitary wilderness. With his new bride Laura, herself a musician and teacher, Saijo settled on California's Lost Coast, where the couple resided peacefully as homesteaders—clearing land, building a primitive shelter by hand, and gardening their own food for nearly twelve years. Albert and Laura moved to the Big Island in the 90s, claiming a small plot in a upland forest beneath Mt. Kilauea to build a second home of Saijo's own design. Six years later, his stream of conscious response to the world, Outspeaks, was published by Bamboo Ridge Press, unleashing Saijo's plaintive cry "UTOPIC MIND CAN'T EXIST IN CIVILIZATION BECAUSE UTOPIC MIND IS FREE OF THEORY & CIVILIZATION ISNOTHING ELSE—THE GOLDEN AGE CAN'T BE DESIGNED FROM OUTSIDE- IT MUST HAPPEN LIKE DAWN OR DARWIN'S FINCHES" or "I WANT TO RHAPSODIZE BUT I WOULD NOT BE PUT INTO ANY LITERARY CATEGORY I AM AN ANIMAL IN A CAGE & I AM BARKING TO BE LET OUT AS IT HAPPENS MY BARK IS RHAPSODIC"

Noone missed the unusual punctuation, or as long-time literary colleague Hisaye Yamamoto Desoto wrote, "At long last, Albert Fairchild Saijo has let loose his poems upon the world. Whether you read them in amazement, read them in an attitude of reverence, or read 'em and weep, they are not to ignore—the collection eschews the lower case entirely." Gary Snyder described it as "All caps and dashes, Albert Saijo's poem is a great life's strong song." In one particularly sensitive review, Juliana Spahr claims "Saijo writes a visual poetry of scribble and revelation in different colored inks. There is an interesting reproduction on the cover and there are tantalizing black and white glimpses of the visual poems throughout the book but the book itself presents word by word translations of these poems. Saijo, I want to argue, is a new Blake and his readers deserve an illustrated edition."

The poetic work (some may argue that they are rants) succinctly described Saijo's vision of human conflict and the environmental disasters we have brought to fore, and his role as an observer. The poetry also meanders on topics such as Saijo's constant battle to justify his use of resources, dependency on technology and the dreamstates he experiences in writing.








I count myself as one of the lucky few who were invited to spend a quiet afternoon in Albert and Laura's spare, warm home in Volcano, punctuated by her grand piano and the playful folk-style paintings by Gompers, to chew sandwiches and talk about a life of ecology framed through literature and language. Saijo died in the cottage he and his wife built together in the shadow of Kilauea, still an active volcano, on June 2, 2011. One bright spark in an indelible sea of ink.

"But you're out. You went away and you came back. Now as you head back to civilization, you have a wildness in your heart that wasn't there before. You know you're going outback again." —Albert Saijo, The Backpacker



### This article is the third in a series, briefly profiling the Saijo family. Albert was the only one I met in person, and I was blessed to befriend his nephew Eric, who subsequently shared his grandmother and father's stories.

When we first chug-chugged over the Tehachapi mountains on the I-5 and into Los Angeles that wintery day in 2010, I full expected to find the city as I had always seen it portrayed in the movies: white hot, limned with a skyline of frowzy headed palms, with every human in sight slicked down with suntan lotion, neon blue shades, and a coat of cherry red lip gloss. In my mind, LA was flat as a pancake (hoho, says the calves as one struggles, unsuccessfully to climb up Sunset Boulevard on a bike) and impossible to traverse other than by car.

I'll be honest: I took the job at the museum because I had discovered during my most recent visit for an in-person interview, that a train line had just opened across the street on Alameda Street, and it sure looked and sounded, and felt a whole lot like BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) that I was so fond of back home. No way was I gonna do a murderous commute to and from work in LA.

So I took the Metro to and from work gleefully, although with three transfers and four trains twice a day, it was a bit wearying. Plus my husband still had to pick me up at night in the grim parking lot in Norwalk at 8:30 or so every night, since I worked ten hour days. Once we moved into our own place in LA, nearly every apartment we investigated began and ended with a Metro train station search: how far, how crummy of a walk, what could I walk to in particular neighborhoods, where were the cheap grocery stores stocked with cilantro and nori, or the quarter laundromats, huffing toxic puffs of perfumed steam? I made a few feeble attempts in subsequent months to rejuvenate my hiking habits of the Bay Area, but was discouraged by the long drives, the slow-roasted ascents with no overhead coverage on exposed desert hills and wondered if I would ever learn to appreciate the city outside of a motorized vehicle.

In early 2011, I took the Metro one morning into Chinatown to join the Big Parade LA, a two-day community walking tour, usually held in May, that starts in downtown and ending at the Hollywood sign.Nearly a thousand stairs and a staggering sixteen miles later, I was calling it quits and looking back in awe at what these people are doing. The Big Parade is run by a map and chaos freak by the name of Dan Koeppel (and a runner, and cyclist, and incidentally a really great writer. In fact, he's penned a best-selling book on the history of the banana, I kid you not.) The Big Parade covers roughly 40 miles of urban hiking through the streets of Los Angeles, meandering through secret public walkways, hidden staircases, freeway medians, and spiraling ramps. Not only is it meant to destroy the idea that nobody walks in L.A.; the Big Parade slows us to the pace of pedestrians moving at the rate our bodies can take us, one step at a time. It is just as much an exercise for the eyes as it is for the exercise, and along the route, we met "sixth-generation shopkeepers, local historians homeowners, artists, and even a few Trail Angels who provided us with free cookies, water, and lemonade" (from Modern Hiker's blog post, 2011.)

The Big Parade opened me to a whole bevy of folks who burned with the desire to get to know the city intimately, by exploring the mosaics and community gardens, the groves of wild elderberry bushes best for harvesting flowers for wine, to explore the many iterations and layers of the L.A. River, the remnants of the extinct streetcar lines, and to climb a zillion stairways while we're at it. I quickly understood as we approached the Silverlake and Echo Park portion of the walk that Dan is a zealot for simply ascending and descending, and the quickest route from point A to Z was not what he intended to lead us on. We did strange switchbacks on curvy roads, trudged up a set of stairs, trickled down another flight, crossed Sunset, and did it again. There were stairs tucked into shaded groves of purple-hued jacarandas and ivy, and stairs that corkscrewed delightfully around freeway pillars. Some stairs were mere hiccups in sets of five or six, while others were epic, to the tune of some classic Led Zepplin ditty.

All along the way, baffled folks poked out of their houses and stood on their lawns (at times clutching their pets) and asked what the hell was going on. "Its the Big Parade! Anyone can join!" we would crow.

Here are a few other intriguing websites about LA urban walks worth lacing up your hiking boots up for, which I myself have yet to explore:

I've also joined LA Common's neighborhood walks two years in a row during their annual festival: Found LA.

Dia de los Muertos

This is a Sufi tale that has been reincarnated in many tongues, with variations in its size and color and ornamentation, but in essence it remains the same. It is a story about a man a mere servant, who is walking through the market one day, say it is in Jerusalem, when he feels an odd, needling presence watching him from a far. He turns and finds that he sees Death staring directly at him. Even more frightening is the way in which the gaze of Death bores straight through him.

Frenzied, he rushes in a panic from the market to his master. He beseeches, "Please please, my lord send me to Egypt on the very next boat. Today, as soon as it is humanly possible!" His master is a kind man and recognizing the faithfulness of this servant to him over many years, he grants him his wish.

So the man is quickly transported from Jerusalem to Egypt, and the next morning, he is happily walking down the ship's gangplank, relieved. No sooner that he has made his way from the wharf, the morning crowd seems to melt away and as he looks before him- there he sees Death once again, approaching with his steady gaze locked upon the face of the man. Resigned, he steps forward to meet Death directly.

"I concede, Death. You have found me. But I must ask, why were you staring at me so terribly yesterday?" and Death answered "I was looking at you because I had been instructed to collect your soul today in Egypt, and I was astonished and wondered why we were in Israel instead."

(artwork by the awesome John Dyer Baizley, who is also the bassist/vocalist for the crushingly beautiful band, Baroness, who had a severe near-encounter with Death this past summer.)

I moved to Los Angeles several years ago (it will be a full three come February) after twenty-three years of growing-up, girly yet gritty and sorta granola, in Oakland. The day I drove away from my apartment laden down with a million pounds of books and letterpress equipment, it was of course raining. Despite the faint rainbow that broke out and warbled in the mist over the 580, tears streamed down my face for the first forty-five minutes as I drove away. I stepped out of the car in Norwalk (in front of Grandma Margaret's house, which is where we would live for the first month) and took a deep, post-sobbing breath of desert air. The exhale has been slowly on release ever since.

There was so much to learn, and not in a vacation sort of way, but the heft and curve of responsibilities and consequences to be made in the wake of a decision. I chose to come here. My husband agreed. (although his circumstances were a bit more tenuous. He had been coming and going to and from Norwalk for nearly six months to care for Grandma Margaret, who at age 92, had fallen recently and broken a hip. Since she lived alone in her dry crumbly, low-slung home it was necessary for someone to care for her in this state, and Sam volunteered to do the job starting in July 2009, amidst sweltering heat waves that knocked out power in thousands of homes and businesses.) I remember those first weeks here, and the way we gingerly felt the hard, sun-baked ground around us to navigate which street to follow, which neighborhood we were in. Where were we? It was exhilirating to know that at least he was as lost as I was.

The job soon started which gave me a reason and place to rush to with purpose on a clock, and new friends to point to a map and ask, "Where do you live?" "Where is Diamond Bar?" "Is there a bus that goes to Westwood?"" "Is Westwood a city or a neighborhood?" Is Santa Monica part of LA?" "Where does LA end?" "Why is 'The Valley' San Fernando Valley, not San Gabriel Valley? Where IS San Gabriel Valley?"On a side note, I had been to both valleys in the past, coincidentally for weddings on both occasions, but had no context to where I had slept or the name of the restaurant until I stumbled upon them more recently and the visual memory eased into place as my familiarity with the landscape became personal. But really, Los Angeles remained snap shots scattered in a drawer of separate encounters and pale grids on a map for over a year.

I dared not take the car out for a drive. First, I am not a stellar driver to begin with, riding the clutch a bit too much, second guessing the parallel parking space, terrified to navigate on freeways at 70 miles an hour. I don't have a Garmin and I don't have smartphone. When I go somewhere new, I must look up the address for directions, which I usually write out on a piece of paper, and if I veer somehow off the route, god help me- especially if I can't figure out which freeway I'm supposed to be on. So I depended on my husband to take me places, or I rode the Metro, or I walked. Or I didn't go anywhere at all.

So how could I have possibly learned to know about LA? Has it already been three years, the time one of my best friends back in Berkeley had sternly allotted to me for the sojourn southward, before I was to return home to Oakland (she capped this statement with the gift of a tiny ceramic frog and a bell which is a Japanese pun on the word "kaeru= frog=to return").

Happily, serendipitiously, I had landed in the right neighborhood. Right for me. Right for my shivery transportation needs by providing a train station, right for my need for a working class, for people of color, for guavas and plumerias and songbirds in cages, and as it turned out, right for my desire for a great library, a quirky bookstore and bookseller who would become a close friend, a political printmaking studio, a neighborhood garden and fierce teacher, a neighborhood newspaper, a Friday and Sunday farmer's market, a doctor and hospital I can walk to, historic bridges to cross, the Los Angeles River a thin sliver of silvery sky in its concrete bed.

At night, we hear at intervals the wail of a trumpet or accordion wheeze, the dissonance of three competing ice cream trucks blaring their tin tunes, a cloud of parrot calls overhead, and the thrum of police helicopters. Something turned a corner in me about a year ago, and I think it was this neighborhood that did it. Now I'm exploring Los Angeles by car, reading everything I can get my hands on, and knocking on doors to ask people about the Los Angeles that takes you by surprise, the LA that has the potential to transform.

The Ultimate Good: George Izumi's Grace Pastries

“Weddings are the most superstitious of holidays. And the cake? Well it’s like any marriage, right? I won’t say the cake is human, but the cake is something special.” —Mary, a former Grace Pastries customer

Talk to anyone who grew up in the Crenshaw district of southwestern Los Angeles and they'll tell you how they remember the sweet aroma that once spilled from the doors of Grace Pastries. At Grace Pastries, the cake was king; a symbolic reward that came as a result of the Japanese American communities' hard-earned post-war successes. For every wedding, every graduation, every grand opening or anniversary, and especially when a child's birthday was celebrated, there was a specialty cake from Grace; a bed of pastel roses, scalloped buttercream borders, a riot of plastic palm trees or circus clowns. These were edible trophies for a community finally rising from the harsh realities of World War II, and for a time, it almost seemed that the bakery couldn't be able to keep up with all of the demands.

The original store was a tiny retail space, only 50 feet deep, but the walls were neatly papered and the glass cases nearly burst with a dizzying array of buttery confections. The staff were always neatly coiffed and dressed in starched uniforms, ready to greet customers from the moment doors opened. As the customer base swelled expotentially, Izumi expanded to a larger location six blocks away on Jefferson and Crenshaw, right where the J Yellow Car line ended. Within a decade, Grace Pastries had the highest name recognition of any bakery in Los Angeles, and eventually boasted fourteen outlets throughout the greater Los Angeles county. Among his devoted customers was Marian Manaka, who remembers fondly; "My sister and I lived together right there on Jefferson Boulevard and used to take our two kids in a stroller past all the shops on our way to Grace, where we always got a treat. The dobash cake and oh, the teacakes!" These rapturous recollections are especially common amongst the Nisei and young Sansei, who describe a trip to Grace as "the ultimate good," for a generation craving sweet memories that lingered.

The founder, George Izumi, is a Nisei— born in Hollywood in 1921 and raised on farms where his father Riyozo raised commercial flowers and vegetables, as the majority of Issei at that time did. He was one of eight kids, which taught him to be fiercely independent and some of his earliest chores was learning to harnass the horse to the wagon and spread manure on the fields. It was a hard time in America, and daily meals for a family of ten, let alone a powdered donut, were meager or non-existent. "In Santa Monica there used to be a city dump where someone would throw all their walnut shells out, and us kids, we'd pick through the shells and eat what we could find. Dad would go fishing and bring back whole sacks of bonita and mackarel, which we'd cook with shoyu and sato, turning it all into gelatin and pour over hot rice with cooked beet leaves. I'm also pretty sure my mom would pickle all of the fish guts,." Growing up in the 30s also meant picking up a sack of day olds from Wonder Bread that turned nice and soft in the steamer and eaten with oleo or lard if the kids were that lucky.

Izumi was eighteen when war broke out. The family was sent to Manzanar, where he first worked as a carpenter, but really what he wanted to learn was how to cook. He got a job in Mess Hall #16, which required getting up at three a.m. to fire up the oil stoves. But learning from the Issei men in the kitchen provided to be slippery:"the Issei just said, a piece of that, a scoop of that- it still tasted good- but they sure couldn't tell you how to make it." In the end, he claims he didn't learn much, since all he did was cut out biscuits. And he recalls that the mutton stew sure used to stink.

When the Nisei draft was re-enacted, George enlisted from camp, fully prepared to train for combat. Once the Army learned of his cooking experience, they sent him to the Cooks and Baker's School at Ft. Meade, Maryland instead. "Learning to bake? Its not that hard. Its all written out step by step, you got it made. Just like the Army- you follow directions." At the end of the war, he found work in Chicago flipping English muffins on a grill, and gaining more bread, cake, and cupcake experience before he earned enough to return to California in 1946.

George and Grace Izumi (nee Kato) began courting in 1948 and were married in 1949 at Nishi Hongwanji Temple in Little Tokyo. The young couple founded Grace Pastry Shoppe on March 13, 1950, six months after the wedding, on a $3,500 loan from Grace's parents. They acquired second hand equipment and cleaned and painted the place, pulling 18 hour workdays. On opening day, they took in $25 and the next day $30, and called it lucky if they made $100 a week. They even made wedding cake deliveries in their 1942 Pontiac, with Grace in the backseat, holding onto the cake for dear life. She eventually retired from the bakery and dedicated her time to raising their four children, all with auspicious "G" names: Grayson, Glenda, Garret, and Genelle. Grace revealed that even the pets had "G" names, so that they wouldn't feel left out: Gabby the Mynah bird, cats Gussie, Gigi and Ginny, the dog Gibo, and of course the fish were all Guppies.

According to Izumi, what really saved the bakery from mediocrity and turned it into a real enterprise was knowing the value of improving any product. "You have to have determination to make it better, " says Izumi, and for 39 years he perservered and like the rest of the JA community, made things better than before. Meanwhile, his reputation as a master baker grew.

He was the only baker in the National Association of Retail Bakers to have won Gold Cup awards in all fourteen categories, and while most assume that the popular layered Dobash cake is an invention from Hawai'I, it was in fact George Izumi who created it first and brought it to the islands during baking demonstrations. "I made a traditional Dobos torte, which caught on with some Issei ladies, and with their Japanese accent, they asked for that "Doba-shi" because they couldn't pronounce the Hungarian word."

Ultimately, those intimate stories connecting the strawberry pie, the coffee danishes, or a cream pastry with so many personal memories, combined with Izumi's community work has left a lasting impression. Leftover baked goods went to Maryknoll school, he gave to Centenary and Senshin church, donated a cake annually to Nisei Week and dozens of city celebrations and events, and was an active fundraiser for Yellow Brotherhood. He also credits the sweat and tears of his staff, Richard Kojima, general manager; Tak Teramae, office manager; Bob Wright and Emma Englund, cake deorators; Peggy Nishima,; Toggie Nakamoto; all of the Sansei girls who got after-school jobs working behind the counter; Kaz Furuto, the original bookkeeper, who would bring Grace and George dinner so that they could keep pushing into the night.

Grace Pastries was sold in 1989 and George Izumi doesn't complain. Taking into account the whole of his story, an American life filled with contradictions; the life of a baker whose toughness and business acumen brought a touch of salt along with the sweet, you see the essential ingredient to everything he did. "How do I make the tea cakes? Simple cake. You have to know what you're doing, that's all."

Readings of Identity: Asian American Portraits of Encounter

Artist Tam Tran: Writer Kazim Ali

Renowned portrait artist Steve Pyke has said that he is interested in the story each face has to tell, the story that is etched into the landscape of our faces. In 2011 the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC debuted its first Asian American exhibition, Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter (the Gallery was established in 1856). The National Portrait Gallery portrays poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists whose lives tell the American story, through images that captures the spirit of the person. Accordingly, Portraits of Encounter offers visual representations beyond the stereotypes that obscure the reality of being Asian in America.

The exhibition is filled with experimental images of great complexity, challenging the very notion of a portrait and is well worth visiting in my opinion, especially since six of the seven artists are women. I also learned recently that seven writers, David Henry Hwang, Garrett Hongo, Bao Phi, Marie Myung-Ok Lee, Marianne Villanueva, Kazim Ali, and Anna Kazumi Stahl were commissioned by the Asian American Literary Review to compose literary responses to the portraits by the seven contemporary artists, Tam Tran, Satomi Shirai, Roger Shimomura, CYJO, Hye Yeon Nam, Hong Chun Zhang, and Shizu Saldamando. A one-day symposium at the Gallery, which I was lucky enough to attend, staged the encounters while aptly demonstrating how portraiture and its interpretations are not just a means of depicting people, but are a way to express and contain complicated themes of cultural interaction and conflict in one's particular mode of expression.

For this column, I focused on two women from the symposium, both of Japanese descent and with remarkably mirrored stories, whose work worry away at the heart of displacement and cultural conflict, of being a 20th century immigrant.

I. The writer: Anna Kazumi Stahl responding to Shizu Saldamando's Cat and Carm

"So many layers go unspoken, unwritten, untold. We are more than meets the eye yet so committed to systems of meaning that work like grids: neat, even, linear…letters on paper. Papel. Kami. A portraitist shows a face. Cara. Kao. But the artwork uses more to reach us than just the composed still-life. Naturaleza muerta. Seibutsu. There is also the background. Fondo. Haikei. This is what catches my eye, directs my gaze…"
—Anna Kazumi Stahl

Cat and Carm
Shizu Saldamando
Gold leaf and oil on wood, 2008
Collection of the artist
© Shizu Saldamando

Born to a Japanese mother and a father of German ancestry at a time when the state of Louisiana did not recognize interracial marriages, Stahl is particularly attuned to the peculiar displacements of history—including the post-Internment migration of many Japanese Americans, her family among them, to the American South and with defying our language and culture's fixities and points of reference. Stahl deftly absorbs three countries at once, and it was evident that the confluence of language drives every sentence. Stahl writes in Spanish, English and Japanese in varigated ways, challenging herself and her audience to interrogate the purity of the words we choose by offering a multiplicity of vocabularies. Her counter-desire to free us from easy interpretation was evident from the very beginning as she stated, "I inflicted a foreign language upon you [the audience] rather than a bilingual piece, oh…because I think we're ready."

The genesis and content of her writing are clearly predicated with themes of transnationalism and multiraciality, reminding us that "navigating multicultural waters doesn't have to be a labyrinth or a mine field or any of these negative metaphors, after all, we do it, and raise our children to do it." Although she didn't communicate with the artist whose work she was responding to, she was instantly struck by the power and beauty of Saldamando's paintings and her mixed racial heritage. "'Cat and Carm' is a portrait, yet the two women of the title are slightly off-center. My gaze goes simultaneously to them and away from them, to the wide expanse of gold-leaf sheen… I begin to sense this piece speaking– via its layered effect and its play of arrangement and displacements- of identity as not fixed but fluid, as a practice rather than a product."

II. The artist: Satomi Shirai's Itch, the basis of a response by poet Garret Hongo

Satomi Shirai
Digital chromogenic print, 2006
Collection of the artist
© Satomi Shirai

According to Shirai, the genesis of her photograph was her apartment in Queens, New York. Looking around the room, she first decided that she wanted to photography the messiness, a space she had created filled with the objects she'd brought with her from Japan in an attempt to create "home". "My relocation to New York is not about overcoming a culture that is distinct, but about encountering and understanding cultural difference and similarity." One senses from the intense scratching, clawing and twisting in the photograph that she is trying to ease that terrible, persistent itch in her life, that she isn't yet comfortable in her environment, even if in the privacy of her own bedroom. Shirai uses herself as the subject of her photographs, using an old shutter timer which allows her only ten seconds to pose. She also conceals or obscures her face from the camera in order to capture her nuance of the scene without making it too documentary. The results are vivid, often hilarious, and fraught with a sense of nervous tension. "What's inside my apartment and what I want to keep and save is also like a portrait of Asian America."

As David Ward, one of the exhibition curators said, "while scholars like categories and neat analytical frameworks and tidy conclusions, artists are subversives, haring off after their own idiosyncratic vision in a way that suits them and with a language of their own devising- not anyone else, and certainly not scholars. Scholars make rules, artists break them. It is always thus and we should delight in the consequences." So such consequences were invited into the room from the very start. The sheer diversity of literary genres present (which included translators, poets, prose writers, memoirists, playwrights, novelists and short story writers) added to the experimental notion of writers responding to artworks, in which the portraits were minutely fractured through literary techniques, linguistic complications and distortions, and the workings of the imagination. "It was an artistic production of bodily delight," claims Asian American Literary Review's Gerald Maa, "demonstrating how the imagination is pleasing when you use it. We hope that from this experiment of word and image, more discussions will ripple out, valences of thought and conversation."

Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter is on display until October 14, 2012. The symposium was a collaboration of the Asian American Literary Review, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program, and the National Portrait Gallery held on April 14, 2012 at the National Portrait Gallery. For more information visit

Akira Horiuchi: A Reluctant Hero's Journey to the Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony

"To be drafted by the Government, to serve your country in time of war under such conditions that existed at that time, incarceration of all persons from the west coast with the wrong color face by abrogating all constitutional rights, racist discrimination wherever you went…left me quite apprehensive about my future."
—Aki Horiuchi, testimony to the 1981 Los Angeles Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians

Of the three hundred and thirty-three Japanese American veterans of World War II that convened in Washington DC last November 2011, Aki Horiuchi felt that he "wasn't like some of the guys who were in before me while the fighting was still going on". In fact, his personal journey to the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony to recognize the more than 30,000 Japanese American World War II veterans was peppered with small doubts and memories of a war that had cost him so much. He was eighteen years old when he was drafted into the Army- a mere two weeks after he had graduated from high school in Utah, and served in occupied Japan as a translator for the Military Intelligence Service. Having served his time in the Army, combat or not, Horiuchi qualified to partake in the prestigious award ceremony held in the nation's capital. For the first time in more than sixty years spent in a quiet, humble life, Horiuchi stepped into the national spotlight, even if just for a moment, wielding this triumph for the veterans with a humility and shoulder shrugging that almost suggests that he had nothing to do with the World War II quandary that has transformed every American of Japanese descent.

"Spry" was the word my father, Donald Wakida, used to describe 84-year-old Aki Horiuchi, upon meeting for the first time in Visalia, California. Wakida and Horiuchi were paired together as a part of the Honor Flight Network, a non-profit based in Virginia, whose mission is 'to transport America's veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit memorials dedicated to honor their service and sacrifices.' Out of the over 300 veterans who attended the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in DC, 156 were transported by Honor Flight on Southwest Airlines, with approximately 100 volunteer "guardians" who traveled with the veterans as their personal escorts. Torrance-based National Veterans Network (NVN) first approached the Honor Flight program about the possibility of hosting the Nisei veterans very early on; before it was known what day, or even which month the ceremony would be held in. Once Honor Flight accepted the request, NVN appointed an Honor Flight Coordinator for each geographic region to contact veterans and coordinate efforts. According to recent statistics posted on the Honor Flight Network website, the nation is losing WWII veterans at the rate of approximately 900 per day, so in response, Honor Flight Network does whatever it can to fulfill the dreams of WWII veterans to travel to national memorials honoring our military, absolutely free. Even with the offer from Honor Flight, Horiuchi still hesitated.

It took the efforts of brother Edward Horiuchi, who lives in Chicago and is a Korean War vet to convince Aki to fill out the necessary forms and book an actual ticket. My father, who is in fact a Vietnam vet, had never met Aki before, but he took his responsibility dead seriously; emailing travel plans to him repeatedly and enthusiastically.

I was one of many family members who were at the Los Angeles International Airport at 5 a.m., but sure enough we were "cutting it pretty close" according to Nisei earlybird standards. Aki had already been at the airport two hours ahead of us. As his Honor Flight escort, my dad's responsibility was to treat the war heroes as if they are family and ensure that the veteran he is in charge with had a safe and rewarding experience. As it turned out, Aki needed absolutely no escort whatsoever—he turned out to be so splendidly in shape and had planned to meet his brother in DC where they spent the bulk of the trip touring together, which meant my dad was pretty much free to haul around 5 lb bags of almonds and pistachios from the Central Valley and socialize with buddies he'd met at annual Friends and Family of the Nisei Veterans reunions held in Las Vegas. Still, since my father boarded the plane before Aki, he reserved a seat for him right up in front, which meant that Horiuchi was the very first veteran to deplane in Chicago where they changed planes. At every junction, Nisei were met with enthusiastic greeters donning green t-shirts, lining both sides of the gate, a sight our hesitant hero wasn't entirely prepared for. When a gentleman gently stopped Horiuchi and asked him, "442?" Aki admitted that he just flushed through as fast as he could and said no, rushing past the brou-haha. It was no better for him in Baltimore, where a cluster of bearded veterans (Horiuchi guessed they might be Vietnam veterans) awaited to cheer on the Nisei envoy. "I took one look at this and took a breath… Oh boy, here we go."

"You fought World War II on two fronts," Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California reminded the veterans at the ceremony, quoting former President Harry Truman. "You fought not only your enemy; you fought prejudice, and you won." Senator Boxer and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, were primary forces in pushing the Senate version of the bill forward in early 2011, granting the Congressional Gold Medal in the House of Representatives. However, upon first hearing about the ceremony in Washington DC, Horiuchi didn't bother with ideas of participating. "I wasn’t in combat," he insisted. By the time I was in the MIS, the war was over so, I just forgot about it."

Despite his personal misgivings, Horiuchi's contribution to the war effort cannot be underestimated; he was one of more than 5,000 Nisei who were recruited and specially trained to serve as an US military linguist, before, during and after WWII. Japan surrendered to the Allied Powers on August 14, 1945, thereby ending the war and changing the Army's strategic application of much needed Japanese American interpreters. In addition to keeping a lower public profile due to the nature of their intelligence work, the Military Intelligence Service interpreters who were involved in every aspect of the post-WWII occupation and reconstruction of Japan, might be perceived as less essential to the story of the heroic Nisei soldier, simply since they were no longer in the line of fire. However, the MIS were an essential piece of the US occupation of Japan, playing a significant role in facilitating repatriation, war tribunal, and counter intelligence functions, and immediately following surrender, they were among the first Americans to land in Japan. With their linguistic skills and cultural understanding, the MIS served as a vital link between the US General MacArthur's headquarters and the citizens and government of Japan, helping to implement a peaceful transition to a democratic Japan and cementing a postwar alliance between the two countries.

Akira Horiuchi was born and raised in Southern California. In the pre-war years, his father ran a small fruit stand on the Westside of town, and then picked up work as a truck driver hauling vegetables from farmers to the produce market on 9th street. On December 7, 1941, Horiuchi's father went to visit friends who lived and worked on Terminal Island, San Pedro. Unfortunately, immediately following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, certain businesses and districts along the West Coast came under high security, including Terminal Island, which was suspect for its fishing industry. Before he knew it, Horiuchi's father had been swept up in a wholesale arrest of all Issei and was imprisoned in a local jail, unable to communicate with his family or come home for four to five days.

In March 1942, the first of 108 civilian exclusion orders was issued by the US Army, resulting in the forced removal of forty-five families off of Bainbridge Island near Seattle. By the end of the March, the Army issued Public Proclamation No. 4 prohibiting the changing of residence for all in Military Area No. 1, effectively ending the "voluntary evacuation", when Japanese families could technically leave the government designated military zones in California, Oregon, and Washington, and try to eke out a life in the mountain states, the Midwest or East Coast. Shaken by his experience with the FBI, Horiuchi's father and mother could not interpret the possible meaning of the evacuation into relocation camps that the government were then promising for Japanese Americans living in Military Zone No. 1. So they packed up the paternal grandmother and the seven children into a single two-door automobile and "voluntarily evacuated" to Utah, accompanied by an uncle and niece living in Sawtelle and a family friend living in the San Fernando Valley.

They lived as sharecroppers for the next three years, moving on an average once a year, in search of more favorable conditions, but without much success. Sharecropping work included day and night irrigation, loading cow manure, harvesting tomatoes, sugar beets, fruit, potatoes, beans and working in the cannery when the harvesting season was over. The first year, the family lived in a two-room house in Layton, Utah with only a wood burning stove and kerosene lamps for cooking, heating and light to study by and no running water or electricity. With no beds to sleep in, they put mattresses on the floor and withstood torturous bedbug infestations. Accustomed to city life in California, the Horiuchi children were wholly unprepared for primitive rural living and in extreme weather conditions. As a result, one of the younger children died in an accident while the rest of the family was working in the fields. Months later, they would also lose their mother. After delivering seven children at home with the assistance of a midwife, she agreed to go to an American hospital, where she developed complications and died giving birth her youngest daughter, who never had a chance to meet her mother.

Just before graduation from Layton High School in 1945, Aki Horiuchi received his draft notification to report for induction as soon as school was over. When he received notification, he was both glad and fearful to get out of the slave labor conditions of sharecropping conditions forced upon him and his family, as a result of EO9066. Despite the forced exile and persisting racism he and his family, he willingly went to basic training with over 11,000 other young men to prepare for serving his country at war. "Just before I finished training in Ft. Hood, Texas, they gave the Buddhahead kids a test to see if we knew any Japanese. There were about a half a dozen Japanese in our company, and for the first time in my life, I met Nisei from Hawaii. Then they picked certain ones who got sent to Ft. Snelling in Minnesota."

Aki was one of them. Before the war, the Horiuchi children lived with their Issei grandmother and parents, which required them to speak Japanese at home all the time. In addition, he regularly attended Dainin Gakuen Japanese Language School, which was about a mile away from his regular public school. His proficiency in the Japanese language qualified him for further military training at a top-secret Army program known as the Military Intelligence Service. In 1941, as war between the US and Japan began to seem inevitable, a few members of the US War Department foresaw the need for qualified Japanese interpreters. Assuming that qualified linguists could easily be identified within the 3,700 Nisei serving in the US military, initial recruiters were dismayed to find that the Nisei were “more American than Japanese” and that only about 10% were potential candidates for the language program.

Horiuchi also chose to continue his training at the MIS school at Fort Snelling outside Minneapolis, since his family had relocated by then to St. Paul, Minnesota, and the proximity allowed him to visit his widowed father every weekend. By 1943, his oldest sister had found work as an Army secretary to MIS commandant, Captain Kai Rasmussen, and once she had settled in she called the rest of the family to come to Minnesota. In early 1946 Horiuchi's class of MIS graduates made their way to Seattle, where they sailed on a small liberty ship for Japan, which was now under supervision of General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers. According to Horiuchi, half of the ship's passengers were Japanese Americans who were expatriating and repatriating to Japan from the Tule Lake Segregation Camps in northern California. As a result, this forlorn group of about 100 Issei and Nisei were treated as prisoners, and in the supreme tragic twist of fate, the Nisei soldiers, specially trained by the government were forced to stand guard over their own community of Japanese Americans for eight hours at a time over the ten day trip to Japan. They were forbidden to speak a single word to the expatriates.

The ship landed at the Camp Zama Army Base, and that is when the realization that Japan had lost the war hit the men. "If you went to Tokyo, the main train station were bombed out. They hadn’t started fixing anything yet, buses weren’t running on gasoline but ran on a woodburning stove. The streets were crowded with a lot of horses and carts and everybody you met was hungry and had no clothes." The MIS interpreters were quickly integrated into the Tokyo Kanagawa military government, stationed in Yokohama to help in the monumental task of rebuilding Japan. "Early every morning, five days a week, we reported in front of the Kensho building in Yokohama. All of the different outfits in our general area would call our office and say 'We need 10 electricians, carpenters, skilled workers, plumbers for today.' An everyday, about 3-400 guys lined up before us, all wanting work. None of them spoke any English."

Most remarkable the role that the MIS translators played in building trust and empathy between the US and Japan on a human level; in most cases, the Japanese were astonished to encounter bi-lingual Americans of Japanese descent, and had mixed feelings about how to interpret the Nisei. "A lot of guys didn’t like Nisei guys cause they were going out with girls and acted like big shots. You had to be careful about where you went and not to stray too far from where other people were hanging around. On the other hand, you could also just go to someone’s house and borrow a yukata and geta, change out of your Army uniform, and noone would know that we were Americans." The entire MIS company lived in a small three-story building, waited on by maids who cleaned their rooms, and waitresses who served their meals in the downstairs canteen. Horiuchi remembers that they had a barber in the billet and use of a jeep for assignments that were up to a half a mile away. Horiuchi had never been to Japan before, so when he got leave, he got on a train and went to visit his parents' relatives in Fukuoka, where he added poignancy to his experience in Occupied Japan. "Whew, I had a hard time out in the country. In the bathroom you don’t sit, you squat. I took with me all the canned goods I could carry, and stopped at the PX and bought some doughnuts and stuff like that. They were so happy to get food." In total, his time in Japan was less than a year, and he came home in early 1947.

Upon returning to the United States following service in the MIS, he chose to stay in the Midwest after the trauma of their removal from the West Coast, like many Japanese Americans who once claimed California, Oregon, and Washington as their homes. Horiuchi stayed a decade. He graduated from pharmacy school, got married, and started a family— all in Chicago, where life seemed fresher, with fewer memories for good or for bad. As evidence that the Japanese communities were slowly rebuilding grew, in 1960 Horiuchi made the decision to move back to where he grew up, in the Los Angeles neighborhood bordered by Vermont and Western, on Olympic. He found work in his new profession in Beverly Hills for a year before settling down in Torrance, California. Eventually he and his wife had relocated to Oceanside, but soon after retirement, they considered another move to a drier climate for their health and subsequently moved to the Central Valley, which is how he was ultimately paired up with my father, who lives in Fresno, as his Honor Flight escort, bringing our two families together in this unexpected way.

Sadly, Horiuchi was not reunited with any of his wartime buddies who served in occupied Tokyo, despite his attempts to seek out familiar names and faces and the list of friends he had jotted down on a paper he carried in his pocket throughout the week.
Soon after both of our fathers returned to California, I spoke to Horiuchi's daughter Akemi, who also lives in Los Angeles. According to Akemi, her father rarely ever told her of his life during the war, and had surprised the family in 1981 by testifying for the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. It was the first time she had ever heard him openly speak about what had happened to him and his family as a consequence of the forced removal and their harrowing years in Utah. But this trip had changed some things in him and the pleasure of the ceremony and the long-neglected recognition of the Nisei soldier's services and sacrifice couldn't be denied.

"When he got home, he showed me the gold medal. Its really big and really heavy. He didn’t seem embarrassed, as he was before. Going into Congress was an incredible experience for him— seeing the White House, meeting Senator Inouye. I imagine it would almost be overwhelming, knowing how far things have come for someone with these memories and war experiences. He described it as a trip of a lifetime and had no regrets."

Louise Suski- the Mother of the Rafu Shimpo's English Page

Before the advent of the offset printing process, the Rafu Shimpo handset every word, every comma, every dingbat and ornamental header, utilizing drawers of lead type. In the case of the Rafu, the metal kanji used to compose each page must have been imported from Japan and cost a fortune, weight several tons in total. In 1926, it was the oldest and largest Japanese newspaper serving the immigrant population of the greater Los Angeles area. That same year, the Rafu made a bold decision to deliver a full set of Roman fonts, heralding a massive transition for the paper. To oversee the paper's introduction of a selection of English language pages, publisher Henry Toyosaku (H.T.) Komai hired its first editor-in-chief. She was a 20-year-old student at UCLA and her name was Louise Suski.

Louise J. Suski was born in San Francisco on June 27,1905, the second daughter of a prominent and trusted community doctor. As a teenager, Suski explored two common outlets for Nisei girls: church (her father was baptized in Japan and the family attended Maryknoll Catholic Church) and Nisei youth clubs (she and her siblings belonged the first girls Olivers Club in 1919 and later were active with the YWCA). After graduating from Los Angeles High School in 1924, she applied to UCLA with the hopes of becoming a kindergarten teacher and majored in education.

Mr. and Mrs. Peter Suski circa 1902, just after Mrs. Suski arrived in San Francisco from Japan. Courtesy Joe Suski.

Her father, Dr. Sakae Suski (also known as Peter M. Suski), was born in Okayama Prefecture in 1875 and immigrated to the United States in 1898. He made a living as a photographer in San Francisco until1906, relocating to Los Angeles following the Great Earthquake. Upon establishing himself in LA, he opened his own studio specializing in retouching, which required a steady hand painting over prints. By 1908, his dedication to the Los Angeles immigrant community was renowned, and he served as managing editor of the Southern California Association for the Preservation of Japanese History. As his family grew, he realized that photography was insufficient to support them, so he enrolled at the USC medical school while working at night. In 1917, he even spent a year in specialized study at the University of Berlin while the family remained in LA. Dr. Suski was also a writer, linguist, and a close confidant as well as the personal physician of H.T. Komai. Komai understood that if he wanted his Nisei children to read the Rafu, he absolutely had to dedicate pages to the emerging population of English readers. Together, Dr. Suski and Komai hatched a plan for the future and survival of the paper, and Louise was recommended for the position of editor in chief. When her father asked her to help out in starting the Rafu's English section, she quickly responded to his request. "I thought I would give it a try, although English was not my favorite subject," she said. Despite her lack of newspaper experience, Komai entrusted Louise with the project and on Feb. 21, 1926, the first quarter page of English laid into the Rafu Shimpo hit the streets.

The three founders of the Rafu had published an English supplement as early as 1904. Between 1910 and 1926, several efforts also were made to publish English articles in the paper, the first appearing as a supplement to the New Year Issue on January 1, 1917 as a supplement. For this special English publication, the Rafu Shimpo temporarily adopted the name the 'Los Angeles Japanese Daily News'. The one and a quarter pages of the supplement consisted of letters from prominent officials, dignitaries and journalists in Los Angeles such as the mayor, the president of the Los Angeles chamber of commerce, the Los Angeles postmaster, the Los Angeles police chief, the pastor of Temple Baptist church, the president of USC, which indicates an outward attempt by the newspaper to bridge between the Issei and the white American communities that lay mere blocks apart. From May to September 1918, English columns were written by Giko G. Sakamoto, and in 1921 and 1922, the Rafu held an English essay contest for Nisei and printed the winning results in their Christmas issues. Additionally, from 1924-1926, the paper ran a serial English comic.

Although the paper was written in Japanese, it also served as an English advertising medium for non-Japanese speaking Americans and circulated among them. Unlike Jewish and Italian immigrant newspapers, the English section of the Rafu was created as a cultural bridge to ease international tension. After the passage of the Alien Land Law of 1913, the Foreign Ministry of Japan and Japanese community leaders in the United States tried to educate Americans about Japan and its people because they thought that the anti-Japanese movement was rooted in Americans' ignorance of Japan and the Japanese. It is no accident that the first established English section was initiated two years after the passage of the 1924 National Immigration Act. Since more Japanese immigrants were not expected to enter the US after 1924, various businesses in the LA Japanese community were forced to change, aiming at English-speaking customers and other immigrants for survival. Most Nisei at that time were minors, so they weren't regarded as advertisers or paid subscribers. The Nisei were also isolated from the mainstream because of their color, and the truth was that they needed a media that would lead the fight against racism, as African Americans also needed their own papers.

"Our long-hoped for wishes are materialized, and so here we have a medium to publish news of the second generation, for the second generation, and by the second generation."
- announcement, Rafu Shimpo, 21 February 1926.

The daily process of creating the Rafu Shimpo newspaper was a tremendous effort that nearly consumed a full twenty-four hours. Every step had a deadline, although Suski herself called it a "hit and miss situation", and there were no set policies. The role of editor might encompass recruiting writers, making the final call about stories to run, copyediting and proofreading, and working with the composer on the page dummies to fit the headlines, stories and advertising. In later years, when the paper was no longer letterpress printed, work included assigning columns to be typed, laidout and pasted. In April 1932, the paper installed a four-deck rotary Goss press, replacing the old flat-bed press. The installment of the new machine enabled the paper to publish a tabloid, print clearly and produce 25,000 copies an hour. Newspaper veteran Harry Honda remembered Louise Suski as "the Queen Bee at the Rafu prewar, with us young cub reporters writing stories and helping out the English section."

What started as a cultural bridge to help ease international tensions quickly became a voice for the Nisei, reflecting their sentiments, their gossip and their moral watchdog. By 1932, the English section was a daily feature, informing young folks about what was going on in the city and elsewhere, but also containing articles about Japan in order to teach Nisei about the country that their parents called home. Dr. Suski himself became a regular contributor to the English section, writing essays on the Japanese language for the benefit of Nisei readers. He also collected books on linguistics and the ancient forms of Chinese characters. Of various kinds of newspaper work, Louise later admitted that she loved reporting female sports- her childhood dream had been to be a physical education teacher, but her mother had discouraged her and led her to instead study general education (although the job at the Rafu developed into a full-time job and she never finished her degree). Louise covered the women's sports and reporter Tony Gomez covered the men's sports. In June 1933, Suski was joined by George Nakamoto, a Fresno native who had studied journalism at the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University as a co-editor. Three years later, the Rafu hired Togo Tanaka as another editor on staff.

"The last issue of the Los Angeles Daily news has been run off the press in preparation of the forthcoming evacuation. 'Geo. Waki... Louise Suski... Togo Tanaka'" (04/11/1942)

In the wake of the Pearl Harbor bombing, publisher H.T. Komai was arrested and detained for his role with the press. With the imminent removal of all Japanese Americans off the West Coast, the Rafu Shimpo ceased publication on April 4, 1942. The Suski family was sent to Heart Mountain camp, where Louise immediately joined the camp newspaper, the Heart Mountain Sentinel, with Bill Hosokawa as its editor. Among the dozen or so who worked in the Sentinel office, there were a few professional journalists such as the paper's managing editor, Haruo Imura, who had worked in San Francisco, and of course, Louise. But most of the staff had little or no reporting experience. An article written by Kelly Yamanouchi reports: "Throughout the week the typewriters clacked away in the makeshift office; on Friday afternoons, the staff would gather to paste up the copy and then send it off for printing. The presses would churn out 7,000 copies of each issue, which would then be distributed free of charge to the camp's occupants." Once Heart Mountain closed, the Sentinel, which had grown from a pamphlet newsletter into an eight-page tabloid, released its final paper on July 28, 1945 after 145 issues.

Following the war, Louise moved to Chicago and continued to write for Japanese American publications, reporting on the lives of Nisei in Chicago and Milwaukee who were trying to eke out a new existence in the Midwest. "I was not anxious to come back to Los Angeles because they did not want Japanese on the West Coast. There was a lot of prejudice against Japanese." In Chicago, she found work with the General Mailing and Sales Company, which was owned by a Nisei, and at the Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Program (JERS) office, collecting data such as evacuee letters, diaries, photos and reports submitted by social scientists and journalists. She also helped edit Scene Magazine, a Japanese American magazine published by her former co-editor, Togo Tanaka, and the Shikago Shimpo (Chicago Courier), a JA paper published in Chicago by Roichi Fujii. According to Harry Honda, "She often said that she was helping put out one page of English as a public service. She wasn't getting paid and she liked to just keep her hands in what was happening in the Nisei community."

In 1978, Suski returned to Los Angeles to spend the rest of her life, post- retirement, living with her brother Joe and his wife in Cerritos. Altogether, there were seven Suski children: Julia, Louisa, Flora, Clara, Margaret, Margaret, Joe and Elmer, who is still living. The eldest, Julia was a musician and artist, whose pen illustrations appeared almost daily in the Rafu Shimpo from 1926 to 1929. I had assumed that the unusual spelling of the family name was a casualty of the immigration station workers at Angel Island (where the name Suzuki changed to Suski?). However, I just received a copy of P.M. Suski's autobiography entitled "My 50 Years in America" where he explains that "my name was written in Japan as SUSUKI, but my parents, grandparents, and relatives invariably pronounced the second U unvocalized and unstresse. That is why I started using the spelling SUSKI on Christmas day in 1898, when I was on board the steamship Nippon Maru on my way to America."

Louise Suski died in June 2003 in Cerritos, the start of a legacy of newspaper women at the Rafu that led me to my first column, printed just a week shy of the English section's eighty-sixth anniversary.

I thank Harry Honda, Lon Kurashige, Chris Komai, Steve Doi, and Alan Kumamoto for their assistance in researching this article.

Animal Menagerie

Susan S. has an annual tradition that she's followed for over thirty-six years, animal by animal. Having been lucky enough to have spent the past twenty years as an archivist at a world-class library where she gets to roam its stacks, attics and moats at will, she is a great lover of ephemera and the collectable memorabilia of our past. An accomplished author of many beautiful books, Susan also practices an art known to few in this country, a habit she picked up after living in Japan for several decades. Her art is parsed in extremely limited editions and made public only once a year through the US postal system. January 1, 2012 hails the beginning of the Year of the Dragon. Without fail, Susan has once again taken her carving tools to the task and interpreted the dragon in a hand-printed linoleum block nengajo with her unique combination of piquancy and zest.

Nengajo (also known as otoshidama-tsuki nenga hagaki) are postcards sent as New Year greetings on the first of the year. A special mailing system through Japan Post, which enables postcards that have been sent by mid-December to all arrive at once on January 1st, was purportedly started well over 100 years ago. Today, more than 4.1 billion nengajo are printed and mailed in the month of January. While commercial nengajo to email or send by phone are increasingly on the rise, the truly unique, paper nengajo offer a opportunity for one's inner creative to emerge once a year. Of course, pre-printed cards can still be purchased at stationary or department stores and customized nengajo software for printing on a home computer are always a hefty part of every year's nengajo haul, but it is the hand-crafted nengajo that I seek. Nine times out of ten, New Year postcards rely on the present year's zodiacal animal as the primary design, following the Chinese zodiac cycle. (For the record, the animals are, in order: r a t , o x , t i g e r , r a b b i t , d r a g o n , s n a k e , h o r s e , s h e e p , m o n k e y , r o o s t e r , d o g , a n d b o a r . And yes, the rat is always the first animal in the race around the twelve-year calendar). The original purpose of nengajo was to report tidings to faraway friends and relatives. In other words, this custom existed for people to tell others that they were still alive and allowed them to express hopes that the year ahead would be even luckier, richer, healthier and all around better than the last.

In the nineties, I spent several years living in Japan, which is how I first encountered the nengajo tradition, and was instantly smitten. As it happened, I was living with a traditional washi papermaker in the remote green mountains of Warabi, Gifu-prefecture, a place where paper wasn't simply a product of industry. For six months, I practiced the process of traditional papermaking, boiling young branches of mulberry in ash and lye, scraping tough knots where the node met the branch and any remnants of red bark from individual strands under a trickle of icy water, pounding and scooping the white fibers shot with gold onto bamboo trays. It was not mere learning, it was sheer worship. I also gained a profound understanding of paper's purpose: light reflects magically upon the pristine white sheets and with the application of the alphabet or numericals with black ink, history could be recorded and news of one's well being could now be sent to far-off places. My papermaking teacher was a g r e g a r i o u s fellow with h u n d r e d s of individuals to send his best wishes for prosperity, fortune and good health to, which meant his nengajo production was SERIOUS BUSINESS. Earlier in the year, he had introduced me to linoleum block printing, keeping a giant, economical roll of it in his studio in case he was ever struck with a desire to carve and print on the crisp sheafs of paper we stored throughout the wooden house all the way up to its rafters. But on this occasion and much to my surprise, my mentor reached into the closet for a totally new-fangled contraption that he explained was his nengajo machine. The machine was fashioned out of a powdery blue plastic, came with some rather ill-smelling flashbulbs and required AA batteries. What I didn't realize at the time was that I was staring at a Gocco, a fantastically clever screen-printing toy that was created in Japan specifically for the nengajo market, which explains to frustrated Gocco fanatics around the globe why the majority of its models fits 4" x 6" images, maximum. Gocco was developed in 1977 using flash bulbs, a carbon-based image and an emulsion-coated screen, allowing the user to stamp out hundreds of customized, personal prints and for nearly two decades, sales of the machines soared in Japan. It was the Year of the Ox, and as the papermaker's apprentice, I got the job of gocco'ing bulls kicking up their heels under the moon on an endless stack of blank postcards.

By the time I came back to California and mustered up the courage to make my own nengajo debut, it was the Year of the Snake. Using my own pet snake as my model, I went back to the papermaker's first printmaking lesson, and carved the image out of linoleum and printed the postcards using a tabletop platen press. The following year, I neglected to fire on all cylinders and skipped the Year of the Horse, but picked up the nengajo tradition again in the Year of the Ram.

And so the nengajo custom began, although noone else in my family had ever heard of, let alone made or sent nengajo in California before. A purposeful visit to specialty stationary stores such as Kinokuniya might yield packaged pre-printed nengajo, but for the rest of us, we have to make our cards by hand. Presumably, everyone just thought of me as being animal fixated, and indeed for a few years I collaborated with a sansei artist to produce zodiac animal calendars in addition to the annual nengajo print fest. Susan's nengajo artwork came to my attention when she sent one to the publishing company where I worked at, knocking me out with her illustration and design finesse, while delighting me with the simple fact that she observed this arcane and remote tradition. Looking ahead I see that next year is the Year of the Snake, which brings me at last, to my first full zodiac cycle. I still have a long way to catch up to her; she's been around the zodiac block three times. Sigh.

In a marathon gocco printing on New Year's Eve with assistance by my husband, the 2012 dragons have been laid out, huffing smoke. As I finished penning the last of this year's greetings and fixing postcard stamps on each of them, it suddenly occurred to me (consistent to my overall weakness for rare and endangered cultural species such as books and museums) my nengajo habit is entirely reliant on the US postal service, which has begun voicing throes of an elegy. For what joy is left in sending a group spam affixed with glittering gifs when I can still sketch, transfer, carve and print my nengajo by hand, its ink and paper poetically tactile?

Halloween night when you're old

Notes for the CCH grant proposal discussion tomorrow? Check. Final draft of the powerpoint presentation at Loyola Marymount University on Tuesday? Check. Bio sent to Central California Asian Pacific Women fundraiser in December? First stab at the Kaya press release? Typed notes from the Bancroft Library research on Wayne Collins? Check check check.

We did, in fact, try to make it out to two themed bars on our side of town tonight, but discovered that they were closed on Mondays (even on a Monday like tonight!) So we settled instead for a roughly 11 mile bike ride down the Los Angeles River wearing our panda masks. This included a request stop at the Bigfoot Lounge for a Rude Bear Float (adult root beer float) and a Newcastle, and for huffing Indian spices at a local market and restaurant off of Los Feliz. My treat? Fig yogurt with mini choco chips and almonds while lying in bed wearing fuzzy pants.

foxtrot forgeries

First stages of sketches in pencil

After a few weeks of carving

Around the time that I started posting these musings on the Fresno temple and the Obon season in general, I was on the third or fourth week of carving this linoleum block which I *SWEAR* started out rather innocently, with the children leaning into one other as the focal point. I wasn't quite sure what the context was going to be around them (as it must be evident in the way that the background and foreground are very slowly being filled in) and kept sketching and even carving as June, July and August crept in and surrounded me.

It is well nigh into September, and I think I'm only a few steps away from completing the lino, which surprise surprise, ended up as a street scene at an Obon Festival. I concentrated on new styles of making stars and lantern light, while screwing around with shaping shadows. The last few steps will involve me drawing out the silhouettes of the rest of the festival attendees and dancers, which is harder to do when you don't really have good models to work off of.

As for the girl fox, well...she has long been a favorite of mine in Japanese folk tales and superstitions, even if she has a greedy, cunning streak running through her like the wind.

Fate of the Fresno Betsuin Building Project

When I was nine years old, the Sunday ritual was to drive the five miles or so from our home in Tarpey Village in Clovis until we were out where long dirt driveways led to vineyards and farmer homes, where a single oak tree shaded a tiny, unmarked bungalow. Steel grey folding chairs were brought from the closets and the children were instructed to plunk zabuton on each chilly metal seat, candles and thin green rods of incense were lit, as an overhead heater roared to life. That tiny bungalow was where I attended weekly dharma school and even played "Hotokei Sama" on the piano for our very small Buddhist congregation who lived out in the sticks; Sunday School for the outlying areas such as Fowler, Madera, Selma, Dinuba, Kingsburg and Parlier.

I live in Los Angeles now. As news that the historic Jodo Shinshu Buddhist temple located in downtown Fresno was up on the auction block reached the southern California Japanese American community, colleagues began leaving me both physical and digital copies of an article that was published in the Los Angeles Times on August 1, 2011— in the heat of the annual obon season. Being a semi-native Fresnan (I was born in San Diego and raised for the first seven years in Honolulu, but lived in the Fresno area from age eight until seventeen), I was asked for my candid opinion about the temple everywhere I went: over dinner, in the hallways at work, and on my Facebook page. But as the initial spell of dismay over the abandonment of the old for the new washed through the network, I realized what a tremendous piece of my identity as a Japanese American was formed by that very temple and by being raised Buddhist in the Central Valley. Fresno, like so many mid-sized American cities, has expanded expotentially since it was first incorporated in 1847. What were once thriving ethnic enclaves scattered around a downtown base bordering the newly laid Southern Pacific Railroad line has now grown a thousand fold in circumference, as people built outwards from the original central core (where transportation and commerce was once the hub), conjuring up cheaper housing and the mini-malls by the hundreds to support its growing suburban populations. What is left behind in the downtown district is then left to decay.

This story is similar in some ways, but of course different from what happened in Little Tokyo with the Los Angeles Hompa Hongwanji Temple on the corner of 1st and Central street, which happens to be a sister temple to the one in Fresno. In the mid 1950s, the L.A. Hompa Hongwanji, (affectionately known by locals as Nishi Hongwanji) having outgrown the temple that their Issei congregation built in 1925, launched an ambitious fundraising effort to build a new and larger temple further down 1st street to Vignes and subsequently sold their old temple to the City of L.A. The original Nishi temple, like the Fresno church, was a physical testament to Issei fundraising acumen and a manifestation of their determination to put their hard-earned capital into a more productive way of living while remaining on American soil. From the stories I've heard, Little Tokyo and downtown Los Angeles in general suffered during the war years by the two-pronged forced incarceration of the Japanese and the arrival of African Americans, Mexicans and others who were lured to California by offers of work in the US defense industry. This rush of migration resulted in crowded, squalid conditions in the aging historic districts, which is what the Japanese Americans returned to in 1945. As the community struggled to find some sense of normality in their lives in the traumatic years following war, Nishi Hongwanji, in both its physical and spiritual form, sheltered dozens of homeless families and provided the foundation on which the community slowly began to rebuild. By the mid-1950s, the congregation had swelled back to its pre-war numbers and beyond as the Nisei generation reached its marriage and child-bearing peak. Simultaneously with (although most likely not in consideration of) the temple's plans for possible relocation, the Los Angeles Redevelopment Commission had its eye on the entire swath of buildings that flanked Nishi Hongwanji, as city plans emerged in 1963to tear down the so-called decrepit buildings and widen 1st Street. So when decision to rebuild the temple were official ten years later, the City of Los Angeles purchased the historic building, which surely had a part in helping raise funds for the new temple on Vignes. The street widening along 1st Street never happened (I'm not sure why), and thus, the former Nishi building was left standing. There may have been brief periods of habitat, but to my knowledge, the historic building was by and large empty for decades. In the meantime, a resurgence of Japanese American cultural traditions such as Nisei Week and the opening of other nonprofits nearby such as the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center and East West Players in the old Union Church building helped establish Little Tokyo as a vibrant, living community once again.

Fresno did not have this same experience. While the population of Fresno proper soared in the second half of the 20th century and continues to experience dramatic increases into the 21st century, downtown continues to suffer. In 1992, Fresno City Hall itself moved out of the heart of downtown, re-envisioning itself as a futuristic neo-architectural swoop on the edge of downtown. I first heard of the new/old Buddhist temple quandry about a year and a half ago, when I found out that my family had donated funds towards the new temple. It isn't sheer coincidence that the proposed new Buddhist temple will be built on a swath of land out by Clovis that, if the stories I've heard are accurate, is land that the Buddhist community purchased decades ago, perhaps with this kind of shift in mind. This area was once all grapevines, fig orchards, strawberry fields and cow pastures, but today it is filled with tract houses lined by advertising banners that whip in the wind and achingly new elementary schools. It’s where the new generations of Japanese American community lives. It is a mere stone's throw from where that lone oak tree and the tiny Buddhist bungalow I practiced in once stood.

I felt a terrible yearning for the old Fresno Betsuin Buddhist temple when I heard that it might be replaced, and that sense of nostalgia has slowly eaten away my heart. Like so many other generations of Japanese Americans from the valley, our central identity was rooted in the old temple on the corner of Kern and E Streets, and with little effort my mind was flooded with memories of the numerous funeral services, Hanamatsuri, and especially the annual Obon festivals, when stopping in at Komoto's Department Store and Central Fish were all part of an organic experience of visiting West Fresno. Granted, much of those Buddhist services were actually exercises in controlling our gasps of air and giggles when the sound of unearthly priests chanting in incomprehensible Japanese struck our dumb yonsei ears. Yet it was sorrow I felt, that certain kind of mourning, upon realizing the end of a previously unbroken line of history. Up until now, every single couple in my family had been married at that temple; in fact, my maternal grandfather, Johnson Kebo, was even the temple board chairman in 1956. (Johnson married Miyeko Okamura on July 18, 1938 at the Fresno Betsuin Temple, which was a double wedding with Johnson's younger brother George and his wife Evelyn. I even investigated getting married there this past May, but opted to have the ceremony at a Buddhist temple in Los Angeles.)

But the inherent reality of the congregation's 21st century needs became apparent when I was asked to participate in the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Buddhist "Dharma Family Center" last spring. The Dharma Family Center is a spanking new gymnasium/community center that is currently standing in for the temple services while the new one is being constructed adjacent to the gym. I certainly couldn't refuse. I arrived with the rest of the family, and as I saw dozens of tables groaning with tupperware dishes and watched row upon row of chairs fill with three generations of Central Valley Buddhists, it dawned on me. Man, everyone here is so over it! What is alive in Fresno today isn't something held to a fixed point on the map or even housed within sacred walls. The needs for ritual and to teach tolerance and humility, and well...even the need for basketball gyms and potlucks in a place where people conveniently congregate---that is where the community thrives. I was one of many people that day who held a pair of scissors and symbolically snipped the ribbon at the ceremonial breaking of new ground. It genuinely moved me to witness this transition, even as I stood behind a row of Nisei, Sansei and Yonsei, whose families had undoubtedly contributed to our way of life and whose shoulders we were standing upon that day.

To acknowledge the well-intentioned appeals by preservationists and historical monument supporters, I know that objects steeped in memory are the artifacts we seek out for telling stories. The temple has tremendous power as a historical site of conscience and has hundreds of entry points for reflecting our community's history, having borne witness to decades of community life, especially when it carried the weight of the Japanese forcibly ousted from the once crowded West Fresno neighborhood in 1943. Yet for all of the value we place on the Fresno temple's marble stairs which we all walked up, and the 3,000 lb bronze bell that carried our prayers, perhaps that weight, those seemingly permanent structures are not what they simply appear to be. Isn't that what Buddhism teaches us, to lose our attachment to earthly belongings, and that all things are impermanent? To not hold on?

So what is the elegant solution to this most complex personal /community/ economic/spiritual conundrum? Perhaps the old Fresno Betsuin Buddhist Temple could be purchased and moved across town as some people are suggesting. But is there another way of thinking about the tenets of honoring ancestors and impermanence? Maybe the old temple can be converted into something like a center for alternative medicine to heal the homeless population that now camp beneath its cloud-shaped gates or into a legal center to represent the myriad immigrants that still pour into the valley everyday, searching for work and a home and a strategy for survival. Do not do any evil and cultivate good, the old temple reminds us. Which brings me to the last part of my story in relating the history of the L.A. Nishi Hongwaji temple with the experience we are living today in Fresno. After lying fallow for nearly twenty years, the historic Nishi Hongwanji building was riddled with holes and bore the worst evidence of neglect. It wasn't until 1987 that the unimaginable happened and the future of the temple was revived. On that year, the City of L.A. signed a lease with an emerging non-profit to open a national museum dedicated to the history and experience of Japanese Americans. Exercise and honor the power of a community's strength and perhaps someday we can make the beloved home another home for others.

Today, we dwell upon our dead

I just unearthed this piece, which I wrote in August/September 2009 in Taos, NM. I had forgotten all about it until now, and though the 2011 Obon season has just passed, it is especially apropo for me to share it since Bachan died this spring. In addition to my gratitude and thanks to Nanao Sakai (December 2008), Arthur Okamura (July 2009), Joe Holt (July 2009), I dedicate this article to Miyeko Kebo (April 10, 1917-February 7, 2011. She was 93 years old!)

About a year ago my mother called, urgency burnishing a discernable edge to her voice, to tell me that Bachan, my grandmother, had stopped eating. It was expected that she would rapidly deteriorate in the coming weeks, maybe days. Come home, she said, it was time to say goodbye. Within a day, I found Bachan in an armchair in her bedroom at my aunt’s house in Fresno. As I held her fragile hands between my own, I was especially sensitive to feeling her bones swimming beneath the skin, its surface freckled with age and blue with veins, still delicately vital. We were alone in her bedroom, yet I struggled mightily to contain my emotions, seeking privacy even from her intimate audience. It was August, and the dry, blasting heat of the desert bore onto the blacktop roads, the dusty grasses between the house and the curb. Her chair faced out a curtained window onto the driveway, where I imagine she could watch the comings and goings of the house. Looking around her room, I recognized all of the familiar articles that I had memorized from the time that I was a child, although she had moved residencies at least three times since her husband had died. A faded color portrait of her with her husband, Johnson, in a white polyester jacket and a brown patterned dress shirt sprouting lapels of a ridiculous wingspan; she in large plastic framed glasses, her graying hair a singular crest of curl undulating over her head, a gleaming tooth from an easy smile.

Most prominent in her room was the family butsudan, the solemn, lacquered shrine devoted to ancestor worship. Non-Asians aren’t as familiar with having something within the household that needs regular upkeep like a butsudan- its caretakers feed it a tiny mound of cooked rice, a glass of water, a piece of fruit or a sweet bean manju to satiate the hunger of ghosts, and as a small reminder that we are indebted to our forebearers for the life we have. Butsudans are a bit like books to me- with two sets of shuttered doors, one paneled, one solid, that opened to more tiers where candles and photographs of the deceased are placed. Before the butsudan sit its accessories: a pert, gilded cushion sat atop a carved pedestal, a resonating bowl for awakening distracted ancestors, Bachan’s crystal ojizu with its rich purple and white tassel. In this fashion, she visited with the departed everyday and remained connected to the worlds of the living and dead. As we talked in gentle voices, I hoped my love would be conveyed more through my touch than through my words. I sat in fear that this was the last chance to thank her for the immense, infatigable love she surrounded me with throughout my entire life. We fluttered around the subject of life’s great rewards and all the good times. As I stood to leave, she patted me again reassuringly, clear-eyed and chirped, “You’ll see me again!”

It wasn’t until later, on my train ride back to Oakland that I pondered one of the enigmas of being raised Jodo Shinshu Buddhist, and the weight of Bachan’s comment. We are taught that with death, the unenlightened are reborn into this world, again destined to seek nirvana. Most of us don’t contemplate the reincarnation wheel with much regularity let alone consider when we’re going to bump into the recently deceased next, and whether they might be disguised as a roundworm , a morning glory vine, or even a ghostly human. What I failed to remember on that journey home was the fact that it was early August, and I was unwittingly speeding directly into Obon season.

The Obon festival has been held annually in Japan since 657 A.D. and even today, between July and August 15th, millions of Japanese living in metropolitan cities flock to their hometowns to celebrate . “Obon” is an abbreviation of “urabon”, the Japanese transliteration of the Sanskrit word Ullambana which literally means "to hang upside down”, implying the unbearable suffering born when you’re hanging upside down, or forced to bear the discontent and unfulfilled desires of your earthly life. The legend of obon proportedly is as follows: Mokuren Sonja, a disciple of the Sâkyamuni Buddha, gifted with supernatural powers bestowed upon his priestly devotion, visits his mother who has passed to the spirit world, only to discover that she has fallen onto the path of hungry ghosts and is in great suffering. To release her from her wanderings, he brings her food and makes offerings at his local temple, then bursts into spontaneous dance when she and seven generations of ancestors are released from their earthly desires. Obon then became a ritual of both filial piety and to offer gifts of food to the deceased, coinciding with the end of summer and the beginning of the harvest season. Obon was established as a major festival in Japan in the 7th century, but it wasn’t until the onset of the Meiji period (1868-1912) and shift to the solar calendar that Obon officially fell on July 15 and in some places, August 15.

Thus, at the peak of summer’s intensity, when the skies boil with humidity and a witching shrill of dying cicadas, the spirits of our ancestors descend back to earth to visit kin. To pay respect and homage to who they once were, offerings of rice, cakes, fruits and vegetables—usually the most splendid and choicest, symbolizing the fruition of the family’s efforts— are laid at the butsudan and occasionally at the front door of the household. In order to properly guide the spirits of one’s ancestors, lanterns or mukaebi, small bonfires, are lit on the night of Obon, filling the night with the soft pulse of light suffused through paper. Additionally, in the Hiroshima area where both my maternal and fraternal great grandparents immigrated from, elaborate hexagonal paper lanterns, both multi-colored and white, are placed at the ancestral graves. The white lanterns are for those who passed away during Aug. 16 of the previous year till Aug. 15 of the current year. Although an exact evolution of Obon cannot be definitely traced, the festival has become synonymous with ritual folk dancing performed at night by the light of lanterns. Bon Odori (dance) is itself an offering of joy and celebration, a magical twilit evening when one can literally dance in tandem with the dead.

It was likely in a fit of nostalgia for ancestors left in distant villages in Japan that Obon became one of the predominant Japanese traditions that survived the centuries old lag between United States and the home country. The first Bon Odori in U.S. Territory was performed in Hawaii in 1910 (which technically wasn’t an actual U.S. state, but was the earliest immigrant community of Japanese migrant workers. Twenty years later, the Jodo Shinshu priest Reverend Yoshio Iwanaga introduced the Bon Odori to temples in California, Oregon, Washington and Canada. The first organized Bon Odori in the continental United States was held in the auditorium of the Buddhist Church of San Francisco in 1931. Bon Odori is still performed outdoors, the dancers clad in summer yukata, moving in concentric circles of flickering fans and sweeping hands around a raised platform called a yagura. Although I grew up attending the Obon festival annually in West Fresno, I never participated in the odori itself, and was more content just to prowl the stalls for dollar plates of somen salad, deep-fried Okinawan donut holes on a skewer, teriyaki sticks, paper cones of shave ice, or to spend quarters playing carnival games. Death and the observance of the past were the furthest things possible from my mind. For all of my hours throwing rings at rows of old coke bottles at the Fresno Obon as a child, it wasn’t until I moved north to Oakland for college, that I took my first flailing steps towards learning the folk dances of Obon odori.

It is early evening in July, a year after my trip to visit Bachan, and I am standing in a stately white Victorian in Alameda, California with a cluster of other Nikkei, clutching fans, tenugui, and kachikachi. A Victorian is the least likely building to ever house a Buddhist temple, but despite appearances, the Alameda Buddhist Temple has housed itself in this turn of the century clapboard since 1916. Tonight, we are here to practice for Obon. Amongst the middle aged mothers with young children who wheel about in the middle of our dance circles, there are teenagers in shorts and tees (one girl wears a YBA or Young Buddhist Association t-shirt that shows a lean athlete reaching for nirvana under the words, JUST DO IT), and a couple of older folks like myself. We never tear our eyes away from Sensei Eileen, who leads us through the repetitive step point, step point, back step, back step clap! which occasionally leads to run-ins with the dancer directly in front of you. Warbling from an ancient boombox at the front of the room pipes the age-old drums, flutes and synths of the “Tanka Bushi”, “Tokyo Odori”, the “Baseball Odori” and this year’s new dance, a hybrid samba number that incorporates some suspiciously Nikkei Brazilian cha-cha shakes. (Why do I dance Obon now? What draws me to it?) At the end of the rehearsal, the reverend blesses us and we all gassho before hustling round uchiwa fans and other dance props into minivans and scooting off till next time.

A cursory look at the Hokubei Mainichi newspaper in mid-July will give the reader a listing of half a dozen Obon festivals scheduled in Northern California alone: Palo Alto, San Jose, Mountain View, Oakland, San Francisco, Walnut Creek. If you were to add the Central Valley and Southern California Buddhist temples, you could count close to three dozen Obon celebrations to choose from on any given year. Beyond California’s borders, Obon is celebrated in Hawai’i, Seattle, Chicago, as well as in Sao Paulo, Lima, and Manila. Today I am in Berkeley, and since I never quite remember how to bind myself properly into my yukata, I arrive early at my friend Kimi’s house to have her help me tuck the yukata tightly, followed by three under sashes tied tight as a boa! around my waist before the wide obi is wrapped and tugged into a neat bow around the back. My yukata for the past ten years has been an mustard green patterned with black summer grasses and purple tombo dragonflies, accented with a knockout purple and metallic gold obi. However, as I near 40 years of age, I am considering retiring this flashy attire for a more somber pattern and color of yukata more suitable for a woman out of her youth. The professional dancers who circle in the center of our concentric rings of amateurs wear uniform indigo and white yukata of a decidedly modern style. It is the girls who provide the candy-colored pyrotechnics of the evening, wearing fuschia tipped yukata cascading with grape, tangerine and jade profusions of chrysanthemums, koi, irises and even fireworks on their hems and sleeves. The dancing begins at seven, and many people arrive early for the teriyaki dinners and to get dressed with the assistance of several obasans who truss you into your yukata mercilessly. As the day wanes, gem-like lanterns strung along the block are lit, glowing in the crepuscular light. Berkeley cordons off the entire block in front of the temple for Obon Odori, giving the dancers and spectators ample room. Up on the yagura, a microphone squeals. The reverend welcomes the crowds to Obon and calls us to remember those who have passed in the recent year. We bow our heads, breathe, and somewhere the music starts. We shuffle forward, always in a circle, returning to where we began.

We are taught that Obon is a time to appreciate all that our ancestors have done for us and to recognize the continuation of the influence of their lives upon our own lives. Obon is a time of self-reflection; not only from the happiness of getting what you want and desire, but the joy of awareness, a reminder to love and care for others, especially our parents. It also encourages the practice of dana, selfless giving, to all beings, and to reflect the universal experience that in living life, we must know loss. However, in knowing true loss, we begin to understand the meaning of love. Bachan didn’t, in fact, expire quickly as we had feared. In fact, at age 91, she’s still tottering about with the aid of a wheelchair and the occasional donut to satisfy an insatiable sweet tooth. When last I saw her, at a banquet dinner in Fresno celebrating her birthday, she seemed genuinely surprised at the cake placed before her, ablaze in candles too many to signify anything beyond a life well journeyed. With candles amassing in coronas of gold reflected in her eyes, she clasped her hands in sheer delight, exclaiming, “Is this for me?” before gathering every ounce of energy left in her and blowing with all the breath that she could possibly muster. In an instant, the room went black.

As many of you know, I am in the stages of writing a script for the soon to be permanent exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum. This exhibit will focus on the World War II Japanese American experience and the lessons that can be shared with the world through this specific ethnic community and the terrible cost of sacrificing one's civil liberties under the vitriol of racism and economic greed.

Let me be honest- this is a really challenging assignment. In many ways I feel that it is a story I have been preparing for forty years to face and to tell. Building exhibits and curatorial work in itself is a bit mysterious to begin with, but in this case. this exhibit building is something more. It is a deeply nuanced transformation of the Museum itself as it moves from memorializing the past to teaching and embracing the future. For me, it is a process of massive outreach and careful listening, while simultaneously sorting and brutal editing.

Just this past weekend, as I once again got into The Thinker pose and re-read my drafts, it occurred to me that what this is all about is Process. Sigh, yes Process. It reminded me of one of the stories my former boss, Malcolm Margolin, of Heyday Books would recount to me and audiences all over California, when we talked of cultural revival and generational change.

The story goes something like this:

"In the high Sierra, there is a tradition of rebuilding roundhouses. These roundhouses are underground houses or semi-underground houses, they're dance houses, they're for ceremony, they're for storytelling.

And one of them is at Trusser, east of Jackson, and it was built in the early ‘70s. The roof fell in in 1990, it was rebuilt and it is still being used, and it's kind of a center for culture and for cultural renewal.

I was once talking to the people that built it, and I was talking about how it was built. And what they said was that they could have built it better. They could have used creosote on the posts when they dug the post into the ground, there was nothing in the old rules that said you couldn't use creosote. They didn't have to tie the rafter with grapevine, they could have used metal, there was nothing in the old rules that said you couldn't use metal.

But there was a rule that they had to follow, and that is, you had to build the roundhouse so that it would fall apart every twenty years, so each generation would have the experience of rebuilding it."

I think this is what is happening, both on a personal and on a communal level- and it is terrifying and beautiful all at once. Again, to paraphrase Mal, in the way in which we are approaching this idea of redesigning the world of the future, the world of the Museum, we must remember to redesigning it from strength, from understanding, deeply meditating upon what works, deeply understanding what the soul of belonging to that process of becoming American, and then designing our vision, the new exhibition to house our stories from that. THAT is the roundhouse we are reaching for, the one that we will all be able to dance in.

Hisaye Yamamoto "Humble Giant of American Literature"

This article originally ran in the Los Angeles Japanese American paper, the Rafu Shimpo, on Friday, February 11, 2011. My gratitude to JK Yamamoto (Hisaye's nephew and long-time community journalist) for so generously including me in this.

Another outstanding tribute to Hisaye was published in the Los Angeles times here.

Hisaye Yamamoto "Humble Giant of American Literature"- Rafu Shimpo

The passing of short-story writer and essayist Hisaye Yamamoto is being mourned by her friends and fans across the country and beyond. The author of “Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories” died in Los Angeles on Jan. 30 at the age of 89.

Filmmaker Emiko Omori, who combined Yamamoto’s short stories “Seventeen Syllables” and “Yoneko’s Earthquake” in the 1991 film “Hot Summer Winds”:

“Hisaye was my first babysitter, and throughout the following years I was not good at keeping in touch. But she was always in my heart. She allowed me to make a movie from two of her wonderful short stories. She agreed to be in a documentary, ‘Rabbit in the Moon,’ that my sister, Chizu, and I made about our internment experiences. She loved to play Scrabble and she always won. She had a beautiful way with words. I miss you, dear Hisaye—my inspiration, my mentor.”

Chizu Omori, co-producer of the 1999 documentary “Rabbit in the Moon” and columnist for the Nichi Bei Weekly:

“I feel I have lost a great mentor and a very good friend in the passing of Hisaye Yamamoto. I first met her before World War II when I was a kid. We went through the camp experience living in the same block, and she was someone I could always talk to during that stressful experience.

“After the war, we never did live in the same town but kept up a correspondence that went on until she could no longer write. She was one of the first Japanese American women who gained a national presence with her short stories and writings, and she was a master storyteller of the Japanese American experience. She was an inspiration for many of us.”

Janice Mirikitani, former poet laureate of San Francisco and founding president of the Glide Foundation, which empowers poor and marginalized communities:

“Hisaye was my shero. She is the writer who gave me the courage to reveal my stories, to unleash my voice as a poet and activist. I remember her stories of madness, love, suffering and comedic moments, and compassion in camp. Her sense of humor and sensitivity, her amazing insight into human beings of all ethnicities helped create stories that were the ground for our connecting to the human condition beyond borders and boundaries.

“She made me proud to be Japanese American and a woman.”

Cynthia Kadohata, author of the award-winning children’s books “Kira-Kira” and “Weedflower”:

“For me, Hisaye was like a star in the sky—she made me dream about what was possible.”

Professor King-Kok Cheung of UCLA, author of “Articulate Silences: Hisaye Yamamoto, Maxine Hong Kingston, Joy Kogawa” and editor of “Seventeen Syllables,” a collection of literary critiques of Yamamoto’s work:

“No contemporary writer has touched my heart, mind, and spirit as much as Hisaye Yamamoto. Whether writing about aborted creativity (‘Seventeen Syllables’), doomed romance (‘Epithalamium’), the dubious norms for sanity and insanity (‘The Legend of Miss Sasagawara’ and ‘Eucalyptus’), the havoc wrought by addictive gambling (‘The Brown House’ and ‘Las Vegas Charley’), or the debilitating effect of racism (‘Wilshire Bus’ and ‘A Fire in Fontana’), she did so with abiding compassion, keen eyes, wry humor, and prose that is at once disarming and harrowing.”

Minoru Kanda of Ajiakei-Amerikajin Bungaku Kenkyu Kai, which promotes the study of Asian American literature in Japan, and Japan representative of Asian Improv Records, an Asian American jazz label:

“We had a discussion about Hisaye-san’s works, ‘A Fire in Fontana’ as well as ‘Eucalyptus,’ just a few days ago. There is a larger number of Japanese people who read and respect Hisaye Yamamoto’s stories. Her works are so important not only for the U.S. readers but also for us Japanese.”

Kent A. Ono, a professor of media and cinema studies and Asian American studies at University of Illinois:

“When I first began writing my dissertation, it was Hisaye Yamamoto’s courageous words that brought the soul of Japanese America to me through writing. They gave me perspective, insight, feeling, and depth. She continues to be my ethical and moral guide. What she did with language astounds me daily.”

Playwright Philip Gotanda (“Sisters Matsumoto,” “Ballad of Yachiyo”) and actor-producer Diane Takei:

“Hisaye Yamamoto was truly one of the pioneers of Asian American literature. Because of her work and her presence, we along with many others had a strong literary foundation upon which to build. The world will miss Hisaye Yamamoto.”

Naomi Hirahara, author of the Mas Arai mystery series and former English editor of The Rafu Shimpo:

“Hisaye Yamamoto has been an inspiration to me ever since I was introduced to her work in my early twenties. She was a former journalist, a Christian, small in stature and a resident of the greater Pasadena area (Eagle Rock)—I felt personally connected to her in many ways. But her writing, as powerful and direct as a bullet, her prose so descriptive and unwavering, I knew that she was a true literary master.

“The Japanese American community and all Americans are so lucky that Hisaye toiled and wrote her stories about the time before camp, during camp and after. When I worked at The Rafu Shimpo, I was fortunate to have some telephone dealings with her regarding her submissions to our Holiday Issue and she remained as she always did in person—self-effacing and no nonsense.

“She had little consciousness of her literary importance, which sometimes surprised me because her work among Japanese American writers in particular was held in such high esteem. I knew that she was one of the first Japanese Americans to be published by the Paris Review, but the first anthology of her short stories was not published in the U.S., but in Japan.

“Hisaye—I still feel—doesn’t have the fame that she deserves in this country, but I hope that many of us will continue to spread the word of her writing and that more collections will be published posthumously. An important part of Hisaye will live on in her short stories. I am absolutely sure of that.”

Stan Yogi, co-author of “Wherever There’s a Fight: How Runaway Slaves, Suffragists, Immigrants, Strikers, and Poets Shaped Civil Liberties in California” and co-editor of “Highway 99: A Literary Journey through California’s Great Central Valley” and “Asian American Literature: An Annotated Bibliography”:

“For more than half a century, Hisaye Yamamoto quietly chronicled American life in her exquisitely crafted and powerful stories and essays. She described herself as a housewife, not a writer. But anyone who reads her work will recognize the talents and skills of a true literary master.

“With insight, compassion, wit, and grace, she wrote about sensitive Issei women whose dreams are thwarted and Nisei children who do not fully understand their parents’ aspirations. The empathetic vision of her fiction and memoirs encompassed alcoholics seeking redemption through love and religion, and African Americans targeted by racism.

“When young admirers sought her inspiration and advice about writing, she encouraged their efforts but downplayed her own significance as a writer, instead praising the talents of other authors.

“But Hisaye Yamamoto’s body of work is lasting proof of her literary gifts, which luckily she shared for most of her life. We have lost a pioneer and humble giant of American literature … who also happened to be a housewife.”

Patricia Wakida, associate curator of history at the Japanese American National Museum and former director of special projects at Heyday Books:

“Like so many of her admirers, I only knew and loved Hisaye Yamamoto from afar, and through her writing. Hisaye’s prophetic voice, tempered by a tremendous wit and intelligence, spoke so much of the unspoken in the Japanese American experience, both pre-war and during the WWII incarceration.

“The discovery of ‘Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories’ was a personal epiphany. Reading that book sent me tumbling into the lives of Nisei girls and women who were so dark and complex, so gilded with these intense, emotional threads, that they left me locked in those stories for decades. It was as if I were privy to the innermost secrets of these women, and by the end of each story, rather than neatly bringing their conflicts to an easy resolution, were left open and mysterious.

“It wasn’t until later that I learned about the defiant and courageous way she went about making her mark in this world, in particular through the vehicles she chose to affiliate with and publish, which only increased my admiration.

“Fearless and eloquent, Hisaye Yamamoto was one of the great writers of her time and has left us with a tremendous legacy to remember her by.”

Elaine Kim, Asian American studies professor at UC Berkeley and co-editor of “Making Waves: Writing by and About Asian American Women” and “Making More Waves: New Writing by Asian American Women”:

“She was so—so JA! By that I mean she had that very tranquil-seeming surface and she didn’t say much, but her writing revealed the spunky, quirky, keenly observant, spicy spirit that was burning beneath.

“Her stories were like that, too. There’d be a cheerful, kind of glibly clueless child narrator dropping hints of dangerous secrets lurking somewhere out of sight while she prattled on—adultery, abortion, suicide, madness—and everything that makes those things happen in human life, including love and desire and also patriarchy and racism.

“Ever modest, ever insisting that she didn’t have much to say or offer, I remember her on a panel once when she must have been in her 60s. She was in front of a huge audience that was paying adoring tribute to her and her work. Casually dressed in a white T-shirt and a black vest and khaki slacks, she spoke evenly in low tones, not letting on that she was moved or affected in the slightest by all that adulation.

“But I was sitting next to her, and I felt her elation and noticed the sparkle in her eyes. They loved her so much, and I think she was very happy. She was a great writer and a great person. We will really miss her.”

The Road to Camp is Paved with 120,000 Stories

It has come to my attention that several times a year, people approach me, asking for a list of recommended reading on the subject of America's concentration camps of World War II, and seeing that its the end of the year/beginning of the year (still. a week later counts of end of the year) I'm feeling a list coming on:

1.) for the first-time I've heard about camp, all ages appropriate reader
By far, the most engaging, excrutiatingly real, first-person perspective on the camp experience is Mine Okubo's "Citizen 13660". Mine Okubo was reportedly the first camp internee that authored/illustrated a book of her personal experience during the war, and its a stunning visual diary of the most intimate events she was witness to. From the banal to the disgusting, Okubo's minute pen misses nothing. Her lines are as stark and clean as her simple commentary that accompany each drawing.

2.) for the historian, who wants to get to the bottom of things
My knowledge of the camp records and evidence that the entire forced removal of Japanese Americans was not, in fact as the government stated a "military necessity" has been accumulated by reading nearly 100 books, many of them meticulously researched in phases over the past 25 years. But if there were one book that encouraged us to look at the black and white government documentation of the camps and question what had really happened, I think I'd have to turn to Michi Weglyn's "Years of Infamy". In close second is "Personal Justice Denied", authored by the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, a report compiled after the overturning of several landmark cases of Japanese Americans who took their cases to the Supreme Court which in turn began the long, complex journey to the apology from the US government and redress.

3.) for those who have never heard about the Japanese Am draft resisters
John Okada's "No-No Boy". Its more about the psychological effects of the war on a JA family in Seattle after the war, than the facts surrounding the draft resisters, but its message is clear: the incarceration of the Japanese Americans turned JAs onto each other.

4.) for those who have never heard about the Japanese American 442nd/100th regimental combat team who fought in Europe, and the MIS who served as secret military interpreters and intelligence in the Pacific
Lyn Crost's "Honor by Fire: Japanese Americans at War in Europe and the Pacific".

5.) for the short story reader
Read Hisaye Yamamoto's "Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories." Some of the pieces cover pre-war scenarios, but the ones that include her life in camp are simply brilliant and devastating.

6.) for the poetry reader
Violet de Cristoforo's "May Sky: There Will Be Another Tomorrow", a brilliant compilation of haiku written by first=generation (Issei) in camps, that were translated and given historical context written by de Cristoforo.

7.) for the artist
This is another tie. Either Karin Higa's "View from Within" which was a groundbreaking book/catalog that accompanied a touring exhibition of original paintings, drawings and sculpture made in the camps by numerous artists, -or- Kimi Kodani Hill's "Topaz Moon", which follows the life and the work of a single artist, Chiura Obata.

Ironically, my list is heavy handed with women authors. Well, hooray for me.

What Does the Inside of Your Head Look Like?

Its January 4th, and with the realization that the new year has begun and I have so very very much in my mind that I need (nay, am paid to) synthesize and articulate to the broad public, ie publicize, it seemed an appropriate exercise to take a short inventory of some of the wooly stuff I'm thinking about right now:

- I cannot begin to talk about the history of the US, American democracy and the culture and sociopolitical world we live in today without bringing up the generations of racism that has suffocated and enfeebled the growth of species.

- We ate fennel and chicken soup tonight with dollops of smokey butternut squash and yam puree on the side. I have been very mindful of my body over the past six, seven years without much of a proactive plan or understanding of how to read my body's changes and demands, but I do know that really good home cooked food is bliss.

- My mother is rapidly aging, and I've been watching some of these stages very slowly over the past few years as well. Perhaps its in tempo with my aging too, but the transition from being oblivious to a sensitive and sympathetic care-taker is finally hitting me. Its one thing to be responsible for a delightful child at the bloom of their youth; and another to ready oneself to catch your mother as her strength ebbs, and she stumbles now and then.

- Since last night, my very magical pet snake has been snuggled into the blankets of the bed and actually slept all night with me and my fiance. Now I imagine this is more likely filed under 'horrific' for the good number of people who stumble across this entry, but it I'm telling you that it makes me crazy happy with delight. She has never, ever, in her 17 years of existence, done this before.

- Really, if I had to make a choice, i would choose art/color/line/paper/ink over writing and reading.

- One cannot have too many awesome calendars. I am an unabashed hoarder of innovative calendars, and love them for their practicality, for the mystery of numbers, the orbit of the sun, an orderly squaring of corners that make a day, and the way that they act a little like kinetic art.

- I'm a little afraid that I'm in over my head.

- Simultaneously, I'm hopelessly in love.

- How do you teach everything you know to another person, to a wholly other mind? How do you bring all the things you don't know, pose those ideas as questions, and incite deep learning? Describe an experience you've had with deep learning.

- I am hopeful about things turning the corner, not just soon, but tomorrow.

white christmas in camp

"Born and raised in Los Angeles, I was a city boy who never saw snow in the winter, but you always heard about Christmas’ based on books. New England was where it snowed and all that good stuff. Well anyway, my first year in camp it starts to snow during Christmas. The block fathers built a simulated chimney in the mess hall with a stage and Santa Claus came from the outside through the mess hall window through the chimney into the mess hall where we are celebrating Christmas just like we used to read about. You know, snow and a real Santa Claus and that was the first year Irving Berlin’s white Christmas came out. And man, to me that was my first experience of a real Christmas. Even though we were locked up that didn’t have any bearing on how happy I felt. The only gift we received was some stuff that was sent by a Christian church outside. I got a bar of Palmolive soap. It was hard to get so this was a great present. Most of us got nothing else."

- Robert Uragami, who at the age of fifteen was incarcerated in a concentration camp in Amache, Colorado. He was a student at Amache High School in 1942, the first winter he spent in camp.

Introduction to Linoleum workshop in Berkeley!

Introduction to Linoleum

Instructor/hostess: Patricia Wakida

Date: Saturday and Sunday, February 5-6, 2011

Time: 10-3 p.m. both days with a lunch break

Place: Heyday Books, located at 1633 University Ave.Berkeley, CA 94703. It is walkable from North Berkeley BART!

Just in time for Valentine’s Day….this two-day introduction to linoleum block printing will teach the basic steps for linoleum block design, use of the carving tools, and hand-inking and printing. One of the unique aspects of this particular course is that we will use very little to no electric assistance- this is all hand work!

Day 1: transferring image or drawing onto the block, using carving tools without gouging, pulling proofs.

Day 2: completing the block and experimenting with printing methods.

Materials to bring:
1. An idea of the image 4" x 6". Do sketches at the 4 x 6 size so we can transfer them to the blocks (allow a border). If possible, bring a right reading, old-fashioned Xerox (not a laser print!) copy of your image to class to transfer onto the block. Remember that block printing reverses your image so that it prints right reading. This is especially important (and challenging) for carving text!

2. If you have woodcut or linocut tools of your own please bring them.

3. Papers (anything larger than 4" x 6") from your own collection if you'd like to experiment with those, although I will bring a supply of papers to print on.

4. Pencils and erasers, sharpie pens (fine and fat), xacto knife. These are all optional.

Workshop fee: $30 per person plus the $7 materials fee. Materials fee: $7 (includes one 4 x 6 linoleum block, ink, and paper). I'll lend folks my linocarving tools, inking brayers and various tools for hand-printing. Additional blocks can be purchased from me the day of the workshop at $3 apiece.

Your hostess: I'm a hard-core bibliophile and book artist with a background in trade publishing. My relations to books are kept tangible and toothsome by running wasabi press, making illustrated letterpress books, broadsides, posters and cards on a Chandler and Price press stashed away in a tiny garage studio in Los Angeles. My book arts education began with an apprenticeship in Japanese papermaking in Mino, Gifu- prefecture, Japan in 1996, followed by an apprenticeship at the Arts and Crafts Press under linoleum block artist and letterpress printer, Yoshiko Yamamoto, in Berkeley, California. I've also worked as a teaching assistant in the book arts program at Mills College, the San Francisco Center for the Book, and ASUC Art Studio. Just last year I tore myself away from my beloved Oakland (home for 23 years!) to take the position of Curator of History at the Japanese American National Museum.
Me web site:

To reserve a space:
Send a check or Paypal fee to Patricia Wakida

Murao is Missing

Despite the fact that nisei Shig Murao was arrested at City Lights for selling HOWL to an undercover cop, taken to the SF police department for fingerprints and a mug shot, and actually stood trial with Ferlinghetti in court, the makers of the new film HOWL deemed him an unnecessary character. Erased.

Story here by JK Yamamoto, originally published in Nikkei West newspaper.

I finally went to see the movie with Sam for a late showing in Pasadena, and though the first few minutes brought indignant tears of rage to my eyes, I began to feel it dissolve away when the realization of how feeble the film was actually hit me. Without a doubt, it is a slap in the face to witness the deliberate act of writing people of color out of the mainstream history and culture. Because the main character of the film was the poem "Howl" and not really Ginsberg himself, many important people in Ginsberg's life were excised out, or relegated to the role of cardboard mugs of handsome men and women in their clunky 50s eyewear and cardigans. However, I do still bear a grudge that because the film focused on the controversy of the poem, its publication and the trial that ensued (while cutting back and forth to shots of Ginsberg's inaugural reading at Six Gallery back on October 7, 1955 and fiery Molochy naked city animation by Eric Drooker) I still argue that Shig deserved to be included in this tale.

Perhaps its an easy thing for me to dismiss the film HOWL as a major disappointment, given that the court scenes had zero tension (all of the witnesses who saw now artistic or literary value to the poem were depicted as self-satisfied, uptight morons stuck in their ye olde Chaucer ways); and the script lacked any context in which the poem was written and conceived in, other than Ginsberg's personal search for identity. (No mention of the World War II and how it birthed the corporate military machine and a generation of complacent squares all marching towards their prefab suburban life of consumerism). In other words, what was it that this book of poems was pushing against?

Yet I can't help but wonder, at what point in the screenplay that it was agreed that Murao was a disposable character? How was the inclusion of Shig as a co-defendant (as was historically accurate) hindering the script? What gains were made by steamlining a piece of the story that might have brought a much needed twist of irony and complexity to the film?

Every artist has the right to create a work as they see fit. Yeah yeah, go on ahead and write your own damned book.