George Takei’s “Allegiance” is coming to a theater near you Dec. 13, 7:30!

NOTE: A full version of this post with more from Takei as well as cast members and producer, as well as videos from the musical, was originally published on Dec. 7, 2015.

After a November performance at the Longacre Theatre in New York’s fabled Broadway district, George Takei and other cast members answered questions about their powerful musical, “Allegiance.”

“I remember we started the school day, each day, with the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. I could see the barbed wire fence and the sentry tower right outside my school house window as I recited the words, ‘with liberty, and justice for all.’”

Takei recalled his experience as a child, sent with his entire family to a concentration camp along with more than 110,000 people of Japanese descent during World War II – including, like Takei, half who were born in the US and therefore American citizens.

At age 78, Takei made his Broadway debut in the musical, which tells the story of Japanese American incarceration inspired by Takei’s childhood. The parallels between the 1940s incarceration and the national mood today are striking. Talk of banning Muslims, and citing the Japanese American incarceration of 75 years ago as a “precedent” for creating a Muslim registry, rings some serious alarms for anyone who’s studied the wartime injustice.

Takei has spoken out eloquently on his vast social media networks in response to the current hate-filled climate.

Educating the public about what happened to Japanese Americans, who were removed from the West Coast and sent to nine concentration camps as far east as Arkansas, is one of Takei’s lifelong goals. His family spent the war years in Rowher, Arkansas.

“I’m always shocked when I tell the story (of Japanese American incarceration) to people that I consider well-informed,” he said, “and they’re shocked and aghast that sometime like this could happen in the United States. It’s still little-known. So, it’s been my mission to raise the awareness of this chapter of American history.”

“Allegiance” accomplished Takei’s goal with Broadway grandeur that matches any hit musical, with songs that soar and tug at heartstrings, tight choreography and a storyline that is familiar to many Japanese Americans, but not to the public at large.

The musical ran for several months on Broadway. And now, it’s being screened across the country in movie theaters on Tuesday, Dec. 13.
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Book reviews: End-of-summer reads about JAs and Japan

When the Japanese Canadian newspaper Nikkei Voice asked me to write about my favorite recent books related to Japan, I realized that I’ve read some books in the past year that I never got around to writing about, and was also finishing an innovative new book, or to be precise, a new ebook.

In any case, I tend to read many more non-fiction books by and about Japan and Japanese Americans than I do any fiction titles, so it’s sort of surprising to me that two of these books are flat-out fiction (albeit based on the author’s childhood for “Kazuo’s World”) and that another is fiction manga based on history and another is history told through a fictionalized manga lens.

Standing Tall: The Extra/Ordinary Life of Mizuko Takahashi Nomura

standingtallThe most recent book I’ve read is “Standing Tall: The Extra/Ordinary Life of Mizuko Takahashi Nomura,” by Sansei artist, filmmaker and film professor Art Nomura. It’s a biography of Nomura’s grandmother, who immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900s, made as an interactive iBook for iPads, iPhones and Macs. The family history is well written but what makes it special is the chockfull of extra information, side stories, games, clickable images and links to other resources that Nomura includes. The book is a fascinating, well-researched read — though Nomura admits he’s made up conversations and details of his grandmother’s early days in Japan, it’s as detailed and factual as possible. It’s certainly a great look at one Issei woman’s epic life, and the experience is made that much richer with all the extra information Nomura adds, utilizing the iBook format to its fullest. The downside of being on the cutting edge, of course, is that unless you have a Mac computer, an iPad or an iPhone, you won’t be able to read this delightful loving biography.

Still, I find myself reading more and more on my tablets or even smartphone, but none of my other ebooks are native to the digital format. Reading is evolving like everything else in our digitally-connected society, and people like Nomura are taking full advantage of the new technology. Kudos to him!

The following four books are all dead-tree books, though. Graphic novels especially, just don’t translate to digital page:
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Japanese Americans deserve some respect on Veterans Day

Denver's Medal of Honor recipient Joe Sakato is second from the bottom on the left; the late Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye is second from the top on the right. (Courtesy USPS)

Denver’s Medal of Honor recipient Joe Sakato is second from the bottom on the left; the late Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye is second from the top on the right. (Courtesy USPS)

At our local supermarket the weekend before Veterans Day, veterans were handing out little red poppies to pin on passersby’s lapels as tributes to generations of war dead (it’s a reference to John McCrae’s 1915 WWI poem, “In Flanders Fields”).

I thanked the vet for giving me one and was heading in to shop when a scruffy-looking guy came up and growled that I was supposed to pay for the poppies.

I stammered as he walked away that I was going to give some change on my way out, but the man who gave me the poppy shook his head and said there was no donation required. He apologized for the second man’s behavior.
I realized that the scruffy guy was probably reacting to my ethnicity. Sigh. He probably thought I was a “Damned Jap” or a “Gook” and didn’t deserve to be wearing a poppy.

I should have yelled back at the scruffy guy that my dad was an American soldier and I was wearing this poppy for him.

On Veterans Day, I was happy to see a TV news report about George “Joe” Sakato, a 92-year-old Nisei from Denver who traveled to Washington DC to be honored as part of the release of a set of stamps paying tribute to World War II Medal of Honor recipients.

In 2012 when the US Postal Service announced the new stamps, the plan was to have portraits of the 12 WWII veterans who still alive featured on the sheets surrounding the stamps, and the men would attend the unveiling this year. Three have died since the project was announced, including another Nisei soldier, the late Senator from Hawaii, Daniel Inouye. An accompanying booklet lists all 464 WWI Medal of Honor recipients.

Both Joe Sakato and Daniel Inouye fought in the celebrated 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team in Europe. The combined battalion, made up mostly of Japanese Americans, many conscripted from the American concentration camps where their families were still imprisoned, remains to this day the most highly decorated unit of its size and length of service in the history of the U.S. military. So take that, scruffy guy!

Inouye went on to an illustrious public career and passed away last December. Ironically, Sakato is a retired US Postal Service employee.
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KABC’s David Ono honors Nisei soldiers of 100th/442nd RCT w/ terrific series of 4 short documentaries

It was great to see the Nisei heroes of the 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team receive Congressional Gold Medals on Nov. 2 in Washington DC (watch the C-Span feed of the ceremony), and the media coverage of the long-overdue honor and recognition of these men’s patriotic achievements over 60 years ago.

Of all the media coverage, though, hats off to KABC in Los Angeles and to KABC anchor David Ono.

He’s produced a four-part documentary that the station should sell as a DVD, it’s that good and that powerful as an educational tool. The station sent Ono to Europe to interview people in Italy and France that remember the heroism of the diminutive Japanese American soldiers — it seems everyone was caught off-guard initially by the men’s height. He interviewed veterans and family members (the last segment is a real heartbreaker), and compiled an impressive amount of archival material for the reports.

I don’t know how long he had to produce this series, but he Ono deserves an award for this documentary. Here’s the link to the series on KABC, “witness: American Heroes.” Have some tissues handy….


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Heart Mountain internment camp’s new interpretive learning center opens this weekend

Heart Mountain internment camp in Wyoming

It’s a fact: The 10 concentration camps built during World War II to imprison 120,000 people of Japanese descent — more than half U.S.-born and therefore American citizens, and most of them mere children — were all thrown together in godforsaken corners of the country.

No offense to people who live near the sites of these former “relocation centers” (a silly government euphemism that was easier to swallow than the words “concentration camp” that President Roosevelt himself used), but Camp Amache in southeastern Colorado is a forlorn, dusty expanse of whole lot of nothing for miles and miles. It takes four hours of driving through mostly flat, dull prairie to get to the town of Granada from Denver.

It takes nine hours on on the road from Denver to get to Heart Mountain, although the drive is a little more scenic, to the base of a towering peak north of Cody, Wyoming in the northwest corner of Colorado’s neighbor to the north. For years, like at many of the concentration camps from the war years, there has been only a couple of memorials erected by former internees, and only a couple of buildings, including several of the dilapidated barracks buildings within view of the camp’s namesake mountain. Most of the buildings and equipment were sold off to ranchers after the war; like many of the camps, non-profit groups have been tracking down and reconstructing buildings if they’re available and still standing.

Heart Mountain is notable for a couple of reasons: It’s where Bill Hosokawa, the journalist from Seattle, was interned for 13 months before getting a job at a newsaper in Iowa during the war. After WWII, Hosokawa moved to Denver andsoent the rest of his life as a reporter, editor, diplomat and civil rights leader. And, Heart Mountain is the camp where a group of draft resisters became notorious and were eventually sentenced to Federal prison for simply refusing to accept being drafted out of camp when their families had lost everything and were unjustly imprisoned by the US government. This is one topic that still needs to be explained and taught about (I’ll be writing a review of “Conscience and the Constitution,” an excellent documentary about the draft resisters, soon.)

We’ve driven to Heart Mountain, and were chilled by the desolate majesty of the locale.

The mountain itself is a powerful image, one that adds an iconic feel to this camp that Amache in Colorado doesn’t have (it’s just flat and empty all around). We stopped at a florist and gift shop between Cody and Heart Mountain where a woman who was interned at the camp still worked, decades later. I wish I still had her name and number.

But over the years, the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation has been working diligently — and quietly — on building an 11,000 square feet facility at the former camp site that includes exhibition space and a theater. The Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center (ILC) opens this weekend with sold-out events that will be attended by some very high profile special guests.

Here’s a list of the speakers and invited VIPs for Friday’s All-Camp Get-Together and Pilgrimage Dinner at the Park County Fairgrounds, and saturday’s dedication ceremony at the ILC at the former camp grounds:
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