I have been to Japan a dozen times. My wife is from Tokyo and works for All Nippon Airways, which means we can fly twice a year for basically free. It’s a perk I especially enjoyed while I was writing for the Rafu Shimpo, as it provided me content to spill across its pages.
For the uninitiated, Tokyo can be a shell-shocking, electronics and lights acid-trip with its miniature-packed spaces, hyper-efficient trains plastered on the insides with an explosion of ads, and its smorgasbord of generations-honed foodstuffs.
I’ve had the opportunity to see and experience a lot of what Japan has to offer. Eating sashimi minutes after watching the 4 a.m. tuna auction at Tsukiji Fish Market. Walking through Sanjūsangen-dō – the Buddhist temple that houses the Thousand Armed Kannon. Hello Kitty Land and Disney Sea. Eating taco rice in Naha before driving up the coast to swim with fish in Okinawa’s famous blue caves.
Regardless of what I’ve done while there, one constant is how everything is steeped in history. The past is ever present, even when in Akihabara surrounded by the latest technology.
But despite the fact that I look like everyone else in Japan, that I’m average height there, that I love the food (even the stinky stuff), as a Japanese American, the history of Japan is not truly my own.
And yet, it is.
"But despite the fact that I look like everyone else in Japan, that I’m average height there, that I love the food (even the stinky stuff), as a Japanese American, the history of Japan is not truly my own....And yet, it is."
This past November, I went to Hiroshima. And unlike any of my other trips, visiting Hiroshima truly reflected this distinct reality.
A part of Kizuna’s mission is to tell our history. To preserve it, yet make it embraceable to future generations completely detached from our humble beginnings – immigrants seeking a better future. Generations unaware of the moments that define Japanese America. The 442nd. The resisters. The Manzanar Pilgrimage. Redress. Generations removed from our lowest times. Executive Order 9066. Pearl Harbor. Internment.
Today’s Japanese Americans are very much the realization of the Nisei dream – wholly American. But that does not, nor should it discount the “Japanese” half.
"Today’s Japanese Americans are very much the realization of the Nisei dream – wholly American. But that does not, nor should it discount the “Japanese” half."
August 6th and 9th, 1945. Those two dates live in infamy…in Japan. From my purely singular perspective, what Hiroshima encompasses is a reflection of the many shards that make up who I am as a person.
Visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was a uniquely mixed experience. It details one of the most horrific outcomes of the 20th century. It represents the juxtaposition of my cultural heritage as both a Japanese American and as a descendent of Japan. It is both a lasting reminder of America’s victory, and Japan’s defeat. It also reminds how pride is willfully forgetful.
"It represents the juxtaposition of my cultural heritage as both a Japanese American and as a descendent of Japan. It is both a lasting reminder of America’s victory, and Japan’s defeat. It also reminds how pride is willfully forgetful."
My dad’s father fought in the 442nd Battalion, G Company. My grandma faced curfew and racism in Arizona. My grandpa and grandma on my mother's side were interned at Tule Lake. My great-grandparents arrived at Angel Island from Fukuoka. And, I discovered, I have living family members in Hiroshima whose parents and grandparents rebuilt their lives following Armageddon.
The museum is something that every single person that walks the earth should be forced to endure. It details the before and after. The devastation. The reasoning and justification behind it. The generations impacted. It communicates through pictures, through artifacts, through the letters and belongings of those that died…of those haunted in their survival.
The section of the museum that truly terrified and destroyed me was the bloodied and burned clothes of children that perished...the graphic photos of children charred, sick and dead.
It is a powerful reminder to me, who cherishes my daughter, of the thinnest of lines that separate us as human beings. And the importance of embracing all aspects of ourselves in order to find ways that we already cross those lines.