Saturday, April 28, 2012


In 2009 I had the great opportunity to go with my dad to Japan. It was an amazing time to see such beautiful country it also meant completing an interesting historical circle as I have now visited Pearl Harbor, Poston (where my family was interred during the war) and Hiroshima. Those are probably the most significant World War II historical locations in terms of how they influenced my family. We also saw a great deal of Tokyo which is now my favorite mega city in the world. But that all pales in comparison to seeing the Nakamura house in Yanai (actually Hiroamachi before it was incorporated).
A hopefully brief family history: the Meiji emperor decides to modernize Japan opening up opportunities for Japanese men to emigrate to other lands to seek their fortune. In the obscure town of Hiroamachi my grandfather and his brother move to Hawaii and then the San Joaquin Valley in California to farm. They are the first generation immigrants known as Issei. Their eldest children, born in America, are sent to Japan for schooling under the assumption that the families will move back to Japan. They will be later known as Kibei. When the Great Depression hits, my father, a young boy at the time, finds out he has three siblings who lived in Japan. His generation will be known as Nisei. Because of the hard economic times the entire family is reunited in America. His cousin, Shigeno remains in Japan to take care of her grandmother. She remains lifelong friends with her cousin, Fusaye, my father's eldest sister. Fast forward to 1941, Pearl Harbor is attacked by Japanese armed forces. Out of fear and racism my father's family is interred in Poston Relocation Center. Ironically, my Kibei uncles serve in the Military Intelligence arm of the US armed forces as they are fluent in the Japanese language and customs. I have one uncle, my aunt's husband, serves in the 442nd in Europe. The US drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan surrenders and my family is allowed to return home. In the 50s my grandfather becomes a US citizen claiming it to be one of the proudest days of his life. I barely knew him but know that this was one amazing man. I am so very proud that I can be considered his grandson.
Fast forward to 2009. Asking my father, he says that visiting Japan is on his "bucket list".  I contact my cousin Glenn who has transcribed my grandfather's biography after visiting Yanai in the 90s. He give me the information to find the Nakamura house. Armed with this small amount of information we travel to Japan where we visit Tokyo and Hiroshima. These being very urban cities, you can find English speakers everywhere. Not so in Yanai. Luckily, my dad said that their dialect of Japanese was much easier for him to understand in Yanai - obviously the dialect hasn't changed much since my grandfather left.

This red paper crane is the symbol in Yanai. I took this at the Yanai train station. Anyway, armed with only a street name we found a cabbie who dropped us off on the street with no idea how to find the Nakamura house. We were fortunate to find a kind woman who knew the next door neighbors. After explaining our situation, she said "Roots". I think she got the message. She drove us there and I was able to see the house that my grandfather was born in. I guess this was my "Kunta Kinte, I found you!" moment. The neighbor soon hooked us up with Shigeno who still lived there along with her daughter Michiko and her husband.

Right away I knew that Michiko was my relative. She had the exact same mannerisms and energy level as many of my cousins. I know it meant a lot to my dad to meet a cousin he barely knew existed. I'm blown away to think that I know her brothers, but have never ever met her. Just to think that she was born a US citizen but the winds of fate would have her end up living her entire life in Japan. I got to see pictures of my uncles and aunt as young children. I was told how much I look like my uncle Howard. I saw a beautiful picture of my aunt standing next to a deer in Miyajima - she looked exactly like my niece Melanie. I saw picture of relative who served in the Japanese army (just think that my relatives were fighting against each other).
Our all too short visit ended and we bid our goodbye. Michiko gave us a traditional Japanese bow (she got on her hands and knees and bowed to us - wow!). We later went to Miyajima and petted the deer just as my aunt did as a little girl.
What I take from this is that we all have a history. I am so fortunate that the major events of the past centuries have greatly shaped my life. I am so very proud to be the grandson of Sojuro Nakamura as well as the son of Michiyuki Nakamura. My roots run back to a small town on the Inland Sea and a house like so many others in Yanai. Even deeper is the fact that the Extraordinary is at work in my life. I have a family history and I got the joy to share some of it come to life for my dad. He said that this was the highlight for him and that he got to check this off his bucket list. I know also that God was gracious enough to bring so much goodness to me through it. So I hope that all of us can live out our "Roots" moment and praise Him who provides us with a legacy we all can savor.

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