Frank Abe of KIRO NewsRadio Seattle asked Cynthia Kadohata a question about her debut novel THE FLOATING WORLD. How did a Japanese family of migrant farm laborers find themselves in a car in 1950’s Arkansas? Instead of answering, “Camp,” she snapped her answer, “There’s activism. And there’s art. My work is art.”
The United States of America is the only country founded in “The Great American Experiment - Democracy.” If the American experiment absorbed the cultures of JACK AND JILL, RUMPELSTITLSKIN, THE UGLY DUCKLING, the hungry experiment would chew on the stories POON GOO, the giant, and NUR WAW, the Mother of Humanity welcome a new culture and grow, the yellows who came for gold, thought. Democracy would welcome THE WATER MARGIN, the story a China formed by alliances between regional families, races, and gangs bound by oaths that joined disparate philosophies in a fight for the land. In THE WATER MARGIN, in all of the heroic tradition, the government was just another gang. The American experimental democracy promised cultural integrity and political freedom.
Yellows know JACK AND THE BEANSTALK, CINDERELLA, RUMPELSTILTSKIN from their childhood as American stories. President Clinton has declared Kingston’s lies about Chinese history and Far Mulan the official United States version of Chinese culture .
For the ChineseAmericans the message is simple: serve the white man. You don’t believe me? Whites expect you to know the white THE PRINCESS AND THE PEA. You have the right to expect the whites to know Nah Jah the three headed boy. You didn’’t know you had that right did you? Thanks Socioology and Asian American studies for your ignorance about Asain America.
The Japanese have been in America, on the mainland for over a century. They have the right to expect their fellow Americans to know KAGUYA HIME, the girl who glowed like the moon. Japanese America had a Japanese Kabuki style stage and a production of a folk play, about the rise of a family of samurai against the government to avenge their judgment that their master’s death was unjust. This suggestion that every Nisei child of 1930’s Seattle knew CHUSHINGURA comes from a review of an all-girls production being staged at Seattle’s Nippon Kan, by James Omura, in a part Issei part Nisei paper.
MOMOTARO, the story of a boy found inside a large peach, is the Japanese match for JACK AND THE BEANSTALK. CHUSHINGURA is the plot to the opera of Japan, the grand Kabuki. References to both occur in John Okada’s NO-NO BOY, a JapaneseAmerican novel, published in Japan and a flop in America where it was written. Was it rejected by JapaneseAmericans as the lack of sales indicated?
The America that accepts MOTHER GOOSE, from England and The Bros. Grimm from Germany pointedly rejects Yellow children’s stories from Yellow cultures.
No art is lower than opera. No art coalesces the high and the low into singing the same song like an opera. An art –like an opera -- that is not activist, is an art without content. An art without content is entertainment. Verdi’s revolutionary operas rouses voices to sing like heroes, Wagner’s heroic Viking women singing on the mountaintops in winged helmets and armor. The heroic Peking and Cantonese operas. The Japanese Kabuki.
The JACL contends that Japanese Americans aren’t activist. That’s why the JACL exists as the entry into an America free of Japanese influence.
The Nisei might not be activist, but their parents the Issei had to be activists, or they wouldn’t have come. Issei Sessue Hayakawa had his own Hollywood studio. He owned Haworth Studios and starred in Haworth’s movies. He played an American Indian, a suave Mexican gigolo, Chinese, and Japanese and imaginary Pacific islanders. Rudolph Valentino came to him looking for work. Hayakawa turned him down. Hayakawa was the top of the Holllywood heap.
He quit Hollywood after he discovered the white partners in his Haworth studios conspired to split the insurance money following his death in an earthquake scene. Luckily technician told him not to stand where he was supposed to stand. He went to New York and wrote a novel, developed the novel into a night club act, took the nightclub act to France, the French made a movie of his novel and he became a French movie star and nightclub raconteur. When Germany and Japan signed an alliance and walked into Paris, he left the stage. That was another form of art as activism. When the Americans liberated Paris, he went out in the streets and met a group of American troops and invited them to dinner.
Hayakawa was born into a Samurai family in Japan. He was as an Issei. Kadohata’s vision of art being separate from activism was born in America.
TARO YASHIMA to MAKO to MOMO
Taro and Mitsu Iwamatsu were painters more known for their Fauvist action approach to drawing and painting till the militarists took over the state. They fled Japan after artist friends had been taken Gestapo style in the middle of the night. The Iwamatsu’s landed in New York, where Taro took the name “Yashima” and went to work drawing and writing for the U.S. Office of War Information. He was the author illustrator of the messages John Okada chucked, out of B-24 runs over occupied islands in the Pacific. He is known to American children for his children’s books. MOMO’S UMBRELLA has been in print since 1977. He published two “picture books” in America. HORIZON IS CALLING, the story of Japanese militarists driving him out of the country, and THE NEW SUN the story of his return and recovering his son, Mako. These were normal size books of full page illustrations and a caption of two lines in English and two lines in Japanese. If there is a Japanese American reading of Yashima’s combined graphic art and captions that justifies taking the works seriously as JA literature, I wish a JapaneseAmerican critic would argue that case. None did when the picture books came out. Too activist. But JapaneseAmerica has another chance to embrace or ignore Taro Yashima.
Momo, of MOMO’S UMBRELLA , is shepherding a university press though a reprinting THE NEW SUN according to her father’s design. The new, NEW SUN is due out next year.
Sessue Hayakawa and Taro Yashima and Mitsu Iwamatsu prove that the separation of art and activism was not invented by the Issei.
Mako, the son left behind as a baby by Taro and Mitsu was too sickly to travel. He was 16 when sailed alone to America. He’s an Oscar nominated actor, starred On-Broadway with PACIFIC OVERTURES and was the founding director of the Los Angeles EAST WEST PLAYERS. He wanted to be known as a great Yellow director of the great Japanese American play about camp. He slipped me $200 to write him that play. A play for him to direct, not act. He was an activist. He slipped writers a little encouragement, a little courage, with his money. His private gift bound us like brothers. I would send him sample pages of ideas that came to me. There was a play based on Hiroo Shinoda, the Japanese soldier that fought WWII in a Phillippine island until the 1970’s when Japan sent his former commanding officer and relatives to command him to leave. Mako as Shinoda and Pat Morita as a fictional draftee from America drew an enthusiastic phone call, but fizzled.
He let the world know that by a great JA play he meant a camp play, when he announced a whole season of four to be written plays dedicated to camp.
It’s not his fault the writers let him down, and the actors are busy kissing themselves all over.
A critic in the tradition of lone Jimmie Omura might see a parable of JA history in the story of art and activism from Japan come to America to have “art” separated from dangerous “activism” by the JACL.
Isn’t it curious that Omura considered the editor of the JACL newspaper the PACIFIC CITIZEN Larry Tajiri, a good friend? Memories of the San Francisco 30 club for Nisei journalists, and walks around the city where they talked of the Great JapaneseAmerican Novel they expected the other to race them to write.
Omura the lone champion of a free press in JapaneseAmerica and Tajiri the lover of books movies and writing, who turns against his love of art and leads JapaneseAmericans to write as a service to white supremacy as Sociologists. Sociology is white religion disguised as science. That explains why JA has had no newspapers, no magazines since CURRENT LIFE and the Rocky Shimpo.
Larry Tajiri was the spokesman for Mike Masaoka’s JACL policies, and confidential informant to the FBI code named “T-1”( Masaoka himself was code named Confidential Informant T-11) Why did Tajiri give George FurIya a moment of JACL fame in the pages of the PACIFIC CITIZEN?
Furiya was unpublished, unknown. Why praise for an unpublished writer who cusses the JACL out? Furiya wrote to Tajiri:
I notice those bastards in the JACL turned quisling when the invasion ran over 'em. What the hell's the matter with you guys out there on coast. The fact that had to evacuate you can't deny, of course: and it would have been sheer folly not to cooperate with the fascist military boys to make the evacuation as nice as possible. But the JACL boys didn't just cooperate; they actually went and kissed the army's ass.
Tajiri wrote in the Jan. 17, 1948 issue of the PACIFIC CITIZEN:
An Unpublished Novelist
"There are uncomplete novels in his trunk and one of these days George will be back to finish them. Maybe one of them will be published and he will be famous. You might remember the name. George Furiya."
Old fashioned literary research turned up a letter to the Tajiri’s from George Furiya. The letter is refreshingly written in the rhythms of spontaneous spoken language. This is a taste of the prose of George Furiya, Larry “T-1” Tajiri believed deserved a read.
Dearest Larry and Guyo,
Anyway, how are you? And you, Guyo. The bugs are well under control, so don't worry. The old saying about children would describe my bugs well if it had been written by Milton: The bugs are not seen, neither are they heard. Or something. Anyway, I'm fine. I notice those bastards in the JACL turned quisling when the invasion ran over 'em. What the hell's the matter with you guys out there on coast. The fact that had to evacuate you can't deny, of course: and it would have been sheer folly not to cooperate with the fascist military boys to make the evacuation as nice as possible. But the JACL boys didn't just cooperate; they actually went and kissed the army's ass. Not even a single protest, be it to the nisei's everlasting shame. By the fact of not protesting (not that it would have done ay go, of course) you actually gave recognition to necessity for evacuation when you knew damn well that no such necessity existed. What the JACL should have done was this: We recognize no necessity for evacuation, and we say to plainly †hat we are all following your orders under duress (whatever duress means). Then the JACL should have gotten busy to try to get that phony military order revoked. Because as long as that military order hangs over the heads of the dumb nisei, it's going to mean that the nisei have been guilty of what the military boys said they were guilty of. Worse the order is going to hang like sword Damocles over the heads of the nisei, poised to come down this time like a ghetto-system, this time like the hostages for the white-American prisoners o the Japs, ad infinitum. I know that safety from West Coast mob-rule was one of the arguments used in favor of evacuation by the JACL quislings-in-effect, but moving inland from the West Coast hasn't safety; they've just hung that sword of Damocles over their heads. Anything can happen as long as sword hangs there. Hell, the JACL didn't cooperate with the army. In France, they call that kind of thing collaboration. The invasion has come and gone, but what the hell is everybody doing? I think what the Pacific Citizen should start campaigning to get that military order revoked.---And for Christ's sake, tell the boys to cut out some of that flag-waving, will? It's really disgusting. Carl Craw came back and told Shiro: "That Mike Masaoka is sure some flag-waver, isn't he?"
South America? Wonderful, from this distance. The most charming people in Argentina were French. (God, how I love the French! One thing this war proved: I'm a damn good Frenchman and damn good Russian.) Padilla's Free Man of America really exists in Latin America--at least, so far as I'm concerned. I had only to mention that was North American. From then on, I was never a Japanese to these refugee Europeans and the Latin Americans. I was a North American. Not even an eyebrow raised. For the first time in my life, I was an American--with nobody to question or doubt that fact. I tell it was terrific. Can you wonder that I consider North Americans the worst kind dopes? These refugee Europeans and Latin Americans never spoke to me as Japanese. They always spoke to me as an American. They never doubted my loyalty to the United States. (Dangerous word, that loyalty. But not now. I mean I won't go into why that word's a dangerous one. What I mean is all this hullabaloo about loyalty this-and-that, disloyalty this-and-that in the evacuation business, no one from DeWitt and Roosevelt down to the least of the JACL quisling's (sic) quislings exactly described what they meant by loyalty disloyalty. What I mean is I am definitely against turning the Japanese people over to Wall Street and the No-dogs-And-Chinese-Allowed boys? Is that disloyalty I traveled eight thousand miles submarine infested waters to come back to the United States from a more or less good life-time job in B.A. with the Asahi. Does that constitute loyalty?- --Anyway, to Latin Americans, Padilla, and the whole French people, my love. Sao Paulo is still a wonderful city to me. Did tell you about my Turkish girl, 22-years, educated in France, widow of a French infantry lieutenant, with whom I was on tu -terms, Spanish and halting French? Lovely. I should have fallen in love with her. And so forth. Sighted two submarines, dodged two torpedoes the night, didn't even so much as get excited, and the navy gunnery crew was given orders by the ensign in command to shoot me on sight if they caught me signaling to any ship, the damn fool (the kind of thing that me despair for America.)
A long letter, but a well-meant one. I love you both, and thanks for letter. It was most touching. Now guess what I'm doing now. I'm on Long Island, stuffing dirt into pots at the Japan Nurseries, Inc., $50 a month with room and fish-diet, 11 hours a day. You should see me. Positively boorish. A muzhik, a muzhak--the Russian for peasant. Am getting my unemployment insurance soon, however. Then to work.
Japanese Americans will have to find George Furiya’s novel, and confirm or prove Omura’s memory of a firm friendship or wishful thinking.
Tajiri went from editing the PACIFIC CITIZEN to culture editor at the DENVER POST with the Czar of JA publishing, Bill Hosokawa. He wrote knowledgeably and appreciatively about operas, plays, movies like a white critic of white art in a white newspaper. Everything…every thing that JapaneseAmericans didn’t have.
These actors in the story of JapaneseAmerica were found in the course of separating fact from fiction to define and appreciate the art of John Okada’s NO-NO BOY.
Were we suckered by a good title NO-NO BOY that fizzed with personality and “style?” The subject was the American definition of the author’s Japanese blood. The flesh and blood existed in reality. Did the ideas, the city, the people exist? Were they still alive? A journalist’s questions preparatory to sniffing out an interview.
A visit to Seattle showed the Boys that Okada’s Seattle was still Seattle. The Aiiieeeee! Boys liked John Okada’s NO-NO BOY for its honest portrayal of tensions against No-No Boys tearing apart the Japanese Americans of Seattle.
John Okada volunteered for the army from camp Minidoka, and served in intelligence in the Pacific, he was a living example of the perfect JACL internee, volunteer, hero, but he didn’t write about himself. We liked that he wasn’t writing about himself. This was a true novel.
I do not remember one reference to the JACL in Okada’s novel other than his choice of th derogatory term invented by the JACL, “No-No Boy” to designate the internees that foiled the WRA questionnaire the JACL was so sure had been soo cunningly designed it trap thousands of internees into volunteering for the army from a prison camp that the JACL’s Mike Masaoka became volunteer no. 1 in August. In the 1957 that the book was published the “No-No Boys” was a JACL synonym for “traitors,” a term known only to Japanese Americans in the hush of conversation when John Okada wrote. NO-NO BOY was an operatically activist novel before Japanese America had an opera.
The Aiiieeeee! Boys liked NO-NO BOY so much, we re-released it in 1974 under our secret identity, CARP Press with cover and book design by Robert Onodera, and an afterword that willingly exposed Hajime “Jim” Akutsu as Okada’s model for his protagonist “Ichiro.”
We didn’t know it at the time, but by combining our names and races in AIIIEEEEE! we were re-enacting the meeting of three men of three different faces, three races, three walks of life becoming blood brothers, in the Oath in the Peach Garden to save China and die on the same day. A knowledgeable Yellow critic would have pointed out the similarities between the alliance of four Aiiieeeee! Boys and the 3 brothers of the Oath in the Peach Garden and racist significanse of THE FIVE CHINESE BROTHERS.
But we have no critics. We—Asian America haven’t had critics since Seattle’s Broadway High School graduate James Matsumoto Baking Powder Omura edited San Francisco’s CURRENT LIFE until Dec. 7th 1941, and Tetsuko Toda hired Omura to car to Denver to edit the ROCKY SHIMPO. In the ten camps Toda unleashed Omura in the ROCKY telling the news to that was shortly told and useful to the internees, and editorials that criticized the government and “the Constitution” was the code, to the JACL and the words he recommended in his editorials, be used. Omura was the only critic the people had to nag everybody as an objective Nisei outside observor of the ten camps. Each a city of ten thousand souls. The Issei subscribed and the Nisei gathered round to hear news from the ROCKY. Think of a movie peek at this news from the ROCKY scene at Minidoka, Idaho, the ROCKY at Heart Mountain, Wyoming, the ROCKY at Amache, Colorado.
If we had a critic, or at least a gossip we would know what Pat Morita the comic, remembers hearing a voice between the barracks at Tule Lake calling “Errr-Rocky here! Errr-Rocky Shimpo!” A magazine should have pulled that out of Pat in public, and not passed in private like a secret.
Take any avenue to check for the facts of NO-NO BOY. It will eventually lead to the conclusion that Seattle had an unusually large number of contenders for leadership of the American born Nisei and the JACL. James Sakamoto, the blind boxer turned publisher of the first all-English JapaneseAmerican newspaper, and a founder of the JACL, Bill Hosokawa, an editor on Sakamoto’s JAPANESE AMERICAN COURIER before the war, and the post war JACL Czar of JA publishing, James Omura, a cantankerous opponent of the JACL. Gordon Hirabayashi, the first to resist by violating tie Army curfew order. All come from Seattle.
Min Yasui of Portland was the second Nisei to violate the curfew. Though a lawyer and he should have known better, he agreed to attach his case Ex Parte to Hirabayashi’s.
I’ve heard that members of sainted Min Yasui’s Portland JACL say their venerable Japanese American Citizen’s League has differences with me. They don’t like me and yet they’re sponsoring my flight to Portland to talk to you.
The difference Portland JACL has with me, might be the Day of Remembrance they didn’t support as the JACL but as individual Issei, and Nisei everyone wanted to happen. No one wanted to organize, to lead but were willing to be one of a group of sponsors, they were willing, even anxious to be organized.
The first and only JapaneseAmerican use of the paid political ad in history, began at the 1979 Portland Day of Remembrance. The text to the OPEN LETTER TO SENATOR HAYAKAWA in favor of redress was on a table with a lined sheet for signing and a can for contributions to buy ad space in the Washington Post. Min Yasui read the letter, clapped his hand on the table, took out his wallet, and signed then and there. Later he asked that his name be removed from the letter but keep the five bucks for the cause.
George Takei, Mr. Sulu of STAR TREK signed. The Mayors of Seattle, Puyallup, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles and more mayors signed. Jane Fonda signed. And signatures from five dollar Japanese Americans that filled a third of a page in the Washington Post and caught Sen Hayakawa off guard.
Getting to the bottom why a vet John Okada wrote NO-NO BOY about a pariah and not himself, led to AIIIEEEEE’s! research into the book that led to Seattle and that led to the JACL betrayal of Japanese America into the camps and the JACL creation of the 442nd as the cowards of camp and their private JACL police at home. The JACL controlled JapaneseAmerican history, and suppressed knowledge of the resisters winning a Presidential Pardon that gave JapaneseAmericans their civil rights back into the time of camp. It was the resisters from Hirabayashi to the draft resisters of 1944, and Endo’s Habeas Corpus suit that demanded the governent tell her why she was interned, that opened the wire gates of camp. If it were up to the JACL JapaneseAmerica would have gone extinct in camp.
Aiiieeeee’s! conclusion about JapaneseAmerican history is the opinion of four rogue writers. JapaneseAmerica hasn’t been heard from. If JapaneseAmerica wants to celebrate it’s traitors and forget it’s heroes, so be it. That’s news.
Why don’t Yellow activist artists in Oregon know about artist activists California? Why are Oregon civil rights activists not linking the WWII Resisters refusal to be illegally drafted from camp, with Lt Ehren Watada’s refusal to obey the illegal deployment to Iraq? Watada’s right close. We don’t know Yellows a mile down the road because we have no newspapers, we have no magazines. Because we have no magazines. Activists in Portland don’t know that actress Momo Yashima has put together a presentation of resistance leader Frank Emi, and WWII draft resister from Heart Mountain Wyoming, Yosh Kuromiya, and Ht Mt internee drafted into the Army, with service in Military Intelligence, Paul Tusneishi, who resigned his membership in the JACL and has been a one man campaign for Japanese America’s recognition of the heroes of JA civil rights.
Ehren Watada called the resisters in Los Angeles from Seattle. It was put on You tube and licked a column in the San Jose Mercury-News. The resisters reached from the camps of WWII to today, men in their 80’s and 90’s to link up with Lt. Watada.
The activists in Portland might bring Momo’s show to town, and arrange a meet up the road at Ft. Lewis, between Lt. Ehren Watada and the resisters. Just a thought.
The Aiiieeeee! Boys all publish in white magazines. Some big. Some small. White anthologies, in white company, From Ishmael Reed adventures into book publishing and magazine publishing all kinds of publishing we learned the joy of publishing among a truly multi-racial American magazine. Made us conscious of Yellows having no publishers. The publishers faking it for us are like Lee & Lowe. Michi Weglyn approached them with the idea of doing a version of KAGUYA HIME. Lee & Lowe said all their Asian stories were sociologically accurate and they did not publish traditional Asian stories.
If we publish at all, we have no choice but to step into the white man’s pocket.