By Virginia Tieman
“From Camp,” “Returning Home,” “Connecting Back” and “Legacy” were the themes for the night as Japanese American elders shared their stories about coming from concentration camps back into a world that didn’t welcome them with open arms.
“Making Home from War,” the sequel to “From Our Side of the Fence,” had its opening book launch on Feb. 27 at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California. The book focused on stories written by 12 Nisei about their journey and struggle about coming back to a world that had drastically changed after they were taken away against their will. The book release began at 4:00 p.m. with an opening statement from the production manager, Jill Shiraki.
"From Our Side of the Fence"
"Making Home from War
Shiraki shared the 12-year process of the two books. The first workshop for the first book was in 1998 with 11 writers who shared their experiences about being young in internment camps. “From Our Side of the Fence” was published in 2001 and the group of writers re-gathered in 2007 to focus on the stories about adjusting to outside of the camps. “Making Home from War” and “From Our Side of the Fence” couldn’t have been possible without the JCCCNC which helped with funding, always provided a place to gather and produced the book, said Shiraki.
“What we have here are memories to be shared, stories to be heard, and lessons to be learned,” said Paul Osaki, executive director of JCCCNC, who spoke after Shiraki.
Welcome and greetings continued with Malcolm Margolin, publisher of the book from Heyday. Margolin expressed, after reading the book, that there was a “deep truthfulness” to it and it had something that would “nourish us all.”
The room was filled with 20 or so avid listeners and the final round of people came in as Greg Robinson, columnist for the Nichibei Times and historian for the book, spoke of his experience with the writers.
“What got me interested was the joy, the extraordinary joy, of seeing an uncovered period come alive again,” said Robinson.
Brian Komei Dempster, the editor for the two books, finished up the introduction before writers shared exerts of their readings from each section of the book.
“I was proud because they became writers and craftsmen and women of their trade,” said Dempster. “I want this book to become a model for Nisei and Japanese Americans to have their stories told.”
The twelve writers include: Florence Ohmura Dobashi, Kiku Hori Funabiki, Sato Hashisume, Fumi Manabe Hayashi, Yoshimura Ito, Florence Miho Nakamura, Ruth Y. Okimoto, Yoshito Wayne Osaki, Sally Osaki (co-author with Yoshito Wayne Osaki), Toru Saito, Daisy Uyeda Satoda, Harumi Serata, and Michi Tashiro.
Before the readings began, a song by Jane Oliver was dedicated and sung by Toru Saito in remembrance for Florence Miho Nakamura who passed away during the writing of the book. Her granddaughter, Kristen Langewisch Marchetti read Nakamura’s exert in her memory.
Toru Saito singing in memory of Florence Miho Nakamura.
“From Camp” had stories of a mother sewing clothes out of potato sacks, a man killing himself after he left camp, and taking the time to make the right chair.
Marchetti shared Nakamura’s story of her husband waiting in line for ages to get her candy that was scarce due to the war on Valentine’s Day. Nakamura shared some humor when she wrote that 55 years later her husband got her candy again for Valentine’s Day, but this time stole it from the doctor’s office basket.
“Returning Home” writers shared passages of adjustment, making due with what was given, and racism.
Ruth Y. Okimoto spoke of how her father promised her a diamond ring when passing a store front on their way back home. The diamond ring was never given but her father gave her something more – love and courage to do well for herself. Michi Tashiro expressed how the world was worse outside of camp, but her father held the family together.
“We went from a two bedroom with nine people to seven in one tent,” said Tashiro. “My father said, ‘It can’t be helped so that’s the way it’s going to be.’”
“Connecting Back” held stories of opening restaurants, changing views, and holding on until apologies were heard.
Toru Saito’s story, “A Country Drive,” told of how he stopped on a country road and looked at animals behind a fence. He felt their pain of being trapped and from that day on became a vegetarian.
Sato Hashizume shared a story of her grandmother titled “Breath.” Her grandmother was on her deathbed and before she died all she wanted was a formal apology about the internment of the Japanese people. Hashizume shared that on Aug. 10, 1988, a formal apology and signed recognition that internment happened was given by Ronald Reagan and the next day her grandmother passed away.
“Legacy,” the last section in the program, was read by Marchetti through tearful eyes as she spoke of her grandmother and shared the importance of the stories told in “Making Home from War.”
The book release ended with an original song by Toru Saito and a message.
“If any of you in the audience have a story to share about the interment just know dead people can’t write,” said Saito. “So I hope you write your piece for generations to follow.”
A member of the audience buys books after the book release.
Other book events for “Making Home from War” include April 16 at 3 p.m. at Yu-Ai Kai Senior Center in San Jose and May 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the San Francisco Main Library.