Friday, August 29, 2008

Manzanar Pilgrims

"As I came to understand what Manzanar had meant, it gradually filled me with shame for being a person guilty of something enormous enough to deserve that kind of treatment. In order to please my accusers, I tried, for the first few years after our release, to become someone acceptable. I both succeeded and failed. By the age of seventeen I knew that making it, in terms I had tried to adopt, was not only unlikely, but false and empty. .... It took me another twenty years
to accumulate the confidence to deal with what the equivalent experience would have to be for me."
- from Farewell to Manzanar (Ten Thousand Voices) by Jeanne Wakamatsu Houston and James D. Houston

I rented a car in Los Angeles in the summer of 2008 and traveled for two days to Manzanar where more than 10,000 Japanese Americans were interned during WWII. About 250 miles, or 405 kilometers, one way to get there. Drove the familiar Cal 14 Highway that I took to see Cal State flower poppies some years ago. Passed Lancaster and Mojave and I stayed at Ridgecrest overnight to take it easy. Mojave is the gateway to Death Valley. Right after Mojave, I stopped the car to photograph the Red Rock Canyon cliffs, with colorful layers of pink, red and brown, which I took as a welcome sign. Ridgecrest has many hotels and gas stations as my American son-in-law told me before my departure. I asked the hotel clerk, as I checked in, about the town population. 20,000 was her answer. She said that more than 10,000 people work at the Naval Weapons Test Center in China Lake. The temperature read 97 degrees F (36 degrees C) at 4:00 PM.

I started at 7:30AM the following day as I was told I would have more than an hour drive. I aimed to finish my visit before it got hotter. Highway 395 leads to Mammoth Lake, the ski resort. It's a scenic back road with snow covered Sierra Nevada ranges. Sequoia National Park on the the other side of the ranges. Slowed down as I entered the town of Lone Pine, 10 miles south of Manzanar. While wondering where the exit might be, the sign "turn left here for Manzanar" suddenly appeared. It was a two way road. I yielded to cars from the opposite side. A dusty and bumpy road finally led to Manzanar. The sentry stands on both sides, and you face an awesome Mount Williamson in the back. I thought I was the first to arrive there but there were a few visitors waiting already ahead of me.

Manzanar is in the Owen Valley. In 1872, a severe earthquake buried Owen Lake. However, the snow-fed streams form Owen River and the local people cultivated apples. Manzanar means apple orchard. The City of Los Angeles with an increasing population, sought sources of water and built a long aqueduct from Owen. The orchards disappeared in the 1930s. The Manzanar internees siphoned water from the aqueduct and cultivated vegetable farms.

Manzanar possessed many photographs of the Japanese incarceration as compared with other detention camps and I wondered why. At one time, cameras were forbidden as they were considered to be a spy act. The chivalry of the great Sierra Club photographer Ansel Adams (1902-1984), as well as the arduous camera-manship of Toyo Miyatake, and others succeeded in getting the ban removed.

In the summer of 1943, Adams received a visit from Ralph Merritt, an old Sierra Club friend, and then the Director of the Manzanar War Relocation Camp, in his Yosemite home. Ralph was concerned with the sudden arrival of 10,000 interned Japanese Americans and the impact on the community and the environment. He wanted Adams to monitor the impact but said: "I cannot pay you a cent, but I can put you up and feed you, plus gas for transportation." Adams took the job and visited Manzanar. Not just once. Four times! I saw Adam's photos titled Owen Valley produced before the war started. I figured the valley was one of his favorite places.

"My first impression of Manzanar" he wrote in his autobiography, "was of a dry plain on which appeared a flat rectangular layout of shacks, ringed with towering mountains. The shacks created a mood that was not relieved by the entrance gate and its military guards. ... However, the interiors of the shacks, most softened with flowers and inimitable taste of the Japanese for simple decoration, revealed not only the family living spaces but all manner of small enterprises: a printing press that issued the Manzanar Free Press, music and art studios, a library, several churches, a clinic hospital, business offices, and so on... I was profoundly affected by Manzanar."

The photographic essay and book Born Free and Equal by Ansel, awed as a photographer with God's eye was published in late 1944. However, it did not draw the expected attention to the chaos of war. It is only very recently that the book back in print attracted renewed enthusiastic attention.

Jeanne Wakamatsu Houston, the author of Farewell to Manzanar, was eight years old when interned directly from Los Angeles, and left the camp at the age of ten. Her scars, however, remained quite a long time, as I quoted above. Her father, who owned a fishing boat in Los Angeles, had been arrested and sent to the Federal North Dakota prison in suspicion of providing oil to the Japanese submarine that attacked a beach near Los Angeles. When his suspicion was cleared, he was sent to Manzanar to join his family.

Jeanne returned to Manzanar, accompanied by her family, in l972 from Santa Cruz where she and her husband taught at the University of California. She showed her sharp observation as an internist rather than a casual visitor. The barbed wire surrounded the housing area of 550 acres (2,250,000 square kilometers), but the original camp which included farm and cattle feeding land, was ten times that size. She spotted a white obelisk gleaming in the distance and marking a subtle line where the plain begins gradually to slope upward into the alluvial fan that becomes the base of the mountains. She visualized the ruins of a variety of gardens handmade; everywhere designated as firebreaks, which impressed Ansel Adams. She heard ghostly voices of the deceased in the wind. She even remembered the insistence of her father to leave "in style". He went to the town of Lone Pine and brought back a salvaged blue Nash four-door with two flat tires. He honked and cruised around to show off. Jeanne wrote that the car sounded like a boxer working out on a flabby punching bag.

The only remaining building was the senior high school auditorium. In l972, the auditorium was the servicing station for Los Angeles City Power and Water. In 1992, this auditorium was turned into the National Park museum and Manzanar became the national historic site to symbolize ten detention camps. The objective was to tell the future generation the importance of preserving civil rights, not to repeat the same mistake.

Bob Lefsetz is a music critic and analyst who lives in Santa Monica. He writes the "Lefsetz Letters" on the net and has a large readership. In April 2008, he planned his birthday celebration in Mammoth and there he went with his wife and friends. But his plan was foiled. The ski slopes were rock solid ice, akin to skiing on a washboard. They decided to descend the mountains. After Bishop, between towering peaks and the desert, trying to see through the bugs embedded on the windshield, he remembered Manzanar and stopped the car. He had driven by Manzanar so many times without stopping. It was six o'clock and the place was to close in half an hour. "The ranger suggested that we either see exhibits or film. We chose film. It's the power of film. It took us to another time and place. They emigrated - built new lives - until the U.S. Government took it all away. Parents sold possessions for pennies on the dollar. Incarcerated to the California desert - blistering hot and bone-cold in winter - wind never stopped. All the toilets in a row, no dividers in between. With the war over, the prisoners were given a ticket wherever they decided and the princely sum of $25. Visited cemetery before driving out. How many lives ruined and lost for an unjust, ridiculous cause. No Japanese American was ever convicted. If this is the American dream, I want no part of it. Most Americans do not travel to Manzanar unless they are skiers." Lefsetz urged, "do visit Manzanar and study this history to prevent a similar tragedy in the future."

I saw on the net many responses from the readers including those of the Japanese Americans in question.

After the museum and driving around the camp, I spent some time praying in front of the memorial tower. Maybe 20 minutes or so. Cars came, stopped, some walked to the tower, retreated, and left. One of them asked me what is meant by the character on the stone. No English explanation. To console the spirit of the dead and pray for their eternal peace. I exchanged conversation with him. He said he came from the south, not too far away. Seems an American youth of sincerity. I gave my email address saying if you come up with anything about Manzanar, write to me. I said "I will promise to answer."

It was in 1963 that President Kennedy spoke to university students a few month before he was assassinated. "What kind of peace do I mean and what kind of a peace do we seek? .... Not the peace of the grave or the security of slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living and the kind of that enables men and nations to grow, and to hope, and to build a better life for their children - not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women, not merely peace in our time but peace in all time. "

I heard the assassination news in Manhattan while working. "Impossible" was my cry and tears rolled down my face to the floor.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Part III: Translating Dear Miss Breed

I visited the Museum again in 2004 and the Miss Breed Corner was established with a large photo. I was told that the Joanne Oppenheim had started interviewing Breed's children. I decided to wait for Oppenheim's book to be published. I saw her book two years later and found it truly inspirational.

I was determined to translate Joanne Oppenheim's Dear Miss Breed into Japanese for the young Japanese readers so that they could learn about what transpired. I look forward to the day when the Japanese boys and girls acquire enough English language skills so they can fully appreciate the author's original text.

I wanted them to know when they are as young as Miss Breed's "children" were, that there was a remarkable librarian named Miss Breed who loved the young disciplined Japanese Americans and gave them strength and inspiration by tirelessly sending them books. These interned children were confined and isolated, sent away to remote concentration camps. A collection of letters written by Miss Breed's "children" would surely strike the hearts of the Japanese young readers.

I expressed my wish to be a translator both to the author and publisher as soon as Dear Miss Breed was published in April 2006. The publisher replied in June and stated that I had to go through a Japanese book underwriter/publisher. I had a number of such publishing houses in mind but I realized that they would immediately ask for a manuscript, which I didn't have. I know translation without any publisher endorsement was risky, but I felt such a strong commitment to do it anyway. There's a Japanese saying "Knowing what is right without participating in it betrays one's cowardice." I knew that there was a risk of not obtaining translation rights.

In early 2007, Dr. Keiichi Ogawa (ex-President of Yokohama City University), paid his courtesy visit to the San Diego City Library, representing Yokohama City Library, since San Diego and Yokohama are sister cities. He happened to witness the 100th birthday celebration of Clara Breed, the Head Librarian, and he was presented Joanne Oppenheim's book by Anna Tatar, the current Library Director. He read the book upon his return to Japan and he introduced "Miss Breed" in the local Kanagawa newspaper. The paper stirred a lot of interest and many expressed ardent wishes to read it in Japanese. I was about half way finished with the translation when I found out about this interest. I redoubled my efforts with the help of compassionate friends like Mrs. Teiko Uemura (ex-Kumamoto Toastmaster, now Hachioji Toastmaster) and Mrs. Shida's group in Hino, Tokyo which was my home before I moved to Kitakyushu.

I had finished two-thirds of the book in August 2007. I sent the first third of the translated manuscript out in May / June 2007 as a sample to find a publisher. I sent it to several publishers without much luck. Then I saw a translation of Michael Moore's book published by Kashiwa. Encouraged, I sent Kashiwa a copy and they showed interest. By October, the full translation was completed and submitted. The first proofs arrived April. The next three months were spent mostly finishing the bibliography, indexing, more proofreading, translating Joanne's preface to the Japanese readers, ...etc. The book was finally released on June 25, 2008.

The publisher presented the translated book to Dr. Keiichi Ogawa, Director of Yokohama Central City Library.

His comments were:

"I am so pleased to see the accurate and faithful Japanese translation by Rio Imamura. I am refreshing the moment and my memory when I encountered the book two years ago. The book touched my heart. It was so moving and inspiring. Thank you for referring to my introduction of the book in the the local Kanagawa Newspaper. I am hoping that the younger generations will read the book from two perspectives. One is the absurdity of war, and the other is humanity, love for mankind. I hope this book will be read by many people. My hearty congratulations on the completion! Very well done!"


I wish to share the pleasure of getting the translated book published with my friends. I thought translating/publishing it into Japanese would be my way of thanking the Japanese American community for sharing the above Garden project, and for their support and cooperation in building and managing Minato Gakuen, the Saturday School for the Japanese expatriate children in the Sweetwater District. I have enjoyed the privilege of befriending many people in San Diego - Ben Sagawa, Liz and Joe Yamada, Saburo Muraoka, Moto Asakawa, Jack Hamaguchi, Don Estes, and Joyce and Bill Teague. It has been very rewarding and an honor to be involved in Clara Breed's legacy.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Part II: Clara Breed's "Children" and Letters

In l994, the year of my retirement, I returned to Japan with my wife, respecting my wife's preference to live in Japan. Our children and their families live in the U.S., so we have made it a point to visit the U.S. every year. On one such trip, I came across Clara Breed's obituary in the paper and discovered who she was (besides being a wonderful stenographer) and what she did during the war - her constant commitment to the Japanese American children during their internment through letters which she kept. Clara worked for the San Diego Library her entire life. She became Chief Librarian and at retirement was honored with various awards from the city. To my great surprise, the paper reported that many Japanese Americans attended her funeral service.

The story of Clara Breed and her students dates back to 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, and the beginning of World War II. Clara had met many Japanese American children at the library. She was in charge of handling books at the time. She noted that these Japanese Americans were diligent children with good manners. She liked them very much.

When these children were sent to the concentration camps, she asked them to write to her and she would send them books. The children thanked her for the books, adding notes about their lives in the camp and their hardships, problems, and anxieties about their future. Their letters were rather like an American version of the Diary of Anne Frank.

Clara answered every letter she received and tried to coordinate between the libraries close to the camp sites. She wrote to the State Department to reconsider the treatment of Japanese Americans in the camps. She tried hard to get visitation to the camp site to see "her" children. She was a person with an iron will who turned her ideas into action!

It occurred to me one of Clara's children was most likely among the Officers of the Japanese Friendship Garden. It turned out that Liz Yamada, who was eight years old when World War II broke out, and her sister corresponded with Clara. Liz's family lived in the Santa Ana Horse Racing stables until they were relocated to Poston, Arizona. I called Liz Yamada to ask her about these letters and Liz said she had donated all of them to the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.

I also met Tetsuzo "Ted" Hirasaki, who was close to Clara through Liz. Ted, the eldest boy among the interned children, was 16 years old at the start of the War. Ted enlisted with the Nisei Troops directly from camp. Despite the bitter experience of internment, almost all Japanese living in America expressed a strong desire to prove their loyalty. Many Nisei - children born in the U.S. of Japanese parentage - enlisted in the armed forces, such as the infantry of the much decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team. In all, 8,000 Japanese joined the armed forces despite the loss of their civil liberties at home. The 442nd Combat Team received many citations for bravery in l944.

I visited Ted at his home right away. Ted was working at General Dynamics. He was a man of knowledge and quite a speaker. He had an extensive vocabulary. He was saddened at Clara's death. He said he owed her a great debt of gratitude for the many things she did and wanted to preserve her legacy. Ted and others helped collect and organize the Clara Breed letters and sent them to the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.

In the summer of 2002, I visited the newly built Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo located in downtown Los Angeles. I found Clara's photo in the Who' s Who information, together with sample of letters to Clara from the children in the camps. Visitors have access to typewritten letter files upon request. It probably took me more than an hour to review them all. It was a pretty thick file. I would like to share am excerpt.

"Dear Miss Breed,
Thank you for sending William Saroyan's Human Comedy. I'm glad you liked the doll I handmade for you......Two things I can't take in Poston. The sand storms and the heat! Many people here have rashes to treat....The other night I had a dream. I had permission to go back to San Diego. The moment I gout out at the station, I was in a candy store... You are standing behind me. I bought 5 pounds of chocolate... and U was asking you... Would it melt before I could go back to my house?"

The letters were in the process of being sorted and digitized. The librarian assured me that by my next return visit, I should see them online. It was probably around this time that Joanne Oppenheim found the letters and decided to write a book.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Part I: Meeting Clara Breed

I wrote in the translator's notes of the Japanese edition of Dear Miss Breed, that one of my motivations in working on this book was based on the fact that Clara Breed and I worked together one time on the Japanese Garden Project in Balboa Park in the 1980s.

A Japanese Tea Pavilion with garden was built in l915 for the Pan American California Exposition in Balboa Park. It was later demolished when the San Diego Zoo was constructed. The City of San Diego had promised 10 acres (about 4 hectares) inside Balboa Park to recreate it. Will Hippen, the San Diego-Yokohama Sister City Society and the Honorary Consul General, led the formation of the nonprofit organization called Japan-U.S. Friendship Garden Society, with the slogan "Rebuild the Garden". Corporate donors were recruited including companies such as Kyocera, Sony, Union Bank of California. Many local Japanese American citizens such as Joe and Elizabeth Yamada, Roy Muraoka, Moto Asakawa and others got involved as well. Sounds so easy and simple now but it was a tough job, beginning with fund raising campaigns and detailed plans which took decades to finalize. It was a huge project. More than 20 years have elapsed since it's completion. I can proudly say that San Diego now has one of the best Japanese gardens that can compete with any of the west coast Japanese gardens.

I came to know Clara Breed from the board meetings of Officers of the U.S.-Japan Friendship Garden Society. At that time I was on the Board of Directors along with Joe and Elizabeth Yamada. Clara had been called in occasionally to substitute as Secretary when the regular Secretary was unable to attend. Perhaps she was called in by Liz Yamada, who I later learned was one of the Breed children Clara had inspired and shared affection with during the Japanese American internment camp days of World War II. Clara was a graceful woman. I commended her on the quality of minutes she produced, all taken in shorthand. She smiled and thanked me.