Thursday, April 30, 2009

Translated version of Dear Miss Breed now registered at the National (Japan) Diet Library

A good friend is a great blessing. Our friendship, based on Toastmastering and deepened with travel, led to the book Dear Miss Breed that I translated to become registered with the Japanese National Diet Library.

In early 2000, our Toastmasters Club in Kitakyushu invited Professor Kobayashi from Shimonoseki City University to a meeting. An excellent speaker, in an ice breaker speech, Kobayashi Sensei talked about his young days in Hawaii. We learned that he graduated from the University of Hawaii with a master's degree and later earned a PhD. In 2004, he gave his retirement lecture "50 years as an Asian researcher" to Shimonoseki citizen and his students, and returned to Yokohama to live with his family. In the fall of 2006, the Kitakyushu Club invited Kobayashi Sensei to join them in attending the Toastmasters Convention held in Taiwan. He gladly accepted it, and so, three of us, Oshiumi, Kobayashi and I flew down to Kaoshiung representing Kitakyushu. There he volunteered as an ad-hoc speech demonstrator during the training sessions and was immediately surrounded by young Taiwanese fans throughout the convention. He happened to be fluent in Chinese and was a big help when we traveled to Taipei via Tainan, Chiayi, Poan, etc. and visited Taiwanese industries and universities on the way back.
A photo from Taiwan Toastmasters Conference. I am addressing the audience (of about 1,000 people) as a representative of Kitkayushu as well as District 76 (Japan) Toastmasters. Behind me were Masaki Oshiumi and Eiji Kobayashi.

One of the books he wrote in 1979, Developments of Indus River, Agriculture and Water Problems in India/Pakistan, was highly acclaimed by Japanese financiers and industrialists, Asian scholars as the best introduction available of the area. He gave detailed history of how India and Pakistan disputed water distribution and how the Tarbela Dam, the world's largest embankment dam, helped solve the problems from the Asian Development banker perspective. He was a banker himself then, before he became an educator.

I forgot that I sent the publication notice of my translation to the professor. After a month long trip to California, I found his letter, dated March, waiting for me upon my return in April.

He wrote that he was so impressed with the translation of the book that he felt the need to help promote the book. He voluntarily sent his book review to the biannual newsletter published by and for the ex-employee association of the National Diet Library. Attached to the letter he sent me was the said Newsletter No. 44 dated March l, 2009 with a full page of the book review.

My quick search yielded the following designation of my book at the National Diet Library as follows:

NDC (Nippon Decimal Classification) - (9) 334.453,
NDLSH (National Diet Library Subject Heading) - JP: 21460307

Thank you, Kobayashi Sensei. I feel really honored. I'm hoping that I may travel again, not only to Taiwan, but to other Asian countries where your expertise shines.


Book Review by Dr. Eiji Kobayashi (formerly with the Legislative Reference Bureau, National Diet Library)

As in the subtitle, the book depicts "the true and heart warming stories of Japanese American children and a librarian Clara Breed" in San Diego, California. During World War II,.Clara taught the children of the neighborhood how to enjoy reading and was popular as their friend.

It all started the day of December 8, 1941, when the Imperial Japanese forces raided Pearl Harbor. I myself remember the day well as a first grader. However, until I read the book, I didn't know what happened to the Japanese Americans in the West Coast, as a consequence of the raid. In reflection of the Americans' terrible fear of a possible Japanese invasion of California, then President Roosevelt issued his Executive Order to evacuate all those people who had Japanese ancestry, regardless of their status of naturalization.

Suddenly on April 8, 1942, a total of 120,000 Japanese Americans were interned into relocation camps scattered internally off the coast lines. The children Clara Breed served as her students were first sent to the Los Angeles Assembly Center. There they had to live in horse stalls turned housing, which emitted a most unpleasant odor.

It was shocking to Clara Breed who believed incarceration based on being a descendant of a particular nation was a mistake. She began to receive letters from her children, all with the heading "Dear Miss Breed." Children wrote about their camp lives - barbed wire surroundings, watchtower guns aimed at those inside rather than intruders from outside, waiting in long lines for everything from meals, laundry, showers, mail, etc. One young man (Tetsu), desperate from seeing nothing but shanties wrote that he was betrayed by his mother country. They were then herded into a permanent detention camp in Poston, Arizona, in a desert full of snakes, scorpions, tumble weeds. There they had to face extreme summer heat, sand storms, freezing air and bitter coldness in winter. Riots broke out among those who could not bear their situation.

Clara Breed continued to ship books to children in the camps for encouragement. She sent not only books but also some daily necessities, shoes, woolen yarns, socks as requested by children in their letters along with candy and gum. Christmas presents Clara sent particularly cheered up the children. In their homesickness they asked Clara to update them on news from San Diego. Soon some of them graduated from high school and joined the American military or entered universities, leaving their camps with WRA permissions. San Diego, a naval town, however, was reportedly still hostile toward them and children hesitated to return there despite their homesickness.

In 1970, Miss Clara Breed, then promoted to the Head Librarian, had a great reunion with all the children who finally returned to San Diego. She retired from the the San Diego Library system after 42 years of service and passed away in 1994 at the age of 88. Her creed was "I can't imagine life without books. Reading is food for the spirit and immeasurable."

Author Joanne Oppenheim (born 1934) has written many children books. She happened to see the "Dear Miss Breed" letters in the National Japanese American Museum and contacted the writers of those letters to interview them in hopes of putting faces to Breed's human characters and to document the period of infamy in American history.

I know the translator, Rio Imamura, who worked for a San Diego manufacturer and was a resident there for over 20 years. We are fortunate to be able to read Oppenheim's book in Japanese published by Kashiwa Shobo. Thanks to his hard work, explanations of photos, illustrations, footnotes and indexes are all painstakingly translated for easy reference. I was glad to see that all the library terminology was correctly translated.

America saw the birth of the first African American President, Barak Obama, who proclaimed "Change". However, has America really changed as in President Obama's slogan? Am I the only one who feels that the dark shadow of racial discrimination and injustice still continues to linger in America and elsewhere?

(Review translated by Rio Imamura)

Original Text:

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