Tuesday, July 28, 2015


My son, who lives in New York, took the trouble to airfreight me Richard Reeves’ Infamy, a 340 page book newly published by Henry Holt & Co. The subtitle reads “The Shocking Story of the Japanese American Internment in World War II.” This is the first book Joanne Oppenheim’s Dear Miss Breed is quoted extensively. I was happy to find Clara Breed’s photo in the book. She was the children’s librarian at the San Diego Public Library, who met hundreds of young Japanese-Americans and during the internment years, she sent them letters, books, and gifts. I saw names and letters of many 'Breed’s children' - Louise Ogawa, Katherine Tasaki, Margaret Ishino, Fusa and Yukio Tsumagari, Ted Hirasaki, Hisako Watanabe. Now all these names will be remembered as unjustly incarcerated internees who endured and lived with grace despite the harsh circumstances during a sad period in American history.

I myself befriended Clara Breed when she served as volunteer secretary for the San Diego Japanese Friendship Garden Planning Board (SDJFPB) without knowing her background at all. I was so shocked to see her obituary and found out who she was upon my return to Japan.

Sitting with me at the SDJFPB were Joe and Elizabeth Yamada, members of the 'Breed children' whom I contacted asking about some of the children’s letters that were sent to and saved by Clara Breed from Poston, Arizona. As per Elizabeth Yamada, they had been entrusted with the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) in Los Angeles. I visited JANM from Japan and copied some handwritten letters. Elizabeth Yamada then introduced me to Ted Hirasaki and Ben Segawa in San Diego. At JANM, I met Babe Karasawa who was serving as a volunteer docent. Soon I heard from my San Diego friends that Joanne Oppenheim had started interviewing the 'Breed children' with the intent of writing a book, suggesting that I wait for her book.

Oppenheim's book was well worth waiting for and inspired me to translate it into Japanese. One of my motivations for the translation was to make Japanese children aware of historical events. Oppenheim added court testimonies so that voices of internists from cities other than San Diego could be included. She toiled to try to cover over 10 relocation camps by quoting 1) Mrs. Roosevelt's diaries and 2) nationwide court testimonies. I’m glad that today, most of the Japanese municipal libraries and junior and senior high school libraries carry my Dear Miss Breed translation as I so aimed.

As a professional historian, Richard Reeves documented numerous narrative stories from ten relocation centers, making this book a very comprehensive compilation to date for all camp sites in seven States – California, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, Colorado and Arkansas.

The following two stories from Infamy were particularly memorable to me.

The 1942 valedictorian of the University of California, Berkeley, Harvey Itano, was in the Sacramento Assembly Center on his graduation day. "Harvey cannot be with us today," said university president Robert Gordon Sproul. He continued, "His country has called him elsewhere," which was behind barbed wire (Page 81). I became acquainted with Dr. Itano, a La Jolla resident, with whom I played golf often. He was a great golfer.

By mid-summer Isamu Noguchi realized he was having a lot of trouble adjusting to life in the camp. He set up an Arts and Handcraft Center in Poston but no one came. He had a lot of trouble communicating with his fellow residents. "I am extremely despondent for lack of companionship," he wrote to John Collier in Washington, "The Nisei here are not of my own age and are of an entirely different background and interest." Noguchi's name is mentioned in Dear Miss Breed. Noguchi left Poston when the army allowed him leave. Isamu Noguchi was in Poston for 184 days. He wrote to his half sister Ailes "Please let my friends know that I am on my way. I feel like Rip Van Winkle" (Page 129).

As the author wrote, the Japanese Americans in Hawaii were mostly exempt from being sent to internment camps except hundreds of them were closely watched by the FBI. Sand Island, a 5-acre island of coral in Honolulu, used to quarantine ships believed to carry contagious passengers in the nineteenth century, served as a location for a camp but the detainees were later sent to the 160-acre Honouliuli Camp in Oahu to join other German, Italian and Korean detainees. The Honouliuli Camp was designated earlier this year by President Obama as a National Park. It seems that each island had similar facilities of its own. The Big Island camp was at the Kilauea Military Camp (KMC), which was located in the volcano area, according to my friend Ron Takata who lives there.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Chester Beatty's Collections

Genius can assert itself at an early age. As a teen boy, Chester Beatty (1875 - 1968) liked to collect colorful stones and minerals. One day his father took him to a big auction held on Broadway in New York. Sitting in the front row they saw a fragment of mineral calcite with a shade of pink overlaid with crystals of apatite, a perfect formation sparkled in what little light infiltrated the smoky atmosphere. In response to the auctioneer’s request for a bid, the boy raised his ‘ten cents’ bid. The boyish tense voice reverberated and froze the room for a moment. Despite the eccentric price, no other bid was offered when they found the boy was serious. The auctioneer hammered his gavel, announcing, “The boy beat us all.” It was the first treasure Chester won in his life.

He continued his hobby when he enrolled at Columbia University School of Mines. He started out as a $2 a day mucker and rose to be the King of Copper in Colorado, and was a millionaire by his mid-30s. He was later inducted in the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum in Leadville, Colorado. While keeping his interests in mining, he left the U.S. with his family and became a naturalized British citizen in 1933, traveling to Africa often, partly to ease his respiratory spells from his younger days laboring in the mines.

Beatty’s propensity for collecting minerals, stamps, Chinese Snuff Bottles, etc. expanded greatly with his added passion for books and manuscripts. Along with the finding of his northern Rhodesian copper belts, he sought Egyptian Papyrus Texts, Biblical and Qur’an Archives, Oriental arts and artifacts, ending up holding one of the foremost personal collections of Ancient Art, Culture and Literature in World History.

Though Beatty received knighthood after WWII for his significant contributions to the Allied War Effort for supplying strategic raw materials, he was disillusioned with the Labour Party’s bureaucratic policies and relocated to Dublin and decided to donate his treasures to Ireland. In 1957 Beatty became Ireland’s first honorary citizen and upon his death in 1968 was accorded a State Funeral.

In celebration of his 125th birthday, Chester Beatty’s Library opened in 2000 on the grounds of Dublin Castle.

Prominently included in this Ireland Library is the “Eternal Love” picture story of Yang Guihei, by Japanese artist Sansetsu Kano (1589-1651), inspired by Bai Juyi, Chinese poet of 9th Century. Oh, what treasures he preserved for mankind!

Article from Irish Arts Review - "An Edo Masterwork Restored: The Chogonka Scrolls in The Chester Beatty Library, Dublin"

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Song of Eternal Love

"You and I have often visited this temple
When I once resided near this summit
Pond showed its bottom only when water got cleared
Tunnel gate opened when white clouds got broken
We kindled fire raking fallen maple leaves to warm Sake (*)
We mulled over poems scraping mossed stones.(*)
And you leave me at this best chrysanthemum flowering season!"

So sang Tang Dynasty poet Bai Juyi (772-846), in sending his friend away. Unlike his contemporaries Li Bai, Du Fu and others, Bai Juyi is known for his direct, easy to understand and good-hearted poems and for this reason he has had many ardent followers in Japan, including myself. The above (*) marked lines were my favorite quotes from his poem. I saw his 120 lines, each line seven-worded “Song of Eternal Love” written on a monument when I traveled to Xi’an, China. There, at the foot of suburban Lishan, stood Emperor Xuanzong’s (685-762) Huaqing Detached Palace, where his beloved Yang Guifei (719-756) resided. Bai Juyi sang the poem in 809, about 50 years after Yang Guifei was strangled by her confidant Gao Lisjhi, an eunuch official serving the Emperor. It was when Bai Juyi and his friends were promoted to Tang palace officials that they traveled together to the site of the tragedy. He was mandated to write a poem to immortalize Yang Guifei and he wholeheartedly responded with passion. The poem found its way to Japan and is said to be the inspiration for the 12th Century “Tale of Genji” by Murasaki Shikibu.

“The Emperor neglected the world from that moment,
Lavished his time on her in endless enjoyment.
She was his springtime mistress, and his midnight tyrant.
Though there were three thousand ladies, all of great beauty,
All his gifts were devoted to one person.”

"Li Palace rose high in the clouds.
The winds carried soft music notes,
Songs and graceful dances, string and pipe music.
He could never stop himself from gazing at her.”

“But the Earth reels, war drums fill East Pass,
drowning out the Feathered Coat and Rainbow Skirt,
Great Swallow Pagoda and Hall of Light
are bathed in dust - the army fleeing southwards,
Out there Imperial banners, wavering, pausing
until the river forty miles from West Gate,
the army suddenly stopped. No one would go forward,
until horses hooves trampled willow eyebrows.
Flower on a hairpin. No one to save it.
Gold and jade phoenix. No one to retrieve it.
Covering his face, the Emperor rode on.
Turned to look back at that place of tears,
Hidden by (a) yellow dust whirl (in) a cold wind.”

A rebellion took place and An Lushan invaded Xi’an. The Emperor had to flee, protected by his guards, but soldiers sabotaged demanding life of Yang Guifei , a ruinous beauty. The Emperor had no choice but to hand her over. Oddly enough, An Lushan was close to both the Emperor and Yang Guifei, allying himself to become an adopted son of Yang, acquiesced by the Emperor. As the Commander of Hebei, Henan and Hedong, General Lushan had ambitions for the Chancellor post, but the position was snatched by Yang Guozhong, cousin of Yang Guifei, with whom Lushan developed hostilities. Guozhong spread word of Lushan’s treason and he was eventually trapped. Lushan, a Persian-Turkish mix, was reported to be a chubby and jolly man, played jester, and danced well whirling a pole for the Emperor. Yang Guifei and Lushan both played the Ney flute. The Emperor returned to Xi’an after the rebellion was subdued. Back at the palace, however, his heart was still full of grief and attachment, and he sent Tao priest to the nether world. The Tao priest brought back her love message to him:

“Of vows which had been known only to their two hearts:
On the 7th day of the 7th month, in the Palace of Long Life,
We told each other secretly in the quiet midnight world
‘In the heavens we shall be
as twin birds flying side by side;
on earth, trees with their branches intertwined.’
Heaven is everlasting and the earth endures,
while the grief shall be ever abiding.”