Available in April — Life: Haiku by Haiku


My new book, Life: Haiku by Haiku, contains more than 150 haiku. It is scheduled for release in April.

Life Haiku by Haiku

Here’s an excerpt:

the first crocus pokes
bright yellow through icy snow
long winter’s farewell

I think many of us are anticipating long winter’s farewell!

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The Pain of Survival and Aunt Michie – Part I


Jan Morrill:

In THE RED KIMONO, Mama returns to Hiroshima (after the bombing and after her release from Rohwer Relocation Center,) to find her parents. This blog post helps me to see what life might have been like for Sachi’s grandparents during and after the bombing.

Often, we don’t stop to look at all sides, or to consider how an event affected everyone–not just ourselves. It’s easy to accept what we learned from our history books as the ONLY truth, and without question. Thank you, Koji, for your poignant post which shows the history of Hiroshima from a different perspective.

Originally posted on Masako and Spam Musubi:

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Uncle Yutaka and darling little Aunt Michie in Hiroshima. Circa 1918.

Life in Hiroshima was uncertain and grueling in 1945 – especially for women and children.  It is a fact that nearly all the men up to the age of 35 had been taken by the Japanese military.  For many, it was truly day to day.

Little food, clothing and medical care.  It all went to the military…and then there were the B-29′s and the bombings.  Devils associated with being on the losing side of war.

But at 8:15 AM on August 6, 1945, my Aunt Michie’s already tough life would be cast into wretchedness to test her mortal soul.  She was in her farm’s field clearing old crops on that hot summer morning.  There was an intense flash of light then the atomic bomb’s shockwave traveling close to the speed of sound slammed into her.  She was catapulted and…

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A Father-ly Invasion


Jan Morrill:

Father Byrne said, “Perhaps after two or three months, they will begin to understand you better, and then I think there will come an intimate friendship between you and them.”

Understanding is the key.

Originally posted on Masako and Spam Musubi:

Imagine being a Marine. You’re in Afghanistan.  You see your buddies getting blown up by the cowardly enemy’s IED or killed after an ambush. Then, after a bitter, maniacal all-out war, their religious leader capitulates.

Now, suddenly, you are standing out in the desert, outside of Fallujah, waiting to go in as part of the “occupying force”. Your feelings and emotions are going amok – anger coupled with fear of the unknown… You will be surrounded by the enemy who also fought the exact same bitter war against you.

USMC

US 26th Marines marching into Sasebo, Japan – August 1945. Notice the Japanese standing to the left and the general absence of civilians.

Now… imagine you are a young Marine on a troop ship off the Japanese coast. It is August 30, 1945. A few weeks earlier, you became acquainted with the term atomic bomb. The Emperor of Japan just capitulated.

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Happy Korematsu Day!


If you have the feeling that something is wrong, don’t be afraid to speak up. — Fred Korematsu

korematsu1

You may not have heard about a man named Fred Korematsu. Because my mother and her family were Japanese American internees during World War II, I’d read a bit about his history. But the more I learn about him, the more fascinated I am by his courage and persistence.

Mr. Korematsu was one of only a handful of Japanese Americans to stand up against the government by defying President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which forced 120,000 people of Japanese descent from their homes and into internment camps.

I only learned today after reading this biography, that Mr. Korematsu went so far as to have his eyes altered by a plastic surgeon, change his name to Clyde Sarah, and claim to be of Spanish and Hawaiian descent, to keep from going to internment.

But in May, 1942, he was arrested in California. In September, 1942, he was convicted of violating military orders issued under Executive Order 9066 and was sent to Tanforan Assembly Center (a former horse racetrack) and later to Topaz–the same internment camp where my mother and her family were sent.

Mr. Korematsu later appealed, but in 1944, the Supreme Court ruled against him, 6 to 3.

In 1983, a federal court in San Francisco overturned Mr. Korematsu’s conviction, however to-date, the Supreme Court ruling still stands.

According to the Fred T. Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education, at the federal court hearing, Mr. Korematsu stated:

“According to the Supreme Court decision regarding my case, being an American citizen was not enough. They say you have to look like one, otherwise they say you can’t tell a difference between a loyal and a disloyal American. I thought that this decision was wrong and I still feel that way. As long as my record stands in federal court, any American citizen can be held in prison or concentration camps without a trial or a hearing. That is if they look like the enemy of our country. Therefore, I would like to see the government admit that they were wrong and do something about it so this will never happen again to any American citizen of any race, creed or color.”

How would history be different if more people had the courage to speak up?

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Not Done Yet


kimono3

I was going to do a post about the 72nd anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, until I read an article in the Tulsa World that my daughter forwarded to me this morning.The article was titled “Atomic bombing survivors sharing stories this week in Tulsa.” I read about Shigeko Sasamori and Toshiko Tanaka, two survivors of the bombings at Hiroshima, who will be visiting schools in Tulsa this week to talk about their experiences.

After reading some of the comments left by other readers, I decided instead, to write about how we often are unable to separate our feelings about the acts of countries (or a group of people) from our feelings about individuals who originate from those countries, or even from people who look like those people.

Here are a few of the comments that were posted:

  1. If they want to show the dangers of nuclear power, maybe they could serve some Fukishima fish at the reception.
  2. Since these victims were 6 and 13 years old at the time the bomb was dropped I am sure they had nothing to do with starting the war and could not have stopped the war!

In response to this Comment #2, another reader posted:

They may not of started the war, their country sure did.

Our inability to make a distinction between the actual “enemy” and those who look like the enemy is one of the themes of The Red Kimono. In the book:

  • Sachi and Nobu are hassled because they “look like the enemy” that bombed Pearl Harbor.
  • Approximately 120,000 people of Japanese descent were sent to internment camps, simply because they looked like the enemy.
  • Terrence kills Michio Kimura (Papa) because he looked like the Japanese that killed his father at Pearl Harbor.
  • Sachi’s mother doesn’t allow Sachi to play with Jubie, because Jubie is the same color as the boy who killed Papa.

In the following excerpt, Mr. Blake, Terrence’s attorney, explains to Terrence how he was able to subdue the rage he felt over the death of his own father:

Terrence sat across from the attorney and stared him full in the eyes.
There was a part of him that was grateful to have a lawyer defending
him, especially now that Mr. Kimura was dead. But there was another
part of him that just couldn’t understand why a stranger—a white
stranger—would want to defend him. “No sir. You go first. Why’d you
decide to take my case? What’s in it for you?”

Momma stood in the corner and crossed her arms. She cleared her
throat and gave her son one of those glances that needed no words.

Even Blake caught her unspoken scolding. “It’s okay, Mrs. Harris.
A valid question.” He straightened, slapped his knees, and gazed at the
ceiling, then cleared his throat. “When I was a young man—I’d just
started my law practice in Berkeley—I received a telegram from my
mother, asking me to come home to Arkansas. Said she had something
important to tell me. Well, I knew she didn’t have much money. And for
her to send a telegram, and with my pa off fighting in the First War,
well, I had a bad feeling.” He stood and started pacing. “So I wired Ma
that I’d take the next train home. She met me at the station, and when
I saw the look on her face, it confirmed my fears. Pa was dead. Killed by
the Germans.” He turned around and looked at Terrence. “I still remember
the anger—no, the rage I felt. Thought I might go crazy for a bit.”

Hearing those words, seeing Blake’s piercing eyes, Terrence’s heart
raced. Rage. Yeah, that’s just what he’d felt the day he learned the Japs
killed Daddy.

“I couldn’t imagine not ever seeing Pa again. Couldn’t imagine Ma
living alone.”

Terrence understood the distant look in Blake’s eyes. Sorrow. Loss.

Anger returned to the attorney’s face. He continued, his voice
hoarse. “I hated the Germans. Hated them! I wanted to go over there
and kill every one ’em. But when we found out Pa was dead, the blasted
war had just ended. There’d be no revenge.” He took a handkerchief
from his pants pocket and wiped his forehead.

Terrence pressed his hands to his eyes to stop the burn of tears. He
could tell Mr. Blake still felt it. Did this mean the anger would never end?
“How’d you get over it?”

Blake wiped his glasses. “The night of Pa’s funeral, my ma told me
something I’ve never forgotten. Countries may go to war, but that
doesn’t mean that there needs to be a war between people.”

Between countries, not people.Was that why he didn’t feel better
after beating up a Japanese man? Matter fact, he felt worse. Now, he had
sorrow and guilt. It was like swallowing bad medicine every time he
remembered seeing the little girl’s eyes.

This lack of distinction doesn’t happen only with war. It happens with politics, with religion, with cultural differences.  Often, we don’t take the time to get to know the individual, because it’s easier to base our opinions about the individual on our feelings about the group.

This post is not intended to be a commentary on the right or wrong of the bombing of Hiroshima, merely a suggestion to try to see these two bombing victims as children who happened to be in the worst of wrong places when that bomb was dropped.

Here’s another excerpt from The Red Kimono, again taken from a conversation between Mr. Blake and Terrence. In this scene, Terrence is having difficulty dealing with Carter, the “white boy” who’s been placed in his jail cell with him:

“Trust me, Terrence. Try to find something you two have in
common.”

“I don’t know what much good it’ll do.” He heard the jingle of the
guard’s keys and scooted his chair out. He rose and shuffled to the door.

“Guess it’s time to go.”

“Think about it this way,” Mr. Blake said, quietly. “When you beat
up Mr. Kimura . . .”

You mean killed Mr. Kimura. The unspoken words were still like a
punch in the gut that knocked the breath clean out of him. He stared at
the floor.

Blake loosened his tie. “ . . . you saw him as a faceless Japanese. It
was easier that way, wasn’t it?”

Terrence turned to the door. Wasn’t nothing he could say.

“Terrence,” Blake said, walking toward him, “as much as you hated
the Japanese at that moment, would you have done it if you’d known
him? If you’d known the two of you had Nobu in common? Your friend?
His son?”

mandelaYesterday, we lost a great human being. Nelson Mandela once said:

No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

He also said:

It always seems impossible until it is done.

It’s up to each of us to “get it done.”

Posted in Excerpt, History, The Red Kimono, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

EverythingHapa Interview


The Red KimonoI enjoy both asking and answering interview questions, but I have to say that the questions asked by Chris of EverythingHapa.com, a website that discusses the “Intersection of Eastern and Western Cultures” were some of the most thought-provoking I’ve answered yet.

The first question prompted me to share a haiku about myself:

Walking a new path
So many forks in the road
Which one shall I take?

The questions that followed helped me to document my path to publication, the trips and falls along the way, and what I learned when I picked myself up.

I hope you’ll visit EverythingHapa.com and have a look. I’d love to read your comments!

Here’s the link:

http://everythinghapa.com/archives/11049

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The Dream Turns Fifty


August 28, 2013 is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream Speech.” From my earliest recollection, his words moved me, and I have no doubt that because of that, the opening scene in The Red Kimono’s sequel takes place at this speech.

I’m curious about your answers to the following questions. I answered them, too:

Q. Where were you when you first heard the speech?

I was only five years old, so I don’t actually remember where I was. I was probably outside playing. It’s in listening to and reading his words as I’ve gotten older that I remember and appreciate the importance and eloquence of what he had to say.

Q. What was your favorite part of the speech? Mine is: 

I have a dream that my four little children will one day
live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color
of their skin ~but by the content of their character.

Q. On a scale of 1 to 10, with one being “We haven’t progressed at all” and ten being “The dream has come true,” where do you think we are in fulfilling Dr. King’s dream?

Seven. When I see a movie like The Butler (which I highly recommend, by the way,) I see that we’ve come a long way. I can hardly believe we treated human beings with such disrespect, even cruelty, just because of the color of their skin. But when I see the news today, hear the misunderstandings that still occur because for whatever reason, we don’t sit down and get to know someone, I see that we’ve got a ways to go, too.

EXCERPT FROM THE SEQUEL TO THE RED KIMONO:

Washington D.C., August 28, 1963

The sun beat down on thousands of marchers and heat pressed all around Sachi. Yet, chills sent goose bumps up and down her arms and neck.

We shall overcome . . .

Each person had drifted to this place on a separate tributary, but they’d come together in a river of humanity that meandered along the Washington Mall toward the Lincoln Memorial. And they sang in one voice.

Sachi’s son, Michael, sidled between her friends, Jubie and Terrence. Each held one of his hands.

Who would have thought that Sachi’s best friend would be colored? And never would she have imagined that Terrence Harris, the colored man who nearly killed her father, would play such an important part in her life.

Jubie tickled Michael. “We may not get to see Dr. King, but we sure gonna hear him. ‘Sides, maybe Terrence’ll put you up on his shoulders so you can see better.” She poked Terrence in the ribs.

“We’ll see about that,” Terrence replied. “How old are you now, Michael? Six?”

Michael rolled his eyes. “No! I’m almost ten.”

A wry grin, and Terrence’s hazel eyes flashed with mischief. “Kinda big to be sitting up on my shoulders, aren’t you?”

Sachi waited for Michael’s comeback.

“Maybe you’re just too old to think about putting a kid as big as me up on your shoulders.”

Terrence clutched his shirt over his heart. “Aw, man. You got me. Well, like I said, we’ll just see—”

A deep voice boomed over the loudspeakers. “At this time, I have the honor to present to you, the moral leader of our nation, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”

The crowd hushed. Sachi stood on her toes. Everyone cheered and waved their hands, signs, hats—anything to draw attention. Dr. King began to speak. People fanned themselves as they listened. Many nodded and clapped between his statements.

Huffing, Michael huffed and stomped his foot.

Sachi leaned over and whispered, “Come stand over here. Maybe you can see better.”

“Oh, all right,” Terrence said. “I guess you’re ready to get up on my shoulders.”

Michael’s face lit up. “Yeah!”

Terrence kneeled and helped Michael climb onto his shoulders.

Sachi watched them as she listened to the words of Dr. King.

. . . will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Michael, the son of a Japanese woman and a Caucasian man, sat on the shoulders of the black man who almost killed her father, and they all listened to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talk about freedom and equality. How things had changed in sixteen years.

Dr. King spoke of a struggle for the rights of colored people, and Sachi believed “colored” came in all shades.

Jubie fanned herself and shook her head. “Ain’t it just something else?”

Looking down from Terrence’s shoulders, Michael asked, “Ain’t what something else, Miss Jubie?”

“Them words, Michael. Them words.”

. . . free at last, free at last. Thank God, Almighty, we’re free at last.

The ocean of humanity roared like a wave coming ashore after a long journey at sea. But Sachi stood quietly, absorbing the hum of unity, the look of hope in each person’s eyes.

Terrence wiped his sleeve across his face. “I hate to be the one to break up all the fun, but we best head back to the car. It’s gonna be a mess getting out of this place.”

“I think you’re right,” Sachi said.

Michael pointed behind them. “The car’s back that way.”

“Gotcha, buddy.” Terrence turned away from the monument and wove his way through the crowd.

Sachi followed. She had to admit she wished Jubie would stop chattering on and on about the events of the day so she could reflect in silence. But Jubie always chattered when she was excited.

Michael yelled, pointing to the parking lot. “There’s our car. I see it!”

Jubie talked faster, like she had to get everything out of her head before they reached the car. “And can you believe all the people—”

A pop crackled, so loud even Jubie stopped talking.

It came from the right. Fireworks? Sachi shaded her eyes from the sun, searching the sky. No fireworks.

She heard screams. People pointed in her direction.

She turned to where they pointed toward Terrence. She feared the worst, but her fears did not prepare her.

Terrence yelled. “Michael!”

Her son lay on the ground, blood creeping over his shirt. He stared at her with the same glazed look in his eyes that Papa had that day in the park, as though he tried to speak a thousand words before life faded from him.

She fell to his side. “Michael? Honey, stay awake. Don’t close your eyes.” She grabbed Terrence and shook him hard, as if shaking him hard would make it all go away. “What happened?” she pleaded.

Before he replied, a man yelled. “There!” Dozens of people ran in the direction of the gunfire.  Police swarmed, guns drawn. Sirens whined and whistles screamed from all directions.

Terrence searched the crowd. “I don’t know what happened. Somebody call an ambulance!” He stared at Sachi, tears in his eyes. “He’s been shot, Sach. I’m sorry. So sorry.”

Somewhere, a thousand voices began to sing in the distance.

My country ‘tis of thee . . . sweet land of liberty.

Posted in Current Events, Excerpt, Hate, History, The Red Kimono, Uncategorized, Video | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment