Human Contact

Sunday, while eating breakfast at the Hampton Inn in Rogers, Arkansas, I happened to see an interview CBS’s Bob Schieffer conducted with Camden, NJ Police Chief, J. Scott Thomson.


In a nutshell, Thomson talked about how the Camden city police force had been disbanded and a new county-run police force had been established in a city that was “ranked as the most dangerous city of its size” and is “arguably one of the nation’s most challenged cities in terms of crime, poverty and social inequities.”

Thomson stated, “In less than twenty-four months, we have streets that were once controlled by criminals and drug dealers now being occupied by children riding their bicycles and families enjoying their front porch steps.”

This was accomplished without militarization or polarization by maintaining a philosophy of building community first. According to Thomson, “Cops should act as guardians, not as warriors.”

Schieffer asked, “If you could pick out the one thing that has worked, what would that be?”

Thomson replied, “Human contact. Officers walking the beat…nothing builds trust like human contact.” He went on to say, “We cannot have our only interaction with the public be during moments of crisis.”

It’s true. If we interact only during moments of crisis, our emotions are too riled to have a productive discussion.

In my opinion, social media–the antithesis of human contact–is part of the problem, and we should look at it with a discerning eye. The ease of anonymity draws negative, inciting commentary. People don’t need to be anonymous to say something positive, to move the conversation forward, so we don’t see as much useful commentary.

Then there’s the news media. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know I admit to being a news junkie. However, the media can inflame a situation by the stories on which it focuses. We see far more exposure of violent protests, more angry debates by those on both “sides,” than we see possible solutions, like the story of Camden.

So we must read and listen with discernment, not project our feelings about 140 characters, a few words, a few photos, to the entire issue. Social and news media provide but a microcosm, and often, only a negative one.

I’d like to see a program like CNN’s Crossfire–where Democrats and Republicans talk about political issues–but with a select multi-cultural panel talking about racial issues and possible ideas to bring about more equality. The key to such a program would be keeping the conversation respectful, if not calm. Otherwise it defeats the purpose of inspiring and promoting open dialogue. Unfortunately, it’s the arguing and vitriol of a program like Crossfire that seems to draw the audience.

It’s easy to get sucked into the negativity, the “gotcha” and “score another for our team” moments. Something about it seems to invigorate us–I admit to falling for it myself. In the past, I’ve been sucked into it politically. But in the long run, it’s a detriment to finding solutions, which is harder work and unfortunately, doesn’t always provide the stimulation or immediate gratification of “gotcha.”

But which will get us to the goal faster–talking about solutions or “gotcha?”

Make human contact. Sure, it’s scary and it’s risky. That’s why we avoid it. But it’s the only way we’ll ever be rid of the stereotypes and prejudices that cause so much tension today.

For more information on Camden:

“Camden Turns Around With New Police Force” – New York Times

Slide Show – New York Times


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Black and White Points of View

Most writers are familiar with the concept of POINT OF VIEW and how dramatically different a scene can be when experienced through different characters’ eyes. Now, in the real life story of Ferguson, point of view has come to life.

Over the past few months, I’ve started and stopped this blog post at least four times, trying to organize my thoughts about the events of Ferguson. Up to now, those thoughts have been too frenetic. Also, I admit to a little fear about offending people.

So, I let the post sit, and almost forgot about it as I thought everything would settle down and the events of Ferguson would fade into the backs of our minds, as it did with Trayvon Martin.

But it hasn’t gone away. In fact, reaction from people of all races has spread across the nation, around the world.

Yesterday morning, I caught the tail end of a conversation with Nicholas Kristof on CNN. He said something that reminded me of what I’d been trying to write in this post when Michael Brown was first shot. I’ll paraphrase:

White people are raised to believe that police are good, that they are there to help. Black people are raised to distrust and fear police.

This was the very premise of what I first began to write after reading comments on Facebook written by my friends Donna and Michele, and it revolves around POINT OF VIEW.

Hearing Kristof speak drew me to Google to find more information about what he’d said. I found the following New York Times articles that inspired me to finally finish this post:

These articles are some of the most thought-provoking I’ve read, though the titles may be a little off-putting to the very people who should read them. I think “not getting it” falls on both sides of the fence, and therein lies the problem:

We don’t see the problem of racism through each other’s eyes.

I’m both fascinated and saddened by our lack of empathy for “the other side,” not only with issues of racism, but also with politics, religion, money–just about anything upon which we may disagree.

Our inability to see through another’s eyes is one of the themes of my historical fiction, The Red Kimono. It’s why I wrote the “inciting incident”–Papa getting beaten up in the park–in the point of view of both Terrence and Sachi. They each saw the events that took place in the park completely differently.

So, I’d like to show you the point of view of “the other side”–two black mothers who are friends of mine. I grew up living across the street from Donna. Her little sister, Nina, was the inspiration for my character, Jubie. Michele is one of my Facebook friends. I’m grateful for their (brave) honesty in opening a dialogue about racism and prejudice. Maybe if we made a habit of talking about it, rather than only talking about it when our emotions run hot and high over something bad that happened, we might close the gap of misunderstanding.

Donna and Michele also helped me with a previous blog post titled, The Help, a Multicultural Perspective. In a time when so many of us are too easily offended and so many of us (including me) are afraid to offend, I’m grateful for people like Donna and Michele and their social media “followers” who open up and welcome dialogue about race and prejudice. It helps us to see through another’s eyes, and I believe that’s the only way we’ll ever move beyond the issues of racism.

Here’s what Michele said on Facebook shortly after Michael Brown was shot:

Several thoughts ran through my mind but the biggest one was: I wonder if she knows about ‘THE TALK’… you know, the talk that all parents of black boys have to give: how not to get shot and killed by the police. I wonder if she understands the nuances he will face as a black male in the U.S. and how will they prepare him for how differently he will notice he’s treated versus how his own parents, who are white, are treated. I wonder… those just were thoughts that went through my mind. And I’m saddened that i even had those thoughts to begin with. RACISM is REAL… and it is POISON.

Here’s what Donna said:

I wrote this after seeing a post of a picture of a mother with her young son, about 3-4 years old explaining to him to raise his hands if encountered by the police. It reminded me of these real life talks I’ve had with my son beginning at the age of 3 when he asked what a “nigget” was. He had learned it from a fair head friend in preschool. I didn’t give him an answer, rather changed the subject after telling him it was a bad word and not to use it anymore.

In middle school at 12, I warned him to always carry his military dependent ID, cellphone, at least a dollar and my business card in his pocket.

In high school at 16, I told him not to have more than one passenger in the car with him at one time and always check the car periodically for anything that he could not identify as his.

When he went away your college, I fretted many a night, reminded him of his upbringing, encouraged him to find a church, warned him of the dangers associated with underage drinking and premarital sex, but most of all called some nights to simply pray with him.

A few nights ago, I had to remind my now 26 year old Corporate driven son who has NEVER been in ANY trouble, earned a Civil Engineering Master’s Degree by the time he was 23, but after working his 9-5 may wear a hoodie, or gym shorts , and slippers to be polite, speech firmly but politely, and not to struggle even if he feels wrongfully accused and singled out. Rather to go peacefully, to memorize every detail for a record statement because I’d rather see him alive than ever lying in the middle of the street.

Hard as it is to hold these conversations. They are absolutely a must today in 2014 as it was in 1814 and 1914.

Until I read these Facebook posts, I don’t think I’d ever really thought about the difference in what white children and black children are taught about the police. I have very clear memories of my parents telling me that the police were “good guys,” that they were there to help.

It’s clear in Donna’s and Michele’s posts that black children are raised with a very different view of police, not only based on our country’s past history with racism, but also on what is happening today, as referenced in Kristof’s article:

But there is a pattern: a ProPublica investigation found that young black men are shot dead by police at 21 times the rate of young white men.

So now imagine how what we were brought up with, something that is at our very core–what we were taught about the police–would affect how we see what happened in Ferguson.

I, like Nicholas Kristof, have no idea what really happened there. Only the eye witnesses know what happened, and even their recollections are “tainted” by what they were taught about the police.

My core belief as I listened to the events that occurred the day of the shooting was that there was no way Wilson–any cop–would have shot an unarmed black teenager without good cause.

It seems from what I’ve seen and heard on the news and on social media that most people in the black community believe that once again, a cop shot a young black man for no good reason.

No matter the story, the evidence, the proof, each of us is likely to keep believing what we initially believed and those thoughts are only strengthened by what our peers, our “team,” our “side” believes. In fact, I’ve seen many instances of people being chastised, criticized, even vilified for having different beliefs from their “side.”

Here’s my point of view:

  • Just because we’ve come a long way with race relations in this country, doesn’t mean we don’t still have a way to go. It will never be resolved if we don’t start talking rationally and respectfully about it.
  • I believe, and evidence shows, that police brutality occurs more frequently with blacks than with whites. I was especially struck by two recent stories: the first of a 12-year old black boy who was shot to death while holding a toy gun, the second of a black man who died after being held in a choke-hold for selling cigarettes on a corner in New York. (Breaking News: The grand jury in New York decided against indicting the cop who put Eric Garner in a choke hold. Personally, I was surprised with this decision, considering the choke hold had apparently been banned due to the possibility of death.)
  • The protests and riots began in Ferguson before anyone involved even looked at the grand jury results, indicating that some people don’t care about the truth, only their opinions of what happened. This Washington Post article provides an easy-to-understand breakdown of the forensic evidence and how it does or does not match up with witness testimony.
  • The violence, looting and threats against Darren Wilson after the grand jury decision did absolutely no good in resolving race relation problems, in fact, it heightened the tension and even worse, confirmed some people’s opinions. We are not a vigilante nation.
  • I hope the peaceful protests will begin to focus more on the problems we have with our perceptions of race and about how they affect the way we view things and the way we behave, rather than on the Michael Brown shooting. Sadly, his parents have lost their son, but the problem is bigger than what happened in Ferguson. Yet it’s what happened in Ferguson that keeps our emotions running too high to be rational and respectful.
  • I think the media (both news and social media) fans the flames of our emotions. And we keep watching and reading, because we apparently enjoy having our emotions flare up. One example happened just today with CNN’s Brook Baldwin’s interview with Charles Barkley. In her lead in to the interview, she said, “…Charles Barkley’s explosive comments.” I watched the interview, and Charles Barkley was very calm and unemotional. Hardly explosive. The fact that he may say some things that people disagree with should not be considered “explosive.” As for social media, it’s a “safe” place for people to express their opinions, sometimes in 140 characters or less, often saying things they would not say to someone’s face.
  • I believe some whites will bristle at what Nicholas Kristof has to say in the articles referenced above, and I believe some blacks will bristle at what Charles Barkley has said about blacks. In my opinion, both men speak the truth. But whether you agree or not, it’s their opinion, and everybody is entitled to their own opinion.
  • People get offended way too easily these days.

And that leads to a few conclusions:

  1. Many people seem to believe we all have to think the same way. They believe that if someone’s opinion is different, they’re wrong.
  2. We’re losing our ability to empathize–to see things through another’s eyes.
  3. We look at a tiny microcosm of a group and project it to the whole group. Not all cops are bad. Not all black people are criminals. Not all white people are racist.


In my opinion, the solution begins with dialogue, and for dialogue to be effective, we must be unafraid, yet respectful.

Instead of fighting about our differences, why can’t we be grateful for our differences?

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A Humbling Easter Sunday

Jan Morrill:

Mustang Koji posted this story of love, honor and commitment in commemoration of Veteran’s Day. Beautiful and humbling.

Originally posted on Masako and Spam Musubi:

5th Marines

Easter Sunday turned out to be a tough day – emotionally for me, at least.

But it was even tougher for a 90 year old widow of the Greatest Generation.


Marge Johnson.

We went to visit her husband’s grave site…

Mr. Doreston “Johnny” Johnson.  Sergeant, United States Marine Corps.  World War II.


As I was cutting down trees and chipping the cuttings in the backyard this past Good Friday, Marge’s caretaker drove Marge up to see me.  What a pleasant surprise – besides, it gave me a great excuse to stop working.

After chatting, she brought up her husband.  It had been a year since his funeral with full military honors and that she hadn’t been back to see him.

She didn’t need to say anything more.

We agreed I would take her to see him two days later – Easter Sunday.


Mostly, I will let…

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Beautiful Monsters

Jan Morrill:

What is the value of “saving face” if that face is only a mask?

Originally posted on Jan Morrill Writes:

Sometimes, a convergence of “hints” whacks me across the face, wakes me up and tells me it’s time to do something. Here’s what smacked me this time:

220px-F_Scott_Fitzgerald_19211)  I read an article in The Atlantic about F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s thoughts on writing, titled “Nothing Any Good Isn’t Hard.” In it, he says:

But the amateur can only realize his ability to transfer his emotions to another person by some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see.

That, anyhow, is the price of admission. Whether you are prepared to pay it or, whether it coincides or conflicts with your attitude on what is ‘nice’ is something for you to decide. But literature, even light literature, will accept nothing less from the neophyte. It is one of those professions that wants the ‘works.’…

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Greater Kansas City Japan Festival


I’m excited to head north to Kansas City this weekend for the Greater Kansas City Japan Festival. The festival is organized by a group of friendly, dedicated people and I look forward to seeing them again.

This will be the second year I’ve had the opportunity to attend the festival to talk about my book, The Red Kimono and the history of the Japanese American internment.

This year, I will be giving an additional workshop on writing haiku, a poetry form I enjoy writing to describe life, as I did in my book, Life: Haiku by Haiku. The following slide from my presentation spotlights a few haiku from one of the masters:

basho haiku

The workshop will also have a haiku exercise–my favorite part, because I get to hear the magical seventeen-syllable stories of the attendees.

This year, in conjunction with the workshop, the festival sponsored a haiku contest. We had over 200 entries in the adult and children categories, and the finalists are now up on the website, where anyone can cast a vote. If you’d like to read the haiku finalists and vote, click HERE. This is the last day to vote!

The festival will be at the Johnson County Community College:

12345 College Blvd
Overland Park, KS 66210-1299

My presentations will be:

2:00 – Wearing the Red Kimono, Recital Hall
4:00 – Haiku Presentation, Hudson Auditorium

Click HERE for a full schedule of events.

And of course, I’ll be selling and signing books from 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. So, if you’re in the Kansas City area, come experience a little Japanese culture and . . .

stop by to see me, too!

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Bullying: An Infectious Disease

bully (2)

October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month and I have a true story to tell.

I have been bullied, and I believe as a result, I have also been a bully. My siblings and many of my friends know that as the oldest of five children, I often bullied my “underling” siblings. But though it’s no excuse for bullying, I blame it on being too young and immature to carry some of the responsibilities I had as a child. Still, it’s something I regret to this day.

The bullying story that none but a few know, however, is a memory that shames me, even fifty years later.

I think I was maybe six or seven years old, perhaps even younger. I don’t want to say who bullied me, that’s not important. But I remember being made to stand still while I was criticized and chastised for how I looked–sloppy, unkempt, dirty. In particular, I was criticized for my dirty knees. I’m not surprised my knees stood out as “dirty,” knobby as they are. :)

I was hurt and scared at the same time. I wanted to leave that room, to hide from my hypercritic.

Who knows how long it took me to morph from bullied to bully-er, but I’m sure it didn’t take long. Sometime later, I took a walk around the block, and I came upon a red-headed girl, a little younger than I and began to yell at her about how she looked. In particular, I criticized her dirty knees. I remember feeling badly about it, even as I got uglier and uglier with my criticism. Yet, I couldn’t stop.

I don’t recall that I ever saw this little girl again. I’m sure she ran and hid any time I approached. I do wish I could apologize to her, even fifty years later.

So, here’s my first thought on bullying:

Bullying is like an infectious disease. When a person is bullied, he has been “infected,” and the chances are good the “germ” will spread through his contact with others.

I see varying degrees of bullying almost every day on the news, social media and even in real life. Each time, I think about what’s behind it. Here are a couple of other thoughts I’ve had:

  • Social media is an incubator. It’s made bullying covert–easier and safer. A bully can remain anonymous. But perhaps even worse, sometimes the bullying may not be intentional. I’ve seen instances where snarky, sarcastic comments are taken personally and the receiver feels bullied. Sadly, this often leads to an escalation of emotions and shuts down communication.
  • We’re losing our ability to empathize, to put ourselves in another’s shoes. What is behind someone’s bullying? How does bullying make someone feel, whether it’s in jest or not? Again, much of the blame goes to social media, where we comment without the benefit of knowing a person, without the benefit of seeing their physical response to our comments–a look in their eyes, a gasp, a wince, a turning away.

Bullying impacted me enough that I included several instances in The Red Kimono. In the following excerpt, Pearl Harbor has been attacked, and Sachi reflects on being bullied:

The school yard was crowded with kids waiting for the bell to ring. Sachi hesitated to get out of the car.

They will all stare at me.

That was just one of the things she hated about fourth grade. She didn’t like homework either. Or grumpy Mrs. Nelson. And she especially didn’t like the kids who called her slant-eyes.

One day at lunch, a boy in her class had moved to another table, all because she sat next to him. Snickers and whispers had surrounded her like moths around a porch light. She left her tray on the table and ran out of the cafeteria. But those moths flitted and batted around her all the way out.

I would love to hear your stories. Have you ever been bullied? Have you ever been a bully? Were the two related?

IThe Red Kimonon recognition of Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, anyone who leaves a comment (hope you’ll share a story!) will be entered into a drawing for an autographed copy of The Red Kimono. Drawing will be held November 1. (NOTE: If the winner lives outside of the contiguous United States, I will send a gift certificate for a Kindle version of The Red Kimono.)

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Today, while watching CNN, I was reminded once again about how history repeats itself, though not always in obvious ways.

I learned about these two hashtags:

I learned about them while listening to a discussion between CNN anchor, Carol Costello and Bobby Ghosh (Managing Editor of the business news website, Quartz). In the discussion, they mentioned President Obama’s reference to the movement #NotInMyName at yesterday’s speech to the United Nations.

According to the Huffington Post:

Led by East London-based charity Active Change Foundation, #NotInMyName gives a voice to young Muslims in the UK who have come together against the hate and violence espoused by the terror group, [ISIS].

Upon hearing about this hashtag, I clicked on the Twitter app on my iPhone and searched for #NotInMyName. “Bravo” flashed before me as I read some of the texts:



But that wasn’t the end of the discussion. Mr. Ghosh followed up by talking about the second hashtag I learned about today: #MuslimApologies.

The Washington Post  defines the hashtag as:

#MuslimApologies represents another reaction: Frustration over the assumption of collective responsibility.

#MuslimApologies is a generally sarcastic and humorous attempt by some Muslims to express their frustration.


ma2 (2)

This isn’t the first time attitudes toward the Muslim community have reminded me of attitudes many held about people of Japanese descent (more than 60% of whom were Americans) after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Here are a couple of similarities as I see them:

  1. As with the young Muslims who are using the hashtag #NotInMyName to disassociate themselves from ISIS, the Japanese living in America did not want to be associated with and thought of in the same light as the Japanese who attacked Pearl Harbor. Though they, of course, didn’t have the power of social media to distance themselves, some hung signs outside of their businesses and homes that declared they were American. And in interview after interview I found in my research for The Red Kimono, many former internees talk about how they did not resist going to the camps to prove they were loyal Americans.
  2. Mr. Gosh talked about the frustration of many Muslims about the attitude many hold that moderate Muslims do not speak up more against radical Islamists. Through my research, I learned that many Japanese held the same frustrations. There was little they could do to prove their loyalty and that they were no threat.



History repeats itself. That’s why we should remember it. I’ll admit, even with the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II being a part of my own family history–my mother was an internee–and even with all of the research I did to write The Red Kimono, I still sometimes find myself sliding into thinking about a group of people as all being the same as a radical relative few.

Sometimes the very media from which I learned about these hashtags can contribute to these attitudes.

But if we remember our lessons of the past, perhaps we’ll think twice before such attitudes become cemented into who we are.


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How Will You Celebrate #PeaceDay?

red water lily (2)

Today, September 21, is the International Day of Peace. I’ve seen very little on the news or social media about the day, a curious thing, considering the condition of the world today.



Here’s the definition on the United Nations website:

Each year the International Day of Peace is observed around the world on 21 September. The General Assembly has declared this as a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples.


One of my favorite hymns is “Let There Be Peace on Earth:”

Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth
The peace that was meant to be.
With God as our father
Brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother
In perfect harmony.

Let peace begin with me
Let this be the moment now.
With every step I take
Let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment
And live each moment
With peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth,
And let it begin with me.

“And let it begin with me.”  In my opinion, those are the most important words.

As I thought about the day, I brainstormed about how peace might begin with me. Here’s my list so far:

  • Accept and appreciate our differences instead of fearing them.
  • Practice compassion.
  • Learn to be more empathetic.
  • Strive not to offend.
  • Strive not to be offended.
  • Focus on the positive.
  • Don’t be drawn into the negativity social media often feeds.
  • Let go.

Today, as I continue to pack and prepare to move, I’ll be singing “let it begin with me.” Good thing nobody can hear. :)

How will you celebrate the day? What are your ideas on ways to promote peace?

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#TGIF On a Positive Note: True #BFF

Most news stories leave the bitter taste of “What’s this world coming to” in my mouth. But this story of friendship, kindness, courage and compassion gives me hope.

After “mean girls” play a joke on Lilly Skinner, telling her she’s been nominated for homecoming queen, her two BFFs, Anahi Alvarez and Naomi Martinez, promise to pass the crown to Lilly should either of them win.

Lilly, unaware of her friends’ promise, showed grace through the bullying, remembering what her mother told her: “Don’t judge by the outside. It’s what’s in the heart that counts.”

Bravo to Anahi and Naomi. Two beautiful souls to give us hope.

Read the full story HERE.

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Chicago! Chicago!

I am honored to be invited by the Japanese American Historical Society of Chicago to give a workshop on writing family history on Thursday, August 28, starting at 12:00 p.m.

CJAS Workshop


And thank you very much to the Japan America Society of Chicago for their invitation to do a presentation and book signing for The Red Kimono, same date, same place, starting at 6:00 p.m.

CJAS Book signing

Posted in Japanese Culture, The Red Kimono | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments