The Seattle Globalist was a daily online publication that covered the connections between local and global issues in Seattle. The Emerald is keeping alive its legacy of highlighting our city’s diverse voices by regularly publishing and re-publishing stories aligned with the Globalist’s mission.
It’s not often a consul general of Japan is also a social media phenomenon, but Consul General of Japan in Seattle Hisao Inagaki has received quite a bit of attention for his personal Instagram account featuring paper cranes. Since moving to Seattle in 2020, he has folded one origami paper crane, or “orizuru,” every day to pray for everyone’s health and peace during the pandemic, and he posts a video of the cranes every day on Instagram.
On Feb. 1, “Meet Me at Higo: An Enduring Story of a Japanese American Family,” the traveling exhibit from the Wing Luke Museum, opened on Level 8 of The Seattle Public Library’s (SPL) Central Library location. The exhibit tells the story of a Japanese American family in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District before, during, and after World War II, allowing visitors to get a sense of the profound historical roots of the Japanese American community in Seattle.
‘Resisters’ Finds Lines of Solidarity Between Japanese American Incarceration and Other Movements Against Racism and Oppression
by Amanda Ong
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor during WW2, 112,000 Japanese Americans on the West Coast were forced into prison camps. Innocent civilians, elders, and children were uprooted, and many had their property seized. Many from Seattle’s vibrant Japanese American communities were imprisoned at Pullayup’s disingenuously named Camp Harmony and later taken by train to Camp Minidoka near Jerome, Idaho. They were forced to live there until 1945 — with the last camp closing in 1946 — and it wasn’t until 1988 that congress issued an apology. While this history has been much undershared, excluded from our history books and school curricula, it has played a critical role in Japanese American history and American history as a whole.
There are so many stories about Norm Mineta, 90, who passed away Tuesday, May 3. He was a soft-spoken gentleman who was a part of making U.S. history at multiple junctures. Mineta was “the first” many times over: the first Asian American mayor of a major city, San Jose, California, where he was born and raised. Twenty years ago, the San Jose Airport was named for him. He was the first Asian American cabinet secretary and first and only Democrat in the George W. Bush administration.
Though Michelle Kumata can make your eyes pop with her colors and imagery, if you don’t examine her pieces carefully, detect the nuances and Easter eggs, and cogitate upon all of them, you are bound to miss something profound.
In that way, the artist and her art are like holding a highly polished mirror to her Japanese American heritage. Hers is a community whose connective tissue is its experience with mass incarceration by its own government. The melding of Japanese customs and response to a very American-concocted collective trauma has resulted in a community whose definition evades clarity, even to its own members.
There are still a couple of weeks left to enjoy the fifth annual “Hai! Japantown,” a 20-day summer festival celebrating Seattle’s historic Nihonmachi or Japantown. The festival offers a unique and important opportunity to learn about and support the revival of what was once the West Coast’s second-largest Japanese American community.
“‘Hai! Japantown’ is important because it shows that the spirit of Japantown is still alive,” said Lei Ann Shiramizu, former co-owner of Momo, a cornerstone of Seattle’s Japantown, which just closed last September after 13 years. She has been involved in “Hai! Japantown” from the start (in fact she and her husband named it) and is helping manage social media and the calendar of events for this year’s festival.
“It’s like the Japanese saying, you know, ‘Fall down seven times, get up eight.’ Even during this very, very challenging year, the businesses have managed to stay alive. And not only that, they have continued to thrive because we have some of the small businesses taken over by the next generation … that has infused these businesses or these spaces with young energy and new ideas and it’s wonderful.”
The life-size metal sculptures of George and Gerard Tsutakawa — father and son — are solid mainstays gracing public parks and fountains across Seattle today. The sculptures are almost always curved, edges rounded. Rarely will you see sharp, angled corners or ridges in these designs. Continuity runs through each individual sculpture — and between the sculptors themselves. A new exhibit at the Wing Luke Museum, titled “Gerard Tsutakawa: Stories Shaped in Bronze” dives into the public art, inspiration, and processes of both father and son.
Born in 1910, George was Nisei, second generation Japanese American. He was never very interested in his studies, “preferring to practice his drawing and calligraphy,” writes his daughter Mayumi Tsutakawa. George received his B.A. from University of Washington (UW) in 1937 and volunteered for the United States Army during WWII, mostly teaching Japanese at a military intelligence school in Minneapolis. During WWII he also visited his relatives interned at the Lake Tahoe internment camps, where he met his future wife Ayame Kyotani.
Both husband and wife were artists in their own right: Kyotani a gifted practitioner of traditional Japanese dance and flower arrangement and George an architect, designer, and sculptor, among other things. After he completed his M.F.A., also at the UW, George took on faculty positions at the School of Architecture and later the School of Art. He would go on to teach for 37 years, make a home with his wife in Mount Baker, and raise four children surrounded by the rhythms and inspirations of his in-home studio. His artistic career would span 60 years, leaving footprints in Japan, Canada, and across the United States, making him a pillar of Seattle’s Asian American heritage.
The upcoming graphic novel We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration offers a new take on the history of World War II — one told through the resistance of three people. Revolving around the experiences of Jim Akutsu, Hiroshi Kashiwagi, and Mitsuye Endo, We Hereby Refuse weaves their acts of refusal into one overarching plot. A result of a collaboration between co-authors Frank Abe and Tamiko Nimura, illustrated by artists Ross Ishikawa and Matt Sasaki, the 160-page graphic novel is co-published by the Wing Luke Museum and Chin Music Press. The book is slated for release on May 18.
In telling Akutsu, Kashiwagi, and Endo’s stories, “We decided not to do it as three different chapters but as one timeline, one story arc that would interweave these three characters. The focus is not ‘These are three heroes of camp resistance.’ No. There’s an overarching narrative of the incarceration experience,” said Abe. “We call it the ‘story of camp as you’ve never seen it before.’”
“Daydreaming isn’t allowed in the fast lane. So Bob Shimabukuro has mostly lived life on side streets, taking a detour now and again to help other people along the way.”
That’s how former Seattle Times columnist Jerry Large captured the essence of Bob in 1994. To that I would add: Renaissance Man. In addition to being a writer and a consummate family man, Bob was also an artist, chef, community activist/leader, feminist, furniture designer/woodworker, Hawai‘i-style philosopher, and so much more.