‘Hidden Legacy’ and ‘Take the JA Train’ in San Jose Japantown

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SAN JOSE — The Japanese American Museum of San Jose will present “Hidden Legacy” + “Take the JA Train” on Saturday, March 21, at 5 p.m. at Wesley United Methodist Church, 566 N. Fifth St. (across the street from the museum) in San Jose Japantown.

JAMsj Public Programs, Contemporary Asian Theater Scene (CATS), and the Wesley Jazz Ensemble are joining forces to bring you a unique fundraiser exploring the wartime history of traditional Japanese performance arts. This fundraiser will feature a screening of the documentary, “Hidden Legacy: Japanese Traditional Performing Arts in the World War II Internment Camps,” and a Q&A session with the filmmaker Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto-Wong and dancer Reiko Iwanaga.

Guests will also be treated to a musical journey, from camp to contemporary jazz, by the Wesley Jazz Ensemble. Robert Handa of NBC Bay Area will be the emcee.

“Hidden Legacy” uses historical footage and interviews from interned artists to tell the story of how traditional Japanese performance arts were maintained during World War II. This film features 30 artists from music, dance, and drama who were interned in the concentration camps at Tule Lake, Manzanar, Amache/Granada (Colorado), Rohwer (Arkansas), Gila River (Arizona), and Topaz (Utah).

Shirley Muramoto-Wong performing with the Chidori Band at the San Jose Obon in 2013. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

Shirley Muramoto-Wong performing with the Chidori Band at the San Jose Obon in 2013. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

Very little is known of the existence of traditional Japanese performance arts in the camps. Japanese Americans, imprisoned behind barbed wire, continued the music and dance traditions they loved. By doing so, they helped others learn and enjoy these arts, while drawing their attention away from their surroundings and instilling pride and self-esteem. Their efforts are the reason Japanese cultural arts are alive in the Japanese American community today.

Muramoto-Wong has been a koto performer for more than 50 years and a koto teacher for more than 35 years. She has produced live presentations in San Francisco and Los Angeles dealing with the subject of Japanese traditional arts in the concentration camps. Her interest in this subject stems from the fact that her mother learned to play the koto at the camps in Topaz and Tule Lake.

She is a founding member of the world jazz group Murasaki Ensemble, which combines koto with traditional jazz instruments, such as guitar, bass, and flute, with rhythms from the Middle East, as well from Latin and Western cultures. She has taught hundreds of students, in classes and privately, at UC Berkeley, and at public elementary and middle schools in the Bay Area. Her koto studio is located in Oakland.

Handa is a general assignment reporter for NBC Bay Area News at 5, 6 and 11 p.m. He joined NBC Bay Area in June 2014, returning to the station where he began his career more than three decades ago. Before that, Handa was KTVU’s South Bay reporter for the last 16 years.

A South Bay native, he attended DeAnza College and won a journalism contest for an internship at KNTV Channel 11. That internship eventually turned into a part-time job while he attended San Jose State University. Later he became the station’s first Asian American reporter, joining a small group of other Bay Area television reporters who had earned the same distinction. In addition to several national journalist awards, Handa has received several Emmys, including the award for outstanding achievement in investigative reporting, and an Associated Press award for best documentary.

The Wesley Jazz Ensemble has become quite prominent in the Bay Area, performing on a wide range of stages, including those of Sake San Jose, Nikkei Matsuri, and various community centers. The band has grown over the years from its start in 1996 with Troop 201, known then as the Wesley Boy Scout Band. Now consisting of seven horns, a full rhythm section (five players), and five vocalists, the band performs a variety of songs, including the big band hits of the swing era, jazz, blues, Dixieland, Latin, rock and roll, J-pop hits, Motown, and today’s pop songs.

Under the direction of founder Wayne Adachi, the ensemble was awarded a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition signed by Rep. Mike Honda at the San Jose JACL’s awards dinner. The award was given in October 2011 for the band’s musical performances for various events for churches, senior citizen groups and community organizations in the South Bay.

Cost: $20 donation ($15 for seniors) if purchased in advance from Nikkei Traditions, JAMsj, or CATS; $25 donation ($20 for seniors) if bought at the door. For more information, contact [email protected]

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