INTO THE NEXT STAGE: Hapa Japan Festival Shines Light on Community’s Future

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By GEORGE TOSHIO JOHNSTON

It’s been more than two years since I wrote about documentary then in progress titled “Fall Down Seven Times, Get up Eight: The Japanese War Brides” (see the Jan. 26, 2015 column at http://tinyurl.com/gqajvwh).

A quick summation of that column for those reading this on actual newsprint, which doesn’t allow hyperlinking like a screen, there were three journalists named Kathryn Tolbert, Lucy Craft and Karen Kasmauski who were working on a documentary about their respective mothers, all of whom were native Japanese women who married U.S. servicemen stationed in Japan during the post-war/occupation era of the 1950s following the end of WWII.

The Japanese women in question were, according to a Washington Post article, the “sisters and daughters of the ferocious enemy that attacked Pearl Harbor.”

After Japan’s defeat, they met, fell in love with and married the Americans who came to Japan as uniformed members of the U.S. Armed Forces. For most, if not all of those couples, there was familial and societal (and in the case of the men, institutional) resistance on both sides, sometimes fierce, sometimes more subtle.

Nevertheless, tens of thousands of Japanese women married American servicemen, who upon returning to the United States scattered across the nation to wherever those men called home or wherever the men were stationed if still active duty. While each story was unique, it’s safe to say there were similarities in the situations that all those women faced: cultural misunderstandings and major disappointments, as well as triumphs and successes as new members of American society. And, as married couples tend to do, they produced offspring. Those blended people are now, for the most part, known by the Hawaiian-derived word “Hapa.”

From left: “Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight” filmmakers Karen Kasmauski, Lucy Craft and Kathryn Tolbert.

While the women were Japanese, the American men were white, black, Hispanic (probably even some Native Americans) and yes, Asian, as in the case of the Nisei from Hawaii and the mainland.

These women, just like the French, English, German and Italian women who also married American GIs after WWII, were known collectively in news reports and movie titles as “war brides,” though it’s a term not embraced by all to whom it applied.

Hiroko and Samuel Tolbert at Niagara Falls in 1952.

In the case of the Japanese “war brides,” however, race made those marriages stick out like the nail that needed to be hammered down (to allude to another Japanese proverb) more than, as an example, a white American GI who came back with a German wife, who might on the surface at least blend amongst other white folks.

In 2015, I wrote: “According to Tolbert, it’s ‘striking how little there is’ in terms of the historical record for war brides. As she put it, the group seems to have been ‘airbrushed’ out of Japanese American histories.”

I also wrote: “‘The fact that these women haven’t been written about is really unbelievable,’ Tolbert said. Tolbert also noted that, historically, there was a troubled history between the war brides and some extant Japanese Americans. The longer documentary will address this, she said. While she didn’t elaborate, she said they have already gotten some negative responses from Japanese Americans to their efforts.”

Emiko Kasmauski in 1952.

Now, a little more than two years after writing that, the longer version of “Fall Down Seven Times, Get up Eight: The Japanese War Brides” will be shown beginning at 3 p.m. in Little Tokyo at the Tateuchi Democracy Forum at the Japanese American National Museum, 100 N. Central Ave., on Thursday, Feb. 23, along with “Rising Sun, Rising Soul.”

Co-director Tolbert and producer Megumi Nishikura will be present, as will “Rising Sun, Rising Soul’s” producer Monique Yamaguchi and Velina Hasu Houston. “Rising Sun, Rising Soul,” incidentally, focuses on another overlooked aspect on the Japanese “war bride” phenomenon, namely that of “transnational juncture of Japanese and African American cultures embodied in the African-descent offspring of Japanese war brides.”

Atsuko Craft, pictured sometime in the 1950s.

These screenings, incidentally, are just one part of a much bigger event happening at the end of the month here in Los Angeles and it’s called the Hapa Japan Festival 2017.

Hapa Japan 2017’s driving force is Duncan Ryuken Williams, the director of the USC Ito Center and associate professor of religion and East Asian languages and cultures, also at the University of Southern California.

According to the event’s organizer and driving force, Hapa Japan 2017 is the third such event he’s helped to coordinate, with the first having happened in 2011 in the San Francisco Bay Area and the second in 2013 here in Los Angeles.

This event runs five days (Feb. 22-26) and is a mixture of academic and cultural offerings at both the Japanese American National Museum and the USC campus. There are so many things happening that you’d be best served to visit http://hapajapan.com/hapa-fest-2017 to see what is being offered.

Worth noting is that the academic part of the festival takes place during Days 3, 4 and 5 (Friday, Feb. 24-Sunday, Feb. 26) and is called the Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference. Part of the cultural aspect takes place on Saturday, Feb. 25, and that is the Hapa Japan Concert featuring Kina Grannis, Marié Digby, Kris Roche and Andy Suzuki & the Method.

Why, you may be wondering, is this Hapa Japan Festival of interest to the Rafu Shimpo audience? According to Williams, who happens to be a Japanese national of British and Japanese heritage, the main reason is that if the Japanese American community continues on its current trajectory, by 2030 the majority of Japanese Americans will be of some sort of mixed heritage. Japanese American Hapas, in other words.

Even in Japan, international marriages overall are on the rise, and that includes those unions that aren’t between Japanese and other Asian nationalities.Williams noted, for instance, when Japan made its bid for the 2020 Olympic Games, representing Japan for that event were Olympian Koji Murofushi, TV personality Christel Takigawa and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Abe was the only representative of Japan who wasn’t Hapa. Also, in the last couple of years, there were a pair of beauty contestant winners representing Japan who were, respectively, black and Japanese, then Indian and Japanese.

Williams noted that among Issei who decided to stay in America before the picture bride phenomenon occurred, many of those Japanese men who married women in America couldn’t and didn’t marry Japanese women. They married women who were white, Latina, Filipina, etc. In other words, the mixed Japanese phenomenon is not new — only the increase in numbers is new.

But it’s one thing in Japan to be Hapa, where there are just under 130 million people (and dropping), to be a part of the population. Here in the U.S., where there are less than 2 million people of Japanese ancestry, the Hapa phenomenon appears to be, to reference the character of Noah Cross in “Chinatown,” “The future, Mrs. Gittes! The future.”

If that’s the future, then, organizations, institutions, attitudes and businesses like The Rafu Shimpo do need to adjust. I guess I’m living proof of that already!

Society of Seven Dept.: OK, so let’s say you’re not going to attend the last session of the Hapa Japan 2017 Festival and you’re not interested in staying home to watch the Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 26. Here’s an option: Attend the 50th anniversary concert of the Society of Seven at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center. (Now if you look at a recent photo, your eyes aren’t deceiving you — there are actually eight people in the photo. The woman in the group is vocalist Lley Bella.)

“America’s most enduring show group” has been a favorite of Sansei for years, and according to promoter Gerald Ishibashi, the majority of the tickets sold thus far have been to Sansei. But if you’re unfamiliar with the Society of Seven, they offer a “unique blend of music, comedy, impressions and elaborate costumes,” and give a “truly unforgettable entertainment experience.” (That already sounds better than the Oscars.)

Here’s something else: Ishibashi Entertainment is a supporter of the National Japanese American Veterans Memorial Court near the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Little Tokyo. In other words, you support a good cause when you have a good time.

Furthermore, if you’re interested in saving a little okané, when you call (800) 316-8559 or visit www.purplepass.com/ishibashi to buy tickets, if you use the promo code “rafu,” you get a 10% discount.

Sound like a deal? Heck yeah! 

Unfinished Business Dept.: Last time out I wrote about the movie screenings I helped curate at Cal State University, Dominguez Hills and its program on the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066. I should have given more ink to one of the documentaries screened, “MIS: Human Secret Weapon.” It was directed by Junichi Suzuki and the rights holder, UTB, via Toru Mihara, was kind enough to allow us to screen it. It can be purchased at the Japanese American National Museum’s gift shop if you’re interested in watching it.

Until next time, keep your eyes and ears open.

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George Toshio Johnston has written this column since 1992 and can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect policies of this newspaper or any organization or business. Copyright © 2017 by George T. Johnston. All rights reserved.

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