Nisei Poet Invited to White House Celebration


Hiroshi Kashiwagi

WASHINGTON — President and Mrs. Obama will host a celebration of American poetry and prose Wednesday by welcoming accomplished poets, musicians and artists as well as students from across the country to the White House.

San Francisco poet and playwright Hiroshi Kashiwagi, 88, has been invited, according to his son, Soji Kashiwagi of Los Angeles’ Grateful Crane Ensemble.

The younger Kashiwagi said that Nina Kahori Fallenbaum of the Tule Lake Committee passed on some of the elder Kashiwagi’s poetry to a friend who is an aide at the White House. The friend gave Hiroshi and Sadako Kashiwagi and their son a private tour of the White House on Tuesday.

Soji Kashiwagi said that his father was not asked to read his poetry, but his parents will be able to meet Barack and Michelle Obama.

The evening’s lineup includes Elizabeth Alexander, Billy Collins, Common, Rita Dove, Kenneth Goldsmith, Alison Knowles, Aimee Mann and Jill Scott, who will read, sing and showcase the impact of poetry on American culture. The president will make opening remarks.

The event will be streamed live on at 7 p.m. ET.

Hiroshi Kashiwagi was scheduled to give a reading on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Sankofa Video, Books & Café, 2714 Georgia Ave. SW in Washington, D.C.

Born in Sacramento in 1922, Kashiwagi was imprisoned at Tule Lake after the outbreak of World War II. After refusing to answer a so-called “loyalty questionnaire” issued by the U.S. government to all Japanese American prisoners, he was branded a “no-no boy” and was coerced to renounce his U.S. citizenship. It was later restored after a legal battle.

Kashiwagi received his bachelor’s degree in Oriental languages at UCLA and his master’s in library science from UC Berkeley. He worked for several branches of the San Francisco Public Library and was an editor and interpreter for the Buddhist Churches of America. He and his wife, also a retired librarian, have three sons.

His memoir, “Swimming in the American,” was published when he was 82 and won an American Book Award. The title refers to the American River, which runs through Placer County. He has also published a book of his plays, “Shoe Box Plays,” and his poetry, “Ocean Beach.” His next book, “Loomis Fish Market,” is a collection of stories and essays.

His plays include “The Betrayed,” which deals with the divisions caused in the community by the loyalty questionnaire. It was recently performed in Torrance by the Grateful Crane Ensemble. He is also a regular speaker at the Tule Lake Pilgrimage.

As an actor, Kashiwagi has appeared in such films as “Hito Hata” (with Mako and Pat Morita), “Black Rain,” “Hot Summer Winds” and, most recently, Kerwin Berk’s “The Virtues of Corned Beef Hash.” His most notable work on stage was in Philip Kan Gotanda’s “The Wash,” in which he co-starred with the late Nobu McCarthy.

Reflecting on his father’s past battles with the government, Soji Kashiwagi commented, “No-no boy goes to Washington — unreal.”

Hiroshi Kashiwagi had a similar reaction, saying that he and his wife are “highly excited and baffled.”


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