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J-TOWN BEAT: When the Shooter Is Nikkei

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By GWEN MURANAKA

Nathaniel Berhow joins a growing list of young men who have turned to guns and left carnage and horror in their wake.

Inevitably we ask, why did they do it? We comb through their Reddit or Instagram posts, ask if they were bullied or loners, if they were driven by racism or misogyny, or some other demon within. Usually a neighbor or classmate says the kid was quiet and “seemed nice.” Of course, the firearms are the common denominator.

It must be all the more terrifying for Japanese parents residing in the United States. Guns are so rare in Japan — and America’s toxic gun culture is one of the harder parts of our society to understand. How can Americans tolerate such daily violence? In Japan, a single incident of gun violence (usually committed by a member of the yakuza, since they’re the only people besides the police with access to guns) is enough to draw national headlines. Here that would barely be a blip on the local news.

Since the Nov. 14 attack, more than 20 people have died in California from gun violence.

During my time in Tokyo, I recall the headlines during the ’98 Nagano Olympics when biathletes were bringing their .22-caliber rifles and bullets for competition. Strict restrictions upset athletes who were unable to practice shooting. Local authorities made sure that each rifle was locked down, their serial numbers recorded, and bullets had to be registered.

Every single bullet.

When news spread that the shooter at Saugus High School was Japanese, there was a feeling of dread and nausea, that one of us could have perpetrated such horror. It is the worst possible way for a Nikkei to make the news.

For Japanese and Japanese Americans, Berhow could have been their son, grandson or nephew. A hapa kid, born to a white dad and Japanese mom, pretty much fits the description of many in our community. And so, there has been a level of sympathy in the JA community, particularly for his mother Mami Matsuura, who is now a member of a club no parent wants to join.

There were also signs of distress in the family including allegations of domestic violence, divorce and the sudden passing of Nathaniel’s father, Mark. None of it yields easy answers in the aftermath of such tragedy.

Sue Klebold, mother of Columbine shooter Dylan Klebold, wrote: “I wish I had known then what I know now: that it was possible for everything to seem fine with him when it was not, and that behaviors I mistook for a moody teenager were actually subtle signs of psychological deterioration.”

As a community we have rightfully praised the Issei pioneers who traveled from Japan so long ago. But there is another immigration story that is happening more recently.

Many of these new Issei pioneers are bright, talented women from Japan, drawn by freedoms and opportunities in America. Women like Mami Matsuura. The Shin Issei and Shin Nisei are the new Japanese American community, and organizations including The Rafu have to adapt to meet their needs. Organizations offering in-language services can help Shin Issei and Nisei cope with social isolation and offer an empathetic outlet for coping with cultural differences and finding vital social services.

When we held a Rafu roundtable discussion, UCLA anthropology professor Tritia Toyota said of this new generation: “There are so many challenges associated with the Shin Nisei, a generation that is multicultural and multiracial (and have) transnational fluidity because they have Shin Issei moms who are married to Americans.”

There is no hope if a society cannot protect its most vulnerable. Sadly, Japanese and Japanese Americans are not immune to the problems of gun violence in America.

 

Gwen Muranaka, senior editor of The Rafu Shimpo, can be contacted at [email protected] Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

 

 

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