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It was a rainy November day in 1978. That day, over 2,000 people gathered at the Puyallup Fairgrounds to commemorate President Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066, the order which effectively authorized the removal of 120,000 Japanese Americans from the West Coast. It was the very first Japanese American Day of Remembrance, an occasion which has now spread all over the country at various events for several decades.
Some thirty years later, Days of Remembrance are still happening, and the Seattle area naturally carries its own slate of events to mark the occasion. This year is especially important because it’s the 70th anniversary of the order’s signing. Incarceration and its effects linger through the Japanese American community to this day, and many argue that it still carries relevance for every American citizen. Writer Will Kaku of Discover Nikkei, playwright Soji Kashiwagi, and the Densho Project’s Executive Director Tom Ikeda make strong cases for disturbing parallels to contemporary American society, most notably the signing of the National Defense Authorization Act. This year’s Day of Remembrance, then, provides a crucial opportunity to reflect, to investigate, and to take action.
- The Wing Luke Museum is also hosting a free film series to commemorate the EO9066 signing, on Saturday the 18th at 1PM. A DVD release event of the documentary Conscience and the Constitution begins the day, followed by With Honors Denied and concluding with Transcending: The Wat Misaka Story.
- The Seattle Asian Art Museum is concluding its exhibit of two Japanese American wartime sign painters,Kamekichi Tokita and Kenjiro Nomura.
A photo exhibit by Teresa Tamura also accompanies South Seattle Community College’s commemoration events. Earlier this week, Nisei author Mary Matsuda Gruenewald discussed her memoir, Looking Like The Enemy.
- Finally, the largest area Day of Remembrance event is sponsored by the Minidoka Pilgrimage committee and the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of the Northwest (JCCCNW), as a fundraising event for the Pilgrimage. If you’ve never been to a taiko concert, you should choose this one: the 2012 Day of Remembrance Taiko Festival on Sunday, February 18th, from 1-5PM AT Seattle University ($20/ticket). The event includes an impressive array of taiko groups, as well as keynote speaker and community member Yosh Nakagawa. Scheduled to perform are Inochi Taiko, Kaze Daiko, Ringtaro Tateishi School of Taiko, Northwest Taiko, Seattle Kokon Taiko, One World Taiko, and Okinawan Taiko. “Ideas have a way of disappearing when no one talks about them, so we always need to keep this in the forefront,” says Ann Lindwall, one of the event organizers . “Japanese Americans civil liberties were violated 70 years ago and we can’t ever let that happen again, to anyone.”
The taiko festival at Seattle University has special resonance for me. I know something about what it takes to make a taiko drum sound, and resound. For a little while in college, I took taiko lessons from the San Francisco Taiko Dojo. Most of the time, due to the class size, we practiced on car tires, attached to rows of folding chairs. But eventually we’d rotate up to the taiko drums. One night the dojo master Seiichi Tanaka was there to watch practice. When it was my turn to hit the taiko, the sound was a sad little thunk. Thunk. I’ll never forget him bellowing at me, “Go! Go! Harder! As hard as you can!” Finally, I closed my eyes and hit that drum head with all the frustration and angst and exhaustion I had that night. The drum responded with a satisfying, “DOHN-DOHN.” Master Tanaka smiled, and laughed, and patted me on the back.
I don’t think my father or any of my Nikkei relatives (who were incarcerated during World War II) had taken taiko lessons, but they had taught me some of what I needed already. It takes a great deal of strength, and insistent will, and the body’s memory of both, to play the taiko. It takes that kind of strength and will in order to keep a memory—especially a painful memory—alive.