Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sayonara Sensei

To the surprise and shock of many, the Reverend Seicho Asahi Sensei has resigned as the head of the Los Angeles Koyasan Betsuin in Little Tokyo. Having officiated since 2007, he has led every Goma Fire Ritual and many a service to the Japanese-American community here since his arrival from the Northern California Koyasan in Sacramento California. During this time he has provided counseling, classes, and taught Taiko Drumming. But now he will be moving forward. Citing reasons of both health concerns and the growing need to establish a training center to produce continuing generations of Koyasan-Shingon priesthood, he found this to be the right time to make this move. Despite the surrounding controversy over his tenure and his sudden resignation we believe he is doing the right thing. Of course we are not happy to see him leave but the descision is his. During his latest address he cited his initial mission to spread Esoteric Buddhism when he first arrived here from Japan. Similar to what the Zen Temples had faced years earlier he saw this initial mission as important as now then when he first arrived here. 

Today there are fewer people entering the priesthood and like many other religions in the twenty-first century this is a problem that must be addressed in order to continue on these traditions that have been a part of the Japanese-American Community. Considering the daunting immigration issues with priests from Japan it makes perfect sense to establish a place where residing American priests-in-training can be taught here rather than deal with the complexities of obtaining visas, permits, and other logistical problems. Asahi Sensei has been a friend to us and a dear supporter of our efforts. We at American Mishima will miss him dearly and wish him well on his new endeavors. がんばって ください!


Friday, May 13, 2011

硫黄島 Doing the Right Thing: Returning War Souveniers to Bring Closure

It has been over Sixty-Six years since the last Bonzai charge took place thus ending the tragic battle for Iwo Jima now called Iwo To. Since that time there have been countless books, films, and war recollections by the brave men who fought on both sides. But one story had not been told in all this time. It is the story of what became of all the captured items ranging from battle flags, swords, and personal effects of the men who died serving the Showa Emperor and the Empire of Japan during the War in the Pacific. You see for me it has always bothered me to see old captured battle flags on display not knowing if the families of those men ever knew what became of them. I still sigh whenever I come across an old Gunto Sword seen on display and often sickened when I see an Edo Period sword stolen (or confiscated) from Japanese homes in the wake of the war's end and during US Occupation that followed, Family swords that had been heirlooms for generations of Samurai heritage. Well as it so happens that as the WWII generation reaches the end of their twilight years, some veterans have chosen to do the right thing and return many of the items captured in the aftermath of battle. It is both a moving gesture and the right thing to do. I am happy to see this take place as are the families of the fallen soldiers. As quoted in the article I have reposted from CNN below “It did not occur to them at the time that these men had families or a name.” It is understandable how they felt at the time but after many years it is good to see such veterans return items taken from their former foes to help bring about closure to the families and to the souls of those men who fought and died so long ago. - American Mishima

Please read on:  Reposted from CNN

Syracuse, New York (CNN) -- On the black sand beaches of Iwo Jima, 18-year-old Marty Connor stood over the body of a dead Japanese soldier. The young U.S. Marine figured it was only a matter of time before he suffered the same fate. But he didn't dwell on it and he didn't ponder whether the enemy had a family, a hometown, or a name. Instead, he reached into the dead soldier's pack and grabbed his diary. Then he moved on to another body. Little did he know then that this was a moment that would change his life; that he would spend 40 years reuniting such war souvenirs with surviving relatives of the dead enemy soldiers. "A lull in the fighting, you scavenge around a little bit," said the now 85-year-old Connor at his home in upstate New York. "In the helmet, you'd find pictures of his I took things like that, just stuck them in my pack. "Once the bloody 36-day battle on the remote Pacific island had ended, Connor had amassed a collection of items like Japanese bayonets, pay records and family photographs. Picking up the personal effects of dead enemy soldiers was a common practice during World War II. When he returned home after the war, Connor locked up his souvenirs in a trunk and rarely thought about them again. But one phone call, a quarter-century later, would change that.

"Some of the Marines were getting back to have a reunion on the 25th anniversary of our landing," said Connor. "I had a call if I'd like to go, and I thought yes, I would like to go back." Connor returned to Iwo Jima in 1970. On top of Mount Suribachi, he and other U.S. Marines shook hands with the Japanese veterans they had once fought against. "They suffered, we suffered," said Connor. "We came to tell them what brave soldiers they were... and our people, our Marines, were just as brave." The diary, photos and other items Connor had taken from Iwo Jima remained locked up at home. But one of his fellow Marines brought his souvenirs with him, and returned them to their owner's grateful and tearful family. The emotional scene stuck with Connor. A Buddhist monk named Tsunezo Wachi explained to him the deep spiritual significance these items had for the families of the dead soldiers.

As soon as Connor returned home, he opened the trunk for the first time in 25 years."I sent back whatever I had, and in most instances, [Wachi] found the families within two weeks after he received whatever I sent." Among the grateful recipients of Connor's souvenirs was the widow of the soldier whose diary Connor had taken."I was pleased," Connor said of Wachi's efforts. "I was pleased because he brought closure to those families, and I helped out."
Connor figured that might be the end of it. But word of his efforts began spreading to other veterans, and soon, packages were arriving on his doorstep. For the last 40 years, he's made it his mission to send these spoils of war back overseas. Recently, a new batch of souvenirs arrived at Connor's doorstep. He opened the boxes, and spread out the contents on his kitchen table: dog tags, some Japanese currency from the Philippines, and several Japanese battle flags. Among them was a very well-preserved flag picked up on Iwo Jima on February 22, 1945. Written on the flag were several Japanese names, perhaps relatives of the soldier who carried it into battle.
"We have high expectations that we'll be able to connect this with a family, hopefully of the person that was carrying this," Connor said, carefully picking up the flag. "If we can determine that, and get it back to that family, it gives that family not only closure, but they no longer seem to have the grief that they had for not having heard for these many, many years... as to what happened to their soldier that they sent off to battle and never came back from Iwo Jima." Connor put the items in a large envelope and shipped it to Japan.

Awaiting its arrival was Masataka Shiokawa, who stepped in to accept packages after Wachi, the Buddhist monk, passed away. Shiokawa was only a baby when his father was killed while fighting the Americans in 1945. The only thing his family received was a small box with some stones inside -- meant to represent the remains of his father. For Shiokawa, that wasn't enough. Years of longing for more information about what happened to his father inspired him to dedicate his life to searching for remains and artifacts, with the hope that he might one day find something that belonged to his father."In the beginning I was looking for my father's remains and personal effects very hard. But as I started returning things [to other families], I realized that it is not just me who is feeing this way," Shiokawa said. When he returns something to a family member, "they get pleased as if the person actually came back. They cry and put the [item] at the family Buddhist altar and offer prayer." At one such altar sits a white shirt, protected in a glass frame. It belonged to Sadaichi Nagamine, a Japanese soldier. But for 60 years, it sat in Marty Connor's home. "I took it from a pack," Connor remembered. "There were three Japanese who were killed by naval gunfire and I had taken it from the backpack of one of them. And I just threw it in my knapsack and didn't think of it anymore."

Connor didn't think the shirt had any identification on it. So he never bothered sending it back, assuming its owner could never be found. Finally, in 2005, he decided on a whim to box it up with some other items. To his surprise, Shiokawa found small markings on the shirt, and was able to identify the soldier and return the shirt to his family. "We wanted to have something to value," said the soldier's nephew, Masami Nagamine, kneeling to pray in front of the family altar. "All ancestors of the family are dedicated in here. I wanted him to rest in peace with the rest of the family."

Connor and Shiokawa are humble about their efforts. The two men, from two countries once engaged in a bitter war, don't speak the same language. But they have the same goal -- to bring closure, answers, and a connection to the relatives of Japan's war dead, who otherwise might never have known the true fate of their loved ones. Shiokawa opened up Connor's latest shipment. Inside were the dog tags, currency and battle flags that Connor had spread out on his kitchen table. Along with Japanese government officials, Shiokawa researched the names on the most promising flag, and was able to identify its owner as Tadao Yamada, who was killed on Iwo Jima. He set out to find one of Yamada's living relatives. "I think bereaved families appreciate anything that could commemorate the war dead. They have a special feeling towards it," Shiokawa said. Gesturing to the latest batch of war souvenirs, he added, "I feel like these are gifts from a tragic history."

To find out more please visit Non-Profit Organization Association of Peace and War Mourning. or contact Marty Connor direct at

Monday, May 9, 2011

日本演劇 Japanese Theater: Memory of Mother

Japanese Theater has had a long renowned tradition of rich classical tales and powerful dramatic performances. For most people living outside of Japan, attending such cultural treats is rare and often not so widely promoted even in areas where a large Japanese-American community exists. But for those who are fortunate enough to discover such performances taking place, they are not to be missed and certainly Arigato Kai’s production of Matuba no Haha (Memory of Mother) was no exception.

Founded here in Los Angeles just over two years ago, Arigato Kai has brought together talents from both Japan and here in the US to produce and perform powerful plays and memorable performances. One could not have possibly prepared us for the Mother’s Day performance of Matuba no Haha. Performed entirely in Japanese with English subtitles for us American-Jin, Memory of Mother played out to a sold out performance at the Rose Theater in North Hollywood leaving no dry eyes in the house.

Set in the Edo Period, this play directed by Kaz Matamura follows the quest of lone Yakuza named Chutaro (played by Yoshi Ando of Good Soil and Letters from Iwo Jima fame) to find his long lost mother. Orphaned at a young age, Chutaro carries with him the faint memories of a mother who had left his father for Edo at the age of five. We do not know much beyond this point in his life other than what is revealed to be his earnings of 100ryo which he has saved from his exploits in the Yakuza for which he planned to give to his mother should she be of need. Along the way to Edo he encounters a misfortunate friend named Hanji (played by Yoshitomo Kaneda of Letters from Iwo Jima fame) who has left the Yakuza and is now in hiding from the thugs of a rival boss seeking revenge for an earlier Yakuza killing. Chutaro see’s Hanji’s unfortunate desperate situation and is moved by the man’s mother’s determination to see to his well being. Chutaro is moved by the love for her unlucky son and quickly comes to his defense. He leaves the man’s family after a duel in which he slays the rival Yakuza and thanks the mother for her loyalty to her son. His admiration expresses his longing for the longing for his ideal of what he hopes to find in his mother for which he will continue on his journey to Edo to reunite with her.

Along his journey, Chutaro encounters other old women in Edo over the following year. He performs good deeds and pays respect to these old ladies who have long lost their sons. And in by doing so restore hope by his acts of kindness winning him admiration along the way. It is by chance that one of these old ladies who is an aging prostitute knows of such a woman that could very well be a match for his mother. It is the rich and powerful teahouse owner Ohama (played by legendary stage actress from Japan Sayoko Shirotami) who by now has many employees and a fully grown daughter named Otose (played by Kazumi Zatkin of Good Soil and other films with co-starring Yoshi Ando). After much persuasion, Chutaro is granted an audience with Ohama but despite being of the correct age and being from his home in Banba and even admitting to having a son named Chutaro, she suspects him to be an imposter looking to take her business.
Rejected, Chutaro is devastated. All of his hopes and dreams are now gone. He has seen that Ohama is living a life of luxury and has no need of his 100ryo but chooses in an all too classical Japanese gesture of leaving his coin purse behind. This action moves Otose and it becomes painfully clear that Chutaro is indeed her long lost son who she had convinced herself that he had died long ago. Both Ohama’s servants and Otose recognize Chutaro’s likeness to Ohama as possibly being a potential lost family member. Together they convince Ohama that Chutaro is truly her lost son she abandoned when she left Chutaro’s father many years ago. Ashamed, Ohama loses her stoic arrogance and breaks down in tears. All is brought to bear but is brought full circle by the comforting kind words of Otose for her long lost brother and her appreciation for all that her mother has provided her. Accepting Ohama’s new reality, Ohama flies into a panic to chase after Chutaro but by now he is long gone. Complicating matters, Ohama’s men having assumed Chutaro to be a troublemaker or a beggar have hired a down and out Samurai Tobata (played by Yoshitomo Kaneda) to dispatch him. Ohama joined by her daughter Otose races to find Chutaro before it is too late.
Mutaba no Haha lived up to every expectation of Japanese theater and raised the bar to new heights in dramatic performances. The all Japanese cast included Yoshi Ando, Yoshitomo Kaneda, Mina Oba, Mie Aso, Yoshi Murakami, Kazumi Zatkin, Akiko Katagiri, Mai Kobayashi, Sachiko Mori, and others including and not to say the least the legendary Sayoko Shirotani who flew in from Japan just to play in this production. Toshiro Mifune’s influence could be seen in Yoshi Ando’s performance with elements of Sanjuro and the deep expressiveness of Hiroyuki Sanada as Seibei in Twilight Samurai. I am very honored to call my old fellow Shinkendoka Mr. Ando my friend. I recommend you watch his career with great interest. Arigato Kai has worked hard to bring Japanese theater to American audiences. As I explained to Yoshi Ando that this should not be looked upon as the most arduous task for American audiences who already like Japanese Theater either know Nihongo or are comfortable with subtitles. In any case any American with a thirst for good theater will appreciate the hard work of the cast and crew of Arigato Kai and we at American Mishima believe you will too!

To find out more about Arigato Kai and their future productions Please visit: Arigato Kai