Monday, January 16, 2012

Remnants & Effects of Wars Past

During our trips over the holidays we came across a man who inherited Japanese personal effects from the War in the Pacific. It had been given to him sometime in the late 1970's by a man who took these things off a dead Japanese Officer. The items consisted of a “Dog Tag”, two medals, and a coin purse containing two dozen coins from the Showa Era bearing the Imperial Chrysanthemum. Little details were given to us as to how or where these “War Trophies” were taken but as you can imagine we were saddened to see these things knowing that this likely belonged to a man long listed as missing in action and presumed dead. Worse, knowing that this dog tag being taken it is likely that the body it was taken from was never identified.

Earlier last year, we posted an article in that first appeared on CNN about a Buddhist Monk who ran an organization that returned war effects to the families to whom they belonged to. When we expressed our interest in these items for the sole purpose of returning them to their rightful owners families in hopes of providing closure to any possible still living relatives things went sour. Of course it would not be so simple for us to get the owner to hand them over to us. As one might imagine, the current host who himself had served in the US Armed forces became somewhat uncooperative and refused to show them to us any longer. After some careful reasoning and cooler heads prevailing, we were allowed to photograph the dog tag in hopes that it could be translated and identified. Unfortunately, we did not have a decent camera with us and relied on cell phone photography in a less than ideal take it or leave it situation.

Seen here are the other two medals taken from the same officer. They contain no identifying marks. Only the dog tag has writing. We have since shown these photos and from what we could derive off them is Troop 11933, 17, 2 but no name which makes this difficult to identify. If anyone can make out the Kanji on the ID tag please let us know. With such knowledge we will try again to reason with the current host in hopes that they will allow us to either return these items to their rightful owners family or to the Japanese Government. We at American Mishima are almost certain someone in Japan will appreciate the gesture.

Monday, January 9, 2012

2012 Hatsu Kaze Kotohajime in Little Tokyo

No Oshugatsu in Little Tokyo is complete without Kotohajime to ring in the Year of the Dragon. Unlike previous years, this years first performance was held Sunday January 8th outdoors in the JACCC Plaza while the usual venue the Aratani Theater continues to undergo renovation. After a week of unseasonably hot 85*+ weather, the sun came out but the January breeze chilled the air but not the excitement and enthusiasm of both the audience and performers alike to this annual well attended free event. This years' Hatsu Kaze - First Wind performance saw both new and returning groups to perform. As in previous years a Buddhist Priest symbolically opens the event to the sounds of the Imperial Court Music dating back to the Heian Era. Returning this year was the Colburn Dance Institute who danced to the Ryuichi Sakamoto version Chinsagu no Hana. Had they worn kimono this would have taken their performance to the next level but in any case I appreciate the effort to incorporate Japanese elements. It was a nice moving touch.

Now when I think of Little Tokyo I don't think of Koreatown or Korean Arts. Like it or not the Koreans returned for the third year in a row with not one but three acts almost dominating this otherwise Japanese New Years Show. Now don't get me wrong, I don't have anything against Koreans but I did come to see a Japanese event in Little Tokyo. Let's just hope the JACCC never goes so far as to bring in a Mexican Mariachi band for further cultural diversity. Despite this cultural juxtaposition the show continued on to feature the beautiful dancers of the Eung Hwa Kim Korean Dance Academy. These dancers came out in beautiful colorful traditional Korean dress and performed a fan dance with smiles abound and excellent precision.

The fan dancers of the Eung Hwa Kim were next followed by a Korean Children's dance ensemble who were delightful to watch but by then I was getting that highjacked feeling wondering when I was going to hear Nihongo again. The kids were cute to watch and incredibly talented performers. I believe they all have bright futures as dancers before them.

The kids were then followed by the third and final Korean portion of the show and one of which I actually took a liking to sometime back when Gwen Stefani made an appearance on Saturday Night Live with Korean Drummer Girls backing her up. Granted these were not the same Drummer Girls but they still put on quite a show. They made an appearance at Kotohajime in the Aratani Theater two years ago and they were quite good. I have to say as far as Korean Arts go I have to give serious props to their drummer girls. It may not top Japanese Taiko in my book but they are a close second and always entertaining to watch. If you love drumming this is definitely something to keep your eye open for.

Well before you could assume that we were starting to crave kimchi, the show returned to it's original Japanese format with the appearance of Kikusa Katada who is considered a Living National Treasure in Japan.

Playing to traditional Japanese instruments it is easy to be taken to another place and another time. It's what I like to write to combined with the imagery that evoke the Edo Period or make me crave another LA appearance of the Yoshida Brothers. Any true Japanophile will tell you there is never enough Shamisen to go around! 

As in years past the highlight of every Kotohajime is marked by the Ikkyu archers of the Los Angeles Kyudo Kai Archery Group. Kyudo often appears at purification ceremonies at the Imperial Court of Japan and often associated with Zen Buddhism - To me it's very Shinto indeed! With the ritual firing of the first arrow a wall of streamers come down marking the New Year. I always get excited to see Ikkyu every year for with that arrow sends forth dreams, hopes, and aspirations as well as the dispelling of obstacles, and misfortune.

Concluding Kotohajime is the final Community Sake Toast after the breaking of the Sake Keg by the Japanese Consul and other JACCC Members and LA City Officials. All this while free mochi is passed around for good luck.
Though the times may change, Kotohajime remains a Little Tokyo Oshugatsu Tradition that will carry on.
あけまして おめでとう ございます!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

受像 George Takei to appear on Celebrity Apprentice

America's best known Nisei George Takei better known for his portrayal of Hikuru Sulu on Star Trek will appear on the 2012 Season of Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice. As Takei-san put it:  "Now, the Donald and I don't always see eye to eye, but I'm doing this for charity, playing to raise money and awareness for Japanese American National Museum." Now what is special about his relationship to the Japanese American National Museum is that most people do not know that years before his big break on the set of Star Trek, Takei-san was once a young five year old Nisei in Los Angeles whose family was forced to abandon everything they owned and watch their neighbors loot their belongings while his family boarded buses with only one suitcase per person containing all they were allowed to keep. This of course was the result of President Franklin Roosevelt's shamefully misguided lowpoint in the history of American Civil Liberties, Executive Order 9066, which led to the forced evacuation of some 120,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans from the West Coast to remote Concentration Camps. Takei-san in previous interviews described being bused to the Santa Anita Race Track and forced with his entire family to live behind barbed wire and guarded by armed soldiers in filthy horse stables for one week before being made to board trains at gun point to be relocated for the next three years to America's Concentration Camps during WWII.

George Takei has always been and continues to be a strong supporter of the JANM to help educate future generations of Americans of the dangers of cultural fear and ignorance and what it could lead to so that what happened to him and his family will not happen again to any ethnic group on US Soil. We at American Mishima support these efforts of the Japanese American National Museum and the efforts of people like George Takei. For a better understanding of this experience we reccomend watching the 1990 film Come See The Paradise starring Tamlyn Tomita & Dennis Quaid. After watching this you will have an idea what people like George Takei went through and why this cause is so important.

The new season of Celebrity Apprentice debuts Feb. 12th, 2012. We would like to wish Takei-San がんばってください! To find out more about the Japanese American National Museum please visit their website @ or simply visit them at 369 East First Street, Los Angeles California 90012 in the Heart of Little Tokyo. You'll be thankful you did.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

新しい年 Happy New Years 2012!

あけまして おめでとう ございます! 2012 - The Year of the Dragon has arrived! As with every new years Emperor Akihito makes his Oshogatsu Address where this year he wished for peace and tranquility of the world and happiness of the people.” Akihito went on to say “It is my hope that the New Year will be a good year for the people of Japan and the people of the world,” he said. The Emperor expressed sympathy for those who suffered from the summer heat and the continuous economic troubles.“I hope that people will cherish their families and community ties and support one another to overcome these challenges they are facing. I also hope that they will work together with the people of the world and do their utmost in pursuit of peace and stability.”

So Meanwhile in Little Tokyo.....
I woke up with a slight hangover asking myself "Kyo wa Shogatsu desu ka? Then why the hell does it feel more like Obon than New Years? The Summer heat was unseasonally on. Normally you would see people in Yukata in 85*+ heat but this is January. Doishta da na?!? Well not to much can be done about the Summer in Winter but a Banzai Cheer Sake' toast at the Koyasan Betsuin to a packed full house will certainly take you elsewhere. As with every year over one thousand visitors descended on the Koyasan Buddhist Temple to both partake in the New Years Day Service and to buy Omori and other New Years amulets much in the same way done throughout Japan only we are doing it here in the City of Angels.

Japanese New Years in Little Tokyo is as festive as ever with Traditional Dance and Martial Arts exhibitions at the Weller Court. Did I mention the food? So many vendors with all the Oiishii delicacies to choose from but what really caught our eyes were the people from the Kimono Club who came decked out in some of the most beautiful Kimono this side of Kyoto. They never fail to impress. Before Mia Naoko gets ready for her first Shichi-Go-San I am sending Tinahime to go talk with them!

A new addition to the Oshogatsu celebrations was the appearence of the newly formed Shingonji Temple. This is headed by former Koyasan Betsuin Shukan Seicho Asahi who had resigned his position at the Koyasan Buddhist Temple to create a learning center for teaching further in depth Shingon Buddhism. It was good to see Asahi Sensei along with Koyanagi Sensei at his side just like old times.

Well back at Japanese Village Plaza the taiko had just concluded when Akira Keneda's famed Martial Arts group took to the stage in front of the Nijiya Market. Keneda who is also an accomplished actor, producer, and martial arts instructor dazzled the crowds with their exhibition. I would loved to have stuck around a little longer but the near 90* summer like heat was getting to us so with that we bid our friends あけまして おめでとう ございます, We wish all of you a Happy New Years and ask that you continue to read our American Mishima Blog. ども ありがとう ございます!