Monday, March 31, 2014

New Shinto Anime

Now and then, something truly inspiring finds its way onto the internet. As is such the case this beautifully animated short by Inaba Hideo with music by Uematsu Nobuo produced for the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of Ise (The parent Shrine of the Grand Tsubaki Shrine of America) titled いせのいすずのもりの みや - Ise no Isuzu no Mori no Miya. It brightened our morning, may it brighten yours. Please enjoy!

To learn more of the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of Ise
Please visit Ise Jingu - English Page

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Uncovering The Past

As I go through my father’s things in the aftermath of his death, I came across a small book about the town we had lived in during the 1970’s, that town being Oxnard California. So what is so special about Oxnard in relation to American Mishima? Aside from it being the birthplace of our illustrated book Ichiro Dreams In Color, it was the home to a thriving Japanese American Community before World War II and remains such today. But as most people know, what happend during the war left a big mark on this community. And so having made this discovery, we choose to share this important piece of the Nisei story here.

Growing up sixty miles north of Los Angeles in the sleepy sea side community on California’s Gold Coast,  we have always been aware of the Nisei presence there. From Mrs. Kato who scolded us in 1st Grade for being ungracious kids who didn’t suffer the internment camps as she did to the many Japanese owned farms that dotted the landscape. But what eluded us until now was the truth and that being the raw details and a sense of the true history of that community's hardships. As a child I often would pass by an old abandoned Japanese Cemetery overgrown with Ivy and wondered what really happened during those dark years following FDR’s Executive Order 9066. You see, we didn't have a Japanese American National Museum back then like we do today. You couldn't find more than four sentences in a school history book much less any sense of the degree of social injustice these people suffered. It wasn't something anyone wanted to talk about much less cared for among non-Nikkei peoples some 25 years after the war's end with lingering feelings of resentment towards Japanese people for the bombing of Pearl Harbor still running high in a town flanked by two US Naval bases. But as kids, we were curious to know what was it that the adults were not telling us past the sugar coated version of how we won the war and how they justified things. Had it not been for Mrs. Kato back at Ramona Elementary School, we would have likely never known about the forced relocation of Japanese Americans until we were adults. Well thanks to Author Jeffrey Wayne Maulhardt’s “Images of America - Oxnard 1941-2004,” a clearer story of what took place there emerges.

It is often said two wrongs don't make a right. But back in the days after the outbreak of war, that didn't seem to matter. Wartime hysteria and fears of a Japanese Mainland Invasion while improbable gripped America with fear and cultural distrust of its own citizens of Japanese Ancestry. In February 1942, there were approximately 343 residents of Japanese ancestry living in Ventura County, the majority of them farmers whose farms comprised over 10% of the farmland in the Oxnard plain. It is said they exclusively grew cabbage, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, and bell peppers.  But three months after the outbreak of war with Japan, the Nisei community was forced to leave Oxnard for far away camps such as the one at Gila Arizona in the above photo. And while many Japanese American communities didn’t survive the war, many like Moriwaki family returned and rebuilt. 

In 1970, one such former internee by the name of Neo Takasugi went on to become Mayor of Oxnard and later on a California Assemblyman.  How’s that for perseverance! American Mishima applauds Author Jeffrey Wayne Maulhardt for both his research and preservation of this piece of Japanese American History.
While this book does not spend too many pages on the Japanese American Community, it is a noteworthy addition we felt worth mentioning here. 
To buy a copy of Images of America - Oxnard 1941-2004
Please click on the following link: Oxnard 1941-2004

Please Enjoy!

To learn more about the forced internment of Japanese Americans,

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Just Say Noh!

Noh Theater is as unique an art form as it is a cultural treasure of Japan known the world over. This musical drama best known for it's exquisite beauty, rich costumes, and array of masks are steeped in symbolism that conjures an era long past to the 13th Century predating Kabuki. We at American Mishima have been fortunate enough to have seen a few Noh Theater performances here in the City of Los Angeles, but these opportunities are rare. It was by chance that we were fortunate enough to attend the Japan Foundation's recent lecture on Noh this last March 13th at their Wilshire Blvd location. The lecture would be for the most part conducted in Japanese by famed Noh Performer Tatsushige Udaka and translated by his wife & Noh Performer Haruna Tanaka. In his lecture, Mr. Udaka shared his vast knowledge of Noh's place in Japanese history and its cultural significance. In this lecture attendee's were given a rare opportunity to pass around sample swatches of the material that is most widely used in Noh Costumes as well as closeup views to the elaborate costumes that span over 100 years in age.

Mr. Udaka talked at length as to the usage of the famous Noh Masks which later made for an entertaining question and answer session in which we had to ask about the actors personal association with their characters. Most particular of interest was that of the famed "Oni" (Demon) mask made famous by the 1964 film Onibaba in which a jealous mother poses as a demon to scare her wayward daughter into submission.

What struck us was his explanation that unlike here in the West, the demon mask represents the state of the heart and not an actual demon. This is not to discount actual belief in such entities but rather to further exemplify the expression of pure jealousy. Traditionally, the demon mask represents the jealous rage of a beautiful woman whose heart reveals her ugliness. When asked about tales of possession, Mr. Udaka recalled one famous story of a Noh Performer who once became so entranced by the demon mask that he cut his own face off to better fit the undersized mask. Such tales are the rare exception but for us it was an opportunity to get the actor's perspective on the lore of the fearsome mask. 

While it wasn't our intention to scare anyone with our provocative  questions, we did walk away with a better grasp of how Noh Performers embody such expression through musical chants and rhythmic movements. This is accomplished through their dance as such demonstrated by Mr. Udaka who demonstrated four sample play pieces including the famous "Death of a Samurai" all without masks and with him doing the accompanying chants normally reserved for the musicians that provide the music during a Noh Performance. He danced with such precise single Zen like focus achieving the conveyed implications of the drama which dramatically unfolded like the gilded folding fans used for props, one could see the intensity of the play's lasting impressions of this ancient theater that where only the dancer is on stage. As best explained by Mr. Udaka: "The best I can compare Noh to is that of the modern day experience many people have had searching for the television remote. You will focus on nothing else until you find that remote. That is what it is like to be a Noh Performer."

We at American Mishima would like thank Mr. Tatsushige Udaka and his wife Haruna Tanaka as well as the Japan Foundation for making this event possible. 


To find out about future events sponsored by the Japan Foundation, 
Please visit their website at 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Thursday, March 13, 2014

CHADO - A Taste of Tea

The Art of Tea Ceremony is long renown as one of the high arts of Japanese Culture. It is steeped in Japanese history tracing its roots back to the great Tea Master Rikyu of the Warring States Period. Once considered the sole domain of the powerful warlords and prominent individuals of the wealthier classes, Tea Ceremony also known as the Chanoyu has since become a signature cultural contribution on the world stage rich in beauty and elaborate ritual. So when the opportunity came up to win a chance to partake in such ritual, we naturally jumped at the chance.

As luck would have it, we were selected among five winners to partake as guests in a Tea Ceremony hosted by the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo last February 22, 2014. The event itself was held in their side theater which was set up complete with shoji screens and all the implements needed to perform the tea ceremony. The ceremony itself would be conducted by several kimono clad ladies (whose names we were unable to acquire) under the watchful eye of their tea master Hamano Shachu of Urasenke. The event held that Saturday had around fifty people in attendance and was part lecture, part demonstration, and part question / answer session.

Normally, one could expect to be seated in the traditional seiza position on tatami mat as one could conjure from a Japanese Period drama. But in our case we were seated on small folding chairs.  As explained by our most gracious host this form of seating came about when westerners arrived and could not sit in the traditional seated posture. Thus the ceremony itself was modified for western participants.  Having spent many a lecture in the seiza position back in our Kendo days where there were no tatami mats to rest upon, we certainly appreciated this simple amendment to the Chanayu.

As a guest, we were given a specific set of instructions in tea etiquette such as how to receive the tea cup. How to hold the tea cup, how to drink the green “ocha”, as well as when to say “Osakini (polite) ” to the person next to you before you complete the cycle with the person seated next to you.  We were also treated to special sweats wrapped in green leaf whose purpose was designed to take the bitterness from the tea. While this demonstration took place on a small theater stage, it was not without its dutiful grace and elaborate ceremony.

We were pleased to learn that Ms. Hamano Shachu offers education in Tea Ceremony here in the United States and even has her own private tea room. She says it takes ten years of training to become a tea master. With the precise execution and strict adherence to tradition we can see why and appreciate this most unique cultural experience. If ever an opportunity arises for you to partake in a tea ceremony, we highly recommend it. 

We at American Mishima would like to thank Ms. Hamano Shachu (seen left) and her staff as well as the Japanese American National Museum for a most educational and culturally enriching experience!

If you would like to learn more about events hosted by the Japanese American National Museum,
Please visit their website at The Japanese American National Musuem