BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash.--In Corinne Nakagawa Gooden’s kitchen, with a view of Mount Rainier and bald eagles fishing in Puget Sound, 16 relatives danced around one another as they prepared a Japanese-American New Year’s feast.

Gooden’s daughters, both in their 40s, worked in tandem: Amy carried a pot of rice to Sydne, who cut sweetened vinegar into the steaming-hot grains. Cousins in their mid-20s cooled the rice with tattered paper fans that belonged to their grandmother. Everyone gathered to stuff the rice into tofu skins simmered with sugar and shoyu for inari-zushi. It was a run-through of what they do on Dec. 31.

“We all know our parts,” Gooden said.

In Japan, the first three days of the year, a national holiday called Oshogatsu, are spent with family eating an elaborate array of New Year’s food, called osechi ryori, from large lacquerware boxes. Osechi dishes are prepared in advance, seasoned heavily with shoyu, sugar and vinegar to preserve them (unrefrigerated) through Oshogatsu, when the focus is on togetherness. Open a box of osechi in the regions of Kanto, Kansai or Hokuriku and you’ll find various gems of candied beans, pickled vegetables and stewed or salt-cured fish--each dish symbolic of luck and fortune in the year to come.

Homemade osechi meals have become rare in Japan, where most women now work outside the home. They have no time to prepare the intricate meal, so they buy it from a supermarket or department store. Some young people use the holiday to travel rather than spend time with relatives.

But Gooden’s family, who refer to themselves as the Sasakis, make a point of gathering to prepare osechi--as they have most years since their ancestors first came to Seattle (a short ferry ride from here) from Hiroshima in the early 20th century.

The story of their tradition echoes that of many Japanese-American families--immigration, assimilation and, for a time, incarceration: A long break in the family’s Oshogatsu celebrations came during World War II, when they were sent to internment camps along with nearly the entire Japanese-American population on the West Coast, about 120,000 people.

When Gooden, 73, was growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, her parents avoided talking about the camps or the internment. “They didn’t want to teach us to hate anyone,” she said. “They wanted us to be good Americans.”

In 1908, when her grandfather, Shunroku Sasaki, arrived in Seattle, the city’s Japantown was bustling with businesses catering to the young men who had been immigrating since shortly after Japan opened its borders in 1868, hoping to make their fortune in the lumber mills and fisheries of the American West.

Like many of these men, Sasaki planned to return to Japan wealthy and fluent in English, the language of commerce and science. But after barely escaping from a lumber-mill disaster, he was swayed by his best friend to open a tailor shop, where they sewed suits for fellow entrepreneurs.

Sasaki went back to Japan only long enough to find a bride. Perhaps it was his good looks or her desire for adventure and independence that persuaded Hisaye Katayama, a college-educated woman from a well-off family, to agree to an arranged marriage with a young stranger.

“She’d never met him, only seen him,” Gooden said. In Seattle, Sasaki took a job managing a small hotel.

The couple raised four children in America. The first was Yemi Sasaki, Gooden’s mother. Hisaye Sasaki took her two daughters back to Japan when they were in grade school, intending to leave them there for the duration of their schooling. Shunroku Sasaki mailed them American biscuits, and baking powder for cake. But he missed them too much, and wrote to his wife, asking her to bring the girls home; they returned within six months.

Back in Seattle, the girls attended lessons in tea ceremony, ikebana (flower arranging) and the Japanese language. At school, teachers assigned the Sasaki children new names, so Yemi became Mary Catherine; Yoshiko became Teresa; Hiroshi became Hiro, and Takashi became Henry, nicknamed Hank.

Housework had been done by maids in their mother’s Hiroshima home (when Shunroku Sasaki died at age 84 in 1974, Hisaye Sasaki still didn’t know how to do laundry), but a friend taught her to cook. In Japantown, she would have been able to find familiar ingredients and seasonings for osechi--if not fresh, then at least canned or dried. She put her daughters to work in the kitchen, peeling sato-imo (taro) and renkon (lotus root) for nishime, vegetables simmered in sweet shoyu-seasoned dashi, and boiling black beans in syrup with an iron nail to give them color.

In those years, Oshogatsu was a roving party in Seattle. On New Year’s Day, men and children traveled from house to house visiting relatives and friends, while women hosted. Even after Yemi and Yoshiko grew up and had children of their own, their mother called them back home to help cook osechi.

Yemi Mary Catherine Sasaki was newly wed to Noboru Nakagawa when President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 in February 1942, two months after the Japanese air attack on Pearl Harbor. The order, prompted by fears that Japanese-Americans would aid that country’s war effort, led to the mass detainment.

“My mother was six months pregnant, and they didn’t know where they were going,” Gooden said. They were moved about 35 miles south of the city, to a swiftly constructed detention center on the Puyallup fairgrounds--which the government, she pointed out with a sardonic laugh, preferred to call Camp Harmony. “They were there for six months, living in animal stalls.”

As Yemi Nakagawa’s belly swelled, she was forced to use group showers and a latrine dug in the ground. She was taken to a Tacoma hospital for the birth of their first daughter, Sherry, then returned to Camp Harmony.

Later that year, the young family were put on a train, not knowing that they were headed to Camp Minidoka in Idaho, where they would live in a barracks for three years. The thin interior walls didn’t extend to the ceiling, so the seven families sharing a barracks with the Nakagawas were kept awake at night by the wailing baby.

Noboru Nakagawa had left behind his grocery store at 14th and Jackson Streets; a white friend looked after his store equipment and his dog, King.

“The dog died of a broken heart,” Gooden said. When Nakagawa received the news, he burst into tears. It was the only time the family saw him cry.

They ate all their meals in a mess hall--hot dogs, pancakes and macaroni--and had no kitchen of their own to prepare comfort foods like miso soup and rice, much less the elaborate osechi dishes for the new year.

As the government tried to determine who could be trusted, detainees were required to fill out what became known as the “loyalty questionnaire.” They could be scored low for answering that they spoke Japanese fluently or practiced martial arts.

Nakagawa’s brother would not promise to comply if drafted into the U.S. military, and out of a sense of duty to his parents, refused to “forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor” (Question 28). As a result, he was sent to the McNeil Island federal penitentiary until after the war ended.

The Nakagawas and their toddler, Sherry, were released from Minidoka in 1945, and they returned to Seattle. Homes, farmland, shops and restaurants had been taken from Japanese-Americans, who then faced discrimination, and sometimes harassment and violence, while seeking new housing and jobs. Teenagers like Yemi Nakagawa’s brothers, Hank and Hiroshi Sasaki, had been robbed of their chance to finish high school or save money for college. With few work prospects, Hank enlisted in the Air Force and Hiroshi in the Army.

The family patriarch, Shunroku Sasaki, lost his tailor shop. Noboru Nakagawa lost his grocery, and would spend the rest of his working life as a produce manager at Tradewell and QFC supermarkets. Yemi Nakagawa took a full-time job at an adoption agency, starting as a file clerk and retiring 30 years later as an office manager.

Gooden was born the year after the Nakagawas were released from Minidoka. She didn’t learn about the internment in school; it wasn’t in the encyclopedia, and her parents merely acknowledged that it had happened.

“They never spoke about the hardship,” she said, only fond memories of baseball and card games in the camps.

The Nakagawas loved to entertain. They took dance lessons, and held parties in their basement. After retiring, Yemi Nakagawa played golf almost every day, and was champion of the Tokiwa Women’s Golf Club. She and her mother, Hisaye Sasaki, continued to practice ikebana.

In the house on Bainbridge Island where Gooden lives with her husband, Bill LeMire, Gooden has Hisaye’s iron kettle, bamboo ladles and lacquered natsume (wooden canisters) for tea ceremony. Her mother’s silk embroideries--of pine branches, and a crane and tortoise--hang on the wall.

But Gooden and her sister, Sherry, among the third generation of Sasaki women in America, weren’t trained in Japanese arts, and never learned the language. Gooden didn’t visit Japan until she was 70. The family believed that they would not be welcome, because they were too Americanized and didn’t speak the language.

It was Gooden’s daughter Amy who got her grandparents to talk about the camps. “It was a source of shame, having their loyalty questioned,” Amy Gooden said.

She and her sister, Sydne Gooden, grew up curious about their heritage. Both chose to study the Japanese language. As an adult, Amy traveled to Japan through her job as a naval architect. Sydne traveled to Japan to apprentice at a sushi bar while she worked at BondST, a Manhattan restaurant where she was the first female chef at the sushi counter.

For as long as anyone can remember, Oshogatsu has been the sole Japanese holiday the Sasaki family comes together for. In addition to typical osechi dishes, they prepare foods that would usually be made for festivals and other important occasions--like sekihan (sticky rice with red beans), maki-zushi (fat sushi rolls filled with vegetables and egg) and saba-zushi (pickled mackerel pressed into vinegared rice).

After Gooden’s grandmother died and her mother developed dementia, there were a few years in the 1990s when the Sasakis didn’t make osechi ryori. It was the idea of a cousin, Ron Sasaki, to revive the family recipes.

It can’t be that hard, he told Gooden. “Are you kidding?” she replied. “Do you know how to make any of this stuff?”

As in Japan, the women had carried the responsibility for Oshogatsu preparations. To keep the tradition alive, the Sasaki family came up with a modern solution: Each person is responsible for making a few dishes at home. On New Year’s Eve, they gather to finish cooking together, and on Jan. 1, they feast with relatives and friends.

Ron Sasaki bakes a snapper or rock cod rigged into a lively, swimming posture, and prepares nanbanzuke, fried and pickled herring. His father fished, and always contributed salmon to the feast, symbolizing return to the homeland.

Another cousin cooks teriyaki chicken--Seattle style, with ginger and garlic. Because Gooden’s sister lives in Hawaii, Spam musubi (rice balls) and peanut butter mochi have become part of the feast. This year, for the first time, the family is passing more of the responsibility to the fourth generation: The younger cousins will make tamagoyaki (rolled omelet) for the maki-zushi, and bring the sashimi.

Always, they start the meal with ozoni, mochi soup, its red and white Naruto fish cake representing the rising sun--the symbol of Japan.

Four miles away is the Bainbridge Island Japanese-American Exclusion Memorial, where the first 227 Japanese-Americans were taken to internment camps, with only six days’ notice to settle their affairs. On the path where they were escorted onto boats by armed soldiers, a sign reads “nidoto nai yoni”--let it not happen again.

Oshogatsu is a joyous gathering for the Sasaki family, but the third and fourth generations speak openly of what was taken from their parents and grandparents by the country they love and call home. Gooden said, “Let it not happen again.”

(Dec. 24, 2019)

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