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【ESSAY】As a Sansei, 'Japanese Americans' TV saga made me feel closer to my family


By Barry Kawaguchi, Asahi Weekly

 11月3日から5夜連続で放映され、平均視聴率が15.4%を記録したTBSの開局60周年ドラマ『99年の愛 〜JAPANESE AMERICANS〜』。一世紀前に太平洋を渡った日系アメリカ人の一家が、人種差別や戦争による迫害を乗り越えていく姿を描いたこの作品に特に感銘を受けたのが、自らも日系三世である本紙のバリー川口記者。その感動をぜひ読者のみなさんと共有したいと、家族の思い出を紙上で振り返った。

 As I watched the recent TBS TV drama series on Japanese Americans, I thought about my Issei grandparents, and how they would have been proud that a grandson returned to live in their homeland.

 In the five-part "Kyuju-kyunen no Ai" (Love spanning 99 years), which ran from Nov. 3-7, the show traced the life and family of Chokichi Hiramatsu, who immigrates to Seattle in 1912.

 Like the Hiramatsus, my grandparents immigrated to America in the early 20th century in search of a better life and became farmers and railroad workers in Utah.

 Today, their grandson (me) is living in Japan with a Japanese wife, completing that journey and coming full circle, like the Hiramatsus did in the drama, subtitled "Japanese Americans."

 Sadly, I never really got to know my Issei grandparents. From watching the drama, they would have had exciting and touching stories to tell me.

 The only thing I remember about Eikichi Kawaguchi, my grandfather on my father's side, is Dad taking bottles of Jack Daniel's whiskey to him in his nursing home.

 On Mom's side, my grandmother, Sato Kubota, knew very little English, and when she stayed at our home, she would call me "Betty" in her bad accent. "Why does she call you 'Betty?' " my friends would laugh.

 I felt embarrassed by my Japanese ancestry while growing up, looking different from most Americans, and not having grandparents I could communicate with.

 But as I watched TBS's special drama, which was to celebrate the channel's 60th anniversary, those feelings changed. It made me feel proud of my grandparents for the first time and see them as real people, who had dreams like me.

 I also saw many similarities between the Hiramatsu family and my own. I had an aunt and uncle sent to live with relatives in Shizuoka Prefecture before the war, who were unhappy about being separated from their family.

 And I had two uncles who fought for the famed 442nd Nisei squadron in Italy, and came home with a fistful of medals.

 But my father and mother, as Niseis living in Utah, were spared a Japanese-American internment camp like Manzanar in the drama, because they lived far enough from the West Coast to not be considered "threats" to the U.S. war effort.

 Still, my father, at age 14, did have his gun taken away by the police the day after the Pearl Harbor attack.


 He died at age 55 in 1983, but one of his good friends, Deb Kawaguchi, later told me that my father decided to shoot up all his shotgun shells when the Niseis were ordered to turn their guns in to the police.

 The friend said the sheriff found my father by the lake firing away, and my father smiled and asked him, "Do you want to shoot some, too?"

 Kawaguchi also told me how Dad and other Niseis rode one bus to their high school, which the other students called "The Jap Bus."

 And he told me about how Dad and all the other Japanese endured hateful prejudice during the war in the town, with many stores posting signs, saying, "No Japs Allowed." They would also see trains taking Japanese-Americans to the Topaz Internment Camp in Utah.

 Still, Dad, loyal to his country, proudly enlisted in the U.S. Army when he turned 18 in May 1945. My father was fluent in Japanese like the other Niseis at the time, since most of their parents never learned English. He was sent to Okinawa right after the war ended and served as a translator.

 After he got out of the service, he would meet my mother, also a Nisei, and they would have seven children together. They always hoped one of their children would marry a Japanese, as all my brothers and sisters had married Caucasians.

 Their dream came true in 1994 when I married a girl from Tokyo, whom I had met at her university in South Carolina.

 Yumiko brought me closer to my Japanese ancestry, but I realized I still wanted to live in the land of people who looked like me.

 So, we moved to Japan in 2001, where I made peace with myself and thanks to the recent drama, feel closer to my grandparents as well.

  • coming...circle 一周して元の場所(日本)に戻った
  • 442nd...squadron 米陸軍第442連隊戦闘団(第二次大戦中に日系人で編成された部隊。米軍史上で最多の勲章を受けた)
  • fistful of 一握りの、手づかみできるほどたくさんの
  • (be) spared 〜を免れる
  • Manzanar マンザナー強制収容所(大戦中に約1万人の日系人が強制収容されたカリフォルニア州の収容所)
  • Topaz...Camp トパーズ強制収容所(約8千人が収容されたユタ州の強制収容所)

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