Tule Lake is the final frontier for the study of Japanese American incarceration. After 80 years, the Segregation Center at Tule Lake remains the least-understood and most-avoided subject in polite Japanese American society. And the fiction and poetry written by the Issei and Kibei Nisei during this tumultuous period and published in the camp’s literary magazines has languished unread by those who can’t read Japanese. A new project launched last month at the University of California at Berkeley promises to change that.
On November 14, to an audience of students and community members at Birge Hall on the UC Berkeley campus, Prof. Andrew Leong publicly introduced the Tessaku Translation Project and members of his Community Advisory Board. He said the ultimate goal of the project is to translate and publish the literature written in Japanese by the Issei and Kibei Nisei at Tule Lake, in particular the high-quality, curated literary magazine known as Tessaku, or Iron Fence.
“The works in Tessaku challenge the longstanding and damaging myth that the death of Japanese-language Japanese American literature was inevitable—that assimilation and monolingualism were the only possible fates for later generations of Japanese Americans,” says Dr. Leong. “Tessaku was a watershed for the development of a new Kibei Nisei literature — literature by second-generation Japanese Americans educated in Japan — a literature which continued to thrive into the 1980s and 90s. My first hope is that translation can bring these texts to new life for the Tule Lake survivor and descendant community. I also hope that this project can encourage students and community members interested in studying Japanese to deepen their engagements with Japanese-language Japanese American literature.”
Only in the past few years have we come together as scholars, writers, and activists to make a concerted effort to recover this work. When Floyd Cheung and I first began to search for unpublished material for our forthcoming Penguin anthology, The Literature of Japanese American Incarceration, Junko Kobayashi of Nagoya University introduced me to Tessaku through her doctoral thesis, “‘Bitter Sweet Home’: Celebration of Biculturalism in Japanese Language Japanese American Literature, 1936–1952.” Floyd and I commissioned Dr. Leong to translate two of the short stories Junko singled out, and now Dr. Leong has taken the idea to the next level: appointment of a Tessaku Community Advisory Board to carefully consider guidelines and provide oversight for the potential translation of all nine issues of the magazine, and a Tessaku Translation Collective prepared to do the work. The full range of programs he now envisions include:
Physical Conservation and Creation of Digital Preservation Copies of eight of the nine issues of Tessaku and copies of other Tule Lake literary journals that have been donated to the UC Berkeley Ethnic Studies Library by Satsuki Ina, magazines that were collected and kept by her father, poet Itaru Ina;
Collection and Storage of Additional Interpretive Materials such as photocopies of WRA/DOJ records pertaining to Tule Lake literary activities; basic translations of titles and summaries of contents; recordings of outreach and feedback sessions;
Cataloging of Materials with Community-Sensitive Metadata consulting with Advisory Board members and others about appropriate terminology for subject and keyword entries;
Research Trips and/or Research Assistance to search for and collect WRA/DOJ/ONI records pertaining to Tule Lake literary activities;
Public Outreach and Feedback Presentations at the 2024 Tule Lake Pilgrimage and possibly in the SF Bay Area and Los Angeles;
Video Oral Histories with any surviving Tessaku writers who were children and teenagers in camp and would now be in their late 80s or early 90s; and
Compilation of Editing and Translation Protocols for the longer-term (3-5 year) process of preparing and revising complete translations of all nine issues of Tessaku and other Tule Lake literary journals.
Over my time on his Community Advisory Board, I’ve come to admire Prof. Leong’s care for best practices in community outreach and consultation. We first met on March 4 of this year. Our second meeting on July 23 included expert guests Junko Kobayashi, Masumi Izumi, and researcher Kaoru “Kay” Ueda, curator of Japanese Diaspora Collections, Hoover Institute, via Zoom. Our third meeting was November 14.
“At our last meeting, the community advisory board came up with the idea of creating a zine of translations from the first issue of Tessaku,” says Dr. Leong. “This zine could then be distributed at the 2024 Tule Lake Pilgrimage as a proof of concept. This idea came about because the board felt that, instead of posting a few scattered works online, preparing a full, complete issue as a concrete, physical object would better illustrate the full significance of what Tessaku was, and thereby encourage greater community engagement.”
The project also includes Translation Collective Members Lisa Hofmann-Kuroda, Daryl Maude, Aine Nakamura, and Chelsea Ward. Lisa moderated an October 27 online program for the Tadaima! virtual pilgrimage program in which Junko, Andrew, and I discussed the translation project and the Penguin anthology:
You’ll get to preview four selections from Tessaku — including the two short stories newly translated for our volume by Prof. Leong — when The Literature of Japanese American Incarceration is published on May 14, 2024, as a Penguin Classic.
Earlier this year we put out a call for leads on the families of several of the authors in that collection. With the Tessaku Translation Project, the need to locate the families of these writers has multiplied ten-fold. The advisory board is placing a priority on locating writers who were children or teenagers at Tule Lake when they contributed to an issue with writing from young people. So, if any of the names in the table below are known to you, please send an email to [email protected].
|Memories of My Dog
|My Favorite Bird
|Composition Class: Dust
|ICHIBA Mishie (?)
|Yoshiya Nobuko’s “Hana Monogatari” [Flower Story]
|Composition Class: Sacred Enomi Tree
|Composition Class: Young People
|Yamamoto Yūzō’s “Tōjin Okichi” [Okichi the Chinese]
|I Dreamt of Being a Millionaire
|De Amicis’ “Cuore” [The Heart]
|Composition Class: Morning
|My Vegetable Garden; Keiko-chan Next Door
|Spring is Coming; Composition Class: Morning in an Incarceration Center
Again, if you are related to any of these writers, or know how to get in touch with them or their families, please send a note to this dedicated email address: [email protected]. Thank you.