Category Archives: News

Sharing “NO-NO BOY” with teachers in six cities

The story of No-No Boy and John Okada is being shared this summer with middle and secondary teachers of history and the humanities in six cities across the nation, as part of a series of place-based online workshops sponsored by the National Japanese American Historical Society of San Francisco and the National Park Service.

We Are All Americans flyer

We’ve had great discussions already with educators in Chicago and Boise, Idaho. It’s been instructive to localize Okada’s time writing his novel in the Midwest for the Chicago audience, and to share Jim Akutsu’s “kangaroo court” trial at the federal courthouse in Boise with teachers in Idaho.

Still to come are four more workshops:
— July 16 for Seattle, for which we’ll of course share the locations where Okada was born and raised,
— July 30 for Minneapolis, with a focus on Okada’s training at the MIS Language School at Fort Snelling,
— August 4 for Washington, DC, which will include participation by Heart Mountain resister Tak Hoshizaki,
— and a final workshop on a date TBA for Albuquerque, NM … umm, where the brother of one of Okada’s brothers-in-law lives.  Here’s the full program description from NJHAS:

How did the experience of being forcibly removed from their homes and incarcerated affect the choices made by people of Japanese ancestry as they responded to the government’s call for loyalty and service?

In the workshop, We Are All Americans, we explore the deep moral dilemma young people of Japanese ancestry faced in the 1940’s—the decision of whether or not to serve in the US military while their families were incarcerated in concentration camps by the U.S. government without due process.

We Are All Americans will focus on four case studies: Gordon Hirabayashi, who registered as a Conscientious Objector while his close cousin fought overseas; Jack Tono, a draft resister with the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee; and Harry Fukuhara and Walter Tsukamoto who served with the Military Intelligence Service (MIS). We will also have a live presentation on John Okada (MIS), by speaker Frank Abe, author of John Okada: The Life & Rediscovered Work of the Author of No-No Boy. 

Join your colleagues for open-ended inquiry into what it means to be American – then and now. Why did some individuals believe civil rights should be restored before service, while others were committed to proving themselves to gain back civil rights?

We will meet in a series of 2 hour and 30 minute interactive workshops live online. Learn more here. Applications are being taken here.

This workshop is co-sponsored by the National Japanese American Historical Society, and the National Park Service.

The project was funded in part, by the Japanese American Confinement Sites grant, administered by the National Park Service, JA Community Foundation, and the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program.

Okada book club & “Conscience” director’s commentary set for virtual camp pilgrimage

Tadaima imageAn ambitious nine-week online event kicks off today,  a virtual camp pilgrimage designed to make up for all the summer site visits cancelled by the pandemic. Among the plethora of programs are three that we’ve agreed to host.

In Week 3, on Saturday, July 4 at 2:00 pm PDT, join me and moderator Erin Aoyama for a live group viewing of Conscience and the Constitution with a twist: while the film is streaming, I will offer the kind of director’s commentary on the making of the film that we were never able to include on the DVD. Tune in for behind-the-DVD coverscenes stories about the Heart Mountain draft resisters, and leave questions in the chatroom for discussion afterwards. Erin brings her own experience of working on building a forthcoming database with the biographies and archival files of all 63 defendants in the largest mass trial in Wyoming history [UPDATE: Here’s the YouTube video of the Director’s Commentary].

No-No Boy cover illustrationIn Week 4, on Friday, July 10 at 5:00 pm PDT, we will have a live book club presentation and discussion of the novel No-No Boy and the story of the author behind it.  If you missed our book release events last year for our biography of John Okada, we’ll reprise that presentation while mixing in a fuller discussion of the themes of the novel. Vince Schleitwiler will moderate.  [UPDATE: Here’s the  YouTube video of the Book Club].

Continue reading Okada book club & “Conscience” director’s commentary set for virtual camp pilgrimage

“Greetings from Ground Zero” letter in Konch

Konch mastheadMy “Greetings from Ground Zero” letter from Seattle appears in this special pandemic issue of Ishmael Reed and Tennessee Reed’s Konch Magazine.

It was an honor to be asked to submit among such creative company.  It was also a chance to call out the work of Satsuki Ina leading the National Pilgrimage to Close the Camps, and Nina Wallace’s  droll observation in the Densho Blog:

At the state capitol in Olympia and others across the nation, the president’s brownshirts grieve lockdowns as egregious violations of their individual liberties, and equate them to Japanese American wartime incarceration, Jim Crow laws, and even slavery. “No,” said Nina Wallace of Densho in Seattle, “We can’t believe this actually needs to be said, but no, quarantine is not the same thing as incarceration.” And she said the obvious out loud: “Your living room is not a concentration camp, and exposing service providers to hazardous working conditions so you can get a haircut is not an inalienable right.” 

Continue reading “Greetings from Ground Zero” here. Scroll down past the publisher’s note and the bios to the table of contents and Letters section to find the link to the Word doc. 

John Okada’s MIS service shared in new PBS film

The story of John Okada’s wartime work in the U.S. Military Intelligence Service is now airing nationwide in a new film on PBS.

Frank Abe in office
photo: Steve Ozone

The filmmakers of The Registry, Bill Kubota and Steve Ozone, flew out from Detroit seven years ago to speak with me about the author of No-No Boy. In particular we focused on the two years Okada spent training at the MIS Language School at Camp Savage, Minnesota, and then flying in the belly of a B-24 out of Guam to intercept and translate Japanese air-to-ground radio transmissions. If my words seem to falter it was because this interview was conducted in 2013, well before I had begun the final round of research and writing on the featured biography in our recent volume, John Okada.
Continue reading John Okada’s MIS service shared in new PBS film

In Memoriam: Cedrick Shimo, military resister

Guest post by contributor Martha Nakagawa. This is a longer version of the obituary which will appear in the Rafu Shimpo and Nichi Bei Weekly. Martha writes: “Cedrick passed away at White Memorial Hospital but it was not related to the COVID-19 virus. Hope everyone is holding up under these strange times.”

Cedrick Shimo
photo: Densho. Click on the image to watch Cedrick’s 2009 Densho interview.

Cedrick Masaki Shimo, a World War II military resister and an executive at American Honda Motors, USA, passed away peacefully on April 1. He was 100.

Shimo was the only child born to Tamori and Yoshiko Urakami Shimo, both from Okayama, Japan. Continue reading In Memoriam: Cedrick Shimo, military resister

In the pandemic of 2020, echoes of 1942

Greetings from the social distance of Seattle, ground zero for COVID-19 in the U.S. Thanks to those who have checked in to see how we’re doing. We’re all fine, and I certainly hope you and those you know are well — like you, continually checking the phone for the latest domino to fall, unable for these first ten days or so to focus on much of anything besides the massive disruption that has upended our world.

closeup of president's remarks
photo: Jabin Botsford, Washington Post

And in this moment, as we wait for the peak of infections to crest, we are starting to see echoes of 1942 in the great pandemic of 2020. We have a nation under attack from a threat which originated in Asia, and which hit America on the Pacific Coast. Anyone with an Asian face becomes a target for racial retaliation. The occupant of the White House belatedly declares himself to be a “wartime president,” and tries to deflect responsibility for his early disease-denial by inflaming the xenophobia of his base and deliberately  branding COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus.” Continue reading In the pandemic of 2020, echoes of 1942

A Day of Remembrance = A Day of Action

The first Day of Remembrance in 1978 was political. We staged it as a car caravan from Seattle to a family potluck and program at the Puyallup Fairgrounds, but it was only to create a safe space for the Nisei to begin to express their long-suppressed rage at expulsion and incarceration, and channel it into a long-overdue petition for redress of grievances and a call for our elected leaders to right a wrong. Continue reading A Day of Remembrance = A Day of Action

Shawn Wong’s 49-year journey with “NO-NO BOY”

Shawn Wong with photo of himself at typewriterAdd performance art to the resume of novelist and professor Shawn Wong.  audience at Kane Hall, University of Washington

Before an audience of 500 for the Friends of the Libraries annual lecture at the University of Washington on January 30, he acted out what he called the “mostly true” story of how he brought John Okada’s No-No Boy from 1,500 copies in print to selling more than 160,000. Continue reading Shawn Wong’s 49-year journey with “NO-NO BOY”

In Memoriam: Hiroshi Kashiwagi — poet, playwright, no-no, and renunciant

Hiroshi with Frank AbeHiroshi Kashiwagi once confided that when he was young he felt his real calling was as an actor. He had the soul of a poet, modest and soft-spoken, until he got on stage. Then he could command a voice that was measured and determined, almost Shakespearean in tone. He held a strong sense of right and wrong, and pushed himself to write and to study public speaking in order to be heard. Continue reading In Memoriam: Hiroshi Kashiwagi — poet, playwright, no-no, and renunciant

“NO-NO BOY” and “JOHN OKADA” in NY Times and American Book Awards

You’d never expect John Okada and the entire literature of Japanese American incarceration to be featured in the Style magazine of the New York Times … but thanks to the passionate interest of Thessaly La Force, features director for T: The New York Times Style Magazine, her deeply felt essay is now online. It will appear in print in the Sunday Times edition on November 17th.T: The New York Times Style Magazine

Many thanks to Thessaly for reaching out to Shawn Wong and myself to learn more about this history, and the life and work of John Okada in particular. The literature of Japanese American incarceration is a field that JOHN OKADA co-editor Floyd Cheung and I are researching for a new anthology scheduled for 2021.

Floyd was not present, but Greg Robinson and I were, when our volume on John Okada was honored Friday with an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation.

American Book Award recipients onstage

Here are my prepared remarks for the acceptance: Continue reading “NO-NO BOY” and “JOHN OKADA” in NY Times and American Book Awards