The Berkeley Remix Season 8, Episode 4: “‘Origami as Metaphor’: Creative Expression, Memorialization, and Healing” 

In this episode, we explore creative expression, healing,
and the memorialization of Japanese American incarceration. 

This graphic illustration depicts a large wave and guard tower behind barbed wire with text above that reads, "Episode 4: Origami as Metaphor"
The Berkeley Remix Season 8 Podcast Image for “Episode 4: Origami as Metaphor.”

It is clear that stories about World War II incarceration matter. Some descendants embrace art and public memorialization about incarceration history as not only means of personal creative expression and honoring the experiences of their ancestors, but also as avenues to work through the intergenerational impact of this incarceration. Stories shared through art and public memorialization help people both inside and outside of the Japanese American community learn about the past so they have the tools to confront the present. Others seek healing from this collective trauma by going on pilgrimage to the sites of incarceration themselves, reclaiming the narrative of these places. 

In season 8 of The Berkeley Remix, a podcast of the Oral History Center at UC Berkeley, we are highlighting interviews from the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project. The OHC team interviewed twenty-three survivors and descendants of two World War II-era sites of incarceration: Manzanar in California and Topaz in Utah. This four-part series includes clips from these interviews, which were recorded remotely via Zoom. Using healing as a throughline, these life history interviews explore identity, community, creative expression, and the stories family members passed down about how incarceration shaped their lives. 

This season features interview clips from the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project. This episode includes clips from: Miko Charbonneau, Bruce Embrey, Hans Goto, Patrick Hayashi, Jean Hibino, Mitchell Higa, Roy Hirabayashi, Carolyn Iyoya Irving, Susan Kitazawa, Ron Kuramoto, Kimi Maru, Lori Matsumura, Jennifer Mariko Neuwalder, Ruth Sasaki, Masako Takahashi, Nancy Ukai, Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong, and Rev. Michael Yoshii. Additional audio of taiko drums from Roy Hirabayashi. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website.

Produced by Rose Khor, Roger Eardley-Pryor, Shanna Farrell, and Amanda Tewes. Narration by Devin Katayama. The taiko and shinobue songs “Taiko Fue Intro” and “Celebration” were composed and performed by PJ and Roy Hirabayashi. Original theme music by Paul Burnett. Additional music from Blue Dot Sessions. Album artwork by Emily Ehlen. A special thanks to the National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant for funding this project.

The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the U.S. Government. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the U.S. Government.




PODCAST TRANSCRIPT: “‘Origami as Metaphor’: Creative Expression, Memorialization, and Healing”

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Ruth Sasaki: Well, the first story I ever tried writing based on Japanese American experience was in 1974, and I had no success getting that published. [laughs] Um, and I guess I just really wanted to, you know, try to bring that experience into the fabric of American literature, because it was missing, really. Anytime I saw a Japanese American character in fiction, which was not at all often, I felt really sensitive about how that character was portrayed, and so I was tired of feeling like a ghost [laughs] in my own country and I thought, you know, It’s time that I opened up—and we, artists and writers, opened up our world and invited other people in.

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Devin Katayama: Welcome to The Berkeley Remix, a podcast from the Oral History Center at the University of California, Berkeley. The Center was founded in 1953, and records and preserves the history of California, the nation, and our interconnected world. You’re listening to our eighth season, “‘From Generation to Generation’: The Legacy of Japanese American Incarceration.” I’m your host, Devin Katayama. 

This season on The Berkeley Remix, we’re highlighting interviews from the Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project. The OHC team interviewed twenty-three survivors and descendants of World War II-era sites of incarceration at Manzanar in California and Topaz in Utah. In this four-part series, you’ll hear clips from these interviews, which were recorded remotely via Zoom. These life history interviews explore identity, community, creative expression, and the stories family members have passed down about how incarceration shaped their lives. 

As a heads up, generational names for Japanese Americans are going to be important in this  series. Issei refers to the first generation of Japanese immigrants to the United States. Nisei are the second generation, Sansei the third, Yonsei the fourth, and Gosei the fifth. Just think about counting to five in Japanese: ichi, ni, san, shi, go.

This is episode 4, “‘Origami as Metaphor’: Creative Expression, Memorialization, and Healing.”

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Katayama: Art is many things. It can be a form of creative expression, a reflection on culture, and an avenue to invite people into your innermost self. For some Japanese Americans, art has also been a way to work through the intergenerational impact of World War II incarceration and Asian American identity. In recent years, this has been true for multimedia artist Masako Takahashi.

Masako Takahashi: I realize all these things that I’ve been looking at, expressing myself through as mediums to use, have been Japanese. I’m looking at Japanese traditions. 

Katayama: Masako is a Sansei born in Topaz, and through this work, she discovered she was more affected by Japanese culture and art than she suspected.

M. Takahashi: I have realized that I’m more Japanese than I thought. [laughs] See, before, I would’ve just said I’m American. But now I realize I’m much more Japanese than I realized. Why deny it? Why fight it? [laughs]

Katayama: For Susan Kitazawa, a Sansei whose family was incarcerated at Manzanar, the act of making art is therapeutic in and of itself. 

Susan Kitazawa: My creative stuff, my writing and my visual, tactile art, I have absolutely no need to market it, sell it. I do a lot of it for just the process of self-discovery and self-healing. 

Katayama: Ruth Sasaki, a Sansei descendant of Topaz, found that writing was her way of processing personal experience. 

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Sasaki: It’s very cathartic. When I came back from Japan in 1984, I felt very isolated, because people weren’t really interested in what I’d been doing for seven years. I didn’t feel there was anyone I could really share it with, and so being able to write about some of that was very good for me. It was like therapy, really, and kind of exploring it to see what it meant to me. I sometimes joke that something hasn’t happened until I’ve written about it.

Katayama: Though creative expression is often deeply personal, some artists want to share their work with the world. 

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Katayama: But this can bring complications, too. 

Sasaki: After The Loom was published, my mom—she’s amazing, you know, because I know that that story really was hard for her to take, you know? [laughs] And I tried to explain it’s a tribute to Nisei women of that generation, but I also understood that the little details along the way sometimes, you know, [laughs] can be very painful. She really came around to being very supportive, to the extent that she would carry flyers from my book around in her purse in case she ran into, you know, somebody, and then she would like give out flyers. So It turned out okay. There’s still a question, I think, with my sisters.

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Roy Hirabayashi: Taiko is basically the word for the Japanese drum. Uh, it’s a generic word for all the Japanese drums.

Katayama: That’s Roy Hirabayashi, a Nisei whose family was incarcerated at Topaz. 

Hirabayashi: If you would go to most temples, you would see a drum sitting in the altar area, and it was used to accompany the chanting and the services and the celebration. During Obon, the summer festival, the taiko is accompanying the dancing and the singing that was going on.

Katayama: Performance art, like taiko, can be a way to bring a community together. Traditionally a very Japanese artform with only a handful of drumming groups in California, Roy founded the San José chapter. The sound the group created was different from a lot of other groups.

Hirabayashi: Most of the friends had some kind of musical experience, you know, uh, they were coming from more of the jazz, Latin, Afro-Cuban background. They were coming in with, you know, polyrhythms, different time signatures. 

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Hirabayashi: We didn’t realize at the time, but very different from what taiko sounded like in Japan. That, to me, was what created the San José taiko sound, because we were creating what we felt, without knowing, but just creating our own sound using what we called the Japanese drum. And so we felt we were establishing pretty much early on that we’re an Asian American sound, using what we’ve called our version of the Japanese drum, the taiko.

Katayama: Roy and his friends drew inspiration from listening to the music that they grew up with in the San Francisco Bay Area in order to form their own style of taiko. 

Hirabayashi: Growing up musically, I didn’t listen to Japanese music. My influence in growing up was, you know, naturally what we heard in the Bay Area. The Bay Area just has every opportunity of music you could ever want to hear, it’s just all here, and so that was just a big advantage for us. When taiko started and people started to get interested and wanting to actually listen to it and follow it, to me it really became that voice for the community and knowing that we could use the instrument to really help bring people together.

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Katayama: Origami is the traditional Japanese artform of folding paper. Descendants like Jennifer Mariko Neuwalder, a Sansei whose family was incarcerated at Topaz, found creative release through origami. 

Jennifer Mariko Neuwalder: I did a ton of origami as a kid, a ton. I’ve been thinking about how important of an experience that was for me, because it was a connection with the Japanese side of things.

Katayama: Jennifer used origami in her professional life, too. 

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Neuwalder: When I was first starting to work as a child and adolescent psychiatrist, I thought about writing a paper about origami as metaphor, because the kids I would see would have a lot of trauma, because I was working with children who had been hospitalized. And I liked the idea of a piece of paper, let’s say you crumple a piece of paper, you can still flatten it out, you can use it to make something beautiful, but you can’t undo those folds, you’ll still see evidence of them. But you can still make something beautiful. 

Katayama: For many descendants who turn to art to process their heritage, it’s a meditation on intergenerational legacy. Masako Takahashi’s 2004 installation Generaciones/Generations explores these themes. Imagine silk kimonos of various sizes interwoven with the artist’s hair and hanging side by side, the sleeves delicately touching—almost like a family holding hands.

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M. Takahashi: And that is to imply the passing along of something from generation to generation. Something Japanese is being passed along, because I guess that’s how I felt with my father’s death. It’s hard to put in words, but I have some of that legacy.

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Katayama: Having space to process grief can be a vital tool for healing. For some survivors and descendants, incarceration only represents one moment in time of Japanese American history. Some Japanese Americans feel like their stories have been reduced to a single narrative, fixed in time. Here’s Ruth Sasaki describing how difficult it can be to escape from this history. 

Sasaki: I felt that anytime anybody wanted me to speak, they always wanted me to speak about the incarceration. After the war stories got zero interest. Anytime it’s a Japanese American story, you expect the incarceration to figure into it somehow. And to me, that was so limiting. I mean, I thought it was important, but I personally never wanted to tell that story because I didn’t think it was my story to tell. I wasn’t there, you know? And I was so cautious, I guess, about misrepresenting something I didn’t fully understand. 

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Katayama: For people like Patrick Hayashi, a Sansei who was born in Topaz, public memorialization was a way for him to engage with this deeply personal past. 

Patrick Hayashi: In the late eighties, there was an art exhibit called The View From Within of art that was produced in the camps. I had zero interest in art, but I went there. I felt really uncomfortable in museums, because I hadn’t grown up going to museums. But as soon as I went in there and I started looking at the paintings, I started to choke up. It was astonishing, because I’d never responded to any art, and, and something was happening internally.

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Katayama: One of the pieces in the show featured James Hatsuaki Wakasa, the Issei man who was murdered by a camp sentry at Topaz in 1943. 

Hayashi: The fourth painting I saw was Chiura Obata’s sumi-e sketch of James Wakasa falling over after he was shot, and I started to sob. And then it was terribly embarrassing, but everyone around me, who was mainly Nisei, they were crying, too. That’s when I started revisiting the camps.

Katayama: Susan Kitazawa’s father, who was incarcerated at Manzanar, also had an emotional experience while visiting a show about incarceration at the Smithsonian.

Kitazawa: And my father walked through, and he, he said it was really quiet, and all you could hear was a lot of people crying quietly. He said, “As I walked through, I became more and more enraged. Like, How could they do this to these people? This is so unjust, this is so wrong, this is just absolutely stupid. I just found myself being enraged and furious, that: how could the government do this to these people?” All of a sudden he thought, Oh, I was one of the people. Um, he said, “It just hit me like, Oh, this was done to me and Mom and my parents.” He didn’t use this language, but basically he just said he had disassociated himself from the experience. He later told me that instead of the rage he felt that evening walking through the exhibit or that afternoon, he said, “I always felt ashamed. I was like an ex-convict. I had been incarcerated. And partly why I didn’t talk about it was because I didn’t want you kids to think of me as an ex-convict.” Which just blew my mind. 

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Kitazawa: And I said, “Yeah, you did something really wrong, Papa. You were born into a Japanese American body. That was your crime.”

Katayama: These public memorializations can be emotional for descendants, too. Carolyn Iyoya Irving, a Sansei whose family was incarcerated at Topaz, remembers visiting the Oakland Museum of California. They had just renovated their exhibition on state history to include World War II incarceration.  

Carolyn Iyoya Irving: My husband had gone off to another section and just kind of let me go through this exhibit by myself. I always end up getting so affected, you know, and emotionally quite moved. I think a lot of it is, frankly, anger. And so I was kind of moving out of the exhibit and just kind of being there, [laughs] and then I noticed this person next to me, and it was this very well-meaning, older, white woman. I don’t know how she automatically assumed that I was necessarily a Japanese American person, but she just kind of came up to me, and I think she even put her hand on me and said something like, “Oh, you know, we all hurt about this,” or, “We all feel the pain around this.” I was aghast, like I just, I didn’t even know really how to respond. I mean, obviously, you know, I wanted to be kind of civil, but I think I, I was first a little bit shocked, and secondly, you know, felt like my space had sort of been invaded. It stuck with me. Kind of just shut all that off [laughs] and didn’t engage at all.

Katayama: For other descendants, public memorialization is a way to reclaim the narrative about incarceration. 

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Katayama: Nancy Ukai, a Sansei descendant of Topaz, has taken this to heart. She created the online 50 Objects Project as a vehicle to share stories based on heirlooms from incarceration. 

Nancy Ukai: Going through their belongings—this is true of many people of my age—we Sansei find all of these things about World War II that our parents kept, but we didn’t ask about them. Letters, photo albums. We didn’t know they existed. And so that’s excavated a whole lot of memories, questions, and regret that you didn’t talk to them more, because now you can’t ask people. So material things are sometimes the only thing we have left, and they’re silent, and so with our project what we’re trying to do is coax out those voices the best we can.

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Katayama: But the public display of material culture related to incarceration can also be a source of deep pain, rather than healing. It can bring up all kinds of questions like: who owns art? Whose story is it to tell? Nancy confronted these questions in 2015. 

Ukai: It was the New York Times arts blog newspaper. The headline was something like “Japanese internment art goes to auction,” and there was a watercolor shown. Basically the narrative was: there’s going to be an auction next month in New Jersey by the Rago Arts Company, and material like this rarely comes on the market. And they explained there were going to be barracks signs and paintings and so on and so forth. 

Katayama: This didn’t sit well with Nancy. 

Ukai: Anyhow, I didn’t know all that at the time, but was just thinking, An auction? This is going to be really a historic effort. And now look at all the things that are online, and look at the prices that they’ve assigned to them, because they have an estimate, a starting bid. So maybe the start is like $300, but they expect it to sell for $1,000. And that just, to me, was obscene. It was gross.

Katayama: In the spring of 2021, Nancy discovered that something similar was happening to Lori Matsumura, a Sansei whose family was incarcerated at Manzanar. Nancy found a listing on eBay and contacted Lori.   

Lori Matsumura: So out of the blue, she contacts me and says, “Are these your dad’s drawings?” She directed me to the eBay website, and I was looking through these items, and it was signed by Matsumura. I’m like, “Well yeah, but why is it on eBay?” 

Katayama: Lori and Nancy met with the representatives from eBay to try to get these items removed from auction. They were also concerned about this happening again, and wanted assurance that items like this wouldn’t come up for sale in the future. 

Matsumura: And I introduce myself and I tell them, “You know, I believe those are my dad’s artwork. I don’t think they should be sold on eBay without the consent of his family.” And they took ’em down. 

Katayama: While Lori was relieved that eBay removed the items for sale, it really got her thinking.

Matsumura: How did this happen? It just made me angry to have our family’s things in the hands of someone else. 

Katayama: Lori felt that it should be up to her family, that it should be their choice about whether or not to sell her father’s artwork from when he was incarcerated. 

Matsumura: If you have these things that your family made while they were being a prisoner, these things are a part of their life at a time when it was hard. 

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Matsumura: So this is, you know, family artifacts that you’re not going to find anywhere, and to know that your ancestors, who did all this during that time, I just can’t imagine selling it. I think it’s worth more than money.

Katayama: For Nancy, it wasn’t just about the price tags, it was the fact of the auction itself. 

Ukai: These are things borne of tragedy, the loss of humanity, freedom, civil rights. Family members died. People were so traumatized, many people never talked about it. Um, and so to see these belongings, which managed to survive, be priced and sold in this coldblooded, capitalistic auction platform just felt extremely dehumanizing and a great, big insult. 

Katayama: Remember that Rago auction back in 2015? Unlike the conversations with eBay representatives, this time Nancy took her case to the court of public opinion. She and her daughter created a Facebook page a week before the auction to inform people about the sale. 

Ukai: We called it “Japanese American History: NOT For Sale.” That took off immediately, because the idea was that you would, first of all, let people know that there’s an auction. Then you have to kind of educate people: why is this wrong? What are these things? Let’s humanize these things. These represent human lives. Why is it wrong, you know, to put a price on that, and to have this happen without our input? Let’s pause this. Let’s stop this.

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Katayama: The response to “Japanese American History: NOT for Sale” was overwhelming.

Ukai: So I have, actually, a binder with all of those comments, and it’s powerful. There were a lot of people who were saying, “You know, I’m a Holocaust survivor. I oppose this,” or from an Indigenous person, “We understand completely. Stop the desecration of our property.” So it just was, um, really a very moving thing. At any rate, two days before the auction, they had one of these promotional events. Rago stood up and basically said, “We’ve decided to suspend the auction.” That was two days before.

Katayama: Nancy still thinks about why this auction was so important, and the larger implications of commodifying artifacts related to incarceration.

Ukai: World War II camp artifacts carry these memories. Selling them for a price, it just feels really painful and offensive to see people bidding on something and then bidding it up. Um, but we live in a, you know, capitalist culture, and everybody thinks everything’s for sale and everything has a price. 

Katayama: Memorialization is not just about descendants honoring the struggles of their ancestors, but also about teaching younger generations about this history. 

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Katayama: Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong is a Gosei whose family was incarcerated at Manzanar. Her great aunt, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, wrote Farewell to Manzanar. The book—and then later the film—became important ways for the American public to engage with incarceration history. 

Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong: The book was a healing process for her. She never said it in these terms, but this is how I view it, is that: I think she sees it as her responsibility to kind of take on this burden of emotional baggage to help educate people about it.

Katayama: Bruce Embrey, a Sansei whose family was also incarcerated at Manzanar, agrees.

Bruce Embrey: You cannot ignore Farewell to Manzanar, which had a huge impact. I mean, it was a big deal. 

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Katayama: This dedication to educating future generations about incarceration history is just one reason why many descendants watch conversations about book banning so closely.

Ron Kuramoto: Muskego is a small school district that has one high school. There were a couple of school board members that were recently elected, uh, who were much more conservative than in the past. One of them that was elected last April, uh, ran on the slogan of, “Critical thinking, not critical race theory.” So you can imagine what their perspective on the world was. 

Katayama: That’s Ron Kuramoto, a Sansei whose mother was incarcerated at Manzanar. He lives in Wisconsin. 

Kuramoto: There were about thirty books that were up for review. The majority of them were like science books, math books, third-grade reading, things like that. All of them passed almost without question. But this one novel, which focused in on the Japanese American incarceration experience, caught their attention—of those board members. These board members felt that it was unbalanced because they were only told from the perspective of Japanese Americans, not from the US government, whatever that means.   

Katayama: The book that Ron’s talking about is When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka. 

The school board decided to delay the decision for another year so that the book wasn’t banned entirely—at least for now. Ron’s story indicates how controversial the history of Japanese American incarceration remains—even today.

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Katayama: Another way of educating the public about incarceration involves the sites themselves—either preserving or reconstructing the cultural landscape there. This is how Mitchell Higa, a Sansei, found himself part of the National Park Service’s public archaeology project at Manzanar.

Mitchell Higa: My father was contacted by NPS, because his barrack was within the demonstration block at Manzanar. NPS was surveying survivors from camp, and it came up that my father had excavated his own personal basement under the barrack. So my father drew a plan view with dimensions. The archaeologists were able to scale off and figure out, measure out the approximate location of my dad’s basement. So when I got there, excavation had already begun. It was a great experience. I had a lot of time to think about, try to put myself into the mindset of my fourteen-, fifteen-year-old and dad digging his basement and hanging out with his friends in that basement, and kind of what everyday life was like at camp.

Katayama: Education and memorialization can also mean reclaiming the narrative about incarceration. This was at the core of activism around establishing Manzanar as a historic site. A group of dedicated individuals answered this call in 1970. Together, they formed the Manzanar Committee in order to preserve the site and its history. Bruce Embrey’s mother was one of those founding members. 

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Katayama: Here’s Bruce again, who is the current co-chair of the Manzanar Committee.

Embrey: Its key objectives are twofold: one is to educate the broader American public about what happened at Manzanar and camp in general; and the second was to make sure it becomes a state historic landmark, because it’s hallowed ground. All of that would not have happened without bringing in every stakeholder and without conceiving Manzanar as a site of conscience and as a site of resilience. But I think it’s important to locate this as a struggle over narrative, because this is how you both remember and act. My perspective is there’s a narrative out there that’s really important to get right.

Katayama: Bruce’s mother, Sue Kunitomi Embrey, who was herself incarcerated at Manzanar, also advocated for this narrative.

Embrey: She says, “I want to prepare the next generation and equip them with some skillset or understanding to deal with the inherent racism of the United States.”

Katayama: Stories matter. They help people both inside and outside of the Japanese American community learn about the past so they have the right tools to confront the present. And it’s more than that for some descendants. Here’s Lori Matsumura again. 

Matsumura: I think talking about it and sharing the stories has a lot to do with healing. 

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Vox pop:

Roger Eardley-Pryor: I want to ask if you think healing is possible.

M. Takahashi: You know, I think the real truth is that there’s such a thing as scars. You could say the wound has healed but left a scar.

Ukai: And so I guess my answer to you would be: truth, accountability, participation in our own history is, I think, a step to healing. 

Neuwalder: And so to me, I think the healing is like trying to help the next generation not experience trauma. 

Jean Hibino: I don’t know if I’m, I’m sure “healing” is a word that I like.

Miko Charbonneau: It’s really hard to heal if you don’t acknowledge it and move on. 

Hibino: I would not say “healing,” but “dealing with.” 

Matsumura: I would love to ask my dad, “Do you forgive? Have you moved on?”

Katayama: Japanese American descendants attempt to heal the scars of incarceration in many ways. Some feel the pull to visit the prison camps themselves, wanting to see where the US government detained their families more than eighty years ago. This act of returning to the sites is a pilgrimage. 

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Katayama: Even the name implies the deep, almost spiritual connection to place. The journey brings up a variety of emotions. Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong is not only a descendant of Manzanar, but also works to memorialize the history of World War II incarceration. She serves as the National Park Service superintendent of the Hono’uli’uli National Historic Site, an incarceration camp in Hawai’i. She has participated in many pilgrimages over the years, but the journey to Topaz stands out to her.

Wakatsuki-Chong: I don’t know if it was officially a pilgrimage or not, but it’s like, you know, we’re in, um, Salt Lake and then you take a bus out there, you go see the site, go to the museum. And the site is just incredible. I’m not a religious person, but this is the only way I feel like I could actually describe it: it’s like the rapture happened. Things just disappeared, but like you could walk on the paths, because you could kind of still see it delineated, but then like there’s stuff on the ground like pottery or like pennies and stuff like that, like as if people just disappeared. It’s a very eerie sense. It just makes you feel really small, but it’s also haunting at the same time, but then it’s also you’re able to connect with the site. It’s just incredible like being out at that site. [laughs]

Katayama: But not everyone feels this deep connection to the land. Patrick Hayashi was actually born in Topaz.

Hayashi: I thought I would have an epiphany of going home, uh, but none of that happened. Maybe it’s because I was thinking of it in sentimental terms and romanticized terms and political terms, so it didn’t affect me deeply at all.

Katayama: In Ruth Sasaki’s family, there was a divide about whether or not to return to Topaz on pilgrimage. 

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Sasaki: Well, my sister and I heard of this opportunity to go with a group of, I don’t know, maybe thirty to fifty other Japanese Americans. And so we asked my mom if she wanted to go. She was, I guess, in her eighties then. And her response was, “No.” [laughs] You know, “I have no desire to go back.” Which is fine, you know, that was fine. I understood. 

Katayama: Kimi Maru reflects on why survivors, and even descendants, may not wish to go on pilgrimage. 

Maru: For people who were in camp, who were there, it’s very, um—you know, it’s emotional for them to be back there to see, you know, where they lived for three, four years. You feel sadness, sorrow, but you also feel a lot of anger and kind of like you want to express your opposition to what happened, how wrong it was. 

Katayama: And yet, for others, these heightened emotions are really important, because they lead to a kind of catharsis. Here’s Hans Goto, a Sansei whose family was incarcerated first at Manzanar and later at Topaz. In visiting Manzanar, he explains:

Goto: I think that revelation part was like, Oh, there was actually a physical place. This is where my parents were. This is where my family was.

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Katayama: Mitchell Higa also finds it important to retrace his family’s footsteps by going on pilgrimage.

Higa: Everything becomes meaningful and not abstract. This helps me develop my gratitude and appreciation for the suffering, sacrifices, bravery, the courage to get through camp. So, uh, there’s a lot to pilgrimages of, of why it’s meaningful and important to me.

Ukai: Interestingly, my husband and I went to one Tule Lake pilgrimage, where we took our daughter, who must have been thirty, and she said, “Thank you for inviting me. That was life-changing.” I was quite surprised. Um, she’s biracial, she’s aware of this history, she’s written a little bit about it in high school. But I said, “Why?” She said, “Because everyone was so nice.” I think it was the feeling of being in a community where all the faces are Japanese American, and people were genuinely interested in you, and interested in you as a Yonsei, as going to be the person to pass on the future stories, and there’s just this kind of warmth and safeness to pilgrimages.

Katayama: That was Nancy Ukai. Here’s Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong again, discussing different pilgrimage experiences.

Wakatsuki-Chong: All of them have a different feel. Sometimes people need to just connect with the land, you know, and, and understand: why were these places chosen, or, what is happening on these lands now?

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Katayama: For some, the land itself holds the memory of what happened there. Susan Kitazawa wanted her father to go on pilgrimage to Manzanar with her. Despite initially being hesitant, he eventually agreed.

Kitazawa: When we got there, my father got out of the car and he was looking over the barbed wire fence into the area where the internment camp was, and he looked really confused. My father was not at this time the tiniest bit demented or Alzheimer’s or anything, his brain was totally sharp until the day he died. And he was standing there looking really confused, when he just said, “Where are all the people?” I thought he meant the tour group that was going to go through the site. And I said, “Oh, Papa, they’re probably over by the main entrance. They’re probably gathering there.” And then that was when he said, “No, but where are all the people that live in the barracks? Where are the barracks?” That was when I realized he was expecting to get out and see the scene he had left when he was in his twenties still going on. I said, “Papa, you and Mom, everybody left a long time ago. They tore the barracks down. Nobody lives here anymore.” And then he was embarrassed and he kind of goes, “Oh, oh, oh. Yeah, right. Of course, of course.” I realized in that moment how traumatized he was, that, you know, in his mind, it was still real, it was still happening. And for him to go back and visit there was just going back to the scene of a terrible, terrible thing.

Katayama: But revisiting a place with such troubled memories also opened the door for Susan’s father to heal.

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Kitazawa: We joined the tour. We were walking around and the guide would say, “Now, here was such and such.” And then my father would say, “Actually, I think the dining hall was a little bit further that way.” And then he would say something else, like, “There was such and such here.” My father would say, “No, actually, that was da, da, da.” And so after he did that a few times, the young man leading the tour, he goes, “You lived this, sir. Why don’t you lead the tour? Because you know what it was.” My father somewhat hesitantly took the mic and he led the rest of the tour. It was just this incredibly healing experience for him. It was, it was amazing. It was just wonderful for him. I was just so grateful that the Manzanar Pilgrimages exist. 

Katayama: Here’s Hanako again. 

Wakatsuki-Chong: I know we still need to work within the Japanese American communities to talk about it.

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Wakatsuki-Chong: But it’s finding that balance where you’re not appropriating the history, but you’re providing space for people to connect and process the history within their own families.

Katayama: Processing this past is never a smooth road. So what does healing mean for descendants of incarceration? Is it even possible?

Kitazawa: That’s a good question for a nurse. Um, [laughs] healing, healthcare. I think for us to heal, whether it’s physically or emotionally, it’s like you have to let go and undo the damage and the painful stuff in our bodies. You know, grow new, fresh tissue. Grow new, stronger, more useful ways to think about things. 

Katayama: That was Susan again. Here’s Lori Matsumura.

Matsumura: They say time heals all wounds. But if that wound is deep, there’s going to be a scar. And if you look at that scar, it’s going to bring back those emotions and those feelings. A person has to find a way to deal with it on their own in their own way. 

Katayama: Rev. Michael Yoshii is a Sansei whose family was incarcerated at Topaz. Helping the Japanese American community is part of his spiritual calling.

Michael Yoshii: And for me, what clearly became evident as, as a pastor, as a clergy person, the congregational life is the base of where my healing work would happen. I could do healing work in the community, but the congregational space would be the place where the healing would be effectuated most dynamically for me as a clergy.

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Katayama: For some, healing means not just honoring their ancestors, but also reclaiming the legacy of incarceration. Here’s Kimi Maru and Bruce Embrey again. 

Maru: I think being involved in a lot of these different issues, not just around the camps itself, but around immigration, around electoral work and all the different things that we’re involved with, trying to right the wrongs or fight for justice and equality, it’s all part of healing. It’s part of preventing it from happening again. And so I think that’s part of being able to heal and to overcome a lot of the, you know, injustices that all people in this country who have faced discrimination, racism, all kinds of inequities. So that’s my message to people, is: get involved. That’s the best way of healing. 

Embrey: My mother always talked about the creation of the site and the role of the pilgrimages as a source of healing a trauma. She talked about healing and she talked about righting injustice and she talked about social change as healing. You heal by righting wrongs and by fighting oppression and gaining your voice. 

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Katayama: Thanks for listening to the final episode of “‘From Generation to Generation’: The Legacy of Japanese American Incarceration” and The Berkeley Remix.

This episode features interviews from the Oral History Center’s Japanese American Intergenerational Narratives Oral History Project, and includes interviews from: Miko Charbonneau, Bruce Embrey, Hans Goto, Patrick Hayashi, Jean Hibino, Mitchell Higa, Roy Hirabayashi, Carolyn Iyoya Irving, Susan Kitazawa, Ron Kuramoto, Kimi Maru, Lori Matsumura, Jennifer Mariko Neuwalder, Ruth Sasaki, Masako Takahashi, Nancy Ukai, Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong, and Rev. Michael Yoshii. Music from Blue Dot Sessions. Taiko and shinobue songs were composed and performed by PJ and Roy Hirabayashi. This episode was produced by Rose Khor, Roger Eardley-Pryor, Shanna Farrell, and Amanda Tewes. Thank you to the National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant for funding this project. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website listed in the show notes. I’m your host, Devin Katayama. Thanks for listening!

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