Author page: NW Editor

History of JA Baseball in California Published

Base­ball in California: A History” by Kerry Yo Nakagawa has just been published by The History Press.

The book includes a pref­ace by the late actor Noriyuki “Pat” Morita and a foreword by former New York Mets pitcher Tom Seaver.

Four generations of Japanese Americans broke down racial and cultural barriers in Califor­nia by playing baseball. Behind the barbed wire of concentration camps during World War II, baseball became a tonic of spiri­tual renewal for disenfranchised Japanese Americans who played America’s pastime while illegally imprisoned. Later, it helped heal resettlement wounds in Los Angeles, San Francisco, the Cen­tral Valley and elsewhere.

Today, the names of Japa­nese American ballplayers still resonate as their legacy con­tinues. Mike Lum was the first Japanese American player in the Major Leagues in 1967, Lenn Sakata the first in the World Series in 1983, and Don Waka­matsu the first manager in 2008.

Join Nakagawa in this update of his 2001 classic as he chroni­cles sporting achievements that doubled as cultural benchmarks.

Nakagawa is an author, film­maker, actor, historian, husband and father of two. Baseball, and sports in general, have been a large part of his family legacy. In 1993, he swam from Alcatraz to San Francisco, and in 1994, he played as an all-star for the national champion Fresno Ban­dit semipro team. He is also a black belt in the martial arts and an advanced tennis player.

His athletic family history includes his dad, who was a semipro football player and sumo champion, and his uncles — Johnny, Lefty and Mas — who competed with Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Lefty O’Doul, Jackie Robinson and the all-stars of the Negro League.

His dedication to the Fresno-based Nisei Baseball Research Project (www.niseibaseball. com) is well respected and has morphed into an educational organization to bring awareness and education about the intern­ment of Japanese Americans through the prism of baseball and many multimedia projects.

The NBRP exhibit “Dia­monds in the Rough” has achieved international status, having been shown in such loca­tions as the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. and the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in Tokyo.

Nakagawa’s other visions to communicate this story include a documentary with Pat Morita entitled “Diamonds in the Rough: Zeni and the Legacy of Japanese American Base­ball,” a tribute to Kenichi Zen­imura (1900-1968), founder of the Central California All-Star team, the Fresno Athletic Club; and “American Pastime,” which he produced and acted in, a fea­ture film that is still educating and entertaining teachers and students through its dramatic narrative.

He has chaired tributes to Nisei baseball pioneers with the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland A’s, Arizona Diamondbacks, Fresno Grizzlies and Sacramento River Cats. Nakagawa is also as a board member for the Japanese Ameri­can National Memorial Founda­tion in Washington, D.C.

Last May at San Francisco’s AT&T Park, Nakagawa, wear­ing a vintage uniform, served as honorary catcher when Masa­nori “Mashi” Murakami — who became the first Japanese-born player in Major League Baseball when he pitched for the Giants in the mid-1960s — threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

The History Press, based in Charleston, S.C., brings a new way of thinking to history pub­lishing — preserving and enrich­ing community by empowering history enthusiasts to write local stories for local audiences. Since 2004, it has published nearly 3,000 local and regional history titles from coast to coast. For more information, visit www.

Obon Season Draws to a Close

By Lauren Kawana

On a cool August evening, several hundred people gathered at the Buddhist Church of Oakland to pay homage to loved ones that have passed on—nearing the end of a string of festivals held in the Bay Area for Obon season.

One of nearly a dozen Obon events in Northern California, Oakland’s one-day “Festival of Joy” attracted around 300 people to the downtown-Oakland/Chinatown area. Iconic red and white lanterns hung above several circles of dancers—some dressed in yukata, kimono, hapi coats, and some in casual clothes—all moving in time to the melodies of a live band.

Michael Yoshihara of the San Jose Chidori Band has been playing for festivals like this one since 1989. What he enjoys most about Obon is its “participatory” nature. “We not only get people watching, but a lot of people dancing.”

Yoshihara said “the dancing has increased incredibly” over the years. At the recent San Jose Obon Festival—one of the largest in the Bay, he said there were over 1,300 dancers present, when there was once only about 300. In Oakland, Yoshihara said he was excited to see “four full lines” of dancers as opposed to barely two when he first started playing the festival circuit.

This is the fourth festival the San Jose Chidori Band has played this year and their next stop is Union City this weekend. The band’s nine musicians and six vocalists perform on a voluntary basis and often times must handwrite their own sheet music. “We only hear Obon music on YouTube or CDs so we have to decipher it,” Yoshihara said. “A lot of obon bands are made of traditional Japanese instruments like the shakuhachi and the koto.” Yoshihara, who plays the saxophone and keyboard, said the band works to “translate obon music to what we have which are woodwinds, regular guitar and bass.”

No one seemed to mind the modernized versions of Obon music as they happily encircled the yagura, or raised scaffolding, where church members stood, leading attendees in the dances.

The Buddhist Church of Oakland was established in 1901 and is comprised of about 400 members. Earlier that afternoon before the dancing, it featured a tea ceremony demonstration by ; a koto performance by Shirley and Brian Muramoto; a taiko performance by the Eden Aoba Taiko group.

The chairperson of Oakland Obon Festival, Jon Takagaki, said that he is happy not only church members are in attendance, but others from the community at-large including a truck of firefighters who stopped by to observe the dancing.

Sabrina Rocky and her group of friends were first timers at this festival. Rocky lived in Mie, Japan, for a year teaching English at local preschools and said she missed Japanese culture. “Obon and matsuri (festivals) were one of my favorite things in Japan,” she said. “We looked up Obon festivals in the East Bay and came down.” Rocky also made sure to enjoy a bowl of udon before leaving.

As the sun set, the lanterns illuminated the sky and Takagaki noted the names hanging from each lantern, which represented a loved one who had passed. For a small donation, the public could honor a person in their past. Takagaki honored his family by designating a lantern for his uncle, Henry Yoshisato, who introduced him to the Buddhist Church of Oakland where he also served as President of the board. “It’s such a wonderful church tradition to celebrate Obon and pay respect to those who passed on before us, but yet it’s such a joyous occasion.”

Sitting on the curb and watching the dancers with her son Jaykob while he munched on an ear of corn, Natasha Morimoto also admired the “Festival of Lanterns.” Morimoto, who is half-Japanese, said it was her first time at the Oakland Obon Festival. She grew up in San Francisco and always attended the San Jose festival as a child. Jaykob, 5, was wearing a red happi coat she bought for him in Japantown. “My grandmother said the characters on it say ‘double happiness’, which is so perfect for him,” she said. “I want my son to know his culture. We came here today so he can see the dancing. It’s like the Day of the Dead for Japanese people, but it’s so beautiful.”

Christine Kawabata and her 18-month-old daughter Sophie represented the generations of church members who have come to celebrate Obon in Oakland for years. Kawabata, is from San Francisco, but grew up in San Lorenzo. She was there with her husband, her grandmother, her sister and her mother. “Since I’m older and kind of grown up and gone away, I get to see the kids I used to play basketball with,” Kawabata said.

Her grandmother, Yo Kawabata, 87, has been a church member for over 50 years. Yo said her favorite thing about the Obon festival is “seeing the little ones in the kimono and watching them dance.”

Other parents and children included Erik Rainey of Berkeley, who was carrying his 4-month-old daughter, Samantha. With his wife, Lauren, Erik brought his newly born daughter to experience Obon for the first time. The Raineys met during a study abroad program in Japan and later married. “I’m glad it’s here. Something like this makes you feel like you’re back in Japan,” Rainey said. “We lived in Boston for awhile and Lauren played taiko there but there’s not as much of a Japanese community there, so it’s really nice here.”

Perhaps one of the most enthusiastic Obon dancers to be found at the Oakland festival was Sister Makinya, 88, of Berkeley. She said she enjoys the tradition of Obon because if feels “just like an extension of my tribute to my parents who have passed.” Though she is not a member of any Buddhist churches, she practices for six weeks and said she hits as many Obon festivals as she can in the season. Initially introduced to Obon by her tai chi instructor, Makinya said she’s been dancing since 1998 and “has not missed a year.”


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Definitive Japantown History Book Goes to Print

By John Sammon

The most definitive history of San Jose’s Japantown ever published prints this month and its authors said the book would present as never before the rich culture of Japanese immigrants and generations of Japanese Americans who followed.

The book, titled, “San Jose Japantown: A Journey,” 15 years in the making, will go on sale to the public in November, though people can preorder copies of the book through Aug 15.

“There were times when I thought the project would never end,” said co-author Curt Fukuda. “The culture in Japantown was so rich and we had so much material. We were originally shooting for a 300-page book and then it went up to 500 pages. We didn’t want it so big and heavy you couldn’t hold it in your hand. We had to figure out what we had to cut, and ended up cutting about half of what we had.”

The book covers the time period from the 1890’s when Japanese immigration to San Jose accelerated, through the tumult of the World War II internment period up to 2010. Fukuda, a film maker, photographer and technical writer, said the project came about partly by accident beginning in 1999.

“I was taking a multi-media class at Foothill College,” he said. “I was being shown how to do a virtual tour using computers and I thought Japantown would be an interesting project for a virtual tour.”

Assisted by Jim Nagareda, a local photographer, Fukuda took 360-degree panoramic photos of Japantown, an area of San Jose running from First Street to 8th Street, Empire Street in the south to Taylor Street in the north.

“We’d stand in the middle of a busy street to take the photos,” Fukuda said. “We thought it would be cool to have a project where you could click on a button and it would talk to you about the history of a site.”

At first the project envisioned merely a CD Rom (compact disc) and an accompanying eight-page book. As more interesting stories were accumulated, it turned into a 16-page book, then grew to a 32-page effort.

“My wife, who is one of the smartest people I know, finally said, ‘just do a full-blown book,’” Fukuda recalled. “That was in 2001.”

Instrumental in the book’s development was Jimi Yamaichi, curator of the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, who invited Fukuda to meet and interview long-time residents to get their recollections. It was a learning experience for Fukuda because although he is of Japanese American heritage, he grew up in another part of San Jose and had little personal knowledge of Japantown.

“I was born in San Jose but grew up in the east side where we had a population that included Portuguese and Hispanics,” he said. “I did go to Sunday School at the Buddhist Church in Japantown and my parents would sometimes take me to one of their festivals. We’d buy some Japanese gifts, but that was about all.”

Fukuda’s parents were Nisei, second generation Japanese Americans. His father did a variety of jobs as an auto mechanic, cabinet maker and gardener.

During World War II when 115,000 Japanese Americans living along the West Coast suspected of disloyalty were forcibly stripped of their rights and livelihoods by the government and herded into internment camps, Fukuda’s mother was sent to Heart Mountain, Wyoming, and his father a camp in Poston, Arizona.

“My parents met after the war,” Fukuda said. “My father had lived in Salinas and after the war in the 1950’s he went to work for Sears in their sales department.”

Fukuda attended San Jose State College and developed an interest in film making.

“I was taking graphic arts classes and was interested in movies,” he said. “I made my own Super 8 movie films and ended up taking a job as a cinematographer for an aerospace firm, Ford Aero Space. That’s an arm of the Ford Motor Company.”

He was also interested in still photography and entered the commercial photography field taking pictures for corporate clients. In addition, Fukuda learned computer and Photoshop (editing software) skills. He wrote Adobe Photoshop instruction manuals.

Fukuda branched out further, doing graphic design for a company in San Francisco, web design, and taught video and photography classes for KMVT 15, a public access television channel in Mountain View.

“I’ve been busy,” he said. “It’s been a juggling act finding time because I also have a 12-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter. That’s one of the reasons it took 15 years to do the book.”

The book project involved the talents not only of Fukuda and Nagareda, but co-writer Ralph Pearce, area resident Janice Oda, who served as book designer, Ward Shimizu and June Hayashi.

Pearce is a library clerk for the California Room at the King Library in downtown San Jose, an archival historical repository where much of the information for the book was gained.

“I’m third generation and I’ve always been interested in the history of Japantown,” Pearce said. “I was excited when Jim Nagareda asked me to assist and hooked me up with Curt (Fukuda). I had written a book previously about the history of Japanese American baseball, so I had some background.”

Pearce served many functions, editing and proofreading as well as writing.

Research involved going through publications, old musty documents, early-day newspaper accounts, and studying archives at libraries and museums. The group received invaluable help from Jim Reed, head historian at History San Jose, the region’s largest historical repository.

Numerous interviews were conducted with long-time residents, some of who have since passed away.

“The number of our interviews is over 100 people,” Fukuda said. “I personally interviewed 75. We would go into a person’s home and if they were comfortable with it, video record the interview. Sometimes we would interview two or three people at one sitting.”

Never-before-published rare historic photos were acquired from people after the interviews.

“People were very gracious lending us their photos,” Fukuda said. “We would take a scanner to their home and make a copy of the pictures.”

The book is not just about Japanese Americans, but also explains the history of other ethnic groups who lived in the area, including the Chinese, residents from the Philippines and African Americans. Chinese settlement predated Japanese immigration.

“I didn’t know there was a big Chinatown before Japantown,” Fukuda said. “Before 1868 and the Meiji Restoration, Japan was a feudal country and people were not allowed to leave. To learn about the size of the Chinese community here was a revelation.”

Fukuda added that as late as the late 1960’s, some locals still referred to the area as “Chinatown.”

Another little-known phase was the period when residents from the Philippines predominated in numbers because Japanese Americans had been shipped off to internment camps during World War II.

“During the war many people from the Philippines lived along North 6th Street,” Fukuda said. “We have photos of Japantown when Japanese Americans were not there.”

Yet another interesting period was the 1970’s. Japantown’s population was aging. Fukuda said the community was rejuvenated partly by younger third generation (Sansei) residents and new arrivals taking renewed interest in the community, its culture and history.

“It was thought at first the younger generation didn’t care,” Fukuda said. “These younger people grew up during the Vietnam War and the period of protest of the 1960’s. But they rediscovered their culture. Some of them were political activists, and they helped older people or sometimes gave legal advice. They brought new energy to Japantown.”

Greater involvement by a new generation led to revitalization and the formation of cultural organizations like Yu-Ai Kai, a senior service organization, San Jose Taiko (a unique form of Japanese American drumming) and others. Some of the younger residents and new arrivals founded businesses of their own or took over those started by their parents.

Fukuda said the most difficult part of putting the book together was coordinating all the different elements into a cohesive story. The most enjoyable part was meeting the people interviewed.

“They were such interesting people, most of course I’d never met before,” he said. “They were the kind of people you wish you’d known all your life.”

Fukuda has authored two books before, both concerned with a Mexican holiday commemorating ancestors who have passed away. The books are Day of the Dead Folk Tales, co-written with Salvador Gonzalez, self-published in 1997, and Day of the Dead, published in 2004 by Berghahn Books of New York.

The Japanese American Museum of San Jose is the publisher of San Jose Japantown: A Journey.  The initial print run is expected to be 1,500 to 2,500 copies. Museum officials are planning a celebration in November for the release.

Bob McKibbin, board member of the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, said the book can be pre-ordered through Aug. 15 for a 33 percent discount at $43.50. After that it will sell for $60 a copy.

Union Bank as a sponsor donated funding to help with publicity and pre-sales of the book.

“The proceeds from the sales of the book will be donated to local charities and nonprofits,” McKibbin said.

Pearce said his hope is that Japantown endures as a unique community.

“We felt it was important enough to tell the story of Japantown, that it was worth preserving,” he said.

Fukuda said he hopes publication of the book will inspire people to learn more about Japantown. He added that the desire to tell the story kept him and coworkers going through disappointments and doubts the project would ever reach completion.

“There were times when I thought we have to be crazy to be doing this,” he said. “But I knew that even though I didn’t live in Japantown as a boy, it was like it became a part of me. You can’t escape the little thing, your heritage, inside you.”

People may order San Jose Japantown: A Journey by going to the Japanese American Museum of San Jose website at

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