By John Sammon
The recent release of a CD (Compact Disc) transferred from a record album recorded back in 1977 its musician co-creator said will show how little some societal problems in America have changed over time. Songs in the album (CD) call for the championing of social justice—particularly among Asian Americans.
“I think of the album as a call to action,” said Peter Horikoshi, former member of the Yokohama California Band. “Asian American communities must remain vigilant.”
Horikoshi said recent talk in Washington D.C. among government officials of the possible forced registering of Muslim Americans, or even concentrating them in camps reminiscent of prisons that illegally held Japanese Americans during World War II, has him greatly concerned.
“These are some of the same issues our band used to sing about,” Horikoshi said. “As a community Japanese Americans vehemently oppose the registering of Muslims. Putting Muslims in camps like the government did with Japanese Americans during World War II is one of the worst ideas ever.”
Horikoshi re-released to the public in September the former record album (now a CD) “Yokohama California.” Songs performed call for greater understanding among people and serves partly as a historic reminder of life in Japanese American communities in Northern California during the Watergate era, but also as a warning. Eerily, some of the songs are concerned with similar problematic issues today such as paranoia, exclusionism and racism.
“I believe music is an instrument for social change,” Horikoshi explained. “There will always be a need to stand up and speak out on issues affecting our communities.”
One of the songs in the album titled “Different Picture” challenges the racist stereotype of the time that all Asian people are by nature meek, quiet and submissive. The very few Asians most Americans saw on television in the 1960’s were usually cooks, houseboys or servants.
“In the album we talked (sang) about the identity and struggles of being an American person of Asian heritage,” Horikoshi said. “Our songs encouraged people to make positive changes and to speak out on issues such as justice and equality.”
Additional songs Yokohama California performed at concerts in the 1970’s and were recorded but were not among the nine songs on the original album, called “bonus tracks,” have been added to the new CD.
Horikoshi’s father played the piano and his parents sang at church events. He said he also got his interest in music like many young people of the 1960’s, by listening to rock and roll.
“I still play music though I’m retired from my day job,” Horikoshi said. “I worked in administrative human resources for three agencies in the Bay Area, East Bay Municipal Utility District, the City of San Leandro and BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit).”
Horikoshi’s parents lived in Japan as children and came to the U.S. in 1938 as Christian missionaries.
“My father (Y. Casper Horikoshi) was a Methodist Minister,” Horikoshi said. “Because they were missionaries they were not subject to the Asian Exclusion Act (1882 restricted immigration from China and later Japan with the National Origins Act of 1924). My father was recruited from Japan to work in a Japanese American church in Salem, Oregon. He married my mother Hisako and moved to Oregon.”
The Salem Japanese Community Church was disbanded during World War II and did not survive.
The couple’s status as missionaries did not save them from being imprisoned along with Japanese Americans at the outbreak of the war. Both parents were sent to an American concentration camp in Heart Mountain, Wyoming.
After the war ended the government gave the couple a train ticket to a destination of their choice.
“My parents had contact with people who were Good Samaritans, academics associated with the University of Boston, who wanted to help displaced Japanese Americans,” Horikoshi said. “They took in my family including my brother and sister. I was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1952.”
Horikoshi’s father studied for a Doctorate Degree in Theology at Boston University but with a growing family and four children eventually accepted an offer from a Japanese American church, the West Tenth Methodist Church, located at the corner of West and 10th streets in Oakland. The church was later torn down to make room for the Nimitz Freeway (Interstate 880).
During these years the elder Horikoshi also served Methodist congregations in Florin (near Sacramento) and Toronto, Canada. He would eventually become Japanese Language Minister at the Wesley United Methodist Church in San Jose.
“I had opted to move with my brother Elliot to Berkeley where I finished high school in 1969,” Horikoshi said. “I attended the University of California at Berkeley pursuing a degree in Asian American studies. That was a brand new major in college back then.”
During the political unrest of the 1970’s Horikoshi said he originally planned to do social work in the Asian community, but took a job for the utility East Bay Municipal Utility District instead. He also did odd jobs.
“I worked for the National Park Service at Alcatraz Prison (San Francisco) when they first started cleaning it up to make it ready for the public to visit,” he said.
Horikoshi had been playing music informally in the Bay Area for fun with friends like Sam Takimoto who played recorder, guitar and sang, and Mike Okagaki, who played the guitar.
Horikoshi recalled. “A new member joined us, Keith Inouye, who also played guitar and sang. We were invited to University of California, Davis to play. We added another band member, Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo. We had met him at a performance, and he played keyboard, guitar and sang.”
Horikoshi said he and his bandmates had been inspired by the music of Chris Iijima, Joanne Miyamoto and Charlie Chin, titled Yellow Pearl, Asian American folk singers, and the first Asian Movement band.
Yokohama California sang about Asian identity.
The inspiration for the name Yokohama California came from a book of short stories of the same title published in 1949 by the author Toshio Mori, in which legends, gossip, people and humor portray life in a fictional Japanese American community during the 1930’s and 40’s.
The Yokohama California Band toured the college circuit playing at Sacramento City College and San Jose State College when they caught the interest of a record producer, Steve Kato. Kato teamed up with Roy Hirabayashi and Steve Yamaguma of the newly formed San Jose Taiko, one of the country’s first Asian Japanese American drum and rhythm groups located in San Jose’s Japantown.
The three produced the album and approximately 3,000 were made. Almost all of them sold. However, soon after, the band broke up when the performers returned to college to focus on their studies.
“Ever since over the years I would be asked by people who recalled the album, ‘why don’t you put it on a CD?’” Horikoshi said. “I would ask, do you think there is still an interest? The album meant a lot to me because of the struggles we talked about in our songs, and because some of these issues are still relevant today.”
The CD incudes a booklet and a layout case. Brad Shirakawa did the graphics for the CD booklet and also processed songs on the CD.
A distributor in Japan began selling the CD. So far sales there have been greater than in the U.S.
“I’ve sold the first thousand, so I’ve ordered more copies,” Horikoshi said.
In San Jose the CD is available for sale at the Nikkei Traditions Gift Shop at 219 Jackson St. in San Jose’s Japantown. In San Francisco it can be purchased at the National Japanese American Historical Society (1684 Post St. in San Francisco), and in Berkeley at the Eastwind Books of Berkeley at 2066 University Ave. In addition, the CD may be purchased at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles at 100 N. Central Ave. in Los Angeles.
The CD may also be purchased online at www.yokohamaca.com.
Horikoshi is married. His wife Wendy works as a life coach and also sings and plays the flute. The couple, who play today in the Wesley Jazz Ensemble Band in San Jose (Horikoshi also plays in the Wesley Ukulele Band), has two grown sons, Steven and Kevin.
Horikoshi and wife Wendy will be performing some of the songs from the CD at an upcoming “Day of Remembrance” to be held Feb. 19 at 10:30 a.m. at the Berkeley United Methodist Church at 1710 Carleton St. in Berkeley (CD’s will also be available for sale at the event).
He said the cause of world peace and social justice embodied in the CD is a goal all people should seek.
“Positive social change can only take place if we work together,” Horikoshi said.