2010 / Hidden Legacy: A tribute to teachers of Japanese traditional arts in the wartime WRA camps, April 24


Hidden Legacy Jyorokusho

A group led by Kineya Jyorokusho performs at Gila River, Arizona camp during World War II

Hidden Legacy: A tribute to teachers of Japanese traditional arts in the wartime WRA camps, featuring seven living artists of that period, will be held on Saturday, April 24, 2010, at Koyasan Buddhist Temple, 342 East 1st Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012.

The program will start at 3 pm, featuring performances of classical odori (dance), biwa (5-string lute-like instrument), nagauta shamisen, koto, and Bon Odori (dance to honor the dead).

From 4 pm, discussion will take place with the featured artists, and panel moderator Prof. Jere Takahashi, Lecturer of Asian American Studies at UC Berkeley.

Admission are suggested donation $20 for general, $15 for seniors and students with ID. For information and reservations, call (213) 628-2725 ext.133, or email Gavin Kelley at Kelley@jaccc.org.

The artists, who will participate in this event of performance and discussion, are:
Bando Mitsusa – Tule Lake, Calfifornia, classical Japanese dance; Kineya Jyorokusho – Gila River, Arizona, nagauta shamisen music also taught koto and odori in camp; Hokunin Kyokuto Kimura, aka Molly Kimura – Tule Lake, California, biwa music, ikenobo, tea ceremony, Japanese language, Buddhist studies; Kayoko Wakita – Manzanar, California, koto and shamisen music, also representing her parents Baido Wakita (shakuhachi) and Nobue Wakita (koto and shamisen); Hanayagi Reimichi, aka Reiko Iwanaga – Amache, Colorado, bon odori dance, also representing Rev. Yoshio Iwanaga, Poston, Arizona camp; Yukino Harada – Amache, Colorado, Japanese classical dance; Fujima Rieyuki, aka Yuki Sato Lee – Minidoka, Idaho, Japanese classical dance, also representing her mother, Nishikawa Kikuharu.

Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto, a teacher and performer on koto who has been conducting her own research on the performance of traditional Japanese arts in the camps for the past two decades, became interested in the background of how her own mother learned the koto in the Topaz and Tule Lake camps where her family was interned.

Muramoto was amazed how some Japanese American artists persevered under the worst conditions, practicing their arts by sometimes making their instruments and props from whatever scraps were available.

About six years ago, Professor Lane R. Hirabayashi, the Aratani Endowed Chair at UCLA, suggested Muramoto read a research paper by Minako Waseda, Extraordinary Circumstances, Exceptional Practices: Music in Japanese American Concentration Camps. “It was the first research I found on Japanese performance arts in the camps”, Muramoto explains.

In 2008, Muramoto and her friend and colleague, Bando Misayasu, presented the first program about Japanese performing arts in the camps in San Francisco. Professor Hirabayashi, having heard about the program, contacted Muramoto about possibly presenting the program in Los Angeles. “I jumped at the opportunity to work on staging the Hidden Legacy program in Los Angeles. This is indeed a chapter in the history of the WRA camps that has been neglected to date.”

Muramoto found that in conducting interviews with these artists, many new insights have been uncovered that illustrate how the practice of these art forms were not expressions of disloyalty, rather that these teachers and students were seeking to exercise their “cultural citizenship” — the right to express and maintain their ethnic cultural practices as part of their Japanese American identity.

Camp directors and leaders encouraged internees to become more American in their daily camp life. With the passage of time, some of these Japanese cultural roots have become hidden.

In the mix of “assimilation,” these cultural traditions might be lost, something that rings true for many other ethnic Americans concerning their own cultural heritage. These teachers of Japanese traditional arts helped the current generations to learn where they came from. Some who are foreign to Japanese culture have become interested in Japanese arts because of these teachers in the United States.

The history of the Japanese American internment has been thoroughly researched, but amazingly the story of Japanese traditional arts in the camps has been largely overlooked. Prof. Hirabayashi and Muramoto have been working towards bringing these artists together in order to hear their important stories, as they are in danger of being lost forever.

“We need to further identify, research, represent and document this history, before it is out of reach, and recognize those artists who persevered, provided entertainment and cultural awareness.”

This program is a joint endeavor by Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto, the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, the Koyasan Buddhist Temple, and Professor Lane Hirabayashi, the George and Sakaye Aratani Chair, Asian American Studies Center, UCLA.