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Music Connects Roots

Minidoka Swing Band performs in Japan in 2015. Photo courtesy of Minidoka Swing Band

By Shihou Sasaki

The North American Post

A swing band based on Portland has been performing for a strong mission: sharing stories and memories of lives in concentration camps during World War II.

The Minidoka Swing Band was originally formed in September 2007 to encourage youth to learn about experiences of Japanese Americans and to perform at the Minidoka incarceration campsite in 2008.

“Many of these youths had great-grandparents, grandparents and relatives who were interned during the era,” the website states. “By remembering the empowerment of their ancestors, it will help to discourage such acts from occurring again.”

The band plays based on what was played at the incarceration camps. “All of the things, people easily forget what we had gone through in order to live our life positive way,” said Larry Nobori, director of the Minidoka Band. “All things happened when I grew up as child was very important as I remember. I go back to what my relatives and ancestry go through.”

The membership has changed since then, but the band has still been active at occasions including locally in the JACL convention in Bellevue in 2012 and the United Methodist Church’s Pacific Northwest Annual Conference at the former Camp Harmony site in Puyallup in 2014.

Last year, the band completed a huge project, touring Japan to share their experiences with music through the “Sharing Our Heritage and Culture to Japan 2015”.

“It was just phenomenal,” said Larry Nobori, director of the band. “Live was great because everything we tried to do in the tour was successful as a community band.”

Nobori said that the tour had a challenge in how the two sides of entertainment and history/education could combine together for Japanese audiences. The band decided to share a story and a message from history in each song using multimedia to educate Japanese citizens and others in attendance about the Japanese American incarceration during World War II.

“We wanted to go back to Japan to address which we did. It was the last gas left for us,” he said. “And we just did something that nobody else could have done.”

After the band’s successful tour to commemorate the 70th anniversary of ending World War II, the band may be planning an additional Japan tour including a visit to Nobori’s ancestral city, Hiroshima.

Nobori added that the future is not certain while facing aging members, especially with only four members left who experienced the incarceration out of the 17 band members. He also said that the band has gone well to share all the stories at community occasions.

“It is grateful that we got to do this and I was a part of it,” he said. “I am reconnected with the community through the music.”

According to the band website, the next performance will be held at the Obon Fest in Portland on Aug. 6 at Oregon Buddhist Temple. More information about Minidoka Swing Band can be found at www.minidokaswingband.com.