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It’s Been a Year

The Mogao Caves at Dunhuang, China, where we began our armchair journey. Images from silkroadcollection.com (top) and easytotourchina.com

By David Yamaguchi

A YEAR HAS PASSED since I began writing weekly here, as something between hard news and a diary. At this juncture, it is useful for me to pause to consider what I have  learned from the experience.

The first lesson has been a glimpse into the life of a journalist, as contrasted with that of an occasional freelance writer. The former makes for fascinating work. It means living actively thinking, with a notebook and camera always at the ready. When I log onto the internet or go out, like a hunter-gatherer I watch for “low hanging fruit” that can become the next article with limited effort. It might be an interesting museum display, film, or meeting.       

The second finding is that there really is enough content in the Seattle Japanese-American space to fill such a column weekly. There is all manner of interesting local stuff that does not make the mainstream press, or even Asian-American ones. The pages of the Northwest Asian Weekly and the International Examiner are chockablock with other news.

A third has been discovering that the Post today remains nearly as ephemeral as it was in 2006 when I started writing for it. If a reader misses a weekly printed copy, she is hard-pressed to find another. Only occasionally can a prior week’s paper be found in the racks at Uwajimaya or elsewhere.

Today, one would normally just search online for such past content. Toward this end, the Post diligently updated its partial-content website from March to Oct. 2016. Unfortunately, napost.com was maliciously hacked in the autumn, as were many websites, to harness its server for other uses. Since then, the Post has not had the resources to resume maintaining its web presence.

Among backup hard copies, the most easily accessible ones are in the Beacon Hill and International District branches of the Seattle Public Library. Beyond these, trips to the Post’s office, in the old Uwajimaya building (enter from the parking lot; climb the staircase inside), or to the UW library are called for.

A fourth discovery has been how firm the line in the sand remains between Japanese culture-connected readers (Post readers) and those less so (IE and NWAW readers). Among Japanese Americans, the former are generally over age 65.

Wherever I go these days, people in their 70s, 80s, and 90s will mention that they are reading my words. By contrast, as I have mentioned, very few of my age peers ever open these pages. “What is that paper you write for called,” they ask, if at all.

It is interesting to ask why the cultural divide is where it is. Notably, it is not strictly generation-defined, but cleaves the leading edge of the Sansei generation—those now 70-80—from those around the median of our bell-shaped curve, which I place at 60.

Is the leading edge of a third generation about as far as remnants of an ancestral country’s culture lingers in all American subcultures? Is it that bilingualism and biculturalism can be maintained for about 2.1 generations, but not 2.5 or 3? (Published accounts place limited Japanese conversational ability among Sansei in the 5-10 percent range).

In the case of JAs, are the influences of World War II and its camps overlaid on the general pattern? Many readers of this paper remember the war. They spent at least part of their youth in all-Japanese environments.

Does the abrupt cultural loss among younger people reflect the cultural relaxation that pervaded the JA community after WWII? Then, even the most conservative families realized that they had become Americans. There would be no returning to Japan, especially given the hunger that stalked the living there into the late 1950s.   

On my end, a fifth finding has been that I can pull off the weekly writing. At the outset, I wondered whether I could really produce a half-page column, comprising some 700 words and a photo, week in and week out. I have found that the way to do so is to have an article largely written as each weekend begins, so that I can fine-tune wording over morning coffee before submitting each Monday for Tuesday layout and Wednesday printing. To do this, I have learned to write ahead, with a half-dozen partially drafted articles waiting on my computer.

At the same time, I also have to ask, why are there not more Nikkei writers? Why do others not step forward to help the bedraggled Post staff fill these pages?

Is it that our mindset is still too much that of an immigrant group, where skills that put food on the table (medicine and engineering) are valued disproportionately over ones that feed the soul (English, journalism, and forestry)? The concise, amusing Japanese here is, “Dango yori hana.” [Dumplings before flowers (instead of the reverse)].

In any case, at this juncture, I want to thank the readers who have written, called, or expressed in person their thoughts on my words here when we have met. They have helped me to know that the time we have spent together on these pages has not been wasted.

Most recently, one such person was a classmate of the late Grover Yamane. He called to say that I had gotten the obituary right. I had expressed what he and others had “lacked the words” to do.    

My favorite letter is from a friend of my Auntie Natsuko (“Manzanar Nurse,” June 9), who in writing and sending a photo illustrating their friendship, had not realized that we had met before.

In the group photo at a 1959 birthday party for Natsuko’s daughter, Mari Chin [Louie], I am the squirrelly two-year the lady is steadying for my uncle-photographer. Yet in common Nisei fashion, she refused to let me post the photo or mention her name here.

“I can’t be in the paper,” she says.

For another truism is that many enjoy reading about others in these pages, but not about themselves.

In any case, over the coming months, I hope to continue to fill in more of where I have left off, as well as to tackle new stories not yet known. I have left four running potboilers dangling.

Yoroshiku onegai shimasu. Please keep this column in your thoughts.