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The Road to Omoide (Memories) 2021 Celebrating 30 Years of Writing with JCCCW

By Dee Goto For The North American Post

The JCCCW Omoide group at their 30th anniversary potluck (Nov. 13; article, p. 3). Principals labeled in all caps include founder Dee Goto and writing instructor Janine Brodine. Fourteen of the 17 pictured have written essays published in the NAP, or were featured in NAP interviews, since 2018. Photo: Arisa Nakamura

Growing up in the 1940s and 50s, those of us of Japanese heritage socialized mostly within “our own kind.” Our elders made special efforts for Japanese-heritage girls and guys to get together. When I was at Lewis and Clark College, Portland, in 1956, I attended the yearly Thanksgiving weekend Japanese Methodist Youth Conference. Methodist Youth Fellowship (MYF) participants gathered from Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane, Washington, and Portland and Ontario, Oregon.

There was always a Saturday night dance attended by other Japanese heritage youth from each host city. We girls sat on the row of chairs on the south side of the Portland church gymnasium and the guys kind of stood around in bunches on the north side. Chuck Kato, from Seattle, whom I had never met before, walked all the way across the gym and asked me to dance. The reason I remember it so well is because he had this crazy way of holding a girl – bending over sideways more than normal.

Thirty-five years later in 1991, both Chuck and I were married to someone else and our kids were grown. With Margaret Baba Yasuda and Del Nakayama Uchida, we started weekly conversations around Sam’s and my kitchen table on Mercer Island to generate memories. I had been hired 20 years earlier to help start the Japanese Collection at the University of Washington Libraries Special Collections of the Japanese experience in the Pacific Northwest. I decided we could generate more original documentation with a writing group.

Del was good at providing refreshments and inviting us to her house on Beacon Hill. Her husband Jack Uchida, engineer of the world-famous fountains sculpted by Seattle’s George Tsutakawa, joined us sometimes. He talked about his youth with the Seattle Taiyos Nisei Baseball team and how they went to the Hashidate-Yu Japanese bath in the Panama Hotel after games. 

Jack said, “We swam and looked under the divider between the men’s and women’s sides to see what we could see!”

Three times, using PageMaker and Kinko’s, we published Omoide I, II, and III as Christmas presents for friends and family. Omoide V (2009) is a professional compilation of the three sets of original stories and was funded by 4Culture.org, which provides cultural resources for King County. When 4Culture first started around 2002-03, I served on the committee choosing its recipients.

In 2003, the JCCCW (Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington) was incorporated and Omoide became one of its programs. Atsushi Kiuchi, retired state employee and journalist, moved to Issaquah from Olympia. With his experience on the State Superintendent of Public Instruction’s Civil Liberties Education Grant selection board, Ats secured a grant for the JCCCW’s Omoide writing program to publish Omoide IV, featuring Pacific Northwest Nikkei (the Japanese-heritage community); it told of their personal stories from before, during and after World War II. Omoide’s activities also expanded to include presentations at schools, teachers’ workshops and public gatherings.

In 2011, Ats and I got to know Janine Brodine (p. 5), who teaches writing, by sharing a tent booth at the Kirkland Book Fair. Janine even considers using a Japanese nickname “Midori” (green) so she can blend in naturally.

In 2014, with Tyler Sipe’s skills, Ats helped create a ten-minute Omoide video, which was shown at the Seattle Film Festival.

What keeps us going are the Japanese-heritage values and stories most of the participants of Omoide share. My UW thesis in Psychosocial Nursing suggests that talking and sharing stories are vital to our emotional health. My classmate, JoAnn Banks, now a professor of Nursing in North Carolina, includes storytelling as an important part of “Healing.” For me, Omoide has been a major life ingredient for dealing with widowhood for the last three years. We are looking forward to many more stories in the years ahead!

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Omoide is developed under an umbrella of organizations supported in part by the Nikkei Heritage Association of Washington and the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington. To date, the Omoide team has introduced the project to several thousand students, 200 teachers, and 400 members of the general public over the past 12 years. These personal accounts have encouraged open dialog and discussions of constitutional rights, personal history, cultural development, immigrant experiences in the US, family values, multi-cultural issues and much more.