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Wakayama Wayfarers

By David Yamaguchi The North American Post

On Sep. 28-29, a film crew from Wakayama Prefecture, Japan, was in Seattle to make two half-hour doc-umentaries about Japanese Ameri-cans. Their stops include Seattle and Los Angeles in the US, Vancouver and Toronto in Canada, and San Paulo in Brazil. Locally, they stopped at Kobo at Higo, JCCCW, the Jefferson Park Fire Station, Lakeview Cemetery, Maneki, North American Post, Nisei Veterans Hall, Panama Hotel, Seattle Koyasan Buddhist Temple and Uwajimaya. They were guided by Tazue and Yutaka Sa-saki, longtime co-organizers of the Seattle Cherry Blossom Festival, and this informal second-day guide. Interview-er Yuki Nakasuji, from the Wakayama Prefectural Government, knew Sasaki from a prior collaboration with her on an online video project for Wakayama students describing daily life in Seattle.

Yuki Nakasuji (Wakayama Prefectural Government) and Eisuke Nakajima (independent filmmaker, Wakayama). Photos: DY

Although the resulting documentary will not be broadcast here, and thus, will lie beyond the reach of NAP read-ers, what this observer found more in-teresting is what the film crew imparted across the day about the five ways in which Wakayama — a rural prefecture sandwiched between the urban centers of Osaka and Nagoya — has influenced Seattle life today.

Before reading further, can the reader list all five? (Three were new or some-what new to me.)

Wakayama location in south-central Honshu. Red marker shows location of Koyasan, the temple burial-place of the tenth-century monk Kukai (Kobo Daishi).Image: Google Maps
Yuki’s Kishu Club pin. The artwork, by Maria Brown, depicts a Kishu dressed in a happi coat holding a mikan, which grow abundantly in Wakayama.

Wakayama influence #1 is through its immigrants. That many Seattle Is-sei came from Wakayama is the rea-son there is a still-active Wakayama Kenjin-kai, or prefectural association, here (Facebook, “Seattle Kishu Club (Wakayama Kenjin Kai)).” As a few ex-amples, Nisei Sasaki’s parents both ar-rived here late, in 1923, from Wakayama. Well-known local Sansei Bill Tashima (”Bill Tashima: Gaining His Identity and Acceptance,” napost.com, May 2021) also has roots in Wakayama, which is why he took the time to join us for lunch. Local author Lydia Minatoya similarly sketches her family’s Wakayama origins in “Talking with High Monks in the Snow” (1993). (More on the Wakayama immigrant influence here is in the accom-panying “North American Times” article on picture brides in this issue.)

The name “Kishu Club,” has an interesting origin, as Yutaka explained. It comes from “Kishu-han,” the Edo-Era (~samurai) domain name for the region.

Wakayama influence #2 is the Seattle Koyasan Buddhist Temple. It is the Shingon-sect temple next door to Seattle Dojo (judo) on South Wash-ington Street in the Central District. A small church here, its most famous past practitioner in Japan is the tenth-century monk Kukai. Better known by his posthumous name, “Kobo Daishi,” Kukai is remem-bered for starting the renowned 88-temple pilgrim-age around Shikoku. He is buried at Koyasan, Mount Koya, the location of a famous temple in Wakayama.

By chance, we ran into Rev. Taijo Imanaka at Lake-view Cemetery, where he was delivering rites for a deceased Koyasan Temple member. Here, the Wakayama travelers impressed me, for they recog-nized from a distance his garb of a Koyasan priest.

In Seattle since 2006 from Osaka, Imanaka-sensei explained that Seattle Wakayama Issei had attended Koyasan to “relieve their stress.” They prayed for the health and safety of their families. In the post-service potluck lunches, they found fellowship with others who shared their path and who enjoyed the same traditional foods they had grown up with. The Sun-day services gave them strength to persist for an-other week.

Yuki and Eisuke at Jefferson Park Fire Station

Wakayama influence #3 goes farther back in time. It is the classic tale of “Inamura no Hi” (rice-stalks fire), retold artistically in stone artwork at Jefferson Park Fire Station. The story dates from Hiro Village, Wakayama, 1854. It tells of how “an old farmer” saved his fellow villagers from a tsunami by torching his field, which brought them running inland from the coast.

Wakayama influence #4, which I shared with Yuki in the form of an omiyage (souvenir gift) book, is the samurai record from the castle at Tanabe, on Wakayama’s south-central coast. It documents the run-up there of a January 1700 tsunami from the Pacific Ocean. It is one of six such Japanese records — extending south from Tohoku —that establish the extreme lengths of these waves, and thereby, the magnitude-9 size of the Pacific Northwest earth-quake that produced them. The Japanese historical records contribute significantly to the scientific basis for regional earthquake-hazards planning here to-day. While this Japan/Pacific Northwest connection is well-known here, it is not widely known in Japan.

Wakayama influence #5 caught my eye in the form of a souvenir “Kishu Club” pin that Yuki was affix-ing to her travel bag. It was an omiyage from Sasa-ki-san, she explained. A Kishu is a hunting dog from Wakayama. It looks like a white “Shiba Inu.” The in-ternet describes the breed as quiet and loyal.

Interviewing Rev. Taijo Imanaka, Seattle Koyasan Buddhist Temple, at Lakeview Cemetery.

Editor’s note.

The “Kishu Club 2023 Tour” of Wakaya-ma is scheduled for Oct. 9-13, 2023 following the Wakayama World Kenjin-kai Conference. The tour is open to non-members and will include the Takayama Autumn Festival, the traditional village at Shirakawa, Wakura Onsen Hot Spring, shopping at Wajima Mar-ket, sightseeing in Kanazawa and more. Info: Miyoko Yoshikawa, mlyoshikawa@msn.com

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David Yamaguchi is a third-generation Japanese American [Sansei]. He has written for the Post since 2006, at first as a volunteer, later as a paid freelancer. He joined the paper's staff in May 2020, when he began learning how articles flow from Word files through layout to social media.