The Forgotten Story of Japanese American Zoot Suiters

“Young Japanese Hold Dance — Mess hall movies, little theatre activities and jitter-bugging to evacuee bands are popular forms of entertainment at the Tule Lake, California, Japanese relocation center. Here a block dance is in progress. Note the “zoot suit” pants.” Image courtesy of the University of Southern California, Regional History Collection

Nikkei Chicago (by Ellen D. Wu):

Sus Kaminaka was a zoot suiter: one of the many young people in 1940s America who embraced a distinctive, working-class urban aesthetic characterized by flamboyant fashions and irreverent comportment. Kaminaka and other hipsters sported pompadours and ducktail haircuts, “drapes” consisting of broad-shouldered, long fingertip coats tapered at the ankles, pleated pegged pants, wide-brimmed hats, and watch fobs. They also loved to party. Jazz, jitterbugging, lindy hopping, drinking, casual sex, and “cool” were just as integral to the lives of zoot suiters as their characteristic dress.

Sus Kaminaka was also a Nisei: a second-generation American born to immigrant Japanese parents and raised in the farmlands of California’s Sacramento Delta region. Planning to follow in his father’s footsteps, Kaminaka enrolled at a local agricultural college to study truck crops.

But President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, signed on February 19, 1942 and authorizing the secretary of war to “prescribe military areas… from which any or all persons may be excluded” completely upended his ambitions. Ostensibly region- and race-neutral, the order targeted Pacific Coast Japanese Americans. Forced to leave school, home, and community, he soon found himself in the Stockton Assembly Center, one of the 16 temporary way stations for the 120,000 Nikkei (persons of Japanese ancestry) en route to longer-term concentration camps.

On incarceration, Kaminaka’s worldview changed entirely. Previously intent on earning his college degree, a goal he now considered hopeless, he dropped out of his center’s adult education program. Once “proud of living in the best country in the world,” Kaminaka abandoned the idea of registering for the franchise. “I don’t think I was too interested in voting anyway because I didn’t know what it was all about and my vote didn’t mean a thing,” he shrugged. Deciding that hard work was an exercise in futility, he instead “concentrated on having fun like [he] saw the other kids doing.” Before the war, he used to regard Nisei girls as “something sacred” and “never had any dirty thoughts [about] them.” But in Stockton, he shed his “nice boy” reputation. He signed up with an eight-member “gang,” and spent his days and nights chasing young women and going to camp dances. It was during this time that he also acquired his first zoot suit.

After transferring from Stockton to the Rohwer, Arkansas concentration camp, Kaminaka joined a posse known as the Esquires. For entertainment, they devoured stolen food, drank, played poker, and held nightly bull sessions. “All we talked about was girls and we got to do more and more of this…. We would find out who were the most popular girls in camp and then go after them.” Their modus operandi emerged as a source of contention among Rohwer’s social factions. Fisticuffs often broke out at Nisei dances as young men battled to claim the young women of their choosing.

The Rohwer situation was not usual. Conflicts between “rowdies” and other prisoners interrupted the daily routines of several, if not all, the camps. At the Gila River camp in Arizona, for instance, the editors of the center’s newspaper complained that zoot suiters had swiped all the chains from the laundry sinks to use as watch chains. Fighting became frequent enough that at least one anthropologist who observed life at the Poston camp dubbed the escalating tensions “zoot suit warfare.”

In popular memory zoot suiters are often associated with African Americans and Chicanos during World War II. But many Nikkei also participated in this cultural movement. While it is not possible to determine the exact numbers of Japanese American zoot suiters, the available historical evidence suggests that they were a visible presence.

Some Nisei started “zooting” well before camp. In his hometown of Los Angeles, all of Lester Kimura’s friends happened to be Chicano, and they influenced his fashion sense: “I learned how to dress from the Mexican kids because they really knew how to be classy,” he explained. “They had ‘drapes’ way before the Nisei heard of such things.” The big-city Nisei who carried this look into the camps exposed young people hailing from rural areas—such as Kaminaka—to zoot suit style. Spotting a lucrative opportunity, Kimura ran a brisk business at the Santa Anita Assembly Center draping pants for the newly-initiated.

So the internment experience itself was an incubator for Nikkei zoot suit culture. Japanese Americans even invented their own slang for Nisei zoot suiters. One was “pachuke,” a Japanese version of the Spanish word “pachuco”/“pachuca.” The other was “yogore,” a derivation of the Japanese verb yogoreru (to get dirty). Sociologist Shotero Frank Miyamoto, a contemporary observer of Japanese America, explained that “yogore” referred to individuals who were “shiftless, transient, constantly drinking and gambling, hanging around pool halls, always picking fights, visiting prostitutes or attempting to engage in illicit sex relations.”

Yogore posed a serious problem to the War Relocation Authority (WRA), the federal body charged with administrating internment. From the WRA’s point of view, zoot suiters endangered the very future of the entire Japanese American population. The federal government planned to scatter (or “resettle”) Japanese Americans around the country so that they might “assimilate” into the white middle class instead of returning to their West Coast farms and Little Tokyos. Pachuke troubled this vision for solving the “Japanese Problem” because they spurned polite standards of decorum. Their brashness loudly advertised their differences from the white middle-class. It also suggested an explicit kinship with working-class black and brown folk—the very opposite of the message that the WRA wanted to send to mainstream America.

Even worse, the zoot suit itself signaled an open defiance of the nation’s war effort. The War Production Board had banned the sale of zoot suits as a means to ration fabric. So wearing a zoot suit could be read as an unpatriotic act. The eruption of Los Angeles Zoot Suit Riots in June 1943—when thousands of white soldiers and civilians violently attacked Mexican Americans and other zoot suiters of color—drove home this point. Thus pachuke let loose from the camps might place Nikkei under further suspicion of disloyalty. No wonder, then, that the Manzanar camp’s Free Press newspaper editors beseeched its readers: “Leave your zoot suits behind. And above all, be an ambassador of goodwill for the sake of the Japanese in America.”

The WRA worked hard to weed out yogore among potential resettlers. Prisoners who wanted to leave the camps had to promise federal officials that they would only speak English in public, avoid associating with large groups of Japanese, and generally conform to mainline standards of behavior and clothing.

Chicago’s resettlers tested this rigid vision of ethnic dispersal right away. Some complied strictly with the WRA’s guidelines. But others took a more realistic approach in this new, strange city. Lonely Nisei sought each other out for companionship. Many hesitated to interact with whites because they simply did not know where they stood in Chicago’s racial order. Racial discrimination also intensified their uneasiness and remained a barrier to securing desirable housing, employment, and access to public spaces such as dance halls, hospitals, and even cemeteries.

Living an indeterminate present and looking toward an unknown future, countless resettlers readily dismissed the WRA’s instructions to act as respectable “ambassadors” to mainstream America. Many quit their jobs unannounced, seeking better work and higher pay, to the chagrin of federal authorities who feared that such habits “reflected unfavorably” on all Japanese Americans. Some zoot suiters openly flaunted the government’s assimilationist directives. Tadashi “Blackie” Nakajima not only continued to wear his drapes around Chicago, but also spewed English vulgarities and Japanese slang expressions in public, consorted with the North Clark Street yogore gang, gambled, and frequented brothels—clearly not the type of integration that the WRA had in mind for former internees.

Sus Kaminaka’s wartime testimony captured this pervasive feeling of restlessness and anxiety. After going through a series of jobs in Chicago, he concluded that he would “play around” until being drafted, filling his days and nights with Nisei dances, drinking, and sexual exploits. Kaminaka expressed a profound ambivalence toward this existence: “I am getting absolutely no place now… It isn’t doing me much good. It bothers me a lot and I think [about] a lot of things I should be doing but I never get ambitious enough to get around to it.” Yet he also admitted to feeling hopeful, confessing a yearning to be recognized as a bona fide American. “I am willing to fight for the US as I plan to live here always and it is my country in spite of what some Caucasians say. At least I can say that I have a more definite part in the war effort if I were drafted. That’s about all the future I can look forward to now.” In the meantime, however, Kaminaka and scores of other resettlers—yogore and “non-yogore” alike—continued to drift, finding solace in the very types of activities discouraged by the state.

Predictably, the Nisei’s unseemly conduct unsettled resettlement coordinators. Fearing that the situation would only worsen, a group of Nikkei and their allies established the Chicago Resettlers Committee (CRC) in September 1945 “to attend to the unfinished problems of evacuation and resettlement.” CRC co-founder Setsuko Matsunaga Nishi detailed resettlers’ anomalous predicament: bereft of the “stabilizing factors of family and community ties,” Nisei harbored a “sense of futility about their future, a feeling of not belonging, of being outcast.” To underscore the direness of the situation, Nishi pointed to the yogore: “the Nisei with ‘Zoot Suit’ and pachuco duck-tail hair cut is not an uncommon sight,” she warned.

The CRC argued that the formal organization of the Japanese American community was increasingly urgent as Nikkei continued to stream into the city. Resettlers needed assistance to restart their lives and constructive recreational activities to redirect Niseifrom the “unwholesome influences” that were already tempting them.

While CRC leaders agreed with the WRA that the “ultimate goal” of resettlement was assimilation, they proposed a radically different approach. By creating a stable, nurturing social environment, activities that specifically targeted Japanese Americans could still be used to achieve integration. Furthermore, they stressed that mainstream institutions—rather than Nikkei themselves—bore the burden of responsibility for this task.

The CRC’s arguments sufficiently persuaded the WRA to reevaluate its original vision for resettlement. Chicago’s Council of Social Agencies, the umbrella organization of municipal social services, officially recognized the CRC in September 1946 and agreed to provide half of its operating budget for 1947. Soon Chicago would boast of a vibrant, postwar Japanese American community anchored by the CRC and more than 100 other ethnic associations.

Zoot suiters, then, played an important role in the formation of Chicago’s Nikkei community in Chicago. As individuals, they forced the WRA and its partners to reconsider their strict assimilationist blueprint for resettlement. And as symbolic figures, they provided a powerful rhetorical specter that Japanese American spokespersons skillfully invoked to legitimate the establishment of ethnic organizations.

Yet Nisei zoot suiters have remained forgotten in Japanese American history and American history more generally. How do we explain this curious absence? For one, Japanese American spokespersons ensured that the public face of the ethnic community during and after the war was “GI Joe Nisei.” The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) worked especially hard to publicize Nisei battlefront contributions. It spotlighted the phenomenal record of the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team and other Niseiin uniform as way to emphasize Japanese Americans’ undivided loyalty to the nation. Such a project, of course, was critical to the possibility of a collective future for Japanese Americans in the United States. But as narratives of Nikkei martial heroism gained widespread traction, they crowded out other images of Japanese Americans—including yogore—obscuring these stories for decades.

In the end, however, the actions and thoughts of those who were identified as yogore or pachuke were arguably not so different than other Nisei. It is important to remember that many (if not most) of Chicago’s resettlers ignored or flouted the federal government’s insistence that they stay away from their fellow Japanese Americans, steer clear of anything “Japanesey,” and fade into the white middle-class. Ultimately, affirming this diversity of experiences allows for a fuller understanding of Japanese American history and the range of the very human consequences of racial profiling and wartime incarceration.

—-

Note on Sources

The best primary sources on Japanese American zoot suiters are the life history interviews of Nisei resettlers in Chicago recorded by Charles Kikuchi during World War II. Kikuchi was part of the University of California’s Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study (JERS), a team of white and Nisei social science investigators who conducted extensive fieldwork on the wartime incarceration experience as it unfolded. The verbatim transcripts of Kikuchi’s interviews, along with his field notes and diary entries, are available at the University of California, Berkeley’s Bancroft Library Special Collections and the University of California, Los Angeles’s Young Research Library Special Collections. Fifteen of the 64 interviews were published in abridged form in Dorothy Thomas, The Salvage (University of California Press, 1952), including that of Sus Kaminaka. (Note that “Sus Kaminaka” was the pseudonym that Kikuchi assigned to subject “CH-45, agricultural student.”)

Other sources consulted for this essay include various concentration camp newspapers (available on densho.org), the Japanese Relocation Collection at the Church of the Brethren Archives (Elgin, IL), the Chicago Resettlers Collection at the Chicago History Museum Research Collection, and the Japanese American Service Committee Legacy Center Archives (Chicago). For full citations see Chapter 1 in Ellen D. Wu, The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority (Princeton, 2014).

—-

Author Bio

Ellen D. Wu, a second-generation Chinese American and native Hoosier, earned her M.A. in Asian American Studies at UCLA and her Ph.D. in History at the University of Chicago. Currently she is assistant professor of history at Indiana University Bloomington, where she researches and teaches modern United States and Asian American history. Her writing has been published in Chinese America: History and Perspectives, the Pacific Historical Review, the Journal of American Ethnic History, Gidra, Densho, the History News Network, and has recently published an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times on the Amy Chua controversy and the “model minority” myth. She is the author of The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority (Princeton University Press, 2014), the first full-length historical study of the invention of the “model minority” stereotype between the 1930s and the 1960s. Follow her on Twitter @ellendwu.

 

Video

DON’T LOSE YOUR SOUL – Trailer

A sneak peek at DON’T LOSE YOUR SOUL, the music of Anthony Brown and Mark Izu, Bay Area Jazz legends.

Don’t Lose Your Soul” is a tribute to the pioneering work of Mark Izu and Anthony Brown, co-founders of the Asian American Jazz movement which, like the Latin Jazz movement before it, was a brilliant melding of cultural traditions with the freedom and power of jazz.

The film is both an intimate portrait of their 30+ year partnership in close-up, featuring interviews with the artists along with archival photographs and footage of their rich musical history, as well as wide angle celebration, culminating in one night at Yoshi’s jazz club in San Francisco‘s legendary Fillmore district. This special event, “Sanju,” brings back together the Asian American Jazz Orchestra for a musical journey spanning three decades. The evening’s highlight is a special guest performance by George Yoshida, their inspiration as both jazz musician and survivor of the Japanese internment camps.

The true ease of Mark and Anthony’s friendship and partnership is revealed in Mark’s basement studio, where the two of them reminisce between songs as they perform a special acoustic duo performance of improvised jams and dusted-off treasures they haven’t touched since the early 80s.

A journey back in time to the birth of a movement. A musical, cultural and political statement through notes that still resonate today. Two lives lived with a dedication to craft, passionate creative spirit, and a determination to honor the advice of their own song: “Don’t Lose Your Soul.

Link

The Forgotten Story of Japanese American Zoot Suiters

Discover Nikkei (written by Ellen D. Wu)

Mack Hori and George Shibata posing on Second Street next to a friend’s car in 1937. Gift of George Fujino, Japanese American National Museum [2000.418.10]

Sus Kaminaka was a zoot suiter: one of the many young people in 1940s America who embraced a distinctive, working-class urban aesthetic characterized by flamboyant fashions and irreverent comportment. Kaminaka and other hipsters sported pompadours and ducktail haircuts, “drapes” consisting of broad-shouldered, long fingertip coats tapered at the ankles, pleated pegged pants, wide-brimmed hats, and watch fobs. They also loved to party. Jazz, jitterbugging, lindy hopping, drinking, casual sex, and “cool” were just as integral to the lives of zoot suiters as their characteristic dress.

Sus Kaminaka was also a Nisei: a second-generation American born to immigrant Japanese parents and raised in the farmlands of California’s Sacramento Delta region. Planning to follow in his father’s footsteps, Kaminaka enrolled at a local agricultural college to study truck crops.

But President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, signed on February 19, 1942 and authorizing the secretary of war to “prescribe military areas… from which any or all persons may be excluded” completely upended his ambitions. Ostensibly region- and race-neutral, the order targeted Pacific Coast Japanese Americans. Forced to leave school, home, and community, he soon found himself in the Stockton Assembly Center, one of the 16 temporary way stations for the 120,000 Nikkei (persons of Japanese ancestry) en route to longer-term concentration camps.

On incarceration, Kaminaka’s worldview changed entirely. Previously intent on earning his college degree, a goal he now considered hopeless, he dropped out of his center’s adult education program. Once “proud of living in the best country in the world,” Kaminaka abandoned the idea of registering for the franchise. “I don’t think I was too interested in voting anyway because I didn’t know what it was all about and my vote didn’t mean a thing,” he shrugged. Deciding that hard work was an exercise in futility, he instead “concentrated on having fun like [he] saw the other kids doing.”

Before the war, he used to regard Nisei girls as “something sacred” and “never had any dirty thoughts [about] them.” But in Stockton, he shed his “nice boy” reputation. He signed up with an eight-member “gang,” and spent his days and nights chasing young women and going to camp dances. It was during this time that he also acquired his first zoot suit.

After transferring from Stockton to the Rohwer, Arkansas concentration camp, Kaminaka joined a posse known as the Esquires. For entertainment, they devoured stolen food, drank, played poker, and held nightly bull sessions. “All we talked about was girls and we got to do more and more of this…. We would find out who were the most popular girls in camp and then go after them.” Their modus operandi emerged as a source of contention among Rohwer’s social factions. Fisticuffs often broke out at Niseidances as young men battled to claim the young women of their choosing.

The Rohwer situation was not usual. Conflicts between “rowdies” and other prisoners interrupted the daily routines of several, if not all, the camps. At the Gila River camp in Arizona, for instance, the editors of the center’s newspaper complained that zoot suiters had swiped all the chains from the laundry sinks to use as watch chains. Fighting became frequent enough that at least one anthropologist who observed life at the Poston camp dubbed the escalating tensions “zoot suit warfare.”

In popular memory zoot suiters are often associated with African Americans and Chicanos during World War II. But many Nikkei also participated in this cultural movement. While it is not possible to determine the exact numbers of Japanese American zoot suiters, the available historical evidence suggests that they were a visible presence.

Some Nisei started “zooting” well before camp. In his hometown of Los Angeles, all of Lester Kimura’s friends happened to be Chicano, and they influenced his fashion sense: “I learned how to dress from the Mexican kids because they really knew how to be classy,” he explained. “They had ‘drapes’ way before the Nisei heard of such things.”

The big-city Nisei who carried this look into the camps exposed young people hailing from rural areas—such as Kaminaka—to zoot suit style. Spotting a lucrative opportunity, Kimura ran a brisk business at the Santa Anita Assembly Center draping pants for the newly-initiated.

So the internment experience itself was an incubator for Nikkei zoot suit culture. Japanese Americans even invented their own slang for Nisei zoot suiters. One was “pachuke,” a Japanese version of the Spanish word “pachuco”/“pachuca.” The other was “yogore,” a derivation of the Japanese verb yogoreru (to get dirty). Sociologist Shotero Frank Miyamoto, a contemporary observer of Japanese America, explained that “yogore” referred to individuals who were “shiftless, transient, constantly drinking and gambling, hanging around pool halls, always picking fights, visiting prostitutes or attempting to engage in illicit sex relations.”

Yogore posed a serious problem to the War Relocation Authority (WRA), the federal body charged with administrating internment.

From the WRA’s point of view, zoot suiters endangered the very future of the entire Japanese American population. The federal government planned to scatter (or “resettle”) Japanese Americans around the country so that they might “assimilate” into the white middle class instead of returning to their West Coast farms and Little Tokyos. Pachuke troubled this vision for solving the “Japanese Problem” because they spurned polite standards of decorum. Their brashness loudly advertised their differences from the white middle-class. It also suggested an explicit kinship with working-class black and brown folk—the very opposite of the message that the WRA wanted to send to mainstream America.

Even worse, the zoot suit itself signaled an open defiance of the nation’s war effort. The War Production Board had banned the sale of zoot suits as a means to ration fabric. So wearing a zoot suit could be read as an unpatriotic act. The eruption of Los Angeles Zoot Suit Riots in June 1943—when thousands of white soldiers and civilians violently attacked Mexican Americans and other zoot suiters of color—drove home this point.

Thus pachuke let loose from the camps might place Nikkei under further suspicion of disloyalty. No wonder, then, that the Manzanar camp’s Free Press newspaper editors beseeched its readers: “Leave your zoot suits behind. And above all, be an ambassador of goodwill for the sake of the Japanese in America.”

The WRA worked hard to weed out yogore among potential resettlers. Prisoners who wanted to leave the camps had to promise federal officials that they would only speak English in public, avoid associating with large groups of Japanese, and generally conform to mainline standards of behavior and clothing.

Junichi “Frisco” Yamasaki—posing in drapes, Poston, Arizona, concentration camp, 1942. Gift of Frisco Yamasaki, Japanese American National Museum [2000.415.1]

Chicago’s resettlers tested this rigid vision of ethnic dispersal right away. Some complied strictly with the WRA’s guidelines. But others took a more realistic approach in this new, strange city. Lonely Nisei sought each other out for companionship. Many hesitated to interact with whites because they simply did not know where they stood in Chicago’s racial order. Racial discrimination also intensified their uneasiness and remained a barrier to securing desirable housing, employment, and access to public spaces such as dance halls, hospitals, and even cemeteries.

Living an indeterminate present and looking toward an unknown future, countless resettlers readily dismissed the WRA’s instructions to act as respectable “ambassadors” to mainstream America. Many quit their jobs unannounced, seeking better work and higher pay, to the chagrin of federal authorities who feared that such habits “reflected unfavorably” on all Japanese Americans.

Some zoot suiters openly flaunted the government’s assimilationist directives. Tadashi “Blackie” Nakajima not only continued to wear his drapes around Chicago, but also spewed English vulgarities and Japanese slang expressions in public, consorted with the North Clark Street yogore gang, gambled, and frequented brothels—clearly not the type of integration that the WRA had in mind for former internees.

Sus Kaminaka’s wartime testimony captured this pervasive feeling of restlessness and anxiety. After going through a series of jobs in Chicago, he concluded that he would “play around” until being drafted, filling his days and nights with Nisei dances, drinking, and sexual exploits. Kaminaka expressed a profound ambivalence toward this existence: “I am getting absolutely no place now… It isn’t doing me much good. It bothers me a lot and I think [about] a lot of things I should be doing but I never get ambitious enough to get around to it.

Yet he also admitted to feeling hopeful, confessing a yearning to be recognized as a bona fide American. “I am willing to fight for the US as I plan to live here always and it is my country in spite of what some Caucasians say. At least I can say that I have a more definite part in the war effort if I were drafted. That’s about all the future I can look forward to now.” In the meantime, however, Kaminaka and scores of other resettlers—yogore and “non-yogore” alike—continued to drift, finding solace in the very types of activities discouraged by the state.

Predictably, the Nisei’s unseemly conduct unsettled resettlement coordinators. Fearing that the situation would only worsen, a group of Nikkei and their allies established the Chicago Resettlers Committee (CRC) in September 1945 “to attend to the unfinished problems of evacuation and resettlement.” CRC co-founder Setsuko Matsunaga Nishi detailed resettlers’ anomalous predicament: bereft of the “stabilizing factors of family and community ties,” Nisei harbored a “sense of futility about their future, a feeling of not belonging, of being outcast.” To underscore the direness of the situation, Nishi pointed to the yogore: “the Nisei with ‘Zoot Suit’ and pachuco duck-tail hair cut is not an uncommon sight,” she warned.

The CRC argued that the formal organization of the Japanese American community was increasingly urgent as Nikkei continued to stream into the city. Resettlers needed assistance to restart their lives and constructive recreational activities to redirect Niseifrom the “unwholesome influences” that were already tempting them.

While CRC leaders agreed with the WRA that the “ultimate goal” of resettlement was assimilation, they proposed a radically different approach. By creating a stable, nurturing social environment, activities that specifically targeted Japanese Americans could still be used to achieve integration. Furthermore, they stressed that mainstream institutions—rather than Nikkei themselves—bore the burden of responsibility for this task.

The CRC’s arguments sufficiently persuaded the WRA to reevaluate its original vision for resettlement. Chicago’s Council of Social Agencies, the umbrella organization of municipal social services, officially recognized the CRC in September 1946 and agreed to provide half of its operating budget for 1947. Soon Chicago would boast of a vibrant, postwar Japanese American community anchored by the CRC and more than 100 other ethnic associations.

Zoot suiters, then, played an important role in the formation of Nikkei community in Chicago. As individuals, they forced the WRA and its partners to reconsider their strict assimilationist blueprint for resettlement. And as symbolic figures, they provided a powerful rhetorical specter that Japanese American spokespersons skillfully invoked to legitimate the establishment of ethnic organizations.

Yet Nisei zoot suiters have remained forgotten in Japanese American history and American history more generally. How do we explain this curious absence? For one, Japanese American spokespersons ensured that the public face of the ethnic community during and after the war was “GI Joe Nisei.” The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) worked especially hard to publicize Nisei battlefront contributions. It spotlighted the phenomenal record of the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team and other Nisei in uniform as way to emphasize Japanese Americans’ undivided loyalty to the nation. Such a project, of course, was critical to the possibility of a collective future for Japanese Americans in the United States. But as narratives of Nikkei martial heroism gained widespread traction, they crowded out other images of Japanese Americans—including yogore—obscuring these stories for decades.

In the end, however, the actions and thoughts of those who were identified as yogore or pachuke were arguably not so different than other Nisei. It is important to remember that many (if not most) of Chicago’s resettlers ignored or flouted the federal government’s insistence that they stay away from their fellow Japanese Americans, steer clear of anything “Japanesey,” and fade into the white middle-class. Ultimately, affirming this diversity of experiences allows for a fuller understanding of Japanese American history and the range of the very human consequences of racial profiling and wartime incarceration.

* * *

Note on Sources:

The best primary sources on Japanese American zoot suiters are the life history interviews of Nisei resettlers in Chicago recorded by Charles Kikuchi during World War II. Kikuchi was part of the University of California’s Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study (JERS), a team of white and Nisei social science investigators who conducted extensive fieldwork on the wartime incarceration experience as it unfolded. The verbatim transcripts of Kikuchi’s interviews, along with his field notes and diary entries, are available at the University of California, Berkeley’s Bancroft Library Special Collections and the University of California, Los Angeles’s Young Research Library Special Collections. Fifteen of the 64 interviews were published in abridged form in Dorothy Thomas, The Salvage (University of California Press, 1952), including that of Sus Kaminaka. (Note that “Sus Kaminaka” was the pseudonym that Kikuchi assigned to subject “CH-45, agricultural student.”)

Other sources consulted for this essay include various concentration camp newspapers (available on densho.org), the Japanese Relocation Collection at the Church of the Brethren Archives (Elgin, IL), the Chicago Resettlers Collection at the Chicago History Museum Research Collection, and the Japanese American Service Committee Legacy Center Archives (Chicago). For full citations see Chapter 1 in Ellen D. Wu, The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority (Princeton, 2014).

* * *

* This article was originally published on Nikkei Chicago on January 25, 2014.

 

Check out this link:

The Forgotten Story of Japanese American Zoot Suiters

Video

Joey Alexander: “Sons of the Future” (10-year-old jazz piano prodigy from Indonesia)

Yahoo! :

Check out Joey Alexander, a 10-year-old jazz pianist from Jakarta, Indonesia who has been wowing the better part of Asia as well the United Nations and Herbie Hancock with his sensational skills and prodigious improvisation on the keys.

ellen

At his young age, Joey can empathize with the ear and soul of a legend like Thelonius Monk, while also imagining his own musical wanderings in pieces he creates on the fly. He’s been playing for only four years, but you wouldn’t know it from the sound of his melodies. Just close your eyes and listen to his three-part cover of Monk’s famous “Round Midnight,” Chick Corea‘s “Armando Rumba,” and John Coltrane‘s “Giant Steps,” and you’ll think you’re hearing a master.

Jazz gives Joey the freedom to express himself, and piano to him is the best instrument to do that,” Joey’s father Denny Sila tells the Good News Blog. “He likes the sound a piano can produce, lots of notes and he believes it is like an orchestra.”

Sophisticated and wise beyond his years, Joey has transformed his passion for music into a full-fledged career, and people are quickly catching on. In December 2011, when he was only 8, the wunderkind was invited by UNESCO to play solo piano for Hancock during the jazz legend’s visit to Indonesia. Denny describes this experience as “life-changing” for Joey.

ellen

Joey was nervous,” Denny recalls. “Herbie offered encouragement, and Joey’s biggest dream is to go to the U.S. and perform for Herbie again.”

In the past couple years, Joey has been playing his way around Eastern Europe and Asia, participating in the JakJazz Festival 2012 in Jakarta and 2013 World Youth and Jazz Festival in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Denny considers Joey’s greatest accomplishment to be representing Indonesia in the first International Festival Contest of Jazz Improvisation last year in Odessa, Ukraine, and winning the Grand Prix Award.

“It is hard to find events that would accept him at his very young age,” Denny explains. “However, last year in June in Odessa, Ukraine, Joey won the Grand Prix Prize for all instruments… his competitors were all professionals – 271 musicians from 41 countries way above Joey’s age, including two-time Grammy nominee, NY-based saxophonist, Jay Rodriguez, whom Joey had the honor to do a duet with in a workshop.”

As the young prodigy continues his impressive musical summit, he now has taken it upon himself to learn the art of composition, and also enjoys playing music from other genres, including gospel, pop, hip-hop, and R&B. Next up on his playlist, Joey will join American jazz talents Natalie Cole, Robert Glasper, Dave Koz and Jamie Cullum at one of the biggest jazz festivals in the world, Java Jazz Festival.

ellen

Finally this festival accepted Joey and his trio,” Denny says with pride.

Finally… at 10 years old!

Video

Yamaha Pianos in conversation with Hiromi

Hailing from Hamamatsu, Japan, pianist, composer and Yamaha Artist Hiromi is one of the world’s most popular and explosive performers. In this video, shot at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club before a sold out show, she discusses the early days of her career, her time studying at Berklee, and the transition from classical pianist to jazz star.

She also talks about the Yamaha CFX and how it contributes to her unique sound and style.

For more information visit http://www.yamaha.com

Link

Ark Nova – Japan’s Inflatable Concert Hall

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Meet Ark Nova. She’s an 18-meter high PVC-coated polyester inflatable concert hall and she’s heading for a tour through Japan – a country still recovering from 2011′s catastrophic earthquakes and tsunami.

A part of the Swiss Lucerne Festival and designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki and British sculptor Anish Kapoor, the air-inflated membrane like structure, houses 500 music fans.

While seated on carved cedar wood trees (damaged by the floods) the audience will have the opportunity to hear the The Sendai Philharmonic Orchestra and then guests will be treated to traditional Japanese Kabuki theater, jazz and more.

Fancy a trip to Japan? http://ark-nova.com/

Check out this link:

Ark Nova – Japan’s Inflatable Concert Hall

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