Hau’oli Makahiki Hou, Hip Hapa Homeez! Happy New Year or, as the Japanese say, Omedetto Gozaimasu (literally meaning ‘congratulations’ and also used for birthdays and other special occasions).
In celebration of evolving to 2010, let’s start with a big bang boom by featuring Kikue Mugen as our weekly Hip Hapa Homee. Now, I thought I’d heard every kind of mixed culture/ethnic/race story until Kikue and I friended each other on Facebook. Because of her cool illustrations and her hip writing style, I just assumed she was a teenager living in Japan. Turns out, Kikue’s mother was a WWII bride like mine, but her mother came from Italy and her Japanese American soldier father from Hawai’i.
Although she was born and raised in Hawai’i, Kikue has always felt strong ties to her Japanese heritage and is a samurai expert. As much as I consider myself a peacenik, I can’t help but be fascinated with Japan’s feudal period. Anticipating the new NHK taiga drama series for this year, I’m excited to see what will top last year’s Tenchijin starring mega-modern Japanese boys as old school samurai.
That’s Kikue in a photo embraced by one of her own illustrations. Easy, ladies, he's only into men.
And, here are links to her sites:
Q: Was your father a member of the 442nd (the all-Nissei, 2nd generation Japanese American) Army unit--the most highly decorated of WWII?
A: Dad sure was one of the brave men who participated in WWII, 442nd Headquarters, Anti-Tank Company, Service Company, Cannon Company.
Q: Does he ever talk about those experiences?
A: He didn't say much about the war when I was living at home. Whenever he was asked about it, he'd often joke and tell us that he played a lot of music during that time. Since dad was a musician, he played the sax. We took his word for it, not wanting to press him to talk about something that might bring back harsh memories. However, when I left home I did a lot of Christian ministry/missionary work overseas. I did intense work in Burma with national people known as the Karen, and spent most of my time with the Karen Army. It was then that I saw and participated in war, and had many wartime memories that turned into issues when I returned to the U.S.A. My dad then opened up to tell me of some similar things he had gone through during his service as a 442nd soldier.
The unfamiliar events that he shared with me regarding his being in the 442nd were the emotions which he had to deal with early on, actually before he was recruited. He was working at Pearl Harbor just before the Japanese zeros flew in for the attack. He was doing carpentry there at the time. He was not at Pearl Harbor on that specific day of the bombing, but was on School Street in Kalihi, near Lanakila School, when he noticed the zeros flying overhead. Later, he described the black smoke billowing from the direction of the harbor. He told me that no one really understood what was going on until the news broke on the radio exclaiming that it wasn't a drill, that it was the real thing.
When he tried to enter Pearl Harbor to fetch his tools later, he was refused by the base personnel. He and other men were lined up and taken to the entry of the base and it turned into a roughhousing sort of event. Dad and the other men he was with were pushed and shoved, and hit and kicked when some fell on the ground. He told me that they still really didn't understand why they were being mistreated.
I can't imagine how horrible that must have felt. There he was, without a job and his tools were somewhere on the base.
Q: What did your mother's family think of her marrying a Japanese American man; what did his parents think about him marrying a European?
A: My mother's involvement in the war was quite interesting as well, for she literally fought against the Germans as an Italian guerrilla. I won't go into details here about her involvement, but I will say that she had lost her citizenship with Yugoslavia because of it. She was banned from that country with her picture on a 'wanted' poster in a Yugoslavian museum many years later. Her belief in freedom made her take up arms and participate in guerrilla warfare on the side of the Italians. To make a long story short, the war was incredibly 'hot' when she met my dad and, through it, they fell in love. When the war ended, they were married at the Leaning Tower of Pisa. So, as you can guess, mom had no problems trying to explain why she had an American Japanese boyfriend.
On the other hand, when dad brought my mom home to Hawai’i to meet his mom, I guess one could say that there was a different type of battle to be fought. Grandmother was of samurai descent with her roots being from Chiba, Japan. Dad certainly didn't have it easy convincing my grandmother that he had done the right thing by marrying a European while at war in Italy. Life was difficult back then for the newlyweds.
Q: Besides knowing the history, what Japanese cultural nuances do you embrace?
A: I have an alcove in my home with three wooden omamori (prayer/good luck charms) hanging there now for the Shinsengumi, Saito Hajime and Fujita Goro. I am in the process of remodeling my home to be more Japanese. I've recently spent a small fortune for eco-friendly bamboo flooring, which incidentally is now acclimating in the sunroom before being installed. I am having a grand time replacing my western furniture with Asian furniture. I've already traded my luxury bed that was complete with space-age foam mattress for a very humble futon, years ago. I go to all the Japanese festivals there are in Atlanta, and I have been going out to California every year for Obon in the summer. This past summer, I made it up to Manzanar (Japanese internment camp) to sit quietly and contemplate. At home, my daughter and I never eat with forks, but we use hashi (chopsticks) instead. All our dinnerware is Japanese and the meals are served that way as well. I live and practice as my father raised me…something we call wabi sabi (asymmetrical and natural).
Q: How did you come to be such a samurai-phile, if there’s such a term?
A: I do love Japan! I love the samurai, especially the Shinsengumi and Byakkotai, the young boys who committed suicide during the last part of the Boshin War.
I think I've studied the Shinsengumi throughout and have had interest in them since I was a child when my granduncle told me stories of their achievement--how they weren't samurai, but because they believed that they were they accomplished an almost impossible feat. For all my life, their example allowed me to draw upon to accomplish many impossible(s) in my life. This is why I've dedicated the website to them. Samurai-on-Samurai was an old term the samurai had during matches between one another.
My father is a low-ranking samurai from the Chiba village near Edo (Tokyo, today). Fishermen by trade, they were also good merchants. But after the Boshin War, my ancestors hit difficult times when Japan reorganized their whole, entire way of governing society. My great great-grandparents made the trek across the Pacific to Hilo Hawai’i to work the plantations. Well, actually, on my obasan's (grandmother’s) side. My ojisan (grandfather) came over later from Tokyo as a merchant and then married my grandmom who was born in Hawai’i. She was only twelve years old at the time! My dad was born in Honolulu and grew up there.
I've never felt disconnected from my ancestors. Being raised in Hawai’i, my family kept many of the Japanese traditions. I was made to go to Japanese school, though at the time I didn't pay attention, but some of it rubbed in. I went to all the Japanese festivities and catered to my visiting relatives from Japan. However, when I moved from Hawai’i to the mainland, I lost touch with everything Japanese. I was so homesick, not necessarily for Hawai’i, but for Japan. Thank heavens I was able to visit there a few times during the course of my adult life! I still miss Japan as though I had lived my whole life there.
Q: What interested you in writing about gay samurai?
A: My deciding to write male/male erotica came about for various reasons and it would take me quite awhile to explain. I will tell you that I enjoy writing Japanese historical stories because it does give me a chance to really dig into the traditions and customs I so long to live a part of. When I write, I do have a sense of exploration and experience Japan thusly. It is fulfilling for me and I hope the stories I write will peak people's interest in Japan as well.
The film Taboo (Gohatto) was sort of a low-key homosexual story that I thought rather interesting. They made (gay samurai) seem so taboo in the film when, in fact, male on male relationships were very common during the samurai era.
Here is some information about that which is quite accurate:
Q: What did you think of the Hollywood films, The Last Samurai and Memoirs of a Geisha?
A: Both movies were entertaining as movies go. However, I have two close friends who are both very studied Japan scholars, who help me along with my historical fiction writing in Japanese history and culture. I think that a lot of their knowledge about Japanese history has rubbed off on me to be able to see how unauthentic both movies were. But then again, besides all the western glamour added in order to sell tickets, I still enjoyed them.
Q: Any thoughts about the parade for the 47 Ronin (masterless samurai) held in Japan?
A: I thought it very interesting that they have a modern day parade event.
What makes the 47 Ronin and Shinsengumi so interesting is the Shinsengumi modeled themselves after the 47 Ronin. If I had to compare both narratives, hands down the Shinsengumi has more appeal because they had so many dimensions because the group was so much more mixed (socially).
I am very, very fortunate to know two very good Japanese history scholars who make it a point to study the Boshin War and also the Shinsengumi. I get a lot of first time information from them as they study and translate raw documents about the Boshin War. There are bits and pieces of the Shinsengumi that pops up--great information that is not yet released that I am so privileged to peek at. As a matter of fact, on my site on AlohaWorld.com, we host a good site called Shinsengumi Head Quarters:
I think I've seen all the Shinsengumi movies there are in Japan, and have a good lot of them, too.
It has been said by Armen, one of the Japan historical scholars I know, that the 47 Ronin incident and that of what people assume about what happened just isn't true, but is known by them as a "feudal drive-by".
Wow! Domo arrigato gozaimasu, Kikue, for all the interesting information about your life, your art and your writing. It already looks like 2010 will be an explosive year, but, hopefully, in a positive way. Certainly, it’s wished that all wars end and that what we learn from history--such as the feuds among Japan's samurai clans--will encourage us to lay down arms for peace.
Here’s to a new year filled with peace for all Hip Hapa Homeez everywhere!
Your Hip Hapa,