Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Beginning At The Beginning With The Daughter Of A Japanese War Bride

Konnichi-wa, Hip Hapa Homeez.

my cousin at the sakura-blooming Imperial Palace

Your Hip Hapa recently returned from a fact-finding mission in sakura-blooming Nippon. Even though I stayed in a major international city like Tokyo, I felt more like a minority there than, say, in Los Angeles. Among 13 million mostly ethnic Japanese, I saw less than 100 foreigners over a two-week span. When I say ‘foreigner’, I mean those not of Asian ancestry. Obviously, I couldn’t identify any non-Japanese who may have been of another East Asian heritage, so there may have been more ‘foreigners’ than I recognized--such as the large contingents of ethnic Chinese spotted in the lobby of my hotel because of the banners they were holding. But just based on physical appearances, I would say I was one of approximately 100 non-Japanese-looking among millions.

Mom, bottom row, 3rd from left

Strangely enough, I was spoken to in Japanese all the time, but that may be due more to Japanese' reluctance to use English even if they knew it. I could be wrong. Perhaps they thought I looked close enough to the ‘real deal’ to be spoken to in their native tongue. After all, my relatives marveled at how much I resembled my ‘pure’ Japanese mother. Or maybe, they--as should rightly be expected--felt that anyone visiting their country would at least know how to communicate with them in their own language. Sadly, my nihongo is at an elementary school level. You know the sort of dialogue that goes: ‘Hello. How are you? My name is Yayoi. How do I get to Shinagawa-ku?’

me and Mom, back in the day
Even though my self-made journey included mostly visiting shrines and temples in ancient parts of the city, I don’t want to focus on writing a culture-crossing travelogue here. Instead, I want to concentrate on why I went to Japan in the first place.

my cousin with the doctor's daughter
Because I’m filming a documentary about Japanese war brides like my mother, I wanted to find out where she and I started our lives together. When I told my cousin who lives in the U.S. that I wanted to visit the clinic where I was born, she diligently tracked it down through an equally diligent city employee. Although the clinic had moved to a different address, the two were able to locate it. In Japan, my cousin’s oldest sister guided us to Machida-shi, the city where my mother gave birth to me. There, we found the clinic and spoke with the daughter of the late doctor who delivered me. Even though my father was an American soldier at the time, my parents weren’t legally married so I came into the world at a Japanese clinic presided over by a Japanese doctor. Over the years, my mother told me many stories about my birth and how she regretted never taking me back to meet the doctor who helped me arrive on planet Earth. Thanks to the hard work of my two cousins and the city official, I found closure about my beginning in life. What a homecoming!

On another day, my Associate Producer, Ray Tabata, his friend from Hilo, and I visited the Kaigai Iju Shiryokan, or The Japanese Overseas Migration Museum (managed by JICA), in Yokohama. As we walked towards the venue, I looked over at the Bay and realized my mother and I had departed for America from those very waters. Suddenly, a ship’s horn sounded and it took me back to that day we left Japan, even though I was only two years-old then and couldn't possibly remember it. Still, I could imagine it.

The visit with museum staff was amazing and saturated with information. If you can, you should take a tour of the exhibit that highlights Japanese who left Japan to live abroad. By now, most people know that Brazil has the second largest population of Japanese in the world, but how many know that 61% of great grandchildren of Japanese Brazilians are marrying into other ethnic groups?

The museum staff was really excited that our party was visiting from Hawai’i as they had a huge display of Japanese sugar cane workers that arrived at plantations on the islands. Besides providing us with tremendous resources for our War Brides of Japan documentary, they also happily talked stories with us--in English.

Towards the end of my Japan voyage, my cousins and I visited the family cemetery, and I was able to formally say good-bye to my grandmother.

And when I retuned home, I was surprised to learn that Ray Tabata had located the daughter of a Japanese war bride living near us. The real surprise came when I saw her name, Marlene Blackwell, and recognized it as belonging to someone our family knew decades ago at an Army base in Washington State. When I spoke with Marlene, she sent me the picture, below, of her and my sister performing at a PTA meeting. She determined it had to be my sister after I told her that she had an unusual mark on her cheek because she had fallen off her bike the day of the show and my mother covered it with rouge, a bright red circle that resembled a Japanese flag on her face.
Marlene Blackwell, 2nd from left; my sister to her left
my sister practicing for the performance
Dear Hip Hapa Homeez, please follow us as we begin fundraising and filming War Brides of Japan. Right now, Your Hip Hapa is editing over 4 hours of footage to create a trailer so that you can get a better sense of our filmmaking goals. Meanwhile, here are links to slideshows, including one that placed among the top three entries in the New Media Film Festival in Los Angeles in 2012.

We also have our feature narrative, Watermelon Sushi, to complete so please support our pages.

Yayoi Lena Winfrey fan page on Facebook (sorry, but Your Hip Hapa can’t add any more friends to her regular profile page)

You can also join our Hip Hapa Homeez group on Facebook and post articles about being transracially adopted, a blended family, an interracial couple or an ethnically mixed child, and more.

Until next bi-month, please stay tuned for more info about War Brides of Japan!

Your Hip Hapa,