Monday, June 30, 2008

Kickoff to J.A. Carnival & Obon Season

Last weekend on June 22nd, we went to the Venice Japanese Community Center Carnival, as our kick-off to Obon and Carnival Season. This year, at 3 years old, Maiya enjoyed playing the games even more than last year. Here she is playing the "everyone wins" something game where you pluck the toys out of the spinning water with a fish net. She won a little army guy with a canteen (luckily it wasn't a gun), a little guy with a parachute, and a purple sequin beaded purse, which as expected, the strap broke that evening, sending little sequined beads scattering across Uncle Bill's floor.

Then we went to see the Bonsai exhibit. We saw Mr. Goya, who trims our Japanese bushes every year. We saw him recently at Mr. Kobashigawa's event. Behind me & Maiya, is one of his Bonsai junipers. It is such a beautiful art.

Then of course there's the food. We had chili rice, corn, wonton, beef teriyaki, udon, blueberry cheesecake and don't forget about the snow cones. By the way, don't let a 3 year old walk and eat a snow cone at the same time. Sit down, and eat it slowly and make sure to have lots of napkins nearby.

Maiya got kind of excited when the music started. She had her own style of dance. Note the purple purse is still intact.

Later, at Uncle Bill's getting the sticky off the silly girl.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Welcome to Summer.

Today is our first day of summer. We're really lucky living near to the beach. Where my sister lives in the Valley it is 105 today, but here near the coast it's a balmy 84, and at 1:30 pm, I actually feel a relatively cool breeze wafting in through my bedroom window.

One of our cars hasn't been working all week, so we've been happily keeping one car at home and carpooling and taking the bus. This morning, Tony had to go to Maiya's preschool to help build a new play structure (95 degrees downtown today-ack!), so Maiya and I took the bus to Culver City to have breakfast with Auntie Keiko and her friends at Tokyo 7-7. Two good deals: Bus ride 75 cents, breakfast special $2.43. Spending the morning with my girl, priceless.

Afterwards, Keiko dropped me off at my chiropractor/healer's for an hour, and they came to pick me up afterwards. We went shopping at the air-conditioned mall with Keiko & her friend Mary, got Maiya a little car stroller to ride in, went to Old Navy, Macy's for a potty break, had a quick mall lunch, then came home. Boy, do these auntie's know how to spoil a little girl.

Anyways, that's our day so far. There's the Venice Community Center Carnival this weekend, and I'd like to get to the gym and to the pool for more swimming. There's laundry and a messy house, but right now, I think I'll go drink a cool glass of water and lie down and relax a bit.

Oh. If you have a chance, check out the Little Tokyo Unplugged Blog. I put up an entry about our Saturday in J-town a few weekends ago.

Stay cool, y'all.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Groovin' on Father's Day!

Here are Tony & Maiya dancing to the "Groove Line" by Heat Wave. I get such a kick out of watching them dance together. Maiya came into the den/office/hovel yesterday and said, "Daddy, do you want to dance with me?" She wanted the "whoo whoo" song. As you can see, they've been working on their moves.

Happy Father's Day Tony! You're a great Daddy and I love you.

Happy Father's Day also to the other daddy's in our life, Grandpa Walt, Grandpa Larry, Uncle Bill and Grandpa Don aka Zeyde.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


The amount of money I have spent on gas for the Lexus in 9 days.


Monday, June 09, 2008

First Legoland trip...

Here we are arriving at Legoland... with 7 kids, 8 adults
Waving from the airplane ride!
Maiya, Kaylee, Kieth, Ronnie & Leeta on a Lego Camel
Maiya and Cousin Kevin shivering after the water ride

I had 3 days off last week. On Thursday, we went to Legoland. My sister Gayle arranged for everyone to go for Kieth and Kaylee's birthday. It was everyone's first time there. The kids had a great time at the water park. Maiya said her favorite part was driving the little cars. It was kind of a trip to see my baby "drive off" in her little car, sitting up so proudly, and driving away down the little track. They even gave her a little driver's license which she proudly stuffed in her pocket.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Militant Humility...

Retrieving the Activist Tradition of "Militant Humility"
for Our Asian American Communities
By Glenn Omatsu

On May 31, 2008, the Southern California Library celebrated 93-year-old Okinawan American Dick Kobashigawa's more than seven decades of activism by adding his name to its Wall of Honor.

Tributes by fellow activists and friends highlighted the key role of Mr. Kobashigawa and other Okinawan Americans in pre-World War II Southern California when they mobilized against Japan's militarism and imperialism and fought for the expansion of rights for immigrants in the U.S. Tributes recalled his solidarity and support in the early 1970s for young activists in the early days of the Asian American Movement, especially for the Japanese Welfare Rights Organization in Little Tokyo. Tributes also recognized his literary accomplishments, notably his novels, promoting appreciation of worker culture in early Okinawan and Japanese immigrant communities. Common to all these tributes was an emphasis on how Mr. Kobashigawa - who toiled for most of his adult life as a gardener - embodied the quality of "militant humility," an important Asian American activist value that has been passed along from one generation to the next in our communities.

In the activist tradition of the broader society, the quality of humility is not associated with militancy. In fact, the two qualities are regarded by most Americans as opposites, and U.S. activists are trained - both consciously and unconsciously - to see political power and social change in terms of militant struggle. In contrast, the tradition of Asian American activism - born from the struggles of early generations of immigrant workers and nurtured by succeeding generations like Mr. Kobashigawa - integrally linked militancy to humility. This tradition of "militant humility" enabled them to develop patience for the difficult and uncertain process of
grassroots organizing, to emphasize sincerity in interactions with others, and to express gratitude in serving communities.

Most young Asian American activists today are probably unaware of Mr. Kobashigawa and the political legacy forged by early Okinawans in our communities. Yet, for young Asian American activists, the significance of Mr. Kobashigawa lies not only in his life accomplishments but also in his gentle reminder of the layers of activism that exist in our communities that are now oftentimes not acknowledged and sometimes not even seen.

For young Asian American activists today, the image of activism has been shaped by the overall gains in our communities during the past four decades and is now similar to image of activism in the broader society. Today, Asian American activism is associated with full-time work in community organizations and with careers in professions such as law, public policy, education, and social welfare. Today's face of Asian American activism is that of a community leader, a union organizer, a politician, or an advocate in the professions of law or education.

In contrast, I grew up at a time when the face of Asian American activism looked very different. I became a young activist in the late 1960s and early 1970s, at a time when Asian Americans were just beginning to gain opportunities in various professions due to grassroots struggles for justice and through affirmative action
programs. Thus, the older activists who mentored me were not lawyers, professors, or community leaders but "ordinary" people who worked in factories, as gardeners, in janitorial and domestic work, and in small businesses - the common occupations for Asian Americans then. My interactions with these activists shaped not only my understanding of political dynamics but also my appreciation of other aspects of community life. For example, I saw that political activists were not famous personalities on the TV news but gardeners like Mr. Kobashigawa. I learned that poets and novelists were not only acclaimed writers but also the elderly neighborhood barber, the local print shop worker, and the quiet office clerk living in a nearby apartment building. I identified eloquent speakers as not only Martin Luther King, Jr. but also the housewife who spoke at a neighborhood rally and the corner mini-market proprietor who testified at a government hearing against evictions in our neighborhood.

Today, in our Asian Americans, we still have activists like Mr. Kobashigawa among the ranks of garment workers, restaurant workers, and factory workers, but they are now largely unseen. Among immigrant workers, we have articulate writers and speakers, but they are not always appreciated. They are the hidden layers of activism and political eloquence in our communities - hidden by the prevailing, dominant image associated with the professional sector.

Honoring Mr. Kobashigawa enables young Asian American activists today to recognize these hidden layers of "militant humility" in our communities. Honoring Mr. Kobashigawa enables young activists to understand the legacy of Okinawans that connected organizing against war to the ongoing struggle against militarism and
imperialism. Honoring Mr. Kobashigawa enables young activists to appreciate immigrant worker culture and see how the defense of immigrant rights protects the rights of all people. Honoring Mr. Kobashigawa enables young activists to recognize that eloquence in writing and speaking are not the domains of professionals but the possessions of all sectors in our communities.

And most important of all, honoring Mr. Kobashigawa enables young activists to retrieve the Asian American tradition of "militant humility" and to ensure that it will be passed along to the generations that follow.

At the May 31 ceremony honoring him, Mr. Kobashigawa characteristically did not talk about his lifetime of activism. He did not even talk about achievements of his generation or the struggles and sacrifices of Okinawan activists. Instead, he thanked others and focused on the generations that came before him. "Let us remember the forgotten Issei who fought for peace and justice," he emphasized and asked that this message be inscribed on his brick for the library's Wall of Honor.

In the spirit of Mr. Kobashigawa, let us also emphasize the special Asian American tradition of "militant humility" and make sure that it is passed along to future generations in our communities.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


This morning when Maiya saw the pictures of Mr. Kobashigawa she said, "Hey Kashi-wawa!" These pictures are from Saturday's event at the Southern California Library honoring Mr. Kobashigawa. Afterwards, we had a Japanese Peruvian dinner at the Okinawan Clubhouse. I put Tony's folktale "Jiro and the Magic Blanket" in the next post.

Mr. K. with his son Ben, and Glenn Omatsu
With Yuko, who gave a personal tribute and also performed

Omedeto, Mr. Kobashigawa

With his brother on one side, and his daughter on another

Jiro and the Magic Blanket

In the mid 1990s, I rented a small Sawtelle house behind Jiro Dick Kobashigawa and his wife Sumiye. For a Yonsei interested in Asian American history, it was a treat. Mr. Kobashigawa, a Kibei Nisei shared his books and writings with me, educated me about the Okinawan America experience, and talked story about the early Issei activists he knew and admired. On the outside he was a Sawtelle gardener, but on the inside, he as a thinker, a writer, a poet, a bonsai master, a world traveler, a union supporter, and a peace activist.

To capture and share just a bit of Mr. Kobashigawa’s life, I’ve written the following folktale in his honor.

Jiro and the Magic Blanket
By Tony Osumi

Once upon a time, there lived a young man named Jiro. Born of simple means he was eager to seek his fortune. Hugging his mother, father, and sibblings goodbye, he packed up his few belongings and set out on the long road of life.

In time he came upon an old Okinawan man with a curving back and walking stick. As the two men shared the path they began to talk.

“Where are you going?” asked the old man.
“To find my fortune,” answered Jiro.
“Ah, wealth,” said the old man.
“Yes,” Jiro said enthusiastically. “I want to be rich.”

In a short time the pair became friends. During the day they talked about the past, present and future and at night, everything in between. As the trail grew faint, the old man’s keen eye provided guidance. When the road grew rocky, the young man’s firm step kept the two of them safe.

After many moons they stopped at the entrance of a green forest. “It is time you continue seeking your fortune,” said the old man. Slowly he removed a sleeping blanket with star on it from his back. “Take this magic blanket, Jiro. When you find a place of true beauty, lay your blanket down and dream. In the morning, lift the blanket up and you will find your treasure.

Skeptical but curious, Jiro unrolled the blanket and traced the simple embroidery of a star with his finger. But before he could thank the old man, he was gone.

With images of silver and gold, Jiro quickly made his way deep into the forest.

On the first day Jiro spent hours looking for the perfect spot. He wandered into a cluster of giant sequoia trees. Their powerful trunks drove skyward towards heaven. Although towering figures with lofty thoughts, the massive redwoods were serene and peaceful. “This has to be the most beautiful spot in the forest,” he said as he laid down to sleep. In the morning he slowly lifted the blanket expecting to see his treasure. But there was nothing. “Maybe this wasn’t the most beautiful place in the forest,” he thought to himself.

On the second day, Jiro spent hours strolling through a meadow of rainbow colored wildflowers. He watched bee after bee return to its hive overlooking the meadow. He noticed how the community of bees built their hive, collected nectar, made honey, and defended it by swarming together when necessary. By spreading pollen and fertilizing each plant, bees helped build the forest. With dusk approaching, Jiro spread out his blanket in the middle of the meadow and breathed in the first wisps of Night Jasmine. With a sigh, he knew this was the most beautiful spot in the forest. In the morning he slowly lifted the blanket, but there was nothing. “This was certainly beautiful, but I guess I need to keep looking,” he wondered.

On the third day, Jiro spent hours studying the rings on an old tree stump. He was fascinated how each ring represented a year in the tree’s life. Some lines were almost too close to count and it told him the tree had survived many dry seasons. Rubbing the weathered trunk made Jiro feel connected to his own family. He decided this was the most beautiful place in the forest. Jiro laid out his magic blanket and leaned up against the stump for the evening. In the morning he slowly lifted the blanket, but there was nothing. “I was sure this was the place,” he said with a hint of disappointment.

On the fourth day near the edge of a bluff he found a small grove of wind swept pine trees. For hours he studied their curved trunks and swaying branches.

On the fifth day he explored riverbed rocks worn smooth and slick by the constant rush of water. With time each jagged rock was polished into a giant black pearl.

On the sixth day he watched wild salmon struggle upstream to lay their eggs. He admired the silver swimmers’ yearly return to raise another generation.

But as beautiful as these places were, Jiro never found a treasure or his fortune. Frustrated, he made his way out of the forest. “I should have known there was no such thing as a magic blanket,” he muttered.

On the seventh day, Jiro passed a farm on the outskirts of the forest. He came upon a young woman collecting water from a well. As she looked up she caught the young man’s eye. For Jiro it was hitome-bore, love at first sight. Her name was Sumi and she was equally smitten. Soon they were married.

With little money they set up home in a small log cabin. One night after fighting off the cold wind, Jiro woke up before dawn to cut some firewood. He returned as the sun was rising. Inside he found Sumi snuggled warmly under his rolled up blanket. The sun’s soft glow lit up her face.
It was beautiful. Jiro now understood that Sumi was the treasure of his life.

Once again, Jiro retraced the embroidered star with his finger. His adventure with the old man and his days in the forest filled the tiny cabin. He smiled at the old man’s cleverness. It all made sense now. The blanket had opened Jiro up to a wealth of knowledge.

From the oldest and most powerful creatures of the forest, the giant sequoias, he learned humility. In spite of his years of wisdom, Jiro remains soft-spoken and eager to listen.

From the buzzing bees, he learned teamwork and unity. He’s lived a life building solidarity and supporting working-class movements.

From the tree rings, he learned the importance of knowing your history and documenting your life. Jiro went on to record his life and those around him though poems, paintings, stories and home movies.

From the wind swept pine trees, he learned nature’s beauty and went on to recreate it by becoming a landscape gardener and bonsai master.

From the rushing river, he learned perseverance and lives each day committed to social change.

Lastly, from the spawning salmon, he learned to remember his roots and to honor those that came before him--like the Okinawan Issei activists who fought for a more fair and just world.

After their marriage, Jiro and Sumi shared a lifetime at each other’s side. They started a family and each of their children and grandchildren were wrapped in the magic of that blanket. In fact, everyone who’s met Jiro felt its warmth.

After many years, Jiro’s firm step slowed. He knew it was time to pass the blanket on. Today, you can find Jiro reaching out to young folks just like the old Okinawan man did years before. It’s time for young people to trace their own fingers on that threaded star and make the connection between their dreams and their daily lives. It’s time for a new generation to continue building a more beautiful world.

While never finding silver and gold, Jiro has lived a very rich life.