By GWEN MURANAKA
However you feel about the dedication of a monument to Korean “comfort women” in Glendale, it is sad to see the bonds of friendship forged over the decades strain and threaten to break in its aftermath.
Kyodo News reported on Aug. 2 that the mayor of Higashiosaka, Japan, a Glendale sister city, has sent a letter to city officials protesting a maintenance fund set up for sister city monuments, claiming the city has not given “any consent to share the expenses for the establishment of the fund” and adding that the people of Higashiosaka are “hurt” by the decision to install the memorial. The article noted that a city official hinted that the dispute may lead to the end of the sister city relationship.
If this recent controversy were to result in the termination of a decades-long sister city relationship, it would be tragic. The Shoseian, a Japanese tea house, was built in Glendale in 1974 as part of a joint effort between the two cities, as a symbol of the friendship between the United States and Japan. Like all sister city relationships, these cultural exchanges are meant to widen our understanding of the world and promote peace.
More troubling is the possibility that the current conflict between Japan and Korea will spill over here to our local communities, where we are often one another’s neighbors, friends and even family. When Koreatown rose last year to protest the redistricting that split the Korean American population into two districts, Japanese Americans from Little Tokyo were there in support, understanding how important it is that Asian Americans are given full representation in city politics.
One of the greatest heroes of both our communities was Col. Young Oak Kim, who earned two Silver Stars in World War II as a member of the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team. The Go For Broke Monument in Little Tokyo is a lasting testament to both his fortitude and leadership of that organization. Col. Kim refused to transfer out of the 442nd, despite the possibility of ethnic tension saying, “There is no Japanese nor Korean here. We’re all Americans and we’re fighting for the same cause.”
While most of the emails (and I have received hundreds of them) have been from Japan, it is also true that there is opposition here in the Japanese and Japanese American community, as evidenced by the July 9 Glendale council meeting. Following the publication of our story on the meeting, I have heard from a number of Japanese who attended the meeting, who were concerned that their words would be taken poorly by Korean associates.
Maybe that’s the thing. Unlike Seoul or Tokyo, we can’t shout at one another and return to our own ethnic bubbles. We all have to live together in a multicultural Los Angeles where you can eat Mexican ice cream, Korean tacos or Japanese spaghetti. Right wing nationalists in Japan or soccer players from Korea can replay and incite these ongoing conflicts, and while it is important for Japan to fully acknowledge its history, allowing tension to increase here will only be to the detriment of both communities.
“We can’t fight forever,” said Jean Chung of the Action for One Korea at last Tuesday’s dedication.
True words that I hope will help all of us rise above the turmoil, and maybe even come to an understanding of our differing points of view. We can disagree, but we mustn’t break our bonds of friendship.
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On a lighter note, this weekend will be the conclusion of Obon festivals here in Southern California with Gardena Obon. We’ve highlighted so many of the dancers, who put so much effort and joy into each dance. But I thought that John Matsuda had an interesting take on that most hearty of folks, the ones who come to watch and enjoy the spectacle.
John writes: “I line up my chairs at 6 a.m. on the westside of Halldale Avenue for the Isami Taiko Band and Bon Odori in the evenings; invite my friends to come and sit with me; eat udon and sushi; and just have the time of my life watching my friends from Gardena, Torrance, West L.A., Monterey Park, Orange County and other places, dancing to the tune of ‘Tanko Bushi,’ ‘Tokyo Ondo,’ ‘Yosakoi Bushi,’ ‘Mottainai’ and other familiar ondo music under the guidance of Brian Imada, son of Tad and Toshi Imada, who calls the shots from the ‘yagura’ or tower in the middle of street. Brian is ably assisted by his wife Imogene and daughter Claire (veteran taiko player of the Isami Taiko Band of Gardena Buddhist Church). I just love to sit there on Saturday and Sunday nights to watch the Bon Odori!”
Thanks John, I always wondered what time the folks in Gardena bring out their chairs for Obon. With cooler temperatures, it should be another wonderful weekend of dance and celebration.
Gwen Muranaka is the English Editor of The Rafu Shimpo and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ochazuke is a staff-written column. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.