Standing in front of Sakai watertower, May 20th, 1937.  From left: unidentified, Jun Agari (Son of Sakai’s oldest daughter Chizuru and Yoichi Agari.  Jun was raised by the Sakais after his mother died.), unidentified, unidentified, Chu Sakai, Kotaro Sakai, Riu Oishi, Tokutaro Oishi, Seizo Oishi, pre-war
A 1937 photo of the Sakai and Oishi families, prominent flower-growers in the El Cerrito-Richmond area.

SAN JOSE — “Blossoms & Thorns: A Community Uprooted” will be screened on Saturday, Nov. 16, at 1 p.m. at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, 535 N. Fifth St. in Japantown.

The screening will be followed by a Q&A session with filmmaker Ken Kokka and a discussion with Hiroji Kariya and Jim Nakano from the local cut-flower industry, whose stories are similar to those featured in the film. The discussion will be moderated by two-time Emmy nominee and local NBC Bay Area reporter George Kiriyama.

“Blossoms & Thorns” is a short documentary featuring Ruby Adachi Hiramoto, Flora Ninomiya, and Tom Oishi, all members of the Japanese American flower-growing community in Richmond (Contra Costa County). Uprooted by the federal government and forcibly removed from their homes and businesses, these growers spent the duration of World War II in barren desert internment camps. Through personal interviews, they recount the struggle, dismay, and resiliency of the families who returned to the floral industry and the changing Richmond neighborhood.

Their stories are all too familiar to many Japanese Americans. Special guests Kariya and Nakano will share their own stories with the audience, from starting the family business to the injustice and impact of the internment and to their post-war struggle and eventual success in rebuilding the family business.

Filmmaker Ken Kokka
Filmmaker Ken Kokka

Kokka is a Berkeley native and graduate of the MFA Program in Directing at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. He has written and directed several short films, including “The Chessmen,” a dramatic narrative about the plight of Japanese Americans returning to their former neighborhoods following their internment. Blossoms & Thorns, produced with Donna Graves and funded by the Contra Costa JACL, is his first documentary. Kokka works as a visual effects producer at Tippett Studio in Berkeley, most recently on the “Twilight” films and the upcoming reboot of the “Cosmos” television series.

Kiriyama is a California native who traveled around the country as a television reporter for more than nine years before returning home to California in 2006 to report for NBC Bay Area. He was nominated for an Emmy in 2008 for his role in the NBC Bay Area documentary “Dreams to Dust: Americans Interned.” For this program about the internment of Japanese Americans, he interviewed members of his family who experienced the camps. He was nominated for a second Emmy in 2010 for his live reporting during a downtown Oakland riot sparked by anger over the New Year’s Day shooting death of Oscar Grant. Kiriyama is very active in the Asian American Journalists Association, serving as the national vice president for broadcast.

Kariya was born on May 9, 1923, and grew up in Belmont (San Mateo County), where his parents raised chrysanthemums. The Kariya family moved operations to East Palo Alto in 1941. In May 1942, the family was evacuated to the Tanforan Assembly Center and then incarcerated at the WRA camp in Topaz, Utah. Drafted into the U.S. Army in March 1945, Kariya served as a translator in Japan. He was discharged in November 1946 and returned to East Palo Alto, where his parents had reestablished the Kariya nursery. He eventually took over the nursery operation and moved it to Mountain View in 1957. Rising costs and strong competition from foreign producers finally led to the nursery’s closure in 1979.

Nakano spent his early childhood on a farm in Santa Clara with his parents, grandmother, uncle, and four siblings. In 1938, the Nakano family moved to San Mateo to learn the chrysanthemum-growing business and two years later purchased land in Redwood City. In May 1942, they were forced to relocate, first to the Tanforan Race Track in San Bruno and then to the Topaz Relocation Center. After the war, the Nakanos returned to their home in Redwood City and resumed growing chrysanthemums. In 1953, after receiving his degree in ornamental horticulture from UCLA, Nakano joined the family business. After his parents retired, he and his brother continued growing chrysanthemums, finally retiring in 1989.

Cost: Free with admission to the museum (non-members, $5; students and seniors over age 65, $3; JAMsj members and children under 12, free).

RSVP required. Email or call (408) 294-3138.

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