Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Living in the rural town of Vashon Island, Washington, Mary's family stood out in the mostly white community. She describes the horror of facing school the following Monday, having to walk through the hallways feeling as if everyone was looking at her with pure hatred. It is only later in life that she recounts, it wasn't hatred at all, but fear.
In her interview, Mary describes how she was feeling at that time, saying:
I wish I had blonde hair and blue eyes and light skin. But I couldn't change the way I looked. I never was much of a talker, but I withdrew more and more and spoke less and less and the teachers were very kind, they didn't call on me unless I raised my hand, and I never raised my hand. After school I came right home, and didn't participate in any extracurricular activities. I just felt... like I was ashamed of who I was. But there was nothing I could do to change that. And then as we all know, February 19, 1942 president Roosevelt signed the Executive Order 9066.
It was a priveledge to hear part of Mary's story today. Although she expresses remorse about answering 'Yes, yes', over 'no, no', she eventually comes to the conclusion that in the end, there was no right or wrong answer. Instead she emphasizes the importance of dialogue and sharing one's story. We can all benefit from people like Mary, and the courage she demonstrated during a grave time of uncertainty.
Friday, February 18, 2011
The first segment of the event began at 12pm. At the informal "talk story" session, San Francisco State University students, NJAHS staff members, and Doctor Wesley Ueunten walked to the Union Bank Hospitality Room in the Miyako Mall and watched a very touching film. This film captured the stories of many innocent lives during the Battle of Okinawa. The Battle of Okinawa struck the world on April 1, 1945 and lasted until June. Viewers observed several children falling out of their ships and getting attacked by sharks. As the audience drank their refreshments and watched the scenes, they saw Okinawa turning into an ocean of fire with air raids. One man who was interviewed in the film shared his experience during the battle. He mentioned that he crushed his mother's skull while looking in her eyes. He remembered seeing droplets of tears rolling down on her face. Rough times during Battle of Okinawa showed that survival was tough and many family members were affected. As a touching stone for remembrance, many monuments have been dedicated to the thousands of victims. The Kozabu and Kobata monuments were set in memory for school children who died and thousands of names were engraved on the cornerstones. What's outrageous was that bombs were strapped onto the backs of boys. There was also another monument for the Korean victims. Most of their names could not be confirmed so they used Japanese American names instead. At Maeda Heights, bodies were seen shot to the ground and piled next to each other with bugs. Similar to Maeda Heights, the film reported that three female soldiers at Kliwo Milaga were wounded and four were dead. At this location, American soldiers kept shouting "Come out" in the caves and started shooting. One of the girls was dangerously harmed and her body scattered all over the place. In addition, a soldier stuffed a towel into an infant's mouth and killed him. As Aka Island appeared on the screen, we observed that many individuals consumed food such as yam. However, local people complained and they had the imperial soldiers search their clothes. They found twelve men with rice in their pockets and shot them all at sunset. This battle was marked with countless shootings and bombings in the air.
After the film, several Okinawa survivors joined the students and shared their stories. Frank Higashi, a translator in the Military Intelligence Service during the Battle of Okinawa, explained a surprising detail when he saw his brother. During the bloody battle, he discovered that his brother was acquainted with his army's enemy—the Japanese army. He said that he lived in America because his father wanted him to work and financially support his family in Japan. An emotional story began to unfold when Fujiko Dandoy spoke. It was difficult for her to speak about her life during the battle because the memories would invite some heartache. As she sat in her seat, she shared the fact that she lost many friends and families. She mentioned that she would sit in front of her journal and tear up. Like many people, she believed that Japan would be victorious. She grew up hearing "victory is ours" and was stationed in Okinawa in 1951. In the middle of this session, students were given the opportunity to ask them questions. By the end of the first session, students, like me, obtained a better understanding of the Battle of Okinawa.
When the clock struck 3:30 pm, we walked to the Issei Memorial Hall located at Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern Californa. The event began with an incredible collaboration performance from Doctor Wesley Ueunten and Francis Wong. Dr. Wesley Ueunten played a traditional melody with his lovely instrument called Sanshin. Their live performance definitely built a peaceful atmosphere in the auditorium. After his performance, Yuko, the volunteer coordinator at NJAHS, introduced the items on sale. Then, Dr. Wesley came back and performed another great song. The song allowed the audience to tune into the Okinawa culture and become exposed to their music. After his musical presentation, he gave opening remarks about the Battle of Okinawa. He said that the subject of Okinawa is quite heavy. It is sometimes painful to speak about war and destruction. He thanked the guests for coming and supporting the event. Following the opening remarks, the panel discussion began. Dr. Ben Kobashigawa, the moderater, introduced the four panelists: Frank Higashi (MIS veteran), Fujiko Dandoy (survivor), Noriyoshi Arakaki (survivor), and Dr. Mitzi Uehara Carter (candidate in Anthropology). Dr. Ben Kobashigawa gave a brief introduction about himself. He was born in Los Angeles and he is currently teaching Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University. He told us about the first speaker, Frank Higashi. He was born in the early 1900s in Southern California as a Kibei Nisei and worked as a Military Intelligence Service translator. The second spokesperson was Fujiko Dandoy. She was only a teenager when the battle took place. As Dr. Ben Kobashigawa stated, she is currently the president of the Sacramento Okinawa Kenjin Kai. She described how the memories of the battle would usually wake her up in the middle of the night. She does not like to speak in front of people, but she felt that this project was vital, that it was her duty to speak up and share her story. She said that she has no regrets in her. It has been several decades since the battle, yet the memories stay very intact with her. After she spoke about her life, Dr. Wesley Ueunten translated for her. She remembered the Lieutenant committing suicide and seeing women being carried in stretchers. In addition, she can still recall her friends’ faces and soldiers asking for water before they died. Others were forced to move to the southern part of Okinawa. As I looked around the room, I noticed one of the ladies tearing up. Mr. Noriyoshi Arakaki is a dance performer and professor. He said that he was only four months old during the battle. Because he was an infant, it was tough for him to remember the battle. However, he would usually hear stories from his siblings. Tragically, ten people in his family died. His story about his sister was sad because she was killed by an airplane. But he got a good laugh when he shared with the audience that he was dirty when he was a baby because he did not take baths very often. A couple of seconds later, he stepped away from talking about his family and discussed the structure of the government. There was the high commissioner, U.S. military government, civilian government, etc. At the time, he worked as a motorcycle police officer in Okinawa. The United States usually stored poisonous gas as weapons. His duty was to escort trucks to carry them to the seaport and take it somewhere. He said that Americans wore gas masks, but he did not wear one. Before coming to the United States, he was stationed near Village of King. He made a surprising statement when he shared the fact that middle school girls were raped by American militarists. After the battle, the population decreased. Many people, including himself, attended traditional plays which encouraged them to live and move on. Like Mr. Noriyoshi Arakaki, Dr. Mitzi Uehara Carter grew up with war stories. She witnessed dodging bombs and bullets. In addition, she saw scattered bodies which left scars for many generations. She would say that her mother’s stories were not in chorological order since they would bounce around. She also learned that her mother changed her own name.
After these panelists spoke, the audience was given the chance to raise questions and obtain answers. Around 5pm, Melody Takata, Dr. Wesley Ueunten, and Francis Wong played a couple of their last pieces. The mixture of the taiko, sanshin, and saxophone sounded amazing together! Just like how these instruments came together, this event built unity and community. After the event, students helped rearrange the auditorium and carry things outside.
Overall, I was blessed that I got the opportunity to participate in this event. The Battle of Okinawa is often excluded in our history texts, but this event exposed me to the traumas that occurred. In many ways, I can understand that it is not easy to speak about the battle since my own family lived through the Vietnam War. It was nice to hear the survivors talk about their experiences though. The point of the presentation was to explore the historical trauma that shapes the identity of Okinawas in the community. This event was very emotional, but I learned so much in these two sessions. I would like to thank the panelists and all of the supporters for coming!
By Lang Le
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
On Friday, February 11, 2011, NJAHS had an in-service training for Nuchi du Takara: Lessons from the battle of Okinawa with the guest curator and San Francisco State University professor, Wesley Ueunten Wesley Ueunten. Dr. Ueunten began the session with the historical background of Okinawa and the facts of the battle of Okinawa.
Okinawa (Ryukyu) was a kingdom in late 1400. In 1603, the Satusma clan from Japan invaded Okinawa; It was their feudal domain and they accomplished it with a military invasion. Thus, Okinawa came under Japanese rule. In addition, the invasion of Okinawa was beneficial to Satusma because Okinawa was a place for trase between neighboring countries. The trade between Ryukyu (Okinawa) and China was already taking place. Thus, Satusma became wealthy due to the economic benefit from trade. When the Meiji restoration happened in 1868-1689, Japan began forcing a Japanese mentality on Okinawans. This was accomplished by sending all the children of Okinawa to Japanese school, to have a Japanese education; which was part of the Japanese mentality of emperor worship, at that time. Also, Satsuma prohibited all traditional Okinawan music, dance, and language. In terms of government structure, the high levels of the government were Japanese and the lower level was Okinawan. During Japan’s invasion, Okinawans were seen as 2nd class citizens. Thus, the Okinawans were being oppressed by the Japanese.
The battle of Okinawa happened in April to June, 1945 between the United States and Japan. The reason that Okinawa was place for the battle was because Okinawa was a great army base, and strategically important for both Japan and America because of its location. Also, Okinawa was close to all the other Asian countries. Thus, it was a great place for trade. The battle resulted in over 100,000 Japanese troops killed, and over 12,000 American troops killed. Also, it has been estimated that 150,000 civilians were also killed. In addition, Japanese soldiers are alleged to have ordered civilians to commit mass suicides to show their loyalty to the emperor and to the country. During the battle, the Japanese military created many tunnels for the hospitality of the soldiers and the tunnels benefited Japanese military as part of their defense mechanism. The war resulted in the United States’ victory. From 1945- 1972, the U.S controlled Okinawa. After 1972, Okinawa was returned back to Japan which controls it as part of Japan till the present day.
Overall, it was a great session! I learned a lot more in detail about Okinawa. Personally, oppression should not happen to anyone. I feel extremely sorry for the people of Okinawa and have sympathy for the victims of the battle.
Come visit NJAHS' Peace Gallery in San Francisco Japantown, and talk to us!
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
In order to make stories fit in Nikkei Heritage, we sometimes have to cut them down in word count. This is the uncut version of Ben Hamamoto's profile of Brenda Wong Aoki and Mark Izu.
This year, performance artist Brenda Wong Aoki and Emmy Award-winning jazz musician Mark Izu plan to take back Halloween with the “Ghosts and Jazz” concert series.
The first couple of the Nikkei arts scene, husband and wife Aoki and Izu have been working together since 1979 when, inspired by jazz as an expression of African American culture, they studied Japanese traditional arts such as Noh theater and Gagaku music, hoping to create an authentic contemporary Asian American art form.
Their Halloween event teams them with a number of Nikkei artists, including Dr. Anthony Brown on multiple percussion, Janet Koike and Kathryn Cabunoc on taiko, Shoko Hikage on koto and Masaru Koga on shakuhachi and saxophone.
“We’re adapting symphonic and theatrical work we’ve done in the past and weaving in some real ghost stories from San Francisco,” Aoki explains. “We’re putting them in a new context in a jazz club.”
“Ghosts and Jazz” is a special event timed to coincide with Halloween, but the spiritual and supernatural are an integral part of Aoki and Izu’s art.
“Gagaku is much slower than Western music… so in order to keep time you have to sync your breathing with the other players,” Izu explains. “It’s a spiritual experience, learning to breathe together. As in meditation, you feel as if you are in a different realm, but once you become conscious of that, it disappears.”
In Gagaku, there is a Buddhist piece called “Bairo” which, it is said, will open your third eye if you play it seven times in a row.
“We’ve been trying to play it seven times,” Izu said, “but we’ve only made it to four, max.”
“In the theatre of Yugen, you move very slowly,” Aoki adds. “this is out of respect for the spirits who surround you when you perform.”
She also emphasizes the importance of Ma, negative space in Japanese art and philosophy.
“There is great power in silence, in stillness,” Aoki says. “Like when you have upset a lover and [they] do not say anything… There is eloquence in that silence.”
Ghosts can also be looked at as a sort of ma.
“In Noh, the dead are more important than the living,” Aoki explains, “because the actions of these dead are what brought us to where we are today.”
The spiritual and supernatural are part of the nature of Aoki and Izu’s work, but they are frequently the subject of their work as well. In fact, Aoki has been telling ghost stories since the beginning of her career.
In the mid-’80s, she received one of her first gigs when a UC Berkeley museum was having an exhibit on Japanese ghosts and demons. They commissioned her to write a piece and perform it; however, she was only given a short time before the piece was to be performed.
Without time to do stage rehearsals or choreography, Aoki simply read her work out-loud — adapted versions of Japanese ghost stories, “Dojoji” and “Black hair.”
Both stories concern vengeful women ghosts, a popular motif in Japanese horror.
“I love the fact the ghosts are always women,” Aoki says. “They’re so filled with love or jealousy or rage that they won't just go peacefully into the night.”
Though her stories are rooted in folklore, Aoki gives them her own twist.
“I always did them from my point of view,” she explains. “The original [Dojoji] had the poor innocent monk as the victim of the evil woman spirit… I wanted to do it my way.”
One of her best-known stories is “Mermaid Meat,” based on a legend that eating the flesh of a mermaid grants one immortality. In Aoki’s version, which was performed with Izu, Kent Nagano and the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra as a symphonic work, a mermaid falls in love with a fisherman but is betrayed by a human seeking eternal life.
“I had heard of the legend and later I read that amniotic fluid has the same chemical makeup as seawater, as do tears,” Aoki explains. “This inspired me to write the story.”
The extent of Aoki’s creativity is sometimes lost on American audiences who assume she is faithfully retelling ancient tales.
“When I go to Japan, my retellings are seen as much more avant garde,” she says. “I make the ghost the hero — the men are tentative sometimes, but the women love it!”
To some older Japanese, the stories are bold not just in terms of creativity, but in that Aoki talks directly about ghosts. At a performance in Houston, an old Japanese woman came up to her and asked, “Are you Nikkei?”
When Aoki answered in the affirmative, the obaasan said, “Only a stupid Sansei would do obake stories.”
Aoki got chills upon hearing this, as she generally treats the supernatural with caution.
“Ever since I can remember, ghost stories were a part of my life,” she explains. “I grew up next to a Polynesian housing project and many of the kids there had stories of summoning Bloody Mary [by saying her name three times in a dark room in front of a mirror].
“Kids would run out of the bathroom crying,” Aoki remembers. “Even today I can’t look in a mirror at night.”
She exercises similar caution when choosing her own stories.
“There are some stories I won’t do because they are too frightening,” she explains. “And I don’t do ones that involve me wearing masks.”
In Noh, one must ask the spirit of the mask to vacate and allow one to use it. If not done properly, one can become stuck inside the mask, unable to take it off.
But despite such precautions, Aoki has still seen her share of strange phenomenon.
Once, during a rehearsal for a performance at Los Angeles’ Japanese American National Museum, the lights suddenly went out. The only source of illumination in the room was from the small lights pointed at photos on exhibit.
“It was eerie. All you could see was headless people in glass coffins,” Aoki explains. “I could hear, unmistakably, the sound of children crying coming from the other side of the wall.”
A janitor, the only other person in the room, began diligently chanting Hail Mary’s. Aoki would later find out that this was not the first time the janitor had experienced such things in the museum. When the lights came back on, Aoki, concerned for the safety of the children she had heard, went to tell Nancy Araki, director of community affairs at the museum, what had happened. Araki assured her there were no imperiled children on the other side of the wall. She explained that the staging area was where Nikkei had to assemble to be sent to the concentration camps. [E1]
The ghosts of Aoki’s family history in particular and Japanese American history in general came out both literally and figuratively in the process of creating “Uncle Gunjiro’s Girlfriend” — the true story of Aoki’s family history.
Aoki had always known her family had a “shameful” secret, but it wasn’t until the late ‘90s[E2] when her 106-year-old cousin Sadae revealed to her what it was. Aoki’s great uncle, Gunjiro, married a white woman in 1909, becoming California’s first interracial couple. Scorned by both the white and Nikkei communities, Gunjiro and Gladys were chased out of town and lost contact with the rest of the family.
Aoki was fascinated by this hidden chapter of her family history and went about researching the controversy it caused. She was commissioned by the Montalvo Arts Center, a South Bay nonprofit, to develop a performance piece based on her family history and she was invited to work on it at the center’s 175-acre, Mediterranean-style villa, which James D. Phelan, the state’s first elected senator, left to the people of California for the encouragement of art, music, literature, and architecture.
Soon after Aoki began her work there, strange things started happening. The phone would ring at odd times with no one on the other end. She heard noises in her cabin when she was alone.
After some time of this, she approached the groundskeeper and asked him point blank, “Is this place haunted?”
“Oh yes,” he answered without hesitation. “Particularly around your cabin.”
“You should watch out,” he added, “the ghost seems particularly hostile towards [people of color].”
As her research continued, Aoki learned that there was an unlikely connection between her family history and the place she was staying. Piecing together news articles spanning more than a decade, a narrative was emerging. Helen and Gunjiro’s union was condemned by all sectors of society. However, one man stood above the others in his hatred for the interracial couple: Senator James D. Phelan, the previous owner of the villa.
“Phelan made his platform on hating people of color in general,” Aoki explains. “He hounded Helen and Gunjiro wherever they went — he made it his personal crusade.”
Within minutes of reading the article, Aoki said, the lights began to flicker. The presence on the grounds, which had previously been a curiosity, suddenly seemed like a menacing, malevolent force. She continued to experience problems right up until the first staging of the show.
The whole night Aoki and her crew, comprised entirely of people of color, experienced difficulties. Her printer would not work that night, so Aoki had to read from her laptop and a light, heavy enough to have killed a person, fell within inches of a member of her crew.
In the midst of the panic created by the falling light, a Native American man in full medicine man regalia approached the stage.
“I’m your cousin Michael,” he told Aoki and, without elaborating any further, then said, “We need to do a ‘sing’[E3] right now.”
The man performed a ritual meant to rid the hall of angry spirits, and immediately after, the lights went out.
Michael later explained that he was Gunjiro’s grandson. Gladys and Gunjiro settled in Washington State, while the rest of the Aoki family, ostracized from San Francisco’s Nikkei community, fled to Utah to become sharecroppers. Because they were residing on the West Coast during the war, Gladys and her five children (Gunjiro had passed away by that time), were supposed to go to camp, but Gladys decided, instead, to flee with them into the mountains.
“She knew those camps were not going to be no picnic,” Aoki says. They lived among a Native American tribe and Gunjiro’s son, Michael’s father, married the daughter of a medicine man.
Michael learned of Aoki’s performance from the local paper, in which he saw an announcement accompanied by a picture of his grandparents.
“It feels like everything came full circle… what happened to Gunjiro and Gladys set the precedent for the mass incarceration,” Aoki reflects. “I got the grant to do the show from the last of the redress money.”
The pioneering Nikkei performer doesn’t see her historical piece “Uncle Gunjiro’s Girlfriend” as being a total departure from her works that deal with ghosts and spirits.
“Ghost stories remind us that what remains after we are dead are the consequences of our actions,” Aoki says. “What starts to happen with time is that stories become parables…. talking in parable and symbol is a quicker and more abstract way to enter the mind and soul.”
The “Ghosts & Jazz” performances will include some real life ghost stories, along with the folk legends.
“Weaving more personal stories in and around the ghost stories,” Aoki says, “puts them in a context that explains why they are relevant today.”Brenda Wong Aoki and Mark Izu performed Ghosts and Jazz at 142 Throckmorton in
In May of 1959, a young woman headed out for a night at the movies at the Waialae Drive-In Theater in Kaimuki. Around midnight, she went to the restroom to freshen up but found another girl standing at the mirror. The second girl did not turn around; she just stood there, combing her long hair, black hair. As the first girl approached the mirror, the second girl slowly turned so the first girl could get a glimpse of her face — only where the face should have been, there was only a smooth, white surface, like an egg-shell. Her feet were also missing, a white mist in their place. The first woman ran out of the bathroom screaming and was hospitalized from a nervous breakdown shortly after.
At least that’s the story, one of the most famous in Hawaii, as told to reporter Bob Krauss of the Honolulu Advertiser. Rumors spread like wildfire, with numerous people claiming knowledge of sightings of the faceless phantom in the drive-in’s restroom and even at a nearby elementary school. Since then, details have changed, a radio caller in 1980 claimed to have encountered the ghost two years prior, but with one significant difference. The ghost, she said, had red hair.
The story persists today with reports of hauntings all over the Islands. But what’s really remarkable, Glen Grant asserts in his book “Obake: Ghost Stories in Hawai’i,” is that this particular kind of ghost has no history in Hawaiian or American lore. This ghost seems to come directly from Japanese folk belief, as recorded in a story by Lafcadio Hearn, which he collected from villagers in late Meiji-era Japan.
According to legend, there was dark, desolate road in Asakasa, where travelers would sometimes hear the plaintive cries of a woman. One night, a man was traveling alone when he heard the crying. He looked for its source and eventually, he was able to make out the figure of a woman slouched down by the side of the road. He called out to her and approached.
“I know how distraught you must be,” he said to her, “but whatever has happened, you should not be alone on the road this late at night.”
The woman, her hands covering her face, suddenly stopped crying. Softly at first, then maniacally, the woman began to laugh and, very slowly, she lowered her hands to reveal she had no face.
The man fled in terror and didn’t stop until he came across a soba noodle stand. He frantically told the merchant what had just happened, but the noodle peddler seemed unfazed.
“Heh,” he laughed gently.
“The woman’s face,” he said, slowly stepping into the light of his stand’s lantern, “was it anything like… this?”
The merchant too had no face. And the poor traveler fled in terror once again.Hearn’s story calls the faceless creature a “mujina,” which has created some confusion. “Mujina,” is another term for “tanuki,” a type of raccoon-dog the Japanese believed were shape-shifting tricksters. Tanuki/mujina were known to scare people for fun by transforming into any number of things, including faceless ghosts, which are themselves called “noppera-bou.” Whether the faceless entity seen in Hawaii was a tricky tanuki, a spirit of the dead or simply a hoax, its story remains one of the best-known tales of the supernatural in Hawa
The new issue of Nikkei Heritage, "The Supernatural" has just come out and, as often happens, we didn't have enough space for every article. Here is an article written by Ken Kaji about an uncanny encounter he had in San Francisco
A small white sign with carefully written calligraphy caught my eye. “Kanto Ya,” it read, indicating a restaurant within. Unheeded, most of the pedestrians walked swiftly by. The sudden, unexpected rain shower had caught most of the office workers off guard as they hurried home, wet and tired after a full day of work. Their rain splattered forms catching an auto headlight, or a flickering neon sign shedding a dazzling glow, cast miniature reflections in water droplets refracting the scattered lights of the surrounding Tenderloin district.
The Japanese restaurant sign meant noodles — hot noodles — that could be ordered and eaten quickly, leaving me enough to time arrive on schedule at my seminar on transformational spirituality where non-punctuality was considered, at least implicitly, a moral weakness.
Feeling a little pressure, I moved quickly from the parking garage across the street and walked by a high brick wall that aligned an empty lot. The wall, similar to some of the street’s indigents, bore the marks of timeless abuse. There were faded posters ads with torn letters that had over time become tattoos. A half face smoking a filtered cigarette. Addiction and intimacy.
Kanto Ya, like many cheap restaurants in the marginal areas of downtown San Francisco was located in the rear of a storefront that catered to tourists. Entering the door, I could see postcards of the Trans America pyramid and gorillas at Fleisshacker Zoo amidst sundries, medicines, aphrodisiacs, candy and cosmetics for the quick-drop-in shopper. They were cluttered along long counters that led to the entrance of the restaurant, appropriately adorned with a Kanto style frayed indigo, noren curtain. Behind the curtain, there was a dining area plainly furnished with tables and chairs. It was drear and empty.
I found the first customer of the evening. The waitress, as if rehearsed, went through the ritual of welcoming me and bringing a cup of hot tea. I glanced at the menu and placed my order. The actions were spare and anticipated as in the opening gestures of a Noh play. As I waited for my food to arrive, I glanced nervously at my watch, and was relieved when I heard another customer enter the premises. I turned around to see two persons enter the room. Brushing under the noren, were an older Caucasian man and a small, white haired, Japanese woman who seemed almost half his height. He was perhaps her attorney, or a long time family friend from pre-war days, maybe a financial advisor like my mother used to have in Michigan. They sat at the far corner of the room.
The noodles finally came. I cursed myself for not remembering that hot noodles cannot be eaten very quickly. As I struggled with my hot meal, I felt very warm and began to perspire.
I looked up from my steamy glasses, and was startled to find the face of the little old Japanese woman very close to mine, staring at me intently. She smiled and introduced herself.
“Uyeno,” she said was her name.
‘Strange,’ I thought, ‘that’s my mother’s name.’
This woman rambled on in broken English about her stamp store in D.C. and how she was well known by “many congressmen on the hill.”
I was beginning to feel a bit nervous, not wanting to get engaged in a lengthy conversation with this woman. My class at the St. Francis was to begin in a matter of minutes. I called for my check and threw a few crumpled bills on the table. Then I abruptly stood up.
I uttered a hasty apology to this person who blocked my way. I ran for the door, and dashed out into the cold. It was still raining. The overcast sky had lapsed into night. The raindrops struck my face. I sprinted up O’Farrell Street, dodging people and cars.
It was only after I had made it to the seminar and collapsed in my seat that I began to feel that I had just talked to someone I had known very well.
The woman in that restaurant had my mother’s name, but beyond that, she sort of looked like my mother and — most affecting of all — she felt like my mother.
To this day the memory of that urban spring night — the restaurant on that rainy street and the uncanny encounter within — continues to linger in my dreams.