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Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column


This month I was inspired by the Little Tokyo Candidates Forum that occurred at the top of the month, to present an opportunity for all current city council candidates a chance to speak with the community. The forum, with many passionate expressions for the neighborhood, made me think on locality, affinity and the infinite ways with which you can fall in love with a community. I thought it would be fun at long last to feature a behind the scenes tech genius who works at Little Tokyo Service Center and is also a private poet - Cleveland, Ohio born and raised/SGV resident Wataru Ebihara. And, to again highlight a student of a beloved class offered in Little Tokyo by veteran poet Amy Uyematsu, we are featuring her youngest student and former LT resident, Nina Chan. Enjoy!

—traci kato-kiriyama

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Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, and now living in the San Gabriel Valley east of Los Angeles, Wataru Ebihara is a "Sansei" or 3rd-generation Japanese American. Some of his poetry has previously appeared in the Rafu Shimpo, the dISorient Journal, "Keep It Going... Pass It On: Poetry Inspired by the Manzanar Pilgrimage", and a self-publish book called Infinite Loop.


Algorithm Re-Design

it would be good to design an algorithm
logical mechanical efficient
a set of instructions for living

but instead i measure the intensity of stars
by feeling the weight of the cold air
as my lungs inhale and exhale

i listen to the depth of dawn's silence
by capturing the limits of my hearing
from night noise to the rooster's crowing

i search for tranquility in my chattering mind
like a turbulent cumulonimbus cloud reaching high
-- now blue skies with sunlight falling unbroken

when i run forever in my dreams
there is no circumference on this planet
but my mind grows tired -- exhausted

eventually a numerical answer is computed
with slice of nori over the right eye
and seeing whatever the left eye uncovers

two-year old hikaru observes with laughter
counting one to two to three to four to five
performing in real time

-- it's just fun.

Smell of the Rain

they arrive with voices of dreams
sensations of body calling
bird calls and grey morning light
vivid green surrounding language

no one ever knows exactly
when these moments will arrive
songs of the directions we strive
music not of reason or wrong

if anyone would believe us then
can’t really say, or if it matters at all
if we’re given to fly, fight, love, fail, or fall
just breathing alive, just living out destiny

over homes and hillsides
electrical lines stretch for miles
cool breezes catch scents of grass
and empty beer cans by the roadside

riding with the concrete river
chain link fences and graffiti written
lonely highway, blocking traffic noise
i recalled the smell of the rain

* These poems are copyrighted by Wataru Ebihara (2020)


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Nina Chan is a Chinese-American family doctor who was born in the Year of the Mouse. She has lived in the Little Tokyo area until very recently. She now lives in the San Fernando Valley with her husband, her dog, and her new baby boy. She writes poetry in her spare time with inspiration from her writing group, the Women Word Warriors, who meet at the Far East Lounge weekly.


Little Tokyo Car Wash
An alphabet poem

A Bare Concrete Driveway
Empty, Forgotten Garage
Housed Innumerable Jeeps,
Kia, Lexus, Mercedes, Nissans
Once Parked, Quick Reliable Service
Tragically Undermined Via
White, X-gen Yuppies, Zealots,
And Businessmen
Creating Drastic Effects
Fated Gentrification

(Photo by Otilio Clemete)

Year of the Mouse

I am a mouse.
I freed the lion from his net
to repay an earlier kindness.
As a result, I make my own roar,
no longer follow in blindness.

I am a mouse.
I rode on the backs of others to gain my place,
help from the strong ox.
For how to get ahead without support from others?
An unlikely paradox.

I am a mouse.
I tricked the cat, my one great enemy,
who disguised himself as my friend.
No longer prey to this predator,
I put his bullying to an end.

I am a mouse.
I nibbled at cheese, bait laid out for me
while navigating many traps
Often blamed for mess, but I'm tidiest,
I make use of wasted scraps.

I am a mouse.
I suffered from mass banishment,
blamed for plague and poverty.
So I created my own savior, to help my family
with a flute song of self-sovereignty.

I am a mouse.
Those traits I hold may be small, insignificant,
timid, huddled, and afraid
But also shrewd, clever, flexible, and fastidious:
in these, I am remade.

*These poems were copyrighted by Nina Chan (2020)


© 2020 Wataru Ebihara; Nina Chan

Nikkei Uncovered Nina Chan poet poetry Wataru Ebihara

About this series

Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column is a space for the Nikkei community to share stories through diverse writings on culture, history, and personal experience. The column will feature a wide variety of poetic form and subject matter with themes that include history, roots, identity; history—past into the present; food as ritual, celebration, and legacy; ritual and assumptions of tradition; place, location, and community; and love.

We’ve invited author, performer, and poet traci kato-kiriyama to curate this monthly poetry column, where we will publish one to two poets on the third Thursday of each month—from senior or young writers new to poetry, to published authors from around the country. We hope to uncover a web of voices linked through myriad differences and connected experience.