David Yamaguchi

David Yamaguchi is a Sansei freelance writer in Seattle. Articles reprinted here originally appeared in The North American Post, a Japanese community paper. A book David co-authored, The Orphan Tsunami of 1700 (Univ. Washington Press, 2005; second ed., 2015), describes how tsunami records from Edo-era Japanese villages helped resolve today's Pacific Northwest earthquake hazards. It can be perused full-text on Google Books.

Updated May 2016

war en

Helmet for My Pillow and With the Old Breed

ENGLISH READERS know much about the experiences of Japanese-American families during World War II. Many can also trace the wartime journey of the famed JA 442nd infantry across Europe. Yet, our knowledge base drops quickly when we pull back the viewpoint to include the settings in which Nisei linguists served in the Pacific, translating captured documents and questioning Japanese prisoners of war.

There are several reasons for this. The translators were widely dispersed among many units. There was lingering wartime and postwar secrecy, intended in part to protect the Japan-based relatives of those who served. There is simply a lesser ...

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culture en


ON THURSDAY NIGHT, Nov. 16, 2017, I had a date with my cousin, Diane, to see Kuniko Fukushima sing and play the piano at the Royal Room, a jazz club in Columbia City near our homes.

When I opened the club door and we walked in, the first thing we heard at the reception front desk—without any beating around the bush—was “Nanmei-sama desu ka?” [How many are in your party?] I had to laugh, for the question took me by surprise. For until that moment, Diane and I had been walking on familiar Rainier Valley terrain, a few ...

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community en

Reluctant Islander

These days, Sansei are running out of knowledgeable elders who can tell us of the past. Thus, when I had a chance to join Eileen (Sakamoto) Okada, a longtime docent at the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum for lunch on November 6 with her niece—my photographer Gwen Shigihara—I took advantage of the opportunity.

In sitting down with Mrs. Okada, it became clear immediately that she is a person whose words are worth writing down. A Seattle native and alumnus of the Maryknoll Catholic School—on the site of today’s Swedish Cherry Hill Hospital—she described how her attending ...

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community en

Growing Up at the Kokusai Theater

In mid-May, I reconnected with Elaine Kitamura and her younger brother, Darrell Kitamura, through a friend of a friend. The Kitamuras are the siblings that sat in the ticket window of the Kokusai Theater, on Maynard in the International District, until it closed its doors in the late 1980s.

While I overlapped with both at Cleveland High, until our recent meeting we had not previously talked in depth. For in those days, like many Sansei, the three of us were shy. Moreover, in the naïve way of youth, I had thought that the Kitamuras were different than “ordinary Sansei ...

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identity en

The Japanese Face

Recently, I looked up from reading a newspaper in a Rainier Valley shop to see a middle-aged Southeast Asian couple looking at me, pointing and smiling. When I said hello, the woman beamed and explained, “You look just like my brother! My husband thought that you were him.” They were from Burma.

In dance class a year ago, I was stopped while chatting before class by a Chinese student I know only as “Winnie.”

“Why do you speak Japanese?” Winnie demanded to know. When I replied that I am Japanese American, she looked at me in surprise.

“You’re not ...

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