Sharon Yamato

Sharon Yamato is a writer and filmmaker in Los Angeles. She has produced and directed two documentary films, Out of Infamy: Michi Nishiura Weglyn, and A Flicker in Eternity. She also wrote Moving Walls: Preserving the Barracks of America’s Concentration Camps. She has written articles for the Los Angeles Times, and is currently a columnist for The Rafu Shimpo. She has served as a consultant for the Japanese American National Museum, Go For Broke National Education Center, and has conducted oral history interviews for Densho in Seattle.

Updated June 2014

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Carrying the Torch: Wayne Collins Jr. on His Father’s Defense of the Renunciants

The inscription on the front page of Michi Nishiura Weglyn’s landmark book, Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of America’s Concentration Camps, reads: “Dedicated to Wayne M. Collins Who Did More to Correct a Democracy’s Mistake Than Any Other One Person.” At a time when people barely knew Colllins’ name, Nisei historian Weglyn called attention to the attorney responsible for almost singlehandedly fighting deportation and restoring citizenship to more than 5,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry who had renounced their U.S. citizenship. The tedious and time-consuming process that involved researching and filing some 10,000 individual ...

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The Happy Power of Obon

Obon season is a time when communities gather together to celebrate life and death through food and dance. Like the beat of the taiko drum, Obons gather energy through movement, and they move with joyful rhythms all their own. Warm summer days and nights give way to one or two Obon festivals every weekend from July through mid-August—with the list growing every year. Although it’s a Buddhist tradition that started in Japan, it has a particularly Japanese American flavor as celebrated in dozens of temples along the West Coast.

Originating in Buddhist lore as the Day of the ...

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What It Means to Go On a Camp Pilgrimage

pil•grim•age 

noun: pilgrimage; plural noun: pilgrimages

1. a pilgrim’s journey.

2. Synonyms: religious journey, religious expedition, haji, crusade, mission, “an annual pilgrimage to the Holy City”

3. a journey to a place associated with someone or something well known or respected “making a pilgrimage to the famous racing circuit”

4. life viewed as a journey “life’s pilgrimage”

The dictionary definition of pilgrimage refers to a journey taken for religious purpose, or at the very least to some place “respected.” Perhaps literature’s most famous pilgrimage is one that Geoffrey Chaucer wrote about in the 14th century ...

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Stranger in a Strange Land: A Sansei’s First Trip to Japan

I’d never felt a passionate connection to the country of my ancestors. I blamed it on the war: postwar America saw Issei and Nisei trying to get over being labeled the “enemy,” and we Sansei children were faced with a curious dilemma in many ways initiated by our parents—how much did we identify with our grandparents’ Japanese culture and how much did we mold ourselves into assimilated Americans?

With Japan still reeling from its stereotypical image as an “inscrutable” and alien country, those of us trying to resettle and adapt to post-camp life in America were anxious to ...

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Nanka Nikkei Voices

Kawana’s Kamaboko Kingdom

One thing was clear to businessman Frank Kawana when he took over his father’s Little Tokyo kamaboko business in 1955: people were not clamoring for fishcake. Quite the opposite—once a Japanese American staple, kamaboko sales were declining in the U.S. Like his father Otoichi Kawana, Frank somehow could not abandon what he secretly hated as a “smelly business.” At his mother Kume’s pleading, he reluctantly joined the family enterprise. While working to keep the company alive, he did something few people in this country have managed to do: he discovered and sold a revolutionary new product ...

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