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Kagoshima Heritage Club

The Kagoshima Heritage Club (KHC) is a sub-organization of the Nanka Kagoshima Kenjinkai (Kagoshima Prefectural Association of Southern California), the oldest Kenjinkai in California founded in 1899. During the early 1980s, the Kenjinkai became aware of its aging and declining membership and worried about its future.

In 1983, then-Kenjinkai president, Takeyuki Miyauchi, asked the members to encourage their children to form an English-speaking club within the prefectural association. As a result, the Kagoshima Junior Club was formed on June 12, 1983, during a meeting held at the Nishi Hongwanji Betsuin in Los Angeles. The Kagoshima Junior Club was seen as a means to get younger people involved. It was primarily a social organization but it also provided some translation services for the non-English speaking members of the Kenjinkai. For example, at a Kenjinkai function, Junior Club members assisted non-English speakers in filling out applications for tickets to the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

The majority of Junior Club members were the children of Shin-Issei (post-World War II immigrants) from Kagoshima who naturally wanted to learn more about the region from which their parents emigrated. Some of them had recently become first time parents and realized that they wanted to learn more about their heritage so that they could pass down a proud legacy to their children. Consequently, in 1993 the club changed its name to Kagoshima Heritage Club to reflect its new emphasis on educational activities and cultural understanding. Interestingly, the new club also attracted many older Nisei who – after having to shun all things Japanese during World War II – now have a renewed fascination with their prefectural heritage. Almost all of them remark how they regret not asking their parents more about their early life in Kagoshima. They joined the Heritage Club to learn more about their roots.

Presently, the club’s mission is to promote the understanding and appreciation of Kagoshima’s unique provincial history and culture, and to preserve the history of Kagoshima immigrants and their descendants in America. Membership is open to anyone who has an interest in the mission and is by no means restricted to persons of Kagoshima descent. The KHC has approximately fifty members, mainly in the Los Angeles area. Others are from San Diego and Imperial Valley in the south, Gilroy and Santa Rosa in the north, and as far away as Hawaii, Arizona, Nevada, Texas, and Missouri. The diverse membership results in interesting group dynamics involving Shin-Issei and their bilingual children, prewar Nisei, sansei, persons who are not of Kagoshima ancestry, and non-Nikkei members, ranging from teenagers to retirees in their 80s. The KHC publishes a quarterly newsletter, which keeps all members connected. Every newsletter contains club news and articles of historical interest.

KHC members have observed how being from Kagoshima has been so important to immigrants from that particular part of Japan, and the Heritage Club strives to define the meaning of Satsuma spirit. (Satsuma is the old feudal name for Kagoshima.) From a cultural perspective, Japanese society is routinely described as homogeneous “where the nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” But throughout Japanese history the people of Kagoshima have always been proud of their fiercely independent spirit and distinct dialect. Learning about Kagoshima culture can be entertaining and even lead to unexpected self-awareness. Being stubborn, hot-tempered, loud, blunt, outspoken, and inaka (rustic) are regarded as Kagoshima characteristics!

Kagoshima’s geographic isolation from the rest of the country, while at the same time playing a prominent role in the most decisive events in Japanese history, forms a curious paradox. Ironically, the region has a reputation for being a bastion of conservatism; some would even say “old-fashioned.” But the fact is the Kagoshima region produced some of the most progressive and far-sighted leaders in Japanese history. National heroes such as the great statesman Saigo Takamori and Admiral Togo Heihachiro hailed from Kagoshima. Kagoshima led the Meiji Restoration and a significant number of Kagoshima natives held top-level leadership positions in the government and military during the Meiji Period. All of this serves as a great source of pride for KHC members.

Past KHC activities have included a trip to Santa Rosa to retrace the life of Kanaye Nagasawa who before his death in 1934 was a world-renowned viticulturist. Nagasawa was one of the first Japanese to settle in the United States and was California's first Kagoshima immigrant. The KHC also visited the Imperial Valley Pioneers Museum and has held activities at the Japanese American National Museum. Past presentation topics included: Issei involvement in the Southern California gardening industry, a general survey of Kagoshima history, the life of Saigo Takamori, collecting Japanese swords, Kagoshima leadership in the Russo-Japanese War, Kagoshima-ben (dialect), Satsuma-yaki (pottery), hands-on bonsai and cooking demonstrations, and two family tree workshops. Genealogy is the most popular topic among KHC members.

In 2003 the Heritage Club celebrated its 20th anniversary by sponsoring a group tour of Kagoshima. In addition to the typical sightseeing, the focal point of the trip was dubbed the “brains exchange.” Through arrangements made by the Kenjinkai and its connections in the Kagoshima Prefectural Government, KHC members had the unique opportunity to spend a day with their career or professional counterparts in Kagoshima. Arrangements were also made for the trip participants to visit their ancestral hometowns and obtain copies of their family registries (koseki).

For more information about the Kagoshima Heritage Club, contact KHC president Grace Iwashita at gmiwashita@yahoo.com.

* This article was originally published on the Kagoshima Heritage Club newsletter.

© 2009 Tim Asamen

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