Erik Matsunaga

Erik Matsunaga’s investigations into the history of Chicago’s Japanese American community have been featured by the Japanese American National Museum, Alphawood Gallery, WBEZ Radio, and the Newberry Library. Born in Chicago, a descendant of WWII-era Nikkei resettlers from California, he curates @windycitynikkei—“Bite-sized Glimpses of Japanese American Chicago”—on Instagram.

Updated November 2020

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2014 Chicago Nikkei Community Annual Memorial Day Commemoration

In 1935, the Japanese Mutual Aid Society of Chicago began purchasing burial plots at Montrose Cemetery on the city’s North Side. Due to discrimination of the day, Montrose was one of few cemeteries in the area that would inter the remains of deceased persons of Japanese ancestry. In 1937 the Mutual Aid Society erected a Japanese Mausoleum and in 1938 began hosting an annual Memorial Day commemoration.

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The majority of Japanese Americans in the Chicago area today are descendants of late 19th and early 20th century immigrants who, along with their American-born children, fell victim to President Franklin D. …

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One Heart Beating to the Drums of Many—A work of fiction

“I don’t make it through this side of town too often, these days.” 

“When’s the last time you were down here?” I asked. 

“Man, it’s been years. I know Tak been tellin’ ya how we went to elementary school together down there at Maryknoll, but we was both from the Westside, and I still live out that way. It’s a straight hike to come down to Li’l Tokyo! Man, it’s kind of a ghost town compared to how I remember it.”

Dean Hirashita bit into his BLT, dipped a french fry in ketchup, and popped it in his mouth.

“I’m …

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Dr. Joe Takehara and Chicago Aikido

Dr. Joe Takehara, D.D.S., a second generation Japanese American, has trained with the legends of aikido during his fifty-three years of studying the Japanese martial art. Meanwhile, he was a married father of three and built a successful dental practice from which he retired at the age of eighty. Despite being the most senior aikido practitioner in the Midwestern United States, his fifty-three year journey has gone relatively unrecorded.

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Aikido, a modern Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969) in the early twentieth century, boasts over a million practitioners worldwide. At eighty-three years of age and having practiced …

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The Level of Training Was Different

Art Ishii began his judo training in 1954 at Hollywood Judo Dojo in Los Angeles, CA, under the direction of senseis Takashi Kikuchi, Frank Emi, Art Emi, Frank Watanuki, and Gene LeBell. Upon his induction into the Air Force in 1962, he was sent to Sheppard AFB in Texas.

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“As an anonymous brown belt out of Hollywood Dojo,” he explains, “I was beating sandans (3rd degree black belts) in Air Force tournaments. I couldn’t believe it. It was a testament to the quality of training I’d taken for granted.”

He continued to train at Hollywood Dojo whenever back in …

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Nooks and Crannies

Afterward, I thought I’d tour the city. San Francisco is easily the most beautiful city in the United States, if not the world. I had a few hours to kill before heading toward the airport, and had made a short list of things I wanted to see. At this early hour, about half past five in the morning, I would have the run of the streets and boulevards, warm with sunrise, empty but not lonesome.

I first cut down Great Highway to Lincoln, and zigzagged up and down among the row houses of the Sunset District. I’d admired photographs of …

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