Wednesday , July 23, 2014 - 12:00 AM
I was fortunate to have made a three week whirlwind trip through Japan, June 24 through July 15, to speak about the remarkable recovery of the Japanese-American history from discrimination to now being respected and admired.
I, as a three-year-old, my infant brother Warren, my mother and father, Takasaburo and Lillian Sekino, were removed from San Francisco to live in Topaz, Utah, one of the 10 prison camps after the Pearl Harbor attack, December 7, 1941.
Tomoko Tanaka who was born and raised in Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan, now living in Taylorsville, Utah, made this remarkable trip possible. She made all the arrangements. I could not have made this happen myself. Even though she is much younger than me, I called her my “Oka-san,” mother in Japanese and I was her “kodomo,” child in Japanese because I followed her lead and I would have been lost in Japan.
Although I speak simple Japanese Tomoko-san and I agreed I should give my talks in English, in my native tongue, because most Japanese understand some English and my presentation would be more dynamic. She did an excellent job in interpreting because the audience understood my story.
The Japanese Americans suffered the worst civil rights violation in the history of the United States. On Feb. 19, 1942, close to three months after the Pearl Harbor attack, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 forcing 126,000 innocent Japanese Americans (2/3 were U.S. citizens) to be sent to 10 prison camps scattered in desolate areas in United States. Eleanor Roosevelt, his wife, is my hero because she discouraged him from signing this, but, he signed it anyway.
I spoke to 1,320 students and adults in Japan. I traveled to Mito, Ibaraki, Hitachi, Tokyo, Nagano, Matsumoto, Odawara, Hiroshima, Osaka, Kyoto, Kashima, and Narita.
My message was:
1. My deep appreciation for my parents and that generation who suffered severe discrimination but
protected their children.
2. Use anger management through Buddhism.
3. The same people who hated us then, now love and respect the Japanese-Americans.
4. I pleaded with the audience to listen to my story and asked them to share the story with their friends, families, children and future generation so that if more people know of this tragedy, it won’t happen again.
5. Love is stronger than hate. If we love more, this tragedy won’t happen again. I said I am an American and I expressed love for my audience and hugged many in the audience.
6. I am proud to be an American where our government apologized to us.
The response from the audience was positive with hugs and tears throughout Japan. I met a veteran of WWII on the Japan side. He was in the Marines. He tearfully expressed his apology that his country, Japan, caused many heartaches for the Japanese Americans after the Pearl Harbor Attack, Dec. 7, 1941. We both hugged each other in tears. I had these same amazing experiences throughout my trip in Japan. This proved to me that love is stronger than hate.
Hirai lives in Ogden. This trip appeared in the Japanese media including: Asahi and Iharaki newspaper and You Tube. You can also follow the blog: alicehirai.blogspot.com.
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