THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Footnote Edition

This week’s entry will be a little set of international “footnotes.” One thing that I rather enjoy about writing “The Great Unknown” is that I do not generally have to add notes to show my sources, but can recount my stories uninterrupted. It does make drafting my columns a rather more relaxed process, when compared with the painstaking rigor of academic writing. Yet sometimes I miss having notes, as they provide a place to add the little bits of extra information that do not quite square with the main point of the column. So today I have some extra things for readers.

Not long ago an astute reader commented to me that I have been focusing more on Japanese Americans and Europe in my columns. While this has not been a conscious trend, it is true that Europe has loomed larger in my writing over the past months. In one column, I made reference to Robert Chino, the Chicago-born Nisei activist who helped found the Congress of Racial Equality in the spring of 1942, before being sent to prison for resisting the draft.

Chino left prison in 1944 and joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, becoming a decorated war hero. In the years following the war, Chino served for several years with the U.S. Army in Europe, though his original draft resistance conviction tragically barred him from attaining officer rank. After leaving military service, he resided as a civilian in France and Italy until just before his death in 1989.

An intriguing footnote to Chino’s story is the narrative of his French descendants. For Chino successively married two French women. By the first of these marriages, to Claude Bellicard (a marriage that proved short-lived), he fathered twin sons, Bruce Yoneo Chino and Denis Henri Chino, both of whom became psychiatrists living and practicing in the Paris region. When they, in turn, had children, the French branch of the Chino family extended to a third generation — and with the birth in recent years of great-grandchildren, and a fourth.

Meanwhile, a short time ago I produced a column on the Japanese American artists and musicians who lived in Europe in the decades surrounding World War II. That column focused on the expatriate Nisei sculptor Shinkichi Tajiri, who became a national hero in his adopted country of the Netherlands.

I subsequently realized that a footnote is necessary here too, as I should have mentioned the early international career of the celebrated Nisei architect and furniture designer George Nakashima. Thanks to Mira Nakashima, who kindly shared with me the War Relocation Authority leave clearance form that her father had filled out while confined at Minidoka, Idaho, I learned some surprising facts. In 1930, after completing a bachelor’s degree in architecture at the University of Washington, Nakashima was hired for his first professional position by the French-born architect Jacques Carlu, who sent him to work as architectural designer for a job in Montreal. This almost certainly means that Nakashima helped build the famous art-deco style Ninth Floor restaurant at Eaton’s department store, designed by Carlu, which opened in 1931 and long remained a local landmark.

After leaving Montreal for a succession of positions in New York, during which time he also obtained a master’s in architecture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Nakashima moved to France in 1933. According to his WRA file, he spent a year there, and worked for some months as a printer’s assistant for the Paris firm of Yves Casiniere. (It is unclear whether this was the classical composer Yves de la Casinière, or another person with the same name, or whether Nakashima was having a joke).

After a year in France, Nakashima settled in Tokyo, where the Czech American architect Antonin Raymond hired him. He then settled in India for the remainder of the 1930s. Nakashima returned to the United States in 1940, and then was caught up soon after in the wartime removal of West Coast Japanese Americans.

Next, in a column on the poet and physician Yasuo Sasaki, editor of the pioneering Nisei literary anthology “Reimei,” I made reference to the French-born mixed race Nisei writer Kikou Yamata, extracts of whose novel “Masako” appeared in “Reimei.”

A friend asked me who Yamata was, so I add a footnote on her. She was born in Lyon in 1897, the daughter of a Japanese diplomat father, Tadazumi Yamada, and a French mother. After her girlhood in France, she moved to Japan with her family in 1908, and attended a Catholic school in Japan. In 1923, following the death of her father, Yamata returned to France and enrolled at la Sorbonne. She soon became a familiar figure in Paris high society, wearing a kimono but speaking fluent French, and calling herself Kikou Yamata.

In 1924, she published a book of Japanese tales, “Sur des Lévres Japonaises,” with an introduction by the celebrated French writer Paul Valéry. In 1925, she published her first novel, “Masako,” about a young Japanese girl caught between love and the duty of an arranged marriage. The first novel by a Nisei published anywhere in the Western world, it soon became a literary sensation.
In the following years, Yamata published several literary works, plus a translation of such works as “The Tale of Genji.” She also became known for her connections with the arts. Yamata collaborated with the Japan-born post-impressionist painter, Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita, and became well-known as an ikebana specialist.

In 1927, she produced a book on Japanese interior design. The book was published by Lincoln Macveigh as “The Shoji,” thereby making Yamata the first Nisei writer to produce a book with a mainstream American press (a second edition was put out by the prestigious Dial Press in 1929). After researching for a year in Japan, she put out a biography of the Japanese warrior General Nogi Maresuke in 1931.
In 1932, Yamata married a Swiss painter, Conrad Meili. During the 1930s, Yamata’s writing became less popular, in part as a result of popular reaction against Japanese militarism.
In 1939, she and her husband moved to Japan, settling in Kamakura. However, once the Pacific War broke out, Yamata was suspect because of her foreign friends and spouse, and was briefly imprisoned in 1944.
In 1951, at the end of the U.S. occupation of Japan. Yamata returned to France and began writing again. Following the runaway success in France of Akira Kurosawa’s film “Rashomon,” things Japanese began to acquire again a certain chic.

Yamata’s 1953 geisha novel “Dame de Beauté” made her a well-known figure in France once more, and she achieved a new international renown when the book was published the following year in English translation as “Lady of Beauty” with a preface by the Nobel laureate novelist Pearl S. Buck. Another work, “Three Geishas,” would appear two years later. Yamata was awarded France’s Legion d’Honneur in 1957. She lived her later years in France and Switzerland, dying in 1975.

A final footnote concerns publications on Japanese Americans. A few weeks ago, I did a column on debates in France during the early 20th century over Japanese immigration and residence in the United States, and summarized the French-language writings of such authors as Louis Aubert, Prew Savoy and Macaomi Yoshitomi.

I noted in the column that after about 1930, there were no further books produced in France on Japanese Americans, and that it was not until the beginning of 2012 that the first scholarly study of wartime confinement appeared in French — my own book “Un Drame de la Deuxième Guerre.” I neglected to mention, though, that there were several other books on Japanese Americans available in French.

In addition to translations of novels such as David Guterson’s “Snow Falling on Cedars” and Danielle Steele’s “Silent Honor,” being published, a few years ago Thierry Groensteen, an expert on French comic books, brought out “Citoyenne 13660,” a wonderfully-rendered translation of Miné Okubo’s graphic memoir “Citizen 13660.”

Meanwhile, there was “La Maison Tanaka,” a sprawling Japanese American family saga written by French author Catherine Lincoln Delaprée. Yet, in the informal continental sweepstakes, it is the German-language works on Japanese Americans that are the most impressive. First, there is “Japaner in der Neuen Welt” (“Japanese in the New World”), a masterful 1,000-page annotated bibliography on Japanese Americans produced in 1997 by Hans Dieter Ölschleger, Eva König, and Barbara Ölschleger. It is an impressive scholarly resource that summarizes thousands of books and articles on Japanese Americans. Because the titles listed are virtually all in English, the work can be profitably used for research even by people who do not speak German fluently.

Another fine work is a 1990 study by Irene Matyas — one with quite a mouthful of a title: “Die Internierung der an der Westküste der U.S.A. lebenden japanischen Staatsbürger und amerikanischen Staatsbürger japanischer Abstammung während des Zweiten Weltkrieges” (“The Internment of Japanese citizens and American Citizens of Japanese Ancestry Living on the West Cast of the USA during World War II”). The Germans, it must be said, have also produced excellent English-language works, of which one highlight is Ingreid Gessner’s intriguing book “From Sites of Memory to Cybersights.”

Greg Robinson, Ph.D., the author of “By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans” and “A Tragedy of Democracy: Japanese Confinement in North America,” is a professor of history at l’Université du Québec À Montréal. He can be reached at robinson.greg@uqam.ca.

Speak Your Mind

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.