A celebration of decades of community with Nobuko Miyamoto

THE COLOR OF LOVE ­— Nobuko Miyamoto performs a tribute to her relationship with her son Kamau Miyamoto Ayubbi as part of “120,000 Stories” Aug. 5 in San Francisco. photo by William Lee

The last time Nobuko Miyamoto performed in San Francisco, she had black hair. But the octogenarian musician and activist still had the groove and the movements as she commanded the stage for “120,000 Stories” at the Presidio Theatre in San Francisco’s Presidio Aug. 5.

Miyamoto, whose career spans decades, reflected on her life, which began with being forcibly removed from her home along with 120,000 other Japanese Americans from the West Coast at the age of two. Through the concert, she recounted her life growing up in Boyle Heights in Los Angeles, as a troubadour touring with Chris Iijima, and later as a single mother in Los Angeles and finally her more recent works, which intersect with Black Lives Matter and global warming.
Covering the decades throughout her life, she performed a selection of pieces featured in her 2021 album of the same name, including “Yellow Pearl” and “We Are the Children,” which some consider the first songs of the Asian American Movement. Along with it, she performed songs such as “Free the Land,” thinking of her recently deceased longtime friend Mutulu Shakur, and “What Is the Color of Love” in tribute to her son Kamau.

The concert finished with a quick dance lesson as the band collaborated with PJ Hirabayashi on taiko to dance to “Bam Butsu No Tsunagari (10,000 Things, All Connected).”

Miyamoto performed on stage with her band directed by Derek Nakamoto on the keyboard, Juan Perez on bass, Abe Lagrimas, Jr. on drums, and singers Valerie Pinkston, Fred White and Lynne Fiddmont. Saxophonist Francis Wong and Hirabayashi joined the performance as guests, while local artist Nancy Hom and photographer Bob Hsiang’s work were also integrated into the performance.

The Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California hosted the concert as part of its 50th anniversary celebration.
“Our theme for our 50th anniversary is celebrating generations, and so this whole performance took us through the generations of her life, but her stories were our stories, right? Sometimes in a different context, in a different time frame, but it’s about the evolution of our community,” Paul Osaki, executive director of the community center, said in an interview. “We thought about doing the big galas at hotels and stuff, but it just seemed like we could do better. So since she hadn’t been up here in so long, it just seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring her up.”

Scott Okamoto, president of the community center’s board, said he had not really known about Miyamoto until his organization invited her, but recognized she is a valuable voice in the Japanese American and Black indigenous people of color community and a skilled performer.

“Every song … has a certain part that appeals to me. For some, it was like the vehemence in her action. For some it was the emotion with which she sang. For others, it was like — I mean, as a musician, there was a tune in 11 … I think she is the total package,” Okamoto said. “She brings a lot of emotion and deep-seated emotion for not only the Japanese American experience, but also Black Lives Matter experience, and climate change. I wasn’t expecting that.”

A throng of San Francisco Bay Area audience members attended the afternoon concert, including some who have known Miyamoto for years. Jeff Mori, who had helped set up concerts for Miyamoto and Iijima when they were touring in 1970, recounted that he had organized an entourage from the fledgling Japanese Community Youth Council to help produce those early concerts. He said he later hosted Miyamoto’s son at their home when he attended JCYC’s summer camp programs.

“I was amazed that, even though we’ve been in touch and we see each other when she either comes up or we, Sandy and I, go down to L.A., I was just pretty amazed how her whole craft and philosophy was applied to her work,” Mori said.
Donald Tamaki said he knew of Miyamoto and had seen her sing a song or two before, but was impressed seeing a full concert. He described the performance as a “one-act play.”

“I just completed two years on the California Reparations Task Force. So the intersection between the two communities was quite moving for me. For the past few years, I’ve been steeped in 400 years of oppression. So to see how she wove together the experiences of two communities was (brilliant),” Tamaki said.

Miyamoto said this concert, coming on the 50th anniversary of her own 1973 album “A Grain of Sand,” brought together decades of work and memories.

“I wanted to have meaning for everybody, those who were young, and those who were older that participated,” she told the Nichi Bei News. “I wanted them all to have that feeling, to know the story that we’re all a part of.”


  1. There are some points that I don’t understand in this article, can they be clarified for other articles?

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