Fort Minor – Kenji

You might not have heard of Fort Minor, it’s a side project of Mike Shinoda’s (lead man of Linkin Park). In 2005 they released their first (and to date, only) album, The Rising Tied. In my mind this is one of the best hip hop albums released in semi-recent memory (which isn’t saying much, I’ll admit – the golden days of hip hop died with the Walkman).
I bring up the subject of Fort Minor because I’ve recently been in contact with former Japanese American internees and their children who wanted more information on posts I’ve written here on internment. Anyway, the subject came up about internment in popular culture and I could only really recall Fort Minor’s song Kenji. I’ve since done my due diligence Googling and found other examples, of course, but really Mike Shinoda has a wider audience and more impact than all the others combined.
Searching for the track on YouTube turns up an amazing number of homemade video and slideshow tributes for this song. Check it out, some of them are pretty touching with what appears to be re-enactments and family photos spliced with some of the same LIFE magazine photos I linked to last month. Here’s a pretty good one with decent sound quality:

Here is an interview with Mike Shinoda about the Fort Minor album. This is what he has to say about the song Kenji:

I’m half Japanese, and the song “Kenji” is based on my family’s story during WWII in an internment camp. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government began a period of racial profiling. They put all the Japanese-Americans (and some other Asian-Americans) in secluded camps for the duration of the war. My dad was three years old, and had twelve brothers and sisters. My oldest aunt was in her twenties, and had four kids. Her youngest was born in Camp. Her husband died in Camp. They stayed there for the duration of the war, captive. Once they were released, they returned to vandalized homes and racial tension. That’s what the song “Kenji” is about.

Lyrics for “Kenji” by Fort Minor

My father came from Japan in 1905
He was 15 when he immigrated from Japan
He worked until he was able to buy respect and build a store
Let me tell you the story in the form of a dream,
I don’t know why I have to tell it but I know what it means,
Close your eyes, just picture the scene,
As I paint it for you, it was World War II,
When this man named Kenji woke up,
Ken was not a soldier,
He was just a man with a family who owned a store in LA,
That day, he crawled out of bed like he always did,
Bacon and eggs with wife and kids,
He lived on the second floor of a little store he ran,
He moved to LA from Japan,
They called him ‘Immigrant,’
In Japanese, he’d say he was called “Issei,”
That meant ‘First Generation In The United States,’
When everybody was afraid of the Germans, afraid of the Japs,
But most of all afraid of a homeland attack,
And that morning when Ken went out on the doormat,
His world went black ’cause,
Right there; front page news,
Three weeks before 1942,
“Pearl Harbour’s Been Bombed And The Japs Are Comin’,”
Pictures of soldiers dyin’ and runnin’,
Ken knew what it would lead to,
Just like he guessed, the President said,
“The evil Japanese in our home country will be locked away,”
They gave Ken, a couple of days,
To get his whole life packed in two bags,
Just two bags, couldn’t even pack his clothes,
Some folks didn’t even have a suitcase, to pack anything in,
So two trash bags is all they gave them,
When the kids asked mom “Where are we goin’?”
Nobody even knew what to say to them,
Ken didn’t wanna lie, he said “The US is lookin’ for spies,
So we have to live in a place called Manzanar,
Where a lot of Japanese people are,”
Stop it don’t look at the gunmen,
You don’t wanna get the soldiers wonderin’,
If you gonna run or not,
‘Cause if you run then you might get shot,
Other than that try not to think about it,
Try not to worry ’bout it; bein’ so crowded,
Someday we’ll get out, someday, someday.
As soon as war broke out
The F.B.I. came and they just come to the house and
“You have to come”
“All the Japanese have to go”
They took Mr. Ni
People didn’t understand
Why did they have to take him?
Because he’s an innocent laborer
So now they’re in a town with soldiers surroundin’ them,
Every day, every night look down at them,
From watch towers up on the wall,
Ken couldn’t really hate them at all;
They were just doin’ their job and,
He wasn’t gonna make any problems,
He had a little garden with vegetables and fruits that,
He gave to the troops in a basket his wife made,
But in the back of his mind, he wanted his families life saved,
Prisoners of war in their own damn country,
What for?
Time passed in the prison town,
He wanted them to live it down when they were free,
The only way out was joinin’ the army,
And supposedly, some men went out for the army, signed on,
And ended up flyin’ to Japan with a bomb,
That 15 kilotonne blast, put an end to the war pretty fast,
Two cities were blown to bits; the end of the war came quick,
Ken got out, big hopes of a normal life, with his kids and his wife,
But, when they got back to their home,
What they saw made them feel so alone,
These people had trashed every room,
Smashed in the windows and bashed in the doors,
Written on the walls and the floor,
“Japs not welcome anymore.”
And Kenji dropped both of his bags at his sides and just stood outside,
He, looked at his wife without words to say,
She looked back at him wiping tears away,
And, said “Someday we’ll be OK, someday,”
Now the names have been changed, but the story’s true,
My family was locked up back in ’42,
My family was there it was dark and damp,
And they called it an internment camp
When we first got back from camp… uh
It was… pretty… pretty bad
I, I remember my husband said
“Are we gonna stay ’til last?”
Then my husband died before they close the camp.

(lyrics via)

$25 and a Train Ticket

You may have heard by now about Google’s partnership with LIFE magazine: 10 million photos recently released, most of which have never been seen by the public. You can check out the site here:
I started playing with it today and was really impressed. I think I’ll integrate it into an upcoming lesson for the computer class I’m teaching.
I don’t really know why, but I started out searching for one thing and got drawn down another path, and then another, and then I finally ended up looking for photos of internment camps – and WOW – there’s photos in here I’ve been looking for all my life it seems… they show a level of detail to the camps that I’ve often wondered about but never had the resources to look up. So I’d like to share some of the better ones I found, and they are very good – taken by the likes of Dorothea Lange, Hansel Mieth, and Carl Mydans. So without further ado:

  1. Posted notice informing people of Japanese ancestry of imminent relocation
  2. Japanese Americans registering for mandatory alien relocation
  3. Japanese-American girl waiting alone atop family baggage for bus to an assembly center
  4. Nisei Japanese-Americans participating in flag saluting ceremony at relocation center in forced internment during WWII in fear of “fifth-column” activity aiding Japanese enemy.
  5. Japanese-American soldiers on leave visiting their families
  6. Japanese reading in library at alien relocation camp.
  7. Interior of oriental style apartment at relocation camp.
  8. Young Japanese Nisei playing guitar in the stockade at Tule Lake Segregation Center
  9. Japanese Americans shopping in grocery store at the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp
  10. Japanese-American family working on their farm after returning from internment camps

Notes: Check out the caption on #6 (are they really Japanese?). Also, if you zoom in you can identify magazines. #7 is horribly staged but a great insight into what rooms could look like. I swear there’s a set of swords in the background (maybe bokken?). #9 Besides the box of Arm & Hammer and the Oxydol, I don’t recognize any of the product labels…
The title of this post refers to what the internees were offered when they finally got to go home.
I can’t believe there’s still idiots in this day and age that defend internment… Actually, maybe that’s one of the reasons this subject is still important.

massively attacked

I laid down on my bed for a few minutes to watch this Massive Attack DVD that I brought from Japan. The beats were on and my mind went into caramel dreams mode… next thing I know, I’m laying in a pool of sweat and drool, and I’ve just had the best nap in recent memory – I even fell asleep on my stomach, and that like never happens (I also fell asleep on top of a pile of crap on my bed so I woke up with shapes of a pen, the TV remote, and several CDs imprinted on my body).
There are certain DVDs that have this tranquilizing effect on me, so I’m careful to hoard them and use them only when necessary. If I actually get through one of these DVDs, they never have the same effect on me again, so I have to be careful and use them wisely. Right now, there are 3 left in my metaphorical pill bottle:

  • Wave Twisters: This is actually my brother Adam’s DVD and he used to claim it was one of his favorites… The thing is, I told him about how it makes me sleepy and how I’d tried to watch all the way through at least 4 or 5 times, but he couldn’t understand why (it is interesting; it just puts me asleep partway without fail), so we tried watching it together, and… He fell asleep, too.
  • Letters from Iwo Jima: I cannot for the life of me get past the first fifteen minutes of this flick without falling asleep. I don’t know why. The subject matter is extremely interesting to me for several reasons, one of which is that the story concerns a war fought between my own country and that of my grandparents and whenever I think of that war, I wonder about how it must have made them feel living in America after having left Japan for good (oh yeah, they were probably more concerned about sleeping with rattlesnakes and giving birth in horse stables). Anyway.
  • Massive Attack – Collected Bonus DVD: I’m going to be very careful not to watch this one when I’m totally awake, because of the quality of slumber it just provided me. I love going to sleep with music on, but haven’t been able to do it regularly since I was in college – mostly because with all the stress working in Japan, I needed relative silence in order to sleep. I may experiment with my favorite trip hop albums to see if I can start sleeping with music on again. One thing I remember very clearly about sleeping with music on is that it enables very lucid dreams and REM states for me. Yes, I think I’ll try it out again.

How about all of you? Can you sleep with music on? Does certain music act as a sedative for you? How about DVDs?

A Prison Camp Memoir

Excerpts from another great memoir over on the JPRI site:

“The radio went dead. All the servants had long disappeared–stealing everything they could carry.
I locked all the doors and shutters and stayed in the dark. The planes were flying very low now, using the tramcar lines along the boulevard as a guide. When they opened up with their machine-guns, I guessed that the troops were near.
It was a long, long night. When dawn arrived, I couldn’t understand the sudden quiet, and ventured to the gate to look up to the main street. Imagine my astonishment when I saw thousands of troops marching softly past, carrying or riding bicycles! I learned later that 75,000 men entered Soerabaya that day.
I stayed locked in the house waiting for them to come for me, as I knew they would. It was dark before the hammering started on the door. I was terrified, but knew I had to hide it. So, carrying Jackie in my arms I opened the door. There were six storm troopers with fixed bayonets at the entrance. They pushed past me yelling for everybody to come out. They looked very tired, unshaven, hot and dirty and very violent.”


“On a diet of rice and vegetable soup (a cup of each) three times a day, the casualties soon started to appear. The fat women seemed to show it first as they lost weight so quickly. The thin ones like myself lost weight, but it didn’t show so badly. Luckily I liked rice so had no trouble swallowing it. There were no eggs, meat, fruit or milk. We were allowed a spoon of sugar each per day.
The Japanese insisted that everything delivered as food went into the pot. There were no peelings, and even the greens of carrots were thrown in–but still there was not enough to go around. Many of the growing children were very hungry.
If it had not been so frightening it would have been interesting to see how quickly signs of malnutrition started to show–stomachs and ankles started to swell. Another inexplicable thing to me was that from the moment I was interned, until I was released I never menstruated once. Also although I ate exactly the same food, my ankles never swelled.
Soon dysentery swept through the camp and in the heat the smell was terrible, and of course people began to die. I was so grateful I had brought along Jackie’s pot, for we both used it throughout internment and didn’t catch dysentery.
I know how badly the men were treated in their camps, but I think the plight of the women has perhaps not been truly understood. They had their children to care for, and had to watch them go hungry. They were suddenly deprived of their wealth and position in society–and the aggravation amongst themselves was tragic to watch. Of course all classes were thrown together–we were only numbers now.”


“Kimura ordered her out of the office and walked her to the middle of the compound, where everybody could see. It was dark, and I could only see shadows in the background. My legs felt weak and my stomach sick. He started to beat her up, and when I say “beat,” I really mean it. He slapped her about the face with his open hand until it started to look like raw beefsteak. All the time he was giving me a running commentary of what he was doing. Although swollen and raw no blood flowed from her face. He then hit her ears, carefully demonstrating to me how he cupped his hands to avoid breaking her eardrum. She was reeling from side to side until she fell unconscious to the ground.
He turned away as a cat from a dead mouse. She didn’t amuse him any more.
I called out for help after he had gone and a few women came out and helped me get her to the hospital. We were in luck for once. Earlier in the day I had interpreted for the doctor, who thought she had a diphtheria victim and needed ice. Surprisingly, we got some brought in and we now packed this over the woman’s swollen face. Just as Kimura had said, you couldn’t see a mark on her next day!”

What an amazing story. This woman went through some crazy hardships and survived; go read the whole paper.

Famous Japanese Americans

This post actually started off as an update to my previous post because I had forgotten to mention one of my newest finds.
Guy Kawasaki has started a blog: Let the Good Times Roll
He’s kind of an idol for business-minded Japanese Americans, along with Robert Kiyosaki. Politically-minded JA’s are probably more into Senator Inouye or Congressmen Matsui/Honda (or in Hawaii, George Ariyoshi, the first JA governor of a US state. Also, in Los Angeles this might be Paul Tanaka, the current Mayor of Gardena and assistant Sheriff). Academics? Francis Fukuyama or Michio Kaku. Musicians? Hands down, Hiro Yamamoto (original Soundgarden bassist), Seiji Ozawa (Boston Symphony Orchestra), or, more recently, Rachel Yamagata (Utada Hikaru is disqualified for using the word “Japanesey” in her lyrics).
Who is the most famous JA of all time? The arts/entertainment industry is represented by Pat Morita and George Takei most recently, but there’s also Mako, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Tamlyn Tomita, James Iha, Mike Shinoda, Devon Aoki, Tak Fujimoto, etc., etc., and let us not forget, USAGI YOJIMBO FOREVER!
For those not impressed with Hollywood, let me offer some real-life heroes: Fred Korematsu (Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient), Ellison Onizuka (one of the Challenger seven), Kristi Yamaguchi (come on, you don’t live under a rock, do you?).
I know it’s out of vogue to talk about the war in this day and age, but I grew up hearing about internment stories and what it means to be persecuted by fellow Americans, and then go fight a war for them anyway. It is very important to me. I grew up with a chest of my grandfather’s things in my closet. In it was a military dress hat; the name embroidered on the side was of my grandfather’s closest friend. SADAO MUNEMORI.
So yeah, all those guys are heroes to me. They lived their life under a common motto: GO FOR BROKE
It is something to remember.

Monkeys & Teak

There was a post on Mefi today that got me to thinking about zines. I’ve been in Japan for over 10 years so my access to them has basically been whatever my brother sent me, as well as a few I managed to pick up on trips back home, but… I think I’ve always harbored a desire to start a zine. I came close to almost starting some type of project a couple times back in high school, but pretty much gave up after having an article on my grandfather’s internment during WWII published by the LA Times. For a nerdy teenager, it felt like the apex of my writing, quite frankly. So I never gave it much thought after that, until quite recently.
You see, blogging partially fills the void that I think publishing a zine or tackling a more demanding project does, so for the time being, it is sufficient. I just don’t have the time to take on any more creative pursuits right now. Blogging is good in this respect. I can sit down at the computer, which I’m often on anyways, and bang out whatever’s on my mind (hence the name of this blog). Blogging doesn’t take as much effort, most of the time, than it does to publish on other mediums. I, as a salaryman, am extremely thankful for it.
However, I find myself thinking about what I will do when I move to Thailand, and the possibilities that will open for me there. At this point in time, I have no solid plans at all (although I do have a strong desire to create an army of monkeys and a teak forest, among other things). There may very well be a stretch of time there for me to get really creative. I am getting excited just bullshitting about this here… And I forget what I originally wanted to say. And now I have to run off to a meeting.
Last thought: I think I could make a good run at creating a succesful zine just for the Khaosan road, however, I would probably get sick of covering that death trap reeeeal quick.