Rededication of Japanese Garden and Talk on Japanese American Incarceration of World War II Highlight History of Community
Two events at California State University, Dominguez Hills on May 1 will highlight the history of Japanese Americans in the United States. At 10 a.m., a rededication of the Shinwa-En Japanese Garden and festival of Japanese arts will honor the volunteer gardeners and landscapers who built the garden and teahouse in 1978 and the next generation of professionals and community members who have recently restored and maintained the site. The festivities will take place at the garden, which is located in the patio area of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Building on campus. Later in the day, author and Manzanar survivor Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga will speak on her recently completed essay, “Words Can Lie or Clarify: Terminology of the World War II Incarceration of Japanese Americans” at 1 p.m. in the new South Wing addition of the University Library.
The Shinwa-En Japanese Garden, which was officially dedicated on November 19, 1978, was built by local Japanese American gardeners, landscapers, and nurserymen to welcome CSU Dominguez Hills to its permanent campus and to show their support for higher education. The garden was designed by noted landscape architect Haruo Yamashiro, with materials and expertise donated by the gardeners and local businesses. The project was completed over nine months, with most of the work done on weekends when the gardeners would usually have spent time with their families. In fact, many of the gardeners’ sons participated in the building of the garden and continue to volunteer their time and talent for its ongoing restoration and maintenance, including Neil Sugimoto of Sugimoto Landscape and Maintenance, and Bill Ota, gardening specialist in the university’s Physical Plant department, whose fathers were two of the original volunteer gardeners.
Tom Philo, archivist and cataloger, University Archives and Special Collections, is chair of the Friends of the Japanese Garden, a campus organization dedicated to preserving the site. He says that the building of gardens like the one at CSU Dominguez Hills was a direct response by the Japanese American community in the wake of World War II, in the hopes of proving their allegiance to the United States. After losing their businesses and livelihoods due to Executive Order 9066 which dictated that all Japanese - many of whom were American born - be taken to concentration camps throughout the western United States under suspicion of treason, many men returned to their homes to become gardeners.
"The accepted view is that in the postwar years, gardening and landscaping provided those men a decent living while allowing them to keep low profiles and relative anonymity," says Philo. "But I think their custom of donating Japanese gardens in public spaces said something else as well. It proved both citizenship and good citizenship, and let them create a share of the world – one that was centered around them and one in which they shaped what happened."
Last summer, the garden was restored by members of the Pacific Coast Chapter of the California Landscape Contractors Association (CLCA). As with the original project, materials were donated by local businesses and members of the CLCA donated their time and expertise to restore the garden. In addition, local architect Joe Watari donated plans to reconstruct the original – and dilapidated - deck in front of the teahouse facade to make it safe again for dance performances and speaking engagements, which were the type of events that took place in the early years of the garden’s existence. This platform was built by CSU Dominguez Hills master carpenter Duke Pina.
The event will honor the original volunteers who built the garden in 1978 and the members of CLCA who restored the garden this year. The morning’s program includes a keynote address by Naomi Hirahara, former Rafu Shimpo editor and noted author, a performance by the Majikina Honryu Dance Company and musicians from the Okinawa Association of America, exhibits of orchid arrangement and bonsai by local experts, and a Japanese tea ceremony by Masako Kobayashi.
“Words Can Lie or Clarify” is the result of Herzig-Yoshinaga's tireless research and participation in the Japanese America redress movement of the 1980s and 1990s. Her late husband Jack Herzig, was a lawyer active in the Japanese American redress movement and her son-in-law, California Assemblymember Warren Furutani (55th Dist.) authored Assembly Bill 37, which grants honorary degrees to Japanese Americans whose education at the California State University was disrupted due to their incarceration during World War II. CSU Dominguez Hills will present the honorary degrees to those former students in the Southern California area during its Commencement exercises on May 21.
Emeritus professor of history Don Hata emphasizes the importance of Herzig-Yoshinaga's work in finally securing justice for the survivors of the Japanese American concentration camps.
"An iconic figure among students, scholars and Nikkei activists, Herzig-Yoshinaga spent more than a decade compiling a list of euphemisms that obscure rather than reveal what actually took place during the WWII Nikkei diaspora and gulag ordeal," says Don Hata, emeritus professor of history. "In 1981-82, she and her late husband Jack Herzig discovered documents in the National Archives and the Justice Department showing that Justice Department attorneys and Army officials had suppressed and distorted reports attesting to the loyalty of Nikkei and had lied to the US Supreme Court about the 'military necessity' of mass removal and incarceration in a vast gulag of concentration camps. Aiko's research made a difference."
Other panelists include Karen L. Ishizuka, author of “Lost and Found: Reclaiming the Japanese American Incarceration” (2006), and Hata who with his late wife Nadine, co-authored “Japanese Americans and World War II: Mass Removal, Imprisonment, and Redress” (2006). Mitch Maki, who will moderate the panel, is dean of the College of Professional Studies at CSU Dominguez Hills and author of “Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress” (1999). Copies of these publications, autographed by the authors, will be available for sale.
Both events are open to the public and admission is free.
For the garden event, please RSVP by Friday, April 23, to (310) 243-3361 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To attend the Herzig-Yoshinaga presentation please RSVP to email@example.com.
- Tom Philo and Joanie Harmon
Photos above: Dennis Yamashiro and his son Andrew represent the next generation of the Japanese Garden's caretakers. Dennis' father, Haruo Yamashiro, a renowned landscape architect, designed the teahouse.
Martin van Zeyl (at left) and Ken Nagao of Groundworks Landscape, Inc. in Torrance and executive board members of the Pacific Coast Chapter of the California Landscape Contractors Association, volunteer their expertise as arborists to restore and maintain the Japanese Garden.
Award-winning Naomi Hirahara will speak on her "Mas Arai" mystery series, whose protagonist is a Japanese gardener.
Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga and her late husband Jack Herzig, were instrumental in the struggle for Japanese American redress. Courtesy of discovernikkei.org
All other photos by Joanie Harmon