The “Garage Door Opener” team at the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center in April (from left): Soji Kashiwagi (playwright), Dian Kobayashi (Mom), Ping Wu (stage directions), Shaun Shimoda (Dad), Haruye Ioka (Sharon), and Kurt Kuniyoshi (Glenn). (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)
“Growing Up Sansei,” a community event and dialogue about our uniquely Japanese American upbringing, is coming to Los Angeles and Orange counties on Saturday, Oct. 1, at 2 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 2, at 1 p.m.
Presented by the Grateful Crane Ensemble, the events will be held at the Nishi Hongwanji Los Angeles Betsuin’s kaikan on Saturday, and the Orange County Buddhist Church’s (OCBC) Multipurpose Building on Sunday. Sunday’s event is co-presented by OCBC’s Project Kokoro, with part of the proceeds to benefit the church’s 50th Anniversary Building Project.
Dr. Satsuki Ina leads a discussion about dysfunctional JA families. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)
“Growing Up Sansei,” or GUS, is a combination of a live play reading, plus a community dialogue/Q&A facilitated by Dr. Satsuki Ina, a Northern California-based psychotherapist who specializes in cross-cultural counseling and trauma.
“It’s what I call my ‘Japanese American dysfunctional family play,’” said Soji Kashiwagi, playwright and executive producer of the Grateful Crane Ensemble. “Just the mention of this has brought smiles and sometimes hysterical laughter from baby-boomer Sansei who grew up in the post-war JA family environment. Our GUS events delve into why this topic resonates so deeply.”
Last April, the first GUS event was held at the San Fernando Japanese American Community Center with 300 people — mostly Sansei — in attendance. After the reading of the play, entitled “Garage Door Opener,” Kashiwagi and Ina took questions from the audience and listened to Sansei and others share their own personal stories.
“The discussion went on for an hour, and could have gone longer,” said Kashiwagi.
In the play, the audience meets a Sansei brother and sister faced with the daunting task of cleaning out their late parents’ garage and house. As they sift through dozens of tofu containers, kamaboko boards and broccoli rubber bands, they begin to uncover items from their past they knew nothing about. In the process, they begin to gain a better understanding of their parents — and themselves — by the items their mom and dad left behind.
During the play, their parents’ personal camp history is revealed; the siblings learn what their family lost, what the conditions in an assembly center horse stall were like, and the ostracism and stigma the father faced for his decision to protest the infamous government-issued “loyalty questions.”
All of these issues were rarely, if ever, discussed as Sansei came of age during the ’60s and ’70s. Instead, the typical Sansei grew up with a pervasive silence in the house, and not knowing exactly why.
Ina will be on hand to discuss these issues as well as the trauma Japanese Americans faced in camp, and how it manifested itself in the ways the Nisei brought up their Sansei children. For many years, she has conducted groups for Japanese Americans who, like herself, were children in camp. She has seen first-hand how trauma has affected the Nisei, and how it was unknowingly transmitted to the Sansei and subsequent generations.
“After April’s first GUS event, several attendees have inquired about the next one,” said Kashiwagi. “We’re happy that Dr. Ina is able come down from the Bay Area to join us again for these two events.”
The cast for the reading includes professional actors Haruye Ioka, Dian Kobayashi, Kurt Kuniyoshi and Shaun Shimoda, with stage directions read by Ping Wu.
Nishi Hongwanji is located at 815 E. First St. in Los Angeles. OCBC is located at 909 S. Dale Ave. in Anaheim. Free parking is available at both locations.
General admission is $25 for the reading, discussion and bento; $15 for reading and discussion only. For reservations and to charge by phone, call the Grateful Crane ticket line at (310) 995-5841. For questions regarding the OCBC event only, email Diana Ono at Dianaocbc@gmail.com.