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INTO THE NEXT STAGE: Music — Glue for a Generation


I am not a Sansei. Because, however, most Sansei are considered to be a part of the post-war Baby Boom generation, and I was born at the tail-end of that era, that’s probably the demo in which I’d get lumped, which is fine.

While I suppose I could be categorized as a Shin Issei, since I was born in Japan, because it happened at a hospital on a U.S. military installation and I was therefore a U.S. citizen at birth, I wouldn’t necessarily self-identify that way.

If I had to be categorized as a type of American, I’d rather just be labeled Japanese American, a Hapa Japanese or just a Nikkei-jin. I suppose the preceding shows that while labels and categories are convenient as a form of shorthand, they don’t necessarily fit all. Nevertheless, all that variation is endlessly fascinating, to me at least.

Despite whatever Japanese cultural commonalities existed, there was much diversity of background amongst the Issei: which part of Japan one hailed from, one’s occupation and educational level and where one landed made a difference, with Hawaii vs. the Mainland being the huge demarcation. If you were from Buddhahead from Hawaii, which island you lived on was a distinguishing factor, and for Kotonk Mainlanders, which region and state.

Amongst the Nisei, meantime, being a Kibei set you apart from non-Kibei, as did whether you were directly affected by E.O. 9066. The federal government obviously didn’t give a darn about any subtleties – “a Jap’s a Jap,” said Gen. John L. DeWitt infamously. So, if you lived along the West Coast, one’s life would take a different route compared with a Japanese American born and raised in or near Salt Lake City or Omaha or Chicago or Denver.

Post-war, with the rise of the Sansei, explosive societal changes would cause further diversification. The Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Liberation, the Psychedelic Revolution, the Vietnam War, the Generation Gap, rock ’n’ roll and R&B music, increased intermarriage and changes in immigration laws all overlapped to stir the stew even more, making the Sansei far different from the Nisei.

Sanseis, in many ways, would be the last generation in which one’s Japanese lineage might be considered “purely” Japanese. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, that sage of the Baby Boomers, the times were a changin’.

Speaking of the Sansei, I’m in the midst of reading and greatly enjoying my neighbor Nick Nagatani’s 2016 novel “Buddhahead Trilogy.” (Thanks to Dickie Obayashi to turning me on to it!) It starts with a soon-to-be Issei in Japan, then moves to the U.S. with a Nisei protagonist and then delves into the author’s personal Los Angeles Sansei milieu: the 1960s in time and the Crenshaw District in place. Like I said, I find all this endlessly fascinating, especially the details that more sanitized and polite JA histories leave out.

Los Angeles County is a huge place, and as home to the largest mainland U.S. population of Japanese Americans, it makes perfect sense that the experiences of being a Japanese American and raised in the San Fernando Valley vs. the San Gabriel Valley vs. the South Bay vs. San Pedro vs. the Eastside vs. the Westside vs. Venice vs. Sawtelle vs. Orange County all vary. “Buddhahead Trilogy,” in particular, details the youthful tribal differences between the Westside and the Eastside “original gangsters,” with sometimes violent interactions.

I’d like to hope that all those beefs are now water under the bridge, since those O.G.’s are now O.G.-sans.

In that spirit of unity, I wonder what ties the Sansei together? If shared experiences count, how about adding music to the mix?

Yes, music can divide, but if you came of age during a period when mass media radio and TV still held sway over tastes and defined an era, I think music is as good a glue as any.

Musician and promoter Gerald Ishibashi is certainly doing his darndest to appeal to the Sansei with his Sunday, July 23 show, the Stonebridge Rhythm and Blues Fest at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center. The acts he’s lined up are certainly geared toward the tastes of that generation: Little Willie G (Thee Midniters), Richard Bean (Malo), doo wop act Billy Richards’ Coasters, tribute act Sounds of the Supremes, Little Albert (Society of Seven, Rocky Fellers), his own Stonebridge Band and for the younger crowd, “America’s Got Talent” vocalist Ronee Martin. The bill really is, as he cleverly put it, representative of doo wop to pop and Motown to J-Town.

There is even an added bonus for Rafu Shimpo readers: Whether you call or use the Web, the promo code “rafu” will get you a 10-percent discount off the ticket price.

The address for the venue is 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach, CA 90278. Use the following link to buy tickets online or call (310) 627-7272 for info. Group rates are available and by patronizing the vendors, you’ll be supporting the Veterans Memorial Court Alliance next to the JACCC and the Lincoln High School Alumni Association’s effort to build an on-campus memorial to Medal of Honor winner Sadao Munemori. Even if you’re not a Sansei, you can be in spirit for one day, at least.

As for Nick Nagatani’s book, I checked both and the Japanese American National Museum’s gift shop site and it’s unavailable at both. But it does appear to be available at Eastwind Books of Berkeley at for $20.

R.I.P. John Avildsen Dept.: Yes, as you may have read elsewhere, John Avildsen, the director of “Rocky” and “The Karate Kid,” has died. While those were not the only movies he made, those are no doubt his most heartfelt, beloved movies. He was crucial to getting Pat Morita a screen test that put him into the role of a lifetime: karate sensei Mr. Miyagi. The movie’s producer didn’t want “the Hip Nip” for the part, but thanks to Avildsen’s insistence, Jerry Weintraub watched and was persuaded. With Avildsen joining Morita and Weintraub in the great hereafter, that leaves screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen and actor Ralph Macchio as the main living members of the original “Karate Kid” principals.

Chicken Man Dept.: Back in May I wrote about Juan Pollo restaurant founder Albert Okura and his book, “The Chicken Man.” (See for that column.) He offered a free copy to anyone who wanted one, so I mentioned that and got quite a few responses, which I forwarded to him. Everyone who got one and wrote me back liked it. He’s still offering the book and said I don’t need to be the middleman anymore, so if you want a copy, email him at

VJCC & GVJCI Dept.: Both the Venice Japanese Community Center and the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute are having their summer fests this weekend. If you attend, look for The Rafu Shimpo’s presence and drag along a friend who is not a subscriber to the Rafu booth and get them to subscribe! (As for the VJCC Summer Festival, shoot me an email if you’d like to help me man that booth!)

“Go for Broke” Dept.: In my Feb. 2 column (, I wrote about the efforts of Hawaii’s Stacey Hayashi in making a movie about the formation the 100th Battalion, which later morphed into the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team. She is still raising funds, so if that effort interests you, visit the following Facebook link:

Until next time, keep your eyes and ears open.

George Toshio Johnston has written this column since 1992 and can be reached at The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect policies of this newspaper or any organization or business. Copyright © 2017 by George T. Johnston. All rights reserved.

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