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J-TOWN BEAT: Tears, Ukulele and Family Reunions


(Published Nov. 2, 2019)

Last Friday, I was fortunate to be a very small part of the continuation of an emotional journey.

Terry Weber and Naoko Shimamura, long-lost cousins who found one another, were together once more, this time at a gathering of the ukulele club of the South Bay Community Church in Torrance. Last year, Japanese reporter Junko Yoshida and I wrote the two-part series that appeared in The Rafu and we’ve stayed in touch with Terry and Naoko ever since.

As a writer, I think you’re lucky if you can write something that touches readers and reveals emotional truths of life and death, of love and redemption.

For me, Terry and Naoko’s story was the one. It was a story that I was sure, if we did our jobs correctly, would have readers in tears at its conclusion.

From left: Sharon and Terry Weber, Naoko Shimamura, Mark and Alexis Sayuri Weber. (Photos by GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo)

There were tears again last Friday night, a beautiful gathering of folks, brought together by the gentle strumming of ukulele and also to hear Terry and Naoko’s emotional journey. My aunt Carol Tanaka is one of the ukulele players and hula dancers who performed along to the live Hawaiian music.

Chester Ikei, who leads the seniors in ukulele classes at JACCC, was there as well and served as an interpreter for Naoko, who traveled from Kashiwa, Japan for a visit.

Tome Muranaka and Kent Komae

Terry and Naoko both presented videos of their story and how they came to be here in Torrance. Since our story ran in The Rafu, they have remained close. Terry and his wife Sharon returned to Japan, where he met even more of his relatives. He would never have regained his family without Naoko’s determination to find him.

And so, Terry performed a couple songs for his cousin, including “Nada Sou Sou,” written by the Okinawan band Begin and made famous by Rimi Natsukawa. The lyrics describe looking at old photos and it made me think of the photos of Terry’s departed mother, Kimiko, whom we met just months before her passing, and mere months after she reunited with her long-lost son Terry.

“Furui arubamu meguri arigatotte tsubuyaita”

古いアルバムめくり ありがとうってつぶやいた

Turning the pages of old photographs I whisper thanks to each and every one

As Terry strummed his ukulele and sang softly, I looked to Naoko. Her eyes were shining with tears. It seems very “Japanese” to find sadness in happy occasions like this one and I remain grateful to Terry, Naoko and their entire family for letting us share their story.

* * *

My portion of the evening was to talk about Rafu’s role in telling Terry’s journey to the Japanese American community. As with so many things, the way this happened speaks to the true interconnectedness of the JA community.

Kent Komae contacted me and suggested writing a story about Terry. Without Kent, we probably would never have known Terry’s story, and without a talented Japanese reporter like Junko, the story would have been incomplete. But even beyond that, without the late Ryo Komae and my dad, Tome Muranaka, we may never have connected.

Ryo Komae owned and operated Gardena Pharmacy for decades until his retirement in 1981 and in those years he mentored many young pharmacists, including Dad. After Ryo, Howard Atsumi took over Gardena Pharmacy; I always remember he had a big smile and was one of Dad’s best friends.

Over the years, I’d see Ryo, who would ask how Dad was doing, and in that way I became friends with Kent. Kent does a great job keeping us updated on the Komae Scholarship, named in honor of Kent’s parents Ryo and Jean, and administered by Asian American Christian Counseling Service.

Dad attended Terry’s presentation and got to see Kent once again. It’s humbling to witness the power of a story to bring people together.


Gwen Muranaka, senior editor of The Rafu Shimpo, can be contacted at Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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