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NEA Big Read to Focus on ‘When the Emperor Was Divine’

PASADENA — Pasadena Public Library presents the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) Big Read, which broadens our understanding of our world, our communities and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book.

This month the library will feature programming designed around “When the Emperor Was Divine” by Julie Otsuka. The novel is about a Japanese American family sent to a camp in the Utah desert during World War II. Loosely based on the experience of Otsuka’s mother’s family, the novel is written through the perspective of four family members — a father, a mother, a son and a daughter. It is divided into five sections each told from a different family member’s perspective.

Born and raised in California, Otsuka studied art at Yale University. She pursued a career as a painter for several years before turning to fiction at age 30. Her artistic attention to detail gives the reader vivid imagery of different situations. Her second novel, “The Buddha in the Attic,” is about the experiences of Japanese picture brides in America in the early 1900s.

The NEA Big Read kick-off will be held on Saturday, Feb. 3, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Central Library, 285 E. Walnut St. The schedule is as follows:

11 a.m., Donald Wright Auditorium — Performance by Pasadena-based Makoto Taiko, whose more than 60 members range in age from 6 to 60, representing the diversity of the greater Los Angeles area.

11:45 a.m., Donald Wright Auditorium — Alan Miyatake, grandson of Manzanar photographer Toyo Miyatake, provides details on photos from his grandfather’s collection displayed in the North Entry display cases.

1 p.m., Donald Wright Auditorium — “Making Home Again: Japanese American Resettlement in Post-World War II Los Angeles,” a presentation by Kristen Hayashi, doctoral candidate in history at UC Riverside. Nearly 37,00 of those interned lived in Los Angeles County, home to the largest concentration of Japanese Americans in the U.S.

2 to 4 p.m., Great Hall (Southeast) — Join the Haiku Guys & Gals as they write improvised poems for guests on their typewriters. Presented by the Pasadena Museum of California Art.

2 to 4 p.m., Great Hall (Southwest) — Learn from Reiyukai America how to make origami sculptures, and create a special origami memory of your own.

3 to 5 p.m., Studio on 4th — Join artist Rosanne Kleinerman in creating a no-sew “butterfly book,” a Japanese technique that refers to the pages fluttering like the wings of a butterfly, using a variety of drawing and painting materials. Taking inspiration from the novel, this craft reminds us how a book recalling things left behind would help internees “gaman” — persevere through an unbearable situation with dignity and patience. Presented by the USC Pacific Asia Museum. Space is limited. To sign up, call (626) 744-4014.

Community Programs

Saturday, Feb. 3, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at Norton Simon Museum, 411 W. Colorado Blvd. Enjoy viewing the prints of artist Ruth Asawa, who was born to Japanese immigrants in 1926 in Norwalk. In 1942, her father was arrested by FBI agents and interned at a detention camp in New Mexico; for six months, the family did not know if he was alive or dead, and Asawa did not see him for six years. The family was held at Santa Anita Assembly Center and later Rohwer War Relocation center in Arkansas. Asawa went on to become a renowned sculptor.

Sunday, Feb. 4, from 2 to 3 p.m. at Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden, 270 Arlington Dr. Tour the garden — designed by Kinzuchi Fujii, a Japanese immigrant who was interned in 1942 and never saw his beloved creation again — followed by a 30-minute program. Space is limited and reservations are required. RSVP to For questions, call Virginia at (305) 484-6906. Garden opens at 1:30 p.m. and closes at 5:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Feb. 6, at 6 p.m. at Pasadena Museum of History, 470 W. Walnut St. (Giddings Room). “Six Weddings and a Dress,” the true story of a wedding dress made for Chiyomi Ogawa at Manzanar. After the war, the dress was passed along to five Japanese American brides who had relocated to Pasadena. There will be a presentation by Wendy Fujihara Anderson, founder of Cherry Blossom Festival SoCal, a short film by Steve Nagano, and a rare chance to meet the original bride in person. Space is limited. Call (626) 577-1660 to sign up. Free admission to the exhibition “Royals of Pasadena,” featuring the dress of Leslie Kawai, the first Japanese American Rose Queen, from 6 to 6:30 p.m.

Thursday, Feb. 8, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Santa Catalina Branch Library, 999 E. Washington Blvd., and Thursday, Feb. 22, from 3 to 5 p.m. at La Pintoresca Branch Library, 1355 N. Raymond Ave. Join artist Rosanne Kelinerman in creating a no-sew “butterfly book.” Space limited. To sign up, call (626) 744-7272 (Santa Catalina) or (626) 744-7268 (La Pintoresca).

Book Discussions

Tuesday, Feb. 6, at 6:30 p.m. at Hastings Branch Library, 3325 E. Orange Grove Blvd. Book Chit Chat.

Saturday, Feb. 24, at 10:30 a.m. at Allendale Branch Library, 1130 S. Marengo Ave. Allendale Book Discussion Group.

Saturday, Feb. 24, at 11 a.m. at Linda Vista Branch Library, 1281 Bryant St. West Pasadena Book Discussion.

Book Discussions and Film Series

Central Library, Donald Wright Auditorium, 285 E. Walnut St.

Thursday, Feb. 8 — Book discussion at 6 p.m. Screening of “American Pastime” (2007) at 6:30 p.m. A dramatic feature about conflict and understanding, through the game of baseball, between Japanese American incarcerees and Caucasian residents of a nearby town.

Thursday, Feb. 15 — Book discussion at 5:30 p.m. Screening of “Going for Broke,” a documentary about Nisei who served in the Army during World War II, featuring Sen. Daniel Inouye and actor George Takei, at 6 p.m. Screening of “The Legacy of the Nisei Veterans: World War II Stories of the 442nd and Military Intelligence Service” — a composite of the experiences of 10 men who served their country despite having parents who were in the camps — at 6:30 p.m.

Baseball Talk

Saturday, Feb. 10, at 2 p.m. at Allendale Branch Library, 1135 S. Marengo Ave. — “Desert Diamonds Behind Barbed Wire.” Author, filmmaker and historian Kerry Yo Nakagawa discusses how baseball represented salvation and hope for thousands of incarcerated Japanese Americans who needed a positive reminder of home life as it used to be as might be again. His 35-minute documentary “Diamonds in the Rough: The Legacy of Japanese American Baseball,” narrated by Pat Morita, will be screened. Nakagawa will sign copies of his book “Japanese American Baseball in California: A History.” Also on display will be baseball-themed paintings by Pasadena-based artist Ben Sakoguchi. Presented by the Baseball Reliquary.

History Day

Saturday, Feb. 17, from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Donald Wright Auditorium, Central Library, 285 E. Walnut St.

10:30 a.m. — “Executive Order 9066 Then and Now,” presented by Megan Asaka, assistant professor of history at UC Riverside, oral historian and visual history coordinator for Densho.

11 a.m. to 1 p.m. — “Hidden Histories,” produced by Jason Matsumoto, a touring program of short narrative films about the camps. Each film tells a personal story dramatizing a different period of this history, from the issuance of Executive Order 9066 to the present-day legacy for younger generations. There will be a discussion with Matsumoto, who is also creative director of Ho Etsu Taiko, and Asaka.

2 p.m. — Author and journalist Naomi Hirahara will discuss her book “An American Son: The Story of George Aratani, Founder of Mikasa and Kenwood.” Forced to leave his family business behind during the war, Aratani developed two powerful businesses after the war, importing china and electronics from Japan.

Note: A scheduled visit by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, co-author of “Farewell to Manzanar,” has been canceled.

3:30 p.m. — “The Manzanar Experience” and book discussion.

Ohara School of Ikebana

Saturday, Feb. 24, at 2 p.m. at Hill Avenue Branch Library, 55 S. Hill Ave. Presentation by Yumiko Kikkawa, who teaches ikebana throughout Southern California and has studied with the Ohara School of Flower Arrangement for the past 21 years.

All events are open to the public and free of charge. “When the Emperor Was Divine” is available for check-out in book, large type, eBook and audio format at all Pasadena Public Libraries, and for sale at local bookstores. For more information:

This book is also available on Amazon:

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