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Okaeri Set for Oct. 14-15 at JANM

A warm welcome from participants at Okaeri at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in Little Tokyo.

A warm welcome from organizers of Okaeri at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in Little Tokyo.

The first Okaeri gathering was held two years ago at the Japanese American National Museum. To the delight of the intergenerational planning committee, it was a success on several levels.

Probably the most prominent reason was that it gave an opportunity for many LGBT people to, at last, free themselves of all that held them captive: shame from parents and relatives, and in many instances rejection from peers. More than 200 from across the U.S. and Canada attended. Okaeri inspired Nikkei in Chicago, Seattle, Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area to organize similar gatherings.

Marian Sunabe identifies herself as a Christian. After serving on the planning committee in 2014 and this year, she says she has used her power and straight privilege in the faith community for her LGBT brothers and sisters. The love and community she has received through Okaeri have enriched her life in ways she had never thought possible. Wherever one may be with his/her faith journey, she invites all to find a place at Okaeri.

Sarah Baker is the president of the Seattle JACL Chapter. She says Okaeri has been an inspiration to LGBTQ and Nikkei communities and also says Okaeri 2016 will bring people together in a loving and safe environment.

Kiyomi Fujikawa, of API Chaya in Seattle was moved by the number of LGBT people, as well as those of other generations who attended. She looks forward to “welcoming each other home” again this year.

Marsha Aizumi says she never dreamed Okaeri 2014 would touch so many lives. “Hearing stories of parents connecting with their children, LGBTQ individuals courageously asking to be seen, and straight allies compassionately wanting to find ways to support the LGBTQ community has brought hope to me as mother of a transgender son. I look forward to Okaeri 20016 and all it can bring to our LGBTQ families this year.”

Eric Arimoto is a 51-year-old gay JA man who sees Okaeri as an act of redress. Because he could not imagine being accepted by his family or the Nikkei community, he ran away at age 18 and joined the Army. Back in 1984, the messages he received as a gay man were “non-affirming, damaging, shameful and silencing.” He says that today he is proud to be back in the Nikkei community as it “shines a light on issues having to do with LGBT JA acceptance and justice.”

Lori Song is a middle-aged transgender female. She attended the 2014 event with a lot of apprehension. Once there, though, she came to enjoy being with like-minded folk and was amazed and inspired by the LGBTQ people who were there with their friends, family and allies. She invites and encourages everyone to attend Okaeri 2016, and says she is sure you will be glad you did.

Darren Shirai says, “Okaeri was a defining moment for me. It had a big impact on how I think about myself. I am not alone. That in itself is empowering.”

Allison Kochiyama’s brother was gay, and passed away 20 years ago. Because of this connection with her brother, in attending Okaeri 2014, she came to feel a strong connection as an ally with the LGBTQ community. “I know if he were here to have experienced this powerful gathering with such love, acceptance and openness, it would have been so profound,” she says. “He would have been so grateful. Thank you, Okaeri.”

Okaeri 2016 will be held on Oct. 14 and 15 at JANM, 100 N. Central Ave. in Little Tokyo. Discussion topics will include:

• “Intergenerational Connection Within the LGBTQ and Nikkei Communities”

• “Family Acceptance”

• “Religion and LGBTQ Inclusion: Struggles and Momentum”

• “LGBTQ Mental Health, Intergenerational Trauma and Healing”

• “Gender and Trans 101”

• “Allyship 101”

• “LGBTQ Organizing and Connection to Broader Movements”

• “Sexual Health, Positivity and Wellness”

A welcome reception on Friday from 7 to 9 p.m. will kick off the gathering. Registration, which begins at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, includes a continental breakfast and bento lunch. Plenary sessions and workshops will be held from 9:40 a.m. to 3:10 p.m., followed by networking or a Little Tokyo walking tour from 3:20 to 4:20 p.m.

General admission: $35; students/seniors: $20. No one will be turned away for lack of funds. To register or for more information, visit or “Okaeri 2016” on Facebook. For information on how to receive a scholarship for free admission, email

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