“Hidden Legacy: Japanese Traditional Performing Arts in the World War II Internment Camps” is the full title of this documentary, using historical footage and interviews from artists who were interned to tell the story of how traditional Japanese cultural arts were maintained at a time when the War Relocation Authority (WRA) emphasized the importance of assimilation and Americanization. Various essays and studies concerning the camps have been published, but have focused on the political and legal aspects of the internment, while hardly mentioning cultural and recreational activities in the camps. When cultural and recreational activities have been documented, they have focused on American culture, such as baseball and swing music. This film will be the first major presentation of the existence of traditional music, dance and drama in the camps. It is possible only because Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto-Wong has been searching, researching and collecting for over 20 years information on who these artists were. She has collected interviews, oral and visual histories, as well as artifacts from the internees and relatives of internees, including teachers, students, the performers, and the incredible artists who made instruments, costumes, and the props needed for a full performance from scraps of wood, toothbrush handles, gunny sacks, paint, and whatever they could scrape up. Her own family’s history with the camps led her to become a kotoist and teacher of the Japanese koto (13-stringed zither).
Very little is known of the existence of traditional Japanese performance arts in the camps. The artists Muramoto-Wong has interviewed are all Americans, all born here, but practiced Japanese arts before the war, during, and after the war, because they loved the art. This made them “social activists” in their own quiet way, continuing the music and dance they loved, helping others to learn and enjoy these arts, and to help draw their attention away from their surroundings, giving them pride and self-esteem. Their efforts kept Japanese cultural arts alive in our communities today.
We have interviewed 30 artists in the fields of music (koto, nagauta shamisen, shakuhachi, shigin, biwa), dance (buyo, obon) and drama (kabuki) who were interned at Tule Lake, Manzanar, Amache/Granada, Rohwer, Gila River, and Topaz. We have interviewed Prof. Minako Waseda of Geijutsu Daigaku University of Music and Arts, and Kunitachi College of Music, both universities in Tokyo, whose research thesis, Extraordinary Circumstances, Exceptional Practices: Music in Japanese American Concentration Camps, had written the only scholarly work that had been published on this subject. We are also interviewing students of these arts in America, some who learned from these artists, and some who are carrying on the tradition in our communities today, and some who have taken this knowledge, and expanded creatively and artistically in various imaginative ways.
Film locations include camps at Manzanar, Tule Lake, Heart Mountain; locations in Japan, such as Osaka, Kyoto, 3 Tokyo music universities (Tokyo Ongaku Daigaku, Geijutsu Daigaku, Kunitachi College of Music); Cherry Blossom Festivals in San Francisco and Cupertino; San Jose Obon Festival; Chidori Band 59th Anniversary Concert; Japanese American Museum of San Jose; dance studio of Bando Misayasu (aka Mary Arii Mah), and koto studio of Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto-Wong.
Sponsored, in part, by the National Park Service, Japanese American Confinement Sites grant.
This project was funded, in part, by a grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
This material received Federal financial assistance for the preservation and interpretation of U.S. confinement sites where Japanese Americans were detained during World War II. Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, as amended, the U.S. Department of the Interior prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability or age in its federally funded assisted projects. If you believe you have been discriminated against in any program, activity, or facility as described above, or if you desire further information, please write to:
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