My Day in Little Tokyo and the Japanese American National Museum

Japanese-American History, origami, taiko, udon, and onigiri (rice ball) with what I believe was bonito… What a very relaxing day.

Today, my Japanese class took a field trip to the Japanese American National Museum, where we learned more about the history of Japanese internment/concentration camps and what happened afterward.  Our tour guide was very friendly, and his grandfather–or father, I can’t remember which–died in one of the camps, which hit me hard.  Sometimes, relearning history—or hearing a story for a second time, makes me believe it didn’t happen.  I think, This is America.  This doesn’t happen here.  Or I think, This is the world.  Genocide doesn’t happen here.  Yet it did with the Jewish people, and the Japanese under us.  And it does—every single day in regions I might never set foot upon.  And please understand that when I place these moments in history together, I do not mean that they share one and the same experiences.  Only their causes are similar, not their results.  As our tour guide said, “God forbid what happened to the Jewish people never happens again, but there’s no comparison between what happened in the two groups.  The only similarity I will pose is that both groups were stolen of their human rights and dignity.  It is only the levels that differ.

After the tour ended, we all gathered around tables with women who taught us how to make origami boxes in the style of old Japanese wicker boxes–the kind they used to bring as much stuff as they could carry to the camps.  My first box wasn’t creased well enough, but it did the job well enough to act like a box.    Since the wicker boxes then were used for clothes like suitcases, we also made an origami shirt that held the contact info about the museum.  That one I messed up on during one fold, but it turned out pretty well.  That shirt, however, was a one-time deal.  I’ve made another box just now, and I think I’m far better at aural and visual directions than textual when it comes to the craft of folding paper.

Then we went to possibly my favorite part of the trip: the Taiko Drumming Presentation.  I learned that Taiko developed traditionally in Japan for communication and musical purposes, but developed more in the states because wine barrels were cheaper to use than new trees.  I also got the experience to play a taiko drum first-hand, and it was magical.  I was taken over by the power of the sound, and I did my best to follow the lead of the instructor.  One moment I lost concentration, and I didn’t strike the…um, what’s the part of the drum with the skin on it? I know there’s a technically term for it.  (Durmmers, help me out!) Anyway, I missed it, but went right back in and didn’t miss a beat.  I played the largest drum in the ensemble, and my stance was firm.  I was a warrior even if only for a few moments.

After drumming, we all went into separate groups with chaperones.  My group and I ate at the restaurant Yakitori Koshiji. “Yakitori” translates to “grilled chicken”, which makes you guess pretty easily what they’re specialty is.  However, on they’re menu, they also have other skewered items and even seafood.  Yet my heart was set on udon, my all-time favorite Japanese dish, and so I got it with a warm rice ball I could cover with nori (seaweed).  Everything I tried was delicious–the udon, the rice ball, and my friend’s authentic teriyaki chicken.  That chicken had soy sauce and tomato and something else that made it a wave of flavor come at you.  The fried vegetables were also crispy, and eating the fried eggplant reaffirmed how much I liked the vegetable.

Afterwards, we briefly look inside a book store, got to the bus, and headed back to school to have out the rest of the school day.  And here I am, typing to you about one of the most relaxing, uneventful trips I’ve ever had.  I also found the trip funny.  I went to Japan in 2010, yet I was so oblivious to Little Tokyo right in my own city–right in my own country.  It’s a bit like a meteor that fell from Japan’s orbit and landed in mine, yet instead I went on the plane to see the planet first.

I need to get out more.

(Might upload photos I took later if I find my USB cord…)

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