Nikkei Chronicles #8—Nikkei Heroes: Trailblazers, Role Models, and Inspirations

The word “hero” can mean different things to different people. For this series, we have explored the idea of a Nikkei hero and what it means to a variety of people. Who is your hero? What is their story? How have they influenced your Nikkei identity or your connection to your Nikkei heritage?

We solicited stories from May to September of 2019, and voting closed on November 15, 2019. We received 32 stories (16 English; 2 Japanese; 11 Spanish; and 3 Portuguese) from individuals in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Peru, and the United States.

Here are the selected favorite stories by our Editorial Committee and the Nima-kai. 

Editorial Committee’s Favorites

Nima-kai selection:

To learn more about this writing project >>

Check out these other Nikkei Chronicles series >>

identity en ja es pt

My Roots—The Legacy of Matsugoro Ohto

In the spring of 1869, a group of Aizu warriors migrated to California after their defeat during the Boshin Civil War. They founded the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Colony during the California Gold Rush. One of the men who accompanied these settlers, Matsugoro Ohto, is my Nikkei Hero. While in America, he studied winemaking and helped to increase the popularity of wine in Japan after his return. Matsugoro was my great-great-grandmother’s father. In other words, he was my great-great-great-grandfather. I am his 6th generation descendant. Ever since I was a child learning English, I had wanted to travel abroad, to …

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community en ja es pt

"My oba, the greatest inspiration!"

Who inspires me to be better? I think my oba does. Although I still don’t know how she overcame so many challenges, became successful, and helped others. And just like a heroine, she never expected anything in return.

My oba was 92 when she died and I was 9. The difference in our ages was more than 80 years! I think that gave my oba a certain “halo” of mystery. She never told me the story of her life. She rarely spoke spontaneously; just four or five words at a time and I’ve been storing them in my memory. Actually, …

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community en

The Family of Shinjiro Dote and Pre-WWII Japanese of El Dorado County, CA.

The trials and tribulations of pre–World War II Japanese on the West Coast are well documented, but there was a small group of them that were uniquely special and nearly lost to obscurity. The adversity they faced was as unparallel as the historical significance of their community of El Dorado County, CA.

I’m a mixed race Sansei. My family decided in 1971 to leave southern California for the quieter rural El Dorado County in northern California three weeks before the school year ended. I clearly remember my first day at my new school. As the office gal took my parents, …

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war en

My Hero: Shinya Honda

Shinya Honda was my hero because he never looked back. He always persevered and took responsibility for his own life and even took care of his mother and three sisters. Uncle Shin never complained about his circumstances or the terrible events that took place at the age of 15, when his father died.

Above all, I am grateful to Uncle Shin and his whole generation who worked hard to serve our country. In spite of the incarceration in concentration camps and this tragic black mark in American history, the positive attitude of Uncle Shin, being a cheerleader for his children, …

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culture en ja es pt

Mine Okubo

The artist Mine Okubo is most famous for her book, Citizen 13660, a graphic memoir of the Japanese American concentration camps. She became my hero while I was a student at University of California (UC), Riverside in 1979. As a young woman in my twenties, I felt inspired by Mine’s accomplishments as part of the “greatest generation” that survived World War II. She did it on her own terms and without apology. She persevered as a female artist and in life itself. The difficulties she experienced made her stronger. She retained her Nikkei identity and never forgot the Japanese …

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American River Conservancy army art artist california carpenter colony el dorado engineer Family grandmother heroes identity japanese american Matsugoro Ohto migration Mine Okubo MIS Nikkei Chronicles Nikkei Heroes okinawa peru pioneer uncle veteran