Series – Shikata ga nai: Sansei Forgiveness in a Broken World

For most of us, our whole world was broken for three generations. I am a Sansei who has struggled with the
silence and found home at last near the end of my life. Mark Sakamoto’s book title “Forgiveness” is the most
meaningful word for me, although the context is totally different. This series depicts my past, as a young
woman who was ashamed of being Japanese to my present, as a woman who has finally learned to forgive and
let go the burden of shame carried by all Japanese Canadians who were dispossessed and relocated. When I
look at my work, I see a clear dichotomy of who I am. I value being Japanese so I have chosen to work primarily
with Japanese papers and Japanese ink. Yet, the pen and ink technique is western, not Japanese sumi painting.
Even now, I feel like an outsider in both cultures; yet totally comfortable looking in.

#1 Keep the Past in the past   Pen and ink on shoji paper, 39"x39"

Shikata ga nai. Don't talk about what happened.

I grew up feeling that it was a bad thing to be Japanese Canadian.

#2  Eyes are the Enemy Alien     Pen and ink on shoji paper, 39"x39"

I hated my eyes, as they were the most obvious feature which made me different.

#3  Wannabe       Pen and ink on shoji paper, 39"x39"

More than anything, I wanted to be white and I hated being Japanese.

Here I want to be Marilyn Monroe. 

It took me my entire life to forgive the broken world of the past and love who I am.

#4  Death Mask: End of My Line        Pen and ink on shoji paper, 39"x39"

I married outside of my culture, as did 95% of Sansei.

I am the last of a long line which stretches back for thousands of years. This revelation boggles my mind!

#5   Unmasked   Pen and ink on shoji paper, 39"x39"

I finally find closure near the end of my life.  

I have learned to forgive myself for hating myself. I no longer feel that my eyes are hateful.


Stone Cold Memory in Zen Haiku Garden

The inspiration for this installation is reflection in the tranquility of a zen garden. It speaks to the
catastrophic journey of Japanese Canadians from Dec. 7, 1941 to final closure in the present.  Shikata
ga nai(It Can’t be Helped), the mantra of the Issei and Nissei is cracked open as the silence about the
past is broken. The circle is symbolic of closure. The haiku represent the events in our journey.


my world blown apart
act of war against my home
by my own people      
atonement to be
for my ancestral Japan
resting in my hands  
my dark shame to bear
a stranger in my own land
shikata ga nai  
persevere, survive
with all that life throws at me
the journey is long
loss of all I own
forgiveness is worth the price
to belong once more  
keep past secrets mute
look only to the future silence
is the way      
who am I? I ask
sansei drift in silent space
bury deep the shame  
black rain blankets
all covers ancestral cities
ashes to ashes      
at last a new dawn
hope shines out of dark exile
redress for past wrongs      
will soon be complete for us
left without a trace      
out of forgiveness
sansei see at last the way
our spirits soar      
who are we? we ask
deep within our hearts we know
we are Canadian    




Kekkon/Marriage in a Zen Garden

In the silence of meditation, I see our path to assimilation, partly as a result of the government
action to disperse us and partly as a result of the shame of the Sansei, the third generation.   I
reflect on the very speedy assimilation of the Japanese Canadians into the mainstream culture and
other cultures as a direct result of our alienation in WWII. 95% of Sansei, the third generation
Japanese Canadians have married outside the Japanese culture.
  In this work, the process to total assimilation is represented. The hashi(chopsticks) represent two
 NISSEI(second generation Japanese Canadian) parents who produce a SANSEI (third generation
Japanese Canadian)child.  The SANSEI child loses the Japanese language and most of Japanese
traditions and culture.  The SANSEI child, still represented by hashi, marries a person outside the
culture, represented by a fork. Their HAPPA (half and half) child marries a person outside the
culture, and produce a ¼ Japanese child, represented by one pair of hashi and three forks.  This child
has almost no connection to Japanese culture or even to physical appearance. This child marries a
person outside the culture and the assimilation is complete, ending with 2 forks. This child has no
evidence of Japanese culture or physical appearance.    With each marriage, the Japanese DNA
lessens until Japanese characteristics and culture  have disappeared without a trace. Japanese
Canadians are no longer VISIBLE. The goals of the Canadian government in 1942 to eradicate us have
succeeded.  Soon, no-one will even know that we were here.