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  • Ken Shem

大和魂 (Yamato Damashii)

Updated: Dec 30, 2019


I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! During my Thanksgiving week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Jeff Teraoka. Currently residing in Santa Clara, Dr. Teraoka is a fourth-generation Japanese American (yonsei) originally from Hawaii, where there is a large Japanese-American community. This is an excerpt from his interview.


Dr. Teraoka’s grandfather immigrated first from Japan to Mexico and then to southern California. His father was in the U.S. Army’s renowned 100th Infantry Battalion / 442nd Infantry Regiment. This unit was sent on suicide missions and fought some of the most difficult battles in Europe during World War II. They often succeeded where other units struggled. Reflecting the Japanese spirit of determination, the unit’s motto was “Go for Broke.” They became one of the most decorated units in the history of the U.S. military. His father rarely talked about his experience until the last several years of his life. His mother was interned in Heart Mountain, Wyoming at the age of 15. His mother toured Wyoming with a band called the George Igawa Orchestra.


Dr. Teraoka says there are many movies, books, and seminars about the Japanese-American internment experience. During this horrible time, those interned lost everything, including ancestral treasures. Although younger generations may focus on the oppression suffered by the Japanese Americans during this time, Dr. Teraoka wants Japanese Americans to value how the Japanese Americans survived and restored their dignity during and after their internment. Japanese Americans built thriving communities – with farms, schools, Boy Scouts troops, sports teams, and bands like his mother’s – from “nothing.”


Dr. Teraoka values and wishes to pass on traditional Japanese culture like festivals (matsuri), food, and the Japanese language, but he realizes it’s difficult for younger generations to retain Japanese culture. He feels the Japanese are “innovative, resourceful, and determined.” His grandfather, Thomas K. Takeshita, wrote a book in Japanese while in an internment camp, titled Yamato-Damashii under the Stars and Stripes. For Dr. Teraoka, “大和魂” (Yamato-Damashii) means the spirit, the determination, and the attitude that both Japanese and Japanese Americans had to have to survive in America.


With permission from Dr. Teraoka, it is my pleasure to provide the link below to a YouTube video of his mother’s experience with her band at https://youtu.be/ZU38Iw3Ec7k.

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