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  • Ken Shem

Japanese culture embodied in kendo

Updated: Dec 30, 2019


Season’s Greetings! I know Hatakeyama Sensei from the San Jose Kendo Dojo (www.sjkendo.com), where he is one of the talented and dedicated sensei. Hatakeyama Sensei is a third-generation (sansei) Japanese American and Bay Area native. I had a great time interviewing him earlier this month. The following is a summary of his comments.


Hatakeyama Sensei feels that Japanese-American history is important to remember so that later generations can understand their heritage. In addition, it is important to maintain Japanese culture in the U.S. so that everyone can know and appreciate it. As the number of immigrants from Japan has decreased over time, Japanese Americans and others can continue Japanese customs. Festivals put on by local cities and Buddhist churches and temples, such as Nikkei Matsuri, cherry blossom festivals, and Obon festivals, go a long way toward sharing and maintaining Japanese traditions.


Of course, Hatakeyama Sensei also shares and practices Japanese culture as embodied by kendō. [As described by Wikipedia, “Kendo is a traditional Japanese martial art, which descended from swordsmanship and uses bamboo swords and protective armor.”] Manners (reiho) are an integral and distinctly Japanese part of kendō. Respect, perseverance, and self-improvement are values of kendō that he strives to bring to his life outside of the dōjō.


Japanese culture – whether it manifests in Japanese festivals or kendō – also has the beneficial effect of bringing different people together and creating a community. Japanese culture can be part of a common bond, where friends can talk about their shared interests and experiences. Over the years, Hatakeyama Sensei has enjoyed many friendships this way.


Hatakeyama Sensei also mentioned that the ability to speak a second or even third language is valuable. Another aspect of kendō and the Bay Area that he enjoys is hearing the multitude of languages around him.


When asked about whether he feels more Japanese or more American, Hatakeyama Sensei admitted that this is a difficult question to answer. He settled on 50-50. Throughout his life, he has considered and continues to contemplate the contradictions of Japanese and American culture in his life. Although he totally enjoyed his travels in Japan, he’s not sure that he would be comfortable living there. He observed that Japanese society can generally be very accepting of outside ideas and yet call for conformity.


Hatakeyama Sensei is proud of the contributions of Japanese Americans to this country, many of whom epitomize traditional Japanese values. He mentioned prominent Japanese Americans, such as Daniel Inouye [World War II hero, former President pro tempore of the Senate, the highest-ranking Asian-American politician in U.S. history, and for whom Honolulu International Airport is named], Norman Mineta [former San Jose Mayor, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation, and for whom San Jose International Airport is named], and the Japanse-American farmers of the California Central Valley.


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