The Spirit of Nadeshiko
Board Member’s Message
by Lynn Longfellow
The Spirit of Nadeshiko
Millions of viewers watched last month, as Nadeshiko Japan, the Japanese women’s soccer team, won its first World Cup ever, in a stunning defeat over the highly favored U.S. team. Their triumph lifted the spirits of a stricken country and one couldn’t help but feel, even if cheering for a U.S. victory, great joy for the country of Japan. The team expressed their feeling of responsibility to inspire hope, strength and power to their recovering nation.
The team is named for the frilled pink carnation flower nadeshiko that symbolizes the embodiment of the idealized Japanese woman with virtues that include loyalty, wisdom and humility. During WWII in Japan, the ideal of “Yamato-nadeshiko” was a woman who acted for the benefit and in the best interests of the family, enduring pain and/or poverty for her husband (a soldier) and country. On the other side of the ocean, those same traits were being exemplified by the Issei and Nisei women. We hear much about the amazing accomplishments of the Issei and particularly Nisei men, but very little recognition has been given to the women of these generations. Just like the celebrated soccer team, they too, embodied the ideal of nadeshiko.
Perhaps it’s due to the old stereotype of the submissive Japanese woman, but we should never underestimate the grit and courage nor overlook the accomplishments of the Issei and Nisei women. During the time of racism and hysteria of WWII, they too went on to serve their country. Approximately one hundred Japanese American women volunteered to serve in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), more than two hundred joined the Cadet Nurse Corps and almost 50 Nisei women were assigned to the MISLS (Military Intelligence Service Language School). Those incarcerated in American concentration camps endured physical, emotional and psychological hardships, and suffered personal and economic setbacks. Those fortunate enough not to be incarcerated were still victims of great prejudice and hardship.
The Nisei poet Toyo Suyemoto wrote the following poem in July of 1941 as wartime tensions rose and before her incarceration:
“Out of the anguish of my heart
There must come gentle peace
That will bid wayward grief
And troubled thoughts to cease.
When one by one, old sorrows pass
And I know my own will
Let not the spirit fear again
Or let my songs grow still.”
Although they suffered injustice, mistreatment, deprivation and racial and gender discrimination, they endured and persevered with amazing grace to overcome adversity. Through the war years and beyond they were the glue holding families together, providing strength, security and stability and establishing themselves in the workplace and community as well. We should be indebted to them for their example and the amazing legacy that they have left and we should thank those personally that are still with us while we can.
Still active, vital and well into their 80’s and 90’s, you need not go far to find these amazing women, for they are still quietly and not so quietly carrying on and remain the backbone and heart of the Nikkei community. You’ll find them locally at JACL events, Oregon Nikkei Endowment (ONE), Japanese Ancestral Society (JAS) and Japan-America Society of Oregon (JASO) events. Attend an Ikoi No Kai lunch and step into the kitchen of Epworth United Methodist Church or attend a service or event there or at the Nichiren Buddhist Temple, Oregon Buddhist Temple, or Buddhist Daihonzan Henjyoji Temple. Come to the Nikkei Community Picnic this month on Sunday, August 21st at Oaks Park. It doesn’t matter when or where you see them, but when you do, remember to thank them for who they are, the life they’ve led and the legacy they leave.
In closing, the month of August is the traditional time for Obon, where the departed (deceased) spirits of one’s ancestors are honored. Locally, there are Obon fests scheduled at the Oregon Buddhist Temple on Saturday, August 6th and Monday, August 15th at the Portland Japanese Garden, but perhaps more important than observing this annual tradition, is to honor your ancestors, living and deceased, by stepping up as they have. If you are a Nikkei, carry the torch that is passed on. For others, be inspired by the strength and perseverance of the Issei and Nisei generations and their motivation for living life as they did—that of living a worthwhile life. Be active, engaged and serve in whatever manner you can. And like the Japanese women’s soccer team, inspire hope for the future, act in the best interests of your family and country, and persevere throughout adversity with courage, humility and grace. Male or female, we can all be inspired by the spirit of nadeshiko.