I like to think that life is filled with unexpected coincidences because it’s more fun that way. Sometimes I can be a bit of a control freak, so it’s nice to let things happen out of my control. It’s especially inviting when things that happen out of my control somehow falls in line or adds to something that defines who I am, or helps me feel connected to things in the world.
Ever since I started to look into Okei-san, I’ve just been thinking about how it makes so much sense that JET sent me to Aizu-Wakamatsu. I really could have been anywhere, but thinking back on my interview, I’d like to think that interviewers really gave it some thought as to where I should go. My interviewers included Gary Mukai, head of SPICE at Stanford, and board member of the JET Alumni Association of Northern California. I definitely felt a connection with him during my interview when I spoke about what I would bring to JET. My experience as a 2nd generation Vietnamese-American immigrant to represent the diversity of America was my main selling point (my unconventional look as a cisgender female is my secondary, though passive, selling point…!). It’s honestly not much, and probably a broken record by now, but he commented that people would be really interested in my story. I wasn’t really sure what that meant, but here I am, in this town that I had no idea existed until I came here, and slowly uncovering history that really speaks to me as a woman and API.
Today’s discovery came at the right time. Before coming to Aizu-Wakamatsu, I’d never really been interested in the Japanese civil war, and samurai were only in the movies. My arrival was right in the middle of the year’s historical taiga drama, Yae no Sakura. There were posters of a woman, Ayase Haruka, whom I’d seen before in Ichi, wearing colorful samurai/kimono garb, leather gloves, and a rifle. Hot, right? Anyway, this was my gateway drug to the Boshin War, from Aizu’s perspective. A clan devoted to its emperor, and the Tokugawa leadership to the end, Aizu because the primary loser, and the clans-people scattered to the most undesirable places: the northernmost part of Honshu, presently Aomori, Hokkaido, and even America. In the show, a few went overseas to study, but I had no idea that a small group of Aizu clans-people left the country and settled in Gold Hill, in Placerville, CA. Whaaaaaaat!
First of all, as a student who lived in Davis, and part of the Japanese program, why did I not know this? Placerville is only about an hour away, on the way to Lake Tahoe. Why is it that I’d never heard of Wakamatsu Colony from my JA friends, or that it’s a part of Asian American history? Sure it failed, but it was also a model for future Japanese immigrants. I’m just astounded by how this has gone under my radar. Sure, I had no reason to really get into it before, but I think I would have encountered it by happenstance, or something!
I suppose the fact that I’m living in Aizu-Wakamatsu makes this 10x more significant to me. No wait, let me add another multiplier to that. The ramblings about my JET interview is connected to this. The Aizu clan scattered. They were war refugees. They became a diaspora. Like the Vietnamese! Ah! We share a connection. So simple. Much love.
Here’s another multiplier. I’ve already dubbed the nearby Lake Inawashiro as my Lake Tahoe for the next few years while I’m here. The Mt. Bandai is Sierra Nevada. Now that I’ve learned that Wakamatsu Colony is THAT close to Lake Tahoe like Aizu-Wakamatsu being near Lake Inawashiro… Just that comparison… It’s insane!