By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
Tomodachi is a Japanese word meaning friend.
“Star Trek” actor and gay rights advocate George Takei is the newest friend of the Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Washington (JCCCW). The organization named him as its 2015 Tomodachi Award winner at the Seventh Annual Tomodachi Luncheon on March 27. The award pays tribute to an individual or group that promotes Japanese or Japanese American culture and/or works to strengthen ties between Japan and the U.S.
Held at Seattle University’s Campion Ballroom, the fundraiser took place at an historic neighborhood that was once home to many Japanese American families. Friends and fans who still remember Takei as Mr. Sulu, the helmsman of the USS Enterprise, packed the ballroom. Also a social media star, he has eight-and-a-half million Facebook followers.
KING 5 news anchor Lori Matsukawa and James Spahn – both JCCCW board members – served as the event’s emcees. Matsukawa first introduced Annette Clark, dean and professor at Seattle University School of Law.
“We are proud partners with you in your efforts to preserve and share Japanese culture and Japanese American history,” she said.
Masahiro Omura, consul general of Japan in Seattle, followed Clark. He said, “Japanese Americans and Japan are linked by family ties and most importantly, we are linked by conscience as well.”
Internationally acclaimed musician Michi Hirata North, who is celebrating 75 years since her professional debut with the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo, then played the piano at JCCCW’s fundraiser.
JCCCW board president Kurt Tokita introduced Takei. He said, “George Takei is a man of many talents. And it’s apparent that one of those talents is inspiring the best in people not only here, in Japan, but all over the world.”
Takei, who was five years old when he was imprisoned with his entire family at the Rohwer War Relocation Center in Arkansas during World War II, gave the luncheon’s featured speech, raising public awareness of the Japanese American internment experience and prejudice.
He began his speech pointing out their shared ancestral culture and historical legacy. He said, “And it’s those that tie us together, shape us as who we are, and give us that bond that makes us the community.”
Takei said Executive Order 9066 “sent all Japanese Americans on the West Coast into barbed wire prison camps in the most God-forsaken places in this country. It was an outrage. It was an egregious violation of our Constitution, and yet, people stood up.”
He then spoke about the courage of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the U.S. Army, saying “They went from behind those barbed-wire fences, leaving their families in imprisonment, and fought heroically in a segregated all-Japanese-American unit that chose as their regimental motto, ‘Go for broke.’ And go for broke they did.”
“There’s another group of people of whom I’m also equally proud,” he said about young Japanese American internees who wanted to fight as American soldiers but instead were prosecuted for draft evasion, found guilty, and served time in federal penitentiaries.
Takei said, “I am equally proud of who they are because they stood as principled Americans, and they make me proud of my Americanism because that’s the price that they paid.”
He ended his speech recognizing the contributions of welder Fred Korematsu, a Japanese American, who dared to challenge the constitutionality of his internment in 1942 but failed.
Takei acknowledged the presence of Professor Lorraine Bannai, a member of Korematsu’s legal team. He said, “People like Professor Bannai, there she is, challenged that ruling by the Supreme Court years later, and they prevailed.”
He gave thanks for the Tomodachi Award and even agreed to a request to auction off his lavender necktie.
Leanne Nishi-Wong and her husband Rick Wong, a Boeing engineer, made the winning bid of $2,200.
Takei boldly goes to Broadway this fall with his new musical “Allegiance,” a personal show about Japanese Americans imprisoned during World War II with him in the starring role. (end)
For more information about the Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Washington, go to jcccw.org. For more information about “Allegiance,” go to www.allegiancemusical.com.
James Tabafunda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.