Letter from the Berkeley Japanese American Citizens League – “The Jap Box” at the Marsh

2019 11-11 Letter to the Marsh


Stephanie Weisman, Executive Director and board member, The Marsh

David Hirata, Artist


Dear Stephanie Weisman and David Hirata,

The Berkeley Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League (Berkeley JACL) is deeply offended by the title of your show, “The Jap Box.” It revives a hateful racist slur that causes deep pain for us and recalls a tragic period within the living memory of our community, when 120,000 Japanese Americans were torn from their homes during WWII because of racial hatred, war hysteria and greed. We were put behind barbed wire and guarded by armed sentries for years. Some 1,300 Berkeley citizens and immigrants, including members of our chapter and the parents and grandparents of board members, were rounded up and moved by the military to the Tanforan racetrack from the First Congregational Church, one half mile from your theater. There, they were placed in horse stalls before being moved 800 miles to the Topaz concentration camp in Utah. These Berkeleyans lost their businesses, homes, life savings, their basic human dignity. Their education was interrupted, their friendships and community relationships were halted.

The word “Jap” is at the epicenter of this experience because it was used not only as a racist epithet by strangers, but in newspapers and by the government itself during this horrific time.

By marketing this performance, printing programs, selling tickets online, and posting a sandwich board sign in front of the Marsh theater with this slur, you normalize it. In an age when swastikas and nooses are revived among white nationalists, it now joins the permanent digital traces on the Internet along with “Japs Keep Moving — This is a White Man’s Neighborhood” (1923), “A Jap’s a Jap,” (Gen. John L. DeWitt, 1943) and the “Jap hunting license” (WWII). The normalization of this vicious term signals a disturbing lack of regard for our history and our community.

Three members of the board saw the show Saturday night. We met with David Hirata afterward and had a discussion with him about the title. He explained his intent in using what he considers a historical term — the racist renaming of what was originally called the “bottomless box” (soko nashi bako) by its originator, the accomplished late-19th century Japanese magician Namigoro Sumidagawa, who toured the U.S. in the late 1800s. A white magician later appropriated the signature magic box and tricks, changed its name to “The Jap Box” and performed the show in yellow face.

We appreciate Mr. Hirata’s sincerity and willingness to listen. We suggested that his mesmerizing performance, his lifelong interest in magic and the story of how his identity as a Japanese American became intertwined with a Japanese magician’s object represents an opportunity to further interrogate his family and community history. We also suggested he take this opportunity to better understand why the title he chose is painful and a dangerous revival of a deadly term. His family history includes his grandfather being held in the notorious military stockade at the Tule Lake Segregation Center and an uncle who served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

David Hirata also spoke about this issue with the Executive Director of the JACL, David Inoue, last week. We are aware of other outraged Japanese Americans who have contacted the theater to protest this title, some of whom received no response. We are heartened by Mr. Hirata’s statement that he plans to change the name of his show.

We fully understand and appreciate that art can and should raise difficult issues and make us uncomfortable — that is not what this is. The cavalier use of the word “Jap” in the title of this production, without historical context, signals a disturbing lack of concern for the trauma of a group of people and normalizes a tragedy that, now of all times, should be highlighted as a serious cautionary tale.

As Japanese Americans, residents of Berkeley, defenders of civil rights and supporters of the arts, we look forward to prompt action by The Marsh to begin to repair this harm.



Board of Directors

Berkeley Japanese American Citizens League

Berkeley JACL COPANI Scholarships

The Pan American Nikkei Association, otherwise known as PANA, will have their COPANI convention hosted by San Francisco this September from the 20th through the 22nd.
The Berkeley JACL will be awarding scholarships to those interested in attending the convention but do not have the financial means to do so. Berkeley JACL youth and young adult members (age 35 and under) will be given priority but all applications are welcome.
This year’s COPANI convention will be the 20th biennial convention since the inaugural convention organized by Mexican Nikkei and hosted by Mexico City in 1981. The COPANI convention’s vision is to “Foster a socially, technologically, and commercially well-connected Pan American Nikkei community moving toward the future,” per the organization’s website. The convention will be a unique opportunity for Japanese Americans of Japanese Latin American and Non-Japanese Latin American descent to connect with Nikkei outside of the U.S. to foster relationships and collaborate with the greater Japanese diasporic community.
Please email berkeleyjacl@gmail.com for more information.

Berkeley JACL Statement on El Paso Shooting

The Berkeley JACL Chapter mourns for the 20 people killed and more than two dozen injured in the shooting at the Walmart in El Paso, Texas.  Our organization strongly condemns the racist and hateful beliefs that led to this tragic event. There have been too many lives lost in recent times. Just a few days before the shooting in El Paso, four many others lost their lives in a shootings in Gilroy and then more also in Dayton. Together we support the victims and their families in El Paso, Gilroy, and Dayton and  reiterate our commitment to continue to resist discrimination, hatred, and violence everywhere.

BJACL Civil Rights Committee Statement on Central American Migrant Crisis

Recently, the plight of several thousand migrants from Central America seeking asylum in the United States has become a national story. The response to restrict the asylum from the current administration, which has been blocked by the US judicial system, and the current political movement based on xenophobia and entitlement, does not represent our values or our will as people. The recent attempt to restrict asylum applications contradicts both US law and the “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses” ethos that is long held dear. As the current administration strays away from these fundamental American ideals, the Berkeley JACL Civil Rights Committee remains firm in its position in support of civil rights and the principles this great country was founded on.
-Berkeley JACL Civil Rights Committee

Berkeley JACL Awards 7 Scholarships and Honors Lee “Cubby” Nakamura as Pioneer Recipient

The Berkeley JACL chapter awarded scholarships to 6 high school seniors, one college undergraduate, and presented its Pioneer Award to Lee “Cubby” Nakamura during its April 29th awards luncheon held at Richmond Country Club in Richmond.

The chapter awarded scholarships to the following high school seniors based upon their academic
achievements, community involvement, school activities, work history, JACL involvement, written
essay, letter of recommendation, and group interview.

  • Luka Uchiyama (Castro Valley HS) will attend Cal Poly SLO and will major in bioresource and agricultural engineering – Luka is the recipient of the Bea Kono Memorial Scholarship.
  • Alexander Tsuetaki (Durham Acadamy – North Carolina) will attend Tufts University and major in computer science/science technology and society – Alexander is also the recipient of the Dan/Kathleen Date Memorial Scholarship.
  • Kailee Nabeta (Rio Americano HS – Sacramento) will attend Boise State University as a kinesiology major – Kailee is also the recipient of the Terry Yamashita Memorial Scholarship.
  • Jared Akiyama (Berkeley HS) will attend San Francisco State University and major in journalism.
  • Alyssa Cho (El Cerrito HS), will attend Domican University as an occupational therapy major.
  • Sydney Wong (El Cerrito HS) will attend San Jose State University and major in graphic design.

The chapter also awarded a college undergraduate scholarship to Maya Kashima. Currently attending Berkeley City College, Maya will transfer to UC Berkeley in the Fall as a media studies major.

The chapter recognized long time major sponsors Union Bank (Dimitry Bokman) and memorial scholarship donors: the Beatrice Kono family (George Kono), the Terry Yamashita family (Reiko Nabeta), and the Dan/Kathleen Date family (Gail Yamamoto).

The scholarship committee includes: Alix Ching, Mark Fujikawa, Tiffany Ikeda, Vera Kawamura, Neal
Ouye, Al Satake, Sharron Sue, and Ron Tanaka (Chair).

2018 Berkeley JACL Pioneer Award Recipient Lee “Cubby” Nakamura

Lee Nakamura, a native son of Berkeley who is better known by those close to him as “Cubby”, is the Berkeley Chapter’s recipient of its 2018 Pioneer Award. The Chapter is proud to recognize Cubby for his long time service to the East Bay community and to the JACL. Cubby is the co owner of the Tokyo Fish Market, 1220 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley. Tokyo Fish is an East Bay institution with a large number of loyal customers who shop there for fresh sushi grade fish, rice, soy sauce, and many other Japanese food staples.

Born and raised in the Berkeley area, Cubby participated in many sports programs as a youth and enjoyed his time with the Berkeley Bears local basketball and baseball teams. He graduated from Berkeley High School and SF City College where he earned his degree in Culinary Arts.

Cubby’s culinary interests began at the early age of 14 where he was a dishwasher at Toraya Restaurant in Albany. He became a manager at the Toraya. He moved on to co-manage the seafood department at Berkeley Bowl Market for over 8 years. He was also the co-owner of Osumo Restaurant in Oakland. In 1988 Cubby joined forces with his current business partner, Larry Fujita, at Tokyo Fish Market. Established in 1963 by his partner’s parents, Isamu and Tazuye Fujita, Tokyo Fish is a fixture in the East Bay and is a popular place to shop for both Asian and nonAsian customers who enjoy Japanese food. Cubby’s specialty is in the buying and stocking of seafood where the store merchandises more than 100 kinds of fish including bluefin tuna from Japan, farmed salmon from Scotland, and halibut. The store also stocks a wide variety of Asian condiments, noodles, rice, Japanese snacks and candies, sake, bento boxes, and sushi.

From the time he started working, Cubby has had a passion to work with youth. He functions as a mentor to the youth and supports the local community. Indeed, many local organizations have benefited from Cubby’s generous contributions and support of local community activities. Cubby is married to Cathy, and they have two sons, Andrew and Ryan, both of whom have played team sports and work in the family business.

CJACLC Awarded a $1,000 Berkeley JACL Grant

The Berkley JACL chapter recently approved and funded a grant in the sum of $1,000 to the California Japanese American Community Leadership Council (“CJACLC”) from the Chapter’s Endowment Fund.

The Berkeley Endowment Fund is administered by the Board of Directors to support community-oriented projects or programs that further the aims of the JACL.

With these objectives, the Chapter funded this grant to CJACLC to further its internship program aimed at developing leadership in young Nikkei students.

Berkeley JACL Response to Charlottesville

The Berkeley JACL (Japanese American Citizens League) deplores the actions of the neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville. Their message of hate and racial prejudice has no place in today’s discourse and we, as an organization, will not stay silent and allow this message to go unchallenged. We also denounce the president’s statements on Tuesday, August 15, which suggest moral equivalency between the white supremacist protestors and the counter protestors. We join all those who support America’s steadfast values of justice, equality, and democracy.

With the upcoming protests in San Francisco’s Crissy Field and at the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park in Berkeley, we hope these demonstrations will be peaceful and there will be no more tragic loss of life. Our thoughts go out to the family of Heather Heyer and all the victims of the terrible attack that took place in Charlottesville over the weekend. We must all unite to condemn this senseless tragedy and stand up for our community and our values.

Berkeley JACL Attends JACL’s National 2017 Convention

This year, Berkeley JACL sent 5 members to the national convention in Washington, D.C.  Attending this year are the Berkeley chapter co-presidents Jim Duff and Beth Uno, civil rights chair Tiffany Ikeda, and youth delegate Amelia Huster.

Photo of Berkeley JACL members in our chapter t-shirts
From left to right: Val Yasukochi, Amelia Huster, Tiffany Ikeda, Jim Duff, Beth Uno


photo of Berkeley JACL members at the Smithsonian Museum of National History
From left to right: Tiffany Ikeda, Jim Duff, Amelia Huster, Val Yasukochi, Beth Uno

Baseball, Bento, and Bombs Bursting in the Air: A’s vs. Orioles

The 14th Annual Berkeley JACL Baseball and Bento event will take place on Saturday August 12, 2017 at 6pm, when the Oakland A’s play the Baltimore Orioles!

In addition to plaza infield seats, a delicious bento dinner and a bottle of water, there will be a fireworks show!  All this for only $42!

We only reserved 75 tickets for this popular event. The deadline to purchase tickets is July 15, 2017.