by Tim Boyle, missionary
Kwansei Gakuin, Nishinomiya
For five nights in November 2010, Japanese television showed a ten-hour-long dramatic series entitled "99 Years of Love, the Japanese-Americans." It was a powerful and emotional drama that brought back memories of watching Alex Halley's Roots some 30 or more years ago, with its portrayal of the African-American saga.
The plot is quite true to history, with the unavoidable exception that all the Japanese-American characters are able to speak perfect Japanese but not very good English―necessitated by the parts being played by Japanese actors for a Japanese audience.
The story begins in 1911, when Hiramatsu Chokichi, a young man from a poor farming family, comes to Seattle to seek his fortune. He overcomes many obstacles through sheer determination and good luck, and after many years, builds up a thriving farm. He and his wife Tomo, who came to the U.S. as a "picture bride," introduced by photograph and arranged by a marriage broker, are blessed with four children. But in 1940, as U.S.-Japan relations sour and anti-Japanese sentiments soar, they decide to send their two young daughters, Shizu and Sachi, to live with relatives in what they thought would be the safety of Japan, while they and the two older boys, Ichiro and Jiro, guard the farm and wait for things settle down.
Pearl Harbor and the outbreak of war, however, ruin their plans. Together with 120,000 fellow Japanese-Americans along the West Coast, they are forced to sell their farm for next to nothing and are herded into Manzanar Relocation Center, one of the hastily construction camps in the interior. Their two daughters likewise face severe hardship in Japan, with Shizu ending up in Hiroshima, where she survives the A-bomb, and Sachi in Okinawa, where she barely escapes with her life. They are briefly reunited, but Shizu dies of radiation exposure and Sachi, feeling she has been utterly abandoned by her family, disappears in the postwar chaos.
During the war, many people viewed the Japanese-Americans as enemy aliens, so to prove that he is a loyal American, Ichiro volunteers to serve with about 1,000 other nisei (second-generation Japanese) in the 442 battalion, which becomes the most highly decorated unit in U.S. history. Ichiro loses his life, saving his fellow soldiers, but more than anything else it was his heroics, along with that of the others, that changed the attitudes of U.S. society toward the Japanese-Americans.
In the story, the Hiramatsu farm had been basically stolen by a white man who hated the Japanese, but on learning that Ichiro had given his life in the dramatic rescue of his beloved Texas regiment (the "Lost Battalion"), he repents and as an act of contrition, gives the family back their farm, which then serves as a base where other Japanese-Americans can get back on their feet. Then in 2010, Sachi comes back to the U.S. for the first time in 70 years and is reunited with Jiro, thus completing the cycle of "99 years of love," and learns of Ichiro's ultimate sacrifice. "Greater love has no man than he lay down his life for his friends." (Jn. 15:13) The sacrifice of Ichiro and his fellow Japanese-American soldiers had overcome the curse of prejudice and discrimination.
It is a powerful story that portrays the insanity of both racism and war, and with the inclusion of the atomic bomb, also the horrors of nuclear weapons. It appeals to President Obama's pledge to rid the world of nuclear weapons and sends a powerful message of peace.
The beginning scenes can be viewed on the following website: http://www.dramacrazy.net/japanese-drama/99-nen-no-aijapanese-americans-episode-1/ The English subtitles are quite good, and there are links that enable the entire show to be viewed in successive episodes.
Adapted from an article by the author published in the weekly Kwansei Gakuin University Bulletin