If You Know Where You Came From,
Then You Know Where You Are Going
by Jenni "Emiko" Kuida

This past October, I was able to take a trip to Japan with mom and dad, Aunties Kumi, Taka and Kaz, Uncles Fumio and Rick, and several cousins. I was also able to pay respects at the gravesites of six of my great grandparents. In the first few days, my parents and I set off on a few side trips to find the home towns of my dad’s parents.

We traveled to Fukuro Village, a former fishing village at the tip of Wakayama, near Kushimoto where my Gramma Kumae lived until she came to California as a picture bride in 1919. My dad had spent six months there as a child visiting his own grandparents.

We met a local woman at the cemetery who remembered that my Gramma gave land to neighbors after her parents’ house was swept out to sea by a tsunami. She helped us find the gravesite and walked us to the other end of the village so we could find the location of my grandma’s childhood home.

A little boy remembers
riding bikes around the bay
swimming in a river
sixty years ago.

My grandma remembered
sending money to Japan
honoring her parents’ grave
gone but not forgotten.

A village woman remembers
tsunami’s and neighbor’s obligation
to people far away
four generations past.

We also spent a few days in Okayama in search of a little place called Chaya Village. It was a long journey to the rural countryside and into the mountains where my grandfather Keiichi was raised. We found an 81 year old woman who remembers my grandfather and walked us to the Kuida gravesite.

Chaya, a mile walk up the mountain
deserted rice fields, former fields of glory
battling cobwebs and the bamboo forest
only headstones remain

no wonder grandpa left
but was it any easier to farm cantalope
in the san fernando valley?

With my mom’s side of the family, we traveled down to Yoshima Island where my Grandma Hideko was raised. The quaint little island is now one of the anchors of the monstrous Seto Ohashi Bridge linking Honshu and Kyushu.

sipping tea and eating manjuu
in a house filled with three centuries of family stories
across the bay, i see great-grandpa Akira’s lighthouse
while snapping photos of third cousin Yasonori’s kids.

I got to eat Chinameshi and sing with second cousins at a family reunion in Yokohama. Also, we went to my Uncle Rick’s Italian grandfather’s grave at the Gaijin Cemetery in Yokohama. Now I know why my cousin Russell is 1/8 Italian and 7/8 Japanese American. We also went up to Sendai to spend time with my Auntie Kaz’ family.

As a missionary of the Tenrikyo faith, my Grandma Okazaki and her mother spread the Tenrikyo teachings up and down the West Coast from Seattle to Los Angeles in the 1930s. On the trip, we were able to see a documentary on my Grandma Okazaki’s life, while in Tenri. In this video, my grandma spoke about her hopes and dreams for her children and grandchildren.

Now that I’m back home and have had time to reflect on the trip, I am so grateful to have had this chance to take this family pilgrimage, travel back in time, finding connections to my past, meeting relatives, spend time with my aunties and uncles. I was able to do on-the-spot camcorder interviews with my family, recording their memories and feelings on the trip.

So whether it’s a trip to Japan, or sitting in your kitchen, I encourage people to share stories and learn about your family history. Continue to search out your roots and our rich immigrant history. I’m going to make a New Year’s resolution to use this knowledge of my heritage and apply it to my activism today, fighting for immigrant’s rights, speaking out against injustices in 1997. As my Uncle Fumio told me at the end of the trip, "If you know where you came from, then you know where you’re going."

Originally published in The Rafu Shimpo, January 7, 1997

Updated: 11/10/02

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