Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Paul Nagano Interview
Narrator: Paul Nagano
Interviewers: Stephen Fugita (primary), Becky Fukuda (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: May 25, 1999
Densho ID: denshovh-npaul-01

<Begin Segment 1>

SF: This is May 25th, and we're with Reverend Paul Nagano. We're interviewing him as the former Seattle (Japanese) Baptist Church minister. And I'm Steve Fugita and be one of the interviewers. Becky Fukuda is another interviewer. And we'll be talking to Reverend Nagano about all of the experiences he's had before the war in the Japanese community, as a Baptist minister during the incarceration and in the resettlement, and his current work looking at the future of the Asian American churches. Okay. Reverend Nagano, I'd like to start by going way back to when the Issei came over. And most of them were Buddhists. So how did the Christian churches build up their membership among the Issei, way back in the 1900s, 1910s -- maybe even the 1920s?

PN: There were two things, I think, particularly, that was responsible for many of the Buddhists becoming Christians. One is they associated Christianity with the West, or Christianity with the dominant society. So they felt that to become Americanized, it'd be to their advantage to become Christian. The other was the fact that they're in a new land, and in order to assimilate with the people, they felt that the study of the Bible as a English language would be the best entrance. And with the study of the Bible, which is initiated by the Protestant churches mostly, they naturally became part of the church and became Christians. And they decided, that this is where they ought to be. And so they left a lot of their Buddhist beliefs, although their background was Shinto and Buddhist and Confucius. But culturally, they still maintained a lot of that, but as far as their association, they became Christians -- the Protestant churches.

SF: Well, did they -- did the Protestant churches provide services, either social or sort of help getting a job -- those kinds of things, too?

PN: Yes. They helped in whatever way they can because of the connections that they made through the Bible study groups and their association with the initiating Caucasian groups that were in the Protestant churches. So they were able to find jobs through that. That all helped, you know, to get them adjusted in the new land.

SF: So -- you mentioned the, the church was helping out, assimilating the Issei. So do you think that, even way back in the first, early days of the Issei, that somehow those Issei who became Protestants might have been somewhat more assimilation-oriented or -- than the Buddhists or anything like that?

PN: Well, I think that they're all probably all similar -- the immigrants were similar because their -- they came with an adventuresome spirit. It was -- conscription there, in the Meiji Era in Japan, and a lot of them were not the first son in the families. There are several books written about this -- what was the main reason why a lot of them came over. And if you weren't the first son, or if you're gonna be drafted into the army, there wasn't too much for you to do. They took the challenge of coming to the new land, the land of opportunity. So even if they didn't know the language and the customs and so forth, a lot of them came over. Then, of course, the women -- and we know the story about the picture brides -- they came later on. And then, then you have the families.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

SF: Now your family was basically in Los Angeles, right? In Little Tokyo and Boyle Heights? And I guess they were in Venice for a little bit, too, is that right?

PN: Right -- exactly. Uh-huh.

SF: So can you describe a little bit for us the Japanese Christian community in those areas? What did people do in terms of their social activities? Were there sort of like business ties between fellow Christians or fellow Baptists or Methodists or, or anything like that? How was the community organized?

PN: Yeah. The church played a very important part in bringing the ethnic Japanese people together. The Buddhist church as well as the Christian church. And it was really for self-support and the sense of feeling comfortable with your own and for socializing. It was just a natural tendency for them to come together. And the church was the ideal institution where they could come together and feel comfortable. So it was a wonderful opportunity to develop these churches. That was the main reason, I think. And then the development of the -- what they call it, Japanese Towns, or Little Tokyo in Los Angeles area. You know, they were just finding their support group by coming to that. In the vernacular, they started the newspaper to keep the community working together. So this is a way groups begin to form. But primarily, the church played a very important part because they felt very secure, and they had the support of other Japanese Americans.

SF: What was the role of the larger, say, Methodist church, the larger Baptist church, and so forth, in terms of supporting or setting up working with the Japanese churches? Were they actively involved in the sort of, you know, getting these organizations started among the Japanese, or did they just kind of give a little bit of a help -- little bit of help at the beginning and then the community took over and sort of ran it, ran the church independently?

PN: Yeah. Well, I think these denominations were always involved. It started out with individuals -- maybe missionaries to Japan who have come back. And these were, they were members of the established churches. They took an interest in the immigrants from Japan. Whether they taught the Bible or wanted to meet some of their domestic needs, well, they developed and formed these little groups. And then as soon as enough leadership was developed within the indigenous Japanese group, well, then they begin to form their own churches as such. But because of the initial inspiration and help given by the major denominations: Congregational, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, whatever that denomination happened to be, they became a Presbyterian church or a Baptist church or a Methodist church or a Congregational church. That's how it got started. And we just celebrated -- about 120 years ago, that we got started as immigrant churches among the Japanese.

BF: Once these little churches started taking off, was there much interaction between those small Japanese churches and the larger, like JBC, Japanese Baptist and First Baptist? Was there -- did the congregations ever come together back then?

PN: Well, I think the larger church, the established, like First Baptist, they were like a mother church, kind of overseeing, giving them security and direction. But on the whole, the initiative was with the ethnic group themselves. And in terms of the Japanese Baptist Church here in Seattle, they took the initiative to start little missions wherever there was a little colony of Japanese. So according to the history of the church, they started groups as far as Vancouver, Canada, and all the way down the state of Washington, all the way down south -- here and there, Tacoma, wherever else -- Bellevue, they start these little missions. So that's the way it began to expand.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

SF: How about the relationship between the Protestant groups -- the Protestant Japanese groups and the Buddhists? I mean, how would you characterize their relationship, you know, in the early days among the Isseis?

PN: Yeah. That's a very meaningful question because -- speaking out of my own experience -- my mother came from Japan, although my father was born in Canada. And, and he was Christian because of his background and training. But my mother was Buddhist. And she maintained a lot of her cultural and Buddhist beliefs. But it became expedient for her to become a Christian, being in America, because the family was more or less Christian. But she maintained a lot of her Buddhist beliefs and associations. So there was sort of the integration of her Buddhist culture and beliefs with her Americanization. And that way there was sort of a compromise, and yet there was -- as far as affiliation was concerned -- more towards the Christian groups.

SF: In your early childhood you went to quite a few different kinds of churches, I understand. Is that right?

PN: Uh-huh. Yes.

SF: How did you then sort of commit to being a Baptist? How did you get to that? Why did you choose the Baptist denomination?

PN: You know, when we lived -- we used to live near Little Tokyo, Los Angeles -- so we made our rounds to the various Japanese churches. There was a Japanese Free Methodist Church right there on First Street, and we went there -- you know the socializing and feeling comfortable with your own. Then we went to the Buddhist church just briefly. They had a Sunday school, the Nishi Hongwanji. And we, we enjoyed that for a bit. But we felt, in America -- the western way, the English language, everything else is connected with the Free Methodist group. So we were more inclined to be that way. Then we joined a club, "All Nation Boys Club." It was essentially led by a person who was going to be a missionary to Asia, but because of physical reasons he was not able to go. And he started this boys club. And it was an "All Nation Boys Club." And a lot of Japanese young people used to go there. And we mixed in with every kind of -- Los Angeles being a real cosmopolitan city, we just interacted with all the different nationalities. This was one wonderful family. And then in that boys club they had a church, All Nations Methodist Church. So we just naturally started to go to that church, and there's where we got our Christian background. And then when we moved to Boyle Heights -- which was the most densely populated area for Japanese -- then my friends in high school were going to this Japanese Baptist Church. And Evergreen Playground, right next to the church, was where we used to hang out over the weekend, especially Sundays, playing basketball, baseball, whatever. And my buddies and friends were going to that Japanese Baptist Church. And they persuaded me, "Why don't you come and join us?" And because of the friendships, we started. And so that little background, in the "All Nation Boys Club" and the Methodist church there influenced us, together with the schoolmates and friends persuading us to go to the Japanese Baptist Church. So I got started and became a Baptist.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

BF: I was wondering at a lot of these Japanese American churches -- I mean, I grew up in the church, as well -- that there's these, there's these little things that are done differently that make it feel more comfortable for Japanese. And I'm not sure what it is -- whether it's the potluck dinners that have sushi, or if it's because we, we actually do Girls' Day celebrations, as well. But do you have any examples of where you sort of see kind of a blending with the Japanese culture, as sort, sort of gets into the church, as well, so that people feel more comfortable there or...?

PN: Yes. Right now, I'm in northern California. And just about every single Japanese American church has a bazaar. And the bazaar always tries to preserve a lot of the Japanese cultural festivals, whether it be the Girl Festivals, the dolls... and then they bring out all of the, some of the meaningful Japanese culture identifications into the bazaar. And they try to preserve a lot of the beauty of our Japanese culture into the bazaars. So this is what is happening. If I may go a little bit ahead of ourself, I've been fortunate to be the advisor of several doctoral students. And it's interesting, the topics that they're choosing. One has chosen the topic of "Chanoyu, Tea Ceremony as Eucharist", or the communion service. And what he writes in his dissertation is to show that the, that the cultural expression of the tea ceremony is similar to the communion service or the Eucharist, that the Christians have. And what he's trying to bring out is that there is a commonality, in spite of the cultural differences. And then another student wrote about the memorial services and kouden -- and some of the rituals and practices of the Japanese cultural ethnic group, and how that is brought into the memorial services, or the funeral services. So you can see that the Japanese churches did introduce a lot of the cultural meaning into the worship and into the church life.

BF: Maybe you could, I didn't, actually, kouden 's a great example. I didn't think about that. Maybe you could describe it a little bit because some of the people watching this won't understand what that means.

PN: Yeah. Kouden , the word itself as I understand, it really means, "incense of reverence," that is really introduced by the Buddhists. If you go far back enough someone has written a thesis that it was introduced by the Jesuit missionaries. And there was a time in Japanese history as you probably know, when the Buddhist priests were looked down upon, and they were persecuted. I think it was in the -- a time of (Tokugawa) Ieyasu, and Oda -- I get all these shoguns all mixed up. [Laughs] Oh, they persecuted the Buddhist priests. And they were confined -- temples were burned, so forth. And the Buddhist priests were just confined to (deal with) death. They just handled the dying, that's all. That was their job. And they introduced ways in which they could make a livelihood. One of the things had to do with kouden. And so the kouden practice became part of the Japanese culture, starting from the Buddhist culture. And of course, we maintain that here in America. And a lot of people don't realize that what that kouden is, but it has come to mean -- to help the bereaved family, to meet some of their particularly financial expenses when they do have a funeral. And so people come and say, "We care. We want to help you in this way." So the kouden practice has become just a natural ritual for the Japanese community. A lot of Sansei, Yonsei wonder, "Why?" But this is really, the reason was to help the family.

SF: So this kouden , it was -- from way back in the Issei days there was really no different between, say, the way the Buddhists did kouden as opposed to the Protestants? All, it was just a common Japanese American -- well, actually, a transplant from Japan. But it was found uniformly throughout the whole community, in terms of the kouden practice?

PN: Yes. And you know, even today that reciprocation is a very strong cultural trait in Japan. Even when they have a wedding, I understand they bring a financial gift, as well. That is to take care of the, the tremendous expenses to have a wedding. Well, the same thing with funeral, any affair. And as we know in our Japanese culture, we always have to reciprocate for anything that people do for us. We just don't feel right. And sometimes we have to outdo the gifts that we receive in order to feel, you know, good about it. And so that practice has carried over to even the, some of the Sansei, Yonsei, I think. The people always have to bring a gift and do, reciprocate this and that. And that, that is one of the practices that I think we have adopted, as well.

SF: This is sort of jumping way ahead, but since we're talking about kouden , I was just wondering what your thought is about -- as the Sansei and Yonsei get a little further removed from this practice, do you think that the Yonseis will go to the kind of common American practice of shifting from kouden to, say, donating to the American Cancer Society or something? Are we gonna lose this tradition, or do you think we'll adapt it, or... what's your guess about what'll happen to this, this longstanding practice in our community?

PN: I think that that is for us to see. My feeling is that the American way that's adopted by the third and fourth generation will probably begin to give the gifts over to a charity or some charitable organization. The reason for this is most of the families have insurance that take care of all of the funeral arrangements and so forth. And they figure, "Well, may as well give it to charity." Even the family that receives the kouden as it is now usually donates that to the church or to some charitable organization. So maybe in the future they'll do away it with that, but maybe they'll announce that the particular kouden, so-called -- well they may change the name -- will be given to a particular charitable organization. That may be the way it might go.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

BF: We talked, we've been talking a bit about what the community was like in the early -- the Christian community was like in the early '20s and '30s. Let's go to the period -- let's jump ahead to the period right after Pearl Harbor was bombed. There's tremendous amount of confusion prior to the actual moving of the community off the West Coast. During that time period, what can you tell us about what the Japanese American Christian churches did to help their people during this time period? What was going on? What sort of things?

PN: Well, as far as the evacuation process was concerned -- and I could speak more specifically about Terminal Island because as far as the American Baptists, we had one of our larger church there, churches there. We had about 500 in the Sunday school and about 300 in the young peoples' department, so it's a large Japanese American colony there on Terminal Island. And with only 48-hour notice they had to move out of there. So we who were other Japanese Baptists -- and in this case in Los Angeles, and part of our whole American Baptist concern was to help them evacuate and get resettled in the area that wasn't restricted at that time. And our whole denomination, of course, was trying to help wherever they can because it was such an emergency. But it was the initiative of the Japanese Baptists that got all of the things started. And the major, the larger denomination as such, began to express themself a little bit later. In our case, we had what is known as the -- Los Angeles area -- Los Angeles Baptist City Mission Society that represented the denomination. And the head man of that was Dr. Ralph Mayberry. And he was a -- they called him a "Jap lover". But he really went to bat for the Japanese Americans and for the Japanese community, not just the Baptists but the Japanese community. And he went and wrestled with the FBI and so forth, in trying to bring all of this to a halt or to help wherever he could. And then, of course, the denomination became interested and involved. So this is the way in which the denomination did help with the evacuation program.

Then, of course, when the time came when they were not only evacuated from the original places -- Bainbridge Island in this area, and then in Terminal Island, were placed in the, what they call relocation centers. Well, at that time, the church came to the rescue by providing a luncheon and refreshments for them as they took the train. And some of the missionaries became teachers in these -- we call it, euphemistically, relocation centers, but they were really concentration camps because you were incarcerated there as prisoners. But the denomination helped in every way they can. And we don't want to get ahead of ourself, but when it came to relocation or resettlement, that's when the denomination helped a lot. There were so many that are indebted to the denomination for scholarships to go to the university back East or Midwest. And that's where it got a lot of our start.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

BF: When, when news of the relocation first came out, do you remember whether -- what the ministers were actually saying to the congregations about it? I mean, what -- ? I'm curious as to what they could say, to offer comfort or to calm their fears. And I wonder if you remember whether any of them said something specifically or...?

PN: Well, you're speaking about the Japanese...

BF: Ministers.

PN: ...ministers to the congregation? Yeah, it was a time of real apprehension. And there was no real understanding what the future would hold. So as I remember, the whole idea of, of faith in God, and actually that things will turn out better later on -- whether it be Heaven or whether it be after this terrible trauma -- it'll turn out okay because God is with us. Fact is, if I may go ahead of myself again, we have just published a book entitled, Triumphs of Faith. And there are fifty-two testimonies of the Japanese Christians. How faith helped them through the trauma of the war years, and that's available. But it expresses how it was so important for them to have faith in God, at that time that was so unclear and apprehensive. And those are the kinds of messages that were presented and very helpful. And the singing, I thought, helped a lot in my own experience, and I was about twenty years of age at that time. I used to lead the people in songs of assurance and praise and thanksgiving, in the midst of the dismal future. And that helped a lot. It was therapeutic for them to feel that strength at that particular time. So this is kind of the spiritual feeding that the people had.

BF: Do you remember a favorite, what your favorite hymn from that period was?

PN: Well, this is interesting, in that I had a few friends of mine, and we put out a little chorus book. We called it 101 Choruses. And we called our little group, "His Majesty's Envoys." And we had these little books printed -- not the music, but just the words -- and 101 of them. We circulated to all the churches and then eventually into the camps. But they're all these little choruses that they sang -- "Oh, Wonderful Love," "The Love of God For Me," "It Is Spring Time in My Heart" -- these hymns of assurance and joy. Choruses, so they can just remember them. And you can just sing them one after the other, you know. And as far as young people go, in that I was young then -- we just -- and even in the cars, the train that going over to one of these concentration camps, they didn't know what was befalling them. But we would have a good sing-fest in the coach. And it was very therapeutic. I thought it meant so much, just for them to have that very naive and simple faith in God in a time of uneasy, unknown future.

BF: That's great. I have this wonderful image of the Japanese Americans being loaded onto these trains by these, these MPs and National Guards, singing these favorite Christian hymns. And I wonder what the guards were thinking.

PN: Yeah.

BF: What could be going through their minds.

PN: Well that's great, great -- it's great history, yeah. Yeah. Those things really stand in my memory.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

SF: When evacuation took place from your area... you went to Poston, is that right?

PN: Right.

SF: And what role did the church give you? I think, weren't you an official, officially appointed by the Baptist Church?

PN: Yeah. Well, the wonderful thing about the, well evacuation and incarceration was that we became one. We weren't thinking in terms of denominational groups in the camps. We became an ecumenical church. So we round up all the ministers and Christian workers, and we became one church, as it were. I liked that. We all worked together, not denominationally. And then in our camp, "Poston One" at first -- and then I went as a missionary, as it were, to "Poston Three" -- but Camp One, Poston, we divided into four parishes. And each one of us were assigned to a parish and were responsible for a certain amount of, of the barracks or blocks in that camp. And then we worked together -- well, we worked inter-denominationally. But we're helping each other, daily vacation Bible school, worship services, choirs, church activities, we're in these different parishes. But then every once in a while we have it all together. Had great time together. Great experiences when we'd come together. Have a big "singspiration" or something.

SF: So what kind of services, as it were, did you all have ecumenically in camp? Like, did you have one common church and you'd have a combined service on Sunday for everybody, or did sometimes you'd have a Baptist service at a particular time and then a Methodist service later in the day or something like that?

PN: No. It was an ecumenical church. It was all one. In Camp One, Poston, we had these four parishes with each parish having their own minister, and the care of that particular parish by that minister and the other helpers taking care of that one area. And so they all worked together. Then every so often -- I think about once a month or once a quarter -- they came together and had a great... well, in "Poston One," we had sometimes as much as eight days -- eight great days, we'd call it, coming together and having a special service in the evening. And you find a whole community coming together -- you know all four parishes and others coming together -- having a great inspirational time. And because of the trauma and uncertainty of those days, it was a very -- well, we used the word evangelistic opportunity as people saying, "I want to become a Christian. I want to commit my life to become a Christian." So it was a wonderful opportunity. Hey, you had a captive audience. [Laughs] And so the constant sharing of the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ, of God's love, and of the Savior. See the Christians had this wonderful message of the Savior. And the time like that, a Savior means so much because the uncertainty and oppression. And there was a tremendous response to that emphasis. So lot of them became Christians. Fact is a lot of them went into the ministry because of the camp experience. So in the midst of their oppression and suffering, there were some (who) -- "made the desert to bloom," as it were. There were a lot of wonderful blessings that we experienced. Coming to Camp Three now, is a little different. Camp Three was a smaller camp, and I was the only English-speaking minister. Fact is, I volunteered from Camp One to "Poston Three." So we had one worship service in one section, early morning, and then I moved over to the other section for the other service, for the other group. So we had two churches, as it were. But, you know we were really one.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

BF: You know, Jesus also has been interpreted in a lot of, recently, in a lot of Third World countries as having, as being seen as a rebellious political -- they take inspiration when they're being oppressed, from his message. And I wondered, as a young pastor in this situation, where you, your rights are trampled on and you know it. How did you deal with sort of, I guess feelings of real anger and maybe, I assume with some bitterness with what the government was doing to you and your community? How did you -- ? What kind of messages did you try and present? Were they almost all positive or did you sometimes sort of sneak in a message of, you know, "We should...?

PN: Well, I think the idea of faith is concerned -- as far as I was concerned, they were all positive. I mean, I think if I were a little more involved in social justice, and in a time like that it's difficult to just, you know, ask for justice and all that in camp. But I think it all had to do more with the devotional and personal in terms of salvation of the group and of individuals in their relationship to God, to meet the vicissitudes of life. So in that sense, all this social justice thing didn't come out too often. But when we had the volunteers for the 442, we had some problems there because Christian fellows, particularly at the beginning, they were volunteering for the special regimental team, 442. And we had to think that thing through, because here they're incarcerated in camp because they're Japanese Americans, and then to volunteer for the U.S. Army. Parents are still in there, and then to go overseas to fight the battles. It was a hard decision. And of course, you know about the questions they had to ask -- answer regarding, do you -- are you faithful and loyal to the United States? Are you faithful, loyal to the Emperor? And so forth. And there were a lot of the "no-no" and the "yes-yes" boys. We had that. So that was a little controversial. And I could say the Christian fellows were more readily responding to that, saying, "Yes, I'll volunteer."

BF: Did people come to you for advice?

PN: That's the -- you know there was a question asked about counseling. That was one area where I got a lot of counseling because we really had to wrestle with that question. Yeah. Here we are in these camps -- American citizens -- concentration camps, really. And they want us to volunteer and serve the United States Army. It was sort of a paradoxical experience.

BF: Do you recall some of the things that that you said?

PN: Well, it's very difficult to answer those questions. But I wrestled with it myself, and so I volunteered. But I volunteered as a chaplain. My friends were going and I was at that age, still able to volunteer. And I volunteered as a chaplain. And a couple of weeks later they called me in from the other camp saying, "You cannot serve as a chaplain because you don't have your seminary training." And so I was rejected. But in, in thinking about this, we felt that, well we could get mad and say, "Here, we are in camp, and we're considered prisoners. And we should -- why should we go out and fight for the United States?" But we didn't know where our future was to be or where do we belong? And we realized we're -- actually, our future will be here in America. We are American citizens, this is our proper responsibility. And we thought about the future. So that was the counseling that I gave out. I tried to be an example, myself, by volunteering. But I didn't have the training. So after that news, well, I left camp to get my training. But by the time I got through, the war was over. But I went to Minnesota where we had our MIS, so I was able to minister to the Military Intelligence School there. So in that way, I was trying to do what I can.

SF: Do you recall any, counseling any families where there was a really serious disruption due to the registration issue -- "yes-yes," "no-no"? Did you talk to a lot of folks who ended up in that kind of quandary?

PN: Yeah -- I didn't get to talk as much as I would have wanted to in that sort of situation, but I know of many, many families that were disrupted because of that. There's one perfect example, the Reverend Shimada, who's gone now -- that tells about -- and the family is from northern California, and I have the manuscript. It's a very moving story of how this young man decided to, to go. And then the family were against it, the parents were against it. The minister tried to intervene. And he would have long talks with Nobu, who was the person who did volunteer, and try to convince the parents that, you know, this is his country, and he, he feels led that he must serve the nation. Well, the parents were not reconciled to that at all until he did volunteer. And before he left, the parents were reconciled -- says, "Son, our love and blessings are with you. Go and we'll be supporting you all the way." Unfortunately, shortly after, he was killed in action. And they had the memorial service there in camp. And of course, the parents were really moved. And they recall the time when they had this misunderstanding or -- and, but then they realized that this is what he had to do, and he did it. And everything seemed to work out okay. But it's a very moving story. The minister who ministered, Dr. Shimada, he dealt with all the counseling before, and then he took care of the memorial service when the body came back -- and he was brought back to the camp.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

SF: You mentioned earlier that the Christians were more likely to be "yes-yes," I guess, or volunteer for the 442 than the Buddhists overall. Did that cause any kind of, oh, tension or fissure or something between some, some Christian elements and some Buddhist elements in the camps because of that difference?

PN: Yeah. That, that division was apparent. But it wasn't just the Buddhists, it was a lot of people that felt, "How can you volunteer, and being in these camps?" And so there was all that tension. But the Christians somehow were identified with those who were really volunteering, and were -- felt that it was their responsibility. So I felt that tension. In fact, as I still remember -- [Laughs] -- this is just a personal experience. But we had three guys in our particular parish that were weightlifters and very husky guys. And they were kinda like a bodyguard for me, because when you walk around camp they would be with me just in case anybody would attack me for being more of the, you know, sympathetic and "yes-yes."

BF: Oh that's really interesting.

PN: Yeah.

BF: So did you, they, these young men took it upon themselves, they felt that you might need some of this protection?

PN: Yeah, they, they sensed that. They kinda walk around with me, just in case. They were big, husky fellows, you know they were really fine Christian fellows that -- yeah.

BF: So the, I mean the tension was significant between...?

PN: Yeah, well, yeah. The fact is we used to -- those who volunteered, we used to have a early morning service together. And it was not exactly a prayer service because some of them were not as religious, but they felt their responsibility, that we just kind of encouraged them. And we had to do that in secret. And then also when the boys left, they went kind of quietly early in the morning. Yeah. So we had a, that little tension going on.

BF: Was there, was there -- related to this, was there more, was there any animosity towards the Protestants in the camp? Because say, you had outside connections with some of -- with the larger church body. Weren't there say, oh, hakujin -- I'm sorry, Caucasian ministers who'd come in and sometimes help out or lend their services to people in the camp? Was there more tension because, because of that? I mean, I know there was some...

PN: Well, no. I think that for example, Christmas presents -- given to everybody. It didn't matter whether Buddhist, Christian, whatever, children. And I think that over -- yeah, there was that Buddhist Christian dichotomy. It wasn't too, too strong. But they were friends. They're friends. And of course, the Buddhist church, at that time, they were asked not to be too vocal because of the war. They got associated with...

BF: By the WRA?

PN: Yeah, WRA. But we got along well. And the interesting thing is that, after I went out of camp the Buddhist priests encouraged their members -- their members or adherents -- to come to the church that I was serving. And I baptized a lot of Buddhists. And they had that wonderful attitude -- says, "Well, you have to have faith, and this is America. Well, I'll go to the Christian church." The Buddhists priests were encouraging that. And so they came to the church I was serving. I baptized -- and they became the best Christians ever, as far as devotion and commitment's concerned. So, you know that was a beautiful attitude.

BF: Let me just clear one thing up, because I think I may have been misleading in my questions that... it sounds like -- that the tension earlier that we were talking about between some people in the camps was related strictly to the issue of registration, and it didn't fall along religious lines. It wasn't like the Buddhists were all "no-nos" and the Christians were all "yes-yes." But that it was more of an issue of -- in that a lot of the "no-nos" or -- were identified those -- some of Christians as being particularly...

PN: Yeah -- exactly.

BF: Yes? Okay. Okay, thanks.

PN: Yeah, that's it, yeah -- right. It's not a Buddhist-Christian conflict at all. It is a matter of conscience, I think. Yeah.

SF: Would maybe -- I mean, was part of that -- just to kind of follow it up a little bit -- the Protestants probably had fewer Kibei in them, right? I mean, as members of the Protestant churches, as opposed to the Buddhist. So in a sense, it was probably this Kibei, Nisei thing, too, overlaying the...

PN: Yeah -- right.

SF: Is that right? Could you comment on...?

PN: That's good insight. Yeah. And the JACL was the target, too, because they were kind of encouraging, developing the 442 and so forth. And the Kibeis were much more -- because of their acculturation in Japan, they felt that, "How can you?" As, even if you're American citizen, if you're in these camps you can't go against Japan. And so the, the Kibeis were the ones that thought of some of the JACL people as inu -- they call 'em, inus. And again, you may have read or heard about how some of the JACL leaders that were in camp were beaten up. And we had that happen in Poston as well, because of, and it was -- if I may try to identify the people, they were Kibei people. They felt that strong loyalty to Japan, in a way, that these guys were turncoats going against the Japanese and also volunteering for the service or encouraging that. That, that wasn't the right thing to do. So they got beaten up.

SF: Uh-huh. As a, a leader of the church and a very influential person, do you think -- were you ever threatened in some minimal way or just...?

PN: Never -- I never really threatened. Just when you walk around and they would yell at you, and that's about it. Yeah, not physically, yeah.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

BF: I mentioned earlier about the Baptist, the larger Baptist church, coming into the camps and helping out. And you had mentioned earlier about Mayberry -- Reverend Mayberry playing a role. Could you discuss a little bit more about what the larger Baptist denomination... how they continued to serve some of the Japanese Americans in camp?

PN: Yeah. Okay. Because of my Baptist affiliation, we, we refer to Baptists, but there are other denomination involved as well. But as far as my own experience is concerned, the American Baptists -- they appointed someone from the headquarters to deal only with this particular experience. And it is Dr. John W. Thomas. Fact is, I just sent in a couple of issues to the Pacific Citizen. I think you're gonna read a little bit more about John W. Thomas because Harry Honda recognized him as one of the outstanding helpers during the war experience. But John W. Thomas, he was a real champion (in) the relocation of the Japanese and helping out the Japanese. And he got all kinds of scholarships for the Japanese Americans. And I guess a classic example would be Mrs. Michener -- James Michener's wife. She got a scholarship through John W. Thomas of our American Baptist churches to Antioch University. And I think James Michener was a professor there. And they got married. And you know the story from there, how James Michener and she went all over. And then he's written all these books. And he had wonderful articles in the newspaper as well as some of the books regarding his feeling about what was happening. But you see how the denomination helped her to go to this university -- how he -- she met this outstanding author, and how the influence began to feel... well, there were many who've been helped that way. And a lot of the leadership in the American Baptist churches came out of the universities, as they were given these scholarships and helped them to get adjusted in these different universities as well as jobs. For the ministers in camp, books were given, Christmas gifts were given. Even one piano was brought in and things like that. The denomination was always helping, hymnals, whatever you needed. And they were actually paying it. You know, in camp the professional people were supposed to be paid by, so much. But the denomination said, "Don't take that money. We'll pay you." So they were getting a pretty good salary. But the ministers were saying, "We can't receive this kind of money when others are just receiving (only) so much." So they limited their salary to whatever the other professionals were getting in camp. But these are some of the ways in which the denomination wanted to say, "No, we're with you. We want to support you every way we can."

SF: So did the ministers play a big role with that -- with the Nisei student relocation program, in terms of working with that organization or working with the churches in the communities where the colleges were found?

PN: Right. They're always doing the negotiation with the colleges and with the denominational churches and groups near the colleges. And then with the American Friends Service Committee -- which is very strong in terms of helping people resettle -- they developed these committees within cities. Like, for example, Chicago, they had this committee that helped people with all these different needs: places to stay, job, school, whatever else. And so these committees were developed here and there and everywhere. Then the denominations kind of worked together to see that the people are resettled in a good manner.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

SF: After you were turned down for the chaplain position in the 442, then I -- then you decided to go to Bethel Seminary...?

PN: Right.

SF: Minneapolis? How did that happen, and why did you go to Bethel, as opposed to some other seminary?

PN: Very good. First of all, we couldn't be choosy. Secondly, Bethel Seminary was in Minnesota where our MIS school was there -- maybe 5,000 of the Japanese American (at a time). And the denomination arranged it for me. And so that's where I, I wanted to go. Actually, it was more Swedish, it was a Swedish seminary, and more conservative, you might say on the whole. And I stayed in the home of the one who became the general secretary of our whole denomination. And he was considered a "Jap lover". And my friend, Dr. Jitsuo Morikawa, who was outstanding Japanese American minister, he stayed there also before me. And he forgot his toothbrush or -- so he needed to buy something at the drugstore. And Dr. Reuben Nelson, who was the host, he said, "I'll get it for you." And the reason for that was it was a little dangerous for Dr. Morikawa to go out and buy his toothbrush. And Reuben Nelson, went on his behalf, was considered a "Jap lover" by some of the people in that community. And there was a little tension in trying to get out of camp and resettle in different areas. But we had good people from the denomination and other Christians that were there to really support us. That meant a lot. I mean, you feel the strength because you had these people around you.

BF: Did you pretty much have to restrict yourselves to the campus, then? Was, or, as far as facing discrimination or...?

PN: I had several experience. But one in particular where -- being a Japanese at that time, they would like to hear what you have to say. So I was kind of going to different churches throughout that area, and they would put me up in a hotel. And then there would be rumors that, "There's a Jap in that hotel." And so the church would kind of always keep someone kinda watching, so that nothing would happen to me. But I've had experiences like that, you know. In one of the churches, I went and I spoke about my experiences and all. And one dear mother had tears in her eyes says, "The Japanese, they killed my son. But I want you to know that I love you Japanese." That moved me.

SF: Yeah.

PN: They associated me with Japan, of course. But God's love was such that they'd embrace everybody. But things like that did happen as I went around the churches in the outskirt of where I was living -- yeah.

BF: But in the churches and at seminaries people were able to, to get beyond their prejudices because of, of their faith? And so you had a warm reception in the seminary and support of teachers and students?

PN: Yeah. That really meant a lot. People don't realize at that time how much that means to a person. When you come out of this incarceration, and you come out and you don't know what to believe and how the people respond to you. And to know there's a group of people who always protecting you, supporting you. Sure meant a lot. People don't realize how much that means at a time like that.

BF: Yeah.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

SF: What was your future like in the church? I mean, when you finished the seminary, were you expecting to be assigned to a Japanese church or a mainstream church, or -- ? What did the future look like for you then?

PN: You know, this Dr. Mayberry that we referred to, he was a little different from most people. The climate at that time -- just about the time the war was ending -- were going to do away with the ethnic churches. Dissolve them and have them assimilate into the established churches. That happened over here in Seattle to the Presbyterian church, Congregational church. They all wanted to go into the larger church, and they're not going to start them again. But anyway, in my case, I was just about ready to graduate seminary. And this Dr. Mayberry wired me. He said, "Paul, come on back to the West Coast. The people are now released from the camp, and they need jobs. They need to resettle. They need to adjust themself to the new life. So, you better come ahead, and kind of see that they get settled and be of help wherever you can, as well as begin the worship experience."

So before I got my degree I took off and came back to Los Angeles area under Dr. Mayberry's direction and support. And I begin to open up churches and get the people settled, and did whatever I can to find jobs and kind of comfort the people in every way I can to get settled. So that's what I did right after the war. And the other thing is that we had an ecumenical worship. I don't know if you folks knew a Reverend Emery Andrews over here in Seattle. Well, he started an ecumenical service here. And we didn't have the Congregational, Presbyterian, the Baptist, or whatever. They all met together under the leadership of Reverend Andrews, Emery Andrews. And so at first, there was a hope that it would be an -- just one church here -- Protestant church in Seattle. But in time, you know, no jobs and all that, the different denominations began their groups, and they had their own denominational pastors to start the churches. And that was a case in southern California, too. I had an ecumenical church, and everybody that came out of camp, they knew where to go. But then again, the denomination began to take over. And they begin to develop their own churches. So I went back to the Baptist church, who were the ones that initiated the first group, anyway. And then we developed what we know as the Evergreen Baptist Church.

SF: When you first went back to the -- what became the Evergreen Baptist Church, was it occupied by a different group, but, were taking it over when the Japanese were in camp, or -- ? What was the shape of the church when you came back to it?

PN: Yeah. The church building, as such, was used to -- as a storage for the, the baggage and so forth of the evacuees. But I think the sanctuary was big enough to hold a Mexican -- Iglesia church there. So they had this small congregational meeting in the sanctuary, and the rest of the building, used for the storage of baggages. And so we couldn't occupy it until the baggage were redistributed and the Mexican congregation went out. And so we went back into the old church. But we -- at the meantime, we were meeting at what is known as the Spanish American Seminary. The American Baptists had a seminary there on Indiana Street, about a mile away from the church. And we used to meet there as a ecumenical group. I've got some pictures of that church. I think it's a very wonderful picture to keep. And then when that local old church was opened up and we went back into that, and we're just a mission because we couldn't afford the salary of a minister, let alone all the other expenses in running a church. So we were just a little mission. And then in time we became self-supporting and began to grow.

SF: Did...?

BF: We need to take a break. But let me ask one clarifying question. You -- when you were called back by Mayberry to the West Coast, you came back before finishing, before graduating?

PN: Yeah.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

SF: ...Los Angeles after the war, and helped people resettle. And eventually you became the pastor of what used to be called, I guess, the Japanese Baptist Church, right?

PN: Uh-huh.

SF: And when the Niseis came back -- and I guess by that time, they were sort of the leaders of the community, right? As opposed to the Issei. I notice that the name of the church changed to Nisei Baptist Church. I think you told us this earlier.

PN: Uh-huh, uh-huh.

SF: Why did that happen? Why was the name of the church changed from Japanese Baptist Church...

PN: Yeah.

SF: Nisei Baptist Church?

PN: Yeah. Of course, Japanese was not too popular a title at that time. And then our main appeal was to the Niseis. They represented the people coming back, mostly English-speaking. So as a transition from the Japanese-speaking -- primarily Japanese -- to English, and then it referred to the Nisei or the second generation, English-speaking. So we thought, well, that would be a good name to appeal to that group of people that have just come back, and about the future. 'Course, in time -- and maybe I'm running ahead of your question -- but we're going beyond the Nisei, would be more or less Evergreen. So we adopted the word Evergreen. Now it's Evergreen Baptist Church.

SF: What was the discussion like about -- when you changed it from Nisei to this more kind of generic American title of Evergreen Baptist Church? Did people explicitly say that they wanted to welcome others than Japanese into the church? Or that wasn't an issue somehow. Evergreen seemed to be a more, I don't know, for some reason a more acceptable title? Why...?

BF: And what was this time period that the name was changed to Evergreen? Do you remember?

PN: Yeah. The Nisei didn't last very long. [Laughs] It was sort of a temporary appeal, you know. But oh, I tell you, just go back a little bit. This Nisei, we had what you call, like the name, I gave it to -- Chi Omicron, the Greek letters for household of faith. And the Chi Omicron was for the Nisei. And there were a lot of young Nisei couples then. That's what -- we were all kind of young, just becoming parents and having children. And that was a tremendous social organization. Oh, we had a lot of, you know, we'd gone through the same experiences, either in the service or, whether in the camps or coming back. And so we had some wonderful experiences coming together as a large group of the young Nisei couples. And they're all having children about that time. And we developed a wonderful rapport with the young Nisei couples. And they became the leaders for the church to come. And then, of course, they felt that, "Hey, we gotta think about the new generation, and it won't be just Nisei. So let's begin to think about the third generation." [Coughs] 'Scuse me.

SF: What kind of social activities did this very tight, super-friendly group do in the time period from when they came back to, say, the early '50s? They must have been a very cohesive group that wanted to do lots of things together -- maybe bowling, dances, get-togethers. What were some of these things the folks did in that time period?

PN: Yeah. Children started being born. And there was a lot of picnics, I remember. And when we have our social times in the church, we played a lot of games, you know, just let our hair down. The Baptist church, they're pretty strict at that time. They didn't have dances. So as far as the community was concerned -- a lot of dances. And the people were free to go to them. But as a church we didn't sponsor any dances. But then as the Japanese American community, we had all kind of clubs beginning, and having dances and sports, athletics. And I belonged to a "Golden Bears," which was a Japanese American club that met in the church. So we always associate ourself with the church. But it was a most -- more or less an athletic club -- went into all the sport events. So that's the way the community started to develop.

BF: Did you find that this was a, kind of a boom time for the Japanese American churches, as far as growing membership? Was this a time when a lot of people were looking for that social connection as well as support system? And as they came back to the West Coast, they joined the churches? Was it a period of large growth?

PN: I think so. It's just something like the immigrants -- as we mentioned before, how they needed to have a support group and a social group. So it was a boom time. People tell their friends, and they start coming. And the church would begin to grow. So we moved from a mission status, where we were getting help by the denomination, to become a self-supporting group. And that took place when I was a pastor of that Evergreen Baptist Church. Yeah. And then we developed our own constitution. Fact is, we grew so that we were able to open up another church on the west side of Los Angeles. So that was a boom time. Yeah.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

BF: Did -- was there much -- was there any thought at that time to not, to kind of, when it started growing, "Well, let's go to the non-Japanese churches. Let's just join the mainstream Caucasian churches." Obviously, that didn't happen. What were some of the reasons why? Was it simply people feeling more comfortable being around folks that look like them and have the same experience, or were there feelings of not necessarily being entirely welcome in some of the mainstream churches?

PN: You know, denominationally, from the headquarters -- and that's all the denominations -- they, in following the good sociological resolution of all this, is to do away with the ethnic churches. You see, you have pockets of segregated churches is not going to help with the future of America. Says, "Let's all come into the established churches." So the denomination had that perspective, which was the baby of the dominant group. They can call all the shots at that time. And they opened their arms saying, "Japanese, Japanese Americans, come, become a part of the family of God in the larger church." And that was true of all the denominations. But from our own perspective of Japanese Americans, we felt that, no, we have to determine our own future. If we don't do it, nobody else will, 'cause you folks are calling all the shots and making all the decisions. Let us do what we want to do. And Dr. Mayberry felt that way. I mentioned that in the paper. He says, "No, these folks have every right to determine their own future and destiny." He says, "I'll be the last one who'll give into this whole idea of invisibility and anonymity as far as their future's concerned." He said, "I'm all for the idea that they start their own ethnic group." So that was a kind of a controversy. And it went on. Up here in Seattle, as I believe I mentioned, the Plymouth Congregational Church is gonna swallow up all the Japanese Congregationalists. And it worked for a little while. But then they -- the Japanese began to not go (and) feel more comfortable with their own little group. And so they started the Congregational church again. Some of them remained in the Congregational church downtown. And the same thing happened to Presbyterians. But they were all kind of reverted back to the ethnic churches. And so we still have the ethnic churches now, and the Japanese Baptist Church is one of them.

SF: So the larger church was pushing for this kind of larger, integrated American vision? How 'bout within the community? Did people debate this issue, or did your church membership, say -- some of the people wanted to say, "Yeah, we really should do this because that's, oh, probably be better for our future?" Or did everybody say, "No, I think we -- we're better off together in separate...? Was there an internal debate or...?

PN: Well, we, we were under authority all the time and we never made too many strong decisions -- didn't have that ego strength at that time. So most people went along with the larger policy of the denomination and of the dominant society. But I think inside -- and some insightful ethnic people, they felt, "No, that's not the way to go." But some of them did join the larger church, and some are still with them that are still living. They felt that that was the thing to do. And even in the American Baptist Church, the First Baptist Church just swallowed up some of the Japanese people that became real active in the church. It was okay. And they were doing fine. But then Emery Andrews of the Baptist church, he says, "No, Baptist community won't respond to just a few of them going over there. We have to have our own." So we started the Japanese Baptist Church.

BF: So it sounds like people let their opinions be known sort of quietly through their actions...

PN: Yeah.

BF: What -- this is sort of what I've been thinking about recently, with this discussion people have been having on the future of JA churches, or Asian American churches. I wondered, what is it that motivates or drives the ethnic communities to want to still worship among their own? I mean, it, it, I don't -- I think it's somewhat more than just wanting to be around people who look like you. There must be certain values or certain characteristics that are shared that make it a more comfortable environment. Do you have some ideas about, maybe specifics, like I wonder, what is it that we, as Japanese Americans, in a Christian church, have as our characteristics of faith, as opposed to joining a mainstream church? Is it...

PN: Yeah.

BF: Wider feeling?

PN: Yeah. And I really wrestle with the same question. I really feel that, and this is a -- probably the reason for a lot of them prefer to be in their own ethnic group is that not only do they feel comfortable, not only are there some cultural hangover from Japan, but then they don't feel at home in the larger group in the sense that they become the victims of a paternalism. And, you know, "We, we're so happy to have you with us," and all that. But no, not in places of real decision-making leadership. They're always this, subservient to the dominant group. And I think you -- if people that do take that initiative are those that just want to blend in and become almost invisible in that particular group. I mean, there's not that strong leadership. And in order to develop that, I think they figure, well they'd rather be with their own, and take their own initiative and making their own decisions. And so they would prefer to be with the Japanese group -- not only just feeling comfortable, but they feel that they're more involved in it. And they're taking leadership, making decisions, and doing something about it. Uh-huh.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

SF: Okay. Your dissertation involved some of these issues, I guess, Japanese American identity and its relationship to Christianity and so forth. And I guess you did this dissertation during really a tumultuous period of American history, the Civil Rights Era. How did that influence you, going through that time period? And how did...?

PN: That was very critical in my own spiritual and social pilgrimage. I really had to wrestle with this question. And I had to -- for my own conscience sake -- want to know what does it mean to be a Japanese American in our society? By the way, the dissertation I worked on was entitled, "Japanese Americans Search for Identity Ethnic Pluralism, and the Basis for a Permanent Identity." And my whole thesis had to do with the idea that we need, as Japanese Americans, to affirm who we are as Japanese Americans, and to be able to develop a strong identity as to who we are -- healthy, ego strength, identity as Japanese American. And that we should learn to respect ourselves, as well as respect others with their diversity. And that when we respect each other, then we can have a level playing field and there would be a real community developed. But unless we did that, we'd really be swallowed up and absorbed by the dominant group. So there's a necessity that we have to develop leadership among our own and affirm who we are as Japanese Americans. Like with the emphasis on Asian American, maybe Asian American. But we are different from the majority. And so with our differences, we need to accentuate that and appreciate that, and develop our leadership and our future with that understanding. And developing a pluralistic society, where every differences and diversity should be respected. Then we have genuine community. Otherwise, it will always be a dichotomy of superior and inferior. And we just need to build ourselves up and develop that kind of leadership in order to have a real pluralistic society. And that is needed for religion as well. When you think of our whole global village, that Buddhist, Christian all, when you're trying to fight each other and be competitive, you're not gonna help this world any or develop community. We gotta work together. And so we have to affirm being a Buddhist, affirm being a Christian, but recognize that when you respect and affirm each other, you can really have community. You can have real understanding of each other. And that's the need, I think, of our world, is that we recognize that it is a pluralistic world, that we have all these different ethnic groups. And there's no such thing as ethnic cleansing. That's wrong. We need to just respect every group and work together in harmony and have peace. So you gotta think globally as well. So that's my thesis, anyway.

BF: When you mentioned the need to build the JA identity, to affirm it, to make it stronger, do you think that the internment, that whole experience, what kind of effect did it have, does it have on the issue of identity for the Japanese American community, both negative and positive?

PN: Good. The metaphor of the Jewish race is an interesting metaphor because it was through their exodus that they developed a nation. And they take pride in being a Jewish people. And that has been their strength. Although they're a remnant and they've been persecuted wherever they've gone, they've always maintained the dignity of their culture as Jewish people. And of course, the word "Jew" refers not only to their belief, but to other factors as well. And so in terms of the Japanese American, I think that that is what we have to do, is to take pride in who we are, and develop our own mythology in such a way that we'll really feel good about who we are and our background. And that, 'course, makes us much more understanding of other groups and other people's ethnicity. And in the same time, the danger is it's -- what they term, sociologically, is ethnocentricity where we become an ingrown, self-supported group, and then find security in just being with our own. That's always the danger. But with their good, good leadership, either you break out of that and say they're, they're -- we have to get involved universally or globally or in terms of the whole society. That is our aim. Not just to be a comfortable little ghetto within the city or whatever. So that leadership is important. So when I say pluralism, it really means developing the dignity of each ethnic group. Begin to respect yourself and respect other ethnic groups. I think that's, that's my whole thesis.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

BF: Do you think that, you talked about developing pride. And it sounds like you're saying part of that is pride in both who we are and what the community has gone through as a community. Do you think that the Japanese American community, have they accepted the internment, and has it become a source of, of pride in so far as what they accomplished and gone through and survived? Or is it still something that is looked on with sort of shame? What do you think -- how far have we gone with that?

PN: This is where I think the Sansei, Yonsei have to give leadership and direction. The Nisei who were the victims of oppression and injustice are oftentimes called the "Quiet Americans" -- you know, they don't assert themselves. But I think that the Sansei, Yonsei can see things in a different perspective, and realize that an internment experience is the singular experience among the Japanese Americans that recognize a people of having experienced something very, very unique -- a tremendous injustice. And that can be used not only to bring the community together, but to recognize the need for affirming who we are as a group of people. And that's what I think you're doing. I mean, this is so wonderful -- that you begin to realize that this is a, a vehicle that we can use to really develop our strength as a group of people, not for the sake of just for our own, but for the sake of developing real community in the world and peace and harmony among all people. So, I mean, this is where we are in history, I think. The Sansei, Yonsei and this project are doing things like that that is so vital for the future. And then it's not easy because you know you've got a lot of intermarriage. You've got the fourth, fifth generation to worry about and what's happening. But I think this is one moment in history when we begin to start to do that sort of thing, to develop this pride and affirmation of who we are as Japanese Americans. And it's okay if it's -- becomes diluted with other racial groups. But as far as the identification as Japanese American, I think it's very important.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

SF: Like to finish up with this general area about your work, with regard to maybe blending or taking the best elements of Christianity and Buddhism, and how you see that in the future for Asian American churches.

PN: My feeling is that they're two perspectives. One is in terms of the development of community. And everybody has a different perspective. I mean, you have a background that's a little different, and you develop your ideology because of all that has happened in the past -- your experience and all. And if a person happened to be a Buddhist and brought up that way, you know they're developed that way. But what is important is that there's a commonality in all of these religions in which you can really work together for peace and harmony, unity, community. We can all work together. So the first point is that we really need to see beyond the competition between religions and work together in terms of the commonalities that we have, to bring that real unity and harmony. And that goes for Buddhist, Christian, and with dialog with other groups, and then ultimately the global theology that is all-inclusive, that embraces a different perspective. So you need to have a pluralistic understanding. And that is also true in terms of races and also in terms of religion.

And the other thing is that we need to have a global, universal attitude about what we are about. And that -- 'course, this brings in theology in terms of what is the plan of the Creator, you might say, for this whole universe. What is the purpose of history? Is history going someplace? What is the ultimate end and so forth? Well, I think we need to really think in terms of the globe, the whole world; not just our own community. But to do that, we have to have a real direction as to who we are and learning to respect all the other kinds of perspectives that are involved in ethnicity and so forth. Like this ethnic cleansing that's taking place. Well, that's just working the other way. When you say one group is larger, better than the other, you're gonna have conflict. But when you begin to respect each group and begin to realize that there's good in every group and you can work together, I think this is the answer for world peace and ultimate harmony, and what Christians would call the Kingdom of God. All work together. Belongs in the small community and then universally.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

SF: I was wondering, most kind of Christian religions in the U.S. -- and correct me if I'm wrong here -- have sort of a Eurocentric kind of an orientation because of where they started and so forth. If Buddhism has more of an Asian sort of orientation with regard to, say, groupness, collectivism, interpersonal style, do you think that there might be some utility or some usefulness for trying to get away from, say, the highly verbal sort of way that our larger society is, in so much as if we could develop something that's more intuitive, or less verbal, or something of that -- that might be a unique kind of contribution or...?

PN: Yeah. That's, that's my thesis, in terms of -- we of Japanese American background, or even the Asian, that our whole methodology and approach to the world -- the world view -- is different from the Euro-Western approach, which is so dualistic. You know it's so clear-cut; one is right and one is wrong. What you call the yin-yang, or whatever you want. It's both, and it's inclusive. And our contribution -- and I believe this is the future -- is where we recognize the tremendous contribution that can come from our Buddhist background, which is part of the Japanese culture, where -- as you use the word, intuitive -- it's more spiritual. It's a feeling level, poetic level, it, it, and ultimately, it's a real level, you know, of experience. And when we can come together in terms of the experiential and the spiritual level, we can have real harmony. But when it's all academic and intellectual, mathematic, scientific, dualistic, that we're always going to have conflict and debate. So this is our contribution that we can make in terms of methodology, not only in terms of religion, but politics and other things. So this is the future. But in order to do that, there is a need for us to be open enough to know where we stand and at the same time be inclusive. That's what I believe. I mean, if you are a Christian, understand why you're a Christian. And have this understanding that the Creator God as a Christian belief is inclusive. If you're Buddhist, then the harmony and the unity of the universe can be brought together through your meditation. And, you know we could all work together because of this commonality that is ours, whether you approach from the Christian perspective or Buddhist perspective. But understand that. And to be able to, in your own mind and heart know this, and then you can embrace others. I think that's very important as we look forward to the future.

SF: Are there any ways to facilitate the development of that sort of perspective? I mean, how might we encourage the development of that?

PN: Yeah. I appreciate you mentioning that because [Laughs] this group that -- I'm director right now of the "Council for Pacific Asian Theology," which is basically a Christian approach. That is really to raise the consciousness of people to realize that we have to be much more inclusive and respect the other perspective too, whether religion or other things in life, political, and whatever else. And it's a movement, actually. It's a theological movement. And as we try to raise the consciousness of the public as well as the church, we're hopeful that people begin to see that, hey, we're gonna really have to include the Buddhist, Christian dialogue, and Hindu and other religions in such a way that we begin to feel this oneness. But, you know, being a Christian group, we have to believe that this is really, underneath it all, a Christian approach. And the Christian approach has become too dialectical and dualistic and academic, that it doesn't include all of that. So we have to show that even Christianity is much more inclusive than the way we're taught in the Euro-Western approaches. So we're trying to bring this consciousness to pass through this movement by having conferences here, lectures here, workshops here. Just trying to get the public to begin to see that -- as well as, of course, the church. And church is the one that resists this more than anyone else. [Laughs] So that's our difficulty. But it's the beginning. It's a beginning.

SF: I understand that you're working on a Buddhist-Christian wedding? How does that -- how might that look?

PN: Yeah. That's a good question because I'm trying to understand that myself. But the fortunate thing is that the Buddhist priest is a good friend of mine. And we have this couple -- one's a Buddhist, one's a Christian -- and they both understand this. But they're thinking about the community and their parents and others, and how the church stands on all this. So it's kind of a experiment for us in a way. And it's a good one, where we develop a ceremony, a ritual, in which it will involve both in a way in which the commonality of both that brought together, and everybody might be as pleased as possible. 'Course, when you have dogmatic, adamant groups, you, pretty hard to change them. But we figure that the majority will be understanding. And when this Buddhist priest and I work together, maybe it becomes something very common from now on because there are a lot of Buddhists and Christians getting married. I've had several ones before, but it would be Christian and then a Buddhist ceremony, or a Buddhist and then Christian. But why not put it together?

SF: Right. Okay.

BF: Good work. I think we're out of time.

SF: Out of time. Yeah -- unfortunately. Thank you very, very, very much.

PN: Well thank you. And for the, you know what you folks are doing. I tell you, this is great.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.