Japanese Americans, Japanese reconnect to restore ties lost in World War II

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Japan's lost tribe of Japanese Americans is calling home. At a gathering called a honeymoon by one delegate, 40 prominent Japanese Americans and Japanese leaders gave birth to a plan to end their long separation.

A long-standing bridge between Japan and Japanese Americans was blown up by World War II. Under a cloud of suspicion after Pearl Harbor, most Americans of Japanese ancestry were forced into relocation camps.

To demonstrate loyalty to America, many forsook their cultural ties, and two generations grew up severed from their roots.

"Historically, there hasn't been a real close connection with the Japanese Americans and Japan," said San Francisco attorney Kaz Maniwa, who co-chaired the gathering. "People just assumed there is this close connection. Because of the war, there has been a lot of mixed feelings."

Their ordeal was compounded before and after the war by racism.

"Japanese-American nisei (second-generation immigrants) often shielded their children from things that are Japanese, Japanese language particularly, and tried to have them assimilate as much as possible into the mainstream of American society," Maniwa said.

Japanese Consul General for San Francisco, Makoto Yamanaka, who co-chaired the gathering, said the impact was felt on both sides of the Pacific.

"Japanese people do not know much about the history and experience of Japanese Americans," Yamanaka said.

The passage of time and rising interest in Japanese popular culture by younger Japanese Americans have opened the door to re-building cultural ties, said Maniwa, who also heads the California Japanese American Community Leadership Council.

The most visible result of last week's gathering came late Thursday -- a 28-part "action plan." The document, whose genesis was in similar meetings in 2003 and 2004, was the focus of daylong closed sessions among the participants Monday at the Radisson Miyako Hotel in Japantown.

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