Chicago Shimpo
Chicago’s Japanese American and Japanese Communities Share Fun at 6th Annual Joint Nikkei Picnic

• The 6th annual Nikkei Joint Picnic was held on August 3 at the Bunker Hill Forest Preserve in Niles, offering the Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals in the Chicago area a fun occasion to get together.

• The joint picnic came to fruition in 2014 in an effort to bring together the two distinct groups of the Chicagoland residents with Japanese ancestry - namely the Japanese Americans whose immigration history goes back to the pre-World War II period and the Japanese families who came to the U.S. after the end of the war. The latter is often referred to as the “shin-issei (new first-generation immigrants).”

• Tension had always been present between the two groups due to the bitter experience caused by the war. People on the both sides rarely had a chance to get together.
• In the recent years, however, the passage of time – more than seven decades – has begun easing it while conditions have matured for reconnection.
• In 2014, leaders of the two groups got together and agreed to join the Nikkei Picnic, initiated and hosted by the Chicago-based martial arts club Tokon Judo for many decades.

• Foods were abundant at the picnic in the perfect summer weather of mid-80s; participants brought numerous home-made dishes to share, while Tokon Judo provided a pig roast, hot dogs, hamburgers and corn on the cob.
• The Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Chicago (“JCCC”) set up an oversized hot plate to prepare and serve sizzling yakisoba and fried pot stickers on the spot.
• Shaved ice of a variety of flavors (green tea, red beans, sweetened milk, mint, orange, etc.) was offered by the Chicago Japanese Club to quench the picnic goers’ thirst.
• People enjoyed the food under the large tents, as well as in the shade under the trees, sitting with their families and friends.
• Face painting by Masako attracted kids of all ages, while music and karaoke by the Star Tracks Chicago, horseback riding and games offered time aplenty for the participants to mingle.

People in the Picnic

• Third-generation Japanese American Gail Inouye Chase was there for the first time since the joint picnic started.
• Though her parents took her to the picnic every year when she was a child (back then it was dubbed as a “Resettlers’ Picnic”), she had stopped coming after her parents had passed away. She didn’t even know that the picnic had continued in a new formula.
• When one of her grandchildren won a scholarship with the Japanese American Service Committee (“JASC”) last year, Chase attended the presentation ceremony and saw a flyer about the joint picnic.
• “Now that I have been introduced to the JASC and the Japanese picnic, I can start a new tradition and bring people back to the picnic,” she said.

• Chase visited her father’s home town in the Shikoku region in 1970. It was during the period the Japan World Exposition was held in Osaka, so she also traveled around Osaka and Kyoto and had a great time.
• She knows how to read and write Japanese (she attended Japanese classes at the Buddhist Temple of Chicago for six years) and understands what people are saying in Japanese. But she speaks “too much English” in everyday life (her husband is a non-Japanese) and she feels she needs more time and opportunities to converse in Japanese.
• Chase is active in volunteer activities for the Midwest Buddhist Temple, helping out with its community events and projects.
• Chase said she hopes her children and grandchildren will be able to understand their Japanese heritage and culture.
• “I want them to be with Japanese people; that way, they’ll know their background,” she said.

• Another participant of the picnic, Nancy Endo, is a quarter Japanese with one of her grandfathers from Japan.
• Her husband Alan, who is a third-generation Japanese American, used to bring their children to the picnic. Now that the children have all grown up, this is the first time in a long while for the Endos to come.

• Endo’s favorite Japanese dishes are pork cutlet and ramen. When she visited Japan last November with a group of people, she had these dishes every day.
• What she didn’t like during her tour covering Tokyo, Yokohama, Kyoto and Hiroshima, Endo recalled, was the fact that she had to spend a long time walking to get to the shrines and temples and, once she was there, she had to see them in less than 10 minutes.
• But “it was worth the trouble because the sights were so beautiful,” she said.
• She did get to see closely inside a small local temple, however, thanks to the family connection a member of the group had. Not open to the public, it was quite different from the big, famous temples popular among the sightseers, Endo recalled. She hopes to go back to Japan next year.

• Alan Endo, owner of a data networking company Endo Communications, was born in Chicago, just like his father Harry. He and his wife Nancy were good friends in high school. In his childhood, Alan took Japanese classes at the Buddhist Temple of Chicago with Gail Chase.
• Alan’s grandfather was a missionary in Asia, and Nancy’s grandfather from Japan was a devout Christian and among the Church of Christ membership. He went to Canada at the outbreak of World War II, married a Canadian woman there, returned to the U.S. after the war and settled down in Chicago.

• Both of the Endos are active as volunteers for the Midwest Buddhist Temple.
• Alan was the chairman of the temple’s Ginza Holiday for 10 years, while he served as its board member.
• He is a 40-year veteran of chopping teriyaki chicken at Ginza Holiday, Alan said.

Alan Endo (L) and Nancy Endo

Gail Inouye Chase (R)