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Nikkei Chronicles #7—Nikkei Roots: Digging into Our Cultural Heritage

Catching Nikkei

Rocking back and forth on top of rolling waves with a cool sea breeze, my arms are burning as I stumble about with my hands curled tightly around my fishing pole. I am being dragged across the boat by a fish on the other end of my line. I concentrate on not losing this fish, but it is pulling so hard that you would think it was a shark. Every time I gain some line on my reel the fish pulls more out to sea. After forty minutes of back and forth with this fish, I finally see it near the surface of the water. One of the crew members gaffs it and brings the fish up out of the water and onto the boat. It is 98 pounds! Landing it is such a relief. My arms feel like noodles, and my fingers are so stiff that they will not uncurl, but I cannot help the giant grin plastered on my face. That big fish means lots of sashimi.

I have been fishing since I can remember. My dad has taken me out on our bass boat ever since I was a baby, and deep sea fishing as soon as I could see over the railing. Every time we visited the aquarium and stood in front of the giant tanks, my dad would quiz me on every type of fish in them. He would even make me practice casting into our pool from my balcony.

My dad is a member of the Eastside Rod and Reel Fishing Club. My grandfather was a member too. Sometimes it seems like I was born to fish. The fishing club was founded by Japanese Americans, and these roots are reflected in its members today. The club charters a tuna trip every year on the Apollo, my favorite boat. I love going on this fishing trip because it is like going on a trip with old friends and family that you have not seen in a while.

Going on this fishing trip is a time where I feel like a Nikkei, and it is not just because I am fishing. Before we leave, my dad and I make spam musubi for the crew and a bag full of snacks to share with everyone else. During the trip, some people will hook fish and let other people reel them in. This way if they have yet to catch anything this will count and they do not go home empty-handed. Even loading and taking the gear off the boat is a group effort. A line of people naturally forms as we pass everyone’s gear down. These gestures demonstrate the kind of people that make up this club. They are considerate and look after of one another like a family.

Once we land and say our goodbyes, my dad and I make the long drive home from San Diego. We stop to share with friends and family so that when they go out on fishing trips, they give some of their catch to us. This keeps us connected to one another. When someone comes by with fish, you do not just get sashimi, but you also get to hear about their trip and take time to catch up with each other. It is a way to stay in each other's lives.

Creating a place where people feel like they have a second family is a fundamental element in my Japanese American community. Fishing is one way that I stay connected to my Japanese roots and my community. Experiencing support, consideration, and generosity makes me want to contribute as well. Giving back to my community is critical so that the next generation can enjoy the privileges that I have had. The values I hold and the type of community that I want to be a part of illustrates who I am as a Nikkei.


*This is one of the projects completed by The Nikkei Community Internship (NCI) Program intern each summer, which the Japanese American Bar Association and the Japanese American National Museum have co-hosted.


© 2018 Kira Matsuno

5 Stars

Nima-kai Favorites

Each article submitted to this series was eligible for selection as favorites of our readers and the Editorial Committees. Thank you to everyone who voted!

Chronicles community fishing Nikkei Roots

About this series

Stories in the Nikkei Chronicles series have explored many of the ways that Nikkei express their unique culture, whether through food, language, family, or tradition. For this edition, we are digging deeper—all the way down to our roots!

We solicited stories from May to September of 2018 and received 35 stories (22 English; 1 Japanese; 8 Spanish; and 4 Portuguese) from individuals in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Japan, Mexico, Peru, and the United States. For this series, we asked our Nima-kai community to vote for their favorite stories and an editorial committee to pick their favorites. In total, four favorite stories were selected.

Here are the selected favorite stories.

Editorial Committee’s Selections:

  Nima-kai selection:

To learn more about this writing project >>

Check out these other Nikkei Chronicles series >>