Over the last ten years, our paths have crossed in so many places—yoga, the playground of our kids’ elementary school, cafés, and of course, the halls of the university where we both once worked. I always think that walking in the same circles is a good indicator of a kindred spirit. At the same time, these serendipitous conversations with Tamiko Nimura are Way Too Short. So, I’m especially grateful that she agreed to participate in this interview, and gave me the chance to get to know her a bit better.
With so many similar interests—love of nature and family, literature, art, and music—I guess it really surprised me to see that her comments on PE are the ones that made me think hey! me too! I was also someone who absolutely dreaded the small shorts, rope climbs, and gasping circuits around dusty tracks in my younger years. And, like Tamiko, I’ve since found that meeting physical challenges results in a mental fitness I wish I’d known earlier.
I greatly admire Tamiko’s writing. In her lovely and poignant voice, she always expresses some thoughtful, powerful truth that remains with me for days. I am so looking forward to her memoir on her father. Recently, Tamiko’s research into Tacoma’s Japantown represents an enormous contribution to our local community, and I guess it goes without saying that I was thrilled (but not surprised) when I learned she had been invited to co-author a graphic novel for the Wing Luke Asian Museum. She is a writer who has a lot of good things coming her way.
- Tell us a little about your most recent work or your work in progress.
I’m a freelance arts writer and community journalist—meaning that I often write about the arts and Asian Americans for community “ethnic” outlets. More broadly, I’m a creative nonfiction writer, so I’ve also published personal essays and food writing. I have a memoir in progress.
Recently I’ve written a fair amount about the history of Japanese Americans in Tacoma lately, and it’s been incredibly fascinating. I’m from California, but moved to Tacoma in 2004. Ten years later, I was stunned when I learned that Tacoma used to have a thriving Japantown, since very little of that neighborhood exists now.
This essay will be part of my memoir-in-progress, recently up at the website Modern Loss.
This month (April 2017) I have a short essay in memory of one of my favorite Seattle bookstores, David Ishii Booksellers, in the anthology Ghosts of Seattle Past.
And right now I’m co-writing a graphic novel for the Wing Luke Asian Museum in Seattle. It’s about Japanese Americans who resisted their incarceration during World War II. My co-writer is Frank Abe, noted documentarian and journalist, producer of the PBS documentary Conscience and the Constitution. We are collaborating with the artists Ross Ishikawa and Matt Sasaki. It’s my first “official” book project and it’s a dream project for me: Japanese American history, community, resistance, all with people and an institution I have deeply admired for years.
- What made you want to write this?
Most of my work deals with history, family, memory, and silence, especially Japanese American history. My work as a columnist for Discover Nikkei (a web project of the Japanese American National Museum) and for the International Examiner (an Asian American community newspaper) has been incredibly rewarding, giving me the opportunity to meet so many outstanding people in my community, and to connect them with other communities.
As for why—so much of my writing career has felt grounded in a deep love for community, for my ancestors who came before me; for my daughters and future generations. It’s an astounding persistent love that’s enabled me to be here.
- Did you have a specific reader in mind?
Not usually, but my husband Josh reads just about everything that I publish before it goes out the door. I trust his instincts and reactions; he’s a thoughtful, critical, appreciative reader. He’s a composer, so I trust his artistic insights as well. When something’s not quite ready, I’ll know almost instantly from how he reacts. If he hesitates, I know I need to work harder.
When I was 15 (more or less)
- At school, I hated (a person or subject or space)
I wish I’d been taught that I could exercise regularly in a way that it wasn’t torture. I jog 3 times a week now, and go to yoga at least once a week; I wish I’d established these habits much earlier in life. I focused so much on my academic achievements, and wish I’d also learned and remembered how to take care of myself physically.
- I often worried about
Oh, this is SO embarrassing, but I admit that I worried far too much about boys. Would I ever have a boyfriend? (I did have 3 in high school, but I felt like such a loser for not having more.) What did that mean if I didn’t ever have one? And I worried about my clothes, my looks, compared to other girls. I tied so much of my self-worth to male attention—and figured I’d accomplish my way out of ugliness.
And I worried about my grades, a LOT—but I was so liberated when I got my first (and only) C in high school algebra. Trigonometry was my kryptonite. I worried what my mom would say. “Did you try your best?” she asked mildy.”Yes,” I groaned. “Well, then,” she said. And that was it. So I’m grateful to my mom for that lesson in self-forgiveness, effort—and parenting.
- My biggest crush
Was the boy I eventually married. True story. The first time we talked on the phone, he was telling me that he was free to come to my 16th birthday party. We talked for 2 hours. We’re still together.
- The most courageous thing I did
In high school? Got up from the desk in chemistry class after I’d just puked all over it. I never thought I’d be able to show my face again anywhere.
- If you could give 15-year-old you any advice, what would it be?
Own your self, own your history, own your body, own your life for what it is. Your best and truest path will start there, in your community and your history. Keep reading, keep writing, keep working.
- Did you experience anything during those teen years that has had a lasting, positive influence on your life?
Besides the start of my relationship with my now-husband (and that in itself is no small thing)…I have to say, summer school.
Summer schools were places where I could go where I met other kids who were interested in the same things I was, and where I could feel okay for being smart, for wanting to do better, for loving books and reading and writing as much as I did. I studied Japanese, the history around the Tiananmen Square massacre. I got to travel to Southern California, to Portland, for creative writing programs. (I fell in love with Portland and the Northwest at 16, and I’m still in the Northwest.) Whether I knew it or not, I looked for similar experiences when I went to college. I wanted to be around people who loved learning as much as I did, if not more. You know that feeling when you experience great art and it makes you want to create your own? I wanted that feeling. I wanted to feel humbled, and then energized to create from that humility.
And I have to credit my arts experiences in drama and high school band (color guard, really). At their best, these were activities about self-expression and creation and collaboration. The communities I experienced there were some of the best parts of high school; some of the friends I had there are friends I still have.
- List the jobs you’ve had. Which was your favorite? Which was your least favorite?
In roughly chronological order: Babysitter, tutor, dressing room attendant at Mervyn’s (a department store); library clerk, library organizer and filer, administrative assistant, professor, writing consultant, freelance writer.
Favorite job: absolutely, what I am doing now. I’d wanted it since I was a little girl. Every once in a while I pinch myself. I can’t believe I get to do it now.
Least favorite: dressing room attendant–although maybe it did motivate me to hang up my clothes properly.
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