Kenzo Okazaki ’21: Creating Cross-Cultural Understanding Through Translation

Kenzo Okazaki ’21 is a student from Salt Lake City, about 2 hours away from the Topaz internment camp. Being in such close proximity to a Japanese internment camp had undeniably sparked Kenzo’s interest on the topic. “I used to go down to visit quite a bit and I wrote my History 600 project on Japanese-American Internment,” Kenzo states.

More than that, however, Kenzo believes that “internment is the formative moment in Japanese-American identity.” He wanted to make this “history accessible to Japanese-speaking audiences [to] help facilitate cultural understanding between Japanese Americans and native-born Japanese,” a tension he “ha[s] felt personally.” He thought that his “studies poised [him] to do something about it.”

He was accepted as a participant in the 2020 Japan Summer Service-Learning Program, a collaborative program hosted by the Service Learning Center at International Christian University (ICU) in Tokyo. However, due to the outbreak, this trip was postponed. So, he found other ways to get involved with ICU with the help of CCE’s Kristen Mullins.

His service translation project was a result of this. “I know that many of the museums that are dedicated to [Japanese Internment] are in remote locations because of the placement of the camps,” he states, “so I thought that they may not have access to translation resources,”

Now, he is working with Service-Learning students at ICU remotely.  Kenzo’s project “aims to connect students from ICU with organizations, such as museums and archives,” to offer translation services.

Currently, Kenzo and the ICU students are working on translating videos from the Poston Internment Camp’s virtual pilgrimage. They are also “working with the Go For Broke National Education center to translate the transcripts of their oral histories.” Kenzo states that “though the other components of this project emphasize English to Japanese translation, the Topaz Museum in Utah has given us some material to translate from Japanese to English. This will be an interesting task given the difficulty of translating 1940s Japanese,” a task that Professor Sanae Eda, the Director of the School in Japan, is helping the group to navigate. 

Despite some challenges, material and logistical, Kenzo feels fortunate to be working with students and faculty advisers who are passionate about the topic: “The biggest highlight for me has been seeing the interest that the Japanese students have in this issue. The enthusiasm with which they have taken to the project has been extremely exciting, and I am very lucky to work with a group of dedicated and interested students.”

Indeed, Japanese internment is a sensitive time in history, especially for Japanese Americans and native-born Japanese. It can be “very difficult and emotional” to read about this time in history and “it is something we are preparing the students for,” Kenzo states, “but this is also the point.

Much of our material is in the form of diary entries and oral histories, and these are unique in their ability to facilitate empathetic connections between students and the author or speaker. In my experience, encountering historical subjects in an empathetic manner eliminates the distance between a person and their ‘object’ of study. This understanding is a precondition for meaningful social and political engagement with issues of justice.”

As Kenzo states, empathy is needed when “encountering historical subjects.” This is especially important when, in some ways, there seems to be a tension or cultural disconnect between Japanese Americans and native-born Japanese.

When asked more about this tension, Kenzo explains: “Perhaps this is mostly personal, but I often feel that there is an extreme focus on what Japanese-Americans have ‘lost’ in terms of Japanese culture. I hope that studying this history will emphasize the processes and events which formed the modern Japanese-American Identity, its unique methods of cultural preservation, and ultimately demonstrate that being Japanese-American is not a ‘loss’ at all, but a transfiguration of culturally significant practices and attitudes that are worthy of respect and attention.” 

Thank you for all your work Kenzo!

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