My friend Exequiel "Che" Lopresti recently e-mailed me with this "fun fact": "Did you know that the biggest Japanese 'Ace' of WW2 (you know, top-gun fighter pilot) last name was Nishikawa?" I had not known this -- in fact, I know very little of my Japanese ancestry. I'm a sansei, or third-generation Japanese American. Though most sansei are close enough in age to their grandparents (issei) to retrieve knowledge about Japan and their family from them, mine passed away long before I was born (my father, a nisei, was born, in Honolulu, in 1927). So, I was left asking, Who was this pilot Nishikawa? Where was he from? Did he, in a fateful moment of irony, participate in the Pearl Harbor attack? Where does his body lie now? And how did my Argentine friend Exequiel hear about him?
I of course sought answers to all these questions on Wikipedia.com -- my first source of all information, broad and obscure. Without any first name to go by, I simply typed "Nishikawa" into the Search panel. I came up with the following "hits," the great Nishikawas in history:
Takanori Nishikawa (b. 1970), Japanese singer and actor. He performs as T.M.Revolution, or TMR, which is supposed to stand for "Takanori Makes Revolution." Takanori is a major figure in J-pop, or electronic-syrupy-teenage-love-style Japanese pop. Here's what he looks like:
Are those hints of Liberace I see on his poofed-out shirt? Maybe it's more Maxwell Demon from Velvet Goldmine. At any rate, there's Takanori for you, in all his glittering glory.
Heren Nishikawa (b. 1946), Japanese actress and TV celebrity. I can't make heads or tails of the English-language Wikipedia entry on Heren, so I'll quote liberally from the entry, as of today's date:
"Though the American runs in her blood, Heren has no native English."
"She is well-known as the wife of Kiyoshi Nishikawa, one of the splendid entertainer of owarai and manzai." [Oddly, there's no English-language entry on Kiyoshi.]
"Heren was born in Kyoto on the 6th October, 1946. She hasn't revealed her father yet, and after the marriage, she is referring her first name was derived from Helen Keller, her father admired."
"In 1963, Heren's stage debut as a dancer in Yoshimoto Kogyo was held. Her purity and eagerness was beloved and immediately became one of the leading actresses in Yoshimoto New Comedy with the stage name "Heren Sugimoto.'"
"In Japan we have the tendency to regard women with her child and without her child as different social status. Heren still has the actorship or presentership on the TV program mainly oriented to housewives or aged girls." [In these last two quotations, "purity" and "oriented" were actually hyperlinked in the original.]
Given the pluck and circumstance narrative of her rise to fame, her unusual namesake backstory, and her current appeal to "housewives or aged girls," I'm thinking Heren is Japan's answer to Oprah Winfrey. Any help here?
Lane Nishikawa (b. ?), American actor, filmmaker, playwright, performance artist -- and fellow native of O'ahu, Hawaii, to boot. Here's a still of Lane from his most recent, award-winning independent film, Only the Brave:
Most of Lane's work focuses on Asian American history, culture, and identity. Only the Brave is the third movie in a trilogy about "the unparalleled courage of the Nisei soldiers who voluntarily fought in World War II while many of their families were imprisoned in internment camps back in the States."
This guy seems really interesting. He grew up in San Francisco, attended at San Francisco State, and created his own degree in interdisciplinary studies to reflect his interests in theater, Asian American history, and political activism. He's even an accomplished poet who once performed in front of 3,000 inmates in San Quentin. A distant uncle, perhaps? I should look him up the next time I'm in the Bay Area.
Nishikawa Sukenobu (1671-1750), "often called simply 'Sukenobu,' was a Japanese printmaker from Kyoto. He was unusual for a ukiyo-e in being based in the imperial capital of Kyoto. He did prints of actors, but gained note for his works concerning women. His Hyakunin joro shinasadame (Appreciating 100 women), in two volumes published in 1723, depicted women of all classes, from the empress to prostitutes, and received favorable results." Here's one of Sukenobu's beautiful prints, titled The Doll Ceremony:
I have to say I'm drawn to Sukenobu's decision to represent women of all classes in his print series. What lies behind his fascination with the courtly and the "base"? Styles of dress and spaces of intimacy? The differential hierarchy of social strata, on the one hand, and the gestural equivalence of feminine form on the other?
After all was said and done, I didn't end up finding the elusive fighter pilot "Nishikawa" on Wikipedia. Perhaps he hasn't made it onto the English-language site yet. Maybe Exequiel encountered a typo in a historical footnote.
Whatever the case may be, I'd like to think Exequiel had it wrong -- that Nishikawas tend to be lovers, not fighters; artists and dreamers rather than kamikaze pilots. That's the genealogy I'm hoping to inhabit myself.
[For the late Itsuko "Sue" Nishikawa, benefactor, church leader, and infinitely generous soul. She was my aunt by marriage and is fondly remembered.]