His interest began when he was still a boy, growing up in small-town Niigata Prefecture, northern Japan.
“An American GI who used to work at Misawa Air Base moved with his Japanese wife and kids to our town,” he recalls. “We used to call him ‘America-san’!”
Prof. Yasutomi would go on to major in minority studies at the University of Nevada in the late 1970s, spending school breaks playing piano at Japanese pubs in southern California. In those pre-karaoke days, he churned out requests for Japanese enka and minyo (Japanese ‘country’ music and traditional songs) for a mostly Japanese-American clientele.
A few of his customers were Japanese war brides, and one family befriended the young graduate student. The woman’s son was about his own age, Yasutomi recalls, and one day, he seemed troubled. “While we were driving, he suddenly said, 'what did my mother do in Japan? How did my parents meet?' It sounded like this had been bothering him for a long time - that he’d heard a lot of negative things about war brides.”
Having spoken with the war bride at length about her past life in Japan, Yasutomi was able to reassure her son that his parents had been introduced through friends. The woman had worked a conventional blue-collar job before marriage. “The son seemed relieved," Prof. Yasutomi says. "I realized then what a hurtful term ‘war bride’ had become. I thought, we must set the record straight about the war brides— for the sake of their children.”
Prof. Yasutomi went on to do just that, tirelessly publishing research on war brides and guiding other scholars since the 1980s. He has unflaggingly and generously shared his vast knowledge with us over the last few years - and via our documentary project, we seek to carry on his legacy, faithfully portraying the life and times of the Japanese war brides.