As the Issei generation has passed on, and the Nisei generation continues to pass on, there has been an increased importance of documenting Japanese (American) culture and history. The Zentoku Foundation, a nonprofit organization established in 2018, was created “to educate and inspire the community by sharing a collection of stories and traditions of Japanese culture past and present.”
Mark Nakakihara, the founder of the Zentoku Foundation, has created a unique, Japanese American-focused nonprofit organization that strives to document various Japanese Americans and share their talents. Written stories based on personal interviews have been the main focus to sharing the traditions that will hopefully not be forgotten. Some of these traditions are making sushi, singing shigen, bonsai, ikebana, raising koi, judo, taiko, farming, and fishing.
The organization hopes to inspire others to document and share their own family’s traditions and history. Although it is unrealistic for one organization to preserve and share all Japanese American stories and Japanese traditions, Nakakihara’s biggest piece of advice for those who want to document their own family history is to have open communication. In the organization’s experience, many conversations that the older generations do not have with their children and grandchildren are because they do not think their lives are relevant to discuss. Zentoku encourages young people to have those conversations with their (grand)parents in hopes of continuing Japanese traditions and history.
The foundation has also explored in making documentaries, with their first premiering in 2021 called "Paper Chase." This documentary is the first of its kind to tell the 150 history of Japanese in America told through the eyes of their local JA community papers. Zentoku also shares short videos about passing stories from one generation to another, such as "A Recipe for Grandma’s Bacon Fried Rice." This is the story of a recipe passed from a father to his daughter.
In the coming years, the Zentoku Foundation plans to continue creating written stories and documentaries that will address major issues for the future and to increase the number of writers from various areas like Hawai’i, California, Arizona, Washington, Oregon, Illinois, and other states that have a large contingency of Japanese Americans.
Nakakihara’s hope is that the Zentoku Foundation inspires others to get involved and to volunteer for something that keeps things going for future generations. The idea of paying to do what you could volunteer for seems to be acceptable in today’s society whereas in previous generations, they volunteered daily to accomplish things for the future of the community.
The Zentoku Foundation's mission is to “be valued as an organization focused on strengthening the Japanese American culture for future generations." The foundation is composed of a multigenerational, volunteer team including four board members and 16 advisory committee members which include writers, editors, graphic artists, marketing, video, and website experts.
The Zentoku Foundation is always looking for writers who could work with their senior writers to follow the process of first person interviewing. They are also looking for young adults to help contribute to some of their upcoming projects which includes "The Broken Branch," which is an idea of discovering where Japanese traditions have stopped within a family tree, and which traditions younger adults may want to learn about and the method on how to teach them.
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