Our friend Erik Matsunaga of the nearby Ravenswood Shorin-ryu Karate Dojo interviewed Takehara sensei about his life, as a Japanese nisei in America and as one of the first aikidoka in the Midwest. This is what Erik had to say about the interview.
I was intrigued by the fact that the first aikido dojo in the Midwest was founded as a cultural pastime by a group of Japanese American professionals. Despite worldwide popularity, across the generations interest in the Japanese martial arts from within the Japanese community itself has greatly dwindled. When I learned a Nisei from the original Illinois Aikido Club was not only still around but actively practicing, I looked for more information and wondered why, in fifty-plus years, there was nothing to be found. In my initial conversations with Joe, I found him to be a straightforward and humble man with a unique way of telling a story. Never having striven to be a public figure in the aikido community, he has nonetheless been there from the beginning, survived organizational splits and political strife, trained with the legends, and today remains the most senior student of the art form in Chicago, having unwittingly become something of a legend himself. I feel his story is important not only in terms of the greater budo community, but with regard to post-WWII Japanese American history in Chicago. I wish to offer special thanks to Dwight Sora and members of the Chicago Aikido Club for facilitating Nikkei Chicago’s introduction to Dr. Takehara and his unique story.
Here is an excerpt, the full interview can be found at Nikkei Chicago.
Born the youngest of eight children in San Diego, California, to immigrant parents from Wakayama Prefecture, Japan, Joe Takehara grew up in a barrack on the grounds of a fish cannery adjacent to Lindbergh Field (today’s San Diego International Airport). Never having known his father, who was hit by a car and killed when Joe was three years old, he and his siblings largely fended for themselves as their mother worked long days at the cannery.
“I grew up tough,” he said. “In those days, you had no one to guide you, to tell you what to do. You did it on your own. I was independent as a kid. I learned how to tie my shoes and dress myself at an early age.”