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Japanese American Confinement Sites /
World War II American Home Front Oral History Project

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Interview Transcripts

Janet Daijogo, A Life’s Journey: From Child of the Incarceration to Master Teacher, Translating the Truths of Aikido for the Kindergarten Classroom

Conducted by Sarah Selvidge in 2011, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 2014.


Photo of Janet Daijogo and familyJanet Daijogo with husband Sam,
daughters Maki and Tane
Courtesy of photographer Ming Louie

When you are blessed in this life to meet Janet Daijogo, in person or as the subject of this Oral History, you are in the presence of someone who embodies wisdom. That is a rare place for any of us to find ourselves; but Janet is the rarest of human beings.

Wisdom can be, and usually is, hard earned: from life or work experience, from difficulties or suffering, from decades of study or years of a dedicated meditation practice, or any combination of the above. But as we know too well, none of these pre-conditions necessarily make a person wise, although they may lead to success, acclaim or even a Nobel Prize. Wisdom is something else…intangible, hard to define, but instantly recognizable when we are in the presence of it. “You know it when you see it” is not always a cliché. To illustrate, I will share a story with you.

As a longtime student of the art of Aikido, Janet, along with her husband Sam, studied at a Mill Valley, California dojo near their home. In addition to the local instructors, famed Aikido masters from Japan would come to teach. On one of these occasions, early in Janet’s studies, such a master came to visit. He was instructing a class, and midway through his teaching, he abruptly stopped. He started to rail and rage at the assembled students, in apparent anger, disgust and frustration. Janet was towards the back of the room, enjoying a moment when her petite height worked to her advantage. The master was yelling to the group at large, “You are hopeless, you know nothing,” and as he yelled he kept walking. He walked right into the crowd of cowering students and they parted as he proceeded across the room, continuing his rant. “You know nothing—none of you.” Then he suddenly stopped, when he found himself standing in front of Janet. He looked directly at her, and then he paused before resuming. “Except for you. You understand everything.”

Truth is in the moment. The moment is where Janet lives. She teaches her lucky kindergarten students to live there, too. From her own lifetime of experience and practice, she has translated the basic truths of Aikido and of mindfulness into a language five-year olds can master and understand. They learn from her the concept of their “center” and the skills to get there: a place within themselves of being, a place to find their own power and control, a place of calm and truth and understanding, of forgiveness and refuge, and potentially, a place of wisdom.

A professional filmmaker, whose lucky daughter was in Janet’s class, asked to do a short documentary on this work. In that film, the students themselves, as well as Janet and other faculty, describe what they are learning, and teaching. The name of the film is Center As You Enter. The title reflects what Janet asks of her students as they enter their kindergarten classroom each day. It also describes Janet as she crosses that threshold and enters into relationship with each and every child. In that same spirit, I would respectfully ask that you “center as you enter” the story of Janet’s life.

As I write this introduction, Janet is approaching her 78th birthday and she is still teaching, as she has done for a milestone 53 years. Incredibly, she has just committed to Marin Country Day School for yet another year of kindergarten, which will be her 54th year as a teacher, a true Master still practicing her craft.

Janet is the essence of modesty and humility as she both embodies wisdom and models a way of living…all the while teaching those lucky students that travel a path through her classroom. My daughter was one of those lucky ones, for which she, like many others, is ever grateful.

I myself have the priceless gift to know Janet in this lifetime, to be able to call her my friend, and to have the privilege and honor of introducing her to you.

Colleen Haas
Sausalito, California
November 2014

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