Tashima said he was intrigued by Sugihara's willingness to look at the hundreds of refugees showing up at his door as individuals whom he wanted to help more than he wanted to obey his government. The blatant actions of defiance don't coincide with Japanese culture, he said.
“(It's) a really interesting cultural illustration,” he said. “It's very anti-Japanese in any typical sense … which makes him the perfect person at the right place at the right time. I find him just a fascinating individual.”
Tashima also screened his 2003 half-hour TV special for PBS, a film called “Day of Independence.” The film was nominated for a regional Emmy Award from the San Francisco/Northern California Chapter in the category of Historical/Cultural-Program/Special.
Based on Toyama's father's experience, the film follows a young baseball player sent to a Japanese internment camp during World War II. He and other baseball players started playing games in the camp, which “symbolically showed they are American,” Tashima said.
“Baseball was a big thing for the Japanese-American community pre-war,” he said.
Referring to the themes of racial injustice and conflict in his work and in his life experiences, Tashima said keeping the dialogue open is the best way to cause change.
Tashima's visit was sponsored by the Department of Geography as part of MSU's Diversity and International Education Week.
“I've been asked several times, 'How did you get this guy?'” said Don Friend, geography professor.
Friend has known Tashima since the sixth grade, he said. They hadn't spoken since eighth grade until Tashima popped up on Facebook promoting a film, and the two connected online, eventually resulting in Tashima's visit to campus.
Friend said MSU was lucky to welcome Tashima to speak on his work and on themes of diversity.