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Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column

Surrender — Part 2

This month we are happy to present both a poem from Bonbu Stories co-founder Sydney Shiroyama and a performance video from the Bonbu Stories collective themselves. Continuing with the theme of Surrender, Sydney’s is part of a linked poem with her Bonbu cohort and it reminds us the seeds we plant - of culture, of values, of resistance - in turn help us to survive, grow, and simply do the best we can…enjoy!

— traci kato-kiriyama

* * * * *

Sydney Shiroyama (she/her) is a multiracial yonsei Jodo Shinshu Buddhist practitioner. She works as a pediatric occupational therapist with hopes to eventually transition to Buddhist ministry with the Buddhist Churches of America. Inspired by her early experiences playing taiko at the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple with Rev. Hiroshi Abiko, Sydney strives to create more inclusive taiko experiences while also honoring the roots of Japanese American Buddhism. She is honored to create art with Bonbu Stories and is excited to share future collaborative projects.


Growing Resistance 

Between barbed wire, watchtowns,
and armed soldiers with guns pointing at them,
My family planted seeds in the unfamiliar Arizona soil
Just as they had done on their Central Valley farms.

“Shikata ga nai”
It can’t be helped when there is no rain
If the crops won’t grow.
Our beautiful earth is working as hard as she can.
And so are we.

Some might say that they were too submissive
That they should have done more to fight injustice.

But maybe the gardens they tended to
And the community that grew
Was resistance.

“Shikata ga nai”
Some things can’t be helped,
…But other things can.

Culture is preserved with each jar of tsukemono.
Community comes together with each mochitsuki.

Our existence is resistance.
And as our roots grow deeper
And our branches reach away from the soil.
We remember,
“Shikata ga nai”
This little seed cannot be controlled.
But it’s trying its best.
And so are we. 

*This poem is coyrighted by Sydney Shimoyama (2023)

We invite you to view the below accompanying video and read this together with the other Surrender” pieces (parts 1 & 3).


*Bonbu Stories is an Asian American arts collaborative created in 2019. Miharu Okamura, Sydney Shiroyama, Miko Shudo, Kendall Tani, Emily Imazumi, and Vicky Zhang formed Bonbu Stories under the mentorship of PJ Hirabayashi (TaikoPeace), and Dan and Chris Kubo. Bonbu is a Buddhist term meaning “ordinary/imperfect/unenlightened being.” This term carries with it a sense of compassion and acceptance for human life and our flaws, mistakes, and, ultimately, potential for growth. Bonbu Stories centers its work and creative process around this definition, believing in the power and value of vulnerability, authenticity, and interconnectedness.


© 2023 Sydney Shiroyama

Bonbu Stories poems poetry Sydney Shiroyama

About this series

Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column is a space for the Nikkei community to share stories through diverse writings on culture, history, and personal experience. The column will feature a wide variety of poetic form and subject matter with themes that include history, roots, identity; history—past into the present; food as ritual, celebration, and legacy; ritual and assumptions of tradition; place, location, and community; and love.

We’ve invited author, performer, and poet traci kato-kiriyama to curate this monthly poetry column, where we will publish one to two poets on the third Thursday of each month—from senior or young writers new to poetry, to published authors from around the country. We hope to uncover a web of voices linked through myriad differences and connected experience.

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