POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Mar 9, 2014
George Takei is a man of many speaking engagements. He talks at "Star Trek" conventions about his role as Mr. Sulu. He tells soldiers and students about the role of Japanese-Americans during World War II, a subject in which he is well versed. In a new musical, "Allegiance," based on his family's experience living in internment camps during the war, he actually sings the story.
With 1 million Twitter followers, he is also a major Internet presence, which leads to more talking — on news shows, usually about his political activism. And in January he was chatting up crowds at the Sundance Film Festival, promoting a new documentary about his life, "To Be Takei: A Star's Trek for Life, Liberty and Love." (Takei and his husband, Brad Takei, have homes in Los Angeles, Arizona and New York.)
In May, Takei, 76, will do a speaking tour at universities in Japan and Korea, organized by the State Department, to talk about his life and career as an openly gay Asian-American.
Below are edited excerpts from a conversation with Takei.
QUESTION: Where was your family interned during World War II?
ANSWER: I will never forget that scary day. My parents were packing, and I saw two soldiers with bayonets march up to our front door, and we were marched out simply because of our ancestry. We were taken to a swamp in Arkansas and later to Wyoming.
Q: Do you travel there?
A: I've gone back many times to Arkansas. First in 2004, to verify my childhood memories: the lush forest, the pools of water. As we drove down, it was miles and miles of cotton fields, and I didn't recognize any of it. Our guide told us the swamp was drained and the forest was chopped down. There was no evidence of the camp having been there, except for the cemetery, which had been maintained by a Japanese-American family that remained there. The most prominent marker was a crumbling concrete pylon with an eagle on the top listing the names of the men who went from that camp to perish on the bloody battlefields. It was wrenching. I owe the America I enjoy today to those incredible, crazy young men. But let me put in a good word for Little Rock, Ark. We are great fans of the Clintons and contributed to the Clinton Library there.
Q: Where do you travel for pleasure?
A: I'm an Anglophile, so usually London for theater. And Japan. I'm fascinated with Japanese history and its relationship to the United States.
Q: Your favorite places in Japan?
A: We just love Nagoya, Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima and, a short ferry ride from Hiroshima, the sacred island called Miyajima, or the "shrine island," where the lovely Itsukushima Shrine looks like it's floating in the bay.
We love to stay at ryokans, Japanese inns. These are all ancient inns -- as a matter of fact, there is a separate residence for the emperor at one in Miyajima, called Iwaso, on the side of a ravine. You go off and tour around and when you come back, they give you a cotton kimono and suggest you have a good soak in the mineral bath. By the time you come up, your room has been transformed into a dining room with a low jet-black lacquer table set with kaiseki, a tasting menu with a dozen different dishes. Then you go down the path to visit the temple in moonlight. When you come back, your room is transformed again into a bedroom.
Q: You don't seem to hold a grudge. Will you visit Arizona soon?
A: If the governor had not vetoed that bill (allowing business owners to deny service based on religious beliefs), it would have been a very serious situation. What's surprising is that Arizona's Legislature is dominated by religious extremists that don't really represent the people of Arizona. They embarrass the state, put a stain on the state's reputation and do economic damage. They won't be allowed to do that to such a beautiful state anymore.
Rachel Lee Harris, New York Times