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In the summer of 2006 several of us were in Istanbul, enjoying a few days of “free time” between legs of that summer’s foreign study tours. Several of our group headed for Greek beaches on their way to Venice, our next stop, but seven of our group found the atmosphere of Istanbul too cosmopolitan to give up. Late one morning Lisa Jorgenson passed by our room, asking if we wanted to join her for lunch. Our objective: Wagamama, a Japanese noodle bar, part of a chain that Lisa had experienced in London. And finding its Turkish outpost was an adventure in itself. [I suspect the company was better than the meal, but it usually is.]

Wagamama (我がまま) means an unruly child but the fuller meaning of the word didn’t come to me until today:

わがまま wagamama

(Sometimes written 我が侭, but it’s most commonly written as all hiragana or 我がまま)

It means to be selfish, demanding, care only about yourself, and so on. It is a word that can have a negative or positive connotation, but mostly it’s negative. A wagamama child (我がままな子供) is synonymous with a spoiled/bad child.

I haven’t yet met that spoiled, unruly child but we’ve all felt his tantrums.


Wagamama occurred to me this morning in the context of civil disobedience, the sort we’re likely to see in coming months — “sanctuary cities,” for example, such as New York City and Seattle, who have promised to shelter potential deportees from Federal authority. It wasn’t disobedience that caught my attention but its presumed opposite obedience, a word with mostly negative connotations for those of us of a certain age and inclination. Merriam-Webster has this to say of obedience:

  1. a bending to the authority or control of another obedience from the recruits>
  2. a readiness or willingness to yield to the wishes of others obedience with which the dictator’s henchmen followed his every command>

And then a somewhat less onerous meaning: 3. the following of a custom, rule, or law obedience to the guidelines were soon dashed>

I don’t easily yield (except at traffic intersections). But bending is downright unnatural for me, made all the more difficult by a stiffening of the joints that has arrived with age.

Years ago — long before the President-Elect was even a candidate, serious or otherwise — I wrote something about the impact of President Roosevelt’s Executive Order #9066 on nearly 120,000 Japanese-Americans, a shameful episode in our history that has been suggested as “precedent” for doing something similar with Muslim-Americans or LGBTQ-Americans and, no doubt, other hyphenated groups who’ve failed the litmus test for genuine citizenship.

Japanese-American were forced to leave Bainbridge Island, Washington for internment camps elsewhere in the state.

Japanese-American were forced to leave Bainbridge Island, Washington for internment camps elsewhere in the state.

Spurred by Gordon Olschlager’s back-story for his 1966 Fennimore county courthouse, I wanted to say more about that period, seen from another side. Tadao Ito’s story was that vehicle, though I wonder if other stories remain to be told; other echoes from the wagamama’s tantrums in the white House.

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