Recently, I enjoyed a vodka rocks poured for me by the veteran International District bartender Gloria Ohashi at Sun Ya , a dark, friendly, lifer-attracting


How Cool Is Sun Ya? Enough to Have a Poem Starring Roger Shimomura Named After It

Recently, I enjoyed a vodka rocks poured for me by the veteran International District bartender Gloria Ohashi at Sun Ya, a dark, friendly, lifer-attracting watering hole which I ultimately dubbed "Chinatown's Cheers" in a First Call column. This piece compelled a local poet, Larry Matsuda, to send in the text of a poem he published in his 2010 book A Cold Wind from Idaho (Black Lawrence Press). Entitled Sun Ya Bar, the poem stars the famous artist Roger Shimomura, who frequents Sun Ya whenever he visits his hometown.

"I live in Lawrence, Kansas, but come to Seattle frequently," says Shimomura. "I'm an artist (retired art Professor from the University of Kansas) but have residences in Seattle and New York City as well. When in Seattle I frequent the Sun Ya Bar, where the atmosphere is cozy and comfortable, although I do not fraternize with the regulars--and there are a lot of them. It's probably the only bar I know that has a equal mixture of Asian-White-Black clientele that all get along fabulously. I'm sure I seem a bit kooky as I come in with my computer and do not partake in the general clamor. I have my two or three stiff Chevas on the Rocks (the first usually beats me to the table), then order a favorite dish to eat. Then I'm off to my condo or to see my friends at Bush Garden."

Here, reprinted in its entirety with permission from Matsuda, is Sun Ya Bar:

Sun Ya Bar

The rising sun transforms

Roger Shimomura like a Japanese Clark Kent

into Superman-- this professor emeritus,

internationally known painter,

direct descendant of castle samurai,

and master of illusion.

Roger's drawings: densely packed

over-lapping images of samurai,

kabuki actors' grimacing faces,

rice cookers, jet planes, caricatures

of Asians, Warhol-like Marilyns,

Superman in various stages

of undress, barbed wire,

guard towers, chopsticks held by disembodied hands,

and cheek to cheek geishas.

In the chaos, sometimes Roger's face appears.

Sun Ya is Roger's evening haunt.

Obeying a primordial call,

Roger climbs into his Chevy Astro Van.

He tosses his laptop into the front seat

and migrates to another existence--

dark depths of Seattle's Chinatown,

the Sun Ya Bar.

Stiff singe of Chevas Regal

and Chinese food intermingle

with cigarette smoke, create a mist,

a fog that floats across the ceiling,

floor and walls, that leaves

a fine film on the bar like a snail track

glistening on cement.

Years from now an archaeologist

will peel away layers of residue

and find this moment: when Roger

clicks on his grandmother's dairies

in his laptop and writes,

Honor demands retribution.

Under the luminous glow of the big screen TV,

five Shimomura samurai cross over,

a proud line of forty generations,

demand the warrior's life from their progeny,

and retribution for detention camps,

firebombing of Tokyo--

Roger's ancestral home.

Retribution for the hundreds of thousands

of souls incinerated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Roger wields a paintbrush deftly,

his weapon of choice,

taking care to maintain the lines,

the separation of colors, slashing open

old racial wounds with a stroke:

the stereotypes, prejudice and shame.

Pencil drawings of the Minidoka desert

evoke: clouds of internment,

miscegenation laws,

false shame of difference.

Bushido, warrior's code of honor,

demands retribution

from this master-less samurai

in paint-blotched clothes.

Roger's canvases erupt with images that belie

white American stereotypes of Japanese

and overcome stigma of epicanthic folds.

Inspired by his grandmother's Minidoka dairies,

a fortress of healing emerges,

jolts sleepwalkers from a miasma.

The red, white and blue flies behind barbed wire.

Like a surgeon he re-sets shattered bones

until colors and blood stain his shirt.

Sometimes amid

the chaos and anger,

his smiling face appears.

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Previous coverage:

Sun Ya Is Chinatown's Cheers

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