The Nihonjin Face Tour

Arika Matoba as Tomiko (Left), Lia Lee as Mama (Center), and Tyler Dobies as Kio (Right)

The last two months have been a complete whirlwind of an adventure. I had the complete honor of acting in an original work by Janet Hayakawa and Tere Martinez entitled Nihonjin Face and produced by The Broadway Center for the Performing Arts in Tacoma, WA.

Heading into my Senior year of my undergraduate last fall, I made the commitment to hone in focus on my craft harder than I ever had before. By the end of the semester I had attended over 15 plays/musicals and auditioned for countless productions all while keeping a full work load, 15 credits, and a rehearsal schedule. The audition for Nihonjin Face fell in line among the others, but the message of the production  about the Japanese-American forced removal and incarceration in the 1940s made an impression on me as the grandchild of a Japanese-American man who had been imprisoned himself.

Synopsis of Nihonjin Face: Ten-year old Tomiko Hashimoto and her family must leave their home in Tacoma, WA for an undetermined amount of time to an unknown destination – because of their Japanese ancestry. It’s 1942, the country is engaged in World War II, and the US Government incarcerates 120,000 Japanese Americans for reasons of national security. During her three years of incarceration, Tomiko learns the impact of racial discrimination and develops empathy for others facing civil rights challenges – eventually joining Dr. Martin Luther King’s efforts. Later in life, she shares her experiences with her grandson, who is also navigating the complexities of racial identity in the America of today. (Courtesy of The Broadway Center for the Performing Arts)

Posing with my script and contract like you do.
Posing with my script and contract like you do.

After the audition and days of anxious butterflies, I received THE email letting me know I HAD BEEN CAST AS TOMIKO IN NIHONJIN FACE. Lots of jumping, lots of screaming, and some teary eyes occurred. Not only did this mark my first paid production, but it also revolved around subject matter near and dear to my heart. By mid-December contracts were signed, and we were off to the races in rehearsal.

Tyler Dobies and Jimmy Shields working with Janet Hayakawa and Katie Lappier
Tyler Dobies and Jimmy Shields working with Janet Hayakawa and Katie Lappier

Under the direction of Katie Lappier the cast worked alongside Janet Hayakawa, one of the playwrights, while we work-shopped different edits of the script until we crafted the version we felt would work best for all elements of the production and the schools we would perform at. After a few weeks of blocking and research on the Japanese-American forced removal and incarceration, we moved on to tech week! Costume fittings, accent work, and incorporating props all culminated into a final invited dress rehearsal where members involved in the production viewed our show before we headed out on tour.














Our schedule for the month of January consisted of two shows a day Monday through Friday. We often performed at two different schools in the same day making our routine: drive to first location, unpack & set up, mic check, set props, get in costume, show, tear down & pack, drive to next location and do it all over again. With calls ranging from 5:30 am – 7:30 am I worried all throughout the rehearsal process that I would hate getting up so early. (I struggle getting up for a 9:15 am Philosophy class. How in the world was I supposed to be in Tacoma by 5:30 am and still have a pulse enough to put on a show?!)

But, I loved it.

This process solidified for me that this ‘thing’ I’m doing is my calling. Every single morning I would pop out of bed with the energy of eight pots of coffee, and beamed that I got to  go play around on stage AND get paid for it? I thought I had to be dreaming. The amount of gratitude pouring out of me every day felt tangible and energizing.

Before a public performance at Jason Lee Middle School
Before a public performance at Jason Lee Middle School


Not only did the content of the piece make the early mornings worth it, but also the loves of my life: the cast and crew. I could not have asked for more talented, thoughtful, and hardworking people to work alongside. We have been through it all – costume mishaps, the smallest backstage climbing on top of one another, a ten hour drive through a storm just to get to Wenatchee, 5:30 am calls, weird roller skating interactions, and every time I accidentally ran in front of the projector. The hardest I have laughed came from moments with these fantastic people. I thank them from the bottom of my heart for showing me life and love during a time I needed it most. (Also thanks for dealing with my snapchat obsession.)


From Tacoma to Wenatchee, Yakima, Burlington, Olympia, Vashon, and on.This show has reached 37 schools and over 14,000 people. The privilege of bringing Nihonjin Face to such a large audience has been an absolute dream.


I could go on forever about how wonderful an experience working on this production was. How lucky am I to have been a part of this, and for my first show out of college at that! Moving on to the next project scares me quite a bit, but having this amount of love and happiness the past two months gives me the confidence to continue pursuing my dream.

Thank you Nihonjin Face for changing my life. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

To keep up with shenanigans to come, make sure to subscribe! If weird face swaps and videos of me doing silly things that make myself laugh is more up your alley, follow along on Instagram and Snapchat @arikamatoba. 

Want to learn more about the show and the impact of the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese-Americans? Click on the articles below!


We out.
We out.

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