Little Tokyo Markets Explored in Edible Adventures Tour This Saturday

21 Jan

The early Little Tokyo grocery store, Kii Shokai Foods, is commemorated with an engraving on the sidewalk in front of Daikokuya restaurant.

The early Little Tokyo grocery store, Kii Shokai Foods, is commemorated with an
engraving in front of present-day Daikokuya restaurant.

 

When the first Japanese immigrants began arriving in California in the late 19th century, they needed to establish certain infrastructures for themselves in order to facilitate their survival in a new, and often hostile, country. One such infrastructure was the self-sufficient community of Little Tokyo, where a variety of Japanese businesses catered to Japanese needs. Another was the pioneering development of wholesale produce and flower markets.

It is a little known fact that prior to World War II, Japanese immigrants grew and sold 75 percent of all fresh produce consumed in Los Angeles—produce that was sold at such outlets as the venerable Grand Central Market, opened in 1917. Japanese American growers also established the city’s first major flower market, the Southern California Flower Market (popularly known as “the Japanese market”), on Los Angeles Street in 1913. This initial effort eventually gave rise to the Los Angeles Flower District, the largest wholesale flower district in the nation.

Today, Nijiya Market anchors the bustling Japanese Village Plaza in Little Tokyo.

Today, Nijiya Market anchors the bustling Japanese Village Plaza in Little Tokyo.

 

Downtown and Little Tokyo are filled with the ghosts of thriving immigrant businesses from the past. One such ghost can be found just a few steps from JANM. If you look at the sidewalk in front of the busy Daikokuya restaurant, you will see fading gold letters commemorating the establishment of Kii Shokai Foods in 1910. Today, the ethnic market tradition is carried on in Little Tokyo by popular chains like Nijiya and Marukai.

This Saturday, learn more about the fascinating history of downtown’s markets and the pivotal role that Japanese Americans have played in their development. Roxana Lewis, travel agent and history buff, will lead Edible Adventures: Little Tokyo Markets, Then and Now from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. $40 for members and $50 for non-members gets you an informative tour, lunch, and admission to our core exhibition, Common Ground: The Heart of Community. The tour is limited to 18 participants, but a few spaces are still available!

Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest Seeks Entries by January 31

14 Jan

Far East Cafe, a drawing by Ernest Nagamatsu, first prize winner of the 2014 Imagine Little Tokyo short story contest.

Far East Cafe, a drawing by Ernest Nagamatsu, first prize winner of the 2014 Imagine Little Tokyo short story contest.

Last year, as part of Little Tokyo’s 130th anniversary celebrations, the Little Tokyo Historical Society (LTHS) sponsored the first-ever Imagine Little Tokyo short story contest, inviting the general public to submit short works of original fiction set in the historic neighborhood. Stories could take place in the past, present, or future and were judged on the writer’s storytelling ability and use of the neighborhood as a cultural setting.

The contest was a success, attracting about sixty diverse submissions. Ernest Nagamatsu won the first prize of $1,000 with “Doka B-100,” a sorrowful tale about coping with the grief of war. Rubén Guevara’s “Yuriko and Carlos,” a story of interracial romance set during World War II, won the second place prize of $500 while Satsuki Yamashita took the third place prize of $250 with “Mr. K,” which takes the reader on a heartwarming journey of self-discovery over a series of meals in Little Tokyo. All three of the top stories were published in the print edition of The Rafu Shimpo and online at the LTHS website and at JANM’s own Discover Nikkei project. Twelve additional finalists were also published online.

Inspired by the enthusiastic response to last year’s contest, LTHS decided to make Imagine Little Tokyo an annual event. For the 2015 edition, the categories have been expanded to accommodate Japanese-language and youth submissions. The prizes will be $600 for the best English-language story; $600 for the best Japanese-language story; and $400 for the best story by a writer 18 years old or younger. As with last year’s edition, winning stories will be published in the Rafu Shimpo and on the LTHS website and Discover Nikkei.

Do you have a Little Tokyo tale you’d like to tell? The deadline for submissions is January 31! For complete guidelines, visit the LTHS website.

Members Get Perks at Oshogatsu Family Festival

31 Dec

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It’s almost time for the Oshogatsu Family Festival, one of JANM’s biggest and most anticipated events of the year! On Sunday, January 4, the museum will be alive with festive arts and crafts, food, cultural activities, and performances. The programs last all day, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and are free to all visitors. (Note: admission to Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty, a specially ticketed exhibition, is not included.)

JANM members enjoy special perks at events like these. If you are a member, be sure to check in at the front desk and get your member sticker so you don’t miss out on the following:

12–2 p.m.: MEMBERS ONLY Osechi-Ryori Tasting
At this exclusive opportunity for JANM members, taste a selection of traditional Japanese new year foods—including various sweets and vegetables—and learn about the symbolism of each dish. Get in line early because the tasting will only last as long as supplies last!

12–5 p.m.: Double Raffle Tickets for Sheep Candy Sculptures
Shan Ichiyanagi will demonstrate the ancient, and now rarely practiced, Asian folk art of candy sculpting, as he makes candy in the shape of sheep. The finished pieces will be raffled off throughout the day. Members get double raffle tickets!

1–1:30 p.m.: Reserved Seating for Taikoza Performance
Taikoza, a group that uses traditional Japanese instruments to create an exciting contemporary sound, will present short performances on koto (zither) and shakuhachi (flute). Get to the Tateuchi Democracy Forum early to take advantage of specially reserved seats for members!

1–4 p.m.: Petting Zoo Members’ Express Line
Meet real live sheep and their goat friends at our Oshogatsu petting zoo, brought to you by Jessie’s Party Animals. Speed your kids through to the zoo by using the Members’ Express Line! (For children only. Line ends at 3:30 p.m.)

1–5 p.m.: Hello Kitty Members’ Express Line
Say “Hello!” and share a hug with Hello Kitty, the star of JANM’s exhibition Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty. Put smiles on your kids’ faces—our Members’ Express Line will get them to Hello Kitty faster!

3 p.m.: Reserved Seating for UniverSoul Hip Hop Performance
Watch an energetic performance from UniverSoul Hip Hop, a community-based group dedicated to educating and enriching youth by bringing hip hop dance and culture to K–12 classrooms. Members enjoy reserved seating in the Tateuchi Democracy Forum!

These are just some highlights of what to expect at the 2015 Oshogatsu Family Festival. A complete schedule is available at janm.org. To become a member or renew your membership, visit our membership page. See you in the new year!

Lucky Foods for Japanese New Year Celebrations

26 Dec

Kids enjoy traditional new year foods at JANM's 2013 Oshogatsu Family Festival. Photo: Caroline Jung.

Kids enjoy traditional new year foods at JANM’s
2013 Oshogatsu Family Festival. Photo: Caroline Jung.


One of the most important holidays celebrated in Japan is Oshogatsu, meaning “new year” in Japanese. A number of festive customs characterize Oshogatsu celebrations, including the preparation and eating of traditional new year foods called osechi-ryori.

Osechi-ryori are typically presented in ornate boxes called jubako. Each osechi dish has a special celebratory meaning. For example, kamaboko, or fish cakes, are placed in alternating rows of white and red, resembling the rising sun. Ebi are prawns cooked in sake and soy sauce; with their long beards and bent waists, prawns symbolize a wish for a long life. Kuri kinton, or puréed sweet potatoes kneaded with sugar, is an auspicious dish believed to bring wealth because the sweet potatoes look gold in color.

JANM volunteers work hard to prepare the osechi-ryori tasting every year.

JANM volunteers work hard to prepare the osechi-ryori tasting every year.

Another food-oriented new year custom is the making of rice cakes, or mochi. Although mochi is now commonly sold and eaten year-round, it is traditionally a Japanese new year food, made in a ceremony called mochitsuki. Boiled sticky rice is put into a wooden, bucket-like container and patted with water by one person while another person hits it with a large wooden mallet. Pounding the rice eventually forms it into a rice cake.

The mochi is then made into a decorative item called kagami mochi (sometimes called okasane), formed from two round mochi cakes with a Japanese orange (daidai) placed on top. The name daidai is auspicious because it also sounds like the Japanese phrase meaning “generation to generation,” evoking long life and the continuity of the generations. The mochi itself symbolizes the past year and the year to come; thus, kagami mochi signifies the continuity of the family over the years.

Lucky new year foods await JANM members at Oshogatsu!

Lucky new year foods await JANM
members at Oshogatsu!

Similarly, soba (buckwheat) noodles, with their strands that seem to go on forever, are also eaten for good luck and longevity. One must finish one’s bowl before midnight however, or face a year of bad luck!

JANM’s Oshogatsu Family Festival, happening on Sunday, January 4, 2015, adapts many of the customs associated with Japanese new year festivals. Featured activities include a special osechi-ryori tasting for members only, a soba noodle sampling, and a mochitsuki ceremony by Kodama Taiko that’s open to all. Bring the whole family and ring in the Year of the Sheep, JANM style!

This little girl is going to have good luck in the coming year.

This little girl is going to have good luck in the coming year.

Set Your New Year’s Resolutions with the Help of Daruma Dolls

19 Dec

Want a Daruma doll to help you set some 2015 goals? Join us for Oshogatsu on January 4th, where you can make one!

Want a Daruma doll to help you set some 2015 goals? Join us for Oshogatsu on January 4th, where you can make one!

 

The new year is almost upon us! What better time to set some goals and start hoping for a 2015 that is filled with good fortune and wishes come true?

In Japan, the Daruma doll is a traditional figure that helps people with their new year hopes. When a Daruma doll is new, it just has two white circles for eyes. The doll’s owner must make a wish or set a goal while drawing in one of the pupils. When the wish comes true or the goal is accomplished, the owner can fill in the second pupil, giving the doll a complete set of eyes.

Plenty of Darumas to be had in the Museum Store.

There are plenty of Darumas to choose from at the JANM Store.

 

This Daruma, situated in the JANM lobby, helps attract money to support the museum's programs.

This Daruma, placed in the JANM lobby, helps attract money to support the museum’s programs.

The Daruma doll was inspired by the Indian priest Bodhidharma, who founded Zen Buddhism in the 6th century BC. According to one version of the story, Bodhidharma sat in silent meditation for nine years without moving or blinking his eyes. This lack of movement caused him to lose the use of his arms and legs, which is why Daruma dolls don’t have limbs. Despite this fact, the dedicated priest continued to travel through China to spread his teachings; thus, the Daruma is seen as a symbol of determination and perseverance. If you try to push a Daruma over, he will spring right back up!

Perhaps you’ve seen Daruma dolls before. If not, all you have to do is take a look around Little Tokyo and chances are good that you will spot a Daruma or two… or more! The JANM Store is stocked full of Darumas just waiting for their new owners’ wishes and goals. You can even make your own by joining us for the Oshogatsu Family Festival on January 4, where I will be leading a Daruma doll-making craft table.

As you look around the exhibition Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty, be sure to keep an eye out for this little Hello Kitty Daruma!

When you visit the exhibition Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty, be sure to keep an eye out for this little Hello Kitty Daruma!

 

Even socks can be found in the Museum store.

These clever Daruma socks put good luck on your feet.

 

Can you spot Hello Kitty bobblehead's little Daruma friend?

Our Hello Kitty x JANM bobblehead even has a little Daruma friend to keep her company.

 

Ruthie’s Origami Adventures

10 Dec

Autumn cards by Ruthie Kitagawa

Autumn cards by Ruthie Kitagawa

 

For several years, Ruthie’s Origami Corner has been a popular fixture at JANM, whether as its own standalone event or as part of larger events like Target Free Saturdays and Oshogatsu Family Festival. Visitors young and old have benefited from Ruthie Kitagawa’s gentle guidance as she leads them in making unique origami items to commemorate every occasion.

A longtime JANM volunteer, Ruthie is a native Angeleno who spent part of her childhood imprisoned at Santa Anita Assembly Center and Amache Relocation Center. She has had an interest in arts and crafts for as long as she can remember; while still in high school, she volunteered to teach a class for the Boys and Girls Club.

Ruthie did not discover origami until later in life, and she admits that at first, she was not very good at it. Her initial experience with the craft occurred during preparations for her brother’s wedding in 1992, when she assisted in folding hundreds of gold foil cranes. She remembers with good humor that her cranes wound up on the reception tables, hidden behind floral arrangements, and that she was not invited to help with her sister’s wedding decorations two years later.

Shortly after her brother’s wedding, Ruthie’s older sister Lois—a dedicated JANM volunteer—encouraged her to take origami classes at the museum. Under the tutelage of Ryoko Shibata, who taught the origami classes at that time, Ruthie dedicated herself to improving her skills, which steadily blossomed. At the same time, she began volunteering at JANM as a docent and a Hirasaki National Resource Center assistant. Shibata Sensei eventually asked Ruthie to be her assistant in the origami classes, which Ruthie then took over when Shibata retired.

Kitagawa, right, received the 2010 Community Award in recognition of her services as a volunteer.

Ruthie Kitagawa, right, received the 2010 Community Award
in recognition of her services as a volunteer.

 

Sadly, Ruthie’s older sister passed away in 1998. Ruthie credits Lois—who was an avid origami practitioner—and JANM with inspiring her passion for the art form. Today, Ruthie applies a creative approach to her origami practice, often adding her own unique flourishes to designs she finds in books.

When asked what she enjoys the most about teaching her origami classes, Ruthie responds: “I love getting to know the people who come. They try so hard, and they can’t always complete the projects, but when they do, their faces just light up! That makes me really happy.”

Read more about Ruthie’s life story on Discover Nikkei. To meet Ruthie in person, come to Target Free Family Saturday this weekend, where she will be teaching participants to make a unique holiday ornament. Ruthie will also lead a Year of the Sheep origami workshop at our Oshogatsu Family Festival on January 4.

The World of Shibori

4 Dec

Dyed silks from Shibori Girl Studios

Dyed silks from Shibori Girl Studios.


Among the more popular craft activities offered at JANM are the shibori (resist cloth dyeing) workshops led by Glennis Dolce, better known as Shibori Girl. In September, Dolce led a two-day mandala design class, and this weekend, she is leading a sold-out Hello Kitty–themed workshop that takes its inspiration from Sanrio’s origins as a silk manufacturer.

The art of manipulating, binding, shaping, and dyeing cloth to create a raggedy, patterned look has a long history that goes back centuries. Evidence of its practice has been found in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. The Japanese are credited with perfecting the technique, hence the common use of the term shibori, which comes from the Japanese verb shiboru, meaning “to wring, squeeze, press.” A simplified Western variant of the practice has come to be known as “tie-dye.”

A classic indigo shibori pattern. Photo by naukhel via Flickr.

A classic indigo “spider web” shibori pattern. Photo by naukhel via Flickr.


Shibori most likely came to Japan from China at least 1,300 year ago. It began as a humble craft used by the poor to decorate and rehabilitate inexpensive fabrics. As various forms of shibori evolved, it became both a popular folk art and a means of producing elite silk kimonos for the aristocracy. In the 17th century, the village of Arimatsu emerged as a leading shibori specialist, and it continues to be a center for the art form today.

Over the centuries, industrialization and shifting global trends have threatened shibori with extinction. However, in the early 1980s, interest in the craft was revived by contemporary practitioners, who applied modern materials and techniques to expand and continue the art form. Today, shibori workshops are popular events, and a variety of creative shibori products can be seen in shops and boutiques everywhere. There is even a World Shibori Network.

Glennis Dolce leading a shibori class at JANM

Glennis Dolce leading a shibori class at JANM.


Upcoming Shibori Girl events at JANM include a two-day Shibori Fusion workshop in January and a reprise of the Hello Kitty workshop in March. Stay tuned to janm.org for more details, and be sure to get your tickets early, as these events tend to fill up quickly!

Take Advantage of Member Appreciation Days This Weekend

26 Nov

Thanksgiving weekend is upon us! And with it, the busiest shopping days of the year.

If you’re a JANM member, why not avoid the crowds at the mall and spend some quality time at one of Southern California’s outstanding museums instead? During Member Appreciation Days, Friday Nov. 28 through Sunday Nov. 30, you can enjoy FREE admission and a 20% store discount at 20 participating institutions, including JANM, the Craft and Folk Art Museum, the California Science Center, and the San Diego Museum of Art, among others. Don’t miss this chance to check out some excellent museums for FREE, and get your holiday shopping done at the same time!

Don’t feel like leaving the comfort of your own home? You get the same 20% discount if you shop at janmstore.com. Below are a few new products, hand-selected by our store managers, that would make great gifts for loved ones.

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Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty exhibition catalog, featuring extensive color photographs, essays by the curators, and a bonus sticker sheet with exclusive Hello Kitty x JANM kokeshi-inspired art.

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Beautiful chrysanthemum tote bag by Yancha, with two inner pockets, a magnetic snap closure, and stain-resistant vinyl finish. Matching cosmetic bag also available!

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Cute nerd wooden oni pendant, featuring a laser-cut image of a Japanese demon. The oni is generally held responsible for negative things in Japanese folklore, but here it’s been turned into an adorable nerd emblem. Skinny nerd version also available!

Visit our Holiday M.A.D.ness page for complete details and a list of participating institutions. To become a member or renew your membership, visit our membership page. Happy Thanksgiving and happy shopping!

Moon Beholders Mural Officially Unveiled to the Public

21 Nov

L to R: Tanner Blackman, Katie Yamasaki, Felicia Filer, Dr. Greg Kimura.

L to R: Tanner Blackman, Katie Yamasaki, Felicia Filer,
Greg Kimura. Photo: Russell Kitagawa.


On November 19, a public dedication ceremony was held for Katie Yamasaki’s Moon Beholders, a new mural commissioned by JANM for the north wall of our National Center for the Preservation of Democracy. Greg Kimura, JANM President and CEO, led the ceremony and introduced a few VIP guests who shared words of thanks and congratulations.

Tanner Blackman, Planning Director for Los Angeles City Councilmember Jose Huizar, expressed his excitement over the new mural. Murals in Los Angeles have only been legal since August 2013 after an “unfortunate” 11-year ban. The ban ended with the adoption of the Mural Ordinance, which Blackman helped prepare and lobbied for. The ordinance created new definitions of public art for the City of Los Angeles, allowing works such as Moon Beholders to be created.

Dedication ceremony for Katie Yamasaki's Moon Beholders mural

Public dedication ceremony for Katie Yamasaki’s Moon Beholders mural.

 
Felicia Filer, Director of Public Art at the Department of Cultural Affairs, shared her excitement over the placement of this work on the exterior of a building, remarking that “so many more people pass the outside of a building than the inside of a building.” Filer called the mural a “gift to the public” and also expressed delight that it is “an image of a female, painted by a female.” She congratulated the artist and shared her hope that that there would be a rise in female muralists, as Yamasaki adds to the “dialogue of street art and the canon of muralism.”

Members of the community helped to paint the mural during JANM's November Target Free Family Saturday.

Members of the community helped to paint the mural during JANM’s November
Target Free Family Saturday. Photo: Russell Kitagawa.

 
Moon Beholders is the first Los Angeles mural for Yamasaki, a half-Japanese artist who grew up in Michigan and has executed public art projects in diverse communities all over the world. She spoke enthusiastically about the special honor of communicating Japanese American stories and values in a Japanese American community like Little Tokyo. In developing the mural’s imagery, Yamasaki conferred with local constituents and incorporated some of their ideas. She called Moon Beholders a “dream project” because the themes in the artwork closely parallel the museum’s mission and values—namely, “justice, equality, and civil liberties.”

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The next time you’re in the neighborhood, be sure to stop by and enjoy Moon Beholders, which contains a wealth of symbolic imagery. In addition to the text of the 17th-century Basho haiku that inspired the title, the mural includes lanterns inspired by Noguchi’s experiences in a World War II American concentration camp and multiple furoshiki (traditional cloth) with patterns that reference episodes of Japanese American history, such as the early immigration period and the WWII incarceration.

Historic Wintersburg is a Window onto a Forgotten Time

18 Nov

Founded in 1934, this Japanese Presbyterian Church, now boarded up, is the oldest of its in the state. Photo: Carol Cheh.

Founded in 1934, this Japanese Presbyterian Church, now boarded up, is the oldest
of its kind in the state. All photos by Carol Cheh.

 

Warner Avenue (formerly Wintersburg Avenue) in Huntington Beach is a busy street. Six lanes of cars roar by at all times, passing a dense parade of apartment complexes, single-family dwellings, schools, strip malls, chain restaurants, and big-box stores.

Amidst all this modern-day development, the last remaining structures of Historic Wintersburg Village—a farming community settled by European and Japanese pioneers in the mid-1800s—sit quietly at the southeast corner of Warner and Nichols Lane, barely noticed by passersby. Consisting of a cluster of homesteads, a community church, a mission, and a tiny patch of farmland all dating to the turn of the century, this property is a fascinating window onto a bygone era.

The history of the church can be seen in this photo. It began its life in 1934 as the Japanese Presbyterian Church, as inscribed in the building's cornerstone, before being taken over by other congregations.

The history of the church can be seen in this photo. It began its life in 1934 as the Japanese Presbyterian Church, as inscribed in the building’s cornerstone, before being taken over by other congregations.

The modest five-acre parcel was purchased by Charles Mitsuji Furuta in 1912, less than a year before California passed the Alien Land Law forbidding Asian immigrants from owning agricultural land. It managed to survive the World War II incarceration era and stay in the Furuta family until 2004, when it was sold to a waste management company.

The church on the corner, founded in 1934 by Orange County’s Japanese immigrant community, is the oldest Japanese Presbyterian Church in the state. The red house near the edge of the property, now falling apart with age, was once a spanking-new, ultra-modern home, built by Furuta for his new bride, Yukiko, whom he brought over from Japan.

Sadly, the parcel is currently threatened with development. A preservation task force, spearheaded by historian and author Mary Adams Urashima, is working to prevent that from happening. Earlier this year, they were helped in their efforts by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which designated Historic Wintersburg one of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places of 2014.

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This Saturday at 2 p.m., JANM is pleased to host Mary Adams Urashima, who will discuss the fascinating history of Wintersburg Village, detailed in her highly informative and readable new book, Historic Wintersburg in Huntington Beach (available for purchase in the JANM Store). Come hear some amazing stories of early pioneer life in Orange County and learn how you can help save a vital piece of its history.