Decoden takes “Bedazzling” to Another Level

20 Oct

At our last decoden workshop in January 2016, participants got to work on Giant Robot figurines. Photo by MariAnne Nguyen.

At our last decoden workshop in January 2016, participants got to
work on Giant Robot figurines. Photo by MariAnne Nguyen.


This Saturday, October 22, JANM is offering a Decoden Phone Case Workshop, led by lifestyle personalities Chrissa Sparkles and Jon Brence. Participants will bring their own plain plastic phone cases and make them over with the decoden materials provided. Many of you are old hands at this, but others may be wondering, what is decoden? And where does it come from?

The word decoden is a Japanese portmanteau combining deco, which stands for decoration, and den, which is shorthand for denwa, the Japanese term for “phone” (literally “electric talk”). Decoden culture began to develop almost as soon as cellular phones came into popular usage, around the turn of the century. If you are familiar with the American craft of “bedazzling,” then you can understand decoden, which is basically the same thing—dressing up ordinary objects with sparkly accessories.

The cake frosting effect can be achieved with acrylic paint. Photo by Courtney via Flickr Creative Commons.

The cake frosting effect can be achieved with acrylic paint.
Photo by Courtney via Flickr Creative Commons.


At first, decoden was applied specifically to cell phones and cell phone cases. As its popularity grew, however, decoden spread to encompass portable gaming systems, digital cameras, tablets, flash drives, picture frames, and even fingernails. Today, it’s an essential component of Japan’s kawaii (cute) culture.

Some of the results of the Giant Robot decoden workshop. Photo by MariAnne Nguyen.

Some of the results of the Giant Robot decoden workshop.
Photo by MariAnne Nguyen.


The decoden aesthetic is cute, playful, and above all, excessive. A huge amount of colorful, decorative trinkets are affixed to the surface of the phone or other ordinary object, turning it into a bright, eye-catching work of art that expresses the personality of its owner. Popular components include thick, fake cake icing; tiny clay figurines of everything from ice cream cones and lollipops to buttons, candies, and Sanrio characters; and plastic pre-manufactured charms, referred to in the decoden world as “cabochons.”

There is no end to the things you can decoden! Photo by Cuteness is a lifestyle via Flickr Creative Commons.

There is no end to the things you can decoden! Photo by Cuteness is a lifestyle via Flickr Creative Commons.

Making the perfect decoden object can be time-consuming, and perhaps not as easy as it looks; it requires patience to come up with good designs, a large number of individual pieces have to be glued on, and there are a variety of methods and materials to choose from. Come to our Decoden Phone Case Workshop this weekend, where our expert kawaii workshop leaders will take you back to the origins of the craft and make sure you get it just right!

Okaeri: A Space for LGBTQ Visibility and Acceptance

12 Oct

okaeri_logo-03This weekend, JANM will once again host Okaeri, a volunteer-organized conference that focuses on creating visibility and acceptance for the Nikkei LGBTQ community. The inaugural conference was held here in 2014; you can read our introductory blog post here.

“The biggest thing that came out of the last conference was that it inspired other cities such as Sacramento, San Jose, and Seattle to have events for the LGBTQ Asian Pacific Islander community,” says Marsha Aizumi, Okaeri’s co-chair. Marsha’s son is transgender, and she is not only an ally of the community but an activist, having gone from being the only APIA mother attending a local PFLAG (formerly known as Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) meeting to now being the President and Co-Founder of PFLAG-San Gabriel Valley Asian Pacific Islander.

Aizumi sees the Asian American community as having a unique cultural challenge around accepting their LGBTQ children, due of lack of communication and the shame associated with coming out. Arriving on the heels of National Coming Out Day, Okaeri provides a safe space for building community and fostering growth and understanding. Workshops and panel discussions will focus on making intergenerational connections, being an ally, dealing with issues around religion, building a movement, gaining access to mental health services, and much more.

The Okaeri planning committee welcomes you to Okaeri 2016.

The Okaeri planning committee welcomes you to Okaeri 2016.


Congressman Mike Honda, an ally to the transgender community who has been outspoken about having a transgender granddaughter, will be the keynote speaker. Also new this year is an after party and networking event on Saturday night for attendees who are 21 and over.

Although the event is almost completely at capacity, Aizumi is still encouraging people to register and attend; no one will be turned away. For more details and to register, please visit

This post was researched and written by JANM Executive Assistant Nicole Miyahara. In addition to her duties at JANM, Nicole is an ethnographic documentary filmmaker who is currently working on The Making of a King, a documentary that explores the world of drag kings, the lesser-known counterpart to drag queens.

A Blistering Reading of Reservoir Dogs Proves There Is “No Shortage of Asian Talent”

5 Oct


On October 2, JANM hosted a staged reading of Quentin Tarantino’s classic crime drama, Reservoir Dogs. Organized by a group called No Shortage of Asian Talent (NSAT), the reading had a unique twist—all of the parts in the macho, all-male, all-Caucasian drama were read by Asian American actresses. Elaine Kao played Mr. Blond; Jully Lee played Mr. Pink; Rosie Narasaki was Nice Guy Eddie; Sharon Omi was ringleader Joe Cabot; Grace Su portrayed Mr. Orange; Tamlyn Tomita stepped in as Mr. White; and Jolene Kim voiced a variety of smaller roles, including the cop in the iconic ear-slicing scene.

Elaine Kao as Mr. Blond, Jully Lee as Mr. Pink, and Rosie Narasaki as Nice Guy Eddie.

Elaine Kao as Mr. Blond, Jully Lee as Mr. Pink, and Rosie Narasaki as Nice Guy Eddie.


According to the organizers, finding a suitable all-female vehicle was difficult, so they decided to choose from the many all-male films in the canon and enact a gender swap. The stripped-down event had each of the actresses reading her part from a script while standing at a lectern. A disembodied narrator’s voice (West Liang, who was also the director) provided the deejay’s lines that open the film, and went on to narrate the action sequences, which, with a few notable exceptions, were not physically acted out by the actresses.

Tamlyn Tomita as Mr. White, with Sharon Omi as Joe Cabot.

Tamlyn Tomita as Mr. White, with Sharon Omi as Joe Cabot.


Watching this brutal, expletive-laden drama unfold in the hands of highly capable APIA actresses—who are typically cast by Hollywood as roommates or best friends in romantic comedies, if at all—was a jarring and fascinating experience. The film opens with a casually vulgar chat among the group of criminals, in which they debate the real meaning of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin.” The actresses bit into this semi-sexist dialogue with gusto, spitting out their lines without hesitation or self-consciousness. They then maintained this level of vigor for the entire reading.

Grace Su as Mr. Orange.

Grace Su as Mr. Orange.


The quality of the acting was excellent throughout, which made the narrative convincing in spite of the gender incongruity at play. Tomita was clearly channeling Harvey Keitel, who played her character in the film, as she deepened her voice and wore a simple white blazer over black pants to enhance her masculine presence. She and Omi were the elders of the group, and they were well cast as the two older men in the film; as Joe Cabot, Omi did a great job emanating the gravitas of an “old mob boss.” In a nice touch, Omi’s own daughter, Rosie Narasaki, played Joe’s son, Nice Guy Eddie.

Mr. Blond, left, leans into a cop played by Jolene Kim.

Mr. Blond, left, leans into a cop played by Jolene Kim.

Perhaps the most intriguing bit of acting, and the best physical realization of a scene, belonged to Elaine Kao as Mr. Blond. With a nice smile and a proper air about her, Kao seems to be the polar opposite of the creepy, psychopathic Michael Madsen character in every way. (In fact, she had a bit role as a blushing soon-to-be-bride in Bridesmaids.) Kao used this dichotomy to her advantage, however, managing to conjure a sinister darkness just below the surface of her sunny smile. The infamous scene in which Mr. Blond tortures and ultimately slices the ear off of Jolene Kim’s hapless cop was the most physically articulated in the entire reading, and both of the actresses played it with relish.

Overall, this staged reading was highly entertaining and stimulating. The gender disconnect between the actors and their characters threw the conventions of masculinity and femininity into high relief. At the same time, the excellence of the acting proved that there is, indeed, “no shortage of Asian talent,” and made a strong case for taking more risks in casting APIA actors. Hollywood, are you listening?

The climactic shootout scene.

The climactic shootout scene.


This all-APIA reading was the second organized by No Shortage of Asian Talent (NSAT), a group formed to showcase up-and-coming Asian talent and combat Hollywood’s seeming refusal to give major movie roles to APIA actors. Their first project was an all-APIA reading of Glengarry Glen Ross, which took place last year. Look for more all-APIA readings of iconic films, coming soon from this group.

Shop Handmade Arts and Crafts to Benefit JANM’s Education Programs

29 Sep

PrintThis Sunday, October 2, is the Eighth Annual Kokoro Craft Boutique, organized by JANM’s corps of volunteers. The boutique has become a staple of the community over the years, with many considering it the first stop on their holiday shopping journey. Dozens of vendors will be on hand to sell unique jewelry, kimono fabric fashions, Giant Robot merchandise, handbags, ceramics, origami and glass art, dog fashions, and more. A taiko performance by Yuujou Daiko will take place at 1 p.m., and all proceeds will benefit JANM’s education programs.

To learn more about the boutique and its origins, we sat down with Irene Nakagawa, one of the volunteers in charge of organizing the event.

JANM: How did Kokoro Craft Boutique come into being?

Irene Nakagawa: When Ernie Doizaki was Chair of JANM’s Board of Trustees, he approached Janet Maloney, who was chair of the Volunteer Leadership Council at the time, and asked, what can the volunteers do to help bring money into the museum? Janet had had experience organizing boutiques at her son’s high school, so she suggested doing a boutique for JANM. And Ernie said, well go for it! So then we asked all the volunteers who are shoppers to go out and visit different boutiques and get ideas and bring back information about the vendors. We also solicited advice from a few friends with experience running boutiques, like Carol Yuki, whose husband Tom is a current member of the Board of Trustees.

So that’s how we got started and over the last eight years, it has just grown. As of this year we have 55 vendors and a waiting list! Word spreads—friends have friends who can do arts and crafts. We also have people that are second generation now, as mothers have turned duties over to their daughters. The first year, we were mainly in Aratani Central Hall. This year we’re filling up Central Hall, Nerio Education Center, the Kagawa Lobby, the Weingart Foundation Garden Foyer, and the Inahara Gallery Foyer on the second floor.

Jewelry by Daliano Designs, on display at the 2015 Kokoro Craft Boutique. Daliano will be returning to this year's event.

Jewelry by Daliano Designs, on display at the 2015 Kokoro Craft Boutique.
Daliano will be returning to this year’s event.


JANM: How do you select the vendors?

IN: We want to get as many vendors as we can, just to showcase all the different arts and crafts that are out there, but everything has to be hand-made. It can’t be anything you can buy commercially.

JANM: Why did you choose to benefit JANM’s education program?

IN: Well, we’re all volunteers and we figured that was our goal—to educate the public. Every year at the Gala Dinner, JANM does a Bid for Education, started by the late Senator Daniel Inouye, a great friend to the museum. We thought, this is a way to supplement that effort, and give more schoolchildren a chance to come to the museum. To date, I think we’ve raised about $85,000 total for the museum. Every year the number goes up!

Happy Shirts display at the 2015 boutique. They will also be participating in this year's event.

Happy Shirts display at the 2015 boutique.
They will also be participating in this year’s event.


JANM: What is the arrangement with the vendors?

IN: After they rent their table spaces, they give 15% of their sales proceeds to the museum, plus they have to donate one item for the raffle, which brings in even more funding.

JANM: Can you give us some highlights of the cool items that will be available for purchase this year?

IN: Oh, everything is cool! But as far as highlights—this year we have Janis Kato, a younger fashion designer who is popular among the Sansei; Michele Yamaguma, who does unique Asian collages; Kathy Yoshihara, who does interesting pottery pieces that incorporate gourds; Adrienne Lee, a former JANM staffer, who makes purses; Jamie Totsubo, who makes dog collars and dog sweaters; Cynthia Ishii, who makes handbags out of beautiful Asian fabrics; and some excellent jewelry makers. These are just a few examples that I’m pulling off the top of my head.

We will also have great food vendors, like Marimix, who makes delicious cookies and rice cracker snack mixes; and Sheri Miyamoto, who will donate 100% of the proceeds from her baked goods in honor of her parents, who were major donors to JANM. Our food truck this year is Slammin’ Sliders, who is coming out from San Gabriel Valley.

We will also have Yuujou Daiko performing taiko on the plaza—one of their members is also a volunteer here.

Kokoro Craft Boutique, 2014

Kokoro Craft Boutique, 2014


JANM: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?

IN: Be sure to tell everyone we have air conditioning! And that by coming out to support us, you support the museum.

Kokoro Craft Boutique takes place this Sunday, October 2, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission to the boutique is free; admission to JANM is “Pay What You Wish.” Make a boutique purchase of $10 or more and receive a 10% discount at participating Little Tokyo restaurants. For more information, email Presented by Friends of the Museum.

Uprooted Presents a Rarely Seen Slice of Japanese American History; Can You Help Identify Subjects in the Photos?

22 Sep

Laborers in sugar beet fields outside of Shelley, Idaho. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USF34-073809-E.

Laborers in sugar beet fields outside of Shelley, Idaho. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USF34-073809-E.

Between 1942 and 1944, thousands of incarcerated Japanese Americans were moved from assembly centers and concentration camps to farm labor camps as a way to mitigate the wartime labor shortage. In the summer of 1942, Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographer Russell Lee—best known for his series on Pie Town, New Mexico—documented four such camps in Oregon and Idaho, capturing the laborers’ day-to-day lives in evocative detail. Many of these photographs, which capture a little-recorded episode of American history, have never before been exhibited.

On September 27, JANM will open Uprooted: Japanese American Farm Labor Camps During World War II, which showcases a selection of Lee’s images accompanied by his original captions. Curated by Morgen Young in collaboration with the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission (OCHC), the exhibition seeks to contextualize the photographer’s work within the history of the FSA as well as Japanese American camp life in the two states. Uprooted will be on view through January 8, 2017.

For an illuminating look at the origins of this exhibition, read our Discover Nikkei interview with curator Morgen Young. A consulting historian based in Portland, Oregon, Young studied the FSA photography program in graduate school. Working on Uprooted has taught her much about Japanese American history, and she believes that the farm labor camps are an important and under-recognized part of that history. In her own words: “These individuals and families volunteered for agricultural labor—they went into new environments, where they didn’t know how they would be received by the local communities. They contributed directly to the war effort and still have not received the recognition they deserve for their efforts.”

Uprooted is a multi-pronged project that includes the traveling physical exhibition, oral history interviews with subjects in the photographs who were identified by viewers, documentary videos, school curricula, and a comprehensive website. A visit to the website is a great idea both before and after your visit to the exhibition; there, you can learn more about the farm labor camps, review copies of official documents, watch excerpts of oral history videos, view photos of the camps taken by people who lived in them, download lesson plans, and more.

The Twin Falls, Idaho labor camp operated year-round two miles south of the city. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USF34-073759-D.

The Twin Falls, Idaho labor camp operated year-round two miles south of the city. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USF34-073759-D.

Help Identify People in the Photographs

When you come to see Uprooted, pay close attention to the people in the photographs. Do you recognize anyone? Efforts to identify the subjects in Russell Lee’s photographs are still ongoing; according to Young, no one in the Idaho camp images has been identified, and the organizers are hoping that LA visitors will be able to help. A photo identification binder will be made available for visitors to write down possible names and/or details about the subjects’ lives.

James Tanaka, a JANM docent, has already come forward to share his story of living in the Twin Falls camp as a child; information about Tanaka and his family is available here.

An Interview with Nisei Activist Sam Mihara

14 Sep

Sam Mihara. Photo courtesy of Wyoming Public Radio.

Sam Mihara. Photo courtesy of Wyoming Public Radio.

On Saturday, September 24, at 2 p.m., JANM will present Memories of Five Nisei, a very special Tateuchi Public Program in which five second-generation Japanese Americans, who are all in their 80s and 90s, will share significant memories of their lives, with a focus on the World War II camp experience. For anyone interested in the subject of the mass incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans during WWII, this is an event that should not be missed.

The organizer and lead presenter for this program is Sam Mihara, a former executive at Boeing Company and a nationally recognized speaker on the topic of the WWII imprisonment of Japanese Americans. Mihara was nine years old when his family was incarcerated, first at an assembly center in Pomona and then at Heart Mountain camp. There, the family lived in one 20-square-foot room in a barrack without facilities for the war’s duration. Mihara’s most recent work is a study of the immigrant detention facilities in Texas, which bear unsettling similarities to the WWII American concentration camps.

Mihara graciously agreed to the following interview, offering insight into the upcoming event and his recent research.

JANM: What gave you the idea to organize these speakers?

Sam Mihara: It began during my tour of the country speaking to many people about my experience. The feedback from students, especially Yonsei (fourth generation) and Gosei (fifth generation), indicated they liked hearing firsthand from someone who went through the imprisonment process. Their grandparents and great-grandparents did not talk much about the camp experience. I thought, if hearing from one former prisoner was good, more should be better. So last year at my annual speech to UCLA Asian American Studies students, I brought two more Nisei, Dr. Takashi Hoshizaki and Toshi Ito, and I called the talk Memories of Three Nisei. It was a hit—according to the feedback, everyone enjoyed the presentation and many said they will never forget it. A few said it was the best lecture they ever heard at UCLA.

With that behind me, I met with Koji Sakai, JANM’s Vice President of Programs, and told him of my idea to have five Nisei present testimonials. And I described the unique memories of each of the five speakers I had in mind. Koji agreed and that is how we came to JANM.

Takashi Hoshizaki, Toshi Ito, Willie Ito, and Shig Yabu. These four Nisei will be joining Sam Mihara on stage at JANM on September 24. Photos by Sam Mihara.

Takashi Hoshizaki, Toshi Ito, Willie Ito, and Shig Yabu. These four Nisei will be joining Sam Mihara on stage at JANM on September 24. Photos by Sam Mihara.


JANM: How do you think the Nisei WWII experience is perceived by young people today?

SM: The young people in my audiences are very well educated, especially on the topic of civil rights. In 1942, the Issei and older Nisei simply went along with the government’s decision to remove us from homes and place us into desolate prison camps. If it were to happen again today, I am confident there would be many more resisters than there were in 1942—a lot more activists taking stands, as Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi, and Minoru Yasui did.

Most importantly, young people of all races and beliefs should learn from the lessons of our WWII experience and never allow it to happen again to anyone. Everyone should be aware of the Mitsuye Endo case, brought by a woman who was fired from her clerical job with the California Department of Employment before being imprisoned at Tule Lake. Her case went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which unanimously ruled in her favor in December 1944, and resulted in the closing of the prison camps and the return of Japanese Americans to the West Coast. Mass imprisonment will probably never happen again to Japanese Americans. But other immigrants, including people of Middle Eastern, Muslim, and Latino backgrounds, should be fully aware of the lessons learned from our experience.

JANM: It sounds like your experiences at Heart Mountain have given you a lifelong interest in the phenomenon of mass imprisonment. Can you tell us more about your path of study? What have you learned, and how has it helped you to process your own experience?

SM: I really believe that mass imprisonment cannot be justified on any basis. “Mass imprisonment” means that the prisoners were selected on the basis of race or religious or other beliefs, and that many of those imprisoned did not receive due process. I really believe that everyone has a purpose in life, which is to make life better for others. So when I heard some politicians promoting the idea that our WWII imprisonment was a favorable precedent in order to justify the imprisonment of undocumented immigrant mothers and children, I knew it was a gross mistake, and I had to do something about it. Those politicians need to be better educated, along with everyone else.

JANM: Please tell us more about your most recent project, studying the new detention facilities in Texas for undocumented immigrants from Latin America.

SM: I studied the new prisons in Texas, visited them, and talked to immigration attorneys. The conditions these immigrants have to endure are inhumane; they hold thousands of families in more dense quarters and with tighter security than we had at the WWII camps. Can you visualize perimeter walls ten feet tall with surveillance cameras at the top? Or forcing 16 mothers and their children to live in a single cell? I feel these modern facilities should be closed. I include these findings in my speeches where appropriate to help educate others.

For additional details about our upcoming Memories of Five Nisei event, read our press release. The event is free, but RSVPs are highly recommended.

You can read about Sam Mihara’s memories of Heart Mountain on JANM’s Discover Nikkei website, here and here. And just today, Discover Nikkei published Takashi Hoshizaki’s story.

Discover Nikkei Now Accepting Stories on Language

8 Sep

EN Nikkei-go Banner small


Arigato, baka, sushi, benjo, and shoyu—how often have you used these words? For Nikkei (Japanese emigrants and their descendants), the Japanese language symbolizes the culture of one’s ancestors. Japanese words often get mixed in with the language of the adopted country, creating a fluid, hybrid way of communicating.

JANM’s Discover Nikkei project is a major online resource that brings together the voices and experiences of Nikkei who have created communities throughout the world. The multilingual website—available in English, Japanese, Spanish, and Portuguese—documents Nikkei history and culture and provides learning and networking tools for global Nikkei communities.

Every year, Discover Nikkei’s Nikkei Chronicles puts out a call for original stories from Nikkei writers around the globe. The theme of this year’s Nikkei Chronicles is Nikkei-go: The Language of Family, Community, and Culture. All Nikkei are invited to submit stories that share various perspectives on and experiences with language. Do you speak multiple languages? Do you communicate better in one language than another? Are there some things that can only be expressed in one language? Qualifying submissions will be published on the website, where readers can vote for their favorites. The deadline for this edition is September 30 at 6 p.m. PDT, so submit your story now!

Below are links to the Nikkei-go stories that have been published in English to date. Read them and vote for your favorites! The most popular stories will be translated into all four of the site’s languages and spotlighted.

Made in Japan by Mary Sunada
Yokoso Y’all by Linda Cooper
Grasping Grandma’s Japanese Accent—My First Step in Discovering Nikkei-go by Tim Asamen
Minato Gakuen and Me by Teiko Kaneko
Cindy Mochizuki’s PAPER: a meal within a story; a story within a meal by Carolyn Nakagawa
You-mo? Me mo!: Nisei Language and Dialect by Chuck Tasaka
Minato Gakuen Now by Rio Imamura

A JANM Intern’s Meditation on Changing Little Tokyo

31 Aug

JANM’s three 2016 Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Interns worked hard at the museum this past summer, taking on a variety of responsibilities and gaining invaluable experience in exhibitions, design production, and media arts. They also made time in their packed schedules to contribute to this blog—Alyssa Melville, exhibitions intern, wrote an introduction to the traditional Samoan ‘ava ceremony, while Michael Chang, design production intern, interviewed the Korean American rapper Dumbfoundead.

Minjae Kang, media arts intern, was intrigued by the major construction work currently taking place in Little Tokyo, as the neighborhood gets ready to welcome a new Metro Regional Connector station, projected to open in 2020. He decided to create a short, impressionistic film that chronicles the work. The exercise was also an opportunity for him to practice some new skills. Following is his statement:

During my first week as an intern, I made this video of the ongoing construction of the Metro Regional Connector Project in Little Tokyo. The laborious but enjoyable process definitely helped me to sharpen my technical skills.

First, I had to request permission from the workers to enter restricted areas, which was granted. Then I shot my footage with a Canon 5D Mark III. I did the editing with Final Cut Pro X, and the grading with DaVinci Resolve. I always edited with Premiere in the past, but I learned more tools and techniques in Final Cut. I also learned about several free music sites, such as SoundCloud, Free Music Archive, and ccMixter.

I’ve had a lot of fun with this project. I was able to really explore Little Tokyo and discover various places to eat and hang out. I look forward to the new station providing convenient transportation options for everyone, so that I can bring my family and friends to Little Tokyo.


Minjae Kang majors in film and video at California Institute of the Arts.

Teachers! It’s Time to Book a JANM Visit

25 Aug

Photo by Tracy Kumono

Photo by Tracy Kumono


Now that summer is almost over, it’s time for educators to plan their school year. JANM’s outstanding School Group Visits program, which offers a variety of stimulating and customizable activities, should be at the top of everyone’s list. Be sure to book your visit by August 31, as a rate increase will take place after that date.

We are now accepting school group visit reservations for the 2016–17 school year. For Title I schools and other groups with financial need, funding is available to cover the costs of admission and bus transportation. Funding is limited and you must apply in advance.

We offer several different options for customizing your visit. There has been increased interest in our newest tour options, which allow students to interact with our ongoing exhibition, Common Ground: The Heart of Community, in new ways. For example, the Object Analysis Tour (suitable for grades 6–12), encourages students to analyze and interpret specific artifacts and images, while the Self-Guided Tour and Discussion (suitable for grades 9–12) asks students to independently explore Common Ground and then participate in a facilitated discussion on how the Japanese American experience relates to the themes of civil rights and democracy. These tours are often followed by one or two of the following optional activities:

Taiko Drumming (grades 1–12)
Origami Art (grades 2–12)
Story Time (grades 1–3)
Documentaries on the Japanese American experience (grades 6–12)
Object Analysis using the museum’s Education Collection (grades 6–12)

Photo by Gary Ono

Photo by Gary Ono


For high school students, we also recommend visiting Fighting for Democracy, our experimental exhibition featuring seven real people whose stories are traced through the pre-World War II, World War II, and postwar periods. Their stories demonstrate how millions of American lives were affected by the war, and how individuals struggled to attain equal rights for their families and communities.

Before bringing student groups to the Fighting for Democracy exhibition, educators are strongly encouraged to sign up for a free professional development workshop. JANM organizes customized workshops to provide an orientation to the exhibition and preparation on facilitating an interactive experience. Please email to arrange a Fighting for Democracy educator workshop and visit. Free admission and field trip transportation is provided on a first-come, first-served basis for educators who attend the pre-visit workshop. A free Educator Resource Guide is also available for download!

Be sure to consult all of our free educator resources as you plan your year and your lesson plans. If you have any questions about planning your visit, please contact

A Classic American Play Gets the APIA Treatment

17 Aug

This Sunday, August 21, at 2 p.m., JANM is pleased to host a unique staged reading of Arthur Miller’s iconic drama, “Death of a Salesman.” Directed by Michael Miraula and produced by Tadamori Yagi, the reading will feature a predominantly Asian American cast as it attempts to explore minority relations within the larger context of mainstream white America in the late 1950s.

To learn more about this production, we conducted the following interview with Yagi, an LA–based actor who, in addition to producing this reading, also plays the role of Biff, Willy Loman’s son.

Actor and producer Tadamori Yagi

Actor and producer Tadamori Yagi

JANM: How did this production of “Death of a Salesman” come about?

Tadamori Yagi: I really wanted to work on this play; specifically, I wanted to act the role of Biff. When considering how best to go about this, I immediately realized two things: 1) Willy’s family would have to be cast as Asian American, and 2) I’d probably have to produce it myself.

It all seemed like a huge, impossible undertaking. But then I found an article about a group of students at the Stanford Asian American Theater Project who produced their own version of “Death of a Salesman” in 2013. After reading it, I said to myself, “I should at least do something!” Since I didn’t have the experience or resources to do a full production of the play, I decided to go with a staged reading instead.

JANM: Tell us about the structure of the play. Who will be playing what roles, and how does the casting work with the existing narrative?

TY: The play consists of two acts centering around the life of a traveling salesman named Willy Loman and his pursuit of success and the American Dream. Time-wise, it takes place in the late 1950s.

When casting the play it was important to me that the family be an accurate portrayal of a multi-ethnic Asian American family. The reason for this was personal, as I am Japanese-Chinese-Korean American. The actor who plays Willy (Kelvin Han Yee) is Chinese American while Willy’s wife Linda (Marilyn Tokuda) is Japanese American. Meanwhile, the actors playing the sons, Happy (Kenzo Lee) and Biff (myself), both have mixed Chinese and Japanese ethnicity.

APIA actors are often cast randomly without regards to their actual ethnicity but, for a family drama, I felt casting accurately would make it feel more authentic. I also decided to cast Willy’s neighbor Charlie (William Gabriel Grier) and his son Bernard (Ky Soto) with African American actors. Through these unconventional casting choices, I wanted to subvert social stereotypes of both the Asian American and African American communities—challenging, for example, the Asian American model minority myth.

It was also important to me that the casting of the play be historically and culturally accurate. For example, I consciously made the choice to cast Willy Loman as Chinese American; if he were Japanese American, he and his family would have been interned during the war years and he would not have been able to work as a traveling salesman.

Likewise, before I cast Charlie’s family as African American I made sure to research whether or not there were actually black lawyers presenting cases before the Supreme Court at that time. Luckily it turned out that during the late 1950s, there was a small number of black lawyers presenting civil rights cases before the Supreme Court—one of them being future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Historical accuracy and authenticity are important to me.

Tadamori Yagi

Tadamori Yagi

JANM: “Whitewashing” (the practice of casting white actors in non-white roles) has been increasingly called out in the media. Do you consider this version of Arthur Miller’s play to be your response to whitewashing in the entertainment industry?

TY: While I did not explicitly intend for the casting to be a response to “whitewashing,” I suppose it could be interpreted that way.

JANM: What do you hope will be the audience’s takeaway after seeing your play?

TY: I hope this reading of the play will resonate with the audience in such a way that some will recognize aspects of themselves or their own families in the play.

JANM: Are there other iconic plays or films that you think would benefit from a similar treatment?

TY: I love period pieces and I love family dramas. I picked “Death of a Salesman” because, in addition to being a compelling drama, it has an inherent universality that can accommodate an ethnically diverse cast. I’m sure there are tons of other iconic plays that could work, especially the more modern ones, like “The Odd Couple,” “Of Mice and Men,” or “Waiting for Godot.”

Ironically, for all the pains I took to cast the play in a “realistic” way, what I took away from the whole process was this: if you love the material and it speaks to you on a human and personal level, the other details don’t really matter so much. As a creative person you should just do the work and you will find a way to make it fit somehow. And if you can’t find a story that adequately fits your experience, you should create your own story, because getting to do the work you love is the main thing.

Tadamori Yagi’s staged reading of “Death of a Salesman” is free with museum admission. RSVPs are recommended here.