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 info@ncdemocracy.org 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 groupvisits@janm.org.

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.

Diary of a Nisei Week Princess, Part 7: Endings and Beginnings

11 Aug

Japan Night at Dodger Stadium, July 26, 2016.

Japan Night at Dodger Stadium, July 26, 2016.

 

It’s hard to believe that my year as a Nisei Week Princess is coming to an end. It seems like just yesterday that the seven of us were on stage at the 2015 Opening Ceremony, saying our introductions for the first time. It’s been an amazing year to say the least—from the trips to Japan, Hawai‘i, and San Francisco, to attending numerous community events. I’m lucky to have met so many people who truly care about the community and inspire me to continue giving back and sharing the Japanese American story.

In my speech from Coronation last year, I discussed how my birth mother named me Sora, which means “sky” in Japanese. The sky is something that connects everyone in this world, so giving me that name meant that she would always be connected to me. One of my greatest takeaways from my year as a Nisei Week Princess were all the connections I made with people from Little Tokyo and around the world.

Six members of the 2015 Nisei Week Court join hands with Terry Hara, past president of the Nisei Week Foundation, and his wife Gayle. The matching watches were a gift to the court from the couple.

Six members of the 2015 Nisei Week Court join hands with Terry Hara, past president of the Nisei Week Foundation, and his wife Gayle. The matching watches were a gift to the court from the couple.

 

I’m grateful for my six new sisters—Sara, Veronica, Karen, Michelle, Kelsey, and Tamara—who I’ve gotten to know inside and out. Through thick and thin, I know I can count on each of them. The seven of us all possess unique qualities and strengths, which makes us an unstoppable team when we work together. I can’t thank them enough for their friendship and love.

Sara was our fearless and humble leader, setting the bar high for future Nisei Week Queens and showing us what it takes be a great leader. Veronica did everything with a smile, stepping up when needed with grace and confidence. Karen looked out for each of us—we could always count on her to be there when we needed her. Michelle made us look good all year—whether through her graphic design or people-to-people interactions, she was a great representation of our court. Kelsey always kept us laughing and her love and dedication to the community outside of Nisei Week was beautiful to see. And Tam’s positive energy, her thoughtfulness and creativity, were always appreciated, especially during tough times.

Camryn delivers a speech at JANM as part of a ceremony for new US citizens.

Camryn delivers a speech at JANM as part of a ceremony for new US citizens.

 

I was also able to meet and listen to countless leaders in the Japanese and Japanese American communities through the Nisei Week Foundation, our sister organizations, the festival hospitality committees, and other helpful organizations. I learned so much from them, and look forward to learning more.

My year as a member of the court gave me more than I could imagine. I gained many new skills that I will carry for the rest of my life. Before starting this journey, I hated public speaking and would get extremely nervous before speaking in front of a large crowd. Now, I can confidently give speeches. This same confidence is also reflected in one-on-one conversations I have with community members and business leaders.

1955 Nisei Week Queen Stella Nakadate departs for Hawaii from LAX. Photo by Toyo Miyatake Studio. Japanese American National Museum, Gift of the Alan Miyatake Family.

1955 Nisei Week Queen Stella Nakadate departs for Hawaii from LAX. Photo by Toyo Miyatake Studio. Japanese American National Museum, Gift of the Alan Miyatake Family.

My hope for the soon-to-be 2016 Nisei Week Queen and Court is that they will cherish the experiences and connections they will make in the next year. They have many opportunities ahead of them to carry on the Nisei Week Foundation’s legacy, and to nurture the many relationships that have been established since the first festival was held in 1934. I have faith that each of these women will represent the community well in the next year. If I had to give them one piece of advice though, it would be to always keep red lipstick and a spare pack of bobby pins in their crown box.

I will miss seeing my court every week and constantly having a full schedule, but I look forward to attending many of the events we went to in the last year for years to come. I don’t know what’s in store for me next, but I know my experience as a Nisei Week Princess helped me to become a stronger and more confident individual.

The 2016 Nisei Week Japanese Festival kicks into high gear this weekend. On Saturday evening, August 13, a new queen will be crowned at the Coronation Ball. Then on Sunday afternoon, August 14, Little Tokyo welcomes the public to its Grand Parade. The festival will end on Sunday, August 21, with a community Ondo Dance. For more information including complete event schedules, visit niseiweek.org.

JANM will be joining the fun on Saturday, August 13, with our annual Natsumatsuri Family Festival, held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. This popular event offers all kinds of fun for the whole family, including musical performances, a taiko workshop, crafts for the kids, temporary tattoos, free food samples, and more. Make a day of it in Little Tokyo!

Honoring Sadako Sasaki and Her Paper Cranes

3 Aug

An original crane folded by Sadako Sasaki, now on view at JANM. Photo by Norman Sugimoto.

An original crane folded by Sadako Sasaki, now on view at JANM. Photo by Norman Sugimoto.

On May 29, 2016, JANM received the extraordinary gift of an original paper crane folded by Sadako Sasaki, the young Hiroshima-born girl who died in 1955 of complications resulting from radiation poisoning. Before her death, Sasaki folded over 1,000 paper cranes in hopes of recovering from her illness. Because of her efforts, which touched many people, paper cranes have since become a universal symbol of peace, hope, and recovery. The museum is honored to be the only West Coast recipient of one of Sasaki’s cranes, joining such global institutions as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, the 9/11 Tribute Center in New York, and the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri.

Highlights of the gifting ceremony can be seen in the below video, produced by JANM’s Frank H. Watase Media Arts Center. The moving event included remarks by Clifton Truman Daniel, grandson of US President Harry S. Truman, and Masahiro Sasaki, brother of Sadako. Not included in the video were a song sung by Yuji Sasaki, Masahiro’s son, in tribute to his aunt; and a clip from Orizuru 2015, a short film inspired by Sadako’s story, introduced by director Miyuki Sohara.

 

This Saturday, August 6, is the 71st anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Be sure to join us at 1 p.m. that day for a special talk by Above the Fold curator Meher McArthur, who will speak about Sadako Sasaki and how her actions influenced the spread of origami practice. The talk, which will take place in JANM’s Tateuchi Democracy Forum, is part of the museum’s Tateuchi Public Programs series. Above the Fold, which looks at contemporary origami practice, is on view through August 21.

A Vegetarian’s Guide to Dining in Little Tokyo: Continuing the Search

28 Jul

JANM’s Education and Public Programs Assistant, Sylvia Lopez, is vegan. In February, she launched an occasional column to explore vegan and vegetarian dining options in Little Tokyo. Her adventures continue this week as she shares more of her animal-friendly food finds.

Over the last few months, I paid visits to three Japanese American restaurants. There were hits and misses, but overall, I feel that the vegetarian scene here in Little Tokyo really is showing some growth. Read on for my thoughts on an older establishment offering up more options for vegetarians and two newer ones serving up hearty, plant-based meals to satisfy the stomach.

Picture of my bowl from Snociety, taken mid-meal. I was so hungry that I dug in before photographing it!

Picture of my bowl from Snociety, taken mid-meal.
I was so hungry that I dug in before photographing it!

 

Snociety Urban Eatery
330 E. 2nd Street, Suite C
Near the JACCC Plaza

Let’s start with Snociety, a spot that specializes in poke bowls. I know, I know—“What is a vegan doing at a seafood place?” Hear me out though—this place turns out to have the most veggie options of any restaurant I’ve encountered near JANM. The ingredients are fresh and there are a lot of toppings and signature flavors to choose from.

I opted for the tofu bowl with brown rice and aloha sauce, and sweet ginger, jalapeno, seaweed, and edamame for my toppings. The great thing is that I can go back multiple times and still have lots of different topping and sauce combinations to choose from, so the experience will be different each time.

The only thing to be aware of is that the tofu option is priced the same as the fresh fish options. So it’s $13 for a vegan bowl, which might feel expensive to some customers.

The tofu salad at Kouraku.

The tofu salad at Kouraku.

 

Kouraku Japanese Restaurant
314 E. 2nd Street

A few of my co-workers frequent Kouraku, which is a much older establishment. Recently, one of them tipped me off that they had a new “Vegan Menu.” Of course, I had to check it out for myself.

As I was getting ready to order, however, I noticed that all of the “vegan” items featured ramen noodles. I asked the waiter what the noodles were made from since traditional ramen noodles contain egg. He said they did in fact contain egg. I told him they should change their menu to read “vegetarian” instead of “vegan,” as “vegan” refers to dishes that contain absolutely no animal-derived products.

While I understand that some people are still unfamiliar with the distinction between vegan and vegetarian, this innocent inaccuracy could pose a problem for a customer with an allergy, so I do hope they change the menu soon.

I then perused the rest of the menu and found two things I could order that were actually vegan: tofu salad or umeboshi onigiri (rice balls with pickled plum). As umeboshi is a bit too tart for my liking, I opted for the salad. I was hoping for more though!

I still want to commend Kouraku on trying to expand their offerings for vegetarians. I encourage any vegetarian to try it out some time as the restaurant offers a lot of different Japanese dishes and could be a good spot to go with a group of friends with various tastes and preferences. Plus, it’s open late!

The vegetarian ramen at My Ramen Bar. All photos by Sylvia Lopez.

The vegetarian ramen at My Ramen Bar.
All photos by Sylvia Lopez.

My Ramen Bar (formerly Manichi Ramen)
321¼ E. 1st Street

My Ramen Bar only offers one vegetarian meal on their menu, but man, did they get that item right! The vegetarian ramen (which turns out to be vegan when you don’t add an egg) has quickly become my favorite comfort food meal after a long day of work.

This hearty bowl of ramen costs $12 and is served in a creamy vegan-friendly soup that is savory with the right amount of saltiness. The noodles are made from spinach and have a slight green color to them, with a texture that is perfectly chewy. Topping off the bowl are crisp bean sprouts, green onions, and woodear mushrooms. The mushrooms add a unique texture to the dish, as they are slightly rubbery and pork-like—I did a double take the first time I ordered it!

My Ramen Bar was originally called Manichi Ramen. They recently transitioned to the new brand because they feel the name is easier to remember. I hope they keep this vegetarian ramen on their menu, because it’s one of my favorites!

You can take a real-life vegetarian tour of Little Tokyo on Sunday, August 7, when our intrepid volunteer Roxane Lewis leads Edible Adventures: Vegetarian Little Tokyo. Purchase your tickets here.

Samoa’s ‘Ava Ceremony Keeps Tradition Alive

20 Jul

A traditional 'ava ceremony performed in Samoa. Photo by John Agcaoili.

A traditional ‘ava ceremony performed in Samoa.
Photo by John Agcaoili.

 

JANM’s newest exhibition, Tatau: Marks of Polynesia, opens to the public on Saturday, July 30. Tatau explores Samoan tattoo practice through photographs that showcase the work of traditional tatau masters alongside more contemporary manifestations of the art form, highlighting the beauty of the Samoan tattoo tradition as well as its key role in the preservation and propagation of Samoan culture.

Our opening day celebration will begin at noon with a traditional Samoan ‘ava ceremony. To help us understand the nature of this ceremony, our summer Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Intern in exhibitions, Alyssa Melville, researched and wrote the following essay.

The ‘ava ceremony is an ancient Samoan ritual that is performed at the beginning of all important services and gatherings. Typically led by the high chief of the hosting village, the ceremony begins with words of welcome as the participants sit cross-legged on the floor in a circle or semicircle. The proceedings include the preparation and consumption of an ‘ava drink, which is usually followed by a feast.

Photo by John Agcaoili.

Photo by John Agcaoili.

 

The drink is made by mixing the ‘ava plant, also known as Piper methysticum, with water. This is done in a tānoa (bowl that stands on multiple legs) using a fau (strainer made from the bark of the fau, or Hibiscus tiliaceus, tree) as the stirring tool. The fau strains excess ‘ava from the water; it is then tossed over the right shoulder to a soga‘imiti (a male with a tatau), who shakes out any remaining ‘ava pieces before tossing it back. This continues until no more plant pieces remain in the tānoa. The drink is then served in an ipu tau ‘ava (half of a polished coconut shell) in an order that reflects the social rank of the guests being served.

Photo by John Agcaoili.

Photo by John Agcaoili.

 

The power of this ritual comes from its great care and attention to detail. Every move made is very deliberate, from the direction in which the ‘ava is stirred to the shoulder the fau is tossed over. Both the seating and the order of consumption of the ‘ava are dictated by the hosting high chief and are representative of the social hierarchy of Samoan society.

Just as the practice of tatau has migrated and evolved over the years, so has the ‘ava ceremony. Since Samoans rely on oral traditions to preserve their history and culture, small details of the ceremony have changed over time simply due to the retelling of the stories by different generations. As Samoan emigrants have settled around the world, the various diasporic communities have developed their own ceremonies based on different stories and retellings. Some have added a prayer at the end; others have altered the dress code to better suit contemporary society.

The central purpose of the ‘ava ceremony, however, remains the same: promoting unity and respect among groups.

Alyssa Melville majors in sociology/anthropology and business management at University of Redlands.