Aikido Demonstration Among Many Fun Activities Planned for Natsumatsuri

This Saturday, August 19, JANM presents its Natsumatsuri Festival, one of the museum’s two big annual family festival events. As a celebration of summer, the event will include plenty of craft activities for the kids, a reptile petting zoo, two taiko drumming performances, a community bon odori dance, an interactive comic book workshop with Jeff Yang, musical performances from Minyo Station and the cast of Letters to Eve, and much more. Admission to the festival and the museum will be FREE all day.

One special treat on this year’s Natsumatsuri schedule, of interest to children and adults alike, is a martial arts demonstration by the Aikido Cultural Institute. Based in Eagle Rock, the institute has been teaching aikido and related traditional Japanese martial arts for over 35 years. At 3 p.m. on Saturday, a variety of instructors from the institute will demonstrate elements of aikido, iaido (swordsmanship), and classical weapons arts. The audience will be invited to participate at the end.

Aikido, whose name roughly translates to “way of spiritual harmony,” is Japan’s non-violent, non-competitive martial arts form. Its philosophy emphasizes respect for life, self-control, and self-discipline. There are no offensive moves in aikido; like judo, aikido utilizes twisting and throwing techniques to neutralize an aggressor by turning his own strength and momentum against him. The practice of aikido is said to build inner calm and tolerance for stress and crisis in all areas of life, as well as physical skills for self-defense.

Aikido History

Aikido is actually a relatively young practice, having been founded in the early 20th century by a man named Morihei Ueshiba (1883–1969). As a boy, Ueshiba witnessed his father being physically assaulted for political reasons, and vowed to develop strength and skills for protection. He became an expert in various forms of martial arts, but still found himself unsatisfied, so he dove into religious study in order to gain a deeper spiritual understanding. Eventually, Ueshiba combined his martial arts training with his spiritual beliefs to create not just a new martial art form, but a distinctive way of life.

An aikido class. Photo by Javier Montano via Flickr Creative Commons.

Aikido techniques are rooted in the three traditional practices that Ueshiba mastered: jujitsu (unarmed combat), kenjitsu (sword fighting), and sojitsu (spear fighting), with many moves invented by the master himself. Its spiritual philosophy takes many cues from Ōmotokyo, a religious sect in Japan with roots in Shintoism and various folk traditions. Ōmotokyo believed strongly in world peace and the need to unify and harmonize all human beings.

Morihei Ueshiba was revered as a master and called O-Sensei (venerable teacher); he was posthumously awarded a purple Medal of Honor by the Japanese government for his unique contributions. His son, Kisshomaru Ueshiba (1922–99), trained under his father and became instrumental in leading and organizing what would become the Aikikai Foundation, the nonprofit organization that is the center of worldwide aikido practice today. After O-Sensei’s death, Kisshomaru Ueshiba was named Nidai Doshu (the second “master of the way” of aikido). Following Nidai Doshu’s death, his own son, Moriteru Ueshiba, was named Sandai Doshu (third master) and continues to serve as a leader of the aikido movement today.

Be sure to join us this Saturday to see the art of aikido in action, and enjoy the many fun and educational activities we have planned for you and your family!

Nissan Foundation Celebrates 25 Years of Promoting Cultural Diversity

L to R: Scott Becker, President, Nissan Foundation; Vicki Smith, Executive Director, Nissan Foundation; Andrea Blackman, Division Head for Education Outreach and Special Collections, Nashville Public Library; Tony Conway, Vice President of Development, National Center for Civil Rights; Allyson Nakamoto, Director of Education, Japanese American National Museum; Denise Rolark Barnes, Board Chairman, National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), and Publisher, The Washington Informer; Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., Interim President and CEO, NNPA. Photo courtesy of the Nissan Foundation.

In addition to receiving a $20,000 grant to support school visits and public programs, the Japanese American National Museum recently had the honor of helping the Nissan Foundation celebrate its 25th anniversary at a luncheon to announce its 2017 grantees, held at the annual convention of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) in National Harbor, Maryland. JANM joined other grantees who are doing phenomenal work, such as the Nashville Public Library Foundation and the National Center for Civil Rights.

The Nissan Foundation happens to have a certain formative experience in common with the Japanese American National Museum, which many people are not aware of. JANM first opened its physical space to the public in April 1992, during the same week that the Rodney King trial verdict was announced, causing widespread civil unrest throughout the city of Los Angeles. That unrest had a profound influence on the shape of JANM’s opening ceremonies as well as its organizational philosophy moving forward.

As a direct response to the deep social injustice that gave rise to the LA Uprising, as many have come to call it, the Nissan Foundation was founded later that same year. For the past 25 years, the foundation has awarded grants to organizations committed to promoting cultural awareness and understanding through arts, education, and social and public programs. JANM has been the fortunate recipient of 15 grants from the Nissan Foundation to support such efforts as our School Visits program.

“I am extremely grateful that the Nissan Foundation, along with so many of JANM’s donors and members, share our belief that more students should have a chance to visit the museum and learn about the Japanese American experience,” said Allyson Nakamoto, JANM’s Director of Education, who represented the museum at Nissan’s luncheon.

During the 2016–17 school year, JANM hosted over 17,000 students; for many of them, the visit to JANM was their very first time at a museum. We strongly believe that all young people should have opportunities to think, interact, and reflect in a safe and stimulating environment. Research has proven that students who participate in school tours of museums gain critical thinking skills, display stronger historical empathy, develop higher social tolerance, and are more likely to visit cultural institutions in the future.

On behalf of over 17,000 students, thank you for your continuing support, Nissan Foundation. Here’s to another 25 years!

Last Chance to See Instructions to All Persons and Moving Day

War Relocation Authority photo, taken at the Jerome concentration camp in Arkansas, June 18, 1944. Japanese American National Museum. Gift of Dr. Toshio Yatsushiro and Lily Koyama.

On view through August 13, Instructions to All Persons: Reflections on Executive Order 9066 is an educational and interactive exhibition designed to engage visitors in critical discussions of the Japanese American incarceration experience. The exhibition is presented in conjunction with the 75th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066, which paved the way for the World War II incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans. Original documents, contemporary artworks, and documentary videos form its substance.

Instructions to All Persons has inspired quite a bit of press, including a Los Angeles Times feature, an interview with curator Clement Hanami on KPCC’s The Frame, a thoughtful review on KCET Artbound, and prominent news pieces on Hyperallergic and NBCNews.com. If you haven’t seen this historic exhibition yet, don’t delay—you have less than two weeks before it closes.

Moving Day, installation view. Photo by Carol Cheh.

To complement Instructions to All Persons, JANM has mounted an outdoor public art installation called Moving Day, which is on view in the museum’s courtyard daily from sunset to midnight, through August 11. The work consists of a series of projections of the Civilian Exclusion Orders that were publicly posted during World War II to inform persons of Japanese ancestry of their impending forced removal and incarceration. Each poster is projected onto the façade of the museum’s Historic Building, the site of Los Angeles’s first Buddhist temple and a pickup point for Japanese Americans bound for concentration camps during World War II, on a date that coincides with its original issue date.

The museum has also presented a series of public programs to grapple with various aspects of the WWII Japanese American incarceration. Below is a video of the first of these events, which took place on March 23. JANM volunteers Tohru Isobe and June Berk, both camp survivors, discussed what it was like to be forcibly removed from their homes as children. The discussion was moderated by Clement Hanami, exhibition curator and Vice President of Operations/Art Director. Video clips from a 2013 visit to Bainbridge Island, where the forced removal of Japanese Americans began with Civilian Exclusion Order No. 1, were also shown.

An Interview with Holly Yasui

Never Give Up! – Trailer from Minoru Yasui Film on Vimeo.

Holly Yasui is the youngest daughter of Minoru Yasui, the legendary Japanese American lawyer and civil rights activist. She is currently at work on a documentary film about the life of her father, titled Never Give Up! Minoru Yasui and the Fight for Justice. This Saturday at 2 p.m., JANM will be hosting the Los Angeles premiere of Part One of the documentary, which covers his life up until the end of World War II. Holly will be present for a Q&A with the audience following the screening.

Below, we present excerpts from an interview with Holly, who graciously took time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions via email. The complete interview will be published on Discover Nikkei shortly.

JANM: Your father was an extraordinary man. What was it like to grow up with him?

Holly Yasui: Though I didn’t know it at the time, it was an amazing experience to grow up with my dad, to be Min Yasui’s daughter. He was kind, loving, and patient. He taught me how to read before I started school, by reading out loud to me every night in bed before I went to sleep. He bought me books and a special illustrated encyclopedia, and when I showed interest in writing, he gave me my first typewriter and money to buy my first word processor. Though he worked almost all the time—he was a community activist, and like housework, that kind of work never ends—he was always home for dinner and he was always interested to hear from his family about our day. It never occurred to me that it was unusual that he went out to meetings and events nearly every night after dinner. For me and my sisters, that was normal—we thought everyone’s dad did that.

Holly Yasui
JANM: What inspired you to make this documentary?

HY: In 2013, JANM invited me to participate on a panel with Jay Hirabayashi and Karen Korematsu to talk about our fathers and their legacies at the museum’s National Conference in Seattle, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. I met up with Janice Tanaka, who was filming the event for JANM and who had been a classmate at film school in the 1980s. (I dropped out, but Janice made good!) We got to talking, and the idea for a film about my dad was planted in my mind.

After the conference I went to Portland to visit Peggy Nagae, who was my dad’s lead attorney in the reopening of his World War II legal test case. We discussed the conference and my dad’s 100th birthday coming up in 2016, and we hatched the idea of a Minoru Yasui Tribute Project. Peggy took on the task of getting a Presidential Medal of Freedom for my father, and I took on the making of the film. Peggy was successful in mobilizing a nationwide campaign to endorse the nomination, which resulted in a posthumous awarding of the medal by President Obama in 2015.

On my father’s 100th birthday, we screened a work-in-progress in his hometown of Hood River, Oregon. On March 28, 2017, we premiered Part One of the documentary, which covers his life up to the end of WWII. March 28 is Minoru Yasui Day in Oregon, and this past year was the 75th anniversary of the day he deliberately broke a military curfew to initiate his legal test case. I’m still working on completing the film, hopefully in 2018.

JANM: Most documentaries are made by third parties. You are about as close to the subject as you can get. Does this make the process easier or harder?

HY: I think that the best films are made by people who have some kind of personal investment or interest in the subject. Yes, I am very close to the subject of Never Give Up! and that has made the process both easier and harder. Easier because I have access to wonderful materials that our family archivist, my aunt Yuka (Dad’s youngest sister) has saved—mostly photos but also documents. Harder because I idolized my dad in life, but that’s not an effective approach to portraying a complex human being.

JANM: If your father were alive today, what would his take be on the Trump administration and its policies?

HY: I think he would be appalled by the thinly veiled racism and bigotry inherent in many current policies such as the Muslim ban and the wall between Mexico and the United States, as well as anti-democratic policies like supporting charter schools, taking away Medicare from thousands of people, and putting the fox in charge of the henhouse on environmental and civil rights enforcement. I have no doubt that he would vociferously oppose any and all policies based on discrimination based on race, religion and/or national origin. I remember in the 1970s and 80s, when the Iran hostage crisis sparked xenophobia and hate crimes against Iranian students, legal residents, and persons who “looked like” Iranians, he spoke out and unequivocally condemned such attitudes and actions.

JANM: What kind of advice do you think your father would give to young activists today?

HY: Never give up! Keep on fighting, stand up and speak out! Work for the common good, help to make the world a better place in whatever way you can, according to your own convictions and passions and life experiences.

Never Give Up! Minoru Yasui and the Fight for Justice will be screened at JANM at 2 p.m. this Saturday, July 29. JANM members can also attend an exclusive pre-event meet-and-greet with Holly at 1 p.m.

How the JANM Store Selects and Develops Its Products

Spirit Stones, available at the JANM Store.

In April of this year, the JANM Store was the proud recipient of a 2017 Museum Store Association (MSA) Recognition Award for Product Development. Maria Kwong, JANM’s Director of Retail Enterprises and a current MSA board member, wrote a long essay on how she came to develop the award-winning products, an edited portion of which we published in May. We now present another excerpt from the same essay, which offers more in-depth insights into how products come to be selected and developed for the JANM Store.

Being the director of a museum store with our particular mission statement—to promote understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience—has always made product development challenging. Contrary to what many vendors and buyers imagine, Japanese products do not make up most of our inventory. We are a museum that explores Japanese American culture, history, and community.

During the early days of the JANM Store, the rule was to not buy any products that were perceived as “too Japanese.” This rule served two purposes. First, it put the emphasis on the hybrid culture of Japanese Americans. Second, it removed the appearance of competing with local neighborhood merchants, many of whom do specialize in products imported from Japan. Explaining all of this to vendors was often met with perplexed head scratching.

What we wanted was to offer memorable items that would firmly imprint what we were about on the visitor’s memory—items that would remind people of the history they had seen through our exhibitions. Finding such objects became the mission of the store. What kind of products could we offer that would bring back the stories depicted in Common Ground: The Heart of Community, our core exhibition covering 130 years of Japanese American history, from the early days of the Issei pioneers to the present day?

On the left, mystery stones that were found at Heart Mountain concentration camp and donated to JANM’s collection; on the right, the keepsake products they inspired at the JANM Store.

Our first custom products were inspired by a 55-gallon metal drum full of rocks that was found at the site of the Heart Mountain concentration camp. Each one had been carefully painted with a single Japanese kanji character. These rocks were initially dubbed “the Heart Mountain mystery rocks,” but it was later determined that they formed Buddhist sutras when placed around the cemetery at Heart Mountain.

Around that time, “affirmation stones” were becoming popular. We found a vendor who offered to make custom stones for us—not painted, but carved, making for a more permanent object. We selected a few of the kanji from the Heart Mountain stones and had them reproduced by a local calligrapher. It was a daunting project, producing six designs in quantities and prices that would work for both the store and the vendor. And when we announced that we were going to sell rocks in the store, more than a few eyebrows were raised. Apparently no one remembered when Pet Rocks were popular!

That was 18 years ago. Today, our stones are still selling, and we have expanded our line to include Heart Mountain Mystery Rocks, Spirit Stones, and Kaeru Stones. Our stones feature characters that were used at Heart Mountain as well as popular Japanese American sayings and whimsical images of JANM’s mascot, the frog (kaeru), which symbolizes the concept of “return” in Japanese culture.

Other products we have developed over the years include a koinobori (carp kite) painting kit; a plush frog toy that doubles as a secret container; a plush daruma beanbag; a kaeru zipper pouch by M.P. Barcelona; and a series of custom tea blends that are named after the different generations of Japanese Americans. Developed in collaboration with neighboring business Chado Tea Room, the tea blends include Issei, a roasted hojicha blended with coconut in honor of the first Japanese immigrants who settled in Hawaii, and Nisei, a genmaicha with citrusy bergamot tones to honor the second generation that largely settled on the West Coast.

Today the JANM Store is virtually exploding with uniquely Japanese American products, many of which are collaborations with local vendors, as well as a great collection of Japanese American history and culture books and products related to our current exhibitions. Intriguing new items are added all the time—like this tasty Japanese salsa from Colorado—so be sure to stop by often for an authentic adventure in Japanese Americana.

JANM Receives Re-Accreditation from AAM

The Japanese American National Museum is pleased to announce that it has achieved re-accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the highest recognition given to the nation’s museums. Accreditation is a mark of excellence that is recognized by the museum community, governments, funders, outside agencies, and the museum-going public. JANM was first accredited in 2002; museums must undergo a reaccreditation review at least every 10 years to maintain accredited status.

Developed and sustained by museum professionals for over 45 years, the AAM’s museum accreditation program is the field’s primary vehicle for quality assurance, self-regulation and public accountability. It strengthens the museum profession by promoting practices that enable leaders to make informed decisions, allocate resources wisely, and remain financially and ethically accountable in order to provide the best possible service to the public.

Accreditation is a very rigorous but highly rewarding process that examines all aspects of a museum’s operations. To earn accreditation a museum first must conduct a year of self-study, and then undergo a site visit by a team of peer reviewers. AAM’s Accreditation Commission, an independent and autonomous body of museum professionals, considers the self-study and visiting committee report to determine whether a museum should receive accreditation.

“Achieving accreditation is very hard work, so this is a tribute to the outstanding teamwork of JANM’s staff and volunteers,” said Norman Y. Mineta, Chair of JANM’s Board of Trustees. “Thanks to their dedication and pursuit of excellence, the museum is very well positioned going into the future. We thank the AAM for their vote of confidence and we look forward to many more years of promoting understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience.”

Of the nation’s estimated 33,000 museums, over 1,000 are currently accredited. JANM is one of only 69 museums accredited in the state of California.

To read AAM’s press release, click here.

New Finding Aids Provide Insight Into World War II Japanese American Incarceration

Notes taken during the 1942 Japanese Farm Survey. Japanese American National Museum.

JANM welcomed new Archivist Jamie Henricks to the staff in May. In her first blog post below, Jamie updates us on one of the many projects she’s been working on—completing museum finding aids for the Online Archive of California.

Alhough JANM is fortunate to have a vast collection of materials, only a fraction is on display at any one time. To make more of the collection accessible to the public, the museum’s Collections Management and Access (CMA) Unit is an active contributor to the Online Archive of California (OAC), which provides access to descriptions of archival collections held at more than 200 libraries, archives, museums, and historical societies throughout California.

On JANM’s OAC page, there is a list of collection finding aids. Click on any link to read about a collection, including its contents, background information about the people and organizations involved, and other details. Some finding aids link directly to digital copies of materials (such as diaries or photo albums), and others offer the chance to learn more by coming to JANM for a research visit.

Inspection report from the 1940 Japanese Farm Survey. Japanese American National Museum.

Two recently processed collections provide insights that bookend the Japanese American World War II incarceration experience. The Japanese Farm Survey for Defense Records demonstrate how Japanese Americans and other enemy aliens were viewed before and shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, while the E.O. 9066 Inc. Records show the wide range of opinions from Japanese Americans about their treatment and what types of reparations should be made.

The first Japanese Farm Survey was conducted in 1940 by the Los Angeles County Agricultural Commission, at the request of the Home Protection Committee of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. Most of the 147 properties inspected were Japanese-owned (although other “resident aliens” surveyed included Germans, Italians, Filipinos, and Chinese) and located along major power transmission lines and aqueducts. It appears officials were worried about sabotage or tampering of the nation’s infrastructure by non-citizens. The reports include observations about the individuals and their land holdings, their proximity to power lines, their level of English proficiency, and their personal backgrounds. Inspectors often commented with surprise on how intelligent the interviewees seemed.

Part of a page from the 1942 Japanese Farm Survey. Japanese American National Museum.

After the first report concluded that 80 to 90 percent of farms owned by Japanese individuals were run by non-citizens, a second survey was conducted in January 1942. This survey contains details about each farm owner, including names, ages, genders, citizenship, registration numbers, and ports of entry, and their business, including farm location, workers employed and their citizenship status, number and type of crops, whether they will seek loans to try to buy more land, use of pesticides, marketing and membership in organizations, and whether or not the farm expects any labor shortages or financial troubles. Some of the questions feel ominous in retrospect, considering how many thousands of people of Japanese ancestry would be forced to drop everything and abandon their farms, some within just two months of responding to this survey.

A response to E.O. 9066, Inc.’s survey regarding incarceration and reparations. Japanese American National Museum.
In 1975, E.O. 9066, Inc. was formed as an outcome of a reparations panel sponsored by the San Fernando Valley Chapter and the Pacific Southwest District of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL). The nonprofit’s goals were to educate the public about the forced removal and imprisonment of Japanese Americans, propose legislation to compensate those affected by Executive Order 9066, and ultimately have the Supreme Court review the constitutionality of the order as well as the landmark Korematsu v. United States and Hirabayashi v. United States cases.

After conversations within the Japanese American community, a survey of the LA area was circulated in The Rafu Shimpo newspaper and handed out by the JACL (though responses were tallied from around the United States). It asked for details regarding the respondents’ incarceration experiences and their opinions on what and how reparations should be paid. The results indicated general support for redress efforts, and many responses came in the form of handwritten or typed notes. The comments are extremely wide-ranging and fascinating to read, and even the labels assigned to various groupings (e.g. “cynical”) give a good indication as to common threads of thinking.

Requests to access JANM’s permanent collection can be made by contacting the CMA Unit at collections@janm.org. Appointments must be scheduled in advance and documentation as to the purpose of the research visit is required. Fees may apply.

The Return of Itadakimasu on Discover Nikkei

In 2012, JANM’s Discover Nikkei project launched Nikkei Chronicles, an annual open call for stories featuring a different theme every year. The project’s overall goal is to promote a more profound understanding of the complex histories and insights of multicultural, multiracial, and multinational people of Japanese descent around the world.

The first edition of Nikkei Chronicles was titled Itadakimasu! A Taste of Nikkei Culture, and it revolved around stories about food. It remains our most popular Nikkei Chronicles series to date, drawing dozens of articles and hundreds of enthusiastic responses. Now, for the sixth edition of Nikkei Chronicles, Discover Nikkei presents Itadakimasu 2! Another Taste of Nikkei Culture.

Roughly translated, Itadakimasu! means Bon appétit! or Mangia! And indeed, there seems to be no end to stories that revolve around the role of food in Nikkei culture—favorite childhood foods, enduring food traditions, new fusion cuisine. How does the food you eat express your identity? How does food help to connect your community and bring people together? What kinds of recipes have been passed down from generation to generation in your family?

If you have a story to tell that revolves around food and its role in Nikkei culture, we invite you to submit personal stories or essays, memoirs, academic papers, restaurant reviews, and other prose works that share your perspectives on and experiences with food. (Please note that for this series, poems are not accepted.) It is our hope that by sharing the multitudes of Nikkei stories, we enhance our ability to better understand who Nikkei are.

All stories submitted to Nikkei Chronicles 6: Itadakimasu 2! Another Taste of Nikkei Culture that meet the project guidelines and criteria will be published in the Discover Nikkei Journal on a rolling basis as part of the Itadakimasu 2 series. Authors may submit multiple entries. Submissions will be accepted until September 30, 2017, at 6 p.m. PDT. Click here for complete submission guidelines.

We have already published three submissions—one each in English, Portuguese, and Spanish. Click here to read them. You can also check out favorite stories and comments from the first Itadakimasu series for inspiration. Don’t delay, send in your stories today and join the discussion!

A Young JANM Volunteer Shares Her Impressions of the 2017 Pilgrimage to Manzanar

Joy Teruko Ormseth at JANM. Photo by Carol Cheh.

JANM recently welcomed Joy Teruko Ormseth to its volunteer ranks. Born in 2000 in Los Angeles and currently a student at Arcadia High School, Joy is, at 16 years old, one of our youngest volunteers.

This past April, JANM volunteers and staff organized a bus tour to join the annual pilgrimage to the site of the American concentration camp at Manzanar, where thousands of people of Japanese ancestry were confined during World War II. Joy, who had only briefly visited Manzanar as a child, decided to join the group. She graciously agreed to an interview, in which we learn about Joy’s family background as well as her impressions of Manzanar.

JANM: Why did you go on the Manzanar pilgrimage this year?

Joy Teruko Ormseth: I wanted to understand better about the whole situation because it was really hard for me to conceptualize what the people who were interned were going through. I obviously have never experienced that, and so it was hard for me to imagine having to go through that.

The JANM contingent poses for a group photo during the Manzanar Pilgrimage.
Photo by Ben Furuta.

JANM: What’s your family’s background?

JTO: My grandma was interned in Poston as a child, and my great-grandpa on my grandfather’s side was interned at Heart Mountain. But my grandfather was kibei [a Japanese person born in the United States but educated in Japan], so he was still in Japan during the war. I’m half Japanese, so this is all on my mother’s side of the family. My dad is Norwegian.

JANM: When you were growing up, did your grandparents share any memories of their time in camp?

JTO: Not my grandfather, since he was in Japan during the war, but my grandmother would always tell me about the dust storms at Poston, how they would wake up and there would just be sand everywhere. She also told me that her mother—my great-grandmother—was from an upper-class family in Tokyo, so the other mothers would kind of look down on her because she spoke a different dialect of Japanese. Also, other families were put off by our family because grandma’s elder brother Tom volunteered to serve in the 442nd [Regimental Combat Team].

Evelynne Matsumoto (née Watanabe), Joy Ormseth’s grandmother, in the 1950s.
Photo courtesy of Evelynne Matsumoto.

JANM: Did the other mothers look down on your great-grandmother because most of them were working class?

JTO: Yeah.

JANM: Why were they put off by the brother for joining the 442nd? I thought that was considered the height of honor and patriotism.

JTO: Grandma said the other families didn’t understand why he would volunteer, because they were put in camp [by the same government].

A replica of one of the barracks that once filled the Manzanar camp site. Photo by Ben Furuta.

JANM: Your grandmother sounds like she has an amazing memory.

JTO: Yeah, she remembers a lot. She has a really good memory. She even remembers stuff from before the war!

JANM: Was she your main connection to this history?

JTO: Yes, she was. Out of all her siblings, she’s the one who talks about it the most, and she’s the youngest. She also knows a lot because she became a teacher and she likes to research everything.

Interior of the recreated barrack. This structure is much safer and more comfortable than the original barracks were, due to the necessity of accommodating visitors. Photo by Ben Furuta.

JANM: Tell me more about your grandmother’s memories of Poston.

JTO: I know that my Auntie Mary, her sister, had a baby in camp who died because there wasn’t proper medical care. She had also lost a baby right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. (My grandma had several siblings, and the oldest ones were a lot older than she was.)

JANM: Oh my God, that’s horrible. Were there any babies born who did survive?

JTO: Yeah, there was one daughter who’s still alive.

JANM: What did your grandma think of the food in camp?

JTO: Great-grandma worked in the mess hall. She always demanded that the family eat at least one meal together per day, to keep the family together. I think grandma said they ate a lot of Spam! She also told me that creamed chipped beef on toast was often served, which the inmates referred to as “SOS” (sh** on a shingle).

Representatives from the other camps made their presence felt with colorful banners.
Photo by Ben Furuta.

JANM: In total, who all from your family was in Poston?

JTO: My grandmother. Then there was Uncle Jack, Auntie Mary, and Uncle Tom, who joined the 442nd. My Uncle Harvey was the oldest of the siblings and he was already in the military—he was drafted before the bombing of Pearl Harbor and served in military intelligence. Another auntie, Alice, worked as a secretary in Minnesota during the war.

JANM: Did they find other families that they could get along with?

JTO: They never talked that much about other families. My grandmother did say that since she was so little, she never really considered the severity of the situation—she was just happy that she had other kids to play with. Before the war, they lived in Central California, and I guess there weren’t as many children around there. So when she went to camp she was like, there are all these kids here to play with!

Taiko drummers helped to kick off the ceremonies at the 2017 Manzanar pilgrimage, which was attended by more than 2,000 people. Photo by Ben Furuta.

JANM: How did you get connected to JANM?

JTO: My mother used to volunteer at the Little Tokyo Historical Society, so I grew up knowing a lot about Little Tokyo and JANM because my mom loves history, like my grandma. I just figured that I would like to volunteer here.

JANM: What volunteer duties are you taking up at JANM?

JTO: I’m still a trainee, so I’m still figuring out what I want to do. But last week, I volunteered at the HNRC (Hirasaki National Resource Center) and it was so cool! We have access to ancestry.com, and I didn’t know how many documents there were on that website. One of the other volunteers was showing me how to research everything. I find all the dates so interesting—it’s all just right there, right in front of you, but it happened so long ago.

JANM: What were your impressions of Manzanar?

JTO: It was really hard for me to visualize all the barracks, because obviously they’re not there anymore, but [the trip] did help me to understand a little better the thought process of the Issei, what they were thinking. It made me realize that they came to this country believing in the American dream—if you work hard, you can succeed—and when we were there, it was so isolated, so barren, it was like, is this the American dream that they came for? That made me really upset and frustrated, and helped me understand just a little bit what they were going through.

A barren landscape. Photo by Ben Furuta.

JANM: Was there anything from the ceremony that stuck out for you?

JTO: Well first of all that song “Sukiyaki”—I really liked it because it was a musical connection to the past that kind of made it more real. Also, Alan Nishio’s talk was very inspiring.

JANM: Are you interested in going on any more pilgrimages?

JTO: I’ve heard that Poston is really difficult to get to, but I might want to go there one day.

Camp Pilgrimages Are in Full Swing—And Historic Camp Newspapers Are Now Available Online!

The monument at Manzanar serves as a memorial to those who died there. The inscription reads “Soul Consoling Tower” in Japanese characters. Photo by Carol Cheh.

It’s summer, and to many in the Japanese American community, that means camp pilgrimage season. To honor the experiences of their forebears (and in some cases, their own experiences as children) and to help ensure that they never forget the grave injustices committed against their community during World War II, Japanese Americans and their allies are paying visits to the sites of several American concentration camps where persons of Japanese ancestry were imprisoned without due process following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

The vast majority were held in ten main camps run by the War Relocation Authority and located in remote, desolate areas throughout the United States: Amache (Colorado), Gila River (Arizona), Heart Mountain (Wyoming), Jerome (Arkansas), Manzanar (California), Minidoka (Idaho), Poston (Arizona), Rohwer (Arkansas), Topaz (Utah), and Tule Lake (California). (Additional camps and detention centers run by the Department of Justice or other government agencies confined special populations or served as holding centers.) As of this date, five of the ten main camps hold formal pilgrimage events. The pilgrimages to Manzanar and Amache have already happened; below are links to complete information about the pilgrimages yet to come.

Pilgrimage to Minidoka (Idaho): July 6–9, 2017
Pilgrimage to Heart Mountain (Wyoming): July 28–29, 2017
Tule Lake (California) hosts pilgrimages every other year; the next one will happen in 2018.

While the other five sites don’t hold formal events, they are also open to visitors. Topaz, in fact, has just installed permanent exhibits, and will have a ticketed grand opening for their museum on the weekend of July 7–8, 2017. With the exception of Gila River camp, permits are not required.

Not able to make it out to a camp site? Last month, the Library of Congress announced on their blog that newspapers self-published by Japanese Americans while they were imprisoned are now available online. These newspapers are amazing historical artifacts, offering up-close, first-person glimpses into what life was like inside of a camp. You’ll find accounts of daily activities, official camp announcements, editorials about important issues, reports on the exploits of Japanese Americans in the US military, and more. More than 4,600 English- and Japanese-language issues published in 13 camps are available and can be accessed here.

On April 29, a group of JANM volunteers and staff organized a bus tour to attend the 2017 Manzanar Pilgrimage together. Check this space next week for an exclusive interview with one of JANM’s youngest volunteers, 16-year-old Joy Ormseth, who made the pilgrimage with us.