Shin-Issei Volunteer Kyoko Ogawa Contributes Invaluable Japanese Translation Skills

Kyoko Ogawa volunteering at the front desk of the Hirasaki National Resource Center.
Kyoko Ogawa volunteering at the front desk of the Hirasaki National Resource Center.

 

The collections office is where you will find Kyoko Ogawa, one of the museum’s newest volunteers, every Tuesday. Originally from Nagano prefecture in Japan, Kyoko moved to the United States with her husband over thirty years ago.

As a shin-Issei (Japanese national who immigrated to the United States after World War II), Kyoko provides the invaluable service of translation from Japanese to English. In fact, she is currently the only collections volunteer who translates letters, diaries, and other archival materials largely written by our community’s Issei (prewar, first-generation immigrant) pioneers.

A letter in the JANM collection that Kyoko has been working on translating.
A letter in the JANM collection that Kyoko has been working on translating.

 

“Kyoko is really invaluable in the sense that she is providing a service that has been lacking in the collections department,” says Maggie Wetherbee, JANM’s Collections Manager. “We were so excited when we found out she wanted to volunteer. Most people do not want to do it because it is so tedious.”

Though decades removed from the early Japanese American migrants, Kyoko, with her strong native language skills, provides us with a link to the Issei experience. Her first volunteer project involved translating Buddhist sermons that were read in the American concentration camps during World War II.

Kyoko also volunteers in the Hirasaki National Resource Center, where she helps visitors research their family’s records from the Issei generation to the present. From time to time, she lends a hand as an origami volunteer as well.

A glimpse of JANM's archives.
A glimpse of JANM’s archives.
“Everyone is just so nice, and their dedication is incredible!” Kyoko says about all the museum volunteers. She is particularly thankful to her volunteer mentors, Marge Wada and Irene Nakagawa, who have helped her transition into JANM’s lively and close-knit volunteer community.

One key take-away from her time at JANM has been the importance of sharing diverse lived experiences—a concept she did not grow up with in a largely homogeneous Japan. With every passing week, she cheerfully asserts, “I am learning something new!”

Please note Kyoko Ogawa is not available for general translation requests. Her volunteer services are currently limited to the needs of JANM’s Collections and Management Access Unit.

This post was researched and written by Sakura Kato, JANM’s summer 2015 curatorial and collections intern. Kato, who just graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in history and pre-law, conducted the interview with Ogawa in Japanese.

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