An Interview with Filmmaker Renee Tajima-Peña

Renee Tajima-Peña

Renee Tajima-Peña is an Oscar-nominated filmmaker and professor of Asian American Studies at UCLA. Her documentary projects focus on immigrant communities, race, gender, and social justice, and have included Calavera Highway, Skate Manzanar, Labor Women, My America…or Honk if You Love Buddha, and the highly influential Who Killed Vincent Chin? Tajima-Peña has been deeply involved in the Asian American independent film community as an activist, writer, and filmmaker. She was the director at Asian Cine-Vision in New York and a founding member of the Center for Asian American Media (formerly the National Asian American Telecommunications Association).

On January 27, JANM is honored to welcome Tajima-Peña as the curator and host of Unsettled: Two Films of Japanese Peru. Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Transpacific Borderlands: The Art of Japanese Diaspora in Lima, Los Angeles, Mexico City, and São Paulo, the program will feature screenings of Kaori Flores Yonekura’s Nikkei (2011) and Ann Kaneko’s Against the Grain (2008), the latter of which includes interviews with exhibiting artist Eduardo Tokeshi. Following the screening, Tajima-Peña will moderate a discussion and audience Q&A with Kaneko and Tokeshi.

Through an email interview, Tajima-Peña shared some thoughts on the program, cultural hybridity, the immigrant experience, Asian diasporas, indie film, and other topics.

A still from Kaori Flores Yonekura’s film, Nikkei.

JANM: How did you come to be involved with this program? I know that your work deals generally with themes of Asian diaspora, but do you also have a particular connection to Peru or Peruvian filmmaking?

Renee Tajima-Peña: The exhibition’s project manager, Claudia Sobral, asked me to put together a program of films in conjunction with JANM’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA exhibition. I don’t have a direct connection to Peru itself. But I was raised here in LA, which is so deeply a Latinx city, and my family is mixed race—my husband is Mexican American and my son was raised in both cultures. That’s not just me; cultural hybridity is baked into the Nikkei and the Asian American experience because of immigration patterns and the ways people of color have always lived in close proximity—going to school together, working together, mobilizing together, sharing histories of empire as well as the marker of race. Falling in love. So my work as a filmmaker has always crossed those kinds of borders. I’ve collaborated with Latinx filmmakers to make several documentaries about that experience. The most recent was No Más Bebés, co-produced by Virginia Espino, which is about Mexican American women who were sterilized at LA County-USC Medical Center during the 1970s.

JANM: Could you share some of your thought process in choosing these particular films and filmmakers to feature in Unsettled? How do they complement one another?

RTP: I was really interested in looking at the Japanese diaspora in the Americas. When I first became a filmmaker in the 1980s, I saw the Brazilian director Tizuka Yamasaki’s feature Gaijin, which was inspired by her own immigrant grandmother’s story of landing on a coffee plantation in Brazil. A few years later, I saw Kayo Hatta’s Picture Bride, set on a Hawai’i sugar cane plantation. Japanese immigrants shared the same story, the same struggles, the same spirit—only different destinations.

For Transpacific Borderlands, I landed on Peru because of the films themselves. Ann Kaneko and Kaori Flores Yonekura are women directors who take up that search for the Japanese experience and identity in Latin America. I was really interested in the way they both contextualized how Nikkei lives intersected with the politics of Peru, but during different eras. Kaori’s film Nikkei traces her family’s history of migration to Peru and Venezuela from before World War II, while Ann’s Against the Grain brings the story to the Fujimori regime of the 1990s. I was fascinated by the tension and complexity evoked in pairing those two films.

Eduardo Tokeshi, Bandera Uno, 1985, latex on canvas. Photo courtesy of the artist.

JANM: If you have seen Transpacific Borderlands, could you share your impressions of the exhibition? Do any of the works particularly speak to you?

RTP: Yes, I went to the opening, and I was astonished by how rich that visual culture is. I guess I should’ve known, but you really have to see it and get lost in it. I’d seen Eduardo Tokeshi’s work and his interviews in Against the Grain, so I was excited to see his work face-to-face. There’s a lot in his story that is familiar to me as a Japanese American—the cultural duality, being marginalized. But being Japanese while Peru was governed by an oppressive dictator who was also Japanese, brings a whole different layer to Tokeshi’s story and his art. I can’t believe our luck that he’s actually going to be at the screening!

JANM: Your work has taken on a range of social issues that involve immigrant and diasporic populations. Are there or have there been any issues involving Asian populations in Latin America that have caught your interest?

RTP: I always remember a story my friend, the filmmaker Lourdes Portillo, told me about an elderly Japanese guy in her hometown of Chihuahua, Mexico, who swaggered around town dressed like an admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy replete with a saber and medals. What was he doing there? Was he deranged? Was he an apparition? As a filmmaker, those simple questions—What are they doing there? What happened to them?—open up all kinds of possibilities, real or imagined.

Here’s another story. A few years ago, my son was involved with a youth workshop at the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute on the Japanese American concentration camps. We’d been working with Randall Fujimoto, the educational game designer, on using Minecraft to teach that history. The kids researched Executive Order 9066 and the camps, and then used Minecraft to build their own virtual replicas. It was a very mixed group of kids, and most weren’t Japanese or Asian American.

At the end of the summer the kids presented their projects, and a lot of their families came. I noticed this older Latina woman in tears, standing with her grandson who was one of the workshop students. She told me she grew up in Peru, and her best friend was Japanese. One day during the 1940s, her friend disappeared. It wasn’t until years later that she discovered the family had been incarcerated, I think at Crystal City, Texas. Seventy years later, she still grieved for her friend.

JANM: As a connoisseur of indie film in addition to being a noted filmmaker yourself, do you have any tips for additional Latin American films or filmmakers that we should check out?

RTP: Tizuka Yamasaki continues to make films and television programs in Brazil. One of the artists in Transpacific Borderlands, Shinpei Takeda, makes films about Japanese Mexicans. One of my former students, Elizabeth Cabrera, has been working on a film about the mystery of her great-grandfather, a Japanese immigrant in Baja California who vanished around the time of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Unsettled: Two Films of Japanese Peru is free with museum admission. RSVPs are recommended here.

Eaton Collection Display Seeks Answers and Provides Inspiration

One of the postcard-size watercolors on view as part of Contested Histories: Art and Artifacts from the Allen Hendershott Eaton Collection.

On Sunday, JANM opened Contested Histories: Art and Artifacts from the Allen Hendershott Eaton Collection, a special display of art and craft objects created by Japanese Americans during their World War II incarceration in American concentration camps. These are the same artifacts that dedicated Japanese American community leaders and activists saved from a controversial attempt at a public auction in 2015. The collection now resides at JANM for safekeeping, and has been conserved, photographed, and catalogued with key support from the National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites grant program.

It’s a thrilling experience to examine the display, which has been meticulously laid out in the museum’s Hirasaki National Resource Center (HNRC). The entire collection consists of over 450 pieces, most of which are historic photographs—copies of these photographs are collected in a series of thick binders labeled by location. All of the three-dimensional objects, which include wood carvings, jewelry, and pins, along with most of the original two-dimensional objects, such as paintings and watercolors, are on display. Some that were too fragile for display, such as the calligraphic scrolls, appear in facsimile form.

The first thing one notices when exploring the collection is the exquisitely high quality of the craftsmanship that went into these artifacts. The carved wood panels as well as the watercolors, both of which depict classical scenes from nature, rival items seen in art galleries and expensive antique stores. The second realization that occurs is how resourceful and creative these prisoners were while enduring remote and rugged conditions; the beautifully carved furniture and nameplates, fashioned out of scrap and scavenged wood, added personal and homey touches to otherwise bare-bones camp barracks.

Very little is known about the individual items in the collection. Who made it? Which camp did it come out of? Where are the creators today? A case full of rings and pendants made from semi-precious stones brings up the question, where did these stones come from? Eaton, author of the 1952 book Beauty Behind Barbed Wire: The Arts of the Japanese in Our War Relocation Camps, acquired much of this collection from inmates who passed them on when they learned he was working on the book. Now, the questions they pose are up to us to answer.

Facsimiles of ink scrolls from the Eaton Collection.

Contested Histories exists in large part as a fact-finding mission: the public, particularly camp survivors and their families, are invited to review its contents and assist our staff in putting the missing pieces of the puzzle back together. Forms are provided as part of the exhibition for interested parties to write down what they know. After its exhibition at JANM, the display will go on tour to diverse locations and venues, including museums and community spaces across the country, where it is hoped that more people with connections to the artifacts will come forward and share their stories.

Even if you are not a camp survivor, the Eaton Collection is eminently worth seeing as a testament to the ongoing resilience and creativity of the human spirit, even during the bleakest of times. For those who may not be able to see the collection in person, you can always visit our Flickr page of comprehensive, high-quality photographs (taken prior to conservation), where visitors can share information via the comment field beneath each image.

Reading Your Way through the 2018 Oshogatsu Family Festival

Happy New Year! We hope everyone had a fun and relaxing holiday. Here at JANM, we’re excited to kick off 2018 with our annual Oshogatsu Family Festival, one of the biggest and most beloved JANM Free Family Day events. This year’s festival, taking place on Sunday, January 7, features readings, demonstrations, and book signings inspired by no fewer than four wonderful children’s and young adult books—three are hot off the press, and two revolve around dogs, the Asian zodiac animal of 2018. Who says the written word is dead? Read on for details on the featured publications!

At 11:30 a.m., join Santa Fe–based artist Joel Nakamura as he reads from and signs his new children’s book, I Dreamed I Was a Dog. Known for mixing motifs from folk and tribal art to create a uniquely infectious vision, Nakamura has won numerous awards for his commercial illustration work. His new book, inspired by his own dreams, depicts a young boy’s dreams of transforming into a variety of animals and transportation vehicles. Filled with the artist’s signature fantastical, eye-popping imagery, I Dreamed I Was a Dog is sure to delight young eyes. Says Nakamura: “JANM has been a big part of our family, so it is a great honor to participate in an event and share my book. Goes well with the Year of the Dog too.” You can also read an in-depth article about Nakamura and his work on Discover Nikkei.

The next book may very well bring tears to your eyes. At 12:30 p.m., one of our volunteers will read Yoshito Wayne Osaki’s My Dog Teny, an autobiographical tale about the author’s own dog, whom he had to leave behind when he was incarcerated at Tule Lake concentration camp as a child. After the war, Osaki went on to a long career as an architect, helping to rebuild many Japanese American communities, but he never forgot about his beloved dog Teny. Illustrated by Felicia Hoshino, this bittersweet children’s book ends on an affirmative note. Best of all, a portion of the sales proceeds go toward rescuing dogs!

Finally, fans of graphic novel superstar Stan Sakai will rejoice as he presents a drawing demonstration followed by a book signing at 1 p.m. Sakai is best known as the creator of Usagi Yojimbo, a rabbit ronin who roams through a historically accurate feudal Japan, getting into a variety of adventures along the way. It’s hard to believe that the award-winning Usagi Yojimbo comic was first created in 1984; after a whopping 33 years in business, the graphic tales are as fresh and popular as ever. There are several in-depth profiles of Sakai, a longtime friend of the museum, and his creations on Discover Nikkei; the most recent one is by curator and historian Meher McArthur.

Sakai’s two latest publications are Usagi Yojimbo Vol. 31: The Hell Screen and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Usagi Yojimbo. The former is the most recent collection of Usagi Yojimbo stories, featuring a battle with a mythical kappa monster as well as an encounter with a ghastly painting known only as the Hell Screen. The latter is the first TMNT/Usagi crossover comic in 20 years; the handsome hardcover edition includes many extras, including a reprint of the first crossover comic, sketches and notes from the artist, and collaborative cover art with Sergio Aragones, Kevin Eastman, and others. Please note that seating for this event is limited; interested guests must sign up at the information table.

For a complete Oshogatsu schedule, visit janm.org/oshogatsufest2018. All of the above books are available for purchase at the JANM Store and janmstore.com. As always, members receive a 10% discount. Happy reading!

Celebrate the Holidays in Little Tokyo

Committee members prepare for the 11th annual Christmas Cheer fundraising program at the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) office in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, California, October 3, 1958. Photograph by Toyo Miyatake Studio. Published in the Rafu Shimpo, December 5, 1958. Japanese American National Museum, Gift of the Alan Miyatake Family.

The Japanese American National Museum sits in the heart of Little Tokyo, a fact that we who work at the museum have always been very proud of. Rich in history and yet filled with hip stores, cafes, and restaurants, the neighborhood dynamically bridges past and present, offering a memorable experience for shoppers, diners, and history buffs alike.

The holidays are a great time to come to Little Tokyo, and Go Little Tokyo has come up with this handy Holiday Guide to help you sort through all the choices. You can download it from their website to get a head start on planning, or you can just pick one up when you’re in the neighborhood. We have a stack of them at our front desk!

New Year’s is a big deal here in Little Tokyo, so be sure to check out some of the festivities that will be happening nearby. Again, Go Little Tokyo has helpfully assembled an online calendar for your convenience. And of course, don’t forget about JANM’s own annual Oshogatsu Family Festival on Sunday, January 7—one of the museum’s biggest and most beloved family day events!

As if you needed any more incentive, Go Little Tokyo is also holding a FREE DRAWING for a gift basket filled with $250 worth of treasures from Little Tokyo. To enter, just make a purchase at any of our neighborhood stores or restaurants between now and January 31, 2018. Snap a photo of your receipt and email it to info@golittletokyo.com. One entry per receipt from a Little Tokyo business. We can’t tell you what’s in the rest of the basket, but we can whet your appetite with the contribution from the JANM Store, pictured below.

The Go Little Tokyo gift basket contains not one but TWO of these Usagi Yojimbo tea cups, featuring the iconic Stan Sakai character, from the JANM Store and janmstore.com.

Happy holidays and see you soon!

From Moth to Cloth: Learn to Reel Silk by Hand This Weekend

Glennis Dolce holds silkworms that she raised. They are almost ready to spin cocoons.
All photos courtesy of Glennis Dolce.

This weekend, Glennis Dolce will be leading an exciting new two-day workshop called From Moth to Cloth, which explores the Japanese tradition of silkworm rearing. Participants will work with actual silk cocoons, learning how to reel thread using a traditional silk reeling device (zakuri) and make silk hankies (mawata) out of them.

Legend has it that silk was first discovered in China in 2460 BC by the Empress Xi Ling Shi, who was drinking tea under a mulberry tree one day when a cocoon fell into her cup and began to unravel. She became fascinated with the shimmering thread and proceeded to study it. She soon learned how to cultivate silkworms, reel their thread, and weave beautiful garments out of the material. Silk clothing became the province of royalty for many years, before the popularity of the material slowly became more widespread, eventually reaching across the globe. Empress Xi Ling Shi is now honored as the goddess of silk.

After being kept secret in China for hundreds of years, the silk making process finally found its way to Japan, with various sources dating its arrival between 200 and 400 AD. By the eighth century AD, sericulture was thriving there, with Gumma Prefecture rising to become the country’s principal silk producing region. During the 20th century, the silk industry experienced ups and downs; the advent of industrialization, the invention of nylon, and the popularization of Western tastes finally brought about a decline in the global silk market at the end of the 1970s. Silk remains, however, an important and popular fine fabric, and fascination with the process of sericulture continues.

This old photo, which likely dates back to the 1880s,
depicts a woman in Japan reeling silk on a zakuri.

We asked Dolce, who has traveled to Japan many times to learn about this subject, what silk production there is like today. This is what she told us: “While sericulture in the past was a cottage industry widely practiced by Japanese small-scale farmers in their homes, today there are improved techniques that even small-scale sericulturists practice that allow them to produce large numbers of cocoons. Regional sericulture groups hatch and raise large numbers of silkworms in laboratory-style settings with perfect environmental conditions, and deliver the silkworms to farmers once they have reached their third instar, allowing farmers to finish the process (feeding with fresh mulberry leaf) and the cocooning. This allows farmers to produce up to four readings in a single season. Most of these sericulturists are small-scale operations, with the farmer living near or on the same property.”

A bale of reeled raw silk, ready to ship to weaving facilities.
This photo was taken at the Usui filature mill in Japan.

“Most commercial silk cocoons come from India and China these days,” Dolce added. “Japan’s production is rather specialized, focusing on domestic and high-end silk. I don’t think they export any silk cocoons at all. I believe that Japanese cocoons are almost exclusively reeled and used in Japan.”

This weekend, try your own hand at reeling silk, making mawata, and crafting and dyeing with silk cocoons. Sign up for From Moth to Cloth here. For inspiration, check out Glennis Dolce’s favorite silkworm website, Wormspit. You can also read about the history of sericulture in California, brought over by Japanese immigrants in the 19th century. And if you can read Japanese, you can learn about Dolce’s teacher in Japan here.

Transpacific Borderlands Artist Shizu Saldamando Pays Tribute to Camp Survivors in Upcoming Craft Workshop

Shizu Saldamando, Ozzie and Grace, 2014. Colored pencil and spray paint on paper.
All images courtesy of the artist.

Born to parents of Japanese and Mexican descent, Shizu Saldamando creates exquisite drawings in which she investigates the variety of social constructs and subcultures seen in Los Angeles’ backyard parties, dance clubs, music shows, hang-out spots, and art receptions. By focusing on the subtle details that define different scenes, she captures the unexpected influences at work in America’s social spaces. Saldamando’s work is currently on view at JANM as part of the exhibition Transpacific Borderlands: The Art of Japanese Diaspora in Lima, Los Angeles, Mexico City, and São Paulo.

This Saturday, December 2, Saldamando will be giving a Members Only Artist Talk as well as leading a craft workshop titled Paper Flowers from the Camp Archives. We sat down with her via email to learn more about her family background, what shaped her practice as an artist, and how she came to develop her paper flowers workshop, which pays tribute to one of the ways that her family—and others—found to deal with the trauma of the World War II Japanese American incarceration.

JANM: I’ve read that your mom is a community organizer and your dad is a human rights lawyer. Your family life must have been filled with social and political awareness and dialogue. Do you think that influenced your artwork?

Shizu Saldamando: Growing up in San Francisco’s Mission District in the 1980s, I was very much influenced by my parents’ work as well as by the Chicano art centers in the area, all of whom were heavily informed by activism, the United Farm Workers, the Central American wars that were happening at that time, and other pressing issues of the day. It was the era of Reaganomics and the Cold War, so a lot of the artwork that was being produced in my neighborhood was heavily loaded and spoke about human rights and issues affecting low-income and immigrant communities—the same issues we are dealing with today.

JANM: The Japanese side of your family was incarcerated during World War II. How did that history influence you growing up?

SS: My mom helped develop a curriculum for the schools in San Francisco that taught about the Japanese American concentration camps, so I was able to make connections between their experience and that of other immigrant communities. I saw the various ways that immigrants and people of color are easily scapegoated and targeted in order to further whatever agenda the current administration is seeking to implement. In my community, I was exposed to artists who used their work to re-contextualize and assert an alternative narrative to what was playing on the news, and that was very influential.

In my own practice now, a lot of my work is not overtly political in that there are not many slogans or protests signs. However, I choose to depict friends and family who occupy a space outside of mainstream circles and who consciously construct their own creative communities. These people are the legacy of many historical struggles; they have, out of the need for survival, created their own supportive spaces.

Shizu Saldamando, Raquel’s Lunchbox, 2017. Graphite and spray paint on wood.

JANM: Yes, you’ve said that your art is about “subculture and perseverance.” Perseverance, of course, is one of the cornerstone themes of Japanese culture and Japanese American history, as embodied in the popular saying gaman (“bear the unbearable with patience and dignity”). Can you talk some more about your experiences with subcultures?

SS: In the mid-1990s, I moved to Los Angeles to attend UCLA’s art school. There, I was also very influenced by many different musical scenes. Every week, I would go to various punk shows and dance clubs that would be playing anything from gothic industrial music, rock en español, punk, or British pop. Being part of these different scenes in Los Angeles was very special in that most of the people who inhabited them were Chicano/of Mexican descent. There was always a large queer presence as well. Being politically conscious and active was a given within these scenes, especially in the ’90s, so they became very comfortable places for me to inhabit. I made a lot of friends and chose to depict them in my artwork.

I like to think of the community of Japanese Americans who survived the camps as their own subculture as well. They are such a specific group of people, who all went through this awful historical trauma together, and whose descendants carry that weight whether they like to admit it or not. I know for a fact that my own family members who survived the camps all suffer different forms of PTSD in some way or another. Their coping mechanisms differ but I like to recognize one that is always close to my heart: communal crafting.

JANM: Was this the inspiration behind your upcoming workshop on paper flowers?

SS: Yes. Being very influenced by my aunt’s crafting circles and the different projects that she and her friends created, I thought it would be nice to give a nod to her and the communal crafting that happened at the camps. She was only a child when she was incarcerated in the camp at Rohwer, Arkansas, so I’m not sure if she worked with the same flower patterns I’ll be using in my class, but I still think of this workshop as an homage to her and her love of craft.

Paper flower wreaths from Shizu Saldamando’s workshop at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s CrossLines: A Culture Lab on Intersectionality, May 2016. Visible behind them are instructions from a Woolworth’s catalog that was found at Manzanar.

JANM: I understand that your research on this topic actually stretches back several years. Tell us how it all came about.

SS: One day, I was walking through JANM’s Common Ground exhibition and I heard one of the volunteer docents talking about how, in the photos of funerals at the camps, the funeral wreaths were actually made out of paper. Real flowers were not available at the camps since most of them were located in harsh, remote environments. When people passed away, the community would come together and make paper flowers for the funerals.

Later, I was asked to make an altar for Día de los Muertos and I chose to do a piece in honor of my aunt’s husband, who had been incarcerated at Manzanar and passed away around 2000. I decided to make a paper flower wreath as a nod to camp tradition. I wanted it to be historically accurate, so I made a research appointment with one of the archivists at JANM. The archivist provided me with a huge amount of material. She wheeled in carts of flowers made out of scrap wood, flowers made out of shells, flowers made out of pipe cleaners, you name it, along with several files full of information.

Among those was a book that documented the excavation of the gravesites at Manzanar, providing a complete rundown of all the people who passed away there, how they died, and what was found at their gravesites. There were photos of wire remnants that were once paper flower stems, photos of broken glass jars that once held paper flower bouquets, and photos of people making flowers in the camps. In addition, she found a small catalog insert from an old Woolworth’s catalog that was an instruction manual on how to make paper roses. I made copies of that manual and used it to make the wreath for my altar.

I keep revisiting this project in different forms. When I was invited to participate in the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s CrossLines: A Culture Lab on Intersectionality in May 2016, I chose to do an interactive wreath-making workshop to call attention to the anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment that is running rampant with our current administration. Tragically, the paper flower project remains pertinent and timely not only because of the current political climate but because now, so many camp survivors are passing on and taking that history with them. I think it’s important to keep their legacy alive and always in our minds.

There are still a few spaces left for Shizu Saldamando’s flower-making workshop on Saturday, December 2. If you are a JANM member, you can also sign up for the Members Only Artist Talk she is giving earlier that day. Visit janm.org for more info and to RSVP.

Also check out JANM’s short video on Saldamando’s practice, made to accompany the Transpacific Borderlands exhibition.

Welcome the Holidays with JANM!

It’s hard to believe, but the holidays are now upon us. Thanksgiving is only a week away, and after that, it will be just a few short weeks until Christmas.

The JANM Store is always a great place to shop for the holidays, but this year the store has even more on offer than usual. Read on for details on all of our upcoming store events, which provide unique shopping options for all gift hunters.

This coming weekend (November 18–19), the JANM Store is hosting a Pre-Holiday Trunk Show featuring beautiful scarves, shawls, and accessories from Japanese textiles company NUNO and elegant, one-of-a-kind jewelry from LA–based designer Hisano Shepherd. Read our fascinating interview with Hisano, then come and peruse special products that you won’t find anywhere else. JANM members receive a 10% discount!

Then on November 24–26 (Thanksgiving weekend!), it will be time for our annual Holiday MADness (Member Appreciation Days) weekend, when all JANM members get a 20% discount at the JANM Store, janmstore.com, and other participating museum stores. Click here for complete details.

This year’s edition of Holiday MADness will be packed with special extras. On Saturday, November 25, Citron Clothing returns for another trunk show featuring their stylish and timeless apparel, made from the finest fabrics. (Note: member discounts do not apply to Citron products.)

And on Sunday, November 26, the JANM Store will be a proud participant in the Museum Store Association’s first ever Museum Store Sunday, a global event designed to highlight the unique retail experiences that only museum stores can provide. To celebrate, the store will be extending a 10% discount to anyone who shows a valid membership card from any museum, not just those participating in Holiday MADness. In addition, we will welcome award-winning children’s book author Allen Say at 2 p.m. for a book signing to celebrate the release of his new book, Silent Days, Silent Dreams. Members and Holiday MADness participants, purchase your copy at the store that weekend and get 20% off the cover price!

Finally, last but not least, we are celebrating Hello Kitty’s birthday all month with special discounts of up to 40% on selected Hello Kitty products. Perfect for stocking stuffers!

Enjoy your holiday shopping and please be mindful of our Holiday Shipping Deadlines.

Jewelry Designer Hisano Shepherd Takes Pearls to the Next Level

The award-winning ruby pendant from Hisano Shepherd’s Grotto Collection.
All photos courtesy of little h jewelry.

Hisano Shepherd has made a name for herself as an innovative designer of contemporary jewelry. Born in Japan but raised in both Tokyo and Los Angeles, Shepherd has had a passion for jewelry since she was a child, leading her to complete bachelor’s and master’s degrees in metalsmithing and jewelry making. She then worked her way up from the bottom of the jewelry industry, going from polishing and fixing costume jewelry to eventually making a mark with her own designs. Today, her unique and eye-catching work is making waves throughout the fine jewelry market.

On Saturday, November 18, Shepherd’s jewelry will be featured in the JANM Store’s Pre-Holiday Trunk Show. We caught up with the designer via email to ask her a few questions about her practice.

JANM: Your jewelry designs are very unique. Where do you get your inspiration?

Hisano Shepherd: When I launched little h jewelry in 2012, I made it my mission to reinvent the pearl. The pearl jewelry I saw in the market at the time was too classical in style and bored me. I began experimenting with the silhouettes of pearls and also began cutting pearls. My Pearl Geode collection was inspired by the naturally formed geodes that I saw at the Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase. When I cut the pearl in half and cleaned out the interior, I knew that I would be able to encrust gemstones to mimic the appearance of a geode.

JANM: Why are you particularly interested in pearls?

HS: My husband and I run a pearl jewelry company. I am the Chief Creative Officer and we travel around the world buying pearls. Because I source the pearls myself, I get to really cherry-pick the color, shape, size, and overtones. The more I learn about pearls the more I’m drawn in. Pearls cannot be created without great partnership between human and nature. I love the organic way they are grown and their variety of organic shapes.

As an artist, I also find it helpful to limit my medium. I challenged myself to only make jewelry with pearls, and I was able to carve out a niche position in the modern jewelry industry.

A pair of green emerald earrings with Tahitian pearls from little h’s
new Spiral Collection, available in spring 2018.

JANM: As a child, you split your time between LA and Tokyo. Do you feel that Japanese culture and aesthetics were a significant influence on you?

HS: Yes, absolutely! The culture is reflected in how I work. I can sit quietly for hours on end and concentrate on setting the stones and designing new collections. I think it came naturally for me. I’ve been taught to work hard and be diligent by my parents and grandparents.

Even though some of my pieces are ornate and colorful, I am drawn to simplicity and clean lines. It’s very aligned with Japanese aesthetics of expressing beauty with a minimalistic view.

JANM: How would you describe your own jewelry style? Tell us about some of your favorite pieces that you like to wear.

HS: I wear pearls every day, whether they are from little h or not. I like to layer them with thin, simple diamond jewelry, but pearls are always the focus.

My favorite little h piece is my ruby Grotto Collection pendant, for which I won an award from the Cultured Pearl Association of America. It was the first Grotto piece I made and I just love the soft bluish white color of the pearl with the contrasting bright red of the rubies.

My favorite pearl is a natural conch pearl. I have a pink conch pearl pendant that my husband gave me when we got married.

JANM: Are there any new projects or pursuits on the horizon that you’d like to tell us about?

HS: I am always pushing the boundaries and constantly experimenting with pearls. My latest collection is the Spiral Collection, which will be available in spring 2018. I was inspired by the circular lines formed by baroque pearls. I carved radially along the grooves of these circles and set small stones all around the indentation. It’s a bit more bold and masculine than my other collections and I love it. Depending on the piece, it reminds me of a halo, an aura, or even a scar. Sometimes the most artistic ideas can come from something grotesque. I take such ideas and make them into beautiful jewelry. I am enjoying the possibilities of expanding this collection.

Check out Hisano Shepherd’s stunning designs in person at the JANM Store’s Pre-Holiday Trunk Show on Saturday, November 18.

ICYMI: Recent News Roundup

A panel from Chapter 3 of Bombshells United. Courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Many news items come across the desk of the editor here at the First and Central blog. As busy as we’ve been over the last few months with the opening of JANM’s major new exhibition, Transpacific Borderlands: The Art of Japanese Diaspora in Lima, Los Angeles, Mexico City, and São Paulo, and various other developments, we haven’t had the chance to share as many of these as we’d like. Following, therefore, is a roundup of notable news items from the last few months. If you missed any of them, here’s your chance to catch up!

Little Tokyo Has Been Named a California Cultural District

Our own neighborhood of Little Tokyo was named one of 14 California Cultural Districts by the California Arts Council. A new initiative in its first year of operation, the Cultural District designation is designed to “grow and sustain authentic grassroots arts and cultural opportunities, increas[e] the visibility of local artists and community participation in local arts and culture, and promot[e] socioeconomic and ethnic diversity.” The districts are also intended to play a conscious role in tackling issues of artist displacement.

A Cultural District is defined as a “well-defined geographic area with a high concentration of cultural resources and activities.” The designation comes with benefits, such as technical assistance, peer-to-peer exchanges, and access to branding materials and promotional strategy. Per state legislation, each of the districts will hold the designation for five years.

We couldn’t be prouder of our district, which joins other vibrant cultural centers throughout California such as the Eureka Cultural Arts District and Balboa Park in San Diego. To see the complete list of 14 districts, click here. To read more about the initiative, click here.

Wonder Woman Confronts Japanese American Incarceration in New DC Comic

Wonder Woman is looming large in popular entertainment these days. The blockbuster action movie starring Gal Gadot was a huge hit earlier this year, and a sequel is in the works. A smaller film called Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, which explores the origins of the classic comic book character, was just released last month.

The staff at JANM was thrilled, therefore, to learn that a new digital comic book has come out that imagines Wonder Woman fighting, and even helping to prevent, the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. The series, titled Bombshells United, is written by Marguerite Bennett and illustrated by Marguerite Sauvage. Bennett decided to write the story after noticing that her cousins’ American history textbooks failed to mention the incarceration. Angered by the erasure, she set about doing her research, reading books like Farewell to Manzanar and No-No Boy, and paying visits to JANM (!) and the Manzanar National Historic Site.

The resulting story focuses on a group of ordinary Japanese American girls who hatch a plan to halt one of the trains going to camp. Bennett chooses to make them the heroes of the story, with some help from Wonder Woman. Although the story is a fantasy, many of the details are historically accurate. Bennett plans to continue exploring a variety of WWII and postwar stories in this series, even looking at intergenerational struggles between the Issei and Nisei.

Read an interview with Marguerite Bennett here. Purchase the comic books here.

Another Exclusive Naomi Hirahara Serial Now on Discover Nikkei

Everyone’s favorite JA mystery writer is at it again. Our Discover Nikkei project, which has hosted several exclusive serials by Naomi Hirahara, is especially thrilled this time to serve as the publisher of Trouble on Temple Street, the third installment in the Ellie Rush detective series. This installment, which follows two published book installments, will be published as an online serial, with new chapters coming out monthly.

Ellie, an LAPD bicycle cop who has been on the force for two years, finds herself in the middle of a Little Tokyo murder case that may potentially involve the people she loves most: her family. Will she be able to connect the dots before the killer harms her aunt, who is deputy chief of the LAPD? Where will Ellie’s allegiance fall—to the truth, or to family loyalty? The serial launched on September 4 and will continue through next August. Read the first two chapters now!

Transpacific Borderlands Sneak Peek: Erica Kaminishi’s Prunusplastus

The beginning of the installation of Erica Kaminishi’s Prunusplastus.
Photo by Vicky Murakami-Tsuda.

It’s a big week here at JANM as we prepare to open Transpacific Borderlands: The Art of Japanese Diaspora in Lima, Los Angeles, Mexico City, and São Paulo, a group exhibition that examines the work of 13 artists of Japanese ancestry born, raised, or living in either Latin America or predominantly Latin American neighborhoods of Southern California. The show is part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a Getty-led initiative exploring Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles.

Shipments of artwork have been arriving from all over the world and artists have started to arrive as well, to supervise the installation of their works and to participate in our festive opening weekend activities. One of the first artists to arrive from abroad was Erica Kaminishi, a Brazilian-born Nikkei who now lives in France. One of her featured artworks, titled Prunusplastus (2017), is a large-scale, site-specific installation made up of hundreds of petri dishes filled with synthetic cherry flower petals. The dishes are strung up with nylon threads so that they form a dramatic cascade of decorative plastic flowers.

Kaminishi’s ambitious concept required the assembly by hand of 3,300 petri dishes filled with 60,000 synthetic flowers. Work on this project actually began weeks ago, right here in Los Angeles, and became a massive group effort among JANM interns, volunteers, and staff members. Leighton Okada, JANM’s summer intern in public programs and media arts, was particularly instrumental in this effort, as he enlisted several of his own family members and provided meticulous quality control over the production process, which required hot gluing the flowers into the petri dishes.

Leighton Okada, right, assembling cherry flower petri dishes with members of his family.
Photo courtesy of Leighton Okada.

Last Friday morning, shortly after arriving in Los Angeles, Kaminishi and project manager Claudia Sobral held a small coffee and pastry event to thank some of the people who volunteered to assist with the project. During an informal Q&A, Kaminishi explained the meaning behind her artwork: “In Japan, the celebration of flowers blooming in the springtime, such as the famous cherry blossoms (sakura), is a major tradition. I wanted to reproduce this atmosphere in a contemporary way, while examining the ways that we appreciate and nurture culture. The work touches on the Japanese concept of mono no aware, which holds that while beauty is very affecting, it is also, like all things, ephemeral. Nothing is eternal.”

One of the volunteers pointed out the irony of putting static plastic flowers in a petri dish, which typically holds living specimens. Kaminishi remarked that while she was doing her PhD studies in Japan, she took classes in biology and chemistry, which influenced her art practice. Indeed, the word Prunusplastus is an alteration of Prunus serrulata, the Latin name for the Japanese cherry flower. The word plastus means “something modeled” in Latin, and the work employs a quasi-scientific framework to isolate the cherry flower as a cultural object/concept in order to contemplate and investigate its nature and origins. Being an artist of mixed cultural background, concepts of shifting identity and blended DNA also figure into Kaminishi’s work.

Erica Kaminishi contemplates the installation of her work, Prunusplastus.
Photo by Vicky Murakami-Tsuda.

Although Kaminishi has been thinking about the concept for Prunusplastus since her time in Japan, this is the first time it’s been realized. In addition to this installation, she also has four drawings from her Clouds series in Transpacific Borderlands.

Transpacific Borderlands opens to the public on Sunday, September 17.