The Hoshida Family’s WWII Incarceration Story, Told Through Words and Images

George Hoshida, Kilauea Military Detention Camp, 1942, ink and watercolor on paper. Japanese American National Museum. Gift of June Hoshida Honma, Sandra Hoshida, and Carole Hoshida Kanada.
George Hoshida, Kilauea Military Detention Camp, 1942, ink and watercolor on paper.
Japanese American National Museum. Gift of June Hoshida Honma, Sandra Hoshida, and Carole Hoshida Kanada.

 

Not long after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, George Hoshida was arrested by FBI agents. Having immigrated from Japan with his family in 1912, when he was only four years old, Hoshida had made a life for himself in Hilo, Hawai‘i. He had married a Hawai‘i–born Japanese American woman named Tamae and gotten a job at the Hilo Electric Company; he had also become active in several Japanese American community organizations, including a Buddhist group and a judo association. It was Hoshida’s position in the community and his perceived influence on others that led authorities to deem him a threat.

Hoshida was forcibly separated from his wife and four daughters as he was sent to a succession of special Justice Department camps, reserved for community leaders like himself: Kilauea Military Camp on the Big Island, Sand Island on Oahu, and a variety of camps in Texas, Nevada, and New Mexico. After a year of separation, Tamae, who was handicapped, found it too difficult to raise the children without George. She made the decision to give up their home and, on the recommendation of government officials, moved with three of their daughters to the Jerome War Relocation Center in Arkansas, where George could be transferred.

George Hoshida, Inside Our Apartment, Looking Towards Door, Jerome Relocation Center, 1944, ink on paper. Japanese American National Museum. Gift of June Hoshida Honma, Sandra Hoshida, and Carole Hoshida Kanada.
George Hoshida, Inside Our Apartment, Looking Towards Door, Jerome Relocation Center, 1944, ink on paper. Japanese American National Museum. Gift of June Hoshida Honma, Sandra Hoshida, and Carole Hoshida Kanada.

 

Arriving there after an arduous journey, the family would have to wait another year before George’s transfer process could be completed. Tragically, the eldest daughter, who had to be left behind in a facility in Oahu due to a handicap, died while the rest of the family was incarcerated.

During this challenging time, Hoshida and his wife wrote letters to each other every day. Hoshida also kept a detailed journal and made numerous sketches, drawings, and watercolors depicting what he saw around him. These letters, journal entries, and artworks are now considered a rare record of life in the Justice Department camps; the depictions of the Kilauea camp are the only ones known to exist. In 1997, the bulk of these artifacts were donated to JANM, where they now reside in the permanent collection. Many of the items can be viewed online through JANM’s George Hoshida Collection page as well as a special online exhibition website called The Life and Work of George Hoshida: A Japanese American’s Journey.

George Hoshida, Shoji Fujishima and Haruto Morikawa, 1944, ink on paper. Japanese American National Museum. Gift of June Hoshida Honma, Sandra Hoshida, and Carole Hoshida Kanada.
George Hoshida, Shoji Fujishima and Haruto Morikawa, 1944, ink on paper.
Japanese American National Museum. Gift of June Hoshida Honma, Sandra Hoshida, and Carole Hoshida Kanada.

 

Earlier this year, a new book was published that tells the Hoshida family’s story through a curated selection of Hoshida’s journal entries, memoir excerpts, letters, and artworks. Edited by Heidi Kim and supplemented with historical background information, Taken from the Paradise Isle: The Hoshida Family Story provides “an intimate account of the anger, resignation, philosophy, optimism, and love with which the Hoshida family endured their separation and incarceration during World War II.”

The hardcover edition of the book is already sold out; the JANM Store and janmstore.com are currently waiting on an order of the paperback edition. The book should be restocked in time for an author discussion event on January 9, in which Heidi Kim will read from and discuss the book. To read more about the Hoshida family’s story, check out this Discover Nikkei article.

Restaurant Owner Has Deep Roots at JANM

Chef Andrea Uyeda at her restaurant, ediBOL. Photo by Carol Cheh.
Chef Andrea Uyeda at her restaurant, ediBOL. Photo by Carol Cheh.

 

On a recent lunch outing, a few coworkers and I decided to try ediBOL, a new restaurant in the Arts District. We were delighted to find that not only was the food delicious, but the gracious owner and chef, Andrea Uyeda, has many connections to JANM—her father designed the first public iteration of the museum, when it was located in the Historic Building across the plaza from the current facility, and she herself volunteered at the museum as a child.

Uyeda has a special fondness for JANM, and recently agreed to join the museum’s Neighborhood Discount Program for members. Current JANM members may present their membership card at ediBOL to receive a free order of fried pickle chips or rice fritters with the purchase of any large BOL. My group tried the pickle chips, and they are very tasty! Read on for an interview in which Uyeda discusses her restaurant’s origins and philosophy, and her family’s connections to JANM.

JANM: What inspired you to open a restaurant?

Andrea Uyeda: My earliest memories revolve around cooking—waking up super early on weekend mornings to make animal-shaped pancakes with my dad; my grandmother teaching me how to cook, season, and cool sushi rice to the perfect, glossy taste and texture; looking forward to mochitsuki all year, then making and eating mochi all day long on New Year’s Day; and home-cooked Sunday dinners at my grandparents’ house in Boyle Heights.

Growing up, a bowl of Japanese rice was a part of every meal. The ediBOL menu stems from my favorite way of eating: out of a bowl filled with fresh ingredients, hand-crafted flavors, and various textures and temperatures. Every item on our menu is served in a bowl, symbolizing love, family, comfort—all that’s good in life, with a punch of bold flavors that make you say WOW!

Andrea Uyeda tends to her customers, who in this case happen to be her cousins, at ediBOL. Photo by @social.agenda.
Andrea Uyeda tends to her customers, who in this case happen to be
her cousins, at ediBOL. Photo by @social.agenda.

 

JANM: Please describe your restaurant’s philosophy.

AU: I love creating, learning, sharing, exploring, collaborating—life is about feeling and connecting. I’ve had so much fun coming up with the ediBOL menu, which is a creative mix of favorite foods, flavors, textures, and temperatures. Each dish has roots in a lifelong love of cooking, with more recent layers of experimentation—playing with various ingredients, flavors, and cooking techniques until we hit the magic combination.

In addition to designing the menu, I have also had a blast sourcing our lapis azul granite high-top tables, enamelware bowls, deep blue chairs, dark wood dining tables, barnyard lighting fixtures, stone bathroom tiles, and the 300-year-old reclaimed teak used for our teal kitchen wall. Cooking, design, and woodworking are all passions of mine, and ediBOL is truly a passion project.

We hope to be creating a very special place for the family of workers here, the family of regular diners, and the various farmers, artisans, vendors, and neighbors whose passionate creations are showcased at the restaurant. We have a very welcoming space with an outdoor patio, and my ultimate dream is for ediBOL to not only serve great food and drinks, but to also be a place where people can gather and share their passions, which could include coffee, rice, beer, art, acting, writing, fashion, music, and lots more!

ediBOL's delicious pork belly bowl. Photo by Carol Cheh.
ediBOL’s delicious pork belly bowl. Photo by Carol Cheh.

 

JANM: What is your professional background?

AU: At age 13, I got my first job making waffle cones and scooping ice cream. Every job since then has been in some aspect of the hospitality industry, whether it be in the kitchen, operations, catering, marketing, purchasing, accounting, technology, design, or development. While completing a thesis on Japanese American cultural identity at Princeton, I worked the graveyard shift and ran a bakery/café owned by the mayor of Princeton. Sourcing the highest quality ingredients and coming up with seasonal scones and muffins each morning were always highlights of the day!

After graduation, I moved to Santa Monica and got a job as a host at Border Grill. Over the years, I steadily took on more responsibility as I worked my way up to Sales and Special Events Manager, General Manager, Director of Operations, Chief Operating Officer, and eventually, Co-Owner. I didn’t have a career plan or goal—I just knew that I always loved the energy of cooking on the line and being on the dining room floor.

ediBOL's miso peanut ramen. Photo by Kajsa Alger.
ediBOL’s miso peanut ramen. Photo by Kajsa Alger.

 

JANM: Tell us about your connections to JANM.

AU: My father, Robert Uyeda, was the architect for JANM’s first public space, located in what is now called the Historic Building. He was super excited to be involved in such a history-making venture. Somehow he got a bunch of young kids (my cousins, brother, and me) also excited to spend our summer vacations volunteering in the first JANM office, located in a loft space on Third Street. My aunt would drop us off and we’d spend the day licking stamps and sealing envelopes. When we got older, we graduated to transcribing interviews with camp survivors. I learned so much about our community’s history and feel so fortunate to have been a part of the early, formative years of JANM. It has been amazing to see so many of JANM’s ideas and dreams come to life.

ediBOL is located at 300 S. Santa Fe Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. Visit edibol.com to peruse their menu, make reservations, or place an online order.

Katsuya Terada Returns This Month to Complete His Live Drawing

Katsuya Terada at work in the JANM galleries. Photo by Carol Cheh.
Katsuya Terada at work in the JANM galleries. Photo by Carol Cheh.

 

Giant Robot Biennale 4 is a highly interactive show, with several features that invite viewer engagement on a more active level than usual. One of these features is the live, on-site creation of a major new work by Katsuya Terada.

Starting shortly before the exhibition opened in October, Terada spent several days working inside of a roped-off area in JANM’s lower-level galleries to create a new, two-part drawing from scratch. Visitors were able to watch him as he worked. The artist had to leave town before he could finish, but he plans to return later this month (after the 19th) to complete the piece in the gallery.

Katsuya Terada. Photo by Carol Cheh.
Katsuya Terada.
Photo by Carol Cheh.

The live drawing idea came from Eric Nakamura, curator of the show and founder of the Giant Robot empire. “Museums are typically filled with static objects,” he noted. “I wanted to present an interactive experience, where people could ask questions, and see what artists are like in person. It’s not everywhere that you can do this.” Nakamura gave Teraya no time limits, wanting him to produce a finished work that is suitable for framing.

So far the work is looking exquisitely finished right out of the gate. It does not yet have a title, but it does have a theme: masks. “I thought it would be interesting to draw a mask wearing a mask,” the artist says. Terada, who speaks very little English, spoke to me shortly before he left with the help of his friend and fellow exhibiting artist Yoskay Yamamoto, who served as translator.

I asked Terada to explain his process, which is organic rather than planned. “If I draw one line, that will tell me how to draw the next line,” he replied. “However, when I see the entire surface, and I start drawing one image, that will usually be the starting point, and from there I’m just trying to fill up the page without making mistakes—in composition, in choice of items to draw. I’m just making sure everything fits in the right way.”

Katsuya Terada. Photo by Carol Cheh.
Katsuya Terada. Photo by Carol Cheh.

 

Personally, I would find that process stressful. I asked him how he felt about that, and about having people watch him while he draws.

“It is stressful! But it’s like I’m challenging myself by being in that position,” Terada replied. “Having an audience can be a positive thing—it means that I have to work hard and I can’t slack off. But drawing itself is just enjoyable to me, with or without an audience.”

Terada will be back at JANM sometime after December 19th to complete his drawing. Keep your eyes on JANM’s Twitter feed and Facebook page to see when he’s in the gallery. Until then, you can come to the museum to view his progress to date.

Katsuya Terada's unfinished drawing, as he left it in October. The artist will return to JANM this month to complete the work. Photo by Carol Cheh.
Katsuya Terada’s unfinished drawing, as he left it in October. The artist will return to
JANM later this month to complete the work. Photo by Carol Cheh.

A Chat with GRB4 Artist Yoskay Yamamoto

Yoskay Yamamoto in front of his artwork, Wish You Were Here.
Yoskay Yamamoto in front of his artwork, Wish You Were Here.

 

Giant Robot Biennale 4 is filled with outstanding artworks. One of the most attention-grabbing is perhaps Yoskay Yamamoto’s Wish You Were Here, a complex, wall-mounted installation composed of numerous small paintings, photo-transfer panels, hand-carved wooden sculptures, and hanging objects. Displayed near the back of JANM’s upper-level galleries, Wish You Were Here stuns viewers with its exuberant presence.

Shortly before GRB4 opened, Yamamoto graciously answered a few questions about this work and the others he has in the show.

JANM: Did you custom-make Wish You Were Here for this exhibition?

Yoskay Yamamoto: Yes. This is a type of installation that I’ve been working on since 2012; I think that was the first time I did something with the panels and suspended sculptures together as one piece. From there, I gradually added more panels, and repainted more, adding different color palates and textures. The latest additions are the sunset hues and scenery, painted to fit into this particular kind of color palette.

Yoskay Yamamoto's Wish You Were Here.
Yoskay Yamamoto’s Wish You Were Here.

 

JANM: What were the inspirations behind this piece?

YY: The sunset is one of the main visual elements in the 100 panels I brought here. Ever since I started living in Los Angeles, I’ve been fascinated by how beautiful the sunset is in the city. At the same time, I’ve heard it’s due to the smog we have. I find this ironic. If I’m outside at the right time, I try to photograph the sunsets I see. Then I use a lot of them as reference.

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JANM: So you were born in Japan?

YY: Yes, in this small seaside town called Toba, which has a population of about 22,000. It’s decreasing every year because the younger generation ends up leaving to go to bigger cities.

Yoskay Yamamoto's California Dreamin' and Keep On Shining
Yoskay Yamamoto’s California Dreamin’ and Keep On Shining.

 

JANM: What brought you to California?

YY: Toba is a sister city to Santa Barbara, so I went to high school there and then studied graphic design at the community college. To pursue my art, I moved to San Francisco for about a year. Then, ironically, I got assigned to a gallery in LA. So I packed up my stuff and moved down here.

Yoskay Yamamoto's Cosmic Boy.
Yoskay Yamamoto’s Cosmic Boy.
JANM: Can you tell us about the other three pieces you have in the show?

YY: The smaller wall installation is called Cosmic Boy. I bought a bootleg Astro Boy figure from Hong Kong on eBay, and I just took the head off and re-sculpted it. Then I had my friend fabricate 25 of them for me.

I also have two paintings here called Keep on Shining and California Dreamin’. These are both based on the old Americana signage that I see around LA. I think this is something that’s dying in culture—I don’t think anybody is making these signs any more. I like seeing the craftsmanship in them—there’s something special and magical about it. I try to pick some titles or combinations of words that I like, to give a positive message to them.

Giant Robot Biennale 4 is on view at JANM through January 24, 2016.

Giant Robot Biennale 4 is now on view!

Having fun inside of kozyndan's custom vinyl mural, Heat Run Samadhi. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Having fun inside of kozyndan’s custom vinyl mural, Heat Run Samadhi.
Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.

 

Since 2007, JANM has partnered with Giant Robot founder Eric Nakamura to produce the Giant Robot Biennale, a recurring art exhibition dedicated to showcasing the diverse creative works brought together under the ethos of the popular brand. The latest edition, Giant Robot Biennale 4, examines the evolution of the Giant Robot aesthetic from its humble origins in drawing to its many celebrated manifestations in painting, installation, muralism, and photography.

This past Saturday night, GRB4 had its grand opening celebration. More than 2,000 guests gathered at the museum for a lively evening of art, music, food, and crafts. Enjoy the photos that follow!

Certificates of appreciation were given to curator Eric Nakamura and each of the GRB4 artists by Danielle Brazell of the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. Photo by Steve Fujimoto.
Certificates of appreciation were given to curator Eric Nakamura and each of the GRB4 artists by Danielle Brazell of the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs.
Photo by Steve Fujimoto.
Danielle Brazell of the Department of Cultural Affairs, right, presents curator Eric Nakamura with his certificate of appreciation. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Danielle Brazell of the Department of Cultural Affairs, right, presents curator Eric Nakamura with his certificate of appreciation. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
More than 2,000 people attended the opening night festivities. Photo by Richard Murakami.
More than 2,000 people attended the opening night festivities. Photo by Richard Murakami.
A popular activity of the evening was custom finishing a button using designs started by GRB4 artists. Photo by Ben Furuta.
A popular activity of the evening was custom finishing a button using
designs started by GRB4 artists. Photo by Ben Furuta.
A family makes buttons together. Photo by Ben Furuta.
A family makes buttons together. Photo by Ben Furuta.
Excited guests line up to have their designs pressed into buttons. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Excited guests line up to have their designs pressed into buttons. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Artist Audrey Kawasaki poses in front of her artwork. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Artist Audrey Kawasaki poses in front of her artwork. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Dublab spins some tunes to keep the party going. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Dublab spins some tunes to keep the party going. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Tasty bites were provided by Mama Musubi. Photo by Richard Murakami.
Tasty bites were provided by Mama Musubi. Photo by Richard Murakami.
Cafe Dulce also got in the spirit with special Giant Robot x JANM donuts. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Cafe Dulce also got in the spirit with special Giant Robot x JANM donuts.
Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Nerdbot's Photo Booth brought out the flair in everyone. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Nerdbot’s Photo Booth brought out the flair in everyone. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Eric Nakamura, right, and a few of the artists admire kozyndan's mural. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Eric Nakamura, right, and a few of the artists admire kozyndan’s mural.
Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Kozue and Dan Kitchens, aka kozyndan, pose in front of their work. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Kozue and Dan Kitchens, aka kozyndan, pose in front of their work.
Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
People couldn't get enough of kozyndan's mural! Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
People couldn’t get enough of kozyndan’s mural! Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
A guest tries his hand at drawing inside a replica of artist Edwin Ushiro's studio. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
A guest tries his hand at drawing inside a replica of artist Edwin Ushiro’s studio.
Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Curator Eric Nakamura, left, and artist Mike Lee check on a few last-minute details in the replica Giant Robot store. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Curator Eric Nakamura, left, and artist Mike Lee check on a few last-minute details
in the replica Giant Robot store. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Artist Mari Inukai in front of her painting. Photo by Richard Murakami.
Artist Mari Inukai in front of her painting. Photo by Richard Murakami.
Ray Potes of Hamburger Eyes poses in front of the collective's installation. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Ray Potes of Hamburger Eyes poses in front of the collective’s installation.
Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Katsuya Terada wows onlookers with his live drawing skills. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Katsuya Terada wows onlookers with his live drawing skills. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
A rapt crowd gathers to watch electronic musician Daedalus. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
A crowd gathers to watch electronic musician Daedalus. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Daedalus in action. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Daedalus in action. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
No opening at JANM is complete without a visit from the reigning Nisei Week Court! Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
No opening at JANM is complete without a visit from the reigning
Nisei Week Court! Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Curator Eric Nakamura, JANM President and CEO Greg Kimura, and artist Esao Andrews. Photo by Steve Fujimoto.
Curator Eric Nakamura, JANM President and CEO Greg Kimura, and artist Esao Andrews. Photo by Steve Fujimoto.

Tuesday Night Café Showcases Asian American Talent

Tuesday Night Café in the Aratani Courtyard of Union Center for the Arts. Photo: Fiona Potter for Discover Nikkei.
Tuesday Night Café in the Aratani Courtyard of Union Center
for the Arts. Photo: Fiona Potter for Discover Nikkei.

 

Recently a friend took me to experience Tuesday Night Café, an Asian American grassroots entertainment event held in the Aratani Courtyard of the Union Center for the Arts. I didn’t think I’d last through the three-hour-long evening of amateur and open mic acts, but much to my surprise, I found myself riveted to the very end by the event’s quality and variety. There were slam poets, folk singers, dancers, and even a female rap artist, and every one was excellent and had something unique to offer.

I was amazed that such a thing existed right under my nose here in Little Tokyo without my knowledge, so I did some research. Tuesday Night Café is actually the oldest currently running Asian American open mic event in the country. Launched in 1999, it is the flagship program of Tuesday Night Project, an Asian-American volunteer-based organization. Each Café begins with three open mic slots, followed by a curated program. TNC has been named to several Top Ten lists by such publications as USA Today and LA Weekly.

TNC is currently organized by Sean Miura, Producer and Lead Curator, and Quincy Surasmith, Communications Manager and Associate Producer. Quincy graciously agreed to answer a few questions via email so we could learn more about the project.

JANM: I was truly impressed by both the quantity and the quality of talent that I saw on display at the last TNC. How do you find so many amazing acts?

QS: I think it’s a mix of people (artists, organizers, and other community members) connecting folks to our space and us making sure we build the kind of space where these amazing performers feel encouraged and safe and have the opportunity to really shine. We also do our best to get out to other spaces and events in the city, such as Sunday Jump in Historic Filipinotown, Common Ground in Santa Ana, and Kollaboration, to name just a few—supporting them and building bridges with their organizers and artists.

Tuesday Night Café. Photo: Fiona Potter for Discover Nikkei.
Tuesday Night Café. Photo: Fiona Potter for Discover Nikkei.

 

JANM: When curating the Tuesday Night Café, what are the criteria that you use?

QS: We look at each show holistically; each program is a careful balance of people with different disciplines, experience levels, artistic content, and identities/backgrounds. We also want to set a tone that Tuesday Night Café isn’t just a handful of open mic slots nor an “established stars only” showcase, but a place where everyone can experience those beautiful fleeting moments of raw, outside-your-comfort-zone, heart-palpitatingly earnest connection with someone’s words, voice, movement, emotion, sound, and story. Creating a positive space for the performers helps both emerging and seasoned artists feel comfortable taking risks, trying new things, and using our space to grow.

JANM: I imagine many TNC performers go on to successful careers in show business. Any famous alumni you care to name?

QS: Artists like Connie Lim and Mista Cookie Jar continue to amaze audiences with their music, while folks like Dawen and David Tran aka Applesauce are sharing their music abroad (in Taiwan and Vietnam, respectively). Jenny Yang is a rising dynamo producing Disoriented Comedy shows and showing up all over the place (notably on Buzzfeed). Greg Watanabe of the 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors is making his Broadway debut this fall in the musical Allegiance.

While those are a few of the successes we celebrate, it’s important to note that Tuesday Night Project is less about celebrity and more about artists in process, trying things, collaborating, and creating their own respective paths. We want to celebrate each career as each person finds their own understanding of success, famous or otherwise!

Priska Neely mesmerizes the audience with her funny, mellow songs. Photo: Audrey Chan.
Priska Neely mesmerizes the audience
with her funny, mellow songs.
Photo: Audrey Chan.

JANM: TNC is 17 years old this year. Can you reflect on some of the changes and accomplishments that have occurred over the years?

QS: I’ve only been in the space since 2009, but in that time, I’ve seen a noticeable shift from a word-of-mouth, come-because-you’re-connected-to-someone, heard-about-it-through-the-community-grapevine project to a known-entity, internet-searchable, come-for-the-opportunities-to-perform kind of audience and space. This means a lot more people are coming in fresh; a significant portion of the crowd are first-timers at each show! But it also means that people are coming who don’t yet understanding who we are and what we’re about, so it’s even more important that we’re really clear about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

JANM: What is your vision for TNC going forward?

QS: I’d love to sort through our archive footage and photos to reconnect with and share our history, build more partnerships, and strengthen our online presence. Ultimately though, it’s not about growing Tuesday Night Project into some huge expansive brand for its own sake. We share art to build and bridge communities; validate and highlight diverse Asian American voices and stories; create safe, positive space; and at our core (as our Director/Co-Founder traci kato-kiriyama will gladly remind us), cherish people as each others’ greatest resource. Everything we’ve done and continue to do is with constant mindful consideration of those intentions.

Tuesday Night Café runs from April through October each year, taking place on the first and third Tuesday nights from 7 to 10 p.m. The last two Cafés of 2015 will take place on October 6 and 20. If you can’t attend in person, you can watch their live feed.

Introducing Mark Robbins

JANM recently hired Mark Robbins as the museum’s new Community and Government Relations Officer. To help introduce Mark to the greater JANM community, we conducted the following brief interview.

New JANM staff member Mark Robbins, right, attends the Go For Broke National Education Center's 14th Annual Evening of Aloha Gala Dinner with his wife, Iryll Robbins-Umel, center. At left is keynote speaker and pioneering Asian American athlete Natalie Nakase.
New JANM staff member Mark Robbins, right, attends the Go For Broke National Education Center’s 14th Annual Evening of Aloha Gala Dinner with his wife, Iryll Robbins-Umel, center. At left is keynote speaker and pioneering Asian American athlete Natalie Nakase.

JANM: What led you to come to work for the museum?

Mark Robbins: The mission of the museum appealed to me greatly. I was impressed by how JANM aims to tell the full Japanese American story, in all its shades and complexities. As a hapa and a fourth-generation Japanese American, I saw joining the JANM staff as an opportunity to contribute to something important while learning more about my own family’s history. I was also excited about all of JANM’s programs—the performances, workshops, film screenings, panels, and so on. It’s a vibrant institution that offers so much to its visitors and tests the boundaries of what a museum can be.

JANM: How do you visualize your role at the museum?

MR: Right now, I have a lot to learn, both in terms of the history of Little Tokyo and the various efforts underway at JANM. I see my role, though, as helping the museum be an informed and valuable partner in the community. While we are a national museum, Little Tokyo is in our DNA. Helping to preserve the health and distinct character of Little Tokyo is critical to our mission and our future. I will also play a role in the museum’s government relations, identifying federal grant opportunities for the museum, and working with our Young Professionals Network.

JANM: Can you tell us about your education and work history prior to joining the museum?

MR: I studied Communication and Political Science as an undergraduate at Stanford and went to law school at UCLA. I worked in Washington, DC, for about seven years as a policy advisor in the offices of the late Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska and former Governor of Alaska Sean Parnell. I then moved back to Los Angeles and held temporary positions as an attorney for Legal Aid in Compton before the opportunity with JANM came up.

JANM: You were born in Alaska. Can you tell us about your experience growing up there?

MR: I grew up on Kodiak Island, which is located in the Gulf of Alaska. In addition to its huge brown bears, Kodiak is known for its fishing. My father ran a commercial fishing boat for about 40 years there, catching cod, halibut, and salmon. That was our family business, and my older brother and I worked on the boat in the summers to earn money for school.

JANM: What have been your most memorable experiences so far at the museum?

MR: There have been many. Bringing my family (including my wife, young daughter, and mother) to the Natsumatsuri Family Festival in August was definitely a highlight. We had a large and energetic crowd on hand for the event and I was happy to have three generations of my family share the experience. I have also appreciated spending time with our volunteers, several of whom have committed their time and effort to the museum for decades. Their spirit and enthusiasm are inspiring and a constant reminder of why what we do here is so important. More recently, I’ve been getting to know our New Leadership Advisory Council. They are an impressive group and I’m excited about what we can accomplish together.

Share Your Nikkei Family Stories on Discover Nikkei

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JANM’s Discover Nikkei project is a major online resource that brings together the voices and experiences of Nikkei (Japanese emigrants and their descendants) 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 Nikkei around the world. At the same time, it seeks to explore the diverse and ever-changing meaning of the term Nikkei.

Every year, Discover Nikkei’s Nikkei Chronicles project puts out a call for original stories from Nikkei communities around the world. Qualifying submissions are published on the website, where readers can vote for their favorites. The most popular stories are translated into all four of the site’s languages and spotlighted.

The theme for this year’s Nikkei Chronicles is Family Stories. How has your family influenced who you are? What are the special traditions in your family? Do you live in a multi-generational/multicultural household? Does your family maintain any connections to Japan? Are there any famous, or infamous, people in your family? The possibilities are endless, and stories can be nonfiction or fiction. Submissions will be accepted through September 30. Many stories have already been published; you can read them here. Be sure to vote for your favorites! For complete details on how to submit your own story, visit this page.

This year also happens to mark Discover Nikkei’s tenth anniversary. A special page has been created to celebrate the occasion, inviting the site’s international readership to answer questions about themselves and their communities. The page is envisioned as an opportunity for a global network of Nikkei to “meet” one another and compare experiences. Visit 5dn.org/10th every month through March 2016 to see new questions.

Interview with the Curators of Jidai: Timeless Works of Samurai Art

Tanaka School, tachi koshirae with a design of dragonflies and family crest, 1800s. Wood, lacquer, iron, gold, and silver.
Tanaka School, tachi koshirae with a design of dragonflies and family crest, 1800s.
Wood, lacquer, iron, gold, and silver.

 

Currently on view in JANM’s lobby as part of this month’s Nisei Week celebrations, Jidai: Timeless Works of Samurai Art presents rare and historically significant samurai artifacts dating as far back as the Kamakura Period (AD 1185–1333) in Japan. We interviewed curators Darin S. Furukawa, an artist, educator, and samurai arts specialist; and Michael Yamasaki, founder of Japanese sword dealer tetsugendo.com and the only non-Japanese national to win the All Japan Sword Appraisal Championship, to get insight into this special display.

JANM: Can you both explain how you became such impassioned connoisseurs of Japanese swords and samurai artifacts? What is it that appeals to you about these objects?

Michael Yamasaki: My grandfather took me to see those classic samurai movies that most Issei and Nisei went to see at places like the old Kokusai Theatre in Los Angeles. Since then, I have wanted to own real Japanese swords and practice swordsmanship. I bought my first sword when I was 13, and that was just the tip of the iceberg—there was so much more to learn. The artistry and history grabbed me and has never let me go.

Darin S. Furukawa: I, too, can blame those old samurai flicks, along with parents who always filled the house with Japanese or Japanese-themed art. I was lucky enough to have Mike teach me about Japanese swords and fittings not too long ago (my knowledge base is still very much a work in progress), and I have found that these objects really speak to me. I feel the need to protect and preserve them. I actually feel ill when I see a piece that was treasured for centuries get destroyed by one generation’s neglect or misuse. That’s why I love to put on exhibitions like Jidai—to showcase not just the beauty of the objects, but also the care and dedication of the generations of responsible custodians who kept them in such excellent condition.

JANM: What are your favorite samurai movies?

MY: Seven Samurai and Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior are two of my favorites, and of course the Zatoichi films for humor!

DF: Seven Samurai for the story. Ran for the visuals. Kill Bill: Volume 1 for Sonny Chiba, Uma Thurman, copious amounts of blood, and a great soundtrack!

Musashi Miyamoto, tsuba with a design of two sea cucumbers, 1600s, iron.
Musashi Miyamoto, tsuba with a design of two sea cucumbers, 1600s, iron.

JANM: From what I understand, Musashi Miyamoto (c. 1584–c. 1645) is a near-legendary samurai, considered Japan’s greatest swordsman. Jidai features a tsuba (sword guard) that was made by him. How did you get a hold of this item?

DF: Before I let Mike answer that, I just have to say that Miyamoto was so much more than a master swordsman. He was an artist, philosopher, strategist, and author of the Book of Five Rings (a martial arts classic that is a must-read for everyone). He was such a rock star that my son’s middle name is Musashi.

MY: This tsuba was in the hands of an old collector. It took much effort and enticement to get him to release this piece. Miyamoto’s sword guards, as well as anything that he made while in retirement, are very rare and have a special place in our efforts to collect and preserve Japanese samurai artifacts.

JANM: Another special piece in the display is a tanto (dagger) that was forged by a Japanese American while incarcerated at Manzanar. Please tell us what you know about “Kyuhan” Kageyama and how he came to forge this tanto.

MY: When I first purchased the tanto by Kyuhan, I had no idea who he was; in fact, it was hard to properly read his name, which is an adopted artisan’s name. From what I was able to glean, Kyuhan was a true Japanese sword enthusiast—a collector and a scholar, not just a hobbyist. He later became one of the more serious members of Nihon Token Hozon Kai—the first Japanese sword club in America, founded by Nikkei in Los Angeles. There has been speculation that the dagger was made with the same equipment used to make farming tools in camp. Of course, his work would have been done in secret, as it is highly illegal to make weapons in a federal prison. This just showed how important this aspect of his culture was to him.

JANM: Besides these two artifacts, what else in Jidai should visitors be sure not to miss?

DF: The beauty of Jidai is that there’s something for everyone. For guests who are just looking for beautiful artwork, we have two cases dedicated to sword fittings. The sword guards, in particular, are spectacular, and show a wide variety of materials, techniques, and design motifs; there are rolling waves, peacocks, and a Christian cross that would have been hidden when mounted, as practicing Christianity was an offense punishable by death. For those interested in the martial arts aspects, we have 3 blades bearing test cut inscriptions (meaning they were tested on multiple human bodies). Those who are familiar with the way technology altered the battlefield should check out the amazing matchlock wall cannon, as well as a helmet that has three bullet test marks on it. In short, I’m sure all of our guests will find something they like, but they should take the time to explore it all!

The curators will give a public lecture about Jidai at 2 p.m. on Saturday, August 15, in JANM’s Democracy Forum. Attendance is expected to be high; doors will open at 1:30 p.m. and early arrival is recommended. Jidai will remain on view through August 30.

Marié Digby’s Colorful Pop Music Helps Launch JANM’s New Summer Night Concerts

Irish-Japanese American singer-songwriter Marié Digby is just one of the artists featured in JANM’s new Summer Night Concerts series, launching on July 30. Digby is a Los Angeles native who vaulted to fame after her acoustic cover version of Rihanna’s “Umbrella” went viral on YouTube. We conducted this email interview to learn more about her music and her perspective as an Asian American musician.

Marié Digby
Marié Digby
JANM: How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it?

Marié Digby: I would say it’s like an apple! The skin is vibrant and colorful, the meat of the fruit is storytelling and emotions, and at the core is pop music.

JANM: Who or what are your biggest influences?

MD: I’m a kid of the nineties so most of my biggest influences are bands and artists from that era. I grew up on Björk, Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins, Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, Poe. So many amazing artists!

JANM: What inspired you to do your own acoustic version of “Umbrella”?

MD: I had just started uploading cover videos on YouTube. I was always on the lookout for new songs on the radio—preferably, heavily produced songs that I felt still had an amazing core structure, which I could then break down to just vocal and guitar/piano. When I heard “Umbrella” in my car for the first time, I knew it would probably sound great stripped down.

JANM: There’s a wonderful quote in your bio: “I love watching people, and songs come out of that. When I have an experience that moves me, I can’t sit still until I’ve written the song.” Can you give us an example of an experience that moved you to write a song?

MD: What’s funny is, when I have a really positive/happy experience, I rarely feel like the first thing I want to do is sit down with my guitar and write a song! It always seems to be the more tragic, heartbreaking, soul-shaking events. As an example, I once wrote a song about all of the different people I’ve seen and met who pass through Los Angeles, in the hopes of becoming a star. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking to see the transformations I often witness. This city from afar is full of hopes and dreams but when you’re actually in it, it can really eat you up alive.

JANM: Do you identify as an Asian American artist? Or, put another way, do you feel that your identity as an Asian American influences your artistic practice, and if so, how?

MD: I absolutely do! When I first started out, I never considered the fact that my ethnicity might play an important role in my being an artist. When I started posting videos, I noticed that the majority of the comments were coming from Asians, in all different parts of the world! I love being half Asian. I am so proud to represent not only my Japanese culture, but a quickly growing group of hapa kids in America.

JANM: Besides JANM’s Summer Night Concert, do you have any exciting plans or upcoming gigs you’d like to tell our readers about?

MD: The most exciting project on my calendar right now is a new album I’m creating with Tom Rothrock, who produced my first album, Unfold. We’ll be working on it later this fall. It will be my first full-length independent release, after making four other albums with the help of record labels. But I believe with the help of my amazing fans, it just might be my best album yet!

Marié Digby will perform as part of JANM’s first Summer Night Concert on July 30, along with Priska and headlining act Magnetic North and Taiyo Na. Kogi BBQ, Arroy Food Truck, and Frach’s Fried Ice Cream will be on site, along with a beer garden sponsored by JANM’s Young Professionals Network. Join us again on August 27 for an evening with Paul Dateh, Mike Gao, and Go Yama. All concerts are FREE.