New Frontiers: The Many Worlds of George Takei, which has been on view for a little over a month now, features a cornucopia of fascinating artifacts from the life of the noted actor, activist, and longtime friend and supporter of the Japanese American National Museum.
The exhibition, whose format was inspired by Takei’s role on the iconic Star Trek television and film series, is divided into five “voyages” exploring the many aspects of Takei’s life: his childhood spent in a World War II incarceration camp; his rise in Hollywood as a pioneering Asian American actor; his civic engagement and community activism; his groundbreaking all-APIA Broadway musical, Allegiance; and his current status as a social media icon.
George and his husband, Brad, have been collecting and organizing their various possessions for years. The 200 artifacts that are currently on view in New Frontiers represent just a small portion of The George & Brad Takei Collection, which was donated to JANM last year and is still being processed as we speak. During a recent Members Only Learning at Lunch event, Collections Manager Maggie Wetherbee regaled an enthusiastic audience with tales of the 300 boxes and nearly 200 framed objects that she and her team collected from the Takei home. The exclusive gathering focused on a selection of objects that did not make it into the exhibition.
These included Boy Scout photos from George’s childhood, a personal scrapbook that George himself put together, samples of fan mail he has received, and a copy of the script for the January 15, 1987, episode of Miami Vice, on which George was a guest star. Wetherbee also shared a number of interesting stories that she heard during the process of reviewing the items at the Takei house.
If you have not yet seen the exhibition, we offer a few highlights in this blog post, along with a bonus image that was taken at the Learning at Lunch event. Note that another Learning at Lunch event will take place on June 3 and will also spotlight items from The George & Brad Takei Collection that did not make it into New Frontiers. If you are not yet a member, click here for information on how to join and enjoy great benefits like this one.
This weekend, JANM opens New Frontiers: The Many Worlds of George Takei. Drawing on the George & Brad Takei Collection of personal artifacts, which was recently gifted to the museum, New Frontiers explores the life and career of the pioneering actor, activist, and social media icon. The exhibition begins with Takei’s incarceration at the Rohwer and Tule Lake concentration camps as a child during World War II and moves through his career as a Japanese American actor in Hollywood, his public service appointments, his coming out as a gay man, his activism on behalf of both the Japanese American and LGBTQ communities, and his wild popularity as a social media figure. In the process, New Frontiers provides a unique window onto American history and culture in the 20th and 21st centuries.
New Frontiers is curated by noted author, journalist, and cultural critic Jeff Yang. We sat down with Yang via email to talk about the exhibition and his curatorial process.
JANM: Why George Takei, and why now?
Jeff Yang: George’s life has been extraordinary, and it has placed him at the center of some of the most critical changes in American society and culture: from the injustice of the Japanese American incarceration during WWII, through the fight for marriage equality, the struggle to overcome Hollywood stereotypes, the push to own our creative voice as Asian Americans, and the transformative rise of social media. In many of these circumstances, he wasn’t just a witness but a prime mover. These facts alone would make him an exceptional individual to explore through the lens of history. But, at 79 years old, George has never been more active, more outspoken, or more relevant. The changes we’ve seen over just the past six months have underscored the narratives in George’s life and made it clear that we still have many lessons to learn from the experiences he’s had.
JANM: How did you come to be the curator of this exhibition?
JY: I’ve known George for many years, having written about popular culture and Asian American issues since the late 1980s. I’ve been a fan of his since I was a kid, and since becoming an adult, I’ve had the fortune of befriending him as well. I’d curated another large and complicated pop culture exhibit for JANM in 2013 (Marvels & Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in US Comics, 1942–1986) and I suppose George, and the powers-that-be at JANM, thought my experience and POV were a good fit for this historic show.
JANM: What is your biggest goal for this exhibition?
JY: I want people to get a unique lens on the last 80 years of American history and to learn, especially now, how our rights have been won and protected through the years and why it’s critical to remember how we’ve fought for them. And also to have a great time! Visitors should expect to have an experience that we hope will make them want to come back again—with friends.
JANM: We understand you’ve been combing through a lot of George’s personal possessions. Which ones have you found particularly intriguing, and why?
JY: The process of curation has been exhausting because of the sheer volume of items we have available! George and his husband Brad have donated virtually everything in a lifetime of collecting to the museum—over 100 boxes of amazing stuff, and it has taken a year just to sort through everything. There were personal Takei family memorabilia from the camps; early images from Asian American—or, as they called it then, “Oriental”—Hollywood; behind-the-scenes artifacts and personal notes from Star Trek, the Broadway musical Allegiance, and George’s many other roles and works; intimate correspondence and mementos from Brad and George’s wedding and life together; and iconic merchandise and one-of-a-kind fan art given to George over the years. We are also doing our best to make the exhibition richly interactive and contextual; there’s a ton to learn from it even if you’re not a Star Trek fan.
As for my personal favorite item? I think it’s probably the pocket “casting directory” of Hollywood’s Asian/Pacific actors dating back to the 1950s. It shows some familiar faces and many more obscure ones, all presented with stereotypical one-liners that underscores how Hollywood saw them. Things have certainly changed since then—but not as much as we might have hoped!
JANM: What gave you the idea to produce a comic book in conjunction with the exhibition?
JY: We realized early on that any catalog for an exhibition of George’s unique life would need to be highly visual, and to weave memory and imagination. The graphic novel form was ideal for that! So Excelsior: The Many Lives of George Takei is your guide through the exhibition in comic book format. We’re also putting together a graphic anthology of stories inspired by George’s life and the issues he has engaged throughout it, called (like the exhibition) New Frontiers: The Many Worlds of George Takei. The latter is more like a catalog for the exhibition, but done in an eclectic comic book format. Unbound Philanthropy is generously funding that project.
JANM: Has working on New Frontiers changed any of your opinions on popular culture or APIA history?
JY: It’s made me realize how much has changed over the past 80 years—how we as APIAs have moved from the fringes to the center of popular culture, and how popular culture has moved from the fringes to the center of society. And George has been a significant part of that.
Join us on Sunday, March 12, for the public opening ofNew Frontiers: The Many Worlds of George Takei. There will also be an Upper Level Members’ Reception on Saturday, March 11, at 7 p.m., with an opportunity to meet George, Brad, and Jeff personally. For information on becoming an upper level member, please visit this page.
The recent election has brought many social and political issues to the forefront of American consciousness. Stoked by sensationalistic news coverage, debates and statements have often been heated and not always productive. To counteract this phenomenon, we at the Japanese American National Museum thought we would try a different tactic. Thus, to begin this new year, we invite you to join us in connecting with other museum visitors in a search for “common ground.”
Beginning on January 12, JANM will present a four-week series of public conversations taking place in the galleries of our core exhibition, Common Ground: The Heart of Community. Elements of the exhibition, which chronicles 130 years of Japanese American history through hundreds of objects, documents, and photographs, will serve as jumping-off points to start each week’s conversation. Sessions will take place on consecutive Thursday evenings from 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., and each one will focus on a different topic. Staff members from the museum’s education department will lead and facilitate the discussions.
Following are the topics for each conversation:
January 12: Compassion
January 19: Transparency
January 26: Speaking out
February 2: Solidarity
Our hope is that Common Ground Conversations will generate meaningful dialogue centered on each week’s topic, using Japanese American history to delve into contemporary issues and current concerns. No tickets or RSVPs are required. Common Ground Conversations coincide with JANM’s free admission on Thursdays starting at 5 p.m.
Every week, hundreds of visitors view JANM’s core exhibition, Common Ground: The Heart of Community. While the story resonates strongly with Japanese American visitors, who can see their own family histories in it, the importance of community is something that can be felt and understood by visitors from all different backgrounds. The exhibition begins with an introductory panel, which sets the stage for a story of immigrants:
Community is not just where you live.
Community is also about who you are.
Immigration is central not only to the Japanese American experience, but that of all Americans:
We are on common ground with all Americans,
with all people.
The exhibition traces Japanese American history through the struggles of immigrant mothers and fathers, the trauma of World War II and the concentration camps, and the ongoing quest to find a place in this country. Through it all, the importance and fluidity of the concept of community is explored; it is both an ideal to aspire to, and a source of comfort during trying times. Common Ground closes with a look to the future:
in the stories we tell each other,
in the stories we tell others.
As we reinvent America,
from monolithic to multicultural,
to include all of us
in all our magnificent diversity,
we forever re-vision the American experience.
Visitors of all ages, ethnicities, and cultures are invited to explore their own history and appreciate the differences among us while also remembering our similarities. By doing so, we reflect on and create what it really means to be American.
Just announced! JANM presents Common Ground Conversations, a four-week series of themed public conversations inspired by Common Ground: The Heart of Community. Read our press release for complete information.
On Friday, November 18, JANM members brought a brown bag lunch and joined the museum’s collections staff for a look at the work of the late animator, TV producer, and film director Iwao Takamoto, who had a distinguished career at Disney and Hanna-Barbera, and two of his Japanese American peers who also worked in the Hollywood film industry: MGM art director Eddie Imazu and Disney animator Chris Ishii.
Below you will find a few photos highlighting the event, which was part of JANM’s Members Only Learning at Lunch series. If you are a current JANM member, watch for your December e-newsletter, which will include an exclusive link to JANM’s professionally produced video of the event. JANM members now get exclusive first-viewing privileges on selected JANM program videos; in the last two months, members have enjoyed advance access to a talk with Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and a World War II panel discussion with Five Nisei. The new video will include fascinating tidbits about the lives of the three artists, including a personal reminiscence from an audience member who knew Takamoto as a child.
Not a JANM member? Click here to purchase a membership for yourself or a loved one—gift memberships at the Family/Dual level are 20% off, now through the end of the year. And be sure to provide your email address so we can notify you of new videos available for viewing!
As the repository of more than 100,000 individual artifacts related to the Japanese American experience, JANM frequently receives requests from other museums and cultural centers to borrow rare and meaningful items for their exhibitions. We can’t accommodate every request but right now, there are two exhibitions currently featuring loaned artifacts from the JANM permanent collection—one in nearby La Cañada Flintridge and the other in Austin, Texas.
Descanso Gardens is located at the far western end of the San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles County. Among its many botanical treasures is a Japanese Garden, which celebrated its 50th anniversary earlier this year. In honor of the anniversary, the exhibition Sharing Culture | Creating Community charts the creation of the Japanese Garden, how it functions as a work of living art, how it transmits cultural ideas, and how it can act as a catalyst for building community.
On view in the Sturt Haaga Gallery through January 29, 2017, Sharing Culture | Creating Community includes four photographs by Toyo Miyatake from the JANM collection. One depicts Frank Fusaji Nagata at his Alpine Baika Bonsai Nursery in Los Angeles in 1964. Nagata taught bonsai there and was one of the founders of the Southern California Bonsai Club, which became the California Bonsai Society. Another photo, taken in 1968, is from the Third Annual Bonsai Festival at Descanso Gardens. In it, a man examines a bonsai created by the Santa Anita Bonsai Society for the festival, while Mrs. Forrest Kresser “Judge” Smith, founding president of the Descanso Gardens Guild, and Mrs. Khan Komai, wife of the Society president, look on.
Also on loan from JANM is a photo of Eijiro and Eiichi Nunokawa of Garden Arts Landscaping in the Japanese garden they designed at the Occidental Center (now known as the AT&T Center) at 12th and Hill streets in Los Angeles. Eijiro Nonokawa also designed Descanso’s Japanese Garden. Lastly, a 1966 photo reveals the Japanese garden at Chavez Ravine. Located behind Dodger Stadium’s parking lot #6, the garden features a six-foot-tall toro (stone lantern)—a gift from Japanese sportswriter Sotaro Suzuki of the Yomiuri Shimbun of Tokyo.
At the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin, State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda, produced by the United States Holocaust Museum, is currently on display. The exhibition emphasizes why the issue of propaganda matters and inspires visitors to search for truth and work together for change. On the Texas Homefront is a companion exhibition curated by the Bullock that explores the effects of Nazi propaganda and events in Germany on Texas and Texans. Five artifacts from the JANM collection are included in On the Texas Homefront, representing first-person experiences in Texas by Japanese Americans who had been forcibly removed from their homes in the wake of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Four of these artifacts are drawings made by George Hoshida in 1942 and 1943. Hoshida was an artist and community leader in Hawai‘i when the US entered the war. Within days of the Pearl Harbor bombing he had been removed from his home and incarcerated. He documented camp life through drawings and paintings in notebooks he kept as he spent time in and moved among five different camps during the war.
Also loaned to the Bullock Museum is a postcard from JANM’s Clara Breed Collection. Breed was the children’s librarian at the San Diego Public Library from 1929 to 1945. She kept in touch with many of the Japanese American children and teenagers who had frequented the library even as they were forcibly removed to assembly centers and concentration camps.
The postcard on loan to the Bullock was written by Fusa Tsumagari during a train stopover in El Paso, Texas, on the way to the Crystal City Department of Justice camp. “We had a rather restless night due to the occasional jerking of the train. I feel fine but mother is a bit car sick. Pop will be waiting for us when we get there on Sunday, according to our escort,” it says toward the end, referring to being reuniting with her father.
State of Deception and On the Texas Homefront are on view through January 8, 2017.
Descanso Gardens is open every day but December 25. The Bullock Texas State History Museum is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. Should you find yourself with a little time during this holiday season, please consider visiting one of these cultural institutions to which JANM has made loans.
On May 29, 2016, JANM received the extraordinary gift of an original paper crane folded by Sadako Sasaki, the young Hiroshima-born girl who died in 1955 of complications resulting from radiation poisoning. Before her death, Sasaki folded over 1,000 paper cranes in hopes of recovering from her illness. Because of her efforts, which touched many people, paper cranes have since become a universal symbol of peace, hope, and recovery. The museum is honored to be the only West Coast recipient of one of Sasaki’s cranes, joining such global institutions as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, the 9/11 Tribute Center in New York, and the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri.
Highlights of the gifting ceremony can be seen in the below video, produced by JANM’s Frank H. Watase Media Arts Center. The moving event included remarks by Clifton Truman Daniel, grandson of US President Harry S. Truman, and Masahiro Sasaki, brother of Sadako. Not included in the video were a song sung by Yuji Sasaki, Masahiro’s son, in tribute to his aunt; and a clip from Orizuru 2015, a short film inspired by Sadako’s story, introduced by director Miyuki Sohara.
This Saturday, August 6, is the 71st anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Be sure to join us at 1 p.m. that day for a special talk by Above the Fold curator Meher McArthur, who will speak about Sadako Sasaki and how her actions influenced the spread of origami practice. The talk, which will take place in JANM’s Tateuchi Democracy Forum, is part of the museum’s Tateuchi Public Programs series. Above the Fold, which looks at contemporary origami practice, is on view through August 21.
JANM is fortunate to have a vast collection of artworks, artifacts, documents, and other historical items pertaining to the Japanese American experience. To help scholars and other researchers navigate its contents, the museum’s Collections Management and Access (CMA) Unit is an active contributor to the Online Archive of California (OAC), a web resource that provides free public access to detailed descriptions of primary resource collections at more than 200 libraries, archives, historical societies, and museums throughout California.
On OAC’s Japanese American National Museum page, you will find a hyperlinked, alphabetical list of collection finding aids. Click on any of the finding aids to access detailed information about that collection, including the scope and nature of its contents; background information and biographies; applicable restrictions; and instructions on how to access the collection. Some of the finding aids feature materials that can be accessed directly, such as digital copies of documents, and all of them offer a downloadable PDF of all the information. The museum regularly adds new finding aids after collections are processed.
JANM’s archivist recently completed the finding aid for the records of the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA), a national organization of the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha sect and the largest Japanese American Buddhist organization in the country. This collection was transferred to the museum from BCA headquarters and is jointly owned by both organizations. The finding aid represents a significant advance for the study of Japanese American history, since the arrival and growth of the Buddhist religion in America was closely tied to the arrival of the first Issei immigrants.
JANM’s sizable collection of materials dates from 1899, when the BCA was founded, to 2016. It includes correspondence between headquarters in the United States, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji Headquarters in Kyoto, Japan, and individual temples, along with meeting minutes and conference materials, education-related records, publications, financial records, and audiovisual materials in a wide variety of formats. The collection spans three major periods in the evolution of BCA: establishment and early growth, the World War II incarceration era and its impact, and postwar expansion. Panoramic photographs from the collection are available to view on the museum’s website.
Also recently added was the finding aid for the Stanley Hayami Papers. Born in 1925 in Los Angeles, Stanley Hayami was incarcerated with his family at Heart Mountain and attended high school while he was in camp. After graduating, he was inducted into the US Army and joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Unit. In March 1945, during a tour of duty in Italy, Hayami was killed in action while trying to save another soldier. He was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart for his bravery.
JANM’s Stanley Hayami Papers includes letters from Stanley to his sister Sachiko, letters from Sachiko to her family in Heart Mountain, camp newspapers and newsletters, personal items belonging to Stanley (1945 diary, certificate of baptism, application for life insurance, report cards), items of Stanley’s clothing, photographs of soldiers, and drawings by Stanley. This collection captures his time with the 442nd; those interested in his high school years can go to the OAC website and view the Stanley Hayami Diary (1941-1944), which has been digitized and made available online.
Requests to access JANM’s permanent collection can be made by contacting the CMA Unit at 213.830.5615 or email@example.com. Appointments must be scheduled in advance and documentation as to the purpose of the research visit is required. Fees may apply.
This Saturday, May 7, at 2 p.m., JANM will present a dramatic reading of Moss on the Mirror, a fictional play inspired by the life and work of renowned photographer Toyo Miyatake. Taking place in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo district in the late 1920s and early 1930s, where Miyatake’s practice flourished before World War II, the play examines the creativity, hope, and optimism, as well as the struggles and challenges, of the Japanese immigrant photographers community.
Although not a literal retelling of actual events, the piece seeks to transport audiences to the feelings and circumstances of those times. Moss on the Mirror was written by Warren Sata, whose paternal grandfather was J.T. Sata (1896–1975), a featured photographer (along with Miyatake) in the current exhibition Making Waves: Japanese American Photography, 1920–1940. To learn more about the play, we conducted a brief interview with Sata via email.
JANM: What does the title Moss on the Mirror refer to?
Warren Sata: The title refers to the notion that we understand ourselves and our communities through reflection, or looking in the mirror. The moss evokes a clouded mirror, alluding to the influence of outside circumstances like poverty and racism.
JANM: What inspired you to write this play?
WS: The story of Los Angeles’ Issei photographers has fascinated me and inspired my imagination since I learned about them from my father some years ago. A conversation with actor/director Chris Tashima, who serves as the play’s director, helped me to recognize the importance of Toyo Miyatake’s journey toward becoming a pillar of the community. I began to understand the value of artistry and responsibility in a different way, which led me to take an interest in sketching the story of Japanese Americans photographers and their interests and practices prior to the WWII incarceration.
JANM: What is your favorite image by a Japanese American photographer, and why?
WS: I am drawn to an abstract self-portrait created by my grandfather, J.T. Sata, which is currently on display in Making Waves. It utilizes triangles and a photographic image of his face. The interplay between a realistic portrait and an abstract prepared background fascinates me; it seems to suggest a doorway between the real world and subjective experience. This allows for a dialogue between these worlds and gives value to the notion of participating in both. I enjoy this because it pushes me to understand the Issei experience and what that might have felt like.
JANM: What do you hope audiences will get out of the dramatic reading?
WS: I hope that audience members will be motivated to honor the contributions of the Issei photographic pioneers, but also to consider what their experiences were like in the 1920s and ’30s—their creativity, their principles, their aesthetics, and the culture and context of the times.
One of my favorite Members Only events here at JANM is the collections-based series, Learning at Lunch. Members can bring a brown bag lunch and sit back as our knowledgeable Collections Manager, Maggie Wetherbee, showcases unique and often unseen artifacts from JANM’s collections. One past session explored JANM’s intricate and beautiful bird pin collection, while another looked at paper artifacts—such as letters, photographs, and menus—that revealed how Thanksgiving was celebrated in the camps and by members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
The most recent edition of Learning at Lunch took place last Friday. It was extra special, as we were joined by Frank Sata, son of photographer J.T. Sata, who is a featured artist in our current exhibition, Making Waves: Japanese American Photography, 1920–1940. Frank, a well-known architect, also has a unique connection to JANM: he was an instrumental part of the architectural team that renovated the museum’s Historic Building.
Frank began his presentation by sharing family photographs and personal stories about his family’s history and journey. He then shared some of his father’s photographs that are in JANM’s collection but not on view in the exhibition.
During this portion, classical music played in the background as a tribute to his father, who loved classical music; Frank also felt that the lyrical images deserved lyrical accompaniment. These photographs were not only breathtaking but also showcased J.T. Sata’s immense skill and artistic sensibility. Some of my favorites are featured here.
We were also treated to slides of J.T. Sata’s other works, including charcoal drawings of the Santa Anita Assembly Center and vibrant paintings from the family’s time at the Jerome concentration camp in Arkansas. Overall, the presentation was truly moving and such a unique opportunity to hear Frank share his personal insights about his father and his father’s work.
Making Waves will be on view through June 26. You can watch a short film about J.T. Sata made by JANM’s Frank H. Watase Media Arts Center here.