On Wednesday night, the Little Tokyo community was invited to a grand re-opening party for the Mikado Hotel, located on First Street in the historic heart of the neighborhood. This was no ordinary re-opening—the Mikado Hotel is a historic piece of architecture, built in 1914, and it has essentially lain dormant since the end of World War II. Capital Foresight finally purchased the building in 2014, and got to work on a restoration that would be faithful to the building’s history while updating it with contemporary touches. The result is quite remarkable.
The building’s façade has been restored to look the way it did in 1932. Visitors must first walk down a long corridor to reach the stairs and elevator at the back of the building; the corridor is decorated with a collage work and text panels recounting the history of Little Tokyo. The second and third floors are where the guest rooms, now called “micro-suites,” are located. On the second floor is a beautiful new open-air courtyard; the builders created this space by reducing the sizes of the individual rooms. In the past, the rooms were larger, but the space between them was practically nonexistent. The micro-suites continue on the third floor.
The suites are indeed microscopic—each one is about the size of a small bedroom. However, care has been taken to furnish them with all the necessary conveniences, including a kitchenette, full private bathroom (the original hotel had shared bathrooms), and storage cupboards. The style is decidedly hip and modern. A total of 42 suites will be available to rent starting in a few weeks, with leases that can run from one day up to one year. The price range is expected to be $1,160 to $1,500 per month.
Also new and hip is a rooftop lounge, featuring two comfortable seating areas. Guests can look down on the courtyard and balconies from here. The original hotel was enclosed, so the open-air effect is a welcome new addition, adding vibrancy to a small space.
The building was designed as a hotel by the California architect Alfred F. Priest. It is said to be typical of the commercial architecture that populated American main streets of the early 20th century, with its glazed white brick entrance and buff brick upper stories. Prior to World War II, it was known as the Mikado Hotel. While the Japanese American community was incarcerated, Little Tokyo became an African American enclave known as Bronzeville, and the Mikado morphed into the Shreveport Hotel, featuring a well-known soul food restaurant.
Gentrification is a contentious subject throughout Los Angeles, and Little Tokyo has not been immune to its effects. Critics bemoan the appearance of soulless condominiums, constructed quickly in the interest of profits, with no regard for the area’s history. A project like the Mikado Hotel seems to strike the right balance, respecting the lineage of the property while making it appealing to new audiences.
The 2017 Oscar nominations came out this week, and much was made about how diverse the nominees were. Out of the 20 acting nominees, seven are people of color; six of African descent and one of Indian descent. While this is encouraging, it is clear that much work still needs to be done to promote the visibility of Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) talent. As this blog has argued in the past, APIA talent is not in short supply, but opportunities for them often seem to be.
This February, JANM will host live tapings of a new series aimed at providing a platform for exciting APIA comedic talent. Comedy InvAsian presents six APIA actors and comedians doing one-hour standup sets in front of a live audience. Each set will be professionally filmed for later digital television broadcast.
The series will kick off on Friday evening, February 10, at 9 p.m. with a set from Paul “PK” Kim, a regular at Hollywood’s Laugh Factory and founder of the APIA networking group Kollaboration. It will end on Sunday, February 26, at 7:30 p.m. with a performance by Amy Hill, a longtime film and television actress known for her roles on 50 First Dates, Seinfeld, All-American Girl, King of the Hill, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and Amazon Studio’s Just Add Magic, among many other credits. For a complete schedule, with links to purchase tickets, visit this page.
Comedy InvAsian was founded by writers/directors Quentin Lee and Koji Steven Sakai (the latter was also formerly JANM’s Vice President of Programs). As the two state on their website: “In our filmmaking career, we have met and become friends with so many talented comedians of color, from producing Dwayne Perkins in Take Note to directing Randall Park in The People I’ve Slept With to working with Paul Kim in the Comedy Ninja Film Festival to directing Amy Hill in White Frog and The Unbidden. Comedy InvAsian will celebrate the talent and comedy of a group of select and diverse Asian American comedians which should prove to be just the tip of the iceberg.”
The two already have a distributor, Viva Pictures, and are vying to get on a popular digital platform like Amazon, Hulu, or Netflix. The latter recently produced Ali Wong: Baby Cobra, which became an enormous hit for the longtime comedy writer and standup artist. Lee and Sakai hope that Comedy InvAsian will also become a hit, so that they can continue to spotlight the many great APIA comedians that they know. Come support them by attending a live taping at JANM in February!
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.
Come to JANM this Saturday for a taste of Samoa! To celebrate our exhibition, Tatau: Marks of Polynesia, the latest JANM Free Family Day will feature a variety of crafts and cultural activities that celebrate Polynesian culture and the art of tattoos. Included will be performances and workshops spotlighting the traditional dances of Samoa. Guests will have a chance to learn the basic steps of fa’ataupati (slap dance), siva (traditional dance), and the fire knife dance with trained performers. (Note: actual fire and knives will NOT be used.)
To give you a sense of what these dances are like, we’ve assembled a collection of YouTube videos below. Enjoy and see you Saturday!
On Friday and Saturday, November 11 and 12, JANM will be hosting the second annual Kollaboration EMPOWER Conference. Launched in 2015 by Kollaboration, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in creative industries, the EMPOWER conference offers a weekend of panel discussions, mentoring sessions, interactive workshops, and networking opportunities aimed at bringing together aspiring young artists and more established professionals. The conference’s goal is to bridge communities, generations, industries, and innovative minds.
To learn more about the conference and its origins, we interviewed Christine Minji Chang, Executive Director of Kollaboration.
JANM: Why the name “Kollaboration”?
Christine Minji Chang: Kollaboration has its roots in the Korean American community—it was founded by standup comedian Paul “PK” Kim in 2000 as a platform for aspiring Korean American artists to share their talents. (Fun fact—Ben Chung of the Kinjaz, formerly the Jabbawockeez, performance group was the one who coined our name.)
Over time, we expanded the organization and the movement to represent the pan-Asian American Pacific Islander community, but the name stuck. It still speaks on a larger level to what we stand for: empowering the AAPI community and improving diversity in media by working together—whether that’s across ethnicity, geographical region, cultural background, or artistic genre.
JANM: How did the EMPOWER Conference come about?
CMC: This conference was a long time coming and a very collective manifestation of ideas that grew over time through conversations between Kollaboration volunteers and artists. I personally started volunteering with Kollaboration San Francisco in 2009, and I remember dreaming out loud with my colleagues about creating an event where we could get advice from entertainment professionals—both for the artists that we supported in our shows and for ourselves as creative leaders who might not want to perform on a stage.
I had long dreamed of pursuing acting, but the whole idea had always been so daunting and obscure. How do I start? What do I prioritize? How do I talk to my family and friends about it? The media industry has always been an unknown universe for most AAPIs—it’s not explored or encouraged as much as medicine, law, or engineering.
So through multiple conversations, brainstorming sessions, and networking, our amazing Kollaboration Los Angeles team took the plunge in 2015 to pilot our first EMPOWER Conference. We got 40 entertainment professionals to volunteer to share their wisdom and insight with a small but passionate audience. I was completely blown away and humbled to see this idea come to life right before my eyes. It was an amazing team effort, and I’m very proud of what we’ve started for the AAPI community.
JANM: Describe the people that you feel should come to this conference.
CMC: I think this conference is accessible for almost all AAPIs who are just starting out and/or curious about working in the entertainment industry. They can get ground-zero insights into various aspects of different industries, and how to best pursue different paths. The conversations will range from how to utilize various programs and resources, to how to navigate emotional and mental journeys in a tough industry that’s just starting to prioritize diverse stories.
EMPOWER is also a place where seasoned professionals can come to network and get up to date on trends and technology in the entertainment and media industries, which are constantly evolving. We want this conference to be a gathering place for ambitious and creative minds to meet, build relationships, and expand their skill sets. We also want folks to be open to learning new things, not just from industry panels but from hands-on workshops that will make them jump out of their comfort zones and build confidence in public speaking, improv comedy, auditioning, and more.
JANM: Can you give us a few highlights or favorite moments from last year’s inaugural conference?
CMC: One highlight was having Bing Chen as our keynote speaker. He is extremely smart and charismatic and has been a force of nature not only for the AAPI creative community, but for the millennial generation as a whole. He founded the YouTube Partner Program, which revolutionized artistic expression and visibility for AAPI artists. Without that, who knows how long AAPIs would have continued to create art in obscurity or struggled to find outlets for their voices. Bing got up on stage and spoke candidly and passionately, holding nothing back; it was a great moment of inspiration for everyone present.
A favorite moment of mine came from Tamlyn Tomita during our keynote panel. Tamlyn has been navigating Hollywood for decades, and is a hero of mine for being such a talented actress who’s made a name for herself in an industry and society that has been neither kind nor concerned about her representation. She was very vulnerable and fiery, encouraging everyone in the audience to face their personal fears of rejection and challenge definitions of success. She spoke so strongly that she was brought to tears, and so was I. The emotion was palpable in the room, and we felt empowered by her belief in us.
There were so many great moments! Another occurred during our writing panel, which I wasn’t present for the entire time. Mike Golamco, then a writer for NBC, shared with me how a young woman confided in him that after hearing him speak that day, she finally dared to call herself a writer. I could see how much that meant to Mike, and it was very clear to both of us that there was a lot more that we could do with this event. I’m so excited for this second conference and to be honest, I’m already planning our third!
The second annual Kollaboration EMPOWER Conference will take place at JANM Friday–Saturday, November 11–12. For more information and to register, visit empower.kollaboration.org. For more information about the organization, visit kollaboration.org.
Telling spooky stories around Halloween is starting to become a JANM tradition. Following the successful debut last year of the Members Only event JANM Ghost Stories, actor Rodney Kageyama hosted another evening of frightening tales this past weekend, told in the darkness of the Tateuchi Democracy Forum. His guests this time were ABC7 News anchor David Ono and producer Jeff MacIntyre, who shared three riveting stories that they had produced over the years as human interest segments for ABC7 News. All three segments were screened for the audience, preceded and followed by extensive commentary from Ono and MacIntyre.
The first was a debunking of the popular myth that vampires originated in Romania. In fact, the first documented vampire, Petar Blagojević, is known to be buried in a remote mountain village in Serbia. Ono and MacIntyre traveled to Serbia for this segment, uncovering the village and speaking with its residents with the help of James Lyon, historian, native Serbian speaker, and author of the Balkan vampire novel Kiss of the Butterfly. Through beautifully shot footage, we see them exploring the ancient, overgrown cemetery where the vampire is thought to be buried and examining an abandoned water mill thought to be the home of another legendary vampire, Sava Savanović.
The second video looked at Japan’s Aokigahara Forest, also known as the infamous Suicide Forest, nestled at the base of Mount Fuji. In old Japan, suicide was considered an honorable way to die and avoid bringing shame or being a burden to one’s family; thus, the forest has served as the final refuge for people in dire situations, or old people whose families could no longer care for them. Even today, when suicide is no longer condoned in Japan, the forest continues to attract a substantial number of despondent souls every year. Ono described it as an eerily quiet and tranquil place, with absolutely no wildlife. Tree roots jut out of the ground and curl, unable to penetrate the forest bottom, which is made of volcanic rock.
The last video was the favorite of the two producers: it investigated a house in the Glassell Park neighborhood of Los Angeles where spirits communicate through Polaroid photos. After experiencing an unusual level of paranormal activity (doors opening and closing by themselves, cold spots, etc.), the home’s two owners began taking Polaroids, which seemed to reveal ghostly presences. They began asking questions such as “Are you here?” before taking the Polaroids, which subsequently seemed to bear answers written in ghostly script: “Yes.”
Thousands of these pictures, with increasingly clear words visible in them, were produced over a period of more than 20 years, many times with friends present to witness the event. Professionals from Kodak and Polaroid even came with their own equipment to try to debunk the phenomenon, only to find the same writing appearing on their prints.
The spookiest story of all, however, was a personal one told by Ono. It happened to him following another paranormal investigation at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The medium he was working with warned him to tell the spirits not to follow him home from the cemetery. He completely forgot to do so, and… to hear this story, you’ll have to visit JANM’s YouTube channel… if you dare.
This weekend, JANM will once again host Okaeri, a volunteer-organized conference that focuses on creating visibility and acceptance for the Nikkei LGBTQ community. The inaugural conference was held here in 2014; you can read our introductory blog post here.
“The biggest thing that came out of the last conference was that it inspired other cities such as Sacramento, San Jose, and Seattle to have events for the LGBTQ Asian Pacific Islander community,” says Marsha Aizumi, Okaeri’s co-chair. Marsha’s son is transgender, and she is not only an ally of the community but an activist, having gone from being the only APIA mother attending a local PFLAG (formerly known as Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) meeting to now being the President and Co-Founder of PFLAG-San Gabriel Valley Asian Pacific Islander.
Aizumi sees the Asian American community as having a unique cultural challenge around accepting their LGBTQ children, due of lack of communication and the shame associated with coming out. Arriving on the heels of National Coming Out Day, Okaeri provides a safe space for building community and fostering growth and understanding. Workshops and panel discussions will focus on making intergenerational connections, being an ally, dealing with issues around religion, building a movement, gaining access to mental health services, and much more.
Congressman Mike Honda, an ally to the transgender community who has been outspoken about having a transgender granddaughter, will be the keynote speaker. Also new this year is an after party and networking event on Saturday night for attendees who are 21 and over.
Although the event is almost completely at capacity, Aizumi is still encouraging people to register and attend; no one will be turned away. For more details and to register, please visit okaeri-losangeles.org.
This post was researched and written by JANM Executive Assistant Nicole Miyahara. In addition to her duties at JANM, Nicole is an ethnographic documentary filmmaker who is currently working onThe Making of a King, a documentary that explores the world of drag kings, the lesser-known counterpart to drag queens.
On October 2, JANM hosted a staged reading of Quentin Tarantino’s classic crime drama, Reservoir Dogs. Organized by a group called No Shortage of Asian Talent (NSAT), the reading had a unique twist—all of the parts in the macho, all-male, all-Caucasian drama were read by Asian American actresses. Elaine Kao played Mr. Blond; Jully Lee played Mr. Pink; Rosie Narasaki was Nice Guy Eddie; Sharon Omi was ringleader Joe Cabot; Grace Su portrayed Mr. Orange; Tamlyn Tomita stepped in as Mr. White; and Jolene Kim voiced a variety of smaller roles, including the cop in the iconic ear-slicing scene.
According to the organizers, finding a suitable all-female vehicle was difficult, so they decided to choose from the many all-male films in the canon and enact a gender swap. The stripped-down event had each of the actresses reading her part from a script while standing at a lectern. A disembodied narrator’s voice (West Liang, who was also the director) provided the deejay’s lines that open the film, and went on to narrate the action sequences, which, with a few notable exceptions, were not physically acted out by the actresses.
Watching this brutal, expletive-laden drama unfold in the hands of highly capable APIA actresses—who are typically cast by Hollywood as roommates or best friends in romantic comedies, if at all—was a jarring and fascinating experience. The film opens with a casually vulgar chat among the group of criminals, in which they debate the real meaning of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin.” The actresses bit into this semi-sexist dialogue with gusto, spitting out their lines without hesitation or self-consciousness. They then maintained this level of vigor for the entire reading.
The quality of the acting was excellent throughout, which made the narrative convincing in spite of the gender incongruity at play. Tomita was clearly channeling Harvey Keitel, who played her character in the film, as she deepened her voice and wore a simple white blazer over black pants to enhance her masculine presence. She and Omi were the elders of the group, and they were well cast as the two older men in the film; as Joe Cabot, Omi did a great job emanating the gravitas of an “old mob boss.” In a nice touch, Omi’s own daughter, Rosie Narasaki, played Joe’s son, Nice Guy Eddie.
Perhaps the most intriguing bit of acting, and the best physical realization of a scene, belonged to Elaine Kao as Mr. Blond. With a nice smile and a proper air about her, Kao seems to be the polar opposite of the creepy, psychopathic Michael Madsen character in every way. (In fact, she had a bit role as a blushing soon-to-be-bride in Bridesmaids.) Kao used this dichotomy to her advantage, however, managing to conjure a sinister darkness just below the surface of her sunny smile. The infamous scene in which Mr. Blond tortures and ultimately slices the ear off of Jolene Kim’s hapless cop was the most physically articulated in the entire reading, and both of the actresses played it with relish.
Overall, this staged reading was highly entertaining and stimulating. The gender disconnect between the actors and their characters threw the conventions of masculinity and femininity into high relief. At the same time, the excellence of the acting proved that there is, indeed, “no shortage of Asian talent,” and made a strong case for taking more risks in casting APIA actors. Hollywood, are you listening?
This all-APIA reading was the second organized by No Shortage of Asian Talent (NSAT), a group formed to showcase up-and-coming Asian talent and combat Hollywood’s seeming refusal to give major movie roles to APIA actors. Their first project was an all-APIA reading of Glengarry Glen Ross, which took place last year. Look for more all-APIA readings of iconic films, coming soon from this group.
This Sunday, October 2, is the Eighth Annual Kokoro Craft Boutique, organized by JANM’s corps of volunteers. The boutique has become a staple of the community over the years, with many considering it the first stop on their holiday shopping journey. Dozens of vendors will be on hand to sell unique jewelry, kimono fabric fashions, Giant Robot merchandise, handbags, ceramics, origami and glass art, dog fashions, and more. A taiko performance by Yuujou Daiko will take place at 1 p.m., and all proceeds will benefit JANM’s education programs.
To learn more about the boutique and its origins, we sat down with Irene Nakagawa, one of the volunteers in charge of organizing the event.
JANM: How did Kokoro Craft Boutique come into being?
Irene Nakagawa: When Ernie Doizaki was Chair of JANM’s Board of Trustees, he approached Janet Maloney, who was chair of the Volunteer Leadership Council at the time, and asked, what can the volunteers do to help bring money into the museum? Janet had had experience organizing boutiques at her son’s high school, so she suggested doing a boutique for JANM. And Ernie said, well go for it! So then we asked all the volunteers who are shoppers to go out and visit different boutiques and get ideas and bring back information about the vendors. We also solicited advice from a few friends with experience running boutiques, like Carol Yuki, whose husband Tom is a current member of the Board of Trustees.
So that’s how we got started and over the last eight years, it has just grown. As of this year we have 55 vendors and a waiting list! Word spreads—friends have friends who can do arts and crafts. We also have people that are second generation now, as mothers have turned duties over to their daughters. The first year, we were mainly in Aratani Central Hall. This year we’re filling up Central Hall, Nerio Education Center, the Kagawa Lobby, the Weingart Foundation Garden Foyer, and the Inahara Gallery Foyer on the second floor.
JANM: How do you select the vendors?
IN: We want to get as many vendors as we can, just to showcase all the different arts and crafts that are out there, but everything has to be hand-made. It can’t be anything you can buy commercially.
JANM: Why did you choose to benefit JANM’s education program?
IN: Well, we’re all volunteers and we figured that was our goal—to educate the public. Every year at the Gala Dinner, JANM does a Bid for Education, started by the late Senator Daniel Inouye, a great friend to the museum. We thought, this is a way to supplement that effort, and give more schoolchildren a chance to come to the museum. To date, I think we’ve raised about $85,000 total for the museum. Every year the number goes up!
JANM: What is the arrangement with the vendors?
IN: After they rent their table spaces, they give 15% of their sales proceeds to the museum, plus they have to donate one item for the raffle, which brings in even more funding.
JANM: Can you give us some highlights of the cool items that will be available for purchase this year?
IN: Oh, everything is cool! But as far as highlights—this year we have Janis Kato, a younger fashion designer who is popular among the Sansei; Michele Yamaguma, who does unique Asian collages; Kathy Yoshihara, who does interesting pottery pieces that incorporate gourds; Adrienne Lee, a former JANM staffer, who makes purses; Jamie Totsubo, who makes dog collars and dog sweaters; Cynthia Ishii, who makes handbags out of beautiful Asian fabrics; and some excellent jewelry makers. These are just a few examples that I’m pulling off the top of my head.
We will also have great food vendors, like Marimix, who makes delicious cookies and rice cracker snack mixes; and Sheri Miyamoto, who will donate 100% of the proceeds from her baked goods in honor of her parents, who were major donors to JANM. Our food truck this year is Slammin’ Sliders, who is coming out from San Gabriel Valley.
We will also have Yuujou Daiko performing taiko on the plaza—one of their members is also a volunteer here.
JANM: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
IN: Be sure to tell everyone we have air conditioning! And that by coming out to support us, you support the museum.
Kokoro Craft Boutique takes place this Sunday, October 2, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission to the boutique is free; admission to JANM is “Pay What You Wish.” Make a boutique purchase of $10 or more and receive a 10% discount at participating Little Tokyo restaurants. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Presented by Friends of the Museum.