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.
A new year is here, and this Sunday, JANM will be celebrating Oshogatsu (Japanese New Year) along with the rest of Little Tokyo. Our free Oshogatsu Family Festival will welcome everyone with Year of the Rooster-themed activities, crafts, and performances.
Oshogatsu is widely considered the most important holiday in Japan, and there are many time-honored traditions that go with it. We’ve explored a few of those traditions on this blog: mochitsuki, Daruma dolls, and osechi-ryori. Today, in anticipation of Sunday’s festival, we will look at kagami mochi, a traditional Japanese New Year decoration. Among the many exciting things we have planned is a craft activity in which participants will be able to construct and take home their own replica of a kagami mochi.
Kagami mochi basically consists of a large round rice cake (mochi) topped with another, slightly smaller rice cake, which is then topped with a small bitter orange (daidai). The two rice cakes symbolize the year that just passed along with the year that is to come, while daidai is a homonym for the phrase “generation to generation.” Thus, the arrangement celebrates long life, the bonds of family, and the continuity of generations.
An additional meaning harkens back to an ancient Japanese myth. The word kagami means mirror, and the round shape of the rice cakes is said to resemble the mirror of the sun goddess Amaterasu. According to legend, the earth went dark when Amaterasu retreated from the world and hid in a cave. She was eventually drawn out with a mirror, restoring light to the world. Thus, kagami mochi also symbolizes the renewal of light and energy that occurs at the start of a new year.
Each family decorates kagami mochi in their own way; variations include a sheet of kelp to symbolize pleasure and joy. It is recommended that several kagami mochi are placed in locations throughout the house, in order to please the various Shinto gods that are believed to dwell there.
Kagami mochi are set out around the end of the year, and remain on display until kagami biraki day (kagami breaking day, or “the opening of the mirror”), which usually takes place on or around January 11. On that day, the kagami mochi are broken into pieces with a hammer—never cut, as that would symbolically sever family ties—and cooked and eaten, often as part of a traditional soup called ozoni. This is considered the first important Shinto ritual of the year.
Come celebrate with us on Sunday, January 8, and increase your good fortune for 2017!
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.
Minjae Kang, media arts intern, was intrigued by the major construction work currently taking place in Little Tokyo, as the neighborhood gets ready to welcome a new Metro Regional Connector station, projected to open in 2020. He decided to create a short, impressionistic film that chronicles the work. The exercise was also an opportunity for him to practice some new skills. Following is his statement:
During my first week as an intern, I made this video of the ongoing construction of the Metro Regional Connector Project in Little Tokyo. The laborious but enjoyable process definitely helped me to sharpen my technical skills.
First, I had to request permission from the workers to enter restricted areas, which was granted. Then I shot my footage with a Canon 5D Mark III. I did the editing with Final Cut Pro X, and the grading with DaVinci Resolve. I always edited with Premiere in the past, but I learned more tools and techniques in Final Cut. I also learned about several free music sites, such as SoundCloud, Free Music Archive, and ccMixter.
I’ve had a lot of fun with this project. I was able to really explore Little Tokyo and discover various places to eat and hang out. I look forward to the new station providing convenient transportation options for everyone, so that I can bring my family and friends to Little Tokyo.
Minjae Kang majors in film and video at California Institute of the Arts.
It’s hard to believe that my year as a Nisei Week Princess is coming to an end. It seems like just yesterday that the seven of us were on stage at the 2015 Opening Ceremony, saying our introductions for the first time. It’s been an amazing year to say the least—from the trips to Japan, Hawai‘i, and San Francisco, to attending numerous community events. I’m lucky to have met so many people who truly care about the community and inspire me to continue giving back and sharing the Japanese American story.
In my speech from Coronation last year, I discussed how my birth mother named me Sora, which means “sky” in Japanese. The sky is something that connects everyone in this world, so giving me that name meant that she would always be connected to me. One of my greatest takeaways from my year as a Nisei Week Princess were all the connections I made with people from Little Tokyo and around the world.
I’m grateful for my six new sisters—Sara, Veronica, Karen, Michelle, Kelsey, and Tamara—who I’ve gotten to know inside and out. Through thick and thin, I know I can count on each of them. The seven of us all possess unique qualities and strengths, which makes us an unstoppable team when we work together. I can’t thank them enough for their friendship and love.
Sara was our fearless and humble leader, setting the bar high for future Nisei Week Queens and showing us what it takes be a great leader. Veronica did everything with a smile, stepping up when needed with grace and confidence. Karen looked out for each of us—we could always count on her to be there when we needed her. Michelle made us look good all year—whether through her graphic design or people-to-people interactions, she was a great representation of our court. Kelsey always kept us laughing and her love and dedication to the community outside of Nisei Week was beautiful to see. And Tam’s positive energy, her thoughtfulness and creativity, were always appreciated, especially during tough times.
I was also able to meet and listen to countless leaders in the Japanese and Japanese American communities through the Nisei Week Foundation, our sister organizations, the festival hospitality committees, and other helpful organizations. I learned so much from them, and look forward to learning more.
My year as a member of the court gave me more than I could imagine. I gained many new skills that I will carry for the rest of my life. Before starting this journey, I hated public speaking and would get extremely nervous before speaking in front of a large crowd. Now, I can confidently give speeches. This same confidence is also reflected in one-on-one conversations I have with community members and business leaders.
My hope for the soon-to-be 2016 Nisei Week Queen and Court is that they will cherish the experiences and connections they will make in the next year. They have many opportunities ahead of them to carry on the Nisei Week Foundation’s legacy, and to nurture the many relationships that have been established since the first festival was held in 1934. I have faith that each of these women will represent the community well in the next year. If I had to give them one piece of advice though, it would be to always keep red lipstick and a spare pack of bobby pins in their crown box.
I will miss seeing my court every week and constantly having a full schedule, but I look forward to attending many of the events we went to in the last year for years to come. I don’t know what’s in store for me next, but I know my experience as a Nisei Week Princess helped me to become a stronger and more confident individual.
The 2016 Nisei Week Japanese Festival kicks into high gear this weekend. On Saturday evening, August 13, a new queen will be crowned at the Coronation Ball. Then on Sunday afternoon, August 14, Little Tokyo welcomes the public to its Grand Parade. The festival will end on Sunday, August 21, with a community Ondo Dance. For more information including complete event schedules, visit niseiweek.org.
JANM will be joining the fun on Saturday, August 13, with our annual Natsumatsuri Family Festival, held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. This popular event offers all kinds of fun for the whole family, including musical performances, a taiko workshop, crafts for the kids, temporary tattoos, free food samples, and more. Make a day of it in Little Tokyo!
JANM’s Education and Public Programs Assistant, Sylvia Lopez, is vegan. In February, she launched an occasional column to explore vegan and vegetarian dining options in Little Tokyo. Her adventures continue this week as she shares more of her animal-friendly food finds.
Over the last few months, I paid visits to three Japanese American restaurants. There were hits and misses, but overall, I feel that the vegetarian scene here in Little Tokyo really is showing some growth. Read on for my thoughts on an older establishment offering up more options for vegetarians and two newer ones serving up hearty, plant-based meals to satisfy the stomach.
Let’s start with Snociety, a spot that specializes in poke bowls. I know, I know—“What is a vegan doing at a seafood place?” Hear me out though—this place turns out to have the most veggie options of any restaurant I’ve encountered near JANM. The ingredients are fresh and there are a lot of toppings and signature flavors to choose from.
I opted for the tofu bowl with brown rice and aloha sauce, and sweet ginger, jalapeno, seaweed, and edamame for my toppings. The great thing is that I can go back multiple times and still have lots of different topping and sauce combinations to choose from, so the experience will be different each time.
The only thing to be aware of is that the tofu option is priced the same as the fresh fish options. So it’s $13 for a vegan bowl, which might feel expensive to some customers.
A few of my co-workers frequent Kouraku, which is a much older establishment. Recently, one of them tipped me off that they had a new “Vegan Menu.” Of course, I had to check it out for myself.
As I was getting ready to order, however, I noticed that all of the “vegan” items featured ramen noodles. I asked the waiter what the noodles were made from since traditional ramen noodles contain egg. He said they did in fact contain egg. I told him they should change their menu to read “vegetarian” instead of “vegan,” as “vegan” refers to dishes that contain absolutely no animal-derived products.
While I understand that some people are still unfamiliar with the distinction between vegan and vegetarian, this innocent inaccuracy could pose a problem for a customer with an allergy, so I do hope they change the menu soon.
I then perused the rest of the menu and found two things I could order that were actually vegan: tofu salad or umeboshi onigiri (rice balls with pickled plum). As umeboshi is a bit too tart for my liking, I opted for the salad. I was hoping for more though!
I still want to commend Kouraku on trying to expand their offerings for vegetarians. I encourage any vegetarian to try it out some time as the restaurant offers a lot of different Japanese dishes and could be a good spot to go with a group of friends with various tastes and preferences. Plus, it’s open late!
My Ramen Bar only offers one vegetarian meal on their menu, but man, did they get that item right! The vegetarian ramen (which turns out to be vegan when you don’t add an egg) has quickly become my favorite comfort food meal after a long day of work.
This hearty bowl of ramen costs $12 and is served in a creamy vegan-friendly soup that is savory with the right amount of saltiness. The noodles are made from spinach and have a slight green color to them, with a texture that is perfectly chewy. Topping off the bowl are crisp bean sprouts, green onions, and woodear mushrooms. The mushrooms add a unique texture to the dish, as they are slightly rubbery and pork-like—I did a double take the first time I ordered it!
My Ramen Bar was originally called Manichi Ramen. They recently transitioned to the new brand because they feel the name is easier to remember. I hope they keep this vegetarian ramen on their menu, because it’s one of my favorites!
Dumbfoundead, whose given name is Jonathan Park, is a Korean American rapper. Born in Buenos Aires, “DFD” was raised in LA’s Koreatown. At the age of 10, he got his first exposure to hip hop at a community center in MacArthur Park. He further honed his craft at Project Blowed, an open-mic workshop in Leimert Park. He began to achieve renown after participating in the West Coast division of the rap battle Grind Time Now. Today he has a strong presence on YouTube, where he has over 400,000 followers, and has released three solo albums to date.
Dumbfoundead will be headlining JANM’s outdoor Summer Night Concert on Thursday, August 18, along with other hip hop and electronic music stars. Our summer Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Intern in production, Michael Chang, conducted the following interview with the rapper via email.
Michael Chang: What drew you to music, specifically hip hop and rap, as a way to express yourself creatively?
Dumbfoundead: There was always an “I don’t give a ____” attitude that came with rap music. I feel like I can say whatever I want when I rhyme it over a beat. There’s a lot of power in music. Hip hop as a genre specifically has always been rebellious and DIY, and I like that aspect of it—it makes something out of nothing.
MC: As a creative person, what do you think makes Los Angeles a unique place to work?
DFD: We have so many little neighborhoods, and each one makes you feel like you’re stepping into another country. Being in this city really is the definition of the American experience; I feel like I learn more every day about different cultures and how unique everybody is, which helps me write universal stories and songs.
MC: Do you think LA is more conducive to a thriving scene for artists of color?
DFD: I love that LA is as diverse as it is. The community of AAPI entertainers here is bigger than anywhere else in the world and I definitely do not take that for granted. I think it’s important that we tell the stories of our people with all the outlets we have here. I know when I tour the Midwest I get a lot of AAPI artists coming up to me and talking about the lack of creative outlets in their town.
MC: The music video for your song “Safe” critiques how Hollywood erases and ignores AAPI identities in mainstream media. Do you think executives, directors, and other people in power inside the entertainment/media industry do this with intent or more subconsciously?
DFD: I think it’s a little bit of both. It’s almost a new idea to throw us into leading roles and in some cases they can’t even imagine us playing those characters. In other cases, they aren’t willing to take the chance because they think white actors are a safer bet for box office success. We need more people of color behind the scenes—writers, producers, directors, and executives—pushing our stories forward. We can’t just wait for those roles to come along, or expect them to be written by people who don’t know anything about our experiences. We have to write our own stories.
MC: Looking into the future, are there any other media or disciplines you’d like to explore?
DFD: I would love to write, direct, and act in films. TV and films have always been big passions of mine and there are so many stories that still need to be told. For right now though, I’ll settle for writing treatments for my music videos [laughs].
The Nikkei Genealogical Society (NikkeiGen) promotes, encourages, and shares Nikkei genealogy through education, research, and networking. NikkeiGen’s general meetings are open to anyone who is interested in researching their family trees, learning more about their Japanese roots and heritage, and participating in group discussions and networking.
NikkeiGen was founded in 2013 by Melinda Yamane Crawford and Susanne Mori. Both are genealogy buffs, and Crawford was already a member of the Santa Barbara County Genealogical Society. After attending two workshops on Japanese genealogy together—including Chester Hashizume’s “Discovering Your Japanese American Roots,” held twice a year at JANM—the two friends saw a need for a research and networking group specifically devoted to Japanese American family histories.
NikkeiGen meetings occur approximately once a month from January to October, with the location alternating between JANM and the Southern California Genealogical Society (SCGS) in Burbank. The meetings tend to be informal and energetic, revolving around a shared enthusiasm for genealogical research. Friendships are quickly formed as participants share stories and exchange ideas and resources. Meetings can also include special presentations, trainings, and focused discussions on topics of interest. In addition to the monthly meetings, NikkeiGen offers workshops and participates in events, such as the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree, the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, and the Nikkei Angel Island Pilgrimage.
The next NikkeiGen general meeting will take place on Saturday, July 23, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at JANM. Meetings are always free, but RSVP is required. To RSVP or for more information, email email@example.com or visit facebook.com/nikkeigen.
Since January 2016, JANM has been pleased to offer Mottainai Yoga, a recurring series of yoga classes taught by traci ishigo. Ishigo works as Program Coordinator for the Japanese American Citizens League Pacific Southwest District, where her projects include Bridging Communities: A Solidarity Arts Fellowship with the Council on American Islamic Relations LA; the #VigilantLove Coalition against Islamophobia and Violence; Camp Musubi for 5th–8th grade Nikkei youth; the Los Angeles Day of Remembrance; and Okaeri: A Nikkei LGBTQ Gathering, which will take place at JANM October 14–15, 2016.
We conversed with ishigo via email to learn more about about her yoga practice and how she came to teach at JANM.
JANM: What led you to start offering a yoga class at JANM?
ti: It’s almost a dream to share yoga in Little Tokyo at the Japanese American National Museum. As a younger person invested in the longevity of this community, I feel fortunate that JANM approached me to share a practice that supports both individual and collective wellness. It’s a great chance for me to connect with people of multiple generations and backgrounds in a very different way within this historic JA community.
JANM: Describe your style of yoga, and your goals for the class.
ti: My main intention is to lead a practice that is gentle and supportive enough for anyone to participate in. From my training in trauma-informed yoga, I try to offer students safety, relaxation, and the empowerment to connect with their own practice. Sometimes it’s the hardest thing to try and slow down life, explore a new way of being in our bodies, and make the special time to develop a mindful breathing practice. During class, I might share cues to notice our breath, or invite each yogi to listen to what feels best in their body and then move accordingly by stretching, strengthening, and/or balancing.
The class is called Mottainai Yoga because I thought we could apply the meaning of mottainai (no waste) to the practice of yoga, which honors our bodies, minds, spirit, and energy. Mottainai Yoga class on Saturdays helps to remind me of how much we should have deep respect for all things, including ourselves.
JANM: From a quick Google of your name, I see that you have a longstanding commitment to social justice. Can you tell us how your yoga practice fits into that framework?
ti: To me, there are natural connections between yoga, meditation, and my community and social justice work. This kind of work can be overwhelming, and yoga and meditation help to anchor me. Oftentimes, people may believe that yoga is not for them based on common stereotypes, or uncomfortable experiences in corporate yoga studios. Understanding those barriers personally informs my motivation to share an inclusive, trauma-informed yoga practice that supports community members in accessing this resource in their own life. And more than anything, yoga has become a way for me to connect with many special people, which is at the heart of why social justice work is so meaningful.
The next series of Mottainai Yoga classes begins July 16. To reserve your single-session or series tickets, click here.
While the histories of political activism within the African American and Latino communities are well known, the history of Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) activism remains invisible to many. JANM exists partly to correct this underrerepresentation. And a new book, for which JANM hosted a signing and panel discussion on June 18, marks a significant contribution to the existing literature on APIA political history.
Serve the People: Making Asian America in the Long Sixties traces the history of the Asian American civil rights movement, beginning in the early part of the 20th century, focusing strongly on the pivotal decades of the 1960s and ’70s, and continuing to the present day. Drawing on more than 120 first-person interviews with key players and witnesses, the book aims to be the movement’s definitive history. Serve the People was written by Karen L. Ishizuka, a noted scholar and pioneer in the anthropological study of home movies. Ishizuka was also a longtime JANM staff member and co-founder of what is now the Frank H. Watase Media Arts Center; she was recently honored at JANM’s 2016 Gala Dinner.
On Saturday, Ishizuka led a panel discussion that featured longtime Asian American activists based in Los Angeles. The audience was treated to a series of brief but rousing talks from each panelist. Mike Murase, Director of Service Programs for the Little Tokyo Service Center and co-founder of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center as well as the radical APIA newspaper Gidra, evoked what it was like to be on the ground during the formation of the movement in the sixties.
Qris Yamashita, a graphic designer and artist whose unique graphic style helped to form a visual identity for the APIA movement, gave a slide presentation of her work and explained the sources of her imagery. traci kato-kiriyama, an artist, educator, community organizer, and co-founder of Tuesday Night Project, a free public program dedicated to presenting AAPI artists and community organizations, decided to read from the book as a way of paying respect to her forebears.
Warren T. Furutani, a California State Assembly member who is currently in the running for State Senator, gave perhaps the most spirited talk, as he called for continued radicalism in the face of increasing public bigotry. While he spoke, a photograph was projected overhead that showed Furutani shouting down Assemblyman Don Wagner on the Assembly floor in 2011 for the latter’s offensive remarks against Italian Americans. Please enjoy our exclusive video of Furutani’s panel talk above.