ICYMI: Recent News Roundup

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

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

Little Tokyo Has Been Named a California Cultural District

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

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

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

Wonder Woman Confronts Japanese American Incarceration in New DC Comic

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

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

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

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

Another Exclusive Naomi Hirahara Serial Now on Discover Nikkei

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

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

JANM Works with Metro and Boyle Heights High School Students to Create Construction Phase Artworks for the Bunker Hill Neighborhood

Decorative banners created by the students of Boyle Heights High School can now be seen on Hope Street between 2nd and 3rd in downtown Los Angeles. All photos courtesy of the author.

The Japanese American National Museum was honored to be chosen by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Metro Art Program to participate in the design of decorative banners to cover the Regional Connector Transit Project construction site. Over a year in the making, the banners can now be seen on Hope Street between 2nd and 3rd, just around the corner from The Broad.

JANM was commissioned by Metro to identify professional artists to mentor local high school students in creating the artwork for the banners. We chose the wonderful Ako Castuera and Edwin Ushiro, both of whom have exhibited their work at JANM, to work with an excellent group of students at Boyle Heights High School.

Led by Steve Brye, students from Boyle Heights High school
take a walking tour of the Bunker Hill neighborhood.

Students were first asked to learn about the history and iconography of the neighborhood so they could incorporate it into their art. We took a walking tour of Bunker Hill, during which the students documented the area with sketches and photographs. The tour was led by Metro’s Senior Transportation Planner Steve Brye, who is a longtime resident of Bunker Hill. Students then reviewed their own images as well as some historical photographs, and came up with imagery that was inspired by Bunker Hill past and present. Ushiro worked to compile their artwork into larger pieces for the banners.

The students go through the photographs they took while on their tour.

During the course of this project, JANM staff had the opportunity to visit the students at their school in our neighboring community of Boyle Heights and the students came to visit us here in Little Tokyo as they created art inspired by Bunker Hill. I can’t help but think how great it is that we’re in Los Angeles, where so many diverse and interesting communities can intersect to create something that makes our city a little brighter. The next time you’re in the Bunker Hill area, be sure to check out the work of the students from Boyle Heights High School!

Thank you to Metro, the students of Boyle Heights High School, Principal Leigh Ann Orr, Ako Castuera, and Edwin Ushiro. We had a great time working with you all!

More about the Regional Connector Transit Project: metro.net/projects/connector
More about the Metro Art Program: metro.net/art

Scapegoat Cities: New Podcast Explores Japanese American Incarceration

Podcast logo by Kelsea Bauer. The design combines a bonsai tree with the scales of justice.

The following guest blog post, announcing the launch of a new podcast exploring the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans, is contributed by Eric Muller, a law professor and longtime friend of the museum.

After the election of Donald Trump, many people were asking themselves: “How can I help counter what lies ahead?” I decided to create a podcast called Scapegoat Cities, which is launching today.

The idea is simple. Over the course of two decades of deep research in the National Archives for my books and articles, I’ve gathered many touching but unknown stories of the forced removal and imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II—stories that put a human face on the gross miscarriage of justice. Scapegoat Cities lets me tell a handful of those stories in an accessible and compelling way.

I believe that if we want to ensure that something never happens again, we need to first ensure that we really know what it was that actually happened. That’s what this podcast is for: to help listeners know in detail and also feel how Japanese Americans experienced unwarranted confinement by the US government. My hope is that this will contribute in some small way to resisting the dangerous religious and ethnic profiling that the policies of the Trump administration threaten to enact. It will remind people of the real human costs of these seemingly abstract policies.

The first two episodes, available now, give a good idea of what the podcast will do. “The Desert Was His Home” tells the story of the disappearance and death of Otomatsu Wada, an elderly Issei, from the Gila River concentration camp in Arizona. In “The Irrepressible Moe Yonemura,” an extraordinary young man defies all odds and becomes one of the most popular and respected members of his class at UCLA. He brings the same indomitable spirit to his time at the Heart Mountain camp—and then he volunteers for wartime service as part of the renowned 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Both of these stories are based on real events that took place at those two camps. Each of the stories, in its own touching way, reveals something important about the nature and impact of confinement.

It’s surprising how much information survives that helps me tell these stories. I learned the story of the disappearance of the Issei gentleman from the records left behind by Gila River’s “Project Attorney,” the white government lawyer who both helped run the camp and who served as a legal adviser for inmates. The story was also extensively covered in the camp’s newspaper and in Arizona newspapers. I first learned about Moe Yonemura from the pages of the Heart Mountain Sentinel, the camp’s newspaper, and then discovered the UCLA campus newspaper and yearbooks and the narrative records of his battalion’s service in Italy online.

There are lots of ways to listen to the podcast. The easiest is to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or wherever else you like to find your podcasts. You can also go to the podcast’s website, which has each episode available for download along with additional background information, including photographs and suggestions for further reading.

I hope people enjoy the podcast, and that those who do will leave a review on iTunes and tell their friends!

Eric Muller is a law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The son of a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, Muller has for two decades focused his research and scholarship almost exclusively on the wartime removal and imprisonment of Japanese Americans. He’s published two monographs and a third edited volume as well as many academic articles. He’s also proud to have led the creation of the main historical exhibit at the site of the Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming, which won museum awards.

Nissan Foundation Celebrates 25 Years of Promoting Cultural Diversity

L to R: Scott Becker, President, Nissan Foundation; Vicki Smith, Executive Director, Nissan Foundation; Andrea Blackman, Division Head for Education Outreach and Special Collections, Nashville Public Library; Tony Conway, Vice President of Development, National Center for Civil Rights; Allyson Nakamoto, Director of Education, Japanese American National Museum; Denise Rolark Barnes, Board Chairman, National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), and Publisher, The Washington Informer; Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., Interim President and CEO, NNPA. Photo courtesy of the Nissan Foundation.

In addition to receiving a $20,000 grant to support school visits and public programs, the Japanese American National Museum recently had the honor of helping the Nissan Foundation celebrate its 25th anniversary at a luncheon to announce its 2017 grantees, held at the annual convention of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) in National Harbor, Maryland. JANM joined other grantees who are doing phenomenal work, such as the Nashville Public Library Foundation and the National Center for Civil Rights.

The Nissan Foundation happens to have a certain formative experience in common with the Japanese American National Museum, which many people are not aware of. JANM first opened its physical space to the public in April 1992, during the same week that the Rodney King trial verdict was announced, causing widespread civil unrest throughout the city of Los Angeles. That unrest had a profound influence on the shape of JANM’s opening ceremonies as well as its organizational philosophy moving forward.

As a direct response to the deep social injustice that gave rise to the LA Uprising, as many have come to call it, the Nissan Foundation was founded later that same year. For the past 25 years, the foundation has awarded grants to organizations committed to promoting cultural awareness and understanding through arts, education, and social and public programs. JANM has been the fortunate recipient of 15 grants from the Nissan Foundation to support such efforts as our School Visits program.

“I am extremely grateful that the Nissan Foundation, along with so many of JANM’s donors and members, share our belief that more students should have a chance to visit the museum and learn about the Japanese American experience,” said Allyson Nakamoto, JANM’s Director of Education, who represented the museum at Nissan’s luncheon.

During the 2016–17 school year, JANM hosted over 17,000 students; for many of them, the visit to JANM was their very first time at a museum. We strongly believe that all young people should have opportunities to think, interact, and reflect in a safe and stimulating environment. Research has proven that students who participate in school tours of museums gain critical thinking skills, display stronger historical empathy, develop higher social tolerance, and are more likely to visit cultural institutions in the future.

On behalf of over 17,000 students, thank you for your continuing support, Nissan Foundation. Here’s to another 25 years!

JANM Receives Re-Accreditation from AAM

The Japanese American National Museum is pleased to announce that it has achieved re-accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the highest recognition given to the nation’s museums. Accreditation is a mark of excellence that is recognized by the museum community, governments, funders, outside agencies, and the museum-going public. JANM was first accredited in 2002; museums must undergo a reaccreditation review at least every 10 years to maintain accredited status.

Developed and sustained by museum professionals for over 45 years, the AAM’s museum accreditation program is the field’s primary vehicle for quality assurance, self-regulation and public accountability. It strengthens the museum profession by promoting practices that enable leaders to make informed decisions, allocate resources wisely, and remain financially and ethically accountable in order to provide the best possible service to the public.

Accreditation is a very rigorous but highly rewarding process that examines all aspects of a museum’s operations. To earn accreditation a museum first must conduct a year of self-study, and then undergo a site visit by a team of peer reviewers. AAM’s Accreditation Commission, an independent and autonomous body of museum professionals, considers the self-study and visiting committee report to determine whether a museum should receive accreditation.

“Achieving accreditation is very hard work, so this is a tribute to the outstanding teamwork of JANM’s staff and volunteers,” said Norman Y. Mineta, Chair of JANM’s Board of Trustees. “Thanks to their dedication and pursuit of excellence, the museum is very well positioned going into the future. We thank the AAM for their vote of confidence and we look forward to many more years of promoting understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience.”

Of the nation’s estimated 33,000 museums, over 1,000 are currently accredited. JANM is one of only 69 museums accredited in the state of California.

To read AAM’s press release, click here.

The Return of Itadakimasu on Discover Nikkei

In 2012, JANM’s Discover Nikkei project launched Nikkei Chronicles, an annual open call for stories featuring a different theme every year. The project’s overall goal is to promote a more profound understanding of the complex histories and insights of multicultural, multiracial, and multinational people of Japanese descent around the world.

The first edition of Nikkei Chronicles was titled Itadakimasu! A Taste of Nikkei Culture, and it revolved around stories about food. It remains our most popular Nikkei Chronicles series to date, drawing dozens of articles and hundreds of enthusiastic responses. Now, for the sixth edition of Nikkei Chronicles, Discover Nikkei presents Itadakimasu 2! Another Taste of Nikkei Culture.

Roughly translated, Itadakimasu! means Bon appétit! or Mangia! And indeed, there seems to be no end to stories that revolve around the role of food in Nikkei culture—favorite childhood foods, enduring food traditions, new fusion cuisine. How does the food you eat express your identity? How does food help to connect your community and bring people together? What kinds of recipes have been passed down from generation to generation in your family?

If you have a story to tell that revolves around food and its role in Nikkei culture, we invite you to submit personal stories or essays, memoirs, academic papers, restaurant reviews, and other prose works that share your perspectives on and experiences with food. (Please note that for this series, poems are not accepted.) It is our hope that by sharing the multitudes of Nikkei stories, we enhance our ability to better understand who Nikkei are.

All stories submitted to Nikkei Chronicles 6: Itadakimasu 2! Another Taste of Nikkei Culture that meet the project guidelines and criteria will be published in the Discover Nikkei Journal on a rolling basis as part of the Itadakimasu 2 series. Authors may submit multiple entries. Submissions will be accepted until September 30, 2017, at 6 p.m. PDT. Click here for complete submission guidelines.

We have already published three submissions—one each in English, Portuguese, and Spanish. Click here to read them. You can also check out favorite stories and comments from the first Itadakimasu series for inspiration. Don’t delay, send in your stories today and join the discussion!

Camp Pilgrimages Are in Full Swing—And Historic Camp Newspapers Are Now Available Online!

The monument at Manzanar serves as a memorial to those who died there. The inscription reads “Soul Consoling Tower” in Japanese characters. Photo by Carol Cheh.

It’s summer, and to many in the Japanese American community, that means camp pilgrimage season. To honor the experiences of their forebears (and in some cases, their own experiences as children) and to help ensure that they never forget the grave injustices committed against their community during World War II, Japanese Americans and their allies are paying visits to the sites of several American concentration camps where persons of Japanese ancestry were imprisoned without due process following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

The vast majority were held in ten main camps run by the War Relocation Authority and located in remote, desolate areas throughout the United States: Amache (Colorado), Gila River (Arizona), Heart Mountain (Wyoming), Jerome (Arkansas), Manzanar (California), Minidoka (Idaho), Poston (Arizona), Rohwer (Arkansas), Topaz (Utah), and Tule Lake (California). (Additional camps and detention centers run by the Department of Justice or other government agencies confined special populations or served as holding centers.) As of this date, five of the ten main camps hold formal pilgrimage events. The pilgrimages to Manzanar and Amache have already happened; below are links to complete information about the pilgrimages yet to come.

Pilgrimage to Minidoka (Idaho): July 6–9, 2017
Pilgrimage to Heart Mountain (Wyoming): July 28–29, 2017
Tule Lake (California) hosts pilgrimages every other year; the next one will happen in 2018.

While the other five sites don’t hold formal events, they are also open to visitors. Topaz, in fact, has just installed permanent exhibits, and will have a ticketed grand opening for their museum on the weekend of July 7–8, 2017. With the exception of Gila River camp, permits are not required.

Not able to make it out to a camp site? Last month, the Library of Congress announced on their blog that newspapers self-published by Japanese Americans while they were imprisoned are now available online. These newspapers are amazing historical artifacts, offering up-close, first-person glimpses into what life was like inside of a camp. You’ll find accounts of daily activities, official camp announcements, editorials about important issues, reports on the exploits of Japanese Americans in the US military, and more. More than 4,600 English- and Japanese-language issues published in 13 camps are available and can be accessed here.

On April 29, a group of JANM volunteers and staff organized a bus tour to attend the 2017 Manzanar Pilgrimage together. Check this space next week for an exclusive interview with one of JANM’s youngest volunteers, 16-year-old Joy Ormseth, who made the pilgrimage with us.

JANM Appreciates Its Volunteers

Past and current winners of the Miki Tanimura Outstanding Volunteer Award and others gather for a group photo. L to R, standing: Richard Murakami, Teri Tanimura (daughter of the award’s namesake), Bill Shishima, JANM President and CEO Ann Burroughs, Irene Nakagawa, Nahan Gluck, Lee Hayashi, Babe Karasawa, Ken Hamamura, Carole Yamakoshi, Janet Maloney, Helen Yasuda, Roy Sakamoto, Hal Keimi, and Mike Okamura. L to R, seated: Bob Moriguchi, Marge Wada, Masako Koga Murakami, Bob Uragami, Ike Hatchimonji, and Julia Murakami. Photo by Ben Furuta.

Volunteers are at the heart of the Japanese American National Museum, an institution that was founded through a tireless grassroots volunteer campaign. Today, volunteers continue to play a crucial role in the museum’s operations: leading docent tours and representing the museum to our visitors, staffing the Hirasaki National Resource Center, helping to count and restock inventory for the JANM Store, helping to organize the annual Gala Dinner and Silent Auction, and leading activities for the School Visits program, among numerous other tasks. Some of our volunteers are camp survivors or descendants of camp survivors, providing a critical link to the past.

To recognize the outstanding commitment of our volunteer corps, JANM annually gives out awards to those volunteers who went above and beyond the call of duty in helping the museum fulfill its mission. On May 13, 2017, awards for outstanding service in 2016 were announced during our special Volunteer Recognition Event.

JANM Vice President of Operations/Art Director Clement Hanami presents the 2016 Administration Award to photographer Ben Furuta. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.

Ben Furuta, who photographs many of our public programs, won the Administration Award, which recognizes outstanding service and achievement in an administrative/operational capacity. Sharlene Takahashi, one of our docents, received the Community Award, which is given for outstanding service and achievement in working with visitors, with the public, and in the community on behalf of the museum. The Program Award was given to Patricia Ishida and Linda Fujioka to recognize their outstanding service and achievement in educating visitors through public and school programs. And finally, the Miki Tanimura Outstanding Volunteer Award, named after a passionate volunteer who passed away tragically in 1992, was given to Ken Hamamura, who assists JANM in many different areas, including photo archiving and preparations for the last two National Conferences.

Sharlene Takahashi holds up her 2016 Community Award. Photo by Richard Murakami.
JANM Director of Education Allyson Nakamoto presents the 2016 Program Award to Patricia Ishida. (Linda Fujioka was also a winner of this award, but could not be present for the event.) Photo by Ben Furuta.
Ken Hamamura, center, holds up his 2016 Miki Tanimura Outstanding Volunteer Award, surrounded by members of his family. On the far left is Teri Tanimura, daughter of Miki, and on the right is JANM President and CEO Ann Burroughs. Photo by Ben Furuta.

Volunteers also receive pins to recognize the number of years of service they have given to JANM. This year, pins were given out as follows: One Year—Noreene Arase, Yoshiko Ehara, Teri Lim, Melinda Logan, Keiko Miya, Michael Okuda, Sandra Saeki, William Teragawa, and Tomi Yoshikawa; Five Years—Peter Fuster and Kyle Honma; Ten Years—Terri Kishimoto, Carol Miyahira, Grace Yamamura, and Mas Yamashita; Fifteen Years—Eiko Masuyama, Fred Murakami, Julia Murakami, Larry Oshima, and Mitsuyo Tanaka; Twenty Years—Marge Wada; Twenty-Five Years—Kimiko Oriba, Bill Shishima, and Helen Yasuda.

L to R, standing: JANM President and CEO Ann Burroughs; One-Year Service Pin recipients Yoshiko Ehara, Teri Lim, Melinda Logan, Michael Okuda, and Tomi Yoshikawa; JANM Board of Governors member Nikki Kodama. L to R, kneeling: One-Year Service Pin recipients Noreene Arase, Keiko Miya, and William Teragawa. Photo by Ben Furuta.
Ann Burroughs, left, with Ten-Year Service Pin recipients Terri Kishimoto, Carol Miyahira, Grace Yamamura, and Mas Yamashita. Ken Hamamura joins them on the right. Photo by Ben Furuta.
Ann Burroughs, left, with 15-Year Service Pin recipients Julia Murakami and Larry Oshima. 2016 Tanimura Award winner Ken Hamamura is on the right. Photo by Ben Furuta.
Ann Burroughs, 20-Year Service Pin recipient Marge Wada, and JANM Board of Governors member Gene Hanamori. Photo by Ben Furuta.
JANM President and CEO Ann Burroughs; 25-Year Service Pin recipients Kimiko Oriba, Bill Shishima, and Helen Yasuda; and JANM Board of Governors member Gene Kanamori. Photo by Ben Furuta.

As always, the staff at JANM thanks our volunteers from the bottoms of our hearts. Without their efforts, the museum would not be able to organize nearly as many programs or serve nearly as many visitors in its ongoing quest to promote understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience.

For information about volunteering with JANM, please visit janm.org/volunteer or contact volunteer@janm.org or 213.830.5645.

JANM Store Wins Product Development Award

The JANM Store was recently the proud recipient of a 2017 Museum Store Association (MSA) Recognition Award for Product Development. The award recognized the Instructions to All Persons product line, which includes a tote bag and a t-shirt. Inspired by the Civilian Exclusion Orders posted during World War II to inform persons of Japanese ancestry of their impending forced removal and incarceration, these products perfectly embody the museum’s mission to promote understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience.

Maria Kwong, JANM’s Director of Retail Enterprises and a current MSA board member, accepted the award at the MSA Conference & Expo in April. She has also written an essay about how she came to develop these products. Below is an edited excerpt.

The Civilian Exclusion Order, with its bold headline reading “Instructions to All Persons of Japanese Ancestry,” has become a symbol of a defining moment in Japanese American history: the World War II incarceration without due process of 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry. The first product we developed around this historic document was in response to requests for a souvenir magnet. Rather than using a photograph of the museum, we decided to take the Civilian Exclusion Order and reduce it down to a standard refrigerator magnet. Made by Found Image Press, it is now our most popular magnet.

The next product was inspired by the text of the document, which contains the instructions that are so often repeated by camp survivors remembering their experiences—you could take “only what you could carry.” We put the full instructions on one side of a tote bag and the iconic headline on the other. To explain the history behind these words, we created a special informational tag that resembled the ID tags that the prisoners were forced to wear on their journeys to the camps.

The tote bag was launched at a convention in Seattle, with some trepidation as to what kind of reception it would get. But we soon spotted people walking around with their totes and engaging in conversations with curious passersby. The bag was a conversation starter—a chance to talk about the story that is at the core of the Japanese American National Museum.

The t-shirt was initially developed to complement the exhibition Instructions to All Persons: Reflections on Executive Order 9066, on view at JANM through August 13. Plans for the exhibition, which commemorates the 75th anniversary of the signing of the executive order that paved the way for the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans, were in place two years in advance. However, a funny thing happened in the meantime: the election of Donald Trump to the office of President of the United States.

Xenophobia was on the rise and with it, a renewed passion for civil rights activism. The times were resonating with our mission and we started feeling that a more active voice needed to be raised, not just a cautionary tale. With that in mind, production was moved up on the t-shirt and new words were added to the iconic headline—a call to action “to all persons who believe in civil rights.” By the time Instructions to All Persons opened in February, the t-shirt was showing up on social media and at marches and protests around the country.

From the very beginning of my association with MSA, I have taken the lessons of product development to heart: do your best to present your museum’s mission in products that will resonate and become a catalyst for learning and transforming the world.

Mikado Hotel Preserves a Slice of Little Tokyo History

Guests mingle at the grand re-opening of the Mikado Hotel in Little Tokyo.

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.

A peek inside one of the Mikado Hotel’s new micro-suites.

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 Mikado’s ground-floor corridor features a long collage capturing the history of Little Tokyo.
The collage contains a mix of images from different periods in the neighborhood’s history.

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.

The ribbon cutting ceremony, viewed from the Mikado’s rooftop lounge.

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.