Playwright Yilong Liu Explores APIA and LGBTQ Identity

This Thursday evening, JANM hosts the latest edition of East West Players’ A Writer’s Gallery Reading, a semi-annual series featuring new work by Asian and Pacific Islander American writers. June is the First Fall, written by Yilong Liu and directed by Jeff Liu, follows a Chinese American gay man who returns home to Hawai‘i after a painful breakup. He must confront his sister, his father, and himself about an unspeakable past that separated them, and a tender family history that held them together.

Born and raised in Chongqing, China, Yilong Liu has an MFA in Playwriting from the University of Hawai‘i and is the recipient of a 2016 playwriting scholarship from East West Players’ David Henry Hwang Writers Institute (DHHWI) in conjunction with Asian Pacific American Friends of the Theatre (APAFT). His work has been produced or developed at Kumu Kahua Theatre, New York International Fringe Festival, New York Indie Theatre One Minute Play Festival, Stella Adler Studio of Acting, and Queens Theatre. We sat down with him via email to talk about his new play, and what it’s like to be a gay Asian writer.

Portrait of Afong Moy. Theatre Collection, Museum of the City of New York.

JANM: I’m intrigued that the inspiration for this play is a portrait of Afong Moy, the first Chinese woman to immigrate to America. Moy was “imported” from China by two enterprising traders, who put her on display as a publicity stunt to sell more exotic Chinese goods. The portrait shows her surrounded by said goods. What was it about this portrait that inspired you?

Yilong Liu: The first time I saw this picture, I was taking a seminar on Asian American theatre history in grad school. We were talking about the performative elements of her “exhibition” and how those were founded on exoticism. However, other than her being exploited and objectified, I myself as someone who was born and brought up in China, wondered how she was feeling personally as someone who also came to the US as a young adult, whose worldview had probably been largely shaped already in her home country. Because essentially, the immigration experience for someone who comes here at a younger age and those who are older can be very different. There is much complexity and nuance in the Asian and Pacific Islander identity spectrum that is often lost in the way outsiders look at us. The challenges faced by various APIA and API immigrant groups are not all the same, so it is important and necessary to encourage a deeper understanding.

On the other hand, I also find myself responding to this image on an emotional level. Having worked as a Chinese instructor in Hawai‘i, I was touched by many of my second-generation Chinese American students’ stories. Their fathers, or grandfathers, travelled great distances back to China to get married, then started the long journey of bringing their families to the US, but it would take years and years before they could reunite again. And when they did, unlike the kids, who would continue their education in American schools, the mothers usually stayed at home and weren’t able to speak any English. What was it like for them? What did they do when the rest of the family all went to school or work? What were they thinking, when they were sitting quietly in their rooms, just waiting for the ones who meant the whole world to them to get home? I kept thinking about Afong Moy when I thought about them.

JANM: LGBTQ stories are a major focus of your work. Were you out when you lived in China, and if so, what was that like? How would you compare the LGBTQ scene in China with the experiences you’ve had since you’ve been in the States?

YL: I was out to my friends and some of my cousins back in China. Being in a tight-knit society and a whole generation of only children have definitely complicated the coming out process for LGBTQ youth back home. More often than not, the kids’ coming out of closets are likely to put their parents into “closets” instead. The parents will go through the stages of confusion, anger, and fear, and eventually struggle with whether they should and if so how to “come out” to their own extended family members, friends, and colleagues, because of the way Chinese and most Asian societies function. Therefore, many kids don’t want to inflict the same kind of pain they have gone through on their parents. In June is the First Fall, although coming out is not an issue, we can still feel how the father, influenced by Chinese and American culture at the same time, is dealing with his mixed feelings about his son’s sexuality.

Playwright Yilong Liu

JANM: I read in an article that you have already been made aware of the paucity of representation of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in American media/arts—for the APIA LGBTQ community, even more so. What kind of reception are you experiencing to your work, which is a very rare foregrounding of issues faced by these communities?

YL: Coming from China, where LGBTQ people as a marginalized group strive for visibility, understanding, and acceptance, I understand the significance of positive representations in arts/media. When I was a teenager, the only gay characters allowed on screens were almost always demonized, exaggerated, cartoonish, and heavily stereotypical. I found that distressing. The lack of representation—and the level of misrepresentation—make it even more difficult for people struggling with their sexuality, and will lead to unavoidable feelings of alienation and self-denial. I can only imagine when the situation is complicated by races, cultures, and politics.

So far, I think audiences have responded well and warmly to what I have to share. Being a bilingual writer, and brought up in the southwest of China, I find it specifically challenging but just as equally fun and rewarding when writing. I feel this urge, this responsibility, and this deep desire to write the stories I am telling, about queer people caught in between worlds, not only because it’s a way of empowerment, or that it’s even more needed in light of the recent political climate, but also because the stories are so beautiful and so heartbreaking that they deserve to be told. I feel audiences really respond to the perspective I bring in and the journey I am going through. They make me feel that my voice, although different and still raw, is appreciated and needed, and for that I am very grateful.

Join us for a reading of June is the First Fall this Thursday, March 23, at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free.

Curator Jeff Yang Discusses New Frontiers: The Many Worlds of George Takei

This weekend, JANM opens New Frontiers: The Many Worlds of George Takei. Drawing on the George & Brad Takei Collection of personal artifacts, which was recently gifted to the museum, New Frontiers explores the life and career of the pioneering actor, activist, and social media icon. The exhibition begins with Takei’s incarceration at the Rohwer and Tule Lake concentration camps as a child during World War II and moves through his career as a Japanese American actor in Hollywood, his public service appointments, his coming out as a gay man, his activism on behalf of both the Japanese American and LGBTQ communities, and his wild popularity as a social media figure. In the process, New Frontiers provides a unique window onto American history and culture in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Cover of George Takei’s 2012 book, Oh Myyy!: There Goes the Internet.
George & Brad Takei Collection, Japanese American National Museum.

New Frontiers is curated by noted author, journalist, and cultural critic Jeff Yang. We sat down with Yang via email to talk about the exhibition and his curatorial process.

JANM: Why George Takei, and why now?

Jeff Yang: George’s life has been extraordinary, and it has placed him at the center of some of the most critical changes in American society and culture: from the injustice of the Japanese American incarceration during WWII, through the fight for marriage equality, the struggle to overcome Hollywood stereotypes, the push to own our creative voice as Asian Americans, and the transformative rise of social media. In many of these circumstances, he wasn’t just a witness but a prime mover. These facts alone would make him an exceptional individual to explore through the lens of history. But, at 79 years old, George has never been more active, more outspoken, or more relevant. The changes we’ve seen over just the past six months have underscored the narratives in George’s life and made it clear that we still have many lessons to learn from the experiences he’s had.

George Takei, student body president, at a student council meeting, Mount Vernon Junior High School. George & Brad Takei Collection, Japanese American National Museum.

JANM: How did you come to be the curator of this exhibition?

JY: I’ve known George for many years, having written about popular culture and Asian American issues since the late 1980s. I’ve been a fan of his since I was a kid, and since becoming an adult, I’ve had the fortune of befriending him as well. I’d curated another large and complicated pop culture exhibit for JANM in 2013 (Marvels & Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in US Comics, 1942–1986) and I suppose George, and the powers-that-be at JANM, thought my experience and POV were a good fit for this historic show.

JANM: What is your biggest goal for this exhibition?

JY: I want people to get a unique lens on the last 80 years of American history and to learn, especially now, how our rights have been won and protected through the years and why it’s critical to remember how we’ve fought for them. And also to have a great time! Visitors should expect to have an experience that we hope will make them want to come back again—with friends.

George Takei carries the Olympic torch through the streets of Los Angeles in the
run up to the 1984 Olympic Games. George & Brad Takei Collection,
Japanese American National Museum.

JANM: We understand you’ve been combing through a lot of George’s personal possessions. Which ones have you found particularly intriguing, and why?

JY: The process of curation has been exhausting because of the sheer volume of items we have available! George and his husband Brad have donated virtually everything in a lifetime of collecting to the museum—over 100 boxes of amazing stuff, and it has taken a year just to sort through everything. There were personal Takei family memorabilia from the camps; early images from Asian American—or, as they called it then, “Oriental”—Hollywood; behind-the-scenes artifacts and personal notes from Star Trek, the Broadway musical Allegiance, and George’s many other roles and works; intimate correspondence and mementos from Brad and George’s wedding and life together; and iconic merchandise and one-of-a-kind fan art given to George over the years. We are also doing our best to make the exhibition richly interactive and contextual; there’s a ton to learn from it even if you’re not a Star Trek fan.

As for my personal favorite item? I think it’s probably the pocket “casting directory” of Hollywood’s Asian/Pacific actors dating back to the 1950s. It shows some familiar faces and many more obscure ones, all presented with stereotypical one-liners that underscores how Hollywood saw them. Things have certainly changed since then—but not as much as we might have hoped!

Wedding photo of Brad and George Takei, Toyo Miyatake Studios, 2008.
George & Brad Takei Collection, Japanese American National Museum.

JANM: What gave you the idea to produce a comic book in conjunction with the exhibition?

JY: We realized early on that any catalog for an exhibition of George’s unique life would need to be highly visual, and to weave memory and imagination. The graphic novel form was ideal for that! So Excelsior: The Many Lives of George Takei is your guide through the exhibition in comic book format. We’re also putting together a graphic anthology of stories inspired by George’s life and the issues he has engaged throughout it, called (like the exhibition) New Frontiers: The Many Worlds of George Takei. The latter is more like a catalog for the exhibition, but done in an eclectic comic book format. Unbound Philanthropy is generously funding that project.

JANM: Has working on New Frontiers changed any of your opinions on popular culture or APIA history?

JY: It’s made me realize how much has changed over the past 80 years—how we as APIAs have moved from the fringes to the center of popular culture, and how popular culture has moved from the fringes to the center of society. And George has been a significant part of that.

Join us on Sunday, March 12, for the public opening of New Frontiers: The Many Worlds of George Takei. There will also be an Upper Level Members’ Reception on Saturday, March 11, at 7 p.m., with an opportunity to meet George, Brad, and Jeff personally. For information on becoming an upper level member, please visit this page.

The Great Unknown Captures a Spectrum of Japanese American History

The Great Unknown: Japanese American Sketches is a collection of biographical portraits of extraordinary figures in Japanese American history—men and women who made remarkable contributions in the arts, literature, law, sports, and other fields.

Recovering and celebrating the stories of noteworthy Issei and Nisei and their supporters, the book highlights the diverse experiences and substantial cultural, political, and intellectual contributions of Japanese Americans throughout the country and over multiple decades. Included in these pages are Ayako Ishigaki, Issei feminist and peace activist; Milton Ozaki, mystery writer; Bill Hosokawa, journalist; Wat Misaka, basketball star; Gyo Fujikawa, children’s book artist and author; and Ina Sugihara, interracial activist, to name just a few examples.

JANM’s Discover Nikkei project recently published a two-part feature on the book and its author. Written by Edward Yoshida, the feature reviews the book at length, as well as the author’s current activities. Robinson is a professor of history at Université du Québec à Montréal. The Great Unknown is a compilation of his columns for Nichi Bei Times and Nichi Bei Weekly, along with selections from other publications.

As Yoshida notes, the collection stands out for the breadth of its content; not only does the author present material from a broad span of Japanese American history, he also manages to draw out little-known nuggets of information about such major figures as Eleanor Roosevelt and Alan Cranston, both of whom were allies to Japanese Americans. In addition, the book explores the substantial support offered to the Japanese American community by prominent African American writers and activists, including Paul Robeson, Erna P. Harris, Layle Lane, Loren Miller, and Hugh Macbeth. To read Yoshida’s article, click here.

This Saturday, February 25, at 2 p.m., Greg Robinson will appear at JANM for a discussion about his book. The program is free with museum admission; click here to RSVP. Members are also invited to an exclusive meet-and-greet one hour prior to the discussion; email memberevents@janm.org or call 213.830.5646 to RSVP. You may purchase the book at the JANM Store or janmstore.com.

Comedy InvAsian Serves Up Live APIA Talent

Promotional poster for Atsuko Okatsuka’s performance on February 11 at JANM.
Courtesy of Comedy InvAsian.

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!

Shibori Girl Has a Passion for Handmade Crafts

The fruits of a recent shibori class at JANM. Photo by Dr. Tsuneo Takasugi.

As “Shibori Girl,” Glennis Dolce offers several shibori (resist cloth dyeing) workshops a year at JANM. If you’re not familiar with the art of shibori, check out our earlier blog post on the history of the craft. Dolce’s workshops are always very popular; in fact, this weekend’s Indigo Vat Making and Shibori Technique workshop is completely sold out. We decided to sit down with Dolce to learn more about her background and her practice.

JANM: You’ve said that you think of Japan as your first home. Can you explain your connection to that country?

Glennis Dolce: I grew up in Yokohama, Japan, as a result of my father—a naval architect—taking two back-to-back assignments at the Yokohama Naval Shipyard. We lived there from 1965 to 1972. We lived both on and off the base and had the opportunity to take in many wonderful locations, absorbing the enriching culture and beauty of Japan. I went to the two base schools in Yokohama (Richard E. Byrd Elementary and Nile C. Kinnick High School) as well as St. Maur International School. In 1995, I went back to Japan for the first time after moving away and realized that I had come back “home.”

Glennis Dolce leads a shibori class at JANM, flanked by samples of resist cloth dyeing.
Photo by Tokumasa Shoji.

JANM: How did you first encounter shibori? What captivated you about it?

GD: I must have seen and even worn some shibori as a child at summer festivals in Japan, where we dressed in yukata (summer kimono) with obi age (sash), but back then I did not know what it was. During the late 1990s, I was a vendor at the Houston Quilt Festival, and it was there that I started to pick up small bits of Japanese textiles. Later, I realized that most of what I had collected was shibori. I was intrigued by its unique patterning and the texture that was sometimes imparted to the cloth by the process. I wondered to myself, how was it made? And that’s how it all started. I studied the fabrics, read many books, and eventually began practicing on my own. As I learned and practiced more, my love for shibori grew with the understanding that each piece is unique and has limitless possibilities. This in itself is a view of life that I enjoy passing along when I teach.

Glennis gives advice to a workshop participant. Photo by Dr. Tsuneo Takasugi.

JANM: Describe your artistic training.

GD: I was fortunate to attend a new and experimental high school in Virginia that was very progressive and had full-on art studios in painting, sculpture, ceramics, metals, textiles, and printmaking. It was fantastic. I had access to materials and equipment, and I had a passion for working with my hands. Following that, I attended UC Davis and CSU Long Beach as a ceramics major in the late 70s. I chose ceramics because I thought I could make a living with clay and I wanted to work with my hands. I started a porcelain company while I was at CSULB and worked in porcelain for over 30 years until I closed the company around 2002. I consider my primary training to be the ongoing day-to-day operation of my business, my love for materials and process, and the challenge of making a living outside the constraints of being “normal.”

A workshop participant examines his work. Photo by Dr. Tsuneo Takasugi.

JANM: Besides teaching, you also run an online store. Can you tell us more about the store?

GD: Yes, I actually spend more time making and selling my work than teaching; I enjoy both. I have been blogging since 2006 and over time have created a following for my work. I have always enjoyed making and selling things that others can incorporate into their own work—being a craft supplier if you will. My online store often features my unique silk shibori ribbon that people all over the world buy to use in their own creative projects. I also sell indigo and plant-dyed cloth for others to incorporate into their own work.

I believe that making things by hand is valuable and even necessary for people. It can provide stress reduction, increased life satisfaction, and even improved brain function, according to some studies linking motor skills with cognitive processing. I enjoy creating things that make people wonder. As a child, I realized that making arts and crafts made me feel better. It still does. I started teaching as a way to educate people about my own work as well as encourage them to incorporate hand-making into their own lives.

Another happy customer. Photo by Dr. Tsuneo Takasugi.

JANM: Do you have other creative pursuits besides shibori?

GD: I do like to share my interest in Japan and silk textiles with others in the form of my Silk Study Tour to Japan, which I offer every other year. It is a tour devoted to seeing Japan through the eyes of a silkworm; understanding the industrialization of Japan and its connection to the silk trade as well as the many textile, craft, and cultural traditions there. I get lots of enjoyment from sharing the beauty and grace of Japan with others through this tour.

I have many creative interests—gardening, cooking, writing, marketing, sewing, watercolor painting, calligraphy, and more. I believe that we can inject creativity into almost anything we do!

The next available Shibori Girl workshop at JANM will be Shibori Mandalas, taking place Saturday–Sunday, February 4–5, 2017. Be sure to reserve your spot early!

Members Only Learning at Lunch Looks at Pioneering Animator Iwao Takamoto and His Peers

On Friday, November 18, JANM members brought a brown bag lunch and joined the museum’s collections staff for a look at the work of the late animator, TV producer, and film director Iwao Takamoto, who had a distinguished career at Disney and Hanna-Barbera, and two of his Japanese American peers who also worked in the Hollywood film industry: MGM art director Eddie Imazu and Disney animator Chris Ishii.

Below you will find a few photos highlighting the event, which was part of JANM’s Members Only Learning at Lunch series. If you are a current JANM member, watch for your December e-newsletter, which will include an exclusive link to JANM’s professionally produced video of the event. JANM members now get exclusive first-viewing privileges on selected JANM program videos; in the last two months, members have enjoyed advance access to a talk with Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and a World War II panel discussion with Five Nisei. The new video will include fascinating tidbits about the lives of the three artists, including a personal reminiscence from an audience member who knew Takamoto as a child.

Not a JANM member? Click here to purchase a membership for yourself or a loved one—gift memberships at the Family/Dual level are 20% off, now through the end of the year. And be sure to provide your email address so we can notify you of new videos available for viewing!

JANM Collections Manager Maggie Wetherbee holds up a limited edition Scooby-Doo print signed by Iwao Takamoto, Joe Barbera, and Bill Hanna.
While at MGM, art director Eddie Imazu worked on an early movie about the renowned all-Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team called Go For Broke (1951). Here, we see casual snapshots he took of the actors while they were on set.
This comic strip was done by Chris Ishii, another animator who worked at Disney, while he was incarcerated at Santa Anita assembly center. Li’l Neebo was his contribution to the Pacemaker, Santa Anita’s community newspaper. Ishii, who graduated from Chouinard School of Art (now California Institute of the Arts), was known for working on Dumbo and may have paved the way for Takamoto, who was a bit younger than he was.

Kollaboration Seeks to Empower Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in Media

Image courtesy of Kollaboration

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.

A Chilling Night at JANM

Producer Jeff MacIntyre, ABC7 News anchor David Ono, and host Rodney Kageyama share spooky tales of the supernatural.
Producer Jeff MacIntyre, ABC7 News anchor David Ono, and host
Rodney Kageyama share spooky tales of the supernatural.

 

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.

A view of Japan's Suicide Forest (Aokigahara). Photo by Guilhem Vellut via Flickr Creative Commons.
A view of Japan’s Suicide Forest (Aokigahara).
Photo by Guilhem Vellut via Flickr Creative Commons.

 

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.”

Jeff MacIntyre dons a cape for dramatic effect.
Jeff MacIntyre dons a cape for dramatic effect.

 

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.

Okaeri: A Space for LGBTQ Visibility and Acceptance

okaeri_logo-03This 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.

The Okaeri planning committee welcomes you to Okaeri 2016.
The Okaeri planning committee welcomes you to Okaeri 2016.

 

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 on The Making of a King, a documentary that explores the world of drag kings, the lesser-known counterpart to drag queens.

Shop Handmade Arts and Crafts to Benefit JANM’s Education Programs

PrintThis 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.

Jewelry by Daliano Designs, on display at the 2015 Kokoro Craft Boutique. Daliano will be returning to this year's event.
Jewelry by Daliano Designs, on display at the 2015 Kokoro Craft Boutique.
Daliano will be returning to this year’s event.

 

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!

Happy Shirts display at the 2015 boutique. They will also be participating in this year's event.
Happy Shirts display at the 2015 boutique.
They will also be participating in this year’s event.

 

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.

Kokoro Craft Boutique, 2014
Kokoro Craft Boutique, 2014

 

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 kokorocraft@gmail.com. Presented by Friends of the Museum.