New Frontiers: The Many Worlds of George Takei, which has been on view for a little over a month now, features a cornucopia of fascinating artifacts from the life of the noted actor, activist, and longtime friend and supporter of the Japanese American National Museum.
The exhibition, whose format was inspired by Takei’s role on the iconic Star Trek television and film series, is divided into five “voyages” exploring the many aspects of Takei’s life: his childhood spent in a World War II incarceration camp; his rise in Hollywood as a pioneering Asian American actor; his civic engagement and community activism; his groundbreaking all-APIA Broadway musical, Allegiance; and his current status as a social media icon.
George and his husband, Brad, have been collecting and organizing their various possessions for years. The 200 artifacts that are currently on view in New Frontiers represent just a small portion of The George & Brad Takei Collection, which was donated to JANM last year and is still being processed as we speak. During a recent Members Only Learning at Lunch event, Collections Manager Maggie Wetherbee regaled an enthusiastic audience with tales of the 300 boxes and nearly 200 framed objects that she and her team collected from the Takei home. The exclusive gathering focused on a selection of objects that did not make it into the exhibition.
These included Boy Scout photos from George’s childhood, a personal scrapbook that George himself put together, samples of fan mail he has received, and a copy of the script for the January 15, 1987, episode of Miami Vice, on which George was a guest star. Wetherbee also shared a number of interesting stories that she heard during the process of reviewing the items at the Takei house.
If you have not yet seen the exhibition, we offer a few highlights in this blog post, along with a bonus image that was taken at the Learning at Lunch event. Note that another Learning at Lunch event will take place on June 3 and will also spotlight items from The George & Brad Takei Collection that did not make it into New Frontiers. If you are not yet a member, click here for information on how to join and enjoy great benefits like this one.
As the repository of more than 100,000 individual artifacts related to the Japanese American experience, JANM frequently receives requests from other museums and cultural centers to borrow rare and meaningful items for their exhibitions. We can’t accommodate every request but right now, there are two exhibitions currently featuring loaned artifacts from the JANM permanent collection—one in nearby La Cañada Flintridge and the other in Austin, Texas.
Descanso Gardens is located at the far western end of the San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles County. Among its many botanical treasures is a Japanese Garden, which celebrated its 50th anniversary earlier this year. In honor of the anniversary, the exhibition Sharing Culture | Creating Community charts the creation of the Japanese Garden, how it functions as a work of living art, how it transmits cultural ideas, and how it can act as a catalyst for building community.
On view in the Sturt Haaga Gallery through January 29, 2017, Sharing Culture | Creating Community includes four photographs by Toyo Miyatake from the JANM collection. One depicts Frank Fusaji Nagata at his Alpine Baika Bonsai Nursery in Los Angeles in 1964. Nagata taught bonsai there and was one of the founders of the Southern California Bonsai Club, which became the California Bonsai Society. Another photo, taken in 1968, is from the Third Annual Bonsai Festival at Descanso Gardens. In it, a man examines a bonsai created by the Santa Anita Bonsai Society for the festival, while Mrs. Forrest Kresser “Judge” Smith, founding president of the Descanso Gardens Guild, and Mrs. Khan Komai, wife of the Society president, look on.
Also on loan from JANM is a photo of Eijiro and Eiichi Nunokawa of Garden Arts Landscaping in the Japanese garden they designed at the Occidental Center (now known as the AT&T Center) at 12th and Hill streets in Los Angeles. Eijiro Nonokawa also designed Descanso’s Japanese Garden. Lastly, a 1966 photo reveals the Japanese garden at Chavez Ravine. Located behind Dodger Stadium’s parking lot #6, the garden features a six-foot-tall toro (stone lantern)—a gift from Japanese sportswriter Sotaro Suzuki of the Yomiuri Shimbun of Tokyo.
At the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin, State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda, produced by the United States Holocaust Museum, is currently on display. The exhibition emphasizes why the issue of propaganda matters and inspires visitors to search for truth and work together for change. On the Texas Homefront is a companion exhibition curated by the Bullock that explores the effects of Nazi propaganda and events in Germany on Texas and Texans. Five artifacts from the JANM collection are included in On the Texas Homefront, representing first-person experiences in Texas by Japanese Americans who had been forcibly removed from their homes in the wake of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Four of these artifacts are drawings made by George Hoshida in 1942 and 1943. Hoshida was an artist and community leader in Hawai‘i when the US entered the war. Within days of the Pearl Harbor bombing he had been removed from his home and incarcerated. He documented camp life through drawings and paintings in notebooks he kept as he spent time in and moved among five different camps during the war.
Also loaned to the Bullock Museum is a postcard from JANM’s Clara Breed Collection. Breed was the children’s librarian at the San Diego Public Library from 1929 to 1945. She kept in touch with many of the Japanese American children and teenagers who had frequented the library even as they were forcibly removed to assembly centers and concentration camps.
The postcard on loan to the Bullock was written by Fusa Tsumagari during a train stopover in El Paso, Texas, on the way to the Crystal City Department of Justice camp. “We had a rather restless night due to the occasional jerking of the train. I feel fine but mother is a bit car sick. Pop will be waiting for us when we get there on Sunday, according to our escort,” it says toward the end, referring to being reuniting with her father.
State of Deception and On the Texas Homefront are on view through January 8, 2017.
Descanso Gardens is open every day but December 25. The Bullock Texas State History Museum is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. Should you find yourself with a little time during this holiday season, please consider visiting one of these cultural institutions to which JANM has made loans.
JANM is fortunate to have a vast collection of artworks, artifacts, documents, and other historical items pertaining to the Japanese American experience. To help scholars and other researchers navigate its contents, the museum’s Collections Management and Access (CMA) Unit is an active contributor to the Online Archive of California (OAC), a web resource that provides free public access to detailed descriptions of primary resource collections at more than 200 libraries, archives, historical societies, and museums throughout California.
On OAC’s Japanese American National Museum page, you will find a hyperlinked, alphabetical list of collection finding aids. Click on any of the finding aids to access detailed information about that collection, including the scope and nature of its contents; background information and biographies; applicable restrictions; and instructions on how to access the collection. Some of the finding aids feature materials that can be accessed directly, such as digital copies of documents, and all of them offer a downloadable PDF of all the information. The museum regularly adds new finding aids after collections are processed.
JANM’s archivist recently completed the finding aid for the records of the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA), a national organization of the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha sect and the largest Japanese American Buddhist organization in the country. This collection was transferred to the museum from BCA headquarters and is jointly owned by both organizations. The finding aid represents a significant advance for the study of Japanese American history, since the arrival and growth of the Buddhist religion in America was closely tied to the arrival of the first Issei immigrants.
JANM’s sizable collection of materials dates from 1899, when the BCA was founded, to 2016. It includes correspondence between headquarters in the United States, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji Headquarters in Kyoto, Japan, and individual temples, along with meeting minutes and conference materials, education-related records, publications, financial records, and audiovisual materials in a wide variety of formats. The collection spans three major periods in the evolution of BCA: establishment and early growth, the World War II incarceration era and its impact, and postwar expansion. Panoramic photographs from the collection are available to view on the museum’s website.
Also recently added was the finding aid for the Stanley Hayami Papers. Born in 1925 in Los Angeles, Stanley Hayami was incarcerated with his family at Heart Mountain and attended high school while he was in camp. After graduating, he was inducted into the US Army and joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Unit. In March 1945, during a tour of duty in Italy, Hayami was killed in action while trying to save another soldier. He was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart for his bravery.
JANM’s Stanley Hayami Papers includes letters from Stanley to his sister Sachiko, letters from Sachiko to her family in Heart Mountain, camp newspapers and newsletters, personal items belonging to Stanley (1945 diary, certificate of baptism, application for life insurance, report cards), items of Stanley’s clothing, photographs of soldiers, and drawings by Stanley. This collection captures his time with the 442nd; those interested in his high school years can go to the OAC website and view the Stanley Hayami Diary (1941-1944), which has been digitized and made available online.
Requests to access JANM’s permanent collection can be made by contacting the CMA Unit at 213.830.5615 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Appointments must be scheduled in advance and documentation as to the purpose of the research visit is required. Fees may apply.
Not long after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, George Hoshida was arrested by FBI agents. Having immigrated from Japan with his family in 1912, when he was only four years old, Hoshida had made a life for himself in Hilo, Hawai‘i. He had married a Hawai‘i–born Japanese American woman named Tamae and gotten a job at the Hilo Electric Company; he had also become active in several Japanese American community organizations, including a Buddhist group and a judo association. It was Hoshida’s position in the community and his perceived influence on others that led authorities to deem him a threat.
Hoshida was forcibly separated from his wife and four daughters as he was sent to a succession of special Justice Department camps, reserved for community leaders like himself: Kilauea Military Camp on the Big Island, Sand Island on Oahu, and a variety of camps in Texas, Nevada, and New Mexico. After a year of separation, Tamae, who was handicapped, found it too difficult to raise the children without George. She made the decision to give up their home and, on the recommendation of government officials, moved with three of their daughters to the Jerome War Relocation Center in Arkansas, where George could be transferred.
Arriving there after an arduous journey, the family would have to wait another year before George’s transfer process could be completed. Tragically, the eldest daughter, who had to be left behind in a facility in Oahu due to a handicap, died while the rest of the family was incarcerated.
During this challenging time, Hoshida and his wife wrote letters to each other every day. Hoshida also kept a detailed journal and made numerous sketches, drawings, and watercolors depicting what he saw around him. These letters, journal entries, and artworks are now considered a rare record of life in the Justice Department camps; the depictions of the Kilauea camp are the only ones known to exist. In 1997, the bulk of these artifacts were donated to JANM, where they now reside in the permanent collection. Many of the items can be viewed online through JANM’s George Hoshida Collection page as well as a special online exhibition website called The Life and Work of George Hoshida: A Japanese American’s Journey.
Earlier this year, a new book was published that tells the Hoshida family’s story through a curated selection of Hoshida’s journal entries, memoir excerpts, letters, and artworks. Edited by Heidi Kim and supplemented with historical background information, Taken from the Paradise Isle: The Hoshida Family Story provides “an intimate account of the anger, resignation, philosophy, optimism, and love with which the Hoshida family endured their separation and incarceration during World War II.”
The hardcover edition of the book is already sold out; the JANM Store and janmstore.com are currently waiting on an order of the paperback edition. The book should be restocked in time for an author discussion event on January 9, in which Heidi Kim will read from and discuss the book. To read more about the Hoshida family’s story, check out this Discover Nikkei article.
Members of JANM’s Board of Trustees, Board of Governors, and staff traveled to New York City for a weekend-long offsite meeting of the Board of Trustees at the end of October. It was a welcome opportunity to escape the hot temperatures in Los Angeles for the cool autumn weather in New York. Most of the weekend was devoted to taking care of business, but time was also set aside for relaxing, networking, and catching up.
The social highlight was the Saturday afternoon reception, held at the Nippon Club in Midtown. In addition to JANM board members, distinguished guests included Yosuke Honjo, CEO and President, Ito En (North America); Masahide Enoki, Vice President, Ito En; Sugu Mike, Executive Chairman, MUFG Union Bank; Yumi Higashi, Vice President of Corporate Communications, MUFG Union Bank; and Osamu Honda, Director General of the Japan Foundation, New York. Delicious food and beverages were enjoyed by all.
At the reception, JANM announced a major gift from the estate of artist Henry Sugimoto, generously made by his daughter Madeleine. The artworks and artifacts span Sugimoto’s entire career and include 240 oil paintings and more than 200 watercolors. This acquisition makes the Sugimoto Collection, which comprises over 700 works of art, the largest collection of paintings at JANM.
Maggie Wetherbee, JANM Collections Manager, made a special trip to New York to bring one of her favorite Sugimoto pieces to the reception for guests to see. It is a carved wood plate created by the artist in the 1980s; it depicts Madeleine Sugimoto at age six, sitting in front of the mess hall at “Jerome Camp” in Arkansas, where the Sugimoto family was incarcerated, in 1943. The tags attached to her and the pieces of luggage surrounding her bore their family number, so that they could be returned to their assigned barrack if they were separated from her parents. Attendees were very excited and appreciative to see this piece up close, and were able to ask Wetherbee additional questions about the collection.
Dr. Greg Kimura, JANM’s President and CEO, gave a short presentation on the latest happenings at the museum, including exhibitions, educational tours, and new technology. Representative Mark Takano of the 41st Congressional District, a longtime supporter of the museum, spoke about what JANM means to him. He mentioned that Riverside City College, which is part of his district, holds a major collection of works by artist Mine Okubo; JANM also has a significant number of works by Okubo in its permanent collection. Rep. Takano also promised to assist JANM in bringing its recent exhibition, Before They Were Heroes: Sus Ito’s World War II Images, to a prominent venue in Washington, D.C.
In addition to the meetings and reception, some board members and their family and friends elected to visit the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, located on the former site of the World Trade Center. The group was given a guided tour by the museum’s founding President and CEO, Joseph C. Daniels, and Vice President for Education and Public Programs Clifford Chanin. In addition to being a deeply moving experience, the intimate tour was an opportunity to build a partnership with an institution with which JANM shares a common mission of commemorating a national tragedy and promoting the messages of hope, transcendence, and tolerance that come out of it.
Another highlight of our trip was enjoying some delicious meals at Hasaki and Sakagura, two restaurants owned by Bon Yagi and his daughter Sakura Yagi, who are longtime friends of the museum. We highly recommend visiting either or both of these establishments the next time you are in New York.
The collections office is where you will find Kyoko Ogawa, one of the museum’s newest volunteers, every Tuesday. Originally from Nagano prefecture in Japan, Kyoko moved to the United States with her husband over thirty years ago.
As a shin-Issei (Japanese national who immigrated to the United States after World War II), Kyoko provides the invaluable service of translation from Japanese to English. In fact, she is currently the only collections volunteer who translates letters, diaries, and other archival materials largely written by our community’s Issei (prewar, first-generation immigrant) pioneers.
“Kyoko is really invaluable in the sense that she is providing a service that has been lacking in the collections department,” says Maggie Wetherbee, JANM’s Collections Manager. “We were so excited when we found out she wanted to volunteer. Most people do not want to do it because it is so tedious.”
Though decades removed from the early Japanese American migrants, Kyoko, with her strong native language skills, provides us with a link to the Issei experience. Her first volunteer project involved translating Buddhist sermons that were read in the American concentration camps during World War II.
Kyoko also volunteers in the Hirasaki National Resource Center, where she helps visitors research their family’s records from the Issei generation to the present. From time to time, she lends a hand as an origami volunteer as well.
“Everyone is just so nice, and their dedication is incredible!” Kyoko says about all the museum volunteers. She is particularly thankful to her volunteer mentors, Marge Wada and Irene Nakagawa, who have helped her transition into JANM’s lively and close-knit volunteer community.
One key take-away from her time at JANM has been the importance of sharing diverse lived experiences—a concept she did not grow up with in a largely homogeneous Japan. With every passing week, she cheerfully asserts, “I am learning something new!”
Please note Kyoko Ogawa is not available for general translation requests. Her volunteer services are currently limited to the needs of JANM’s Collections and Management Access Unit.
This post was researched and written by Sakura Kato, JANM’s summer 2015 curatorial and collections intern. Kato, who just graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in history and pre-law, conducted the interview with Ogawa in Japanese.
JANM’s School Programs Developer Lynn Yamasaki and her family recently had the opportunity to view artworks by her great uncle, Jack Yamasaki, that are part of the museum’s permanent collection.
Jack Yamasaki, my father’s uncle, is someone I only have the faintest memories of seeing on occasion and visiting during holidays. I always knew he was an artist though, because I’ve been surrounded by his artwork my entire life—drawings and paintings by “Uncle Jack” have always hung on the walls of my parents’ and grandmother’s homes. Looking back, his artwork was probably my earliest exposure to art as a child.
A few decades later, I find myself fortunate enough to have studied art and to have worked in museums. I’ve had the opportunity to see some incredible artwork in the various institutions in which I’ve worked, including the Japanese American National Museum, where I currently spend my days. Recently, I had the great privilege of bringing several members of my family to the museum, where staff in the Collections Management and Access (CMA) Unit were kind enough to bring out five works by Uncle Jack for us to look at.
Most of these were pieces that my family and I had never seen before. In some cases, they were gifted to the museum by donors who are not family members. And it was a little odd for me to see Jack Yamasaki’s name among the other great artists in JANM’s collection. Though always appreciated by my family, it wasn’t until recently that I gained respect for the broader significance of his artwork and the events documented in them.
This 1942 painting was really interesting for us to see. It is a depiction of life in the Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming, where Jack spent the war years. Reminiscent of JANM’s recent Colors of Confinement display, this work depicts camp life in bright, vivid colors; a rare and striking thing when you’re used to looking at black-and-white photographs. We noticed that it is still in its original frame, made by Jack.
I was also attracted to this pencil and ink drawing. In a busy scene, again from Heart Mountain in 1942, men are laying bricks in winter. On the left, one figure tosses a brick to another, with the brick depicted in mid-air. The cloudy sky and the way the figures are bundled up and hunched over as they walk really conveys a sense of the cold climate.
This one is a definite favorite for more personal reasons. The figure in pink in the foreground is my grandmother, someone I spend a great deal of time with. At 99 years old, she is one of the most impressive people I know. She says this was painted when the family was farming in Utah after the war. The other figures in the painting are family friends from pre-war days in the Imperial Valley. Her account doesn’t quite match the official description on file at the museum. However, my grandma is pretty sharp and has a great memory, so I prefer her version of the story.
My family had seen a reproduction of this painting, but it wasn’t until the CMA Unit staff brought it out that we saw the original. We were all struck by how the colors were much brighter than we thought they were. It was the first time my grandma had seen it since Uncle Jack painted it so many years ago.
At first, seeing it again brought up an old annoyance. According to her, she had told Jack she wanted to buy the painting and he said she could. But after one of his exhibitions, she found out that he had sold it to someone else! I remarked that this painting’s journey brought it to JANM, where it is now professionally cared for in a controlled environment. It is probably better off than it would be at her house, and she agreed!