JANM’s biggest annual fundraiser, the Gala Dinner and Silent Auction, happens this Saturday at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites. Among the many fantastic items that will be up for auction is the handmade quilt pictured here, a memorial to the World War II incarceration of persons of Japanese ancestry created by JANM volunteer June Aoki in collaboration with her mentor, Maria Reza.
The quilt is sizeable, measuring 58 x 54 inches, and includes many wonderful details. A reproduction of a Civilian Exclusion Order, posted to inform Japanese Americans of their impending forced removal and incarceration, sits at its center, surrounded by photographs of all ten of the American concentration camps where they were housed for the duration of the war. A barbed-wire border encloses them. Images of notable persons and moments, as well as the Japanese saying gaman (perseverance or “keep on”), line each side.
In addition to the wonders of photo-printable fabric, the quilt is helped along by a suitcase-patterned fabric that Aoki happened to stumble across in a downtown fabric store. Seeing that the pattern evoked the suitcases carried by those bound for camp, who were limited to “only what you can carry,” Aoki used the fabric to make the quilt’s backing.
A former LAUSD schoolteacher, June Aoki has been volunteering at JANM since her retirement 15 years ago. Although both of her Kibei-Nisei (second generation, educated in Japan) parents were incarcerated at Poston, she herself avoided that fate because she happened to be in Japan at the time, being cared for by her grandparents. Born in California, Aoki went on to finish grade school and junior high school in Japan before rejoining her parents in the States.
Aoki, who has been quilting for as long as she’s been volunteering at JANM, recently joined a quilting group called TELAS (The East Los Angeles Stitchers). The group was largely working on religious imagery inspired by the Catholic backgrounds of many of its members. Since Aoki isn’t Catholic, she wondered what she could work on. Fellow member Maria Reza, who also happened to be Aoki’s former supervisor at LAUSD, suggested that she focus on elements of her own Japanese American history, and offered to help develop an idea.
The two met several times at the museum, and finally settled on “Executive Order 9066” as a central theme. Over the next two months, they worked together on the design and construction of the piece, enlisting several helpers along the way. Fellow TELAS member Gloria Flores did much of the quilting, while Alhambra quilter Sandra Kurosaki did the embroidery. JANM volunteer Henry Yasuda did the calligraphy for the gaman panel, and JANM Collections Manager Maggie Wetherbee helped to find and sort through appropriate historical images.
Aoki initially offered to donate the quilt to JANM, but was told there was nowhere to hang it at the moment, and the quilt would wind up in storage. She decided instead to contribute it to the Silent Auction. If you are attending our sold-out dinner event this Saturday, be sure to bid early and often if you want a shot at this beautiful quilt!
A slim newspaper has been circulating as part of promotions for Visual Communications’ 2017 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF), portions of which will be screened at JANM. Titled Bronzeville News, it mimics some of the humble broadsheets that may have circulated during the Bronzeville years of Little Tokyo, when, in the absence of Japanese Americans who had been incarcerated in remote camps following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, African Americans moved into the neighborhood and made it their own, nicknaming it after a historic black neighborhood in Chicago.
The newspaper evokes another era at the same time that it announces and serves as the program for Bronzeville, Little Tokyo, a free, two-day LAAPFF event that delves into this brief but fascinating period in Little Tokyo’s history. Over the weekend of April 29–30, visitors will be able to take in an interactive media installation, a 360⁰ virtual reality presentation, and a live jazz performance. Presented by FORM follows FUNCTION and Visual Communications, Bronzeville, Little Tokyo will take place at JANM’s own Historic Building and the Union Center for the Arts courtyard, two historic neighborhood sites.
Bronzeville was a nexus in time that brought together several significant strands of Southern California history. Following the evacuation of persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast, Japanese enclaves quickly became ghost towns. Since Asians were legally barred from owning property at that time, this meant that a lot of white landlords found themselves without tenants. At the same time, African Americans from the Deep South started flooding into California to work in the war defense industry, which faced a labor shortage. The vacant buildings in places like Little Tokyo made for convenient housing for the laborers. The neighborhood soon became a hotbed for African American business, culture, and night life.
In addition to many intriguing vintage photographs and advertisements, the Bronzeville News contains a thoughtful essay by artist and project researcher/consultant Kathie Foley-Meyer, in which she considers the significance of Bronzeville in forging Los Angeles into the multicultural metropolis that it is today. Her quotation of a 1945 editorial on integration in California is eerily reminiscent of debates taking place today in the wake of new immigration policies from the current administration. Foley-Meyer runs her own creative project at projectbronzeville.com.
Staff members at JANM have been particularly excited lately about a new product being sold at the JANM Store: Karami, a unique salsa developed over 100 years ago by Japanese American immigrants in Colorado. In addition to being extremely tasty, the salsa (whose name means “beautiful heat”) offers a window onto a little-known piece of Japanese American history.
According to Karami’s website, the salsa came into being around the turn of the 19th century, after some enterprising Japanese immigrants settled in Colorado with their families. Finding themselves far inland without access to the ocean-based food staples of their native land, they were forced to be inventive with the resources they had. After sampling a variety of local vegetables, they found that the spicy green chile pepper made for the most viable substitute for seaweed. They mixed the green chiles with soy sauce and used it as a topping on rice, fish, chicken, and meats.
Generations of Japanese Americans who grew up in Colorado were known to keep a jar of the homemade mixture on their kitchen table. Every family had their own variation on the recipe. It was Jason Takaki’s family recipe that formed the basis of the product now known as Karami Japanese Salsa; with the help of his partner Kei Izawa, Takaki was able to turn his salsa into a viable business. For a detailed account of their journey, check out this Daily Camera article. For an early review of the salsa, see Gil Asakawa’s 2013 article on JANM’s DiscoverNikkei.org. For even more delicious historical details on Colorado’s Japanese salsa, check out this article on the Great Flavors website.
This writer sampled the product and was instantly hooked. Karami Japanese Salsa possesses a smooth, silky quality that I’ve never experienced in other salsas. An initial pleasingly sweet flavor soon gives way to a memorable kick that packs a low, slow-burning heat. I had it with tortilla chips and polished off half a jar before I knew it. Maria Kwong, JANM’s Director of Retail Enterprises and the person responsible for bringing us this salsa, tells me it’s great on hot dogs. Jason Takaki himself likes it best on fried rice.
A jar of Karami sells for $8 in our store; check it out the next time you’re at the museum. Please note this product is not available online.
To get you geared up for the event, we present below a quiz on Japanese American history. Take the quiz and see how much you know! This Saturday, the first ten people who come to the survey table at JANM and present a printout of this quiz with the correct answers written in the blanks will receive a $10 gift certificate to the JANM Store.* So put on your thinking and research caps and come on down for a day of learning and fun!
1. What public office did George Takei hold between 1973 and 1984?
10. Decades after World War II, Japanese Americans successfully lobbied for the United States government to pass a federal law that formally apologized for their wrongful incarceration and granted reparations to surviving camp detainees. What is the official name of this act?
*No purchase necessary to enter. Limit one entry per family; entry must be presented in person on the day of the event to qualify. Limit one prize per family. Gift certificates have no cash value. Contest ends when all ten prizes have been given away, or at 4 p.m. on April 8, 2017, whichever comes first. Employees and volunteers of the Japanese American National Museum are not eligible.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 ofNew 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: 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call 213.830.5646 to RSVP. You may purchase the book at the JANM Store or janmstore.com.
On Wednesday night, the Little Tokyo community was invited to a grand re-opening party for the Mikado Hotel, located on First Street in the historic heart of the neighborhood. This was no ordinary re-opening—the Mikado Hotel is a historic piece of architecture, built in 1914, and it has essentially lain dormant since the end of World War II. Capital Foresight finally purchased the building in 2014, and got to work on a restoration that would be faithful to the building’s history while updating it with contemporary touches. The result is quite remarkable.
The building’s façade has been restored to look the way it did in 1932. Visitors must first walk down a long corridor to reach the stairs and elevator at the back of the building; the corridor is decorated with a collage work and text panels recounting the history of Little Tokyo. The second and third floors are where the guest rooms, now called “micro-suites,” are located. On the second floor is a beautiful new open-air courtyard; the builders created this space by reducing the sizes of the individual rooms. In the past, the rooms were larger, but the space between them was practically nonexistent. The micro-suites continue on the third floor.
The suites are indeed microscopic—each one is about the size of a small bedroom. However, care has been taken to furnish them with all the necessary conveniences, including a kitchenette, full private bathroom (the original hotel had shared bathrooms), and storage cupboards. The style is decidedly hip and modern. A total of 42 suites will be available to rent starting in a few weeks, with leases that can run from one day up to one year. The price range is expected to be $1,160 to $1,500 per month.
Also new and hip is a rooftop lounge, featuring two comfortable seating areas. Guests can look down on the courtyard and balconies from here. The original hotel was enclosed, so the open-air effect is a welcome new addition, adding vibrancy to a small space.
The building was designed as a hotel by the California architect Alfred F. Priest. It is said to be typical of the commercial architecture that populated American main streets of the early 20th century, with its glazed white brick entrance and buff brick upper stories. Prior to World War II, it was known as the Mikado Hotel. While the Japanese American community was incarcerated, Little Tokyo became an African American enclave known as Bronzeville, and the Mikado morphed into the Shreveport Hotel, featuring a well-known soul food restaurant.
Gentrification is a contentious subject throughout Los Angeles, and Little Tokyo has not been immune to its effects. Critics bemoan the appearance of soulless condominiums, constructed quickly in the interest of profits, with no regard for the area’s history. A project like the Mikado Hotel seems to strike the right balance, respecting the lineage of the property while making it appealing to new audiences.
Every week, hundreds of visitors view JANM’s core exhibition, Common Ground: The Heart of Community. While the story resonates strongly with Japanese American visitors, who can see their own family histories in it, the importance of community is something that can be felt and understood by visitors from all different backgrounds. The exhibition begins with an introductory panel, which sets the stage for a story of immigrants:
Community is not just where you live.
Community is also about who you are.
Immigration is central not only to the Japanese American experience, but that of all Americans:
We are on common ground with all Americans,
with all people.
The exhibition traces Japanese American history through the struggles of immigrant mothers and fathers, the trauma of World War II and the concentration camps, and the ongoing quest to find a place in this country. Through it all, the importance and fluidity of the concept of community is explored; it is both an ideal to aspire to, and a source of comfort during trying times. Common Ground closes with a look to the future:
in the stories we tell each other,
in the stories we tell others.
As we reinvent America,
from monolithic to multicultural,
to include all of us
in all our magnificent diversity,
we forever re-vision the American experience.
Visitors of all ages, ethnicities, and cultures are invited to explore their own history and appreciate the differences among us while also remembering our similarities. By doing so, we reflect on and create what it really means to be American.
Just announced! JANM presents Common Ground Conversations, a four-week series of themed public conversations inspired by Common Ground: The Heart of Community. Read our press release for complete information.
Over the weekend, JANM opened a new special display, Only the Oaks Remain: The Story of Tuna Canyon Detention Station. Organized by a grassroots group called the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition, the display tells the true stories of those targeted as dangerous enemy aliens and imprisoned in the Tuna Canyon Detention Station, located in the Tujunga neighborhood of Los Angeles, by the US Department of Justice during World War II. The detainees included Japanese, German, and Italian immigrants who were considered spiritual, educational, and business leaders in their communities, along with Japanese and other individuals who had previously been forcibly removed from Latin America.
As noted by Hyperallergic magazine, this display is especially relevant right now, in light of some current political rhetoric that favors creating a database of all Muslim Americans in response to terrorist threats. The public hysteria that has led to the targeting of millions of innocent Muslim Americans is eerily similar to the WWII hysteria that quickly led to the incarceration, without due process, of 120,000 people of Japanese descent—most of whom were American citizens, and all of whom were innocent of any crimes.
Thanks to the Japanese American Redress Movement, the US government formally apologized for its actions during WWII, admitting that they were “motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” As part of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, monetary compensation was awarded to each family that was incarcerated. Because of these official actions, Japanese Americans and others felt that the incident had been sufficiently exposed and denounced in the public arena.
Just this past week, however, a Los Angeles Times article exploring the history lessons offered by various national parks, including the Tule Lake Unit and Manzanar National Historic Site, was met with two letters published in the newspaper’s travel section insisting that the WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans was entirely justified. The publication of the letters caused an uproar, particularly among the Japanese American community—this was addressed by the Times via their Readers’ Representative Journal blog. Former JANM staffer Koji Steven Sakai also appeared on KPCC’s Take Two show on December 14, explaining to listeners why the letters were so offensive to his community, and offering some historical context.
The Japanese American National Museum is committed to sharing the history of Japanese Americans in order to promote understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity. An important focus of this mission is ensuring that what happened to this group of individuals during WWII never happens again, to any other group of people.
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.