JANM is collaborating with the Museum of Modern Art Wakayama (MoMAW) on a three-year research project about Japanese immigrant artists. The partnership includes an annual symposium, educational curriculum, and this exhibition at MoMAW. JANM is lending more than twenty artworks from its permanent collection, including oil paintings, gelatin silver prints, charcoal and ink drawings, sumie paintings, and woodblock prints representing artists Tokio Ueyama, Chiura Obata, Hisako Hibi, Matsusaburo Hibi, Miné Okubo, Jack Yamasaki, Taizo Kato, Harry Shigeta, and the Shaku-do-sha artist collective.
Transbordering—Migration and Art Across Wakayama and the U.S.A.
September 30 – November 30, 2023
The Museum of Modern Art, Wakayama 1-chōme-4-14 Fukiage Wakayama, 640-8137, JAPAN
On September 12, 2023, the Japanese American National Museum (JANM), Little Tokyo Historical Society (LTHS), and other Little Tokyo partners celebrated the upcoming 100th anniversary of JANM’s Historic Building with a new plaque and street signs marking the building’s significance and its City of Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument designation.
JANM’s Director of Collections Management and Access and Curator, Kristen Hayashi, welcomed the group and introduced Michael Okamura, president of the Little Tokyo Historical Society, who spoke about the LTHS’s efforts to raise the visibility of historic sites throughout Little Tokyo, including the Koyasan Buddhist Temple, the Kame Restaurant, the Finale Club, Sei Fujii and J. Marion Wright Memorial Lantern, Toyo Miyatake Way, Reverend Howard Toriumi Plaza, and the Aoyama Tree.
“You could tell that throughout Little Tokyo these are significant. We honor these legacy people who were before us and it’s very important. When you walk throughout Little Tokyo please take a moment and absorb all these people and the naming sites,” said Okamura.
Rev. William Briones of Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple then spoke about how the site played an important role in the spiritual and social life of the community.
“It was a place of spiritual refuge, community, a playground for the children, a place to grieve for their loved ones, and to find joy in the joining of two people. And who could forget the iconic picture that Archie Miyatake took? The backdrop of one of the assembly points from which local Issei and Nisei were sent to the camp. Today we are truly honored for this recognition and even though a lot of people don’t know the history of this, there are so many fond and wonderful memories of this temple. Thank you for this recognition,” said Briones. Afterward, both of them unveiled the new signs on 1st Street that now mark the historic site.
The Historic Building was designed by local architect Edgar Cline and built in 1925 as the Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist temple. In 1985, the newly incorporated JANM signed a fifty-year lease with the City of Los Angeles to renovate the temple and convert it into a museum. The renovation was conceived by a consortium of eight Japanese American architects: Marcia Chiono, David Kikuchi, Shigeru Masumoto, Yoshio Nishimoto, Frank Sata, Takashi Shida, George Shinmo, and Robert Uyeda. In 1986 it was designated as City of Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument 313. In 1992 JANM opened its doors to the public with 23,800 square feet of space for exhibitions, collections, and public programs.
“JANM’s Historic Building is our oldest and largest artifact on our campus. It is hallowed ground, a site of conscience, and a gathering place for civic engagement and social justice. The plaque and street signs not only commemorate the Historic Building’s history in the Japanese American community but also expands the public’s understanding of its significance to the history of Los Angeles and the US. Commemorating the building’s history ensures that past injustices will never be repeated and that diverse voices will be heard now and into the future,” said Ann Burroughs, President and CEO of JANM.
Principal City Planner and Manager for the City of Los Angeles Office of Historic Resources, Ken Bernstein, praised the new plaque and street signs for raising the visibility of the historic site in Little Tokyo.
“Our historic buildings anchor us in an ever changing city. They really provide a meaningful connection to our collective memory—that bridge between past, present, and future. Thanks to you, the historic designation and enhanced visibility through the street sign and the plaque will continue to allow the Little Tokyo community to connect to its rich heritage and really use that rich heritage as a way of continuing to promote the vitality of the Little Tokyo community.”
Actor, activist, JANM Trustee, and Board Chair Emeritus, George Takei, joined Burroughs and Bernstein to unveil the bronze plaque, now installed at the building’s historic entrance.
Hayashi closed the ceremony by noting the significance of the ceremony and the power of place that JANM’s Historic Building has on its own and in relation to JANM’s Pavilion.
“These places matter to us and our community and we want people to know about its significance; that’s why we have this ceremony today. We could’ve just mounted the plaque but instead we really wanted people to know that it’s here. Several people have pointed out that there are several generations of people here today to witness this moment and it’s so fitting because as you turn around and you look towards JANM’s Pavilion, the architects of the Pavilion really wanted us to reflect on our past. Our past is what guides our present and future. It’s symbolic of who’s represented here. We have several generations here to carry on the legacy of those who have come before us in Little Tokyo.”
A special surprise performance by the children of Nishi Daycare charmed the audience of fifty who gathered in the plaza for the celebration.
On August 12, 2023, JANM welcomed 2,715 visitors to its annual summer celebration featuring free cultural performances, crafts, and activities in downtown Los Angeles.
Our Natsumatsuri Family Festival kicked off with a powerful performance by the award-winning TAIKOPROJECT. Their song, “Omiyage,” conveyed the custom of the same name where a person gives gifts to friends, colleagues, or family when visiting a place. TAIKOPROJECT’s closing performance was all about audience participation with call and response of ichi ni sou rei and oroshi, a series of hits to the drum that slowly speeds up in tempo. Kids and adults alike joined together to play the drums in two different rounds, raising their bachi (drum sticks) to the sky before bringing them down for the first hit and yelling the call (ichi ni) and response (sou rei).
Elaine Fukumoto from the Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple led a group bon odori (traditional dance) in JANM’s Aratani Central Hall. “We’re dancing fools and we want more dancing fools to join us,” said Fukamoto, encouraging visitors participating in origami and the scavenger hunt to join the dance circle as she led a group lesson with songs like “Sakura” and “Pokemon Ondo.”
Outside on the courtyard, the comedy and improv group Cold Tofu performed skits based on the audience’s suggestions. They played games like English Gibberish where audience members gave two cast members the theme archenemies and they improvised a conversation while switching from English to babble all while staying in character. They also played Pop-Up Storybook where audience members gave all cast members an adjective (smoky) and a noun (sewing machine) to narrate a unique four-part story called “the smoky sewing machine.”
The festivities continued throughout the afternoon with a kendo demonstration by Sho Tokyo Kendo Dojo, a printmaking workshop with artist David Horvitz in collaboration with Printed Matter’s LA Art Book Fair, and a taiko workshop led by longtime JANM Volunteer Hal Keimi.
Closing out our family festival was a fabulous shamisen jazz and blues performance by Yu Ooka and Kimo Cornwell of the Yu-ki Project. Ooka is a Los Angeles–based shamisen player and guitarist, and Cornwell is a Grammy-nominated keyboardist. They performed original songs such as “Train Home to Osaka,” Working Man,” and “Where the Tree Grows.” They were then joined by Karen Evans, an amazing singer from Inglewood, California who toured the world with Ray Charles. Together, they played James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good),” Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do for Love,” ZZ Hill’s “Down Home Blues,” and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” to a grooving audience.
We hope to see you next year for our Oshogatsu Family Festival in January 2024! Check our Events Calendar later this year for more about our next free family festival.
What was it like to grow up behind barbed wire? JANM’s exhibition, Don’t Fence Me In: Coming of Age in America’s Concentration Camps, explores the experiences of Japanese American youth confronting the injustice of being imprisoned in World War II concentration camps while embarking on the universal journey of adolescence. Preteens, teenagers, and young adults danced with one another, listened to jazz and big band music, and formed musical groups of their own that performed regularly in camp.
Swing dance, which developed alongside jazz music, was started by African American dancers at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, New York. Musicians such as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, and Chick Webb all performed at the ballroom. The ballroom’s anti-discrimination policy created a unique environment for diversity and creativity. The Savoy Ballroom and swing dancing was also featured at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. From there, swing dance and music spread across the country throughout the 1930s, including in Los Angeles.
Swing dancing was so popular among youth that a group of young dancers interrupted Los Angeles City Hall council members to invite them to a swing dance contest at the Gilmore Stadium on September 11, 1938. The following year, the Palomar Ballroom hosted the Jitterbug Championships and the finalists (from twenty states and six countries) danced for cash prizes to live music from the Artie Shaw and Ken Baker Orchestras in front of thousands of people at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as part of the International Jitterbug Championships on June 18, 1939.
During World War II, young Nisei like George Yoshida who enjoyed big band music continued to do so when they were forcibly removed from their homes. According to his book, Reminiscing in Swingtime, incarcerees created big bands such as the Densoneers or D-Elevens, Down Beats, Jive Bombers, Jivesters, Music Makers, Pomonans, Poston Camp #2 Band, Rhythm Kings, Rhythmaires, Savoy Four, Stardusters, and Starlight Serenaders in the temporary detention centers and concentration camps.
Nisei like sisters Yuri Long and Sumiko Hughes were a part of social clubs that would also participate in swing dancing. Long and Hughes, who are both featured in the Don’t Fence Me In audio tour on Bloomberg Connects, talked about how much they enjoyed swing dancing as part of their social club, Just Us Girls (the JUGs), in the Manzanar concentration camp. The JUGs were made up of the youngest girls, followed by the Forget-Me-Nots and the Moderneers.
“They call us wild because at the dances, the JUGs were always very popular, and the guys would come and ask them to dance. And they jitterbug. They were on the dance floor all the time. And some of the other club girls were sort of off on the side. They didn’t get asked as much. And they didn’t jitterbug. And they used to jitterbug wild. They would throw them under their legs,” recalled Hughes.
Bob Wada, who was also featured in the Don’t Fence Me In audio tour, recalled knowing where all of the dances were at the Poston incarceration camp because the blocks within camp kept a running log.
“A lot of the blocks had their own dances. So we had our own. They weren’t, like, out of control dances, they were good. People didn’t crash dances. Our block had a dance and they invited a few friends that would come. That’s about the only thing we did socially,” he said.
Some incarcerees even had their own musical equipment made in camp. Two Nisei, one of which may have been Sadaichi Tanioka, made a turntable for Henry Nomura so that he could play music for his own enjoyment and for others in the firebreaks and at block dances at the Manzanar concentration camp.
Handmade dance bids—paper booklets featuring an illustration of the event on the cover—were popular, complete with blank lines for dance partners to sign their name. Many of the dance bids in Don’t Fence Me In were donated by Karen Nagao. Her mother-in-law, Ruth (née Higa) Nagao, was incarcerated in the Pomona temporary detention center and the Heart Mountain concentration camp. While working as a crop picker and nurse’s aide at Heart Mountain, Nagao participated in many events including plays and dances. Her collection of dance bids commemorated block dances and special events like, a New Year’s Eve Dance, a Valentine’s Dance, and a Coronation Ball.
To celebrate big band music, JANM created a Don’t Fence Me In playlist of popular songs from the 1940s and hosted a two-part public program, From Barbed Wire to Boogie Woogie, on June 17, 2023.
From Barbed Wire to Boogie Woogie kicked off with a conversation between dance preservationist Rusty Frank and Rohwer concentration camp survivors, artists, and performers, June Aochi Berk and Takayo Tsubouchi Fischer. Berk and Fischer met at the Rohwer when they were ten years old and have been friends ever since. While incarcerated at Rohwer, they were too young to attend the dances but they were attuned to the fashion of the times and taught themselves how to dance.
“I used to love looking at the Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs,” said Fischer.
“I made my mother buy me white majorette boots, a skirt, and a top. And my brother had to have pachuco pants so he could be in style in camp,” recalled Berk. “We would stand around and watch the big kids dance and we’d go home and copy them. That’s how we learned to dance. My brother always wore his pachuco hat all the time and I would look to see who was dancing with him.”
From Barbed Wire to Boogie Woogie then transitioned to the All Camps Swing Dance with live music from the Fabulous Esquires Big Band and custom dance bids for guests. After Frank led a beginner swing dance lesson for all ages, the Fabulous Esquires played popular tunes from the 1940s like “Don’t Fence Me In,” “Moonlight Serenade,” and “Chattanooga Choo Choo” (which Berk sang in Japanese). Together, the conversation and dance offered all generations the opportunity to connect through music, movement, and immersive history.
Don’t Fence Me Inis now on view through October 1, 2023. Swing by JANM to see it for yourself this summer and shop the exhibition’s collection at the JANM Store!
JANM will be closed on August 10, 2023 in observance of the anniversary of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. JANM honors this anniversary to acknowledge incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans in US concentration camps without due process or evidence of wrongdoing.
On August 10, 1988, President Ronald Reagan issued a formal Presidential apology and symbolic payment of financial reparations to surviving Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during World War II. The act was the first and only time that the US government publicly apologized for a mistake acknowledging that the forced removal and unconstitutional incarceration was caused by a failure of political leadership, wartime hysteria, and racism.
Click on the following online resources to learn more about the Civil Liberties Act of 1988:
However, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 did not extend to Japanese Latin Americans, Germans, and Italians who were interned and incarcerated in the Department of Justice (DOJ) camps. Japanese Latin Americans continue to fight for redress today and educate the public through annual pilgrimages, like the Crystal City Pilgrimage.
Check out these Discover Nikkei stories to learn more about those who were incarcerated in the DOJ camps.
Hannah Tomiko Holmes and Doris Sato, Fabric-Framed Photograph Commemorating the Efforts of the National Council for Japanese American Redress, 1987, fabric and paper, Japanese American National Museum, 88.4.1B.
Hannah Tomiko Holmes, Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi, Michi Weglyn, William Hohri, Aiko Herzig, and Harry Y. Ueno Dolls, ca. early 1990s, fabric, 16” in height, Japanese American National Museum, gift of Hannah Tomiko Holmes, 88.4.1C.
The humble work truck or van may not seem as glamorous as a sports coupe or luxury sedan but as utility vehicles, they have served Japanese Americans in Los Angeles for over 100 years. Established by Fred J. Fujioka in the mid-1910s, the Japanese Auto Club of Southern California had over 850 members of Japanese descent listed in their member guide. Many members had registered their trucks, presumably used for delivering goods throughout the Southland.
Farmers, gardeners, shop owners, and other working class Nikkei couldn’t ply their trades without access to work vehicles. As prosaic as they looked, the ways in which owners adapted them to their needs made them as unique as any custom car. This was especially true for gardeners, once the economic lifeblood of the Southern California’s Japanese American community, for whom the pickup truck became an iconic sight for several generations.
As part of our forthcoming exhibition on Nikkei car culture in Southern California, we are looking for images of local Japanese Americans with their work trucks, vans, and cars. Many people may have posed in front of their family cars but we know there are also photos of people with their utility vehicles too. We want to make sure these—and the people behind them—are properly represented in our exhibition.
Right now, we prefer to look at digital scans (if possible). Please send them to email@example.com by July 31, 2023.
Photo: Buntaro Tabuchi from Amache with his gardening tools and truck, loading up for the day’s work in Los Angeles, June 25, 1945, Online Archive of California. Photo by Charles E. Mace.
These days, stopping by a gas station or taking your car to a service center may be seen as a necessary inconvenience but once upon a time, gas and service stations could be like informal neighborhood hubs: a place to stop and chat, even if only for the few minutes it took to top off your gas, check your oil, etc.
This was especially true in Southern California where countless Japanese Americans ran stations through the region. If you grew up here, chances are, you remember a few of your favorite stations. Some of you may even remember the names of the people who used to run them.
If all you remember is the intersection where the station is or was, that’s useful to us. If you remember the name of the station and/or the name(s) of the Japanese American owner(s), even better.
We’re also interested in seeing any photos that people may have of those stations and the people who worked there.
Please fill out this form to submit your response. We’ll use this information to create a database and interactive map of all the gas/service stations in the region, based on all your replies. Thank you!
We greeted over 6,000 visitors to JANM on January 8, 2023 as we welcomed in the Year of the Rabbit with oodles of family-friendly activities. Families of all ages enjoyed the New Year festivities including hand-sculpted candy-making demonstrations to craft activities and mochi (rice cake) pounding performances.
The occasion brought together those with Japanese ancestry keen to pass on cultural traditions to their young ones and others who came to share a memorable experience.
This is the first hybrid JANM Oshogatsu Family Festival since the pandemic. The all-day festival featured a range of events such as the improv comedy performance by Cold Tofu, the nation’s longest running AsianAmerican improv group, and the dynamic, large-scale calligraphy performance by Kunihara Yoshida.
Enjoy some highlights from the 2023 Oshogatsu Family Festival!
Watch the highlights from the 2023 Oshogatsu Family Festival! (available for a limited time only)
On December 21, 2022, longtime JANM Volunteer Frank Kikuchi passed away in his sleep.
Born in Seattle on October 21, 1924, he was incarcerated at the Manzanar concentration camp. After the war, Frank relocated to the Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights and started a family with his wife Tama. They had five children together and were married for 56 years until Tama died in 2004.
Frank started his own market called F and H Market and volunteered at JANM as a docent. When he was not busy giving tours and educating others about the history of Japanese Americans, he loved spending time with his children and going fishing.
JANM examined Japanese American history through the lens of Little Tokyo by exploring how this historic cultural, residential, and business hub for the Southern California Japanese American community transformed over the course of its history. The workshop explored how historical events, legislation, and the community impact this landmark site and the people who are a part of it.
Teachers learned about immigration to the area and the establishment of Japanese stores, restaurants, religious, and cultural institutions in the early half of the 20th century, through the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, a period in which the neighborhood was known as Bronzeville and was home to African Americans from the Deep South who had arrived in Los Angeles seeking wartime employment. Post-war issues around resettlement, eminent domain, redress and reparations, and gentrification; and the present-day challenges and triumphs involved in preserving the history and culture of the area while moving the community forward were also examined.
This was great! The first person testimonies in particular will be something I [will] never forget, and I feel lucky that I get to bring those narratives to my students in the coming year.
In addition to showcasing the history of this neighborhood and the Japanese American community through JANM’s collection and exhibitions, we are grateful for the many perspectives contributed by scholars, community members, artists, activists, and educators.
The teachers heard from speakers representing organizations including Little Tokyo Community Council, Little Tokyo Historical Society, Visual Communications, and Facing History and Ourselves; artists Dan Kwong, Cog•nate Collective, and TT Takemoto; JANM scholars, educators, and visiting scholars, Dr. Hillary Jenks, and Dr. Mitchell Maki; and many JANM volunteers and community members who shared very impactful first-person experiences and reflections.
My knowledge of the Japanese American experience has grown tremendously and I feel more confident using language, accessing resources, and teaching about the incarceration as well as the resilience of the community then and now.
There are many threads that make up the very strong fabric of Little Tokyo and we learned so much from all the voices who offered their expertise and shared their experiences.
Little Tokyo: How History Shapes a Community Across Generations was made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this workshop do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.