Taking Initiative and Being a Self-Starter with Kenyon Mayeda

I recently got a chance to sit down with JANM’s new Chief Impact Officer, Kenyon Mayeda, to talk about what he has learned so far on his own professional journey and advice he has for young professionals as they navigate their own careers.

During the summer of his first year at the University of San Francisco, he was accepted into the Nikkei Community Internship program, a paid two-month internship program for undergraduate students to gain valuable work experience, establish their network, and meet leaders in the Japanese American community. He was placed in JANM’s Development department, where he was able to make connections with other Japantown leaders and executive directors.

“In particular Jon Osaki was really trying to see how I could get more involved with the Japanese Community Youth Council in the Japantown up there. That was a really formative experience for me as a jump-off point from going to the internship working at JANM to continuing to do the work and working with kids at JCYC,” said Mayeda. “You really have to take initiative and be a self-starter, especially in community organizations. It was an interesting experience to be at an intersection of my own personal identity and history and learn how to work in a professional environment.”

Upon graduating college, he lived and worked in San Francisco’s Japantown, where he discovered a need for boundaries between his personal and professional lives.

“I was spending so much of my personal time in Japantown. I was so intent and motivated to learn about the issues that were going on in the neighborhood that I sort of forgot to take care of myself,” he said. “When I found myself at an intersection of burnout, I really had to make a choice to see if I could explore another facet both of my own identity and continue to learn professionally about different environments.”

His decision led him to work at Cathay Bank, where he made his way from trainee to overseeing the bank’s regional branches in Seattle. Over time, he settled into the city and was able to connect community organizations’ issues, projects, and programs with the bank’s resources. While in Seattle, he also learned the importance of volunteering at the community level to discover and better understand who was being served by community organizations.

“Once I started volunteering it really fast tracked me to meeting folks that grew up there and I think that was a really important milestone. There’s something called the Seattle freeze, where it’s notoriously difficult to get a social network of people in Seattle. I can attest that it’s pretty true. In the early years of me being there I really only interacted with other California transplants but after I started doing more community work and I participated in a leadership development program that was planted in Chinatown International District, that’s when my network really opened up to meeting folks that had spent their whole lives in the area and knew a lot about the history and the community.”

With a deep knowledge and understanding of West Coast communities, he transitioned into marketing and advertising at TDW+Co where he applied a community-minded perspective to strategies that helped clients make authentic connections with communities. One of those examples he gave was the work that the agency did as part of Team Y&R, the advertising and communications team of thirteen agencies who have worked with multicultural and historically undercounted groups, for the 2020 Census’s “Shape Your Future. Start Here.” advertising campaign.

“It’s such a critical issue to count everyone here in the United States and activate in these communities where nonprofits and other community organizations can see the critical importance of ensuring accurate population numbers are guiding budgeting and funding decisions that support the Asian American community.”

He rose from senior account executive to vice president of operations and established the agency’s Los Angeles branch on 2nd Street, just two blocks away from JANM.

“Surprisingly, when I came back I sort of came home in several different ways. I came home because of the physical city I grew up in but I also came home in the sense that I was hired to open and expand this agency. I knew that because they started in Chinatown International District in Seattle and I knew and learned the identity of that neighborhood. I knew that the closest possible community to that experience and that level of connection was Little Tokyo.”

Today, Mayeda brings over twenty years of leadership, strategy, and institution-wide performance and impact to his current work with JANM and he continues to hone his leadership experience through board service including the Chinese Information Service Center, the California Japanese American Community Leadership Council, and the US-Japan Council, where he is the Southern California regional chair.

“As the chief impact officer, thinking about things in the long range format is really to think about how we can continue to deepen those connections in public places.  We are the Japanese American National Museum, so for me it’s about really considering how we bolster the conditions of a national Japanese American community when we are very much an institution at a local level in LA that’s very familiar and known. Then there’s the international layer of it where we consider how we’ve been forging sister museum relationships with the Museum of Modern Art, Wakayama as well as considering how we can grow our connections with Japanese companies because there is interest in Japanese Americans and the Japanese American experience which is at the core of our mission at the Museum.”

Images from top left:

  • The 2004 class of the Nikkei Community Internship program. Photo courtesy of NCI program via Discover Nikkei.
  • Kenyon interning in JANM’s Development department in 2004. Photo courtesy of Kenyon Mayeda.
  • Kenyon today as JANM’s Chief Impact Officer. Photo courtesy of Kenyon Mayeda.
Taiko members making mochitsuki.

Got Photography Skills? Volunteer with Us!

Do you love capturing the world in unique and creative ways? Do you have a passion and talent for photography? If you have your own equipment and are available on weekends and evenings, we’d love to hear from you!

We’re expanding our crew of volunteer photographers to capture our exhibitions, public programs, and more at JANM. Volunteer photographers work with the Marketing and Communications department to shoot photographs that document and illustrate JANM’s events, initiatives, and mission to promote the understanding and appreciation of America’s diversity through the Japanese American experience.

Volunteers’ photographs are featured on our website and blog; highlighted in institutional reports, presentations, and outreach materials; used across social media; and archived at JANM. Their work conveys the powerful stories of the Museum and its mission to the public on a global stage.

Come join us and be part of an active network of volunteers!

JANM Volunteer Richard Watanabe captures the excitement of mochitsuki at the 2024 Oshogatsu Family Festival. Photo by Doug Mukai.

JANM Volunteer Nobuyuki Okada snaps photographs of visitors stamping the Ireichō. Photo by Doug Mukai.

Volunteer Opportunity: Photography

Reports to: Marketing and Communications

We’re looking for photographers who:

  • Have experience photographing events, exhibitions, people, and/or buildings at a quality level
  • Own photography equipment and a computer
  • Can select, edit, and digitally transfer photographs
  • Can attend at least one on-site event a month, usually on weekends or evenings
  • Are comfortable working in a fast-paced environment with visitors, staff, and volunteers
  • Have keen visual and compositional judgment
  • Are professional and flexible in meeting needs and circumstances of events
  • Can be appropriately dressed for the occasion
  • Can communicate with staff about their schedule in advance

Physical demands include:

  • Standing (10%)
  • Walking, including stairs (80%)
  • Sitting (10%)
  • Lifting (up to 5 pounds)

Sound like you? Submit your volunteer program application! Once we receive your application we will schedule a phone call with you to discuss volunteering at JANM and request a sample of 3–5 photographs.

Nikkei Names 2 artwork featuring nametags, name badges, and kokeshi

Share the Story of Your Name with Discover Nikkei

Discover Nikkei is thrilled to announce the thirteenth edition of Nikkei Chronicles, our annual, themed open call for writings. Discover Nikkei, a project of JANM, is a community website highlighting Nikkei identity, culture, and history. Every year, we call on the global Japanese diaspora to share personal stories around a specific theme. This year’s theme is Nikkei Names 2: Grace, Graça, Graciela, Megumi? 

Do you have a Japanese name? How did your parents choose your name? Have you ever changed your name? We invite you to share stories, essays, and vignettes about how Nikkei names connect families, reflect cultural identity, embody struggles, and more. We welcome diverse approaches to our theme. Submissions might include historical essays on naming people and places, the origins of names, how names become cross-cultural, or writing about names other than your own. For inspiration, check out some of the wonderful stories we received during our first Nikkei Names series ten years ago.

All submissions that meet the series guidelines and criteria will be published online in the Discover Nikkei Journal. Nikkei Names 2 stories will also be eligible for selection as the community favorite. Readers can vote for their favorites by logging in and giving them a “star”—the earlier you submit, the more time your story can earn stars! And, our editorial committee will select one favorite each in English, Japanese, Spanish, and Portuguese. The five favorite stories will be announced in December 2024.

All submissions must be sent by email and formatted using Microsoft Word or Google Docs. Submissions must include a short author biography, a headshot, and at least one image to accompany the piece. Multiple submissions and submissions written by multiple authors are welcome. For the full submission guidelines and writing prompts, please visit 5dn.org/names2.

We can’t wait to read your stories! 

Thanks to our Nikkei Names 2 Community Partners!

Giant Robot Biennale 5 Now on View!

On Friday, March 1, 2024, JANM hosted the opening celebration of Giant Robot Biennale 5 with exhibition curator and Giant Robot founder Eric Nakamura; artists Sean Chao, Felicia Chiao, Luke Chueh, Giorgiko, James Jean, Taylor Lee, Mike Shinoda, Rain Szeto, and Yoskay Yamamoto; and music with Dan the Automator.

The new exhibition welcomed nearly 1,300 visitors in a few hours, with a line that wound through JANM’s core exhibition, Common Ground: The Heart of Community. Visitors enjoyed engaging with the art, listening to music, and chowing down on food from Kogi BBQ and MANEATINGPLANT food trucks.

Since 2007, the Museum has partnered with Nakamura to produce the Giant Robot Biennale, a recurring art exhibition that highlights diverse work and celebrates the ethos of Giant Robot—a staple of Asian American alternative pop culture and an influential brand encompassing pop art, skateboard, comic book, graphic arts, and vinyl toy culture.

“These exhibitions champion the spirit of collaboration and welcome you into a unique space with a DIY attitude. They create a vibrant culture for future generations to see themselves and their interests on the national stage. And they continue to fuse the past with the present to create a trailblazing community for you,” said Ann Burroughs, JANM President and CEO.

Nakamura and the artists also contributed to the Giant Robot Biennale 5 audio tour, now available on JANM’s digital guide. Hear directly from the artists anytime, anywhere, and come down to JANM to check out the exhibition. It’s on view through September 1, 2024, and it’s an experience you don’t want to miss!

Photos by Kazz Morohashi.

JANM Debuts Its New Podcast

JANM is excited to release its new podcast, Japanese America, today. Coinciding with the annual Day of Remembrance, the Museum’s new podcast explores unique experiences, challenges, and triumphs of Japanese Americans and illuminates their contributions to the mosaic of American life.

From historical milestones to contemporary perspectives, cohosts Michelle MaliZaki and Koji Sakai will take listeners on an insightful journey through JANM’s collection that showcases a diverse community that shapes the American story in extraordinary ways.

In the first episode, learn how Yuri Kochiyama’s concentration camp experiences transformed her into a civil rights icon. Listen and subscribe at your favorite podcast app!

Norm Mineta’s Legacy

On January 26, 2024, JANM ushered in a new era for its campus by naming its plaza after the late JANM Board of Trustees Chair and Secretary Norman Y. Mineta and hosting the namesake distinguished lecture at the Daniel K. Inouye National Center for the Preservation of Democracy (Democracy Center). On Friday afternoon, guests gathered at the Museum to witness the unveiling of the new sign as the sun began to set behind the buildings of Little Tokyo and downtown LA. The Norman Y. Mineta Democracy Plaza connects the Museum’s Pavilion, Historic Building, and Democracy Center together. It’s a place that creates a sense of transparency and access between all buildings on campus and is a reminder that democracy is shaped through the involvement and engagement of individuals.

“We all feel Norm’s presence here. This is hallowed ground, a place where American families were taken to concentration camps,” said Ann Burroughs, JANM President and CEO. She described how Mineta used his imprisonment experiences at the Santa Anita temporary detention center (about fifteen miles away from the Museum) and the Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming to lead the US in Congress and the White House. “Few better understand that this union could be more perfect than Norm and few worked as hard to make it so.”

“Norm lived his life for the democracy of his country,” said Deni Mineta, widow of the late Secretary. “It is important for the community at large to understand these lessons and pass them on. I see memories, love, and compassion, and I am so grateful that you’re here.”

Mayor Karen Bass described her mother’s experience of seeing her classmates’ empty chairs when she was going to school in Los Angeles and emphasized the importance of acknowledging the darker periods of US history to create a more inclusive democracy. “This is our shared history of folks of color,” she said. LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis added, “He’s a beacon of hope for us, and a reminder for why we’ve been fighting for all voices around the world.”

The newly named plaza brings Mineta’s values and vision for democracy to new generations and reflects the evolution of the Japanese American community. His extraordinary legacy, lifelong commitment to democracy, and profound impact on the Museum was also recognized with the inaugural Norman Y. Mineta Distinguished Lecture Friday evening. The lecture is a signature series of the Democracy Center focusing on Mineta’s leadership values and principles, including his commitment to public service, social justice, and strengthening US-Japan relations.

Mitch Landrieu, former senior advisor to the President and former mayor of New Orleans, was the special guest speaker. From 2010–2018 he served as the 61st Mayor while New Orleans was still recovering from Hurricane Katrina and in the midst of the BP oil spill. Similar to Mineta, Landrieu’s father, Moon, championed integration while serving in the Louisiana House of Representatives, as mayor of New Orleans, and as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Jimmy Carter. Throughout Moon’s time in office, the Landrieus and Minetas became friends. Like them, Landrieu also dedicated his life to public service. His speech and subsequent conversation with Mineta’s son and JANM Board of Governors member David Mineta discussed their fathers’ friendship, the power of the vote, and why it is important to fight for democracy every day.

“Our fight today starts by reclaiming our democracy and continuing to uplift our ideals in this country. We cannot allow our history to be erased. We cannot shrug our shoulders at the past,” said Landrieu. “When so much has pulled us apart, we must work together to answer the question: Who are we? This is a time for us to come together as patriots. Every generation in America has faced a moment where they had to defend democracy. This is ours. Do not close your eyes to what is happening around you. Do not think for a moment that the fight for democracy is over there. It’s happening right here.”

Photos by Mike Palma

3,700 Guests Celebrated the New Year at JANM’s Oshogatsu Family Festival

On January 7, 2024, JANM welcomed 3,700 guests to ring in the Year of the Dragon at its annual Oshogatsu Family Festival. Families and guests of all ages celebrated 2024 with fun activities, musical performances, a scavenger hunt, and free Museum admission all day to see The Bias Inside Us (through January 28), Glenn Kaino: Aki’s Market (now extended through February 11), The Interactive StoryFile of Lawson Iichiro Sakai, and Common Ground: The Heart of Community.

Oshogatsu kicked off with dance performances by the Nippon Minyo Kenkyukai, Hoshun Kai, an all-volunteer Japanese folk dance group in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo that preserves the traditions of Japanese folk dance while introducing contemporary interpretations of those same dances. Their performances were dedicated to the late Hashimoto Hoshunbi Sensei and included folk dances about entertainment, fishing, and coal mining. The “Tanko-bushi” or coal miners’ song was especially interesting because the dancers explained that the dance steps symbolize digging for the coal, shoveling it over your shoulder, looking back to check the mine, and pushing the mine cart forward.

Cold Tofu, the nation’s longest-running Asian American improv and sketch comedy group, regaled the crowd with four improvised skits based on the audiences’ suggestions. In Standing, Sitting, Squatting, Leaning, four comics created different scenes with the theme of birthdays while assuming one of the four postures. In Pillars, two young volunteers helped three comics ad-lib a story set at the Parthenon using their suggestions, and in Pop-Up Storybook, four comics improvised a story called “The Velvety Dragon.”

“That book will be available in the JANM lobby at the end of our show,” joked the emcee, Mike Palma.

Longtime volunteer Hal Keimi led a beginner taiko lesson with children and adults of all ages. From children under seven years old to adults in their sixties and seventies, everyone had fun following Keimi’s lead on the drums. Guests also enjoyed Kodama Taiko’s unique mochitsuki demonstrations. The best part? Learning to make freshly made mochi!

Thank you for celebrating the new year with us! We hope that we will see you at our next family festival. Sign up for our email list or follow us on social media to learn about upcoming family festivals.

Photo captions and credits:
Guests explore
Aki’s Market and The Bias Inside Us, watch Cold Tofu and Shan the Candyman, go on a scavenger hunt, and make paper crafts. Photos by Joe Akira, Kazz Morohashi, Doug Mukai, and Richard Watanabe.

Hal Keimi leads a taiko lesson for all ages. Photos by Kazz Morohashi and Mike Palma.

Nippon Minyo Kenkyukai embellish their dances with fans, sashes, and castanets, and lead a Tanko-bushi dance lesson. Photos by Joe Akira, Ben Furuta, and Tsuneo Takasugi.

Kodama Taiko performs their traditional and unique mochitsuki (Japanese rice pounding ritual) for a cheering crowd. Photos by Doug Mukai and Mike Palma.

Ring in the New Year with Us at Oshogatsu!

Celebrate the Year of the Dragon at JANM’s Oshogatsu Family Festival on Sunday, January 7, 2024 from 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Admission to the festival and Museum is free all day.

Families and kids of all ages can enjoy cultural performances, crafts, and activities. You’ll get to watch candy sculpture demonstrations, take souvenir photos, make dragon puppets and daruma dolls, shop for some fukubukuro (lucky grab bags), watch Kodama Taiko’s mochitsuki (rice pounding) demonstration, relax with the Los Angeles Public Library’s storytime session, and more!

You can also see all of our exhibitions for free. Don’t miss your chance to see The Bias Inside Us and Glenn Kaino: Aki’s Market (before they close on January 28, 2024) as well as The Interactive StoryFile of Lawson Iichiro Sakai, and Common Ground: The Heart of Community.

To ensure swift entry to the festival, we encourage everyone to register for their free tickets at janm.org/oshogatsufest2024. After you register, you will receive a barcode (to print or display on your smartphone or other mobile device) that confirms your spot and provides quick access at the door.

JANM Members will have access to a Members-only entrance for expedited entry and can take advantage of the special perks throughout the festival including priority seating and Members-only giveaways.

You can view the full festival schedule online or on our free digital guide on Bloomberg Connects. Printed schedules will also be available at JANM.

Photos by Daryl Kobayashi, Tracy Kumono, and Doug Mukai.

Educator Workshops—Now Accepting Applications!

We are excited to share that JANM is currently accepting applications for Little Tokyo: How History Shapes a Community Across Generations. These are week-long workshops for K–12 educators that are funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities as one of their Landmarks of American History and Culture educator workshops that focus on sites of historic and cultural significance. We are honored to be among the fourteen sites conducting Landmarks workshops in 2024. 

This program will examine history through the neighborhood of Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, California. The week-long workshop will be offered twice: June 24–28 and July 15–19, 2024.

During the course of the workshop, participants will be joined by scholars, educators, curators, and community historians to learn about this unique place and how it has evolved through history. This program will examine how Little Tokyo has been impacted by events and issues such as restrictive covenants, eminent domain, the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans, the civil rights movement, and gentrification. With a focus on Japanese American history, we will consider the past’s relevance to present day issues of identity and preservation. A day trip to Manzanar National Historic Site will also be included.

A group of people in a classroom setting listening to a speaker
A panel of survivors of America’s concentration camps speak about their experiences.

We invite teachers from across the country to apply to the program. Join us in Los Angeles for an in-depth look at the Japanese American experience through the special neighborhood of Little Tokyo. 

Each participant will receive a $1,300 stipend after completing the workshop. This stipend is intended to help compensate participants for their time commitment and to defray the costs of participation in the workshop which may include expenses such as travel, housing, and meals. 

All application materials must be submitted no later than March 5, 2024. For more information, including how to apply visit janm.org/education/workshops/2024/neh 

A group of people posing for a photograph on a city sidewalk
Participants at a summer 2022 workshop on a walking tour of Little Tokyo.

Map Our New Exhibition with Gordon Yamate

JANM Trustee and attorney Gordon Yamate gives an overview of JANM’s new exhibition and virtual reality experience, Glenn Kaino: Aki’s Market. Yamate initially connected the Museum with the artist, Glenn Akira Kaino. Kaino’s grandparents are Akira and Sachiye Shiraishi (Kaino is Akira’s grandson and namesake).

An art expert who understands the importance of integrating art into the Museum’s storytelling and the role that art plays in creating empathy and teaching valuable lessons, Yamate is involved in numerous charitable, civic, and cultural organizations and serves on boards for a number of cultural organizations such as the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art.

“A Roadmap to Glenn Kaino: Aki’s Market by Gordon Yamate

Now that I have been anointed as an “art expert” by our President and CEO, Ann Burroughs (I’m still pinching myself), I’d like to offer my comments on Glenn Kaino: Aki’s Market because I suspect many of our regular visitors to the JANM will be scratching their heads wondering if they missed something when they view the exhibition.

Let me start with some background about Glenn Kaino. He is a conceptual artist. That means his work isn’t necessarily pretty or conventional art on the wall. Glenn is concerned with ideas, concepts and memories—how we perceive things—but he goes a step further here. This isn’t a typical Glenn Kaino exhibition, if a typical one exists. This is an exhibition that is deeply personal to Glenn, much like the stories that we experience at JANM. So, a lot of the works have a tie to Glenn’s life, and we learn a lot more about him than in his other previous exhibitions.

Let’s start with the virtual reality portion of the exhibition first. Yes, the wait in line can be a bit tedious, and even Glenn jokes that he created a zine to give you something to do while you wait. Definitely read the zine. It’s your guide to what you will see and experience, and the context that Glenn provides is essential. There are skateboard decks, a set of three Akira portraits as you enter, and a huge ninja doll. Without the zine, none of this seems connected or makes sense. So, read the zine. It all makes sense.

There are two what I call “infinity” sculptures on the opposite side of the room. Like works from Glenn’s With Drawn Arms exhibition based on Tommy Smith’s raised fist salute at the 1968 Olympics, Glenn incorporates an element of illusion in creating these works. In With Drawn Arms he utilized a casting of Smith‘s raised arm to create an image of a suspended arm that replicates into the distance, like Yayoi Kusama’s mirrored infinity rooms that go on forever. Glenn’s use of this technique in “Taken Inventory” goes deeper. In “Taken Inventory (Keep Stock),” the unlabeled Spam cans provide a subtle reminder of the “American” cuisine served to Japanese Americans during their incarceration. Although the arrangement of the cans initially brought to my mind what I imagined an Amazon warehouse would look like, it also conjured up the arrangement of the barracks in the various WRA concentration camps that would extend into the horizon as far as the eye can see—a graphic visualization of the huge number of people that were affected by Executive Order 9066. Even the title “Taken Inventory” alludes to the deprivation and loss of rights, property, and opportunities and how “inventory” dehumanizes individuals when Japanese Americans were issued identification number tags that they wore from the point of departure to the temporary detention centers and ultimately the camps.

In “Taken Inventory (Endless Field),” Glenn laments his grandfather’s loss of attending Occidental College, where he would have gone on a football scholarship, if not for the intervention of Executive Order 9066. Glenn writes that his grandfather was one of the best high school football players in Los Angeles despite his size (weren’t all football players smaller in those days?). Upon closer inspection, Glenn uses what I think is a vintage set of Electric Football figurines propelled on the field by a vibrating table—a rather primitive game that preceded football video games. In this sculpture, the same football game replicates forever—a fitting metaphor for a game that never started nor ended for his grandfather.

We see other snippets of Glenn’s approach to creating art—the use of spontaneous combustion in the aptly titled “Spontaneous Combustion,” where exothermic reactions create the work, leaving an unexpected ghost of an American flag. He invites us into a memory of his grandparents’ grocery store that was created from his interviews with his initially reluctant mother, and stories he remembers being told about the store when he was growing up. Even though Glenn did not meet his grandfather Aki, who passed away before he was born, and never set foot in the store, Glenn saw the importance of the store to his family and the East LA community that it served. What the store lacked in product breadth, it offered in convenience. Where else could you find “Gordon’s” bread loaves of the now defunct LA bakery stocked above cans of flammable liquids (was that kerosene)? The graininess of the video (at least in the virtual reality version that I experienced) adds a nostalgic touch—you feel less a customer in the store but more a special guest in this market of curated goods for the neighborhood. Glenn’s work makes us appreciate what we often take for granted. The lilting voice of his daughter, Stella, responding to his grandmother’s parting farewell and wish to “come back soon” leaves the visitor with memories that will continue to be passed down through generations.

Now on View
Glenn Kaino: Aki’s Market is now on view through January 28, 2024. The Los Angeles Times calls this virtual reality exhibition “a captivating theater of dreams.” Experience it for yourself during your next visit to JANM!

For more information about the exhibition and VR experience availability, visit janm.org/glenn-kaino. An audio tour is available through the website and JANM’s guide in the free Bloomberg Connects app.


This blog post was updated on January 23, 2024.