JANM Hosts Teacher Workshops Exploring Little Tokyo

During the last two weeks of July, JANM had a wonderful time welcoming over fifty teachers from eighteen states for Little Tokyo: How History Shapes a Community Across Generations. These two week-long workshops were funded by a Landmarks of American History and Culture grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Grants are awarded to study topics and themes in K–12 humanities within sites, areas, or regions of historic and cultural significance.

Little Tokyo Historical Society President Michael Okamura with a group of teachers on a walking tour.

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.

—Participating teacher
June Berk and Sande Hashimoto share their memories of pre-war Little Tokyo.

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.

—Participating teacher
  • Dan Kwong and Junko Goda reading on stage at the Takeuchi Democracy Forum

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.

Teachers with JANM volunteers June Berk, Richard Murakami, and Mas Yamashita, who shared first-person 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.

Lynn Yamasaki

Lynn Yamasaki is the Director of Education at the Japanese American National Museum.

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