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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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!
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.
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. Although many of the first generation Issei had already passed away and did not receive the apology, which occurred more than 40 years later, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 was the first and only time that the US government publicly apologized for a mistake acknowledging that the exclusion, forced removal, and mass incarceration was due to a failure of political leadership, war hysteria, and racism.
JANMhonors this anniversary to acknowledge the unconstitutional, mass incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans in remote US concentration camps without due process or evidence of wrongdoing 80 years ago. While recognizing the apology,JANM is also well aware that other past mistakes by the US government against Blacks and indigenous communities deserve recognition and reparations.
To learn more about the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, explore these online educational resources from JANM:
Photo: President Reagan signs the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 on August 10, 1988. From left to right, he is flanked by Senator Matsunaga of Hawaii, Representative Mineta of California, Representative Saiki of Hawaii, Senator Wilson of California, Representative Young of Alaska, Representative Matsui of California, Representative Lowery of California, and Harry Kajihara, president of the Japanese American Citizens League. Photo courtesy of The Ronald Reagan Library and National Archives and Records Administration.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, the Japanese pop singer and kawaii model, toured Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles to support small businesses that were deeply affected by the pandemic.
Her tour included brief stops at JANM, Anime Jungle, Bunkado, Café Dulce, Fugetsu-do, Honda Plaza, Koyasan Buddhist Temple, the Metro station platform, and Okayama Kobo. Her visit was part of her Local Power Japan project, an initiative that included 30 stops to towns and cities throughout Japan to boost local tourism and make her performances more accessible to fans.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu also received a set of gifts or omiyage from the JANM Store that were selected and presented by Alexa Nishimoto, the marketing associate for JANM and self-proclaimed super fan of the musician. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu enjoyed the exhibitions and encouraged visitors to learn how the history of Japanese Americans continues to affect future generations.
“The work JANM does is so important for future generations to see,” said Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. “It is important for people to learn about this history.”
Bunkado, Café Dulce, Fugetsu-do, and Okayama Kobo will offer Kyary Pamyu Pamyu-themed food throughout May 2022 at the discretion of store management. Café Dulce and Fugetsu-do are offering Kyary Pamyu Pamyu-themed donuts and mochi. Bunkado is selling Kyary Pamyu Pamyu-themed shirts through the end of this month.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s April visit to Little Tokyo and merchandise dovetails with Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month during May 2022. And what better way to celebrate Heritage Month than with a visit to JANM?
Visit JANM to explore our exhibitions to learn about the Japanese American experience!
In September 2021, the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy at the Japanese American National Museum (NCPD@JANM) and Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles (Advancing Justice-LA) invited artists to apply for the Artists At Work (AAW) initiative.
Born out of the coronavirus pandemic and inspired by the Works Progress Administration, the AAW initiative employs artists in U.S. cities and regions to create original public-facing art and connect them to cultural institutions. The initiative also ties the artists and cultural institutions to social justice, economic, health, housing, and immigration issues in their local communities.
In December 2021, NCPD@JANM and Advancing Justice-LA selected Audrey Chan and Jason Chu as the 2022 recipients of this initiative. Chan is an illustrator and educator. Chu is a rapper and spoken word poet. Together they will create new artwork focusing on anti-Asian hate and racism.
Chan’s work blends visual and public art with film and research to challenge dominant historical narratives. Growing up in Oak Park, Illinois, she identified as an artist from a young age.
“My art is about picturing the possibilities of what the world could look and feel like if the lived experiences, desires, and struggles of historically marginalized communities were centered in the stories of America’s past, present, and future,” said Chan.
A Delaware native, Chu’s music and poetry stem from exposure to hip hop at an early age.
“I grew up with hip hop. It’s what made me Asian American. The community, the culture, the racial consciousness. I was surrounded by people who were using this art to hold a heritage. It’s a venue for having conversations that I wanted to have and to hear,” Chu said.
Chu earned his bachelor’s in Philosophy at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. He earned his master’s from Fuller’s Center for Asian American Theology and Ministry in Pasadena, California. His music and poetry are influenced by the work of Ms. Lauryn Hill, Wu-Tang Clan, Lupe Fiasco, and Kanye West. His three biggest influences are Kendrick Lamar, Bono, and Ai Wei Wei.
“All of them are speaking of hope and healing in a broken world. They show what art can be for people,” he said.
Chan’s art is inspired by the work of Maya Lin, Adrian Piper, and Kerry James Marshall and her own family history. Chan earned her bachelor’s in Studio Art and Political Science at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. She earned her master’s from the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in Valencia, California. As she developed her craft, her work also became inspired by political and social issues of the early 2000s.
“In the year prior [to graduate school], I had worked on a grassroots campaign to persuade voters in swing districts of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to vote for John Kerry during the 2004 presidential election. The invasion of Iraq was underway and I wanted to understand if and how art could be a political medium to mobilize for social justice and to give voice to frustration with the status quo.”
At CalArts, she connected with artists who were a part of the Feminist Art Movement through a campus-wide class project on the legacy of the university’s Feminist Art Program.
“I appreciated that Southern California was a place where artists could be unabashedly political, conceptual, and experimental,” she said.
When Chu moved to Los Angeles ten years ago, he sought a very specific movement.
“I moved here to Los Angeles to identify as an Asian American rapper and poet. I was seeking out a pan-ethnic community, and that’s a strength of the West Coast. The strength of the East Coast is that there is a strong understanding of racialization. Not only in urban areas, but in small-town America too. I like to say that Asian America means all Asian Americans,” he said.
Chu was inspired to apply to this initiative after a friend tagged him on JANM’s Instagram post.
“My friend, a Cuban American choreographer, tagged me and said ‘Jason this sounds like you.’ This fellowship embodies everything I strive to do because it builds a communal consciousness.”
For Chan, there were many different aspects of the initiative that spoke to her.
“The AAW initiative was an opportunity to partner with NCPD@JANM and Advancing Justice-LA, two inspiring organizations that have been on the frontlines of defending democracy and centering the needs and cultural specificities of AAPI communities. By working together, we’re finding ways to merge art and advocacy to move the needle forward in representing the diversity of AAPI communities and building the solidarities that are essential to survive and thrive in the face of racist hatred and hostility. I also deeply appreciate that the fellowship recognizes art as a form of essential cultural labor and gives new life to the legacy of the Works Progress Administration,” she said.
Chan and Chu plan to create a new artwork that engages multiple generations, represents Southern California Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, and stands alongside other communities fighting against injustice, hate, and violence.
“We’re working on building a collective visual and textual vocabulary for this moment that can be translated into multiple languages and that can be activated through installations, events, and public participation. By making the project bilingual, we hope to provide another resource for intergenerational communication, but also to serve as a reminder that there is so much to learn about and from each other,” said Chan.