Obon: Dances for the Dead

Obon Festival, Tokyo, 2011. Photo by bhollar via Flickr.
Obon Festival, Tokyo, 2011. Photo by bhollar via Flickr.

Obon is a Japanese holiday to honor deceased ancestors, much like the European Halloween or the Latin American Día de los Muertos. Rooted in Buddhist traditions, Obon ensures that we express gratitude for the hard work of the generations before us.

The Ullambana Sutra, a Buddhist text, tells the story of a monk named Mokuren who was initially unable to help his suffering mother’s spirit pass on. In response, the Buddha created a ritual and offering for the living to assist their ancestors’ souls and bless relatives who are still living. These practices became the basis for the modern-day Obon festival.

Obon festivals are held in July and August, in Japan and Japanese immigrant communities throughout the world. The original sutra appointed the fifteenth day of the seventh month as the holiday, but there are variations in date because of differences between the Gregorian and lunar calendars. The festivals feature food, music, and most importantly, dancing!

Bon Odori, San Jose Obon Festival, 2012. Photo by --Mark-- via Flickr Creative Commons.
Bon Odori, San Jose Obon Festival, 2012.
Photo by –Mark– via Flickr.


When Mokuren’s mother’s soul found peace, it is said that he reacted by dancing. Obon dancing, or bon odori, is an important part of Obon festivals throughout Japan, with certain regions even having their own unique dances. Dances have been also developed abroad by Japanese emigrants living in countries such as America or Brazil. Live music, including taiko drumming, typically accompanies the dancing.

In Japan, some families return to their parents’ homes to celebrate Obon. These celebrations often include cleaning up family gravesites and offering food to ancestors. Another custom involves floating lanterns down a river in hopes that the lights will help guide souls that remain on this earthly plane.

Even though Obon is based on Buddhist beliefs, no one is excluded from celebrating. Obon festivals are important community events, and celebrating the departed doesn’t require any special religious belief. The Obon dances and food here in America may be different from those in Japan, but all the festivals maintain the same reverence for family and community.

Visitors get in the Obon spirit with a communal bon odori dance at JANM's 2013 Natsumatsuri Family Festival. Photo by Russell Kitagawa.
Visitors get in the Obon spirit with a communal bon odori dance at JANM’s 2013 Natsumatsuri Family Festival. Photo by Russell Kitagawa.


JANM’s Natsumatsuri Family Festival on August 9, 2014 will feature a lecture on Obon traditions by Rimban Bill Briones of Los Angeles Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple and a participatory bon odori dance. Come learn more about Obon and celebrate your ancestors!

This post was written by Mitchell Lee, one of JANM’s 2014 summer program interns. Mitchell is a student at UCLA, where he is majoring in Japanese and Asian American Studies.

The Thrill of Taiko

Los Angeles Matsuri Taiko perform at JANM's 2013 Natsumatsuri Family Festival. Photo: Russell Kitagawa.
Los Angeles Matsuri Taiko perform at JANM’s 2013 Natsumatsuri Family Festival. Photo: Russell Kitagawa.

Taiko drumming is energetic, rhythmic, and exciting—the thundering of a taiko drum will catch someone’s attention regardless of how near or far they are.

The word “taiko” literally means “fat drum” in Japanese. Historically, taiko drums have been used in Japan for religious ceremonies and local festivals. In feudal times, a one-drum act was typical, but in the 1950s, kumi-daiko—an ensemble made up of different types of taiko drums—was introduced. This is the style that remains popular today.

In a taiko ensemble, the biggest drum is called an o-daiko, the mid-sized drum is a chu-daiko, and the smallest is called a shime-daikoKumi-daiko can accommodate a variety of musical styles, including jazz and pop.

Los Angeles Matsuri Taiko perform at JANM's 2013 Natsumatsuri Family Festival. Photo: Tsuneo Takasugi.
Los Angeles Matsuri Taiko perform at JANM’s 2013 Natsumatsuri Family Festival. Photo: Tsuneo Takasugi.


When Japanese immigrants introduced taiko to the United States in the early 20th century, its practice was a way to secure their cultural identity and also to have a collective voice as an ethnic group. Today, taiko drumming can be seen in many different contexts, whether they are traditional Japanese festivals like obon (honoring the dead) or musical revues. Just this past weekend, JANM was proud to host and co-present the 2014 World Taiko Gathering, which united players from around the world for workshops, concerts, and jam sessions.

In just a few weeks, taiko will return to JANM when East LA Taiko presents a free performance during our all-day Natsumatsuri Festival on August 9, 2014. A Los Angeles–based group founded in 1991 by Maceo Hernandez, East LA Taiko is a great example of kumi-daiko’s adaptability. The group incorporates Latin and Afro-Cuban rhythms and ska-punk flavors alongside traditional Japanese beats, fusing them into a uniquely LA sound. Hernandez, who has trained in Japan, is a veteran taiko drummer who has performed worldwide. In recent years the group has partnered with singer-songwriter Lysa Flores, who brings her own Latin flare to their performances.

Taiko drums are versatile and thrilling instruments. To experience taiko is to experience more than just drumbeats—it’s to hear the hearts, minds and souls of the players.

This post was written by Dina Furumoto, one of JANM’s interns through the 2014 Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Internship program. Dina is a student at Cal Poly Pomona, where she is majoring in Sociology.

Visible & Invisible Through a Student’s Eyes


Growing up in Southern California as a person of Japanese descent, JANM has played a large role in helping me discover my cultural identity. Each exhibit that I have immersed myself in has, in one way or another, done an excellent job of captivating me while still teaching me about my Japanese American heritage. Out of all the exhibits that I have seen, the museum’s newest installment Visible & Invisible: A Hapa Japanese American History has been one of the most personally intriguing because it delves into the deep history of mixed-race and hapa individuals within the United States. Being half Japanese and half Caucasian myself, I found Visible & Invisible to be very relatable to my life.

As I walked through the exhibit, a few pieces that really piqued my interest, including an anti-Japanese campaign poster for California Senator James D. Phelan that revealed the prejudice and discrimination  Japanese Americans faced more than two decades before World War II. Another intriguing part of the exhibit was an article from Ebony magazine that highlighted the troubles endured by children of American soldiers and Japanese women. Although I can’t entirely relate to those children due to the fact that being hapa hasn’t been detrimental to me at all, I realize now that life for some mixed race children, both in Japan and in the United States following World War II, was not easy.

Basketball has played a huge role in my life. Up until this past year I had been spending the majority of my weekends either at practices or games for my team, the Venice Lakers. Seeing the different Venice jerseys and pictures of multiple teams, a few of which I recognized, brought back many fond memories of my time playing Japanese American basketball. It was easily my favorite part of the exhibit. JA basketball helps expose children to not only the sport of basketball, but to different aspects of Japanese culture. If you ask a child of Japanese descent if he plays basketball, there’s a high likelihood that he or she will say yes, or will know somebody who does.

Another facet of the exhibit that interested me was Virgil Westdale, a half Japanese, half Caucasian soldier forced to switch his name from Nishimura to Westdale so he could join the armed forces. After the United States Army Air Corps found out about Westdale’s background they demoted him to private, stripped him of his pilot’s license, and sent him to Camp Shelby in Mississippi to join the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The accompanying video helped me delve deeper into Westdale’s personal account of what life was like for him as a mixed-race member of the 442nd and as an American of Japanese heritage during World War II.

Lastly, this exhibit wouldn’t feel like a JANM exhibit without a compelling interactive component. I very much enjoyed the interactive aspects of last year’s XLAB 2012, however, the black journal experiment in Visible & Invisible has become my favorite, mainly because of the personal touch each participant can add. It’s absolutely amazing to see the artistic skills and personal messages from people as far north as Eugene, Oregon, to people who have lived in Boyle Heights since 1944.

Ultimately I would have to say that the main reason that Visible & Invisible initially appealed to me was because I am mixed-race. However, walking through the exhibit I realized that the exhibit wasn’t so much about being hapa as it was about the Japanese American experience. Visible & Invisible runs the gamut in terms of Japanese and mixed race culture within the United States by giving an informative, yet enthralling, look at nearly 300 years of history. I highly recommend coming to the JANM to check this exhibit out before it ends on August 25th.

Writer Jeremy Parks is a 17 year old high school senior who attends Campbell Hall High School in Studio City. He is an editor on his school’s newspaper. He is volunteering this summer with the museum’s Watase Media Arts Center.

Hapa Hoops: Hapas Can Jump Too

Hello there! My name is Kelly Gates and I am working in the Watase Media Arts Center here at the Japanese American Nation Museum as one of the 2013 Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Interns. I recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz majoring in Film and Digital Media. I have moved back home  for just the summer (hopefully). Now that I have been thrown into what people call the “real world” as I try to figure out what I want to do with my life. On to the real reason you’re reading this article…


“It was funny they were talking about nicknames and mine was ‘haole’ and mine was ‘big eyes’.” —Rex Walters

This past Saturday (June 22, 2013) the museum held the event “Hapa Hoops: Japanese American Basketball and Community with Rex Walters”. The event screened JANM’s own film Crossover (2000) followed by a conversation with former JA league player turned NBA player turned coach, Rex Walters and co-curator for the Visible & Invisible: A Hapa Japanese American History exhibition, Dr. Lily Anne Yumi Welty. Crossover is a short documentary on the ever growing and changing of the Japanese-American basketball community and leagues. The film was directed by a previous JANM employee and director of the four most recent The Fast & The Furious films, Justin Lin. The film address the history of the JA leagues by looking at how and why they started and goes all the way to the present day (well, 2000) structure of the leagues.

“When she [mom] got really mad at me or really mad about something she would call me a banana, ‘Oh you’re yellow on the outside but you’re white on the inside. You’re not really Japanese.” But it was all in good fun.” —Rex Walters

When it came time to have the conversation with Rex Walters and Dr. Lily Anne Welty, I could not help but feel like we were all in group huddle during halftime of a game. I played basketball on my high school team and he made me flash back to those memories. It was funny how Mr. Walters mentioned a past coach always giving motivational speeches and now here he was doing the exact same thing. I personally found Mr. Walters to be quite inspirational. He enjoyed playing for the San Jose Zebras and mentioned he liked the JA basketball league experience better than his high school basketball experience. Mr. Walters even admitted he was not the best player on the team and spent some time warming the bench, but look at how far he got. He played in the NBA and helped his team get into the Final Four and now he is the head coach at the University of San Francisco. Listening to his story, I regretted not playing basketball my senior year in high school and not trying to play in college. It was especially nice to see a fellow hapa person there, talking about his experience and his (what I would still call) a successful career.

“Basketball is just like anything else. It’s a way of bonding and teams just naturally bond. Whether you’re really good, really bad you kind of have to stick together, you have to come together.”

Visible & Invisible: A Hapa Japanese American History is on view through August 25, 2013. For more info about the exhibition >>

Time Traveling

As I near the end of the 10 weeks here at the Museum, I revisited the job description out of curiosity – how accurately did the description match what actually transpired?

Media Arts/Public Programs Intern

Example of the assignment include:

1)  Videography and editing of public programs that feature world-renowned scholars, artists, musicians and community activists.

Public Programs by Dr. Cherstin M. Lyon and Dr. Diane C. Fujino? Scholars. Check.  

Interviews with Ako Castuera, Sean Chao, and Rob Sato?  Artists. Check.

Public Program by Anabel Stenzel and Isabel Stenzel Byrnes and combing through Gidra footage with Mike Murase and Evelyn Yoshimura for Discover Nikkei?  Community Activists. Check.

2) Research, production assistance and transcription of life history interviews with notable Japanese Americans.

Interviews with Justice Kathryn Doi Todd, Director Jimmy Murakami and Professor Lloyd Inui? Check.

3) Design and implementation of motion graphic elements for short video productions that will be broadcast on local television and featured on the Museum’s websites.

Making a public service announcement video for the Japanese American Olympics on August 11th from 11 AM – 5 PM? Check.

4) In addition to receiving training for the specific duties and responsibilities of the internship, the Museum’s volunteer docents will introduce the intern to the history and work culture of the National Museum as well as the history of Americans of Japanese ancestry.

Japanese American History Classes, tour of Common Ground, and Little Tokyo Walking Tour? Check.

The only thing not listed above:  Time Traveling.

Professor Lloyd Inui


One of my greatest joys of being here at the Museum has been sitting in on the Life History Interviews.  This past week, John Esaki, Akira Boch, and Chris Aihara and I had the opportunity to interview Professor Lloyd Inui [Professor Emeritus at CSULB in the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies and a senior adviser at the Japanese American National Museum].  In a way, each of the Life History Interviews is but a single time capsule that saves and preserves one’s individual experiences up until that moment in video form.

Over the course of about 3 hours, we traveled from before 1930 to the present day as Lloyd told stories of his childhood, incarceration, post-war employment, time in the military service and the beginnings of Asian and Asian American Studies at CSULB.  Not only was it was amazing to hear eyewitness experiences of the effects of war and living through the incarceration camps, it was impoartant  to realize how the major that will be written on my diploma next year was formed – through struggle, perseverance and a desire for remembrance, a passion for critical thinking, as well as progression forward.

Lloyd’s vivid recollections of warfare, the meetings of some of the first Asian American Studies classes, and perspective into his journey to the present day were truly insightful, stark and honest – treasures that I hope future generations will learn from and appreciate.  Each person has a story to tell. Lloyd’s unique experiences, the seemingly insignificant details, every friendship he formed over the years, added to the person he is today and the ideas that he calls his own.  It’s striking to realize that someday, maybe in the far future, the next generation will be asking us to tell our life story.

What histories are being written right now?  What is your story only you can tell?

Lloyd Inui, Chris Aihara and Akira Boch
Jenni Nakamura is one of three Getty Multicultural Intern working within the Watase Media Arts Center, a senior studying Asian American Studies at UCLA with an interest in culturally relevant social services and the social networks of Asian American churches, and a passion to explore the use of visual arts to preserve and give light to hidden personal histories and community issues. 

XLAB From a Teenagers Point of View


Sometimes, when I visit museums, the exhibits tend to lack substance and are most of the time, very similar. After walking through and reflecting on the material, I don’t feel like I’ve gained anything. It feels as if something is lacking. Xploration Lab 2012 (XLAB) fulfills every need and want in an exhibit and more. XLAB is an innovative museum experience where participants are fully immersed in each aspect of the display, and through their participation, aid in the creation of future engaging exhibitions for the Japanese American National Museum (JANM).

XLAB’s main focus is to educate visitors on the importance of culture and identity, and how sometimes, those two concepts are one in the same. In modern America, the teenage demographic, while seemingly hard to understand, is actually not so much of an enigma as many people are led to believe. They are on the precipice of adulthood and are beginning to stray away from their normal routine to engage in new experiences. XLAB is the perfect exhibit for any teenager because the subject matter is broad enough to entice them, yet specific enough to be relatable. In addition, teenagers are trying to figure out who they are and that is essentially what XLAB is all about. The interactive aspect of this exhibit adds a whole new dimension to the clichéd museum experience and makes it more effective in delivering its message.

As I walked into XLAB, I instantly realized that this exhibit would be unlike any other museum experience I had previously encountered. Since I’m a half Caucasian and half Japanese teenager, the first section that really caught my eye was What Are You? Each person who participated in Kip Fulbeck’s project had words to say that I could relate to as a teenager and as a person of multiple cultural backgrounds. Although the rest of the first room was wonderful and educational, the placement of My Voice is a Microphone made the activity somewhat easy to miss for people who weren’t paying attention to the layout.

The next room contained a lot more interaction and each section had content that would attract teenagers. One of XLAB’s more popular portions is Ways to Tell if You’re Japanese American. Even though the list was written from a Southern California Sansei and Yonsei perspective, almost every local Japanese American teenager can relate to at least a few numbers on the list. A common high school student would certainly enjoy two of the last activities: Pidgin and Express Yourself. Pidgin is a dialect that is the unofficial language of Hawaii. XLAB has taken this idea and added modern internet slang such as LOL, FTW, and ROFL, which has made it much more relatable for teenagers, while still infusing the cultural Hawaiian roots into the activity.

Express Yourself is another ingenious portion that focuses on how expression through what people wear is becoming more and more prominent. The section is composed of a large whiteboard where visitors could design their own shirts using dry erase markers, and magnets. Surrounding the white board are completed t-shirts that aid in the expression of ones culture and identity. The interaction involved in this activity helped make it one the most popular activities that XLAB had to offer.

Each and every activity had a successful way of delivering the overall message of culture and identity. People of all ages would enjoy this exhibit because of everything it has to offer. The interaction of each activity sets XLAB apart from the plethora of boring and formulaic exhibits that most teenagers are accustomed to. In essence, this exhibit is not one to miss, and everyone should take some time out of his or her day to experience what XLAB has to offer, before it closes on August 26th.

Writer Jeremy Parks, a summer intern at JANM, will be in 11th grade this coming fall at Campbell Hall High School located in Studio City. He will be a news editor on his school paper and is an offensive lineman on the football team.

Treasure of Today

Greetings!  My name is Jenni Nakamura. I am one of three Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Interns, here at the Japanese American National Museum, working in the Media Arts Center. Over the next 10 weeks, I will be shooting, editing, transcribing and learning as much as I can from John Esaki and Akira Boch (and the rest of the National Museum staff!).  I am a 4th year Asian American Studies major at UCLA.  My interests are culturally relevant social services within the Asian American community and my passion is to explore the use of visual arts to preserve and give light to hidden personal histories and community issues.   It is an immense blessing and gift to be a part of the family here for the summer!

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow a mystery, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.”

I remember coming to the Japanese American National Museum as a young girl. Promises of Suehiro lunch and green tea ice cream afterwards were icing on the cake.   I remember walking through the historic building with the dark rooms and brightly lit displays.  I can still here my grandmother’s voice recalling the sights, sounds, tastes and feelings of those painful years for her family and countless others.  I remember when the new building was built and my grandparent’s excitement as I ran around Common Ground with my nose pressed up against the glass, as if to soak up a century’s (and more!) worth of history.  I remember walking into the barrack display for the first time – speechless, like stepping into a silent memory that was finally gaining a voice.  I remember watching home videos (“Something Strong Within”) on the walls of the exhibits, like windows in a time machine, doors to moments that will never replay…

Though seemingly fragmented, these pieces form an intricately woven puzzle that have led me to this moment.  To be sitting here in the Media Arts Center, is like a complete picture: media, Japanese American history, stories of the past, and Little Tokyo.  I’m amazed and thankful for all that has transpired to be here, now – just another part of a continuing journey – destination to be determined.  Thankful and excited for these upcoming weeks, for the stories to be heard, the lives that will intersect and the hope that comes from reflecting on the struggle our community has endured.

Standing here at a crossroads with the end of my undergraduate career in sight, I realize that this moment would not be possible without the intersection of my past, my heritage, my history and the mysterious, but hopeful futureToday, indeed, is a gift and a blessing – a treasure.  My time at the museum has been just that.  From lunch time conversations with the staff and volunteers of “the good ol’ days”, to sifting through video footage and transcriptions of people from the community with whom I have worked or have read about in my Asian American Studies classes – my time here at the museum has almost been like a returning to a family that I’ve always had a connection to but never fully known.  A return to the place where this seed, of passion, of hope, of joy through visualizing and capturing the histories and struggles of the past was planted and is continuing to blossom…

A new summer, a new wave of interns…

Hello! I just finished reading through all of the previous interns’ entries, and it seems like fun. I guess I’ll try to revive the intern section of the JANM blog!

My name is Lawrence, and I’m transferring to Cal State University, Northridge, in the fall as an Asian American studies major. This summer, I’m one of eighteen interns who have been placed at a variety of different community-based organizations throughout California’s Japantowns (in Los Angeles, San Jose, and San Francisco) through the eight-week-long Nikkei Community Internship program. This summer, the program has placed me with both JANM and the Japanese American Bar Association (JABA), so while I’ll be contributing to the Discover Nikkei website in my capacity as the Discover Nikkei intern at JANM, but I’m also going to be researching and helping to preserve the legacy of pioneering Nikkei jurists in the local Los Angeles community for JABA!

The first two days of last week was the opening retreat for the Nikkei Community Internship (NCI), and even in those first two days, I got a chance to see how close-knit and interconnected the Japanese American community in Little Tokyo — and even the larger JA community beyond it — is. It’s so amazing and refreshing to see so many people working for their community in very real ways. I’m sure that, as the summer proceeds, I’ll continue to be impressed at the family-ness of the community here. I’m just glad to be a part of it this summer.

It’s only a week into my internship at JANM/JABA, and I’m really excited for the next seven weeks!


New Beginnings

After another summer spent in California, I’m back in the lovely city of Kalamazoo, Michigan for another studious school year. However, this summer was not just “another summer spent in California”. This summer I had the pleasure and privilege of spending ten weeks as the curatorial intern at the Japanese American National Museum.

I am one who is very familiar with a ten-week timeframe. Attending a college that is on the quarter system, I live for the never-long-enough-but-much-needed break that follows the completion of another quarter of the school year. However, after finishing my first year at school and yearning for the summer, little did I know, I was in for another set of ten weeks interning at the Japanese American National Museum that would be unlike any quarter I could ever have imagined.

Like each quarter at school, the ten weeks I spent at the museum flew by in the blink of an eye. It feels like only a week ago that I first met one of my fellow interns, Yuiko, on the front steps of the museum as we exchanged confused glances and comments on how we were supposed to actually get inside the museum to be on time to our first day of work, or when we first met all the volunteers and were met with kind smiles and all the food our hearts could desire.

I have learned so much during my ten week journey at the Museum, having been involved in researching in permanent collections, conducting oral histories, reviewing collections offers, and assisting with public programs. I feel I can now proudly say that I am definitely more savvy into the workings of a museum than when I first stepped foot into my position ten weeks ago. However, one of the many things I am taking away from my journey at the museum is the importance of knowing one’s roots, knowing your history, knowing where you came from and how you got where you are today. When I first began this internship I was posed this question by one of my supervisors, Lisa: “So what’s your family story?” A little caught off guard, I stumbled to come up with a very brief synopsis of what I knew about my family, which pretty much can be summed up with both my grandparents and parents having immigrated to the United States from Korea in the 1970s and a vague bit of my grandfathers having fought in the Korean War. I realized I actually didn’t know that much about where my family came from or how I got here. Having grown up all my life speaking English to my parents, eating more lasagna and tamales than bibimbap, and speaking semi-fluent German but toddler-like Korean, I realized I really never was truly in touch with my Asian American roots, for various reasons, including plainly, the fact that I had never made the effort to be. However, that has changed over the course of the past ten weeks. The majority of my internship has been spent doing research in collections and learning the multitude of amazing stories that people have. Prior to beginning here, I knew very little of Japanese American history. I knew what I had been taught in my history textbooks, which was nothing near sufficient. Throughout this experience I have learned that the Japanese American experience wasn’t as simple as war, camp, and redress, nor did everyone share the same story. Through the research I have done, the stories I have heard from people that I have interviewed, the books I have read, and the amazing people I have interacted with, I have been educated in ways that no textbook could ever do justice. Everyone has an amazing story that deserves to be preserved and shared with others, there is no basic outline that one can follow when it comes to history. The things I have learned have caused me to have a newfound curiosity for my family’s own beginnings and journey. Everyone has their own amazing story, but these stories can so easily be lost if they remains solely in the memories and minds of those who lived them.

Over the course of the months I spent at the museum I met many amazing people, learned many things, from how to find my way through the many cabinets, drawers, and folders in Collections to how to¬¬¬ conduct oral histories, and most certainly, bonded the JANM way over plates and plates of food. As this California girl prepares to settle back into the Midwest for another year at school, I am proud to say that I feel I am going back a little older, wiser, and with a summer full of fond memories spent at the Museum. As the final 2011 Getty intern to say her farewell on this blog, I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has made my summer one for the books!

Much love,
2011 Getty Curatorial Intern

The Day Has Come… for Godzilla’s Attack, That is.

A ten-week experience like no other has gone by in a blink (even Clement’s army of Godzillas came and left so swiftly).  But I can definitely say that through this internship a la The Getty Foundation and the awesome staff at the Japanese American National Museum, my skills and awareness of so many things have been inspired.  The past few weeks adding up to the Summer Festival were hectic with all the sign-making for Koji – and on top of that, the pressure of getting the Education booklet to the printers was upon me – but I finally have the time to calmly write a “bye bye” post here on the JANM blog.

Not only did this internship offered me a further awareness in the arts, it provided me an insight to my own background and identity within the society in which I live today.

One thing that I found intriguing at one point, after reading some posts from my fellow interns, was the many different and prominent backgrounds that existed under the roof of this Museum.  To read and hear about their families and what kinds of activities they participated in growing up in an Asian-American community was very interesting, for mine was quite varying to their experiences.  When the other interns and I attended an event in Santa Monica, I came across something that I never had before.  The proctor casually instructed: “Please identify which generation you belong to.”  This phrase troubled and greatly confused me, for I did know who I was.  Having been born in Japan, I always grew up with the idea that I was a “Japanese resident just living in the States” and never really considered myself to be “American.”  Certain times growing up in my teen years, I found it troublesome when someone considered myself an “Asian American,” as I felt I did not belong under that “category.”  Unlike my fellow interns, I rarely attended the festivals here, and perhaps that is because my family and I were fortunate to make a visit to Japan every summer during my school years, and I attended the activities and events there in a yukata or kimono, back in my home country.  Almost every Japanese holiday, I found myself celebrating in its country of origin.  Maybe these visits led me to drift away from the country that I was residing in and even closer to my motherland.  My parents, for whom I am extremely grateful, had encouraged my sister and me to continue learning the Japanese language even though we had moved to the States.  The weekdays at American school and the weekends at Asahi Gakuen definitely were not pleasing at the time; numerous times, I detested having to learn kanji and always fretted to read outloud in front of the class, for I felt an intense pressure of being able to read the characters clearly and properly.  And many times, my parents had to endure my whining and complaining about my weekends ruined by the classes.  But it is now that I can say with pride and gratitude that without my parents and those Saturday classes (which lasted from 8:30 am  to 3:30 pm), I would definitely not possess the ability to listen to, speak, and write the Japanese language.  For that, words cannot describe how important language is – any language, for that matter.  To be able to share and understand the experiences of one another is a very precious attribute to knowledge and attitude – to life.

And yet, I still stumble onto which generation I fall into.  During the activity in which the interns had to identify their generations, I came to believe that I was 1.5 generation, but when I returned home and asked my father the very same question, I became even more confused.  He spoke to me with an enthusiastic smile, “You’re not a generation.  You’re Japanese.”  And that has stuck with me ever since.  It is true that finding your identity is an extremely long process, and I would argue that it is a never-ending one as well.  And perhaps without this internship I would have never come across such search for identity, and I hope to continue my journey in finding myself and sharing my findings with the community along the way.

With that said, I must express my gratitude, appreciation and admiration for the entire staff here at the Japanese American National Museum for educating me the operations of the Museum, the arts, history, and most importantly, the inspiration to find my identity.  To my fellow interns Alyctra and Alexa, I had a wonderful time sharing the internship experience with you and learning with you.  I would like to believe that we are a unique team, being able to work and communicate with one another at a comfortable yet mature level – and not to mention (as Akira mentioned), we’re all about the same height!  Definitely something unique, eh?

To my supervisors Clement and Mae, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for teaching me the visual and technical aspects of the Production Department.  I may have been clumsy and gluttonous at times, but I appreciate your patience and care.  I do not think I could list everything that I have gained from the experience that you have offered me, but I promise to cherish all that I have obtained during my time here at the Museum (including the picture frames from Target Day).  And I must give a shoutout to Lynn who dealt with me in producing the Education booklet – I still have yet to see her put a piece of gum on her nose with her tongue.

I should stop writing before this post becomes an epic novel.  I am sad as I bring this post to an end, but I do wish the very best to those here at the Japanese American National Museum, and I will keep my word that I will keep in touch with you all.

With fat loaded with love and appreciation,

Yuiko Sugino

P.S. Oh oh oh! One last thing.  THANK YOU FOR THE ABUNDANCE OF FOOD / AWESOMENESS.  I can say (with slight regret) that I have put on a few pounds ever since working here at the Museum, but food shall never be rejected.  Thank you.

When Clement's Godzillas Attack (with George Takei and Sailor Mercury)

Summer 2011 Getty Interns (From the right: Alyctra, Alexa, and Myself)