I’ve worked on countless projects during my 27 years with the Japanese American National Museum (JANM), but my favorite is Discover Nikkei, JANM’s community-based web project. Through Discover Nikkei, I have not only learned about the experiences of Nikkei (Japanese emigrants and their descendants) all around the world but have met diverse individuals from the United States, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Japan, and so many other places.
Discover Nikkei brings these individuals, organizations, communities, and stories together in one place. It fascinates me to see how local customs, resources, and histories create unique adaptations to Japanese culture, traditions, food, and language, and how Nikkei in different parts of the world can be so different and yet so similar. It fascinates me to see that yearning to connect with our ancestors and broaden our sense of cultural identity.
The work we do with Discover Nikkei brings me immense satisfaction and pride. We are a very small team. Project manager Yoko Nishimura and I have invested so much of ourselves into this project. But through our partnerships, the work of our growing cadre of dedicated volunteers, and our global network, we have created something of real value and meaning. It is alot of work, but it has definitely been a labor of love for us.
And yet, we’ve always known that there is the potential for so much more!
We’re so excited that Discover Nikkei has recently received new major funding from The Nippon Foundation to improve and further expand the website. This funding will give us the opportunity to take the project to the next level. The expansion project will include a major redesign of the site, as well as improving usability and access to content, increased translations of content, additional ways to participate, and new features that will facilitate user to user connections and communication. The goal is to make the website a platform for connecting, empowering, and providing access to the global network of Discover Nikkei.
As part of the planning process, we have developed a survey to gather feedback from current and potential community members. We would love to hear your thoughts on how we can make this project stronger.
Please fill out our survey at the link below (available until midnight on June 3, Pacific Time). Your responses will help us determine what features and enhancements to include and prioritize as we move forward. The survey is available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Japanese.
We are also seeking input from Nikkei organizations or any institution/group that has a significant Nikkei membership or focus. If you are part of one or know of one (or more!) that you think would benefit from Discover Nikkei’s network, please email editor@DiscoverNikkei.org with the contact information and we will send the link to the survey for organizations.
This summer, Getty Marrow undergraduate interns from JANM, La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, and the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles collaborated to create a collections-based project tasked with answering the question:
How have immigrants and subsequent generations shaped what it means to be American?
The initial goal of the project was to highlight the agency of immigrants in shaping American identity. However, the interns’ submissions suggested that the answer to this specific question would not fully encapsulate the American experience of immigrants and their descendants. As a result, each intern approached this question from a different perspective and highlighted an artifact that touched upon different facets of the American experience and identity. In this post, Shelby Ottengheime and Jose Quirarte explore the complexity of “American identity” through ways that Japanese Americans preserved traditional Japanese values and institutions during World War II.
More specifically, Shelby and Jose selected items that demonstrate the ways in which Japanese Americans persevered while they were incarcerated during World War II by channeling the spirit of gaman—“persevering with dignity and fortitude.” Shelby highlighted a variety of craft items from JANM’s Eaton Collection and argued that the items reveal that gaman is integral to the Japanese American experience and that it manifested itself through various facets of their American experience. Jose highlighted a butsudan (Buddhist altar) made in the Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming between 1942-1945, and argued that it symbolized that Japanese immigrants and their children preserved their cultural values despite American oppression.
Assortment of Pendants and Rings
Contributed by: Shelby Ottengheime, Japanese American National Museum
When reflecting on Japanese American history, a single word encapsulates generations of experiences, and that word is “gaman.” Though a seemingly simple expression, to the Japanese American community, it is a defining aspect. Gaman is translated as “to persevere with dignity and fortitude.” This cultural value is not only what enabled the Japanese American community to persevere through their injustices, but it has come to define what it means to be an American for them as well. In fact, it is so integral to Japanese American life that it even manifests itself in their actions, mottos, and art.
The Japanese American way of life has been historically characterized by hardship and adversity. As immigrants and laborers in the early 20th century, the Japanese came to the US in pursuit of the infamous American dream. However, discriminatory laws and social prejudice made it difficult for Issei’s (first generations Japanese Americans) to establish a home. Regardless of such hardships, like the fact that Issei were not legally allowed to own land, they persevered and built what they could with what they had.
The struggles that affected Japanese immigrants and subsequent generations are uniquely different from those experienced by any other immigrant community in US history and have ultimately shaped the Japanese American experience. This is referring to Executive Order 9066, which forcibly incarcerated all individuals living on the West Coast who were as little as 1/16th Japanese. Despite having done nothing wrong—there was “not a single documented act of espionage, sabotage, or treasonable activity by any American of Japanese descent”—over 120,000 innocent Japanese Americans were forced into concentration camps (Stone 1096). Fueled exclusively by prejudiced fear, E.O. 9066 was reasoned to protect Americans, however, those who were interned were US Citizens, and were effectively denied their rights simply because they were of Japanese ancestry.
With only a week’s notice, these Japanese Americans were forced from their homes and sent to desolate, barren concentration camps. Scared to be even more vilified and viewed as Japanese sympathizers, Japanese Americans complied with the US government and went to camp. Though they did not protest, that does not mean they went willingly, instead, they chose to gaman and persevere through the injustices that faced them. Each incarceree was allowed to bring a minimal amount of belongings, but they had no idea where they would be going or for how long they would be gone. As a result, Japanese Americans abandoned most of their possessions or left them in the care of neighbors. When they arrived at the concentration camps they were confronted with barbed wire, armed guards, a barren climate, poorly built living facilities, and an astounding lack of privacy. Even the food resembled nothing of home, offering no comfort to the incarcerees. However, one of the ways in which Japanese Americans were able to cope with their degrading and humiliating situation, was to create art. This artwork embodied their strength and their ability to persevere in an existence where they no longer had autonomy.
These visual representations of gaman reflect the indomitable resilience of Japanese Americans, and a large variety of the artwork was collected by Allen H. Eaton during World War II. Some of the pieces within the collection were mentioned in his book Beauty Behind Barbed Wire, which highlighted the art production by Japanese Americans while also pointing out that their constitutional rights were violated through their forced removal from the West Coast. However, years after Eaton died, in April of 2015, a family friend of Eaton’s tried to sell the collection at auction. This caused serious outrage across the Japanese American community, and through activism efforts, the insensitive sale of the “Eaton Collection” was stopped and alternatively transferred to the Japanese American National Museum.
The pieces within the Eaton Collection were not created by professional artists. The artwork produced by untrained incarcerees reflected the life and sentiments of the average Japanese American. It also showcased their artistic ingenuity and how “gaman” expressed itself within their art. Though art supplies were limited, Japanese Americans made do. They utilized their surroundings, finding colorful stones to set into rings and jewelry; onion strings to weave into patterns on cigarette cases; and excess wood from the hastily built barracks, which were shaped into complex carvings, depicting beautiful sakura trees with handsome cranes. These works not only helped the Japanese endure through their incarceration experience, but the artwork themselves directly mirror the Japanese American way of life and can be seen as a metaphor for the Japanese themselves. Both the Japanese and the wood plank were dismissed and seen as having no worth. However, with gaman, an object that has been discarded can transform and be seen as something beautiful and of value to society. This very aspect has come to define the Japanese American experience.
Not only was gaman apparent in their artwork, but that resilience continued to shape all aspects of Japanese American life and define what it meant for them to be an American. During World War II, many of the young men in camp enlisted in the US Army, choosing to fight overseas while their family members were still incarcerated. Their hope was to prove their “Americanness” and loyalty by fighting for their country: the United States of America. These Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans) were assigned to the 442nd Infantry Regiment, an almost entirely Japanese American battalion. Their motto “Go for Broke” was an extension of the Japanese gaman-mentality. The unit’s fortitude and success reflected this value of perseverance, and against all odds, the 442nd became the most decorated combat unit in the history of the US military. The cultural value of perseverance and honorable endurance has defined the Japanese American life since their initial immigration to the US. Facing hardship, prejudice, and blatant governmental acts of racism, Japanese Americans have continually used gaman to persevere. Gaman has become so instilled in the Japanese American identity that it expresses itself in multiple aspects of their culture; in their art, their mottos, and it even continues to mold their lives and values today. Ultimately, gaman has come to define the Japanese American experience and shaped what it means for them to be an American.
Contributed by: Jose Quirarte, Japanese American National Museum
The butsudan is a Buddhist altar often found in temples and homes. Shinzaburo & Gentaro Nishiura handrafted this particular butsudan during World War II at the Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming. It is composed of the gokuden (“Palace Hall”), shumiden (“Sumeru Throne”), and the naijin, or inner area. The gokuden is the large wooden cabinet that houses the gohonzon, or “principle object of reverence,” and includes the two wooden doors that fold center outward and back. The shumiden is the large wooden pedestal that the gokuden sits on, and the naijin includes three altars: the center altar which houses the gohonzon, and the altars on the left and right which house scrolls depicting significant Buddhist figures.
Shinzaburo & Gentaro Nishiura were two carpenters from San Jose, California who were imprisoned at the Heart Mountain concentration camp. Before the war, the Nishiura brothers were responsible for constructing many buildings for the Japanese American community in San Jose, and the greater Santa Clara area. The Nishiura brothers continued their contributions to the Japanese American community in camp by working in the Heart Mountain cabinet shop. In 1943, with the blessing of Reverend Chikaro Aso, the Nishiura brothers installed their handcrafted butsudan in the Block-8 Buddhist Church of Heart Mountain. Through the efforts of Reverend Aso, the butsudan found its way to the Gilroy Buddhist Church in Gilroy, CA, and was eventually donated to JANM by the Gilroy Buddhist Community Hall in 2001.
The creation and use of this butsudan in one of America’s concentration camps is a prime example symbol of the perseverance of the Japanese American spirit during their years of incarceration. On one hand, The practice of Buddhism provided a sense of normalcy for some Japanese Americans through the chaos surrounding their removal and incarceration. On the other, the creation of this butsudan in camp signified the importance of Japanese values and the way Japanese Americans preserved them. Due to Japanese Americans only being allowed to bring to camp what they could carry, many of them only brought the necessities. In order to continue to practice their faith, the Nishiura brothers showed their ingenuity by creating their own religious items out of the materials they had at their disposal. As a result, the artistry from within the barbed wire fences of camp are a symbol in and of themselves of Japanese American resilience during World War II.
These examples demonstrate that the craft items made in camp are themselves symbolic of the American experience, and the resilience and resistance of immigrants against systematic discrimination and oppression. As Shelby mentioned, most of the crafts made in camp were not made by professional artists. The craft items that Shelby highlighted in the Eaton Collection, were mostly made of material that the prisoners could find and turn either into a useful tool or art. Not only are the crafts representative of the Japanese value of gaman, but the creation of crafts, tools, and religious items in an environment of immense discrimination and oppression reveals a symbolic theme of the American immigrant experience: that immigrants often have to survive the harsh conditions of America by using whatever is at their disposal.
The fact that this butsudan was made in one of America’s concentration camps demonstrated that Japanese Americans held onto traditional institutions and values, and were intent on preserving them. The elegant looking materials that were used to craft the butsudan made it clear that the butsudan was a significant religious relic. Furthermore, in contrast to the crafts in the Eaton Collection, the butsudan was crafted by highly trained professionals who had a history of preserving Japanese institutions and contributing to the Japanese community in Santa Clara County. The butsudan itself speaks to the larger American immigrant experience as immigrant populations attempted to integrate their own culture into their lives in America. Rather than assimilating or converting to Christianity, practicing Buddhists, within the walls of a concentration camp that “otherized” them and implied they were dangerous, maintained their religious values and actively crafted a traditional altar.
The fact that Japanese Americans were able to preserve their traditions and institutions despite being imprisoned in America’s concentration camps reveals the complexity of the “American identity.” Shelby’s application of how the Japanese value of gaman was reflected in Japanese American craftsmanship made in camp, and Jose’s example of the butsudan demonstrate that Japanese values and cultural touchstones were essential to the identity of Japanese American prisoners. As a result, Japanese American identity was a blend of both their traditional culture and the values of American society. Japanese Americans did not totally assimilate or abandon their culture in America’s “melting pot.” Instead, they preserved their values and institutions in a new amalgamated and complex “American identity.”
This summer, Getty Marrow undergraduate interns from JANM, La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, and the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles collaborated to create a collections-based project tasked with answering the question:
How have immigrants and subsequent generations shaped what it means to be American?
The initial goal of the project was to highlight the agency of immigrants in shaping American identity. However, the interns’ submissions suggested that the answer to this specific question would not fully encapsulate the American experience of immigrants and their descendants. As a result, each intern approached this question from a different perspective and highlighted an artifact that touched upon different facets of the American experience and identity. In this post, Mercedes Solaberrieta and Jose Quirarte explore the historic vulnerability of American immigrants to systematic and de facto discrimination in the United States by highlighting the experiences of two immigrants during World War II.
Interns Mercedes Solaberrieta of the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles and Jose Quirarte of JANM selected items that highlight the complexity of the American immigrant experience by demonstrating the vulnerability and discrimination that many immigrants to the United States have faced due to their ethnicity or country of origin. Mercedes selected a 1940s parole document of an Italian immigrant named Filippo Fordellone and Jose highlighted a 1942 diary entry of Gihachi Yamashita, a Japanese immigrant.
Due to America’s involvement in World War II fighting against the Axis Powers, which included Japan and Italy, both of these immigrant men were considered enemy aliens and stripped of their civil liberties because of war hysteria and racial prejudice. Both Yamashita and Fordellone were unjustly arrested by the FBI after the attacks on Pearl Harbor and imprisoned at Fort Missoula, Montana without due process. Additionally, Fordellone and Yamashita were impacted by Executive Order 9066 and the subsequent strict curfews and travel restrictions placed upon individuals of Japanese and Italian descent. Fordellone and Yamashita were both vulnerable as immigrants, recognized as enemy aliens due to their country of origin, unjustly arrested, and imprisoned far from their homes. Although the experiences of Fordellone and Yamashita are unique to context of WWII, their stories still demonstrate the greater historic relationship between vulnerability and discrimination that has largely characterized the American experience for immigrant populations.
Filippo Fordellone’s Parole Document
Contributed by: Mercedes Solaberrieta, Italian American Museum of Los Angeles
Fordellone was among the Italian Americans interned during World War II. Today the words “Italian” and “Italian American” are often associated with one of the nation’s favorite cuisines, high fashion, and family-centered cultures. This was not always the case. The United States has had a long history of anti-Italianism, including discriminatory laws, and hostility directed at Italian Americans reached another peak during World War II.
Born in Italy in 1890, Filippo Fordellone immigrated to the United States in 1926. He became a prominent radio broadcaster and was well known in the Italian American community. When Italy joined the Axis powers and the United States involvement in World War II became increasingly imminent, the U.S. government began compiling a list of Italians (as well as Germans and Japanese) living in the United States and its territories that it considered threats to American security. Following the nation’s entry into World War II, the U.S. government declared 600,000 Italian residents of the United States who had not yet become American citizens “enemy aliens.” President Roosevelt issued Presidential Proclamations 2525, 2526, and 2527, which authorized the United States to detain potentially dangerous “enemy aliens.” He also signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the removal of persons from specified areas in the interest of national security.
In the case of the so-called Italian enemy aliens, many had lived in the United States for years and had children and grandchildren serving in the U.S. military. They were elderly and had been unable to pass the citizenship exam because of their limited literacy. Enemy aliens were required to register with the U.S. government and carry identification cards. They were subject to curfews and travel restrictions, and many were forced to evacuate their homes and surrender property. Some Italian “enemy aliens” were arrested and sent to internment camps. In the end, thousands of German nationals would also be interned and over 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans, many of whom were U.S. citizens, were forcibly relocated and incarcerated.
Although Fordellone had committed no crime, he was deemed a threat because as a prominent journalist, he was capable of influencing others. This was the case with many of the Italian Americans interned or threatened with internment, including baseball great Joe DiMaggio’s father. The FBI arrested Fordellone shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and transported him to an internment camp in Fort Missoula, Montana, where he remained for 14 months. Most arrestees were never informed of the charges against them or allowed legal counsel. While Fordellone was imprisoned, his wife Alessandra was left alone to care for their three children without any financial support, as the couple’s assets were frozen. For most of her husband’s confinement she had no idea as to where he was being held.
Fordellone’s parole document, which was executed in May of 1943, dictated the terms of his conditional release. Notice that it does not contain any mention of a conviction for any crime. Fordellone’s only crime was being Italian.
Although the civil liberty violations Italian Americans experienced during World War II were not as severe or widespread as the trauma and injustices inflicted on the Japanese and Japanese American community, the experience nonetheless left the Italian American community scarred. Many stopped speaking the Italian language and distanced themselves from their culture and heritage in an effort to appear more “American.”
Fordellone’s experience reflects the process through which Italian Americans gained acceptance in the United States. Italians were often seen as despised immigrants and “others” whose loyalty was subsequently called into question during World War II before eventually achieving acceptance as white ethnics. Today, Italian Americans are mostly considered to be “white,” but the process was not straightforward.
January 22, 1942, Diary Entry Written by Gihachi Yamashita
Contributed by: Jose Quirarte, Japanese American National Museum
Gihachi Yamashita documented his experience the day after the Pearl Harbor attacks in his personal diary, writing: “this is a day I will never be able to forget.” On December 8, 1941, at around 1:30 a.m., Yamashita was “shaken awake” and arrested by FBI agents. Yamashita was one of the many Japanese Americans who was targeted and arrested immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor due to a faulty presumption that the Japanese living on the West Coast of the U.S. were dangerous. Many of those who were arrested were already being monitored before the war because of the U.S. government’s false belief that they were potentially dangerous due to their connections to Japanese institutions. Most of the Japanese Americans who were unjustly arrested after the Pearl Harbor attacks were well-respected or important contributing members of their communities.
Following his arrest, Yamashita was imprisoned and moved around to a variety of concentration camps operated by the Department of Justice (DOJ). Meanwhile, his wife and two daughters were forced to sell their property and move to the Santa Anita temporary detention center due to Executive Order 9066, which forced the removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast into concentration camps. Yamashita’s wife and two daughters stayed at Santa Anita until being transferred to the Rohwer concentration camp in Arkansas. Yamashita’s diary entry tells the harrowing story of his arrest and removal to Fort Missoula, a Department of Justice internment camp in Missoula, Montana, but it also revealed how being excluded from the definition of “an American” led to losing his right to due process, and more generally, his “unalienable rights.”
Yamashita wrote about his experience of being arrested and taken in for questioning by the FBI in his personal diary. He noted that while he was imprisoned, his wife and daughter visited him twice and a guard watched over their conversation (which had to be in English). Yamashita detailed the entirety of his forced removal and wrote that on December 8th he was initially detained at Lincoln Heights Jail for four days, from December 12th to the 22nd he was imprisoned at a county jail, and on the afternoon of the 22nd was held at the Tuna Canyon Camp in Los Angeles for two days before he arrived at Fort Missoula on December 28th. Yamashita concluded his entry by writing about the brutal living conditions of the camp, noting that he and the other Japanese prisoners weren’t given an opportunity to prepare for the Montana winter and were forced to endure the freezing temperatures of Missoula without any winter gear.
Yamashita’s diary entry demonstrates how Japanese immigrants during WWII were stripped of their due process rights because of xenophobia and racism. Yamashita’s unjust arrest, removal, and incarceration was partially a product of Japanese immigrants being “otherized” by American anti-Japanese and anti-immigrant sentiment for most of the 20th century. In the early to mid 20th century, Japanese immigrants faced immense anti-Japanese sentiment in California from political labor groups, individuals, and legislation: California’s Alien Land Law of 1913 restricted “aliens” from owning land; the Gentlemen’s Agreement and the 1924 Immigration Act restricted Japanese entry into the United States; and the 1940 Alien Registration Act forced all “aliens” above the age of 14 to register and be fingerprinted. All of these contributed to the “otherization” of Japanese immigrants and their children, and implied a flawed presumption that they could not truly be “real Americans” in the 20th century. The anti-Japanese and anti-immigrant rhetoric came to a peak after the attacks on Pearl Harbor spurred irrational distrust towards Japanese Americans and other immigrant groups in America.
Yamashita, and many other Japanese immigrants who were living in the U.S., had to face the constant barrier of anti-immigrant rhetoric and unjust legislation that deemed them to be “un-American” or unassimilable. Yamashita’s diary entry reveals his experience of being unjustly arrested in his own home, detained without cause, and imprisoned in a concentration camp due to his race. His experience exemplifies the real-life consequences of being excluded from the arbitrary definition of “an American.” Although Yamashita’s experience is unique to the context of WWII, his experience is just one example of that signifies that American immigrants have historically been susceptible to being excluded from the definition of “an American,” and as a result, have seen instances where they have been stripped of their unalienable rights.
Fordellone and Yamashita’s stories reveal common themes of vulnerability, systemic inequality, discrimination, and “otherization” that America’s immigrant populations have been subjected to throughout the country’s history. Although historic instances of “otherization” and discrimination do not solely define the American immigrant experience, it has played a significant factor in the way immigrant populations have been received and treated. The stories of Fordellone and Yamashita tell only a small story in the long history of discrimination that Japanese and Italian immigrants have faced in the United States. WWII was not the catalyst for discrimination, but rather, it acted as an immense amplifier of the discrimination. In the early 20th century, both of Japanese and Italian immigrants were already facing immense racist and xenophobic sentiment and legislation that “otherized” and targeted them. However, during WWII, war hysteria amplified preexisting racist and xenophobic sentiment which resulted in the targeting of Japanese and Italian immigrants, and the loss of their civil liberties. Although the details and extent of their incarceration experiences are different, both Fordellone and Yamashita experienced the trauma and injustices American immigrants have historically faced because of their vulnerability to systematic discrimination and anti-immigrant prejudice in America.
If you would like to learn more about Gihachi Yamashita’s story, check-out JANM’s, “Enemy Mail: An American Story of Wartime Separation,” which is dedicated to telling his and his family’s story of incarceration during WWII through artifacts in JANM’s Yamashita Collection. If you would like to learn more about Filippo Fordellone or see other objects pertaining to Fordellone you may visit the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles’s online collection webpage.
At JANM, we love our volunteers, and to tell you the truth, this place wouldn’t keep running without them. In 2018, our active, seasonal, and trainee volunteers contributed a total 26,900 hours for events, school programs, tours, and many other activities—all because they are dedicated to telling the story of the Japanese American experience. We even had seven volunteers who each contributed more than 500 hours of service! We try to find small ways to thank them all throughout the year, but on May 11, 2019, we held our annual Volunteer Recognition Awards Event to demonstrate our sincere appreciation for all they do for us. Each year the volunteers themselves and staff of JANM are invited to nominate volunteers who have provided especially outstanding service in several award categories. A selection committee made up of staff and previous awardees painstakingly evaluate the nominations and make the final selections.
For 2018, Teri Lim received the Administration Award, which recognizes outstanding service and achievement in the administrative/operations capacity. June Berk was given the Community Award for outstanding service and achievement in working with visitors, the public, and in the community on behalf of the museum. Maria Kelly got the Program Award for service and achievement in educating visitors through public and school programs. And Tami Hirai was awarded the Miki Tanimura Outstanding Volunteer Award, named after a passionate volunteer who passed away in 1992.
In addition to the awards, we give service pins to those who have stuck with us through the years. Two of our volunteers, Mary Karasawa and Richard “Babe” Karasawa celebrated their 30th anniversary of volunteering, meaning they’ve been giving their time since before we originally opened our doors to the public back in 1992!
Other pins were given out as follows: One Year—John Karasawa, Elizabeth Kato, Janet Morey, Patrice Okabe, Don Tanaka, Blossom Uyeda, and Donna Wakano; Five Years—Ben Furuta and Yas Osako; Ten Years—June Magsaysay, Jeanette Onishi, and Keiko Yokota; Fifteen Years—Yosh Arima, Jo Ann Hamamura, Ken Hamamura, Hagi Kusunoki, and Ken Nakagawa, Twenty Years—Sande Hashimoto, Marie Masumoto, Robert Moriguchi, and Lauren Nakasuji, Twenty-Five Years—Joyce Inouye, Jane Kim, and Matsuko Uyeno.
We also want to thank the presenters and those who helped during, before, and after the event: Yae Aihara, Ann Burroughs, John Esaki, Tom Gallatin, Jo Ann Hamamura, Ken Hamamura, Clement Hanami, Kristen Hayashi, Jamie Henricks, Shawn Iwaoka, Gene Kanamori, Hal Keimi, Evan Kodani, Randall Lee, Janet Maloney, Marie Masumoto, Alyctra Matsushita, Masako Miki, Cynthia Mikimoto, Carol Miyahira, Annette Miyamoto, Luis Montanez, Julia Murakami, Yuka Murakami, Vicky Murakami-Tsuda, Irene Nakagawa, Nina Nakao, Yoko Nishimura, Nobuyuki Okada, Sohayla Pagano, Jaime Reyes, Tsuneo Takasugi, Travis Takenouchi, Teri Tanimura, Bob Uragami, Lynn Yamasaki, King’s Hawaiian for the cookie bar, and all the JANM staff members who wrote thank you notes for our volunteers.
For information about volunteering with JANM,
please visit janm.org/volunteer
or contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 213.830.5645.
Another fulfilling year is about to come to a close. JANM presented many significant exhibitions and interesting events in 2018—here’s a look back at some of the highlights.
In January Contested Histories: Art and Artifacts from the Allen Hendershott Eaton Collectionshowcased a collection of arts and crafts Japanese Americans made while incarcerated at American concentration camps during World War II, along with a large number of photographs taken in the camps. Saved from the auction block through the action of Japanese American community leaders throughout the country, the collection serves as a testament to the creative spirit enduring in even the darkest of times. A pop-up version of this is now touring the country. Viewers are asked to contribute any information they have about the objects and the people depicted in the photos.
The Transpacific Borderlands: The Art of Japanese Diaspora in Lima, Los Angeles, Mexico City, and São Paulo exhibition, which opened in 2017 but continued into the first two months of 2018, highlighted the experiences of artists of Japanese ancestry born, raised, or living in either Latin America or predominantly Latin American neighborhoods of Southern California. The show examined the complexities surrounding identity and how the concepts of homeland and cosmopolitanism inform the creativity and aesthetics of this hybrid culture. Continuing on the topic of cultural identity, JANM opened hapa.me– 15 years of the hapa project in April. In this exhibition by artist Kip Fulbeck, photographs from his 2006 exhibition Kip Fulbeck: Part Asian, 100% Hapa were paired with new portraiture of the same individuals. The subjects of the photographs identify as hapa—of mixed Asian/Pacific Islander descent. The photographs were accompanied by each subject’s responses to the question, “What are you?”
In August, to mark the thirtieth anniversary of its signing, two original pages of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, on loan from the National Archives, were displayed along with the pen that President Ronald Reagan used to sign it. This Act formally apologized for the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II and paid monetary reparations to surviving victims of America’s concentration camps. This law came after many years of hard-fought battles and activism by the Japanese American community. Also marking the thirtieth anniversary of the signing, JANM re-imagined a section of its core exhibition Common Ground: The Heart of Community to include more information about the redress movement.
In the autumn, JANM opened Kaiju vs Heroes: Mark Nagata’s Journey through the World of Japanese Toys and Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit; both are currently on display. Kaiju vs Heroes showcases the vintage and contemporary Japanese vinyl toy collection of Mark Nagata and demonstrates how something as seemingly insignificant as a child’s plaything can help inspire an exploration of one’s identity. Gambatte! features modern and historical photographs documenting the stories of Japanese Americans who were forcibly incarcerated during World War II. Large-format contemporary photos taken by Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Paul Kitagaki Jr. are displayed next to images shot 75 years ago by such noted photographers as Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, and others; each pairing features the same individuals, or their direct descendants, as the subject matter.
In addition to exhibitions, JANM hosted several public programs throughout 2018 that were a hit with the community. Highlights included artist Shinpei Takeda’s talk about his work in Transpacific Borderlands, a film screening of the original Godzilla movie, and, of course, the Natsumatsuri Family Festival. The summer festival featured fun for all ages, including crafts, music, tea ceremonies, and taiko drums. More recently, JAMN hosted a staged reading of Velina Hasu Houston’s play Little Women (A Multicultural Transposition). This re-imagination of Alcott’s classic novel presented the story of four Japanese American sisters living in post-war Los Angeles.
JANM members receive benefits at many of our events and exhibitions. These include invitations to exhibition openings and reduced-price tickets to events. Membership at the museum also includes invitations to Members’Only Learning at Lunch sessions at which JANM Collection Unit staff talk about recently acquired objects and other treasures we hold. Members also receive priority seating and access to express lines at family festivals. Think about becoming a member today!
Here’s to a great year. We hope to see you for JANM’s Oshogatsu Family Festival on January 6, 2019, as we celebrate the New Year and the Year of Boar with crafts, food, cultural activities, and performances! The NewYear, or Oshogatsu, is one of Japan’s most popular and important holidays. During this celebration, people in Japan spend time with friends and relatives and enjoy special holiday dishes. We will be offering lucky zaru soba (cold buckwheat noodles) and osechiryori (traditional new year foods), while supplies last. We’ll also present two taiko-infused mochitsuki, the beloved new year tradition of pounding of rice to make mochi. That’s just a small sampling of what’s in store for the day. You can find the complete schedule here.
Come celebrate the Year of the Boar at the 2019 Oshogatsu Family Festival at the Japanese American National Museum on January 6! Activities will run from 11a.m. to 5 p.m. and admission is free. Whether you enjoy traditional Japanese new year foods, art, or live performances, bring the whole family for a day full of cultural activities!
There are a number of things available to do all day
long. For the youngest attendees, there will be a scavenger hunt around the
museum. Find all the items and win a prize! Crafty kids (and adults) can head
over to Ruthie’s Origami Corner to learn the art of paper folding and make
their own origami boars. Everyone can strike a pose with some props at the Nerdbot
Of course, what Year of the Boar festival would be complete without a pig pen? Here’s the twist: at the Oshogatsu Family Festival, the pen is made up entirely of plushie pigs and boars. This is one pig pen where you’ll want your kids to jump right in! The coloring station is there, too.Also open all day is the Toddler Room, where the littlest festival-goers can play with people their own size while supervised by an accompanying adult.
Traditional activities will be at designated times so be sure to plan for the ones you’re interested in. Early in the day (11:30 a.m.) and again at 1 p.m., catch a live collaborative performance from Kuniharu Yoshida and Walter Nishinaka that combines the calligrapher’s dance performance and taiko beats. Foodies can enjoy build-your-own sample-size soba noodle bowls from 11a.m. to 3 p.m. Kids, and kids-at-heart, won’t want to miss the demonstration of the ancient art of candy sculpting, with finished pieces given away as raffle prizes for kids. From noon to 4:30 p.m. there will be a tasting of traditional Japanese new year foods, osechi–ryori, which includes sweets and vegetables. And don’t miss the mochitsuki (rice pounding) demonstrations (2 p.m. and 4 p.m.); make sure you stay to the end for yummy mochi samples.
As a special treat, artist Mark Nagata will be giving a talk at 12:30 p.m. about his latest special edition sofubi toy figure—an homage to the character played by Gerald Okamura in the movie Big Trouble in Little China. Nagata and Okamura will then sign toy figures and special prints of the toy’s header art. Fair warning: there are only 45 toys available for purchase so act fast. You’ll also want to buy a fukubukuro (lucky grab bag) while you’re in the store.
Throughout the day, JANM members receive special perks such as reserved seating at performances and artist talks, express lines, and extra raffle tickets. Join today!
In celebration of real-life heroes as well as the fictional characters of our Kaiju vs Heroes: Mark Nagata’s Journey through the World of Japanese Toys exhibition, JANM welcomed more than 1,100 visitors on November 11, 2018, for a free family day of fun.
Upon entering the museum, visitors were welcomed by our staff and many jumped right into the crafts offered. Inspired by o Kaiju vs Heroes, our hero and kaiju mask-making activity was very popular! Children delighted in keeping their heroic secret identities under wraps.
Aratani Central Hall hosted some of the most impressive performances of the day. Children gathered around–and a few were invited on stage–to experience kendo, a traditional Japanese martial art that uses swords and protective armor. It was a sight to behold as athletes from Sho Tokyo Kendo of LA Minobusan Beikoku Betsuin charged at each other, followed by the clash of their shinai (slats of bamboo tied together and used for practice, in place of a Japanese sword).
Kizuna Taiko filled Aratani Central Hall with its thunderous sounds. A physically demanding discipline, taiko is often described as a performance of dance as well as drumming. Kizuna Taiko’s incredible athleticism, driving rhythms, and meditative melodies left the audience inspired and energized. Earlier in the afternoon, families enjoyed traditional songs by Ukuleles for Little Tokyo. Their sounds were a festive addition to a fun-filled day of physical activities and crafts.
Children sat attentively as an artist from Taylor Entertainment turned them into superheroes by drawing their caricatures. Many families also spent time perfecting a superhero cape with unique designs and color combinations. Kids enjoyed donning their creations and striking a pose.
On our plaza, families expended some energy by getting in some slam dunks and long distance shots at our temporary basketball courts.
It was a truly joyful and memorable JANM Free Family Day, and we hope to see many of the same guests at our 2019 Oshogatsu Family Festival. On Sunday, January 6, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., ring in the New Year and celebrate the Year of the Boar with more fun arts and crafts, food, cultural activities, and exciting performances! There will be a traditional mochitsuki (Japanese rice pounding ritual) performance by Kodama Taiko, candy sculptures by Shan the Candyman, Fukubukuro (lucky grab bags) at the JANM Store, and so much more. Check our janm.org for more information about the Oshogatsu Family Festival and other upcoming events at JANM.
On Saturday, November 10, join us for a JANM Free Family Day! The crafts, performances, and other activities will be inspired by real-life heroes and the fictional characters seen in our current exhibition, Kaiju vs Heroes: Mark Nagata’s Journey through the World of Japanese Toys.
Our doors open at 11 a.m., and at 11:30 a.m. we’ll have a performance from Ukuleles for Little Tokyo. This organization engages Japanese and Japanese American seniors by providing free ukulele instruction in Japanese and English. Between 1885 and 1925, more than 200,000 Japanese had immigrated to Hawaii to work on sugarcane plantations. Many of these Japanese immigrants discovered the ukulele in Hawaii and adopted it as their own, making the instrument a common bond that helps hold together the culture of America, Hawaii, and Japan.
After saying aloha to Ukuleles for Little Tokyo, join artist and art educator Sylvia Lopez for a superhero drawing workshop. From 12 p.m.–12:45 p.m. and 1:15 p.m.–2 p.m., create a hero character by first learning to quickly draw a basic human form. If drawing a hero character isn’t enough, from 12 p.m.–3 p.m. an artist from Taylor Entertainment will create a superhero caricatures of kid visitors!
You also don’t want to miss a demonstration from Sho Tokyo Kendo of LA Minobusan Beikoku Betsuin starting at 12:30 p.m. Experience a captivating exhibition of kendo, a traditional Japanese martial art that utilizes bamboo swords and protective armor. The practice of kendo stems from kenjutsu, a catch-all term used to describe all forms of Japanese swordsmanship. The formal kendo exercises known as kata (specific movements of a martial art) were developed several centuries ago as kenjutsu practice for warriors and are still studied today.
Guaranteed to be inspiring is Kizuna Taiko, performing at 3 p.m. This group is made up of children and adults with developmental or intellectual disabilities, and their parents and siblings, from the Japanese Speaking Parents Association of Children with Challenges (JSPACC). Taiko is a traditional form of Japanese percussion using a variety of drums, some very large. Taiko playing is loud, hard, and fast, and involves choreographed movement that mirrors Japanese martial arts.
Wrapping up the day’s festivities is WizStars. A hip-hop dance ensemble featuring individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities and their parents or siblings from the JSPACC, WizStar will perform from 3:30 p.m.–3:45 p.m. The museum will close at 5:00 p.m., so you will still have time after the day’s activities to check out the Kaiju vs Heroes exhibition and its amazing array of vintage and contemporary Japanese vinyl toys.
Please also set aside a few minutes during the day to write a letter of appreciation to a veteran, to be delivered by Operation Gratitude. Expressions of thanks make a lasting impression on those who have served in uniform.
JANM members get perks throughout the day, including reserved seating, so join or renew today! More information about the day is available on our website.
Is it uncivilized to use soy sauce? Should extra wasabi be added? Recently, travel agent and food enthusiast Roxana Lewis led a “sushi graze” edition of our Edible Adventures walking tour series in Little Tokyo, this time starting with a “Sushi 101 class.” Lewis explained that adding wasabi or soy sauce depends on the restaurant and the chef. However, she stressed that when using soy sauce, one should lightly dip only the fish to avoid having the rice ball fall apart. Attendees also learned some surprising sushi history. Enthusiasts may find it hard to imagine sushi ever existing without rice. However, beginning in the fourth century in many parts of Asia, salted raw fish was wrapped in rice and held in storage for months. When the rice fermented, it acted as a preservative but was discarded before the fish was eaten.
Sushi was introduced to Japan in the ninth century. It became popular as Buddhism spread throughout the country; the Buddhist practice of refraining from eating meat meant that many Japanese began eating fish as a dietary staple. Vinegar was eventually used as a preservative instead of rice and this change led to the uniquely Japanese version of sushi that is eaten today. A rice ball and a small portion of raw fish (known as nigiri sushi) need very little preparation, so by the 1800s, it was a popular choice with roadside vendors and a big hit with busy workers who didn’t have time to sit down for a meal.
After the short history lesson, attendees enjoyed a small feast at the restaurant Sushi Go 55. The sushi served at this restaurant reflects the same style that emerged as a favorite fast-food option in nineteenth century Japan. Made to order piece by piece, attendees watched as the chef’s hands moved in perfect rhythm as he assembled balls of rice and affixed fish to them with the exact amount of wasabi. In the past few centuries, not much has changed in the making of this style of food. While enjoying sushi at this restaurant, one could close their eyes and feel a direct connection to Japan and the past.
While sushi is a pillar of Japanese cuisine, the history of the delicacy in the United States is an ever-evolving one. When first introduced, Americans had a difficult time warming up to the idea that raw fish could be something tasty. The creation of the California roll in the late 1960s helped change American perceptions. First created by a Japanese chef in Los Angeles (according to some), the California roll features crab, avocado, and cucumber, making it more suitable to the American palate. It’s often then rolled “inside out,” meaning the rice is on the outside. The next stop on the tour exemplified this American take on sushi. At the Ebisu Tavern, “caterpillar” and “spider” rolls which featured ingredients like battered soft-shell crab and spicy mayonnaise were served to showcase the evolution of westernized sushi.
The Edible Adventure offered more than just learning about sushi. Between stops Lewis recounted tidbits touching on the history of Little Tokyo. She pointed out Buddhist temples and explained their architecture, showed participants the former sites of trailblazing restaurants now gone and noted how the area has changed through the generations. The tour ended back at JANM. Museum admission was included with the tour and attendees then spent time taking in the current exhibitions. Don’t miss the next Edible Adventure—you can stay up to date on all of JANM’s events by visiting janm.org/events. You can also sign up to receive our monthly Exhibitions & Events email with all the latest information.
JANM is counting down the days to our Natsumatsuri Family Festival! Join us in celebrating the summer season on Saturday, August 18, for a full day of fun: crafts, bubble making, taiko performances, bon odori dances, tea ceremonies, live music, and so much more. Best of all, admission to this annual celebration and the museum will be free all day.
As in years past, we are excited to bring the Okinawan dango booth back to JANM. Always a crowd favorite, Okinawan dango (also known as saataa andaagii, which translates to “deep fried sugar”) are small Japanese donuts fried to crispy perfection on the outside with a deliciously fluffy inside. Popular at summer obon festivals in the West, these traditional treats will only be available while supplies last, so come early!
After you’ve enjoyed some snacks, we have two taiko performances for your entertainment. A cornerstone of Japanese American summer festivals, the taiko drum is a crowd-pleasing loud Japanese instrument. Use of this instrument during festivals dates back as far as the sixth century. Today, taiko refers to a broad range of instruments and ensembles in a practice that transcends cultural, stylistic, and geographical boundaries.
Two talented taiko groups will get hearts racing. San Fernando Valley Taiko takes the stage at 11:15 a.m. in Aratani Central Hall for a performance and interactive taiko demonstration. Founded by two collegiate taiko experts, San Fernando Valley Taiko offers weekly classes for every skill level at the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center. If you miss that first taiko display, have no fear. At 4:15 p.m., on our Children’s Courtyard, Los Angeles’ very own TAIKOPROJECT will close the day’s festivities. A modern American taiko group, they put on powerful shows that combine traditional forms with innovative aesthetics. The group has appeared at the Academy Awards and the Grammy Awards, among others.
Between the taiko performances, Masayo Young will lead three traditional Japanese tea ceremonies, at 12:00 p.m., 1:30 p.m., and 2:30 p.m. Born and raised in Osaka, Young has practiced these ancient rituals for decades. The quiet performances require a focused and meditative sense of control that place value in the process of mindfully preparing and serving matcha tea. The number of participants for each ceremony will be limited, so sign up early to make sure you get a serving of tea with traditional sweets. Sign-up sheets will be available at the museum survey table.
At 2:45 p.m., say aloha to Kaulana Ka Hale Kula O Na Pua O Ka Aina in Aratani Central Hall. Since 1999, the group has preserved and shared Native Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures. With learning at the center of their practice, they teach many of their haumana (students) how to make their own implements, attire, and leis. Families are invited to hula alongside them during their set, so come ready to dance.
Natsumatsuri Family Festival 2018 will be fun for all ages, from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Free for everyone, JANM invites families to enjoy the entire day, with even more activities including origami workshops, jazz performances, and a scavenger hunt. JANM members get perks throughout the day, including reserved seating and express lines, so join or renew today! More information about all of our Natsumatsuri activities is available on our website.