The Forgotten Lives of Samurai Women

Did you know that female samurai trace back to as early as 200 AD in Japan! Known as onna-bugeisha, meaning “women warrior,” they trained the same as men, fought alongside the male samurai, were expected to perform the same duties, and were held to the same standards as their male counterparts. Every bit as powerful and lethal as male samurai, these women helped settle new lands, defended their territory, had a legal right to supervise lands as jito (stewards), and would join the fight in times of war.

However, during the Japanese Tokugawa Period which lasted from 1603 to 1868, a new order of peace and political stability took hold in the country. Samurai men, who once only used their skills in combat, became high ranking bureaucrats for the Japanese Empire. Official records served the government and male samurai society to create an image of stable paternalism and men’s controlling power. Samurai women faced repression and subjugation, expected to live passive lives as wives and dutiful mothers. 

But not all traces of the samurai women were lost. When one of these onna-bugeisha married, it was customary for her to take her naginata (a pole weapon and one of several varieties of traditionally made Japanese blades) into her husband’s home, though to use it only for “moral training.” Doing so would remind her of her former place in society while instilling the virtues necessary to be a samurai wife, those of strength, submission, and endurance. 

Even in an era centered on bureaucracy, the mid-17th century saw a reemergence of the onna-bugeisha. Martial arts schools opened around the country, and the art of naginata was seen as an excellent way to teach discipline, fitness, and a set of ethics to its students, including females. Also, a period of peace in Japan came to an end, and these women had to protect their villages, fighting off threats just as they had done centuries earlier. Even in the late 19th century, during the last battles between the ruling Tokugawa clan and imperial forces, a unique fighting unit of women known as the Jōshitai was created and run by members of the onna-bugeisha!

On July 20, join Professor Luke Roberts of University of California, Santa Barbara, to take a deeper look at the lives of samurai women. He will speak at JANM about his recent research into the lives of these women who hailed from Kōchi, an area in southwestern Japan. Following the lecture, Roberts will be joined by Hawaii State Senator Brian Taniguchi and his wife, Jan, to talk about this subject and artifacts from their family. RSVP here.

Returning to California: Post-Camp Stories

During World War II, 120,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from their homes and moved into several concentration camps. This dark time in history which lasted from February 19, 1942, to March 20, 1946, has been examined in several books, movies, and television shows. Historian Greg Robinson once wrote that “the official roundup of some 120,000 American citizens and permanent residents of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast and their subsequent confinement in government camps … represents the single most-documented subject in Asian American studies and a vital theme of popular debate.”

However, regarded as “worse than camp” by many, the immediate post-incarceration period is often overlooked in Japanese American history, and not much has been produced looking at this time. The war had ended, but returning families faced continued hostility and backlash. Purposely excluded from the booming post-war economy through discriminatory housing policies and a less than friendly job market all while reeling from the psychological after-effects of their wartime ordeal, these Japanese Americans struggled to remake their lives in mid-century America.

On June 29, JANM’s Collection Manager Kristen Hayashi and Densho Content Director Brian Niiya will take a closer look at this post-war period during a talk and presentation stemming from an interview project they are working on. When asked about this time, Niiya said, “In many of our (Densho) interviews, this period is often skipped over due to time constraints or to get to the redress movement or parallels with current events. And yet, this period contains many fascinating stories and is crucial to understanding the state of Japanese American communities today and how we got here.”

In the presentation, Hayashi and Niiya will be focusing on a particular slice of this story, those who returned to California and especially to Southern California. Kristen will present materials from her Ph.D. dissertation, which explores various aspects of the return to Los Angeles. Resettlement in different parts of the country offered unique issues, but Los Angeles provides a good snapshot of the post-war experience as a whole. For years before World War II, Los Angeles had one of the country’s largest populations of Japanese Americans. After the war and without a place to live, they sought refuge in hostels set up at Christian and Buddhist churches. Others found housing in trailer parks set up by the War Relocation Authority (WRA), later administered by the Federal Public Housing Authority.

According to Hayashi, “Although the WRA intended to disperse the population widely across the continental United States, the federal agency that oversaw the “relocation,” eventually went against their plan on the eve of the closure of the camps. Without a long range plan to assist those that remained in the War Relocation Centers, most of whom were without employment or housing prospects, the WRA staff determined that they would send remaining incarcerees back to their point of origin. For many, this was Los Angeles.” While some welcomed the returnees, others viewed the settlement of Japanese Americans as a threat, demonstrating the hardship they faced integrating back into society. Also being presented are interviews with several JANM volunteers that explore the recurring themes of returning to both rural and urban areas.

For more information and to RSVP please visit this link. Also, museum members are invited to an exclusive reception with Kristen Hayashi and Brian Niiya before their discussion at 2 p.m. RSVP here.

Stomp on Over to Kaiju-Con

The Twin Fairies from “Mothra vs Godzilla”

In conjunction with our exhibition, Kaiju vs Heroes: Mark Nagata’s Journey through the World of Japanese Toys, JANM is hosting a day-long Kaiju-Con on Saturday, June 15! We want to bring people together in one place to share their love of all things kaiju. Whether you’re into Baltan, Megaguirus, or the king himself—Godzilla—this is the convention for you! The family-friendly gathering will include a vendor hall, workshops, panel discussions, demonstrations, and culminate in a special outdoor screening of Mothra vs Godzilla from 1964. Don’t forget your cosplay! Read our rules first, but we can’t wait to see your costumes, whether they be handmade or Hollywood-ready!

Collector and toy artist Mark Nagata will do a workshop from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. on how to paint kaiju vinyl toys. He’ll demonstrate the tricks of his trade, showing you how to turn vinyl toys into vinyl art! He’ll also have plenty of exclusive toys available at this convention, including a new colorway of his “Man of Many Weapons” figure fashioned in the likeness of legendary martial artist Gerald Okamura.

Mark Nagata’s “Man of Many Weapons”

Eiji Kaminaga the president of the Marusan Toy Company will give an educational and fun talk about the history and future of Marusan toys and kaiju sofubi. The Marusan Toy Company created some of the first vinyl kaiju and hero toys of the 1960s! Mr. Kaminaga is also bringing some of Marusan’s most popular figures including Jirass and Gubila in exclusive colorways that you can get only at this convention.

If you need to take a break from hitting the vendor hall or taking in a workshop, we’ll also be presenting a special screening of the American version of King Kong vs Godzilla from 1962. Dubbed in English, the film follows as a pharmaceutical company captures King Kong and brings him to Japan, where he escapes from captivity and battles Godzilla, who is accidentally released from a block of ice by a submarine crew.

There will also be plenty to see and do for even the novice kaiju fan. The renowned animator and cartoonist Willie Ito is scheduled to sign autographs and sell his art. His career started in 1954 when he began working at Disney and was assigned to help on the iconic spaghetti kissing scene for Lady and the Tramp. He also went on to work at Hanna-Barbera, where he contributed to shows such as The Flintstones and Yogi Bear!

Kaiju-Con is going to be a day of fun and camaraderie. Buy your tickets before 5 p.m. PT on Friday, June 14, and you can enter an hour early plus get two free raffle tickets for your chance to win kaiju and hero prizes donated by our vendors! Raffle tickets will be sold on-site and winners drawn throughout the day. We hope to see you here!

Masters of Modern Design: The Art of the Japanese American Experience

On May 9, join us for a special free screening at JANM of Masters of Modern Design: The Art of the Japanese American Experience. This documentary, a co-production between JANM’s Watase Media Arts Center and KCET for the series ARTBOUND, explores how the World War II American concentration camp experience impacted the lives of five Japanese American artists and designers and ultimately sent them on trajectories that led to their changing the face of American culture with their immense talents.

From the hand-drawn typeface on the cover of The Godfather to Herman Miller’s biomorphic coffee table, the work of Japanese American designers including Ruth Asawa, George Nakashima, Isamu Noguchi, S. Neil Fujita, and Gyo Obata permeated postwar culture. While these second-generation Japanese American artists have been celebrated, less-discussed is how their WW II incarceration—a period of great hardship and discrimination—had a powerful effect on their lives and art.

We talked to Akira Boch, Director of the Watase Media Arts Center, about the process of making this documentary.

JANM: Did you learn anything surprising or new about the featured artists that you didn’t know before?

Akira Boch: I only had a basic knowledge of each of these artists before jumping into this project. I knew the highlights—that Fujita created The Godfather logo and legendary jazz album covers, Noguchi made the Akari lanterns and lots of public sculptures, Asawa made her iconic hanging wire sculptures, Obata was the architect behind America’s most celebrated sports stadiums (and JANM of course), and Nakashima was famous for his live-edge wood furniture. Delving deeply into their lives made me realize that each of them lived boldly, and had lives of great adventure. They lived with curiosity and without fear—which made each of them a great artist whose work we’re still celebrating today. I hope that we were able to capture some of that and do justice to their lives in our film.

JANM: How long did it take to produce the documentary?

AB: The idea for the film came from an article written by Alexandra Lange for Curbed. I was first contacted about working on the project in September of last year. I immediately started researching and making contact with potential interviewees. We shot the film primarily in October and November of 2018. Editing started shortly after that.

JANM: What was the most challenging thing about making the documentary?

AB: The most challenging thing was creating a structure for the film that told the stories of five main characters and tying them all together thematically. Ensemble stories are difficult to tell because a limited amount of screen time needs to be shared equally. We wanted to be sure that the audience got a good sense of each of the artists, their struggles and accomplishments.

JANM: Was there a location you visited while making the documentary that stands out in your mind?

AB: We shot this film primarily in San Francisco, New York City, and New Hope, Pennsylvania. I think shooting in New Hope was the highlight in terms of locations. There, we were able to see the magnificent compound—utopia, if you will—that George Nakashima created in the woods of Pennsylvania. He was the architect of all of the structures on the property, which includes a couple of houses, a work studio, a showroom, a wood storage barn, and a guest house. Because he had worked as an architect and lived in Japan for several years, he embraced Japanese aesthetics. So, it was amazing to see those Japanese architectural influences in the middle of an American forest. And of course, the buildings were full of his gorgeous furniture.

JANM: What did you learn by making the documentary?

AB: All that I learned about the extraordinary lives of the artists that we featured could not be included in the one-hour time limitation of this film. That’s why the final piece is so packed with fascinating material. For the audience, I hope this film is a jumping-off point for further investigation because each of these artists led such rich, complex lives. In terms of life lessons gleaned from these artists, I’d say that the combination of persistence, hard work, curiosity, and courage can lead to a remarkable existence.

This screening is free, but RSVPs are recommended using this link. A Q&A with the filmmakers and some of the people interviewed for the film and a light reception will follow the screening. If you’re not able to make the screening, starting May 15, the film will be broadcast in Southern California on KCET and available for streaming on kcet.org/artbound.


2019 Los Angeles Day of Remembrance Recap


Watch the entire 2019 Los Angeles Day of Remembrance program. To see the program’s schedule broken out by time codes visit youtube.com/janmdotorg

On February 16, the Japanese American National Museum proudly hosted the 2019 Los Angeles Day of Remembrance, marking the 77th anniversary of President Franklin Roosevelt signing Executive Order 9066, which led to the forced exclusion and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. With our many partners for the event, we honored and remembered those who were confined in America’s concentration camps during the war.

The day centered on the theme Behind Barbed Wire: Keeping Children Safe and Families Together. By exploring parallels of America during the 1940s and those in our country today, the program drew comparisons between the concentration camps that forcibly held Japanese Americans and the eerily similar modern-day detention centers currently used to hold migrants, mostly from Central America, who are seeking asylum in the United States to escape poverty, violence, and gangs. The evolution of rhetoric surrounding immigration in America was also probed.

The 2019 Los Angeles Day of Remembrance opened with a solemn but vibrant musical performance by Ichiza Taiko, followed by a dramatic reading (in two parts) of the Kondo family letters from camp by Edward Hong and Kelvin Han Yee. The letters told a story of trauma, perseverance, and ultimately survival that put a very personal face on those who lived during this tragic chapter in the nation’s history. The Day of Remembrance closed with the audience taking a poignant oath together, promising to be unafraid to use their voice and to care for others who are voiceless.

JANM’s partners for the Day of Remembrance were Go For Broke National Education Center, Japanese American Citizens League–Pacific Southwest District, Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, Kizuna, Manzanar Committee, Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress, Nikkei Progressives, Organization of Chinese Americans–Greater Los Angeles, and Progressive Asian Network for Action (PANA).


American Sutra – Buddhism as Threat in the United States

After Pearl Harbor, anti-Japanese sentiment exploded. Along with general suspicion toward Japanese Americans, those who practiced Buddhism were often specifically targeted. Even before the smoke had cleared at Pearl Harbor, the American government was already rounding up Buddhist leaders for detention. With Buddhist communities under surveillance and anti-Japanese attitudes reaching a boiling point, some Japanese American Buddhists even contemplated converting to Christianity in hopes this would save them from being sent to American concentration camps.

Today, Buddhism is seen favorably by most Americans as a peaceful religion. However, this wasn’t the case in the early twentieth century. Americans in the early 1900s were warned by newspapers and individual leaders in the Christian community that Buddhism was cruel to animals, degrading toward women, and led by debaucherous priests. These unsavory sentiments led some Buddhists to consciously present their faith to be more compatible with Christian tastes by saying, like Christianity, they had a god. 

In Duncan Ryuken Williams’ new book, American Sutra. A Story of Faith and Freedom in the Second World War, he details this bigotry against Buddhists during World War II. The book also explains how the Japanese American community, though forcibly dispossessed of their property and imprisoned in concentration camps, fought for their religious freedom, and how this gave rise to a new type American Buddhism. Williams writes that born out of the struggle to gain liberty from the concentration camps and the longing to practice religion freely “the (US) constitution became a new scripture for Buddhists in America, one that would protect their freedom to practice the Dharma in the land of liberty they called home.”

Williams, a Soto Zen Buddhist priest and Director of the University of Southern California Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture, uses internment camp newsletters, newly translated letters and diaries, and interviews with camp survivors and Japanese American WWII veterans to explain how, even in the face of suspicion and prejudice, their faith strengthened and helped them persevere. Published by Belknap Press, American Sutra also asks the question that’s still as pertinent now in the US as it was in 1941: Is a non-Christian person of color as American as a white Christian? Williams seeks answers by examining the history of Buddhist migration to the US and the roots of Buddhism being seen as a security threat to the US. The book concludes with a poignant story of an incarcerated Buddhist priest conducting the ritual practice of copying and burying a Buddhist sutra (scripture) in hopes of bringing forth the salvation of future generations of Japanese American Buddhists.

On Saturday, February 23, see Duncan Ryuken Williams speak about American Sutra while exploring questions of faith, identity, and resilience in the face of dislocation, loss, and uncertainty. His talk will be followed by comments and discussion with Brian Niiya (Content Director, Densho), Naomi Hirahara (award-winning author and historian), and Valerie Matsumoto (UCLA Aratani Chair on the Japanese American Incarceration, Redress, and Community). Reception and book signing will follow. This program is free, but RSVPs are recommended using this link.

Triumph Over Adversity – Paul Kitagaki Jr. and “Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit”


Junzo Ohara, Takeshi Motoyasu, and Eddie Kato

Have you seen our exhibition Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit yet? It features large-format contemporary photos taken by Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Paul Kitagaki Jr. displayed next to images shot 75 years ago by War Relocation Authority (WRA) photographers such as Dorothea Lange and Clem Albers during World War II. Each pairing in the exhibition features the same individuals or their direct descendants as the subject matter.

Paul has spent years tracking down the formerly unknown subjects in WRA-era photos. After countless hours at the National Archives in Washington, DC, and through tips from family, friends, and the public he has found more than 60 individuals or their descendants to photograph. We caught up with Paul via email to ask him a few questions about this project, his process, and what he has learned by working with his subjects.

JANM:  What are the similarities and differences between your Gambatte work versus your job as a photojournalist?

Paul Kitagaki Jr: I’ve been a photojournalist for 40 years and have worked at seven different newspapers on the West Coast. This project has been similar to an investigative piece, taking a tremendous amount of research, looking for clues to the identities of unidentified people from over 70 years ago. Once the subject had been identified, I had to gain their trust to participate. It was very slow for the first few years. It has taken over 13 years to build this body of work, matching 61 historical photos with the same subjects today sharing their stories.

When I started with an idea of finding the identities of the subjects photographed by Dorothea Lange, I never thought I would find the amount of subjects in the exhibition and book. These are the images that have been burned in my memory when I first learned of Executive Order 9066 as a teenager in 1970.

During my first trip to the National Archives in 1984, I searched over 900 Dorothea Lange photographs looking for my family. As I looked through the boxes of images of the government historical record of the incarceration, the faces of the unidentified Japanese Americans haunted me and I wanted to know what had happened to them and if their experience was the same or different from my family. Maybe I could learn more than what my parents hadn’t spoken of.


Yukiko Hayakawa Llewellyn

JANM: In your Gambatte portraits, are you more spontaneous with your subjects or are you trying to capture an idea you conceptualized beforehand?

PK: When I photograph a subject I have an open mind of how they will be photographed. I look at the historical photograph of the subject and try to find a feeling from the image that I might be able to incorporate in my contemporary photograph. It might be the location of the historical image or something from the subject’s life today that relates to being a Japanese American. When I meet them at their home, I collaborate with the subject and ask for something that might relate to their story. I might ask them if they have anything personal they brought to camp with them. Many times they don’t have anything from that time in their lives.

JANM: Since you’re dealing with serious, oftentimes painful memories, how do you make your subjects feel at ease and comfortable?

PK: The subject is very serious, often with painful memories that haven’t been shared outside of the family and sometimes not even in the family. I explain to them how important their stories are and that they are the only ones who can create a lasting personal and historical record of Executive Order 9066. You have to remember that many Sansei, Yonsei, and Gosei never heard the stories of the incarceration and the emotional and financial toll it took on their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Many of the Issei and Nisei didn’t share their stories with their own families.

JANM: Are there any lasting lessons you’ve learned from the camp survivors you’ve photographed?

A common theme the survivors voiced is that they don’t want this to happen again, to anybody. There was nobody to speak out and defend them as they silently went into the incarceration camps. They all have an inner strength. They wanted to move on and not burden their children with the shame they endured so many years ago. We saw how their civil rights had been violated, but they triumphed over adversity, they didn’t give up, they keep trying to do their best in the most difficult situations while locked away in the incarceration camps during WWII and that is the spirit of the word gambatte.

JANM: Can you tell us a little bit about your upcoming book?

PK: The book will be out in April 2019 and is titled Behind Barbed Wire. The 152-page hardcover book with 137 photographs will have 61 stories of the Japanese Americans incarcerated in the camps. We look at the time before forced removal, the forced removal days, and life in the camps. The book is based on 13 years of research from the interviews and photographs from the national touring exhibition Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit that has been shown across the country. We are hoping to share the book and exhibition in more places across the US and abroad.

Photographer Paul Kitagaki Jr.

JANM: What would you like the legacy of this project to be?

PK: I want the stories and photographs of Executive Order 9066 to be shared with a diverse audience who might not know what had happened during WWII to Japanese American citizens. Many of the subjects have said they don’t want this to happen to anybody else and feel the importance of sharing this story.

I am still looking for more subjects and hope to add a multimedia video component to the project. Hearing the voices will be a powerful addition to the story telling.

In many public and private schools across the nation, this chapter of American history is rarely being taught. This exhibit and book offers a visual opportunity to learn about this time in history and to educate a new generation of gatekeepers, as well as the older generations, about the tragedy of war and the importance of standing up for the constitutional rights of all people. Although the Japanese American incarceration occurred over 70 years ago, events such 9/11, the upheaval that followed, and the racial turmoil in the US reveal that the message of this exhibit is more relevant than ever. I hope that future generations will be inspired by these stories and images. Hopefully, we can get it to more educational institutions such as high schools and universities as part of the reading curriculum. Many school education materials have a few paragraphs, or nothing at all, on the factual information of the incarceration but not the human toll it took on the Issei, Nisei, and Sansei and how it changed their lives forever.

On Saturday, February 9, see Paul Kitagaki Jr. at JANM in conversation with subjects of his work to discuss his creative process, stories about the images, and the effects this project has had on those both behind and in front of the camera. An audience Q&A follows the discussion. On the same day, if you are a JANM member, join Paul Kitagaki Jr. for a members only meet-and-greet and/or a gallery tour of Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit (tour limited to 25 participants). RSVP here. 


Highlights of 2018

Fun at the 2018 Natsumatsuri Family Festival. 

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.

Artifacts from the Allen Hendershott Eaton Collection.

In January Contested Histories: Art and Artifacts from the Allen Hendershott Eaton Collection showcased 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.

Opening day of hapa.me– 15 years of the hapa project. Photo by Steve Fujimoto.

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?”

Reception for the re-imagined section of Common Ground: The Heart of Community.

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.   

Opening night of Kaiju vs Heroes. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada. 

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.

The 2018 Natsumatsuri Family Festival. 

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. 

Members received priority seating at the 2018 Natsumatsuri Family Festival.

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!

We hope to see you in 2019!

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 osechi ryori (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.

See you in 2019!

Spend the Day at Our 2019 Oshogatsu Family Festival

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!


Calligrapher’s dance performance

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 photo booth.

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.


mochitsuki (rice pounding)

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, osechiryori, 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!

Little Women (A Multicultural Transposition)

Inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s classic American novel published in 1869, the play Little Women (A Multicultural Transposition) features four sisters and their Japanese American family living in post-World War II Los Angeles. Playwright Velina Hasu Houston keeps the names and personalities of the original March sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy—but in this tale, they are the Mayeda sisters. The novel and play have noticeable parallels, with the March and Mayeda families facing many of the same types of troubles. However, Houston’s transposition adds a dimension of racial prejudice that the March family never had to consider.

The Mayeda sisters and their mother, Marmee, move in with their Aunt Ming after spending time during the war in an American concentration camp in Colorado. Their father, Makoto, is a war hero, but he returned from the war with post-traumatic stress disorder and a drinking problem. In the recently integrated Los Angeles neighborhood to which they return, they find much-appreciated diversity in their African American neighbor, Mr. Lawrence, who is a retired hematologist, and his half-Italian grandson, Laurie. Aunt Ming, however, feels that her “old money” status is above the “new money” status of her new neighbors. Thus, Houston reveals how prejudice is present even among different minorities that have each had injustice wrought upon them.

Completing Houston’s diverse cast are Mr. Bhat, Laurie’s tutor from Calcutta, and Professor Briones from Mexico City, Jo meets on her journey to New York in act two of the play. The supporting male characters in the play including Laurie, Mr. Bhat, and Professor Briones, each take an interest in one of the Mayeda sisters. However, the drama is heightened when Beth, the shyest of the four, has an unfortunate accident, which sends the whole family into a panic. The audience will remain captivated throughout the conflict, climax, and conclusion of the play.

There have been many adaptations of Alcott’s Little Women, but Houston’s depiction of the classic is unlike any other. This time period was significant for Japanese Americans and many others seeking to overcome the racial prejudices of World War II. Houston successfully depicts how the story of Little Women can be any family’s story, and yet in this particular version, there’s much more being said about the simmering social strife that is right beneath the surface.

Vanessa Hasu Houston

Houston is a professor of dramatic writing at the University of Southern California School of Dramatic Arts. She is also a well-known writer with many produced commissions, both in theater and opera. She is a Fulbright Scholar, and her current projects are with the Los Angeles Opera, The Pasadena Playhouse, Theatre Works (Palo Alto), Playwrights’ Arena/Center Theatre Group, Now Africa Playwrights’ Festival, and National Public Radio. One of her most famous plays to date is Tea, which is an internationally presented play about the experiences of Japanese women.

See Little Women (A Multicultural Transposition) at JANM on Saturday, December 15 in the Tateuchi Democracy Forum. Members are invited to an exclusive pre-event reception with Velina Hasu Houston. RSVP HERE