Perseverance and Tatau Travel to Australia

An image featured in Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World. Photo by Kip Fulbeck.

Hello to all of our friends Down Under! Did you know the Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World and Tatau: Marks of Polynesia exhibitions that originated at JANM are currently at the Immigration Museum in Melbourne, Australia? Perseverance is a groundbreaking photographic exhibition designed by Kip Fulbeck that explores the rich history of traditional Japanese tattoo culture and its influence on modern tattoo practice. Tatau showcases the beauty of Samoan tattoos as well as the key role they play in the preservation and propagation of Samoan culture through photographs taken in the studio and on location in Samoa. Both exhibitions were curated by master tattoo artist and author Takahiro Kitamura.

An image featured in Tatau: Marks of Polynesia. Tattoo by Sulu‘ape Steve Looney. Photo by John Agcaoili.

Perseverance and Tatau are being presented as part of Our Bodies, Our Voices, Our Marks which features tattooing along with themes of immigration, journeys, the body, heritage, and identity. Arts Review in Australia recently wrote, “What stories do our bodies tell? That is the question Immigration Museum will be inviting visitors to explore when it opens the doors to its winter 2019 season Our Bodies, Our Voices, Our Marks. The suite of exhibitions and experiences includes two photography exhibits that look at the intersection of ancient and modern tattoo practices and a series of contemporary installations curated by Stanislava Pinchuk.”

If you’re in Melbourne, or planning to visit soon, we hope you’ll stop in at the Immigration Museum for Our Bodies, Our Voices, Our Marks, which is on view until October 6.

At First Light: The Dawning of Asian Pacific America

On May 25, we are opening At First Light: The Dawning of Asian Pacific America,a multimedia exhibition that explores and celebrates the emergence of a politically defined Asian Pacific American consciousness and identity. A co-production of Visual Communications (VC) and JANM, At First Light chronicles the transformation of the un-American categorization of “Oriental” to the political identity of “Asian Pacific American” that rejected racist stereotypes, stood up for human rights, recovered lost histories, and created new cultural expressions. The exhibition draws from the collection of VC, the first Asian Pacific American media organization in the country, which formed in Los Angeles in 1970 to capture and cultivate the newfound unity that was Asian Pacific America.

Scholar, author, producer, and JANM Chief Curator Karen Ishizuka, part of the curatorial team who helped put At First Light together, says that selecting from thousands of photographs, hundreds of films, and a vast array of educational materials produced during the first 20 years of VC’s existence was the most challenging part of creating this exhibition. Ultimately, there are 30 short videos telling the stories of places, like Historic Manilatown, and events, such as the first Asian American march against the Vietnam War.

The largest artifact in the exhibition is a free-standing cube sculpture created by VC Founding Director Robert A. Nakamura in 1970.  Featuring then never-before-seen photographs of America’s World War II concentrations camps, the sculpture was conceived to promote awareness for the repeal of the Emergency Detention Act of 1950, which granted the government the power to preventatively detain people during an emergency. Wanting to start an Asian Pacific American media organization, Nakamura called it a production of Visual Communications.

Ishizuka also says that she is most looking forward to displaying a new video installation entitled FSN 1972, which repurposes early VC productions. Onto the windows and doorways of a 1972 graphic of East First Street in Little Tokyo, filmmaker Tadashi Nakamura inserted motion picture footage from VC films to invoke the current issue of preserving Little Tokyo and the Save First Street North campaign.

The resiliency and resistance embodied in At First Light serve as a reminder—as well as a call to action—of what can be accomplished when people unite as a community with commitment. Ishizuka says she hopes visitors learn about how VC has used media as a tool for self-empowerment and community building and that there has been a long history of community activism that must be continued.

To commemorate the opening day of the exhibition on May 25 at 2:00 p.m. JANM will host VC co-founders and exhibition curators Duane Kubo, Robert Nakamura, and Eddie Wong in a panel discussion about the history of VC and the creation of this show. They will be joined by Karen Ishizuka, who will moderate the discussion, helping to place VC’s history as the first Asian Pacific American media organization in the country within the context of today’s changing world. RSVP here.

See Gambatte! Before It Closes

It’s almost your last chance to see the exhibition Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit. Closing April 28, the exhibition features 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 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 found more than 60 individuals or their descendants to photograph. One such pair of photos in the exhibition features Yukiko Okinaga Hayakawa.

Yukiko Okinaga Hayakawa was two years old in 1942 when she was photographed waiting at Los Angeles’s Union Station, not far from her home in Little Tokyo, for a train that would take her and her mother to the Manzanar concentration camp. In the photo, she’s holding a partially eaten apple in one hand and a tiny purse in the other. Peeking out from her corduroy jacket is is the paper family identification tags worn by those forcibly removed, serving as a reminder of their second class status during this time. Photographer Clem Albers captured the far-off look in her eyes–a look of confusion and uncertainty. This now-famous photo has become representative of innocence lost during that time in history.

In 2005, Paul Kitagaki Jr. traveled with Yukiko on her first visit to Manzanar since her incarceration. He took her photo in a field near the camp’s Block 2, where she had once lived. Among the last of the incarcerees released, she and her mother left Manzanar in October 1945 for Cleveland, Ohio, where another Japanese American family sponsored them. Her mother went on to work as a cleaning woman and later as a seamstress. Yukiko went to Lake Forest College in Illinois and then graduate school at Tulane University in New Orleans.

Today Yukiko Okinaga Llewellyn (née Hayakawa) is a retired Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Registered Student Organizations at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, where she worked with Asian student groups and helped establish the university’s Asian Studies program. She taught about the incarceration experience and was active in the redress movement.In fact, in the fall of 1986, she wrote to her congressman, Representative Terry Bruce, and spoke with his staff about the movement. Through her persistence, the “little girl with the apple” helped win Rep. Bruce’s support. To this day, Yukiko continues to educate others about what happened to Japanese Americans in the 1940s in the hope that it doesn’t happen again to someone else.

To learn more about this exhibition and to see additional exhibition photos visit http://www.janm.org/exhibits/gambatte/

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!

Five Fun Facts about Godzilla

Look out, Little Tokyo! On Thursday, October 25, Godzilla will rise from the briny deep when we screen the original 1954 Japanese version of the movie on our outdoor plaza. To celebrate, we’ve put together five fun facts you might not know about the greatest city-destroyer of all time.

1. Godzilla was originally known in Japan as Gojira. The name came about in the early stages of planning the movie because the prehistoric sea monster was described by its creators as a cross between a gorilla (gorira) and a whale (kujira).

2. Ishiro Honda, director of Godzilla (Gojira) and co-creator of the character, later assisted renowned director Akira Kurosawa in making films. The men became friends in the late 1930s when they were both employed by Toho Studios. Honda and his team created the kaiju movie genre, but by the late 1970s, this type of sci-fi film had fallen out of favor and suffered from lackluster box office returns. Honda then became an assistant on Kurosawa’s last five films between 1980 and 1993.

3. Composer Akira Ifukube created Godzilla’s distinctive roar by rubbing a pine-tar-resin-coated glove along the string of a double bass and then slowing down the playback. The roar has changed over the course of more than thirty remakes and sequels but all pay homage to the original.

4. George Takei got his start in the film industry by doing voice-over work for the 1956 kaiju movie, Rodan also directed by Ishiro Honda.  You can also listen for the unmistakable voice of the Star Trek legend and JANM Trustee in the English-language version of the second Godzilla film, Godzilla Raids Again.

5. An actual dinosaur was named after Godzilla’s Japanese name, Gojira. Gojirasaurus was discovered in 1981 in the Cooper Canyon Formation near Revuelto Creek, New Mexico. The scientists who discovered the enormous fossil thought it was fitting to name the dinosaur after the fictional monster. One of the largest meat-eating dinosaurs known from the Triassic Period, Gojirasaurus was estimated to be about 18 feet long and 330–440 pounds!

Need more Godzilla in your life? On November 25, at 1:00 p.m., author Steve Ryfle will be at JANM to discuss and sign copies of his book, Ishiro Honda: A Life in Film, From Godzilla to Kurosawa, is the first to take a look at the director’s life and career. Ryfle highlights Honda’s work and his background, including days spent as a Japanese soldier, experiences in the aftermath of Hiroshima, and his friendship with fellow director Akira Kurosawa.

Limited Edition Toys and So Much More at the JANM Store

Toys on display in our newest exhibition.

Have you seen our newest exhibition? Kaiju vs Heroes: Mark Nagata’s Journey through the World of Japanese Toys centers around collector and designer Mark Nagata’s collection of vintage and contemporary Japanese vinyl toys. The exhibition delves into the rich history of these pop-culture artifacts and explores how these toys helped Nagata form connections to his cultural identity as an American of Japanese ancestry. The JANM Store offered several limited and exclusive toys for sale when the show first opened. That initial batch of toys sold out lightning fast but there’s still plenty of other merchandise related to the exhibition available.

A preview of three new and exclusive toys.

Plus, on October 20, the JANM Store will release three more limited edition Nagata designed toys: a Captain Maxx figure, a glow-in-the-dark Tripus hand-painted by Nagata, and a one-of-a-kind hand-painted Tripus variant. These will be available only on-site at the JANM Store on a first come, first served basis. The release of these new toys coincides with Nagata visiting JANM that same day. From 11:00 a.m ˗ 12:00 p.m., he will be signing his toys as well as his book, Toy Karma: The Kaiju Toy Collection and Art of Mark Nagata, which features his illustration work as well as his toys. From 1:00 p.m. ˗ 4:00 p.m. Nagata will continue painting a kaiju sculpture he’s working on in phases. (It’s in the exhibition when not being painted.)

The kaiju sculpture Mark Nagata is painting on October 20.

Even after October 20, the JANM Store will remain busy throughout the autumn season. Our Member Appreciation Days start on Friday, November 23 and last through Sunday, November 25. During this time, museum members can enjoy a 20 percent discount at the JANM Store and janmstore.com. Members also receive free museum admission and a 20 percent discount at several other Southern California institutions. Visit janmstore.com/membershopping for details, restrictions, and a list of participants that includes the California Science Center, Fowler Museum, Pasadena Museum of History, Skirball Cultural Center, and others.

Also, November 25, is the second annual Museum Store Sunday! The JANM Store is joining over 700 Museum Stores from all fifty states, ten countries, and three continents to provide an exceptional shopping experience. Select JANM products and publications will be 25 percent off, on-site only (you can remember this as 25 percent on the twenty-fifth)At 1:00 p.m., author Steve Ryfle will sign copies of his book, Ishiro Honda: A Life in Film, From Godzilla to Kurosawa. Honda is best known for directing the movie Godzilla and many other well-known kaiju movies. The films Honda directed mirrored Japan’s postwar anxiety and included cutting-edge specials effects. This formula appealed to audiences around the world and created an unstoppable popular culture phenomenon. This book is the first to take a look at the director’s life and career. Ryfle highlights Honda’s work and his background including days spent as a Japanese soldier, experiences in the aftermath of Hiroshima, and his friendship with fellow director Akira Kurosawa. We hope to see you here!

Become a JANM member and, in addition to the Member Appreciation Days noted above, enjoy free general admission to the museum, discounts on workshops and other ticketed events, access to Members Only events, a 10 percent discount at the award-winning JANM Store and janmstore.com, and much more. Join or renew now!

Last Chance to See the Civil Liberties Act of 1988

Original pages of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988

On display only until September 23, time is running out to see two original pages of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, signed by President Ronald Reagan! Currently on view as part of our Common Ground: The Heart of Community exhibition, these pages will soon return to the National Archives in Washington DC.

This past August marked the 30th anniversary of the Act. JANM commemorated this anniversary by reimagining the final gallery of Common Ground to place an even stronger emphasis on the redress movement, its influences, and its accomplishments. With the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, the US government 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 about after many years of activism by the Japanese American community.

Seeing a historic document like this in person moves us in a way that even the best-written article or book cannot. The document is a direct connection to the past and seeing it, one can almost feel the emotions, values, and hard work that culminated in the passing of this legislation. Moreover, the Act reminds us that we must remain vigilant in pushing back against a social and political atmosphere that seeks to marginalize people.

Seeing the document and learning about how this legislation was achieved pushes us to recognize that elements of today’s political landscape harken back to the dangerous and racist thinking of the 1940s that allowed for the creation of America’s concentration camps. If allowed to continue unanswered, then over time, the hard-fought battles of 30 years ago erode, and our democracy may be diminished.

If you are in Los Angeles, we hope you’ll find time to visit us while the original pages are still here. For information about all of our current exhibitions, please visit janm.org

An Interview with Toy Designer and Collector Mark Nagata

Left to Right: Bullmark Mirrorman Darklon, soft red Ultraman, and glow-in-the-dark Bullmark Zazan

Our newest exhibition, Kaiju vs Heroes: Mark Nagata’s Journey through the World of Japanese Toys opens on Saturday, September 15 and showcases hundreds of dazzling vintage and contemporary Japanese vinyl toys, providing a feast for the eyes and the imagination! Kaiju translates to “strange creature” in English but has come to mean “monster” or “giant monster” referring to the creatures that inhabited the postwar movie and television screens of Japan. The advent of these monsters brought about the creation of characters to combat them—hence the emergence of pop-culture heroes like Ultraman and Kamen Rider. Drawing from the extensive vinyl toy collection of Mark Nagata, the exhibition also demonstrates how Nagata’s pursuit of these Japanese toys took him on an unexpected journey that brought new realizations about his cultural identity as an American of Japanese ancestry.

Growing up in California, Mark Nagata was a fan of Disneyland, comic books, and classic Japanese television shows, movies, and toys. These influences inspired his creativity and spurred his initial interest in drawing and art. After attending the Academy of Art College in San Francisco during the late 1980s, Nagata embarked on a 10-year-plus journey as a freelance commercial illustrator. In 2001, Mark transitioned from illustration to co-founding Super 7 magazine, a publication dedicated to vintage and art vinyl toys. Through his work on the magazine, Nagata combined his passion for Japanese vinyl toys with his artwork. It was during this period that Nagata founded the Max Toy Company in 2005 to produce vinyl kaiju and hero toys. Fast-forward to today, and not much has changed for this toy designer, painter, illustrator, and collector. We caught up with Nagata via email to ask him a few questions.

JANM: What is your favorite kaiju toy of all time?

Mark Nagata: To be honest, my favorite kaiju toy is actually a hero toy. It’s an Ultraman figure, made of soft red vinyl, produced by a Japanese company called Bullmark in the 1970s. Ultraman is my favorite hero and when I discovered that there was a very rare variation of this figure, the hunt was on. During one of my trips to Tokyo in search of toys, I actually found one but the price was very expensive. Even though my fellow toy friends were willing to let me borrow the money, sadly I had to pass on the chance to obtain it. For the next month after returning home, I couldn’t stop thinking of the figure. So, I decided to sell off a bunch of toys and contacted a dealer in Japan to see if the figure was still there for sale. Luckily, it was and they helped me to purchase it. Because the figure is fragile and expensive, I requested that they carefully wrap and pack the figure in a sturdy box and declare the full insurance amount when shipping it.

I waited what seemed like weeks for the figure to arrive. To my complete horror, the mailman handed me a shoe box that was partially opened, and inside the figure was barely wrapped in one piece of newspaper! I quickly examined the figure to make sure it was not broken and luckily it was in perfect condition. As I was throwing out the box, I glanced at the shipping label and once again was shocked to see that the declared insurance value was $5.00, not the value of $5,000! The story has a happy ending, but to this day I keep thinking of how lucky I was that it made it to me in one piece!

Marusan Talking Ultraman

JANM: Where was the most unique place you bought a kaiju toy?

MN: Not really the most unique place, but I think using a fax machine to order toys from Japan was unique. Before email and the internet (yes, that long ago) I would buy toys via the fax machine. A dealer from Japan would fax me in the middle of the night (it was his daytime) with various toy offers. The next day I would circle what I wanted and fax it back to him. I’d still have to wait for another fax to me with payment information. Once I got the totals I had to get a postal money order and mail the payment to him. I’d wait a month for a box to arrive and sometimes a toy would be sold out by the time he got payment. In that case, I would end up with a credit with the dealer.

There was much more work involved to obtain Japanese toys back in those days. Now, with the internet, toy buyers can get a ”fix“ instantly. To me, the fun has been taken out of the searching and hunting process for these toys.

JANM: What is your favorite piece featured in the exhibition?

MN: I know I will get asked this question and to be honest it’s like picking your favorite child! In no particular order for the heroes: the Bullmark Red Ultraman figure, Marusan Talking Ultraman figure, and Ultraman costume. For kaiju figures, I would say the glow in the dark Bullmark Zazan figure, Bandai Barom One Doruge figure, and Bullmark Mirrorman Darklon figure.

Join Mark Nagata on Saturday, September 15, at 2:00 p.m., for a conversation with Marusan toy company President Eiji Kaminaga about kaiju toy history, the world of Japanese toy collecting, and their companies’ histories. (The Marusan toy company created some of the first vinyl kaiju and hero toys of the 1960s and these toys make up a significant part of Nagata’s collection). The conversation will be moderated by Brad Warner, who worked for 15 years at Tsuburaya Productions, the makers of the Ultraman television shows.

Following the discussion, Mark Nagata will sign copies of Toy Karma, an accompanying book by and about Nagata, as well as a 13″ x 19″ print (10″ x 17″ image size) featuring a kaiju and hero image by toy photographer Brian McCarty, who will also be signing the print. The book is $24.95 and the print is $50. Both can be purchased the day of the event. RSVP here.

Looking Back at the Civil Liberties Act of 1988

President Ronald Reagan signs the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

August marks the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. With its passage, the US government formally apologized for the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Furthermore, with this formal apology, the law called for monetary reparations to surviving victims of America’s concentration camps. This law came after many, many years of hard-fought battles and activism by the Japanese American community.

To recognize this anniversary, we reimagined the final gallery of our Common Ground: The Heart of Community exhibition to place an even stronger emphasis on the redress movement, its influences, and its accomplishments. Opening to the public on August 4, among the artifacts newly on display is the pen that President Ronald Reagan used to sign the Act, on loan for a year from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Also debuting in the gallery are two original pages of the Act. These include the page bearing President Reagan’s signature, as well as those of Congressmen Spark Matsunaga and, Norman Mineta, who is now Chair of JANM’s Board of Trustees. These pages are on loan to us from the National Archives and Records Administration for only a limited time, through September 23.

The anniversary seems a fitting time to share this excerpt from President Reagan’s speech given at the time of signing the bill into law.

The Members of Congress and distinguished guests, my fellow Americans, we gather here today to right a grave wrong. More than 40 years ago, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry living in the United States were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in makeshift internment camps. This action was taken without trial, without jury. It was based solely on race, for these 120,000 were Americans of Japanese descent.

Yes, the nation was then at war, struggling for its survival, and it’s not for us today to pass judgment upon those who may have made mistakes while engaged in that great struggle. Yet we must recognize that the internment of Japanese-Americans was just that: a mistake. For throughout the war, Japanese-Americans in the tens of thousands remained utterly loyal to the United States. Indeed, scores of Japanese-Americans volunteered for our Armed Forces, many stepping forward in the internment camps themselves. The 442d Regimental Combat Team, made up entirely of Japanese-Americans, served with immense distinction to defend this nation, their nation. Yet back at home, the soldiers’ families were being denied the very freedom for which so many of the soldiers themselves were laying down their lives.

Congressman Norman Mineta, with us today, was 10 years old when his family was interned. In the Congressman’s words: “My own family was sent first to Santa Anita Racetrack. We showered in the horse paddocks. Some families lived in converted stables, others in hastily thrown together barracks. We were then moved to Heart Mountain, Wyoming, where our entire family lived in one small room of a rude tar paper barrack.” Like so many tens of thousands of others, the members of the Mineta family lived in those conditions not for a matter of weeks or months but for three long years.

The legislation that I am about to sign provides for a restitution payment to each of the 60,000 surviving Japanese-Americans of the 120,000 who were relocated or detained. Yet no payment can make up for those lost years. So, what is most important in this bill has less to do with property than with honor. For here we admit a wrong; here we reaffirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law.

You can read a full transcript of Reagan’s speech here. Also, here’s a video of the President’s speech and the signing ceremony at which Norman Mineta (and others), were present:

 

 

There are still a few seats available for this Saturday’s conversation with Mineta and Dr. Mitchell T. Maki, President and CEO of Go For Broke National Education Center and lead author of Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Achieved Redress. Be sure to RSVP here.