On May 27, 1943, Kiku Nakamichi was crowned Queen of Denson at a coronation ball, which was part of a weekend carnival at the Jerome concentration camp.
Kiku was presented with a wooden, heart-shaped plaque painted red, green, and gold. It had been crafted by staff at the wood shop where she worked as a secretary. Four months later, when Kiku and her husband departed Jerome, wood shop staff and friends added signatures and farewell messages to the back of the plaque.
Captured in a photograph from the night of the coronation, Kiku is flanked by her two attendants Mary Ikeguchi and Bessie Nakashima, where she is seeing holding the plaque. According to the camp newspaper, Denson Tribune, “William O. Melton, assistant Project director, who crowned the queen had the first dance with Queen Kiku following the coronation.”
Although events throughout all of the camps were common, including coronations and carnivals, each one offered a unique opportunity for incarcerated Japanese Americans to participate in activities seemingly at dramatic odds with their forced surroundings.
The plaque was passed on to Kiku’s daughter, Cindi Ishigaki, who donated it to JANM’s permanent collection this past January.
Coming to New York City on October 18, 19, and 20, and Orange County on November 10 is 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 five second generation Japanese American artists—Ruth Asawa, George Nakashima, Isamu Noguchi, Gyo Obata, and S. Neil Fujita—following the ways in which their camp experiences impacted their lives, influenced their art, and sent them on trajectories that eventually led to their changing the face of American culture with their immense talents.
The film will screen three times as a part of the Architecture & Design Film Festival at the Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas in New York City.
Showtimes are Friday, October 18 at 9:15 p.m.; Saturday, October 19 at 7 p.m.; and Sunday, October 20 at 1:30 p.m. Q&A with Mira Nakashima (furniture designer and daughter of George Nakashima), Kenji Fujita (artist and son of S. Neil Fujita), and filmmaker Akira Boch will follow the Friday night screening.
Masters of Modern Design will also screen in Orange County on Sunday, November 10 at 12:30 p.m. at the Orange County Buddhist Church. A Q&A with the filmmakers will follow. This is a free event, but please rsvp to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Masters of Modern Design: The Art of the Japanese American Experience is available on DVD at the JANM Store. JANM members receive 10% discount!
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
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!
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
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
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
JANM: What did you learn by making the
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
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.
Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres welcomed guests
to the annual Gala Dinner and Silent Auction on April 13, kicking off a festive
evening for more than 1,000 people who came together in support of JANM and its
wide-ranging work. This year’s theme paid tribute to the museum’s Charter Members—the
first individuals and families to see and believe in the importance of the
museum and its enduring role in our democratic society. JANM’s Watase Media
Arts Center produced a video about some of these individuals; it featured poet
and educator Amy Uyematsu, scholar and author Barbara Kawakami, World War II
Military Intelligence Service veteran and author Edwin Nakasone, and
photographer Stan Honda–all JANM Charter Members.
Ann Curry, the Gala’s featured speaker, was
one of the highlights of the evening. A former NBC News anchor and international
correspondent, Curry has reported on conflicts and humanitarian disasters all
over the world. In October 2018, as a writer for National Geographic Magazine, Curry wrote about the mass
incarceration of people of Japanese ancestry during World War II and the racism
and prejudice that gave rise to it. Her speech at the Gala touched upon the
political divisiveness the world has seen in recent years as well as her
family’s own experiences with discrimination.
Earlier in the evening, a fast and furious
round of donations went to support JANM’s Bid for Education; over $200,000 was
raised. Those funds go to support bus transportation and museum admission for
primary and secondary school students from Title I schools and groups who have
demonstrated financial need. Bid for Education funds also supports K-12
educator workshops and many other educational initiatives.
On a more somber note, the night included an In
Memoriam segment, honoring remarkable individuals who played significant roles
in furthering JANM’s mission to promote appreciation of diversity by sharing
the Japanese American experience. Grateful Four, a group of music-loving
friends that try to connect to their Japanese American culture and give back to
their community through the power of song, accompanied the video presentation
of those who passed in the year since the last Gala.
As the night concluded, guests left with an
even deeper understanding of the vital work the museum does: presenting
engaging exhibitions, providing docent-led tours for school groups, speaking
out against injustice and discrimination, preserving our sizable permanent
collection of artifacts, and much more. To all of our generous supporters and
friends who made the Gala such a successful and meaningful evening, thank you
for joining us!
If you’ve visited JANM on a weekday
morning, chances are you’ve witnessed our onsite School Visits Program in
action. Every Tuesday through Friday, JANM opens its doors early to offer
specially-designed tours and activities for K-12 school groups from across the
greater Los Angeles area. Some of the best
learning opportunities happen outside the classroom; here at JANM, and we
aim to give students a once-in-a-lifetime
learning experience to explore more of the world through a field trip we hope they’ll
is sometimes the biggest obstacle for schools to pursue these experiences and
activities. At JANM, many of the student groups we welcome
are only able to visit the museum due to our Bid for Education program. The
program provides bus transportation and museum
admission for primary and secondary school students from Title I schools and
groups who have demonstrated financial need. The late US Senator Daniel
K. Inouye launched Bid for Education at JANM’s Gala Dinner in 2000, in reaction
to budget cuts at the state level that threatened to take away bus
transportation for field trips. Since its inception, Bid for Education has provided
field trips to over 12,000 primary and secondary school students and teachers
Recently a 12th-grade student told a
volunteer docent, “Thank you for speaking to my class during our trip to the
Japanese American National Museum. It was a special experience to hear from an
actual camp survivor, definitely something not everyone can experience. While
it was a great experience, I’m very sorry that you had that story to tell. But
I feel very honored to have been able to listen to it. It was definitely a
memorable experience that I will never forget.”
The Bid for Education program has grown to include support for K–12 educator workshops, the development of free resources for educators, docent recruitment and training, and many other educational initiatives. Going beyond the doors of JANM, the program helps expand the horizons of students across the country through the museum’s teacher training programs and web-based resources. Through these ongoing educational initiatives, the museum continues its commitment to promote understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience with classrooms on a nationwide scale.
Please think about supporting the Bid for Education. The program receives much of its funding during the annual Gala Dinner, which this year is taking place on April 13. However, donations can be made at any time online. We greatly appreciate your contribution of any size.
In honor of Women’s History Month, we want to
highlight the work of two pioneering Japanese American women.
Mitsuye Yamada is a poet, essayist, activist,
and former professor of English. In 1942, when Mitsuye was 17, she and her
family were sent to America’s concentration camps, where they were forced to
stay for the duration of World War II. After the war, she received a BA from
New York University, then an MA from the University of Chicago, and an honorary
doctorate from Simmons College.
traci kato-kiriyma, curator for Discover
Nikkei’s monthly poetry column, recently wrote about Mitsuye, who, at age 95,
has a new book, Full Circle, New and Selected Poems, being published in June 2019.
Here’s an excerpt of Mitsuye’s thoughts on her new book:
“Many of these poems seem to focus on my
relationships with my family. My parents had always taught my brothers and me
to move forward in life, no matter what obstacles are placed before us, I
continue to hear their admonitions and put them into writing. Each of us are
keepers of our unique family histories. Writing them down in whatever form you
choose is a way of keeping your family lore alive.
Also you might say I’m quite opinionated, and
can’t help responding to whatever that is going on around me and tend to
express these thoughts in poetry. At my present advanced age, I decided it is
about time I published another book.”
Wakako Yamauchi, who died in 2018 at the age
of 93, was a Nisei playwright. Her most celebrated work, And the Soul Shall Dance, is a staple of the Japanese American
theatrical repertoire. Ross Levine recently authored a multi-part exploration
about her life. Here’s a brief excerpt from Part 1:
“Yamauchi, who was a personal friend of mine,
achieved her greatest renown as a playwright, but when relating an incident or
articulating her thoughts, she always seemed to be speaking in prose, searching
for the mot juste as she gestured
broadly with upturned palms.
Yamauchi’s parents, Yasaku and Hama, were
Issei—that is, immigrants from a truly imperial land, Japan. They had left
their homeland lured by the promise of prosperity and the chance to escape the
stifling traditions that defined all aspects of life in the Shizuoka Prefecture
southeast of Tokyo. What awaited them in California was the Alien Land Law,
first enacted in 1913 and aimed expressly at the Japanese. It prohibited ’aliens
ineligible for citizenship‘ from owning agricultural land or leasing it
long-term, thus relegating the Nakamuras to the peripatetic life of itinerant
She was a thin, energetic woman with an oval
face, a wide smile and eyes that effortlessly toggled between a mischievous
delight and an expression of deep empathy. She was born Wakako Nakamura in the
small town of Westmoreland (now Westmorland), socked between Brawley and the
Salton Sea in California’s Imperial Valley. There was little ’imperial‘ about
life there, and the ’valley‘ was part of the vast Sonoran Desert, flat and
barren, its soil encrusted with white alkali, amenable to agriculture only
through relentless irrigation.
The Consortium is made up of
organizations that have been recipients of funding from the Japanese American
Confinement Sites (JACS) grant program of the National Park Service. Our
purpose is to preserve and protect the history, the sites and artifacts related
to the Japanese American confinement experience. We are also committed to
elevating the social justice lessons of the incarceration and to highlighting
ways that civil and human rights abuses put at risk the rights of all
Americans. We are led by an Advisory Council that is made up of JANM, Heart Mountain
Wyoming Foundation, JACL, Friends of Minidoka and the National Japanese
American Memorial Foundation.
After four years in the making, the
Consortium has finally come of age. We have a clear sense of purpose and
direction, and, importantly, how to leverage our platform to build coalitions
and reach a wider audience. I am immensely proud that JANM, with guidance from
our Board Chair Norm Mineta, Trustee Harvey Yamagata, and Governor Doug Nelson,
has played a pivotal role in helping to shape the Consortium.
Over two days, representatives of 16
organizations met with 22 legislators and their staff to educate them about the
JACS program, to encourage their support for the re-appropriation of funding in
this year’s budget, and to ensure that they remember the unjust incarceration
of Japanese Americans when they consider policy or legislation that may cause
harm or marginalize any group. We heard bipartisan support for the JACS program
and what it has achieved.
A small group of us met with
staffers for key legislators who serve on the Appropriations Committee to
advocate for current funding but more importantly, to lay the groundwork for a permanently
funded program. We met with the staff from the offices of Representatives Mark
Takano, Betty McCollum, and Ed Case, and Senators Diane Feinstein, Brian
Schatz, and Mazie Hirono.
The culmination and high point of
the visits was a meeting with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who gave her
full commitment to ensuring that the program be funded. It was particularly
meaningful for all of us to have Chairman Norm Mineta join us for this
meeting. Speaker Pelosi was a co-sponsor of the Civil Liberties Act of
1988, and she and Norm have fought in many of the same trenches over the years.
It was enormously encouraging to know that we have strong support in such high
Norm also spoke movingly at a congressional
briefing that was sponsored by Representatives Judy Chu and Mark Takano and
co-sponsored by the American Psychological Association, Heart Mountain Wyoming
Foundation, Japanese American Citizens League, and the Consortium. The briefing
drew parallels between the trauma of the World War II incarceration of Japanese
Americans and the present detention of immigrant families and children at the
border, and the separation of children from their parents.
When I took over as Chair of the Consortium, I and others have started working to ensure that funding is made permanent. These legislative visits were in many respects a ‘dry run.’ We gleaned useful information on what we need to do to prepare, who the key influencers will be, and most importantly, that there is strong support for this. We have limited time to accomplish this task: there is approximately $7 million left in the original JACS fund, which represents only two – three more years of funding. We know that the overall impact has been substantial and JANM has benefited greatly over the years.
Coming closely on the heels of our
Capitol Hill visits, we heard not surprisingly, that the President’s budget has
again zeroed out the JACS program. In the coming weeks, the Consortium will be
mounting another advocacy campaign, spearheaded by JACL, to mobilize our
networks and the relationships with our elected officials to ensure that the funding
is restored. Many of you helped us last year, so please stand by – we will need
support from every one of you again.
The meetings occurred at a
tumultuous time, which emphasizes how important the legacy and lessons of the
Japanese American experience remain today. At the end of our time together in
DC, Stan Shikuma, who is a member of the Tule Lake Committee, stated that he
had not seen this kind of collaboration or mobilization in the Japanese
American community since the redress movement. To me, that highlights how
important it is to use the lessons of history to strengthen these bonds for the
betterment of our field and the country as a whole.
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).
The Japanese American National Museum is
collaborating with The Nippon Foundation on a large-scale research project
trying to learn about how young people of Japanese ancestry (Nikkei) experience
and express their Japanese heritage. The first of its kind, this project seeks
to dig deep into Nikkei communities around the world and to explore their
differences and similarities.
Are you a Nikkei age 18 to 35? We want to hear
from you! Regardless of when your ancestors emigrated from Japan, their
destination country, or where you now reside, we want you to help develop a
picture of current Nikkei communities, needs or challenges they face now, and
those that may arise soon. There is currently no other research investigating
younger generation Nikkei communities on a global level.
The team leading this research includes Dr. Curtiss Takada Rooks, who is Assistant Professor, Department of Asian and Asian American Studies, and Senior Research Associate Psychology Applied Research Center and Program Coordinator, Asian Pacific American Studies at Loyola Marymount University; and Dr. Lindsey Sasaki Kogasaka, Assistant Director of Study Abroad at Pomona College. Rooks’ research focuses on ethnic and multiracial identity, ethnic community development, and cultural competency in community health and wellness. Kogasaka specializes in cross-cultural exchange and training, international migration, and the Asian diaspora in Latin America.
The Nippon Foundation, which initiated this
project and selected JANM as its partner, was established in 1962 as a
nonprofit philanthropic organization, active in Japan and around the world. Its
range of activities encompasses education, social welfare, public health, and
other fields—carried out in more than 100 countries to date. The Nippon
Foundation also reached out to Discover Nikkei, which has a global network, for
its help in conducting the research. The results of this study will be
published after the spring of 2020.
The survey takes just 10-15 minutes to complete. Although the target audience is Nikkei, including those with mixed ancestry, between the ages of 18–35, others are welcome to participate. Please share this opportunity with friends or family who may be interested. Hurry—the survey closes at midnight (PST) on February 28, 2019!