John Esaki hanging out in front of Esaki tub in American Tapestry gallery

American Tapestry closes this weekend

American Tapestry: 25 Stories from the Collection

Have you seen the American Tapestry: 25 Stories from the Collection exhibition yet?

This weekend is your absolute last chance to see it before it closes this Sunday!

American Tapestry features artifacts, artwork, photographs, oral histories, and more from the Museum’s collection—some that have never been seen before by the public.

Bicycle, Gift of Elaine Otomo (2006.35.1). Photo by Gary Ono.
Bicycle, Gift of Elaine Otomo (2006.35.1). Photo by Gary Ono.

From the time we opened the exhibition way back in November, two of my personal favorites artifacts have been the radio and bicycle because they share stories of friendship, hope, and doing what’s right during the dark days of World War II and beyond.

In December, over the holidays, I was talking with family about the exhibition, and learned about a very similar story about an elephant. I wrote about it for our Discover Nikkei site. That’s one of the things that I really love about JANM—how I’m often able to find personal connections to the artifacts and stories we share.

John Esaki hanging out in front of Esaki tub in American Tapestry gallery
John hanging out in front of his family’s tub (ofuro).

Another favorite is the Japanese-style tub that was donated by the Esaki family of Monterey, CA. John Esaki works at the museum now, but the tub was donated very early in the museum’s history. John recorded a video of his dad explaining the history of the tub, which he added to the JANM YouTube channel last year as a resource for the exhibition.

The ofuro also played a special part in the Museum’s history! Back in April 1992, the museum was scheduled to have its Dedication Ceremony. Unfortunately, it ended up being the day after the Rodney King verdicts were released and civil disturbances erupted across the city, and so the opening ceremonies were postponed.

As a new opening event was being planned, staff invited Greg Alan Williams to come speak. At the time of the riots, the former Baywatch actor had saved a Japanese American man’s life. During his visit, he saw this ofuro and it reminded him of his own family’s tub. At the ribbon cutting ceremony, he spoke about how through this artifact, he was able to find his own personal connection:

On Wednesday last, I personally experienced the wonderful power within these walls. After completing my tour, I sat on a small stool around an old Japanese redwood hot tub in the Museum’s Legacy Center. I marveled at the way three Americans, two of Japanese descent, one a great-grandchild of Africa, were sitting around the tub, laughing, openly sharing their thoughts, their pain, and their hopes for a shared and much beloved community. I believe the honesty and openness of that dialogue was possible in part because this cultural work of art [the Museum] had illuminated our similarities, as it celebrated our differences. And in so doing, had opened a channel of communication between three human beings, which might not have otherwise existed. Such is the magic of this historical masterpiece.

American Tapestry has 25 artifacts, each with its own stories to tell. Most seem like everyday items, but I think that’s what makes this exhibition so special. It reminds us that our own lives are rich with stories that connect us with the world, if only we can stop for a moment to listen.

If you can, come check it out before it closes. If you have a smartphone or other internet-accessible device, bring it with you! We have free wi-fi available in the American Tapestry galleries so you can access additional related photos and videos on Facebook and YouTube.

For those who have made it out, I’d love to hear what your favorites were!

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Vicky Murakami-Tsuda
Communications Production Manager

Vicky Murakami-Tsuda

Communications Production Manager at the Japanese American National Museum. I coordinate printed publications, manage web-based projects, and lots of other stuff. I also write an occasional column for our DiscoverNikkei.org project.

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