BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE TOKYO: New Film Series at JANM Spotlights Asian American Film

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JANM’s Vice President of Programs, Koji Sakai, announces the launch of an exciting new Asian American film series at the museum.

During the last quarter of 2014, JANM’s Tateuchi Democracy Forum was the site of two sold-out screenings and panel discussions celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the iconic film The Karate Kid and the tenth anniversary of Alice Wu’s romantic comedy, Saving Face. In December, it also hosted a well-attended screening of Tadashi Nakamura’s feature-length documentary, Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings, followed by an intimate talk and a live ukulele performance by Shimabukuro.

Now, in an effort to continue screening Asian American films, I am proud to announce a new bi-monthly film series called Big Trouble in Little Tokyo. To organize this series, JANM is partnering with Visual Communications, one of the premier Asian American media organizations; Angry Asian Man, one of the first and most influential Asian American blogs; and First Pond Entertainment, a consultation and distribution service for independent films that focuses on socially-driven documentaries and narratives that feature underrepresented communities in front of and behind the camera.

Starting next week, we will screen a film on the second Wednesday of every other month under the Big Trouble in Little Tokyo banner. The series will feature big Hollywood productions as well as small independent films, from the distant past and the more recent present, and will often include post-screening discussions with actors, directors, and others involved in the making of the movie. It will celebrate some important anniversaries, and most importantly, it will provide a venue for more Asian American films to be seen and appreciated.

TheJoyLuckClub Our first screening, taking place on Wednesday evening, February 11, will be The Joy Luck Club (1993), the film adaptation of Amy Tan’s bestselling novel, directed by Wayne Wang. Wang and stars Rosalind Chao and Tamlyn Tomita will be in attendance for a Q&A following the screening. On April 8, we will screen Big Trouble in Little China (1986), the cult film directed by John Carpenter that inspired the title of this film series. Post-screening panelists will include actors George Cheung and Gerald Okamura.

On May 13, we will have a very special screening in honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: The Curse of Quon Gwon: When the Far East Mingles with the West (1916–17), a silent black-and-white film directed by Marion Wong. The Curse of Quon Gwon is the earliest known film directed by an Asian American, and one of the earliest directed by a woman. The evening will include a talk with filmmaker Arthur Dong, who preserved two reels of the historic film, which was later restored by the Academy Film Archive. Parts of the film are still missing.

As an Asian American filmmaker, one of the things that saddens me is the lack of opportunities and places to screen our films. That’s why as a JANM staff member and part of its programming team for more than five years, it has always been important to me to ensure that the museum can be such a place. JANM has hosted dozens of film festivals, from the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival to Outfest, and hundreds of screenings. Now we have a series to call our own. For complete details on upcoming screenings, please visit our Big Trouble event page.

Little Tokyo Markets Explored in Edible Adventures Tour This Saturday

The early Little Tokyo grocery store, Kii Shokai Foods, is commemorated with an engraving on the sidewalk in front of Daikokuya restaurant.
The early Little Tokyo grocery store, Kii Shokai Foods, is commemorated with an
engraving in front of present-day Daikokuya restaurant.

 

When the first Japanese immigrants began arriving in California in the late 19th century, they needed to establish certain infrastructures for themselves in order to facilitate their survival in a new, and often hostile, country. One such infrastructure was the self-sufficient community of Little Tokyo, where a variety of Japanese businesses catered to Japanese needs. Another was the pioneering development of wholesale produce and flower markets.

It is a little known fact that prior to World War II, Japanese immigrants grew and sold 75 percent of all fresh produce consumed in Los Angeles—produce that was sold at such outlets as the venerable Grand Central Market, opened in 1917. Japanese American growers also established the city’s first major flower market, the Southern California Flower Market (popularly known as “the Japanese market”), on Los Angeles Street in 1913. This initial effort eventually gave rise to the Los Angeles Flower District, the largest wholesale flower district in the nation.

Today, Nijiya Market anchors the bustling Japanese Village Plaza in Little Tokyo.
Today, Nijiya Market anchors the bustling Japanese Village Plaza in Little Tokyo.

 

Downtown and Little Tokyo are filled with the ghosts of thriving immigrant businesses from the past. One such ghost can be found just a few steps from JANM. If you look at the sidewalk in front of the busy Daikokuya restaurant, you will see fading gold letters commemorating the establishment of Kii Shokai Foods in 1910. Today, the ethnic market tradition is carried on in Little Tokyo by popular chains like Nijiya and Marukai.

This Saturday, learn more about the fascinating history of downtown’s markets and the pivotal role that Japanese Americans have played in their development. Roxana Lewis, travel agent and history buff, will lead Edible Adventures: Little Tokyo Markets, Then and Now from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. $40 for members and $50 for non-members gets you an informative tour, lunch, and admission to our core exhibition, Common Ground: The Heart of Community. The tour is limited to 18 participants, but a few spaces are still available!

Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest Seeks Entries by January 31


Far East Cafe, a drawing by Ernest Nagamatsu, first prize winner of the 2014 Imagine Little Tokyo short story contest.
Far East Cafe, a drawing by Ernest Nagamatsu, first prize winner of the 2014 Imagine Little Tokyo short story contest.

Last year, as part of Little Tokyo’s 130th anniversary celebrations, the Little Tokyo Historical Society (LTHS) sponsored the first-ever Imagine Little Tokyo short story contest, inviting the general public to submit short works of original fiction set in the historic neighborhood. Stories could take place in the past, present, or future and were judged on the writer’s storytelling ability and use of the neighborhood as a cultural setting.

The contest was a success, attracting about sixty diverse submissions. Ernest Nagamatsu won the first prize of $1,000 with “Doka B-100,” a sorrowful tale about coping with the grief of war. Rubén Guevara’s “Yuriko and Carlos,” a story of interracial romance set during World War II, won the second place prize of $500 while Satsuki Yamashita took the third place prize of $250 with “Mr. K,” which takes the reader on a heartwarming journey of self-discovery over a series of meals in Little Tokyo. All three of the top stories were published in the print edition of The Rafu Shimpo and online at the LTHS website and at JANM’s own Discover Nikkei project. Twelve additional finalists were also published online.

Inspired by the enthusiastic response to last year’s contest, LTHS decided to make Imagine Little Tokyo an annual event. For the 2015 edition, the categories have been expanded to accommodate Japanese-language and youth submissions. The prizes will be $600 for the best English-language story; $600 for the best Japanese-language story; and $400 for the best story by a writer 18 years old or younger. As with last year’s edition, winning stories will be published in the Rafu Shimpo and on the LTHS website and Discover Nikkei.

Do you have a Little Tokyo tale you’d like to tell? The deadline for submissions is January 31! For complete guidelines, visit the LTHS website.

Ruthie’s Origami Adventures

Autumn cards by Ruthie Kitagawa
Autumn cards by Ruthie Kitagawa

 

For several years, Ruthie’s Origami Corner has been a popular fixture at JANM, whether as its own standalone event or as part of larger events like Target Free Saturdays and Oshogatsu Family Festival. Visitors young and old have benefited from Ruthie Kitagawa’s gentle guidance as she leads them in making unique origami items to commemorate every occasion.

A longtime JANM volunteer, Ruthie is a native Angeleno who spent part of her childhood imprisoned at Santa Anita Assembly Center and Amache Relocation Center. She has had an interest in arts and crafts for as long as she can remember; while still in high school, she volunteered to teach a class for the Boys and Girls Club.

Ruthie did not discover origami until later in life, and she admits that at first, she was not very good at it. Her initial experience with the craft occurred during preparations for her brother’s wedding in 1992, when she assisted in folding hundreds of gold foil cranes. She remembers with good humor that her cranes wound up on the reception tables, hidden behind floral arrangements, and that she was not invited to help with her sister’s wedding decorations two years later.

Shortly after her brother’s wedding, Ruthie’s older sister Lois—a dedicated JANM volunteer—encouraged her to take origami classes at the museum. Under the tutelage of Ryoko Shibata, who taught the origami classes at that time, Ruthie dedicated herself to improving her skills, which steadily blossomed. At the same time, she began volunteering at JANM as a docent and a Hirasaki National Resource Center assistant. Shibata Sensei eventually asked Ruthie to be her assistant in the origami classes, which Ruthie then took over when Shibata retired.

Kitagawa, right, received the 2010 Community Award in recognition of her services as a volunteer.
Ruthie Kitagawa, right, received the 2010 Community Award
in recognition of her services as a volunteer.

 

Sadly, Ruthie’s older sister passed away in 1998. Ruthie credits Lois—who was an avid origami practitioner—and JANM with inspiring her passion for the art form. Today, Ruthie applies a creative approach to her origami practice, often adding her own unique flourishes to designs she finds in books.

When asked what she enjoys the most about teaching her origami classes, Ruthie responds: “I love getting to know the people who come. They try so hard, and they can’t always complete the projects, but when they do, their faces just light up! That makes me really happy.”

Read more about Ruthie’s life story on Discover Nikkei. To meet Ruthie in person, come to Target Free Family Saturday this weekend, where she will be teaching participants to make a unique holiday ornament. Ruthie will also lead a Year of the Sheep origami workshop at our Oshogatsu Family Festival on January 4.

Take Advantage of Member Appreciation Days This Weekend

Thanksgiving weekend is upon us! And with it, the busiest shopping days of the year.

If you’re a JANM member, why not avoid the crowds at the mall and spend some quality time at one of Southern California’s outstanding museums instead? During Member Appreciation Days, Friday Nov. 28 through Sunday Nov. 30, you can enjoy FREE admission and a 20% store discount at 20 participating institutions, including JANM, the Craft and Folk Art Museum, the California Science Center, and the San Diego Museum of Art, among others. Don’t miss this chance to check out some excellent museums for FREE, and get your holiday shopping done at the same time!

Don’t feel like leaving the comfort of your own home? You get the same 20% discount if you shop at janmstore.com. Below are a few new products, hand-selected by our store managers, that would make great gifts for loved ones.

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Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty exhibition catalog, featuring extensive color photographs, essays by the curators, and a bonus sticker sheet with exclusive Hello Kitty x JANM kokeshi-inspired art.

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Beautiful chrysanthemum tote bag by Yancha, with two inner pockets, a magnetic snap closure, and stain-resistant vinyl finish. Matching cosmetic bag also available!

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Cute nerd wooden oni pendant, featuring a laser-cut image of a Japanese demon. The oni is generally held responsible for negative things in Japanese folklore, but here it’s been turned into an adorable nerd emblem. Skinny nerd version also available!

Visit our Holiday M.A.D.ness page for complete details and a list of participating institutions. To become a member or renew your membership, visit our membership page. Happy Thanksgiving and happy shopping!

Moon Beholders Mural Officially Unveiled to the Public

L to R: Tanner Blackman, Katie Yamasaki, Felicia Filer, Dr. Greg Kimura.
L to R: Tanner Blackman, Katie Yamasaki, Felicia Filer,
Greg Kimura. Photo: Russell Kitagawa.

On November 19, a public dedication ceremony was held for Katie Yamasaki’s Moon Beholders, a new mural commissioned by JANM for the north wall of our National Center for the Preservation of Democracy. Greg Kimura, JANM President and CEO, led the ceremony and introduced a few VIP guests who shared words of thanks and congratulations.

Tanner Blackman, Planning Director for Los Angeles City Councilmember Jose Huizar, expressed his excitement over the new mural. Murals in Los Angeles have only been legal since August 2013 after an “unfortunate” 11-year ban. The ban ended with the adoption of the Mural Ordinance, which Blackman helped prepare and lobbied for. The ordinance created new definitions of public art for the City of Los Angeles, allowing works such as Moon Beholders to be created.

Dedication ceremony for Katie Yamasaki's Moon Beholders mural
Public dedication ceremony for Katie Yamasaki’s Moon Beholders mural.

 
Felicia Filer, Director of Public Art at the Department of Cultural Affairs, shared her excitement over the placement of this work on the exterior of a building, remarking that “so many more people pass the outside of a building than the inside of a building.” Filer called the mural a “gift to the public” and also expressed delight that it is “an image of a female, painted by a female.” She congratulated the artist and shared her hope that that there would be a rise in female muralists, as Yamasaki adds to the “dialogue of street art and the canon of muralism.”

Members of the community helped to paint the mural during JANM's November Target Free Family Saturday.
Members of the community helped to paint the mural during JANM’s November
Target Free Family Saturday. Photo: Russell Kitagawa.

 
Moon Beholders is the first Los Angeles mural for Yamasaki, a half-Japanese artist who grew up in Michigan and has executed public art projects in diverse communities all over the world. She spoke enthusiastically about the special honor of communicating Japanese American stories and values in a Japanese American community like Little Tokyo. In developing the mural’s imagery, Yamasaki conferred with local constituents and incorporated some of their ideas. She called Moon Beholders a “dream project” because the themes in the artwork closely parallel the museum’s mission and values—namely, “justice, equality, and civil liberties.”

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The next time you’re in the neighborhood, be sure to stop by and enjoy Moon Beholders, which contains a wealth of symbolic imagery. In addition to the text of the 17th-century Basho haiku that inspired the title, the mural includes lanterns inspired by Noguchi’s experiences in a World War II American concentration camp and multiple furoshiki (traditional cloth) with patterns that reference episodes of Japanese American history, such as the early immigration period and the WWII incarceration.

Historic Wintersburg is a Window onto a Forgotten Time

Founded in 1934, this Japanese Presbyterian Church, now boarded up, is the oldest of its in the state. Photo: Carol Cheh.
Founded in 1934, this Japanese Presbyterian Church, now boarded up, is the oldest
of its kind in the state. All photos by Carol Cheh.

 

Warner Avenue (formerly Wintersburg Avenue) in Huntington Beach is a busy street. Six lanes of cars roar by at all times, passing a dense parade of apartment complexes, single-family dwellings, schools, strip malls, chain restaurants, and big-box stores.

Amidst all this modern-day development, the last remaining structures of Historic Wintersburg Village—a farming community settled by European and Japanese pioneers in the mid-1800s—sit quietly at the southeast corner of Warner and Nichols Lane, barely noticed by passersby. Consisting of a cluster of homesteads, a community church, a mission, and a tiny patch of farmland all dating to the turn of the century, this property is a fascinating window onto a bygone era.

The history of the church can be seen in this photo. It began its life in 1934 as the Japanese Presbyterian Church, as inscribed in the building's cornerstone, before being taken over by other congregations.
The history of the church can be seen in this photo. It began its life in 1934 as the Japanese Presbyterian Church, as inscribed in the building’s cornerstone, before being taken over by other congregations.
The modest five-acre parcel was purchased by Charles Mitsuji Furuta in 1912, less than a year before California passed the Alien Land Law forbidding Asian immigrants from owning agricultural land. It managed to survive the World War II incarceration era and stay in the Furuta family until 2004, when it was sold to a waste management company.

The church on the corner, founded in 1934 by Orange County’s Japanese immigrant community, is the oldest Japanese Presbyterian Church in the state. The red house near the edge of the property, now falling apart with age, was once a spanking-new, ultra-modern home, built by Furuta for his new bride, Yukiko, whom he brought over from Japan.

Sadly, the parcel is currently threatened with development. A preservation task force, spearheaded by historian and author Mary Adams Urashima, is working to prevent that from happening. Earlier this year, they were helped in their efforts by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which designated Historic Wintersburg one of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places of 2014.

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This Saturday at 2 p.m., JANM is pleased to host Mary Adams Urashima, who will discuss the fascinating history of Wintersburg Village, detailed in her highly informative and readable new book, Historic Wintersburg in Huntington Beach (available for purchase in the JANM Store). Come hear some amazing stories of early pioneer life in Orange County and learn how you can help save a vital piece of its history.

Okaeri LGBTQ Gathering Welcomes All

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The word okaeri in Japanese means “welcome home,” and the first-ever Okaeri gathering, happening at JANM this weekend, seeks to welcome and provide a safe, productive space for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) members of the Nikkei community, along with their non-LGBTQ friends, family, and allies.

Co-chaired by Marsha Aizumi, an author and activist whose son is transgender, and riKu Matsuda of the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission, Okaeri was developed by a diverse coalition of individuals with strong ties to the local Japanese American community.

The initial impetus for the event came from Aizumi, whose son Aiden was born biologically female and came out as a lesbian before transitioning to his male identity. Initially believing that she had been a bad parent, Aizumi dug deeper and realized that the issue was one of choice. While her son did not have a choice about his identity, she did have a choice in terms of her own response; she could reject her son, or she could embrace and support him.

Choosing the latter led to a richly rewarding journey of discovery that produced the well-received book, Two Spirits, One Heart: A Mother, Her Transgender Son, and Their Journey to Love and Acceptance, co-written with Aiden and discussed in an event at JANM last year.

It is this spirit of love and acceptance that drives Okaeri, which seeks to bring visibility to Nikkei LBGTQ people and issues and break the cloak of silence that often surrounds them—a goal that gibes well with JANM’s mission to promote understanding and appreciation of ethnic and cultural diversity. Aizumi, Matsuda, and the other organizers envisioned this as a small event that would serve as a kickoff for more coalition-building in the future. But excitement has been spreading, and Okaeri is drawing more attendees than expected.

“We thought we’d be happy if 75 or 100 people came,” Aizumi said. “But now it’s looking more like 150 or 200 people, and they’re coming not just from L.A., but from San Diego, San Jose, Seattle, Vancouver, and Washington, D.C.”

Okaeri will kick off on Friday night with a reception and special screening of To Be Takei, the biographical documentary on actor and gay rights activist George Takei. On Saturday, attendees can join workshops, themed discussions, and performances as well as relax and network in a designated social lounge. For more information and to register, visit okaeri-la.org.