East West Players Offers a Platform for New Work by Asian American Writers

JANM has a long history of collaborating with East West Players, the nation’s leading Asian American theater troupe. Among other activities, the museum is proud to host A Writer’s Gallery, a semi-regular reading of new works by Asian American playwrights. On Thursday, March 19, East West Players will present a reading of Giovanni Ortega’s Iyakan Blues (The Criers), a comedy about a group of women who work as professional criers—people who are paid to weep at funerals.

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On the eve of this latest collaboration, JANM reached out to Snehal Desai, Artistic Associate/Literary Manager at East West Players, and Giovanni Ortega, playwright, to find out more about the series and about Ortega’s play.

JANM: JANM began hosting A Writer’s Gallery way back in 1996. It now occurs roughly semi-annually. Snehal, can you talk about the significance of the series, and how it came about?

Snehal Desai: Lately, the series has functioned as an incubator—a place for the development of works we are considering as part of our season at East West Players. It is immensely helpful for our playwrights to have workshop time to develop their plays and then have a public reading of it, followed by a talkback. We have found that these readings really bring the community and audiences into the process of premiering a new work. The Tateuchi Democracy Forum is a perfect space for this kind of reading and the conversation that follows afterwards.

JANM: How do you go about selecting the writers who get featured?

SD: The writers and the works get selected in a variety of ways. Sometimes they are tied to exhibitions that are being presented at JANM, or they are inspired by dialogues currently happening in the community. Other times, a writer with whom we have a relationship will bring us a play that they are developing and want to read publicly.

Giovanni Ortega. Image courtesy of the artist.
Giovanni Ortega.
Image courtesy of the artist.

JANM: Giovanni, is professional crying really a thing?

Giovanni Ortega: Professional crying is actually a real thing in different countries. It is still done in Chinese, Sardinian, Irish, and Middle Eastern societies, just to name a few. Mourners from Chongqing, China, and Taiwan were recently on the news. The 1993 Indian film Rudaali featured a character who cried at funerals, and going back further, there were professional mourners in Honoré de Balzac’s 1835 novel, Le Père Goriot. The basic concept behind crying at funerals is to allow the person who passed to have a good welcome on the other side. The extent of the wails and cries also shows the reverence and respect this person had while living.

JANM: What inspired you to write Iyakan Blues (The Criers)? Did you draw from personal experience?

GO: The initial inspiration for the play was the women in my family. I was raised by my two grandmothers, and then my mom after I moved to the U.S. [from the Philippines] when I was a teen. Growing up, I was always surrounded and influenced not only by my lolas (grandmas) but also their sisters and my aunts. They were all strong-willed women who had very distinct opinions about life.

Regardless of whatever adversity, burdens, and struggles they had to endure to survive, the underlying force was laughter to get through it all. I witnessed that this was their tool in survival, regardless of how difficult it got. One of my earliest memories was going to the wake of my Lolo [Grandpa] Tute, where tears and laughter went hand in hand. Having such experiences allowed me to realize that I can use the theme of death as a means to laugh, and writing this play was a great opportunity to do so.

There are also very few stories about the Filipino diaspora. There is so much more to our country than Imelda, beaches, karaoke, dancing, pancit [Filipino noodles], and poverty. Ours is a rich culture, not unlike the U.S. in its mixture of race, religion, and cultures. My own heritage being Chinoy (Filipino and Chinese) as well as Spanish and Native American is a testament to our variety. I wanted to share different perspectives that people have in regards to what being Filipino is.

A Visit from the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews

JANM docent Bill Shishima, left, led a tour of Common Ground: The Heart of Community for visiting staff members from the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. From left to right: Piotr Kowalik, Dr. Kamila Dąbrowska, Łucja Koch, Monika Sadkowska, and Ewe Chomicka. (Monika Koszyńska also travelled to Los Angeles with the group but was under the weather on the day of the JANM visit.)
JANM docent Bill Shishima, left, led a tour of Common Ground: The Heart of Community for visiting staff members from the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. From left to right: Piotr Kowalik, Dr. Kamila Dąbrowska, Łucja Koch, Monika Sadkowska, and Ewe Chomicka. (Monika Koszyńska also travelled to Los Angeles with the group but was under the weather on the day of the JANM visit.)
All photos by Leslie Unger.

 

Two weeks shy of her one-year anniversary at the Japanese American National Museum, Director of Marketing and Communications Leslie Unger had one of the most interesting days of her over-two-decades-long professional career. Read about it below!

On February 11, JANM was honored to host a group of visitors from the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. They had traveled from Warsaw to visit several institutions in San Francisco and Los Angeles, primarily to learn about education department practices and activities. I tagged along with JANM staff members Clement Hanami, Allyson Nakamoto, Christy Sakamoto, and Lynn Yamasaki, knowing that this would be a memorable opportunity for cultural exchange. I was not disappointed.

POLIN is a new museum, opened in April 2013. Its core exhibition depicting the 1,000-year history of Polish Jews was opened at the end of October 2014. Over the course of the exhibition’s first three days, some 15,000 people visited. That’s a remarkable figure and I can only believe that it speaks to an essential need that POLIN is filling for Poland, for those of Jewish heritage and non-Jews alike.

In addition to learning about the history of Poland and Polish Jews, as well as how the POLIN Museum came into existence, I was fascinated by some of the concepts and themes that the Warsaw museum and JANM share, including notions of identity and citizenship, and how to represent a proud people scarred by immeasurable tragedy.

JANM Vice President of Operations and Art Director Clement Hanami gives the guests a behind-the-scenes look at our collection. From left to right: Hanami, Monika Sadkowska, Dr. Kamila Dąbrowska, Łucja Koch, Ewe Chomicka, and Piotr Kowalik.
JANM Vice President of Operations and Art Director Clement Hanami gives the guests a behind-the-scenes look at our collection. From left to right: Hanami, Monika Sadkowska, Dr. Kamila Dąbrowska, Łucja Koch, Ewe Chomicka, and Piotr Kowalik.

 

There was a very interesting discussion about the phrase “concentration camps.” This is terminology that JANM and others use in reference to what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II rather than other more euphemistic wording. Of course, “concentration camps” is also the terminology most often used to describe where Jews were sent and where so many of them perished during the war. And it is the context of the Holocaust that has brought an additional level of meaning to the phrase for many people.

When we told our Polish visitors that JANM uses “concentration camps,” I could see each of them experience a moment of discomfort. As someone of Jewish heritage, I had felt the same internal shudder the first time I heard the words used at JANM. But as I became more familiar with the story of Japanese Americans and focused more specifically on the actual meaning of the words themselves and not on additional connotations that have evolved, I became more comfortable. I shared this personal experience with our guests, and they too were able to speak more objectively about this powerful phrase and how it has in fact been used in numerous other situations, before and after WWII.

Although JANM’s Fighting for Democracy exhibition is temporarily closed to the public while we make improvements to the space, we were able to bring the POLIN visitors in for a quick look. Pictured here is Monika Sadkowska.
Although JANM’s Fighting for Democracy exhibition is temporarily closed to the public while we make improvements to the space, we were able to bring the POLIN visitors in for a quick look. Pictured here is Monika Sadkowska.

 

Perhaps one of the most memorable things articulated by our guests was that Jews are integral to the story of Poland and vice versa, and that the POLIN Museum tries to portray this symbiotic relationship as well as how Jews were and are part of the historical context of the larger geographic region. As one of them said: “The story of the Jews is presented to inspire respect for diversity.”

You could not write a statement that more closely mirrors the mission of JANM. The stories of Polish Jews and Japanese Americans are not the same. But in the span of just a few hours, I was emphatically reminded of how there is so much more that the human race shares than what might divide it.

Descanso Gardens’ Renowned Camellia Collection is Rooted in Japanese American History

Image courtesy of Descanso Gardens
A camellia in bloom at Descanso Gardens. Image courtesy of Descanso Gardens.

 

Through a special partnership agreement, all JANM members are invited to visit Descanso Gardens this Sunday, March 1, free of charge. Located 20 minutes north of downtown Los Angeles, Descanso Gardens is a 160-acre nature preserve known for its botanical collections and seasonal horticultural displays. This weekend will be an especially good time to visit as the Gardens will be hosting their annual Camellia and Tea Festival, during which patrons can enjoy the blooming camellias and participate in a variety of celebratory activities.

The camellia collection at Descanso Gardens is said to be the largest in the world; it boasts rare and familiar camellias and has been designated an International Camellia Garden of Excellence by the International Camellia Society. The collection is worth seeing for these reasons alone, however, its origins are also closely tied to Japanese American history, giving it an added significance for members and friends of JANM.

Descanso Gardens started out as Rancho del Descanso, the home and ranch of newspaper publisher E. Manchester Boddy. A horticultural enthusiast with a particular interest in plants of Asian origin, Boddy started a camellia collection in the 1930s with plants purchased from local nurseries, some of which were owned and operated by Japanese Americans.

F. M. Uyematsu, owner of Star Nursery. Image courtesy of Descanso Gardens.
F. M. Uyematsu, owner of Star Nursery. Image courtesy of Descanso Gardens.

When Japanese Americans faced mass incarceration following Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II, Boddy was sympathetic to their plight. He admired Japanese culture and had in fact written a book in 1921, Japanese in America, extolling the contributions of Japanese immigrants. Boddy decided to purchase the entire camellia inventory of the Star Nursery, owned by the Uyematsu family, prior to their removal to Manzanar. He also purchased the Mission Nursery business owned by the Yoshimura family in San Gabriel, continuing to operate it while the family was imprisoned at Gila River.

Unlike many opportunistic investors who offered to buy the nurseries at a fraction of their value, Boddy paid fair prices to the Uyematsus and the Yoshimuras, enabling both families to put their financial affairs in order before being incarcerated. The camellias from Star Nursery were planted in the shade of live oak trees on about 25 acres of Boddy’s property, where they continue to flourish today. After the war, Boddy closed down the Mission Nursery and moved all of its stock to his estate.

F. W. Yoshimura, son of the founder of Mission Nursery and then, after release from Gila River, founder of the San Gabriel Nursery in San Gabriel. Image courtesy of Descanso Gardens.
F. W. Yoshimura, son of the founder of Mission Nursery and then, after release from Gila River, founder of the San Gabriel Nursery in San Gabriel. Image courtesy of Descanso Gardens.

In 1953, Boddy sold his home and ranch to the County of Los Angeles. A volunteer-run support group called the Descanso Gardens Guild, formed in 1957, took over the management and development of the property, eventually turning it into the public institution it is today.

A more detailed version of this story is available on discovernikkei.org. You can also read a history of the Mission Nursery, which was reincarnated after the war as the San Gabriel Nursery and Florist, here.

If you are a JANM member, simply present your current membership card to receive FREE admission to Descanso Gardens this Sunday.

A Girl Scout’s Tribute to Hello Kitty

16-year-old Senior Girl Scout and Los Angeles resident Elizabeth Keller participated in JANM’s first Hello Kitty Girl Scout Program on November 22, 2014. She graciously agreed to share her thoughts on her experience. Thank you, Elizabeth! The essay is accompanied by photos taken at the most recent Girl Scout workshop, held on February 7.

Girl Scouts visit JANM for a special Hello Kitty workshop, February 7, 2015. Photo: Russell Kitagawa.
Girl Scouts visit JANM for a special Hello Kitty workshop.
Photo: Russell Kitagawa. All photos taken on February 7, 2015.

 

To me and many other girls, Hello Kitty is the ultimate symbol of femininity. Her lovely, bubbly, adorable little world full of flowers and hair bows is enchanting. And in a world where being “girly” is frowned upon, Hello Kitty reminds us not to be afraid to be our fabulous selves.

The Scouts get their own private viewing of Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty. Photo: Steve Fujimoto.
The Scouts got their own private viewing of Hello! Exploring the
Supercute World of Hello Kitty
. Photo: Steve Fujimoto.

 

I had never considered the other aspects of Hello Kitty, however, until my Girl Scout troop visited the Japanese American National Museum’s Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty. The exhibition was educational and heartwarming. I learned that Hello Kitty is five apples tall and that her full name is Kitty White. I found that I could have Hello Kitty on everything that I own—my lunchbox, my roller skates, my rice cooker, and even the braces on my teeth.

JANM staff then helped the Scouts to make their own Hello Kitty-inspired artwork. Photo: Russell Kitagawa.
The Scouts making their own Hello Kitty-
inspired artwork. Photo: Russell Kitagawa.

 

After viewing the exhibition, all the Girl Scouts completed a craft. I doodled small pictures of Hello Kitty and watched girls as young as five make beautiful art out of a character that had inspired their creativity.

Photo: Russell Kitagawa.
Photo: Russell Kitagawa.

 

Looking around at more cute, pink, or otherwise charming household objects than I thought I would ever see—everything from clothes to food to headstones—it dawned on me that Hello Kitty is more than a simple little icon splashed on some toys. She represents the idea that we not only own our femininity, but that we also have the right to display it as we please.

A Scout shows off her creation. Photo: Russell Kitagawa.
A Scout shows off her creation. Photo: Russell Kitagawa.

 

Everything a girl does—from wearing makeup to playing video games—is seen as a call for attention, especially male attention. Hello Kitty recognizes no presence or agency except her own. She doesn’t ask anyone’s permission to be her lovely pink self; she simply is.

Photo: Russell Kitagawa.
Photo: Russell Kitagawa.

 

During the Hello Kitty Girl Scout Program, I saw little girls—young Scouts who are still learning about what it means to be a girl—exploring concepts presented in the exhibition, like business, foreign relations, and fashion. They learned about these things in the context of their beloved Hello Kitty. They discovered—and I was reminded—that they can do anything with their own power. And if they want to rule the world in a pretty pink dress, well, nothing can stop them.

Scouts and their troop leaders pause to savor a great day at JANM. Photo: Steve Fujimoto.
Scouts and their troop leaders pause to savor a
great day at JANM. Photo: Stephen Fujimoto.

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.