Bid for Education, Supporting Students and Educators

Photo by Tracy Kumono

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 never forget!

Securing funding 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 every year.

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.”

Photo by Tracy Kumono

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.

Celebrating Women’s History Month with Mitsuye Yamada and Wakako Yamauchi

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.”

You can read the full article and a few of Mitsuye’s poems here:  http://www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/2019/2/21/nikkei-uncovered-27/

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.

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.

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 tenant farmers.”

You can read all of Part 1, and the rest of the series as well, at: http://www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/2019/1/11/wakako-yamauchi-1/

The 2019 Japanese American Confinement Sites Consortium Meeting

Members of the Japanese American Confinement Sites Consortium get ready for Congressional visits. (L to R: Prentiss Uchida, Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation; Darrell Kunitomi, HMWF; Katharine Hirata, Japanese American Citizens League Fellow; Mia Russell, Executive Director of Friends of Minidoka; Larry Oda, Chair of the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation; Brian Liesinger, Japanese American Confinement Sites Consortium Coordinator; Ann Burroughs, President and CEO of JANM; and Sam Mihara, HMWF). Photo by David Inoue.

I wanted to share with you my reflections on the recent Japanese American Confinement Sites Consortium meeting in Washington, DC, at the end of February, while they are still fresh in my mind.

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.

Japanese American Confinement Sites Consortium members representing 20 organizations gather around House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after meeting in her office in the U.S. Capitol. Photo by Brian Liesinger. 

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 places!

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.

Ann Burroughs; David Inoue, Executive Director of the Japanese American Citizens League; Senator Diane Feinstein of California; and Prentiss Uchida. Photo by Darrell Kunitomi. 

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.

2019 Los Angeles Day of Remembrance Recap


Watch the entire 2019 Los Angeles Day of Remembrance program. To see the program’s schedule broken out by time codes visit youtube.com/janmdotorg

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).


Take the Global Nikkei Survey!


Photo courtesy of Kimiko Medlock .

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!

Take the survey by clicking here.

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. 


Year of Boar Fun Facts

This past weekend JANM welcomed over 4,000 people to our Oshogatsu Family Festival. Oshogatsu means “new year” in Japanese and in the Japanese cycle of zodiac signs, 2019 is the year of the boar. People born in the years 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, and 2007, and now 2019 all fall under the year of the boar.

Among Asian countries, Japan is unique because it is the only one that celebrates the new year on January 1, like Western countries do. Japan started celebrating on January 1 in 1873, when the Meiji government decided to adopt the Gregorian calendar insteadof the lunisolar calendars they had used previously. During this time in thelate nineteenth century, Japan was consciously moving from an isolated feudalsociety to one taking on more Western-style norms.

In Buddhism, legend has it that the Buddha summoned all animals to meet with him before his departure from earth, but only twelve animals came to say goodbye. Rewarding the animals who came to him, he named a year after each one of them, and that is how the zodiac came about. Their years were given in the order they arrived. Because in the legend the boar was the last to arrive at Buddha’s meeting, it gained the reputation for being lazy.

However, being lazy is a misnomer. According to experts in the Japanese zodiac, people born in the year of the boar are said to be loyal, diligent, generous, optimistic, and honest. Boars love the company of others, and their outgoing nature is charming to other people. They also prioritize family and friends while having a great sense of responsibility. Famous people born in the year of the boar include Hillary Clinton, Thomas Jefferson, David Bowie, Ricky Martin, Alfred Hitchcock, Elvis Presley, Winona Ryder, Lupita Nyong’o, Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the Dalai Lama. If you’re a boar, consider yourself in good company!

Our Oshogatsu Family Festival is over (thank you to everyone who attended!) but you can still celebrate the year of the boar at the JANM Store. For all things boar-ing (not!), check janmstore.com. Products include a t-shirt designed by character designer and storyboard artist RidgeHirano featuring a boar romping in wisteria. Don’t wear t-shirts? You can still show your love for the boar with a handy tote bag. For the little ones, we have this plush boar made by Hansa Toys. Hansa Toys are known for their meticulously hand-crafted and realistic stuffed animals, and this boar is no exception. Happy shopping, and we wish you a wonderful year of the boar!

Nisei Naysayer: The Memoir of Militant Japanese American Journalist Jimmie Omura

Japanese American journalist James “Jimmie” Matasumoto Omura was one of the most outspoken dissidents against the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. In brash and biting newspaper articles, Omura often criticized leaders in the Nikkei community for what he thought was their complicity concerning the actions of the United States government. While very strident in his criticism of forced incarceration, Omura also often wrote about his ire towards the US government’s decision to draft imprisoned Nisei into military service without addressing the violation of their human rights. As well, Omura was one of the first Japanese Americans to seek government redress for violations of civil liberties after World War II.

In his vividly written memoir scheduled for release on August 28, Nisei Naysayer: The Memoir of Militant Japanese American Journalist Jimmie Omura, he talks about being one of the most vocal Japanese American activists during and after World War II and how his critiques in Japanese American newspapers often meant being shunned by the Nikkei community. The main impetus for writing the memoir, Omura said, was to correct the ”cockeyed history to which Japanese America has been exposed.” He also writes about his early years on Bainbridge Island in Washington, the summers he spent working in the salmon canneries of Alaska, how hard it was to find work during the Great Depression, as well as how his early journalism career took him to San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Jimmie Omura on the Liberty Calling program on KLZ radio, Denver, Colorado, October 12, 1947. In the first of two broadcasts on Japanese Americans’ problems in Denver, the Rocky Shimpo editor discussed discrimination faced by Nikkei in employment, education, and housing. In contrast, the second broadcast’s featured speaker, Colorado Times publisher Fred Kaihara, maintained that discrimination in no way hampered Denver’s Japanese American community. Omura Papers, Green Library, Stanford University.

Edited and with an introduction by historian Art Hansen, and with contributions from Asian American activists and writers Frank Chin, Yosh Kuromiya, and Frank Abe, Nisei Naysayer provides an essential, firsthand account of Japanese American wartime resistance.

Omura passed away in 1994, but Hansen, who is also professor emeritus of History and Asian American Studies at California State University, Fullerton, will be at JANM on August 25 at 2 p.m. to discuss the book and Omura’s life and work. Here we share a brief excerpt from a recently published Discover Nikkei article that goes more into detail about Omura.

Jimmie Omura was born in Washington in 1912, and later moved to Los Angeles. As a young man, he chose to pursue a career as a journalist. His star rose quickly in the journalism scene of the early 1930s while editing a variety of Nikkei publications. In these early days, he was not afraid to speak his mind. His publication the New World Daily gained critical acclaim for its elegant writing, but he also incited the ire of Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) supporters by criticizing its leadership. The JACL was already a powerful political influence on the West Coast at the time, and even in this pre-war period, its stature was not to be taken lightly.

When Omura continued to speak his mind into the 1940s, criticism of him began to escalate. The war was raging, and the JACL was no longer an organization that sought to promote the people and culture of varying regions within Japan. The JACL now had the responsibility to represent the entire Japanese American population. Because of this, the JACL became a force that had the ear of the national government. However, the JACL was divided in condemning the forced incarceration of Japanese Americans and did not fully use its voice to help prevent this atrocity.

Read the rest of this article at DiscoverNikkei.org

The discussion with Art Hansen is included with JANM admission but RSVPs are recommended. Reserve your seat now!

Tell Your Tales of Little Tokyo

Artist Dan Kwong
Artist Dan Kwong

Dan Kwong is a veteran performance artist, director, writer, and native Angeleno, based at the 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica. He is one of four artists who are currently part of the inaugural +Lab Artist Residency Program, sponsored by the Little Tokyo Service Center. The theme of the residency is Community Control and Self-Determination. The four artists are living in the historic Daimaru Hotel on First Street for three months while creating art projects that involve the Little Tokyo community and speak to this topic.

Dan’s project, Tales of Little Tokyo, involves collecting personal memories and stories about Little Tokyo from seniors (as well as some younger generation folks), and shaping that material into a theatrical piece.

“Little Tokyo is a precious and vibrant community with over 130 years of history,” says Dan. Our stories are at the heart of that history, and collectively they become the voice of our community. This project aspires to give that voice a hearing.”

Through the first week of July, Dan is conducting a series of informal “story-circle” gatherings at JANM. Story-circles happen every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, usually from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., and Wednesdays, usually from 1:45 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. Gatherings happen in JANM’s Araki Community Education Center.

Members of the JANM community share stories of Little Tokyo

In these story-circles, Dan asks various questions—it’s a bit like an interview—and people share their memories, stories, and anecdotes about Little Tokyo. These are recorded.

In early July, Dan will sort through and edit this material and write a theatrical piece that expresses the significance and value of preserving and sustaining Little Tokyo as a cultural community.

On the weekend of July 28-29, there will be a public presentation (most likely a staged reading) of the piece in JANM’s Tateuchi Democracy Forum.

Please let Dan know if you are interested in sharing your tales of Little Tokyo. He would love to hear from you! Dan can be reached at dkbb12@aol.com. A maximum of 10 people can share per session so contact Dan in advance to ensure your spot and confirm the time for the day you want to participate. You can also just drop by one of the story-circle sessions if you’d like to listen in; you might still want to contact Dan to confirm the time. Paid admission to JANM is not required, but there are great exhibitions now on view so you may want to take full advantage of being here. Admission is only $12 for adults and $6 for seniors.

For more information about the +Lab Artist Residency Program, check out the LTSC’s press release announcing the inaugural artists.

Our Man in Tokyo (The Ballad of Shin Miyata)

There’s nothing quite like a hometown crowd.

Our Man in Tokyo (The Ballad of Shin Miyata) is my short documentary about the struggles and obsessions of Shin Miyata, a Tokyo-based record label owner and promoter who specializes in the difficult task of distributing Chicano music in Japan.

Shin’s goal has always been to bring authentic and diverse representations of Chicano and Latinx culture to Japan. He has done so with a purity of intention that hasn’t brought him financial gain, but has instead delivered a wealth of understanding that has educated, enlightened, and actually changed the lives of many people.

The documentary was made in conjunction with JANM’s exhibition, Transpacific Borderlands: The Art of Japanese Diaspora in Lima, Los Angeles, Mexico City, and São Paulo. Like the art that was featured in the exhibition, Shin’s work provides a prime example of the intersectionality of Japanese and Latinx cultures and artistic collaborations.

 

Highlights from the Transpacific Musiclands Outdoor Concert at JANM, curated by Shin Miyata, featuring Quetzal, El Haru Kuroi, and La Chamba.

 

As we were planning our first screening in Tokyo, set for April 7 at an event space called Hare-Mame, Shin was nervous. Not only was he reluctant about promoting a screening of a film about himself, he was also worried that not many people would show up.

He wanted to add more entertainment—more films, maybe even a band. We decided to include Tad Nakamura’s poignant short doc about a little-known slice of Los Angeles’ Crenshaw District, Breakfast at Tak’s, plus a few of Shin’s favorite DJ’s—the Trasmundo crew and DJ Holiday.

Regardless of the additional entertainment, when the night of the event arrived, Hare-Mame was packed to the gills. It was full of Shin’s friends and followers, all eager to watch the documentary about him.

As the film played, the crowd’s reaction was amazing to see. It was much different from audiences in LA and Mexico City, the two cities where the film had previously screened. I don’t know if it was because of cultural differences or personal knowledge of Shin, but the Japanese audience burst into laughter at unexpected moments and actually cheered (!) during a section of the film where other audiences had remained silent.

 

Our Man in Tokyo at Hare Mame in Daikanyama, Tokyo

 

As the credits rolled, they erupted into a sustained applause—not just for the film, but also for Shin himself, who has impacted their lives in a deeply meaningful way for many years by introducing them to the art, culture, and politics of Chicanos and Latinxs from the US. It was an acknowledgement of all the tireless work he has done for Chicano/Latinx artists and the people of Japan.

Many people thanked me afterwards for telling Shin’s story, but I was just grateful that they had shown up and were open to Shin’s mission of cultural understanding and unity. As I write this, I know that he is already on to a new project—searching for the next band to take to Japan, digging up a long-forgotten album to re-release, or planning another live event. His struggle continues and countless people are better off for it.

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If you live in the Bay Area, Our Man in Tokyo will be screening as part of CAAMFest 2018 on Sunday, May 13. Info and tickets here: caamfest.com/2018/shorts-programs/toyko-beats

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To see some of the bands that Shin has worked with and the concert he curated at JANM, check out these videos:

 

Quetzal performing “Para Sanar” at Transpacific Musiclands

 

El Haru Kuroi performing “Niños Viajadores” at Transpacific Musiclands

 

East LA Taiko performing at Transpacific Musiclands

 

La Chamba performing “El Guapo” at Transpacific Musiclands

 

Conjunto J and Tex Nakamura performing together at Transpacific Musiclands

 

Ruben Guevara performing at Transpacific Musiclands