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.

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.”

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.

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/

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.

American Sutra – Buddhism as Threat in the United States

After Pearl Harbor, anti-Japanese sentiment exploded. Along with general suspicion toward Japanese Americans, those who practiced Buddhism were often specifically targeted. Even before the smoke had cleared at Pearl Harbor, the American government was already rounding up Buddhist leaders for detention. With Buddhist communities under surveillance and anti-Japanese attitudes reaching a boiling point, some Japanese American Buddhists even contemplated converting to Christianity in hopes this would save them from being sent to American concentration camps.

Today, Buddhism is seen favorably by most Americans as a peaceful religion. However, this wasn’t the case in the early twentieth century. Americans in the early 1900s were warned by newspapers and individual leaders in the Christian community that Buddhism was cruel to animals, degrading toward women, and led by debaucherous priests. These unsavory sentiments led some Buddhists to consciously present their faith to be more compatible with Christian tastes by saying, like Christianity, they had a god. 

In Duncan Ryuken Williams’ new book, American Sutra. A Story of Faith and Freedom in the Second World War, he details this bigotry against Buddhists during World War II. The book also explains how the Japanese American community, though forcibly dispossessed of their property and imprisoned in concentration camps, fought for their religious freedom, and how this gave rise to a new type American Buddhism. Williams writes that born out of the struggle to gain liberty from the concentration camps and the longing to practice religion freely “the (US) constitution became a new scripture for Buddhists in America, one that would protect their freedom to practice the Dharma in the land of liberty they called home.”

Williams, a Soto Zen Buddhist priest and Director of the University of Southern California Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture, uses internment camp newsletters, newly translated letters and diaries, and interviews with camp survivors and Japanese American WWII veterans to explain how, even in the face of suspicion and prejudice, their faith strengthened and helped them persevere. Published by Belknap Press, American Sutra also asks the question that’s still as pertinent now in the US as it was in 1941: Is a non-Christian person of color as American as a white Christian? Williams seeks answers by examining the history of Buddhist migration to the US and the roots of Buddhism being seen as a security threat to the US. The book concludes with a poignant story of an incarcerated Buddhist priest conducting the ritual practice of copying and burying a Buddhist sutra (scripture) in hopes of bringing forth the salvation of future generations of Japanese American Buddhists.

On Saturday, February 23, see Duncan Ryuken Williams speak about American Sutra while exploring questions of faith, identity, and resilience in the face of dislocation, loss, and uncertainty. His talk will be followed by comments and discussion with Brian Niiya (Content Director, Densho), Naomi Hirahara (award-winning author and historian), and Valerie Matsumoto (UCLA Aratani Chair on the Japanese American Incarceration, Redress, and Community). Reception and book signing will follow. This program is free, but RSVPs are recommended using this link.

Getting in Touch with Our Roots: Submissions Invited for Nikkei Chronicles 7

Nikkei Chronicles is an annual theme-based writing project from Discover Nikkei. Its goal is to promote deeper understanding of the histories and insights of people of Japanese descent living around the globe. This year, after inviting submissions from the Discover Nikkei community, Nikkei Roots has been chosen as the theme.

Jay Horinouchi designed the Nikkei Roots logo.

Discover Nikkei invites writers to interpret “roots” in whatever ways they choose; the following questions are offered only to help writers get their thought process going:

  • What does being Nikkei mean to you?
  • How does your Nikkei identity reveal itself in your day-to-day life?
  • What activities do you engage in to maintain traditions from Japan?
  • How do you stay connected to your roots, whether individually or collectively?
  • When and how do you really feel like a Nikkei?

To best explore the shared heritage and experiences of Nikkei while recognizing the singularity of each experience, a wide range of texts will be accepted, including academic papers, personal essays and stories, and other prose pieces. (For this installment, poetry will not be considered.) Submissions can be made in English, Japanese, Spanish, and Portuguese. All stories submitted that meet the criteria will be published in Nikkei Chronicles 7: Nikkei Roots: Digging into Our Cultural Heritage on a rolling basis as part of the Nikkei Roots series in Discover Nikkei’s Journal section. Authors may submit multiple entries.

It is hoped that by publishing a wide range of Nikkei stories, Discover Nikkei will help readers enhance their understanding of what it means to be Nikkei. Nikkei Chronicles 7 will be about how Nikkei identity—a connection to roots—is maintained individually or collectively, as a family or as part of a community.

Submissions will be accepted until September 30, 2018, at 6 p.m. PDT. For more details and to submit, click here.

New Nikkei Car Clubs Story on Discover Nikkei

Mikado Car Club
Members of the Mikado Car Club show off their cars in the parking lot of the Evergreen Hostel on Evergreen Avenue, C. 1960. Japanese American National Museum. Gift of Richard Sugi (2002.68.1.).

Dr. Oliver Wang, a professor of Sociology at California State University, Long Beach, has recently authored a new story about Nikkei car culture for JANM’s Discover Nikkei website. Here’s an excerpt:

The history of Japanese Americans in Los Angeles car culture dates back at least as early as the 1910s when Fred Fujioka teamed up with George Kawamoto to found F&K Garage in Little Tokyo. By the late 1930s, a prominent number of Niseis became involved in the local hot rod racing scene, most famously Glendale’s Okamura brothers, lead by champion racer Yam “Oka”. Executive Order 9066 forced most of these drivers into the camps though, in some cases, non-Nikkei friends kept cars and motors safe for them during the course of internment. Racers like Yam Oka picked up where they off and resumed racing after resettlement.

Apostles club patch
The club patch for The Apostles, out of Gardena. Photo by Oliver Wang.

The Nikkei car clubs that arose in the 1950s belonged to what might be described as a “lost” generation of Nisei and Sansei youth born in/around internment. I call them “lost” because most of the existing scholarship tends to either focus on Niseis of their parents’ generation or Sanseis born during the post-war baby boom. The Nikkei youth of the 1950s fall in between these eras: they were children in the camps and during resettlement and entered teen-hood during the 1950s.

Within the Nikkei community, the obvious antecedent to the car clubs were Nisei social clubs, many of which date back to the 1920s. UCLA’s Valerie Matsumoto has done exceptional work in documenting these clubs, especially in her book City Girls, and she notes that these social clubs quickly reformed post-internment by providing a source of “camaraderie and recreation…amid the disruptions of resettlement and the exigencies of finding work.” As such, forming a social club wouldn’t have been unusual for Nikkei teens in the 1950s except now, they were adding cars to the mix.

The general car club phenomenon in the U.S. dates back to the 1920s but it was the postwar era where things revved up. Not only was the American car industry entering into a golden age of production but this was also the birth of modern American consumerism which compelled many families to purchase new cars and that, in turn, created a robust used car market that helped working and middle class teenagers buy their first cars. As John DeWitt writes in his study of car culture of the ’50s, Cool Cars, High Art, “No longer were kids forced to drive old jalopies or the family sedan; they could pick and choose from a wide variety of fairly new used cars that were available for as little as a few hundred dollars. It was important…that these cars were their cars. They were free to do with them as they wished.”

Shogans car plaque
The plaque for The Shogans, another Gardena/Torrance area club. Photo by Oliver Wang.

Squires car plaque
The car plaque for the Squires, a Nikkei club out of Boyle Heights. Photo by Oliver Wang.

You can read the whole article here on Discover Nikkei. Dr. Wang wants to explore this subject further so be sure to reach out to him if you have stories of Nikkei car clubs to share or suggestions for his research.

Discover Nikkei articles explore everything from family stories to food, language to art, education to…cars. Take a look around—there’s something interesting for everyone.

Naomi Hirahara Bids Farewell to Mas Arai at JANM

Naomi Hirahara

Naomi Hirahara, the acclaimed author of the Mas Arai mysteries, is coming to the Japanese American National Museum on March 17. She will be discussing and reading from her most recent book, Hiroshima Boy, the last in a series of seven mystery novels featuring the Japanese gardener detective. The following is an excerpt of a new article by Kimiko Medlock about the book and Hirahara on JANM’s Discover Nikkei website.

In this final installment of Mas Arai’s adventures, the sleuth is getting older. His friend Haruo has died, and he travels to Japan to deliver Haruo’s ashes to his family on the small island of Ino near Hiroshima. Mas originally plans to hand his friend’s ashes over to his family, turn around and return immediately to the States—but as so often happens, his best-laid plans go awry when he discovers the body of a young boy floating in the island harbor, and returns to his room to find his friend’s ashes missing. Mas decides to stay on the island to solve the twin mysteries of the murder and the missing ashes.

Critics are praising Hiroshima Boy as “a wonderful finale to a fine mystery series,” and many also continue to ask whether Hirahara will change her mind and bring back the much-beloved Mas Arai down the road. But the author herself spoke with Discover Nikkei, and she is satisfied with the series’ close. Hiroshima Boy, the title a reference to both the murder victim in the story and to the protagonist himself, is a fitting end as it brings Mas back to his roots. “I knew that the last mystery needed to be in Hiroshima,” Hirahara said in our interview. Readers learn in Mas’s very first case, Summer of the Big Bachi, that Mas’s experience growing up in wartime Hiroshima and surviving the atomic bomb form a large part of his identity, so it is appropriate that his last escapade brings him full circle back to the source of those memories.

Hiroshima was a difficult place to set a mystery tale, however. The author herself is not intimately familiar with the prefecture, nor with how the comparatively less transparent police force operates in Japan. The setting thus presented a sizable challenge to Hirahara’s research and writing process. “I knew that the last mystery needed to be in Hiroshima,” she says, “but I was wary about writing a novel set in a place I have visited, but is not my home.”

To find out how Hirahara solved this challenge, read the full article here.

The author discussion with Naomi Hirahara on March 17 starts at 2 p.m. It is included with JANM admission but RSVPs are recommended.

Hiroshima Boy and other Mas Arai by Naomi Hirahara are available for purchase at janmstore.com.

 

Naomi Hirahara fans will want to check out Trouble on Temple Street: An Officer Ellie Rush Mystery, available exclusively on Discover Nikkei. LAPD bicycle cop Ellie Rush, first introduced in Murder on Bamboo Lane (Berkley), returns in this special serial. Chapters 1–7 are online now, with new chapters released on the 4th of each month through August.

ICYMI: Recent News Roundup

A panel from Chapter 3 of Bombshells United. Courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Many news items come across the desk of the editor here at the First and Central blog. As busy as we’ve been over the last few months with the opening of JANM’s major new exhibition, Transpacific Borderlands: The Art of Japanese Diaspora in Lima, Los Angeles, Mexico City, and São Paulo, and various other developments, we haven’t had the chance to share as many of these as we’d like. Following, therefore, is a roundup of notable news items from the last few months. If you missed any of them, here’s your chance to catch up!

Little Tokyo Has Been Named a California Cultural District

Our own neighborhood of Little Tokyo was named one of 14 California Cultural Districts by the California Arts Council. A new initiative in its first year of operation, the Cultural District designation is designed to “grow and sustain authentic grassroots arts and cultural opportunities, increas[e] the visibility of local artists and community participation in local arts and culture, and promot[e] socioeconomic and ethnic diversity.” The districts are also intended to play a conscious role in tackling issues of artist displacement.

A Cultural District is defined as a “well-defined geographic area with a high concentration of cultural resources and activities.” The designation comes with benefits, such as technical assistance, peer-to-peer exchanges, and access to branding materials and promotional strategy. Per state legislation, each of the districts will hold the designation for five years.

We couldn’t be prouder of our district, which joins other vibrant cultural centers throughout California such as the Eureka Cultural Arts District and Balboa Park in San Diego. To see the complete list of 14 districts, click here. To read more about the initiative, click here.

Wonder Woman Confronts Japanese American Incarceration in New DC Comic

Wonder Woman is looming large in popular entertainment these days. The blockbuster action movie starring Gal Gadot was a huge hit earlier this year, and a sequel is in the works. A smaller film called Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, which explores the origins of the classic comic book character, was just released last month.

The staff at JANM was thrilled, therefore, to learn that a new digital comic book has come out that imagines Wonder Woman fighting, and even helping to prevent, the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. The series, titled Bombshells United, is written by Marguerite Bennett and illustrated by Marguerite Sauvage. Bennett decided to write the story after noticing that her cousins’ American history textbooks failed to mention the incarceration. Angered by the erasure, she set about doing her research, reading books like Farewell to Manzanar and No-No Boy, and paying visits to JANM (!) and the Manzanar National Historic Site.

The resulting story focuses on a group of ordinary Japanese American girls who hatch a plan to halt one of the trains going to camp. Bennett chooses to make them the heroes of the story, with some help from Wonder Woman. Although the story is a fantasy, many of the details are historically accurate. Bennett plans to continue exploring a variety of WWII and postwar stories in this series, even looking at intergenerational struggles between the Issei and Nisei.

Read an interview with Marguerite Bennett here. Purchase the comic books here.

Another Exclusive Naomi Hirahara Serial Now on Discover Nikkei

Everyone’s favorite JA mystery writer is at it again. Our Discover Nikkei project, which has hosted several exclusive serials by Naomi Hirahara, is especially thrilled this time to serve as the publisher of Trouble on Temple Street, the third installment in the Ellie Rush detective series. This installment, which follows two published book installments, will be published as an online serial, with new chapters coming out monthly.

Ellie, an LAPD bicycle cop who has been on the force for two years, finds herself in the middle of a Little Tokyo murder case that may potentially involve the people she loves most: her family. Will she be able to connect the dots before the killer harms her aunt, who is deputy chief of the LAPD? Where will Ellie’s allegiance fall—to the truth, or to family loyalty? The serial launched on September 4 and will continue through next August. Read the first two chapters now!

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.

Vote for your favorite Nikkei+ Articles by December 20th!

Tani Mitsui Brown talks about her mixed heritage as Japanese-American and African-American, in her article, "A Hapa Girl in Vietnam."
Tani Mitsui Brown talks about her mixed heritage as Japanese-American and African-American, in her article, “A Hapa Girl in Vietnam.”

Discover Nikkei explores the Nikkei experience theme by theme and story by story through the Nikkei Chronicle series.

For the second year of the Nikkei Chronicles: Nikkei+ ~Stories of Mixed Language, Traditions, Generations & Race~we solicited stories that explore how Nikkei around the world perceive and experience being multiracial, multinational, multilingual, and multigenerational.

People around the world were invited to submit personal stories and essays, memoirs, and academic papers, in hopes that by sharing the multitudes of experiences, we could enhance our ability to better understand who Nikkei are. There are stories about war brides, food, such as fusion restaurants, and Oshogatsu traditions, architecture, mixed family stories, and of course, Hapa identity related stories.

In Chanda Ishisaka's article, "Diary of a Mad Hapa Judo Girl", Ishisaka recounts her experiences as a girl in judo, and her mixed heritage.
In Chanda Ishisaka’s article, “Diary of a Mad Hapa Judo Girl”, Ishisaka recounts her experiences as a girl in judo, and her mixed heritage.

All of the submissions are now published on Discover Nikkei, and there are just 11 days left to vote for your favorite Nikkei+ stories!

It will be a great opportunity to learn more about being Nikkei, and to support authors and their articles with your votes. The stories with the most Discover Nikkei “stars” will be translated into our site languages, and may even be published in our partnering publications in the US, Canada, and Latin America!

Asami Goto talks about Japanese American food culture - namely, Japanese food 's influence on the healthy-eating movement.
Asami Goto talks about Japanese American food culture – namely, Japanese food ‘s influence on the healthy-eating movement.

All you have to do is log in to Discover Nikkei and click on the “star” icon if you like a story. Vote for as many stories as you like. If you don’t have a Discover Nikkei account, it’s free & easy to sign up!

Get your votes in by December 20th, and we will announce the “favorites” before the end of the year!

Remember, every vote counts!

To access all of the Nikkei+ stories, please visit the Nikkei+ page.

Photos: courtesy of the authors