For the past year and a half, JANM’s Frank H. Watase Media Arts Center has captured more than 25 first-person accounts of individuals whose lives illuminate the astonishing diversity of the Japanese experience in America.
With the support of NITTO TIRES U.S.A. Inc. and its visionary President, Tomo Mizutani, the Watase Media Arts Center staff has been enabled to videotape extensive interviews with Nisei, Japanese-speaking Kibei, Hapa, and post-WWII “Shin Issei.” Their stories have revealed many new historical insights and several previously unexpressed personal perspectives on the World War II era and beyond.
From the little known early Yamato colony of Japanese in Florida where Sumi (Fukushima) Hughes’ parents settled to the challenges faced by Hamako (Amano) Schneider, one of the first Japanese war brides to be admitted to the U.S. following World War II, the project has uncovered many aspects of history that have remained unfamiliar to the public.
Photographed in Hi-Definition video by the Media Arts Center’s videographers Akira Boch and Evan Kodani, each interview is transcribed, translated when necessary, and digitally archived for eventual use in documentaries, exhibitions, and ongoing JANM educational projects such as the Discover Nikkei website and the Museum’s YouTube channel, janmdotorg. The project also involved follow ups with interviewees and their families to gather, identify, and scan photo albums, documents, and other supplementary resource material.
After viewing the completed two-to-three hour interviews and assessing the available supplementary photographs and other visuals, the Media Arts staff—with assistance from Japanese staff member Yoko Nishimura of the Discover Nikkei project—edited selected interviews into a 30-minute documentary, Unexpected Journeys, that interweaves short autobiographical profiles with narration, graphics, and music by accomplished composer and musician, Dave Iwataki. To make these stories accessible to as wide an audience as possible the video includes both English and Japanese narration and subtitling to reach both English and Japanese-speaking audiences.
On Saturday, November 2, several of the interviewees and their families will attend a special premiere public screening presented in JANM’s Atsuhiko and Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Democracy Forum and will be able to meet fellow project participants, staff, sponsors, and other special guests. Light refreshments to follow program.
FILM SCREENING Unexpected Journeys: Remarkable Stories of Japanese in America
Saturday, November 2, 2013 • 2PM FREE & open to the public!
This program is sponsored by Nitto Tire and produced by the National Museum’s Frank H. Watase Media Arts Center.
On Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 2:00PM, JANM will present a special screening of The Untold Story: Internment of Japanese Americans in Hawai`i. Produced by the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai`i, The Untold Story is the first full-length documentary to chronicle the internment experience of Japanese Americans in Hawai`i.
Within 48 hours of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawai`i authorities arrested several hundred local residents—targeting Buddhist priests, Japanese language-school officials, newspaper editors, and business and community leaders. In total, more than 2,000 men and women of Japanese ancestry were arrested, detained, and interned at 13 different confinement sites located in Hawai`i. There was no evidence of espionage or sabotage, and no charges were ever filed against them. The Untold Story chronicles their story through oral histories, documents, interviews, and reenactments.
“While people have heard of places like Manzanar and Tule Lake, the sites where Japanese Americans were incarcerated on the mainland, few people are familiar with places like Honouliuli, Kalaheo Stockade, or that Japanese Americans were held at the Kilauea Military Camp during WWII,” said Carole Hayashino, president and executive director of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai`i.
“Our film, The Untold Story, helps to ensure that the experience of over 2,000 persons of Japanese ancestry in Hawai`i who were picked up and imprisoned simply because of their ancestry is not forgotten.”
Don’t miss this special film screening and the Q&A session with the filmmakers afterwards!
Visit the Discover Nikkei website for an insightful behind-the-scenes article on The Untold Story written by the director, Ryan Kawamoto:
NIKKEI+ ~Stories of Mixed Language, Traditions, Generations & Race~
Deadline for submissions: September 30 @6pm (PST)
Do you use chopsticks and forks; mix Japanese words with English or Spanish; or celebrate the New Year’s Eve countdown with champagne and Oshogatsu with ozoni and other Japanese traditions?
There’s just 1 week left to submit stories about being Hapa, growing up in families with mixed generations, or mixing traditions.
All stories that meet the submission guidelines will be published on Discover Nikkei. Our online community’s most favorite stories will be translated into our site languages (English, Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese) and may even ben published in our partnering Nikkei publications in the US, Canada, and Latin America!
Here are links to a few of the 12 stories published so far. After you’ve read them, “vote” for your favorites to help us select the stories to translate! Just log in to award your favorite stories a “star”.
This summer we were lucky enough to host Sean Hamamoto, our second Nikkei Community Intern in collaboration with the Japanese American Bar Association (JABA)! We had a great time getting to know Sean, a rising sophomore Politics major at the University of Pennsylvania.
The Nikkei Community Internship is an eight-week program that places college students at various Japanese American organizations across California. Interns get a taste of working life at their placements for four days of the week, then spend the remaining day on leadership development and community training. For the internship, JANM shared an intern with JABA to work on joint Discover Nikkei projects.
As our Discover Nikkei intern, Sean contributed to every section of the site by adding albums, events, and articles. He even contributed a fantastic article to our (ongoing!) Nikkei+ competition (deadline for submissions: September 30, 2013). In “4-Sei What? That’s Mixed Up,” Sean talked about why he considers himself a Yonsei with an Issei mother and Sansei father. (If you really liked his entry, don’t forget to make a Discover Nikkei account and vote for it!)
You can read Sean’s reflection of his eight weeks with JANM and JABA here. Sean’s passions for law and Japanese culture were huge assets to both his work at JANM and JABA. We hope he’ll remain a frequent visitor to JANM!
A big thank you to everyone who came to Seattle for the 2013 National Conference over the 4th of July weekend! We had a great time and learned a ton, and we hoped you did too.
One big hit from the Conference was the tour of Bainbridge Island. The first generation of Japanese Americans came to the island in 1883 and settled down, opening businesses (including the Suyematsu farm, the oldest continually working farm on the island) and starting families. They remained on Bainbridge until the Japanese American forced removal and incarceration during World War II. In 1942, Bainbridge residents were among the first to be taken to the concentration camps. Today, the island is the home of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial, which opened in 2011.
Read more about one Japanese American family’s history on Bainbridge Island in Wayne Nakata’s Discover Nikkei article, Honoring my Issei and Nisei Ancestors. Nakata shared his story at the tour’s Sonoji Sakai Intermediate School luncheon.
Here are some photos from the bus tour of five key Island landmarks—the Exclusion Memorial, Bainbridge Gardens, Suyematsu Farm, Woodward Middle School, and Sonoji Sakai Intermediate School. Find more photos on our Facebook page.
See if you can spot yourself or a friend!
Photos by: Tracy Kumono, Bob Moriguchi, June Aoki, Midori Uyeda & Richard Murakami
Being Nikkei today is all about diversity, from languages and traditions to generations and culture. This blend is part of what makes being Nikkei such a rich identity, not divided but instead enhanced by its many facets. So whether you mix Japanese and Spanish when speaking, or eat bacon wrapped hot dogs at obon, come share your story with us!
This year’s Nikkei+ ~ Stories of Mixed Language, Traditions, Generations & Race ~ focuses on how Nikkei around the world perceive and experience being multiracial, multinational, multilingual, and multigenerational. We want a diverse range of entries, so submissions can be anything from personal stories to academic papers, and much more! The pieces should fall into the range of 600-1,200 words and may be in English, Japanese, Spanish, or Portugese.
All stories submitted that meet the project guidelines & criteria will be published in the discover Nikkei journal section as part of the Nikkei+ series. Multiple entries per author will be accepted. In addition, each piece submitted to the Nikkei+ anthology will be eligible for selection as our readers’ favorites. The top favorites will be translated into all four site languages and published on Discover Nikkei, as well as possibly shared through participating Nikkei medias.
If you need inspiration, we’ve just started publishing a few of our submissions. Read Edward Moreno’s memories of his wife’s talent for multicultural cooking and then check out Gil Asakawa’s review of Japanese salsa.
The deadline to submit stories is September 30, 2013 at 6pm PDT.
For submission guides, more information, and even some questions to get you started, visit our website.
Supernatural: The Art of Audrey Kawasaki, Edwin Ushiro, and Timothy Teruo Watters opens this Saturday!
The exhibition features the work of Audrey Kawasaki, Edwin Ushiro, and Timothy Teruo Watters—artists who have explored some of these otherworldly concepts, illustrating how traditional ideas have evolved and been adapted over time.
The exhibition will be up from February 9 – March 17, 2013. That’s just 5 weeks to come check it out before it closes!
We are celebrating the opening with two FREE events!
TARGET FREE FAMILY SATURDAY Art from the Heart
11AM – 4PM FREE ALL DAY!
Celebrate Valentine’s Day and the opening of Supernatural exhibition! Show your love by making art for yourself and others. Participate in art workshops with Timothy Watters and Edwin Ushiro!
In 2008, the Museum celebrated the 20th Anniversary of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. At our Gala Dinner that year, one of the key players that we recognized who helped turn what was considered an impossible dream into reality was Senator Inouye, who suggested the creation of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) in 1979 as a stepping stone to enabling a successful redress bill to pass through Congress. He also helped to turn redress payments for Japanese Americans into an entitlement, keeping it from the difficult annual budget process.
In our member magazine that year, we published a special edition commemorating the anniversary. Fittingly, it was the inaugural issue for our new member magazine format called inspire.
It included this message from Senator Inouye:
Today, as I consider the significance of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, I first reflect on the important moment when President Reagan signed the bill into law on August 10, 1988. At that moment, it had been more than 46 years since President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, leading to the displacement of thousands of people of Jpaanese ancestry and their unconstitutional imprisonment by the U.S. government.
In so many of these individuals, treated unfairly solely because of their ethnic origin, there was a remarkable spirit, an incredible determination, and an unshakable belief that they, too, were Americans. We saw this in the actions of Japanese American soldiers who volunteered from behind barbed wire and gave their lives in hopes that their familiies, held prisoner by their own government, would one day share the promise of America. I have said before—and it bears repeating—that I have often asked myself if I would have volunteered for military service under these circumstances, and in all honesty, I cannot give you a forthright answer.
So when President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which authorized an official apology and token reparations to thousands of persons of Japanese ancestry, it was our government’s belated acknowledgment that what had been done during World War II was wrong and that the spirit held by so many Japanese Americans at the time had been vindicated. As I said back in 1988, Americans of Japanese ancestry now know in their hearts that the letter and the spirit of our Constitution hold true for them. We honor ourselves and we honor America. America demonstrated to the world that we are a strong people, strong enough to admit when we are wrong.
Today there are similar challenges facing our government and our country. We would be wise to look back at the historical importance of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and what it means to our Constitution and to all Americans. The passage of this law required the dedication and hard work of thousands of individuals. It required that individuals with no direct or political interest understand its relevance to our way of life, and it required that they do what was right. In challenging times like today, such an example is one that we should strive to emulate. If we do, Americans will once again show the world and ourselves that the United States is truly a great country.
An older Japanese American gentleman stands in front of a museum display case. Behind him is an enlarged photograph of a group of Japanese picture brides (a sort of predecessor to the mail order bride) newly arrived in the United States, looking a little lost and apprehensive. Mr. Hayashi, a volunteer at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM), is explaining how he uses the photograph as a didactic tool during school tours, but he is also talking about its personal significance—his own grandmother was a picture bride.
The brides share a display case with several other objects. One of these, a document in the lower corner of the frame, reads: Keep California White. Mr. Hayashi is commenting that despite his grandmother’s ambiguous fate as the bride in an arranged marriage, the partnership was considered successful and resulted in 36 grandchildren and great grandchildren. Mr. Hayashi is, in fact, a testament to his family’s success in the face of a myriad of trials that women like the ones in the picture must have faced so many years ago. He is Nikkei, a descendent of Japanese migrants, and there are 2.6 to 3 million others with stories like his across the globe.
A global storytelling community
Allowing people to discover stories like the one Mr. Hayashi tells in the video described above is what the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles hopes to achieve through its Discover Nikkei website, an interactive multimedia website launched in 2005. Discover Nikkei was conceived as a community-building tool on a grand scale that allows users to keep up with activities at the museum, and also permits access to a part of JANM’s collections, through the Nikkei Album feature.
Through the website, Nikkei all over the world are able to communicate, connect, and share, with a particular emphasis on the U.S., Canada, Central and South America, where a large number of Japanese emigrants have settled. Altogether, Discover Nikkei presents three main areas that allow Nikkei and people interested in the Japanese diaspora to build a global network together: Stories, Community, and Resources. This wealth of primary-source material available through the Discover Nikkei website in the form of archival home videos, articles, and video profiles combine to mount a concerted effort to privilege the community’s voice over a classic museum discourse.
In the “Stories” section of Discover Nikkei, the Nikkei Album feature allows users to create collections of images and/or film, much like Flickr or Pintrest type websites. To get an idea of the diversity of voices accessible through the albums, some albums include a Japanese farming and arts community in Brazil, Baptist churches in Japan, and an origami crane-making lesson in Peru. Of the three, the last album is written in Spanish, one of the four languages in which Discover Nikkei is available; the others being English, Japanese, and Portuguese.
The museum as participant is a major premise for the Discover Nikkei website, and manifests itself both in the “low profile” JANM presents on the website, as well as in the importance it places on community members’ involvement and collaboration. Aside from website users, the website gets a large part of its content through international correspondents who range from cultural institutions to individuals who contribute articles in the Journal section of the “Stories” page and post events on the main page. A subtle museum presence displaces focus from the “experts” to the community and allows the website to take on a real, marketplace-type feeling, where stories are related, not dictated by an institution.
Nikkei History in the First Person
The JANM account in the “Nikkei Album” section also gives self-service access to a portion of the museum’s permanent collection, made up of over 80,000 artifacts, objects, photographs, and artworks. The available documents are from the Watase Media Arts Center and include an important collection of home movie footage—more than 330 film clips totaling over six hours—filmed between the 1920s and 1960s, and digitally transferred for online access. Each film clip is described and annotated on the janm.org website in the Collections, Home Movies section.
The home movies touch on a wide variety of subjects and themes in the lives of American Nikkei, including work, play, home, and family life. Some extraordinary footage is also consultable, dating from the period of internment of Japanese Americans at several camps across the country from 1942 until the end of World War II, including that of Heart Mountain in Wyoming. The clips depict daily life at the camps from the point of view of the internees themselves, and are a grim reminder of the extent to which certain communities have had to grapple with a “Keep California White” mentality.
Although the Nikkei experience translates well through images, text is also an important component of the Discover Nikkei website. Through the “Stories” “Journal” rubric, we meet Norm Masaji Ibuki, a Canadian Nikkei struggling to come to terms with his government’s non-action in the face of recent devastating events in Tohoku, Japan, where he once lived. Since the earthquake hit on March 11th, 2011 Norm has been keeping tabs via email and telephone on an old friend, Tomo and his family, stranded not far from the earthquake epicenter. “The Great Tohoku Disaster” series allows readers to listen in on a conversation that is as fascinating as it is terrible, as we progress from not knowing the family’s whereabouts, to learning that they are in Tokyo trying to find a way back to Canada, leaving house, belongings, and friends behind.
The over 100 available videos feature a diverse array of Nikkei living in Japan and abroad, sharing their life experiences and what they have learned from them. Each video is meticulously transcribed, then translated into all four languages available on the website. The library of stories we are privy to through the Interview section provide audiences with first person accounts of the Nikkei experience, much like the images in the home movies from the collection also available through the site.
Tools for empowerment
Issei, Nisei, Sansei… These terms and many others are peppered throughout the Discover Nikkei website. They are words used to denote how far removed a person is from their Japanese heritage by generation, and they provide a kind of reference for those who are initiated to the lingo. At the time this article was first published, the “Nima of the month,” or featured Discover Nikkei member, is a Sansei, a third generation Japanese, born in the U.S. His wife is Yonsei, fourth generation Japanese American. The user clearly expresses himself well in English, but does he speak Japanese? Does he even feel it is necessary to speak the language in order to feel a connection to his Japanese heritage? These are the types of identity issues explored in a number of the user-written articles accessible in the “Nima-kai” rubric of the “Community” section. Here users can also post photographs and events, in a way that is similar to Facebook. A “Taiko Groups” rubric has recently been added to the Discover Nikkei website.
A critical step in the preservation of cultural heritage is the acquisition of necessary knowledge and skills. The “Resources” section of Discover Nikkei attempts to provide users with just enough guidance to encourage participation. This how-to section has detailed instructions for beginning a genealogical research project, including tips on conducting interviews, conservation basics, and even a bit of information on starting a personal collection of artifacts. These could potentially be the tools to inspire a user to create a Nikkei Album with a few of their own home movies, start a blog about Nikkei communities in countries other than the ones already featured, or maybe even dust off those old family kimonos in the attic. Discover Nikkei users participate in a variety of ways, defining and affirming the term Nikkei in an active way with the help of the website interface.
Apart from inspiring users to affirm their cultural identity, Discover Nikkei is also a remarkable example for museums that may be looking to relate to their audiences in a different, more egalitarian way. JANM’s idea was one that started small and gained momentum as the project advanced stage by stage, allowing for more complexity only after a solid framework had been put into place. JANM staff observed that one of the most important elements of website development was ease of content management. For JANM this meant that in order for content to remain relevant as the website progressed, room had to be made for constant revisions by regular staff members, as opposed to specialized IT staff. Avoiding proprietary software to cut down on costs and compatibility issues has also been a key development issue.
Through the Discover Nikkei website, JANM provides access to a rich collection of documents and artifacts that encourage Nikkei to take pride in their cultural patrimony, and to place a high value in sharing and communicating with others at a local and global level. By focusing on primary source materials and community-generated content, the museum places an emphasis on providing a forum for discussion and discovery rather than contributing expertise via a classic museum discourse. This approach, visible through the Discover Nikkei website, allows for a transfer of authority to take place, positioning in the foreground a community that has much to offer in the way of cultural tradition and values.
With special thanks to John Esaki, Director of the Frank Watase Media Arts Center, Japanese American National Museum, whose advice and comments during this collaboration were essential.
A Los Angeles native, Cynthia G. Valdez is currently working to complete a Master’s in Art History at the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland. Cynthia has written about art for various publications in France and abroad, including ArtSlant, The Paris Times, The Mag L.A., and Whitehot Magazine for Contemporary Art. When not accumulating stamps in her passport, she enjoys knitting, experimental music and answering emails at yomemoi(at)gmail.com. She microblogs here and here.
There’s just 5 days left to submit your Nikkei food stories for our special Discover Nikkei Itadakimasu before the September 30, 2012 deadline! We’ve been receiving more stories this week as the deadline approaches.
English, Spanish, and Portuguese articles should be about 600–1,200 words. Japanese articles should be about 800 to 1,800 characters. Full submission guidelines are available online: http://5dn.org/itadakimasu
All stories that meet our guidelines will be published on DiscoverNikkei.org. Plus, our editorial committee will be selecting their favorite stories to feature and to be translated into all of our site languages (English, Japanese, Spanish, and Portuguese). Selected stories will be printed in our partner Nikkei publications.
Deadline to submit stories for Itadakimasu! is September 30, 2012 at 6pm (PST).
Since our last update last week, we’ve published a couple more Itadakimasu stories online, including our first Spanish story!