Nikkei+ ~ Stories of Mixed Language, Traditions, Generations & Race ~

logo-NIKKEI-PLUSBeing 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.

Edward Moreno’s wife, Reiko, tasting items at a February 2011 luncheon. (Photo from Discover Nikkei – Edward Moreno)
Supernatural: The Art of Audrey Kawasaki, Edwin Ushiro, and Timothy Teruo Watters

Supernatural opens February 9th!

Supernatural: The Art of Audrey Kawasaki, Edwin Ushiro, and Timothy Teruo Watters

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!

For more details, visit:

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We are celebrating the opening with two FREE events!

Art from the Heart
11AM – 4PM
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!

Check for schedule >> 


Supernatural Opening Party
6:30PM – 9PM
Get mystical with JANM! Celebrate the opening of Supernatural with the artists and some spooky fun—wandering ghosts, a medium, and special treats!

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Learn more about the exhibition and the artists on our Discover Nikkei website. We’ll be adding an interview with Timothy Watters next week:

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Here are a few photos from the exhibition installation happening this week. Check our Facebook page for more photos: Supernatural photo album


Artist Edwin Ushiro prepares sketchbooks to display in the exhibition
Edwin Ushiro's sketchbooks
Paintings by Timothy Teruo Watters waiting to be hung

Senator Inouye on the Civil Liberties Act of 1988


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.

 Watch video clips from a 2001 interview with Senator Inouye >>

Defining Nikkei: How a California Museum Built a Global Storytelling Community

By Cynthia G. Valdez

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

Although a significant part of the Nikkei Album section of the website features user-generated content, JANM contributes heavily by uploading a variety of content through a museum account. An example is the picture bride video, featuring Mr. Hayashi. This video forms part of a series entitled The 21st Century Museum: Significant artifacts selected by Japanese American National Museum Volunteers. The objects chosen for the videos by volunteer guides are from an ongoing exhibition, Common Ground: The Heart of Community, about Japanese American history. In addition to exhibitions-related content the museum also uploads material related to events and celebrations in the Los Angeles community, and articles published in a museum member’s print magazine.

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 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.

Nikkei Today

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.

A focus on oral history is emphasized through videos in the form of interviews produced by JANM. A young Enka singer born in the United States of African-American and Japanese heritage but living in Japan, a Canadian woman incarcerated during WWII, a Taiko musician, an Argentinean woman trying to reconcile a Western identity with Japanese roots. These are only a few of the engaging personalities Discover Nikkei introduces users to through the “Stories”, “Interview” section.

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.

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Guest post about JANM’s Discover Nikkei website originally published on the California Association of Museums community site, reposted with permission by CAM and the author.

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) She microblogs here and here.

Itadakimasu! A Taste of Nikkei Culture

5 days left to submit Nikkei food stories!

Itadakimasu! A Taste of Nikkei Culture

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:

All stories that meet our guidelines will be published on 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!

Eri Kameyama's shares about her family's temaki parties to welcome them to Japan in "Temaki Zushi: A Welcome-Home Party"


Roberto Hirose writes about Chilean Japanese food in "Sushi y Vino"


Read all 20 Itadakimasu stories >>

Japanese American National Museum - Summer Festival on the Courtyard medals

JA Sports Trivia Questions

I recently received a request to share on the JANM Blog some of the JA sports trivia questions we came up with for our JA Trivia Challenge at the Summer Festival on the Courtyard last month.

Japanese American National Museum - Summer Festival on the Courtyard medalsI’ve actually been posting them to our JANM Facebook page, but I realize not everyone is on Facebook, and sometimes it’s hard to find older posts, so I’ll go ahead and start posting them here as well.

We weren’t sure how many questions we would need, so Yoko Nishimura & I prepared a lot of extras, thanks to help from Brian Niiya (he now works for Densho, but many years ago worked at JANM and was the curator for our More Than a Game: Sport in the Japanese American Community exhibition in 2000); Dean Adachi, Gann Matsuda (he covers the LA Kings, but also blogs for the Manzanar Committee), Randy Imoto (JANM Store Coordinator & baseball fan), Sandra Gavreau (JANM member & Discover Nikkei helper!), and JANM volunteers Richard Murakami and Roy Sakamoto. A lot of the information came from research from the More Than a Game exhibition and from our Discover Nikkei website.

So…without further ado, here’s the first set of trivia questions. Sorry, I don’t have any prizes to offer. This is just for fun!


Japanese American Sports Trivia

1) Which Japanese American figure skater won the sixth season of “Dancing with the Stars?”

a. Apolo Ohno
b. Mirai Nagasu
c. Kristi Yamaguchi
d.  Kyoko Ina


2) Which of the following Japanese American athletes has not won an Olympic Gold Medal?

a)    Kristi Yamaguchi
b)    Apolo Oho
c)    Kyla Ross
d)    Wat Misaka


3) Wally Kaname Yonamine was inducted in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990. What sport did he play professionally in the US?

a)    baseball
b)    basketball
c)    football
d)    soccer


I’ll try to do a new blog post every week with the answers from the previous post, and then more questions. Or…I may wait until someone is able to add a comment with the correct answers, so answer away!

Itadakimasu! A Taste of Nikkei Culture

2 weeks left to submit Nikkei food stories!

Itadakimasu! A Taste of Nikkei CultureThere’s just 2 weeks left before the September 30, 2012 deadline to submit your Nikkei food stories for our special Discover Nikkei Itadakimasu!

You don’t have to be a professional or aspiring writer to participate. The most important thing is that you share your story and be included.

English, Spanish, and Portuguese articles should be about 600–1,200 words. Japanese articles should be about 800 to 1,800 characters. The full submission guidelines are available online:

All stories that meet our guidelines will be published on our website. Plus, our editorial committee will be selecting their favorite stories to feature, translate into all of our site languages (English, Japanese, Spanish, and Portuguese), and selected stories will be printed on our partner Nikkei publications.

Deadline to submit stories for Itadakimasu! is September 30, 2012 at 6pm (PST).


Since our last update a couple of weeks ago, we’ve published 3 more Itadakimasu stories online with more waiting to be published:

Mochi and Me by Ben Arikawa

Food for Life: Nice Rice by Gil Asakawa

ブラジルのおかきと“ウメボシ” by Naomi Kimura (in Japanese & Portuguese)

Read all 17 Itadakimasu stories >>

Ben Arikawa reveals a shocking confession about his mochi tastes


Naomi Kimura's story about okaki and umeboshi in Brazil

Giant Robot Biennale 3 exhibition site is online!

The opening of Giant Robot Biennale 3 is coming up next weekend!

And we just launched the special exhibition site with information about the upcoming Giant Robot Biennale 3!

Check it out for info about the exhibition, video, artist bios, related public programs, audio tour, and more:

We’ll be adding more artist images and other goodies in the next few weeks.

We also have an interview with GRB3 curator Eric Nakamura on our Discover Nikkei website: Giant Robot Biennale 3: Behind the Scenes with GR’s Eric Nakamura


If you’re in the Los Angeles area (or will be next weekend), be sure to join us next Saturday night for the GRB3 Opening Party!

GRB3 Opening Party
Saturday, September 22
6PM – 10PM

Celebrate the exhibition opening with curator Eric Nakamura, GRB3 artists, and a performance by Money Mark!



We also recently just added a few new Giant Robot items to our online store!

Check out the new Giant Robot /JANM logo t-shirt and the Giant Robot Big Boss Figures set on

1 month left to submit your Nikkei food story for Itadakimasu!

There’s just 1 month left until the deadline to submit your Nikkei food story for our Itadakimasu! A Taste of Nikkei Culture project!

Itadakimasu! A Taste of Nikkei Culture

Please join us and share your favorite food stories on Discover Nikkei!

All stories that meet our guidelines will be published on our website. Plus, our editorial committee will be selecting their favorite stories to feature, translate into all of our site languages (English, Japanese, Spanish, and Portuguese), and selected stories will be printed on our partner Nikkei publications.

The deadline to submit stories to be included in Itadakimasu! is September 30, 2012 at 6pm (PST).

See submission guidelines & check out the stories published so far:


Since our last update, we’ve published 4 more Itadakimasu stories online with more waiting to be published:

Hiraoka Ranch. Fowler, CA
Erik Matsunaga’s story about JA enchiladas in “Farm Food”
Janice D. Tanaka’s shares about how her Maryknoll classmate took her on a Little Tokyo food adventure in “Elsie Kikuchi’s J-Town”

The Odyssey is another humorous Itadakimasu story by Rachel Yamaguchi about how her father led their family on a “quest” to find a Japanese restaurant he remembered from the “old days” when traveling through Fresno, CA.

Read all 14 Itadakimasu stories >>

Japanese American National Museum - Summer Festival on the Courtyard medals

JA Trivia Challenge this Saturday

Japanese American National Museum - Summer Festival on the Courtyard medals
Go for the Gold!

If you are:

a) knowledgeable about Japanese American sports

b) knowledgeable about sports trivia in general

c) have always wanted to be on a game show

d) good sports who would like to learn some interesting JA sports trivia

or just competitive…come participate in our JA Trivia Challenge at the free Summer Festival on the Courtyard event this Saturday! Our Discover Nikkei team is putting together a fun, highly interactive game with prizes for both contestants and audience members. It’s free to participate and attend!

All teams of 2 must check in between 12:30-12:50pm on Saturday at the Democracy Forum. In addition to winning medals, the top 3 teams will win gift certificates to our award-winning Museum Store (1st place: $100, 2nd place: $50, 3rd place: $20).

Mike Palma of Cold Tofu will be our game show host. Our judge/referee will be Brian Niiya of Densho (who also happened to be the curator for our More Than a Game: Sport in the Japanese American Community exhibition in 2000).

Date: Saturday, August 11, 2012

Location: Democracy Forum at the Japanese American National Museum


12:30-12:50pm: Teams check in
12:30pm: Forum doors open for teams & audience
1-2pm: Game time!
4:30pm: JA Olympics Medal Ceremony for winning teams

The Game
The JA Sports Trivia Challenge will consist of…

Round 1—Selection Round: All registered teams will participate in a single-elimination round with all multiple-choice questions. The top 3 teams advance to Round 2.

Audience Questions: Our game show host will have trivia questions for the audience to win some prizes!

Round 2: The top 3 teams will come down to the stage to answer multiple choice and a few fill-in questions for points.

Bonus Round: Identify 10 JA athletes and their sports. Audience members can play along to win more prizes!

At the end of the Bonus Round, we’ll tally all the points to see who will capture the Gold, Silver, and Bronze!

Hints: If you want to “train” for the event, we will have questions about past & present Japanese American athletes from the Olympics, and both amateur and professional sports. To be the winning team, you don’t have to answer all questions correctly, just get more points than the other teams. Questions will be a combination of mostly multiple choice and a few fill-in, so even if you don’t know all the answers, you could still do well if you’re lucky.

See you there!