Warren Sata Pays Tribute to Japanese American Photographers with Moss on the Mirror

J. T. Sata, Untitled (Portrait), 1928, gelatin silver print. Partial and promised gift of Frank and Marian Sata and Family. Collection of the Japanese American National Museum.
J. T. Sata, Untitled (Portrait), 1928, gelatin
silver print. Partial and promised gift of Frank and Marian Sata and Family. Collection of the Japanese American National Museum.

This Saturday, May 7, at 2 p.m., JANM will present a dramatic reading of Moss on the Mirror, a fictional play inspired by the life and work of renowned photographer Toyo Miyatake. Taking place in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo district in the late 1920s and early 1930s, where Miyatake’s practice flourished before World War II, the play examines the creativity, hope, and optimism, as well as the struggles and challenges, of the Japanese immigrant photographers community.

Although not a literal retelling of actual events, the piece seeks to transport audiences to the feelings and circumstances of those times. Moss on the Mirror was written by Warren Sata, whose paternal grandfather was J.T. Sata (1896–1975), a featured photographer (along with Miyatake) in the current exhibition Making Waves: Japanese American Photography, 1920–1940. To learn more about the play, we conducted a brief interview with Sata via email.

JANM: What does the title Moss on the Mirror refer to?

Warren Sata: The title refers to the notion that we understand ourselves and our communities through reflection, or looking in the mirror. The moss evokes a clouded mirror, alluding to the influence of outside circumstances like poverty and racism.

JANM: What inspired you to write this play?

WS: The story of Los Angeles’ Issei photographers has fascinated me and inspired my imagination since I learned about them from my father some years ago. A conversation with actor/director Chris Tashima, who serves as the play’s director, helped me to recognize the importance of Toyo Miyatake’s journey toward becoming a pillar of the community. I began to understand the value of artistry and responsibility in a different way, which led me to take an interest in sketching the story of Japanese Americans photographers and their interests and practices prior to the WWII incarceration.

J. T. Sata, Untitled (Ice Cream Cones), 1930, gelatin silver print. Partial and promised gift of Frank and Marian Sata and Family. Collection of the Japanese American National Museum.
J. T. Sata, Untitled (Ice Cream Cones), 1930, gelatin silver print.
Partial and promised gift of Frank and Marian Sata and Family.
Collection of the Japanese American National Museum.

 

JANM: What is your favorite image by a Japanese American photographer, and why?

WS: I am drawn to an abstract self-portrait created by my grandfather, J.T. Sata, which is currently on display in Making Waves. It utilizes triangles and a photographic image of his face. The interplay between a realistic portrait and an abstract prepared background fascinates me; it seems to suggest a doorway between the real world and subjective experience. This allows for a dialogue between these worlds and gives value to the notion of participating in both. I enjoy this because it pushes me to understand the Issei experience and what that might have felt like.

JANM: What do you hope audiences will get out of the dramatic reading?

WS: I hope that audience members will be motivated to honor the contributions of the Issei photographic pioneers, but also to consider what their experiences were like in the 1920s and ’30s—their creativity, their principles, their aesthetics, and the culture and context of the times.

Moss on the Mirror is free with museum admission, but RSVPs are recommended.

Roxana Lewis Has a Passion for Adventure

Roxana Lewis. All photos by Dr. T. Takasugi.
Roxana Lewis. All photos by Dr. T. Takasugi.

 

Since 2011, travel agent and food enthusiast Roxana Lewis has been leading Edible Adventures, food-themed walking tours of the Little Tokyo neighborhood, for JANM. Recent adventures have included Little Tokyo Sushi Graze; A Noodling Walk through Little Tokyo; and Little Tokyo Markets, Then and Now. Lewis’s tours are always packed, and participants always come away with a happy belly and increased knowledge of our neighborhood and our culture.

We recently sat down with Lewis to find out more about her background and what drives her to lead Edible Adventures.

JANM: Tell us about yourself and your professional background.

Roxana Lewis: I am a Sansei, born in Boyle Heights. My father was born in San Francisco, my mother in Salt Lake City. I am a travel industry veteran, having started as a ticket agent with Western Airlines in 1968. I worked in corporate travel for a Washington, D.C., think tank before starting my own travel agency, Chartwell Travel Services, in 1977. I named it after Winston Churchill’s home in Kent, England; I was in my Anglophile phase, and I also liked the play on words. In 2007, Chartwell merged with Protravel International, Beverly Hills.

At the sushi bar.
At the sushi bar.

 

My specialties are customized travel arrangements to the backroads of Italy, which I’ve done since 1985, and off-the-beaten-path tours of Japan, which I’ve organized since 1999. I travel annually to keep my knowledge current, exploring different villages and towns, new hotels, unique hiking routes, unusual Zen gardens, special crafts people. I also excel in adventure travel, both soft- and hardcore; I have led some serious mountaineering expeditions, including ascents of Mount Fuji, Mount Rainier, Denali, and Mont Blanc. And, I have a major marathon habit; I have run 244 to date, the last three on a round-the-world trip, from which I just returned last week.

JANM: You obviously have a serious, lifelong love of both travel and food. Can you say a little bit about where this passion comes from?

RL: As a veteran travel agent, I am professionally predisposed to “the road.” Food and culture are twins in any country; where there are people, there is food. To embrace the people, you must embrace their food.

A friendly sushi chef.
A friendly sushi chef.

 

JANM: How did you first come into contact with JANM?

RL: I met [former longtime JANM staff member] Nancy Araki at a National Geographic presentation of photographs by Hong Kong explorer and photojournalist How Man Wong. I told her I was looking for a volunteer project. In 1989, when the museum was still in its early formative stages, I began helping out by doing outreach from its warehouse on Fifth Street downtown.

When JANM opened its first public space in the Historic Building in 1992, I served on every committee invented. I spearheaded the first Volunteer Speakers Bureau, served on the President’s Council, and did a lot of work with Community Outreach.

Checking out the offerings at a local market.
Checking out the offerings at a local market.

 

JANM: What inspired you to launch Edible Adventures?

RL: I had been doing a “Graze Little Tokyo” walking tour for the Sierra Club since the 1990s. By the late 2000s, my JANM volunteer time had become occasional, and my guilt forced me to ask [Vice President of Programs] Koji Sakai if I could develop a food-centric series of tours. He said yes and Edible Adventures was born.

JANM: What are the goals you have in mind when you lead a tour?

RL: My primary goal is to introduce a new audience to the museum, using food as my carrot on a stick, so to speak. I also look for ways to create interest in the Little Tokyo community and then naturally, the Japanese American story.

Roxana Lewis gives the group the inside scoop on Little Tokyo.
Roxana Lewis gives her group the inside scoop on Little Tokyo.

 

JANM: What is your own favorite Asian food?

RL: I have a sweet tooth, so I love any dessert, from Japanese manjū (rice cake with bean paste or other filling) to Filipino halo-halo (shaved ice dessert with milk, jello, fruits, sweet beans, and other ingredients) to Chinese dàn tà (egg custard tart).

You’re in luck—this Saturday, February 20, Roxana Lewis will lead Sweets and Street Art of Little Tokyo. Sample Asian sweets such as dango (rice dumplings), mochi ice cream, imagawayaki (filled pastry), and yokan (jellied dessert) while exploring the street art of Little Tokyo. Tickets are still available!

Introducing Mark Robbins

JANM recently hired Mark Robbins as the museum’s new Community and Government Relations Officer. To help introduce Mark to the greater JANM community, we conducted the following brief interview.

New JANM staff member Mark Robbins, right, attends the Go For Broke National Education Center's 14th Annual Evening of Aloha Gala Dinner with his wife, Iryll Robbins-Umel, center. At left is keynote speaker and pioneering Asian American athlete Natalie Nakase.
New JANM staff member Mark Robbins, right, attends the Go For Broke National Education Center’s 14th Annual Evening of Aloha Gala Dinner with his wife, Iryll Robbins-Umel, center. At left is keynote speaker and pioneering Asian American athlete Natalie Nakase.

JANM: What led you to come to work for the museum?

Mark Robbins: The mission of the museum appealed to me greatly. I was impressed by how JANM aims to tell the full Japanese American story, in all its shades and complexities. As a hapa and a fourth-generation Japanese American, I saw joining the JANM staff as an opportunity to contribute to something important while learning more about my own family’s history. I was also excited about all of JANM’s programs—the performances, workshops, film screenings, panels, and so on. It’s a vibrant institution that offers so much to its visitors and tests the boundaries of what a museum can be.

JANM: How do you visualize your role at the museum?

MR: Right now, I have a lot to learn, both in terms of the history of Little Tokyo and the various efforts underway at JANM. I see my role, though, as helping the museum be an informed and valuable partner in the community. While we are a national museum, Little Tokyo is in our DNA. Helping to preserve the health and distinct character of Little Tokyo is critical to our mission and our future. I will also play a role in the museum’s government relations, identifying federal grant opportunities for the museum, and working with our Young Professionals Network.

JANM: Can you tell us about your education and work history prior to joining the museum?

MR: I studied Communication and Political Science as an undergraduate at Stanford and went to law school at UCLA. I worked in Washington, DC, for about seven years as a policy advisor in the offices of the late Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska and former Governor of Alaska Sean Parnell. I then moved back to Los Angeles and held temporary positions as an attorney for Legal Aid in Compton before the opportunity with JANM came up.

JANM: You were born in Alaska. Can you tell us about your experience growing up there?

MR: I grew up on Kodiak Island, which is located in the Gulf of Alaska. In addition to its huge brown bears, Kodiak is known for its fishing. My father ran a commercial fishing boat for about 40 years there, catching cod, halibut, and salmon. That was our family business, and my older brother and I worked on the boat in the summers to earn money for school.

JANM: What have been your most memorable experiences so far at the museum?

MR: There have been many. Bringing my family (including my wife, young daughter, and mother) to the Natsumatsuri Family Festival in August was definitely a highlight. We had a large and energetic crowd on hand for the event and I was happy to have three generations of my family share the experience. I have also appreciated spending time with our volunteers, several of whom have committed their time and effort to the museum for decades. Their spirit and enthusiasm are inspiring and a constant reminder of why what we do here is so important. More recently, I’ve been getting to know our New Leadership Advisory Council. They are an impressive group and I’m excited about what we can accomplish together.

Diary of a Nisei Week Princess, Part 3: The Big Event!

Camryn Sugita, now officially a Princess of the 2015 Nisei Week Court, continues her account of her adventures. If you missed her earlier Princess Diary entries, you can still catch up on Part 1 and Part 2.

The 2015 Nisei Week Court at Coronation. Photo by John Fujinami.
The 2015 Nisei Week Court at Coronation. Photo by John Fujinami.

 

After we were officially announced as Nisei Week Queen Candidates, we still had a few more events, trainings, and dance rehearsals to attend before Coronation—our big night and the start of Nisei Week. The dress rehearsal the day before Coronation felt surreal; in less than 24 hours, the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center’s (JACCC) Aratani Theatre would be filled with hundreds of people and only one of us would be crowned as Nisei Week Queen.

The Queen Candidates perform an odori dance in kimonos. Photo by John Fujinami.
The Queen Candidates perform an odori dance in kimonos. Photo by John Fujinami.

 

I could barely sleep that night because I was so worried that I might drop my fans during the odori dance, forget a line in my speech, fall down the steps during the modern dance, or choke on my Q&A. Surprisingly, I wasn’t that nervous for our private, one-on-one interviews with the judges, which took place before the public ceremony. Each of us spent five minutes with all of them, during which they could ask us anything. At this time, we also voted for Miss Tomodachi (the Nisei Week equivalent of Miss Congeniality).

At the big event, we were introduced by our Mistress and Master of Ceremonies, Tamlyn Tomita and David Ono. We all walked onto the stage in our kimonos to perform the opening odori dance with folding fans. Hearing the loud cheers helped calm my nerves and I couldn’t help but crack a smile. I am glad to say that I did not drop my fans.

Camryn gives her speech. Photo by John Fujinami.
Camryn gives her speech.
Photo by John Fujinami.
Next it was time for Verbal Communication Skills; each of us had to give a two-minute speech on a topic of our choice. I chose to talk about being adopted as a baby from Toda, Saitama, Japan by a loving Japanese American family and then growing up in Torrance. While I was in college, I studied abroad for a year in Tokyo, where I was able to learn about my roots firsthand. This speech was the first time I openly shared my adoption story, and I couldn’t have been happier to do it on stage in front of my friends, family, and community.

After our speeches were over, we had to change into our modern dance costumes while Kyodo Taiko performed and the judges and visiting dignitaries were introduced. We performed an elaborate choreographed routine to “Sparkling Diamonds” from Moulin Rouge—and that wasn’t all! We were joined on stage by special guests that included 2015 Nisei Week Foundation President Terry Hara, JACCC Director of Marketing and Development Helen Ota, and 2004 Nisei Week Queen Nikki Kodama, to name just a few, and we all closed out the sequence by dancing to Pitbull’s “Celebrate” from Penguins of Madagascar. It was definitely a performance to remember.

"75 Years Strong" production number performed by the 2015 Queen Candidates. Photo by John Fujinami.
“75 Years Strong” production number performed by the 2015 Queen Candidates.
Photo by John Fujinami.
"75 Years Strong." Photo by John Fujinami.
“75 Years Strong.” Photo by John Fujinami.

 

After the intermission, it was time to get down to serious business—the evening gown walk, followed by the question and answer session. Each candidate was interviewed individually while the others were swept away into a soundproof room. David and Tamlyn warmed us up with random funny questions before posing the same serious question to each of us, which I will paraphrase here: “The Nisei generation made its mark in significant ways. In the future, what do you think your generation will be known for?” In my answer, I paid respect to the contributions of the Nisei and then I challenged the audience to join with me in sharing their stories and giving back to the Japanese American community.

The 2014 Nisei Week Court bids a fond farewell. Photo by John Fujinami.
The 2014 Nisei Week Court bids a fond farewell. Photo by John Fujinami.

 

After the 2014 Nisei Week Queen and Court came on stage to bid their final, official farewell, it was time to announce the outcome of the evening’s competition. The first person to be named was our Miss Tomodachi, Karen Mizoguchi. Next was the First Princess, Veronica Ota. And finally, Sara Hutter was named as Queen! Michelle Hanabusa, Kelsey Kwong, Tamara Teragawa, and I were crowned as Princesses. I am so honored to be given the opportunity to represent the community, and proud of myself for taking on this challenge.

Karen Mizoguchi is named Miss Tomodatchi. Photo by John Fujinami.
Karen Mizoguchi is named Miss Tomodatchi. Photo by John Fujinami.
Veronica Ota is announced as First Princess. Photo by John Fujinami.
Veronica Ota is announced as First Princess. Photo by John Fujinami.
Sara Hutter is crowned as Queen. Photo by John Fujinami.
Sara Hutter is crowned as Queen. Photo by John Fujinami.

 

But Coronation was just the beginning for us! After such a whirlwind day, we had to be up bright and early the next morning to begin our official visits as a court to establishments in Little Tokyo and elsewhere in downtown Los Angeles. Throughout the week we stayed at the DoubleTree Hotel and paid visits to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors office, Sushi Gen, Southern California Flower Market, Keiro Senior HealthCare, and of course, the Japanese American National Museum, among other places. We also met with community leaders and posed for many photos—every day was jam-packed!

One of my favorite visits was to Little Tokyo Nutrition Services, where we ate lunch with some of the senior citizens who live in Little Tokyo Towers. I love being able to learn more about this community and meet some of the many people who keep its spirit alive.

The 2015 Nisei Week Court rides in the Grand Parade. Photo by Richard Watanabe.
The 2015 Nisei Week Court rides in the Grand Parade. Photo by Richard Watanabe.
The 2015 Nisei Week Court participates in the Ondo dance and Closing Ceremony. Photo by John Fujinami.
The 2015 Nisei Week Court participates in the Ondo dance and Closing Ceremony.
Photo by John Fujinami.
The 2015 Nisei Week Court, with 2015 Nisei Week Foundation President Terry Hara and a community member, poses in front of the 2015 Nebuta float, designed especially for this year's parade by master Nebuta float artist Hiroo Takenami. Photo by John Fujinami.
The 2015 Nisei Week Court, with 2015 Nisei Week Foundation President Terry Hara and a community member, poses in front of the 2015 Nebuta float, designed especially for this year’s parade by master Nebuta float artist Hiroo Takenami. Photo by John Fujinami.
Photo by Richard Watanabe.
Photo by Richard Watanabe.

 

Stay tuned to First & Central for more Nisei Week Princess adventures in the months to come, including an exciting trip to Japan!

Diary of a Nisei Week Princess, Part 2: The Making of a Princess

One of JANM’s own staff members, Events Assistant Camryn Sugita, was selected as a queen candidate for the 2015 Nisei Week Japanese Festival, representing the Gardena Evening Optimist (GEO) club. She has agreed to do a series of occasional blog posts about her experience, offering insight into the Nisei Week Court process and what it means for the princesses and the community at large. Read her first entry here.

Camryn Sugita, center, is crowned Miss GEO 2015. Surrounding her are four members of the GEO club, along with 2014 Nisei Week Princess Tiffany Hashimoto (left) and 2008 Nisei Week Queen Jill Hiraizumi (right).
Camryn Sugita, center, is crowned Miss GEO 2015. Surrounding her are four members of the GEO club, along with 2014 Nisei Week Princess Tiffany Hashimoto (left) and 2008 Nisei Week Queen Jill Hiraizumi (right).

 

A couple of days after I submitted my application, I received an email confirming my interview. The interview only lasted 30 minutes with a panel of six interviewers. I was told I would hear back the next day about whether or not I was selected.

After what seemed like the longest day of my life, I finally received an email at 4 p.m. The first two lines read, “Thank you so much for taking the time to apply and interview for the Miss GEO candidate position. It was very nice interviewing you and getting to know you.” I immediately thought I hadn’t been selected.

Then in the second paragraph it stated, “You were selected as the 2015 Miss GEO!” My jaw dropped and I screamed, which probably wasn’t a good idea since I was working at JANM’s front desk at the time. I couldn’t wait to tell my family, friends, and co-workers, who had all encouraged me throughout the interview process. A week later, I had my crowning at Cherrystones restaurant in Gardena, where I was able to meet members of GEO and give my first, very rough, speech. It was a night to remember!

The 2015 Nisei Week Court at queen candidate Michelle Hanabusa's crowning as Miss Western Los Angeles at the Venice Hongwanji Obon Festival.
The 2015 Nisei Week Court at queen candidate Michelle Hanabusa’s crowning as Miss Western Los Angeles at the Venice Hongwanji Obon Festival.

 

At the end of April, I attended the Nisei Week Queen Candidate orientation with my parents, where I met the other girls and our advisors, the Queen and Court Program Committee. Less than a week later, we had our first training session: kimono rehearsal, in which we learned how to properly put on, walk in, and fold a yukata (casual summer kimono). Some of us had a hard time at first, but now we can all put them on with ease.

Since June, we’ve been meeting at least three times a week for various classes and trainings. The sessions are three to four hours long and have included odori (Japanese dance) rehearsals, modern dance classes, etiquette training, professional development, and a variety of cultural lessons. Many hours are devoted to practicing our introductions and learning to walk properly in heels. My favorites, however, are the cultural lessons. The first one was in basic karate—by the end of the lesson, we were each able to break a board in half!

All of these classes prepared us well for our first big event—the Nisei Week Japanese Festival Opening Ceremony on July 19. At this official kickoff, we all gave our introductions and were presented as candidates for Nisei Week Queen. But the fun doesn’t stop there! We still have lots of trainings to go before Nisei Week.

Nisei Week takes place August 15–23. The new Nisei Week Queen will be selected at the coronation ceremony on August 15. Who will be crowned? Visit niseiweek.org for more information, and stay tuned to this blog for more diary entries!

Diary of a Nisei Week Princess, Part 1: How It All Began

One of JANM’s own staff members, Events Assistant Camryn Sugita, is a candidate for the 2015 Nisei Week Court. She has agreed to do a series of occasional blog posts about her experience, offering insight into the Nisei Week Court and what it means for the princesses and the community at large.

Mrs. Ito presents Nisei Week Queen Stella Nakadate with a card, California, September 7, 1955. Photo by Toyo Miyatake Studio. Collection Japanese American National Museum, Gift of the Alan Miyatake Family.
Mrs. Ito presents Nisei Week Queen Stella Nakadate with a card, California, September 7, 1955. Photo by Toyo Miyatake Studio. Collection Japanese American National Museum, Gift of the Alan Miyatake Family.
I always knew about Nisei Week growing up. As a Japanese American in Los Angeles, it was just one of those things you grew up going to. I remember seeing the Nisei Week Court featured in the Rafu Shimpo, sitting on a float in the parade, wearing beautiful dresses and crowns. I never thought that one day, I would be doing that.

I was working at JANM on a busy Saturday when I bumped into an old friend’s mom. She didn’t even recognize me at first. We chatted and caught up with one another, then toward the end of our conversation, she said, “You should apply for Nisei Week Court! You would be the perfect candidate!” The idea caught me so off guard that the only reaction I could come up with was to reject it. I kept saying, “I don’t know, I don’t think so,” but she wasn’t backing down. She insisted on putting me in touch with a former Nisei Week princess. By the end of the conversation, I was saying “I’ll think about it.”

And I really did think about it. All I knew about Nisei Week Court was what I remembered from childhood, so I did some research and spoke with two former Nisei Week princesses about their experiences. I discovered that being part of the court meant so much more than just sitting on a float in a beautiful dress; for 74 years, they have acted as representatives of the Los Angeles Japanese American community, helping to promote its image and build positive relationships worldwide. Members of the court receive training in public speaking, etiquette, and Japanese history and culture; they also have opportunities to travel to different cities, meeting all kinds of people and learning to be leaders of their community.

It quickly became apparent to me that becoming a Nisei Week princess is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as well as an extreme honor. I became really inspired and excited to apply for the position, and hoped that I would be able to get an interview.

Toyo Miyatake’s Camera Captured Japanese American History

Little Tokyo is filled with public art, from street murals to commemorative statues. JANM Development Assistant Esther Shin explores one of those works.

Toyo Miyatake's Camera, a public artwork by Nobuho Nagasawa. Photo: Esther Shin.
Toyo Miyatake’s Camera, a public artwork by Nobuho Nagasawa. Photo: Esther Shin.

 

Toyo Miyatake’s Camera, a bronze sculpture by artist Nobuho Nagasawa, stands just outside of JANM’s Historic Building. Made in 1993, it is an outsized replica of an actual camera that belonged to the Japanese American photographer. In the evening, the camera projects slides of Miyatake’s photography onto a window of the Historic Building.

Toyo Miyatake established a photo studio in Little Tokyo in 1923. He became known for his photographs documenting the early Japanese American community. During World War II, Miyatake was imprisoned at the Manzanar incarceration camp along with 10,000 other Japanese Americans. He had to leave behind his home and studio, but he managed to smuggle a camera lens into the camp and constructed a camera body from wood. With this camera he secretly documented the community’s daily life behind barbed wire; the photographs from this period have become important documents of this tragic episode in American history.

A well-known photograph taken by Toyo Miyatake at Manzanar concentration camp. Courtesy of Alan Miyatake, Toyo Miyatake Studio.
A well-known photograph by Toyo Miyatake, taken at Manzanar concentration camp. Courtesy Alan Miyatake, Toyo Miyatake Studio.

 

Nagasawa’s sculpture is my favorite public artwork in Little Tokyo. Although it is relatively small and modest, it speaks loudly and is rich in meaning. I see it as a symbol of remembrance, underscoring the importance of looking back and reflecting on what has happened in the Japanese American community—not only during the incarceration of U.S. citizens during WWII, but in the years before as well. I appreciate the fact that the images projected by the installation include darker moments from our history alongside special events and celebrations that were dear to the community before the war—such as the 1932 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, and the Nisei Week parade of 1939—because all of these moments, bright or dark, are part of the Japanese American story.

It is fitting that the sculpture is located on the plaza of the museum, and faces the Historic Building. It stands on the spot of a former WWII reporting site, where hundreds of Japanese Americans boarded buses to be taken to incarceration camps. It is also located across the way from JANM’s Pavilion building, where the permanent exhibition, Common Ground: The Heart of Community—which chronicles 130 years of Japanese American history—is displayed.

To explore more works of public art in Little Tokyo, sign up for JANM’s Edible Adventures: Public Art and the Sweets of Little Tokyo tour on March 28.

Little Tokyo Markets Explored in Edible Adventures Tour This Saturday

The early Little Tokyo grocery store, Kii Shokai Foods, is commemorated with an engraving on the sidewalk in front of Daikokuya restaurant.
The early Little Tokyo grocery store, Kii Shokai Foods, is commemorated with an
engraving in front of present-day Daikokuya restaurant.

 

When the first Japanese immigrants began arriving in California in the late 19th century, they needed to establish certain infrastructures for themselves in order to facilitate their survival in a new, and often hostile, country. One such infrastructure was the self-sufficient community of Little Tokyo, where a variety of Japanese businesses catered to Japanese needs. Another was the pioneering development of wholesale produce and flower markets.

It is a little known fact that prior to World War II, Japanese immigrants grew and sold 75 percent of all fresh produce consumed in Los Angeles—produce that was sold at such outlets as the venerable Grand Central Market, opened in 1917. Japanese American growers also established the city’s first major flower market, the Southern California Flower Market (popularly known as “the Japanese market”), on Los Angeles Street in 1913. This initial effort eventually gave rise to the Los Angeles Flower District, the largest wholesale flower district in the nation.

Today, Nijiya Market anchors the bustling Japanese Village Plaza in Little Tokyo.
Today, Nijiya Market anchors the bustling Japanese Village Plaza in Little Tokyo.

 

Downtown and Little Tokyo are filled with the ghosts of thriving immigrant businesses from the past. One such ghost can be found just a few steps from JANM. If you look at the sidewalk in front of the busy Daikokuya restaurant, you will see fading gold letters commemorating the establishment of Kii Shokai Foods in 1910. Today, the ethnic market tradition is carried on in Little Tokyo by popular chains like Nijiya and Marukai.

This Saturday, learn more about the fascinating history of downtown’s markets and the pivotal role that Japanese Americans have played in their development. Roxana Lewis, travel agent and history buff, will lead Edible Adventures: Little Tokyo Markets, Then and Now from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. $40 for members and $50 for non-members gets you an informative tour, lunch, and admission to our core exhibition, Common Ground: The Heart of Community. The tour is limited to 18 participants, but a few spaces are still available!

Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest Seeks Entries by January 31


Far East Cafe, a drawing by Ernest Nagamatsu, first prize winner of the 2014 Imagine Little Tokyo short story contest.
Far East Cafe, a drawing by Ernest Nagamatsu, first prize winner of the 2014 Imagine Little Tokyo short story contest.

Last year, as part of Little Tokyo’s 130th anniversary celebrations, the Little Tokyo Historical Society (LTHS) sponsored the first-ever Imagine Little Tokyo short story contest, inviting the general public to submit short works of original fiction set in the historic neighborhood. Stories could take place in the past, present, or future and were judged on the writer’s storytelling ability and use of the neighborhood as a cultural setting.

The contest was a success, attracting about sixty diverse submissions. Ernest Nagamatsu won the first prize of $1,000 with “Doka B-100,” a sorrowful tale about coping with the grief of war. Rubén Guevara’s “Yuriko and Carlos,” a story of interracial romance set during World War II, won the second place prize of $500 while Satsuki Yamashita took the third place prize of $250 with “Mr. K,” which takes the reader on a heartwarming journey of self-discovery over a series of meals in Little Tokyo. All three of the top stories were published in the print edition of The Rafu Shimpo and online at the LTHS website and at JANM’s own Discover Nikkei project. Twelve additional finalists were also published online.

Inspired by the enthusiastic response to last year’s contest, LTHS decided to make Imagine Little Tokyo an annual event. For the 2015 edition, the categories have been expanded to accommodate Japanese-language and youth submissions. The prizes will be $600 for the best English-language story; $600 for the best Japanese-language story; and $400 for the best story by a writer 18 years old or younger. As with last year’s edition, winning stories will be published in the Rafu Shimpo and on the LTHS website and Discover Nikkei.

Do you have a Little Tokyo tale you’d like to tell? The deadline for submissions is January 31! For complete guidelines, visit the LTHS website.

Help Paint JANM’s New Mural This Saturday

Katie Yamasaki's Moon Beholders
Katie Yamasaki’s Moon Beholders

 

JANM has commissioned a new mural to be painted on the north wall of the museum’s National Center for the Preservation of Democracy. Titled Moon Beholders, the mural is designed by artist, author, and illustrator Katie Yamasaki. Based in Brooklyn, Yamasaki has painted more than 60 murals around the world. JANM visitors may know her as the author and illustrator of Fish for Jimmy, a children’s book that she read from at a Target Free Family Saturday event this past June.

Moon Beholders is intended to evoke various contemporary and historic concepts within Japanese American culture while connecting with the community around the museum. Against a bright gold background, a smiling young girl lies clothed in a variety of furoshiki—traditional cloths long used to preserve, protect, and transport items. The pattern and color on each furoshiki represents a unique moment in Japanese American history, such as a pale blue sky covered in yellow barbed wire symbolizing the WWII incarceration camps.

Surrounding the girl are floating lanterns, signifying transcendence and the concept of akari—light as illumination. Near the top of the mural, a 17th-century haiku by the Japanese poet Basho reads, “From time to time / The clouds give rest / To the moon beholders.” With the spectrum of interpretations possible in this mural, Yamasaki’s hope is that “the viewer will have the space in this image to become their own moon beholder.”

As part of the next Target Free Family Saturday on November 8, the public is invited to help the artist complete the Moon Beholders mural. Between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., adults and children alike can sign up to paint for 30-minute intervals; up to 12 individuals can paint per interval. Participants should wear closed-toe shoes and other attire appropriate for an exterior painting project. The artist will be on hand to provide guidance.

Come to JANM this Saturday and become your own moon beholder! In addition to mural painting, the museum will be offering a variety of fun, hands-on activities to engage the whole family. For a complete schedule, visit janm.org/target.