Ruthie’s Origami Adventures

Autumn cards by Ruthie Kitagawa
Autumn cards by Ruthie Kitagawa


For several years, Ruthie’s Origami Corner has been a popular fixture at JANM, whether as its own standalone event or as part of larger events like Target Free Saturdays and Oshogatsu Family Festival. Visitors young and old have benefited from Ruthie Kitagawa’s gentle guidance as she leads them in making unique origami items to commemorate every occasion.

A longtime JANM volunteer, Ruthie is a native Angeleno who spent part of her childhood imprisoned at Santa Anita Assembly Center and Amache Relocation Center. She has had an interest in arts and crafts for as long as she can remember; while still in high school, she volunteered to teach a class for the Boys and Girls Club.

Ruthie did not discover origami until later in life, and she admits that at first, she was not very good at it. Her initial experience with the craft occurred during preparations for her brother’s wedding in 1992, when she assisted in folding hundreds of gold foil cranes. She remembers with good humor that her cranes wound up on the reception tables, hidden behind floral arrangements, and that she was not invited to help with her sister’s wedding decorations two years later.

Shortly after her brother’s wedding, Ruthie’s older sister Lois—a dedicated JANM volunteer—encouraged her to take origami classes at the museum. Under the tutelage of Ryoko Shibata, who taught the origami classes at that time, Ruthie dedicated herself to improving her skills, which steadily blossomed. At the same time, she began volunteering at JANM as a docent and a Hirasaki National Resource Center assistant. Shibata Sensei eventually asked Ruthie to be her assistant in the origami classes, which Ruthie then took over when Shibata retired.

Kitagawa, right, received the 2010 Community Award in recognition of her services as a volunteer.
Ruthie Kitagawa, right, received the 2010 Community Award
in recognition of her services as a volunteer.


Sadly, Ruthie’s older sister passed away in 1998. Ruthie credits Lois—who was an avid origami practitioner—and JANM with inspiring her passion for the art form. Today, Ruthie applies a creative approach to her origami practice, often adding her own unique flourishes to designs she finds in books.

When asked what she enjoys the most about teaching her origami classes, Ruthie responds: “I love getting to know the people who come. They try so hard, and they can’t always complete the projects, but when they do, their faces just light up! That makes me really happy.”

Read more about Ruthie’s life story on Discover Nikkei. To meet Ruthie in person, come to Target Free Family Saturday this weekend, where she will be teaching participants to make a unique holiday ornament. Ruthie will also lead a Year of the Sheep origami workshop at our Oshogatsu Family Festival on January 4.

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

Vote for JANM! Nominated for Best Museum in LA Downtown News’ 2014 Best of Downtown contest


The Japanese American National Museum has once again been nominated in L.A. Downtown News’ 2014 Best of Downtown contest!

We’re nominated in 2 categories: Best Museum and Best Family Attraction for our Target Free Family Saturdays.

Help us win by going to and following the instructions to vote.

Voting is open until May 30, 2014.

Go to >>

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Target Free Family Saturdays:
Imagination Storytime
June 14, 2014
11 a.m.–4 p.m.


Transport yourself into magical and faraway worlds through storybook readings and exciting performances!

For  schedule of activities >>


Highlights from February’s Target Day with KoAloha Ukulele!

KoAloha_JANM_2-8-14_M Palma Photography-477

On February 8, 2014, JANM held the Target Day Free Family Saturdays: Aloha from Hawaii with KoAloha Ukulele family festival. Every corner of the Museum was filled with music as KoAloha Ukulele led free performances, workshops, and more!

Cartoonist Vishavjit Singh leads a cartoon workshop. Photo by Russell Kitagawa.
Cartoonist Vishavjit Singh leads a cartoon workshop. Photo by Russell Kitagawa.

In addition to the performances and workshops, guests also enjoyed ukulele-related film screenings of My KoAloha Story and The Haumana; and a variety of craft activities.

The Adventures of Sikh Captain America, a special program in conjunction with the Marvels & Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics, 1942-1986 exhibition, completed the full day of free programming.

KoAloha_JANM_2-8-14_M Palma Photography-152
Ryo Montgomery. Photo by Mike Palma.

Throughout the afternoon the Aratani Central Hall was filled with the sounds of spectacular ukulele performances by exciting young performers Jason Arimoto, Tj Mayeshiro (from Hawaii), and Ryo Montgomery (from Australia!).

JANM guests bring their own ukeleles for free classes taught by KoAloha Ukele artists and artist partners. Photo by M Palma.
JANM guests brought their own ukeleles for free classes taught by KoAloha Ukele staff and artist partners. Photo by Mike Palma.

Many guests brought their own instruments for free ukulele classes with KoAloha Ukulele staff and artist partners. These lively classes were enjoyed by guests of all ages and all levels as a number of classes were offered by different artists.


Check out these photos from February’s Target Free Family Saturday. Click on the thumbnails to see the full image larger.

The festival closed with an All-Star jam finale featuring Jason Arimoto, Tj Mayeshiro, Ryo Montgomery, and Brian Benevente! Photo by M Palma.
The festival closed with an All-Star jam finale featuring Jason Arimoto, Tj Mayeshiro, Ryo Montgomery, and Brian Benevente! Photo by M Palma.


Thanks to Russell Kitagawa, Mike Palma, Caroline Jung, Tsuneo Takasugi, and Tokumasa Shoji for taking amazing photographs!

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Save the date for JANM’s next Target Free Family Saturday on May 10th! In celebration of the new Dodgers: Brotherhood of the Game exhibition (opening March 29!), bring the whole family out for free baseball-themed crafts & activities…sure to be a home run! Stay tuned for updates on

Target FREE Family Saturday: Aloha from Hawaii with KoAloha Ukulele on February 8


KoAloha Ukulele is coming from Hawaii on Saturday, February 8 to lead performances, workshops, crafts, and all things ukulele at our next Target Free Family Saturday. It’s FREE all day!

Bring your own ukulele to learn basic and intermediate ukulele with Brian Benevente of KoAloha Ukulele and other KoAloha artist partners (11:15am/12:15pm/1:15pm/2:15pm). The little ones will enjoy strum-along and sing-along workshops with George “Gibi” del Barrio as “Abba Geebz” (Grandpa Geebz) at 11:30am, 12:45pm, and 1:45pm. If you don’t have your own ukulele, Anacapa Ukulele will be on-site selling instruments!

There will be solo performances by spectacular ukulele performers Tj Mayeshiro, Jason Arimoto, and Ryo Montgomery at 11:30am, 1pm, and 2:30pm. Plus an All-Star jam finale at 3:30pm with all three performers.

Plus, screenings of award-winning films: My KoAloha Story at 11:30am and The Haumana at 1:30pm; make your own candy leis; send an aloha to someone special by making a valentine with a bit of a Hawaiian touch; and fold an origami Hawaiian canoe.

For complete schedule, visit

Video of TJ Mayeshiro and Ryo Montgomery performing in Korea:


Video of Jason Arimoto performing “Kaze Blues,” an original blues ukulele song about the Japanese picture bride experience in Hawaii in the early 1900s:

Target Free Family Saturday: Ukulele fun & Valentine crafts!

Feb target crafts

Aloha! Are you ready? It’s the first Target Free Family Saturday of 2014 and we are excited to see you!!

On Saturday, January 8th from 11am – 4pm, we’ll be celebrating Hawaii with KoAloha Ukulele, who will be leading performances, workshops, crafts, and all things ukulele…and it’s all FREE! (If you have an ukulele, be sure to bring it to join in the fun.)

A full schedule for the day can be found here.

Not only is Hawaii on our minds, but, we’re also thinking about Valentine’s Day which is right around the corner. All kids can come and think sweet thoughts as they construct a candy lei. We will also have a variety of supplies available for you to make Valentine cards. It’s going to be a fun one so we hope you can join us!



December Target Free Family Saturday Highlights

Picture Frames

JANM’s Winter Wonderland-themed Target Free Family Saturdays event on December 14, was jam-packed with holiday activities!

From taking pictures with Asian American Santa, decorating picture frames, making a cereal snack, taking a ride on a horse-drawn carriage, and enjoying a kamishibai winter-time story, our guests were able to get into the holiday spirit!

Check out these photos from December’s Target Free Family Saturday (click on the photos to see them larger):


Go For Broke: Japanese American Soldiers Fighting on Two Fronts is on view at JANM through March 2, 2014. For more details about the exhibition, visit:

If you like food, cultural activities, and entertainment, mark your calendar for JANM’s annual Oshogatsu Family Festival, coming up on Sunday, January 5, 2014 from 11AM – 5PM! It’s FREE ALL DAY!

Our next Target Free Family Saturdays event will be on be on February 8, 2014 from 11AM – 4PM. You won’t want to miss a day of making music with KoAloha Ukulele as they lead performances, workshops, crafts, and all things ukulele! For details, visit:

Photo Credits: Tsuneo Takasugi, Caroline Jung, and Esther Shin.

“Winter Wonderland” Target Free Family Saturday on December 14th!

December Target Day 6

Visit JANM for a winter-themed Target FREE Family Saturdays event on December 14th, from 11AM to 4PMAll day activities include: decorating a holiday picture frame; constructing a tiny winter wonderland to fill with seasonal cheer, and folding a winter reindeer in Ruthie’s Origami Corner.

December Target Day 8From 11AM to 2PM join Kidding Around the Kitchen for a simple, yet delicious, Winter Wonderland cereal mix that will make a delicious snack as well as a fun home-made present the kids will be so proud to give away to family, friends, and teachers alike.

December Target Day 5From 12PM to 2PM take a picture with Asian American Santa Claus, and don’t forget to let him know what you want for Christmas!

From 12:30PM to 2:30PM join a guided tour of JANM’s latest exhibition, Go For Broke: Japanese American Soldiers Fighting on Two Fronts (on view through March 2, 2014).

December Target Day 7From 1PM to 3PM enjoy a ride on a horse-drawn carriage that will be fun for the whole family!

At 1PM and 3PM don’t miss Star in a Glass Jar, a winter-time story performed through kamishibai (paper drama), a Japanese art form of storytelling. The story is about an incredible adventure of one child’s letter with no address which finds its way to the other side of the world. Paper character craft to follow performance.

Photos by Russell Kitagawa, Richard Murakami, Tsuneo Takasugi, and Caroline Jung.


Generously sponsored by Target, these special Saturdays are filled with fun activities giving families unique ways to learn, play, and grow together.

Check out our other fun and free Family Festivals!

Highlights from November’s Target Free Family Saturday


On November 9, 2013, JANM celebrated autumn with many guests at Target Free Family Saturdays: Awesome Autumn!

The day was filled with free activities such as putting together a festive fall salad, banging on a drum in a drum circle, sitting in on a reading of Thanksgiving at Obaachan’s, decorating a furoshiki (wrapping cloth) for a mini omanju (traditional confection), and much more!

Go For Broke - Veterans Day Weekend

The Go For Broke National Education Center also held an important event at their monument. 11 veterans of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team were reminded of France’s gratitude for their efforts during World War II and received the French Legion of Honor Medal. Words of remembrance and appreciation, followed by the pinning of the Medals were presented by Fabrice Maiolino, the Deputy Consul General of France in Los Angeles. Afterwards, exciting activities ensued at the Go For Broke Monument in honor of Veterans Day. Guests were able to view the monument, and enjoy various family-friendly activities as well.

It was an exciting Saturday to celebrate the season, and Veterans Day. Check out these photos from November’s Target Free Family Saturday!

Photos by Caroline Jung, Richard Murakami, Russell Kitagawa, and Tsuneo Takasugi


Don’t miss our next Target Free Family Saturday, “Winter Wonderland” on Saturday, December 14th from 11AM – 4PM! It’s a Winter Wonderland of seasonal crafts & activities including photos with Asian American Santa, a horse-drawn carriage, and kamishibai story-telling! For more information, visit

If you haven’t gotten a chance to see it already, JANM’s newest exhibition, Go For Broke: Japanese American Soldiers Fighting on Two Fronts is on view until March 2, 2014. For more information on the exhibition please visit

Save the Date: 2014 Oshogatsu Family Festival

Taiko Group

Celebrate the New Year and the Year of the Horse at JANM! Ring in 2014 with a FREE fun-filled day of exciting cultural performances, special foods, and fun crafts!

Candy Sculpture

FREE admission all day on Sunday, January 5, 2014 from 11AM – 5PM.

Here are a few highlights to look forward to at Oshogatsu Family Festival:

From 12PM – 5PM, world-renowned candy artist Shan Ichiyanagi returns JANM! Watch as he makes horse & other special candy sculptures! These sculptures will be for children on, and candies will be raflled off throughout the day.

From 12PM – 2PM, learn how to make onigiri rice balls and participate in our Onigiri Design Contest, presented by Common Grains!

From 1PM – 5PM be sure to try some lucky zaru soba (buckwheat noodles) with Kidding Around the Kitchen. From 1PM – 5PM you can also meet and ride some real live ponies in celebration of the Year of the Horse!


Don’t miss Kodama Taiko at 2:30PM & 4PM as they perform a demonstration of mochitsuki, a traditional rice cake pounding ceremonyMochi samples will be passed out at the end of the performance!

For JANM members, there will be a special gourmet osechi-ryori tasting from 12PM – 1PM where members can sample traditional Japanese New Year foods, while supplies last!

The day will also include all-day activities such as a horse bounce house, a toddler room where our youngest guests can hang out, Fukubukuro (lucky bag) sale at the Museum Store, and fun horse crafts.

While you’re here, be sure to check out the Marvels & Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics, 1942-1986 (through February 9, 2014) and Go For Broke: Japanese American Soldiers Fighting on Two Fronts (through March 2, 2014) exhibitions.

For more details, visit the 2014 Oshogatsu Family Festival page:

Stay tuned for a special series of Oshogatsu blog posts that will explore some of the cultural activities in more detail!


Kaeru reindeerYou don’t have to wait to enjoy holiday fun at JANM!

Join us for Target FREE Family Saturdays: Winter Wonderland on Saturday, December 14 from 11AM – 4PM.

It’s a Winter Wonderland of seasonal crafts & activities including photos with Asian American Santa, a horse-drawn carriage, kamishibai story-telling, and more!

For schedule, visit: