The Japanese American National Museum is
collaborating with The Nippon Foundation on a large-scale research project
trying to learn about how young people of Japanese ancestry (Nikkei) experience
and express their Japanese heritage. The first of its kind, this project seeks
to dig deep into Nikkei communities around the world and to explore their
differences and similarities.
Are you a Nikkei age 18 to 35? We want to hear
from you! Regardless of when your ancestors emigrated from Japan, their
destination country, or where you now reside, we want you to help develop a
picture of current Nikkei communities, needs or challenges they face now, and
those that may arise soon. There is currently no other research investigating
younger generation Nikkei communities on a global level.
The team leading this research includes Dr. Curtiss Takada Rooks, who is Assistant Professor, Department of Asian and Asian American Studies, and Senior Research Associate Psychology Applied Research Center and Program Coordinator, Asian Pacific American Studies at Loyola Marymount University; and Dr. Lindsey Sasaki Kogasaka, Assistant Director of Study Abroad at Pomona College. Rooks’ research focuses on ethnic and multiracial identity, ethnic community development, and cultural competency in community health and wellness. Kogasaka specializes in cross-cultural exchange and training, international migration, and the Asian diaspora in Latin America.
The Nippon Foundation, which initiated this
project and selected JANM as its partner, was established in 1962 as a
nonprofit philanthropic organization, active in Japan and around the world. Its
range of activities encompasses education, social welfare, public health, and
other fields—carried out in more than 100 countries to date. The Nippon
Foundation also reached out to Discover Nikkei, which has a global network, for
its help in conducting the research. The results of this study will be
published after the spring of 2020.
The survey takes just 10-15 minutes to complete. Although the target audience is Nikkei, including those with mixed ancestry, between the ages of 18–35, others are welcome to participate. Please share this opportunity with friends or family who may be interested. Hurry—the survey closes at midnight (PST) on February 28, 2019!
After Pearl Harbor, anti-Japanese sentiment exploded. Along with general suspicion toward Japanese Americans, those who practiced Buddhism were often specifically targeted. Even before the smoke had cleared at Pearl Harbor, the American government was already rounding up Buddhist leaders for detention. With Buddhist communities under surveillance and anti-Japanese attitudes reaching a boiling point, some Japanese American Buddhists even contemplated converting to Christianity in hopes this would save them from being sent to American concentration camps.
Today, Buddhism is seen favorably by most Americans as a peaceful religion. However, this wasn’t the case in the early twentieth century. Americans in the early 1900s were warned by newspapers and individual leaders in the Christian community that Buddhism was cruel to animals, degrading toward women, and led by debaucherous priests. These unsavory sentiments led some Buddhists to consciously present their faith to be more compatible with Christian tastes by saying, like Christianity, they had a god.
In Duncan Ryuken Williams’ new book, American Sutra. A Story of Faith and Freedom
in the Second World War, he details this bigotry against Buddhists during
World War II. The book also explains how the Japanese American community,
though forcibly dispossessed of their property and imprisoned in concentration
camps, fought for their religious freedom, and how this gave rise to a new type
American Buddhism. Williams writes that born out of the struggle to gain
liberty from the concentration camps and the longing to practice religion
freely “the (US) constitution became a new scripture for Buddhists in America, one that would protect their
freedom to practice the Dharma in the land of liberty they called home.”
Williams, a Soto Zen Buddhist priest and
Director of the University of Southern California Shinso Ito Center for Japanese
Religions and Culture, uses internment camp newsletters, newly translated
letters and diaries, and interviews with camp survivors and Japanese American
WWII veterans to explain how, even in the face of suspicion and prejudice,
their faith strengthened and helped them persevere. Published by Belknap Press,
American Sutra also asks the question
that’s still as pertinent now in the US as it was in 1941: Is a non-Christian
person of color as American as a white Christian? Williams seeks answers by
examining the history of Buddhist migration to the US and the roots of Buddhism
being seen as a security threat to the US. The book concludes with a poignant
story of an incarcerated Buddhist priest conducting the ritual practice of
copying and burying a Buddhist sutra
(scripture) in hopes of bringing forth the salvation of future generations of
Japanese American Buddhists.
On Saturday, February 23, see Duncan Ryuken Williams speak about American Sutra while exploring questions of faith, identity, and resilience in the face of dislocation, loss, and uncertainty. His talk will be followed by comments and discussion with Brian Niiya (Content Director, Densho), Naomi Hirahara (award-winning author and historian), and Valerie Matsumoto (UCLA Aratani Chair on the Japanese American Incarceration, Redress, and Community). Reception and book signing will follow. This program is free, but RSVPs are recommended using this link.
Have you seen our exhibition Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit yet? It features large-format contemporary photos taken by Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Paul Kitagaki Jr. displayed next to images shot 75 years ago by War Relocation Authority (WRA) photographers such as Dorothea Lange and Clem Albers during World War II. Each pairing in the exhibition features the same individuals or their direct descendants as the subject matter.
Paul has spent years tracking
down the formerly unknown subjects in WRA-era photos. After countless hours at
the National Archives in Washington, DC, and through tips from family, friends,
and the public he has found more than 60 individuals or their descendants to
photograph. We caught up with Paul via email to ask him a few questions about
this project, his process, and what he has learned by working with his
JANM: What are the
similarities and differences between your Gambatte
work versus your job as a photojournalist?
Kitagaki Jr: I’ve been a photojournalist for 40 years and have worked at seven
different newspapers on the West Coast. This project has been similar to an
investigative piece, taking a tremendous amount of research, looking for clues to
the identities of unidentified people from over 70 years ago. Once the subject
had been identified, I had to gain their trust to participate. It was very slow
for the first few years. It has taken over 13 years to build this body of work,
matching 61 historical photos with the same subjects today sharing their stories.
I started with an idea of finding the identities of the subjects photographed
by Dorothea Lange, I never thought I would find the amount of subjects in the
exhibition and book. These are the images that have been burned in my memory when
I first learned of Executive Order 9066 as a teenager in 1970.
my first trip to the National Archives in 1984, I searched over 900 Dorothea
Lange photographs looking for my family. As I looked through the boxes of
images of the government historical record of the incarceration, the faces of
the unidentified Japanese Americans haunted me and I wanted to know what had
happened to them and if their experience was the same or different from my
family. Maybe I could learn more than what my parents hadn’t spoken of.
In your Gambatte portraits, are you
more spontaneous with your subjects or are you trying to capture an idea you
When I photograph a subject I have an open mind of how they will be
photographed. I look at the historical photograph of the subject and try to
find a feeling from the image that I might be able to incorporate in my
contemporary photograph. It might be the location of the historical image or
something from the subject’s life today that relates to being a Japanese
American. When I meet them at their home, I collaborate with the subject and
ask for something that might relate to their story. I might ask them if they have
anything personal they brought to camp with them. Many times they don’t have
anything from that time in their lives.
Since you’re dealing with serious, oftentimes painful memories, how do you make
your subjects feel at ease and comfortable?
The subject is very serious, often with painful memories that haven’t been
shared outside of the family and sometimes not even in the family. I explain to
them how important their stories are and that they are the only ones who can
create a lasting personal and historical record of Executive Order 9066. You have to remember that many Sansei, Yonsei, and
Gosei never heard the stories of the incarceration and the emotional and
financial toll it took on their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.
Many of the Issei and Nisei didn’t share their stories with their own families.
Are there any lasting lessons you’ve learned from the camp survivors you’ve photographed?
common theme the survivors voiced is that they don’t want this to happen again,
to anybody. There was nobody to speak out and defend them as they silently went
into the incarceration camps. They all have an inner strength. They wanted to move on and not burden their children
with the shame they endured so many years ago. We saw how their civil rights
had been violated, but they triumphed over adversity, they didn’t give up, they
keep trying to do their best in the most difficult situations while locked away
in the incarceration camps during WWII and that is the spirit of the word gambatte.
Can you tell us a little bit about your upcoming book?
PK: The book will be out in April 2019 and is titled Behind Barbed Wire. The 152-page hardcover book with 137 photographs will have 61 stories of the Japanese Americans incarcerated in the camps. We look at the time before forced removal, the forced removal days, and life in the camps. The book is based on 13 years of research from the interviews and photographs from the national touring exhibition Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit that has been shown across the country. We are hoping to share the book and exhibition in more places across the US and abroad.
What would you like the legacy of this project to be?
I want the stories and photographs of Executive Order 9066 to be shared with a
diverse audience who might not know what had happened during WWII to Japanese
American citizens. Many of the subjects have said they don’t want this to
happen to anybody else and feel the importance of sharing this story.
am still looking for more subjects and hope to add a multimedia video component
to the project. Hearing the voices will be a powerful addition to the story
In many public and private schools across the nation, this chapter of American history is rarely being taught. This exhibit and book offers a visual opportunity to learn about this time in history and to educate a new generation of gatekeepers, as well as the older generations, about the tragedy of war and the importance of standing up for the constitutional rights of all people. Although the Japanese American incarceration occurred over 70 years ago, events such 9/11, the upheaval that followed, and the racial turmoil in the US reveal that the message of this exhibit is more relevant than ever. I hope that future generations will be inspired by these stories and images. Hopefully, we can get it to more educational institutions such as high schools and universities as part of the reading curriculum. Many school education materials have a few paragraphs, or nothing at all, on the factual information of the incarceration but not the human toll it took on the Issei, Nisei, and Sansei and how it changed their lives forever.
On Saturday, February 9, see Paul Kitagaki Jr. at JANM in conversation with subjects of his work to discuss his creative process, stories about the images, and the effects this project has had on those both behind and in front of the camera. An audience Q&A follows the discussion. On the same day, if you are a JANM member, join Paul Kitagaki Jr. for a members only meet-and-greet and/or a gallery tour of Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit (tour limited to 25 participants). RSVP here.
Despite passing away in 1971 at just 47 years old, John Okada’s brief life carries a lasting impact on American literature to this day. Acclaimed as a pioneering Japanese American novelist, Okada’s only novel, No-No Boy, gives an unflinching look into the cruel treatment and aftermath that individuals of Japanese descent in America experienced following the bombing of Pearl Harbor and during World War II. The first of its kind, Okada’s book broke the veil of silence that fell over most of those incarcerated during the war; this master work of fiction pushed back the shadow cast over Japanese Americans during and after WWII.
in 1923, Okada was a student at the University of Washington when Japan bombed
Pearl Harbor in 1941. His studies were put on hold when he and his family were incarcerated
at the Minidoka concentration camp in 1942, along with thousands of other
American citizens. After completing a loyalty questionnaire, Okada was released
from camp to join the United States Air Force as a translator for intercepted
Boy, Ichiro, the protagonist, is also faced with a loyalty questionnaire. For
question 27, “Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States
on combat duty, wherever ordered?,” and question 28, “Will you swear
unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend
the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and
forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, or any
other foreign government, power, or organization?,” Ichiro answers “no,” dooming
himself to two years in an American concentration camp and two more years in
The story follows Ichiro through his attempts to regain a somewhat normal life after his release. The reader meets other Japanese American characters who were impacted in various ways by the incarceration camps and vicious treatment endured during the war. Ichiro’s friend Freddie, coping with his unjust incarceration, turns to a life of partying. In contrast, a man Ichiro befriends named Kenji, who lost most of his leg while fighting in the war after passing the loyalty questionnaire, held no ill feelings towards the military, America, or those who chose not to serve. Others in the book express different feelings about the war and its outcome, including Ichiro’s own mother, who is in deep denial for most of the book. Things take a dramatic turn when she realizes that Japan lost the war and she can never return to her home country or be accepted in America. Despite these troubled characters, the story retains a message of hope with the idea that Ichiro does not have to succumb to his deep-rooted pain and instead can take life into his own hands and transcend the demons that haunt him.
John Okada created a window of understanding into a group of people that suffered due to the actions of others. His work lives on as a warning of what can come from blaming our own citizens for the actions of those we are in conflict with. that misplaced blame can harm generations and breed deep divisions in our country, damaging our social fabric from the inside out. The painfully truthful work that is No-No Boy lives on as both a beautifully written and tragic piece that gave a voice to a generation while also opening doors to similiar works.
On Saturday, February 2, join us for the Los Angeles launch of the book John Okada: The Life and Rediscovered Work of the Author of No-No Boy. Frank Abe, a journalist and producer of the PBS documentary Conscience and the Constitution, and Greg Robinson, professor of history at Université du Québec a Montréal, who edited John Okada (with Floyd Cheung) will be on hand to discuss the first full-length examination of Okada’s development as a writer. Moderating the discussion will be Brian Niiya, Content Director of Densho.org, an organization whose mission is to preserve the testimonies of Japanese Americans who were unjustly incarcerated during World War II. Book signing to follow.
This past weekend JANM
welcomed over 4,000 people to our Oshogatsu Family Festival. Oshogatsu means “new year” in Japanese
and in the Japanese cycle of zodiac signs, 2019 is the year of the boar. People
born in the years 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, and 2007, and now 2019
all fall under the year of the boar.
Among Asian countries, Japan is unique because it is the only one that celebrates the new year on January 1, like Western countries do. Japan started celebrating on January 1 in 1873, when the Meiji government decided to adopt the Gregorian calendar insteadof the lunisolar calendars they had used previously. During this time in thelate nineteenth century, Japan was consciously moving from an isolated feudalsociety to one taking on more Western-style norms.
In Buddhism, legend has it that the Buddha summoned all animals to meet with him before his departure from earth, but only twelve animals came to say goodbye. Rewarding the animals who came to him, he named a year after each one of them, and that is how the zodiac came about. Their years were given in the order they arrived. Because in the legend the boar was the last to arrive at Buddha’s meeting, it gained the reputation for being lazy.
However, being lazy is a misnomer. According to experts in the Japanese zodiac, people born in the year of the boar are said to be loyal, diligent, generous, optimistic, and honest. Boars love the company of others, and their outgoing nature is charming to other people. They also prioritize family and friends while having a great sense of responsibility. Famous people born in the year of the boar include Hillary Clinton, Thomas Jefferson, David Bowie, Ricky Martin, Alfred Hitchcock, Elvis Presley, Winona Ryder, Lupita Nyong’o, Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the Dalai Lama. If you’re a boar, consider yourself in good company!
Our Oshogatsu Family Festival is over (thank you to everyone who attended!) but you can still celebrate the year of the boar at the JANM Store. For all things boar-ing (not!), check janmstore.com. Products include a t-shirt designed by character designer and storyboard artist RidgeHirano featuring a boar romping in wisteria. Don’t wear t-shirts? You can still show your love for the boar with a handy tote bag. For the little ones, we have this plush boar made by Hansa Toys. Hansa Toys are known for their meticulously hand-crafted and realistic stuffed animals, and this boar is no exception. Happy shopping, and we wish you a wonderful year of the boar!
Another fulfilling year is about to come to a close. JANM presented many significant exhibitions and interesting events in 2018—here’s a look back at some of the highlights.
In January Contested Histories: Art and Artifacts from the Allen Hendershott Eaton Collectionshowcased a collection of arts and crafts Japanese Americans made while incarcerated at American concentration camps during World War II, along with a large number of photographs taken in the camps. Saved from the auction block through the action of Japanese American community leaders throughout the country, the collection serves as a testament to the creative spirit enduring in even the darkest of times. A pop-up version of this is now touring the country. Viewers are asked to contribute any information they have about the objects and the people depicted in the photos.
The Transpacific Borderlands: The Art of Japanese Diaspora in Lima, Los Angeles, Mexico City, and São Paulo exhibition, which opened in 2017 but continued into the first two months of 2018, highlighted the experiences of artists of Japanese ancestry born, raised, or living in either Latin America or predominantly Latin American neighborhoods of Southern California. The show examined the complexities surrounding identity and how the concepts of homeland and cosmopolitanism inform the creativity and aesthetics of this hybrid culture. Continuing on the topic of cultural identity, JANM opened hapa.me– 15 years of the hapa project in April. In this exhibition by artist Kip Fulbeck, photographs from his 2006 exhibition Kip Fulbeck: Part Asian, 100% Hapa were paired with new portraiture of the same individuals. The subjects of the photographs identify as hapa—of mixed Asian/Pacific Islander descent. The photographs were accompanied by each subject’s responses to the question, “What are you?”
In August, to mark the thirtieth anniversary of its signing, two original pages of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, on loan from the National Archives, were displayed along with the pen that President Ronald Reagan used to sign it. This Act formally apologized for the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II and paid monetary reparations to surviving victims of America’s concentration camps. This law came after many years of hard-fought battles and activism by the Japanese American community. Also marking the thirtieth anniversary of the signing, JANM re-imagined a section of its core exhibition Common Ground: The Heart of Community to include more information about the redress movement.
In the autumn, JANM opened Kaiju vs Heroes: Mark Nagata’s Journey through the World of Japanese Toys and Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit; both are currently on display. Kaiju vs Heroes showcases the vintage and contemporary Japanese vinyl toy collection of Mark Nagata and demonstrates how something as seemingly insignificant as a child’s plaything can help inspire an exploration of one’s identity. Gambatte! features modern and historical photographs documenting the stories of Japanese Americans who were forcibly incarcerated during World War II. Large-format contemporary photos taken by Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Paul Kitagaki Jr. are displayed next to images shot 75 years ago by such noted photographers as Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, and others; each pairing features the same individuals, or their direct descendants, as the subject matter.
In addition to exhibitions, JANM hosted several public programs throughout 2018 that were a hit with the community. Highlights included artist Shinpei Takeda’s talk about his work in Transpacific Borderlands, a film screening of the original Godzilla movie, and, of course, the Natsumatsuri Family Festival. The summer festival featured fun for all ages, including crafts, music, tea ceremonies, and taiko drums. More recently, JAMN hosted a staged reading of Velina Hasu Houston’s play Little Women (A Multicultural Transposition). This re-imagination of Alcott’s classic novel presented the story of four Japanese American sisters living in post-war Los Angeles.
JANM members receive benefits at many of our events and exhibitions. These include invitations to exhibition openings and reduced-price tickets to events. Membership at the museum also includes invitations to Members’Only Learning at Lunch sessions at which JANM Collection Unit staff talk about recently acquired objects and other treasures we hold. Members also receive priority seating and access to express lines at family festivals. Think about becoming a member today!
Here’s to a great year. We hope to see you for JANM’s Oshogatsu Family Festival on January 6, 2019, as we celebrate the New Year and the Year of Boar with crafts, food, cultural activities, and performances! The NewYear, or Oshogatsu, is one of Japan’s most popular and important holidays. During this celebration, people in Japan spend time with friends and relatives and enjoy special holiday dishes. We will be offering lucky zaru soba (cold buckwheat noodles) and osechiryori (traditional new year foods), while supplies last. We’ll also present two taiko-infused mochitsuki, the beloved new year tradition of pounding of rice to make mochi. That’s just a small sampling of what’s in store for the day. You can find the complete schedule here.
Come celebrate the Year of the Boar at the 2019 Oshogatsu Family Festival at the Japanese American National Museum on January 6! Activities will run from 11a.m. to 5 p.m. and admission is free. Whether you enjoy traditional Japanese new year foods, art, or live performances, bring the whole family for a day full of cultural activities!
There are a number of things available to do all day
long. For the youngest attendees, there will be a scavenger hunt around the
museum. Find all the items and win a prize! Crafty kids (and adults) can head
over to Ruthie’s Origami Corner to learn the art of paper folding and make
their own origami boars. Everyone can strike a pose with some props at the Nerdbot
Of course, what Year of the Boar festival would be complete without a pig pen? Here’s the twist: at the Oshogatsu Family Festival, the pen is made up entirely of plushie pigs and boars. This is one pig pen where you’ll want your kids to jump right in! The coloring station is there, too.Also open all day is the Toddler Room, where the littlest festival-goers can play with people their own size while supervised by an accompanying adult.
Traditional activities will be at designated times so be sure to plan for the ones you’re interested in. Early in the day (11:30 a.m.) and again at 1 p.m., catch a live collaborative performance from Kuniharu Yoshida and Walter Nishinaka that combines the calligrapher’s dance performance and taiko beats. Foodies can enjoy build-your-own sample-size soba noodle bowls from 11a.m. to 3 p.m. Kids, and kids-at-heart, won’t want to miss the demonstration of the ancient art of candy sculpting, with finished pieces given away as raffle prizes for kids. From noon to 4:30 p.m. there will be a tasting of traditional Japanese new year foods, osechi–ryori, which includes sweets and vegetables. And don’t miss the mochitsuki (rice pounding) demonstrations (2 p.m. and 4 p.m.); make sure you stay to the end for yummy mochi samples.
As a special treat, artist Mark Nagata will be giving a talk at 12:30 p.m. about his latest special edition sofubi toy figure—an homage to the character played by Gerald Okamura in the movie Big Trouble in Little China. Nagata and Okamura will then sign toy figures and special prints of the toy’s header art. Fair warning: there are only 45 toys available for purchase so act fast. You’ll also want to buy a fukubukuro (lucky grab bag) while you’re in the store.
Throughout the day, JANM members receive special perks such as reserved seating at performances and artist talks, express lines, and extra raffle tickets. Join today!
The new year is right around the corner, and in America, many celebrate with a bottle of champagne, party hats, and a kiss at midnight. However, in many cultures and countries, new year celebrations are all about spending time with family to feast on traditional foods to start the year off right. These customary meals are designed to bring in luck, health, and happiness before and after the clock strikes twelve.
For Japanese Americans, there is a mix of traditions and foods that celebrate the new year. Over at DiscoverNikkei.com, in an article entitled Of Food and Identity: My Grandmother’s New Years, a fourth-generation Japanese American thinks about spending the holiday with his grandmother as a way to draw his family together and to preserve their cultural identities. Here’s an excerpt from the piece.
For as long as I can remember, New Years was exciting not just because of the delicious food I’d get to eat, but because it was one of the only times I truly felt Japanese. As a fourth generation Japanese American who grew up in a predominantly non-Asian community, I rarely had the opportunity to eat Japanese food, much less experience the culture. However, New Years was one of the few times my family and I could grow closer to our heritage, if only for a moment.
My grandmother’s preparations always began with a trip to our local Japanese market, as she made it a point to cook as many of the traditional foods as possible, rather than settling for a pre-made sushi or bento set. Walking up and down the aisles, I became acquainted with a host of Japanese ingredients that I would rarely if ever see otherwise. Bags of dried shiitake mushrooms, furry satoimo potatoes, and long stalks of gobo went into the cart, along with fish roe, kamaboko, and pale, oblong lotus roots, to name a few.
Step two was always the sashimi. Though not technically a traditional New Years ingredient, sashimi had somehow made its way into the workings of my grandmother’s New Years and was now an indispensable part of the feast to come. I distinctly remember early mornings in her car, still half asleep, heading downtown to Pacific Fresh Fish on 6thStreet to pick up cuts of tuna, hamachi (yellowtail), andtako(octopus) for sashimi. Once back home, the fish went into the fridge while the rest of the preparations got underway.
You can read the whole article at DiscoverNikkei.com. Discover Nikkei is a website that celebrates cultural diversity and explores both global and local identities. The project connects generations and communities by sharing stories and perspectives of the Nikkei, people of Japanese descent who have migrated and settled throughout the world.
Put together that shopping list, and let’s get going. It’s holiday season! This year, Go Little Tokyo—a community-led effort aimed at highlighting the unique cultural programs, community events, and dining and shopping experiences found in Little Tokyo—can help you knock out your shopping chores with its convenient Holiday Guide. You can download it from their website, or you can pick one up when you’re in theneighborhood—including at JANM. Items in the Holiday Guide were hand-selected by the team at Go Little Tokyo as standout products, things they’d love to receive themselves. With the guide as your guide, you’re sure to finish off a good portion of your list while visiting one of the most interesting and vibrant neighborhoods in Los Angeles.
Included is a stainless steel wallet, with custom embossing of the traditional Japanese asanoha (hemp) pattern, from the JANM Store. A JANM exclusive, this wallet is made of fabric incorporating eight-five percent post-consumer recycled stainless steel, which provides RFID blocking protection for credit cards. It has a silver ballistic nylon spine and is thin and lightweight—perfect for someone who delights in extraordinary accessories.
The guide features ideas at all price points from a plethora of JANM’sneighbors. And to make your Little Tokyo shopping even more enticing, Go LittleTokyo is holding a drawing in which you can win a gift basket filled with $250worth of great stuff from local businesses. To enter, purchase items at any little Tokyo shops or restaurants between now and January 31, 2019. Then take a photo of your receipt and email it to email@example.com. (One entry per receipt from a Little Tokyo business.) Each gift you cross off your list in little Tokyo means you might take home a big gift for yourself!
Inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s classic American novel published in 1869, the play Little Women (A Multicultural Transposition) features four sisters and their Japanese American family living in post-World War II Los Angeles. Playwright Velina Hasu Houston keeps the names and personalities of the original March sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy—but in this tale, they are the Mayeda sisters. The novel and play have noticeable parallels, with the March and Mayeda families facing many of the same types of troubles. However, Houston’s transposition adds a dimension of racial prejudice that the March family never had to consider.
The Mayeda sisters and their mother, Marmee, move in with their Aunt Ming after spending time during the war in an American concentration camp in Colorado. Their father, Makoto, is a war hero, but he returned from the war with post-traumatic stress disorder and a drinking problem. In the recently integrated Los Angeles neighborhood to which they return, they find much-appreciated diversity in their African American neighbor, Mr. Lawrence, who is a retired hematologist, and his half-Italian grandson, Laurie. Aunt Ming, however, feels that her “old money” status is above the “new money” status of her new neighbors. Thus, Houston reveals how prejudice is present even among different minorities that have each had injustice wrought upon them.
Completing Houston’s diverse cast are Mr. Bhat, Laurie’s tutor from Calcutta, and Professor Briones from Mexico City, Jo meets on her journey to New York in act two of the play. The supporting male characters in the play including Laurie, Mr. Bhat, and Professor Briones, each take an interest in one of the Mayeda sisters. However, the drama is heightened when Beth, the shyest of the four, has an unfortunate accident, which sends the whole family into a panic. The audience will remain captivated throughout the conflict, climax, and conclusion of the play.
There have been many adaptations of Alcott’s Little Women, but Houston’s depiction of the classic is unlike any other. This time period was significant for Japanese Americans and many others seeking to overcome the racial prejudices of World War II. Houston successfully depicts how the story of Little Women can be any family’s story, and yet in this particular version, there’s much more being said about the simmering social strife that is right beneath the surface.
Houston is a professor of dramatic writing at the University of Southern California School of Dramatic Arts. She is also a well-known writer with many produced commissions, both in theater and opera. She is a Fulbright Scholar, and her current projects are with the Los Angeles Opera, The Pasadena Playhouse, Theatre Works (Palo Alto), Playwrights’ Arena/Center Theatre Group, Now Africa Playwrights’ Festival, and National Public Radio. One of her most famous plays to date is Tea, which is an internationally presented play about the experiences of Japanese women.
See Little Women (A Multicultural Transposition) at JANM on Saturday, December 15 in the Tateuchi Democracy Forum. Members are invited to an exclusive pre-event reception with Velina Hasu Houston. RSVP HERE.