We recently honored cartoonist Stan Sakai at our 2011 Gala Dinner where he was awarded the Cultural Ambassador Award.For those of you who are not familiar with his work, he’s best known for his iconic character, Usagi Yojimbo—a samurai rabbit in feudal Japan, which he created in 1984.
His comic books have been translated into a dozen languages and in Empire magazine’s list of greatest comic book characters of all time, Usagi Yojimbo placed 31st, ahead of Green Lantern, Daredevil, and Hellboy!
We’re also working with Stan on a retrospective exhibition of his work that opens on July 9. Our award-winning Watase Media Arts Center staff is working on a short documentary to accompany the exhibition. Last summer they went to the Comicon in San Diego where they interviewed some of his fellow cartoonists who all agreed that he’s one of the nicest guys in the business. After meeting him, we all agree and can’t wait for his exhibition!
Chris Komai, the Public Information Officer at JANM, wrote an article about Stan for the Gala Dinner journal. It’s now online on our Discover Nikkei site:
I often take for granted how easy it is to follow breaking news. To find out what happened during a raid on a compound in Pakistan, I can turn on a 24-hours news channel or click on a few links to get caught up.
But 50 years ago the medium of television was new. And 50 years ago today, the first buses of Freedom Riders (and three reporters) left Washington, D.C. and headed South to test Boynton v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that had desegregated interstate travel. What followed changed the course of the United States history.
JANM was honored to have been selected as the West Coast venue for this program and streamed the Webcast to a live audience of students from LAUSD’s Civitas School of Leadership and Ribet Academy. Following the Webcast, Dr. Robert and Mrs. Helen Singleton, two Los Angeles-based Freedom Riders, and Mr. Tamio Wakayama, a Japanese Canadian member of SNCC, were on a panel moderated by Dr. Sybil Jordan Hampton, a member of JANM’s Board of Trustees and herself an important figure in the Civil Rights Movement. We were star struck!!!
This has gotten us thinking about how the Freedom Rides impacted Japanese Americans, and especially how it may have emboldened those in the Redress Movement. What were the Issei, Nisei, and Sansei who watched these images broadcast on national television (just as that medium was becoming commonplace) thinking and feeling as they watched the buses burning, the cruel racism, and brave individuals standing up for what was right?
What would you have been thinking if you had been watching those Freedom Riders make their way South under the “protection” of Boynton v. Virginia?
It’s not everyday that you meet an icon but, recently at the Museum we did. The photograph of Fumiko Hayashida and her daughter Natalie is one that has become an iconic image so often associated with the telling of the history of the Japanese American incarceration. At 100 years old, Mrs. Hayashida is the oldest surviving person from Bainbridge Island, Washington who was incarcerated at Manzanar Concentration Camp.
Last Wednesday, Mrs. Hayashida and Natalie were part of a group that visited the Museum through the Only What We Can Carry Project, which I was very excited to learn more about. Through this project, Bainbridge Island educators are partnered with current and former residents of Bainbridge Island who experienced the World War II removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans. Together, they retrace the 1942 journey of Japanese Americans from Bainbridge Island to Manzanar. JANM was lucky enough to host this wonderful group for a couple of hours when they stopped by on their way to Manzanar.
As the group was lead through our Common Ground exhibition by the dynamic docent duo of Babe and Mary Karasawa, one of my most memorable moments was when they approached the large photograph of the Bainbridge Island community on the ferry dock as they were leaving the island in 1942. The Hayashidas, Frank Kitamoto, and Lily Kodama who were all in the group started to point themselves out in the photograph. “That’s me, right there.” This is a photograph I’ve seen hundereds of times since it is so prominently displayed in our gallery, but to see it with this group took it beyond being a historical image among many on our wall. It became a very personal photograph of an exact memory of very real people.
As someone who has the great privilege of working with educators and has witnessed what an essential part they can play in the teaching of the Japanese American experience, I was especially interested in meeting this group. We often think about how we won’t always have the first-person experience of camp but, watching our new friends leave the Museum to began their long car ride to Manzanar, I was reminded that in a way, first-person experiences of camp continue to be created today. The school teachers in this group will take what they’ve experienced on this journey back to their school and back to their students and they will share their own personal experiences of camp. What a wonderful way to keep the legacy alive through new personal histories.
In 1942, the first Civilian Exclusion Order issued was for Bainbridge Island and as a result, it was the first community of Japanese Americans to be forcibly removed from homes with just a few days to prepare. For more on Bainbridge Island, be sure to come by the Museum on Saturday, April 30 at 2:00 pm to learn more about this unique community. There’ll be a Bainbridge Film Festival featuring films by Lucy Ostrander, including Fumiko Hayashida: The Woman Behind the Symbol, a film about one of JANM’s most memorable visitors.
Evan Kodani was the 2010 Getty Media Arts Intern.He recently graduated from UCLA with a degree in communications.The internship was, by far, one of his most valuable college experiences, improving his skills in editing, videography, and understanding of what a real work environment feels like.It also got him a girlfriend.
Henry & Helen Yasuda are two of the Museum’s very dedicated volunteers. Henry primarily helps with giving tours to visitors from Japan. Helen is a docent for student groups, works with the community outreach committee, and helps out in many other ways. Last year, Helen received our Miki Tanimura Outstanding Volunteer Award, and recently they joined the Museum’s Legacy Society.
They’re also very committed to their family and very active in other community organizations like the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo, the Yamaguchi Kenjinkai, and the Nikkei Parents’ Day Coalition.
I am super excited that Maya Soetoro-Ng is coming to the Museum next week (April 20 at 1 pm) to read from her new children’s book “Ladder to the Moon.” For those of you who don’t know, Mrs. Soetoro-Ng is an educator, but is also President Obama’s sister.
Little Suhaila wishes she could have known her grandma, who would wrap her arms around the whole world if she could, Mama says. And one night, Suhaila gets her wish when a golden ladder appears at her window, and Grandma Annie invites the girl to come along with her on a magical journey.
In a rich and deeply personal narrative, Maya Soetoro-Ng draws inspiration from her mother’s love for family, her empathy for others, and her ethic of service to imagine this remarkable meeting.
Hope to see you there!
For more information about the program, click here.
The Museum store will be selling the book and Ms. Soetoro-Ng will be signing the books after the program.
This weekend is your absolute last chance to see it before it closes this Sunday!
American Tapestry features artifacts, artwork, photographs, oral histories, and more from the Museum’s collection—some that have never been seen before by the public.
From the time we opened the exhibition way back in November, two of my personal favorites artifacts have been the radio and bicycle because they share stories of friendship, hope, and doing what’s right during the dark days of World War II and beyond.
In December, over the holidays, I was talking with family about the exhibition, and learned about a very similar story about an elephant. I wrote about it for our Discover Nikkei site. That’s one of the things that I really love about JANM—how I’m often able to find personal connections to the artifacts and stories we share.
Another favorite is the Japanese-style tub that was donated by the Esaki family of Monterey, CA. John Esaki works at the museum now, but the tub was donated very early in the museum’s history. John recorded a video of his dad explaining the history of the tub, which he added to the JANM YouTube channel last year as a resource for the exhibition.
The ofuro also played a special part in the Museum’s history! Back in April 1992, the museum was scheduled to have its Dedication Ceremony. Unfortunately, it ended up being the day after the Rodney King verdicts were released and civil disturbances erupted across the city, and so the opening ceremonies were postponed.
As a new opening event was being planned, staff invited Greg Alan Williams to come speak. At the time of the riots, the former Baywatch actor had saved a Japanese American man’s life. During his visit, he saw this ofuro and it reminded him of his own family’s tub. At the ribbon cutting ceremony, he spoke about how through this artifact, he was able to find his own personal connection:
On Wednesday last, I personally experienced the wonderful power within these walls. After completing my tour, I sat on a small stool around an old Japanese redwood hot tub in the Museum’s Legacy Center. I marveled at the way three Americans, two of Japanese descent, one a great-grandchild of Africa, were sitting around the tub, laughing, openly sharing their thoughts, their pain, and their hopes for a shared and much beloved community. I believe the honesty and openness of that dialogue was possible in part because this cultural work of art [the Museum] had illuminated our similarities, as it celebrated our differences. And in so doing, had opened a channel of communication between three human beings, which might not have otherwise existed. Such is the magic of this historical masterpiece.
American Tapestry has 25 artifacts, each with its own stories to tell. Most seem like everyday items, but I think that’s what makes this exhibition so special. It reminds us that our own lives are rich with stories that connect us with the world, if only we can stop for a moment to listen.
If you can, come check it out before it closes. If you have a smartphone or other internet-accessible device, bring it with you! We have free wi-fi available in the American Tapestry galleries so you can access additional related photos and videos on Facebook and YouTube.
For those who have made it out, I’d love to hear what your favorites were!
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Communications Production Manager
Welcome to First & Central, our new official blog for the Japanese American National Museum!
Why “First & Central”? For those familiar with our home in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo, our campus is located at the intersection of First Street & Central Avenue. But beyond the connection to our physical space, this blog will be the “first” place to go for inside information about what’s going on at the Museum and a “central” place for our community to connect.
Learn more about the Museum—our exhibitions, public programs, collections and resources, media productions, education programs, store products, web projects, and more. You will get a behind-the-scenes introduction to our leadership, staff, and volunteers.
We’re very excited about this new way of sharing the Museum with our many friends and supporters across the country and worldwide. Even more exciting is the opportunity to engage and connect with you as we continue to evolve towards a more participatory museum in the 21st century.
This is a work-in-progress, so we appreciate your feedback as we continue to update this blog with new entries and features!
Akemi Kikumura Yano
President & CEO
Japanese American National Museum