On September 12, 2023, the Japanese American National Museum (JANM), Little Tokyo Historical Society (LTHS), and other Little Tokyo partners celebrated the upcoming 100th anniversary of JANM’s Historic Building with a new plaque and street signs marking the building’s significance and its City of Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument designation.
JANM’s Director of Collections Management and Access and Curator, Kristen Hayashi, welcomed the group and introduced Michael Okamura, president of the Little Tokyo Historical Society, who spoke about the LTHS’s efforts to raise the visibility of historic sites throughout Little Tokyo, including the Koyasan Buddhist Temple, the Kame Restaurant, the Finale Club, Sei Fujii and J. Marion Wright Memorial Lantern, Toyo Miyatake Way, Reverend Howard Toriumi Plaza, and the Aoyama Tree.
“You could tell that throughout Little Tokyo these are significant. We honor these legacy people who were before us and it’s very important. When you walk throughout Little Tokyo please take a moment and absorb all these people and the naming sites,” said Okamura.
Rev. William Briones of Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple then spoke about how the site played an important role in the spiritual and social life of the community.
“It was a place of spiritual refuge, community, a playground for the children, a place to grieve for their loved ones, and to find joy in the joining of two people. And who could forget the iconic picture that Archie Miyatake took? The backdrop of one of the assembly points from which local Issei and Nisei were sent to the camp. Today we are truly honored for this recognition and even though a lot of people don’t know the history of this, there are so many fond and wonderful memories of this temple. Thank you for this recognition,” said Briones. Afterward, both of them unveiled the new signs on 1st Street that now mark the historic site.
The Historic Building was designed by local architect Edgar Cline and built in 1925 as the Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist temple. In 1985, the newly incorporated JANM signed a fifty-year lease with the City of Los Angeles to renovate the temple and convert it into a museum. The renovation was conceived by a consortium of eight Japanese American architects: Marcia Chiono, David Kikuchi, Shigeru Masumoto, Yoshio Nishimoto, Frank Sata, Takashi Shida, George Shinmo, and Robert Uyeda. In 1986 it was designated as City of Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument 313. In 1992 JANM opened its doors to the public with 23,800 square feet of space for exhibitions, collections, and public programs.
“JANM’s Historic Building is our oldest and largest artifact on our campus. It is hallowed ground, a site of conscience, and a gathering place for civic engagement and social justice. The plaque and street signs not only commemorate the Historic Building’s history in the Japanese American community but also expands the public’s understanding of its significance to the history of Los Angeles and the US. Commemorating the building’s history ensures that past injustices will never be repeated and that diverse voices will be heard now and into the future,” said Ann Burroughs, President and CEO of JANM.
Principal City Planner and Manager for the City of Los Angeles Office of Historic Resources, Ken Bernstein, praised the new plaque and street signs for raising the visibility of the historic site in Little Tokyo.
“Our historic buildings anchor us in an ever changing city. They really provide a meaningful connection to our collective memory—that bridge between past, present, and future. Thanks to you, the historic designation and enhanced visibility through the street sign and the plaque will continue to allow the Little Tokyo community to connect to its rich heritage and really use that rich heritage as a way of continuing to promote the vitality of the Little Tokyo community.”
Actor, activist, JANM Trustee, and Board Chair Emeritus, George Takei, joined Burroughs and Bernstein to unveil the bronze plaque, now installed at the building’s historic entrance.
Hayashi closed the ceremony by noting the significance of the ceremony and the power of place that JANM’s Historic Building has on its own and in relation to JANM’s Pavilion.
“These places matter to us and our community and we want people to know about its significance; that’s why we have this ceremony today. We could’ve just mounted the plaque but instead we really wanted people to know that it’s here. Several people have pointed out that there are several generations of people here today to witness this moment and it’s so fitting because as you turn around and you look towards JANM’s Pavilion, the architects of the Pavilion really wanted us to reflect on our past. Our past is what guides our present and future. It’s symbolic of who’s represented here. We have several generations here to carry on the legacy of those who have come before us in Little Tokyo.”
A special surprise performance by the children of Nishi Daycare charmed the audience of fifty who gathered in the plaza for the celebration.
JANM is collaborating with the Museum of Modern Art Wakayama (MoMAW) on a three-year research project about Japanese immigrant artists. The partnership includes an annual symposium, educational curriculum, and this exhibition at MoMAW. JANM is lending more than twenty artworks from its permanent collection, including oil paintings, gelatin silver prints, charcoal and ink drawings, sumie paintings, and woodblock prints representing artists Tokio Ueyama, Chiura Obata, Hisako Hibi, Matsusaburo Hibi, Miné Okubo, Jack Yamasaki, Taizo Kato, Harry Shigeta, and the Shaku-do-sha artist collective.
Transbordering—Migration and Art Across Wakayama and the U.S.A.
September 30 – November 30, 2023
The Museum of Modern Art, Wakayama 1-chōme-4-14 Fukiage Wakayama, 640-8137, JAPAN
This summer, Getty Marrow undergraduate interns from JANM, La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, and the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles collaborated to create a collections-based project tasked with answering the question:
How have immigrants and subsequent generations shaped what it means to be American?
The initial goal of the project was to highlight the agency of immigrants in shaping American identity. However, the interns’ submissions suggested that the answer to this specific question would not fully encapsulate the American experience of immigrants and their descendants. As a result, each intern approached this question from a different perspective and highlighted an artifact that touched upon different facets of the American experience and identity. In this post, Shelby Ottengheime and Jose Quirarte explore the complexity of “American identity” through ways that Japanese Americans preserved traditional Japanese values and institutions during World War II.
More specifically, Shelby and Jose selected items that demonstrate the ways in which Japanese Americans persevered while they were incarcerated during World War II by channeling the spirit of gaman—“persevering with dignity and fortitude.” Shelby highlighted a variety of craft items from JANM’s Eaton Collection and argued that the items reveal that gaman is integral to the Japanese American experience and that it manifested itself through various facets of their American experience. Jose highlighted a butsudan (Buddhist altar) made in the Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming between 1942-1945, and argued that it symbolized that Japanese immigrants and their children preserved their cultural values despite American oppression.
Assortment of Pendants and Rings
Contributed by: Shelby Ottengheime, Japanese American National Museum
When reflecting on Japanese American history, a single word encapsulates generations of experiences, and that word is “gaman.” Though a seemingly simple expression, to the Japanese American community, it is a defining aspect. Gaman is translated as “to persevere with dignity and fortitude.” This cultural value is not only what enabled the Japanese American community to persevere through their injustices, but it has come to define what it means to be an American for them as well. In fact, it is so integral to Japanese American life that it even manifests itself in their actions, mottos, and art.
The Japanese American way of life has been historically characterized by hardship and adversity. As immigrants and laborers in the early 20th century, the Japanese came to the US in pursuit of the infamous American dream. However, discriminatory laws and social prejudice made it difficult for Issei’s (first generations Japanese Americans) to establish a home. Regardless of such hardships, like the fact that Issei were not legally allowed to own land, they persevered and built what they could with what they had.
The struggles that affected Japanese immigrants and subsequent generations are uniquely different from those experienced by any other immigrant community in US history and have ultimately shaped the Japanese American experience. This is referring to Executive Order 9066, which forcibly incarcerated all individuals living on the West Coast who were as little as 1/16th Japanese. Despite having done nothing wrong—there was “not a single documented act of espionage, sabotage, or treasonable activity by any American of Japanese descent”—over 120,000 innocent Japanese Americans were forced into concentration camps (Stone 1096). Fueled exclusively by prejudiced fear, E.O. 9066 was reasoned to protect Americans, however, those who were interned were US Citizens, and were effectively denied their rights simply because they were of Japanese ancestry.
With only a week’s notice, these Japanese Americans were forced from their homes and sent to desolate, barren concentration camps. Scared to be even more vilified and viewed as Japanese sympathizers, Japanese Americans complied with the US government and went to camp. Though they did not protest, that does not mean they went willingly, instead, they chose to gaman and persevere through the injustices that faced them. Each incarceree was allowed to bring a minimal amount of belongings, but they had no idea where they would be going or for how long they would be gone. As a result, Japanese Americans abandoned most of their possessions or left them in the care of neighbors. When they arrived at the concentration camps they were confronted with barbed wire, armed guards, a barren climate, poorly built living facilities, and an astounding lack of privacy. Even the food resembled nothing of home, offering no comfort to the incarcerees. However, one of the ways in which Japanese Americans were able to cope with their degrading and humiliating situation, was to create art. This artwork embodied their strength and their ability to persevere in an existence where they no longer had autonomy.
These visual representations of gaman reflect the indomitable resilience of Japanese Americans, and a large variety of the artwork was collected by Allen H. Eaton during World War II. Some of the pieces within the collection were mentioned in his book Beauty Behind Barbed Wire, which highlighted the art production by Japanese Americans while also pointing out that their constitutional rights were violated through their forced removal from the West Coast. However, years after Eaton died, in April of 2015, a family friend of Eaton’s tried to sell the collection at auction. This caused serious outrage across the Japanese American community, and through activism efforts, the insensitive sale of the “Eaton Collection” was stopped and alternatively transferred to the Japanese American National Museum.
The pieces within the Eaton Collection were not created by professional artists. The artwork produced by untrained incarcerees reflected the life and sentiments of the average Japanese American. It also showcased their artistic ingenuity and how “gaman” expressed itself within their art. Though art supplies were limited, Japanese Americans made do. They utilized their surroundings, finding colorful stones to set into rings and jewelry; onion strings to weave into patterns on cigarette cases; and excess wood from the hastily built barracks, which were shaped into complex carvings, depicting beautiful sakura trees with handsome cranes. These works not only helped the Japanese endure through their incarceration experience, but the artwork themselves directly mirror the Japanese American way of life and can be seen as a metaphor for the Japanese themselves. Both the Japanese and the wood plank were dismissed and seen as having no worth. However, with gaman, an object that has been discarded can transform and be seen as something beautiful and of value to society. This very aspect has come to define the Japanese American experience.
Not only was gaman apparent in their artwork, but that resilience continued to shape all aspects of Japanese American life and define what it meant for them to be an American. During World War II, many of the young men in camp enlisted in the US Army, choosing to fight overseas while their family members were still incarcerated. Their hope was to prove their “Americanness” and loyalty by fighting for their country: the United States of America. These Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans) were assigned to the 442nd Infantry Regiment, an almost entirely Japanese American battalion. Their motto “Go for Broke” was an extension of the Japanese gaman-mentality. The unit’s fortitude and success reflected this value of perseverance, and against all odds, the 442nd became the most decorated combat unit in the history of the US military. The cultural value of perseverance and honorable endurance has defined the Japanese American life since their initial immigration to the US. Facing hardship, prejudice, and blatant governmental acts of racism, Japanese Americans have continually used gaman to persevere. Gaman has become so instilled in the Japanese American identity that it expresses itself in multiple aspects of their culture; in their art, their mottos, and it even continues to mold their lives and values today. Ultimately, gaman has come to define the Japanese American experience and shaped what it means for them to be an American.
Contributed by: Jose Quirarte, Japanese American National Museum
The butsudan is a Buddhist altar often found in temples and homes. Shinzaburo & Gentaro Nishiura handrafted this particular butsudan during World War II at the Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming. It is composed of the gokuden (“Palace Hall”), shumiden (“Sumeru Throne”), and the naijin, or inner area. The gokuden is the large wooden cabinet that houses the gohonzon, or “principle object of reverence,” and includes the two wooden doors that fold center outward and back. The shumiden is the large wooden pedestal that the gokuden sits on, and the naijin includes three altars: the center altar which houses the gohonzon, and the altars on the left and right which house scrolls depicting significant Buddhist figures.
Shinzaburo & Gentaro Nishiura were two carpenters from San Jose, California who were imprisoned at the Heart Mountain concentration camp. Before the war, the Nishiura brothers were responsible for constructing many buildings for the Japanese American community in San Jose, and the greater Santa Clara area. The Nishiura brothers continued their contributions to the Japanese American community in camp by working in the Heart Mountain cabinet shop. In 1943, with the blessing of Reverend Chikaro Aso, the Nishiura brothers installed their handcrafted butsudan in the Block-8 Buddhist Church of Heart Mountain. Through the efforts of Reverend Aso, the butsudan found its way to the Gilroy Buddhist Church in Gilroy, CA, and was eventually donated to JANM by the Gilroy Buddhist Community Hall in 2001.
The creation and use of this butsudan in one of America’s concentration camps is a prime example symbol of the perseverance of the Japanese American spirit during their years of incarceration. On one hand, The practice of Buddhism provided a sense of normalcy for some Japanese Americans through the chaos surrounding their removal and incarceration. On the other, the creation of this butsudan in camp signified the importance of Japanese values and the way Japanese Americans preserved them. Due to Japanese Americans only being allowed to bring to camp what they could carry, many of them only brought the necessities. In order to continue to practice their faith, the Nishiura brothers showed their ingenuity by creating their own religious items out of the materials they had at their disposal. As a result, the artistry from within the barbed wire fences of camp are a symbol in and of themselves of Japanese American resilience during World War II.
These examples demonstrate that the craft items made in camp are themselves symbolic of the American experience, and the resilience and resistance of immigrants against systematic discrimination and oppression. As Shelby mentioned, most of the crafts made in camp were not made by professional artists. The craft items that Shelby highlighted in the Eaton Collection, were mostly made of material that the prisoners could find and turn either into a useful tool or art. Not only are the crafts representative of the Japanese value of gaman, but the creation of crafts, tools, and religious items in an environment of immense discrimination and oppression reveals a symbolic theme of the American immigrant experience: that immigrants often have to survive the harsh conditions of America by using whatever is at their disposal.
The fact that this butsudan was made in one of America’s concentration camps demonstrated that Japanese Americans held onto traditional institutions and values, and were intent on preserving them. The elegant looking materials that were used to craft the butsudan made it clear that the butsudan was a significant religious relic. Furthermore, in contrast to the crafts in the Eaton Collection, the butsudan was crafted by highly trained professionals who had a history of preserving Japanese institutions and contributing to the Japanese community in Santa Clara County. The butsudan itself speaks to the larger American immigrant experience as immigrant populations attempted to integrate their own culture into their lives in America. Rather than assimilating or converting to Christianity, practicing Buddhists, within the walls of a concentration camp that “otherized” them and implied they were dangerous, maintained their religious values and actively crafted a traditional altar.
The fact that Japanese Americans were able to preserve their traditions and institutions despite being imprisoned in America’s concentration camps reveals the complexity of the “American identity.” Shelby’s application of how the Japanese value of gaman was reflected in Japanese American craftsmanship made in camp, and Jose’s example of the butsudan demonstrate that Japanese values and cultural touchstones were essential to the identity of Japanese American prisoners. As a result, Japanese American identity was a blend of both their traditional culture and the values of American society. Japanese Americans did not totally assimilate or abandon their culture in America’s “melting pot.” Instead, they preserved their values and institutions in a new amalgamated and complex “American identity.”
This summer, Getty Marrow undergraduate interns from JANM, La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, and the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles collaborated to create a collections-based project tasked with answering the question:
How have immigrants and subsequent generations shaped what it means to be American?
The initial goal of the project was to highlight the agency of immigrants in shaping American identity. However, the interns’ submissions suggested that the answer to this specific question would not fully encapsulate the American experience of immigrants and their descendants. As a result, each intern approached this question from a different perspective and highlighted an artifact that touched upon different facets of the American experience and identity. In this post, Mercedes Solaberrieta and Jose Quirarte explore the historic vulnerability of American immigrants to systematic and de facto discrimination in the United States by highlighting the experiences of two immigrants during World War II.
Interns Mercedes Solaberrieta of the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles and Jose Quirarte of JANM selected items that highlight the complexity of the American immigrant experience by demonstrating the vulnerability and discrimination that many immigrants to the United States have faced due to their ethnicity or country of origin. Mercedes selected a 1940s parole document of an Italian immigrant named Filippo Fordellone and Jose highlighted a 1942 diary entry of Gihachi Yamashita, a Japanese immigrant.
Due to America’s involvement in World War II fighting against the Axis Powers, which included Japan and Italy, both of these immigrant men were considered enemy aliens and stripped of their civil liberties because of war hysteria and racial prejudice. Both Yamashita and Fordellone were unjustly arrested by the FBI after the attacks on Pearl Harbor and imprisoned at Fort Missoula, Montana without due process. Additionally, Fordellone and Yamashita were impacted by Executive Order 9066 and the subsequent strict curfews and travel restrictions placed upon individuals of Japanese and Italian descent. Fordellone and Yamashita were both vulnerable as immigrants, recognized as enemy aliens due to their country of origin, unjustly arrested, and imprisoned far from their homes. Although the experiences of Fordellone and Yamashita are unique to context of WWII, their stories still demonstrate the greater historic relationship between vulnerability and discrimination that has largely characterized the American experience for immigrant populations.
Filippo Fordellone’s Parole Document
Contributed by: Mercedes Solaberrieta, Italian American Museum of Los Angeles
Fordellone was among the Italian Americans interned during World War II. Today the words “Italian” and “Italian American” are often associated with one of the nation’s favorite cuisines, high fashion, and family-centered cultures. This was not always the case. The United States has had a long history of anti-Italianism, including discriminatory laws, and hostility directed at Italian Americans reached another peak during World War II.
Born in Italy in 1890, Filippo Fordellone immigrated to the United States in 1926. He became a prominent radio broadcaster and was well known in the Italian American community. When Italy joined the Axis powers and the United States involvement in World War II became increasingly imminent, the U.S. government began compiling a list of Italians (as well as Germans and Japanese) living in the United States and its territories that it considered threats to American security. Following the nation’s entry into World War II, the U.S. government declared 600,000 Italian residents of the United States who had not yet become American citizens “enemy aliens.” President Roosevelt issued Presidential Proclamations 2525, 2526, and 2527, which authorized the United States to detain potentially dangerous “enemy aliens.” He also signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the removal of persons from specified areas in the interest of national security.
In the case of the so-called Italian enemy aliens, many had lived in the United States for years and had children and grandchildren serving in the U.S. military. They were elderly and had been unable to pass the citizenship exam because of their limited literacy. Enemy aliens were required to register with the U.S. government and carry identification cards. They were subject to curfews and travel restrictions, and many were forced to evacuate their homes and surrender property. Some Italian “enemy aliens” were arrested and sent to internment camps. In the end, thousands of German nationals would also be interned and over 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans, many of whom were U.S. citizens, were forcibly relocated and incarcerated.
Although Fordellone had committed no crime, he was deemed a threat because as a prominent journalist, he was capable of influencing others. This was the case with many of the Italian Americans interned or threatened with internment, including baseball great Joe DiMaggio’s father. The FBI arrested Fordellone shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and transported him to an internment camp in Fort Missoula, Montana, where he remained for 14 months. Most arrestees were never informed of the charges against them or allowed legal counsel. While Fordellone was imprisoned, his wife Alessandra was left alone to care for their three children without any financial support, as the couple’s assets were frozen. For most of her husband’s confinement she had no idea as to where he was being held.
Fordellone’s parole document, which was executed in May of 1943, dictated the terms of his conditional release. Notice that it does not contain any mention of a conviction for any crime. Fordellone’s only crime was being Italian.
Although the civil liberty violations Italian Americans experienced during World War II were not as severe or widespread as the trauma and injustices inflicted on the Japanese and Japanese American community, the experience nonetheless left the Italian American community scarred. Many stopped speaking the Italian language and distanced themselves from their culture and heritage in an effort to appear more “American.”
Fordellone’s experience reflects the process through which Italian Americans gained acceptance in the United States. Italians were often seen as despised immigrants and “others” whose loyalty was subsequently called into question during World War II before eventually achieving acceptance as white ethnics. Today, Italian Americans are mostly considered to be “white,” but the process was not straightforward.
January 22, 1942, Diary Entry Written by Gihachi Yamashita
Contributed by: Jose Quirarte, Japanese American National Museum
Gihachi Yamashita documented his experience the day after the Pearl Harbor attacks in his personal diary, writing: “this is a day I will never be able to forget.” On December 8, 1941, at around 1:30 a.m., Yamashita was “shaken awake” and arrested by FBI agents. Yamashita was one of the many Japanese Americans who was targeted and arrested immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor due to a faulty presumption that the Japanese living on the West Coast of the U.S. were dangerous. Many of those who were arrested were already being monitored before the war because of the U.S. government’s false belief that they were potentially dangerous due to their connections to Japanese institutions. Most of the Japanese Americans who were unjustly arrested after the Pearl Harbor attacks were well-respected or important contributing members of their communities.
Following his arrest, Yamashita was imprisoned and moved around to a variety of concentration camps operated by the Department of Justice (DOJ). Meanwhile, his wife and two daughters were forced to sell their property and move to the Santa Anita temporary detention center due to Executive Order 9066, which forced the removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast into concentration camps. Yamashita’s wife and two daughters stayed at Santa Anita until being transferred to the Rohwer concentration camp in Arkansas. Yamashita’s diary entry tells the harrowing story of his arrest and removal to Fort Missoula, a Department of Justice internment camp in Missoula, Montana, but it also revealed how being excluded from the definition of “an American” led to losing his right to due process, and more generally, his “unalienable rights.”
Yamashita wrote about his experience of being arrested and taken in for questioning by the FBI in his personal diary. He noted that while he was imprisoned, his wife and daughter visited him twice and a guard watched over their conversation (which had to be in English). Yamashita detailed the entirety of his forced removal and wrote that on December 8th he was initially detained at Lincoln Heights Jail for four days, from December 12th to the 22nd he was imprisoned at a county jail, and on the afternoon of the 22nd was held at the Tuna Canyon Camp in Los Angeles for two days before he arrived at Fort Missoula on December 28th. Yamashita concluded his entry by writing about the brutal living conditions of the camp, noting that he and the other Japanese prisoners weren’t given an opportunity to prepare for the Montana winter and were forced to endure the freezing temperatures of Missoula without any winter gear.
Yamashita’s diary entry demonstrates how Japanese immigrants during WWII were stripped of their due process rights because of xenophobia and racism. Yamashita’s unjust arrest, removal, and incarceration was partially a product of Japanese immigrants being “otherized” by American anti-Japanese and anti-immigrant sentiment for most of the 20th century. In the early to mid 20th century, Japanese immigrants faced immense anti-Japanese sentiment in California from political labor groups, individuals, and legislation: California’s Alien Land Law of 1913 restricted “aliens” from owning land; the Gentlemen’s Agreement and the 1924 Immigration Act restricted Japanese entry into the United States; and the 1940 Alien Registration Act forced all “aliens” above the age of 14 to register and be fingerprinted. All of these contributed to the “otherization” of Japanese immigrants and their children, and implied a flawed presumption that they could not truly be “real Americans” in the 20th century. The anti-Japanese and anti-immigrant rhetoric came to a peak after the attacks on Pearl Harbor spurred irrational distrust towards Japanese Americans and other immigrant groups in America.
Yamashita, and many other Japanese immigrants who were living in the U.S., had to face the constant barrier of anti-immigrant rhetoric and unjust legislation that deemed them to be “un-American” or unassimilable. Yamashita’s diary entry reveals his experience of being unjustly arrested in his own home, detained without cause, and imprisoned in a concentration camp due to his race. His experience exemplifies the real-life consequences of being excluded from the arbitrary definition of “an American.” Although Yamashita’s experience is unique to the context of WWII, his experience is just one example of that signifies that American immigrants have historically been susceptible to being excluded from the definition of “an American,” and as a result, have seen instances where they have been stripped of their unalienable rights.
Fordellone and Yamashita’s stories reveal common themes of vulnerability, systemic inequality, discrimination, and “otherization” that America’s immigrant populations have been subjected to throughout the country’s history. Although historic instances of “otherization” and discrimination do not solely define the American immigrant experience, it has played a significant factor in the way immigrant populations have been received and treated. The stories of Fordellone and Yamashita tell only a small story in the long history of discrimination that Japanese and Italian immigrants have faced in the United States. WWII was not the catalyst for discrimination, but rather, it acted as an immense amplifier of the discrimination. In the early 20th century, both of Japanese and Italian immigrants were already facing immense racist and xenophobic sentiment and legislation that “otherized” and targeted them. However, during WWII, war hysteria amplified preexisting racist and xenophobic sentiment which resulted in the targeting of Japanese and Italian immigrants, and the loss of their civil liberties. Although the details and extent of their incarceration experiences are different, both Fordellone and Yamashita experienced the trauma and injustices American immigrants have historically faced because of their vulnerability to systematic discrimination and anti-immigrant prejudice in America.
If you would like to learn more about Gihachi Yamashita’s story, check-out JANM’s, “Enemy Mail: An American Story of Wartime Separation,” which is dedicated to telling his and his family’s story of incarceration during WWII through artifacts in JANM’s Yamashita Collection. If you would like to learn more about Filippo Fordellone or see other objects pertaining to Fordellone you may visit the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles’s online collection webpage.
This year’s JANM holiday card features a photograph of the Hayakawa family celebrating Christmas. The 3.75″ square photo is one of dozens of family moments captured in the Hayakawa family photo album donated by Ruth Sumiko Kacho (née Hayakawa) in 2002, and preserved in JANM’s permanent collection.
The Kacho Collection, totaling 68 objects, includes studio portraits, panoramic photos, marriage licenses, letters, books, and a photo album, which includes dozens of candid family shots including this year’s holiday image.
The album was compiled by Ruth’s father, Mataichi (Martin) Hayakawa, who inscribed its pages with the locations, dates and names of those in the photographs. The back page of the album, is marked with the date November 30, 1967, presumably indicating when the album was completed.
The album includes photographs of Mataichi and his wife, Tomiko, and their families and friends in Japan and in South America; Mataichi and Tomiko’s lives before marriage—including his travels to South America, Cuba, and England, and her service as a nurse in Korea; their life and floral business in Southern California; family friends and associates in Southern California; family trips to tourist destinations in the U.S. and Japan; post-war life in Japan during the occupation; and two generations of child rearing (Mataichi and Tomiko Hayakawa; Ruth and her husband, Marquis Hironobu Kacho).
Upon its acceptance into JANM’s permanent collection in 2002, curator Emily Anderson wrote, “The album figuratively and literally brings together into a single document the separate and shared experiences of Mataichi, his wife Tomiko, Ruth and her siblings, and Hironobu Kacho.”
The Kacho Collection also includes an oral history interview with Ruth. Prompted by JANM volunteers Its Endo and Yoshiko Sakurai, on December 1999, Ruth sat with JANM volunteer Gary Ono and curator Sojin Kim to tell her fascinating life story and have it videotaped. Ruth recounted her father and mother’s immigration story, her childhood growing up in Los Angeles’s Atwater Village district, her education in Japan at Keisen Girls School in Tokyo, her marriage to Marquis Hironobu Kacho, and her work in Japan during World War II as a broadcaster with Radio Tokyo.
For the first time since its recording, Ruth’s interview can now be viewed as part of JANM’s Unboxed video series, which shines light on the thousands of objects in its permanent collection.
And perhaps, as you gather (remotely via Zoom or Skype) with aunts, uncles, and grandparents this coming holiday season, you will find time to sit, talk, and possibly record some of your own family stories!
This summer, Getty Marrow undergraduate interns from JANM, La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, and the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles collaborated to create a collections-based project that explored the question:
How have immigrants and subsequent generations shaped what it means to be American?
The initial goal of the project was to highlight the agency of immigrants in shaping American identity. However, the interns’ submissions suggested that the answer to this specific question would not fully encapsulate the experience of immigrants and their descendents in the United States. As a result, each intern expanded the parameters of the question to provide a different perspective and highlight an artifact that touched upon different facets of the American experience and identity. In this post, Rino Kodama and Araceli Ramos explore the ingenuity of immigrants to endure economic and social hardships in the United States by integrating aspects of their culture and values.
Rino Kodama of the Japanese American National Museum and Araceli Ramos of La Plaza de Cultura y Artes selected items that demonstrate the ingenuity and adaptability of immigrant women in the United States. Araceli’s artifact tells the story of a Mexican immigrant who created a unique American identity for herself by combining her traditional sewing skills with her new life in the United States. Rino’s submission continues the theme of ingenuity in her analysis of an indigo kasuri jacket. For Rino, the jacket, which was repurposed from a kimono to plantation clothing, symbolizes how Japanese immigrant women drew upon cultural traditions out of necessity to survive in the United States. Rino and Araceli’s posts demonstrate the notion that in the face of immense hardship, immigrant women have integrated aspects of their own culture in order to reinvent themselves and establish a unique and blended American identity.
Contributed by: Araceli Ramos, La Plaza de Cultura y Artes
The rust colored velvet jacket on display in Calle Principal: Mi México en Los Ángeles, a permanent exhibition located inside LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, has a dynamic history filled with memories of family and tradition. This piece was donated to the museum during its first year of operation in 2011. Arlene Etheridge, a volunteer, wanted to help showcase Mexican migration stories during the 1920s. The piece dates back to 1926, when it was hand stitched by Lupe Lara, Arlene’s mother, who migrated to the United States in 1921 at the age of 9. The piece was made in the fashionable fitted style of the era using a rust colored velvet fabric. It is adorned with velvet covered buttons, and corresponding loops, along the middle closure of the main body. The fine sewing on the puffed sleeves and pointed collar add a decorative touch to the fitted silhouette.
Lupe Lara was born on May 27, 1912, in Zamora, Michoacán, México, to Luciano Lara, a Zamora courthouse judge and Dolores Covarrubia, a homemaker. In 1915, when Lupe was just three years old, the Typhus epidemic erupted in Mexico City, taking the lives of thousands of people as it spread across the nation. Tragically, Lupe’s mother and younger sister passed away in 1917 after contracting the disease. Unable to care for his daughter, Luciano moved Lupe into a nearby convent to be cared for and raised by nuns. The state of Michoacán is known throughout Mexico and the world for its regional epicenters of artisan crafts. While in the northern convent, Lupe received an elementary school education and learned the regional skill of fine hand-sewing and embroidery. She lived there for five years until 1921 when her father returned with the news that they would be moving to the United States. After joining a large caravan of horse drawn carriages, they arrived in Los Angeles a year later in 1922. In 1924, Luciano was able to purchase a small grocery store at the cross section of Kearney St. and Myers St., just north of Mission Road in Los Angeles. Lupe attended elementary school in Boyle Heights and would work at her family’s store in the evening after school.
In 1926, Lupe received a Singer sewing machine as a Christmas gift from her father. Two years later and at the age of 16, she began working as a seamstress in Downtown L.A.’s garment district. Due to her advanced knowledge of the craft, she was quickly promoted. The skills she learned during her time in the convent, and later honed while living in Los Angeles, became a source of security for herself and her family during the Great Depression. While millions were losing their jobs, Lupe was able to provide for her family by using her sewing skills to create beautiful dresses for the Hollywood elite of the era. Later in life, Lupe married and became a homemaker. She taught her children the skills she learned when she was a child. Lupe’s daughter, Arlene, inherited her mother’s affinity for craftsmanship. She became an artist incorporating her mother’s traditional sewing techniques into her art, embroidery, and jewelry designs.
Lupe’s story reveals that the “American Identity” has always been a complex combination of diverse backgrounds and experiences. Instead of succumbing to societal pressures of complete assimilation into American culture, Lupe used her traditional sewing skills to create an identity for herself that beautifully blended her heritage with her life in the United States. Her velvet jacket represents the reconciliation of two cultures into a singular “American Identity” that lives and has evolved in Los Angeles and through her descendants.
Indigo Kasuri Jacket
Contributed by: Rino Kodama, Japanese American National Museum
This indigo kasuri jacket is one of many pieces in the Barbara Kawakami Collection at JANM. The jacket is a navy blue, denim color with a white dot pattern and mock collar. The fabric is worn out and many layers of stitches are made with a sewing machine in an attempt to keep the fabric together. This particular jacket was made by Haruno Tazawa.
“Kasuri” is a Japanese textile term to describe fabric that has been treated with a dye process involving a resist method, creating geometric shapes. These types of jackets were worn by Japanese women plantation laborers in Waipahu, Hawai‘i during the early 20th century. The design of the kasuri jackets drew inspiration from other immigrant working class communities. For example, the “mock” collar stems from the Mandarin collar, as many Chinese laborers wore this style of clothing and it protected their necks from the sun, as well as from dust. The cotton kasuri fabric was originally a kimono, and turned into a jacket by Haruno Tazawa, a picture bride from Fukushima, Japan.
The majority of issei women were picture brides—women who immigrated to the United States through the process of an arranged marriage. Tazawa arrived in Hawai‘i on July 27, 1917 and married Chozo Tazawa, arranged by her sister who was already living and working on a Hawaiian plantation. Mr. Tazawa was a Luna, a plantation foreman considered a high status position back then for a Japanese man. Mr. Tazawa passed away early, and life became difficult for Mrs. Tazawa as she only had 35 cents to her name. She began to sew tabi, bento bags, and jackets for plantation bachelors at night to support herself and her four children.
Men like Mr. Tazawa travelled to Hawai‘i and the continental United States seeking economic opportunity, but many ended up working in low paying jobs at sugarcane and pineapple plantations—women laborers made about 16 dollars a month.
Many picture brides like Mrs. Tazawa who immigrated to the United States utilized their skills in textiles and sewing to repurpose their prized kimonos into “plantation clothing”—apparel that can withstand the long hours in the sun working in sugar cane and pineapple fields. At first when they began working on the plantations, they wore their kimonos as they were used to wearing them. Realizing that carrying out heavy labor was not easy with long kimono sleeves, they began to alter their kimonos into clothing better suited for the plantation. The design of plantation clothing drew from Chinese, Portugese, Puerto Rican, and Hawaiian apparel. An exchange of cultural wear allowed women to create clothing that would feel comfortable and supportive for their labor. For example, the Mandarin collar and gusset sleeve came from Chinese laborers. Gathered skirts were drawn from Portugese and Puerto Rican women. Along with the kasuri jacket, women would wear a straw bonnet, using scarves to cover their face, and momohiki (pantaloons). To view more artifacts in the Barbara Kawakami Collection, click here.
This kasuri jacket, along with Haruno Tazawa’s story as a picture bride reveal that immigrants have shown resilience in an unknown land while facing economic insecurity, and adapted cultural traditions to survive in America. Using their precious kimonos and repurposing them into plantation clothing came out of necessity. Although separated by language and ethnicity, immigrant women laborers drew textile techniques from one another to create plantation clothing, crossing cultures to support one another as working class women. The United States of America is known as the “Land of Opportunity,” but the experiences of Japanese women laborers in Hawai‘i reflect that their realities were extremely difficult, working endlessly to sustain themselves and their families.
Both Lupe Lara and Haruno Tazawa faced economic uncertainty, but through their ingenuity and resolve they were able to survive and support their families. Tazawa and Lara’s experiences also demonstrate the complexity of the “American identity” and American experience. Tazawa and Lara combined their backgrounds and experiences to help themselves adapt to life in their adopted country. In the case of Tazawa, she blended her culture and skills into her new life by repurposing her kimono in order to adapt to the harsh plantation labor. For Lara, her American identity was an amalgamation of her life in Mexico and her need to support her family and herself in the United States. The design of Lara’s velvet jacket exemplifies her “American identity” as it mixed Lara’s Mexican culture and fashion with her new found life in America. After her success in the Los Angeles’s fashion district, Lara passed on her skills and craftsmanship to her own children, and subsequently also handed-down her blended Mexican-American traditions and values.
Rino and Araceli demonstrated through their highlighted artifacts that immigrant populations have often shaped the definition of what it means to be an American, by necessity. Lara and Tazawa had to adapt in order to survive the economic insecurity they faced when they immigrated to America, and consequently, their experience in their adopted country was defined by their perseverance. Together, Rino and Araceli reveal that the American experience and “American identity” are complex and are greatly influenced by the experiences of immigrant populations.
If you are interested in viewing Lupe Lara’s jacket or learning more about Los Angeles during the 1920s, you can visit La Plaza de Cultura y Artes and view one of their permanent exhibitions: Calle Principal: Mi México en Los Ángeles. If you would like to learn more about the Barbara Kawakami Collection or see other artifacts and textiles pertaining to late 19th and early 20th century Japanese immigrants, you can view JANM’s online collection.
At the heart of Japanese American National Museum is its permanent collection. With over 100,000 artifacts stored within two-floors totaling 7,200 square feet, JANM houses the largest collection of Japanese American material culture in the world. From renowned artwork and artifacts of some of the most notable Japanese Americans, it also contains seemingly mundane objects of ordinary individuals with extraordinary stories to tell. The collection is full of family treasures that anchor narratives of hardship and success, loss and triumph, as well as challenge and resilience.
Located in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo neighborhood, the heart of the Japanese American community since the 1880s, JANM’s founders and early supporters wanted to create an institution that would tell a lesser-known chapter of American history to help ensure that the violations of civil liberties that resulted in the incarceration of people of Japanese ancestry during World War II would never happened again.
After incorporating as a private, non-profit institution in 1985, artifacts and archival items began to populate the Museum’s permanent collection. With in-depth documentation from the immigration of the Issei generation to unique crafts made in America’s concentration camps, the burgeoning archive was unlike any other of its time. While JANM quickly became a renowned national museum, it was also a community archive—a repository for numerous families’ treasures. On January 23, 1999, the Japanese American National Museum expanded to its current location on the corner of Central Avenue and First Street, constructing at its center two floors for collections storage, as seen in the video Behind the Scenes of JANM’s Collection (see below).
While the permanent collection is encyclopedic, covering a myriad of topics that reflect the Japanese American experience from early immigration to the United States to the present, the majority of the collection conveys the varying experiences of Japanese Americans during World War II. This encompasses the forced removal and subsequent confinement of 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry—two thirds of whom were US citizens—in temporary detention centers and later in America’s concentration camps as well as the military experiences of men and women who served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, 100th Infantry Battalion, 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, the Military Intelligence Service, and Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. Artworks in a variety of mediums, photographs, personal letters, and government documents help to illustrate the experience of the former incarcerees and military personnel.
All of JANM’s collections are significant historical resources for scholars and researchers who study United States history and politics, Japanese American history, trans-Pacific migrations, and other similar topics. Yet, they are also incredibly important to the families that have donated them to the museum. Those who come to research the collections at JANM are not always scholars. Instead, many are descendants of family members who donated historical documents and artifacts to the museum. They visit JANM to learn more about where they come from and the uniqueness of their family history. This is what makes the holdings within the Japanese American National Museum’s permanent collection especially significant and incredibly valuable.
To bring your family’s artifacts into JANM’s permanent collection please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Or to help maintain and preserve JANM’s Collection with a donation please click here.
Behind the Scenes
In Behind the Scenes of JANM’s Collection the following artifacts can be seen:
Antique Kodak camera owned and used by Frank Kamiyama of Fresno, CA, Gift in Memory of Frank U. Kamiyama, 2000.335.2
Shell pins from Topaz concentration camp, Gift of Ryo Maruoka and Aiko Yoshida, 93.122.2
Harold Landon’s correspondence with Sohei Hohri, Gift of Harold Landon Family in Memory of Sohei Hohri, 2019.13.9
Suitcases taken to Manzanar concentration camp, Gift of Grace Shinoda Nakamura, 2001.61
The Heart Mountain mystery stones, Gift of Leslie and Nora Bovee, 94.158.1
Suit of Harry Miyagawa, Gift of the Uragami Family, 91.92.3
Citizen USA, Gift of Lois Ferguson in Memory of Charles K. Ferguson, 2002.174.2
On May 27, 1943, Kiku Nakamichi was crowned Queen of Denson at a coronation ball, which was part of a weekend carnival at the Jerome concentration camp.
Kiku was presented with a wooden, heart-shaped plaque painted red, green, and gold. It had been crafted by staff at the wood shop where she worked as a secretary. Four months later, when Kiku and her husband departed Jerome, wood shop staff and friends added signatures and farewell messages to the back of the plaque.
Captured in a photograph from the night of the coronation, Kiku is flanked by her two attendants Mary Ikeguchi and Bessie Nakashima, where she is seeing holding the plaque. According to the camp newspaper, Denson Tribune, “William O. Melton, assistant Project director, who crowned the queen had the first dance with Queen Kiku following the coronation.”
Although events throughout all of the camps were common, including coronations and carnivals, each one offered a unique opportunity for incarcerated Japanese Americans to participate in activities seemingly at dramatic odds with their forced surroundings.
The plaque was passed on to Kiku’s daughter, Cindi Ishigaki, who donated it to JANM’s permanent collection this past January.
Every three months, staff at the Japanese American National Museum meet to discuss donation offers of artifacts for the museum’s permanent collection. One collection that arrived at the museum recently was from the family of Larry Akira Ogino.
Kathy Bishop and her siblings recently offered to JANM a collection of watercolor paintings created by their father, Larry Akira Ogino, during his time at the WRA concentration camp at Poston. The five vibrant watercolors accepted into JANM’s permanent collection capture life and scenery at Poston, with some of the works evoking the style of other watercolor artists in Poston and other camps, such as Gene Sogioka.
Larry was born in 1919 in San Francisco, California. During his youth, the family owned and operated a fruit and vegetable farm in the Los Gatos and Campbell neighborhoods adjacent to San Jose. Prior to incarceration, Larry was an art student at San Jose State College. Larry, his mother, and three brothers were sent directly to Poston. Their father joined them after a year at the Santa Fe Department of Justice camp. Larry left camp in June 1943 for employment in Chicago, and later volunteered to join the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He served as a medic in Europe during his tour of duty.
Once out of the service, Larry was sponsored by a family friend and was able to continue his studies at the Studio School of Art in Chicago. During this time, he painted landscapes in watercolor, but also experimented with oils and acrylics. He was hired as a technical illustrator and worked for several different companies in the Midwest before finally returning to San Jose, where he was employed at FMC Corporation until his retirement. Until his death in 2000, Larry continued to paint—some animals (including cougars, foxes, dogs, cats, and birds), but mostly landscapes.
With over 100,000 artifacts, JANM’s Collections Management and Access staff work to preserve and document the experiences of Japanese Americans like Larry Akira Ogino. If you are interested in donating, making an appointment to view your family’s past donations, or learning more about objects in JANM’s permanent collection, please email email@example.com.
In conjunction with Kodomo no Hi—Children’s Day—in Japan, the JANM Collections Unit presented a Members Only Learning at Lunch session on Saturday, May 5. A group of artifacts from the collection, including Boy’s Day Festival in May, was shared with members. The watercolor painting is one of several donated to JANM in 2002 by Charlotte Opler Sagoff. While the other pieces donated at the time are signed and dated by the artist, this painting alone is not, leaving some uncertainty about its origins. It is stylistically similar to a number of the others donated from Sagoff, making its identification as close to positive as our collections team believes to be possible.
Sagoff taught high school at the Tule Lake incarceration camp while her husband, Marvin Opler, was stationed there for three years as a government anthropologist, social psychologist, and community analyst. Unlike other anthropologists the government assigned to camps, Opler was critical of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. As Minoru Kiyota notes in Beyond Loyalty: The Story of a Kibei, “Opler regarded the residents of Tule Lake as essentially normal human beings, while [Tule Lake Director Raymond] Best considered them fanatics.” Historian Peter Suzuki holds up Opler as a model for the positive influence anthropologists could have had on the War Relocation Authority.
Opler further criticized the segregation of “loyal” and “disloyal” internees at Tule Lake, and showed a respect for Japanese culture that went against the mores of the time. Sagoff enrolled their son in the Japanese nursery camp at Tule Lake, making him the only white student. Opler’s willingness to think of the Tule Lake prisoners as real, normal people perhaps stemmed from his ability to situate their culture within a wider worldview. He likened the prisoners’ renewed interest in Japanese traditions to when Plains Indians returned to the Ghost Dance religion, calling both reclamations and affirmations of identities too long sublimated to colonizers. Opler had in fact begun his anthropological career observing Native Americans, alongside his brother Morris, in New Mexico. (While Opler was assigned to Tule Lake, Morris was stationed at Manzanar.)
While at Tule Lake, Opler appreciated the artistic work of those imprisoned. According to Sagoff, he hired artist Dick Toshiki Hamaoka to draw representations of life at Tule Lake because they were unable to afford photographers. Boy’s Day Festival in May, with koinobori in the air, barracks housing, and residents going about their daily lives, is plausibly one such work. According to Sagoff, Hamaoka was 17 at the time he was commissioned and was a cartoonist for his high school newspaper. By her account, after the war, Hamaoka repatriated to Japan.
WRA records indicate that there was a Toshiki D. Hamaoka, a kibei Nisei, from Los Angeles at Tule Lake. However, those records show him to be 25 years of age at the time Sagoff would have known him. Moreover, the WRA shows him as being married, with previous military service, and indicate that he was sent first to Santa Anita and then to the Amache camp (also referred to as the Granada camp) in Colorado. A Bulletin from Granada, Colorado, dated October 21, 1942, corroborates all of this: “Alice Misaye Ouye and Richard Toshiki Hamaoka were married at the Lamar courthouse Thursday. The couple, formerly of Santa Anita, were accompanied by Police Chief Stanley Adams. They now reside at 11G-12F.” The couple was moved to Tule Lake in 1943, perhaps because of responses to the loyalty questionnaire. Final Accountability Records show the Hamaokas arriving at there from Granada in September 1943 and leaving for Japan on Christmas Day 1945. Regardless of his age, WRA records list Hamaoka’s qualified occupation as “artist” and “photographer.”
If Boy’s Day Festival in May is indeed by Hamaoka, it may well be one of his final completed piece before repatriating to Japan.
Opportunities to view and hear about artifacts from the JANM Collection, like this Members Only Learning at Lunch event, are a great benefit of membership. Join or renew today!