Map Our New Exhibition with Gordon Yamate

JANM Trustee and attorney Gordon Yamate gives an overview of JANM’s new exhibition and virtual reality experience, Glenn Kaino: Aki’s Market. Yamate initially connected the Museum with the artist, Glenn Akira Kaino. Kaino’s grandparents are Akira and Sachiye Shiraishi (Kaino is Akira’s grandson and namesake).

An art expert who understands the importance of integrating art into the Museum’s storytelling and the role that art plays in creating empathy and teaching valuable lessons, Yamate is involved in numerous charitable, civic, and cultural organizations and serves on boards for a number of cultural organizations such as the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art.

“A Roadmap to Glenn Kaino: Aki’s Market by Gordon Yamate

Now that I have been anointed as an “art expert” by our President and CEO, Ann Burroughs (I’m still pinching myself), I’d like to offer my comments on Glenn Kaino: Aki’s Market because I suspect many of our regular visitors to the JANM will be scratching their heads wondering if they missed something when they view the exhibition.

Let me start with some background about Glenn Kaino. He is a conceptual artist. That means his work isn’t necessarily pretty or conventional art on the wall. Glenn is concerned with ideas, concepts and memories—how we perceive things—but he goes a step further here. This isn’t a typical Glenn Kaino exhibition, if a typical one exists. This is an exhibition that is deeply personal to Glenn, much like the stories that we experience at JANM. So, a lot of the works have a tie to Glenn’s life, and we learn a lot more about him than in his other previous exhibitions.

Let’s start with the virtual reality portion of the exhibition first. Yes, the wait in line can be a bit tedious, and even Glenn jokes that he created a zine to give you something to do while you wait. Definitely read the zine. It’s your guide to what you will see and experience, and the context that Glenn provides is essential. There are skateboard decks, a set of three Akira portraits as you enter, and a huge ninja doll. Without the zine, none of this seems connected or makes sense. So, read the zine. It all makes sense.

There are two what I call “infinity” sculptures on the opposite side of the room. Like works from Glenn’s With Drawn Arms exhibition based on Tommy Smith’s raised fist salute at the 1968 Olympics, Glenn incorporates an element of illusion in creating these works. In With Drawn Arms he utilized a casting of Smith‘s raised arm to create an image of a suspended arm that replicates into the distance, like Yayoi Kusama’s mirrored infinity rooms that go on forever. Glenn’s use of this technique in “Taken Inventory” goes deeper. In “Taken Inventory (Keep Stock),” the unlabeled Spam cans provide a subtle reminder of the “American” cuisine served to Japanese Americans during their incarceration. Although the arrangement of the cans initially brought to my mind what I imagined an Amazon warehouse would look like, it also conjured up the arrangement of the barracks in the various WRA concentration camps that would extend into the horizon as far as the eye can see—a graphic visualization of the huge number of people that were affected by Executive Order 9066. Even the title “Taken Inventory” alludes to the deprivation and loss of rights, property, and opportunities and how “inventory” dehumanizes individuals when Japanese Americans were issued identification number tags that they wore from the point of departure to the temporary detention centers and ultimately the camps.

In “Taken Inventory (Endless Field),” Glenn laments his grandfather’s loss of attending Occidental College, where he would have gone on a football scholarship, if not for the intervention of Executive Order 9066. Glenn writes that his grandfather was one of the best high school football players in Los Angeles despite his size (weren’t all football players smaller in those days?). Upon closer inspection, Glenn uses what I think is a vintage set of Electric Football figurines propelled on the field by a vibrating table—a rather primitive game that preceded football video games. In this sculpture, the same football game replicates forever—a fitting metaphor for a game that never started nor ended for his grandfather.

We see other snippets of Glenn’s approach to creating art—the use of spontaneous combustion in the aptly titled “Spontaneous Combustion,” where exothermic reactions create the work, leaving an unexpected ghost of an American flag. He invites us into a memory of his grandparents’ grocery store that was created from his interviews with his initially reluctant mother, and stories he remembers being told about the store when he was growing up. Even though Glenn did not meet his grandfather Aki, who passed away before he was born, and never set foot in the store, Glenn saw the importance of the store to his family and the East LA community that it served. What the store lacked in product breadth, it offered in convenience. Where else could you find “Gordon’s” bread loaves of the now defunct LA bakery stocked above cans of flammable liquids (was that kerosene)? The graininess of the video (at least in the virtual reality version that I experienced) adds a nostalgic touch—you feel less a customer in the store but more a special guest in this market of curated goods for the neighborhood. Glenn’s work makes us appreciate what we often take for granted. The lilting voice of his daughter, Stella, responding to his grandmother’s parting farewell and wish to “come back soon” leaves the visitor with memories that will continue to be passed down through generations.

Now on View
Glenn Kaino: Aki’s Market is now on view through January 28, 2024. The Los Angeles Times calls this virtual reality exhibition “a captivating theater of dreams.” Experience it for yourself during your next visit to JANM!

For more information about the exhibition and VR experience availability, visit janm.org/glenn-kaino. An audio tour is available through the website and JANM’s guide in the free Bloomberg Connects app.

Note

This blog post was updated on January 23, 2024.

JANM Lends Artworks for Exhibition in Wakayama, Japan

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

Web: momaw.jp
Phone: 073-436-8690

Images:

Tokio Ueyama, The Evacuee, 1942, oil on canvas (cropped) 28.5 x 34.5 in. Japanese American National Museum, Gift of Kayoko Tsukada, 92.20.3

Chiura Obata, Eagle Peak Trail, 1930, woodblock on paper, 17.93 x 13.18 in. Japanese American National Museum, Gift of Eugene and Yuri Kodani, 99.287.7

Matsusaburo “George” Hibi, Untitled, ca. 1942-45, oil on canvas, 53 x 45 in. Japanese American National Museum, Gift of Ibuki Hibi Lee, 99.63.17

Miné Okubo, Untitled (Mother Embracing a Child), ca. 1943, charcoal on paper, 22.31 x 16.31 in. Japanese American National Museum, Gift of Miné Okubo Estate, 2007.62.1

Chikamichi Yamasaki, Untitled (Building a Brick Structure at Heart Mountain), 1942, ink and pencil on paper, 28 x 36 in. Japanese American National Museum, Gift of Nobu Yamasaki, 97.102.1

Swing Dance and Music in Camp

Don’t Fence Me In: Coming of Age in America’s Concentration Camps. Photo by Paloma Dooley.

What was it like to grow up behind barbed wire? JANM’s exhibition, Don’t Fence Me In: Coming of Age in America’s Concentration Camps, explores the experiences of Japanese American youth confronting the injustice of being imprisoned in World War II concentration camps while embarking on the universal journey of adolescence. Preteens, teenagers, and young adults danced with one another, listened to jazz and big band music, and formed musical groups of their own that performed regularly in camp. 

Swing dance, which developed alongside jazz music, was started by African American dancers  at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, New York. Musicians such as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, and Chick Webb all performed at the ballroom. The ballroom’s anti-discrimination policy created a unique environment for diversity and creativity. The Savoy Ballroom and swing dancing was also featured at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. From there, swing dance and music spread across the country throughout the 1930s, including in Los Angeles.

Swing dancing was so popular among youth that a group of young dancers interrupted Los Angeles City Hall council members to invite them to a swing dance contest at the Gilmore Stadium on September 11, 1938. The following year, the Palomar Ballroom hosted the Jitterbug Championships and the finalists (from twenty states and six countries) danced for cash prizes to live music from the Artie Shaw and Ken Baker Orchestras in front of thousands of people at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as part of the International Jitterbug Championships on June 18, 1939.

During World War II, young Nisei like George Yoshida who enjoyed big band music continued to do so when they were forcibly removed from their homes. According to his book, Reminiscing in Swingtime, incarcerees created big bands such as the Densoneers or D-Elevens, Down Beats, Jive Bombers, Jivesters, Music Makers, Pomonans, Poston Camp #2 Band, Rhythm Kings, Rhythmaires, Savoy Four, Stardusters, and Starlight Serenaders in the temporary detention centers and concentration camps.

Nisei like sisters Yuri Long and Sumiko Hughes were a part of social clubs that would also participate in swing dancing. Long and Hughes, who are both featured in the Don’t Fence Me In audio tour on Bloomberg Connects, talked about how much they enjoyed swing dancing as part of their social club, Just Us Girls (the JUGs), in the Manzanar concentration camp. The JUGs were made up of the youngest girls, followed by the Forget-Me-Nots and the Moderneers.

“They call us wild because at the dances, the JUGs were always very popular,  and the guys would come and ask them to dance. And they jitterbug. They were on the dance floor all the time. And some of the other club girls were sort of off on the side. They didn’t get asked as much. And they didn’t jitterbug. And they used to jitterbug wild. They would throw them under their legs,” recalled Hughes.

Bob Wada, who was also featured in the Don’t Fence Me In audio tour, recalled knowing where all of the dances were at the Poston incarceration camp because the blocks within camp kept a running log.

“A lot of the blocks had their own dances. So we had our own. They weren’t, like, out of control dances, they were good. People didn’t crash dances. Our block had a dance and they invited a few friends that would come. That’s about the only thing we did socially,” he said.

Some incarcerees even had their own musical equipment made in camp. Two Nisei, one of which may have been Sadaichi Tanioka, made a turntable for Henry Nomura so that he could play music for his own enjoyment and for others in the firebreaks and at block dances at the Manzanar concentration camp. 

Handmade dance bids—paper booklets featuring an illustration of the event on the cover—were popular, complete with blank lines for dance partners to sign their name. Many of the dance bids in Don’t Fence Me In were donated by Karen Nagao. Her mother-in-law, Ruth (née Higa) Nagao, was incarcerated in the Pomona temporary detention center and the Heart Mountain concentration camp. While working as a crop picker and nurse’s aide at Heart Mountain, Nagao participated in many events including plays and dances. Her collection of dance bids commemorated block dances and special events like, a New Year’s Eve Dance, a Valentine’s Dance, and a Coronation Ball. 

To celebrate big band music, JANM created a Don’t Fence Me In playlist of popular songs from the 1940s and hosted a two-part public program, From Barbed Wire to Boogie Woogie, on June 17, 2023.

From Barbed Wire to Boogie Woogie kicked off with a conversation between dance preservationist Rusty Frank and Rohwer concentration camp survivors, artists, and performers, June Aochi Berk and Takayo Tsubouchi Fischer. Berk and Fischer met at the Rohwer when they were ten years old and have been friends ever since. While incarcerated at Rohwer, they were too young to attend the dances but they were attuned to the fashion of the times and taught themselves how to dance.

Rusty Frank, June Berk, and Takayo Fischer talk about dancing in camp. Courtesy of the Japanese American National Museum.

“I used to love looking at the Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs,” said Fischer.

“I made my mother buy me white majorette boots, a skirt, and a top. And my brother had to have pachuco pants so he could be in style in camp,” recalled Berk. “We would stand around and watch the big kids dance and we’d go home and copy them. That’s how we learned to dance. My brother always wore his pachuco hat all the time and I would look to see who was dancing with him.”

From Barbed Wire to Boogie Woogie then transitioned to the All Camps Swing Dance with live music from the Fabulous Esquires Big Band and custom dance bids for guests. After Frank led a  beginner swing dance lesson for all ages, the Fabulous Esquires played popular tunes from the 1940s like “Don’t Fence Me In,” “Moonlight Serenade,” and “Chattanooga Choo Choo” (which Berk sang in Japanese). Together, the conversation and dance offered all generations the opportunity to connect through music, movement, and immersive history.

Don’t Fence Me In is now on view through October 1, 2023. Swing by JANM to see it for yourself this summer and shop the exhibition’s collection at the JANM Store!

Got a Work Truck Story? We Want to Hear It!

The humble work truck or van may not seem as glamorous as a sports coupe or luxury sedan but as utility vehicles, they have served Japanese Americans in Los Angeles for over 100 years. Established by Fred J. Fujioka in the mid-1910s, the Japanese Auto Club of Southern California had over 850 members of Japanese descent listed in their member guide. Many members had registered their trucks, presumably used for delivering goods throughout the Southland.

Farmers, gardeners, shop owners, and other working class Nikkei couldn’t ply their trades without access to work vehicles. As prosaic as they looked, the ways in which owners adapted them to their needs made them as unique as any custom car. This was especially true for gardeners, once the economic lifeblood of the Southern California’s Japanese American community, for whom the pickup truck became an iconic sight for several generations.

As part of our forthcoming exhibition on Nikkei car culture in Southern California, we are looking for images of local Japanese Americans with their work trucks, vans, and cars. Many people may have posed in front of their family cars but we know there are also photos of people with their utility vehicles too. We want to make sure these—and the people behind them—are properly represented in our exhibition.

Right now, we prefer to look at digital scans (if possible). Please send them to cars@janm.org by July 31, 2023.

Photo: Buntaro Tabuchi from Amache with his gardening tools and truck, loading up for the day’s work in Los Angeles, June 25, 1945, Online Archive of California. Photo by Charles E. Mace.

Got a Story on Japanese American-Owned or Run Gas Stations and Service Centers? We Want to Hear It!

These days, stopping by a gas station or taking your car to a service center may be seen as a necessary inconvenience but once upon a time, gas and service stations could be like informal neighborhood hubs: a place to stop and chat, even if only for the few minutes it took to top off your gas, check your oil, etc.

This was especially true in Southern California where countless Japanese Americans ran stations through the region. If you grew up here, chances are, you remember a few of your favorite stations. Some of you may even remember the names of the people who used to run them.

As part of our forthcoming exhibition on Japanese American car culture in Southern California, we are asking for your help to identify all the different Japanese American owned or run gas stations and service centers in the region.

If all you remember is the intersection where the station is or was, that’s useful to us. If you remember the name of the station and/or the name(s) of the Japanese American owner(s), even better.

We’re also interested in seeing any photos that people may have of those stations and the people who worked there.

Please fill out this form to submit your response. We’ll use this information to create a database and interactive map of all the gas/service stations in the region, based on all your replies. Thank you!

At First Light: The Dawning of Asian Pacific America

On May 25, we are opening At First Light: The Dawning of Asian Pacific America,a multimedia exhibition that explores and celebrates the emergence of a politically defined Asian Pacific American consciousness and identity. A co-production of Visual Communications (VC) and JANM, At First Light chronicles the transformation of the un-American categorization of “Oriental” to the political identity of “Asian Pacific American” that rejected racist stereotypes, stood up for human rights, recovered lost histories, and created new cultural expressions. The exhibition draws from the collection of VC, the first Asian Pacific American media organization in the country, which formed in Los Angeles in 1970 to capture and cultivate the newfound unity that was Asian Pacific America.

Scholar, author, producer, and JANM Chief Curator Karen Ishizuka, part of the curatorial team who helped put At First Light together, says that selecting from thousands of photographs, hundreds of films, and a vast array of educational materials produced during the first 20 years of VC’s existence was the most challenging part of creating this exhibition. Ultimately, there are 30 short videos telling the stories of places, like Historic Manilatown, and events, such as the first Asian American march against the Vietnam War.

The largest artifact in the exhibition is a free-standing cube sculpture created by VC Founding Director Robert A. Nakamura in 1970.  Featuring then never-before-seen photographs of America’s World War II concentrations camps, the sculpture was conceived to promote awareness for the repeal of the Emergency Detention Act of 1950, which granted the government the power to preventatively detain people during an emergency. Wanting to start an Asian Pacific American media organization, Nakamura called it a production of Visual Communications.

Ishizuka also says that she is most looking forward to displaying a new video installation entitled FSN 1972, which repurposes early VC productions. Onto the windows and doorways of a 1972 graphic of East First Street in Little Tokyo, filmmaker Tadashi Nakamura inserted motion picture footage from VC films to invoke the current issue of preserving Little Tokyo and the Save First Street North campaign.

The resiliency and resistance embodied in At First Light serve as a reminder—as well as a call to action—of what can be accomplished when people unite as a community with commitment. Ishizuka says she hopes visitors learn about how VC has used media as a tool for self-empowerment and community building and that there has been a long history of community activism that must be continued.

To commemorate the opening day of the exhibition on May 25 at 2:00 p.m. JANM will host VC co-founders and exhibition curators Duane Kubo, Robert Nakamura, and Eddie Wong in a panel discussion about the history of VC and the creation of this show. They will be joined by Karen Ishizuka, who will moderate the discussion, helping to place VC’s history as the first Asian Pacific American media organization in the country within the context of today’s changing world. RSVP here.

See Gambatte! Before It Closes

It’s almost your last chance to see the exhibition Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit. Closing April 28, the exhibition features 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 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 found more than 60 individuals or their descendants to photograph. One such pair of photos in the exhibition features Yukiko Okinaga Hayakawa.

Yukiko Okinaga Hayakawa was two years old in 1942 when she was photographed waiting at Los Angeles’s Union Station, not far from her home in Little Tokyo, for a train that would take her and her mother to the Manzanar concentration camp. In the photo, she’s holding a partially eaten apple in one hand and a tiny purse in the other. Peeking out from her corduroy jacket is is the paper family identification tags worn by those forcibly removed, serving as a reminder of their second class status during this time. Photographer Clem Albers captured the far-off look in her eyes–a look of confusion and uncertainty. This now-famous photo has become representative of innocence lost during that time in history.

In 2005, Paul Kitagaki Jr. traveled with Yukiko on her first visit to Manzanar since her incarceration. He took her photo in a field near the camp’s Block 2, where she had once lived. Among the last of the incarcerees released, she and her mother left Manzanar in October 1945 for Cleveland, Ohio, where another Japanese American family sponsored them. Her mother went on to work as a cleaning woman and later as a seamstress. Yukiko went to Lake Forest College in Illinois and then graduate school at Tulane University in New Orleans.

Today Yukiko Okinaga Llewellyn (née Hayakawa) is a retired Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Registered Student Organizations at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, where she worked with Asian student groups and helped establish the university’s Asian Studies program. She taught about the incarceration experience and was active in the redress movement.In fact, in the fall of 1986, she wrote to her congressman, Representative Terry Bruce, and spoke with his staff about the movement. Through her persistence, the “little girl with the apple” helped win Rep. Bruce’s support. To this day, Yukiko continues to educate others about what happened to Japanese Americans in the 1940s in the hope that it doesn’t happen again to someone else.

To learn more about this exhibition and to see additional exhibition photos visit http://www.janm.org/exhibits/gambatte/

Triumph Over Adversity – Paul Kitagaki Jr. and “Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit”


Junzo Ohara, Takeshi Motoyasu, and Eddie Kato

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 subjects.

JANM:  What are the similarities and differences between your Gambatte work versus your job as a photojournalist?

Paul 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.

When 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.

During 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.


Yukiko Hayakawa Llewellyn

JANM: In your Gambatte portraits, are you more spontaneous with your subjects or are you trying to capture an idea you conceptualized beforehand?

PK: 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.

JANM: Since you’re dealing with serious, oftentimes painful memories, how do you make your subjects feel at ease and comfortable?

PK: 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.

JANM: Are there any lasting lessons you’ve learned from the camp survivors you’ve photographed?

A 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.

JANM: 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.

Photographer Paul Kitagaki Jr.

JANM: What would you like the legacy of this project to be?

PK: 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.

I 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 telling.

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. 


Five Fun Facts about Godzilla

Look out, Little Tokyo! On Thursday, October 25, Godzilla will rise from the briny deep when we screen the original 1954 Japanese version of the movie on our outdoor plaza. To celebrate, we’ve put together five fun facts you might not know about the greatest city-destroyer of all time.

1. Godzilla was originally known in Japan as Gojira. The name came about in the early stages of planning the movie because the prehistoric sea monster was described by its creators as a cross between a gorilla (gorira) and a whale (kujira).

2. Ishiro Honda, director of Godzilla (Gojira) and co-creator of the character, later assisted renowned director Akira Kurosawa in making films. The men became friends in the late 1930s when they were both employed by Toho Studios. Honda and his team created the kaiju movie genre, but by the late 1970s, this type of sci-fi film had fallen out of favor and suffered from lackluster box office returns. Honda then became an assistant on Kurosawa’s last five films between 1980 and 1993.

3. Composer Akira Ifukube created Godzilla’s distinctive roar by rubbing a pine-tar-resin-coated glove along the string of a double bass and then slowing down the playback. The roar has changed over the course of more than thirty remakes and sequels but all pay homage to the original.

4. George Takei got his start in the film industry by doing voice-over work for the 1956 kaiju movie, Rodan also directed by Ishiro Honda.  You can also listen for the unmistakable voice of the Star Trek legend and JANM Trustee in the English-language version of the second Godzilla film, Godzilla Raids Again.

5. An actual dinosaur was named after Godzilla’s Japanese name, Gojira. Gojirasaurus was discovered in 1981 in the Cooper Canyon Formation near Revuelto Creek, New Mexico. The scientists who discovered the enormous fossil thought it was fitting to name the dinosaur after the fictional monster. One of the largest meat-eating dinosaurs known from the Triassic Period, Gojirasaurus was estimated to be about 18 feet long and 330–440 pounds!

Need more Godzilla in your life? On November 25, at 1:00 p.m., author Steve Ryfle will be at JANM to discuss and sign copies of his book, Ishiro Honda: A Life in Film, From Godzilla to Kurosawa, is the first to take a look at the director’s life and career. Ryfle highlights Honda’s work and his background, including days spent as a Japanese soldier, experiences in the aftermath of Hiroshima, and his friendship with fellow director Akira Kurosawa.

An Interview with Toy Designer and Collector Mark Nagata

Left to Right: Bullmark Mirrorman Darklon, soft red Ultraman, and glow-in-the-dark Bullmark Zazan

Our newest exhibition, Kaiju vs Heroes: Mark Nagata’s Journey through the World of Japanese Toys opens on Saturday, September 15 and showcases hundreds of dazzling vintage and contemporary Japanese vinyl toys, providing a feast for the eyes and the imagination! Kaiju translates to “strange creature” in English but has come to mean “monster” or “giant monster” referring to the creatures that inhabited the postwar movie and television screens of Japan. The advent of these monsters brought about the creation of characters to combat them—hence the emergence of pop-culture heroes like Ultraman and Kamen Rider. Drawing from the extensive vinyl toy collection of Mark Nagata, the exhibition also demonstrates how Nagata’s pursuit of these Japanese toys took him on an unexpected journey that brought new realizations about his cultural identity as an American of Japanese ancestry.

Growing up in California, Mark Nagata was a fan of Disneyland, comic books, and classic Japanese television shows, movies, and toys. These influences inspired his creativity and spurred his initial interest in drawing and art. After attending the Academy of Art College in San Francisco during the late 1980s, Nagata embarked on a 10-year-plus journey as a freelance commercial illustrator. In 2001, Mark transitioned from illustration to co-founding Super 7 magazine, a publication dedicated to vintage and art vinyl toys. Through his work on the magazine, Nagata combined his passion for Japanese vinyl toys with his artwork. It was during this period that Nagata founded the Max Toy Company in 2005 to produce vinyl kaiju and hero toys. Fast-forward to today, and not much has changed for this toy designer, painter, illustrator, and collector. We caught up with Nagata via email to ask him a few questions.

JANM: What is your favorite kaiju toy of all time?

Mark Nagata: To be honest, my favorite kaiju toy is actually a hero toy. It’s an Ultraman figure, made of soft red vinyl, produced by a Japanese company called Bullmark in the 1970s. Ultraman is my favorite hero and when I discovered that there was a very rare variation of this figure, the hunt was on. During one of my trips to Tokyo in search of toys, I actually found one but the price was very expensive. Even though my fellow toy friends were willing to let me borrow the money, sadly I had to pass on the chance to obtain it. For the next month after returning home, I couldn’t stop thinking of the figure. So, I decided to sell off a bunch of toys and contacted a dealer in Japan to see if the figure was still there for sale. Luckily, it was and they helped me to purchase it. Because the figure is fragile and expensive, I requested that they carefully wrap and pack the figure in a sturdy box and declare the full insurance amount when shipping it.

I waited what seemed like weeks for the figure to arrive. To my complete horror, the mailman handed me a shoe box that was partially opened, and inside the figure was barely wrapped in one piece of newspaper! I quickly examined the figure to make sure it was not broken and luckily it was in perfect condition. As I was throwing out the box, I glanced at the shipping label and once again was shocked to see that the declared insurance value was $5.00, not the value of $5,000! The story has a happy ending, but to this day I keep thinking of how lucky I was that it made it to me in one piece!

Marusan Talking Ultraman

JANM: Where was the most unique place you bought a kaiju toy?

MN: Not really the most unique place, but I think using a fax machine to order toys from Japan was unique. Before email and the internet (yes, that long ago) I would buy toys via the fax machine. A dealer from Japan would fax me in the middle of the night (it was his daytime) with various toy offers. The next day I would circle what I wanted and fax it back to him. I’d still have to wait for another fax to me with payment information. Once I got the totals I had to get a postal money order and mail the payment to him. I’d wait a month for a box to arrive and sometimes a toy would be sold out by the time he got payment. In that case, I would end up with a credit with the dealer.

There was much more work involved to obtain Japanese toys back in those days. Now, with the internet, toy buyers can get a ”fix“ instantly. To me, the fun has been taken out of the searching and hunting process for these toys.

JANM: What is your favorite piece featured in the exhibition?

MN: I know I will get asked this question and to be honest it’s like picking your favorite child! In no particular order for the heroes: the Bullmark Red Ultraman figure, Marusan Talking Ultraman figure, and Ultraman costume. For kaiju figures, I would say the glow in the dark Bullmark Zazan figure, Bandai Barom One Doruge figure, and Bullmark Mirrorman Darklon figure.

Join Mark Nagata on Saturday, September 15, at 2:00 p.m., for a conversation with Marusan toy company President Eiji Kaminaga about kaiju toy history, the world of Japanese toy collecting, and their companies’ histories. (The Marusan toy company created some of the first vinyl kaiju and hero toys of the 1960s and these toys make up a significant part of Nagata’s collection). The conversation will be moderated by Brad Warner, who worked for 15 years at Tsuburaya Productions, the makers of the Ultraman television shows.

Following the discussion, Mark Nagata will sign copies of Toy Karma, an accompanying book by and about Nagata, as well as a 13″ x 19″ print (10″ x 17″ image size) featuring a kaiju and hero image by toy photographer Brian McCarty, who will also be signing the print. The book is $24.95 and the print is $50. Both can be purchased the day of the event. RSVP here.