Inside JANM’s Permanent Collection

A Brief History

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 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
  • Sculpture: The Portal by Ako Castuera, loan

Photos from JANM’s Collection

JANM’s collection storage, first floor
JANM’s collection storage, second floor
General Collection (3D artifacts), second floor, aisles 97 & 98. Frank Kamiyama’s antique Kodak camera [left], Gift in Memory of Frank U. Kamiyama, 2000.335.2
Archives (original photographs; papers and correspondence; diaries and journals; rare books; and ephemera), first floor, aisles 23 & 24. Norman Y. Mineta Papers (45 linear feet) [left], Gift of Norman Y. Mineta, 96.370
Archives (continued), first floor, aisle 23, shelves B-D. Professor Masakazu Iwata Papers [center], Gift of Masakazu Iwata, 94.58
Fine Arts Collection (paintings, drawings, and prints from Japanese American artists), second floor, painting racks 63-75, includes artwork by Henry Sugimoto [center], Gift of Madeleine Sugimoto and Naomi Tagawa, Japanese American National Museum, 92.97

Video credit: Behind the Scenes of JANM’s Collection by Shawn Iwaoka

JANM’s Board of Trustees Convenes in New York City

JANM board members listen as Clifford Chanin, Vice President for Education and Public Programs at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, points out features of the outdoor memorial. Photo by Nicole Miyahara.
JANM board members listen as Clifford Chanin, Vice President for Education and Public Programs at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, points out features of the outdoor memorial. Photo by Nicole Miyahara.


Members of JANM’s Board of Trustees, Board of Governors, and staff traveled to New York City for a weekend-long offsite meeting of the Board of Trustees at the end of October. It was a welcome opportunity to escape the hot temperatures in Los Angeles for the cool autumn weather in New York. Most of the weekend was devoted to taking care of business, but time was also set aside for relaxing, networking, and catching up.

The social highlight was the Saturday afternoon reception, held at the Nippon Club in Midtown. In addition to JANM board members, distinguished guests included Yosuke Honjo, CEO and President, Ito En (North America); Masahide Enoki, Vice President, Ito En; Sugu Mike, Executive Chairman, MUFG Union Bank; Yumi Higashi, Vice President of Corporate Communications, MUFG Union Bank; and Osamu Honda, Director General of the Japan Foundation, New York. Delicious food and beverages were enjoyed by all.

A carved wood plate by Henry Sugimoto, now part of the museum's permanent collection. Photo by Nicole Miyahara.
A carved wood plate by Henry Sugimoto, now part of the museum’s permanent collection. Photo by Nicole Miyahara.

At the reception, JANM announced a major gift from the estate of artist Henry Sugimoto, generously made by his daughter Madeleine. The artworks and artifacts span Sugimoto’s entire career and include 240 oil paintings and more than 200 watercolors. This acquisition makes the Sugimoto Collection, which comprises over 700 works of art, the largest collection of paintings at JANM.

Maggie Wetherbee, JANM Collections Manager, made a special trip to New York to bring one of her favorite Sugimoto pieces to the reception for guests to see. It is a carved wood plate created by the artist in the 1980s; it depicts Madeleine Sugimoto at age six, sitting in front of the mess hall at “Jerome Camp” in Arkansas, where the Sugimoto family was incarcerated, in 1943. The tags attached to her and the pieces of luggage surrounding her bore their family number, so that they could be returned to their assigned barrack if they were separated from her parents. Attendees were very excited and appreciative to see this piece up close, and were able to ask Wetherbee additional questions about the collection.

Dr. Greg Kimura, JANM’s President and CEO, gave a short presentation on the latest happenings at the museum, including exhibitions, educational tours, and new technology. Representative Mark Takano of the 41st Congressional District, a longtime supporter of the museum, spoke about what JANM means to him. He mentioned that Riverside City College, which is part of his district, holds a major collection of works by artist Mine Okubo; JANM also has a significant number of works by Okubo in its permanent collection. Rep. Takano also promised to assist JANM in bringing its recent exhibition, Before They Were Heroes: Sus Ito’s World War II Images, to a prominent venue in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Greg Kimura, JANM's President and CEO, gives a short presentation about the latest happenings at the museum. Photo by Nicole Miyahara.
Dr. Greg Kimura, JANM’s President and CEO, gives a short presentation about the latest happenings at the museum. Photo by Nicole Miyahara.


In addition to the meetings and reception, some board members and their family and friends elected to visit the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, located on the former site of the World Trade Center. The group was given a guided tour by the museum’s founding President and CEO, Joseph C. Daniels, and Vice President for Education and Public Programs Clifford Chanin. In addition to being a deeply moving experience, the intimate tour was an opportunity to build a partnership with an institution with which JANM shares a common mission of commemorating a national tragedy and promoting the messages of hope, transcendence, and tolerance that come out of it.

Another highlight of our trip was enjoying some delicious meals at Hasaki and Sakagura, two restaurants owned by Bon Yagi and his daughter Sakura Yagi, who are longtime friends of the museum. We highly recommend visiting either or both of these establishments the next time you are in New York.