For the past year and a half, JANM’s Frank H. Watase Media Arts Center has captured more than 25 first-person accounts of individuals whose lives illuminate the astonishing diversity of the Japanese experience in America.
With the support of NITTO TIRES U.S.A. Inc. and its visionary President, Tomo Mizutani, the Watase Media Arts Center staff has been enabled to videotape extensive interviews with Nisei, Japanese-speaking Kibei, Hapa, and post-WWII “Shin Issei.” Their stories have revealed many new historical insights and several previously unexpressed personal perspectives on the World War II era and beyond.
From the little known early Yamato colony of Japanese in Florida where Sumi (Fukushima) Hughes’ parents settled to the challenges faced by Hamako (Amano) Schneider, one of the first Japanese war brides to be admitted to the U.S. following World War II, the project has uncovered many aspects of history that have remained unfamiliar to the public.
Photographed in Hi-Definition video by the Media Arts Center’s videographers Akira Boch and Evan Kodani, each interview is transcribed, translated when necessary, and digitally archived for eventual use in documentaries, exhibitions, and ongoing JANM educational projects such as the Discover Nikkei website and the Museum’s YouTube channel, janmdotorg. The project also involved follow ups with interviewees and their families to gather, identify, and scan photo albums, documents, and other supplementary resource material.
After viewing the completed two-to-three hour interviews and assessing the available supplementary photographs and other visuals, the Media Arts staff—with assistance from Japanese staff member Yoko Nishimura of the Discover Nikkei project—edited selected interviews into a 30-minute documentary, Unexpected Journeys, that interweaves short autobiographical profiles with narration, graphics, and music by accomplished composer and musician, Dave Iwataki. To make these stories accessible to as wide an audience as possible the video includes both English and Japanese narration and subtitling to reach both English and Japanese-speaking audiences.
On Saturday, November 2, several of the interviewees and their families will attend a special premiere public screening presented in JANM’s Atsuhiko and Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Democracy Forum and will be able to meet fellow project participants, staff, sponsors, and other special guests. Light refreshments to follow program.
FILM SCREENING Unexpected Journeys: Remarkable Stories of Japanese in America
Saturday, November 2, 2013 • 2PM FREE & open to the public!
This program is sponsored by Nitto Tire and produced by the National Museum’s Frank H. Watase Media Arts Center.
Every summer the Getty Foundation organizes a Multicultural Undergraduate Internship program in Los Angeles that aims to encourage greater diversity in the professions related to museums and the visual arts. This year JANM hired three interns—Kelly in Media Arts, Cindi in Production, and myself, Esther, in the Curatorial department.
For the majority of the summer we worked separately, but for the last few weeks, we worked together to produce a final collaboration project which would culminate in a promotional video for the exhibition, I Want the Wide American Earth: An Asian Pacific American Story.
As the exhibition takes a sweeping look at how Asian Pacific Americans have shaped and been shaped by the course of U.S. history, we decided to interview Asian Pacific Americans of different ethnicities, backgrounds, and occupations on a variety of topics. Our central question was “What do you want from your America?”. We also asked each interviewee to finish the sentence “I am…”. We got a wide array of answers that allows any viewer to appreciate the cultural, historical, and social diversity among Asian Pacific Americans.
For footage we used photographs from the exhibition itself, and made stops around Downtown Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo and Chinatown. We also visited our own Collections Department at JANM to photograph artifacts and photographs that were relevant to the exhibition. It was an exciting day because we saw how expansive our Collections Department is, and we got to personally handle artifacts!
We were also granted permission from Youtube stars including, fitness instructor Cassey Ho from Blogilates, singers David Choi and Clara C, and Wong Fu Productions for our preview clip. Although we did not use all of these clips for our final video, we were able to get exciting experience communicating with professionals, and were able compile more than enough footage so that we had many options while editing our video.
Check out our final video to see who’s footage and interviews made it into our collaboration project!
It was a time-consuming project, but it was also a great experience because we were able to collaborate with each other, appreciate each of our talents, and examine how different departments come together to produce a project. For us, this experience reinforced the fact that museums, including JANM, are not made up of individuals working separately, but rather, individuals working and collaborating together to produce something great!
If you haven’t seen it already, I Want the Wide American Earth is on display at JANM until October 27th. Also, be sure to catch Our American Voice—a special two-person show starring Traci Kato-Kiriyama, and Johnny Kwon (also the narrators of our final video), exploring six diverse stories of Asian Pacific Americans. This special performance was produced in partnership with East West Players, and will be performed at 1pm in the exhibition gallery every Saturday for the duration of the exhibition.
Participants came from around the nation, as well as from Canada and Japan to participate in a jam-packed program commemorating the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Liberties Act. [See below for a video of Secretary Norman Mineta’s keynote address at the dinner banquet on July 6.]
We are now going through the photos, video footage, and audio recordings of the conference so that we can make them available on the Web. But for now, because we are so excited about all of the media, wanted to preview just a few of the photos and to say THANK YOU for helping make the conference unforgettable! And a special THANK YOU to the folks in Seattle for sharing the history of their wonderful city with us.
Growing up in Southern California as a person of Japanese descent, JANM has played a large role in helping me discover my cultural identity. Each exhibit that I have immersed myself in has, in one way or another, done an excellent job of captivating me while still teaching me about my Japanese American heritage. Out of all the exhibits that I have seen, the museum’s newest installment Visible & Invisible: A Hapa Japanese American History has been one of the most personally intriguing because it delves into the deep history of mixed-race and hapa individuals within the United States. Being half Japanese and half Caucasian myself, I found Visible & Invisible to be very relatable to my life.
As I walked through the exhibit, a few pieces that really piqued my interest, including an anti-Japanese campaign poster for California Senator James D. Phelan that revealed the prejudice and discrimination Japanese Americans faced more than two decades before World War II. Another intriguing part of the exhibit was an article from Ebony magazine that highlighted the troubles endured by children of American soldiers and Japanese women. Although I can’t entirely relate to those children due to the fact that being hapa hasn’t been detrimental to me at all, I realize now that life for some mixed race children, both in Japan and in the United States following World War II, was not easy.
Basketball has played a huge role in my life. Up until this past year I had been spending the majority of my weekends either at practices or games for my team, the Venice Lakers. Seeing the different Venice jerseys and pictures of multiple teams, a few of which I recognized, brought back many fond memories of my time playing Japanese American basketball. It was easily my favorite part of the exhibit. JA basketball helps expose children to not only the sport of basketball, but to different aspects of Japanese culture. If you ask a child of Japanese descent if he plays basketball, there’s a high likelihood that he or she will say yes, or will know somebody who does.
Another facet of the exhibit that interested me was Virgil Westdale, a half Japanese, half Caucasian soldier forced to switch his name from Nishimura to Westdale so he could join the armed forces. After the United States Army Air Corps found out about Westdale’s background they demoted him to private, stripped him of his pilot’s license, and sent him to Camp Shelby in Mississippi to join the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The accompanying video helped me delve deeper into Westdale’s personal account of what life was like for him as a mixed-race member of the 442nd and as an American of Japanese heritage during World War II.
Lastly, this exhibit wouldn’t feel like a JANM exhibit without a compelling interactive component. I very much enjoyed the interactive aspects of last year’s XLAB 2012, however, the black journal experiment in Visible & Invisible has become my favorite, mainly because of the personal touch each participant can add. It’s absolutely amazing to see the artistic skills and personal messages from people as far north as Eugene, Oregon, to people who have lived in Boyle Heights since 1944.
Ultimately I would have to say that the main reason that Visible & Invisible initially appealed to me was because I am mixed-race. However, walking through the exhibit I realized that the exhibit wasn’t so much about being hapa as it was about the Japanese American experience. Visible & Invisible runs the gamut in terms of Japanese and mixed race culture within the United States by giving an informative, yet enthralling, look at nearly 300 years of history. I highly recommend coming to the JANM to check this exhibit out before it ends on August 25th.
Writer Jeremy Parks is a 17 year old high school senior who attends Campbell Hall High School in Studio City. He is an editor on his school’s newspaper. He is volunteering this summer with the museum’s Watase Media Arts Center.
Hello there! My name is Kelly Gates and I am working in the Watase Media Arts Center here at the Japanese American Nation Museum as one of the 2013 Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Interns. I recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz majoring in Film and Digital Media. I have moved back home for just the summer (hopefully). Now that I have been thrown into what people call the “real world” as I try to figure out what I want to do with my life. On to the real reason you’re reading this article…
“It was funny they were talking about nicknames and mine was ‘haole’ and mine was ‘big eyes’.” —Rex Walters
This past Saturday (June 22, 2013) the museum held the event “Hapa Hoops: Japanese American Basketball and Community with Rex Walters”. The event screened JANM’s own film Crossover (2000) followed by a conversation with former JA league player turned NBA player turned coach, Rex Walters and co-curator for the Visible & Invisible: A Hapa Japanese American History exhibition, Dr. Lily Anne Yumi Welty. Crossover is a short documentary on the ever growing and changing of the Japanese-American basketball community and leagues. The film was directed by a previous JANM employee and director of the four most recent The Fast & The Furious films, Justin Lin. The film address the history of the JA leagues by looking at how and why they started and goes all the way to the present day (well, 2000) structure of the leagues.
“When she [mom] got really mad at me or really mad about something she would call me a banana, ‘Oh you’re yellow on the outside but you’re white on the inside. You’re not really Japanese.” But it was all in good fun.” —Rex Walters
When it came time to have the conversation with Rex Walters and Dr. Lily Anne Welty, I could not help but feel like we were all in group huddle during halftime of a game. I played basketball on my high school team and he made me flash back to those memories. It was funny how Mr. Walters mentioned a past coach always giving motivational speeches and now here he was doing the exact same thing. I personally found Mr. Walters to be quite inspirational. He enjoyed playing for the San Jose Zebras and mentioned he liked the JA basketball league experience better than his high school basketball experience. Mr. Walters even admitted he was not the best player on the team and spent some time warming the bench, but look at how far he got. He played in the NBA and helped his team get into the Final Four and now he is the head coach at the University of San Francisco. Listening to his story, I regretted not playing basketball my senior year in high school and not trying to play in college. It was especially nice to see a fellow hapa person there, talking about his experience and his (what I would still call) a successful career.
“Basketball is just like anything else. It’s a way of bonding and teams just naturally bond. Whether you’re really good, really bad you kind of have to stick together, you have to come together.”
Drop by the Museum this Saturday, June 22nd at 2pm for court-side—or rather, screen-side—seats to Hapa Hoops! We will be showing the documentary Crossover followed by a conversation with hapa NBA veteran Rex Walters. The program is free with admission to the Museum.
Produced originally for the More Than a Game exhibition (2000) by the Museum’s Watase Media Arts Center, and directed by Justin Lin (of the Fast and Furious series), Crossover is a fast-paced look at the history and purpose of Japanese American basketball leagues over the years. First established in the 1930s as an opportunity for Japanese Americans to participate in competitive sports, the leagues have flourished over the years—bringing about questions of how to adapt to an increasingly diverse player base.
Walters got his basketball start playing in one such youth league. Before making his professional debut with the New Jersey Nets, he helped lead the University of Kansas Jayhawks to the Final Four in 1993. He currently works as head basketball coach at the University of San Francisco.
This program is presented in conjunction with our exhibition Visible & Invisible: A Hapa Japanese American History, running through August 25th. Visible & Invisible explores the diverse experiences and history of mixed-roots and mixed-race Japanese Americans through photos, historical artifacts, and interactive elements.
Patriots & Peacemakers: Arab Americans in Service to Our Country opens at JANM this Saturday on February 16 and will be on view through April 14, 2013. Fittingly, we will also be commemorating our annual Community Day of Remembrance here that day too.
Created by the Arab American National Museum (AANM), the exhibition tells true stories of heroism and self-sacrifice that affirm the important role Arab Americans have played in our country throughout its history.
Patriots & Peacemakers highlights three specific areas of service: the U.S. Armed Forces, diplomatic service and the Peace Corps. Personal narratives highlight Arab American men and women of different national and religious backgrounds. The exhibition also asks visitors to consider how commitment to service impacts them in their daily lives.
In addition to the exhibition from AANM, there are a few extra components. We are screening 9066 to 9/11: America’s Concentration Camps, Then…and Now?, a documentary produced by our Watase Media Arts Center in 2004. The film focuses on the parallels between the post-September 11 treatment of Arab Americans and Muslims in this country with treatment of Japanese Americans after the start of World War II.
AANM also created a special banner dedicating this presentation in Los Angeles to Senator Daniel K. Inouye who passed away at the end of last year “…In sincere appreciation for his contributions to the exhibition’s development, his support for the Arab American National Museum and the Arab American community, and his decades of exemplary service to our country.”
Elizabeth Barrett Sullivan, Curator of Exhibits at AANM, came at the beginning of the month to work with JANM staff to install the exhibition in our upstairs gallery. One of the special perks of being a staff or volunteer at JANM is getting to go on walkthroughs of our new exhibitions with curators and artists.
You can check out photos from the special Patriots & Peacemakers walkthrough with Elizabeth on our Facebook page. Here are a few photos:
An older Japanese American gentleman stands in front of a museum display case. Behind him is an enlarged photograph of a group of Japanese picture brides (a sort of predecessor to the mail order bride) newly arrived in the United States, looking a little lost and apprehensive. Mr. Hayashi, a volunteer at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM), is explaining how he uses the photograph as a didactic tool during school tours, but he is also talking about its personal significance—his own grandmother was a picture bride.
The brides share a display case with several other objects. One of these, a document in the lower corner of the frame, reads: Keep California White. Mr. Hayashi is commenting that despite his grandmother’s ambiguous fate as the bride in an arranged marriage, the partnership was considered successful and resulted in 36 grandchildren and great grandchildren. Mr. Hayashi is, in fact, a testament to his family’s success in the face of a myriad of trials that women like the ones in the picture must have faced so many years ago. He is Nikkei, a descendent of Japanese migrants, and there are 2.6 to 3 million others with stories like his across the globe.
A global storytelling community
Allowing people to discover stories like the one Mr. Hayashi tells in the video described above is what the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles hopes to achieve through its Discover Nikkei website, an interactive multimedia website launched in 2005. Discover Nikkei was conceived as a community-building tool on a grand scale that allows users to keep up with activities at the museum, and also permits access to a part of JANM’s collections, through the Nikkei Album feature.
Through the website, Nikkei all over the world are able to communicate, connect, and share, with a particular emphasis on the U.S., Canada, Central and South America, where a large number of Japanese emigrants have settled. Altogether, Discover Nikkei presents three main areas that allow Nikkei and people interested in the Japanese diaspora to build a global network together: Stories, Community, and Resources. This wealth of primary-source material available through the Discover Nikkei website in the form of archival home videos, articles, and video profiles combine to mount a concerted effort to privilege the community’s voice over a classic museum discourse.
In the “Stories” section of Discover Nikkei, the Nikkei Album feature allows users to create collections of images and/or film, much like Flickr or Pintrest type websites. To get an idea of the diversity of voices accessible through the albums, some albums include a Japanese farming and arts community in Brazil, Baptist churches in Japan, and an origami crane-making lesson in Peru. Of the three, the last album is written in Spanish, one of the four languages in which Discover Nikkei is available; the others being English, Japanese, and Portuguese.
The museum as participant is a major premise for the Discover Nikkei website, and manifests itself both in the “low profile” JANM presents on the website, as well as in the importance it places on community members’ involvement and collaboration. Aside from website users, the website gets a large part of its content through international correspondents who range from cultural institutions to individuals who contribute articles in the Journal section of the “Stories” page and post events on the main page. A subtle museum presence displaces focus from the “experts” to the community and allows the website to take on a real, marketplace-type feeling, where stories are related, not dictated by an institution.
Nikkei History in the First Person
The JANM account in the “Nikkei Album” section also gives self-service access to a portion of the museum’s permanent collection, made up of over 80,000 artifacts, objects, photographs, and artworks. The available documents are from the Watase Media Arts Center and include an important collection of home movie footage—more than 330 film clips totaling over six hours—filmed between the 1920s and 1960s, and digitally transferred for online access. Each film clip is described and annotated on the janm.org website in the Collections, Home Movies section.
The home movies touch on a wide variety of subjects and themes in the lives of American Nikkei, including work, play, home, and family life. Some extraordinary footage is also consultable, dating from the period of internment of Japanese Americans at several camps across the country from 1942 until the end of World War II, including that of Heart Mountain in Wyoming. The clips depict daily life at the camps from the point of view of the internees themselves, and are a grim reminder of the extent to which certain communities have had to grapple with a “Keep California White” mentality.
Although the Nikkei experience translates well through images, text is also an important component of the Discover Nikkei website. Through the “Stories” “Journal” rubric, we meet Norm Masaji Ibuki, a Canadian Nikkei struggling to come to terms with his government’s non-action in the face of recent devastating events in Tohoku, Japan, where he once lived. Since the earthquake hit on March 11th, 2011 Norm has been keeping tabs via email and telephone on an old friend, Tomo and his family, stranded not far from the earthquake epicenter. “The Great Tohoku Disaster” series allows readers to listen in on a conversation that is as fascinating as it is terrible, as we progress from not knowing the family’s whereabouts, to learning that they are in Tokyo trying to find a way back to Canada, leaving house, belongings, and friends behind.
The over 100 available videos feature a diverse array of Nikkei living in Japan and abroad, sharing their life experiences and what they have learned from them. Each video is meticulously transcribed, then translated into all four languages available on the website. The library of stories we are privy to through the Interview section provide audiences with first person accounts of the Nikkei experience, much like the images in the home movies from the collection also available through the site.
Tools for empowerment
Issei, Nisei, Sansei… These terms and many others are peppered throughout the Discover Nikkei website. They are words used to denote how far removed a person is from their Japanese heritage by generation, and they provide a kind of reference for those who are initiated to the lingo. At the time this article was first published, the “Nima of the month,” or featured Discover Nikkei member, is a Sansei, a third generation Japanese, born in the U.S. His wife is Yonsei, fourth generation Japanese American. The user clearly expresses himself well in English, but does he speak Japanese? Does he even feel it is necessary to speak the language in order to feel a connection to his Japanese heritage? These are the types of identity issues explored in a number of the user-written articles accessible in the “Nima-kai” rubric of the “Community” section. Here users can also post photographs and events, in a way that is similar to Facebook. A “Taiko Groups” rubric has recently been added to the Discover Nikkei website.
A critical step in the preservation of cultural heritage is the acquisition of necessary knowledge and skills. The “Resources” section of Discover Nikkei attempts to provide users with just enough guidance to encourage participation. This how-to section has detailed instructions for beginning a genealogical research project, including tips on conducting interviews, conservation basics, and even a bit of information on starting a personal collection of artifacts. These could potentially be the tools to inspire a user to create a Nikkei Album with a few of their own home movies, start a blog about Nikkei communities in countries other than the ones already featured, or maybe even dust off those old family kimonos in the attic. Discover Nikkei users participate in a variety of ways, defining and affirming the term Nikkei in an active way with the help of the website interface.
Apart from inspiring users to affirm their cultural identity, Discover Nikkei is also a remarkable example for museums that may be looking to relate to their audiences in a different, more egalitarian way. JANM’s idea was one that started small and gained momentum as the project advanced stage by stage, allowing for more complexity only after a solid framework had been put into place. JANM staff observed that one of the most important elements of website development was ease of content management. For JANM this meant that in order for content to remain relevant as the website progressed, room had to be made for constant revisions by regular staff members, as opposed to specialized IT staff. Avoiding proprietary software to cut down on costs and compatibility issues has also been a key development issue.
Through the Discover Nikkei website, JANM provides access to a rich collection of documents and artifacts that encourage Nikkei to take pride in their cultural patrimony, and to place a high value in sharing and communicating with others at a local and global level. By focusing on primary source materials and community-generated content, the museum places an emphasis on providing a forum for discussion and discovery rather than contributing expertise via a classic museum discourse. This approach, visible through the Discover Nikkei website, allows for a transfer of authority to take place, positioning in the foreground a community that has much to offer in the way of cultural tradition and values.
With special thanks to John Esaki, Director of the Frank Watase Media Arts Center, Japanese American National Museum, whose advice and comments during this collaboration were essential.
A Los Angeles native, Cynthia G. Valdez is currently working to complete a Master’s in Art History at the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland. Cynthia has written about art for various publications in France and abroad, including ArtSlant, The Paris Times, The Mag L.A., and Whitehot Magazine for Contemporary Art. When not accumulating stamps in her passport, she enjoys knitting, experimental music and answering emails at yomemoi(at)gmail.com. She microblogs here and here.
The Poston Community Alliance is in the process of locating mothers who were interned at the Poston internment camp and their descendants for a documentary that they are producing called For the Sake of the Children.
Marlene Shigekawa, Producer, and the Director, Joe Fox met with Dr. G.W. Kimura, President & CEO of JANM, about a month ago. Dr. Kimura was intrigued by the approach of this film, which will in part tell the story of the interment through the eyes of the mothers who tried and succeeded, despite much hardship and tragedy, to give their children a sense of normalcy through this dark period of our collective history. Additionally, this documentary will show the impact that the Poston internment camp experiences had on subsequent generations.
Joe and Marlene will be at JANM on Monday, September 24th and invite members of our community to come and meet with them. In particular, they are looking to speak to mothers who gave birth while at Poston and/or were raising small children (up to the age of 10) while in camp. They would like to speak with Nisei, Sansei, Yonsei and Gosei whose mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers or great-great grandmothers were interned at Poston.
There will be no filming done at JANM. Rather Joe and Marlene just want to hear about your experiences. They will be in the Education Center at 10:00 am and at 2:00 pm that day and look forward to seeing you.
4) In addition to receiving training for the specific duties and responsibilities of the internship, the Museum’s volunteer docents will introduce the intern to the history and work culture of the National Museum as well as the history of Americans of Japanese ancestry.
Japanese American History Classes, tour of Common Ground, and Little Tokyo Walking Tour? Check.
The only thing not listed above: Time Traveling.
One of my greatest joys of being here at the Museum has been sitting in on the Life History Interviews. This past week, John Esaki, Akira Boch, and Chris Aihara and I had the opportunity to interview Professor Lloyd Inui [Professor Emeritus at CSULB in the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies and a senior adviser at the Japanese American National Museum]. In a way, each of the Life History Interviews is but a single time capsule that saves and preserves one’s individual experiences up until that moment in video form.
Over the course of about 3 hours, we traveled from before 1930 to the present day as Lloyd told stories of his childhood, incarceration, post-war employment, time in the military service and the beginnings of Asian and Asian American Studies at CSULB. Not only was it was amazing to hear eyewitness experiences of the effects of war and living through the incarceration camps, it was impoartant to realize how the major that will be written on my diploma next year was formed – through struggle, perseverance and a desire for remembrance, a passion for critical thinking, as well as progression forward.
Lloyd’s vivid recollections of warfare, the meetings of some of the first Asian American Studies classes, and perspective into his journey to the present day were truly insightful, stark and honest – treasures that I hope future generations will learn from and appreciate. Each person has a story to tell. Lloyd’s unique experiences, the seemingly insignificant details, every friendship he formed over the years, added to the person he is today and the ideas that he calls his own. It’s striking to realize that someday, maybe in the far future, the next generation will be asking us to tell our life story.
What histories are being written right now? What is your story only you can tell?
Jenni Nakamura is one of three Getty Multicultural Intern working within the Watase Media Arts Center, a senior studying Asian American Studies at UCLA with an interest in culturally relevant social services and the social networks of Asian American churches, and a passion to explore the use of visual arts to preserve and give light to hidden personal histories and community issues.