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
On Saturday, September 24, at 2 p.m., JANM will present Memories of Five Nisei, a very special Tateuchi Public Program in which five second-generation Japanese Americans, who are all in their 80s and 90s, will share significant memories of their lives, with a focus on the World War II camp experience. For anyone interested in the subject of the mass incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans during WWII, this is an event that should not be missed.
The organizer and lead presenter for this program is Sam Mihara, a former executive at Boeing Company and a nationally recognized speaker on the topic of the WWII imprisonment of Japanese Americans. Mihara was nine years old when his family was incarcerated, first at an assembly center in Pomona and then at Heart Mountain camp. There, the family lived in one 20-square-foot room in a barrack without facilities for the war’s duration. Mihara’s most recent work is a study of the immigrant detention facilities in Texas, which bear unsettling similarities to the WWII American concentration camps.
Mihara graciously agreed to the following interview, offering insight into the upcoming event and his recent research.
JANM: What gave you the idea to organize these speakers?
Sam Mihara: It began during my tour of the country speaking to many people about my experience. The feedback from students, especially Yonsei (fourth generation) and Gosei (fifth generation), indicated they liked hearing firsthand from someone who went through the imprisonment process. Their grandparents and great-grandparents did not talk much about the camp experience. I thought, if hearing from one former prisoner was good, more should be better. So last year at my annual speech to UCLA Asian American Studies students, I brought two more Nisei, Dr. Takashi Hoshizaki and Toshi Ito, and I called the talk Memories of Three Nisei. It was a hit—according to the feedback, everyone enjoyed the presentation and many said they will never forget it. A few said it was the best lecture they ever heard at UCLA.
With that behind me, I met with Koji Sakai, JANM’s Vice President of Programs, and told him of my idea to have five Nisei present testimonials. And I described the unique memories of each of the five speakers I had in mind. Koji agreed and that is how we came to JANM.
JANM: How do you think the Nisei WWII experience is perceived by young people today?
SM: The young people in my audiences are very well educated, especially on the topic of civil rights. In 1942, the Issei and older Nisei simply went along with the government’s decision to remove us from homes and place us into desolate prison camps. If it were to happen again today, I am confident there would be many more resisters than there were in 1942—a lot more activists taking stands, as Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi, and Minoru Yasui did.
Most importantly, young people of all races and beliefs should learn from the lessons of our WWII experience and never allow it to happen again to anyone. Everyone should be aware of the Mitsuye Endo case, brought by a woman who was fired from her clerical job with the California Department of Employment before being imprisoned at Tule Lake. Her case went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which unanimously ruled in her favor in December 1944, and resulted in the closing of the prison camps and the return of Japanese Americans to the West Coast. Mass imprisonment will probably never happen again to Japanese Americans. But other immigrants, including people of Middle Eastern, Muslim, and Latino backgrounds, should be fully aware of the lessons learned from our experience.
JANM: It sounds like your experiences at Heart Mountain have given you a lifelong interest in the phenomenon of mass imprisonment. Can you tell us more about your path of study? What have you learned, and how has it helped you to process your own experience?
SM: I really believe that mass imprisonment cannot be justified on any basis. “Mass imprisonment” means that the prisoners were selected on the basis of race or religious or other beliefs, and that many of those imprisoned did not receive due process. I really believe that everyone has a purpose in life, which is to make life better for others. So when I heard some politicians promoting the idea that our WWII imprisonment was a favorable precedent in order to justify the imprisonment of undocumented immigrant mothers and children, I knew it was a gross mistake, and I had to do something about it. Those politicians need to be better educated, along with everyone else.
JANM: Please tell us more about your most recent project, studying the new detention facilities in Texas for undocumented immigrants from Latin America.
SM: I studied the new prisons in Texas, visited them, and talked to immigration attorneys. The conditions these immigrants have to endure are inhumane; they hold thousands of families in more dense quarters and with tighter security than we had at the WWII camps. Can you visualize perimeter walls ten feet tall with surveillance cameras at the top? Or forcing 16 mothers and their children to live in a single cell? I feel these modern facilities should be closed. I include these findings in my speeches where appropriate to help educate others.
JANM is excited to welcome a new neighbor to its campus. Last fall, following nearly two years of preparation, Go For Broke National Education Center (GFBNEC) took up residence in our Historic Building, located across the plaza from the museum’s main building. Founded in 1989, GFBNEC is dedicated to the legacy of World War II American veterans of Japanese ancestry. For the last several months, they have been hard at work fixing up their new offices and installing a new core exhibition, The Defining Courage Experience.
On the eve of their Homecoming Celebration on May 28—an all-day affair that will include family-friendly activities, food, music, and programs—JANM sat down with GFBNEC’s Exhibit Manager, Chris Brusatte, for a brief interview.
JANM: Why is it so critical for future generations to know the story of Japanese American soldiers during World War II?
Chris Brusatte: History repeats itself. This year’s presidential campaign is just the latest example of why we need to remember our history and why we need to prevent our country from giving in to fear, hatred, and prejudice.
The Japanese Americans of World War II—soldiers, their families, those who protested against the government, and others—all acted with courage in the face of bigotry, injustice, and hatred. They stood up for themselves, for their families, for their communities, and for their country—the United States of America. They proved how wrong it was to treat them so horribly.
This must be taught to all future generations, so that we don’t mistreat Arab or Muslim Americans, LGBT Americans, recent immigrants, or any other group that might far too easily be construed as an “other.” The lessons from this history must prevent similar injustices from happening in the present and in the future.
JANM: What is the significance of setting up your new home in JANM’s Historic Building, the former Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple?
CB: We always tell people that this building is our number one artifact. And that is putting it lightly. The powerful aura that the building holds still takes my breath away. It is an aura tinged with both sadness and remembrance, bittersweet in the way that it symbolizes the history of the Japanese American community in Los Angeles.
As many of your readers might know, the temple was built in 1925 as the first facility in Los Angeles designed specifically to house a Buddhist place of worship. Sadly, during World War II, local Japanese Americans were ordered to assemble outside the temple to be bused away to incarceration camps. The temple held many of these families’ belongings during the war years, keeping them safe until they could return. It still gives me goose bumps to think that generations of kids will get to learn about this powerful and important history in such a sacred place, right where it actually occurred.
JANM: Can you explain the concept and design of your new Defining Courage exhibition?
CB:The Defining Courage Experience is a dynamic, engaging, and participatory exhibition that teaches modern audiences to act with courage and character in their own lives. It does this by teaching them the history of the Japanese American World War II experience and how its message can relate to our world today. Through hands-on activities, both high-tech and tactile, visitors learn about the courage, perseverance, sacrifice, and character of the Japanese American soldiers and others during World War II, and they learn how to apply these virtues and personality traits in their own lives today. Our exhibit design team, Quatrefoil Associates out of Maryland, has done a great job building an extraordinary exhibition that includes activities both historic and modern, action-inducing and thought-provoking.
JANM: Please tell us more about how this new exhibition came together.
CB: This exhibition is the creation of literally a thousand people. Our staff traveled to seven cities around the country in the early stages of concept planning, drawing together scores of people in each community. Once back in Southern California, we convened dozens of scholars, dozens of teachers and educators, and scores of high school and college students.
All of these people helped plan our exhibition from the very beginning—the themes, the content, and how we should lay out each activity. This exhibition truly was created by a village. But mostly, I have to thank my coworkers at Go For Broke and the exhibit design firm of Quatrefoil Associates. This core team was incredible, working with passion and intelligence and creativity to bring this unique exhibition into reality.
JANM: What can we expect from the new interpretive center in the coming months and years?
CB: We hope to keep our exhibits up-to-date using modern news pieces, through a collaborative effort with ABC7 Eyewitness News. Each day that you walk into the exhibition, you will experience something new. In the long run, we hope to bring this exhibition to communities around the country, through some sort of traveling exhibit program. We will also be constantly holding public events, such as lectures and veterans’ programs, in our facilities. We are so thankful as well to the staff at the Japanese American National Museum, who have already been so helpful with collaborative programs and events!
Go For Broke’s Homecoming Celebration takes place this Saturday, May 28, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Event admission is free and no RSVP is necessary. Admission to JANM will be “pay what you wish.” For more information, visit goforbroke.org.