Our volunteers are amazing. They continually inspire us with their dedication and enthusiasm. They are even willing to step outside their comfort zones if it means helping the museum to share the important stories of the Japanese American experience.
Since last summer, staff at our Watase Media Arts Center along with interns and volunteers have been working on a series of digital shorts that record many of our docents and other volunteers. The videos share the volunteer’s personal stories related to artifacts from our core Common Ground: The Heart of Community exhibition.
We’re collecting them together for easy access on our Discover Nikkei website. There are already 15 of the videos online, with more being added almost weekly.
Check out the volunteer videos on Discover Nikkei:
The 21st Century Museum: Significant artifacts selected by Japanese American National Museum Volunteers http://5dn.org/janm-vols
Volunteers featured so far: Bob Uragami, Babe Karasawa, Yae Aihara, Richard Murakami, Yoko Horimoto, Jim Tanaka, Tohru Isobe, Mas Yamashita, Robert Moriguchi, Kathryn Madara, Kent Hori, May Porter, Eileen Sakamoto, Lee Hayashi, and Roy Sakamoto.
Our newest, most current exhibit, Xploration Lab, is a part-classroom, part-prototype “black box” exhibit. Visitors can participate and experiment with hands-on activities designed to engage audiences of all ages about the World War II Japanese American experience.
In laying the groundwork for X-Lab, our team of curators, education specialists, media arts producers and designers envisioned an exhibit that would uniquely grab the attention of visitors—spawning the development of several activities. Some of these activities include a vintage 1940s-era radio that you can tune to World War II broadcasts; J.A. Express, which is a video montage encapsulating several decades of Japanese American pre-War history into 180 seconds; and an “only what you can carry” chamber, which emulates the urgency facing families who were forced to pack their lives into a single suitcase in preparation for removal as President Roosevelt decreed in Executive Order 9066.
The exhibition team genuinely wanted to consider how our visitors would react to X-Lab. In order to capture these reactions, we installed a large touchscreen iMac–equipped with a webcam and a microphone. This was used to record visitor responses to our thought-provoking questions, such as:
“Imagine if the government suspected you of being disloyal, how would you respond?”
This weekend is your absolute last chance to see it before it closes this Sunday!
American Tapestry features artifacts, artwork, photographs, oral histories, and more from the Museum’s collection—some that have never been seen before by the public.
From the time we opened the exhibition way back in November, two of my personal favorites artifacts have been the radio and bicycle because they share stories of friendship, hope, and doing what’s right during the dark days of World War II and beyond.
In December, over the holidays, I was talking with family about the exhibition, and learned about a very similar story about an elephant. I wrote about it for our Discover Nikkei site. That’s one of the things that I really love about JANM—how I’m often able to find personal connections to the artifacts and stories we share.
Another favorite is the Japanese-style tub that was donated by the Esaki family of Monterey, CA. John Esaki works at the museum now, but the tub was donated very early in the museum’s history. John recorded a video of his dad explaining the history of the tub, which he added to the JANM YouTube channel last year as a resource for the exhibition.
The ofuro also played a special part in the Museum’s history! Back in April 1992, the museum was scheduled to have its Dedication Ceremony. Unfortunately, it ended up being the day after the Rodney King verdicts were released and civil disturbances erupted across the city, and so the opening ceremonies were postponed.
As a new opening event was being planned, staff invited Greg Alan Williams to come speak. At the time of the riots, the former Baywatch actor had saved a Japanese American man’s life. During his visit, he saw this ofuro and it reminded him of his own family’s tub. At the ribbon cutting ceremony, he spoke about how through this artifact, he was able to find his own personal connection:
On Wednesday last, I personally experienced the wonderful power within these walls. After completing my tour, I sat on a small stool around an old Japanese redwood hot tub in the Museum’s Legacy Center. I marveled at the way three Americans, two of Japanese descent, one a great-grandchild of Africa, were sitting around the tub, laughing, openly sharing their thoughts, their pain, and their hopes for a shared and much beloved community. I believe the honesty and openness of that dialogue was possible in part because this cultural work of art [the Museum] had illuminated our similarities, as it celebrated our differences. And in so doing, had opened a channel of communication between three human beings, which might not have otherwise existed. Such is the magic of this historical masterpiece.
American Tapestry has 25 artifacts, each with its own stories to tell. Most seem like everyday items, but I think that’s what makes this exhibition so special. It reminds us that our own lives are rich with stories that connect us with the world, if only we can stop for a moment to listen.
If you can, come check it out before it closes. If you have a smartphone or other internet-accessible device, bring it with you! We have free wi-fi available in the American Tapestry galleries so you can access additional related photos and videos on Facebook and YouTube.
For those who have made it out, I’d love to hear what your favorites were!
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Communications Production Manager