Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Densho Archive Interviews

To cap off a successful year of interviewing in 2008, we have added thirteen new interviews to the Densho Digital Archive (listed below). Thank you once again to our community partners: the National Park Service/Manzanar National Historic Site, the Watsonville - Santa Cruz Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, and the Topaz Museum. We're looking forward to conducting more interviews in 2009!

The Densho Digital Archive is password-protected, and registration is free of charge. To view the archive and/or register, please visit

Visual Histories:

Densho Visual History Collection:
Yae Aihara
Roy Ebihara
Bessie Yoshida Konishi
Nancy Sawada Miyagishima
Irene Najima
Bob Y. Sakata

Watsonville - Santa Cruz JACL Collection:
Mas Hashimoto
Nancy Iwami
Chiyoko Yagi
Emi Yamamoto

Topaz Museum Collection:
Bob Utsumi
Chiyoko Yano

Manzanar National Historic Site Collection:
Alfred "Al" Miyagishima

Monday, December 22, 2008

End of Year Storm

Those Densho staff members who haven't flown home for the holidays find themselves snowbound by the Seattle winter storm of 2008--a heavier snowfall than we've had in decades. My backyard table is wearing a 12" hat that is not melting anytime soon. All the mayhem at the airport and snowball fights in the streets bring the year to a memorable close. It's a good time to pause and reflect, and to say thank you to our friends who support Densho's work throughout the year, especially in their end-of-year giving. Thank you, and best wishes for a peaceful and promising new year.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Our Favorite Japanese American Artists

Densho conducts a monthly poll of its faithful eNews readers (why not sign up for a free subscription?). In December we asked about people’s most cherished Japanese American artists. The winners were 1) Roger Shimomura, 2) George Tsutakawa, and 3) Isamu Noguchi. Artists not named in the poll but nominated by readers include Kristine Aono, Henry Fukuhara, Thomas Nagai, Hideo Date, John Matsudaira, Harry Osaki, George Nakashima, and Masumi Hayashi (photo collage seen here).

We thought our blog readers would be interested in some of the thoughtful comments poll takers submitted about well-known and less-known Nikkei visual artists.

Why I chose these artists:

1. [Roger] Shimomura and Kristine Aono: They address the J/A experiences and lived histories head-on in an outspoken, but subtle way. Paul Horiuchi...his hard work and diligence and contributions to the Pacific Northwest artist community is underplayed. 2. Henry Fukuhara was founder of the Manzanar Paintouts which continue today. H. Mary Higuchi studied under Henry and has won many awards for her interpretive paintings of the wartime incarceration. 3.Masumi Hayashi's collaged photographs of the Japanese American concentration camps are simultaneously beautiful and unsettling. 4. Ruth Asawa - because she lived her life with integrity. As a young woman, she followed her calling and went off to study at Black Mountain, an almost unthinkable choice for a young Japanese American woman at that time. She created astonishingly original art literally bending the medium to her creative will and imagination. She married her husband in defiance of California law. Throughout her life, she created art with and for her community and thereby passed her passion on to children so that they would have the courage to express their ideas and feelings artistically. Chiura Obata - because, in addition to being an extraordinary artist, he was a gifted and generous teacher who provided Topaz internees with the opportunity to express their feelings about their incarceration through their art. Obata's brush painting of Wakasa crumpling over after being shot by the sentry in the guard tower captures the horror of the camp for all future generations to experience. Henry Sugimoto - because his promising artistic career was all but destroyed by the internment but, who nevertheless continued his art with a clear-eyed, open spirit. His linoleum block prints of his family's camp experience convey his family's efforts to maintain hope in the face of dispiriting circumstances. They show his love for his wife and daughter and, most touchingly, show his regard for the humanity of the guards. While interned in Arkansas, he was given a one person show by the director of the local community college's art gallery. All the presidents of Arkansas colleges had agreed to prevent Japanese Americans from enrolling in their institutions in order to prevent the blurring of racist color lines. That this white person gave Sugimoto a one-person show demonstrates a courage and kindness that we must also honor. 5. Harry Osaki was a prominent silver/gold smith and jewelry designer. His work was collected by the Vatican and Smithsonian. His workshop and show rooms were located in Pasadena, California. As a young man, he was one of the highest decorated Boy Scouts and was a leader in Pasadena's most decorated Boy Scout troops after World War II. As an artist, he inspired me all my life, and I model my studio practice with him in mind. Joan Takayama-Ogawa

Friday, December 12, 2008

Saving Tapes of the Redress Hearings

I've been watching recently salvaged video files from the 1981 hearings held in Seattle by the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC). After hearing testimonies around the country, this congressional committee recommended redress and a presidential apology for uprooting Japanese Americans and holding them in detention camps during World War II. A donor gave the tapes to Densho for safekeeping, and we got a grant from the 4Culture Collections Care funding program to convert the 16 hours of deteriorating tapes from an obsolete format to digital files for preservation. In grainy black and white, history comes back to life.

For three days in September 1981, Japanese American survivors of the camps, their friends and allies, and a few opponents testified to the commissioners in Seattle. Emotions range from suppressed anger to sorrow to pride and back again. Here is a clip of one testimony, by Nobel Peace Prize nominee Floyd Schmoe, a dedicated pacifist who tried to stop the massive injustice.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Tule Lake, National Monument at last

We received welcome news this Friday before Pearl Harbor Day: a White House press release announces that the Tule Lake Segregation Center site in California will become part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. (The site was previously a National Landmark.)

The National Monument designation ensures that the National Park Service can work to preserve the memory of the largest and most controversial WWII incarceration facility for Japanese Americans. We're grateful to the Tule Lake Committee among others for honoring this important site in the story of the mass incarceration. More details from the Conservation Fund.

Two of us here at Densho have personal ties to the camp. My mother and grandfather were bullied by extremists there after my uncles got out. Geoff, our Information and Technology Director, tells us his mother was born at Tule. The family could have left before the place became a Segregation Center for the "disloyal," but they decided against moving his grandmother in her advanced pregnancy. For our Digital Archive, we've gathered many wrenching testimonies of Tule Lake. Now the site of shame for so many thousands will not fade from national memory.

40 years ago - Vice President Inouye?

Audio tapes from President Johnson's last months in office were released yesterday. These tapes confirm conversations I've had with Senator Inouye about the serious discussions that were taking place to have him be the Democratic nominee for the Vice President of the United States.

CBS News reports today about this possibility.
CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante reports.

Forty years before Democrats nominated their first candidate of color, President Lyndon Johnson told 1968 presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey that he should pick a Japanese-American as his running mate.

It was Sen. Daniel Inouye, who was awarded a silver star in World War II, and who lost an arm in battle.

"He answers Vietnam with that empty sleeve. He answers your problems with Nixon with that empty sleeve. He has that brown face," Johnson said.

Humphrey, though he was one of the Senate's foremost liberals, balked.

"I guess maybe, it's just taking me a little too far, too fast," Humphrey said. "Old, conservative Humphrey.
My recorded interviews with Senator Inouye have been about prewar Hawaii and his military service with the 442nd RCT in Europe. My hope is that we can do a follow-up interview focused on post-war Hawaii, the Watergate hearings, and his role as a long-serving U.S. Senator. See below for the Senator's description of the event that won him the Medal of Honor and cost him his arm.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Watsonville Interviews - 2nd trip

Dana Hoshide and I returned to Watsonville to interview 4 people the week before Thanksgiving. We left cold and drizzly Seattle and traveled to foggy mornings/sunny afternoons Watsonville to interview Sho Kobara, Fred Oda, Eiko Nishihara, and Yoshiko Nishihara.

Sho Kobara grew up in Watsonville and Salinas before the war. During the war he was incarcerated at Poston and served with the U.S. Army in Japan during the occupation.

Fred Oda's father owned a barbershop in Watsonville before the war. After the war, Fred joined his father in running the barbershop. Fred's spent a lot of time in his interview describing the prewar Japanese businesses in Watsonville.

Eiko and Yoshiko Nishihara are sisters (maiden name Hirahara) who ended up marrying a couple of Nishihara brothers. Eiko and Yoshiko grew up in a large family (13 children) in a large house in Watsonville. The house (Redman-Hirahara House) is currently being preserved for possible renovation as a prime example of a Western Victorian farm estate.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ten days ago (I know, I know, I am behind in posting!) I was in Minneapolis, Minnesota to present at the Twin Cities JACL Installation Banquet. Minneapolis is historically significant in Japanese American history because it is where Fort Snelling is located. Ft Snelling was the location of the Military Intelligence Service Language School during World War II. Thousands of nisei passed through this training center before serving in the Pacific. In fact, my dad used to talk about the "Turkey Farm" at Snelling. He described the small huts that were inadequately heated with a small pot bellied stove.

The people in Minneapolis are wonderful and Densho is looking forward to returning to Minneapolis this summer to conduct interviews in partnership with the Twin Cities JACL chapter.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sushi & Sake Fest -- See the Fun

Our event photographer has posted a big batch of photos from Densho's 7th annual Sushi & Sake Fest that you can view or purchase. If you attended the event and want to find yourself in the crowd, take a look. If you thought about going but didn't quite make it, see what you missed. And if you're kicking yourself because you found out too late about this tasty celebration of Japanese cuisine and culture, write a note-to-self for next year.

This year we brought an action painter from Osaka to entertain the crowd. (See the photos of his giant dragon and goth phoenix.) Densho staff -- especially Naoko, Virginia, Dana, and of course Tom -- get kudos for bringing off a flawless event. Many, many thanks to the tireless Sushi & Sake Fest Committee, vendors, donors, and army of volunteers. Reviews say this was the best Sushi & Sake Fest yet. We accept the compliment, but the crowd also told us the election results boosted their spirits. Congratulations to our new president.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sushi + Sake = Bliss

Sushi addicts (you know who you are) will achieve bliss at the perfect culinary event for nigiri fans and Japanophiles. Our hugely popular annual Sushi & Sake Fest takes place November 5, 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm, at the Seattle Westin Hotel. Attendees can savor inventive sushi and appetizers prepared by chefs from eight local restaurants, including Nishino, Mashiko, and Sushi Zen.

It gets better: You can pair your spicy tuna tartar and crunchy tempura roll with premium sake from about a dozen makers, such as Gekkeikan and Takara. Or opt to quaff beer from the likes of Sapporo and Rogue.

This is no boring fundraiser -- this is a big party. Between visits to the sushi stations and sake bars, you can bid on silent auction items (like art by Shimomura, Tsutakawa, Okada), listen to jazz and taiko drumming, and watch the action painting by BOSSHIKO of Osaka.

We're inviting old and new friends, and asking them to bring their friends to the party. Your day-after-the-election evening at the Westin will not only sate your craving for sushi and sake; it will earn you good karma. The $75 general admission ticket ($45 tax deductible) supports Densho's work to prevent historical amnesia and protect civil liberties. Our mission is serious but our event is ... delicious. Don't miss it. Oishii!

For more information

To buy tickets online
(yes, you must be 21)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

New Interviews in the Densho Digital Archive

We recently added eleven new interviews to the Densho Digital Archive (listed below). This includes a new collection, the Watsonville - Santa Cruz JACL Collection, which is comprised of interviews Densho is conducting in partnership with the Watsonville - Santa Cruz Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League.

The Densho Digital Archive is password-protected, and registration is free of charge. To view the archive and/or register, please visit

Densho Visual History Collection:
Kazuko Uno Bill
Aya Uenishi Medrud
Lillian Sato

Watsonville - Santa Cruz JACL Collection:
Kitako Izumizaki
Tom I. Mine
Jiro Sugidono

Topaz Museum Collection:
Helen Harano Christ
Norman I. Hirose

Manzanar National Historic Site Collection:
Victor Ikeda
James Nishimura
George T. "Joe" Sakato

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Metadata in Pittsburgh

Last week, I had the pleasure of spending four days in the beautiful city of Pittsburgh for the annual Oral History Association conference. This year's theme, "A Convergence of Interests: Oral History in the Digital Age," was especially relevant to much of our work at Densho, and I was privileged to deliver a presentation to share some of what we have learned about using technology to enhance what we do. My talk, "Making Sense of Metadata: A Practical Overview for Oral Historians," was a broad (and brief!) introduction to basic concepts about metadata and how it relates to an oral history project like Densho.

For those not familiar with the term metadata it is often described as, "data about data." Arlene Taylor provides the slightly less ambiguous definition: “...structured information that describes the attributes of an information package for the purpose of identification, discovery and management” (Taylor 2004). In our case an information package is the group of digital files, including video, transcript, narrator biography, and images, that make up a Densho visual history (and, of course, our historic photographs, documents and other materials). Metadata is all of the information that we record to keep track of these digital objects.

While you may not realize it (unless you are a librarian or information architect), you benefit from Densho's metadata every time you use the Densho Digital Archive website. When you navigate by topic, filter a list of search results by date, or view a video segment with its text transcript, you are using the descriptive, administrative and structural metadata we have created. Metadata is also extremely important to our long-term archival and preservation strategy. It provides the documentation and provenance that will allow the digital materials in the archive to exist far into the future.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Densho on Japanese TV

When the Densho staff opened our Monday morning email, we found multiple messages from Japan. People were writing to thank us for our work, register for the Digital Archive, and sign up for the eNews. All this interest was generated by a television program broadcast over the weekend on NHK, the Japanese public television station.

Densho came to the broadcaster’s attention in March 2008, when our executive director, Tom Ikeda, visited Japan as a member of the Japanese American Leadership Delegation. In the April 2008 eNews, Tom shared stories and pictures of the delegation’s VIP meetings and evenings out.

An NHK television crew arrived at Densho’s Seattle office in late June. They interviewed Tom (representing the Sansei generation) and our Interview Coordinator, Megan Asaka (speaking for Yonsei). The questions were all about Japanese American identity. The crew also interviewed Tom’s parents and other Japanese Americans in California.

For Japanese readers, the NHK webpage describes the September 28 program.

And here's an English translation, courtesy of staff member Naoko Magasis:

The Japanese government, with its international status lowered among fast-growing Asian countries, is seeking ways to strengthen its relationship with the United States. The government is counting on the Japanese American community to play the role of bridge builder.

To date, Japanese Americans have been distanced from Japan and the Japanese because of their past experiences, such as the internment camps during the World War II. In an effort to build interest in Japan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs invited thirteen noted Japanese Americans to visit Japan, and meet with Prime Minister Fukuda.

Some Japanese Americans have started to recognize their roots and consider their relationship with the county in a positive light. At a national Japanese American conference held in July, 700 Japanese Americans attended. On the other hand, younger generations are beginning to identify themselves more as “Asian Americans.” After considering the 60 years since World War II, we take a look at contemporary Japanese American who are searching for their identity and trying to measure their distance from Japan.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Moving Into the HD Era

The Background

At Densho, we've been shooting our oral histories with digital video since the early days of the technology. Back in 1997, after experimenting with several analog and digital formats (anyone remember Sony Digital Hi8?) we chose the Panasonic DVCPRO25 standard. It was becoming a established player especially in news-gathering circles, and of particular importance to Densho, the physical tapes were more reliable with a longer archival lifespan than competing digital formats.

It's now a decade later and while DVCPRO25 served us well -- our original Panasonic camera is still functioning like it's brand-new -- we decided that it was time to move on. High-Definition (HD) video is not a completely novel technology, but over the last few years it has finally become accessible to smaller organizations like ours. There are professional-grade cameras for under $10K and desktop video editing tools like Final Cut Pro and Avid Express now support many HD formats.

But why HD? Is it just another fad? Do we really need it to record oral history?

First of all, the quality difference between HD and SD (Standard Definition) video is shocking. The size, clarity and color of HD images makes SD video look like the fuzzy black & white TV that was in the basement of my house growing up. HD is also here to stay. The government-mandated digital broadcast television plan is good evidence of this.

The important question, however, is why is HD important for Densho? From a purely technical standpoint, the issue is standards. Broadcasters, equipment manufacturers, content producers and software tool developers are all moving to HD. Being at the very cutting edge (or "bleeding edge") of technology can be risky, but being left with an obsolete format is even more dangerous. Replacing our DVCPRO equipment and tape stock was already becoming more expensive.

The second reason is that video quality does make a difference. In our oral history practice, we usually have one chance to do an interview. It is critical that we capture that person's unique story as best we can. All the forms of non-verbal communication -- the gestures, the facial expressions -- that come out in the course of a face-to-face interview are better preserved with HD.

The Migration

With generous grants from the Seattle Foundation and King County's 4Culture we began the process of migrating our workflow and practices to support HD video early this year.

We selected Sony's XDCAM EX tapeless format as our primary platform, and purchased a Sony PMW-EX1 camera. The EX1 is capable of full-frame 1920x1080 HD in a number of different profiles (for the video geeks out there, we shoot using the [email protected] mode). Rather than recording to tape, the camera uses an SxS memory card, somewhat similar to the way consumer still cameras work. There are two card slots that the camera will swap when the memory card is full (about 1 hour on a 16GB card) so it is possible to shoot continuously by removing the card, copying the contents to a laptop while the interview is ongoing, and then reusing the card again. This does, however, mean that our videographer (and production manager) Dana sometimes must force the interviewer to take a break...

The new format also required a change in the way we were archiving the original video footage. Where we once had to store and preserve physical video tapes, we now can simply copy the digital video files to multiple physical (Blu-ray data disc) or virtual (network storage) locations with the confidence that the files are exactly what was recorded originally with no quality loss. (The astute archivists and information scientists reading this realize, of course, that it is not quite that simple, and that the assets must still be carefully managed, but I'll write on that subject later...)

We had the chance to put the new equipment and our new processes to the test this summer. As you have read here, our crew travelled all over the west coast and mountain interior shooting more than 40 interviews. Ten are already up in the Densho Digital Archive.

Thus far, the HD migration project has been a success. Our next step is to update the way that we are delivering video to users of our website. But more on that next time.

A Short List of Densho's HD Equipment
  • Sony PMW-EX1 camcorder
  • Sony HVR-M35U HD video deck
  • Grass Valley Edius Broadcast 4.6 video editing system
  • Grass Valley ProCoder 3 software transcoder

Friday, September 12, 2008

Sushi & Sake Festival Auction Items

This past week the auction team has been procuring some great items for our November 5th Sushi & Sake Festival at the Seattle Westin. Courtesy of Oki Golf we have Golf for Four at top courses in the area, including Newcastle, Washington National, The Plateau, Indian Summer, and Hawkes Prairie. From Nintendo we have a Wii system, from Densho board member Mark Fukunaga – a Fender guitar, from the Mayflower Hotel – weekend getaways in Seattle, artwork from Gerard Tsutakawa and Roger Shimomura, and many other great items.

Now is a good time to get your tickets for the Sushi & Sake Festival at the early-bird price of $75. (

Monday, September 8, 2008

Newly Added to the Densho Archive

Just added to the Densho Digital Archive, ten visual history interviews and three photograph collections (listed below). The interviews were conducted during our travels over the summer to Salt Lake City, Utah, and Denver, Colorado. The photographs were compiled by Mr. Bob Fuchigami of Kittredge, Colorado, who has generously made them available to Densho.

The Densho Digital Archive is password-protected, and registration is free of charge. To view the archive and/or register, please visit

Visual Histories:

Densho Visual History Collection:
Kazuko Uno Bill

Topaz Museum Collection:
Nelson Takeo Akagi
Alice Setsuko Sekino Hirai
Jun Kurumada
Ted Nagata
Grace F. Oshita

Manzanar National Historic Site Collection (NPS):
Frank Konishi
Gladys Koshio Konishi
Victor Ikeda

Japanese American National Museum Collection:
Norman Mineta

Photo Collections:

Private Collections:
George Ochikubo Collection
James G. Lindley Collection
Catherine Ludy Collection

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Democracy Rollercoaster

Over the weekend I presented the Densho Project at the Society of American Archivists Conference in San Francisco. This was the first time I attended this annual gathering and listened with interest as archivists from around the country talked about the importance of archives in a democracy. If done well and made accessible to the citizenry, archives provide the details that bring transparency and accountability to the decision making process. With this insight I chuckled out loud as the room of well behaved, polite archivists transformed before my eyes into courageous protectors of our democracy, risking careers to make more documents available.

I then returned to Seattle and felt my stomach drop as I watched TV as Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin mocked our civil rights when she attacked Senator Obama by saying,

“Al Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America,” Dramatic pause… “He’s worried that someone won’t read them their rights.”

This caused a roar of laughter and approval from the crowd while I sat quietly watching TV and wondering what happened to our principle that people suspected of wrongdoing have a right to defend themselves against the charges. Similar charges were made against 120,000 Japanese Americans incarcerated over 65 years ago – they were not given their rights, there were no trials, and none of them were guilty.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Unique WWII Nisei Journey

I did an interview in Berkeley with Norm Hirose who had a unique journey during World War II. From Berkeley, Norm’s family was removed and incarcerated at Topaz. When his parents decided to be repatriated to Japan, Norm renounced his US citizenship so that he would remain with his family. While waiting to be transferred to Tule Lake with his family, Norm was drafted in the US Army, and because he didn’t want to go to prison, decided to fill out the necessary paperwork. Then his father became ill, canceling the family’s transfer to Tule Lake. The government then decided to separate Norm from his family and transferred Norm, who had renounced his U.S. citizenship to the Santa Fe Department of Justice internment camp. After being released from Santa Fe after the war, Norm was inducted into US military service, where he served in Japan. In summary, Norm answered No-No in the loyalty questionnaire, renounced his citizenship, served time in an internment camp as an enemy alien, and then served in the US Army in Japan making this one of the more unusual journeys that I’ve heard.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Interviews in Berkeley

When we have the opportunity, it's always nice to shoot an interview in a person's home. This provides a comfortable setting as well as a visual contrast from our usual black backdrop. On the other hand, this type of interview also presents challenges. Most of the time we have to move some furniture around, and when you're pressed for time, it can be tricky remembering where to put everything back! In every case, however, we have found that narrators are gracious and generous, and while at first they might be a little taken aback when we come barging into their homes with all our equipment, inevitably they take it in stride. On our most recent road trip, Megan Asaka interviewed Chiyoko Yano (pictured above), a wonderful nisei who welcomed us into her home in Berkeley.

On the previous day, Megan also conducted an interview with Bob Utsumi, a retired Air Force pilot. We shot this interview in Emeryville, a community sandwiched between Oakland and Berkeley. The technical challenge this time was that there was a train station across the street from the hotel, so we had to cope with the occasional train whistle!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Excellent editorial

The New York Times printed an excellent editorial profiling a Nisei doctor in honor of the 20th anniversary of redress. We recommend "From a Quiet American, a Story of War and Remembrance," by Lawrence Downes, who writes, " An antidote to America's fear of supposed strangers relies on listening to people like Harry Abe, a Japanese-American, and remembering who they are."

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Watsonville Interviews – Tom

While in Watsonville I had the opportunity to do four interviews with Jiro Sugidono, Tom Mine, Kiyoko Morey Kaneko, and Mas Hashimoto. Each of these interviews will be a valuable addition to the growing collection of visual history interviews in the Densho archive.

Jiro Sugidono (84) told how Main Street in Watsonville was a boundary line for the issei. The issei were restricted from the west side (ocean side) of the street. Jiro’s mother had to sit in a car on the east side of Main Street and watch as her five children came out on the sidewalk with possible clothes and suitcases to buy before being removed from Watsonville. If Jiro's mother approved, the kids would go back and buy their items.

Tom Mine’s (90) focus was on prewar baseball and farming. Tom talked about the long car trips nisei ballplayers made to play against teams in Florin, Sacramento and San Jose. He also shared how he became successful in the difficult business of farming by gradually adding more and more land.

Kiyoko Morey Kaneko (97) told a riveting story of being in Pearl City on the morning of the attack at Pearl Harbor. She recounts being dressed in a colorful yukata standing on the grass while watching a Japanese fighter plane only yards away. She looked into the face of the pilot and wondered if the pilot was confused to see a Japanese girl on the ground.

Mas Hashimoto (73) is a retired high school Social Studies teacher who grew up and taught in Watsonville. He told a touching story of having his pet dog “Sunny” while incarcerated at Poston. Mas has a wealth of knowledge about Japanese American history in Watsonville and shares this information with volunteer school visits to thousands of students each year.

Leaving Watsonville

Last night we had a nice dinner with Mas and Marcia Hashimoto of the Watsonville/Santa Cruz JACL. They took us to a restaurant on the Santa Cruz Wharf, and we were treated to a panoramic view of the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. The weather was beautiful although a little chilly. Afterwards, we drove to Emeryville (between Berkeley and Oakland), where we are preparing to conduct several more interviews today...

Monday, July 28, 2008

First day of interviews

We conducted our first Watsonville interviews today, which went very well. We were lucky to be able to shoot our interviews in Kizuka Hall, home to the Watsonville-Santa Cruz JACL chapter. Chiyoko, who I blogged about in a previous post, was our very first interviewee and provided a wonderful overview of Watsonville history. Chiyoko owned and managed Yagi's Tackle Shop until 2004, retiring after 57 years in business! My second interviewee was Kitako, a Watsonville native and really unique personality. She discussed the discrimination and hardship many Japanese Americans faced in Watsonville after the war. I'm looking forward to hearing more stories tomorrow!

Watsonville Pre-interview Presentation

On the day we arrived at Watsonville I gave a short presentation about what we do at Densho and to also describe what was going to happen over the next few days of interviewing. The photo shows me talking to the group in Kizuka Hall, a building the JACL chapter owns and operates as a community center. This is also where we will conduct the interviews.

My presentation followed a wonderful potluck dinner. And after the talk I had the opportunity to sit around and chat. It was fun to find out some Watsonville-Seattle connections. One woman was the aunt of my favorite high school teacher when I attended Franklin High School in Seattle. I also saw a display of Watsonville veterans that included a former boss whom I worked with as a college chemistry intern at Weyerhaeuser Company.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Watsonville: Arrival and Potluck Dinner

Tom, Megan and I arrived in Watsonville today after a short flight into San Jose. We hit a long stretch of traffic on the drive into Watsonville, so it took us most of the afternoon to get here. When we arrived, we were warmly greeted by members of the Watsonville - Santa Cruz JACL chapter, who treated us to a delicious potluck dinner! As you can probably guess, we were quite excited about the food, which included Spam musubi, Chinese chicken salad, and chocolate-dipped locally-grown strawberries. It was wonderful to be able to meet some of the folks we'll be interviewing and working with in the coming days, so we're excited to get started!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Salt Lake City - JACL national convention

Last weekend I was in Salt Lake City attending the JACL national convention. This was a great opportunity for Densho to share some video interview segments from the interviews we conducted in Salt Lake City last month. I was also able to share some wonderful historic photographs of Salt Lake City that we got from Ted Nagata.

During my presentation I showed video clips of Jun Kurumada, Nelson Akagi, Grace Oshita, Ted Nagata, Helen Harano Christ, Roy Ebihara and Alice Hirai who shared memories of Salt Lake City and the Topaz concentration camp. While I was attending the convention I also had the opportunity of seeing the wonderful musical, “Nihon Machi.” This is a Grateful Crane production that I highly recommend.

Next week we go to Watsonville and Berkeley for more interviewing. I'll have the opportunity to interview Jiro Sugidono, Tom Mine, Mas Hashimoto, Norman Hirose and Kiyoko Morey Kaneko. The community in Watsonville is being especially welcoming with a potluck dinner on Sunday to greet us!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Off to Watsonville & Berkeley

Tom, Dana and I will be traveling to California next week to conduct interviews with Japanese Americans from Watsonville and Berkeley. It will be my last interviewing trip before I leave for grad school in August. Here is a preview of some of the stories we will be collecting:

Nancy is 94 years old and still going strong. A Watsonville native, Nancy's family sharecropped on strawberry farms, and her husband, Charlie, operated a barbershop prior to WWII. She has great stories to tell about prewar Watsonville.

Chiyoko, 88 years old, is also a Watsonville native whose family worked in the strawberry fields. She was on her honeymoon when the war broke out and remembers staying in a San Francisco Japantown hotel that was being raided by the FBI. Chiyoko and her husband, Harry, opened Yagi's Barbershop and Fishing Tackle Shop after the war.

Bob was born in Oakland to an Issei father and a Nisei mother. Bob's father, who operated a photography studio before the war, worked as a photographer for the Topaz camp co-op. Part of the last graduating class of Topaz High School, Bob has great insights about student life and the education system in camp.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Satirical video

For those of you who appreciate this type of satire, we're posting a video from "The Onion" that a friend brought to our attention.

U.S. Finally Gets Around To Closing Last WWII Internment Camp

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Home from Denver

While Tom, Megan, and Dana were busy interviewing people at the Denver conference, I was manning an information table and photography display. It felt like hundreds of people visited the Densho booth between sessions. Lots of Nisei and their families were interested in newly discovered photos of the Amache camp that we shared in advance of placing them in the Digital Archive. I talked with many appreciative teachers, graduate students, and other users of our website. I even met a Nisei gentleman who knew my mother well in the difficult last years at the Tule Lake camp. He confirmed how stressful life in that camp was during the time of renunciation. All in all, the whole conference sent me back to Seattle inspired and motivated to promote Densho’s work. No offense to dusty Denver, but it’s good to be back in the gorgeous green Pacific Northwest.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Tom’s Denver interviews

I am back in Seattle after a whirlwind 5 days in Denver participating at the JANM national conference. There are so many good memories of meeting people, listening to and giving presentations, good conversations in the evenings, and singing in the lobby during the early morning hours.

However, the highlight for me was doing interviews. I had the honor of interviewing former Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta about redress and to see how emotionally moved he was as he described the redress bill being introduced on the floor of the House of Representatives. It was also an opportunity to discuss how his experiences affected him while he was making critical decisions during the aftermath of September 11, 2001.

I interviewed Roy Ebihara who was an 8-year-old boy in Clovis New Mexico who describes being driven away along with 30 other Japanese Americans by state troopers while an angry anti-Japanese mob approached after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He and the others were then taken to the Old Raton Ranch, a little known confinement site where he spent a year before going to Topaz.

I also had a short interview with John Tateishi that focused on his early anti-JACL feelings because of how his father was treated by the JACL during the war, and then his decision to join the JACL because of the possibility of redress.

Senator Inouye talked about the continuous and difficult journey towards the ideals of our democracy and how redress played a role in making our country better. He also discussed his role in seeking an entitlement to fund the redress payments after President Reagan signed the bill.

I was also fortunate to interview Toyo Okumura, a beautiful 92-year-old woman who was born in Gardena, then sent to Santa Anita, Jerome, and Tule Lake, before choosing to go to Japan right after the war with her parents and sibling. During the interview she described stepping off the boat in Japan, and being heavily recruited by the U.S. military for work because of her bilingual abilities.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Star Sightings!

More Interviews

We have collected some really great interviews so far. The narrators (most of whom are conference attendees) come from such different backgrounds and consequently their stories are very diverse. Yesterday I interviewed Yae Aihara who is originally from Seattle, but currently lives in Los Angeles. Her father was picked up by the FBI on December 7, 1941, and was sent to Missoula internment camp. During this time he decided he wanted the family to repatriate to Japan. Yae and her family took the train to Ellis Island to meet her father and go on the ship SS Gripsholm, which was part of the prisoner of war exchange with Japan. The ship was full, so they stayed in Ellis Island for 4 days and then were transfered to Crystal City internment camp in Texas. They stayed in Crystal City for the duration of the war and then resettled to Boyle Heights in LA.

George Fujimoto, who I interviewed today, also told an interesting story. Born in California but raised in Ault, Colorado, George's family operated a produce and sugar beet farm. George's father suffered a debilitating accident when George was 15, forcing him to drop out of school and manage the farm. George was drafted into the army in 1942 and was injured in 1943 while guarding German POWs in Alabama. After the war George moved with his family to South Texas, where he lives currently. George is a real southern gentleman - it was fun talking with him!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Interview with James Hirabayashi

I just finished my interview with James Hirabayashi, Professor Emeritus at San Francisco State University (SFSU). Professor Hirabayashi was Dean of the nation's first school of Ethnic Studies, which started at SFSU after the longest student strike in US history. Unlike most Densho interviews, which take a life-history approach, my interview with Professor Hirabayashi (or Jim, as he insisted on being called) began with his experiences in academia, as an undergraduate at the University of Washington. Our interview touched on several milestones in his professional life - as a Fulbright Fellow conducting fieldwork in Japan; his PhD studies at Harvard; working in rural Nigeria; involvement with the Asian American Political Alliance and student strike at SFSU; his tenure as Dean of Ethnic Studies; the influence of his brother, Gordon Hirabayashi, on his own activism.

On a personal note, it was a real honor to interview Jim today. As a student of Ethnic Studies and as someone about to embark on a career in academia, I will continue to benefit from his groundbreaking work. He (and others) really paved the way for someone like me to succeed and even thrive in academia while continuing to question and challenge the status quo.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Arrival in Denver

We arrived in Denver today for another series of interviews, this time at the Japanese American National Museum's "Whose America? Who's American? Diversity, Civil Liberties, and Social Justice" conference. We're shooting the interviews at the Hyatt Regency, a beautiful hotel with enormous furniture in the lobby...

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

NHK visits Densho office

The last couple of days have been spent thinking about and answering questions about my Japanese American identity. A film crew from NHK, the Japanese public television station, is visiting west coast cities to produce a documentary about Japanese Americans. They are in Seattle trying to find out why it is so important for Japanese Americans to document their own history, and how doing this work affects perceptions of identity. They will be following the Densho staff to Denver as we conduct interviews during the Denver JANM conference.

Being asked these types of questions on camera is not that easy and I have to admit I feel a lot more comfortable being the person behind the camera asking the questions. Yesterday, after finishing a session with my parents and me, it was fun to relax with the Japanese film crew over a simple dinner and some good wine to continue the conversation, and to watch the Japanese try to understand my dad’s golf jokes!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Minidoka Symposium and Pilgrimage

I returned this week to Seattle from the annual Minidoka Symposium and Minidoka Pilgrimage. This was the 6th year for the pilgrimage and the 3rd year for the symposium. Although both events are centered in Twin Falls (Idaho) at about the same time, the symposium and pilgrimage are separate events with only about a dozen or so folks who attend both.

Both events are high quality, and both had record turnouts this year. The symposium saw a 50% increase (100 to 150) from last year. This audience is predominantly local (Idaho students and teachers) and this year the focus was the relationship of the media to civil liberties. I spoke at the Symposium about how the media in the 1940s portrayed Japanese Americans.

The pilgrimage grew from about 150 to 250 this year. This audience is predominantly Japanese Americans who come from Seattle and Portland. I went to the first pilgrimage and the difference is that there are many more young people who attended this 6th Minidoka pilgrimage.

What I would love to see in the future is more overlap between the symposium and the pilgrimage. I think participants would benefit from mingling and talking with participants from the other event.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Grace Oshita

I just finished my third and final Salt Lake City interview with Grace Oshita. Grace has been telling her life story in schools all around the city for the past 40 years. Born and raised in San Francisco, Grace’s family owned and operated a successful miso factory called the Fujimoto Company. Her father, Eddie, was arrested by the FBI in February 1942, which left her step-mother to close the business and put their affairs in order before mass removal. Grace, her step-mother and grandmother were incarcerated in Tanforan Assembly Center in California and then Topaz in Utah. Grace and her family relocated to Salt Lake City, where her father resumed his miso business. The interview went very well and her story will be an invaluable contribution to our archive!

In other news, Grace took Dana, Rick Okabe and I to lunch in the hotel. Towards the end of our meal, we ran into Dr. Jun Kurumada, who was on his way to be interviewed by Tom. He is in amazing shape, and definitely the sharpest and most spry 94 year old I have ever met!

Guided car tour of Salt Lake City

Last night, Rick Okabe who is our contact person with the Topaz Museum treated us to a fabulous dinner. Joining us at dinner was Steve Koga, another member of the Topaz Museum. We had a lively discussion about Salt Lake City, and its Japanese American history. After dinner, Rick gave us a guided tour of the city in his car. He brought us up into the hills so that we could see the whole city and the valley surrounding the city. Salt Lake City is a gorgeous place with snow capped mountains in the background.

My interview with Nelson Akagi yesterday was fascinating as he talked about his early California experiences, his memories serving in the 522nd in Europe, and the influence of the LDS Church on his life. Later today I have an interview with Jun Kurumada, who was one of the early leaders of the JACL.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

First day of interviews

We just finished our first day of interviews here in Salt Lake City. I interviewed Alice Hirai and Ted Nagata, while Tom interviewed Nelson Akagi. Alice was the first interview of the day. She was born in San Francisco and only 2 years old when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. A small child in Topaz, her reflections on camp came from a perspective that often goes unnoticed in discussions about the WWII incarceration. Alice also talked about her lifelong activism in the Salt Lake City public schools, and the sacrifices and struggles of her parents and the issei generation. Ted, who I wrote about in a previous message, told a fascinating story. Among other topics, he discussed the hardship that his family endured after camp and the origins and current preservation efforts of the Topaz Museum (of which he was a founding board member). An artist and graphic designer, he also gave us two books on Japanese Americans in Utah that he designed. It was quite a successful day!

The Trials of a Videographer

One of the challenges facing us when we interview on the road is setting up studios in hotel rooms. Although we often shoot interviews against a black background, whenever possible (and room decor permits) we like to shoot using whatever’s available in the room. This usually involves moving lots of heavy furniture around, and sometimes making a few alterations. For those of you who enjoyed hearing about my ironing woes on our trip to Denver, I’ve got a new one: tassels. Whoever designed the drapes in this hotel room apparently adores little pastel-colored tassels, and I spent a ridiculous amount of time last night laboriously taping them back so they are not quite so visible…

Monday, June 2, 2008

Arrival in Salt Lake City

After a thankfully short and uneventful plane trip, we arrived in Salt Lake City today. The weather is wonderful, mostly sunny and 75 degrees. After checking in to our hotel, we explored the city by car and ended up at Temple Square in the heart of downtown. We went on a guided tour of the square and were able to see the beautiful Salt Lake Temple as well as the interior of the tabernacle.

I’ve posted some photos of our first day to our Flickr account:

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Salt Lake City narrator Ted Nagata

I just finished my pre-interview with Ted Nagata. He is a founding member of the Topaz Museum and is active in all sorts of projects around the city. Born in Santa Monica and raised in Berkeley, Ted was removed with his family to Tanforan, and later, Topaz, when he was a young child. Ted’s mother had a particularly hard time in camp, with two young children and a husband who was gone most of the year working in the sugar beet fields. Like many Topaz detainees, Ted’s family resettled to Salt Lake City after the war. His parents struggled financially and emotionally during this time, which Ted remembers as a particularly difficult period of his life. Ted has many insights about Salt Lake City’s Japanese American community and history. I am looking forward to the interview!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Back in Seattle

After 3 days of chilly, wet weather in Denver, we returned to sunshine and 70 degrees in Seattle! Our trip to Denver was a big success. We returned with 13 interviews, 3 photo collections, new friendships, and wonderful memories. We also strengthened our working partnership with the National Park Service staff at the Manzanar National Historic Site (Richard Potashin and Kirk Peterson) with three days of solid interviewing.
All day in the office we have been sharing stories of nice moments during the interviews, looking over the great photographs that we are borrowing from Bob Fuchigami, or laughing about our makeshift studios in our hotel rooms. I am looking forward to returning to Denver in July to meet more people and do more interviews.
Below is a photo from Monday evening as we met to discuss the week’s interviews. (Left to right) Dana Hoshide, Megan Asaka, Kirk Peterson, and Richard Potashin.

And here is a photo from inside a great restaurant that Gil and Erin recommended during our last night in Denver. (Left to right) Daryl Maeda, Megan Asaka, Dana Hoshide, Erin Yoshimura, Tom Ikeda, Kara Miyagishima, and Gil Asakawa.

Big thanks to Professor Daryl Maeda and National Park Service Historian Kara Miyagishima for helping us identify and select people to interview!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dinner at Domo

Wednesday evening we had a fun dinner with Daryl Maeda, Kara Miyagishima, Gil Asakawa and Erin Yoshimura at a great place called Domo Restaurant. They specialize in country-style Japanese food, and they also have a Japanese garden (where the photo was taken). Today we’re conducting a few more interviews before packing up and making our way back to Seattle. Here’s hoping the flight is smoother than on the way in!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Day 3 in Denver

I just finished my interview with Mary Hamano. Mary doesn’t drive, so Dana and I picked her up this morning. She lives in Tamai Towers, which is located in the center of Sakura Square (Denver’s Japantown). The interview lasted a full three hours and afterwards, Mary showed us photos of Amache and a collection of wooden pins that the Issei men made in camp. Born in San Gabriel and raised in Los Angeles, Mary had fascinating prewar stories of her childhood and memories of LA’s Japantown. Luckily the weather today is sunny and warm, so Dana and I were able to walk around Sakura Square after taking Mary back home. We went shopping in Pacific Mercantile (the Uwajimaya of Denver)...I couldn’t resist all the Hello Kitty merchandise and ended up buying a Hello Kitty sunglass case. I’m such a sucker for Japanese branding!

Sakura Center, Al Miyagishima, Bob Fuchigami

Yesterday was a full day with lots of delightful surprises. In the morning, Gladys Konishi showed me Denver’s Sakura Center while her husband was being interviewed. This is the central location for Denver’s Japanese stores, restaurants and the Buddhist temple. I bought a variety of Japanese snacks and drinks for each studio.

In the afternoon I interviewed Al Miyegishima who was born and raised in Scottsbluff Nebraska. One of the interesting discussions we had was about the differences between West Coast Japanese Americans and interior Japanese Americans.

And then after the interview with Al, Richard Potashin and I drove up into the foothills to visit Bob Fuchigami. The scenery was spectacular and by the time we got to Bob’s house, there were several inches of snow on the ground. That morning they had about 8 inches of snow. Bob showed us some fabulous photo collections and is allowing me to bring back to Seattle four of the collections for scanning.

Today is another full day of interviews.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

My first interview

I just finished my first Denver interview – with Bessie Konishi. It lasted a little over an hour and we talked about her family’s farm, the Japanese American community in Alamosa and her memories of WWII. Everything went smoothly and Dana’s setup looked great! A snapshot of the interview is attached (please ignore my head, which seems to be taking up half the room).

Morning before the interviews

This morning I woke up with a dull headache that reminded me of when I hike at altitude. It’ll probably take me a day or so to acclimate to the higher elevation in Denver. The weather is cold and rainy (and snowy in the higher elevations.) After my afternoon interview I am scheduled to visit Bob Fuchigami to look at some photos of Amache. Bob lives in the hills so I hope it warms up during the day!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Travel, Setup and Ironing

After a fairly non-eventful but long travel day, we finally arrived in Denver. We did encounter some awful turbulence on the flight in. Megan and I weren’t feeling so hot, but we glanced over and Tom was doggedly reading his book the entire time. The weather was rainy and exremely windy by the time we got here, although it was apparently nearly 80 degrees earlier in the day. As it turns out, things aren’t very close together in Denver… the airport is miles outside of town, and just getting to the rental car place seemed to take forever. By the time we made it to our hotel and checked in, we only had time to drive into town and grab a quick dinner before meeting with Richard and Kirk from the National Park Service. Later, I had managed to convert my hotel room into a semblance of an interview studio, only to discover that the enormous black fabric backdrop we brought with us was horribly creased and wrinkled. Forty-five minutes of ironing hell later, I believe I’ve managed to get it looking somewhat presentable…

Here’s a link to our flickr account for some new photos, including a video taken from our car ride into Denver!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Mary Hamano

Mary was born in San Gabriel, California, and spent the majority of her childhood in Los Angeles. On December 7, 1941, Mary was spending the day in Japantown with her family and remembers the FBI swarming the neighborhood, shutting down businesses one-by-one. Mary and her family were removed to Santa Anita “assembly center” and then Amache incarceration camp in Colorado. After the war, Mary moved to Denver and worked in a seaweed factory in Nihonmachi. She eventually settled in a small town in the Arkansas Valley and opened a greenhouse with her husband. My interview with Mary will focus on her experiences moving to Denver after the war and her memories of life in Japantown during that time.

Nancy Miyagishima

Nancy Miyagishima is my second interview in Denver. Tom will be interviewing her husband, Alfred, during the same time. Nancy has a fascinating background and family history. Born and raised in Sacramento, Nancy was sent to live with her aunt and uncle in Ft. Lupton, Colorado during the summer of 1941. Nancy was trapped in Colorado following the outbreak of WWII. Her grandparents and brother eventually joined her, leaving the West Coast during the “voluntary evacuation” period. However, she was separated from her step-father and younger sister, both of whom renounced their citizenship and repatriated to Japan in 1946. I will be focusing on her childhood in Sacramento and memories of Ft. Lupton during the war.

Densho’s equipment packed

Densho's video equipment is packed and ready to go! We’re taking it all on the plane with us, a combination of carry-on and checked baggage. We now have to deal with the addition of airline fees for more than one checked piece, as well as the surcharge for overweight luggage. With a new (and much smaller) camera and tripod this year, carrying all our gear looks to be much more manageable than in the past. Looking forward to getting underway!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Bessie Konishi

Bessie will be my first interview in Denver. She lives in Alamosa, a rural community located near the Colorado/New Mexico border. Bessie also grew up in Alamosa and is one of our 5 prewar Colorado narrators. Alamosa has historically been home to a large Latino population; the relationships among the various ethnic groups will be a focus of my interview with her. Bessie’s vivid descriptions of Colorado’s prewar Japanese American farming communities as well as her memories of the aftermath of Pearl Harbor will be great additions to our archive! I’m looking forward to the interview.

Pre-interview with Alfred Miyagishima

I conducted a preliminary phone interview with Alfred Miyagishima yesterday afternoon. I heard he was hard-of-hearing so I called him from our sound-insulated studio so that I could talk loudly and not disrupt the office.

Alfred was born and raised in Nebraska, where his father settled after working with a railroad company. I plan on asking him about the small Japanese communities that formed from former Japanese railroad workers. In 1940, Alfred and his family moved to Stockton where he got his first exposure to a larger Japanese community. How he felt about this move and the Japanese community will be another area for my questioning. He was sent to Gila River, left Gila River to finish high school in Nebraska, and then was drafted into the army. After the war he settled in Denver.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Densho Staff Blog

The purpose of this blog is for Densho staff to share what they do on a day-to-day basis. This summer we will be traveling a lot and this blog gives us an opportunity to keep staff and others updated on what is happening. nuff said.