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. (www.sushisakefest.org)

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 www.densho.org/archive.

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.