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.