The Japanese American National Museum The Japanese American National Museum The Japanese American National Museum is an organization that contributes to the Japanese American community in numerous ways. Since it is a museum, it offers historical information and many services to both the Japanese American and non-Japanese community about the role that Japanese played in American history. It is an active organization that interacts with the surrounding community, as well as with other organizations and programs worldwide and an organization that serves to the public with exhibits, programs, and publications that explore the changing role of Japanese Americans. However, the history and the presence of the museum itself is significant because it is an establishment that serves as a landmark for people of Japanese ancestry, a compilation of a reflection of America, and a memorial for all the suffering that the Issei and Nisei have endured. THE MUSEUMS HISTORY The Japanese American National Museum began with the idea from a businessman and a war veteran.
These individuals wanted to preserve the Japanese American’s contributions to California and the United States history. Therefore, Bruce Kaji and two war veterans: Colonel Young Oak Kim and Y.B. Mayima decided in 1982 to erect a national museum in honor of the Japanese Americans. Their purpose was to inform the City of Los Angeles and the world that the Japanese American was an integral aspect in shaping California and the United States. The mission of the Japanese American National Museum is to make known the Japanese American experience as an integral part of our nation’s heritage in order to improve understanding and appreciation for America’s ethnic and cultural diversity.” The difficult task to building the museum was money. This non-profit endeavor required funding from many different sources.
In the following years of 1982, California and the city of Los Angeles began donating money in support of the museum. The city of Los Angeles, under the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) agreed to match the donation from the State Legislature. Therefore, the State Legislature approved a $750,000 donation toward the museum and in return the CRA agreed to donate $ 1 million in 1985. For the museum, this funding was jus the beginning. Fundraisers and donations were organized to bring the idea to a reality. Money was not the only item that needed to be donated.
The museum wanted to preserve the Japanese American artifacts, documents, lost letters, furniture, and photographs into the museum. The museum needed a permanent building so the museum planners decided to have an old Buddhist temple as the home of the museum. The building they decided on was the first Buddhist Temple built in Los Angeles in 1925. The building was the abandoned Hongwanji Buddhist Temple. In the late 1980’s donations were abundant, “Dozens of volunteers answered phones and gingerly unwrapped donated objects, ranging from old kimonos to immigration documents and bundles of faded letters.” One of the many employees of the museum is Akemi Kikumura Ph.D.
She was hired by the museum to further facilitate the search for Japanese American memorabilia and materials. In 1986, Los Angeles decided to graciously award the museum a lease of one dollar per year for fifty years. The city also decided to award the museum and a section of North First Street as a historic cultural monument. Other private companies and institutions began to recognize the museum project as a growing vision. Some contributors include the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C.
and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The volunteer board for the museum decided to tour the country in search of filling the remaining positions of the museum. The volunteer board went to places like Illinois, Texas, Idaho, and other states. The members wanted contribution from a national level. Therefore, they hired individuals that had experience in ethnic studies and that had a passion to provide a service to their community. Along with employing people from across the country, the museum had aspirations to further enhance the exposure of the Japanese American history by expanding and creating a new pavilion that would house more artifacts from the Japanese American community.
During the 1990s, the museum took on several significant changes. Along with the establishment of the temple as the museum, members, part of the museum, hired Japanese American architects, David Kikuchi, Yoshi Nishimoto, Frank Sata, and Robert Uyeda, to renovate the buildings. In addition to the buildings restoration process, the museum also hired James T. McElwain to assure that the buildings have their own unique and historic features. Not only were buildings renovated, its interior design was also completely redone since the museum needed new systems installed.
For example, a new electric system, heating/air conditioning was installed during the renovation. In addition, the Museum made it more accessible to handicapped people by installing three separate elevations for those in wheel chairs. None of these renovations could of happened without the help of the community. In expanding efforts, the Museum leader, Fred Hoshiyama, developed a fundraising campaign that raised more money for the expanding budgets that was caused by the renovation and preservation process. With the campaign, the museum was about to complete seventy percent of the Phase I campaign goals. Many of the money came for individuals, groups, families, and companies with money ranging from $3000 to 100,000 or more.
With the generous donations from all difference areas of support, the Museum began using the funds by developing the “Issei Pioneers” exhibit, which was one of the Museum first exhibit. The exhibit displayed a collection of Issei artifacts, clothing, tools, and diaries. These items were used to document the experience of the first generation Japanese immigrants. In efforts to make the exhibit more attractive, the Museum worked with Gene Takeshita, a northern California designer, to construct a exhibit design for the Issei materials. In addition, in order to enhance the experience of this exhibit, Robert Nakamura and Karen Ishizuka, were hired to archives amateur film footages, photo and movie images; the archives became a video presentation that included sound bits and music of that era. The music, along with poetry and natural effects, attempted to create and enhance the atmosphere and experience at that time. The Museum not only focused its audience towards the local Los Angeles community.
It also attempted to open out new exhibits around the country, thus, helping the Museum establish public awareness. Some of the exhibits that were displayed across the country were, “Extraordinary Ordinary People,” a four-day photographic display in Honolulu and “Indelible Influences: East and West,” an exhibit that documented Japanese Americans in New York during the late 19th century. Locally, the Museum established an exhibit in UCLA that offered artworks during the internment camp. In addition to the displays and exhibit, the Museum also formed an advisory council that consisted a panel of more than 100 scholars. These scholars added more depth to the Museum.
They became one of the most important values of the Museum. The Museum became a great establishment for thousand of people. During the official opening of the Museum, many people dedicated many hours to coordinate the events. Thousands and Thousands of museum supporters wanted to preview the Museum and attend the opening ceremony. Not only were there supporters from Los Angeles, people from over seas wanted to be part of the Museums historical moment.
Interestingly, the Museums official opening would not take place. The Los Angeles riots broke out on the preceding night of the opening. Although some members (mostly overseers) attended a mini-ceremony, the riots underscored the significance of the Museum. Nevertheless, a public opening was held ten days later, which drew a greater crowd. During the opening, members of the Museum announced that the Museum would help promote community-unity through education and history.
In an honorable presentation, a 13-year-old Yonsei honored a 101-year-old Issei in attempt to show the r …