Museums — even tiny ones — are where our collective culture is stored

Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center internment exhibit

I visited the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center in Portland, Oregon last week while on a business trip to the northwest, and I was struck at how important organizations like it, and the museum it operates are for our community.

Institutions from the largest such as the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles to one-room repositories such as the Nikkei Legacy Center or the Amache Museum in Granada, Colorado, are repositories for our collective memory as a community, and home to our history.

Portland’s museum is a project of the Oregon Nikkei Endowment, and it’s tucked into a storefront in the city’s Old Town district, in the midst of what used to be the Nihonmachi, or Japantown neighborhood.

One of the first items on display inside the door is a scale model of the district, with all the buildings labeled with the Japanese businesses that used to thrive. Only a couple of the businesses still exist, but they’re no longer in the neighborhood – the Nikkei Legacy Center is the only remaining sign of the community that was based here before WWII.

The museum does a great job within its limited space of tracing the Japanese’s arrival in the area, the variety of businesses, and then imprisonment during WWII. There are artifacts, models, and text explaining historical milestones.

A small area features a re-creation of an internment camp barrack’s interior, with actual tables, chairs, desk and dresser (shown above) that were all built by internees in Minidoka, Idaho, where Portland JAs were imprisoned. The historical timeline of the permanent exhibit ends with a small video viewing area with interviews with local Nisei about the war years.

Hiroshima exhibit at Oregon Nikkei Legacy CenterIn a small rotating gallery space in the back is a powerful, somber art exhibit (right) that addresses the horror of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, titled “Shadows and Black Rain: Memories, Histories, Places, Bodies.”
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New United direct flight between Denver & Tokyo on 787 Dreamliner is a dream about to come true

787 Dreamliner at DIALiving in Colorado has its benefits: Great weather, great outdoor recreation, great people and a central location for traveling to either coast. But it’s not the most convenient place if you want to travel to, say, Europe or to Asia. In my case, it’s a huge undertaking to plan a trip to Japan.

That’s because there’s no direct flight from Denver to Japan, and we always have to juggle connecting flights to the West Coast — LAX, SFO or SEA — and have to rush to the international terminal or wait a few hours for the flight over the Pacific. It’s not horrible, but it is a pain, and a time- and energy-suck.

Or it has been, until now. Earlier this year, the City of Denver and United Airlines announced a new direct route on United from Denver International Airport to Tokyo’s Narita Airport, flying Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner, the “limousine of the skies.” The inaugural flight departs DIA on March 31, 2013 and the first direct flight from Japan will arrive the next day, April 1. Expect a lot of hoopla and fanfare both those days — it’ll be a big deal.
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Japanese farmer/restaurateur makes udon noodles the old-fashioned way

Here’s a very nice short video from The Perennial Plate, a blog about sustainable food, that introduces us to Tetsuo Shimizu, a Japanese farmer and restaurateur. He makes his own udon noodles from wheat he grows, and serves it up in Shogotei Restaurant he opened to supplement the meager income he makes as a farmer. It’s an inspiration glimpse of a lifestyle that might not be around much longer….

Here’s another video, “From Japan With Love (and Dashi),” from The Perennial Plate‘s yummy-looking trip to Japan (makes me want to go back!):

From Japan with Love (and Dashi) from The Perennial Plate on Vimeo.

(Thanks to my friend John Lehndorff for the tip!)

V3con held a digital media mirror up to Asian Americans

The V3 conference for Asian America Digital Media, which was held August 25 in Los Angeles, was a landmark event. It was the first time that Asian American media from both journalism and the blogosphere gathered together to discuss their online presence and share their knowledge and skills.

The conference grew out of a similar event, the Banana conference that celebrated Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) bloggers. Erin and I were a panelist at the first Banana conference in 2009, and helped organize Banana 2 last year, which was produced with help from IW Group, an Asian American media and marketing agency.

For V3, which was presented by the Asian American Journalists Association’s Los Angeles chapter, I was the Director of Programming. I decided the topics of the panels and chose most of the panelists, from sessions on Asian Americans in politics (moderated by MSNBC anchor Richard Lui) to a plenary session on the increase of AAPIs in mainstream Hollywood movies, TV series and even commercials. We held serious sessions on how Asian Americans can use social media for non-profit organizations and causes, as well as pop-culture topics like how anime and manga are evolving in the digital era.

The conference was a success, with 500 attendees who filled the sessions, which were held at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo. Attendees enjoyed a Friday night Opening Reception and Awards Ceremony at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena. But numbers weren’t the only measure of success.
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JANM names new CEO, G.W. Kimura

G.W. Kimura, new CEO of JANMThe Japanese American National Museum today announced it’s named a new Chief Executive Officer, G.W. “Greg” Kimura, to lead the Los Angeles-based institution. Kimura is a hapa (mixed race) fourth-generation Japanese American from Alaska, whose most recent position was as the head of the Alaska Humanities Forum, the state’s humanities council. He seems to have done a terrific job there, and doubled the AHF’s revenues during his tenure.

Kimura’s also a well-traveled guy — I suppose most Alaskans are, because honestly, who can stay put in Alaska all your life? (Joke. Besides, the state gives residents money every year that can be spent on travel to warmer climes.) He has a Masters in Divinity from Harvard and a Ph.D. in philosophy of religion from Cambridge, and he’s now leaving the snows of the north to settle in the sunny City of the Angels.

I’m looking forward to how he moves JANM forward into the future. Like many museums, JANM focuses a lot on the past — and in the case of Japanese Americans, why not? The Internment experience during World War II is the defining perod for many JA families.

But JANM in recet years has also been really smart about hosting forward-looking exhibits featuring artists such as Hapa activist Kip Fulbeck (whose exhibit moved Kimura when he saw it during a visit to the lower 48), rocker/visual artist Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park, and partnering with hip Asian American culture mag Giant Robot.

He’s a perfect person to lead the museum, because as a hapa younsei, he’s a reflection of the ever-evolving Japanese American community. I bet he’ll bring fresh ideas and renewed energy to JANM.

I’d lay odds that Kimura, with his academic background in religion and sprituality, at some point has JANM delve into the religious history of JAs, which mostly seems to come down to Shinran Buddhist and UNited Methodist churches. But I expect he’ll bring a new vitality and energy to the museum, which is one of my favorite places to go whenever I’m in LA (they have the coolest gift shop, and they’ve sold a lot of copies of my book “Being Japanese American“… full disclosure!).

Here’s the full press release from JANM:
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