August 17, 2022

After an exhaustive national and international search, the Densho Board of Directors is pleased to announce Naomi Ostwald Kawamura is the organization’s next Executive Director. Ostwald Kawamura will join Densho staff on September 1, 2022 and will formally succeed outgoing Executive Director Tom Ikeda on November 2.

Densho Board Chair Ron Tanemura writes, “We are thrilled that Naomi Ostwald Kawamura will be Densho’s next Executive Director. We had a very competitive candidate pool, but as an educator with specialized knowledge of Japanese American history, and with her strong background in nonprofit leadership and administration, Naomi has the rare combination of skills and experiences we were looking for. She has big shoes to fill, but there’s no doubt in my mind that she can do it — and that she’ll lead Densho, and our community, in exciting new directions.”

Naomi Ostwald Kawamura. She is leaning against a brick wall, smiling with arms crossed over her chest.
Naomi Ostwald Kawamura. Photo by Yumi Freitag.

Until July, Ostwald Kawamura served as the Executive Director of the Nikkei Place Foundation, a Japanese Canadian community-based organization in British Columbia, Canada. Ostwald Kawamura previously worked as the Director of Education at the San Diego History Center and currently serves as the Board President of the Washington D.C.-based Museum Education Roundtable (MER). In that role, she spearheaded a three-year initiative to align MER’s organizational practices with its value commitments to equity, diversity, and inclusion. She holds a Master’s degree in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. 

Ostwald Kawamura’s deep interest in public history, collective memory practices, and education led her to pursue a PhD in Curriculum & Pedagogy at the University of British Columbia. Her dissertation, which she will defend this fall, focuses on the intergenerational transfer of memory in the Japanese American and Japanese Canadian communities. Specifically, she focused on the unique challenges and issues that community history organizations face in light of the passing of those who survived the forcible removal and incarceration of people of Japanese descent in Canada and the United States.

Making history relevant to people in the present is what animates the work that I do both in community and in my scholarship,” said Ostwald Kawamura. “The Executive Director role at Densho bridges my personal commitments, scholarly interests, and my professional experience into one unique opportunity. I feel inspired and honored to be working alongside the Densho staff and board — and cannot wait to immerse myself in the broader Densho community.” 

Ostwald Kawamura was selected unanimously by Densho’s board and staff search committee. According to Koya Partners, the firm that led the search for Densho’s next leader, this level of consensus very rarely happens in an executive search. 

“There was a lot of excitement by the board and staff as we learned more and more about Naomi,” said Densho Founding Executive Director Tom Ikeda. “Naomi brings executive leadership, high emotional intelligence, operational experience, integrity, and vision to all of her endeavors. I can’t wait to see how the organization evolves and innovates under her leadership.”  

During her first two months at Densho, Ostwald Kawamura will work alongside outgoing executive director Tom Ikeda. At the virtual Densho Gala on November 2, she will deliver her first formal address to the Densho community and take on the role of executive director. At that point, Ikeda will assume the role of senior advisor to the executive director through the remainder of 2022. This substantial overlap will ensure a smooth leadership transition and allow Ostwald Kawamura time to familiarize herself with Densho operations, board and staff, and community-at-large before taking the helm. 

Ostwald Kawamura is a Shin-Nisei, born to Japanese immigrants in San Diego, California. Through both her work and educational pursuits, she has cultivated a deep intellectual and emotional connection to the legacy of Japanese American and Japanese Canadian World War II incarceration. 

Naomi lives with her husband Kai, who is a tenured professor at the University of British Columbia, and their daughter in Vancouver. In her role as Densho Executive Director, she is committed to building connection and community in Seattle. As a graduate of the University of Washington, she has maintained a strong network of friends and family in Seattle and is looking forward to strengthening those relationships and building new ones. 

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Ostwald Kawamura. “I feel honored to have been selected to lead Densho, an organization that I have long admired and that has played such a critical role in preserving Japanese American historical memory.”

Two virtual town halls will provide opportunities for Densho community members can meet Ostwald Kawamura and ask her questions. Register here to attend September 7th at noon PST, or here to attend September 12 at 5pm PST. Ostwald Kawamura’s first major public address as Densho Executive Director will take place at the Densho Gala on November 2. Sign up to be notified when registration opens.