April 20, 2014

If one were to make up lists of important or influential Japanese Americans viewed from an ethnic community perspective and from an external, mainstream American perspective, one would likely end up with very different lists. Some of the most significant figures in the history of the ethnic community—people like Abiko Kyutaro, Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, or Sue Kunitomi Embrey—are not well known outside the community, while some of the most famous Japanese Americans of their time in the mainstream world—e.g. Yasuo Kuniyoshi, James Shigeta, or Kristi Yamaguchi—didn’t play large roles within the ethnic community. (There are a few who would make both lists, led by Daniel Inouye and George Takei.)

Two of the most famous Japanese Americans of mid-20th century were furniture maker George Nakashima and architect Minoru Yamasaki. Both gained great acclaim for their work in mainstream circles, but didn’t have close connections with the ethnic community and lived in areas largely devoid of co-ethnics as adults. (Both did grow up around other Nikkei in the Pacific Northwest, Nakashima in Spokane and Yamasaki in Seattle.) Based in New York before the war, Yamasaki avoided mass incarceration and eventually settled in the Detroit, Michigan area, while Nakashima was held at Minidoka, from which he resettled in New Hope, Pennsylvania. You can learn more about each in new articles by University of Hawai’i Ph.D. student Sanae Nakatani, who does a fine job of discussing the impact of the war and their Japanese American ethnicity on their life and work and makes a case for the significance of each to the Japanese American community. Sanae is working on a dissertation on Nakashima, Yamasaski, and Isamu Noguchi. Though born and raised in Japan, she has familial roots in the Seattle area and hopes to do research on the history of the Seattle community and on her family history.

Also recently added is a exhaustively researched article on sports in camp by another Ph.D. candidate, Terumi Rafferty-Osaki of American University in Washington, D.C. It comes out of Terumi’s research for a dissertation to be titled “‘Strictly Masculine’: Reforming and Performing Manhood at Tule Lake, 1942–1946.” His strong personal interest in sports and sports history comes through in his piece. Also just added are three articles by Portland, Oregon based public historian Morgen Young on Farm Security Administration photographer Russell Lee; the Oregon Plan; and on Nyssa, one of the camps that housed Japanese American who left the camps to do agricultural work throughout the West. Morgen’s research on this generally neglected aspect of the wartime incarceration is also featured in a photography exhibition titled Uprooted: Japanese American Farm Labor Camps During World War IIand in a recently published article titled “Russell Lee in the Northwest: Documenting Japanese Farm Labor Camps in Oregon and Idaho” in the Fall 2013 issue of the Oregon Historical Quarterly. Finally a newly added article by Dana Ogo Shew of Sonoma State University tells the story of the Amache Silk Screen Shop, one of several enterprises set up in the concentration camps to do war related work for the U.S. military and which includes some great photographs of the shop and images of their work.