Japanese American Museum of San Jose offers a sneak peek


SAN JOSE — Shoppers converged on the Japanese American Museum of San Jose (JAMsj) in Japantown on May 22 to get a sneak preview of the new facility while shopping to benefit the museum.

JUST A PEEK — This is the front of the Japanese American Museum of San Jose.

The preview was part of “Shopping Days at the Museum,” an event that was held at the museum from May 22-24. Fashion designer Eileen Tabata Fitzpatrick was on hand to sell pieces from her collection, with a portion of the proceeds going toward efforts to complete construction of the museum.

Fitzpatrick said, “This is a celebration on behalf of the museum. People will be stunned when they see it. It’s beautiful.”

According to Jimi Yamaichi, a curator at JAMsj, one of the goals of the museum is to reach out to the next generation.

“We’re going to leave a legacy for future generations. It will be a resource center to maintain and preserve the local history,” he said.

The day opened with a fashion show from the collection, featuring an array of men’s and women’s apparel ranging from kimono to contemporary clothing.

Following the fashion show, a luncheon was held at Yu-Ai Kai Japanese American Community Senior Service, also in San Jose’s Japantown. Attendees then had the opportunity to walk over to the museum a block away.

JAM LEADERS — From left: Jimi Yamaichi, Japanese American Museum of San Jose (JAMsj) curator, Aggie Idemoto, the museum’s president, and Joe Yasutake, past president, pose at the museum’s preview event on May 23. photos by Erin Yasuda Soto/ Nichi Bei Weekly

Cynthia Sasaki Designs also sold pieces from its jewelry line at the museum. JAMsj President Aggie Idemoto told the audience of nearly 100 at the fashion show, “You will be the first ones to get a sneak peek at the museum.”

The spacious, 4,600-square-foot Japanese-style building at 535 N. 5th St. features a traditional rural farmhouse design with cream-colored walls and brown trim. The museum will be unveiled in a grand opening ceremony on Aug. 28.

Idemoto said, “Our mission is to collect, preserve and share Japanese American art, history and culture.”

Museum construction started in 2008 as the result of a $1 million grant from the California Historic and Cultural Endowment with matching funds from the community. It is set to open after a series of delays created by state budget problems. A federal funding boost of $237,500 aided in the completion of the museum.

Idemoto, a former teacher and administrator with the Oak Grove School District, said that the museum will include an array of permanent and rotating exhibits.

A theme of the exhibits will be the history of San Jose Japantown’s early farming communities.

“We will have a focus on agriculture, including a unique agricultural exhibit,” Idemoto said.

Yamaichi added, “We will have 100-year-old farming equipment, ranging from the first horse-drawn carriage to a tractor.”

Other exhibits will focus on World War II experiences, postwar resettlement and sports. Yamaichi said that the sports section of the museum will include a special focus on sumo and baseball.

One of the permanent exhibits will be an authentic replica of a concentration camp barrack.

“People will get to see what it looked like,” said Yamaichi, who was incarcerated at the Tule Lake, Calif., concentration camp during World War II.

One of the goals of exhibits such as the concentration camp barrack is to ensure that history is not repeated, Idemoto said.

“We want to make sure everyone comes out having learned a lesson. We want to make sure that this does not happen again,” she said.

Yamaichi said efforts are being made to ensure that all 10 of the concentration camps will be represented at the museum.

“Everyone will be equally represented. We will have equal coverage,” Yamaichi said.

The second floor will feature a classroom for community activities and a library.

Yamaichi said, “The library will have about 4,000 books with Japanese American stories. Some are out of print.”

There will also be a museum store that will offer adult and children’s books, art and clothing. Items for sale will include replica pins of the birds that were carved in the concentration camps.

“We’re also making greeting cards featuring the birds,” Idemoto said, adding that the goal is to make the store an extension of the museum.

Yamaichi said that the museum is a dream come true and that it has been a long and rewarding journey.

“I have put my heart and soul into this. It’s for all the Japanese American kids — it’s somewhere that they can hang their hat,” he said.

For additional information about the museum, call (408) 294-3138 or visit jamsj.org.

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