JAMsj 25th anniversary gala focuses on the past, present and future


Japanese American Museum San Jose

The Japanese American Museum of San Jose opens as Japantown’s newest landmark

Japanese American Museum of San Jose. photo by Gary Jio

SAN JOSE — The Japanese American Museum of San Jose (JAMsj) held its 25th anniversary gala Dec. 2 that drew approximately 250 people to the Hyatt Place San Jose/Downtown. The evening focused on the museum’s past, present and future.

The gala, which featured the theme “Come JAMsj with Us,” included a keynote address by Dr. G.W. (Greg) Kimura, president and CEO of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.

Aggie Idemoto, president of JAMsj, began the evening by recognizing the museum’s 25th year. She said, “Happy anniversary, JAMsj. May you continue to teach the community for another quarter-century.”

Idemoto said that the evening’s program was designed to focus on “the growth and development of JAMsj and its development over the past 25 years.”

Emcee Mike Inouye, NBC Bay Area’s weekday morning traffic anchor, compared the evolution of JAMsj to a diamond in the rough that turns into a sparkling gem.

He said, “JAMsj is a jewel that started in the rough. Then you had to carve away to see the sparkle that is there. Once you see it, it’s priceless. That is what you have here, a sparkling gem. Many have carved away at it. There have been many volunteers, such as Jimi Yamaichi. It has evolved from a private home to a beautiful building.”

The evening included recognition for five centenarians in the community. Idemoto said that they have served as role models for later generations.

Pillars of the Community
She said that the individuals will turn 100 next year. The individuals, who have been pillars in the community, serve as role models for later generations. The honorees are Masaye Mitsunaga, Alice Aiko (Iwaoka) Maruyama, Virginia (Kasano) Asada, Grace (Noyoshi/Tatsuda) Akahoshi and Rokuro Otsubo.

Mitsunaga, who was born on April 3, 1912 in Santa Clara, Calif., was sent to Japan when she was 4 years old, and returned to the United States in 1989. She served as a domestic worker for 20 years.

Born on July 3, 1912 in Santa Rosa, Calif., Alice Aiko Maruyama was incarcerated at Heart Mountain, Wyo. before returning to San Jose. She is a former dental assistant. She was active with the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin, her husband’s business and the PTA.

Virginia Asada, who was born on Nov. 28, 1912 in Cupertino, Calif., was incarcerated at Heart Mountain. She was a domestic worker before starting a family.

Born on Jan. 13, 1913 in Walnut Grove, Calif., Grace Akahoshi is widely known as a pioneer due to her active participation with the San Jose Buddhist Church. Her daughter, Reiko Iwanaga, is a JAMsj volunteer. Both Iwanaga and her brother, Dr. Kenji Akahoshi, actively participate in the church.

Rokuro Otsubo was born on Jan. 23, 1913 in Imari, a city in Saga Prefecture in Japan. After spending a large part of his life in Osaka, he moved to San Jose at 96.

“The (centenarians) fought a lot of discrimination and were instrumental in rebuilding,” Idemoto said.

JAMsj’s Visionaries
In addition, Idemoto discussed the beginnings of JAMsj and the contributions of a central group of the museum’s visionaries that included Jimi Yamaichi, Gary Okihiro and the late Eiichi Sakauye.

One of the charter members of JAMsj, Yamaichi is currently the director and curator of the museum. He has been instrumental in the construction of JAMsj. He was incarcerated at Heart Mountain and at Tule Lake, Calif. He has served on a number of committees and boards in San Jose.

Sakauye was one of the founders of the Japanese American Resource Center, which aimed to preserve Japanese American history. He is best known for facilitating the purchase of the home of his friend, Dr. Tokio Ishikawa, in 1998 and donating it to the Japanese American Resource Center. The residence eventually became what is now the museum. Sakauye was previously incarcerated at Heart Mountain.

“The visionaries are valuable to the current generation and those to come,” Idemoto said.

Idemoto went on to discuss the history of the museum. She talked about how the museum developed following the publication of a book by Okihiro on Japanese American farmers titled “Japanese Legacy: Farming and Community Life in California’s Santa Clara Valley.” The book was the inspiration for the museum. Okihiro decided to write the book after discussions with Sakauye.

Idemoto said that the museum opened at its first location in 1987 in the Issei Memorial Building. In 1999, JAMsj moved to its current location, Ishikawa’s former residence.

The museum subsequently underwent renovation in 2006. Following construction, the museum held a grand reopening in October 2010.

Looking Ahead
Idemoto noted that the museum has grown in popularity since it opened. She said that last year, 6,000 individuals and groups visited the museum.

She said that long-term plans include oral histories, a partnership with San Jose State University and the Discover Nikkei project. JAMsj has a contract with Little Tokyo’s JANM for the Discover Nikkei project.

The Discover Nikkei Project represents a global network that focuses on cultural diversity and explores identities from both an international and local perspective. The project aims to join communities and generations by sharing the stories of the Nikkei.

JAMsj board member and docent Michael Sera also spoke at the gala on the topic “JAMsj Yesterday and Today.” He said that the 25th anniversary of the museum is a significant milestone.

“Twenty-five years is a wonderful thing. It’s important to get the next generation involved. We’re always looking for volunteers,” he said.

He added that the museum has many exciting plans in the works related to technological advancements.

“We are expanding our vision. We’re focusing on technology. Everyone’s on their iPhone or iPad. We’re adding electronics. Come back in a year and you’ll see changes. We want to add more depth to the museum,” he said.

Following Sera’s speech, Kimura of the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) delivered the keynote address on the topic of “Looking Toward the Future.”

He said that JAMsj’s mission to “collect, preserve and share Japanese American art, history and culture” has established it as a significant presence in the community.

“The mission drives everything. The museum has been a cultural institution over the last 25 years. It has weathered cultural and political transitions over the last 25 years,” he said.

He added that JAMsj “is an anchor in the community that details the story of the Japanese American experience: agriculture, the 442nd, and the ‘no-no’ boys who were exonerated.”

He said that the museum is an important avenue to spark discussion about historical events, such as the concentration camps. “For everyone who endured the camp experience, it’s important to remember and tell that story to our kids and grandkids, and also to the wider community that may not be aware. The museum honors our forebearers.”

Kimura also touched on the growing influence of technology as it relates to museums and society in general.

“Technology is important in preserving oral histories and curriculum. Digital technology is a delivery mechanism. Museums create the narrative and tell the story of who we are. It’s a very important job that museums have,” he said.

Kimura, who is a Yonsei, also focused on generational change. “Every generation has their story to tell. The challenge is how to tell the evolving story of the Yonsei and Gosei.”

He added, “We need all the generations to tell their stories. They will all be different. They will be repositories for the future.”

Kimura added that the Japanese American National Museum and JAMsj plan to team up to strengthen one another. “We’re all in this together as a community. We are looking for ways to partner and strengthen each other.”

He added, “For the next 25 years, we need to help each individual in figuring out meaning, identity and citizenship. We need to figure out who we are as Japanese Americans.”

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