The Great Unknown and the Unknown Great

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Yoichi Hiraoka: International musical star

Yoichi Hiraoka was an internationally renowned xylophone virtuoso, one who helped popularize the xylophone as an instrument for both classical and popular music. Through daily radio performances and live concerts, he became the most celebrated Nikkei musician in the United States during the 1930s. However, even his fame did not save him from being targeted […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Classical music behind barbed wires

(Editor’s Note: The following was co-written with Jonathan van Harmelen) In the tragic and difficult conditions faced by Japanese Americans confined in the War Relocation Authority camps during World War II, one imposing arena of achievement was in the arts. In recent years, a number of books and exhibits have highlighted not only the extraordinary […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Hizi Koyke: Dramatic soprano

One of the most celebrated and accomplished Nikkei in prewar America was Hizi Koyke, the diminutive soprano who served as the mainstay of the San Carlo Opera Company. Despite her fame, there is a remarkably small amount of verifiable information available on her life offstage. Hisako Koyke was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1902, the […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Nisei songbird Toshiko Hasegawa soared in Italy and beyond

This week’s column, which forms part of our series uncovering the fascinating story of Nikkei opera singers, centers on the Nisei soprano Toshiko Hasegawa, who lived in Italy and distinguished herself by her performances of Cho-Cho-San in Giacomo Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” and other parts, starring at opera houses such as Milan’s La Scala. Born in […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: ‘Nisei Songbird’ Yoshiko Miyakawa of Sacramento

In the years before World War II, West Coast Japanese Americans encountered numerous obstacles to equality, both official and unofficial, and faced great difficulty in making names and careers for themselves outside of their ethnic communities. However, one exceptional individual, the “Nisei songbird,” Yoshiko Miyakawa of Sacramento, Calif., rose to international celebrity as an opera […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Nikkei in Mobile, Alabama

I am endlessly intrigued by the discovery of new frontiers, both geographical and thematic, in Japanese American history. One largely unexplored area is the experience of Japanese Americans in the U.S. South. We have had a few glimmers of this history in memoirs, as well as a few books on the subject, such as Thomas […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: JA ‘godmother of redress’ was an internationally esteemed community-builder

Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga, who passed away on July 18, 2018, was not a household name, even among Japanese Americans. Yet her place in history as “godmother of Japanese American redress” seems secure. A one-woman research team, she spent years combing through the National Archives and other government document centers in search of material on the […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Unmasking the complexities of documenting queer Nikkei sexuality and history

This week’s column marks the 12th entry in the annual series on queer Japanese American history that I have undertaken to mark LGBT Pride Month. Previous entries have shed light on the nature of sexuality within Japanese communities, the rise and decline of homophobia, past gay activists and community debates over LGBT civil rights. This […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Sueo and Ikuo Serisawa’s lifelong dedication to the arts

In my Jan. 1, 2018 Nichi Bei Weekly article on prewar Nisei films, I discussed the 1935 film “Nisei Parade,” produced by the brothers Ikuo and Sueo Serisawa. Publication of the article has brought on the question of what happened afterward to the young filmmakers, notably to Sueo Serisawa. In fact, Serisawa’s work on the […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Cinematic 20th century Nikkei

In recent times, diverse Japanese American directors have made their mark on the silver screen, including Cary Joji Fukunaga, Karyn Kusama, Gregg Araki, Lane Nishikawa, and Destin Daniel Cretton. While their productions have drawn from all sorts of material, some filmmakers have piloted Nikkei community stories. For example, Emiko Omori’s “Hot Summer Winds,” Desmond Nakano’s […]

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