The Great Unknown and the Unknown Great

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Anne Emery’s novel reflected her ‘deep sympathy’ for JA camp survivors

During the first decade after World War II, several novels that centered on the wartime experience of Japanese Americans appeared in print in the United States. Apart from the Hawai‘i-born Nisei author Shelley Ayame Nishimura Ota’s 1951 book “Upon these Shoulders,” none of them was authored by a Japanese American. Rather, they were all the […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Novels helped inform popular knowledge of JA mass incarceration’s injustices

In a recent column, I mentioned James Edmiston’s 1955 novel “Home Again,” which was a notable entry among the set of postwar works of fiction that referenced the mass confinement of Japanese Americans. These “internment novels,” produced by white authors and brought out by mainstream presses in the early postwar years, included such works as […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: On corresponding with the late playwright and activist Hiroshi Kashiwagi

Nov. 8, 2022 marks the 100th birthday of the late Hiroshi Kashiwagi. A playwright, poet, actor, storyteller and activist, he shined in diverse fields of endeavor, and was one of the outstanding members of the Bay Area Japanese American community. Thanks to the recent graphic history, “We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration,” […]


This week’s column is a mystery story involving the identity of a secret champion of Japanese Americans, one who helped win them important official support in the months following the end of World War II. As is well documented, the Issei and Nisei who were confined in the War Relocation Authority camps during World War […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: S.F. pianist and teacher Florence Takayama Iwamoto’s life of musicality

A number of my recent Nichi Bei Weekly columns, some written together with Jonathan van Harmelen, have focused on Japanese Americans in classical music in the mid-20th century. My initial columns focused on those few artists, including Yoichi Hiraoka, Tomi Kanazawa, Hizi Koyke and Agnes Yoshiko Miyakawa, who managed to achieve fame on an international […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Recounting ‘Sushi and Sourdough’ author and WWII vet Tooru Kanazawa’s life

Tooru Kanazawa, an early Nisei writer and journalist, distinguished himself as a community activist and soldier during World War II. At the end of his long life, he achieved widespread attention in literary circles with the publication of his autobiographical novel “Sushi and Sourdough.” Tooru Joe Kanazawa was born Nov. 12, 1906 in Spokane, Wash., […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Prewar attitudes toward queer sexuality in Japanese-language press

This is the 16th year that I have had the pleasure of presenting my annual queer history column. I want to start today’s installment by acknowledging the 2020 online J-Sei exhibit “Seen & Unseen: Queering Japanese American History Before 1945,” co-curated by Nichi Bei Weekly columnist Amy Sueyoshi and Stan Yogi. It was a landmark […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: ‘The Great Unknown’s’ 100th edition

A random perusal of my list of titles has led me to a stunning discovery: This week’s column represents the 100th installment of “The Great Unknown and the Unknown Great” that I have published in the Nichi Bei Weekly in the dozen years since the newspaper’s founding in 2009 (I have also done some 40 […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Comic strips as vehicles of social and political commentary

One area of 20th century popular culture that is fascinating for historians to interpret is the comic strip. The first strips were introduced in the United States at the turn of the 20th century. They quickly attracted mass readerships and boosted newspaper circulation. (The term “yellow journalism” was even coined in reference to the lowbrow […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Rediscovering artist and political activist Chuzo Tamotsu

Chuzo Tamotsu, a colorful figure, was one of the most skilled and visible members of the circle of Issei artists in New York in the 1930s. Chuzo Tamotsu (aka Tamotzu) was born in Japan on Feb. 19, 1891, and grew up in the village of Toguchi. During his school years, he began studying both Japanese […]

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