The Great Unknown and the Unknown Great

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 […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Nisei stories

In an essay in my co-edited 2018 book “John Okada: The Life & Rediscovered Work of the Author of No-No Boy,” I described Okada’s writing as “a seed in a devastated landscape.” The devastated landscape, of course, was the field of Japanese American writing after World War II. During the 1930s, Japanese community newspapers served […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Lucile Colyer’s account of WWII’s impact on her Nikkei friends

In a “Great Unknown” column earlier this year, I spoke about Sam Constantino Jr.’s 1946 novel “Tale of the Twain.” The book is a complex narrative that takes place in both Japan and the United States. It includes a section, set on the prewar West Coast, that portrays the condition of Issei and Nisei as seen […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Rethinking ‘By Order of the President’

In my Aug. 19, 2021 column of the Nichi Bei Weekly, I commemorated the 20th anniversary of the publication of my first book, “By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans,” by recounting the origins and development of the project — first as a dissertation, then as a published volume. I […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Former GI’s ‘idiosyncratic work’ on JAs

As World War II came to an end and American servicemen returned home, the nation welcomed a wave of literature about the wartime experience produced by former GIs, many of them in the first blush of youth. This initial crop included Gore Vidal’s novel “Williwaw” (1946); Thomas Heggen’s 1946 novel and subsequent play “Mister Roberts;” […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: ‘By Order of the President’ turns 20

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of my book “By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans.” “By Order” was my first book. It introduced me to the public as a specialist in the history of Japanese American wartime confinement, and helped launch my career as both scholar […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: K.T. Takahashi: Transnational Japanese American writer

During the last years of the 19th century, Kazutomo (aka Kadzu Tomo) Takahashi settled in Montreal, Quebec, where he operated a book and magazine store. Although Takahashi’s career in Montreal spanned barely a decade, during that time he managed to establish himself as a pathbreaking Japanese American writer and publicist. He published in mainstream publications […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: TOSHI SEEGER’S ARTFUL LIFE: From folk music and film producer to organizer

Toshi Ohta Seeger was a remarkable Nisei who collaborated with her longtime husband Pete Seeger in his musical career and support for progressive causes. However, both because she was an Asian American woman, and because she preferred to shun the spotlight and work in the background, she has not historically received the attention she was […]

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