The Great Unknown and the Unknown Great

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 […]


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;” […]

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