The Great Unknown and the Unknown Great

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Juilliard-trained songbird Mariko Mukai Ando defied expectations

(Editor’s note: The following article was co-written with Jonathan Van Harmelen.) As part of a continuing series of “Great Unknown” articles on Japanese Americans in classical music, we now present the career of the operatic and concert singer Mariko Mukai Ando. After getting her start in Nikkei community circles in Seattle, she moved to New […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Akira Kikukawa and the Japanese American orchestra

(Editor’s note: The following article was co-written with Jonathan Van Harmelen). Some time ago, Jonathan van Harmelen and I wrote a column about the pioneering Japanese xylophonist Yoichi Hiraoka. In the course of our research, we found that in 1970 Hiraoka had performed a concert in Southern California with an orchestra of which neither of […]

The Great Unknown and the Unknown Great: The varied responses of American Anabaptists to the mass confinement of Japanese Americans during WWII

Editor’s Note: This column was co-written by Zacharie Leclair. In his 1981 master’s thesis, “The Response of the Historic Peace Churches to the internment of the Japanese Americans during World War II,” scholar Charles R. Lord makes a daring comparison between the experience of Japanese Americans confined in government camps during World War II on […]

The Great Unknown and the Unknown Great: The origins of the JACL’s advocacy for gay and lesbian rights

This year marks the 14th year that I have commemorated LGBT History Month with a reflection on the important but oft-unremarked presence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in the history of Japanese Americans. It is with great pleasure that I devote this year’s queer history column to looking back at the latter […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: An intriguing elegy for Topaz

One of the people who enriched my life was the journalist and educator Guyo (Marion) Tajiri, whom I was fortunate to get to know near the end of her long life. I was further blessed to receive an additional gift from her years after her passing. I first met Guyo in 2003. She agreed to […]

The Great Unknown and the Unknown Great: Chiura Obata: American illustrator

One area of United States culture in which Asian Americans have been able to make a substantial contribution is the visual arts. Yet visual artists and their production have remained fairly obscure in discussions of Asian American experience, at least as compared with literary creators and performing artists. To be sure, even compared with members […]

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 […]


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 […]

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