A photo exhibit chronicling the history of Japanese immigrants and their descendants in Hawai‘i recently opened at the Japanese Overseas Migration Museum in Yokohama, Japan. The exhibit, titled, “The Hawaii Nikkei Legacy,” is co-sponsored by the Nisei Veterans Legacy, the Japan-America Society of Hawaii and the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i. The term Nikkei refers to persons of Japanese ancestry living outside of Japan.
The Japanese Overseas Migration Museum is operated by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, which is similar to the USAID — United States Agency for International Development. One of its elements is the Association of Nikkei and Japanese Abroad, which is serving as the exhibit’s host.
The exhibit highlights the Japanese American experience in Hawai‘i through photographs and narrative text in both English and Japanese — from immigration through World War II and the postwar period. It includes photos of some of the Issei who immigrated to Hawai‘i, Nisei soldiers who fought in World War II to prove their loyalty to the United States and modern-day Japanese customs as practiced in Hawai‘i. A section on prefectural roots features several prominent Hawai‘i Japanese Americans whose ancestors were part of the large wave of contract workers, or kanyaku imin, who came to Hawai‘i beginning in 1885 to work on the sugar plantations.
The exhibit was created at the suggestion in 2015 of Mrs. Michiko Shigeeda, wife of then-Consul General of Japan in Honolulu Toyoei Shigeeda, who is currently Japan’s ambassador to Lithuania. She felt that people in Japan, with their already-strong affinity for Hawai‘i, would be interested in learning about the history of Japanese Americans in Hawai‘i.
Bishop Ryokan Ara of the Tendai Mission of Hawaii and the Tendai Educational Foundation was the spiritual inspiration for the project. Earlier this year, Ara was named a “Living Treasure of Hawai‘i” by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii. He has worked to improve understanding and relations between Japanese Americans in Hawai‘i and the people of Japan for over 40 years. Ryoji Koike of the Pacific Aviation Museum also played a key role in coordinating with organizations and support groups in Japan. They were supported by an exhibit content committee that collected photographs and designed the exhibit. The project was prepared completely through volunteer efforts with funding from the NVL and contributions.
The exhibit, which was shown last month in Tokyo and Fukushima City, will be on display at the Japanese Overseas Migration Museum through Sept. 3. It will then be shown at the Imperial Bank Building in Hiroshima City from Oct. 1-14.
The original hope was to take the exhibit to those prefectures that sent kanyaku imin to Hawai‘i. Organizers are still searching for exhibit venues in Fukuoka, Yamaguchi and Okinawa prefectures, although booking those venues are subject to securing additional funds. Due to the major earthquakes in Kumamoto in April of 2016, plans for a showing there are currently on hold until recovery efforts are completed.