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Erik Matsunaga

@erikmatsu

Erik Matsunaga’s investigations into the history of Chicago’s Japanese American community have been featured by the Japanese American National Museum, Alphawood Gallery, WBEZ Radio, and the Newberry Library. Born in Chicago, a descendant of WWII-era Nikkei resettlers from California, he curates @windycitynikkei—“Bite-sized Glimpses of Japanese American Chicago”—on Instagram.

Updated November 2020


Stories from This Author

Thumbnail for Andrew Masaru Sato: Discovering Roots through Aikido—Part 2
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Andrew Masaru Sato: Discovering Roots through Aikido—Part 2

May 2, 2024 • Erik Matsunaga

Read Part 1 >> From the 1960s through the 1990s, the Lakeview neighborhood was colloquially known as Chicago’s unofficial Japantown, a community of noticeable JA residential and commercial presence, a destination for WWII-era resettled families that had not returned to the West Coast. The Japanese Culture Center sat in the heart of this community, with over a dozen Japanese businesses lining Belmont from the 800-1000 blocks, another couple dozen or so up and down nearby Clark Street and Sheffield Avenue …

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Andrew Masaru Sato: Discovering Roots through Aikido—Part 1

May 1, 2024 • Erik Matsunaga

Though not, perhaps, in the way one might think given his martial arts bonafides, in 1950 Chicago native Andrew Masaru Sato—7th dan aikido shihan—was born into a martial lineage. His Nisei father, Noboru “Norman” Sato, was a WWII combat veteran of the U.S. Army’s 100th Battalion of the 442nd Regiment in the European Theater, having been inducted from an American concentration camp. “You hear that story about your dad saying goodbye to his mom and dad between barbed wires, wearing …

Thumbnail for Clark & Division: Japanese Americans on Chicago’s Near North Side, 1940s-1960s - Part 3
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Clark & Division: Japanese Americans on Chicago’s Near North Side, 1940s-1960s - Part 3

Feb. 3, 2020 • Erik Matsunaga

Read Part 2 >> Keiko Harada Ohtaka Clark Street and Division Street bring back so many great memories. They were very busy streets with lots of traffic. Our family lived on Clark Street right above Toguri’s Mercantile Company. We played outside on the sidewalk, daily, with our friends without any supervision from our parents. No one would think of letting the kids do that today! No family we knew had a car so we walked everywhere, unless it was outside …

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Clark & Division: Japanese Americans on Chicago’s Near North Side, 1940s-1960s - Part 2

Jan. 27, 2020 • Erik Matsunaga

Read Part 1 >> David Toguri I was born in Chicago in 1947 at Cuneo Hospital. Dr. Junji Hasegawa delivered me. His brother, Susumu Hasegawa, was our dentist. My family lived above 1012 North Clark Street which was my family’s grocery store, Diamond Trading Co. Later, Diamond Trading moved to 1108 North Clark near Sun Grocery, which was owned by John Yahiro. At four or five years old I would wander up and down Clark Street by myself. I had …

Thumbnail for Clark & Division: Japanese Americans on Chicago’s Near North Side, 1940s-1960s - Part 1
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Clark & Division: Japanese Americans on Chicago’s Near North Side, 1940s-1960s - Part 1

Jan. 20, 2020 • Erik Matsunaga

Chicago’s Near North Side. In the early to mid-twentieth century it was a playground for the rich, transient stopover for the poor, home to beatniks, hippies, harlots, the Rush Street entertainment district and the Outfit. Historically a multi-ethnic stew, within its boundaries could be found Swede Town; German Broadway; Little Sicily; an Irish settlement on Goose Island called Kilgubbin; and La Clark, a Puerto Rican enclave displaced in the 1960s by Carl Sandburg Village. In 1929, Harvey Warren Zorbaugh wrote …

Thumbnail for Windy City Nikkei: Bite-sized glimpses of Japanese American Chicago
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Windy City Nikkei: Bite-sized glimpses of Japanese American Chicago

May 21, 2019 • Erik Matsunaga

With a family of six and a full-time job, researching and writing full-length articles about family and community was becoming exceedingly difficult. However, the thirst to research our Chicago Nikkei community's past and present had not fizzled, as I feel it important to leave these stories for my kids, the Gosei generation, so they know how the greater community's history intersects with that of our post-WWII resettled family. These stories are the whys and hows of our existence. Instagram, a …

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Jamie Dihiansan and Chicago Graffiti

Jan. 23, 2018 • Erik Matsunaga

The first time you hit a real wall, not a practice spot, you get this rush. Like, “I shouldn’t be doing this.” Especially when you’re running along the El tracks and there’s the third rail, a train might be coming, and you gotta jump onto a roof. It’s a thrill, and even more thrilling when you paint something and get to see it from the train the next day. – Jamie Dihiansan, aka MENS In 1990s Chicago, graffiti was an …

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Nikkei Uncovered: a poetry column
Place / Location

Nov. 16, 2017 • Erik Matsunaga , traci kato-kiriyama

This month, we feature just one writer and a beloved one to the Discover Nikkei space at that—Chicago native, Erik Matsunaga. Erik’s piece is a simple moment between old childhood pals and one that sets an image of “home” or places of significance that are, at once, transient and meaningful…enjoy. —traci kato-kiriyama * * * * * Erik Matsunaga is a Chicago-born fourth generation Nikkei American of Japanese and German descent. In addition to regular contributions to Discover Nikkei, his …

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The Story Behind that YELLOW BROTHERHOOD Shirt

Sept. 19, 2017 • Erik Matsunaga

In the late 1960s, a group of Los Angeles Japanese American ex-gang members, many at the time either fresh out of correctional facilities or the military, came together to save a generation. They called themselves the Yellow Brotherhood, and organized to get at-risk Asian American youth off drugs and out of gangs. They were particularly active in the early 1970s as a direct result of thirty-some Japanese American youth deaths in one year by drug overdose in the Los Angeles …

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Chicago's Sansei Yonsei Athletic Association Basketball Clinic

Feb. 15, 2017 • Erik Matsunaga

Prior to WWII, there were roughly four hundred persons of Japanese ancestry living in Chicago. By 1945, there were twenty thousand, the majority of whom were ex-West Coast Japanese Americans resettled from various WWII U.S. War Relocation Authority concentration camps. Many were Nisei (American-born children of Japanese immigrants) in their teens and early twenties with a lot of steam to burn, and so in 1946 the Chicago Nisei Athletic Association (CNAA) was formed as a competitive and social outlet with …

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