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Nanka Nikkei Voices

Oct. 26, 2010 - March 15, 2016

Nanka Nikkei Voices (NNV) is a publication of the Japanese American Historical Society of Southern California. Nanka means “Southern California.” Nikkei means Japanese American(s).”  The focus of NNV is to record the stories of the Japanese American Community in Southern California through the “voices” of average Japanese Americans and others who have a strong connection to our history and cultural heritage.

This series introduce various stories from the past 4 issues of Nanka Nikkei Voices.

California communities Japanese American Historical Society of Southern California Nanaka Nikkei Voices (series) Nikkei publications Southern California

Stories from this series

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The Alan Hotel

March 15, 2016 • Naomi Hirahara

For journalists, there are stories, perhaps only a handful, that never leave you. That’s the way I feel about the Alan Hotel in Little Tokyo. It was almost a lifetime away, in 1986, when I was a foot soldier, or more officially a reporter, for The Rafu Shimpo Japanese American daily newspaper. I wore my long hair wild in perm, with bangs cut short so I could see. Seeing was important for a reporter—and what I was about to witness …

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The Elevator Encounter

Oct. 8, 2015 • Ellen Endo

About a year ago, a friend and I were boarding an elevator in a downtown high-rise. I pushed the button for the fifth floor. My friend wanted to know how The Rafu Shimpo manages to gather the student’s names for it graduation issue every year. “It’s getting harder and harder every year,” I admitted. “School officials don’t always want to give us the names of students of Japanese ancestry.” A man, who was already standing in the elevator, overheard us …

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June 19, 2015 • Iku Kiriyama

For Japanese Americans of my generation (second generation Nisei over 60), the source of our moral and cultural values is both clear and easily defined. Our moral and cultural values spring from the Japanese cultural heritage of our parents and grandparents. If a group of Nisei, unacquainted with each other, were to gather in a room and a discussion arose about our childhood days, you would find an instant bond as the sharing of stories showed common stories of Issei …

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June 10, 2015 • Martha Nakagawa

Akio “Lawrence” Nakagawa, a Kibei from the Sacramento Delta region, was interned at the Topaz, Utah camp. Answering the loyalty question “No-No,” he was transferred to Tule Lake, California, where he remained until the war ended, leaving in September of 1945. When he was released from Tule Lake, he decided to head towards the Midwest to Minneapolis, Minnesota. There, he enrolled himself at the North Central Bible School, a school he had heard about through an Oakland-based Caucasian minister whom …

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Earlier Generations

May 6, 2015 • Brian Niiya

One of the things I have finally learned is that there are late people and early people. There are late families and early families. And there are late generations and early generations. I come from an early family. My parents would habitually show up everywhere half-an-hour early. I learned early on that if we were going to pick someone up at the airport, for example, there was going to be at least a 30-minute wait if the plane was on …

Thumbnail for The Okazaki-Kuida Resettlement
The Okazaki-Kuida Resettlement

April 20, 2015 • Jenni “Emiko” Kuida

Both of my parents were young children when E.O. 9066 was signed. My mom, Machiko Okazaki, lived in four places from the ages of four to seven years old. Santa Anita Race Track. Heart Mountain, Wyoming. Crystal City, Texas. Seabrook Farms, New Jersey. My grandfather, Masashi Bancho Okazaki, a Tenrikyo minister, had been separated from the family because of his occupation as a minister. He was reunited with my grandma and her five children in Crystal City in 1944. Their …

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Authors in This Series

Ellen Endo is a journalist whose professional experience includes a 20-year association with The Rafu Shimpo as well as senior level positions in the television and motion picture industry. She currently serves President of the Little Tokyo Business Association and provides communications, writing, and media relations through her own business, Hapa Consulting Services. Born in Livorno, Italy, Ms. Endo is bicultural. Her mother is from Milan, Italy, and her father’s family is from Shizuoka, Japan.

Updated September 2015

John Esaki is the Director of the Japanese American National Museum’s Frank H. Watase Media Arts Center. His work includes: Director of Maceo: Demon Drummer from East L.A.; Harsh Canvas: Artist Henry Sugimoto; Top of their Game (a work about JA athletes); Words, Weavings and Songs (profiles of Wakako Yamauchi, Momo Nagano, Mary Kageyama Nomura); Stand Up for Justice: The Ralph Lazo Story; and Co-producer of Crossroads: Boyle Heights; 9066 to 9/11; BIG DRUM: Taiko in the U.S.; Beyond the Japanese Garden; Barbara Kawakami: A Textured Life; Drawing the Line: Japanese American Art, Design and Activism in Post-War L.A. Mr. Esaki received a BA in English and a teaching credential from UC Berkeley, and he has taught at Carmel Middle School as well as a Community Documentation and Ethno-Communications course at UCLA. Mr. Esaki has a MFA from UCLA and was a post-doctoral Fellow in Asian American studies at UCLA.

Updated May 2014 

Ike Hatchimonji is a retired United States foreign service officer who has worked with the U.S. embassies in Vietnam, Nicaragua, and Zaire, as well as in Washington D.C. in the Agency for International Development. He has been a Volunteer Docent at the Japanese American National Museum for 16 years. His wife Ruth and he have three children and six grandchildren.

Updated February 2008

Naomi Hirahara is the author of the Edgar Award-winning Mas Arai mystery series, which features a Kibei Nisei gardener and atomic-bomb survivor who solves crimes, Officer Ellie Rush series, and now the new Leilani Santiago mysteries. A former editor of The Rafu Shimpo, she has written a number of nonfiction books on the Japanese American experience and several 12-part serials for Discover Nikkei.

Updated October 2019

Harry Honda was a native Angeleño, born in 1919, and graduated from Maryknoll School in 1932. Harry's long career in Nikkei journalism began in 1936 with the Rafu Shimpo in Los Angles and a year at Nichibei Shimbun in San Francisco. He served in the Army during World War II all stateside, graduated in political science from Loyola University in 1950, then edited the Pacific Citizen, JACL's weekly publication, for 50 years, retiring in 2002. He passed away in July 2013 at age 93.

Updated July 2013

Lloyd Inui is currently enjoying retirement as retired professor, Department of Asian and Asian American Studies, California State University, Long Beach; and part-time advisor at Japanese American National Museum.  

Updated March 2015

Amy E Kato met her husband, John Esaki, in Little Tokyo while working at Visual Communications on the filming of HITO HATA: Raise the Banner, the first narrative feature film about Japanese Americans produced entirely by Asian Pacific Americans (1981). Discovering a common commitment to community media, they combined their complementary skills in production on the documentary Yuki Shimoda: Asian American Actor(1985) and on Maceo: Demon Drummer from East L.A. (1993), a Chicano taiko drummer’s odyssey broadcast on KCET-28 and in WGBH-Boston’s national PBS series, La Plaza. In 2004 they teamed to produce Stand Up For Justice, based on the true story of Ralph Lazo, a Latino high school student who chose to live with his Nisei friends at Manzanar concentration camp during WW II.

In 2003 Amy and John were married at the Japanese Garden of the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, and celebrated their reception as part of Past/Forward, Visual Communications' gala annual fundraiser. In 2008 Amy left her position as Operations Manager at VC and presently is a caregiver to her elderly Issei parents. In the summer of 2013, to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of Linda Mabalot's passing, Amy&mdsh;along with the Friends of Linda Mabalot, an ad hoc committee&mdsh;helped to organized a community potluck. Friends and colleagues came from all parts of the country to celebrate Linda’s life and memory with music, food and friendship.

Updated May 2014 

George Kiriyama was a longtime LAUSD educator. He served on the LA School Board in 1995. He founded the Japanese American Historical Society of Southern California; he also served on many boards. George passed away in August 2005.

Updated April 2015

Retired LAUSD educator. Community volunteer. Iku does various presentations and programs. (Photo courtesy of Densho)

Updated January 2015  

Brian Kito is the third generation owner of the Fugetsu-do family business.  Preserving his cultural heritage through the preservation of Little Tokyo is another passion.  In the interest of public safety in Little Tokyo, Brian was one of the founders of the Little Tokyo Public Safety Association.

Updated 2004

Chris Komai is a freelance writer, who has been involved in Little Tokyo for more than four decades. He was the Public Information Officer of the Japanese American National Museum for over 21 years, where he handled public relations for the organization’s special events, exhibitions and public programs. Prior to that, Komai worked for the Japanese-English newspaper, The Rafu Shimpo, for 18 years as a sports writer, sports editor, and English editor. He still contributes articles to the newspaper and writes for Discover Nikkei on a variety of topics.

Komai was Past Board Chair for the Little Tokyo Community Council and is currently First Vice Chair. He also serves on the Little Tokyo Public Safety Association board. He has been a member of the Southern California Nisei Athletic Union Board of Directors for basketball and baseball for almost 40 years and sits on the Board of the Nikkei Basketball Heritage Association. Komai earned a B.A. degree in English from the University of California at Riverside.

Updated December 2019

Jenni “Emiko” Kuida co-authored the original “101 Ways to Tell if You Are Japanese American” with Tony Osumi. She is currently Grants Manager at Koreatown Youth and Community Center and board member of Japanese American Community Services and Venice Youth Council. Her hobbies include gardening, going to obons, and playing Pokemon Go.

Updated August 2017

Marie Masumoto is an independent researcher of Japanese American history and volunteers for the Hirasaki National Resource Center in the Japanese American National Museum. Marie also volunteers for the Manzanar National Historic Site and excavated eight archeological gardens built during WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans and volunteers for the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage conducting tours of the gardens. She has contributed three articles about detention centers to the online Densho Encyclopedia. 

Updated February 2014

Martha Nakagawa has worked in the Asian American press for the past two decades, and has been on staff with Asian Week, the Rafu Shimpo, and the Pacific Citizen. She frequently contributes to the Nikkei West, Hawaii Herald, Nichi Bei Times, and the Hokubei Mainichi. She passed away in July 2023 at the age of 56.

Updated August 2023

Brian Niiya is a public historian specializing in Japanese American history. Currently the content director for Densho and editor of the online Densho Encyclopedia, he has also held various positions with the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, the Japanese American National Museum, and the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i that have involved managing collections, curating exhibitions, and developing public programs, and producing videos, books, and websites. His writings have been published in a wide range of academic, popular, and web-based publications, and he is frequently asked to give presentations or interviews on the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. A "Spoiled Sansei" born and raised in Los Angeles to Nisei parents from Hawai'i, he lived in Hawai'i for over twenty years before returning to Los Angeles in 2017 where he is currently based.

Updated May 2020

Roy Y. Sakamoto is a Nisei who was born after World War II, growing up on a strawberry farm in San Jose, CA, and later helping his father with his gardening route. A retired division financial manager with the U.S. Air Force, Roy is a tour docent volunteer with the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles's Little Tokyo. He is also president of the Japanese American Historical Society of Southern California. The Tule Lake pilgrimage was very meaningful to him because Roy's whole family spent almost four years incarcerated at the Gila River and Tule Lake concentration camps during the war.

Updated August 2012

Bill Watanabe is the founding Executive Director of the Little Tokyo Service Center. Since 1980 he has guided its growth, in conjunction with the Board of Directors, from a one-person staff to a multi-faceted social services and community development program with 150 paid staff, many of whom are bilingual in any of eight Asian Pacific languages and Spanish.

Bill received his Masters in Social Welfare from UCLA in 1972. He has been married for 36 years, and has one daughter, and lives near downtown Los Angeles, only a short drive to his ethnic neighborhood of Little Tokyo.

Updated Janurary 2015

Sharon Yamato is a writer and filmmaker in Los Angeles who has produced and directed several films on the Japanese American incarceration, including Out of Infamy, A Flicker in Eternity, and Moving Walls, for which she wrote a book by the same title. She served as creative consultant on A Life in Pieces, an award-winning virtual reality project, and is currently working on a documentary on attorney and civil rights leader Wayne M. Collins. As a writer, she co-wrote Jive Bomber: A Sentimental Journey, a memoir of Japanese American National Museum founder Bruce T. Kaji, has written articles for the Los Angeles Times, and is currently a columnist for The Rafu Shimpo. She has served as a consultant for the Japanese American National Museum, Go For Broke National Education Center, and has conducted oral history interviews for Densho in Seattle. She graduated from UCLA with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English.

Updated March 2023

Wakako Yamauchi was born in Westmoreland, California, in 1924, where her family farmed in nearby Brawley in the Imperial Valley. During World War II she was incarcerated in the concentration camp at Poston, Arizona. She worked as an artist for the camp newspaper, the Poston Chronicle. She began her career as a playwright in 1977 when she was encouraged by Mako, the artistic director of East/West Players Theater, to adapt her short story “And the Soul Shall Dance” for the stage. She passed away in August 2018 at age 93.

Updated August 2018

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