Discover Nikkei

Voices of Chicago

Sept. 1, 2005 - Aug. 1, 2012

The articles in this series were originally published in Voices of Chicago, the online journal of the Chicago Japanese American Historical Society, which has been a Discover Nikkei Participating Organization since December 2004.

Voices of Chicago is a collection of first-person narratives about the experiences of people of Japanese descent living in Chicago. The community is composed of three waves of immigration, and their descendants: The first, about 300 people, came to Chicago around the time of the Columbian Exposition in 1899. The second, and largest, group is descended from 30,000 who came to Chicago directly from the internment camps after World War II. Called the “ReSettlers,” they created a community built around social service organizations, Buddhist and Christian churches and small businesses. The third, more recent, group are Japanese nationals who came to Chicago, beginning in the 1980s, as artists and students and remained. A fourth, non-immigrant, group are Japanese business executives and their families who live in Chicago for extended periods, sometimes permanently.

Chicago has always been a place where people can re-create themselves, and where diverse ethnic communities live and work together. Voices of Chicago tells the stories of members of each of these four groups, and how they fit into the mosaic of a great city.

Visit the Chicago Japanese American Historical Society website >>


Stories from this series

Thumbnail for Manzanar: A Son's Journey - Part 3
Manzanar: A Son's Journey - Part 3

Aug. 1, 2012 • Keith Uchima

Read Part 2 >> Breathless and exhausted from the hot desert sun, jet lag and bus ride, I now believe that I was running only on fumes. At the ceremonies end, Pilgrims of all faiths gathered around the large white memorial stone obelisk. Quiet and somber, priests and pastors take their turns giving service, and then my memory is rocked by the unmistakable sound of a Buddhist Priest chanting and the scent of burning incense. I am thrown back into my …

Thumbnail for Manzanar: A Son's Journey - Part 2
Manzanar: A Son's Journey - Part 2

July 25, 2012 • Keith Uchima

Read Part 1 >> Fast forward. April 28, 6 a.m. In the darkness of the L.A. morning I walk to the bus staging area at St. Francis Xavier Church. Body tired from the flight and time change, I chastise my pitiful self and think of the L.A. Times photo from 1942, which depicts the very same parking lot jam-packed with families and luggage. Bewildered, they have no idea what is in store for them or their children as armed soldiers look …

Thumbnail for Manzanar: A Son's Journey - Part 1
Manzanar: A Son's Journey - Part 1

July 18, 2012 • Keith Uchima

Please understand…I didn’t want to go to see Manzanar. I NEEDED to go there. Over the years, whenever I had vacation days available, I would always think of visiting Manzanar, one of the ten concentration camps in the U.S. where nearly 120,000 people, mostly Americans of Japanese descent were racially profiled and imprisoned in 1942, but somehow, it just didn’t seem like a nice getaway from the stresses of everyday Chicago living. I’m pretty certain most descendants of ex-internees feel …

Thumbnail for Welcome to the Writers Workshop
Welcome to the Writers Workshop

Dec. 14, 2011 • Erik Matsunaga

The Undeniables writers workshop was formed in 1999, inspired by a chapter from the novel VALLEY (Bend Press, 1998), by Mike Daily. Edren Sumagaysay and I had met the previous year in a touring theatre troupe based in Los Angeles, and got to talking about a mutual passion for writing while holed up between shows in a Maryland motel. We had both recently read Mike Daily’s then newly released novel, and wanted to host a writers workshop of our own. …

Thumbnail for How Marrow Unites a Community:  Chris Ishida’s Search & Discovery
How Marrow Unites a Community: Chris Ishida’s Search & Discovery

March 8, 2011 • Chris Ishida

For a majority of my life I have felt a little left out of the Japanese American community. This is despite the fact that my family incorporated both my mother’s American/Italian traditions and my father’s Japanese traditions. My dad was born and raised in Japan and moved to Chicago as a young man in 1971. As a child, I watched Japanese tapes of An Pan Man, called grapes “budou” and even attended a Japanese Buddhist temple in downtown Chicago. However, …

Thumbnail for Do You Know Kung Fu? - Part 2
Do You Know Kung Fu? - Part 2

Jan. 12, 2011 • Larry Wiley

>> Part 1The summer after 4th grade, 1971, it was somehow decided that my older sister, my younger brother and I would become members of the local YMCA. We all took up swimming and judo. I really wanted to do Karate (in those days I don’t think there was any other martial art besides Judo and Karate) but those classes did not start until 8:00 pm. My grandfather dutifully walked us to and from the “Y”. I was not a …

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Authors in This Series

The Chicago Japanese American Historical Society is a grassroots organization founded in the early 1990s. Our mission is to preserve, promote and present the history of Japanese Americans in the Chicagoland area. We have been documenting our history and legacy in Chicago, educating the general public about the Japanese American and Japanese experience and culture, and developing teaching materials and museum exhibits which feature aspects of Japanese American History.

Updated April 2010

Board Member of Chicago Japanese American Historical Society.

Updated June 2005

Yutaka Fujita was born in Tokyo, and studied design in the Chicago area. He continues to work in Chicago, with his wife, Stacy. Together they create custom clothing, film costumes, and advertising design, and he continues to paint his delightful animal creatures.

Updated June 2009

Masaru Funai is one of the founders of the firm. Mr. Funai concentrates his practice on advising Japanese enterprises entering the U.S. market on all phases of business commencement, including formation of subsidiary companies, acquisition of existing U.S. business organizations, formation of joint ventures with U.S. companies and establishing distributorships and other sales networks. He has been involved in the formation of various joint ventures in the United States, Japan, the Philippines and Europe for the manufacture, sale and distribution of automotive parts and machine tools, as well as products and services related to the automotive industry. Mr. Funai currently serves as an advisor or on the board of directors of numerous privately held companies.

Mr. Funai is legal advisor to the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Chicago, an organization comprised of more than 400 Japanese businesses. He is also legal counsel to the Consulate General of Japan in Chicago. In 2001, Mr. Funai was honored with The Fourth Class of the Order of the Sacred Treasure by the country of Japan.

Updated December 2009


Jean Ikezoe-Halevi is a Chicago area journalist.  She was the first Japanese American to be a reporter, producer and anchor on a local independent television station, WGBO-TV, from 1981-1994.  She also hosted a public affairs show on WCPX-TV.  A graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she lives with her family in the suburbs.

Updated September 2009.

Kyoko Inoue is a Professor Emerita at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research interests in the past twenty years have focused on the intellectual history of modern Japan and comparative American and Japanese cultures. She has published MacArthur's Japanese Constitution: A Linguistic And Cultural Study Of Its Making (1991), which was named an outstanding academic book by Choice, and Individual Dignity In Modern Japanese Thought: The Evolution Of The Concept Of Jinkaku In Moral And Educational Discourse (2001). She teaches courses in two distinct areas: theoretical linguistics, focusing on English syntax-semantics, and comparative studies of American and Japanese cultures and histories; she is now developing a course in comparative cultures and literatures, focusing on modern Japanese and Japanese American literatures.

More information about Kyoko Inoue's publications:

Updated October 2010 


Chris Ishida is a 19-year-old freshman enrolled at Pitzer College in Claremont, CA. Currently, he is on medical leave due to being diagnosed with Severe Aplastic Anemia in January 2011. This native of Glenview, IL is seeking a donor who matches his bone marrow. Chris intends to return to college as soon as his bone marrow is productive.

Updated March 2, 2011

Called “compelling to behold” by Jack Anderson of the New York Times, Ayako Kato is a dancer and choreographer who hails from Yokohama, Japan, currently living in Chicago. She established Art Union Humanscape (AUH) with a double bassist Jason Roebke in 1998. Kato performs extensively in the U.S., Japan and Europe. Her works has been presented at Dance Theater Workshop, NYC; Joyce Soho, NYC; Die Pratze Dance Festival, Tokyo; Musée d'Art moderne et contemporain, Strasbourg, France; The Other Dance Festival, Chicago and other festivals and venues. In 2007, Kato has received the Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist Award 2007 and Crosscut sound and movement grant by Experimental Sound Studio and Links Hall as AUH with Josh Berman (cornet). Her works also have supported by Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and Japan Foundation. In 2009, her recent video collaboration, Maria's List, with film maker Masahiro Sugano has featured at WTTW Image Union and she was also selected for "People to Watch" in dance in Chicago Reader's Fall Arts Preview. Having classical ballet background in Japan, Kato started to receive her modern dance training since 1996 in the United States and received MFA in dance from the University of Michigan in 1998. Kato has also trained herself in Tai-Chi, Noh Theater dance, and butoh. Kato's experimental dance aims at unfolding space of furyu (wind flow), being as it is.
Visit Ayako's website: Art Union Humanscape

Updated April 2010

Masaru Kato is an energy healer and a spiritual teacher, offering transformational workshops throughout the year. You can reach him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .  Please check his web site at:

Updated January 2010

Natalie Ume Liverant, a third generation Japanese American, received her bachelors of arts degree in Anthropology from the University of Illinois in 2007. She currently works for the University's non-profit company, the Public Service Archaeology and Architecture Program, as a field and lab technician. Natalie started judo when she was eight years old and currently holds the rank of shodan (first degree blackbelt). She currently resides in Schaumburg, IL with her mother and sister.

Updated July 2008

Formerly of Chicago, Alec Yoshio MacDonald is a writer and editor living in Oakland, California. His work has appeared in the Nichi Bei Times, Hyphen magazine, Nikkei Heritage, Pacific Citizen, and the Chicago Shimpo.

Updated February 2006

Sachiko Masuoka was born in Hiroshima. She survived the atomic blast. In 1962, she came to the US through an arranged marriage with a Nisei Japanese American. She moved to Chicago, where he had settled after being released from the Topaz internment camp. They have two children.
She is a member of Soyokaze Chorus group and Chicago Hiroshima Kenjinkai.  She is know in Chicago for her Fukashi manju.  Each one is identical in size because she meticulously measures each an before  placing it in the center of a piece of dough and shaping it into a ball. She made 1000 for a New Years Party in 2009.

Updated June 2010

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

Alice Murata is professor in the Department of Counselor Education at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago and is co-founder of the Chicago Japanese American Historical Society.

Updated February 2006

Dwight Okita's novel THE PROSPECT OF MY ARRIVAL made it to the top 3 out of 5,000 books competing for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in 2008. His stage plays were selected to be part of the HBO New Writers Showcase in which works were performed live for industry professionals. 25 writers were asked to participate out of 2,700 who submitted.

Dwight's publications include the acclaimed poetry book Crossing with the Light (Tia Chucha Press), and the stage play "The Rainy Season" in the anthology Asian American Drama (Applause). His poems have been widely published in many anthologies and textbooks. Among them: Unsettling America (Penguin), The Norton Introduction to Literature , and the Smithsonian's Celebrate America .  He was profiled in Lives of Notable Asian Americans in Literature and Education (Chelsea House) and Yellow Light: The Flowering of Asian American Arts (Temple University).  The author has also appeared on the Chicago affiliate of NPR reading his personal essays on the radio. Please feel free to visit and leave a message for Dwight!

Updated December 2009

Dean Raffaelli is a family physician practicing in Chicago and is president of the Chado Urasenke Tankokai Chicago Association.

Updated September 2006

Masahiro Sugano received his MFA from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a BA from California State University, Northridge. He joined the department's part-time faculty in Fall 2007 to teach Advanced Video Editing and Communication Practices.

Sugano is an accomplished director/filmmaker whose work has appeared at the Sundance Film Festival, the Ann Arbor Film Festival, and Asian American Film Festivals.

His film, Second Moon, appeared at Chicago's Gene Siskel film center in 2006. Described as having a Tarantino-esque flare, Second Moon is the story of a gentleman named Q, who works as an agent for an organization called "Art of Love." The organization is responsible for facilitating torrid affairs between men and women who desire to leave their husbands.

When he is not writing, directing, or teaching, Masahiro enjoys road trips to the Pacific Coast, tiramisu, and the novels of author Osamu Dazai.

When asked of his teaching philosophy, Masahiro replied, "No knowledge is absolute."

* Excerpt from the website of Loyola University, where he is part-time faculty in the School of Communication (

Updated July 2009

Nicole Sumida is co-founder and former publisher of riksha, a magazine dedicated to promoting artistic and literary works by and about Asian Americans.

Updated in March 2007

George Suyeoka was drafted into the Military Intelligence Service, based on his Japanese language skills. He served in Tokyo, Hokkaido and Ishikawa. Afterwards he decided to pursue an art career and came to Chicago to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He worked as a commercial artist for major corporations and advertising agencies, and as a fine artist. He is prolific illustrator of children's books, and of several books on Japanese folk tales. His latest work is a series of bronze drinking fountains with animal motifs in the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.

Updated June 2007

Irene Suyeoka is a noted weaver and artist in Chicago. She is a member of the Alumni Association of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Textile Arts Centre, American Craft, the Hand Weaver's Guild of America, the North Shore Weavers' Guild, and the Marli Guild. She continues to create and weave, and she teaches design and weaving classes.

Updated July 2008

Shiho Toyonaga, a native of Japan, has been performing the viola with orchestras in Chicago area. She is the assistant principal violist of the Northwest Indiana Symphony and her chamber music performances have been broadcasted live on WFMT. She is currently on the faculty of North Park University in Chicago and holds a Master’s degree in viola performance from the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University.

Updated April 2009

Keith Uchima is a writer, producer and performer in the entertainment industry.  He is also a Graduate Gemologist, G.I.A. specializing in purchasing fine jewelry, watches and coins. He can be contacted at

Updated July 2012.

Larry Wiley is a Sansei hapa born and raised on the Chicago’s south side. A longtime judo practitioner, he helped found the largest Judo Dojo East of the Mississippi River and has won seven national medals in the “over 30” masters competitions including three gold medals. Working in the construction industry for the past 25 years, he has received several accolades for numerous projects including “2006 Best New Construction under $10 Million” by the Chicago Building Congress for a new Montessori school. Larry is currently managing an 18 month Historical Renovation of the Ludwig  Mies van der Rohe designed Federal Center in Downtown Chicago. A divorced father of three, he has lived on the city’s north side since 1985, a White Sox fan adrift in a sea of Cub mania.

Updated December 2010

Bill Yoshino is a Chicago based civil rights activist. He is currently the Midwest Director of the Japanese American Citizens League.

Updated April 2007