2021 Nima of the Month

Nima are members of our Discover Nikkei Nima-kai community. Our Nima of the Month are some of our most active participants. Learn more about them and what they like about Discover Nikkei.

January 2021

erikmatsu (Chicago, Illinois, United States)

Erik Matsunaga is a Hapa Yonsei whose family originally settled in California, but resettled in Chicago after World War II. He has shared stories about his family, projects to map historic Japanese American neighborhoods in Chicago, Nikkei martial artists, and other articles about the Chicago community. He curates @windycitynikkei—“Bite-sized Glimpses of Japanese American Chicago”—on Instagram.

Erik was recently featured in the second episode of Nima Voices and previously selected as Nima of the Month in January 2014.

Why do you feel it’s important to document the history and stories of Japanese Americans in Chicago? Are you working on any more Chicago Nikkei projects?

The Chicago Nikkei community is geographically dispersed and institutionally waning. My interest lies in leaving documentation behind for my children to know their place within this unique history. I mostly write about things I want to know, things that I haven’t read or seen anywhere else. Currently I am working on a map of the Uptown/Edgewater settlement from the 1940s to the 1970s.

What is the most meaningful thing that has happened as a result of your connection to Discover Nikkei?

So many! Having made new connections within the Chicago community; former Chicagoans having been inspired to send in their stories in after having long since moved elsewhere; being invited to speak on a Chicago NPR affiliate’s radio segment about local extinct Nikkei neighborhoods; collaborating on Chicago’s first historic Lakeview Japantown walking tour; speaking at the renown Newberry Library about postwar resettlement patterns in Chicago; and being interviewed on a YouTube live session by the one and only Naomi Hirahara! All of these are the result of DN’s openness in sharing stories.

How did you like being our featured guest on the Nima Voices episode?

It was a bit nerve wracking being live and recorded, but fun! The DN team really made everything seamless with excellent prep and advice on what to expect. Thanks Vicky, Yoko & Joy for the opportunity, and to Naomi for gently keeping me on topic as I rambled on and on and on. Although unable to catch them while remaining focused at the same time, I appreciated all the live stream comments and shout-outs by the viewers.

Read his stories >>

Watch Nima Voices: Episode 2 >>

February 2021

ctrooks (California, United States)

Curtiss Takada Rooks is a 1.5 generation Nikkei, born in Japan to a Japanese mother and African American father and shares life experiences with Sansei. He is Program Coordinator of Asian Pacific American Studies and Assistant Professor at Loyola Marymount University whose research addresses ethnic and multiracial community and identity. He serves on the US Japan Council Board of Directors and Japan America Society of Southern California’s Board of Governors.

Curtiss was the principal investigator of The Nippon Foundation/JANM Global Nikkei Young Adult Research Project (2020), and will be presenting the research findings at the “What Does It Mean to Be Nikkei in 2021?” event. He was previously a panelist on Discover Nikkei’s 2008 program, “Revelations & Resilience: Exploring the Realities of Hapa-ness.”

Curtiss has also shared some essays on Discover Nikkei about being mixed race, and most recently a poem written with his daughter for the Nikkei Uncovered poetry column.

What do you like about Discover Nikkei?

I love that DN connects me with Nikkei young and old, in the US and around the globe. Through the stories of family and community I find myself feeling connected to a truly global Nikkei community. As an academic I find the oral histories, stories, and articles enlightening. Yet, I most enjoy the creative writing and in particular the poetry in Nikkei Uncovered. The mastery of images, symbols, and power of language touch me deeply. Through these creative works I am able to feel the ways in which the writers live their lives and through them understand better my own experiences.

Read his stories >>

March 2021

JaneShoharaMatsumoto (California, United States)

Jane Shohara Matsumoto is currently the Culinary Cultural Arts Program Curator at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACCC) in Los Angeles. Her passion is in food—its history, science, and the preparation of many different types of cuisnes, especially Japanese foods. When she is not working, she is buried in food blogs, cookbooks, or simply cooking in her kitchen.

Jane first contributed to Discover Nikkei as part of our Nima-kai Oshogatsu Traditions photo activity, which led to an article about how she and her family adapted their New Year’s traditions due to the pandemic. She enjoyed it so much that she reached out to Discover Nikkei to partner with the JACCC on the Hinamatsuri photo activity. We look forward to sharing more of her stories and photos in the future!

What do you like about Discover Nikkei?

I love Discover Nikkei because it always has a “human interest” element that makes the topics and themes friendly and very engaging, weaving stories and topics that are special to our community. Discover Nikkei adds a personal, one-on-one dimension to our past and present history in a relatable, relevant way to preserve and archive our legacy.

The Japanese diaspora started over 150 years ago when massive immigration to Hawai‘i, Brazil, and the United States occurred due to economic and political changes in Japan. In the United States, the West Coast Japanese Americans were further scattered into the most remote corners of America due to the incarceration of our community during WWII. We have learned similar stories of such history that occurred in South America. I deeply appreciate that Discover Nikkei has served as our anchor and a haven where these histories and personal stories that are now three, four, and five generations deep are unearthed, retrieved, shared, and preserved in perpetuity for future generations to understand and enjoy.

Discover Nikkei gives all of us with Japanese heritage a place where our global experiences are shared. It is said that with technology the “world is flat”—we can communicate with each other across all continents very seamlessly and I love that Discover Nikkei is the rich repository to engage us as a world-wide community with each other.

Read her story >>

April 2021

mamagaii (Tōkyō, Japan)

Mikiko Hatch-Amagai was born in Tokyo, but studied abroad in Paris, and has lived in Seattle, WA, where she was the Managing Editor for the North American Post from 2001–2005. She returned to Tokyo in 2020 after 44 years in Seattle.

While working for the North American Post, she interviewed many Seattle Nisei veterans. Her articles were published in both English and Japanese.

[EN]
What do you like about Discover Nikkei?

Discover Nikkei is a valuable source of media which informs people of the history of the Japanese who emigrated to America. I’m happy to see even a part of Nikkei history in Seattle included in the content. I still remember the words of a veteran who joined the military from the concentration camp during the war. “No-no boys and us, we both fought for our rights as Americans. We fought in different ways. I don’t want you to forget that the freedom you enjoy in your everyday life now is built on our hard work.”

Read her stories >>

[JA]
Q. ディスカバーニッケイの好きなところは何ですか?

ディスカバーニッケイはアメリカに渡った日本人の歴史を知る上で貴重なメディアです。そこに少しでもシアトルの日系人の話を入れていただいて嬉しいです。戦時中に収容所に入れられ、そこから入隊した退役軍人の言葉が忘れられません。「僕たちも、No No ボーイもアメリカ人としての権利のために戦ったんだ。違ったやり方でね。僕たちが頑張ったから君たちが今自由な生活ができるということ、忘れないで欲しいね」。


ストーリーを読む >>

May 2021

lasansei (California, United States)

Amy Uyematsu is a Sansei poet from Los Angeles. She has five published poetry collections with her latest manuscript, That Blue Trickster Time, due out in 2022. Amy co-edited the widely-used UCLA anthology, Roots: An Asian American Reader. A former public high school math teacher, she currently leads a writing workshop for the Far East Lounge in Little Tokyo.

She contributed poems for the very first Nikkei Uncovered poetry column in December 2016, and has since been included in two more editions. She will be participating in the second annual Nikkei Uncovered poetry reading on May 13 (for details).

What do you like about Discover Nikkei?

Discover Nikkei is a valuable resource for connecting Nikkei throughout the Americas and around the globe. As a Sansei from LA, I especially enjoy reading the stories of Nikkei, both past and present. It’s fascinating to see how diverse and rich our Nikkei community is.

I was fortunate to be able to interview Nisei Frank Kikuchi in 2017. He was a DJ at Manzanar and shared some wonderful memories of Nisei dances in camp. Discover Nikkei included the interview in 2020. Recently I learned that this website began back in 2005—so great that it’s flourishing and going into its 16th year.

You have now contributed to three Nikkei Uncovered poetry columns. What have you enjoyed about sharing your poetry through Discover Nikkei?

My own introduction to Discover Nikkei was through the Nikkei Uncovered poetry column in 2016. I had the honor of being featured with Nisei poet Hiroshi Kashiwagi. I’ve enjoyed learning about other Nikkei poets and reading their poems. Poetry is such a key part of Japanese culture and an art form which many Nikkei have continued, whether in English, Spanish, Portuguese. traci kato-kiriyama, who curates the column, is helping to share Nikkei poetry across generations and continents.

Read her poems and stories >>

June 2021

discovernikkei2021511 (Ontario, Canada)

Yusuke Tanaka immigrated from Japan to Canada in 1986. He is a freelance writer for the Japanese media, a regular columnist for Vancouver-based JCCA Bulletin and Fraser Journal, a former Japanese editor of the Nikkei Voice, and co-founder of the Katari Japanese Storytellers. He has also lectured on Nikkei history at various universities in Japan. Horonigai Shori, his translation of Bittersweet Passage by Maryka Omatsu, was awarded the 4th Canadian Prime Minister Award for Publishing in 1993.

Yusuke has been sharing articles about the Japanese Canadian community on Discover Nikkei in both English and Japanese since March 2020. He also served on last year’s editorial committee for Nikkei Chronicles #9—More Than a Game: Nikkei Sports.

[EN]
What do you like about Discover Nikkei?

What makes Discover Nikkei unique and the most special among many Nikkei media is that you publish articles in four languages: Japanese, English, Spanish, and Portuguese. Most of the Nikkei people in the world, including the Nikkei descendants in Asian countries, do not know that the descendants of Japanese overseas are so dispersed. If you visit JICA’s Japanese Overseas Migration Museum (海外移住資料館) in Yokohama, you can find some information in JA, EN, and PT.

I had attended PANA’s COPANI twice in the past as the editor of a Japanese Canadian community newspaper, and I was overwhelmed by the differences and the similarities. It was such fun to mingle with other Nikkeis singing Japanese songs together in karaoke and dancing bon odori together. At the same time, learning the differences of their histories of pre-war and post-war periods stimulated my interest so much; some of them were as poignant as that of Japanese Canadians. I hope that the Japanese people in our homeland will read Discover Nikkei more attentively and will recognize the presence of the world of Nikkei.

Read his stories >>

[JA]
Q. ディスカバーニッケイの好きなところは何ですか?

ディスカバー日系を多くの日系メディアの中でもっとも特別でユニークなものにしているのは、日本語、英語、スペイン語、そしてポルトガル語の4つの言語で発行しているということです。世界の日系人は、アジア諸国の日系人とその子孫を含めて、海外の日系人がこんなに巨大な広がりをもつ人々だとはご存知ないでしょう。わずかに、横浜の海外移住資料館を訪れると、日本語、英語、そしてブラジルなどのポルトガル語で情報が得られます。

以前に2度ほど、日系カナダ人コミュニティの編集者として汎アメリカン日系人大会に出席したことがありますが、日系社会の相違と相似に圧倒されたのを覚えています。また、一緒にカラオケで日本語の歌をうたい、盆踊りを踊ったりする交流はとても楽しかったです。同時に、彼らの戦前と戦後の歴史の違いを学び、とても興味をそそられました。もっとも、日系カナダ人と同じような辛い体験も含まれてはおりました。祖国日本の人たちが、もっと日系世界に注意を向けて、その存在を認識してくれることを期待しています。

彼のエッセイを読む >>

July 2021

kreativitea (Tōkyō, Japan)

Mike Omoto is a Yonsei, originally from Southern California, now living in Japan, working as Engineering Manager for Google Maps full time. He previously taught English as an ALT in Japan. He is member emeritus of the organizing committee for Copani San Fransisco 2019, and a regular attendee of Copani and Kaigai Nikkeijin Taikai.

Mike began as a volunteer translator for Discover Nikkei, but now serves as a technical consultant. He was largely responsible for the implementation of the recent major upgrade of our website’s infrastructure.

Why is it important for you to volunteer for Discover Nikkei?

Before moving to Japan in 2008, I did not know very much Japanese. After four years of getting to know my Japanese roots and a lot of intense studying, I wanted to become a translator, and so started translating articles and content from Japanese to English for Discover Nikkei. I then started a career in tech instead of going into translation.

Sometime after, the software engineer who was originally on the Discover Nikkei project left, and my engineering skills became a lot more useful than my translation skills. I took on the role of a technical consultant for Discover Nikkei, and helped bring the site to a modern technical stack.

Volunteering for Discover Nikkei is important to me because it represents an intersection of my interests—getting to know my cultural heritage, my interest as a translator (DN provides content in four different languages!), and my skills in technology. While I’m probably not uniquely qualified to do this work, it’s a very good fit and extraordinarily fulfilling piece of volunteering work to take on.

What is the most meaningful thing that has happened as a result of your connection to Discover Nikkei?

Visiting Peru for Copani in 2017 and being on the organizing committee for Copani in 2019 were some of the most meaningful things that have happened in my life. While I had to step away from organizing due to moving to Japan, participating in Copani meant meeting Nikkei from dozens of countries, which changed my perspective on the relationship that Nikkei had across Panamerica, and made me hopeful for a more collaborative future.

Read his story >>

August 2021

laurakato (California, United States)

Laura Kato is a rising third year student at Loyola Marymount University, majoring in Philosophy with minors in Political Science and Business Administration, and plans to study criminal law. She has grown up in the Japanese American community through Asian League and other various organizations. She is the upcoming president of her school’s Nikkei Student Union.

Laura is a joint intern for the Japanese American Bar Association (JABA) and the Discover Nikkei project through the Nikkei Community Internship program. As part of her internship, she has written several articles, including one about her father, Judge Warren Kato, and how he has been a loving parent and role model. She also conducted a video interview with attorney Patricia Kinaga. The interview, plus a reflection article will be added to Discover Nikkei later this month.

What do you like about Discover Nikkei?

I love how Discover Nikkei transcends both distance and generations. Anyone who goes to the website can view stories from all different types of people, from students to judges to filmmakers, ranging from many different generations and locations. I believe that everyone has a story to tell, and being able to see what people have to say from so many different locations, professions, and ages is truly amazing.

What is the most meaningful thing that has happened during your internship?

I have had many life changing experiences during this internship but one of the most meaningful would be getting the opportunity to meet with such inspirational and successful people. I have had the honor of meeting with attorneys, judges from the Superior court, and activists who have done so much for this community.

Being able to hear their stories has really sparked a passion for law and community work within me. I am truly grateful for all that this internship has given me and hope to pay it forward in the future!

Read her stories >>

September 2021

kyra.karatsu (California, United States)

Kyra Karatsu is a Japanese-German Yonsei from Santa Clarita, CA—about an hour from Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo, where she often visited her grandmother, Mary Karatsu, who was a long-time volunteer at the Japanese American National Museum. She is a second-year Communications major at College of the Canyons and works to develop OER materials and Zero Cost Textbooks in her college’s Online Education department. She also contributes to The Rafu Shimpo.

Kyra has followed in her grandmother’s footsteps and is now a volunteer for Discover Nikkei since this past January. She has written stories for us about Oshogatsu and the graphic novel, We Hereby Refuse. In addition, she has shared with us several of her own stories, including one about her grandmother which was included in the Nikkei Generations: Connecting Families & Communities special series. We just published a second story that’s also part of the series.

What do you like about Discover Nikkei?

I really enjoy the scope of the platform. One moment, I can be reading about traditional Japanese food, and the next, I’m reading through someone’s intimate, personal journey. It’s also amazing to see how simultaneously collective and diverse the lived experiences of the Nikkei community are. While I might not be able to identify with each and every story on the site, I’m always able to pluck similarities that I see reflected in my own life. On Discover Nikkei, there’s a little something for everyone.

What do you like most about volunteering for Discover Nikkei>

Before volunteering, I had relatively little writing experience and even less experience with interviewing. I was an A student in my high school English class and an editor for my school’s yearbook—but nothing could have prepared me for everything I was about to learn while volunteering. So, as both a student and a novice writer, I’m incredibly grateful that Discover Nikkei has become such a wonderful learning opportunity. And, along the way, I’ve met some really remarkable people who have just as remarkable stories to tell.

Read her stories >>

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Discover Nikkei

Discover Nikkei is a place to connect with others and share the Nikkei experience. To continue to sustain and grow this project, we need your help!

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A project of the Japanese American National Museum


Major support by The Nippon Foundation