Nanka Nikkei Voices

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.

identity en


When I search my past for the defining moment that turned my life around, I find it hard to pinpoint. Maybe there were many, some too subtle or mundane to recognize. I’m inclined to think each of us—starting from early childhood—moves in a certain arc and something, or a series of things, happen that push us rapidly and without resistance, along the curve. It may be an event as simple as missing a bus or an impulsive change of plans. Or as huge as the Great Depression or a mass incarceration.

Like many of us Nisei, I spent my early …


war en


We had been in Camp I of Poston, Arizona, for about five months when the Administration began recruiting labor for farms and canneries in permitted areas. I, like everyone else in camp, felt caged, so imprisoned, I jumped at every opportunity to get out. I applied for work leave. All those phrases: “group leave,” “short term leave,” “clearance,” “indefinite leave,” were a familiar part of camp life over half a century ago. Today, however, those desperate angry years seem like an excerpt from someone else’s dream; it’s hard to summon the youth and passion of the time, and those familiar …


culture en

VC – A Quarter Century in Little Tokyo

Twenty-five years have passed in what seems only a few moments: the Little Tokyo years of VC. Its founders pragmatically called it Visual Communications, Southern California Asian American Studies Central, Inc. in 1971 after a humble birth in the living room of photographer Bob Nakamura, where the first project emerged as an ingenious modular exhibition of the camps for the JACL “Visual Communications” committee. A cadre of dedicated media workers grew through a succession of offices from the Seinan district on Jefferson to Silver Lake and eventually to San Pedro and Boyd downtown.

Like a favorite movie seen years ago, …


food en

Kawana’s Kamaboko Kingdom

One thing was clear to businessman Frank Kawana when he took over his father’s Little Tokyo kamaboko business in 1955: people were not clamoring for fishcake. Quite the opposite—once a Japanese American staple, kamaboko sales were declining in the U.S. Like his father Otoichi Kawana, Frank somehow could not abandon what he secretly hated as a “smelly business.” At his mother Kume’s pleading, he reluctantly joined the family enterprise. While working to keep the company alive, he did something few people in this country have managed to do: he discovered and sold a revolutionary new product to the American public—imitation …


identity en

Starting a New Life

My mother, Kinuko Saito, was holding me in her arms as we left Japan. I was six months old when we embarked on a military ship headed for Los Angeles via Seattle. Without knowing any English, my mother left her family and friends to start a new life in the United States. We had arrangements to stay with my father’s relatives whom she had never met before.

We patiently stayed and waited for my father to arrive; he was a G.I., a Nisei soldier serving in the United States Army. Before he joined the Army, he and his family were …



1970s 1980s Aliso Village Amy Kato arizona arts Asian American boyle heights california chicago community concentration camp discrimination east west players family family business farming film food Frank Kawana George Hosaki Hisaye Yamamoto Hito Hata identity imitation crab