Brian Niiya

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

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African American images on a Nikkei Canvas: Black Characters in Japanese American Literature - Part 4

Read Part 3 >> For the next twenty years, there was little in the way of Japanese American literature that included any mention of African Americans, even as more Japanese American writers began to be published. One notable exception comes in a trilogy of plays by Velina Hasu Houston that follow the lives of Creed and Setsuko Banks. Asa Ga Kimashita (Morning Has Broken) (1981), the first play in the series, is set in Ehime, Japan in 1945–46. It follows the Shimada family, whose members struggle to adapt to the new realities of a defeated Japan and American occupation. The buddi…

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African American images on a Nikkei Canvas: Black Characters in Japanese American Literature - Part 3

Read Part 2 >> Throughout the postwar years, up until the late 1960s and 1970s, there was a relative dearth of Japanese American literature in general, and while the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements drew much attention in the Japanese American press, they exerted little discernable influence in the Japanese American literature that appeared during this period. One partial exception can be found in the regular contributions of Joe Ide (also known as "Joseph Patrick Ide" and "Joseph Ide") to the Rafu Shimpo holiday editions. Ide lived in south Los Angeles and worked for the All Pe…

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African American images on a Nikkei Canvas: Black Characters in Japanese American Literature - Part 2

Read Part 1 >> The coming of World War II and the mass confinement of West Coast Japanese Americans under Executive Order 9066 shuttered the community press. Literary activity did continue, to a limited extent, within the WRA camps, where inmates published stories and poems in camp newspapers and in reviews such as TREK at the Topaz camp. Except at Poston, which had a handful of black staffers, and in some areas near the Arkansas camps, confined Japanese Americans had little opportunity to interact with blacks. Perhaps as a result, the wartime literary output of the Nisei all but ignor…

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African American images on a Nikkei Canvas: Black Characters in Japanese American Literature - Part 1

It is a commonplace that the presence and contributions of racial minorities have been too long and thoroughly erased from the writing of America’s history. Yet, as the eminent historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. once observed, if racial conflict has remained excluded from the nation’s consciousness, as expressed by the writing of history, then the repressed has returned in its unconscious, as represented by literature—classic American works by Twain, Melville and others are awash in feelings, fantasies and fears over racial difference, with nonwhite characters playing crucial…

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Yoshiko Uchida's Remarkable—and Underappreciated—Literary Career

I have long been a fan of Yoshiko Uchida, a Berkeley-based writer best known for her children’s and young adult books about the World War II forced removal and incarceration. But her long writing career included much more: pioneering children’s books set in Japan or in Japanese American communities published just a few years after the end of the war, a widely-cited memoir and adult novel, and many more articles and short stories. What would have been Uchida’s 100th birthday is this week, which provides an opportunity to revisit her life and career. Yoshiko Uchida was b…

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