Tag Archives: Japanese American

We are so pleased to announce that we have two new finding aids up on the Online Archive of California! Our Getty intern, Robin, deserves the credit for writing and encoding these finding aids.

The Willie Funakoshi Collection is a beautiful set of photos (that we’ve digitized) of the Nisei Week Queens and courts spanning three decades! Nisei Week is an annual festival held in Little Tokyo that was first organized by Nisei, or second-generation Japanese Americans, to celebrate their Japanese cultural heritage, and remains an active part of the Japanese American community. More detailed description, including interviewees and subjects covered, is on the finding aid. You can view a selection of these photographs on our Historypin channel.

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The Little Tokyo Redevelopment Collection is a valuable treasure trove of footage covering the redevelopment of the Little Tokyo neighborhood in Downtown Los Angeles. The Little Tokyo People’s Rights Organization (LTPRO) was founded in 1973 as a result of the Little Tokyo Project, which was adopted by the now-defunct Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles in order to redevelop the neighborhood. LTPRO challenged the ongoing evictions caused by the redevelopment efforts and assisted community businesses and long-time senior residents, who were in danger of displacement by transnational companies. It sought to maintain housing and sustainable living conditions for Japanese American working class people. 

The original format of the materials was 3/4″ U-matic tape, which we’ve all digitized. More detailed description, including interviewees, is available on the finding aid. Footage from this collection was used in Visual Communications’ film “Something’s Rotten in Little Tokyo.”  

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Check it out and share with any interested parties you know! As always, VC films are available for distribution. Researchers can view the footage and photos, along with any other materials from any of our other collections, in-house for no charge. Just make an appointment!


A small selection of VC’s audiovisual materials are now digitized and up on the web!  Last November, VC joined the California Audiovisual Preservation Project as a partner institution to work towards the goal of digitizing and preserving California-based historical recordings. We’re extremely honored to be a part of this Project, and look forward to sharing our materials online!

To participate in the project, VC went had to go through several steps. It wasn’t an automatic process– all materials had to be nominated, and then accepted for inclusion and digitization.  The first step was for us to identify and prioritize materials appropriate for the project.  Because CAVPP’s California Light and Sound project is rooted in California-based subjects and events, we had to choose materials that were California-specific. Although we have certain moving image materials that are worthy of digitization, they didn’t meet the California subject requirement.  Another important factor was to nominate materials that we couldn’t digitize in-house. While we have digitization capabilities for a number of formats, we didn’t have an easy way to digitize 16mm film and 1/8″ audiocassette tapes.  With the resources of the CAVPP, that wasn’t a problem.  We ended up choosing a total of five selections, comprised of multiple tapes/reels, and started the nomination process through the Internet Archive site, which hosts all the CAVPP materials.  The nomination process included entering metadata (data about data), both descriptive (subjects, topics, dates, interviewer, etc.) and technical (format, sound, etc.) The more metadata included, the better! The more information available lends to a better contextual understanding of the materials.

After the nomination process, we were notified which materials were accepted into the program (spoiler alert: all of them!). Five of VC’s AV materials is now part of the California Light and Sound Collection and hosted on the Internet Archive, available online to anyone! Check out the listings below, and follow the links to the videos and audio!

Little Tokyo 1930s Home Movie (1934)

Description: Home movie of pre-World War II Los Angeles, including the Little Tokyo neighborhood in Downtown Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Harbor. Footage documents Downtown Los Angeles night traffic, the annual Nisei Week Parade in Little Tokyo, ships at the harbor, and construction. This internegative was obtained through a restoration process performed on the original 1930s 16mm film.

1930s Little Tokyo Nisei Week Parade

1930s Little Tokyo Nisei Week Parade

Military Intelligence Service Oral Histories (March 11, 1989)

Additional Title:: Saga of the MIS
Description: These oral histories are recordings of a panel featuring Japanese American World War II veterans who served in the Military Intelligence Service, the army’s unit of Japanese Americans that provided translation and interrogation services. Speakers talk about their experiences that range from family life, Pearl Harbor, being incarcerated in the internment camps, joining the military, training for the Military Intelligence Service, and serving in combat in the South Pacific.  Nearly all of these MIS panelists were born and raised in California.

Susan Ahn Cuddy Oral Histories (1996)

Description: This footage is an oral history of Susan Ahn Cuddy, who was born in Los Angeles and the first Korean American woman in the U.S. Navy. he is the daughter of Dosan Chang Ho Ahn and Helen Ahn, prominent Korean independence activists.  Cuddy and her family were one of the first Korean families in Los Angeles.  Cuddy joined the navy in 1942 and went on to become a lieutenant.  She later worked at the Office of Naval Intelligence, the National Security Agency, and the Library of Congress.  She attended UC Irvine.

Susan Ahn Cuddy

Susan Ahn Cuddy

Colonel Young Oak Kim Oral History (February 4, 1986)

Description: This oral history is of Colonel Young Oak Kim, a highly decorated World War II veteran. He was born in Los Angeles and grew up in the Bunker Hill area of Downtown. He and his family were one of the first Korean families in Los Angeles. During WWII, he fought with the 100th Infantry Battalion, a segregated unit of Japanese Americans from Hawaii. He was the only non-Japanese American. He later rejoined the army to fight in the Korean War.  Kim was the Asian American to command a regular U.S. combat battalion. He was active with community work and helped establish Go For Broke and the Japanese American National Museum, and served as a board member for Visual Communications.

Filipino American Home Movies (1950s)

Description: These 16mm reels from the 1950s are Kodachrome home movies of a Filipino American family in California and Hawai’i. Footage was taken by George Cayetano. Footage includes arrival of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, Former President and First Lady of the Philippines, at Hickam Field in Honolulu, Hawai’i. Footage also covers the Filipino-American farming community in Delano, California, documenting farming life, community festivals and parades, family life, and social gatherings like a Filipino Debut, a coming-of-age ceremony.

Chinatown: Portrait of a Working Community 

Description: 1977 film about the changing landscape of San Francisco’s Chinatown.

Produced during a volatile period in which community re-development initiatives in most U.S. urban centers threatened the unique community fabric of various ethnic communities, CHINATOWN: PORTRAIT OF A WORKING COMMUNITY juxtaposes the vivacity of the people, businesses and community institutions of one of California’s first and arguably, largest Chinatowns against the violent closure, in August 1977, of the International Hotel, a low-income hotel abutting Chinatown along Kearny and Jackson Streets. Filmed footage of the evictions, a watershed moment in the Asian American progressive movement, was later repurposed by its photographer Curtis Choy for his own landmark 1983 documentary of the incident, THE FALL OF THE I-HOTEL.

Chinatown: Portrait of a Working Community

Chinatown: Portrait of a Working Community

The CAVPP project was made possible with grants from the institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Endowment of the Humanities, and the California State Library.  Thanks so much for helping small institutions like VC make our materials accessible and discoverable to the public!

It’s that time of year again when VC hunkers down into the LA Asian Pacific Film Festival planning madness!  This year is special as it’s our 30th anniversary. That’s right, a whole thirty years of featuring films about and by Asian Americans! From shorts to documentaries and narrative features, we’ve screened to many audiences. For this year’s special anniversary, we’ve compiled a timeline and images from the past thirty years, featuring events, guests, and even our catalog covers.  Please check it out.

If you’re in town, please consider attending the festival!  The festival’s gala night opens with “To Be Takei,” a documentary about George Takei that features archival footage from VC’s Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians Hearings Collection, where Takei testified about his internment experiences during World War II.  We’re excited to share this film with our audiences, and hope to see you there!


George Takei at the Commission for Wartime Relocation Hearings in Los Angeles


In this guest post, VC founder Alan Ohashi describes his involvement in helping to preserve the original site of the Military Intelligence Service (M.I.S.), while turning it into a museum for its veterans and the public.  Thanks, Alan!

After leaving VC after seven years of great experiences with Bob, Eddie, Duane & Alan Kondo, among many others, I entered U.C. Berkeley’s 3-year graduate architecture program in 1977.  An intensely sought-after opening for some twenty-plus students per year, it was an immersion process where, for the entire first year you spend with the same group of students developing design solutions with a rotating group of professors.

I went in thinking that I would combine film and architecture, but soon realized I just loved the design process itself.  My work at VC served me well, having done a lot of graphic design similar to photographic and other processes necessary for our design presentations I already had mastered.  During school I supported myself as a graduate assistant. This allowed me to meet and get to know a lot of the faculty, which was a plus.  I helped two professors who were very deep into Japanese garden design by printing their photographs for a book they eventually published on the subject.

Before graduation I worked at the ELS Design Group in Berkeley, and on one project worked under Ken Kaji, a senior architect, on the U.S. Embassy staff housing in the Philippines.  He was like a mentor to me, and when we parted ways in 1985, we did not know that we’d work together again on the MIS project .

I had a lot of fun at the ELS Design Group and eventually became a lead designer responsible for the U.C. Press Building headquarters building.  They were moving into an old furniture warehouse ill-suited for their offices, but with a lot of work it became an award-winning project. I got to fly to New York with my boss to receive a national design award at the Plaza Hotel in 1983.

Many years later in 1998 – by then I had started my own architectural practice, Ohashi Design Studio – Ken Kaji contacted me about meeting Rosalyn Tonai (Roz), Executive Director of the National Japanese Historical Society (NJAHS) and possibly working on a historic conversion project in the Presidio of San Francisco.  Ken was now on the Board of Directors for NJAHS and knew of my background at VC and thought I would be a good fit for this project.  Roz and I met and walked through Building 640, an aircraft hangar built in the 1920s that served as the classroom and barracks building for the first class of Nisei soldiers to serve as linguists and interpreters in the potential upcoming war with Japan in November of 1941.  Roz mentioned that when she was in college someone gave her the book I worked on, “In Movement: A Pictorial History of Asians in America” – that Dr. Franklin Odo wrote and Glen Iwasaki designed.  We of course pulled the images from the VC archives.

General DeWitt, the same man who formulated and signed Executive Order 9066, conceived of identifying Niseis and non-Niseis who had Japanese language skills, and bringing them to the Presidio to be trained as top-secret counterintelligence operatives under the umbrella name of the Military Intelligence Service which today is known as the Defense Language Institute based in Monterey, California. I visited his office, which is kept as it was in the 1940s, and located less than a mile from Building 640.


Photo of the original building, taken in 2006.

After touring Building 640 with Roz, the NJAHS hired me to do some promotional renderings of what the building could be, for fund-raising and other purposes.


Alan’s 1998 rendering of the proposed project.

Roz and others at NJAHS worked hard to develop relations with The Presidio Trust who were responsible for Building 640.  By this time, 1998, the Trust was aware that NJAHS was the organization that grew out of the MIS veterans group, some of whom included Colonel Tom Sakamoto, who helped translate for the Japanese who surrendered on the U.S.S. Missouri, Marvin Uratsu, and Harry Fukuhara, among others.  These same Nisei veterans were now pressing to make Building 640 into a museum for the MIS.  The MIS, having been top-secret during the war, were now having their story come out into the open.  The Trust had pretty much decided that Building 640 could only go to NJAHS because of the backstory, and worked very hard to make it happen, as did NJAHS.

I proposed a design studio at U.C. Berkeley’s School of Architecture, undergraduate program around the Building 640 project.  I teamed up with Prof. Dana Buntrock, who specializes in cutting edge Japanese architecture, who thought Building 640 to be an intriguing story.  We had ten students working for a quarter on design solutions.  Once we made a field trip to see Building 640 – it was set for September 12th, 2001 – the day after the 9/11 attack.  We were all in shock, but the backlash we heard against Muslim Americans echoed in our minds walking through Building 640.

Roz was able to get the support and backing of politicians Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, and Mike Honda.  She also connected with Senator Daniel Akaka who was then head of the Senate Appropriations committee.  I made a small presentation to Sen. Akaka and his staff and he was very complimentary toward the project.  Eventually with the help of Pelosi and Boxer’s offices we secured three appropriations from the Department of Defense which allowed us to finally start construction in 2011 after many years of work.

Over the years, we had many, many meetings with the Presidio Trust who have always been very fair, clear and straightforward.  They have the responsibility of keeping the historic integrity of the Presidio, a big job.  Building 640 is unique among the many internment camp interpretive sites in that the original building fabric—the original concrete floors and walls from 1941 where the MIS soldiers studied and slept is still there.  NJAHS eventually worked out an arrangement whereby they lease the building free of charge and pay for utilities, security, fire, and so forth.  You cannot buy a building on what used to be Federal land; everything is leased.

Construction was difficult. The contractors had to support an eighty-year old structure that had been warped, racked and over-loaded in the past.  It couldn’t handle the process and on December 23rd, 2011 I got the phone call from the contractor that it had collapsed!


The original building, several days after collapse

The general contractor, Oliver & Company, stepped up big time.  They knew that a construction failure could end up in court for years delaying the project and costing everyone a lot of money.  They knew the MIS veterans were in their 80s and 90s and delays would mean they wouldn’t be around to enjoy the results.  Oliver & Company offered to accept responsibility for the collapse, pay for re-construction of a pretty much new building replicating the original and settle with their insurance company later.  Anything salvageable from the old building was kept – that included the original concrete floors and foundation, latrine building, and the wood ceilings.  In place of failing steel trusses, new ones made to current seismic code were installed.  The original windows were stripped, cleaned up, and re-glazed.

The collapse was a mixed blessing.  NJAHS received a totally new building without compromises for age or history – but we did lose an original piece of Japanese American history.  But much of it lives on in the re-built Building 640.

Building 640 after reconstruction in 2013.

Work on the exhibit design had been underway for years, but as the designs were too expensive for what NJAHS had left in their budget.  We created– with the help of the original exhibit designers, the West Office Exhibit Design firm– a layout that could be completed piecemeal with available funds. Doug Dawkins and his company, the DRDC Group Inc. stepped in to build these two exhibits, working all night before the ribbon cutting ceremony in early November.  I walked in the moment they were mounting the last flat screen monitor.

At our “soft” opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony at the building, many MIS veterans showed up as did a representative from Nancy Pelosi’s office, Craig Middleton, Executive Director of the Presidio Trust – both of whom have been very supportive of the project.


Finishing exhibit installation before the November 2013 soft opening and ribbon cutting ceremony

Building 640 has been a fifteen-year project for our firm.  Despite the highs and lows it has been a good experience working with the Presidio Trust, National Park Service (NPS) and NJAHS.  Though there was not much high design involved, the importance of the project in the history of Japanese Americans and Asian Americans is notable.


Building 640 ticketing window and bookstore area


Latrines reconstruction – the latrines had the only lights on at night – the rest of the building was “blacked-out” for fear of attack so the MIS students would sit on toilets and continue their studies here


Building 640’s main entrance



View of Building 640 from Crissy Field

By Evelyn Yoshimura, Community Organizer

The other day, I was walking from the Gold Line station, headed back to my job at the Little Tokyo Service Center. As I passed the old historic JANM (Japanese American National Museum) building, I had a big flashback.

Buddha’s Birthday (Circa 1956)
My earliest memories of Little Tokyo include Hanamatsuri—the Buddha’s birthday.

Children from temples all over Southern California converged at the old Nishi Hongwanji—our Mother Temple, the previous inhabitant of the JANM historic building on First & Central.

I remember nothing of the service except the smell of incense.  But afterwards, noisy kids rumbled down the stairs from the hondo, down to the ground floor, and burst out through the double doors and spilling onto the streets of Little Tokyo, clutching tightly to little pink tickets in hand.

The tickets were our reward for good behavior during the service and could be redeemed in any number of the shops for treats like manju, the best snow cones in town, gum, candy or an ice cream cone at Kyodo drugstore with the old-fashion soda fountain counter; or comic books from the drug store at First & San Pedro, where you could sit and read them for hours at the very corner of the store that looked out onto that bustling intersection.


Fast-forward to 2013-14: By next summer, construction will begin on a new train station for the Regional Connector line, taking out Senor Fish, Weilands Brewery and the Spice Table restaurant. This future station will be built one story down underground and will be located across the street from the newer JANM building. And it will change everything.

Predicted to be the second busiest station next to Union Station, this train will bring lots of people to Little Tokyo from all over the region. Could be good for business for those who survive the five-year construction. But the hyper-development that it promises to bring could speed up the changes we already see in the 130-year-old neighborhood.

As a Buddhist, I know that change is the norm and inevitable. Little Tokyo will never be that neighborhood I grew up visiting for Hanamatsuri, Nisei Week carnivals or to buy Japanese goods. I can already see subtle but profound changes with new shops that now cater to a younger, hipper, multi-ethnic crowd. Designer sneaker shops, cafes that spill out onto the sidewalk, young people walking around dressed like anime characters, lots of dogs and even baby carriages crowding the sidewalks.

This liveliness and excitement is pumping new life and energy into the area and giving rise to these new and different kinds of businesses. This is a big improvement from the empty storefronts and broken car windows of the 1990s. But where is the tipping point when Little Tokyo is no longer our neighborhood?


Evelyn, in center, with the Little Tokyo People’s Rights Organization, working to save Little Tokyo from redevelopment in the 1970s.

Many in the community who live, work, run businesses, attend temples & churches here, are asking ourselves that very question. We are coming together, looking past old differences and disagreements, trying to and keep a handle on this suddenly-trendy area. The vibrancy is good, but we also need to keep a connection to that 130-year-old story. It’s not easy—to be inclusive and embracing of the future and the new, while remaining connected to so much history and culture. And in a genuine way.

But we’re trying. And we welcome participation from any of you out there who wants to help. The next 5-10 years could be make-or-break time for our neighborhood.

Join us. If you want to help us, email me at

Tell us how you made your mark! How has your neighborhood changed over the years? Email us with your thoughts and photo (if you wish) at We’ll post it on the VC Facebook page.

October is American Archives Month.  This post is one of a series of blog posts that Visual Communications will present of Asian Pacific Americans who have made their mark on their communities and history.

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