Thursday, September 18, 2014


The Chicago Japanese American Historical Society archive has moved to Heiwa Terrace. We have  been provided a small office on the 12th floor with a gentle window lighting. Certainly an improvement from our last location. The pieces of the archive have been organized and we are merely waiting for the additional shelves to come in so that our already accessioned materials can be put into their proper positions.
At first, the task of moving the archive seemed overwhelming, but now that all the largest pieces have been arranged, the room looks like a proper office. The momentary chaos of the many boxes has been eliminated.

Another project taken on by the CJAHS is a film project documenting the philosophical and ethical implications of the prejudice Japanese Americans faced following the Second World War. The project has bloomed and is nearly complete, but due to budget restrictions we are unable to distribute the final draft just yet. Several scenes use clips from the National Archive to help give an uncommon sense of authenticity to the art/philosophy film. These clips come at a cost however, and the CJAHS has nearly reached its limit. That is why I am going to start an indiegogo campaign to help raise some funds so that the film can be distributed within the full limitations of the law.

Soon a link will be posted for the indiegogo campaign. If you have any interest in the film and our objectives I highly encourage you to visit the campaign site to watch a few trailers and clips from the film so far.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Ron Swanson at the CJAHS archive?

Today's post will be my last for the semester. However it will not be the last forever. I will continue working at the archive next year after the holidays. Either way, I decided to dedicate this post to a fun discovery we made at the archive.

As I was working on organizing the many hundreds of photos we have in the archive, I can across a large batch of photos from the 1990's. These included photos from community events during the 90's as well as some personal photos from Japanese Americans in Chicago. Although these photos might not be as striking as the ones from the WWII period and the 1800's, they are equally as important to the archive as a means of recoding the activities of the community.

The photos were mostly out of ordered and I had to separate them into different groups based on the content pictured. It was obvious that many of the photos were from the same events so I categorize them as such. Some included information about their donator or origin, so I made sure to keep that information with the groups. I also consulted the President when I could not recognize a person in the photo that she might know.

Anyway, as I was going through these I came across a photo of a heavily mustachio'd man pictured in a full traditional Japanese outfit with some kids also in kimono. At first I just started to pile the photo with some others like it, but then I realized that the man looked eerily familiar. Upon a second inspection I realized that the man looked strikingly similar to Nick Offerman, who plays a major role as Ron Swanson on the hit show Parks and Recreation.

As I searched through the collection I found several more with the same Ron Swanson/ Nick Offerman doppelganger. I was shocked. The more I searched, the more ridiculous it seemed. I found a photo of this doppelganger posing outrageously with a topknot wig and fake sword.

I could not believe what I was seeing, and decided to look up Nick Offerman's biography when I returned home. I found out that Nick Offerman was actually living in Chicago during the 1990's as Chicago is a mecca for American comedians. With this new information I could not help but think that this could be Nick Offerman himself. I've decided to send Nick Offerman and Amy Poehler these photos to discover if he had some relationship with the Japanese American community during the 90's or if this is simply a doppelganger. Nonetheless, I am sure that they will be as amused with these photos as I was. 

Although work at the archive can sometimes be less than exciting, odd discoveries like these add a new element to our experience. The historically significant and stunning photos that we come across are always stimulating and we are honored to be in the presence of such objects. We also are happy to find strange discoveries like this one, reminding us that no matter how heavy some of the subject matter at the archive might be, these objects are all the products of real lives and real people. And no life is complete without some goofy fun.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Assessing Progress

Since I will be away over winter break,  I returned to work at the archive today to make sure that all of our latest projects are completed, or at least organized so that when we return, starting our work again will be simple and straightforward. Even between weekends, restarting where we left off can be difficult because most tasks are fairly long and require mental organization to complete. Often I will leave notes to myself about my progress and the necessary next steps. Although I sometimes think that writing out notes wastes time that could be used to work directly on the archive, when I return to my notes I realize that the effort is well worth it. During this session I organized our workspace so that the status of our current projects would be obvious.
When we began work at the archive, all of the objects needed to be re - accessioned, so evaluating our current work's status was simple. Nothing was completed or even in progress. Today, however, our work is much farther along than it was before. Keeping track of the position of every item is now a crucial part of our work. Each object and document goes through 3 major stages. First the item is re - storaged  into  protective materials and new boxes. Then the object is accessioned into the computer. A position in the archive is found for the object. This position's location is recorded into the object's file. The accession number is attached to the object and it is finally placed in the correct spot. Often packaging is much faster than accessioning so items may become backlogged. Also, sometimes we may have a very valuable object that needs to be accessioned as soon as possible to ensure that it does not become lost, or lose its information, but we might not have the best packing material for this object yet. There are many instances where the process may become stalled or backed up. We must be careful to watch the status of each object so that we do not lose any valuable information during the process.
There are many minor details that go into maintaining our work at the archive. The overall project requires artful directing and procedural organization, but a major bulk of the work on the archive is done through small tasks. Although we have have grand ideas for the future of the archive, we only can reach these goals through small slow steps. Knowing when and how to appropriately stop a project is one of the ways that we are able to reach our greater goals at the archive effectively. Today was devoted to assessing the current state of these projects so that a break from the archive will not mean that we lose track of our progress. A majority of the work at the archive is organization, but I've always had the habit of organizing even when its not needed so I've enjoyed my time working here.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

My favorite archive objects...

Today I decided to do a summarized list of the objects from the archive that have had the most profound affect on us.

I would say that first on the list is the Purple Heart awarded to Tom Arai for his valiant efforts during the second World War. I learned that during WWII they created the largest amount of Purple Hearts for any given period because of the expectation that the war would call upon men in ways that no other had before. They produced so many that today, the Purple Hearts that are awarded to soldiers are mostly still from the same batch. It was striking to see this Purple Heart because it was one of the first of its lot, and awarded during the period it was meant for. The connection between all these Purple Hearts also makes us realize that no matter what time or what battle, all of these soldiers are bound together by their courage.
It was also striking to see this object in person, because it solidified many of the things I have learned about the actions of Japanese Americans during the complicated and tumultuous time that defined WWII across the globe and within the United States. I have always heard of the admirable acts of loyalty by Japanese Americans in the face of fear, but only when I saw the Purple Heart did that fact come to be so significant for me. It was the actions of individuals, and their noble character that made up the history of all Japanese Americans.

My second favorite objects were the artifacts from the camps. The small handcrafted birds from Topaz and other internment camps were significant because they are physical proof of the resilience of Japanese Americans who were interned.
These artifacts also add to the significance of Arai's Purple Heart, because it shows the full range of experience of Japanese Americans during the war. It was also very interesting to see the differences between the different birds as it shows the development of an individual's art and the change in their personal expression. Although these concepts are more like those you would encounter in art history, I think they apply to any individual artist. It is also interesting that the artist chose to depict birds that are not native to the area where they were interned. I liked these because they gave a real physical context to the experiences of Japanese Americans in the camps that I had only heard or read about before.

A few objects that we recently found in the archive are athletic uniforms from Japanese American Chicagoans who migrated to the Midwest after being released from the Internment Camps. These objects are significant to Japanese American history as they represent the activities of the Japanese Americans as a community after being displaced by the forced relocation and internment.
It is inspiring to see the ambition of Japanese Americans to establish a strong and unified community in Chicago after their great losses. Although many of the Japanese Americans that moved to Chicago never imagined living in this city, their efforts to build a true community can be seen throughout their history in Chicago. Since the Japanese American community is much larger on the West Coast in cities like L.A. I always considered these places to be the meccas of Japanese American culture. After working with so many objects from Japanese Americans in Chicago, I now have a greater appreciation for our community here. 

It may look backwards, but it opens up like a classic
Japanese book from left to right
The last objects I will include in this post are the many family album collections from Chicago Japanese Americans. These are all very nicely put together, and kept in very good condition. They usually include photos of family members in Japan around the turn of the century. Very few include recent pictures of the family that owns the album. It seems to be reserved for old pictures of Japanese ancestors. 

These books are very well organized and made from high quality paper making our accessioning process very easy, as we do not have to worry about the storage of the photos. My family does not have many photos of our ancestors as our family's migration to the United States occurred many generations ago. Seeing these photos of other Japanese families who have relocated to Chicago like my own are especially interesting. Most of the photos depict humble farm - tending families, as most of the Japanese people that sought to migrate to the U.S. were from humble backgrounds. Some however, appear to be more affluent, or have very extensive families with many children and grandparents. These are intriguing  because they show the diverse backgrounds of Japanese American families.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Completing Projects

Yesterday's work at the archive was more of the usual, except I focused on completing some of my projects that still had loose ends. This included accessioning and filing away the last remaining materials in the Arai Family collection. I have been saving some of the most important pieces to be accessioned last so that hopefully we can get more information on them before we put the information into the computer. This includes the Purple Heart that was awarded to Mr. Arai for his valiant efforts during the Second World War. I have never seen a Purple Heart so close in person before, so it is very exciting to be able to be part of the effort to preserve and protect it. There is of course a undeniable irony that the nation that is incarcerating his family should also be the nation that awards him with the highest honor demonstrating the nation's trust and gratitude. However, even with this unfortunate juxtaposition in mind, we should remember that his Purple Heart was earned for his individual bravery and should not be burdened by the conditions that surround it. His courage should not be tainted by the injustices of the internment camps.

Aside from the Arai Family collection, I also cleaned up some of my entries for the collection of Scene magazine issues. I find that editing entries is much easier for me than creating them. Perhaps because I am better at spotting a specific error in a detail than keeping track of my overall goal, at least on the computer. When entering the accession information I always find myself stalling and trying to remember what I meant to type in each section, or which sections I ought to fill out versus those I should ignore. However, when I return to an old entry, I can immediately identify everything that could use improvement and am quick to find better solutions. Because of this imbalance in my skills I have taken the task of double checking everyone's entries, as opposed to entering them from scratch.

There are also many documents that need to be reorganized into new larger containers. The actual job is not complicated in the least, but the difficulty comes in finding the perfect sized box for the documents we have, especially because we have used up most of our pre - made boxes at this point. Also, the documents are not in of themselves very valuable. They merely hold information that might be of interest to someone in the future. So deciding what quality material they deserve is also part of the task of reorganizing. Since we are running low on some of our materials, and simply do not want to waste something we are sure to need in the future, I have been working out the best way to keep the documents organized without much waste. It may be one of the less exciting projects, but it is still a necessary part of keeping up the integrity of the archive.

Lastly, a final project that I am determined to complete before the end of the year involved accessioning  quite a few sports jackets, t - shirts, jerseys, and miscellaneous equipment from the CNAA (Chicago Nisei Athletic Association). I packaged the objects into proper storage materials, but have yet to find the best place for them in the archive. Until we find a place where the objects can be together without displacing too many others, we have decided to delay accessioning the items. When you accession materials, one of the most important steps is adding the correct location of the object to the file, because without it, the object may as well be lost. In order to avoid any discrepancies that might happen if we relocate the items, we have decided to complete our other projects before tackling the sportswear. However, we have reached a point where taking on the CNAA objects is feasible, so in my next visit I will be sure to work on those objects.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Work as Usual

Yesterday was one of the less exciting days at the archive. I mostly accessioned photos and completed my reorganization of the Scene magazine box. I also began accessioning all the issues of the magazine into the computer. As far as accessioning goes, documents and periodicals are some of the easiest things to file. Photos and objects, on the other hand, are quite difficult. When we first were becoming acquainted with the Past Perfect program we accessioned many books. These were a good point to start from because books have a lot of information easily available, giving us good examples to explore the different sections of the Past Perfect program. Today while accessioning the issues of Scene magazine I was grateful to have all the useful information that comes with a magazine like the volume number, month and year of issue, general topics of that issue and so on. Meanwhile, the photos I accessioned were a bit more difficult. Sometimes years are written on the back which is very helpful. However, many of the photos I've found recently only have Japanese written on the back. I have been able to understand a few, but in Japan there are two dating systems, the Western - based system and another which uses the lineage of emperors for reference. When only the second system is used I am totally at a loss. If we should find someone who can read the photos for us I have decided to make a note for any photos that have Japanese written on the back. I also make sure to include any sort of information about writing on the back of photos no matter what language as it is an important part of the "Condition Notes" section. Its important to make note of anything that might be considered a alteration to the object to keep track of any damages that might occur if it is lent out. Doing the first magazine was slow, and the interesting pictures in it can also be distracting. But after I figured out the details that could be translated to all the other pieces, the process became much faster. This seems to always happen with a large group of pieces that need accessioning. Much of the work at the archive gets easier with time. That is why at first it is difficult to get started, but often around the time that the session is over I am not yet ready to leave. I reach my peak work pace then, and find it difficult to shift gears into cleaning up our work areas. I am glad that we are able to leave much of our work laid out. At this point, we have quite a few boxes of items fully organized and accessioned. We also have many projects nearly finished, and have been able to get a much better sense of the archive as a whole. I have not taken the time to take a nice look at our completed projects, but this week I noticed that we had made quite a bit of progress and was happy to see all our things nicely put together. Next week I will put the finishing touches on some of our latest projects and hopefully find many new interesting ones to take on.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Some Interesting Finds

Yesterday, my work at the archive began with assisting the president of the organization edit some material that is to be sent out to donors and members. The letter summarized some of the activities the organization plans to complete as well as a proposal for changing the frequency of newsletters. While working with this it made me realize all the small tasks that are necessary for the larger projects of the organization. I also realized that finding support for all of these projects is more than half the battle of completing them.
Following this task I began working with some of the Arai files again. We still have quite a few items from that collection to store, identify and accession. I started working with some of the photos that do not appear to have any relation to the others. However, I luckily came across a slip with many of the same small photo within it. This small photo also matched a larger version I had found before. It was a candid portait of an older man. I remembered I had seen a picture of Mr. Arai, who appeared to be the same age as the man in this portrait. I returned to the other photo, which showed Mr. Arai with Mrs. Arai and their son Benzo. The faces were identical and I now knew that the portraits were of Mr. Arai.
I continue to look through the Arai files and found more photo slips from the 1950s. Its very interesting to see the old style photo slips from this era. One included photos of Mrs. Arai. Up until then I was unable to find the first name of Mrs. Arai. I had only one document with what might have been her adopted name "Jean". I knew that this was a good insight, but I also knew that many of the Japanese Americans during that time that were also about her age adopted new more americanized first names. For example, my grandmothers real name was Shizuko, but she adopted the name Sue. Anyway, the photo slip that I found with Mrs. Arai's photos also had her name, the date, as well as her address. I finally had all of the pieces to fill her general biography information. I also now knew that likely address in the Rogers Park area of all the other family members, at least for November of 1950. This was a very convenient discover. I am always happy to find documents that are simple and straightforward like this.
My final interesting discovery of the day involved a very large box that whose items we had yet to accession. I looked into the box and discovered many editions of a magazine called Scene. The dates of the editions ranged from 1948 to 1953. This magazine was a Japanese American pictorial magazine. Before finding these I had never known of the publication. I never knew that a magazine marketed specifically for Japanese Americans ever existed during the post - war era. Finding out about something interesting like this is usual done through secondary sources, so I am very lucky to have my first understanding of the magazine through the actual issues. I repackaged the magazines into new plastic slips and began organizing them chronologically. Next week I will accession all of the magazines and hopefully will work with kimono that are being donated to the archive soon.