Overseas Japanese museums’ representatives share ideas in Yokohama

by Setsuko Kamiya

Staff Writer

Museums dedicated to the history of Japanese emigrants are increasingly becoming important for their descendants to understand the history of their ancestors as they become integrated in the societies they live in, according to participants of a recent symposium in Yokohama.

Representatives from museums that tell the story of Japanese emigrants in the United States, Canada, Peru and Brazil also agreed that it is important for the institutions to cooperate with each other and share knowhow on better preserving and presenting their archives.

The event was held Nov. 1 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Japanese Overseas Migration Museum in Yokohama, which is run by the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

“What is most important is how we can present what we have in an interesting way, not simply displaying old materials,” said Abel Fukumoto, president of the Peruvian Japanese Association who represented the Museum of Japanese Immigration to Peru in Lima. “We want JICA’s museum (in Yokohama) to play the role of coordinator for the museums overseas and help share ideas and information.”

Museums in North and South American countries have a longer history than JICA’s decade-old institution, as most were set up in the late 1970s to mid-1980s. All participants said that their museums are also dedicated to highlighting the value of ethnic diversity in their countries.

Greg Kimura, president of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, said funding is an important challenge the museums face, but of greater importance is creating ways to tell compelling stories about the evolving Nikkei (Japanese diaspora) community that can be understood and appreciated by younger people.

The museum also works closely with other minority museums and holds exhibitions on controversial themes such as racial discrimination, he said.

Lidia Reiko Yamashita, who represented the Museum of the History of Japanese Immigration to Brazil in Sao Paulo, discussed the challenges of digitizing vast amounts of material, including having to assign romaji to the names of people written in kanji.

Yamashita said her museum is trying to speed up a project to compile an oral history from aging first- and second-generation Japanese-Brazilians.

Located in Yokohama where the government’s headquarters for migration once stood, the Japanese Overseas Migration Museum features materials including pictures, items and historical documents on the migration of Japanese people, and items concerning the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

An estimated 2.9 million Japanese emigrants and their descendants now live overseas.