Japanese American National Museum
Press Releases

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - October 21, 1998

Chris Komai - - 213-830-5648

New Pavilion Designed By Architect Gyo Obata Opens January 23 At Japanese American National Museum In Los Angeles

Expansion Includes State-of-the-Art National Resource Center and a 300% Increase in Gallery Space for Exhibitions Celebrating Japanese American History and Culture

New York

The Japanese American National Museum, the premier institution dedicated to sharing the Japanese American experience, will open a new 85,000-square-foot Pavilion on January 23 as part of a $45-million expansion and development project. The new Pavilion positions the institution as the preeminent authority on the history and culture of Japanese Americans, while advancing the Museum’s mission to present exhibitions and programs celebrating the shared experiences of all people. The building is designed by renowned architect Gyo Obata, founder and design principal of Hellmuth Obata & Kassabaum firm. Mr. Obata also designed the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, and the new Levi Strauss headquarters in San Francisco.

The contemporary stone, steel and glass Pavilion at the Japanese American National Museum bridges East-West aesthetic traditions by adjoining with the Museum’s original building, a landmark former Buddhist temple in the Little Tokyo Historic District of downtown Los Angeles. The two buildings are united by a granite and flagstone-paved courtyard with a garden designed by landscape architect Robert Murase The garden offers dramatic views to the Pavilion’s cafe and original building, and features a 90-foot-long “wall of water,” stone composition and reflecting pool.

The Pavilion includes more than 18,000 square feet of new gallery space, an overall increase of 300% percent; a 3,000 square-foot National Resource Center providing an interactive database with images and text on the Museum’s diverse collection, archives and educational materials; and a Japanese American Hall of Fame honoring prominent members of the Japanese American community.

“As a young institution opened just six years ago, the Japanese American National Museum has already built a reputation as an important resource and destination for fostering widespread interest in America’s ethnic and cultural diversity,” said Yoshihiro Uchida, chairman of the Museum’s Board of Trustees. “Our story is an American story, and we want to share it with the world.”

“It is because of the unprecedented support from the community and our members that the Museum has been able to grow so quickly,” says Irene Hirano, president and executive director of the Japanese American National Museum. “The new Pavilion enables this community-based Museum to further enhance and increase understanding of the Japanese American experience, creating a legacy for future generations across the globe.”


The expanded Japanese American National Museum will showcase the institution’s distinctive collection, unequaled in its historical and cultural significance. The Museum’s collection of more than 30,000 objects includes artifacts, paintings, works on paper, photography, film and video documentation, ephemera, textiles, and recorded life histories. These objects trace family and religious life, social activities, artistic expression and commerce throughout Japanese American history, including the immigration period from 1885 to 1924, the World War II concentration camp experience, the post-war community, and political activism.

Highlights include compelling works documenting the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, including part of an original barracks from one of the camps; congressional papers that culminated in the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988; and the archives of the Buddhist Churches of America, which document the early history of Japanese immigration and settlement in the United States.

Opening Exhibitions and Programs

In celebration of the opening of the new Pavilion, the Japanese American National Museum will present Common Ground: The Heart of Community, which explores the development of the Japanese American community over the past 130 years. The exhibition explores the post-war resettlement period and redress movement in the 1980s and examines the pioneers of the Japanese American community, or Issei and their impact on the third generation, or ”sansei,“ community.

Common Ground: The Heart of the Community incorporates artifacts, photographs, moving images, letters and documents from the turn-of-the-century through World War II that demonstrate the universal aspects of the Japanese American experience. Among the artifacts on display will be a baseball uniform from a Japanese American team; a Western-style wedding dress (c. 1910) made of Japanese silk; a Boy Scout uniform worn by a Japanese American boy in the 1920s; and items from theYasui Brothers General Store that thrived in Hood River, Oregon in the 1940s. An Internet chat room also will be set up in the exhibition space to encourage online dialogue about the exhibition and its subject matter. Also, a multiple-screen video presentation with music by jazz-fusion group Hiroshima will be featured.

“This exhibition is designed to showcase our collection and provide a sweeping look at Japanese American history through an engaging and multi-faceted installation,” says Irene Hirano. “We hope to demonstrate how Japanese Americans have contributed to society at large while retaining their own traditions and customs.

“Also on view for the opening will be a groundbreaking video and video installation exhibition, Bruce and Norman Yonemoto: Memory, Matter and Modern Romance. This comprehensive mid-career survey of works by the Los Angeles-based Yonemoto brothers explores issues of representation, the fabrication of memory, the construction of self and group identity, and the role cinematic images play in creating concepts of race, ethnicity and desire. The exhibition includes the unveiling of a special site-specific installation, Silicon Valley (1999), which is being commissioned by the Museum.

Memory, Matter and Modern Romance features the Yonemotos’ recent video installations, including Framed (1989), a complex layering of archival film footage of the Japanese American incarceration with slide projections and mirrored scrims; single-channel videos such as Made in Hollywood (1990), featuring Patricia Arquette and Ron Vawter; and the artists’ most recent film, Japan in Paris in L.A. (1997), which is loosely based on the life of the Japanese modernist painter Saeki Yuzo and his encounter with Parisian painter Maurice Vlaminck.

In addition to viewing the opening exhibitions and enjoying the interactive exhibits, films, and garden, visitors to the Japanese American National Museum can experience a new series of programs including lectures, concerts, film series, and workshops.

Architecture and Garden

Knitted into the urban fabric of downtown Los Angeles, the sandstone, granite, steel and glass Pavilion is located on the corner of Central Avenue and First Street, diagonally across from Little Tokyo’s distinctive fire tower. The building links the past and present: its signature curved yellow granite wall creates a dialogue with the historic facade of the original Museum building, and its red sandstone and marble exterior directly responds to the original structure’s red tile.

“In designing the Japanese American National Museum’s new Pavilion, we sought to create a sense of openness instead of the conventional front-of-the-house/back-of-the-house division of so many museums,” says architect Gyo Obata. “We also worked to incorporate both Western and Eastern philosophies in the design and to create a structure that was inviting and reflective, as witnessed in the use of glass and perforated stainless steel that softens direct sunlight.

“The Pavilion’s interior incorporates the old and the new, and includes traditional naturally lighted galleries, as well as larger galleries for contemporary works and installations. Other interior features include a sweeping grand stairway, cherry wood paneling, a convenient centrally located collection space, and expanded areas for educational programs, library facilities, and offices.

The Museum’s new garden integrates Japanese and American aesthetics with the incorporation of stone and water with American plantings to provide a place for rest and contemplation. The soothing sound of running water serves to draw visitors Into the courtyard, as well as to mask the noise from the street. The garden’s stepped flagstone terrace, paved with random-cut stones, links the lobby and the Museum’s new cafe.

“In designing the courtyard and garden for the Pavilion, I drew inspiration from the ancient and sacred tradition of stone, from the stone walls and megaliths in Europe to the stone gardens of Japan,” says landscape architect Robert Murase, who also is Inspired by the work of the late Japanese American sculptor and landscape designer, Isamu Noguchi.

The building’s exterior also includes an outdoor plaza to accommodate special programs and a “veil of names” that faces outward to the historic facade and to the garden, paying tribute to the many supporters of the expansion.

Museum Background

Incorporated in 1985 and open to the public in 1992, the Japanese American National Museum’s expansion is part of the cultural renaissance currently underway in downtown Los Angeles, an area that also houses the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the California Science Center and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Additional development projects in the area include the architect Frank Gehry’s Disney Hall, a new Archdiocese Cathedral, the Colburn Music School adjacent to MOCA and the Music Center, and a new Sports Arena near the Los Angeles Convention Center.

The Museum’s work focuses on four key areas that include sharing the Japanese American experience through exhibitions and public programs; building a scholastic foundation through its National Scholarly Advisory Council that consists of 100 distinguished scholars from a wide range of disciplines; expanding community collaborations by working with other institutions across the country and around the world; and promoting its landmark structure through a successful campaign to renovate and preserve its original building.

Over the past 13 years, the Museum has assembled the largest collection of Japanese American materials in the world; created a critically acclaimed American concentration camp exhibition; sponsored two national Japanese conferences on critical issues of education, historic preservation and culture; developed a national curriculum and educational program to teach children and young adults about the Japanese American experience; increased its membership to more than 44,000; secured sufficient pledges and donations for the completion of the new Pavilion; and continues to raise funds for the presentation of ongoing programs, exhibitions and an endowment fund.

“Our expansion expresses the view of the Museum’s leadership that the institution should serve as a vibrant resource not only for the Los Angeles community but also the nation and the world. We are committed to sharing our collections and circulating exhibitions with other institutions across the globe,” Ms. Hirano adds.

Among the noteworthy traveling exhibitions presented by the Japanese American National Museum are America’s Concentration Camps: Remembering the Japanese American Experience, at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, Statue of Liberty National Monument In New York, and the Kona Coffee Story: Along the Hawai‘i Belt Road at the Museu Historic da Imigracio Japonesa no Brasil in Sao Paulo. In addition to its ongoing program of community partnerships, the Museum frequently partners with regional groups across the country to create exhibitions that preserve and present the shared stories of people of all backgrounds.

Visiting the Japanese American National Museum

The Japanese American National Museum is centrally located in the Little Tokyo Historic District of downtown Los Angeles at 369 East First Street. After January 26, 1999, admission will be $6 for adults, $5 for seniors 62 and over, $3 for students with ID, and free for Museum members and children under five. Special group rates and rentals are available. Admission is free Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. and all day on the third Thursday of each month. For reservations and membership information, call (213) 625-0414.The Japanese American National Museum and its new Pavilion will be open to the public Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. The Museum will be closed Mondays and major holidays.

For further information, visuals and press preview information, contact:
Helen Shelton or Jennifer Essen
Ruder Finn Arts & Communications Counselors (212) 593-6443 or (212) 593-5881

Chris Komai
Japanese American National Museum
(213) 625-0414, extension 5648



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