FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - November 15, 2016


Leslie Unger - - 213-830-5690


The Japanese American National Museum will hold its annual Gala Dinner and Silent Auction on May 6, 2017, at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites, Los Angeles. The evening’s theme will be Reconnecting with the Past, Forging Our Future and the honorees will be Irene Hirano Inouye, the museum’s founding Executive Director; Bruce T. Kaji, a founding Director and the founding President of the museum; and Tom Ikeda, the current and founding Executive Director of Densho, a Seattle-based organization that seeks to preserve the testimonies of Japanese Americans who were unjustly incarcerated during World War II, explore principles of democracy, and promote equal justice for all—a mission that is closely aligned with that of JANM.

Reconnection with the Past, Forging Our Future will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Japanese American National Museum opening its doors to the public at what was originally the Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple. That 1992 opening was the culmination of work that had begun a decade earlier when two different groups—one of Little Tokyo businessmen and the other of World War II veterans—sought to create a place that would preserve the rich heritage and cultural identity of Japanese Americans. They soon joined forces and the museum was incorporated in 1985. The Gala will look back at key visionary individuals and foundations that have provided support for JANM, especially in its early days. The evening will also articulate the museum’s role in today’s complex world in which civil rights and social justice are still not equal for all, and how JANM sees itself continuing to effect positive change 75 years after President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, ultimately leading to the incarceration of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II.

“I’m thrilled that the Japanese American National Museum will be honoring three such outstanding individuals at our 2017 Gala Dinner,” said Norman Y. Mineta, Chair of JANM’s Board of Trustees. “Irene and Bruce are inextricably linked to the success the museum enjoys today, having given their hearts and seemingly endless energies to the institution from its very beginnings. Tom is equally committed to Densho and I’m proud the museum is recognizing his efforts to preserve and share the Japanese American experience and encourage equality and civil rights. All three of these honorees offer enormous inspiration as we celebrate the museum’s 25th anniversary and chart the course for the decades to come.”

Tom Ikeda will receive the Founders’ Award, established to recognize an individual or organization that advances the mission and vision of the museum’s founders in a meaningful way on a national or international scale. The founders’ vision includes, among other goals, presenting the Japanese American experience from a first-person perspective and as an integral part of America’s heritage, and encouraging appreciation for cultural diversity. Densho, a Japanese term meaning “to pass on to the next generation,” uses digital technology to preserve and make accessible primary source materials on the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans. It presents those materials and related resources for their historic value and as a means of exploring issues of democracy, intolerance, wartime hysteria, civil rights, and the responsibilities of citizenship in a global society.

Bruce T. Kaji, who led the group of local businessmen seeking to create a museum back in the 1980s, will be honored with the Legacy Award, established to recognize individuals and organizations that have made a lasting contribution to the museum’s institutional legacy and helped to distinguish the museum as a unique, vital, and valuable community resource. Kaji was Chairman and President of Merit Savings Bank, which underwrote the start-up costs for the creation of the museum. In addition, he recruited volunteers and persuaded public officials to support the cause of building JANM. His ability to bring people together, including the Japanese American veterans group that had a complementary idea in the early 1980s, was integral to the founding of the institution and set the tone of collaboration that has continued to be a hallmark of the museum.

Irene Hirano Inouye will be presented with JANM’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Hirano Inouye is currently President of the U.S.–Japan Council. She was appointed Executive Director of JANM in 1988, as the museum was preparing to restore the former Buddhist temple, and added the President title and role in the early 1990s. Hirano Inouye also oversaw the construction and opening of the museum’s current Pavilion building in 1999. She relinquished the CEO title in 2008 and left the President role in June 2009.

The Gala Dinner evening will include JANM’s popular Lexus Opportunity Drawing, for which a new 2017 Lexus RX 350 vehicle will be the prize. Opportunity Drawing tickets are $25 each, $100 for five tickets, and $500 for thirty tickets. They may be requested by calling 213.830.5669 or sending an email to

Sponsorship and underwriting opportunities for the Gala Dinner honoring Irene Hirano Inouye, Bruce Kaji, and Tom Ikeda are also available. Send an email to for details. Individual tickets for the event will go on sale in March.

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Tatau: Marks of Polynesia
Through January 8, 2017
Tatau: Marks of Polynesia explores Samoan tattoo practice through photographs that showcase the work of traditional tatau masters alongside more contemporary manifestations of the art form. Curated by author and master tattoo artist Takahiro “Ryudaibori” Kitamura with photography by John Agcaoili, Tatau highlights the beauty of the Samoan tattoo tradition as well as its key role in the preservation and propagation of Samoan culture.

Uprooted: Japanese American Farm Labor Camps During World War II
Through January 8, 2017
Between 1942 and 1944, thousands of incarcerated Japanese Americans were moved from concentration camps to farm labor camps as a way to mitigate the wartime labor shortage. In the summer of 1942, Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographer Russell Lee documented four such camps in Oregon and Idaho, capturing the laborers’ day-to-day lives in evocative detail. Uprooted: Japanese American Farm Labor Camps During World War II presents a selection of those images, many of which have never before been exhibited.

Common Ground: The Heart of Community
Incorporating hundreds of objects, documents, and photographs collected by JANM, this exhibition chronicles 130 years of Japanese American history, from the early days of the Issei pioneers through the World War II incarceration to the present.

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About the Japanese American National Museum (JANM)

Established in 1985, the Japanese American National Museum promotes understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience. Located in the historic Little Tokyo district of downtown Los Angeles, JANM is a hybrid institution that straddles traditional museum categories and strives to provide a voice for Japanese Americans as well as a forum that enables all people to explore their own heritage and culture. Since opening to the public, JANM has presented over 70 exhibitions onsite and traveled 17 of its exhibitions to locations around the world, including the Smithsonian Institution and the Ellis Island Museum in the United States, and several leading cultural museums in Japan and South America.

JANM is located at 100 N. Central Ave., Los Angeles. Museum hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday from noon to 8 p.m. General admission is $10 adults, $6 students and seniors, free for members and children under age five. Admission is free to everyone on Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and every third Thursday of the month from noon to 8 p.m. General admission prices and free admission times may not apply to specially ticketed exhibitions. Closed Monday, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. For more information visit or call 213.625.0414.