Chris Komai - - 213-830-5648


Toyo Miyatake Studios Donates Photos Taken For Rafu Shimpo To Japanese American National Museum

The Japanese American National Museum announced that Toyo Miyatake Studios, one of the nation’s oldest family-run Japanese American photography studios, has recently donated a collection of photographs that it took for The Rafu Shimpo, the largest Japanese-English publication in the continental United States, to the Museum for identification and preservation.

Toyo Miyatake Studios was often called upon by the newspaper after World War II to take photographs at important Japanese American events, such as groundbreakings, dinners, and the arrival of visiting dignitaries. The studio took memorable photographs for the newspaper of the late Emperor Hirohito of Japan, his son then-Prince Akihito (now the Emperor of Japan), President John F. Kennedy when he was still a senator, and numerous celebrities such as actors Gregory Peck, Dorothy Lamour, Esther Williams, and Alan Ladd.

The studio was founded in Little Tokyo by Toyo Miyatake in 1923. A photographer and artist of renown who was a colleague of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, Miyatake is best known for having smuggled a lens and film into the Manzanar concentration camp during World War II and having secretly taken pictures of the unconstitutional imprisonment of Japanese Americans. His oldest son, Archie, began working for his father and eventually inherited the business. Today, Archie’s son, Alan, runs the studio in San Gabriel.

“We are very pleased by the donation of these photographs,” said Luke Gilliland-Swetland, head of the Museum’s collections department. “They represent a sizable piece of Japanese American history and thanks to the generosity of the Miyatake family, we will be able to identify, catalog, and preserve this collection for all time. When we open our Phase II Pavilion and the National Resource Center, these photographs will become accessible to millions of people.”

In conjunction with the donation of the historic photographs, the Museum announced that the names of H.T. Komai, pre-World War II Rafu Shimpo publisher, and his wife Hirono would be placed on the Museum’s Phase II Donor Wall at the Benefactor Level by the Komai family. Funds from this donation will go directly to the preservation and identification of the Miyatake photographs. Funds from the donation will also be used by the Museum to acquire copies of The Rafu Shimpo on microfilm to help identify the photographs.

The newspaper, like the studio, had been run by three generations of the same family and for almost the same amount of time. H.T. Komai became publisher of The Rafu Shimpo in 1922 and was credited with moving the newspaper to a higher level. Under Komai’s guidance, the newspaper began printing in English as well as Japanese, a practice that continues to this day. His eldest son, Akira, took over when the U.S. government jailed H.T. Komai on December 7, 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor and held him prisoner until 1947. Akira essentially saved the newspaper when he hid the newspaper’s Japanese type beneath the floorboards of the facility before he and 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced into concentration camps by the U.S. government. It allowed him to restart The Rafu Shimpo in 1946. Akira was the publisher until 1983 when his son Michael took over after his father’s passing.

Together, the studio and the newspaper have chronicled much of the history of Japanese America, especially in Southern California. The photographic collection covers an important period of time for the Japanese American community which had to recover from the mass incarceration and rebuild its businesses from scratch. Simultaneously, the history of Japan-U.S. relations after the war and its evolution today are also chronicled in these photographs.

The donations will both be commemorated with a private reception at the Museum on Thursday, August 8th, with both families in attendance. Some examples of the collection will be on display.

The Museum maintains one of the largest collections of Japanese American materials in the world. The Japanese American National Museum is the only private, nonprofit national institution dedicated to preserving and presenting the story of Americans of Japanese ancestry in the context of U.S. history. Formed in 1985, it opened its doors to its historic headquarters in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo in 1992. Through exhibitions, public programs and educational projects, the Museum fulfills its mission to a national and international audience. For more information, call 213.625.0414.