Is It Any Good?

A state of the art Museum Complex celebrating the history and cultural heritage of Los Angeles Japanese-American community.

There is a photo of a Truck and some Buses parked in front of what looks like a storefront, and scores of my fellow citizens being forced to put everything that they owned…well, actually, everything that they were allowed to carry onto that truck so that they could be sent to the Manzanar Concentration Camp. That Storefront wasn’t a storefront.

The Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple in 1942. Taken by Jack Iwata.

It was the Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, and it was an embarkation point for Japanese-Americans being unnecessarily hauled away to Concentration Camps scattered throughout the United States.

Concentration Camp too strong a word? Well, tough. I’m choosing to respect the Japanese-American Community of Los Angeles, many of whom are survivors of that wrongheaded, disastrous policy. They call ‘em Concentration Camps, thus so do I. Visiting the Japanese-American National Museum you’ll see these scars still linger.

The Museum itself is one of my favorites in Los Angeles. Granted, I’m a total History buff, but they do a fantastic job of leading you through the history of the Japanese-Americans in California. It’s not enough to start the day the buses and the trucks arrived to haul folks away. The Japanese-American National Museum shows you how we got to that point.

The original museum was in the Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, site of the photograph I talked about above. It finally moved into its new facility in 1999 where it remains today. There are scores of artifacts, films and audio documenting this really sad, and unnecessary part of our history. (Why do I keep saying unnecessary? Well, go to the Museum and find out why. It’s there.) But where the Museum really triumphs is how it also emphasizes the future. There is a resource Library there that documents everything they’ve been able to find about the Issei and the Nissei in this Country.

From Wikipedia:

[The Japanese-American National Museum] contains over 130 years of Japanese American history, dating back to the first Issei generation. In 1997, the Frank H. Watase Media Arts Center was established by Robert A. Nakamura and Karen L. Ishizuka, to develop new ways to document, preserve and make known the experience of Americans of Japanese Ancestry. In 1999, the Manabi and Sumi Hirasaki National Resource Center (HNRC) was established to provide access to the museum’s information and resources, both at the facility and online, and documents both the life and culture of the Japanese Americans.

Go here. It’s worth it. It’s on my family’s list of regular stops whenever they visit. Best of all, you get to experience Little Tokyo as well.


The Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple as it stands today.

IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP, PEOPLE: Okay, here’s a weird one. The new Pavilion for the Japanese-American National Museum, built in 1999 is so new, so lovely and so photogenic that it is used FREQUENTLY in Television Advertising. Odds are, you see a high-tech conference center, or an airport on camera, it’s actually this. I can’t tell you if they’re going to be filming there the day you go, but it’s a possibility.

The Japanese American Museum keeps a Calendar of Events and Exhibitions. Make sure you give it a look before you go.


PARKING: Scattered, and mostly limited to Paid lots and Parking Garages.  Expect to pay about $7 bucks, but that can vary.  If you’re willing to walk you may be able to find Metered Parking a a couple of blocks away from the Museum, down near Wurstkuche.   But when in doubt, consult the Little Tokyo Parking Guide that’s available at the Little Tokyo website.


Japanese-American National Museum
369 East First Street
Los Angeles, California 90012
Phone: 213.625.0414
Toll-Free: 800.461.5266
Fax: 213.625.1770