By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
SAN DIEGO — The Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego celebrated its move to Balboa Park with an open house on Feb. 18.
Previously located in Kearny Mesa, JAHSSD is now housed in the San Diego History Center, close to a variety of other attractions — the San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego Natural History Museum, San Diego Zoo, San Diego Youth Symphony, and Mingei International Museum, to name just a few.
JAHSSD’s new home includes an office, exhibit space and archives containing artifacts and documents contributed by local families. Many of the items were displayed last year during the run of the musical “Allegiance” at The Old Globe.
President Debra Kodama told the gathering, “Feel free to come back any time when the San Diego History Center is open because one of the benefits you get if you’re currently a member of the historical society is free entry … Your membership card … will get you admittance into the history center here as well as the Serra Museum over in Old Town.”
Kodama acknowledged the support of community organizations such as Kiku Gardens and JACL as well as JAHSSD’s new neighbors. “Your board of directors is really excited to be here in the park because we think it opens up a lot of opportunities for us, not just here physically in this space at the history center, but with a lot of organizations that are here in the park, for example the (Japanese) Friendship Garden and maybe some of the other museums … We do have lots of ideas of how we’re going to partner with those organizations.”
Special thanks went to Linda Canada, archivist and past president. “She was really a key driver behind getting us here because of her relationship with people here at the San Diego History Center as well as the park,” Kodama said. “We were able to negotiate a shared-space agreement to be here for at least the next five years.”
In the gallery were paintings of Fish Camp — a Japanese American village built on two piers in San Diego Bay — by the late San Diego artist Rose Schneider and by former Fish Camp resident Frank Koide, who attended the reception.
Koide, whose father, Taju, was a fisherman, was born on Crosby Road and grew up in Fish Camp and on nearby Kearny Avenue. One of his brothers died tragically as an infant by crawling through a trap door that had been left open and falling into the water. In Fish Camp, the trap doors were used to sweep dust and debris out of rooms.
Taju had a boat called the Enterprise, which sank off the coast of Mexico. When World War II broke out, Taju’s second boat, the Magellan, was confiscated and he was sent to a Justice Department camp in Santa Fe, N.M. The rest of the family was held at Santa Anita Assembly Center, then Poston Camp III in Arizona.
After the war, the family lived in Pasadena before returning to San Diego. “We heard rumors that there was still a lot of prejudice in San Diego, so we didn’t go there directly,” Koide explained.
Koide tried his hand at fishing but decided it was “not a trade for me” and ended up working in electronics at Rockwell International. During his brief fishing career, “I went on the Magellan again as a fisherman. I got to be good friends with the skipper, Anthony Mascarenhas. He was instrumental in developing the statue on Shelter Island of the tuna fishermen … one Italian, one Japanese and one Portuguese.”
As an artist, Koide specialized in pastel portrait painting, which he taught at Southeast Japanese School and Community Center in Norwalk. His father and his late brother Minoru also had artistic talent as woodworkers. Their handiwork is included in the archives, along with a photo of Minoru serving in the Military Intelligence Service.
The open house also featured the work of Tanner Taguchi, whose Eagle Scout project was to make old photos suitable for display. Canada gave him “almost 100 of these rolled-up scroll panoramic photos that stretched from the turn of the century to the ’60s,” he said. “She had this water bath technique already thought up, putting weights on either side of these photos and then putting them above water but not having them touch the water. The moisture would rise up and naturally flatten them without damaging the enamel on the photos.
“So it would take about a couple of days to a week to do each batch of photos. As soon as they were all flattened … we made all these envelopes out of Mylar … Those hangers are all made of plastic, cut by hand and stapled to them. And we built that cabinet back there to house all of them. Eventually all these will be translated and indexed so they can be sent out to different museums.”
The photos include church and kenjinkai picnics, and visitors pored over them to find themselves or family members.
The physical address of JAHSSD is: San Diego History Center, Casa de Balboa, 1649 el Prado #3, San Diego, CA 92101. The mailing address is P.O. Box 22349, San Diego, CA 92192-2349. For more information, call (619) 338-8181, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit http://jahssd.org/.
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo