SAN JOSE — Coming early next year, the Japanese American Museum of San Jose (JAMsj) presents “Hidden Histories of San Jose Japantown,” an exciting art experience that takes you on a journey of discovery outside the walls of the museum … and into the far and recent past full of stories of the Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino people and communities living next to each other.

The Shelter-In-Place order has profoundly impacted all public art projects, but the “Hidden Histories” team is forging ahead. The project continues to develop and accommodate the needs of all of us learning both the history and the technical aspects of this experimental AR (augmented reality) art project.

How will you experience “Hidden Histories”? Being mindful of social distancing and safe practices after the Shelter-In-Place order is lifted, you stroll through Japantown and use your mobile phone to experience artistic interpretations of the underlying histories and cultures. The art is overlaid on current-day Japantown using AR technology.

Artwork featuring San Jose Day of Remembrance.

The interactive and augmented reality installations of international artist Tamiko Thiel provided the inspiration for “Hidden Histories.” Thiel’s “Brush the Sky” project, crafted in collaboration with her mother and master calligrapher Midori Kono Thiel, presented a family narrative written into the skies of Seattle. It brought an ancient art into the 21st century. “Hidden Histories” co-founder Susan Hayase saw the potential in using AR art to engage and inform the public of the valuable history and culture of San Jose Japantown.

“We came up with ‘Hidden Histories’ because it was very apparent that most people don’t know the history of San Jose Japantown. And that the community wasn’t just about Japanese American history, but it involved the Chinese Americans and Filipino Americans as well. We’re using art as a way to connect with people at a deeper, emotional level,” said Tom Izu, co-founder of “Hidden Histories.”

“Hidden Histories” team’s kickoff meeting.

Last year, to demonstrate the use of AR technology art, Tamiko Thiel and Midori Kono Thiel graciously agreed to install their AR piece “Brush the Sky” in San Jose Japantown, where the Thiel family has its roots.

“Hidden Histories” uses the same AR technology as “Brush the Sky” and builds upon that work by encompassing themes related to the Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino communities of Japantown. The project’s Advisory Panel includes historians, scholars, and activists representing these three ethnicities: Connie Young Yu, Robert Ragsac, Stephen Fugita, Tony Santana Ana, Brenda Wong, and Gordon Smith.

In late 2019, the “Hidden Histories” project won support from the Immersive Technology in the Arts grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in collaboration with Microsoft.

A cohort of artists with a range of experiences and perspective have been chosen to participate in the artist pool, from which nine will be selected to produce nine AR art installations that will go live in the first part of 2021,

Artwork featuring San Jose Buddhist Church and the character for “kizuna” (bond or connection).

The “Hidden Histories” team regrets that the COVID-19 situation has made viewing public art events and projects a challenge. When the Shelter-In-Place order allows, you can view a sample of what Hidden Histories is trying to accomplish by coming to San Jose Japantown. Practice safe social distancing and check out the “Brush the Sky” project. Download the free ARpoise app to your smartphone (iOS or Android) and see the artwork. A brochure with more information on “Brush the Sky” is available at:

Look for news and informative videos (both about the project and about San Jose Japantown history) from the “Hidden Histories” team. Follow the project at:




Historical photos of the neighborhood include Philippines Neighborhood Grocery.

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