By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
Little Tokyo took one step toward normalcy on Friday with the reopening of the Japanese American National Museum for the first time since last year’s pandemic shutdown.
For now, the museum is open weekends only with free admission but reservations required.
There was no fanfare as masked visitors filed into the building and maintained social distancing as they looked at the exhibitions. They were asked to take one staircase to the second floor and a different staircase to come back down, and to use the main doors for entry and different doors to exit.
“It’s so exciting,” commented JANM President and CEO Ann Burroughs. “We’ve worked really hard to ensure that we can open as safely as possible and finally it’s happening and it feels wonderful.
“It’s the right time to do it. Apart from public health regulations allowing us to do it … given the anti-Asian hate, it’s really important that JANM is open and that it’s a place where people can feel a sense of hope, where they can come for refuge and to feel a sense of renewal …
“I think that just being open is one of the most important services we can provide for our community at the moment. It’s one of the constants. We preserve the history to make sure it never happens again. And we have a huge responsibility.”
Burroughs noted that she and other staff members haven’t been on the premises much during the past year. “We’ve been very stringent about following all of the public health regulations. The majority of us have worked from home and of course we transformed ourselves into a virtual museum. We’ve had folks on site that are essential staff, security, etc.
“But it’s also given us a time of real innovation and creativity … for us because we’ve also had to continue focusing forward, not just focusing on reopening, but focusing forward for sustainability for the future.”
Taiji Terasaki’s “Transcendients: Heroes at Borders,” which opened not long before the shutdown, is still on view. It honors individuals, past and present, who have fought for those who face discriminatio, prejudice and inequality.
“In the meantime Taiji Terasaki has installed a Phase 2 to the exhibition, which is looking at COVID heroes and commemorating what’s happened during COVID and highlighting … some of the individuals who lost their lives, particularly health workers,” said Burroughs, adding that the artist also addresses “the issues of the last months, the racial reckoning and the protests and the terrible, searing, anger and pain after George Floyd. Now, of course, he’s also now focusing on anti-Asian hate, as we are too.”
JANM’s permament exhibition, “Common Ground,” includes a section on the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans and features an actual barracks from the Heart Mountain camp as well as video of testimonies from the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians.
“There are many reasons why JANM is important, but one of them is because we preserve that history, but not just for the sake of preserving the history, but it’s for the sake of ensuring that it never happens again,” Burroughs said. “And that there is this beacon to what happens when hate and prejudice and discrimination is weaponized and it becomes public policy.
“And unfortunately, what we’ve seen over this last year during the COVID period is how words matter and how words are weaponized and whatever that underlying racism may have been against against Asians has been amplified by the rhetoric of the last year, particularly of the former president.”
“Under a Mushroom Cloud: Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the Atomic Bomb,” which opened last year to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the bombings, is also on view.
New museum hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with last entry at 4 p.m. Order advance tickets at at http://janm.org/tickets.
Face masks are required (except for children 2 and younger), as is social distancing. Water fountains are closed off but water bottles are allowed, except in galleries. For more details: http://janm.org/visit/covid-19-rules-and-protocol
The Hirasaki National Resource Center remains closed. The Chado tea room can be accessed from First Street but not through the museum.
The JANM Store is closed but online orders are being taken at: http://janmstore.com
Photos by MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo (except where noted)