SAN JOSE — The Japanese American Museum of San Jose (JAMsj) presents “Hidden Histories of San Jose Japantown,” an augmented reality (AR) art experience that takes you on a journey of discovery outside the walls of the museum … a trip that allows you to engage with stories from the far and recent past told by the Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino communities living there side by side.

The inaugural showcase will be held Saturday, June 19, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Art Object Gallery, 592 N. 5th St, San Jose,

Featured artists:

• Tamaki Fujino, “An Alien Species in a New Environment”

• Rochelle Gatus, “Soundscape in Old Pinoytown”

• Lucien Kubo, “Winds of Change”

• Takeshi Moro, “Heinlenville”

• Kelly Nishimura, “Ending the Silence”

• Maylea Saito, “Saito Family Stories”

• Na Omi Judy Shintani, “Generations Transform the Issei Memorial Building”

• Anna Wong, “Agricultural Regrowth”

• Kiki Wu, “Safe and Sound”

The Hidden Histories project will celebrate the unveiling of its first set of commissioned AR art pieces. Visitors will start at the Art Object Gallery to learn the origins of the project and receive an orientation to AR-vos, the open-source mobile app developed by project advisors Tamiko Thiel and Peter Graf.

A self-guided walking tour through the streets of Japantown will be facilitated by volunteer docents. Many of the artists will also be present to describe their inspirations and comment on the process of creating AR artwork. Before and after the celebration, visitors are encouraged to support the Japantown businesses, many of whom have recently reopened after shelter-in-place orders were lifted.

To enhance the user experience of this community art project, visitors should download the AR-vos mobile app prior to arrival. It is available for Android on Google Play or for iOS at Apple’s App Store. More recent smartphones (three years old or newer) should have no problem viewing the exhibit. Some older phones will also work.

For best results, it is recommended that you come with family and friends and be sure that someone in your party has a newer phone. On the day of the opening, visitors will be sent out to explore in small groups. There will be docents positioned at each site with devices that can see the AR art.

“We came up with Hidden Histories because it was very apparent that most people don’t know the history of San Jose Japantown,” said Tom Izu, co-founder of the project. “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.”

The project was inspired by the work of Munich-based Thiel, an internationally celebrated digital artist with family ties to early 1900s Santa Clara Valley and San Jose Japantown. Thiel’s longtime friendship with Hidden Histories co-founder Susan Hayase led to the 2019 installation of “Brush the Sky” in San Jose Japantown. This AR piece demonstrated the potential in using AR art to engage and inform the public of the valuable history and culture of San Jose Japantown.

In late 2019, the Hidden Histories project was awarded a prestigious Immersive Technology in the Arts grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders profoundly impacted all public art projects, but the Hidden Histories team leveraged virtual learning opportunities to enhance and extend the project’s original scope. The commissioned artists learned about Japantown history over Zoom from a Community Advisory Panel that included historians, scholars, and activists representing the three ethnicities: Connie Young Yu, Robert Ragsac, Stephen Fugita, Tony Santana Ana, Brenda Wong, and Gordon Smith.

The virtual format also allowed the artists to partake in multiple technical workshops with Thiel in Germany.

Looking forward, the Hidden Histories team is doing fundraising and also looking to line up volunteers with technical skills as well as artists interested in bringing more stories to art and to AR.

Hidden Histories of San Jose Japantown is a project of the Japanese American Museum of San Jose. It is funded through a founding grant from The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in collaboration with Microsoft, with additional funding by the California History Center, De Anza College, and support from the Chinese Historical and Cultural Project and the Filipino American National Historical Society, Santa Clara Valley Chapter.

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