The Japanese American National Museum will present “Sutra and Bible: Faith and the Japanese American World War II Incarceration” from Feb. 26 to Nov. 27.
From the confines of concentration camps and locales under martial law to the battlegrounds of Europe, Japanese Americans drew on their faith to survive forced removal, indefinite incarceration, unjust deportation, family separation, and war combat at a time when their race and religion were seen as threats to national security. “Sutra and Bible” explores the role that religion played in saving the exiled Japanese American community from despair.
“Sutra and Bible” tells the stories of those faced with sudden, heartbreaking exile through an array of astonishing artifacts: from the prayer books and religious scrolls they carried into camp, to the Buddha statues, crosses, and altars they handcrafted to keep their spirits alive.
At the heart of the exhibition are sacred scriptures created in camp: ink-inscribed stones that were unearthed from the Heart Mountain concentration camp’s cemetery that make up a section of the Lotus Sutra, and heavily annotated bilingual Bibles, handwritten by the Salvation Army’s Capt. Masuo Kitaji during his incarceration in the Poston concentration camp.
This exhibition, co-curated by Duncan Ryuken Williams and Emily Anderson, shares the many ways that the Buddhist and Christian communities provided refuge, instilled hope, and taught compassion as Japanese Americans survived behind barbed wire, under martial law, and on the battlefield.
Williams is professor of American studies and ethnicity, chair of the USC School of Religion, and director of the USC Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture. He has also been ordained since 1993 as a Buddhist priest in the Soto Zen tradition and previously served as the Buddhist chaplain at Harvard University, where he earned his Ph.D.
Williams’ latest book, “American Sutra: A Story of Faith and Freedom in the Second World War” (Harvard University Press, 2019) is the winner of the 2022 Grawemeyer Religion Award and a Los Angeles Times bestseller. Williams is also the author of “The Other Side of Zen” (Princeton) and editor of seven volumes, including “Hapa Japan” (Kaya), “Issei Buddhism in the Americas” (Illinois), “American Buddhism” (Routledge), and “Buddhism and Ecology” (Harvard). Find him online at duncanryukenwilliams.com.
Anderson is project curator at JANM and a specialist on modern Japan. Having received her Ph.D. in modern Japanese history from UCLA in 2010, she was assistant professor of Japanese history at Washington State University (Pullman, Wash.) from 2010-2014, and postdoctoral fellow at University of Auckland in 2014.
She is the author of “Christianity in Modern Japan: Empire for God” (Bloomsbury, 2014) and the editor of “Belief and Practice in Imperial Japan and Colonial Korea” (Palgrave MacMillan, 2017) as well as a number of articles and book chapters on religion and imperialism in Japan and the Pacific. She also has extensive experience developing museum exhibits, including co-curating “Boyle Heights: Power of Place” (JANM, 2002-2003) and “Cannibals: Myth and Reality” (San Diego Museum of Us, 2015-ongoing).
A virtual curator preview and gallery talk will be given by Williams and Anderson on Feb. 26 from 10 to 11 a.m.
“Sutra and Bible” is co-presented by JANM and the USC Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture with support from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program. Media Sponsor: The Rafu Shimpo.
JANM is located at First Street and Central Avenue in Little Tokyo. Hours: 11 a.m.–5 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. Last entry is at 4 p.m. Closed Monday and in observance of Juneteenth (6/19), Fourth of July, Anniversary of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 (8/10), Indigenous People’s Day, Election Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Admission is free on Saturday, Feb. 19, in observance of Day of Remembrance.
Timed, advance tickets are required. No walk-ins admitted. For more information, call (213) 625-0414 or visit www.janm.org.