The Los Angeles Issei Poetry Collection team (from left): Kenji Liu, Hirokazu Kosaka, Julie Zhu, Dr. Andrew Leong, Dr. Lisa Hofmann-Kuroda.

The Japanese American Cultural & Community Center is pleased to announce that the National Historical Publications & Records Commission of the U.S. has approved funding to support the “Los Angeles Issei Poetry Collection Digital Edition.”

With this recommendation, JACCC will receive $120,000 from the National Archives to support planning for a collaborative digital edition of an almost-forgotten collection of Issei (first-generation immigrant) Japanese American poetry.

The Los Angeles Issei Poetry Collection consists of writings by Issei authors — published books, diaries, ephemera, and unpublished, handwritten manuscripts — born in Japan in the late 19th to early 20th century, who migrated by steamer ship to the U.S. in their teens and early twenties.

Digitizing, transcribing, and translating this collection will recover Japanese-language literature written in Los Angeles and California between the world wars, and educate the public about this community’s significant creative contributions. Much of this work was thought lost due to World War II and the incarceration camps.

Two key members of the project team are Dr. Andrew Way Leong and Dr. Lisa Hofmann-Kuroda, scholars and translators of Japanese-language literature.

Leong said, “These materials contain an indispensable record of the views and perspectives of Japanese American immigrants during the Great Depression and a period of rising tensions between Japan and the United States. Many copies of these journals and anthologies were thought to be lost over the course of the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans; their preservation by the JACCC is a small miracle.

“Just as one example, there is an extremely rare volume of freestyle haiku from the Stockton area by Shimoyama Eitaro, published 1935. There are only two other known copies, held by UC Berkeley in the U.S. and the National Diet Library in Japan.”

Japanese American pre-war literature is a largely unexamined area of scholarship. The Japanese American community’s ability to read Japanese was negatively impacted by the pressures of racism and the incarceration camp experience. Partly due to this, studies of Japanese American literature often begin with the Nisei (second generation), who wrote mostly in English. This project will eventually give the public direct access to the feelings and thoughts of the first generation during a pre-war period of intense U.S. anti-Asian politics and the Great Depression.

Hofmann-Kuroda said, “It’s exciting to hold a book from 1889 and look at this history that was previously held in people’s garages. Hopefully this will encourage others to dig into their home archives.”

Early white U.S. modernist poets such as Ezra Pound were highly influenced by Japanese poetry, which Yone Noguchi, father of Los Angeles-born artist Isamu Noguchi, was instrumental in introducing to U.S. audiences in the early 20th century. However, Japanese American modernists are mostly unrecognized in the U.S.

This project especially focuses on the life and writings of Morio Hayashida (1904-1993), an active figure in the Los Angeles bungei (literary club) scene with personal connections to pre-war modernists like Yone Noguchi (writer), Sadakichi Hartmann (writer and actor), Takehisa Yumeji (artist), and Michio Itō (dancer). Hayashida published poems in The Rafu Shimpo and Japanese American community literary journals before publishing his first full-length collection, “Where to Go,” in 1928.

The project team consists of Hirokazu Kosaka (JACCC’s master artist-in-residence), Kenji Liu (project manager), Julie Zhu (Mellon Community Curatorial Fellow), Dr. Andrew Way Leong, Dr. Lisa Hofmann-Kuroda, Kaharu Fukuda, Jacqueline Cabrera, and Caitlin Oiye Coon.

Kosaka said, “Morio Hayashida, my grandfather, was a prolific writer and active member of the Little Tokyo community. I am looking forward to seeing his poetry, plays, and other writings come to life through this project. We are grateful to the National Historical Publications & Records Commission for supporting this invaluable community history.”

Though the project is currently in its planning phase, JACCC plans to publicize selected findings in the archive as interesting discoveries come to light. Check JACCC’s website (www.jaccc.org) and social media for updates.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.