The Nisei Week Car Show is a showcase for Nikkei car enthusiasts. (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

The Japanese American National Museum (JANM) was awarded $75,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to support the upcoming exhibition “Cruising J-Town: Nikkei Car Culture in Southern California.”

This NEH grant will allow JANM to create an exhibition about Nikkei car culture from the early 1900s to the present. Nikkei are Japanese emigrants and their descendants who have created communities throughout the world.

The exhibition will also explore how cars and trucks have been both literal and symbolic vehicles of cultural identity, performance, and participation, as well as social integration and mobility within the Southern California Japanese American community.

Curated by Dr. Oliver Wang of CSU Long Beach, “Cruising J-Town” will feature:

– Rare photographs and oral histories of multiple generations of Nikkei car enthusiasts, mechanics, journalists, industry figures, and others;

– Cars and trucks representing various eras of automobile culture and photographs and related ephemera connected to the diverse ways in which this culture has shaped the Nikkei community and vice versa;

– Rare car designs from noted Corvette and Mustang designer Larry Shinoda, whose papers are cataloged at JANM.  

Both a companion documentary and catalog/book will accompany the exhibition, which will open in 2025.

“As racers, designers, customizers, and enthusiasts, Japanese Americans have used the automobile to express creativity, build community, and drive innovation, and whose influence and impact transcends beyond the local community to novices and car enthusiasts throughout the world,” said Ann Burroughs, president and CEO. “We are grateful to the NEH for this opportunity to highlight the pivotal contributions that Japanese Americans have made to Southern California car culture since the early 20th century.”

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