The Japanese American National Museum (JANM) mourns the passing of Min Tonai. A revered community hero and an ardent advocate for ensuring that the Japanese American experience is never forgotten, Min’s advocacy and dedication to service was shaped by his life experiences.
Born in 1929 on Terminal Island, he was incarcerated at the Santa Anita temporary detention center in California and the Amache concentration camp in Colorado. He went on to serve in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.
Min was active with organizations that promoted remembrance of prewar Terminal Island, the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans, and the service of Korean War veterans.
He was president of the Terminal Islanders group and was a valued advisor to the next generation of club leaders. He advocated for Amache’s recognition as a National Historic Site Act as well as for other camps and temporary detention centers.
He was a mentor to those who preserved the camp story, a respected leader of the Japanese American Korean War Veterans, and was actively involved with the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center. He cared deeply about Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo and Japanese American culture.
Min was a charter member of the museum and an early board member. He left the board in the early 1990s to join the President’s Council of local leaders who worked with Irene Hirano to lay the foundation for the revered institution JANM has become today.
A great friend of JANM, he regularly attended the museum’s public programs, conferences, and gatherings, alongside his wife Mary, also a beloved JANM volunteer.
Most recently, he represented the Amache survivors during the Ireichō installation ceremony on Sept. 24, 2022.
“Each of us who knew Min will have our own memories to cherish,” said Ann Burroughs, president and CEO of JANM. “He was an incredible raconteur with an encyclopedic knowledge of Japanese American history. And he believed deeply in the power of history and the power of story to make sure that the past never becomes a prologue to the present.
“We will honor his legacy by redoubling our efforts to ensure that what happened to Japanese Americans never happens to any other group, and by standing firm in the face of discrimination and prejudice. He was dearly loved by all of us at JANM and we will miss him greatly.”