Japanese American National Museum - History and Facts | History Hit

Japanese American National Museum

Los Angeles, California, United States

The Japanese American National Museum is a museum of the history, culture and heritage of Japanese Americans.

Peta Stamper

22 Apr 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Japanese American National Museum

The Japanese American National Museum (JANM) in Los Angeles is a museum of the history, culture and heritage of Japanese Americans. Whilst it has several temporary and travelling exhibits, the main exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum is called ‘Common Ground’, telling the story of 130 years of the history from the treatment of Japanese Americans during World War Two back to the days of early immigration.

Japanese American National Museum history

The JANM was conceived by activist and World War Two US veteran, Bruce Kaji, after the Japanese-American community organised in recognition of the injustice they suffered from the government during World War Two. The museum was to serve as a testament to the positive aspects of Japanese-American history and culture, providing an alternate narrative to one of alienation and .

During World War Two, around 125,000 people of Japanese-American heritage were forcibly interned in concentration camps on the Pacific Coast. A government decision based more on racism than any real threat to security, interned Japanese-American (most with citizenship) were confined within appalling conditions. Later, President Jimmy Carter launched an investigation into the internment which concluded the design was based on systemic racism, awarding reparations to internees.

When the museum opened in 1992 it was housed within the historic Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, built in 1925 in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. The temple had been used in 1942 by government officials to organised Japanese-Americans for wartime confinement. However, the museum’s project was larger than originally thought and in 1999 the KANM opened a new Pavilion designed under Japanese-American architect, Gyo Obata.

In 1993, the museum was gifted hundreds of artefacts and letters from children who were interned in the US camps by San Diego librarian Clara Breed. The letters were featured in an exhibition called ‘Dear Miss Breed: Letters from Camp’, and became part of the museum’s permanent collection. In the late 1990s, a national resource centre was established to document and preserve, as well as provide access, to the museum’s resources both on-site and online.

Japanese American National Museum today

Today, you can spend around 2 hours exploring this modern museum within the heart of Los Angeles without charge. The museum is open Fridays through Sundays. Permanent exhibitions include ‘Common Ground: The Heart of Community’ which chronicles 130 years of Japanese-American history from the Issei pioneers to the present.

For those who are also interested in artwork, the temporary exhibition ‘Taiji Terasaki: Transcendients’ honours those who advocated for Japanese-American rights and fought discrimination through contemporary art. Highlights include video projections on mist and photographic weavings.

Getting to the Japanese American National Museum

For those using public transport, the easiest way around Los Angeles, the nearest bus stops include 1st St and Central St on route A, around the corner from the JANM, as well as Temple St and Alameda St on route D, a 2 minute walk from the museum. There is nearby parking at 600 East 1st Street, 2 minutes away.