Japanese American National Museum to Celebrate 25th Anniversary

The Japanese American National Museum, the largest private nonprofit national institution dedicated to the preservation and sharing of the Japanese American experience, will mark the occasion of its 25th Anniversary since its incorporation with a year-long series of events highlighted by its 2010 Annual Gala Dinner, “25 Years & Beyond: Celebrating the Spirit of Our Community”, set for the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel on Saturday, April 10, 2010.

The institution was actually born before its incorporation when two community groups merged their individual efforts to create a museum in the early 1980s. A World War II veterans’ group led by Col. Young Oak Kim joined forces with several Little Tokyo businessmen led by Bruce Kaji to create an organization whose mission is to permanently preserve and share the story of Japanese Americans as an integral part of U.S. history. Incorporated in 1985, the National Museum began as an almost all-volunteer organization composed of 13 different committees and only one full-time staff member with no permanent site and no endowment.

From those humble beginnings, the National Museum was able to raise the funds to renovate a former Buddhist temple building in Little Tokyo and open it to the public in 1992. It staged a successful Phase II campaign that resulted in the construction of its modern 85,000-square-foot Pavilion that opened in 1999 and then reconfigured its historic building to include its National Center for the Preservation of Democracy and expanded the space for its Tateuchi Democracy Forum.

All along the way, the National Museum reached out to diverse communities in Hawai`i, the West Coast, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Chicago, Cleveland, and the East Coast. It developed landmark exhibitions and traveled shows to Hawai`i, Washington, D.C., New York City, Brazil, and Japan. The Museum organized several national conferences and one-of-a-kind special events while partnering with educators from around the country to develop local curriculum that included the Japanese American experience. Its Watase Media Arts Center created award-winning documentaries and its Hirasaki National Resource Center has aided thousands of students, families, and researchers in discovering more about Japanese American history.

“This is a gratifying story,” observed Akemi Kikumura Yano, President and CEO of the National Museum. “Most of our Japanese American community organizations were formed in a similar manner to our Museum. Every church, every temple, every community center has begun with a group of people joining together to reach a lofty goal. No one person could do it alone, but by working together, what seems impossible is attainable.

“Twenty-five years ago, the Museum founders knew that the Japanese American story was not well known within our own community, let alone by other Americans,” Kikumura Yano explained. “Today, thanks to the support of our members, donors, supporters and community partners from across the country, the National Museum has helped to make our story, especially the World War II experience, part of curricula in states like Arkansas, Colorado, Texas, Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, as well as throughout the West Coast and Hawai`i.

“Documentary producer Ken Burns included our stories in his epic presentations by using material from the Museum’s collections. Even prime time television shows like ‘Cold Case’ include the mass incarceration in their shows. What seemed impossible in 1985 is a reality today, but only because so many people believed in the National Museum and have continued to support it over the years.”

The National Museum’s annual gala dinners have become unique events since their inauguration in 1985. Among those recognized at the dinners have been U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye, former Governor George Ariyoshi, Sony Corp. co-founder Akio Morita, NBC’s “Today” Show host Ann Curry, Medal of Honor recipient Hershey Miyamura, musician Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park and Giant Robot founder Eric Nakamura. The dinners spotlighted the strawberry and floriculture industries where Japanese Americans were key contributors. It organized the largest dinner ever for its “National Salute to Japanese American Veterans” and recognized a group of former teachers from the World War II concentration camps and dozens of Nikkei three-generation (or more) family businesses. It highlighted the contributions of those who made Japanese American redress possible with the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

The 2010 Annual Gala Dinner, “25 Years & Beyond: Celebrating the Spirit of Our Community”, will be organized as a broader tribute to the Japanese American community’s willingness to work together, which enabled the formation of the National Museum. Founding President Bruce Kaji will be among those receiving special recognition. Senator Inouye and former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta are the Honorary Dinner Co-Chairs. Dr. Paul I. and Hisako Terasaki are the Dinner’s Signature Sponsors. The Dinner Committee Co-Chairs are Tracey Doi, Chief Financial Officer, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., and George Tanaka, Senior Vice President, Union Bank.

“The occasion of the Japanese American National Museum’s 25th anniversary is an appropriate time to look back at how a community’s grassroots effort created what would become a national and international educational institution,” observed Tracey Doi. “But, it is also the correct moment to look forward and envision how the National Museum can continue to connect to each new generation while fulfilling its mission over the next 25 years.”

Sponsorships for the 2010 Annual Gala Dinner are available at these levels: Signature ($100,000), Presenting ($50,000), Diamond ($25,000), Platinum ($10,000), Gold ($5,000), Silver ($3,500), Bronze ($2,500) and Community ($1,750, for non-profit organizations and must be for full table). There are also Sponsorships available for the VIP Reception set for Friday, April 9, at the National Museum, at the Host ($15,000) and Sponsor ($5,000) level; and Gala Dinner Reception Host ($15,000) and Gala Dinner Reception Sponsor ($5,000).

The Japanese American National Museum will kick-off its 25th Anniversary year with its annual Oshogatsu Family Festival set for Sunday, January 3, 2010, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

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