Monday, February 15, 1999

Isle Japanese
Americans to be
featured in capital

An exhibit on their evolution
in Hawaii will run at the
Smithsonian for six months

By Pete Pichaske
Phillips News Service


WASHINGTON -- A bit of Hawaii's multicultural history is coming to the nation's capital.

An exhibit exploring the evolution of Japanese Americans in Hawaii, which had a two-month run at Honolulu's Bishop Museum, will open for six months at the Smithsonian Institution's Arts and Industries Building on the National Mall.

The exhibit, called "From Bento to Mixed Plate: Americans of Japanese Ancestry in Multicultural Hawaii," will be open from May 23 to Nov. 30.

"It's a great coup," said Franklin Odo, the former University of Hawaii professor who came to the Smithsonian 18 months ago in part to broaden the museum's depictions of Asian Pacific American cultures. Odo helped engineer the exhibit's move to Washington.

"This is big time," he said. "Even more than money, space in a museum like the Smithsonian is a valuable commodity. Many, many museums across the country would love to have a traveling exhibit here."

The 4,500-square-foot exhibit includes artifacts, family photos, a plantation-style home, first-person accounts, costumes and much more -- all depicting how the Japanese influenced and were influenced by Hawaii's multicultural environment.

The exhibit was put together by the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, where it was on display until early this year. Hawaii organizations helped develop the displays, including the Bishop Museum and the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii.

Before coming here, the exhibit will be at the Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall in Lihue for two weeks in March. After its Smithsonian run, the exhibit will appear in Hilo for six months and, in the fall of 2000, in Okinawa and Japan.

"It's been a real hit," said Odo.

The exhibit here also will include a steam engine used a century ago on a Hawaii sugar plantation and later owned by a motion picture industry executive in California, who donated it to the Smithsonian, according to the museum's Vicki Moeser.

The Arts and Industries Building is being cleared out as the permanent exhibit is moved to Bethlehem, Pa. That move created the opportunity for traveling exhibits, and prompted Odo to sell the Hawaii exhibit to his bosses.

Critics have faulted the Smithsonian for largely ignoring Hawaii by displaying only a tiny percentage of its vast collection of Hawaii artifacts -- probably the most extensive such collection in the world outside the isles.

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