Friday, May 21, 1999

By Pete Pichaske, Phillips News Service
Arnold T. Hiura, the exhibit curator, poses near
a display in the Smithsonian.

serving up Hawaii’s
mixed plate

A display opening Sunday
in D.C. spotlights island life

By Pete Pichaske
Phillips News Service


WASHINGTON -- Pineapple plants have been planted in the lobby, sandals stacked by the entrance of a fake living room, and a "garage" outfitted with a surfboard and refrigerator.

In an exhibit that opens Sunday, an entire wing of the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries Building has been transformed into a lesson in modern multicultural Hawaii.

"It is absolutely a thrill to be here," said the exhibit's curator, Hawaii journalist Arnold T. Hiura. "I knew when we established the show we would be looking at a variety of traveling venues. But I don't think we imagined we would be showing at the Smithsonian. ... This is another level altogether."

"From Bento to Mixed Plate: Americans of Japanese Ancestry in Multicultural Hawaii" was the brainchild of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. A mix of old photographs and artifacts, the exhibit had a run at the L.A. museum and on Kauai before it moved here.

After it closes in November, the exhibit will travel to the Big Island, Maui and, in the fall of next year, Okinawa.

The exhibit tells the story of the Japanese in Hawaii, beginning with the first immigrants' arrival last century, through World War II and to the present.

Hiura, former editor of a Japanese-American newspaper in Hawaii, spent a year traveling the islands in search of photographs, artifacts and stories for the exhibit.

"There's quite a lot of nostalgia attached to the show," he said this week, as workers put the finishing touches on displays. "Wherever it goes, Hawaiian people can relate to it. Beyond that, it has a positive multicultural message we're happy to share wherever we go."

At the start of the exhibit are open rooms designed to look like a typical garage and a typical living room belonging to a Japanese-American family in Hawaii. The rooms have telling Hawaii touches: a surfboard propped against a wall, for example, and sandals placed neatly in the doorway.

After that, the story is chronological. Through photographs, videotapes and displays, the visitor sees how Japanese first journeyed to Hawaii to work in the sugar cane fields, and went on to became an integral part of Hawaii's multiethnic culture.

Not much is left out, from the rigors of working in the cane fields and Japanese Americans' love of baseball, to the unique experiences of Japanese Americans during World War II and their postwar political successes.

The show here includes something not found elsewhere: a steam engine, the "Olomana," actually used on an Oahu sugar plantation a century ago. The engine was donated to the Smithsonian years ago, and it has been incorporated into the Hawaii exhibit.

The World War II section includes a wall devoted to the exploits of the decorated Japanese-American soldiers and another devoted to the Japanese Americans rounded up and sent to live in mainland camps. The latter includes a display case filled with the wooden carvings, some decorated with Hawaiian flowers, done by Ryosen Yonahara, principal of a Japanese language school on Maui who was interned in New Mexico.

The exhibit ends with a videotape of short takes put together by a diverse group of Hawaii students and a photograph of Ellison S. Onizuka, the Hawaii astronaut who died in the Challenger disaster, surrounded by an equally diverse group of students.

"This is Hawaii today," said Hiura, noting the many backgrounds of the students. "It really is a mixed plate."

The exhibit's opening here is a combination of good fortune (the permanent exhibits in the Arts and Industries Building are being moved to Pennsylvania, leaving space for traveling shows) and the efforts of Dr. Franklin Odo, the former University of Hawaii professor hired by the Smithsonian two years ago to broaden the Smithsonian's depiction of Asian Pacific Americans.

"This is a big deal for everybody concerned, including the Smithsonian," said Odo, who suggested the exhibit to the museum's leaders. "The secretary has been concerned with getting the Smithsonian beyond the Beltway. This is the first really big effort with Asian Pacific Americans. This will pretty much expand the exposure of Hawaii here."

Coincidentally, an exhibit depicting the bravery of the 522d Artillery Unit, the Japanese-American miliary unit that helped liberate Nazi concentration camps during World War II, opened in the lobby of the State Department last week.

"Witness: Our Brothers' Keeper" will be displayed for two months as part of Asian Pacific American Heritage month.

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1999 Honolulu Star-Bulletin