By John Sammon, NikkeiWest Staff Writer
As the first-ever Executive Director of the Japanese American Museum of San Jose (JAMsj), Jim Nagareda said he will continue to improve and expand programs that tell the story of the achievements and struggles, the art and culture, of Japanese Americans in Northern California.
Nagareda was chosen for the newly created job after a search for candidates on Mar. 1.
“Up until now the Japanese American Museum of San Jose has been run by volunteers,” Nagareda said. “You realize what a great job they have done. The museum will continue to grow as an important part of the community and right now it’s in transition. We’re adding a lot of activities.”
The museum is readying to celebrate its 30th anniversary. On Sept. 24 a celebration will be held at the Hayes Mansion in San Jose at 200 Edenvale Ave.
Nagareda said future emphasis will be put on working with nonprofit organizations, doing outreach with Mexican-American, Asian and other ethnic groups. He said recent talk in Washington, D.C. among government officials of possibly targeting Muslims by forcing them to register because of their religion—or even detaining them in camps similar to those that imprisoned Japanese Americans in 1942 is an issue of great concern.
“We oppose this idea and community groups need to work together to make our views known,” Nagareda said. “It’s especially important now.”
The Japanese American Museum was established in 1987. Originally an outgrowth of a research project for area schools on the early-day Japanese American farmers of Santa Clara Valley, the first facility was housed in an upstairs room in the historic Issei Memorial Building at 565 N. Fifth St. (a former hospital).
Later it moved a few doors south on Fifth Street to what had been the residence of an early-day doctor. After a remodeling and expansion at the site at 535 N. Fifth St. in San Jose the museum opened in October of 2010.
“The Kawakami Family house you can see on the left of our driveway,” Nagareda said. “It’s an old Victorian home with eight rooms and is significant historically. One of our big upcoming projects is to renovate the home and use it as a community meeting space for discussions, also as storage for historic artifacts we collect.”
The projected cost of the house renovation will be $150,000 or more. Nagareda said the museum is asking the public to donate.
The museum recently upgraded its interior displays and a new section tells the story of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a Japanese American military unit that became one of the most decorated outfits of World War II. Another portion of the museum houses a “rotating exhibit” and recently told the story of “Hapa” Japanese Americans, the children of mixed race marriages.
Many of the first immigrants from Japan at the turn of the 20th century came to California to take agricultural work and helped pioneer the state’s vegetable and strawberry industries.
“Eventually their hard work paid off and they would own their own farms,” Nagareda said.
It all came to a crashing halt in 1942 during World War II when the Federal Government locked up 115,000 Japanese Americans living along the West Coast including children and the elderly for no reason other than ethnicity, as suspected enemy aliens.
“My father (Ko Nagareda) was sent to a camp in Poston, Arizona,” Nagareda said. “He was only a boy then and after the war he became a postal worker. Today he’s still active in his 80’s. He helps my mother run her store, doing bookkeeping and other chores at Kay’s Shiseido Cosmetics (201 Jackson St. San Jose).”
Kay Nagareda was the first person to sell the “Shiseido” line of cosmetics in the Continental U.S. and was born in Japan near Nagasaki. When the atomic bomb was dropped on the city during World War II she was a small girl.
“My mother can still remember seeing a blinding flash of light,” Nagareda said.
Nagareda grew up in San Jose and went to college at UC Santa Barbara where he studied molecular biology. However, photography, a hobby since high school, would become a career.
“I enjoyed it so much and people kept asking me to take their pictures,” he said.
Nagareda Studio opened in 1990 at 201 Jackson St. and has been a fixture of the Japantown community ever since.
“In the early days there were several photography studios in Japantown,” Nagareda said. “Today I’m the only one.”
Nagareda said his high points include taking photos of President Bill Clinton on a visit to San Jose, also Arnold Schwarzenegger before he became California Governor and Olympic Figure Skater Kristi Yamaguchi.
He also owns Nikkei Traditions, a popular, handcrafted arts/gifts and designer clothing store at 219 Jackson St., and Beard Papa’s in Cupertino, a bakery-restaurant which features made-to-order cream puffs.
“One of the cream puffs we carry is low-cal, only 210 calories,” Nagareda said. “But most people can’t eat just one.”
Jimbo’s, an ice cream shop and restaurant at 170 Jackson St. also owned by Nagareda, he plans to sell.
Nagareda said one advantage of having a new Executive Director for the Japanese American Museum of San Jose will be more centralized control and responsibility, resulting in greater ease of decision- making.
“It will be a little more consistent which is important,” he said. “Before, decisions were reached by volunteers and members of the Board of Directors and had to go through several individuals.”
Nagareda has been involved with history projects including the publication of a book titled “San Jose Japantown—A Journey,” 15 years in the making. The 470-page book written by Curt Fukuda and Ralph Pierce with rare historic photos is considered a definitive work on San Jose’s Japantown and was published in 2015.
“I was Project Manager for the book,” Nagareda said. “It sold all 2,000 copies printed and it was a $60 book. We were surprised.”
Nagareda has since authored his own book, “San Jose’s Japantown,” a paperback history published by Arcadia Publishing of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. The book is set for release on April 17.
“It took me a year-and-a-half to write and to assemble the photos,” Nagareda said. “The museum helped a lot and though some of the historic photos come from the big book (San Jose Japantown A Journey), a third of the photos have never been seen by the public before.”
Nagareda also served as founding board member of the Japanese American Chamber of Commerce and a three-year term as President of the West Valley Japanese American Citizens’ League (JACL) Next Generation.
The Japanese American Museum of San Jose is a nonprofit with approximately 50 active volunteers. Nagareda said more volunteers are welcome and can apply online at www.jamsj.org. Volunteers include retired people as well as those with jobs and also students. All of them share an interest in the Japanese American history of San Jose.
“Just fill out a form on-line and tell us what your interest is,” Nagareda said.
Donations to the museum are also gratefully accepted and may be made at www.jamsj.org.
Nagareda said the museum will continue to make a major effort to record the recollections of old-timers before they pass on and their stories are lost.
“Recording memories has been a major focus of the museum,” he said. “We also want artifacts before they are lost. When children go through their parents’ belongings after they pass away, we hope they will donate them to the museum and not think they are junk to be tossed out.”
Of the hundreds of visitors to the museum each year many are school children.
“I’m looking forward to meeting with our visitors and talking with them about the history,” Nagareda said. “Keeping history and experiences alive so they are not forgotten is our goal.”
JAMsj Board President Aggie Idemoto said Nagareda’s breath of experience and leadership ability would take the museum into a new era.
“We are fortunate to have a leader who has served in the Japantown community for more than 25 years,” Idemoto said. “We are definitely in good hands.”