This past spring, we had the opportunity to partner with Professor Morgan Pitelka of Occidental College on a meaningful community-based documentation project for a seminar titled "Japanophilia: Orientalism, Nationalism, Transnationalism." I've been wanting to partner with younger people to interview some of the long-time Little Tokyo businesses to share on DiscoverNikkei.org for a while now and was thrilled when Prof. Pitelka agreed to my suggestion.
My criteria in selecting businesses was that they would be family-owned businesses that had operated in Little Tokyo for a long time, but had not previously had much written about them before. I thought it would make it easier for the students to have access, but also because I wanted them to be able to get to know the people behind the businesses that they may have frequented before or might afterwards. The Little Tokyo Historical Society and staff at the Museum provided help in selecting and contacting the businesses. In the end, five businesses were selected and agreed to be interviewed: Aihara Insurance, Aoi Restaurant, Bunkado, Little Tokyo Cafe, and Uyeda Department Store.
Ten students worked in teams of two to interview the owners of the businesses. Each team created a Nikkei Album collection together to share photos and an overview of each business. In addition, each student wrote their own article sharing stories. Although I've visited many of the businesses for many, many years, I was delighted to find that I learned so much new about each business through this project.
We're posting the ten student articles one per week. So far six are online. At the end of each article is a link to the corresponding Nikkei Album collection. The articles can be accessed here: Little Tokyo Community Profiles series.
I'd really want to express my appreciation and gratitude to Prof. Pitelka and his students. They really embraced this project and I think they got a lot out of it. I'd love to continue to work with student, youth, and community groups to continue with this type of community documentation project. If you're interested, let us know!