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Museum Receives Gift of Japanese American Photos

August 10, 1996|From a Times staff writer

They are simple photographs that chronicle the history of Japanese Americans in Little Tokyo: groundbreakings, opening ceremonies, celebrities and visits by foreign dignitaries.

Boxes of these pictures and negatives, accumulated over more than 30 years, were donated Thursday to the Japanese American National Museum.

The photos were taken by members of the Miyatake family, who operated the Toyo Miyatake Studios for the Rafu Shimpo, a Japanese American community newspaper that has been run by the Komai family since 1922. The photography studio is noted as the nation's oldest family-run Japanese American studio, museum officials said.

Until the mid-1980s, the Rafu Shimpo did not have staff photographers so it relied on the Miyatakes to shoot for them, said Chris Komai, a spokesman for the Japanese American National Museum and a member of the Komai family.

Museum officials are not even sure what all of the photographs show, but are excited to acquire such a vast collection, Komai said.

The photographs will be identified, cataloged and preserved in a collection that will be open to the public when a new pavilion is added to the museum, officials said.

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So far, they have found photographs taken from the set of "Go for Broke," a 1951 film about Japanese American soldiers who fought for the United States in World War II, and some shots of Japanese Emperor Hirohito visiting Disneyland.

The Miyatake family is perhaps best known for a series of photos taken by Toyo Miyatake while he was imprisoned at a relocation camp in Manzanar. Cameras were not allowed in the camps, Komai said, but Miyatake smuggled in a film plate holder and a lens and built a wooden body. "He decided he needed to chronicle this," Komai said.

A bronze replica of the wooden camera is on display at the Japanese American National Museum.

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