Where We Live: Japanese American Museum of Oregon

Portland

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A new museum in Old Town that opened earlier this month commemorates the history and traditions of Oregon’s Japanese American Citizens. 

An interactive exhibit from the Japanese American Museum of Oregon. (KOIN)

Some of that history was tragic, but there were also some triumphs. 

The Japanese American Museum of Oregon is located in the heart of what used to be Portland’s Japantown, or Nihonmachi.

“It’s what my parents were striving for, and now I’ve kind of seen it to fruition, and I am just thrilled,” said Connie Masuoka, president of the Japanese American Museum of Oregon.

Executive Director Lynn Fuchigami-Parks said a lot of the interactive exhibits focus on a dark time in Portland’s history when thousands of Japanese Americans were forcibly sent to internment camps following the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941. 

In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing “military areas” to send Americans of Japanese descent. 

One exhibit pays tribute to the Nisei soldiers, who were some of the most decorated veterans in military history. (Screenshot)

Fuchigami-Parks’ family was incarcerated during this time.

“Portland was one of the major communities to forcibly remove their citizens,” she said.

Some Japanese Americans were sent to the Portland Assembly Center or even the Portland Livestock Exposition Center, where some were forced to live in animal stalls. 

One exhibit pays tribute to the Nisei soldiers, who were some of the most decorated veterans in military history. 

“And they were fighting and dying for this country that had their own family members imprisoned, so it’s really a remarkable story,” Fuchigami-Parks said. 

Another exhibit displays the jail cell of Minoru Yasui, Oregon’s first Japanese American attorney. Yasui challenged the curfew placed on Japanese Americans, which resulted in him spending nine months incarcerated while his case made it all the way to the Supreme Court. 

“And you will hear Min in his own voice, sharing what it was like to be incarcerated,” Fuchigami-Parks said. 

The museum also highlights Japanese American successes, including their agricultural contributions to Oregon. 

“It’s really been built on the shoulders of all of our community throughout decades,” Fuchigami-Parks said.

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