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Stage & Studio: Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong – preserving history at JAMO

The Japanese American Museum of Oregon's new Executive Director, Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong, talks about the museum's purpose and its future.


New Executive Director Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong at the Cemetery Monument in the Manzanar National Historic Site in California, where a large incarceration camp for Japanese American citizens had been during World War II. Photo courtesy of Wakatsuki-Chong.

Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong was recently appointed the new executive director of the Japanese American Museum of Oregon. She speaks with Jenna Yokoyama on Stage and Studio about her personal and professional background in preserving Japanese American history as well as her ideas for the museum’s community-driven future.

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Theme by Clark Salsbury


In this episode, hear Wakatsuki-Chong on why she is drawn to preserving Japanese American history …

“…my family was incarcerated during World War II… and our family and didn’t really speak much about the incarceration. And so as an adult… as I learned more about my history, I realized my family didn’t really talk much about it. I also wasn’t raised within a Japanese American community. So this is an opportunity for me to explore my Japanese American identity, learn more about my family history, but also to honor my ancestors by preserving these cultural heritage sites that kind of influenced the Nikkei community.”

on the importance of the museum’s physical location in Old Town Portland …


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“It’s in one aspect a power place here in Old Town Portland, because we’re occupying space as Japanese Americans. … There’s not many structures that exist, that were actually Japanese owned businesses that are left in Japantown. … So there’s that power of place of just occupying the space itself to be like, “remember.” But then as kind of a collective Nikkei community space to then remember our history and culture and our heritage… “ 

on what histories could use more attention …

“… I do think that there are some narratives that could be expanded on… like why were Japanese immigrants coming through? A lot of it was because of the railroads. And we don’t really talk about that. And if we are talking about World War II incarceration, we’re not talking about the folks who are not incarcerated, because that line for folks to be forcibly removed only went through about half of Oregon. So there were communities like Ontario, where people were not incarcerated. … We’re not really talking about how people reestablished themselves. … But what about the new businesses and enterprises that are still flourishing today? You know, so there’s opportunities, I think, to kind of cast a wider net. … I think that there’s opportunities to have those discussions, whether it’s about identity and other issues…”


Brick building with red street lamp in front, located next to a crosswalk. The words Naito Center are above the entrance doors to the building.
The Japanese American Museum of Oregon at the Naito Center on NW Flanders St in Old Town Portland. Picture courtesy of the Japanese American Museum of Oregon

About the Japanese American Museum of Oregon

The Japanese American Museum of Oregon has been preserving local Japanese American History since it first opened its doors in 2004. The museum is charged with preserving and sharing the history and culture of the Nikkei community—Japanese emigrants and their descendants. Formerly known as the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, JAMO is a venue for culture and research as well as a resource for exploring Nikkei experiences and their role in Oregon’s multicultural community. Their permanent exhibit space highlights Issei immigration and early life in Oregon, Nihonmachi (Japantown), and the experience during World War II through Nikkei life today.

About Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong

Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong is a professionally trained public historian, political scientist, and museologist. She serves as an adjunct faculty member at Johns Hopkins University at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences Museum Studies and Cultural Heritage Management Programs. Before joining JAMO, she was the first superintendent of the Hono’uli’uli National Historic Site in Honolulu and also served on special detail as the acting chief of interpretation for the Pearl Harbor National Memorial. In 2022, she was selected to work on a six-month detail in the Office of the Chief of Staff at the White House, serving as the AANHPI policy advisor to the deputy assistant to the president on issues and initiatives affecting the AANHPI community.


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Photo Joe Cantrell

Jenna Yokoyama

Jenna Yokoyama is a singer, theater creative, and audio producer. Her creative work often focuses on exploring the experiences of the Asian American community. She has a passion for understanding the complexity that makes up the interconnected nature of culture, identity, and art.


3 Responses

    1. Thanks for asking, Bill. It’s the Cemetery Monument at the Manzanar National Historic Site in California, where a large incarceration camp for Japanese American citizens had been during World War II. The mountain range is the Sierra Nevada. We’ll add this information to the caption.

  1. Great interview. Fascinating account of Hanako’s journey to Japanese American history from a personal history view and a student view and the struggle that resulted from those experiences.

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