Japanese Cultural Center in Hawaii launches virtual tours of popular exhibit

November 3 — The Japanese Cultural Center in Hawaii has launched virtual tours of its long-standing “Okage Sama De” exhibit.

Until early December, plans to release weekly episodes on Wednesdays that chronicle the stories and history of the Japanese in Hawaii. The first video tour of the six-part series, which focuses on Japanese immigration to Hawaii, debuted last week, and the second chapter is released today.

Opened in 1995, it has been closed since April 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because it is located in a small space on JCCH’s Moiliili grounds, it is difficult for visitors to physically distance themselves, said Nate Gyotoku, president and executive director of the association. Gyotoku said he didn’t know when he would reopen.

When Gyotoku took the reins of JCCH in January, he said creating virtual tours of the exhibit was one of his top priorities. Before the pandemic, around 3,000 to 4,000 visitors, mostly elementary school students, visited the exhibit each year.

“With the shutdown it went to zero,” he said. “We wanted to distribute the content to students and teachers so that they could show it, but also so that people who could not come to the center can see it.”

By creating virtual tours, Gyotoku said it also gives JCCH the opportunity to virtually expand the exhibit and tell more stories without worrying about space limitations. He said they plan to release six more chapter videos, which are currently in production, next spring. The first six video tours mirror what’s in the exhibit, Gyotoku said, while the next six will highlight deeper dives into other issues.

Called “Okage Sama De,” which means “I am what I am because of you,” a phrase that expresses deep gratitude to those who came before us, the exhibit details the journey of Japanese immigrants and Native Americans. Japanese in Hawaii, beginning with the first wave, or “gannenmono,” in 1868. It features artefacts, murals, exhibits and oral history videos. Tours are led by volunteer guides, who share their personal and family stories with visitors.

Gyotoku said the project was led by volunteer docents, who wrote scripts and are featured in the virtual tour videos.

“(The exhibit) does a good job of telling our community’s immigration story…” Anyway, we’ll continue to create more content. It’s a great way for us to give new life for the project.

Watch the weekly episodes on. The next videos will be released at 8:30 am on the following days: “Plantation life”, today; “Hawaii Before World War II,” November 10; “World War II in Hawaii”, November 17; “Hawaii after World War II”, November 24; and “Cultural Celebrations and Local Heroes,” December 1 —– Jayna Omaye covers ethnic and cultural affairs and is a staff member of Report for America, a national service organization that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on under the issues and communities covered.

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