Inside Out | Nikkeijin Illinois is more than an exhibit at Spurlock

By Chicago 3 Min Read

The exhibit Nikkeijin Illinois, on view at Spurlock Museum through Dec. 10, highlights the stories of Japanese immigrants and their descendants, told through the lens of former and current students, faculty and staff of the University of Illinois.

These stories document the experiences of Japanese Americans before, during and after their forced relocation to internment camps following the attack of the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service on Dec. 7, 1941.

Curated by Jason Finkelman, director of Global Arts Performance Initiatives at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, and a fourth-generation Japanese American (Yonsei), Nikkeijin Illinois centers histories of struggle and perseverance for Nikkeijin — those of Japanese American heritage — on campus and in our community, creating new resonance within spaces we may frequent today.

The exhibit also provides an overview of anti-Japanese propaganda and the incredible work toward reparations.

Nikkeijin Illinois is supplemented through a series of informative and engaging programs.

For the Feb. 19 exhibit opening, Finkelman was in conversation with Ross Harano (who is profiled in the exhibit), a civil rights activist and former president of the World Trade Center Chicago, and Alice Murata, co-founder of the Chicago Japanese American Historical Society.

With Spurlock Museum, Finkelman also presented a special summer concert by the MIYUMI Project, a Chicago-based global jazz ensemble led by Tatsu Aoki.

If you haven’t had the chance to see the exhibit or attend past programming, there remain a couple more opportunities.

On Oct. 6, Finkelman will speak at noon in the “Friday Forum + Conversation Café” presented by Diversity and Social Justice Education and University YMCA at the University Y.

In his presentation, Nikkeijin Illinois — Extended Stories, Finkelman will share the stories he’s learned since the exhibit opened.

For example, he’ll highlight Hideo Sasaki, a landscape architect who graduated from UIUC in 1946 and whose firm Sasaki and Associates held the UIUC campus master plan account for 30 years, ending in 2007.

To close the exhibit, there will be a special performance of Woman Warrior, an autobiographical monologue by Connie Shirakawa, a lifelong Chicagoan and 1965 graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Woman Warrior is a series of stories about Shirakawa’s life and her parents’ experiences in the Jerome War Relocation Center in Jerome, Ark.

Although Shirakawa’s performance covers a dark period in American history, she does so with humor and care.

Nikkeijin Illinois continues Spurlock Museum’s goal of centering authentic cultural voices in the telling of their unique stories and histories.

To learn more, visit Spurlock online ( or in person.

The museum is free and open to the public.

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