The Exhibit

“We don’t have any Japanese American community here.”

When Mary Ishino, a Japanese American woman who had been living in East Lansing, said this, she gave voice to the sentiments of many. While undoubtedly there are those in Michigan who aren’t aware there are any Japanese Americans living in the state, period, Mary Ishino meant something a little different. Something more complex. You see, see read Los Angeles-based Japanese American newspapers like The Pacific Citizen, and felt part of a Japanese American community. But that community was located in a Pacific elsewhere. Not here, in the Midwest.

So what makes a community? What makes a place feel like home–or more specifically, like a particular kind of home? This is a potent question to ask of Japanese Americans in metro Detroit, whose largest migration into the Midwest came as a direct result of World War II.

Join us for Exiled to Motown, which is a story of a Japanese American community that has made indelible marks on the society and industry of Detroit, but is rarely discussed and sometimes, not quite felt. As you walk through our self-guided exhibit of exclusive oral histories, paired with vibrant archival photos, documents, and other glimpses into the past, you’ll have a chance to see the vibrant and storied history of Detroit from a whole new angle.

Exiled to Motown is organized around three primary topics, each of which tells a crucial part of Detroit’s history from a Japanese American perspective:

Coming to Detroit

documents the waves of Japanese American migration into the metro Detroit Area, from seeking work at the Ford Motor Company to seeking refuge during and after World War II, to new generations splitting time between Japan and the United States. It explores the many reasons for coming to Detroit–and perhaps even more numerous, the paths one might have taken to get here.

Photo Credit: Gary North (Detroit Historical Museum)

Working in Detroit

covers the last century of Japanese Americans working in Detroit in a wide range of industries: Farming, dry goods, secretarial work, the automotive industry–and as translators, artists, and architects. Learn about the big personalities that always kept life interesting, work or play!


Making Detroit Home

is organized as a long timeline that puts the history of the Japanese American community in Detroit in conversation with the broader histories of Detroit, as well as that of Japanese Americans across the United States. It also highlights the cultural life of Japanese Americans in Michigan from 1946 to the present. From sock hops to social action, local faires to national gatherings, Making Detroit Home gives insight into the many ways Japanese Americans have celebrated their culture–deeply Japanese, and deeply American. (Have you ever wondered at what point did the JACL start serving Japanese food at their events, instead of aggressively Western dishes like roast pheasant and Jell-O cups?!) It also examines the lived realities that are not always so celebratory–the effects of racial segregation and racial prejudice that affect everyone living in a community, past and present.

Photo Credit: Gary North (Detroit Historical Museum)

The exhibit also includes over fifty objects that were lent by Japanese American community members to help bring our stories to life.

Photo Credit: Gary North (Detroit Historical Museum)

Thank you in advance for coming to experience our stories. Please share yours with us, too!