Putting a face to the nisei

A photographer with family ties to Lahaina and a desire to put a face to the nisei, or second generation of Americans of Japanese decent in Hawaii, will be bringing his award-winning photo exhibition to the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center’s Education Building from Monday to Dec. 6.

Brian Y. Sato’s “Gokurosama Hawaii Nikkei Nisei” exhibit of more than 50 black-and-white photos of nisei in Hawaii will be the first outside exhibition in the Education Building of the facility, dedicated to the heroic Japanese-American veterans of World War II, on Lower Main Street.

“Gokurosama” is an expression of gratitude to someone who has worked hard or made a sacrifice on one’s behalf, a news release about the exhibition said.

“I am extremely pleased to have the opportunity of sharing this exhibition with the people of Maui at such an appropriate setting where the niseis are being honored,” said Sato.

In 2002, he embarked on the project after realizing that the rapidly aging generation could become a “faceless” group to future generations without photographic documentation, the news release said. Sato’s photos “focus on the nisei as individuals rather than as a group, personalizing the viewer’s experience with the photographic images accompanied by descriptive captions,” the news release said.

The exhibition has been presented at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii in Honolulu, the Lyman Museum in Hilo, the Kauai Museum, the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, and several cities in Japan, including Tokyo, Osaka and Hiroshima and in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

Last December, Sato became the 37th recipient – the only American – of the Ina Nobuo Award for best exhibition at the Nikon Salon in Tokyo.

“My mission was to take the exhibition to all of the major islands while the nisei were still alive, as an expression of recognition of their generation,” Sato said.

Sato’s great-grandfather immigrated from Fukushima, Japan, in 1899, and his father grew up in Lahaina, graduating from Lahainaluna High School in 1941. While the photographer was raised in Wahiawa, Oahu, he spent his summers in Lahaina.

“It was this familiarity with the community that led to initiating this project on Maui a little over 10 years ago,” the news release said.

The exhibit will be free to the public and will be available for viewing noon to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

“Brian’s exhibition helps to perpetuate the legacy of the civilian nisei and nisei veterans, both of whom made many sacrifices during a difficult period of nisei history,” said Kyle Watanabe, historical preservation and education coordinator for the center.

Sato also will be making a presentation describing a sampling of photographs from the exhibition at the annual dinner of the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center beginning at 6 p.m. Nov. 9 at the Maui Beach Hotel.