A Tale of Two Legacies
Toyo Miyatake Studio: One family’s long standing commitment to preserving the history of the Nisei Week Japanese Festival
Walk to the back room of the Toyo Miyatake Studio in San Gabriel and you’ll find hundreds of albums filled with photos taken from every Nisei Week Japanese Festival, dating back to 1934. It’s an extensive archive of Nisei Week history. Even more impressive is the fact that this entire photo collection belongs to one family.
“Photographically, we can leave a legacy just playing a part in preserving the Japanese American heritage,” explains Alan Miyatake, photographer and owner of Toyo Miyatake Studio. Miyatake is the third generation in his family to serve as Nisei Week’s official photographer. He’s had the role since 1992, but he’s been taking photos for Nisei Week since he was 18 years old.
His grandfather, Toyo, owned the original studio in Little Tokyo, the hub of Los Angeles’ Japanese American community. He was the first in the family to serve as Nisei Week’s head photographer. The inaugural festival was held in the midst of the Great Depression. According to Miyatake, “They were trying to create more business in Little Tokyo, so they created Nisei Week.”
The Miyatake clan also helped bring back the festival in 1949, four years after World War II ended. At the time, Toyo’s eldest son and Alan’s father, Archie, was in his mid 20’s and with a camera in hand, helped cover Nisei Week once again. Miyatake says, “I guess he was more involved full-time right after the war, when they all came back from camps, and the family needed to ban together to be able to survive.”
Before Miyatake was capturing Nisei Week memories, he was making them as a young boy growing up in Little Tokyo. One favorite memory was when the 1960 Nisei Week Queen helped a then 7 year old Miyatake. “I got lost on my way back to the studio. (Penny) Akemi Tani, the Queen then, saw me and I was crying. She picked me up and put me in the car. I think I went through the parade and she brought me back,” he fondly recalls.
Miyatake’s eldest daughter, Sydney, is the latest to shoot Nisei Week festivities, working alongside her dad for the last few years. But Miyatake insists there’s no pressure to carry on the family legacy. “I just hope that my kids, Sydney and Lindsey, just take an interest in the community and know it is something important.”
As we celebrate 75 years of one of the nation’s longest running cultural festivals, we celebrate people like the Miyatake family, who have had a critical role in ensuring the Nisei Week Japanese Festival continues to thrive for generations to come. “Not only how long Nisei Week has been going on but how much effort it really takes to keep it going. I think that’s the best part about the JA [Japanese American] community – we’re willing to keep it going.”
Photos courtesy of Toyo Miyatake Studio