WAILUKU, Hawaii - An exhibit that opened on Saturday on Maui tells the stories of Japanese-Americans interned during World War II. It's called "Toyo: Behind the Glass Eye." The Nisei Veterans Memorial Center presents the exclusive Hawaii premiere of “TOYO: Behind the Glass Eye,” a free-admission exhibition of photographs by Toyo Miyatake (some rarely seen by the public) from February 16 – June 14, 2019, in NVMC’s Education Center, 665 Kahului Beach Rd, Kahului, HI.

The exhibit juxtaposes selected examples of Miyatake’s pre-World War II art photography with his images of life in Manzanar, CA, internment camp, one of 10 internment camps where over 110,000 Japanese-Americans were incarcerated between December 1942-1945.

“Looking through the lens of the past is essential if we are to learn from our mistakes, and perpetuate the values of those who came before us as we look to the future. The Nisei Veterans Memorial Center is humbled to showcase the Hawaii premiere of the Toyo Exhibit, creating meaningful opportunities for our community to come together to learn, heal, and be inspired by the courageous acts of the past,” stated Jill Tokuda, Executive Director of the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center. 

Toyo Miyatake (1895-1979) was born in Kagawa prefecture in Japan. He came to the United States in 1909 with his mother and two brothers to rejoin his father who had left Japan two years earlier.

He became interested in photography, opened the Toyo Miyatake Studio in October, 1923, and would go on to win critical acclaim and prizes in many exhibitions, including the 1926 London International Photography Exhibition.

Executive Order 9066 forced Miyatake, his wife and four children, into the internment camp at Manzanar in 1942.  He was able to store his photographic equipment but managed to smuggle a camera lens and film plate holder into the camp against government orders and secretly photograph camp life. He got film into camp by way of a hardware salesman and former client. 

Eventually Miyatake asked the camp director if he could set up a photo studio and got permission to do so with the provision that he could load and set the camera but a Caucasian assistant would snap the shutter. Later that restriction was lifted and Miyatake was designated official camp photographer and granted the freedom to take photos of everyday life at Manzanar.

Miyatake retired in 1960 but continued to carry a camera with him every day. His reputation grew both in Los Angeles and abroad and he was decorated with the Order of the Rising Sun by the Japanese government in 1976.

After his death in 1979, his contributions to the Little Tokyo community were marked in 2011 with the naming of a street after him, now called Toyo Miyatake Way, and the installation of a bronze relief of the photographer. He is the subject of two documentary films, Infinite Shades of Gray (2001), and Toyo's Camera (2008). 

Miyatake’s grandson, Alan, gave a talk on opening day. On Sunday, February 17  Los Angeles’ Japanese American Cultural and Community Center Artistic Director Hirokazu Kosaka will give a talk, “On the Veranda,” at 1:30 p.m. at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center’s Morgado Hall. Both events are free but reservations are required. Please call (808) 244-6862 to reserve your seat.

Major sponsors of the exhibition are HouseMart Family Foundation, H20 Logistics, Dr. Mary Lou and Robert Morgado, Kent & Polli Smith Foundation, Maui’s Sons and Daughters of the Nisei Veterans, Matson, Paul Kosasa,  Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (Los Angeles) and Toyo Miyatake Studio.