Bruce Kaji, the founding president of the Japanese American National Museum, will read excerpts from his autobiography, “Jive Bomber: A Sentimental Journey,” at the premiere of its publication on Saturday, Aug. 14, beginning at 2 p.m. at the National Museum in Little Tokyo. Mary Kageyama Nomura, known as the “Songbird of Manzanar,” will perform as part of the program, with a reception with light refreshments to follow.
Kaji, who was born in Boyle Heights, was attending Roosevelt High School
when World War II began. He, his family and thousands of people of Japanese ancestry were forcibly removed by the U.S. Government and unconstitutionally incarcerated in domestic concentration camps. Kaji was held in Manzanar,
about 200 miles north of Los Angeles. It was while in Manzanar that Kaji, who played the trombone, became part of the Jive Bombers, a camp dance band, and where he met Mary Kageyama.
Kaji joined the Military Intelligence Service and served overseas in Japan during the Occupation and in the Philippines.
When he returned to civilian life, he attended college through the GI Bill and eventually became an accountant. He and his partner Kiyo Maruyama managed to land an important client, although at the time, it might not appeared that way. The client was a Japanese automaker, trying to sell their cars in the U.S. when “Made in Japan” was a derogatory term. The client was Toyota.
Eventually, Bruce branched out and became a real estate developer with his brother-in-law, Taul Watanabe. He then became the head of Merit Savings & Loan, which led to his ongoing involvement in the fortunes of Little Tokyo. In pursuing the idea of a creating a major development in Little Tokyo, Kaji also included a personal dream: building a museum dedicated to the story of Japanese Americans. When Bruce merged his dream with a group of World War II veterans, the Japanese American National Museum was born, officially incorporating in 1985.
These stories and others are included in the book, which was written in collaboration with writer Sharon Yamato. Kaji is donating the sales from the book to the National Museum, which is celebrating its 25th Anniversary since its incorporation this year. This program is part of the 25th Anniversary programming.