Celebrating 100 years of Toyo Miyatake Studio
Historic Little Tokyo photos now on display until December 17th
The photo exhibit ‘Through the Lens of Little Tokyo’ is open Thursdays to Sundays through Dec. 17 at the CRFT by Maki flagship store, located at 341 E. 1st Street.
Thursday / Friday 2-8PM
Saturday / Sunday 12- 8PM
RSVP for our closing reception on December 17th 5-8 PM via this link
Interview by Rick Liu - UCLA Center for Community Engagement
What does it mean to host a Toyo Miyatake Studio (TMS) exhibit at CRFT by Maki?
It is with immense honor and great pleasure that we at CRFT by Maki are hosting the Toyo Miyatake Studio’s 100th-anniversary photo exhibit. We are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to commemorate a century of Toyo Miyatake Studio’s instrumental role in capturing the precious moments of Japanese American (JA) families and preserving the beauty and spirit of the Little Tokyo’s community. As one of the small businesses in Little Tokyo, we felt obligated and prideful to uphold the legacy and history for generations to come.
What are your TMS memories?
Growing up and playing in the JA basketball leagues, I remember visiting other people’s homes and noticing their family portraits with the iconic Toyo Miyatake Studios stamp in the corner. At the time, I always wondered why my family wasn’t also taking portraits. For years and even until today, Toko Mytake Studios was the go-to photographer for JA families and the Little Tokyo community. I would see their portraits in everyone’s houses for any and everything–graduations, team photos, funerals, and of course, family photos. As such, I was incredibly pumped to find out that on the Saturday after my aunt’s birthday, I would finally be at Toyo Miyatake Studios. I was thrilled to get the chance to experience what I saw in everyone’s house and feel more connected to the community.
What most excites you about this photo exhibit?
Working with a 100-year-old family business is something that I would not have imagined when I first founded my business. I am incredibly honored to have the opportunity to work on a platform to share the stories of small businesses in Little Tokyo and advocate for Little Tokyo’s rich and historic culture. Through this photo exhibit, I hope to allow visitors of all ethnicities and backgrounds to learn and experience what it means to be a part of the Little Tokyo community.
Are there any photos that interest you?
Since CRFT by Maki is located on 1st Street, I am mostly intrigued by the 1st Street North photos to get more information on the history of my building. I was also drawn to the photo of Bronzeville, which was the era of Little Tokyo that had a surge of African American residents in the area. We know so little about Bronzeville, so it was exciting to get a glimpse of what life looked like at the time.
When did you first learn about the history of TMS? What stood out to you about that history?
The iconic Toyo Miyatake Studios logo has forever been stuck in my head. I saw it everywhere growing it and didn’t even how it was a signature until I dug deeper into the history of the studio. What stood out to me the most was how the original founder of Toyo Miyatake Studios snuck a lens into the concentration camps during the Japanese American mass incarceration and made his own camera and darkroom for photos. It was because of his efforts that we still have images of the inside of these camps from the prisoner’s point of view.
Why did you feel it was important to host this exhibit?
Many of the older generations of Japanese Americans in Little Tokyo do not want to toot their own horn, which makes it even more important that their work needs to be celebrated and appreciated. Specifically, Toyo Miyatake Studios has over a million treasure-like photos of the history of Little Tokyo that have yet to be seen, so I felt fortunate to use my store as a way for the family-owned business to share their never-seen-before photos. Through his exhibit and future collaborations, I hope to use CRFT by Maki and its central location on 1st Street to preserve the culture and community of Little Tokyo.