The Underground Railroad will always serve as America’s greatest example of ordinary citizens sticking their necks out to help those suffering under the crushing weight of the nation’s racist institutions. Another example can currently be found in a most unusual place, the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden in Philadelphia during its new exhibition, “Shofuso and Modernism: Mid-Century Collaboration between Japan and Philadelphia.”
Organized by The Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia (JASGP) with support from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, the exhibition celebrates the friendships and transcultural exchanges between Junzo Yoshimura (1908–1997, Japan), George Nakashima (1905-1990, US), Noémi Pernessin Raymond (1889-1980, France) and Antonin Raymond (1888–1976, Austria-Hungary), through their collaborative architectural projects.
Their brilliant artwork takes on added dimensions when their remarkable back stories are discovered.
The married Raymonds first visited Japan in 1919 to work for Frank Lloyd Wright on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. They subsequently set up their own architectural offices in Tokyo in 1922, where they would live and practice for the next 18 years.
Yoshimura started working for the Raymond’s architectural office in 1928 when he was still a student and continued to work with the Raymonds until 1941.
Nakashima started working at the Raymond’s firm in 1934 until his return to Seattle in 1941. Shortly after returning to the U.S., the Nakashima family was sent to the Minidoka internment camp in Hunt, Idaho.
Following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, 120,000 people of Japanese descent living on America’s West Coast were sent to internment camps. They were American citizens, like Nakashima, his wife, also of Japanese descent, and their baby daughter.
In 1943, the Raymonds interceded and successfully vouched for the Nakashimas, thus allowing the family to take refuge at the Raymonds’ Farm in New Hope, Pennsylvania where they would eventually settle and set up Nakashima’s house, studio and workshop.
George Nakashima and his wife, Marion Okajima, were both American citizens, both born in the United States. Both were college graduates with degrees from prestigious universities, George with an undergraduate degree from the University of Washington and a master’s degree in architecture from MIT, Marion a degree from UCLA – exceedingly rare for a woman in 1940s America. George Nakashima had traveled the world as an American citizen.
That didn’t matter.
Both had Japanese ancestry so they were rounded up by the U.S. government and their freedom was taken away. No crime was committed. No trial was held.
The Raymond’s, neither of whom were born in the United States, but both possessing the golden ticket to opportunity in American–being white–possessed the influence to free the American-born and