About the Project

This project was started to document and share an underrepresented aspect of Japanese American history. Although Japanese growers played a significant role in establishing and shaping the floral industry in the Bay Area and beyond, very little literature or other media documents their story. This project builds our appreciation of the Japanese floral industry through oral history interviews. Stories from nursery families help us build a more complete picture of the floral industry’s roots, its rise, and eventual decline, and the vibrant personalities of its individuals.

This project focuses on the stories of East Bay cut-flower nurseries, to illustrate the growth of the industry from its Oakland beginnings in the 1890s. The experiences of Peninsula and South Bay growers, potted plant growers, as well as Italian and Chinese growers, are also integral parts of the overall floral industry history. We regret that limitations of time and money prevented us from exploring their contributions. In the future, we hope these important stories will also be explored.

This project was funded by a Cal Humanities California Stories grant with contributions by the Anthropological Studies Center at Sonoma State University, the Eden Township Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, and the Buddhist Church of Oakland.


Project Director: Dana Ogo Shew

Dana Ogo Shew currently serves as Oral Historian at the Anthropological Studies Center, Sonoma State University. She received her master’s degree in archaeology from the University of Denver after completing her thesis on the lives of women at Colorado’s WWII Japanese internment camp, Amache. Over 18 oral history interviews of former Amache internees were conducted as part of her thesis research. She also worked as community liason for the University of Denver’s Amache Project and was responsible for maintaining the Project’s website, advertising and organizing community events, and developing the Project’s newsletter. She has worked as a crew chief at the University of Idaho’s field school at Idaho’s WWII Japanese work camp, Kooskia, and has done informal archaeological survey at Utah’s internment camp, Topaz. She helped develop audio driving tours for both Topaz and Amache and recently contributed to the densho.org encyclopedia. Dana has presented her research at numerous events and through various media including professional conferences, public events, television and radio interviews, web media, and publications. As ASC’s Oral Historian she has had the opportunity to continue working with the Japanese community, collecting oral histories for archaeological projects. She remains committed to sharing with the public the stories and memories associated with Japanese American history.

Project Advisor: Jill Shiraki

Jill Shiraki has been working with the non-profit community over the past 18 years in the areas of cultural and arts program development, community organizing, and outreach. For the past seven years, Shiraki has worked on Preserving California’s Japantowns, a statewide effort to document and preserve historic resources from pre-World War II Japanese American communities, and support local advocacy and stewardship. Her work has included conducting numerous oral history interviews on Japantowns across California, with recent focus on Fresno, Walnut Grove, and Clarksburg. Prior to that, Shiraki was Director of Programs for the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California for over ten years, which allowed her to develop a broad range of programs in cultural and performing arts, visual and literary arts, and educational forums. Her related projects include outreach for Blossoms and Thorns, a film on the Japanese American flower growers in Richmond, and producing Collecting Nisei Stories, an on-line resource to encourage writing on the Japanese American experiences, in collaboration with editor/instructor Brian Komei Dempster. www.niseistories.org

Project Advisor: Adrian Praetzellis

Adrian Praetzellis is Professor of Anthropology at Sonoma State University and the Director of the Anthropological Studies Center (ASC). He specializes in the history and archaeology of 19th and 20th century immigrants to California. Dr. Praetzellis has curated and advised on many museum displays and interpretive websites on the archaeology of Chinese and Japanese immigrants, and has coordinated oral history, archival, and archaeological projects on this subject.

Director of Photography/Editor: Benjamin Sue

Benjamin Sue has a B.F.A. in film with a focus on editing from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. He has extensive behind-camera experience as a director of photography, director, writer and post-production editing specialist. Mr. Sue also has experience in filming and lighting interviews and recently completed filming and editing a professional short documentary, Sneakerhead .

Web Designer: Alex Camp

Alex Camp is a web developer with over 15 years of experience building websites, 10 of those years working as a Senior Web Developer for The Walt Disney Company (including ABCFamily and Miramax). Mr. Camp has extensive experience with HTML5, CSS, client-side libraries, responsive design approaches, Flash, Flex Builder, Photoshop, Apache, SQL, PHP, MVC Frameworks (Zend Studio) and numerous content management systems, such as WordPress, Drupal, and GOPublish. Mr. Camp’s clients include Hasbro, AT&T, Wolters-Kluwer, Apigee, eBay, and a host of others. Before working as web developer, Mr. Camp was a technical writer for various high-tech companies in Silicon Valley.

Web Developer: Jeff Wesson

Jeff Wesson is a front-end web developer passionate about using the Web to improve the ways in which people share information and build communities. Mr. Wesson is also an anthropologist interested in the ways in which people use the Web and the types of social interactions that are more frequently being explored online opposed to their more primitive, offline counterparts. Mr. Wesson is driven to develop and maintain well-crafted web applications in an effort to simplify and improve the process by which people publish information to a worldwide audience.

Help us continue to record and share stories of the Japanese American floral industry by donating to the project! There are still many flower grower experiences and stories to gather but we need your help to fund these interviews and maintain the website. With enough support we hope to be able to create more videos about the San Francisco Peninsula growers, the South Bay growers, and those who moved their businesses outside of the Bay Area to places like Gilroy and Pescadero. Your help keeping this important history alive is greatly appreciated!