Scene (magazine)


Japanese American pictorial monthly magazine that ran from 1949 to 1955. Largely produced by and for Nisei trying to enter mainstream American life in the first decade after the war, Scene magazine highlighted "successful" Japanese Americans as well as Japanese culture. In later years, the magazine sought both pan-Nikkei (particularly Japanese Brazilian) and pan-Asian American readerships.

James T. Nishimura was the founder and original publisher of Scene. A older Nisei whom Larry Tajiri described as "a former San Francisco rice broker" before the war, Nishimura and two partners started General Mailing Company in 1944, a successful mailing and packaging business, in Chicago after the war. Along with Togo Tanaka, the prewar English section editor of the Rafu Shimpo, Nishimura and partners also started Chicago Publishing Company, an early client of which was a young Hugh Hefner.[1]

The first issue of Scene bore a May 1949 cover date. In "A Statement of Policy" that appeared in the July 1952 issue, the editors wrote that "it was planned as a publication that would help to heal the wounds of war—both here at home and across the Pacific" and listed three aims for the magazine:

(1) To produce a unique picture-and-word record of life in America as seen and felt and experienced by Japanese Americans; (2) to interpret this record to fellow Americans, and to the peoples of Canada and Japan as the Japanese American's reaffirmation of faith in American democracy; and (3) to help rebuild friendliness and understanding among all people.

In a 1997 oral history, Tanaka told James Gatewood, "We were bound by a common hope that something like this could create better understanding between people in Japan and the United States."[2]

Scene was clearly modeled on mainstream photo magazines such as LIFE and Look as well as ethnic magazines such as Ebony, which was founded in 1945, and Nisei Vue which first appeared in the spring of 1948. The editor-in-chief for the first issues was Robert Y. Ozaki, though Tanaka would assume that post with the November 1949 issue and would remain there until the sale of the magazine and its move to Los Angeles in the spring of 1954. Many of the best known Nisei journalists and photographers from all over the country contributed to the magazine, including Bill Hosokawa, Louise Suski, Larry Tajiri, Carl Iwasaki, and Jack Iwata. The subscription rate was set as $2 annually, rising to $3 in April 1951.

The early issues of the magazine set the general tone for its entire run. The core ingredients included a mixture of articles about notable Japanese Americans and Japanese American life along with articles about Japan and Japanese culture. Most issues had covers that featured attractive Nikkei young women. Other elements of the magazine changed over time, seemingly in an attempt to draw different audiences. Early issues included substantial Japanese language sections—up to a third of the total content—until the sudden death of Japanese language editor Shigeru Nagata in early 1953. Subsequent issues had little or no Japanese language content. Beginning with the May 1952 issue, Scene began covering Nikkei in Brazil, with text in Portuguese, and the October 1952 issue featured Sachiko Tomikawa of Sao Paolo, "SCENE's first Portuguese-speaking cover girl." But the Portuguese section and South American bureau would be short lived. The July 1952 issue announced that Scene would henceforth strive "to become America's outstanding magazine of Asia," though little evidence of this new orientation would appear other than the occasional feature on Chinese culture or profile of a Chinese or Korean American. Later issues added recipes and children's folktales in search of yet other audiences. Though most of its content could be described as lightweight, it did sometimes cover politics and current affairs and did for a time include an editorial page. Perhaps most notably, it expressed opposition to the McCarran-Walter bill in 1952, one of the few mainstream Japanese American publications to do so.[3]

The search for new audiences no doubt reflected anxieties about circulation and profits. While early issues of Scene claimed that 25,000 copies a month were being sent out, later issues pegged the circulation as 16,000 (July 1951) and 18,500 (July 1953). Contemporaneous assessments by Hosokawa and Tajiri in the Pacific Citizen note that these figures were not enough to make it profitable and that it lost substantial amounts of money, Tajiri claiming that it lost a quarter of a million dollars in its first four years. According to Tanaka, for "most of us it was a labor of love and financing. We couldn't really afford to do it."[4]

In March of 1953, Nishimura resigned as president of Chicago Publishing Company for health reasons, and Tanaka took on that position, while remaining as editor-in-chief. A year later, Chicago Publishing sold the magazine to Los Angeles based Jaffe Publications, and the entire operation moved west, with no March, April or May 1954 issues published. Masamori Kojima took over as publisher and editor (uncredited for the latter) starting from the June 1954 issue.[5] Scene limped through a final year, before announcing that it would be consolidated with Fortnight, another Los Angeles based magazine with the September 1955 issue, marking the end of the line after seventy-three issues.[6]

Scene is little remembered today and has been the object of little scholarship, no doubt due to the difficulty in accessing it, since no library or archive has a full run. In collaboration with the Japanese American National Museum, Densho has digitized sixty-seven issues.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

Harden, Jacalyn D. Double Cross: Japanese Americans in Black and White Chicago. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.

Lim, Shirley Jennifer. Feeling of Belonging: Asian American Women's Popular Culture, 1930–1960. New York: New York University Press, 2005.

Murata, Alice K. Japanese Americans in Chicago. Chicago: Arcadia, 2002.

Scene magazine in the Densho Digital Repository. http://ddr.densho.org/ddr/densho/266/.

Tajiri, Larry. "Importance of 'Scene' Magazine.'" Pacific Citizen, September 23, 1955, 8. http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19550923_008.jpg.


Togo Tanaka oral history, interviewed by James Gatewood, Dec. 13, 1997, in REgenerations Oral History Project: Rebuilding Japanese American Families, Communities, and Civil Rights in the Resettlement Era: Los Angeles Region, Volume II. Edited by Japanese American National Museum, 2000. http://content.cdlib.org/view?docId=ft358003z1&brand=calisphere&doc.view=entire_text.

Footnotes

  1. Larry Tajiri, "Importance of 'Scene' Magazine," Pacific Citizen, September 23, 1955, p. 8, accessed on November 21, 2013 at http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19550923_008.jpg; Alice K. Murata, Japanese Americans in Chicago (Chicago: Arcadia, 2002), 80; 
Togo Tanaka oral history, interviewed by James Gatewood, Dec. 13, 1997, in REgenerations Oral History Project: Rebuilding Japanese American Families, Communities, and Civil Rights in the Resettlement Era: Los Angeles Region, Volume II (Edited by Japanese American National Museum, 2000), p. 441, accessed on November 21, 2013 at http://content.cdlib.org/view?docId=ft358003z1&brand=calisphere&doc.view=entire_text.
  2. "A Statement of Policy," Scene, July 1952, p. 7; Togo Tanaka oral history, p. 445.
  3. "A Statement of Policy"; "What Price Victory?," Scene, August 1952, 14. In the latter editorial, the opposition to McCarran-Walter came after its passage.
  4. Scene, September 1949, 9; Scene, July 1951, p. 5; Scene, July 1953, 3; Bill Hosokawa, "Scene: A Good Gamble," Pacific Citizen, October 23, 1953, 8, accessed on November 21, 2013 at http://pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19531023_008.jpg; Tajiri, "Importance of 'Scene' Magazine"; Togo Tanaka oral history, 445.
  5. Kojima (1922–88) was a journalist, labor organizer, and political activist who had been the editor of the English section of the Chicago Shimpo and of the post-war Los Angeles Japanese American newspaper Crossroads. He became well known as an aide to Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley in the 1970s and 1980s.
  6. Tajiri, "Importance of 'Scene' Magazine."