Grand opening set for Nebraska Japanese Hall museum exhibit

The transformation of the Japanese Hall from a gathering place to a museum involved a long, bumpy journey – literally.

In the four years since relocating the white frame building from Scottsbluff to the Legacy of the Plains Museum campus near Gering, project backers have faced multiple setbacks. But now their journey to preserve the Japanese immigrant story in Nebraska and the High Plains is almost over. 

The grand opening of the Japanese Hall and History Center of Nebraska is set for June 8. Free events will include tours, games, Taiko drummers and koto players.

“It’s in its own spot and is the first thing you see,” project coordinator Vickie Sakurada Schaepler of Kearney said about the 1928 building that had been a gathering place for Japanese immigrants, their children and grandchildren in Scottsbluff.

Schaepler said visitors will see exhibits about first generation – issei – immigrants and their work for railroads, as farmers and in other small businesses; coping with racism and injustice during World War II; and cultural, artistic and athletic activities.

Many items were donated by families whose stories are told at the center. 

The project has cost around $750,000. Fundraising continues so the building can be made fully accessible, for maintenance costs and, Schaepler hopes, to eventually hire an exhibit employee.

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Word was circulating in 2012 that Japanese Hall owners were thinking of demolishing it to repurpose the Scottsbluff lot. When those plans were confirmed, $75,000 in pledges were needed quickly to relocate the building.  

“I devoted all my time to make it happen,” Schaepler said.

Turning the relocated building into a museum was slowed by the COVID-related shutdown. Then, the exhibits contractor went out of business in 2022. 

Upland Exhibits of Newton, Kansas, was hired to finish the project.

“What I hope people learn is there were Japanese people in Nebraska and they contributed to the economy. And there were people who supported them,” Schaepler said. “Also, Japanese men and women served in World War II as volunteers.”

Scottsbluff area native Dennis Morimoto is one of many museum supporters and artifact donors. 

“Fewer Japanese live around here now. The second generation is gone and not too many of my age are here,” he said. “So I want to help pass the traditions on.” 

Legacy of the Plains Museum is open year round. Admission ranges from $5 to $10 depending on age. The address is 2930 Old Oregon Trail.

Another new exhibit about Japanese-American history in Nebraska opened a year ago with a focus on Lincoln County’s Japanese immigrants. It’s in North Platte’s Lincoln County Historical Museum at 2403 N. Buffalo Bill Ave., which is open seven days a week May through September.

By Lori Potter

Lori Potter spent most of her nearly 46-year Nebraska newspaper career reporting on agriculture, natural resources and rural issues for the Kearney Hub. She’s also a veteran of the York News-Times and Alliance Times-Herald. Potter is president of the Nebraska Press Women and past president of the National Federation of Press Women.

1 Comment

I am “from” Dannebrog, Nebraska. Long time in Seattle. Ended up State Senator . Always went to the same breakfast place. My Mom’s Double 2nd cousin sent me a U Nebraska sweatshirt, I went for breakfast wearing it. and this Japanese-American woman said to me,
“Now , I know why I vote for you!”
She told me when we relocated from the West Coast, I was going to College and the University of Nebraska said they accept all Japanese American college kids . When they got there, one woman told her ,
“We didn’t treat our Germans very well during WWI,
We are not going to make that mistake again!”



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