The story of Japanese immigration to the US really begins in 1882, when bosses were barred from importing cheap Chinese labor by the Chinese Exclusion Act. Thousands of Japanese arrived to take their place; many settled in the San Joaquin Valley and became farmers. But the Japanese were then excluded from American life in much the same way as the Chinese had suffered before them: prevented from owning land in 1913, banned from immigrating in 1924 and sent to brutal internment camps during World War II. Only in 1952 were people born in Japan allowed to become American citizens.
This museum, one of the city's best, tells the story of Japanese immigration to the US in lucid, engaging fashion. Even if you've no prior interest in the subject, you'll be drawn in to it by the perfectly pitched displays. Aside from the permanent exhibition, the museum stages an engaging roster of documentary and art exhibitions, including a wrenching yet beautiful display of images and artifacts from the aforementioned internment camps. To cap it all off, there's a lovely gift shop.
In 2006, the JANM opened the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy (111 N Central Ave, 213-830-1880), an educational institute aimed at preserving and promoting democracy in the US. It's open for group tours (by appointment only) during the week, but it's open to the public 11am-2pm on Saturdays.