Based in Toronto, Ontario, Nancy Matsumoto is a writer and editor who covers sustainable agriculture, food, sake, arts and culture.

Archival posts from my former blog, Walking and Talking

Being Japanese American during World War II: East Coast Stories

American Flag Over Barbed Wire Fence, by Koho Yamamoto.
Having grown up in California, I know some things about the West Coast Japanese American World War II experience of evacuation and imprisonment. But I know little about what happened here on the East Coast. So it was a treat to catch the eye-opening exhibit "If they came for me today...East Coast Stories," part of Community Works NYC's "Japanese American Internment Project," which (too bad for you), closes today at the Interchurch Center Treasure Room Gallery on Riverside Drive in Morningside Heights.

A series of portraits, biographies, reminiscences and artwork tells the story of seven Japanese Americans who were affected in different ways. Some were born and grew up in New York and only learned later the various ways that their parents were persecuted during the war.

Others, like Masako "Koho" Yamamoto were imprisoned on the West Coast, and then made their way east after being released. Yamamoto was locked up in Topaz, Utah, and then moved to the high-security Tule Lake prison camp, where those who refused to renounce loyalty to Japan or agree to serve in the U.S. armed forces were shunted off to. There, ignoring the deplorable conditions, she wrote poetry and studied ink brush painting under Chiura Obata, a widely admired artist and UC Berkeley emeritus professor.

Describing the above painting, Yamamoto says, "They treated us like prisoners even though we were American citizens." Recalling a time when a group of Obata sensei's students came to visit him at Tule Lake, she writes, "They were crying, saying he looked like he was in prison standing behind the barbed wire fence. He first said, 'Don't cry.' Then he added, 'From where I'm standing, you look like the ones who are in jail.' He had great wit." He coped, in other words, with the means that were left to him.


Beet Soup with a Japanese Subtext

Native Sons of Fresno, California Look Back