Wakaji Matsumoto self-portrait over rice paddy abstraction

Online Exhibition

wakaji exhibit title with subtitle smaller

Wakaji Matsumoto

Wakaji Matsumoto was born to Wakamatsu and Haru (née Motoyama) Matsumoto on July 17, 1889, in Jigozen, Hatsukaichi-shi, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan. In 1906, Wakaji was summoned by his father, Wakamatsu, to help with work on his farm in Los Angeles. Wakaji traveled from Japan by ship to Victoria, British Columbia and from there by boat and train to Los Angeles. Wakaji first worked as a houseboy to learn English, and later worked on the family farm. He yearned to be a graphic artist—a challenging undertaking in a new world and one that was discouraged by Wakamatsu. When Wakaji married Tei Kimura, a picture bride, Wakamatsu taught Tei how to manage the family farm. When the farm business was in good hands, Wakamatsu returned to Japan, allowing Wakaji to pursue photography in Los Angeles. 

Wakaji, Tei, and their American-born children returned to Hiroshima in 1927. Wakaji opened a photo studio in downtown Hiroshima with the state-of-the art cameras and photographic equipment he brought with him from the US. He was active as a commercial and studio photographer, while also pursuing his art photography until 1942, when he had to close down this studio due to the war. He was able to move his photographs back to his home in Jigozen from his studio that was located very close to the hypocenter of the atomic bomb. His photographs remained undisturbed until 2008 when they were discovered by Wakaji’s grandson, photographer Hitoshi Ohuchi. Upon recognizing their value and significance, he arranged for them to be placed in the Hiroshima City Archives. The discovery of Wakaji’s Hiroshima photographs was historically significant. His collection increased the total number of existing photographs of Hiroshima by ten-fold, as most were destroyed by the bomb in 1945.

Watch the short video about Wakaji’s early days, read his full biography, browse family photographs that he took himself, and explore the timeline.

VIDEO   BIO   FAMILY  TIMELINE

Wakaji Matsumoto

Ongoing

Wakaji Matsumoto

downtown hiroshima aioi bridge small

Wakaji Matsumoto—An Artist in Two Worlds: Los Angeles and Hiroshima, 1917–1944 highlights an artist’s rare photographs of the Japanese American community in Los Angeles prior to World War II and of urban life in Hiroshima prior to the 1945 atomic bombing of the city. 

This online exhibition also features essays by Karen Matsumoto, Wakaji’s granddaughter, and Dennis Reed, the curator of the exhibition, a timeline, photo galleries, short documentary videos produced by JANM’s award-winning Watase Media Arts Center, and educational resources. 

Wakaji Matsumoto was born to Wakamatsu and Haru (née Motoyama) Matsumoto on July 17,1889, in Jigozen, Hatsukaichi-shi, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan. He traveled from Japan by way of Canada before reaching the US to work on his father’s farm. Although he worked in the fields and drove produce to Los Angeles, he really aspired to become a graphic artist. Luckily, Wakamatsu taught Wakaji’s wife, Tei, to run the farm, allowing Wakaji to become a professional photographer in Los Angeles and Hiroshima. He was seventy-six years old when he died in Jigozen in 1965. Tei continued to live in the family home and was 101 years old when she died in 1995. Wakaji’s photographs remained undisturbed until 2008 when they were discovered by the Matsumotos’ grandson, Hitoshi Ohuchi, himself a photographer. Upon recognizing their value and significance, he arranged for them to be placed with the Hiroshima City Archives. 

View this online exhibition on a desktop computer for the best experience.

itaoka and his trucks small

 

dennis reed profile photo

Dennis Reed is a curator, collector, artist, and writer who is best known for rediscovering Japanese American art photographers whose works were lost in the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. He has curated over 50 exhibitions for such institutions as the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Huntington, the Corcoran Gallery, and JANM. Among his publications are Pictorialism in California: Photography, 1900-1940, Japanese Photography in America, 1920-1940, and Making Waves: Japanese American Photography, 1920-1940. He is the retired Dean of Arts at Los Angeles Valley College and the former chair of the Photographic Arts Council at LACMA. 

 

karen matsumoto profile photo

Karen Matsumoto, granddaughter of Wakaji Matsumoto and retired educator, serves as project liaison for Wakaji Matsumoto: An Artist in Two Worlds. She was executive producer of Honor and Sacrifice: The Roy Matsumoto Story, a 2013 documentary about her father. The documentary featured photographs by Wakaji Matsumoto, and provided inspiration to share the collection with a broader public. She has designed curricula related to the Japanese American World War II incarceration experience and has been a consulting teacher for the National Japanese American Historical Society in San Francisco. She is a trustee for the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community.

 

Wakaji Matsumoto—An Artist in Two Worlds: Los Angeles and Hiroshima, 1917–1944 was made possible by support from the National Endowment for the Humanities Planning Grant, Humanities For All grant from California Humanities, and Berkeley JACL. Assistance was provided by Hitoshi Ohuchi, grandson of Wakaji Matsumoto, contributor and logistics coordinator with the Hiroshima City Archives; Hiroshima City Archives; Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum; Chugoku Shimbun; and Hiroshima Film Commission.

This exhibition was also made possible by Shizue Kawamoto, Pat Dupes-Matsumoto, Clyde Matsumoto, Dawn Ehrlich, Makoto and Keiko Kawamoto, Natsumi Kawamoto, Satoshi Yano, Fumi Matsumoto, and John deChadenedes, who helped provide information about Wakaji and the Matsumoto family history.

All photographs in this online exhibition were taken by Wakaji Matsumoto (copyright Matsumoto Family) and include the JANM watermark to signify that they are a part of a JANM exhibition.

Above photos: “Wakaji Matsumoto Self Portrait,” “Downtown Hiroshima from the Aioi Bridge, 1938,” “Itaoka and his trucks.” All photos by Wakaji Matsumoto (copyright Matsumoto Family)

 

california humanities logo

 

This project was made possible with support from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Visit calhum.org.

 

Media Sponsor: rafu shimpo logo

 

For more information about these photographs, please contact Karen Matsumoto at WakajiExhibition@gmail.com.

Wakaji Matsumoto

Ongoing

Wakaji Matsumoto

downtown hiroshima aioi bridge small

Wakaji Matsumoto—An Artist in Two Worlds: Los Angeles and Hiroshima, 1917–1944 highlights an artist’s rare photographs of the Japanese American community in Los Angeles prior to World War II and of urban life in Hiroshima prior to the 1945 atomic bombing of the city. 

This online exhibition also features essays by Karen Matsumoto, Wakaji’s granddaughter, and Dennis Reed, the curator of the exhibition, a timeline, photo galleries, short documentary videos produced by JANM’s award-winning Watase Media Arts Center, and educational resources. 

Wakaji Matsumoto was born to Wakamatsu and Haru (née Motoyama) Matsumoto on July 17,1889, in Jigozen, Hatsukaichi-shi, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan. He traveled from Japan by way of Canada before reaching the US to work on his father’s farm. Although he worked in the fields and drove produce to Los Angeles, he really aspired to become a graphic artist. Luckily, Wakamatsu taught Wakaji’s wife, Tei, to run the farm, allowing Wakaji to become a professional photographer in Los Angeles and Hiroshima. He was seventy-six years old when he died in Jigozen in 1965. Tei continued to live in the family home and was 101 years old when she died in 1995. Wakaji’s photographs remained undisturbed until 2008 when they were discovered by the Matsumotos’ grandson, Hitoshi Ohuchi, himself a photographer. Upon recognizing their value and significance, he arranged for them to be placed with the Hiroshima City Archives. 

View this online exhibition on a desktop computer for the best experience.

itaoka and his trucks small

 

dennis reed profile photo

Dennis Reed is a curator, collector, artist, and writer who is best known for rediscovering Japanese American art photographers whose works were lost in the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. He has curated over 50 exhibitions for such institutions as the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Huntington, the Corcoran Gallery, and JANM. Among his publications are Pictorialism in California: Photography, 1900-1940, Japanese Photography in America, 1920-1940, and Making Waves: Japanese American Photography, 1920-1940. He is the retired Dean of Arts at Los Angeles Valley College and the former chair of the Photographic Arts Council at LACMA. 

 

karen matsumoto profile photo

Karen Matsumoto, granddaughter of Wakaji Matsumoto and retired educator, serves as project liaison for Wakaji Matsumoto: An Artist in Two Worlds. She was executive producer of Honor and Sacrifice: The Roy Matsumoto Story, a 2013 documentary about her father. The documentary featured photographs by Wakaji Matsumoto, and provided inspiration to share the collection with a broader public. She has designed curricula related to the Japanese American World War II incarceration experience and has been a consulting teacher for the National Japanese American Historical Society in San Francisco. She is a trustee for the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community.

 

Wakaji Matsumoto—An Artist in Two Worlds: Los Angeles and Hiroshima, 1917–1944 was made possible by support from the National Endowment for the Humanities Planning Grant, Humanities For All grant from California Humanities, and Berkeley JACL. Assistance was provided by Hitoshi Ohuchi, grandson of Wakaji Matsumoto, contributor and logistics coordinator with the Hiroshima City Archives; Hiroshima City Archives; Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum; Chugoku Shimbun; and Hiroshima Film Commission.

This exhibition was also made possible by Shizue Kawamoto, Pat Dupes-Matsumoto, Clyde Matsumoto, Dawn Ehrlich, Makoto and Keiko Kawamoto, Natsumi Kawamoto, Satoshi Yano, Fumi Matsumoto, and John deChadenedes, who helped provide information about Wakaji and the Matsumoto family history.

All photographs in this online exhibition were taken by Wakaji Matsumoto (copyright Matsumoto Family) and include the JANM watermark to signify that they are a part of a JANM exhibition.

Above photos: “Wakaji Matsumoto Self Portrait,” “Downtown Hiroshima from the Aioi Bridge, 1938,” “Itaoka and his trucks.” All photos by Wakaji Matsumoto (copyright Matsumoto Family)

 

california humanities logo

 

This project was made possible with support from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Visit calhum.org.

 

Media Sponsor: rafu shimpo logo

 

For more information about these photographs, please contact Karen Matsumoto at WakajiExhibition@gmail.com.

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video

Wakaji Matsumoto—Episode 1: His Early Days

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    bio
    Wakaji Self Portrait

    BIO

    Wakaji Matsumoto was born to Wakamatsu and Haru (née Motoyama) Motoyama on July 17, 1889, in Jigozen, Saiki-gun (now Hatsukaichi-shi), Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan. Wakamatsu was a fisherman by trade but he also farmed a small plot of land adjacent to his home. As the youngest son, he knew that his prospects for success were limited in Japan because he was unable to inherit the family business, so he responded to a Japanese newspaper advertisement seeking workers for the pineapple and sugar beet fields in Hawai‘i. In 1890, Wakamatsu and Haru left Wakaji and his older sister, Matsu, with relatives in Japan to work as contract laborers on Kauai. They were among the nearly 30,000 workers from the Hiroshima area that left Japan for Hawai‘i. 

    Wakamatsu and Haru had two children in Hawai‘i. When their backbreaking work in the fields did not yield a better future for their family, Wakamatsu sought his fortune on the West Coast. Having completed their labor contract, Wakamatsu sent Haru and the children to Jigozen and moved to Los Angeles to become a farmer. Wakamatsu operated two farms in present-day Maywood and Laguna, now known as the City of Commerce. In 1906, he sent for Wakaji to join him in the United States. 

    Like many young Japanese men, Wakaji traveled by ship from Japan to Victoria, British Columbia, and from there by boat and train to Los Angeles. He was seventeen when he reunited with Wakamatsu—whom he hardly knew. Although he worked in the fields and drove produce to the Los Angeles 7th Street Market, he really wanted to become a graphic artist—a challenging undertaking in a new world and one that was discouraged by Wakamatsu. Luckily, Wakaji’s future wife and picture bride, Tei Kimura, would eventually manage the family business. 

    Wakaji and Tei married in 1912, an arrangement made by Tei’s older brother, who was Wakaji’s friend. A descendant of a samurai family, Tei found herself in a foreign world when she arrived on the farm, but Wakamatsu took her under his wing and taught her how to manage it. With the family business in good hands, Wakamatsu returned to Jigozen in 1917 and Wakaji began to pursue art and photography as his profession.

    Wakaji took a correspondence course in photography and knew that he wanted to become a professional photographer. While Tei ran the family farm, he moved to San Diego to develop his craft and advance his studies in photography. During that time he may have studied under Masashi Shimotsusa, who ran a photography studio and school and was skilled at creating panoramic photographs. By 1922, Wakaji was an active photographer in the Los Angeles photography community. By 1925, he was an assistant at Toyo Miyatake’s studio, Toyo Studio LA, and a member of the Japanese Camera Pictorialists of California. He also produced panoramas of Japanese American tenant farmers in Los Angeles and other photographs as a form of personal expression. 

    During this time, Wakaji and Tei weighed the challenges of farming in Southern California versus the benefits of returning to Japan. Although their children received a good education in Los Angeles, the Matsumotos preferred that they receive a Japanese education. Wakaji also wanted to return to Japan to open his own photography studio. The Matsumotos’ desire to see their children educated in Japan combined with two years of crop failure, inability to own land, and competition to establish a photography studio in Los Angeles, drove their decision to return to Hiroshima in the summer of 1927.

    Wakaji opened Hiroshima Shashinkan (Hiroshima Photography Studio) in the Naka Ward, near the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall—now known as the Atomic Bomb Dome. His family lived above the studio. A skilled photographer, he had the advantage of using camera equipment not yet available in Japan because he bought the latest equipment in the US with earnings from the family farm. He did studio work, commercial photography, and worked as contract photographer for the Japanese military and other businesses in the area. His work was highly regarded and his services were in high demand. He also took photographs of daily life in Hiroshima City and the surrounding countryside. Many of those photographs are the only record of people, events, and locations that were later destroyed by the atomic bomb.

    In 1942, Wakaji closed his studio because he was unable to secure photography supplies and moved his family to his parents’ home in Jigozen. In 1943, he was drafted to work in a coal mine in Ube-shi, Yamaguchi Prefecture, where he developed a serious lung disease that plagued him for the rest of his life. He returned home and resumed his photography in the small studio that he created at his parents’ home. In 1945, a stray American bomb destoyed their neighbor’s home and Wakaji’s studio. Luckily, no one was injured in the Wakaji household and all of Wakaji’s photographs were stored safely away from his studio. 

    Wakaji passed away in Jigozen in 1965. He was seventy-six years old. Tei continued to live in the family home for another thirty years. She passed away in 1995 at 101 years old. Wakaji’s boxes of negatives and photographs remained undisturbed until they were discovered by Hitoshi Ohuchi, their grandson and a photographer himself, in 2008. Upon recognizing their value, he arranged for them to be placed with the Hiroshima City Archives. Wakaji’s photographs of Hiroshima before the atomic bomb have great historical significance. His collection increased the total number of existing photographs of Hiroshima ten-fold, as most were destroyed by the bomb in 1945.

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    family
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    wakaji at beach

    Timeline

    1889

    • Born on July 17, 1889, in Jigozen, Hatsukaichi-shi, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan.

    1900

    • Wakamatsu Matsumoto arrived in Seattle from Japan, leaving his family in Japan. He later went on to Los Angeles where he started a successful farming business.

    1906

    • Wakaji, eldest son of Wakamatsu Matsumoto, travels from Hiroshima, Japan to Vancouver, Canada, then on to Los Angeles by train. He first finds work as a houseboy to learn English, and then joins his father to help on the farm.

    1912

    • Tei Kimura travels to San Francisco on the Tenyo Maru as a “picture bride” and joins her husband Wakaji for their American wedding ceremony.

    1913

    • Wakaji and Tei’s first son, Hiroshi Roy is born in Laguna, CA (Los Angeles).

    1917

    • Wakamatsu Matsumoto returns to Hiroshima, leaving his daughter-in-law Tei to manage the farm. Wakaji studies photography and gains employment at the studio of Toyo Miyatake in Little Tokyo. He continues his love of photography for the next ten years in the Los Angeles area.

    1927

    • Wakaji Matsumoto and his family return to Hiroshima from southern California.
    • Wakaji establishes his photography studio, Hiroshima Shashinkan, in the Naka Ward, located in the center of Hiroshima, near the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall—now called the Atomic Bomb Dome. Wakaji works for the Chugoku Shimbun, the local newspaper, as well as contract photographer for the Japanese military and other businesses in the area. Wakaji also continues to pursue art photography.

    1942

    • Wakaji Matsumoto is forced to close his photography studio due to lack of availability of photographic supplies. Wakaji loads a horse cart with his equipment, photographs, and family belongings and moves his family to the countryside in Jigozen, Hatsukaichi, about 10 miles from downtown Hiroshima.

    1943

    • Wakaji Matsumoto is sent by the Japanese government to work in the coal mines in Ube, Yamagata Prefecture. He develops a serious lung disease while working in the mines.

    1945

    • A stray American bomb hits the home of Wakaji Matsumoto, killing several neighbors and destroying his small darkroom and equipment. All of his photographs were safely stored and undamaged, however.
    • All of the Matsumoto brothers, fighting on both sides of the war, survive the war, as well as the rest of the family.

    1965

    • Wakaji Matsumoto passes away in Jigozen, Hiroshima, at age 76.

    2008

    • Wakaji Matsumoto’s photos are rediscovered in a storeroom in the family home by his grandson, Hitoshi Ohuchi. The entire collection of photographs, negatives, glass plates, and other artifacts are placed in the Hiroshima City Archives.

    2014

    • The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum renovates its facilities and features a wall-sized mural of Wakaji Matsumoto’s photo of the Aioi Bridge and Atomic Dome taken in 1938, as well as other photographs of everyday life in pre-atomic bomb Hiroshima.

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