By Laura Rehrmann
“In the snow remaining in the advent of spring, I can see various kinds of birds singing and playing. The beautiful stripes of yellow sunlight peek through from among the dry willow trees. Although it is still very cold, the hope of seeing another spring gives me a warm feeling.”
— Takuichi Fujii, Minidoka Relocation Center, Dec. 31, 1942.
In December 1942, from the bleak and hostile Minidoka Relocation Center, Seattle artist Takuichi Fujii created a diary of 249 inked drawings of daily life in the camp. His spare haiku-like words capture his firsthand experience and amidst the hardship and sorrow, the hope he felt for the future.
It would be October 1945 before he left what was called an evacuation camp. 120,000 fellow first-, second-, and third-generation Japanese Americans on the West Coast had been evacuated, a term that historians today describe as a euphemism for incarceration.
Art historian Barbara Johns, PhD, is the author of a new book, “The Hope of Another Spring,” about Takuichi Fujii, artist and wartime witness. A once well-known Issei artist, he had been all but forgotten until his granddaughter-in-law, searching online for information about him, discovered that the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle had a painting by Fujii in its collection. When the museum received the inquiry, they directed her to Johns. With meticulous documentation and extensive bibliography, she brings to light his paintings, documents his biography, and gives us his visual and aural record of three years and nearly five months he spent in the camp.
Johns describes why Fujii’s story is special. “Fujii produced what I believe is a visual record of wartime incarceration that is unique among his generation. It is, moreover, primarily a private record, unlike others’ work that was intended for the viewing public. It presents the perspective of an Issei man unmediated by the need to buffer, explain, or elaborate to a censoring authority or a mainstream audience. The central feature of his wartime production is an illustrated diary, nearly 400 pages of image and text that spans the period from his forced departure from his Seattle home to the closing of the Minidoka Relocation Center,” she writes. “In chronological scope alone, it may be the most extended visual document of incarceration. Image and text complement one another to intensify meaning in a way that neither does alone.”
The book is published by the University of Washington Press, with the assistance of a grant from the Scott and Laurie Oki Endowed Fund for publication in Asian American Studies. It contains 132 images from Fujii’s diary, as well as illustrations of some of the 200 paintings, drawings, and carved pieces from the family’s collection. Until publication of Johns’ work, it was assumed that Fujii had returned to Japan following his release from Minidoka, but in fact he lived in Chicago until his death in 1964 where he continued to paint. “His legacy lies in the drawings and paintings stored by his wife, his daughter, and then by her son,” Johns wrote.
“The Hope of Another Spring” reveals this rare find of a large and heretofore unknown collection of art produced during one of World War II’s most shameful chapters. Fujii wrote in 1937 that art’s primary aim is its power to raise the observer above the everyday affairs of life into a higher plane of existence.” Johns’ book demonstrates that he held true to his words for a lifetime. Her work puts us in Fujii’s time and place, a gift to those who lived through that time, and to those who have only a sketchy idea of the reality of the Issei experience as told through Fujii’s words and art.
Johns presented her work at the monthly Omoide writing group meeting held at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington. Community members are writing their own family histories to preserve family stories and history important to the development of Washington.
Julianna Verboort says
See the exhibition “Witness to Wartime: The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii” curated by Barbara Johns on view only at the Washington State History Museum. Nearly 80 of Fujii’s works are on view, along with a digital version of his illustrated diary. This remarkable exhibition closes on January 1, 2018. See it before it is gone!