Japanese American Incarceration Era Collection -- Biography: Akio Ujihara

Biography: Akio Ujihara

Detainment and imprisonment left many Japanese Americans in despair and depression. Coupled with the abysmal realties of camp living, many people anguished over their predicaments. One way in which detainees coped with these feelings was through art class, which was offered at the relocation centers. For Akio Ujihara, art was a way to capture and remember his experience.

On December 4, 1985, Ujihara drafted a letter to the Smithsonian Institution. At the time, he was a member of the West Los Angeles Earth Science Club, a branch of the Japanese American Citizens League- Pacific Southwest District. The club’s advisor informed Ujihara of an upcoming exhibition at the National Museum of American History that would showcase objects concerning the Japanese American experience during WWII. It was then that he reached out to donate twelve watercolors he painted while at Manzanar and Topaz Relocation Centers. Ujihara explained in his letter that, “I am not an artist but tried to keep my camp experience in watercolor – which has no artistic value but I tried to picture as it happened…” Ujihara’s modest opinions of his work belie the poignancy of the images and his personal experiences at the incarceration camps.