Now featured on the Japanese American National Museum website, Wakaji Matsumoto, An Artist in Two Worlds: Los Angeles and Hiroshima, 1917-1944, is an online photographic exhibition providing a glimpse of life both in the artist’s native Hiroshima and in Los Angeles, pre-WWII.
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.
The online exhibition is supplemented with an article by Matsumoto’s granddaughter and BIJAC board member, Karen Matsumo. Read her article here.