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The Complete
Lecture and Interview With
Kimi Kodani Hill
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Key to Speakers

KN - Kaz Nomura: Co-chair for 55 Plus Ministry
RS - Reverend Shinen: Pastor of Sturge Presbyterian Church
KKH - Kimi Kodani Hill - author
LC - Leonard Chan - recorder and interviewer
PC - Philip Chin - interviewer and transcriber
FH - Florence Hongo - interviewer and owner of AACP

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The Slide Show and Lecture

KN - We'd like to welcome you to our special program today. I'm Kaz Nomura, co-chair for our 55 Plus Ministry. We hope that you will find our program today informative, reflective, and interesting. To begin our afternoon we have our pastor, Reverend Shinen open our program with a prayer. Reverend Shinen?

RS - I want to again say welcome on behalf of the church and this is the first time for you here? This is co-sponsored and I think Mrs. Hill is going to say something about that about by... some of you have the flier here. We have Asian American Curriculum Project and I think... let's see.

KN - Florence Hongo, Japanese American Curriculum Project, and she is co-sponsoring together with 55 Plus Ministry. And she's providing the refreshments.

RS - Flo? Are you here?

KN - Yes, Flo?

RS - Sitting in back. So I think after the presentation is done, after that's all over there's some books in the back.

KN - Right.

RS - Actually I'm probably repeating everything you're going to say.

KN - No, no, no, no. That's fine. That's fine. (Laughter)

RS - But welcome again. And this is sponsored, as I mentioned earlier, this is sponsored by the 55 Plus Ministry of this church, Sturge Presbyterian Church and I want to also tell you that tomorrow we're having a church picnic and you're all welcome to come. We going to the park at 11 o'clock and if you want to come to church service of course at 9:30, you can do that, dress casual just as I am today. Then we'll walk...actually drive to the park tomorrow. So we're really happy to have all of you here, especially Mrs. Hill, and we're looking forward to hearing from her. So if you wouldn't mind, if you'd join me in prayer and we'll begin our program.

Loving God, we thank you for history. We thank you. You are the God of history. That you are in the past, and present, and in the future. We thank you God for the events of our lives that have shaped us to be who we are. But more importantly, that your intervention and your supremacy and sovereignty in our lives have helped us through some of the most difficult parts of our journey. Many of the people sitting in this room this afternoon I know have been through difficult years in the past and I think as they watch some of these slides and hear some of the comments being made will relive some of their history, some of them pleasant some of it not so pleasant. But I pray through it all that they might be able not only to retrace their steps but to know of your goodness and your graciousness to them. And Lord would you bless Mrs. Hill this afternoon as she shares these photographs, pictures with us, and commentary. And we pray that you lead her that it might touch us in a very significant way today. Thank you that we are able to gather and be together this afternoon. We pray this in your name. Amen.

KN - 55 Plus Ministries purpose is to have an outreach to many of our contemporaries as well as to the younger generations of our church. Today we are presenting Topaz Moon: Chiura Obata's Art of the Internment. We have other programs in the works that we hope you'll attend in future meetings. We'll let you know more about those. We're presenting today's program with Flo Hongo of the Asian American Curriculum Project.

When Flo called me to say that we would present this program at this church I was very excited because I to was incarcerated in Tanforan and then in Topaz, Utah. I was at that time an eighteen-year-old freshman at UC Berkeley. Chiura Obata was the famous professor at the university, already known for his artwork. The only thing we had in common was our Japanese surname. When I think back, it was actually...really 58 years ago, almost to the day in September that all of us at Tanforan Racetrack, now called the Tanforan Shopping Center, were getting ready to move from our horse stable home to go to Topaz, Utah. We were bussed to the Southern Pacific terminal in Oakland, and as we entered coaches we noticed that all the blinds were drawn. The MP's instructions were do not to look out the windows. We were not to know where our destination was. This was the atmosphere as we left our Bay Area homes.

Now this was the beginning of our internment experience. Each person journeying was quite unique and different, and today you will hear the experience of Chiura Obata and his family as told to you by his granddaughter, Kimi Kodani Hill. So, Kimi, come up.

KKH - Thank you. Thank you very much. There are two free seats right up front if anyone wants to sit up closer. Just yell out if I'm not speaking loud enough. So, it's a pleasure to be here today. I have been giving talks, lectures on my grandfather for the past several years now. In conjunction first with the publication of "Obata's Yosemite," which Flo brought copies of today if you're interested in. But, this year was incredibly busy, I gave maybe over twenty talks within three months in conjunction with the publication of Topaz Moon, which was a grant recipient of the California Civil Liberties, Public Education Program. I was very lucky to receive the grant and be published on time. We did a lot of public programming to get the word out about the book.

Picture 1
Evening Glow at Yosemite Falls
, 1930.
Color woodblock print, 15 3/4 x 11 in.
From Obata's Yosemite, page 127
Picture 1
What has happened in conjunction with the publication of Topaz Moon is that you all have an opportunity to see many of these paintings I'm showing you today at the De Young Museum beginning on September 23rd. It was just like the stars lined up, there was a space available, a gallery available, the curator was determined to get this show in just a matter of months and he's still working like a dog right now. But they... it is going to be one of the two closing exhibitions to the De Young Museum, the museum itself, because the museum will close on December 31st and they will tear down the museum and rebuild. So there will be a lot of publicity about this particular show, the Obata show. Look out for the newspaper articles about it. I also have a flyer that I brought, there's information about a special daylong presentation on September 30th. Please feel welcome to come. There will be a lot of interesting talks in conjunction with the Obata show. So the way I'm going to begin today is in my mind, keeping in mind with what you would be able to see at the De Young exhibit. The exhibit is called, "Great Nature: The Transcendent Landscapes of Chiura Obata." This was a title chosen by the curator. This is an example of one of the pieces you'll be able to see at the show (picture 1). So it just... I'd like to... bring this concept of my grandfather's idea of dai-shizen, this is how he talked about nature, not just shizen, not just nature but dai-shizen, Great Nature. This is how he taught his students. This is the inspiration on a spiritual and artistic level that he worked with for his entire life painting the landscapes, particularly in the High Sierras. You can see he is in probably about 9000 feet somewhere in the High Sierras doing this painting.

And the philosophy that he would teach his students, because he was a professor of art, follows along these lines. I will give you an example. Here he is lecturing and you can see he's written the words, wa, kei, sei, jyaku. These are... a philosophy most closely associated with tea ceremony, the Japanese tea ceremony. But he would explain these words, harmony, respect, purity, serenity in these terms. This is a quote from him, "Harmony should include the family, the town, and the country. Without it much trouble comes. We must respect what nature provides; fire, water, earth, sun, even the simple weeds. Often if we take these away we make much trouble. Cleanliness means that we must purify the senses that nature gives us so that we can appreciate the pure sounds and colors that she provides. Tranquility is important. If your mind is not smooth and calm you miss so many things."

Now he spent a total of 65 years of his life living and painting in California. What I am going to do today for you is give you a broad biography of his life. And just as a little background, the reason I became, you know, wearing this mantle of Obata family historian, it just sort of happened by fate if nothing else, is that I was living with his wife, my grandmother, for the last ten years of her life.

I... this is me here. Here I am. My sister, my father, and this is Chiura Obata, my grandfather. I'm perturbed with these fish. I didn't really like them at all.

I just grew up taking my grandparents for granted. I thought everyone had a grandfather who painted and a grandmother who did ikebana, flower arrangement. It wasn't until after he passed away, he passed away in 1975, and then I began to be the primary caretaker, living with my grandmother, from the age of... when she was 87 to when she died at 97 years old. During that time I went through the house, looked at photo albums, asked questions. I did hours of oral history with her.

It was this period after my grandfather had died that I finally felt I had gotten a sense of who he was. This is what I'm presenting to you today is partly what I discovered. For instance, just the physical things that the family had kept. These are documents and letters from 1942, 1943. You can see this address, Professor Obata, care of the Art Department UC Berkeley, crossed out and replaced with the address at Topaz, Utah. So my grandparents were packrats to be sure but he in particular kept so many documents from the wartime and he knew that at some point in the future these would become important for history. Basically the text of Topaz Moon is based on the archival material in the family and the interviews and oral histories I was able to do. Very very lucky I was able to do all these things. This was about 15 years ago.

So, feel free to call out if you have any questions. Am I speaking loud enough? Can everyone hear me?

Picture 2
Zoroko Obata with grandmother, Isoko,
and father Rokuichi
. ca 1891.
From Topaz Moon, page 3
Picture 2
We'll start in Japan. He was born... Obata was born in 1885. He was actually the youngest of a very large family and even as a young child of 5 he showed a natural inclination for drawing, so he was adopted by his older brother, to be the only son of this older brother (picture 2). His... the brother's name was Rokuichi, this is the household in Sendai, where the Obata family lived. This is a portrait... self-portrait of Rokuichi. He himself was an artist and a teacher. This is the Meiji period, about 1900, I'm sorry, even earlier, 1880's. And he is quite the Meiji man, self-confident. He was a very interesting artist. He learned the classical sumi, Japanese ink and brush style of painting and nanga, which was a Chinese style of painting.

This is a scene from Northern Japan. They were from the Sendai area, so the snowy winters up there. Yet, he also was trained in Western art, so this is an example of the training he had as a student in Tokyo in the 1880's. And, he continued to paint throughout his life with the Western influence. So this is a sketch that he made of his own watercolor materials. This is a Western watercolor box, not the traditional Japanese watercolors. Again, a nice example of the... He was a prolific artist. He insisted on painting a sketch or painting everyday of his life. And he would just sketch everyday scenes so this is a nice typical scene, 1900's in Japan, the influence of course with the little pinafores of the West coming in with the traditional kimono.

So, Rokuichi was not actually Chiura Obata's teacher but ... this is of course the household that Obata was growing up in with this art and an artist father. This is a portrait Rokuichi painted of Chiura when he was about six years old. And this is the first Obata painting that I've been able to find. He was maybe about eight years old when he sketched this samurai guy. (Laughter)

Obata was training from age seven with a master painter in the art of sumi painting. This is an example of an assignment, probably, because he received a grade. So this red mark is the grade that he got for this assignment. So he's learning brush technique, how to handle the brush, and the different gradations of the sumi ink, the different grades.

As it turned out he was a very headstrong child. He had a lot of conflicts with his father and his family. He ran away from home at age fourteen to avoid being put into military school. He was determined to be an artist. He managed to become apprenticed under this particular artist, his name is Tanryo Murata. And his father did finally give approval. So Obata spent three years in an apprenticeship in Tokyo. He was studying with other students. This is a nice sketch from Obata's sketchbook from this time. So we're talking about 1900 now. And the hakama that they were wearing when they went sketch outdoors. He lived at the studio. He had a real apprentice's life. Already this sketchbook at age 16 he was showing his ability with the brush. Especially with this very fine detailed sketch.

By the way you'll be able to see that sketchbook in this exhibit. It's amazing to me to give this presentation and think that we do have this opportunity to see a lot of these materials. So be sure to look at the cases because there will be actual artist materials and old sketchbooks in there.

So he left the apprenticeship at age seventeen. This is, apparently it's a formal costume for an artist, traditional costume. He took this photograph. And he received commissions right away. They were usually on historical subjects. This is a sketch that he is preparing for a finished painting. And the only finished painting I've seen, that is still in existence, I've seen it. It's in Japan. And it's...this is it.. its of Uesugi Kenshin, who is... was a famous feudal lord in Yonezawa and was a commission. It is absolutely signed and dated by Chiura Obata when he was commissioned to do this at age seventeen.

Now he also, around the same time, received a very prestigious award, an art award in Japan, in Tokyo. And he told his father that Japan was such a small country to have given this prestigious award to such a young artist. He really wanted to see the world. He told his father, "The greater the view, the greater the art, the wider the travel, the broader the knowledge." And he was able to get permission to travel. His goal actually was Europe, Paris, because a lot of his compatriots were already studying art in, you know, the capital of the art world, which was Paris at the time. But he planned to get there via America by earning some money and then continuing.

Here is Obata and here is his father, Rokuichi, and members of the family. And we're pretty sure this portrait was taken because he would be leaving soon. And as it turned out, because as you know it took weeks to get from Japan over to the United States at that time, he would never see his father again. Here is Obata again. Farewell portraits that were taken.

Oh, and his passport. Passports that all the issei all had to get, which you can read, he was "disinfected" in Yokohama before getting on the boat. It took two weeks of travel by ship and the port of entry for Obata was Seattle.

This is a letter that he wrote back to his father looking through the porthole and seeing America for the first time. And he said in this letter, "How lucky I am that I can sleep on the pillow of a foreign pier. Is this god's gift or the spirit of man?" And he arrived eventually in San Francisco. He had some letters of introduction. The Pine Methodist Church helped him find lodging and he was able to work as a schoolboy. So as a domestic in a household. And what he's done. You can see, he's written his name, "Chiura" with the implements of his life now as a houseboy.

And in this, in a letter he wrote at this time to his father back in Japan, he explained, "I said, 'Good morning, do you need a boy?' I repeated those words. I was successful. I felt strange but at the same time I was glad. From 6 to 8:30 in the morning and from 4:30 to 8:30 I will help the Missus. I will have a bedroom, three meals, and a wage of $1.50 a week. The rest of the time is my own. This is the merit of being a schoolboy." You can see the same sketchbook and he's written, "How do you do?" November 1903. He's just been in America for one month now, living in San Francisco. And portrait of the cook at Thanksgiving.

I think probably a lot of you have seen the manga, the comic book, "The Four Immigrant's Manga." And... which shows the history of the same time and they, Obata and Kiyama, were actually friends and knew each other. They experienced many of the same things as schoolboys and living in San Francisco. Another letter, he wrote, "The head looks like it is stuck in a bottleneck. If they drop something they cannot bend their necks."

But Obata himself began transforming into part of American society. This is also... I've been showing these letters that he wrote back to Japan. This is one that came from Japan from his father, a sketch of the family home in Sendai and the dogs that were Obata's dogs. So Obata was becoming part of American society, he wrote, "It is essential to learn American art and its spirit. Therefore, I'd like to free my future brushwork through the means of language study first." And he did. He tried seriously studying English wherever he could. Even... joining an elementary school. Also, one of the first new loves of his life in America was baseball. He was one of the founders of the Fuji Club, the first... Japanese-American baseball team on the mainland in America. He is the pitcher here. There... and another...Yeah, that's the second one, 1911, there's Obata with the Fuji Club.

The big, first big event in his life was the 1906 earthquake. He survived the earthquake. Apparently the chimney fell down in his room in Japantown where he was living and apparently the story is that a lot of the refugees ended up at Lafayette Park in San Francisco. He was asked... a group of men were asked to dig a hole for a latrine and when the Army officer returned, Obata was the only one still digging away and so he said, 'Oh, you're a good boy. I will reward you by giving you a job at the Grand Marshal's camp to wait on tables.' And they also gave him permission to go into the ruined section of the city to sketch and so we have these very rare sketches of the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake. And... there will be at least three of these on exhibit at the exhibit. He's labeled all of them, so you can tell where he is. This is Van Ness Avenue for instance. And they're very small. They're only this big, but they're very detailed. And this one looking across the Bay to Mt. Tamalpais from probably the Marina area.

And here he is around 1910, Obata, with his issei cohorts, hanging out. Earning money was pretty difficult for the immigrants at this time as you probably know. And he did take a job as a farm laborer at one point. This was in 1909 and he worked at the hops fields in the Sacramento Valley. He said, "This morning we got up at dawn and right away we started to pick hops. No matter where you go earning money is not easy. Working thirteen hours standing only makes two dollars. From tonight the gambling called naga-imo has begun. The people are making noise under the moonlight. This lonely mountain town has nothing but hop fields. The pure moon shines a beautiful light equally over fields, mountains, grassbeds, and gambling." It's hard to see but there is like a crescent moon that he painted in the sky there. And the moon appears again and again throughout Obata's career in his artwork. It symbolizes, I feel, for him hope and eternity and peace.

Picture 3
Haruko and Chiura Obata.

San Francisco, ca 1912
From Topaz Moon, page 4
Picture 3
Now Haruko came to America in 1910. This is Haruko in Japan saying goodbye to her friends. And here she is in San Francisco. Her relatives, her aunt, was already running a boarding house in San Francisco Japantown. She was an educated young woman. She had finished high school. Her goal was to come to America to learn English and Western dressmaking/sewing. So she has actually sewn this blouse. And return to Japan to teach these skills to the Japanese. And here she is again, she's standing with one of the outfits that she learned to sew at this sewing school in San Francisco. As it turned out she was wooed by my grandfather. They married in 1912. This is their wedding portrait in San Francisco and exactly 9 months later they had their first baby (Picture 3). So here is the oldest child, Kim and Haruko and Chiura, Haruko's father, who was visiting at the time and friends and they're in Golden Gate Park having a picnic. They were living in Japantown in San Francisco right on Sutter Street. And this is just a few pictures of the kids. This is in Japantown and Kim, the oldest son... I'll talk more about the fishing, but the Obata family was really big on fishing. And then Gyo, who was the second son in Japantown.

Now Haruko, just to say something about her, because everyone says, 'Well you really should talk more about your grandmother,' and it's true. She was just as much an artist as my grandfather but her art was ikebana, so it was ephemeral, there's nothing that has survived from her art obviously, in contrast to all the paintings that have survived from my grandfather's long career. She made thousands of arrangements. She was one of the first teachers of ikebana in the San Francisco Bay Area. As early as 1915 she had an exhibition of her flower arrangements at the Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. And here's an example of a very early flower arrangement show. Flower show. And a picture of San Francisco Bay from about 1919.

Now, as you know the 1910's, 1920's, the blatant prejudice shown against the Japanese community was something that all the Japanese-American community had to deal with. And my grandparents were no exception. My grandfather had physical encounters on the streets of San Francisco because he'd be walking down the street and he'd be hit or attacked or spat upon simply because of his ethnicity. And yet ironically at the same time there was this interest in japonisme or the 'Oriental Arts,' and stores like Gump's and the City of Paris all commissioned Obata to decorate their Oriental rooms to sell their Asian arts. So there was... my grandparent's realized early on that teaching arts to the Americans was a way to teach about Japanese culture and they really strove through their whole lives trying to create a bridge of understanding between Japan and America, between the two cultures through teaching their art forms. This is an example of some of the early illustration work that Obata was receiving. This is a travel magazine to Japan in 1921. A picture of Van Ness Avenue. In the early... apparently in the middle of the street is an Italian fisherman selling his wares. And a portrait of the diva of a production of 'Madame Butterfly' of which, in 1924, Obata was commissioned to design the set for this production. And so as I mentioned, they realized that the Americans appreciated Japanese art. They only needed to be taught more about their culture.

Obata tried different techniques during his career as an artist but basically he worked with the traditional Japanese materials. So just to show people, this is a suzuri, the sumi stick, which is ground to create the black ink. And then just some of the wide variety of brushes that a sumi painter would use. These are the materials that he would work with. And he created artworks really from his own studies. He tried to take a class in an American art academy, the San Francisco Art Institute actually, and he was so, you know, horrified by the lack of discipline shown by the students that he felt he could learn much better on his own and he did. He studied art virtually on his own for his whole career and he did try different styles. This is a style known as nihonga which was popular in Japan at the time, incorporating Japanese painting with Western influences. And you have a great opportunity to learn more about the kind of technical descriptions of this at the De Young Museum. The curator has written a beautiful brochure which will be free to the public. You can take it home.

And you know I'm afraid that this slide is backwards. But anyway, this painting is a very interesting story. It's actually a portrait... its the only nude portrait of my grandmother. And she was already pregnant... four months pregnant. And he said, "I'm going to paint this picture of you." And she said, "No, no, I don't think so." And he said, "Every artist's wife poses for their husband in the nude." (Laughter) She finally relented. She did have hair down to her knees. She used to pile it up on her head. And he titled this, 'Mother Earth.'

Picture 4
Untitled (Alma, Santa Cruz Mountains),

29 November 1922.
Sketchbook, sumi on silk mounted on
Boards, 14 1/4 x 16 1/2 in.
From Obata's Yosemite, page 24
Picture 4
Another example of a slightly different style. This is in the Santa Cruz Mountains around the 1920's (Picture 4). Probably.... You know my grandfather would visit other Japanese-American communities so he had like good friends in Pescadero and the Kodani family down in Monterrey. That's how my two families known each other, have known each other. And there are probably farmers in the Santa Cruz Mountains that he was visiting and they would stay and do sketches of the landscape. This is Pasadena, again in the 1920's. This next is called 'Sunset in the Sacramento Valley.' Spectacular painting. It's very large. Again you have a great opportunity to see this painting cause I never see this painting. It's usually in St. Louis. And the first time its going to be out in public in years, years and years. It's a very powerful work and I've given this talk many times and one time some gentleman was sitting in the front row and said, "Ohhhh! He must have been on LSD!" (Laughter) But apparently he really felt this was the impression of this beautiful sunset in Sacramento one day.

Now in 1927, was a key event in Obata's life as an artist, his career. It was the first meeting of Obata with Yosemite, in particular the High Sierras. He was invited by Worth Ryder, who was a professor of art at UC Berkeley. They had become friends. Different American artists were getting to know Obata's work and through his exhibitions. At the time Obata was 42 years old, so this was his perfect moment in time, his ability as an artist had fully matured. He even said that this experience of this trip... He said, "This event was the greatest harvest for my whole life and future in painting." And what he did is he also wrote letters back home describing for my grandmother who...of course she's at home with four kids while the husband is out having this artistic experience. And these letters form the text of 'Obata's Yosemite,' the other book that we have brought for you to look at today.

So they traveled on the Old Tioga Pass Road, which is Highway 120, for those of you who know the pass through Yosemite. And they were traveling in a Model T Ford on the old Tioga Pass Road, which was a dirt road, so this was truly an adventure. And here he is on this trip.

Picture 5
Untitled (Camp),
, 1927.
Sumi and watercolor on paper,
15 3/4 x 11 in.
From Obata's Yosemite, page 84
Picture 5
He said also, "I felt keenly that the education of children was not in school but in letting them contact great nature such as this." Another quote. He said, "This morning I woke up at 2 o'clock and I saw the moon shining in the woods, on the river, and in the meadow. It evoked in me the days of the gods." (picture 5)

There was a third member who was camping with the group, a young artist named, Robert Howard. He wrote of camping with Obata and said, "Afterwards, before turning in for sleep, Obata would bring forth his philosophies of life. How to remain young. How to appreciate every minute of existence and time. How right it was to be happy, and cheerful, and productive. How wrong to shed tears, do nothing, and waste time and strength. That to be an artist was the best of all things."

The first exhibition Obata had for American audiences was in the following year, 1928. You can see that he is sketching on the... doing a painting demonstration on the ground with Haruko assisting him. And as it turned out the last day of the exhibition his father passed away in Japan, which entailed that the entire family would go back to Japan, Obata being the only son of this family. This is just again... the exhibition I just told you about. The San Francisco Call and Post (newspaper)... you know the degree of sophistication in American society at the time. You have to remember that they didn't know very much about Japanese art, Asian art, so this comment is so interesting to me. "This happens to be the headwaters of the San Joaquin River, a very odd piece of work." And this is the painting they're referring to, which doesn't seem odd to me at all. But it's not the typical, you know, oil painting, traditional American art style that people were used to viewing their landscapes.

So the family returned to Japan. Here is Obata, Haruko, oldest son Kim, and Gyo, there's my mom, Yuri in the Sendai house. Kim was already a high school student. He didn't want to go to school in Japan and he left the family soon after they arrived, about several months later to come back to San Francisco and continue his high school education at Galileo in San Francisco.

Picture 6
Evening Moon,
Color woodblock print, 15 3/4 X 11 in.
From Obata's Yosemite, page 15
Picture 6
While Obata was in Japan, it became a two-year sojourn, he created woodblock prints from many of his watercolors, particularly of the Sierras (Picture 6). You'll have a great opportunity to see examples of what are called sequential prints to show how this technique of turning a watercolor into a woodblock print happened. I think the curator chose this one because you can actually see in the water the grains of the wood. Right. And then this shows a detail. This jagged line is the manner in which the original watercolor, the colors had dried on the piece of paper. So the woodcutters had to cut this little jagged line exactly to replicate the watercolor. So for this piece you'll be able to see both the original and the woodblock print at the exhibit. Give a good look and see how good they did. Actually it seems to me that the woodblock print colors are more vivid. There's a different quality to them. They're really beautiful.

After two years.... And here is Haruko, the Western looking one, with her friends in Tokyo saying goodbye. They returned to San Francisco and this period, from 1930 was Obata's introduction to the California art scene. He had many exhibitions. They were very successful. This was an article in the Oakland Tribune and this was an exhibit that he had in 1931 at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, a big exhibit with both his work and the work of his father, Rokuichi. This painting is... I'm happy to announce is being purchased by the De Young Museum to be part of their permanent collection. And the curator is determined that when the De Young Museum reopens in 2005 that Obata will not be ignored as he has been for so many decades and that this painting will be on view for people who visit the De Young. This is a... It's great...It's just... it's just been really exciting for me to work with a curator who feels that there were artists definitely who were overlooked who should now be given recognition in the American art scene.

In 1932, Obata was invited by his friends at UC Berkeley to lecture at the art department, which led to a permanent position as a professor of art at UC Berkeley. This is Telegraph Avenue. I know there are several UC grads here, or people who went to UC. But this is Telegraph Avenue and the Sather Tower. While they were living in Berkeley, Haruko had her own busy schedule teaching ikebana. She's shown in this San Francisco Chronicle article 1935 with Mrs. Dean Witter at the California Garden and Flower Show. And Obata enjoyed painting her arrangements. These are some of the best records we have of the work she did. Another ikebana.

He also enjoyed painting the Berkeley scene. This is looking across....this is the Golden Gate Bridge and Mt. Tamalpais from the Berkeley Hills. The campus.

He said in the late 1930's, "I always teach my students beauty. No one should pass through four years of college without being given the knowledge of beauty and the eyes with which to see it." He was a very popular teacher. A former student...actually several students have told me that he was not just teaching a style of painting, the sumi painting style, but he taught a way to observe, a way to see and appreciate the beauty of nature. He always brought his students to the out of doors on campus to paint and sketch. This is...these are a quote from his lectures. He said, "Anything in art is like yourself. In the long run it is a way of living. Many things come. Many things happen. You make happiness, morning or evening, sunny morning or dark night. You know how you felt. How is the emotion felt? What kind of feeling of harmonization did you have? Feel deeper what kind of step it took toward harmonization. If you took too short a step next time take a longer step. Use a deeper stride. Take steps like a cow. Don't fall down so easily."

The students just responded so positively to his classes. They were very popular. This is another quote. He said, describing talking to his students, "I said I would go to the Santa Cruz Mountains to watch the autumn moon. My students said, 'If you just want to see the moon, you don't have to go that far, you can see it from here.' So this is the point. You go to the Santa Cruz Mountains and in those deep mountains you wait for the sunset and you hear the sounds of the bellsinger cricket and then slowly from behind the woods the moon emerges. That atmosphere is beyond expression. I feel this is the blessing of Great Nature."

Picture 7
A Storm Nearing Yosemite
Goverment Center,
February 1939.
Sumi on silk, 20 7/8 X 32 5/8 in.
From Obata's Yosemite, page 43
Picture 7
And just to show a few typical works from the 1930's (Picture 7). He returned to Yosemite Valley again and again, camping there in the summer. This is right above the falls. His students would come and follow him up there and paint and have classes in the outdoors. And he also loved to paint the sequoia trees. They were a great symbol to him... this great vertical line connecting heaven and earth. And symbolized also the life of the issei, who had to endure so many trials and storms of life and yet had such spiritual beauty and strength. He also painted Point Lobos, a very favorite area.

The...just as a note of explanation cause you live close enough to Monterey, you probably go down there sometimes. In Point Lobos Park there's a small museum and it talks about the Kodani family who fished for abalone. So that's my paternal side of my family. So the two men, two grandfathers were friends and Obata would go hang out and paint right in this Whaler's Cove area. Kodani ran an abalone fishing industry there in Point Lobos. And these this is my mom with my dad and the Obata brothers and then the Kodani family and the divers. This is the guesthouse that the Obata used to stay at. These are the Kodani grandparents. But it says here, you can't read it, says, "Artist's Cottage." So my grandfather was not the only Japanese artist who was visiting this area and they often stayed at the Kodani house. This is what the interior looked at... looked like because the artists would leave their art there as thank you's for staying there. So it's a point that I'd like to make is that there was a lot of appreciation for the arts even amongst these first immigrant families. You'd think everybody is out there just slaving away but they actually really did appreciate the arts. Unfortunately we don't know where... what happened to a lot of these paintings, of course, because of the war.

And another nice view of Point Lobos. The moon in Point Lobos. And I believe that one will also be in the exhibit. I'm running overtime, should I just keep going? You guys OK? Trying not to rush it too much but there's a lot of beautiful work to see.

Picture 8
Sumi and watercolor on paper, 22 X 28 in.
From Topaz Moon, page 113
Picture 8
September 1941, Kim, the oldest son married. This is the Obata's, there's my mom, there's Gyo, the other Obata son. For your interest, these are the Uchida's, who are the parents of Yoshida Uchida, the author. So the Uchida's lived very close to my grandparents in the Berkeley area. They were good friends. They were the symbolic baishakunin. And the Okagaki family, they're from San Jose. Maybe some people know them. These are the Okagaki's right here. So apparently the nisei weddings they still, before the war, had the baishakuni in the photo. Anyway, this wedding was September 1941. Of course two months later there was the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Everything changed immediately. This painting you can see, very different from the other works you have seen. Its very expressionistic. Obata titled this "Landslide." (Picture 8) And he's depicting his family huddled together while this vortex of war is destroying the foundations of their life.

They... as with all families of course, were allowed to bring only what they could carry in this climate of this racial hysteria that was going on. I like to show this picture (war propaganda poster) because I think you know people don't realize how blatant the racism was during that time. What was this... What did that image have to do with these people, right?

This is the Obata family. Again, my mom and the two Obata boys just a few years before the war. This is the notebook that my grandmother had just trying to keep track of everything they were packing up, all the kitchen dishes, and Yuri's music books. They were going to Mrs. Crawford. They were very lucky that they had so many friends within the university community. Students and friends were storing things for them. They also sold a lot of things for almost nothing. They actually had a store. They had to close the store down.

The Alien Registration Card that all issei had to carry. This is for Haruko. This is an example of the papers from that time... the wartime.

The departure for the Berkeley Japanese, there were about 1200 who left Berkeley, the departure happened at what was called the First Congregational Church, ironically the church where Kim and Masa Obata had been married a few months before.

Picture 9
Sketches made on the day of departure.

April 30, 1942.
From Topaz Moon, page 23
Picture 9
And this is the first of the series of the internment camp paintings that appear in Topaz Moon, was the period of registering and a few days later departing from this church. So you can see this tower this appears in grandfather's paintings in his sketches (picture 9). He wanted to record what was happening. People were not allowed their cameras so he was working on sketches about this big just making quick sketches and then he would later develop them into completed larger paintings. Again the front of the church. Departure on April 30, 1942. It was raining the day... there were two days that the Berkeley Japanese departed. The first day it rained.

This was his farewell to the Bay Bridge, symbolizing this breaking from their past to this unknown future. And landing in the horse stables at Tanforan with all this mud that had been created cause of these rains. The Obata family walked into their designated barracks which was a converted horse stable. There was nothing there accept the cots and the lightbulb and my grandmother apparently sat down on this cot and just cried. My mother never saw her mother cry ever before in her life.

Everyday life with the mess hall lines.

From the very first day that Obata was in Tanforan he conceived of an idea to create an art school. He firmly believed in the power of creativity to raise the spirits of his fellow internees. And what he was able to do was to get his fellow artist friends, Matsusaburo Hibi for one, who were in the camps, interned in the camps, and the recent UC graduates or people who had not even graduated yet who were in architecture or art classes. And within a month they were able to create an art school that had 600 students. They had no funding from the government. They did it entirely with their own money and with donations from the outside from friends from UC Berkeley. This is a children's class that he was teaching in Tanforan. And the school was so successful that they were able to exhibit the artwork outside the camp just a month later in July. This is an Oakland Tribune article on the exhibit. This is at Tanforan.

Some of the people would come to visit the internees and couldn't get passes to get in so they would meet at the fence. My grandmother remembered some of the women students from Berkeley would come and she said, 'Oh they would cry, poor things,' they would say, "Oh Professor Obata, you are behind the fence!" And he would answer, "From my perspective it looks like you are behind the fence!" (Laughter)

And as was mentioned earlier, the transfer from Tanforan to Topaz happened right about now, this time of year, end of September into October. It was the Boy Scout band from San Francisco. They would be out there everyday in the heat and the dust doing this welcome. This is your new home.

And yet these works are very repetitive in recording what is going on and yet they are also making these little political statements. Here he was careful to include... They are still building the barracks as people are arriving to the camp. And the barbed wire fence which was one of the first jobs the internees had when they arrived at the camp was to finish building this barbed wire fence that would enclose them for the next three years.

Picture 10
Dust Storm

ca 1943
From Topaz Moon, page 120
Picture 10
The dust storms in Topaz. I grew up always hearing about the alkali soil of Topaz and I had no idea what that meant. And I went to Topaz for the first time last year to do research and I brought some of the soil of Topaz back. Let me just pass this around. And I understood what alkali soil is, it's like a powder. And so when they build Topaz they tore up all the natural vegetation to build the camp and nothing was keeping this down and that's why they had these tremendous horrible dust storms. This is my grandmother and my mom trying to keep the dust from coming into these poorly built barracks. Lot of details in here. You can see the getta that everyone built to...made to wear to the showers. And here a little ikebana. This effort to try to keep this feeling of normalcy in their lives in spite of the conditions. Again the dust storms, my grandmother, when I interviewed her, the oral history I did with her talking about Topaz and she said (in a rapid rush of words), "And it was so cold and we had to go out to the bathroom in the storm and the wind blew and I almost fell over (Picture 10)." And she was like, "I just cringe thinking about it." So yeah, conditions were very very harsh.

This art school continued at Topaz. It thrived very well even though the internees had virtually no materials to work with. So they were just picking up every kind of stick and firewood out in the desert to try to create some crafts and works of art. My grandmother in particular had so much trouble doing ikebana that she would actually ask her friends back in Berkeley to mail camellia branches to her so she would have some materials to work with and then her students would make the actual flowers out of crepe paper and attach it to the camellia branches.

Picture 11
Topaz War Relocation Center
by Moonlight
ca 1943
From Topaz Moon, page 121
Picture 11
I have a quote that Obata gave to the art school for a New Year's address. This would be 1943 "Have we noticed the beautiful mountains surrounding us that have existed for thousands of years? They show heaven and earth their greatness. They can't be moved no matter how many people try. The sun and the moon have been shining for tens of thousands of years blessing the world. The mountains, moon, and sun never try to explain. When dark clouds hide the sun the clouds will shine with the golden color of the sunlight. At night they will be blessed by the moonlight decorating their edges with a silver line. We only hope that our art school will follow the teachings of this Great Nature and that it will strengthen itself to endure like the mountains, and like the sun and the moon, emit its own light." This composition is interesting cause he puts the moon, again the symbol of hope, right in the middle of the painting (Picture 11). And it's a very strong composition to do that and yet these shapes of these clouds are the same type of shapes of these roofs of the barracks and so it is as if the clouds will pass, and the barracks will pass and disappear. These are temporary. What is important is to endure with the spirit.

Now in the Spring of 1943 was the very tense time in the camp with the signing of the controversial loyalty oaths. My grandfather was attacked because of this period. He was seen as pro-administration because he worked so closely with the administration as director of the art school. He walked out the shower one night and was whacked in the head. He stayed for two...two weeks in the Topaz Hospital and then he was immediately released by the administration who wanted to be sure he would be safe. While he was in the hospital this incident occurred. Wakasa, an issei man, was walking close to the perimeter fence and was shot and killed by a guard. It was a huge event, a controversial event that happened in the camp. Also this painting will be on display at the exhibit. I should explain that this exhibit is about the landscapes of Obata but there is going to be one separate room which will have the camp paintings. And it's one reason the curator chose the word 'transcendent' that Obata was able to transcend the situation through his artwork. So please be sure to check out the separate room while you're at the exhibit.

Picture 12
Watercolor on paper, 13 X 18 1/2 in.
From Topaz Moon, page 134
Picture 12
The family then moved to St. Louis where Gyo, the middle son, was already going to architecture school. This is my mom and my grandmother in their rented home in the suburb of St. Louis. You can see the whole quality of this painting is very different from the work he had been doing in the camp, sort of safe and beautiful and cool environment. And that's where they spent the duration of the war in St. Louis for two years. And then with the bombing of Hiroshima, again very different style of painting, very expressionistic. They are reflections of what he felt had happened in Hiroshima. Even though they showed this utter devastation it's interesting he always put people in the paintings as well (Picture 12). So again this feeling of hope and survival in spite of everything. This painting he titled, "Prayer."

So he returned to Berkeley. He was immediately reinstated by the University in 1945. The Obata family was very lucky that the relocation back home was not as difficult as many many families had coming back to California. He stayed with friends before they could finally find a little apartment. He is around sixty years old when he's teaching at Cal again. This little apartment they had, that they lived in for several years before they could find a house, it was so small that my mom, who dated my dad now at Cal, she would sleep on the couch and my grandparents would pull a Murphy bed out of the wall every night. Remember those old apartments?

And Obata returned to his favorite places to paint. To Yosemite. To Point Lobos. This beautiful painting of Point Lobos. Thinking I am sure of his many issei friends who did not survive the war years. For instance, Mr. Hibi, died soon after the war. Many other friends. And he would call this "Glory of Struggle" thinking again of the life of the tree equaling the lives of the issei.

Haruko was busy doing her ikebana again. Here she is in San Francisco giving a demonstration, around 1950. And then I've mentioned the fishing part of the Obata's. This is something I even remember is going to the beach and Obata... my grandfather would be out surf fishing hauling this heavy gear around. He would take his students out from UC Berkeley. He taught there until 1954. So he'd say we going to take a sketching tour, a sketching class and he would fish while they would sketch. (Laughter) And they would have a good picnic and so here is Obata and Haruko and my mom and some students and their families and friends.

Early picture. This is a much earlier picture of a successful catch. Striped bass. He fished right out at Baker's Beach and Pacifica. Those were favorite places. I think I have a picture of Baker's Beach. Another leaping for the strike. He spent so much time out on the water that he had so many pictures of the water and the atmosphere. Here we are, this is Pacifica, I think. But this is unusual cause he painted himself into the painting. There's his friend.

Picture 13
Glorious Struggle
Sumi on Silk, 36 X 22 in.
From Topaz Moon, page 111
Picture 13
When he retired in 1954 from UC Berkeley he began this whole new career of leading Obata tours. He did this for about fifteen years, well into his eighties. And again the goal was to introduce Americans to the traditional arts and culture of Japan. So here they were in 1954, less than ten years after the two countries had been at war. And here they are at Mt. Fuji. And during this so-called retirement they were very very busy. I have very clear memories of this crazy household. People coming and going. My grandmother demonstrated and taught ikebana up until the end of her life. Her last demonstration... public demonstration in Golden Gate Park she was 93 years old. Very genki and her ikebana was enshu-ryu very classical. Three points: Heaven, Man, and Earth in all of her simple beautiful ikebana. And she died in 18... sorry, in 1989 at age 97. And my grandfather also did painting demonstrations near to the end of his life. This is an example of one of his very late works when he was in his eighties. (Picture 13)

Okay, see what I have...I'm just going to bring us up to date. The middle son I mentioned, Gyo, later became the head designer of a firm called Hellmuth, Obata, Kassabaum. Most of you know it as H-O-K. His most famous building was the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum that he designed in Washington DC. But HOK has done a lot of projects here in the Bay Area including PacBell Stadium. But he also designed the Japanese-American National Museum and some of you may have seen this already in Los Angeles. It's a very nice building and I encourage you to go there and check it out sometime.

And Topaz, well for you who have already been there, because you were forced to be there, for me it was a really extremely interesting fascinating trip to go there and see this site. There's nothing there in that you have to interpret what you see. There's nothing higher than your knee level. It's all in the ground. But there is a lot you know. You just have to... OK this is a tree, one of these trees they planted that of course died as soon as they couldn't water it anymore. There's tons of nails and boards and things just sitting out on this high desert because it's a very dry atmosphere so nothing is deteriorating out there. That's Mt. Topaz in the distance and I'm standing in the area of about Block 9 where my grandparent's were living. This is the actual concrete pad for the mess hall where the Obata family took their meals in Block 9. Again, like I said, these boards are still sitting in there on the ground because the barracks weren't on concrete pads. They were just sitting into these slots of this wood so this is the foundation of the barracks, these pieces of wood. And the barbed wire fence is still there. It's amazing. So, if not yourself, encourage your family members to see this history. It's still there after sixty years.

Picture 14
Lake Basin in the High Sierra,
Color woodblock print, 11 x 15 3/4 in.
From Obata's Yosemite, page 61
Picture 14
I'm going to end with one quote, one more quote. This is from an oral history by Obata when he was eighty years old. "For me I have a strong desire to contribute to a peaceful life through painting. The peace of humankind, this is something really precious. This is something of the utmost importance not just for me but for everyone else. It goes without saying that America is very rich in natural resources. In other words natural blessings. So what can Americans leave for future generations? I'm talking about something the whole of humanity can aim for. Some kind of big objective. After all a real spiritual awareness has to be built in order to build peace. In many ways America is largely wasting what nature is providing us. The great teaching of our Japanese ancestors is do not disobey nature, always go with nature anywhere in any circumstance with gratitude. In the High Sierras in the evening it gets very cold. The coyotes howl in the distance. The moon arcs across the sky. The trees are standing here and there and it is very quiet. You can learn from the teachings within this quietness. Well, you can learn from many things. Some people are taught by speeches or talking but I think it is important that you are taught by silence. Immerse yourself in nature, listen to what nature has to tell you in its quietness so that you can learn and grow." (Picture 14)

Thank you. I know I went very long here today but thank you very much. You're a great audience.


KN - Thank you Kimi. We got much more than we bargained for. (Laughter) It was just wonderful. But I think as she spoke she certainly made it such that we appreciate nature a great deal more. I know I have and I also am happy that you were able to organize the De Young exhibit for your grandfather because I certainly think he is a great artist. I just wanted to say that you certainly are a wonderful historian for your family. What you did for us today was just wonderful... Thank you.

Back to the Top

The Interview

After a wait while Kimi (KKH) signed her books for the audience, Leonard (LC) and I (Philip - PC) sat down for our interview with her. Leonard, who was handling the tape-recorder, started it in mid-sentence as we were beginning our talk. Florence (FH) joins us a little later on in the interview.

KKH - ...All right... cause I... Should I explain that a little bit more? How the book even became a book?

PC - What we both thought was missing was you.

KKH - I hate talking about me. (Laughter) No, yeah, I understand.

PC - There wasn't any like personal observations, personal experiences. There wasn't any background material as to why you were doing this and that kind of thing. Something that gave us an idea of who you were.

LC - It took me a long time looking through the book to try to figure out who you were the daughter of. (Laughter)

KKH - That's good. OK.

PC - Cause we were thinking the two sons ended up in St. Louis and you lived here in Berkeley well...and that didn't quite make sense you know. (Laughter)

KKH - I know what you're talking about.

LC - Well in any case, the way I was thinking about framing that question was since this is going to be transcribed and put on the Internet, I wanted to get you to talk about things you'd like to tell people about the book and yourself.

KKH - OK. I never never dreamed I would ever write a book and I think that's kind of important. And I never thought I would be a public speaker. I never thought I would be a family historian. If someone said these were career goals after I got out of college I'd say no to every one of them. But you know life just sorta took me on this path.

LC - What were you? What were you planning on...?

KKH - My training...I was... I was... I had studied visual design and art and I was out of school for awhile and went back and did couple more years at a college, California College of Arts and Crafts to actually study art. But what happened is that because I was living with my grandmother as her primary caretaker that became my job. In a way I've just become a professional volunteer. I always seem to find my way into these positions where there is not usually pay involved. But there...

FH - Sounds familiar. (Laughter)

KKH - Yeah, non-profit is another way to saying a volunteer, right? But it was a really important thing for me to do and that I had a close relationship with my grandmother for me is the heart of this book, because I didn't know my grandfather that well. I knew him as a child knows someone and the last five years of his life he had a series of mild strokes. So he spoke English really well, I mean he was a professor at Cal. But when he started having the strokes he reverted back to his Japanese so... and I never learned to speak Japanese well. So the last five years of his life when I'm going from a teenager to an adult we really couldn't communicate and I feel like I really didn't know him. But because as an adult I lived with my grandmother for ten years I feel like I really got to know her and I really appreciated what she had done, and her life, her story as an issei. Of course her life is so intertwined with my grandfather's life so its like hearing her story is hearing the two of them together and... and then also simultaneously was the gradual rediscovery of my grandfather's work from historical groups.

So the Smithsonian Institution began the research for their exhibition at the Museum of American History. In 1985 they began their research and they were literally calling up and saying we're looking for some paintings. We heard there's some Obata paintings. Well, because I'm here living with my grandmother I became the source of information. Before it was sort of my mom's sort of job to help, you know, keep records straight, or just help in taking care of the artwork, and it just started to fall to me instead cause I was physically there, but also I realized how interested I really was in just finding out who was this grandfather. I never really knew him. And it was a way by talking to friends, fortunately who were still alive, both Japanese and American, white friends, that this idea of who he was started to grow more toward me. I really appreciate what he was saying.

I mean his main message to his students was to learn and appreciate nature and the natural environment, especially in California. And I think its such an important message for all of us, for not just Japanese-Americans, but for everyone to learn to appreciate the beauty of the natural world and then work in some ways toward preserving it. So... that's my main hobby in life, camping and hiking. I go to Yosemite two, three, four, five times a year So his philosophy just goes parallels with mine. So in a way when I give these presentations and I'm talking up the wilderness ethic and its also coming from me too because I completely believe in what he was talking about. And I've hiked and camped in the same areas that he was into which is a wonderful experience.

But anyway, because an institution like the Smithsonian Institution was so interested in my family's history they were asking me questions that I didn't know and that forced me to go through the documents, to interview people, and I just realized how much history is not recorded, not written. I've always encouraged people. Have you done family histories? Have you recorded all this down? Because it gets lost so easily. Yeah, it's almost scary. And who would have thought that just because I did this research for the Smithsonian fifteen years ago, fifteen years later it becomes a book? And its published by people. People all over the country are now reading this book. And that's remarkable. It's really remarkable. It certainly wasn't my goal when I started but it evolved to this point and its very satisfying. Yeah.

PC - How did the Smithsonian even hear about your grandfather?

KKH - Because they came researching all over the country and when they came to the Bay Area somebody remembered obtaining, which had been this one painting that had been published before with an anthology on Japanese-American art and literature that was called Ayumi, it was an old publication, and someone remembered that and knew that the Obata family was still in the area. So it just...

PC - Coincidence

KKH - You know it... just started this rolling evolving... Its... I've told people that I feel like I've been on this trajectory for the last fifteen years and we've come to this year. Not only is there this book but there's also an exhibit at a major art museum and its just everything had to happen to get to this point.

LC - At what point did you start conceiving that there would be a book?

KKH - I thought the "Obata's Yosemite" book was very successful and that people really responded positively to it. I did a lot of lectures, more focused on the Yosemite story. Similar to this but more about Yosemite. And people consistently over... when was that book published? 1993. For a good five years after that I was still requested to do talks and presentations. So I knew people were very interested in his story, his philosophy, this immigrant story, his teachings. You could just hear whenever I'm talking about, 'Oh then he was camping and then he... then he was in this internment camp!' You could just feel in this audience that they were reacting to this and that was a crucial part of this story that this family had to suffer this experience. So I felt that it was a very interesting part of his life in his own collection of how he kept the artwork, cause he gave or sold a lot of his artwork. But fairly intact were the series of paintings from that 1927 trip which was the 'Obata's Yosemite' book and the camp paintings. They were the only two areas of his life where he actually kept most of the artwork from these two periods. So I think, for him in his mind, these were very crucial parts of his life, very big experiences. So along those lines... and also there is a writing that I found... a letter that he wrote, "Someday I would like this to be a book so that people can learn about what happened during the war and to work towards understanding and a greater peace" is to have his book published. Of course he never did it cause he was a busy guy. He just never stopped painting and lecturing. He never had the time. But there was... I just had this feeling that it was appropriate, that he would approve of a book just on the camp art, and that there would be the interest. But interestingly when I tried to approach a couple publishers on the project they said no. And this was maybe three years ago. UC Press...

FH - As recently as that? That's amazing.

KKH - Yeah, UC Press and Washington... University of Washington Press. 'No, but maybe a whole biography on your grandfather.' And I said, 'No, I'm not going to do a whole biography.' (Laughter) So, it was just fate and the stars lining up that the California Civil Liberties Public Education Project, the announcements came out that they're giving grants. I didn't know about it. I didn't know anything about it. But the publisher called me and said, "I've been talking to Mark Johnson, he's the curator at San Francisco State University. He says that there's a great potential for an Obata book. There's a good chance you can win this grant." I said, "Oh, well we'd better find someone to write the book." And they said, "No, I think you can do it." (Laughter) So, like I said, just one thing after another happened. And we got the grant, and it was just a lot of work in a short time, but we did it. Great publisher. Small press publisher out of Berkeley. Heyday Books. They were so supportive. Whenever I needed help with anything they were right there. Did I answer the question?

LC - Well...

PC - A lot about the book but not a lot about yourself still. (Laughter)

LC - Yeah, I guess you answered the first part about the book. I guess we still didn't hear much about your own background, your life. (Laughter)

KKH - Ummm... Well let's see...

PC - Describe your life in forty words or less. (Laughter) I mean... How does the camp experience affect people like you who were born after the war I presume? OK? Cause I saw your parents as teenagers so.... so I hope I'm not presuming. (Laughter)

KKH - Ummm hmmm.... Yeah you're right I was born in 1955, ten years after the war. Right, and I always heard about camp. There were some sansei whose family never talked about the camp or were very into the most lightest, would know nothing really serious, just the funny stories and actually a lot of my relatives are like that. My dad's side of the family, you can hear all the funny stories. But for me, my grandfather had these paintings and we always saw those paintings ever since we were young. And we knew that there was a lot of suffering involved. They weren't bitter. They didn't complain about the experience but it was like right there in black in white. So I never felt my family was trying to suppress anything. And it was a real surprise when I was becoming a young adult and you know Asian-American studies were really coming to the forefront and these stories were coming out about the younger generation had really been at such a disadvantage that they hadn't heard these stories. I was really surprised, I thought everybody were able to talk about it and then I realized that it is hard, it's hard to talk about things that happened to you that were bad. You don't want to think about this anymore. But speaking and writing is not the only way to communicate. Images do it too.

That's the real strength of my grandfather's work and that, as I mentioned, when I gave the slide presentations the people just had this... you could hear this uhhh! People gasp in the audience that they were very powerful. In a very simple way, its important to understand intellectually how constitutional rights were broken and so the political climate and this and that but there has to be I think an emotional reaction to anything to really achieve any kind of wisdom. Right? You can intellectually understand something but to really to have a wise understanding and be effective there has to be some emotion involved to and the artwork is a way to do that. And I feel that in any kind of experience this is what you need.

It's another reason why... and I mentioned that my grandfather's philosophy about nature dovetails my philosophy too. There's some way that you can see... you can know that you need to preserve wilderness but I think it has to begin with a true, you know, experiencing the beauty and the love, and just learning to love how beautiful nature is to care enough to try to preserve it and its something I do, maybe not on a huge basis, but certainly I'm always dragging my friends up to the mountains and introducing them to the Yosemite High Country. And I'm... and because of this, my volunteer work in this direction with my grandfather, I'm actually starting other work currently with a website project with the National Park Service trying to introduce wilderness and wilderness ethics to different ethnic groups in inner city high schools in California through telling the story of Obata's experience as an immigrant living here.

So I've become a kind of resource for information on my grandfather but I take it to heart because I understand the importance of these values that he's teaching and maybe that's what happens through the generations. The words... the wise words of your elders somehow come through the next generation as well and that's really what happened in a way. Yeah.

PC - What your grandfather said about nature seems to sound very Zen Buddhist. Was that a major part of his background?

KKH - You know I always hesitate to say that he studied Zen Buddhism because you know in Japan Buddhism has many different sects and Zen is just one. And it's not as if he went to the temple everyday and studied or did Zazen but Zen Buddhism just historically has been a part of Japanese culture. Its all from the samurai times time, the Edo period.

PC - Descended from Ch'an Buddhism.

KKH - Yeah, right. It's just in the culture, living in harmony with nature. Your approach to painting. Right? Your ego is not involved. You clear your mind so that it is pure and you can experience this painting. All this philosophy that he taught his students. Yes, it's deeply rooted in Buddhism and maybe Zen Buddhism in particular. But I think he also transformed it in his interpretation to his personal experiences in nature when he was painting in California, partly because there was such a contrast to how he was treated as a minority. He talked about one experience where he was traveling in the Redwood Country and there's the little towns in Northern California and he met with some... probably some guy who was calling them names or epithets and it was a very unpleasant experience.

LC - Even to this day you can still...

KKH - And it's still out there... Right.

LC - Friend of mine had an unpleasant experience fairly recently.

KKH - Very blatant, not even on a subtle basis.

LC - Somebody scratched it on his car. Some racial...

KKH - Oh my gosh. Wow.... Wow... For him to respond to this situation where he was basically helpless. There was nothing he could do about it, but he said that when he went into the forest and the redwoods. The trees were like beings were like spirits and they comforted him and they accepted him and they helped make him feel at peace again. So, yes, you know, it's... I feel like whether that's related to Zen Buddhism or just Japanese culture, which has this long history of living closely with nature. All the rocks and the trees and the rivers are gods and you know this kind of philosophy. He took it to heart and he created something more with it here in California cause that is how he taught his students. And just personally, cause you're trying to get me to talk personally that I would say that some of my own personal experiences of utter contentment and feeling at peace with the world happened for me also in wilderness, in the mountains backpacking or hiking.

Its so interesting that his paintings, what he was trying to achieve, is to introduce and lead people into that experience. Some of the paintings at the De Young are going to be big paintings, it's not just these little ones. There are big paintings of the wilderness and that... Its almost like you're just drawn into the experience. It's interesting because the culture now, people are responding to this message. Right? The last twenty, thirty years of environmental awareness. It's a message that the curator certainly picked up on it right away and that's how he's presenting it like it's environmental awareness and appreciation of our planet.

PC - Well unfortunately Yosemite has changed a lot since your grandfather's time. (Laughter)

KKH - It has and yet the High Country... Yosemite Valley is pretty crowded. We all know how bad that is but Yosemite National Park is a big park and there is still wilderness to experience out there. Fortunately. But yeah it can be a zoo. (Laughter)

PC - It must have been a lot more relaxing back then.

KKH - You know it's so funny. When you read the book he even complains that, "Oh, a lot of people came in today. Four or five!" God, can you imagine? (Laughter)

PC - At Yosemite...

FH - How are we doing for time?

(Long silence)

LC - Better check the tape. (Laughter) Now's the time to switch.

(The deacon at this point begins patiently waiting for us to leave so that he can lock the door.)

FH - Yeah, he wants to go home. That's why he's saying there's a time limit.

KKH - Oh OK. Can we just finish up? Anything...?

LC - I guess we can ask her the last question which was; Do you plan on doing any further books or what other web projects you're working on. You mentioned the website.

KKH - The website. Yes. That's a project we hope to have it online next year. I'm consulting on that project.

LC - Could you send us the link?

KKH - OK. Yeah, yeah. It's a government project so it they're just sorta having fits and starts getting it going.

PC - Like all government projects.

KKH - Yeah, yeah, but they're very dedicated. And I will be continuing to do these talks about Topaz Moon. I'm actually taking it nationally. I've got scheduled talks in Portland and Chicago next year.

FH - Are you going to be at the one in Sunnyvale?

KKH - Yes, yes. Good. There's still a lot of interest in Topaz Moon. But yes, in the back of my mind I've been thinking that just from the reactions in talking to people of what they want to learn more about my grandfather and what material still hasn't been published is a lot of his... more of his teaching and philosophy that he taught at UC Berkeley. And I think that would be a great project.

LC - Would you be doing a book on that?

KKH - Yeah, I would think that people would find that... a big part of his life was as a teacher. We do have lecture notes. Yeah, so primary materials that could still be published because of the interest. I don't think I would have thought it was so important to do but obviously I get so much feedback from people and they really do enjoy hearing what he had to say.

PC - I was just telling Leonard outside that this book and the subject sound perfect for Oprah. (Laughter) Just the philosophy and everything it sounds just so right up her alley. (Laughter)

LC - I was thinking...

KKH - I know. I know. There is one more point I'd like to make why I'm still going to focus on talking about Topaz Moon and talking about the story, the internment story in the context of Grandpa's life is that I am amazed how many people I talk to and they say, "I didn't know about this story, about the internment camps." Oh my Gosh! Still! And it's like a whole other generation who didn't learn. And also outside of California, because the book was printed in Utah, and here are these people who are living two hours from Topaz and he was like, "I've never heard of this before."

FH - That's also the reason why we do the work that we do because there's all these new...

KKH - There's a new generation. Yeah.

FH - Who don't know anything about it and our primary focus is we need to tell about the wartime internment, and the Asian-American part of it is just something that we fell into but our primary focus though still is telling about the wartime...

KKH - I'm just amazed. It's amazing. It still needs to be out there somehow. Having a book with so many paintings makes it more accessible than more scholarly works. That's the reason I think it's easier to introduce it to people. We'll just see what happens. I'm very interested in going beyond California and seeing what the reaction is.

FH - That's going to be interesting because everything outside east of California it's different. Let me tell you about it, I've done a number of teacher's workshops and things like that. It's just unbelievable once you leave California. What it's like out there

PC - You don't even have to leave California. (Laughter)

KKH - No. Pockets... we're in a pocket here. Yeah, yeah. And the other point is that and just to make one more point and this is just from my experience in giving talks I do have people come up and they're outraged about this whole story and they just want to tell me, "This is the most shameful thing that's happened in American History!"

PC - Not exactly.

KKH - Yes, but... Let's face it there's been a lot. Yes, but the point is that this book was funded by the State of California, it was the Civil Liberties grant. I'm very glad about that because it does show that democracy does work. Democracy is willing to say, 'we made a big mistake' and we are going to put money, hopefully $5 million eventually, to teach the next generation what their constitutional rights are and that this never happens again. And that is a real plus, a very positive experience to take something negative and make it positive. I think that's tremendous.

PC - Can this happen again?

KKH - It can happen again in slightly different ways. Yes, I believe so. Certainly it can happen on a global way. We saw everything happening in Albania a couple years ago.

PC - Bosnia.

KKH - Ethnic cleansing. You know the Japanese-American community is like, "Sure why can't a tyrannical government do it? A democratic government did it." And what are the... What do we learn from that? How do we heal? How is that country going to heal from that experience? How are we healing from that experience? Yeah it's a... in the very larger picture to just basically how do you transform despair into hope? These are big issues that the Japanese-Americans, my grandfather had to deal with, found a way to rise above it. Yeah, there's a lot of parts of his story that resonate with anyone.

LC - Oh, by the way, have you contacted the UC alumni to publicize like the art exhibit?

KKH - Yes, that's funny you asked cause I just got a call yesterday.

PC - They called you? (Laughter)

KKH - They called me. Let me tell you they weren't doing a lot for a long time. I was like... finally. The Cal alumni magazine they're going to put Obata image right on the cover.

LC - I get that all the time and I'm thinking that'd be a perfect thing.

KKH - Yeah, it's so funny you asked, it's great.

LC - Cause a lot of the alumni might be former students...

KKH - Yes, of course! They are of that generation. This older generation they're way into it. They really would support the show.

PC - The Cal alumni association does a hell of a lot more than San Francisco State University. (Laughter) Who do we have? Oh, we got the Mitchell Brothers. We got Willie Brown too you know. (Laughter)

KKH - It's going to be interesting how people react to this exhibit. I'm really curious to read the reviews that come out, the comments, and how the show is attended. It's all going to be very interesting

PC - Have you given this presentation to kids?

KKH - Yes, yes. I've given it from the senior seniors, I mean the seniors who can't even hear what I'm saying because they are so hard of hearing. (Laughter) They're having their own conversations while I'm talking and as young as say fourth graders. College students. I did it at SF State University actually.

LC - I was just thinking my nieces, when we were doing the presentation, the slide show, I was thinking they probably would have enjoyed this.

KKH - Yeah, the pictures and I do change it. I put more kid-related images for the younger kids. I think kids understand. They appreciate the story.

PC - It's very strange the reaction of kids to presentations or anything. You never know exactly how they'll react.

KKH - Yeah, you never know what's sinking in.

PC - How old was the person who made that LSD comment?

KKH - Oh, it was an older man.

PC - Oh, really?

KKH - Yeah, yeah. It was so funny. (Laughter)

FH - Is that it?

PC - We'd better get out of here before he...

KKH - Poor guy...

LC - We could always do another one when you do that... his philosophy book or something.

PC - Oh yeah that would be interesting. You see none of us have any background in art so it's like, 'OK, I think I see something in that picture.' Obviously I think we're more equipped to talk about philosophy or history. (Laughter)

KKH - That's funny.

FH - Thank you for being so generous with your time.

KKH - Oh, I was looking forward to this. My next talks are scheduled with a museum. I need to like get myself back in gear. I took the summer off from doing all these things. This is a good dry run for me. This was a really nice group and I talked to Setsuko and said maybe I can meet this group at the museum and talk them through the gallery.

FH - I even heard them talk about going to Yosemite. They were so inspired. They said, 'Wouldn't that be great trip for the senior group?'

KKH - That's cute, that's really cute.


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