Research Paper Help on Japanese American Artist Mine Okubo

Japanese American Artist Mine Okubo

Born to Japanese immigrant parents on June 1912 in Riverside California, Mine Okubo was interested in art from an early age, which was greatly influenced by her mother. She had six siblings and their mother was a painter while their father a gardener and landscape. She attended Riverside Community College to refine her craft and later earned a master of Fine Arts in the University of California at Berkeley. She was a recipient of the Bertha Tausig Travelling Scholarship in 1938, which presented her with once in a lifetime opportunity to develop her artistic skills in Europe. She however had to return home due to World War II outbreak and her mother’s illness, unfortunately she died shortly after. During this time, she was working in the federal Arts program until the Pearl Harbor bombing by the Japanese government on December 7, 1941, which resulted to Japanese Americans being labeled enemy aliens (La Duke 43).

This event changed the life of Okubo together with other 110,000 American Japanese people forever. This is because, despite the fact that there was no evidence to support suspicions, Japanese Americans were suspected of being potential spies and saboteurs. On April 24, 1942, she was forced to relocate to Japanese internment camp of Tanforan together with her brother where they were assigned a personal identification number 13660 (La Duke 44). She was later taken to Topaz Japanese American internment Camp and the rest of her family was widely scattered. She produced many paintings and drawings while in the camps that documented the life of Japanese Internees.

Okubo’s transferred her observations and experiences to dramatic, detailed artistry and brief texts that depicted the life in the camps. In her work, she captured the pain of confinement and vividly displayed the culture of Japanese Americans at the time. The collection of her two hundred and six drawings in the first camp was published in a book titled Citizen 13660 by Columbia University Press in 1946 (La Duke 45). They brought the harsh realities of life in the camp and gave an insight into how the Japanese created a community by organizing schools for their children, and seeking creative ways to pass time, these accounts of the activities is vivid and at times humorous.

To display the kind of view the American government had developed on Japanese Americans, Okubu painted images such as the one below. It shows an image herself, looking sad, leaning on a table with an open newspaper, and surrounded by anti Japanese slogans. This depicts the kind of altitude the both the government and general American public had developed towards them and how this situation had made them sad (Okubo 56). The newspaper written on both pages with a number of columns depicts that anti Japanese messages and news had been widespread all over the country.

Smithsonian Gov Exhibit: Mine Okubo Collection
This Japanese American National Museum online collection of 197 drawings by artist Mine Okubo (1912-2001) illustrates her life in the Tanforan assembly center in San Bruno, CA and the Topaz concentration camp in Utah during World War II. Okubo’s drawings served as the basis for her renowned book, “Citizen 13660”, which was printed in 1946 and was the first personal account published on the camp experience.
Image: Mine with open newspaper, surrounded by anti-Japanese slogans, Berkeley, California 1941

Okubu used the drawings to document the whole evacuation experience from the moment she left her home. In the image below, we see a woman who is Mine Okubu with a patterned shirt and a flipped forelock of hair shedding tears as she takes a final look at what was her former house. The house is a two storey wooden house with a palm tree growing in the front yard; there are three additional structures in the background. The man standing by her side on the sidewalk is her brother Benji and she holds a car door open ready to depart for the Civil Control Station. This image displays the attachment she had to her home and how sad they were that they were leaving it (Okubo 59). The other structures can be used to assume that, theirs was a close knit Japanese American neighborhood whose owners had also been evacuated since no one could be seen looking on.

These other image below is mainly concerned with the hygiene in the camp depicting the kind of life the Japanese Americans were subjected to after evacuation.

There are three cabins constructed with wood in the image and she used thin strokes of a brush vanishing into the background suggesting there are more of the units in the foreground. Between the wooden plants that form the floor, grass spreads and three women are seated in each of the compartments. The cabins have no doors, the woman on the far end has used a wooden plank to cover the cabin’s entrance, the other on the right had side has fixed a piece of cloth to cover the entrance, and only her feet and hands can be seen. The woman between the two has not closed her cabin with anything. She is seated with her skirt spread over her knees and with her palms over her face. A room that is depicted in the image could be the toilet area even though no toilets are spotted in the drawing. It also shows that the cabins are separated into many units of the toilet in its place of having one room for a toilet. The text accompanying his image says that most women had no access to community toilets and used curtains and boards to find privacy. The combination of the two highlights that there was a big problem concerning hygiene and privacy in the camp. The woman at the middle suggests something is wrong in this environment since she has hands over her face. It could be due to terrible stench in the room or she is ashamed of having to use the toilet with no proper privacy (Okubo 62). This shows how horrible and humiliating the facilities American Japanese were forced to live in were. However, the women had to find ways of solving the problem by setting boards and curtains; they made an effort to survive there even under poor conditions. Another image shows a number of beds in hospital with people who were not well on them and in the foreground a Japanese American man lies in one of the beds with a thermometer placed in his mouth.

There is a vase with a flower placed on what appears to be a small table next to his bed and a nurse is checking his pulse holding his arm. Similar to all other of her pictures, Okubo is present and looking at what is happening bearing a concerned look on her face. The text accompanying the image says this was an army type hospital having one hundred and seventy five beds. Caucasians but evacuee doctors, dentists, directed the hospital and nurses formed the bigger part of the staff. Those who died were sent for cremation to Salt Lake City and their ashes held until the day they would return to Bay Region for burial. They never buried their dead in the cemetery that was set at the extreme end of the campground (Okubo 63). The text and image imply that Japanese American sent to the camp in thousands lacked enough health facilities and support. This suggests there was a high death rate among them; it also means they had their owned customs, which they followed in burying the dead.

Other paintings such as this were humorous and showed the Japanese way of life at the camp (Okubo 66). Here she explained how the older women preferred to use the good old-fashioned bathtubs to showers. It was common to see the women having baths in pails, dishpans or in tubs that were made from barrels.

The general view given by Mine Okubu in all the above drawings and others she drew while in both camps is the manner in which it was difficult for people who had come from fully functional families to develop normal family lives in the camp. They show how parents had to raise their children in while encircled by barbed wire and detainees had to build a community in the desert (Okubo 67). Her art showed how painful it was for Japanese Americans to be shoved aside by American society. It also showed the way of life of the detainees and how they coped with the difficulties they faced in the camps. Within a short period, parents who had worked hard to provide their children with opportunities in America had lost everything. Okubo was released after two years while most of Japanese Americans stayed for more than three years in the camps. The release of these drawings in a book after end of World War II informed the public about internment camps since it affected only a small portion of the population in the United States. They showed how the U.S government had built the camps on fear and racism and the kind of suffering many innocent Japanese Americans of all ages had gone through.

Works cited

La Duke, Betty. “On the Right Road: The Life of Miné Okubo.” Art Education (1987): 43-48.

Okubo, Mine. “Citizen 13660. 1946.” New York: Columbia UP (1983).