Roger Shimomura | An American Diary series, 2002-2003



In this series of paintings, Japanese-American Roger Shimomura combined aspects of his Pop Art and cartoon-based imagery with reminiscences of his family's internment during World War II. An American Diary is based on a personal diary written by his grandmother, Toku Shimomura, while the Shimomura family was interned at Camp Minidoka in Hunt, Idaho. Shimomura has commemorated the experience by combining the Japanese literary tradition with flat comic-book style characters, outlined in black. In earlier works, Shimomura explored artistic idioms of the popular Japanese printmaking genre called Ukiyo-e ("pictures of the floating world") in his imagery and treatment of the picture plane.

It is notable that Japanese wood block prints carry some of the same conventions as American comic books, most obviously in the black outlines that contain flat areas of unmodulated color. In addition, the artist employs such American icons as Superman and Dick Tracy to express aspects of the dilemma of American citizens of Japanese descent caught up in anti-Japanese sentiment. Similarly, in other work, Shimomura has used figures such as actors, courtesans and warriors from Japanese woodblock prints as stand-ins for contemporary figures.

The diary has been a highly regarded form of Japanese literature since the Heian period (897-1185). In her diary, Toku Shimomura described daily domestic tasks and weather conditions in succinct phrases, sometimes despairing but never expressing anger. Shimomura's exploration of this chapter in American history is complex and visually charged.

This exhibition was organized by the Smithsonian Institute and has been traveling to several museums, including: Bellevue Art Museum, Bellevue, WA in 2002; Chicago Cultural Center, IL 2001; Boise Art Museum, Spring 2001; San Jose Art Museum, Fall/Winter 2001; National Museum of American History, Smithsonian, Summer 2000; Phoenix Art Museum, Spring 2000; Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles, Fall 1999; Indianapolis Museum of Art, Summer 1999; Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson, Spring 1999; Steinbaum Krauss Gallery, New York, Winter 1999; Priebe Gallery, University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, Fall 1998; Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, Philadelphia, Summer 1998.


Click to enlarge any image below:

Below each image is the translated diary text.
The following works are no longer available.


DECEMBER 7, 1941
1997, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Diary translation
Seattle, WA:
"When I came back from church today, I heard the dreamlike news that Japanese airplanes had bombed Hawaii. I was shocked beyond belief. I sat in front of the radio and listened to the news all day. They said that at 6 a.m. Japan declared war on the United States. Our future has become gloomy. I pray that God will stay with us."




DECEMBER 12, 1941
1997, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Diary translation
Seattle, WA:
"It was fair and clear weather today. I spent all day at home. Starting today we were permitted to withdraw up to $100 from the bank. This was for our sustenance of life, we who are enemy to them. I deeply appreciated American's large heartedness in dealing with us."




DECEMBER 25, 1941
1997, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Diary translation
Seattle, WA:
"Christmas in the time of war. We spent time at home quietly as all of the family joyfully got together. For this we were all thankful. We had a pleasant Christmas, with Roger as the center of attention."




DECEMBER 31, 1941
1997, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Diary translation
Seattle, WA:
"At last, today will end this year which has been full of changes. This has been the first time in my life that I had to encounter such horrible events. All of the family got together and spent time in the warmth of the house. There is nothing as precious as family gatherings. We did a lot of house cleaning preparing for the New Year."




FEBRUARY 3, 1942
1997, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Diary translation
Seattle, WA:
"I finally decided to register my fingerprints today after putting this off for a long time. Mrs. Sasaki and I went to the post office at the appointed time of 9 a.m. We finished the strict registration two hours later. I felt that a heavy load had been taken off of my mind."




APRIL 8, 1942
1997, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Diary translation
Seattle, WA:
"Today most of the stores in the Japanese section of town closed down. In this manner, our community of 40 years has come to a profound end. Reminiscing over the past, my eyes filled with tears. I had high blood pressure again so I received a second injection. I stayed in bed and rested, but my heart was filled with deep emotions thinking about the future."




April 21, 1942
1997, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Diary translation
Seattle, WA:
"At last the order for evacuation was given formally by General DeWitt. There were some limitations to the first move. Kazuo (son) along with some others will leave here on the 28th as an advanced party. In haste, we prepared for the leave."




April 28, 1942
1997, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Diary translation
Camp Harmony Assembly Center, Puyallup, WA:
"At last the day had arrived. It was time to leave Seattle, the city where we have lived for such a long time. Even though I tried not to cry, the tears flowed. Our group of 370 working people departed at 9:30 a.m. in a long string of cars and buses. We arrived at Puyallup at 11:30 a.m. We settled into our assigned place, A-2, number 27. We were all very dissatisfied with our army cots and cotton mattresses. Until late at night we heard a mixture of hammering and the crying voices of children. With much difficulty, I was eventually able to fall asleep."




May 10, 1942
1997, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Diary translation
Camp Harmony:
"It rained on and off all day. We had an unusual lunch of roast beef. It was the first time we had meat since being put in this camp. Reverend Thompson brought some 'onigiri' (rice balls) made by Fumi (daughter), which I shared with everyone. I heard that Fumi will be put in camp tomorrow. At 2:30 I attended Dr. Warren's sermon. I felt lonesome because there was no special gathering for Mother's Day."




May 16, 1942
1997, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Diary translation
Camp Harmony:
"Fine weather today, although it showered in the evening. In the afternoon Kazuo carried Roger in. I was able to enjoy him for only for a few minutes. Today the process of accommodating the 8,000 Japanese from the Seattle area finished. The camp became very lively."




May 21, 1942
1997, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Diary translation
Camp Harmony:
"It was partly clear today. In the evening there was a shower. All in all, it was fine weather. Early in the mornings the laundry room looked just like a battlefield. As usual, I spent most of the time cleaning and doing laundry. For lunch they served wieners. For dinner, once again, it was bologna. I had a poor appetite."




June 16, 1942
1997, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Diary translation
Camp Harmony:
"First it rained, then it cleared up in the evening. Kazuo (son) got passes for papa and I to go to the isolation ward to visit Roger who has the Chickenpox. The building was miserable and looked just like a jail. It is truly pathetic, but I guess is for the protection of the public health. I prayed for his earliest possible recovery."




July 1, 1942
1997, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Diary translation
Camp Harmony:
"The heat is severe and there is no breeze. I heard that some rooms never got below 110 degrees yesterday and that the temperature in the sick room went up to 120 degrees. It was unbearable. During the afternoon I stood under the grandstand to avoid the sun. I stayed there until evening pleasantly conversing with Mrs. Kato and Mrs. Kaneko. I had no appetite today and went to bed exhausted."




August 14, 1942
1997, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Diary translation

Camp Harmony:
"The weather was extremely hot. I heard that Mrs. Tanaguchi, who lives in the same barracks, suddenly passed out because of the heat. Tomorrow Aya (daughter-in-law) will be leaving for Camp Minidoka. I invited her and others over for a chicken dinner hoping that she will have good memories of this occasion. The thought of moving to this far away place in Idaho frightened and worried me."




August 17, 1942
1997, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Diary translation
Camp Minidoka, Hunt, ID:
"We arrived at Arlington, Idaho, unnoticed, at 5:30 a.m. Everybody looked terribly depressed. After lunch, the heat increased. Barely alive, we continued on. We made it to Rock Mountain at 2:30 p.m. We changed to buses, and after a two and a half mile ride we arrived at the newly built camp at 4 p.m. Though the camp was still unfinished we could see the grand scale of this city near the mountains. We stared in amazement. I was assigned to Block 5-B-6, apt. A. After cleaning the dust from the room, I went to bed."




October 16, 1942
1997, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Diary translation

Camp Minidoka:
"It was fine weather today. I realized that today was Friday because fish was served. How monotonous life is here. Again, another day passed wastefully doing laundry and miscellaneous things."




October 21, 1942
1997, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Diary translation
Camp Minidoka:
"The wind started to blow in the morning. I took my blood pressure in the evening. Though I didn't feel any symptoms, it was 185/100. It seems that it has been high every since we moved into this camp. I'm starting to feel that I would like to work with sick people since I myself am in such bad condition. Whether it was the change of the weather or not, I couldn't fall asleep again."




October 31, 1942
1997, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Diary translation
Camp Minidoka:
"One after another my children visited me during the afternoon. In the evening I babysat Roger, while everyone else went to a Halloween party."




November 28, 1942
1997, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Diary translation
Camp Minidoka:
"In the morning while the roads were still frozen I tried to finish the usual morning chores such as carrying coal and doing the laundry. Later in the morning it began to snow, and then it rained, causing the road to turn into a swamp. By early afternoon the cold wind froze the road but turned back into a swamp when the sun came out in the late afternoon. How whimsical God can be at times."




December 7, 1942
1997, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Diary translation
Camp Minidoka:
"Today marks one year since the outbreak of the war between the United States and Japan. Those of us that share the virtues of both countries, pray for the earliest possible peace."




December 12, 1942
1997, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Diary translation
Camp Minidoka:
"The weather was a little warm and the road got soft like a rice field. Tonight the first dance party was held at mess hall number 6. It was very lively and went on till late at night."




December 25, 1942
1997, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Diary translation
Camp Minidoka:
"The muddy ground was completely covered with snow. It was like a beautiful white cloth cover and a suitable sight for Christmas. The dinner was in mess hall number 7 at 4:30. The waiters and cooks were all dressed up in the beautifully decorated dining room. The radio emitted melodies of Christmas carols. For a few moments I forgot where I was. At 7 p.m. we gathered at mess hall number 6 for a Christmas program. Nearly ten performances were shown with Kazuo acting as master of ceremonies. At 9 p.m. Santa Claus appeared and passed out presents. Though it stormed outside, the inside was filled with the spirit of the Child of Peace."




January 29, 1943
1997, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Diary translation
Camp Minidoka:
"It snowed again today. The evening was quiet. Today an extra Edition of the newspaper was printed and circulated. It expressed the belief that the enlistment of the Nisei in the United States military forces ought to be permitted because it was necessary that they be allowed to make sacrifices in order to prove their loyalty. I spent the whole day thinking about this and how the implications of war will be felt the deepest by those that send their children to fight. We must all pray for the earliest possible peace."



Diary translation
Camp Minidoka:
"Fine weather today. I attended the Sunday worship which was held at mess hall number 8. During the evening I went to see the 'sumo' wrestling tournament. Michio (son) participated in this and was hurt. I worried about his injury."




June 26, 1943
1997, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Diary translation
Camp Minidoka:
"Fine weather today. Because this was Roger's birthday, Fumi (daughter) came over to visit us in the morning. In the afternoon, over tea and cake, we all had a lively time celebrating the day with Roger. In the evening the Tsuboi family joined us, so a total of 11 people gathered for a dinner of Ocean Perch, which we brought back from the mess hall."




July 15, 1943
1997, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Diary translation
Camp Minidoka:
"The heat was severe today. Aya (daughter-in-law) started to show signs of being ready to deliver. By afternoon she started to have pains. After feeding her supper around 5:00 p.m., I sent her to the hospital. Soon after, around 6:30 p.m., she had an easy delivery. It was a baby girl that was named Carolyn Hisako Shimomura. I immediately made a call on both of them. I made sure that the news would reach her mother. Roger came over to spend the night. I slept poorly."




July 22, 1943
1997, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Diary translation
Camp Minidoka:
"The heat continued. I felt very lonesome and missed Michio (son) very much. I deeply sympathized with those that sent their sons to the battlefield. At night I wrote letters and went to bed filled with loneliness."




July 24, 1943
1997, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Diary translation
Camp Minidoka:
"It was 90 degrees in the morning and it got up to 120 degrees in the afternoon. I wondered if I could survive in this heat. I felt ill all day. In the evening I decided to take a sleeping pill before going to bed."




August 14, 1943
1997, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Diary translation
Camp Minidoka:
"As usual I idled away the time without doing anything special. Papa sympathized with me over the fact that I am not involved with anything special. I wondered how anyone in this camp could live here without a deep sense of boredom."




August 22, 1943
1997, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Diary translation
Camp Minidoka:
"I couldn't make up my mind whether to stay in Minidoka one more day or to return to F.S.A., in Twin Falls. Since there had been plans to have an 'obon' (festival dance) in camp tonight, I decided to stay and see it. It turned out to be on a grand scale of about 500 dancers with around 1,000 in the audience watching."