“Unitled, by Sabura Tamura,” a Topaz Story by Meri Mitsuyoshi

In her recent contribution to the Topaz Stories project that publishes narratives by survivors of the WWII concentration camp for Americans of Japanese descent, Meri Mitsuyoshi writes about an artwork by her maternal grandfather, Saburo Tamura (1899–1998), who studied painting with Chiura Obata (1885–1975) while unjustly incarcerated in a Utah desert in the years 1942–1945.

Meri’s essay begins:

Over three decades ago, I made my first pilgrimage to Topaz—the site of the internment camp in Utah where my grandparents and their families lived during WWII. There was little evidence of what the War Relocation Authority build there forty-plus years before, but standing amid the barrack foundation fragments, I was stunned by a sense of recognition. In the distance rose the outline of a mountain that was present throughout my childhood.

Please go to the Topaz Stories website and continue reading.

Untitled, by Saburo Tamura (Topaz, Utah, c. 1943). Painting courtesy of Meri Mitsuyoshi.

In This Present Moment: New Poems (2015), Gary Snyder includes “Chiura Obata’s Moon.” In a 2011 interview, he also talks about an experience of recognition where art and life intersect:

Walking along a highway in North Lake Tahoe and seeing a new crescent moon coming out just at dusk and dropping into a little common roadside place to eat and then coming back out and seeing that moon again and realizing it looks exactly like his woodblock from Yosemite in 1930. So I’m sort of celebrating the recognition of him and also the recognition that the moon comes up regardless of what else is going on.

See Jeff Baker, “Gary Snyder Talks Writing, Influences, Reed College, and Portland,” The Oregonian (18 June 2011; updated 10 January 2019). Website.

Chiura Obata, Evening Moon, Yosemite, California, Woodblock Print (1930)