Online exhibition of photos taken in Hiroshima before bombing, works by late Wakaji Matsumoto on display free of charge

by Kyoko Niiyama, Staff Writer

The Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles has begun to show some of the great number of photos taken by Wakaji Matsumoto for free on its website. Mr. Matsumoto, who died in 1965 at the age of 76, immigrated to Los Angeles but also lived in Hiroshima before the atomic bombing. This online exhibition has been organized by his granddaughter Karen Matsumoto, 68, of Washington State and others.

Under the title “Wakaji Matsumoto—An Artist in Two Worlds: Los Angeles and Hiroshima, 1917–1944,” about 80 photos taken between 1917 and 1944 are on display.

There are 45 photos of Hiroshima. One of them shows streetcars and people coming and going at the Kamiya-cho intersection, an image of the area directly below the hypocenter before it was destroyed by the atomic bomb. This photo is impressive in that it shows the expressive faces of civilians. The panoramic photo of the area around the Aioi Bridge taken in 1938 is well known as one displayed on the wall of the East Building of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in the city’s Naka Ward.

Photos of Los Angeles include that of a parade in Little Tokyo, a Japanese neighborhood, and a shot of a family standing in a field. The photo vividly shows how people from Hiroshima Prefecture, which was said to have sent the largest number of immigrants, lived in their new home. Both the Hiroshima and Los Angeles series are presented with photos and three-minute-long video clips. Japanese subtitles will be added soon.

Mr. Matsumoto was born in the village of Jigozen (now part of the city of Hatsukaichi) and moved to the United States in 1906. While working as a farmer, he mastered photography and returned to Japan in 1927. He opened a photo studio near today’s Kamiya-cho intersection in central Hiroshima. He closed his studio in 1942, and took his prints to a different location, which saved them from the destruction by the atomic bombing. The large number of photos, which were miraculously saved, are regarded as materials of the highest value.

According to Dennis Reed, 76, curator of the museum, there was a plan to exhibit the photos in the museum in 2020, but the exhibition was not realized due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Karen is planning to hold more special exhibitions in the U.S. and in Hiroshima. She believes that we must not forget what happened in Hiroshima and that people should see the exhibition now that the threat of nuclear war is growing. An online event will be held on December 10, local time. Japanese interpretation will be provided. https://www. janm.org/exhibits/wakaji- Matsumoto

(Originally published on October 31, 2022)