Discover Nikkei

Two Worlds: The Life and Photography of Wakaji Matsumoto

Sept. 19, 2022 - Oct. 3, 2022

This series delves into Wakaji Matsumoto’s life as a farmer turned photographer in Los Angeles and Hiroshima before World War II. His rare photographs captured Japanese American tenant farmers in the Los Angeles area, events in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo, and urban life in Hiroshima prior to the 1945 atomic bombing of the city. The photographs incorporate both artistic and documentary styles, and include a series of panoramic photos from both cities.

* * * * *

The two essays by curator Dennis Reed and Wakaji’s granddaughter, Karen Matsumoto, are presented in conjunction with the Japanese American National Museum’s online exhibition, Wakaji Matsumoto—An Artist in Two Worlds: Los Angeles and Hiroshima, 1917–1944. Dennis’s essay will be published in three parts. 

View the online exhibition at

*All photos by Wakaji Matsumoto (copyright Matsumoto Family)

Stories from this series

Thumbnail for Part 3—Wakaji's Legacy
Part 3—Wakaji's Legacy

Oct. 3, 2022 • Dennis Reed

Read Part 2 >>  Reportage or Art? Wakaji produced countless individual portraits, documented civic activities like parades and cultural events, and recorded private celebrations such as weddings, club ceremonies, and graduations. He did a considerable amount of advertising photography too, and he was hired by the military to document their endeavors. Examples of his varied photographic activity abound. In 1929, for instance, Wakaji photographed the cheering citizens of Hiroshima as they welcomed home the Hiroshima Commercial High School baseball team …

Thumbnail for Part 2—Wakaji’s Photography
Part 2—Wakaji’s Photography

Sept. 26, 2022 • Dennis Reed

Read Part 1 >> While Tei managed the farm, Wakaji pursued his gifts. He first studied photography through a correspondence course. According to family legend, he moved to San Diego for a period to study photography in more depth. He may have been a student of Masashi Shimotsusa, a photographer who studied in London and Paris before opening a studio in San Diego in 1919, and later a photography school.1 Wakaji may have learned how to make panoramas from Shimotsusa, who …

Thumbnail for Wakaji Matsumoto: An Artist in Two Worlds
Wakaji Matsumoto: An Artist in Two Worlds

Sept. 20, 2022 • Karen Matsumoto

My grandfather, Wakaji Matsumoto, traveled across the Pacific Ocean to help his father in a foreign land, but he returned to his native Japan as an artist. He was a Japanese photographer who lived in two worlds—Los Angeles, California, and Hiroshima, Japan. His images captured the lives of Japanese immigrant farmers living in rural Los Angeles in the early 1900s, and also events and the everyday lives of people in Hiroshima.  While living in Los Angeles as a farmer, Wakaji …

Thumbnail for Part 1—Wakaji’s Beginnings
Part 1—Wakaji’s Beginnings

Sept. 19, 2022 • Dennis Reed

Wakaji Matsumoto was like many of the young men, mostly teenagers, who came by transport ships from Japan to Hawai‘i, and then on to the western shores of Canada and the United States. He was seventeen when he first arrived in Vancouver in 1906, before making his way to Los Angeles by train to reunite with his father, whom he hardly knew. When Wakaji was a toddler, he was left with relatives in Japan while his father and mother, Wakamatsu …

We’re looking for stories like yours! Submit your article, essay, fiction, or poetry to be included in our archive of global Nikkei stories. Learn More
New Site Design See exciting new changes to Discover Nikkei. Find out what’s new and what’s coming soon! Learn More
Authors in This Series

Karen Matsumoto, granddaughter of Wakaji Matsumoto, serves as project liaison for Wakaji Matsumoto: An Artist in Two Worlds. She lives in Washington State and is a retired educator. Her current work focuses on issues of social and environmental justice. Karen is a member of the Board of Trustees for the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community. She has co-produced several video documentaries and has designed curricula related to the Japanese American WWII incarceration experience. Karen has also been a consulting teacher for the National Japanese American Historical Society in San Francisco for National Park Service teacher workshops and summer institutes.

Karen was executive producer for a documentary film on her father, Honor & Sacrifice: The Roy Matsumoto Story, completed in 2013. This film features photographs by Wakaji Matsumoto, seen there for the first time in the U.S., which provided inspiration for sharing the Wakaji photo collection with a broader public.

Updated September 2022

Dennis is a curator, collector, artist, and writer who is best known for rediscovering Japanese American art photographers whose works were, to a large extent, lost in the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans at the onset of World War II. He has curated over 50 exhibitions, large and small, for such institutions as the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Huntington, the Oakland Museum, the Corcoran Gallery, the Chinese Historical Society of America (San Francisco), the California Museum of Photography, and the Japanese American National Museum. He has written for Stanford University, Oxford University, UCLA, and UC Riverside. Among his publications are, Pictorialism in California: Photography, 1900-1940, for the Getty Museum and The Huntington, Japanese Photography in America, 1920-1940, for the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, and Making Waves: Japanese American Photography, 1920-1940 for the Japanese American National Museum. He is the retired Dean of Arts at Los Angeles Valley College and the former Chair of the Photographic Arts Council at LACMA.

Updated September 2022

Discover Nikkei Updates

Nikkei Names 2: Grace, Graça, Graciela, Megumi?
What’s in a name? Share the story of your name with our community. Submissions now open!
Episode 16
June 25 (US) | June 26 (Japan)
Featured Nima:
Stan Kirk
Guest Host:
Yoko Murakawa
See exciting new changes to Discover Nikkei. Find out what’s new and what’s coming soon!