Art has the power to tell an entire story without using a single word. 

In a single 5-by-7 inch diary, Japanese American Takuichi Fujii recorded the experience of his incarceration during World War II through a series of sketches. 

A new exhibit, "Witness to Wartime: The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii," opened at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture on Jan. 23. The exhibit tells the painful story of the Fujii's incarceration at a detention center.

Taken from his home in Seattle in May 1942, then 50-year-old Fujii was sent to an incarceration camp due to increasing tensions from the American government toward the Japanese American community in light of World War II. 

“At the center of this exhibit is a 400 page diary that [Fujii] was very loyal to keeping up” said Valerie Wahl, MAC collections curator.

This sketchbook diary starts from around the time that Fujii and his family were taken from Seattle and bussed to a detention center. 

During his incarceration, Fujii was first held on the Washington State Fairgrounds at Puyallup temporary detention camp then transferred to Southern Idaho to Minidoka Relocation Center, where he remained until October 1945.

“It’s really a once in a lifetime opportunity for an art historian or any scholar to come across material that is so rich,” said Barbara Johns, curator of "Witness to Wartime." 

When Johns first discovered this impactful collection, Fujii’s grandson was in the process of translating the harrowing diary from Japanese into English. 

Johns worked with Fujii's grandson while creating the exhibition to help show the first-hand account of the horrors committed against the Japanese American community. 

In addition to the diary, there is a gallery of 80 pieces of art from before and after Fujii’s incarceration, ranging from beautiful watercolor paintings to abstract art. 

“Often the labels for the paintings are quotations from the diary,” Johns said. “Because it is the diary that forms it all.”

In this dark history of America’s past, art such as this is important to educate Americans of injustices in light of current social tensions, Wahl said.

Fujii is able to provide firsthand insight into the harrowing experiences he and over 120 thousand others faced within his sketchbook diary.

These drawings depict the daily lives of detention camp inmates, providing a unique and impactful glimpse into their routines and activities. 

While there is a slight decrease in the frequency of journal entries between 1943 and 1944, Fujii’s diary provides an accurate historical account of this time that many Americans are not proud of, or even in some cases aware of. 

“He can’t possibly have understood that he would be creating a historical document,” Wahl said. “But the fact that it was in pictures and so beautifully done makes it an eloquent documentation of a really important time in history that we don’t want to forget.” 

Additionally, even though Eastern Washington and Spokane were outside the exclusion zone, Wahl believes that this exhibit will be a source of recognition and understanding for the injustices that the Japanese American community has faced in this region’s past.  

Previously, even the way that this event has been spoken about has been detrimental to the memory of what the inmates went through.

“Historically the US government and the army used words like ‘relocation’ and called the temporary detention center ‘Camp Harmony,’ so everything was put in a better light,” Wahl said. “Yet the truth is more sinister than that.”

And it is because of this that Johns advocates using the proper terminology in order to shed light on the truth of this tragedy. 

Even though the diary was created in a time of darkness, Fujii’s experiences and documentation can help spread awareness and a source of hope for the future from the mistakes of the past. 

"Witness to Wartime: The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii" is open until May 16 and can be visited by scheduling an appointment visit at northwestmuseum.org.

Georgia Cosola is a staff writer. 

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.