Jack Matsuoka

Jack Matsuoka: Using Cartoons to Tell the Story of the Camps

     NikkeiWest has introduced a new feature, “Jack’s Corner” by Jack Matsuoka, which offers the local cartoonist’s take on sports and politics.
“Jack’s Corner” previously graced the pages of the Hokubei Mainichi, whose last issue was printed on Oct. 30, 2009. By sheer coincidence, Matsuoka — a cartoonist for the Hokubei since the 1960s – mailed a couple of cartoons that arrived at the Hokubei office just in time for that final issue.The cartoon that made it into the paper that day was a caricature of one of Matsuoka’s favorite subjects — Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners.
     These days, Matsuoka keeps a relatively low profile, living at Fuji Towers in San Jose Japantown and appearing at local events like Spirit of Japantown. But in recent years, he has played a major role in educating young people about the internment of Japanese Americans.
      Born in 1925 in Watsonville, Matsuoka was interned at the Poston camp (2) in Arizona as a teenager. After being released, he attended the Cleveland School of Fine Arts in Ohio and was drafted into the Army. He served as an interpreter for the Army in occupied Japan, attended Hartnell College in Salinas, and returned to Japan as a student at Keio and Sophia universities in Tokyo.
     He found an outlet for his artistic abilities by contributing sports cartoons to the Japan Times and Japanese magazines, political cartoons for the Yomiuri News, and humorous illustrations for books about Japan. This led to a relationship with Tuttle, a publisher of books on Japan, and a book of his own, “Rice Paddy Daddy,” about GIs studying in Japan.
     Matsuoka returned to the U.S. and worked for a Marubeni, a Japanese trading company, while doing cartoons on the side for the Berkeley Gazette and such groups as the Cal Bears. Eventually, requests for his services became so numerous that he decided to make his living as a cartoonist.
     In addition to his work with the Hokubei, he was the editorial cartoonist for the Pacifica Tribune and contributed to the San Mateo Times, San Jose Mercury News and San Francisco Examiner. He also did work for the San Francisco Giants and 49ers, and got to know members of both teams. 
     He is one of only a handful of Nisei professional cartoonists. Among his contemporaries is Pete Hironaka, long-time cartoonist for the JACL’s newspaper, the Pacific Citizen.

“Camp II, Block 211” and “Sensei”
Matsuoka is also one of the few Japanese Americans to have drawn a comic strip. His “Sensei” was a popular feature of the Hokubei for years, and was published in book form in 1978.
     “I saw that the San Francisco Examiner started carrying a black cartoon strip,” he said at the time. “It was the first time that there were non-hakujin characters. I thought that now was the time that Orientals should be in comic strips, too.
      “I also saw Sansei studying their ethnic identity, and I wanted to do something to help them. I wanted to draw a character that would give every generation — Issei, Nisei-Kibei, Sansei — something to chuckle about, something about the daily Japanese life.”
     Another book, “Camp II, Block 211” (1974), used Matsuoka’s wartime experiences to tell the story of the internment from a personal perspective. He had done several sketches of camp life while interned, but they were left in a trunk for decades until his mother, Chizu Martha Matsuoka, rediscovered them and suggested that they be shared with the public. This led to an exhibition sponsored by Bank of Tokyo (now Union Bank) at the Japanese Trade and Cultural Center (now the Japan Center) in San Francisco. Reactions from non-Nikkei was at times negative, including a couple from Arizona who said that there never was a place called Poston in their state and hinted that some radical group was behind the exhibit. This helped persuade Matsuoka to publish the sketches in a book that would be accessible to people of all ages.
     The late Edison Uno, who taught Asian American studies at San Francisco State University, wrote in the introduction, “When I first met Jack and saw his collection of old camp cartoons, I immediately envisioned the possibility of compiling them into a book for use as an important educational tool in the primary grades. It was not difficult to convince Jack that there was a real need to tell the unpleasant story of a great American mistake to millions of children who may never learn about the tragic error unless it is introduced to them early in the school system. This book is designed to do just that.
     “Behind the comic laughter of each cartoon is a genuine story of Americans living under adverse conditions, without guilt, attempting to survive by living each day as best as they knew how.”

“Poston” Relaunch
     With a grant from the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program, Matsuoka and Emi Young, one of his two daughters, republished the book in 2003 with a new title, “Poston Camp II, Block 211.” New sketches, photos of camp, and an afterword by Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) were added. The new publisher was San Mateo-based Asian American Curriculum Project.
     Matsuoka noted that the new additions included “a couple of benjo (bathroom) scenes.” In the book, he writes that the temporary latrine set up when Poston first opened was “one of the most hated places in camp,” especially for city people who had never used an outhouse. “The holes in the seats were all the same size, and children slipped in and sometimes got stuck.” Improved facilities with plumbing were constructed later.
     Though not depicted in the book, Matsuoka also remembered friction between Nisei and Kibei (Nisei educated in Japan), which sometimes resulted in fights in the mess hall.
     The revised edition concludes with a cartoon showing President Ronald Reagan signing the redress bill, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 — something that was a distant dream when the original book came out. Matsuoka also pays tribute to the sacrifices of the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team and Military Intelligence Service.
     In conjunction with the relaunch of the book, Matsuoka visited local schools with Young, a teacher and an East Bay resident. “We were able to go to Fremont public schools, mainly elementary schools,” she recalled, “and we presented Jack’s book to third-graders, fourth-graders and fifth-graders ... I just remember the children were very interested in Jack as a personality. They really wanted to see who Jack was. Sixth-graders would get the main point better than, I think, some adults could about the whole imprisonment.”
     One question that Matsuoka was asked more than once: “Why didn’t you try to escape?” Like all the camps, Poston had barbed wire and guard towers, with the exception of the side facing the desert, which was unfenced. Matsuoka explained to the students that leaving the camp in that direction was not an option, as the consequences could be fatal.
     Young added, “Usually when you’re talking with kids in the presentations, they’re more interested in the dust storms or the scorpions. He’d talk about the swimming hole. But when you talk about to the kids how there was racism before camp, they were interested … which I thought was very insightful of these 6th-graders to pick up on that. One boy said, ‘Boy, they really must have hated the Japanese.’ And I’d never heard anybody say the word ‘hate,’ and I said, ‘It’s true. That’s what happened.’
     Formerly a resident of Pacifica and a regular in San Francisco Japantown, Matsuoka underwent bypass surgery and lived with his daughter and her family for about a year. He then relocated to San Jose Japantown about 6 years ago. While he didn’t take to his new surroundings right away, he is now a fixture in the neighborhood and was warmly welcomed at Minato Restaurant on the day of the interview..........
Source: http://www.nikkeiwest.com/index.php/the-news/past-articles/76-jack-matsuoka-using-cartoons-to-tell-the-story-of-the-camps
Jack Matsuoka Honored by City of Watsonville

WATSONVILLE—As a boy living in Watsonville, Jack Matsuoka went through some traumatic times.
His father was picked up by the FBI immediately after Pearl Harbor. The rest of the family was forced to sell their possessions for a fraction of their value before being sent to the Salinas Assembly Center and later the Poston Relocation Center in Arizona.
      The atmosphere was quite different on June 22, when Matsuoka — one of only a handful of Nisei professional cartoonists and one of the few Japanese Americans to have drawn a comic strip — was honored by the City of Watsonville for his accomplishments.
     The proclamation was presented by Mayor Luis Alejo. Matsuoka was joined by his daughter, Emi Young, and granddaughter, Jennifer Young, as well as members of the Watsonville-Santa Cruz JACL.
     Highlights of Matsuoka’s career were listed, including his early work as a cartoonist for the Japan Times, the Yomiuri News, and other publications while serving with the Army during the occupation of Japan; his work with such Bay Area papers as the Pacifica Tribune, San Mateo Times and San Jose Mercury News, as well as the San Francisco Giants and other local teams; and his creation of a comic strip, “Sensei,” which ran in the Hokubei Mainichi and was later published in book form.
     Matsuoka, who now lives in San Jose, is known for his 1974 book for young readers, “Camp II, Block 211,” which featured sketches of daily life in an internment camp. A revised edition of the book, retitled “Poston Camp II, Block 211,” was published by Asian American Curriculum Project in 2003, edited by Matsuoka’s daughter, an East Bay educator, and funded by the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program.
     In the proclamation, the mayor extended to Matsuoka “our deep appreciation for his distinguished service and our best wishes for many more happy and productive years in the future.”
     Using illustrations from the book, Mas Hashimoto of the local JACL chapter gave a brief presentation on the history of Japanese Americans in Watsonville.
     “It was a pretty exciting moment especially for Jack,” Emi Young said after the ceremony. “Jack briefly thanked the council and the audience. It was just right …
     “With the Santa Cruz-Watsonville JACL rallying at Marcia and Mas Hashimoto’s home before and during the ceremony at City Hall, the mood was festive and warm.   This was, after all, something of a homecoming, Watsonville being Jack’s hometown.   He and his 18-year-old granddaughter, Jennifer, met many active women in their 90s and talked with new and upcoming teachers who are dedicated to serving the multicultural community of Watsonville.”
     The event was spearheaded by Ignacio Ornelas, a history and social studies teacher at Everett Alvarez High School in Salinas, who took part in a teacher in-service program at SPICE (Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education) under the direction of Dr. Gary Mukai.
     “When he met Jack there, he suggested that the City Council in Watsonville honor Jack for his art and history contribution to the community,” said Young. “For someone so young, Mr. Ornelas is a testimony of someone’s best teaching, for he has caught the vision of valuing the lesson of the Japanese American experience in U.S. history. While he himself had no family member in the internment camps … he impressed me as an ally for this cause, someone equally vested in this lesson for all school students.      “The evening recognizing Jack was truly inspiring,” Ornelas commented. “It is critically important to recognize our American heroes. When I first met Jack at Stanford, I couldn’t stop thinking about how great it would be for him to be recognized by the very town that interned him many years ago. I enjoyed every minute … While the evening can never replace the hardship that Jack went through, it will certainly be in the city’s history books.
     “During his recognition, the council and the mayor made many remarks about how we are seeing similar anti-Mexican sentiment today. Jack’s story is truly inspiring for many of us to do more and speak against fear and hate-mongering by many groups locally and across the country. Jack’s story and work should be printed in books we use, especially in California.
     “As a new generation of new legislators are elected … We will advocate for his story and work to be included in all history books. If all goes well and Luis is elected in November to the State Legislature, we can recognize Jack at the Capitol in Sacramento.”
Source:  http://www.nikkeiwest.com/index.php/the-news/archived-article-list/127-jack-matsuoka-honored-by-city-of-watsonville

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