‘Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit’ exhibit opens in Sacramento


PAST ­— Dorothy Lange photographed Jerry and Bill Aso as children with their family members, as they were on their way to camp. photo by Dorothy Lange

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — War Relocation Authority staff photographers took hundreds of photos after Executive Order 9066 led some 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry to be forcibly relocated into American concentration camps. These photos depict what life was like for these citizens who lost everything in just a few days.

More than 70 years later, photojournalist Paul Kitagaki Jr. is working on a photo project that identifies and connects the Japanese Americans in those historic photos to their present-day family members.

About 30 of the photos Kitagaki documented are now displayed at the California Museum in Sacramento, Calif. in the “Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit” exhibit. It will be on display until May 3.

Amanda Meeker, the museum’s exhibits and programs director, said the museum is honored to be the first to exhibit this project.

“I hope visitors will come away with a deeper appreciation of the people captured in the images,” she said. “They provide a humbling example of strength, forgiveness, and dignity.”

“Gambatte” is on display around the corner of its permanent Japanese American history exhibit, “Uprooted! Japanese Americans During WWII.” Kitagaki’s photos are3 8 inches by 31 inches in dimension and displayed in a frame with its historical photo counterpart next to it, each with detailed captions.

A sample panel of 54 photos Kitagaki is trying to identify individuals from is displayed to the far-left of the exhibit’s entrance, along with his contact information.

According to the museum’s Communications and Marketing Director Brenna Hamilton, each year the museum tries to bring a new and different temporary exhibit about Japanese Americans’ World War II history during the Time of Remembrance season. These related exhibits are featured in the museum’s Time of Remembrance Annual Learning Program, in which elementary school students are led by formerly-incarcerated museum docents through the exhibits.

This year’s Time of Remembrance event at the museum, presented by the Japanese American Citizens League’s Northern California Time of Remembrance Committee, will take place Feb. 14 and focus on Kitagaki’s exhibit. Kitagaki, a senior photographer with The Sacramento Bee, will speak about his work, his process with the project and the next steps he will take with it.

Kitagaki said he is honored to speak during Time of Remembrance season.

“I hope people resonate with the stories I’m going to present because it’s their generation and they’re going,” he said. “(The Nisei are) in their ‘80s and ‘90s and once they’re gone, their stories are gone forever.”

How it All Started

In the late 1970s, Kitagaki’s uncle, San Franciscan artist Nobuo Kitagaki, told Kitagaki that his grandparents, aunt and father were photographed by Dorothea Lange in 1942 as they waited for a bus in Oakland, Calif. before being shipped off to a concentration camp. Years later, Kitagaki found Lange’s original photos of his family while searching through the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

PRESENT ­— Jerry and Bill Aso. photo by © Paul Kitagaki Jr.
PRESENT ­— Jerry and Bill Aso. photo by © Paul Kitagaki Jr.

In 2005, Kitagaki began researching for his Japanese American incarceration photo project. Although he has worked on several other Japanese American wartime incarceration projects, he wanted to find out more about how the people in the historical photos coped and persevered by connecting a name and story to the individuals in the photographs.

“As I examined Lange’s work I realized that every photograph represented an untold story that was quietly buried in the past,” Kitagaki wrote on his Website.

He began searching for photo subjects that same year by attending the Buddhist Church of Sacramento summer bazaar. He brought a panel of photos he was trying to identify people from and his business cards. Unfortunately, he received no responses.

“I’m really at the mercy of somebody recognizing somebody in the photographs,” he said.

Later that year he visited the Sacramento Japanese United Methodist Church and was able to meet a few people who recognized a few of the individuals in the historical photographs. He began photographing in 2006.

Since then, Kitagaki says the progress of the project has been rather slow. He finds about one or two people to photograph each year. However, after publications like The Sacramento Bee and the San Francisco Chronicle ran stories about him and his project in 2012, and after a photo exhibit of his project opened at the San Bruno Bay Area Rapid Transit station, the number of subjects began to grow.

The San Bruno BART station is located next to the Tanforan shopping mall, where Japanese Americans were confined during the war in the Tanforan Assembly Center, a converted horse racing track.

Nisei Mae Yanagi Ferral is an 80-year-old retired Sacramento elementary school teacher who participated in Kitagaki’s project. She and Kitagaki have a mutual friend, Steve Gibson, who worked at The Sacramento Bee. Gibson knew about the photo Lange took of Ferral. After some discussion, Kitagaki called Ferral.

Lange took a photo of her when she was 7 years old while waiting to take a bus to housing in the Tanforan Assembly Center. Her pregnant mother, Kinuye Yanagi, stands behind her.

Ferral said she does not remember having her photo taken by Lange and was too young to understand what was happening.

Thinking about it now, Ferral said, “my father never accepted the notion that we were being protected or whatever, and he was pretty angry about it then.”

Ferral said there are a few other photos in Kitagaki’s project that feature her family members, one of which includes her sister, Jane Yanagi (now Jane Diamond).

Equipment and Film

Kitagaki uses a 4×5 format camera with black and white Polaroid Type 55 film, which produces an instant print and negative, whereas Lange used 4×5 black and white sheet film. Kitagaki said he wants his photos to mirror the photos that Lange took.

However, manufacturers stopped producing the 4×5 film in 2008. Now, Kitagaki buys the film off eBay. His recent purchase of 100 sheets of film cost him about $900.

“What I’m buying is outdated film that I don’t know if it’s gonna work when I use it,” he said. “It costs me pretty much $20 every time I shoot a picture.”

When he runs out of this type of film, Kitagaki said he will find another type of 4×5 film to use to continue the project.

Interviews and Future Goals of Project

Like many others who participated in Kitagaki’s project, Ferral shared her story in an audio interview with Kitagaki.

Kitagaki said it is powerful to hear the interviews in their voices and he feels honored that they shared their story and allow him to share it outside and within the community.

Kitagaki plans to eventually put together the photograph project and interviews he gathers in a book as well as find other museums to display the photo project.

For more information on Kitagaki’s project and to view a gallery of completed photo sets and photos that need to be identified, visit his Website at www.kitagakiphoto.com. To contact Kitagaki with leads on unidentified photos and their descendants, call (916) 860-1343 or e-mail paul@kitagakiphoto.com.

For more information on the “Gambatte” exhibit and the Time of Remembrance event, visit CaliforniaMuseum.org or www.nctor.org. The museum is located at 1020 O St. in Sacramento, and open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from noon to 5 p.m. on select Sundays.

In addition, the “Bank of America Museums On Us” program offers free admission to “all Bank of America cardholders on the following dates the exhibit ‘Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit’ is open,” according to Hamilton. These dates are: Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 7-8, Saturday and Sunday, March 7-8,  Saturday and Sunday, April 4-5 and Saturday and Sunday, May 2-3, all in 2015.

For more information on the Museums On Us program, visit museums.bankofamerica.com.



Accuracy is fundamental in journalism. In the Feb. 5-18, 2015 issue of the Nichi Bei Weekly, the article entitled “‘Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit’” exhibit opens in Sacramento stated that Paul Kitagaki Jr.’s photos are about 20 inches by 30 inches in dimension. They are 38 inches by 31 inches. The article stated that Dorothea Lange and other photographers in the 1940s used equipment that was similar to a 4×5 format camera with black and white Polaroid Type 55 film. Lange did not use polaroid film; she used 4×5 black and white sheet film. The Nichi Bei Weekly regrets the errors.

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