Signs of Home

The Paintings and Wartime Diary of Kamekichi Tokita

Barbara Johns
Foreword by Stephen H. Sumida

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  • $49.95 hardcover (9780295991009) Add to Cart
  • Published: 2011
  • Subject Listing: Asian American Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 272 pp., 80 illus., 40 in color, 8 x 9 in.
  • Contents

This beautiful and poignant biography of Issei artist Kamekichi Tokita uses his paintings and wartime diary to vividly illustrate the experiences, uncertainties, joys, and anxieties of Japanese Americans during the World War II internment and the more optimistic times that preceded it. Tokita emigrated from Japan in the early twentieth century and settled in Seattle's Japanese American immigrant community. By the 1930s, he was established as a prominent member of the Northwest art scene and allied with the region's progressive artists. His art shares qualities of American Realism while it embodies a ditinctively Issei perspective on his new home.

On the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, Tokita started a diary that he vowed to keep until the war ended. In it he recorded with great vividness and insight the events, fears, rumors, restrictions, and his own emotional turmoil before and during his detention at Minidoka. The diary in this book is a rare personal account of this time written as events were unfolding and by a person of maturity and stature.

This book contextualizes Tokita's paintings and diary within the art community and Japanese America. It also introduces us to an amazing man who embraced life despite living through challenging and disheartening times.
Barbara Johns is an art historian and curator. Her previous books include Paul Horiuchi: East and West, Jet Dreams: Art of the Fifties in the Northwest, and Anne Gould Hauberg: Fired by Beauty.

"Johns has produced an intricate and moving portrait of Tokita and a beautiful and unusual book."
-Martha Kingsbury, author of George Tsutakawa

"There was a spirit in Kamekichi Tokita that scarcely vacillated in spite of the crises he confronted in his days and his diary. Tokita's art, his diary, his family, and his moral strengths are his legacies."
-Stephen H. Sumida, from the Foreword


"Barbara Johns examines Tokita's art in the context of his life and the historic events that he lived through, integrating it all into a deeply moving human story."
-Susan Kunimatsu, International Examiner, Volume 39(2)

"To see history unfold through Tokita's words and images is to gain a whole new perspective on that conflict [Japanese internment during World War II] and the nature of all immigrants to America who suddenly find themselves identified as the enemy."
-Bob Duggan,, January 2012

"A fascinating book that accomplishes more than one purpose. The first part is a biography of Tokita . . . the second is Tokita's diary from 1941-44. . . . Signs of Home includes plenty of examples that prove his status as an important regional artist."
-Jeff Baker, The Oregonian, December 2011

". . . one of the more beautiful and soulful books you might lay your hands on . . ."
-Mike Dillon, City Living, December 2011

"If 'painting Seattle' feels like the welcome restoration of a long-lost chapter in local art history, the wartime diary is a thornier business . . . filled with uncertainties and ambivalence that make some of the received wisdom about the internment camps feel a little too pat."
-Michael Upchurch, The Seattle Times, December 2011