JPRI Occasional Paper No. 33, October 2004
Art and Exchange at Sugamo Prison, 1945–52: Visual Communication in American-occupied Japan
by Bill Barrette

In a recent New York Times article (“Occupied by the U.S., and by Art,” July 28, 2004), reporter Dan Wakin described my initial encounter with a collection of objects made by inmates at Sugamo prison during the US Occupation of Japan:

Seized with a sense of mission inspired by the collection, Mr. Barrette embarked on a research project that continues today, drawing in a disparate group of scholars and volunteers to emerge with a kaleidoscopic story about life at Sugamo during the American occupation of Japan.

It is a story with many byways—the relationships between captor and captive and between the United States and Japan, the nature of justice in wartime, the making of art in times of hardship.

The story of the Sugamo project as it has unfolded over the last five years is indeed kaleidoscopic; to do it justice would have required a greater amount of space than could be afforded in a newspaper article. So, when asked if I would be willing to write a fuller account of the project for JPRI, I was pleased to be given the opportunity.

Before giving a description of the project and its goals, however, I think it would be helpful to provide some general information about Sugamo prison and the trials associated with it.

The Prison
Sugamo prison was located in northwest Tokyo near Ikebukuro railway station.[Fig. 1] It was built by the Japanese in the 1920's and occupied a site of approximately six acres. It had the capacity to accommodate 1,500 inmates and during the Pacific war was used by the Japanese to house political prisoners for which it earned a deservedly frightening reputation. Spared in the bombing of Tokyo, it was enlarged and revamped by the Americans to serve as a place of incarceration for war-crimes suspects. In October 1945, Sugamo prison was turned over to the US 8th Army by the Japanese government and, after a brief period of renovation, received its first prisoners on November 16. During November and December, war criminal apprehension lists were published and the prison population grew rapidly. By the end of February 1946, the population was 600 and it increased steadily to more than 1,000 persons a year later. During periods of peak occupancy, Sugamo housed more than 2,000 inmates, and, over the course of the Occupation, more than 4,000 prisoners were processed through it.[1] According to John Ginn[2], the number of American enlisted men and officers normally assigned to Sugamo at any given time was usually between 300 and 500, and between 1945 and 1952, an estimated 1,600–2,000 men were stationed there.

An important fact about Sugamo is revealed in a letter dated Dec. 5, 1945 from General McArthur's headquarters to the commanding general of the 8th Army, General Robert Eichelberger. This letter, quoted in the 1947 Sugamo prison report prepared for the general and referenced above, stated that "prisoners were not to be treated as prisoners of war; quarters, food, and privileges were to be in keeping with those customarily provided for ordinary criminals charged with equally revolting domestic crimes. Further, they were to be kept in close confinement without access to the press and without regard to rank or position."

Prison officials were surprised when many suspects reported at the prison of their own volition following the publication of their names in apprehension lists, and the report goes on to state that the "situation was unique, and a commentary on the docility with which the Japanese have followed the orders of the occupational forces."[3] It should be noted, however, that the prisoners resented being classified as common criminals: they considered themselves political prisoners being tried and punished as members of a defeated military. As such, they felt they were entitled to prisoner-of-war status.[4]

The Class A/B/C/ Trials
In August 1945, the Coordinating Committee of the US departments of State, War, and Navy (SWNCC) published its classification of war criminals: A, B, and C. In brief, Class A were those accused of "crimes against peace"—first of all, planning, preparing, initiating, or waging a declared or undeclared war of aggression, or a war in violation of international law and treaties; or, participating in a conspiracy for the accomplishment for any of the foregoing. Class B were those people charged with conventional war crimes—namely violations of the laws and customs of war, including the maltreatment of civilians and prisoners of war. Class C were all those accused of crimes against humanity—those who had carried out torture, murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts before or during the war, or persecution on political, religious, or racial grounds ordered by superiors. As Takemae Eiji notes, “In Germany, four Allied powers had tried Nazi leaders for the Holocaust and related horrors under Class-C crimes against humanity, but in Japan this category became blurred with Class B offenses, and most of the so-called B/C war crimes covering conventional brutalities and murder were tried in local military tribunals throughout Asia.[5]

Between October 1945 and April 1951, 49 military commissions were convened in various Pacific-theater locations by seven of the Allied nations that had been subjected to Japan's aggression—United States, Britain, Australia, Netherlands, France, the Philippines, and China (Taipei government). The Americans conducted most of their Class B/C trials—involving nearly 1,000 individuals—at 8th Army headquarters in Yokohama, and the accused were shuttled back and forth from trials in Tokyo and Yokohama to Sugamo prison by convoys of American military personnel. Americans also conducted military trials in Manila, Shanghai, and Guam.

The highest profile prisoners at Sugamo were the 28 former leaders of the Japanese state and its armed forces—those considered the architects of Japan’s militarist wartime policy. Designated Class A, their fate was to be decided by an international tribunal (IMTFE) closely modeled after the Nuremberg trial in Germany. Unlike the Nuremberg trial which concluded in ten months, however, the Tokyo trial continued for two and one-half years. When the verdicts were finally announced in November 1948, the 25 remaining defendants were found guilty. Former General Tojo Hideki, who had been Premier during the attack on Pearl Harbor, was condemned to death, as were six other former Japanese leaders. All were hanged on Sugamo’s gallows on December 23, 1948.

The most numerous prisoners at Sugamo, however, were those of Class B/C status, sometimes referred to as "minor" war criminals. While some of these suspects were of relatively high rank, the majority were men lower down the chain of command who had been accused of war crimes most often associated with the abuse of Allied prisoners of war. These prisoners were brought before military tribunals, the details of which are sketchy at best. It is generally accepted, however, that close to 5,700 persons were prosecuted. Of those, about 954 received a death sentence, 475 life sentences, and 2,944 sentences of limited duration.[6] Among the B/C suspects were 148 Koreans and 173 Formosans—Japanese colonial subjects forced to work in internment camps in order to alleviate Japanese labor shortages; of these 42 were executed.[7] From April 1946 to April 1950, 63 executions by hanging were carried out at Sugamo, mostly of Class B/C prisoners. An additional 85 executions were carried out elsewhere as a result of the American military tribunals operating in Manila, Shanghai, and Guam.[8]

The Japanese war crimes trials bridged a period of significant and rapid change in US foreign policy, as America's strategic interests adjusted to the post-war political landscape of Europe and Asia. By issuing the Truman Doctrine in March 1947, the US signaled the beginning of the Cold War with a policy dedicated to containing the spread of communism. The result for Japan was that the US Occupation policy of demilitarization and democratization—which had begun with New Deal idealism—abruptly changed course in 1947–48 in response to the civil war in China and the ascendancy of the Chinese Communist Party. Many of the Japanese wartime elite—some of whom had been incarcerated at Sugamo as Class A suspects—were returned to power as Japan was hastily transformed into a military bulwark for the purpose of checking the advance of communist influence in Asia. After their release, some Sugamo prisoners were enlisted in the US-supported fight against leftists in Japan. The legacy of this cooperation between Japanese wartime elite and the US continues to have far-reaching effects on the Japanese state and society.

Prison Operation and the Production of Art Objects
The conditions at Sugamo prison changed over the course of the Occupation, as did administrative policy, and it is essential to the study of the objects—and narratives associated with Sugamo—to understand when, and under what circumstances, the objects were made and dispersed.

On the Occupation side, there were many GIs who wanted souvenirs to document their time spent in Japan. In this regard, the jailers at Sugamo were in an especially privileged position, for they were in close contact with the elite group of Class A prisoners who were the focus of the world's attention. In 1946–47, it was possible for many jailers to obtain prisoner signatures on photographs, flags, 100-Yen notes, and many other items.[Fig. 2] [Fig. 3] Tojo Hideki—the focus of most of the world's media—was particularly obliging in this regard.[Fig. 4] [Fig. 5] Although this type of contact between jailer and prisoner was forbidden, it was tolerated until sometime in early 1947 when security in the prison was increased, following the suicide of Hermann Goering at Spandau prison. Jailers who were assigned to the cell blocks housing the Class B/C prisoners were also eager for souvenirs to send home, but, because B/C prisoners were not famous, the souvenirs consisted of drawings and small craft objects, given as gifts or exchanged for cigarettes and small favors.[Fig.6]

Yet life in the prison did not remain static, and for the purposes of discussion, I have outlined five discrete phases of time over its 13 years of operation. I should also point out that the majority of artifacts that have been displayed to the public in exhibitions are from 1946–48, a time of maximum security and tension within the prison.

1. November '45 to May '46 (6 months)
It was at this time that the first prisoners were brought to Sugamo, and the Yokohama trials for Class B/C suspects were begun. The conditions in the prison were still crude, as renovations and improvements were only in the early stages. Security concerns were paramount and, according to an 8th Army operational report, "there were eight different security classifications dictated by types of prisoners committed to Sugamo by various allied military authorities—ranging from friendly witnesses in protective custody, to secret maximum security prisoners."[9] At this time, the prison was manned by combat soldiers from the 1st Cavalry, 35th and 579th antiaircraft artillery battery divisions, and 151st MP platoon.

2. May '46 to December '48 (Tokyo trial; 2 years 8 months)
During this period, the prison population increased rapidly. In March 1946, Allied combat troops were replaced by what the prisoners referred to as "18-month men." These were very young and inexperienced Americans who, for the most part, had enlisted just after the war’s end with the hope of benefiting from the GI Bill. A distinction between the attitudes and behavior of these men, compared to the combat troops they replaced, was noted by the prisoners. Contrary to expectation, the prisoners first found many of the men “swaggish and insolent in a manner not found among the earlier combat-experienced jailers.”[10] But eventually, as the prisoners and jailers became accustomed to each other's peculiarities and began to acquire some rudimentary knowledge of the other's language and daily habits, daily life became more peaceful.

Beginning in May 1946, the world’s attention focused on the Tokyo trial, and media presence—at least in the early stages—was quite intense. Security at the prison was by necessity very tight throughout this period, and the prison was on the highest alert in the weeks just prior to the executions.

In early 1947, following the suicide of Hermann Goering by the use of a cyanide capsule in Spandau prison, a policy of even closer guarding was initiated, under the direction of Dr. Albert Stunkard, the medical officer of the prison. This resulted in routine shakedowns of prisoners' cells, and frequent anal and oral examinations in an attempt to forestall any similar suicide attempts at Sugamo.[11] [Fig.7] These procedures, especially the anal exams, were much disliked by the prisoners and the subject of many complaints.[12]

For the Class B/C prisoners, this period was one of great uncertainty and unease as they awaited interrogations and the start of their trials. The early trials often brought very severe sentences that further increased anxiety among the as-yet-uncharged prisoners. The first executions of Class B/C prisoners began in April 1946, but many prisoners were to wait for a year, or even two, before being formally charged. Hard labor details for convicted prisoners at this time were intentionally onerous: clearing bombed-out areas around the prison, building roads, and erecting fences.

3. January '49 to June '50 (year and one-half)
After the executions of December 1948, the atmosphere of tension in the prison rapidly dissipated. Two-thirds of the prisoners had, by this time, been sentenced, and every effort was made to employ them in useful work projects. The Sugamo administrators sought and obtained a work program in November 1949 and a parole system in March 1950. Under the influence of Capt. Lee Vincent, who was placed in charge of the prison's labor section in February 1949, the policy of tight security and close guarding of prisoners was modified towards a considerably more lenient policy of rehabilitation, education, and vocational training in preparation for life after Sugamo. Courses were given in English, accounting, auto mechanics, law, art, poetry—to name a few subjects—and these efforts explain why many of the inmates were to refer to this period as attending "Sugamo University."[Fig. 9] Activities that were frowned upon earlier—such as making drawings and circulating poems—started to be encouraged and sanctioned, and an art shop, poetry group, and prisoner newspaper were established. The last war criminal's execution took place on April 7, 1950, and shortly thereafter, prisoners that were serving terms began to be paroled.

4. June '50 to May '52 (2 years)
At the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950, a severe shortage of available soldiers in the Pacific resulted in many men stationed at Sugamo being sent to Korea. Sugamo officers' ranks were drastically depleted from 40 to 7, and enlisted men were reduced from 400 to less than 100.[13] Administration of the prison was transferred to Japanese wardens under the supervision of American officers, and, from this point until the end of the Occupation in April 1952, there was little interest in continuing to punish the Japanese for war crimes. Under the administration of Col. James W. Davis and Capt. Lonnie B. Adams, a system of prisoner self-government was established and much more lenient security policies were put in place. Life for the prisoners improved markedly, and the Japanese public—which earlier in the Occupation had been negative towards the prisoners—began to regard the men more sympathetically. Many of the prisoners volunteered to assist in the Korean war effort—for example, by constructing wooden palettes and working at a large hydroponic farm near Tokyo—in a situation that mirrored the transformation occurring outside the prison as Japan gradually came to be regarded as an important Cold War ally rather than a hated enemy. John Dower remarks on the amenities afforded Sugamo inmates at this time, as their status changed from notoriety to celebrity, a process that would accelerate in the first years following the Occupation when many released prisoners published their diaries about life at Sugamo.[14]

5. April '52 to December '58 (6 years 9 months)
Complete control of the prison was turned over to the Japanese in May 1952, as the Occupation ended. The number of prisoners released on parole was increased, and by 1956, the total number of war criminals had gone from an original 2,000 to 383.[15] In December 1958, Sugamo Prison was closed, and the remaining prisoners paroled. In 1971, the buildings were torn down, and later, a large housing and shopping complex (Sunshine City) was built on the site. A well-established neighborhood myth associated with this building claims that every year, on the anniversary of the Class A executions, a ghost in military uniform is seen on the 60th floor.

History of the Sugamo Art Project
The most frequent question I am asked when discussing Sugamo is how I came to be interested in such an unusual subject.

At a birthday party for my mother in Rhode Island in 1999, sitting around the kitchen table with relatives having coffee, my cousin George Picard asked, "Did I ever tell you the story of being Tojo's jailer?" At that point, I didn't know my cousin very well, let alone his service record. He proceeded to tell me how, in 1945, just out of high school, he enlisted in the Army with the hope of qualifying for the GI bill so that he could study architecture. He was promptly sent to Sugamo prison in Tokyo where he soon served as a jailer. At first he was assigned to the section of the prison that housed the Class B/C defendants accused of war crimes. After a short while, he was transferred to the Class A section that held the 28 former leaders of the defeated Japanese state and its armed forces. Picard was stationed at Sugamo for 11 months, and his easy access to this elite group of prisoners resulted in the assembly of an impressive collection of souvenirs from his time at the prison.

The following day my cousin brought over two boxes containing his souvenirs. They had come from his basement where they had long resided—the period of interest in them having passed shortly after his return. Out of the boxes emerged dozens of small items of surprising variety. They ranged from objects that he was able to have autographed in English and Japanese by the Class A prisoners—such as a silk Imperial flag and several 100-Yen notes [Fig. 10]—to various photographs and an interesting group of portrait drawings made by Class-C prisoner Furuyama Seiichi depicting General MacArthur, Father Flanagan of Boys Town fame, and Picard himself.[Fig. 11] One drawing particularly caught my attention was a haunting rendering by prisoner Egawa Sachio of his cell a few months before his execution in 1947. Perhaps the most seductive items in Picard's collection were a series of small slipcases fashioned from American cigarette packages that had been painstakingly transformed into durable little boxes resembling inro by the use of paper and rice paste left over from the prisoners' meals.[Fig. 12] Two other small boxes, employing the traditional Japanese craft technique known as koyori, were made of toilet paper that had been twisted until it became the dimension of a string, and then woven to form a container with a subtly decorative surface incorporating Picard's initials.[Fig. 13] Similarly, pages from LIFE magazines had been tightly rolled into cylinders and then pasted together to form an elegant cigarette case [Fig. 14] or a frame to display a photo of Picard lounging off-duty in his bunk.[Fig. 15] As a group, these objects not only demonstrated the resourcefulness and strong aesthetic sense of the average Japanese prisoner, but also had the uncanny ability to transport the viewer to an unfamiliar time and place, that is, to a location that one normally associates with harshness and suppression rather than creative production.

At this point I should say that, like most Americans and many Japanese, I had only the vaguest notion of the post-WWII period in Japan, and my first response was, "How is it that I don't know anything about these trials"? My father was too old to serve in World War II, and so had no war stories to tell. Yet I was born as these trials were taking place, and, growing up during the Cold War in what was then rural Rhode Island, many of my early memories were framed by references to the personalities and events of that war. A housing development called Truman Heights soon appeared in what had been an open field; MacArthur Boulevard, Doolittle Street, and Marshall Circle defined its borders. The state of Rhode Island continued to celebrate "VJ" Day well past the time that it was politically correct to do so. The significance of the war in the Pacific as a triumphant and defining moment in American history was inscribed in the landscape and seemed to silently validate the heroism of those who had participated. But, in what I can only attribute as a failure of our educational system, I learned little of substance about the complex and closely entwined relations of the United States and Japan before, during, or after the war. And, considering how central the Nuremberg trials are to our image of the Allied victory and the establishment of a new world order in Europe, I found it strange that its Pacific counterpart had been lost in obscurity.

No doubt there was something about this odd collection of objects that touched me and aroused my curiosity to learn more about the trials and the Occupation. As an artist, I think it was the unquestionably authentic aura of these drawings, curious craft objects, and photos that first caught my attention—the specificity of these objects and the narratives associated with them made them potent carriers of material memory. As such, they underscored the importance of the role of art and the visual in the construction and interpretation of historical narratives. On a deeper level, I also experienced that unmistakable “click” that sometimes occurs when a chance encounter opens a new path to explore in my work. I have learned over the years to pay attention to these unpredictable sources of inspiration even if they seem, at first, to be far outside the compass of my interests.

I was trained as an artist in the late 1960's in New York, a period dominated by movements termed Minimalism and Conceptualism. Since the 70's, I have exhibited work that combines photography and sculpture and, from time to time, have written about art. I also have a keen interest in history and the way it is structured. In the Sugamo material I began to sense an opportunity to bring together my diverse interests within the framework of an art installation. In contrast to the way an historian or museum curator would organize the material—imposing an order based on special expertise in the field of World War II and Japanese culture—I had little prior knowledge of, or, prior to that point, particular interest in, these subjects. As a result, my initial approach to the Sugamo installation was intuitive, based on the notion that the objects should determine the direction of the research as well as the structure and narratives of the installation. The experience was like pulling an historical thread to see where it would lead and, in the process, learning what the objects had to teach.

First Exhibition, New York City
Eventually, I brought the assembled material to the attention of Jan van der Donk, whose gallery in Chelsea often exhibits works from historical archives—one of the few galleries to do so. He was fascinated by what I showed him and quickly suggested that we schedule an exhibition. Once the installation was scheduled, I began to research the subject more extensively. I was fortunate to be able to locate additional material and advice from John Ginn, a Sugamo veteran and the author of a book about the prison and the war crimes trials. He is also one of the founders of the Sugamo Veterans Association, which he encouraged me to contact. As a result of writing his book, Ginn had amassed a large archive of Sugamo-related artifacts, many of which he agreed to lend for the exhibition. His material dovetailed perfectly with my cousin's and broadened the scope of the exhibition considerably. The next step was to go to the National Archives in College Park, MD, where there is a large repository of material relating to the prison and the trials. The exhibition, which opened in May 2000, was entitled, Encounters: Sugamo Prison and the Tokyo War Crimes Trials, 1946–48.

In creating that exhibition, and two others that followed it, I decided to use the souvenirs and ephemera as the core of the installation and to organize it under the general theme of "encounters"—between jailers and prisoners, American and Japanese cultures, the individual and the state legal system, and the elite Class A prisoners and lower status Class B/C suspects. I saw my role as one of extracting narratives from these souvenirs by giving them an historical context—placing them alongside related documents and photographs culled from my research in the National Archives and elsewhere.

The drawing given to Picard by Class-C prisoner Egawa in 1947 is a good example of how this process worked. The subject is his cell with a Japanese inscription that gives the date and location of his incarceration at Sugamo; his name is written over the door.[Fig. 16] This was enough information to be able to locate Egawa's file and trial documents in the National Archives, as well as his prison ID-photo [Fig. 17] and photos taken of him at his trial. Further research turned up a letter that he had written to the Catholic chaplain of the prison shortly before he was executed for his involvement in the beating death of an Allied POW. Once translated, the letter turned out to contain a very detailed and moving plea of innocence and a tale of religious conversion. The last words of the letter state, "No matter how well one lies, the truth always prevails. I believe the truth is certain to come out in time. It must come out."

This is one of many narratives that emerged in the installation, and it illustrates well one of the underlying questions raised by the exhibition: how can one determine the truth of an event, especially after the passage of so much time? And how are we to reconcile opposing versions of the "truth"? The effect of such materials displayed together gave the viewer a palpable sense of a moment in history; it emphasized the human element and the varied ways that individuals on both sides of the bars perceived and interpreted the events going on around them. It also touched on the notion of the politics of memory—who gets to tell the account of an event and how. In Egawa’s case, the long letter he wrote to the chaplain was reduced in translation by prison authorities to a few summary sentences. In effect, Father Ryan was never able to learn of the substance of Egawa’s plea, thus could not help the man even if he had wanted to. Emerging from these shadowy areas of human interaction, the Sugamo narratives often challenge the viewer to reconsider not only what he knows about an event but also the process by which he comes to know it.

To my knowledge this was the first exhibition done on the subject of Sugamo prison in the US. Response to this small show was encouraging and led to my being asked by Amy Ingrid Schlegel, then curator of the Philadelphia Art Alliance, to present a second and much larger version of the exhibition there in May 2002.

Philadelphia Art Alliance Exhibition
After the New York exhibition, my research developed into a larger and still ongoing collaborative study project that included attendance at numerous Sugamo veterans’ reunions in the US and—with the extensive help of a Japanese colleague, Midori Sato—a research trip to Japan in December 2001. There we met with the ethnographic filmmaking team Dr. Lindsey Powell and Narumi Toyota who videotaped surviving former Class C war-crimes prisoners Fujiki Fumio [Fig. 18] and Tobita Tokio.[Fig. 19] These men were the most accomplished draftsmen of a five-person sanctioned art group begun at the prison in 1948. Both men arrived at Sugamo in 1945 with drawing skills acquired as a result of their primary schooling; however, neither considered himself an artist, and it was only as a reaction to their imprisonment that they fully developed their abilities over the course of incarceration. Fujiki and Tobita both illustrated one book shortly after being released from Sugamo, but neither continued to make drawings or pursue art after that.[16] As a result of that trip, we were able to borrow a wealth of drawings from Fujiki, and, from Tobita, several portrait drawings [Fig. 20] and two volumes of poems by prisoners which were then translated by Sato and highlighted in the exhibition.

The drawings were particularly significant. By the time of this exhibition, more than 300 pictures by five identified prisoners had come to light, both from Japanese and GI collections. One fascinating group of annotated caricatures shows many of the non-indicted Class A prisoners who were released following the conclusion of the Tokyo trial for “lack of evidence.” Pictured in this group are such people as pre-war ultra nationalists Kodama Yoshio, Sasakawa Ryoichi [Fig. 21], and Kishi Nobusuke, [Fig. 22] all of whom would go on to have enormous influence in post-Occupation Japan. Kishi, who had been minister of munitions in the Tojo cabinet and responsible for the enslavement of thousands of Chinese laborers in Manchukuo, became Prime Minister nine years after his release from Sugamo. Another large group of drawings by Tobita shows the daily activities of Class B/C prisoners who had been sentenced to long terms of hard labor.[Fig. 23] [Fig. 24] Perhaps most eye-catching is a group of 42 hand-colored cartoons (manga) by Fujiki serializing the life of "Mr. P-ko," a prisoner/everyman figure whose adventures in Sugamo often appeared in the bi-weekly prison newspaper, the Sugamo Shinbun.[Fig. 25] [Fig. 26] [Fig. 27] Taken together, the drawings form a kind of visual diary that illuminates the intimate details of daily life at Sugamo and reveals a history that has been heretofore largely unknown.

The two volumes of poetry lent by Tobita—containing over a thousand waka collected and “published” in two mimeographed volumes at the prison in 1949—give us access to the inner thoughts of some of the prisoners as they struggled to cope with the realities of incarceration.[Fig. 28] And while the waka and drawings have some themes in common, the poems’ intensely private expressions contrast sharply with the more public presentation of the drawings. The sheer volume of poetry produced at Sugamo also gives a good indication of the centrality of poetry in the formation of Japanese identity.

The Philadelphia exhibition—entitled Encounters: Daily Life at Sugamo Prison, Tokyo, 1945–52—encompassed 2,000 square feet of gallery space and also premiered a video documentary of our interviews with Tobita and Fujiki by Lindsey Powell and Narumi Toyota. The highlight of the exhibition was the unusual reunion of 84-year-old Tobita Tokio with Bill Robbins and Buck Langdon, two of the jailers who had preserved his drawings for more that 50 years.[Fig. 29]

Princeton / Plainsboro Exhibitions and a Symposium
During the Philadelphia exhibition, Sato and I were invited by Martin Collcutt, Director of the East Asian Studies Program at Princeton University, to stage a third version of “Encounters” and collaborate on a symposium at Princeton on the subject. The ensuing exhibition, entitled Encounters: Sugamo Prison 1945–52; The American Occupation of Japan and Memories of the Asia Pacific War, opened at the Gest East Asian Library in April 2003. It differed from its predecessors in ways that reflected the state of the ongoing research and recent political developments that focused the world’s attention on the Occupation and war crimes trials. While these events were being held, Princeton's East Asian Studies Program also sponsored our concurrent exhibition in nearby Plainsboro, NJ at the seminary where a Sugamo chaplain had studied and was buried. This popular Catholic chaplain was murdered outside Sugamo's gates, and a hapless 19-year old GI guard, Pfc. William C. Manis, was accused and eventually court-martialed for the crime.[Fig. 30] The exhibition focused on this story and was entitled, Encounter at Sugamo Prison, Tokyo, April 5, 1948. The murder of Chaplain John A. Ryan, A new look at the Court martial of Pfc. William Manis. Manis was convicted on the testimony of two prostitutes who had originally testified that the chaplain was murdered by Korean and Japanese underworld figures, men who were in great supply near Sugamo. After serving eight and one-half years of a life sentence in Federal penitentiaries, Manis was paroled and returned to his native Tennessee. He claimed, always, that he was innocent, and many of the men who served with Manis at Sugamo believe he was framed for the crime. He died in February 2003, leaving only bitter memories of his time spent at Sugamo and of a life lived in the shadow of disgrace. Using a wide variety of archival sources, as well as contemporary interviews with people close to Ryan and Manis, the exhibition and documentary video by Powell and Toyota reconstructed a complex case at the same time that it probed a darker side of Occupation history. Subjects such as the black market, prostitution, military justice, and religious conversion shed light on this poorly understood period. For many years Manis’s family has tried unsuccessfully to re-open the case. They came from the hill country of Tennessee to attend the Princeton symposium where a paper was given on the case.

In addition to new material that appeared since the Philadelphia venue, the Princeton exhibitions featured two new videos produced by Lindsey Powell and Narumi Toyota. One was focused on the Ryan–Manis case. The other featured interviews with numerous veterans and prisoners, thus helping contextualize the objects in the Princeton exhibition by linking them to living memory. Since December 2001, Midori Sato and I have continued to collaborate closely with Powell and Toyota to film over 100 hours of interviews with veterans and former Japanese prisoners and their families and to document various aspects of the Sugamo project. The filmed material in itself constitutes a valuable adjunct to the Sugamo archive, and, with proper institutional support, could and should be kept together. Filming continues in the US and Japan, and one of the goals of the project is to create a feature-length documentary now in the development stages.

The Princeton / Plainsboro exhibitions culminated in a two-day symposium that was conceived as a forum to bring the Sugamo material to the attention of the scholarly community by placing the prison within the larger context of the Pacific War and Asian memory. The panels included a mix of scholars and people who had actually been at the prison—a guard, a medical officer, and a Japanese prisoner. They dealt with such diverse topics as personal experiences at the prison, artistic and literary activity at Sugamo, war crimes trials, and war and aggression in Asian memory. What emerged from the symposium was a consensus that the Sugamo material should be published, and a forthcoming workshop—to be held at Princeton in the spring of 2005—will bring together a diverse group of scholars with this end in mind. As of this writing, publication is not assured. And even though Princeton’s East Asian Studies Program continues to be supportive of the project, funds must still be found in order to complete the necessary research in the US and Japan.

Future and Scope of the Project
The Sugamo material that has been assembled over the past five years is comprised of drawings, poems, craft objects, photographs, letters, and diaries. By now this archive contains hundreds of items and continues to grow. Taken together, the objects show—in intimate and surprising detail—the forging of a new relationship between Americans and Japanese, a relationship altogether different from the one that developed between Americans and Germans in the context of Nuremberg and Spandau prison.

The exhibitions, symposium, and videos have brought the Sugamo archive to the initial attention of the art and academic communities, and much curatorial work has already been done to locate, identify, and begin to understand the most important items within the corpus. For the purposes of the proposed publication, our intention is to focus primarily on the drawings and poems, most of which date from the period 1946–50. Because the corpus is large and diverse, and also because a great deal has recently been learned about the changing circumstances affecting its production and reception over the course of the seven-year Occupation, we feel that a unique opportunity presents itself.

To our thinking, the Sugamo materials provide a critical understanding of this poorly understood period of cultural exchange at the same time that they offer the opportunity to examine art that was produced by individuals responding to extraordinary situations and conditions through visual communication. The drawings raise art historical questions relating to issues as diverse as patronage, censorship, intended audience, custodianship, cross-cultural influence (notable in the development of Occupation-era manga style), humor, identity, class, and the role of art in the complex economy of power relations within a prison environment. In one sense, to use some of Lindsey Powell's terminology and ideas about the drawings, the objects made by Fujiki and Tobita can be thought of as technologies that extended the agency of these artists in ways that altered their relationships with their American guards and other prisoners. In an unpublished manuscript from 1995,[17] Fujiki Fumio comments on the role his drawings played during his incarceration at Sugamo:

My daily life was mostly filled with heart-to-heart communications with American GIs, particularly jailers. A few of them were nasty, but they were generally good-natured and happy-go-lucky, and brightened my days. They taught me how wonderful freedom was and what democracy was like. The fact that I could engage in such human interactions with these men was a salvation. Many men were held there. Their circumstances and situations were all different. In my case, I could overcome cultural differences and win the foreigners’ hearts. It may have been because of my personality, but I touched many of their hearts through sketches and cartoons. Through my mother’s love and such exchanges with American military men, I was able to get through those two hard years.

One of the goals of the research is to reconsider these drawings—previously thought of as historical artifacts—as evidence of a complex artistic and social phenomenon, one that could inform our understanding of that most basic human creative impulse to manipulate our social surroundings with art, especially during periods of profound social and political change.

The drawings and the manner of their exchange are also interesting from the cultural perspective of gift-giving where donor and recipient are linked into a web of reciprocal responsibilities and associations. It has been interesting to observe—when guards and prisoners have been reunited as a result of the exhibitions in Philadelphia and Princeton—how powerfully the drawings function as the locus of shared memory and as evidence of a kind of “unfinished business” between jailer and prisoner. Powell and Toyota are concentrating their theoretical and filmmaking efforts on this phenomenon both in its prison setting and today.

In essence, the study of the Sugamo material is unusually complex. Special circumstances and conditions informed their production, and a highly charged and controversial political atmosphere still surrounds any discussions bearing on Japanese war crimes trials and the incarceration of prisoners at Sugamo during the Occupation. At the same time, the drawings constitute an art corpus that exists outside the normal developmental sequences associated with professional art practice. In order to understand them, a wide variety of disciplines must be brought together for proper appreciation.

The team of collaborators we propose will ideally include specialists in the fields of American and Japanese art history and literature, modern Japanese and Occupation history, and anthropology. Appropriate scholars working in the area of comparative cultural studies will also be sought. Research will proceed on at least three fronts: art historical analysis of the most significant visual material; detailed historical synthesis of the setting that produced them, including a history of the prison and comparison with art production at other Pacific theater prisons where Class B/C war criminals were held; and a broad comparative study to place the Sugamo drawings within a larger context of similar productions. A separate study and publication of the poetry is also envisioned.

What began as a chance encounter with a box of Occupation-era souvenirs has led to many unexpected areas of discovery. As the number and variety of identified Sugamo artifacts have grown, a previously unknown micro-history—embedded within the master narrative of the Occupation—has slowly begun to reveal itself. It is not a history seen from the lofty overview of generals and heads of state but from the unusual vantage point of a defeated military and its young jailers. The artifacts in the Sugamo archive—given or traded by jailers and prisoners—show how each side negotiated the formidable cultural and linguistic differences that divided them during a period of rapidly changing social order. They also shed considerable light on the process by which the ugly emotions released by the war began to dissipate and were replaced by a more nuanced discourse, one that began to acknowledge the humanity and individuality of a once-demonized and faceless enemy. That art played a key role in this transformative process is an indication of its fundamental importance to our make-up as human beings.

The memories of the men who made the objects, as well as the men who carefully preserved them, have lain dormant for six decades. Each drawing, object, poem from Sugamo is a container for these memories—a link forged between individuals whose societies defined them as bitter enemies. If properly understood, they can also provide a vital link to us across time. Tobita Tokio reflected on this aspect of his drawings in his talk at Princeton:

Now looking at those pictures that I drew during my days in Sugamo, I feel speechless. And I am amazed at the power of drawings. Drawings do not speak. They do not change even though the time changes, and people keep on changing. I cannot speak English, but (my) drawing communicates thoughts and feelings across the boundaries of countries and times without using any words. I think this is a very wonderful thing.

A wonderful thing, indeed, and, for those interested in art as well as modern US-Japanese history, a wonderful gift as well.

Text copyright Bill Barrette, 2004. Photographs printed with permission of the owners, who reserve the copyright to them.

1. Sugamo Prison, November 1945 to January 1947; A Special Study Prepared by 10th Information and Historical Service Headquarters Eighth Army, APO 343, p. 6. [Return to Text]
2. John Ginn, Sugamo Prison, Tokyo: An Account of the Trial and Sentencing of Japanese War Criminals in 1948, By a U. S. Participant (Jefferson, NC, and London: MacFarland, 1992), p. 6. [Return to Text]
3. Sugamo Prison, November 1945..., p. 12. [Return to Text]
4. James Sasaki, The Life of War Criminals at Sugamo Prison 1949. Unpublished manuscript written by Class-C war criminal Sasaki while incarcerated at Sugamo. [Return to Text]
5. Takemae Eiji, Inside GHQ; The Allied Occupation of Japan and its Legacy (New York: Continuum, 2002), p. 245. [Return to Text]
6. John Dower, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of WWII (New York: The New Press, 1999). [Return to Text]
7. Takemae, p. 253. [Return to Text]
8. Charles F. Smedley, Tommy M. Hight, and Charles W. Patterson, eds., Sugamo Prison Tokyo Japan, APO 500. Privately printed compilation of documents from Sugamo retained by Lt. Col. Lee Vincent when the prison was turned over to Japanese control in May 1952. [Return to Text]
9. Final Operational Report Sugamo Prison 17 March 1952, 8065 Army Unit, APO 500. [Return to Text]
10. Sasaki, “Jailers and prisoners,” p. 5. [Return to Text]
11. Dr. Albert Stunkard presented a paper at the Princeton symposium [see below] based on a chapter of his as-yet unpublished memoir of experiences at Sugamo during the Occupation, After the War; An American in the Ruins of Tokyo. During his time at the prison, Dr. Stunkard interviewed many of the Class A prisoners and became well acquainted with them; for instance, as a farewell gift, Stunkard was given calligraphies of Buddhist texts—brushed in the classic Chinese fluid script—by Tojo Hideki [Fig. 8] and Baron Hiranuma Kiichiro, who were impressed by his interest in Zen Buddhism. This curiosity also led to the physician's introduction by the prisoner Graf von Duerkheim—a German national held at Sugamo separate from the Japanese war criminals—to the well-known Zen scholar Daisetz Suzuki. Stunkard studied with Suzuki while in Japan and was subsequently instrumental in the latter’s sojourn in America during the 1950’s. [Return to Text]
12 Kodama Yoshio, Sugamo Diary (English ed., 1960) pp. 204f.; Stunkard, “Hideki Tojo,” p. 4. [Return to Text]
13 Ginn, p. 13. [Return to Text]
14 Dower, pp. 513-515. [Return to Text]
15 Ginn, p. l2. [Return to Text]
16. Fujiki’s Nakiwarai Sugamo nikki [A Tragicomic Diary of Sugamo] (Tokyo: Asahi Shinbun, 1953) was updated and republished as Sugamo densetsu [Legends of Sugamo] in 1996 (Tokyo: Riba Shuppan). Shortly after he was released from Sugamo, Tobita was contacted by Kodama Yoshio to illustrate the latter's memoir, Sugamo Diary. [Return to Text]
17. Translated by Mutsuyo Okumra Unger and cited in the transcript of the paper she gave at the Princeton symposium, May 2003. I am indebted to Mrs. Unger, Fujiki’s niece, for providing me with access to this and other documents relating to her uncle’s life and art activities. [Return to Text]

BILL BARRETTE is a New York artist and art writer. He has had numerous exhibitions in the US and Europe, and is the author of Eva Hesse Sculpture, A Catalogue Raisonne (New York: Timken, 1989), and the editor of Letters from H. C. Westermann (New York: Timken, 1987). His photographs of urban subjects have been published collaboratively with the work of two poets: Big City Primer, Reading New York at the End of the Twentieth Century (with John Yau; New York, Timken, 1991; winner of the Brendan Gill Prize 1992); Berlin Diptychon (with John Yau; Bonn, Weidle Verlag, and New York, Timken, 1995); and Wien Stadt Bilder (with Barbara Neuwirth; Vienna, Locker Verlag, 1998). For the last five years he has presented a series of exhibitions focusing on different aspects of the Occupation of Japan as seen through the microcosm of Sugamo prison—the site where war crimes suspects were incarcerated following Japan’s surrender to the Allies in August, 1945.

Downloaded from