Frank Kamiyama

Name Frank Kamiyama
Born November 6 1886
Died 1974
Birth Location Fukuoka
Generational Identifier


Urasaburo "Frank" Kamiyama (1886–1974) was a celebrated photographer and community leader based in Fresno, California, who documented a generation of Japanese Americans in the Central Valley.

Early Life and Artistic Recognition

Fresno photographer Urasaburo "Frank" Kamiyama (1886-1974) was an important community photographer based in Fresno and Central Valley, beginning in the early 20th century. He was born on November 6, 1886 in Akamacho, Fukuoka prefecture, Japan, to parents Tanzo and Mitsu (Ishimatsu) Kamiyama. His father worked as a dry goods merchant , andhad five sons, he had four brothers: Hisao, Genzaburo, Tosasaburo and Urasaburo ; the name of his fourth brother fifth son is unknown. All of his All of Urasaburo’s brothers worked as photographers and had studios in different parts of Japan. [1]

Urasaburo immigrated to Hawai’i in 1905 when he was eighteen years old and settled in Sacramento, California, where he opened his first photography studio. Kamiyama operated his photo business in Sacramento from 1910 to 1915. He 5, then movedbriefly for lived insix months to Los Angeles for six months before , before briefly returning to Sacramento for another five years. In 1915,Later that year, he moved to Fresno and opened Frank Kamiyama Photo Studio at 1413 Tulare Street. [2]

In 1917, Kamiyama’s brother in Japan arranged a “picture bride” marriage for Urasaburo with a n Issei woman named Tsuna Hatano. They were married for six years, but since the marriage did not produce any children, Urasaburo escorted Tsuna back to Japan in June 1923, where they divorced. On that same trip to Japan, he married Mitsu (Yoshida) Kamiyama, (an issei born on May 20, 1897) and returned to California in December 1923. [3] The couple had four daughters: Keiko Kay, born 1924, Hiroko, born 3 1926, and twins Nobuko Joyce, and Yoshiko Jean, born 1929. By the 1940 census, he was listed in Fresno as a professional photographer. His wife, Mitsu, was a homemaker, but also a skilled seamstress who attended a sewing finishing school in Fresno.

The The Frank Kamiyama Photo Studio was located upstairs in a two-story building in Fresno’s downtown Chinatown, and included a changing room and darkroom in addition to the main photo studio outfitted with backdrops, lights, props, and a professional Kodak camera. Among the studio’s specialities were Kamiyama offered large format portraits of both Japanese American and non-Japanese families patrons large format pictures and panoramic a sgroup shots of community gatherings, such as the Buddhist temple Hanamatsuri attendees, kenjin-kai picnics, and Japanese American Citizens League conferencess. He also shot quality portraits of a wide range offrequently documented community members events including such as weddings and funerals, parade participants, stage shows, theatrical performers, and celebratory dinners,, Japanese American Citizens League conventions, and Buddhist sangha members. He also photographed an array of sports portraits, from Japanese American football, women’s basketball, baseball, and kendo and sumo tournaments. Kamiyama’s photograph of Japanese American All-Star baseball players Johnny Nakagawa, Kenichi Zenimura, and Harvey Iwata with “Babe Ruth” Lou Gehrig in 1927 has been exhibited internationally and featured on the covers of several books.

He was also friends with Issei photographer George Mioya Hishida, from Fukushima, Japan, who also had a thriving photography business, “George Photography Studio” in pre-war Fresno.  

Throughout the 1930s, Kamiyama exhibited his photographs nationally and internationally. He participated in the XXIXe (30th29th) Salon International D’art pPhotographique in Paris, hosted by the Sociētē _FranciaseSociété française de pPhotographier et de cCinéēmatographie in 1935, the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, the 1939 New York World’s Fair, the U.S. National Museum in Washington DC (through the Arlington Camera Club), the Japanese Camera Club of San Francisco exhibit at the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, and at the Chicago Camera Club numerous times. One of Kamiyama’s photos was chosen by the British Journal Photographic Almanac of 1939 “as one of the best photographs submitted by cameramen from the United States,” which was then included in the International Photographic Salon of Japan. In 1938, he was presented with a diploma from the Associated Photographers of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valleys.

World War II Internment and Incarceration

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor naval station by Imperial Japan, his profession as a photographer, his role as secretary of the Fresno Japanese Association, previous sponsorship of the Fresno Japanese language school, and because he sent $5,000 to his parents in Japan put Kamiyama under suspicion for espionage. He was arrested by the a special agent from Federal Bureau of Investigation, an officer from the Fresno Police Department, and an agent of military intelligence, on March 27, 1942. On the day of his arrest, the FBI found three small photographic negatives in his possession of “hydro-electric transmitters, an industrial plant, and a lighthouse that Kamiyama claimed were given to him by enemy alien Issei Toyojiro Inaki, who was also apprehended and detained. According to his FBI report, One month earlier, a local informant who ran a photography supply store in Fresno made a delivery to Kamiyama’s studio in February and discovered the films, but was “shoved aside by a rather heavy set Japanese man, who appeared out of somewhere on his left” when he tried to get a closer look at the photos. [4] HisThe FBI report also claimed that agents seized aAn additional 8400 feet of 8 4 mm motion picture film and a film projector was also seized, and later reviewed by the FBI, revealing footage of dams, railroads, oil derricks, bridges, various shots of airplanes and pictures of Japanese pilots, as well as boats prominently showing the Japanese national flag. [5] He was first placed in custody of the Immigration and 5 Naturalization Service at the Fresno County Jail, then interned by the Immigration and Naturalization Service at Angel Island near San Francisco, and Sharp Park, in San Mateo, California through out spring 1942. [6] That summer, he was briefly interned at Ft. 6 McDowell, California, and then transferred to the Lordsburg internment camp in Santa Fe, New Mexico. At Lordsburg, he was part of “Shu-Yo-Joy Tai Ute Tomo,” a Noh drama chanting group.

Afters soon as Kamiyama was arrested and taken away, his wife Mitsu and four daughters were incarcerated at the Fresno Assembly Center and transferred to the concentration camp at Jerome, Arkansas on November 3, 1942, but immediately moved to the camp at Rohwer a week later, on November 11, 1942. Throughout the fall and winter of 1942, his daughters wrote regularly to the U.S. District Attorney and collected affidavits from Fresno business people (both Japanese American and Caucasian) attesting to Kamiyama’s loyalty to America. Unfortunately, , but in January 1943, the INS rejected Kamiyama’s application for a rehearing in his case and transfer to reunite with his family was denied. Undaunted, his daughters wrote passionate letter from the Rohwer concentration camp to Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the U.S. President, Director of the Justice Department’s Alien Enemy Control Unit Edward J. Ennis, and Attorney General Francis Biddle on behalf of her father, begging for his release in November 1943. [7]

On December 8, 1943, Kamiyama was granted another hearing and finally permitted to join his family at the Rohwer, Arkansas concentration camp on March 17, 1944. His second eldest daughter Keiko, left camp on November 9, 1944 for Elgin, Illinois, followed by Hiroko, who left on August 23, 1945, bound for Toledo, Ohio. The remaining family left Rohwer on September 7, 1945 and returned to Fresno, where they initially stayed at a temporary hostel set up at the Fresno Buddhist Church. According to his granddaughter Carol, “My mother said that he was so scared that his black hair turned white in that one year. He spoke very little English so I imagine the interrogation sessions were quite frightening for him.” [8]

Post-war Legacy

After the war, Kamiyama continued to chronicle the lives of Central Valley families, photographing hundreds of families and documenting annual community events. He purchased a home on Pottle Avenue under the name of his Nisei daughters names, and converted the home’s detached garage into a darkroom. [9] He had a lifelong passion for fishing and 9 baseball, and was regarded for his sense of humor and generosity with the Fresno community. [10]

He died on January 1, 1974 at age 88 after residing in Fresno for 55 years. [11]

In 2000, Kamiyama’s original Kodak camera was donated to the Japanese American National Museum by his daughter, Hiroko Tsudama, who lived in Fresno for the majority of her life. A collection of home movies filmed by Frank Kamiyama in Rohwer, Arkansas were also donated to JANM.

Authored by Patricia Wakida

For More Information

[Home Movies of Rohwer / circa 1944 – 1945] Frank Kamiyama, Japanese American National Museum, 2001.71.1

[Home Movies of Rohwer / circa 1944 – 1945] Frank Kamiyama, Japanese American National Museum,2001.71.2

Shirakawa, Brad. The Japanese Americans of Fresno County: Everyone has a Frank Kamiyama Portrait, 2019.


  1. THE FOCUS, Vol. XII, October 1936, No. 10. Prepared and Published Monthly in the Interest of Professional Photography by HiRSCH & Kaye, 239 Grant Avenue, San Francisco.
  2. THE FOCUS, Vol. XII, October 1936, No. 10. Prepared and Published Monthly in the Interest of Professional Photography by HiRSCH & Kaye, 239 Grant Avenue, San Francisco.
  3. Mitsu later introduced her sister Saki to Frank’s brother, Genzaburo, who got married and settled in Los Angeles, though Genzaburo later adopted the surname “Koyama,” instead of Kamiyama, using the same kanji but a different pronunciation. Email interview with Carol and Judy Nakaso, May 11, 2024.
  4. Federal Bureau of Investigation Internal Security- J Alien Enemy Control report of Urasaburo Frank Kamiyama, with alias Frank Kamiayama report, by H.C. Cook, April 8, 1942.
  5. Federal Bureau of Investigation Internal Security- J Alien Enemy Control report of Urasaburo Frank Kamiyama, with alias Frank Kamiayama report, by H.C. Cook, April 8, 1942.
  6. Department of Justice Alien Enemy Hearing Board, Northern District of California In the Matter of the Detention of Usaburo (sic) Frank Kamiyama. April 10, 1942.
  7. Letter to Eleanor Roosevelt from Kayko Kamiyama, November 8, 1942. Letter to Ennis from Nobuko Kamiyama, November 20, 1942. Letter to Francis Biddle from Nobuko Kamiyama, November 26, 1942.
  8. Email interview with Judy Nakaso, May 11, 2024.
  9. Interview with Carol and Judy Nakaso, May 18, 2024.
  10. THE FOCUS, Vol. XII, October 1936, No. 10. Prepared and Published Monthly in the Interest of Professional Photography by HiRSCH & Kaye, 239 Grant Avenue, San Francisco.
  11. Frank Kamiyama obituary, Fresno Bee, January 3, 1974.

Last updated June 23, 2024, 12:20 a.m..