Kitaro Uetsuji

Name Kitaro Uetsuji
Born January 17 1899
Birth Location Japan
Generational Identifier


Issei artist Kitaro Uetsuji (aka Uetsugi or Uetsuzi) was an accomplished oil and watercolor painter and illustrator who studied at Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles and exhibited his work prewar to critical acclaim.

Although Uetsuji's birthplace is unknown, immigration records show that he came to the United States from Southern Honshu, Japan, in 1913. He immediately settled in Los Angeles, California, and was actively exhibiting his watercolor and oil paintings and illustrations by the 1920s and 1930s. From 1924-27, he enrolled at the Otis Art Institute of the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art, studying design and commercial art, in the company of fellow Japanese American artists Hideo Date and Benji Okubo . An article in the Los Angeles Times from June 19, 1926 reported "Uetsugi" as the recipient of a Bivouac Art Club prize of $25. [1] According to an article in the Rafu Shimpo newspaper from 1927, he had also studied art in Japan, stating that "he enrolled at the Otis Art Institute three years ago with the hopes of learning the American methods in order to combine the two vastly different techniques (Occidental and Oriental). That he has met with much success is indicated by the fact that he has won several prizes at the Institute and is rapidly winning recognition." [2] He exhibited his painting, "The Letter," in the 1926 Modern Art Workers show held at the Los Angeles Museum, which was mentioned in a 1930 article in the Los Angeles Times as "amusing" and "One of the few that carries on in the Japanese manner." [3] In 1929, he was included in an exhibit of twenty-four Japanese artists (sponsored by the Japanese-American Daily News ) held at 219 North San Pedro Street, which was again reviewed in the Los Angeles Times , which proclaimed, "The best things in the exhibition deserve to be shown to a wider audience at the Los Angeles Museum and we confidently predict such a showing." [4] In 1930, Uetsuji's paintings were included in the Second Annual Japanese Artists of Los Angeles show, held in Little Tokyo, which included other Issei artists Tokio Ueyama , Torajiro Watanabe, Hideo Date, and Yotoku Miyagi. [5]

Following the passage of Executive Order 9066 , which authorized the mass incarceration of all Japanese living on the West Coast, Uetsuji was incarcerated at Manzanar in California. War Relocation Authority records list him as a widower and his profession as a decorator and window dresser. While in camp, he taught art classes at Manzanar's Art Institute, and in August 1942, helped organize a student exhibition that included woodcraft, wood etchings, pencil sketches and twenty-two art posters, painted by his students. [6] Uetsuji also exhibited a series of over one hundred humorous pictures, depicting the everyday life of Manzanar residents, which was reported in the Manzanar Free Press as "Contradicting the fallacy that the Japanese are devoid of humor." The article describes the exhibit, which was displayed in various mess halls as "enough to tickle anyone's funny bone. There is a caricature of the typical nisei damsel with a 'daikon ashi.' Scenes showing embarrassing shower room sights, intimate barrack room conditions, children's playground activities, are among others depicted in the pictures." [7]

According to the Tule Lake Final Accountability Roster , Uetsuji entered Tule Lake in February 1944 and returned to Japan on December 27, 1945. There are no records that indicate his whereabouts after the war, and his death date and location are also unknown. Other than the painting of Merritt Park that is in the Manzanar National Historic Site collection, it is unclear if any of his paintings still exist in the U.S. [8]

Authored by Patricia Wakida

For More Information

Chang, Gordon H., Mark Dean Johnson, and Paul J. Karlstrom, editors. Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970 . Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2008.


  1. Students in Art School Show Work," Los Angeles Times , June 19, 1926, 7.
  2. "Japanese Wins Many Prizes at Art School," Rafu Shimpo , Feb. 21, 1927.
  3. "City's Japanese Show Art." Los Angeles Times , Dec. 29, 1929, 9.
  4. "Art Talent Among the Local Japanese," Los Angeles Times , Dec. 21, 1930. 15.
  5. Gordon H. Chang, Mark Dean Johnson, and Paul J. Karlstrom, editors, Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2008), 494.
  6. "Art Exhibit in Block 2 Office," Manzanar Free Press , Aug. 5, 1942, 2.
  7. "Local Artists Show Humor in Sketches," Manzanar Free Press , Mar. 24, 1943. 5.
  8. "Merritt Park" painting by K. Uetsuzi, 1943, .

Last updated July 27, 2022, 2:34 p.m..