Nancy Matsumoto

Nancy Matsumoto is a freelance writer and editor who covers agroecology, food and drink, the arts, and Japanese and Japanese American culture. She has been a contributor toThe Wall Street Journal, Time, People, The Toronto Globe and Mail, Civil Eats, NPR’s The Salt, and the online Densho Encyclopedia of the Japanese American Incarceration, among other publications. Her two forthcoming books are: Rice, Water, Earth, about artisanal Japanese sake from Tuttle, and By the Shore of Lake Michigan, an English-language translation of Japanese tanka poetry written by her grandparents, from UCLA’s Asian American Studies Press. You can follow her blog “Rice, Water, Earth: Notes on Sake” here

Twitter/Instagram: @nancymatsumoto

Updated April 2021

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Documenting Manzanar - Part 9 of 18 (Ansel Adams)

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Walking a Fine Line 

In Born Free and Equal, Adams struggled to walk a fine line between advocating for the imprisoned Japanese while not leaving himself vulnerable to charges of disloyalty. The Nisei, too, walked that line, balancing hurt and anger with a desire for approval from the country where most of them had been born. Born Free and Equal opens with a quote from the 14th Amendment of the Constitution guaranteeing all citizens of the United States the right to life, liberty, property and equal protection under the law. This is followed immediately by …

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Partying Like a Nikkei Widow or Widower - Part 2

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As musical director Harry Inao cued up a recording of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” (“Background music provided by NWG**” as the program described it) the noise level in the room rose and our main courses of baked Atlantic salmon with hollandaise sauce and prime rib were placed before us. Itamura, who ordered the salmon, remarked, “I could use some shoyu with this, and some oroshi.”

The discussion turned to the two Obon Festivals going on that weekend. One of our tablemates told us that while Zenshuji had “better and more interesting” food, the bingo …

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Documenting Manzanar - Part 8 of 18 (Ansel Adams)

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Adams, Paul Strand, and the Nisei Point of View

Hammond also defended Adams’s style against critics who found his photographs lacking in pathos or without political context. Karin Becker Ohrn, for example, in 1977 favorably contrasted Lange’s photos of concentration camp prisoners, who appeared “less controlled even slightly uncomfortable,” to Adams’s, which she deemed more “formulaic.” Hammond found a rationale for Adams’s close-up portraits, many of which are shot outdoors or against the open sky or a non-descript background:


Most forms of social documentary drew public attention by portraying their human subjects in a state of …

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Partying Like a Nikkei Widow or Widower - Part 1

On a hot sunny recent Saturday, The Nikkei Widowed Group of Los Angeles held its thirty-second annual installation luncheon. About 120 smartly dressed Nisei members, both widows and widowers, filled the VIP room of the Quiet Cannon Restaurant in Montebello, California for an annual ritual that takes hours of planning and countless board and committee meetings.


The planning showed; the event unfurled with military precision. From 11 to 11:50 a.m., members—most in their 70s and 80s—and guests checked in at the registration table and obtained name tags, just as the program said it would. When my sister, brother and …

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Documenting Manzanar - Part 7 of 18 (Ansel Adams)

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Born Free and Equal: Differing Interpretations

In the late 1970s three graduate students in the UCLA Fine Arts Program created an exhibition and book called “Two Views of Manzanar,” which included photographs by Adams and Miyatake. Graham Howe, who along with Patrick Nagatani and Scott Rankin, opened the show at UCLA’s Frederick S. Wight Gallery in October 1977, praised Adams’s work at Manzanar in an interview as “his most compassionate body of work.”

Not everyone viewed Adams in such a heroic light, though. The same year that the “Two Views of Manzanar” exhibit was mounted, …

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