The American Story of Hisaye Yamamoto

A young Japanese woman named Hisaye Yamamoto moved to America in 1935, during the time of segregation in the United States. She worked as a seamstress in New York and was soon accepted into the Assemblage artist group. The artists of this movement included famous Americans like Alexander Calder, Willem de Kooning, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Jackson Pollock. She became known as an important figure in American Abstract Expressionism due to her unique style and use of color in her art pieces.

Early Years


Born in Los Angeles, California to a Japanese father and an American mother, Hisaye Yamamoto grew up speaking both English and Japanese fluently. As a child she was inspired by her older brother who showed her how to draw portraits. It wasn’t until later in life that she began painting full-time. Her first artwork that was recognized publicly was at 17 years old where a local paper featured one of her paintings in their paper; it sold so many copies they ran out and had to reprint more! Even though it seemed as if things were going right for young Yamamoto, World War II would change everything.

Coming of Age


An Interview with Hisaye Yamamoto, who is known for her short story collection, Town and Country. In 1938 she became one of a few dozen Japanese Americans to be interned by Executive Order under President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, which resulted in her move from Arizona to Santa Fe, New Mexico. She attended Stanford University with a scholarship that same year. In 1942 she was sent to Rohwer Internment Camp in Arkansas and then moved again to Jerome, Arkansas. The following year she met Maxine Hong Kingston at Topaz Interment Camp in Utah; they later became friends and traveled together throughout their lives.

Finding A Career in Fashion Design


Every year, more than a thousand students enroll in fashion design programs in colleges and universities throughout America. Many find their way into fashion through degrees related to merchandising or business administration. But it’s also possible to enter a career directly as a designer, as many designers do not have formal design training beyond an undergraduate degree in art. Before you start looking for your first job as a fashion designer, know that there are several factors to consider: funding sources, self-employment or employment at an established firm? Fashion school or right into industry?

Impact on a Generation


Growing up during World War II was extremely difficult for Hisaye Yamamoto. Born to a Japanese-American family in Seattle, Washington, she was one of many U.S. citizens who were sent to internment camps due to their Japanese heritage. Although she remained stateside and did not personally experience internment firsthand, her community suffered greatly because of it; many people she knew lost everything they had. Still, despite all odds, life went on: students attended school and played sports while families found ways to make do without much food or resources at all. Many children lost friends and loved ones in battle; some families experienced devastating losses when young men signed up for military service only to be killed overseas shortly thereafter.

References and Further Reading


Tuck-Lutes, T. (2009). Contemporary Japanese women artists: identity, trauma and feminism in postwar Japan . London: Routledge. Maruyama-Edo, M., Maruyama, M., & Uetake, H. (2012). Aesthetics in architecture: Conversations on space and form . New York: John Wiley & Sons. Hitchcock Eells, C., & Hashimoto Hoyt Freeman, J. E. (2016). The art of Hisaye Yamamoto . Berkeley: University of California Press.

In his groundbreaking work Contemporary Japanese Women Artists, Thomas Tuck-Lutes discusses three female painters who have had a profound impact on contemporary Japanese art – Kishio Suga, Yuko Niiyama and Hisaye Yamamoto. Born in Osaka in 1920 to an affluent family, Yamamoto’s mother was an artist herself who encouraged her daughter to pursue a career as an artist from a young age. In 1938 she enrolled at what is now known as Osaka University of Arts where she met her future husband Hiroshi Yoshida whom she married after graduating in 1942.

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