The following is Part I of a two-part essay that was previously published on the Spotlights blog of the The North American Coordinating Council on Japanese Library Resources (NCC). It was co-written by Jeremy Joseph (OSU Class of 2024) and Japanese Studies Librarian, Dr. Ann Marie Davis. Note: To conform with library collection titles, all Japanese names in this article follow Western conventions with given names appearing first and family names last.
Figure 1. The cover page of Sugamo Life, a sketch book containing 65 rough cartoons by convicted war criminal Fumio Fujiki. The original art cover verso has a brief handwritten description identifying the images as rough sketches from Sugamo Prison sent by request to the U.S. Department of State. Watercolor and ink, 20 × 28 cm. Fumio Fujiki and Tokio Tobita collection, The Ohio State University, Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum; SPEC.CGA.SUG.2012
Emblematic of rare and distinctive manga collection at OSU is the Fumio Fujiki and Tokio Tobita Collection, held at the University Libraries’ Billy Ireland Cartoon & Library Museum (BICLM). Stored in a full-size document box (measuring 5 inches in width), the collection is relatively small, yet offers a seismic punch. Its many files of sketches and cartoons offer first hand testimony to the daily experiences of roughly 2,000 alleged and convicted war criminals incarcerated at Sugamo Prison (巣鴨拘置所 Sugamo Kōchiso) after World War II. The sketches also reveal everyday interactions between Japanese Prisoners of War and American guards during the post-war occupation era (1945-52). The act of producing such art was, in itself, a significant gesture that not only reduced the anxieties of prison life but also served as a vehicle for meaningful exchanges between the Japanese inmates and American GIs running the prison.
Sugamo Prison History and the Post-War Occupation
Sugamo Prison was the main prison for Japanese war criminal suspects and convicts after World War II. Located in northwest Tokyo, it was about a ten-minute walk east of present-day Ikebukuro Railway Station and designed as a modern, state-of-the-art facility modeled after European prisons at the turn of the 20th century. By the 1930s, it gained notoriety as an incarceration facility for political prisoners including communist party members and sympathizers. Allied officers, spies and airmen joined the ranks of the incarcerated there in the 1940s.
Figure 2. Artistic rendering of Sugamo Prison. One of 75 original drawings by Fumio Fujiki used in the book Nakiwarai Sugamo nikki (1953) and Sugamo densetsu (1966). Pencil/Paper/Ink, 20 × 28 cm. Fumio Fujiki and Tokio Tobita collection, The Ohio State University, Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum; SPEC.CGA.SUG.2012.
Figure 3. 1949 aerial view of Sugamo Prison with the prison sports field visible in front and baseball diamond visible in back. Courtesy of Wikimedia.
When Japan surrendered in 1945, the US Army took control of the prison to hold suspected war criminals in anticipation of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE). Not coincidentally, Sugamo Prison was one of the few sites that remained completely intact despite the destructive US Army Air Force firebombing raids in Tokyo in the 1940s. Following the Tokyo Trials, the prison saw the execution of the seven military leaders, including General Hideki Tojo (東條 英機, Tōjō Hideki), architects of the war who were sentenced to death by hanging for “Class A” war crimes, or “crimes against peace.” The remaining “Class B” and “C” inmates (convicted of “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” respectively) served out their sentences at Sugamo until May 1952. When the Occupation ended, control of the prison was transferred to the Japanese civilian government, and the remaining inmates were eventually pardoned or released on parole. Ultimately in 1962, Sugamo Prison ceased to function, and in the 1970s, it was demolished and replaced by the Sunshine 60 (サンシャイン60, Sanshain rokujū), the then tallest skyscraper in Asia.
Bill Barrette and the Sugamo Project
Throughout the Allied Occupation (1945-52), a total of 2500 American GIs of the Eighth US Army patrolled and guarded Sugamo Prison. Among these, five hundred soldiers were needed at any given time to serve as jailers and guards. Typically 17 to 19 years of age, only young recruits who had never seen active combat were chosen for this post. Upon completing their tours in Asia, many of the American guards felt nostalgic for the unexpected relationships they formed with the war criminals under their care. Buoyed by the rituals of daily life and gift giving, some held onto the prisoners’ handmade gifts and sketches for the rest of their lives, and some corresponded with the inmates for decades. Many shared these cherished mementos with other American veterans at reunions into the early 2000s (Barrette 2013).
The present collection at OSU came into existence through the research of Bill Barrette, an artist from New York and the younger relative of one of Sugamo’s former jailers, George Picard. At a family reunion in the late 1990s, Barrette learned with fascination about Picard’s various keepsakes, which he had saved from the prison for a half a century. Among these objects, Barrette discovered, were several delicate pencil drawings, including portraits and a sketch of a prison cell.
What ensued was dubbed the Sugamo Project, a collaboration in which Bill Barrette, Midori Sato, and Toyota Naurmi began collecting surviving mementos and drawings, mainly at the reunions of military veterans in the US, and from the artists Tokio Tobita and Fumio Fujiki in Japan. As Barrette once said of the Project, these artifacts show “how art and history might benefit from each other… [and the art] deals with issues like the politics of memory — who gets to tell the story and how…” (Wakin, 2004).
Figure 4. One of 65 rough sketches from the “Sugamo Life Sketchbook” by Fumio Fujiki. Text typed and mounted in English reveals the amusement of American guards as they observe Sugamo inmates playing baseball on prison grounds. Pencil on paper, 20.5 × 26.7 cm. Fumio Fujiki and Tokio Tobita collection, The Ohio State University, Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum; SPEC.CGA.SUG.2012.
Eventually, enough Sugamo-related research accumulated to result in several exhibitions. The third and final exhibition, “Encounters: Sugamo Prison 1945-52; The American Occupation of Japan and Memories of the Asia Pacific War,” was held in April 2003 at the East Asian Library at Princeton University. The exhibit was followed by a 3-day symposium, convened by Martin Collcutt, then Director of East Asian Studies, where scholars and former inhabitants of the prison, including Tobita, appeared and presented papers.
Many of the collected keepsakes, which had been on extended loan from Army veterans, later had to be returned. However, other important materials as well as interviews and research papers came together as a result of the project. Barette’s team recorded extensive videotape footage of the exhibitions and conversations with Tobita, Fujiki, and many of the American soldier collectors of the Sugamo drawings (Powell and Du, 2015). Following Fujiki’s passing in 2004, his widow donated all of her late husband’s materials to the OSU Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum. A former Sugamo prison guard, B. A. “Buck” Langdon, gifted additional Tobita drawings to OSU. Thus, the works of the two most important Sugamo visual artists and the namesakes of the collection were preserved for research and teaching. Since their donation, high resolution images of these materials have been reformatted and are now accessible online via The Ohio State University Libraries’ Digital Collections.
End of Part I. (To continue to Part II, please click here).
References and Further Reading
C-kyū senpan ga suketchishita Sugamo Purizun. (Tokio Tobita, 2011)
“Escaping Sugamo Prison with a no. 2 pencil: the drawings of Japanese war criminal Tobita Tokio.” Visual Studies, Vol. 30, No. 1. (Powell and Du, 2015)
I was defeated / a translation from the Japanese. (Yoshio Kodama, 1951)
Nakiwarai Sugamo nikki. (Fumio Fujiki, 1953).
Sugamo densetsu : manga de tsuzuru Sugamo Purizun to GI. (Fumio Fujiki, 1994)
Sugamo life : prison arts under American occupation, 1945-52. (Bill Barrette, 2013)
Sugamo Prison, Tokyo : an account of the trial and sentencing of Japanese war criminals in 1948, by a U.S. participant. (John L. Ginn, 1992)
Sugamo Purizun : kyōkaishi Hanayama Shinshō to shikei senpan no kiroku (Hirotada Kobayashi, 1999)