Strength, Soul, and Dignity: The Art of Noe Yamabe

Nobuhiko “Noe” Yamabe is a second-generation Japanese American born in Los Angeles. As art director and illustrator for the Akron Stores, he developed his distinctive pen and ink technique which is in sharp contrast to his bold sumi-e designs.

Yamabe is well known for his designs depicting the internment camps where 120,000 Japanese Americans were interned during World War II. The images express the stark scenes of camp life and immortalize the names and desolate locations of the camps where guard towers, barbed-wire fences and black tar-paper barracks were familiar sights.

With simplicity and boldness, his camp-themed designs evoke the deep emotional strength, soul and dignity of the Japanese Americans who were forcibly interned. This area of work is personally meaningful as it is influenced by his own experience as a child. His father, Reverend Shigeo Yamabe, was a Buddhist minister arrested by the FBI without cause the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked. Yamabe was sent with his mother and sister to the Gila River internment camp located in the desert of Arizona. A year later, his father was released and rejoined them, but their reunion was short-lived.

“Because of the harsh camp life and poor hospital conditions, my mother died in Gila at the age of 38,” Yamabe recalls. Talented and resilient, Yamabe eventually overcame the family tragedy and years of difficulty and carved out a special niche for himself as an artist. His works have been widely seen and admired, and now thanks to exposure on the Internet, are gaining visibility to even greater audiences around the globe.

Yamabe’s creations also include apparel bearing lighthearted images of “Samurai Golfers” and “Samurai Fishermen”—deftly blending his gracefully simple artistic style with a gently whimsical touch.

Throughout all of Yamabe’s work—serious or humorous—one thing remains consistent. Whether on paper or cloth, his artistry leaves a truly indelible impression.

November 2002

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