Monday, May 20, 2024

Comics: John Yakata, Letterer

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

John Yakata was born Osamu Yakata on June 20, 1923, in Winters, California, according to his World War II draft card. His Social Security application said his parents were Masuichi Yakata and Misao Hamanaka. 

At some point, Yakata went to Japan and lived with his extended family. On April 9, 1938, Yakata was aboard the steamship Chichibu Maru when it departed Kobe, Japan. He arrived in the port of Los Angeles on April 27. The passenger list said he had been living with his paternal grandmother, Tsuruya Yakata, at Yasumimura, Wakayama-ken, Japan. Yakata’s mother paid for his passage. Her address was 4055 Sequoia Street in Los Angeles. 

The same address was recorded in the 1940 United States Census, however the family name was Kayokata (lines 5-7). Yakata’s father was the proprietor of a retail produce business. 

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 that authorized military commanders to exclude civilians from military areas. The West Coast had been divided into military zones

On March 29, 1942, General DeWitt issued Public Proclamation No. 4, which began the forced evacuation and detention of Japanese-American West Coast residents on a 48-hour notice. 

Over the next six months, approximately 122,000 men, women, and children were forcibly sent to “assembly centers.” Next, they were moved again to internment camps. Ten sites were in remote areas: Heart Mountain, Wyoming; Tule Lake and Manzanar, California; Topaz, Utah; Poston and Gila River, Arizona; Granada, Colorado; Minidoka, Idaho; and Jerome and Rowher, Arkansas.

On June 30, 1942, Yakata signed his World War II draft card. He was described as five feet seven inches, 132 pounds, with brown eyes and black hair. His residence was in Winters but he and his parents had been sent to the Merced Assembly Center. Yakata listed the Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA) as his employer. 

Yakata and his parents (Kayokata, Family Number 30840) were relocated to internment Camp Amache in Granada, Colorado. Yakata’s name was recorded as Osamu Yukata Kayokata on the roster dated February 1, 1943. 

In December 1944, the internment camps began closing. An accounting roster, dated December 31, 1944, for Granada listed Yakata’s parents, Yakata and his wife, Helen Kusaba on numbers 3021 to 3024. The exact date of their release is not yet known. Camp Amache was closed on October 15, 1945.

At some point, Yakata and his wife moved to New York City where he found work as a letterer at the Biro-Wood Studio. The Comic Book Makers (2003) printed a Biro-Wood Studio Christmas Card, circa 1949, with portraits of Yakata, Min Matsuda and Irving Watanabe

The Christian Science Monitor, February 24, 1949, reported a musician with the same name as Yakata. 
Museum Lecture-Concert
Japanese art and music will be the theme of the correlated lecture and concert program at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts Sunday afternoon. Robert Treat Paine, Jr., will give an illustrated lecture on Japanese Nature Paintings at 3 o’clock in the main lecture hall. Mrs. Chiyo Kikuchi and John Osamu Yakata—using Japanese instruments, the koto and the shakuhachi—will give a concert of Japanese music at 4 o’clock in the Tapestry Gallery. Lecture and concert will be open free to the public.
According to the 1950 census, Yakata (line 4), his wife and son, Larry, were Manhattan residents at 707 Amsterdam Avenue. Also staying with them were his brother- and sister-in-law, Henry and Yae Kusaba. Yakata was a letterer for a wholesale magazine company. It’s not known how long Yakata was a letterer. 

The same census address was in 1957 and 1959 New York City telephone directories. 

Yakata was also a photographer. His name was listed in a 1959 issue of U.S. Camera for its $30,000 contest: “John Yakata, 707 Amsterdam Ave., N. Y. 25, N. Y.” Flower Arranging by Number (1962) included the following acknowledgment. 
The publishers wish to thank John Yakata who photographed the flower arrangement pictured on the jacket. 
The book was co-authored by Shizu Matsuda, aka Min Matsuda, who also did the illustrations.

At some point Yakata moved to 150 West 95th Street. 

The Board of Elections in the City of New York, December 31, 1964, published lists of Manhattan voters. Yakata and his wife were Democrats. 

Yakata passed away on January 17, 1991, in New York City. The date of his wife’s passing is not known. His sons, Larry and Brian, live in New York.

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