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Matsumoto Designs Barbed Wire Remembrance

Bob Matsumoto with his design “Remembrance,” a tribute to Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II. Posters and T-shirt are on sale at the Japanese American National Museum store.



It’s a tribute for the incarceration

of 120,000 Japanese Americans

It’s a symbol of the loss of freedom and dignity we suffered

It’s a bold reminder of our history.

Never to be forgotten.

Bob Matsumoto’s design “Remembrance” is stark and eye-catching. Three coils of barbed wire — colored red, white and blue — against a stark black backdrop. The names of the 10 war relocation centers are inscribed in san serif type.

The award-winning advertising creative director had a distinguished career working on ad campaigns for clients from American Airlines to Volkswagen. His work is featured in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, but his latest project “Remembrance” hits much closer to home.

Matsumoto developed the powerful image while designing a book cover for a collection of “then and now” photos of Japanese Americans who were interned in the camps.

“I created this image to honor the steadfast loyalty of Japanese Americans to America,” said Matsumoto, “even though we were interned by our own government. It’s a symbol of the loss of freedom and dignity we suffered and a bold reminder of the history we can never forget.”

Matsumoto grew up poor in Sacramento and was incarcerated with his family at the Manzanar concentration camp at age five.

His father, who owned the Davis Hiway Market, was among a group of Japanese American merchants to place an ad in the local newspaper shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, that proclaimed, “Yes We Are Americans.”

“He carried that ad to the gates of Manzanar,” Matsumoto said, in an interview with The Rafu Shimpo.

Japanese American merchants, including Matsumoto’s father, took out this ad in the Sacramento Union on Jan. 18, 1942.

Matsumoto went on to serve in the U.S. Navy and had an apprenticeship in the art department of the Sacramento television station KCRA. An extraordinary act of kindness and generosity changed his life and inspired him to help others.

Bob Kelly, a KCRA executive, saw something in Matsumoto and offered to finance his education, interest free, to attend the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Matsumoto said the only conditions Kelly placed upon him was that he pay him back “every nickel,” and that he help others in need.

Matsumoto went on to join the New York advertising firm Doyle Dane Bernbach, where he produced iconic advertising campaigns for Jack in the Box and Avis, among others. Later, he became a professor at Art Center where he mentored the careers of students who would go on to rise through the ranks in the advertising industry.

In the Japanese American community, he was among a committee whose work can be seen in the encore presentation of “Kokoro: The Lost Story of Sacramento’s Japantown,” now on display at the California Museum through March 11.

“The exhibit was to bring awareness to our community that we lost. The merchants, the pool halls, the hangouts, the fish markets, it was a city within a city,” he said.

In Little Tokyo, Matsumoto’s work is featured in posters and T-shirts on sale at the Japanese American National Museum. He will be donating a portion of his proceeds to the Go For Broke National Education Fund.

“Those guys joined up for the 442nd and a lot of those guys never came back. The guys that came back, they were awarded the G.I. Bill, for the first time, many of that generation were able to go to college and they became professional people, with dreams beyond barbed wire,” Matsumoto said.

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