How the Artist Koho Yamamoto Spends Her Sundays

How the Artist Koho Yamamoto Spends Her Sundays

“People keep making me older every day,” said Masako Yamamoto, who is 101. “I don’t remember my age anymore, so I’m surprised when people say how old I am.”

Ms. Yamamoto is an artist, poet, calligrapher and teacher who ran the Koho School of Sumi-E, on the corner of Macdougal and Houston Streets in Manhattan, from the mid-1970s until it closed in 2010. (Sumi-e is a Japanese style of black ink painting.)

Born in San Jose, Calif., and raised there and in Japan, Ms. Yamamoto was incarcerated in three internment camps for Japanese Americans during World War II: the Tanforan Assembly Center in San Bruno, Calif.; the Topaz Relocation Center near Delta, Utah; and the Tule Lake Segregation Center in Newell, Calif.

In Topaz, she learned about art and calligraphy from the Japanese American painter Chiura Obata, who gave Ms. Yamamoto her artist name, Koho.

“We had so much time in the camps, the artists made good use of it,” she said.

When the war was over, Ms. Yamamoto said, she was given a bus ticket to travel to any location she wanted. She chose New York.

Her work has been shown most recently at the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum and at the Leonovich Gallery. After living in Greenwich Village for about five decades, Ms. Yamamoto moved to a nursing home in Forest Hills, Queens, last winter.

GOOD SLEEPER I wake up on Sundays around 9:30 or 10 a.m. I sleep pretty well. There was a time when I used to think too much late at night, like my mind was working too much. Then, I decided to forget about it and let things go.

ORDINARY MORNING I wash my face, put on clothes — you know, the ordinary things. I’m not too hungry in the morning, so I have toast and coffee. Sometimes I’ll eat some eggs. I forget I have a roommate sometimes because she is often gone, visiting her boyfriend.

SEEKING NICE BOYFRIEND Then I hang out in the lobby because it’s good to get out. There are always people there, greeting each other, talking. Everyone is cheerful. Maybe I’ll find a rich old man in the lobby someday. I’m still looking for a nice boyfriend.

BIG READER I used to be book crazy; all I did was read, read, read. My father once ran a countertop restaurant, and he would always scold me because I had a book in my hand and I wouldn’t help out. Once, he threw a book I was reading into the trash. My father was a poet and a calligrapher who sometimes had a temper.

ARTISTIC FREEDOM I was grateful to learn about art while in Topaz. We used to say how lucky we were because there was so much free time. We told ourselves it was a wonderful time to be an artist because, in the outside world, you would need to work. Sensei Obata didn’t pamper or allow you to get too close, but I admired him.

A SERIOUS LIFE I was part of the Topaz Poppy Poetry Club, where I wrote tanka [short Japanese poems]. I once wrote: “Sometimes I wish I could jump into the turmoil of humanity and live life seriously.”

THE PAINTER’S MIND On occasion, people come to visit. Some of my students like to take a class, so I get to teach again. Everyone starts by only painting bamboo. I tell them to make their minds into nothingness. Your brush strokes can be weak or strong. You learn to paint quickly and are allowed to make many mistakes.

FRESH AIR The courtyard is a good place to get fresh air. Sometimes I see a friend; sometimes I eat a snack outside. Occasionally, I take a short walk with a visitor. I’m still pretty strong, probably from all the stairs I used to climb while living in a fourth-floor walk-up.

FADING MEMORIES I’m starting to forget things. I have been told I spontaneously sing songs and put on a performance, but I don’t remember. I hope I can retain some of my knowledge.

GAME TIME Sometimes I participate in an afternoon activity, like bingo. I forget how to play, but once I sit down, someone shows me how.

EARLY TO BED At night, I don’t watch TV or read books anymore. Around 10 p.m., which used to be very early for me, I say, “That’s enough,” and go to bed. Sleep is good — it restarts your clock.

Sunday Routine readers can follow Koho Yamamoto on Instagram at @kohoyamamoto.