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Japanese-American Exclusion Memorial dedication Aug. 6
There were early signs, when the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial project was just on idea, indicating to those involved that their goal may be momentous.
“When people learned of our plans for the Eagledale site,” said Clarence Moriwaki, who eventually became the project’s director, “they would come and say, ‘Take me there, I must see it.’ We would explain that there was nothing there but a concrete road and a pump house. It didn’t matter, so we were giving tours of nothing, really, just showing them where it had happened.”
The pier serving the ferries that had transported 227 Japanese Americans to Seattle and ensuing incarceration on March 30, 1942, had long been torn down. All that remained was the ground they traveled and memories of an irrevocable injustice beginning that day on a remote island when Executive Order 9066 was first carried out.
There will be a dedication ceremony Saturday morning for perhaps the most symbolic structure of the memorial. The 227-foot-long wooden wall (with its 227 names) stretches down to where a 150-foot long pier will be built as a symbol of the 150 Japanese Americans who returned to the island at the end of World War II.
The event will feature a ribbon-cutting ceremony and speeches by islanders, including Rep. Jay Inslee, who persevered for more than a decade to get the structure built.
Most of all, there will be neighbors thanking neighbors for accomplishing what many thought was an impossible task, and “for having such big hearts,” as Moriwaki put it.
A ceremonial dedication for the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial is set for 10-11:30 a.m. Aug. 6 at the site. About 40 of the remaining 95 survivors are expected to attend. About 30 of them will be seeing the wall for the first time. To learn more, visit www.bijac.org.
A community effort
He and many others have said “it couldn’t have happened” without the efforts of the greater community, which initially planted the seed of the project in 1999.
The Bainbridge Island/North Kitsap Interfaith Council approached the island’s Japanese American community with the thought of creating some kind of memorial emblematic of what had happened here.
“I’d just moved back from Seattle,” said Lilly Kitamoto Kodame, who was 7 years old when she left the island in 1942 bound for Manzanar, Calif., “and they were talking about a plaque (at the ferry terminal) or something like that. When it got bigger, I was skeptical that they would be able to pull it off. Now, just to see the actual wall makes me shiver. It’s important to know that it’s about the whole island, and that says a lot about this community.”
To Kodame, who will attend the ceremony, there is a lasting, 69-year-old memory tied to the wall and the long, narrow walkway that is literally the same path traveled by the evacuees who were forced to leave their homes.
An idea evolves
Both the wall and walkway were designed by Seattle architect JohnPaul Jones, but the memorial went through several revisions before it evolved into what it is today. Jones spent much time with many local Japanese Americans, listening to their experiences and then embodying those feelings in his work.
Early on, the memorial idea transformed from a modest plaque to a 1,000-foot-long wall stretching from the top of Taylor Avenue to the waterfront in an effort to symbolize the length of the Japanese Americans’ journey during the war. But for many reasons that idea wasn’t going to float, and the memorial committee, which was steered early on by three pillars of the Japanese American community – Junkoh Harui and Jerry and Don Nakata – eventually presented three alternatives to the island’s Metropolitan Park & Recreation District for public comment.
That’s when the first opposition appeared from people who believed internment of the Japanese Americans by President Franklin Roosevelt was justified. They objected to the park district’s action, which led to some 30 to 40 messages opposing the project as a boondoggle, according to Moriwaki.
“Basically, the letters were from racists and people who were history revisionists,” said Moriwaki, whose role had grown as the Nakatas and Harui passed the baton as they grew older.
“So I started putting out mass emails asking for comments,” he said. “We got responses from hundreds of people locally and more than a thousand from all over the country in two or three days. And that’s without Facebook. It was really heartwarming, and at the end it, 98 percent of them were positive.”
The project, which Moriwaki said cost just under $1 million, received $183,000 from the National Park Service after the Bainbridge memorial became a satellite of the Minidoka National Historic Site in Idaho, which is where most of the island’s evacuees lived out their incarceration.
“We really have to thank Jay Inslee for that because to get the proposed resolution,” said Moriwaki, “we needed approval from the park district, the city, the historic museum, Kitsap County, and eventually the State Legislature. It was amazing.”
As was the trip, he reminisced.
Coming full circle
“Here we are, with this dramatic, powerful, beautiful wall symbolizing the journey of island’s Japanese American citizens and the community as a whole,” Moriwaki said. “Together, we made something beautiful out of a tragedy, one of guilt and shame and blame. But the memorial is not about that. It’s about making sure we learn from that, as America has. You know, there have been five presidents, beginning with President Ronald Reagan, who publicly apologized for what happened. It says a lot about this country... nidoto nai yoni... let it not happen again.”
Moriwaki said it was accidental that the ceremony will be held on Aug. 6, which was the day in 1945 when Hiroshima was struck by a nuclear bomb.
“It’s also the day when we have our biennial reunion at Pritchard Park and that’s been scheduled for a long time,” he said. “We thought we’d put the picnic and the ceremony together this year. But it’s kind of circuitous in a way. That was a horrific act, of course, but it helped end the war and helped bring us and other Americans home. So there are mixed emotions. But it works for our narrative, too... let it not happen again.”