Carrying a message

History, healing lie at the heart of Japanese American internment commemoration event March 30 on Bainbridge Island.

What would you carry with you –

if you only had six days to pack a bag for yourself and your family, headed to a remote location, for an unknown period of time?

What would you bring?

Clothes? Warm clothes or rain gear? Your best suit? Would you bring valuables that might be confiscated or stolen, or treasured family photos whose lineage might incriminate you? What about cash, medicine, bedding, towels, make up, a toothbrush, hair dye, books or something to pass the long hours? Who would take care of your beloved pet? Pay your mortgage? Weed your garden?

If you were part of the first group of Japanese Americans forced from their homes on March 30, 1942, like the 227 from Bainbridge Island, you wouldn’t have known where you were headed.

“We could only take what we could carry and I couldn’t fit everything into my suitcase, so I had three layers of clothing on,” Kay Sakai Nakao remembered. “No one told us we’d be going to the desert.”

Lilly Kitamoto Kodama was 7 years old when her family was escorted by Army soldiers to the Eagle Harbor dock where a ferry waited to take them to Seattle. One of her aunt’s suitcases was stuffed to bulging with only cloth diapers for her babies.

If you were a 30-year-old pregnant mother of two, you might have had to carry one of your children, as did Fumiko Hayashida, whose resolute face was captured in the now-famous Seattle Post-Intelligencer photo.

Many women traveled alone with their children since the FBI had raided homes in February, taking fathers into custody.


Yasuji and Mitsuo Suyematsu had six children, and like many Japanese families, had spent the week scrambling to put their affairs in order on the sprawling farm they owned.

“Imagine an Army truck driving up this gravel road,” said Jon Garfunkel, founder and co-director with Katy Curtis of the “Only What We Can Carry Project.”

During last Saturday’s teach-in, he pointed to the east-facing door and asked participants to put themselves in

that situation.

The Suyematsu home is one of seven locations on the island that will be part of “A Day of History, Honor, and Healing,” on Friday, March 30, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the forced removal of Japanese Americans from Bainbridge Island.

As the first group of citizens to be rounded up and incarcerated, the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community has spent decades coming to grips with their forced removal from their home.

“My parents didn’t talk about it,” said BIJAC president and Bainbridge dentist Frank Kitamoto.

“It was painful for the adults who had been through it and when they came back they were so busy trying to recover, to re-establish themselves in the community. And, I’m sure there was fear of a backlash, of losing everything again.”

In an attempt to help their children assimilate, many parents worked hard to “Americanize” their offspring.

“We as children lost our cultural identity,” Kitamoto said.

A long Silence is broken

Clarence Moriwaki, who is spearheading the March 30 commemoration, didn’t even know about the internment until Japanese friends in college asked him what camp he went to. Moriwaki thought they meant summer camp.

For decades nothing about the internment could be found in textbooks. It wasn’t until 1976 that President Gerald Ford rescinded Executive Order 9066.

In 1988 President Ronald Reagan wrote: “Here, we admit a wrong. Here we reaffirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law.”

Now that the stories have been told, first in private and now in several public events, such as the dedication of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial Wall, Moriwaki and others think it is important that the stories stay in the collective memory, often repeating the motto, “Nidoto Nai Yoni,” which means, “Let it not happen again.”

Frank Kitamoto said that while many were traumatized by the internment, he felt it was the “legacy as Japanese Americans to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I feel it is our duty to speak out. “

He holds out hope for a “golden age” when human rights is the goal, not civil rights.

“Civil rights are based on laws and aren’t always followed,” he said. “Human rights are about how we care for each other, not trying to tell other people how they should be.”

May it not happen again

Many at Saturday’s gathering at Suyematsu Farm spoke about the implications the internment had on the constitutional rights of citizens.

“We have a fragile system,” said Mary Woodward, author of “In Defense of Our Neighbors,” a book about the internment and the role her parents and the Bainbridge community played in events of the day. Walt and Milly Woodward, owners of the Bainbridge Island Review, were one of a handful of people in the nation who spoke out against the internment.

“Our Constitution is only as strong as how we act on it. It’s just words on paper. If we can toss it out when things get difficult, it loses its meaning. We all impact it. Our silence impacts it. “

Kitamoto hopes that retelling the stories may one day give others, even one person, the courage to speak up about injustice when it unfolds.

Several drew correlations to the way Muslim and Arab-Americans were treated after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

“In my mind, if we can get any of our students, even one of our students, to feel secure enough about themselves that they can speak out against something that is against the trend, overcoming what fear they may have of being cut down or whatever, to take that risk, I think we’ve succeeded.”

Moriwaki said it was time to add a fourth H to that of History, Honor and Healing, and that was Heart.

Garfunkel noted the uniqueness of the Bainbridge community and the opportunity that events such as the March 30 commemoration provide.

Not only was Bainbridge Island the first community from where Japanese Americans were forcibly removed, it was one of the few communities that welcomed them back after the war. Two schools in the district are named after people involved in the Japanese American internment story.

And, he said, the community can still talk with people – in this case, Mary Woodward and Kay Sakai Nakao – who are part of the family for which the schools were named.

Sonoji Sakai

Sonoji Sakai Intermediate School will host a self-guided tour of its internment-related exhibits and a 6:30 p.m. screening of the film, “Conscience and the Constitution.” There will be a follow-up discussion with producer/writer Frank Abe, University of Washington Japanese American historian Dr. Tesuden Kashima and the Bainbridge Island Japanese American incarceration survivors.

Other sites for the daylong commemorative event are include the Suyematsu Farm; the Historic Lynwood Theatre, which will host a film festival in the morning; the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial Wall; the Harui Memorial Garden at Bainbridge Gardens; the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum; and the Haiku Garden at the Bainbridge Public Library.

During Saturday’s closing ceremony, Garfunkel quoted Oregon poet laureate and former internee Lawson Inada, whose anthology “Only What We Could Carry” was the inspiration for the nonprofit’s name.

“‘Only what we could carry’ was the rule, so we carried strength, dignity and soul.”



A Day of History, Honor, and Healing”

In cooperation and support from a dozen local community organizations and businesses, the private nonprofit Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial Association is hosting nine free island-wide events and tours on March 30 highlighting the history and legacy of Japanese Americans.

9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.:  Film festival at The Historic Lynwood Theatre featuring the new documentary “Manzanar Fishing Club” with

Los Angeles director/producer Richard Imamura and six locally produced documentaries: “The Red Pines,” “Visible Target,” “Fumiko Hayashida: The Woman Behind the Symbol,” “My Friends Behind Barbed Wire,” “Japanese and Filipino Americans on Bainbridge Island” and “Honor and Sacrifice: Nisei Patriots in the MIS,” at 4569 Lynwood Center Road NE.

9 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Self-guided and hosted tours of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial, 4192 Eagle Harbor Drive.

9 a.m. to 5 p.m.:  Self-guided tours of Harui Memorial Garden at Bainbridge Gardens, 9415 Miller Road.

10 a.m. to 4 p.m.:  Free admission to the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum, featuring the award-winning “Ansel Adams: A Portrait of Manzanar” and “Kodomo No Tame Ni – For The Sake Of the Children” exhibits, and the “Yama and Nayaga” Japanese mill worker communities exhibit, 215 Eriksen Ave.

1 to 5:30 p.m.:  Self-guided tours of the Haiku Garden at the Bainbridge Public Library, 1270 Madison Ave. N.

1:30 to 2:30 p.m.: Presentation and tour of the historic Suyematsu strawberry farm, hosted by the “Only What We Can Carry Project” and the Suyematsu and Bentryn Family Farms, 8989 Day Road.

3:30 to 4:30 p.m.:  Presentation on the history of iconic Bainbridge Gardens by Donna Harui and tours of Harui Memorial Gardens, 9415 Miller Road.

5:30 to 6:30 p.m.:  Open house tours of Sonoji Sakai Intermediate School: historical displays, artifacts, models of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial, and the award-winning “Kodomo No Tame Ni – For the Sake of the Children” historical exhibit, 9343 Sportsman Club Road.

6:30 to 8:30 p.m.: Screening of the award-winning documentary “Conscience and the Constitution” and follow-up discussion with producer/writer Frank Abe, UW Japanese American historian Dr. Tetsuden Kashima and Bainbridge Island Japanese American incarceration survivors, 9343 Sportsman Club Road.



A “Passport Tag” will be stamped at each of the island-wide events, available at each event site, as well as the Chamber of Commerce and Arts & Humanities Council. Collect six or more stamps to enter to win a signed copy of “In Defense of Our Neighbors: The Walt and Milly Woodward Story” or a signed copy of the “Conscience and the Constitution” DVD. The drawing will be held at the evening screening at Sakai.



9 a.m.: “The Red Pines” IslandWood produced documentary covering Bainbridge Island Japanese American culture and history. 12 minutes. Q-&-A: 5 minutes.

9:20 a.m.: “Visible Target” Award-winning 1986 PBS/KCTS documentary, featuring rare interviews with Walt and Milly Woodward, publishers of the Bainbridge Review in WWII. 30 minutes. Q-&-A: 5 minutes.

9:55 a.m.: “Japanese and Filipino Americans on Bainbridge Island” Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community produced video on the unique relationships and friendships between the island communities. 6 minutes. Q-&-A: 5 minutes.

10:05 a.m.: “My Friends Behind Barbed Wire” Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction produced video on Brooks Andrews, son of the Seattle Japanese Baptist Church pastor recalls the loss of their congregation and his Japanese American friends. 9 minutes. Q-&-A: 5 minutes.

10:20 a.m.: “Fumiko Hayashida: The Woman Behind the Symbol” Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community produced documentary highlighting the life of the woman in the iconic photo, holding her infant child waiting to be forcibly removed from Bainbridge Island. 15 minutes. Q-&-A with Fumiko Hayashida. 5 minutes.

10:40 a.m.:“Honor and Sacrifice – Nisei Patriots in the MIS” Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction documentary on the heroism of “Merrill’s Marauders” a unit of the all Japanese American Military Intelligence Service and the heroic story of Roy Matsumoto. 18 minutes. Q-&-A with Roy Matsumoto: 5 minutes.

11:05 a.m.: “Manzanar Fishing Club” New documentary from Los Angeles filmmakers tells the untold story of Japanese Americans who found dignity, adventure and freedom from concentration camp desolation through their love of fishing. 1 hour, 15 minutes. Q-&-A with Producer/Writer Richard Imamura: 10 minutes.

In addition, a screening of the award-winning documentary “Conscience and the Constitution” and follow-up discussion with producer/writer Frank Abe, UW Japanese American historian Dr. Tetsuden Kashima and Bainbridge Island Japanese American incarceration survivors, will be from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Sakai Intermediate School, 9343 Sportsman Club Road.