36th Annual San Jose Day of Remembrance: Memories of Leaving San Jose

“He put his head against my father’s shoulder and cried. He said, ‘Mr. Yamaichi, my boss told me that they were going to put all of you into camps.’”

By Will Kaku

Jimi Yamaichi revisits Uchida Hall in 2015, 73 years after he entered the same gymnasium prior to his imprisonment in a Japanese American internment camp

Jimi Yamaichi revisits Uchida Hall in 2015, 73 years after he entered the same gymnasium prior to his imprisonment in a Japanese American internment camp

The 36th Annual San Jose Day of Remembrance will take place on February 14, 2016, at a historically significant venue, Yoshihiro Uchida Hall at San Jose State University. The hall is the same location where Japanese Americans were processed before they were forcibly sent to detention centers at the end of May, 1942. The Day of Remembrance program will start at Morris Dailey Auditorium and the program will conclude with a solemn candlelight procession to Uchida Hall. Inside the Uchida Hall, JAMsj curator, Jimi Yamaichi, will recount what happened in the hall’s gymnasium 74 years ago and the tumultuous events that surrounded the forced removal of several thousand Japanese Americans in the San Jose area.

Jimi recalled, “On Sunday night (the evening of the Pearl Harbor attack), we were visited by Ted Myers who was a buyer of our farm produce and a family friend. He said that he got a call from the main office in Los Angeles telling him to go down there for an urgent meeting.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Myers came back to see the Yamaichi family. “I can still remember how his face looked,” Jimi remembered. “He put his head against my father’s shoulder and cried. He said, ‘Mr. Yamaichi, my boss told me that there were going to put all of you into camps.’”

Jimi trusted Myers’ information in the context of the racially-charged times. “For many years, they tried to get us out of California. You have to understand that although Japanese only made up 2% of the population, we controlled a majority of the vegetable market. The Farm Bureau, the California State Grange, the American Legion, and the Sons and Daughters of the Golden West, were among many anti-Japanese groups and they were lobbying hard to get rid of us. This was their opportunity to finally break our backs and decimate the Japanese farmer.”

A few months later, signs were posted on telephone poles that specified that all people of Japanese descent would be removed from the San Jose area by 12 p.m. on Saturday, May 30, 1942. Family representatives were told to report to the men’s gymnasium at San Jose State College (now renamed Yoshihiro Uchida Hall at San Jose State University). On May 23 and May 24, the gymnasium served as a registration center that processed 2,847 people of Japanese descent before they were incarcerated. Because Jimi’s father could not read or write English, Jimi represented his family.

Many Japanese Americans were notified by this poster that all persons of Japanese ancestry must report to the Civil Control Station located at the men’s gymnasium at San Jose State College, now called Yoshihiro Uchida Hall at San Jose State University.

Many decisions had to be made in a short amount of time. “We sold our cars, tractors, and other major stuff at a big discount,” Jimi remembered. “We also looked at leasing our property. Our insurance agent said, ‘I’ll take care of it. I don’t need a Power of Attorney agreement. I’ll collect the rent and put it in the bank.” Jimi’s second cousin was not so lucky. “He gave the full Power of Attorney to a friend. He had 24 acres. When he came back, his friend said, ‘it is not your property; it’s mine.’”

The San Jose State College men's gymnasium served as a registration center that processed 2,847 people of Japanese descent before they were incarcerated

The San Jose State College men’s gymnasium served as a registration center that processed 2,847 people of Japanese descent before they were incarcerated. San Jose Mercury.

On May 30, 1942, Jimi and his large family were driven by their insurance agent friend and a grammar school principle to the departure point near the railway station at San Pedro Street. Many of the San Jose residents were sent to the thoroughbred racetrack in Arcadia, California which was converted into the Santa Anita Assembly Center. That center filled up so they sent Jimi and his family to the detention center in Pomona, California. Jimi and his family would not return to the San Jose area until 1946.


36th Annual San Jose Day of Remembrance
February 14, 2016
5:30 p.m – 7:30 p.m.
Morris Dailey Auditorium
San Jose State University

The San Jose Day of Remembrance will be held on February 14, 2016. Photo courtesy of Andy Frazer.

The San Jose Day of Remembrance will be held on February 14, 2016. Photo courtesy of Andy Frazer.

The 2016 San Jose Day of Remembrance commemorates the signing of Executive Order 9066, which led to the forced incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese descent, two-thirds of whom were American citizens.

The theme of the 2016 event is “Wartime Hysteria.” In the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, the U.S government acknowledged that “a great injustice was done to both citizens and permanent resident aliens of Japanese ancestry” and that the acts were “motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” The 2016 Day of Remembrance theme warns against the rise of wartime hysteria, as well as racial and religious discrimination, in today’s politically volatile, emotionally-charged environment as the nation confronts the issues of war, refugees, and terrorism.

A featured speaker will be Jimi Yamaichi, a prominent leader in the San Jose Japantown community, who will recount his memories of being processed at the gymnasium and forcibly uprooted from his home during those traumatic days of 1942.

San Jose Day of Remembrance brings multiple communities together to build trust, respect, and understanding. Photo courtesy of Andy Frazer.

San Jose Day of Remembrance brings multiple communities together to build trust, respect, and understanding. Photo courtesy of Andy Frazer.

Other speakers include Congressman Mike Honda, who was incarcerated at the Amache internment camp,  Japanese American Museum of San Jose president and SJSU alumnus, Aggie Idemoto, poet Ann Muto, and other members from the community. The annual event will also include a performance by the internationally acclaimed, San Jose Taiko, and a special candlelight procession to Yoshihiro Uchida Hall, the same location where Japanese Americans were processed before they were forcibly removed from the San Jose area.

The event will be held on February 14, 2016, from 5:30-7:30 p.m, in the Morris Dailey Auditorium. A post-event reception will take place in nearby Uchida Hall. The event is free and open to the public (campus parking garages charge a fee).

For more information, email info@sjnoc.org.
Website: www.sjnoc.org

Map to Morris Dailey Auditorium at San Jose State University.



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The Importance of Japanese American Traditions

By  Susan Nakamura

One of the goals of the Japanese American Museum of San Jose (JAMsj) is to preserve the unique history of our ancestors for future generations and to share their accomplishments and hardships with others. Japanese Americans can trace their roots to Japan. But their immigration to America, farming experience, and incarceration during World War II have combined to create Japanese American identity and culture.

As a young girl, I recall my mother pointing out my grandfather as an example of gaman: persevering through difficult times with hard work and without complaining. Through his example I should learn these virtues. Because my grandfather was born in Oahu, Hawaii, at that time a U.S. territory, he was a dual citizen of the United States and Japan. The family came stateside in 1906, the year of the San Francisco earthquake. They were forced to move every four years because the California Alien Land Law of 1913 prohibited Japanese from owning land or possessing leases for more than three years.

My grandmother was a picture bride from Kumamoto, a province on the island of Kyushu in Japan. Initially, my grandmother and her father were reluctant to have her travel to a ‘foreign’ country and unknown land. Her father later changed his mind. He told my grandmother that if she went to America and married my grandfather, they would   return to Japan in three years. As it turned out, they never returned to Japan.

My Grandmother Kajiu changed her name to Yoso, because Kajiu was also the name of my grandfather’s mother. And two Kajius in America would be too confusing. She took the name Yoso, her older sister’s name, who died earlier from a brain hemorrhage after working in the rice fields.

According to papers, my grandparents were married in 1919, but my grandmother did not make her journey to America until 1920. She sailed out of the port of Nagasaki on the SS Persia Maru, the last ship for picture brides from Japan.   The journey to California took 27 days, with a stop in Hawaii to let off other picture brides.

Like many Japanese immigrants in Santa Clara valley, they worked as farmers. They grew strawberries and vegetables in Sunnyvale, San Jose, and Campbell while they raised their growing family. In about 1940, the family of seven children moved back to Campbell, where they lived in a tar-paper house with an outdoor furo (bath) and latrine (outhouse). The location of the property was on Union Avenue, not too far from the Pruneyard shopping center, which at that time was a prune orchard.

During WWII, the family was incarcerated in the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming. The family members traveled there by train with the blinds drawn down; they were not allowed to look out the window. Then they were transported in military trucks to the barracks. They saw their first snow ever, and to these Californians it was very cold.   Their barracks had a pot belly coal stove in the middle and army cots for beds. The mess hall, bathroom, and washroom were in another building. There were blizzards in the winter and thunderstorms in the summer.

After the war ended in 1945, my grandparents’ family members returned to Campbell. They were fortunate that their landlord, Mr. Whipple, had watched their house and belongings. But they had to start from scratch to get on their feet and earn a living. They picked prunes, prunes, and more prunes, because it was a family job, one in which everyone worked together. Later they became sharecroppers, growing strawberries with other white farmers.

Growing up in Santa Clara Valley, our extended family traditions included mochitsuki, obon, and hinamatsuri. It is amazing that these traditions could survive through all the hardships of life in America.

At JAMsj, these traditions are being carried forward so that future generations and the community can learn about their roots or the roots of their friends. Strong personal virtues and a sense of one’s roots can help develop your own identity and define who you are. And that is why we at JAMsj feel it is important to have programs and events to celebrate, commemorate, and uphold these traditions.

For more information about internment camps and to view a replica of a camp barrack, visit JAMsj at 535 North Fifth Street in San Jose. Completely run and operated by community volunteers, JAMsj is open from Thursday through Sunday, 12 noon to 4 p.m. The admission fee is $5 for adults; $3 for seniors and students; and free to members, children under 12, and active military. We would love to see you.

Please join JAMsj on March 1 for our annual hinamatsuri festivities. Children and their parents will be able to create items with paper, glue, and other crafting supplies. Hinamatsuri activities are fun, social, and open to the public. Adult helpers will be on hand to supervise these fun art activities.

(I credit my aunt, June Takata, who was the unofficial family historian, for the many details included here. I also picked prunes.)

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35th Annual San Jose Day of Remembrance: Stories from the Past, Lessons for Today.

Kent Carson and Terry Terakawa

JAMsj docent, Kent Carson, stands before a portrait of his grandfather, Terry Terakawa, in the new JAMsj exhibit “Twice Heroes.” Carson will present his grandfather’s story at the 2015 San Jose Day of Remembrance event.

The 2015 San Jose Day of Remembrance that will take place on February 15, 2015, commemorates the signing of Executive Order 9066, which occurred on February 19, 1942. This executive order led to the incarceration of more than 100,000 Japanese Americans during WW II.

The theme for the 35th San Jose Day of Remembrance event is “Stories from the Past,  Lessons for Today.” During the program, personal stories about  the Japanese American incarceration will be told by descendants of those whose lives were deeply affected by Executive Order 9066.



Former JAMsj board member, Terry Terakawa

Former JAMsj board member, Terry Terakawa

Kent Carson, a volunteer docent with the Japanese American Museum of San Jose (JAMsj), will be one of our  speakers. He will recount the story of his grandfather, Terry Terakawa, who is also an active volunteer and a former board member of JAMsj.

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A New World: The Story of Japanese Migration

By Pam Yoshida, co-owner of Nikkei Traditions

An on-line order from Japan to Nikkei Traditions (NT) several years ago caught my attention. The customer, Shigeru Kojima, was the curator and researcher of the Japanese Overseas Migration Museum (JOMM) of Yokohama, Japan — the largest museum in Japan devoted to overseas migration.

In 2013, I visited the JOMM with an armload of programs and posters from San Jose Japantown that illustrated the activities and vitality of one of the three remaining Japantowns left in the United States. This led to Kojima-san’s interest in the history of San Jose’s Japantown and will result in his research visit in March 2014. A week of interviews with Japantown merchants, walking tours through Japantown, visits to areas of significance to highlight the contributions from the San Jose-Okayama sister city relationship as well as local Japanese contributions in the abalone industry in Monterey and the produce industry in Salinas are included in the visit.

On March 8, 7:00 pm, Kojima-san will make a presentation at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose (JAMsj) to discuss the Japanese migration to North and South America. The question,”Where are you from?” will have a different meaning after the presentation by Kojimasan. He has devoted many years of study to this topic.

For hundreds of years, Japan’s “closed door” policy led to isolation. In fact, it was not until the 1880s that Japanese were even allowed to leave. Why were Japanese from areas such as Kumamoto, Yamaguchi, Fukuoka and Hiroshima among the largest groups to leave Japan? What were the conditions in Japan at that time to make leaving to an unknown future so attractive? When they left, where did they go? How did they leave Japan? How many returned? Under what conditions did they return? How was migration to South America different than to
North America? What is the current status of migration from Japan, and who is now returning to Japan?

Appreciation of and curiosity about the Issei generation and other early pioneers will grow after learning how and why the first Japanese came to America through Kojima-san’s research and exhibits at JOMM.

This presentation is co-sponsored by JAMsj and Nikkei Traditions of San Jose Japantown. Nikkei Tradition’s mission is to preserve and further Japanese American heritage and culture through their support of products that are created by third and fourth generation Japanese and Asian Americans.

While there is no fee for this presentation, donations to JAMsj will be appreciated. RSVP
required. Reserve your spot by contacting PublicPrograms@jamsj.org or calling (408) 294-3138.
For more information, please email PublicPrograms@JAMsj.org or call the JAMsj office
at (408) 294-3138.

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34th Annual San Jose Day of Remembrance: Joe Yasutake

The 2014 San Jose Day of Remembrance will be held on February 16, 2014. This year’s event features speakers: Dale Minami, the lead attorney on the legal team that overturned the conviction against Fred Korematsu, who defied the World War II Japanese American mass incarceration order which led to the controversial United States Supreme Court case, Korematsu v. United States; Congressman Mike Honda, and JAMsj former president and current board member, Joe Yasutake.

34th Annual San Jose Day of Remembrance 

Featured Speaker: Joe Yasutake

By Will Kaku

9 year old Joe Yasutake leaves the Puyallup Assembly Center for camp in Minidoka, Idaho

9-year old Joe Yasutake leaves the Puyallup Assembly Center for the camp in Minidoka, Idaho

Joe Yasutake has been one of the key contributors in shaping the vision of the Japanese American Museum of San Jose (JAMsj) and San Jose Japantown. Although Joe and his family were incarcerated in Japanese American internment camps during WWII, only relatively recently has Joe became involved in telling his story, as well as the stories of other Japanese Americans.

“I don’t ever remember talking about the camps,” Joe recalled. “It never came up. When I left camp and returned to school, I didn’t interact with the other Japanese American students who tried to recruit me into their Nisei clubs. Now looking back on it, I think subconsciously I was in denial.”

It wasn’t until Joe moved to San Jose did he revisit his past. Ken Iwagaki, a JAMsj founder, asked Joe if he could speak to a high school class about his internment experience. “I didn’t know anything about it,” Joe recalled. “I never thought about it so I had to do a quick study.  It was during that time I really got interested.”

Joe Yasutake will be a featured speaker at the 34th Annual San Jose Day of Remembrance

Joe Yasutake will be a featured speaker at the 34th Annual San Jose Day of Remembrance

Joe has a special story to tell since his father, Jack Yasutake, was a first-generation Japanese immigrant (Issei) who served as an interpreter for the U.S. government’s immigration department at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Jack was taken into custody immediately after the attack. “He must have been one of the first Issei men who were picked up,” Joe stated. “Through the Freedom of Information Act, we obtained a file that is about a foot thick. It was clear that the government had been tracking him since about 1936.”


Day of Remembrance candlelighting ceremony

Day of Remembrance candlelight ceremony honors internees, war veterans and people who were displaced by EO 9066

Joe was 9 years old when the FBI came to imprison his father, and he clearly remembers that day. “It was a Sunday, and we (the children) had just come back home from church while my mother had stayed back to do something. This could not have been more than a few hours after Pearl Harbor. Four large men came to our door, and we told the FBI men that my father was at a poetry reading event. Two men left to go there, and the other two searched our house. My mother then came home and was alarmed. She started to speak Japanese, and they kept yelling at her, ‘Speak English. Don’t speak Japanese!’”

The visit by the FBI was a very frightening experience for young Joe. “It was very traumatic,” Joe remembered. “We used to have a great big console radio, and they took that away because it had a short-wave band on it. I remember that because all of a sudden I lost my communication with the Lone Ranger, Jack Armstrong, and all of those people.”

Joe’s father was taken into custody at the poetry reading event. Ironically, he was detained in a cell in the same immigration building where he used to work. His coworkers tried to help him. “In fact, my name Joseph came from one of my dad’s colleagues. They really stuck up for him from the very beginning. They would let my mother know exactly what was going on almost on a daily basis. We saw the letters that they wrote on my father’s behalf to try to get him out.”

Jack Yasutake was eventually incarcerated in various Department of Justice camps. Because of his English communication skills, he would become the spokesman for the other inmates at all of the camps. Ironically, he also wrote letters for the illiterate camp guards to their families.

Joe, his mother, and his three older siblings were also incarcerated in the Puyallup Assembly Center in western Washington and in the Minidoka War Relocation Authority camp in Idaho. Since their father was imprisoned separately in higher-security camps, communication with him was difficult. Joe recalled, “We used to get letters that were about three paragraphs long, and everything was blacked out. You couldn’t see anything but the signature of the sender. There was definitely heavy censorship going on.”

While Joe was in the Minidoka camp, his older siblings engaged in many serious discussions about their family’s future. Joe overheard some of their secretive discussions when they thought he was sleeping. Joe’s oldest brother and sister planned to leave the camp to attend school near Cincinnati, Ohio, while his other brother joined the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Europe. Young Joe heard that his older brother decided to join the U.S. Army, thinking that his action would help gain their father’s release. “Unfortunately and fortunately, he was wounded in battle,” Joe remarked. “He was wounded a week or two before the famous ‘Lost Battalion’ battle, but he was in the hospital. His replacement and most of his unit were killed.”

Joe and his mother were finally able to reunite with their father when they transferred to the Crystal City Department of Justice camp in Texas. Towards the end of the war, Joe and his parents were released. They moved to Chicago, where Jack would eventually become the executive director of the Chicago Resettlers Committee, an agency that assisted former Japanese American internees to restart their lives.

San Jose Day of Remembrance brings multiple communities together to build trust, respect, and understanding. Photo courtesy of Andy Frazer.

San Jose Day of Remembrance brings multiple communities together to build trust, respect, and understanding. Photo courtesy of Andy Frazer.

Although Joe didn’t feel the need to talk about his wartime experience in earlier years, now he feels compelled to tell his story. “We really need to keep aware of this because of the state of our country,” Joe said. “There are things that are going on today that are just as relevant as seventy years ago. It is very important that people do not forget what happened.”


Joe Yasutake has been a past president of JAMsj and is currently serving as a board member. Previously, he held several leadership positions within San Jose Japantown, including the first president of the Japantown Community Congress (JCCsj) and chair of the Council of Ministries at Wesley United Methodist Church. Additionally, he has spearheaded the development of many historical landmarks seen throughout Japantown. In his professional life, , Joe earned a Ph.D in Industrial Psychology from Ohio State University and spent most of his professional career as a psychologist and manager for the U.S. Air Force. Joe finished up his career working on a joint Japan-U.S. research program on reducing human errors in electric and nuclear power plant operations.

dor2014flyer.tbThe San Jose Day of Remembrance event will be held on Sunday, February 16, 2014 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin, located at 640 N. Fifth Street, San Jose, California 95112 . For more information about the San Jose Day of Remembrance, visit www.sjnoc.org

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Ai-Love Japan 2014: Visiting Tohoku After the Quake

Visiting Tohoku After the Quake

by Michael Sera

After the “Tohoku Insights 2013” event at JAMsj last year, I was inspired to visit the Tohoku area and see the aftermath first hand.  My journey was made richer because I was able to visit the region with professional photographer and journalist Darrell Miho, a, a co-founder of Ai Love Japan.  Because the mission of Ai-Love Japan is to document survivor stories and provide direct aid to the people most affected by the earthquake, Miho has visited the Tohoku area more than a dozen times since the disaster of March 2011.  We made the trip the weekend of May 24, 2013, and visited the cities of Matsushima, Nagatsura, Ishinomaki, and Minamisanriku.  During our travels, we met many locals who surprised me with their positive energy and enthusiasm.

Our first stop was Matsushima, Miyagi Prefecture, one of the three most scenic spots in Japan.  The area is surrounded by hundreds of tiny islands (shima) covered in pine trees (matsu), hence the name Matsushima.  This area was protected by the many tiny islands that acted as breakers for the massive tsunami.  We had lunch at a restaurant that had been previously covered in mud; but because the entire inside had been refurbished, it was like new.  It was apparent that the number of visitors to the area was definitely at a low when we were there.

Our next stop was to the north at Nagatsura, where we met Yasukichi Takeyama and Tomomi Ogawa in front of what remained of the Okawa Shogakko (elementary school).  This school and its students were overcome by the tsunami.  The teachers never thought the tsunami would reach them until it was too late.  Of the 108 students enrolled at the school, 74 students lost their lives. Caught by the tsunami, half of the students tried to escape but instead were pushed up against the mountain side.  The students who went home early that day survived, as well as  one student who didn’t listen to the teachers and climbed the mountain.  There were eleven teachers in total, but only one survived.  The principal, who was at his son’s graduation, also survived.

Takeyama and Ogawa showed us around the area.  Because most of the area was overcome by sea water, all of the farming was wiped out.  Ogawa works at an oyster farm.  Her home is still standing, but because none of the utilities (electricity, water, and sewer) are functional, her home has been condemned.  In total, 418 people lost their lives, with 38 people still unaccounted for.  Both Takeyama and Ogawa go to Okawa Shogakko every day to maintain the make-shift memorial, water the plants, and explain the situation to visitors.  The locals want the school to be demolished, since the very sight of it only brings back bad memories.  Those who want to preserve it are in general from the government and not from the area.

The next day we visited the city of Ishinomaki, site of  the highest number of causalities due to  the population density of that area.  This use to be a large fishing town and  is now being slowly rebuilt.  We met Takatoshi Hayashi and his wife, who own a kimono shop.  The shop was covered in mud but is now cleaned up and open for business.

We then traveled to the next town of Minamisanriku.  Three quarters of the city is gone, and nobody is allowed to live in the low-lying areas in case of another tsunami.  Only shops and businesses are allowed in these areas.  We stopped for lunch at Sansa Café, where Tomotaka Uchida, the 35-year-owner, makes a spicy katsukare (pork cutlet and curry over rice).  We also met Jun Suzuki, who works at Sansa Café.  He was nice enough to take Darrell and I to a beautiful coastal area called Kamiwarizaki.  The name comes from an old story in which two towns are fighting over their borders.  Then a whale comes ashore and they both try to claim it.  Later that night, the people hear a loud explosion and in the morning the whale and rock are both split in half by the gods and so the issue was resolved.

Suzuki was living with his parents in temporary government housing, but because the place was too small, he moved out and is now living in a trailer next to the café.  When we spoke to him, he indicated that the number of volunteers to the area had greatly decreased.  Suzuki now wants more visitors to come and just spend time enjoying the region, as it is important for the people of Minamisanriku to have interaction with others.

We then joined a children’s play group formed by a group from Tokyo.  The members of this group meet once a month on thefourth Saturday of the month in Minamisanriku.  On this particular Saturday, we met Nishimura from Tokyo.  He is in the music distribution business and is also a pop rock vocalist.  We also met Kiyomi Suzuki, a local resident, who was supporting the community even before the tsunami.  He now spends time coordinating school visits to the area, aligning them with volunteer activities.  In a recent interview with him, he said the hardest thing is to match skills with what is currently needed.  Rather than trying to force volunteers to do laborious tasks, he just wants them to come see the area firsthand.

On our last day, we visited a festival that was being held nearby.  There we met many locals, as well as many volunteers from the Tokyo area helping at the various concessions and booths.  We ran into the Yes Kobo team here and found out about the Minamisanriku mascot, octopus-kun. In Japanese, to place something is to “oku” and when you take a test you hope to “pasu” or pass.  If you string it all together, you would say “oku to pasu” or octopus, which translates “to place something to pass.”  So the octopus paperweight was created and has become the Minamisanriku mascot.  The Minamisanriku region is also famous for catching Octopus.

In 1990, Chile gifted an original moai statue from Easter Island to Minamisanriku in honor of the tsunami that hit the Chilean coast after the 1960 earthquake.  Unforunately, the March 11 earthquake and  tsunami destroyed the moai statue.  But on May 25, 2013, Chile donated a new statue, made of stone, to the city.

Seeing the aftermath firsthand and having a chance to meet and talk to many of the survivors was an incredible experience.  Even through the devastation, they are all very friendly and upbeat.  To me, they are an inspiration to everyone:  the ability to experience such a hardship and to bounce back is nothing short of incredible.  As I like to tell students who visit JAMsj, the Japanese are like bamboo because no matter how tough the situation, they bounce right back.

JAMsj will be hosting another Tohoku event on February 22, 2014, “Ai Love Japan–Tohoku Update 2014,” to provide an update on how the people in the area are now doing.  Ai Love co-founder Miho will provide a pictorial and video update from his many visits to Tohoku.  We will then place Skype video calls to the people we met during our visit.  This will give participants a chance to interact with and hear directly from the people who were most affected.

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What’s new at Manzanar

Manzanar Guard Tower No. 8 with recently added WWII era searchlight. Photo courtesy of Komo .

Manzanar Guard Tower No. 8 with recently added WWII era searchlight. Photo courtesy of Komo .

Imagine visiting one of the World War II American concentration camps and actually being able to see what it looked like when Japanese Americans were incarcerated there.  Modern technology and the hard work of various organizations will soon make this possible. A good example of the former is  CyArk, a non-profit organization dedicated to the digital preservation of cultural heritage sites. CyArk’s work in digitally reconstructing the Manzanar, Topaz, and Tule Lake Wartime Relocation Authority (WRA) camps, together with the development of a “demonstration block” at Manzanar, will allow visitors to be part of both virtual and physical realities.

Although some of this is still a work in progress, the Manzanar National Historic Site is already well worth a visit. In addition to the demonstration block, which today includes a mess hall and two barracks, there is a lot to see:  a very impressive interpretive center, rotating exhibits, and quality public programs.  In addition, helpful park rangers are on site. The interpretive display inside of the mess hall is already open to the public.  In addition, visitors can walk through the barracks to get a feel for things to come.


Cyark’s work in digitally reconstructing Manzanar (circa 1944) is part of an exciting, larger project, the Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant.  Cyark is working on this project in collaboration with the National Park Service (NPS), Manzanar National Historic Site, Tule Lake Unit of the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument, and Topaz Museum.

Elizabeth Lee, CyArk’s Director of Operations, was interviewed by Manzanar Committee blogger Gann Matsuda last year after a preview/feedback session in Los Angeles. Lee described the project as “going beyond just capturing the physical remains at the site, of which, there are very few.” She went on to say that, “Using that as a foundation, and combining that with historic resources, such as maps, photographs, and even oral histories, we can virtually reconstruct the site in 3D, and in an immersive, interactive environment.”

The first step of Cyark’s work uses laser scan data that is collected at each site, GPS, and photography to accurately capture the sites and their landscape in 3D. Coupled with historic documentation such as architectural drawings, photographs, and archival research, CyArk is able to develop a virtual recreation of the site. For example, although today Merritt Park at Manzanar is arid and dusty, the virtual recreation shows the park as it was in 1944, including the waterfall that connected the two ponds and the famous wild rose bushes grafted by Kuichiro Nishi. Visitors will even be able to hear the sound of the waterfall. A video preview of the Merritt Park reconstruction can be found on CyArk’s Virtual Manzanar blog.

Virtual reconstruction of Topaz. Photo courtesy of CyArk.

Virtual reconstruction of Topaz. Photo courtesy of CyArk.

Parks and gardens are not the only things captured in this project.  A large portion of the entire site, including the barracks (both interior and exterior), is also included.  The high-tech computer generated imagery (cgi) videos, coupled with oral histories featuring former prisoners and historic images, provide a unique opportunity to experience what life was like for the Japanese Americans who were incarcerated in these WRA camps.

Not only will those interested be able to visit these camps virtually via the Internet, but also visitors will be able to experience an “augmented reality” through the use of smart phones or tablets. The vision is for visitors to be able to see not just the reality of a site in front of them today (for example, the dry and arid Merritt Park), but also see on their devices the digitally reconstructed image of what that exact same view might have looked like in 1944. When visitors move, the view on the device would move with them. Lee described this as “a window into time, looking back some sixty years.”

Gann Matsuda’s full-length blog, detailing this very interesting project, “Interactive 3D Model Could Revolutionize Real and Virtual Visitor Experience For Manzanar,” can be found on the Manzanar Committee’s website.

For more information about our upcoming March 16 presentation by CyArk, please contact Komo at PublicPrograms@JAMsj.org. A full announcement will appear in next month’s edition of the JAMsj E-News.


National Park Service crews work on reconstructing a WWII era mess hall at Manzanar on Block 14.  Photo courtesy of Friends of Manzanar.

National Park Service crews work on reconstructing a WWII era mess hall at Manzanar on Block 14. Photo courtesy of Friends of Manzanar.

The Manzanar War Relocation Center confined more than 10,000 Japanese Americans in 36 blocks from 1942 to 1945. Each block included 14 barracks buildings, a mess hall, a recreation building, latrines, and laundry and ironing rooms. After the war, the buildings were sold for scrap lumber or relocated. A visit to the site will quickly show how barren it is today. Thanks to an ambitious project to develop a “demonstration block” that interprets daily life in the camp, visitors will be able to get a glimpse of life was like for Japanese Americans who were unjustly incarcerated during World War II.

So far, a mess hall and two barracks have been constructed in Block 14.  In addition, the design work for four utility buildings has already been completed. Friends of Manzanar, a nonprofit partner of the NPS, continues to raise funds to support the development and interpretation of Block 14.

Two barracks have been constructed on Block 14, with interpretive displays expected by early 2014.  Photo courtesy of Komo.

Two barracks have been constructed on Block 14, with interpretive displays expected by early 2014. Photo courtesy of Komo.

The project was approved in 1997, after consultation with the Manzanar Advisory Commission, former internees, and historians. The first physical element of the reconstruction was the World War II-era mess hall.  In December 2002, after a period of negotiation with Inyo County, it was delivered by truck in four sections from the Bishop airport. Although this mess hall was not at Manzanar during World War II, it was constructed during the same period from essentially the same mess hall plans used at Manzanar. Eventually,  NPS received funding to restore the building to its 1942 appearance and to develop exhibits.

More information about this project can be found in the Friends of Manzanar newsletter.  Image courtesy of Friends of Manzanar

More information about this project can be found in the Friends of Manzanar newsletter. Image courtesy of Friends of Manzanar

Park staff worked with Krister Olmon, Harvest Moon Studio, and Color-Ad Exhibits and Signage to create the exhibit, with research support from Friends of Manzanar. Opened in 2011, this restoration is a wonderful exhibit, reflecting what life was like in the WRA camps and emphasizing the central importance of the mess hall. The installation includes historic photos, articles, and quotes, as well as period items chosen to reflect what might have been found in the mess hall during that time.

In its January 2011 press release, NPS Superintendent Les Inafuku described his experience saying, “As I walk through the mess hall, I find myself imagining that I’ve walked in right at the busiest moment of a meal and that I’d better be careful not to bump into a cook or dish washer. My great thanks go out to the former internees who provided us with the fine details about meals and the mess halls, plus the countless hours that our Manzanar staff and our creative and dedicated exhibit designers and fabricators devoted to research, develop concepts of, and  produce the exhibits.”

The interpretive displays inside the WWII era mess hall at Manzanar’s Block 14 have already been installed and are being seen by visitors daily.  Photo courtesy of Komo.

The interpretive displays inside the WWII era mess hall at Manzanar’s Block 14 have already been installed and are being seen by visitors daily. Photo courtesy of Komo.

Dick Mansfield, a Friends of Manzanar director and the organization’s treasurer, says there are currently two primary Block 14 projects, both still in the planning stages, under way:

  • Development and installation of interpretive materials within reconstructed Barracks 1 and 8
  •  Reconstruction and interpretation of the four central utility buildings–the men’s and women’s latrines, the laundry room, and the ironing room

The interpretive materials for Barracks 1 and 8 are fully funded, planning is nearly completed, and the installation is expected by late 2013 or early 2014. Detailed plans for the four central utility buildings have been drafted, but the project is still in the funding stage. Friends of Manzanar, which has undertaken to provide funding for the central utility building project, has an anticipated budget  of $1 million.

Barrack 1 will be set up to show what a typical barrack at Manzanar might have looked like in 1942.  Photo courtesy of Komo.

Barrack 1 will be set up to show what a typical barrack at Manzanar might have looked like in 1942. Photo courtesy of Komo.

In the fiscal year 2009 to 2010, Congress approved funding, proposed by California Senator Diane Feinstein, for reconstructing Barracks 1 and 8 on Block 14. The barracks have been open to visitors for more than a year and a half, although the interpretive work in the two buildings is still in progress. Barracks 1 reflects what it would have been like when Japanese Americans first arrived at Manzanar in 1942, while Barracks 8 reflects life in 1945. A visitor viewing the site today can walk through the buildings and see the difference. Barracks 1 has wooden planks, complete with gaps, and no wall covering. In Barracks 8, the planks are covered with linoleum flooring.

Barrack 8 will reflect 1944. Photo courtesy of Komo

Barrack 8 will reflect 1944. Photo courtesy of Komo

In the January 2010 NPS press release for the groundbreaking of the barracks, Superintendent Inafuku noted, “All Americans had to adapt during World War II, including Japanese Americans confined at Manzanar. Future visitors to Block 14 can learn how Japanese Americans lived at Manzanar and improved their living situations. Our elders can still inspire us to improve our lives and help shape our great nation.”


The NPS has offered opportunities for the general public to help with archeological digs at Manzanar for several years. Park Ranger Kristen Luetkemeier confirmed plans to offer this program again this summer. The three digs are led by noted confinement-sites archeologist Jeff Burton (jeff_burton@nps.gov), under whose direction many of the beautiful decorative gardens developed by the confined persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II have been excavated.

A description of one of the 2012 digs states:

Within Block 14 of the internee housing area, volunteers will search for a lost fish pond, investigate possible basements, excavate and restore other landscaping and barracks features, and rebuild a retaining wall next to a basketball court. Uncovering and restoring these will help increase visitor understanding of the internee experience, as well as protect these important historic resources. Volunteers will be digging with shovels and small hand tools, using wheelbarrows, mixing concrete, reconstructing landscape features, and screening sediments to retrieve artifacts.

Last year, the NPS was able to accommodate up to 10 volunteers (15 years old and up) per day. Although some of the work may be physically demanding, a variety of tasks is offered each day, “to suit a variety of interests and energy levels.” Tasks in the past have included digging with shovels and small hand tools, raking, operating wheelbarrows, screening sediments to retrieve artifacts, note taking, filling out forms and labels, and using a metal detector.  All NPS asks is that volunteers have an “interest in history and a willingness to get dirty.” Volunteers can work any number of days.

Click here to read more about last year’s digs.


The NPS  offers great programs and special exhibits.  One current exhibit features photos and stories from Twice Heroes: America’s Nisei Veterans of World War II and Korea by photographer/author Tom Graves.  Featured among the selected portraits are familiar faces such as the late Senator Daniel Inouye and former U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Norman Mineta, as well as less familiar heroes. Each portrait is accompanied by a short yet insightful story about that person.  This exhibit was unveiled at a special program held for Veterans’ Day and included a book talk with Graves.

The five paragraphs on Inouye describe one of his many speaking engagements and ends with:

Those seated near the podium could see him touch the gold star that hung on the sky blue ribbon around his neck. “As a politician, I have been honored many times,” he said. “To be honored by your brothers is the highest honor. When I wear this medal, I wear it on your behalf. There is no such thing as a one-man hero. I can think of at least a dozen men in my company who should be wearing this. The medals belong to you.”

twice-herosAnother soldier’s story told of racism and ended with a note about how 442 soldiers received lesser medals than those of other units. The soldier felt that this was because Hawaii was not yet a state and had no congressman to push a Medal of Honor nomination. He went on to tell of how these veterans and widows were not compensated, saying that, “You cannot eat a Congressional Medal.”

Twice Heroes book website


The annual pilgrimage to Manzanar is held every year on the last Saturday of April.  The 2012 program included a keynote speech by noted author and scholar Dr. Mitchell T. Maki, an afternoon program at the Manzanar cemetery site featuring taiko, an interfaith service, and traditional ondo dancing  In the evening, the popular Manzanar at Dusk program was held. More information on the 2013 pilgrimage will be available on the Manzanar Committee website as the date approaches.






In addition to the mess hall and two recently reconstructed barracks, the Manzanar’s Interpretive Center features extensive exhibits, audio-visual programs, and a bookstore. For people visiting the Manzanar National Historic Site, Dick Mansfield recommends starting at the interpretive center with the 22-minute film that shows every half hour.  Next, look through the excellent exhibits and visit Block 14, which is just a few steps from the interpretive center.  Lastly,  drive the peripheral road and imagine what this 10,000-person holding facility on the edge of the desert must have been like for people who had been forced out of their Pacific Coast homes, without any semblance of due process, in 1942.  He notes that the site will be even more meaningful to visitors as the planned development of Block 14 moves forward.

Winter hours of operation are 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Manzanar is located at 5001 Hiway 395, six miles south of Independence and nine miles north of Lone Pine, California. Programs and exhibits are free and open to the public. For further information, please call (760) 878-2194 or visit the NPS website at http://www.nps.gov/manz.

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