Japanese American Memorial Project. Photo credit: Vivian Luu.

The lucky ones were able to pack their bags and leave their prized possessions with neighbors and close friends. Others left with nothing. Their homes and businesses, deserted, were taken. Their belongings, unused, were taken.

There were about 110,000— Japanese Americans and Japanese living on the West coast, sent to “War Relocation Camps” after Pearl Harbor was bombed by Imperial Japan on December 7, 1941. On February 19, 1942, then-President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized Japanese internment.

From Washington, 12,892 Japanese residents were sent to camps in California and Idaho. The first to go were 227 Bainbridge Island residents, who were sent to live at Manzanar, a camp at the foot of the Sierra Nevada in California.

To honor those who had to pack their bags and leave life on Bainbridge Island, the Nidoto Nai Yoni (“Let it not happen again” or Bainbridge Island Japanese Asian Exclusion Memorial has been built at the site where the first group of internees were taken from the island.

According to the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community (BIJAC) website, “The memorial will commemorate and honor the strength and perseverance of the people involved—both those exiled and their island neighbors—and brings awareness of the powerful capacity of human beings and a nation to heal, forgive and care for one another.”

The concept of the memorial started in 1998, said Frank Kitamoto, a BIJAC committee member. The BIJAC bought the site where the first Japanese Americans left for the internment camps after the Bainbridge Island/North Kitsap Interfaith Council suggested building a memorial.

“The land had been a super clean-up site,” Kitamoto said. “The Environmental Protection Agency was closing down 55 acres of the site, which Bainbridge Island bought and turned into a park.”

“The site was a Federal Super clean up site that the EPA was going to sell off,” Kitamoto said. “ Bainbridge Islanders raised the money to purchase 55 acres of the site which was named Pritchard Park. The Bainbridge Island Japanese Community contributed $1.5 million from a state grant to help purchase the land and in turn the City of Bainbridge Island designated 5 acres for the Memorial.”

Still under construction, the memorial is a multi-million dollar project that includes not only a 227-foot stone and cedar wall, but also five acres of paths, walkways and boardwalks, as well as an information kiosk on the Japanese Americans who lived on Bainbridge Island. Eventually, a meeting room and Japanese interpreter center will be added to the five-acre memorial.

The memorial comes with a project $9 million price tag and was awarded its first federal confinement grant­—$183,000—to cover construction and installation costs for the memorial wall. Previously, $3 million was raised through state, county and city grants, as well as contributions from the Paul Allen Fund and community members.

Some contributors had family members who saw their Japanese American neighbors leave the island for the camps. Others knew them when they came home. Ken Meyers had convinced his employers to sell insurance to Japanese Americans.

“No one else would sell us insurance because of the perceived risk financially and because of sentiment against the Japanese Americans,” Kitamoto said. “His son gave a generous contribution in his father’s memory to the Memorial.”

But money isn’t everything. The Bainbridge Island community has also shown support and enthusiasm for the memorial, said Lilly Kodama, who is on the Exclusion Memorial board.

“The whole community has had a role in making it happen,” she said. “There are some who did do a lot to get it going, but it really is a community project that will have the support of the whole Bainbridge Island. It’s not just a Japanese American project.”

To put that into perspective, about three-quarters of the memorial committee are not of Japanese American descent. A number of members have been Bainbridge Island residents for years—some of whom had family members who helped safeguard their Japanese American neighbors’ belongings while they were gone.

“Mary Woodward is on the board,” Kodama said. “Her father was owner of The Bainbridge View at the time of incarceration. He editorialized against the whole event and she’s been really supportive of the memorial.”

The Bainbridge View had been a key source of information for island residents during the war. Woodward’s father assigned a Bainbridge Island teen to find news about what was going on in the camps.

“Bainbridge Islanders kept abreast of what their friends were up to in camp,” Kodama said. That way, we were fortunate because we were able to come home to a welcoming community on the whole.”

And while the memorial will include the names and birth dates of all 227 interned Japanese Americans from Bainbridge Island, the wall sends a message that reaches beyond the memories.

“The goal is for the people who visit the Memorial to not just be “passive” gathers of knowledge but to be inspired to be “active” participants in supporting human rights,” Kitamoto said. “This memorial is not only about Bainbridge Islanders, but about all who had similar experiences going through the forced removal and being incarcerated in the United States’ concentration camps and for all people locally, nationwide and globally.”

To learn more about the Bainbridge Island Japan Exclusion Memorial, visit www.bijac.org.

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