At the entrance of the memorial wall is the main message of the JAEM. “Nidato Nai Yoni” or “Let it not happen again.” Photo by Fereshta Ullah

It was a late Saturday morning and the air was crisp on Bainbridge Island. A group of friendly adventurers from all walks of life gathered in a circle awaiting a tour of the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial; nestled under grand trees and surrounded by a rich ecosystem of well-manicured greenery. This was not the first time they gathered together for an outdoor excursion that was also educational, inspiring and deeply bonding.

How Outdoor Asian started

“Outdoor Asian was created as a community space for people from AANHPI (Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander) heritage to recreate outdoors.” Saira Shahid, a second-generation Bangladeshi-American, is the Volunteer Manager at Outdoor Asian. “Connecting with the natural environment has great benefits for mental and physical health.” 

Pamela Lim is a Chinese Filipino American who grew up in an immigrant community in Southern California. Lim is also the Finance Manager at Outdoor Asian. “Our mission is to create an inclusive and healing space where people can connect over shared experiences, upbringings, cultural practices, and values in outdoor spaces.”

Lilly Kodama narrates the history behind the Japanese American Exclusion memorial. Photo by Fereshta Ullah

Outdoor Asian was first started as a Facebook page in 2016. Christopher Chalaka, a second-generation South Asian-Taiwanese American, created the page to share articles and stories about the outdoors and how it intersected with API identity. Following the Facebook group, he launched an Instagram page and continued to highlight API involvement in the outdoors, this time adding a hashtag (#outdoorasian).

“Our community grew as more and more people started using the hashtag and following our Facebook page where they shared personal experiences and connected with others in the community,” said Shahid.

Outdoor Asian was inspired by Latino Outdoors and Outdoor Afro, who they continue to have a strong partnership with. As part of their mission, Outdoor Asian is passionate about working with other BIPOC communities who seek to make outdoor extracurricular activities accessible for marginalized groups.

“AANHPI communities and other communities of color have been historically excluded from the outdoors,” said Shahid. “OAWA aims to remove these barriers and ensure that members of these communities have an opportunity to experience the joy of being outdoors.”

These colorful paper cranes were made by students from Big Lake Elementary. The artwork displays thoughtful messages of hope. Photo by Fereshta Ullah

Outdoor Asian events

Outdoor Asian organizes events that align with their mission of accessibility, equity, environmental awareness and community. “Our programs connect individuals to each other, to the Indigenous land we live on, and to a wide-ranging network of AANHPI and BIPOC leaders in the outdoor recreation and environmental sectors,” said Shahid.

The events are beginner-friendly and often include the materials needed for the excursion, thanks to support from local vendors and community members. “We intentionally create a welcoming environment for beginners to learn about new ways to enjoy the outdoors,” said Pamela Lim. “At every event, there are always participants who are first-timers in the activity.”

Outdoor Asian events include camping trips, beginner backpacking, exploring tide pools, mushroom foraging and much more. The group also holds a multitude of culturally educational events including the redlining tour with the Wing Luke Museum, Kimchi making and visiting the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial.

The entrance to the site displays a brief introduction of the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial with a historical image of families being expelled from their home on Bainbridge Island. Photo by Fereshta Ullah

Japanese American Exclusion Memorial: Nidoto Nai Yoni

Located on Bainbridge Island, the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial gives honor to resilience while also echoing a warning to future generations: “Nidoto Nai Yoni” or “Let it not happen again.” This motto is displayed and reverberated throughout the memorial.

The Japanese American Exclusion Memorial was built on the formerly known Eagledale Ferry Dock where Japanese American men, women and children were forced out of their homes by gun-wielding soldiers during WWII.

The site is particularly significant because it is where the very first 227 out of 120,000 Japanese Americans were expelled and sent to concentration camps, a very dark time in American history. Today, there is a 276-foot-long memorial wall placed in honor of the Japanese Americans who were expelled out of their homes in 1942. The name and age of each resident is displayed throughout the wall.

Joyce Nishimura is a retired teacher and volunteer who started giving tours of the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial in 2021. “I have lived on Bainbridge Island since 1971 and have gotten to know the Japanese community and friends over the years,” she said. “One BI family who was incarcerated became our ‘adopted’ grandparents for our children since my parents lived in Hawaii.” Frank Kitamoto, the founder of the Memorial, was her dentist for over 40 years.

Outdoor Asian members touring JAEM with Lilly Kodama and staff. Photo by Fereshta Ullah

Nishimura is the Secretary of BIJAC (Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community).

“I have been involved with BIJAC for 50 years, first helping with community events like Mochi Tsuki, Teriyaki dinners,” she said. “I was also involved with doing oral histories with almost all of the survivors during 2007-08 and transcribed some of the video footage.”

Joyce Nishimura described how the layout of the Japanese Exclusion Memorial was built to invoke strong emotions by taking the visitor back in time. “The outdoor setting not only depicts the actual site where this tragic event took place but the natural surroundings add another layer of emotional impact,” she said. “It allows for thought and reflection that a busy urban setting could not.” 

Nishimura also explained the significance of the details surrounding the memorial wall.

“The gravel path is intentional to allow visitors to feel how it might have been if they were walking down that path,” she said. “The Wall itself is wavy, to represent life with its ups and downs, as is typical of all life, including the Japanese people.”

Joyce Nishimura believes it is vital for future generations to visit the Japanese American Exclusion memorial. “It is critical for our youth, Asian or otherwise, to learn about our history and visit this site because the stories they hear and the “sacred ground” on which they step foot on, have lasting impressions more powerful than any information they could read about.”

Built out of old growth red cedar, granite and basalt, the memorial wall is 276 ft long to honor the 276 names of Japanese community members who were expelled from their home and sent to concentration camps when President Frank D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 and Civilian Exclusion Order No. 1. Photo by Fereshta Ullah

Outdoor Asian at the Japanese Exclusion Memorial

Much like Nishimura, Outdoor Asian leadership also reiterates the importance of learning about API history in the region. “The Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial (BIJAEM) event is a really meaningful way for us to learn about Asian American history in the Pacific Northwest,” said Lim.

“Our event consisted of a tour of the historic site, in which we spoke to members of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community (BIJAC), including one person who was incarcerated during the war and shared the experiences that she and her family had faced.”

Outdoor Asian participants appreciate the groups cultural events because it helps them connect with their community and their heritage in a way that is deeply impactful.

“A few participants found the trip especially valuable, as their family members had also been forced into the internment camps,” said Shahid. “It is important that we understand this history and connect it to injustices that are happening today…as the motto and the mission of BIJAEM states, Nidoto Nai Yoni, “Let It Not Happen Again.”

At the end of the memorial wall trail is the pier with footprints displayed at the very edge of the pier and a glass barrier between the footsteps to remind the visitor that they can’t go past this point but there are many who were forced to go past it and leave everything behind as they started their journey of expulsion, detainment and loss. Photo by Fereshta Ullah

This story was produced in partnership with our media sponsor Communities of Opportunity, a growing movement of partners who believe every community can be a healthy, thriving community.

Previous articleJob Posting: Associate Executive Director with Companis
Next articleCID Public Safety Council introduces a new column answering reader questions