Saturday, November 16, 2019

Adventure 40/50 : Nidoto Nai Yoni, the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial

Whenever we decide to go on a trip, I try to learn a lot about the destination. Maybe I get a little obsessive, but I read a lot and look for documentaries and local events to learn more. 

So when we were planning our trip to Japan, I decided to attend a lecture called "Let it not happen again: Lessons of the Japanese American Exclusion. 

I didn't know very much about the topic -- I knew that a lot of Japanese people were rounded up during World War II and sent to internment camps. But I don't remember ever learning about it in school. 

The speaker, Clarence Moriwaki, told the story of his first week at the University of Washington in the 1970s, where he attended a meeting of Japanese-American students. As they sat around, one of the other students said to him, " So... what camp did your folks go to?" Moriwaki said, "Man, my folks were farmers ... they didn't have time for summer camp." Everyone stared at him, in silence, until one of them said, "InTERNment camps, man. During the war."

He had never even heard about it. 

Turns out his parents lived just far enough away from the coast that they didn't get sent to a camp. And he grew up in a small, tight-knit community where a few other Japanese families, none of whom talked about it. 

Moriwaki told us about the Japanese community of Bainbridge Island, near Seattle, and how over time they integrated. He showed pictures from the community in the 30s: the strawberry festival, school pictures, pictures of local businesses. And then he told us that on one day, in a coordinated, synchronized effort, each of these families was visited by a representative of the U.S. government and told that they would have to leave their homes and travel to a secret location in six days. On March 30, 1942, all 227 residents of Japanese descent -- many of whom were American citizens -- were rounded up, loaded on a ferry, and sent to unfinished camps in the desert. 

He told us about how in most places, the Japanese didn't return to where they had been rounded up; but because a lot of the community on Bainbridge Island -- notably the Woodwards, editors of the local Bainbridge Review newspaper -- kept in touch with the internees and welcomed them home after the war. '

In all, some 120,000 Japanese -- two-thirds of whom were American citizens -- were imprisoned in concentration camps during the way. There is a wealth of information about these historical events. I still can't believe that I never learned about this when I was in school. 

A few weekends ago we finally made our way over to Bainbridge Island to visit the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial. It takes the form of a memorial wall that follows the road to the Eagledale ferry dock. 

image from the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial site,, combining historical photo with the modern memorial
The names of all 227 people are inscribed on the wall, along with beautiful art pieces showing the history of the Japanese community on Bainbridge Island. It was quiet and somber and beautiful and moving. 

Nidoto Nai Yori means "Let it not happen again":

The view down to the former location of the ferry dock.

The panels are accompanied by stories and reminiscences; I loved the story of how the coach of the Bainbridge High School baseball team let all the Japanese kids play in the last game before they were imprisoned -- even though some of them weren't very good, and the team lost badly.

People who were children at the time remembered how frightened they were, carrying their things and wearing multiple layers of clothing.

And others remembered continuing their studies behind the barbed wire of the camps.

But the final panel showed the community welcoming the Japanese back to the island with open arms.

It's a beautiful, quiet place and I haven't done justice to it or the history here. But I'm really glad we were able to visit it, and someday would like to visit the Minidoka National Historic Site in Idaho to learn more.

Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial website
Minidoka National Historic Site website
Clarence Moriwaki's speaker page on, where you can learn where he is speaking

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