Remembering the Past – 80th Commemoration of the forced removal of Japanese Americans from Bainbridge Island

Sign at Pegasus regarding 1942 Registration for Japanese AmericansOn a rainy day in late February, I met with Clarence Moriwaki, Bainbridge Island City councilman and past president of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community (BIJAC) and the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial Association (BIJAEM), at Pegasus Coffee House on Parfitt Way to talk about the upcoming 80th Commemoration of the forced removal of Japanese Americans under Executive Order 9066.

It was an appropriate location for our meeting, because, in essence, this is where it all began…the building was built in 1937 as the Anderson Dock Store, and it was the location where starting on March 24, 1942, Bainbridge Island’s Japanese Americans were ordered to register and have a medical examination, allowing only six days to settle all personal, property and business affairs before to reporting to Eagledale dock on March 30, 1942 for transportation to unknown detention centers across the country.

Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion MemorialClarence, a man who always has time and a sincere smile for everyone he meets was emotional that day, understandably so. We talked briefly about his involvement with both the BIJAC and the BIJAEM, as well as the recent clean-up that was done in February at the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial. He joked that he’d inherited an old fisherman’s one-piece insulated chest waders with built-in boots, never thinking he’d ever use them, but was very happy to have them when he found himself waist deep in the icy cold waters around the Memorial’s pond, removing reeds, weeds and other debris. He was so proud of the clean-up operation and the more than 135 people that joined the operation this year.

He went on to tell me about the upcoming 80th Anniversary Commemoration, and how in past years, as president of the BIJAC, he would start the event at 11 a.m., minutes before the exact time the ferry arrived at 11:03 a.m. to take them away, and that at each event featured a reading of all 276 names of the Japanese Americans who were forcibly removed, incarcerated and excluded from Bainbridge Island.

Interpretive sculptures by Anna Brones and Luc Revel - Japanese Exclusion Memorial Departure Deck Bainbridge IslandWe also discussed the new Exclusion Departure Deck, which was built over the last year and the final installation of the interpretive iron artwork that will be installed before Memorial Day. The pieces were designed by artists Anna Brones and Luc Revel. A tear formed as he described them; the emotional importance of the soldiers holding their guns upward, forming an “entrance” to the dock, the woman and child, with “tags” cut out of the figures, representing the numbered identification tags assigned to each Japanese American, and the glass wall at the end of the dock with footsteps of passengers (adult and children) along with the soldiers that escorted them, walking into the unknown. Of artists Brones and Revel, Clarence said, “they just get it,” referring to the evocative and powerful sculptures they designed.

Current Visitor Center design by Johnpaul Jones - Jones and Jones Architects - Japanese Exclusion Memorial Bainbridge IslandThe Departure Deck design has always been part of the original memorial plans, but the current design has been in the making for more than a decade, Clarence said. For the first phase of construction. many of the major participants, including Islander architect Johnpaul Jones, the Timber Framers Guild and others, was done pro-bono. In addition to the final work at the Memorial, a Visitor Center is underway.

“Depending largely on fundraising success, we expect to start construction (on the Visitor Center) in late 2023 or early 2024,” said G. Val Tollefson, President of BIJAEMA.

Display at Sakai Middle School - Bainbridge IslandAs our conversation neared its end, Clarence asked me to join him in a few days at Sonoji Sakai Intermediate School to meet Survivor, Frances Kitamoto Ikegami, who was speaking to a group at the school and will also be a speaker at the Commemoration ceremony.

Frances Kitamoto Ikegami and Clarence MoriwakiFrances was just 5 years old when her family was taken from Bainbridge Island to the Manzanar and Minidoka camps. As she told me, “I won’t talk about my time in the camps” at the ceremony, instead, she wants to thank all the people that helped care for the properties while the Japanese American island community was incarcerated, and everything that was done upon their homecoming. “We are all working so it never happens again,” she said, “through peoples’ love and care that made a difference (then and now) in our community.”

The 80th Commemoration of the forced removal of Japanese Americans on Bainbridge Island takes place on Wednesday, March 30th from 11am to 12 noon at the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial – 4195 Eagle Harbor Drive NE, Bainbridge Island, WA.

Ken Matsudaira will be reading the 276 names on the memorial wall, while Rev Senji Kanaeda will be ring the gong after each name.  Jay Matsudaira will be handling the live streaming to BIJAEM’s Facebook page.

Speakers at the Event

Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial 80th Anniversary Commemoration Event Speakers

Additional Events Scheduled to commemorate the 80th Anniversary Include:

  • Camp-Harmony by Chris Hopkins image courtesy of the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art-BIMAA Japanese American Museum of Oregon representative will be on hand with a traveling vintagePaper Doll by Jan Hopkins image courtesy of the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art-BIMA U.S. flag for survivors to sign. Stop by the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art (BIMA) to add your signature.
  • The art of Chris and Jan Hopkinsis on display at BIMA through June 12th, as part of the Executive Order 9066 at Eighty
  • BIHM Let It Not Happen Again - lobby installationThe Bainbridge Island Historical Museum is hosting tea and cookies from 2-4pm. The Museum has created a limited-time, special BIHM Installation Scrapbook compiled by Paul Ohtakiinstallation in the museum’s lobby to honor the 80th Anniversary. The exhibit will feature Exclusion period materials and photographs from the Museum’s collection. A recently restored original U.S. Army poster instructing Japanese Americans to leave the Island will be available for viewing. The MuseumBIHM Departure and Coming Home by Sada Omoto (206-842-2773) is located at 215 Ericksen Ave NE and is a short walk from BIMA.
  • Sakai Intermediate School will be conducting a special docent-led tour of its art collection from 4:30-5:30 p.m. The school is located at 9343 NE Sportsman Club Road.

BIHM Tag by Chris DemarestParking at the event is limited and drivers may drop off passengers and then continue on to the Park-and-Ride at Bethany Lutheran Church, 7968 Finch Road NE to catch the complimentary round-trip shuttle. Shuttle services begins at 10am – 11am for the 6-minute ride and 12:30pm – 1:30pm for the return trip.

*Special thanks to Carol Reitz, who provided the bios/images of the speakers; G. Val Tollefson for information and images of the Departure Deck artwork and Visitors Center; Korum Bischoff, Director of Communications & Visitor Experience at BIMA, and Merilee Mostov, Director of Exhibits and Engagement at the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum for a tour of the installation currently on display.

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