On March 30, 1942, 276 Japanese American Bainbridge Island residents were forced to leave the island due to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. The order included approximately 120,000 other Japanese Americans throughout the country, who were all forced into wartime concentration camps. It was a dark moment for both our country and our island. Here on Bainbridge, many residents stood in opposition to the orders and throughout the incarceration of their neighbors and friends, they did what they could to preserve their land, businesses and belongings until the island’s Japanese community could return home.
To honor, and to never forget the injustice, the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial was built and opened to the public on July 30, 2011.
The outdoor exhibit was designed by local architect Johnpaul Jones, an American Indian and principal of Jones and Jones Architects. Local artist Steve Gardner created the friezes you see today on the winding walls, which depict scenes of Japanese American islanders being steered onto ferries at the (historic) Eagledale ferry dock, just steps from the Memorial.
Over the past year or so, another piece of the Memorial has been under construction; the Exclusion Departure Deck, which sits in the same spot as the Eagledale ferry dock. As 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) explained, the 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.
In addition to the deck itself, interpretive iron artwork was designed by artists Anna Brones and Luc Revel. The “sculptures” depict 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.
“It was really important for us to create a concept that invoked an emotional gravity. Art has an amazing capacity to be a catalyst for empathy, and while we can’t fully understand what it would have been like to have walked down the dock that day, we can use artwork to help put the visitor into a place where they are challenged to encounter and consider some of the same emotions,” Anna and Luc explained. “The concept was designed with this in mind, to create a sense of rigidity and oppression as the visitor walks underneath the towering soldiers, and then the sense of walking alongside with the people represented by the silhouettes on the deck, cultivating a sense of empathy. The tag is also a really important repeating element throughout the concept. It serves as a good reminder of what happens when we decide that someone is an ‘other’ and the atrocities that we as humans are capable of making.”
Of artists Brones and Revel, Clarence said, “they just get it,” referring to the evocative and powerful sculptures they designed.
Although the interpretive artwork was expected to be installed by Memorial Day, unexpected delays ensued. However, the majority of the artwork has now been installed and the deck is open to visitors. Unfortunately, the Sentinel soldiers at the entrance are yet to be installed. Per G. Val Tollefson, President of BIJAEMA, they hope to have them in by the end of this month or the first week in August.
A Visitor Center at the Memorial is also in the works. “Depending largely on fundraising success, we expect to start construction (on the Visitor Center) in late 2023 or early 2024,” Val explained.
For more articles on the Memorial from The Island Wanderer, see below:
–Remembering the Past – 80th Commemoration of the forced removal of Japanese Americans from Bainbridge Island | THE ISLAND WANDERER
–Japanese-American Exclusion Commemoration is a Reminder of What can Happen on our Idyllic Island | THE ISLAND WANDERER
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