On this lovely, clear winter day I’m visiting the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial on Bainbridge Island.
This outdoor exhibit commemorates the internment of Japanese Americans from Bainbridge Island. It is part of the Minidoka National Historic Site. Minidoka is one of the internment camps where many of Bainbridge Island’s Japanese-Americans would live out the rest of the war.
The site itself is fairly modest, with some bigger plans coming down the road. They’re hoping to build a nice visitor center in the coming years. Until then, the exhibits are all in the open air, starting with this pavilion explaining the journeys of those interned before and after the war.
Japanese immigrants first came to Bainbridge Island in the 1880s, working in sawmills and strawberry harvesting, and by the 1940s had become an integral part of the island’s community.
Three months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Army arrived on Bainbridge Island to begin carrying out President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which authorized mass internment.
Because of the island’s proximity to naval bases, local Japanese Americans were the first in the country interned. 277 Japanese Americans had to leave the island.
What is distinctive about Bainbridge Island is that it was the embarkation point for the first wave of people who would be exiled. The government used the island’s small population as a test case, to see whether it could carry out a mass relocation. The Bainbridge Island experiment became the model for evacuations up and down the West Coast.
The main part of the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial is this outdoor cedar “story wall” with the names of all Japanese and Japanese Americans residing on Bainbridge Island at the time.
The wall curves back and forth all the way down to the water. Each wall features nameplates, paper cranes, and sculptures depicting quotes and life on the island before internment, during internment, and after.
The Memorial Wall represents the Japanese American story of Bainbridge Island. The wood on top of the rocks symbolizes the strength of the community. The forced removal represented by a break in the wall. The return of the Japanese Americans is on the last panel. Finally, the granite base represents the island’s solid foundation of community.
The paper crane is a symbol of peace, love, hope, and healing during challenging times. It also holds a special meaning from another WWII tragedy. When Sadako Sasaki was two years old, she was exposed to radiation from the atomic bomb that devastated Hiroshima in 1945. By the time she was 12, the radiation exposure had developed into leukemia, and she was given just one year to live.
The young girl began making 1,000 paper cranes in the hopes of being granted her wish to recover from her illness. As time went on and her collection of origami cranes grew, her goal changed. Sasaki decided to wish for world peace instead of her own life.
As her condition worsened, she never stopped making paper cranes and her classmates even joined in to help her.
Local artist Steve Gardner created friezes on the wall. Each sculpture illustrates one of the key chapters in the history of the internment (or exclusion) of the Japanese Americans of Bainbridge Island.
Gardner speaks of his work: “As I absorbed the accounts of 70 years ago some of it began to take on a personal feeling. The faces of the children in the photos began to remind me of my own 6-year old daughter and my 1-year old son, and I wondered if I could also keep the stoic gaze that those parents wore.”
“It made me think of all the things that could be lost– our house, our careers, our friends, and our community. I found that I had often inserted my own family in many of the stories and scenes that became the sketches.”
Nidoto Nai Yoni, or, “Let it not happen again,” is the theme of the memorial. Not just to remember what happened, but recognize our own ability to not let it happen again.
Another plaque at the end of the wall and the start of the dock reinforces the notion.
They departed by ferry on March 30, 1942. Most internees went to Manzanar, CA, though some later transferred to Minidoka, Idaho. Local newspapers such as The Bainbridge Review spoke out against the internment and continued to publish correspondence from internees.
Today, the ferry dock gives a clear view of the Washington State ferry and the Winslow Ferry Terminal.
And a nice western view across Eagle Harbor to the Olympic Mountains.
Allowed to pack only one suitcase, the soldiers loaded them into trucks bound for this location. Once on the mainland, a train would take them to an internment camp.
Known only as “Mystery Girl” or “Mystery Lady” until the 1990s, Bainbridge Island resident Fumiko Hayashida and her 13-month-old daughter prepared to board the ferry that day. The image made her famous as a symbol of the internment.
As all families moved, they had only six days to find caretakers for their property and settle their affairs.
At 95, Hayashida testified in Washington, D.C., urging lawmakers to never forget the injustice done to loyal citizens. At nearly 99, she attended the dedication of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial. In 2014, at 103, she passed away.
Our ferry trip home is quite a bit different than what those destined for internment faced 80 years ago. I can’t imagine the pain of leaving home for a camp in California or the Idaho desert.
Mount Rainier and the Olympic mountains surely look the same as they did back then, but Seattle has surely grown.
Located about 10 minutes from the Winslow Ferry Terminal by car, the memorial is open during daylight hours. On busy summer weekends, the memorial has a ranger on-premises. Visit the memorial’s homepage for the latest information.