By MARTHA NAKAGAWA, Rafu Contributor
Each successive Tule Lake Pilgrimage appears to attract more interest from a wide cross-section of people.
For 2016, the Tule Lake Committee (TLC) had to close registrations for the pilgrimage within three days of the announcement, and in an effort to accommodate the increased demand, the all-volunteer TLC boosted the number of attendees to 450 people.
The large majority of attendees included first-timers this year, with more than half being over the age of 60.
Ten attendees were over the age of 90, with Masato Matsui, a Tule Lake and Topaz (Central Utah) inmate, hiking up Castle Rock at the age of 97.
Words of Welcome
As in past pilgrimages, the TLC set the tone of inclusiveness, especially towards former Nisei dissenters, during the welcoming program.
Barbara Takei, TLC chief financial officer, noted that the story of those who opposed the discriminatory policies of the U.S. government during World War II, were marginalized and suppressed for decades.
“One of the roles of the Tule Lake Pilgrimage,” said Takei, “is to begin telling and validating those stories.”
Takei thanked and recognized four former Tuleans who had the courage to publicly share their experiences when it was still unpopular to do so: Jimi Yamaichi, a draft resister; Hiroshi Kashiwagi, a “no-no” and renunciant; Jim Tanimoto, a Block 42 protester; and Bill Nishimura, a “no-blank” and renunciant.
Takei especially appreciated Kashiwagi’s willingness to speak out as early as the late 1960s when hardly any former camp inmate had talked publicly about their experiences, much less shared about being a protester.
“Were it not for Hiroshi, the story of the renunciants, the 5,500 people at Tule Lake, whom the government manipulated into giving up their citizenship so they could be easily deported as aliens, would have been buried,” said Takei. “This is one of the shocking stories of Tule Lake that very few people know about.”
Takei also highlighted another Tule Lake protest that had recently come to light thanks to the late Mamoru “Mori” Tanimoto.
“Jim’s older brother, Mori, reached out to us at one of the Tule Lake Pilgrimages, and got Jim involved into coming,” said Takei. “And because of Jim and Mori, who is no longer with us, we began to learn the story of the Block 42 protest, where they had refused to answer the loyalty questionnaire. The whole block, all the young men, had refused to answer and ended up being sent over to the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) camp.
“If the Tanimoto brothers hadn’t come to the pilgrimage, nobody would have really known about this story.”
Takei regretted that Nishimura could not attend this year’s pilgrimage but publicly thanked him for sharing his story at the pilgrimage for more than 10 years.
“Our pilgrimage is really to honor and to mourn and to remember our unsung heroes,” said Takei.
Larry Whalen was recently appointed as the new superintendent of the Tule Lake Unit of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument and the Lava Beds National Monument.
“It’s an honor for me to be here at Tule Lake,” said Whalen. “I manage Lava Beds, as well, and I love Lava Beds but the real story and the real driver is to work at Tule Lake.”
Whalen said the staff is currently working on drafting a General Management Plan, which should be available for public comment in the fall. The NPS staff will be using the GMP as a guide to develop the Tule Lake site for the next 20 years.
“We will be having meetings all along the West Coast and probably smaller communities like Hood River, to get feedback on the General Management Plan,” said Whalen. “That will be in the fall.”
In addition, Whalen said they are working on opening the camp site to the public.
“That sounds easy, but actually, you need personnel to do it and you also have to define what that means,” said Whalen. “What is open? We want the public to be there. We want people to know there’s a place. Right now, it’s hard to see. No one really knows what it is so we need exposure and to let people know where to get information.”
Whalen said they are also working on retrofitting one of the existing buildings to serve as a visitor contact station, where the public can obtain information on self-guided tours and activities.
Inter-faith Memorial Service
This year, the inter-faith memorial service was held in front of the jail house, with the Revs. Ronald Kobata, Jay Shinseki and Saburo Masada officiating.
Kobata challenged participants not to judge the historical figures involved with Tule Lake, but to consider how they themselves would respond.
“From our perspective, we see the prejudice and bigotry of a Gen. [John] DeWitt and the integrity of [attorney] Wayne Collins,” said Kobata. “The distinction is clear, but both were mortal, fallible human beings, so our personal challenge is to reflect on this and reflect on which I and you may become.”
In referring to this year’s pilgrimage theme of “Our Hallowed Ground,” Shinseki reflected upon the land the participants were seated on.
“There are so many things we cannot see,” said Shinseki. “We cannot see the blood and the tears that are part of this ground, that are forever part of this landscape. We cannot see those who stood their ground, who resisted, who said ‘no’ against discrimination, ‘no’ to injustice, who said ‘yes’ to being treated equally, ‘yes’ to righteousness, ‘yes’ to human dignity.”
Shinseki went on to remember his uncle, the late Mamoru “Mori” Tanimoto, who, with his younger brother, Jim, had shared about their Block 42 protest with the pilgrimage attendees for several years: “Their lives and your family’s lives inspire us to be brave enough to fight against injustice, inspire us to be strong enough to say ‘no.’ May this ground, with all its memories, inspire us here to build upon this foundation so that future generations may continue to tell the story, continue to honor our history and our past.”
Masada was a junior high school student at the Jerome War Relocation Authority camp in Arkansas during the war. He shared that as a child, he heard the heated debates over the controversial loyalty questionnaire and had been under the impression that those who had refused to fill out or answered the questionnaire with a “no” to Questions 27 and 28, were “disloyal” to the United States.
“Years later, I learned that these who were labeled ‘disloyal’ were not ‘disloyal’ but were fighting for their rights under our Constitution, and as American citizens,” said Masada. “I realized that the majority in our camps were wrong to echo our government’s false accusation. Both sides were seeking to deal with America’s injustice, and sadly our government had us fighting each other, instead of our fighting our government together.”
Masada also pointed out the importance of preserving the former campsite.
“The chair of our Tule Lake Committee, Hiroshi Shimizu, reminds us that there were so many unnecessary and vindictive actions inflicted by the administration of the Tule Lake War Relocation Authority and the Department of Justice camps upon those who were incarcerated here.
“This caused so much pain and suffering, both physical and psychological, resulting in unnecessary deaths and attempted and successful suicides. Hiroshi believes the grounds of Tule Lake should be considered historically sacred, along with Civil War battlefields like Shiloh and Gettysburg …
“Our nation and our world need reminders and events to keep us aware of America’s history. This is why it is crucial that this site, this hallowed ground, be preserved and visited and kept alive in our nation’s memory.”
Consul General of S.F.
As it has become tradition, the Japanese consul general of San Francisco, Jun Yamada, participated in both the 2016 Manzanar and Tule Lake pilgrimages, and offered flowers during the Tule Lake inter-faith memorial service.
Yamada noted that racism and xenophobia was spreading throughout the world, including within the U.S. For this reason, he felt there was a greater need to remember what had occurred at Tule Lake and at the other camps.
“Against this background, the message of what Tule Lake has to offer to the world has seriously increased,” said Yamada. “We all have to reflect upon this time and again, the meaning of what had happened to all the Japanese American people in those years. This is the only way by which we can never allow any repetition of this kind to occur anywhere.
“California is home to the largest Japanese American population, as well as the largest number of Japanese expatriates in the world. I can’t think of any better place for both of them to work together, hand-in-hand, to share and preserve this common memory that holds universal value for all of humankind, than here at Tule Lake.”
The participation of the San Francisco Consulate General since the late 2000s is largely due to the efforts of Yoshiro Tasaka, who had first attended a Tule Lake Pilgrimage in 2002, when he was still a student. Currently, he works as a liaison between the consulate in San Francisco and the larger Japanese American community.
Although celebrity George Takei, best known for his role as Mr. Sulu on the “Star Trek” TV series, and his husband, Brad, have attended several past Tule Lake Pilgrimages, Takei garnered more attention this year due to his high-profile appearances on Howard Stern’s radio show, AARP (American Association of Retired People) publicity spots, and his Broadway performances in the musical “Allegiance.”
Takei served as master of ceremonies of the Tule Lake cultural program at the Ross Ragland Theater in Klamath Falls, Ore. and gave an impromptu presentation at a publicly open panel discussion of camp survivors.
Takei, a former Rohwer and Tule Lake camp inmate, shared about visiting the Rohwer cemetery as an adult.
“As I child, I was never taken there,” said Takei. “And as I walked around the cemetery reading the headstones, I was struck by the number of headstones that said, ‘Baby Yamada,’ ‘Baby Tanaka,’ ‘Baby Yasui.’ No first names. And the birth and death date and year was the same.
“Hospital care was very poor. There were very few medicines at all, so many of the babies were either stillborn or died shortly after, and so they had no first names. I was really struck by that.”
Takei also talked about the exploits of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, as well as the checkered past of Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, who had won the governor’s seat in California by campaigning against the Japanese Americans.
The Manzanar National Historic Site sends staff members to participate in the Tule Lake biennial pilgrimage. Among those who attended this year was Superintendent Bernadette Johnson.
In sharing her thoughts, Johnson wrote via email, “The Tule Lake Pilgrimage was very moving! It was my first time. It was wonderful to have so many people that were willing to share their stories. As you know, we (Manzanar staff) have had a long-time commitment to oral histories and getting those first-hand experiences out to the public, so being able to be immersed in a setting like the one the Tule Lake Committee creates was very meaningful to me.
“Each day, I tried to find somebody I didn’t know and talk to them. I was committed to learning as much as I could. On our first day, our bus monitors — Lorna (Fong) and Satsuki (Ina) — asked each of us what we wanted to get out of our experiences over the next few days. I shared that even though I’m immersed in Manzanar every day, I was hoping to hear stories from more people. I realized how fragile it is becoming to capture as many stories as possible from a personal perspective, so it was amazing to me how many people were willing to share. I hope that so many of these experiences are being documented — even at the family level — so they are preserved for future generations.”
Johnson noted that about one-fourth of Manzanar inmates were segregated to Tule Lake. so she hoped to continue expanding that portion of the story at Manzanar.
“The take-away for me was that it was REALLY important for us to help bridge the thought that being a no-no was a bad thing when, in fact, many of these men and women were standing firm and stating their commitment to civil rights by making very tough decisions about their future. They are heroes, in my opinion!”
In other Manzanar news, Johnson shared that:
• Manzanar continues to see about a 12 percent increase in visitation after having a record year with 95,328 visitors in 2015.
• Efforts are continuing to conduct oral histories.
• Staff will be attending the Manzanar Reunion in August.
• Long-time volunteers Saburo and Ann Sasaki are being recognized nationally by the NPS with the George Hartzog Enduring Service Award in early August. They were selected out of 440,000 NPS volunteers.
• Manzanar hosted a citizenship ceremony with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on May 25. Judge Paul Igasaki was the keynote speaker and the new citizens and USCIS staff were given a tour of Block 14.
Death at Pilgrimage
One tragedy that marred this year’s pilgrimage was the sudden death of Henry Hideo Nonaka, 73.
Nonaka, a long-time resident of Illinois, had been born at Tule Lake and succumbed to a prior heart condition on July 2, while touring the Lava Beds National Monument, near the former Tule Lake camp site.
He was born on March 18, 1943 to Chitoshi and Sueko (Yuoka) Nonaka. After the war, the family moved to Chicago, where Nonaka graduated from Lane Technical High and received his bachelor of science from the University of Chicago. He went on to work at Corn Products International, where he met his wife, Gail Manowsky. The couple had three children.
Rev. Masada offered a prayer during the plenary session, after TLC board member Dr. Satsuki Ina, a psychotherapist, shared the tragedy with the attendees and read words of appreciation from the surviving family members, who had been consoled by various attendees. The audience was encouraged to string paper cranes in Nonaka’s memory.
The paper cranes were then given to the family and were used to decorate Nonaka’s casket at the funeral held in Illinois. Other cranes were handed out to funeral attendees, who were invited to write messages on the cranes and drop them into Nonaka’s casket.
Several Tule Lake Pilgrimage participants also attended the Japanese American Citizens League’s national convention, which was held in Las Vegas a week after the pilgrimage.
At the convention on July 12, JACL passed a resolution in support of the establishment of the Tule Lake National Historic Site and for protecting and preserving the entire historic site.