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The 2018 Tule Lake Pilgrimage: Connecting Across Generations

Reflections on the 2018 Tule Lake Pilgrimage

Photo by Mario G. Reyes.

The incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II was a very dark chapter in the history of the country—a chapter that should never be glossed over or ignored. A visit to these American concentration camps allows one to bear witness and learn from the past, a sobering experience that should continue for generations to come. We asked individuals who took part in the 2018 Tule Lake Pilgrimage to contribute their thoughts about the trip and the importance of sharing this experience with both young and old.

— Richard Hicks

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My parents, Kentaro and Chiye Kuroiwa Takatsui, met and married at Tule Lake. My family history begins here. Because of this, I have taken many pilgrimages to Tule Lake, and this one is my sixth.

It is always a privilege to attend this special event. The four-day pilgrimage is so well planned and executed; from the bus ride to the workshops and beyond. You get a real sense of what the prisoners experienced at the actual site. The memorial service is always moving, paying tribute to all who had to endure the camp experience. The intergeneration discussion group was amazing. In our group, there were two individuals, each over 90 years old, who had lived in the camp. They shared vivid memories of their time being incarcerated in the camp. This sharing was the most educational part of the pilgrimage, being able to share and listen to stories of the people who lived there.

I really appreciate the work of the Tule Lake Committee, to continue to educate young people about the history of this camp and to make sure the site and its past are not forgotten. My father, Kentaro Takatsui resisted the actions of the US government while at the camp and I am proud of the stance he took. Those that come from Tule Lake should be proud that they stood up and resisted the government and the imprisonment of people without due process.

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The Tule Lake Pilgrimage was well organized from the start of the conference to the end of the event. I loved my special red name tag for those over 80 years old. Transportation from the Sacramento Airport to Tule Lake and back as well as the transit during the conference was great. I loved the golf cart transportation from our apartments at the Oregon Institute of Technology to the cafeteria and workshops. Also, the housing and meals at the college were super!

The workshops were very interesting, plus participation by the attendees was great. In some cases, it was very difficult to choose the session I wanted to attend. It was great meeting people from different parts of the country and even the world. A woman was attending from Osaka! Hearing the stories of formerly incarcerated people and their family stories being shared with the younger generation of attendees meant a lot to me. I hope the next generation will continue to tell these stories and keep our legacy alive. Lastly, I thought it was great that I was able to share my experiences of volunteering at JANM with other people.

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Having spent 1 year in the Minidoka, Idaho WRA camp during WWII, I had never felt a desire or need to go on any camp pilgrimages. However, after over 20 years of being a docent at JANM, the 75th anniversary of EO9066, and especially with my advancing age, I felt “what the heck, I'll go this year.

The pilgrimage was so well organized, everything was planned to the most minute detail. The Oregon Institute of Technology was a brilliant, and mother nature cooperated with ideal weather and temperatures. But best of all, we nonagenarians and octogenarians were given preference at every event! The age-old Japanese trait of respect for elders was very evident and we “toshiyoris” really appreciated it. We were given coveted red ID name tags which gave us immediate access to everything. I was extremely surprised at the sheer number of Yonsei and younger attendees who were part of the over 400 participants. To me, this was a sign of reassurance that the history of our incarceration will be remembered and hopefully kept alive for future generations.

Upon visiting the actual site of the concentration camp and especially coming face-to-face with the infamous jail, I was taken aback that a camp building still existed after all these decades! I think it must be the only concrete building that was erected in any of the 10 camps! I was really shocked! Walking through this dismal place and trying to read some of the kanji scratched on the walls kind of sent a chill up my spine. Dai Nippon Teikoku was a very legible one. These were written by diehard Japanese nationals who thought Japan would win the war. I don't remember how many Japanese nationals were housed here. But, definitely more than three because of a place this size. What a gosh-awful remnant of Japanese American history.

I do not have any good memories during the time I was in a WRA camp. I remember there was absolutely no family life. Being forced to go into camp was shikataganai during those WWII days. It's a tribute to the Japanese spirit that we all survived this dismal period in our lives and rebuilt our lives after the war!

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This was my third pilgrimage and it was as good as the last two. However, it was jarring to note that I was the only one who had been in this camp amongst the attendees of our intergenerational group. I wanted to learn more but ended up being the person with the information.

Many Japanese Americans have no idea how different the conditions were at Tule Lake. Unlike other camps, at Tule Lake there were very few dances, boy and girl scouts, and sports. It also had high fences and several sentry towers. Even though we were able to have Japanese classes for whole or half days, you were never able to go fishing or climb Castle Rock or Abalone Mountain after segregation began. That’s when I went to Tule Lake from the Gila River War Relocation Center because my parents answered no to questions 27 and 28 on the “Loyalty Questionnaire.” I give my parents a lot of credit. As Kibeis in their early 30s, they were brave enough to show how they felt toward the US government. At this camp, there was more emphasis on loyalty questions maybe because of the Hoshi Dan groups. The Hoshi Dan were in Tule Lake probably because they were pro-Japan people but they clashed with other incarcerated people.

We must tell others about Tule Lake, those who can relate their experiences will soon be long gone!

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The event was very interesting. The facilitator for the intergeneration discussion group was great, questions they asked help spur discussion. I was also blown away to meet the only teacher I remembered, the son of Mukushima Sensei. There were a couple of other people in the audience who also were his math students in Japanese school and he had left an impression on them. His son who was born in camp, was totally surprised that his father who was a minister had taught school and impacted us so much in math. I was disappointed in not being able to talk to a couple of people who lived in Bloc.

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The Tule Lake Pilgrimage was a wonderful experience for me. It is the second pilgrimage to Tule Lake I have attended and the seventh concentration camp I have visited. I thought I knew much about Tule Lake, but in fact, I knew very little. Even the 5-hour bus ride from Sacramento to Oregon was a learning experience. Barbara Takei was our bus monitor and made this time productive. I stayed at the Oregon Institute of Technology dorm and ate in the cafeteria. I slept and ate very well. Seeing the jail and the story of the stockade was surprising. The memorial service with multiple faiths was beautiful and very moving. The final night at the downtown theater was the icing on the cake, outstanding entertainment, which included music from a local Native American tribe and a gift to the Tule Lake group.

The Tule Lake Pilgrimage was very well organized, no time was wasted. If I would say one negative, there were so many important events going on, some at the same time, and I could not witness them all. So, I hope to return. I thank everyone for letting me attend.

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The biggest realization for me on the Tule Lake trip, in combination with the other pilgrimages I have been on in the past 2 years has been not the verification of the details and facts of the incarceration but a real sense of emotional connection to the evacuation. While knowing the details is important, being at the actual site of the camp(s) brings home a deeper sense of the disruption and loss of freedom. The “share out” on the first evening in which we had to speak and listen to another person was a big part of making this realization happen.

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This was my third pilgrimage. The pilgrimage sold out in a short time because, in my view, the pilgrimage is well planned and executed by the Tule Lake Committee. Attendees learn about the experiences of us who were incarcerated in Tule Lake and other US concentration camps.

At the pilgrimage in 2016 and again this year, on opening night the attendees are asked: “How many of you are here for the first time?” Over 75% of the attendees raised their hand. Most attendees are Sansei or Yonsei, which is important because they will keep our story alive. They will inform others of what the US Government did to persons of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of whom were US Citizens, during WW II because we “looked like the enemy.” My fellow JANM pilgrimage participants have expressed well their feelings and what they learned at the pilgrimage.

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For me, Tule Lake was a good reminder of how important the people are to a pilgrimage. There's a sense of openness and community that allows for some truly amazing stories to come out, not just from those who lived the incarceration experience, but younger generations who can reflect on what it means for them today. Because we need to hear not just what happened, but also how it felt. Even within our own families we often hear refrains of, “My parents/grandparents never spoke about camp. The stories we can share and emotional richness behind them are going to be what gets others invested, and preserves this as a living history. So I hope that spirit of open sharing continues, whether within our own families or out with the wider world, especially in today's political climate.


© 2018 Richard Hicks

Barbara Keimi Ben Furuta camps community Evan Kodani janm JANM Volunteers Japanese American National Museum June Aoki Masako Koga Murakami Nahan Gluck pilgrimage Richard Murakami tule lake Wendy Hirota World War II Yae Aihara

About this series

In the summer months, many people take pilgrimages to the sites of where there were Japanese American concentration camps during World War II. Sansei initially started visits to these locations in the late 1960s. At that time, Japanese American youth had grown up knowing little about the World War II experiences of their family members. With a hunger to know more, these initial pilgrimages served as a direct connection to the experiences of parents or grandparents. Now, these pilgrimages teach younger generations not just of Japanese ancestry about a dark time in American history and provide a chance to engage with individuals who were incarcerated at the camps.

This series documents the perspectives of several people of varying age who attended a pilgrimage to the Tule Lake concentration camp in the summer of 2018. Some of these people like Richard Murakami had been incarcerated as a youth while others like Lisa Nakamura took her young children to experience the pilgrimage for the first time.