Eighty years ago, BCA members and all Japanese Americans in the Little Tokyo area of Los Angeles were told by the federal government to assemble at the Los Angeles Betsuin temple prior to their mass incarceration during World War II.
On Sept. 24, approximately 200 former internees, descendants of the detention camps, and representatives gathered at the former Los Angeles Betsuin site to dedicate the “Ireicho,” the national monument for the World War II Japanese American incarceration.
The multi-faceted memorial and monument will record the first comprehensive listing of the names of the more than 125,000 individuals of Japanese ancestry who were unjustly imprisoned in 75 U.S. government detention centers and concentration camps during World War II because of discrimination, hysteria and ignorance.
Launched in 2020 with support from the Mellon Foundation and a U.S. National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites grant, Rev. Dr. Duncan Ryuken Williams, head of the USC Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture, created the special project.
“We are drawing on Japanese Buddhist and Japanese American cultural traditions of honoring ancestors not simply through building monuments of remembrance, but monuments to repair the racial karma of America,” Rev. Dr. Williams said.
The three basic elements making up the memorial include the Sacred Book of Names (“Ireicho”); an online archive of the names of all who were interned (“Ireizo”); and several “light” sculptures (“Ireihi”), which will be installed at several of the detention centers over the coming years.
The dedication of this project was held at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo, bringing together faith and community representatives to commemorate the “Ireicho,” which lists the names of 125,274 Japanese Americans who were interned at a detention facility in the mainland United States and in Hawaii.
Representatives from several Native American nations, whose reservations were the sites of several concentration camps, also participated in the ceremony. Japanese Buddhist-style “itatoba” memorial sticks with the names of each detention facility — as well as soil from every site — was carried into the ceremony.
Along with Rev. Dr. Williams, BCA Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada was one of the event’s officiants with other leaders from other Buddhist, Christian and Shinto faiths that serve the Japanese American community. Many BCA and Hawaii Kyodan ministers participated in the ceremony, including BCA Minister Emeritus and internees Rev. LaVerne Sasaki and his wife, Helen.
The dedication ceremony included representatives from each of the detention centers, paying their respects to the “Ireicho,” while sutras were chanted.
The “Ireicho” is intended to be an interactive monument for future generations, and the Japanese American community is invited to view it and place a small “hanko-style” stamp next to the name of family members to acknowledge each and every person who was interned.
A special element within the inside cover of the “Ireicho” is a small ceramic tile-like memorial, which contains the soil from all 75 internment sites and may be touched by anyone, linking all and acknowledging history.
Future interlinking programs will include the 25-pound “Ireicho,” which will be at the Japanese American National Museum for one year before it travels to various sites so community members may recognize their family members and loved ones whose names appear in the sacred book.
An online archive will have a searchable website established in conjunction with Densho, and will allow searching the list of names as well as Densho’s extensive collection.