Home Community Voices Bainbridge Island, 82 Years Later, Commemorates Day of Exile

Bainbridge Island, 82 Years Later, Commemorates Day of Exile

Bainbridge Island, 82 Years Later, Commemorates Day of Exile

By Pamela Okano
NAP Contributor

On March 30, 1942, 227 Japanese Americans who lived on Bainbridge Island were forced to leave their homes. They boarded a ferry to Seattle and upon arrival, transferred to a train. They were never told where they were going. Their destination was the Manzanar War Relocation Center in the California desert. For the first time ever in U.S. history, the federal government was forcing families to become prisoners in concentration camps.

On Saturday, March 30, exactly 82 years later, many of the remaining Bainbridge survivors gathered at the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial to commemorate that day. The memorial is located across Eagle Harbor from the current ferry terminal. It is on the very site of the Eagledale ferry landing where the survivors walked onto the ferry to begin their journey to an incarceration camp.

People walk along the wall of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial during the recent commemoration.  Photo: Richard Birnbaum

Organized by the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community (BIJAC), in conjunction with the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial Association (BIJAEMA), the ceremony began with BIJAC President Carol Reitz welcoming the survivors and guests. She explained that the theme of this year’s commemoration was “Teach the Children.” Indeed, several children were present, since their families wanted them to learn the story and understand their heritage.

The keynote speaker, Natalie Sakuma, a Yonsei (fourth generation Japanese American) 4th-grade teacher in the Sedro Woolley School District, recounted the legacy of her grandfather, Satoru Sakuma, who was born on Bainbridge Island. He served in the 442nd regimental combat team after being incarcerated at Manzanar, California, and Minidoka, Idaho. In Natalie’s eyes, her grandfather was her greatest role model through his words and exemplary life.

The entire ceremony showcased the Bainbridge Island community and its capacity for honoring and cherishing the memories of the 276 islanders who were incarcerated. (Only 227 of the 276 were on the ferry because some were in the armed forces, away at school or for some other reason not on the island at the time. They could not return home and were also sent to “camp.”)

The program began with Elilai Abraham, a Suquamish tribe member, giving the land acknowledgment of her tribal forebears in both English and her native tongue. Bainbridge Island City Councilman Clarence Moriwaki read a city proclamation declaring March 30, 2024, as the Day of Nidoto Nai Yoni (“Let It Never Happen Again”). A tribute was made to Maxwell Richards, a Bainbridge High School student who was the 2024 recipient of the Frank Kitamoto Legacy Award for his work in promoting social justice. Michele Bombardier, Bainbridge Island’s Poet Laureate, read “In Remembrance,” a poem by Janice Mirikitani. She was inspired by her parents’ incarceration experience in the Rohwer War Relocation Center in Arkansas.

BIJAC President Reitz presented BIJAEMA President Val Tollefson with a check for $100,000 raised by BIJAC members. Washington State Senator Drew Hansen announced that the state legislature has appropriated $300,000 for BIJAEMA to help fund the construction of a visitor center. Although the Exclusion Memorial was envisioned more than 15 years ago, the visitor center is the final planned phase (For more information about the memorial, please see the sidebar at the bottom of the article).

In what has become a tradition for the commemoration ceremony, Ken Matsudaira and Taiga Araki read the 276 names of those incarcerated. By the time the readers got to my aunt and uncle’s names, Yukiye “Pauline” and John “Maasaki” Nakata and their children, I was in tears.

(The author would like to thank Ellen Sato Faust for her assistance in writing this article.)



The Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial is a unit of the Minidoka National Historic Site in Jerome, Idaho. A national park ranger is onsite seasonally, Thursday-Sunday from March through November.

The original structure at the memorial was the pavilion which contains several interpretative panels.  It describes the history of the Nikkei (Japanese Americans) on Bainbridge Island from the late 1800s to the present.

The memorial wall was dedicated in 2011. This gracefully curving structure is 276 feet long, one foot for each Nikkei who lived on the island at the time, and is decorated with terracotta friezes that depict scenes from firsthand accounts of the survivors.

The departure dock, dedicated in 2021, is located on the exact location of the 1942 Eagledale ferry dock. Interpretive artwork on the Departure Deck was dedicated in 2022. It is currently being evaluated for the 2024 International Public Art Award.

For those wishing to visit the memorial, the address is:

Pritchard Park
4192 Eagle Harbor Drive NE
Bainbridge Island, WA 98110
(3.8 miles from the Winslow Ferry Terminal.)

The best way to get there is by car since sidewalks and bike lanes are scarce, and the road is on hilly terrain. The memorial is open every day during daylight hours.

A visitors center is planned for completion in 2025. It will provide indoor interpretive space, classroom and lecture facilities, restrooms, and a paved plaza to improve visitor accessibility. Fundraising is at approximately 85% of its $4 million goal. To support this worthy project, please go to https://bijaema.org/donate/.