Monday, April 21, 2014

Apology to My Japanese Readers

My article “Introducing Henry Fukuhara, the annual pilgrimage artist” (Painted My Way, Riosloggers, Dec 2013) was published in “Gunjo” magazine, a literary coterie magazine in Munakata, Fukuoka. Shortly afterwards, I was bombarded with questions asking me, "Where on earth is Manzanar?"

Among post-war Japanese, I thought “Manzanar” was a very well-known concentration camp for Japanese Americans during World War II. I've come to learn that with the exception of a few people, the majority of Japanese do not know where Manzanar is. None of the maps published in Japan show the name Manzanar in California. I wrote my article with the understanding that Japanese people knew about Manzanar. Wrong! I made a serious mistake. I was very careless not to have shown the geographic location of Manzanar. Here is my answer to those who inquired about its location. “Draw a triangle connecting San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and try to find the center of the triangle. That is roughly where Manzanar is located."

I detailed the route I took in 2008 to Manzanar in my blog in English. I wrote that I rented a car at the Los Angeles International Airport and headed north on 805 and swung east a bit to Route 14 toward Mojave. I stopped at Ridgecrest, population 50,000, where the Naval Air Weapon Center employs many people. I refueled and rested, then took Route 395 North to Lone Pine. It's a well known state highway that Americans take to go to the Mammoth Lake Ski Resort. Manzanar is located just before reaching Lone Pine. There’s nothing in Manzanar but the old high school auditorium that was turned into a memorial hall and a mess hall constructed a few years ago.

There’s no public transportation to go to Manzanar. The U.S. Government picked the site because of its remote location. They transported the evacuated Japanese-Americans by bus to live in the shabby barracks constructed in a hurry. The easiest way to visit Manzanar is to join the annual Fukuhara pilgrimage tour in the spring. Otherwise, you can ask a Japanese tourist agency to organize a special group caravan, but I would advise not during summer. If you think you can drive yourself and manage the language barrier, you can follow the way I traveled from LA. The total mileage is 500 kilometers. You could start either from San Francisco or Las Vegas, but you have to be careful where to refuel. You may be driving close to the Death Valley and there are no gas stations nearby.

A few days ago, I read a Los Angeles Times article entitled “Backtrack to a sad past for former internees” wherein a group of elderly Japanese Americans recalled the time 72 years ago when they lived in horse stalls at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California. Two photos were shown - one with the reunion team taking a tram tour, circling the track with cameras; the other, an old photo of two men stuffing hay into bags. I found a familiar name George “Horse” Yoshinaga, who was my favorite Rafu-Shimpo columnist. I see now why he used the strange “Horse” nickname. He wrote in the article, “I got my name here. They say it’s because I smelled like a horse.”

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