Manzanar’s Japanese Gardens – Excerpts from the 2014-2015 NAJGA Journal

Creating Beauty Behind Barbed Wire by Jeff Burton and Mary Farrell

Manzanar 2

“A desolate prison camp in the high desert seems an unlikely place for a Japanese garden contest, let alone an outstanding collection of Japanese gardens. World War II would seem an unlikely time for Japanese Americans to assert their Japanese heritage. Yet the Japanese Americans incarcerated at the Manzanar Relocation Center, now Manzanar National Historic Site, left a legacy of beauty, resistance, and resilience in Japanese gardens.

The incarceration of almost 120,000 Japanese-Americans — most American citizens — by the US government during World War II is one of the most shameful stories in American history. The “Relocation” removed persons of Japanese ancestry from their homes, schools, and businesses on the West Coast and placed mostly behind barbed wire. Manzanar opened in March 1942 — one of ten camps — to incarcerate more than 10,000 people.

Although this episode managed to stay out of US history books for decades, it has come to light through the efforts of the Japanese-American community, civil rights advocates, historians and archaeologists.

Three of these sites are now part of the National Park Service, which is charged with educating the public to prevent similar government-sponsored racism…..”

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On the Purpose & Role of Japanese Gardens in American Internment Camps by Seiko Goto, Ph.D.

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“Multiple Japanese gardens were built in all ten internment camps. Japanese gardens in Manzanar Relocation Center have been called “Momoyama-style gardens,” and summarized as an “important means for the expression of Japanese American cultural values within the regimented organization of the camp.” The question arises: why would internees facing such hardship due to their nationality decide to build gardens to express their culture? It is thus important to analyze the purpose and role of Japanese gardens in the internment camp to assess their value….

….Internment is generally the confinement of people done by a government to police people and confiscate their assets. Japanese internment in the United States, however, was unique in that these camps confined people with American citizenship based only on their ethnic background. The camp gardens were also for viewing and living, not solely for food production…

…Conditions and facilities in the camps varied. Administrators in Gila River, Granada, Manzanar, and Topaz supported garden construction and large scale gardens were made in these camps. Small ornamental Japanese gardens, however, were made in all. Poston is notable as the famous Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi became the chief landscape planner…”

Read the full version of these articles in the 2014-2015 NAJGA Journal. The Journal is free to members of the North American Japanese Garden Association. To order additional copies or to order as a non-member, click HERE

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Manzanar’s Japanese Gardens – Excerpts from the 2014-2015 NAJGA Journal