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Thursday, March 13, 2014

'Shikataganai': Manzanar NHS

Snow Crusted Sierras

I decided I have been home for too long, so decided a car trip was what is wanted, so bright and early
I took off east, driving past Lake Tahoe, through sleepy little Markleeville, and on through a mountain pass to Mono Lake. Next I wanted to stop at a park I've had my eye on for ages but haven't gotten around to visiting yet - Devil's Postpile National Park. Well, it being winter, Mono Lake is pretty much shuttered up, so I was thrilled to find the Mono Lake Committee Center (Visitor Center) in Lee Vining open and staffed by a friendly woman. She looked up the road conditions the hour's drive on to Devil's Postpile for me; the road was shut tight. Rats. So I headed south to Bishop where I had a great stay at a motel that not only included a hot breakfast, but at 5PM serves up hot soups and at 7PM fresh baked cookies - ah! Paradise.

Next morning I was toodling down the east side of the snow crusted Sierras and I spied another park I have always meant to visit and which, I hadn't realized I was on a route that passed it - Manzanar National Historic Site.

I've known about the horrible imprisonment of American Japanese citizens. On short notice, entire families were notified they were going to be held captive, and they had only a few days to dispose of their property. They were only allowed to take with them what they could carry, and soon they found themselves in places like Manzanar - broiling in summers, freezing in winters. Still, the unjustly punished citizens maintained what they could of normal family lives. Considering that American citizens of German origins were not tossed into interment camps, it is all the more amazing that so many of our fellow Japanese-American citizens came out of the experience with far more grace than anyone had a right to expect.

I was there before the park really even opened, so I thought - incorrectly - that I'd have the park to myself, and I nearly did. I started my visit with the self guided auto tour.

Bachelor's Barracks

The barracks were dismal. Mothers of the families that were barracked together hung curtains and bright papers on the walls to keep the setting as happy as possible for their husbands and children. One can only imagine the difficulty of keep a smile on one's face during such hardship

I was particularly touched by the sight - startling at first glance - of cherry trees, bright with rosy pink blossoms, contrasting the stark scenery.

Two small cherry trees, planted by the American Japanese just outside the mess building.

The mess hall and vintage truck - the man in the 
doorway is a black & white photo of a cook
The Japanese had to hike to the mess hall three times a day for meals. There were long lines and a common saying was that everyone had to 'Hurry up and wait!' for their meals. Californians outside of the prison camp fussed that the interred Japanese had sugar and meat all the time, and frankly, if they did, that was, at least, some eensie comfort for spending years under the eye of guard towers with loaded guns.

View from the kitchen - screen with pics of life sized photos fill areas in the rear
Drop down screens with superimposed photo of the
mess when it doubled as a dance hall
The auto tour route took me past some amazing things - some, such as places of worship are no longer standing, and others are shadows of their former glory, such as no less than two locations with  inspirational water ponds.
This inspirational pond must have been beautiful in its day
By the time I finished driving the auto tour, the main Visitor Center, which in the days the camp was occupied served as an auditorium. I have no photos to share of the Center, but it was scary in one part that showed how anti-Japanese-ism worked, and it was touching to see the gifts left at Manaznar by visitors - decendents and/or actual former occupants of the camp. You know I also got my National Park Passport book stamped and got my obligatory cloisonne park pin. Oh! And I bought a rock. Yes, you read that correctly, a rock. It is polished and ingraved with the unofficial Japanese motto for the interment camp: Shikataganai. Shikataganai, loosely translated means, "It can't be helped".

The remainder of the day I thoughtfully drove south to Death Valley, but that is another post for another day.

Another look at the brilliant cherry blossoms of Manzanar

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