March 23, 2014

Dr. Frank Kitamoto, 74, Japanese-American leader dies

Posted in Bainbridge Island, Friends of Minidoka, Japanese American Incarceration, Minidoka, Minidoka Pilgrimage, News tagged , , , , , , at 9:09 am by minidokapilgrimage

http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2023194344_kitamotoobit1xml.html

Dr. Frank Kitamoto, 74, Japanese-American leader dies

Dr. Frank Kitamoto, a leader of Bainbridge Island’s Japanese-American community, who spread awareness about Japanese internment camps, died of kidney and heart complications March 15 at a Seattle hospital. He was 74.

March 22, 2014

By Paige Cornwell
Seattle Times staff reporter

Frank Kitamoto sits next to a plaque at the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial.
COURTESY THE KITAMOTO FAMILY, 2008
Frank Kitamoto sits next to a plaque at the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial.

When Japanese Americans returned home after being incarcerated in internment camps during World War II, no one wanted to talk about their experiences. It was too painful. They wanted to move on.

Determined to ensure that what his community experienced would never happened again, Frank Kitamoto broke that silence.

Dr. Kitamoto, a dentist, was a leader of Bainbridge Island’s Japanese-American community, who spread awareness about Japanese internment camps, died March 15 at a Seattle hospital. He was 74.

He died of heart and kidney complications, according to his sister Lilly Kodama, of Bainbridge Island.

Frank Kitamoto was 2½ years old in 1942 when he, his mother and three sisters were sent to the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California after President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. His father had already been rounded up by the FBI for questioning; he joined the family later.

The Japanese Americans on Bainbridge Island were the first group in Washington to be taken to the internment camps, Dr. Kitamoto said during an interview with Idaho Public Television in 2007. The Kitamoto family stayed in Manzanar for 11 months, then they were transferred to Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho.

Dr. Kitamoto’s earliest memories were from the camps, so, he said, he didn’t know what he was missing then. Later, he realized how difficult it must have been for the adults. He remembered spit-wad fights with other children and getting trampled at the end of the Miss Minidoka contest. When he was 5, he stole cigarettes from his dad’s dresser and smoked the whole pack, he told the television interviewer. Afterward, he was sick for a week.

“But I did give up smoking when I was 5 years old,” he said. “I remember that.”

Dr. Kitamoto was 5 when his family returned to Bainbridge Island near the end of the war. He struggled with identity, said Gerald Elfendahl, who met him in the early 1980s when they worked together on an exhibit at the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum, where Elfendahl was the curator.

“After World War II, there was such a strong social pressure for the Japanese to assimilate and not share their culture,” Elfendahl said. “He didn’t think it was good to be Japanese,” Dr. Kitamoto told him.

That changed when Dr. Kitamoto realized the public needed to hear about their experiences, Kodama said. When he tried to interview those who had been interned, some members of the community viewed him as an “angry young man who was rocking the boat,” said Clarence Moriwaki, who met Dr. Kitamoto in 1998 when Dr. Kitamoto was president of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community.

“There were 120,000 stories, and all their stories are different, “Moriwaki said. “Some have spent their whole time trying to forget it. Talking about it picks at that scab, and it’s painful. Frank did understand that, but he wanted to make sure that it didn’t happen again.”

Dr. Kitamoto worked with others to create an oral-history project, which he presented to students in Washington and across the nation. When Dr. Kitamoto’s exhibits and the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial were completed, the same men who initially had been opposed came forward, Kodama said.

“They told Frank they were sure glad he didn’t pay any attention to them,” Kodama said.

Dr. Kitamoto had a successful dental practice on Bainbridge Island. In his offices, there were rooms filled with heirlooms donated to him by Japanese-American families. It must have driven his wife, Sharon, crazy, Moriwaki said, but she also recognized how important the items were.

“The artifacts were all over the place, and yet he felt these were important to save,” Moriwaki said. “He knew those pieces weren’t junk, they were somebody’s story.”

In addition to his sister, Lilly, survivors include Dr. Kitamoto’s wife, Sharon, and son Derek, both of Bainbridge Island, and sister Frances Ikegami of Bremerton.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Paige Cornwell: 206-464-2530 or pcornwell@seattletimes.com

March 19, 2014

The Minidoka Pilgrimage and Continuing the Legacy

Posted in Bainbridge Island, Japanese American Incarceration, Manzanar Pilgrimage, Minidoka, Minidoka Pilgrimage, News tagged , , , , , , , at 9:52 am by minidokapilgrimage

This piece was contributed by Chanda Ishisaka, co-chair of the Minidoka Pilgrimage Planning Committee

http://chiyokomartinez.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/the-minidoka-pilgrimage-and-continuing-the-legacy/

The Minidoka Pilgrimage and Continuing the Legacy

March 16, 2014 

minidoka pilgrimage committee 2011

Today I received the news that my friend and fellow Minidoka Pilgrimage Planning Committee member passed away. Frank was a baby during World War II when his family was told to leave Bainbridge Island and go to the War Relocation camp in Manzanar, California and later sent to the camp called Minidoka in Idaho. To me, Frank was my elder, a man I respected and looked for guidance and wisdom. With his passing, I can’t help but reflect what the Minidoka Pilgrimage Planning Committee has meant to me over the years.

I joined the Minidoka Pilgrimage Planning Committee in 2009 whenI was a graduate student and received a scholarship to attend the pilgrimage. I am a yonsei, fourth generation Japanese American where my great grandparents were the first to immigrate to this country in the late 1800′s. My  family was incarcerated at several camps during WWII: Tule Lake in California, Gila River in Arizona, and Heart Mountain in Wyoming. My grandfather enlisted in the U.S. Military Intelligence Service. But like most other Japanese Americans, my family did not talk about the incarceration experience although it has impacted us and our communities during World War II and continues to this day.

As a kid I spent a lot of time at my auntie’s house where also lived my grandfather and his sister, my great aunt, who I consider my obachan (grandma). If I could characterize my interactions with my grandparents I would say we were always polite, obedient, and with very few words exchanged. This is where I mastered indirect communication. I could tell my grandparents wanted to know about my parents, about us children, and our upbringing but didn’t know how to talk to us. One day my obachan waved a can of soup and said to me, “Is this what your mother makes you?” I nodded and then she started to shake her head and mutter to my grandpa in Japanese. I know they thought we lived like barbarians back at home with my two working parents.

When my parents were going through hard times I spent the summer with my grandparents. My grandpa wouldn’t say anything but once a week he would plan an outing for us. He would just walk out of his room and tell my brother, sister and I to get in the car. He took us to his favorite lake, the mall, the movies, the zoo, and the beach and fishing pier. One of the funniest moments was when he turned on the car and started playing the Mexican radio station. Then after awhile on the road he looked at me and said, “Is this what your mother plays to you?” I looked over to my brother and started smiling. My mother is Mexican and I think that’s what brought a lot of confusion and speculation from my grandparents. I told my grandpa I don’t listen to that kind of music and reminded him we don’t know Spanish. He nodded his head and changed the station.

Fast forward to 2009 and attending the Minidoka Pilgrimage. I was a transplant to Seattle from Los Angeles and thought going to this pilgrimage would help me connect to my roots and also to learn about the Japanese community from the Pacific  Northwest. The Minidoka Pilgrimage is a four-day trip in Twin Falls, Idaho where we visit the former Minidoka incarceration camp which was one of ten incarceration camps in the United States for people of Japanese ancestry. We offer an option to take a coach bus for twelve hours from Seattle, Washington to Idaho. What happens on this bus ride to and back from Minidoka is transformational and hard to explain. Yes, it’s exhausting, but allows a moment to bond with a group of strangers where we share stories, watch war related films, and be together through the entire journey.

On the Minidoka Pilgrimage I was able to understand and find solace of the issues that have impacted the Japanese American community for generations. I was able to have the inter-generational dialogue and the tough conversations I didn’t realize I was craving. When I walked on the grounds of the Minidoka camp I found myself gravitate to a woman that looked like myobachan. I asked her how she was feeling being back at Minidoka. I expected her to say she was fine or having a good time but instead she looked at me and said, “I’m angry. Why did they have to send us here?”

After talking to her I thought of my own grandma who was my age in camp, and in this crappy, desolate location. Angry and sad tears came down my face as I closed my eyes and sent a prayer to my grandma. I could now see the trauma and racism my ancestors experienced in this country, and being on that land made me feel closer to my ancestors.

My plan after the pilgrimage was to talk to my grandfather. I was going to tell him all about the trip and for us to talk more about our family experience in camp and after camp. I wanted to ask his permission to request from the United States National Archives our family members war relocation authority files  where I could get all of their documentation during camp. Yet I never got to ask my grandpa. On July 18, 2009 I was volunteering for the Minidoka Pilgrimage Committee at the Seattle Buddhist Temple during their Bon Odori festival when I received the news from my dad that my grandpa passed away.

I had a hard time opening up to others about my grandpa’s death. Again I was reminded by my indirect communication style and how my grandparents and I liked to bury our emotions and be stoic. I lied to my boss and co-workers saying I needed to go home for vacation instead of the reality that I was going  back for my grandpa’s funeral.

In my own healing process with my grandpa’s passing, I decided to stay involved with the Minidoka Pilgrimage Planning Committee. Every year I attend the pilgrimage, I cry. I miss my grandpa. But I also laugh and smile. Every year I find community, compassion, and kinship.

At the end of the Minidoka pilgrimage two years ago I was waiting at the airport in Idaho to return to Seattle with a group of the community leaders including Frank. Together we strategized and discussed the importance of the pilgrimage and what we saw for the future. I was in awe of these elders who were the leaders in the community and who included me in this process. Then the elders shared with me how the community is changing. The elder generation who was in camp have been dying off by the minute. They foresaw the pilgrimage having to change with the next generation and they were going to need me to help take over with the leadership. I shrugged and shook my head at their comments. I believed they shouldn’t be talking like that and they would be here for many more years to continue on the pilgrimage.

Not too much later, I was asked by the Minidoka Pilgrimage Planning Committee to co-chair the committee. I could hear my grandfather in my ear, encouraging me to do it, and I said yes.  With the support of Frank, the other pilgrimage committee members and my community, I am happy to be part of such a great group of people.

I didn’t know what I was signing up for back in 2009 by going to the Minidoka Pilgrimage, but in the process I was able to learn more about my family, my community, and finding my voice.  It is important for me to continue the legacy of my grandpa and my ancestors, and now also people like Frank and those I have met on the pilgrimage who have passed on.

March 18, 2014

Frank Kitamoto, longtime leader of Bainbridge Island’s Japanese American community, passes away

Posted in Bainbridge Island, Friends of Minidoka, Japanese American Incarceration, Minidoka, News tagged , , , , at 9:13 am by minidokapilgrimage

http://www.bainbridgereview.com/news/250672091.html

Frank Kitamoto, longtime leader of Bainbridge Island’s Japanese American community, passes away

Frank Kitamoto, then president of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community, gives U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee and U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell a tour of the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial wall in June 2010.   - Brad Camp | Review file

Frank Kitamoto, then president of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community, gives U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee and U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell a tour of the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial wall in June 2010. 

— Image Credit: Brad Camp | Review File

Frank Kitamoto, an iconic figure in Bainbridge Island’s Japanese American community, died Saturday, March 15. He was 74.

Kitamoto was a longtime dentist on Bainbridge Island but was better known for his work to preserve and share the history of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

“He was kind of a giant to me,” said Clarence Moriwaki, who worked closely with Kitamoto as part of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community. “He had been an outspoken champion of human rights. He was my mentor and friend.”

Kitamoto and his family were among the 227 Bainbridge Japanese Americans to be taken from Bainbridge Island on March 30, 1942, and sent to internment camps.

The families from Bainbridge were the first of nearly 12,000 Japanese Washington residents to be taken to concentration camps under President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. The Kitamotos and other islanders were in the initial wave because government officials feared their proximity to crucial U.S. naval bases in Puget Sound.

They had six days to pack up their lives. At the time, Frank Kitamoto was 2 1/2, and along with his mother, Shigeko, and three sisters, Jane, 9 months old, Frances, 5, and Lilly, 7, were first sent to the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California.

A famous photograph taken during the forced removal shows the family of five — his father had already been taken in by the FBI in early February, 1942 — waiting with their suitcases and Frank holding the one thing he was allowed to carry away, his rubber toy John Deere tractor, before their departure. The family was later moved to the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Jerome County, Idaho.

Kitamoto, who was born May 28, 1939, returned to Bainbridge Island after World War II.

In 1983, Kitamoto started an oral history project on the internment with Ron Nakata and John Sakai, and made repeated visits to classrooms across Washington state and beyond to talk about the history of Japanese Americans.

Plans for a memorial service have not yet been finalized.

“He touched many, many lives; not just on the Island but across the planet, and for kids yet to be born,” said Gerald Elfendahl, who worked with Kitamoto for more than 35 years on history and heritage projects.

“Frank was just a very, very special person,” Elfendahl said.

Moriwaki recalled the slideshow presentation that was put together by Kitamoto that discussed fear and racism. He was in high demand, Moriwaki said, and would travel for anyone who asked, often on his own dime.

For Moriwaki, one slide stuck with him. In it were the words, “The opposite of love isn’t hate, but fear.”

Kitamoto and Moriwaki’s shared passion for human rights is what began the mentorship, but it was Kitamoto’s commitment to sharing his experience while also connecting to others that, Moriwaki said, is what made him a friend.

In one instance, Kitamoto and Moriwaki traveled to visit a Japanese American memorial in Lac Du Bonnet, Canada.

It was Sept. 18, 2001, just a week after Sept. 11, but the two went anyway. They had hours in the car to speak.

“He had the biggest giving heart,” Moriwaki said.

“If you ever wanted to know where Frank was, all you had to do was listen,” Moriwaki said. “You would hear this big, hardy laugh.”

A former president of the Bainbridge Island Japanese Community — an organization he headed for more than 25 years — Kitamoto was named an Island Treasure in 2002 by the Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council.

He was also honored with a Kitsap Human Rights Commissions Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.

“He’d be the first person to say it’s nice, but it’s not about me. I’m just telling a story about others,” Moriwaki said.

His memories of life in the camps were a bit limited, Kitamoto later acknowledged, because of his young age.

“I remember playing in the sand around the barracks. I remember my cousin liking to eat sand and I don’t really know why but she always ate sand,” he said in an interview with Jim Peck for “The Idaho Homefront: Of Camps and Combat,” a program for Idaho Public Television.

“I was always getting into trouble. Memorable things – I know I took a pack of cigarettes from my dad’s dresser once and went into the barrack and smoked the whole pack and I was really sick for maybe a week or so but I did give up smoking when I was 5 years old. I remember that,” he said.

“I remember going to a Miss Minidoka contest and sitting in the front row and when the winner was announced everybody surged forward and trampled me into the gravel so I ended up in the hospital. That’s where they picked gravel out of me … I remember the older kids having ping-pong. I mean, having spit wad fights with rubber bands and paper that they rolled up into spit wads and they would tip the ping-pong tables over and shoot at each other and when they were out of ammunition they had us little kids run out there and pick up all the ammunition for the next round.”

This month, Bainbridge will commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the first forced removal of Japanese Americans in World War II at the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial.

Without Kitamoto there, Moriwaki said the ceremony will take on a very different tone.

“It’s a hole, a huge hole for the Japanese American community,” Moriwaki said.

March 16, 2014

Remembering Dr. Frank Kitamoto

Posted in Bainbridge Island, Day of Remembrance, Japanese American Incarceration, Minidoka, Minidoka Pilgrimage, News tagged , , , , at 10:00 am by minidokapilgrimage

IMG_7505

It is with great sadness that we share that we lost one of our committee members, Dr. Frank Kitamoto on March 15, 2014.  Frank was a young toddler when he, along with his family, were sent to Minidoka during World War II.  He shared the lessons of the incarcerations to: various school groups, community organizations, friends and just anyone who was willing to listen.  Frank was active not just on the Minidoka Pilgrimage Planning Committee, but also on the Friends of Minidoka Board and as President of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community Executive Board to just name a few.  He will be remembered for his relentless spirit and energy; and his never-ending passion for civil rights.  Frank, we thank you for your dedication to us and for all the work you did with the incarceration experience and sharing your story.  We will miss you greatly. Nidoto Nai Yoni

IMG_2488 2011 Pilgrimage Committee Members