“Leaving Our Island Day” held on March 5 gave 6th graders at Sakai Intermediary School on Bainbridge Island the opportunity to hear firsthand from those who experienced the events surrounding World War II and the internment of Japanese citizens then living on Bainbridge Island. EduCulture’s Jon Garfunkel and our Only What We Can Carry Project has been assisting the school in facilitating this unique school tradition.
Students prepared for the day by studying the history of WWII and reading novels based on related events. They prepared questions that they were then able to pose directly to panel members, who included Japanese citizens whose families were sent to Internment camps, and other Bainbridge citizens who were friends of those families. Guests included Kay Sakai Nakao; Superintendent of Schools Faith Chapel, whose parents met in an Internment Camp; and Mary Woodward, former Editor of the Bainbridge Review and author of In Defense of Our Neighbors.
Many other honored guests were present and kept students engaged with their stories of both the dramatic and mundane aspects of life at the camps. Many students were interested in knowing what children did at the camps in their free time, and learned that pastimes included playing baseball, marbles, jacks, jump roping, and hide-and-go-seek; although as Lilly Kitamoto Kodama pointed out, “we had to be careful of snakes and scorpions.” Joe Abo shared memories of a cold winter at Tully Lake, and how the children went skating when the lake froze over. Memories such as these, interspersed with tales of FBI visits to their family homes and the difficulty of packing just one suitcase to carry with them, made a strong impression upon the students and brought the stories of the past to life. Victor Takemoto described what the experience was like for his family. The oldest of six children, Victor was a freshman at Bainbridge High School and his family had a farm at Lovgren and Highway 305. Born and raised on Bainbridge Island, he served as translator for his parents through these events, both of whom were from Japan.
Reid Hansen described how, as a 7th grader, his friends suddenly “went missing” on March 30. He was a junior in high school when they came back. He explained to the students how little anyone his age knew at the time about world events. Students were able to learn more about how Bainbridge Island residents came together to support their Japanese neighbors during this difficult time.