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Nishi Family Returns to Manzanar to Help Rebuild Historic Bridge at Merritt Park - Part 1

During the weekend of May 21–22, 2011, the son of Kuichiro Nishi, Henry Nishi, and his family, traveled to the Manzanar National Historical Site with an engineer contractor in tow. The purpose of the trip was to begin rebuilding the bridge that connected the center of the pond to the rest of Merritt Park.

This journey really began almost seventy years ago when American citizens of Japanese descent were removed from their homes and incarcerated in “War Relocation Centers” across the Western and Central United States.

Henry, his mother, and sisters were among these citizens who were forced to surrender their businesses and leave their homes. Kuichiro was detained by the FBI and imprisoned at Fort Missoula in Montana at the end of 1941 and would not join the family at Manzanar for nearly a year.

When Kuichiro was finally reunited with his family in June 1942, he began planning a Japanese garden to provide a place for the Manzanar community to come and find some peace during a time of turmoil. For ten months into 1943, under the stalking scrutiny of the watchtowers, with a crew of six men and volunteers from the Manzanar community, Kuichiro built a Japanese garden that was later photographed by Ansel Adams during his visit to Manzanar.

"Pool At Pleasure Park" circa 1943. Photo: Ansel Adams.

After the garden was completed, Kuichiro erected a dedication representing his intent of the garden:

To the memory of fellow Japanese Immigrants who, although ushered to this place with the breaking of friendly relations between the two countries, have come to enjoy this quiet, peaceful place (in Tamura, Anna Hosticka. “Gardens Below the Watchtower: Gardens and Meaning in World War II Japanese American Incarceration Camps.” Landscape Journal. January 2004: 10)

The garden was originally named Rose Park. It was later renamed Pleasure Park, and then renamed again to Merritt Park, after Ralph P. Merritt, the Manzanar War Relocation Center Director.

Merritt Park with temporary bridge. Photo: Patrick Alvarado.

Shortly before construction started on the garden, Henry joined the Army and served in the Military Intelligence Service (MIS). After the war ended, Henry took a civilian job in occupied Japan. He never returned to Manzanar and, therefore, never saw the garden.

It was not until 2008, when Henry and his family traveled to Manzanar to volunteer in the excavation of Merritt Park, that Henry saw the garden in person for the first time, 65 years after his father created it. Until then, Henry had only seen photographs of the garden (see New At Manzanar National Historic Site: Merritt Park Excavated).

Return to Manzanar

Henry’s family returned once again in May 2011 to continue the restoration efforts of Merritt Park by starting the reconstruction of the foot bridge.

Henry and his family, including wife Amy, son Robert, daughters Carol, Sherry, Iris, son-in-law Patrick, and family friend Brian, arrived with engineer contractor Barry Amos, before noon on Saturday May 21.

Amos and Robert remove planks from the temporary bridge. Photo: Patrick Alvarado.

The family met with National Park Service archeologist Jeff Burton, who supervised the excavation and restoration of the Japanese garden. Burton had arranged for wood that matched the original bridge to be stacked nearby. The location of the bridge posts were marked with concrete blocks which were supporting the temporary bridge. The location was determined through survey diagrams developed in 2008 and photographs originally taken in 1943 after the Japanese garden was completed, most notably, the photograph taken by Ansel Adams entitled “Pool at Pleasure Park.”

The first task was to remove the temporary bridge which was much too heavy to move, so Amos, Robert, and Patrick had to dismantle the bridge by removing each piece and carefully removed every nail.

Part 2 >>

*This article was originally published on May 31, 2011 on the Official Blog of the Manzanar Committee.

© 2011 Patrick Alvarado

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