In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
The Garden of Remembrance on the San Francisco State University campus celebrates the sacrifice made by 19 Japanese American students during WWII. (Photo courtesy of Art Takeshita)
Garden of Remembrance
There is a very special garden in the heart of the campus of San Francisco State University. This beautiful and spiritual place has been constructed to honor the 19 Japanese American students who studied at SFSU at the outbreak of WWII. These 19 students, for no other reason than being Japanese, were pulled from their lives and spent the duration of the war in internment camps around the United States. In other words, these students and their entire families were hauled off to jail.
The Garden of Remembrance was designed by renowned Japanese American artist, teacher, and former camp internee Ruth Asawa to commemorate their sacrifice. The waterfall, commemorative plaque, and huge, resting stones are located in the serene courtyard between Burk Hall and the Fine Arts Building right in the center of the campus. It is the largest and most extensive permanent memorial on the University's campus.
Symbols of the Garden
There are three main parts to the Garden of Remembrance, the most impressive being the stones themselves. Ten large boulders, some weighing over 10 tons, sit in the grassy meadow, representing each of the 10 internment camps that were set up during World War II to hold the Japanese Americans. The stones symbolize the deprivation of the camps that were located in desolate places. In contrast, the waterfall signifies the release of the internees after the war.
The commemorative plaque is the heart and key of the garden. At 7 feet 2 inches long and 22 inches wide, the bronze marker is shaped like a traditional Japanese scroll and bears the names of the camps and also the names of the 19 SFSU students who gave up their dreams of a higher education. The plaque also tells the story of the internment of Japanese Americans through official documents.
Assisting Asawa with construction and design of the garden were Isao Ogura and Shigeru Namba of the Professional Gardeners Federation of Northern California. The Federation was an organization of Japanese Americans who, after the war, were unable to resume their previous professions. Gardening was a way the men could support their families. When one person from the Federation became ill or injured, other members would step in and help with their work, with money or whatever was needed.
Mr. Namba is now a very well-respected stone master who recently set the magnificent stones in Larry Ellison's (CEO of Oracle, Corp.) garden. Mr. Ogura says that it was an honor to be allowed to work on the project. It was his way of honoring the people who endured the internment. He and Mr. Namba worked for over a year creating the beautiful, natural waterfall and setting the stones in the grassy area. Mr. Namba says he wanted to create a place where people could reflect and pray.
The only problem these two lively gentlemen encountered during the construction was the traffic. Moving the huge stones, some weighing over 10 tons, with students coming and going was a challenge. When I asked Mr. Namba how they achieved this seemingly impossible feat, he said, "It was magic!"
The Garden of Remembrance is open to the public and is located on the University campus on 19th Avenue. For more information, visit the SFSU Web site:
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