UW Tacoma unveils Japanese Language School Memorial

University of Washington Tacoma (UWT) officials held a public ceremony Friday morning to unveil a memorial that commemorates the Japanese Language School, its principal and teachers, and the thriving Japanese-American community that was expelled from downtown Tacoma during World War II.

From the 1890s into the 1940s, Tacoma’s “Japan Town” was defined by a wide range of businesses, hotels, and homes primarily located between South 11th Street and South 21st Street near Pacific Avenue, according to UWT officials. For more than 30 years, between 1911 and 1942, the Japanese Language School, known as Nihongo Gakko, served Tacoma’s thriving Japanese-American community. The children from this community attended Tacoma public schools each weekday. After school was let out, the children gathered at Nihongo Gakko to learn the language, arts, and cultural traditions of Japan, the homeland of their parents and grandparents.

Following World War II and the internment of the city’s Japanese-American citizens, the Japanese Language School building stood mostly vacant for decades. The wood-frame building gradually deteriorated. Cited by the City of Tacoma as a safety hazard in 2003, UWT officials hired a preservation-oriented architectural firm that determined the building could not be restored with historic integrity. The building was demolished a year later.

Last year, UWT officials announced they were close to completing a fundraising goal to build a permanent memorial on campus to honor the historic Japanese Language School. The memorial unveiled on Friday features a bronze sculpture by Gerard Tsutakawa, a renowned artist best known for creating the “Mitt” at Safeco Field in Seattle. As part of the memorial project, an interpretive plaque tells the story of the school and its community.

The Japanese Language School Memorial is located near the corner of South 17th Street and Pacific Avenue on the UWT Prairie Line Trail. More information is available online here.

To read the Tacoma Daily Index‘s complete and comprehensive coverage of the UWT Japanese Language School Memorial, click on the following links: