About the Japanese Language School Memorial

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Japanese Language School Memorial Sculpture
Scale model of Japanese Language School memorial sculpture by Gerard Tsutakawa.

Sculpture and Location

Slated for completion in autumn 2014, the memorial installation will feature the work of sculptor Gerard Tsutakawa (scale model shown at right), a renowned artist best known for his "Mitt" at Safeco Field in Seattle. The work will be sited along a beautiful new pathway being created along what is known as the Prairie Line Trail ­– UW Tacoma Station where the famous former Northern Pacific rail line traverses the campus.

The rail line is being converted into a space that features a series of park-like gathering places joined by a landscaped bicycle-and-pedestrian pathway. This pathway will become part of a larger trail system that already includes a well-loved segment along Tacoma’s waterfront in one direction and will eventually connect with trails that run out to Orting in another. Placing the memorial here will create high visibility, not just within the campus community, but also among families, couples, athletes, tourists and others who will frequent the trail.

The large-scale public artwork will be visible from the front doors of the Tacoma Art Museum. Stephanie Stebich, director of the museum, says. "Gerard Tsutakawa is a distinguished Northwest artist whose work is admired for its refinement and scale. The proposed sculpture is an elegant statement about the contributions of the school and a reminder about our shared history. The monument will serve as a focal point for community healing and strengthen bonds between generations and cultures."

Map of UW Tacoma campus showing location of JLS memorial
Map showing location of JLS memorial on UW Tacoma campus. View larger PDF version.

The Plaque

Accompanying the memorial sculpture will be an interpretive plaque cast in bronze, recognizing donors and telling the story of the school and its honored principal, Sensei Masato Yamasaki.

The Goal

State funds cannot be used to pay for this project, so UW Tacoma turned to the community to raise funds to install the memorial. Enough money has been raised to fund the casting and installation of an eight-foot tall version of the sculpture. If sufficient additional funds are raised, the size of the sculpture can be increased to nine feet, improving visibility and enhancing the impact of the work. You can make a donation in support of the Japanese Language School Memorial Project online.

The Community

Greg Tanbara, son of JLS former student Kimi Fujimoto Tanbara, has served as a lead volunteer on the project, along with Debbie Bingham, head of the City of Tacoma's Sister City program and a community leader. "This project is dear to the hearts of many people of my parents' generation, and we want to be sure everyone who has been supportive of the idea of creating the memorial over the years has an opportunity to participate in this fundraising effort," says Tanbara. "I don't want anyone to be left out who would like their name, or the name of a former student in their family, to appear on the plaque that lists our supporters."

Ongoing Effort

Past attempts at fundraising for an original, more ambitious design by landscape architect Kenichi Nakano — whose most famous work was the 1995 redesign of the International Fountain created for the 1962 World's Fair at Seattle Center—stalled with the onset of the recession and the death of community leader Joe Kosai. After UW Tacoma acquired the Prairie Line Trail right-of-way from BNSF Railway (the successor to the Northern Pacific), Nakano and Tsutakawa redesigned the memorial for the trail site with input from the advisory board of former JLS students. Although Nakano passed away in 2012, his mother, Yaeko Nakano, continues to serve on the memorial advisory panel.