Fifteen years ago, I was captivated by a Nisei storyteller on a long bus ride during the first Minidoka Pilgrimage. As we rode past the rolling fields of Eastern Washington and Idaho, I heard personal stories of another mass removal and a harsher incarceration at Tule Lake. After holding Japanese Americans a year behind barbed wire, the government rounded up leaders, organizers, and other targeted Japanese Americans and their families—over 12,000 in total—and sent them to the high security prison camp of Tule Lake that had more guards, higher fences, and stricter rules. I had never heard these stories told so vividly.
My companion on that bus ride was Jimi Yamaichi, a former detainee from Tule Lake and one of the key organizers of the Tule Lake Pilgrimage. Jimi was on his first visit to Minidoka and he was full of curiosity about the camp, asking me about my own family’s experience in Minidoka during the war. Meanwhile, Jimi shared his deep knowledge of Tule Lake. The time we spent talking made the many hours on that bus ride melt away.
Jimi Yamaichi passed away over the weekend. He was an extraordinary man who played a visionary role for the Tule Lake Pilgrimage and the Japanese American Museum of San Jose. He will be missed but not forgotten.
Rest in Power, Jimi.