THE KAERU KID: Manzanar and more in Lone Pine

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FISHING FOR THE PAST ­— The Kid makes his way to Manzanar for the annual pilgrimage. While there, he looked around the former concentration camp, and saw an old fishing pond. photo by the Kaeru Kid

The annual pilgrimage to the Manzanar National Historic Site takes place during the last weekend of April. This coincides with the opening of trout season that so many Nikkei look forward to, and this year was predicted to be the best opening in years as far as the weather and the chance to catch a whopper, went. Sunday of that weekend, the movie “The Manzanar Fishing Club” was to play for free in Bishop, Calif. Despite all of these other temptations, an overflowing crowd attended the pilgrimage this year. I would suggest that future pilgrimages be changed to a week after the opening of the trout season.

I had passed Manzanar umpteen times and stopped to view the guard gate on a few occasions, but not since the National Park Service (www.nps.gov/manz/index.htm) had the land transferred to them by the city of Los Angeles on April 24, 1997.

Manzanar means apple orchard in Spanish, but it was no picnic for the more than 10,000 people who were incarcerated there during World War II.

Someone I admired, Rose Ochi (read more about her on the Manzanar Committee blog: http://blog.manzanarcommittee.org), was to receive the 2012 Sue Kunitomi Embrey Legacy Award, and this was enough incentive for me to make the trek from Las Vegas. When I went up to congratulate her, she looked at my nametag and said she remembered me from our high school days. I went to a different school from her and she correctly named it. I was quite impressed. No wonder she has been so successful in all her dealings.

The featured speaker was Dr. Mitch Maki, vice provost of academic affairs at California State University, Dominguez Hills. Consul General of Japan in Los Angeles Jun Niimi also attended. Les Inafuku, superintendent of the Manzanar Historic Site, greeted the attendees.

The NPS has done a marvelous job of transforming the old auditorium used during camp days into a museum telling the history of the Manzanar

PRISON ART — Artwork by former Nikkei inmates of the wartime concentration camps are displayed. photo by the Kaeru Kid

PRISON ART — Artwork by former Nikkei inmates of the wartime concentration camps are displayed. photo by the Kaeru Kid

concentration camp. The short 22-minute film, “Remembering Manzanar,” should be viewed. One can take a self-directed drive, and there is good signage to explain where prominent structures were located. An old fishpond that the inhabitants built was discovered and restored. The artistic abilities of the Issei, who created pieces despite their limited supplies, is quite impressive. The nearby Eastern California Museum (155 N. Grant St.; (760) 878-0258, www.inyocounty.us/ecmuseum/index.html) in Independence also has a well-done section about life in Manzanar, and this year has a temporary exhibit of Toyo Miyatake photos that were taken there.

I encourage everyone to visit this historic site and to bring along the youngsters so they might understand some of the injustices done to their elders. My “camp” days were spent in Poston, Ariz., but the similarities are striking. There are a few barracks that have been reconstructed to illustrate the conditions, but one cannot truly appreciate life there unless one spends a few nights actually living inside during foul weather. Perhaps some arrangements can be made for anyone courageous enough to try to do that.

There are a couple of columnists for the Los Angeles-based JA paper who disparage the perspectives and complaints against the injustices perpetuated against the former wartime inmates — of those who were very young when incarcerated. One argument these writers use is that those who were young while incarcerated during the war probably have little valid memory of their time there. (Two-thirds of the approximately 10,000 inhabitants at Manzanar were under the age of 18, and so in their eyes, these Nikkei were unqualified to have a valid opinion about “camp” life.)

They also disagreed with the “no-no” boys and both journalists felt these protestors don’t deserve the accolades now being bestowed on them.

I strongly disagree with these claims.

The Lone Pine Film History Museum. photo by the Kaeru Kid

The Lone Pine Film History Museum. photo by the Kaeru Kid

There are also many other interesting things to do in Lone Pine and the general area, such as visiting the Lone Pine Film History Museum, which a wealthy Las Vegas couple, Jim and Beverly Rogers, owns. He is a lawyer who made his fortune as owner of several TV and radio stations in Nevada. A nearby hotel, the Dow Villa, also has many interesting movie memorabilia in its lobby and is worth a stop.

The Alabama Hills, where many films were made, is still a favorite place for commercials and feature films. Early in Lone Pine’s history, many Confederate sympathizers lived in the area. They named the hills for the Confederate cruiser “Alabama,” which was credited with destroying or capturing 60 Union ships.

One can drive in a regular passenger car along a well-maintained dirt road, but be sure to get a map of the area from the film museum, a hotel desk or restaurant. Allow a minimum of two hours and bring plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen and a head covering.

Watch an older movie, such as “Farewell to Manzanar,” “Gunga Din” or one of your favorite old cowboy movies, and study the background. See if you can recognize the area either during your visit or a later viewing of these movies.

Mt. Whitney is the tallest peak in the continental United States, but it doesn’t appear to be that high, because it is more distant than the other mountains. The portal to a popular hike to scale Mt. Whitney is in this area. The lowest area of the U.S. is not too far away in Death Valley.

I wasn’t too impressed with the visitor center just south of Lone Pine, but there are many free informative brochures available here.

The best (and most expensive) restaurant in Lone Pine is reputed to be Seasons, but their hours did not coincide with the times I was able to visit.

I was going to have dinner there, but went to Independence first to visit their museum and stopped for some snacks in that town and met the French owner of the Still Life Cafe, which had gotten rave reviews. The owner told me that they had been there for 10 years and that he had many Nikkei customers. I ordered the French onion soup and questioned if it would compare to what was once served in the old Les Halles market area in Paris. He said he was not from Paris, but would ask his wife. She never came out, although I was the only customer for a while. I’m sad to report that the bread crumbs in the soup tasted stale and spoiled the flavor. The prices of their other interesting entrees were higher than many off-Strip restaurants in Vegas. And so combined with the poor service, I departed without sampling the other dishes.

This area is a good weekend destination visit from Southern California, the Bay Area or the Las Vegas area. Just don’t waste your money at the Indian casinos near Bishop, and instead buy pastries and bread from Erick Schat’s Bakery and/or beef jerky and other meats from Smoked Mahogany Meats in Bishop. Make your own private pilgrimage to the Manzanar National Historic Site.

The Kaeru Kid lives in Las Vegas and hopes readers will send him comments at KaeruKid@yahoo.com. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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