Fundraising Campaign for ‘Tribute to Our Pioneers’ in Japanese Cemetery

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SAN FRANCISCO — The Japanese Benevolent Society of California (JBSC), The caretakers of the Japanese Cemetery at Colma, announce a fundraising campaign for a “Tribute to Our Pioneers,” the first group from Japan to settle in America, Okei and the Wakamatsu Colony, and the Issei and Nisei.

Sketch of the proposed monument.

The monument, which will be located near the center of the addition to the cemetery, will educate visitors to the cemetery about Japanese American history. This will be done on the six-sided base of a three-sided, 10-foot-tall obelisk.

The two sides of the obelisk facing east toward Japan will be inscribed “Okei” and “Wakamatsu Colony” in kanji on one and “Issei” in kanji on the other. The third side will face west toward America and will have “Nisei” inscribed in kanji.

Okei, a young girl of 19 passed away and is buried in Coloma, El Dorado County. Her gravesite is the last remnant of the Wakamatsu Colony and has been designated a historical landmark. The 150th anniversary of the founding of the tea and silk farm colony in 1869 will be celebrated this year.

The Issei, first generation, are to be recognized for their suffering, enduring and guiding the Nisei. The third side is for the second generation, who built upon the foundation laid by the Issei and made many sacrifices that enabled the following generations to reap the rewards of those sacrifices.

Supporting the obelisk will be six inclined sides with terms such as “gaman,” “on,” “giri,” “meiyo,” “gambatte,” “shikata-ga-nai,” and “Go for Broke,” which enabled the Issei and Nisei to endure the hardships they faced. More than six possible inscriptions were suggested; there may be others to consider before the final decision.

A six-inch collar will encircle the top portion of the base and inscribed thereon will be the names of Nikkei from Northern California who died in military service during the wars.

The six sides of the four-foot-tall hexagonal base will have inscribed a narrative of:

• The Japan that the Issei left behind.

• The Wakamatsu Colony and Okei-san.

• The sufferings of the Issei.

• The sacrifice of the Nisei.

• Military service: 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Military Intelligence Service and others.

• The achievements of the Issei and Nisei and those that followed.

One of the existing monuments in the Japanese Cemetery, which was established in 1901.

The proposal consists of four-foot-wide sides to the base. However, costs and aesthetics may result in a reduction in size. Facing each side of the base will be six benches, each approximately three feet wide. The material to be used will be primarily Sierra white granite, a light gray colored stone that is frequently used for headstones. The costs are estimated to be in the neighborhood of $200,000.

The Japanese Benevolent Society of California has received a Challenge Grant of $100,000 for the construction of the Tribute. The initial fundraising effort from those with an interest in the Japanese Cemetery of Colma has raised over $46,000 in cash and a pledge of $25,000, totaling $71,000.

You may participate by sending your checks payable to “JBSC-Tribute to Our Pioneers,” 1759 Sutter St., San Francisco, CA 94115. The JBSC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit cemetery organization. Contributions are deductible for income tax purposes as long as your donation is not used for the care of a specific lot or columbarium niche.

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