By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu English Editor-in-Chief
Joanne Ono Iritani, a Poston internee and educator, who along with her late husband Frank authored the book “Ten Visits” chronicling their travels to 10 Japanese American “relocation centers,” passed away on March 19. She was 85.
Using sketches of maps, photos and brief essays, the Iritanis created an invaluable guidebook to visiting the Japanese American camp sites published at a time when very few resources existed.
“We hope this book will be helpful to those planning to visit these unique, historical sites for the first time,” the Iritanis said in the foreword to “Ten Visits.”
Daughter Susanna Iritani Minard explained that the book was inspired by a family trip back to Poston in Arizona when she was a child. As the Iritanis traveled the country in an RV, they started to create a permanent record of how to reach the confinement sites, mostly located in desolate, hard-to-reach areas.
“They would say, ‘Oh wow, we’re in Arkansas. Let’s go see Jerome and Rohwer,’” Iritani Minard recalled. “They would ask everybody where the camp was and nobody knew where it was.”
“Ten Visits,” first published in September 1992, contained photos of the camps and maps on how to visit them. The first edition was mimeographed and handed out during JACL conventions. “Ten Visits” was revised several times through the years with updates on ongoing preservation efforts at the concentration camp sites. The Japanese American National Museum published the book from 1999.
“They didn’t do it in a big, splashy way, they didn’t do it to make money. It started out as ‘We don’t know how to find the camps, let’s make it easier for people to find them,’” Iritani Minard said.
Iritani, who taught special education for nearly 30 years, was active in sharing and preserving the story of Japanese Americans in the Sacramento area. She was also involved with Centennial United Methodist Church (where a human relations scholarship is named in honor of her husband), Japanese American Women Alumnae of UC Berkeley, Bakersfield-Wakayama Sister City Committee, and YWCA.
Thousands of students learned about the tragic history of Japanese Americans through Iritani’s volunteer work at the California Museum, located in Sacramento.
Iritani helped to develop and volunteered for Time of Remembrance, an annual program held at the museum each winter, which guides students through the museum’s exhibition “Uprooted! Japanese Americans During World War II.”
Marielle Tsukamoto, co-president of the Florin JACL chapter, said that her mother, the late Mary Tsukamoto, worked alongside Iritani to create the program.
Iritani also conducted 40 oral histories and helped to catalogue and organize the Mary Tsukamoto Japanese American Collection, later renamed the Japanese American Archival Collection at Cal State Sacramento.
“My mother said she couldn’t have completed the project as envisioned without Joanne. She understood from the very beginning why it was important,” Tsukamoto said. “The next generation needs to recognize that we are so obligated to the Isseis, who suffered in silence, and the Nisei, who stepped up.”
Iritani is survived by her children, Susanna Iritani Minard and her husband, Richard Minard, Jr., of Bow, N.H.; Ken Iritani and his wife, Lesley, of Sacramento; and Bonita Iritani and her husband, Jon Hussey, of Chapel Hill, N.C. She was predeceased by her husband, Frank, her brother, Yoneo Ono, and her sister, Tomi Monji. She also leaves her brothers Joe Ono of Hilo, Hawaii, and Tak Ono of Bakersfield, and six grandchildren: Alden Minard, Daniel Iritani, Kevin Iritani, Jacob Iritani, Marisa Iritani and Alex Hussey.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 11, at Centennial United Methodist Church, 5401 Freeport Blvd. in Sacramento, with a reception following in the Fellowship Hall.