Filed Under Race & Ethnicity


Japanese-American World War II Memory in the Pacific Northwest

The story of Japanese-Americans who faced discrimination, internment, and hardship on American soil during the war rarely surfaces within the recollections of WWII."Harmony" is a poignant monument to the enduring efforts of the Japanese-American community in the Pacific Northwest to ensure their experiences are remembered and acknowledged.

American bigotry marked the Japanese-American story as they arrived on Western shores. Decades of institutionalized racism led to their forced four-year internment during World War II following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. While World War II is celebrated in American history, it remains a painful memory for Japanese Americans. However, a resilient Japanese-American community fought to reclaim their lives in the postwar aftermath. Their lobbying efforts led to public apologies, compensation, and the creation of monuments to commemorate their suffering.

In the Pacific Northwest, the Japanese-American community took early steps in memorialization efforts. They organized the first Day of Remembrance celebration in the United States and, five years later, unveiled one of the first monuments dedicated to Japanese American internment victims. This Harmony sculpture monument stands on the former site of Washington State's only World War II internment camp. Created by local artist George Tsutakawa, whose personal story is intertwined with this American history chapter, Harmony encapsulates the Japanese-American experience through its approval, location, and continued visitation.

The Japanese-American experience in the United States began in the late 19th century due to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which increased Japanese immigration. These immigrants played a significant role in the West Coast's economy. Still, they faced discrimination and immigration quotas, culminating in the internment order of 1942. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Executive Order 9066 authorized the internment of Japanese-Americans, affecting 75,000 citizens and 45,000 Japanese nationals. The entire West Coast became an exclusion zone, a territory stretching from the Canadian border in Washington down to the Mexican border in New Mexico. The construction of assembly centers began to gather Japanese populations. In the Pacific Northwest, the Puyallup Assembly Center operated for nearly four months, housing thousands of internees before receiving transfer to other camps. Even before the arrival of the first internees at the Puyallup Assembly Center, officials already referred to the site as Camp Harmony. While the Washingtonian internment camp saga would last for a relatively short four months, many local Japanese Americans would endure internment nightmares until March 1946, nearly six months after the unconditional surrender of Japan and four years after the enactment of Executive Order 9066.

George Tsutakawa, the creator of Harmony, was a second-generation Nisei whose life mirrored the community's struggles. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army. He visited an internment camp in Northern California to visit friends and family. It was during one such visit that he met his future wife. This experience would later inspire him to create the monument.

After the war, Japanese-Americans faced prejudice upon returning home. It took years of continued political pressure and education to have their plight acknowledged by the various levels of government. While President Roosevelt unofficially rescinded Executive Order 9066 in late 1944, it was only in 1976 that it officially ended through a proclamation by President Ford. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan issued an apology and authorized compensation.

The Japanese-American Citizens League (JACL) played a significant role in advocating for rights and remembrance. In 2022, President Biden officially recognized February 19th as the Day of Remembrance of Japanese American Incarceration During World War II. The Japanese-American community's efforts to remember and educate led to including War Relocation Centers in the National Register of Historic Places in the 1970s. Seattle hosted the first Day of Remembrance celebration in 1978, and twenty-five years later, Washington State officially recognized the Day of Remembrance.

Harmony's journey to find a home was not straightforward. The Puyallup Valley JACL faced resistance from the State Fairgrounds board, which eventually allowed the monument's installation in 1983. Nearly thirty years later, in 2016, with funding from the Japanese-American Citizens League, a plaque was commissioned to add a description and context to the existing sculpture.

The Harmony sculpture is a modest yet powerful reminder of the Japanese-American experience during World War II. The State did not commission it as a public apology for past deeds. It was a privately funded Japanese-American venture created by a local Japanese-American artist directly influenced by these past events. In many ways, the slow acceptance of an on-site monument, the sparse private funding, the modest surroundings, and the limited exposure of the Harmony sculpture represent the continued struggle that the Japanese-American community encounters for a more substantial commemoration of World War II internment camps. This grassroots initiative reflects their constant desire for acknowledgment and a place in the public discourse regarding their past sufferings.

(edited by Jennifer Schaper)


George Tsutakawa (right) in his later years Tsutakawa standing next to his sculpture Harmony in Puyallup, WA Source: Private Individual Creator: Tom Bolling Date: Unknown
Puyallup Assembly Center Aerial view of the Puyallup Assembly Center, Washington Source: National Archives and Records Administration Creator: unknown Date: c. 1942
Waiting in line Japanese American internees waiting in line at the Puyallup Assembly Center, Washington Source: National Archives and Records Administration Creator: Unknwon Date: 1942
George Tsutakawa George Tsutakawa in his Army uniform Source: The Estate of George Tsutakawa Creator: Unknown Date: 1942
No Japs Wanted Here Graffiti on a Japanese American home, Seattle, 1945. For many returning families, the return home was met with hostility Source: The Seattle Post-Intelligencer Collection & Museum of History & Industry Creator: Unknown Date: 1945
Harmony Sculpture The sculpture Harmony by George Tsutakawa, at the Washington State Fairgrounds in Puyallup, WA Source: Discover Nikkei Creator: Unknown Date: 2016
Harmony Plaque A descriptive plaque was added next to the Harmony sculpture in 2016. It was entirely funded by the JACL Source: Discover Nikkei Creator: Unknown Date: 2016
Volunteers visit Harmony Tsuru for Solidarity volunteers at a memorial to Japanese Americans incarcerated at the Puyallup Fairgrounds in 1942. The sculpture, “Harmony” was one of three sites of historical significance along the caravan route through the Puyallup Fairgrounds in 2021 Source: Densho Creator: Lynda Joko Date: 2021


Alain Pouliot, “Harmony,” Global World War II Monuments, accessed July 24, 2024,