Down from mountain, Japanese internee’s stays return dwelling

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — When Giichi Matsumura arrived at his remaining resting place in late December, the individuals who knew him greatest when he disappeared from a Japanese internment camp in 1945 already had been there.

His spouse, Ito, who had mourned his passing for 60 years earlier than her demise in 2005, was buried in the identical plot, as was his daughter, Kazue, who died in 2018. His father, Katsuzo, who died in 1963, was close by. His brother and two of his three sons had been a brief stroll away, all buried within the shady, grassy haven of Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica.

They final noticed Giichi alive within the waning days of World Conflict II on the Manzanar internment camp, certainly one of 10 the place the U.S. authorities held greater than 110,000 individuals of Japanese descent for greater than three years, claiming with out proof they may betray America within the warfare.

In the summertime of 1945, Matsumura hiked from camp into the close by Sierra Nevada, the rugged backbone of California, and by no means returned. His stays had been dedicated to a lonely mountainside grave left to the weather.

His journey dwelling, 75 years within the making, solely occurred after a hiker certain for the summit of Mount Williamson, an enormous peak overshadowing Manzanar, veered off route close to a lake and noticed a cranium within the rocks. He and his associate uncovered a full skeleton below granite blocks.

It was 2019, and the responsibility to convey him again fell to a granddaughter born many years after he died.

Lori Matsumura by no means anticipated to play that position. She knew of her grandfather’s unlucky demise, but it surely wasn’t one thing she usually considered.

Then an Inyo County sheriff’s sergeant phoned and requested for a DNA pattern to see if the unearthed bones belonged to her grandfather, the one Manzanar prisoner who died within the mountains.

“It was an entire shock after I obtained a name from the sheriff,” Lori stated. “There have been tales my grandmother instructed me about her husband passing on the mountain. They had been tales to me, and it wasn’t actuality. However then when the sheriff referred to as it, you realize, introduced it into actuality.”

That dialog set her on step one of a mission to reunite her ancestors, a journey that woke up her to a historical past she had largely seen by means of a toddler’s eyes, the sides softened by a technology extra inclined to look ahead than dwell previously. Tales that after appeared rosy misplaced their bloom when confronted with the cruel panorama the place her family spent greater than three years in captivity.


Till the U.S. entered WWII after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Giichi Matsumura and his household lived what appeared like a quiet life within the leafy oasis of Santa Monica Canyon, a retreat for artists and stars of previous Hollywood.

Born within the Fukui prefecture on the coast of the Sea of Japan, he immigrated to the U.S. in 1916, arriving in San Francisco on a steam ship with a single bag. His father already was there they usually labored as gardeners and lived on property owned by the Marquez household, Mexican land grant homeowners of an space that turned components of Los Angeles and Santa Monica.

Giichi’s spouse, Ito, arrived from Kyoto in 1924, in accordance with U.S. Census information. The couple had 4 kids born within the U.S.: sons Masaru, Tsutomo and Uwao, and a daughter, Kazue, the youngest. Kazue, Lori’s aunt, recalled a enjoyable childhood in an interview by Rose Masters, a ranger with the Manzanar Nationwide Historic Web site, a couple of months earlier than her demise in 2018.

Her mom would pull her in a wagon to play on the seaside. She remembers seeing the actor Leo Carrillo, later often known as sidekick Pancho to TV’s “The Cisco Child,” doing lasso methods.

Giichi Matsumura, who signed up for the World Conflict I draft, registered once more on Feb. 14, 1942. 5 days later, President Franklin Roosevelt issued an govt order that may pressure individuals of Japanese descent on the West Coast into jail camps in waves.

Beneath an April 20, 1942 order, the Matsumura household had a few week to depart their life within the canyon behind.

Kazue, who wasn’t even conscious there was a warfare, recalled her expertise as a 7-year-old.

Her father needed to give away his automobile they usually had been solely allowed to convey a single suitcase to camp.

She had been enthusiastic about taking a bus journey, however the novelty after a protracted trip from LA by means of the desert alongside the dramatic jap flank of the Sierra rapidly pale once they arrived at Manzanar.

“I observed it was all dust,” she stated. “Nothing there. Like a desert.”

Manzanar, which implies apple orchard in Spanish, rapidly turned dwelling to 10,000 individuals of Japanese descent — two-thirds of whom had been U.S. residents — dwelling in lots of of cramped, tar-paper lined barracks.

The household would have shared a barrack with 4 to 6 different households, every unit separated solely by a skinny wall that didn’t lengthen to the pitched roof. There was little privateness.

The shacks had been so poorly constructed that frequent winds blew sand by means of the cracks in partitions and flooring. There was no insulation, making scorching summers insupportable and frigid winters insufferable.

Giichi Matsumura labored as a prepare dinner. In his spare time, he painted watercolors, capturing the guard tower, barracks and Mount Williamson, the second-highest peak in California.

His eldest son, Masaru, Lori’s father, had been about to graduate from highschool once they had been imprisoned. As an alternative, he needed to wait till the subsequent spring when he was within the internment camp’s first graduating class.

Lori remembers her father speaking concerning the camp’s most notorious incident when guards shot right into a crowd of individuals, killing two and injuring 9.

However she doesn’t know a lot about his time there. He didn’t like to debate it.

What she knew got here largely from her grandmother and Aunt Kazue, who lived collectively throughout the road, tales about squashing scorpions on the best way to the toilet utilizing geta — elevated picket sandals.


Lori Matsumura at all times meant to go to Manzanar. However she’s unsure she would have made the greater than three-hour drive north from Los Angeles.

Now she needed to go.

A number of weeks after the sheriff’s name, she and her boyfriend, Thomas Storesund, drove to the station in Lone Pine the place she gave an oral swab for DNA. They then drove a couple of miles north the place the Nationwide Park Service operates the camp as a type of dwelling museum.

The sentry home nonetheless stands on the entrance. A duplicate of one of many eight guard towers looms overhead and duplicate barracks, a latrine and a large number corridor recreate what the camp appeared like, minus lots of of different buildings crammed right into a sq. mile of excessive desert surrounded by barbed wire.

The buildings show vestiges of life in camp and among the many indignities skilled, such because the loyalty questionnaire adults needed to full.

“How might one thing like this occur in America?” Lori thought.

However she wasn’t struck by the gravity of her household’s loss till she visited the place they’d lived.

Standing close to an indication for Block 18, Matsumura appeared out at an inhospitable barren patch of scraggly rabbitbrush, fiddleneck weed and a row of barren locust bushes. She was stuffed with sorrow.

“I used to be blown away by how desolate the place was,” she stated. “Seeing it in individual made it so unhappy for me. I don’t suppose I might have survived that.”

For the primary time, Matsumura felt a connection to the place her household lived. She was strolling of their footsteps. It was now actual.

Whereas the buildings had been gone, one reminder stood out: Mount Williamson standing at 14,374 toes (4,381 meters) to the west. It was the positioning of her grandfather’s first grave.


Giichi Matsumura left camp July 29, 1945 heading towards that peak with a gaggle of trout fishermen for a several-day outing. He deliberate to sketch and paint.

Prisoners had been free to depart camp six months earlier, however about 4,000 internees remained. Many, just like the Matsumuras, had nowhere to go or feared racist reprisals in locations they as soon as referred to as dwelling.

Ito Matsumura didn’t need her husband to go on the journey as a result of she feared he would cease to color and get misplaced, Lori’s Aunt Kazue recalled. Ito forbade him from taking his artwork provides however he managed to convey them anyway.

It takes no less than a full day to ascend about 8,000 toes (2,438 meters) to succeed in the chain of lakes the place they had been destined. The path finally ends and hikers should navigate a forbidding jumble of granite within the skinny air on the excessive altitude.

On Aug. 2, Matsumura stopped to color as others fished.

When a storm blew in, the fishermen, who had been there earlier than, knew the place to shelter in a cave, stated Don Hosokawa, whose father, Frank, was on the journey. The lads couldn’t discover Giichi after the storm and returned to camp, hoping he headed there.

Precisely what occurred to Giichi Matsumura stays unknown. Aunt Kazue stated she heard her father slipped on moist rocks and hit his head. Don Hosokawa stated the physique was later discovered subsequent to a bloody rock.

His disappearance got here 4 days earlier than the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima that may hasten the Japanese give up.

Three search events appeared for him within the following weeks. They discovered solely his sweater.

A few month after he was misplaced, a hiker from close by Independence was making an attempt to summit Mount Williamson along with her husband and a good friend, however rain ruined their plans. They stopped for lunch, and Mary DeDecker, a botanist, observed a department within the rocks beneath, which struck her as uncommon as a result of bushes don’t develop at that altitude.

A better look revealed a physique.

A small burial celebration from camp made a final journey into the mountains, carrying a sheet from Ito Matsumura to wrap her husband in. They buried him below granite and affixed a easy piece of paper to a block to mark the grave. In Japanese characters, it gave his title, age and stated, “Relaxation in Peace.”

The group returned with locks of his hair and nail clippings, a Buddhist custom for a physique that couldn’t be returned.

About 150 individuals attended a funeral ceremony again on the camp. A photograph by Toyo Miyatake, well-known for documenting Manzanar life, exhibits mourners in darkish fits and attire behind a wall of crepe paper flowers.

Aunt Kazue lamented that it was tough by no means having seen her father’s corpse or his gravesite.

“To at the present time it looks as if he’s not handed away,” she stated. “It looks as if he’s gone some place as a result of I don’t see his physique.”

On the Manzanar cemetery, the place a tall white obelisk is usually embellished with chains of origami cranes left by guests, an indication says 150 individuals died at camp. Most had been cremated and their ashes buried after their households left camp. One man, Giichi Matsumura, the signal says, died exploring the Sierra and “is buried excessive within the mountains above you.”

That signal must be modified.


The gravesite was not broadly identified so it initially gave the impression to be a thriller when hikers unearthed it Oct. 7, 2019. Officers from Inyo County Sheriff’s Workplace flew by helicopter to retrieve the stays.

When phrase reached rangers and historians at Manzanar, they’d a hunch who it was.

“It wasn’t an enormous thriller,” Ranger Patricia Biggs instructed Lori Matsumura in February final 12 months. “We’d have been amazed if it wasn’t your grandfather.”

Sgt. Nate Derr had referred to as Matsumura for a DNA pattern as a result of she was listed on the historic website as a contact individual for her aunt. It took about three months for the Division of Justice to match her DNA with a tooth from the stays to positively determine her grandfather.

Derr notified her in January final 12 months. Then she needed to determine what to do with the bones.

Manzanar wouldn’t permit her grandfather to be buried within the small cemetery the place solely six our bodies, interred when the camp was working, stay. His bones additionally couldn’t be returned to the mountain.

The considered scattering his ashes at a kind of locations held some enchantment. Though it’s unlawful to scatter ashes on public lands, Lori stated she was instructed by one official that nobody would cease her.

But it surely was unlikely her household would trek up the mountain for a burial service and returning him to a spot he’d been captive appeared in poor style.

After consulting her siblings and cousins, they determined he must be cremated and laid to relaxation together with his spouse. His title was already on the grave marker, his toenail clippings and hair buried along with her.

Lori needed to signal paperwork amending the demise certificates from a burial to a cremation. And she or he needed to view the stays.

On Presidents Day final 12 months, she and different relations went to the small metropolis of Bishop, about 45 minutes north of Manzanar, to Brune Mortuary, which can also be the county coroner’s workplace.

Coroner Jason Molinar started to guide Lori and her niece, Lilah, from his workplace to a non-public viewing room when Lori halted within the doorway to reassure the 11-year-old, who was scared.

“They’re simply his bones. That’s all it’s,” Lori instructed the woman.

Laid on a sheet-covered gurney had been the stays of the grandfather she’d by no means met.

The skeleton was roughly organized so as. The cranium was bleached white, most certainly from solar publicity. The ribs, backbone and joints had been stained a shade of brown.

Molinar pointed to a coil of fishing line, the stays of a rusty pocket knife and two buttons discovered with the bones. A pair of sneakers and belt he had worn had been subsequent to his decrease leg bones.

It was exceptional to seek out the physique 99% intact, Molinar stated, a testomony to a great burial in a local weather the place the stays had been in all probability encased in snow and ice a lot of the 12 months and undisturbed by individuals or critters.

“The loopy half is the truth that it’s this well-preserved,” he stated. “Normally after this a few years, you simply discover fragments.”

Lori made a video name to her sister, Lisa Reilly, who lives in San Francisco and couldn’t make the journey.

“Do you wish to see Grandpa’s bones?” she requested.

She then turned the digital camera to the skeleton and artifacts. She paused on the cranium and identified the sutures, the superb cracks the place the bones of the cranium are joined that had begun to separate from publicity. The cracks had led the hikers to take a position on social media about foul play.

Lori and her niece stood with their fingers clasped in prayer and heads bowed. They prayed he would relaxation in peace and be reunited together with his household.

After the viewing, they went to Manzanar to donate the sneakers, belt, fishing line and knife, to be placed on show.

As Biggs appeared on the weather-beaten sneakers and withered belt, she was virtually overcome with emotion.

“I simply wish to have a second,” the ranger stated. “Out of respect. Wow. It’s wonderful to me the issues that final eternally and the issues that don’t.”

In a visitor e-book, Lori’s nephew, Lukas, 9, wrote: “We’re bringing you dwelling Nice Grampa Giichi Matsumura. We love you.”

Two weeks later, Lori retrieved the ashes.


Misplaced as soon as and located twice, it was now time to correctly bury Giichi Matsumura.

On Dec. 21, Lori, her brothers, Wayne and Clyde, together with Clyde’s spouse, Narumol, and two kids introduced his ashes to a burial service at Woodlawn, which is a block from the place they grew up.

The Rev. Shumyo Kojima, a Buddhist priest, assembled a small altar with a framed picture of Giichi Matsumura in entrance of the field containing his stays.

“He moved from the excessive Sierra to right here. All of you might be eyewitnesses,” Kojima stated. “It is a form of house-warming celebration. So, everybody can be right here to rejoice his new residence.”

Kojima lit incense and picked up a bell that he rang at completely different intervals as he chanted historic sutras, bowing repeatedly.

Every member of the family stepped ahead to sprinkle incense in a burner whereas Kojima chanted.

Kojima confirmed a doc from the Zenshuji Buddhist Temple that recorded memorial companies Ito held for her husband on essential milestone anniversaries over time. It confirmed how she saved excited about him, the priest stated.

Three cemetery employees then moved the altar to disclose a gap within the floor. Certainly one of them positioned the field of ashes within the shallow grave.

Because the interwoven threads of incense smoke drifted northeast — the course of Manzanar — the relations every took a flip dropping a shovel stuffed with dust on the field.

The grave-diggers completed the job and positioned a bouquet of white flowers on the grass. Kojima sprinkled water over the grave for purification.

Lori Matsumura wished the hikers hadn’t disturbed the grave. She imagined it was a lovely setting in mountains her grandfather admired.

But she was glad he was again with those that beloved him.

“His physique is laid to relaxation with everybody, so it’s form of simply closed the chapter on my dad and his siblings and fogeys,” she stated.

She solely regretted they weren’t alive to see it.

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