New At Manzanar National Historic Site: Arai Family Pond Excavation

The following is a press release from the National Park Service by Jeff Burton, Cultural Resources Program Manager. Manzanar National Historic Site.

MANZANAR NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE, NEAR INDEPENDENCE, CA — Madelon Arai Yamamoto, who has vivid memories of her family’s internment at Manzanar, returned in early May 2011 to visit the archeological excavation of a pond her father had constructed. Hanshiro (Jack) Arai’s garden was one of many family gardens created to beautify the prison camp, where over 10,000 Japanese Americans were interned during World War II.

The Arai family poses in front of their pond
Photo: Madelon Yamamoto
“He built it to help keep the family together, and to give my little brothers a place to play,” Yamamoto said.

For over 65 years, the pond had been hidden, buried by sediments and covered by brush. Over five days in May, twenty volunteers assisted Manzanar National Historic Site staff to uncover the pond.

Yamamoto identified features discovered during the excavation, such as the remains of the wooden boxes that once held mail-order water lilies and a Koi tunnel through one of pond’s three islands. She suggested that a toy train, a toy gun, and marbles found during the excavation probably belonged to her brothers, while beer bottles found were likely from her father.

Not only did Yamamoto’s visit enhance the archeological interpretations of the pond, it thrilled the volunteers, who were enthralled by her stories of what life at Manzanar was like for a ten-year-old girl.

One volunteer noted that “The artifacts we found were in themselves very moving, very poignant—lost toys made it easy to imagine children playing next to the pond, little children who were locked up with their families because of their Japanese ancestry. But to have the chance to meet one of those children almost seventy years later, and hear what she did to make Manzanar more bearable, really made the history personal.”

Work will continue on Jack Arai’s pond, June 24-26, 2011. There will be two work groups: one group will be making concrete repairs, rebuilding the pond walls where needed, and uncovering and restoring rock alignments. The other group will be washing, sorting, counting, and cataloging the many artifacts recovered during the pond excavation.

The number of participates is limited. If you would like to volunteer or want to be added to the mailing list to receive future emails about volunteer projects, contact Jeff Burton at


Additional Photos

Madelon Yamamoto (center, holding family photo) with the Day 2 excavation crew.
Photo: Ojima Kazuyuki
Excavation work in progress.
Photo: Jeff Burton
Volunteer Sandee Bilyeu with toy train candy container.
Photo: Jeff Burton
The Arai family pond after excavation.
Photo: Jeff Burton

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