It's a book so large it weighs 25 pounds. But it has to be big: it holds 125,284 names. For the first time, the names of every person of Japanese descent incarcerated in US internment camps during World War II, the majority of whom were American citizens, can be found in this Ireicho—which translates "to record of consoling ancestors"—now on display at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. It's the result of three years of careful research to verify the names of those held at 75 sites across the US. As Axios reports, soil from each site is embedded in the 1,000-page book, contributing both to its weight and its significance.
Duncan Ryuken Williams, director of the University of Southern California's Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture and a leader of the project, tells the Guardian he's "close to 99.5% confident" that no one has been left out. Volunteers used various records—including from Densho, the nonprofit that preserves the history of the WWII incarceration—to confirm the names, which can also be found in a digital list dubbed Ireizo. "It was proof that I was there, and that this happened to me," says 88-year-old Kanji Sahara following a trip to the museum with his granddaughters, who used a Japanese hanko or stamp to mark the name of their late grandmother.
Williams hopes every name in the book will be honored in this way during the year the Ireicho will be on display. It provides "an opportunity for families to pass on this history" and "make the people themselves a part of the monument," he says. "Seeing this enormous book was a reminder of just how many families have similar stories as mine," Sahara's granddaughter Kristen Tang tells the Guardian. Another visitor, Chisao Hata of the Japanese American Museum of Oregon, who found the names of her mother, father, grandfather and uncle in the Ireicho, told Oregon Public Broadcasting that it was an "emotionally cathartic" experience she was "honored and proud and thrilled to be part of." (More Japanese internment stories.)