Life at Manzanar was uncertain, but the prospect of dying behind barbed wire, far from home, may have been unthinkable. On May 16, 1942, Matsunosuke Murakami, 62, because the first of 150 men, women, and children to die in camp. He and 14 others, most infants and older men without families, were laid to rest in this cemetery outside the barbed wire fence in an old peach orchard from Manzanar’s farming era. In the shadow of majestic Mt. Williamson, their somber funerals and memorials were attended by hundreds of mourners.
While some deceased were sent to hometown cemeteries, most were cremated and their ashes held in camp until their families left Manzanar. Giichi Matsumura, an incarcerated man who died in 1945 while exploring the Sierra, is buried high in the mountains above.
Today, only six graves here, including Matsunosuke Murakami’s, contain remains; families requested the removal of others after the war.
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The Japanese Kanji characters read “Soul Consoling Tower.” Master stonemason Ryozo Kado, a Catholic, and Buddhist minister Shinjo Nagatomi designed this iconic monument as a permanent tribute to Manzanar’s dead. Kado built the obelisk with the assistance of Block 9 residents and a young Buddhists’ group, funded by 15-cent donations from each family in camp. Rev. Nagatomi carefully inscribed the monument’s characters—including “Erected by the Manzanar Japanese, August 1943” on the west side.
While Rev. Nagatomi and Ryozo Kado live on in the memories of family and community, Kado also left his legacy in concrete and stone. He built the sentry post at the camp entrance and other camp features in his distinctive faux wood style.