The Irei is a National Monument for the WWII Japanese American Incarceration directed by Duncan Ryūken Williams, Soto Zen Buddhist priest, and USC Shinso Ito Center Director. It is a multi-faceted project that seeks to address the attempted erasure of those individuals of Japanese ancestry who experienced wartime incarceration by memorializing their names.
This is the first time a comprehensive list of the over 125,000 persons of Japanese ancestry who were unjustly imprisoned in U.S. Army, Department of Justice, and War Relocation Authority (WRA) camps has been successfully compiled – and thus the first time it has been possible to properly memorialize each incarceree as distinct individuals instead of a generalized community. By placing their names front and center, the Irei National Monument Project seeks to expand and re-envision what a monument is through three distinct, but interlinking elements:
Ireichō – The Book of Names — The idea of a book as a monument is inspired by the Japanese tradition of Kakochō (literally, “The Book of the Past”), a book of names typically placed on a Buddhist temple altar. This book is brought out for memorial services, when the names of those to be remembered are chanted. Following a ceremonial installation of the book on September 24, 2022 at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM), the Ireichō monument is now on display at the museum for a year. The public is invited to view and acknowledge the names in the Ireichō by placing a Japanese hanko (stamp) underneath the name of each individual in the book. If the goal of honoring the 125,000+ names is not reached by the end of the year-long campaign, the Ireichō may be displayed at other locations until every single individual is acknowledged.
Ireizō – The Online Archive — The Ireizō is an interactive and searchable website monument, hosted by the USC Shinso Ito Center, that will serve as an online archive of all of the people listed in the sacred book. On it, additional information about each name can be viewed such as the camps where they were incarcerated, revealing aspects of their lives that extend far beyond their names. Full rosters of all 75 internment or concentration camps will also be provided. A beta version of the Ireizō website – www.ireizo.com – was released in September 2022, with a full launch forthcoming in spring 2023. In the fall of 2023, we will be partnering with Densho to pair each name with photographs, camp newspapers, and other WWII-era materials from their vast digital holdings.
Ireihi – The Light Sculpture — The Ireihi unites traditional Japanese cultural notions of memorial monuments with cutting-edge technology to create a light installation memorial that will display all the names from the project. Engineered by a creative team of artists and designers, and coordinated in partnership with the Japanese American Confinement Sites Consortium, these light installation memorials will be on display at Amache, Jerome, Heart Mountain, Manzanar, Minidoka, Poston, Rohwer, and Tule Lake starting in 2024. In 2025, JANM will unveil an Ireihi sculpture that replicates the dimensions of the Manzanar Ireitō as part of its relaunch of its core permanent exhibit.