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Japanese American Historical Plaza

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Attractions Details

📌 Address

Portland, OR 97209, USA

Opening Hours

8:00 AM - 5:00 PM

💸 Entrance Fee

Free

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expert
Colm
Local tour guide
"Visit the Japanese American Historical Plaza early in the morning when the cherry blossoms are in bloom for a peaceful and less crowded experience. Don't forget to walk down to the riverfront for an unobstructed view of the Willamette River, a favorite local spot for quiet reflection that many tourists aren't aware of."

What is Japanese American Historical Plaza?

Japanese American Historical Plaza, nestled elegantly in Portland's historic Old Town district, is a sanctuary of remembrance and reflection. It stands as a testament to the Japanese Americans who faced internment during World War II. This space blends the serenity of a traditional Japanese garden with the powerful narrative of a people's resilience. It's a place one can't simply stroll through without being moved by the stories and poems etched into the stone and landscape.

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As someone who feels the weight of history in these engraved stones, I often find myself slowing my steps here. Each cherry tree, each carefully selected boulder, has been placed to honor and remember the lives that were uprooted. But it's not simply a solemn ground: during cherry blossom season, the plaza becomes a living artwork, its beauty attracting natives and visitors alike for moments of joy and contemplation.

History of Japanese American Historical Plaza

The Japanese American Historical Plaza was conceived as a way to acknowledge and educate the public about the injustices faced by Japanese Americans during World War II. Opened in 1990, it was a collaborative effort spearheaded by the local Japanese American community, particularly driven by individuals like local businessman Bill Naito. Recognizing that the painful history of internment could be forgotten, Naito and others sought to create a public memory that would endure.

The design, with its riverfront stone pathway lined by cherry trees, was crafted by landscape architect Robert Murase. It includes engraved stones that tell the history and within it, the difficult stories of those times. I often tell folks who visit that every element here is woven with symbolism that reflects Japanese culture and the experiences of those the plaza commemorates.

Why is Japanese American Historical Plaza Important?

The Japanese American Historical Plaza is not just a passive green space; it's a living history lesson and a tribute to civil liberties. By reflecting on the internment of Japanese Americans and celebrating their contributions to Oregon and the United States, the plaza encourages dialogue about racial prejudice and the importance of safeguarding human rights. Each time I walk its grounds, I am reminded of the power of memory and the importance of storytelling in shaping a more inclusive future.

The plaza also serves as an important cultural touchstone for the Japanese American community and the wider Portland area. It fuses history with the present, providing both a nod to the past and a place of current celebration during festivals and community events. In the bloom of spring, with petals floating softly to the stone beneath, the plaza also speaks of renewal and hope—not just signaling the change of seasons but symbolizing perseverance and the promise of renewal for a community once disrupted.

Things to Do & See at Japanese American Historical Plaza

Visitors to the plaza can embark on a journey of discovery, starting with the engraved stones that tell potent stories of the past. It's critical to take your time here, to really let the words sink in. Each quote, each poem on these stones was chosen to speak to the heart and provoke thought. In fact, some of these poems are by Lawson Fusao Inada, Oregon's former poet laureate and a former internee himself.

During cherry blossom season, which usually peaks in March and April, the plaza becomes especially enchanting. Photographers, families, and quiet observers gather to appreciate the fleeting beauty, which in Japanese culture, is a symbol of the impermanence of life. And don’t forget, while you’re here, the Willamette River offers a picturesque backdrop, perfect for a moment of peace or a scenic walk along the waterfront.

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Outside of cherry blossom season, you can still engage with the plaza's history through the interpretive signs and by attending community events. These gatherings often feature cultural performances, talks, and other activities that keep the spirit and stories of the Japanese American community alive. And there's also the adjacent Tom McCall Waterfront Park, which offers ample green space for picnics and relaxation, alongside the river that has watched over this city for generations.

Frequently asked questions

What is the Japanese American Historical Plaza?

The Japanese American Historical Plaza is a public space in Portland dedicated to preserving and sharing the history of Japanese immigrants and their descendants in Oregon. It features artwork, stone monuments, and cherry trees to commemorate the community's experiences, including the internment during World War II.

Where is the Japanese American Historical Plaza located?

The Japanese American Historical Plaza is located in the Old Town area of Portland, along the Willamette River waterfront.

What can visitors see at the Japanese American Historical Plaza?

Visitors can see a series of stone monuments inscribed with poetry, historical timelines, and names significant to the Japanese American community. The plaza also includes cherry trees and artistic installations that reflect Japanese culture and the experiences of Japanese Americans.

Is there an admission fee to enter the Japanese American Historical Plaza?

No, there is no admission fee to enter the Japanese American Historical Plaza. It is a public space open to all visitors.

When is the best time to visit the Japanese American Historical Plaza?

The best time to visit the Japanese American Historical Plaza is during the spring when the cherry trees are in bloom, adding to the beauty and reflective nature of the plaza. However, it's open year-round, and each season offers a different perspective on the site.

Attractions Details

📌 Address

Portland, OR 97209, USA

Opening Hours

8:00 AM - 5:00 PM

💸 Entrance Fee

Free

Find it on google maps