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Koji Lau-Ozawa presents on the Archaeology of Japanese Incarceration

by Kevin McGarry


On Wednesday evening, January 30, 2019, Mr. Koji Lau-Ozawa a doctoral candidate from Stanford University’s Anthropology Department offered the

Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP) community a fascinating presentation of his groundbreaking research regarding the use of gardens and gardening at the Gila River Incarceration Camp (a WWII Japanese internment camp that was located in southern Arizona). Gila River held over 13,000 Japanese-Americans, most of whom were from California. The success of Mr. Lau-Ozawa’s extensive research, based on a four-year archaeological survey of the camp’s material remains, has led him to expand his project. He now hopes to connect those material remains he and his team found at Gila River to the pre-War communities where the camp internees came from. Among the pre-War communities is Santa Barbara’s historic Nihonmachi (Japan Town) which was located in the Presidio Neighborhood, and is an important history shared with visitors to El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park daily.

Koji Lau-Ozawa mid-lecture. Photo by Dr. Paul Mori.


Presented with a combination of aerial and up-close archaeological photographs, oral history quotes, and individual character portraits, Mr. Lau- Ozawa’s presentation showed why understanding the use of gardens at Gila River tells us so much about the everyday experiences (especially the many hardships) of the Japanese-Americans that were interned there during the war.

Koji with SBTHP Asian American History Committee member Kay Van Horn who had family members who lived in Santa Barbara’s Nihonmachi and were interned in Gila River. Photo by Dr. Paul Mori.


Mr. Lau-Ozawa’s lecture brought approximately forty attendees on a very chilly Wednesday evening. His talk took place in the historic Alhecama Theatre, Santa Barbara’s newest City Landmark and was followed by a Q & A session and light reception.

Koji with SBTHP’s Associate Executive Director for Cultural Resources Michael H. Imwalle. Photo by Dr. Paul Mori.


Over the next year, Mr. Lau-Ozawa will be working with SBTHP staff, including Associate Executive Director of Cultural Resources Michael H. Imwalle, to study our collection of material remains from Santa Barbara’s Nihonmachi. We look forward to welcoming him back to Santa Barbara, and we hope to share his future findings in a forthcoming issue of La Campana and another public lecture.

Kevin McGarry is the associate director for public engagement at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation

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