Special Projects – Empty Chair

The Empty Chair Project

Brief History and Purpose

The Empty Chair Committee is establishing a memorial to recognize the Japanese who were taken from Juneau during WWII and interned in relocation camps, as well as to recognize Juneau citizens for their helpful response when the families returned. This project is sponsored by Juneau High School Class of 1958 members and their friends with the support of the Juneau community.

The Empty Chair refers to a student, John Tanaka, Juneau High School’s 1942 valedictorian, who was relocated a month before his graduation. His classmates left an empty chair to recognize him, and, by extension, other local Japanese families, at their graduation ceremonies. John’s father, Shonosuke Tanaka, owned the City Café restaurant before relocation. After the war, Katsutaro Komatsubara and Sam Taguchi became partners. John’s sisters, Mary Tanaka Abo and Alice Tanaka Hikido, are Juneau High School graduates (1958 and 1950) and committee members. Another member, Marie Darlin, who knew John, represents the class of 1943.

The memorial will be an empty, bronzed, slatted chair, indicative of that era. It will be interactive and include names of those interned as well as the Empty Chair story. The base incorporates planks resembling a gym floor where the graduation occurred and where the names of the interned will be placed. The Fukuyama, Taguchi, Komatsubara and Kito families will be among those remembered. The Juneau Parks and Recreation Advisory Board has given their endorsement for the memorial to be placed at Capital School Park because of its connection to The Empty Chair event.

Empty Chair Project Website


Other Significant Information

  • Juneau Historical Resource Committee Endorsed the project on May 2
  • The Juneau-Douglas School District Superintendent approved the project in July of 2012 for incorporation of the memorial story into a proposed Juneau history course.
  • The Juneau Parks and Recreation Advisory Board endorsed the memorial’s placement in Capital School Park on August 7, 2012.
  • J-D City Museum Director Jane Lindsey will create a display at the museum about the memorial story and work with the committee on the educational component.
  • Jim Williams of North Pacific Erectors pledged to ship the memorial from Seattle and place it at the site.
  • A booklet of historical information and personal responses to internment will be developed for the memorial dedication and for use in the educational component.
  • Because relatives of Japanese internees look for literature and memorials when they travel to new communities, the committee hopes to have the memorial included in Juneau’s Walking Tour pamphlet.
  • Project completion is scheduled for the summer of 2014.
  • The Juneau Community Foundation has embraced the project.


Future Plans

The next steps are to complete the memorial contract, finalize the site at Capital School and fundraise.


The Empty Chair Committee

Janie Hollenbach Homan, David Gray, Roger and Karleen Alstead Grummett, Andy and Jan Pekovich, Betty Marriott, Marsha Erwin Bennett, Mary Tanaka Abo, Marie Darlin, Marjorie Alstead Shackelford, Dixie Johnson Belcher, Jackie Honeywell Triplette, and Alice Tanaka Hikido.

Contact: Margie Shackelford, chair, at [email protected]

Advisors: Greg Chaney and Ron Inouye.