Zen monk blesses Fort Missoula building

By CHELSI MOY, The Missoulian, April 30, 2008

MISSOULA, Wyoming (USA) -- Draped in a traditional Buddhist robe, Zen master Genki Takabayashi bowed his head on the porch of a building that some 65 years ago served as a place where hundreds of Japanese-American detainees were forced to prove their loyalty to this country.

That was in 1941 during World War II.

Fort Missoula's T-1 Building was transformed from what began as the post headquarters for the Immigration and Naturalization Service into office space for federal employees in recent decades. At one point it served as headquarters for undercover drug enforcement officials.

For the last two years it's been empty.
Yet, even when nobody physically occupied the inside of T-1, it was never exactly vacant.

Takabayashi explains it as having a "very funny mood" and "dark air."

On Tuesday, at a sign dedication ceremony recognizing the building's historic significance, Takabayashi blessed and cleansed the building of its painful past and worked to "clear the room of negative influences." Only days earlier, walking the long lonely stretches of hallway, Takabayashi sensed as many as 27 unsettled spirits there.

"This is where their fates were decided," said Diane Sands, development director for the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, standing in what was once the courtroom where hundreds of Japanese-American detainees had to prove they weren't spies. "Of course there are some remnants of that energy here."

Incense overpowered the smell of fresh rain Tuesday afternoon.

Takabayashi, 75, of Victor, stood facing the outside of the building. Using his right hand, he sprinkled rice on the floor and rang a small copper bell while reciting a Buddhist prayer.

His wife, Leslie Gannon, 76, stood behind her husband quietly reciting with him.

A dozen observers from Missoula County, the U.S. Forest Service, Missoula Historic Preservation Office and Japanese Friendship Club crowded into the small covered space outside to witness the ritual performed by Takabayashi, who was brought to America 30 years ago by a University of Washington professor to teach Zen before retiring to Victor.

Inside, in his native tongue, Takabayashi recited a poem he wrote for the special occasion.

This ceremony cuts through the dark clouds of the past;

That we may see clearly of our Big Sky moon. ...

An offering to those who have suffered the cruelties of judgment in this place;

May they be released, and may they release us into the Universal Mind of Peace;

All men long for forgiveness, mercy and love;

May they find it here within these walls.

The group then drank sake out of plastic cups in honor of the Japanese detainees.

It's difficult for Takabayashi to elaborate on the spiritual beings, but he's confident now that the air is "very different."

Just last week, workers cemented in place a new historic plaque in front of the building. It is part of celebrating the building's historic magnitude, which perhaps has been highlighted since the Historical Museum's attempts to acquire the building from the Forest Service.

No longer is it just considered office space, said Bob Brown, the museum's executive director. It's on the verge of becoming a place where the public can gather and learn about its history.

It's also an opportunity for the museum to grow. Bursting at the seams, the museum would like to move into the 12,000-square-foot, three-story building while still keeping its current location as well. The county expects to soon obtain a special-use permit from the Forest Service for use of the building.

Meanwhile, the Forest Service is hiring an appraiser, Brown said.

An internal appraisal performed in 2000 put the building at $550,000, but the museum is hoping to get a better deal.