Remembrance Day 2015
By Bruce Haulman
for The Japanese Presence Project
Vashon once had a large vibrant Japanese American community whose members were deeply involved in the daily life of the island. These Japanese American residents owned and operated over twenty island farms, owned the largest berry barreling plant on the island, and provided jobs picking and processing crops for hundreds of individuals who lived both on and off of Vashon. This Japanese American community supported the schools, provided a number of valedictorians and salutatorians for the graduating high school classes, contributed players for the winning high school basketball, football, and track teams, donated 100 cherry trees to landscape the new Vashon High School in 1931, were some of the founders of the Sportsman’s Club, were members of the Businessmen’s Club, and helped raise funds for numerous school projects with Japanese performances and dances.
There were 140 Japanese American residents of Vashon in 1930, and even though the Great Depression reduced that number slightly to 120 by 1940, the Japanese Americans on Vashon were an important part of the island community. World War Two effectively destroyed that community, with only around 40 former residents of Japanese descent returning after the war to pick up and resume their interrupted lives.
What caused the destruction of this Vashon community and Japanese American communities all along the West Coast was Executive Order 9066 signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19,1942. The Order authorized the forced removal and incarceration of all Japanese Americans in what was called the West Coast Exclusion Zone including all of Western Washington, Western Oregon, and all of California. Approximately 120,000 individuals with Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of whom were American citizens, were imprisoned, without trial, in guarded, barbed wire enclosures – what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called American concentration camps.
At least 124 residents, were forcibly removed from Vashon Island on May 16, 1942 because they were of Japanese ancestry. Another 4 choose to voluntarily leave prior to the enforced evacuation. These individuals were taken from their normal lives, allowed to bring only what they could carry while leaving behind all their other possessions. They were transported from their productive farms, businesses, jobs, and community lives on Vashon to desolate, dusty and isolated areas first in the Pinedale Processing Center in Central California, and then scattered in six of the nine government-established Relocation Camps in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming. Some of them remained in these camps for four years.
The reaction to this removal and imprisonment on Vashon, like most things Vashon, was mixed. On the day Vashon Japanese Americans were evacuated, over 300 fellow Islanders came to the North End Ferry Dock to say goodbye. Many fellow islanders kept in touch with the evacuees during the war, and some managed Japanese American farms while their owner’s were absence. But, at the same time, the Vashon News Record printed heavily biased and even blatantly racist commentaries throughout the War. In early 1945, a young man, who did not want the Japanese Americans to return to the island, burned three houses owned by imprisoned Japanese Americans. One of these homes belonged to the Miyoshi family. In their house they stored their furniture, clothing and agricultural equipment and the possessions of four other evacuated families. At the time of the fire two of the Miyoshi sons were fighting in Europe with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Vashon’s reaction to the removal and imprisonment was not all regrets for friends gone, but also included some viciously racist responses.
The Japanese Presence Project was developed to identify all the Vashon Japanese Americans who lived on the island, who were interned or voluntarily exiled, and who returned after the War. The Project seeks to learn who they were, where they went, and what happened to each of them. The Japanese Presence group includes: Joe Okimoto a resident of Vashon who was imprisoned as a young boy during the WW II removal at the Santa Anita Assembly Center and then at the Poston, Arizona Relocation Camp. David Perley the descendent of the Tanaka and Sakahara families who lived on Vashon prior to WW II and were removed on May 16, 1942. Laura Nishiyori a descendent of the Nishiyori family who lived on Vashon prior to WW II and were removed on May 16, 1942. Alice Larson an island demographer. Tom Spring, an islander with a lifelong interest in the subject. Royce Wall an island web site developer. And, Ann Irish and Bruce Haulman island historians. The Project has developed family trees for each of the Japanese American families living on the island, has researched the internment camps where each Vashon family was imprisoned, and is collecting photographs and documents from each of these families. Those working on this Project would like to hear from other descendants of Vashon Japanese American families to help us gather more information and further develop the Japanese Presence Project.
Tomorrow, February 19, as we consider Remembrance Day 2015, let us all take a moment to reflect upon what fear and racism can do to a community.
Frank Fujii’s logo for Remembrance Day 1978 is an important reminder to us all. It represents the Japanese symbols for first, second, and third, representative of the three generations of Japanese individuals who were evacuated. These symbols are enclosed within a barbed wire entangled circle representing the barbed wire topped prison fences that imprisoned these three generations. A vital Japanese community on Vashon was destroyed because of fear and racism. Let us be aware and committed to never letting this happen again to any fellow islanders no matter what our differences.
Bruce Haulman is an island historian working with the Japanese Presence Project sponsored by the Friends of Mukai.
Tracing the Japanese Presence on Vashon
Tracing the Japanese Presence on Vashon a presentation by Alice Larson and Bruce Haulman This presentation provides an overview of work being done by The Friends of Mukai to recognize and honor the Japanese Residents of Vashon Island
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The Friends of Mukai is an organization that seeks to restore the Mukai House and Garden, to reunite it with the Mukai Cold Process Fruit Barreling Plant, and to turn them into a place that celebrates their important role in the immigration and agricultural history of Vashon-Maury Island and the Pacific Northwest.
We want you to join us to make this happen, because This Place Matters!
Over 250 members of the Friends of Mukai agree that This Place Matters.