by Tamiko Nimura
August 2019 marks the sixth year that I’ve been writing regularly for Discover Nikkei, and it’s wonderful to see the ongoing work of people, places, and events that I’ve written about before. For example, the City of Auburn, recently updated its efforts to commemorate the Pioneer Cemetery (which I wrote about here), where many Japanese American families are buried. Building on its successful restoration and dedication of the Hori Bathhouse (which I wrote about here), the Neely Mansion Association recently continued its storytelling efforts, honoring the Filipino farmers who also lived at the Neely farm with a Filipino American Heritage Day.
And on Vashon Island, which I described here, the Japanese American community has continued to celebrate its history and heritage with a second free Japan Festival at the Mukai Farm and Garden. The Mukai Farm and Garden is a restored farmhouse estate, built by Issei B.D. Mukai, and includes a Japanese walking garden designed by his wife Kuni Mukai. The Friends of Mukai, a nonprofit, is restoring the farmhouse and estate and hopes to make it a center of Japanese American culture and history on the Island. I have stayed in touch with friends I made on Vashon Island, who are dedicated to preserving and promoting the Island’s little-known Japanese American history.
This year’s Japan Festival will include performances by Seattle area taiko groups, a mochitsuki demonstration, Bon Odori dancing, a children’s village with Japanese games and art projects, and much more. Japanese inspired arts, crafts, and food will be available for sale during the day. A lantern walk will conclude the day.
Last year, I participated in the Festival for part of the morning, talking to Island residents and visitors about the Vashon Island portion of RevisitWA, the public history project that I co-wrote with scholar Vince Schleitwiler. Together we talked about the rich agricultural history of the Japanese American families on the Island. Our partners at the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation were on hand with iPads to show people the site and distribute copies of the magazine, This Place, featuring Nikkei history on Vashon in April 2018. My daughters played games in the field next to the house, and enjoyed mochi cupcakes.
“I love the space,” commented Tacoma artist Nori Kimura, who attended last year’s Festival. “It has the history which contributes to the event. I really enjoyed the Mochitsuki with Mr. Shoichi Sugiyama the most. He is fun and joyful to be with, and great with children too.”
The festival has also brought in Vashon’s Nikkei community members who are newer to the Island and the United States, such as Yuka Mullen and her partner Gerie. “The Friends of Mukai…have been really supportive to us,” Mullen says. She and her family have loaned items such as yukatas and games to the Festival, and have created craft materials.
I spoke by e-mail with Kay Longhi, President of the Friends of Mukai, and Tina Maeda Shattuck, event organizer, about the event.
Tamiko Nimura: I’d love to hear more about the origin of the Festival: where did the idea come from?
Kay Longhi: As a result of the Vashon Heritage Museum’s Joy and Heartache exhibit, many of the Japanese Americans’ on the island wanted to celebrate their heritage. The Friends of Mukai offered its site as a location for their idea of a festival, as the shared history was obvious. We lent the organizing group our non-profit status by agreeing to be a fiscal sponsor of the Festival. In addition, several of the Friends’ current or former board members were on the Festival organizing committee. Many Friends volunteers participated in and supported the Festival.
Tamiko: Do you connect it with any one particular Japanese holiday, and why or why not?
Kay: We did not connect it to any particular holiday, though Bon Odori played a part.
Tina: We looked at the calendar for this community and determined it was the best timing for our event. This is a small island with MANY events, and we wanted to invite our business and other non-profit neighbors to be a part instead of being in competition!
Tamiko: Who have been some of the key players and stakeholders in the Festival?
Kay: The key players have been Tina Shattuck, Meredith Yasui, Bruce Haulman, Joe Okimoto, Stephen Jeung, the Board of the Friends of Mukai, Akiko Leonard.
Tamiko: Why a Festival as a format for people to come to the Mukai house?
Kay: Our goal is to bring as many as people as possible, both from the greater Seattle area, but also beyond, to the Mukai Farm & Garden to celebrate and learn from the history and beauty of the complex. As we have been completing the restoration of the house and garden, we are increasingly in a position to attract visitors. Last year by September we had completed a great deal of the grounds improvement and garden pond restoration. We were able to offer the space and amenities to accommodate a Festival. We also had the volunteer vision and skill of Tina Shattuck who has the kind of experience to pull something of this scale off. Otherwise, we have Open Houses, and offer tours as our way to bring people to the grounds.
Tamiko: What do you hope Festival goers take away from the day?
Kay: We hope they are amazed at the story of the Mukais – their wonderful story of entrepreneurship, the blending of cultures, the remarkable agricultural history on the island, and the unfortunate impact of the internment. We hope they are inspired to learn more about some aspect of Japanese culture they were introduced to, as well as the social justice lessons from history. We hope they take away a desire to learn more about Japanese agricultural contribution to the PNW.
Tamiko: How have Nikkei community members from the Island (past and present) been involved in the Festival?
Kay: My goodness, the Nikkei community has been the heart and soul of the festival.
Tina: Community Outreach has been the goal of this event. We expect to double the amount of visitors at the festival this year!
The Friends of Mukai hosted their second free Vashon Japan Festival at the Mukai Farm and Garden, Saturday September 14, 2019, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., 18017 107th Ave SW, Vashon, WA 98070. For more information, visit mukaifarmandgarden.org.
Tamiko Nimura is a Sansei/Pinay writer, originally from Northern California and now living in the Pacific Northwest. Her writing has appeared or will appear in The San Francisco Chronicle, Kartika Review, The Seattle Star, Seattlest.com, the International Examiner (Seattle), and The Rafu Shimpo. She blogs at Kikugirl.net, and is working on a book project that responds to her father’s unpublished manuscript about his Tule Lake incarceration during World War II.