Issei Story Told at Yakima Museum

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Japanese Americans pound mochi in a wooden tree trunk usu on Dec. 27, 1941 in Toppenish, Wash.

Yakima, Wash. is recalling the struggles of Issei pioneers in a new exhibition, “Land of Joy and Sorrow: Japanese Pioneers in the Yakima Valley” opening at the Yakima Valley Museum on Saturday.

Using historic photos, video and other artifacts, “Land of Joy and Sorrow” highlights the contributions of Japanese Americans to the eastern Washington area. David Lynx, associate director of the museum, explained that Issei came to Yakima as farmers, but could not own land and leased land from the Native Americans on the nearby Yakima Reservation.

Despite barriers put in their way, the Japanese continued to work and to raise their families. Many of these pioneers lived in the lower Valley, turning barren sagebrush into farmland. A few of them owned businesses clustered together around the railroad station on Front Street in Yakima, running restaurants, hotels, laundries, and a variety of other businesses.  Among the surprising facts uncovered as the emergence of the area as a center of senryu poetry, said Lynx.

As the number of Japanese families in the Yakima Valley grew, so did their community. They established organizations and activities that brought them together socially, blending their Japanese traditions with their new ones as Americans.

On Feb. 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 and Yakima’s Japanese Americans were first sent to Portland Assembly Center, built on a livestock pavilion. The exhibition traces the Japanese American story from livestock area, and then to Heart Mountain, Wyo. Today the town still is home to the Wapato Buddhist Church, but most Japanese American did not return after their confinement.

Although the Yakima Valley was outside Military Area No. 1, the “evacuation” of all the Valley’s residents was ordered to begin on June 4, 1942. Of the 1,051 Yakima Valley Japanese Americans who boarded the train in 1942, only ten percent returned to the area. “Many of them met people from California when they were at Heart Mountain, and they didn’t return here. Their land was gone, there was nothing to come home to,” explained Lynx.

Lynx said that while “Land of Joy and Sorrow” is a temporary exhibition, the museum is planning to create a permanent exhibit on Japanese Americans and is still accepting photos and artifacts for display.

The Yakima Valley Museum, 2105 Tieton Dr., Yakima, WA 98902-3766, is open Tuesday – Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission to the museum is $5 for adults, $3 for students and seniors, and $12 for a family. For more information on the exhibition, e-mail David Lynx at [email protected] @yakimavalleymuseum.

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