‘Land of Joy and Sorrow, The Japanese Experience in the Yakima Valley’
By Patti Hirahara
For The North American Post
On August 24, members of the Seattle Japanese American community traveled to Yakima to witness the historic dedication of a new permanent exhibit, “Land of Joy and Sorrow, The Japanese Experience in the Yakima Valley,” at the Yakima Valley Museum. Of the 160 people in attendance — from Seattle, Yakima, Spokane, Moses Lake, and Southern California — many are descendants of families that lived in the Yakima Valley before and after World War II. The attendance was larger than that of those that attended the first grand opening of the museum exhibition in October 2010. The initial exhibit, “Japanese Pioneers of the Yakima Valley,” was the most popular and state-award-winning exhibit during its run from 2010 – 2020.
The Yakima Valley JA pioneers began in the Yakima area in the late 19th century and evolved into a pre-war Japanese community of 1,017 people. They farmed and provided services and lodging.
According to information provided in 2013 by the museum from its original exhibition, there were approximately 99 pre-war Japanese farms in the Yakima Valley. In the city of Wapato, there was a Buddhist Church and a Methodist Church. There was also a Japanese school, a Kaikan Community Center and Gymnasium, three stores, a car repair, and three restaurants.
Pre-war, many Yakima Valley truck farmers came to Seattle to sell vegetables and fruits by driving the long route from Central Washington to Seattle. Then, the Yakima Japanese community was bustling with activity in the city of Yakima with sixteen hotels, three barbers, eight cafes and restaurants, three cigar stores, one dentist, one grocery, one insurance broker, three laundries, a pool hall, four produce stores, one radio company, a tea parlor, three stores and one apartment building.
After the war, only 10 percent of the JA community returned after being sent first to the Portland Assembly Center and then to their forced incarceration at the Heart Mountain, Wyoming Relocation camp from 1942 – 1945. Accordingly, when the initial exhibit opened in 2010, many Seattle people had not known that a major JA community had existed in the Yakima Valley before WWII. Now their story will be permanently told at the Yakima Valley Museum for future generations.
“Japanese used the ideographs for ‘burning horse’ when they wrote the word, it must have seemed to them… a land hot enough to even burn a horse. And in winter, the cold was severe, too.”
— Kazuo Ito, “Issei” (1973)
• Tammy Ayer, 2023, “Museum opens exhibit about Japanese families who settled in the Yakima Valley.” Yakima Herald-Republic,” Aug. 28.
• Thomas H. Heuterman, 1995, “The Burning Horse: The Japanese-American Experience in the Yakima Valley 1920 – 1942,” Carnegie Mellon Univ. Press, 160 pp.