Keepsakes reveal clues of life for Japanese in Pacific Northwest region
By TAMMY AYER | Yakima Herald-Republic | Published: September 8, 2018
YAKIMA, Wash. — Yoshiko Hide Kishi gazed at the small buckskin moccasins in her cupped hands as she recalled her early childhood in rural Toppenish.
Her father and mother, Mantaro and Kiyo Hide, were farmers with five children, Yoshiko their youngest. Her father raised several crops and Kiyo helped him amid her household duties, which included making dresses for Yoshiko because money was tight.
The moccasins came from their landowner, George Adams, a citizen of the Yakama Nation in White Swan. They are soft, with little adornment — ideal for a toddler learning how to walk.
"I was 7, 8 months old," said Kishi, 82.
She has photos taken in 1936 of her wearing them, one as she stood outside in a walker and the other sitting in a high chair inside.
Kishi received other gifts from the Adams family, including two small beaded bags that her mother carefully packed away with the moccasins. One is round with bright geometric patterns on each side; the other is heart-shaped, with a scene of two deer. That was her favorite.
"It's really worn because I probably carried it around and played with it," Kishi said.
Like others in the Lower Yakima Valley's Japanese community, the Hides enjoyed a close relationship with the Yakama Nation citizens from whom they leased land.
When Japanese immigrants began coming to the Valley in the early 1890s, they cleared land, dug canals and worked on the railroad. But due to legislation collectively referred to as alien land laws, they could not own or lease land in most areas.
The sovereign Yakama Nation, though, was not subject to those laws.
"The (Yakamas) were the only people willing to rent land to Japanese immigrants in the area," Wapato native Isao Fujimoto notes in his book, "Bouncing Back: Community, Resilience & Curiosity."
"As a result, thriving Japanese immigrant communities arose around the towns of Yakima, Wapato and Toppenish."
Those immigrant communities included dozens of Lower Valley farms and several businesses in each city — hotels, stores, laundries, restaurants, barber and beauty shops. Yakima, Wapato and Toppenish were each home to a Buddhist temple and a Japanese school.
The signing of Executive Order 9066 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Feb. 19, 1942, about 10 weeks after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, changed those communities forever. It set in motion the World War II incarceration of more than 120,000 West Coast residents of Japanese descent.
That included 1,017 people from the Yakima Valley, two-thirds of whom were born in the United States. Transported from the Yakima Valley to the Portland Assembly Center in early June 1942, they were detained there for three months until they were taken to the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming. It closed in November 1945.
Only about 10 percent returned to the Valley, almost all to Wapato. The Hides moved to California, where Mantaro and his sons began growing wholesale flowers, specializing in long-stemmed mums.
Kishi, who lives in Seal Beach, Calif., was in Yakima last month with Patti Hirahara of Anaheim, California, who was honored as grand marshal of the Pioneer Power Show & Swap Meet in Union Gap.
During her visit, Kishi donated the moccasins and one of the beaded bags to the Yakima Valley Museum, home to the exhibition "Land of Joy and Sorrow: Japanese Pioneers in the Yakima Valley."
Her brother, Tom, was deeply involved with the exhibition, which opened in 2013, and a related reunion. The Brownie uniform that she wore at Heart Mountain is on display, along with items that he donated that included her family's mochi pounding set, clothing, other Heart Mountain items and photographs.
"The only reason I came twice before was the museum exhibits and the reunion," Kishi said.
Just 6 years old when her family was forced to leave, Kishi doesn't remember a lot about their farm, which was near the intersection of East Branch and Oldenway roads on property crossed by the Wanity Slough. The house burned years ago.
"We were out in the boonies. I have pictures of the house, packing shed, chicken coop ... my mom took them all," she said. "I remember when I was older, 5 or 6, I was the one to go in the coop and collect the eggs."
Her father grew sugar beets, onions, potatoes, cucumbers, cantaloupe, watermelon and tomatoes and, for his horses, hay.
"Dad plowed the field with horses. I was sitting on the horse while Dad went plowing," she said. "Growing up, I did have an affection for horses."
Like the Adams family of White Swan, Ken Hoptowit's family leased land to Japanese-Americans, including the Honda family, he recalled during a tour of Yakima's Japan Town in 2017.
"My grandfather Charlie had farmed 900-plus acres in the Lower Valley," Hoptowit said then. "A lot of (Japanese-Americans) farmed with my grandfather."
Growing up on reservation land, Fujimoto would often see Yakamas walking by their house as they cut across his family's fields, he wrote in "Bouncing Back."
"A Yakama named Old Tom lived in a small cabin on the plot of land we rented. The older Yakamas still spoke (Ichiskíin). The Japanese immigrants, unsurprisingly, primarily spoke Japanese," he wrote.
"Since neither the elder Yakamas nor the Japanese families on the reservation spoke English, I later asked my mother how she had communicated with Old Tom. 'Oh, we used our hands,' she replied."
Kishi has no recollection of her family's landlord and hadn't thought about the moccasins and beaded bags until a grandson who lives in Berkeley, Calif., took a closer look at his family history for a class project.
"When he had to follow grandma's path during the school year last year, in fifth grade, that's when they had to tell about their family. Now he has some background," Kishi said.
She went to a trunk packed with family heirlooms for information for his project and rediscovered the moccasins and beaded bags. Her mother probably had that trunk shipped to Heart Mountain, Kishi said.
"After my mother passed, I had the trunk," she said.
It also held a pink silk dress and knit bonnet and matching cape, all made by her mother. Kishi wore the dress for a family portrait taken at Fern Studio in Toppenish in April 1942 and the cape and bonnet for a picture of her taken at Jackson Studio in Seattle in 1949.
Kishi donated those items to the Yakima Valley Museum, but one of the beaded bags — her favorite, the one with deer — is staying in the family. Her grandson's family history project sparked a new appreciation for that in her daughter, too, who asked if she could keep one of the bags.
"She's going to frame it," she added.