Joe Schmitt writes a weekly blog called The Good Life, featuring information about the region’s history, culture, climate and economy. The blog also showcases new residents, clubs and organizations, outdoor recreational opportunities and local events.
52nd Annual Sukiyaki Dinner is a must! What started out as a simple church fundraiser over 50 years ago has blossomed into a big annual event in Wapato that draws people from as far away as the Tri-Cities and Seattle to this rural Lower Valley town. Today, the dinner attracts more than 1,800 visitors served by roughly 120 volunteers - all to support the church that has shrunk from about 60 members in the beginning to 18 today. Locals know how special the event is, "It attracts people from throughout the entire state - they have to serve people in shifts," said Mayor Jesse Farias. "It seems like it's been here my whole life." For church members, the annual dinner is much more than just a way to keep church doors open. It's a way of honoring the legacy of the Japanese pioneers of the Yakima Valley.
By the turn of the 20th century, the Yakima Valley’s agricultural community was well established and growing quickly. Valley farmers actively recruited Japanese immigrants from the Seattle area to come work in their fields. Many welcomed the opportunity, eventually settling around the Wapato area. It didn’t take long to learn the trade and by 1910 many of these workers were transitioning into farmers themselves. Soon, Wapato was home to over 1,200 Japanese descendents with businesses sprouting around town catering to them, primarily around present day West 2nd Street were the Wapato Buddhist Hall of Wapato resides.
However, World War Two changed these families forever. In 1942, by executive order, President Roosevelt had Japanese immigrants, even U.S. citizens of Japanese descent, interned into camps; Wapato’s Japanese community was no exception and they were sent out of state. This outmigration created a huge demand for farm labor so the federal government created the Bracero program to recruit workers from Mexico. After the war, a few of the families returned to the Valley and continued farming. The Wapato Buddhist Hall serves the Japanese community and teaches future generations about their Yakima Valley heritage. For over 50 years church members have hosted an annual fundraising dinner serving traditional Sukiyaki, complete with bamboo shoots and yam noodles flown in from Japan. This event has grown into one of the Valley’s largest events and draws folks from around the state who come to honor these Japanese pioneers.
Event Details: Sunday, March 3 11:30am-5pm 212 W. 2nd Street, Wapato Enjoy a sit down dinner or take out at Wapato Buddhist Hall. It is one of the biggest indoor events in Wapato feeding over 1800 guests each year. Cost $12. For more information call 509-930-3890
For more information on the history of Japanese-Americans in the Yakima Valley, click here.