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.
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 Yakima Buddhist Church and Wapato Buddhist Hall 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 Japanese families returned to the Valley and continued farming.
Today, the Yakima Buddhist Church 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 at the neighboring Wapato Buddhist Hall 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.
This year’s event will be Sunday, March 4th from 11:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For tickets to this event and historical information about our Valley's Japanese roots, contact the Yakima Valley Museum at 509.248.0747. Of course, walk-ins are welcome.
For more information on the history of Japanese-Americans in the Yakima Valley, click here.