UW Combined Fund Drive

Learn More about Bunka no Hi (Japanese Culture Day)

In advance of Bunka no Hi (Japanese Culture Day) on November 3, UWCFD campaign assistant Camille Nagasawa conducted interviews with Arisa Nakamura, Graphic Design, Market & Communications at the JCCCW, and Rita Brogan, with Mukai Farm & Garden.

Interview with Arisa Nakamura

Tell us about Bunka no Hi:

“November 3rd is Bunka no Hi (Culture Day). November 3rd used to be celebrated as the birthday of Emperor Meiji (1852-1912), but in 1948, a few years after WWII ended, it was re-established as a national holiday to celebrate freedom, peace and promote culture. Cultural events and award ceremonies for artists and scholars are held across the country.

In Seattle, the JCCCW hosts an annual “Bunka no Hi” event in November, welcoming between 600-800 guests. We offer a wide variety of Japanese cultural art experiences for all ages, including cultural and historical exhibitions, music and dance performances, martial arts and tea ceremony demonstrations, craft making and more. Many other local organizations, cultural specialists, and volunteers support this free event that is open to the public.”

What do you enjoy most about Japanese culture?

“I was born and raised in Japan, so Japanese culture was always with me. I grew up watching anime, reading manga, practicing Karate (one of [many] Japanese martial arts). That led me to think “I know about Japanese culture and I can explain about it!” Which was not true! I do not know how to wear a kimono, how to whisk matcha, or why maneki neko (good luck cat) has been thought to be a good luck symbol in Japan. I still learn new things at the JCCCCW even today!

When I moved to Seattle from Tokyo, it was surprising for me to know that the Nikkei people preserve the Japanese culture that their ancestors cherished. Here in Seattle, people do Obon Dance every year at Seattle Buddhist Church and people celebrate New Year’s Day (Oshogatsu) with traditional Japanese foods and enjoying mochi pounding. People float lanterns on the day August 6th, when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. As one of the recent immigrants from Japan, I am always impressed when I learn how Nikkei people inherit their culture and history to the next generations.”

What’s your favorite part about this day?

“Speaking for myself, it was just one of [many] holidays when I was in Japan. I did nothing on Bunka no Hi. Though when I moved to Seattle, I had changed. I started to celebrate Bunka no Hi.

During the event, I love seeing all [the] performers, vendors, and visitors enjoying Seattle’s Japanese culture and history together at the JCCCW. The JCCCW’s building 1) is the oldest operating Japanese Language School in the continental United States, 2) used to be transitional housing for people returning from the incarceration camps, and 3) has been a social gathering place to learn about Japanese and Japanese American culture and history for more than 100 years. Thinking about its long history, I feel appreciation for Issei, the first generation of Japanese immigrants, who built the building for the community.

In 2020, we had to hold the event virtually due to the pandemic on YouTube. At first, I was sad that we were not able to meet each other, but surprisingly, we’ve reached 2600+ views and 250+ hours viewing time in total in a month. Then in 2021, we’ll host the event on site for the first time in 2 years. We are very excited to welcome our visitors back!”

What would you suggest to people celebrating Bunka no Hi or learning about Japanese culture for the first time?

“We host a free public event to celebrate Bunka no Hi from November 12th to 14th, 10AM to 4PM at the JCCCW. We will be showcasing traditional crafts from all over Japan. The exhibit will display pottery, lacquerware, textiles, baskets, woodwork, metalware, bamboo and paper products and more. These objects are still made today using centuries-old techniques and are used in everyday life. Admission is free, and no appointment is required.*

If this is your first time to come to the J, please also check our programs that are open to the public! Hosekibako, the Japanese resale store, opens every Thursday to Sunday, 10AM – 3PM. Our inventory is entirely donated to us by the community and made available at affordable prices, so you can experience and share Japanese culture and traditions at home!

There are also permanent exhibits where visitors can learn about Seattle’s Japanese and Japanese American history. The JCCCW is open from Monday to Friday, 10AM – 5PM and the museum space is available during that time. A Japanese library called Nikkei Bunko Library opens on Thursdays 1AM – 5PM, and Saturdays 11:30AM – 3PM.”

Interview with Rita Brogan, Mukai Farm & Garden

About B.D. Mukai and Vashon Island

“As far as we know, Mukai Farm & Garden is one of the few if not only pre-WWII Japanese farmsteads still standing today. There were at least 30 farms on Vashon. The Mukai Farm was primarily known for Marshal Strawberries. It was one of the largest strawberry farms in the states.

The Mukai family were well-known for the quality of the berries. Mukai and other Japanese farms on Vashon were celebrated throughout America. James Beard Called the Marshal strawberries “the most delicious strawberries in the world”. They shipped as far as Chicago for Smucker’s jams.

The Mukai family did quite well and the homestead was a gathering place for the community as well as dignitaries visiting from Japan. For Mukai, our thinking is that there is a lot more known about internment, but before that, we had communities. During the Great Depression, Mukai Farms hired 300-400 people a year. They were a significant part of Vashon community. They gave classes, performances, and dances and were covered in the newspapers and received ten cherry trees from the Vashon community from the school district in thanks for raising money for books and the education that their children received.”

The Mukai Farms and WWII

“Originally, for some reason, even though most people in Western Washington went to first Camp Harmony and Minidoka, people in Vashon went to Pine Dale in California with only two suitcases each. They were not told where they were being taken and forced by gunpoint to the camp, bus windows boarded up.

Pine dale was still under construction, so there were no sanitary facilities. Everyone was forced to defecate outdoors in public. They stayed there for two months before being shipped to Tulle Lake. At that point they were for everyone, but then the government decided it should be a place for enemy aliens, No-No Boys, anyone who had import/export business, and two-way radios.

Unlike other internment camps, Vashon people were moved five times during the war. They moved to Tulle Lake before it became repurposed to focus primarily on ‘enemy aliens’. Some were moved to Minidoka and as far as Alabama.

Only 30% of Japanese Americans returned to Vashon after WWII. It’s important to recognize in many ways how racism in America was an act of force in trying to erase our history. In particular, agricultural history on Vashon and other places in America in the Western Exclusion Zone.”

Mukai Farm Post WWII 

“After the war, in addition to the fact so few returned and so many of the prior farms were no longer changed because the nature of the agricultural economy changed, the farming economy declined significantly. The Mukai farmstead became abandoned and was in ruins, including the garden which was the first garden to be designed by Kuni Mukai in the 1930s.”

Mukai Farm Today

“The community rallied to restore the farm and garden. As we work, we have also developed displays, conducted research to raise people’s awareness of the Japanese American experience and to raise the important ties of the US and Japan. We have events, such as the Day of Exile” of Japanese Americans on Vashon island, we have the exhibits, events, a Japanese festival and haiku festival every year, a number of activities and [we] invite people of all races to participate.

We also support immigrant rights and [are] involved in the Student for Solidarity program and work to basically rebuild the sense of Japanese and Asian American community on Vashon Island.

We’ve also developed a plan for architectural restoration for the fruit barreling plant and we’re about to launch a capital plan, making that place be an exhibit, performance and potentially agricultural revenue. After WWII, Marshal Strawberries nearly became extinct, so we’re planning a campaign to make them more prevalent and grow them on the property as well.”