With major restoration work of the grounds at Mukai Farm now complete, the Friends of Mukai will welcome the public for the second Vashon Japan Festival beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 14.
The event will feature a number of Japanese traditions, dishes and crafts as well as showcase the restored pond and gardens once envisioned by Kuni Mukai, who often entertained guests with tea parties on the grounds amid blossoming cherry trees.
“We’re thrilled now, just as she was, to encourage the public to come and take advantage of this beautiful garden, which is the only public garden on Vashon,” said Kay Longhi, president of the Friends of Mukai board.
At the festival, crowd favorites such as the Taiko drummers and Bon Odori dancers will return, as well as a children’s village with Japanese games and art projects, wares for sale from local artisans, food from May Kitchen + Bar, a beer garden and a lantern walk at night.
Mary Rabourn, a Friends of Mukai board member, wrote in an email that the festival will allow for Japanese Americans from Vashon and beyond to share their heritage or rediscover it.
“It is a cool way to meet all kinds of people and share an appreciation of how different cultures add to Vashon. It is a way I can describe some of my ‘Japaneseness’ with my friends. And a way to talk about history that so many people are not familiar with,” she said.
Those who attend the festival will also have an opportunity to learn about the historic fruit barreling plant on the property and the effort underway to preserve the building for future generations.
“We’re looking forward to making connections and reaching out to the greater Japanese American community in the Seattle and Tacoma area who may not know about the Japanese immigrant story or agriculture stories about Vashon,” said Longhi. “That’s our goal, to start informing the greater Puget Sound Japanese American community about ourselves.”
According to Longhi, the Friends estimated that more than 800 people attended last year’s festival. This year they anticipate a crowd of up to 1,500. Admission is free.
Longhi said she believes that the investment made into restoring the Mukai farmhouse and grounds will finally be appreciable now that interior structural and utility work has been completed inside the house. That included a total rewire of the electric panel and critical reinforcement of the foundation, but Longhi said that since then, other more visible projects have included painting of the exterior and the installation of new sidewalks and an elevator for accessibility.
She added that the Friends chose to landscape the property in a way that preserves the integrity and history of the property while considering the growing impacts of climate change, creating a place that is resilient while honoring the family that lived there.
“To anybody who went to the Japan Festival last year, they might remember that there was a lot of straw on the ground. That was because we had just literally finished the groundwork. This year there is a beautiful lawn, and it will look considerably more improved,” she said.
Inside the house, there is still more work to be done: The Friends hope to return the kitchen to its original state, from a time before the Mukai family was forced to flee the island as thousands of Japanese Americans were forcibly incarcerated by executive order 9066 in 1942. Longhi added that the house’s bathrooms, while functional, lack the historic character of the building that they intend to restore.
“But for all intents and purposes, visitors to the Japan Festival this year, we think, will be pretty amazed [by the differences] between this year and last year,” she said.
Longhi noted that the festival was started as a result of an exhibit on display last year at the Vashon Heritage Museum. “Joy and Heartache” chronicled the story of the island’s Japanese American immigrants starting from the last century to today and displayed a wealth of art, photos and artifacts with commentary and oral histories.
“That exhibit spontaneously brought together some of the Japanese Americans on the island; the energy that exhibit created prompted them to organize the first festival,” said Longhi. “It really started as a way to celebrate ancestral heritage by islanders, and it’s that community coming together that we’re intending on maintaining as the Friends of Mukai.”