By Jenna Dennison
Beginning the evening of Sept. 10, Mukai Farm & Gardens will explore the Japanese immigration experience through its new self-guided, solar-lit labyrinth tour “Immigration to America: The Japanese Journey.”
The labyrinth is being held as part of the Friends of Mukai’s annual free Vashon Japan Festival, held virtually once again this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The labyrinth walk theme comes from the Japanese word “konjo,” which translates in English to “grit” or “determination.” A person with “konjo” is unfazed by setbacks or difficulties, and persists, as demonstrated by those who immigrated to America from Japan against many odds, as well as by the community’s determination to stay safe from COVID-19 today.
Attempts by Japanese immigrants to leave Japan and seek a better life overseas were met with punishment and condemnation. Despite this, they persevered, prospered, formed connections, and earned respect and a permanent place in North American history, society, and government.
Vashon’s Mukai Farm & Gardens, now on the National Register of Historic Places, is a testament and living example of the spirit of “konjo,” where visitors can walk through the property’s restored Japanese ponds and gardens. During its heydey, successful Japanese immigrant entrepreneur B.D Mukai and his wife, Kuni, would also welcome the public to their garden and home. The property is now one of the few remaining examples of a prewar Japanese homestead.
The farm and gardens also preserve an important part of the island’s history.
Vashon’s once-vibrant Japanese farming community, which formed and thrived in the decades just prior to WWII, included more than 100 Japanese immigrants and their children.
That life came to an abrupt end on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, with the surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service on the Pearl Harbor naval base in Honolulu. Five months after the attack, on May 16, 1942, all people of Japanese descent remaining on Vashon at that time were forced to evacuate the island and were moved to inland internment camps in California, Idaho and Wyoming for the next three years.
In all, 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast were exiled from their homes due to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. Of the 132 Vashon islanders of Japanese ancestry who were either imprisoned or voluntarily exiled themselves from the West Coast during the war, only 40 returned — a number that included the Mukai family.
According to Mukai Farm & Garden’s executive director, Tina Shadduck, the labyrinth walk on Sept. 10 will not only celebrate the Mukai family’s resilience but is also provide an opportunity for islanders to gather strength in the present time of hardship, loss and change.
“We hope that the labyrinth provides a peaceful and informative walk and that through experiencing the lantern labyrinth either during the day or lit up in the evenings, our community can contemplate their own ‘konjo’ – perserverance, grit and steadfastness in what will undoubtedly be another challenging winter in a global pandemic,” said Shattuck.
Mukai Farm and Gardens is located at 18017 107th Ave SW. For more information, visit mukaifarmandgarden.org/japanfest2021.