Earlier this year, Californians and Japanese celebrated the first Japanese immigrants at the tea and silk farm where they lived.
In early June, the American River Conservancy (ARC) celebrated ‘WakamatsuFest150’, the 150th anniversary of the first group of Japanese immigrants to the United States. The celebration lasted three days, and many notable guests attended: Iehiro Tokugawa, a descendant of the former Tokugawa shogunate, Chikamori Matsudaira, a descendant of the lord that sent the first immigrants to California, and members of the Japanese House of Representatives, among others. The event showcased many aspects of Japanese culture as well, from Ikebana, the art of flower arranging, to traditional Taiko drum performances. The event took place on the original property of that first colony, Wakamatsu farm.
The ARC purchased the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Farm colony in 2010, restoring the original buildings, repairing the grave of Okei Ito, believed to be the first Japanese woman buried on US soil, and providing public tours of the farm. The property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is considered a nationally significant location for its historical and cultural heritage. In Japan the location holds importance as well: a replica of Okei Ito’s grave is placed in the city of her birth, Aizuwakamatsu.
California has an especially close connection to Japan. On a cultural level, there are 100 sister partnerships between the two — more than double that of the next closest state — over 450 thousand Japanese-Americans live in the state, and nearly 5,000 Japanese exchange students study there.
In 2018, the Consulate of Hawai‘i hosted a similar celebration called ‘Gannenmono’ to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Japanese immigrants to the state. Since this occurred one year earlier than the arrival of immigrants to California — because Hawaii was not part of the United States at the time — the two events are treated separately.