HomeJapanese AmericanArchaeologists dig for Japanese American history in North Seattle

Archaeologists dig for Japanese American history in North Seattle

In 1942, Shoji Kumasaka and his family were forced off their farm and shipped into prison camps across the United States alongside tens of thousands of other Japanese Americans.

Before the family and many of their neighbors were imprisoned without trial by executive order, the Kumasaka’s farm, Green Lake Gardens Co. was a lush five-acre property with a farmhouse, apartment, fruit trees, greenhouses and rows of flowers and vegetables, alongside the Green Lake Community Center, a lively center of activity in their community. According to Edmonds College, Shoji donated the building housing the community center to the Green Lake Japanese Association, known as the Nihojinkai.

Green Lake Community Center once hosted dances, dinners, plays, a Young People’s Club and sports like basketball and baseball, but during the incarceration of the Kumasaka family at Minidoka an overheating stove burned the building to the ground.

For more than fifty years, Green Gardens Lake Co. was a place where a small group of Japanese Americans built a community, but in the aftermath of deportation to “‘internment” camps and economic changes, the Kumasaka family sold the land to the adjacent North Seattle College in the late ’60’s.

Now, as reported by the Seattle Times, a team of archaeologists, mostly students, are digging at the site to uncover more of the history of the Green Lake Japanese American community.

The researchers hope to bring new attention to the now-gone hub of Japanese American life in North Seattle. “There was something happening on every inch of this property,” said Alicia Valentino, an archaeologist and Edmonds College associate faculty member, to the Seattle Times. “They’re part of the history of the city and that is too often forgotten.”

The Edmonds College professor was joined by students and faculty from North Seattle College for the dig- giving the students first hand archeological experience while at the same time learning about a buried part of Japanese American history.

So far, the excavation has reportedly found the remains of the community center, filled with depression-era artifacts like a cast iron toy boat, a perfect attendance pin, tax tokens, glass and pieces of broken porcelain rice bowls.

Near the community center, a Canadian World War I service pin was found, which is especially significant as only about 200 Japanese Canadians fought in the First World War, making it very possible the pin can be connected to its owner. According to the student archaeologists, the search will be hard, but they are hopeful.

“There [were] always so many people, so much activity and so many things going on,” said Bea Kumasaka, Shoji’s granddaughter who grew up on the farm. “I’m surprised that they didn’t find more, particularly … when we were interned, you couldn’t take any more to camp than you could carry.”

According to Rahul Gupta, director of education and tours at the Wing Luke Museum interviewed by the Seattle Times, the dig is also raising the importance of the Kumasaka family farm to the wider Seattle community, providing healthy, fresh produce across the city for decades.

Bea still remembers how her grandmother, Matsumi, who managed the greenhouses responded to the farm’s decay and the burned community center at their return from incarceration, saying “I vividly remember her tears coming down her face when she looked at the farm for the first time after the war and said, ‘I have to start all over again.”

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