Executive Dow Constantine said during Friday’s dedication that “Mukai Way” should be a reminder of the contributions Japanese Americans made to the island in the years before World War II.
In August, the King County Council unanimously approved designating a half-mile section of 107th Avenue SW to honor the Mukai Family and the Japanese American immigrant community’s contributions to the island in the 20th century.
Joined by Councilmember Joe McDermott, Teresa Grover (B.D. Mukai’s great-granddaughter) and others on Friday, Constantine said “Mukai Way” should also serve as a reminder of the bigotry and discrimination Japanese Americans faced in the months and years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, specifically when many were forced into internment camps.
“Today’s ceremony to recognize the honorary road designation of Mukai Way is significant in so many ways,” Constantine said. “The Mukai family represents the ideals and values of the American dream. Given little resources, B.D. Mukai and his family worked hard, were innovators, and found success where few thought they could.
“Unfortunately, the story of the Mukai family and other Japanese Americans in the World War II era reminds us of the bigotry and discrimination people of color have faced throughout our country’s history,” he added. “We should never forget how stereotypes and fear rooted in our differences can result in the erosion of basic human rights. In King County, we welcome people of different cultures and traditions, as they are important components of the beautiful fabric that we call home. This was true during World War II, and it certainly remains important today.”
History of the Mukai Family
In 1910, B.D. (Denichiro) Mukai and his wife, Sato, moved to Vashon Island and began farming strawberries. From 1910 to 1926, the family leased land on the island to farm berries and established the Mukai Cold Process Fruit Barreling Plant. In 1926, they bought 40 acres of land at the center of the island in the name of their 15-year-old son, Masa Mukai. Japanese immigrants couldn’t own property in our state due to the Alien Land Law adopted by the Washington State Legislature in 1921, but as an American-born citizen, Masa could.
With the purchase of the farmland and the success of the cold process fruit barreling, the Mukai family built a large fruit barreling plant in 1927 to support their growing business. In 1928, the Mukais built a new home, which Kuni Mukai (B.D.’s second wife after Sato died in 1921) surrounded with a formal Japanese stroll garden.
The farm continued to prosper throughout the Great Depression, employing more than 400 workers each year to pack and ship 200 tons of strawberries. The farm featured a bunkhouse that housed 250 of the workers.
When B.D. retired in 1934 and returned to Japan, Masa Mukai took over the family business. In 1939, with anti-Japanese sentiment increasing throughout the U.S. and Washington, he changed the name of the business to Vashon Island Packing Company.
In 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which ordered the internment of Japanese immigrants and their descendants, regardless of American citizenship status or length of residence. The Mukai family fled Vashon Island for Dead Ox Flat in Oregon. While exiled there, Masa introduced row crops into what was then primarily cattle country. He raised seed for lettuce and other vegetables on 100 acres he purchased and invented his own harvester to catch flyaway seeds, making a successful living throughout the war.
During the war, Maurice Dunsford leased the entire Vashon farm and packing plant from the Mukai family. He operated the plant successfully throughout this period. Phillipe Baccaro, a labor contractor from Canada, sub-leased the house from Dunsford and farmed the land. Together, the two of them kept the Mukai enterprises fully operational and profitable throughout the war.
After World War II ended, the Mukai family returned to Vashon and Masa opened two more processing plants. One was in Ferndale, Wash., and the other in Forest Grove, Ore. In 1969, Masa sold the packing business.
The farm had several owners from the 1970s to the 1990s. In 1993, the house, garden and barreling plant, along with five acres remaining of the original 60, were designated a King County Landmark. In 1994, the site was included on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 2000, Island Landmarks, a non-profit organization, purchased the Mukai House and Garden for historic preservation purposes, with the support of $500,000 of public funds from King County, the National Park Service, and the State of Washington.
In 2016, board members of Island Landmarks, known today as “Friends of Mukai,” were granted legal control to own and operate the Mukai House and Garden. Since then, Friends of Mukai has been restoring and preserving the House and Garden and has also opened them to the public.
In 2017, King County purchased the adjacent fruit barreling plant, designating the Friends of Mukai as a long-term lessee. Friends of Mukai report that steps are underway to restore this facility so that all components – the house, Japanese garden, and fruit barreling plant – can be managed for the benefit of the public.
- Executive Dow Constantine: “Today’s ceremony to recognize the honorary road designation of Mukai Way is significant in so many ways. The Mukai family represents the ideals and values of the American dream. Given little resources, B.D. Mukai and his family worked hard, were innovators, and found success where few thought they could. Unfortunately, the story of the Mukai family and other Japanese Americans in the World War II era reminds us of the bigotry and discrimination people of color have faced throughout our country’s history. We should never forget how stereotypes and fear rooted in our differences can result in the erosion of basic human rights. In King County, we welcome people of different cultures and traditions, as they are important components of the beautiful fabric that we call home. This was true during World War II, and it certainly remains important today.”
- Councilmember Joe McDermott: “The name ‘Mukai Way’ is a visible step in celebrating the contributions of the Mukai family to Vashon Island. We must honor their history and recognize the irreparable harm inflicted on their family and other Japanese Americans. I look forward to continuing to celebrate their legacy and supporting this historic space that continues to teach us valuable lessons.”
- Local Services Director John Taylor: “I want to thank the King County Council and Executive Constantine for helping Mukai Way become a reality, as well as the volunteers such as the Friends of Mukai group. More importantly, I want to thank the Mukai family for their tremendous contributions to Vashon Island and our region. This road designation will help us remember and appreciate the family’s legacy.”
- Friends of Mukai President Rita Brogan: “We are delighted that King County has chosen to give a name—Mukai Way—to the street that serves the only standing pre-WWII Japanese farmstead left in America. We welcome everyone in King County and beyond to come learn more about the significant role played by the Japanese community in the Vashon community and economy before they were exiled.”