Silk

Not much is known about the women of the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Farm Colony, including Jou Schnell, the Japanese wife of the colony’s founder John Henry Schnell. Silk is a fictional account which imagines what life may have been for these women and men in 1869–1871.

Author’s Note: The nonfiction sources used for this fictional creation included Daniel A. Métraux’s The Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Colony Farm and the Creation of Japanese America, Discover Nikkei articles, and Gary Noy’s Sierra Stories: Tales of Dreamers, Schemers, Bigots, and Rogues.

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Chapter Nine—Pickles and the Promised Land

Ofuji Matsugoro wiped the sweat off of his forehead as he and his fellow carpenter, Kuninosuke “Kuni” Masumizu, took a break from their woodworking project inside the Veerkamp family’s barn on Gold Hill. Led by the family’s German patriarch, Francis, the Veerkamps were plentiful. By last count, Ofuji thought that there might be at least six children, all boys. One baby was just born; Ofuji himself was the older father of an infant daughter, Sakuko.

His fellow Japanese countryman, Kuni, was more than twenty years younger than him. Kuni, in fact, was about the same age as Francis ...

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Chapter Eight—Death of the Mulberry Tree

Keiko Shinshi hadn’t been feeling well for days. 

Her husband, Tatsutaro, thought it was because the last mulberry tree in the colony had died. Their silkworm room seemed like a gravesite, with the remains of shriveled up caterpillars lining the floor. A few cocoons were hanging from trees branches that his wife brought in. It was quite a barbaric process, with the cocoons being dropped into boiling vats of water so that the silk exteriors could be removed. In other words, the silkworms were cooked alive.

The production of silk had been Keiko’s consuming activity ever since they ...

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Chapter Seven—A Night in San Francisco

Among the Japan-born Wakamatsu colonists, Makoto and Kuni were the strongest English speakers. As a result, when the colony’s founder, John Henry Schnell, announced that he would be taking a trip to San Francisco to meet with some Japanese envoys, as well as do research into future agricultural exhibitions, he asked these two men to accompany him.

Makoto was elated. He had a visible scar in the middle of his face, a remnant from a failed battle to save their beloved castle in Japan, but one of his roommates, Kintaro, suffered from more psychic wounds. Kintaro had tried to ...

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Chapter Six—Okei: Star Stories

Okei Ito hated mosquitos. In the California inaka, they seemed to swarm everywhere, breeding in water collected in surrounding ditches. In these same ditches, old miners, still fueled by the twenty-year-old dream of striking it rich, spent hours panning for gold.

She wasn’t used to all the mosquitos. She, like the other Wakamatsu colonists, were from northern Japan. Even in the middle of summer, it was cooler back home. Light rain would even fall at times. In contrast, the weather in Gold Hill was hot and dry. Those water-filled ditches, those were the culprits. If it weren’t for ...

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Chapter Five—Masumizu Kuninosuke: Lightning in a Bottle

“Kuni, place your bet,” the miner said, first in English and then in his native Portuguese.

Masumizu Kuninosuke, called Kuni in this nighttime gambling den behind a Chinese store, was known for his facility with languages. He spoke Japanese, of course, and had picked up English faster than the other Wakamatsu colonists. His visits to the gambling den came in handy in exposing him to new languages.

Five of them were assembled around a table, a metal square tray in front of them. Each corner was numbered from one to four. The Brazlian miner was the banker; he watched as ...

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