The 150th Anniversary of Wakamatsu Colony, the First Japanese American Settlement on the North American Frontier

It was 150 years ago that the first Japanese settlers arrived on the American mainland, establishing the first Japanese colony in California. The 22 travelers were from Aizu Wakamatsu in Fukushima Prefecture, located in northern Japan. This series looks back on their history with respect to courages and spirits of those pinoneers and shares voices of their descendants. 

*This series was originally published in The Rafu Shimpo.

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Supplement: The Article that Revealed Okei to the World

The Wakamatsu Colony, born of the dreams and labor of the new immigrants, collapsed in only two years. One of the members of the group – a young woman whose first name was Okei – was taken in by a local farming family named Veerkamp. As described in a previous installment in this series, Okei came from the town of Aizu Wakamatsu at the age of 17. Her life in California was cut short when she fell suddenly ill and died in 1871. She was only 19 years old.

Okei is believed to be the first Japanese woman to be …

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Part 3: Sharing of Family Stories

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Kuni Takes a Local as His Wife

Following the collapse of the Wakamatsu Colony, a settler by the name of Kuninosuke Masumizu (1849-1915) opted to remain in the town of Coloma.

Known to many simply as Kuni, he worked as a carpenter and helped to build the Coloma Hotel and the Fresno Buddhist Church.

Many of the houses built by Kuni in the Coloma and Auburn areas were still standing in May 1930, as they were described in a May 28 article in the Nichibei Shinbun.

In 1877, Masumizu married Carrie Wilson, a woman of …

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Part 2: Okei's California Home

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The story of the first Japanese woman to be buried in American soil emerges from history’s shadows.

The Wakamatsu Colony had collapsed and the pioneering dreams of the Japanese immigrants were shattered. The once-hopeful colonists dispersed, some deciding to return to Japan, while others chose to stay in California.

A neighboring farming family named Veerkamp purchased the site of the colony in Gold Hill, and hired some members of the former settlement to stay on for work.

The Veerkamps retained Matsunosuke Sakurai, a former Aizu samurai. Also staying on was a woman named Okei, who had …

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Part 1: Pioneers Who Brought Their Hopes and Dreams

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the first Japanese American settlement on the North American frontier

If not for the relatively fresh flowers and metal cordon surrounding it, a small gravestone on a quiet hill in the California town of Gold Hill might go largely unnoticed. It is the final resting place of a girl, a member of first group of Japanese colonists to settle in North America – and the first Japanese woman to be buried in American soil.

Her name is Okei.

It was 150 years ago that the first Japanese settlers arrived on the American mainland, …

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agriculture california colony japanese american migration okei Wakamatsu Wakamatsu Colony