Memories live in Tofu House

By Pat Jenkins The Dispatch A drive is underway to preserve a piece of Japanese-American history from Eatonville's early days. A small building that was part of a Japanese-owned dairy in the early 1900s and, after a second life, has become known as the Tofu House, is the object of a preservation campaign by South Pierce County Historical Society. The group is raising money to have the structure moved to a permanent site and restored. "We're very excited about the prospect of capturing, preserving and interpreting this relic and the former Japanese community it represents,GÇ¥ said Bob Walter, president of the Historical Society. Doing it will require the support of individuals, businesses and organizations willing to help preserve the memories of Japanese-American citizens who were once part of Eatonville, Walter said. The Save the Tofu House campaign is asking donors to contribute in any of five sponsorship levels, from $25 to $2,500, for which they will be permanently acknowledged at the exhibit. Walter can be contacted at 253-988-0904 or for more information. Project backers got some good news last week when the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation announced it was awarding a $500 grant for the Tofu House relocation. The grant is through the Valerie Sivinski Washington Preserves Fund, which rewards "organizations across the state diligently working to preserve local historic resources," said Chris Moore, executive director of the Trust. If all goes according to plan, the Tofu House will sit beside State Route 161 at Mill Pond Park, next to the Van Eaton Cabin, where the Historical Society leases property for a future museum. According to Walter, the owners of land where the Tofu House sits in the west side of town are willing to allow the building to be moved. Fund-raising would pay for that, as well as the construction of a new foundation. As the structure waits for a possible renaissance, Walter gives this account of its past: In the early 1900s, Eatonville Lumber Company had a dairy operated by a Japanese family, the Kiriharas, who lived in a Japanese-American settlement behind the company's mill. The dairy sold milk and butter to residents throughout the town who shopped at the company store. After the dairy closed in the 1930s, its milkhouse was converted for making tofu GÇô hence the name its known by now GÇô and eventually was moved to its current site. All the Japanese houses and the lumber mill have long since been dismantled and disappeared. The Japanese-American residents also vanished from the community after Japan's surprise attack on the U.S. base at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. In May 1942, in a scene repeated up and down the west coast, the Japanese in Eatonville were trucked to the fairgrounds in Puyallup and held there in an internment camp, taking with them only what they could carry. They were later relocated again by train to a larger internment site in Idaho. Chet Sakura, a prominent member of the Japanese community, wrote letters to the then-editor of The Dispatch, Eugene Larin, describing camp life and professing undying allegiance to America. In the letters, which were published in the newspaper, there was no bitterness about what had happened to Sakura's family and all the others who had been displaced. Today, his son, David Sakura of Boston, tells children the story of "The Tofu Man,GÇ¥ based on his memories of a childhood incident in Eatonville. Another Japanese-American from that period, Bill Akiyoshi, was born in Eatonville in 1928 and was in the eighth grade when his family was relocated. He completed high school while interned in Idaho. Decades later, two of his old school friends, Bev Gollehon and Doris Vormestrand, began corresponding with him. He was invited by the Eatonville Centennial Committee in 2009 to travel with his wife, Ruth, from their home in California to Eatonville, where he rode with Gollehon and Vormestrand in the town's centennial parade. It was an emotional day for Akiyoshi. He died in November 2013. Walter, who also is a member of the Town Council, said stories like those can be preserved for Eatonville residents and visitors by using the Tofu House as the vehicle. -á


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