Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Japanese Gulch

The Mukilteo Lumber Company was started in 1903 and its name was changed to Crown Lumber Company in 1909. It was closed in 1930. (See my other post about Mukilteo).

The photographs shown here primarily come from .

Many of the lumber company workers were Japanese immigrants whose families lived in company housing in an area called “Jap Gulch,” later changed to “Japan Gulch” and “Japanese Gulch.” "Although Everett’s strong labor force held no quarter for cheap labor and other towns in the area drove out Japanese workers, Mukilteo residents came to terms with their Japanese neighbors and were able to live in harmony."

Nearby Everett Washington was a strong
"union town" and those union members probably disapproved of workers who worked for less. There were many incidents of violence surrounding the Everett unions, lumber mills and strikes during that time period. (See my other post about the "Everett Massacre" of 1916). Still, it appears that Japanese Americans and the other residents of Mukilteo got along well.

Mas Odoi, shown here, (reported by author Margaret Riddle to be in his mid-80s when she quoted him in her 2007 essay) "was born in Japanese Gulch and has returned to visit many times. In Mas’s words, 'When we moved away, we never found a place as nice to live.' Odoi was responsible for creating a monument in memory of the Japanese community at Mukilteo and their harmonious relationship with other Mukilteo residents." The monument is shown above. Here is the link to Riddle's essay--

The following information and excerpts come from an article written by Mark Higgins, a reporter for Seattle Post-Intelligencer, titled "Japanese Settlers Played Key Role in Town's History." I'm not sure of the date of the article. Here is the site--

"Mas Odoi grew up in the gulch and has fond memories of the woods, creek and shoreline where he and his friends would play and picnic. The families raised vegetables, fished and stocked trout ponds. By the 1920s, about 150 people of Japanese descent lived in Mukilteo along with about 220 whites. Both races got along well, Odoi recalls."

"When the Great Depression hit and the mill closed, most of the Japanese-American families left Mukilteo, only to return years later as tourists. His own family moved to the Long Beach Peninsula where his father went to work at an oyster farm."

The following information is from an article written by Herald Writer Yoshiaki Hohara titled "War Takes Innocence from Japanese Gulch" at (It's difficult to find a date of the article, but it does state that in 2006 Mas Odoi was 84 years old. So, that means that Mas Odoi was born in 1922).

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Mas Odoi was a student at the University of Washington, and like most of his classmates he wanted to enlist immediately to fight for his country. But Mas wasn't allowed to join the military because "Japanese-Americans weren't let into the military the same way German-Americans and Italian-Americans were."

"President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order to remove Japanese immigrants and their families from the West Coast. That forced Mas and his twin brother, Hiro, to abandon their UW studies and join their parents at Minidoka Relocation Center in southern Idaho in August 1942. They were among the camp's first inhabitants. The camp reunited them with many of their friends and neighbors from Mukilteo's Japanese Gulch."

Here is a photograph of some of the "cabins" at Minidoka. Notice the tar paper on the sides of the buildings.

"As World War II escalated, Japanese Americans started to be allowed into the Army. All Japanese-Americans in Minidoka 17 and older were given a questionnaire. Do you swear loyalty to America? Do you forswear loyalty to the Japanese Emperor? Will you serve in combat with the U.S. Army? Many balked at the questions. Some people at the camp decided to fight prejudice by not fighting. Mas answered the same questions as a boy years ago in Japanese Gulch, where he played and studied with white children. He still had no intention to side with the foreign emperor. Yet he couldn't help but feel that America made a mistake by bringing Japanese-Americans to the camp."

"The brothers decided to prove their loyalty, to show they were red-blooded American boys like anyone else. Mas (top right) and Hiro (top left) joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated unit of Japanese-Americans in the U.S. Army. The 442nd's slogan was "Go for broke." Combined with the 100th Infantry Battalion from Hawaii, the unit had the highest casualty rate for its size and length of service: 9,846 lives lost in pitched battles across North Africa, France and Italy."

On April 5, 1945 Mas Odoi was on the front line of the Italian battle zone some place north of Florence. The German line was half a mile away. Mas was ordered to run through the minefield along a narrow trail. A mortar dropped behind him, blowing him through the air. He landed on the dirt. He'd suffered a deep bleeding wound to his throat. He was finally able to stop the bleeding. His brother Hiro saw that Mas was wounded but continued on towards the battle line. Mas spent a month recovering in a hospital. While his injuries weren't serious enough to send him home, he didn't have another chance to fight because Germany surrendered a few days before Mas was returned to his unit.

"After the war, Mas married, raised two sons, repaired TVs and held down a series of jobs in Illinois and California. When Mas retired, he returned to the Pacific Northwest with Frances, his bride of 51 years. Mas always missed the woods and the brisk, clean air. He would love to move back to Mukilteo. He can't afford the rent. Instead, the couple lives in Renton, where things are more affordable. Sometimes he walks through Japanese Gulch. Nobody lives there anymore."

In 2000, Mas and others from the Mukilteo Historical Society dedicated the sculpture to always remember the lives and friendships that existed in Japanese Gulch before World War II.

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