A crowd of about 50 attended Thursday evening’s public opening of the “Lost Japanese Community of Winters” exhibit at the Winters Museum.
The exhibit, presented by the Historical Society of Winters, identifies the families and the many contributions of Winters’ Japanese community members from the late 1800s to the sad point in history when they were marched off to internment camps.
Gloria Lopez, curator of the exhibit and historical society secretary, said the society worked on the exhibit for over a year, mainly in Zoom meetings during the pandemic.
Lopez said progress started when Vicki Tufts Jacobs sent an email to a childhood friend, Floyd Shimomura, whose family members are featured in the exhibit, and from there a committee was formed. The committee collected stories, photographs, family histories and letters for the exhibit.
Shimomura and his wife Ruth attended the public opening. Shimomura’s paternal grandfather Itaro came to Winters in 1906, just before the big earthquake, where he met his bride-to-be Sawano. Her family had arrived in Winters before 1900. They married in 1908 and raised a family. Itaro worked in agriculture until the family was interned during WWII.
Shimomura’s parents Ben and Lois married shortly before their release from internment in Amache, Colorado. They moved to Winters after the war and Shimomura was born in 1948. He has an older brother and two younger sisters.
Shimomura went on to become an attorney and said “exhibits like this reveal three generations and show how long Asians have been in California.”
A display in the exhibit also honors Roy Hiramatsu’s military service. He served in the U.S. Army and was part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Hiramatsu served in the Burma Theater and was an interrogator and interpreter.
Tadekazu “Mike” Kato was acknowledged in the exhibit for his U.S. Army service while his family was incarcerated in the Gila River Concentration Camp in Arizona. He served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Kato was awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Combat Infantryman Badge.
In the early 1900s, Japanese workers immigrated to Winters from Japan. However, under the California Alien Land Law of 1913, they were precluded from owning land and from obtaining land leases longer than three years.
Winters’ Japanese immigrants not only worked in agriculture, they also owned and operated businesses. The Horai Company General store was the first Japanese owned store in Winters and remained open until the establishment of internment camps in 1942.
Lopez said there were over 200 Japanese residents in Winters before internment. When the U.S. Supreme Court ended internment camps in 1945, only 20 returned to Winters, hence, “the Lost Japanese Community of Winters.”
Floyd addressed attendees, congratulated the historical society for “being on the cutting edge of change,” and then raised his glass and proclaimed a toast in Japanese “Kampai” or “cheers” in English.
The Winters Museum is located at 13 Russell St. Entry to the museum is free, but donations are accepted. The exhibit will remain open into October.