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03 May 2015

Obāchan


May Is Asian Pacific Heritage Month
The following article celebrates the life of Japanese immigrant, Yae Takahashi

Written by guest blogger, Adelle Treakle

Yae (far left) and Takahashi Family
Picture Bride

Yae Kawakami was born in the outskirts of Tokyo, Japan, in 1889. She was my grandmother.

She was the oldest of nine, and she had a fierce, independent streak.  Yae was allowed more freedom than many girls at the time. She enjoyed riding the streetcars of Tokyo and fishing in the small streams near her home. 

As a young woman, Yae taught elementary school and was a talented artist. In her early twenties, she became a “picture bride.” Selected by her husband’s family, she was married by proxy to Yoshizumi Takahashi. As was the custom, she lived with her in-laws for a year in order to prove her worth before immigrating to the U.S. 

In 1914, she sailed alone to Seattle where she stepped off the ship, the SS Yokohama Maru, and married a man she had never met. 

Her life in America was not what she expected. Her husband was a foreman for Japanese farm workers in California’s San Joaquin Valley. She was put to work cooking for them, though she had no experience.

Yae raised seven children on a farm leased in the central California Valley. The entire family participated in the planting, harvesting, and selling of the crops, which included grapes, watermelon, and lettuce.

In 1941, her world changed forever. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor, she and her native-born children were looked at with suspicion and distrust. One of Yae’s sons joined the U.S. army within one month of the Japanese attack. The rest of the family was “evacuated” to the Poston Relocation Center in Arizona. [Editor’s note: the acceptable terminology today is incarcerated.]

They spent two years in Poston, trying to build a community out of the sand. After being released, Yae and her family farmed for a time in Utah. Eventually they resettled in California. Yae continued to paint and to watch over her growing family until her death at age 83.

Takahashi Family at Poston WRA Camp (Yae is 4th from right)
"Songbird" by Yae Kawakami Takahashi

The California Genealogical Society aims to connect people to their diverse family heritage. If you would like to contribute an article to the blog celebrating your own family history, please contact the editor

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