BY HELEN AKITA
Zenzaburo Maekawa was born on August 17, 1877 in Takashima, Japan, a suburb of Hikone. He immigrated to Canada in 1894, as passports were easier to get than to America.
Maekawa worked for a lumber mill in Clifford, Canada. He was housed in a Catholic church living quarters and had the job of starting the fire for heat and cooking every morning. The nuns taught the group of immigrants how to read and count. He worked in the lumber mill until he returned to Japan in January 1905 to marry Kimi Sonoda through an arranged marriage. She was the oldest daughter and had four brothers and a sister.
Maekawa, who had an American passport, left Japan for Seattle in March or April of 1905. A daughter, Nobu, was born January 30, 1906. His wife and daughter came to Clipper (a town near Sedro Wooley) in 1906. Their first son, Yoshizo, was born December 1907. In the early spring of 1908, they moved to Bellingham. There were five or six young Japanese students that worked as janitors and did odd jobs while they went to high school to learn English. They talked to Zenzaburo and Kimi into moving to Bellingham to cook for them. Daughter, Fumi was born in 1909.
For some reason, Zenzaburo didn’t like the city life and moved his family to Mt. Vernon, Washington. He somehow learned how to plow and drive horses. They stayed in Mt. Vernon for about two years. Son, Kay, was born on August 1911. The next move was to Riverside, Washington, just north of the old Skagit River bridge. In Burlington, he leased farmland, ran a dairy farm and raised potatoes. Ken was born on June 1913.
They moved the cows and bull to Scots farm, north of Burlington, about one and a half miles from town. The farm was being taken care of by uncle Mano-san, who couldn’t make it alone. After Zenzaburo took over, Mano-san left for a sawmill job. In 1913, Zenzaburo cleared about 30 acres of old stumps on the old Scots farm and made it suitable for farming. In 1915, George was born, but died less than two weeks later. After that, there was a succession of babies born: Loyal in 1917, Helen in 1919, Emma in 1921, and Jean in 1922.
When they were no longer able to lease land due to the Alien Land Law they moved to Bellingham to operate a chili parlor. Kimi and the older children, who were not in high school, ran the restaurant. Oscar was born in 1925 while they were living in Bellingham.
Zenzaburo got a job with the Rock Point Oyster Company in Samish, Washington. In 1925, the family moved to Samish and all of the older children worked at the Rock Point Oyster Company. By this time, there were 10 children. The family then moved to Blanchard, Washington and continued to work at the Oyster Company. Zenzaburo retired from the Oyster Company at the age of 55, and built a restaurant above the oyster farm on Chukanut Drive. The restaurant, called the Oyster Bar, is still operating today.
Right after Pearl Harbor, Zenzaburo was picked up by the FBI and incarcerated in the immigration building until they moved him to Missoula, Montana. He was released and, by chance, was able to join his family in Everett, Washington as they were already on the train that was taking them to the Tule Lake, California concentration camp.
The Maekawa family moved from Tule Lake in 1943 to Emmett, Idaho where they thought they had work, but a freeze ruined the cherry crop orchard, and then they found farm work in Nampa, Idaho. When the West opened, the family returned and re-established their greenhouse business. Zenzaburo helped until Kay and Ken started their own greenhouse business in Renton and he went to live and work with them.
Zenzaburo died at his home in 1971 at the age of 94.