Okura Family

Okura Family Tree (PDF)

Toichi Okura was among the earliest of the Issei generation to settle in the White River Valley. In fact, in a 1936 poll to determine which of the Japanese immigrants had been in the Valley the longest, Toichi's claimed 1896 arrival date garnered fourth place on the list. Census reports place his immigration date closer to 1898, but, regardless, there is no doubt that he was one of the first of the Japanese pioneers to arrive in our area.

Okura Family Monument

In 1900, Toichi is listed on the Federal Census as being a 19-year-old, single lodger in a downtown Seattle rooming house. He was working as a waiter at that time. By 1910, he and Mitsuno had married and had their first child. They had moved to the community of Stuck, Washington, where Toichi was employed as a laborer on a truck farm. His younger brother was also a member of their household that year.

In subsequent years, Toichi and Mitsuno's family continued to grow. They eventually had at least eleven children. Like so many families of that era, not all of their children survived to adulthood. Two of these children, Kiyoshi and Betty Jean, are buried with Toichi and Mitsuno in the Auburn Pioneer Cemetery.

In 1920, the Okuras were living in nearby Algona, Washington. Toichi's younger brother, by then married with a child of his own, lived next door to them on First Avenue. Both men were truck famers at that time and very likely worked together.

During the 1920s, the older Okura children, like the children of the Hirose Family, were very active in their schools and community. Stan Flewelling, in his book Shirakawa, cites their involvement in the formation of Auburn's seinenkai (roughly the Buddhist equivalent of the YMCA/YWCA) and its significance to the community:

"The Auburn Seinenkai... was a nonsectarian society sponsored by the Japanese Association. As the Auburn newspaper explained it, the local seinenkai was 'largely educational, and [members] strive to become as well-versed in American ways as possible.' In contrast to their parents, teenaged Nisei would soon be able to vote. Lists of seinenkai officers read like rosters of future leadership."

Minoru and Sarah Okura (the Okuras' two oldest children) were elected its president and secretary respectively in 1928.

It was a common practice for the local Japanese families to give their children traditional Japanese names, but for the children to also be known by Americanized nicknames. "Saico", for example, was also known as "Sarah." Interestingly, during the 1920s and its emphasis on becoming better versed in American ways (as referenced by the newspaper in its description of the Seinenkai), the Okura Family seems to have abandoned the tradition in favor of giving their children Americanized names from the outset. Up until 1922, they gave their children names such as Tadashi, Haruko, and Hagime. After that point, their choices included George, Paul, and Rose.

Toichi Okura passed away in 1941. At the end of that year the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Mitsuno Okura, nearing her 60th birthday at that point, then lost her home before even having the chance to fully grieve the loss of her husband. She, along with at least seven of her children, was interned at the Tule Lake Internment Camp in California.

All text published on this website © Amerie & Kristy Lommen 2008 – 2017.
All photographs published on this website, except where indicated, © Amerie & Kristy Lommen 2008 – 2017.
Please contact the site author(s) for permission to reproduce any material here published: kristy@lommen.org.