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County Buys Mukai Fruit Barreling Plant

King County will acquire the Mukai Fruit Barreling Plant on Vashon Island to preserve the historic structure. Photo provided by King County.
King County will acquire the Mukai Fruit Barreling Plant on Vashon Island to preserve the historic structure. Photo provided by King County.

A historic structure on Vashon Island that tells the story of an entrepreneurial immigrant family -- as well as the devastating effects of relocation and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II -- will be saved.

D.B. Mukai – who immigrated to the United States in the 1880s – built the original Mukai Fruit Barreling Plant on Vashon Island, revolutionizing how berries were distributed worldwide. The Mukai family farm thrived even during the Great Depression, but never recovered after Japanese Americans were relocated and imprisoned during World War II.

King County will acquire the 2-acre barreling plant property for $435,000 – with most funding provided by the state – to preserve the historic structure.3
“The story of the Mukai family is an important chapter in our region’s rich history – one that will be shared for generations now that their plant is permanently protected,” said Executive Constantine. “Japanese imprisonment scattered families and erased communities throughout the Puget Sound region. Thanks to this combined effort by the community, county and state to preserve this special place, the Mukai story will be forever told.”
“Preserving the Mukai Fruit Barreling Plant is critical to telling the story of this enterprising family and an important chapter of not only Vashon Island’s history, but our regional and national history as well,” said King County Council Chair Joe McDermott, whose district includes Vashon Island. “This is the next step in an incredibly important community effort to pay tribute to an integral family of our region’s heritage, while remembering the very hard lessons from a dark time in our past.”

The Mukai family came to Vashon Island to cultivate a variety of strawberries, called Marshalls. Their 60-acre farming operation soon produced more fruit than could be sold fresh at Pike Place Market in Seattle, so they constructed the barreling plant to house a newly developed technology for freezing berries.

This “cold process” technology enabled the Mukais to distribute berries around the world and build a highly successful business that employed up to 500 seasonal workers, even as unemployment soared in the 1930s.

World War II and the implementation of Executive Order 9066, which forcibly removed Japanese Americans on the West Coast from their communities, eventually put an end to the Mukai’s operation. By the time Masa Mukai returned to the island in 1946, the berry industry had significantly changed. Masa Mukai could no longer sustain his once-profitable business, and left Vashon Island for good in 1967.

The Mukai Agricultural Complex was divided and sold to various owners and has withstood several changes in ownership and periods of abandonment over the years. The nonprofit Friends of Mukai organization recently gained control of the house and garden and have begun restoring it, opening it to the public, and developing a plan for its long-term protection, interpretation, and management.

The complex includes a house and traditional Japanese garden, the barreling plant, an administrative office building, and surrounding property.

Once the barreling plant is acquired, the County will enter into a lease agreement with the Friends of Mukai, which will expand stewardship and management of the house and garden to include the barreling plant.

“I am delighted to support the preservation of the Mukai Barreling Plant as part of the effort to recreate the Mukai Agricultural Complex,” said King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci. “As we mark the 75th anniversary of the Executive Order that interned 120,000 citizens of Japanese ancestry along the Pacific coast, the Mukai farm is an important reminder of the contribution of Japanese Americans to the growth and prosperity of our region. The Mukai Agricultural Complex will honor the lives and the resilience of all Japanese Americans.”

Information provided by King County Press Release.