Roots and Branches: Memories around the mochi stump

MOCHI making with Camille, Niko and Kelsey Yasui, during the Yasui reunion.

Maija Yasui
MOCHI making with Camille, Niko and Kelsey Yasui, during the Yasui reunion.

Family has been the predominant theme these last two months on the Willow Flat front. While my dad always said fish and family stink after three days, a sentiment with which some family members may embrace, I for one love having extended family around. I enjoy all the cooking, cleaning and conversation that accompanies a crowd of cousins. It is an opportunity to reconnect with one another on multiple levels.


Yuka and Homer are the two remaining siblings of Masuo Yasui’s children. Toshio Fujikura and Yuka Yasui Fujikura, whose 88th birthday was celebrated with at the reunion — “Entering your second childhood at 88 years of age,” notes Maija Yasui.

About 80 Yasuis gathered in Hood River over a five day period, bringing July to a close and opening August with gusto. It was a time of remembrance at the gravesites for those lost over the last weeks, months and years. We relied on the memory of Homer and Yuka Yasui Fujikura, the youngest of the Nisei siblings, to fill in the human recollections that bring past generations to life. Stories were told on the banks of Mosier Lake and Pirates Cove at the Yasui homestead in Mosier. Yuka shared some of the childhood pranks of her brothers and sisters, when they played on the grassy knolls atop the steep cliffs towering above the mighty Columbia. Tom Garnier, the present property owner, has been the most gracious of hosts over the last decade, allowing the family onto his land for multiple gatherings from sentimental journeys to the spreading of family ashes at the lakeside.

It was a time of teaching old traditions to new generations, pounding rice into sticky mochi balls in the hollow of a massive fir stump carved over a century ago by the callused hands of Grampa Kageyama. While batches of mochi rice were steaming, cousins practiced making Inari and Maki sushi, each step detailed on fragile recipes cards, written in fading script that had been passed from mother to daughter over four generations. We are fortunate to have a number of male cooks in the family, making it easier to feed the growing crowd.

Our home was the perfect setting for a new generation to learn traditions from the past. With its obi and haori adorned walls, bamboo shelves from the Yasui store, tea cups and wooden rice molds all from past generations that evoked memories from the past. Yuka held court at the head of the table, sharing one story after another, the historians among us recording each priceless moment.

The morning cooking sessions resulted in multiple trays of rice delicacies to feed the increasing horde of Yasuis gathering for the afternoon picnic in Kim and Jason’s front yard. While significantly safer than the Mosier cliffs, where annual picnics were held in the 1900s, the more adventurous young’uns could race about on four wheelers, beat the heat diving down the giant water slide, or try their hand at golf cart croquet. Some of the less able among us were driven from one activity to another via golf cart, the driving of which was highly coveted by the prepubescent crowd.

When the evening breeze finally pushed the temperature below the century mark, the Japanese dance festival began, with 40 or so brave souls donning Hapi coats and headbands, performing the traditional Obon dance in a giant circle around one intrepid Taiko drummer. A more upbeat dance drew in the twenty-something crowd with a hybrid electric slide version of Obon. Glow sticks lit up the evening skies. Young and old took the microphone singing, telling jokes, dancing, tumbling and playing a variety of musical instruments. A set of glorious Koi piñatas kept the under-eight generation entertained while three sets of tables once covered with delicious delicacies became a Texas Hold’em tournament for the gamblers amongst us.

Sunday brought the family together at the Idlewilde Cemetery gravesites, where past generations were once again celebrated with story and song. Plans were already being made for the 2020 reunion, but increased attention was paid to the planning of another gathering in Hood River in October of 2016 to celebrate the 100th birthday of Minoru Yasui and his legacy in social justice.

While many are aware of Min’s legal work in seeking redress for the Japanese incarcerated during World War II and his legal battle through the Supreme Court to establish law that prohibited the taking of all citizens’ rights regardless of race, ethnicity or ancestry without due process, Min’s life was in service to all who were the focus of injustice. Minoru Yasui led state and national groups that advocated for Native Americans, African Americans, Chicanos, women and the disabled.

In 2016 there are Min Yasui Tribute celebrations planned in Denver, where he practiced law for over 40 years; Eugene, where he became the first Japanese American graduate of law school; Portland, where he was incarcerated after challenging the curfew ruling; and Hood River, where he was born and raised.

If you are interested in joining the Hood River Chapter of the Min Yasui Tribute Committee, please contact or phone 541-354-1023. We hope to have multiple activities throughout 2016, culminating on his 100th birthday, Oct. 22. A list of proposed activities include a public showing of the documentary film by his daughter Holly Yasui, a reading of the play about his early work with Japanese Americans in production by the Portland Disporia Theater, and the unveiling of a memorial rock marker depicting his likeness and notable quotes. Other suggested activities include an exhibit at the museum about Japanese internment, a portrayal of Minoru Yasui at Cemetery Tales, a Taiko drum celebration or performance in Families in the Park and review of the curriculum or readings from it at the middle and high school classes.

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