WAPATO — Tucked behind a mushroom-shaped mulberry tree at 212 W. Second St. is a piece of history that’s held a community together since the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Don’t be fooled by the facade, which from the curb resembles a typical house with a neatly manicured yard.
It’s a Buddhist church built by some of the Yakima Valley’s first Japanese residents, who began arriving not long after the turn of the last century. Services are still held there each Sunday.
There were roughly 1,200 Japanese pioneers in the Valley at the time the church and its neighboring gymnasium were built.
Construction started prior to World War II. Shortly after the church was complete, Pearl Harbor was bombed and war broke out. Many Japanese residents, including U.S. citizens, were put into internment camps.
Most from the Yakima Valley were sent to Heart Mountain, Wyo., where they were kept behind a fence with armed guards for nearly three years.
But two local townspeople — Dan McDonald and Esther Boyd — were credited with watching over the church and gymnasium.
The church’s handmade altar was stored beneath the stage of the gymnasium for protection.
After the war, only a few of the families returned to the Valley, where Japanese had been treated with prejudice.
A building housing immigration and other social services for Japanese was burned down, said Lon Inaba, spokesman of the Japanese American Community of the Yakima Valley.
“It was like a little mini-government for all the Japanese immigrants,” he said.
The Japanese community also lost a school and store to fire at that time.
“Everybody suspects it was arson, but it was right after Pearl Harbor,” he said.
But the mulberry tree that once stood in front of the Japanese association building was moved to the front of the church.
“That mulberry tree is probably 100 years old,” he said.