Not much is known about the women of the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Farm Colony, including Jou Schnell, the Japanese wife of the colony’s founder John Henry Schnell. Silk is a fictional account which imagines what life may have been for these women and men in 1869–1871.

Author’s Note: The nonfiction sources used for this fictional creation included Daniel A. Métraux’s The Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Colony Farm and the Creation of Japanese America, Discover Nikkei articles, and Gary Noy’s Sierra Stories: Tales of Dreamers, Schemers, Bigots, and Rogues.

Read Chapter One >>

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Chapter Seven—A Night in San Francisco

Among the Japan-born Wakamatsu colonists, Makoto and Kuni were the strongest English speakers. As a result, when the colony’s founder, John Henry Schnell, announced that he would be taking a trip to San Francisco to meet with some Japanese envoys, as well as do research into future agricultural exhibitions, he asked these two men to accompany him.

Makoto was elated. He had a visible scar in the middle of his face, a remnant from a failed battle to save their beloved castle in Japan, but one of his roommates, Kintaro, suffered from more psychic wounds. Kintaro had tried to commit …


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Chapter Six—Okei: Star Stories

Okei Ito hated mosquitos. In the California inaka, they seemed to swarm everywhere, breeding in water collected in surrounding ditches. In these same ditches, old miners, still fueled by the twenty-year-old dream of striking it rich, spent hours panning for gold.

She wasn’t used to all the mosquitos. She, like the other Wakamatsu colonists, were from northern Japan. Even in the middle of summer, it was cooler back home. Light rain would even fall at times. In contrast, the weather in Gold Hill was hot and dry. Those water-filled ditches, those were the culprits. If it weren’t for them, …


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Chapter Five—Kuninosuke Masumizu: Lightning in a Bottle

“Kuni, place your bet,” the miner said, first in English and then in his native Portuguese.

Kuninosuke Masumizu, called Kuni in this nighttime gambling den behind a Chinese store, was known for his facility with languages. He spoke Japanese, of course, and had picked up English faster than the other Wakamatsu colonists. His visits to the gambling den came in handy in exposing him to new languages.

Five of them were assembled around a table, a metal square tray in front of them. Each corner was numbered from one to four. The Brazlian miner was the banker; he watched as …


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Chapter Four—Kintaro and the Magic Koi

Serve the shogun with single-minded devotion. 

     —Aizu samurai code of conduct

Kintaro Ikeda was alone in this world, but that was not always the case. In Aizu-Wakamatsu, he had brothers, his parents, grandparents, and many aunts and uncles. And then the Boshin War came.

Practically all were dead now or rotting in the hinderlands of Aomori, the northern part of Honshu. John Henry Schnell, the Prussian who had provided the warriors of Aizu-Wakamatsu with rifles and guns, had been arrested by the Meiji imperial army but was eventually released because he was a gaijin, a foreigner. When …


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Chapter Three—Neko-chan

Nozomi chased her black cat through the fields of Wakamatsu Colony in Gold Hill. She still was not allowed to bring the cat inside of their home. “Kitanai,” her mother said, pushing Neko-chan out with the ends of a straw broom.

Even though Nozomi was only seven, she was given a list of chores to do on the colony. Wash and clean dishes from meals. Help her mother with the laundry. Change the linens on the beds regularly and keep her eye out for bedbugs and cockroaches.

Other than babies, there were no other children in Wakamatsu. Nozomi’s …



california fiction issei Matsunosuke Sakurai naomi hirahara okei Wakamatsu Colony