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.

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Chapter Twelve—A Japanese Girl

For the past two days, Okei’s teeth chattered, all day and all night. It was as if a spirit had entered her body and she had no control over it.

“I don’t want to die here, Sakurai ojisan,” she said to her constant companion, Matsunosuke “Mats” Sakurai.

Both of them had joined the Veerkamp household after the Schnells had disappeared. Since Francis and Louisa had so many young children, Okei was supposed to help lighten the matriarch’s load. As it turned out, Okei fell seriously ill with a high fever, creating an additional burden for the family.

Mats, who …

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Chapter Eleven—In the Dark Night

The sounds of the explosions seemed to get louder every day. Kintaro felt his whole body shake as the booms seemed close to shattering his ear drums.

His roommate, Makoto, had disappeared in the night. There was no one to retrieve him from his dark thoughts. He was afraid to sleep because he didn’t want to be caught off-guard. That’s what happened in the Boshin War. He had closed his eyes for a few minutes and then—BAM! A projectile tore through the castle walls and killed his sister and his mother.

Who had been responsible for such bloodshed and fatalities? …

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Chapter Ten—Lost Samurai

Shin: To become a person who is trusted, and who can trust others.

—a principle of the Aizu people

As the Wakamatsu colonists began to leave Gold Hill, Matsunosuke “Mats” Sakurai began to have vivid dreams from his past in Aizu. It was almost as if the celestials were populating his world in his sleep to compensate for the ones who left in reality.

Gone were the Saitos, the young couple whose marriage seemed to be strained by the complaints of the competitive wife. No longer would Mats be entertained by the antics of the seven-year-old Nozomi, whose front …

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Chapter Nine—Pickles and the Promised Land

Matsugoro Ohto wiped the sweat off of his forehead as he and his fellow carpenter, Kuninosuke “Kuni” Masumizu, took a break from their woodworking project inside the Veerkamp family’s barn on Gold Hill. Led by the family’s German patriarch, Francis, the Veerkamps were plentiful. By last count, Matsugoro thought that there might be at least six children, all boys.

His fellow Japanese countryman, Kuni, was more than twenty years younger than him. Kuni, in fact, was about the same age as Francis’s oldest son, Henry. Matsugoro was not intimidated by Kuni’s youthful strength. He had learned years ago that he …

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Chapter Eight—Death of the Mulberry Tree

Keiko Shinshi hadn’t been feeling well for days. 

Her husband, Tatsutaro, thought it was because the last mulberry tree in the colony had died. Their silkworm room seemed like a gravesite, with the remains of shriveled up caterpillars lining the floor. A few cocoons were hanging from trees branches that his wife brought in. It was quite a barbaric process, with the cocoons being dropped into boiling vats of water so that the silk exteriors could be removed. In other words, the silkworms were cooked alive.

The production of silk had been Keiko’s consuming activity ever since they arrived in Wakamatsu …

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california fiction Francis Veerkamp issei Masumizu Kuninosuke Matsugoro Ohto Matsunosuke Sakurai naomi hirahara okei Wakamatsu Colony