This article focuses on the legend of Itō Okei (1852–71), the Aizu native and Boshin War (1868–69) refugee who arrived in California's Gold Country in the fall of 1869. Okei settled in Northern California as part of the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Colony, a short-lived venture led by the German John Schnell (1834–?) and twenty entrepreneurial samurai and farmers who hoped to support the defeated province through the establishment of an international satellite colony. Serving as a caretaker for Schnell's children, Okei remained in the United States when the venture failed a year later. She died of illness at age nineteen. Okei's short life and tragic death have become symbolic of the life and death of the Wakamatsu colony itself, and her gravesite attracts busloads of tourists annually, including some from Japan. Using theories from the field of memory studies that began in the 1980s, I investigate the historiography of the Wakamatsu colony and Okei's grave as a memory site to reveal a palimpsestuous layering of meaning embedded in both discursive and commemorative work seeking to rehabilitate ethnic and local identities over time. Focusing on how local governments, regional presses, and community organizations have preserved Okei's legacy shows how memory work shapes both local and national narratives, spotlighting the shared terrains of Japanese and Japanese American history.


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pp. 1-35
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