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Death of Buddhist leader leaves hole in Yakima’s Japanese community

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 The death of Yoshi Uchida, born in a Japanese-American relocation camp during World War II, leaves a gaping hole in the Yakima, Washington, Buddhist community, according to the Yakima Herald-Republic.

“Sweeping berries from a walk at the Yakima Buddhist Church in Wapato one recent afternoon, three men reminisced about how devoted Yosh Uchida was to the local Japanese-American community,” writes the newspaper’s Phil Ferolito.

“Bristles of straw brooms whisked across the concrete walk as Uchida’s brother, Tom, and friends Lon Inaba and Dave Sakamoto swept the walk beneath a mushroom-shaped mulberry tree.”

“This was Yosh’s tree,” Inaba, told Ferolito. “He didn’t want anyone pruning this tree. It’s not like any one of us wanted to trim the dang thing anyway,” he said with a laugh. “He took a lot of time pruning that tree and was really meticulous about it.”

Ferolito writes:

But now someone else will have to take up the chore, along with other tasks that Uchida quietly made his own in a lifetime commitment to keep community traditions alive.

Uchida, the youngest member of the second generation of Japanese in the Yakima Valley, died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack on July 2. He was 68. His death leaves a large whole in this small community.

“Now I guess the third generation has to take a greater role,” said Inaba, 55, referring to his generation. “I guess that’s the Japanese way.”

Uchida was the president of the Buddhist Church and for the past decade organized its annual sukiyaki dinner fundraiser, an event that drew more than 1,500 visitors from as far away as the Tri-Cities and Seattle.

“We don’t have a lot of members. Every time we lose one, it’s a huge loss,” Inaba said. “It’s a huge loss — It’s tough.”

Church membership has fallen from about 60 members back in the 1960s to 18 today.

Uchida, born in an internment camp during World War II, will always be remembered as a “taskmaster” who didn’t shy away from work and held close to his heart the history of his forefathers, the Japanese pioneers of the Yakima Valley.

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