By JOSHUWA DEAL
Boca Raton, originally founded by T. M. Rickards in 1895, is known for its beautiful landscapes and sublime weather. However, Boca also has a dark history that is still recognized to this day.
When people think of Florida in general, Japan usually does not come to mind.
Young Japanese members actualy helped establish a unique culture and history in Boca. Jo Sakai pioneered Boca’s farming group when he recruited Japanese citizens after his graduation from New York University School of Commerce.
The Yamato Japanese colony was established in 1904 as the farmers took western Boca and cultivated it into a pineapple plantation. Reportedly, the Yamato people were hard working and prosperous as they turned a seemingly desolate land into a community. Although the community did not grow very much, the colony experimented with various crops while also bringing Japanese culture to such a tropical area.
The community, lead by Sakai, flourished from 1904 until the 1920s. Due to Cuban farmers prospering in the pineapple business, the Yamato colony turned to winter vegetables. During the 1920s, Florida real estate convinced many Japanese colonists to move suddenly and many settlers left the state and never returned. Some historians consider Sakai’s establishment a success, while others debate that it was just a nice attempt overall. Either way, the man behind the idea changed Boca’s history significantly.
During WWII the federal government confiscated the land so the U.S. military could establish the Boca Raton Army Air Force Base to train bombers of the B-29. The military base was in the location of what is now Florida Atlantic University (FAU). This caused the settlers to lose about 296 acres and this caused the Yamato colony to slowly collapse. Essentially the people’s homes were confiscated from them and the Japanese citizens were driven out with their rights ignored and their crops destroyed.
To learn more of the history of the Yamato colony while gaining knowledge of the Japanese culture, one can visit the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens at 4000 Morikami Park Rd. In Delray Beach.
The garden is the lasting legacy of the Japanese influencers of Boca and beckons residence and visitors to try their authentic food and Zen gardens. There is even a memorial and education site devoted to the Boca Raton Japanese settlers and a Museum in which dazzlingly and enchanting art from Japan is presented to the public.
The next time one is on Yamato Road or passing FAU, remember that people from a far land were trying to establish a community right where they are and think to oneself, what will historians say about the places they go and the places they visit today because all experiences become history soon enough.