Sonoma County’s Japanese community has its roots in the late 1800s when waves of second sons followed in the footsteps of samurai-born Kanaye Nagasawa to farm the fertile fields of California.

Nagasawa, one of the first Japanese immigrants to the United States, came to Sonoma County with Thomas Lake Harris to establish the Fountain Grove Utopian community and winery. When Harris left in 1891, Nagasawa took over as leader of the community and head winemaker. At the turn of the 19th century the ranch became a customary stopping place for Japanese visitors to the Bay Area.

Other early Japanese immigrants were farmers, whose poultry and apple farms persisted into the 21st century. According to the Japanese Citizen’s League of Sonoma County, some of these early settlers were second sons who could not inherit family lands in Japan and turned to the golden fields of California to seek their fortunes.

They built thriving communities in areas like Sebastopol and Petaluma. Barnes Avenue in Sebastopol, then known as Analy township, was main street for the growing Japanese population.

When World War II began, Japanese Sonoma County residents, many of them U.S.-born citizens, were interned at hastily built camps like Amache, Colorado’s Granada War Relocation Center. They left with only what they could carry and coped with harsh conditions and inadequate supplies.

In 1945 when the war ended many of the families returned to Sonoma County but struggled to pick up the pieces, and some left farming altogether. But the richness of Sonoma County’s Japanese community continues to thrive.

On May 6, the Sonoma County Matsuri will hold its ninth annual festival of arts and culture. The popular event features taiko drumming, traditional Japanese dance and music, and martial arts demonstrations. The free festivities at Julliard Park in Santa Rosa are from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. All raffle proceeds go to the Matsuri Scholarship Fund, which supports individuals and organizations in Sonoma County who study or teach Japanese culture in the community.

Click through the gallery above to learn some of the history of Sonoma County’s earliest Japanese residents in preparation for the May 6 festival.