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Immigration is a hot topic. So here's an immigration story of quite a different sort from the ones we've been hearing.

In Santa Rosa 132 years ago, a young Japanese man, dressed in the latest New York fashion, stepped off the train at the depot, drawing stares from the people present.

There had never been a Japanese in Sonoma County.

On Saturday, the city of Santa Rosa named a park in his

honor.

I guess the message is that if you're going to be an immigrant, it's a good idea to be the first.

NAGASAWA COMMUNITY PARK, in Fountaingrove, honoring Kanaye Nagasawa, winemaker and proprietor of the Fountaingrove Ranch and Vineyards, was dedicated Saturday in a lively ceremony attended by some 200 people, many of them from the county's Japanese community.

The Taiko Drummers set the pace for the proceedings as Makoto Yamanaka, Japanese consul general in San Francisco, declared Nagasawa, who was among the first Japanese in the United States, a "pioneer" and his "hero." And 88-year-old Kosuke Ijichi of Walnut Creek, Nagasawa's grandnephew, recalled his childhood, when the ranch was his playground and he was free to roam on horseback over the 2,000 acres.

A dramatic vignette, written by City Council member Jane Bender, featured descendants of Japanese families who worked for Nagasawa and told the tale of the ranch and the Brotherhood of the New Life Utopian community.

Professor Akira Kadota, who has written of Nagasawa in his native Kagoshima, brought greetings from the Friends of Santa Rosa Association in that city.

Obon dancers from Enmanji Temple in Sebastopol, including other descendants of Fountaingrove families, closed the ceremony with traditional folk dances.

KANAYE Nagasawa's journey to Santa Rosa is an adventure story. He came by way of England and Scotland, having left his native Kagoshima with 14 other students (at age 13, he was the youngest). These young men are now known in Japan as "The Kagoshima Fifteen" and honored with a statue at the rail station in that city.

In the mid-1860s, at the time when the 250-year reign of the isolationist Tokugawa dynasty was coming to an end, these students were smuggled out of their country by the ruler of the Satsuma clan. They were bound for England, to learn Western languages and ways that would give them a head start on the modernization he knew was coming.

In England, professors who were advocates of the westernization of Japan took them in hand. They were placed in homes throughout Britain and by the end of 1866, all but seven of the students had returned to Japan to prepare for the revolution that would lead to the Meiji Restoration in 1868 and the "new" Japan.

Of the seven who remained scattered throughout Europe, two went to Russia, two to the United States, one to France and Nagasawa, now 14 going on 15, went to a family in Aberdeen, Scotland. He learned English with a Scottish "burr" that would characterize his speech for the rest of his life.

One of the Londoners who had joined the professors in welcoming the Japanese boys was a young member of Parliament named Laurence Oliphant. He had been to Japan with Lord Elgin's expedition, had written a book about his adventures and was very interested in the future of that country.

He also was very interested in the teachings and preachings of an American "messiah" named Thomas Lake Harris, who spent a year in England and had enlisted Oliphant and his mother as members of his "Brotherhood of the New Life," an alternative society he characterized as "theosocialist." He had returned to the United States to form a community in upper New York state.

Oliphant talked to the Japanese contingent about Harris and his teachings, and Harris made another trip to England expressing his interest in Shinto and Japanese culture, which he felt was closer to the "Heaven on earth" he hoped to establish than any other religion or belief system.

He talked of establishing a school for Japanese students to prepare them for colleges. Six of the students, including Nagasawa, joined him in the United States.

From Harris' Brocton, N.Y., colony, their paths diverged. Three went to Rutgers University in New Jersey. Two returned to Japan, where they became leaders in the new government. Nagasawa, after a short stay at Cornell University and despite his colleagues' advice and counsel, elected to stay at Brocton and serve "Father Faithful," as Harris' disciples called him.

AND THAT'S how Kanaye Nagasawa, at 23, arrived in Santa Rosa in 1875.

Harris, who had grown grapes and made wine at his Brocton colony, had picked the spot from a viticulture magazine touting the soil and the climate as perfect for winemaking.

He had purchased a ranch, 1,000 acres at the start, from a settler named Henderson Holmes and named it Fountaingrove. He hired a winemaker, a Missourian named John Hyde, and assigned Nagasawa to learn the craft.

More members of the Brotherhood arrived. Buildings were erected -- a two-story cottage for the women called the Famiistry; a three-story hilltop house for the men, known as the Commandery, and Harris' own elaborate mansion, landscaped like an English park with ponds and exotic trees and shrubs.

Members of the Brotherhood were promised entry into the "Celestial Sphere" if Harris' teachings were observed. Even the wine, which was sold at the community's New York City outlet, promised special spiritual properties.

But there is no evidence in Nagasawa's writings, either in the diaries he kept or in the interviews he gave late in life, that he followed Harris' precepts. He simply followed Harris, considering him a father figure.

When Father Faithful got embroiled in a scandal and left Santa Rosa in 1891, Nagasawa stayed on to run the winery and the ranch.

In 1899, following a popular architectural fad of the time, he hired a Santa Rosa carpenter, John Lindsay, to build the round barn that has become a local landmark.

When Harris died in New York City in 1906, he left Fountaingrove to the disciples who remained there. In time, Nagasawa became the sole survivor.

And the sole owner.

As a successful winemaker, a friend of Luther Burbank's, a respected member of the Santa Rosa community, he became something of a local legend.

He was remembered by those who knew him as a sturdy, proper and prosperous Japanese man who wore tweeds, smoked cigars and spoke with that Scottish accent.

He was a respected judge of wines and vines and often drove in his buggy from winery to winery as an expert "taster," sometimes in the company of his friend Burbank.

He became known as the "Wine King of California" in his native Kagoshima. Visiting Japanese dignitaries made the obligatory visit to Fountaingrove.

In 1915, he was an overseer of the Japanese exhibit at the Panama-Pacific Exhibition in San Francisco, and in an elaborate ceremony at Fountaingrove, was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun at the request of the emperor.

Often referred to in the local press as "Prince" Nagasawa for his Samurai background, he accepted this homage without comment, never correcting those who called him that or "Baron Nagasawa."

He entertained lavishly. Invitations to his dinner parties during Prohibition, when he would tap the cellars of Fountaingrove for champagne, wine and brandy, were much sought after by his doctor, lawyer and merchant friends.

The legend grew. When he made his daily trip to town in his chauffeur-driven Buick, there would be whispers on the sidewalk about the "Japanese royalty from Fountaingrove."

Still, his title to Fountaingrove was clouded by the alien land laws of the time. He never married, despite family efforts to find him a match on at least one of his several trips to Japan. But he brought his nephews from Japan to live with him in the hope that their children, born here, would become legal heirs to Fountaingrove.

Nagasawa died in 1934, 11 days before his 83rd birthday. Three years later, in a legal maneuver that has never been fully explained, Fountaingrove was seized and his family, including his American-born grandnephew and grandniece, were given 24 hours to leave the ranch, which was sold at auction.

The grapevines were removed by one of the subsequent owners and Fountaingrove became a cattle ranch, and finally, the upscale development we see today -- from every angle.

How different things might have been if Kosuke and Amy Ijichi, both of whom were present at the dedication Saturday, had been allowed to inherit their famous uncle's domain, we'll never know.

Nagasawa Park seems the least we can do.

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