Rarely does a farm town of barely 11,000 residents offer a more compelling immigrant story than the nearby 600,000+ metropolitan area.
But such is the case in Ontario, Oregon, a small community straddling the Idaho-Oregon border, about an hour west of Boise. During WWII, the Treasure Valley welcomed the Japanese escaping internment on the West Coast, offering them farming jobs vacated by servicemen. As a result, Ontario saw an influx of Japanese seeking work in the onion fields. Over time, the Japanese-Americans gained a presence in Ontario’s commerce and have left an indelible mark on the town’s history. Having grown up Japanese in Hawaii, Ontario’s story hit home.
Visitors can taste the Japanese influence on Ontario at Ogawa’s Teriyaki Hut (375 E. Idaho Ave., Ontario). Don’t expect kaiseki. The menu is unapologetically, gun-totingly Idaho, offering rice bowls topped in teriyaki sauce, simple sushi rolls, chicken katsu, and — of course — hamburgers. But the food is tasty: the sushi is reliably fresh and rolled neat and tight, the rice bowls are comforting on a cold day, and the chicken katsu is crisp and succulent.
After lunch, visit the Japanese garden at the Four Rivers Cultural Center (676 SW 5th Ave., Ontario). The Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple (286 SE 4th Ave., Ontario), established by Japanese-Americans in the 1940s, hosts weekly services and an annual summertime obon festival where one can immerse oneself in Japanese dance, taiko drumming, and food. (more…)