This hand tool was used by workers at a Chinese laundry located on NW 3rd Avenue, just one block away from JAMO’s old location in the Merchant Hotel Building on NW 2nd Avenue. The laundry had been closed for many years, and the building was vacant and inactive. Eventually there was something like an estate sale, and this object was found among ordinary junk that was left from the laundry over the years. It stood out because it looked homemade, one of a kind, and clearly improvised from parts of tools meant for other uses.
The item is a clothes sprinkler used to moisten washed and dried laundry for ironing. It was from times before electric steam irons and long before wash-and-dry clothes.
It became a perfect artifact to go along with the museum’s display on Japanese family laundries that operated in the Merchant Hotel Building and other parts of Portland. We tagged it “What’s This?” It was a simple but perfect conversation starter for visitors, especially the young, to pose inquiries about life and work in generations past.
The item also has other meaningful connections to JAMO. The laundry was owned by May Oka’s mother, Kai Yung Wong. May and Shig Oka have been active members of the Chinese and Japanese American communities and supporters of JAMO. It is a privilege for us to be able to find an artifact that connected our museum to our friends and their families with shared histories in the neighborhood.
-June Arima Schumann
As part of the 25 for 25 project, the Japanese American Museum of Oregon reached out to some of the people who have worked closely with the collection to choose an object that stood out to them in their time here at the museum. June Schumann was the Executive Director from 1998-2008.