Decades after Harry Yamauchi stashed a wad of Japanese yen in the wall of a downtown Pasco building, the recently uncovered bills were returned to the family.
Five of Yamauchi’s grandchildren were presented with the 695 bills — and a piece of their heritage — during Monday’s Pasco City Council meeting.
Police Chief Bob Metzger and Mayor Matt Watkins handed over the box, saying the money was well-preserved because it was hidden in the basement of 201 W. Lewis St. for a long time. The building had been owned by Yamauchi’s son, Charlie, from 1937 until the early 1970s.
“It’s been a surprise to us because as kids we played in that basement, hide-and-seek, and we had no idea,” said Roy Satoh of Pasco.
Contractor Ray Poland was demolishing the building in early December to make way for the Lewis Street Overpass when the stack of Japanese yen was found in an interior wall. That discovery came as they were moving an 8-by-9 foot mural earlier found during the project.
Yamauchi, who immigrated to Pasco in 1906 while working for the railroad, had painted the mural of what appears to be a seascape around 1951.
The money was dated around 1894 and many of the new bills are in sequential order. There is no value to the banknotes because after World War II, those bills were taken out of circulation and the country made new money, Satoh said.
He believes his grandfather got the money when he made a trip to visit family in Japan around 1933.
The Lewis Street building had been constructed for a bank, but then the crash of 1929 hit and Charlie Yamauchi saw it as an business opportunity. The first floor was used by a newspaper, while a majority of the Yamauchi clan at one time or another lived in what Satoh described as a boarding house on the second floor and a middle floor added between the two.
He told the Tri-City Herald that the Tri-City cousins — Brenda Kupfer of Kennewick, Gail Pittman of Pasco, and siblings Bruce Yamauchi of Richland and Linda Adkinson of Kennewick — were excited to finally have this family history in hand.
“It’s part of our ancestry and obviously grandpa had something in mind for it to secret it away, rather than put it in the mattress,” Satoh said.
Unfortunately, the answer to “Why?” died with Harry Yamauchi.
Adkinson said she can picture her grandfather stashing the money away at least 70 years ago.
“As most immigrants will tell you, back in the day when they first came to the United States to work, it was to send money back home,” she said. “And it also meant that maybe one day they could go back home and retire.”
The family has no immediate plans for the Japanese yen.
Satoh said they may split it up between family members, especially to those who have expressed interest in having some as a keepsake. They also would like to give some to the Franklin County Historical Society & Museum because it is a part of Pasco history as well. And they may work with collectors who may want to buy some banknotes.
A few dozen people with Occupy Tri-Cities filled the council chambers asking council members to work with them “in good faith” in the aftermath of Antonio Zambrano-Montes’ shooting death.
Antonio Valero of Pasco said they have tried to get placed on the “true agenda,” but have been denied repeatedly and instead must try to keep their comments to three minutes as a visitor.
“Remember all of you council are up there because of us. Our votes put you there,” he said. “Where are you now when your community needs you?”
Valero was speaking on behalf of Tri-Cities Community Solutions, what he described as a peaceful ad hoc justice advocacy group. He thanked Mayor Matt Watkins for attending their Saturday rally, but questioned why the others haven’t taken an active role since Zambrano-Montes was killed Feb. 10 by three Pasco police officers.
Valero said a coroner’s inquest should take place without a doubt and a Department of Justice investigation should not only be supported, but requested by city officials. He added that the group has no confidence in Chief Bob Metzger, and led protesters in a chant of “People stand up, chief step down.”
“We will continue our efforts to do the right thing, even though the wrong things are happening,” Valero said, noting that it is a human rights issue. “A win for one is a win for all.”