Historic Japanese Musher Becomes Cultural Bridge Between Japan and Alaska

By Carrie Cecil and Kevin Keeler

In its heyday during the Last Great American Gold Rush (1880 – 1920), thousands of people travelled along what is now recognized as the Iditarod National Historic Trail. Among the main users of the winter trail system were mail carriers. Clad in thick parkas and heavy fur mitts, these mail carriers relied on their dogsleds to help them make their deliveries. Mail carriers and their dogs were the heroes of the trail; they were a lifeline between the residents of remote Alaska communities and the “outside” world. Today, the efforts and accomplishments of these mushing mail carriers and the many other individuals that helped to shape the Iditarod trail continue to be celebrated.

Years of advocacy by Iditarod National Trail enthusiast to memorialize the records of historic Japanese musher Jurjiro Wada are resulting in growing bonds between the people of Alaska and Japan. Jujiro Wada was born in 1875 in a small town called Komatsu-cho in western Japan. Seeking new opportunities and adventures, Wada immigrated to California before eventually settling in Alaska where he became a talented dog musher. Wada was one of the early pioneers of the historic Iditarod Trail, helping to scout the route between Seward and the now ghost-town of Iditarod. He is also recognized for his role in the founding of the city of Fairbanks, Alaska.

 Bronze statue of Jujiro Wada, famous musher of the Iditarod historic trail, erected in the town ofSeward, Alaska. (Image provided by the Bureau of Land Management.)

Bronze statue of Jujiro Wada, famous musher of the Iditarod historic trail, erected in the town ofSeward, Alaska. (Image provided by the Bureau of Land Management.)

 In his home town and country, Wada is considered a hero for his exploits. A century later, the citizens and government of Seward, Alaska have become sister cities with Wada’s hometown, and have hosted a number of visiting foreign delegations. In 2016, a bronze statue of Wada, funded and forged from local donations, was dedicated to the town of Seward. The statue was unveiled during a public ceremony with local residents of Seward and Japanese visitors alike taking part in the festivities.

Later in 2016, NHK TV, a Tokyo based news station broadcast a short documentary on Wada and Alaskan efforts to memorialize him.