Making a Home in Douglas County

By Karen Larsen
Empire Press Correspondent

This is the fourth in a series of articles about people who have come to Douglas County from places near and far and have thrived here. Some came through marriage, some have retired here and some are young couples who have found this to be their place of choice for raising children. All have become active in the life of the community and have come to call this home. The fourth article is about Naoko Hinderer, who moved to Waterville from Tokyo, Japan in 2005.


Tokyo transplant finds ways to blossom in Waterville


Naoko Hinderer with husband Garth, son Asa and daughter May, in front of the Hinderer barn. Not present for the photo is the Hinderers’ oldest daughter Hana. (Empire Press photo/Karen Larsen)

When Naoko Hinderer first came to live in Waterville with her new husband Garth, she didn’t expect she would have any adjustment problems. Though she was from Tokyo — a busy world-class city of almost 10 million people — and she was coming to an American farming town with a population of just over 1,000, her mind was in newlywed mode. What more could she need but Garth?

After settling down here, she was in shock by how difficult the actual transition was.

Garth helped her find a job as a dog groomer with Club Pet at the Wenatchee Valley Humane Society. It helped to get out of the house each day, but her English was limited and she didn’t know how to make friends in this country. When she got home from work, most everything in Waterville was closed.

She often found herself on the phone with her sister, mother or a Japanese friend that she had met while living as an exchange student in Toronto.

Garth’s father Paul and mother Lois often got together with Paul’s brothers, John and Mark, and John’s family, which included his wife Rosemarie who was from Germany. Naoko found the gatherings stressful at first. Her English, especially conversational and listening skills, were still quite limited. When people started conversations with her, she would look to Garth to help her understand and answer.

Naoko saw how fluently Rosemarie could speak English and she told Garth, “I can’t speak like Rosemarie.”

At the same time that she felt limited by her language skills, she also felt sensitive to how other people treated her. They usually limited their conversation with her to simple subjects, almost as they may talk to a child. This made her feel like she had lost her identity as an adult.

A breakthrough came for Naoko when she met her first American friend other than Garth. This was Karen Hartman, now Karen Hohenthal, who also worked at Club Pet.

The two would chat together after work and when Hohenthal got married, she invited Naoko to the wedding. Though Hohenthal has moved out of the area, the two still keep in touch regularly.

After working at Club Pet for three years, Naoko became pregnant with her first child, Hana. She often had to lift heavy dogs for her job at Club Pet, so she decided to stop working until after Hana was born.

Naoko began to make some friends and connections and as she did, her English improved. However, she missed the chance to speak Japanese on a daily basis.

For this reason and also because she couldn’t envision her children not speaking Japanese, she resolved to speak with them always in her native language. Naoko has kept this resolve and her children — which now include May, 7, and Asa, 5 — are comfortable in both Japanese and English.

Later, Naoko would meet Japanese friends in North Central Washington and find more chances to speak her native language.

In 2014, she was offered a job as the area coordinator for World Heritage, an organization which places exchange students. The job gave her opportunities to interact with a variety of people and helped her to become more outgoing. She worked in this job for two years.

When Hana reached school age, new connections and friendships opened up with mothers of Hana’s classmates. Naoko began to feel at home in Waterville.

As her children grew older, Naoko discovered one of her great passions in life — soap making. She has been running Field Moon Handmade Soap as a business for the past two years. She loves the chance that soap making gives her to express her creativity. She often incorporates Japanese culture in her soap products through special ingredients like green tea, rice bran and bamboo charcoal; through the promotion of foaming nets for creating lather; and through packaging and products that are distinctively Japanese in their beauty and attention to detail.

She enjoys the way that selling the soap locally and at a variety of fairs and markets widens her social circle.

Naoko has also found her soap making to be a way that she can help others. She has donated some of her proceeds to the Brave Warrior Project, which helps children with illness or special needs in small communities; to Beyond Type 1, an organization that works to educate and advocate for a cure to Type 1 diabetes; and to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. This year she donated some soap to Haven of Hope, a women’s and children’s shelter in Wenatchee. In addition, she has donated soap for raffles for a number of community organizations.

In 2015, the Hinderers moved into the farmhouse just west of Waterville where Garth grew up. They have land now and the famous “Dr. Pierce’s Anuric” barn. They took advantage of this space recently by acquiring two cows.

The soap making business, the larger property and the cows are all a part of her life that would never have been possible if Naoko had stayed in Tokyo.

She has now found that her life in Waterville is busy and full. Through it all, she has discovered ways to maintain her own cultural heritage and language.

“I live in Waterville, I live in the United States, but I still want to be Japanese, too,” Naoko said.