OLDEN DAYS OF THE NORTH AMERICAN POST
A Former Paperboy’s Memories of the NAP
By Shokichi “Shox” Tokita For The North American Post
Delivering the North American Post (NAP, or “Hokubei Hochi”) newspaper around the Chinatown area was an unexpected boon for me and my family during the 1949 to approximately 1957 period. My father passed away in October 1948 leaving my mother, Haruko Tokita, age 41, with eight children, ages two to 14. I was the 14-year-old and needed to help Mom in as many ways as I could; so having a paying newspaper route was very helpful although the pay was minimal.
A friend of mine, Jack Toichi Ichikawa, approached me and offered me a job delivering the NAP around the Chinatown area since I lived there. However, I was initially reluctant because I had had a Seattle Times paper route previously. I disliked the size of the paper and its delivery every day of the week, especially on Sundays, with over 100 pages. I also had to collect money from the subscribers. They not only moved out on me without paying; some paid only a fraction of the monthly cost, such as 25 cents per week. And I had to pay the Seattle Times for the full cost of each subscription from the amount I collected. However, Jack contradicted everything I complained about.
He stated the NAP consisted of four spread pages, folded three times to notebook size. Delivery was only Monday through Saturday. No collections were required from the subscribers and the pay was $30 per month. I was skeptical and asked to go meet someone from the paper who could verify what Jack told me. So, he took me to the office located on Fifth Avenue around the corner from the old Uwajimaya. In fact, it was in the same building; it might have been a rental from Uwajimaya since Mr. [Fujimatsu] Moriguchi was quite a business man.
We met with a lady named Massie [Masako] Tomita, whom I had met previously because she was the older sister of a friend of mine, Kaz [Kazuo] Yutani. She verified everything Jack told me. When she heard that I had delivered the Seattle Times previously and found out that I lived in Chinatown, she hired me without my consent. I must have looked quite interested at the time and she simply assumed I would take the job. In fact, Massie was the delivery gang’s sole contact at the newspaper.
The newspaper office and the printing machine were not located together. Although the entrance to both was the same, the newspaper office was just to the left through another doorway. The printing machine was located in the basement and the stairs to it were straight down.
The delivery gang was asked to stay and wait outside until the papers we were to deliver were all printed. However, on rainy and snowy days we were allowed to wait in the stairwell. As a result, we had very little contact with the newspaper staff other than Massie. There were about half a dozen staff, all men, none of whom did anything special for us, like provide treats.
The office itself was quite plain without much adornment or luxury. A large counter separated the entryway from the desks where the employees were situated. It was typical of the other Japanese-American offices in the area, commonly known as Japantown. The office workers all wore coats and ties and from my infrequent observations, were quite business-like and reserved.
The printing room downstairs was strictly an undecorated, cement-walled basement with a minimum of office amenities. The machine was run by Mr. [Hideo] Mori, an older, rough, tough individual who seemed to really know his business. On occasion, we would meander into the printing room when there was a printing problem and a change needed to be made in the paper to be delivered that day. I would watch him remove a tiny metal type about 2 inches long with a Japanese or English letter or character on its end and pick out another from a stash of others. Then he would replace the first one in the printing tray, return the tray to the press, and get the loud, clanking, whirring, noisy machine going again. That’s when he would wipe off his hand with a rag he was holding the whole time. My impression was that I would not have the patience to perform that type of work at all.
Normally, when we boys went downstairs to the press room, our papers were stacked by name. We each took our stacks to one of several open tables to start folding them. We all became quite proficient so that it wouldn’t take much more than about ten minutes to get them all folded before we headed out the door to get started on our respective routes. Initially, Massie had a list of subscribers which we followed, but it didn’t take long to memorize the delivery route.
My route was in the heart of Chinatown, bordered by Fifth Avenue to the west, Jackson Street to the north, 10th Avenue on the east, and Dearborn to the south. It consisted of businesses as well as residents, so it was quite interesting. A number of my subscribers I already knew, but got to know the rest as time went on. The area I delivered to looks much the same as it does now. It wasn’t “splashy clean” but rather “lived in.” There were the hotels, bars, restaurants, liquor stores, and drunks. However, because I lived there, it didn’t bother me at all. The butchery of chickens for restaurants always took place in the alleys, so that aspect of living in Chinatown was also not offensive. I used to watch chickens being prepared for eating in the Minidoka concentration camp, so that didn’t bother me either.
Overall, delivering the NAP was a real help to me and my family during that period. It allowed me to help my mom somewhat financially because I could pay for my own needs and give her the leftovers. Not only that, but after two years, two of my brothers took over the route. Then later again, the youngest two brothers took over from them, so that all five us delivered the paper. It helped that we were “gainfully employed” during a difficult period for mom. Eventually, she was able to purchase an apartment on 22nd and Main Street, so the paper route was passed onto someone else.
“Shox” Tokita is a retired career U.S. Air Force navigator and Vietnam veteran who enjoys working out regularly, like playing pickle ball, when gathering in gyms is allowed. His present plans include submitting articles periodically to the NAP, for which he retains “a soft spot.”
Editor’s notes. As the content of the NAP was mostly in Japanese during the late 1940s-1950s, all of its workers must have been Issei men, except for Nisei Massie Tomita. Their “stinginess” with the paperboys and the barrenness of the NAP offices reflect the post-war poverty of the Seattle JA community.
During 1947-1955, an excellent English-language Seattle Japanese-community newspaper, “The Northwest Times,” was published independently by editor Budd Fukei as “the only all English Newspaper for Nisei in the Pacific Northwest.” High-resolution images of it are available online at the Library of Congress.
Shokichi Tokita is father of current Japanese Community and Cultural Center of Washington (JCCCW) Board Executive Kurt Tokita.