Home History History of Seattle Nikkei Immigrants from “The North American Times” Part 8 Picture-Bride Marriages on the Rise, concluded

Part 8 Picture-Bride Marriages on the Rise, concluded

History of Seattle Nikkei Immigrants from ‘The North American Times’

This series explores the history of the pre-war Japanese community in Seattle, by reviewing articles in “The North American Times,” which have been digitally archived by the University of Washington and Hokubei Hochi Foundation (hokubeihochi.org/digital-archive). Publication of this series is a joint project with discovernikkei.org.

By Ikuo Shinmasu
Translation by Mina Otsuka For The North American Post

‘The North American Times’ was first printed on September 1, 1902, by publisher Kiyoshi Kumamoto from Kagoshima, Kyushu. At its peak, it had a daily circulation of about 9,000 copies, with correspondents in Spokane, Vancouver BC, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Tokyo. When World War II started, Sumio Arima, the publisher at the time, was arrested by the FBI. The paper was discontinued on March 14, 1942, when the incarceration of Japanese American families began. After the war, the paper was revived as “The North American Post.”

Part 8 Picture-Bride Marriages on the Rise, concluded

*Continues from Nov. 11 issue

“Certificate of Picture Marriage Finally Meets Its End”
(NAT, Dec. 18, 1919, p. 3)

“The announcement seems to imply that those needing to have a picture marriage should get everything done to complete the process before the due date as soon as possible. Picture marriages will definitely be prohibited after February 25. The fact that young and mature men will miss the most opportune time of marriage due to strict adherence to the new ordinance is greatly regretted, considering the impact it will have on the future of our people. Many experts say that it is because of the inconsistency of the (Japanese) Ministry of Foreign Affairs that the government officials voluntarily relinquished the privilege of being able to use picture marriage, which was opposed to by U.S. authorities, but people will now be obliged to follow the order of the ministry regarding this matter. Some residents who have heard the news suggested that they form a “tourist party for cherry blossom viewing in their home country.” Given that the conventional tourist party is already considered a way to pick up wives (NAP, Oct. 14), the idea of organizing a sightseeing party disguised as cherry blossom viewing, should be understood as a product of the times and its solution. Yet they still have to find their wives within one month of their stay in the country. We feel sorry for the men who have reached maturity whose lives are impacted by the decision.”

Young woman in 1908 Japan<br >Photo Arnold Genthe Library of Congress via flashbackcom

“Last Day for Picture Marriage Certificate”
(NAT, Jan. 26, 1920)

“Since the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ordered the termination of picture marriages, the number of people trying to apply for the certificate before the termination date has skyrocketed. This has made the Consulate as well as the Nihonjin-kai extremely busy. As the last shipment of paper documents to arrive before the termination leaves tomorrow on Fushimi-maru, the Consulate adopted simple processing, without copies of family registries. But they were nonetheless swamped for the last few days. After today, only telegram certificates will be accepted for the next ten days.”


“Rapid Increase in the Number of Travelers”
(NAT, March 2, 1920)

“Last year (1919), a total of 30,000 people received their passports from the authorities and went abroad from Yokohama, which was about 15,000 more than the year before. Among them, most traveled to the U.S. while only 500 went to South America. This is partly because the US economy is doing better, compared to other countries. The ban on immigration derived from picture marriages, where applications were due February 25 and which became effective yesterday, also led to the sudden increase in the number of travelers. Last December alone recorded 3,000 immigrants and 89 non-immigrants, including those who went abroad for educational observation. January had 493 immigrants sent by Kashima-maru and Fushimi-maru of YKK Shipping and by Chicago-maru of Shosen (merchant shipping). About 400 also traveled by Kiyo-maru and Shunyo-maru of Toyo-kisen (Pacific Shipping). February saw 1,026 travelers sent by various ships. The number of travelers from picture marriages, which had been 44-45 monthly, almost doubled since the announcement of its abolishment. The number who will receive their passports before the effective date of the abolishment is expected to reach 270.”

In summary, during 1906 to 1920, the number of people moving from Japan to America increased largely because the Gentlemen’s Agreement which intended to reduce Japanese immigration allowed immigrants to call over their parents, spouses and children and to have women come to America as picture brides. The graph (Part 8b)shows the number of people who entered and left America since July 1918. More people entered than left every month. In particular, a great number of women ventured to the States, many of whom were picture brides. Thus, many single men who first went to America as migrant workers were able to start families, and thereby, establish a foundation in the country through picture marriages. Many Nisei children were born.

My grandfather Yoemon was also married this way to Aki in 1911, ran a barbershop business with her, and made quite a fortune.

In the next chapter, I will introduce articles about Japanese schools that provided education for Nisei.


●Renraku (connecting) Nihonjin-kai of Northwest America, “Brief History of the Japanese in Northwest America,” 1923.
●“Hokubei Nenkan,” Hokubei Jijisha, 1928.
●Masako Iino, “Another History of the Japan-US Relationship.” Yuhikaku Publishing, 2000.

Editor’s notes.

Many Japanese-American history books have pointed out that historical comparisons of Nisei birthrates with those of white populations (Nov. 11 issue) were “apples to oranges” comparisons between young immigrant groups versus older overall US populations. The same arguments continue to be made today about Hispanic Americans.

Ikuo Shinmasu retired in 2015 from Air Liquide Japan Ltd., then researched his grandfather who migrated to Seattle. He shared his findings through the series, “Yoemon Shinmasu – My Grandfather’s Life in Seattle,” in the NAP and in “Discover Nikkei” in Japanese and English during 2019-2020. He lives in Zushi, Kanagawa, with his wife and son.

Mina Otsuka is a freelance translator for “Discover Nikkei.”