Home Community Voices VOICES: What is the UW Nikkei Alumni Association?

VOICES: What is the UW Nikkei Alumni Association?

By Kenichi (Ken) Sato For The North American Post

The University of Washington Nikkei Alumni Association (UWNAA) was originally known as the University Students Club, Inc. The Board of Trustees voted unanimously to make the change on June 7, 1999.

According to its records, the University Students Club was incorporated in 1922 and organized exclusively for charitable, educational and scientific purposes. As the enrollment of Japanese American students increased at the University of Washington (UW) during the first two decades of the twentieth century, the Japanese community foresaw a need to provide a dormitory for out-of-town students and a fraternity center for all students of Japanese ancestry. Greek Row (fraternity) membership was limited to whites only.

A drive was spearheaded by the Issei to solicit funds for this center. It focused on the entire Pacific Northwest although was not limited to it. The response was very gratifying as many donors contributed their hard-earned money to this worthwhile cause in large and small amounts. The culmination of this drive was the purchase of a two-story building with a basement, conveniently located across from the UW (Seattle) campus at 4115 15th Avenue NE. The first meeting of the incorporators of the University Students Club, Inc. was held at this address at noon on the 8th day of June, 1922.

Students near fireplace at the Japanese Students Club an earlier name for SYNKOA House the former home of the current UW Nikkei Alumni Association at the University of Washington ca 1941 Photo Densho UW Nikkei Alumni Association Collection

Although the center was occupied by male students, women students were welcome to enjoy the lounge facilities. Membership was open to all students, regardless of race, nationality, or religion. Each year, the center served its purpose adequately, but it was not until the end of World War II that the facilities of the center were utilized to their maximum capacity. With the influx of veterans to the UW campus, the center became a very popular and lively spot because of its relaxed atmosphere and convenient location.

Sketch of SYNKOA House by UWNAA

After the war, the clubhouse also took on a new identity as the SYNKOA House. The name SYNKOA was coined and commemorated in memory of former members who gave their lives in combat, with each letter representing the last name of a fallen veteran. In some cases, a letter represented more than one veteran.




Those commemorated were:

S = George Tatsuya Sawada, Frank Masao Shigemura

Y = George Yamaguchi, Hideo Heidi Yasui, Shigeo Yoshioka

N = William Kenzo Nakamura, Ban Ninomiya

K = Jero (Jiro) Kanetomi, Yoshio Kato, John Ryoji Kawaguchi, Francis T. Kinoshita

O = Takaaki Okazaki

A = Eugene Takasuke Amabe

As the years wore on, man and nature took their tolls on the House. Minor improvement and maintenance repairs were made throughout the years, but the time had come when major improvements became necessary.

A decision had to be made as to whether the building would be renovated or sold. After months of careful deliberations, the Board of Trustees decided to sell the House to the University of Washington and the sale was approved by the general membership in 1962.

Following the sale, considerable time was spent on how to use the funds. After much deliberation, the Board of Trustees decided to offer scholarships to students of Japanese ancestry attending the UW on a full-time basis. Through a very careful and wise investment program, the University Students Club was able to grant numerous scholarships while maintaining its original capital.

As scholarships were provided annually under the auspices of the University Students Club, Inc., it became more and more evident that changes had to be made. We continually had to explain who we were. We were not well-known since our name was too generic. Furthermore, none of our members were students anymore.

Accordingly, club members automatically became charter members of a renamed organization, the University of Washington Nikkei Alumni Association. Its membership is open to all UW graduates of Japanese heritage.

Ken Sato on the SYNKOA bench at Drumheller Fountain in 2017 The chemistry building is in the background Photo Justin Inahara

After the center was sold to the UW in 1962, it was demolished. The UW acquired the adjoining lots and completed construction of the Social Work, Speech and Hearing Sciences Building during the summer of 1980. The building houses classrooms, a library, clinics and laboratories. A plaque honoring the Issei who purchased the original House is installed in the new building. Another plaque is affixed to a concrete bench near the Drumheller Fountain on campus. Although students currently attending the UW can no longer enjoy the facilities at SYNKOA House, they can take comfort in the fact that fellow classmates are being aided.

And, contributors to the fund drive can rest assured that, although the House no longer exists as a student center, its proceeds are being used for a cause nearly parallel to that for which they were dedicated a century ago.

2022 UWNAA scholarship winners Oct 8 From left they are Noah Yamashita Gabriel Shen Mia Elsberry Kaitlyn Brunner and Kai Hubbell All are recent high school graduates Photo Harold Taniguchi

Additional information is online at: uwnikkeialumniassoc.org UW Office of Merit Scholarships, Fellowships and Awards

Text of Plaque in UW Social Work, Speech & Hearing Building


An ordinary house with a unique history occupied this site from 1922 to 1962. Known as the Japanese Students Club until 1942, then as SYNKOA from 1946 to 1962, the house stood as a symbol of the Issei pioneer’s dream to succeed in America.

For many, that dream included a university education, but adjustment to academic life was extremely difficult. Further, students of Japanese ancestry could not find adequate housing or a place to socialize and rejuvenate themselves close to the campus. The Issei from throughout the state met their need, contributing funds to purchase the house as the University Students Club, Inc.

Renamed SYNKOA (Each letter taken from the last names of club members who died in combat during World War II), the House continued to serve a vital need for housing and as a social center. By 1962, however, it was no longer needed and was sold to the University of Washington.

Funds from the sale continue the main goal of promoting university education. Annual scholarship awards are made to students of Japanese ancestry from a trust fund established with sale proceeds.Thank you, Issei pioneers, for THE HOUSE.U of W Alumni of Japanese Ancestry Presented October, 1983

Text of Plaque on UW SYNKOA Bench

Dedicated to the students of SYNKOA House, a University of Washington fraternal organization and residence between 1922-1961 for Japanese American students and others generally excluded by the Greek fraternity system because of race. The House was first named Japanese Students Club and later renamed “SYNKOA.” An acronym from the first letters of the last names of twelve former club members who gave their lives in World War II. SYNKOA House was located at 4115 15th Avenue NE, the present site of the Social Work, Speech and Hearing Sciences Building.

Presented by the University of Washington Nikkei Alumni Association formerly known as SYNKOA, September 2001, Ken Sato President

Ken Sato is a UW graduate. He was the president of SYNKOA/UWNAA for over 30 years. He most recently contributed “Candies Falling from the Sky,” napost.com, June 2022.