Home History History of Seattle Nikkei Immigrants from “The North American Times” Part 9 Nisei Education in Japanese Schools

Part 9 Nisei Education in Japanese Schools

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 9 Nisei Education in Japanese Schools

Many Nisei were born as a result of picture marriages, which I wrote about in the last chapter of this series (napost.com, Oct. – Dec. 2022). Providing Japanese education for America-born children thus became an important mission of the Japanese community in Seattle. In this chapter, I will write about the Seattle Japanese School that was founded for the Japanese language education of the Nisei.

The Seattle Japanese Language School Maynard Avenue 1908

Establishment of Seattle Japanese School

In 1902, the Seattle Nihonjin-kai (Japanese Association) established the “Seattle Nihonjin-kai affiliated elementary school” as the first Japanese school in North America. In the beginning, there were four students and one teacher. The school changed its name to “Seattle Japanese Language School” in 1908. The school was first run in the Nihonjin-kai’s building, possibly the one on Maynard Avenue above, and later moved to the basement of Seattle Buddhist Church. As the number of students increased, a new schoolhouse was built on Weller Street in 1912. The new building commanded a magnificent view of Mount Rainier from its second-floor window. This schoolhouse exists to this day as the main building of the Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Washington (jcccw.org).

the newly built school at 1212 S Weller 1913 Note staircase still under construction The student body would soon outgrow this space as well necessitating an addition<br >Left photo by S Kikoshima Both photos courtesy of jcccworg

Construction of Building Extension

At the end of 1917, a building extension involving the addition of four more classrooms on the east side of the first building was mapped out. The following is an article on this construction.

“Building Extension Committee”
(“The North American Times,” Jan. 8, 1918).

“The plans for the construction of the Japanese School extension are to be completed in the next 10 days or so. As chairperson Heiji Okuda and committee member Manpei Miyagawa will be returning home soon, the committee held various discussions yesterday at the Jitsugyo Club (business club). The donations so far have reached $6,789.10 and additional donations of $1,300 to $1,400 will be enough to get the project done. It was decided that once those two members return, the contract for the new building should be finalized by vice president Chuzaburo Ito and other current members without the need for additional members. Afterwards, the accounting report was submitted. In the end, the meeting was dismissed with the decision that both collection-chief Jiro Iwamura and his assistant will finish up the remaining tasks after January without pay.”

As we can see, the expansion of the Japanese School was made possible by donations from the Seattle Japanese community. The total donations were about $8,100, valued at about 16 million yen today ($123,184). The accounting tasks were handled by volunteers as well, showing how much dedication the Issei had for the education of their America-born children.

“Arts Festival at Japanese School, Opening Ceremony After Building Extension”
(NAT, May 11, 1918). ”

An exhibition of student artwork and the opening ceremony for the building extension will be held at the Japanese School tomorrow, Sunday, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The ceremony will start at 3 p.m. in the schoolyard, led by master of ceremony and principal Kotaro Takabatake.

“The ceremony will consist of the following: Greetings by MC. Singing of “Kimigayo” (national anthem of Japan) by all students. Report of academic affairs by the principal. Accounting report on building extension by building extension committee member Iwamura. Congratulatory speech by Director of Educational Affairs Department Akiyoshi, followed by Consul Matsunaga. Acknowledgments by chairperson Ito. Singing of the US national anthem by all students.”

What is surprising about this program is that the students sang the Japanese national anthem, “Kimigayo,” first and America’s national anthem at the end. Most attended public schools on weekdays, like most other Americans, and studied at the Japanese School after that. Nisei children were thus placed in a hectic environment where they received both American and Japanese educations at the same time. In those days, the Nikkei community was leaning more toward “Americanizing” themselves and were trying to raise their Nisei children in a way that would meet the expectations and goals of both countries.

The January 1, 1920 issue has a group photo of the students in front of the school building.

“Committee for Maintaining Japanese School”

As the Japanese school became independent from the Nihonjin-kai, it was maintained and administered by the Committee for Maintaining the Japanese School. The school was operated by membership fees and donations. Here is an article on a general meeting of this group.

“General Meeting of the Committee”
(NAT, Feb. 26, 1920).“

A brief meeting of the Committee for Maintaining the Japanese School was held last night at the Jitsugyo Club. A number of topics were discussed and voted on, such as the printing of graduation certificates, keeping the staff for cleaning classrooms, plans to hold a general meeting on March 4 to decide on increasing the membership fees of parents, as well as renaming the after-school session as a higher department. For reference, the average spending on one student at the school last year was $2.30 a month.”

The monthly educational expense of $2.30 would be equivalent to about 5,000 yen ($38) today. According to some sources, the school had 187 students in 1919, and the total expenses of the school were $5,161 a year. This is worth about 10 million yen today ($674,000).

Graduation Ceremony

“Graduation Ceremony at the Japanese School”
(NAT, Mar. 25, 1918).

“The 10th graduation ceremony of the Japanese School was held yesterday at 1 p.m. in the Nippon-kan (a Japanese theater on Main Street), with eight boys and six girls graduating. The ceremony began with principal Takabatake’s greeting speech and carried out solemnly. The gifts distributed to each student in attendance were donated by Furuya-shoten (the Furuya Store), Toyo Boueki (trading), Seattle Shokin Bank, Nichibei-nakagai, and Hiraide-shoten. The names of current students from grades 1 to 8 who won first prize (four students), second prize (15 students) and special prizes (30 students) were posted. At 12:30 p.m., a commemorative photo was taken at the school and Mrs. Furuya handed congratulatory gifts to all graduates.”

Bellevue Japanese School

The “North American Times” published an article on the opening ceremony of the newly built Bellevue Japanese School.

“Opening Ceremony of Bellevue Japanese School”
(NAT, Apr. 8, 1918).

“With over 20 school-age children, the decision was made to open a Japanese school in Bellevue Village. Appointing Mrs. Okamura as a teacher, the opening ceremony of the school was held yesterday. Among the guests were Nihonjin-kai secretary Nakajima, Nakamura, Toshikichi Kanbe from Taihoku Nippo (a competitor of the NAT), as well as Arima and some others from the (Seattle language-school) headquarters. Director Matsuzawa led the ceremony as MC, Keikichi Yamagiwa read the Imperial rescript with solemnity, and Arima, Nakamura, Nakajima, and Ryuzaki gave congratulatory messages and speeches. The ceremony was followed by a reception with some treats and tea, where people enjoyed themselves very much. Suda, who is from the same village (Bellevue), invited some guests from Seattle to his house and welcomed them warmly with lunch. By the way, Mrs. Okamura is from Osumi, Kagoshima and was engaged in elementary education for a long time in her hometown.”

to be continued March 10


●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 readers will appreciate this review of original reporting on the start and administration of Seattle-area Japanese Language Schools.

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.”