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

Part 9 Nisei Education in Japanese Schools, continued

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, continued

Editor’s notes.
Below we find Issei community leaders in 1918 grappling with the issue of what should be taught in Japanese schools to American-citizen Nisei children. The topic was timely, as anti-Japanese sentiment was building. Moreover, many families did not yet know whether they would remain in the US or return to Japan. Regarding Nisei education, the degree of West Coast and regional coordination and communication involved at the time was amazing but also made sense; education in Japan was nationally standardized, so the West Coast matched this model. At the same time, the Japanese-style of commonly referring to individuals only by their surnames was maddening, because while those described in the community endeavor may be the grandparents and great-grandparents of readers today, the latter cannot be certain of it.

The Tacoma Japanese Language School community, on the occasion of its 20th anniversary, August 1931. The photos above span about half of a superb panoramic photo on view in the permanent Japanese American exhibit at the Washington State Historical Museum, Tacoma.
Original photo: Marvin D. Boland. Copy photos above: David Yamaguchi

Opinions on Japanese Schools “Some Things I Have in Mind”

“The North American Times” president Sumikiyo Arima, who gave a speech at the opening ceremony of the Bellevue Japanese School, discussed it in the column, “Some Things I Have in Mind” (NAT, Apr. 8, 1918).

“Though we are 100% Japanese, our descendants are American citizens. Because they are citizens, their education should primarily be based on the American one and their Japanese education should be limited to instruction in the Japanese language. For children born in the United States with US citizenship and receiving US educations, we should not immerse them in the nationalism of Japan or in Japanese education. Once other Americans find out about it, they will object to Japanese schools for certain and further try to ostracize the Japanese as a race which is absolutely incapable of assimilating. With that said, Japanese schools should be aimed at fostering good-natured people, and teaching just the language at the same time would be enough to fulfill its purpose. In other words, they only need to teach children that they should follow ethics, love others, respect justice and contribute to society. That way, those young kids will become kind-hearted US citizens, if they grow up in America, and be loyal Japanese citizens, if they return to Japan and live their lives there.”

During World War I, when this article was written, America as a society was at its peak in pushing for the Americanization of all foreigners in the country. Arima is emphasizing the importance of operating Japanese schools in a way that would help the Nisei adapt to American society.

Principal of Japanese School, Manro Senoo, “Taking the Job at Portland Japanese School” (NAT, Jan. 1, 1919)

This article was written at the request of Sumiyoshi Arima, chief of the Portland branch of “The North American Times,” quoting Principal Senoo’s opinion on Japanese schools.

“Japanese schools are designed and planned in each region. Abiding by conventions and seeking to meet the expectations of the times, the plan is for the betterment of the future, as they balance out the requests of parents or those of experts. Accordingly, the “US-dominant, Japan-subdominant” principle is the fundamental principle of our Japanese school. As this is the core philosophy, the purpose of Japanese schools is to teach ‘the language of Japan’ and nothing more.”

“Problem of Textbooks” (NAT, Feb. 13, 1919)

“There has been discussion on the need for textbook editing and compilation at the Seattle Japanese School. After a series of meetings and discussions by the educational affairs committee, and with the opinions of teachers at Japanese schools in different parts of Washington State as well as those of board members of the schools, a final decision was made to carry out the work collectively. A meeting was held two days ago at the Jitsugyo Club (business club) and was expected to be attended by representatives from 15 schools in the state, but the actual attendants were from eight schools: Uemura (Spokane), Makiyama, Yamashita (Kent), Sumiyoshi (Winslow), Yamagiwa (Bellevue), Kinoshita, Oikawa (Fife), Tomosada (Aurora), Kakihara (Port Bradley), and Kumagai (Green Lake).

Representing the Seattle Japanese School were Principal Takabatake and six teachers: Chairperson of the Maintainance Committee Ito, Director of Educational Affairs Akiyoshi, and four members of the Educational Affairs department, Amano, Hashiguchi, Nagai and Tsuchiya. They held a roundtable discussion with Ito as moderator.

Akiyoshi explained that the West Coast committee has been looking into this matter since last year. Given the fact that schools in San Francisco and Los Angeles have already started working on the editing, people in each region are recognizing the need to either modify or newly edit their textbooks — and that the time has now come to take such action.

Principal Takabatake pointed out that some parts of the textbooks designated by the Japanese Ministry of Education are inappropriate and that some parts are too difficult for children to comprehend.

The next agenda item was to seek opinions of the six schools that did not attend the meeting and make a final decision by majority vote of the Japanese School Educational Affairs Committee. They also decided to ask for donations from the community for the editing expenses and to hold an annual roundtable meeting of people involved in the state’s Japanese schools starting this year.”

The article showed the push to change the textbooks used in the U.S. from the ones used in Japan to new textbooks to promote Americanization. According to some sources, the new textbook series comprised eight volumes, “Nihongo dokuhon” (Japanese Reader), published during 1920 to 1927. Mr. Takabatake was presumably the chief editor of this project and the series was called the “Takabatake Edition.”

Kotaro Takabatake, Principal of Seattle Japanese School

This article introduced Kotaro Takabatake, the principal of the Seattle Japanese School.

“One Person a Day,” Kotaro Takabatake  (NAT, Feb. 18, 1919).

“The chairperson of Fukuoka Kenjinkai and principal of the Japanese school gives the impression of someone with an artistically-free mind, as he is well-skilled in writing haiku poems, using Tanei as his pen name. He worked as a writer for “The North American Times.” He has written for the “Asahi” newspaper as well and currently writes for “Taihoku Nippo.” He job-hopped in the news publishing industry yet has stuck to being a schoolteacher for a long time, as in the expression, “10 years, 1 day” (meaning to spend a long time without much change, as if to repeat the same day for 10 years). Being a man of few words, he doesn’t seem to know how to get to things quickly, but he is the exact type that gets things done in a smart way.”

Kotaro Takabatake served as principal of the Seattle Japanese Language School from 1909 to 1928 and greatly contributed to the operation of West Coast Japanese schools.

Tokyo School Principals Visit Seattle in a US Observation Group

“Tokyo Principals in a US Observation Group”  (NAT, Jan. 10, 1919)

“Arriving in San Francisco last October by Shunyo-maru with the delegates of Yamashina Jitsugyo, 16 school principals (names listed) with the exception of Moriya, the leader, arrived in Seattle yesterday via St. Paul as a US observation group of principals of Tokyo elementary schools. Their aim was to observe schools in various parts of the West and study the educational system. Led by the principal of Seattle Japanese School Takabatake and by Nagajima, the secretary of the Nihonjin-kai (Japanese Association), they visited the main school first yesterday on January 9. In a receptive mood, they observed classes. In the afternoon, they visited the educational department of the Consulate as well as other well-known public elementary schools.”

to be continued April 14

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.”