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, concluded
Continues from March 10
We last left off (napost.com) with a group of 16 Japanese elementary school principals observing schools in the United States. In Seattle, they also visited the Seattle Japanese Language School (“North American Times,” Jan. 10, 1919). Below we continue with related editorial columns in the same NAT issue.
“Notes on What Was Observed”
“It used to be that a group of elementary school principals from Japan would skip the Northwest when prioritizing their destinations because they would not have any knowledge of Seattle. In Japan, few people know about Seattle, but having seen the unexpected progress and growth of peer schools here, they seemed quite surprised this time.
“Everything they see is new to them. It’s very pleasant to see Japanese children in the US in great shape and full of energy, which is something they cannot overlook. In contrast with students in Japan, who look pale and are in poor health, children in America growing up in great condition must deeply touch their hearts and provoke envy. Seeing the hardships that people experienced and the challenges they overcame to make the education of their future generations possible, those who work in the same field in Japan must feel sympathetic to what their peers in America are going through. We also have great respect for all of you peers (Japanese principals) who work hard for your fellow Japanese residents and for the nation of Japan.”
“What We’ve Seen and Heard”
“Principals from Japan were amazed by the heating facilities in the United States. In Japan, they only have (charcoal) braziers; teachers would tell students, ‘You can’t be true grownups if you can’t put up with this cold,’ although the teachers themselves are shivering, too.
“Sources that reported on this visit from Japan revealed that the observation group, after visiting the Seattle Japanese School, was surprised to learn that the building of the schoolhouse was made possible by donations from many and that the school was fully equipped with supplies such as desks and stools. Tokunosuke Miyazaki from ‘The North American Times’ visited the hotel where the group was staying and handed the “Hokubei Nenkan” (“North American Annual”) to everyone, all of whom welcomed it.
“Seattle Japanese School After 1934”
There are many articles on the thriving of the Japanese school, beginning in 1934 when the Nisei generation age-wave, which began about 1910 and peaked about 1920, crested through the school. (A graph of the wave is in “A second look at the Ireizo,” napost.com).
“Night Class at Japanese School” (NAT, Dec. 1, 1934)
“Japanese School to start a night class from 8 to 9 pm once a week for high school graduates.”
At the time, being bilingual was an important job skill for Nisei, for few mainstream employers would give them jobs. Accordingly, they needed to be able to work in the Seattle Japanese community.
“Teachers Meetup” (NAT, Oct. 17, 1935)
“The 14th Northwestern teachers meetup will be held on November 14th in Seattle.”
“Appreciating the Work of Patrol Officers at Japanese School”
(NAT, Dec. 22, 1938)
“A gathering was held to appreciate the work of patrol officers who help ensure traffic safety for the 1,200 students of the Seattle Japanese School who commute to school in the evening in the cold winter.”
Graduation Ceremony of Japanese School
“Japanese School Graduation Ceremony” (NAT, Mar. 26, 1938)
“A graduation ceremony for the Japanese School will be held tomorrow on the 27th in the Nippon-Kan (Japanese Hall). There will be 129 graduates from the elementary department and one graduate from the junior high department. Among all graduates, the names of 25 honors students (eight boys and 17 girls) were posted.”
“End-of-Year Ceremony and Graduation Ceremony of Japanese School”
(NAT, Mar. 25, 1939)
“This year there were 137 graduates from the elementary department and seven graduates from the junior high department. Two female students from the junior high department received the 10-year perfect attendance award.”
“The 32nd Graduation Ceremony” (NAT, Mar. 30, 1940)
“There was a total of 127 graduates, 118 of whom were from the elementary department and 9 from the junior high department. Among them, the names of 28 honor students (five boys and 23 girls) from the elementary department, five honor students (one boy and four girls) from the junior high department, and 19 students who achieved perfect attendance were posted.”
It might come as a surprise that there were many more female honor students than male in any year. The number of graduates around 1920 was a little over ten but the number grew to 144 by the year 1939.
Yoriaki Nakagawa, Principal of Seattle Japanese School
According to sources, Mr. Yoriaki Nakagawa started teaching at the Seattle Japanese School in 1925 while attending the University of Washington. He became the principal in 1929 and continued to support the school until the FBI arrested him on December 7, 1941.
“The Japanese School March” (NAT, July 12, 1938)
“Principal Yoriaki Nakagawa wrote the lyrics to the “Japanese School March,” so the writing of music was requested of Yoshinori Matsuyama at the gathering of supporters. They began practicing at the start of summer school and recorded it…. The lyrics of the march are on the left.
Looking up to the fluttering star-spangled banner
The stars that show the freedom and loyalty of citizens at the heart
Our flag that sits at the top of the world.
According to some sources, the school took advantage of the opportunity of composer Matsuyama visiting the school. (See Greg Robinson, “Yoshinori Matsuyama: A Transnational Japanese Tenor and Composer in America, Parts 1-2,” 2022, discovernikkei.org). They asked him to add music to the lyrics and he also gave some vocal lessons. Students became familiar with this march, and it was sung many times at graduation ceremonies and on Sports Days (athletic meets). In the October 14, 1938 issue, the “The North American Times” reported that the Japanese School March was spiritedly sung at the Japanese School Arts Festival.
Japanese School Sports Day
The Sports Day that was held every summer was a big event that almost all Japanese residents in Seattle participated in.
“Sports Day at the Japanese School” (NAT, May 31, 1938)
“Under a rainy sky that cleared right before lunchtime, the Japanese School held its Sports Day on this past 29th, starting at 11 a.m. at Jefferson Park, with the dignified sound of a horn giving the opening cue. They finished all races of students up to fifth grade and also had various activities after lunch, such as hikouki-otoshi (dropping airplanes), Olympic relays, games and choral singing. The day was closed by the principal’s speech at 5 p.m. It was a chilly day with wind and rain, but the playground was filled with parents.” (The photo — taken by Karwin — shows the parents of students watching races.)
We can see that although studying under the strict environment of American public schools and learning Japanese at Japanese school(s), the Nisei worked hard, obtaining educations that would later help them guide the post-war Nikkei community in Seattle. The Seattle Japanese Language School continues today, in its original buildings, as a program within the larger-missioned Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Washington. The community center is used by many today as a place to learn and share Japanese culture.
In the next chapter, I will introduce articles addressing the issue of dual citizenship of Nisei as well as their marriages.
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.”