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Part 11 Nisei and Their College Educations〜History of Seattle Nikkei Immigrants from ‘The North American Times’

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 11 Nisei and Their College Educations

In the last chapter (Part 10, napost.com, May – September 2023) , I wrote about the topics problem of Nisei’s dual citizenship and their marriage. This chapter shares The
North American Times articles 1 about colleges that Nisei attended. Many Niseis went to college, which is a higher educational institution in America. They learned and acquired
state-of-the-art technology and knowledge in hopes of later being able to contribute to the Nikkei community.

We can find the history of the University of Washington in an article,“The UW and Japanese Students,” written by Shoji Okamaru (North American Times, January. 1, 1939), who himself was a UW student at that time.

“The UW was established in 1861, a quarter of a century earlier than Tokyo Imperial University. It kept growing and now is a well-known school in the country. It boasts having 12,000 students on its 550 acres of campus with its gorgeously beautiful design exemplified in the Gothic-style building, which is said to have cost at least 15 million dollars.,” the article said., continuing, “The UW is known for the nickname ‘Huskies,’ and it is a well-known fact that they won the gold medal in rowing at the Berlin Olympics.”

The UW campus was the venue of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909, which I introduced in Part 7 Chapter 9 of this series (“Flourishing Japanese Hotel Businesses,” napost. com, August. 2022).

I found some articles reporting on the Japanese (mainly Nisei) students who attended and graduated from the UW around 1919.

New School Year at the UW
(NAT, April. 2, 1919 issue)

“Today is the first day of the new school year at the UW. More than 1,200 students have registered as of yesterday. Two Japanese students newly entered.”

This Year’s Fellow Graduates
(NAT, June 4, 1919 issue) 

“The UW had three Japanese graduates this year. Out of seven high school graduates, two have already entered the engineering department. Three will start this October.”

In the previously mentioned article “The UW and Japanese Students,” Okamaru also wrote in detail about the Japanese students who attended the University of Washington.

“Currently (1939), there is a total of 250 Japanese students at UW,; about 150 of whom are male and 100 are female … It used to be that many students came from Japan, all so vigorous, generally in Japanese style and full of energy. These days, the majority of them are Nisei and we rarely hear the students speak Japanese. This is also due to the change in the times and is nothing to be surprised about, but it seems like the students today have lost the energy that the Japanese students had back in the day.

“This is not intended, however, to speak badly of Nisei. In fact, the academic levels of Nisei are far above those of regular white students. Japanese college students today when compared with students in prior generations are smarter. And they are far more sophisticated. When compared with Issei, who somehow looked gloomy, Nisei in general are cheerful and also look healthy.

“The academic performance of Nisei is clearly proven when we look at the statistics of group performance announced by the school authorities. The Japanese Students Club, which is comprised of Japanese male students, ranks third out of 57 groups. The female club “Fuyo-kai” is in the 15th place out of 37 groups.

“The School of Business, where most Japanese students belong, ranks in the top 10 departments in the nation. Every year we see the names of Japanese students on the Dean’s list. Although the Pharmaceutical Department is also famous, it’s almost impossible for Japanese students to get a job after graduation. The Departments of Law, Political Science, Economics and Journalism all have great classes and faculty members with their own specialties.

“In the Sociology Department, Miyamoto-kun is giving lectures in introductory beginner sociology classes. It seems like he has the most Japanese students. A notable department is the School of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences which can be found nowhere else in the United States.

“Asian Studies is probably the best in the nation. There have (also) been a great number of graduates from the science fields such as mechanical engineering, civil engineering, and electrical engineering, as well as other areas. Almost everyone has returned and has been employed in Japan. Many graduates during the war are well-known.

“There is the Japanese Student Club, built one street across the street from the UW campus, which was funded by a Japanese foundation. The place recently underwent rapid renovation with improved equipment, looking all refreshed and new, through the volunteer efforts of volunteer parents and alumni groups. So if you happen to visit the campus, we would like you to stop by the club and see how the Japanese students are doing today.

“The good thing is that Nisei are competent, quality-wise. What they are lacking is energy and discipline. If they cultivate social discipline, fight and perseverance to achieve success in athletic fields, it won’t be difficult at all for them to accomplish something in this soft America.

“According to some sources the Japanese Students Club was established in 1921 by notable figures in Seattle at the time such as Masajiro Furuya, Sumikiyo Arima, Heiji Okuda and others, with the funding of well over $30,000. The club is maintained and operated with the fixed amount of monthly donations by Issei and is used to facilitate social activities ization among students as well as provide accommodations for them.
“The Fuyo-kai was formed in 1925 as a sorority for female students who attended the University of Washington.”

“Commencement at Nihon Kyokai”
(NAT, June 2, 1938 issue)

“A commencement will be held on the coming 6th of the month for 29 Japanese students graduating from the UW this year. We expect to see a great number of members of Nihon Kyokai (Japan Association) as well as those of the women’s club.

“Japanese Students on the Dean’s List at UW”
 (NAT, January 18, 1939 issue)

“Dean Sieg has announced the names of students with academic achievements in the fall quarter at UW, and the Japanese students add up to 35.” (names published)

“Nikkei Graduates from UW Receive Bachelor’s Degrees”
 (NAT, January 23, 1939 issue)

“UW announced the names of 208 students graduating this winter quarter, five of whom are Japanese and 32 of whom are on the Dean’sist.” (names published)

“Nikkei Students Graduating from UW”
 (NAT, June 7, 1939 issue)

“Forty Nikkei students graduate from UW this year.” (names published)


Sumiyoshi Arima, president of The North American Times, commented on the future path of graduates in his column “Hokubei Shunju.”

“A message to Nisei Graduates of the UW”
 (NAT, July 19, 1939 issue)

“This year the UW has 40 Japanese graduates, nine of whom are female. Having finished your intended studies, even if some of you will continue your academic journey in each field of interest, you should know that you are now entering the real world. We would like to congratulate you sincerely on this meaningful start and wish you the best in your future endeavors.

“You have passed this gateway, called graduation, with great academic achievements. The work that you’ve put in all those years is worth mentioning in itself. At the same time, however, you have to remember that you owe much of it to your parents who made it possible for you to continue your studies and supported you through your academic journey with all their hearts.

“Also, don’t forget to be thankful for the support from your community. In fact, the student clubhouse that you have used was made with donations from our peers in the community. We hope that you will continue to strive in your future endeavors with appreciation for your parents and community

“In America there is still much racial prejudice whether we want to admit it or not. There have been a number of cases where highly competent college graduates face various challenges in society simply because of their Japanese heritage. Even if they instead head to Japan, they face different challenges such as the language barrier, cultural differences, and other things, which make it difficult to get the job or social status they seekwant.

“Of course, your future is limitless. By all means, you should cultivate your talent and skills but at the same time you should keep in mind that you will face a good many obstacles along your way. Especially depending on your the field of study, some of you might have a hard time getting jobs in the intended fields. Still, we hope with all our hearts that each one of you will put all your effort into what you do for your future or for the future of the Japanese people.”

To be continued

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 a Japanese translator and writer.