Shirakawa
Shirakawa
(“White River”)
STORIES FROM A
PACIFIC NORTHWEST
JAPANESE AMERICAN COMMUNITY
Shirakawa
Shirakawa
- Part 1 -
STORIES FROM A
PACIFIC NORTHWEST
JAPANESE AMERICAN COMMUNITY
Shirakawa
1. Immigrants
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America has been called a
“nation of nations.”
We all have ancestors
who immigrated here from
other places, other countries.
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Japanese immigrants
first arrived in
the United States
in the 1880s. . . .
Shirakawa
Japanese immigrants
first arrived in
the United States
in the 1880s. . . .
They left families and friends behind,
dreaming of better jobs and opportunities
in America.
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In 1880,
there was just 1 person of
Japanese ancestry in
Washington State.
Courtesy of Mae Iseri Yamada
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In 1880,
there was just 1 person of
Japanese ancestry in
Washington State.
Courtesy of Mae Iseri Yamada
In 1900,
there were over 5000.
Courtesy WRVM JACL Album Collection
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If you know about Japanese sports,
you know that
“one, two, three”
in Japanese is “ichi,
ni, san”
(pronounced “ee-chee, nee, sahn”).
Shirakawa
If you know about Japanese sports,
you know that
“one, two, three”
in Japanese is “ichi,
ni, san”
(pronounced “ee-chee, nee, sahn”).
That is written with script
borrowed from the Chinese. . . .
like this
Shirakawa
If you know about Japanese sports,
you know that
“one, two, three”
in Japanese is “ichi,
ni, san”
(pronounced “ee-chee, nee, sahn”).
That is written with script
borrowed from the Chinese.
But it’s usually written from top to bottom . . .
like this
Shirakawa
If you know about Japanese sports,
you know that
“one, two, three”
in Japanese is “ichi,
ni, san”
(pronounced “ee-chee, nee, sahn”).
That is written with script
borrowed from the Chinese.
But it’s usually written from top to bottom . . .
like this
(Easy as
一 二 三
, isn’t it!)
Shirakawa
Japanese immigrants called themselves “Issei”, meaning
“1st life” or “1st generation.” It’s pronounced ee-say.
Shirakawa
Japanese immigrants called themselves “Issei”, meaning
“1st life” or “1st generation.” It’s pronounced ee-say.
They called their 2nd
generation children “Nisei”
. . . pronounced nee-say.
Shirakawa
Japanese immigrants called themselves “Issei”, meaning
“1st life” or “1st generation.” It’s pronounced ee-say.
They called their 2nd
generation children “Nisei”
. . . pronounced nee-say.
OK, your turn.
They call their 3rd
generation grandchildren . . . . . ?
Shirakawa
Japanese immigrants called themselves “Issei”, meaning
“1st life” or “1st generation.” It’s pronounced ee-say.
They called their 2nd
generation children “Nisei”
. . . pronounced nee-say.
OK, your turn.
They call their 3rd
generation grandchildren “Sansei”
Right! And it’s pronounced . . . . ?
Shirakawa
Japanese immigrants called themselves “Issei”, meaning
“1st life” or “1st generation.” It’s pronounced ee-say.
They called their 2nd
generation children “Nisei”
. . . pronounced nee-say.
OK, your turn.
They call their 3rd
generation grandchildren “Sansei”
. . . pronounced sahn-say.
Great!
(Now you’re speaking Japanese!)
Shirakawa
Japanese immigrants called themselves “Issei”, meaning
“1st life” or “1st generation.” It’s pronounced ee-say.
They called their 2nd
generation children “Nisei”
. . . pronounced nee-say.
OK, your turn.
They call their 3rd
generation grandchildren “Sansei”
. . . pronounced sahn-say.
Everyone of Japanese origin is called “Nikkei” (nee-kay).
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The Issei came East from Japan to America on ships.
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The Issei came East from Japan to America on ships.
The trip across the Pacific Ocean could be long and hard.
(Definitely not a Carnival Cruise!)
Shirakawa
The Issei came East from Japan to America on ships.
The trip across the Pacific Ocean could be long and hard.
In 1900, Matahichi Iseri
traveled to America on his own,
joining his half-brother.
“Mat” was 16 years old.
Courtesy of Mae Iseri Yamada
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The Issei came East from Japan to America on ships.
The trip across the Pacific Ocean could be long and hard.
In 1914 at age 16, Yohei Hikida crossed
the Pacific on his own to join his dad
in Washington. He kept house, cooked,
cleaned, helped on the farm, and enrolled
at the local grade school to learn English.
Courtesy of Tom Hikida
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Many Issei looked for work in cities like
Seattle and Tacoma.
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But many more found jobs in the countryside
away from big cities.
The United States was growing fast.
New technology was starting up everywhere.
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2. White River
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Japanese labor teams worked for busy railroads, sawmills,
and fish canneries all around the Pacific Northwest.
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Japanese labor teams worked for busy railroads, sawmills,
and fish canneries all around the Northwest.
Big work teams were also needed on farms.
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Many Issei came from farming villages in Japan.
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The White River Valley was
the biggest, most fertile
farm belt between Seattle and Tacoma.
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Where does this
“WHITE RIVER”
come from?
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Where does this
“WHITE RIVER”
come from?
Well, it starts
on the biggest
volcanic mountain
in the contiguous
(“connected”) 48 States.
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MT. RAINIER,
the most famous landmark in all of Washington State,
14,410 feet tall!
NW Coastal Indians
called her "Ta-ko-ma"
which is said to mean . . . “she who gives us the waters."
Courtesy Wikipedia Commons, WSiegmund
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On Mt. Rainier is the huge
Emmons Glacier 
the biggest ice mass in the contiguous 48 States.
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On Mt. Rainier is the massive
Emmons Glacier 
the biggest ice mass in the contiguous 48 States.
This sea of slow-moving,
slow-melting ice is the main
source of the
White River. 
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For ages, the river has run from Mt. Rainier through deep
gorges and wide valleys to big salt-water bays in what we
call Puget Sound.
Courtesy LOC #g4284t.pm009790
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For ages, the river has run from Mt. Rainier through deep
gorges and wide valleys to big salt-water bays in what we
call Puget Sound.
The deltas at the end of the rivers are where the cities of
Seattle and . . .
Tacoma grew up.
Courtesy LOC #g4284t.pm009790
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Names for the White River varied with different cultures
and languages . . .
Shirakawa
Names for the White River varied with different cultures
and languages . . .
Native Americans called it “Stokh” (where it ran near
today's Kent and Auburn). They called themselves
“St-kah-mish”— “people of the Stokh River.”
Shirakawa
Names for the White River varied with different cultures
and languages . . .
Native Americans called it “Stokh” (where it ran near
today's Kent and Auburn). They called themselves
“St-kah-mish”— “people of the Stokh River.”
• In the 19th century, pioneer immigrants saw the
milky silt in its water and called it "White River.”
Shirakawa
Names for the White River varied with different cultures
and languages . . .
Native Americans called it “Stokh” (where it ran near
today's Kent and Auburn). They called themselves
“St-kah-mish”— “people of the Stokh River.”
• In the 19th century, pioneer immigrants saw the
milky silt in its water and called it "White River.”
• And Japanese immigrants called it “Shirakawa” –
a direct translation of the English . . .
Shirakawa
Shiroi
means “White” . . . . . .
Kawa
means “River” . . . . . .
Together they read . . . . . .
“Shirakawa”
Shirakawa
The tallest, most loved mountain in Japan is
Mt. Fuji,
another volcano.
Shirakawa
The tallest, most loved mountain in Japan is
Mt. Fuji,
another volcano.
Over the ages,
it has been
portrayed in
countless works of Japanese art.
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Mt. Rainier reminded the Japanese of Mt. Fuji when
they came to
Washington State.
They even called it
Takoma-no-Fuji. . .
“Tacoma’s Mt. Fuji.”
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The character of the valley — river channels, living spaces,
work places — has changed a lot in the last 160 years.
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The character of the valley — river channels, living spaces,
work places — has changed a lot in the last 160 years.
In 1906, the route of the White River was even changed.
It no longer flows through the White River Valley!
The Green River took its place from Auburn to Tukwila!
Shirakawa
The character of the valley — river channels, living spaces,
work places — has changed a lot in the last 160 years.
In 1906, the route of the White River was even changed.
It no longer flows through the White River Valley!
The Green River took its place from Auburn to Tukwila!
But the historical name, “White River Valley,”
has not been forgotten.
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3. Roots
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Asian immigrants often faced cruel discrimination in
America. But some of their non-Asian neighbors grew to
respect them and their work.
Shirakawa
Asian immigrants often faced cruel discrimination in
America. But some of their non-Asian neighbors grew to
respect them and their work.
In 1882, the US Congress passed laws to stop the
immigration of workers from China. Violent riots made it
even harder for the Chinese to work in America.
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The Issei came to seek
their fortunes where
Chinese workers were
no longer welcomed.
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The Issei came to seek
their fortunes where
Chinese workers were
no longer welcomed.
Japanese immigrants
tried hard to imitate
American ways . . .
and they often took jobs nobody else wanted.
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The first known record
of Issei workers in the
White River Valley
was written in 1892. . . .
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The first known record
of Issei workers in the
White River Valley
was written in 1892. . . .
Many Issei joined with Indian and Caucasian workers
(kids included) to harvest hops, a crop that earned big
money for White River Valley farm owners.
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There was a big backlash in the local press. This 1893
article in Kent’s White River Journal newspaper called
Japanese workers “distasteful” and “irresponsible.”
Courtesy WRVM Newspaper Collection
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Courtesy WRVM #PO-00818
But many valley farmers still counted on their help,
saying they were “conscientious, determined, and thrifty.”
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The Issei also found other kinds of jobs.
Mat Iseri worked
as a “houseboy”–
a kind of servant –
while he enrolled
in night school to
learn English.
Courtesy of Mae Iseri Yamada
No one knew that someday he would become
a leader in his community.
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Courtesy WRVM Newspaper Collection
Despite their efforts to fit in, the Japanese still faced a lot
of prejudice. Newspaper editors and union leaders often
raged against them, but they kept on trying for jobs.
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Around 1900, some Issei farm workers began to lease
small plots of land for their own farms.
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Around 1900, some Issei farm workers began to lease
small plots of land for their own farms.
Once again, newspapers exploded against them.
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Angry disrespect for the Japanese was stirred up all around
the West Coast.
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Angry disrespect for the Japanese was stirred up all around
the West Coast.
US law said that Asian immigrants were
not allowed to become American citizens.
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By 1908, Japanese immigration to the US had became very
restricted.
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By 1908, Japanese immigration to the US had became very
restricted.
But the wives and brides of workers already making a living
in America could still come join their families.
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Kisa Okuna crossed the ocean to Washington in 1907
to marry Mat Iseri. She was 19.
Courtesy of Mae Iseri Yamada
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Kisa Okuna crossed the ocean to Washington in 1907
to marry Mat Iseri. She was 19.
both Courtesy of Mae Iseri Yamada
This is the family she left behind
. . . maybe forever, she thought sadly.
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When Sen Natsuhara arrived in Seattle in 1905, the first
thing she and her husband, Chiyokichi (“Charles”), did was
to have a wedding ceremony on board her ship.
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When Sen Natsuhara arrived in Seattle in 1905, the first
thing she and her husband, Chiyokichi (“Charles”), did was
to have a wedding ceremony on board her ship.
Then he bought her some American-style clothes and took
her home to his tiny place at an Auburn farm.
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Courtesy WRVM #PO03564 Natsuhara Family Collection
In a few years, two children had joined the family.
Now America finally felt like Sen’s home.
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Shirakawa (“White River Valley”