Hokubei Jiji, known in English as the North American Times, was a Japanese-language daily newspaper launched on September 1, 1902, by four Seattle investors. The first issue had just six pages. It provided local and international news to Issei – first-generation immigrants from Japan – and their families across North America. Publication ceased when Japanese Americans living on the West Coast were sent to inland prison camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor. But in June 1946 the paper sprang to life again, now called Hokubei Hochi (North American Post). Well more than a century after its 1902 founding, the newspaper was still going strong. In more recent years its back issues, printed in Japanese, were being translated into English, bringing alive and making more accessible the rich history of early Nikkei immigrants in North America.
One of the newspaper's original investors, dentist Kiyoshi Kumamoto, served as its first publisher. He was a workaholic who went without sleep to get the paper established and growing. His partners were Kuranosuke Hiraide, who owned Hiraide Shoten, a bookshop at 314 Jackson Street, Juji Yadagai, and Ichiro Yamamoto. The paper's first editor was Sakaturo Sumigyu Yamada. Its office and printing equipment were in the basement of Hiraide's bookshop, but soon moved to storefront offices at 215 5th Avenue S in Nihonmachi, or Japantown.
During its early years, the paper covered such stories as the 1907 anti-Japanese rioting in Vancouver, British Columbia; the 1909 opening of Seattle's Nippon Kan Theatre, and the construction of a new Japanese Baptist Church at 661 S Washington Street. It also ran local business and political news, obituaries, wedding announcements, and notices from families trying to connect with relatives. The paper covered employee activities, such as a staff member's salmon fishing trip to Alaska, or coworkers seeing off another who was taking a train to New York, or a picnic at a beach on Bainbridge island, where they visited the homes of two staff members who lived there.
Readers were kept abreast of events in Japan, as well as national and international developments that affected the Nikkei diaspora in North America. One such was the diplomatic skirmish known as "The Gentleman's Agreement." In the early 1900s, the Japanese government was outraged that children of San Francisco's Japanese families who had been attending local public schools were suddenly forced to attend a segregated "Oriental Public School," along with children from Chinese, Korean, and Filipino families. President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) didn't want to offend Japan, a growing world power that had recently won a war against Russia, but he was facing pressure from white West Coast citizens, including many California farmers, to limit Japanese immigration. In 1907 Roosevelt managed to get the San Francisco School board to desegregate its schools. In return, the Japanese government agreed to limit the number of its citizens who would be allowed to emigrate to America
Despite that limitation, the number of Japanese residents in Seattle would grow from 125 in 1890 to nearly 7,000 by 1910, and soon the North American Times was joined by competitors, including Asahi Simbu (Morning Sun), Taihoku Nippo (Big Northern Japan News), and its fiercest rival, the daily Shin Nippon (New Japan), which was launched in 1905.
By 1913 publisher Kumamoto was the last remaining original investor. He sold the paper to Shoici Suginoo (also known as G. S. Suginoh) and Sumkiyo Arima and returned to Japan to care for his ailing father. Arima, who had been trained as a Presbyterian minister in Osaka, had been working as a reporter in the Tacoma office of the North American Times. He hired his 18-year-old son, Sumiyoshi, a student at Broadway High School on Capitol Hill in Seattle, to help run the paper. In 1918, Suginoh sold his interest in the paper to Arima and returned to Japan. The Arima family would run the paper for many years to come, and on September 1, 1918, printed its 5,000th issue. It included 32 pages of articles covering the paper's history and a congratulatory message from Japanese Consul Naokichi Matsunaga.
In a nostalgic and gleeful 1918 article published in the North American Times, Gogai Nakajima, who had once been a reporter for Shin Nippon, recalled how he had enjoyed taunting the competing paper, which he said had had a conservative, pro-business slant, while Shin Nippon was more progressive. But now, a little older, he had changed his tune, saying the North American Times was simply against "outlandish and radical revolution." But in the past, he said, he had "told the printing craftsman to choose disagreeable words so I can create articles attacking Nashimura-sensei [Nashimura Hatsugano, whose job title was described as 'general chief'], I selected worse slanders every day ... now, when I enjoy teatime with Mr. Nashimura, we both laugh about these dirty debates we used to have between the two papers" (Nakajima). Nashimura apparently forgave Najajima, whom he subsequently hired as an east-of-the-Cascades stringer, working from Pasco.
The readership showed its appreciation too. Three thousand people gathered at Liberty Park (which later became Seattle University's Championship Field) to celebrate with sporting competitions, speeches, and a procession of boys carrying American and Japanese flags.
In 1919 Sumikiyo Arima was in Tokyo, and he may have been shifting his base to Japan, where the paper was also available. His son Sumiyoshi took over as publisher in Seattle. During the Arima years, the paper ran a light-hearted series of interviews with local personalities. The column was called "Ichinichi hitori hito iroiro" ("One Person a Day – Let Us Introduce Them"). Among those interviewed was Yasutoro Kawakami, who had opened a successful Western-style restaurant in Juneau, Alaska, and was described as standing up to white people. He was also marketing a sauce he had developed to cater to non-Asian tastes. Shiro Dogura was a bank manager who had learned English at the University of Washington and was teaching it to others. Retailer Kametaro Hiriade was described as looking deceptively childlike, but readers were told that he was actually a sharp businessman. Toyotaro Tsukono was head of the Japanese Western-Style Diners Union, and he had mobilized its members for a sympathy strike to support white strikers.
Not all of the One Person a Day stories were about people in the Nikkei community. Readers also learned that Seattle's Scandinavian mayor, Ole Hanson, was moonlighting as a regular blue collar employee at Erickson Shipping, leaving the mayor's office at 4 p.m., putting on his uniform and cotton cap, and pulling an eight-hour shift until midnight. The paper praised him for his humility.
Serving Its Public
In 1920 the North American Times worked to ensure that its readers would be represented in that year's federal census by working with The Seattle Times to distribute census slips for its readers to fill in. The paper reported that its announcements of marriages of Japanese brides and grooms in America, who met by exchanging trans-Pacific photographs, had numbered about 45 a month, but had doubled as a deadline to abolish the matchmaking system loomed. The paper kept Nikkei bachelor farmers in the Kent Valley abreast of the latest developments, and wrote that group visits to cherry-blossom festivals back home had proved to be a successful cover for finding brides to bring to America.
Shikako Takatani, a Montana-based woman writer for the North American Times, earlier had written some advice for picture brides. "[F]or you ladies who got married as picture brides ... weak and meek women who were kept under control in the feudal era have now been set free, to live their lives on equal terms with men ... We must be the strong women like the ones in films, the fat wife that kicks the butt of her husband to send him off to work" (Takatani).
Politics, Prejudice, and Culture
The North American Times played an important role in keeping the community informed about political developments that affected its readers. An organization called the Anti-Japanese League of Washington, a spin-off from a similar group in California, had lobbied successfully for the 1921 passage of a draconian state law that barred the sale or leasing of land to aliens who were not citizens and who had not declared "a good-faith intent to become a citizen" (1921 Wash. Laws, ch. 50, sec. 1). In response, leaders of Seattle's Nikkei community, together with members of the San Francisco Nikkei community, formed the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), the country's first such Asian American organization, to stand up for their rights. On August 29, 1930, the first JACL National Convention was held in Seattle. That year, more than half the city's Nikkei residents were American-born.
The North American Times also sponsored cultural events, including a 1931 appearance at Nippon Kan Hall by international opera diva Toshiko Sekaya, who also popularized Japanese folk songs in the West. Fresh from a Hollywood Bowl concert in Los Angeles, she sang in Italian, French, English, and Japanese.
On October 5, 1931, North American Times editorial staffer K. Kamentani, who was also a stringer for the Japanese paper Asahi Shinbun, was on hand at Seattle's Boeing Field, waiting for the arrival of the winners of a thrilling competition to see who would be the first pilots to fly across the Pacific Ocean from Asia to North America in a nonstop fight. Sadly for Kamentani, the winning airmen, Clyde Pangborn and Hugh Herndon Jr., overflew their original destination and arrived shortly after midnight in Wenatchee. They each received prize money of $25,000 from a representative of the Asahi Shinbun, which had sponsored the competition.
On February 14, 1935, North American Times staff members were part of the inaugural banquet of the Seattle Japanese American Press Club, held aboard a luxurious vessel owned by the Nippon Yusen Kaisha shipping company. The new club also had members from another Japanese-language daily, Great Northern Daily News, and from the Japanese Courier, a Seattle English-language weekly. The new press club was affiliated with the Second Generation (Nisei) Japanese Press Club of the Pacific Coast.
The Coming of War
Sumiyoshi Arima sailed for Japan in November 1941, leaving his younger brother, Sumio Arima, in charge. The following month, on December 7, Japanese planes attacked the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii, triggering America's entry into World War II. The North American Times staff managed to get the paper out on December 8. As a Nikkei community leader, Sumio Arima was among the first 264 Seattle Nikkei residents to be arrested by the FBI. He was interrogated at Fort Missoula, Montana, and would be jailed in Texas until the end of the war.
The authorities soon froze the paper's financial assets, but the staff carried on as best it could. Years later, the front page of the March 12, 1942, North American Times would be framed and on display at the historic Panama Hotel. The headline was "This our Last Shot at Writing" ("Tea and Treasures ..."). Budd Fukei, the paper's English-language editor, wrote: "(T)he editors honestly hope the Japanese readers of this newspaper will not lose confidence in the United States and continue to support the cause for which the United States is fighting" ("An Overview History ..."). (After the war, Fukei would write a book and have a 28-year career as an editor at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.)
Just a little over two weeks later, on March 30, 1942, Japanese American men, women, children, and infants from Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound were the first group in the nation to be rounded up, allowed to take only what few possessions they could carry. After first living in horrendous conditions at the state fairgrounds in Puyallup, they were imprisoned in primitive, isolated inland camps surrounded by barbed wire. Most of the 12,892 internees from Washington spent the war years at the remote Minidoka Relocation Center near Hunt, Idaho, in the thinly populated high desert. There some began publishing the Minidoka Irrigator, a weekly newspaper that ran from September 10, 1942, until July 28, 1945. There were similar papers at other camps — the Irrigator was one of only three that were printed rather than mimeographed. Former North American Times editor Jackson Sonodo was the Irrigator's news editor.
After the War: Rebirth
As the war was drawing to a close and the internees about to be released, prisoners at Minidoka were given a handout titled "Helpful Hints for a Successful Relocation." It included such advice as: "Do not gather in groups on the streets, don't speak Japanese in public, remember that others may not recognize you as an American, and always work to promote a better understanding of Japanese Americans" ("Minidoka in My Bones ...").
In June 1946 Sumio Arima became editor of a new Seattle paper, Hokubei Hochi – the North American Post – a second incarnation of the Hokubei Jiji, or North American Times. Arima had changed the name from the Times to the Post because he envisioned a paper that would also serve as a community bulletin board. The new publishers were Sadahiko Ikoma and Kunizo Maeno. Ikoma had come to America in 1908 and worked in salmon canneries before apprenticing as a journalist at a Tacoma Japanese weekly, eventually becoming the publisher of Takoma Jijo. His partner, Maeno, had immigrated in the 1920s and found work on farms and in the fruit and produce business, and later operated a beer distributorship. In the immediate post-war period he helped establish the Japanese Placement Agency, an employment agency for Nikkei seeking work after returning home from the internment camps.
Sumio Arima, who was also a highly respected painter of modernist landscapes and a graduate of the Arts Students League in New York, was overwhelmed by newspaper work and resigned from the Post after just three issues. His brother Sumiyoshi, still back in Japan, contributed two regular columns about life in Tokyo, using the pen name Hanazona Ichiro.
In 1946 the Post co-sponsored a four-day blackmouth salmon derby on Elliott Bay, in partnership with the Japanese Sportsmen Tenzu Club. It was open to the community at large, attracting participants from around the Northwest. In 1947 the paper launched an English-language section to attract Nisei readers, the first generation of American-born Japanese, many of whom could not read Japanese. Typesetting in two languages proved to be problematic. The Post was initially publishing three times a week, but eventually became a daily. In 1948 it moved to the old pre-war offices of the North American Times at 215 5th Avenue S. By then, Washington's Nikkei population was nearing 10,000, more than half of whom lived in Seattle.
By 1951 the Post had a new publisher. Henry Takemitsu Kubota had come to America at the age of 21 in the early 1920s and found work in Montana on a railroad-construction crew. He became a wealthy real estate investor, and according to his son, was recruited by the Nikkei community to lead the paper because he had a reputation as "probably the most neutral of several factions in the community" ("Henry Kubota, Business, Leader ...").
In 1952 another community leader, Henry Heiji Okuda, who had started out in America as a railroad brakeman, became a co-owner of the Post. He was the founder of the Oriental Express transfer company and other businesses. After Okuda's death in 1955, Terumitsu Kano became the paper's president. In the 1950s, the paper had stringers in Los Angeles, Tacoma, and Portland.
The United States Congress ended the ban on the naturalization of Japanese citizens in 1952. Returning American soldiers brought Japanese brides to America. New immigrants from Japan, often more prosperous and better educated than an earlier generation of immigrants, also began to come to the United States for educational and professional reasons. The newcomers, called Shin Issei, wanted to follow news from Japan, and they embraced the North American Post. In the post-war years, Seattle's Nihonmachi area attracted many more non-Asians to Japanese restaurants such as Maneki and Bush Garden, as well as other businesses. Along with Chinatown and "Little Manila," Nihonmachi was eventually rebranded as part of the "Chinatown-International District" by the City of Seattle.
New Readers, New Style
The Post's circulation by the late 1950s was around 3,000, but editor Terumitsu Kano, looking ahead, told The Seattle Times "We'll have to change [to English]. Most Nisei can't read or write Japanese even though they may speak it fluently" ("An Overview History ..."). By the 1970s, most Issei were in their seventies, eighties, and nineties, and postal rates were increasing. (The paper was now mailed, unlike in the early days of the North American Times, when circulation was handled by newsboys.) In 1973 editor Takama "Tak" Hibiya said, "This is a dying business ... almost all publications like this are having hard times" ("Japanese Newspaper Here ..."). The circulation was down to about 2,500, but Hibiya believed the paper was not just a business, but a community resource. Many others agreed with him, and the paper began receiving donations from community organizations. By 1951 Hibaya was editor-in-chief. In 1960 he left the paper to take a job in public relations for Japan Air Lines. When he retired from the airline, he returned to the Post for a year as business manager.
In the 1970s, all the stories were still initially handwritten, as no typewriter could contain a keyboard with the 3,000 or more Japanese characters required. Type pickers working in a musty basement selected metal-cast characters from a slanted board that held thousands of characters. Pages were fed into a 70-year-old press one at a time, then flipped to print the other side. Typesetters had to be able to read the characters upside down as well as right-side up, and the pages were horizontally laid out, rather than vertically, as in papers in European languages. When a Seattle Times reporter visiting the press to write about it in 1973 said it all looked pretty complicated, Tak Hibaya said, "but the union doesn't bother us" ("Japanese Newspaper Here ...").
In 1974 the building on 5th Avenue S was due for demolition. Publisher Kubota said there wasn't enough money to move to another location, and that the paper would cease publication. The Nikkei community raised about $20,000 to keep the paper going at a new location, 517 S Main Street.
In 1981 the Post published daily until mid-March, then went to a three-times-a-week schedule. Kubota was finally forced to stop publishing altogether during August and September. Loyal members of the community came to the rescue and bought out Kubota. Yoshito Fuji became president, publisher Edward Shigera Hidaka became vice president, and Noboru Kagemaya was named business manager. In 1983 the Post was in new quarters, at 622 ½ S Jackson Street, and in late September, new electronic Japanese typewriters were deployed. In 1984, Kageyama became president of the North American Post and later received the Order of the Rising Sun from the emperor of Japan for his community service.
In January 1988, Tomio Moriguchi, a businessman who was a member of more than 40 community organizations, became the sole owner and publisher of the Post. Moriguchi was the CEO of Uwajimaya, a family business that had begun in 1928 selling fishcakes from a truck in Tacoma to Japanese loggers and fishermen. It grew to become one of the region's foremost Asian grocery and import companies, with a large presence in the Chinatown-International District, as well as at other locations around the Northwest.
In early 1990, the Post tried out Japanese word processing, and by June the entire paper would be written on computers. It continued to cover news from Japan. After the 1995 Kobe Earthquake, the paper printed the names of the thousands of earthquake victims.
In 1995, when a graphic designer was hired, the entire paper had finally overcome the obstacles it had faced and fully entered the electronic age. But Tomio Moriguchi had more in mind. He wanted to find a way to preserve more than a century of Nikkei journalism and make it available to scholars and others. He formed the non-profit Hokubei Hochi Foundation to make it happen. The foundation has since partnered with University of Washington libraries and King County's arts- and history-funding agency, 4Arts, to find, preserve, scan, and post copies of both the North American Times and the North American Post.
Many issues are missing. Some were lost during the chaos of Japanese interment during World War II; others were damaged in storage over the years by rodents and water. But the work began, and as of March 2023 more than 6,000 pages of old issues, primarily in Japanese, had been uploaded onto the UW library website, with more to come as the search for additional issues continues. The pre-World War II North American Times was written and printed in Japanese, although during the late 1930s, some bilingual editors were hired and pages in English appeared. English content would wax and wane over the coming years, as would the ratio of Japanese-to-English pages.
According to third generation (Sansei) David Yamaguchi, who is bilingual and in 2023 was the editor of the North American Post, his grandfather was still reading an all-Japanese North American Post in the 1970s. So were new immigrants, including war brides, and the mother of Tomio Moriguchi, who had inspired him to ensure a future for the paper in the 1990s. According to Yamaguchi, a turning point came when it became evident that if the paper was folded with the English side out in newspaper stands, it sold more copies. But after more than a century serving the Nikkei community, as late as 2023 the North American Post still contained pages printed in Japanese.