BY RON MAGDEN
Kyuhachi Nishii left Yawatahama, Japan, in 1879 with the dream of making “a grand achievement by venturing forth to seek a fortune.”
For the first three years he sailed around the world; finally getting a shore job as a lumber handler at the Port Blakely Mill on Bainbridge Island.
Nishii saved $700 and moved to Seattle. He rented the Star Cafe only to see it burn down in the Great Seattle Fire.
Undaunted Nishii started another café in a tent. When that restaurant also burned, Nishii moved to Tacoma where he leased the Gold Star Cafe in Old Town. That venture proved to be an immense success.
Because Washington State law prohibited aliens from owning property, Eurasian lawyer Benjamin S. Onick arranged for Catholic priest Peter Hylebos to buy land and erect the Union Laundry, Grand Hotel and numerous apartment houses for Nishii.
During the Alaska Gold Rush Nishii traveled to Nome where he amassed another fortune by operating the Klondike Café and a grocery store. He returned to Seattle where he opened his largest enterprises, the Klondike Restaurant and the J&M Hotel.
The dream of realizing his “grand achievement” was a “glorious experience” until his wife Miyo died in Seattle. Nishii lost his enthusiasm for his quest. He sold his holdings and moved back to Japan.
On Sunday, August 14, 1927, hundreds of Yawatahamans assembled on a hill overlooking the town and its small harbor. Fireworks exploded overhead as youngsters unfurled a draped 40-foot statue of Kyuhachi Nishii.
On the bottom of the statue are 102 names of Issei who had paid for the statue. Among the names are the most prestigious Issei of the Puget Sound — Hamaguchi, Mukai, Nakanishi, Ohashi, Oiye, Ueda, Wakamatsu, Yamamoto, Yamashita, and Yotsuuye. These were the people Kyuhachi Nishii had helped find jobs in America.