The Nikkei Heritage Association of Washington, through its project, the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington, is proud and honored to present this first edition of “Pioneering Washington Issei: 1879-1899.”
Our hope is to document some of the important stories of Washington State Pioneers who have helped to make this a wonderful and diverse region. The Issei, the first generation of Japanese descent, endured many hardships while settling in America. When they first set foot in America, the Issei were subjected to discrimination and often humiliating treatment. Despite such obstacles, they labored to support themselves and their families, and establish communities. They maintained their identities and became a vital part of the fabric of the Pacific Northwest. From their experiences come universal lessons.
Documenting the story of immigration to America is a complex one. Census records are often incomplete, passenger lists from the period are difficult to read and names are recorded incompletely. Most history books are Euro-centric and largely devoid of information about the struggles and accomplishments of our pioneering Issei. However, the stories are there, waiting to be uncovered and shared.
As more Japanese began to arrive in America, the Washington Issei recognized the advantages of continuing their language, culture, customs, and traditions. Washington State has inherited many civic legacies from these early Issei. The Seattle Buddhist Temple, The Seattle Japanese Language School, Nippon Kan Theatre and other cultural and religious institutions owe their beginnings to these early Issei. Through hard work, determination and cooperation, the early Issei invested their lives in the State of Washington; an investment that benefits us all today.
The individuals profiled in this special Issei edition are just a few of the more than 2,000 people of Japanese descent who made their way to Washington State by 1900. We believe it is imperative to preserve the stories of these courageous men and women who are part of our heritage and history. For every Masahei Watanabe and Toyojiro Tsukuno there are hundreds of others who contributed to the betterment of our fledgling state. All of these pioneers deserve to be recognized for their sacrifices and contributions.
The Nikkei Heritage Association of WA through its Japanese Cultural Center project encourages you to research and document the history of your families and community. It has been incredible for all of the people working on this project to come together, research and learn about the challenges, sacrifices, opportunities and spirit of the earliest Issei.
Recording family histories, gathering documents, establishing timelines and identifying people in photographs will be more difficult in the years to come and much of the information will be lost forever. Now is the time to reach out to our grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, neighbors and friends to document our own history.
In this special Issei issue you will find a list of books, written materials and genealogical resources to learn more about the Issei in Washington State and America, and how to document your own family history. This list is by no means exhaustive, but we trust it will help you and others learn more about and appreciate this important group of pioneers.
Although we will only be able to publish the stories of a few Issei families, we dedicate this issue to all of our Issei and their courageous spirit.
President, Nikkei Heritage Association of Washington
Shea Aoki and Bif Brigman
Pioneering Washington Issei: 1879-1899 Project Managers