The North American Post (NAP), a newspaper serving the Seattle area’s Japanese and Japanese American communities, celebrated its 120th anniversary last fall. To celebrate this milestone, the NAP is beginning work on an extensive archiving project to collect and store all previous editions. Elaine Ikoma Ko, who initiated this effort and whose grandfather revived the paper following its first production halt in the wake of World War II, recruited the University of Washington library system to support the process.
Ikoma Ko was assisted by local historian Edward Echtle, who said that the NAP “serves as an amazing continuous record of all the different political challenges that the [Japanese] community faced.”
Founded in 1902 as the North American Times, the organization was at the time one of only three Japanese language newspapers in the United States. They provided both international and local news significant to resident Nikkei, while also fostering activism and political organization.
When asked about the significance of the NAP, current editor David Yamaguchi said, “The main thing is we pretty much have a continuous record village archive… this is sort of analogous to what villages in Japan used to have from the old days forward. They would have a village headman and they’d just write down the happenings of the village.”
Yamaguchi’s parents used to own a grocery store where Purple Dot Cafe is currently located at 515 Maynard Ave South. “Every Saturday, my brother and I and sister, we would hang around the store, and then we would also wander around the neighborhood,” said Yamaguchi. “We were basically local kids, all of the other business owners knew who we were.”
The NAP was particularly important for the Nikkei population during the first half of the 20th century when anti-Japanese sentiment was rampant. Community members were kept informed through the Post about relevant legislation such as the 1921 Alien Land Law, which prohibited the renting and leasing of land to Japanese non-citizens.
Shortly after the United States entered World War II, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, authorizing the incarceration of people considered as a “threat” to national security.
Tomio Moriguchi, the current publisher of NAP and former Uwajimaya CEO, along with his family were relocated to the Tule Lake Relocation Center. The Moriguchi family founded the original Uwajimaya in Tacoma in 1928 and still runs the chain today. “My mother felt in some way like she did something wrong or something, but they never talked about it, you know, those inconveniences and the disruption,” he remembered.
The NAP continued to operate before ceasing on March 14, 1942. The paper was officially reconstituted after the war ended as the North American Post in 1946. The Moriguchi family was also able to reopen a new flagship Uwajimaya location in the Chinatown International District.
The NAP operated steadily until the early 1980s when readership declined, leading to another suspension of operations in 1981, the first production halt since World War II. In response to this, Moriguchi along with other community leaders pooled their funds together to stabilize the Post and he became its publisher. To this day, Uwajimaya supports the NAP through advertising.
“I said that under one condition I would take it over, not take it over, but be responsible if they would guarantee that half the paper be at least English,” said Moriguchi. The NAP agreed, which expanded the paper’s audience to local Nikkei people who could no longer read Japanese.
Today, the NAP relies on people like Moriguchi for funding.
“I’ve been subsidizing it indirectly or directly,” he said. “It’s been my interest to convert it to something like the IE but I’ll be very frank, I probably haven’t spent as much time thinking about it and we haven’t found a person willing to take on that major responsibility.”
In the meantime, the archiving process is fully underway. The University of Washington library already had some newspapers scanned beforehand, according to Yamaguchi.
“A lot of these papers already went through microfilm, which is a really ancient technology,” he said. “The problem is that the images are fuzzy, and especially for written Asian languages like Japanese and Chinese, you need to see fine details of the characters to be able to read them.”
Echtle is also supporting the project. “I helped track down where they’re being kept, both digital and physical versions,” he said. “The text from articles going back into the 1990s are available through ProQuest and Ethnic Newswatch digitally.”
He added: “I mostly [worked] from my home office, where I just went to different libraries and archive catalogs to track down through a lot of different sources where the physical and digital copies were, and just made a list… but they’re not all held by the North American Post. They are all filed by a lot of different institutions.”
This, in part, explains why there are gaps in the archives. Another reason, Yamaguchi said, is that many of the newspapers that were stored in his family’s Maynard Ave South store following Executive Order 9066 were destroyed. “During the war, no one was going in and out of the warehouse. And so basically, rats got [the papers] because these are old buildings,” he said.
Nonetheless, progress is being made. Old newspapers have even been found when people in the community are cleaning the houses of their elderly relatives. “Occasionally I’ll get an email and they’ll say, “Hey, we found a copy of the North American Post, do you want it?”
The ongoing archiving process will be a significant milestone in developing a better record of the long and rich history of Seattle’s Nikkei community.