Yoemon Shinmasu – My Grandfather's Life in Seattle

This is a series on the life of Yoemon Shinmasu, an Issei immigrant from a small fishing village in Yamaguchi Prefecture who made his barbershop business quite a success in Seattle, yet lost his life in an accident in his 40s. Yoemon’s grandson Ikuo was born and raised in Japan and has been always interested in Yoemon’s life in Seattle. He shares what he discovered through his research.

*This series is a collaboration between Discover Nikkei and The North American Post, Seattle’s bilingual community newspaper. It is an excerpt from “Studies on Immigrants in Seattle – Thoughts on Yoemon Shinmasu’s Success of Barbershop Business,” the writer’s graduation thesis submitted at the Distance Learning Division at the Nihon University as a history major and has been edited for this publication.

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Part 4 – Sending children to Japan

Part 3 introduced Yoemon’s family in Seattle after his marriage and his barbershop business with his wife. In part 4, I will write about the life of Yoemon’s children in Kamai. They were brought back to Japan for the sake of his business and Atae’s return to America.

Family’s return to Japan

In September 1920, Yoemon returned to Japan with his family. The purpose of his visit was to leave his children with his parents in Kamai, as his children were becoming a nuisance to the barbershop business. Born in Seattle, his children knew nothing about ...

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Part 3 – Marriage and family

Continuing with Part 2 in which I wrote about Yoemon’s single life in Seattle, this part shares Yoemon’s marriage, children born in Seattle, and his barbershop business following the marriage.

Yoemon’s marriage and family life

In the early 1900s, the anti-Japanese movement became heated as hardworking Japanese immigrants increasingly impacted white workers. The Japanese government signed the Japan-US Gentlemen’s Agreement in 1908 to prohibit immigration from Japan to the US in order to alleviate the situation. This agreement made it extremely difficult for workers to travel to and from Japan freely; they had no choice but ...

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Part 2 – Yoemon’s first job and life in Seattle

Barbershop business in Seattle

Part one introduced Yoemon’s hometown, Kamai, and how he sailed across the ocean via Hawaii, pretending to be a sailor, and landed in Seattle in 1906. Part two shares a detailed story about how he started his barbershop business three years after his arrival in Seattle.

According to my aunt, Yoemon’s eldest daughter and now aged 102, many of those who moved to America from Kamai back then got their first jobs as dishwashers at restaurants and hotels. Yoemon started the same way. It was a kind of work that required no money, no ...

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Part 1 – From Kamai to Seattle

Kamai Village in Yamaguchi Prefecture

Kaminosekicho Kamai in Yamaguchi Prefecture is a village on the southern coast of Nagashima, a thin island in Seto Inland Sea. Though it can be accessed from the mainland now through Kaminoseki Bridge, ships had been the only transportation available until around the 1960s. It was a small hamlet with approximately 100 houses and a population of about 400.

Jinzou, or “the old man,” who was over 90, and my grandmother Aki lived in the house where I was born. I thought that they were a couple but later I found that Jinzou was my ...

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